Authors: Lia Davis
Copyright Fated Desires Publishing, LLC
Cover by FDP Graphics
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locals or organizations is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. With the exception of quotes used in reviews, this book may not be reproduced or used in whole or in part by any means existing without written permission from the author.
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There comes a time when setting your differences aside isn’t just necessary, it’s a means of survival. After losing over half of their dens to a group rogue shifters, the wolves and leopards merged as one Pack, but living together is much more of a challenge then they expected.
Danica Welsh was born to be the leopard pack healer. An accident involving a drug induced youth left her badly burned and scared—emotionally and physically. Without the ability to heal by touch, she secludes herself to the edge of town, away from Ashwood Falls’ overly concerned citizens. All hope of mating and family become a distance dream. When she finally starts to accepts the long, lonely existence ahead of her, a stranger crashes into her life, and her heart.
After Nevan Mathews’ fiancé died three ago, he submerged himself into his work, cutting off all reminders of a life he dreamed of with the woman he loved. He lets his step-mother talk him into taking the first vacation in five years to visit for the holidays. But an accident delays his travel plans, sending him to Danica’s doorstep and raises a need he thought he would never feel again.
Can they tear down the walls around their hearts and submit to the passion before another claims Dani for his own?
Warning: Contains a shifter who's scars run deeper than skin, a human who has the heart of a shifter, and a snow storm that's sure to have them both reaching for warmth.
To the love of my life, for putting up with my craziness.
Winter Eve is the prequel to a new series and world of shapeshifters. I hope you enjoy Ashwood Falls as much as I do.
I want to thank my writing partner, business partner, and BFF, Carrie Ann Ryan, for all the encouragement and for breaking out the whip from time-to-time. Thanks for keeping me sane, mostly.
Thanks to the editing team at Fated Desires. Devin and Donna are great!
And a Huge thanks to my readers. Love you guys!
The winding, slick roads of the Smoky Mountains seemed creepier than the last time Nevan Matthews had traveled them. Then again, at the time, he’d been seven, it was daylight, and there wasn’t snow on the ground.
Why was he even going? Oh, right. His extended family would bug the shit out of him if he didn’t show up, just like they had bugged him about every aspect of his life since his father's death five years ago. And, again, when his fiancée, Becca, died a year later. The only family he had left in the world had demanded he spend the holiday season with them.
"You need your family now more than ever," Sarah, his stepmother, had said. "You spend too much time alone."
Her soft, pleading voice had tugged at his heart, and he’d finally given in. He loved his stepmother. She’d always cared for him as if he was her own son. It was impossible to say ‘no’ to the only mother he had ever known. Besides, he hadn’t been back home since his father’s death. So he took his first vacation in five years to spend the holidays in a place he didn’t belong. With people far different from him.
A blur of brown fur zipped in front of his headlights, and he jerked the rental car to the left. His heart hammered in his chest as the car swerved on the icy road and slammed into the rock wall of the mountainside.
Steam rolled from under the smashed hood and mingled with the frigid winter night as Nevan emerged from the car. He cursed under his breath and raked a hand through his light brown hair.
He scanned the area for signs of life. He figured Sarah's cabin was a good twenty miles away. He'd freeze to death on top of this mountain on a night like this before reaching the cabin on foot.
Movement to his right caught his attention, and he narrowed his eyes for a better look. A large leopard crouched, staring at him from the roadside. With eyes that reflected the full moon's light, the creature blinked and let out a soft growl before it turned to walk up a gravel driveway.
The animal was beautiful, scary, and its eyes held a hint of humanity. Could it be a were? Sarah hadn’t said anything about others living this far up the mountain. When the beast turned to look at him, he swore it wanted him to follow. He took a step forward, and the cat started walking again.
"Oh, great, Nev. You're being lead away by a cat, like Alice and that damn rabbit," he muttered to himself. No one would ever believe him. In fact, it was probably leading him to the den to share with the rest of the pack. Shaking his head at the ridiculous thought, he walked up the driveway. The cat sped up, running ahead much too fast for him. Then it darted into the woods a few feet from a single-story log cabin nestled into the surrounding trees. Another step caused a blinding light to click on, illuminating the front of the yard and the cabin. A few moments later, the door opened, revealing the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen. She stepped out onto the large wide porch. Her straight silk-like strawberry blond hair cascaded over her shoulders and stopped at her waist. The light of the full moon cast against her pale skin made her look like a goddess.
"What can I do to help you?"
Her velvety smooth voice warmed his body and awoke a very specific part of his anatomy. It was several seconds before he found his voice and shook out of the trance she’d cast upon him. "I crashed my car and wondered if you have a phone. My cell doesn't get service up here."
"I don’t have a phone." Her gaze left him to search their surroundings and stopped as she glanced toward the dark sky as though she saw something he didn't, or couldn't, see. "But, come inside. You’ll freeze to death in the storm." She turned and walked back inside.
A single snowflake drifted in front of his face, landing on his nose.
Danica crossed the living room to the fireplace, feeling the man’s stare like tiny caresses over her skin. After grabbing the poker, she stirred the fire and added another log. Keegan would freaking flip if he knew she’d taken in a stranger, especially a human stranger, but there was something about this human. “What’s your name?”
There was a pause, and then he let out a husky reply, as if startled by the question. “Nevan”
“I’m Danica.” She stood and held out her left hand to him. Not because this stranger had uncovered long-buried desires, and she’d been much too long without a male’s touch. Nope, that wasn’t it at all. She simply wanted to see if he could be trusted. Sniffing out a lie or even the barest hint of dishonesty was like a shifter’s sixth sense. Other shifters didn’t have troubles detecting a lie from across the room, but Danica’s sense of smell had been damaged along with most of the right side of her body in a fire a couple of years before. It was one reason she lived on the edge of town, away from the others’ pity.
“Nice to meet you.” There was a hesitation in his voice and leeriness in his gaze.
“What brings you up the mountain this late in the season?”
“I was on my way to my stepmother’s for the holidays.” A frown creased his forehead. “Do you know where there’s a phone? I should call before she sends out the cavalry.”
“How many do you have?”
“Four. Three of them are older, and one is a year younger than me.”
She hid her smile by turning toward the kitchen. “That’s a big family.” In this day and age, humans didn’t usually have large families. The ones that did held more family values than those who didn’t. They were more likely to protect each other.
She walked into the kitchen and started a pot of coffee. When she turned around, she was startled by the sight of Nevan standing just a few feet away. She reached out to balance herself only to find Nevan beside her faster than she’d expected a human to move. He took her elbow and she gasped at the heat of his body so close to hers. Her body warmed, and her pulse increased. With only a few inches separating them, she could smell his natural male scent mixed with his aftershave. Spicy and good enough to lick all over…
She took a few steps back. He was a stranger, for God’s sake. She wasn’t the seducing type. Besides, who would want to make love to a scarred, half-powered leopard?
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“I didn’t hear you move.” Which was crazy considering there was nothing wrong with her supernatural hearing. She poured coffee into two cups and handed him one, careful not to make physical contact again. Leaning against the counter, she studied him. He was human. Nothing remotely magickal or paranormal about him, yet there was something in the way he carried himself and moved.
Shaking her head, she shifted to peer out the window. The snow was coming down in sheets. “Looks like we’re in for the night.”
Fabric sliding over fabric indicated he’d moved closer to look out the window. “At least.”
She lifted her gaze to meet his. He smiled, and she thought her knees would give out. Stepping around him before she completely embarrassed herself, she walked out of the kitchen. “Come, I’ll show you to the guest room and get some extra blankets.”
The trip down the hall was the longest in her two hundred twenty-three years of life. The male following her put her cat on edge.
Stopping at the linen closet, she grabbed sheets and a couple of blankets and handed them to him. She quickly turned into the bedroom to her left. “The shower is across the hall, and there is firewood on the back porch. Would you like me to get you some?”
“No. I think I can manage.” He offered her another gentle smile, and the air in the room grew thick.
“I’ll leave you to clean up. I’m kind of a night creature, so I hope I won’t disturb you.”
He looked around the room before meeting her stare again. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” she said softly and walked back down the hallway toward the living room. It was her fault he was here, stranded. If she hadn’t darted in front of his car like an irresponsible cub, he’d be on his way to see his family.
An all-too-familiar energy nudged at her psyche, and her mood lifted. She went straight to the front door and opened it before Shayna Andrews could knock. “Why on earth are you here in this weather?”
Laughing, the beautiful blond stomped her snow covered boots on the porch and entered the cabin. “I was hunting and wondered a little too far out, and then it started snowing, suddenly.”
Danica shook her head. Shay was always testing her adopted brothers’ abilities to track her. She liked to see how far from town she’d get before they caught up to her. “Doesn’t pissing your brothers off get old?”
A mischievous smile lifted the side of her mouth. “Nope. But, this time, I was actually hunting. You know how focused I can get in cat form.”
“Yeah. That focused curiosity is going to get you in trouble.” Danica motioned to the kitchen and frowned. She’d advised Keegan to allow Shay out of town to learn to use her skills for the Packs. But, no, the Alpha leopard refused to let his princess out of his sight. It was a shame that a twenty-five-year-old tiger shifter had to be under guard 24/7. Keegan was blinded by the fear he’d lose her the way he’d lost his mate during the attacks on the den over two centuries ago.
“Speaking of your brothers…”
“Blaine should be here in about three seconds.”
Danica shook her head again. It always surprised her how much Shay was in tune to her adopted brothers. Then she froze. “Did you say Blaine?”
“Yeah…hey, you have a male here.” Shay walked toward the hall, sniffing the air. “And he’s human. Way to go, Dani!”
Cursing, Danica tugged at her arm. “Please don’t. It’s not what you think. I caused his car to crash. I’m taking him into town tomorrow to use a phone.”
Shaking her head, Shay locked gazes with her. “You can’t bring a human into Ashwood Falls. Father will have a wolf.”
Danica dropped her shoulders. “I have no choice.”
“You could’ve left the human alone.” The deep, stern male voice made her wince, but didn’t surprise her. She felt the leopard’s presence about two seconds ago.
“I’m a healer, Blaine.”
Blaine leaned his large frame against the counter, one dark brow raised. “Was he hurt?”
“Then he was none of your concern.”