Derek whistled, and his partner came running toward him like a freight train. He held his hand up. “Stop.” The dog stopped, but didn’t sit. Derek had been partnered with his K-9 for the last year. He loved her, and like most of the officers in his department, at the end of the dog’s career, their partner got to keep the dog. Essentially, Pepper was his, and Derek loved her more than anything.
He finished his end-of-the-day training session with her and walked her over to the car. “Up.” Pepper jumped in the back, sat on the seat and waited. She was such a brilliant dog. “Good girl, Pep.”
Derek drove to the apartment and walked Pepper in. She instantly went to his room. Dad and Mom were both not keen on having a dog in the apartment, and Derek even had to get special permission from their landlord. Training a K-9 unit didn’t end after a shift. It was ongoing and Derek was taking his job serious.
“Ugh, but why can’t I go?” Bailee’s whine came from the kitchen area. Derek closed his bedroom door and headed over to see what was up with his nagging sister.
“Dad and I both said no, Bailee,” Mom answered with a huff.
“But this isn’t fair! I worked really hard for this, Mom. Please?”
Mom sighed. “Bailee, Dad and I cannot afford that kind of money. I understand how important the trip is, but we can’t afford it.”
Derek was confused. Trip? What trip? “What’s going on?”
“None of your business,” Bailee seethed.
Derek shrugged. “Whatever.” He really didn’t care anyway. He glanced around. Bailee was home, but where the hell was Dakota? “Where’s the other brat?”
“Dakota is on her first date at the winter formal,” Mom happily explained. “She and her date looked so adorable. They’re so cute.”
Derek shook his head. “She’s fourteen and is on a date already?”
“Yup. Dad drove them to the dance about ten minutes before you got home,” Bailee said. She even looked happy about this. Girls. “She was really cute in her dress.”
“A what now?” Dakota in a dress was something he could not fathom her ever wearing in a million years.
Bailee laughed, but Mom answered. “Be nice, Derek. Dakota picked out the dress herself, even. It’s not everyday I get to see my little girl dress up.”
“Mom totally went overboard too,” Bailee teased. “Doing her make-up and helping her with her hair. It was hilarious watching Dakota try to get away from Mom’s make-up brushes.”
He chuckled and shook his head at the image. “So, she’s on a date. Huh. So why didn’t I get to harass the boy…or was the date a girl? Do we even know what way she swings?”
“The date was a boy, but that don’t mean anything,” Bailee said.
“And it doesn’t even matter what her sexuality is, it just is.” Mom added. “And believe me, Derek, Dad took care of scaring the poor boy. I think the boy took one look at Dad’s tattoos, and realized Dad’s not someone to mess around with. Poor kid.”
“And this is exactly why I am never introducing Rod to the family,” Bailee said. Rod was her latest boyfriend who she had yet to bring over, let alone divulge any information on other than his name. “Dad’s already scary, and then add in the cop-brother. No thanks.”
Derek grinned. “Aw come on, Bay. At least give me a last name.”
“Never gonna happen.” And like that she stormed away. “I’ll be in my room. I still have that paper to write.”
Derek took a seat on the barstool Bailee vacated.
“So, what about you? Are you seeing anyone I need to know about?”
Derek rolled his eyes at Mom’s question. She had been hounding him about his dating life. Derek had dates, sure, but never more than three before he moved on. He just hadn’t really found anyone interesting or fun.
“Eh. I get out. I did have that date last weekend.”
“And this weekend?” Mom asked.
Derek shook his head. “Nope. Going camping bright and early in the morning with Brandt and Kody. With Kody on winter break and stuff, we’re going to head to the mountains, camp, and maybe do some snow shoeing.”
“No snowboarding or skiing?”
Derek shook his head. “Nah. Kody doesn’t want to risk an injury, not with the draft coming up for the next year’s season. And with SBA teams already looking at him, he’s not going to be all stupid and break a leg…or worse, his arm.”
“Smart. I still can’t believe that boy is about to join the SBA. I remember when the three of you would head to the parks to play ball together.” She sighed. “Seemed like forever ago. Well, you better get packing if you’re going to head to Blue Hills in the morning.”
Derek finished putting his tent up. The snow was chilly and he was so glad he wore layers of clothes. The air was crisp and clean. It was so different than the thick smoggy air of San Myshuno.
“It’s fucking cold,” Kody said through clattering teeth, while he warmed himself by the campfire he started. “Can’t believe you two fuckers talked me into this.”
Brandt snorted. “Dude, you’re the one that said, let’s go to the mountains over winter break. So here we are man. Quit complaining. It’s going to be fun.”
Derek had to agree with Brandt. He was already excited to be out in the snow. Pepper loved it too, judging by the way she was running through it. He whistled once when she was going a little too far. Immediately she ran toward him.
She stopped just as he signaled for her. “Good girl. Now go lie down.”
Derek watched as his dog went over to the tent to lie down to where he pointed. “Good girl.”
“That dog is epic,” Brandt said. “You training her to sniff out drugs right?”
“No, she’s a patrol unit dog. I’ve been training her in tactics mostly. She can now track suspects, search buildings, locate evidence. Even take down a suspect. She actually found a missing kid last week. The parents had called in a missing persons, and Pepper here tracked their son down. He got stuck on a tree, and had been sitting there for almost twelve hours. He thought by hiding in a tree, he could miss school. Then when he was ready to leave, he couldn’t get down. Poor kid.”
“So, if I were to get fucking lost in this cold abyss, she’d find my ass?” Kody asked as Derek sat down on one of the chairs.
“Yup. Actually, I was hoping to run some drills up here with her. She’s never been in this climate. Might help.”
“Not until after we eat, bro,” Brandt said and busted open the dogs. “I am starving, and I know you two have got to be as well. Let’s eat, go on a hike, and maybe even find some hot babes.”
Kody snorted. “Bro, this isn’t the beach. Hot babes are not going to be freezing their titties off so they can be rescued by some horny cop.”
Derek laughed. Kody had a point. Brandt was a total ladies man though, so Derek knew he wouldn’t give up. Actually both Kody and Brandt were real ladies men. Derek could say the same about himself, but he wasn’t too sure. He usually had to work hard to find a date, unlike the Lamb brothers.
“Don’t scoff you two. We do have a secret weapon.” Brant motioned to Pepper. “That dog could be a total babe hunter out here, and then a babe magnet.”
Derek rolled his eyes. “We aren’t using Pepper’s nose to sniff out babes, dork. And if she’s going to be anyone’s magnet, she’s going to be mine. Lord knows I don’t have as nearly the amount of talent picking up the chicks as the two of you.”
Kody grinned. “Yeah, I don’t have any problems in that department. I’m actually dating someone currently.”
Brandt nearly choked over his gasp. “What? Since when?”
“About six weeks. Claire is pretty hot too. Total badass. She’s studying art and design. Wants to be a tattoo artist, and is even designing me my first tat.”
“Nice,” Brandt smirked. “She hot?”
Derek snorted. “Brandt, dude, when has Kody ever been with a woman that wasn’t? He only dates tens.”
Lunch was fun, and after they headed out for a hike. Pepper stayed close. They were goofing off and joking as they hiked. Derek loved it.
“Help,” a yell drifted and echoed. Again the same scream, and then a gut piercing scream sounded even louder.
All three boys stopped, and immediately Derek shushed his friends. He got down on the ground and signaled a command to Pepper. “Go.” With another scream, Pepper was running, and Derek was following.
Pepper barked after a bit and Derek ran toward his dog’s sound. Behind him he could hear his friends following. They slid and stopped at a clearing where Pepper was growling in attack mode.
A woman was screaming. Across the way was a large bear stalking her. Shit. That was a large bear too. Derek glanced to his friends. They had to save the girl, but none of them were equip to deal with a freaking bear.
“Pepper, heal,” Derek said. The dog growled more. “Pepper. Heal.”
Pepper turned her head and then she looked to the bear. Derek stepped up and pulled on her collar to back her up. “Stay.”
Derek took a few more steps out. “Ma’am, stop screaming,” he said. His eyes remained on the bear. He spotted Brandt on one side of him, trying to flank the girl. “Ma’am. Stop. Screaming.”
Brandt touched her arm, and she flipped out, running out toward the woods that they had come from. The bear roared. Brandt and Derek shared a look, and ran.
“Run!” Derek shouted toward his dog and Kody. Pepper ran to him. “Go,” Derek shouted and pointed. Pepper turned and ran from him. Good dog. They ran and could see the manic woman running ahead of them.
She slipped, and without a beat, Kody lifted her over his shoulder in a fireman carry and continued to run. They ran until they figured they were safe, then they rested. Kody slid the woman off of him, and placed her on the ground.
“You okay?” Kody asked her.
She didn’t answer.
Derek took deep breaths and searched around for Pepper. She didn’t get the memo to stop. He whistled. “Pepper!”
A few moments later, Pepper emerged from the trees in front of them and came right at him.
“Thank you,” the girl whispered after a long while. “Thank you guys.”
“No problem. Are you out here alone?” Brandt asked.
She shook her head. “I got lost and separated from my group. I’m here on a bible study retreat, and I must have zoned out when I was hiking. Next thing I knew I was alone, and a bear was there.”
She looked to the three of them. “How’d you all find me?”
“Pepper,” Derek answered. “She heard your screams. She’s train to track down people. And she’s excellent at it too.”
She glanced to the dog. “Thank you, Pepper.”
The four laughed at her and Derek knelt down to pet his dog. “We can take you back to the camp grounds if you like? Maybe find out where the retreat is, and get you back to where you have to be.”
“That…that would be lovely.”
By the time the boys dropped off the woman, Derek was still trying to figure out how the hell Brandt scored a date with her. Between the hike, the car ride to the log cabin she was staying at, Brandt somehow used his charms on her and made her forget that she had been close to being mauled by a bear.
“How the hell,” Derek asked again as they got out of the truck, Derek releasing Pepper from the back seat. “I mean, seriously, Brandt?”
“I told you, it’s the dog! She’s the greatest babe hunter ever.”
Kody laughed and Derek scowled. “Dude, she’s my partner. Shouldn’t I be the one scoring dates when she finds the babe?”
“You didn’t ask. I did.”
Kody howled with laughter. “Bro’s got a point, man. You gotta step up and ask next time.”