“Annie,” he said helplessly. “I’m fine. I’m glad you’re all happy. You all deserve it. Christ, please don’t cry.”

“It’s the baby,” she said, muffled against him. “Not-Abigail makes me feel like crying.”

“Okay,” TJ said, carefully pulling free. “I get that you’ve all decided that love is the path to go, just don’t expect me to follow.”

Annie eyed him. “You’re laughing at love?”


His aunt shook her head. “You know you just tempted fate right? Dangled a carrot in front of that bitch karma?”

TJ patted Not-Abigail. “You have way too many hormones going on. Listen, I get that you’re all in a different place than me, but I like my place just fine.”

When he left the office, there was a beat of silence.

“Idiot,” Stone said affectionately.

“And to think,” Cam said thoughtfully. “I always thought he was the smart one.”


TJ was hiking down Weststar, the video footage for their new client safe in his pack, eyeing the wall of dark clouds coming over the east summit, when he saw the figure far below. He stepped to the edge of the cliff for a better look, surprised because he’d been out there for three hours and hadn’t seen another soul. As always, his breath caught at the sight of the jagged Sierras sprawled out in front of him. To the north, the land carved upward past the tree line to ancient granite peaks, to the south flowed the Squaw River.

In between were glassy alpine lakes, weather-beaten slopes, and colorful meadows, as far as the eye could see. The sun filtered through the clouds and a thick umbrella of pine branches, creating dappled and lacy patterns at his feet, but something about the person far below had him pulling out his binoculars. When he focused in on shiny blond hair and a sweet, curvy body, he went still.


She was on a trail below him to the southwest, several miles away, heading toward the western entrance to Desolation Wilderness.

A day early.

Harley had just passed the trailhead marker for the entrance into Desolation when she heard a series of familiar yet eerie yips.


She checked her GPS. Seemed as if some of her blue group were on the move. The yelping didn’t signify a hunt like sharp barks would have, nor was it a territorial howl of “I am claiming my area.” Nope, the loud, mischievous yelping usually meant some sort of play amongst a pack.

Still, she made certain to make plenty of noise as she walked. She didn’t want to surprise them. Tipping her head back, she eyed the dark clouds gathering and churning to the east. The air was still midday hot and unusually damp, and around her the forest pulsed with the oncoming storm. Kamikaze squirrels screeched at each other, racing frantically from branch to branch. She could hear the thumping cry of a group of tree frogs, looking forward to the impending rain.

The fire road she was on continued through White Wolf Woods. She had a drop of about sixty feet off to her left. To her right was dense forest. As she climbed, the fire road narrowed into almost nothing. She took a moment to consult her maps and the GPS. It looked like she was on target to the two malfunctioning cameras.

The survey she was working on for the conservation agency had several goals. The biggest was to nail down how many coyotes were indigenous in the Sierras, and whether the population was stable or growing. They wanted to figure out the best management strategies for the coyote population to coexist with the growing-and spreading-human population. There was plenty of room for both humans and coyotes out there, but for most places in the state, that wasn’t the case.

Clouds rolled. Above her, the sharp report of thunder cracked in the distance. She jumped but kept going. It felt good to be out. Sitting at her laptop doing research didn’t exactly promote health. Sometimes she jogged in the evenings if she felt that her jeans were too snug, but overall she skipped any organized form of exercise. But she liked hiking.

She’d been at it for several hours, and was as comfortable as she could be with the unaccustomed weight of the backpack. She wore a pair of hip-hugging cargo pants, a white stretchy tee, and hiking boots. So far so good, but then she heard an odd sound behind her. “TJ!” she gasped, whipping around, taking a quick step backwards-too quick, because she tripped over her own feet and fell to her ass.

“Christ.” He dropped to his knees in front of her and reached out. “Are you okay?”

Pissed, heart pounding, she smacked his hands away. “No, I’m not okay!” It was the damn backpack. Feeling like a beached whale, she had to roll to her hands and knees to get to her feet, but before she could, TJ got his hands beneath her and tugged her up.

“You need a bell around your neck, you know that?” She brushed her hands over her butt and glared at him. “You scared the crap out of me.”

“Bears don’t wear a bell.”

She sighed and shook her head, knowing he was right. “I’d have seen a bear. You move more stealthily than that, like a cat, a big, sleek, stupid cat.”

“You should look around once in a while. Be more aware of your surroundings.”

She was incredibly aware of him-of his big, tough body, of his gaze on hers, of how her body was reacting. He wore a baseball cap, dark sunglasses, and a pair of old Levi’s, battered and beloved, the denim snug over hard thighs and probably his perfect ass, too. His light blue T-shirt stretched taut across his shoulders, biceps, and upper chest, looser over his zero-fat stomach. Bastard. “Yeah, well, chalk it up to a rookie mistake,” she said. “Why are you here?”