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Steal

the Sun


by Stephanie Kelley




















Copyright © 2017 Stephanie Kelley

All rights reserved.

Edited by C. Davis

Cover Design by Wycked Ink www.wyckedink.net

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.









For all those standing behind me,

even when I am completely crazy.




1



Kodiak


“That’s a lot of blood, Bear. I should have brought the rain gear.”

I was just happy that for once it wasn’t my blood.

“All that glitters is not gold, right?” I teased as I fruitlessly tried to wipe the blood from my knife on my already soaked jeans. I was covered head to toe in blood and gore from the night’s escapades. Every single piece of my soaked clothing clung to my body, the metallic coppery scent drifting up to my nose. The cold had begun to seep into my bones through the wet material as my adrenaline started to wear off.

“Good one, Bear.” My Shakespeare reference had earned me a smile from my brother as he dragged he last of the vampire corpse to the edge of the dock.

“Definitely in need of a shower and these clothes need burned. Preferably before we start to hallucinate from the vampire blood.”

I saw my dog and groaned. Even my husky was covered in gore. Gods, that fluff monster was going to need a bath too. My dog Czar had killed a vampire himself, and now his thick fur was soaked in blood.

“We really should have brought the rain gear.” He murmured to himself. I barely heard the soft splash as he slipped the body into the dark water of the harbor.

I hopped up on the tailgate of my brother’s truck. I could finally catch my breath. The cold Alaskan night already hinted at the end of summer. Things would be frozen and snowed over before we knew it.

Kenai and I had taken a job to remove some Others from a salmon boat. How my brother found these jobs, or they found him, I didn't know, but it made me curious about the time he'd spent out on the Bering Sea and what he actually did.

For us, Others were anything other than human, and tonight it had been a half dozen vampires and their two partially turned fledglings. The fledgings had been high as kites on vampire blood and had come after us first.

It was early in the season for us to have to worry about the vampires, but we went where we needed to in order to keep the locals safe, the same as our family had done since before the Gold Rush. My family had hunted Others for nearly two centuries now. We had a long tradition of putting ourselves in harm's way. Sometimes it worked out. Sometimes it didn’t.

“You sure you didn't get bit?” Kenai asked as he joined me at the tailgate. Czar sat at my feet like nothing had happened, paw raised to give one of us a ‘high-five’ in exchange for a snack.

“Yes, Ken, I’m sure.” I was a little taken aback that my brother thought I would have gotten myself bitten. I killed my first vampire when I was ten. Poppa had taken me along on a hunt and told me to stay hidden in the truck. The vampire had tried to get away in the truck. I’d slit its throat from where I had hidden behind the driver's seat with the silver knife my father had given me as protection. I didn't like killing then, I still didn't like it now. But when it came time to choose, I’d choose me and my family every time.

Kenai lightly grabbed my chin with his tattoo covered hand and made me face him. His mismatched blue and brown eyes met mine. The dark circles under his eyes could have been mistaken for war paint. It was a tell-tale sign he wasn’t sleeping again, a bad habit he had picked up from his time working on commercial fishing boats. A closer look at him showed the shadow of a beard and his wild, tangled hair made me think I was right in my assumption.

“Quit hiding your eyes, you’re slow when you wear those.”

“Chill, Ken,” I said as I swatted away his hand. “I'm fine. I like the contacts.”

We shared a genetic trait abnormality, one eye blue, one eye brown. I didn't care for our uniqueness as much as he did. He liked to use it as a mask to keep people at bay. I didn’t like matching the huskies we bred.

I dug through Kenai’s cooler for something to drink that wasn't bottled water or a cheap nasty tasting energy drink. I wanted something to ground me, calm my nerves. I was getting too old for this. I didn’t know how our older brother Dez still did this at thirty-six.

He sighed and I heard the grinding pop of the flint on his lighter, the spicy smell of clove hit me immediately. My brother and those damn clove cigarettes. Kenai didn’t have many vices or habits, but I knew his important ones. “You wouldn't light that if you didn't have whiskey. Where did you stash it?”

“Behind the bench seat,” he said as the smoke drifted my direction.

I couldn’t be bothered to do things the easy way, I shimmied the cab window open while he laughed at me. I fished the half empty bottle from behind the seat. “Ah ha!”

“Before you get too excited, you sure fishboy has someone lined up to take care of those bodies?”

“Yeah.” The cork made a satisfying pop as I pulled it from the neck of the bottle so I could take a swig. “He won't leave me hanging.”

An unconvinced huff came from my brother and my dog.

“I hate relying on Others to do what we should be, Bear. If Dez asks, we burned them,” he said after a long drag on his cigarette.

He was relatively clean as I gave him a quick once over to make sure he didn’t have any wounds. How had I ended up the bloodier of the two of us? I sat back down on the edge of the tailgate and handed him the bottle.

Certain Others were on our side. As long as they didn’t put me or my family in danger, I was happy to let them be. Kenai was still uneasy about it. He did his best to pretend even the good ones didn’t exist. Our eldest brother, Dez, was a traditionalist. To Dez, all Others were abominations and shouldn’t exist.

I caught a glimpse of Kenai’s forearm as he pushed up the sleeves of his hoodie, not liking the feel of the cold blood-soaked material against his skin. There, on the inside of his left arm, were small tattooed lines, a slash for every Other he killed that we had known personally. Some were those that had lied to us and tried to cause us harm, some were friends that were turned that we had to hunt. This the first hunt I’d been on with him in nearly two months. He’d added two tally marks since I’d last seen his arm, one of the tiny marks was so new it was still scabbed over.

“Who was it?” The high of the hunt immediately overtaken by the sobering thought of another friend gone. He took another long pull of whiskey before he handed the bottle back. Betrayal never went down easy.

“No one you need remember,” he said quickly, his shoulders setting stiffly as he lit up another cigarette.

I didn’t like when he clammed up. I expected that type of reaction from Dez, but from Kenai it always meant he was lying. I needed to push it out of my mind. If he wanted to hide it from me, so be it. I wouldn't question his instinct to protect me. He’d never steered me wrong despite how unpredictable he could be.

“How did the vamps just ignore you?” I tried to change the subject. I had other ways to find out who he had hunted if it became an issue.

He shrugged. “Guess they didn't see me.”

“Vamps, not see you? What charm did you find?” I teased as I put the cap back on the whiskey bottle before I hopped off the tailgate.

Kenai shook his head, his laughter barely contained.

“Nothing, I swear, Bear. This entire summer has been like Poppa is watching over me, more than before.”

“You just have the craziest luck.”

He shook his head. “Don't know about that, Bear. Saw the Gypsy Star in the harbor today and nearly canceled the hunt.”

“What?” I froze. That boat had not harbored in our hometown of Cordova, Alaska in nearly ten years. The thought of it being back made my stomach turn. The Gypsy Star was the last place our father had been seen before he was declared lost at sea. I had never seen the boat in person. It was as much of a ghost to me as my father had been. By the time I was calm enough to want to go see where my father had taken his last steps, it had left the harbor and never returned. “I wanted on that boat so bad, but I just couldn't. Something kept me off it,” his voice trailed off, not finishing his statement. I just let him be with his thoughts.

We’d both gone quiet at the mention of our father. Poppa had been gone ten years this year. It was a milestone we never really wanted to think about, because if Poppa was gone for ten years, that meant Momma had been gone for almost twenty. She’d died in a car accident in a snowstorm; to this day I don’t know how I survived that. I was with her that day and I was six. I remembered very little of her that Kenai hadn’t told me as stories.

My phone buzzed in my pants pocket. Somehow it had managed to avoid being coated in blood. I reluctantly opened the text notification.


Secrets. CMR. Your time is coming. -Snow W.


I was thankful for the shadows, there was no way I had any color left on my face, it had all drained into the pit that was my stomach. These messages had been coming all summer, but this was the first one that had a direct correlation to my life. I tried to push it out of my head for now, if I was going to ask for help, I’d have some explaining to do. I wasn’t sure I was ready for that without a concrete threat.

The familiar cawing of ravens made me shiver as the sun set in ribbons of reds and pinks over the water. Czar’s ears perked up as I hopped down off the tailgate.

“Ravens and wolves,” he muttered as he looked toward the tree line, “one always follows the other.”

I caught his gaze go sharp as his gaze shifted from the water to the encroaching tree line. He was nothing if not vigilant. I had never been able to sneak up on him growing up.

“Damn ravens.” I said as I tossed some pebbles at them. “They all need gone.”

“You didn't used to feel that way about-”

“Watch your tongue, Kenai.” I cut him off. I’d dealt with enough tonight. I didn’t want to take another walk down memory lane if I didn’t have to. I wanted a shower and my bed. “You know what happened.”

He nodded and kicked at the gravel.

“I still say what happened that day with him isn’t what you think.”

I punched my brother hard on the shoulder. “Don't do this to me. Not when we’ve already mentioned Poppa tonight. I’m covered in blood, and nothing more to kill tonight. Don’t make me cry.”

He reached out and pulled me close to his chest before kissing my forehead. We'd been through a lot together, thick or thin we were still blood, still family.

Kenai sputtered from the taste of vampire blood lips. ”Nope, can't enjoy that, that tastes like ash. Yeah, give me that whiskey.”

“Ass or ash?”

“Does it matter?” He wiped his mouth on his sleeve before downing more whiskey.

Czar began growling behind us before I could truly enjoy my brother’s mishap. My hand went to my knife, Kenai’s hand went to his revolver as he set the bottle down.

At the edge of the dock stood a man in the shadows. He stood unmoving, watching us in silence.

Condensation puffed from Kenai’s mouth in the quickly cooling night air as my husky gave a low warning growl. I gave Czar the signal to be silent and took a step toward the figure, trying to get a better look. I expected him to be shocked by a tiny girl covered in blood taking a few steps toward him, but instead a sly smile crawled across his lips.

Had he been there the entire time?

In the faded light I could make out the man’s chiseled features, the slight amount of scruff on his chin, a series of thick white roping scars criss crossing his face and neck. I’d have bet my bar I saw the slightest pale olive shimmer to his skin as he stood up straight. But I blinked as he took a slow step towards us and the light hit him again, the shimmer was gone. My eyes were playing tricks on me from being coated in the hallucinogenic vampire blood.

“You burn like stars, but are still cold like the snow. Shame there are only three of you left. Your family was once great.” The man paused and I watched the light play across his skin. “It’s taken me quite a while to find you, the great Sesi hunters.”

His voice hung heavy and oppressive in the air. He didn’t know as much as he thought he did, there were more than three of us left. By my count there were five of us, but we certainly were not the great clan we once were. I felt Czar brush against my leg as he crept up beside me, ready to attack given the command. I heard the barely audible pop as Ken flicked open the snap on his holster of his revolver that he always wore on his hip. I felt the tiniest tongues of fear lick up my spine. He hadn’t even felt the need to reach for his gun with the vampires we had just taken out. Who or whatever this was, had him spooked too.

“Depends on who's asking.” Ken’s voice had a growling undertone, his anger sent my alertness to a new level. He was spooked. My brother was never spooked.

“Some of you are missing,” the stranger stated, cocking his head to the side much like my dog. “Such a shame.”

“Who are you? Police? Other?”

I let Ken do the talking, I couldn’t guarantee my words wouldnt be tainted from the side effects of the the vampire blood. I was already having a hard enough time not seeing two of the green man.

“Lackey, scapegoat, God, I’ve been it all, so take your pick.”

You had to be a bit crazy to live in Alaska, but this, well even for us, this was a new one.

The hammer on the gun clicked as my brother readied to shoot. Adrenaline coursed through my body for the second time tonight. I knew Kenai trusted his instincts implicitly, and I trusted my brother. He never readied to fire unless he meant it, especially with that gun. My fingers clenched around the caribou antler hilt of my knife, this was already a long night.

“That's definitely a new one, buddy.” I heard his breathing slow beside me in anticipation of having to react to whatever this crazy individual was about to do. “Let's try this again. You seem to know who we are, last chance before I find out how you do against silver. Who are you?”

“I already told you.”

“I'm too tired to play. I want a name.” Kenai’s words were clipped and my fingers twitched as I gripped my knife harder, the handle still sticky with the vampire blood.

“King of the Living,” he smirked. “But those topside often call me Cy.”

Crazies. We may have missed a vampire lackey that wasn't in the nest. It would explain his sickly color.

“What do you want?”

The man moved towards us, the green shimmer back on his skin as he passed under the street lamp. I heard a soft growl and I wasn’t sure if it came from my dog or my sibling.

“Stop right there, Cy. I will shoot.”

Czar crept forward one slow step at a time.

“A name won't protect you forever. Time is up. You just don't know it yet.” Cy’s voice held darkness and a rumble that I felt in my soul. No human voice had ever struck me like that. What the hell were we dealing with?

The blackened barrel of my brother’s gun level with the man's chest crept into the edge of my vision. Cy was undeterred with the warnings and kept walking towards us. He stopped only a few feet from my grasp. My knife flashing as I turned it over in my hand. Czar’s hair stood on end, his pointed ears laid back. I finally smelled what my husky had smelled. The musty odor of damp earth and the unmistakable stomach turning odor of death.

Kenai hissed as he registered the smell, his instinctive reaction was to pull the trigger of his revolver before he took another breath. I flinched at the close proximity of the sound from the shot. The bullet tore through where Cy’s heart was. He should have been dead. But he stood there laughing, the spray of fresh blood.

“So you do bleed,” Kenai nearly spit the words as he wiped the blood from his eyes. He shouted the command for my dog to attack. Before I could react myself, I watched as Czar passed right through Cy.

The laughter changed to cackles as blood poured from the wound in Cy’s chest wall. What the hell was he? What did he know? My brain went into overdrive. Was Cy the one behind the string of text messages I had been getting for the last few months? Someone had been sending me messages anonymously, and lately they had been getting more threatening. I had no leads on them, and I had yet to tell my brothers. I didn’t want to feel like I always needed them to take care of me.

“Are you behind the disappearances? And the threatening texts?” I yelled. Ken grabbed my arm to try to keep me back. I would have barreled towards this crazy without thinking. I hated that I was still able to be man handled by my brothers. Numerous times they have had to jerk me to safety. It was a stark reminder that an Other could just as easily toss me around if I got grabbing distance.

“Tsk, tsk. Too many questions, just worry about the mines and the shifters that work them. You’ll get your answers.” That crazy man, that darkening green shimmering thing, dissolved into mist and left us standing there.

“What the-”

“Not a clue, Bear.”

I was tired as I watched him scan the area for our next threat. Kenai’s skin was slick with blood, the barest glow of orange radiated from beneath the dirt and grime on his sun darkened skin. A pale ring of flames circled the irises of his eyes. My eyes darted toward the night sky expecting to see the auroras, but the night was just as empty as the voice of stars. My eyes were playing tricks on me. I tore off my blood-soaked hoodie and tossed it over the safety railing of the dock. This acid trip from soaking in vampire blood needed to subside, and quick. We had been too complacent with this hunt. We should have cleaned the blood off quicker. Cy never should have gotten the advantage over us.

We were still alive. And that was luck.

I whistled for my dog. Czar was still nose to the ground trying to figure out where that thing had gone. There were muttered curses from Kenai as he grumbled about the situation we had gotten ourselves into.

“Tulugaq, fuck.” It was always the damn ravens he cursed when things went upside down for us. “I think it's past time to go. I need to get to the gold mine. We’ve still got to get to Dez’s place.”

The urgency in his voice gave me pause.

“Dez doesn’t hire shifters. You seriously think we might be next?”

Kenai shook his head. “We need to get moving. I don’t want to take the chance that we are next. Not if that thing is involved in any capacity.”

Summer had been rough in Cordova this year, miners had disappeared. All that was left behind was their crushed vehicles and random mangled animal carcasses. The whispered rumors in town and in my bar were that those who had gone missing had been shifters. We hadn’t lost any of our crew from Ordeneige and I hoped to keep it that way. If whoever or whatever was behind this was truly after shifters, I expected it to stay that way. Our eldest brother hated the supernatural community with a passion and would never knowingly hire one.

The next mine over, Big Mount, was run by a full crew of Others, mostly shape shifters. So far managed to escape unscathed. The foreman of Big Mount was my connection for getting rid of the vampire and human bodies we had dumped in the harbor. He would have told me if someone went missing from his crew. Something wasn’t adding up.

Kenai grabbed my arm, spinning me to face him. A rough shake made me focus on his mismatched eyes burning deep with a tiny flame of fear. It made me shiver.

“What texts, Koda?”





2



Kodiak


Kenai headed to the mine after we finished melting and pouring bullets. I had decided to go hunt black tail deer as a way to clear my head. His cabin wasn’t too far from town, but it was far enough away that I didn’t have to worry about the distraction of town. I’d let him take Czar. Kenai wanted to try to socialize the red and white pup that we had decided to keep from the last litter.

Green and pink lights danced and crackled with laughter overhead, obscuring the stars and touching trees, while they taunted me. The Northern Lights were fleeting and intangible, much like those who had moved in and out of my life. Out of habit I reached for my knife strapped to my thigh. I should have been smarter about this. I should not have gone hunting by myself.

Snow crunched loudly beneath my feet. It had been a long day and my deer hunt had not gone as planned. I wanted to make it back to my brother’s cabin and sleep, but my nerves were on edge. On fire to be honest. A wolf pup had ambushed me while I was stalking the deer, and it burned like I had embers bound to my arm. My knife had gotten a taste of the wolf’s blood but I hadn’t been able to kill it.

My skin crawled as the sound of seals barking resonated off the hills of snow. I was nowhere near the ocean, my mind was playing tricks on me. I wasn’t sure if it was the blood loss or if I was beginning to experience hypothermia. And I probably still had more vampire blood in my system than I cared to admit.

“Kodiak!”

My name reverberated off the snow from somewhere in the distance. The voice was male, familiar as if I’d heard it hundreds of times before, but I had told no one I had come out here. My name came again from somewhere deep in the woods. I scanned the scrub brush and evergreens looking for any sign of where this familiar voice was yelling from.

“Kodiak! Run!”

Why couldn’t I place that voice. Poppa? Was he really back after ten years? Why couldn't I see him? No matter where I looked I couldn't find the source of the voice. Twigs snapped behind me. I spun to face whatever had come through the brush.

There before me was the largest black and gray wolf I had ever seen. And it was laughing at me.

“Amaroq.” The words escaped my lips in a strangled whisper.

“You're late for dinner, Lamb,” the creature managed in perfect English, its lips curling back in a snarl as it drew out the epithet. “You should know better than to hunt alone under the stars.”

Shit.

I, of all people, should have known better. Never hunt alone for the Amaroq will take you. One of the first lessons Poppa had taught us as children.

“God damn it, Kodiak. How many times do I have to save you?”

A strong hand grabbed my shoulder. I caught a glimpse of the figure attached to the hand, but couldn't make out who it was. With an unceremonious shove I was pushed away, the figure taking my place in front of the laughing wolf god.

“I told you to run Kodiak, do it!”

Run I did as the Amaroq’s hollow laugh reverberated off the snow. The hair stood up on the back of my neck as I ran.

Thunder cracked in the distance, somewhere where the dancing lights touched the Earth, and everything froze. I couldn’t move as my world was swallowed by blue glass.

I woke gasping for breath. A spike of burning cold tore through my chest. My heart was ready to explode as I fought not to hyperventilate.

I had been dreaming. I had fallen asleep at my desk.

Damn it all.

“Sorry, Miss Koda I told him I forgot his biscuit and that was it. “

When I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, I was a bit worried. My husky, Czar, had the delivery guy pinned to the wall, paws on his chest fluffy tail wagging. The “open” sign still on the door and the stack of bills for the family businesses I was supposed to pay, was now smeared across my desk.

Czar backed off as I whistled him down, coming to sit by my big wooden desk. I shot my dog a look and he laid down, head on his paws.

“I'm sorry, Manny. I had a late night.”

Kenai and I had spent hours melting and casting silver hollow point bullets at Dez’s house till after 3 a.m.. He headed to the mine and I drove to my own house, exhausted and still in need of a shower.

Few of the locals up here talked about it, but everyone knew to call us to take care of their preternatural problems. For the last century and a half, my family had kept the locals safe from the Others. The list of Others got longer every day as things crawled out of the wood work and headed toward the Alaskan wilderness.

“Was it the puppies?” he asked with a smile.

On top of all the other businesses Dez ran, or had us run, he still bred sled dogs. I had promised Manny first pick of the litter. He and Czar were best buddies and Manny could use some company.

“No. They aren't here yet. But soon. Did you need me to sign something?”

“No, nothing to sign today. I was wondering if you just wanted me to load the packages on the truck. It’s parts for the backhoes and a new generator for the mine, or at least that’s what Dezi told me to expect last week.”

Our goldmine outside of town we had named Ordeneige. In French it meant Snow of Gold, we just squished it all together to fit it on the sign. Family of overachievers I guess, but it took its toll. Between all the businesses we managed, it seemed I slept on my desk more than I did the bookkeeping.

Dez had left the mine last night to fly to Oregon. There was no point in calling him to tell him his deliveries were here. I’d be better off to take them up myself. It was nearly eleven. It would take me two hours to drive up to the mine on the muddy and icy back roads, and two hours to drive back. It would get me out of office work and the fresh air would do me good after that horrible dream.

“Go ahead and load them up for me. Dez has a new foreman for the summer who I really should go meet before payday comes around.” I pulled open my desk drawer and pulled out a bag of Czar’s favorite salmon jerky treats. “Take these and Czar out with you, Manny. I’ll lock up and meet you at my truck.”

I handed him the bag of treats over the desk, my dog longingly looking from me to Manny. “Go Czar. No mud.”

The fluff ball whined and wagged his tail, but happily trotted to his friend.

“Thank you, Manny.”

“No problem Miss Koda. Come on boy.”

I checked my phone, three text messages. One from my brother Kenai saying he was bored and we should have made more silver bullets. One from a friend saying he would see me at Broken Tusk tonight for a drink. The last made my heart drop.


Rory knew. Dead because of it. Who’s next on the list?

-Snow W.


Attached to the message was a picture of a tiny blond girl sporting vampire fangs and a bloody face. I shivered hard, my hand darting for the carving I knew was beneath the middle desk drawer. I whispered a prayer for protection as I traced the five pointed star my father had carved there long ago.

I hadn't thought about Rory in years. She’d gone the way of so many others in Alaska and disappeared. Now I knew why.

If my brothers knew about this, I would be on lock down. I couldn’t have that. I needed a handle on this before something happened. Against my better judgment, I clicked the forward button and sent the message to the one person that I did not share blood with whom I trusted.



The door to my office pulled shut with a heavy thud as Manny loaded the last of the small boxes into the back of my truck. How much had my brother ordered for these machines? The entire truck bed was full to the point of overflowing. This was going to be a long, slow trip.

“The Northern Lights were dancing and whispering last night. Nothing good will come of this Miss Koda. I’d keep that knife your father made handy if I were you. They found another animal attack,” he said flatly, not bothering to glance my direction.

A shiver ran up my spine at the mention of the Northern Lights and the animal attacks. Some believed those dancing lights could bring back our passed loved ones. Some believed the dancing lights were out to destroy us. I didn’t know what to believe anymore, but these animal attacks were coming closer together. Another attack meant another pile of ribbons and splinters. Gold season had started three months ago and brought with it a series of mutilations on large game. All that remained were the fresh hides of bear, elk, caribou, and even a wolf. No organs, no meat, just a shredded mess, with the occasional random skull or foot.

“Is your brother looking into it? He’s got miners out there in trailers in the woods at the mine.”

“Dezi seems to think the mine is safe since the bears and wolves will keep away from the heavy construction equipment they are running nearly twenty-four hours a day. But it's Friday night so the boys are usually all in town, so I’m sure I will hear all about the latest happenings at Broken Tusk. Did everything fit in the truck?” I asked as I leaned against the tailgate.

“Yes, ma’am. Do you want me to come with you?”

I smiled and kissed him on the cheek. I guess he thought only my brothers did the dirty work in this family.

“You’re very sweet. I’ll have Czar, and I can handle myself. Thank you, though.

“Miss Koda, can I ask you a question?”

I never liked that question, but I nodded anyway.

“Your eyes, they are the same as your brother’s?” He motioned towards his own eyes. “One blue, one brown?”

I nodded, remembering I had forgotten to put my contacts in this morning. It wasn’t worth running by my house before heading to the mine. I would just have to do my best not to be self-conscious about it.

“Are you and Kenai twins?”

“No,” I said with a laugh. Ken was three years older than me, the wild card of the family for sure. “No chance.”

“Ah. I see. But you are also just like Czar,’ Manny said with a huge smile. “You’re all magic though.”



3



Rhen


Stepping out of the trailer, the sun hit my face and my eyes closed. Nothing felt as good as basking in an Alaskan morning sun while the chill in the air burned off. It was the last few weeks of summer, my breath hung in the morning air in white puffs. I didn’t know how long we had left to mine gold before the snow hit. Maybe a few days. Maybe a few weeks. Maybe everything would freeze tomorrow. Alaskan seasons are notoriously unpredictable, but it made everything here an adventure.

These last moments in Alaska were always bittersweet. My crew had done well this season. We were headed into the final push for gold. The owner of Ordeneige Mine had asked me if I thought I could get a thousand ounces out of the mine this season when he called and offered me the position of foreman. I thought he had been joking, they hadn’t even managed to pull half that much gold from the ground the previous year. Asking for a thousand ounces was asking me to guarantee I could get him a million dollars. So far my crew and I had pulled nearly 1700 ounces of gold from this ground he owned and we still had time left to double his original goal. If Dez stayed out of my hair the rest of the season, he and this crew of eight I had working for me would go home extremely happy for the winter. The name Ordeneige was taken from the French words for gold and snow. They had certainly named their gold mine well.

“Ravenwhite,” a familiar voice shouted at me over the sound of the heavy equipment. “Breakfast?”

I opened my eyes to see a man that should have been family headed towards the fire pit, skinned rabbit in one hand and a clove cigarette in the other. He’d been my best friend going through school, and the little brother of the owner. After leaving Alaska years ago, I was happy for any bit of kindness he showed me, I certainly didn’t deserve it after what had happened in our past.

“Pass. I prefer salmon.”

Kenai nodded at me as he walked past my trailer. I hadn’t expected to see him here, but I shouldn’t have been shocked, Dez was out of town on business. That made little brother my default “tender.” If it had to be anyone, I preferred Kenai, he let me do my own thing. He knew he didn’t need to watch me run the mine, this was second nature to me. I’d mined gold for the last six years in the Yukon, and five years before that worked a gold dredge of the coast with my twin sister when the weather was favorable as a hobby.

I needed to start my day. I rolled my neck and flipped up the hood of my sweatshirt before heading towards the office trailer. I didn’t need the hood, but it was easier to dress like my crew than to keep explaining I wasn’t cold. Being a selkie didn’t have many perks in human form, but my resistance to the cold I did enjoy very much. I may have faerie blood running through my veins, but a shifter is still a shifter to a hunter. No one cares for technicalities. And the Sesi clan was the most well known modern supernatural hunters in Alaska.

I was beat down, my mind exhausted, and I wanted to shift into my seal form and go for a swim in the ocean. Any one of those issues made it easier to make a stupid mistake around heavy equipment, if I could manage an extra bit of calm I could give myself I would take it.

It had been nearly three months since I tasted the salt water of the Pacific Ocean. When the wind blew through the trees I could smell the salt and my skin itched. There were some days all I wanted was to be in deep water, oblivious to the world around me. I swore sometimes it would have been easier to be celibate than it was to refrain from shifting. I’d worked hard to hold onto the calm I’d found over the last few years, a lot depended on it when I was mining. One wrong move, one moment of showing my crew that I wasn’t human, that could be the end of me. One moment where my emotions were out of control and I would end up inadvertently calling in a storm that could shut down the mine.

Taking the few stairs into the trailer two at a time, I caught a glimpse of the sun on the horizon above the tree line. The change in perspective wasn’t much, but it was just enough for me to see the sun haloed with sundogs. Those two glowing phantom suns told me everything I needed to know about today. There was a storm on the way. We needed to get the gold out of the ground and quick.

“You’re up late.”

My second in command didn’t even bother to look back at me as I pulled the door closed behind me.

Dez had stolen Remmy Castello from a mine I worked three years ago. It had been rough working the last mine without him. I was always plotting our next move, our next point C, D and E. Remmy filled in the missing pieces for the crew. I was glad to be back on the same team with him again.

I looked over his shoulder at maps of the mine. We were trying to decide if it was worth trying to clear a new place to dig this year. With only a few weeks left, it would mean the difference between just doubling what Dez has stipulated I mine, or going over and beyond even my own expectations.

“Morning to you, too. Couldn’t sleep. The wind was shaking the trailer too bad. Were the boys running paydirt all night?”

He nodded at me as I poured myself a cup of coffee from the good stash we kept for ourselves in the office.

“All night. No issue. Connor said he kept hearing howling all night though. Said it was messing with him, that there were tracks up in the cut he was taking paydirt out of.”

“You believe him?”

Remmy’s sideways glance said it all.

“That kid. I swear if Dez didn’t make me keep him on I’d have sent him to town and told him to work at the docks the first week of the season.”

Remmy snorted. “He wouldn’t last there either. Dez just needs to send him down to the lower 48 to be with his mother, eh?”

“Would be nice.” I said with a bit of a laugh. That nineteen year old had been a thorn in my side for twelve weeks now. “I’ve had more fights with Dez over that kid getting in the way, than any other issues here at Ordeneige. His uncle’s here today, so I’m guessing Connor will be minding his tongue.”

“Don’t push it, Ravenwhite. Who knows if Sesi has this office bugged or not. He could be listening right now.”

I about spit coffee out my nose at his bad joke. Dez and technology, that was a joke of a combination. He was old school all the way, didn’t want to change from the way things had been passed down in his family, including his distaste for Others. That included me, he knew I wasn't human. So did his brother.

“You must really be beat to find that funny,” Remmy quipped as I tried to control my coughing laughter.

I just shrugged my shoulders. But he was right, I was.

“You going to send the guys to town for a break after this clean up tonight? Big Mount crew probably will be in town at Broken Tusk, it is Friday. Best place in town for darts, might be a good time for some friendly rivalry.”

I didn’t want to mingle with those shifters from Big Mount. Too many shifters in one place was always a recipe for disaster. I’d run into a few lycans in my past who thought I’d be an easy meal if they caught me by surprise, the surprise had always been on them. The thought of my crew being gone for the night had appeal. I could go for a swim in the holding pond without fear of being found out.

“Maybe, let's see how clean up tonight goes before we say anything. I don’t need any lip from Connor, or him not working his shift because he thinks we’re done already.

“You joining us tonight if we do?”

“No, I think I’ll drink myself into a stupor in my trailer while you are all gone. The quiet will be nice.”

“You haven’t been to town once since the season started, Ravenwhite, I thought you grew up here.”

I had. I’d also run from my mistakes instead of sticking around.

“Yeah, pretty close with the Sesi clan too. Part of my contract says I stay out of town.” I breathed a heavy sigh, choosing my words carefully. “Dez said he didn't want me getting caught back up in my past. So I stay here. Just easier.”

Remmy raised an eyebrow over his thick glasses at me. “What the hell did you do that he’s got you on a tight leash?”

I chugged the last of my coffee while the past raced through my mind. I wasn't sure I even wanted to answer Remmy. Part of me still regretted coming back, especially to work for a man who hunted my kind.

The unmistakable sound of metal colliding with metal made it to us over the rumble of the heavy machinery. We bolted out the door in a full sprint towards the wash plant, still unable to see what had actually happened in the cloud of dust. I heard Carter, our mechanic, scream to turn off the water to the wash plant. Something had gone wrong with the machinery, and I prayed whatever ever had happened was a quick fix. We couldn’t afford the down time.

I anticipated a storm, but not this.




4



Kodiak


The evergreens never gave away the secret of when winter was coming, but the bright washes of color from the fireweed always tattled on the seasons. The closer I got to the mine, the higher the pink purple flowers bloomed on the stems. Winter would be here when the flowers reached the top of the stems. We didn’t have long. Czar woke up on my passenger seat as the sound of heavy machinery reached us. He’d managed to sleep the entire trip, even through my bad singing and the super bumpy road. As I got closer to camp, I saw a few trees with fresh gouges from bear claws. I was glad mining season was soon at an end. I didn’t want these guys in danger any more than my brothers did.

I saw a relatively new dark blue Chevy Suburban with a bent rear bumper and thick scratches that exposed bare metal on the tailgate. The scratches looked like they had been caused by an excavator bucket trying to pick up the vehicle. These boys played hard, but the license plate intrigued me. FSH N AU. It took me a moment, but someone who knew chemistry was trying to be cute. AU was the chemical symbol for gold. The Washington license plate was meant to be read “fish and gold.” The miner probably got along with Kenai swimmingly.

The mining crew was piling dirt up by the huge maze of steel and conveyor belts that made up our wash plant. But that nearly two story machine that was used for the sole purpose of washing gold from the dirt and rocks wasn’t running. What in the hell was going on? The scheduled shutdown to retrieve the gold from the machinery was still two days away.

A dust covered young miner rolled up on a four wheeler beside my muddy truck on the passenger side. Before I could recognize who he was through the grime, out the window my dog went, jumping into his lap.

“Czar!” I yelled after him.

“Aunt Koda, what are you doing here?”

I found myself half leaning out my window in the swirling dust to see my nineteen year old nephew.

“Connor! Hey, where’s your uncle Ken?”

“Uncle Kenai? He took the dozer up to the other end of the mine to clear some ground, left the new guy in charge of fixing the wash plant.”

A laugh escaped me. The thought of Kenai actually doing something productive at the mine after last night was quite comical. There was a better chance he was probably off taking a nap rather than working.

Ken was a hunter through and through, and if he wasn’t hunting Others, he was out on a fishing boat. Ken was a lot like Poppa, but my brothers and I refused to give voice to the comparison not wanting to give Fate the idea of losing him at sea, too. Their lives didn’t need to be that much of a mirror. But this summer, we’d all done a lot more of things we wouldn't typically do as we avoided the anniversary of Poppa’s disappearance and assumed death. I found myself sleeping every moment I could. Kenai had yet to go fishing this summer. Dez had spent more time out of Alaska than in it. It had been ten years, and I think we were dealing with his passing worse this year than any since he had disappeared.

“New guy? You mean the new foreman your dad hired? Michael?”

“Micah. Yeah, he’s up on the wash plant now.”

“What the hell happened?”

“The conveyor belt ripped and jammed up pretty good. He’s been messing with it for a few hours to see if he can salvage it.”

Damn it. For his sake, I hoped the new guy was as good as Dez had made him out to be. If they had to order a new belt it would take at least week or more before it arrived. We couldn't afford that, not this close to the end of the season and the freeze. Not with that creature lurking around camps either, they’d be easy pickings.

“Show me where I can take these parts, Connor, then I want to go talk to this Micah person.”

I recognized one of the two men working two stories up on the wash plant. Remmy had been on the crew a few seasons now. That meant the nice ass in tight faded jeans beside him, was the new foreman. Might as well enjoy the eye candy for a moment before I let them know I was there, right?

Silhouetted against the sun from my vantage point I got a delicious view of Micah as he took a moment to stretch out his back, rolling his neck in the process, unruly waves of dark hair peaked out from under his hard hat. He wasn't afraid of the Alaskan cold either, his flannel shirt was sleeveless and I thanked whatever deity was in my favor today for those muscular arms. From where I stood some twenty feet below, I was able to see that his left arm was a full sleeve of tattoos as his skin caught the light, while on his right he had a tattooed cuff around his wrist that barely peeked out from the cuff of his leather work glove.

I watched him work, every move a fluid motion, precise and efficient. I still couldn't make out his face because of the sun, but I wasn’t sure if I cared. Something about seeing him swing that sledge hammer to remove a bolt and his muscles rippling, struck a nerve deep in me that I didn't know still existed outside of drinking too much.

When he finally was done and climbing down the ladder, I caught myself absently biting my lip as I realized his thighs were as well developed as his biceps. I wondered if it would be sexual harassment if I propositioned him, but I’d have to wait till the end of the mining season to even think about it. Dez would have a conniption as it was if I got involved with one of the crew, but right now we certainly needed all hands on deck because of the breakdown.

“Do you know where Connor got to? I want him to help me pull the belt off now that it's unbolted.” Micah’s voice was vaguely familiar as he started down the ladder, it was similar to the voice in my dream.

Remmy’s gaze traveled to my truck, hand shading his eyes from the sun. “Well, I see a big red truck and a white and gray dog. So big boss sis is here. He's probably with her.”

“Shit.”

Micah turned and followed Remmy’s gaze. The sun light caught his eyes making them glitter gold. There was no mistaking those amber eyes and faded v shaped scar on his cheek. I knew exactly who he was.

I hadn’t seen him in seven years, but I still saw red.

Dez was gonna get an earful when he got back into town. Kenai too the next time I saw him. I freed my knife from its sheath without a second thought and whistled for my dog. Both men turned to face me in their shock.

“Koda.”

“Yeah, no shit. So who's idea was it not to tell me that he hired you, Micah? Yours or one of my brothers?”

His name wasn’t Micah. He was Rhen Micah Ravenwhite. And seven years ago that bastard had been my world.






5



Rhen


I thought the conveyor belt shredding was the worst thing that I could have imagined happening in my day. I hadn’t been that wrong in a long time. When I turned and saw her standing near the wash plant, knife in hand, I couldn’t breathe. My chest tightened when I saw that pained look on her face. It was a moment frozen in time for me that I had tried to put out of my mind. Last time she had run to her brothers. Now she screamed at me, that damn husky had come running to her side.

“Seven years, you bastard, seven years. And now you think you can just waltz back in and work for my family?” The cracking in her voice tightened the grip on my throat.

“Koda, this isn't the time or place.” I had managed. I didn't need her starting a fight in front of my crew. “Let's go in the office and talk.”

“No!” She yelled, her voice raspy. “I don't want to deal with the memories. I already have the scars.”

“Don’t do this,” I watched her flip the knife in her fingers. “I will come to town and we can talk about this after I fix the wash plant.”

“No! You’ll just run away again! Maybe if you would have stuck around time this wouldn't be happening.”

She was right. I should have stayed and explained myself, maybe hoped for her forgiveness back then, but I hadn’t. I had left Cordova and in doing so turned her world upside down. I had left her with nothing to hold on to. Both of her parents dead. Dez had been too busy trying to run the family businesses to be involved in his own son’s life. Kenai was away on fishing vessels hoping against hope that their father was still alive on another ship and just refusing to come home

This was not my nineteen year old Koda that stood before me with sun darkened freckles and sparkling dual coloured eyes. This was a gorgeous creature with wild hair and a curvy body, full of fire and ready to fight me for the scars I had left on both our hearts. And I deserved every one of them.

That damn dog was beside her, growling in my direction as he stayed by her side. His eyes matched her’s, one blue, one brown; he was larger than I expected. And in traditional canine fashion did not like me as a shifter.

Koda had trained him well but I made the mistake of taking a step towards her. The husky lunged at me, snapping and snarling while she continued to scream words at me that I’d stopped comprehending. I already bore a scar on my face from a run in with one of her family’s dogs as a child, I didn't need a second one as an adult.

My crew ran towards us when we’d started screaming. They hadn't expected me to start screaming back at her about getting the dog under control. I had a reputation for being cool under fire even in the worst circumstances. I had nerves of steel and unshakable.

I was the one that never lost my calm.

This woman had undone me in the matter of a few breaths. She would forever be my weakness no matter how much time had passed.

Remmy had managed to get the knife out of her hand while Connor got control of the dog. When they managed to convince Koda to walk away, they let her go. She hurled a few more insults my direction. Asshole, bastard, manwhore, coward. I couldn’t argue with the latter. I had indeed been a coward when it came to telling her the truth.

I laughed when she said she’d skin me if she ever saw me again. She didn’t know that her oldest brother had already made that threat. But Koda hadn’t said hide, or seal skin. She still thought of me as human. Dez hadn't told her or Kenai my secret. A tiny part of me was glad she still didn’t know. At least I couldn’t screw up all her memories of us.

Others don't make friends with the hunters. Others don't get romantically involved with the hunters. I knew first hand her family had the same rules, but her oldest brother had pushed down his hatred for Others to ask me to run his mine given my reputation for finding and recovering gold. The agreement Dez and I had was not ideal, but it was lucrative. And gold won out over reason.

Waiting for Valdez Sesi to pick up his phone was the icing on the cake for my day. My hard won calm from being back in Alaska had been fractured by the encounter with his sister and I wasn’t sure I could get it back. My skin itched, I wanted to go for a swim to burn off my stress, but I was cooped up in Dez’s office, waiting for a voice on the other end of the line.

Four calls and two dozen rings later.

“Sesi.”

“She still doesn’t know I’m a shifter does she?”

“What does it matter, Ravenwhite? Do you really want her to know?”

I fought the rumble in my chest and changed the subject. He was right. I didn’t want her to know, but at the same time, I was tired of hiding it.

“I have a bag of frozen peas on my damn eye, Dez.” I barked into my phone. “Why was Koda up here?”

“Whoa, calm down. Koda was at the mine?”

“Yeah, that's what I just said,” I yelled at him, my voice echoing off the walls of the tiny office space and into the phone. “She brought the parts for the machines. You were supposed to be bringing them when you got back into town. You told me she stayed away from the mine, that I’d never have to worry about seeing her unless I went into town. That's why I agreed to do this for you. I haven’t left this place in three months.”

“Shit. I figured she'd call me to pick them up.”

“You figured she’d call you? You’re out of town!” I fumed, punching the wall of his office. And adding to the luck of my day, I had managed to find a stud in the wall. Now I needed more frozen peas. “She brought them herself. Told Connor she needed to meet the new guy.”

“Why didn’t you send one of the newbies she didn't know, like we planned if this ever happened?”


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