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RESCUED BY A ROGUE
Maven cursed her sister for the thousandth time. With plenty of alone time to dwell on her abandonment, the offense grew by the hour. Adding insult, the straps of her ill-fitting backpack pinched her shoulders, new boots rubbed her heels raw, and a sodden film of dew and sweat dampened her as if it had rained all morning. Her discomfort fueled her bitter train of thought.
So, yeah, this trip? Worst. Idea. Ever. Not that Brie had given her much choice. Their joint photography venture barely eked out a living for both of them, so when her sister ran off in pursuit of her ex, Maven wanted to throttle her. Brie had assumed Maven would cancel the commission for wildlife photos. As if they could afford to lose the job. As if Maven couldn’t handle it without her. Bitch.
The anger faded a second after it flared. To be honest, it wasn’t like Brie to ditch her obligations for a man. Ditching was Maven’s forte, and she’d had this coming to her, as many times as she’d bailed on Brie. The justice of it didn’t lighten her mood one speck.
On the bright side, the situation reinforced her argument that they needed to cross-train. Only Brie didn’t have Maven’s love of digital art and urban exploration. Unfortunately, Maven hadn’t picked up any of Brie’s wilderness survival skills either.
How hard could it be though? Surely not more difficult than urban photography. At least, that’s what she’d thought a few days ago. Two days into the hike, the score was now Wilderness—4, Maven—0. She’d already picked the wrong trail, one for expert backpackers, and then she’d promptly lost her trail map. She’d brought too much gear, too. The pack weighed nearly as much as she did. And the kicker was waking in a sopping bundle of sleeping bag because she didn’t bring a cover for her tiny tent. How the hell could Brie actually enjoy these photo trips?
Still, she was smart and tough enough to deal, and she couldn’t very well leave her cameras and lenses. As long as she kept track of the barely-there trail and stuck with it, she’d be fine for navigating. Only a few days of hiking and she’d be where Brie had planned to shoot before her sister’s skank hormones pulled the old invasion-of-the-body-snatchers.
Maven scowled, her fingers tugging at the torture devices serving as pack straps. She’d never lost her mind over a man, especially one she’d already left behind. No regrets. Never look back. Live life in the present. That was her thing, but not so much how Brie operated. Her sister hated to be alone. Living alone forever didn’t scare Maven though, not as much as living in lifelong misery like their parents.
As if reading her mind, the wind kicked up, slicing a chill through the thin layers the salesman swore were perfect for the savvy backpacker. Maven stopped and tilted her head. She never knew wind could actually howl. It was at once eerie and beautiful.
Another sound reached her over the wind, giving her a chill that had nothing to do with the temperature. And then she heard it again, the shrill scream of a dying animal. Or maybe it was giving birth. She hoped. Yeah, right, because lots of animals gave birth in September.