Read an Excerpt
"If I am too cold for human friendshipI trust
I shall not soon be too cold for natural influences.
It appears to be a law that you cannot have a
deep sympathy for both man & nature.
Those qualities which bring you near to the
one estrange you from the other."
"Sex is like snow, you never know how many inches you're going to get or how long it will last."
After a fierce night of wind and snow, the world awakened enchanteda sea of glittering ice crystals. Sun shimmered across the billowing expanse of snow smothering the ground. Too bright to the mortal eye, the brilliance dazzled.
Vilhjalmur Frosti did not blink. Footsteps crackled as he glided along the crisp lace of ice crusting the tire ruts in the country road. In his wake, frost crystallized upon the mixture of dirt and snow.
Focused and direct, he moved through the air, alerting a mouse with his ominous chill. Formed completely of frost, he wore a human shape, instead of his usual particulated form.
He eyed the log cabin perched in a shallow valley. Smoke rose from the brick chimney, captured in cumulous puffs in the below-freezing air. The gravel road leading to the home bore a single set of tire tracks, where noxious rubber fumes yet lingered.
The industrialized mortals gave little concern toward nature, to the wildlife, why, to the very air they breathed. They were killing themselves.
They were killing this planet.
But he did not make judgments. Frost had been given his orders; he was an assassin.
Old Man Winter targeted environmental offenders, and Frost served his master accordingly. His icytouch delivered a powerful warning to those mortals who would tamper with the course of nature. If the warning were not heeded, a slow, painful death followed.
His current mark lived at the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness of northern Minnesota. Over a million acres of forest, streams, cliffs and crags, gentle hills, beaches and meadow capped the top of the state.
A whiskeyjack whee-ahhed deep from within the needles of a pine tree. Frost liked it here. The majority of it was pristine, if he overlooked the emissions from snowmobiles.
Stopping at the bottom of the drive before the log cabin, he leaned against a paper birch across the road from a steel mailbox. Wilson, read the name on the box.
The squeak of a door alerted him, and someone stepped outside the cabin. The mortal was swaddled in a hip-length winter coat. White fur edged about the neck and hem, yet it wasn't zipped closed. And the body beneath was barely clad.
A hiss of frost twinkled in the air as Vilhjalmur leaned forward to study the mark. Was that pink lace?
The tall, slender mortal strode down the drive toward the mailbox. A thin strip of pink lace hugged narrow hips and from there, the bare legs dashed forever until they disappeared into heavy buff snow boots edged by fur.
About the furred hood thick waves of vibrant hair bounced with each step. More pink lace tried to contain breasts as round as
"A female," he murmured.
His voice would not be heard on the mortal level unless he wished it. Instead, it carried from his mouth on a dazzle of frost.
A sniff of the air detected the mortal's scent. Young, strong, he sensed no physical afflictions in her makeup. Beyond the mix of salty flesh and clothing fiber, he detected an unrecognizable sweet scent. The elusive odor teased at him.
Frost imagined dashing his tongue out to taste the tempting sweetness. But he could not consume tastes or food. No worry, smells served him all the information required to move through this mortal world.
Rarely did Frost consider the crime before he struckbut he'd never had a female mark before. What could this woman possibly have done to merit his deadly attention?
A glossy crust of ice held the mailbox door stuck. The woman tugged and then beat a fist on top the metal box. Ice crackled and fell into the snow beside her boots.
She touched the side of the metal boxlaced with Frost's handiworkand pulled back quickly. "Freezing," she muttered.
He nodded appreciatively. As if his work would be anything but cold.
"Duh. Like you expected it to be tropical this morning, Kate?"
Frost winced. How he loathed knowing their names. Didn't necessarily make the task more difficult, but, wellKate. The name did land crisply in his brain, and he liked brisk, fresh, crisp things.
When she bent forward to inspect the innards of the mailbox, the coat shrugged high to expose her derriere. Pink lace edged the pale peach smoothness of her flesh as if frost hugging an exposed river stone.
Frost sucked in a breatha cold breath, unlike the backside wiggling before him.
Mortal flesh was warm, dangerously so. He could adhere to it in his natural particulated frost state to induce frostbite. Yet a touch while he was human-shaped could transform him to mortal form, fleshed out and solid. It was an interesting state of glamour, but one he rarely employed.
He stepped forward, moving stealthily. The mortal would not see him. He blended with the snow as easily as he insinuated the elaborate frost pattern painting the cold metal box.
He was everywhere, and yet right now, he leaned over her shoulderKate's shouldercurious about what was inside the box. The visceral scent of her invaded his particles.
She straightened quickly. The move brushed her coat sleeve against his arm. He didn't flinch; it hadn't been flesh-to-flesh contact. No danger.
A toss of her head swept shiny long hair over his face. And he felt her warmth.
Grasping his face, he pulled away his hand to find it transforming. Color radiated through his fingers. Mortal skin. It tickled across his veins, tightening, growing not cold.
The woman turned.
Frost dashed to the snowbank and plunged in his hand, and to be safe, his face. The transformation halted. Once again, he was frost.
"Huh." She shrugged a hand through her hair and the strands caught the sunlight and flashed copper and red. "Felt like someone touched me. What a nut. Must need a visit to town, to communicate with real people for a change, instead of staring at the computer all day."
With a slap, she shut the mailbox and then shuffled back inside the house.
Frost rushed after her, his form particulating and fixing to the large paned window at the front of the house.
He observed her through the window, setting the mail on a table and slipping off the coat to toss over the back of a sofa. She wore but underthings.
Mortals did not appeal to him. They were beings who populated and contaminated this world. Sure, his handiwork delighted and intrigued them. Mortals required entertainment. He, an assassin, was loved by billions.
On occasion he did observe children building castles in the snow or sliding gleefully down a snow-packed hill. The sight touched him in a manner he couldn't articulate. But he tried not to think on it.
But no interest. Absolutely none. Detachment from emotion was keen to his survival. And mortals were nothing but masses of blithering emotions. The tragic looks their faces held when he covered their crops or carved jack-o-lanterns? Pitiful.
The woman inside the cabin stretched out her arms. The delicate pink lace drew his focus. A breath lifted her breasts, barely covered by the bits of fabric. Two points of hardness, one on each breast, fixed his stare.
"Stop it, Frost," he cautioned. "She's a mark. And you have failed."
He'd had the moment, by the mailbox, to touch her with his frosty death. And he had not. He had never disobeyed a direct order for elimination. And had no intention to do so this time.
So why the pause now?
She bent over a table, sorting through the mail. Could those breasts be as soft as they looked? If she leaned farther forward, they might spill out from the tiny bits of pink and lace.
He lusted. Often. Lust was satisfied by his frost folkall gods had minions. But no frost faery had ever looked so inviting. So lush. As if a feast to quench an ache he could not name. Right there, in his core.
Perhaps this mark required surveillance before he completed the job.
Kate collected her mug of hot chocolate and snuggled into the easy chair before the fireplace. An hour earlier she'd hauled in three pine logs and started a blazing fire. A bright red fleece blanket wilted about her shoulders and thighs. The radiant heat stroked her bare legs.
The quick trip outside in her undies was always brisk fun in the morning.
Weird, though, the feeling she'd gotten while standing at the mailbox. As if someone had run fingers through her hair. Of course, that was ridiculous, considering she lived fifteen miles from the nearest main road and was surrounded by a good fifty acres on all sides before she saw another house or cabin. Kate communicated with moose more than men.
A glance outside was blurred by the incredible frost pattern on the window.
"That's a lot of frost." She got up to check it out.
The older single-paned window tended to collect condensation, which froze into gorgeous frost patterns. Despite the heat loss from the window, Kate was always happy for a photo opportunity.
Grabbing her digital camera, which she kept on the table near the front door for quick shots, she snapped a few dozen photos of the elaborate arabesques and filigree dancing across the window.
"Now I've begun to work, guess I'd better get bundled up and head outside."
Kate sat outside, across the road from the cabin, her equipment set up near the sharp needle border of a snow-frosted blue pine.
Her microphotography setup included a digital camera, microscope objective, aperture, field lens and color filters, all securely mounted in a portable hardshell case she could lug around as a backpack.
Her work uniform was a white Arctic Cat snowsuit, Thinsulate gloves and a ski cap. Underneath, she wore thermal long underwear, a thin sweater and jeans. Layers, the only way to go.
The day was bright and brisk, a balmy twenty-two degreesperfect temperature for capturing the larger and photogenic plate snowflakes. She could sit out here for at least an hour, snapping away, before a warming trip inside was required.
Yet no work could be done until
It started to gently snow.
Kate tilted back her head to catch the first flakes upon her smile. Cold kisses melted and trickled over her skin.
Thrilled with her luck, she held out a chilled microscope slide to catch a few flakes. Using a small artist's paintbrush, she pressed the specimen firmly to the slide to reduce air pockets. Placing the slide immediately under the microscope and choosing red and blue color filters, she then began to snap away.
She was photographing snowflakes. Or so that is what Frost guessed after observing her strange machinations.
What did this mean? On an earth-threatening scale he couldn't determine the danger. Did she use harmful chemicals in her processing equipment? If so, it could hardly be enough to threaten more than a few square feet of air space. Nothing when compared to a giant shipping rigger dumping oil in the Atlantic Ocean and killing tens of thousands of wildlife and contaminating the water and shores.
There had to be something he was missing. Perhaps this activity was merely a foray, an aside from what she really did. Yes, he must continue to observe. Soon, the woman would reveal herselfand her evil deedto him.
That sweet scent still lingered about her like a frothy mist of ice crystals that form after laughter in below-zero air.