There was that, at least.

“Harley? You okay?”

She nodded, then slowly shook her head. She’d been holding her breath, but the grief was catching up with her. “I don’t get the hunting thing. I mean if it’s for food, that’s one thing, but this isn’t. It’s not to protect a farm or ranch, either. It’s for sport, for cruel sport-” Her voice caught, and she stopped talking to breathe instead.

His hand was still on her back, rubbing soft, soothing circles, and it felt like the most natural thing in the world when he pulled her into his arms. Just like that she slid into his comforting embrace, and though she told herself she was strong and tough, that she didn’t cry, she felt the scalding rush of tears.

Murmuring to her softly, he tightened his arms around her and was nice enough to not mention the fact that she was making his shirt wet. They stood like that, her pretending not to cry, him letting her have the pretense, until the pain in her chest eased. She could feel the steady, calm beat of his heart beneath her ear. Her hand was over a pec, gripping his shirt, and without thinking, she smoothed the material, then let her fingers trail down, over his stomach.

His muscles leapt beneath her touch.

She looked up at him. Lifting a hand, he rubbed his thumb over her cheek, catching a stray tear.

She took a step back, and his hands fell from her.

“I can’t help but think this is somehow because of the study,” she said.

“I think it’s more likely that you’ve stumbled by accident into an area where a group of hunters have sort of staked their claim.”

“But it’s illegal to hunt in Desolation Wilderness.”

“It’s also illegal to leave your kill. Or to be out there without a permit. I doubt they’re concerned about any of it. It’s not called Desolation for nothing. The place is a graveyard this time of year.”

“What if someone went out there and scared them off?”

He stared at her. “Someone?”

“Yeah. Maybe if I made more of a presence out there-”

“No,” he said, watching her face. “Hell, no.”

“I’m going t-”

“Stay the hell away from those hunters,” he finished for her.

“Well, of course. But since I have to go back out there anyway-”

“Jesus.” He pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes. “I’m already hating this conversation.”

“I’m not going to do anything stupid, but those coyotes are vulnerable.”

He blew out a breath and nodded. He knew that.

“I’ll help you guys this weekend,” she said. “Then I’ll go back to Desolation.”

“By that time, I’ll be in Alaska. Yeah,” he said at her start of surprise. “I caught a trip. Harley, tell me you won’t go alone.”

“Don’t worry,” she said, distracted by the fact that he’d be leaving again, and so soon. “I won’t be the stupid girl in the horror flick.”

“Promise me, Harley.”

“An easy promise to make,” she said softly, meeting his gaze, letting him see she meant it. “I promise I won’t go alone.” She opened her freezer and reached for her long-lost lover, a quart of double fudge ice cream.

“Is that dinner?”

“It’s called comfort food. After losing a boyfriend, two coyotes, and probably my job all in one fell swoop, I think I’m entitled.”

He took the carton out of her hands and stuffed it back into the freezer. “You’ll just torture yourself with another run tomorrow if you eat this.”

If she wasn’t having sex, she was damn well having ice cream. “Don’t get between me and my sugar, TJ. It won’t end well for you.”

A corner of his mouth tipped up. “I have a better way to comfort you.”


He smiled and stepped into her again. “Something better.”

And, she had a feeling, something far more devastatingly hard to resist.

He trailed his fingers lightly up her spine, no longer comforting or sweet-which worked for her.

Without taking the time to think it through, she tugged his head down. When he was only a breath away, she paused, their breath commingling, eyes connected in a beat so charged she shivered. And then, with the anticipation humming through them, she closed the gap and kissed him. With a low groan, he took over, sweeping his tongue against hers, entangling a hand in her hair to hold her in place. His other hand curled around her hip and yanked her into him so that their bodies were touching from chest to knee, like the last two pieces of a puzzle.

A perfect fit.

Arrows of heat bolted through Harley, bouncing off all her erogenous zones, and only when she needed air did TJ gentle the kiss, then slowly pull back, dropping his forehead to hers.

“Every time,” he said in a raw voice.

Yeah. She’d have thought the one orgasm he’d given her on the mountain would hold her over for awhile, but it’d been the opposite. Her motor was going. She closed her eyes and gulped in air. After a long moment, she forced herself to take a step back and turned to brace herself on the sink.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“Considering a very cold shower.”

He let out a low, ironic laugh. She heard his footsteps behind her, could feel the body heat radiate off him a beat before she felt him brush against her. The urge to press her bottom into his crotch was so strong she had to suck in a breath and grip the edge of the counter. But in the end, she couldn’t control herself. She wriggled, feeling his hard, hot length nestle against her.