Authors: Storm Savage
Tags: #erotic Romance, #Paranormal, #Shapeshifter, #Ghost
Perfect strangers—where shifters and humans fall in love and a choice must be made. The call of a wolf lures Orianna into unfamiliar territory after her husband beats her. Will helping one man escape darkness free her from the cruelty of another?
Orianna married money but has paid the price. When not playing the socialite by day, she is the victim of domestic abuse by night. As she sits at the window after a brutal beating, the call of a gray wolf lures her into the shadows. Compelled to follow, she rescues the wolf from a hunter’s trap.
During a near death experience in the war, Lorcan was taken into the Shasta Realm—a gap between mortal and immortal worlds where brave souls are united with their ordained animal spirits to become shifters.
Lorcan returns home to discover that family and friends turn away from the demons in his head. Being human has simply become unbearable. He retreats to the woods in his wolf form—the only place he finds peace—until one night he hears a woman crying.
Does Orianna have what it takes to free a tormented man? Or will ghosts of present and scars from her past scare her away from love forever?
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2013 Storm Savage
Cover art by Martine Jardin
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Perfect Strangers 2
“Aren’t you coming to bed?” Zale barked, causing her to jump.
“No.” Orianna kept her voice low and refused to look at him. “I like watching the snow.”
He grumbled indistinct words. She held her breath.
After several long minutes of feeling him stare at her back, Orianna breathed a sigh of relief when Zale went off to bed. She padded to the kitchen and removed an ice pack from the freezer, snatched her meds off the counter, then returned to the window seat of the large bay window in the living room of their lavish home. Her cheek throbbed and she felt her eye begin to swell. Placing the ice against her face, she winced as a tear slid down her hot cheek.
She’d do almost anything to break out of the hellish prison cast upon her when she’d said those two life-changing words,
Zale had been reputed as the most eligible bachelor in her area fifteen years ago. Handsome, rich, and suave, he had his choice of women. Orianna felt honored that he’d chosen her. But the honeymoon didn’t last long. His true character revealed itself one night after a cocktail party when he accused her of flirting with his business associate. Orianna had never glanced at another man, let alone flirt. She only had eyes for her gorgeous husband until that night.
Now she had lost interest in all men. She’d given up on love.
She inwardly cringed at the disturbing memory of Zale beating her when they’d returned home after that party long ago. Her pleas of innocence and cries for him to stop had fallen into the darkness. Since that night, he didn’t hesitate to unleash his temper on her for reasons of his own.
Tonight had been worse than most. She’d been extra careful to avoid eye contact with anyone, even women, at the upscale party, to ensure a peaceful night. Even so, Zale found a reason to strike.
“You had to wear
dress!” he’d bellowed upon their return home.
“It was a formal dinner party. I thought you loved this gown.”
“Not off the shoulders. I don’t want other men eyeballing my woman.” So again, Zale justified another brutal beating.
Finally, he’d gone off to bed. She glanced down at the royal blue satin gown with its ruffled neckline and off the shoulder sleeves. There was no other way to wear the dress without looking ridiculous. It was designed to be off the shoulders with a low open back. She sighed and trembled, pulling the fabric up around her neck the best she could.
Tonight’s Christmas party was anything but festive. She dreaded tomorrow morning. How would she explain the bruises to her family, his family, and friends as they made their holiday rounds? The only saving grace in this scenario was that she’d never had children. She couldn’t bear to think about how this sham of a marriage would’ve shattered innocent lives.
And right now—she just wanted out.
Pulling her knees up, she buried her face against a throw pillow clutched to her chest and quietly sobbed. She glanced at the bottle of pills in her hand. Medicine prescribed to stabilize her equilibrium—yet it also worked as a sedative.
The best drug they ever gave me,
she told herself.
Snow outside swirled furiously as the wind picked up and began to howl. The perfectly manicured acreage had turned heavenly white. She could see for miles from their house on the hill, overlooking the vast beauty of their estate. The distant cry of a wolf infiltrated the blustery wind. She felt the loneliness in that animal cry, embraced the sorrow of a lone animal wandering the night in the cold.
Freezing to death didn’t seem like a bad way to end this misery. She had very little to hope for. Her thirty-third birthday had been celebrated the previous September in Zale’s typical showy manner. He never failed to make himself look like the doting husband, and her own physical ailment made it easy for him to explain away her mysterious bruises.
Her diagnoses with Meniere’s Disease, a severe balance disorder that stripped her equilibrium, gave Zale the perfect alibi.
She fell again
, he would say.
The doctors are changing her meds
, he’d tell people. And so on.
Unable to work outside the home because she could rarely drive, Orianna had resigned herself to this life.
The wolf’s song drew closer, as if calling to her. She peered into the darkness. If not for the white blanket on the ground, she’d never have seen the beautiful gray wolf lurking in their front yard. Its thick fur coat was dusted with snow. She’d seen many wild animals around their remote mansion in the Poconos, but never a wolf.
I didn’t even know gray wolves lived in this area.
She studied the majestic animal prowling around the patio below the upper deck.
It must be lost or looking for food.
The wolf stuck its nose in the air and released a long howl.
Maybe it lost its mate.
Then as if drawn by an unseen force, their eyes met. The animal stood there, staring up at her with hauntingly soulful eyes. In that moment, Orianna felt a connection with something so deep that she couldn’t discern the feeling tugging at her soul.
Perhaps watching that wolf roam free was the reason she felt compelled to walk toward the door. Maybe because the wolf’s cry paralleled the agony in her heart, she didn’t bother to grab a coat or shoes.
She didn’t know and didn’t care.
This time, this night, she was leaving and never coming back, even if it killed her.
Quietly, she tiptoed across the ceramic tiled floor of their foyer with the pills clutched in one hand and carefully turned the doorknob with her other hand. The door made a slight creak. She froze and waited. No sounds from the upstairs.
Zale must still be asleep.
She truly did not want him to stop her.
Icy snow bit at her bare feet when she stepped outside. Ignoring the sharp cold, she gripped the rail while gracefully descending the wooden steps from the deck to the patio. Her gown trailed behind her. She glanced back at the stunning blue satin against the shimmering white fluff.
The wolf ran into the woods that bordered the property. After clearing the steps, Orianna broke into a run, following the fresh paw prints made in the snow. Gusts of wind whipped the lengthy strands of her hair around her face as she ran. Clutching the skirt of her dress with both hands, she lifted it far enough to prevent herself from tripping. Twigs cracked under her feet. She ignored the discomfort, which was nothing compared to the years of pain under Zale’s heavy hand.
The wolf led her deep into the woods. She kept up her pace and focused on the tracks while doing her best to follow. Suddenly the animal vanished and the trail disappeared. She stopped and looked around, turning slowly to scan the area for any sign of her unexpected visitor. Panic threatened to take over but she quickly banished any fear. Going back to that prison was worse than anything she faced out here.
Howling began again. Not of the wind, but of an injured animal. She tilted her head and listened closely, then walked in the direction of the cries. She had no idea how far she’d hiked into those thick woods as time inched on. Her feet, numb from the snow, kept moving nonetheless, and her exposed skin stung from cold. Regardless, she pushed ahead.
By the time she found the source of the compelling howling, she felt somewhat delirious as hypothermia set in. There before her on the ground was the gray wolf, caught in a hunter’s trap.
“Oh, you poor thing,” she muttered with a gasp upon seeing the bloody leg. The metal trap, looking like a giant pair of distorted teeth, had snapped around the wolf’s front leg. She found the thickest, strongest looking branch she could find and cautiously advanced. “I’m not going to hurt you. Please don’t bite me.”
The wolf stared at her with golden eyes flecked with warm brown hues. In those rich depths, she saw a reflection of heartbreak that mirrored her own. Slowly, she knelt beside the wolf and worked the stick into the steel jaws. The wolf didn’t move, as if it knew she was helping.
Using all her strength, she pulled with her body weight until the trap began to open. As soon as the metal separated far enough, the wolf tugged its paw free and sprung to its feet. They stared at each other. Orianna panted for breath, half from exhaustion and half from anxiety rising inside. She wondered if it would attack.
“You’re free now. That makes one of us.” She barely blinked before the wolf simply disappeared. “Where’d you go?” She turned sharply and kept turning, searching the thickly wooded area for signs of the animal.
Not a trace of blood lingered on the snow. She thought this strange. Surely the trap had wounded the wolf’s leg. But no blood. A stiff gust of wind howled through the trees, blowing her gown out behind her. Icy chills raced over her skin. Suddenly she felt lost—and cold, very cold.
It doesn’t matter.
She sighed. This was the first time she’d managed to get away from Zale. Her tracks in the snow were buried under a fresh layer. She had no idea how far she’d come.
I’d rather die out here in the woods than go back to that suffocating life.
She combed the immediate area, clawing the ground with her numb fingers until she found the bottle she’d dropped. With pills in hand, she found the thickest tree trunk, placed her back against it and slid to the ground, curling herself into a ball against the harsh weather. With knees drawn tight to her chest and arms wrapped around them, she shivered in the cold. Her teeth chattered. Snow began to gather on her hair, skin, and dress.
She could barely twist the cap, her hands were so cold, yet she managed to get the bottle open and shake several pills into her mouth. Enough that would ease her into a deep sleep so that nature could take over from there.
God, I’m sorry for being so weak but I just can’t take anymore.
With a jagged sigh, she closed her eyes, waiting for peace to come at last.
* * * *
Lorcan knelt over the most exquisite woman he’d ever seen, wondering why she felt the need to end her life. She obviously had money by the looks of her home and lovely blue gown. He tilted his head, staring at her pretty face while petting her long rich brown hair. Sorrow filled his heart that she’d taken this road. Yet, he hadn’t been able to deny the sound of her weeping. He did not intend to shift into human form tonight, but he couldn’t just let her die.
After lifting her limp body into his arms, he broke into a run through the woods. His den was not far away. With his enhanced abilities, he had no trouble getting her out of the cold before the harsh weather caused permanent damage to her flawless skin. He laid her on a thick bearskin rug and brushed snow-dampened hair from her pale cheeks and creamy shoulders. The bruises on her face concerned him.