The Maverick Fakes a Bride!

ISBN: 978-0373623747

Garrett Bravo's Runaway Bride

October 2017
Once again, she's running…

When bride-to-be Cami Lockwood finally escapes the clutches of her domineering family, she accidentally stumbles straight into the mountain retreat of the most alluring man she's ever met. Garrett Bravo's never been lucky in love. But that's before a one-of-a-kind heiress rushes headlong onto his doorstep.

But this time, she's running toward something!

Garrett's mother can't resist matchmaking for her relentlessly unavailable son. So what better way to evade her meddling than to pretend that his accidental arrangement with creative, unique Cami is the real thing? Just one catch: he hadn't bargained on falling head over heels for the runaway bride turned woman of his dreams…

The Bravos of Justice Creek: Where bold hearts collide under Western skies

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What Readers are Saying

“…a great story of how trust and friendship can turn into love and togetherness. Garrett had to put his fears aside to fight for the love he already knew he had. Another amazing story in this great series….” 

Therese Lopez, Goodreads, 5 stars 

“…This is a sweet and steamy western romance in the Bravo Family series and you won't want to miss it…” 

Amary Chapman, Goodreads, 5 stars

Chapter 1

When the battered bride staggered into the circle of firelight, it was after nine at night and Garrett Bravo was sitting outside his isolated getaway cabin slow-roasting a hot dog on a stick.

For a weirdly suspended moment, Garrett knew he must be hallucinating.

But how could that be? He’d never been the type who saw things that weren’t there. And he’d only had a couple of beers.

His Aussie sheepdog, Munch, let out a sharp whine of surprise.

“Munch. Stay.” He glanced sternly down at the dog, who quivered in place and stared at the apparition on the other side of their campfire.

Garrett looked up again. She was still there.

He opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out. Finally, with a ridiculous shout of confusion and lingering disbelief, he jumped to his feet. The sudden movement knocked his hot dog off the stick and down to the dirt. He gaped at it as it fell. Munch cocked an ear and glanced up at him expectantly. When he failed to say no, the dog made short work of the fallen treat.

“Oh, really,” said the tattered vision in white. She came around the fire toward him, waving a grimy hand. “You don’t need to get up. It’s worse than it looks, I promise you.”

It looked pretty bad to him. Leaves decorated her straggling updo and nasty bruises marred her smooth bare shoulders and arms. Her left eye was deep purple and swollen shut. The poor woman’s big white dress was ripped in several places and liberally streaked with mud. And her bare feet? As battered as the rest of her.

“My God,” he croaked. “Are you sure you’re all right?”

She blew a tangled hank of blond hair out of her good eye and shrugged. “Well, I’ve been better.”

How could she be so calm? Had her groom gotten violent? If so, the man deserved a taste of his own damn medicine—and speaking of medicine, she needed a doctor. He should call for an ambulance, stat. He dropped his hot-dog stick on top of the ice chest by his chair and dug in a pocket for his phone.

But the phone wasn’t there. Because he’d left it in the cabin. Up here on the mountain, cell reception was nil.

Garrett let out a long string of bad words and then demanded, "Who did this to you?"

The bride remained unconcerned. She hitched a thumb back over her shoulder. "Little accident back down the road a ways."

"Your groom…?"

"Oh, he's still in Denver. Some stranger ran me off the road." As he tried to process that bit of news, she added, “Camilla Lockwood. But please call me Cami.” She offered a scratched, dirty hand.

Numbly, he took it. It felt cool and soft in his grip. And real. She was definitely real. “Garrett. Garrett Bravo.”

“Good to meet you.” A frown tightened the skin between her eyes. “You okay, Garrett? You look a little pale.”

He looked pale? “How will I call you an ambulance when my phone doesn’t work?”

“You won’t.” She reached up, clasped his shoulder and gave it a reassuring squeeze. “It’s fine, really. I don’t need a doctor.”

“But—”

“Take my word for it, I would know. You think this looks bad?” She indicated her body with graceful sweeps of both hands. “I’ve been through worse. Lots worse—and who’s this?” She dropped to a crouch, her giant dress belling out around her, and held out a hand to his dog. Munch made a questioning sound. “Come on, sweetie pie,” she coaxed. When Garrett made no objections, Munch let out a happy little bark and scuttled right over. “Oh, aren’t you the cutest boy?” She scratched his ears, rubbed his spotted coat—and glanced up at Garrett with a beaming smile. “Beautiful dog. Such pretty markings.” Garrett dipped to her level, took her arm and pulled her to her feet again. “Hey!” She tried to jerk free. “Ease up.”

“We need to get you down the mountain.”

“No, we don’t.”

Ignoring her protests, he started pulling her toward his Jeep Wrangler Rubicon on the far side of the cabin.

“Garrett. Stop, I mean it.” She dug in her heels.

“Camilla, come on now.”

“I said, call me Cami. And no. Just no. I’m not going anywhere.” As she whipped her arm free of his grasp, he debated the advisability of scooping her up and carrying her bodily to the Jeep. But even with all the scratches and bruises, she seemed to have a lot of fight left in her. And say he did manage to get her over there and into the SUV. How would he convince her to stay put while he ran into the cabin for the keys?

Maybe he could reason with her. “You need a doctor. I only want to take you down the mountain to Justice Creek General.”

“No means no, Garrett.” She braced her hands on her hips and narrowed her one working eye to a slit. “And I have clearly said no.”

So much for reason. “Will you at least sit down? Rest for a minute?”

She flipped that same tangled hank of hair off her forehead. “Sure.”

Before she could change her mind, he caught her elbow and dragged her over to his chair. “Here. Sit.” She dropped to the chair with a large huff of breath, her big dress poofing out as she landed, then quickly deflating. Slowly and gently, he explained, “Relax, okay? I’m just going to go into the cabin and get the first aid kit.”

“First aid can wait.”

“But—”

“Please, Garrett.” She picked a twig from her hair and tossed it over her shoulder. “I need water. My tongue’s just a dried-up old piece of leather in my mouth, you know?”

That tongue of hers seemed to be working pretty well to him. But yeah. Water. He could do that. “Stay right there?”

“I won’t move a muscle.” Munch, always a sucker for a pretty girl, sidled close and plunked down beside the chair. For the dog, she had a tender smile. “Hey, honey.” She stroked his head. “What’s his name?”

“Munch.”

“Cute,” she said. And Garrett just stood there, staring down at her as she petted his dog. Finally, she glanced up at him again and asked hopefully, “Water?”

“Right.” Against his better judgment, he left her alone with only Munch to look after her as he ran for the cabin. At the door, he paused with his hand on the knob. What if she took off?

Well, what if she did? If she insisted on wandering Moosejaw Mountain in the dark barefoot in her torn-up wedding dress, far be it from him to try to stop her.

He went in, filled a tall insulated bottle with water, grabbed the dishtowel and ran back out.

She was still there. “You’re a lifesaver,” she said when he handed her the bottle.

He flipped open the cooler, grabbed a handful of ice and wrapped it in the towel. “For your eye.”

She took a long drink and then let out a happy sigh. “Thank you.” Only then did she accept the ice. Pressing it gingerly to her bad eye, she frowned. “Don’t tell me I stole your only chair.” She started to rise.

“Relax.” He patted the air between them until she dropped back into the seat. “I’ve got a spare.” He grabbed the extra camp chair from where he’d left it leaning against a tree, snapped it open and set it down on the other side of the cooler from her.

Now what?

Awkward seconds struggled by as they just sat there. She sipped her water and iced her eye and he tried to decide what he should do next.

Maybe she needed food. “Are you hungry, Cami?”

She gave a long sigh. “Starved.”

He could help with that at least. “How about a hot dog?”

She rewarded him with a radiant smile. “A hot dog would really hit the spot about now.”

(#)

A half an hour later, the beat-up bride had drunk two bottles of water and accepted three hot dogs, each of which she’d shared with Munch. The dog remained stretched out beside her. Periodically, he would lift his head from his paws to gaze up at her adoringly.

Garrett still felt bad that he hadn’t convinced her to let him drive her to the hospital. She could have at least allowed him to get out the first aid kit and sterilize a few of those scratches.

He asked glumly, “Do you have a head injury?”

She repositioned the makeshift ice pack on her injured eye. “And you need to this know why?”

He shrugged. “I was going to offer you a beer. But if you’ve got a concussion, maybe not.”

That earned him another dazzling smile. “A beer would be so perfect.”

Apparently, she was never going to answer the head injury question. But she seemed reasonably clearheaded, so he flipped open the cooler and passed her a beer.

Tucking the ice pack into the cup holder on her chair, she popped the top and giggled like a happy kid when it foamed. He watched her throat move as she swallowed, after which she settled back in her chair and stared up at the star-thick Colorado sky.

She really did seem okay. And at the moment, he couldn’t think of any more ways she might let him help her. He settled back, too.

Somewhere in the trees, a night bird twittered.

Cami made a soft, contented little sound. “Got to hand it to you, Garrett. This is the life.”

He completely agreed. “Yeah. Munch and I have been up here for almost two weeks now, only driving down the mountain twice for food and supplies. The first few days were tough. I kept worrying about work. But eventually, I got over that and started enjoying the quiet and the big trees. Overall it’s been great.”

“So you don’t live up here?”

“No. I’m on vacation. I’ve got three more days. Wednesday, I have to head home.”

“To?” She stared up at the sky, the beer can dangling from one hand as she idly scratched Munch’s back with the other.

“I live down in Justice Creek.”

Cami said dreamily, “I’ve been to Justice Creek a couple of times. Such a pretty little town.”

“I grew up there. My sister and I run a construction company.”

“What’s your sister’s name?”

“Nell. She’s a pistol.” He rolled his head Cami’s way again and found her watching him. Otherworldly, the gleaming blue of that good eye. “You would like her.”

Cami’s dirty angel’s face looked wistful. “A pistol, huh?”

“Oh, yeah. Nell never did a damn thing she didn’t want to do. She’s unpredictable, but you can count on her, too. I always know she has my back.”

“She sounds amazing.” Cami turned her face to the stars again. “I wish I could be like that.” Garrett was about to tell her she was more than unpredictable enough, when she glanced down at her torn dress and said in a small voice, “I’m thinking you’ve already guessed that I ran out on my wedding.” She slanted him a glance. At his nod, she faced the sky again and continued. “Biggest wedding of the season. Everyone who’s anyone in Denver was there. I was going to go through with it up to the very last moment—which means, I didn’t plan my escape.” She wrinkled her nose at the stars. “That’s me. No planning. I never think ahead. When I can’t take it anymore, I just freak and run. Today, that happened during the wedding march. My bridesmaids were already on their way down the aisle. The wedding planner signaled me out of the bride’s room…” Her voice trailed off.

He prompted, “And then?”

“And then I just grabbed my purse off the vanity table and sprinted out the back door. The door opened on the parking lot and I’d made my dad drive me in my car for the ride to the church.” A low, sad chuckle escaped her. “Okay. I confess, I may have done a little planning, after all. Because I had a spare set of keys in my purse. I jumped in my BMW and took off with no plan after that whatsoever and nowhere in particular to go.” She paused for another sip of beer.

When she settled back again, she continued. “Eventually I got out on the highway. I took an off-ramp. I saw the sign to Moosejaw Mountain. I took that turn. It’s one twisty road getting up here, Garrett, but my 750i handled like a dream. I would still have that car if some idiot in a green pickup hadn’t come barreling down as I was going up. Ran me right over the side of the road and into a very steep ravine.”

“My God.” Had she been knocked out, then? He probably shouldn’t have given her that beer.

She raised the beer in question toward the distant moon and took another swallow. “I admit, it was scary while it was happening.”

“Were you knocked unconscious?”

“No. But the airbags deployed and somehow and I got smacked in the eye. When the car finally stopped rolling, I couldn't get the door open. And that, along with everything else—how messed up my life had gotten, the way I'd run out on my wedding that never should have been happening in the first place—well, it all just made me tired. So I took a nap.”

“A nap,” he echoed disbelievingly. “In a wrecked car at the bottom of a ravine?”

“That's right.” She was defiant. “I closed my eyes and went to sleep—and you should see the way you’re looking at me. Same way my parents do. Like you wonder how much brain damage I’ve sustained. And you don’t even know about the coma.”

He gulped. “There’s a coma?”

She waved a dismissing hand. “That was six years ago. Yeah, there are scars. But I’m fully recovered—well, I mean, as much as anyone can recover from an experience like that. Anyhoo, back to the ravine. Whoever was driving that green pickup didn’t bother to stop or call for help, so when I finally decided I really had to make the effort to get out of the car and get back up to the road, I was on my own.”

“That driver should be arrested. Did you get a plate number?”

She gave him a look of great patience. “Sorry, Garrett. I was kind of busy trying to keep from rolling off the side of the road. And then I did roll off the road. And then I just gave up for a while and took a nap. When I decided to get moving again, it took me a long time to get the car door open. And scrambling up out of there? That's where most of these scratches and bruises came from. It was not the most fun I ever had, believe me. But I finally got back up to the road. I stood there and thought, down or up? I’d already been down, so I started climbing. I just kept walking until I got here.”

“We should be calling the police on that guy in the pickup. Leaving the scene of an accident is a crime.”

“Too bad your phone doesn’t work.” She didn’t sound the least regretful.

He tried one more time to get through to her. “If you’d just get in the Jeep, we could—”

“Uh-uh. I really am okay, Garrett. And I like it here. I’m free at last and I’m not going anywhere until I'm ready to go. No one runs my life but me. Not ever again.” She offered another toast with her beer can. “From this day forward, I decide where I go and when I'm leaving. Okay, I didn’t handle my escape very well. Yes, I ran away like I always do. I left Charles at the altar and I’m sorry about that.”

“Charles is your fiancé?”

“Was my fiancé. Charles and I grew up together. His parents and my parents are good friends. He and I are both vice presidents at my family’s company, WellWay Naturals.”

Garrett had heard of WellWay. Their products were in all the big grocery stores. “The vitamin company?”

She nodded. “Vitamins, supplements and skin care products. Charles has been after me for years to marry him. I kept telling him no. Eventually, though, he wore me down. I messed up, I know it. I handled the whole thing really badly, but at least I didn’t marry him, and someday he’ll thank me.” She blew out a weary breath. “And yes, I ran away again. But this time, I own it. This time, I’m laying claim to my future. I’m going forward now, not back.”

“Forward to…?”

“When I figure that out, you’ll be the first to know.” She drank, plunked the empty can on the cooler between them and granted him another gorgeous smile. “So then.” She grabbed the ice again and reapplied it to her eye. “You know my story. What brings you to this beautiful neck of the woods, Garrett?”

Is she actually out of her mind? he wondered. Could be. But for some reason, he liked her. He went ahead and told her the embarrassing truth. “I’m kind of hiding out.”

“I can relate. Who are you hiding from?”

“My mother.”

“What did she do to you?”

“It’s what she’s trying to do. The past few years, she’s been obsessed with seeing me and my sisters and brothers happily married. Nell and I are the only ones still single. Even my mother knows better than to try to tell Nellie what to do. So lately Ma’s been pestering me.”

“Pestering you, how?”

“Demanding I come see her and then browbeating me when I get there about how it’s time I found love and happiness at last. Introducing me to very nice women I don’t want to go out with. Lecturing me about ‘trying again’ every chance she gets.”

“Again?”

“I was married. Years ago. It didn’t work out. I suck at relationships.” Cami chuckled. He shot her a frown. “That’s funny?”

“It’s just the way you said it…”

“What way?”

“Really fast, like you wanted to get it over with and you didn’t want me to ask you any questions about it.”

“I did. And I don’t.”

“Duly noted.” She poked at her black eye, wincing a little, and then iced it some more. Her ring finger was bare.

“You lost your ring.”

She shook her head. “Before I left the church parking lot, I took it off and stuck it in the glove box. I’m guessing it’s still there—go on, about your mother and your needing to get away?”

He shrugged. “Long story short, I’m kind of a workaholic and I needed a break from everything, my mother most of all. So I’m here where my mother would not be caught dead—roughing it in a one-room cabin on top of a mountain. And she can’t even call me because there’s no cell service.”

Cami clucked her tongue, chiding him. “You seem way too pleased with yourself when you say that.”

“I kind of am. Unfortunately, to appease her, I did promise her I’d have dinner with her the night I get back to town. But I’ll deal with that when it happens. For now, Ma’s off my back and I’m up here in the great wide-open, taking a breather, trying to figure out what to change up to get more out of life.”

“Well, Garrett. What do you know? We have stuff in common.”

For the first time since she’d materialized out of nowhere, he allowed himself to laugh. “I guess we do.”

“And I sure am glad you were here.” Cami was picking bits of crushed, dried leaves out of her hair with her free hand.

“You look tired.” At his softly spoken words, she made a cute humming sound that might have been agreement. He asked in a coaxing tone, “You ever gonna let me patch you up a little?”

Cami worked another leaf free of her tangled hair. He accepted that she wouldn’t answer. But then she did. “I would kill for a bath about now.”

“That can be arranged.”

(#)

Cami decided she loved Garrett’s cabin.

On the outside, it was simple, of weathered wood with old-fashioned sash-type windows and a front porch with stone steps.

Inside it was cozy and plain, just one big living area with the kitchen on one wall, the bed on another and a sofa under the front window.

When he ushered her ahead of him into the dinky bathroom, she grinned and brushed a finger along the wooden rim of the tub. “It’s half of a barrel.”

“That’s right, a whiskey barrel.” He hung back in the doorway. There wasn’t enough room for both of them in there. “A full-size tub wouldn’t fit.” He was tall and broad-shouldered with beautiful light brown eyes that made her think of melting caramel. Definitely a hottie, with a few days’ worth of scruff on his lean cheeks, dressed in old jeans, dusty hiking boots and a faded brown denim jacket over a white T-shirt. He was so easy to be with. Already, she liked him a lot and had to keep reminding herself that she hardly knew him.

“I put in the tub and hot water up here this spring,” he said. “Before that, it was sponge baths or nothing.”

She glanced around at the vintage sink, the milk-glass light fixture and the knotty-pine paneling. “I like it. It’s super rustic.”

He indicated the metal caddy hooked on the outside of the tub. “Soap and shampoo are right there. Towel and washcloth under the sink. There’s a new toothbrush and a comb you can use in the medicine cabinet. I’ll go back out to the fire and leave the window over the sofa open. Give me a holler if you need anything.”

“Would you undo the hooks at the back of my dress before you go?”

“Uh, sure.” He took a step into the tight space and she backed up to meet him.

Gentle fingers brushed the skin between her shoulder blades and then worked their way down. She pressed the dress to her chest to keep it from falling off. “All done,” he said after a minute.

She looked over her shoulder and met those melty eyes. “Take this thing?” To her, the dress represented all that was wrong in her life. It wasn’t even her style, so poufy and traditional. Her mom had coaxed her into choosing it. “I don’t think there’s room for both it and me in here.”

He had soft lips to go with the melty eyes. Those lips turned up slightly. “Uh. Sure.” He was looking at her kind of funny, like he still didn’t quite know what to make of her—which was nothing new. People often looked at her that way. Maybe he was thinking she shouldn’t be so quick to take off her dress in front of him.

Well, maybe she shouldn’t. But then again, why not?

She trusted him. He’d been nothing but kind to her, helping her all he could while at the same time respecting her wishes. Never once had he bullied her to do things his way. This man was not going to make a move on her—or if he did, he’d already proven that he understood the word no.

Cami dropped the dress. It plopped around her feet like a parachute, belling out, then collapsing. Underneath, she wore a tight white satin bustier that ended in ruffles at her hips. She’d thrown her silk stockings away back down the mountain somewhere. There hadn’t been much left of them after she dragged herself up to the road. As for her five-inch, Louboutins and her giant half-slip covered in a big froth of tulle? She’d dumped those during the trek up out of the ravine.

The bustier, with satin panties underneath, covered her as well as a swimsuit would. It also showed the long, pale scar cutting down the outside of her right thigh—but she’d never been the least sensitive about that. She considered it a war wound, proof of an earlier attempt to escape a life that was always a prison for her.

Stepping free of the acres of dirty white lace, she held it up to him. “Burn it, will you?”

He took it gingerly. “What will you wear?”

“I don’t even care.” Unfortunately, she’d left her suitcases in Denver—turned them over to Charles yesterday to load into the limousine. She had nothing but the dress and her underwear, but she would go naked before she put that thing on again. “Burn it.”

“Up to you.” Garrett backed into the main room and shut the door.

Cami turned to the barrel tub and flipped on the taps.

(#)

Garrett had just doused the fire for the night when he heard the cabin door open.

Munch ran up the steps to greet their surprise guest as she emerged from inside wrapped in a towel. The light from the cabin outlined her curvy shape in gold as she knelt to give Munch the attention he’d come looking for.

As Garrett mounted the steps, she rose. “Thank you. Really. I feel so much better now.”

“Good—and it’s past midnight. You think you could sleep?” With a soft sound of agreement, she turned and went back inside. He and Munch followed her. Garrett shut the door.

She faced him with a sigh. “Did you burn it?”

“It’s nothing but ash.” He dropped to the old bentwood chair by the door and started taking off his boots.

When he looked up again, she was still standing there wearing a wistful smile. “Thanks.”

“Any time. You want one of my shirts to sleep in?”

Her smile turned radiant. “Yes, please.”

He got a faded Pearl Jam T-shirt from the dresser and handed it over.

“Thank you. Again.” She disappeared into the bathroom, emerging in the shirt that covered her to midthigh.

There was another awkward moment and it came sharply home to him that he didn’t know this woman at all. They were two strangers about to share the same sleeping space.

“I’ll just take my turn in the bathroom.” He eased around her, went in and shut the bathroom door. Hanging on the back of it next to his sweats was that sexy corset thingy of hers. It struck him all over again how bizarre this whole situation was.

When he came back out wearing the sweats, she’d already stretched out on the couch. She was settling his old afghan over herself.

He moved a few steps closer. “Cami, take the bed.”

“No way.” She wiggled her toes under the blanket and adjusted the thin throw pillow under her head. “This couch isn’t big enough for you and we both know it. Your feet would be hanging off the end.” Munch made himself comfortable in the space between the rickety coffee table and the sofa. She put her hand down and stroked his spotted coat. “Don’t look at me like that. I’m not budging.”

“Suit yourself.”

“Oh, yes, I will. From this day forward, I will be suiting the hell out of myself, just you watch me.”

He got the extra pillow from the bed and gave it to her. “You’re allowed to change your mind. If you can’t sleep on those lumpy cushions, I’ll trade with you.”

She yawned hugely. “`Night.” Pulling the afghan up under her chin, she shut her good eye.

(#)

In the morning, her black eye had opened to a slit and she refused a fresh ice pack for it. “It’ll be fine,” she assured him. “I’m a fast healer.”

He put a couple of logs in the woodstove to get the coals going again and made coffee and scrambled eggs. She shoveled it in like she hadn’t eaten in weeks and he felt ridiculously pleased with himself to be taking good care of her.

But then he said, “After breakfast, I’ll drive you down the mountain.”

She guzzled some coffee. “You said you were staying for three more days.”

“Cami, you really need to—”

“Uh-uh.” She showed him the hand. “Don’t say it. Don’t tell me what I need. For the rest of my life, I decide what I need. And what I need is to stay here with you and Munch until you have to go.”

“But you—”

“Not going. Forget it. I need a few more days up here in the peace and the quiet before facing civilization and calling my parents to say I’m all right.”

“They’re probably really worried about you.”

“I know.” She chewed on her plump lower lip and looked away. “And I feel bad about that. But right now, I need this—you and me and Munch up on this mountain with nothing to do but breathe the fresh air and appreciate the big trees.” He marshaled his arguments, but then she leaned across the rough surface of the table and begged him, “Please, Garrett. Please.”

And he could not do it—could not tell her no. “Damn it,” he muttered.

“Thank you,” she replied, extra sweet and so sincere.

He got up to pour them more coffee. “So then, what do you want to do today—besides breathing and staring at trees?”

She dimpled adorably. “I’m so glad you asked. See, I left the church without my suitcases, but I did have my purse, with my credit cards and my driver’s license. I don't know what I was thinking when I finally got my car door open and started climbing up to the road. I left my purse behind. I was hoping we might go back for it.”

(#)

Garrett gave her his flip-flops, another shirt and a pair of his jeans to wear, with an old belt to keep them up. She wore that corset thing under the shirt for a bra. He knew this because he was a man and thus way too aware of what went on beneath a woman’s shirt.

They piled in the Jeep, with her riding shotgun and Munch in his favorite spot all the way in back. More than halfway to the state road at the base of the mountain, she said she thought they’d passed the place where she went into the ravine. He turned around the next chance he got.

She found it on the way back up, recognizing a Forest Service fire danger sign a few yards from where she’d gone off the edge. There was enough of a shoulder to park by the sign.

Before he could tell her to leave the dog in the Jeep, she let him out. Panting happily, Munch followed her to the edge.

“This is definitely the place,” Garrett said, taking in the skid marks. He came up beside her and peered over the edge. Her car had flattened everything in its path as it went down. It seemed impossible that she’d survived the crash and the tumble into the ravine. “You were lucky to be driving that Beemer.”

She made a sound of agreement. “Handles like a dream and one of the safest cars around. I’m going to miss it.”

“I can see the car.” The vehicle was half-buried in underbrush, but twisted metal and shiny red paint gave it away. “What’s that?” He pointed at something white and poufy halfway down.

“My slip. It was hard enough climbing with the dress. I kept tripping, so I took it off and left it.”

“You want it?”

She looked at him, her expression severe. “No, I do not.”

The incline was close to eighty percent. It would be steep going, but there were lots of trees and bushes to hold on to. He figured he could make it down there, get whatever she wanted from the car and get back up without too much trouble. “Anything else you want besides your purse?”

“There’s a notebook and some pens in the glove compartment. I would really like to have those—oh, and my engagement ring should be in there, too. I should give it back to Charles.”

“Anything else?”

“My old red hoodie might be in the trunk. I could use that, if we can get it open—oh, and there’s a hatch through to the trunk in the backseat, so maybe…” She let her voice trail off on a hopeful note.

“I’ll try. Take Munch and wait in the Jeep.”

“What?” She set her stubborn chin. “I’m going with you.”

Had he expected that? Yeah, pretty much. “Not in my flip-flops that don’t even fit you. Your poor feet are cut up enough already.”

“But I—”

“Stop, Cami. It’s not a good idea and I think you know it’s not.”

“It just seems wrong to make you go alone.”

“I’m dressed for the job and you’re not. It’ll be simpler and safer if I do this myself.”

She mouthed a wistful thank-you at him and turned back to the Wrangler. “Come on, Munchy.” With a happy whine, the dog jumped in.

“This shouldn’t take long,” he reassured her as she climbed up to the seat and pulled the door shut.

He started down. It was not only steep, the ground was thick with roots, rocks and debris. Past her big, white slip, he found one white satin shoe and then the other. The soles were red, the high heels covered in dirty rhinestones. Cami hadn’t asked for them, so he left them where they lay.

The car was upside down and badly bent and battered, the driver’s door gaping open, the trunk crushed in. The cab, though, was intact. He pushed the deflated air bags out of the way and looked for a purse, finding it easily—on the ceiling, which was now the floor. Most of the contents had escaped.

Checking not only the ceiling but under the upside-down seats, he found the latest model iPhone, a hot-pink leather wallet full of cards and cash, plus loose makeup, a comb, a brush, a tin of Altoids and all the other random stuff a woman just has to cart around with her wherever she goes. He shoved it all back in the purse.

The glove box popped right open for him, spewing its contents, including the pens and notebook she’d mentioned. He found her registration and proof of insurance in there, too. He even found her fancy ring. It had a platinum band and a large, square-cut diamond. The ex-fiancé might not have been the guy for her, but at least he wasn’t a cheapskate. He stuck the ring in his pocket.

Finally, he managed to crawl into the backseat and get the trapdoor to the trunk open. After a little groping around back there, he got hold of the hoodie she’d asked for.

The purse was more of a satchel, big enough that he could stick the notebook, pens and car documents in there, too. He tied the sleeves of the hoodie around his neck, shoved the straps of the satchel up his arm as far as they would go and crawled from the wreck.

He’d made it halfway back up to the road when he heard Munch frantically barking, followed by a bizarre, pulsing cry.

Adrenaline spurting, every nerve on red alert, Garrett froze in midstep. He knew that strange cry. Black bears made that sound when you stole their food or otherwise pissed them off.