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Authors: Susan Bliler

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BOOK: Skin Walkers: Monroe
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When Eden’s truck pulled out, Monroe stalked to the door, jerked it open, stepped out into the blizzard and slammed the door shut behind him b
efore shifting to a sleek blue/black crow and taking flight. 

Chapter
8

Eden inched up the snow packed road that
led up and around the base of the mountain.  She was having more than a little difficulty finding the road and keeping the truck on it.  The snow was deep, and getting deeper by the second.  In storms like the one blowing now, it was normal for feet of snow to accumulate in an hour. 

She clicked on the switch that engaged her fog-lights, hoping it would lend strength to the weak headlights that were failing miserably at cutting through the
veil of thickly falling snow.  The light didn’t help.  Eden sighed trying to relieve some of the tension that kept her body rigid and her gloved fingers too tight around the steering wheel. 

The truck crept upward, its tires spinning then catching only to lose grip and spin again
.  She reached out and flipped the windshield defrost to high before frowning up at the sky, “Come on.  Just one little break in the snow is all I’m asking.”  She jerked on the steering wheel; forcing the truck to obey even as she winced at the thought of her only option should the truck become lodged in the snow. 

Her eyes flicked to the rearview mirror and she shivered involuntarily at the thought of hiking the near mile back down to Hunter’s cabin.
  Whether she shivered from the idea of the long, cold, hike or of having to hole up with Monroe she wasn’t sure, and she certainly didn’t want to find out. 

She gunned the motor and the truck shot up and over
a particularly steep embankment, one that she’d had trouble with when the roads were clear and dry.  She should have known better. 

The truck landed with a heavy thud, the tires sinking
into the feet-deep snowdrift that had blown across the top of the crest.  The tires spun and whirred loudly as they fought to catch but the truck didn’t move. 

Shit!  Come on baby!
  Eden let off the gas only to press the pedal down more slowly, but the tires only continued to spin.  She eyed the road ahead nervously, knowing she’d have no choice but to back down the mountain and delay her search until the storm had passed.  She hated giving up. 

She threw the truck into reverse
and threw an arm over the backrest as she maneuvered the vehicle back down the path she’d cut coming up.  The truck mostly slid down the embankment she’d breached minutes earlier and once the vehicle was settled at the bottom she forced it to a halt in hopes of finding a place to turn around. 

As she glanced
around the immediate area, her eye was caught by movement in the tree line.  She stilled and held her breath waiting to see if she’d just imagined it. 
There!
  Gray fur flashed through the trees, and had Eden scrambling behind her seat for her rifle, already loaded with tranquilizer rounds, before she pushed her door open and braced herself against the blistering cold that lashed her. 

One gloved hand reached back and yanked her fur-lined hood over her head while the other held tightly to her rifle.  One of the first things she’d learned in training was that while wild animals were always dangerous, wounded animals were
lethal.  She couldn’t afford to take any unnecessary chances, especially in this weather.  She’d already decided that if she spotted the wolf she’d put him out before wasting any time trying to gauge the severity of its wounds. 

Eden trudged quickly to the tree line and
half hid behind the first tree she came to.  Peering around it she discovered the large gray wolf limping away from her at nearly a hundred yards.  She pushed off the tree and was forced to follow silently as the wolf disappeared over an embankment.  She was in range but wouldn’t risk firing until she had a clean shot.  She just needed the wolf to stop long enough for her to level her sights.

Inside the heavily wooded area
, the howling blizzard was reduced to a strong wind, allowing her to follow the wolf’s tracks that lasted much longer in the reduced air stream. 

She maneuvered up and over the embankment. 
At the top she noticed the wolf had taken the more difficult path down.  Eden opted not to follow, hoping to cut him off.  She slid down the embankment, pulling her rifle close.  At the bottom she dropped to a knee and listened.  She heard a snap and rose with intentions of following the sound.  She took a step, and then another when she noticed a large shoe print that someone had clearly tried to dust over.  She took her next step and it touched down even as she realized she’d made a mistake.  The area had been disturbed and intentionally covered over. 
NO!
 

The loud violent snap sent snow showering up into her face even as she dropped to the ground.  She heard the agonized scream that rent the air
and it took her a moment to realize it was her own.  Her tear filled eyes slid down to take in the sight of her leg caught and bent awkwardly in the large metal foothold trap.  She’d seen them before; poachers used them often to trap bears and wolves.

She
took in large gulps of air in an attempt to keep from retching.  Lifting shaking hands to her mouth, she pulled her leather gloves off with her teeth before her hands reached down and struggled to compress the trap springs in an attempt to free her leg.  She screamed again as the movement twisted her broken leg.  She wasn’t strong enough to free herself.

Eden
fell back and sucked in more ragged breaths, forcing her eyes to focus. 
Christ, don’t faint, don’t faint, don’t fucking faint.
  She waited until the spots stopped dancing before her eyes to slowly sit up and inch closer to her trapped leg.  She was shaking violently as she reached down to finger the trap.  It was a double spring foothold, meaning both release blades would need to be compressed simultaneously to separate the serrated jaws. 
Fuck!

Eden knew the type of
trap well, she’d discovered a few in her time and had even released a few animals from their confines; however, unlike the trap she was currently caught in, those animals had been afforded the charity of padded jaws lining the serrated edges of the devices that had trapped them.

She used both hands to compress the release blades, but the jaws didn’t move, and compounding matters
was the fact that the pads of her cold wet fingers instantly adhered to the frozen metal trap burning as they stuck to the frigid device. 

She
eased the release blades back to their resting position before slowly peeling her fingers from the metal.  She was trapped, and if the loss of her fingerprints stung, she didn’t feel it.  Waves of nausea were crashing over her as she slowly reclined back in the snow.  She couldn’t control the bone jarring convulsions that rattled her slight frame.  She shouldn’t be shaking this much, not from the cold. 
Shit
!  She knew she was going into shock. 

“Well, well,
John look what we got here.”

E
den’s eyes slid up to find a camo clad man sneering down at her.

“Ronnie,” the other man began tentatively, “
don’t.”

The man, Ronnie
, stepped to within feet of Eden and squatted down smiling at her derisively.  “You looking for us?”

Eden’s eyes darted to her ri
fle that was buried in the snow just out of her reach.  Eden forced her eyes back to Ronnie’s.  She’d have to play his game.  “Can you guys help me out?  I was trailing a wolf, but…”  She didn’t finish.

“Get a
loada her.”  Ronnie stood and frowned at his partner.  “You sure it was a wolf you were chasing?  Not a couple of respectable hunters, who were just trying to do their part to keep the wolf population under control?”

Eden balled her freezing fingers into fists.  She’d been trying to give the poachers an out.  Fucking morons were too dumb to take it.
  Her teeth chattered uncontrollably as she spoke, “W-w-what are you t-talking about?”  If she played dumb she might just survive.   

“Hey man, let’s go.”  The quieter man,
John, grabbed his friend’s arm.

Ronnie jerked free of his friend’s grasp.  “We can’t just leave her here.  She’s seen our faces.”

John’s expression turned imploring.  “Come on man, look at her.  She can’t do anything.  Let’s just go.  We’ll make an anonymous call from the highway; let them know where to find her.”

Ronnie’s expression darkened as he squatted at Eden’s feet, using a gloved finger to flick the chain that was
looped around the nearest tree.  His cold stare met Eden’s.  “I’ve got a better idea…”

***

Monroe had left Eden for only a moment.  He’d been flying overhead, watching her stalk too far into the woods, when he spotted the injured wolf.  He’d left her for only a moment when he heard her scream.  Diving to the ground he shifted mid-drop opting for the form of a grizzly, that way he’d be able to defend Eden and still take out the wolf if it came to attack.

His wet nose flared as he scented the air and raced toward the area where Eden’s fear was the strongest. 
When he was closer he scented blood…
her
blood.  Enraged he let loose a ferocious roar hoping to stop whatever attack was happening.

***

Whatever the ‘better’ idea was, Eden didn’t find out.  There was a deafening roar as a large grizzly crashed through the brush and charged the men. 

Ignoring the screams of the men and the snarling bear, Eden forced herself into a sitting position and made a grab for her rifle.  She heard a loud pop and ducked, knowing that one of the men was firing on the
bear.  A second loud pop rang out as she scrambled to the end of the chain and stretched out, her rifle resting just beyond her reach. 
Fuck!  Come on!  COME ON!
  Without her rifle she was dead.  If the bear didn’t kill her, Ronnie surely would. 

She looked back, hoping the length of
chain was snagged on something that would allow just a few more inches; instead, she froze at the gruesome sight that met her.  Crimson stained the snow-covered area she’d vacated only seconds before.  Ronnie lay lifeless.  His unblinking eyes were focused skyward, and Eden instantly knew he was dead. 

Long deep gouges scoured the
ground, leaving gashes of black earth against the stark white of the snow where the giant grizzly had used the ground for leverage. 

She
moved slowly, searching for the bear.  She listened, but could only make out faint gasps.  Her eyes followed the sound and locked on John, some ten feet from where he’d been standing.  His hands were clamped tightly around his throat and his eyes were wide with horror. 

Eden watched the stream of blood that seeped through his tightly clenched fingers
; blood pulsed out of him more rapidly with each contraction of his heart.  He wasn’t going to make it.

Still sprawled on her belly, Eden inched her head slowly in the other direction.  She had to find the bear. 
The adrenaline that had coursed through her seconds earlier had eased her shivering, but it slowly began to ebb.  She fought to keep her teeth from chattering even as her vision blurred.  The pain was getting worse.  She eyed her leg and the pool of blood that was forming under her. 

Monroe
!
  Eden silently prayed that he’d heard the gunshots and would come to investigate.  Because if the bear didn’t kill her, she was still trapped in a mechanism that she couldn’t escape and she was slowly bleeding out.

Scanning
the area, she found no sight of the bear.  Carefully, she slid her hands under her and was just about to push up from the ground when she heard the trees rustle.  She stiffened instantly.  Seconds later she expelled her breath in a whimper as she heard Monroe’s voice.

“Eden!”

Without even looking up, Eden’s muscles went lax as she flattened on the frozen earth.  She pointed to her weapon.  “G-get the rifle, there’s a grizzly n-n-nearby.”

Monroe ignored her, grabbing her shoulders and rolling her gently to face him.  His eyes scanned her features, “
Don’t worry! You’re safe!”

Eden pointed to the two sprawled men, “Check John.”

Monroe’s eyes didn’t leave her face.  “He’s dead.”

Eden frowned and jabbed her finger in the direction of the men again, “The far one. 
He’s still breathing.”

Monroe eased her back to the ground
and Eden thought he’d rush off to check on John.  Instead he pulled his gloves off with his teeth and went to the trap.  “On the count of three take a deep breath and hold it.”

“Check John!” Eden demanded angrily.

“He’s dead Eden.”  Monroe’s tone was impatient.  “They’re both dead.  Now, take a deep breath on the count of three.  One, two, three.”

Eden sucked in a sharp breath and meant to hold it, but when the teeth of the trap were pulled from her flesh she instantly rolled to her side and began dry heaving.  When Monroe
lifted her shattered leg, her mouth instantly dried and she blinked back the stars that exploded in her sight.  Seconds later her, leg was moved again and she couldn’t recover.  The bright white snow darkened before her until there was only a slight pinpoint of light left in her vision.  It too soon faded as overwhelming warmth enveloped her.

BOOK: Skin Walkers: Monroe
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