“I don’t.” She glanced over and sent him a smile to gentle her tone. “And you’d do the same thing if you had to for your family. You have done the same thing.”

So she remembered. Remembered what it was like for him to be the oldest, to put everything in his teenage life aside to make sure Cam and Stone were cared for. “That was all a long time ago.”

“You don’t talk much about growing up,” she said quietly. “Even though I know it was bad. Especially when your father was still alive.”

Everyone in Wishful had known his father and his infamous temper. He’d been a pro bull rider who’d been rough on his animals and rougher on his sons. Mostly the youngest, Cam, who TJ had stepped in to protect whenever he could, usually at his own peril. “Like I said, it was a long time ago.”

“And yet you make sure to spend as much time away from here as you can.”

“I’m an expedition and adventure guide,” he said. “By the very definition, I have to be gone.”

“Your brothers are guides, too. But they don’t do the three-month Alaska trips, one right after another. They don’t traipse across Canada or wherever. They stick.”

“And because they do, I go,” he said. “Look, someone’s got to do those trips. They’re high-end, big-bucks trips that provide us with the majority of our income.”

“TJ,” she said with terrifying gentleness. “Now who’s the liar?” She held his gaze, letting that sink in. “You and I both know that there’s plenty of business right here. At home.”

Since that happened to be true, he said nothing.

“So what are you running from?”

Well, hell. How she’d turned this around on him, he had no idea. “I’ll tell if you tell.”

“You will not.”

“I will,” he said, and waited while she gave him a long, considering look.

Finally, she blew out a sigh. “I’m running from the poverty on my heels and a possible lifetime of dirty fingernails.” She flashed him a tight smile. “I don’t want to be like my mom, always needing to depend on others, always in a bind, always unhappy. I want to have a job that fulfills me and pays the bills.”

“Nothing wrong with that,” he said.

She nodded her agreement of that, then gestured to him. “Now you.”

“The camera…”

She patted it. “It’s going to make it. It’s motion-and air pressure-sensitive, and calibrated to allow for winds up to fifty miles per hour. But that windstorm we had last week, with the gusts up to seventy-five miles per hour, knocked it out of whack. I’ve reset it.” She arched a brow. “Now you,” she repeated.

Fuck. “Okay, it’s like this. When I was young and I needed to escape, I’d hit the trail.” He didn’t go into what he’d needed to escape from. “Depending on the season, I’d grab my bike or my skis and I’d vanish.” No drunk-ass father, no school, nothing but his own wits. “Now I no longer need to run from anything, but…”

“It’s still your go to,” she said softly, understanding in her warm eyes. “Your escape.”

“Yeah.” He let out a long, slow breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding and lifted a shoulder. “It’s where I feel the most…alive,” he said simply. “But now, lately…” He shook his head. “The lodge is all weddings and babies and kittens. I’m surprised there’s not a f**king rainbow hanging over the roof. Cam took flowers to Katie at her office.”

She laughed. “That’s sweet.”

“He’s done it every day this week. It’s some sort of an anniversary thing. You can’t even see Katie at her desk anymore. It’s like she’s working in a florist shop. And then there’s Stone. He’s still trying to rope Emma in, so he’s doing all this shit to impress her, and getting himself hurt so she has to treat him. The guy is a walking Band-Aid.”

“It’s love, TJ. Not some lesser degree of love, but the real deal.”

“It’s a little over the top.”

She was quiet a moment. “You don’t believe in the real deal love?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“Then what? What about the real deal love gets to you?”

How about it hurt like hell? “Like I said, there are all kinds of love,” he said carefully. “Something different for everybody. This kind, this ‘real deal’ as you call it, I’m not sure it’s for everyone, that’s all.”

She looked at him for a long moment. “I know this will shock you, but I happen to agree with you.”

Once again he found himself letting out a long breath he hadn’t even realized he was holding. He couldn’t help it. She kept surprising him, kept worming her way into his heart.

And making him rethink his stance on just about everything, including the whole love thing. He took her hand and ran a thumb over her fingers, enjoying the contact in a way he rarely did with anyone else. “Did we just agree on something?”

“I think we did.”

“I hope it’s a trend.”


Cupping her face, he pulled her up against him for the sheer pleasure of it. “You were right before. You scare the hell out of me, Harley.”

“Again,” she said softly. “Ditto.”