Oh goodie, tourist season.
Fox Mitchell took a sip from his paper coffee cup and watched as a little red sports car pulled into a diagonal parking space outside Sticky Sweet Bakery. This window seat was his preferred spot. It was perfect for people watching and silently judging out-of-towners while he fueled on caffeine and sticky buns. Tourists never really stopped coming to Estes Park, Colorado. But it was autumn, and the leaves were starting to change which lit the landscape with unbelievable colors that always brought a fresh influx of travelers.
Glancing at his plate, he curled his top lip with a growl to find it empty save for a few crumbs and narrowed his eyes at his cousin, Jett, across the table.
Jett had the remaining piece of the treat halfway to his mouth. In true, ‘I don’t give a shit’ fashion, he shoved it in his mouth and chewed with a triumphant smile. “You weren’t eating it.”
“I was going to.”
Fox set down his cup with a pointed thunk. “I was drinking my coffee.”
Wiping his mouth on a napkin, Jett smiled again. Fox eyed him suspiciously. “It’s weird seeing you so smiley all the time. I’m not sure I like it.”
After losing his mate and child almost four years ago, Jett Mitchell had become a hermit without the ability to move his face into anything aside from a scowl. He’d kept to himself and was mostly quiet and withdrawn when he had managed to drag himself into the company of his family. No one had blamed him for his demeanor, but they’d all worried. Their attempts to help him out of the dark place slowly consuming him had been futile.
All changed when Cara Neal hit him with her car. The child she carried had been in danger from a rival shifter pack, but Jett had taken care of it, claimed the child as his own, and made Cara his mate. She’d changed him completely. He still had a foot in the darkness some days, but for the most part, Jett had learned to work his facial muscles and even laughed now and then.
Everyone said it was the miracle of love that pulled him through.
Fox thought that was a pile of steaming shit. Sex did things to a man’s brain chemistry. Now that his cousin was getting some on the regular, his endorphins were higher and hence, he was happier. Love didn’t make things better. No, that was the bitter pill his mother had swallowed and paid the price for. They both had.
Love was a joke.
Sex; however, was a great band-aid.
“You’re going to want to see this,” Jett said. “She really shouldn’t have parked there.
They looked out the window together.
The driver’s door opened, and thanks to the angle of the parking spot, Fox got a full view of muscular calves, petite ankles, and sexy, very expensive looking blue high heels. The complete woman emerged and tossed back a mass of curly brown hair like she was staring in a slow-motion television commercial.
Oversized sunglasses sat on a straight nose, her full lips red and glossy. A dark skirt peeked beneath the hem of a short trench coat with a ruffle of fur around the collar. She adjusted the tie around her coat and flicked something off the fabric. Gold bracelets hung off one wrist and her ear lobes glittered. Diamond studs, probably.
Adjusting her glasses, she shut the car door and quickly brushed her hands together as if she’d gotten dirty somehow. Oh, boy. She was one of those. God forbid she get dirty or have a fly land in her food.
She probably smelled like pretension and old money. Tourists came in all types through here, but he instantly put her in the worst category: Spoiled. Entitled. Haughty.
Her get-up cost more than his old truck and she was about to—
“Ahhhh, there she goes,” Jett groaned behind a laugh. “Tap on the window and warn her.”
“Hell no. I want to see this.”
Tossing her hair back again, she lifted her chin and stepped up onto the sidewalk, her heeled foot landing in the center of a large pile of caribou droppings. Fox winced. He swore he could hear the squish and slurp from his seat. She froze. The look of pure horror was readable on her face despite the glasses. The gape of her mouth said it all.
A laugh wheezed out of him, but he reined it in.
A small herd of caribou had wandered through about half an hour ago, taking over the sidewalk and holding up traffic before they finally wandered away. They’d left quite a few piles in their wake, as per usual. Caribou crossings were almost a daily occurrence at this end of town and cleaning up after them was a necessary chore that sometimes got put off a little.
“Allie!” Jett called across the room. “Someone stepped in it.”
Allie Mitchell, Jett’s sister-in-law, hurried over, wiping her hands on a rag. “Damn it. Tell me you’re kidding.”
Leaning over the table, she peered out the window to see for herself. She had her hands full as the owner and head baker at Sticky Sweet, not to mention her twin cubs she’d brought to work with her this morning.
She grimaced when she spied the woman, still standing like a disgusted statue, staring helplessly at her shoe.
“Those are some nice shoes. I’d better go help her. Dax was supposed to clean that up before he left! Shit.”
“Literally,” Jett grinned.
Allie whacked him with the rag. “Maybe you could have taken care of it instead of finishing off Fox’s breakfast, huh?”
She turned in irritation, but Jett gently took her by the elbow. “I’ll clean it up. It’ll be spick and span in no time; you’ll see.”
“Thank you. I have babies to bake. I mean, I have cookies to bake and babies to watch. Just, hurry up before someone slips in it and falls—”
The three of them looked at each other before slowly turning back to the window again.
Yeah, she’d fallen square on her ass in the middle of the steaming pile.
“Ohhhhhhh, shitttttt,” Allie breathed.
“Literally,” Fox breathed. His chest ached with the laugh he was holding back.
“Stop it. I’m going to get sued! Do you see how she’s dressed? I’m screwed.”
Business owners normally scrambled to clean up anything the wildlife left in front of their stores just for this reason. Fox mentally beat himself for not taking care of it. He and Jett had been deep in conversation about Fox’s wilderness survival business, and he hadn’t thought of it. Neither of them had. He stood, but Jett held out a hand and shook his head.
“Down boy. You’ll just make things worse. I’ll go.”
Yeah, he couldn’t argue with that. He didn’t have the most patience or tolerance for outsiders, nor did he mince words. Bedside manner, he did not have. A year ago, he’d say the same about Jett but his cousin had changed.
Sitting back down to observe, Fox almost felt sorry for the woman. Her hands were outstretched as if she didn’t know what to do. It was still early and there weren’t a lot of people on the sidewalks, though that would change soon with the beginning of rush hour. No surprise that she locked eyes on Jett as he hurried out and extended her a hand and a clean towel.
She burst to her feet as he guided her away from the smeared pile, then jerked her hand away, took a breath, and Fox knew in that instant that Jett was about to get a tongue lashing within an inch of his life.
Sure enough, her mouth started moving, her hands waving around her clothes, fingers pointing to her shoes. One foot stomped, fingers spread angrily, cheeks turning red. She snatched the towel from Jett, who stood there like a trooper. She tried to look behind herself but couldn’t quite manage. Jett pointed casually to her backside, and she whacked him with the towel.
He put his hands up in surrender and eyed Fox through the window. Thanks a lot. You asshole, you should be out here. Call her off!
Fox shrugged and sipped his coffee around a grin.
She shrugged out of her coat, revealing full breasts beneath what looked like pure, white silk. A tight pencil skirt showed off round hips and what promised to be a nice behind. She wadded the coat up into a ball and held it at arm’s length, made a disgusted gesture with her hands and turned toward the car.
Jett said something that made her pause. They talked, somewhat civilly, he noticed. She pulled out her cellphone, tapped around on it before putting the coat in the trunk, got behind the wheel and pulled away.
A few minutes later, the sidewalk was clean, and Jett came back in.
Allie popped her head out from the kitchen. “Is she going to sue me?”
“No, you’re fine. I settled up with her.”
Gathering his things, Fox stood. “What’s that mean?”
“She’s here on a business trip. Said she’s looking for someone.”
“Who?” Allie asked.
Jett’s huge, humor-filled smile was pointed right at Fox. “Him.”
“Uh-huh. She said she works for some magazine in L.A. and is here to track down the owner of True North Survival.”
Fox shook his head. “What the hell would she want with me?”
Jett clapped him on the shoulder before turning to leave. “You’ll find out soon. I gave her your number.”
Oh hell no. “Tell me this is a joke.”
Allie laughed behind a hand she’d pressed to her mouth.
Jett winked. “Good luck, buddy. You’re going to need it.”
WILD IN THE WOODS, coming August 18, 2022. Have you preordered yet?