At the top, she obediently followed him to the top of the Starlight Bowl, which was no easy run either. Steep and unforgiving, the bowl was bordered by two sizable cliffs and the drop in was almost vertical. Snow fell more heavily now and the visibility had dropped. The rest of the hill was deserted, and Cade had a sudden desire to just get down. He was tired too. He gestured for Alissa to go first. There was no need for him to lead as the run was wide open and she’d done it before. And he felt a strange surge of protectiveness. He’d be more comfortable tailgunning, and watching the glorious view of Alissa moving down the slope.

Alissa did a clean drop off the lip and began carving through the snow. He watched her ski in stunned disbelief. She was so good. He found himself almost aching for her. Aching to hold her and have her as his mate. He wondered how she would feel about him being a shifter. It wasn’t a secret he shared with many women, or men for that matter. At White Peaks, only his buddies Dylan and Flynn, who were also shifters, knew. Cat shifters tended to be loners, moving away from their families as soon as they were old enough, and he was no different. He stayed in touch with his family, and he knew his mother hoped that he’d find a mate soon, but it took a special human to want to be with a shifter. He pushed off and started following Alissa down the slope.

Snowflakes pelted his goggles, the fluffy white flecks of snow becoming projectiles at this speed. He was having a hard time seeing. Alissa must be skiing half blind as well unable to see the subtle shifts in pitch on the now desolate mountainside. She’d hit the second steep part of the bowl, and Cade heard her cry out. He lifted his eyes from his own line in time to see her tumbling head over heels down the run, and then falling sideways and picking up speed as she rolled down the steep incline. There was a jagged set of rocks at the bottom and then a thirty-foot drop onto more rocks below. If she had enough momentum to go over the rocks, or even into them, she might be killed, or badly hurt, the two little pieces of bamboo that marked the cliff useless in preventing her tumble. There was no way she could stop herself before she hit them, and he was way too far behind her to catch up. Unless… unless he shifted. And then would he ever have a chance with her?

He watched her white form skid relentlessly down the slope for a fraction of a second before throwing off his clothes and gear, taking his panther form and barreling down the hill after her.

He summersaulted a few times himself in his haste on the nearly ninety-degree slope, but always came to his feet and resumed his downward plunge, gaining on her slowly, the dark rocks starting to loom too close on the horizon. At the last second, he managed to get in front of her and flung his sleek muscled body in front of her falling one, staying her fall just before the rocks.

He could feel her breathing hard against him, taking deep gulps of terror and exertion from the effort of trying to stop her own descent. He wanted so much to take her in his arms and tell her everything was okay, that he loved her. But he needed to catch his own breath before he could shift back. She was covered in loose snow, her long, dark hair matted with balls of white. She wiped the snow from her goggles and flipped them up just as he shifted. She saw his panther form. She saw the shift, and her eyes widened in shock and she couldn’t disguise her audible gasp. Instead of putting his arms around her like he wanted, Cade pulled back. He wasn’t sure what she was thinking. How she’d take the reality of his animal form? And he was naked and freezing. He saw her eyes scouring his body, lingering on his groin and abs.

“Are you okay?” he said. “Don’t move before you know whether anything’s broken.” Their bodies were still so close together, their legs entwined and he could feel her heat and smell her scent and he almost wanted to devour her. But he held back, almost trembling with the effort.

She closed her eyes, moving each limb fractionally and then fluttered them open again. “I’m okay,” she said. “Bruised, but okay.” She glanced over Cade’s body at the jagged rocks that lay only five feet away. “Thank you for saving me,” she said simply. She hadn’t screamed. She hadn’t pulled away in horror or disgust, but still that didn’t mean she wanted to be with a shifter.

Cade extracted himself carefully from her and rose to his feet, sensing her eyes following him. He surveyed the now completely whited-in slope where their skis and his clothes lay in unknown locations. Darkness was starting to fall in the late January sky and the now heavy snowfall was only making matters worse. They needed to get off the hill.

“I better go get our skis,” he said. And then before she could say anything else, he turned back into his panther form and tore off up the slope.