From New York Times bestselling author Kristen Proby, comes the first book in an all-new trilogy in her beloved Big Sky series, and I have an excerpt for you. Charming Hannah is available now.
“Maybe I shouldn’t have eaten that.”
“I’m sorry, I’m trying to take it easy. I can’t go fast, but there’s nothing I can do about the road.”
“It’s not your fault,” she says and rolls the window down. “Are you sure we’re going the right way? This looks like it’s never travelled.”
“It’s travelled,” I assure her. “But it’ll never be paved. The locals like that it’s not swarming with tourists.”
“I like that, too,” she says with a smile. “How much longer?”
“About six miles.”
“Jesus,” she mutters and pushes her nose out of the window, breathing in the fresh air. “This had better be worth it.”
“It is,” I say and smile at her, still holding her hand. “It’s stunning up here. You’ll love it.”
She nods and I will the road to shorten so I can get her there faster, but it’s still another forty-five minutes before we arrive.
The parking lot is half full, and I find a space near the path that leads to the lake.
“There are people up here,” she says with surprise.
“But not a million of them,” I reply and help her out of the truck. We pull the kayaks and oars out of the truck, along with our backpacks, and I lock it up, then turn to her. “If you don’t want to haul one of these down there, I’ll have you stay here with one of them and I’ll take one, then come back.”
“Oh please.” She rolls her eyes, hitches her backpack on her shoulders and reaches for her kayak and oar, then sets off to the trail. “I work out for this, remember?”
I’m going to marry her. Today.
“Impressive,” I say behind her and hear her smirk.
“I’m just carrying a kayak.”
“Like a badass,” I reply. The lake shore is only about thirty yards away, and when we reach the water, she sets the kayak down beside her and just stares at the mountains, the glassy water, and then looks up at me with tears in her eyes. “What’s wrong, sweetheart?”
“It’s so beautiful.” She shakes her head and looks around once more, her hands on her hips. “I get to live here.”
“Well, close to here.” I kiss her cheek and get busy showing her how to maneuver the kayak. “What do you think?”
“I think it looks easier than it is,” she says with a laugh. “But I’m going to give it the old college try.”
I help her onto the water craft, get her settled, and watch her paddle away as if she’s been doing this for years.
I quickly get my gear ready and paddle behind her, enjoying the way she’s smiling and looking around her. I catch up to her and grin over at her.
“What do you think?”
“I think I need to do this more often,” she says. “Are there fish in here?”
“Some,” I reply. “A few salmon, trout. We might see some eagles snacking today. But this is glacier water and snow run off, so it’s really too cold and sterile for there to be a lot of fish.”
“You know a lot about this,” she says.
“I used to volunteer up here in the summers. I thought I wanted to be a park ranger when I grew up.”
“And here you are, protecting people rather than wildlife.”
“Yes, ma’am.” I rest my oar across my body and take a drink of water. “But I still love it here, more than almost anywhere.”
“I can understand why. This lake goes on forever.”
“About seven miles,” I reply with a nod. “And it’s a mile wide in some places. I love that the mountains change as we move down the lake.”
“It’s stunning, really. I know there’s so much of the park that I haven’t seen yet, but it always surprises me.”
We paddle in silence for a while, enjoying the quiet and the beautiful day. I glance to my right and see a grizzly lazily eating berries on the shoreline, and keep it to myself. I don’t want to scare her.
“I see it,” she says without even looking my way.
“The bear. And I know they can swim. And my heart is probably going to seize, but I’m okay.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. I’m in their house, so I have to deal with the fact that I’m going to see them. But I’m glad he’s way over there, and that he’s more interested in berries than me.”
“She,” I reply.
I point to the two cubs playing on the rocky beach and Hannah smiles.
“They’re adorable. And far away.”
I nod, proud of her for putting on a brave face. I can see her hands shaking, but she doesn’t immediately turn around or freak out. She’s breathing deeply, and keeping an eye on the wildlife on shore.
“How many bears do you think are in this park?” she asks.
“I don’t think we should talk numbers. I don’t want to freak you out.”
“Facts calm me,” she says and raises a brow at me. “How many do you think?”
“Three hundred, give or take,” I reply and watch her swallow hard. “But that’s over more than a million acres, Hannah. A million. The odds of having an encounter that’s anything other than what we just had are so slim.”
“I know.” She shrugs one shoulder. “Like I said, I can’t change it. She was beautiful, and her babies are adorable. I’m glad I saw her from a safe distance. And I don’t care if I never see another one.”
She snorts and rests her oar on the kayak. “I’m not brave, Brad. But I’m enjoying this kayak ride. I’m so glad you brought me.”
“Me too. Are you ready to turn back?”
“Is that the other head of the lake?” she asks, pointing ahead of us.
“Well, then I guess we should turn back, since there’s nowhere else to go.”
I show her how to turn around, and she’s mimicking my movements. But then a bee flies by her face, and she shakes her head, flailing with her hand, and rocks the kayak too hard to recover.
She falls into the water with a shriek, and before I can jump in and help her, she’s grabbed the side of the kayak and pulled herself out of the water, panting and laughing at the same time. She’s soaked through.
“Are you okay?” I’ve paddled over to her and am holding her kayak to mine. She’s started to laugh.
“Good God, that’s fucking cold!” Her nipples are pressed against her soaked tank top, and she’s shivering a bit, wringing her hair out. “No wonder fish don’t live there. Nothing could live there.”
“You’ll warm up quickly. It’s ninety today. Probably eighty on the lake.”
“Whew, I’m awake now,” she says and laughs again, turning her face to the sun, soaking in the warmth. “Beginner’s luck.”
“I’m a mess.” She turns that smile to me. “If I lean your way, can you kiss me without dumping us both back in this water?”
I don’t answer, I just lean toward her slowly and she follows, kissing me with not a little heat. Her lips are cold. She backs away and then her eyes widen in fear.
“Fuck! I lost the oar!”
“I saved it,” I assure her and pass it to her.
“You’re my hero.”
I laugh and tuck her wet hair behind her ear. “Are you ready to go back?”
“Yes. I have to paddle to get my body heat back up.”
“I should have brought a sweatshirt or something, just in case.”
“I don’t think we have the cargo space for that,” she says. “I’m fine. I might just paddle faster this time.”