Genre: Suspense Romance
Tags: Poaching, Federal Park Service, veteran, loss of a child, photograph, illegal trapping, Game and Fish, Washington, Steens Mountains, Oregon, revenge, love, seventies time period, romance, steel spring traps
Release: February 24, 2012
Editor: Christine I. Speakman
Line editor: Greta Gunselman
Cover Designer: Nika Dixon
Veteran, Ward Overland’s wanted nothing but quiet, his wildlife book published, and to stop poachers. Being saddled with a woman to retake his photos was the insult. Acting as her guide to said animals was the injury. Worse, falling for a poacher’s trap and being saved by her. Still, he couldn’t let her just walk away.
Tragedy locked Callie away from life. Only the need for money convinced her to take the job. The sooner it ended with the abrasive and rude loner the better. Saving him from death changed everything. Watching him regain strength for the journey home, she found one part of her still alive…passion. The rules…no strings, no relationship.
The poacher wanted Ward dead. He didn’t figure on Callie, either time.
“Is it against the law to trap with those?” she asked.
“It is here,” he said darkly. “Damn poachers!”
She wasn’t sure if he meant it was against the law because he was there or because it was against the law in a federal park. She decided not to ask for clarification. “I take it from your tone of voice you aren’t referring to the occasional deer out of season.”
“Are many endangered species lost this way?”
“Yes.” He turned and walked off again.
Thinking he was too mad to give her more than the shortest of answers, she followed and received a surprise when he started talking.
“When the trappers started in this valley, it was teeming with otter, beaver, mink, and fox—anything with a pretty fur. Their numbers have dwindled to what you can count on your fingers. The same assholes poach bear primarily, cut out one small part of their guts, the gallbladder, and leave the rest to rot. Other assholes sell the gall as an aphrodisiac, both for money with total disregard to the fact they’re driving them into extinction. A single gall will be worth hundreds of dollars in the right market.”
Callie made no comment, watching as he veered off, climbing up the bank to a tangle of logs left by some long ago flood. One hand went up to hold the lens he carried for her inside his shirt from sliding when he ducked beneath a log. His knitted cap brushed the log and started a cascade of snow. Callie had an unobstructed view of him reaching up to brush the snow off as he stumbled slightly and the log above him fell.
For a moment, Callie couldn’t comprehend what had happened. One second he was there; the next he was gone from sight, under a log and snow falling from the surrounding brush and trees dislodged when the log fell. He was buried.
She took a step forward and tripped on the ski she forgot she had attached to her foot. Kicking off both skies, she ran, floundering several times to her knees in the snow. When she reached the log, it wouldn’t move. She dug and found his head, buried face down in the snow, and he was unconscious, not breathing.
The log had his arms pinned under him, and the weight of it was close enough to his neck he couldn’t lift his head free of the snow even if he hadn’t been knocked out. He was suffocating, and she couldn’t turn his head far enough to free his face. Nor could she turn it far enough to give him mouth to mouth to start him breathing again.
She put his cap under his face to keep his mouth and nose free of the snow and scrambled over the log. Reaching under it to press on his ribs in an awkward attempt at resuscitation, she accomplished nothing. The log was too wide to reach high enough to force air out of his lungs, and his backpack was in the way. She could see why the log wouldn’t roll on down the hill over him. His pack held it. She emptied the pack ruthlessly, splitting open the bottom with the knife from his belt. Indifferent to the cost of the contents, she tossed everything out of the way, scrambled back over the log to his head and pushed with her shoulder. The log slid to his hips. The weight off his lungs might have enabled him to draw in air, but the snow in his mouth and nose kept him from breathing freely.
She straddled him, working her arms under him to jerk her fists up into his diaphragm. Water from melted snow and snow crystals sprayed from his nostrils and lips. He still didn’t breath.
Changing positions again, she moved back to his head. His arms could be broken, and moving them could maim him. She had to move them, pulling them above his head to draw air into his lungs. She knew he could have broken ribs and pressing on them to force air out, clearing the passages more, could also drive jagged bone edges into his lungs. With no other choice, she pressed. Press on his lungs; drive the air out. Pull up his arms; draw air in. She could be killing him by doing it, but he would die if she didn’t.
Fear and panic didn’t hit her until he had coughed and sputtered his way back to breathing. She sat with her hands in fists on her knees, staring down at him. “Damn you,” she told him. “I don’t want to feel.”
Her voice choked, and her eyes filled with tears. Her body shook while she pulled in deep breaths catching in sobs. She wouldn’t feel. Any emotion was a hole in the dyke, letting others flood through. She wouldn’t allow it. She hadn’t for three years, and she wouldn’t again.
She had the dyke repaired when he began to stir back to consciousness. She had to get that log off him, and the job wasn’t going to be easy. One end was hung up against a standing tree. The log wasn’t going to roll or slide any further.