SNOWED IN WITH THE MONTANA RANGER
Copyright © 2012
Brooke Johnson breathed a sigh of relief as she finally spotted the large, colorful sign welcoming her to Glacier National Park. The views were breathtaking as mountain ranges began sweeping up from the road. Their majestic, snowcapped peaks rising high into the darkening sky.
The fourteen-hour drive from Portland, Oregon, to Montana had been full of incident. Sheer bad luck had played its part in ensuring she arrived just as darkness was descending. Torrential rain had fallen for most of the journey, and just as she’d crossed the state line into the land of the big sky, it had turned to sleet, making the driving even more stressful. The incessant noise of the wipers working at full speed to clear the windshield had given her a throbbing headache.
Thank God for technology. The satellite navigation system would safely direct her to her destination. She was tired and beat. A long, hot bath followed by a good meal and some strong coffee would soon restore normality. Then tomorrow, after a good night’s sleep, hopefully she’d wake refreshed, ready to take on the new day.
Studying the biodiversity of flora and fauna and how they are affected by climate change was a dream assignment. It had taken months of preparation to secure the five-year project. No mean feat considering she’d been in the process of divorcing her no-good husband, Scott, for adultery.
She shook her head. Just the thought of him made her shiver involuntarily. To actually catch him between the sheets with another woman had been hard enough, but to find out that the other woman was her sister had caused her to reassess what was important in her life. Her kid sister, Ashleigh, was a spoiled brat, and had always been jealous of her academic achievements. But even she hadn’t expected the little drama queen to stoop low enough to steal her man. Maybe it had been her sister’s immature way of trying to hurt her. After all she was only twenty-one. However, she doubted her younger sibling’s tawdry relationship with her ex-husband would last very long. Like always, Ashleigh wanted what she couldn’t have. She would soon grow tired of Scott, just like all the other young men in her life. Brooke’s mouth firmed into a thin line of disapproval. The look of smug satisfaction on Ashleigh’s face when she’d found her in bed with her husband, Scott, had been nothing less than pure evil. She guessed the little bitch had even sent the anonymous tip-off in a text message to her cell phone. Brooke took a long deep breath before slowly releasing the tension from her body. Her father had told her that blood was thicker than water and wanted them to make up, but she’d refused. At the moment, she had no forgiveness left to give.
Brooke squinted through the windshield awash with sleet and rain as the satellite navigation began issuing instructions. “In three hundred yards turn left at the next intersection. In two hundred yards turn left at the next intersection. In one hundred yards turn left at the next intersection.”
“Okay, okay, I hear you, quit talking.”
The headlights from an oncoming car suddenly appeared around a sharp bend, blinding her for a moment. Up ahead, she could just make out the turn she needed, and started to brake. A piercing car horn sounded loudly from behind her, and dazzling headlamps filled her rearview mirror.
“Jesus, where the hell did you come from? Can’t you give a girl a break?” Why couldn’t the local drivers take it easy on someone new to the area? Brooke checked out the large vehicle behind her. “I bet a hundred bucks the driver’s a guy. Has to be. Have you Neanderthals never heard of patience?”
Just as she pulled off the main highway, a siren wailed behind her. Her whole body jolted from the sudden noise. Christ, this journey was turning into a nightmare. Brooke squinted into the rearview mirror again. Sure enough, a bright blue light flashed ominously on the car behind her.
“Shit. Just what I need. A traffic ticket from a local cop with nothing better to do.” She pulled her car over to the side of the road and switched off the engine.
Through the rain-and-sleet-splattered windows she could just make out a tall, well-built guy emerging from the patrol car. As he walked over to her, she lowered her window a couple of inches. I’d best check out that this guy’s a for real cop first. He could be some sort of nut, preying on single women.
Aged about thirty-five, he wore a uniform, but it didn’t look like any cop’s uniform she’d ever seen. Dark green pants, gray shirt, and a large, wide-brimmed hat. On his belt hung the usual law enforcement tools—handcuffs, radio, and a gun. From what she knew of the area she guessed he was a park ranger. Even in the fast-fading light she saw the lines on his face that creased down from his blue eyes to the edge of his full mouth. If he smiled she knew they would crinkle into lovely dimples.
“How can I help you, officer? I wasn’t speeding was I?” she asked, forcing a smile and putting on her best damsel-in-distress voice. If he were thinking about issuing a ticket, maybe her feminine charms could talk him out of it.
The guy didn’t smile back. Instead he pushed his badge against her window. “Law Enforcement Ranger Travis McTeer. Wind your window fully down please, ma’am.” She realized her feminine charms stood no chance against this guy. He shined a large flashlight directly into her face. Brooke raised a hand to shield her eyes from the piercing white light. Her head throbbed with pain, as he continued speaking, “Is this your vehicle?”
“Yes, it is, and get that light out of my face. I’m no threat to you.”
Ignoring her angry request, he said, “I need to check your driver’s license and insurance, ma’am.”
Why did this fake, second-rate cop need to be such an asshole? Why couldn’t he lower the flashlight? “Okay, okay,” she answered, irritated. Brooke rifled through her purse and handed him the documents. He studied them for a while before handing them back.
“Professor Johnson, would you mind stepping from the vehicle please.” His voice was deep and measured.
Brooke looked directly at him. She heard the unrelenting rain and sleet bouncing off the roof of her car.
“You’re kidding me, right? I’ll get soaked.”
“Professor Johnson, I’m asking you one final time. Step from the vehicle.” Huge droplets of water cascaded over the broad brim of his hat, and dripped onto his shoulders and chest. “I won’t ask you again, ma’am.”
He may have lowered the flashlight, but Brooke noticed he placed a hand on his holster in readiness. “Okay, okay, you win. I guess harassing a woman on her own makes you feel like a big man.” She felt her mouth firming into a thin line. Self-important asshole. She pushed open the car door and stepped out into the cold deluge. Incessant, torrential rain and sleet immediately splattered her brand-new, two-hundred-dollar hairstyle flat.
Even with her three-inch, high-heeled boots on, he towered over her. At five foot two she guessed he was a good foot taller. The relentless rain plastered his shirt to his body, showing every muscle in great detail. Talk about well defined. This guy looked like he was no stranger to the gym.
The flood light on his patrol vehicle illuminated the rear of her car. He ushered her to the back, and pointed to her rear lights. “Ma’am, you were driving in hazardous conditions without any lights. Do you know how to switch them on?” he commented sarcastically. “When you braked to take the turn, I only just saw you in time. Luckily I managed to take evasive action. A less skillful and experienced driver may not be so lucky.”
Arrogant prick. He thinks he’s a good driver. “I’m trying to find my way to Line Creek cabins. I’m new to these parts,” she said defensively.
“That’s okay, ma’am. I can see you’re not from ’round here. We try to be lenient with city folk. Tourists don’t realize how dangerous the roads are.”
“I see.” So he thought she was a tourist. This guy clearly didn’t like city dwellers coming into his jurisdiction. Well, she wasn’t about to enlighten him that she was staying in the area on a more permanent basis. Brooke forced a smile, feeling anything but friendly toward the self-righteous ranger. He probably thought she needed a mountain guide to pick up groceries from the store. “Are you going to issue me with a ticket?” she asked impatiently. “Because if you are, the sooner you do, the sooner I can be on my way.”
He stared at her, pinning her to the spot. Brooke swallowed hard at the commanding look in his eyes.
“Ma’am, I’m in charge here. You go when I say you can go, and not before.” He pointed to the rear of her car again. “Did you know your license tags have expired?”
Brooke shook her head. She’d had a lot on her mind lately, what with her divorce from Scott, and the new research project. “I guess if I’d remembered, I would have renewed them.” She heard the sarcasm in her own voice, and she guessed he heard it, too. She’d probably get herself into even deeper trouble now? But Goddamn it, this guy was so infuriating. He was a typical male chauvinist, just like her ex-husband. No wonder she was off men for the rest of her life. Well not exactly. She still loved men, but only in small doses. If she never had another relationship with a man, then that was just fine. That way she wouldn’t get hurt again.
He briefly smiled. Damn, she’d been right. He did have lovely dimples. Pity he was such an asshole.
“Ma’am, I can see you want to be on your way. So I’m gonna issue you with that ticket you so desperately seem to want.”
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