“Well, honestly, they’re so slippery, even with the GPS system in place I’ll settle for signs. DNA.”

She heard his smile. “You mean you’re going looking for coyote shit.”

She sighed. “Why do guys think anything to do with bodily functions is amusing?”

“Because it is.”

She rolled her eyes so hard they almost fell out of her head.

“Desolation, Harley? At this time of year?”

His mouth was disconcertingly close to her ear, and his voice, low and husky, had a terrible habit of bringing her deprived body to life. “I have to impress,” she said. “I want that research job in Colorado. And besides, it’s September. It’s the best time of year to go. Only a very small chance of a snowstorm, and not quite hot enough to fry an egg on a rock.”

He said nothing to that, and not being good at loaded silences, she squirmed free. “I don’t know what the big deal is. You take treks like this all the time. You just got back from two months in Alaska.”

“It’s my job.”

Right. She was just a mechanic and a part-time research biologist, used to being either under a car or behind a computer. She got that.

But she wanted a shot at being more. She wanted to say good-bye to coveralls forever, good-bye to needing a degreaser in the shower. She wanted to be excited about something, passionate. Dammit, she wanted to stop feeling like a hamster on the wheel and live.

Unfortunately, most of her internship consisted of staring at a computer screen. Hell, all of her internship consisted of staring at a computer screen. “All I have to do is fix two cameras,” she said. The cameras were vital to the study. Luckily, coyotes were creatures of habit, and territorial for life. They made a den and tended to stay in a very careful ten-mile radius of that den, even taking the same path of travel along a fixed route on a daily basis. This allowed the remote cameras to give humans a slice of coyote life.

When the cameras were functioning, that is. Which meant field trip. She’d be hiking into the northwestern slope of Desolation, a hundred-square-mile federal wilderness area west of Lake Tahoe. True, it was some of the toughest, most rugged, isolated land in the country. Most of it was roadless, trail-less, and devoid of logging and grazing.

But she’d be getting out from behind her laptop.

“I get why you’ve been asked to do this,” TJ said. “You’re a cheap resource.”


“You’re also sharp, intuitive, and probably the best intern they’ve ever had.”

While she processed that, both the compliments and the warm fuzzies it sent skittering through her, he went on. “The question is why do you want to do this? Why not just skip the internship and apply directly for the job you want?”

“Because there’s only going to be one opening, and only one of us interns is getting it.”

“What about somewhere else then?”

“There is nowhere else hiring wildlife biologist researchers.”

“And you’re tired of wrenching.”

And tired of being alone. And lonely. Her best friend Selena had met the love of her life, sold her pastry shop, and moved to New York. Her sister was busy most of the time, or preoccupied in a way only a twenty-one-year-old could be. And Nolan…well, if he moved any slower he’d be going backwards. “Beyond tired.”

“Is it Nolan? Is he pressuring you in some way, or-”

“No.” She wished. “Nothing like that. I just…I just need to make this change. Working at the garage was a necessity, never what I wanted to do. I need more.”

She knew he’d understand that. He’d come from nothing himself, and he’d worked his ass off to get his “more.”

Now she was doing the same.

“We’re trying to hire another hand at Wilder,” he said, watching her in that quiet, pensive way he had. “We’d hire you in a hot minute.”

“Thanks, but I want this job.”

A long inhale was his only answer, but it was enough to remind her of his past and a certain tragedy that he’d faced that might be making her pending trip difficult for him to accept. “I’m going to be fine out there,” she said softly. “Nothing’s going to happen to me.”

“I know.”

“I’m not Sam.”

A tightening of his jaw was his only reaction. “I know that, too.” He was quiet a minute, then shook his head. “You’re right, you’ll do great.”

That brought her some unexpected surprise. Her dad had run a small holistic vitamin store before he’d lost it in the current craptastic economy. Her mom was an artist and a chef who preferred to float from one job to the next. Skye worked the cash register at the Wishful grocery store while sometimes attending classes at a junior college when it suited her or if she had a “hot” professor. Collectively, the Stephens family didn’t tend toward ambitiousness, and as a result, none of them understood Harley’s yearning for more.

So it was ironic as hell that the single most frustrating, annoying, maddening person she knew would actually be the only one in her life supporting her. She wanted to thank him for that, but more than anything, she wanted him to leave before she asked him to take off his clothes and then hers.

Clueless, he sat down at her kitchen table and carefully shifted aside her camera to gesture to the maps. “Show me your plan.”

TJ was the brains behind all the creating, organizing, planning, and plotting of the trips at Wilder. He was good at it-in large part thanks to his ability to be incredibly intuitive and doggedly aggressive, not to mention he was a master planner and a survival expert.