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heart of gold.
These young people were interesting and fun and just what she needed to pull her out of her own maudlin
melodramas. It also helped her form a picture of Ren s home life. Jenna and Joey were in their late teens,
Patrick in his early twenties. How long had they been here, and how had they arrived? What did they do? Did
they all work for Ren and the fisheries?
 You come along for dinner tonight. The boys are going down to the station this afternoon and I m planning
dinner for about six thirty. That okay with you? Jenna asked just before they parted.
 I d love to, Isabelle said. Her heart gave a happy little flip. This was a welcome gesture and she greatly
appreciated Jenna s overture.
She watched Jenna head back to the bunkhouse, her stride full of strength and purpose. Although she had
been politely welcomed and generously provided for, Isabelle knew she had also been kept at arm s length.
Trust was a big thing here. She had seen it in Mouse s corralling of Joey s loose tongue, and Jenna s wariness,
and even, to some extent, in Patrick s bossiness. They were all careful around her.
Full of thought, she trudged up the track to the crescent of trees that hid the cabin from the buildings below.
She had just entered the canopy of fir when she heard Ren. Her voice was low and held barely contained
anger. Isabelle stopped dead in her tracks.
 We don t even need this meat. Ren s voice was hard.  It s a stupid, needless kill.
Isabelle dipped her head and slunk to a crouch. From under the lowermost branches, she could just make out
a small group of people standing several yards away. She could see Joey balancing on his crutch, looking very
shamefaced. Beside him Patrick slouched, red-faced and sullen. A tall young man Isabelle had not seen before
stood next to him. He was slight and dark skinned, and looked younger than Patrick but older than Joey. He
stood square to Ren, taking the force of her anger unflinchingly. He held a red fox by its tail, and Isabelle s
heart constricted with compassion for the dead animal. Flame-furred and full-bodied in its winter coat, it
dripped blood on the snow from a large tear in its throat.
 I m sorry, Ren, the new boy said, his voice passionate with apology.  It was such an easy kill, and I never
thought 
 It s lactating, Ren interrupted him, waving a dismissive hand.  So you ve killed its kits, too, she said with
disgust, then walked away leaving the three young men standing.
There was a moment of silence before Joey wobbled over and gave the boy a pat on the back.
 Don t worry, Noah. She s been cranky since the fuckup last week, he said.
So this was Noah, Isabelle thought. Now all Ren s group was accounted for.
 Guess I better get it skinned for Jenna, Noah mumbled.
 Way to go. She ll be so impressed with a fox fur. Maybe next time you can kill a mink, Patrick said.
 Oh, shut up, prick, Noah snapped. Joey gave a sharp snort of laughter that was quickly quelled. They
began to move away.
 You re the prick for getting Ren mad, Patrick bit back.
 If Ren s mad at anyone it s you. You destroyed the books, Noah said.
 I told you. It was an accident. Patrick said. He was huffing.  I got confused.
 You always fuck up. Then Noah relented and took the sting out of the brewing argument.  It doesn t matter
anyway. Ren s moody all the time since that woman arrived.
 I met her. She s nice, Joey said.  I showed her my scars.
Noah s and Patrick s guffaws drifted back up the slope. They were out of sight now but their voices carried
clear.
 Did she admire her handiwork? Patrick said before they moved out of hearing range.
Isabelle emerged from the trees and stared after them in shock. By her boot a sad trail of scarlet drips showed
the path the boys had taken. Blood on snow. And Joey s mashed-up injuries. Blood on snow.
It came back in a flurry, her fear and panic. The thump of her car hitting flesh and bone. The jerk of the seat
belt across her chest, the engine almost stalling. She remembered an agonized roar as a ball of fur and fury
slammed against her windshield cracking the glass. What the hell had she done?
She d hit an animal with her car. She d crashed and injured herself. But what did Noah and Patrick mean
about her handiwork? She had not hit Joey; he d had a hunting accident. Hadn t he told her so himself?
Was this the secret of why she couldn t go home? Why she felt like a bad person when she looked in the
mirror? Because she d driven into the boy?
Isabelle felt sick to her guts. She walked back up the slope and thought through this most recent flashback. It
was bloody and nauseous. She was certain that it was an animal she d crashed into some huge,
unrecognizable, bearlike creature. Not Joey. She realized with relief she had not run Joey down, but she had
certainly hit some sort of animal.
Chapter Nine
Ren checked the nest hole. No Mouse.
 Don t tell me she did what she was told for once.
She strode over to the bunkhouse. With each step her temper cooled and she felt ashamed for shouting at
Noah. She had to stop these knee-jerk reactions every time something went shit side up. He d been hunting;
it s what she d taught him to do. Now she would have to teach him about seasonal selection. In fact, she d
better teach them all that. And not just about killing, but the gestation cycle of every goddamned mammal in
the forest.
Mouse s singing greeted her as she entered the bunkhouse and she couldn t help smiling. Her trilling echoed
in the bathhouse acoustics.
 I thought you hated bath time? She stuck her head around the door just as Jenna applied the final rinse to
Mouse s hair.
 I do. I hate smelling clean. Mouse surged out of the tub, ignoring Jenna s scolding. Water sloshed
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