Loaded for Bear (Bear Country Grizzlies Book 2)(2)By: Layla Nash & Callista Ball
Normally Ethan would have enjoyed nothing more than a leisurely hike through the woods, on the hunt for some of the scarcer wildlife in the national park that bordered Simon's land, but he didn't want to babysit a grad student. Probably a know-it-all, over-educated city kid with no idea what to do in the woods. He couldn't deal with weeks of someone bitching about having to pee in the forest and pack out all their trash, or sleeping on the ground, or whining about inclement weather — which would no doubt kick up at the worst possible time.
Ethan braced his foot on the stump and took a deep breath, leveling a skeptical look at his boss. "Why me?"
"I think you need some time away," Simon said, tilting his head to indicate the two SUVs of tourists who pulled up, driven by Finn and Cooper. "And it's going to be packed for the next two weeks. You already look on-edge, man. I don't want to see you dealing with crying kids and complaining tourists and these yuppies trying to catch the biggest fish in history with the wrong bait."
Ethan couldn't stop himself from making a face, and held the axe in one hand as he considered the whole log in front of him. "What makes you think two weeks with a complaining grad student will be any better? One of us might not make it out of the backcountry."
"Don't be ridiculous," Simon said. "I think you'll like her."
"You know this kid?"
"Sort of." Simon smiled and waved as the tourists — two families with multiple kids and designer everything — milled about and ooh'ed and aah'ed over the Lodge. "Friend of a friend, you could say. She's all business, and she knows her way around a campsite."
Ethan pinched the bridge of his nose. Simon wasn't telling him something, and from the sounds of it, he wasn't going to give it up until Ethan agreed to take the grad student on her hiking trip. Ethan took a deep breath and held his hands up in surrender. "Fine. I'll go. But I'm not taking two weeks to do a one-week job. We'll be in and out, no messing around. I only need to check two nesting areas for the rangers, and that's it."
"Sounds like a plan." Simon clapped him on the shoulder and started for the open driveway and staging area in front of the massive log cabin-style lodge. "Her name is Kira. She'll be here this afternoon."
"How do you know her, man? Really." Ethan looked around for better gloves, resigned to chopping a hell of a lot more wood as the kids started squealing and shouting, and all calm in the forest fled. He couldn't even hear the birds anymore. "What aren't you telling me?"
"We'll talk later," Simon said, then started shaking hands with the tourists and introducing himself.
Ethan took a deep breath and shook his head, trying not to listen to the blissfully happy back-and-forth between Simon and his mate, Zoe, as they welcomed the new guests. He just kept splitting logs. Whatever Simon thought, there was never enough firewood. And Ethan would rather be chopping in summer weather than snowy weather. He'd barely gotten through half the pile of wood before Simon reappeared and a beat-up piece of shit car struggled into the gravel lot. Ethan's eyebrows climbed nearly to his hairline as he studied the car and the lone occupant, and Simon didn't bother to suppress his grin. "Here's your grad student."
He gripped the axe and prayed for patience, both for Simon and the girl. "Right. You'd better tell me what you've got up your sleeve, friend, before we leave for the backcountry, or we'll all regret it."
But Simon said nothing, and only watched the car chug to a stop and slowly die as the girl frowned at the steering wheel. Ethan tried to center himself, tried to tell the bear to have patience and they'd be out in the quiet of the forest before long. One girl couldn't cause that much noise or trouble. Even Zoe, Simon's quirky mate, didn't make that much noise. He could live with it for a couple of weeks. Tolerating the girl for that long would be perfectly acceptable, if he could enjoy the trees and streams and bird songs in spite of her.
He frowned as Simon chuckled, as if the other man heard his thoughts, and Ethan wished he didn't have to work so hard to convince himself he'd be able to tolerate the trip.
Kira got lost three times before finally hitting the treacherous switchbacks up the mountain toward what her reference called 'the Lodge.' Getting disoriented shouldn't have been that easy, considering there were only four or five roads to choose from out of the city. But something about the terrain, the lack of signage, the fact there were few towns or rest-stops or gas stations... It got her all turned around. She was almost an hour behind schedule in reaching the hoity-toity tourism company up the mountain. She never found the so-called town, Bear Creek, despite her contact's directions.