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Authors: Angela J. Townsend

Amarok (5 page)

BOOK: Amarok
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She studied his face. His skin, although finely lined from sun and chapped from the wind, wasn’t as rugged as she thought, and his beard wasn’t speckled with gray. It was the first time she’d realized how young he was. His rustic appearance had fooled her.

“You don’t look that much older than me. You sure you know what you’re doing?”

“What do you mean?” he snapped.

“Just wondering why someone so young would throw their life away kidnapping a girl and going to jail. You must have a good reason. I won’t press charges if you take me back now.”

He lurched forward and gripped her shoulders. “Stop talking!”

Emma lunged for the knife on his belt. He spun her around, catching her in a choke hold. She jammed her elbow into his gut, and he whirled her around again, holding her inches from his sour face. His breath came in short bursts, and his nostrils flared.

Emma glared into his dark eyes. She hated him with a force that was twenty times her size, with a fury charred into her bones since her mother’s death. She hated him for the father she’d never known, for every time Stan had gotten drunk and slapped her around. She hated him for the sadness that overwhelmed her mind and crushed her spirit.

“Do that again, and I’ll kill you,” he roared.

“Then do it!” she screamed right back at him.

Lines of disappointment creased his forehead. “Didn’t know you were so tough,” he said. “Expected you to be weak, like most women.”

Emma’s body tensed. He was right. Of all things she could be called, weak certainly wasn’t one of them. Traumatized, yes. A rebel, maybe. Emotionally disturbed, definitely. But she was no wimp. Up until her mother’s death, Emma had lived life on the edge. The first of her friends to bungee jump off a bridge, the first to drink herself into a stupor on a bet, earning her a month-long stint of community service and, later, rehab.

“My stupid Ma was weak.” He snorted and spit on the ground. “Typical female. Until my father got sick of her cryin’ all the time and beat her to a pulp. That toughened up her hide. She kept her big mouth shut, then. Maybe you oughta think about keeping your big mouth shut, too. Unless you wanna end up dead.”

“Don’t you threaten me!” Emma shouted. “I’m not afraid to die. In fact you’d be doing me a favor, so why don’t you just shoot me or stab me or whatever and get it over with?”

He pressed his lips together until they were bloodless. Emma smirked. She’d won. He wasn’t getting the reaction he wanted.

His eyes glazed over. “You shouldn’t say things like that… it gives me ideas.”


Tok lay on his side, his chest aching with each heaving breath. He would have scored a deep bite into Weasel Tail’s hide, if only he hadn’t been so weak from hunger. The few bites of food the girl had given him warmed his belly and his heart. He wasn’t sure if he really liked the fond feelings he was developing for her. Best to stay neutral. Especially if she died—it would only make it that much harder for him. But, no matter how he tried, he couldn’t help himself. Maybe it was the sadness in her eyes or the scars he’d seen on her pale body.

He rested his aching head on the cold ground, his tongue dry and swollen. Tok pressed his ears forward and lifted his muzzle to taste the air. He smelled the girl’s scent growing stronger as she approached… when a hand touched his back, he stifled the urge to growl. Tok closed his eyes, such a gentle touch on his wretched hide. The girl parted bits of his bloodied fur to examine the oozing sores on his back. She touched a tender spot and he whined. The girl jerked her hand back, and then, cautiously, ran it over the rest of his protruding spine.

Her soft touch soothed his wild nature. He didn’t want to like it. He couldn’t weaken or he’d never survive. But he did like it and he let the warmth of her touch sink into his miserable body. So gentle. Never before had anyone, other than his mother, touched him with such a velvet caress. The girl’s small hands paused at his sides where the sores from the buckles of the pack wore deep. She unsnapped the burdensome knapsack and rolled it aside. Tok inhaled a deep breath. For several months, he’d worn the pack without relief. He took another breath, letting his sore ribs expand fully, enjoying the freeing sensation while she inspected the rest of his wounds.

The girl sighed, reached into her pocket, and spread something thick and cool over his sores. What was it? It smelled oily, like whale blubber.

“There,” she said, her voice soft as summer rain. “Nothing like good old petroleum jelly. Makes a cheap lipgloss. Never thought I’d be using it on a wolf.”

She ran light fingers over his muzzle. “What do they call you? Hmmm? I think I should give you a name. How about ‘Amarok?’ It sounds cool and it means wolf.” She stroked his fur. “What do you think of that?”

Tok wagged his tail, and she smiled. His wolf heart skipped. It was the first time he’d seen anything other than sadness cross her face. Tok felt a rush of joy. He’d made someone happy, someone who had helped him out of kindness. Maybe he hadn’t lost that small part of himself that still belonged to mankind. And by making this girl smile, he had in some small way solved a part of his own unquenchable thirst for happiness.

His ruff bristled at the thought of his first cruel master, Abe Ryan, Weasel Tail’s great-grandfather. Tok had loathed Abe with a deathless hatred. Abe’s cruelty had known no bounds and Tok never forgot the stout rope the old man looped around his neck, cutting off his air. Nor would he forget how Abe’s club had crushed his tender snout. Tok had vowed to never let another man put a rope around his neck and no one dared—not even Weasel Tail

Tok had learned to eat raw meat, no matter how loathsome. It turned his muscles hard as steel, and he’d grown callous to pain. As long as he had food his body remained invincible. But no matter what his condition, Tok was a skilled hunter. With his heightened senses, he could scent the wind and detect prey miles away. He could run with the swiftness of a deer and pull game down with the strength of a bear.

The morsels the girl had given him eased the clamor of his empty stomach, tiding him over until he could find something more substantial. Food would make him strong again, and then he could better protect her. Very soon he’d find something to kill. He only wished it could be Weasel Tail.


“Get up,” Weasel Tail growled.

Emma’s mouth fell open. “We can’t go yet. He’s hurt.” She petted the sleeping wolf’s head, remembering how her mother had brushed her hair when she was ill, untangling each knot so carefully. She’d do anything to feel those soothing brush strokes again.

“Get up now—or I’ll make you get up!”

Emma ignored him and ran her fingers down the wolf’s neck, loosening his bulky collar. She’d never get up; he’d have to kill her first. Out of the corner of her eye, she watched the man stalk off, his body tight and his fists clenched. He shrugged off his pack and reached inside. Was he getting a gun? Her heart ping-ponged. Hopefully he’d do it quickly. Then she’d be with her mother and she could tell her she was sorry. Tell her she loved her. Tell her she didn’t mean all the hurtful things she had said.

The wolf raised his head and struggled to get up. Emma wrapped her hands around the bony ribcage and helped to pull the poor creature to his feet. The animal peered around her and whined as if in warning. Emma spun on her heel and faced her attacker, prepared for the worst. The man just stood there, staring at her with a mocking smile. He carried something, partially concealed in his hand, a Y-shaped stick with a large rubber band. A slingshot. He placed a stone in the center, pulled it back to his ear and aimed for her head.

She tried to duck, but the rock struck her shoulder. Pain, hot and searing, burned into her skin. Her chest heaved, and she gripped her arm. Tears stung her eyes.

“Get movin’, or it’ll be your eye next.”

Emma hesitated, cradling her injured limb when another rock whizzed past her ear. She cut her eyes at him and clenched her jaw until her teeth ached.

He tapped the slingshot against the palm of his callused hand and narrowed his eyes.

“OKAY!” Emma snarled. “We’re moving as fast as we can!”

“Well, it’s not fast enough!” He scowled like a schoolyard bully, scanned the ground for a moment, and then picked up an even bigger rock. Snickering, he loaded the slingshot. Emma tried to bolt but the rock struck her knee.

She dropped to the ground, clutching her leg. He reloaded, pulled the weapon back again and let another rock fly. Emma froze as the stone zinged toward her face. The wolf jumped in front of her and took the blow to his ribs. The rock made a horrible thud as it ruptured the hide and stuck in his tender flank. The animal yelped and twisted in a tight circle, gnawing at his side. The man threw back his head and let loose a vicious laugh.

“Amarok!” Emma ignored the burning in her knee and knelt beside the wolf. Blood oozed from the wound where the rock protruded from the creature’s flank. She steadied him, pulled out the stone, and threw the rock to the ground. Amarok dropped to his side and licked at the raw wound. Emma glared at her captor. He wore a satisfied grin.

Fury boiled in her blood. For a moment, Emma forgot how her exhausted body ached and her knee throbbed. She even forgot who she was—and what had happened to her mother—as a bitter, seething hatred ate at her brain. She charged her attacker and tackled him to the ground. Emma landed on top, pounding with her fists. She wanted to shatter his teeth, break his jaw, and split his lip so he’d never be able to flash that stupid smile again. He bucked his hips and flung her off of him, latched onto her arm, and dragged her to her feet. She kicked at him, jerked her arm away, and he shoved her hard ahead of him. The wolf came to her side, his muzzle lowered. She reached to touch his head when his ears suddenly pricked up. He lifted his nose, his mouth opened slightly. Sniffing the air, he jogged ahead a short ways, the scarlet wound oozing on his side. He paused, glanced back at her, and then broke into a lope over the rise.

“Amarok, come back!” Something about his leaving panicked her. He was wounded. She didn’t want him to die. But more than that, she desperately needed him. He made her feel safe. He gave her a purpose.

“Keep your trap shut!” her captor said, packing away the slingshot. “Unless you feel like starving.”

“What do you mean?”

“He’s after our dinner.”

Emma broke through the brush and up over a rise. She spotted Amarok a few yards ahead, working his way downhill into the valley. His body lowered almost to the ground, slowly stalking forward. Ahead of him, a shabby-looking caribou stood all alone. Amarok seemed reborn by the urge to kill. Her gaze strayed to the surrounding area. Caribou were herd animals, yet no other animals were nearby. This one must be either old or sick and close to death—an easy meal for a weak wolf.

The man snorted. “What did I tell you—dinner.”

Emma shivered and turned away.

“You won’t be so picky when I get you back to the cabin. You’ll be too busy washing my clothes and chewing hides.”

“Don’t count on it!”

He frowned, his eyes burning into hers. He took a step closer and his gaze slipped up and down her body. “You know, you ain’t all that pretty. At first I thought you was, with that long red hair and blue eyes, till I saw all them scars. Maybe you might be too marked up, even for a mountain man like me.”

The jab hurt, even though she really didn’t care what he thought. The mention of the scars brought more unwanted thoughts to the surface. She flinched and his eyes danced with enjoyment at her discomfort. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes, tapping the bottom a few times. His eyes shifted to the wolf. “He’s deadly when his belly’s full, and even more so when he’s hungry.” He selected a long white smoke, stuck it in his mouth, and lit the tip, polluting the air with the scent of cherry-menthol. The nauseating smell reminded her of Stan and his stinky cigars.

If only her mother had listened to her about him, none of this would have happened. Emma had fought hard to stay in Los Angeles, but her mother never wavered in her determination to relocate to be with Stan—a fiery prosecuting attorney for L.A. County. They’d moved to Alaska after Stan killed a man while driving drunk, and he’d needed a fresh start in his career. Stan might’ve hated losing the status of the job in California, but he’d never once shown an ounce of regret for ending someone’s life. Stan had fooled her mother, but he couldn’t fool her. Underneath that smooth veneer of a civilized servant of the people, Emma had sensed what he really was—a gutter rat—a dangerous, abusive man.

BOOK: Amarok
7.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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