Gunnar raced to Mason with the first-aid supplies, scanning the horizon for a sign of Julie. The wind picked up and blew snow around, obscuring the area. He didn’t like that she’d gone after the dogs alone, but he also understood that she’d had to. If she didn’t catch those dogs, they’d die. She couldn’t just let that happen.
Still didn’t make the wait for her to return any easier.
If Clark and Sunny would just show back up, Gunnar could take off after Julie and help her. He knew better than most that when things went sideways, one had to do whatever they could to turn it back on the skids. Julie’s action took her after the dogs. He had to focus on Mason.
Gunnar snapped the flap open on the tent he’d hastily put up and climbed inside. Mason leaned against a set of packs propped up behind him, his face contorted in pain. How Mason had fallen worried Gunnar. They might have bigger issues than runaway dogs.
“All right. Let’s see what we’ve got.” Gunnar worked off Mason’s layers to examine the injury.
Hopefully, it was just a sprain, but even that could derail their expedition.
“I think it’s broken.” Mason hissed, then cursed low as Gunnar worked the thick clothing off.
Gunnar grunted his response. No use wasting words of comfort, if that was the case. While the expedition was partly a marketing ploy for Nordic Nibbles, Mason mostly wanted to conquer the impossible. It was his way of encouraging others to not let their limitations stop them. Gunnar admired Mason’s drive, but how he weaved philanthropy into the adventures was why Gunnar agreed to come.
When Gunnar pulled the last layer of clothing off and exposed the bulge under the skin on the shin, Mason groaned and whacked his head against the packs.
“Looks like you were right.” Gunnar bent over the leg to examine it more closely, then dug through the first-aid kit for morphine and ice packs.
Dogs barking and the slide of runners against snow filled the air. A minute later, the tent flap whipped aside, and Clark crawled in. He took one look at Mason, his forehead creasing in concern.
“What happened?” He crawled the rest of the way in and ripped off his mittens with his teeth.
“I took the fast way off the ridge.” Mason gritted his teeth.
“Don’t you know that never works out like you hope?” Sunny scooted around Gunnar and kneeled next to Mason’s head.
“You’d think I’d know that by now.” He leaned his head back and closed his eyes.
“Think you can handle this?” Gunnar injected Mason’s leg with morphine as he talked to Clark. “I need to go help Julie.”
“Where is she?” Sunny asked, pushing Gunnar toward the door.
“Mason’s dogs took off.”
Gunnar stared at Clark, waiting for an answer. Gunnar knew the man had the expertise to handle any medical emergency, but Gunnar couldn’t leave without knowing.
“We’ve got this.” Clark waved Gunnar off. “Nothing we haven’t seen before.”
Gunnar barreled out of the tent and ran to his dog team, kicking them to action with a sharp command. He needed to find Julie’s trail before the weather covered it. If the wind got any worse, she’d be stuck in a white out alone. All kinds of dangers threatened in this barren landscape. It was why they never went off on their own. They all had emergency beacons on, but if the wind picked up and Julie wasn’t able to set up the tent by herself, she’d freeze before help could come. Heck, she could mush through it, trying to get back, and run straight into a lead of water and drown.
That image broke Gunnar into a cold sweat, and he urged the dogs to run faster. Julie could handle anything the wilderness threw at her on her own. He knew that, but he didn’t want her to have to. Not anymore.
Snow pelted his burning cheeks like little razors. He dug in his pocket for his goggles. The runner hit a bulge in the snow, and Gunnar lost his balance. He gripped the handle, the snow and ice rushing too close to his face as his feet dragged behind him.
With a roar, he pulled on the handlebars to hike himself up, the muscles in his shoulders and arms burning. His feet skipped along the surface. He placed them on the runners, but they landed on the ends and slid right off. Pulling himself farther up, his feet finally found purchase on the rough grips on the footboards.
He leaned over the handlebars, huffing to catch his breath. The skin on his face burned even more. If he didn’t get his goggles on, he’d end up with frostbite.
Standing straight, he flinched at the sight of Julie mushing toward him.
“Whoa, pups.” Gunnar pressed on the claw brake and lifted his arm in a wave.
Julie copied the motion, slowing her approach. She’d hooked the two dog teams up one after the other in a long train of fur. Mason’s sled attached to the dogs, followed by Julie’s. Loki and his cohorts ran with perfect manners for once. Gunnar dug out his goggles and slid them on as she stopped her sled beside him.
“Having troubles?” The laughter in her voice pushed all the worry and fear away.