Matt didn't really want to marry Samantha, but he was willing to do so in order to keep his father's research station running. Unfortunately, his would-be betrothal goes horribly awry, and he ends up with nothing more than an enraged would-be fiancee who's not exactly human. He suddenly finds himself transformed into a polar bear by day, only able to resume his true form at night, and his only hope of breaking the curse is eighteen-year-old ChrisAnn Belmont - whose father wants to destroy everything Matt has worked to protect. But in order to break the curse, Chris has to be the star player in a game where she doesn't even know the rules. A modern-day adaptation of the fairy tale East of the Sun and West of the Moon.
The betrothal was, quite frankly, a disaster.
Matt had known it would be a disaster from the start. After all, arranged marriages were outdated in all civilized parts of the world. But his father wanted to make sure the research center had enough funding to continue functioning far into the future, and he had already married for money; that meant it was his son's turn to practice self-sacrifice and take one for the team. Of course, at twenty-eight he was more than old enough to be married, but that wasn't the point; the point was that he didn't even like the girl.
Her name was Samantha, and she was the daughter of one of his father's very wealthy friends. She was beautiful beyond belief, Matt had to admit; she looked like a princess out of a fairy tale. The problem was that her behavior didn't match her good looks. She enjoyed partying and drinking and having relationship after relationship; really, Matt was fairly certain that the only reason her father was willing to let a complete stranger marry his daughter was that he was hoping being married—and being confined to a research station in Antarctica—would settle her down. Matt had his doubts; after all, there was still the research staff for her to seduce, and he didn't doubt that she would try.
Nevertheless, during the summer season at the research center, he flew out of Antarctica, where he had lived for the past three years, and went to New York City to finalize the arrangements.
Thought it was winter in the northern hemisphere, it still seemed hot to Matt. He tugged at the neckline of his sweater as he sipped at a glass of red wine, feeling as if he would never be cool again. He couldn't wait to go back to the subzero temperatures he was used to. This weather, with the temperature hovering just below freezing and a light dusting of snow on the ground, was far too hot for the likes of him.
He was watching Samantha across the room. She was a few years younger than he, at twenty-four, but that didn't bother him; he didn't plan on having much to do with her, anyway. He raised his wine glass again, taking a long sip while watching his soon-to-be fiancée over the rim.
He wasn't expecting someone to bump into him.
"Christ, I'm sorry!" came the girl's exclamation as his wine spilled down the front of his sweater. "Here, let me get some soda water or something, it'll come out, I hope." She waved frantically to one of the waiters circling the room and let out a rapid stream of words voicing her request.
He'd forgotten how fast people in New York spoke.
"It's not a problem," he said, picking a napkin up off a nearby table and dabbing at the sweater. "It's a red sweater, anyway." He looked up at her, actually looking at her for the first time, and raised an eyebrow. "Aren't you a little young to be at this party?" She couldn't have been more than eighteen, her blonde hair hanging ruler-straight to frame a delicate face with big blue eyes, accented by the dark blue sweater she wore, long enough to be a dress with a pair of leggings underneath, such as she was wearing.
She flushed. "No," she snapped. "I'm not, not that it's any of your business. It's my father's party, so I have every right to be here."
That was enough to surprise him. "You're a Belmont?"
"Is that a problem?" she asked, her voice suddenly cool as the ice he was used to. It made him feel a bit better, almost like he was home. "Don't like the fact that we're looking to drill in your precious Antarctica?"
"Not really," he said. "That place is my home. My father and I have spent years studying it and protecting it, and your father wants to put in all kinds of oil wells. What makes you think I would like that?"
"If you don't like it," she said, "then you've come to the wrong party." And she sauntered away, taking a champagne glass she probably wasn't supposed to have off a tray as she did so.
The night only got worse from there.
By the time Matt stumbled down from the Belmont penthouse to take a cab back to his hotel, he wasn't sure he ever wanted to go back to Antarctica. How could he ever face his father? He'd consumed a bit more alcohol than he should have; the stuff here was stronger than the weak beers back at the research station. He'd made a fool of himself, insulted Samantha's father, and had ultimately ruined the marriage deal.
On top of that, he now was having a difficult time focusing on where he was going, and he stumbled going down the stairs of the lavish apartment building. A doorman caught his arm and set him straight again, but he stumbled again almost immediately, this time slipping on a patch of ice and falling, sliding down several stairs.
"Are you all right?"
He looked up through bleary eyes to see the Belmont girl looking down at him. The wind was blowing her hair into her face, and she raised a mitten-clad hand to swipe it away impatiently. "Uh?"
"I don't even know why I bothered asking," she said, shaking her head. "You're obviously sloshed. Can't hold you alcohol, can you? Come on, up you get." She slid her hand under his arm and let out a grunt of exertion as she pulled him to his feet, a motion he didn't contribute much to. "I'll get you a cab. Where are you going?"
He slurred out his hotel, and saw her raise an eyebrow. "Nice enough," she said. She hailed a cab and helped him into it.
"Why did you come down here?" he asked as she moved to close the door.
"Oh! I completely forgot." She pulled something from the pocket of her heavy jacket and pushed it into his hands. "You dropped your wallet in our flat. My father told me to bring it down and return it to you. He was going to send my younger sister, but she was on the phone and—oh. Sorry, I'm babbling." She leaned into the cab, over the back of the front seats, and handed the driver some money. "You're so drunk that you'll probably never be able to figure out how to pay the poor man," she explained. "You can pay me back if we ever meet again." With that, she withdrew from the cab, slammed the door shut, and turned, going back up the steps to the apartment building without a backward glance.
Matt hadn't even learned her name.
He woke up in the middle of the night slightly more sober, and stumbled into the bathroom just in time to retch into the toilet. He hadn't been this drunk in a long time—not since he'd flown into New Orleans for his twenty-first birthday and Mardi Gras combined. Grimacing, he flushed and wiped his mouth with one of the hotel towels, giving his teeth a quick, clumsy brush and his mouth a rinse while he was in the bathroom. He stumbled back out into the bedroom, flicking off the bathroom light as he did so.
Only to have a light in the bedroom turn on.
He stopped, his alcohol-muddled mind trying to grasp what was happening. He looked around wildly, and his eyes finally landed on Samantha.
What is she doing here?
"Matt, I'm hurt by the way you've treated me." Samantha stood, tossing her red curls out of her face. She was dressed just as she had been at the party, in a long black cocktail dress and strappy stiletto heels. Her makeup was just as flawless as it had been hours ago. "You didn't talk to me at all at the party. You just got drunk and talked to ChrisAnn."
"The Belmont daughter, the older one. I don't believe little Lexi was in attendance." Samantha sauntered up to him and ran a finger down his chest. "You've treated me very badly, Matt. You even insulted Daddy and made him break off the arrangements. I was supposed to be your wife, and you've ruined it all." She paused, seemingly in thought. "You'll have to be punished for that, of course."
"Punished? Are you threatening me?" Matt was suddenly astoundingly sober. He eyed the hotel phone, across the room. What did this madwoman have planned? Was she going to stab him or shoot him? He should have never agreed to the arranged marriage in the first place; that was what had gotten him here.
"Threatening? No. Informing. Now, let's see. What should I do?" Samantha took several steps backward, surveying him. "You like the cold, don't you?"
"I suppose," he said carefully.
"Then this will have to do."
Samantha extended a hand, and the light in the room seemed to gather around her. Matt raised a hand, rubbing at his eyes; surely he was seeing things. Only an instant later, everything went black.