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BEAR of a

By Laurie Carter


Bear of a Honeymoon Laurie Carter

Little White Publishing


Bear of a Honeymoon Copyright Š 2012 by Laurie Carter

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior written permission of the publisher or a licence from The Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency. For a copyright licence, visit www.accesscopyright.ca or call toll free to 1-800-893-5777.

eBook ISBN eBook ISBN 978-0-9880874-0-8

Little White Publishing 2-2095 Boucherie Road West Kelowna, BC Canada V4T 1Z4 LittleWhitePublishing.com

Cover design by Mishell Raedeke


Chapter 1

“Stupid,” I raged, jamming the shift into second to give myself some hope of rounding the next bend alive. “Unbelievably stupid!” Lack of response from the empty passenger seat just fuelled my temper. “After thirty-four years of sensible singlehood, how could I possibly lose my head like this? How could I take the plunge with a whack-a-do cowboy I knew for barely two weeks.” My parents would be doing the proverbial grave-roll and who could blame them? The rest of the family might have fallen for Matt’s down-home charm, but I could just picture Mom, shaking her head as she pronounced one of her motheaten maxims. Something like “marry in haste, repent at leisure” jumped easily to mind—and for good reason. We had married in haste. But despite current appearances to the contrary, I harboured absolutely no desire to repent. Angry as I might be at this moment, Matt Anderson was the guy for me. And it wasn’t as though I hadn’t known exactly what I was getting into. But this was ridiculous. In eight whole weeks of connubial bliss, you could practically count on the fingers of one hand the days we’d shared. The ink on our marriage licence was hardly dry before all those career pressures we knew we’d have to face were already spinning us into separate orbits. Matt was needed in Taiwan. The photo assignment he’d dropped cold to waltz me to the altar was waiting—impatiently. He had to hop a plane, and that might have been great if I’d been free to join him. If I had, our honeymoon would now be an exotic memory. Instead, I had a story to write. A story with such a massively high profile that it put me on a plane of my own. Once the wire services picked it up, Taylor Kerrick was in instant demand. Apparently my account of the continuing ivory trade struck a collective nerve. Every talk show and radio call-in programme on the continent seemed to want a piece of the story on endangered elephants—a story that could have cost my life, but brought me Matt instead. The image of our meeting flashed to mind and I couldn’t repress a giggle at the memory of the tall, sandy-haired Caucasian, togged in jeans and Navajo shirt, tipping a Stetson the size of Texas as he towered over the throng of scuttling travellers at Taiwan’s Chiang Kaishek airport. It reminded me of the unlikely string of coincidences that produced the moment. An assignment that could have taken a hundred different twists just happened to lead to a distant oriental island. Ben, my editor and mentor, just


happened to choose that instant to insist on asserting his latent overprotectiveness in the form of a local partner. And Matthew Anderson, who just happens to speak Mandarin and just happened to share a mutual friend with Ben, just happened to be in Taiwan. Now if that’s not the intervening hand of fate, I’ll never know what is. Our jobs had brought us together and now our jobs seemed bent on keeping us apart. Of course we’d seen it coming, weighed the risk, known what we were getting into. “Then why am I so friggin’ mad right now,” I demanded of the silent pines as they hurtled past. Simple answer. This was, after all, our official honeymoon and I felt quite definite on the point that we deserved two undisturbed weeks at our secluded mountain hideout. We did not deserve a fickle twist of fate. So naturally, that’s exactly what we got. Early on the third morning of what was already proving to be a bizarre retreat, Matt’s ring tone chose the most inopportune moment to intrude. “Who is it,” he panted, his uncharacteristic bluntness perfectly understandable, at least to me. “How did you get my number?” Apparently the caller provided a satisfactory answer. Matt sat up and, resting his elbows on his knees, used the fingers of his free hand to comb the sandy tangle of his hair. “Forget it,” he said, after a significant interval. “You’ve got a stable of staffers and I’m on my honeymoon.” It was right about then I realised said honeymoon was in serious trouble, because Matt didn’t instantly hang up. Instead he continued to listen with what I feared might be growing interest. My stomach was already tight by the time he pressed the phone to his chest and turned to face me. “It’s Life,” he said flat out. “And they want to do a story on media honeymoons,” I quipped, trying to smother my growing sense of alarm. A muscle twitched at the corner of my newly minted husband’s mouth. It might have been the start of a grin. I don’t know. It didn’t get any farther. “They need me,” he said, simply. “It’s an emergency.” “Why would their emergency involve a freelancer?” I demanded, beginning to feel like a mother hen defending her nest. Matt shook his head, his chiselled features now gathered in a frown. “Bad timing, I guess. Their staffers are spread all over the world—war, pestilence, famine—you know the drill.” Reluctantly I nodded. We were on a mountain, not the dark side of the moon. I watched the news twice a day. “So what’s the last straw?” I asked, knowing the camel’s back must be well and truly broken if Life was calling Matt in a panic. An emotion suspiciously resembling relief registered briefly in my husband’s eyes before he flicked his glance away. “A couple of hours ago, a trainload of toxic chemicals derailed in some god-forsaken pass in the Cascades. They’re talking potential catasrophe,” he said, sneaking a look at my face. There must have been some encouragement showing because he hurried on. “Not just


the normal environmental issues. This train managed to jump the rails in the watershed that feeds most of north-western Washington State.” “Including Seattle?” I demanded in spite of myself. Whether I liked it or not, my reporter’s instincts never lay far beneath the surface. “Apparently.” “Then tell them we’re on our way.” As I jumped out of bed, my mental to do list began taking shape. I could be packed in ten minutes. Our travelling companions, Dudley, my long-time feline friend, and his new partner, Nell, could be foisted on my even longer-time human friends who own the lodge where we were staying. And if we grabbed a bite in the kitchen, we could be on the road in half-an-hour. With one leg already stuffed in my jeans, I suddenly registered the look on Matt’s face. It brought me to a full stop. “Now what?” I demanded, instinctively knowing I wouldn’t like the answer. “You can’t go.” “Why not?” I countered, reasonably. “I could write the story.” “No need, a reporter’s already on his way. Photos are the only problem. They want to start getting shots as soon as possible and I’m the closest they’ve got. Jack says I’ll be in and out in thirty-six hours, two days at the most.” My heart sank in my chest as I sank onto the bed, jeans clutched by the waistband, one leg in, one out. This was new territory. Being an investigative reporter, I was used to sneaking up on my stories, not the other way around. And Matt was booked for photo assignments, usually weeks or even months in advance. It was bad enough to know that our careers would sometimes take us in different directions, but I hadn’t bargained on it happening at a moment’s notice—and certainly not on our long-delayed honeymoon. Still, there seemed little choice. It was an important story and time was critical. “Go ahead,” I said at last, childishly refusing to hide my disappointment. “You’re the best,” he said, sounding like he really meant it as he took the time to squeeze my hand and plant an appreciative peck on my cheek. Then bursting into a hundred watt grin, he put the phone back to his ear and left me for his story. The physical separation took a little longer, but from that moment, Matt was essentially gone. All the way from Okanagan Lodge to the Kelowna airport, some forty miles distant, he fiddled with cameras and lenses, checking each piece of equipment before repacking it in his bag. As he boarded the plane chartered by the magazine, he turned and waved a hopeful good-bye, looking something like the president presenting a final photo op at the door of Air Force One. I wasn’t happy and we both knew it. But I’m not much for waving lost-cause banners, so I swallowed hard and sent him on his way with my best trooper grin. When he was gone I drove into town and treated my low-tide spirits to breakfast at Partner’s Family Restaurant. Seeking solace, I consumed all the grease and cholesterol the menu had to offer. Unfortunately it didn’t help much. Even though I polished off a trucker-sized cheese omelette complete with toast and home fries, I was still mad—and hurt. I looked forward to the rally course drive back to the lodge. The


succession of increasingly narrow roads coiling their way into the mountains is a driver’s delight, provided you don’t focus too much attention on the potential for a deadly plunge. Despite the array of ever-sharper curves balanced on the ofteneroded rims of sheer-sided cliffs, I moved my little Toyota along at the pelting clip that matched my mood. It wasn’t until the blacktop gave way to gravel that I’d worked out enough aggression to slow down and actually admire the forest I was driving through. My destination, Okanagan Highland Lodge, commands the north shore of a backcountry lake. Nestled on the plateau west of the Okanagan Valley, Bear Lake is cobalt blue and perennially cold. The highlands themselves, ancient peaks, smoothed and rounded by grinding glaciation, stretch west from the valley to the once fiery volcanic cones of the Cascades. These features create a massive rain shadow effect that produces the valley’s semi-arid climate. The highlands get more precipitation because of altitude, but it’s mostly winter snowfall. The forest I drove through that sparkling May morning changed as I drove higher. At first it was like open parkland with huge ponderosa pines spaced several feet from their neighbours and underbrush at a minimum. Here the plants live for spring when moisture from melting snow hasn’t yet been sapped by the burning summer sun. The wildflowers are remarkable, dominated in spring by clumps of yellow daisy-like creations called arrowleaf balsamroot that carpet the hillsides and dot the forest floor, along with sporadic thickets of white-blossomed Saskatoon bushes crowding the roadside. Higher up, the forest morphs to closely packed Douglas fir and lodgepole pine and the summer flower show features red or orange Indian paintbrush and purple lupines. Driving amid such natural splendour should have inspired my writer’s soul. Instead I was working through a schizophrenic fit. One minute I was angry as hell at Matt’s callous abandonment, the next, I was bogged in a mire of selfpity. I was in one of the mad phases when I recognised a cream Chevy Blazer. At least I think it was cream. The amount of paint still visible under the coat of rust made it hard to be certain. But I was sure about the driver. As the SUV hurtled by me, I caught a quick glimpse of an employee I recognized from the lodge, Shane Deeks. And wasn’t that Tovey Acquino, I wondered, with nothing more to go on than a flash of bushy red hair. Now there was an unlikely combo. Miss biology-student-summer-intern paired with local chip-on-the-shoulder bad-boy, headed out for an afternoon of . . . I was still turning that one over when I reached the T-junction at Okanagan Lodge Road. Two choices and a perverse mood—I turned away from the lodge. To my surprise, the road rapidly deteriorated into not much more than a dirt track. If I’d had any sense at all, I would have been worried sick about a broken axle. Some of the potholes were like open-pit mines. But my ornery streak had taken over. I pushed ahead, manoeuvring the Toyota around the worst of the craters and belly-wrenching straight through the rest. I’d been at this for quite some time, although I couldn’t have covered that much straight-line distance, when the track rounded a massive boulder and abruptly dead-ended in a sunny clearing. Before me squatted a mahogany-stained,


cedar-sided structure that effectively barred any further progress. I use the term structure rather than cabin because the wall facing me was dominated by a double roll-up garage door. But if this was a garage, where was the house? It sure wasn’t the shack standing twenty yards to one side. If my guess was right, that building served quite a different purpose, and the only other man-made occupant of the clearing was a roofless doghouse of similar construction. There were no signs of life. I climbed out of the car, grabbing my shoulder bag out of habit. I slung the strap over my head to cross my chest and dropped the keys in the outside pocket. “Anybody here?” The birds responded with a momentary hush. “Hello,” I tried again, thoughts of wayward mates and conflicting careers suddenly replaced with speculation on deep forest hideaways. My creative imagination would never settle for such a simple explanation as hunting cabin or summer getaway. No, as I followed the remnants of a rustic brick path toward a front porch now visible on the opposite side, I pictured a whole range of possibilities. Reclusive writer, artist, drug dealer and moonshiner all flipped through my active grey cells before I reached three worn steps leading to the screened porch. I crossed the half dozen feet of weathered planking to the main door. It didn’t seem likely that I’d get a response, but I knocked loudly and waited. With no sign of another vehicle, I didn’t really think anyone could be living here. I went in for a second round of vigorous pounding, then gave up, backtracked through the screen door and crossed the open deck across the front of the cabin. An uncurtained picture window gave me a reasonable view of the interior. Nose to glass, I shielded my eyes and peered in. All I could see was a single vacant room. Good. I beetled back to try the door. It swung easily and I stepped into the kitchen area. Homemade plywood cabinets spanned the wall beneath the big window and a cast iron wood stove sat centred on the opposite wall with split kindling and stove lengths piled neatly by its side. Advancing into the room, I found a ’50s vintage chrome set with grey Arborite top and red vinyl, duct-taped chairs arranged next to a wrought iron room divider that bisected the cabin. On the other side stood a double bed with battered wooden headboard and pink chenille spread. As I walked past the garage door wall, toward a two-by-four workbench dominating the far corner, a few possibilities occurred to me. This might have been planned as the initial phase of a longer-term construction project, like the homesteaders whose first cabin often became a barn or other outbuilding when they became well enough established for a larger home. Or maybe it was just what it appeared, a practical way of creating a large opening. The cabin was certainly furnished sparsely enough to accommodate a small boat, say, for winter storage. And there was evidence of some such use. Lines of dried sand marked the gold shag carpet remnant that covered the concrete floor. Searching further, I noticed oil lamps hanging from brackets on the cedarpanelled walls. A Coleman camp stove sat on the kitchen worktop—no electricity—and the stainless sink, minus faucet, told its own story. Open-faced


shelves contained a variety of provisions: canned soup, condensed milk, chili and stew, boxes of cereal and crackers, and a jar of coffee. And there was a fivegallon jug half-full of water. A single mug lay inverted in the plastic dish drainer. On impulse I touched the dishcloth folded neatly on the edge of the sink. Dry and stiff. A shiver suddenly ran through my torso and goose bumps rose thick on my arms. Gripped by a spasm of fear, so real yet so unfounded, it took all my mental strength to keep from bolting through the door. I managed not to run, but my pace was far from dignified and the relief that surged through my veins was as warm and welcome as the touch of spring sunshine outside. Just a guilty childhood throwback I assured myself. Like the throatgripping panic produced by the sound of Mom’s footsteps in the hall as I froze like a light-blinded deer, elbow deep in her special drawer. And I guess I had it coming. Nobody invited me into that cabin. But there was more to it than simple shame for being nosy. Looking at the empty picture window that stared like a sightless Cyclops from the centre of an otherwise featureless face, I decided it was the sterility. Not sterility in the sense of excessive cleanliness, there were plenty of cobwebs and lots of dust. It was more a question of what wasn’t there. Nothing personal. No clothes lying around. Not a hat or a jacket or spare pair of shoes. There wasn’t even a dresser. And the line of pegs by the door was as bare as a bleached skeleton. Why were there no books, no pictures, no hunting trophies, fishing rods or even a deck of cards? The place reeked of pure functionality, eating and sleeping. It gave me the creeps. I shook off a final shiver and turned my back. “This is more like it,” I told the sun-bathed clearing, “I wonder how many of these wildflowers I can remember?” Scarlet gilia was easy to spot, wisps of blazing colour reaching skyward on whisper thin stems, and perky arnica, like yellow daisies to my unpractised eye. There were wild strawberries in delicate white and wild roses in delicate pink, tiny yellow clusters of Oregon grape and extravagant colonies of lavender penstemon. Dozens more wove together like the threads of an intricate oriental carpet. Bunch grass, lichen, moss, rocks, flowers and dirt, all essential to the pattern. I stepped carefully, you might even say reverently, but each cushioned footfall still crushed a blossom or two. Without the gift of levitation, there was no way to avoid every flower. My progress was slowed even further by frequent stops. I paused to look at the trees—towering, spike-needled ponderosas and scraggly, moss-draped firs. I stopped to look at the sky—a seamless, cerulean dome. I stopped just to breathe— consuming great quantities of pine-rich air. And I stopped at the edge of a canyon. Before I reached the brink, I didn’t even realize it was there. From any distance the clearing simply appeared to meld with the surrounding forest. Now I realised only the top third of these trees was visible from where I stood. For mountain country it wasn’t such a long way down, maybe a couple of hundred feet. But the drop was vertical. Instinctively I took a step backward, my only mistake.


A random patch of loose gravel … Flash of vertigo … Crack of skull on rock ... Bear of a Honeymoon Kindle edition.

About the Author Laurie Carter is an award-winning writer and photographer whose passion for the environment was seeded on a Southern Ontario farm and blossomed in British Columbia's Okanagan Valley, where she has lived since 1991. Laurie shares a cozy home overlooking Okanagan Lake with her husband, Bruce Kemp, and two SPCA cats. She loves hiking, digging in her garden and being a grandma.

Also By Laurie Carter Ivory Express Reporter Taylor Kerrick’s discovery of ivory smugglers is pure coincidence. Her determination to discover the source of the contraband and raise public awareness of endangered elephants is pure madness—or so her editor Ben Palasco fears when the story heads for Taiwan. If he had all the facts, Taylor knows she would never make it out of Vancouver. So she fails to mention a string of oddly perfumed threats. Ben has no reason to suspect the murderous treachery she’s about to uncover, but his agreement on the trip is reluctant and conditional on local backup. The results are turbulent and completely unexpected. Taylor is determined to get her man—but which one? Kindle edition.

Grandma Wears Hiking Boots: A personal guide to the Okanagan Valley Laurie Carter’s unique take on Okanagan trails, wildflower excursions, wine tasting, farm tours, family attractions, historic sites, cultural pursuits, mine tours, jumping off mountains and her favourite subject—food—suggest this book should be called: Grandma Wears Hiking Boots and Sneakers, Snowshoes and Skis, Flip-flops and Terminally Gorgeous Heels. Carter’s zippy style and selfinflicted humour make this collection of anecdotes, observations and recommendations a lively page-turner for armchair travellers and serious Okanagan explorers.


Kindle edition.

Gifts of the Okanagan Gifts of the Okanagan, a stunning visual celebration of British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley by photographers Laurie Carter and Bruce Kemp, conveys an intimate knowledge and understanding of the region. Carter and Kemp have captured the immutable and evolving, threatened and thriving, serious and carefree facets of a unique and complex environment. Their images reveal a deep connection with their home and a profound pleasure in sharing the beauty and wonders that surround them every day. Available from Amazon.


Bear of a Honeymoon