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Rescue Me

By´╝ÜSusan May Warren

1


SAM WOULDN’T LOSE another kid on his watch.

If the homecoming queen was out here, he intended to find her. Even if he had to trek through the entire western edge of Glacier National Park, beat every bush, climb every peak.

Unless, of course, Romeo had been lying.

“How far up the trail did the kid say they were?” Behind him, Gage Watson shined his flashlight against the twisted depths of forest. A champion snowboarder, Gage looked the part with his long dark brown hair held back in a man bun. But he also had keen outdoor instincts and now worked as an EMT on the PEAK Rescue team during the summer.

An owl hooted. A screech ricocheted through the air, folding through the shaggy dark spruce, the skeletal white birch. Only a thin strip of moonlight managed to pierce the looming cottonwoods, the towering black pine.

This time of night, with the moon climbing and the stars waking overhead, the forest sounds could raise the hairs on a man’s neck.

Especially while hunting for a so-called rogue grizzly.

See, this was what happened when kids like Romeo—stupid, arrogant, too-fun-for-their-own-good charmers—led with their impulses rather than their brains. They got themselves in over their heads, or worse, dreamed up things that went bump in the night.

Sam might be a bit jaded. It didn’t help that the minute he’d pulled off the dirt highway onto the trickle of forest service road on the edge of Glacier National Park, memory flashed. He’d half-expected to see his kid brother Pete taking a giant leap over the lethal, flickering flames of the bonfire in the middle of the gravel pit. Or worse, to peel him off the dirt, burned, drunk, and surly, throw him in the truck, and drag him home.

But Pete wasn’t sixteen anymore. And no longer his responsibility.

Still, more than ten years later, this after-homecoming pit party bore the telltale marks of trouble. Teenagers sitting around in their cars, the doors open, the twangy voice of some country crooner spilling out into the backwoods starry night.

As he pulled up, a few kids hid bottles of Jack Daniel’s, Bacardi, and Jose Cuervo. Doused whatever other substances they’d brought to heighten their so-called fun. He’d wanted to call for police backup and start breathalyzing, see if he might scare a few of these teens straight. Maybe, once he found the supposedly lost girl.

Sam had a dark feeling he knew exactly what happened to send Romeo out of the forest, his shirt ripped, his face scratched. And it had nothing to do with a wild animal.

After Sam found her, Romeo would have some explaining to do.

Now, a crack from a broken branch sharpened the air behind him, and he stiffened, turned, and flashed his light across his brother, Pete, armed with an ax he’d pulled off the PEAK truck.

“You think an ax is going to take down a seven-hundred-pound grizzly sow on the rampage, there, Paul Bunyan?”

Pete’s mouth tightened into a tight bud of defense. “Want to have a conversation about your dancing shoes?”

“I wasn’t exactly planning this outing.” Sam’s first choice for callout attire wasn’t his only pair of dress pants, jacket, and fancy church shoes, recently shined. In fact, had he not had his scanner on while picking up Sierra—and had Sierra, PEAK Rescue administrator, not heard the 911 call from a frantic teenager—he would be enjoying dinner at the Whitefish Golf Club, digging into a New York strip and a mound of garlic mashed potatoes.

Trying to figure out how to keep Sierra from breaking up with him.

“At least I have a gun,” Sam said. His Remington rifle, which he kept in his trunk next to his police bag.

Just in case. Because bear or not, living in the shadow of Glacier National Park, Sam knew to expect trouble.

“Did you find her?” The voice ricocheted up the path and Sam turned. Grimaced.

The frantic and desperate Quinn Starr, aka Romeo.

About seventeen, with dark brown hair chopped short, wide shoulders, and a confident swagger, he played running back for the Mercy Falls Mavericks. Charming and cocky, the kid had Pete Brooks 2.0 written all over him.

Quinn wore desperation in his expression. It probably only halfway had to do with the fact that the kid had talked sweet Bella Hayes into hiking into the woods. The other part might have to do with the fear that once his former SEAL, senator father found out, he’d probably be shipping out to military school to finish his senior year.

Quinn’s dress shirt hung open, the buttons ripped off and his shirt-sleeve ripped.

“Tell me again what happened,” Sam said, his voice even, controlled. Later, all bets were off.

Quinn ran both hands through his hair. “We were sitting here, and all of a sudden, we heard this huffing noise, like heavy breathing—”

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