He wouldn’t approve of her plan to wing it.

“I’ve got it handled, TJ,” she said. “Besides, I’m really busy at the moment, so…”

He eyed the ice cream still in her hands and raised one brow. How busy can you be, came his silent question.

Dammit. “Maybe I have a date.”

“Do you?”

When she sighed, he simply crooked a finger at her in the universal come-here gesture.

And just like that, her feet overtook her brain and took her straight to him.


TJ kept his eyes on Harley’s maps and notes as she moved reluctantly closer. She was dressed from a shift at the garage, but the cute dirt streak across her forehead and baggy coveralls didn’t impair his imagination any.

She was still hot.

“I didn’t realize you were going in by yourself,” he said.

“It’s a long story.”

“Does it involve a sharp blow to your head?”

She sighed. “It’s not that dangerous, TJ.”

“Harley, any lone trip into any part of the Sierras is dangerous. Most especially Desolation Wilderness. Where are you going in?”

She didn’t sit, he noted, but instead remained at his side. “West entrance.”

In terms of sheer acreage, Desolation wasn’t all that large, but it was isolated, remote, and contained over a hundred glacier lakes, making it a haven for wildlife. No hunting was allowed, and even hiking in there required a permit. The west entrance was the closest access but not the easiest, which didn’t matter because once she was in, there was little that was easy about the hike she’d be making. “What else are you doing in there besides checking on the surveillance cameras?”

“Looking in on the known dens.”

“You’ve never gone into the field before.”

“No. But like I said, two of the cameras are down and not feeding data at all. I’m the only staff here right now. It wouldn’t look good to the guys in Colorado if I can’t get the data in, much less process it.”

He considered what she’d said, and all she wasn’t saying. Such as the fact that he’d noticed the empty spot where her TV used to be, and the pile of bills next to the maps. He could feel her desperation, and it killed him. “You could ask for help.”

“I could. But whoever they’d send is competing for the same job as me.”


“Yes, competing. Like when you and your brothers race like a bunch of idiots down The Face on your dirt bikes to see who can kill themselves-er, get to the bottom first.”

He slid his gaze up to hers in time to catch her mouth twitch and didn’t bother to hide his smile. “Those are controlled test trips to ensure we can make the run safely with a client.”

“Uh huh.”

He kicked out a chair for her and waited until she sat. She thought this trip was no big deal but he disagreed. Vehemently. He’d seen too many causal hikers and campers get into trouble on far less rugged terrain. He and Stone were members of the local Search and Rescue team, and they’d rescued more people than he cared to remember. And there’d been Sam, the one he’d not been able to rescue at all. “When was the last time you were in Desolation?”

She hesitated and he sighed. “Tell me.”

“Years,” she admitted.

“Shit, Harley.”

“But with the maps and the GPS, I can’t really go wrong.”

He could think of a hundred things that could go wrong. Hell, he’d probably seen every possible one of them.

“Look,” she said, sounding irritated. “I realize that those loaded silences of yours probably yield you all the information you could want from a woman, mostly because one look from you and they probably melt, but they don’t work on me.”

He felt the smile curve his mouth. “You think I melt women?”

“It’s September,” she said, ignoring that. “You and I both know there’s no one even out there this time of year except the occasional wild animal. I’m prepared. It’s perfectly safe.”

“Not alone it isn’t.”

“So I’ll scratch you off my short list of supporters.”

He caught her wrist as she surged to her feet. “Harley-”

“I want this Colorado job,” she said quietly, giving nothing away in her expression. “And…”

And she needed the money from it. That was plain as day. He no longer lived hand to mouth but he’d been there, and it sucked. “We’re hiring,” he said. “I wasn’t bullshitting about that.” Wilder Adventures was overwhelmed and overloaded, and they’d been trying to hire for weeks. It wasn’t easy to find qualified people. “You’d be perfect for the guided hikes we offer, and with your photography skills and education, we could even tailor some of them toward wildlife education, stuff like that.”

“If I finish this research project, I’ll have a job.”

“In Colorado.”


“You really want to leave here?”

She pulled her wrist from his grip and went to the sink, looking out the window. TJ knew her dad had lost his store, that her mom had a hard time keeping a job, that her sister hadn’t gotten a scholarship, and as the only one working, they needed her, depended on her. Standing, he came up behind her.

Out the window in front of them, for as far as the eye could see, lay the glorious Sierra mountain peaks, blanketed in vibrant fall colors. The lack of concrete was soothing. No sidewalks, no other buildings, no traffic. Nothing but nature. It’d rained earlier, leaving everything fresh and clean and sharp.