Matt Walker cast the line into the water. He’d already caught two salmon lying in a basket at his feet. Maybe he could catch a third.
He didn’t really care. He was living at the Grange, his new company’s mountain retreat and it had enough food stocks to last years. Super good food, too. Catching a third salmon wasn’t going to change anything.
His teammates kept asking when he was coming down from the mountain to begin his job. Actually his best friend, Metal, kept asking, When the fuck are you going to stop brooding?
He wasn’t brooding. He was … reflecting. Hard.
He didn’t feel any sense of urgency in coming down off the mountain. At times he felt like a 19th century trapper, only he shaved. Occasionally. There was a Matt Walker-shaped job just waiting for him at ASI, a security company of good guys, and good friends. He had accepted, but he wasn’t ready to start yet, and refused any notion of pay.
In exasperation, the Big Boss, John Huntington, threatened to just deposit a salary in his bank account so he’d be shamed into coming down and mixing with people.
They ended up compromising. Matt acted as caretaker of the Grange and had helped his good buddy Nick Mancino out of a scrape a while back. The scrape had been serious and the Grange had been blasted by a drone missile. Matt had overseen and helped with the repair work, donning his toolbelt with relish, grateful for the hard work that took his mind off other things.
He hadn’t wanted to be paid a cent, which had annoyed both John and his other Big Boss, former Senior Chief Douglas Kowalski.
Tough shit. They were tough guys, they could live with the frustration. For the moment, Matt was content to live like a hermit in a super luxurious mountain hideaway and nurse his fury.
Every once in a while a buddy from ASI would make it up to the Grange for a beer and a talk. They got the beer.
Seeing people was way down on the list of things Matt wanted to do. He was about done with people.
The outside world didn’t hold much appeal. And hell, he had enough money for the rest of his life if he wanted. His old man had left him a surprisingly large amount. Added to his savings and a few investments, it made him, technically, a millionaire, not that he gave a shit. He’d rather have his old man back.
A few freezing cold rain drops fell on his head. He watched as the rain swept down the mountain, a gray curtain descending from black clouds, the leading edge reaching the river. Time to get to shelter. Only a crazy man would continue standing out here in the cold and in the rain.
But…damn. The cool rain felt good.
He’d spent his military life as a SEAL—ten years—in hot, sandy hellholes that smelled of dust and shit, first in Iraq then Afghanistan. This was as far away from that as you could get.
He loved it up here, amazingly grateful for the clean air without the stench of open sewers of Iraq, surrounded by lush greenery, after years of the sere, bare rocky landscape of Afghanistan. The foothills of Mount Hood were paradise and he loved it. Even the rain—so fresh and clean—was welcome.
The patter of drops falling hard on the rocks lining the river’s shore grew louder, became a drumbeat. He was getting drenched, nature’s way of telling him to cut this shit out, get inside, get dry, get outside a nice glass of Talisker.
He lifted his face up to the cold rain for a moment, enjoying the fresh wind, the moment of calm after so many years of back to back deployments. Okay, time to go.
He lifted the rod and felt resistance. He’d caught something at the last minute. Something big, to judge from the reel spinning out. Huh.
The water boiled white in spots where it rushed over underwater rocks. He pulled hard on the rod but still felt major resistance in the line. Something appeared then disappeared in the river. Something big, pale. What kind of fish was that color?
And then he saw it—a slender arm and a hand. Just a second before it tumbled out of sight.
Fuck, he’d caught a person, not a fish! Somehow his hook had ripped into human flesh.
There it was again! Pale gray skin against gray water. Matt sprang into action without thinking. The part of his mind that had been altered by combat already had a plan by his next breath.
He whipped out his boot knife, sliced the fishing line and dove straight into the water, swimming fast. It was a race against time. Anyone who wasn’t a SEAL or an Olympic level swimmer was going to drown in this water. And he hadn’t seen the person actually swim, just be carried along by the rushing water.
He crawled powerfully, keeping his eyes peeled for that unnatural sign of flailing limbs. The river took a bend and he swam curving around, keeping to the center of the river where there was a deeper channel and the churning waters were calmer.
A squall pelted his face with icy water and he had to close his eyes for a moment. In BUDS they’d swim ten miles a day using the combat sidestroke but that kept him underwater most of the time. Right now, he had to stay above the water with his eyes open to keep track of the person.
Maybe the body.
It was freezing cold and he had no idea how long the person had been in the water. But if it was more than twenty minutes, he was searching for a corpse not a person.
A pale curve of flesh within a white wave…there! Drifting toward the left hand bank where a small eddy captured it, spinning it. Matt caught a glimpse of long red hair, a delicate profile before a wave washed over it.
A woman! This was a woman he’d hooked!