“But what if it does?”

“Then make a lot of noise to scare it off. Wave your hands, yell, throw a rock at it, whatever you have to do.”

The coyote bounded off out of view.

“Holy shit,” Lani said. “That thing’s moving.”

“They can run up to forty-three miles per hour,” Harley told her.

“Shh,” Shelly breathed. “It’ll hear us.”

“It’s already heard us,” Harley said. “They have better hearing than dogs.”

“It’s all alone,” Shelly said. “She needs a sorority.”

The others laughed. “He or she isn’t alone,” Harley said. “They travel in packs and hunt in pairs. You just didn’t see the others, but they’re there.”

“How do you know all this?” Lani asked, looking sincerely interested.

“I study them for my other job as a wildlife researcher.”

“Cool.” Lani smiled at Harley. “I’m a biology major.”

They spent a few minutes talking about that, after which the others seemed to accept Harley slightly better. She snapped more pictures and found herself enjoying it. Probably most of that came from their fearless guide, who happened to look damn fine in the lead kayak, wielding a paddle, his biceps flexing as he steered, the rest of his body relaxed and completely in control.

An hour in, Kitty needed-demanded-a potty break. The girls got out of their kayaks, accepted drinks from Harley, then stripped out of their wet protective gear down to their bikinis and plopped on the rocky sand at the water’s edge. Harley was wet, too, but left her shorts and tank top on over her bathing suit. TJ’s board shorts and performance tee were also wet, but they didn’t seem to bother him any. He once again checked the gear-while the girls checked him, whispering amongst themselves.

TJ’s shorts came to his knees, his shirt loose. While he looked damn good, his clothes were definitely hiding the true extent of how in shape he really was. After checking and rechecking everything, he peeled off his wet shirt and, in just the shorts, bent to his pack, probably looking for a dry shirt.

Kitty dropped her drink. “Sweet baby Jesus,” she whispered.

He wasn’t bulky. His body had been hardened and trained over the years the old-fashioned way, from lots of hard work.

“He’s even hotter than I thought,” Lani whispered.

“I don’t know what I’d do to him first,” Kitty whispered back.

Harley knew. She knew exactly. She’d lick that stomach, then drop to her knees and slowly ease those shorts down over his hips so that she could lean in and-

“Think he’s taken?” Tandy whispered.

“Yes,” Harley said without thinking.

They all turned and stared at her. “By you?” Tandy asked incredulously.

Okay, she was pretty sure that was not a compliment.

Shelly’s eyes were narrowed. Clearly they weren’t willing to believe Harley could catch a man like TJ-which led to a problem.

Harley was a horrible liar, always had been. The fact was, TJ wasn’t taken, not by her, not by anyone. TJ belonged to no one, except maybe the mountain.

“Is he with someone?” Tandy asked again.

“Can’t really say,” Harley whispered. There. How was that for the truth? She couldn’t say because she didn’t know exactly how “taken” he considered himself.

As if knowing that they were discussing him, TJ looked over, eyes unerringly locking in on Harley.

She forced a smile. He paused, then returned it before turning back to the gear.

Shelly was still staring at Harley. “Why can’t you say?”

“Yes, Harley, why can’t you say? It wouldn’t be right.”

Tandy and Shelly exchanged a look. “Why?” Tandy asked. “Are you insinuating that he’s…gay?”

Harley had to bite her lip to keep from letting the gust of nervous laughter escape. She hadn’t thought of that. But maybe if they thought he was g*y, they’d leave him alone. “Can’t say,” she repeated firmly.

Lani sighed in disappointment.

Good Lord, they would actually believe that the big, edgy, obviously testosterone-ridden TJ was g*y rather than believe that he’d be in a relationship with her.

Finally Kitty shook her head. “No. There’s no way he’s g*y.” She narrowed her eyes at Harley. “If you wanted him for yourself, all you had to do was say so. But honestly, I don’t see him reciprocating. You’re not his type.”

The other three looked at Harley in grave disappointment, as if she’d broken some sacred sorority trust. She didn’t care, as long as she did her job, which, as TJ had pointed out with utter seriousness, was to protect him.

What can she say? She’d tried.

They all got back on the river, and an hour later came to a sharp turn where suddenly the water moved faster than half a mile an hour. Like one mile an hour.

Still, the coeds shrieked and screamed as if they’d come to the edge of the world. TJ called out directions, his voice filled with quiet but unequivocal command, which in turn forced the girls to shut up if they wanted to hear how to save themselves. He was calm and utterly authoritative, and they leapt to do his bidding, as if pleasing him was all that mattered.

When Harley found herself doing the same, she had to laugh at herself, then let out a surprised squeak when TJ let the girls pass them and snagged her by the back of her life vest, holding her and her kayak next to his. “You’re grinning like a Cheshire cat,” he murmured, pushing his sunglasses to the top of his head to study her. “Explain.”