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Snowboarding--the ultimate high. In his hometown of Aspen, Colorado, the sport enjoyed phenomenal success. The X-Games pushed it, now with the recent Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy trying to find a decent place to enjoy it had become hard. Damon Holt tried there, Telluride and some other areas nearby to take advantage of the natural courses but too many others swarmed into the winter hotspots forcing the natives out.
He'd found a spot in New England--Killington, Vermont--getting away from the home he loved in order to get some peace in his life. With his brother Gabriel splitting his time between North Carolina and Alaska with his mate and their small but growing pack, plus the hustle and bustle of the celebrity tourist season in Aspen, Damon needed desperately to find open space where he could regain his life and figure out where he might be headed.
He took to the mountains, gliding down the slopes. The feel of the breeze against his skin made him happy--freedom in its purest form. He'd get to the end of his run then, after getting something hot to drink, he'd start over again. Damon Holt began to unwind, finally able to learn he could have his own life with his own set of rules. As much as he loved his brother, Gabe had his own family and happiness. So did the others back at Sanctuary, leaving him to fend for himself--literally.
A few weeks later, he signed the papers and took ownership of a small lodge that suited his needs to a tee. Seclusion a priority, he had several hundred acres to roam and feel free without the outside world encroaching on his privacy, especially when he changed. Have I truly found what I've been looking for?
The time hadcome and he embraced it.
When Damon went to see Julian Hawthorne and his wife Elizabeth before he left, he rehearsed everything he wanted to say to them over and over again. Not wanting to hurt the couple who had always been important in his life, he knew he needed to take care in what he said.
"Damon, I hear the Vermont powder is excellent right now," Julian said.
"That's why I'm taking off this afternoon. I want to get there before it's too late and it gets slushy."
"It's a shame you have to go so far from home," Elizabeth said.
The Hawthornes had been the governing pair of the local pack until a new leader took his rightful place. Julian, a quiet man, ceded power to the young alpha while remaining on as the pack's physician and diplomat. Elizabeth had aged beautifully, her love giving Julian and the others the strength they needed to endure the world they lived in.
"Make sure to see Sean before you leave. He has the letter of introduction you'll need if you intend to stay there any length of time."
"It's strange how as humans, we can go anywhere we want to in the country and the world but as wolves, we can't."
"Consider it old-school respect. I never liked it when a new alpha male moved into the area because they always decided they had to challenge me for the pack."
"Remember the one bitch?" Elizabeth asked.
"What bitch?" Damon asked, curious to learn an unknown fact.
"An alpha female moved to Aspen after leaving California. She figured because she had red carpet exposure, it gave her carte blanche to move here and take everything she wanted--the pack, Julian..."
"Are you serious? I can't imagine you in a fight."
"I tried to be polite but she pushed it. She threatened to bring the paparazzi here and expose us if I didn't stand my ground and fight for my husband."
"What happened?" Damon asked totally unable to picture serene yet strong Elizabeth Hawthorne fighting another female for dominance. In his lifetime, he'd never seen or heard about alpha females fighting for territory.
"I tore her throat out," Elizabeth said quietly. "We went into the field, changed and fought. I took her down once and thought it had ended but she attacked me again. She told me she'd take everything away from me and by the time she finished, Julian wouldn't even remember me. Anger took over and I ripped into her neck. She bled out and died within moments."
"But what about the body? Surely, someone asked what happened to her."
"Julian took care of everything. The papers got word she'd been in a fatal accident and her interment had been private."
"But didn't anyone investigate?"
"She had more enemies in Hollywood than anyone should admit to. Her death made its way to a small spot in a column buried in the center of the paper. We lucked out."
Damon had always admired Elizabeth, now more than ever.
"Now, I understand," he said. "Thanks."
They talked a few minutes more before he left them to find Sean McMurray, the pack leader. A few years back, his brother Gabriel had fought Sean for his mate, Gabe coming out on the losing end of the battle. Damon wouldn't make the same mistake his brother had if he could help it.
"Damon, join me for a drink," Sean invited. Quiet yet very observant, McMurray balanced pack leadership with his job as a detective in the Aspen Police Department. Along with his wife, Rhiannon he had an impressive pack of their own to keep up with as well.
"I want you to know you'll be missed if you choose to make a new home elsewhere. What you did for your brother--that's what I want backing me."
"I appreciate it, Sean, but I need time. Something's bothering me and until I get it straight, I'm no good to anyone."
"I understand. Both Rhiannon and I wish you the best."
"Here's the letter of introduction to the Vermont pack leader. His name is Gordon Banks and..."
"He's one of us?"
"You know him?"
"I know of him. He's a multimillionaire with a Richard Branson personality who's constantly trying new and dangerous things just because he can."
"Because he has never been outed--a hard task for us, near impossible for him--he's very cagey. Be careful around him. I don't want to see you getting hurt."
"I'll keep my distance. I've got my own agenda on what I want to do and mingling with the rich and famous isn't part of it."
"Ah, Damon, I'd hoped I'd see you before you left."
"Rhi, beautiful as always. When are you due?"
"Hopefully next week. Each litter takes more out of me than the last though Julian doesn't seem to be too upset. Just once, I'd like to experience nine months instead of the accelerated pregnancies I have."
"You look wonderful."
"You are way too kind."
Damon watched Sean put his arm around his pregnant queen, the alpha male jealousy evident. I could have...
"Let me know when it happens," Damon said.
"We will," Sean said. "By the way, did I hear Valeria's pregnant, too?"
"She just had five--I'm uncle to three males and two females though I haven't heard their names. Gabe's had his hands full."
"I'll have to call her."
"They're at the Plantation. Their healer doesn't want her traveling plus Gabe told me they've had some trouble in the area he's had to take care of."
"Nothing serious I hope?"
"Nothing a little physical presence won't stop."
"I see. Tell him if he needs anything..."
"He seems to be fine but I will pass the word."
Sean nodded. They talked more before Damon said his good-byes and left. Sliding the envelope Sean had given him into his jacket pocket before he went out to his car, Damon drove off, heading for the airport where his plane sat waiting for him.
After his discharge, he'd bought the small private jet knowing it would save a lot of hassles later. He'd heard stories about some pack members who had problems going through checkpoints because the scanners picked up the odd skeletal differences inherent in all shape-shifters which then caused concern with the air marshals when the officer scanning them called for assistance.
Another advantage came when his brother called and needed him on a moment's notice in either North Carolina or Alaska. Now with everything he took with him for his move east, the plane made his life easier.
Slipping behind the controls after completing his pre-flight check, he taxied down the runway before taking off and leaving his childhood home. He gazed down at the small town below him, hoping one day to come back. He set his heading, put on the automatic pilot and sat back, getting comfortable for the long flight ahead of him.
Sascha White, world-famous supermodel, had blonde almost white hair--long and beautiful--blue eyes and a gorgeous body. A high-fashion model, her Bavarian background only added to her stunning beauty.
Having worked the world over, she invested her wealth in real estate, owning homes in Miami and Killington as well as her childhood home in the Bavarian mountains. She loved the latter because of the memories and it afforded her a place to hide from the world when she felt it tried to overwhelm her.
Never seen in any color but white--an idea of her management team--Sascha had become well known and very spottable. Because of this, an entourage surrounded her but at times, she felt the need to be human and alone.
Stretching after a restful night's sleep, she gazed out the window at the sky--blue and without a cloud in sight. Rolling over, she felt the heat from the Florida sun on her skin and smiled. The cool satin sheet beneath her provided the unique contrast between hot and cold she loved.
She stood up, standing naked in front of the window overlooking the bay. The way the house had been laid out, no one could see her--one of the selling points when she bought it. Heat enveloped her and she languished in it. She loved the freedom this part of her life afforded her considering her line of work. Sascha loved wearing and modeling clothes but at home and in private, they came off. She never scheduled any meetings at home and unless she expected company, she ignored dressing totally--her one act of rebellion. Another act--she refused to have a staff hovering over her giving her that much more freedom.
Going downstairs to the kitchen, she poured a glass of orange juice then took her daily medication, one she'd taken all her life. From her early childhood, she'd taken it for a respiratory problem though she had not been diagnosed with asthma. Having done it for so long, she stopped questioning it years before. Besides, with special delivery from Germany every month, she didn't have to worry about refills and doctor visits.
She snickered. Boy, have I got it easy.
After she did, she walked out onto the patio where Angel, her pure white Samoyed, met her. Tail wagging, the three-year-old ran to her, nuzzling her hand in greeting.
"I guess it's time to take you up north--it's getting warm again."
Angel yipped as if agreeing with her. Long hair and Florida didn't get along well and Sascha made sure the snow dog got to enjoy it as much as she could.
Sascha gave her a quick kiss on the head then dove into the pool, Angel barking and running back and forth along the length of it. When she broke the surface on the other side, Angel met her, licking the water from Sascha's chin.
She spent time floating on her back, tanning a little before she went to stretch out on a chaise to let the sun kiss her back. When she left the pool, she went to where she kept towels and grabbed one before stretching out. Across the yard from where she lay, a vision in white caught her attention.
From the time she'd moved into the house, she shared it with Angel and a peacock--pure white and the color of snow. They shared the yard, the bird feeling the safety of its haven. Sascha knew if word got out about it, she'd never hear the end of it so the trio silently agreed to protect each other and the freedom they desperately craved and cherished.
The phone inside the house ringing woke her, Sascha padding in to answer it.
"Sascha, you have to be at rehearsal in an hour," her manager said.
"Send a car and give me thirty minutes."
"You can't keep doing this."
"And you should know me by now."
"You need someone with you to..."
"And I refuse," she reminded him. "If you can't handle this, I'll find someone who can."
She hung up, went upstairs to the bathroom where she took a shower then dressed for the rehearsal for Miami's fashion week. She chose a simple white Henley shirt and white jeans and sandals. Though the week had a Latin flair to it, the designer she'd walk for blended in with the other ethnic designers with his classic designs any woman could wear.
When she opened her front door, a driver stood ready to help her into a white limo. She thanked him then settled into the comfortable seat. On the seat next to her sat her itinerary--Jeffrey's way of controlling her. She glanced at it and put it into the outside pocket of her bag. She shook her head, considering a possible change in her management team.
She closed her eyes, letting herself relax.
Help me, Mama...
Sascha started, looking around the car to find herself alone.
"What the hell..."
She looked out the window, seeing they had arrived at the venue. Getting out of the limo, she hurried past the paparazzi and into the building. A woman led her to the auditorium where the show would take place, the incident in the car forgotten--for the moment.
"Sascha," Jeffrey greeted her, before giving her a quick kiss. "You look perfect."
"Thank you, Jeffrey, but flattery will not get you out of the doghouse. You have got to stop trying to run my life the way you are. We agreed..."
"I know but it's part of the job," he said.
"Then change the job description," she said quietly.
"Sascha, you know I..."
"Ah, Sascha," Giorgio said as he approached them.
"Giorgio, how wonderful to see you again. I hope you have something colorful to put me in."
"A bright white creation to end the show--designed especially for you."
She pouted, their usual conversation having the same result as always.
"Giorgio, just once, I want you to dress me in something other than white."
"Sascha, quit being difficult," Jeffrey admonished. "You have your reputation to..."
"Jeffrey, shut up!" she snapped. Inwardly she wondered why she had. I never snap like this...
"Sascha, let me show you the designs."
"Yes, Giorgio," she said, taking his arm and allowing him to lead her away from her manager.
"Are you all right, my dear?"
"I'm not sure."
"Let Giorgio fix things for you."
"I place myself in your capable hands."
"We have a problem."
"She's getting rebellious. She's not her usual self and she's snapping at people."
"I'll have to change the formula again."
"When is she due for the next shipment?"
"I don't know. She won't allow me in the house."
"I'll take care of it. Keep an eye on her. We can't afford anything going wrong."
"Not now, we can't."
"Not now--not ever!"
A man in Germany sat back, thinking about the phone call he'd just taken. For years, the subject they discussed had been controllable. From what he gathered, her true self wanted to take control--something they could not allow.
Should natural urges take over and she learned her true calling, their happy and wealthy lives could be quickly destroyed. I cannot allow that to happen.
He thought about how to alter the formula of the medication he'd been shipping to the US for years. Something had to be increased but which ingredient had him puzzled. Each one had been measured carefully and any imbalance could set off the others and have grave consequences.
He rued having had the original chemist put to death years back but the man had become a problem--one they could ill afford to keep alive. If anyone on the outside got wind of the subject's actual medical and family history, everyone involved could and would suffer.
"How the hell do I balance this out?"
Gustav Hahn didn't like the latest developments at all. His father had set up a flawless plan which he now saw being destroyed by one snippy female.
"I will not allow it to happen!"
Sascha left the rehearsal and returned to the house. She went up to her room, stripped out of her clothes and took a hot bath to relax. When she finished, she toweled dry, hung the soft terry back on the rack and walked naked into the bedroom. Picking up the phone, she called her pilot.
"Edward, could you fly Angel and me to Vermont in the morning?"
"Not a problem," he said. "Getting too hot for her highness?"
"Shh, don't let her hear that--she's sensitive."
"It's our secret." He laughed.
"Good, then I'll see you around ten or ten thirty."
"Good, see you then."
Sascha quickly packed a duffle of clothes she wanted to take with her then stretched out on the soft satin sheet. The breeze coming in from the water chilled her but when she went to pull the top sheet over her, she felt Angel's soft nose instead.
"We're flying to Vermont in the morning."
Angel barked then licked her hand. She lay down next to the bed where she would remain until morning or she became thirsty and went for water in the kitchen.
Sascha pulled the sheet over her and quickly fell asleep, napping before the show later.
Mama, help me...