She froze, then slowly turned to face him. “It’s Indian summer, TJ. We’re all a little overheated. It’s natural.”

“Is that right?”

“Yes.” She broke eye contact, her gaze skittering away. “It’s Wishful, you know. High altitude. And it’s hot, it’s really, really hot. It’s normal to feel so…”


She bit her lower lip. “Yes.”

“So is that what happens when we get too close then, Harley? You get really, really hot?”

Her eyes jerked to his, clearly realizing she’d just given away far more than she’d meant to. “What are you even doing here anyway?” she asked. “You’re usually in Alaska, or Wyoming, or anywhere other than here.”

True. He took all the long treks for Wilder Adventures, which usually had him gone for weeks, even months at a time. He liked it that way. Always had. “I’m in between trips. So do you get really, really hot with Nolan, too?”

Nolan being Nolan Lightner, the owner of the car and truck garage where Harley wrenched part-time. And Wishful, being Mayberry-With-Attitude, loved its gossip mill, which meant that everyone knew she’d gone out with Nolan twice.

Not that TJ was counting.

“Yes,” she said firmly even as a blush bloomed on her cheeks. “Nolan and I get…hot.” She crossed her arms, as always, ready and willing to do battle when backed against a wall. “Is that what you wanted to hear?”

Hell, no. But TJ watched her fidget, and suddenly he felt a whole hell of a lot better.

Because she was lying.

“In fact, if you must know…” She stabbed a finger into his pec for emphasis, “there are so many sparks between me and Nolan that our clothes catch fire every time we’re near each other.”

He registered the abrupt change in the pitch of her voice and her overly defensive stance and grinned. Yeah, he was feeling much better, and leaned in close enough to whisper in her ear. “Liar.”

A low growl of temper escaped her and once again she pushed clear of him, heading toward the pickup counter, bad attitude spilling from her with every swing of her sweet hips and sweeter ass.

Feeling a mixture of amusement, at himself, at her, he let her go.

Stone came up behind him. “You’re supposed to ask them out, not scare them off.”

TJ turned to his brother, standing tall and lean and tanned from long days on the mountain, his stark green eyes flat-out grinning, looking like what TJ knew was his own mirror image. “You think I scared her?”

“No, I think you do something else to her entirely.” Stone shook his head. “Though I have no idea what she sees in you, man. You’re ugly as sin.”

Ignoring that, TJ twisted to look at Harley again.

“You going to run off on yet another long trip to get away from her again?” Stone asked. “’Cause that’s only a temporary fix and we all know it.”



“Shut up.”

Stone clapped a hand to TJ’s shoulder and didn’t shut up. “Face it, man. You’re as drawn to that woman as you’re drawn to the mountains. One guess as to which is more lethal.”


Late the next afternoon, Harley sat at her kitchen table staring at her bank balance, but no matter how long she sat there or how much she squinted, the balance wasn’t going to cover her rent.

That is what happened when one took two part-time jobs, only one of them paying, and not all that well.

She shut her laptop, then thunked her head down on the table a few times, enough to scatter some papers and make her Canon digital bounce, but that didn’t help either. After six years of night school, she’d recently completed her degree in wildlife biology. Six long years of wrenching cars and trucks during the day and staying up all night studying, and she still couldn’t make ends meet.

But there was a silver lining. Thanks to her brand-new shiny degree, she’d been granted a part-time internship as a research biologist for a federal conservation agency, and if she impressed them, she had a shot at the lone full-time research position in their Colorado branch in the spring.

Since that job-unlike her internship-came with an actual paycheck, impressing them had become Harley’s biggest goal.

Her duties involved putting together data and analysis on a species indicator report, which was seeking to answer questions about western coyote populations. It sounded a lot more impressive than it actually was. In truth, there was almost no funding for the project, and the staff consisted of two wildlife biologists located in Colorado, and a few lowly, unpaid interns like herself scattered throughout the states of California, Nevada, Idaho, and Wyoming.

But for Harley, it was a foot in the door, because she intended to get that job in Colorado.

When her belly rumbled, reminding her she’d skipped lunch, she got up to look in the refrigerator. Unfortunately, the food fairy hadn’t paid her a visit, so her choices were questionable cottage cheese, an apple, or the last of her emergency stash of double fudge brownie ice cream. She’d been saving that for an extreme disaster, but the possibility of getting evicted for not paying her rent seemed pretty extreme.

She’d just stuffed a large bite into her mouth, and was moaning over the sweet chocolate melting on her tongue when her phone rang.

She looked at it with the same caution she’d give a piqued rattlesnake. It was probably her landlord. Or maybe it was her mom wanting to bring her some tofu concoction in thanks for helping her meet her mortgage this month. Or her father wanting to crash on her couch, since the fun-loving hippie had probably pissed off his latest lover and had nowhere else to go. It could be her sister Skye wanting to mooch food and/or cash, which-no surprise-was in shockingly low supply. Harley loved her family, she really did, but she couldn’t seem to master their carefree, no-worries attitude.