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Authors: Gale Stanley

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Call of the Wilds

CALL OF THE WILDS

Gale Stanley

EROTIC ROMANCE

Siren Publishing, Inc.

www.SirenPublishing.com

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A SIREN PUBLISHING BOOK

IMPRINT: Erotic Romance

CALL OF THE WILDS

Copyright © 2010 by Gale Stanley

E-book ISBN: 1-60601-800-0

First E-book Publication: May 2010

Cover design by Jinger Heaston

All cover art and logo copyright © 2010 by Siren Publishing, Inc.

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED:
This literary work may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including electronic or photographic reproduction, in whole or in part, without express written permission.

All characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.

PUBLISHER

Siren Publishing, Inc.

www.SirenPublishing.com

Letter from Gale Stanley

Regarding Ebook Piracy

Dear Readers,

Thank you for purchasing
Call of the Wilds.
I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I pour my heart and soul into each story, and I love the fact that ereaders and ebooks allow my readers easier access. But, unauthorized distribution to third parties and file-sharing sites hits us hard. Your support makes a huge difference to the authors and publishers you love!

With deep gratitude,

Gale Stanley

DEDICATION

For Jonathan

1977 - 2004

Always Remembered, Always Loved

CALL OF THE WILDS

GALE STANLEY

Copyright © 2010

Chapter One

 
“I’ve been told to jump off a cliff once or twice, but I never thought I’d actually do it.” Karin managed a shaky laugh and fumbled with the climbing harness. Nobody back home would believe it. Karin Stone, consummate city girl, rappelling down a mountain in the Pennsylvania Wilds. Frank laughed, but his eyes reflected the anxiety she felt. He might be the sheriff, but in the short time she’d been living in Black Wolf, he’d become a friend as well. He scrutinized her for a few seconds, then closed the distance between them, pushed aside her shaky hands, and checked her equipment himself.

“Hey, little lady, you don’t have to do this, you know.”

She pulled away, annoyed by his condescending attitude. At five feet six inches, one hundred and thirty pounds, she had never considered herself little.

A frown darkened his broad face for an instant. Then his features softened, and he lifted his hands in surrender.

Oh, hell. Now his feelings were hurt. A rush of guilt flooded her. He didn’t mean anything by it.
A backwoods kind of guy, Frank tended to talk down to women, but so did most of the men in this remote town. They all believed a woman belonged in the home while the husband went out and did the important stuff. Barefoot and pregnant. She and her friends used to laugh at the old phrase. They didn’t laugh here in the Wilds.
She wanted to show the locals that women were just as competent as men, but they weren’t buying it. She refused to let small town attitudes stop her, so here she stood on the top of a mountain.

If she hadn’t stopped by the sheriff’s office yesterday, she’d have no idea what was going down today. Engrossed in conversation, Frank and Glenn, his deputy, had no idea she heard every word.

Earlier in the week, a ranger found the mutilated remains of a hiker in the gorge. The discovery had created quite a stir in the community. The frightened landowners believed a wolf had attacked the man, and to appease them, the sheriff and his deputy set leghold traps in the area. They never told her they trapped a wolf. Wolves were an endangered species, but to landowners in Black Wolf Gorge, they were predators and fair game. The sheriff had no love for wolves, and he intended to look the other way while Glenn put a bullet in the animal’s head. Well, she was wildlife manager now, and it wasn’t going to happen on her watch.

Frank reluctantly agreed to let her tag along. He might not want her with them, but at least his concern for her safety was genuine. At the time, it hadn’t occurred to her she’d be climbing down the side of a cliff.

“Hey, you’re looking at a future rock star.” She forced a smile and gave him a thumbs-up. “Rock climbing that is.”

“Okay then. Let’s do this.”

“Yes, sir!” She came to attention and saluted smartly. His thin lips curved in a smile, revealing a mouth full of straight white teeth.

“I’ll go down first and belay you from the bottom.” He hesitated, then rested his hands on her shoulders. “Karin?”

Oh shit! The glint in his eyes unnerved her. It sure as hell wasn’t from the sun hiding behind some clouds. There was no mistaking that look in a man’s eyes. Right from the start there had been signs he wanted more than friendship. He never missed an opportunity to touch her back or grab her hand. In the six months she’d been here, she’d become more comfortable in her own skin, but she wasn’t ready for a relationship, not with him, not with anybody. She hadn’t come here looking for a man.

“Come on, Frank. We should get down there,” she urged.

He looked pissed for a second, then chuckled. “Do you know the fastest way to get down a cliff?” He paused for effect. “Fall.”

“Ha ha. Just what I needed to hear.” She rolled her eyes. For sure, they didn’t share the same sense of humor.

“Remember, don’t jump until you hear me yell.” He stepped away. Oh crap, she couldn’t even watch him go over the side. She broke out in a cold sweat under her hoodie. It wasn’t the cool spring weather making her shiver. So, okay, she had a phobia about heights. It didn’t mean she was irrational. People died falling from high places.

Frank’s shout echoed through the mountain canyons, and she forced herself to look over the side. Over the years, rushing river water cut a deep chasm through the mountains. Tourists
oohed
and
ahhed
over the scenic depths, but the riverbed dried out, and now only occasional areas of standing water remained. Sometimes people wandered in the ravine. Caught up in the breathtaking views, unwary hikers or inexperienced climbers might find themselves in a death trap, and a cell phone would be no help here. The cliffs were too high to get a signal out. She shuddered at the thought.

Frank seemed impossibly far away, and she promptly forgot how to breathe. The world spun and swayed, and she sank to all fours, crawling away from the edge and grabbing blades of grass as if they were life preservers.

Her stomach churned, and she tasted coffee-flavored bile in the back of her throat. Disgust mixed with fear. Every tick of her watch meant another minute of suffering for the wolf. While she wasted time, the wolf could lose a leg or worse.

Talk to yourself, girl. Breathe deep. Remember when you were a kid and went to the observation deck on top of City Hall, five hundred feet above street level?
Of course she’d been surrounded by glass.

She looked around. No glass here, only open space on every side. She refused to lose face in front of the men.

You can do this!

Chanting her mantra, she edged back toward the rim and rubbed her medal for luck. The silver engraving of Saint Francis with a wolf was a going-away present from her mother.

Don’t fail me now.

Facing away from the edge, she leaned back against the rope and slowly planted her feet against the vertical surface. She bent her knees the way Frank taught her and quickly straightened them to jump away from the wall.

She swung back, and when her boots hit the side, she breathed a sigh of relief that it wasn’t her face.

Descent became a series of small jumps, punctuated by swear words worthy of a Philly fan whose team just blew the play-offs. She vowed never to do this again but knew full well she would if it meant saving an animal.

Finally, her feet touched the loose scree at the bottom. She doubled over and rested her hands on her knees, trying to steady her breathing. She tried to still her racing heart and gave herself a mental pat on the back for accomplishing the single most frightening thing she’d ever attempted.

“You did good.” Frank swatted her butt.

She jerked upright, an embarrassed frown on her face. She itched to tell him exactly what he could do with his sexist attitude. Instead, she controlled her tongue, but if looks could kill, he’d be lying dead at her feet.

She composed herself while she removed her climbing gear. “I hope to God it’s easier going back up.”

“Don’t worry. If you have a problem, we’ll tie a rope around you and haul you up with the wolf,” he teased.

“Thanks for—”

A blood-curdling yelp in the background ended abruptly, and she took off running. Fifty feet down the riverbed, Glenn and three rangers blocked her view of the wolf. She pushed them aside and got her first look at the animal lying half submerged in a stagnant pool. Unmindful of the surrounding muck, she threw off her pack and waded in. The murky water flowed over the tops of her boots and soaked her socks as she knelt by the unconscious wolf and pulled the animal’s head out of the brackish water. It must have stopped for a drink not realizing the danger until the steel jaws smashed shut on its leg. A lump rose in her throat. Blinking back tears, she imagined the terrified animal struggling and unable to escape. It made her sick to see this magnificent creature so cruelly mistreated. As a veterinarian in the city, she’d seen inhumane treatment but nothing as bad as this. Trapping didn’t belong in civilized society, but it was a fight best left for another time.

“What happened?” She looked daggers at Glenn. The deputy had his rifle out of the sling, and she saw blood on the muzzle.

“It went after Hal.” He shrugged and looked at one of the rangers who nodded assent.

“Bullshit,” she swore under her breath.

“I did you a favor. It won’t give you any trouble now.”

“I don’t need your help, you—”

“Is it dead?” Frank broke in before she said something she’d be sorry for.

“No.” It was pointless to accuse Glenn of anything. It was her word against his. These men would back each other up, and there were four of them, five if she counted the sheriff. In Black Wolf Gorge, one learned to choose one's battles.

“There’s a blunt trauma head wound. I don’t know about the leg. X-rays will tell us what’s going on.”

“I can finish her off here and save you the trouble,” Glenn suggested innocently.

“Can it, Glenn. We have us an endangered species here.” Frank drawled out his words when he talked to his boys. It irritated her to no end. “We’ll take the animal back and let Karin do her thing until the Wildlife Bureau tells us different.”

She administered a small dose of tranquilizer to play it safe, even though she felt the men were more of a threat than the wolf. “Okay, release the trap, and let’s get her out of the water. Gently.”

Nobody moved.

“You heard Karin.” Frank gestured toward the animal.

“You cover me.” Glenn shoved his rifle at one of the rangers and reluctantly stepped down on the spring release. Two rangers lifted the body out of the water, and Karin examined the mangled leg. Fearing a fracture, she applied a temporary splint.

“Okay, boys, let’s get this bitch in the basket.” Frank waved a hand and spoke with authority.

She half expected Glenn to say they forgot the Stokes litter, but Hal pulled it out of a backpack and started assembling it. The metal wire contraption, normally used for human rescue, would work equally well for the wolf. None too gentle, the men manhandled the injured animal into the litter, then pulled the straps tight and secured the rescue webbing. Karin watched every move to make sure no straps were left unbuckled—accidentally or on purpose.

“Okay, boys, let’s do this.” Frank sounded more confident than she felt.

Surely it would be easier going up.

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