Blake muttered a curse. Humidity covered everything from the leaves on the forest floor to the tops of the trees that rose high above. He slammed the cabin’s front door and retreated back inside to the blessed air conditioning. “Ninety-six? Not even seven in the morning and it’s ninety-six degrees? The universe is trying to kill me. That’s got to be it. Climate change. Global warming. Blah. Blah. Blah. What about just fucking hot?”
Grumpy as a bear didn’t even cover it for him and was no laughing matter. He was a damn bear. Or at least, he was a half-bear. And he hated the heat. Why didn’t bears hibernate in the summer? They could sleep during the scorching, blazing, sun-baked days instead of sweating and having to go around naked all the time.
Not that there was anything wrong with being naked. He always got up in the morning, got dressed with the intent to stay that way, but never made it past noon. Noon-oh-one showed up and he was buck assed naked and in the river. The river was starting to piss him off too. The water was cool, but more than once the last few days, he’d seen and he’d smelled someone. It wasn’t anyone he knew. It wasn’t anyone he wanted to know, not if his keen senses were on target as they usually were.
The scent was all female. Human, but with a delicate undertone of bear. He’d never encountered a half-breed female bear outside his family before which had been just fine with him, less chance he’d meet up with the woman meant to belong to him. His sexual experiences had only been with fully human woman, but that had been a while ago. Being with them always left him wanting something different, something more and he suspected it had to do with his bear half. That was a side of him that he never indulged in sexually. He couldn’t, not with his past. He’d been sixteen when his parents were killed while in shifted form. Poachers had trespassed on their land. He’d never forgotten that day and how it had changed his life and him.
He didn’t want to mate. Now, or ever. He wanted to be left alone here in this little corner of the Smoky Mountains. He didn’t care what happened after he was gone, but until that time came, he was content to exist right where he was, alone.
A female shifter didn’t figure into his long-term plans. His body, though, had other ideas with every whiff of the meddling woman. Not that he’d met her. For all he knew she was a perfectly pleasant creature.
Creature? “Shit.” He bit the word out. The older he got, the surlier he got. Enough so he’d called her… If he was so damn content to be isolated and alone, why was he grumpy all the time? This was something he didn’t understand. Shouldn’t it make him happy? Shouldn’t he be ecstatic and thrilled to be living the ultimate life according to his grand design?
“I am happy,” he growled to the empty cabin. The empty cabin that was too big for just one person, but felt too confining most days lately. It had been built for a large family. His grandmother had had four cubs and those uncles were still alive with cubs of their own. He had family. He had cousins.
He’d had a twin sister, too, but she hadn’t survived birth. His mother had never been able to have more.
He knew pain and loss, and he didn’t want anything to do with it ever again. A woman would only complicate his uncomplicated life. “I’ll just stay away from her,” he declared to the four walls. “I’ve done a good job of it so far. I can just keep doing so until she leaves the area.”
You could kick her out. She is trespassing.
Blake couldn’t argue with the thought. She was camping on private property. But, he reasoned, she was set up and he wouldn’t make her move. Especially since it would put him in the position of having to talk to her. No, he’d let her stay and hope that she left real soon.
Feeling satisfied with himself and his decision, Blake made for the kitchen and the Mason jar of iced coffee in the fridge. If summers were good for anything, it was iced coffee. He drank it black, undiluted but for a few ice cubes and a slight sweetness.
He stepped onto the deck at the back of the house, and took a deep breath. The heat wasn’t so bad with something cold coating his throat and cooling him from the inside out. But it was still oppressive. He turned to re-enter the cabin, but caught the scent before he could turn his head. She was near. To the northeast and getting closer.
Blake debated with himself. Should he get closer? Should he get a look at her? His body screamed that yes, he should. His brain screamed obscenities at him for even considering it.
Her scent was stronger now. “Man, this is such a bad idea,” he whispered to no one even as he set the jar down and crept off the deck to the forest floor. Lucky for him, for a six foot five guy, he could be surprisingly stealthy.
He wound his way through the brush toward the water, careful to keep out of sight. A stand of trees and low-lying bushes allowed him to stay out of view. He crouched to his knees and waited.
He didn’t have to wait long. Her inner tube rounded the bend in the river several seconds later and Blake had to bite down on his tongue to keep a groan at bay. His soul growled “Mine” and his brain knew they were all goners.
Reddish blonde hair caught the morning light that glinted off the water. Strands of gold and red, copper and auburn, floated on the surface behind her. Her face was tilted toward the sun as she drifted along.
She was beautiful. What he could see of her, that is. She had a full figure, one that fit the tube. Not one that would slip through the middle if she didn’t hold on. No, this woman had curves. Blake liked that.Too much.
He huffed, then dropped back behind a tree. The sound echoed and she lifted her head, her gaze focused in his direction. He held his breath and stayed where he was until she was down river a little ways.
He hadn’t intended to, only his feet wouldn’t listen to his head. He didn’t usually shift in the daytime, but this wasn’t just any day. This was a special day. His bear had found its mate, and his entire being was pissed about it. Oh yeah. A real fuckin’ special day.
And what he’d like more than to mate at the moment with the pretty redhead, was a swim. In human form it was hotter than hell. In bear form it was damned hotter than hell. His coat was dark brown and he melted into the foliage of the Smoky Mountain National Forest. His paws were softly on the ground as he tracked the path of the inner tube. Every so often she hummed songs he didn’t know, but he liked the sound. He hated that he liked it.
She didn’t have on a bathing suit, but rather a white tank top and cut-off shorts. Would her nipples be erect? Was she braless? Did she maybe have a bikini top under the tank top? None of the answers mattered. He wanted her. Her scent was sweet and rich, like honey. Her hair was long. The color of her eyes, how tall she might or might not be, the span of her waist… None of that mattered. His gut knew.
At the same time, Blake didn’t think she was from around the Smokies. Her scent was too different, too new for her to inhabit the same North Carolina stretch of forest and mountain, he did. No, she was a visitor to these parts.
He also wondered if she could scent him too. Every so often she’d glance over, peering intently, as though looking for something, but Blake knew she couldn’t hear him or see him. He was far enough back and used his knowledge of the woods and the river to keep her in his sight and to stay out of hers.
“I know you’re there,” she called out, interrupting his train of thought.
Blake hunkered lower to the ground and tried to stop breathing. He didn’t want to be found out. He wasn’t ready.
“You’re not going to talk to me? You’re just going to hide in the trees?”
He snuffled and crept behind a tree, then ascended quickly. He had a good view of several miles of river and mountains. He could see the roofs of cabins and tube rental shacks.
“It’s kind of rude,” she continued. “You can see me, but won’t let me see you? It’s kind of stalkerish, don’t you think?”
Stalker? She was calling him a stalker? That was so not what he was. She had the wrong idea about him.
He was on the ground again in no time and without sparing her a look, he walked back toward his cabin. When he was sure she couldn’t see shadows or shapes, he shifted back into human form.
Him? A stalker. What kind of crap was that? “The callin’ it like she saw it kind, asshole.”
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Blake doesn’t want a mate. No way. No how. And he certainly doesn’t want her camping on his land, floating down his stretch of river, or looking like she belongs in his bed.
But that’s exactly what he gets when he happens upon a curvy woman with shades of sunset hair named Leah.
She’s on vacation and isn’t looking for any complications, especially in the form of a shifter or the possessive MINE signal he gives off.
So, what are two bears to do when they’ve convinced themselves they don’t want, much less need anyone else? They give in to the pull and mate, of course, but in sex only. No life commitment. No cubs. No changing the way they live: Separate and independent of each other.
Except when she leaves his mountain, Blake can’t get her off his mind and Leah can’t stop craving his particular brand of gruffness. Now, the one thing neither wanted, has come full circle, and is ready to bite them both.
Publisher: Lissa Matthews
Genre: Erotic, Paranormal Romance
Length: 94 pages
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