His Bear Hands (Bear Creek Grizzlies Book 1)By: Layla Nash & Callista Ball
Simon sipped his beer and eyed the door of the only bar in town. The jukebox rattled and clicked as it switched over, and static in the speakers distorted most of the actual music. He made a face and waved off one of his guys, playing pool. Tate was running late, which was unlike him. Which meant it was probably the girl's fault.
Simon believed in punctuality. Sometimes it meant the difference between life and death.
He leaned forward over the polished, scarred bar to catch the bartender's attention. "Rosie, any calls for me?"
Cell phone reception sucked out there, which was the way he preferred it.
Rosie, both literally and figuratively a cougar, arched a bleached blonde eyebrow at him. "Honey, the only one calling for you is me, and you ain't answering."
He snorted, shaking his head, and went back to watching his guys play pool and grumble at each other for cheating. Bear Creek was a nice enough town, if a little big for his tastes. It had a bar, a grocery store, a one-room schoolhouse that covered all the kids in town, and exactly one stop sign. No stop lights. Still, though. There were far too many people, and his bear got irritated if they crowded him.
Simon glanced at his watch, about to call it a night, when the door swung open and Tate walked in. Simon eased to his feet to shake his buddy's hand. "Hey man. Thought you weren't going to make it."
"Had to get out my compass and land nav skills to find this place," Tate said, giving him a half man-hug and slapping his back. "Jesus, man, this is literally the ass-end of nowhere."
"Exactly." Simon paused before they started reminiscing too much, and instead studied the kid who trailed after Tate. Not a kid, really, even though she carried a backpack like she'd wandered off some college campus. The top of her head barely reached his shoulder. She looked like a strong wind would carry her away, although she smelled pretty damn good. His bear grumbled and started paying attention. She smelled like sweet clover and sunshine, a little bit like honey wine. Simon tried to focus and get the scowl off his face as she half-hid behind Tate.
Tate raised a bushy dark eyebrow and caught her shoulder, dragging her forward. "Simon, this is Zoe Stewart, a good friend of mine. Zoe, this is Simon. We used to work together."
She watched him from behind oddly shaped glasses, maybe horn-rimmed or cat eye or some weird shit people found popular, and nodded. "Hey."
Simon gritted his teeth and held out his hand to shake. "Nice to meet you, Zoe. Would you like something to drink?"
"No, thanks." She shook his hand exactly twice, then pulled away, eyes scanning the bar to take in the dim room, the overwhelmingly male patrons, and the cracked TV playing an old football game in the corner. She took a deep breath, then fixed him with a somewhat panicked look in her bright green eyes. "Do you have wifi?"
"Wifi." Simon blinked, jaw slack as he looked at her. That was her first concern? When Tate said the kid was on the run from some really dangerous guys, and he brought her to a dank bar in the middle of the wilderness to stay with a complete stranger — her first concern was wifi? He looked at Rosie, at a loss.
She smiled, throwing a bar towel over her shoulder, and slid a glass of water to the end of the bar. "We used to, honey, but I can't get the damn thing to work. Just gives me some weird error. I gave up trying to fix it. You're welcome to take a look, if you want."
Zoe exhaled in relief and started toward the end of the bar where a mess of cables and boxes looked like an archaic wifi set-up, but stopped short as Tate caught her elbow. The man leaned down and said very quietly, "Remember the rules, okay? No personal stuff."
"I got it," she muttered, and pulled free and followed Rosie. She huffed an exasperated noise as she said, "Well, this is all wrong," and then crouched to start unplugging things.
Tate shook his head as he picked up the beer Rosie set out for him, and took the stool next to Simon. "She's some kind of computer genius. Hard to believe, but there it is."
Simon eased back onto his stool, though he kept the girl in his peripheral vision. Tate trusted him with her safety, and that started the moment she entered the bar. Simon took a deep breath. "I know you couldn't say much over the phone, but now you're here. Start talking."