Authors: Larissa Ione
Tags: #Fiction / Romance - Paranormal
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For Jillian. Your generosity is absolutely amazing, and
truly, you are as beautiful inside as you are on the outside.
I think Reseph’s heroine lives up to the name. Thanks for
everything… including the frying pan!
While writing the Lords of Deliverance series, I realized just how important friends and family are. I’ve needed walks on the beach, house/kid/pet sitters, shoulders to cry on, and drinks… lots and lots of drinks.
Bonnie, you have no idea how much I appreciate you. Thanks for being there. You and Ziva have been lifesavers for me and Hexe.
I also need to thank Nancy Popour, who has been so awesome as well—I don’t know what I’d do without you!
Mom and Dude, thank you for being willing to drop everything at a moment’s notice to fly out here to help. Because of you, I’ve been able to attend conferences and go on vacations that have made a big difference in my professional and personal lives.
I also need to send thanks to my father-in-law, Mike, who has been willing to help out when needed, which is a huge relief, since my husband is gone so much.
Thanks also to the amazing ladies who belong to the Book Obsessed Chicks Book Club. I had a blast hanging out with you, so lots of virtual cupcakes to Jennifer, Terry,
Nina, Holly, Penny, Denise, Francesca, and Kimberly Rocha!
And last but certainly not least, thanks to everyone at Grand Central Publishing for all the work you put into making these books the best they can be.
It was cold. So fucking cold.
He opened his eyes, but he saw… nothing. Groaning, he shifted, because he seemed to be facedown. Yeah… he was doing a face-plant, all right. But where was he? All he could see was snow. No, that wasn’t true; he could see trees laden with snow. And snowbanks laden with snow. And snow laden with more fucking snow.
So he was in a forest… with snow. But where? Why?
And who the hell was he?
The name slurred through his ears as if uttered by a drunken man.
Sounded vaguely familiar, he supposed. Reseph. Okay, he could work with that. Especially since no other names popped into his head.
Weakly, he tried to push himself to his knees, but his
arms wobbled like rubber, and he kept falling on his face. After four tries, he gave up and just lay there, panting and shivering.
Somewhere overhead, an owl hooted, and a few minutes later, a wolf howled into the growing darkness. Reseph took comfort in the sounds, because they meant he wasn’t alone. Sure, the owl might fly over and shit on him, and the wolf might eat him alive, but at least he’d have company for a little while.
He didn’t know much about himself, but he knew he didn’t like to be alone.
He also did
Curious then, how he’d ended up alone in the snow. Had someone abandoned him here? A tremor of anxiety shook him on the inside as hard as the cold was shaking him on the outside. Surely someone was looking for him.
He held onto that hope as he gradually became aware of a gnawing ache in his bones, accompanied by a stabbing pain in his head. Looked like he was in for a little unconsciousness. Cool. Because right now, he was both freezing and burning up, hurting and numb. Yep, passing out would be a good thing.
Real. Fucking. Good.
Idiot. Dumbass. Meteorological moron
Jillian Cardiff mentally cursed the meteorologist who screwed the pooch on the timing of this blizzard. She had nothing against weather people; hell, she’d worked with them for years in the FAA. But this… this was ridiculous.
Now she was in a rush to get back to her cabin before
visibility went completely to shit and her draft horse, Sam, got testy.
“Come on, boy.” She gave the big sorrel an affectionate slap on the shoulder. “The rest of the firewood can wait.”
Sam followed her, not needing to be led by the rope snapped to his halter. He knew the way home and was as eager as she was to get inside a warm, cozy building. The sled carrying a quarter cord of firewood dragged behind him, cutting through the five feet of fresh snow they’d gotten a few days ago. This new storm would probably dump another couple of feet, and by the end of December they’d have more snow than they’d know what to do with.
The wind shrieked like a living thing, and snow blasted her face. Hefting her rifle more securely onto her shoulder, Jillian put her head down and pushed against the gale. Times like this, she really missed Florida. Not that she’d ever go back. Some things you just couldn’t forget.
Like being torn apart by demons.
She shivered, but it had nothing to do with the temperature. She was not going there again. The attack was behind her, and as long as she didn’t watch TV, get on the Internet, or look at her scars, she never had to think about it.
A long, mournful howl pierced the late afternoon darkness. Had to be close if she could hear it over the wind. Sam snorted and tossed his head, and she slowed to take the lead rope and give him a pat on his white-blazed nose.
“It’s okay, buddy. The wolves won’t bother us.” No, wolves generally left humans alone. If anything, cougars were the big concern. In recent weeks, two area hunters had been found torn to pieces, the carnage blamed on the big cats.
She could handle a cougar. What she couldn’t handle was the dark. Demons lurked in the dark.
Abruptly, Sam reared up, a desperate whinny breaking from his big chest. The rope jerked out of Jillian’s hand, and she nearly lost her footing in the icy snow as she scrambled to catch it. Sam’s front hooves hit the ground and his shoulder rammed her, sending her tumbling down an incline. Her yelp cut off as she slammed into a tree trunk.
Pain spiderwebbed around the right side of her rib cage, and ouch, that was going to be tender tomorrow.
“Dammit, Sam,” she muttered, as she crawled back up the snowy slope, pausing to grab the rifle that had been flung into a snowbank.
Sam was snorting, going nuts as he pawed at a snowdrift. Jillian dug ice from places ice shouldn’t be as she clomped through the snow, wondering what in the world had startled Sam and now had him so freaked out.
“You’d better be digging up a pot of gold, you mangy—” She broke off with a startled gasp.
A man… a
man… his body facedown and covered in a dusting of snow, lay in a messy sprawl just off the trail.
“Oh, my God.” Her hands shook as she stripped off her glove and brushed aside his long, platinum hair to put her fingers to his throat. His skin was icy to the touch, which she expected, but when the steady thump of a pulse bounded against her fingertips, she nearly jumped out of her own skin. He was alive. With a strong pulse. Holy cow, how?
Okay, so… think. She had to get help, but they were in the middle of an intensifying snowstorm, and there was no way off the mountain except by snowmobile. She couldn’t risk that in the storm, and it could take hours to get to the nearest town. He could be dead by then.
Praying this guy wasn’t a serial killer and trying not to think too hard on why he’d be in the mountains, naked, in the winter, she eased Sam up the trail until the sled was alongside the man’s body. As quickly as she could, she heaved the firewood to the other side of the path and tucked the ax into the loop on Sam’s padded harness.
Rolling the man onto the sled was not as easy as she’d hoped. The guy was heavy as a damned boulder and
. And… handsome. And very, very naked.
“Really?” she muttered to herself. “You’re going to notice how hot he is
Granted, it was impossible not to notice those things, but she still felt a little guilty as she ran her hands over him, checking for injuries. Aside from being unconscious and as frozen as a fish stick, he appeared to be uninjured.
Interesting horse tattoo on his right forearm, though. When she’d skimmed her fingers over it, she’d felt a dim vibration, as if the henna-colored lines pulsed with a mild electrical current. Too bad warmth didn’t ride in on that current, though, because damn, she swore the temperature plummeted twenty degrees in the few minutes it took to check the guy out.
As if Mother Nature had some sort of grudge against her, the biting cold wind picked up even more, and the snow, which she normally loved, became an enemy. It was probably stupid of her, but she stripped off her coat and laid it over the guy, tucking the coat’s sleeves carefully beneath him. The shirt layers she was wearing should protect her for a while, as long as they hurried.