Authors: T. S. Joyce
BEAR FUR HIRE
(BEARS FUR HIRE, BOOK 2)
By T. S. JOYCE
Copyright © 2015 by T. S. Joyce
Copyright © 2015, T. S. Joyce
First electronic publication: November 2015
T. S. Joyce
All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. No part of this book may be scanned, uploaded or distributed via the Internet or any other means, electronic or print, without the author’s permission.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental. The author does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for third-party websites or their content.
Published in the United States of America
Lena Rhodes screamed as the plane dipped violently.
“Hang on, I’ll get us higher,” murmured the soft-spoken man piloting the small, four-seater bush plane. He eased them up toward the dark, churning clouds.
Lena closed her eyes and clutched her camera bag against her stomach. She’d made a huge mistake taking this job, but when the president of
Bucks and Backwoods
magazine offered a lifetime opportunity to photograph some of the most dangerous animals on the planet, how could she refuse? This was the jumping point of her career, right here, in the passenger seat of a death rocket shooting through the air right under a building Alaskan storm. But this wasn’t even the most terrifying part of the trip. If she survived the turbulent plane ride, she was going to photograph an animal that had only visited her nightmares. The elusive Alaskan brown bear.
She let off a shuddering moan as her stomach dipped again.
“We’re almost there, lady.”
“Tobias, is it?” she asked, desperate to take her mind off the horrifying storm swirling above them.
“Mmm,” he said, barely audible over the rumbling engine.
“H-how long have you been flying this thing?”
“This thing? One month.”
Her eyes flew wide, and she nearly choked on air, but the smile on his face said there was a joke in there somewhere.
“The plane is new, but I’ve been flying for ten years.”
“Oh, my gosh,” she said on a relieved breath. “That wasn’t funny.”
“You don’t like flying?”
“I like flying on big commercial jets just fine. They serve alcohol and don’t hit turbulence like this.”
“Am I your first bush plane flight?”
Panting in panic and squishing herself against the seat, eyes on the ground far below, Lena nodded in short jerks.
“Well, stop your worrying. I’ve never had a crash, and I fly all the time.”
“Do you always fly clients out to Silver Summit Outfitters?”
“No, I don’t. I run deliveries all over Alaska, but on occasion, I fly people out here on a favor.”
“A favor to whom?”
Lena dragged her attention from the lush greenery below to the man sitting next to her. “Your brother works at Silver Summit?”
The man placed his hand on his chest and said, “Tobias Silver, at your service.”
“Whoa, both hands on the wheel!” She drew a long steadying breath. “Your brother owns the lodge?”
“Co-owns it. Have you picked out a guide yet?”
“Uuuuh,” she murmured, fumbling for the pamphlet in the satchel at her feet. “I was waiting for a recommendation from my boss. I’m hoping he’s left me a message by the time we land.”
“What are you here to photograph?”
Tobias’s dark eyebrows jacked up, and he took his green eyes off the dark sky in front of them to stare at her for way too long for her comfort. “You’re going to willingly trek out into brown bear country to
“Do you know how to shoot?”
“I’m not bringing a rifle, if that’s what you mean.”
Tobias scratched his neck in what looked like irritation, and when he glanced over at her again, the expression on his face had darkened considerably. “Jenner Silver. Reserve him as your guide.”
“Oh, but I checked on him already. He’s booked right now, and I was thinking of Chance Dawson or Dalton—”
“No ma’am, you want Jenner. He’ll be worth the wait. He can keep you safe.”
“Safe how? Because I’m not okay with hurting the animals I photograph.”
Tobias huffed a laugh and cast her an
look. “I think you’ll feel differently when you actually encounter a charging grizzly. And as for my brother’s qualifications—let’s just say he has a way with the bears.”
“What does that mean?”
But Tobias Silver was done talking apparently because he pursed his lips into a thin line and didn’t say another word until they reached a long, asphalt landing strip in the middle of nowhere. Only when they were safely on the ground and at a complete stop did her pounding heart rate settle.
Tobias slid out of the plane and jogged around the front as she gathered her belongings. He helped her out and strapped himself down with her bags, equipment, and luggage.
“Thank you for your help,” she said.
But Tobias took off into the piney forest without so much as a “you’re welcome.”
The giant of a man didn’t seem to need any directions as he hiked this way and that, following thin, intersecting deer trails through the thick brush until he came to a clearing. But while he strode toward the massive log cabin at the apex of the open field, Lena skidded to a stop in shock.
She’d traveled all over the world and photographed animals in the most beautiful places imaginable, but this right here had her pulse quickening with its beauty.
The lodge was rustic, covered in cedar logs and topped with a red tin roof. A sprawling porch surrounded it, and across the front yard, about a hundred yards away, was a massive deck overlooking a winding, fast-flowing river. On top of the wooden surface were rocking chairs, a wooden swing, and a set of reclined lounge chairs positioned around a wide built-in fire pit. There were snowcapped mountains in the distance, and the clearing was encased in the greenest, thickest pine forest she’d ever seen. Off to the side of the gargantuan lodge was a barn with a trio of horses trotting around a corral.
“You coming or what?” Tobias called in an echoing voice from in front of the lodge.
“Yes, sorry,” she said, climbing the sloping mowed yard.
“You all right?” Tobias asked with a worried furrow to his eyebrows.
“When women say they’re fine, they’re not fine. You don’t have to do this.”
“Do what?” she asked, coming to a stop in front of him and readjusting the single camera bag she carried on her shoulder.
“Go after those grizzlies. You could stay here for a day or two and relax. Maybe take pictures of the black bears that fish the river here. They’re safer, you know.”
Irritated, she said, “Yes, I know. I’ve photographed black bears for the past year. Grizzlies are my promotion.”
With a judgmental little quirk to his brow, he muttered, “Death by promotion. Your boss sounds like an asshole.”
Lena narrowed her eyes at the back of his head as he climbed the porch stairs, but she would not engage. She’d had a long trip here and wasn’t up for a row with a stranger who would be out of her life forever in a few minutes.
“You must be Colleen Rhodes,” said an older man with a thinning hair line, hunched posture, and a crinkling smile. He held out his hand as she approached the front door. “I’m Lennard Graves, co-owner of Silver Summit Outfitters.”
She shook his hand and mirrored his warm smile. “People call me Lena.”
“Very good. Nice to meet you Lena.” He turned and clapped Tobias on the shoulder, but the giant didn’t even sway under the hard hit. “Tobias, it’s good to see you again.”
“Lennard,” Tobias greeted with a nod. “Is my brother around?”
“Good. I’ll go put her things up. What room?”
Tobias turned and yanked the camera bag strap from her shoulder, then strode through the front door, heavy boots clomping across the wooden floorboards inside.
Lena had opened her mouth to say she was sorry he was missing his brother, but snapped it shut at his abrupt departure. “Why is he glad his brother isn’t here?” she whispered to Lennard.
The corners of his eyes wrinkled with his easy smile. “Because those boys fight like titans. It’s best for everyone that they spend as little time in each other’s presence as possible.”
“But Tobias said this was a favor for his brother.” God, why was she being so nosey, and why did she even care?
“They’re family,” he said, as if the answer should’ve been obvious. “Don’t matter if they don’t like each other. A good man takes care of family when they need help. My regular bush-pilot just had his firstborn, and he’s shacking up in Anchorage with his wife while the babe is new.”
Lena smiled. “Good for him.”
“Indeed. A baby is always a blessing, and a daddy should be there to help if he’s able.” Lennard jerked his chin. “You ready to meet the guides and get the grand tour of the place? You’re the only one here for the next couple of days. Your boss booked you just right between guided tours. This season is a little slower.”
“Why is that?” she asked, following him into a huge foyer and staring up at a massive antler chandelier above them.
“Hunting season starts in September for big game. That’s our busy season. Right now is just sightseeing tours, fishing excursions, and guided camping trips. And pre-season scouting for big fancy magazine photographers,” he added with a wink. “We subscribe to
Bucks and Backwoods
. I knew your work from the credits at the bottoms of some of the pictures before your outfit even booked this place for you. You sure put a grin on this old man’s face when I found out you were going to come take pictures of our bears. I wouldn’t mind if you signed a couple of our in-house copies before you leave. The clients will get a kick out of it.”
Lena grinned and said, “I’d be happy to.”
Off the entrance was a great room with a grand stone hearth with a stuffed moose head over the cedar mantle. And under the dark leather couches in front of a big screen television was laid a bear-skin rug that had to be twice her height. The head was enormous, the mouth open in a menacing growl, and the gleaming teeth were longer than her fingers. “Holy shit,” she said on a breath.
“Holy shit indeed, ma’am. You’ll be in the thick of bears even bigger than that one.”
There was an open kitchen and dining area on the other side, and around an island, eating what looked to be some sort of steaming soup, sat two men with their backs to them.
“Chance, Dalton, come meet Lena Rhodes.”
The men, as different as night and day, one fair-haired with barely-there blond eyebrows and striking green eyes, and the other with tan skin, raven-black short hair and dark eyes, approached with friendly smiles.
“Chance Dawson,” the blond said, shaking her hand.
“Dalton Dawson,” the other introduced himself, giving her a good shake, too.
She liked the way they shook her hand. Usually, men in her industry gave her a limp handshake, or they turned her hand over, placing theirs on top of hers in a subtle play for dominance. None of these men had done that, though. It was all firm grips and friendly smiles. Good.
“Both of your last names are Dawson? Are you brothers?”
“Cousins,” Chance explained. He shoved Dalton’s head playfully and said, “We grew up together, and then Dalton followed me here. He just couldn’t pry himself away from me.”
“Shut up,” Dalton muttered. He swung his gaze to Lena and said, “Our family is really close.”
“Yeah,” Chance murmured with a mischievous glint in his eyes. “Like a pack.”
Dalton threw his cousin the strangest warning glance, then changed the subject. “You’re the photographer Lennard won’t stop yammerin’ on about, aren’t you?”
Heat flushed her cheeks, and she laughed. “Well, I haven’t proven myself yet.”
“What are you photographing?”
Dalton drew back like he’d been slapped. “Brown bear? You realize we are in the thick of the Kodiak Archipelago, don’t you?”
She narrowed her eyes. “Yeah, so?”
“So Kodiak bears are the biggest, baddest, meanest bruins in the world. We’ll be taking you out to the rivers for salmon season right now where grizzlies are desperately trying to build up their fat reserves for winter. That’s no-man’s land, and you’re…well…a woman.”
And there it was. “Damn, Dalton, and you gave such a good handshake, too.”
Lennard was staring at the dark-haired guide like he’d lost his mind, and Chance was looking at her as if she was a mother wolverine about to bite the shit out of everyone.
“I was about to ask who you’d like to take you out there, but I have a feeling this dumbass just made your decision for you,” Lennard grumbled.
Tobias strode from hallway to the front door with a polite half-smile and a wave. “Good luck with those bears,” he said, which reminded her…
“I choose Jenner Silver.”
“Ha!” Dalton crowed. “You think I’m bad? Jenner’s ten times worse and grumpy to boot.”
“Plus, he ain’t here,” Chance explained. “He’s on a pre-season scout right now, and nobody knows when he’ll return.”
Lennard, however, was staring at her with a slight frown in his bushy gray brows. “That’s not all true.”
“He’s not grumpy?” she asked hopefully.
“Oh, that part is one-hundred percent correct, but I know when he’s returning. Any time now. He radioed in this morning. Got in a scuffle with a bear about thirty miles from here.”