He was once a king, turned into a bear as punishment for his cruel and selfish deeds.
She was a once a princess, now living in the form of a hound.
Wary companions, they are sent—in human form—back to a time when magic went terribly astray. Together they must right the wrongs caused by this devastating power—if only they can find a way to trust each other.
But even as each becomes aware of an ever-growing attraction, the stakes are rising and they must find a way to eliminate this evil force—or risk losing each other forever.
The smell of the forest hit her first. Pine and moss and sweat-touched fur.
It was right again.
And so was she.
Her paws were on the ground. She could stretch her back and scratch herself as needed and she had a tail again to keep her balance.
She felt how strong and wide her jaw was now, and she tested her teeth by chomping at a branch of the tree at her side. It snapped instantly, cleanly, just as prey would when she was ready to chase it.
She could hear the distant call of a bird and the splash of a fish in the water not far away.
She tried out her strong legs and discovered she could run as fast as ever, leap over fallen trees, then turn around in a flick of movement and be racing back the same way again.
That was when she nearly careened into the bear.
And remembered why he was here.
The bear who had been a man, whose story she had heard when she was a princess.
The bear Prince George had brought her to, the one who had challenged her, then watched her change from woman to hound.
Where was Prince George? And the princess?
The hound had not seen them leave. She had been too busy rediscovering herself.
Now the bear sniffed in her direction.
She sniffed back and approached him slowly, head down, to show that she would not attack. Her lips twitched and she caught a snarl in her throat. The bear made a wordless sound like a groan, then gestured with one large paw toward the rocky part of the forest.
He took a step in that direction, then stopped. Waiting, but without threat.
She thought briefly of the year she had spent as human, when she had never been allowed to choose anything for herself. The boots she had had to wear, pinching her feet, the gowns that were "suitable," the words she was expected to say, the curtsying and smiling.
But that was gone.
She was a hound again. And the bear was an animal, as she was.
She lumbered cautiously alongside him as they crossed twice over a cold stream and approached a cave.
The bear entered it.
She moved across the rocks and peered inside.
The bear settled at one end of the cave and stretched out on the floor near the back with his side to the rock wall. She could smell water in the air. It was dripping on the bear, but he did not complain.
She moved forward, then tucked herself in close to him, letting her legs curl up underneath her. She could feel the brush of his fur against hers.
She shivered, then moved closer to the bear, until she could feel the hurried breathing of his chest against her.
Gradually it slowed. And she slept.
The next morning, as the two drank by the stream, a herd of rabbits crossed their path.
The hound held back, allowing the bear the first kill. But his attack was so loud and wide that by the time he had the first rabbit in his mouth, all the others had scattered.
The hound spent long minutes chasing them, but they were gone, and so was any other hope of game that morning. The woods were silent, the animals warned by the great noise of the bear and the lingering scent of death.
Angry, she returned to the stream, expecting the bear to have eaten his kill.
Yet the bear held out the rabbit, freshly cleaned in the stream and an hour dead.
She took half of the rabbit meat, and left the other half for him. He must have been offering half as recompense for ruining her chance to get her own.
But the bear would not eat his half of the rabbit. He pushed it toward her.
She pushed it back to him and whined.
He turned away from it.
She growled at him. How could he be so stubborn? She knew he must be as hungry as she.
But he would not take it.
So she turned her back on the meat.
They went back to the cave, her stomach only half full and his entirely empty.
What was wrong?
She could speak the language of the hounds, but he could not. His mouth could only produce the language of the bears, which neither understood.