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Cabin Fever
Author: Pandora Pine

 

PROLOGUE

Kodi

Alaska 2016…

I’d been an outcast from my first breath. A Kodiak cub born into a family of Grizzlies. It was a once in a lifetime kind of thing, according to my father, Bart, head of the Sitka Clan. Bears with Kodiak lineage were said to have descended from Nanuk, Inuit deity and Master of Bears. My bloodline was an honor, again, according to my father. Something to be proud of and cherished.

With no disrespect to my pops, most days, my bloodline felt like a curse.

My father treated me better than his other cubs, which never sat well with the rest of the clan. To be honest, it never sat well with me either. My life was hard enough, being different from everyone else, without having the favorite son bullseye on my back.

It never ceased to amaze me how often my family told tales of Kodiaks past, and with these stories came a litany of brave deeds. One generation’s Kodiak outdoing the next, as it were. Cousins’ and aunts’ voices would ring with pride when telling tales of past glories, but they all hated me. Said I was a bastard cub and accused my mother of shaking her tail at any alpha male who’d give her the time of day.

None of this was true. If it had been, my father would have banished me and my mother from clan lands. The rest of the family knew this but continued to question my legitimacy. I knew one day I’d come into my own and prove to them all that I was worthy of being loved from day one. No one believed me. They called me a bastard on the best of days, and a stain on the Sitka bloodline on the worst.

Life went on. I went to school. Made friends of the non-shifter kind. Did my best to stay off the radar of my Uncle Cedric, and the rest of the clan elders, who also happened to be family members of one form or another. As my father’s first-born son, I’d be head of the clan one day.

When I wasn’t in school or doing homework, I was learning at my father’s knee. Listening and watching as he dealt with clan business great and small. Through his example, I learned the value of listening, of offering kind words, of great deeds being done out of the sight of others.

After high school, I took online classes in business management from the University of Alaska. I knew I’d be following in my father’s footsteps when he passed, and I wanted to be prepared for anything that came my way.

Unfortunately, the University of Alaska had no way of preparing me for what actually did come my way. There were no classes on clan uprisings, or how to deal with family who’d rather see you dead than installed as leader.

To be honest, I couldn’t care less about being the leader of the Sitka clan. My father was in the best shape of his life. It would be decades before I would even get a sniff at his job. I was hoping to use that valuable time to show my family I was more than just my questioned pedigree.

I supposed I knew a little of what Prince William must be going through. Not that I was royalty, but in order to ascend to my rightful place in the family, my father had to die. The same went for William. To become king, his father and grandmother had to pass on to their otherworldly reward. I shivered. Thinking about my responsibilities always set off my nerves.

Winter in Alaska can be brutal. Only averaging about eight hours of daylight, making hay while the sun shines isn’t always possible. Working grueling ten-hour shifts in a fish packing plant, I didn’t get to see any of those dwindling hours of sun. However, being the only member of my family working at the plant gave me a welcome respite from the constant bickering.

“Yo, Grimes!” Paul Minor, my boss, shouted. “Manager’s office!” He waved his right hand toward the office, likely in case I couldn’t hear him over the roar of the machines.

This couldn’t be good. A meeting in the manager’s office only an hour into my shift meant trouble. No one was ever promoted at nine a.m. Oh well, whatever was going to happen was destined. Dragging my feet up the stairs to the big man’s office was only prolonging the inevitable. I was more a rip the Band-Aid off kind of guy.

I knocked on the door’s square window. Griff Paterson, district manager, motioned me into the room.

“Ah, Grimes. Have a seat.” He motioned to a metal chair in front of his desk.

The chair shrieked when I sat down. As a bulky guy, I was constantly worried if chairs would hold me. Being six-five and weighing in at two hundred fifty pounds was my best feature. Based on the look in Griff’s eyes, me breaking a flimsy chair was the least of my worries. My gut churned. He wasn’t meeting my eyes. “You wanted to see me?” I tried to keep my voice level, but it broke at the end.

Griff nodded. His pen tapped several quick beats before his eyes bounced up to meet mine. “Dalton’s gonna take you to the hospital.”

Hospital? Christ, was this about a piss test? In my twenty-five years, I’d never done drugs or smoked. I only drank on rare occasions because I knew members of my family were looking for dirt on me. Pics of me drunk and humping some hot dude in a club would play right into their hands. I wasn’t about to give them the satisfaction. Which also meant I wasn’t getting much satisfaction either. The gay community in Sitka wasn’t exactly bustling. “I don’t understand. Am I being drug tested? Because I can assure you-”

“No,” Griff’s dark eyes met mine and held.

I knew in an instant this had nothing to do with a drug test or with my employment. “What happened?”

“There’s been an accident. I don’t know much more than that. You need to get to Sitka Medical Center now.”

“What aren’t you telling me?” I didn’t need a crystal ball to know there was more to this.

“It’s your father.” Griff was on his feet and coming around his dented metal desk. He took my elbow. “You need to go now.”

With a gentle hand, he led me down the stairs to the production floor. A quick glance at my coworkers told me they’d already heard the news. Their looks were filled with pity.

Christ, this really wasn’t good. When Griff opened the shop door leading to the parking lot, the sun’s rays blinded me, while a gust of icy wind stole my breath. I always joked that I felt like a vampire, going to and from work in the dark. I wasn’t used to seeing the sun. I was half surprised I didn’t burst into flames.

As promised, Dalton Hughes was sitting in a company SUV, his gloved hands gripping the wheel.

Nodding to Griff, I hopped into the SUV, which was warmed up. “Thanks, Dalton.” It was all I could think to say. Did he know more than what Griff told me or was he the proverbial messenger?

“Sure thing, Kodi.” He wore a sad smile.

In another time and place, Dalton and I had a brief flirtation. He wasn’t out, and I got the feeling he might never be. Not that it mattered now. “Do you know what’s going on?”

Dalton shot me another sad smile. “All I know is that there’s been an accident. Lots of black-ice when I was coming in this morning.” As if to prove his point, the large SUV fishtailed. Dalton steered into the skid and brought the SUV to a safe stop.

“Who else was in the truck with my father?” My dad was famous for his hulking black Ford F-350 with dual rear wheels. That truck was a tank. It almost seemed indestructible.

“I don’t know. I was in Griff’s office when he got the call. He sent me to start the Yukon and wait for you. I’m sorry, I-” Dalton reached out a hand, briefly setting it on mine before pulling back like he’d been burned.

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