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Authors: Pamela Beason

Bear Bait (9781101611548)

BOOK: Bear Bait (9781101611548)
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DEAD WOOD

The fire was destroying her area. Suck it up, Westin. Raising the Pulaski, she stumbled toward the glowing edge. She’d kill it for sure this time.
Vengeanth ith mine
, sayeth the fat-lipped firefighter.

An hour later, the fire was out. Only a few acres lay in smoking gray ruins. Most of the firefighters, including Joe and Lili, had gone home, but the ones who remained divided the devastation among themselves and tromped through it toward the lake, stirring ashes and turning over smoldering chunks of wood to ensure the flames wouldn’t spring to life as soon as they departed. Sam was pulverizing a smoldering ember into ashes when Mack yelped from fifty yards away.

“Holy shit!”

It took her a minute to locate him in the moonlight among the skeletons of trees. He was on his knees beside a charred tree trunk. Had he hurt himself? After making sure she had permanently blinded the glowing eye on the ground, she trudged toward him. Side by side, they stared at the blackened log, still smoking on the forest floor.

It was wearing boots.

Berkley Prime Crime titles by Pamela Beason

ENDANGERED
BEAR BAIT

BEAR BAIT

PAMELA BEASON

BERKLEY PRIME CRIME, NEW YORK

THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) • Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England • Penguin Group Ireland, 25 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.) • Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.) • Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi—110 017, India • Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, Auckland 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.) • Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa

Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

BEAR BAIT

A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the author

PUBLISHING HISTORY
Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / October 2012

Copyright © 2012 by Pamela Beason.
Excerpt from
Undercurrents
by Pamela Beason copyright © 2012 by Pamela Beason.
Cover photos:
Olympic National Park
© Pat O’Hara / Getty Images;
Black Bear
© Glowimages / Getty Images;
Paw Print
© Hemera / Thinkstock.
Cover design by Judith Lagerman.
Interior text design by Laura K. Corless.

All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

ISBN: 978-1-101-61154-8

BERKLEY
®
PRIME CRIME
Berkley Prime Crime Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
BERKLEY
®
PRIME CRIME and the PRIME CRIME logo are trademarks of
Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

10  9  8  7  6  5  4  3  2  1

If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”

ALWAYS LEARNING

PEARSON

For my mother,
Ruby Gardner,
with all my love.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I want to express my gratitude to my agent, Curtis Russell of P. S. Literary Agency, for his support and efforts on my behalf. Thank you to my Berkley Prime Crime editorial team and promotional staff for all your work in making my new series a success. And to all my critique partners over the years who kept me from wandering too far astray in the literary wilderness, I cannot say “I appreciate you” often enough.

Table of Contents

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

22

23

24

25

26

27

28

29

30

31

32

Undercurrents

1

THE
leaves rustled on the bushes ahead. Sam took a few steps backward, expecting that a bear might emerge. She had followed Raider’s tracks from the release site in the parking lot to this dense thicket of Himalayan blackberries. She was anxious to lay eyes on her problem bear, to make sure he was adapting after being relocated to the Marmot Lake area. She hoped he was prowling for berries and digging for grubs like any self-respecting black bear should. As opposed to hightailing it back to the Hoh Rain Forest campground to ransack his favorite garbage cans.

The leaves stilled. Silence reigned. No bear. The movement might have been a raccoon, a Douglas squirrel, or even a bird. Whatever it was, she wasn’t wading through those thorns to see it. Making a mental note to remove the nonnative berry bushes, she turned to look for another route, and then her breath caught in her throat.

A hunter stood in the clearing behind her. The intruder had silently materialized from the forest in full camouflage gear, including a fatigue cap and green and gray paint on his face. On his belt was a huge knife in a sheath. In his arms he cradled what looked to her like an automatic rifle. His gaze traveled rudely down her park service uniform.

Sam forced herself to inhale, and her heart started again, beating double time now. To her amazement, her voice sounded remarkably calm as she said, “This area is now part of Olympic National Park. It’s off-limits for hunting.”

The intruder glared and shifted the rifle as if he was contemplating shooting her, and then silently turned and melted into the woods like a malevolent specter.

She heaved a sigh of relief and dried her sweaty palms on the thighs of her uniform pants. Thank God the hunter had taken her word as truth. With this contract assignment in the park service, she finally had some authority to back up her instructions, even if the situation was only temporary. Jerks tended to pay more attention to a woman wearing a government uniform.

Only after she’d taken a few steps on her way did she realize that it wasn’t hunting season anywhere, for any creature. Which made the encounter even more sinister. In her experience, illegal hunters were like snakes: if you saw one, there were probably a dozen hidden nearby. Had she plunked Raider down among them? That would be bitter irony. She could envision the headline all too easily:
WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST DELIVERS EASY PREY TO LOCAL SPORTSMEN.

Good thing she wasn’t working in the sound-bite world of Internet news at the moment. It was so nice to be unplugged for a few months.

“…so then Rocky chose Deborah because her dad has a plane.”

Plane?
Sam’s brain snapped back to the fire lookout and the scene that was actually before her eyes: endless acres of black spiky Douglas firs silhouetted against a star-spangled sky. To the east, a full moon peeked over the Olympic Mountains. Soon the black spot to the north that marked Marmot Lake would shimmer like molten silver.

Sam lowered her binoculars to the window ledge, scribbled
OK—Westin
in the 11
P.M.
slot in the logbook, and then swiveled on the high wooden stool to gaze down at the rough-planked floor where thirteen-year-old Lili Choi sat cross-legged on top of a sleeping bag. Her caramel-colored eyes were raised in Sam’s direction. She clearly expected some sort of reaction.

“Hmmm…” Pressing her lips together, Sam dipped her chin in what she hoped was an interested but noncommittal
expression. She had completely tuned out the girl. How did Joe and Laura and all the other parents in the world follow the stories of their offspring? Their tales went on and on and on.

“I don’t think that’s fair, do you?”

Picking up on the cue, Sam leaned away from the hiss of the Coleman lamp at her elbow and said, “Not really, but…” But what?

“We can’t all have planes, can we?” Lili pulled at the fountain of curly black hair that sprang from an elastic band on top of her head. “And it’s not even like it’s Deborah’s plane, or like she can fly it or anything.”

Sam had the gist of it now. “Well, no, it’s not fair for…Robbie—”

“Rocky!”

“…for Rocky to like Deborah better just because her family is rich, but unfortunately, a lot of people are like that—they pick their friends for what they own, not for who they are.”

Lili frowned. “That’s exactly what Martian says.”

“Martian?” People named their kids after aliens now?

The girl laughed. “That’s what we call Mr. Martinson. He teaches earth science. He’s my favorite teacher.” She reached for another brownie from the plastic container on the floor. “Rocky doesn’t like him much, but that’s probably because Martian’s the soccer coach and Rocky’s only the assistant.”

“Sounds like Rocky’s pretty shallow.”

“Got that right,” Lili said between bites. “But he’s the most interesting guy around here. He’s got ideas, unlike most boys. Well, there is one other who’s even more interesting.” Her eyes went dreamy as she added, “He’s
fine
.” Lili washed down the brownie with a gulp of iced tea from the plastic cup in her hand.

Sugar and caffeine at 11
P.M.
If the girl’s father was here, he’d have Sam’s head on a platter. Joe Choi, one of Olympic National Park’s law enforcement rangers, was a new friend. Still, she shouldn’t have let him coerce her into
letting Lili sleep over in the fire tower. Joe feared Lili was having trouble adjusting to life in rural Washington. He begged Sam to talk to Lili “girl-to-girl,” discourage her from wearing “slutty tops and skirts shorter than shorts,” and “set her on the right track,” whatever that meant.

“Why me?” Sam asked. She’d never imagined herself as a role model to anyone, let alone an impressionable child. Lili had a perfectly good mother.

“Lili doesn’t talk to Laura or me anymore,” Joe said. “She’s taken to you. Maybe you can find out what’s in her head these days.”

Sam suspected Joe really wanted to know if his thirteen-year-old was contemplating—or God forbid, had already indulged in—sex. So far, Sam had unearthed no real hanky-panky. Midriff-baring T-shirts and microskirts were simply what Lili thought would impress the local boys, just like the henna tattoo on her left ankle—a circular leafy stamp that reminded Sam of a Tree of Life quilt.

Of course, even the idea that Lili wanted to impress the boys might be enough to send Joe up in flames. He didn’t think thirteen-year-olds should have thoughts about the opposite sex at all. But he needed to take a good hard look at his oldest child. Lili, as Sam’s grandmother would have said, had “blossomed early,” with swelling breasts, pouty lips, and almond-shaped eyes designed by nature to drive even prepubescent boys wild. Although Lili was as American as Kentucky Fried Chicken, her one-quarter Korean heritage gave her an exotic attraction that girls would envy and boys would lust after.

BOOK: Bear Bait (9781101611548)
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