By Jill Shalvis
Formats and Prices
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around June 26, 2012. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
Amy Michaels loves her new life in Lucky Harbor. A waitress in the local diner, she’s looking forward to her first weekend hike through the mountains. But when a wrong turn takes her off the trail, she finds herself up close and personal with forest ranger Matt Bowers. And even though she’s tempted to kiss that sexy smile right off his face, she won’t make the mistake of getting involved with the town heartthrob.
A former cop whose life went south, Matt doesn’t let anyone get too close. But something about the feisty beauty caught his eye the moment he first saw her in the diner. After a hot night under a starry sky, Matt can’t deny their attraction-or the fact that for the first time in a long time, he feels the stirrings of something more. Now it’s up to Matt to help Amy see that, no matter what is in their past, together they can build a future in Lucky Harbor.
Table of Contents
More from Jill Shalvis
In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the publisher constitute unlawful piracy and theft of the author's intellectual property. If you would like to use material from the book (other than for review purposes), prior written permission must be obtained by contacting the publisher at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for your support of the author's rights.
Everything's better with chocolate.
I'm not lost," Amy Michaels said to the squirrel watching her from his perch on a tree branch. "Really, I'm not."
But she so was. And actually, it was a way of life. Not that Mr. Squirrel seemed to care. "I don't suppose you know which way?" she asked him. "I happen to be looking for hope."
His nose twitched, then he turned tail and vanished in the thick woods.
Well, that's what she got for asking a guy for directions. Or asking a guy for anything for that matter… She stood there another moment, with the high-altitude sun beating down on her head, a map in one hand and her Grandma Rose's journal in the other. The forest around her was a profusion of every hue of green and thick with tree moss and climbing plants. Even the ground was alive with growth and running creeks that she constantly had to leap over while birds and squirrels chattered at her. A city girl at heart, Amy was used to concrete, lights, and people flipping other people off. This noisy silence and lack of civilization was like being on another planet, but she kept going.
The old Amy wouldn't have. She'd have gone home by now. But the old Amy had made a lifelong habit out of running instead of taking a stand. She was done with that. It was the reason she was here in the wilds instead of on her couch. There was another reason, too, one she had a hard time putting into words. Nearly five decades ago now, her grandma had spent a summer in Lucky Harbor, the small Washington coastal town Amy could catch glimpses of from some of the switchbacks on the trail. Rose's summer adventure had been Amy's bedtime stories growing up, the only bright spot in an otherwise shitty childhood.
Now Amy was grown up—relatively speaking—and looking for what her grandma had claimed to find all those years ago—hope, peace, heart. It seemed silly and elusive, but the truth was sitting in her gut—Amy wanted those things, needed them so desperately it hurt.
It was harder than she expected. She'd been up since before dawn, had put in a ten-hour shift on her feet at the diner, and was now on a mountain trail. Still on her feet.
Unsure she was even going in the right direction, she flipped open her grandma's journal, which was really more of a spiral notepad, small enough that it fit in the palm of her hand. Amy had it practically memorized, but it was always a comfort to see the messy scrawl.
It's been a rough week. The roughest of the summer so far. A woman in town gave us directions for a day hike, promising it'd be fun. We started at the North District Ranger Station, turned right at Eagle Rock, left at Squaw Flats. And with the constant roar of the ocean as our northward guide, headed straight to the most gorgeous meadow I've ever seen, lined on the east side by thirty-foot-high prehistoric rocks pointing to the sky. The farthest one was the tallest, proudly planted into the ground, probably sitting there since the Ice Age.
We sat, our backs to the rock, taking it all in. I spent some time drawing the meadow, and when I was done, the late afternoon sun hit the rock perfectly, lighting it up like a diamond from heaven, both blinding and inspiring. We carved our initials into the bottom of our diamond and stayed the night beneath a black velvety sky…
And by morning, I realized I had something I'd been sorely missing—hope for the future.
Amy could hear the words in her grandma's soft, trembling voice, though of course she would have been much younger when she'd actually written the journal. Grandpa Scott had died when Amy was five, so she couldn't remember much about him other than a stern face, and that he'd waggled his finger a lot. It was hard to picture the stoic man of her memories taking a whimsical journey to a diamond rock and finding hope, but what did she know?
She hiked for what felt like forever on the steep mountain trail, which sure had looked a whole lot flatter and straighter on the map. Neither the map nor Rose's journal had given any indication that Amy had been going straight up until her nose bled. Or that the single-track trail was pitted with obstacles like rocks, fast-running creeks, low-hanging growth, and in two cases, downed trees that were bigger than her entire apartment. But Amy had determination on her side. Hell, she'd been born determined. Sure, she'd taken a few detours through Down-On-Her-Luck and then past Bad-Decisionsville, but she was on the right path now.
She just needed that hope. And peace would be good, too. She didn't give much of a shit about heart. Heart had never really worked out for her. Heart could suck it, but she wanted that hope. So she kept moving, amongst skyscraper-high rock formations and trees that she couldn't even see the tops of, feeling small and insignificant.
She'd roughed it before; but in the past, this had meant something entirely different, such as giving up meals on her extra lean weeks, not trudging through the damp, overgrown forest laden with bugs, spiders, and possibly killer birds. At least they sounded killer to Amy, what with all the manic hooting and carrying on.
When she needed a break, she opened her backpack and went directly to the emergency brownie she'd pilfered from work earlier. She sat on a large rock and sighed in pleasure at getting off her feet. At the first bite of chocolately goodness, she moaned again, instantly relaxing.
See, she told herself, looking around at the overabundant nature, this wasn't so bad. She could totally do this. Hell, maybe she'd even sleep out here, like her grandparents had, beneath the velvet sky—
Then a bee dive-bombed her with the precision of a kamikaze pilot, and Amy screeched, flinging herself off the rock. "Dammit." Dusting herself off, she stood and eyed the fallen brownie, lying forlorn in the dirt. She gave herself a moment to mourn the loss before taking in her surroundings with wariness.
There were no more bees, but now she had a bigger problem. It suddenly occurred to her that it'd been a while since she'd caught sight of the rugged coastline, with its stone arches and rocky sea stacks. Nor could she hear the roar of the crashing waves from below as her northward guide.
That couldn't be good.
She consulted her map and her penciled route. Not that that helped. There'd been quite a few forks on the trail, not all of them clearly marked. She turned to her grandma's journal again. As directed, she'd started at the North District Ranger Station, gone right at Eagle Rock, left at Squaw Flats… but no ocean sounds. No meadow. No diamond rock.
And no hope.
Amy looked at her watch—six thirty. Was it getting darker already? Hard to tell. She figured she had another hour and a half before nightfall, but deep down, she knew that wasn't enough time. The meadow wasn't going to magically appear, at least not today. Turning in a slow circle to get her bearings, she heard an odd rustling. A human sort of rustling. Amy went utterly still except for the hair on the back of her neck, which stood straight up. "Hello?"
The rustling had stopped, but there, she caught a quick flash of something in the bush.
A face? She'd have sworn so. "Hello?" she called out. "Who's there?"
No one answered. Amy slid her backpack around to her front and reached in for her pocket knife.
Once a city rat, always a city rat.
Another slight rustle, and a glimpse of something blue—a sweatshirt maybe. "Hey," she yelled, louder than she meant to but she hated being startled.
Again, no one answered her, and the sudden stillness told her that she was once again alone.
She was good at alone. Alone worked. Heart still racing, she turned back around. And then around again. Because she had a problem—everything looked the same, so much so that she wasn't sure which way she'd come.
Or which way she was going. She walked along the trail for a minute but it didn't seem familiar so she did a one-eighty and tried again.
Still not familiar.
Great. Feeling like she'd gone down the rabbit hole, she whipped out her cell phone and stared down at the screen.
Okay, don't panic. Amy never panicked until her back was up against the wall. Eyeing the closest rock outcropping, she headed toward it. Her guidebook had said that the Olympics' rock formations were made up of shales, sandstone, soft basalts, and pillow lava. She would have said they were sharp and craggy, a fact attested to by the cuts on her hands and legs. But they were also a good place to get reception.
Climbing out onto the rocks was fine. Looking down, not so much. She was oh-holy-shit high up.
But she had two bars now for her efforts. She took a moment to debate between calling her two closest friends, Grace or Mallory. Either of the Chocoholics were good in a tough situation, but Mallory was Lucky Harbor native, so Amy called her first.
"How's it going?" Mallory asked.
"Taking a brownie break," Amy said casually, like she wasn't sitting on a rock outcropping a million feet above earth. "Thought you could join me."
"For chocolate?" Mallory asked. "Oh, yeah. Where are you?"
Well, wasn't that the question of the day. "I'm on the Sierra Meadows Trail… somewhere."
There was a beat of accusatory silence. "You lied about meeting you for a brownie?" Mallory asked, tone full of rebuke.
"Yeah, that's not exactly the part of my story I expected you to fixate on," Amy said. The rock was damp beneath her. Rain-soaked mosses adorned every tree trunk in sight, and she could hear a waterfall cascading into a natural pool somewhere nearby. Another bush rustled. Wind?
"I can't believe you lied about chocolate," Mallory said. "Lying about chocolate is… sanctimonious. Do you remember all those bad girl lessons you gave me?"
Amy rubbed the spot between her eyes where a headache was starting. "You mean the lessons that landed you the sexy hunk you're currently sleeping with?"
"Well, yes. But my point is that maybe you need good girl lessons. And good girl lesson number one is never tease when it comes to chocolate."
"Forget the chocolate." Amy drew a deep breath. "Okay, so you know I'm not all that big on needing help when I screw up, but…" She grimaced. "Help."
"You're really lost?"
Amy sighed. "Yeah, I'm really lost. Alert the media. Text Lucille." Actually, in Lucky Harbor, Lucille was the media. Though she was seventy-something, her mind was sharp as a tack, and she used it to run Lucky Harbor's Facebook page like New York's Page Six.
Mallory had turned all business, using her bossy ER voice. "What trail did you start on and how long have you been moving?"
Amy did her best to recount her trek up to the point where she'd turned left at Squaw Flats. "I should have hit the meadow by now, right?"
"If you stayed on the correct trail," Mallory agreed. "Okay, listen to me very carefully. I want you to stay right where you are. Don't move."
Amy looked around her, wondering what sort of animals were nearby and how much of a meal she might look like to them. "Maybe I should—"
"No," Mallory said firmly. "I mean it, Amy. I want you to stay. People get lost up there and are never heard from again. Don't move from that spot. I've got a plan."
Amy nodded, but Mallory was already gone. Amy slipped her phone into her pocket, and though she wasn't much for following directions, she did as Mallory had commanded and didn't move from her spot. But she did resettle the comforting weight of her knife in her palm.
And wished for another brownie.
The forest noises started up again. Birds. Insects. Something with a howl that brought goose bumps to her entire body. She got whiplash from checking out each and every noise. But as she'd learned long ago, maintaining a high level of tension for an extended period of time was just exhausting. A good scream queen she would not make, so she pulled out her sketch pad and did her best to lose herself in drawing.
Thirty minutes later, she heard someone coming from the opposite direction she thought she'd come from. He wasn't making much noise, but Amy was a master at hearing someone approach. She could do it in her sleep—and had. Her heart kicked hard, but these were easy, steady footsteps on the trail. Not heavy, drunken footsteps heading down the hall to her bedroom…
In either case, it certainly wasn't Mallory. No, this was a man, light on his feet but not making any attempt to hide his approach. Amy squeezed her fingers around the comforting weight of her knife.
From around the blind curve of the trail, the man appeared. He was tall, built, and armed and dangerous, though not to her physical well-being. Nope, nothing about the tough, sinewy, gorgeous forest ranger was a threat to her body.
But Matt Bowers was lethal to her peace of mind.
She knew who he was from all the nights he'd come into the diner after a long shift, seeking food. Lucky Harbor residents fawned over him, especially the women. Amy attributed this to an electrifying mix of testosterone and the uniform. He was sipping a Big Gulp, which she'd bet her last dollar had Dr. Pepper in it. The man was a serious soda addict.
She understood his appeal, even felt the tug of it herself, but that was her body's response to him. Her brain was smarter than the rest of her and resisted.
He wore dark, wraparound Oakley sunglasses, but she happened to know that his eyes were light brown, sharp, and missed nothing. Those eyes were in complete contrast with his smile, which was all laid-back and easygoing, and said he was a pussy cat.
That smile lied.
Nothing about Matt Bowers was sweet and tame. Not one little hair on his sun-kissed head, not a single spectacular muscle, nothing. He was trouble with a capital T, and Amy had given up trouble a long time ago.
She was still sitting on the rock outcropping, nearly out of sight of the trail, but Matt's attention tracked straight to her with no effort at all. She sensed his wry amusement as he stopped and eyed her. "Someone send out an S.O.S.?"
She barely bit back her sigh. Dammit, Mallory. Out of all the men in all the land, you had to send this one…
When she didn't answer, he smiled. He knew damn well she'd called Mallory, and he wanted to hear her admit that she was lost.
But she didn't feel like it—childish and immature, she knew. The truth was, her reaction to him was just about the furthest thing from childish, and that scared her. She wasn't ready for the likes of him, for the likes of any man. The very last thing she needed was an entanglement, even if Matt did make her mouth water, even if he did look like he knew exactly how to get her off this mountain.
Or off in general…
And if that wasn't the most disconcerting thought she'd had in weeks…
"Mallory called the cavalry," he said. "Figured I was the best shot you had of getting found before dark."
Amy squared her shoulders, hoping she looked more capable than she felt. "Mallory shouldn't have bothered you."
He smiled. "So you did send out the S.O.S."
Damn him and his smug smile. "Forget about it," she said. "I'm fine. Go back to your job doing…" She waved her hand. "Whatever it is that forest rangers do, getting Yogi out of the trash, keeping the squirrels in line, et cetera."
"Yogi and the squirrels do take up a lot of my time," he agreed mildly. "But no worries. I can still fit you in."
His voice always seemed to do something funny to her stomach. And lower. "Lucky me."
"Yeah." He took another leisurely sip of his soda. "You might not know this, but on top of keeping Yogi in line and all the squirrel wrangling I do, rescuing fair maidens is also part of my job description."
"I'm no fair maiden—" She broke off when something screeched directly above her. Reacting instinctively, she flattened herself to the rock, completely ruining her tough-girl image.
"Just the cry of a loon," her very own forest ranger said. "Echoing across Four Lakes."
She straightened up just as another animal howled, and barely managed not to flinch. "That," she said shakily, "was more than a loon."
"A coyote," he agreed. "And the bugling of an elk. It's dusk. Everyone's on the prowl for dinner. The sound carries over the lakes, making everyone seem like they're closer than they are."
"There's elk around here?"
"Roosevelt Elk," he said. "And deer, bobcats, and cougars, too."
Amy shoved her sketch book into her backpack, ready to get the hell off the mountain.
"Whatcha got there?" he asked.
"Nothing." She didn't know him well enough to share her drawings, and then there was the fact that he was everything she didn't trust: easy smile, easy nature, easy ways—no matter how sexy the packaging.
If God had meant for us to be thin, he wouldn't have created chocolate.
Matt loved his job. Having come from first the military, then Chicago SWAT, the current shortage of blood and guts and gangbangers in his workweek was a big bonus. But his day as supervisory forest ranger for the North District had started at the ass crack of dawn, when two of his rangers had called in sick, forcing him to give the sunrise rainforest tour—a chore he ranked right up there with having a root canal.
Talking wasn't the problem. Matt liked talking just fine, and he loved the mountain. What he didn't love were the parents who didn't keep track of their own children, or the divorcees who were looking for a little vacay nookie with a forest ranger, or the hard-core outdoor enthusiasts who knew… everything.
After the morning's tour, he'd measured the snowmelt and then gone to the Eagle Rock campsites to relocate one royally pissed-off raccoon mama and her four babies from the bathroom showers. From there, he'd climbed up to Sawtooth Lake to check the east and west shorelines for reported erosion, taken steps to get that erosion under control, patrolled all the northern quadrant's trails for a supposed Bigfoot sighting, handled some dreaded paperwork, and then come back out to rescue a fair, sweet maiden.
Only maybe not so sweet…
She was still sitting on the rock outcropping, her mile-long legs bent, her arms wrapped around them, her dark eyes giving nothing away except her mistrust, and he felt the usual punch of awareness hit him in the solar plexus.
So fucking beautiful. And so full of 100 percent, hands-off-or-die bad attitude.
She wasn't his usual type. He preferred his women soft, warm, giving, with a nice dash of playful sexiness, so he had no idea what it was about Amy Michaels. But for the past six months, ever since she'd moved to Lucky Harbor, they'd been circling each other.
Or maybe it was just him doing the circling. Amy was doing a whole lot of ignoring, a real feat given that she'd been serving him at the diner just about every night. He could have asked her out, but he knew she wouldn't go. She turned down everyone who asked her.
So instead Matt had regularly parked himself at Eat Me, fueling himself up on diner food and her company when he could get it. Then he'd go home and fantasize about all the other ways she might keep him company, getting off on more than a few of them.
Today she wore low-riding jeans and a black tank top that hugged her curves, revealing slightly sunburned shoulders and toned arms. Her boots had both laces and zippers. City girl boots, meant to look hot.
"You going to tell me what's going on?" he asked.
"Nothing's going on."
"Uh huh." She was revealing a whole lot of nothing. Basically, she would admit to being lost over her own dead body.
Usually people were happy to see him, but not this woman. Never this woman, and it was a little baffling. He knew from watching her at the diner, serving everyone from the mayor to raunchy truckers with the same impassive efficiency, that she had a high bullshit meter and a low tolerance for anything that wasn't delivered straight up. "So Mallory's what, on crack?" he asked.
"She thinks she's funny."
"So… you're good?"
"Pretty much," she said.
He nodded agreeably. Fine by him if she didn't want to break down and admit to being lost. He enjoyed her fierceness, and the inner strength that came with it. But he still couldn't just walk away.
Or take his eyes off her. Her hair was a deep, rich, shiny brown, sometimes up, sometimes falling softly about her face, as it was today. She wore aviator sunglasses and lip gloss, and that tough-girl expression. She was a walking contradiction.
And a walking wet dream. "You know this trail closes at dusk, right?"
She tipped her head up and eyed the sky. Nearly dusk. Then she met his gaze. "Sure," she said with a tight smile.
Hmm. Not for the first time, he wondered how it'd be to see her smile with both her eyes and her mouth at the same time.
She retied her boots, those silly boots that didn't have a lick of common sense to them. He was picturing her in those boots and nothing else when she climbed off the rock and pulled on her cute little leather backpack, which was as impractical as her boots. "What are you doing all the way up here?"
"Just hiking," she said carefully. She was always careful with her words, careful to keep her thoughts hidden, and she was especially careful to keep herself distanced from him.
But Matt had his own bullshit meter, and it was deadly accurate. She was lying, which stirred his natural curiosity and suspicion—good for the cop in him, dangerous for the man who was no longer interested in romantic relationships. "Hiking out here is big," he said. "But it can be dangerous."
She shrugged at this, as if the dangers of the forest were no match for her. It was either cocky, or simply the fact that she'd spent a hell of a lot of time in far more dangerous situations. He suspected the latter, which he didn't like to think about.
She moved back to the trail, clearly anxious to be rid of him. Not a surprise.
But along with Matt's BS meter came a honed ability to read people, and he was reading her loud and clear. She was exhausted, on edge, and his least favorite: scared, though she was doing her best to hide that part. Still, her nerves were shining through, and he knew it was because of him.
He wasn't sure what to do about that. Or her. He wasn't at all used to explaining himself, but he needed to explain a few things to her. Such as exactly how lost she was. "Amy—"
"Look, I appreciate you coming out. I did lose track of time, but I'll be going now, so…"
Knowing the value of a good, meaningful silence, Matt waited for her to finish her sentence.
Instead, she was clearly waiting for him to leave, and he suddenly got it—she wanted to follow him out. Pride sucked, as he knew all too well. "Okay, then," he said. "I'll see you at the diner real soon."
"Right." She nodded agreeably, the woman who was the singularly most disagreeable woman he'd ever met.
Having much more time than she, he leaned back against a tree, enjoying the flash of annoyance that crossed her face. "Right," he mirrored. It'd been a hell of a long day, and it was shaping up to be a longer night. He didn't have enough Dr. Pepper left to get him through it, but he was perfectly willing to try.
Amy sighed with barely concealed annoyance and stalked off down the path.
In the wrong direction.
Funny, Amy thought, how righteous indignation could renew one's energy level, not to mention make them stupid. And oh, how she hated being stupid. Even worse was being stupid in mixed company. She'd done it before, of course. Too many times to count. She'd thought she'd gotten past it but apparently not.
With a grimace, she slowly turned to face Matt. Yeah, she needed help, and they both knew it.
He was still leaning against the tree, arms crossed over his chest, the gun on his hip catching the sun. He looked big and tough as hell, his shoulders broad enough to carry all her problems. His hair brushed his collar, a little shaggy, a lot tousled. Sexy. Damn him. He stood there as if he had all the time in the world and not a concern in his head.
And of course he didn't. He wasn't lost.
But there was something else, too. There was a sort of… crackling in the air between them, and it wasn't a bird or insect or frigging elk call either.
It was sexual tension. It'd been a long time, a real long time, since she'd allowed herself to acknowledge such a thing, and it surprised the hell out of her. She knew men, all of them. She'd been there, done that, bought and returned the T-shirt. She knew that beneath a guy's chosen veneer, whatever that may be—nice guy, funny guy, sexy guy, whatever—lay their true colors, just lying in wait.
But she'd been watching Matt for months now, and he was always… Matt. Amused, tense, tired, it didn't seem to matter, he remained his cool, calm, even-keeled self. Nothing got to him. She had to admit, that confused her. He confused her. "I'm actually okay," she said.
He expressed polite doubt with the arch of a single brow. Her pride was a huge regulation-sized football in her throat, and admitting defeat sucked. But there was ego, and there was being an idiot. "Fine," she said. "Just tell me which way is south."
He pointed south.
Nodding, she headed that way, only to be caught up short when he snagged her by the backpack and pulled her back against him.
She startled, jerking in his hands before forcing herself to relax. It was Matt, she reminded herself, and the thought was followed by a hot flash that she'd like to blame on the weather, but she knew better.
He turned her ninety degrees. "To get back to the ranger station and your car, you want to go southwest," he said.
Right. She knew that, and she stalked off in the correct direction.
"Watch out for bears," Matt called after her.
"Yeah, okay," she muttered, "and I'll also keep an eye out for the Tooth Fairy."
Amy craned her neck and froze. Oh sweet baby Jesus, there really was a bear at three o'clock. Enjoying the last of the sun, he was big, brown, and shaggy, and big
- "4 Stars! Shalvis's latest Lucky Harbor novel is a winner-full of laughter, snark and a super-hot attraction between the main characters. Shalvis has painted a wonderful world, full of entertaining supporting characters and beautiful scenery."—RT Book Reviews
- "Count on Jill Shalvis for a witty, steamy, unputdownable love story."—Robyn Carr, New York Times bestselling author of Harvest Moon
- "Heartwarming and sexy...an abundance of chemistry, smoldering romance, and hilarious sisterly antics."—Publishers Weekly on Simply Irresistible
- "Jill Shalvis is a total original! It doesn't get any better."—Suzanne Forster, New York Times bestselling author
- "Ms. Shalvis characters leap off the page"—RT Book Reviews
- "Shalvis writes with humor, heart, and sizzling heat!"—Carly Phillips, New York Times Bestselling Author
- On Sale
- Jun 26, 2012
- Page Count
- 352 pages