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By´╝ÜTiffinie Helmer


Aidan Harte stepped out of his rented SUV and right into Hell. Chatanika, Alaska to be exact, where it was so cold it burned. He’d been born in this forgotten gold-mining town, lost in the interior of the state, north of Fairbanks by about thirty desolate miles.

“Well, Dad, you finally got me back here.” And it hadn’t been over his dead body but that of his father’s. Aidan slammed the door shut on the SUV. He was here to exorcise ghosts, while he closed out his father’s life. The faster he saw Chatanika in his rearview mirror the better.

Not much had changed in the—what, eleven, twelve years?—since he’d last been here. It was midafternoon and the sun was already headed to bed, it being November. Snow and ice smothered the landscape into a state of unconsciousness, stunting spruce trees, and stripping birch branches until they resembled fragile bones.

Aidan pulled the collar of his coat up around his neck and wished he’d stopped in Fairbanks and bought a parka. His winter coat, which was perfectly adequate for Seattle, might as well have been a windbreaker in this hostile environment.

The outside thermometer on the Tahoe had said two. Now with the sun setting, the temperature would drop fast. Predicted temp for tonight was negative fifteen.

Aidan picked his way toward the family homestead, his feet crunching through the ice-crusted snow. The cabin’s roof hung precariously over the rotted porch. The porch had been rotting when he’d last been here the summer he’d turned eighteen. He’d clearly remembered falling through and cutting up his leg. And the kiss he’d received from Raven Maiski. She’d had the power to drive more than pain away with her kisses.

It was eerily quiet. Spooky. The kind of night where you could hear yourself breathe and shadows took on a life of their own. He approached the makeshift fence made of twisted chain link and sharp, rusted barbwire. A chain and corroded padlock secured the front gate as well as a screaming red ‘No Trespassing’ sign. He should have figured this. Earl Harte had always been under the delusion everyone was out to get him. Many probably were, or had been. It no longer mattered now that the bastard was dead.

Aidan studied the gate. He could climb it and probably get cut from the barbwire or attempt to knock it down. It probably wasn’t any better built than the rotting front porch. Problem was, his dad was notorious for booby-traps.

He checked around the gate, looking for wires or sharp instruments, and then gave it a solid kick. The gate swung open.

Well, that seemed anticlimactic.

Puffs of air steamed in front of his face. His breathing increased as he struggled through the snow toward the cabin. He didn’t want to go in there. Nobody had been living in the dump for four months. Who knew what could have crawled in and died? For that matter, who knew what kind of condition Earl had left it in? His dad had never been the best about picking up after himself.

Aidan took a moment to rethink staying in the cabin while he went through what remained of his father’s life. He could get a room at the Chatanika Lodge instead. But then he was sure to run into people—people he didn’t want to see. Or, more precisely, people who didn’t want to see him.

Maybe he could risk catching a glimpse of Raven.

Nope, the faster he could clean up and clear out the better. No one wanted anymore to do with him than they had his father. No one would miss Earl Harte.

Not even him.

Aidan kept an eye out for anything that looked suspicious. Earl would have a trap or tripwire set on the front entrance that would release something sharp and nasty for anyone stupid enough to bother him. He rounded the corner of the cabin heading toward the back door, hunching his shoulders against the cold and slapping his thin-gloved hands together in an attempt to warm them. The snow was deeper around the side of the cabin. Nothing looked like it had been disturbed. Not even animal prints cut the icy crust of the snow.

Suddenly, he skidded, his arms flailing wide. He regained his balance and looked at what he’d slipped on. A piece of tin. He glanced up and saw where it had fallen off the roof at some point. The place was falling apart. He shook his head and stepped carefully.

A bear trap sprung, steel teeth spearing into the flesh of his lower leg.

“Son of a bitch!” He screamed as pain stabbed through his leg.

He clawed at where the teeth of the rusty trap punctured through his jeans, through his boots, and into the tender flesh of his leg. Dropping in the snow, he cried out again as pain seared like fire through his leg, causing him to shake. He moaned through gritted teeth, struggling with the jaws of the trap. Sweat dripped down his face.

He quickly looked around, for anyone—anything—that would help free him from the snare.