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Authors: Toni Anderson

edge of survival

 

Edge of Survival

By Toni Anderson

Dr. Cameran Young knew her assignment wouldn’t be easy. As lead biologist on the Environment Impact Assessment team, her findings would determine the future of a large mining project in the northern Canadian bush. She expected rough conditions and hostile miners—but she didn’t expect to find a dead body her first day on the job.

Former SAS Sergeant Daniel Fox forged a career as a helicopter pilot, working as far from the rest of the human race as possible. The thrill of flying makes his civilian life bearable, and he lives by his mantra: don’t get involved. But when he’s charged with transporting the biologist to her research vessel, he can’t help but get involved in the murder investigation—and with Cameran, who awakens emotions he’s desperate to suppress.

In the harsh and rugged wilderness, Daniel and Cameran must battle their intense and growing attraction while keeping ahead of a killer who will stop at nothing to silence her…

87,000 words

 

Dear Reader,

What do you get when you cross summer with lots of beach time, and long hours of traveling? An executive editor who’s too busy to write the Dear Reader letter, but has time for reading. I find both the beach and the plane are excellent places to read, and thanks to plenty of time spent on both this summer (I went to Australia! And New Zealand!) I’m able to tell you with confidence: our fall lineup of books is outstanding.

We kick off the fall season with seven romantic suspense titles, during our Romantic Suspense celebration in the first week of September. We’re pleased to offer novella
Fatal Destiny
by Marie Force as a free download to get you started with the romantic suspense offerings. Also in September, fans of Eleri Stone’s sexy, hot paranormal romance debut novel,
Mercy,
can look forward to her follow-up story,
Redemption,
set in the same world of the Lost City Shifters.

Looking to dive into a new erotic romance? We have a sizzling trilogy for you. In October, look for Christine D’Abo’s Long Shots trilogy featuring three siblings who share ownership of a coffee shop, and each of whom discover steamy passion within the walls of a local sex club. Christine’s trilogy kicks off with
Double Shot.

In addition to a variety of frontlist titles in historical, paranormal, contemporary, steampunk and erotic romance, we’re also pleased to present two authors releasing backlist titles with us. In October, we’ll re-release four science fiction romance titles from the backlist of C.J. Barry, and in November four Western romance titles from the backlist of Susan Edwards.

Also in November, we’re thrilled to offer our first two chick lit titles from three debut authors,
Liar’s Guide to True Love
by Wendy Chen and
Unscripted
by Natalie Aaron and Marla Schwartz. I hope you’ll check out these fun, sometimes laugh-out-loud novels.

Whether you’re on the beach, on a plane, or sitting in your favorite recliner at home, Carina Press can offer you a diverting read to take you away on your next great adventure this fall!

We love to hear from readers, and you can email us your thoughts, comments and questions to [email protected] You can also interact with Carina Press staff and authors on our blog, Twitter stream and Facebook fan page.

Happy reading!

~Angela James

Executive Editor, Carina Press

www.carinapress.com

www.twitter.com/carinapress

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Dedication

For Kathy Altman & Loreth Anne White, my writing buddies.

Acknowledgements

In 1996, I got the opportunity to conduct a fish migration study in Northern Labrador. It was one of the most exciting and challenging adventures of my life. Thanks to everyone who made the experience such a riot.

Thanks for critiques and comments on the early manuscript from the wonderful Kathy Altman, Judith Rochelle, Anna Perrin and Loreth Anne White. Your patience and talent is outstanding. And thanks to Olga Grun for being a beta reader on the diabetes aspect of the manuscript.

Humble thanks to my editor, Deborah Nemeth, the genius in our relationship.

Kudos goes to Loreth Anne White for introducing me to one of the world’s true heroes, Laurence Perry. Laurence provided me with information on flying in the Canadian bush, and also insider information on the British SAS. Laurence, together with another pilot, was awarded Pilot of the Year in 2003 by Helicopter Association International “for performing one of the most spectacular rescues in the history of American mountaineering.” Thank you. P.S. I’ve kept all the emails and I owe you a drink.

As an aside, when I was fifteen I wanted to be a helicopter pilot but I was too short, so I became a marine biologist instead.

More heroes…I
interrogated
questioned Romance Bandit author Caren Crane about living with diabetes. She answered my queries with detail and patience. Also, thanks to Emma Sanders, who told me all about insulin pumps though I decided against using one for my heroine.

Dr. Dave Cote, one of my favorite scientists (and people) in the world, brainstormed some ideas with me and came up with the wolverine’s role in this drama. I’d been searching for an endangered species to use in the context of this story idea, but wanted to avoid fish. Dave’s insider knowledge provided a mammal with its own perfect backstory for this novel. Serendipity.

Huge thanks go to Sergeant Pat Flood of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police for answering questions about a police procedure and jailbreaks without having me arrested.
Merci beaucoup.

Any mistakes or liberties I’ve taken along the way are mine alone.

The biggest thanks go to my husband and two children, who believe in me even when I don’t believe in myself. I love you!

Author’s Note

My heroine has diabetes…

Cameran Young is one of the gutsiest, most intelligent characters I’ve ever written. But the more research I did on diabetes, the more I realized how awful the disease truly is, and how prevalent in today’s society. In a small gesture I’ve decided to donate 15% of my royalties for this book to finding a cure for diabetes. I’m grateful to Brenda Novak for not only tirelessly raising money to fight the disease, but also for taking time out of her busy schedule to write a foreword for
Edge of Survival,
promoting the cause.

Foreword

I’m honored to be able to provide a foreword for this book. Since my youngest son has Type 1 Diabetes, I’ve been trying to do all I can to advocate for him and others like him, and I’m so happy to see Toni Anderson help spread awareness by writing the dynamic and charismatic character of Cameran Young. In creating Cameran, a young woman who copes successfully with the day-to-day complications of diabetes, Toni offers hope that this disease can be managed. Although those with diabetes face significant daily challenges, they can still live productive, meaningful and full lives.

If you haven’t been touched by diabetes yet, chances are good that one day you or someone you love will be. There are over 25.8 million people suffering from this disease in the United States alone, and that number is growing dramatically. We have to do something to stop that. Thank you to Toni for picking up the torch and shining her light on a national health crisis that, hopefully, will soon be a thing of the past. Here’s to making a difference and finding a cure!

 

Brenda Novak

Contents

Copyright

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

About the Author

Chapter One
In Harm’s Way
USS John Paul Jones

“Hey, boys! The strippers are here!”

Guffaws of laughter hooted through the crowd as Cam dropped her backpack to the bare wooden floor and released a whoosh of air. “Yeah, yeah. Very funny.”

She leaned on the bar, adjusted her ball cap, feeling hot and lightheaded. Her hands shook, her mouth tasted of aviation fuel and dirt. Not a good way to start a twelve-week stint in the Canadian wilderness. She slipped her hand into the back pocket of her worn-out jeans and grabbed her wallet, relieved to have almost reached her destination.

“Give me a cranberry juice and a tomato juice, please,” Cam asked the bartender. On today’s four flights—so far—she’d used up half her emergency granola bars. A helicopter was supposed to pick them up here in Frenchmans Bight for the short hop to the ship where they’d be stationed for the next three months, but the pilot wasn’t here yet.

The bartender put the cranberry juice in front of her and she chugged back half the glass and left the rest on the bar. She needed a quick sugar fix. The tomato juice would stop her stomach from feeling as if her throat had been cut.

“Vikki? What do you want to drink?”

“Get me a vodka and tonic, hon, and make it a double if this ship we’re on really is dry.” The blonde made
dry
sound like
leprous.

Vikki Salinger was a Ph.D. student in the lab where Cam was now a post-doctoral research fellow. They’d been friends as undergraduates, but the other girl had taken a break from science to earn a mint modeling. Needless to say, Cam didn’t have any catwalk in her past, present or future.

Vikki looked around the shabby room for somewhere to sit. Cam took stock of her surroundings and figured this remote Labrador mining community wouldn’t know what hit it. Every person in the bar had a Y chromosome, and testosterone lit the air like campfire smoke.

Cam paid the bartender and, drinks in hand, shoved her backpack across the floor with her foot toward the table Vikki chose. Cam left Vikki’s luggage where it sat, blocking the entrance like some oversized Barbie accessory. Yes, she was cranky. Eighteen hours of traveling had taken some of the pep out of her usually sunny demeanor.

An older guy with bushy silver eyebrows, wearing mud-caked boots and a black-and-gray plaid shirt, sidled over from the herd of men.

“So, what’re two purdy things like you doing in a roughneck joint like this?” His cheeks were ruddy, and a gold tooth winked from deep inside his mouth.

Vikki leaned back and let her eyes travel over him the way she did every man who came within touching distance. Age didn’t matter. The fact she was already screwing Cam’s boss, her own Ph.D. supervisor, didn’t matter either.

“What’s your name?” Vikki asked.

“I’m Dwight Wineberg. I’m in charge of the exploratory mining operation ’round here.” He puffed out his chest and hid the hand with his wedding band beneath the table.

Cam took a long draw of tomato juice and watched the interaction from beneath her lashes. In terms of attractiveness, Dwight turned her stomach, which, as a reaction based purely on looks, proved she was just as shallow as he was.

Vikki curved her lips into a smile, and the whole bar lit up like dry tinder in a forest fire. Cam grinned around her straw. She eyed the menu written on a chalkboard behind the bar—moose stew and caribou burgers?
Ugh
. Hopefully she’d get something more appetizing on the ship.

“And who are you?” Dwight asked.

“I’m Vikki, and this here is Cameran.” Vikki indicated Cam without looking at her and Dwight didn’t even pretend to glance away from the blue-eyed blonde.

Cam held her glass with both hands. “We’re part of the Environmental Impact Assessment team looking at how building a hydroelectric dam will impact Arctic char migration.” She spoke loudly because some of the guys were still looking pretty hopeful about the stripper thing.

Dwight swiveled his head and assessed her with heavy-lidded eyes. “You gonna wreck the chances for these men to earn a decent living?”

She blinked. Crap, she should have kept her mouth shut; the miners would be naturally suspicious and hostile.

Vikki raised her glass and fluttered her lashes. “Why, Dwight, what on earth do you mean?” Her voice was pitched dumb-blonde perfect. Cam wondered why men didn’t hear the steel mechanisms turning with quartz precision inside the other girl’s mind.

Dwight shot Cam a glare. “You tree-hugger types.”

Cam had never hugged a tree in her life, although some of her ex-boyfriends were a bit wooden. She snorted, pulled a pack of Life Savers from her pocket and popped one in her mouth.

Saliva glistened on Dwight’s lips. “Interfering with a man’s right to take what’s his.” He looked between her and Vikki, anger settling into his jaw. “Hunting, fishing, mining…”

If he added
women
to the list, Cam was going to sock him. Save her from middle-aged machismo. “Look, we’re doing a baseline study on fish migration to try and minimize the impact of the mine on wildlife. We are not trying to close you down.” Her goal was to run a before-and-after study on the effects of hydroelectric dams and mining industries on char physiology and behavior. She couldn’t do that unless they built the dam.

Dwight didn’t look convinced. Maybe if she flashed her boobs he’d be charming again? She grimaced because he gave her the creeps. A few guys were staring at them like they were fresh meat.

“Aren’t there any women in this camp?” Cam eyed the distance to the exit, a little unnerved to find herself in the middle of a Stephen King novel.

Dwight’s eyes glittered beneath those thick caterpillar brows, and a small, cruel smile played around his mouth. “Sure, there are women.” His voice carried over the low buzz of conversation, and everyone went quiet. “A secretary, a cook and a couple of camp bikes.” His washed-out brown eyes fixed on hers, waiting for her reaction.

“Bikes?” At first she didn’t get it.

“Everybody’s rode ’em.” His smile was tight and satisfied. A couple of the guys laughed as they listened to the exchange.

Cam narrowed her eyes. She was a big believer in live-and-let-live, but this guy was a piece of work. “What does that make you?” she asked him.

“What d’you mean?” He pulled back his shoulders.

“If you all
rode
them, by which I assume you mean
had sex,
then that makes you
their
bike too, doesn’t it?”

Vikki’s lips puckered as if holding back a laugh. Cam shot her a look, but the other girl concentrated on wiping lipstick from the edge of her glass. It pissed Cam off when men treated women badly, but that sort of talk never seemed to bother Vikki. Probably because she dissed men the same way men dissed women. And Cam hated it.

But she needed to diffuse the situation because her blood pressure was way more important than debating environmental issues or equality with fifty hulking miners who looked like they knew exactly where to dump their dead battered bodies. Surreptitiously, she slipped her medical emergency bracelet under her cuff.

She checked her watch, wondered where the hell the pilot was. On cue, a dark shadow fell across her shoulder. But the guy wasn’t looking at her. His indigo eyes were fixed on Vikki with a gleam Cam had seen a thousand times. She resisted rolling her eyes and instead used the time to study his face, the slightly bent nose, the deep cleft in his chin, the short dark hair. Good-looking for sure, but no pretty boy.

Handsome with attitude.

Vikki stared at the stranger like a cat about to lick cream from all over his naked body.

Cam caught her friend’s eye. “Stripper’s here,” she whispered, trying to summon a smile.

“About damn time,” Vikki agreed, looking back at the guy and flicking her hair across her shoulder.

“You must be the ladies I’ve been looking for.”

The accent was British and Cam didn’t like the way it stroked her James Bond fantasies. Even so, a huge bubble of relief swelled inside her. He must be their pilot and she couldn’t wait to get out of here.

“Your whole life?” Cam quipped, twisting to look over her shoulder.

“Just the last ten minutes.” His brow rose in amusement.

“I’m wounded.” She plastered a hand to her heart.

“I bet you are.” A dimple flashed, camouflaged by stubble. “Dr. Cameran Young and her able assistant, I presume?”

“You’re the helicopter pilot?”

He nodded.

Thank God.
She might have hugged him if he hadn’t been so overtly male. But he got marks for maintaining eye contact when most men would have shoved her out of the way so they could hit on Vikki.

With the scrape of a chair across the floorboards, Dwight Wineberg rose to his feet, swinging the neck of his beer bottle loosely from his fingers. “You ladies watch yourselves out here. World’s a dangerous place.” And he turned and walked away, back to his cronies.

Cam didn’t know if that was a threat or a warning.

“I’m the able assistant,” Vikki held out her hand, “Vikki.”

“Daniel Fox.” He bent to kiss her hand. “Nice to meet you, Vikki.”

This time Cam did roll her eyes. She kicked back her chair and stood, knocking her shoulder into Daniel Fox’s steel-plate chest.

“Sorry.” Cam flashed her own dimples and tried to maneuver around him, but he took a half step to block her path. The bill of her cap obscured her view so she had to tilt her head way back to meet sharp, intelligent eyes. For a split second they flashed with some indefinable emotion before studiously going flat. She backed up, bumped into the table.

“Two minutes—” he glanced at the bartender, “—and we’ll be on our way.”

“I’m just going to the restroom.” Cam tried to circle around him, but he stopped her with a firm grip on her shoulder and leaned close to her ear.

“Don’t wander off.” His voice was low and hypnotic, his eyes fixed on hers. She didn’t like the heat his touch spread to parts of her body that should have been stone cold. Some of the other patrons watched them speculatively. The warm, smoke-filled bar felt suddenly claustrophobic, and Cam’s cheeks burned.

“I’m not a kid.”

But he wasn’t looking at her anymore, he was smiling at Vikki. Cam pulled out of his grasp and walked away, irritated that her friend was already laughing at something he said in that rich, smooth accent of his.

It was belittling to recognize the green-eyed monster jumping up and down like a big fat frog in her head. She headed out of the main bar and down the narrow corridor toward the washroom. Men fell for Vikki like dominoes in an earthquake, but jealous was not the sort of person Cam wanted to be. Unfortunately she wasn’t the sort of woman to settle for second best either, which left her a little short on dates lately.

A single naked bulb lit the corridor, highlighting the rough timber floor stained various shades of brown. Every time she raised her foot, the soles of her boots stuck slightly and made a noise like sticky-tape being stretched off a roll.
Yuck
. She didn’t want to think about the origin of those brown stains.

A corkboard on the wall covered in flyers and notices advertised everything from snowmobile and guide services to local Inuit and Innu handicrafts. Cam passed the gents’, heard the flush of a cistern and hurried because she didn’t want to meet whoever was in there when she was alone. Farther along the hallway, she pushed open the heavy door into the ladies’ room and stopped dead.

Although it was still daylight outside, it was impenetrably dark inside. She tried to hold her breath as she groped for the light switch, her hands scrambling over the cheap paneling in short frantic swipes. The floor was tacky, water hissed through pipes in the background, and the smell…
Dear God.
She found the switch, and the fluorescent tube flickered and spat until it finally settled on a sullen half glow. She hurried into the second cubicle, noticing the first door was shut.

When she was done, she came out of the stall, pumped soap into her hands and held them under the tap. The fine hairs on her nape vibrated with apprehension.
Why is that first stall closed?
There was no movement within, and chills crept over her skin. The place stank badly enough that she didn’t want to spend any longer than necessary here, but still she hesitated.

A bag was propped against the bottom of the door, suggesting someone might actually be in there. Was someone sleeping off a drinking binge? Alcohol was a huge problem in some of these remote communities.

“Hey, do you need any help?” she called, trying to make her voice bright and cheery. She ended up sounding weird.

There was no reply. What if they were sick? Alcohol poisoning? Influenza? Diabetic coma? Approaching the door, Cam rapped her knuckles on the chipboard. No response, but the door creaked slightly.

“Hello?” She raised her voice. “Do you need any help?” Still no answer. No sound at all except the hiss of pipes and wasp-like buzz of the light. Maybe there wasn’t anyone there, just a bag of stuff on the floor.

She hesitated. She should just walk away.

Unlike most public restrooms, there were no gaps between the door and the walls. Chewing her bottom lip, Cam decided to risk a swift peek beneath the door. If the person was drunk they might be a little annoyed to be spied on. If they were ill, they’d be grateful. She crouched down and peered awkwardly under the door, past the bag.

A young woman sat on the toilet, fully clothed, her head resting against the bare wooden wall, long raven hair spilling in a tangled heap around her shoulders. Mouth stretched wide, throat slit, exposing the blue-white gleam of cartilage, cuprous blood drenching the front of her sweatshirt.

Dead. Definitely dead.

Cam’s stomach coiled into a thousand snakes. She stumbled away, wanting to yell for help even though the woman was long past saving. Blindly she ran, yanking open the door then slamming into a chest that brought her up short and hard.

***

“Easy.” Daniel held tight to the woman who quivered in his grasp. “What’s the problem?”

The Doc wrapped her arms around his waist in a vise-grip and buried her nose next to his heart. It felt odd, holding someone like this. So odd that for a brief moment he allowed the contact and squeezed her back, experiencing a weird flutter inside his chest.

“There’s a d-d-dead woman.”

He maneuvered her back into the restroom, propped her against a sink, untangling her fingers from their death grip across his spine. He needed to assess the situation but he hesitated when he saw the expression on the Doc’s face—he’d forgotten what true innocence looked like.

Huge sea-green eyes rose to meet his. She pointed at the cubicle door. The only unknown in the room.

Whoa
, that smell…blood and bowels and violent death. He checked beneath the stall, careful not to touch anything because he did not want to get on the radar of a criminal investigation. Sylvie Watson. Throat cut. Dead as a doornail. It felt like one of his more vivid flashbacks, but without the pounding heart or cold sweat.

Poor Sylvie.

Daniel swore.

He looked at the Doc. She was shaking violently, her hand covering her mouth as if fighting the urge to throw up.

“D-did you know her?” she asked.

He didn’t
know
anyone. Not anymore. And they didn’t know him. That was the way he liked it.

“Her name was Sylvie Watson.” He waited for some form of emotion—sadness, regret, guilt—but all he got was numbness. Death didn’t feel real anymore. Maybe the problem was that death had never felt real.

The sound of the Doc’s breathing was harsh, matching the hiss of the light strip above his head. The nearest she’d been to a dead body was probably curled up on the sofa watching
CSI.
Her chest hitched repeatedly as she started to hyperventilate. Shit. He wanted to turn on his heel and walk away, leave her and her friend to maneuver this minefield on their own. He didn’t want to rescue her. He didn’t save people. Not anymore.

But these women were his job, and his job was the only thing that stopped him from stepping out of an aircraft at ten thousand feet without a chute.

“We have to call the cops.” Her voice was hoarse with strain.

“We’ll radio RCMP from the aircraft.”

“We can’t just leave her here!” she shrieked.

He grabbed her shoulders and shook her hard enough that her gaze snapped to his. Close protection training kicking in after a two-year void. “She’s dead and I have no clue who killed her.” He hated the way his instincts took over. A cop would have protected the scene but he wasn’t a cop. “They could be in the bar just waiting to pick out their next victim.”

Her face lost the last vestige of color.

“Let’s get you to the ship.” He took her arm, pushed her out the door and down the corridor so fast she tripped and he had to catch her under the arms to support her. “Stay here.” He left her by the door. He didn’t want to be anywhere near Frenchmans Bight when the Mounties discovered this mess. He’d had enough notoriety to last him ten lifetimes.

The Doc clung to the doorjamb while he marched over and hoisted her rucksack onto his back.

“Time to go,” he told the blonde. He glanced around the bar, looking for anyone paying them too much attention. But no one was giving themselves away except Dwight glaring at him with his usual bulldog scowl.

Daniel had already squared his tab with the barman. He gave the guy a nod, and he knew he should tell him about Sylvie. But his priority, whether he liked it or not, was getting these two women out of harm’s way. He turned and headed to where the Doc was still hanging onto the doorframe like a drunk on a rough sea.

She was shaking uncontrollably, so he put his arm around her waist and half carried her out of the bar. She wasn’t delicate or weak, thank God. She felt strong and supple beneath his fingers, but she was in danger of slipping into a state of shock that would slow him down. He wasn’t being nice. He was being efficient.

Moving fast, he propelled her over the wooden boardwalks and scanned the nearby black spruce forest. If the killer wasn’t in the bar, he was in those woods watching the action. Awareness prickled as unseen eyes followed their progress.

Chapter Two
Ready for All, Yielding for None
2nd Battalion, 7th Marines

Daniel quick-marched the Doc to the landing pads on the outskirts of the mining camp. The blonde was right behind them, heels tapping, mouth bitching every step of the way. She wouldn’t last a week in Labrador’s bug-infested country. He glanced down at her high-heeled open-toed sandals. Make that five days.

He let go of the Doc’s arm and shoved her rucksack into the outer compartment of the blue-and-red Bell 206B.
Blood and death.
His gut cramped. Jesus, he thought he’d left all that behind years ago.

“What’s going on?” Vikki swatted a mosquito that had landed on the exposed skin of her arm.

“There was a dead woman in the restroom.” The Doc sobbed and covered her mouth with her hand. “Murdered.” She swallowed repeatedly, looking as if she was going to hurl.

Great.

“Are you kidding me?” Vikki gasped.

Yeah. Big fucking joke.

Her eyes were wide with curiosity. “How do you know she was murdered?”

“From the extra smile on her face,” he cut in. “Get in the machine.” He loaded the suitcase into the backseat. He’d already packed as much of their equipment as the helicopter could carry before he’d gone to the bar to fetch them. The rest could wait until tomorrow. His intuition screamed to get them out of there, ASAP.

“Shouldn’t we wait for the cops?” Vikki asked, looking nervous.

“You want to wait for the Mounties to turn up?” he bit out impatiently. “Because that means we’re stuck here all night. We’re not allowed to fly after dark, and there’s only a thirty-minute window left before sunset.”

They all turned toward the temporary huts and cabins. The bar, a former trading post and the only permanent building in the makeshift mining town, was roughly constructed and desperately in need of new shingles. Sinister shadows gave the shanty town an even grimmer aspect. He’d rather take his chances with the wolves than with Dwight Wineberg’s cronies. He pointed at the bar. “Any
one
of those guys could have slit her throat—or they could all be involved.”

The Doc’s eyes flashed.

“Do you really want to wait for law enforcement?” he pushed.

She bit her lower lip, looked back at him, then shook her head.

Good choice.
Not that he’d have stayed anyway, but people needed the illusion of control.

Vikki was already climbing into the back of the chopper, her lean body put together with all the lush curves of a Playboy Bunny. Pity he didn’t have time to stand back and enjoy the view. He turned to the Doc. “If you’re going to puke, do it now, not inside the aircraft.”

Vivid anger widened her eyes. She swallowed and angled her chin. Her skin was pasty, tinged with gray, a sheen of sweat riding her brow. He fought the urge to comfort her. He didn’t have time, and the itch at the back of his neck was so intense, he couldn’t ignore it—all those years of training kicking in after a twenty-three-month void.

The Doc moved to follow her assistant but he tapped her arm, quickly dropping his hand. “Front seat.” He nodded to the passenger side. He wanted her where he could see her. She looked shocky and the last thing he needed was an emergency run to the clinic in Nain—the nearest community of any size.

He shut the compartment doors and grabbed a blanket off the backseat. The blonde crossed her skinny legs and adjusted the harness across her chest with a saucy wiggle of her hips. If he hadn’t been in a hurry, with the image of a dead woman stuck in his brain, he might have adjusted that seatbelt for her. Instead, he passed her a pair of green ear protectors and she slipped them on, holding his gaze with a look that burned across his groin like the stroke of a hand.

Christ.
He shifted uncomfortably. He hadn’t had sex in weeks and he didn’t want to think about what had happened to the last woman he’d slept with. Sweat prickled across his skin and he wiped his brow. What he really needed was a beer.

Tough shit, Danny boy. Get on with the job.

Voices from the past echoed through his mind as he closed the rear door and moved to the front. Doc Young still hadn’t put on her harness, she just sat there staring into space. He’d seen that look before, the civilian version of the thousand-yard stare, where mind and emotion revisited the dark places. He stood on the runner and leaned over, grabbed the strap, pulled it tight across the Doc’s chest and pretended those weren’t breasts beneath his fingers. He looked up and found her watching him with jewel-bright eyes.

“I can do it.” Her fingers fumbled with his, but he shook her off.

“It’ll be quicker if you just let me finish.” He softened the words with a smile.

He pulled the ear protectors off a hook, leaning heavily against the Doc’s thigh, pretending not to notice the way her cheeks glowed at the proximity. He was intimately aware of the way their breath mingled in the rapidly cooling air. At least she didn’t have that glassy-eyed stare anymore. Gently he placed the cups over her ears and made sure she was secure, then he covered her lap with the blanket.

A whiskey jack burst out of the nearby forest in a scream of feathers as Daniel stood back and closed the door. He squinted, trying to penetrate the dense spruce, but saw nothing except thickening shadow. He walked around the machine, doing a quick visual on the outer skin of the aircraft and climbed in. Checked the doors were closed. Then he started her up. Throttle closed, all switches in pre-start position. Battery on. He felt exposed, vulnerable sitting out here on the landing site. But they weren’t in a war zone, just a small mining community where a woman had been brutally slain.

Check fuel load.

He’d refueled on the way over, which was why he’d been delayed. All good. Boost pumps, check fuel pressure. The routine settled him. He lived to fly. He pressed the start button. The temperature rose as he opened the throttle. And while he was waiting, he radioed the closest RCMP detail on the emergency channel.

“Nain RCMP, this is Bell Foxtrot Delta Charlie Tango, over.”

“Foxtrot Delta Charlie Tango, Nain RCMP, over.”

“Nain RCMP, Delta Charlie Tango. There is a dead woman in the bathroom stalls of Bear’s Bar, Frenchmans Bight. Over.”

The comms crackled with urgent static. “Charlie Tango. Repeat, over.”

“Charlie Tango. I’m reporting a dead body at Bear’s Bar, Frenchmans Bight. Acknowledge, over.” He turned on the generator and the navigational instruments spooled up.

“What is your position, Charlie Tango? Over.” The dispatcher was Tina
something.
He frowned, but couldn’t remember her surname. She was
kablunângajuit
—half white, half Inuit. Nice girl, married to a local trader named Ollie.

Daniel brought the engines up to operating speed. “Charlie Tango, I’m currently five miles northwest of Frenchmans Bight. The woman who discovered the body went into shock at the scene and I’m flying her to the
Imaviaq
to be checked out. Over.”

“Charlie Tango. Roger that.”

The Doc cocked her head to one side to look at him, her face half-hidden by the bill of that cap. She’d caught him bending the truth and didn’t approve.

He did a thorough visual check of the uncontrolled airspace before taking off. He didn’t announce his intentions because he didn’t want the RCMP to catch him in a lie. He rose into the air, exhilaration punching his gut as he flew. There was nothing like flying. Nothing else had ever satisfied this one corner of his soul.

He flew fast and low over valleys strewn with massive boulders and ribboned with silver streams. It was beautiful land. Unspoiled. Untouched. Almost uninhabited. The irony that the mining operation would change all that wasn’t lost on him and he told himself not to care.

The radio squawked. “Foxtrot Delta Charlie Tango, Nain RCMP. We’ll need to interview you and the woman who found the body as soon as possible. Over.”

Daniel keyed the radio. “Charlie Tango. Roger that. The lady’s name is Dr. Cameran Young. We’re both quartered on the
Imaviaq
and will await your instruction. Over and out.” He snapped off the radio.

The ship was a retired coastguard icebreaker, refitted as a research vessel. It was prime accommodation for bush work. He looked at the Doc and she gave him a wobbly smile.

“Thanks for getting me out of there,” she said.

Her eyes shone and dimples made a brief appearance. Despite the utter lack of makeup and the lingering trace of shock, she was beautiful.

Shit
.

He gave her his trademark grin. “Anyway, we’re the only ones we know who
didn’t
murder Sylvie Watson.”

Her brows slid together, a tiny crinkle denting her forehead, no doubt recalling Sylvie’s blood-soaked corpse. Then she opened her mouth as though she was going to say something but changed her mind.

“What?” he asked impatiently, knowing he wasn’t going to like what she had to say, but unable to keep his mouth shut.

“How do I know you didn’t kill her?” Her words sliced like razorblades across his skin and he flinched.

Murderer
.
Assassin
. The taunts and accusations from the British media flashed through his mind, and for a moment he couldn’t see where he was going. He blinked rapidly to clear his focus.
This
was why he preferred numbness over feeling;
this
was why he did not get involved. The breath in his lungs struggled to get past the wave of anger that locked down his teeth. Heat surged through his body and evaporated off his skin like steam. He forced himself to breathe tactically because being accused of murder shouldn’t be a problem.

He should be used to it by now.

And it was a smart question, he conceded after a few breaths. Why the hell should she be stupid enough to trust him?

You always need to be the hero
, Maggie’s voice sang in his head. Well, he sure as hell wasn’t a hero anymore. He wasn’t anything except a helicopter pilot trying to do his job.

He narrowed his eyes against the glare of the setting sun. “I could have snuck around the back of the bar, slit Sylvie’s throat and left via the back door before coming in the front to pick up you and Vikki.” He kept his tone moderate. “But one, I’m not covered in blood and
that
was not a clean or easy kill, and two, I’ve been flying nonstop since dawn, slinging equipment to a new drill site. I didn’t have time to murder anyone today.” His fingers tightened on the cyclic. “Check the logs if you need to verify that.”

He could have easily accused her of malleting Sylvie, but that was rubbish because she wasn’t covered in blood, and he doubted she’d ever killed anything outside a laboratory.

Lucky bloody her.

Doc Young looked like a poster girl for VSO, the antithesis of warfare, the converse of evil. That sort of bone-deep innocence was rare and underrated. A lone caribou crossed barren tundra below but the Doc didn’t even see it. She just watched him with eyes the color of sage.

A muscle ticked in his jaw and he concentrated on the scenery. “I guess you’ll just have to trust me.”

She looked away. He focused on flying, trying to get back the buzz of racing high above the world. Over brooks that snaked across the valley floors, over the three-billion-year-old Laurentian Shield, the oldest rock in the world. Over ponds as deep and blue as the ocean. But excitement eluded him. Right now he was remembering how it felt to have everything ripped away—his career, his life, his honor. How suspicion tainted the air until you choked on every breath. Desperate to forget, he increased speed until they were rushing over the barren country, the boom of the rotors punching the atmosphere. But you couldn’t outrun memories and no one knew that better than him.

It took another ten minutes to navigate the puzzle of islands, inlets and fjords, to the sheltered bay where the
Imaviaq
was anchored. They arrived just as the sun dipped below the horizon.

“There she is.” Daniel couldn’t wait to ditch his passengers. He radioed ahead for permission to land. The first mate waved them in as a crew member, decked out in yellow protective gear, manned the emergency fire-hoses. They got final clearance and Daniel lowered the aircraft gently into the wind, onto the painted yellow circle on the deck. He started the shutdown process, keyed in the speakers so both women could hear him.

“You can get out now. The first mate over there will show you where you’re quartered and fetch your gear down later.” He heard metallic clinks as both women unbuckled their seatbelts. “Keep your heads down and don’t go around the back of the aircraft. The tail rotor will take your head off.”

The Doc started to get out, but her headphones were still attached to her head. He caught them as she slipped out of her seat. Her hands went up as her ball cap flew off and whipped out to sea. A mass of shoulder-length curly brown hair exploded around her face, and Daniel got slammed in the gut by something other than flying.

She swore. He read the unexpected word on her lips as he leaned over and grabbed her wrist. Her bones felt delicate within his grasp.

“The rotors,” he repeated and jerked his head to the rear of the bird. “Be careful of the rotors.” He maintained eye contact until he was sure she fully understood the danger. She was still spaced from finding Sylvie’s body, and the death toll was high enough for one day. He didn’t want anyone sliced and diced on his watch.

“Right. Got it. Thanks,” she shouted.

He let her go.

She rubbed her wrist as she headed around the nose of the aircraft, and he purposely turned to watch Vikki Salinger sashay her ass across the deck. And though he stared at the motion, enjoyed the synchronicity of perfect female body parts bouncing with each step, he found himself watching Cameran Young out of the corner of his eye. Just as carefully. Just as avidly.

***

Who the hell did she think she was?

His back ached from carrying her scrawny frame, and his feet ached from the long walk.

Little bitch. Blaming
him
for her shitty life. Blaming him for her weaknesses and addictions as if she hadn’t happily jumped on his cock and rode him a thousand times. He plunged the cloth into the freezing lake and scrubbed with vigor.