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Authors: Sharon Sala

The Healer

BOOK: The Healer
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Praise for the novels of
SHARON
SALA

“[A] well-written, fast-paced ride.”


Publishers Weekly
on
Nine Lives

“Chilling and relentless.”


Romantic Times BOOKreviews
on
The Chosen

“Veteran romance writer Sala lives up to her reputation with this well-crafted thriller.”


Publishers Weekly
on
Remember Me

“Wear a corset, because your sides will hurt from laughing! This is Sharon Sala at top form. You’re going to love this touching and memorable book.”


New York Times
bestselling author Debbie Macomber on
Whippoorwill

“[A] rare ability to bring powerful and emotionally wrenching stories to life.”


Romantic Times BOOKreviews

“Perfect entertainment for those looking for a suspense novel with emotional intensity.”


Publishers Weekly
on
Out of the Dark

“[Sala] knows just how to steep the fires of romance to the gratification of her readers.”


Romantic Times BOOKreviews

Also by SHARON SALA

CUT THROAT

NINE LIVES

THE CHOSEN

MISSING

WHIPPOORWILL

ON THE EDGE

“Capsized”

DARK WATER

OUT OF THE DARK

SNOWFALL

BUTTERFLY

REMEMBER ME

REUNION

SWEET BABY

SHARON
SALA
THE
HEALER

 

When I was a little girl, my paternal grandmother, Katie, who hailed from the hills in Tennessee, always had a remedy of her own design for whatever ailment I had. Her rule of thumb was if it didn’t kill a horse, it wouldn’t kill a kid.

I used to pray not to get sick when I spent summers with her, because I didn’t want horse liniment rubbed on my wounds any more than I wanted the tea she boiled up for me to drink.

Then one summer I showed up with a wart on my hand. Little did I know, but I was due for one of Grandma’s spells. Just when I thought she’d forgotten about the offending knot, she dragged me out of bed in the middle of the night, took me outside, wrapped an old dishrag around the wart on my hand, then began to turn me in a circle beneath the light of the full moon.

As I turned, she began to chant. I’ve long since forgotten the words. All I remember is what happened when she was done. She took the dishrag, buried it under the back porch, then sent me to bed.

I lay there under the sheets scared out of my mind, uncertain as to my fate. I should have known not to fret. Within a week, the wart was gone. My grandmother thought nothing of it. She’d done what she intended to do. But for me, she was forever branded into my mind as a healer with astounding ways.

So it is with love and affection that I dedicate this book to the healer in my life: Kathryn Cooper Smith.

One

Snow Valley, Southern Alaska: 1977

T
he rangy gray she-wolf, still thin from the passing winter, paused at the edge of the tree line above the valley. As she lifted her nose and sniffed the air, the hair on the back of her neck rose. She could smell the danger. Every instinct she had told her to turn and run, but the pup beside her had needs she couldn’t provide.

At that moment the pup whined. When she turned and licked its dusty face, it wiggled with pleasure. As much as she would like to lie down, time was not on her side. She nudged the pup gently until it latched on to her pelt. With a single whine of reassurance, she started forward, confident that it would follow as she started down the gentle slope into the valley below.

 

The spring sunshine in Snow Valley was a welcome respite from the bitter Alaskan winter and the months without sunlight. It took a special kind of people to be at peace with a world that had months without sunlight, then months without darkness, but the native Inuits were just such a people. It took more than funky geography and quixotic weather patterns to stagger them. They’d been here for centuries and were at peace with their world.

Today, a brisk wind was coming down from the slopes, whipping among the simple wood-frame buildings housing the hunting camp and the small contingent of people who lived there, popping and yanking at the fresh laundry the women had hanging on their clotheslines.

A bush pilot named Harve Dubois, originally from Biloxi, Mississippi, had a small house on the south edge of the tiny settlement, next to the landing strip, which was the only way in and out of the camp. He’d been in residence for almost twelve years now and considered himself a replanted Alaskan. During the different hunting seasons, he flew hunters in and out of the area with his Bell Jet copter. In the off-seasons, he had a propensity for hibernation, at which times he retreated to his cabin with a case of Jim Beam and a grocery sack full of paperback thrillers.

Doctor Adam Lawson lived on the other edge of the hunting camp. He’d been brought in more than six years ago on a mercy mission when an unfortunate hunter had met up with a pissed-off grizzly. The hunter’s gun had jammed, and then the grizzly had jammed him up one side and down the other. By the time the doctor had patched the hunter up enough to be flown out, he’d fallen for the people and the place. He’d come back the next spring on his own and had been there ever since.

A man named Silas Parker was the owner of the camp and lived and worked in a small, two-story A-frame. The lower floor was devoted to a sort of grocery and dry goods store, in which he stocked a wide variety of ammunition and a lesser amount of canned and dry goods. The second floor, which amounted to two very small rooms, was where he lived and slept.

The rest of the residents of Snow Valley were mostly Inuit and had been here longer than God. At least, that was what Harve claimed. Adam Lawson figured it was just the opposite. God had put them here. They’d just had the good sense to stay. The Inuit men were good hunting guides, and a large number of them were often away from the camp with hunting parties for long periods of time, which periodically left the women and children alone.

The recent good weather had spawned a flurry of expeditions, which meant the women were taking advantage of extra time alone to do a little spring cleaning. With the below-zero temperatures behind them, the good weather also allowed their children to play out in the fresh air and sunshine.

Some of the older children were involved in a game of softball. Others were playing tag or hide and seek. A pair of six-year-old twins who went by the names of Shorty and Bubba were sitting in the middle of the road that snaked through the village, drawing pictures in the dirt with sticks.

As they sat, a strong burst of wind lifted the dirt in which they were playing, blowing bits of grass and sand into their eyes. Shorty, the older twin, frowned and closed his eyes, while Bubba, the taller one, quickly turned away, shielding his face from the debris. As he turned, he happened to look up the road. Seconds later, he jumped to his feet, squinting his eyes against the sun, unable to believe what he was seeing. Then suddenly reality surfaced. He grabbed his twin by the hair, and started pulling on him and screaming, “Run, Shorty, run!”

Shorty reacted without question. Together, he and Bubba ran full tilt for their house, which was less than fifty yards away, screaming as they went. Their screams brought not only their mother, Willa, running, but others, as well.

“Mama, Mama…wolf!” Bubba screamed as he pointed up the road.

Willa needed only one look to begin echoing his cries.

“Wolf! Wolf!” she screamed, and began shoving her boys toward the house as the other women began a frantic search for their own children, desperate to get them inside.

 

The she-wolf stopped. She heard the screams. She smelled their fear. It was all the warning she was going to get. She wanted—needed—to run in the opposite direction. But the pup’s tug on her hair matched the tug of instinct that kept her from abandoning it to an uncertain fate. It was that fierce, motherly instinct that gave her the courage to continue on, moving slowly with her head lowered to accommodate the little brown pup now clinging to her ear.

 

Silas Parker heard the commotion. Curious, he put down the cans he was shelving and moved toward the front door. It didn’t take him long to see what was happening. A big gray wolf was coming into the village. Her walk was slow, and sometimes she staggered, with her head low to the ground. There was only one reason he could think of as to why a wild animal like that would come into the camp.

Rabies.

Silas had once seen a man die from the disease and didn’t want to ever witness such suffering again.

He ran behind the counter, lifted his rifle from the rack on the wall, grabbed a handful of shells from a box beneath the counter and began loading the rifle on the run.

“Get inside! Get inside!” he shouted, as he started down the road. He wasn’t much of a shot, which meant he was going to have to get closer to ensure a hit, and he didn’t want to have to be dodging kids and women to take aim.

Another woman came out of her house with her rifle as Silas ran past. He could hear the unsteady sound of her breathing as she struggled to catch up.

He was still shaking from the burst of adrenaline as he neared Harve’s landing strip. The wolf was close, almost too close. Afraid to go any farther, he stopped, lifted the rifle to his shoulder and took aim. Counting slowly backward from five to steady his breathing, he tightened his finger on the trigger and had started to squeeze when the woman who’d been coming up behind him suddenly screamed in his ear, then shoved the rifle up into the air.

“Don’t shoot!”

He flinched. Marie Tlingtik’s shout was not only startling, but confusing. He turned abruptly.

“What the hell, Marie?”

“Look,” she said, pointing at the wolf.

Silas turned in the direction she was indicating.

“Yes, damn it. It’s a wolf and—”

The words froze in the back of his throat. He took a deep breath and then wiped his eyes, certain he was hallucinating.

“That is not possible,” Silas muttered, then turned toward Marie. “Holy Mother of God, is that a baby? Is it? Do you see it, Marie? Is that a real baby beside that wolf, or am I crazy?”

Marie muttered something in her native language, then turned around and ran.

Silas wanted to follow her, but the sight of that thin sun-browned toddler held him fast.

The wolf yipped. Once.

The gun Silas was holding slipped from his hands and landed at his feet with a thud. He stood, still staring in disbelief as the she-wolf also stopped. Separated by less than twenty yards, Silas watched as the wolf lifted her head. Even from this distance, he felt her gaze fixed on him.

“Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,” he whispered as his legs went weak. He wanted to run, but he couldn’t bring himself to move. Still, he had to do something. That little kid could barely walk and was frighteningly thin. He couldn’t just turn away from this. Even if he didn’t understand it, he couldn’t let it go.

Without thinking of the danger to himself, he took a deep breath, and started waving and shouting at the wolf.

The she-wolf flinched at the sharp, frightening sounds. She felt the danger as vividly as she felt the wind on her face. It was time to go. She turned to the pup and nudged it forward. It toddled a few steps ahead of her, then stumbled and dropped into the dirt.

Every instinct she had told her to run. Now. But she was torn. The pup whined as it fell. When it began struggling to get up, her instinct was to go toward it, but then she looked up. The human was moving closer. Without looking at the pup again, she turned and began loping back toward the trees.

Left on its own, the pup began to cry in earnest. She could hear it as she ran. But it was only after she reached relative safety at the tree line that she stopped and looked back. The place looked deserted. That was when she lifted her head and howled. The long, mournful sound spilled down into Snow Valley, then echoed off the surrounding hills.

But it was what happened next that sent the entire village of Snow Valley into shock.

Silas had the child in his arms and was heading for Doc Lawson’s house as fast as he could go. He looked behind him more than once as he ran, making sure the wolf hadn’t done a U-turn and nipped back on his heels. As he ran, he kept glancing down at the baby, feeling the little boy’s long black hair blowing across his face and the heat emanating from his thin brown body. Silas thought the child looked Indian, but it was hard to tell how much was dirt and how much was true skin color.

Suddenly the long, mournful howl of a wolf rode the wind blowing down into the valley. The howl was disconcerting. Silas flinched as he looked over his shoulder one last time, just to assure himself that the wolf was gone.

At the sound of the wolf’s howl, the baby grabbed Silas by his full, bushy beard, then twisted in his arms so that he was now looking toward the mountain. The little boy’s tear-filled eyes were wide with shock. But instead of crying, he opened his little mouth and wailed. The high-pitched sound was an almost perfect echo of the wolf’s howl.

Startled, Silas gasped and came close to dropping the child. If the boy had not been holding on to Silas’s beard with both hands, he would have gone tumbling down to the ground. But Silas quickly recovered and began patting the baby on the back, trying to give him comfort as he kept on going.

“Now, now,” Silas muttered. “Don’t cry, little fella, don’t cry.”

The sound of Silas’s voice was as startling to the baby as the wolf’s howl had been to Silas. For a few silent moments, their gazes locked.

It was then that Silas realized the baby’s eyes were not brown, but amber, marked with flecks of a yellowish gold, more like the eyes of the wolf instead of the dark-eyed Inuits.

“Damn, kid…where did you come from?”

But the wolf couldn’t talk and the child didn’t know.

Two years later

Adam Lawson sat on the steps of his front porch with his nearest neighbors, Wilson and Patty Umluck, watching his little boy and their three children at play. He never would have thought that, at the unmarried age of forty-three, he would have agreed to raise an abandoned baby, let alone believe that such a child would become the center of his world.

But he had.

From the first moment, when Silas had come staggering into his house with the naked toddler in his arms, to this morning, when the little boy, who Adam had named Jonah Gray Wolf, had crawled out of his bed and helped himself to a messy assortment of crackers, peanut butter and honey, he’d been hooked.

At his best guess, Jonah was now about four years old and bright beyond his years. Despite such an ignominious beginning, he was remarkably self-assured. Jonah had a way of watching his surroundings without comment that made him appear shy, but he wasn’t. Quite the contrary. To Adam’s dismay, the child was afraid of nothing.

Sensing Adam’s gaze upon him, Jonah abruptly stopped his play and turned toward his father. He met his father’s gaze, and for a few silent moments, stared back. Then he slowly smiled, as if they were sharing a secret.

Adam smiled back, but Jonah had already moved past the moment and was back on his hands and knees in the grass, helping with the miniature log house the kids were building with a set of toy building logs. There was a bird on the ground near Jonah’s feet and another that flitted about his head. Every now and then, it would land on his shoulders for the sunflower seeds Jonah kept in his pocket.

The residents of Snow Valley were somewhat intimidated by the little boy. His arrival into their midst was already legendary, and no other child had such an affinity with animals. Camp dogs followed him everywhere, and even the wild animals in the forest were drawn to him. Animals showed him no fear and were forever crawling over him, as if he were one of their own. Oddly enough, for a child with no knowledge of his past, he was never alone.

Adam didn’t know what to make of it and had long ago quit trying to explain it, but he knew his boy was special. By all counts, he should have perished in the mountains and been eaten by the very animal that delivered him to safety. They’d searched for answers as to where he’d come from. Despite months of diligent attempts by the authorities to locate a parent, the case was still unsolved. No planes had gone missing. No area residents, no tourists, no hunters of any sort had gone unaccounted for. There was nothing to explain his presence.

BOOK: The Healer
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