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Wednesday, January 7, 2009


by Linda Goodnight

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises. All rights reserved.

The call for help came late at night. They usually did.

Only this one was the worst kind. A child. Lost in the unforgiving Colorado mountains.
Melody Crawford replaced the receiver and rolled out of the bed, shoving her feet into heavy boots as she pushed to stand. She'd been asleep less than thirty minutes.
Within another ten minutes, she was wide-awake, dressed for the frigid temperatures and rummaging in her "rescue closet" for the equipment she might need on the snow-covered trail. In more than fifteen years of rescue work, she'd never stopped feeling the adrenaline rush that came with a call.

Backpack always loaded and ready, she reached for her dog's leash and vest and heard the soft pad of canine footsteps crossing the kitchen and coming toward her in the narrow hallway.

It was Ace.

A little piece of her heart broke off.

Smile wide, thick fur fluffed and ready with one hard shake of his muscular form, the big, black-and-silver German shepherd gazed up at her in question. As always, Ace was ready to work, ready to run, ready to rescue the lost.

"Sorry, old chum," she said, laying one hand on the wide, intelligent head. "Not tonight."

Not any night in the near future, although Ace was the best air-scent search and rescue dog she'd ever trained.

As if he understood, the dog whined softly and collapsed at her feet to stare up at her with sad eyes.

"As soon as I get the money, boy. We'll have you fixed up and good as new."

But money, for Melody, was hard to come by. Even by training and boarding other people's dogs, her income was limited. The monthly check from her father's insurance barely covered necessities, and the surgery to correct Ace's damaged hind knees was expensive, far over her budget. But he'd sustained the injuries in the line of duty and deserved a chance to work again. Somehow, even if she had to take an outside job, she'd find a way to help her partner and friend.

The idea of working at a regular job made her shudder. Not that she was lazy. She worked long and hard up here in her secluded section of the mountains. It wasn't work that bothered her. It was people.

"Chili," she called softly and was not surprised to find the affable, reddish-brown Lab waiting quietly in the doorway behind her. Trained to search by air and ground, Chili was an excellent rescue dog who loved kids. With a little luck and by moving quickly, he had the best chance of finding the missing child.

With regrets to the depressed Ace, she snapped Chili into his bright orange rescue vest and, flashlight in hand, headed for her truck.

One step outside and she burrowed deeper into the muffler around her neck, thinking of the search to come.

The night was still as death and ten times as cold. Unless the lost kid was well dressed or found shelter, he was in serious trouble. The colder he became, the less scent he gave off. Without scent particles floating into Chili's incredible olfactory glands, the dog couldn't do his job.

The knowledge spurred Melody to work faster. If anyone could find the boy, she and Chili could do it. They were the best in the mountains. Maybe the best in the country. They never quit until the victim was found—alive or dead. She preferred alive.

As she passed the snug kennels, the rest of the dogs, all boarders in training, slipped out of their houses to stretch and shake beneath the white moon. Silver vapor puffed around their wide, sturdy heads. Like Ace, none of them would make the trip tonight. They weren't her dogs. They were brought to her by folks too busy or disinclined to do their own initial obedience training. Melody didn't mind. Working with dogs, anyone's dogs, was her life's work and ambition.

Ace and Chili, on the other hand, were her babies, her children, her family. She took care of them and they took care of her. Together, they didn't need anyone else, but a lot of people needed them. Occasionally. And when the need was met, people faded away from her wilderness cabin like the foggy vapor faded into the night.


She touched the barely visible scar at her hairline.

Not her favorite species.

Intentionally, she turned her thoughts to the little boy lost somewhere beneath the flat white moon. He would be scared. Scared of the black, inky darkness. Scared of the night cries of wolf and owl. Scared even of the bare aspen limbs rubbing together like dead bones.

Kids were a different matter. She didn't consider them people yet. They didn't have prejudices and ulterior motives. They were at the mercy of adults, just as she'd been.

But no more. She was captain of her own fate, in control of her life, which did not include people most of the time. Thank God and Grandma Perkins, who'd left her this remote cabin more than sixteen years ago when life had been hell.

She opened the truck door and waited for Chili to leap easily into the passenger side, ready for the trip to a ranger station four miles down the mountain. As she climbed in behind her dog and cranked the engine, Melody wondered why she'd awakened tonight with the old memories so sharp.

But memories were okay, occasionally. They kept her focused, kept her mindful of why she'd never permanently leave this mountain again.

4 1/2 Stars from Romantic Times Magazine.

A reader writes: "I read the last chapter over and over, not wanting the book to end. A very unexpected read. I always appreciate your books but this one goes on the top of the top of the top of my keeper pile."

Available January 13 from Linda Goodnight. Order now.

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