Newly graduated from the Montana School of Mines, Sloan Stafford has finally realized her dream of being a ranger in Yellowstone National Park. But her worst fears are realized when angry FTO, Reno Blackwolf, thinks of women as nothing more than a nuisance, poisoning his park. After the fires of '88 left Yellowstone in ruin, Blackwolf, a full-blooded Shoshoni, had turned his back on the "old ways." When strange happenings end in murder, Reno is forced to confront his past and place his trust in Sloan to solve the mystery of Bad Medicine. [Cover art Dirk A. Wolf]
A Hard Shell Word Factory Release
Writing as Diana Hart, the 1992 Golden Heart Finalist and author of LIES AND SHADOWS, Pam Hart has teamed up with Preditors and Editors #2 Best Electronic Fiction in 1998 author, Diana Kirk to pen the first of four books set in Wyoming--UNFRIENDLY PERSUASION, BAD MEDICINE, WYOMING WILDE, and PARTNERS IN CRIME.
Pam Hart started her writing career as a paper published author. She taught writing at a local University and during her two year tenure as president of her RWA chapter. In October of 1998, HSWF celebrated the re-release of her Meteor-Kismet novel LIES AND SHADOWS, a 1992 Golden Heart finalist.
In her multi-checkered career, Hart has been a social worker, juvenile probation officer, high school social studies teacher, and currently teaches criminal justice at an area college. Recently, she's acquired a fascination with crime scene investigation and police procedurals. Of all her positions, however, her favorite is author.
"A powerful mixture of action, mystery, and modern contemporary romance. Surprises kept popping up and had me wondering what could possibly happen next! I am proud to recommend this one!"Huntress Book Reviews
"This is a brilliant and thoroughly exciting read! Do I sound surprised? Well, yes, I didn't think park rangers could be all that exciting. But I was wrong. I loved this book. Diana has written a fast moving, absorbing tale, and I would advise any romance/thriller reader who likes plenty of conflict, with a devious plot thrown in, to go and buy this one now. I haven't read a captivating romance like this for a while, thanks Diana."Scribes World Reviews
"What the hell kind of name is Sloan Stafford?" Reno Blackwolf scowled at his superior, Howard Jacobs, over the edge of a resume that read more like a PR piece than an application for employment.
Howard leaned back in his worn leather chair and smiled. "I don't know. California, I think. Malibu. That's what it says there."
A groan rumbled through Reno's chest and he clenched the paper in his hand tighter. "Why me? Why now?"
Jacobs' smile widened one hundred eighty degrees. "You're the ranger; you get the intern. You've weaseled out of it too often in the past and rumor has it that I'm showing favoritism. For the next three months, pal, that little miss is all yours."
"Hey," Howard said with a quick dip of his brows. "You could do worse. I could've stuck you with that dour old maid Milton's working with, but I didn't. At least this Stafford gal is easy on the eyes and smart as a whip." He tried to hide his amusement behind steepled fingers, but failed. "Don't say I never gave you anything, Blackwolf. She's dynamite."
"So's nitroglycerine but I don't shake it."
"I doubt it's shaking you'll want to do around this one."
Reno flashed his superior a dark look. "Those comments border on sexist. Last I knew that kind of stuff didn't go unless you were courting a sexual harassment suit -- and harassment is one word, boss."
"Old attitudes die hard, my friend. Since when've you been politically correct?"
Reno gritted his teeth. Jacobs had managed to spread sunshine everywhere he could during his first year as superintendent. Summer was upon the park and Jacobs obviously enjoyed giving Reno the last assignment he'd ever wanted. "I know too well how hard old attitudes die, Howard," he said. "I just don't think the Park Service needs interns. We didn't have them in Bozeman. We had jobs, a park to care for, not babysitting some snot-nosed, Boulder party-girl, rich bit --"
Jacobs rose from his seat and held up his palm. "Prejudice? From you? Now there's an interesting premise. Anyway, the point is moot. She's waiting outside."
An image of the fair-haired beauty he'd stormed past only minutes before flashed through Reno's mind. Easy on the eyes was a major understatement, but that wasn't big on Reno's list of requirements for a partner. Strength and stamina and the ability to follow orders were. "You mean that piece of fluff in the lobby?"
He almost barked the words, the question coming out unaccountably harsh. A woman -- any woman in general, this one in particular -- was wrong for the job. Completely and totally. Females weren't cut out for rangering, a fact brought home loud and clear to everyone close to a command position a decade or so ago. That was pure fact, not sexism like Jacobs', just the plain truth and something Reno had learned the hard way. "She won't last the week."
The graying man smiled and unwrapped a tootsie-pop from the candy jar he kept fully stocked on his desk. "She graduated cum laude from Boulder and was at the top of her class in the master's program at the School of Mines -- number one to be exact. That's hardly fluff."
"Boulder's a party school for rich little girls and boys." Reno barely restrained the resentment that bubbled up. He'd pulled enough half and fully-crocked college kids off the mountains to make anybody think twice about higher education. "Studying comes right after skiing and drinking and fraternizing with the opposite sex."
"At the university maybe, but not at the School of Mines," Jacobs said.
That wasn't so easily dismissed. Reno wanted to group it in the same category, but couldn't. He had a degree from the same school. "Well, hell..." He twisted his lips in a parody of a smile and rubbed his temple. "You've got me there."
"For a man who knows first hand about prejudice, you sound more than a little redneck," Jacobs said, scrutinizing the candied stick. "No pun intended."
"It never is." Reno didn't know if it was veiled racism or not. He could never really tell with Jacobs who invariably walked a razor-thin political line. Reno knew all about that area. Back in '88, he'd taken a demotion to get away from it. After the boys in Washington got done investigating the 'natural burn' policy and the national media got done scandalizing it, he'd had enough. Now, saddled with a California blonde, he was right back in the middle of the people-pleasing game. "Look, if I have to have an intern, make it a man, somebody who can do me some good."
Jacobs stood and turned to the window, watching the comings and goings of tourists and employees, then turned to face Reno. "Believe it or not women do the job and do it well. Rookies may be next to worthless in your book, but in mine they make a valuable contribution to this park --"
"Valuable my ass," Reno growled.
Jacobs glared but let the comment pass. "God knows we can use the help with all the congressional budget cutting. It's more than cutting." he said to no one in particular. "More like butchering." His brows merged together in one ferocious line, and he glanced at Reno. "Besides, you don't have a choice. Every ranger gets their turn and now your number's up." He paused and eyed Reno like a bug under the microscope. "Especially when you're a grunt, a plain old Smokey-the-bear type."
The words rankled, but there was nothing in the other man's tone or demeanor that gave offense. He was as smooth as Reno had ever seen, and his observation was also right. After the political fallout of the fires of '88, Reno didn't need to be reminded of his place in the world. The only thing that had kept him in Yellowstone was his minority status and his love for the park. Even Jacobs couldn't change that, intern or no intern.
Mentally shutting out the raised voices inside, Sloan Stafford gazed around the National Park Forestry Office. At first she didn't want to think they were arguing about her, but the mention of her name left no doubt. She couldn't make out the exact words, but the tones weren't pleasant. Sloan wiped her damp palms on her khaki shorts and swallowed through a desert-dry throat.
Why on earth was she so nervous? This was hardly her first job. Over the past five years, she'd waitressed, sold everything from bread makers to designer undergarments, telemarketed, and even put time in as a nanny. She shuddered at the memories of wrinkled hands, diapers by the carload, and a perpetually aching back. Scholarships and fellowships had paid the tuition but didn't quite extend to living expenses. And so she'd worked, always keeping her one dream in mind, staying focused on the goal she'd had for longer than she could remember: being a ranger in majestic Yellowstone.
Today was the first step in making that goal a reality. If she did a good job for the next three months, her field training officer, the FTO, might recommend her for the permanent position that was said to be opening up this year. More than anything in the world she wanted that job. She'd even let herself be staked naked over Old Faithful to get it.
She wiped her clammy palms again. If she shook hands with anyone, they'd know she wasn't nearly as calm and collected as she appeared. Her hands would betray the enormity of the weight she put on this internship, her wavering confidence, and the knots in her stomach.
Her mother hadn't liked the idea of rangering, especially in Yellowstone with bears and wolves and especially Indians. Her father was dead set against it as well. His little princess wasn't destined to work with her hands. Her family was well off -- very well off and the oppressive parental pampering and coddling had driven Sloan nuts. Until they'd visited Yellowstone.
There she could breathe deep and clean and unfettered. The wide-open spaces spelled freedom with a capital "F" and Sloan had fallen in love immediately.
Somewhere during her freshman year at Boulder, maybe because the Rockies surrounded her, she changed her major. Still, they had cut the purse strings in an effort to get her to change her major back to education. Sloan wrinkled her nose at the thought. No way. She was meant for higher things, and that higher was meant literally. High in the mountains, preferably in Yellowstone. In the end, her parents had finally accepted the inevitable. At least now the battles were over Yosemite, which was closer to home, and Yellowstone.
The door swung open and Sloan snapped out of the past and into the present. Standing, she extended a hand to Mr. Jacobs, whom she'd spoken with yesterday.
He pumped her hand and a friendly, enthusiastic smile wreathed his face. "Sloan, we're thrilled to have someone of your accomplishment on board. Like I said yesterday, we recently lost a ranger to the Grand Canyon and we sorely need you."
She smiled back. Finally, finally, finally! she was in. This was it. The old saying about the first day of the rest of her life was really true and it was beginning now, this instant. "Before we go any further, I'd like to introduce your FTO." Jacobs stood aside and another man, tall, forbidding, and silent with a piercing black scowl, folded his arms across a wide chest and glared down his angular nose at her. "Reno Blackwolf."
The man's hair, pulled into a ponytail at the nape of his neck, had to be at least shoulder length. His gaze skimmed over her dismissively. Anger snapped and crackled in the depths of his dark eyes. She caught herself before she could take a cautionary step back. One look from him and the whole room could explode. The height and breadth of him would intimidate most women and a majority of men, but for Sloan, his attitude merely chafed.
"Reno, this is Sloan Stafford, your charge for the next three months. If she's half as good as her school tells me, she'll probably be running this place in no time." He laughed and dipped his head in a conspiratorial manner to Sloan. "Reno looks mean, but I assure you he's quite tame."
A muscle in the tall man's jaw ticked and he flashed Jacobs a black look. "Yeah," he drawled. "I've had all my shots and I haven't bit any little girls lately." He swung his inscrutable obsidian gaze her way. "Unless they asked real nice."
His chiseled jaw quirked into what might have been a smile. Sloan couldn't tell, but his gaze remained hard and wintry. Despite his warning about biting, the sensation of being in the presence of something wild and untamed swirled around her. Her first instinct was to step back and reassess her situation, but of course that would seem foolish and she wanted them both to think her strong and sharp and capable. She stepped forward and held her hand out to him. "Mr. Blackwolf."
Like his independent namesake, he ignored her gesture, keeping his hands tucked under the biceps that strained against his uniform shirt. "It's Reno."
His voice was rich and deep and cold. She dropped her hand and returned his glare, hitching her chin a notch to make eye contact. He probably put lots of people off with that thundercloud personality, but he hadn't dealt with Sloan Stafford yet. Especially not in her most determined state. If he thought he could get to her with that B-western attitude, he was nuts.
She'd French kiss the devil himself if that's what it took to get on here. Obviously, Jacobs wanted to test her mettle and see if it equaled her education. Well, fine. She was more than up to anything Blackwolf could dish out.
"And you can call me Sloan," she said. "Everyone does. I --" Her mind might have been prepared for whatever Blackwolf dished out, but her fingers had other plans. Fidgeting with the edge of her purse, it slipped out of her grasp, the contents scattering on the wooden floor, her lipstick rolled almost beneath his boot. Blackwolf's gaze darkened and his jaw tightened. He leaned down, but Sloan tried to beat him to it. A decided thunk of two hard heads colliding echoed through the lobby.
"Damn it --" Blackwolf rubbed his head and backed off, letting Sloan scoop everything back into her bag.
She blinked and mumbled an apology, mentally kicking her backside for the faux pas. What was with her? She hadn't acted like a nervous schoolgirl since...since she was one. So what? If the big guy didn't like it, the heck with him. She could get along without his acceptance. After all, she only needed his professional recommendation, not his personal stamp of approval.
His grinding teeth only accentuated his sculpted cheekbones, long dark lashes, and slashing eyebrows. The khaki uniform hugged his wide shoulders, flat belly and lean hips like a second skin. She continued studying the physical perfection of her immediate supervisor until she met the glossy depths of his eyes. He was sizing her up, too. Her breath caught in her chest and she immediately stood, trying to regain the composure his simple glance had ruined.
He grabbed her shoulder. "Let's go." All but shoving her out the door, he stopped and turned back to the superintendent. "I'll take her to Mammoth so she can get settled. See you."
"Take her the long way, the scenic route. And don't be so hard on her, Reno. She has to walk before she can run."
"The only direction she'll run is back home."
"Just take it easy. I don't want any EEOC complaints about a hostile work environment."
"Hostile?" Reno pressed a broad hand against his chest. "Who? Me?" He settled his hat on his head, neatly tucking the queue under with more force than was necessary. "Never."
Sloan hitched her duffel over her shoulder. Blackwolf's grumbled words registered somewhere in the back of her mind, and the first day of the rest of her life loomed before her like an eternity in living hell.
Blast Fate anyway. She hadn't come this far to get torpedoed by a sexist supervisor! Reno Blackwolf was a man who definitely needed a few revisions in his thinking and she was just the one to provide the editing.
Perfect, Reno thought, just freaking perfect! The last thing he needed or wanted was a woman tagging along beside -- or behind -- him in his park. He didn't want some little bit of female fluff sticking her nose into things that didn't concern her.
Already this spring was the driest, hottest on record since the debacle of eighty-eight. If things continued this way, he'd have enough to keep two men busy, and that was without the greenhorn schoolgirl tagging along.
Someone should've hung a big, orange warning sign around Stafford's neck, Dangerous Curves Ahead. And that was before they ever got to the winding mountain roads. Hell, she could make his pulse race and his palms sweat just by looking at her.
Great, just great. Actually it was bad, real bad. A lousy idea from start to finish, but there wasn't much he could do about it except get through it. Summer had never seemed so long.
Dragging her huge but classy suitcase, Sloan followed him to the four-by-four. Reno made no effort to help her. If she planned to make it as a ranger, she'd need every source of strength she could muster and then some. Few women actually made it in the field and when they did, they usually screwed something up. Reno could only ask the gods not to let Stafford mess up as bad as Liza. He couldn't take that again.
Liza's delicate features filled his mind. Her betrayal filled his heart. All because she didn't have the guts to do what she'd hired on for, what she'd promised Reno she could handle. And he'd actually believed her. Now Jacobs wanted him to make nice with another woman. What a laugh. Females were bad medicine, for him and his park.
He didn't relish the time with Sloan Stafford, but he'd survive. His people, the Shoshoni, always had. These days most of the tribe was confined to reservations, but they'd been one with the land, the park, for more than seven hundred years. The white man's boundaries and laws would never change that.
He'd tried. After the fires he'd wanted to leave, go some where else, but he couldn't. This was the only home he knew, the only place that filled him with peace and contentment and made him feel alive. Yellowstone was his heritage, one he accepted gladly. It was also his guilt and his punishment to know the devastation and misery his decision had caused. In penance, he'd vowed to spend the rest of his life atoning for that decision, for placing trust where it didn't belong.
But repentance should never be so enjoyable. Protecting mother earth to the best of his ability, caring for every inch of his heritage was a gift, not a punishment. He could never leave. He knew that now, was at peace with it. He belonged here. His people belonged here. Perky little Malibu blondes didn't.