Authors: Dawn Stewardson
“He’s going to love you,” Carly whispered back. “Hi, Attila,” she called to the bear. “I’ve brought someone to meet you.”
Attila grunted, then fixed Nick with a glare that didn’t look even remotely loving. Not that he really wanted the bear’s love. He’d be happy if it just didn’t eat him!
Carly rubbed the big bear’s nose, then said, “Attila, that’s Nick. I want you to go and say hello to him.
Standing up, he looked like an enormous sumo wrestler in a fur coat.
“Good boy,” Carly said. “Now go say hello.”
Attila gave a little snort and started toward Nick, who swallowed hard. “Hello, Attila.”
The bear eyed him for another second, then took a final step forward, wrapped its arms around him and began squeezing him to death.
would be pitched as a romantic screwball comedy: Dirty Harry meets Gentle Ben.
Of course, hero Nick Montgomery meets a whole lot more critters than just Attila the bear when he inherits half of an animal talent agency. And in the beginning he doesn’t have a clue how to deal with any of them.
He also doesn’t have a clue how to deal with his newfound partner, Carly Dumont But that’s what makes the romance fun.
As an animal lover, I found this book a delight to write. It’s not often that my research involves something like visiting an animal ranch and being licked by a bear, but the research for this one did. (And yes, bears’ tongues really are warm and smooth. For some reason, I was expecting them to be rough, like a cat’s.)
At any rate, I hope you enjoy reading about Carly, Nick and the antics of the animals in the Wild Action agency.
To John, always.
With special thanks to Janet Howsam and
Norman Phillips of the Northwood Buffalo and Exotic Animal
Farm in Seagrave, Ontario, for giving me a special tour and
patiently answering my “bear” questions. I hope all my
Ontario readers come to visit you.
,” Nick said, reaching the top of his ladder and swinging onto a main branch of the towering maple. “Good cat”
From above, Blackie peered down with a little cat smirk. Nick took that to mean the beast was contemplating one of its higher-and-higher routines, and the prospect made him swear under his breath.
He wasn’t a superstitious man, so it didn’t really bother him that Blackie made a point of crossing his path on a regular basis. But this trick with the tree was damned annoying—especially since he knew the cat would eventually come down on its own. At least, that’s what the several cat owners he’d asked had told him.
Unfortunately, his next-door neighbor didn’t believe it. Even more unfortunately, Hilda was eighty-three years old and Blackie was the most important thing in her life.
Nick swung up onto a higher branch; Blackie twitched his whiskers and glanced skyward.
“Okay, here’s the deal, cat. You stay right where you are, and I’ll let you out of this with all your nine lives intact.”
Blackie edged farther out on his branch to consider
the offer. Nick climbed another foot or two, then tried a quick grab.
The cat managed to hiss, lash out with a paw and scramble backward all at the same time.
Nick checked his hand and saw the beast had drawn blood. Thus far, it was definitely winning this round, so he fixed it with one of his best cop glares. “I’m warning you, I’ve been up all night and I’m in no mood for your games. I need sleep, not exercise.”
Blackie made a low growling noise and arched his back. Nick muttered a few ungentlemanly words in reply. He’d spent the past fifteen hours convincing an escaped con to release his hostage, and he’d done a far better job of negotiating with the man than he was doing with Blackie.
Of course, the con had spoken English. The cat only spoke Meow.
He considered that for a moment. Then, telling himself nobody would ever know, he stared Blackie straight in the eye and hissed loudly.
The cat blinked, looking startled. He recovered in a second, but not before Nick made another grab— and this time lucked out.
Gingerly pulling the squalling animal to his chest, he pinned it with one arm and started back down the tree, thinking that if anyone ever tried to give him so much as a pet rat, he’d take off on the dead run.
“Oh, thank you so much,” Hilda said as he reached the ground and handed Blackie to her. “I don’t know what I’ll do after you move.”
“Well, with any luck your new neighbor will be a tree climber, too.”
He listened absently while Hilda promised him freshly baked cookies, wishing she hadn’t reminded
him he was being evicted. He’d been renting this place for six years and he’d be happy to stay for six more. But when an owner decided to sell, the tenant generally had to go.
Once Hilda finished thanking him, Nick escaped into his house—grabbing the morning’s mail from the box and riffling through it as he went.
There was the usual junk, a couple of bills…and a letter from the firm of Evans, Broderick and Rowan, Barristers and Solicitors, in Toronto.
Staring at the return address, he wondered what a law firm in Toronto wanted with a police detective in Edmonton, Alberta. None of the possibilities that popped into his mind appealed to him.
a superstitious man. But he’d seen bad news come in threes often enough to figure there just might be something to that one. And right now he was at two and counting.
First there’d been the bombshell that he’d have to find a new place to live—which he still hadn’t managed to do, even though time was getting awfully tight.
Then, just last week, the best partner he’d ever had announced he was taking early retirement at the end of the summer. So this letter…
Hell, the way things were going, he was probably being sued. Ripping the envelope open, he unfolded the letter and began reading.
Dear Mr. Montgomery,
I am writing to inform you that your late father’s brother, Augustus Montgomery, passed away on the second of July.
Nick paused to glance at the date on the letter. It had been written on the sixth, ten days ago. Canada Post must have routed it through the Northwest Territories.
Picking up where he’d left off, he continued reading.
His last will and testament names you as his only living relative and the sole beneficiary of his estate, which is primarily comprised of a rural property in Ontario and a company that operates under the name of Wild Action.
Please contact my office at your earliest convenience so that we may proceed with transferring legal ownership of these assets to you.
My direct line is (416) 555-1711.
William Brown, LL.B.
His heart beating faster than normal, Nick tried to decide whether he should be feeling sad about Gus’s death—finally telling himself there was no reason to.
After all, he’d never even met the man, and he’d certainly never heard a good word about him. Much the opposite, in fact.
During his younger years, Gus had worked in the family business along with Nick’s father and grandfather. Then, one day, he’d vanished, and the others had quickly discovered he’d embezzled a small fortune from the company and left them on the verge of bankruptcy.
Gus had never been heard from again, and it was surprising he’d even known he
a nephew. So why hadn’t he left his estate to a friend? Or to charity?
The obvious answer was that he’d felt guilty and was trying to make restitution. Unless…
Nick skimmed the letter once more, warning himself not to get too excited until he had a few more details. According to the stories his parents used to tell, Gus had been a practical joker as well as a thief. Which meant he could be reaching out from the grave to play a final joke—by leaving Nick property that was worthless and a company mired in debt
There was an easy way to find out, though, so he picked up the phone and dialed Brown’s number, glancing at his watch as he finished. With the time difference, it was already past noon in Toronto, but hopefully the man took late lunches.
“Mr. Brown’s office,” a woman answered.
“Yes. My name’s Nick Montgomery. Mr. Brown asked me to get in touch.”
“Well, he’s in court all day today. But if you’d like to leave your number, he’ll return your call tomorrow.”
Nick swore to himself. He didn’t want to spend the next twenty-four hours wondering exactly what was what
“Are you familiar with the Augustus Montgomery estate?” he tried. “Could I ask you a couple of questions about it?”
“I’m afraid I wouldn’t have any answers. I’m just filling in for Mr. Brown’s secretary while she’s at lunch. But if you’d like, I could ask one of the other lawyers to speak with you.”
“Great. That would be terrific.”
He waited for what seemed like forever—imagining how happy this call was going to make his long-distance carrier—until a different woman came on the
line and introduced herself as Linda Weaver, one of Brown’s associates.
“I’ve pulled Bill’s file on Mr. Montgomery,” she said, “and I’ll try to answer your questions. What would you like to know?”
“Well, at the risk of sounding mercenary, is there even a ballpark figure on the value of the estate?” He waited again, this time listening to the soft rustle of shuffling papers.
“Not that I can see,” she said at last. “Bill would probably have a pretty good idea, but I’m new to the firm. I don’t know much about any of his clients.”
“So…for all you know the property could be a marsh.”.
That elicited a laugh. “I wouldn’t think so. There’s a house on it. That’s where your uncle lived. And let’s see…It’s a hundred acres in all, about an hour’s—maybe an hour and a half’s—drive from Toronto.”
Nick could feel his excitement growing. Even if it wasn’t much of a house, a hundred acres near Toronto had to be worth something.
On the other hand, what if the company was in the red? Was that where the joke came in? Was he liable for a stack of debts?
“And what about this Wild Action?” he asked. “Is it a money loser?”
Linda rustled some more papers, then said, “No, the financial statement shows it as profitable—with revenues of more than a million dollars last year.”
A sudden buzzing in Nick’s head made him afraid he’d misheard. “More than a million?” he repeated.
“Uh-huh, a million and ninety-one thousand, to be exact.”
Dollar signs began floating in front of his eyes. That was definitely a go out and celebrate with champagne kind of number. But what sort of business were they talking about?
When he asked, Linda said, ’I’m not sure. It’s a private company, so there’s no annual report. But the name sounds awfully familiar. Just hold on a second. I’ll ask someone else.”
Nick heard her putting down the receiver. Then there was a murmur of female voices in the background. Eventually, Linda came back on the line, saying, “We’re pretty sure it’s a brand of casual wear. You know? Something like Northern Adventure or Rough and Ready?”
After profusely thanking the lawyer for her help, Nick hung up, his. mind reeling. He told himself to calm down, that he didn’t really believe in omens any more than he believed in superstitions. But wouldn’t
take this as a sign from the gods?
For the past year or so, he’d been running on empty. He’d joined the force when he was only twenty, and after fourteen years he’d seen enough of the seamy side of life to last the rest of his days. On top of which, the bureaucracy on the job was getting more and more intolerable.
He wanted out, wanted to get a private investigator’s license and set up his own agency—the sooner the better. Some days, it was all he could do to keep from walking into the staff sergeant’s office and quitting.
But he’d been holding himself back because he hadn’t managed to save anywhere near enough money. Now, the money was magically there. Or
would be, as soon as he sold that business and the land.
For a minute, he sat mentally reviewing his caseload. There were no serious loose ends that demanded that he tie them up personally, which meant nobody would really care if he left on short notice. So that was what he was going to do. The idea felt right, and he’d never been a man to delay acting once his mind was made up.
Reaching for the phone again, he pressed redial. This time, he made an appointment to see William Brown at two o’clock the next day.
After that, he booked an obscenely early morning flight to Toronto—with an open return date. He had no idea how long transferring legal ownership would take. Plus, he’d need a day or two to get the business and property listed for sale.
Finally, charged with exhilaration, he left for head-quarters to turn in his badge.
S THE ELEVATOR CARRIED
him up to the law offices of Evans, Broderick and Rowan, Nick was still trying to shake the uneasy feeling that had been nagging him since yesterday.
An hour or two after he’d walked out of headquarters, he’d realized he should have asked Linda Weaver about Wild Action’s
as opposed to revenues, before he’d gone ahead and quit. After all, aside from his meager savings, those profits were all he’d have to live on until he got things sold.
But his brain hadn’t been firing on all cylinders during their conversation—partly because he’d been dead on his feet and partly because her revenue figure had pretty much stopped him cold.
The elevator slowed to a halt and its door slid open. Telling himself yet again that any company earning more than a million dollars a year had to be making substantial profits, he strode across the waiting area to the receptionist.
“Mr. Montgomery to see Mr. Brown.”
She gestured toward a hall. “Straight along there. It’s the last door on the left.”
“Would you mind if I left my suitcase out here?”
“Not at all.”
Parking it near her desk, he straightened his tie and headed down the hall.
To his surprise, when Brown’s secretary ushered him into the inner office, there were three people waiting for him—two middle-aged men and a great-looking woman who couldn’t be more than thirty.
“Mr. Montgomery, I’m Bill Brown.” The man behind the desk rose. “Okay if I call you Nick?”
“I’d have known you anywhere,” Brown added as they shook hands. “You bear a strong resemblance to your uncle.”
Nick simply nodded. His parents had told him that years ago, and right now he was more interested in hearing who the two in the visitors’ chairs were. The man might be a lawyer, an associate of Brown’s, but the woman wasn’t.
She was wearing a casual dress, minimal makeup, and her dark hair was hanging loosely down her back. She definitely wasn’t a big-city professional. So who was she and why was she here?
When no logical answer came to mind, his anxiety level began edging upward.
“I’d like you to meet Carly Dumont and Roger Harris,” Brown said.
Nick nodded an acknowledgment, then looked at Brown once more.
“Please have a seat, Nick.”
Casually shifting the remaining visitor’s chair so he’d be able to keep an eye on everyone, he sat.
“We were just talking about your being a police detective,” Harris said. “It must be interesting work.”
“Some days yes, some days no.” Nick left it at that. There was no reason to update total strangers on his job status. Not when he’d rather find Out what was going on here.
“Carly worked for your uncle,” Brown offered. “She was his right hand at Wild Action. Roger is her lawyer.”
“And her friend, I like to think,” Roger Harris added. “Just as I was Gus’s.”
Ignoring Harris, Nick focused on Carly Dumont, anger starting to simmer inside him. His brain was working just fine today, and he didn’t need any more clues to figure out exactly what the story was. This woman intended to contest Gus’s will.
He glanced at Brown again, wondering if she had a legal leg to stand on. But he’d be damned if he’d ask with her sitting there listening.