happen. They were just two people sharing a table, trying to limp through the awkwardness.

“I’m curious,” she said. “All this time, and now you contact me.”

“I’ve followed your journalism career, subscribe to all the magazines you regularly contribute to, and I thought this . . . expedition . . . might be good fodder for your—”

“But you haven’t been interested in helping me since I was four years old.”

Lawrence slugged back the rest of his dark beer, stared at the mountains, wiped the foam from his beard.

Abigail said, “That came out more angry than—”

“No, it’s fine. You’ve got standing to be as angry as you want.”

“I’m not, though.”

The patio door opened and the waiter returned with Abigail’s pint and another round for Lawrence.

When he’d left, she raised her glass.

“Lawrence,” she said, “here’s to our past. Fuck it.”

He grinned. “That easy, huh?”

“We can pretend.”

They clinked pints and Abigail sipped her golden beer.

“So why’d you come?” Lawrence asked. “To be honest, I never expected a response to that E-mail.”

“Funny, I was just sitting out in the car, building the nerve to walk in here, and trying to answer that question for myself.”

The sun ducked behind the mountains and Abigail shivered, the rocky slopes and snowfields blushing with alpenglow.



t 4:30 the next morning, Abigail hurried across the parking lot of the Doubletree, moving toward a big Suburban, where four figures stood in the diseased light of a flickering streetlamp. The air was perfumed with wet sage and resonant of the jabbering Animas River, which flowed behind the hotel.

They all turned at the sound of her footsteps, her eyes gravitating first to her father, then to the man standing beside him, who came only to his shoulders. His head was smooth-shaven and his beard, just beginning to fade in, matched the gray of his deep and thoughtful eyes.

“Emmett Tozer,” he said as they shook hands. “Guess you could say we’re responsible for this outing. Lawrence was nice enough to agree to take us out, share his expertise.”

“Abigail Foster, freelance journalist.” She turned to the woman holding Emmett’s arm. “June Tozer?”

June’s face lighted up and she took Abigail’s hand in both of hers. “Pleasure to meet you, Abigail.” She stood just over five feet, with a streak of white running down the middle of her chin-length brown hair. A sweet energy seemed to exude through June’s fingers. It made Abigail’s arm tingle, as if a gentle current were passing through.

“And I’m Scott Sawyer. I own Hinterlands, Inc. I’ll be your guide for this trip.”

Abigail shook the calloused hand of the beautiful man in a Phish T-shirt and torn khakis, instantly liking what she saw, a feeling she sensed he reciprocated. He was young, his hair bleached, probably just shy of thirty, and she discerned beneath his faded clothes the body of a seasoned outdoors-man.

They rode up toward the mountains in the dark, and Abigail was dreaming again before they left the city limits of Durango.

She slept soundly, and when she woke, the Suburban was ascending a steep, rocky road. Scott and Lawrence talked in the front seat, but their conversation seemed muffled. She swallowed. Her ears popped. The sounds of the straining engine and tires crunching over rocks came rushing in. Abigail sat up, rubbed her eyes. The dashboard clock read 6:01 A.M. The sky had lightened into dawn, and they were climbing through a canyon, the one-lane road following the path of a stream.

Scott finally pulled over onto the edge of a meadow and parked beside a dinged and rusted Bronco that had long ago ceased to be one discernible color. But despite its state of disrepair, it had somehow managed to drag a trailer up the road. Abigail climbed outside after Emmett and June, heard the chatter of a stream.

They huddled between the vehicles, their breath steaming, the air redolent of spruce.

The driver’s door of the Bronco squeaked open, and a man stepped down into the frosted grass. He was tall, his beard thick save for a few bare spots, his walnut hair drawn back into a ponytail.

Scott said, “Meet Jerrod Spicer, my trustworthy assistant. He’s an excellent outdoorsman, so you should know you’re all in capable hands.”

Jerrod let slip a yawn, said, “Sorry. Still waiting for the coffee to kick in.” He walked to the back of the trailer, unlocked the doors. “Gunter, Gerald, time to go to work.”

Abigail smiled when two llamas stepped down into the meadow and began munching on the grass. She approached them, reached out to pet the black one, but it pulled away, affronted by the familiarity.

“I’d rethink that, Abigail,” Scott said. “Gunter spits.” He opened the back hatch of the Bronco. “Now if you’ll step over here, we can start getting you all fitted for your packs.”

As Abigail watched Scott cinch down the llama packs, she heard a car coming up the canyon. A moment passed, and then a hunter green Ford Expedition appeared around the bend. It veered off the road and pulled up onto the meadow, a rack of sirens mounted on top, SAN JUAN COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT emblazoned on the driver’s and passenger’s doors. A woman climbed out and approached the group, which had gathered by the llama trailer. She was petite and pretty, with bright, friendly eyes and long brown hair split into braided pigtails.

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