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Rescued by the Ranger (Camp Hardwood 2) Alexa Riley 2022/8/5 16:51:20

“We’ve got a girl gone missing. She didn’t come down after a hike today and her friend said she headed up the trail in the restricted section. That could be up your way, but we can’t be sure.”

“I’m on it.” I go into my cabin and grab a fresh shirt and my gear. I keep it by the door for times just like this. It’s sad to say she’s not the first to go missing, but it doesn’t take long to find them. I need to know a little more about who I’m looking for and where she was last seen. “Give me all the details you can.”

“Her name is Zara, and she’s seventeen.” I hear a rustling of paper and a curse. “Wait. She’s eighteen as of two days ago. She was last seen headed up your trail but she would have hit your cabin a long time ago. Chances are she got lost where it forks and couldn’t find the trail markers.”

“Shit.” Now it’s my turn to curse. I saw mountain lion tracks there earlier in the week but it was so far out of bounds I didn’t think it mattered.

“Blond hair, about five foot five,” Ford says, and I hear his wife in the background.

“Don’t worry. I’ll bring her back,” I vow, then tuck the walkie talkie in my pack and grab a couple of water bottles.

It’s hot in the summer, but as soon as the sun sets the temperatures in the mountains can drop fast. If she’s out there in the dark at night then it’s possible she’s already in danger. I don’t even want to think about what could happen if a hungry animal spots her.

I set out for the mountain and say a silent prayer that I can get to her before something else does.

I’m not prepared for what happens when I find her.

I clench my hands into fists as my fingernails dig into my palm and I try not to shake. I don’t want to show fear. Maybe they can smell it. For the life of me I can’t remember if you play dead or run when you see a black bear. How’s a person supposed to remember something like that in a panic moment? I never really thought I’d come across one.

“Hi, little baby bear,” I say gently as I take a step back, trying to make space between the bear and me. The bear inches closer, negating my progress. He’s not a baby at all. “I didn’t mean to bother you.”

I make my voice as soft as possible, like talking to a little newborn baby, but still the bear comes closer, sniffing the air. It doesn’t look angry or aggressive. I’m pretty sure running from black bears is bad, but there is a fifty percent chance I’m wrong. I know I can’t outrun a bear either way because I can’t outrun anything. My legs are already heavy from the hiking I did before I got lost. Not only that but I don’t know which way I should run. Each second that ticks by I’m losing more daylight.

I close my eyes thinking maybe this isn’t really happening. I don’t know what I fear more: the dark of the woods or the bear. I take another step back, knowing either way I have to get out of here. I hear the snap of a branch and my eyes spring open to see the bear standing on his hind legs staring at me. My mouth opens to scream but just as I take a breath a hand comes down over it and my back meets a wall of a chest.

“He’s just curious,” the deep voice rumbles into my ear. “It’s why he’s up on his hind legs like that.” I shake my head no because he most definitely doesn’t look curious. He looks big and ready to rumble.

“Get on, Berry. You’re scaring the girl,” the man says loudly to it.

It falls to its feet before giving a huff and turning to leave. I swear it shakes its ass as it goes and I stand there in shock. He shooed the bear away? That was not one of the many things they told us to do when we saw a bear. Not that I was recalling anything else that was helpful.

Slowly his hand drops away from my mouth and I lick my dry lips as I turn to see the man who had a hold on me. My eyes meet a wide plane of solid muscles, and without having to look up I know who it is. I’d know this broad chest anywhere.

Moose. My heart flutters as I tilt my head back to meet his dark green gaze. I’ve seen him around Camp Hardwood talking to Mr. C. I’ve had a weird fascination with him and hide when I see him so he can’t see me watching him. I try not to stare but I can’t help it. There’s something about him that draws me in.