While it’s a little past the actual dates for Wolf Awareness Week, there’s never a bad time to learn about those beautiful creatures! Wolf Awareness Week is held the Third Week of October and while we didn’t plan it, it perfectly coordinated with our release of the TEAM WOLF series set in Elle James’ Brotherhood Protector World.
The graphic I’ve used here is a combination of a number of graphics that I made to use in the Brotherhood Protectors group so that readers could find out more about the wolves that our team was so bent on protecting.
I was so excited to have a series of books set in and around a National Park. I’m a bit of a park person. When my son was young, we did take him to amusement parks and he liked them, but he really came alive when we visited National Parks. Discovering new animals and touring caves, taking long hikes, and getting hands-on with exhibits that the Park Rangers brought out for interactive exhibits.
Those were favorites of mine too. Learning about the flora and fauna of an area is always exciting for me. The natural world has always been an exciting topic for me. I think you’ll see some of that in my book, Guarding Eris. One of the bits of my research into the area of Yellowstone plays a big part in one of the tense moments of the book.
So, I hope you’ll enjoy reading Guarding Eris and the other books in the series!!
I’d love to know… Which National Park is your favorite??
“Delilah Devlin has given us another phenomenal, thrilling, pager turner to read. My words don’t do justice for how good this book is.”
“A wonderful story with great characters”
“The enticing storyline kept me on the edge of my seat and glued to the pages… Their chemistry was powerful… These two gave me some major Feels.”
What else do you need to know? You’re going to love the dog. 🙂
An ex-Special Forces soldier and his four-legged partner n ex-soldier who prefers dogs to most humans must protect a nature photographer from an extremist group hunting wolves in Yellowstone.
Nate “The Edge” Edgerton prefers dogs to humans, like Pierce, the retired war dog who saved his life in Afghanistan, because he prizes loyalty above all else. He trusts his team and his dog but has learned to be cautious trusting women. After Pierce rushes to the rescue of a nature photographer being threatened by wolf poachers, Nate earns his first assignment as a Brotherhood Protector. He’ll keep her safe but keeping his heart secure will prove to be the hardest part of the job.
Hannah Mackey, a nature photographer tracking wolves, photographs poachers in the act of killing a wolf, and she’s a second away from being shot herself when a large black dog rushes to her rescue, followed by a very handsome and angry man.
When Nate brings her to the Brotherhood Protectors, she’s dismayed that they’re insistent on providing her protection from retaliation by the well-organized poachers who are part of an extremist group, especially when they assign Nate as her protector. She has a job to do, and she’s not going to let the threat from a criminal gang stop her from doing it. She also doesn’t need the big, brooding man following her around. His dog, she’ll take, but Nate? Hell, no. Been there. She can take care of herself, thank you very much.
Leave a comment, win a signed copy of Beck’s Six, the lead story in the “Athena” series.
If you loved Defending Sophie and Beck’s Six, you’ll love Harper and her wolves.
Here is a taste of Guarding Harper:
Gabe Walker regarded the five men gathered in Hank Patterson’s kitchen, along with Hank himself and Stone Jacobs, the Brotherhood Protectors leader who had reached out to them. They all had the same look of the hardened warrior, the take-no-prisoners attitude, which was good. They weren’t here for playtime. The work Stone had hinted at needed men like him and his teammates.
Gabe had gone into the military right out of college, after his parents passed away, and there was no longer a place for him on the Texas ranch where they’d worked. Disillusioned by the manner of the drawdown in Afghanistan, they’d all – he and his team – left Fort Drum, headquarters for the Tenth Mountain Division, not reupping in the Army. Since then they’d been putting their skills to use in a security and consulting service. Their motto for their First Brigade Combat Team was “Find a way or make one,” and they’d kept that in place.
When Stone and Hank had approached them, they’d been told a big plus was the fact they’d been working in the Adirondacks, which gave them plenty of experience in the mountains. His team had kept their motto as they created a place for themselves in civilian society. They were all hardened military men. No job was too tough for them.
Gabe was aware that Stone himself had made a major change when Hank Patterson reached out to him. Hank had built a vast security organization that took on the most challenging jobs and could operate where other agencies could not. Stone owed Hank big time for getting him out of a dangerous situation overseas before Hank left the military. He’d made sure the men knew why Brotherhood Protectors was so important to him. Folding his own one-man operation into Brotherhood Protectors seemed like the most productive thing to do. Especially when Hank told him he wanted this part of the organization based in Yellowstone. It was a win/win because Stone’s father owned a lodge in Yellowstone, and he was very familiar with both the territory and the turmoil going on in that area.
When he reached out to the men with his proposal, they’d all been interested. After all, new challenges were what they were about. The more challenging the better. He’d told them when he approached them that the fact they’d all been working in the Adirondacks would make an easy transition for what he had in mind.
Gabe shifted his attention to the man leaning against the kitchen counter. The one outlier in their group. Alex “Ridge” Ridgely. He had been part of their team at Fort Drum and had the hardened, experienced persona they needed. He was slightly older than the others, but that was because he had enlisted later. The men on Gabe’s team had welcomed Ridge’s experience, and he was a steadying influence.
He also was dedicated to wildlife preservation, which meant this might be right up his alley. He’d at least been interested enough, after two meetings, to show up today and listen to the entire proposition. And the others were glad to see him at least entertaining the offer.
And now, here they were, waiting for the rest of the details that would shape their team.
“Anyone need a coffee refill before we get started?” Hank asked.
They all topped off the liquid in their mugs before taking their seats at the table again, all except Ridge who returned to his spot against the counter. Still reserving judgment, Gabe thought.
“You all know how Hank Patterson and I met,” Stone began. “He saved my ass in a big way when we were both still in the military, and I’ve owed him big time ever since then.”
“Not so,” Hank interrupted. “You’ve paid it back in spades.” He grinned. “But I’m happy to have you obligated to me.”
“I know we’ve explained Brotherhood Protectors to you,” Stone went on, “but just a little refresher here. Hank started it when a situation arose with Sadie, now his wife, and just grew from there. We handle kidnappings, illegal aliens, anything that comes up. No job is too challenging. “
“So you told us,” Justice Kane said. “But what specifically do you have in mind? I’m sure you don’t expect us to stand around taking target practice until a job comes along that we like.”
Stone grinned. “There won’t be much time for hanging around, trust me.”
“You said something when we first met about establishing us in Yellowstone, but you never went into the reason why.”
“Wolves,” Stone told them. “That dwindling species.”
“I understand it’s becoming a bigger and bigger problem.” Nate “Edge” Edgerton sat on one of the barstools, his black German shepherd, Pierce, lounged but alert at his feet.
Stone nodded. “Park rangers eliminated the last wolves in Yellowstone National Park in the 1920s, but they were reintroduced in 1995. The project has been lauded as a conservation success story. The internationally acclaimed Yellowstone Wolf Project oversees research and monitoring of wolves in Yellowstone.”
“But exactly what does that have to do with us?” Wade Fielding asked.
“Good question. There seems to be all kinds of crap going on where wolves are concerned in Yellowstone. Despite the organization’s and individual efforts, it’s become more than local law enforcement or wildlife officers can handle. People are hunting wolves for sport, for profit, or because they interfere with their lifestyle. This is especially true of the ranchers who don’t want to work with the wildlife officers and licensed volunteers.”
“You mean they’re poaching?” Justice asked.
“Worse. In many instances, they draw them out of the areas fenced for them to roam freely then kill them. They can sell the pelts for high dollars on the black market. And that’s only part of it. Some ranchers are trapping them and letting them loose on a rival’s ranch, so they can attack the cattle and put the rancher out of business.”
“Shit.” Gabe Walker had been rocked back in his chair, listening carefully to what Stone had to say. He had a vague idea of what was happening with wolves in the area, but this, what Stone had just told them, turned his stomach.
“Indeed,” Hank agreed. “The project and the wildlife officers make a concerted effort to ensure the wolves stay inside the designated area for them.. But once they leave the park, they’re fair game. And there are plenty of assholes who take advantage of that fact.”
“I’m still curious as to what role we’re supposed to play,” Wade said.
“We have men releasing wolves from the park area to trap and kill. Moving them to other ranches to kill cattle. Using them as attack animals to achieve a purpose. And then there are those who just don’t like the wolves period and will do anything to get rid of them. We’ve had two civilians shot and killed during wolf incidents, and it can only get worse if someone doesn’t put a stop to it.”
“Shit.” Justice let out a slow whistle.
“And that’s not all,” Stone went on. “We have a well-run wolf sanctuary here that’s constantly under attack. Harper Young, who runs it, works her ass off but is constantly coming under fire. People want to shut her down, kill her wolves, destroy her property. You have no idea how vicious people can be when it comes to the preservation of wildlife.”
I looked for a scene that would best show you both Hannah’s and Edge’s personalities. Hannah’s a stubborn, independent thing and Edge is the exact same. Here there are discussing the fact she needs protection, with her brother-in-law Billy in on the conversation. BTW, Pierce is his dog. I love writing these two! ~DD
“I don’t need protection,” Hannah said, shaking her head before he even finished.
“I think it’s a good idea,” Billy said. “Hell, I better call Rebecca and let her know to stay close to home until I get there.” He pulled his phone from his pocket and stepped away to place the call.
“This is ridiculous. I have an alarm system for my studio. My apartment’s in the back. I’ll be fine.”
Edge frowned. “If these men decide on taking revenge, they’ll play for keeps, Hannah. I don’t like the idea of having to shadow you either but—”
He stopped mid-sentence because her eyebrows shot up, and her mouth pursed as though he’d offended her.
“What I mean,” he amended, “is I’m in the same boat as you. Hell, so is Pierce. We have to lay low while my team sets up surveillance to make sure they won’t harm any one of us.”
“I can’t have you hovering over me. My studio isn’t huge. My apartment is small—one damn bathroom, a tiny kitchenette, and a bed.”
“Then come stay at the lodge. There’s plenty of room, and no one in their right mind will come after you when you’re surrounded by ex-Special Forces.”
“I’m not staying at the lodge. At least at my place, I can get some work done.”
Good Lord, she was going to argue about every damn little thing. “Fine. I’ll take the couch.”
Her gaze ran from his head down to his feet then back up again. “My couch is a loveseat.”
He gritted his teeth and smiled. “Then I’ll roll out my sleeping bag on the floor.”
She rolled her eyes. “You’re not going to take no for an answer, are you?”
He couldn’t help it. Her voice was rough with aggravation, and her eyebrows were arrowed downward in the center. She was cute as hell when she was mad. He smiled.
Hannah gave him a hard glare and huffed. Then she threw up her hands and marched over to her brother-in-law who was still on the phone, presumably with his wife.
An argument ensued. Hannah’s hands gestured wildly; her face turned red. Billy, for his part, kept his cool, blinking once when she pointed her finger at his chest and tapped him. He pulled the phone from his ear, passed it to Hannah, then walked away. He headed straight for Edge.
“Women,” was all he said.
Edge grunted. “Your wife as stubborn as that one?” Edge asked, jerking his chin toward Hannah.
“It runs in the family.”
For some reason, Edge looked forward to meeting the mother and the sister. He cleared his throat. “You putting your wife on lockdown, too?”
“I’ll try, same as you.” Then he grinned, and the smile wrinkled the corners of his eyes. “I’m gonna call Sandy, their mom, to make sure she heads over there and sits on Rebecca until I get there.”
“Think she’ll be on your side?”
“She’s a mama bear. The stubborn’ll work in my favor.”
Edge chuckled. “And I thought I was going to have a nice quiet weekend.”
“Yeah, and now that you’ve met a Mackey woman, you can kiss all that goodbye.”
I’ve finished selecting the stories that will appear in SILVER SOLDIERS: A BOYS BEHAVING BADLY ANTHOLOGY! Congratulations go out to the following authors!
“Fight like Cats and Wolves” by A.J. Harris
“Handfasted to the Highlander Warrior” by Aurora Russell
“SNAFU—Situation Normal, All F***ed Up” by Ava Cuvay
“Operation Purple Sparkle Diamond” by Brenda Margriet
“SEAL in Distress” by Denise De Marco
“Star Diplomacy” by Kimberly Dean
“Take Me to the Water” by Michal Scott
“This Time Forever” by N.J. Walters
“Weathering the Storm” by Natasha Moore
“Sarge in Charge” by Reina Torres
“Broken Trust” by Rhonda Lee Carver
“Clear to Engage” by Sukie Chapin
Of course, there will also be stories by Elle James and myself, too. I’m super-excited about this book! ~ Delilah
Today, I’m just sharing a peek of the story I’m working on right now. Hope you enjoy meeting “The Edge”.
Nate “The Edge” Edgerton prefers dogs to humans, like Pierce, the retired war dog who saved his life in Afghanistan, because he prizes loyalty above all else. He trusts his team and his dog but has learned to be cautious about trusting women. After Pierce rushes to the rescue of a nature photographer being threatened by wolf poachers, Nate earns his first assignment as a Brotherhood Protector. He’ll keep her safe but keeping his heart secure will prove to be the hardest part of the job.
Hannah Mackey, a nature photographer tracking wolves, photographs poachers in the act of killing a wolf. She’s a second away from being shot herself when a large black dog rushes to her rescue, followed by a very handsome and angry man.
When Nate brings her to the Brotherhood Protectors, she’s dismayed that they’re insistent on providing her protection from retaliation by the well-organized poachers, especially when they assign Nate as her protector. She has a job to do, and she’s not going to let the threat from a criminal gang stop her from doing it.
Nate “The Edge” Edgerton preferred dogs to most humans.
Treat them right, and dogs were loyal to a fault—even heroic in their efforts to please their humans. Edge’s proof was trotting right in front of him, sniffing the air and then the ground, looking for dangers that lurked in the forest—or maybe, this time, he was simply taking in the scents of the varied wildlife.
Pierce, his all-black German shepherd working dog, compliments of the U.S. Army, was proof of Edge’s belief that dogs were better creatures than most humans. Pierce had lost an eye defending his handler and had been retired just before Edge had left the service. As the dog’s active-duty handler, he’d been offered the military dog. Edge still felt it was kind of repugnant that a dog like this had to have an “owner” when Pierce was by far the most responsible member of their partnership.
Yeah, if people were dogs, Edge wouldn’t be tromping through the forest, seeking some “alone time.” Sometimes, he had to get away from the noise and get out of his head. Even when they’d been on active duty, Edge had preferred spending weekends and short periods of leave as far as he could get away from crowds. He’d rather face a bear than a rowdy crowd inside a bar. Out here, he could turn off his brain and just be.
He was grateful Alex “Ridge” Ridgley, the old man on their team, had noticed Edge’s edginess. He’d read the signs and had arranged a four-day weekend for him and Pierce to get away.
He guessed his “tell” was the way he couldn’t keep his heel from tapping through meals and briefings. Or maybe it had been his surliness. Not that he wanted to be that way with his teammates. His team was the exception to his “dogs are more loyal than humans” conviction. But his team liked to hang out. They’d drink some beers and talk trash. Smile and laugh. He’d even join in. However, there would always come a point when all that comradery wore on every last one of his nerves, and he had to have some space.
Maybe it was because he’d been raised on a ranch with a father who’d been silent and taciturn and mom who’d forever been singing—offkey—while she’d done all the things a rancher did, plus kept the house and kids fed and clean. Still, there’d been plenty of quiet time. Plenty of space to roam. And he’d always had some lop-eared hound following him around while he’d done it.
Whenever he’d been done with chores, he’d show up at the back kitchen door and just look at his mom. She’d smile, shake her head, then tell him, “Get on out of here, but you better be back in time for dinner.”
He guessed Ridge was “mom” now. A thought that made him smile.
Edge wouldn’t have minded one of his team members joining him, but they were pretty busy these days. They had the odd security assignment and were still working on finishing out the office. It was nice that they’d all landed at the same agency. He’d be forever grateful to Stone Jacobs and Hank Patterson for inviting the team to join them to staff up the Brotherhood Protectors’ West Yellowstone office.
Edge would’ve hated signing on with a new bunch of guys. He was comfortable with men from his old active-duty team with the 10th Mountain Division. Ridge, Gabe Walker, Wade Fielding, Justice Kane, and Edge were tight. They’d even stuck together after leaving the military and had worked in the Adirondacks, forming a search and rescue team that had helped different agencies in the region, lending their support. However, they’d only been able to use a portion of their hard-earned skills. They had mountaineering skills, medic training, and of course, combat training, and Hank’s Brotherhood Protectors was a much better fit. The money was damn good, too.
Edge hadn’t returned to Wyoming after the death of his parents. He’d let the ranch go, selling it to settle debts. He’d split the proceeds with his sister, who was a nurse in Cheyenne. Neither had wanted to hold onto the homestead. Edge had felt guilty about leaving the ranch all those years ago, but his dad had wanted him to “see the world” before deciding whether he wanted the burden of the ranch he’d built from nothing. While he’d been on his first enlistment, they’d both been killed, their truck sliding off the road in a blizzard. They’d frozen to death; despite all the precautions his father had always taken. They’d been found huddled together on the bench seat, blankets covering them, their hands entwined.
Edge had figured that was the way they would have wanted to go—not the freezing to death part—but together. He’d never seen a more loving or loyal couple. He’d certainly never dated a woman who’d been so loyal she’d be willing to follow him all over the world or wait on some Army post while he was gone. He’d tried monogamy once.
He’d found a pretty blonde named Tammy, and she’d said all the right things. The first time he’d shipped out for a six-month stint in Afghanistan, she’d written to tell him that she’d found a job in Seattle, and she’d really, really miss him, but she didn’t want him to think that she’d be waiting for him when he returned.
He’d learned his lesson and hadn’t put much stock in women’s promises ever since. Sure, he dated. He liked a woman’s company now and then. He was a healthy male with a healthy sex drive, but he wasn’t interested in investing himself, his inner thoughts and emotions, in another person.
He preferred Pierce’s company. The dog only “talked” when he sensed Edge was restless or grumpy. Then he’d run for his leash and settle with it at his feet, looking up at him with his dark eyes until Edge smiled and reached down for the braided leather. Not that the dog needed a leash. He was trained to walk at his side, or as he was now, roaming ahead of him, never out of sight. Pierce lived for praise, a pat, or to chase a ball. He was easy to read. Never lied. Never wandered toward another human seeking attention.
They had an unbreakable bond, although it had almost ended violently. Pierce had accompanied the team on a patrol through a village where intel had said Taliban soldiers were gathering. Pierce had been doing his thing as they’d entered from the outskirts, avoiding the main roadway. He’d been scenting for explosives, ready to react if he detected any movement. When they’d come across a workshop at the back of one house, Pierce had alerted on a small cement mixer, sitting his tail down and waiting for Edge to check it out.
As Edge had drawn near, he’d seen a curtain in the back of the house move. Instantly, he’d slipped next to the back wall of the house and called Pierce to him, but it was already too late. The IED inside the mixer was detonated. The explosion sent shrapnel in a directed blast toward the house’s back door. Pierce was at the edge of that directed blast and took shrapnel to one eye and throughout his body. After they’d secured the house, setting C-4 to breach the front door and sweeping through the splintered back door, Edge had waited for the medevac helicopter with Pierce.
Pierce had survived but still had several metal shards inside his body, and he’d lost his right eye. He’d been medically retired, and since Edge had still had a few months left on his enlistment, he’d arranged for him to be kept until he’d mustered out and was able to claim him.
They’d been together ever since. Never apart. Pierce didn’t seem to be suffering from any PTSD either. Gunfire and loud noises didn’t faze him. He did seem a little more protective of Edge than before, which Edge found a little odd, but maybe the dog had feared for him in the moment of that blast, and that was what had stuck in his mind.
Edge was just grateful the dog had survived. They’d trained together at Lackland in San Antonio and then been assigned together to the 10th. Their friendship was battle-tested. Solid. Unless Edge could leave his dog in sight when he stepped into a store or restaurant, he just didn’t go inside. Sure, it was a little inconvenient, but Pierce was his best buddy. He’d earned Edge’s complete loyalty; the least Edge could do was make sure Pierce was a happy dog.
Happy was taking a long hike through the forest with vegetation softening their steps, a light wind stirring the leaves on the trees around them, and the crisp scent of pine trees carried in the air. So far, the trail hadn’t been challenging. Rolling hills, vistas overlooking burbling streams and rivers. Pure heaven for them both. It was restful. Meditative, if he was into that kind of thing, which he wasn’t.
Ahead, Pierce lifted his nose. As Edge watched, a ridge of hair lifted in a line down the center of the dog’s back. He wondered what Pierce had scented that had raised his hackles so fast and so high. A bear, maybe? He used his thumb to unclip the strap on his holster and paused, listening.
Then he heard it—the long ululating howl of a wolf. No, two. Were there more?
Pierce made a whining sound and jumped on his paws, wanting to rush ahead but glancing back to see whether Edge was okay with that—which he was not. Pierce was fearless but not invulnerable. Edge still held the vision of Pierce bleeding and his head listlessly lolling as he’d rushed with the dog in his arms to the helicopter.
“Not this time, bud,” he said softly. “Let’s just sit here for a minute and let them pass. Fuss!” With a finger pointed to the spot beside him, he watched as Pierce shot toward him, did a quick circle, and planted his rear end in the dirt beside him.
The wolves sounded as though they were having a high old time, their voices rising then slowly moving farther away. Edge smiled as Pierce gave another little whine, so he reached down and scratched behind his ear. “I know you think it’s playtime, but they might eat you right up, boy.”
Just as the wolves’ calls ended, he heard something else—the sharp report from a weapon. “Motherfuckers,” he bit out.
Then he moved forward, giving Pierce another firm command to remain by his side as the two ran through the forest.
It’s Friday, and maybe you’re getting ready to download a story and meet your new Weekend Book-Boyfriend. Well, I have a suggestion for you. Russell “Animal” Hathcoat is a bounty hunter, who will fall like a ton of bricks when he meets the right woman. He’s growly, grumpy, and rough around the edges but has a tender heart. Everything you could want in a BBF.
I reduced the price for this weekend only!! You’ll save $3 if you pick up your copy now! Read the excerpt below for a peek inside the fun you’ll have!
MONTANA BOUNTY HUNTERS: Authentic Men… Real Adventures…
A rough-around-the-edges bounty hunter takes a nature photographer on a wild ride.
Former SEAL, Russell “Animal” Hathcoat, retreated to a remote mountain cabin after leaving the Navy. Haunted by horrific images that replay in his nightmares of his last mission with his SEAL brothers, he intends to renovate the dilapidated cabin as penance and therapy, and to avoid rejoining the world around him. But then, someone who understands what he needs better than he does arrives to offer him a job.
Allie Travers loves the freedom and solitude of being a nature photographer and journalist—until the day she stares through her lens at a charging black bear. With her heart in her throat, she can only stand watching in horror, knowing she’ll never escape in time. But rescue comes in the form of a wild man who risks his life to frighten away the animal.
Once the danger is past, she’s told by his team of bounty hunters that she has more to fear than any animal in the woods. A felon is on the loose, and she has to accompany them to safety. Seeing an opportunity, Allie shadows the team as they hunt their prey deep in a national forest. Much to Animal’s chagrin, more than just his protective instincts are aroused by the pretty photojournalist.
Animal tuned out the crackling, thudding sounds of his team members moving through the forest.
On day three after he’d joined the hunt, he wasn’t regretting his decision to give MBH a try. He’d been unwilling to make any long-term promises. Hadn’t signed a contract or filled out a W-9. Not yet, anyway. When Fetch had described what Tibbets had done, and then talked about the hunters who were already on his trail, Animal had felt a stirring of interest. Manhunts were something he was familiar with. So, he wasn’t hunting a high-dollar target through the Hindu Kush mountains. Wasn’t dropping into some walled compound to sweep a house in the dead of night.
Still, this felt familiar. Moving through the bushes. Tracking a target. Looking for campfires, footprints, signs Tibbets had stopped to piss or shit. That morning, they’d found a butchered deer. Most of the carcass had been picked apart by scavengers. So, it hadn’t been left by a game hunter. He’d taken a portion of a haunch, had roasted it over a quickly built fire, and had eaten as much as he could before moving on.
Looked like Tibbets was feeling pretty sure he’d slipped the noose. He hadn’t even bothered to try to bury the evidence he’d been there.
The first afternoon, Animal had ridden along with Carly and Reaper. They’d shown him the warrant and pictures of Tibbets and his family. They’d canvassed businesses in Olney—gun shops, grocers, gas stations, but no one recalled seeing him or his cousin Murray.
That evening, they headed to Tibbets’s favorite haunt again. The women sat at the long polished bar, chatting up the bartender and the waitresses. Dagger and Mace played pool with two plugged-in and gossipy locals. Reaper and Animal sat at a table, watching the doors. But none of them were getting any bites.
About an hour into their surveillance, Hook and Cochise arrived.
Hook slapped a map on the table. “Found the parcel his family owns. It sits on a creek.”
“’Bout damn time,” Reaper had muttered.
The next morning, they’d geared up and surrounded a small, ratty camper trailer. Tibbets had been there recently but was now gone. After tearing through his belongings, searching for clues where he might have gone next, they bagged up dirty clothes for Mace’s dog Taco to scent on.
The moment Taco lowered his nose to the ground, following Tibbets’s trail from the camper’s metal steps, they’d realized the man had headed straight into the woods, afoot, rather than driving out.
They’d left Dagger, Lacey, and Cochise behind to watch for any movement in town, and to keep an eye out for any of his relatives who looked ready to head north with supplies to help him out. The rest of the team members grabbed their gear from their vehicles and began tracking Tibbets into Flathead National Forest.
Animal didn’t mind the rough conditions. He was accustomed to long marches and sleeping on the ground. None of the hunters, even Carly Stenberg, complained about the conditions, even after they’d endured a chilly rain the previous day. They’d dried their clothes beside a fire last night, reasonably assured they were still a day’s hike from catching up to Tibbets. Conversation had flowed around him, but he hadn’t felt the need to try to contribute.
This was a tight, well-trained crew, and they knew each other well. But they seemed to understand he wasn’t the chatty type. He rather liked the fact they let him be.
They came to the edge of the woods. A large meadow stretched before them, mountains in the background. The meadow was broken on one side by ridges of exposed rock.
“We got company,” Reaper said quietly. They all held back, remaining hidden in the brush. Reaper lifted an arm and pointed.
Animal pulled out his tactical telescope and followed Reaper’s direction, at last spotting a slender figure standing beside an outcropping. Not their mark.
A woman. She stood in front of a tripod and peered into a camera. She had wheat-colored hair drawn back into a messy braid. She wore a red plaid shirt and a khaki vest over blue jeans and boots.
Suddenly, she jerked back her head, giving him a glimpse of her profile. Her eyebrows were lowered, her mouth dropping as she stared down the hill.
He turned his telescope toward whatever had caught her attention and immediately understood her concern.
A baby black bear ambled into the clearing, heading upward toward her location.
“Where’s mama?” he whispered.
As though answering his question, a loud bellow sounded from the forest farther down the tree line. A large bear ran out, huffing and bellowing, heading toward the woman.
He didn’t have even a millisecond to think through a better plan. Animal dumped his pack and ran into the clearing, tearing at his shirt. When he’d ripped off the buttons down the front, he flapped the edges, trying to make himself look bigger. “Ha! Ha!” he yelled as loud as he could to draw the bear’s attention away from the woman.
Mama bear bounced on her front paws and spun toward him.
“Don’t shoot unless you have to!” Animal tossed over his shoulder to Reaper.
“Don’t get in my line of fire!” Reaper shouted back.
“Don’t shoot her!” the woman screamed.
“You shut up!” Animal yelled, still running, still flapping. Didn’t she realize he was trying to draw the bear’s attention away from her?
The bear’s head moved from Animal, to Reaper behind him, and again to the woman, likely trying to decide who was the biggest danger to her cub.
Animal roared and flapped and moved a little closer.
The baby bear squalled and changed direction, running for his mama.
Just when Animal feared the bear would charge, she spun and ran into the woods, her cub running right behind her.
Animal halted, breathing hard. He gave another flap of his shirt. “Ha! Ha!” he shouted, hoping she’d been startled bad enough not to turn around.
Then he heard a whirring sound, coming from up the rise. He turned his head toward the woman. The sound came from her camera. Animal gave her a fierce glare then began to stalk up the rise.
When he reached her, she straightened and flashed him a wide smile. “Thanks for that. Thought for a second there I was going to be lunch.”
“What the hell!” he bellowed, anger shot through him. Didn’t she have a clue how close to being “lunch” he’d been, trying to rescue her? And all she’d thought about was taking her damn pictures?
Her eyebrows shot upward, and she stood still.
Behind him, he heard more of his team stomping up the hill. He should have turned and walked away. Should have let Reaper handle getting her packed up and off the mountain. Away from him.
Instead, anger vibrated through him. He glanced at the gear strewn around her feet. “Who the hell comes out to the wilderness without a goddamn gun?”
“The only shots I plan to take are with my camera,” she said icily, lifting her chin.
He ground his teeth as his face heated.
“Wish I’d been shooting video though,” she said. “The footage would’ve gone viral. Do you chase bears often?”