Love, romance, secrets and danger.
Dominic Novak left more than a legacy for conservation and an instinctive love for animals behind when he died.
He left a son, Aiden, who craved the instinct with animals that his father had … and a pupil, Mitchell, whose life changed after hearing Dominic lecture on conservationism at college.
Aiden is hiding, scared of people finding the real him, hiding his identity from the world, and keeping a lid on his grief.
Could working together at a placement in Khutzeymateen, a grizzly bear sanctuary in British Columbia be the making of them, or will it end up destroying Aiden?
MM Good Book Reviews – 4/5 – “…The characters in this story are incredibly written. Both Aiden and Mitchell are well-developed, bringing this story to life. We join them on a journey that takes us into the heart of a bear sanctuary with beautiful details and a burgeoning love. There is much to say about this story, but no way to really explain the incredible relationship that evolves between Mitchell and Aiden, or the emotional pressure that still plagues Aiden, or the ghosts that haunt him. It’s a story that you have to read for yourself.
I recommend that everyone who loves a great story, brilliant characters, emotional pressure, low self-esteem, finding the man who can bring out the best in you and an ending that makes you smile, read this story and enjoy…”
Hearts on Fire Reviews – 5/5 – “…I have read most of Ms Scott’s books and this story is her third best book behind Oracle and A Christmas Throwaway … This book has been a long time in coming but it was more than worth the wait. Don’t miss out on this terrific story…”
Mrs Condit Reads Books – 5/5 – “…The characters of Aiden and Mitchell were perfectly drawn and complimented each other like ying and yang. Aiden so very sweet, clumsy, full of complex insecurities and hiding from who he really was, needed Mitchell, a man who was confident as a ranger and a teacher but was actually quite shy in his initial attraction for Aiden. I loved how the relationship built up, the way they took things one at a time, becoming friends as well as lovers, and that speech Mitchell gave to Aiden about why he wanted to kiss him, my favourite words of the book, just melted me.“So let me tick this off: eyes to your soul, height and a slim build that just freaking turns me on, hair that is so soft, kisses that shoot straight to my cock, and to top it all, you know all the shit there is to know about the bears. What more could I want?”…”
“No. Just no,” Edward Brandon said in a horrified voice.
Anthony Novak sat back in the chair, shocked by the vehemence in his guardian’s voice.
“But I don’t see why not,” he said softly. Edward was his dad’s oldest friend and, more often than not, indulged Anthony in most everything he had wanted after his dad had died ten years ago. Since Edward had been the closest thing he had to family for so long, it was hard for Anthony to hear the ‘no’.
Edward sighed heavily and scrubbed a hand over his face. He looked tired and Anthony knew he’d been up all night with the lemurs. “Because it’s the most stupid idea in the long list of all the really stupid ideas that you have ever had,” he said.
Anthony exhaled noisily and wished he didn’t feel like a ten-year-old at the moment. He was twenty-four and he knew exactly what he wanted to do. His friend and mentor would come round to his way of thinking eventually.
“No one actually knows my real name at the moment,” Anthony began. “It’s been five years since I last hit the papers. I just want to stay under the pseudonym for a few weeks more. I don’t understand why that is so difficult for you to understand.”
“Because now you’re coming here to the Park full time. You should be coming on as full partner as a Novak, not as Aiden Samuels. You have a responsibility to your father’s name.”
Something twisted in Aiden’s chest at the mention of that huge weight pressing him down.
“I promise you,” he said. “Whether I join the Park as partner or ranger, I’ll be Anthony Novak. But just for three more weeks, let me be anonymous. I’ve lived five years as Aiden Samuels, twenty-one more days isn’t going to hurt.”
Edward contemplated him over steepled fingers. “So let me get this straight. You want to be part of the annual bear census at the Khutzeymateen reserve but you want to go under your assumed name. All in the hope that the bear census organizers won’t realize who you are.”
The Spirit Bear Park, an animal reserve just outside of Seattle, was named for the elusive pale-furred black bears that could sometimes be seen in the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia. Dominic Novak had spent a year studying them as a young man and he’d always said they were part of his soul.
“Dad was such a big part of the bear studies. If they knew I was there, his son, then yes, I wouldn’t be just another ranger on his first educational placement, but someone they would expect more from.”
“More?” Edward appeared puzzled and Anthony knew he hadn’t explained all this enough to make it clear to his dad’s closest friend. He opened his mouth to explain but Edward got there first. “I know how difficult it is to live in the shadow of your dad.” Edward was sincere in what he said. “He was a larger-than-life character, but you are his son and one day everyone will know that.”
“But why does it need to be today? Can I not just have another three weeks of being anonymous?”
Edward was quiet. “I don’t know what to say.”
“I’m not my dad. I don’t have his instinct with animals. All the books I’ve read don’t mean I can share what I learned with others and show the level of passion he had.”
“Your dad was a showman. You don’t have to be just like him,” Edward protested.
“But if I could have half of the success that Dad had in furthering conservation—or even a quarter—I would be happy. I know it’s time for me to use my expensive education and work here at Spirit Bear.” Anthony pushed away the edge of impatience in his voice. He wanted to work at the reserve, but he knew as soon as people knew who he was they would look at him with pity or stare with dollar signs in their eyes. Working on the annual bear census would be one way of getting into the thick of things without everyone’s expectations hanging around his neck.
“Work here as the joint owner, with me.” Edward said.
“I can’t just walk into that. I want to learn from the ground up. I want to see it all, and just for a while longer I want to be Aiden Samuels, not Anthony Novak.”
Anthony crossed his arms over his chest and eyed Edward, looking for a chink in his impenetrable armor, but he could see nothing. Okay, so working and living under his assumed name for a little longer was probably a bad idea, but hell, he just wanted to enjoy his time with the bears. If just for that short time longer he could be Aiden Samuels, new guy, then maybe he could find what that passion inside him without all the extra crap he would have to deal with otherwise.
Edward nodded slowly. “You were such a tiny baby when your mom died, and then losing your dad… I know it’s hard. But to hide who you are now, I don’t get that. Whatever the newspapers throw at you, we can handle it.”
“I’m not sure I can. Just the three weeks where I can think about what I do and get a handle on it all. Please?”
“What about the ranger you would be going to Canada with? What will you tell him?”
“Nothing at first. I’ll be Aiden for three weeks, then on the flight back I’ll tell him who I really am.” That much was clear in his head.
“That there is a recipe for disaster and could go all kinds of wrong. He’ll feel like you lied to him.”
“That’s a chance I’ll have to take. You’re looking for a new ranger—look at the application I filled in.”
Edward rifled papers, his lips tight, his eyes dark with indecision and questions, before finally sighing and moving the pen down the application form. “Aiden Samuels, twenty-four, degree in Zoology and college work placements, on paper the perfect candidate for a position here.”
“But no real-life field experience, apart from the month in the Sudan. That is what I feel is missing, what I need to be comfortable in my new role,” Anthony insisted. “How can I manage rangers who have more instinct with their animals than I do?”
Anthony knew he was right. He may well have had field experience as a child because he’d been a constant companion to his dad for the years leading up to Dominic Novak’s death. But at the end of it all, he needed adult experience.
“Okay,” Edward said thoughtfully. “Go to the placement with the bears, do the three weeks.” He held up a hand to forestall what Anthony wanted to say. “Let me finish. Complete the three more weeks as Aiden Samuels and think about what you want to do when you come back. What I really want, and what you deserve, is for you to take your place as equal partner. Not as another ranger.”
“Okay.” That wasn’t such a hardship. “Should I consider myself added to the bear count team?” Anthony asked softly. He could see the battle in Edward’s eyes, knowing how hard it must be to see his friend’s son, half-owner of the Park, sitting so hopefully for a decision on a placement that he could just add himself to anyway. But he needed to do this to get the missing passion and instinct in himself that he so desperately wanted to find.
Edward sighed. “Consider yourself hired.”
* * * * *
The Spirit Bear Park Education Center wasn’t new and it certainly lacked the sparkle of a new paint job. But it was lived-in and it was home for Mitchell in ways his own had never been. This collection of buildings with rooms to teach was a legacy from Professor Novak, and Mitchell was the assistant manager and lead teacher. Every day a new slew of students from schools tagged alongside students from universities on placements, and the mismatch and jumble of resources and knowledge was passed on to spread the word.
Spirit Bear Park had been established some time ago and large open spaces made it an award-winning attraction, but it wasn’t just a place for people to visit on their downtime. The Park made a valuable contribution to conservation. It was a place where families could see animals roaming freely and learn more about the various endangered species that Dominic Novak had begun to re-home twenty years before.
It was Mitchell’s first job and he was convinced it would be his only one, alternating with the rangers to experience the animals firsthand and then creating vibrant programs for learning at all levels. It excited him, it moved him, and it was his life. And he had friends here, including Scot, who had slumped into the chair in Mitchell’s small office with disappointment carved into his face.
“I can’t go to Khutzeymateen,” Scot said softly, disappointment in his gravelly voice. “The wedding of the century is slap bang in the middle.”
“How is that going by the way?” Mitchell smirked, knowing exactly how to get the rise out of his friend. Scot muttered a few choice words, which included the word lilac if Mitchell heard right. Scot’s sister had met Alan, fallen in love with the guy, and then planned a wedding in the space of two months. Scot had been planning his rotation on the bear audit for two years. Mitchell knew family came first but it didn’t seem entirely fair. “Couldn’t you attend the wedding and then go on to the placement?”
Scot frowned. “Thought of that, but you know the whole grizzly thing is like a full-immersion experience; I can’t exactly turn up halfway through for a week.”
Mitchell nodded, that was the point of these occasional placements in areas of specialty—full immersion to experience and learn. He was gutted for his friend; Scot had been so hyped to get the placement at Khutzeymateen. His sister booking the middle week for her wedding was just really bad timing.
“So I was thinking… you should go instead,” Scot suggested.
Mitchell hated snap decisions, hated amending his educational programs around forced change, grumped and groaned for weeks at any kind of disruption.
“They didn’t offer the place to me,” Mitchell said. Problem solved.
“They did, it was an open offer, two places for qualified rangers, and there is no reason why you shouldn’t go.”
“Do we know who else is going with you—sorry, was going with you—oh, you know what I mean.”
“Some new guy, Aiden something. I heard he just finished at some foreign college, doing the placement before he starts at the Park. I don’t know much about him, but he was the only other one qualified enough and who had expressed an interest other than you.”
“I never expressed an interest,” Mitchell defended quickly. “All I said was that it sounded cool to work with the conservation guys and the bears.” Mitchell knew he was losing this discussion.
“Your last course finishes a few days before you would need to leave, I checked. Take the sabbatical, take the time off to do the practical stuff, Mitch. Get out of the classroom, it would do you good.”