winter's riskRating: 4.25 stars
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Length: Novella

Park Ranger Alex Doyle is tracking a bear that has been attacking campers in Blackwater Wildlife Park.  Most recently the grizzly killed two college kids, and as much as he hates to do it, Alex knows he needs to put the bear down before anyone else is hurt.  While deep into the park, Alex encounters environmentalist Martin Ramirez.  The two men have clashed in the past, especially when Martin protested paving some trails to make them wheelchair accessible. Alex isn’t particularly pleased to see Martin, but things take a turn for the worse when the bear shows up, attacking Martin and severely injuring him.

Alex knows there is no way he can get help that night for Martin. They are out of radio range and with snow coming, he won’t be able to hike out until morning.  Martin is gravely wounded and it takes everything Alex has to get him to shelter for the night.  As awkward as things have been for the men in the past, they begin to find some common ground as they are trapped together, needing each other’s warmth for survival.  But when rescue finally comes and the men get some distance, they must figure out if the bond they made in the cave is enough foundation upon which to begin to build a future.

Oh, you guys know I love my enemies to lovers stories and combined with the life or death survival, this one just called out to me.  This is a fairly short novella but I was really impressed with all that Hudson was able to pack into this story.  The beginning focuses on the park and Alex’s job, as well as the conflict with the dangerous bear.  Hudson really immerses us in great details that make it all come alive.  We could really feel how much Alex loves his job as well as the beauty of the natural world and how it sometimes clashes with the people out to enjoy it. Hudson really grounds the story in a way that makes the details all feel real and solid.

Once the men meet up, the adrenaline kicks in as the bear attacks, Alex must save Martin, and then the two men have to figure out how to survive overnight.  Again, lots of great detail that makes it all seem real, from the wilderness first aid to the survival techniques.  We can feel how precarious the situation is for the men and how close Martin is to death.  We also get some nice quiet moments as the men get to know each other as they huddle together for warmth. It helps that despite being at odds, they are both likable guys, and I enjoyed their banter and the way they both opened up to one another.

In addition to the survival element, the other conflict centers around Alex and Martin’s different views of the park.  Alex supports the paved trails because he wants equal access for everyone.  His job is to find the balance between the people and the park, and he wants the beauty to be something everyone can share.  Martin, on the other hand, is concerned solely about the environment and worries that each step to tame the wilderness can potentially lead to it being destroyed.   I did wish for a little more back story on the tension between them. While we do know they were on opposite sides of the trail issue, and even that Martin got arrested while protesting, the set up implies these men are really enemies, not that they had a disagreement on one issue.  I think the tension between them would have been much more intense if we had a better sense of their history together. As it was, the hurdle from enemies to friends and even to lovers was so easy to overcome.

As I said, this isn’t a very long story but it feels very complete and well rounded.  The set up is unique,  the characters are likable, and there is some nice excitement and tension as they fight for survival with a wild bear on the loose.  I definitely enjoyed this one and will keep my eyes open for more from this author.

Cover Review: Wow, this one is gorgeous.  As usual, Paul Richmond has done an amazing job here.

A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.

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