The cold kissed Shiya’s cheeks as the sled raced through the night, gliding across the snow in the Alaskan wilderness. Yeah, she could have arrived like the other guests, by bush plane, but the siren’s call of the icy world had been great, and it had been too long since she’d last come home. Northern lights danced across the horizon, playing off icicles that gleamed on bent pine boughs—nature’s Christmas trees. Overhead the stars glittered, something she’d rarely seen because of the city lights—something she’d missed.
The fur lined hood of her red parka hid her long black hair and high cheekbones, her Inuit signature features. But not all of her appearance was Yupik. A fling her great-great grandmother had with a white man during the Yukon gold rush in the 1800’s, resulted in a freakish height of five foot eleven and green eyes that brought summer to the frozen tundra. Though four generations had passed since her grandmother’s affair, the genetics hadn’t disappeared from her family line, making her a child of two worlds, not quite fitting in to either. But the genetics had also passed from mother to daughter. Her mother had died at birth, leaving her not only her name an Inuit tradition, but her unusual attributes. Shiya was the only one of her people who looked the way she did—a blessing and a curse.
She’d been foolish to come back, they didn’t want her here. She’d turned her back on her people by rejecting an arranged marriage. Shamed, she’d left for the city, found a modeling job and made more money off her exotic looks than she’d thought possible, a lifestyle her father did not approve of.
The Eskimo Supermodel, a term that both made her wildly rich and ostracized her from her people further. She’d cringed every time she heard it, but chose to ignore her internal reaction to the insult, knowing if she were to survive, she had to fit in.
Fitting in—that went well. Sought out for her appearance, Shiya no longer knew if it were possible to find someone who didn’t want her because of her looks or money. Men hit on her right and left, wanting to add her as a notch on their belt. She’d stopped going out, secluded herself in her apartment, effectively cutting herself off from the real world. She spent her downtime, online in chat rooms, flirting with people who couldn’t see her, gaining some sense of security in it.
Until she’d picked up a stalker. She’d packed to run when she heard he was out on bail, not sure where she’d go or hide, as she wasn’t welcome in her father’s house. Her stalker owned a profitable corporation and wouldn’t take no for an answer. With homes all over the world, he could follow her around the globe. And had.
It had been an email from a mystery woman that brought her back to Alaska. Her timing couldn’t have been better. Madame Eve promised everything she’d ever wanted—needed, safety, someone to look out for her, protect her from the freak who tracked her like a hungry predator. A man that could take her out of Garrett’s reach.
So she’d taken a chance and come home. Here in the wilds of the Great North, she could think, and when she looked over her shoulder, she could see as far as the point where the Earth curved on the horizon. If Garret was going to follow her here, his approach wouldn’t be a surprise.
Ahead, the starlight caught a dark patch in the snow. “Whoa,” she yelled. The dogs responded by slowing to a stop. A pool of what appeared to be fresh blood and tracks, crossed her path. Out here, the blood could be from anything, but the tracks were a combination of human and bear. She pulled a high powered rifle from a sleeve and stepped onto the frozen snowpack. Her lead dog turned toward her and whined.
“Stay here.” She pounded a stake into the frozen ground and secured their lead to it, tethering them to prevent the team leaving her to die. Five miles could be like a hundred out in the hostile wilderness—people who forgot that lost their lives out here.
Shiya squatted down, removed a glove and dipped her fingers into the blood. Still warm—not good. She lifted her eyes from the red pool and scanned the darkness. No movement, but it didn’t mean the bear wasn’t there. There was a minute chance that whatever man found his way into the beast’s teeth, might still be alive.
She glanced at the blood again. It filled the imprints left by the man’s boot. A big man from the size of the boot and the depth in which the track sank into the snow. Big or not, it was doubtful he’d survive a bear attack. But since there was a chance, she couldn’t leave without investigating. She rose and followed the blood, keeping her ears tuned for any sound. The bears were master predators and could smell the blood from miles away. If there was one—there would be more and not just that, the blood would draw other predators. Packs of wolves frequented this area and had been know to travel in massive groups.
What the hell was the guy doing out here? So much blood. A death wish. The tracks appeared to stagger, leading off into a thick stand of trees. Not good.
So caught up in the reason a stranger traveled here, she’d failed to hear the monster behind her until he was on top of her. A rough chuff, followed by a hiss, and the impact spun her around on the ice and sent her flying ten feet, where she slammed shoulders first into an icy bank. Her rifle flew from her hands, discharging when it hit the ground. Shiya crab-crawled backward. The bear opened its mouth and roared a sound that shook her to her soul. Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit. Massive, twice the size of any bear she’d ever seen in this area, the herculean monster closed in, stalking forward on gigantic paws that looked like velvet flocked snowshoes.
Blood covered his white coat, matting down the thick fur on his leg. He grabbed her boot in his enormous jaws and dragged her back and then padded forward until he straddled her body. He stopped when his face was inches from hers. Shiya threw her arms up, keeping them vertical. A Nanuk wouldn’t turn his head to bite, or that’s what her father had told her. Make yourself bigger than the bear can bite, he’d said time and time again. Problem was, there was no way to be bigger than the bear could bite. He didn’t have to turn his head to take her arms into his mouth. Her entire head could fit in those jaws. His teeth were at least four inches long, more like daggers than fangs—and then there were his claws.
Strange his teeth hadn’t punctured her boot or crushed her ankle when he’d grabbed her, but her mind let that thought slip as he leaned in and sniffed her. Another chuff ruffled her hair. There was nothing gentle or friendly about the bear.
A cloud of warm breath puffed from the carnivore’s open jaws, washing across her face. The smell of minty toothpaste filled her nostrils. Shiya cringed. He’d already eaten the man and from the smell of it, the toiletries the tourist had carried with him. Another casualty of Alaska. When would they ever learn that nature should be respected?
The bear opened his jaws and roared again. His nose touched hers and he nudged her face with his muzzle, pushing her head back and exposing her throat. The sniffing, the huffing. Shiya couldn’t move and didn’t dare to breathe.
Here’s the part where he’d tear her head off. Shiya closed her eyes, unable to look at death. She had many regrets, the biggest that she was so close to her family and never had the chance to make amends. It wouldn’t matter. They’d never find her body—never know she’d come home. Nothing would be left when the monster was done with her.
A coarse tongue licked her from chin to forehead. Her heart stopped and the world spun behind her closed eyes. Darkness.