Loaded for Bear (Bear Country Grizzlies Book 2)(4)

By: Layla Nash & Callista Ball

The blonde lumberjack only nodded, looking a little like he'd bitten into something awful. She glanced between them, then adjusted her grip on the camera gear. "Thank you again for your help. Dr. Reston was pretty upset when the cameras stopped working. Hopefully we can get them sorted out." And she'd lose her grant funding if she couldn't.

Ethan snorted, rubbing his stubbly jaw, and his sharp gaze measured her from head-to-toe. Kira's mouth dried out. He looked like he didn't believe her. Or found her lacking. Maybe they spotted something in her eyes that gave away the jaguar part of her. Maybe they thought she was some helpless city girl who wouldn't be able to hack it in the woods. Or maybe they resented doing a favor for the researchers by putting her up for free. Kira cleared her throat, trying to smile.

Simon nodded, and gave the other lumberjack a sideways look before glancing back at Kira. "Do you have any luggage? We can get you set up with a room for the night. Dinner's not for an hour, but —"

"Can't we leave now?" Kira swallowed a hint of panic. She didn't have much time. The sooner she got in and out, the less time they'd have to discover her secrets.

"It's too late," Ethan said, and his voice was deeper than she'd expected. He studied the axe, checking the blade for nicks or burrs, and didn't look at her. "We wouldn't make it to a campsite before sundown. We'll leave tomorrow morning."

"Oh," she said, glancing back down the mountain. "Guess that's my fault. I took a couple of wrong turns on the way here."

Ethan eyed her, a hint of disbelief dragging his eyebrows up. "There's only two roads."

"Well, the map wasn't very clear." Heat flushed her cheeks, and Kira wanted to curse. Awesome. Now he thought she was completely helpless. Kira adjusted the gear bag and started to retreat. "Okay. No problem. I'll just pitch my tent out here; I didn't expect —"

"We have plenty of room," Simon said, and gave his buddy a dark look as he took the axe. He nodded at the Lodge, offering Kira a broad smile. "I couldn't sleep if I knew you spent your last night before heading into the backcountry in a tent. That's just not right. Ethan will help get you settled."

It looked like Ethan would argue for the briefest of moments, then he exhaled in a rush and stormed over to Kira's car as she struggled with the trunk.

She managed to say, "Thanks, that's kind of you, but —" as she smacked the top of the trunk, hoping it would open, and jiggled the key. Nothing. Her cheeks burned as she yanked at the damn thing, knowing the capable woodsman standing next to her was probably judging her for getting lost and not being able to operate a simple mechanism. She gritted her teeth as a yowl bubbled up in her chest, and she wanted to rip the damn thing to pieces with her claws. That would open the trunk.

Instead, Ethan said, "Hold on," and eased closer. She edged over a little to give him room. He took up too much space, even in the open air in the middle of the woods. Ethan gave her a sideways look as he studied the trunk, and she flushed more.

He smelled like wild flowers and clean cotton, and for a crazy second, she almost wanted to press her nose against his shirt to inhale him. But he grumbled something under his breath, flexed, and the muscles standing out in his arms made her eyebrows rise.

Ethan muttered, heaved, and the trunk flew open with a screech. Kira yelped as it smacked her chin in a bright flash of agony, and clapped her hands over her face as blood flooded her mouth and spilled through her fingers. She cursed around the searing pain and awful taste, eyes watering and head aching, and retreated as Ethan stared at her in abject panic.

She mumbled and leaned forward so the blood dribbled to the ground and not down her chest, irritated that her favorite shirt was probably ruined, and held up a hand to wave Ethan off as his face drained of color and he said something about a first aid kit. Kira steeled herself and tried what must have been a gruesome smile. "No, it's okay. I'm fine."

But it came out garbled and apparently pretty unclear, because he swore and caught her arm. "Jesus Christ, I'm sorry. Come on, we have an infirmary."

"It's fine," she repeated, leaning to spit a mouthful of blood onto the gravel. So ladylike. Mama would have been proud. She poked at what might have been a broken tooth, hoping it healed quickly so she didn't need braces again. "I mean, it hurts, but I'll be fine."

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