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Authors: Tiffinie Helmer

SHIVER

SHIVER

Tiffinie Helmer

A
CKNOWLEDGEMENTS

First, to my grandmother, Afton Blanc, for sharing with me your love of legends, passion for Alaskan Native Arts, and breeding and training your own sled dog team. You never let anyone stop you from doing whatever you wanted to do. What an amazing example you were to a impressionable young girl. You are still, and have always been, my hero. I miss you every day.

To Paige Woodson for all the medical help in how to treat a bear trap injury and the resulting deep puncture wounds. Any mistakes made are mine and not of the sweetest, most caring RN I know, the exact opposite of my demon nurse Eva.

To Mrs. Young, my Lathrop High School art teacher, for imparting in me a love for throwing pottery that is still with me today. I entered your art class thinking of how I could skip out since I had no talent for drawing. You put a lump of clay in my hand and a potter was born.

To Janet Juengling-Snell for falling in love with the Wild Men of Alaska and offering to spearhead my street team, Tiff’s Wild Readers. Meeting you in Anchorage was one of the highlights of my summer. In fact, it has been so much fun working with you that it doesn’t seem like work at all.

To the Wild Readers. You are one wild bunch. Your support and willingness to help get the word out about my books warms my heart. Here’s to more Wild Wednesdays!

Thank you.

D
EDICATION

To my youngest son, Montgomery Helmer, a hero in the making. For your love of superheroes and fanciful creatures. Never stop believing. Love you, Mom.

M
AP

C
HAPTER
O
NE

Aidan Harte stepped out of his rented SUV and right into Hell. Chatanika, Alaska to be exact, where it was so cold it burned. He’d been born in this forgotten gold-mining town, lost in the interior of the state, north of Fairbanks by about thirty desolate miles.

“Well, Dad, you finally got me back here.” And it hadn’t been over
his
dead body but that of his father’s. Aidan slammed the door shut on the SUV. He was here to exorcise ghosts, while he closed out his father’s life. The faster he saw Chatanika in his rearview mirror the better.

Not much had changed in the—what, eleven, twelve years?—since he’d last been here. It was midafternoon and the sun was already headed to bed, it being November. Snow and ice smothered the landscape into a state of unconsciousness, stunting spruce trees, and stripping birch branches until they resembled fragile bones.

Aidan pulled the collar of his coat up around his neck and wished he’d stopped in Fairbanks and bought a parka. His winter coat, which was perfectly adequate for Seattle, might as well have been a windbreaker in this hostile environment.

The outside thermometer on the Tahoe had said two. Now with the sun setting, the temperature would drop fast. Predicted temp for tonight was negative fifteen.

Aidan picked his way toward the family homestead, his feet crunching through the ice-crusted snow. The cabin’s roof hung precariously over the rotted porch. The porch had been rotting when he’d last been here the summer he’d turned eighteen. He’d clearly remembered falling through and cutting up his leg. And the kiss he’d received from Raven Maiski. She’d had the power to drive more than pain away with her kisses.

It was eerily quiet. Spooky. The kind of night where you could hear yourself breathe and shadows took on a life of their own. He approached the makeshift fence made of twisted chain link and sharp, rusted barbwire. A chain and corroded padlock secured the front gate as well as a screaming red ‘No Trespassing’ sign. He should have figured this. Earl Harte had always been under the delusion everyone was out to get him. Many probably were, or had been. It no longer mattered now that the bastard was dead.

Aidan studied the gate. He could climb it and probably get cut from the barbwire or attempt to knock it down. It probably wasn’t any better built than the rotting front porch. Problem was, his dad was notorious for booby-traps.

He checked around the gate, looking for wires or sharp instruments, and then gave it a solid kick. The gate swung open.

Well, that seemed anticlimactic.

Puffs of air steamed in front of his face. His breathing increased as he struggled through the snow toward the cabin. He didn’t want to go in there. Nobody had been living in the dump for four months. Who knew what could have crawled in and died? For that matter, who knew what kind of condition Earl had left it in? His dad had never been the best about picking up after himself.

Aidan took a moment to rethink staying in the cabin while he went through what remained of his father’s life. He could get a room at the Chatanika Lodge instead. But then he was sure to run into people—people he didn’t want to see. Or, more precisely, people who didn’t want to see him.

Maybe he could risk catching a glimpse of Raven.

Nope, the faster he could clean up and clear out the better. No one wanted anymore to do with him than they had his father. No one would miss Earl Harte.

Not even him.

Aidan kept an eye out for anything that looked suspicious. Earl would have a trap or tripwire set on the front entrance that would release something sharp and nasty for anyone stupid enough to bother him. He rounded the corner of the cabin heading toward the back door, hunching his shoulders against the cold and slapping his thin-gloved hands together in an attempt to warm them. The snow was deeper around the side of the cabin. Nothing looked like it had been disturbed. Not even animal prints cut the icy crust of the snow.

Suddenly, he skidded, his arms flailing wide. He regained his balance and looked at what he’d slipped on. A piece of tin. He glanced up and saw where it had fallen off the roof at some point. The place was falling apart. He shook his head and stepped carefully.

A bear trap sprung, steel teeth spearing into the flesh of his lower leg.

“Son of a bitch!” He screamed as pain stabbed through his leg.

He clawed at where the teeth of the rusty trap punctured through his jeans, through his boots, and into the tender flesh of his leg. Dropping in the snow, he cried out again as pain seared like fire through his leg, causing him to shake. He moaned through gritted teeth, struggling with the jaws of the trap. Sweat dripped down his face.

He quickly looked around, for anyone—anything—that would help free him from the snare.

Silence.

The only sound was his own choppy breathing, his pounding heart, and his useless moaning. He was alone. He was freezing.

He was seriously fucked.

What kind of sick son of bitch laid traps next to the back door of his own home?

Aidan clenched his teeth, grabbed the edges of the steel-teeth trap, and tried to pry the jaws apart. He roared and strained with everything he had. The effort was wasted. Blood soaked through his jeans and dribbled like syrup, staining the snow.

The sun dipped and shadows grew long and menacing.

Cold seeped in like death.

Aidan’s heart grew heavy in his chest. He sat in the snow, spent, the heat of his body causing the snow to melt through his jeans and freeze next to his skin.

Think Harte, think.

Damn, but it was hard to think when his body was racked with pain. Maybe, he could crawl to the SUV with the trap and drive for help. He scratched around in the snow until he found the chain attached to the anchor of the trap. He heaved until his muscles drained.

No use. The anchor was encased in ice, frozen into the earth.

Come up with something else quick, or you’re a dead man.

He patted his pockets, and pulled out his keys. Nothing on the key ring that could help him. He pocketed them and felt around for more. A Jolly Rancher. He snorted out a laugh. Not much of a last meal. Then he found his cell phone.

“Yes!” He flipped it open and dialed 911. No bars. “What the—”

He shook the phone as if that would miraculously gain him coverage. Nothing. He moved the phone around him, over his head, searching for reception. “Come on,” he prayed. “
Come on
.” Again, nothing.

It started to snow.

Big, quiet, heavy flakes that smothered the earth. Despair began to settle in, becoming partners with the throbbing pain. He was going to die here. Born and died in the same place. It was kind of funny. Or ironic.

He wondered when his body would be found and by whom. Would it be spring? Or would an animal find him and have
him
for a last meal? He unwrapped the Jolly Rancher and popped it in his mouth. Grape. He grimaced. It tasted like cough medicine.

Chances were good no one would know what became of him. His therapist had encouraged him to return to Alaska, to make peace with his father, and his past. What a laugh.

His editor might be the one to make some noise but not until his deadline was closer on his next graphic novel. He didn’t have any close friends. For family, his uncle Roland was hiding from the law, and his cousin Lana was back in college. She’d miss him, but she’d get over it soon. The only thing they had in common besides their summer commercial fishing operation was that both their fathers were assholes.

The only people who’d really wonder what became of him would be the IRS. What did that say about his life?

He heard a howl. Then another. And another.

Wolves.

God, he prayed they waited until he was dead to feast on his carcass. He laughed, the sound bitter. He’d been born under the sign of the wolf. Conceived under the Northern Lights and born in a blizzard. His Athabascan mother, before the booze had drowned all the love and warmth from her, had strung him tales about the power of the wolf he was supposed to possess.

Guess that had been a load of shit too.

He heard the wolves grow closer. He knew what they’d do. They’d circle him. Enclose him in a death ring. That is, if they were brave enough to venture onto Earl Harte’s property. But with a warm meal staked out for them like a buffet, they’d come. They’d surround him, enclosing the circle closer and closer. Yellow beady eyes shining with greed and hunger, gleaming, sharp teeth dripping with saliva, until one of them—the alpha male—would lunge for his throat. At least when that happened, he’d die quickly. He wouldn’t feel them tear into his stomach and feast on his organs, shred the meat off his bones. At least, he hoped.

They were closer now. He could hear them breathe.

“Hey, Mr. Harte, nice wheels. Fishing must’ve been good. About time you got…home.” A young, gangly teenage boy, dressed in a fur-rimmed parka and mukluks, skidded to a stop when he saw Aidan. “You’re not Mr. Harte.”

Aidan had never been so glad to see anyone in his life. “I need help. And we better hurry. I hear wolves.”

“Wolves?” The boy scowled in confusion and then smiled. “Those aren’t wolves. They’re my sled dogs.” He ventured closer and saw the trap. “Don’t know much about Mr. Harte, do you?”

“More than I wish I did.” Aidan gestured to the trap. “Help me out here?”

“I can try.” He knelt down in front of Aidan and looked him in the eyes. “You’re stuck pretty good. Must hurt bad.”

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