“What is it?” Ashley asked, leaning over my shoulder to try to gain a better vantage point.
I took hold of her hand and gave it a comforting pat. “Probably nothing. We’d better get moving before this storm closes in.”
As if on cue, a blustery wind howled through the trees, driving the heavy snow into our frost-bitten faces. Ashley spun around and pulled the hood of her parka snug around her chin, shaking like a rag doll. A quick swipe of my foot buried the bloody track I’d been studying. It would take a mature male to leave such a deep imprint, and his hopping, uneven stride confirmed the worst. Cody—the beautiful black Alpha of the Ridge creek pack—had been shot.
Normally when it came to hunting down poachers I was stone-cold ruthless. You’d be far better off taking a bath in cow’s blood and stealing a cub from a female Grizzly. But one glance at Ashley’s paper-thin leggings and spring jacket told me that finding Cody’s killer would have to wait. We still had almost a three mile hike back to the cabin, and this freak spring storm was taking on the look of a full-scale blizzard.
Ashley objected as I wrapped my coat around her shoulders, guiding her arms through the holes. “You’ll freeze, Michael.”
“I’ll be fine,” I assured her, silencing any further argument with a kiss. The fact that I’d begged her to pack a change of clothes this morning wasn’t lost on me, but you didn’t stay married for twenty years without learning to pick your battles.
We’d just turned to head back toward the trail when I was thrown forward, landing in a heap on my chest. I blinked a couple of times in confusion until the shot rang out. Ashley’s frantic screams rang across the valley as I choked out a couple of wet, gasping coughs—it felt like I was breathing through sand.
“Please don’t leave me!” she cried, throwing herself on top of my failing body. “Don’t you dare leave me, you bastard!”
“G-g-gun,” I muttered.
The sound of my voice gave her a small ray of hope. She eagerly wiped my forehead and kissed me. “What, baby?”
“Gee—” I stopped to spit up several mouthfuls of blood. “Geeth g-gun, Ash. Not accidn.”