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Title and Copyright Page

Shifters Mountain

Werewolf Shifter Romance

Author: Ethel Venters


© Copyright 2016 by Ethel Venters

All rights reserved.

In no way is it legal to reproduce, duplicate, or transmit any part of this document in either electronic means or in printed format. Recording of this publication is strictly prohibited and any storage of this document is not allowed unless with written permission from the publisher. All rights reserved.Respective authors own all copyrights not held by the publisher.


This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any person,

living or dead, is purely coincidental.


From the Author:

2 Special Bonus Stories INSIDE!

Thank you for purchasing this book.



Table of Contents


Shifters Mountain

Description

April Depardieu is a mountain climber, although she finds the limits of her capabilities when she joins a group of friends to scale Mont Blanc. Torn between enjoying the experience and wishing she’d stayed at home, she nevertheless presses on in the face of a rising danger—the warming weather.

As the danger of avalanche threatens, she harbours increasing doubts about their safety, but can’t turn back since the point of no return has been reached.

When she awakens in a strange mountain chalet, with her leg splinted, she knows the worst has happened. But as she drifts in and out of consciousness, she catches sight of a mysterious man who comes and goes at random, sometimes in the middle of the night, and often without clothes.

Why is he leaving bare footprints in the snow, and why are there always wolf tracks near the door?

April knows she must shake herself from the dream-like sleep, and recover her ability to walk in order to pursue the mystery of her mysterious benefactor.


Chapter 1

I checked the carabiner’s snap gate for the fifth time before I admitted I was procrastinating—and scared.

“If you’re not going to do this, why bother flying out here at all?” I muttered. “You could have stayed at home, walked the dog, or played tennis, anything but risking your life on a snow-covered mountain.” Light snow drifted down from above, kicked down by my impatient climbing buddy.

“Hey, April!” he called, “you asleep down there?”

“Coming, Sonny,” I shouted back. “Dammit…” I muttered. I hated people seeing my fear and I was determined to move on up to reach the summit before noon tomorrow. If we didn’t, it was likely we’d be called off the mountain. Rising temperatures made for hazardous climbing and the PGHM, the mountain police, were considering closing the Gouter Route if the day grew any warmer.

“April!”

“Coming!” I snapped. I glanced down the Grand Couloir, immediately wished I hadn’t, and then turned my attention to the remainder of the climb. Two of our party had already reached the ridge, the Refuge du Gouter, and were monitoring the rising temperature. If I held them up any longer, I’d be responsible for wasting everyone’s week. Drinking beer in Chamonix was a poor substitute for gazing out from the summit of Mont Blanc.

And so, I committed myself, swinging out from the laughably small ledge I’d found, and digging in my toes as I pushed upward.

It was terrifying, but also the biggest thrill of my life. Office work was a way to bring in the beans. This was living, and nothing compared, or would ever compare to this: the soul-chilling confrontation of nature at her most unforgiving. Knowing that a single mistake or a moment’s lack of concentration could end my life was the most sobering thing I had ever felt. People called me crazy for risking my life, but doing exactly that was what made me who I was. If I wasn’t in danger, what was the point of being alive?

I focused on the task at hand, and, with shouts of encouragement from my buddies, I made good time, almost making up for my poor showing earlier.

Within two hours, we were heading along the Refuge du Gouter, enjoying the sunshine but worrying about what the warmth might do to the stability of the packed snow beneath our feet.

“It’s enough to make you wish for a snowstorm,” Sonny called back to me.

“That might make things worse,” I shouted back.

“And we’d lose the scenery.”

“Will you guys can it?” Ray called from behind me. “The last thing we need is an avalanche.”

“Avalanches don’t—” I began, but Sonny had stopped.

“What’s wrong?”

“I’m not sure. Hey!” he called to the team ahead. They stopped and turned, raising their arms to ask why he’d called a halt.

“Everything okay?” Ray asked.

“I don’t know… Something feels…” he shifted his feet, testing the snow for something. I waited patiently, trusting Sonny, who had ten years’ more experience than me.

It didn’t help him much. The entire snowfield, from a kilometre ahead to the edge of the ridge, was shifting. The snow vibrated beneath my feet—exactly what Sonny had feared and had been feeling for. All five of us toppled as the snowfield picked up speed, carrying us along with it. The PGHM had been correct in its assumptions. The mountain was unstable, and now we were caught up in the shift.

I cried out as the flat snow started to break up into jagged sheets, the leading edges rising above the sheets below them. Five feet ahead, a wall of white rose into the air, towering over me. If it broke up, or slid over the top of the sheet I was clinging to…

I could only pray that it didn’t.

The ice slammed against my body as it slithered down the mountain, gaining speed rapidly. I was riding ten tons of rapidly crumbling bobsled, with no control, and no idea which way I was headed. The sheer drop of the Grand Couloir wasn’t far away, behind me and off to my right. I’d never survive the drop.

Something smashed into the floe I was riding, and I was spun to the right, to face the steep drop, exactly as I’d feared. Within seconds, I was going to be plunged over the edge. The fall would no doubt kill me, and the hundred tons of snow that followed would ensure I wouldn’t be found until September. I was ten feet from the edge of the speeding floe. I could either take my chances with the avalanche or face the thousand-foot drop plus the avalanche that would land on my head.

It was a no-brainer. As quickly as my numbed fingers and spiked boots would allow, I crawled to the edge of the ice, glanced once at the tons of snow thundering down after me, and then threw myself into its path, hoping for a miracle.

Five seconds later, my makeshift bobsled vanished over the edge of the Refuge du Gouter and I was engulfed, sent tumbling into a crushing nightmare of dazzling whiteness.

~

“Faites atention…” a man said in a soft voice.

“Ow…” I managed. Every joint and muscle burned or stabbed me with white-hot needles. Stupid, stupid, stupid! Why had I tried to move? Groaning, I laid back down and concentrated on breathing until the worst of the pain began to fade.

“Vous avez ete blesse.”

“What…what…” My foggy brain couldn’t translate his French. “I don’t understand. Ah… Je ne comprends pas?”

He switched to English, with a soft accent. “Don’t try to talk. You’ve been through…ah…traumatise…You will need time to recover.” When I’d tried to move, my leg had hurt terribly. Hot waves of pain washed up my thigh, and I squirmed as my skin burned.

“I don’t…hey, that hurt!”

“I apologize.” He withdrew the needle from my bare shoulder, then laid the syringe in a stainless steel dish. But if I’d entertained any thought of being in a hospital, I was sorely mistaken. Yes, the bed in which I lay was steel-framed, and was raised to support my back, but that was where any similarity ended. The room was small, and dimly lit. The walls were of typical Alpine chalet construction, thick horizontal planks of varnished wood. All of which made the needle-jabbing more alarming. Why was I in a strange bed, being attended to by a man I’d never seen before?

And why was I naked?

“My clothes!” I snapped. “Where are they?”

He smiled tolerantly. “Your ski suit was destroyed by the fall. The blood soaked everything below the waist, and the bone break tore through your thermal underwear.” He shrugged. “I’m sorry. But I have your shirt, and your brassiere.”

“Where?” I suddenly felt chilled without my clothes. Yes, I was in a warm bed, but I felt vulnerable, and trapped. Without clothes, I had no way to escape this stranger.

Another thought struck me. “Did you undress me?”

“Of course.” He made an ‘I suppose so’ face, pushing down both lips. “But you should not be concerned.”

“Really?”

“It was your leg which was injured. Your dignity was not.”

“You undressed me!”

“Your ski suit I cut away.” He mimed scissors with two fingers. “Your leg I treated.” He pushed himself to his feet with a weary sigh. “The rest of your clothes were removed for your comfort, and…” he raised a single finger to silence my next protest. “…it was done with no lights.”

“You undressed me in the dark?”

“Does it not make you feel less…um…viole? Violated?”

“Maybe,” I conceded. “But how do I know you’re telling the truth?”

“You don’t.” He surprised me with his simple reply. “You must learn to trust me. Here.” He handed me my t-shirt and bra. I pulled the blankets up to my neck and dressed as best I could. “These also.” He held up a pair of dark blue sweatpants. They were probably two sizes too big.

“You will need the extra room,” he explained. “For the bandages, yes?”

I sighed. “Yes, that makes sense.” As we’d talked, the sharp sting of pain had faded from my leg. I didn’t move, for fear of setting it off again, but I was desperately keen to put a layer of clothing between my lower body and the man, who still hadn’t introduced himself.

“Are you a doctor?” I asked.

“I was. A long time ago.”

“And where is this place?” I glanced around the small room. “Where am I?”

“A secluded chalet, on my land.”

I frowned. “How secluded, exactly?”

“You need not feel threatened, Mademoiselle. It is secluded, not for the purposes of seduction, but for solitude.”

“You don’t enjoy company?”

His smile was sad, wistful. “Shall we say…company does not enjoy me?”

“Hmm…okay.” An urgent need alerted me to a new problem. “I need to use the bathroom.” Damn. Of all the times…

He stroked his chin. “You should not need…ah, I see. The bag is full.”

“What bag? Oh, no…” I gazed in dismay at the urine-filled bag hanging from the side of the bed. A catheter bag. I reached down, and sure enough, a small plastic tube lay between my legs. I sagged back onto the bed in dismay. So much for my dignity.

“Now you are awake, I can remove this. But with your leg still damaged, you may find difficulty—”

“Take the damn thing out!”

“Should I switch off the lights?”

I rolled my eyes. “What’s the point? You didn’t switch them off to fit it, did you?”

“Of course not. It would have been dangerous.”

I threw an arm over my eyes. “Go on, then. Let’s get this over with.”

“If you are certain.” He moved closer, pulling on a pair of protective gloves. The blankets were lifted from my lower half and I groaned as cool air touched my most intimate parts.

“Oh my god…”


Chapter 2

It was a huge relief to have the catheter out. My cheeks burned at the thought of him seeing more of me than any man ever had. After he’d slid the plastic tube from me, he offered to help me finish dressing. I declined, insisting I’d manage just fine.

Without seeming offended, he left the room, and I tried to scrape together the last remains of my dignity. Pulling the sweatpants on was a huge struggle. Every joint ached and every muscle burned as I tried to throw the pants toward the toes of my bandaged leg, while still holding onto the waistband. After ten minutes, I dropped the pants onto the floor, wriggled my bad foot onto the pooled fabric, and then did the same with my good foot. Once there, I used my good toes to snag the waistband and pull the pants high enough to reach them with my outstretched fingers. By the time I’d pulled them into place, tears were rolling down my cheeks and I wondered why I hadn’t allowed my nameless benefactor to help. He’d already seen me naked, worse than naked, actually. What else did I have to lose?

Walking was tough, too. My body protested and demanded I go back to bed. Not a chance. I wanted to be up and about, and figure out where I was in the world. It had also occurred to me to wonder if we were the only ones here. If so, where was the rest of my party? Had Sonny and Ray survived the avalanche? Were they even now scouring the mountainside for me, or were they relaxing in the next room, ready to mock the indignities I’d suffered?

The living room was empty. Even my ‘former doctor’ friend was missing. He couldn’t be far away, because a healthy log fire was blazing in the hearth, heating my cheeks even from twenty feet away. The living room was large, and appeared to be at the center of the house, with at least two doors on every wall.

“Welcome. Please…sit.” His voice startled me from my musing.

“Ah…I need to ask something.”

“Bien sur. Please.”

“I was climbing with four other people. Their names are Sonny—”

“Je suis desole. I found no others. You were alone.”

“But they must be out there! Where are my boots? I need to find them!”

“Mademoiselle, you must be calm. You cannot help them.”

“Why not? What’s happened—”

“You have been in my care for almost ten days.”

“Ten days?” I stared at him in disbelief.

“So they are found, or they will not be found.”

“Wait a minute, where was I found?”

“The avalanche carried you onto the glacier. You were fortunate to survive the fall.”

“And that’s where you found me? Only me?” They couldn’t be gone, surely.

“Only you. I am sorry about your friends.” His face brightened. “Perhaps they are well and have returned home?”

“I can only hope.” I wondered if my friends were still scouring the mountain, trying to find me. “Do you have a telephone?”

“Alas, no. This is a remote region.”

“Internet?”

He smiled. “I am isolated from the world. But perhaps when you are better healed, I can escort you to Chamonix?”

“Is it still light outside? Maybe you could take me there today?”

“It would be an overnight walk through deep snow.”

“A walk?” I stared. “You don’t have a car either, do you?”

He shrugged. “Perhaps you would care for some tea?”

“Coffee. Do you have coffee?” My heart leapt at the notion. How long had it been since I’d had caffeine? Ten days? More?

“But of course. You Americans and your coffee.”

“Hey, I’m Canadian.”

“”Which is better than being American? Or worse? You are quick to make the distinction.”

It was my turn to shrug. “Being different is what keeps us doing crazy stuff.”

“Such as climbing mountains when the avalanche warning is in force?”

“The Gendarme hadn’t closed the route, not at that point.”

“They closed it immediately afterwards, though.”

“That’s to be expected. Hey…”

“Yes?” He raised an eyebrow at my verbal swerve.

“I don’t even know your name.”

“Monsieur White. Ashley, if you prefer.”

I extended my hand. “April Depardieu.”

“So how does this happen?” He seemed genuinely shocked.

“What? How does what happen?”

“That your name is more French than mine…and yet I am French, for the most part.” We both pondered that oddity for a moment, before he remembered the coffee.

“So where exactly are we, Ashley?”

“The Savoie Mont Blanc nature reserve,” he called from the kitchen area. “Part of it, anyway.”

“Do you see much of the wildlife?”

“Every day. It is one of my tasks to monitor and maintain the numbers of the Ibex.”

“Interesting job. Do you see many Chamois?”

“It is inevitable.” He turned to face me, wiping his hands on a towel. “There are almost six thousand of them in the region.”

“But how do you follow them in the snow? They’re fast, aren’t they?”

He tapped the side of his nose. “I have special skills.”

“Sure.” I didn’t ask. If he chose to be mysterious, then fine. I watched as he busied himself beside a black-and-chrome coffee maker. I smiled as he produced a small jug of cream. No powdered milk for Monsieur White, then. I wondered where he got his supplies from, since we were apparently so removed from civilization.


Chapter 3

Ashley was the perfect host, bringing me everything I could wish for, aside from contact with the outside world. It was his way, he said. He preferred to remain apart from humanity and live life in his own way. I thought it was odd for him to refer to humans as if he wasn’t one of them. While I drank my coffee and ate the curiously fresh pastries that accompanied it, Ashley excused himself.

“I must cut some more wood.” He nodded at the blazing hearth. “To keep us warm.”

“Of course.” He’d caught me in mid-bite. I wiped the flakes of pastry from my lips, feeling like a clumsy child.

“You injury. Does it hurt?”

I shifted my leg and an electric jolt of pain blasted through it. Idiot. Why had I moved? I’d forgotten all about the break until he asked.

“When I have finished with the wood, I will prepare another injection. He glanced at the window. It will be dark soon, so I must complete this.”

His phrasing struck me as peculiar. “Does it have to be dark before you can inject?”

“I must finish with the wood, and bring it indoors before darkness…visits?”

“Arrives.”

“Of course.”

“Well, don’t stand around on my account. Chop, chop!” I smiled, but he seemed confused by my joke. “Don’t worry. I’ll explain it later.”

“Of course. I would be very grateful.”

He slipped past the heavy door and pulled it closed. I shivered as the Alpine draught reached me, and adjusted the blanket he’d provided. I was reclining on a sofa. It could have been a chaise lounge. I wasn’t certain. But it was comfortable and I was wonderfully relaxed. Whatever blend of coffee he used, I wanted the recipe. The opposite of stimulating, it infused me with warmth, and eliminated all the tightness, and most of the aches, from my muscles. After a few moments, I struggled to keep my eyes open, blinking hard to keep myself in the here and now.

But I soon gave up the fight, and as darkness colored the windows black I drifted into a thankfully dreamless sleep, disturbed only occasionally by a sharp crack from the fireplace as a pocket of resin exploded.

~

I awoke to the smell of cooking. My stomach rumbled insistently, urging me to wakefulness, so I could track down the hopefully satisfying repast.

“Ashley?” I murmured as I stretched. The ache in my leg had faded, although I’d no idea if that was due to the welcome rest, or a mid-slumber injection courtesy of my host.

I lowered my splinted leg to the floor, tensed for pain, but something was working effectively. I felt no discomfort, which was peculiar, considering I’d broken a bone. It occurred to me he’d never explained if it was my tibia, or fibula I’d snapped. It didn’t matter, not right away. I had bigger issues to confront. I was hungry, and the smell of cooking was driving me to distraction.

I called for Ashley again, but there was no reply. Either he was ignoring me, or I truly was alone. Strange, considering his fervent wish to be indoors before nightfall. I checked the windows were still dark, in case I’d slept through the night and into morning.

As I shuffled closer to the sturdy wooden table, a large piece of paper caught my eye.

“Before you sit down, check outside the front door.”

“Okayyy…” I was glad he’d forewarned me. I’d have been annoyed if I’d made the trip across to the table, only to be sent away again. As it was, the front door was close to where I stood.

He’d left me ice cream. On the doorstep. It was still in a plastic tub, presumably so the local wildlife wouldn’t enjoy it before I could. Some assembly required, then. I closed the door, intending to leave the dessert in its natural freezer until I was ready to eat it. No sense in it melting in the heat from the merrily-blazing fire, was there?

I resumed my determined course toward the table. A chrome-plated cover sat on a dinner plate, which was resting on a warmer. Four small candles supplied a gentle heat to whatever was beneath. I steadied myself on the back of a chair and lifted the lid, which was surprisingly hot. Delicious aromas swirled past me in a cloud of aromatic steam. I inhaled deeply, relishing the first hot food I’d eaten in…ten days, Ashley had said. How he’d managed to feed me in all that time was a mystery. Hopefully, I’d get the chance to ask him, wherever he’d disappeared to.

I considered waiting for him, but my stomach was impatient. My mouth watered and after only a second of hesitation, I lifted the plate, careful to protect my hands with napkins, and set it down. Utensils had been laid out and a dark bottle of wine tempted me. I was too hungry to think about wine, though, and it would have been a bad idea on an empty stomach. No, perhaps later.

I began eating, sighing happily with each mouthful. The stew was delicious, and gamey, and was accompanied by carrot, onions and red cabbage, all of which had absorbed the flavor of the meat. I guessed the stew had marinated for many hours for the vegetables to become so tasty and soft. I actually started laughing, because the meal was so fulfilling.

“Compliments to the chef!” I called to the apparently empty chalet. After a minute’s pause, I opened the wine, allowing it to warm in the glass. I was glad I’d waited. The wine was dark, but still translucent, and delivered hints of pine and cherries. The perfect choice for the meal…whatever kind of beast had laid down so I could enjoy eating it.

Once I’d finished, I was thoroughly full. Not having eaten a full meal in over a week had reduced my capacity somewhat. I decided to wait before attempting dessert. So I hobbled back to the sofa, somehow managing not to spill the wine over the rug. As I sipped the warming red, I considered my situation. Somehow, I’d have to get word to the outside world. Mom and Dad would be frantic, and my sister would be in tears. She’d frequently warned me against foolish pursuits such as mountaineering and skiing. But I was the adventurous one of the family, and couldn’t escape my calling. And look where it had landed me. In an isolated chalet, cut off from the world. But I’d been hit by an avalanche, and lived to tell the tale. I prayed the rest of the team had been as fortunate.

I hoped a similar fate hadn’t overcome Ashley. Why so keen to finish cutting wood before dark, and then vanish into what was clearly late evening, or even night?

My eyes began to droop and I hard-blinked them open. The warming fire combined with my contented stomach and rich wine was conspiring to put me to sleep again. I’d already slept enough, I figured. Time for some ice cream. I levered my reluctant body upright and headed for the door. Oddly, it seemed further away this time. Maybe the room was bigger. No, how could that be? I was drunk, that was all. Or the wine and the painkillers were mixing. My head spun pleasantly, not helping my balance in the least. I debated to wisdom of returning to the sofa, but the thought of Alpine-chilled ice cream intrigued me.

I managed to reach the door without falling. The warm light that flooded past me contrasted sharply with the stark monochromatic Alpine darkness, inky blackness above stark white. The plastic tub of ice cream was still there, surrounded by tiny footprints, no doubt made by inquisitive nocturnal critters. Using the door handle to steady myself, I bent to pick up the tub and was startled to see a different set of prints, much larger than the others.

They were human. They were barefoot.

~

I stared, unable to believe my eyes. The bare feet were larger than my own, and could only have been made by one person, one man.

Ashley.

But why the hell would he go outside without any boots on his feet? I extended my injured foot, not wanting to put my weight on it, and placed my foot inside the first print. It was half as big again. No doubt, whatsoever.

“Ashley?” I called. My worst fear was that he might by lying out in the cold, unable to move or call out to me. “Ashley, are you out there?” Only the soft crackling sounds of a sub-zero night answered my calls. Nervous, I moved back inside, wondering what to do next. The cold wasn’t helping my leg, neither was hobbling about on it. I closed the door, but left it unbolted, in case Ashley returned. What had happened to him?

I returned to the sofa and huddled beneath the blanket, cradling the glass of wine. I’d completely forgotten the ice cream, having lost the urge. Maybe this barefoot walking was a regular thing for him. Maybe he did it every night. Why should he face any problems tonight?

It was still a weird thing to do, but if he lived out here alone, he was well aware of the dangers. I could only hope he didn’t come to any harm, because I would be in a whole load of trouble if he disappeared.

“Stop worrying, April. He’ll be fine.”

The distant howl of a wolf shattered my optimism. I groaned. One more thing to worry about, being eaten by wolves. Great. Now I would be up all night fretting.


Chapter 4

I woke up with a sudden start, disoriented and in a panic. The snow had been crushing me, pressing down hard, stopping my breathing. But someone had been digging down, scratching at the snow, until the dim whiteness brightened. I dared to hope someone would find me. They must have known I was there, or why would they be digging right above where I lay? I tried to be patient, but the snow pressed in on me, stoking my fears. The scrabbling noise grew louder, and closer. I didn’t know what my rescuer was using, but it was quick. The light grew stronger, dazzling me. The snow above my face vanished. Scrabbling paws tore open a hole. Daylight flooded in.

And a huge wolf stared down at me.

“No, no, what? Get away, get away!” I lashed out with my arms, but connected with nothing. I pressed myself back, trying to escape the creature, but when my eyes snapped open, the snow was gone.

The room was empty.

Breathless and shaking, I stared around, putting the pieces together. The avalanche had been real. I’d been swept away, buried, but I remembered nothing of my rescue. The distorted dream had come from my imagination, surely, unless a rescue team had used a search dog to dig me out.

But if that was the case, where were they? Why was I in an isolated lodge, with I-walk-barefoot-in-the-snow Ashley?

No, the dream must have come from some depraved imaginings of my brain, because it had ended, not with a wolf looming over me, but with a naked man.

“What the fuck was in that wine?” I asked the silent room. Maybe it was unfair to blame the alcohol. I should be blaming Ashley for plying me with painkillers, then leaving strong wine within my reach. Or I could have shown more self-restraint. I was supposed to be a responsible adult, after all.

“But why a naked man?” I mumbled as I drifted back to sleep. “Why a wolf?”

~

Something was pressing down on me. I woke in a panic, as I had before. This time there had been no wolf, and no naked men. Just the weight of something on my injured leg. I forced my eyes open and tried to get my bearings. I was on the sofa, covered by a blanket. The light was poor, as the fire had died to a glowing pile of embers. The windows were pale squares of pre-dawn light, barely visible against the dark walls.

But I was able to make out the form of a man, his skin shining with perspiration even in the low light. I stared, disbelieving the evidence before my own eyes. He wore no shirt. His back, shoulders and chest were bare. I couldn’t see if he was wearing anything at all. Shit! Was he naked? I wanted to slide away from this latest nightmare but his weight, no his hands, were on my bad leg, placed on either side of the injury. Surprisingly, it didn’t hurt, when I should have been in agony. That proved it was a dream, didn’t it? In which case, nothing mattered.

Nothing was real.

Intrigued, I reached out a hand to the nearest perspiring shoulder. It was strong, and hotter than I expected. The owner lifted his focus from my leg and peered at me, a surprised expression on his face.

“You’re awake?” Naturally, he looked like Ashley.

“I suppose I must be,” I said in a soft murmur. “What were you doing to my leg?”

“I was trying to help you heal.”

“By lying on it?”

“By focusing upon it.”

“Oh. Okay. Why not?” If my dream wanted to be cryptic, then fine. Curious as to what else might happen, I rubbed his shoulder and dared to ask the question.

“Are you naked?”

He smiled. “I neglected to don my shirt, but otherwise I am clothed.”

“Aw,” I said with a small pout. “Pity.”

His laugh was soft. “You should go back to sleep. The healing requires a great deal of rest, for both of us.” He started to rise, but I grabbed his wrist.

“Please don’t leave. I’m lonely. And I was scared.”

“You have no need to be afraid. The chalet is secure.”

“But you weren’t here. I was alone.”

He leaned over and kissed my forehead. “You are alone no longer. Sleep well.”

I sighed happily as his lips touched my skin. My hands rose to cup his shoulders. I wanted to pull him closer, but he slid out of my light grip without effort.

“Don’t leave.”

“You must sleep.”

“Stay here and keep me warm,” I pleaded.

“I cannot. It would be…” he inhaled deeply.

“Nice?”

“Dangerous.”

“Why? Because I’m naked?” Indulging in the fantasy, I threw the cover aside, revealing my body to him.

“April…” he groaned.

“Lie with me,” I said again. “Please. Keep me warm.”

He sighed. “I shall put a shirt on first.”

“You don’t have to.”

“You should dress also.”

“Don’t be such a spoilsport.”

“This is inappropriate. You are affected by the drugs.”

“Drugs, shmugs,” I scoffed. “Get into bed with me. Let me put my arms around your big, strong body.” I stretched out my arms and wriggled my fingers, beckoning him.

“I will lie on top of the covers, no closer.”

“You’re no fun.” I pouted. “Are you worried I might take advantage of you?”

“The opposite is likely, April. You should not tempt me.”

“Oh? So you’re tempted?”

He glanced at the windows. “This is most difficult,” he muttered.

“It’s not difficult. Get into bed with me. Hold me. Put your big hands all over my body.” As I spoke, I caught my lip between my teeth. I hadn’t intended to be so forward. But then, it was only a dream, wasn’t it? Everything was a figment of my imagination, including the bulge in the front of his pants. Before he could react, I’d sat up and grabbed hold of him, gasping at his hardness. He jumped back out of my reach.

“No, no. This is too much.”

“Oh, hell” I lay back, disappointed that my own figment had blown me out. No dream-sex for me tonight. So I spread my legs and slid my finger across my moist lips. Ashley groaned and pressed a hand to his face as I circled my fingers. Small wet sounds reached my ears.

“April, please. You must stop this.”

“No. You have to stay and watch me come.”

“I have to do no such thing. I’m leaving.”

“Please?” I’d pushed him too far.

“Why?” He seemed angry that I should want him to play. Why was this man of my dreams being so stubborn? Maybe I needed to try harder. I slipped a finger inside me, then another.

“You’re not even tempted? “

“Of course I’m tempted!” he snapped.

“Then give into it. Come down here and play with me.” This fantasy business was proving difficult. Why wouldn’t he just play? His eyes went to my pussy, which was deliciously slippery. Abandoning any pretence, I rolled my hips as I fingered myself, pushing out my lips into a pout. My breath hissed through my clenched teeth. I was hot for some fun, and I wanted Ashley—dream Ashley, at least—to help me play.

He stepped toward me, and I grinned. “Come get me.” I spread my legs a little further. But it was too much. Ashley spun on his heel and hurried out of the room.

“What? Nooo…” Why did my fantasy refuse to cooperate? Crushed, I pulled out my fingers, but kept circling my clit, in case he changed his mind. I wanted to be ready for him, because there was no way he could resist me.

Except he did.

I kept myself hot for as long as could keep my eyes open. I didn’t get as far as an orgasm, but I was aching for someone to touch me, to satisfy me. I drifted toward sleep with my legs still spread, and the blanket on the floor beside me. It was only in the last few seconds, that it occurred to me; I might not be in a fantasy after all. The horrified thought made me snatch up the blanket and cover myself, too late to salvage my dignity.

Chapter 5

When I next woke, the sun was spearing into the chalet, drawing dazzling squares on the floor. My face burned as I recalled the events of the early morning. The moment I heard Ashley moving around, I pulled the blanket over my head and hid my stupid, slutty face.

When he tried to ease it away, I held it tightly, shaking my head.

“Leave me alone.”

“You have nothing to be ashamed of, April.”

“Did you get amnesia? Did you forget what a stupid little slut I was last night?” I pulled harder at the blanket.

“One of the listed side effects of the pain killer I injected is vasodilation, dilation of the capillaries.”

“It doesn’t mean I get to act like a whore.”

“You weren’t in control. Your body became unusually sensitive, and desired physical contact.”

“I’m so embarrassed. I can’t look you in the eye.”

“It wasn’t your fault.” He tried to ease the blanket from my head, but I clung to it. I’d tried to entice him into my arms. I’d spread my legs and begged him to touch me. There was no excuse for the way I’d behaved.

“Okay,” he said at last. His grip on the blanket eased. “I will cook breakfast. Perhaps hunger will persuade you into the open.”

“I’m never coming out of here. Please call a helicopter, or a sled team to take me away.”

“I give you ten minutes.”

~

He was right, damn him. Once the smell of bacon reached me, I struggled to stay on the sofa. The blanket slid from my head and I inhaled deeply, relishing the wonderful aroma. I groaned. What was a girl supposed to do?

I resisted for another sixty seconds before giving in. Still feeling sheepish, I put my feet on the floor and dressed as quickly as I could, staying as low as possible. Not that it mattered, really. He’d seen everything I had to offer. And offer it I had, in spades. My cheeks burned at the memory. But the fact he’d been so dismissive of my outrageous behavior gave me some comfort. Plus he’d been strong enough to resist me, whereas I’d given into my sexual urges and offered myself to him on a plate. God knows what would have happened if his resolve had crumbled. We’d have been at it like rabbits, most likely.

“Ah, the sleeper has awakened.”

“Don’t,” I murmured. “I feel terrible.”

“You have the headache?”

“No. I have the humiliation.”

“I do not. I have already explained—”

“It was the drugs, yes. I remember. I still wish it had never happened.”

“Think nothing of it. I have experienced such erratic behavior in the past.”

“You should have slapped me.”

“This would have been improper.”

“Not as improper as the things I did.”

“Sit down. Put it from your mind.” He laid a plate of bacon, eggs and mushrooms in front of me.

“That looks delicious.”

“Then you should eat, before it goes cold.”

I did.

Ashley made no mention of my lewd antics, not even as a joke. I was hugely grateful. But something he’d said had circled my mind, orbiting my curiosity neuron, swooping past to tease my mind with half-remembered facts. Finally, I could stand it no longer.

“When I woke up…” I toyed with the last piece of bacon, skiing it over spilt egg yolk.

“Yes?” he said slowly, as if he’d been expecting my query.

“You were touching my leg. Your hands…”

“I hope you do not think my methods inappropriate, Mademoiselle.”

I stared openly. “Hang on. I was behaving like a cheap slut, and you’re worried about a little hands-on healing?”

He shrugged one shoulder. “I wish you to understand that I was touching you in order to heal you, not from lust or desire.”

“I have no problem with you touching me in the name of medicine. I mean, you catheterized me. It doesn’t get much more intimate than that.”

“You should understand—”

I cut him off. “I want to know how you were healing me.”

“How I was healing you?”

“Yeah, buster. How is it you’re able to heal using only your hands?”

He smiled and his eyes became distant. “I have always suspected latent power within me. When animals fall and are helpless, in my arms they find new energy.”

“Maybe they were stunned? And then they recovered?”

Ashley shook his head. “In the forest, I have seen small animals eviscerated, or with broken limbs, breathing their last. I bring them here, or lie with them in my arms, and a miracle takes place.”

“They recover?”

“I am unable to explain this. To a doctor, or a scientist, it makes no sense. And yet, it happens.”

And yet, something made sense. If Ashley imagined himself to be a miracle healer, some forest magi, the naked footprints in the snow would be completely in character. Of course he would want to be in contact with Mother Earth, even if he got frostbite in the process.

“You think me crazy?” He smiled from one side of his mouth. Of course he was crazy, imagining he could heal with his hands. But it was a harmless kind of crazy, a benign nuttiness that would harm no one.

“Not as crazy as me on drugs.” I patted his arm and he smiled properly. “But my leg isn’t as painful this morning. Did you give me another injection after our…adventure?”

“Now that you are awake, I would not administer to you without permission. Especially considering the side-effects.”

“Yeah. Wouldn’t want that to happen again.” So I wouldn’t have to look at him, I cleared the last of the breakfast from my plate. As I did so, more questions surfaced. We both spoke at the same time.

“Are you finished? Would you like more?”

“What made you try to heal? Why not leave the animal in the forest? It’s nature, after all.”

“Because I was the one who caused the injury.”

“Oh,” I said. “Right.”

“I had no memory of causing the wound. But when I stumbled upon the doe a little later, I instantly knew it was my fault.”

“You knew? How?” But he ignored me, lost in the memory.

“My guilt was enormous. Seeing the doe in such pain. She was wailing, crying almost.”

“But how—”

“I was compelled to hold her, to ease her death in any way I could.” He pressed his elbows to the table, and leaned his forehead against his clasped hands.

“Empathy?”

“Mm-hmm.” His voice was high, and tight.

“What was wrong with her?”

“The skin, it was torn. Her leg, broken.” He raised his head and touched his throat. “There were cuts here.”

“Did you hit her with a car? No, wait. You don’t drive.”

“I remember nothing. But she was injured by me. Of this, I am certain.”

“So you held her. Then what?”

“I wept for the pain I had caused.”

I rubbed his arm as he wept. Ashley was bonkers, I had no doubt. But he obviously cared deeply for forest creatures, whatever had injured them. The attack sounded more like that of a wildcat, or a wolf.

“I heard a wolf out there. Last night.”

He turned to consider me. “You should not have been outdoors.”

“Says the man who left ice cream in the outdoor freezer.”

“It was remiss of me.”

“Why were you walking barefoot in the snow?”

“It is my way. It is how I truly become myself.”

“Okay, sure. I get that. The wild man of the forest.”

He gave me a strange look. “Is that how you imagine me?”

“I don’t know enough about you yet. Tell me about the doe. What happened to her?”

“I held her the entire day, stroking and soothing her until her trembling ceased. I thought she was succumbing to the darkness, accepting her fate, until she tried to stand.”

“She stood up? I thought she had a broken leg!”

“So I believed. And injuries to her throat. But when she broke free from my arms, I saw none of these injuries.”

“She was fully healed? Within the same day?”

“Half a day. It was not yet nightfall when she escaped me.”

“That’s…very strange.”

“Indeed. So when the opportunity of other injured creatures presented themselves to me, I repeated the experiment.”

“And you healed them?”

“Alas, no. They died.”

“Oh. I’m sorry.”

“With the doe, I experienced guilt, a determination to put things right. My emotions were strong.”

“But not with the other animals?”

He shook his head. “Their plight was not my doing. I felt no urge to make amends.”

“But you tried to help me. The avalanche wasn’t your fault, so why—”

“With later animals, I improved my skill. I drew upon the pain, and determination I had felt when holding the doe.”

“It worked?”

“I was moderately successful. Many of the animals lived. I was finally able to make amends.”

“Amends? For what?”

His eyes widened, as if he’d been caught off guard. “Ah…for injuring the doe.”

I watched him carefully, not pressing the point, but suddenly unsure of his nature. Was he a reformed serial killer? A worker in an abattoir?

“So when I found you, I wondered if my gift would work on a human patient.”

“How did you find me, exactly?”

“Your…ah…leg was visible. I was able to dig you out.”

“Lucky for me.”

“Yes. You were fortunate.”

“It definitely feels better today.” I flexed my knee, raising my splinted lower leg.

“Perhaps it has healed.”

“I was walking on it last night.”

“Then it is healing well.”

“After only ten days? That would be incredible. Maybe I could take a look at it.”

“No. Not yet,” he said quickly. “Give it more time. Remember, you must walk to Chamonix. Perhaps another day or two, yes?”

“Okay.”

“You agree?”

“I said okay. I won’t push it.”

“Good. Then you can stay and enjoy my coffee.”

“Sure.” His sudden insistence had alarmed me. And the miraculous healing story had been touching, but fantastical. I began to wonder if the whole ‘broken leg’ thing was a sham, a pretense to keep me here. But why? If he’d wanted to keep me hostage, he could have pumped me full of drugs. If I was to be a sex slave, he wouldn’t have resisted my antics in the early hours of this morning. So what was his agenda? Don’t go outside after dark, even though I’m outside in my bare feet. There was another oddity. And if it was such a long trek to Chamonix, why were his food cupboards so well-stocked? I’d heard no dogs, so he had no sled.

Something was amiss.

We moved onto coffee, relaxing in front of the hearth, which he coaxed into life with a handful of well-placed logs. We chatted about my home, my family, and then about his former life as a doctor, before he gave it all up, he said, to live in the unspoiled wilderness.


Chapter 6

I woke with a sudden start. Ashley was standing by the door, frowning. He was dressed for outdoors, complete with boots. A small backpack with long, looping straps hung from one hand. His other hand was pulling the door open. The windows sent gray light into the room, from a sky heavy with cloud.

“What? Where?” I muttered, stretching so hard, my joints clicked.

“Hush,” he said. “You should rest.”

“I’m done resting. Where are you going?”

“Ah…I need to cut more wood.”

I glanced at the well-stocked hearth and the stack of logs beside it. “Really?”

“A storm is coming.” He nodded toward the window. “Can you not see?”

“And this is relevant because?”

“Because if it persists, I cannot cut wood in a blizzard. This is not the city, April Depardieu. Out here, we must prepare.”

“Okay, okay. I was only asking.”

“The fire is low. You should retire to bed.”

“Or I could put some more wood on?”

“Are you an expert in this matter?”

“No, but—” How hard could it be?

“Then please…” He glanced out the door. “You should retire to bed. Healing is exhausting.”

He was right about that. Something was taking its toll on me. Unless I’d developed narcolepsy. Somehow I’d slept most of the day away, and my eyes were drooping again. Had he drugged my coffee?

“I will return shortly.”

“All right.” I yawned furiously. “I won’t wait up.” I stood, oriented myself, and then headed for the bedroom. Behind me, the door closed and the faint sound of crunching snow faded away to nothing. I didn’t know how long Ashley might be, but he was dressed for a good spell outdoors. Time to investigate what was going on beneath my bandages.

My leg was surprisingly pain-free, which was inconsistent for a broken tibia, or fibula. Once inside the bedroom, I sat on the bed, and unfastened the surgical tape holding the bandage in place. I wanted to see what was happening under there. Although I was splinted, no plaster covered my leg, only bandages, which seemed strange. I lifted my leg and spun off the bandage, yards of it, until it lay in an untidy heap on the floor. A thick surgical stocking enclosed my leg, protecting it from irritation by the bandages. Gingerly, I pushed down the stocking to reveal pale, puffy skin. Bruises and scratches, still scabbing, appeared. Then, below the knee, a mess of black and blue spread down my leg, evidence of recent trauma. Aches and pains jabbed at my nerves. And then, something I never expected to see. A cold chill crept up my spine as I finally uncovered my leg.

Bite marks. Several sets of them.

My leg hadn’t been broken, it had been bitten.

Ashley had a lot of explaining to do.


Chapter 7

I stayed awake for as long as I could, watching the front door keenly, prepared to confront Ashley the moment he stepped inside. But fatigue overwhelmed me, and I drifted into a deep sleep. Memories of my accident rushed at me. I was enveloped in cold, crushing snow. Darkness cocooned me, depriving me of all sensation except a deep, biting cold.

And then a narrow point of light appeared overhead, growing larger by the second. A dark muzzle pushed through and pointed directly at me. A search dog, I presumed, one of the many who were trained to seek out buried climbers in the treacherous mountains.

Without warning, I was turned upside down and dragged into the bright, dazzling air. After the relative shelter of my snow-hole, the air was biting and sharp. I turned to look at the search dog, but it had vanished. Instead, an unashamedly naked Ashley crouched at my side. I was startled to see I was naked too.

“What…where?” I tried to cover myself but I didn’t have enough hands. Something was always on show.

“Relax,” he said with a smile. “You are no longer in danger.”

“But my leg…” My injured limb was missing completely, all the way to my naked hip.

“I have it in my chalet. We should go there.”

“Okay,” I said, not thinking his suggestion was strange. In this place, it seemed perfectly normal. He scooped me up as if I weighed nothing, then walked easily across the crust of the deep snow.

The chalet appeared in no time at all. Just as quickly, Ashley was laying me down on the sofa. My leg had reappeared, although the remains of bandages fluttered from my calf.

And I was no longer naked. I wore a bra and t-shirt, plus panties. When I blinked, Ashley had vanished, and the front door had closed. I glanced around the cold room, then down at my own body. The bite marks were still apparent beneath the pressure marks of the absent bandages. Was I awake, then? Or was I still dreaming?

A shuffling sound from beyond the door alerted me to a presence. Ashley was back! I scrambled to my feet, dragging the blanket with me. I flung open the door, ready to demand answers from my rescuer.

A large gray wolf stared back at me, its eyes wide. His haunches dropped, as if he was preparing to run, or leap at me.

But I reacted faster than I believed was possible. The door slammed shut and I pressed my back against it, breathing quickly.

“Shit, shit, shit!” My fingers fumbled at the ice-cold shoot bolt, pushing it into place and securing the door against the creature. But now I was trapped.

I laughed at my own foolish thinking. I wasn’t trapped, I was safe. I hadn’t planned to venture out any time soon, although the nature of my injury had changed, which meant I was probably able to walk to Chamonix. The anger returned. Why had Ashley lied to me about my leg? Why had he said it was broken, and not that I’d been attacked by a wolf?

What if this was the same wolf, returning to complete the job? Could it have tracked me to the chalet? It was possible, I supposed.

Despite the secure bolt, I remained pressed against the door for a long moment, considering my situation. It occurred to me that I was not the one who was trapped. I was safe. Ashley was the one who was trapped, outside. He wouldn’t be able to return until the way was clear.

My anger shifted into worry, both for him and myself. Perhaps it was selfish of me to be concerned for my own future, but it was natural, wasn’t it? I tried to console myself with the knowledge that he’d lived in the wild for years, and had most likely dealt with the situation before. But still…

I moved away from the door and peered out, pressing my cheek against the cold glass so I could see the door. I wanted to see if I was still in danger.

I wasn’t.

The wolf had gone.

In his place, a naked Ashley was struggling to pull on a pair of pants. Beside him, his backpack lay open, and various items of clothing spilled out onto the snow. I noted a checked shirt, socks and a woollen hat.

When he saw me looking, his eyes widened, and his frantic attempts to dress ceased. He sagged in defeat, obviously disappointed he’d been caught in the act. When I cocked my head, he indicated the locked door with his hand.

For a brief moment, I considered leaving him out there. But whatever his reasons for walking naked in the snow, there was still a wolf out there. The danger remained. I hurried across and released the bolt. The door swung open and he hurried inside, clutching his untidy backpack against his naked body. I noted the socks which he’d left on the step, and wondered if it was safe enough to retrieve them.

That was when I noticed the prints…or the lack of them. Wolf-prints led up to the door, but none led away. Neither was there any sign of naked human footprints leading through the snow to the door.

“It’s not possible.” I moved out beyond the doorway and looked closer. The evidence was clear. The only thing was, it didn’t make any sense.

Unless Ashley was a lycanthrope.

“No, no, no,” I muttered. “There has to be another explanation.”

“The only explanation,” Ashley said quietly, “is the obvious one.”

“But it’s not possible.”

“It’s not only possible, it’s true.”

I stared, knowing the facts supported the idea. If Ashley was able to turn into a wolf, it would explain the disjointed footprints, his ability to withstand the cold, and his peculiar naked trips into the wild.

“But…”

Ashley pressed a hand to his bare chest. “Listen to your heart, April. What does it tell you?”

“That I’m standing in the alps, in sub-zero conditions, with a naked man?”

He moved closer. I trembled with a mixture of excitement and fear. When he reached past me, I tensed, uncertain of my own feelings. His hand touched the door, then pushed it closed. When it banged into the frame, I jumped with fright.

“There are some things which cannot be explained by normal means.”

“It’s too…incredible to believe.”

“You wish me to demonstrate?”

I pressed both hands to my mouth. “I…don’t know.” If Ashley was capable of proving his ability to transform, I’d have no choice but to believe. Until then, I could still dismiss the idea as nonsense. But the opportunity to witness the truth might never present itself again. I would spend the rest of my life wondering. For my own sanity, I needed to take a final step into the unknown, into the incredible.

Or prove he was deluded.

“Show me,” I said, then moved back.


Chapter 8

I wasn’t exactly sure what I expected to see. So many badly-made movies had tried to portray shifting, and so many had failed abysmally; from awkward stop-motion, to rubber-skinned animatronics, they’d all been ghastly.

Ashley’s transformation from naked male, to furry gray wolf was astonishing…and beautiful. The moment I spoke, a warm glow surrounded him; subtle, shifting streaks of silver skittered across his skin from head to toe, turning him into a kinetic sculpture. His muscular limbs thinned, and his chest expanded. He smiled one last time, and I caught sight of his lengthening canines. The lower part of Ashley’s face pushed forward, forming a muzzle. His ears slid up the sides of his head and gained pointed tips. The silver streaks continued to dance around him, almost completely hiding the thick fur which sprang from his skin.

Finally, he dropped forward onto all fours, and I caught sight of his generous tail, which swung from side to side in a lazy manner. The silver lightning faded away, to reveal a handsome gray wolf. He dropped his shoulders, stretched out his front paws and yawned deeply, then leaned forward to stretch his back legs.

“Ashley?” I dared to ask. He barked once, and left his jaw hanging open His teeth were exposed in what I hoped was a smile. I hoped he would remember that I was someone he’d been taking care of, and not something to eat. I tensed when he padded closer. His cold, black nose twitched as he sniffed my injured leg. Before I could wonder what he was doing, he began to lick the swollen limb, glancing up at me as he did so. Pieces of a puzzle fell into place.

“Did you bite my leg, Ashley?” He whimpered quietly, but continued to lick my skin.

“But why? Did you plan to eat me?” Immediately, he dropped his head. He opened his mouth and gently grasped my ankle, barely brushing the skin with his teeth. When he tugged, it was enough to compromise my balance. I staggered, but managed to remain upright. He tugged again, pulling me toward the sofa. Another piece of the puzzle clicked home.


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