Samantha fears death, and those who are trying to bring it to her. Teal-Eye fears life, and the attentions of any man. Separated by the gulf of time, united by need, they must work together to save a goddess—or die.
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Samantha Hanover has survived a brutal winter on Oregon’s high plains. Now, with spring in the air, she hopes to put her past behind her—until she meets Rob Reiker, a man who triggers visions of a woman who lived at the end of the last ice age.
Teal-Eye, the subject of Samantha’s visions, fears life. As a child she watched her parents die, in a night of terror that included the brutal loss of her innocence. She is far from her home and her people. Now, her one chance at happiness, marrying the man she calls Bear, is about to be taken from her, unless she can help Samantha escape from those who would kill her.
Samantha and Teal-Eye must unravel a problem as old as humanity, one of childhood and maturity, one involving a chain of woman reaching from the far distant past into our present.
It was the kind of cold that bit at her face like tiny rodent teeth—so intense that the moisture in her nostrils froze each time she inhaled.
As the night deepened Samantha worked her way deeper and deeper into the blankets, but there was no place left to go. She woke to find herself huddled into a heat conserving ball, shivering.
The breeze that huffed fitfully around the building at dusk was now the angry hiss of wind overlaid with ice crystals. The cold, unbearable then, was now beyond anything she could have imagined.
Until tonight it was an annoyance to spend her time bundled up in layer after layer of clothing. Now, it was a matter of survival, and there was nothing to add. As she gathered her courage to leave the bedding she was afraid.
The van? But she had no confidence in its ancient battery, and if she made the attempt and was unable to start the engine there was little chance she would survive the trip back to the house.
Bracing herself, Samantha pulled the covers from her face, opening her eyes to near darkness. The lantern had gone out so the only light came from the burners of the stove, their flames reduced to half their normal length by the chill. A glance at the windows showed drifted snow covering half the glass. Sometime during the night a storm-front must have passed through, bringing new snow and an arctic cold.
With an effort, she slid from her bedding and limped toward the stove, to warm her hands enough to change the tank on the lantern. The house had no functioning heater so she was forced to sleep in the kitchen, where the stove burned constantly. It helped only a little.
She tried to read the thermometer mounted just outside the window but there was not enough light. It didn’t matter, though. It was cold enough to kill her. Nearly fifteen below when she crawled into the blankets, it was well beyond that, now, she was certain.
Ten minutes later she was trying to hold back tears. The new gas cylinder was in place, but the cold was so great that she was unable to get the lantern to light. Back at the stove once more, she huddled herself as close to the burners as she could without setting her clothing alight, listening to the wind and assessing her chances of survival. They weren’t good. Unless she found a way to warm her feet she would soon be unable to stand, and if she fell she would die. She estimated that she had less than a half hour before that occurred.
If I could curl up in a frying pan like a strip of bacon that would be heaven. She blinked then, as something tickled at her cold-fogged brain. It was a stupid idea—a desperate solution to a problem that had no solution.
But, if it works…
Praying that she was not simply hurrying her death, she extinguished all but one of the burners. Then, on legs that were numb, and as responsive as stilts, she hobbled to the table for a chair, one with arms that would support her in sleep.
It took much of her remaining strength to lift the chair to the stove-top and center it over the burner. Most of the rest was spent in wrapping aluminum foil around the periphery of the chair’s legs to keep her blankets from the flame.
The rest of the job, moving her blankets and dragging a second chair to use as a step-stool, were tasks she could never quite recall, but in the end she was enthroned high over the kitchen floor, her eyes and nose the only thing uncovered, the burner beneath her warming the compartment formed by her tented bedding.
It took nearly fifteen minutes, but it finally came: first the jangling pain that heralded a resumption of feeling in her fingers and toes, then blessed, life-restoring heat. Not just warmth, but true heat, spreading through her like a balm, thawing her bones and restoring her soul.
It was an uncomfortable place to sit and a worse place to sleep, but she didn’t care, she was warm, and nothing else mattered. Slowly, her chattering jaw unclenched, and slowly the shivering of her body subsided. Slowly, she came back to life.
Just before she drifted off to sleep she imagined she could see a snow sprite peering in through the window, its whiskers quivering in surprise to see the queen of winter holding court in a frozen Oregon kitchen. The thought pleased her very much. I may look like an idiot, Mr. Sprite, but I won for a change. This time I won!
“Don’t forget the newspaper, Miss Hanover.”
“I won’t,” Samantha called as she scanned the selection of canned goods. One of the advantages of living in a small town, and shopping in its even smaller grocery store, was that it was hard to forget an item once the shopkeeper learned your habits. The disadvantage was that the choice of brands was limited, especially to someone used to the supermarkets of the big city.
She turned to look longingly at the battered old frozen food box, nestled against the wall and humming noisily to itself. But for a kitchen without electrical power such longings brought only a sigh for what could not be, and a shrug for what was, as she turned her attention back to the canned-goods rack and made her selection: corn, string-beans, mixed vegetables, and beets—with several varieties of fruit added in as snacks—and put them in her basket before turning to the rack of reading materials.
“Are you expecting any new books?” she asked, hopefully, frowning at titles she’d rejected on previous visits.
“Any day now, Miss Hanover. Any day now.”
That was his reply the week before, and was what he would probably tell her again next week, another disadvantage of small town life. Then she smiled at the idea that she might think of Solomons Choice as a small town. It could hardly be called a town, since it consisted of nothing more than a gas station, a general store that doubled as a post office, a restaurant, a bar, and a dilapidated feed store. All were tiredly gathered around the tongue of dust-covered asphalt that formed a tee with the passing highway. At the end of the paving a dirt road took over, and began its bumpy branching path toward the mountains, connecting the local ranches to the outside world.
Lifting her basket onto the counter, Samantha began to empty it in front of the adding machine that served in place of a cash-register.
“Charge me for a paper, Henry, and I’ll pick it up on the way out.”
“Must be lonely out there at night, with no one to talk to,” the storekeeper ventured, as he prepared to total her order.
“Not so much now, with full dark coming after nine, but during the winter it was.”
“Cold out there, too.”
“Still is, at night.” She wondered what he was leading up to.
“Uh-huh. Should have a man to talk to—a pretty woman like yourself.”
“Why, Henry,” she said, with a smile. “Are you asking me to marry you?” Samantha knew the man was not making an offer of his company. Henry Johanson was nearly eighty years old, and behaved with an old-fashioned formality that sometimes made Samantha smile. His style of dress was decades out of date, as was the neatly trimmed white mustache, little more than a pencil line thick. And she was sure that a suggestion, on her part, that he was offering anything more than friendship to an unmarried woman would have shocked him.
He did not return her smile, however. Instead, he pointed toward the door, as he said, “I might surprise you and say yes, sometime, but you’d do better with someone a bit younger, like Rob Reiker, there.”
Turning to follow his pointed finger, Samantha peered through the dusty shop window, to see a man striding toward the front door of the store, a big man. Although his face was in the shadow of his hat-brim, he had the look of a someone to whom one did not say no—a frightening man, one who reminded her of her past. Behind and above him rose the mountains that served to lock Solomons Choice away from the rest of Oregon. A fitting backdrop for such a man, she thought. Then, something about the shape of the mountain, and the way the man in the window fit into the landscape struck a chord within her. A feeling of impending danger caused a chill to run through her, as she whispered, “The Bear. He’s here for me.”
Samantha wondered what could possibly have caused her to say such a thing, but before she could even begin to answer, the door opened and the man came into the shop, only to stop abruptly, seeming surprised to see her there.
She wanted to turn and run—needed to do so almost more than she needed to breathe. Meeting a man, especially one who reminded her so strongly of her past, was something she did not want to do. She tried, desperately, to move, but discovered that she no longer had control of her body. She could only stare, held rigidly immobile by her own body’s refusal to respond, like a doe captured by the headlights of a truck.
A bolt of unreasoning fear shot through her as his dark eyes studied her, pinning her in place as surely as though his gaze had physical substance. His lips were pursed in thought, as if he was having difficulty deciding how he would begin his attack.
Somewhere in the back of her mind, Samantha fought a desperate battle to escape this strange paralysis. He was a man, she argued, only a man, dressed in faded and dusty jeans. Her argument melted, however, in the face of his continuing domination of her mind and body. His face, visible now in the artificial lighting of the store, should not have frightened her, but it did. It frightened her terribly, and the words, “The Bear,” echoed over and over in her head.
They might have stood looking at each other for hours, or it might have been seconds, Samantha was never quite sure. She only knew that after an endless time, a time of certainty that she was about to die, he moved, and a voice—not her own voice, but that of another, equally terrified, woman—cried out in her head.
“Help me! Please help me!”
Then, there was darkness.