He heard her harsh intake of breath and knew that had been a direct hit, but before he could react, she slipped out from beneath his arm to walk away.

He barely grabbed her.


“No, it’s okay,” he said, shaking his head. He wasn’t about to beg her to want him. “I’m assuming you’re heading back to Desolation sooner rather than later.”


“Don’t go alone.”

“TJ, I-”

“Promise me.”

She hesitated and he tightened his grip. “Promise me, Harley.”

She blew out a breath. “I promise I won’t go alone.”

Good enough. She tugged and he let her go, standing there as she drove off, without looking back.

TJ spent the next two days running his ass ragged with short client trips. His brothers did the same. It seemed everyone wanted to get their last adventures in before the weather turned.

But even that didn’t deter people from booking future trips. According to their schedule, the upcoming winter was going to be their busiest yet. The economy might have taken a hit, but there were still people willing and able to pay for their outdoor adventures.

In a few days, he was leaving for Alaska.

Normally, he’d be fine with that. Hell, he’d be great with that. But somehow this time at home, using the lodge as his home base while taking the shorter trips, felt different. It was making him want things that made no sense.

Things, and…people.


He hadn’t seen her since landing back at Wilder. For two days he’d gone over and over what had happened in his head, the entire kayaking trip, wondering where it had gone wrong.

Where he had gone wrong.

He was afraid he knew exactly-starting with when he’d said that it wasn’t the mountain that made him happy, but her.

And ending when he’d forced her to face it with the sheer magnitude of their physical relationship. Even he wouldn’t have called what they’d done just sex, and he doubted she could either.

Uncomfortable as it was, he was beginning to understand that this thing with her was what he wanted, that she was what he wanted. His error had been in thinking she might have started to feel the same.

That night he and his brothers hosted a reunion party for one of their biggest clients, a computer chip company based in San Francisco. They’d hired a local band and hosted an open bar, and the place rocked with music and revelry. The lodge was filled with boisterous, happy computer geeks who were thrilled to be going on a mountain bike trek the next day led by Cam rather than be in their offices.

TJ walked through it, doing his job, schmoozing and wining and dining. But all he wanted was to be back out on that mountain in front of a campfire, with Harley looking at him the way she did when she thought he wasn’t noticing-as if maybe he’d become as important to her as she was to him.

The next night, at the request of both her mom and dad, Harley sat at her mom’s kitchen table, waiting for the “exciting” news they said they had. It had to be big. The living room was filled with their friends.

Harley had worked like a fiend the past two days, pulling two shifts for Nolan and getting data organized and sent for her internship. She’d lost no more coyotes, but was anxious to get back to Desolation to check things out, and had just gotten approval for that trip from the conservatory agency-as well as a formal offer for the job in Colorado, starting date of January 1. That was three months sooner than originally planned, and she was very happy.

Or very something anyway, but she hadn’t been able to name it. “So what’s up, Mom?”

Cindy Stephens was well liked, and as a result, the living room rang out with laughter and happy voices. Annie and Nick were in there.

Nolan, too.

Everyone but TJ, which Harley figured was her doing. She’d let him think she didn’t want to see him. Maybe she’d even believed it as they’d come off the river, knowing that she couldn’t control the slippery slide of her emotions when it came to him.

But she’d changed her mind and all she wanted was to see him.

Nolan and Skye were dancing on the patio with a bunch of others. Nolan was laughing, his hands on Skye’s swiveling hips, his eyes shining bright with warmth and affection. “Mom?” Harley asked, needing to get out of there. “The news?”

Her mom always looked twenty years younger than her real age, which was late fifties. Tonight was no different as she smiled at Harley, looking petite and willowy and pretty in a sundress. In fact, Cindy didn’t look much different than she had when she’d been in the tenth grade, quitting school to run away with her high school sweetheart.

Harley’s father.

She and Mark had come to the mountains, and for years had run a vitamin shop, keeping it even after they’d broken up. Then gotten back together. Then broken up again. Their friendship had lasted even when the romance hadn’t.

Their business hadn’t been so lucky. Her mom was dyslexic, and regularly mishandled the books. Her father, a quiet, loving, warm man who would-and had-given a stranger the shirt off his back, hadn’t exactly had the temperament for being in charge. That, combined with the bad economy, and it was a wonder their shop hadn’t failed long before it had.

To Harley’s surprise, her dad came into the kitchen then, tall and lean and tanned, his hands going to her mother’s shoulders as he bent to kiss her.

“Hey, baby,” he said to Harley, lifting his face and smiling at his daughter as he leaned in to kiss her as well.