David Dun Bestselling Thriller Author
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–   C H A P T E R    I  –

Kier Wintripp killed the motor and let the wilderness quiet settle over him. Outside the warmth of the truck, in the gray November dawn, the mountains were dressing themselves for winter, the storm smoothing their wrinkles with the white velvet of snow. Kier knew the mountains well, knew what grew in each microclimate, when it bloomed, what you might eat and what you would not, the resident birds and migratory visitors, the mammals, the invertebrates, the tracks of all, the habits of each, and their place in the order of things. As winter swept the mountains, sap drew back into the ground, growing things began a silent renewal, and wildlife went from fat to slim in sleep or struggle as the forest awaited the plenty of spring.

The wind-driven snow covered his windshield quickly, obscuring the white stucco medical clinic that might have been snatched from a suburb of San Francisco and set on this low-lying shoulder of Wintoon Mountain. Behind it, the wildness of the mountain’s rocky pitches and forested slopes contrasted sharply with the manicured grounds around the building.

Kier was late, and he would have preferred to avoid setting foot in the facility altogether. Although he supposed it was becoming more common place all the time, surrogate birthing of babies in exchange for a fee bothered him. That Tilok women were doing it regularly troubled him even more. Still, he knew his family needed him, so he stepped out of his pickup and started down the breezeway that led into the sprawling complex where his niece, Winona, was about to give birth. As Kier understood the arrangement Winona supplied only the womb.

A gravely injured rottweiler, hit by a tractor, had made Kier late. He was able to save the animal but at some cost to the quality of its life. Using the latest surgical techniques and stainless steel fastenings to hold the bones in place, Kier had closed the many wounds with more dissolvable sutures than he cared to count. He had left the grateful owner, given his hands a quick scrub, and driven to Mountain Shadows clinic as fast as conditions permitted.

The clinic was in fact a small hospital, a surgicenter and a walk-in primary care facility all rolled into one. It was touted as a charitable

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