Loaded for Bear (Bear Country Grizzlies Book 2)(9)

By: Layla Nash & Callista Ball

Kira gazed at the uppermost branches of the trees surrounding the Lodge, mesmerized by the gentle sway, and tried to prepare herself for spending the night inside a small room without windows or real air. Jaguars loved to be up high. If she could sleep in the trees every night, she would. After too long in a cramped dorm room in college, she'd developed a severe case of claustrophobia and could hardly stand to be inside. Kira blinked as someone squeezed her shoulder, and she looked up to see a concerned look on Ethan's face. The mop guy also stood nearby, eyes wide.

Ethan held a large paper map, though all his attention focused on her. "Are you okay? Cooper asked if you needed water or toast or something, and you didn't answer."

She made a face — with only half her face — and tried to smile or grimace at the mop guy. "Sorry about that. I didn't hear you over the ringing in my ears."

Ethan snorted, but nodded to the other man. "Thanks, Coop. Water would be good, and another ice pack." Then he dragged a second chair right next to Kira's, and used a third as a table to spread the map out.

Kira watched him, not the map, even though she knew she needed to pay attention. The hike would be a difficult one, and finding the cameras might not be as easy as Dr. Reston had promised. If the GPS handset wasn't able to link up with the chips in the camera blinds, all she had were some coordinates to try to navigate. And with the way the trip had gone after only part of a day, there was no telling what else would go wrong.

She took a deep breath and resisted the urge to lean her head against Ethan's shoulder and take a short nap. Kira blinked to clear her vision and focused all of her attention on the map as he started to talk about where they would enter the backcountry. She well knew that the wilderness could kill. Foolish flirting and getting distracted by the man beside her was just trouble.


Ethan had been through many trip briefings. Almost too many to count, if he considered his time in the French Foreign Legion and all the days they'd spent preparing for missions and training and exercises. He'd probably spent at least half his life standing over a map, giving directions and figuring out the best way forward.

And all of that fell out of his damn head as soon as Kira looked at him.

His stomach jumped to his throat and his heart started to pound and his palms went all sweaty. He cleared his throat multiple times, grumbling, and started with useless tourist information about the places to enter the national park from the privately-owned land managed by Simon and the company. Ethan traced a path through the park, to the general vicinity of where those damn cameras were supposed to be, and dared a glance at her.

Luckily Kira was still awake, although she managed to look adorably confused as her fingers ghosted over the route he'd traced. She still smelled faintly of blood and little of adrenaline and pain, but underneath it all was the wild honeysuckle scent of her skin. Ethan forced himself to pay attention as she asked about elevation and weather, and he offered up the possibilities of a dangerous thunderstorm or an early snow. Both happened frequently enough that he always planned on them. But Kira didn't seem concerned; she just nodded and made a joke about dressing in layers.

Ethan leaned back in his chair as she continued to study the map, her lips moving as she silently counted something to herself. He wanted to touch her arm or her shoulder or her cheek, the bear mesmerized by her. "Do you go camping a lot? With your family or friends or..."

He trailed off, and his cheeks burned as she quirked an eyebrow. Of course he sounded like he was fishing for information on a boyfriend or fiancé or someone who might have a claim on her affections.

But Kira shook her head, going back to her perusal of the map. "I used to go hiking with my family, but we haven't done that in a while. I've been so busy with school I haven't had time lately. I was really looking forward to this trip."

Something in the tone of her voice made him worried maybe that had changed. Maybe getting lost and then hit in the face with a car trunk took away some of the enjoyment. He snorted to himself, then shook his head when that quizzical eyebrow returned. Maybe it was the only part of her face that didn't hurt.

Ethan sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. "It's beautiful country, so it'll be a nice hike. Lots of birds this time of year, deer and elk. The bears will probably be out, getting ready for winter, and we'll likely see wolves and mountain lions. Well, we'll hear them for sure and see them if we're not lucky," and he smiled to show he was only joking.