Hawk checked the vital signs of the unconscious man on the bed. He had seen his share of hypothermic tourists and mountain-climbing weekenders. Hawk had never seen one so underclad and unprepared for the weather. He tried to stay detached as he cut off the man's T-shirt and shorts, but as the fabric rent, revealing perfect six-pack abs and amazing glutes, he sucked in a deep breath. The man wasn't overmuscled, merely perfectly made.
“So, you bike? Swim?” He didn't expect the unconscious man to answer. It made him feel better to have a conversation while he worked, even if it was one-sided.
He snickered, seeing the back piece of a black silk thong. Not because the man was wearing a thong, but because in the top center a small, hot pink bow decorated the fabric. “I'm guessing not one hundred percent straight.”
He attached the face mask of a Res-Q-Air unit and applied heat packs at all the main artery points. Then all Hawk could do was wait.
He pulled up a small chair and sat.
The world around him became silent and still as time became measured in five-minute increments, every core-temperature reading a step closer to life or death. Ten minutes into the treatment, the man's back arched with convulsions, each lasting thirty to forty seconds. Hawk counted each second, praying that the next core-temperature reading would put him out of the danger range.
Ten minutes passed, and his veins were still too cold to accept the IV fluid. Hawk popped a fresh instant-heat pack and placed it directly over his forearm. He layered on more blankets and played the waiting game. After five minutes he pulled the pack from the man's arm and found a willing vein.
After another twenty minutes, Brian's core temperature finally evened out at ninety-five, but Hawk knew better than to breathe a sigh of relief yet. It was still early in the game; core temperature after-drop was still a life-threatening concern.
And he still hadn't come around.
Shadow whined and paced in front of the bedroom door.
“Lay!” Hawk knew without looking that the dog had obeyed immediately. A side advantage was that his sternly voiced command had also awakened the patient. He struggled to be free of the blankets, and a trembling hand reached to pull away the face mask. He mumbled, “Hurts.”
“Easy, now.” Hawk knew the man would awaken in pain. His whole body would feel like it was on fire and there wasn't a damn thing Hawk could do about that except reassure him.
Brian's eyes grew wider, not recognizing his surroundings. “Where the fuck am I?”
Hawk tensed, not wanting to restrain the man. He outweighed him and was confident in his abilities to do so, but it always helped to have a cooperative patient. Hawk tried to put himself in the man's shoes, seeing himself through his eyes. He looked rough. He'd been on the trail for almost a week. Ponytail. Unshaved. Faded flannel shirt, buckskin pants, and lace-up hiking boots. Brian probably thought he'd been kidnapped by a backwoods lunatic.
“Shh.” Hawk comforted the man, patting his shoulder as he pushed him back into the pillows. “I'm a park ranger, and right now I'm trying to get you warm. When you were rescued you were half frozen.”
“I remember. I hit a tree. So goddamn cold. Tried to walk out but didn't get far. I went back to the Jeep and just couldn't get warm.”
“I need you to relax and tell me when you start to feel a tingling sensation in your hands and feet.”
The man fell back against his pillow, and Hawk guessed he was too exhausted and dizzy to do much else.
“All right now?” Hawk asked softly. Brian's teeth chattered in response, and Hawk smiled for the first time in two hours.
“Chattering is a good start; shivering would be better. You have hypothermia,” he explained. “Getting you warmed back up to ninety-eight point six is gonna be an all-night process.”
* * *
Brian woke up, remembering snow. A whiteout. Something had darted across the road. Something big. He realized two things at once: his head was pounding, and a mask was covering his nose and mouth. He knew he wasn't in a hospital. The room felt homey, except for the mounted moose head over the fireplace, and that was just strange
. He was in someone's bedroom and he wasn't alone. A man kept taking his pulse while muttering to himself.
Brian tried in vain to get the man's attention, but either the man wasn't listening or he wasn't paying attention to him as he took his vitals. The room swam before him and then went dark.
He whipped the steering wheel, trying not to hit the brown blur that had bolted in front of his Jeep. On the snow- and ice-covered road, the Jeep went into an immediate, uncontrollable slide, spinning in a full circle before making sudden, abrupt impact with a tree.
He'd never seen a storm claim the land so quickly. One minute there had been bright sun, blue skies, and the next, churning gray clouds and falling snow. He stepped out of the vehicle and sank into ankle-deep snow. “Shit, shit, shit!”
With a painful grimace, he turned his head to see what it was. The red flare of taillights revealed a moose. Not a deer, but a very large angry-looking moose. The animal's nostrils flared, and he emitted another loud snort. Brian's concern over possible whiplash was quickly replaced with full-fledged panic, making him jump back into the Jeep. Hand on the gear shift, foot on the clutch, he had every intention of getting the hell out of Dodge, or at the very least off the side of a rabid-animal-infested mountain. The Jeep didn't budge.
Brian's head snapped to attention. The moose mooed? Well, maybe not rabid. Cautiously, he rolled down the window and said, “Shoo!”
The moose stepped closer.
“No! Shoo shoo. Go away.”
The moose blinked at him. Feeling around in his cup holder for his cell phone, he remembered belatedly he'd tossed it out of the car. That was brilliant.
“Nice moose.” He timidly cracked open the door and stepped slowly out, prepared to jump back in if the animal made any move to charge. His flip-flops promptly sank back into the snow. He hopped from foot to foot. “Ow! Cold cold cold. Nice moosey-moose.”
Circling the vehicle, keeping solid steel between him and the moose, he quickly discovered why the Jeep wasn't moving. The right front tire sat at an unusual angle. Getting on his bare knees in the snow to wiggle his head under the frame was not the highlight of his day. Darkness was falling fast around him, but it wasn't so dark he couldn't determine he'd broken the axle. He was worse than stuck.
Pulling himself from the snow, he brushed his legs fiercely. “This is all your fault.”
He glared over the hood at the moose.
“Don't you growl at me, Mister. I don't like men very much these days.” God, what a magnificent animal. Not expecting an answer, he asked, “I don't suppose you could point me to the nearest town?”
Beyond the moose lay miles and miles of pines. Brian turned, facing what he assumed was west. Miles and miles of snowcapped granite. He turned back to the animal.
The moose dipped his snout into the snow before flicking a fair amount into the air.
“Oh, give it up. Yes, it's snowing and you almost got hit by a big yellow chunk of metal, but really, I'm having a worse day--forget day--I am having a worse year than you.”
The moose bellowed and rolled his eyes. Brian read, I doubt that.
“No, seriously. I have dibs on worst possible everything.”
The moose offered him what appeared to be a shrug before he turned and disappeared into the forest.
“Well, be that way!” he shouted after him, but a distant howl scared him into not saying another word. Wolves? Shivering, mostly from cold but also from fright, he scurried back into the Jeep. He had no intention of becoming dog food. What now? He could freeze to death and die on this mountain and no one knew he was here.
Brian woke with a jolt, realizing his toes hurt.
And his fingers.
“Is it frostbite?” he asked, panicking and pulling the mask from his face. He didn't want to lose his fingers or toes. Well, he didn't want to lose his fingers, especially because he'd no longer be able to wield a paintbrush, but he was also kind of attached to his toes. He thought he had sexy toes for a guy. That was one reason he wore flip-flops most of the year. “I can't lose my fingers. Save my fingers.”
The man lifted a finger to his lips and met his gaze. Brian shook his head with confusion when he got lost in the depth of his rescuer's dark brown eyes and discovered as long as he focused on the flecks of gold in the deeper pool of brown, the painful fire wrapping his body disappeared.
“A few more minutes and I'll take the mask off to understand what you're saying, but right now the warm, moist air filling your lungs is the most important thing.”
Brian nodded, mesmerized by the man's deep, lyrical voice, jumping when a big dog nosed in under the palm of his hand with a loud sniff.
“This is Shadow.” The man scruffed the fur around the big dog's neck. “Do you think you'll be all right with her for a minute while I run down to the kitchen to get you something warm to drink?”
“Shadow.” Hawk said the dog's name sternly when the dog kept pushing her nose under Brian's hand. The big animal sat, her nose still under Brian's hand. “I'm sorry; it isn't like her to disobey. Shadow, go lay down!”
Brian sighed, suddenly exhausted. He lifted the mask off his face, realizing he could feel his fingers again and that they no longer tingled with the pins-and-needles sensation. “No. She's fine.”
“I'll leave you two to get acquainted then. Don't take off that air mask; don't mess with your IV tube, and don't even think about standing up. I'll get you some tea. Agreed?”
Brian wasn't sure he liked the man's bossy tone, but he nodded his agreement to the terms. Not that he believed he could manage standing. He knew better. It was only after the man left the room that he realized he was naked beneath the sheets. Well, almost naked. The black silk thong he was wearing didn't exactly increase his comfort level.
A hundred worst-case scenarios filtered through his brain. It didn't help that a small voice in his head kept reminding him he wasn't in a hospital and the man who had just left the room was no doctor. The fact that he was utterly gorgeous didn't go unnoticed but left him feeling no better. Handsome men could be even more dangerous than homely ones, and downright deadly to an unsuspecting heart. Brian panicked. He ripped off the face mask and jerked out the intravenous needle.
The man hadn't seemed dangerous, but the truth was he could be a serial killer.
A voice in his head tried to reason with him. If he is a serial killer, would he take the time to get you warm first?
As he threw his legs over the side of the bed, the dog pushed her muzzle into his lap and whined. Brian clutched his head and blinked rapidly. The room was spinning. He put his hand on the dog's head to scratch behind her ears and ended up using the furry skull to hold his balance. “Good doggie. Don't move.”
Standing, or trying to, he discovered his legs weren't quite working yet and managed to fall facedown onto the wood floor. Shadow whined louder before letting out a loud bark. “Oh hell.”
“Whoa, cowboy.” His caretaker pushed in through the door, carrying two steaming mugs. Brian looked up at him from his prone position on the floor, wondering if he'd already been drugged. He sure as hell felt weird.
The man lowered the two mugs to a nightstand beside the bed and patted his dog on the head. “Good girl.”
He walked over to Brian, his boots inches away from his face. “You, on the other hand, don't obey very well.”
Squatting down, he put his hands under Brian's shoulders and hefted him to his feet. He joked, “You look a lot lighter than you really are.”
“Sorry,” Brian apologized, but then for the life of him couldn't remember what for.
His rescuer got him tucked back into bed. “Hypothermia is a serious condition. I don't want to scare you, but there can be life-threatening complications, and I need you to keep your ass in bed. You don't want to die, do you?”
Brian's fear fled. Knowing this man didn't want him dead was a huge relief. The man lifted a mug. “Tea?”
“Who are you?”
“Tobias Red Hawk, mountain rescue ranger, Glacier National Park.”
“How did I end up in your bed--naked?”
“I stripped you. The heat packs work better next to bare skin, and that isn't my bed. Belongs to Sarah, the woman who owns the diner downstairs. She rents the upper rooms out sometimes, and tonight this was the closest, fastest shelter I could provide.”
“If hypothermia is so serious, shouldn't I be in a hospital or something?” Brian grumbled, savoring the first few swallows of warm tea that slid down his throat, but then as his taste buds woke up, he gagged. “Christ, what is this? It's horrible!”
“Some things you just don't want to know. So, what should I call you?”
Taking in the man standing over him, he decided he really didn't believe the man planned to poison him. “My name's--” He stumbled over his name, not wanting to reveal too much, finally saying, “Brian. Just Brian.”
“Well, Just Brian, you probably should be in a hospital, but that's not exactly possible at the moment. What's the last thing you remember?”
Hawk smiled, pulling the blankets back up to Brian's chin. He sat down on the edge of the bed beside him before saying, “I'm actually glad to see you shivering. It's a good sign. Keep drinking, and I'll try to fill in the blanks. Where are you from?”
“So you've been on the road a few days?”
Brian nodded. “Drove straight through.”
Hawk was surprised. “Straight through? That's got to be close to twenty-five hours on the road. Maybe you fell asleep behind the wheel and hit the tree.”
“No. I remember. It was a moose...” Brian knew he hadn't fallen asleep, but he might be sleeping now, because only a dream could be responsible for the man staring into his eyes. God, he was gorgeous. His long, dark hair was held back in a ponytail, but even so, it reached almost to his waist. High cheekbones, dark eyes, bronze skin. He was a walking, talking wet dream. He wore a flannel shirt tucked into buckskin pants that molded to his hips and thighs, making it impossible for Brian to concentrate on what he was trying to remember.
The man reached out and ruffled his hair. “Sleep. We can figure out what happened when you wake up.”