The Tourist Attraction Page 1

Chapter 1

The bald eagle soared overhead, turning lazy circles against a backdrop of rich forested Alaskan mountainside.

As luck would have it, Graham Barnett had seen this same eagle on the way to work that morning. High above them both, the sun-kissed peaks of the Chugach Mountains glittered with their snowy caps, tree lines receding into grays and browns of weathered boulders.

Graham couldn’t have asked for a more peaceful moment to enjoy his hometown of Moose Springs. A moment to sit on the back steps of his diner, take a break, and sip a root beer.

If it just weren’t for the moose trying to make love to his pickup truck fifteen feet away.

“Ulysses, we do this every day, buddy.” Resting his arms on his thighs, he watched the fifteen-hundred-pound bull moose press his nostrils to the window of Graham’s abused Dodge, snuffing along the seal. Long, wet streaks of moose goo smeared on glass still crusty from the previous day’s love affair.

“The truck just isn’t into you. You’ve got to let this go, man. Move on to something better.”

This was all about Graham’s buns. Which was understandable—Graham liked them too—but Ulysses was taking this to a whole other level.

For whatever reason, the moose was obsessed with the smell of the fresh baked bread he picked up from the local bakery every day. Graham didn’t have the storage space in his diner’s freezer to make this a weekly supply run, and bread was far too expensive to ship into town when he could buy it locally. So Graham’s truck always smelled like buns.

And the moose loved it.

Ulysses rubbed his heavy body against the passenger side door, scratching his shoulder and making deep, guttural huffing noises of appreciation. The truck had lost two door handles this way, and Graham had long since given up replacing the passenger side mirror.

“You and I are going to have a talk one of these days. You know this is weird, right?”

Draining his root beer, Graham listened to the volume inside the diner grow louder. Whose great idea had it been to install a jukebox? That was just asking the customers to stay even longer.

When Graham rose to his feet, the bull moose swung his massive head in his direction. Graham went still, partially out of habit but also from respect for the six-foot span of antlers crowning the animal’s head. Ulysses considered him for a moment, then went back to wooing the Dodge. If the paint job hadn’t already been trashed from this very ritual, Graham would have winced at the sound of antler scraping along the quarter panel.

Movement caught the corner of his eye. A couple were edging toward Graham’s truck, phones out as they shared excited whispers. Graham groaned.

Somehow it had gotten around to the tourists up at the Moose Springs Resort that if anyone wanted to see a moose in the wild, they should park out in his tiny diner’s even tinier parking lot. Which was why Graham started leaving his truck behind the building. Still, the more determined tourists always seemed to find the moose when Ulysses came by.

“Hey. Stay back.” Graham jerked his head in a curt no as the tourists inched closer, clicking pictures.

At least they didn’t have a kid with them. Too many times, Graham had been forced to intervene when someone tried to shove their child on the back of a wild animal. Not a lot of things made him angry, but that always managed to send his blood pressure sky-high.

“He’s either going to kill you or date you,” Graham warned. “He’s got emotional problems.”

They were utterly oblivious, which was exactly why Moose Springs had one of the highest rates of human injuries by moose encounter in the entire state of Alaska. Not the animals’ fault, either. Still, if one of these days the bull moose with a crush on Graham’s truck ended up hurting someone, a Fish and Game warden would have to come and either relocate Ulysses or put him down.

Neither of which the moose deserved.

“Take a picture of us with him.” The woman’s eyes widened with excitement as her companion continued an endless series of selfies with the oblivious Ulysses in the background.

“Hard pass on that. Okay, Ulysses, take a hike, lover boy. You’ll have to come back another day.”

Graham clapped his hands in warning. He and this moose had known each other for a while, and they’d come to an understanding. Graham wouldn’t use rock salt pellets to drive him away if Ulysses didn’t trample his customers. The moose stared at Graham in disappointment, glared at the strangers, then grudgingly moved along.

The couple muttered in equal disappointment, but Graham’s sympathy was with the moose. The unending influx of tourists tended to ruin Graham’s days too.

Behind him, the music grew louder. Someone must have discovered the volume button on the back of the jukebox.

“I’m going in there.” Graham said cheerfully at the couple as he turned to head back into the diner. “Try to make good choices.”

Visitors to town rarely did. Walking into the unmanned and packed diner only proved Graham’s theory.

When Graham opened the Tourist Trap, he’d meant the whole thing as a joke. He’d never wanted to sling burgers for a living, much less own his own place. All he wanted was to eat free cheeseburgers behind the counter and choose whatever he wanted to watch on the television in the corner. That and a way to pay his bills while not having to answer to anyone.

For some reason, being a yes-man just wasn’t in Graham’s genetic makeup.

Unfortunately, yes was the word he said most often these days, followed by asking if someone wanted fries with that. When Graham turned the tiny, run-down pizza joint down the road from Moose Springs Resort into an equally run-down, one-man diner, he assumed it would be the type of place where only locals would eat. The last thing he’d expected was for any of the wealthy, entitled tourists to actually go there.

With three things on the menu, it barely counted as serving food. Graham had a beer and liquor license, but he refused to make anything that required a blender or a master’s degree to remember the ingredients. There wasn’t even a sign above the door, just the shadow of wood paneling once covered by plastic letters spelling pizza.

And yet there they were, filling the Tourist Trap to the stuffing point and waiting in line because Graham refused to hire anyone. Which meant working his tail off on any given Tuesday.

For the record, Graham hated Tuesdays. They always ended up more trouble than they were worth.

In his defense, there had only been a couple of people in line when he’d gone outside for his break. Graham hadn’t planned on having to shoo away a perfectly innocent moose from his romantic aspirations. Now there were three times as many customers, with the line running all the way to the front door. With a deep sigh of disappointment in his establishment, Graham scrubbed his hands clean and took his place behind the counter. Purgatory was located somewhere between the flat top grill to his right and the fryer behind him.

“You abandoned ship.”

From his spot of dubious safety behind his counter, Graham looked up at the familiar voice.

“Even prisoners get time in the yard, L.” Graham winked at the woman sauntering toward him. “I almost stayed out there.”

Wrapped in a dress that could make one’s mouth water, Lana Montgomery didn’t just stand out in a crowd. She was the center of every room she walked into. Lana was almost a regular, coming to Moose Springs at least twice a year, sometimes more. Skiing in the winter and as a spectator for the Fourth of July festivities in the summer.

She was also Graham’s favorite.

Of all the tourists he didn’t want in his diner, he didn’t want her there less than the others. And Lana used his dubious affection for her shamelessly.

Slipping to the front of the line despite the others still waiting, Lana leaned her arm on the counter next to a few too many soggy napkins and scattered bun crumbs.

It’d been a busy night.

“Graham, I need a Growly Bear.”

“You want another Growly Bear?” Graham raised an eyebrow.

“Yes, and make it extra growly.” Lana clawed at the air playfully. “Rawr.”

Chuckling, Graham took one look at the beautiful woman in her sky-high heels and shook his head in bemusement.

“You’ve already had a Growly Bear, Lana. Besides, we’re sold out.” Even as he talked, Graham worked rapidly, dropping baskets of frozen fries in the fryer and slapping fresh burgers and dogs on the grill. He’d done this for so long, he didn’t have to think about the actions. Getting customers through the line quickly wasn’t a problem. Getting them to leave when they were done eating was the hard part.

“But, Graham—”

“Nope. Growly Bears are a pain in the ass to make one at a time, and I’m not serving any more tonight. And nobody gets them extra growly. I like having my diner still standing. No more fires.”

“That was an accident, love.” With a dismissive wave of her manicured fingernails, Lana shrugged off one of the more terrifying incidents of Graham’s life. “Just a little spark, no harm done.”

“Not a chance, L.”

Graham softened his refusal with a toss of a broken French fry her way. She caught it with the practice of a woman who had spent two months a year for the last four years doing that exact same thing every time they saw each other.

“It’s not for me, I promise.” Swallowing her fry, Lana leaned her hip against the counter and hit Graham with the full impact of her smoky eyes. “It’s for my friend Zoey. She’s never had the pleasure.”

Lana pointed toward a small table near the counter, causing him to glance over at the person occupying it, but Graham didn’t bother to look closely.

“Then your Zoey needs to order it.”

Why did they always order the Growly Bears? The name was dumb, they tasted terrible, and Graham had the distinct feeling they should be illegal. He’d have thought the tourists flocking to his tiny Alaskan town would have learned by now.

Never try to drink a local under the table.

The Growly Bear was Graham’s special concoction, crafted the first time someone asked him to make them a drink the locals have. The request left him annoyed and determined to put together the worst tasting thing he could think of drinking.

Next page