Lord of the Bears (Wild Ridge Bears Book 1)(8)

By: Kimber White

“Fuck,” I muttered under my breath. Then, I let out a breath and started to follow. Branches clung to my hair as I tried to see where Jax went. It was as if the woods swallowed him whole. Icy fingers of panic snaked their way up my spine. I wasn’t sure if I was more scared to lose him or find him again.

“This way,” his booming voice came from straight ahead. My heart dropped with relief. Instinct told me to trust him, and it looked like I had no choice.

“Coming,” I called out then picked up my pace. Jax waited for me at the foot of a small hill. He’d turned to face me again and stood there with his hands out just like before. When I got close, he gave me a wide, heart-melting smile, then he turned and walked ahead, keeping the space between us that he’d promised.

We went on like that for a while. I don’t know how long, but with each step I took, I felt more and more foolish. Jax was right. If he’d wanted to do me harm, he’d had plenty of chances before this. Plus, I had at least a rough idea that we were headed in the right direction. I broke into a light jog to catch up with him.

“Hey,” I said. “It’s okay. You don’t have to stay ahead of me. In fact, I’d rather you didn’t if you don’t mind.”

Jax smiled down at me and stopped walking so I could catch up. I put a hand on his arm when I got there. His skin felt so hot. Feverish almost. But, he hadn’t even broken a sweat. He flinched where my hand rested on his taut bicep and his posture stiffened. But, he kept a neutral smile on his face and put his hand over mine.

“It’s not that much farther,” he assured me. “And the trail is mostly downhill. I’m just surprised you made it this far out here all by yourself. Bear notwithstanding, why?”

“What do you mean?” I don’t know why, but something made me want to guard some of the details of why I was out here. One of the more obvious reasons for Jax’s knowledge of these woods dawned on me. He might very well work for the Wild Ridge Mining Company. It wouldn’t do me a lot of good to admit part of my job here was to spy.

His low laughter gave me goosebumps. “You’re not hiking for sport, Nora. That’s a hell of a clunky camera you’ve got hanging around your neck.”

“Oh.” I clutched the lens and pulled the camera into my chest. “Well, actually, I work for the Vista Foundation. I’m out here taking pictures for a calendar we want to sell. In fact, I’d just managed to send a bunch of them to my boss right before my phone died.”

The last part was a fib, but it occurred to me if there was that outside chance Jax still planned to do me harm, that information might make him think twice.

“Get any good ones?”

I nodded. The terrain got steeper, and I struggled to keep my footing. It didn’t seem to bother Jax at all. If anything, he had the agility of a cat as he bounded over branches and dips in the forest floor. When I finally stumbled, he managed to get to me in an instant, cupping a strong hand beneath my elbow and helped me along.

“Some,” I answered. Then my heart fluttered as the real reason I’d ended up lost occurred to me. “In fact, do you know anything about that pioneer cabin back that way?”

Jax’s stride slowed for an instant, enough to tell me he knew exactly what I was talking about. “I do,” he said.

“It’s something else. It’s got to be at least a hundred and fifty years old.”

“Could be,” he answered.

“Do you know who owns it? I mean, it’s in such bad shape. One more bad winter and it’s going to fall in on itself. It should be protected as a historical site. I mean, it’s really remarkable. That’s exactly the kind of thing the Vista Foundation would love to take on.”

Jax froze and turned to me. “And that’s the last thing we need out here. You can tell the Vista Foundation to mind its own business.” His tone deepened and his eyes flashed. Jax waited for me to catch up to him again, then turned and kept walking down the hill.

“You’re wrong,” I argued as I caught up to him. “Completely. I can’t imagine there are too many real pioneer cabins from that era left in Michigan. Maybe not even the whole country. It should be preserved for study and so future generations can enjoy it and learn about this area.”

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