When naturalist Mariah Garvey travels to the remote Alaska glacier region, she finds an abundance of beauty unparalleled in the Lower 48. The stark landscape, the vivid life forceand the powerful appeal of her rugged new guide, Patrick Worley.
For Patrick, the beautiful nature writer is an unwelcome distraction. His job at the Great Glacier Dog Ranch is only a cover for his classified work with Alpha Force. He is on a mission to uncover the truth behind a series of deadly explosions, and her presence hinders his ability to shape-shift and to huntas only a werewolf can. Even if he, too, feels an animal lust hot enough to melt the Alaskan ice, he knows their desire cannot be satisfied. Nor can it be denied.
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Trying not to let her frozen breath get in her way, Mariah Garver smiled as she watched the playful huskies on the screen of her digital camera and pushed the button over and over to capture their pictures. The dogs' barks and growls filled the icy early morning air.
She panned around, from the fenced area beside her toward the house at the end of the driveway on which she stoodand stopped fast as male legs clad in jeans and boots appeared on her screen.
Lowering the camera, she looked up into the scowling face of one of the most attractive men she had ever seenand there were plenty of great-looking men in Alaska. Sharp, handsome features were etched into a long face with a charmingly cleft chin. There was a decided sensuality to him that made her insides grow incongruously warm. But with the way he was frowning, his light brown eyes looked almost feral. In fact, she had a sense of something wild and untamed about this man.
Her sudden unease was exacerbated when he demanded harshly, "What do you want?"
"A dogsled ride." She hated how hesitant she sounded. That wasn't like her at all.
She turned off her camera and slipped it into the tote bag that she had remembered to take out of her four-wheel-drive SUV after parking at the street edge of the driveway. Squaring her shoulders beneath her all-weather vest, she strode toward the man, hearing her boots crunch over the icy surface of the driveway. Why hadn't she heard him arrive? Probably because she'd been concentrating on her photography and the noisy dogs.
She'd shot a lot of pictures of the dozens of gorgeous silvery, black-and-brown huskies cavorting playfully in the snow behind the wooden fence. They weren't wild animals. In fact, she assumed they were well domesticated, perfectly trained. But they would make a fantastic contrast with the rest of the creatures she intended to photograph around here.
"I'm Mariah Garver," she said. "I'm here to do an article on local wildlife for Alaskan Nature Magazine, and I want to hire a dogsled team and musher to take me onto the ice at Great Glaciers National Park tomorrow. And you are ?"
"Wait here," he said. "I'll get Toby Dawes. He's the owner of Great Glaciers Dogsled Ranch. I only work here."
The man turned his back and strode toward the large chalet-style home behind him, at the top of the driveway.
Not exactly the way to encourage tourists and dogsledding customers, Mariah thought.
But she was nevertheless intrigued by him. He was definitely photogenic. And he somehow seemed as wild as the animals she would feature in her article.
He'd said he worked here. Maybe she could hire him to take her onto the glaciers.
The house smelled of the pungency of last night's pizza as well as the freshness of today's dog food as Patrick Worley strode inside to get his supposed boss, Toby. Patrick was steaming. Not because of the warmer temperature in the residence, and not at the woman who'd suddenly shown up on the driveway. Well, not entirely at her.
He was mostly mad at himself for overreacting, and for showing his irritation. But having someone arrive unannounced, taking picturesfor a magazine article, yetwhile he was on this top-secret assignment for Alpha Force well, it had angered him.
Justifiably, sure. He definitely didn't want anyone whose job involved curiosityand photography looking over his shoulder while he was going about the ordinary business of the job that was his cover.
Even someoneespecially someoneas gorgeous and hot as that black-haired, curvaceous beauty, Mariah Garver. Her scent was spicy beneath her heavy clothing. Appealing, sure. But no one he needed to be near.
"Hey, Toby," Patrick yelled from the doorway. "There's a possible customer outside. She wants to talk to you."
Hearing a soft mutter from the direction of the kitchen, he headed there. Toby was at the sink, pouring warm, filtered water into a bucket of the high-calorie working-dog chow he bought by huge bagfuls for his energetic huskies. "Tell whoever it is to wait a minute," he said as Patrick walked in.
Toby Dawes was in his sixties, clearly fit and obstinately muscular. When he wasn't working his sled dogs, he was working himself.
"No need. She won't leave till she talks to you." The sexy woman writer had struck Patrick immediately as being determined. Persistent. Most likely too curious for her own goodand his. "A magazine writer," Patrick continued scornfully. "Taking pictures for a nature article she's writing."
That got Toby's attention. "Interesting. We could get a lot of publicity from that." He hefted the obviously heavy bucket and headed outside.
"Want me to carry that, boss?" Patrick asked.
He received a scornful glare. "I'll carry it, but you come feed our teams while I talk to the lady."
Patrick opened his mouth to object, then shut it again. He was here undercover, after all. Toby had no idea who and what he was. He had hired Patrick as a favor to a friend of his son Wes's. Wes was former Special Ops and still had a lot of military contacts, but not even he knew the truth about Patrick or his assignment. Or about Alpha Force.
Toby put the bucket down on the counter just long enough to grab his gray parka from a hook on the wall and shrug it on. Then he motioned to Patrick to follow.
The womanMariahwas still taking pictures. She even aimed the camera in their direction as they approached down the driveway. Patrick resisted the urge to turn in the other direction.
There were worse things than having his picture taken at this moment.
She smiled as they got closer. "Mr. Dawes? I'm really glad to meet you." She gave the same introduction as she had with Patrick.
"An article for Alaskan Nature? That's one of my favorite 'zines." Toby's grin lit his grizzled face as he put down the bucket he'd carried as easily as if it was filled with popcorn. "Patrick said you want to schedule a dogsled ride on the glaciers."
"That's right, tomorrow."
"Damn. I've got a meeting in Nome I can't miss, about the Iditarod. Catching a plane first thing in the morning, and won't be back till after dark." Which came earlier every day as the Alaskan winter approached.
Toby turned toward Patrick, who suddenly knew what was coming.
"How about Wes taking her?" Patrick asked. But he knew the answer. Wes was already scheduled to take a group of tourists out that day.
"Can't. But you can. Great sledding skills," he said, turning toward Mariah. "And practically a native."
If someone who'd only been here a couple of weeks could be a native, Patrick thought scornfully. He'd been trained, sure. But Toby and Wes were the best mushers around, and he'd only taken a team out on his own once.
Yet his cover required that he go along with his employer, who obviously wanted Mariah Garver's business. So, all he said was "Thanks, boss," keeping any sarcasm out of his tone.
"Looks like you hired yourself a musher," Toby said to Mariah, "long as you can meet the terms." He spouted off the cost per hour and for the extras she could choose.
Mariah didn't bat even one of those long, sexy eyelashes before saying, "That works for me." And then she aimed a gaze at Patrick that made him stand up straighter. "If Patrick is okay with it."
"Patrick is fine with it," he growled, knowing that, despite any good sense he had, he meant it.
It would mean another visit to the glaciers. That was part of what he was here for. But he would not be in the form most likely to teach him anything.
And the wariness he would have to maintain, there on the ice with this woman, would intrude on the keen observation he was capable of, even without shifting.
But, hell. He wasn't about to wait till then to visit the glaciers anyway alone.
She had gotten her wish, Mariah thought as she drove the short distance toward the small town that was Tagoga. That hot guyPatrickwas going to take her on her dogsled tour of the nearby glaciers.
Be careful what you wish for. The old saying flashed through her mind. Would it be a mistake to have Patrick as her tour guide? Patrick Worley she had asked and been told his last name. She wasn't certain why she was so concerned. Maybe because Patrick appeared less than thrilled with the assignment.
Well, she still had till tomorrow morning to change her mind.
But knew she wouldn't.
Right now, it was time to return to her room at the bed-and-breakfast to get ready for the research outing scheduled for that afternoona boat ride into Tagoga Bay to observe and photograph Great Glaciers National Park from the water.
She smiled as she pulled into the parking lot behind her B and B.
She wouldn't worry, for now, about her upcoming dogsled tour. At the moment, she was definitely looking forward to what she would experience later today.
Twilight on Kaley Glacier.
He had visited Great Glaciers National Park half a dozen times since coming to Alaska. So far, he had seen, heard, smelled nothing beyond the ordinary. The cold had a tight, biting scent. The few birds that flew quickly by overhead smelled comfortably warmer. The brine of the waters below was tangy, hinting of fish.
The frigid cold clutching the bareness of the toughened skin of his feet was almost unbearable. At least his thick pelt of fur kept the rest of him warm.
It was early nightfall, nearly, but not quite, dark. He would remain here, opening his senses further, waiting for anything to happen this evening. Another step in the decimation of Great Glaciers National Park?
Mounds of snow and crags of ice on this glacier provided little cover from the whistling wind. He continued to patrol, watching, waiting.
And thenhe inhaled deeply. The distant scent was suddenly hot. Fiery here? Almost metallic, yet underlain with the ozone of melting ice.
The sound was odd, like the shrill, pulsing cries of orcas. Yet he scented no killer whales in the water below. Were some there nevertheless, trumpeting fear because they, too, smelled that odor? Knew what it meant?
A sharp, abrupt explosive noise. And then What was the low rumbling beneath the orcas' calls? It grew louder. Sharp. Angry. A huge roar that made the ice tremble beneath his feet.
No! The surface wasn't merely trembling. It was separating. The glacier was calving, right where he stood.
He pivoted, ran inland on all fours. Heard the cracking behind him. Felt the vibration of the surface below his paws. Would he be tossed into the frigid waters by separating ice?
An enormous splash resounded behind him. The movement lessened. He turned and watched.
Most of the ice that was once behind him was gone. Warily, he approached the new craggy edge. He saw the separated mass slide beneath the gray-blue surface of the bay below, no longer part of the glacier but an ice floe.
He waited in wonder. This was what he was here to investigate, but he had no answers. If something beyond nature caused this, he still had no clue. Except, perhaps, what he had heard and smelled. But what did that mean?
He heard an engine. He looked into the sea beneath the reddening twilight sky and saw a boat approach. The new ice floe was invisible beneath the water, and would harm anything in its path as it surfaced. But though the boat was pitching, it did not appear to be in danger.
Not that he could help them.
He saw the new iceberg leap from the water, then settle back in the roiling bay.
Then he turned and paced the newly formed edge of the glacier, a lone wolf prowling the ice.
And watching that boat.