Authors: Vivian Wood,Amelie Hunt
opyright Vivian Wood
May not be replicated or reproduced in any manner without express and written permission from the author. This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to author and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author
and warming her skin, moonlight pouring in the windows and casting shadows on the floor, handsome Harlan staring at her with more desire than she’d ever seen in her whole life…
Penny couldn’t think to resist.
Raising her hand, she beckoned to him. She longed for him, longed to comfort and caress him, learn the nuances of his incredible body and the flaws of his heart. Something in her called out for Harlan, wanted him so badly it nearly hurt.
Harlan sunk to his knees, the thin white sheet around his waist threatening to come loose. Penny stared at him, swiping her tongue over her lower lip, anticipation simmering low in her body. When he reached out and tugged at the lower hem of her t-shirt, then pulled it up over her head, Penny’s heart began to pound.
Without speaking, Harlan stripped Penny’s jeans off. Eyes intent on Penny’s face, he unhooked her bra and slid it off, baring her breasts to the firelight. With each breath, her breasts rose and fell, drawing Harlan’s attention.
“Beautiful,” he said, reaching out to cradle one round globe, brushing his thumb over her dusky nipple. He paused, then withdrew his touch. “Penny…”
He seemed uncertain how to ask her permission. Penny rose on her knees and leaned forward, cupping his jaw and pressing her lips to his. He met her with a groan, his lips and tongue seeking hers, stoking the rising flames of her desire.
to dedicate this book to Olivia, who has been a good friend and a dogged supporter of my entire career. She even went so far as to help proofread these books… that’s a GOOD friend, y’all.
This is YOUR BOOK.
I let her talk me into this,” Penny Harding muttered, using the back of her hand to dash away the tears brimming in her eyes. She leaned forward and squinted through the windshield of her battered blue Honda subcompact, but it was no use. The foggy windows were only obscuring a thick blanket of fresh white snow, stretching out in every direction.
Reaching out to wipe at the window for the hundredth time, Penny found she could just make out the road. Hysteria rose in her chest at the thought of having to turn back and face the nightmare scene she’d just left behind. As tears stung once more, she brought the car to a halt. She didn’t even bother to pull over, because she was so far out in the middle of nowhere that seeing another car would be shocking. In this weather, it was less likely than Penny winning the lottery and getting struck by lightning at the same time.
Penny didn’t have that kind of luck. Never had.
The radio was on in the background, and Penny caught a quick snippet. A man interviewing a woman, his tone serious and dramatic in a way that made Penny want to roll her eyes. Still, the word
jumped out at her, and she turned the volume up for a second, trying to hear the interview over the staticky signal.
Ma’am, is it true that you were once mated to a werewolf? He singled you out, had his way with you?
The woman’s response was even more silly, something straight out of a telenovela.
That’s right, Jack. He said I was going to be his mate… He tried to kidnap me… It was so terrifying. He used me…
It went on like that, and Penny got the impression that this lady wasn’t being too forthright. All the photos Penny had ever seen of known werewolves had shown sexy, rugged men that most women would throw themselves at, or modelesque women that men would kill to get with.
Penny could use a man like that in her life, that was for sure. A lot better than the losers she’d dated recently, and a hell of a lot more interesting than this dead-end town where she was currently idling, praying for a backup plan.
“Why the hell am I back in Winter Pass?” she shouted, slapping her palms against the steering wheel. “I can’t believe I was this stupid.”
Putting on the hand brake, Penny leaned back in her seat and closed her eyes, taking a deep breath. Trying to convince herself that things weren’t that bad, that her life didn’t suck as much as it did at this particular moment. She wanted to think that it was just a bad day, but that wasn’t close to true. A bad month, more like. Or a bad five years, if she were honest.
As much as she hated Winter Pass’s small-town mindset and distance from any decently sized city, things really hadn’t gone right for Penny since she’d left. All during college she’d stayed close to Winter Pass, managing to graduate with honors despite her parent’s mud-slinging divorce and her mother’s subsequent high-profile remarriage.
When her new stepfather, a skeezy lawyer and wannabe town politician named Steve, had come onto her repeatedly and forcefully, Penny ratted him out. Her mother threw it back in her face, gave Penny endless grief over it, and eventually Penny decided to get the hell out of Dodge.
Moving to the city for a thankless job teaching art at a fancy private school, Heston Academy, Penny met her very recent ex-boyfriend. Strangely enough, he was also named Steve. This one was a real estate salesman, which was different enough for her taste, apparently. Penny should have known then and there that the boyfriend would be just as bad as the stepdad, but
Penny refused to see anything bad about her new beau, even when she caught him in small lies. Then bigger ones, hurtful ones. Even when she found his shirts marked with lipstick and smelling of strange perfume, which he always explained away. Even when he borrowed large amounts of money from her meager teacher’s earnings, promising great returns on a real estate deal, then pronounced that the deal fell through and the money was gone with the wind.
No, no. None of that had driven Penny away, besotted as she was. After all, Penny was a short, curvy redhead with freckles and a timid personality. Steve was a muscular, tanned charmer who’d never met a stranger, her complete and magnetic opposite. To be fair, Steve was kind of short. He also lacked the ability to… fulfill… Penny in the bedroom, but she let that slide.
All the time, wondering why Steve was with her when he could be with someone else.
And then Penny caught Steve with someone else. Her boss, actually. The tall, elegant, snooty headmistress at Heston Academy. Specifically, she caught Steve banging Headmistress Samuels on his desk, during what was usually the one lunch period a week that Penny and Steve both had free. He’d canceled at the last minute, and Penny showed up with some takeout, trying to be sweet.
Instead, she’d got an eyeful. When her boss finally managed to notice Penny standing there, brown paper bag of burgers and fries in hand, she gracefully pushed Steve off and stood. Then she righted her skirt and cleared her throat.
I suppose there isn’t a better time to tell you, then. Heston Academy has decided to go in another direction with your position, Penelope. We’re letting you go.
It sounded a lot like what Steve said later, after a silent car ride back to their shared apartment.
You’re just not what I need, Penny. Look at you, and look at me. What did you expect? Still, take your time moving out…
Three weeks later, things were so bad that when Penny’s crazy, narcissistic mother called and invited her home for a long weekend, promising that her stepfather was gone on a retreat of some kind and that Penny
wouldn’t bother him
, Penny actually jumped at the chance. All her stuff was in storage, since her name wasn’t on the lease of her and Steve’s place. She had no job and no prospects. Her sometime-friend Amber, whose couch she’d been crashing on, had politely asked her to find somewhere else to stay because Penny was such a
Then it had all boiled down to one moment. Penny pulled up outside her mother’s house. The front door swung open as Penny climbed the porch steps. Her mother and stepfather came out…
Followed by her ex, roses in one hand, a ring box in the other.
“He called and said you two had a fight,” her mother gushed, holding her own Steve’s hand. “He sounded so remorseful, and we always did like you two together…”
That did it. Finally, after months of pent-up frustration and blaming herself, something inside Penny broke.
She turned and fled to her car, backing all the way down the driveway and flooring it down the rural one-lane road, heedless of the steadily increasing snowfall.
All of which led to this singular moment of foolishness, with Penny sitting in her car and crying because she was stuck between an untenable situation and a freaking mountain of snow… and right now, facing the snow was easier.
Penny glanced at her fuel gauge and frowned. Only a third of a tank. Wishing she’d filled up before she got into Winter Pass, she sighed and tried to think of what to do next. Leaning over to the glove box, she popped it open and rifled through the contents. To her relief, she had a local map stacked in with her insurance paperwork and other car junk.
Unfolding it across the steering wheel, Penny found her mom’s house and then traced the turns she’d made. Tapping her fingertip on the map, she found the spot where she was idling, then looked all around it for something nearby, anywhere she could go to get out of the storm.
“Come on, come on…” Penny whispered. Part of her wanted to shout that she’d literally let herself freeze before going back to her mother’s house, but in truth she’d managed to get almost five miles away and now she might be too far away to go back… even in dire circumstances.
The map was old and a little faded, and Penny knew for a fact that the trailer park, gas station, and tennis shoe warehouse listed in driving distance were long gone. Her finger wandered across the map, seeking…
“Winter Pass Ski Lodge,” she muttered, brow creasing.
Of course she remembered the place from her childhood, having taken day trips there before her dad passed away. Some of her fondest early memories took place at Winter Pass Lodge. The image of it popped into her mind: a huge dark wood and granite building surrounded by smaller cabins, lots of roaring fireplaces and cozy couches for sipping hot cocoa.
Yeah, that sounded good right about now. But there was something else breaking into her thoughts, a fuzzy memory of her mother giving her the town gossip a few years back.
What had it been?
Something about the owners passing away and the place closing for a while. Mr. and Mrs. Harbin had passed away, their son and daughter had inherited their business and land, but he wasn’t around to care for it. Wasn’t that it? Penny tried to remember something about the son, but couldn’t get anything solid.
Blowing out a breath, she looked at her options again. The ski lodge still might be closed. Then again, she knew everything else was closed… Even if it was closed, she might be able to get inside, warm herself by lighting a fire in one of the many fireplaces. It might be trespassing, but the storm outside was only growing with each passing minute.
Surely no one would mind… no one would probably even notice. And it wasn’t like she had a lot of other choices in any case, not with the snow piling up in huge banks all around her car. Penny threw her car into drive and moved down the bumpy rural road at a crawl. The last thing she needed was to hit a patch of ice and lose control.
Her caution cost her a little. It took her over half an hour to drive just over half a mile. When she spotted the old Winter Pass Lodge sign, barely readable through the ever-growing snow drifts, she almost cried with relief.
Unfortunately, she could only make it about halfway up the ski lodge’s long, unpaved driveway. The road rose at a slight incline, just enough to make the car’s tires start to spin out as they trod over and packed down the slick snow. Though she could see the lodge’s hulking main building from this distance, the walk there looked like a serious challenge. Penny wasn’t in bad shape, but her simple parka and fleece gloves were going to get icy and wet as she tromped up the hill to safety.
“Just get out of the car!” she scolded herself, cutting the engine. She turned and fished a lightweight tote bag out of the back seat, stuffing it with a couple changes of clothes, a few snacks, and anything else handy she could find in her back seat.
She put the tote bag inside her parka, high and warm and safe against her chest, then zipped up her coat and pulled on her gloves. After one last deep, fortifying breath, Penny shoved her car door open and launched herself out into the snow.
To Penny’s dismay, the white powder was already close to knee deep in some places. She stuck to the very middle of the road, something of a high ground that had a little less snow, and pushed toward the main building.
Lifting her knees high, she hiked through it, shivering for a minute until warmth built from her exertions. With the warmth came a trickle of sweat on her lower back and chest. Snow quickly melted on her jeans and socks and Converse, weighing her down.
“Fucking snow,” she muttered, the icy air making each breath harsh.
Up ahead, the sun was just starting to set, making Penny glad she’d left the car when she did. She was so wrapped up in her movements that she didn’t see the dark-clad hunter until it was almost too late. Until he was raising his shotgun, Penny in his sights.
It was no warning shot. Penny saw him in time and flung herself to the ground, and the buck shot tore up the bark on a tree only a foot away from where she’d been standing.
“What the hell!” Penny gasped, pushing herself up from the thick snow bank where she’d landed. She only dared to move a few inches, and her vantage was blocked on three sides. What little she could see was all just snow and trees.
Where was the man she’d seen? Who the hell was he? Someone hired to protect the property, maybe? Or the son of the previous owners, standing his ground?
But why would they shoot at her? Penny was obviously alone and unarmed. She might be curvy but she was a small person, no threat to anyone.
She heard a rustle nearby, a tree branch creaking as it bent under someone’s hand. Penny let herself sink back into the snow drift, trembling from fear and the damp chill penetrating her clothes. The snow blanketing her body was melting fast, and in a few minutes she’d be completely soaked.
“Don’t move.” A strange, harsh voice, only a few feet away. “Don’t give yourself away.”
Penny’s breath froze in her throat at the sound of a man’s deep growl. His command hit her hard, unsure as she was about the man’s intentions.
Don’t give yourself away?
What did that mean?
She heard movement, another soft rustle. Then a man’s shout, much farther away. She couldn’t be sure, but Penny thought there were at least two men in the woods with her. Her brain went into overdrive, trying to understand what the hell was happening.
More shouts, and then another shot.
She heard someone give a grunt of pain, heard what she thought were bits of tree branches hitting the ground. Another shot. BOOM. Another, and another. BOOM. BOOM.
There must be more than one armed man
, Penny thought. And the man closest to her, the man who’d ordered her to be still, might have been hit. If he had a weapon, he wasn’t using it.
She might have been crazy, but Penny could swear she’d heard a dog barking and growling close by, and a howl in the distance. Not being able to see was clearly making her hallucinate.
It was then that Penny noticed that she’d stopped shivering. She felt strangely numb and tingly, a little warm in fact. For a second, her suddenly sleepy brain thought that it was the igloo effect, that she’d cocooned herself in the snow and now it was protecting her.
The voice of reason in the back of her mind disagreed. She needed to get up and move before she fell asleep. Only, she was so comfortable…