Monday, April 8, 2013
How would you like to knock on a door and find that face on the other side? In the opening pages of Alaskan Hero, my upcoming May release from Love Inspired, that's exactly what happens to heroine Anya Petrova.
What she really finds is a man dressed in a bear costume.
Some might say that's more disturbing than coming across an actual bear. Why would anyone in his right mind walk around dressed as a grizzly? And just what does he look like underneath that bear head?
Find out in this excerpt from Chapter One of Alaskan Hero:
Anya Petrova shoved her mittened hands in the pockets of her parka as she stood on Brock Parker's threshold and tried not to react. The man had answered the door dressed in a furry bear costume. It wasn't every day that she knocked on a stranger's door and found a grizzly bear, albeit a fake one, on the other side. Even in Alaska.
She pasted on a smile. "Hi, I'm Anya Petrova. I emailed you about my dog. You're Brock, right?"
He nodded, but made no move to take off the bear head.
Super. Anya had to stop herself from exhaling a frustrated sigh.
She'd expected someone normal, especially considering Brock Parker's reputation. He was new in town, an avalanche search and rescue expert and alleged dog genius, at least according to what Anya's friend Clementine had told her. Anya had been trying in vain to reach him for the past two days, but he appeared to be a mystery. He didn't even have a locally listed phone number, and he'd yet to make an appearance in town. And she'd been looking—hard—because a dog genius is exactly what she needed at the moment.
Fortunately, Clementine had managed to procure Brock's email address. Anya had fired off a message and was thrilled when he agreed to meet with her. Clementine had predicted he would turn out to be the answer to Anya's prayers. What she'd failed to predict was that Brock Parker would be dressed head to toe in a grizzly bear costume when he answered his front door.
The odds are good, but the goods are odd.
Some considered it Alaska's best kept secret.
The rest of the free world seemed all too aware of the fact that men outnumbered women in the Land of the Midnight Sun. So much so that sometimes the statistics Anya Petrova saw on the subject made her shake her head in disbelief, if not snort with laughter. Fifteen to one? Did people in the Lower 48 really believe that?
Anya had lived in Aurora, Alaska, since the day she was born. She even had a dash of Inuit blood in her veins, and she knew as well as every other Alaskan woman that such statistics were exaggerated at best. At worst, they were baloney. In any event, the exact ratio didn't make a bit of difference. Because the men of Alaska weren't like other men. The majority of them, anyway. Like anything else, there were exceptions.
A very few.
The odds are good, but the goods are odd. Or, to put it nicely, Alaskan men could be eccentric. And it wasn't just the locals. Sometimes the transplants could be even worse. There seemed to be something about Alaska that attracted independent spirits, adventurers…and oddballs. Case in point—the man standing in front of her in a bear costume.
Not that she cared a whit about Aurora's bachelor population, strange or otherwise. She'd learned a long time ago that men were trouble. In her infancy, actually. Being abandoned by her father at three months of age didn't exactly set her up for success in the man department. Neither did being unceremoniously dumped on top of the highest mountain in Aurora for the entire town to witness. More than the town's population, actually, because television cameras had been involved.
As a result, dating wasn't anywhere on the list of things that mattered most to Anya. Her life was simple. She cared about three things—God, coffee and her dog.
She had a good handle on the coffee situation. As the manager of the Northern Lights Inn coffee bar, she was given free rein to develop all sorts of lattes, mochas and espresso drinks. Whatever struck her fancy, really. She enjoyed it. And she was good at it. Sometimes—particularly on days when all she did was serve up cup after cup of plain black coffee—she wondered if there was something else she should be doing with her life. Something more meaningful. But that was normal, wasn't it? Did people really ever feel completely fulfilled by their jobs?
The God thing was new, so she really couldn't say how that was going. But it mattered to her. More than she ever knew it could, so it went on the list.
But the dog was another issue entirely. And that's where Brock Parker came into the picture, or so Anya hoped. Clementine had been so sure he could help her. She'd used the word genius to describe his proficiency at training.
He sure didn't look like a genius standing there in his doorway in that bear costume. Then again, what did Anya know about geniuses? Hadn't she read somewhere that Albert Einstein couldn't tie his own shoes? Maybe Einstein had a bear suit too.
She glanced down at Brock's feet poking out from the dark-brown fur. He wore hiking boots, and they were indeed tied.
Was that a good thing? Who knew?
She inhaled a deep breath of frigid winter air and tried again. "I have a very anxious dog, and I was told you might be able to help me. I'm kind of desperate."
She'd planned to tell him more, but suddenly her eyes burned with the telltale sting of tears. To say she was desperate was an understatement. Things seemed bad enough when she'd first rescued Dolce. The poor thing hid under the bed all the time. Anya barely saw her. Little did she know Dolce's shyness was the least of her problems.
The tiny dog also howled at the top of her canine lungs. At first, Anya had been able to convince the people at the Northern Lights Inn—who were not only her employer, but also her landlord—to give the dog some time. Surely Dolce would settle down.
She hadn't. Not yet anyway. And the hotel management had run out of patience. They'd finally given her an ultimatum—give up either the dog or her rent-free cottage.
The choice was hers. She had a mere fourteen days to fix the problem or lose her dog or her home. She'd pinned her last hope on Brock's purported genius, and from the looks of things, that might have been a mistake.
She sniffed and willed herself not to shed a tear. Desperate or not, crying in front of a man dressed as a bear was simply out of the question.
She heard a sigh. Brock's furry chest rose and fell. Then—finally—he removed the bear head, exposing his face.
Anya wasn't altogether sure what she'd expected, but the cool blue eyes, straight perfect nose and high cheekbones that looked as though they'd been chiseled from granite were most definitely not it. The man resembled some kind of dreamy Nordic statue. Anya had to blink to make sure she wasn't seeing things.
"You say your dog is anxious? How anxious?" He spoke without cracking the slightest smile, which only made him look more like something Michelangelo had carved out of stone.
Anya swallowed. Her mouth had abruptly gone dry. The snowflakes floating against her cheeks felt colder all of a sudden, and she realized her face had grown quite warm. "Very. I rescued her from a bad situation, and unless she's attached to a leash, I can't get her to come out from under my bed. She even eats there and only in the dark."
It was pathetic. Every night when Anya drifted off to sleep, it was to the sound of poor Dolce crunching on kibble.
"But that's not the worst of it. She howls. Rather loudly." Anya's voice grew wobbly. "I'm about to be kicked out of my cottage."
"I see." Brock nodded, and a lock of his disheveled blond hair fell across his forehead.
She'd heard of bedhead, but never bearhead. It, too, appeared to have its charms.
Alaskan Hero, Coming in May from Harlequin Love Inspired. Available for pre-order now!