Page 6

Author: Jill Shalvis

The worst part was that this was all her own fault. She was street smart and had been cocky enough to believe she could handle herself. Her mistake, because she should have known better—bad things could happen anywhere. They’d always happened to her, from back as far as when her grandma had died. Back then, a twelve-year-old Amy had gone to live with her mother for the first time, and oh how she’d hated that. Her mother had hated it, too, and Amy had grossly misbehaved, acting out in grief and teenage hatred. She’d sought attention, bad attention, in the form of inappropriate sex, using it as a way to manipulate boys. Then the game had been turned on her, and she hadn’t liked it much. It’d taken her far too long to realize she was destroying herself, but eventually she’d given up dangerous sex. Hell, she’d pretty much given up men, no matter how gorgeous and sexy they were.

It’d been so long she felt like a virgin. At least an emotional virgin.

And now she was going to die as one.

A beam of light shined down on her from above. Not God. Not a fairy godmother. Just Matt, calling her name, concern clear in his voice.

“Down here,” she said. Where all the stupid girls end up on their broken butts. “I’m coming.”

“Don’t move.”


“I mean it, Amy. Not a muscle.”

“Well jeez, if you mean it…”

No response to that. Seemed the laid-back forest ranger wasn’t feeling so laid-back right now.

He got to her quickly and without falling, she noted with more than a little bitterness. And unlike her, he could apparently see in the dark. Crouched before her, he was nothing but a big, built shadow holding her down when she’d have gotten to her feet. “Stay,” he said, voice firm.

“Stay?” she repeated with a disbelieving laugh. “What am I, a dog?”

“Where are you hurt?”


He flicked the light over her, eyes narrowing in on the wrist she was hugging to herself. “Hold this,” he said, and put the light in her good hand so he could probe at her other wrist.

She hissed in a breath, and he slid his gaze to hers. “Can you move your fingers?”

She showed him just how much her middle finger could move.

“Nice,” he said. “So nature call, huh?”

She didn’t answer, distracting herself by shining the light around them to make sure they weren’t being circled by bears or mountain lions. What she did see stole her breath more than Matt’s gentle maneuvering of her wrist.

They were at the base of a meadow. “Sierra Meadows?”

“Yeah, although this is the back way in.” Matt glanced up at her face. “Why?”

“No reason.”

“Why do you try to bullshit a bullshitter? You were looking for Sierra Meadows?”


“It’s not a very well-known place,” Matt said. “Hard to get to—well, unless you fall into it.”

“Ha ha.” She wondered how hard it’d be to find this place again on her own.

“So why Sierra Meadows?”

“I read about the wall of diamond rocks. I wanted to see them.”

“They’re a couple of hundred yards across a very soggy meadow from here. But worth seeing—in the light of day.” He took the flashlight back. “I don’t think your wrist is broken but you’ve got a good sprain going. What else hurts?”


He obviously didn’t buy this since he gave her a rather impressive eye roll and began running a hand down her limbs with quick, impassive efficiency.

“Hey!” She pushed his hand away. “I already had my annual.”

Finished with her arms, legs, and ribs, he merely tilted her head back and looked into her eyes. “How many fingers am I holding up?”

“One,” she said. “But as I already showed you, it’s much more effective when it’s the middle finger.”

He smiled. “You’re fine.”

“I keep telling you that.”

“Come on.” Rising to his feet, he pulled her to hers.

At the movement, pain shot up her tailbone, but she controlled her wince and let him help her back up the hill.

“I’ve seen just about everything there is to see out here,” he said at the top. “But I’ve never seen anyone fall down that ravine before.”

“So glad to give you a first.”

“You should have woken me up.”

For a pee escort? Hell no. They were at their campsite now, and he gave her a little nudge toward the tent. She crawled inside and back into the sleeping bag, pulling it over her head, hoping to pretend that she was at home, in a warm bed. But at home, she never had worries about bears and mountain lions, and for all she knew also the big bad wolf. She certainly never shivered like this at home either.

When had it gotten so cold?

Her butt suddenly vibrated, scaring her for a second until she realized it was the cell phone in her back pocket. With some maneuvering, she pulled it out and read the text from Mallory.

Good girl lesson #2: When your BFF sends you a gorgeous guy, you call her and thank her. That’s good manners. Good girl lesson #3: Stop scowling. You’ll scare away the aforementioned gorgeous guy.

Amy was definitely scowling and didn’t plan to stop anytime soon. She considered hitting reply and telling Mallory exactly what she thought of the good girl lessons so far, but just then the sleeping bag was yanked off her head, and it wasn’t the big, bad wolf. Actually, if she squinted, there were some similarities.

“Your arm,” Matt said, on his knees, head ducked low to accommodate the tent ceiling. He had a first-aid kit and had pulled out an ACE bandage, which he used to wrap her wrist. Then he slapped an ice pack against his thigh to activate it and set her wrapped wrist on it. He pulled out a second ice pack and eyed her.

She narrowed her eyes. “What?”

“You going to let me look at it?” he asked.

Her free hand slid to her own behind. “How did you know?”

“Wild guess,” he said dryly. “Let me see it.”

“Over my dead body.”

He let out a breath and dropped his chin to his chest for a moment. Either he was praying for patience or trying not to laugh. When he had himself together, he moved with his usual calm efficiency and unzipped her sleeping bag, yanking it from her before she could so much as squeak.

Which she did.

He ignored that and held her down effortlessly with one hand on her waist and one on her thigh. “Be still,” he said.

Be still? Was he kidding? “Listen, I’m going to be still with my foot up your ass—”

“You’re bleeding.”

“What?” She immediately stopped struggling and tried to see what he was seeing. “I am not. Where?”

“Your leg.”

He was right, there was blood coming through her jeans on her thigh. She stared at it a little woozily. She hated blood, especially her own. “Um…”

Matt was rifling through the first aid kit again. “Lose your pants. We need to clean that up.”

Well if that didn’t make her un-woozy right-quick. She laughed at him, making him lift his gaze from the box. “Oh, hell, no,” she said.

The only light in the tent came from his flashlight, so she couldn’t see his exact expression, but she had no trouble sensing his surprise. Probably when he said “lose your pants” to women they generally tore themselves out of their clothes, in a hurry to get naked for him. “Over my dead body.”

She sensed more than saw his smile. “I administer a lot of basic first aid,” he said in that calm, reasonable tone that made her want to do something to rile him up.

Too bad she’d given up riling men a good long time ago. “Just give me a Band-Aid.”

“We need to clean the cut.” His voice was all reasonable friendliness, but laced with unmistakable steel. Authority. And yet… and this made no sense… it was also somehow the sexiest voice she’d ever heard. She didn’t often let herself get curious about the people in her life, but this time she couldn’t seem to help herself. “After all you’ve done,” she said, “How the hell did you end up out here in the boonies saving the stupid chick?”

He laughed softly, the sound warming her a little bit. “Always did love the outdoors,” he said. “I was twelve when I first spent a night outside.”

“You ran away when you were twelve?”

“No.” He slid her a look that said he found it interesting that her mind had taken her there. Interesting, and disturbing. “My older brother took me camping,” he said. “He warned me not to go anywhere without him, not even to take a leak.” He laughed a little at the memory. “I thought, well fuck that.”

The smile in his voice was contagious, and she felt herself relax a little. “What happened?” she asked.

“Woke up in the middle of the night and had to take a leak. I was way too cool to need an escort…” He paused meaningfully, and she grimaced.

“Yeah, yeah.”

“So I stumbled out of the tent and went looking for a tree. Walked straight into a wall of bushes and got all cut up. Nearly wet myself before I got free.” He laughed again and shook his head. “My brother reamed me a new one when I got back. Man, he was pissed off that I was hurt. I told him to chill, that everything was fine. And the next morning, everything was still fine. But by that afternoon, I had a hundred-and-three temperature. My mom stripped me down to put me in a cool bath and found a nasty gash on my arm that had gotten infected.”

His voice was magic, Amy thought, listening to him in the dark. Low and a little gruff. Listening to him was like listening to a really great book on tape. No regrets about his past, and then there was his obvious affection for both his brother and his mom… both things she had no experience with.

“I also had poison oak,” he said. “Everywhere.”