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Goldie and the billionaire bear sample chapter

Chapter One



I was no criminal. Let's just get that straight right off the bat. I didn’t usually break into people’s houses or sleep in random stranger’s beds.

But it was getting late. I was in Middle of Nowhere, Montana, and my stupid GPS was throwing me completely off course. In fact, I had no idea where I was.

I needed help, all right? Not like—a mental implication that all my crayons aren’t sharpened or that I’m the dull tool in a shed full of sharp ones. But literal, legit, I’m stranded on the side of the road help.

That should count for something.

In a moment of desperation, I pounded my fist against the steering wheel and glared beneath the line of my car’s visor. I flipped it back into place and raised my hand to my eyes, attempting to block out some of the blinding orange light.

I vaguely heard music from the radio blazing because my attention was mostly aimed at some sign on the side of the road that might give me an inkling of where I was.

“Stupid GPS,” I grumbled to the Maps app on my phone. It was usually so trusty, so reliable. Good old Siri, telling me where to turn and when. Heaven knew I needed it. Squiggly lines on a map may as well have been hieroglyphics for all the good they did me.

There I’d been, on the freeway between South Dakota and Montana, when Siri told me to take a random exit. So I followed it. Even when it made no sense at the time.

Why in the world would Siri tell me to turn off when I knew—I knew—I was headed in the right direction?

“I should have followed my gut,” I said, glowering at the pine trees stacked on either side of the road.

The road curved again, and I gripped the steering wheel while nerves ping-ponged frantically inside of me, warning me I was going the wrong way. I couldn’t keep this up. I had to find my way back to the freeway again if for nothing else than the safety of knowing I was where I wanted to be.

Fortunately, the road widened briefly to reveal the shoulder, which was only, oh, you know, two feet away from the sharpest drop off I’d ever seen. Steeling myself, I veered and pulled off.

After several breaths, I checked for bars on my cell phone. Service up here was MIA. My phone’s internet was being completely stubborn.

Despair settled in. Not long now, and the sun would sink, stealing its rays and hiding behind the trees. Leaving me in darkness deeper than the bottom of my purse. With no cell service, no map, and the line on my gas tank creeping cruelly closer to the little E, I was more trapped than I’d ever been.

I could just hear Mom now. While Dad had always been helpful, Mom had made her irritation with what she called my incompetency clear.

But seriously. If someone could tell me to turn left and stop at the house straight across from the elementary school, I was good to go. North and south? What were they other than the title of one of my favorite movies with a really great kiss at the end?

I rested my forehead against the steering wheel. This was why I never went anywhere. This was why I stayed home in Baldwin, Wisconsin, a rinky-dink little town where I knew every landmark from the time I could spell the names.

Until the letter arrived. The letter from a woman claiming to be Mom’s sister.

Mom had no siblings—or so I’d always thought. If that was the case, who was this woman inviting me to meet her halfway across the country? I would have disregarded the letter completely if Mom hadn’t acted so plumb guilty about the thing when I’d shown it to her.

Mom’s angry, defensive reaction—and obvious lack of denial about her sister—had the opposite effect she’d clearly meant. It didn’t just spark curiosity in me; it sent me on a mission.

My mom had a sister she’d hidden from me for my entire life?

What was that all about?

“So, like a sucker, I’ve followed some crazy wild goose chase,” I mumbled to myself.

Growling, I stepped out of the car and into the chilled mountain air. I rubbed my arms. It was so much colder up here. Why had I ever gotten off the freeway?

I whirled around and rested against the side of my little single cab Toyota. The truck was small, but it was the perfect vehicle for a girl needing to get back and forth from the grocery store and her job. A job I’d taken a two-week break from for this.

Not for the first time, I regretted that decision. And I was sure this wouldn’t be the last either.

The stars twinkled breathlessly above, hinting at the coming night. It was enchanting, sure, but I didn’t want enchanting. I wanted the peace of mind that came from seeing the freeway, dang it.

I scraped my hands through my hair and tromped a few feet away, needing to move, to think. To breathe.

That was when I saw it.

Tucked in the trees beyond the road, bathed in the last remaining slices of light, was a quaint log cabin. Hope swelled inside of me. I wasn’t alone up here after all.

If someone was there, they could tell me which way to go! They could get me out of this tangled forest and back to civilization where I belonged. Who knew, maybe they even had some super sleuth, outdoorsy way to contact someone for help: like a GPS that actually worked.

I didn’t dare drive there. Knowing my luck, I’d lose sight of the cabin the instant I moved my truck. Instead, I retrieved my bag, lobbed it and my determination over my shoulder, and trudged into the brush.

Despite the chill and the fading light, the air smelled amazing; like fresh pine and clean dirt and the spray I used when cleaning wood surfaces. As I stepped carefully around protruding rocks embedded in the forest floor, twigs crackled underfoot.

The sun was nothing more than an orange glow stick dropped at the bottom of a well, hovering near the edge of the horizon. To say that visibility was limited was putting it a little too mildly. I could be walking toward a huge pit and wouldn’t be the wiser until I wound up plummeting to my death.

That gave me pause.

Death? That was dramatic.

I couldn’t think that way. I did my best to rein in my thoughts, to keep worst-case scenarios from taking over and to just put one foot in front of another. This wasn’t a big city. Gunshots and police sirens weren’t going off at all hours.

I kept the cabin in my sights, using my cell phone in the darker places where the latticed trees above provided a little too much cover.

Finally, my foot struck the front porch’s bottom step. That was a relief—but there wasn’t any light in any of the windows either. That wasn’t a good sign.

I peered behind, trying to see where I’d left my truck. Though it was white, I’d trodden far enough, and it was dark enough, the truck was no longer visible.

Great. Don’t tell me I’d come all this way just to have to find my way back to it and sleep in its cramped cab tonight.

There were only a few last dregs of amber light sinking behind the horizon. Fading. I had the weirdest urge to reach toward the light like a dying heroine in a movie. Like that would do any good.

I braced myself and approached the cabin door. Shadows overtook the porch’s wrap around corners.

As far as I could tell, the cabin was a single-level structure and was made of logs, with a slanted roof and an awning over the porch. Not the kind of getaway most families would use. This was more like a rustic romantic escape, tucked away like a secret.

I wasn’t sure what to do. I’d made it this far. Might as well check and see if anyone was inside. I blew warm air onto my cold fist, bit my lip, and knocked.

No answer.

“Awesome.” Leave it to me to not only get lost on the road, but to then leave that road and get lost in the woods to boot.

Chirruping noises chimed from the trees. The occasional scuffling sound followed, including a cracking twig whose sharp rap made me jump in my skin. A critter that could undoubtedly see me, even if I couldn’t see it.

Unease pummeled into me. I rounded toward the door and knocked again, harder this time.

“Hello? Anyone here?”

The cabin’s dead windows stared at me in reply. That would be a big fat no.

I plopped my bag on the porch’s wooden planks, strode to the front window a few feet down from the door, and peered inside. Through a small crack in the curtain, I saw—yep. More blackness.

Perfect. Just perfect. Little Miss No Luck stuck out here. In the woods. In the dark. I checked my cell again, but there was exactly the same zero service there’d been the last time I tried.

Even if I did have service, my aunt had only given me her email and physical address. No number.

Cold penetrated through my jacket’s thin fabric. I hugged my arms around my chest, rubbing away the chills and wondering what to do. Hopelessness began to carve into me.

“I can’t stand around here all night,” I muttered.

And I really didn’t want to spend the night sitting up in my truck and hoping someone might pull over if they saw me there.

As far as I could tell, I had two options. I could try to make it back to my truck, but what if I got lost again on the way there? I could barely see five feet in front of me—what if I headed in the direction I thought the truck was only to find I was completely turned around?

It might be safer to stay here. I could hang out on the porch where I was. Rough it in the cold air.

An unnerving sound followed that thought—the clicking of something low in a predator’s throat. It rumbled, making every one of the hairs on my arms stand on end. Nerves skittering, I scrambled back to the door once more and pressed my back to it, scanning the dark surroundings.

Who knew what lived out here? I hadn’t heard a wolf howl yet—thank you very much, Pocahontas—but that didn’t mean there could be very silent, very hungry animals stalking me right this second.

There was only one thing for it.

I checked my phone, only to find I was down to twenty percent, and the little battery in the corner was now red.

“Even my battery is against me,” I muttered.

Using what little charge my phone had left, I shined its light toward the cabin door once more and reached for the handle with my free hand.

It didn’t budge.

Despair clawed up my throat. It fizzed in my eyes, making them burn. That burning filtered down in my chest to tear away what little hope I had left. Fighting away the despondency, I reached for the knob again.

The same clicking sound cracked a twig much closer to where I stood.

In place of gunshots and sirens, animals were the danger here. They were going to spring at me. Any second now I’d find myself face to face with a pair of jaws displaying teeth that somehow glowed green and dripped with venom and menace. Any second now, they’d leap and tear me limb from limb. 

Fear overtook me. I clicked down the latch. I jiggled it, ramming my shoulder in as hard as I could for good measure.

“Come on,” I pleaded, pounding my shoulder against the door once more. I shook the latch. I bounced up and down, maintaining the firmest grip I could on it. With a final, desperate effort, I plowed my shoulder against the door once more.

Just as I was about to give into my despair, the door swung open.

With gallons of relief, I bolted for the bag I’d left on the porch, kicked it inside, darted in, and slammed the door shut behind me.

A kind of stillness ensued. Warmth wafted from the open door. It wasn’t much, but it was enough of a contrast to the cold night outside.

The cabin was much too silent. Sounds of nature outside were muted and absent, and I basked in that knowledge, in the fact that there was a solid barrier between me and the terrors of the nighttime forest. I allowed my eyes to adjust for a few moments before glancing around at my surroundings.

“Hello?” I said, calling loudly, searching for a light switch.

There weren’t any vehicles parked out there, but for all I knew, someone could very well be here, sleeping soundly, unaware that they were currently being intruded upon.

No one responded. I drew in a long breath.

Well, then.

The high-stress situation made me suddenly ravishingly tired. Exhaustion dragged at my limbs. Morning would come soon enough, and once it was light, I could find my way back to my truck, drive around, and figure out where I was.

That settled it. I’d sleep here and get back out there at the first break of day.

Finding the switch, I flicked it on, plugged in my cell phone, and meandered through until I came to the first bedroom. The bed was nicely made with thick blankets.

I could cozy in. Remake the bed later. No one would even know I was here.

That thought stopped me in my tracks. What was I thinking? I couldn’t just sleep in some random cabin. But I had no other options.

Whoever owned this cabin, I could leave them a note, letting them know I’d come and what the circumstances were. I’d give them a way to contact me so I could reimburse them.

Yeah, that would work.

Besides, all I needed was a place to stay the night. I wouldn’t continue after that. I’d leave everything just the way I found it.

They wouldn’t even know I was here.

With that settled, I readied for bed, and climbed in, praying that my brilliantly impulsive plan wouldn’t hit any kinks.

Except I had forgotten one very important detail that would come back to bite me:

They didn’t call me Little Miss No Luck for nothing.

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