When wishing for a new life, Elam finds out the hard way he should’ve been more specific.
A year in the Alaskan wilderness was supposed to help nature photographer Elam determine his next move. However, hitting his head and being rescued by one of the hottest men he’s laid eyes on in a while is not getting him off to a great start. Elam is starting over and staying away from sexy guys is part of his new regime. He has a career to nurture in addition to repairing his bruised ego after his rat of an ex cheated on him multiple times.
Nicolai is a rare, blue-eyed white wolf shifter. He’s also an Alpha and the expected heir to his pack in the Alaskan Wolf Alliance. Much to his father’s dismay, Nic has stepped aside as ruler and ceded his spot as future head of the pack to his younger brother. As a gay shifter, he’ll never be able to provide a biological heir and has no intention of claiming a female mate for the sole purpose of giving him a pup. Instead, he’s made a life for himself miles away from the pack in his own section of woods.
However, fate intervenes and puts Nic on a collision course with a human mate. While Nic’s wolf might be on board with the idea, Nic wants no part of it. Why would he want to get tangled up with the stunning Elam only to have his cold heart ripped away once Elam decides it’s time to leave Alaska for good? There’s also the small detail that humans know nothing of the existence of shifters.
When chemistry, love and the truth of what the growly Nic is blindsides Elam, he has some tough decisions to make. Does he let Nic turn him? Never go back to his old home? But the biggest surprise is yet to be revealed when Nic and Elam discover the new life Elam had hoped for is more than just his own—and that there are wolves who are frothing at the mouth to destroy it.
Elam took in the surroundings of the rural airport he’d landed at not twenty minutes before. The better part of the day had been taken up with flying from Seattle to Anchorage, then on the smaller connector flight to the rural Alaskan town where he now stood. The isolated spot was the closest to the remote location he’d be living in for the coming year. However, the chilled air, brisk wind and darkened clouds that loomed on the horizon meant that absorbing the local scenery would have to wait for another day.
He glanced over the bags he’d stuffed into the hatchback of the four-wheel drive SUV he’d leased for his stay. His photography gear was carefully secured inside two steel-reinforced cases, one dedicated to lenses alone. The small carry-on he’d brought on the plane contained his laptop and iPad. The remaining large suitcase was filled with his clothing and other immediate necessities. He smiled as he patted the bag that held his baby—his go-to camera whenever he was on assignment. With a quick nod of approval, he slammed the hatch shut.
Gotta hit the road before it gets any later.
Any additional supplies or items required for his stay had been shipped to the property management company in charge of leasing the cabin for his self-imposed sabbatical. They’d assured him the boxes of his possessions would be waiting for him when he arrived. He’d paid extra to have them brought to his temporary home, since postal deliveries to the secluded place he’d rented didn’t exist. The company he’d worked with had also assured him he’d have a week’s supply of fresh food and plenty of chopped wood to hold him over in case he couldn’t get to the nearest town for a while.
Works for me. Not here to socialize.
Elam climbed into the front seat of the truck, anxious to get away from the airport and to arrive at the gorgeous home and wooded property he’d chosen for his stay. The rumbling engine of the small transit plane that had just dropped him off revved up again. The pilot had already warned him he shouldn’t linger, that a storm was headed their way. It didn’t seem as if he planned on sticking around to find out whether his prediction was true or not.
After checking the directions to his destination on the GPS, Elam gripped the steering wheel, excitement thrumming under his skin at the prospect of a new beginning. Or a temporary respite. Either way, he wasn’t stuck back in Seattle anymore and didn’t have to hassle with his cheating asshole of an ex checking up on him all the time in a bid to lure him back. Add in the crowd of friends he’d inherited from his ex—who he suspected were trying to push the ‘get Elam and Andy back together agenda’—and he was over it.
This is my decision, what I choose.
Elam glanced up through the windshield and checked the distinct line of black clouds off in the distance. There’ll be plenty of time for self-reflection later. He could’ve stayed in Anchorage for a couple nights, but he’d checked the weather again after speaking with some locals, and the general consensus had been that the storm wouldn’t hit until well after dark in the area he was headed.
By then, I’ll be relaxing on the couch in front of a roaring fire with a glass of cabernet and a good book.
He grinned, then put the truck in gear. It wasn’t easy to keep from tearing out of the airport at high speed so he could arrive at what he hoped would become a welcome sanctuary. All he’d ever seen were online pics of the stunning, modern log cabin residence, but it had been enough to convince him to leave his old life behind. He hadn’t been as excited about something in years. He snorted. And it was over a wilderness home instead of some guy. The way Elam figured, the cabin would probably treat him a helluva lot better than Andy ever had.
An hour into his journey, Elam yawned, the long day of traveling finally catching up with him. He alternately rolled his shoulders and shifted around in the seat, trying to loosen up his cramped muscles. A yellow sign in the distance caught his attention, and he hoped it was somewhere he could grab a cup of coffee. As he drew closer, he almost whooped with joy. The rundown roadside stop boasted a couple of gas pumps and a convenience store. Surely, he’d be able to find something caffeinated.
A blast of icy wind slammed into his face as he opened the door to the SUV, snapping him awake better than any caffeine probably could. He peered up at the sky and noted how much more foreboding the clouds seemed than they had before. Unease coiled in his belly. Driving in snow didn’t concern him, not reasonable amounts anyway. But he’d experienced enough blizzards shooting on location that he had a healthy respect for bad weather—particularly when it occurred out in the middle of nowhere.
A half-hearted jingle sounded from the sad, clunky bell attached to the top of the glass-paned door of the small shop. He glanced around until his gaze landed on a pump coffee thermos with a small stack of paper cups, powdered creamer and a shaker of sugar clustered next to it. Elam slid the sock beanie off his head and stuffed it into his pocket, shaking out his shaggy brown hair that he’d intended to trim before he left. At the last moment, he’d let the idea go. Rocking a little scruff along with his hair brushing his shoulders was probably a better look in his new abode anyway.
“What can I do ya for?”
Elam whirled around at the unexpected sound of a gravelly voice that was attached to an older, grizzled man with ruddy skin who reminded him of a gold miner from back in the day. The store owner ambled toward him and Elam offered him a friendly smile.
“Hello. I was just checking to see if you have some coffee.” Elam maintained his smile, pointing to the thermos. “Looks like I’m in luck.”
The man scratched at his bearded chin, scrunching up his bulbous nose in the process. “Depends on your definition of luck. Ain’t no coffee in there, but I can make ya some fresh. You’ll have to wait a bit for it though. Haven’t had anyone in here since the end o’ the tourist season a few weeks back, so haven’t cleaned it out in a while.”
Gross. “Oh, I see. Well…” Elam considered his options. “I was really looking to get something quick, seeing as how there’s a storm moving in tonight.”
The man leaned against the counter, rolling his eyes. “Tonight? I’m guessing an hour at the most.”
Elam’s gut tightened. “I thought… where did you hear that?”
The man indicated over his shoulder with a jerk of his chin. “Scanner. Not much going on this time o’ the year, so I keep myself busy that way. It’s gonna be a doozy, already hit the coast pretty damn hard.” He frowned. “Where ya headed? Ain’t nowhere to stay nearby. Unless you’re going in the direction of the airport? There’s a small motel next to it you can hole up in for a couple days if necessary.”
Dammit. “I just came from there. I’m headed to Trapper Creek Flats.”
The man shook his head as he chuckled. “You city folk. Damn if you don’t beat all. Always takin’ adventures you ain’t got no idea how to prepare for.”
Elam pursed his lips. He wondered if the man standing before him had ever lived at Everest base camp for two months or photographed polar bears from an ice cave. He probably thought a skinny guy with a small build couldn’t handle the great outdoors and that his pale skin meant he’d never seen much of anything outside of a computer screen. Elam supposed he couldn’t blame the guy. It’s not as if the old man knew he’d been staying inside and nursing a broken heart instead of doing his weekly hikes. Or accepting any new assignments. But he wasn’t interested in macho posturing. Getting safely to his new place as quickly as possible was of more interest.
“Well, I guess I’d better get moving then.” He’d planned on topping off his tank, but it seemed as though the smarter move would be to proceed to the cabin without any further delay. “Thanks for the head’s up. After I’ve settled in and the weather’s less dodgy, I’ll keep you in mind if I need any gas or supplies.”
The man appeared sheepish. “Hey, don’t take no offense. I got a big mouth and don’t know when to shut it. Listen, you need anything or have any questions about things ‘round here, I’m your man. Be careful, all right?”
Elam nodded, a portion of tension leaving his body. “Cool. Thanks, I appreciate it.”
As a final gesture of good faith, Elam purchased a twenty-ounce bottle of cola—that he figured was better than no caffeine at all—along with a granola bar.
Once he was back in the truck, the unrelenting wind doing its best to keep him from reaching the vehicle, he decided to keep his knit cap on, at least until he’d warmed up some more. He hadn’t taken off his fingerless gloves either, and as cold and shivery as he was, he wasn’t sure if he’d ever want to.
As Elam fired up the engine, the first splotches of snow landed on his windshield. He let out a small groan. I hope to hell I make it there before this hits full force. Somehow, the black clouds of doom threatening the skies up ahead didn’t fill him with much optimism. Elam pulled back onto the two-lane highway and focused on getting to his destination. The snow was still light enough that he didn’t need chains. His major concern was the back road to the cabin. The leasing company had warned him it didn’t get plowed very often, and that if he got stuck on the wrong side of it, he wouldn’t be able to get in until someone with a plow could be located. A snow blower was available for him to use at the house, but it wouldn’t do shit for him if he wasn’t already there.
Elam kept an eye on the mile markers, and when he reached one seventy-five, he let out a long sigh. Awesome. The access road he needed was the next right, it was still dusk and the snow had only accumulated a couple inches. If his luck held, he might make it all the way there without needing to put on chains. Not in the mood for that right now.
After only a few miles, the storm decided to show him who was boss with an unrelenting onslaught of snow flurries. As much as he didn’t want to face it, his only way forward or back was to use chains. Elam didn’t have time to ponder whether he should’ve stayed in Anchorage after all or listened to the old man at the store. He needed to get moving or he’d be in serious trouble.
After putting on his emergency flashers, he braced himself for the conditions by zipping up his down jacket, wrapping his scarf back around his neck and covering his fingers. The breath was knocked out of him as he dropped from the truck and into the rapidly deepening snow, the freezing wind swirling around him and peppering his face with stinging bits of ice. He kept a hand in front of him to help shield his eyes, but he could still barely see.
Fuck. Gotta hurry.
The thought had just left his mind when he took his first swift step. His foot shot out from under him, slipping on the ice he hadn’t realized was beneath the fresh, powdery snow, his arms flailing as he desperately tried to keep from flying backwards. A sharp pain at the back of his head was all he remembered before everything went black.
* * * *
Nicolai bounded through the snow, his back legs kicking up the fresh powder as he raced back to his cabin. The storm had built to a fury in record time. He’d tracked the forecast earlier on the short wave, but when he’d shifted to try and catch some fresh rabbit before it set in, he’d smelled it on the air, the wind carrying the impending blizzard toward him like a thundering herd, warning him with electric ozone that he’d better bunker down for at least a couple days.
Another scent drew him up short. Nicolai whipped his head around, inhaling in every direction as he attempted to locate the source of the alluring smell. What the fuck. He shouldn’t be able to detect a damn thing, not when he was surrounded by raging winds and snow, a whiteout that would be deadly for almost anyone caught outside in it for too long. His saving grace—other than his wolf coat—was his knowledge of the terrain and his shifter wolf instincts.
But not until I find out what that is. He lifted his nose to the air and inhaled again, doing a full head and body shake as he sucked in some of the flurries, the water melting down his throat and almost making him choke. Dammit. He never did that, knew better than to stick his snout up and take a deep breath in the middle of a blizzard. But he’d accomplished what he’d been hoping for. It’s coming from that direction.
Nicolai took off, leaping across the accumulating snow, his wolf guiding him toward the scent he didn’t recognize, yet neither could it be denied. It didn’t strike him as being dangerous, yet it still unnerved him. Have to hurry. As he drove himself forward, pushed himself through the tangle of brush trying to thwart him from his goal, he realized he was headed straight for the access road.
After skirting a large pile of boulders then launching over a berm that was likely left over from the solitary plow that would come through on occasion—if they were lucky—Nicolai landed with a skid in front of the headlights of a black SUV, the red flashers signaling that whoever had pulled over was in trouble.
Nicolai had to steady himself. The aroma he’d been tracking was so pungent it had made him dizzy. The scent baffled him. Not only was it something he’d never experienced, it was the first time he’d wanted to bathe himself in a smell, to roll around in it until it was all he knew.
Great. I’ve lost my mind.
As he wallowed in the scent, the direct source became clear to him. It only took him a few steps before he almost stumbled on the unconscious man, the abundant snow flurries already partially burying him. A deep ache, like a rock landing in his stomach, compelled him to paw at the snow, to keep it from continuing to cover the unmoving form.
The futility of his panic-induced actions slammed into him. The storm was only getting worse, and the man would not last the night if he didn’t get somewhere warm, or at least out of the elements. Another terrifying thought entered his mind. What if the human lying in the snow wasn’t unconscious? What if he was dead? Death was usually a smell that Nicolai immediately recognized, but he was so thrown off guard by the unusual scent of the man, he had to press his snout to the human’s face to be sure. The moment he breathed the man’s air he almost collapsed in relief.
Now to get him out of this fucking blizzard.
They were at least a few miles from Nicolai’s cabin, and while he possessed strength that exceeded the typical non-shifter wolf, he doubted he could drag the man with his teeth that far. If the SUV had chains, and he could move quickly, he might be able to at least get them close enough to drag him inside. I sure as hell can’t shift right now. Bare ass naked and raging blizzard didn’t mix well.
Nicolai considered the truck. The chance existed that the man might have some extra clothing in the car, or perhaps an overnight bag. He dropped his gaze to the unmoving form. Even lying on the ground, Nicolai could tell he was smaller than him, but maybe not by much. Hmm. He concluded that all he really needed was to stay somewhat warm until he could get the chains on the tires and the man in the SUV.
Next is to figure out how to get inside this damn truck.
Nicolai decided to check whether he could get in the vehicle without shifting first, before worrying about his chances of lasting in the storm while doing nude vehicle break-in. More relief flooded him when he discovered the guy had made his job easier by not closing the driver side door all the way. Nicolai clawed and nosed his way in, then immediately shifted.
He rubbed his knee where it had slammed into the steering column during his shift. Nicolai yanked the door closed then started up the engine, thankful that the keys had been left in the ignition. Warm air that swiftly became hot blasted his chilly skin and after he turned on the cab light, he focused his attention on the back seat.
Nicolai scrambled over the center console and wedged himself between the two seats until he landed in the back. After digging through a couple of duffels, he found some sweatpants, sweaters and a pair of leather gloves. Time was of the essence, so Nicolai didn’t bother to put things to rights. After donning a pair of slippers, he jumped out of the truck and landed in snow already hallway up his calves. Fuck.
Ignoring his discomfort, he ran around to the hatch in search of the chains. After searching underneath the man’s belongings, he found what he needed. Putting on the chains required little effort and soon his task was complete. A thread of worry snaked its way through his gut, but he pushed it aside. Even if he got the human to his cabin, no guarantee existed that whatever injury he’d suffered wasn’t serious enough to be irreversible.
Don’t have time for that right now.
Nicolai brushed more snow off the man, then hoisted him over his shoulder before bringing him around to the passenger side, then carefully maneuvered him inside. Nicolai joined him in the driver’s seat, but within the enclosed space of the vehicle, the scent that had lured him to the man originally became even more overpowering. How the fuck am I supposed to handle this once we get to my place? He let out a small growl as he put the truck into gear.
Nicolai thanked the ancient gods the chains held, were slicing through the snow and that they were making real progress. Once they’d arrived at his cabin, Nicolai parked as close as he could, angling the vehicle so the passenger side would be closest to the door. The unrelenting snow and icy steps made walking while carrying a full-grown man a tricky proposition.
Nicolai’s senses remained on overload as he made his way around the truck to retrieve the still-unconscious man. Tugging the door open as he battled against the fierce wind, he wrapped one arm around the man’s torso and the other beneath his knees. The moment he held the stranger in his embrace, Nicolai was overcome with the need to bury his nose in his damp hair, to nuzzle the man’s neck and wallow in the delicious scent emanating from his body. His senses were filled with the aroma—a tantalizing mixture of the fragrance of pine needles released by a spring rain, fresh berries with cream, and the musk that lingered after a heated coupling with a lover.
Nicolai snapped himself out of his trance with a low growl, angry at himself for allowing whatever madness that gripped him to yank him off course, to distract him from the crucial moments that should only be delegated to getting the man in his arms to warmth and safety.
After Nicolai had brought him inside then laid him gently on the couch, he checked the back of the man’s head to verify he wasn’t bleeding. He winced at the awful lump he discovered on the his skull and didn’t envy the pain the guy would be in when he woke up.
If he wakes up.
Nicolai shoved the errant thought from his mind as he rushed into his bedroom then rooted around in his drawers until he found the warmest pair of sweats he owned. The jeans the man wore were soaked through, and while Nicolai didn’t want his guest to wonder why his pants had been removed by a stranger, by the same token, he couldn’t risk leaving him in the wet garment.
After returning to the couch, Nicolai fumbled with the man’s belt, swallowing hard and attempting to keep inappropriate thoughts out of his mind.
He needs my help. That’s all this is.
His fingers trembled from the effort of keeping focus. He undid the metal buttons of the jeans then lifted his butt with one hand, grabbing the waistband of the pants with the other. The denim fought him, the heavy, wet fabric refusing to slide down the man’s long legs without great effort, his naked skin taunting Nicolai as he completed the necessary task. Nicolai let out a long sigh once the stranger’s limbs were covered again. He verified that his shirt had remained dry from the well-insulated jacket he’d been wearing, then piled on him all the wool blankets he had stored in his cedar chest before setting about to get a hearty blaze going in the stone fireplace.
Once he’d done all he could to give his guest the best possible chance at surviving the night, he lowered himself onto the round, multi-colored braided rug that covered most of the wood floor. The log cabin he’d built from ground up consisted of one large, open area with the river rock fireplace taking up the majority of the space of the back wall, the door to his bedroom which led to the bathroom on one side of the fireplace, a picture window on the other, with the front door, open kitchen and dining area behind him.
Nicolai stared into the flames, the crackling and popping of the seasoned wood lulling his wolf, keeping the almost agonizing hunger at bay, distracting him from the need to wrap his body around the still form, to give his warmth to this person, this stranger who had just disrupted his perfectly ordered existence.
My dull, pointless, lonely existence.
Nicolai frowned. He had a feeling he’d be up all night arguing with his stubborn, know-it-all wolf.