Home > Prey (Linda Howard)(8)

Prey (Linda Howard)(8)
Author: Linda Howard, Abby Crayden

Even though she’d looked at the photograph, she had a hard time holding his image in her mind. The one thing she remembered very clearly was that he wasn’t an experienced outdoorsman, or a very good shot. When he’d booked her before, last year, she’d even gotten the impression he hadn’t enjoyed himself very much and hadn’t really wanted to be there, so she didn’t have any idea why he’d rebooked for this year. Bottom line, though, she didn’t care why, just that he had; she needed the income. Hunting season would soon be over, and unless a professional photographer wanted some snow shots of the mountains for a nature magazine or something, she wouldn’t have anything else for the winter.

Maybe, against all odds, Harlan would get a quick offer on her place. She’d have to scramble to find somewhere else to live, but sooner rather than later. Now that the difficult first step was behind her, she was anxious to move on. It was that streak of realism again: Once she decided her course of action, she was ready to act.

For now, though, she had to take care of business, and get everything organized for the trip. She’d e-mailed Chad Krugman asking for some specifics on the client, Mitchell Davis, whom he was bringing as a guest. Had he ever hunted before, what kind of experience did he have, what was he looking for, licenses needed—that kind of thing. Mr. Davis was evidently more experienced than Chad, and he wanted to bag a black bear.

That alone raised her stress level. She didn’t specialize in bear hunts, so she’d been a little surprised when Krugman had made the booking with her. Her normal MO on a hunt was to avoid bear, because she was a little afraid of them. Okay, more than a little. She worked hard to keep anyone from realizing just how uneasy she really was on a bear hunt, because no one wanted a guide who was anything other than confident. She was confident in her skill at finding bear, but that wasn’t a comfort, because deep down she didn’t want to find a bear—any bear, brown or black, big or little. Why couldn’t Krugman’s client want to hunt elk? An elk didn’t present the same problems; it wasn’t likely to chase her down and eat her. Bears, well, bears were predators, and powerful ones at that.

Angie did what she could to both mitigate her fear and keep herself and her clients as safe as possible; she employed all the bear safety rules regarding food and trash, plus she always carried two big cans of bear repellent and made certain each member of her party did the same. Still, she was well aware that pepper spray worked on bears about the same way it worked on humans, meaning sometimes the sprayed kept coming after the sprayer. She didn’t intend to take any shots herself, but she’d be damn certain her ammunition was powerful enough to do the job if shooting became necessary.

She had already made certain the camp she’d leased was stocked with some basic, nonfood supplies, but there was still a lot to do; the campsite was fairly primitive, consisting of a few tents, air mattresses, and a portable toilet. The rest of their supplies would have to be packed in: food and water for three people, enough food for the horses. Krugman and Davis were bringing their own weapons and ammunition, so that was something she didn’t have to handle, but a week in the mountains wasn’t something that could be casually planned. She’d try her best to get her client in position to have his shot, but her main objective was to get them and herself back alive and in one piece.

Thirty-seven miles to the west, and four miles north of the campsite Angie had leased, an enormous black bear stopped his slow, shuffling pace and swung his head from side to side as the wind brought a tantalizing scent to him, unerringly identifying both the smell and the location. Satisfied with what his senses told him, he began working his way through the trees and underbrush until he could look through a break in the brush, and he went still as he processed what he saw. He wasn’t hungry, he’d fed well that morning, having brought down an old elk cow, but the unaware, meandering herd of sheep on the slope below him riveted his interest, especially the half-grown lamb that had settled down for a nap while its mother grazed farther down the slope.

Competition for food wasn’t as intense as it had been; some of the sows had already settled into dens and older bears past their prime weren’t moving around as much as the days shortened and the cold season loomed closer and closer. But for now the weather was still relatively mild, and the bear had continued to hunt instead of looking for his own den. He’d crossed through the territory of two other bears in the past few days, and two days ago had fought with one, a cinnamon-colored male that hadn’t survived the battle.

The bear was three years old, big and healthy, over five hundred pounds. In the summer that was just past, he’d bred for the first time. Also in the summer, he’d killed and eaten his first human. It had been easy prey, unable to run as fast as goats or sheep, without claws or fangs or antlers to defend itself, the meat furless and sweeter than most. The man had been a transient, unnoticed and missed by no one, something the bear had no concept of and wouldn’t have cared about even if he had; all he knew, all his ursine survival instincts had noted, was that this was easy food. If he crossed paths with this particular prey again, he would hunt it.

He also had no concept of fun, but he did of enjoyment, and he enjoyed killing. Whenever he saw or smelled something that signaled “prey” to him, he went after it, something deep inside spurring him on and reveling in the explosion of energy, the hot taste of fresh blood and flesh, the destruction, even the fear he could smell as he bore down on his chosen victim. Nature had equipped him well to be the predator he was, giving him aggressiveness and cunning, as well as unusual size and strength and speed.

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