She shrugged and half-smiled. You tell me what this is. Seem so sure of yourself. You say you know what you want.

The man laughed, shook his head, and gazed sideways across the meadow.

He did know what he wanted, though. Even in bed, he wasn't afraid to tell her. Wasn't afraid to listen to her and give her what she needed. Unlike all the others, she never had to guess with him.


Though she's tired, the woman forces herself up from the boulder. She takes another drink and puts the canteen back in the pack, shoulders the load once more and picks up her rifle. Another mile to go. She hopes nothing finds her kill before her and her friends can get back.


Two days after the prospector dropped her off along the Slate she summitted a pass where a series of trickles, born of spring water and snow melt, had converged into what could hardly be called a creek. She descended the north side of the range toward the Inuit camp where her friends would be waiting. A mile or two later the flow had deepened into a stream big enough for grayling and within a few more miles a foaming, whitewater river, carving out a wide drainage snaking toward the Arctic.

Up ahead, the river disappeared around the shoulder of a jagged ridgeline. She understood that current, knew what it meant to run wild through the mountains, feeling nothing. Not rock, boulder, or snag. But she also knew that further downstream, as the land leveled, the river would slow, flatten out, and settle into calmer waters.

The woman believed in those calmer waters.

Walking beside the river, she felt a new a creak in her ankles and knees, but beyond her aching body a kind of nameless dread was creeping past her defenses. The man from Pueblo had made her feel safe, as much as she'd hated to admit it to herself. As much as she would never have admitted it to him. Not then anyway. But now she wished he was there with her. Not all men wanted to bleed her. She shook her head. At least one had been different.


Hiking the meat back to the men at camp, her resolve hardens. The way he caressed her. His strong, gentle hands. Their contact so subtle she was never sure if he was actually touching her till she started to tremble. When she gets there she tells her friends where the carcass is and two men hike back with her to pack the rest out. An hour later they come to the kill site and the carcass is untouched. Blood still oozing, a rust-colored stain blooming across lichen.

On the hike back, their packs weighted with flesh and antlers, she tells the men how she waited for hours behind a boulder till that thin herd came close enough. She'd been downwind and the caribou didn't spook. But then they veered west suddenly and started heading away from her. She had to chance a long shot—two hundred yards or more—and sank a bullet into that bull's neck on her first try.

The men congratulate her. Thank her for the effort, knowing she'll only eat what she can and leave the rest for the tribe when she heads south.