It was the cold that woke her. Rubbing the crick in her neck, she blinked hard at the wood burning stove, which only had burning embers visible through the distorted front window. She had to go outside to get wood, and though she was relieved to find the front door still intact, going out there with that wild animal was a different hurdle altogether. Nicole stretched her legs and stood, then reluctantly padded across the freezing floorboards to the front door, rifle ready. For what, she didn’t know because she’d fiddled with it last night, and as far as she could tell, it wasn’t loaded. She kept it aimed anywhere but herself just to be safe, but best case scenario, she would have to wallop an attacker with the gun like a baseball bat, and her arms were flimsy. She suddenly regretted choosing volleyball as her sport in high school instead of a more combative contact sport.
With three quick breaths to psych herself up, she cracked open the door and stuck her head out. The woods were quiet in the early morning light except for creaking tree branches swaying in the wind. In a rush, she bolted for the tiny woodpile that sat outside the door. With an armload of the last of the wood, she turned and froze. Horror filled her veins as she beheld the tiny, bloody carcass that lay limp on the edge of the porch. Poor bunny. A thin trail of red in the snow called her attention, and she swallowed down a scared sound when she laid eyes on the tracks that surrounded the crimson color. They looked like a giant dog’s paw prints, but she knew they weren’t. A feeling of rightness slid over her as the word brushed her mind. Wolf.#p#分页标题#e#
Why in the hell had the wolf decided to bring his meal onto her porch? She scanned the woods, but nothing moved. Carefully, she backed into the house and closed the door behind her. Wolves were smart. They knew how to hunt and lure prey, and that’s what this one was doing. Luring her out of her house so he could attack and eat her. He was sacrificing the tiny bunny meal so he could eat on Nicole for days.
Nope, nope, nope. She was not going to be breakfast for a wolf! With shaking hands, she clumsily built up the fire in the stove, then strode for Buck’s room. She’d avoided it the last few days to dodge the emotions his personal things would stir in her, but when she’d peeked in there the first day, she’d seen something lying at the end of his bed that would make her feel much safer now: a belt with a knife and sheath attached to it.
Her entire body shook with adrenaline by the time she’d tightened it around her waist, then brushed her teeth and washed her face with the icy water that trickled from the sink faucet.
And for the second day in a row, she reached for the green scarf to cover her face because Galena had something she needed to feel okay out here. The man behind the counter at the hardware store had offered to teach her how to load Buck’s guns when she’d gone in there for supplies to fix up the cabin. She’d laughed him off at the time, so confident she wouldn’t need any such lesson. And then he’d called her “hard to look at,” which pissed her off enough to leave in a huff.
But right now, the important thing was the promise of gun lessons, and she was scared enough to swallow her pride and take him up on his offer.
Nicole was ready for that crafty wolf now. He’d snuck his lure onto her porch in the middle of the day yesterday—another poor, limp bunny—but she’d wised up by day three of his tricky presents. Three hours of gun safety with Hardware Jack on not one, but two of Buck’s old rifles, plus a shotgun, and she was feeling a little less like the butterfly, and a little more like the dragon.
She’d pinned all the window curtains back so she could see that furry fucker coming from all directions while she re-finished the countertops in the kitchen. After sanding a healthy layer of damage off the wooden counters, she was now working herself into a sweat scrubbing the glossy solution into the surface. It was dangerous to sweat in a frigid climate. She knew because she’d bought books on Alaskan survival from the one-room bookstore in town and had read two last night. Sweating meant she was warm for the moment, sure, but if she ran out of wood, or if she was outside in subzero temperatures, the moisture could freeze her, and quick.
For the hundredth time, she regretted not knowing Buck. If Mom had been more understanding and more considerate, she could’ve let Nicole stay out here for summers when she was out of school or for winter break, or hell, even the week of spring break. But no, she’d hidden Buck away, kept him from her, and now she was reading about survival from a damned book instead of gaining firsthand knowledge from her biological father.