Bjorn removed the last of the leaves from his front porch and straightened with a sigh. He loved fall but the multitude of trees surrounding his house made almost too much work for a lone man to conquer. He looked around, gaze unfocused, on the woods around him and spied movement from the corner of his eye.
A deep inhalation told him a human had invaded his territory, but how had that happened without his notice? As a bear shifter, Bjorn’s senses were heightened well above the average man. He should’ve smelled the human from miles away, not right before it was upon him. He stayed still, blending into the shadows on his porch. The human came closer and he was shocked to see it was a young woman.
Pale yellow hair fell in soft ringlets to her shoulders, which were encased in a light blue cashmere sweater. Beneath it, white ruffles peeked out around her neck, hiding what he determined would be soft, creamy skin. She wore jeans on her long legs and tennis shoes encased her small feet. Her bright blue eyes were searching, darting back and forth across the forest floor as if searching for a clear path.
He almost laughed. She would find no clear path anywhere around his cabin. He’d constructed the wooden and stone structure to blend within the thickest part of the forest. Every time he left his home, he took a slightly different path, ensuring his heavy stride wouldn’t create a clearly marked route to the untrained eye. Security was his specialty and his expertise was most evident in and around his home.
The human woman hadn’t noticed his cabin yet, but she was close enough to set off one of his early warning signals. He’d refrained from setting actual traps, but the series of signals alerted him to intruders before any could reach his door.
Bjorn left the porch to intercept her from triggering one of his creations, which would be a pain in the neck to reset. He made no attempt to mask the sound of his footfalls and the crunching of dry leaves soon had her head perking up, alarm flashing in her eyes.
Her gaze fell on him and light pink lips opened in an “O” of surprise. He jerked his attention away from those lips, knowing this human woman was much too young for the likes of him. Since she appeared to be lost, he would lead her to the closest road and send her in the right direction. Nothing more, nothing less.
He was dressed in a white t-shirt covered by a flannel long sleeved shirt and well-worn jeans. She considered turning and running away but that wouldn’t do her any good. She was hopelessly lost in what seemed like endless woods. If this man couldn’t or wouldn’t help her… Well, she didn’t want to think about that.
“Hello there,” he called out, and she couldn’t help a shiver at his deep, gravelly voice. “Are you lost?”
She sighed a breath of relief and nodded. “Why yes, sir. I most certainly am.”
He raised a brow in apparent surprise and stopped walking toward her. A few feet still separated them but not enough to disguise his impressive height. He looked her over and slipped his hands into his pockets.
“Very lost by the sound of your British accent. Are you visiting someone here in FNT?”
It was Alice’s turn for surprise and confusion. “FNT? What is that?”
He remained silent for a moment as if assessing her question. She had the distinct impression he didn’t believe her ignorance.
“FNT is the Federal Nation of Therianthropes. It’s the country you’re standing in on the North American Continent. Where did you think you were?”
Alice fought the inherent panic that tried to claim her good sense.
Just breathe, Alice. There must be an explanation for this curious turn of events.
“Well you see, sir, I became lost in the woods near my home and slipped on a patch of mud. That brought me crashing down a slope and into a rather large hole in the ground. I couldn’t climb back out, but it appeared to be a tunnel so I walked along until finding an opening and came out not far from here.”
The man took a step closer and sniffed the air in a rather curious way. Alice briefly wondered if she smelled from her exertions and thought it rude of him to notice. He said nothing about her scent but looked her over again.
“Where is this home of yours?”
“Westminster, in England.”
His eyes widened in surprise. “England? Uh, you’re definitely far from home Miss…”
“Liddell. My name is Alice Liddell.”
Amusement crossed his face as he reached out one large hand.
“Nice to meet you, Alice. I’m Bjorn Berensen.”
She shook his hand briefly. “Mr. Berensen, do you find my name amusing?”
“Why yes, Alice, actually I do.”
“It’s the name of a very popular storybook character. She fell down a rabbit hole and found herself far from home in a strange land. Much like you did.”
“I assure you that was no rabbit hole I fell into. Why, if there were rabbits that size in England they would take over the land.”
Bjorn laughed. “And what if there was such a thing as a rabbit as large as a man? Or for that matter, what if every animal you can think of could shift shape into a human whenever it felt like it?”
Alice thought it over, wondering why he was asking such a strange question.
“Well, that would be quite impossible, sir.”
“But if it were possible, what would you think? Would you try to get to know one?”
She laughed. "There's no use trying, one can't believe impossible things."
Bjorn broke into laughter and shook his head. “Oh I don’t know. Sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."
The echo of those words rang in Alice’s head as she had the distinct feeling of déjà vu. She opened her mouth to respond when he held up a hand to stop her.
“It’s fine, little Alice. We’ll get you back home. Do you think you can lead me to the tunnel you emerged from?”
“Good. I’ll grab some rope and maybe a grappling hook. Let’s see if we can’t get you back out the other side. Wait here while I go get them from my house.”
She watched him walk away, only slightly concerned that he might not return. Her curiosity kept her obediently in place as she considered his words and wondered, what is a grappling hook?