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Cheyenne Clark was, for the first time in her life, almost happy.
It wasn’t something she liked to admit to herself. She had plenty of reasons to be miserable, depressed, even pissed off. But those reasons felt very far away.
There had been a time, before, when things had gotten bad. Very, very bad, and she hadn’t come out of it innocent. She—or rather her wolf—had done things she didn’t like to contemplate.
An agent of the Canadian government had tortured her. He’d been using her as bait to draw another werewolf to his death. The two werewolves had retaliated, and things had gotten out of control. She’d gone a little crazy. Maybe a lot crazy. She had killed some people. Or, as she wished she could put it, her wolf had killed some people.
But that was in the past.
Now she wasn’t alone anymore. Chey and Montgomery Powell—she still called him Powell, though he’d told her she was a friend of his now, and could call him Monty—were together now, together in a way she’d never experienced with a human being. It was more like the bond wolves share in a pack. They’d headed north, away from anyone who might be looking for them. Away from people they might hurt, and people who might hurt them. People who had easy access to silver bullets.
Those people were a long way away. In the Northwest Territories of Canada, there was a lot of empty space to escape into. Starting from Port Radium, a ghost town so polluted nothing could live there, they’d followed the sinuous curves of the shore of Great Bear Lake, staying close to the water where the hunting was still good. Summer was over, and though the ground was still soft and the wind didn’t bite too hard yet, most game animals were already migrating south. There were fewer snowshoe rabbits every day and even field mice were becoming scarce. When Powell caught his first lemming—like a big mouse with a red back and a short tail—he brought it back to their camp and studied it as if he were reading a newspaper. “It must be September,” he said.
He took a buck knife out of his pocket and started to skin the animal, preparatory to cooking it over their fire. Chey winced and turned away. She could feel him watching her, feel his surprise, but there were still some things her wolf handled better than she could.
“You’re going to eat this once it’s roasted, aren’t you?” he asked her.
“Yes,” she told him. She was always a little hungry these days and she knew once she smelled the cooking meat she wouldn’t be able to resist. “I just don’t want to see it cut up, that’s all.”
“You should learn how to skin one of these. Pretty soon we’ll be living off them. You’ll need to know, then.”
She shook her head. Their wolves were perfectly capable of hunting for themselves. Powell and Chey didn’t need to eat at all—what nourished their wolves nourished them. Powell insisted on cooking, though, because it was a human ritual and it made him feel like he was still in control of his destiny. She...respected that in him, that he still thought of himself as a human with some kind of disease. Something that could be managed. She was under fewer illusions, herself. “I’ll just let my wolf do it,” she said.
Her wolf loved it up here. Her wolf thrived on the constant cold, on the silence between the trees. On the clean air. And because there was no way for Chey to get rid of her wolf, she was just going to have to make do. Her wolf hated human beings and would attack them on sight, whether it was hungry or not. She didn’t want that to happen. Didn’t want to live with the consequences. The only option left to her was to live up here where people were scarcer than palm trees. Powell had figured that out decades earlier, after exhausting every other possibility. She had chosen to come with him, to learn from him, to live with him so that she didn’t have to be completely alone.
When the lemming was cooked he carved off a fillet and brought it to her. The meat was stringy and gamy but her stomach lurched happily when the first drop of its grease touched her tongue. She gobbled it down without bothering to chew too much.
“So?” he asked.
“You overcooked it,” she told him. He sighed and started to turn away, but she shot out one hand and grabbed his arm. “Is there any more?” she asked.
He stared at her with his big cold green eyes. Eyes she saw sometimes when she was about to fall asleep, eyes she couldn’t not see. His eyes were searching her face, looking for something. Not validation, she knew. He was too tough to need that. Not an apology, because he knew better than to expect that from her.
She’d been hard on him, she knew. Harsher than she’d meant to be. He’d hurt her badly, once, and she’d never fully forgiven him.
But maybe...maybe she didn’t have to be such a jerk about it. Things had changed. Were continuing to change, especially between the two of them. And all the bad things, the bad history that had led her to this point, seemed very far away indeed.
She took a step toward him. It was all he needed. He stepped toward her as well, then wrapped his arms around her and pulled her to him. Part of her wanted to push him away. Part of her wanted to lash out, to hit him, to scream in his face and rake her fingernails across his eyes.
Instead she nestled her face into the crook of his neck. His flannel shirt smelled like woodsmoke, from the fire.
Underneath that she smelled his own personal scent. It was a good smell. She closed her eyes and relaxed into his embrace. “Thanks for breakfast,” she said.
“You’re welcome.” His voice was gruff, as always, but he couldn’t mask all of the relief in it.