Authors: Marian P. Merritt
Tags: #christian Fiction
She sat on the bench and wrote the words burning in her heart.
Lord, You brought me here for a reason. I pray I'm living up to Your will. I'm attracted to Cameron in a way I've never been to anyone before. Please Lord, if he is someone You want in my life, keep the door open. But if he's not right, close it tight. I don't understand the relationship he has with Marissa. Only You do. I trust that You will work things out for them if they are meant to be together. Lord, change her heart about the reasons she wants to be with Cameron. Draw her to You, Father.
A giant paw slammed on her journal. "Max." He had a stick in his mouth and dropped it at her feet. "You want to play, don't you?"
She placed her journal on the bench and grabbed the twig, ran to the edge of the gazebo, and threw it out in the snow.
Max bolted from her and dashed after his prize. He leapt in the snow trying to find it. Once he'd found it, he ran back to Leona and dropped it at her feet. Throw after throw, she tossed the stick for Max. He fetched like a machine. Did he ever get enough? When her arm became tired and her breaths came in short quick pants, she rested in the gazebo.
A reluctant Max sat at her feet.
The sound of a breaking branch near the woods drew her attention. A huge bull elk walked along the edge of the woods twenty feet from the gazebo. His antlers spread out from both sides of his head and his graceful movements took her breath away. She held her breath for fear she'd frighten him away. As still as possible, she admired his beauty and majesty. Another elk's head came from out of the woods. This one didn't sport antlers, so Leona assumed it was a female. She slowly exhaled.
Max spotted the animals. A loud bark and chase ensued. The elk bolted with Max on their trail. His bark faded in the distance as he chased after the elk.
What should she do? Go after him? She remembered the night she'd been out with Cameron when Max had chased after a rabbit. It only took a few minutes, and he was back home.
She called and started toward the lodge. The temperature had dropped and the numbness of her nose threatened to spread through her whole face. She stopped on the porch. "Max! Max!"
His barking in the distance became fainter and fainter. He was going farther away. Boy, this was not good. CG would be terribly upset if Max became lost. Why did she take him out?
"Leona, what's up?" Startled, she jumped when she heard Cameron's concerned voice. She'd missed the snowmobile come in.
"Cameron? What are you doing here?" She rubbed her gloved hands together.
"I burned my hand at the bonfire. Got almost to the lodge when the stupid snowmobile stopped. I carelessly took the one that stopped earlier today. So I walked in the rest of the way. Glad I dressed warm, but it's still cold out. What are you doing out here?"
She pushed back tears. "It's Max. I took him out, and now he's run off. He chased after a couple of elk. Oh, Cameron, he's so far away, and he's been gone for a while."
Cameron whistled, and then cupped his hand around his mouth. "Max, c'mon, boy. C'mon, Max!" His whistle and words echoed throughout the night. Silence returned his call. He scooped a handful of snow and placed it on the burn on his hand.
Leona grabbed his hand. "Cameron, we need to take care of this. Come inside." She guided him into the kitchen and the first aid kit. "How did this happen?"
"I was stoking the fire. Marissa and Bryan were playing around behind me. She lost her balance and fell into me, and I fell onto the rocks around the fire. Thankfully, it's not worse."
She held his open palm in both her hands. "I'll say. This is bad enough. How did you handle the throttle on the snowmobile and why are you alone? Didn't anyone come with you?"
"Handling the throttle was painful, but I stopped a few times to put ice on my palm. Bryan offered, but he needed to stick around to bring Marissa back." He looked into her eyes and basked in the concern he found there. "I'm glad I came alone."
She lowered her gaze back to his hand and began applying antibiotic ointment and bandaging the burned area. "There. This will hold for a while." She looked up and met his admiring gaze.
The clear amber of her eyes and the interest he found there sent his heart racing. Maybe he could finally spend time with her and get to know this amazing woman.
"We've got to find Max," she said as she stepped away and began rummaging through the kitchen.
She grabbed the kit, filled a thermos with coffee, grabbed cups and put everything in a duffel bag Cameron found in the mudroom.
He added bottles of water, beef jerky, flashlights, matches, and hand warmers. "Let's take the other snowmobile. Hopefully he's not too far."
She pointed to his hand. "I'm driving."
"Can't argue there."
They strapped the bag to the back, hopped on, and zoomed up the trail where Leona had last seen Max dashing off toward the elk. Large snowflakes dropped from the sky as they entered the forest.
Leona pulled back on the throttle to get through the heavy snow accumulation as they climbed the mountain. The thick snowfall came directly toward them when a slight north wind began to blow.
Lord, help us find him, please.
They stopped halfway up the trail.
Cameron flipped his helmet's visor up, and his shining blue eyes belied his concern when they called for Max and got no response. "Dad has a small hunter's cabin not far from here. We can stop there."
Leona nodded and continued up the trail. As they climbed, visibility decreased, and the wind battered against them. She kept plowing forward. A tight band twisted in her gut. Would they ever find Max in this? She could barely see the front of the snowmobile.
Cameron tapped on her shoulder and pointed to the right.
Movement under the base of a huge fir captured her attention. She pulled alongside the tree.
Cameron hopped off as soon as she stopped.
She opened her visor and was battered by the snow and wind causing her to close it again. When she reached Cameron the band twisting in her stomach tightened.
Max lay under the tree tangled in barbed wire. Blood dripped from his legs and his neck where the wire had cut through. Seeing Cameron sent him into a frenzy trying to get free.
The large tree blocked some of the wind offering a small amount of protection.
She lifted her visor as Cameron lifted his. "Can we get him out of this?"
"We need wire cutters. He's tangled in the tree branches. There should be a pair at the cabin."
"We can't leave him here. He'll go nuts if he thinks we're leaving him. How far is the cabin?"
"Not far, but it's hard to say. Maybe three hundred or so yards. I think I can get there and back pretty quickly."
"Not with that bum hand."
"I can't let you go in this weather."
She took a deep breath. "I can get there faster. You can't maintain pressure on the throttle. Tell me where the wire cutters would be?"
He let out a long exhale. "I don't know about this. You going alone."
"I'm going. Now let's quit wasting time."
Finally, he shook his head. "This is against my better judgment."
"It's my decision. Now, where would those cutters be?"
He gave her directions on how to enter the cabin and where to look for the tool. She trudged back through the snow and climbed aboard the snowmobile.
She pushed the starter button, nothing.
Oh no, please no.
She pushed again and a sputter came through.
The third time the engine came to life.
The wind's intensity and heavy snowfall battered her body as she headed back up the trail. She struggled to see through the visor and had to keep wiping off the snow. After what seemed like forever, a small clearing emerged with a cabin sitting off to the side. She left the engine running and hopped off the machine. She needed to hurry or the air-cooled engine would be in trouble. She hoped the blowing wind would be enough to keep it cooled.
Leona hurried up the porch steps to the front door. She pulled off her glove. On tiptoes, she barely reached above the doorframe. When she felt the cold metal of the key Cameron said would be there, she let out the breath she'd been holding. She fumbled with the lock and entered the cabin. The flashlight. Rats, she dashed back out, retrieved the duffel bag from behind the snowmobile, and darted back into the cabin.
A quick scramble through the bag produced both flashlights. One doubled as a lantern so she turned it on. The bright LED light cast a creepy glow throughout the one-room cabin. A double bed covered with a patchwork quilt sat nestled in the corner along the front wall next to a window. On the opposite wall near a two-chair table was a stone fireplace.
She placed the lantern on the table and used the flashlight to search for the bathroom Cameron described. A door past the kitchen came into view as she scanned the other corner of the cabin. She opened it and found the small bathroom with open shelves in the corner. As she looked through the surplus of tools, she realized she didn't really know what wire cutters looked like, but she kept an eye out for anything that looked like scissors. Once she found what she thought to be wire cutters, she slipped them into her jacket along with the flashlight and ran back out.
She closed the cabin door and flipped her visor down while she raced to the snowmobile. A quick turn around, and she was barreling down the trail. The snow had piled higher and the machine worked harder to get through, but she pushed forward. When she came to the spot where she thought Cameron and Max waited, she slowed and pulled the flashlight from her jacket. Adrenaline pulsed through her veins. Her breathing, rapid and heavy, echoed in her helmet.
As she scanned the side of the trail with the flashlight, the reflection of the blustery snow filled the lighted path. She inched forward and scanned again. Nothing. Surely, this was where she'd left them.
The more time passed before Leona's return, the tighter Cameron's chest constricted. He never should have let her go off alone in this weather. It was too dangerous, and she didn't know where she was going. How could he?
God, please keep her safe.
The prayer surprised him. It was like he'd bounced back to sixth grade when God was a big part of his life. A time when he'd had friends in Louisiana who believed and encouraged him to believe, too. He'd been in sixth grade and his mom and dad were not getting along. His friends offered support and prayed with him.
Julian had played a key role in keeping his parents together by praying with them and introducing them to a pastor who showed them another way. Why had they all strayed? Had money replaced God in their lives?
"It's OK, boy she'll be back soon." He patted a whimpering Max and hoped by saying the words out loud he'd believe them as well.
He listened closely hoping to hear the whine of the snowmobile engine. She couldn't be too much longer.
After a few minutes, the drone of the engine cut through the blistery howling of the wind through the trees. Cameron plodded through the accumulated snow and stood on the path. The lights of the snowmobile shone through the heavy snow. Relief flooded his heart when he saw Leona on the trail.
Thank You, God, for keeping her safe.
As she inched closer, he waved his arms overhead hoping she'd see him. When she reached him, she turned the snowmobile around so it faced up the mountain and then hopped off. She left the engine running. When she handed him the wire cutters, he wrapped his arm around her neck. "I'm glad you made it back. I was getting a little worried."
She returned the hug. "I'm glad I made it back. How's Max?"
"Ready to be free."
They crouched behind the large tree while she held the flashlight so he could untangle Max.
Leona knelt next to Max and took deep controlled breaths. Slowly, slowly, her breathing returned to normal. With one hand, she held Max and with the other the flashlight, as Cameron worked under the limbs of the fir tree. With each clip of the wire, Max struggled to be free, making Cameron's job more difficult. The fear in the dog's eyes tore at Leona's heart. She bent close to Max's head, crooking her fingers around his collar and whispering in his ear. The action calmed him enough for Cameron to slice through two of the remaining wires and freeing the dog at last.
She held on to Max's collar, thwarting his attempt to bolt once freed. Cameron grabbed his collar with his free hand and gave Leona the cutters. She placed them back into her jacket and hiked toward the snowmobile. Once there, she hopped on and slid as far forward as she could. Cameron lifted Max onto the seat and climbed on behind him.
"Ready." She had to raise her voice so Cameron could hear her through the helmet and above the wind.
He pointed toward the top of the trail and shook his finger.
She pulled back on the throttle and climbed back toward the cabin. With the extra weight and pushing uphill against the north wind, their progress was slow. Leona strained to see past the blowing snow reflected in the headlights. When the outline of the cabin came through in the distance, she breathed a sigh of relief and headed toward it. She pulled near the porch, lifted her visor, and turned toward Cameron. "Are we going to head back? Should I leave the engine running?"
"I don't think it's a good idea. Our gas level is pretty low, and with the extra weight from Max and the deep powder, we could get in trouble. We should probably sit tight."
She turned the ignition off. The sound of the wind howling through the trees sent an icy chill through her whole body as she trudged toward the porch steps.
Cameron followed, leading Max by the collar.
Inside, Leona removed her bulky helmet, turned the lantern on, and retrieved the first-aid kit from the duffel.