Read an Excerpt
"Find any?" Stella Sullivan called to her father.
"Not yet," Jack called back. His voice was softened by the forest that surrounded them.
It was a sunny Thursday afternoon. Perfect for mushroom hunting. Nine-year-old Stella, her father and her grandfather had been in the woods for half an hour. So far Papa Pete was the only one who had found any mushrooms.
"Here's some more!" Papa Pete shouted.
"Show off," Stella muttered to herself.
Papa Pete sank to his knees and began plucking mushrooms out of the moist soil. He deposited them into a plastic bag. While he was bent over, Stella could see the top of his head. The bald spot was ringed with a fringe of snow-white hair.
Stella slowly turned in a circle, looking up at the cottonwood trees. It was early May in Montana. Shiny green leaves had just started to poke out of cottonwood buds. Stella spotted a fallen tree a dozen yards away. Papa Pete told her rotting wood created rich soil that mushrooms loved.
"Come on, boy!" Stella tugged gently on her puppy's leash and started toward the downed tree.
Rufus was twelve weeks old, and he didn't much like being told where to go. The puppy was having an extra hard time obeying that afternoon. He'd discovered that the woods were full of interesting smells. As they walked, Rufus excitedly sniffed at the leaves and twigs, pulling Stella this way and that way.
Stella wondered if Rufus had ever been in the woods before. She wasn't sure because she didn't know much about the puppy's early life. He'd been abandoned at a rest stop when he was just a few weeks old. Stella wasn't even certain of his breed. He had a whitecoat, a black nose and lips, and a pink tongue. People said he looked like a Maltese. He had grown to the size of a soccer ball.
When they got to the fallen tree, Stella gently pulled back on the leash. "Whoa," she said. "Let's see if there are any mushrooms under here."
Rufus sat, panting happily.
Stella peered under the tree. She spotted a tall, skinny mushroom sprouting out of the damp ground.
"I've got one!" Stella hollered. She put down Rufus's leash so that she could pluck it.
As Stella popped the mushroom into her bag, Rufus let out a high-pitched bark and lunged forward. He bounded through the trees with his leash trailing after him.
"Rufus! Come back!" Stella called.
A red squirrel darted through the fallen leaves. Rufus was in hot pursuit. The squirrel scurried up a tree. Rufus ran to the base of the trunk.
"Ruf! Rid, ruf, ruf!"
Papa Pete slowly approached Rufus from behind. He grabbed the puppy's leash and gave it a firm yank. "No!" he said in a deep, barklike tone.
Rufus sat and lowered his head.
Stella rushed over. She snatched the leash out of Papa Pete's hand. "You didn't have to yell at him!" she exclaimed.
"Oh, yes I did!" Papa Pete told her with a little laugh. His brilliant blue eyes were set in a deeply tanned face-an outdoorsman face.
"He's just a puppy!" Stella shot back.
Papa Pete frowned, and the creases in his forehead deepened. "That little rat is old enough to learn some manners," he said gruffly. "And you're old enough to know better than to sass me."
Stella's mouth dropped open. Her grandfather had called Rufus a rat. He had no right! She had to bite her tongue to stay quiet.
Papa Pete thought children shouldn't talk back to grown-ups. Stella knew that if she argued with him, he'd give her a long lecture. Sometimes Stella couldn't even believe she was related to Papa Pete. Or that Papa Pete was Jack's father. The two men were so different.
Stella's dad was funny. He loved to cook and spend time with people.
Papa Pete lived alone in the log cabin he'd built in the hills above town.
Jack loved animals almost as much as Stella did.
But Papa Pete was a hunter. He enjoyed nothing more than camping out in the woods with his dogs and his guns. People paid him money and he helped them track and shoot wild animals. Stella hated to think about it.
Jack came up and put a comforting hand on Stella's shoulder. "Looks like we have plenty of mushrooms for a super spaghetti sauce," he said.
"Then let's head back," Papa Pete said, still looking angry. "I don't want to keep you from your pots and pans."
"We have plenty of time." Jack easily ignored Papa Pete's unpleasant tone. "What do you say we work up an appetite? We could take a hike up the mountain. I know a trail that passes near here."
"Sure!" Stella agreed. Hiking was one of her favorite things. And her dog-training book said puppies should be exposed to new experiences. Exploring the woods would be good for Rufus.
"Lead the way," Papa Pete said to Jack. Anyone who'd ever hiked with Stella's dad knew he belonged out in front. He could move fast.
Jack stowed the bag of mushrooms in his backpack. Then he began to make his way through the trees. Rufus and Stella followed, with Papa Pete right behind them. Jack found the trail and picked up his pace even more.
Stella calmed down as she made her way over the roots and rocks on the trail. Rufus trotted along with his nose to the leaves and dirt.
Occasionally the path passed over small stream beds which were fed by snow melting higher in the mountains. Stella crossed the streams by carefully stepping from one exposed rock to the next. Rufus splashed right through. His legs were soon splattered with mud.
After twenty minutes, the trail began to lead up the mountainside. The ground turned dry and gravelly. The cottonwoods gave way to an aspen grove. Long, brown catkins decorated the treesbut the leaves hadn't come out yet.
"Stella," Papa Pete said quietly. They had just reached the edge of the aspens and were following the trail into a small meadow. Jack had already passed through the meadow--and into the stand of spruce trees beyond.Bad Luck Lion. Copyright � by Emily Costello. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.