Vision Tracker - Prequel
Vision Tracker - Prequel: The Trackers series
Researcher Luisa Marshall studies bears, but now one is studying her! She has piqued the interest of Skinwalker Ty Moon who respects how she cared for animals...and, though he vowed to remain solitary, he comes to her aid when she is injured. He used old magic to heal Luisa and brings her to his cabin....now her powers threaten him!
Excerpt from VISION TRACKER - Prequel to The Tracker series
Luisa Marshall glided along the ridge on her cross-country skis perilously near the den of the huge grizzly bear. This big male had alluded her all year, but now that he was denning, she had a shot. She was anxious to include his DNA in her research study. But first she had to get close enough for a sample. The temperature and snowfall in mid-December were finally sufficient to send the last of the black bears into hibernation. Grizzlies were known to be light sleepers so once she spotted the den, she would steer clear for the time being because she was anxious to avoid disturbing him and even more anxious to see that he did not disturb her.
The very last thing in this world she wanted was to face that particular bear. One up close and personal with Goliath was more than enough.
Technically, the male grizzly was Bear T116, but she had her pet names for many of her research subjects and this bear was no exception. Sometimes she could swear he was mocking her. She even darted him once, but damned if he’d go down. She didn’t dare use more juice, for fear she’d harm him. On two occasions after that she’d begun to suspect that Goliath was studying her.
The final straw came when she had arrived home to find him tearing the bed sheets from her clothesline and rolling in them. When she’d tried to chase him off by blowing her truck horn, he tore the passenger door off the cab, forcing her to bail out the other side and roll under the vehicle. The bear had sniffed around a few minutes and then left her. But there was a moment when she thought he would roll the pick-up. After she could breathe again, she collected his hair samples from her truck door. She’d considered listing him as a nuisance bear, but he hadn’t been around since that close call.
The cold air whipped across her cheeks as she weaved between the trees on the western boundaries of Yellowstone National Park at the higher elevation where the bears denned. She worked the poles and skis in smooth, rhythmic motion, nearing the place where she’d observed the bear digging in.
She slowed as she crossed the tracks of a snowmobile and the smile of anticipation dropped from her lips.
“Shoot!” She lifted her goggles to study the cuts in the snow.
Recreational vehicles were permitted only on the park roads, but that didn’t keep riders out of the back country.
Luisa stared at the direction of the riders. They were heading right for the spot she suspected the sow—the female black bear, had chosen to den. Coincidence or did they have some help?
It had been only two days since the break-in and the only thing missing from her home concerned her greatly—her research maps, identifying the location of many bear dens. Dens were hard to find and Luisa couldn’t shake the nasty suspicion that these tracks and her missing maps were connected.
The Feds thought the robbery and hate mail were also linked. But they wouldn't go so far as to link the bear shootings to them. The threats frightened her and that made her madder than hell. Quitting was not even an option. She was going to find these bozos and see them face charges. After that she might consider the position in Idaho. It was a great opportunity and she’d have her own team. But Luisa didn’t like to leave unfinished business.
She radioed in her position and discovery, then followed the tracks.
She pumped her arms and legs faster, powering her skis along in the trail of compacted snow. Luisa carried a rifle, strapped across her back and a tranquilizer gun on her hip, but she sincerely hoped that she would not need either.
The area the sow had chosen was deep in the roots under a large Douglas Fir. The cover of the forest made it nearly impossible to find, if you did not know where to look, but these tracks made straight for the sow's well-concealed, remote den as if using her GPS coordinates. Couldn’t be a coincidence.
“They have my maps.”
Luisa pushed off her skis as her sense of dread deepened. She saw the unnatural glimpse of metallic red between the trees. A sled was parked just before the den.
Her outrage flared, and she unclipped the flap over her pistol as she slowed her pace. Fortunately, her skis allowed her to make a nearly silent approach. As she glided down from the ridge, she spotted the second snowmobile an instant before she saw her bear.
She took in the scene at a glance. The bear, down, dragged from her nest by a noose around her hind leg, which was stretched taught and secured behind the second sled. Black bears were deep sleepers and the rude extraction had not yet roused her or, Luisa gritted her teeth, was she dead? Two men stood before the bear, their faces hidden in ski masks and their bodies cloaked in matching blue coveralls. Each man held a rifle poised, taking aim at the bear’s pregnant middle.
Rage billowed inside Luisa as she let out a shriek and hunched over her skis, flying down the steep incline with vengeance. From within the owlish gaps in the masks, their watery blue eyes bulged as they realized she wasn’t stopping. One raised a rifle in her direction too late as she swung her ski pole, colliding with the barrel as the gunshot exploded in her ear.
He never had time for a second shot as she plowed into him with enough force to knock him and his partner flat. They sprawled in the deep snow as she went airborne, tumbling over them and ended up skidding on her side before coming to rest near the giant fir tree, minus both skis.
She rolled behind the cover of a large trunk before reaching for the rifle strapped to her back. The men scrambled to find cover behind their sleds. One raised a rifle caked with snow while the other expelled the used cartridge and sent a new round into the chamber.
Luisa had her weapon aimed and ready. “Step away from her.”
Both men hesitated, raising their barrels slightly. Luisa’s eyes narrowed suspiciously at their easy compliance. The hairs on her neck prickled a warning.
“Hold it, Bear-lady.” The voice came from just behind her and was punctuated by the draw of a pump-action shot-gun.
Luisa clenched her rifle and turned toward the voice.
A third man stood, mostly behind a thick pine trunk, dressed in white camouflage coverall, right down to his boots. His face was masked in a white ski hood. She stared at him past the business end of his double-barreled shot-gun.
“Drop it or I drop you,” he growled.
“Moving up from shooting males to killing pregnant bears?” Luisa asked, still retaining her gun.
“Consider it a two-for-one.”
She wondered if she had time to dive across the fallen log, but realized that would put her in the line of fire from his partner who now aimed at her as well. Luisa did as he ordered. Camo-man lowered his shotgun and stepped forward.
Man, she would have given anything to wipe that cocky smile from his thin lips. She still maintained the tranquilizer gun at her hip, but it was sheathed in a leather holster and flap. She reached for the weapon and he grabbed her by the hood of her jacket and yanked, dragging her to her knees before pressing the barrel into her back. She lifted her hands in surrender.
“Look, Taylor, I caught me another little sow.”
Luisa saw a flash of motion and then the man’s fingers slid off her and he was tumbling through space, landing twenty feet away.
“Duane!” screamed his buddy, but Duane was now head down in a snow drift, struggling to regain his footing. Luisa turned to see a giant of a man standing right behind her looking at her captor who now struggled to extract himself from the drift of snow. This new arrival was lightly dressed for the cold in only a brown leather bomber jacket, faded denim jeans and work boots. How had he gotten way out here without her seeing or hearing him? He wore no hat and his black hair was thick and straight and tugged back from his face so she could clearly see his coppery skin, elegant high arching brows and a broad straight nose. His sharp cheek bones looked carved of stone but Luisa could see the flush beneath his light brown skin. His lips pressed into a thin grim line and his dark eyes glittered with rage as he turned toward the two men taking aim from behind their sleds.
Luisa was glad that she was not the recipient of that deadly glare but admitted he was outnumbered and out gunned.
Who was he and what was he doing here with no sled, no skis, no snowshoes? The man didn’t even have gloves on his hands, now balled to fists.
The stranger ran toward Taylor and his partner on powerful legs. Luisa gaped at the speed and fluid grace of his movements. Taylor had time only to lift his rifle before the man had his fist around the barrel. The shot went wide as he wrenched the gun from Taylor’s hand. Their attacker brought the stock down across his knee, snapping the wood like kindling then clouted the other man with the jagged end of the shattered stock. Blood sprayed across the white snow an instant before the poacher dropped face first.
Taylor staggered backward, but the guy had him by his coveralls, lifting the rider over his head and then throwing him against a tree trunk that stood twenty odd feet or more away. The crack of his head striking the wood made Luisa wince.
She looked back at the two remaining men in time to see Duane regain his feet, but instead of coming to his friend’s rescue, he jumped on his bike and gunned the engine, racing away.
The stranger roared and charged after the snowmobile, catching the rear of the sled and yanking back. Luisa expected him to be dragged off his feet, but instead the snowmobile tipped, spilling the rider.
“How the heck did he do that?” she wondered aloud.
But he did one better, lifting the sled over his head and hurling it against an outcropping of rock. He had the screaming man by one arm now, shaking him as if he were a dirty carpet. The poacher took a swing at his attacker and received a clout to the head that caused him to go instantly limp. The stranger tossed him aside and turned to her.
Luisa lifted her radio barking her position and a mayday.
She scrambled back, but fell to her rump. The deadly dark eyes now pinned her. He stalked forward and then paused, inhaling deeply.
He reached and she ducked, but he caught her ski hat and goggles, dragging them off her head. Her brown hair spilled over her parka.
His murderous expression turned to astonishment as he lifted her to her feet using the front of her jacket balled in one large fist. This brought her toe to toe with the menacing stranger, now looming, As he looked at her with an intent, predatory stare, she resisted the urge to glance away from his clear challenge of dominance. But instead, she pressed her lips together and stared right back. This caused him to cock his head, as his brows dipped and his eyes narrowed.
His face was beautiful proportioned and ebony brown eyes with thick spiky lashes framing dark, fathomless eyes. His wide sensual mouth parted as he drew closer, his nostrils flaring as he breathed in her scent.
“Why are you here?” he growled.
Luisa pointed at the bear. “For her. She’s hurt.”
He glanced past her, noting the bear. All beauty vanished as his features changed to something primal and frightening.
He released her and she dropped several inches to the snow.
“How did you do that?” she asked, pointing at the ruined sled.
He glanced at her again and the contact of his stare seemed to immobilize her. Her heart pounded but her knees held her, despite their knocking as she inched back a step. It was from this distance she again took note of his odd clothing—a leather coat, with nothing beneath it, but an unusual necklace. It glinted and she recognized the long curved claw of a grizzly fitted in a gold cap. Fury erupted inside her.
She pointed at the claw, her anger spilling into her words. “Where did you get that?”
A smile quirked his full lips, showing her a smooth, prominent jaw and strong white teeth. His smile faded as he stared at her jacket sleeve.
He reached out, capturing her wrist. “What’s this?”
She followed the line of his sight, noting the tiny tear in the nylon fabric and the small tuft of white polyester filling protruding from the gap.
“I must have torn it.”
He fingered the hole until she felt the pressure of his touch on her upper arm. An instant later she felt a twinge of pain.
“You’ve been shot.”
©Jenna Kernan, 2017