Here’s something to fill those hours of the holiday when you need an escape from the hustle and bustle and need to claim a little “me-time”! This story is loosely based on a Russian fairytale about a snow maiden who didn’t get a very happy ending. I had to change that.
Escaping her destiny for a day in the human world, a snow maiden, is rescued after her horse bolts, and then is brought to an isolated cabin by a recluse—a handsome, gifted artist, living alone in an arctic wilderness…
Headstrong, and seeking a little respite from a suitor’s relentless wooing, Queen Larikke rides the arctic wind far beyond the bounds of Northland, only to have her horse bolt at a shot from a hunter’s gun. Her rescuer is a handsome, mysterious man who lives alone in the wilderness, his cabin filled with erotic images of women. Rather than fearing her fate, Larikke sets out to seduce him, hoping for one last fling before she settles down to do her duty and wed.
Thinking he was saving a life, Drake dragged a very strange woman home, stripped her, and warmed her by his fire. Now, he finds his long, self-imposed isolation may have made her allure impossible to resist, and Drake fears he’ll harm her if he shares his special kiss.
Read an excerpt…
A blanket of fresh powder muffled his footsteps. For a moment, the bitter-cold wind died down. The stillness invited him deeper into the clearing, but something in the air alerted him; an intuition that was part of his true nature told him to wait.
Wind had blown snow against large tree trunks, forming deep banks where the tall green sentinels stood close together. Everywhere, pure pristine white dusted the tops of branches, cloaking them in rich, thick wonder. Precious sunlight peeked from behind a dark gray cloud and refracted like a billion tiny prisms on frozen crystals that gilded the uppermost layer of the snow.
His breaths seemed loud, intrusive, and he concentrated on being quiet so that he didn’t disturb—not that anyone was would hear him this deep in the wilderness.
Rather, all was hushed, expectant. Quiet, like he preferred now. Content at last with his own company.
The first few months of his isolation had been the worst. The silence had nearly driven him nuts. Now, he barely noticed. Sounds other than voices, the hum of electricity, or the roar of a passing engine were replaced with softer, more predictable ones—the rustle of pine needles as a breeze swept through outstretched branches, the resonant creaking when snow weighed the branches down.
The rustle of animals as they scratched in the snow for food.
The voices inside his head had also faded—the strident ones that had called him a freak and the startled screams—well, they couldn’t reach him here.
If he missed the company of a woman—so be it. Other parts of his existence flourished in the solitude. Almost filling the aching void. The decision he’d made had been the right one. He’d spend the rest of his life—however long—alone.
Do no harm.
He lived by that rule now. At least, in regard to people.
For now, he had a stew pot to fill, and he’d tracked a lone deer through the forest to this spot. A soft snort sounded, and he found the doe digging with her hooves to uncover whatever she could still forage beneath the fresh snow.
Drake tugged off his mittens and raised his rifle, setting the stock snug against his shoulder. He had the doe in his sights and slowly pulled back on the trigger, when an unexpected tinkling sound, like bells carried on the wind, drew his attention. His gaze strayed for only moment. As his attention returned to his quarry, a sudden icy wind swept up snow, obscuring his view.
The shadow of the deer still in his scope, he pulled the trigger, jerking the barrel upward at the last moment when he realized he wasn’t looking at a doe at all—but a woman on a bay-colored horse.
What the hell?
The shot went wild, but the horse gave a high-pitched whinny and reared, dumping the woman to the ground before bolting.
Drake threw down his rifle, swearing silently as he clomped on unwieldy snowshoes toward the figure lying like a spill of red paint against a white canvas. Her fur-lined scarlet cloak fanned around her slender body. He knelt in its folds to reach for the woman who had yet to open her eyes.
He ran his hands over her body, checking for broken limbs, cursing himself for a horn dog for noting generous curves beneath her dark gold and blue gown. But it had been a long time since soft curves had yielded beneath his palms. Not much in the way of padded layers of clothing protected her from his inspection, just the soft fabric. What in hell was she doing wearing some princess costume in the wilderness in winter, even one made of heavy velvet?
Finally, she stirred, moaning softly.
He sat back on his haunches, noticing at last the luster of her mink brown hair and brows and the thick lashes that fanned the rims of her delicate eyelids. They fluttered then lifted, revealing gold-flecked brown eyes.
Struck by her beauty, he stared. Her eyes were wide-set and large; her nose elegant and straight. The shape of her face was slightly triangular with a small chin that took no attention away from the sweet curves of her soft, plump mouth. She was perfect. His hands itched to mold her shapes again.
“Who are you?” she asked, with a voice as light and sweet as the bells he thought he’d heard before.
He shook his head to clear away his lustful thoughts. “The idiot who nearly shot you,” he said, his own voice thick and rusty from disuse. He cleared his throat. “Can you move? Are you hurt?”
“I’m fine, I think.”
“What the hell were you doing out here?”
She gave him a distracted frown. “Riding.” Then rising on her elbows, she glanced around her, blinking. “My horse, Windancer…”
“He bolted when I fired.”
Her confused stare returned to him. “He’s gone?” Her eyes widened until the white surrounded the brown iris. “We must find him.”
No “I must find him”. She’d included him, without even wondering if it was wise.
Snow had begun to fall again—thick, fat flakes that swirled in the rising wind, a blast of arctic chill. Knowing it was the wrong thing to do, but seeing no other choice, he said, “I’ll look for him after the snowfall ends. We need to get you inside.”
Oh, hell. He’d have to take her to his place. Something he’d sworn he’d never do. She might not be any safer there. He’d lived alone too long. With her lush beauty, she was too much of a temptation.
Her mouth opened, but then closed, her lips forming a thin line. “I have to find my horse. I can’t stay here,” she said, casting a wild glance around them.
He frowned. “In a few minutes, we won’t see more than a few feet in front of us. A storm’s coming in.”
“You don’t understand—”
He cut her off with a wave of his hand. Although, it was the last thing he should do, he held out his hand. “Come. We’ll talk later. After I get you out of the cold.”
* * *
Larikke stared in dismay. She couldn’t go home with him. They’d be alone. Her, alone with a human? Unthinkable! Humans were so short-lived and violent. Think of the scandal it would cause!
“We’ll both freeze if we don’t get out of this weather,” he said slowly, as though speaking to a child—one not so very bright.
Only she knew she wouldn’t. Freeze, that is. This is what she got for her stubborn bid for freedom. Stranded in a wild land—with a man. Her mage would no doubt cluck like a hen when she recounted the tale of how she’d ridden the wind and landed on her backside in a snow bank before a human as handsome as any damnable frost faerie.
She’d only wanted to put Thure firmly in his place. Remind him who was in charge of her destiny—that she had a will of her own.
And maybe to inspire him to anger so that he might let go of the firm hold he kept over himself whenever they were together. She wanted to see the powerful male beneath his princely trappings.
Rather like the prime specimen before her.
Oh, why couldn’t this human have been as hairy as a polar bear? Or as ugly as a walrus? Oh no! His eyes were a crystalline blue. His hair was silvery blond and fell well past his broad shoulders.
Clean-shaven, his jaw was sharp-edged and strong. His brows, although drawn together in a fierce frown, were full and nicely shaped but hooded piercing eyes. Despite the layers of clothing he wore, she could tell his frame was tall and thickly muscled.
The few humans she’d met long ago, thickheaded and thick-bodied warriors stopping on their journey to Valhalla, didn’t compare. A crude, ungifted species, they’d never aroused much interest. But this one, with his rumbling voice and burly frame, nearly stole her breath away.
Perhaps she was simply addled by her spill. Or maybe she was just feeling the familiar, deepening need for something different from her proscribed future—something wicked and deplorably wrong. She cleared her throat. “I must insist we find my horse.”
He rolled his eyes and tugged her to her feet. Then before she could brush away the snow clinging to her mantle and give him the set down he deserved for daring to handle her so familiarly, he bent and swept her over his shoulder.
Larikke’s mouth gaped. Now, this was a view of the world she’d never seen.