High Country Rebel Online - Lindsay McKenna

CHAPTER ONE

TALON HOLT KNEW he was going to die. It was just a question of time. He slogged through the foot of snow quickly piling up on Highway 191 to the Bar H outside of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Zeke, his U.S. Navy SEAL combat assault dog, a Belgian Malinois, walked at his side, looking up, a worried expression on his black face.

As he gripped the leather leash, Talon gasped for air. They were at five thousand feet in the middle of a late-May blizzard, no less. He could barely see the Snake River hundreds of feet below and to his right. On his right was a rocky, craggy mountain rising 6,200 feet, hidden by the blizzard.

He wiped his mouth, head down, the wind howling and gusting, beating against his wet, cold body. Miles earlier, it had rained. He and Zeke were drenched as they slogged alongside the muddy berm of the highway.

Talon had been born in this area so he knew he was in trouble. Few cars or trucks were on the road because of the unexpected blizzard.

What made his problem worse: the PTSD symptoms acquired during his tenure as a Navy SEAL. Talon couldn’t just hop on a plane, ride in a bus or be inside any enclosed area if a panic attack hit him. When medically and honorably discharged from the SEALs, he had to walk from Coronado on the West Coast back home to Jackson Hole. He knew the journey would get dicey.

Lucky for him now, he wore his Navy camo coat and he had gloves. He took the wool blanket out of his sixty-five-pound rucksack and wrapped it around Zeke. The Belgian Malinois, who was often mistaken for a German shepherd, was not prepared for a blizzard, either. Zeke was short-haired and needed the protection. Talon tried his best to keep his loyal dog dry and warm.

He was so close to getting home. God, hadn’t he suffered enough? Done enough for his country? Ever since the Taliban had captured him and Hayden, his SEAL partner, his life had disintegrated before him. They had been jumped by the enemy and Zeke had escaped and taken off. The dog had run thirty miles over rough, mountainous terrain to Camp Bravo, a forward operating base in Afghanistan.

He wouldn’t be alive today if Zeke hadn’t done what he did. After regaining consciousness in the hospital at Bagram Air Base near Kabul, he learned that Zeke had barked furiously, getting the SEALs’ attention at Bravo. Zeke had led a six-man SEAL team back to where he and Hayden had been captured and were being tortured. During the firefight, Zeke had taken a bullet in the shoulder, nearly died himself.

Talon tried to shake off the memory of the torture. His gut churned with cramps from not eating for three days. He had to get home. He had to make it to the Bar H.

But would he survive? With every short, shallow breath that tore out of his mouth, Talon wheezed. His lungs were filling up with fluid, and he desperately needed antibiotics and pure oxygen. He cursed his bad luck. In his soggy mind, the fever making him hallucinate, Talon figured he had about a mile to go.

He was either going to die of pneumonia out in this storm or he was going to die of hypothermia. How ironic was that? He’d survived gunshot wounds and torture only to freeze to death out in this damn blizzard? If Talon hadn’t been so exhausted, he’d be pissed.

The sky was a dark, gunmetal gray. He knew it was probably around seven in the morning, but it looked like early dawn due to the heavy, dark clouds carrying the brunt of the blizzard. Talon stumbled over his own feet and fell hard on the berm. He threw out his hands, releasing the leash. Zeke stopped, wagging his long brushy tail, whining and licking the side of his face as Talon struggled to sit up. The world whirled around him and Talon cursed softly, tightly shutting his eyes. Come on! Dammit, if he could survive BUD/S training to become a SEAL, he sure as hell could get through this!

Gasping, grunting, he used every last bit of his strength and pushed himself unsteadily to his feet.

He leaned over, placing his gloved hand on Zeke’s strong back, which had carried so many loads for him over in Afghanistan for three years. He groped for and found the leash. Talon awkwardly patted his dog’s head, saw the worry in Zeke’s