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Ice King: A Dark Dragon Shifter Romance by Sara Fields – Sample

Chapter One

Ella Snow

Beep. Beep. Beep.

My alarm was going off already. It felt like I’d just closed my eyes only a second ago.

I groaned, knowing the sun hadn’t even risen yet, but getting up early was the only way for me to enjoy some time to myself with the horses in the stable without being seen. I yawned and stretched before I threw on a pair of blue jeans, a soft cotton tank top, and my favorite fleece-lined hoodie. By the time I brushed my teeth and rushed out the backdoor to the barn, the sun was just beginning its upward trek into the sky. There wasn’t a cloud in sight. It was going to be a beautiful day.

It was the last week in May, and summer was just breaking over eastern Long Island. The light of dawn cast Hampton Manor Stables in a soft glow, every flower and blade of grass sparkling with glistening morning dew. Summer had finally arrived, and it was looking like it was going to be a truly beautiful season. I took a deep breath, the fresh air giving me a sense of renewed vigor and chasing the last dredges of sleep away.

Today was my twenty-first birthday. I was the only one that would celebrate it, but it was certainly starting off well with a sunrise like this.

Dark red, vibrant orange, and bright pink started to tint the horizon, casting the whole sky in an otherworldly light. I stopped for a moment just to appreciate the magnificent beauty in the quiet of the morning, before I slipped into the stables. I stopped in the feed room first, putting a few apples and carrots into my pockets for the horses before the hired staff arrived.

My work was usually back in the house. My stepmother would probably have a coronary if she found out that I spent each morning in the stables, and then she’d forbid me from ever doing it again. The people that boarded their horses here were some of richest people in the world. They paid for the best trainers, the finest stable hands, the works. Each horse had a strict diet meant to keep them in peak physical condition. She’d probably say something like the horses deserved better than a lowlife like me.

I was the house maid. I was nothing more than that.

I stole into the back of the stables to visit my favorite horse, Misty Dawn, an elegant, dappled gray mare that was as sweet as she was sassy. Her soft whinny echoed through the stables once her dusky eyes settled on me. I always spent the most time with her in the mornings. Her black mane was braided and interwoven with beautiful violet beads, giving her a sophisticated touch. She pranced in her stall like she knew she looked good, and I reached into my pocket, breaking off a piece of carrot and offering it to her in the seat of my palm.

When she was much younger, she used to nip at my fingers like a young, spirited, and somewhat spoiled filly. In the months since I’d been visiting her in the mornings, she’d turned into a graceful mare with every toss of her head.

Her lips closed deftly around the carrot, just grazing against my skin, and I smiled. She neighed quietly, funneled it into her mouth, and bit down with a noisy crunch. I cocked my head and scratched the side of her neck. She nuzzled my shoulder and I sighed happily, running my fingers up and down her snout.

“Hey there, Misty. It’s lovely this morning,” I whispered.

She neighed, seemingly agreeing with me. Her neighbor, Shadow Dancer, was a dark grey Arabian stallion that had an extraordinary show record, but was also exceptionally sweet and gentle. Rumor had it that he’d cost upwards of one hundred thousand dollars. There were a great many people that paid for his use as a stud horse too, so his diet was especially important, or so I’d heard.

I gave him a piece of carrot too, and his neigh of thanks made my heart swell. There were other horses in the stables that were most certainly spoiled, but there were several like Misty Dawn and Shadow Dancer that were very sweet when shown a gentle hand. Every horse in this stable was fed the best food, trained with world-renowned trainers, cared for by stable hands that made more in a year than most people could comprehend, yet they were all missing one vital thing.

The love of someone that cared for them. So, I gave them that whenever I could.

I spent as long as I dared with the horses, slipping down the lines of stalls and treating each one with a piece of apple or a carrot, depending on which was their favorite. I knew them all by heart. When the first of the stable hands opened the front door, I’d already slipped out the back to the main house. I crept in through the servants’ quarters to see that the chef was already in the kitchen preparing for breakfast.

My stepmother and stepsisters probably wouldn’t be up for another hour. They often slept in late and woke up grumpy. Cranky was essentially their calling card, so I avoided them as much as possible, but I had a feeling today was going to be far more difficult than usual.

My family was hosting a massive charity gala for the East Hampton Historical Society. The whole house had been preparing for weeks, and my stepsisters, Bentley and Mackenzie, had been obsessing over their dresses for what felt like worlds longer. Mackenzie had chosen a soft pink gown that had needed several alterations to fit her frame since she’d gotten a breast augmentation a week after she’d bought it. Bentley was hands down the pickiest person I’d ever had the misfortune of meeting, but I think she’d finally settled on a tangerine-colored dress, though she kept going back and forth between that one and a pale lavender number. It was maddening.

Their alterations always took a lot more work than necessary, mostly because they insisted on buying a size or two smaller than they actually needed, which meant I had to work magic with a sewing machine time and time again to make their dresses actually fit their bodies.

My stepmother, Aurora, was something else entirely. She had chosen a pale blue gown with tons of glitter and tulle and layers of lace. If it had been white, it would have rivaled Kate Middleton’s wedding dress. It would have probably cost just as much too, but she was making me do all her alterations. Her dress was to size at least, really only needing to be brought in around her hips to make it a perfect fit. Her fittings always went miserably because she was kind of an evil witch, but at least her needs were pretty easy to meet overall when compared to my stepsisters.

The three of them left me alone to do my work for the most part, but the final fittings for each of them were happening this afternoon, and I was dreading them all, especially my stepmother’s who would be last on the agenda for the day.

I busied myself dusting and sweeping the main floor before my stepmother made her way down the grand staircase. Her steps were always particularly noisy, so I could always tell it was her before she emerged into the kitchen.

I plastered a smile on my face and kept my eyes on the dirt I’d swept into a small pile on the tiles, hoping she’d turn her gaze on someone else for the time being.

My luck had run out.

“Ella, I’m going to need you upstairs right away. Bentley ripped the hem of her dress, and you need to fix it. And wear something decent. I can’t have my clients seeing you in dusty blue jeans. Do I have to tell you everything? Worthless,” she announced, muttering the last part under her breath.

She’d always hated me. I wasn’t her blood.

My father had another wife before her, and she was insanely jealous of her very existence because he had loved her deeply. My mother had died while giving birth to me, and my dad still talked about her like she was the love of his life, which made Aurora hate her even more. In front of him, she was the ever-doting wife, but when he wasn’t around, she was a spiteful bitch that usually took her wrath out on me.

Unfortunately, my dad wasn’t around much. He was one of the most talented heart surgeons in the country, which meant he worked long hours and traveled even more. When he was gone, Aurora had dictated that I was part of the staff, and I didn’t have the heart to ruin my father’s time when he was actually around by telling him what my life was really like when he wasn’t there.

It wasn’t that bad. I had a roof over my head, a full belly, and steady work. I made enough to buy myself something nice from time to time. I always made certain to put some away into savings to buy a home of my own one day, but I wasn’t in a rush to move out either. I wouldn’t be able to spend time with the horses if I did.

“I’ll get to work on her dress right away,” I said, smiling thinly.

Just an afternoon to survive through until they all went off to the charity ball, leaving me here to myself to celebrate with the horses.

To treat myself while my stepfamily was away, I’d stolen one of the bottles of champagne from the hundreds I’d helped carry into the walk-in fridge. Using some of the money I’d put aside, I’d bought myself a riding outfit complete with a luxurious pair of leather boots, dark gray breeches, a white collared riding shirt, as well as a black jacket. Altogether, the outfit would make me look like I actually belonged here.

“Get to work. I don’t pay you to lollygag around,” she spat.

I’d learned long ago to just nod, take her spite, and do what she asked. Talking back was never worth it. She’d just scream at me in front of her entire staff and dock my pay. My stepsisters would never let me live it down.

With a curt nod, I swept the dirt in front of the automated robot vacuum that never quite worked that great in practice. When I was done, I rushed out of the room. The chef, Trina, caught my eye and gave me a sympathetic look.

We all worked for the wicked witch, and we knew it. Late at night, when we snuck a bottle of wine out of the wine cellar and split it behind the stables, we would joke about our work trauma bond and split homemade garlic bread and sweet treats until late in the night. Working with a hangover the next day was always pretty rough, but having people around that understood what we were all going through was nice. Without them, I didn’t know if I would have lasted this long.

Smiling to myself and looking forward to a night on my own, I sprinted up the stairs as fast as I could. I heard Aurora barking out more orders at Trina, and I grimaced. Trina often told me she was used to it. She’d worked for Hampton Manor for the last twenty years and was more than used to Aurora’s ire. Still, I felt kind of bad leaving her on her own, at least until I walked into Bentley’s room. From the look on her face, I’d walked straight into the lion’s den.

“Hey there! Aurora sent me up here to work on fixing your dress?”

“It’s ruined. I’ll never catch Sean’s eye looking like a harlot in a ripped dress,” she wailed. This was not looking good. This was on the verge of temper tantrum-worthy, and I was well within the explosion radius.

Trina had gotten the better deal.

“Don’t worry. I can fix it. Or maybe you might like the other dress?”

“No. Mackenzie said it makes me look like an orange,” she wallowed.

Dammit, Mackenzie. I spent hours on that one.

“I thought it made you look beautiful! Honestly, that color gives your skin the most gorgeous, bronzed glow,” I tried.

“Don’t lie to me. My fake tan is what gives me that glow and the tangerine color just makes me look like a piece of rotten fruit,” she spat, directing her rage fully at me.

This was a meltdown of royal proportions. Bentley and her sister were infamous for them.

“Can you show me where it’s ripped?” I tried. At this point, I didn’t know what to do other than try to solve the issue and make it better. She huffed in annoyance and pointed over to her massive four poster bed. In between the messy quilted silks was her lavender dress. The tangerine one had been tossed in a messy wrinkled pile on the floor.

She didn’t come over and point out where the damage was, but it was fairly easy to find after some hunting along the bottom hem.

“I feel so fat today. I wish I was skinny like you,” she lashed out.

“I’m nothing special,” I answered, trying to diffuse the situation as much as possible even though I knew deep down that it wouldn’t help.

“That’s fucking right. You’re fucking worthless,” she spat.

“I think that’s the prettier color,” Mackenzie said from the door, and I looked up to see her leaning against the frame.

Mackenzie was a year older than her sister. They were both younger than me, but they both treated me like they were worlds above me. They’d been that way all my life, so really, I was mostly used to it.

“You’d look pretty in her other dress, but low-class girls like you aren’t welcome at the ball. You couldn’t afford the ticket in,” Mackenzie snarled.

Even though I was used to their sharp retorts, that didn’t mean they didn’t get to me sometimes too.

“I’ve got loads of laundry to catch up on anyway. Don’t worry about me,” I replied with a fake smile.

“As if I would worry about the likes of you,” Mackenzie glared.

Always a kind word from that one. In the privacy of my room, I would have rolled my eyes. In front of the two of them, I wouldn’t dare.

“Ahh here it is,” I said to myself, finding the ripped lining of lace. “This isn’t bad at all. I’ll have it fixed in no time.”

Throwing the dress over my shoulder, I nodded and slipped out the door.

“How long till my fitting?” Mackenzie demanded.

“An hour. Tops,” I replied.

“Make it forty-five,” she demanded.

I didn’t glorify her with a response. Instead, I just smiled and disappeared down the hall to my small sewing room. It was actually one of the massive guest room closets, but Aurora and the girls hadn’t wanted to go up and down the stairs when they had me alter their clothes. I busied myself carefully tearing off the hem and cutting a new strip to length. When I was done, Bentley probably wouldn’t be able to tell it had been ripped at all.

Someone cleared her throat at the door, and I looked up, crying out when the sewing needle caught my fingertip. I let my foot up on the pedal and whimpered, pressing my bleeding thumb to my lips.

“Are you really planning to do laundry tonight?” Mackenzie asked. By the way she raised her brow, I could tell she wasn’t buying my story for whatever reason.

“That’s the plan at least. Did you need me to do something else? Your sheets or your towels?” I replied.

“Did you steal these?”

It was only then that I noticed she’d been holding something behind her back. When she pulled it out, my mouth went dry. It was the box I’d hidden my riding outfit in. I’d covered it with a few thin blankets that I’d never imagined Mackenzie or her sister would stoop so low as to even touch. They’d been stained and full of holes, plus I’d hidden it at the back of my small closet underneath my thrifted winter jacket.

“What?” I asked, unable to hide the horror in my voice from this unexpected invasion in privacy.

“This is way too nice for the likes of you,” she spat as she pulled out the riding jacket.

“I bought that with my own money. I have the receipts,” I answered.

“Do you really think mother would let you near the horses? They’d probably catch something contagious from you,” she snarled.

“What about the work horses?” I tried. There were two of them housed in an older stable on the rear of the property. They were mainly used for carting stuff around. Sometimes, they were dressed up to provide a client with a romantic trail ride tour across the sprawling acres of Hampton Manor, but most importantly, they weren’t client horses.

“She probably wouldn’t chance that either. They may be work horses, but they’re far more valuable than you,” Mackenzie continued.

“Please put that back where you found it,” I tried.

I almost never spoke up for myself in front of either of my stepsisters, but I had spent a decent amount of money on my riding gear. I never did anything nice for myself. My entire wardrobe was from the local thrift store, or old hand-me-downs from the two of them, or cheap stuff from the flea markets in the towns closer to New York City. The riding outfit had cost me a couple hundred dollars. It was probably my most valuable possession other than my mother’s sapphire necklace, but I’d always kept that hidden beneath my clothing for fear of something like this.

“Or is it that you’ve already been close to the horses, and mother doesn’t know yet? Have you ridden them and ruined them for us? Are you already costing us money?” she pressed. Her vicious gaze landed on me, and I realized that she was out for blood. I didn’t know why. Maybe she was on her period, and I was just the closest one for her to attack.

“Of course not,” I replied, still doing my best to keep my tone respectful.

“So, you have been near the horses then? Mother forbade you from that, and you know it,” she continued, the corner of her mouth lifting in a mean-spirited smirk.

“I never said that,” I shook my head frantically.

“If she knew you were sneaking around the stables and trying to ride our client’s horses, she’d kick you out on your ass so fast that you wouldn’t see it coming,” she said with a cold smirk. It was as if that was her intention, and I couldn’t think of a reason why she’d turn on me so harshly.

I didn’t know what to do, so I decided to play into her game.

“What do you want, Mackenzie?” I asked, slumping forward, and trying to ignore the throbbing sting of my thumb.

“Why did Bobby Fletcher say that you were pretty?”

“Bobby? He… what?”

What did Bobby have to do with any of this?

The Fletchers were a particularly rich family. I wasn’t sure what they did, but I thought the father had a pretty large reach in the tech industry, and that afforded them an exclusive stabling location for Shadow Dancer.

“Bobby Fletcher refused to be my date to the ball because he said he’d rather go with you. Why would he say that? I’m such a better catch than a cheap hussy like you,” she spat.

My stepsisters were obsessed with my mother’s family history. Somewhere in her past, she’d been homeless and in order to make enough money to get off the streets, she’d worked as a stripper. Since finding that sordid detail, they’d treated me like I was some lower-class citizen, especially since somewhere in their ancestry was a supposedly royal line dating back to their English ties. The evidence of such a thing was minimal, but whatever made them sleep better at night meant that I slept better, too.

“I have no idea why he would say that. I’ve never even spoken to him,” I answered.

“Were you walking around the stables in a low-cut shirt or something? Strutting yourself like some whore? For him?” she accused, and I shook my head frantically.

“I don’t own anything like that,” I answered quickly. This was going downhill fast, and I couldn’t see a way out.

“How can I believe you when I found this? Were you planning on showing off for him?” she shouted, gradually raising her voice enough that Bentley would be able to hear from down the hall. I cringed when I heard her steps in the hallway. Both of them together would be even worse.

“Bobby Fletcher isn’t interested in me. There’s no way,” I finally said.

“That’s what he said. You calling me a liar?” Mackenzie attacked.

“Did I miss something?” Bentley asked as she leaned against the doorframe. “Those yours, sis?” Bentley pressed when Mackenzie didn’t answer right away.

“These are Ella’s. I found them hidden in her closet. She says she didn’t steal them, but I think she’s been showing off for Bobby Fletcher so she can get some sort of pity date or something,” Mackenzie finally explained.

“I bought those,” I said again.

“You can’t buy nice things. Your stock isn’t made for them,” Bentley accused.

“I can show you the receipts!” I tried one last time, but they started shouting, and that’s when I heard Aurora’s telltale footsteps on the stairs. My heart nearly stopped. I jumped up and tried to take the box from Mackenzie, but that only resulted in the contents spilling out all over the floor.

“You’re no better than your whore of a mom!” Mackenzie accused, her ire visceral. Her face was red with anger, which kind of made her look like a tomato about to burst. I looked back at her, realizing Bobby’s rejection had cut deeper than she wanted to admit. Had he seen me working in the house? I don’t even remember running into him, but apparently, I’d been memorable enough for him to say something to her.

“I don’t want anything to do with Bobby,” I tried softly, holding her gaze with mine.

“Fat chance,” Bentley replied for her, and an edgy silence followed.

“What’s going on?” Aurora’s shrill voice cut through the tension, and my blood ran cold. I tried to gather the pieces of my riding outfit and hide it underneath a large piece of fabric, but my efforts were wholly unsuccessful.

“Ella is a lying, thieving whore,” Mackenzie started. “I found that in her closet. I’m not sure who she stole it from, but a girl like her could never afford a riding outfit like that.”

Aurora pushed her way into the room and stared down at me on the floor, her cold gaze settling on my riding jacket. She leaned down and picked it up with two fingers, like she couldn’t contain her disgust at touching something that might belong to me.

“What’s this business with Bobby Fletcher? His parents pay a good deal of money to board Shadow Dancer, and I wouldn’t want something to interfere with that,” she said, leveling me with a ruthless, icy glare.

“He said he’d rather take her to the ball than go with me,” Mackenzie pouted.

“I never talked to him. Not even once,” I tried, but it was as if my stepmother had deaf ears when it came to me.

“Why would you need a riding outfit?” she demanded.

“I don’t…”

“You’ve been sneaking around the stable, haven’t you? Do I need to check the security footage? Which ones have you been sullying with your presence? I strictly forbade you from interfering with the stables in any capacity years ago,” she accused angrily.

I slumped my shoulders in defeat. It would be useless to deny it now. Aurora could find footage of me if she needed to. I’d known the cameras were mainly there for the clients, and they weren’t typically monitored unless there was a problem. I’d stick out like a sore thumb among the staff and visiting clients.

“I like to visit the horses in the mornings. Sometimes, just to see the sunrise and give some of them a carrot,” I confessed. All of that would be on the camera anyway. There wasn’t anything I could do to hide that.

“You disobeyed me and put my stables at risk. There are several horses in my facility with very high expectations and any calories over their dietary allotment can seriously affect their performance,” she snarled.

“You should throw her out,” Mackenzie blurted out.

“Can she at least finish my dress?” Bentley whined.

“I can’t kick her out. You know your father has a sweet spot for this worthless street urchin,” Aurora replied.

“Please. I have receipts. I didn’t steal those,” I pleaded.

“I have something else in mind,” Aurora said, her excitement setting me on edge and making my blood run cold. Before I could do anything to stop her, my stepmother grabbed a pair of sewing scissors. I watched in horror as she cut through the material of the jacket, then the shirt, and then the breeches. In no time at all, she’d destroyed the whole outfit. All that was left of it was strips on the floor. There would be no wearing it or returning it.

My eyes watered, and I tried to blink back tears.

“Let that be a lesson to you, you ungrateful wretch. Now finish your work on our dresses. You’re confined to your room for the night,” Aurora continued. She stared down at me as I reached for the remainder of my riding outfit, and she laughed.

“I hope you have a miserable rest of your birthday,” she added.

With unending spiteful arrogance, she swept out of the room, and my sisters followed, leaving me to cry alone.

The rest of the day passed by slowly. I did as I was told and finished altering their dresses to the best of my ability. None of them uttered a single word to me, basking in their smug smirks as they enjoyed my misery. When the time came for the ball, I was banished to my room, and I felt a sort of relief that at least I’d be alone. My closet had been rifled through, but it appeared that Mackenzie had missed some things in her messy search.

She hadn’t found my boots, or the expensive bottle of champagne either.

Without a second thought, I popped the cork and took a big swig. In a fit of defiance, I slipped my riding boots on. I had drunk about a third of the bottle when I peeked out of my bedroom door. I had expected my stepmother to post someone there to make sure I stayed put, but there wasn’t anyone around. When I ventured out further, I realized that the whole house was empty. Trina wasn’t even in the kitchens, and I guessed it was because she was at the charity venue working there.

I was already feeling the effects of the champagne underneath my skin. Slightly buzzed, I made my way out the back door and stared at the stables. It was like they were calling my name.

Fuck Mackenzie. Fuck Aurora, and fuck Bentley. Fuck them all. It was my birthday.

I was going to do what I wanted when there wasn’t anyone here to stop me. Aurora wasn’t going to be checking the cameras tonight. She’d assume I’d be obedient, plus she’d probably be too busy getting donations and trying to pretend that she was something of a socialite in this dog-eat-dog high society.

Emboldened, I strode forward in my riding boots. It was a gorgeous night out, with the stars sparkling high overhead. The full moon was bright, casting an ethereal glow across the grounds.

Out of nowhere, a bolt of lightning struck the tree right in front of me.

I jumped with a shriek, almost spilling the bottle of champagne as I fell right on my ass. I scrambled backwards as sparks flew all around me, then looked up to see a suddenly cloudy sky. The air whipped around me, dropping the temperature at least fifty degrees, enough to make my teeth chatter. The wind picked up even more as the chill intensified.

What the fuck was happening?

All at once, the sky opened up, and I was surrounded by a blizzard, a white wall of snow swirling all around me so thick that I couldn’t see the stables in front of me or the house behind me.

I hadn’t drunk that much. I shouldn’t be this wasted.

I cried out, the cold biting through the thin fabric of my t-shirt. Quickly, I untied the hoodie around my waist and pulled it on, but it didn’t do much good because snow got in between the layers, which only resulted in making me colder.

I staggered and suddenly the world disappeared from beneath my feet. Frantic, I dropped the bottle of champagne and whirled around, trying to catch hold of something as I started to fall.

I should have hit the ground, but I never did.

My whole world went white, and then I started to feel faint. I tried closing my eyes. A wave of dizzying lightheadedness hit me, and I passed out.

What the hell?

Why was it so cold?

It didn’t make any sense. It was just the start of summer in the Hamptons. Everyone was breaking out their cute little summer dresses, sunglasses, and flip flops. I had always had poor circulation in my toes and my fingers, so I always dressed a bit warmer than most to counter that, but this was something else.

My teeth chattered and a hard shiver raced down my spine. My body was trying to warm me up, but it wasn’t really working. I wrapped my arms around my chest and rubbed my arms, trying my best to help the process along.

What could possibly explain this? Had I just gotten too drunk and fallen asleep in the walk-in fridge or something?

When Aurora found out about this, I was never going to hear the end of it. She’d probably make things worse for me, like move my room into one of the broom closets or downstairs in the basement under the stairs.

When I was little, she’d lock me inside that room every time she wanted to punish me. I had a love hate relationship with that room. On one hand, I had enjoyed the solitude, but I loathed not being able to get out until she deemed it long enough.

My stomach rolled and I groaned.


There wasn’t a tile floor beneath me. It kind of felt like dirt. I might have thought I fell asleep in one of the riding rings, but that didn’t explain the temperature. It shouldn’t be this cold outside.

Maybe I was going insane.

I kept my eyes closed for a while, fighting off waves of nausea as I laid there on the cold ground. My head wasn’t pounding anymore at least, so whatever had happened last night might have just been one big, long bad dream.

That’s what I kept telling myself, or at least until I opened my eyes and looked around.

Holy mother fucking shitballs.

Maybe I was still dreaming, and this was just some crazy nightmare induced by a little too much champagne. This didn’t feel like a dream, though. The clean frigid cold air didn’t suggest that, either.

It was like I’d been transported to some frozen fantasy world and left way up in a cave high in the mountains. With a gasp, I surveyed my location without really believing what I was seeing.

Had I had some sort of mental break? Was this some kind of weird dissociation with reality and I was seeing things that weren’t actually there?

There weren’t any caves at Hampton Manor, but as I looked out, I couldn’t even pretend like I was remotely close to Long Island. I didn’t think I was in upstate New York. There weren’t any mountain ranges like these in the United States at all. Maybe in Europe, but definitely not in New York.

I swallowed hard as I pushed myself to my feet and took several tentative steps towards the mouth of the cave, looking out at the frozen landscape that surrounded me.

Where did mountains like this even exist? Were these the Swiss Alps or something?

Everything was covered with snow and ice. There were massive mountains every direction I looked, climbing so high up into the sky that clouds covered their peaks. If anyone had a drone and could get this kind of footage, it would probably make its way into a movie. Did Hollywood know about this place?

With the sun rising, the snow sparkled, like someone had overlaid the shot with a glitter filter in some fancy editing software.

What the actual fuck?

I breathed out, steam rising from the heat as it left my mouth. I curled my arms around my waist, trying to hold my sweatshirt closed so that I could retain literally any bit of heat that I possibly could.

I didn’t see any way down. How had I even gotten up here? My mind whirled with one question after another, so much so that it started to make me dizzy. In all likelihood, the altitude was probably getting to me. Needing to ground myself, I stopped looking out of the mouth of the cave and focused inwards on my immediate surroundings.

I couldn’t see how far back the cave went, but it looked deep. Maybe there was a way out through the back, but I’d probably break an ankle on a stray rock if I tried to stumble around in the dark without any light.

To the right, I noticed a pile of supplies inside the cave. Someone had been here before me and built a shelf, lining it with food, furs, and what appeared to be supplies for a fire. How had they gotten firewood up here? There weren’t any trees around for miles—only icicles, snow, and rock.

I pushed myself up onto my elbows and then up to my feet. I took it slow, struggling against vertigo and nausea for a while until my head and my stomach eventually settled. When I no longer felt like I was swaying on a ship, I staggered over to the shelf and reached out for the furs.

They were extraordinarily thick, maybe a wolf pelt or even a bear. They were a beautifully pure shade of white, and I picked one up, finding it to be a massive, hooded mantle. Immediately, I swung it up around my shoulders and sighed happily at the soft lining. Instantly, the thick pelt made me feel worlds warmer and my toes wriggled in my sneakers.

I almost shrieked out loud with glee when my eyes settled on a pair of fur lined boots as well as a thick pair of woolen socks.

Thank God.

Quickly, I kicked off my sneakers, pulled the wool socks over my much thinner ones, and slid my feet into the comfort of the boots. They were a perfect fit, which was sort of a weird coincidence when I thought about it, but I wasn’t about to kick a gift horse in the mouth.

I found a pair of gloves next, which was a massive relief for my cold fingertips.

There was ample firewood next to the shelf, along with flint, matches, and a bunch of dry tinder. I’d made plenty of campfires in the past, so I got to work right away. I piled the wood into a formation that would burn for a long while and struck a match against the side of the rock. The dry, straw-like tinder took flame in an instant, and I had a roaring fire in no time.

The shape of the cave retained much of the warmth of the fire, making it a cozy little den, and for the first time, I didn’t really feel that cold anymore.

My stomach growled and I turned to the shelf, seeing several baskets covered with a cloth. When I pulled away the fabric from one, I squealed with glee to find freshly baked bread, dried fruit, and meat jerky of some kind. The muffins were still soft and broke off easily in my hand. I popped a bite into my mouth, and the fruity flavors of some unidentifiable berry exploded over my tongue. It tasted along the lines of a raspberry, but maybe also a blackberry or a blueberry. I took another bite, but I was nowhere near figuring out what it was after I finished chewing.

I sat down by the fire. Now that I was finally warm and filling my belly, I didn’t really know what to do.

Hopefully, I’d wake up from this bad dream or whatever this was soon, safe and warm in my own bed, and the memory of this all would fade, and I’d be able to go back to my normal life.

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