Reporter Seeks Mountain Man by Marley Michaels

1

Faith

“Oh my god, I can’t believe you’re finally here!” my best friend, Serena, cries, wrapping me up in a huge hug as soon as I step out of my beloved car, Bertha. She’s definitely seen better days externally, but on the inside she’s as good as they get. The old girl didn’t let me down as we scaled the mountain.

Serena pulls back a little, and I hold her at arm’s length. “There’s no way I was missing out on being your Maid of Honor,” I say, grinning like mad.

Serena beams with happiness. Like that shit is near pouring out of her. I love it. I love that she’s found someone to make her smile like this. “Well, you’re my best friend. And we promised each other when we were ten that we’d be each other's bridesmaids.”

“We also promised we’d marry brothers so we’d be sisters,” I say. “But I don’t see myself settling down anytime soon. Not with the kind of deadlines they have me on at work.” She follows me to the trunk where I pull out my bag.

“Wait...why do you only have a weekender?” she asks, closing the lid for me.

Damn. I was hoping to delay telling her my slight change of plans.

“Ummmmm….” I say, looking around the beautiful setup at the Bear Mountain Homestead. Serena gently grabs my arm, stopping me in my tracks. “Faith Marie Johnson. Tell me they didn’t cancel your leave…”

“Ummmmm…”

“That’s it. You have to leave that damn paper. This is just insane. That awful buttmunch needs to get a life so he’ll stop disrupting yours.” Buttmunch is the hilarious name Serena and I came up with to call my boss and editor, Marvin Markle. He’s hated me since my Journalism Professor called in a favor with Giles Harris, the owner of the Anchorage Press newspaper, and voila, I was the new intern—paid intern. He’d wanted some desperate kid willing to work for nothing, but being told to hire me put an end to his expensive lunches charged to the paper, and he’s had it in for me ever since. That was nine long months ago. Since then, two new interns have started and both gettheir pick of cool stories while I get thrown the work no one else wants to do and it sucks. Buttmunch is such a buttmunch.

“It’s not that bad. I can stay till Monday. Then—”

“Ugh. This is so unfair. You work yourself to the bone for that paper and they treat you like you’re an intern.”

“I kind of am the intern, Reens.”

“Well, yeah. But this is your best. friend’s. wedding. We’ve had this booked for two months. You were supposed to be here for a week. I had all these plans to show you around the district and take you to meet Aster and—”

“Aster Hollingsworth?” I gasp.

Yes! And you could’ve visited Kenshaw which is the town you drove through at the bottom of the mountain, and then there's a book club next week in Woodward Valley which is next to Moose Mountain. I was hoping to make you fall in love with the place so you’d wanna stay and never leave and then I'd have my best friend, my dad, and my husband, all living close again.” Finished with her little tirade, Serena throws her hands in the air. “Ugh.”

A quick glance toward the big building in front of me with a sign saying, ‘The Den’ shows her reaction has grabbed the attention of other homesteaders...or are they residents? I’ve never delved into exactly how this community works. But I’m fascinated by the concept. Everything Serena has told me about it makes it sound so magical and close-knit, but also with a real family-type feel.

“Sweet Pea…” Serena’s soon-to-be husband, Brady Long, says softly, coming up behind her, giving me a chin lift. “Hey, Faith.”

“Hey, Braaaadyyyy,” I say. Even I swoon a little at how cute my best friend and her fiance are together. They look amazing for one. And two, I love that Serena is finally living the fairytale she always wished for but was always too busy helping out everyone else to get.

His grin turns into a sexier smirk as he turns his focus on his woman. “What did the doctor say about not getting too stressed?”

“I know,” she says, stamping her foot. “But that stupid newspaper and that dumbass boss of hers! He...he...he’s just a fucker!.”

My eyes are bugging out at her outburst, but Brady just chuckles and shakes his head. “I’m starting to think I'm a bad influence on your good girl persona, sweet pea.”

Serena looks up at him and I watch as all the tension in her body vanishes under his gaze.

“Wait...doctor? Stress?”

Brady pulls Serena into his side and she melts into him. “Your best friend was burning the wick at both ends with study and helping with the crops on top of planning our wedding. She fainted yesterday because she forgot to eat.”

I narrow my eyes at my now-guilty bestie. “Serena Black, soon-to-be Long, don’t make me tie you to the bed so you’ll rest.”

She gasps and I see that flash of fire in her gaze that I love goading out of her. “You wouldn’t.”

I shrug. “Probably not. But he would.” I point to Brady, who grins wickedly down at her before lowering his mouth to her ear and whispering something that makes her cheeks go red.

“And that’s my cue to leave,” I say, grabbing my suitcase handle and walking down the path before stopping and turning back around. “Um...where exactly am I going?”

“We have a guest cabin. I had the guys get it ready for you.” Brady looks around before bringing his fingers to his lips and lets out a high-pitched whistle, which I swear goes on for a good ten seconds. It’s like an orchestral arrangement with harmonies and everything.

A minute later a line of men emerge from behind The Den and I almost melt to the ground at the sight of them. No wonder Serena hooked herself to a mountain man. The group of men walking toward me could easily pass as cover models for Mountain Man Monthly or something. Note to self, google whether there is actually a mountain man magazine in publication because if there is, I’ve got a ‘man of the month’ feature to pitch to them. If there’s not, maybe I need to start one…

“Where’s Walker?” Brady asks when the men reach us.

“He walked off muttering something about waste management and compost when we finished with the cabin. So I guess he’s still working,” one of them replies, before holding his hand out to me. “Nash. You must be Faith.”

“Yeah. How’d you know?”

“Because Rena here has been buzzing about her best friend coming to visit for over a week now. She’s been telling all the homestead about you.”

“I have not...much…” Serena says, blushing a little.

“Aww, bestie. You love me.”

She rolls her eyes. “Well, duh. Now let me introduce most of the mountain’s founding sons.” She points to Nash. “That’s Nash. And from left to right, Micah, Tate, Miller, and Mason—”

“Let me guess,” I gesture to Miller and Mason. “Twins?”

“Nah. We just look alike,” Miller says, winking at me, earning groans from everyone and a giggle from Serena.

“And then there’s Huxley—or Hux—and last but not least, Jake.” In return, I get a mix of chin lifts, grins, and nods. “And Walker is probably working somewhere, so you’ll meet him at dinner.”

“You all live here too?”

“Yep,” they reply in unison.

“What about jobs?” I blurt out, my reporter instincts taking over.

Brady chuckles. “So we all share the load around the homestead. But some have jobs off the mountain too.”

“What kind of jobs?” Dammit, Faith. Stop working for once.

“This and that.” He points around the group. “Nash works as a cop in Kodiak for six weeks at a time, then he’s home for two.” Whoa. “Mase and Miller do construction around the district. Hux is a computer wiz, Nash trades renewable energy stocks online in his spare time, Micah is a lawyer, Tate is an ex-army medic, and Jake teachers at the local high school.” Holy double whoa.

“And Walker?”

All the guys look at each other. “Walker does anything and everything.”

“Hey, Nash,” Brady says. “Can you show Faith where the guest cabin is?”

I lift a hand to still him. “Seriously, I'm good with directions. If you could just point me in the right direction, I’m sure to find it.”

“Yeah. Not in these woods,” Jake says. “Knowing our luck, you’ll get lost and then Rena will have our butts for breakfast.”

Serena laughs. “Or more like I won’t make you my blueberry waffles.”

A chorus of “Ooooh’s” and “Burn!” erupts from the guys, making me smile. I love how they all seem to have adopted my bestie, and in turn, she’s coming into her own. But I’m under deadline and I really need to get to my cabin so I can sneak in an hour or two of writing before dinner. What I didn’t tell Rena was that I could only get here for three days instead of overnight because I promised my editor two stories while I was away. Damn buttmunch.

“Fine. Nash can take me. But, Serena...” I start, stepping up and stealing her away from Brady for a big bear hug. “I just need a couple of hours and then I'm all yours for the night.” Until I get back to my cabin and write again, anyway.

She narrows her eyes at me; her gaze roaming my face before she sighs, her lips twitching at the side. “You’re totally going to work right now.”

“Yep,” I say with a sigh. “But then I’m all yours.”

Serena holds out her little finger for me, and I curl mine around it, the same way we’ve always done. “Pinky promise?”

“Pinky promise. Now, go with Brady and relax.” I lean down and drop my voice so only she can hear. “Go have some naked fun.” She grins and there’s a light in her eyes telling me that’s exactly what she’s going to do.

“OK,” she says. “But I’ll see you at the Den at six? Does that work?”

I check my watch. “Perfect. Right, Nash. Let’s go.”

“Be back,” he grunts to everyone before stepping up and snatching my suitcase from me.

“Oh. OK,” I say, releasing the handle before I turn back to Serena and wave. “See you at dinner.”

The entire walk along a well-worn dirt path, Nash doesn’t talk. It weirds me out a little, so my need to fill the space between us with something takes over.

“So, you lived here long?” I ask.

“Long enough.” It comes out as more of a grunt. OK then.

“Your brothers seem nice. Typical mountain men and all.”

He quirks a brow. “You met many mountain men?”

“Well no, but—”

“Do you know what typical mountain men look like?”

“Again...No…” I sneak a glance his way and find him smirking. “You’re screwing with me, aren’t you!”

“Yep.” He flashes a broad grin my way. “Had ya going there for a bit.”

Dammit. He did.

“So, is this Walker just like the rest of you?”

“He’s a workaholic these days. Keeps trying to prove himself when he doesn’t need to.”

“Why’s that?” I ask.

“Call it a chip on his shoulder, I guess. Doesn’t matter how many times we tell him, he’s determined to show Brady he’s ready to take the helm.”

“You have a ship?”

Nash chuckles. “No. Take over from Brady as the leader of the Homestead.”

“You guys have a leader?”

“Has Rena not talked about us?”

“Well yeah.”

“Then you know.” Well, I thought I did…

I open my mouth to ask more—call it the curse of being a journalist—but Nash comes to a stop and points to a row of cabins fifty feet ahead. “That’s your home away from home.”

“The one in the middle?”

“On the right. You got it from here?”

“Yeah. Don’t think I’ll get lost. Thanks for showing me the way and uh...for the chat.”

He snickers and shakes his head. “Not much of a talker, sorry.”

“Yeah. See, I am a talker.”

“Guessed. That’s how I know you weren’t sent for me.”

“Huh?”

“Dinner’s at six.” He gives me a nod, then turns back the way we came.

“OK. Well, I guess I’ll see you at dinner then?”

He just grunts and waves over his shoulder, so I stand there for a second, watching him walk away before I turn and roll my bag behind me toward the cutest little cabin I’ve ever seen. My suitcase bangs against each of the two rustic wooden steps leading to a small porch, and I can imagine sitting out here with a cup of tea and my laptop, finding all the words I need to complete my stories.

With that in mind, I turn the handle on the door, but it seems a little stiff. So I bump it with my shoulder on my next attempt and suddenly it bursts open, sending me tumbling onto a rug on the floor inside.

“Oww, shit.” I’m literally upside down in a ball with my ass in the air, and it takes a concerted effort to untangle my limbs and roll over onto my back.

“What the actual fuck?” A deep gruff voice shouts, startling me as his face comes into view, a foreboding figure frowning down at me. And I’m sure there’s a very reasonable explanation for this man being here and yelling at me, but I’ve just taken a little tumble and I’m not really feeling myself, so all I can do is act on instinct.

I open my mouth and scream.