Title: Romancing the Healer
Author: Caitlin Ricci
Collection: Into the Mystic lesbian anthology collection
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Paranormal, Shifters
Release Date: July 31, 2017
Publisher: NineStar Press
Rating: 4.5 Stars (Goodreads)
When she takes too long to come back to her pack, Aria is caught up in a snowstorm. To make matters worse, she’s twisted her ankle while running. Hurt, freezing, and alone, her best chance for survival is to stay under an evergreen until the storm clears then try to limp back to her pack. Zoe has a better idea. She’s a healer without a pack to call her own, although she’s desperate for the kind of family Aria has with hers. Being trans, Zoe has never felt all that welcome with other shifters, but Aria promises to show her that there is at least one pack who would gladly have her. All they have to do is wait out the storm together.
The coming storm raged along the mountains to the southeast, and I knew that soon those strong winds and walls of snow would be barreling toward my forest home. My pack had provisions, and our homes were deep underground, safe from the storm, but I was nowhere near them. With my dinner of a hare clenched between my teeth, I hurried along. I had maybe ten miles between myself and safety. My scouting trip to find fresh hunting grounds this late in winter had taken me far, but I knew my way back well enough. On my paws, I was light and fast as I darted between trees, following my own trail back the way I’d come.
The storm chased me, riding fast on my heels. Much faster than I was able to run on my own, even on four legs. Icy air whipped against my fur, and I turned to bare my teeth at the falling snow as the dark clouds grew above me. In the mountains, the snow was unpredictable. It came hard, often with little warning, and it was fast. If I didn’t get home soon, I would soon be faced with the unpleasant prospect of fighting my way through not only the six inches I was running through now, but feet of it. I had to hurry if I was going to make it back before the storm, and if I wasn’t, then I needed to find shelter a lot sooner than that. I didn’t have time to build anything, so that left spending the night in a cave. I’d done it before, but it wasn’t my first choice for a place to sleep. Still, it would get me out of the wind and snow for the night.
I turned and ran, darting toward home as fast as I could. I was no longer concerned about following the trail I’d made out there, or of not disturbing the other forest creatures I shared the land with. Those were concerns for a nice day, and I expected the animals to be in their homes, safe and warm, right where I should have been too.
My back leg caught on a tree root in my haste, and I went down hard. I dropped the hare and shifted. Thumbs were useful when feeling for broken bones. I hoped my ankle was fine. I needed it to be. But that didn’t seem to be the case. Nothing was broken, at least that I could tell, but it throbbed and was quickly swelling. I shifted back and began to limp along, the rabbit back between my teeth and my leg held high off the ground.
My progress was slow, and I knew there was no way that I was going to be able to get home before the storm now. Snow began to fall into my eyes as I looked around the evergreen trees, trying to find a place to hide among them. With no cave immediately coming to my rescue, I looked for the next best thing—low branches that touched the ground, giving me enough space to hide out from the worst of the storm.
I found a tree that would work, at least for a little while. It would be better than nothing. The cold started to seep into my fur as I huddled under it. The winds came and the snow slammed down, coating the world around me in white. I stayed still, tucking my tail around me, whimpering through my pain.
I closed my eyes. Not wanting to sleep but being too tired to stay awake. I knew I needed to be awake though. Hypothermia wasn’t just something humans got, and being a werewolf, my coat wasn’t quite the same as a wolf’s. It wasn’t something a human would necessarily notice, not unless they were familiar with actual wolves, but I knew when I was meeting a werewolf or a real wolf. They had thicker coats that made living out here in the mountains easier. Being away from humans made the mountains an easy choice for my pack, but we were much better suited to suburban life. I’d grown up on the outskirts of a big city, but looking human and never being able to shift wears on a werewolf after a while.
I heard the crunching of snow, the sound of something coming toward me. It didn’t take long for the scent of a bear to reach me. I hoped they wouldn’t notice me hiding as I was. With my pack, I could take on a bear, but injured and alone, I was no match for one, and if the bear wanted my hiding spot, I would have to give it up to them.
The bear came closer, and I held my breath, fighting back my urge to whimper in pain. The bear shifted just feet away from me, becoming a slim man with long black hair. “Come on out, you don’t have to be afraid of me.”
I shifted as well. “I didn’t know there were werebears in these parts.”
He smiled at me and offered me his hand. “I’ve got a better place to hide out from the storm than under that tree, if you’re interested.”