Kane's enormous paws glided over the snow. He raced as fast as he could, then deliberately slid across the ice, a kittenish game that he wouldn't have played in the company of other Prowleryns.
Out here, no one was around to see him.
Or talk to him.
Or hunt with him.
But at least here he was his own master, unfettered by the restrictions of tribal life and the prejudices of his father's people. When he wanted to live like a Prowleryn, he came out here to indulge his shapeshifter nature alone.
Prowleryns -- an ancient race of cat shifters -- generally preferred a close-knit family setting. Kane's solitary lifestyle was only one of many traits that set him apart from others of his kind.
Most members of his tribe refused to let him forget just how different he was compared to them. The human mates some of the males had taken were treated with more value than Kane. What respect he got, he fought hard for.
He'd spent the morning hunting and part of the afternoon building a new igloo. Even his thick pelt wasn't always enough to keep him comfortable in the frigid Alaskan winter. Sometimes on cold nights he wished he had a mate to snuggle with.
Now was the time for a little fun before darkness fell and he retired to his icy dwelling. He trotted through the snow then threw himself onto his back and rolled around, his eyes closed and loud purrs of pleasure rumbling in his chest.
Then his keen hearing picked up the sound of dogs barking in the distance. He stood abruptly, his four strong legs braced apart and his ears straining.
Humans. The last thing he needed at this moment was to be seen by one of them. Not that he didn't like humans. He actually felt more comfortable in their company than with Prowleryns. Amidst the barking dogs he heard a piercing scream, the voice distinctly female. That didn't sound good.
His better judgment told him to head home and avoid any possible contact with humans while in his cat form, yet something in the woman's scream prompted him to take a closer look. It wasn't in his nature to avoid people in trouble, no matter what their species. Kane's swift yet stealthy gait and pale gray pelt were excellent camouflage, so if he was careful he had little chance of being seen.
He continued in the direction of the scream. The dogs' barking faded until he scarcely heard it and he slowed his pace. Most likely the woman had gone with them, no doubt on the back of a sled pulled by her furred slaves. He was about to turn back when in the distance he noticed what appeared to be a person lying in the snow. He caught the scent of her perfume on the freezing wind.
No more humans were in sight, nor did he see or smell any others.
Throughout the centuries humans had killed many of his kind, nearly driving them to extinction. Because of this as well as the limited number of female Prowleryns, they had chosen to mate with human females in an attempt to increase their numbers. Living among humans, he had learned that not all were wicked. At times he had seen more evil among his own kind than he had among humans.
He knew he couldn't leave this woman to certain death in the wilderness of Alaska. Again he sniffed the air and his gaze swept the area, making certain no other humans lurked among the snowdrifts. He quickened his pace and approached the woman. She pushed herself onto her hands and knees.
Lovely brown eyes fixed upon him and widened. She drew a sharp breath and trembled visibly, probably as much from fear as from the cold. Kane stood still, his gaze locked on hers, before she collapsed face first in the snow.
Surely he hadn't frightened her that much? Most likely she'd hurt herself falling out of the sled, for he had no doubt that's what had happened. Something told him she was new to this rough climate.
He moved closer and paused, breathing deeply as he shifted to a form somewhere between cat and man. Still covered in his thick pelt but moving on two legs instead of four, he squatted near her and checked the pulse in her neck. It was strong and steady. She didn't appear to have any broken bones, but he couldn't be sure until he examined her more closely. First he needed to get her someplace warm. Kane lifted her in his arms and headed back to his igloo.