Loaded for Bear (Bear Country Grizzlies Book 2)

By: Layla Nash & Callista Ball

Ethan





Ethan couldn't take another second of his boss and his boss's girlfriend canoodling in the back office as he worked on the schedule of upcoming tours. Ethan tried to tolerate Simon's happiness, but it only reminded Ethan that he didn't share the same — and in the wilds of Oregon, he didn't have many options to change the situation.

Ethan grabbed the axe off the pile of firewood and started splitting logs, relying on the physical labor to distract him from his bear's frustration. He hadn't been on a date in what felt like ages, though it wasn't for lack of a suitable population. The nearest town, a tiny speck on the map called Bear Creek, had a few single shifter ladies, but none of them seem inclined to hang out on the very edge of civilization at the Lodge where Ethan worked. And Ethan couldn't stomach the idea of living in town. At least, his bear half couldn't.

He gritted his teeth and swung the axe again, relishing the solid thwack as the blade bit deeply into the log. After too many years in the French Foreign Legion, serving alongside Simon and a couple of the other bears who lived at the Lodge, Ethan found he craved the solitude of the deep forest that covered the mountains of the Pacific Northwest. Even the Lodge itself, where Simon's company hosted high-priced hunting, fishing, and boutique camping trips, grew too crowded in the high season.

Late summer brought a final round of hiking and camping groups, just before hunting season, and they'd actually scheduled a hippie bachelorette party for a trip into the backcountry. Ethan scowled and kicked a log off the axe, glancing back as the screen door banged shut against the frame and Simon strode out.

The dark-haired owner of Bear Country Tours folded his arms over his chest and gave Ethan a no-bullshit look. "Dude. We've got enough firewood."

"You never have enough firewood," Ethan said under his breath, and put another log on the stump to split. "Just needed some air, brother."

"Are you going to tell me what's really wrong, or are you going to pout?"

"Just needed some air." Ethan concentrated on swinging the axe, making a face as the blade slipped and failed to split the log evenly. "And you seemed distracted by Zoe, so I figured the conversation wasn't going anywhere."

Simon tugged on his neat beard, though it didn't hide his frown. "Look, man. I know it's been... different, since Zoe came to stay, but —"

"Don't even sweat it," Ethan said. He held his breath and swung the axe again, hoping the conversation ended before he had to chop more wood. His back was killing him. "I'm happy for you, man. I just don't need to be there while you guys are sucking face."

"We weren't sucking face," Simon muttered, a hint of a growl in his voice. Ever since his mate had shown up a few weeks earlier, the grizzly bear was always a little closer to the surface. The alpha bear's expression darkened into a scowl. "As soon as our cabin is built, we'll be out of the Lodge and you won't have to worry about it."

Ethan lodged the axe in the stump, and carried the split logs over to stack on the pile of firewood against the house. "Like I said, I just needed some air."

"I have a special job for you, anyway," Simon said, after the silence stretched and Ethan concentrated on arranging the logs.

He eyed the other man sideways. "A special job? That's never a good thing."

"Well..." A hint of a smile escaped from behind the beard, and Ethan's heart sank. Definitely not a good sign.

He dropped another log on the stump and pulled the axe free, pointing a gloved hand at his boss. "Unless it has something to do with that bachelorette party, I'm not interested."

Simon laughed, leaning back against the wood pile and folding his arms. "Nah, I'll make Cooper and Finn handle that one. I need my best guy on this other job; plus it'll be good for you to work with the Park Service."

Ethan scowled. "You've got to be shitting me."

"A grad student is coming in today. There's been some trouble with the wildlife cameras in the park, and it's easier to access them from this side. So I need you to hike in with her, fix the cameras, and trek back out. She's got all the equipment and shit for the cameras; she just needs your expertise to get out there." Simon's teeth flashed white in his beard, and Ethan wanted to throw something at him. "It'll be a week or two, tops. It'll give you a chance to work on the tracking and counting the rangers asked you to look into."

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