Moira Rogers

Freeze Line


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She can’t survive in his world, he can’t stay sane in hers…

A twenty-first century ice age dulls the magic that emanates from the earth. Shane Sullivan is a lone wolf above the freeze line; He has no desire to join the packs that range closer to the border, where feral instincts can turn a man into a monster. Not until the winter solstice, when he stumbles across a dying witch who needs his help to get back to her people–and her magic–in the south.

Nadia is a powerful woman in her own world, but drained by her escape from captivity in a northern lab. She knows it’s foolhardy to trust a werewolf, but he’s her only chance to survive the vast white wilderness. The farther south they travel, the harder it is for Shane to keep the beast within under control, and as their mutual attraction intensifies, Nadia’s no longer sure she wants him to.

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Chapter One

Winter hit hard above the freeze line, and it lasted forever. Most of the time, Shane liked it that way. Fewer opportunities for visitors, fewer supply runs into Hamilton.

Fewer reasons to be sociable.

He throttled down, but the trail had already been packed hard with snow. Braking was tricky, and the snowmobile lurched sideways a few inches before he managed to carefully correct the slide. He had to remember to make his runs in the morning, before Bobby Settles ran through with his massive truck and a load of greenhouse produce.

You’re cranky, Sullivan. Odd. Usually the colder weather lifted his spirits. Sure, he was stuck indoors most of the time, but at least the fevers faded, sapped away by the frozen earth along with the rest of the magic. He was free from them for months–no sleepless nights shredded by fitful dreams of running under the moon, howling with the others of his kind.

In the winter, the magic slept, and the glittering, barren world was a relief to him in a way his human neighbors would never understand.

He crested a hill, the last before the straight shot across Gilroy Lake and the border of his property, and spotted a dark figure ahead, beside the trail.

He’d gone to town in the first place because an ugly sky and a biting wind from the north heralded a storm, the kind that could shut him in his house for weeks. None of his neighbors were foolish enough to wander around in such weather alone unless they had no choice.

Shane slowed as he neared the figure, but a frown drew his brows together. A slight figure, in gear too light for the weather. Lost.

He stopped the snowmobile. “You need some help?”

The figure turned. Slow and unsteady, boots slipping on the packed snow. A pale feminine face peered from beneath the hood of a too-big parka. Her words came out breathless and choppy as she shivered so hard her teeth chattered. “I was looking for shelter?”

“Not from around here, I guess.” He jerked one thumb over his shoulder. “Nearest town’s that way.”

She blinked as if she was having trouble parsing the words, and her gaze shifted too slowly to follow the path of his hand. “Oh. You’re not going in that direction?”

She was already disoriented. If he left her walking, she’d become even more confused, would probably sit down and freeze to death. “Where’s your ride?”

“I don’t have one.” She wrapped her arms around her body, looking tired and lost. “I’m…I’m not from around here.”

No shit. “Why don’t you climb on? My place is just across the lake. You can warm up, maybe make some calls.”

She didn’t move at once. Wariness stirred in her eyes, the first real emotion she’d displayed, and even with his senses dulled, he heard the too-fast pounding of her heart. Fear.

Finally, she looked away. “I’m a witch.”

He hadn’t felt the pull of her magic, but that didn’t surprise him. This far north, she might as well be human. “Dead of winter above the freeze line, lady. I’m not scared of you. Are you scared of me?”

At least she didn’t lie. “Yes. Right now, I’m scared of everyone.”

It didn’t matter what–or who–she was afraid of. Fear spelled trouble. “You coming or not?”

Her foot slipped once as she stepped forward. She caught her balance, then picked a cautious, uncertain path to his side. She dropped one gloved hand to his shoulder and swung her leg awkwardly over the snowmobile, then huddled close against his back. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Now hold on.”

Once he’d navigated the sloping bank and driven onto the ice, Shane urged the snowmobile to a faster speed. Most of his bulk would shield the woman behind him from the biting wind, but past a certain point, cold was cold. And she needed to warm up.

Soon his house came into view, and he closed the remaining distance quickly. When he killed the engine and slid off the snowmobile, the woman almost fell over into the snow. “You still with me?”

Her lips were turning an alarming shade of blue. She braced both hands on the seat of the snowmobile and nodded jerkily. “I need a moment.”

She wouldn’t make it into the house on her own. “Come on.” He lifted her in his arms, careful not to jar her, and trudged to the door.

He sat her on the couch, stripped off her ill-fitting parka and wrapped two thick blankets over her shoulders. “Coffee or tea?” he asked as he stalked to the thermostat to crank it higher.

“Tea, please.” Her sleepy gaze followed him as she pulled the blankets more snugly around her. “If you have any food to spare–my body is consuming itself.”

He’d just as soon that didn’t happen in his living room. “Graham crackers?” She would need the extra sugar to help get warm.

“Anything. Thank you…” She frowned. “I don’t know your name.”

“Shane Sullivan.” He set the kettle on the stove and peeled off his cold-weather wear. “Are your clothes damp?”

“Yes, a little. I wasn’t here of my–” Her teeth snapped together. “I did not have the opportunity to plan for travel.”

There wasn’t much to say to that. “You have to take them off.”

“All right.” No embarrassment or self-consciousness, though she might well be far past both. She let the blankets slip from her shoulders. The clothes seemed as ill fitting as the parka had been. A man’s rough cotton shirt hung around her like a tent, but the pants were tight across her hips.

She struggled with the boots first, her clumsy fingers fumbling with laces still caked with ice. Conscience pricked him. It had been too long since he’d had to deal with other people in this capacity, and he was horrible at it.

So Shane put the crackers on the coffee table and knelt by her feet. “Let me.”

“I’m sorry.” Her voice sounded hoarse. “I’m worse than helpless. It’s so cold, and the earth is completely asleep. I’ve never felt anything like it.”

The utter lack of magic–and her resulting weakness–must have terrified her. “It doesn’t really wake up around here, not even in the summer.”

Huge brown eyes studied him for a moment, and he had the curious sensation she was weighing something about him. She tilted her head to one side. “Are you a werewolf?”

The only logical deduction. “Yeah.”

“Oh.” Silence reigned as he slipped off her boots, leaving her scrunching her toes in oversize cotton socks. Finally, she sighed. “I’m not sure if I’m being hunted or not.”

He was in it now, no matter what. “Don’t worry about it.” He peeled off the socks too and stood, gesturing to her. “If you can handle the rest, I’ll be in the kitchen.”

A nod. “I believe so, yes.”

He retreated to check on the kettle–and take a moment to peer out the kitchen window at the path to the house. If she’d been followed… Shane shook himself. He’d seen no one else, not even a hint of a search, and he forced himself to relax.

When he returned, her clothes lay in a pile beside her boots. The witch had curled up with the blankets tangled around her body, her legs tucked under her, her cheek resting on the arm of the couch. Almost asleep.

“Hey–” He hadn’t even caught her name. “Hey, lady, sit up. You can’t sleep yet. You need to eat and drink something.” And warm up.

She moaned, but she sat up anyway. The blanket slipped from one shoulder, revealing milky skin and the winding pattern of a tattoo curled around her upper right arm. “Nadia. I’m Nadia.”

“Nadia.” He snatched another throw from the back of a chair and laid it over her shoulders. “Tea’s almost ready.”

“Thank you…Shane?”

“That’s right.” The kettle began to whistle, so he went to prepare her tea and added several spoonfuls of sugar. When he carried it back, he found her more alert, and some of his tension eased. “Here you go.”

With the warm mug clutched between her hands, she perked up. “Do you live alone?”

“Just me.”

“So far from everyone else?”

She already knew the truth, so what did a little more matter? “It’s safer that way, especially when things warm up.”

“Ah.” Understanding sparked in her eyes as she took a careful sip of her tea. “You seem more at peace than the werewolves I’ve encountered before.”

Which meant she hadn’t spent much time north of the line–and she didn’t know jack shit about him. “Living up here dulls the feral stuff just like it does your magic.”

“Yes.” She closed her eyes. “The people who brought me here counted on it.”

She’d been hurt. Shane choked back the instinctive anger that rose, and pressed the crackers into her hand. “Eat.”

After one bite, she made a quiet sound of pleasure, as if she hadn’t tasted anything better in days–which was entirely possible, judging by her enthusiasm. She drank half the tea and ate three crackers in silence as her shivering eased. “You saved my life.”

Something about the declaration left him uneasy. “Maybe.”

“You did.” She sipped her tea. Studied him. “I have nothing with which to repay you.”

He bristled. “I don’t need to be repaid for decency.”

The words made her flinch. “I mean no insult. It is my people’s custom.”

“What, insinuating that I must have dragged you back here for a reason, or that you’ve got to make it worth my while? That custom sucks.”

Her lips tugged down into a frown. “It is not about your expectations. It is about my gratitude.”

“You can keep it.”

“Then I will.” At least the anger flashing in her eyes proved there was some life in her.

Not to mention the fact that her ire bothered him less than the helpless, almost hopeless way she’d tallied what she supposedly owed him. “Look–you don’t owe me anything. Jackasses aside, anyone around here would have done the same thing. People help each other.”

The words startled a laugh out of her. “Are we people?”

Maybe not, but he’d spent so long pretending that he didn’t like the question. “Sure, why not?”

She lifted one shoulder, though the gesture was all but obscured by the heavy tangle of blankets. “I am what I am. And what I am is very tired. Do you think it’s safe for me to sleep?”

She seemed alert enough now, exhaustion aside. “Do you hurt anywhere?”

“There’s one place.” Nadia hesitated. “It’s not related to the cold. It’s the back of my neck. I think there may be burns.”

The anger he’d choked down threatened to boil up and spill over. “Let me see.”

One slender hand slid from beneath the blankets. She turned, reached up and dragged the disheveled strands of her long, dark hair forward over one shoulder.

Angry red marks stood out on the back of her neck, and up close he could see faint bruises circling her throat. “It was a collar,” she whispered. “It shocked me.”

Shane breathed in, one long inhalation, and out. “I have an antibiotic cream, if you think it’ll help.”

“I don’t think it can hurt. My body might not have the energy to fight off infection. Not with the earth dragging at me.”

“I’ll get it.” He made his way to the bathroom and braced his hands on the sink as he fought for control. Even the dormant earth couldn’t erase every trace of the wolf from his body or mind, and the sick, injured woman in his living room brought the beast rushing to the surface.

Blankets and bandages couldn’t appease instinct. She was weak, she’d been hurt and the wolf wanted to make someone pay.

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