from the 22nd Kate Shugak novel

Monday, New Year’s Eve

Canyon Hot Springs

“Need a refill?”

“Well, sure. But who’s going to go get it?”

A good question. The wind was howling, the snow was swirling, and on New Year’s Eve it was already as dark as it got in Alaska to begin with. Which made cuddling with your honey in the pool closest to the cabin at Canyon Hot Springs all the more, well, delicious, Matt Grosdidier thought. There was something about being outside in a blizzard in midwinter and not being lost or cold. And not in the process of responding to a scene of medical mayhem in the middle of one. That work was left to his three brothers this evening, as he had won the coin toss. It didn’t hurt that he was the only one of them with a steady girlfriend, especially in the woman-poor Park, and was the subject of their manifest envy. He sighed with pure happiness. 

“What?” Laurel Meganack narrowed her eyes at him. She, too, was naked and submerged up to her neck in the steaming pool. 

He gave her a winning smile. She remained unimpressed, drained her wine and handed him her empty glass.

He laughed and kissed her. She responded with enough enthusiasm that he gave some thought to going for a two-fer before rather than after, but she stiff-armed him. “Did you think you didn’t have to work for it? Go.”

He sighed to let her know how he suffered, and on purpose splashed her good when he vaulted out of the pool and ran for the cabin door. The blowing snow stung his skin with a thousand tiny needles. There was significant shrinkage but you couldn’t blame a guy for that. The wind chill had to be thirty below. He could hear her laughing over the sound of the storm. He was moving pretty fast by the time he hit the door. 

The cabin had been built by hand the previous summer by Kate Shugak, whose property this was and who, when Matt asked if he and Laurel could spend New Year’s Eve there, had rolled her eyes and said, “Ah, to be young again.” Which Matt had, correctly, taken as tacit permission and had loaded up his sled forthwith with various eatables and drinkables and an entire box of condoms. Safety first.

The cabin was solidly built and snug, with a sleeping loft over the door reached by a ladder, a small but very efficient cast iron wood stove, and an outhouse just a few steps outside the back door that had an actual toilet seat. Alaska Bush luxury defined. He grabbed up the open bottle of red from the counter and before he could think twice about it trotted out the door and splashed Laurel again leaping back into the pool. 

She laughed again, fortunately. “My hero.” 

He refilled her glass. “Always,” he said, and was a little surprised to realize he meant it.

The pool was one of seven of varying sizes that rose from a seep beneath the one they were marinating in and overflowed one into the other down the bottom half of the narrow canyon. Old Sam Dementieff had homesteaded the canyon and the surrounding one hundred and sixty acres back in the Stone Age—well, before World War II, anyway—and had left it to Kate. It was the place where she had spent the previous summer to to recover from being shot in the chest at point blank range. Building a cabin seemed an excessive way to go about the job of recovery, but then Kate Shugak was a law unto herself and Matt Grosdidier was not the man to second-guess her. He liked his balls right where they were. Suffice it to say that Canyon Hot Springs was Kate’s hideout, her bolt hole, the place she went to to get away from it all. Her happy place.

He looked at Laurel, who was regarding him over the rim of her glass with an expression that could only be described as smoldering. His happy place, too. Without breaking eye contact he took her glass and set it down in the snow edging the pool, and put his own next to it. She came easily into his arms, swinging a leg over his and settling down on top of him, everything lining up with what could only be described as perfection.

She nuzzled at his neck in the spot just below his ear that seemed to connected directly to his cock. “You’re like the Coast Guard,” she said, her voice a low and excruciatingly sexy murmur.

“How’s that?”

Semper paratus,” she said. “Always ready.”

He fumbled in back of him for the condom he’d brought out with the wine, and jumped when she bit him. “Hard not to be around you.”

He felt her smile against his skin. “Hard is the word.” Her hand dropped below the surface of the water and he caught his breath. He grabbed her by the hair and pulled her head back to get at her mouth again—god, how he loved her mouth—but she pulled away. He went after her blindly and she grabbed his head and said, “Matt. Wait.”


“Listen.” She shook him. “Matt, listen!”

He pulled back and stared at her. “What? It’s the wind, it’s—“ And then he heard it, faintly, over the sound of the gale whistling and wailing up the canyon walls, the scream of a jet engine, faint at first, growing rapidly nearer and louder.

“What the—“

The sound of the engine increased to a roar as it passed overhead and then as suddenly ceased. A second later a booming crash made them both jump. Even above the wind they could hear tearing metal screaming in loud, abruptly truncated protest.

Five seconds could not have passed. To Matt it felt like an hour and even as he was up out of the pool he was cursing himself for his slow reaction. The door banged open and he tore into his clothes, yanking on everything from the skin out including his down bibs and parka. Next to him Laurel was pulling on her own. “Do you think anyone could have survived that?”

“Won’t know until we look. Not likely, though.” He stuck foot warmers to the bottoms of his socks and made sure she did, too before stamping into his Sorels.

“Still have to look, I get it. Can we take the sled?”

“Not very far, but we will as far as we can.”

Fun fact: A solid secondary cast is the greatest gift any series writer can give herself. You never know when one or two of them are going to step up and start having lives of their own. Semper paratus.

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the 23rd Kate Shugak novel
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