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The winter wolf's heart

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Was it merely a coincidence that Jillian met James Macleod, the giant of a man with pale blond hair and a Viking-like appearance, at the same time as the white wolf she had relied on for years to soothe her in times of need, returned into her life? James Macleod was a changeling who had experienced a single night of blood and fire and lost everything important to him. A petite, blonde veterinarian rocked his resolve and turned his life upside down. Devastated by shame and driven by grief, he had turned into a big white wolf and sworn never to walk as a man again. In order to answer a terrifying riddle—who is this stunning woman and why is his wolfen side seeking her?—James must now relearn how to be human and move in his human flesh once more. September 30, 1977 As the night sky became darker, ghostly white smoke tendrils rose against it. After two days, the house was covered in a mound of burned beams and ash on one side. A human could not have endured such destruction. James Macleod wasn't a living being. He was lying broken, bleeding, and scorched well beneath the dark beams, on the verge of passing away but still unable to do so. He occasionally poked his head out of oblivion, only to have the unrelenting pain and misery take him back down. James finally opened his eyes as the declining moon covered its face. He briefly believed he was blind before realizing it was night, though he was unsure which night it was and didn't care. Even though he was still barely alive, he didn't give a d*mn. He started coughing up more blood and soot as a result of his fractured ribs screaming at him, but this time Oblivion was obstinately refusing to take him back.

Chapter 1

March 31, 2007

The wolf dream again.

Jillian Descharme rolled over on the lumpy folding couch that served as her bed and peered through her glasses at the alarm clock.

It was 3:29 a.m. She didn’t need to reach for the light—the dream was no nightmare. Far from it. A magnificent white wolf had appeared from the shadows fifteen years prior and saved her life.

Her counselor, Marjorie, had favored other theories.

She believed that Jillian’s mind had developed the white wolf as a form of self-defense, to shield her sanity from an unbearable trauma and unfathomable savagery. “The wolf is a symbol your mind has adopted,” Marjorie said. “A white wolf in particular represents bravery and success in the study of dream imagery, as well as the capacity to see light even in the darkest moments. It’s a very potent and inspiring image.”

Marjorie was a skilled counselor as well as a kind and loving person.

She had assisted Jillian in overcoming a significant deal of pain, and Jillian was aware of how much she owed her.

That was why she always felt a little bit guilty.

She stopped claiming the wolf was real, but she never fully stopped believing it.

And she didn’t stop dreaming of it.

As Jillian moved away from home, started veterinary school, took tests, searched for employment, competed in martial arts competitions, or was otherwise anxious, stressed out, or even lonely, she experienced dreams about the white wolf. Okay, especially when she was lonely.

Not alone.

Here with you, the wolf always said to her.

He did not speak or act in any way.

Rather, she felt the words in her mind.

Not alone.

And she could believe it with the wolf there.

Jillian always felt soothed, comforted, safe. Between them was a connection that defied description. A sense of completeness that she had never imagined being achievable.

“Nothing like being co-dependent on an imaginary friend.”

After standing up to get a drink of water, Jillian decided to brush her teeth because she recognized that wouldn’t be enough to get rid of the bad taste in her mouth.

Popping open the toothpaste seemed to jog open a memory at the same time. Anytime there were changes in her life, Jillian always embraced the wolf dream and the serenity it offered her. Yet over the previous several years, she had started to notice a new pattern: the wolf dream also tended to appear right before anything in her life changed. And this was the third night in a row she’d had the dream.

That had never happened before.

Returning to bed, she lay with her eyes open, wondering what it meant, wondering what was coming.

She prayed the call wouldn’t come from the bank regarding her student loans.

She had enough to think about to keep her awake for the next hour.

Yet, when her alarm went off at six, nothing had changed about the morning other from the fact that it took her three cups of coffee as opposed to one to get her head going.

The weather wasn’t any different from before.

It was just another oppressively humid scorcher in southern Ontario, as it had been for weeks.

There was nothing different at work.

In the environmental center, neither new animals nor unique guests were there.

She sat on her lunch bag by accident, but other than being squashed, her peanut butter and honey sandwich tasted the same.

Later, at the post office, she had nothing but bulk mail in her box.

When she departed, she threw the flyers and advertisements in the garbage can by the door.

At least no bills were present.

But there was no winning envelope from Publishers’ Clearing House either.

By the time Jillian unlocked the door to her small rented room, the disappointment was overpowering.

It was silly.

She knew it was silly, but she couldn’t help feeling let down that nothing unusual had happened that day. On top of that, she was tired to the point of being downright cranky. “Maybe the dumb dream was meaningless this time. Maybe it’s not meant to have any significance. Maybe Marjorie was right and this whole wolf thing is all a dream.”

She jumped as the phone rang and growled as she snatched up the telephone.

She hoped the caller was a telemarketer so she could download some of her annoyance.

Petty, she knew, but it would be something.

She assured herself that she would feel bad later.

“Yes?”

“Is this Dr. Jillian Descharme?”

“What are you selling?”

The caller didn’t even pause.

“A job.

I’d like you to come work for me.

I’m exhausted from practice, and I need help.

If you are as talented as your tutors claim you are, a partnership can develop.

If you enjoy northern Alberta, that is.”

She fumbled with the receiver after that, sure that reality had taken a complete vacation.

“What?”

Her brain finally kicked in.

“Wait a minute.

I forgot what day it was; isn’t this a terrible April Fool’s joke?”

Jillian struggled to come up with a suspect for such a hoax.

A co-worker?

A former classmate?

“Of all the nasty, rotten— “ “No, it’s not a joke, sincere.

Well, if I had known what day it was, I would have waited to call you until the next day.

This is a legitimate call regarding a real job, I guarantee it.

Look, if I sound desperate, it’s because I haven’t slept in two days and it’s calving season.

Will you come?”

“I don’t know you from Adam. And you haven’t even met me. You’ve never seen my resume. I haven’t even applied for the job yet. I had no idea there was a job there.” She had certainly never searched for anything so far away and had never visited to that region of the country. She mentally envisioned Alberta on a map of Canada. It was one of the biggest provinces, extending from the border with America all the way up to the Arctic Circle. Just how far north was this clinic? Was snow still present on the ground there?

“I’ve been friends with a couple of your instructors for a long time.

That’s how I learned your name.

They both said you’re good, and that’s good enough for me.”

He recited their names and enough details about them personally to demonstrate his veracity.

Or that he’d really done his research.

He seemed to read her mind then. “Call them up. Ask them about Connor Macleod, and they’ll assure you that I’m neither a lunatic nor a stalker.”

“But I have a job.”

“I heard.

I also heard your present position’s temporary.

I happen to know the director of the establishment, and he thinks you’re also quite talented.

If you decide you desire the job here, he even promises to let you leave early.”

She cursed and moaned, not realizing the man could hear her via the receiver.

She combed her tangled blonde hair with a hand, making some of it stand straight up.

Her employment at the environmental center would cease at the end of the month, which was all too true.

She had worked very hard to find another job that would allow her to deal with animals, particularly wolves, but most jobs these days are performed by volunteers.

Those who weren’t were primarily supported by government funding, which had significantly decreased since the previous election.

Jillian tapped the phone against her chin, concluding that this Macleod man had to be utterly helpless.

For the love of God, why else would he call up someone on the other side of the nation?

Chapter 2

The words “no,” “I’d rather patch up coyotes and feed orphan skunks than work with livestock and pets,” were on the tip of her tongue.

In addition to being more attractive to her, coyotes and skunks were free of owners.

She was more adept with animals than with people.

She might actually be terrible with people, especially those who don’t take good care of their pets.

But she couldn’t make herself say no.

Jillian hadn’t been out of veterinary college very long.

She was in desperate need of a full-time job, anything that would enable her to pay off her enormous educational debt and regain her financial stability.

Even though she now had a DVM after her name, that was all she had to her credit.

No money, savings, car, furniture, or flat.

Nothing.

Not even her textbooks, as she had to sell them last month in order to keep her little room close to the environmental center.

“Hello?

Hey, are you still ther

Heroes

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