Howl for the Holidays(8)By: Keira Blackwood
Inside the cave, the ceiling grew lower with every step, the walls of the passage more narrow. Before long, I needed to crawl. My hands guided me across the cold, rock floor, and it was difficult to make use of my flashlight while navigating and carrying Amy’s coat. There were no sounds to indicate inhabitants, only the howl of wind outside. It was a tighter space than I’d first thought, and the further I traveled, the more concerned I grew that my shoulders would not fit through the entire passage. With the scent of Amy’s trail was the hint of another. It was one I’d hoped not to cross. Grizzly. It should have been in hibernation this time of year, but I wasn’t complaining that the thing had left.
The ground shook; the rocky cavern all around me quaked. Loud rumbling echoed through the canyon into the small crevice, like the mountain itself was a giant grizzly waking from its winter’s sleep. Dirt and pebbles dislodged from the roof of the cave, pelting me as the earth shook. I kept moving, and listened to boulders tumble down the mountain side behind me, over the edge of the road, and into the dark pit beneath. The roof of the tunnel collapsed by my feet, leaving a wall of rock where I had just been. A little slower and I would have been crushed. The vibrations dissipated. The crashing, crumbling, rumbling faded. And the hole that led to my truck was gone. There was only forward. Through the darkness. Toward Amy.
The cave grew more narrow before the light of the moon shone in around a curve in the rocks. I looked out into the falling snow, onto an open field of white. Moonlight broke free of the clouds, shining down on the peaceful meadow. A single tree stood tall and reached for the sky, set away from the distant forest. Amy’s single set of boot prints was the only sign of travelers in the winter landscape. On the ground, balled up in the center of the field beneath the cover of the evergreen was something moving, something alive. She stretched out, and moonlight reflected on her golden locks. Relief flooded through me. I held tight to the soft blue coat that carried her scent, and I ran. Amy.
Saltwater and sand. When did I go to the ocean? The sun shone bright in the cloudless sky, highlighting the depths and shallows of the waves through shades of deep sapphire to aquamarine. Sprigs of tall, brown grass peeked up out of hills of golden sand by the wooden path. I wiggled my toes in the hot grains of beachy earth. But somehow it wasn’t as warm as I’d expected. I let down my hair in the cool, ocean breeze. But it was too cold for summer. It wasn’t real. I was supposed to be home for Christmas. The crash.
One cheek was pleasantly warm, the other numb from the icy air. A soft jacket covered my torso from the falling snow, like a blanket. Fluffy and light blue. It was my jacket, though I didn’t remember taking it from the car. My jeans were damp and cold, and clung tightly to my skin. I blinked to focus, and found that I wasn’t alone. That explained the dream. Harkins. His scent was different than the usual wolf shifter, different from the piney forest essence that was common in local wolves. But Harkins wasn’t from Sawtooth Peaks, and he wasn’t like any other wolf shifter I’d ever encountered. I turned my head and looked up at the man I knew had found me, and our eyes met.
His dark beard was thick, and unquestionably masculine, framing lips that rarely spoke. It was the scars that told his stories, and it was his dark, brown eyes. There were lines in the corners that spoke of the man he had once been, a different version that had smiled often. And there was sorrow. His shoulders were broad, and thickly muscled, framed well in his leather jacket. He was hard, rugged, and handsome—a warrior that valued loyalty. Strength radiated off of him, as it always did, even when he looked at me so warmly. I had found him attractive before I knew him, but once I got to know him I was drawn to him even more.
My mouth felt dry as I opened my lips, staring up at Harkins. “Hi,” I said. My voice scratched in my throat.
“Amy,” he breathed.
“Where are we?” I asked, still feeling disoriented.
“Somewhere between Sawtooth Peaks and your family’s place,” he said. “Not really familiar with the area.” I blushed when I realized my head was on his thigh.