Lord of the Bears (Wild Ridge Bears Book 1)(7)By: Kimber White
“I’m going to have to ask you to trust me,” he said, his voice a rich baritone that seemed to vibrate along the tiny hairs on my arms. “It gets dark faster than you think out here. And you can get turned around pretty easily once the sun goes down. I know the way.”
Everything in me wanted to follow him, to keep my hand in his and trust every word he said. I couldn’t though. This wasn’t some fairy tale, and I wasn’t naïve enough to think there’s such a thing as knights in shining armor. I was out in the middle of nowhere, with no phone, no help, and a guy big enough to do me harm had just offered to take me back into the woods where no one could hear me scream. I looked around. No cars. No road. Nothing but the woods in front of us, the high cliffs of Wild Ridge behind us, and the churning waters of Lake Superior below us.
I was an idiot. What could I have possibly been thinking letting Damon convince me to come out here on this ridiculous assignment all alone? I’d wanted to prove myself and get a professional photo credit on my resume. I saw the headlines and social media postings now. Missing college student. Last seen hiking all by her stupid self in Wild Ridge Forest. I dug my heels in and pulled my hand out of Jax’s. He froze and turned toward me, his eyes widening with concern.
“There’s a bear,” I said. “That’s why I’m out this far. A big one. A grizzly, I think.”
Jax’s eyes twinkled as he smiled. Not a mocking smile, but one of kindness. “A grizzly? I doubt it. You’ll see the occasional black bear up this far, but they’re more of a nuisance than anything. Campers who leave food out usually have the worst trouble with them. Don’t worry. I’ll keep you safe.”
I crossed my arms in front of me. “I’m telling you, that was no black bear. It was huge. Like, twice the size of any bear I’ve ever seen. Three times, even. It was sleeping. I woke it up and he wasn’t happy about it.”
Jax let out a sigh. He tore his hand through his hair and ran his fingers over that dark stubble along his chin. He stood so easy, relaxed with one leg slightly in front of the other, his jeans pulling tight over the hard muscles of his thighs. I looked away quickly.
“Well, whatever it was, I’m sure it’s long gone by now. Trust me. I know these woods. Any bear between here and your car is going to be a hell of a lot more afraid of you than you are of it. Let me take you down.”
God, I wanted to follow him. But, I had twin instincts warring inside of me. Part of me believed every word he said and damn near wanted to let him sweep me off my feet. I was scared. Straight up. Even though I hated admitting that even to myself. Jax was strong, handsome, and self-assured. How easy it would have been to just follow where he led? But then there was the other part of me. Something wasn’t right about any of this. Where had he come from? He had no hiking gear except for a small canteen over his shoulder. He had no car or bike that I could see. We were literally out in the middle of nowhere and he’d just appeared out of seemingly thin air.
“Nora,” he said, lowering his voice. He stepped toward me, getting close enough that I had to crane my neck to keep his gaze. “If I’d wanted to hurt you, I’d have done it by now. I’ll walk ten paces ahead of you all the time if you want. But, the simple fact is, you’re stuck out here and you need me. The longer we wait, the darker it’s going to get. You want to take your chances alone in those woods?”
“Fuck.” I blurted it. Jax cocked his head to the side and smiled. I think he had some joke on his mind, but he left it there. “Fine,” I said. “Yes. And thank you. I’m not trying to be difficult, it’s just been a really long day.”
Jax nodded. “You don’t know the half of it. So let’s get going.”
He took a few steps backward, holding his hands out, palms up in a non-threatening gesture. I hadn’t quite taken him seriously about the ten paces thing, but he certainly did. When he got back to the tree line, he turned his back to me and disappeared into the shadows.
I hesitated. Was I really going to follow him into the woods? A million horrible outcomes flashed in my mind. But, no matter what, if I stayed here on this ridge with my dead cell phone the outcome might be equally bad.