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Home > Shades of Midnight (Midnight Breed #7)

Shades of Midnight (Midnight Breed #7)
Author: Lara Adrian

Chapter One

Twenty-eight-hundred feet below the red single-engine de Havilland Beaver's wings, the broad swath of the frozen KoyukukRiver glistened under the morning moonlight like a ribbon of crushed diamonds. Alexandra Maguire followed the long stretch of ice-jammed, crystalline water north out of the small town of Harmony, the back of her plane loaded with supplies for the day's delivery run to a handful of settlements nestled deep in the interior.

Beside her in the passenger seat of the cockpit was Luna, the best copilot she'd ever had, aside from her dad, who had taught Alex everything she knew about flying. The gray-and-white wolf dog had been standing in for Hank Maguire for a couple of years now, when the Alzheimer's had really started taking hold of him. Hard to believe he'd been gone for six months now, although Alex often felt she had been slowly losing him for a lot longer than that. At least the disease that ate away his mind and memories had also ended his pain, a small mercy to be sure.

Now it was just Luna and her living in the old house in Harmony and making the supply runs to Hank's small roster of clients in the bush. Luna sat erect next to Alex, her pointed ears perked forward, sharp blue eyes keeping a steady watch on the mountainous terrain of the Brooks Range, its dark, crouching bulk filling the northwest horizon. As they crossed the Arctic Circle, the dog fidgeted in the seat and let out a small, eager-sounding whine.

"Don't tell me you can smell Pop Toms's moose jerky from here," Alex said, reaching out to ruffle the big furry head as they continued north along the Koyukuk's Middle Fork, past the small villages of Bettles and Evansville. "Breakfast is still twenty minutes away, girlfriend. Make that thirty minutes, if that black storm cloud over the AnaktuvukPass decides to blow our way."

Alex eyed the dark thunderhead that loomed a few miles up from their flight path. More snow was in the forecast; certainly nothing unusual for November in Alaska, but not exactly prime conditions for her delivery route today. She exhaled a curse as the wind coming off the mountains picked up speed and scuttled across the river valley to give the already bumpy ride a bit more gusto. The worst of it passed just as Alex's cell phone began to chirp in the pocket of her parka. She dug the phone out and answered the call without needing to know who was on the other end of the line.

"Hey Jenna."

In the background of her best friend's house, Alex could hear a Forest Service radio chattering about sketchy weather conditions and plummeting windchill factors. "Storm's gonna be coming your way in a couple of hours, Alex. You on the ground yet?"

"Not quite." She rode through another round of bumps as she neared the town of Wiseman and turned the plane onto the route that would take her to the first stop on her day's delivery schedule. "I'm turned the plane onto the route that would take her to the first stop on her day's delivery schedule. "I'm maybe ten minutes from the Toms place now. Three more stops after that, shouldn't take more than an hour apiece even with the headwind I'm fighting right now. I think the storm is going to pass right by this time." It was hope more than qualified estimation, sympathy for her friend's concern more than caution for her own safety. Alex was a good flier, and too well trained by Hank Maguire to do anything completely reckless, but the simple fact was the supplies she carried in her cargo hold were already a week overdue because of bad weather. She'd be damned if she was going to let a few snowflakes or gusty breezes keep her from delivering goods to the folks in the far-flung reaches of the interior who were counting on her for food and fuel.

"Everything's fine on this end, Jenna. You know I'm careful."

"Yeah," she said. "But accidents happen, don't they?" Alex might have told Jenna not to worry, but saying it wouldn't have done any good. Her friend knew as well as anyone--perhaps better than most--that the bush pilot's unofficial creed was roughly the same as that of a police officer: You have to go out; you don't have to come back. Jenna Tucker-Darrow, a former Statie from a long line of Staties--and the widow of one to boot--got quiet for a long moment. Alex knew her friend's mind was likely traveling down a dark path, so she worked to fill the silence with chitchat.

"Hey, when I spoke to Pop Toms yesterday, he told me he'd just smoked a big batch of moose meat. You want me to see if I can sweet-talk him into sending me back with some extra jerky for you?" Jenna laughed, but she sounded as though her thoughts were a million miles away. "Sure. If you think Luna will let you get away with it, then yeah, I'd like that."

"You got it. The only thing better than Pop's moose jerky is his biscuits and gravy. Lucky me, I get some of both."

Breakfast at Pop Toms's place in exchange for semimonthly supply drops had been a tradition started by Alex's father. It was one she enjoyed maintaining, even if the price of aviation gas well outweighed the price of Pop's simple meals. But Alex liked the old guy and his family. They were good, basic folks living authentically off the same rugged land that had sustained generations of their stalwart kin. The idea of sitting down for a hot, homemade breakfast and catching up on the week's events with Pop Toms made every bump and dip in the flight out to the remote settlement worthwhile. As she crested the final ridge and began her descent toward the makeshift landing strip behind Pop's store, Alex imagined the salty-sweet smell of smoked meat and buttermilk biscuits that would already be warming on the woodstove when she arrived.

"Listen, I'd better go," she told Jenna. "I'm going to need both hands to land this thing, and I--" The words caught in her throat. On the ground below, something odd caught Alex's eye. In the dark of the winter morning, she couldn't quite make out the bulky, snow-covered form lying in the center of the settlement, but whatever it was made the hair at the back of her neck prickle to attention.

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