Total pages in book: 1
Estimated words: 20359 (not accurate)
Estimated Reading Time in minutes: 102(@200wpm)___ 81(@250wpm)___ 68(@300wpm)
Estimated words: 20359 (not accurate)
Estimated Reading Time in minutes: 102(@200wpm)___ 81(@250wpm)___ 68(@300wpm)
Read Online Books/Novels:
Her Grizzly (Shifted Love #9)
Author/Writer of Book/Novel:
Keane Vetle had called the wilderness his home for decades. It didn’t take much to make him and his inner grizzly happy. The only thing missing in his life was the woman who had been made for him.
Heading to the woods with two of her coworkers was bound to be interesting since Laina Ash had never camped a day in her life. But she never expected to end up lost lost in the wilderness. Or to stumble across a sexy bear shifter and discover she was his fated mate.
|Books in Series:|
|Books by Author:|
I wasn’t outdoorsy. At all. I never joined Girl Scouts growing up, and the few family vacations we’d taken were all to theme parks. Not the wilderness. How I ended up camping in the middle of nowhere was a mystery. I must’ve been lonelier than I realized. That was the only excuse I could come up with for why I had let two of my co-workers talk me into joining them on this trip.
“How much farther is it to our campsite?” I swiped my arm across my forehead. Although I wasn’t a fan of exercise, I’d thought I was in good enough shape to handle the trek through the woods to the spot where we would pitch our tent. The fact that it was big enough to fit all three of us had been one of the reasons I’d agreed to come. No way in heck did I want to put a tent up all by myself. Or sleep in one alone in the middle of nowhere. With my luck, I’d end up getting eaten by a bear.
Sally paused to glance at me over her shoulder. “Just past that clump of trees ahead of us.”
“Thank goodness,” I muttered.
“You’re doing great for a first-timer. I thought I’d never make it all the way up here when Sally introduced me to camping.”
I looked back at Bess and wished she’d warned me how hard the hike was. When she gave me an encouraging thumbs-up, I sighed and faced forward again so I could follow Sally the rest of the way. The pack she was carrying was twice as heavy as mine, but she hadn’t broken a sweat. Meanwhile, I could barely see straight due to the perspiration dripping into my eyes.
I glared at her back while trudging along behind her until we finally reached a clearing and she announced, “This is it.”
I was breathing too hard to speak, so I just sat down on a log and slid my backpack off. Bess stopped next to me and pushed on the middle of my back. “Put your head between your legs. Trust me, it’ll help.”
I wasn’t sure I’d ever trust anything either of them said to me ever again, but I was relieved to discover she was right about bending forward. A few minutes later, I wasn’t feeling light-headed and had managed to catch my breath. Lifting my head, I was surprised at how much my two co-workers had accomplished in such a short time. The tent looked as though it was already halfway set up. “Was I out of it longer than I thought?”
“Nah.” Bess shook her head and pointed her thumb over her shoulder toward Sally. “She’s just really good at this.”
Sally shrugged and inserted a long pole into a flap on the top of the tent, sliding it through before putting the end into an eyelet at the corner. “I have lots of experience.”
“And I’ve gotten better over time.” Bess circled around so she was on the opposite side from Sally. Then they lifted the poles to raise the tent and attached plastic hooks to the frame to keep them in place. Once that was done, they staked it into the ground.
When Sally had invited me to come on their trip, she’d said there was plenty of room for me since she had a four-person tent. The structure in front of me was a lot smaller than I’d expected. Getting up, I walked over and peeked inside. The floor was about sixty square feet, which meant we’d barely have any room between us when we slept. Then I realized there would be even less space than I thought when Sally tossed my pack inside.
Although I’d been working at the diner with Sally and Bess for the past six months, I didn’t know them well enough to want to wake up and find myself cuddled up against one of them. I’d never shared a bed with anyone before. As an only child, I’d had my own bedroom growing up. We used sleeping bags on the floor during sleepovers when I was a kid. And I’d never had a boyfriend, so there hadn’t been any guys in my bed when I moved out of my parents’ house. Now that I knew I would be spending two nights in such close quarters with two other people who were more acquaintances than friends, I regretted my impulsiveness in accepting their invitation.
“Are you sure we’ll fit with all of our stuff?”
Bess laughed as she bent over to dig through her pack. “Once we’ve unpacked all the stuff we need to set up camp, the bags will take up hardly any room.”
“Yours has most of the stuff that we don’t need right now,” Sally added.
When we met up at Sally’s place this morning, she had redistributed all of our stuff into the backpacks so that mine would be the lightest. It mostly had clothes, camping pillows, and sleeping pads. Nothing that weighed a lot.
Bess nodded as she set up the camp chairs and table around the firepit. “And we won’t be spending a lot of time in there anyway.”
“Why would we when there’s so much nature to explore and enjoy?” Sally agreed with a smile.
I slapped at the mosquito that landed on my arm and mumbled, “Just not too much nature, I hope.”
Bess tossed me an orange silicone bracelet. “Put this on. It’ll help keep the bugs away.”
I lifted it to my nose to take a sniff. “Mm, smells nice.”
“They have essential oils like citronella and lemongrass,” she explained as she slipped on a pink band before throwing a green one to Sally. “Bugs hate ’em.”
Since I had sensitive skin, I wasn’t a fan of spray repellent. I always felt as though I needed to jump into a shower to wash it off as soon as I put it on. If the bracelet worked, it was a much better option. “Cool.”
“While we finish getting the camp set up, could you gather some tinder and kindling for the fire?”
When Bess didn’t respond to Sally’s question, I glanced at her and realized it had been aimed at me instead. “Um, sure. But what exactly is tinder and kindling?”
“Just look for small twigs, dry leaves, needles, and some small sticks,” she instructed.
I didn’t go far. The last thing I wanted was to lose sight of where we had set up camp and end up aimlessly wandering around the forest while I tried to find my way back. Luckily, I found plenty of twigs and leaves to gather from the forest floor only steps away from our campsite. I brought as much as I could and dumped it near the firepit in two trips. By the time I was done, Sally and Bess seemed to be finished with everything they needed to do. Then, they joined me and got to work on getting a fire started.
I was in awe of how quickly Sally could get a flame going with the stuff she’d had me gather. Bess brought over a couple of larger pieces of wood, and the fire was roaring in no time at all. “Wow, you guys are really good at this. If you were ever on Survivor and got stuck doing the fire-making challenge to stay on the island, you’d win for sure.”
“Yeah, that’s never gonna happen,” Sally muttered with a shake of her head. “I’d never be caught dead on a show like that.”
I turned away so she didn’t see my eye roll. Her judgment didn’t bother me. Sally probably hadn’t ever even seen a single episode of the long-running show. If she had, then she wouldn’t be so dismissive of it. The cast’s challenges would’ve been right up her alley.
“We should have lunch,” Bess suggested, patting her stomach. “That hike left me starved.”
“I could definitely eat,” I agreed, eyeing the cooler Sally had carried all the way up here. “And the cold stuff will only stay that way for so long.”
“That’s not going to be a problem.” Sally walked over to the cooler and patted the top. “This sucker is top of the line, and I packed it so we’ll still have cold steaks to grill on Sunday afternoon before we leave.”
“Nice.” I peered over her shoulder while she undid the latches and flipped open the lid. When I spotted something wrapped in newspaper on the top, my nose wrinkled. I really hoped it wasn’t fish she’d caught and planned on grilling. “What’s that?”
“Dry ice. It doesn’t melt as quickly. Don’t touch it with your bare hands,” she warned.
I was starting to wonder if Sally thought I was a fool who didn’t know even the most basic of things. She had made a few comments during our hike that sounded as though she had a very low opinion of me. I couldn’t help but wonder why she had invited me in the first place. But I was stuck in the woods with her for now, so I didn’t want to do anything that would make her even more irritated with me than she already was. “Thanks for the warning.”
Bess walked over and gently bumped her shoulder against mine, offering me a soft smile. “Have you ever roasted hot dogs over an open fire?”
I shook my head. “Nope.”
“Then you’re in for a treat. We wrap them in biscuit dough instead of using buns, and they’re the best thing ever.” She rubbed her hands together. “Let’s grab some sticks, and I’ll show you how it’s done.”
Bess showed me how right she was about how delicious the hot dogs were…almost good enough to make up for Sally’s crappy attitude.
My first night in the tent was a disaster. Each time I tossed and turned—which was a lot—I was reminded that there wasn’t much space between Sally and me. By bumping into her. Over and over again. While she snored. Loudly. Something that Bess should have warned me about because then I could have brought a pair of ear plugs like she had. Or stayed home in my nice comfortable bed with air-conditioning and a television. Had I known how miserable I was going to be out here, I never would have come. Then I would’ve been snuggled up in my room streaming the last five episodes of the reality television show I’d recently discovered.
Thinking about the premise of the show, I giggled. Sally looked up from the small camp stove where she was making scrambled eggs. When she couldn’t figure out why I was laughing, she asked, “What’s so funny?”
“There’s this reality show that I’ve been watching”—she wrinkled her nose, but I didn’t care if she wasn’t a fan of reality television since I figured out pretty quickly last night that we weren’t going to walk out of the wilderness as best friends or anything—“where people give up all the modern amenities they’re used to for a chance at true love with someone who lives off the grid. You get to see how they adapt to moving from the city to the middle of nowhere. One of the couples is in the middle of the desert and another is in a forest kinda like this one. But with a small cabin and an outhouse.”
“That sounds like a reality show that I could actually get into. What’s it called?” Bess asked.
“You don’t need to watch the stupid show.” Sally rolled her eyes and circled her hand in the air. “We’re basically living it right now, just without the love and sex part.”
“Too bad. Those are the best parts.” Bess jabbed her elbow into my side and wagged her brows. “If we’d thought to bring some guys with us, maybe we could’ve recreated a steamy scene from it. Please tell me that one of the couples has sex outside against a tree or something like that.”
My cheeks filled with heat as I shook my head. “Ah, nope. Sorry. I think the closest anyone came was getting a little hot and heavy on an old mattress while gazing at the stars.”
Bess frowned. “Darn.”
“Breakfast is ready,” Sally announced, ending our awkward conversation.
When we finished eating, I volunteered to bring the dishes to the creek to rinse them out. Bess had taken me down there after we had lunch yesterday, and I was pretty sure I could follow the trail there and back without getting lost. Taking care of the task would give me a little time to myself. I also hoped that doing what I could to help out around the campsite would break some of the ice between Sally and me.
My trip down to the creek went smoothly, and I was headed back in no time at all. Leaves crunched and twigs snapped beneath my feet, but the underbrush cleared a little the closer I got to our spot. The sound of feminine voices drifted toward me, but I couldn’t make out what Sally and Bess were saying. It didn’t seem as though it was a friendly conversation, though.
Curious, I slowed down my pace and stepped as carefully as I could—each little crackle beneath my feet echoing in my ears. I must have made less noise than I thought because they kept talking as I got close enough to hear what they were saying.
“Seriously, Sally. I mean it. You have to stop being mean to Laina,” Bess hissed. “It’s not her fault that John is so into her.”
John? Who the heck was John?
I didn’t have to wonder who she was talking about for long.
“He always used to sit in my station before she showed up. If it weren’t for Laina, we would have been dating by now.”
“You don’t know that,” Bess sighed.
“I do, too,” Sally insisted.
“He was gearing up to ask me out right before she started working with us.”
“Maybe,” Bess conceded, although she sounded like she was placating her friend. “But that’s not Laina’s fault. She hasn’t done anything to encourage his interest in her.”
“That’s the only reason he’s still interested in her. She’s a challenge,” Sally huffed. “Most girls fall all over themselves around him since he’s so hot and his dad owns half of the town.”
I finally realized who they were talking about. The cocky guy who tipped well and had asked me out more times than I could count. He came into the diner for lunch several times a week and always had an idea of what we could do after my shift.
“Which was why you decided to play hard to get in the first place. But Laina’s not pretending not to be interested in dating him like you were. She probably doesn’t even know his name. That’s how little attention she pays to him. Not once in all the times she has waited on him have I heard her use it.”
Bess was right. I vaguely remembered John telling me who he was the first time he’d sat at one of my tables, but I hadn’t paid much attention. It was only my second day at the diner, and I’d been more worried about memorizing the menu than the customers’ names. He hadn’t bothered to introduce himself again—probably because he assumed I wouldn’t be able to forget him—and I had resorted to calling him my Mr. Club Sandwich because he ordered one every time he stopped by the diner.
“Yeah, well. That doesn’t seem to matter to John.”
“I feel kinda bad about inviting her up here with us without telling her why.” I pressed my cheek against the tree trunk, hoping Bess didn’t see me when her gaze darted over her shoulder in my direction. “Just because John said he would pull out all the stops to get her to agree to a date doesn’t mean she’d actually say yes.”
“Oh, please,” Sally huffed. “There’s no way she was going to turn him down this time. I had to do something.”
Bess’s voice sounded dreamy when she said, “It would be pretty hard to turn down a guy who hired a cover band to perform your favorite song, booked a hot air balloon ride because it’s something you’ve always wanted to do, and had Darlene at the bakery whip her up a dozen chocolate-covered strawberries. That’s about as romantic as it gets.”
My nose scrunched as I wondered how in the heck John knew all of that about me.
“I still can’t believe he did all that for her.”
I didn’t have to wonder if Sally didn’t like me anymore. The loathing in her voice made it more than clear that I wasn’t her favorite person. I would’ve felt bad for her over the whole John situation except she’d tricked me into coming on this horrible camping trip because she was jealous of me even though I hadn’t done anything. I’d always worried there was something wrong with me for never having a crush on a guy like other girls. But if this was what unrequited love did, then maybe I was lucky.
“You do get that this is only a temporary solution, right?” Bess asked. “Sure, you got Laina out of town this weekend so John’s plan went down the drain. But he can reschedule everything for a different day.”
“Not if she gets lost out here and never comes back,” Sally grumbled.
I stumbled backward at the venom in her tone, dropping the dishes on the ground. Both women whirled around to stare at me. Without the tree blocking me, they easily spotted me. Bess’s eyes were filled with remorse, but there was only hatred in Sally’s. Whirling around, I ran in the other direction, desperate to get away from them, while Bess called, “Laina, wait! Stop! She didn’t mean that the way it sounded!”
It was foolish of me to veer off the path when I couldn’t see where I was going because of the tears pouring out of my eyes. If I got lost out here in the wilderness, I couldn’t be sure Sally and Bess would bother looking for me. But with the way Sally was talking about me, it was entirely possible that I’d be safer with any wild animals that I might come across than her.
I’d always been a morning person. My grizzly loved roaming the woods first thing each day, making sure nobody had encroached on our territory. The land I’d purchased in the middle of the wilderness was perfect as far as my inner beast was concerned. All I had to do was roll out of bed, walk out to my back deck, and let my bear loose.
Normally, a couple of hours in the woods was all I needed to get a great start. Especially after I’d been away from my territory.
Not today, though. Changing back to my human form had been a lot harder to do than usual. The last thing my grizzly wanted to do was return to my cabin, even after spending an extra hour marking his territory. Literally.
My damn bear had raked his claws against a dozen trees and pissed all over the damn place. Laid down enough scent that no shifter would ever mistake this land for anything but mine. I wasn’t sure what had gotten him so agitated, but he needed to chill the fuck out.
Guzzling down a pot of coffee didn’t help. Neither did shoveling a stack of pancakes and a pound of bacon into my belly. When I stalked onto my front porch after breakfast and braced my hands against the wood railing I’d installed myself, I took a deep breath and finally figured out what was riling up my inner animal—the faintest trace of my fated mate’s scent was in the air.
My feet were bare as I stalked down the steps into my front yard, but I didn’t want to waste time going inside to grab my boots. Not when I had the chance to finally find the other half of my soul.
Lifting my head, I dragged the humid air deep into my lungs. There was only the barest hint of her scent, just enough for me to know it was fainter when I moved to the left. So I headed to the right instead. Which made sense since the other direction consisted of nothing but wilderness.
As the alpha of my small pack, I had claimed the first cabin anyone would drive past if they turned down the lane that led to nowhere but our land. If anyone was going to invade our territory, I wanted to be the first one to know about it. My decision had paid off when one of the bastards involved in a trafficking ring had shown up looking for Ramsey—a female falcon shifter who’d been held captive for more than a year—when she had taken refuge with my pack after she was rescued.
Yanking him out of his car when he’d tried to escape had been one of the more satisfying moments of my life. Almost as good as when Rome—a lone shifter who’d joined my pack six years ago—had returned after taking care of the man who’d kept Ramsey trapped in her falcon form in his basement for a year. And when my grizzly got to maul another guy who’d come looking for Ramsey and found Rome and his mate, Thora, instead.
Rome and Thora.
It finally fucking hit me.
They’d come up here a couple of days ago for their first visit since their daughter was born, but I hadn’t seen them yet since I just returned from a business trip late last night. They were only a couple of cabins down from me now, and it seemed as though my mate’s scent was leading me toward their door.
Did they know her?
Did she live in Timber Ridge?
Was she one of Thora’s co-workers at Timber’s Treasures? A regular at the restaurant? A friend of hers?
Had they brought someone else with them to help with Danika while they were up here?
Like my mate.
My grizzly raked his claws against my skin, roaring in my head. He wanted our mate. Now.
I was just as impatient as I stalked toward their cabin and banged on the door. I was thinking about knocking again when Rome finally flung it open and scowled at me. Shoving him out of my way, I stepped inside and scanned the interior of their cabin, searching for any sign that my mate was here with them. When I didn’t find anything, my grizzly roared in my head again.
“Where is she?” I growled.
“What the fuck, Keane?”
Rome looked pissed that I’d invaded his cabin but reassuring him was the last thing on my mind. “Where is my mate, dammit!”
Thora walked toward us, cuddling her daughter close while she glared at me. “You better not be talking about my daughter.”
Her daughter? What in the hell was she blathering on about?
Rome hurried over to his mate and pulled her into his arms. “Relax, baby. It’s almost unheard of for someone to know their mate before they’re at least teenagers.”
“Almost?” she whispered, sounding shocked.
I was trying my best to block out their conversation as I moved around the room, desperate to find my mate’s trail. But Thora’s fear was stinking up the room, making it harder for me to separate the scents. So I forced myself to concentrate on her enough to alleviate her concern. Looking up at her, I growled, “It’s not your pup. But she’s near, I can smell her, but…not in the cabin…she’s…”
I trailed off as I headed toward the back of their cabin, Rome hot on my heels as I flung the back door open and stomped onto the porch. I dragged more air into my lungs, and a growl rumbled up my chest when I realized the scent was stronger out here. Prowling to my left, I examined their entire backyard, looking for any sign that my fated mate had been there.
There was a slight rustle at the tree line, and my head jerked up while every muscle in my body locked. Then the leaves moved again, and a woman stumbled into the yard.
With shoulder-length blond hair, pale hazel eyes, and curves that begged to be touched, she was undeniably gorgeous. When her scent drifted toward me, my cock hardened for the first time in my life. There was no denying who this woman was to me. “Mate.”
She looked up at the sound of my voice, her pretty eyes instantly locking on me. Even with the entire length of the yard between us, our connection was undeniable. But that apparently didn’t mean she would make this easy for me. When I stepped forward, she squeaked, spun around, and ran back into the thicket.
I could have told her that running from me wouldn’t do any good. Now that I’d found my fated mate, I was never going to let her go. Heaving a deep sigh, I took off after her.
I want to call after her and tell her to stop. But I was too worried that I’d startle the gorgeous blonde and make her fall. The last thing I wanted was for her to get injured. She was mine to protect. So I stalked behind my little mate as quietly as possible, quickly closing the distance between us. And as soon as I got within touching distance, I stretched my arm out to grab her. “Gotcha! You’re mine now, mate.”
One minute, I was racing back in the direction where I’d come from—or at least I was pretty sure that was where I was headed—and the next, I was flung over a huge guy’s shoulder. He anchored me in place with one hand on my back and the other on my butt before he stalked back toward the cabins where I’d spotted him. He carried me as though I was as light as a feather, which I knew wasn’t true. But with how big he was, he could probably cut down one of the tall trees surrounding us all by himself and hoist the trunk over his shoulder to bring it back to his home.
When I’d spotted the cabins in the distance, I was so relieved. After tromping through the woods for what felt like forever—but was probably a few hours at most—it had been the first sign of civilization. All I had wanted to do was flop down onto a comfy chair on the back deck of one of the log cabins and beg someone to bring me a drink before asking if I could use their phone.
But when I saw him, my feet felt as though they were anchored to the ground. Another guy was in the yard with the man who was now carrying me, but I hadn’t been even a tiny bit curious about him. My attention was focused on the giant who’d hoisted me over his shoulder…and my unusual reaction to him.
I had never felt the pull of attraction before, but it was instantaneous with him. I’d seen plenty of hot guys, but he put them all to shame as far as I was concerned. He was almost a foot taller than me and at least a hundred pounds heavier. His muscles bulged as he moved, and his brown hair was way overdue for a cut.
Some instinct deep inside told me to run. The thought hadn’t even registered before I had whirled around and took off. It wasn’t until he wrapped his fingers around my wrist and twirled me around that I was able to see that his eyes were deep brown with a feral gleam in them as he gazed down at me. But he only held my gaze for a moment before I was over his shoulder.
Instead of banging my fists against his back and demanding he let me go, I wrapped my arms around his chest as far as I could and pressed my cheek against his back. Holding on to him, I breathed his woodsy scent into my lungs.
It didn’t take long for him to carry me through the wilderness, across several lawns, and into a cabin. As soon as my butt hit the couch cushion, he dropped to his knees in front of me. “How long were you out there? Are you hurt? Is someone hunting you?”
“Hunting me?” I echoed softly, shaking my head as I wondered at his odd choice of wording. “Um, no.”
He stroked his palms down my legs, and goose bumps broke out across my skin in the wake of his touch. “And you’re not hurt anywhere?”
“Nope.” I remembered the scrape of a branch against my calf and leaned over, twisting my leg as I peered down. When I saw a smear of blood, I cringed. “Okay, maybe a tiny bit.”
A muscle jumped in his jaw as he stroked his thumb over my scrape. “I scared you.”
This man had just chased me into the wilderness and dragged me back to his home like a caveman, but there was no mistaking his remorse over the small scratch on my leg. For some strange reason, I found myself giving in to the ridiculous urge to soothe him. “It’s not your fault, big guy. If I had known I would be exploring the woods so much today, I would have changed out of my shorts and into pants when I woke up.”
“You don’t look as though you were out for a hike,” he murmured, getting to his feet to stalk over to the bathroom. I eyed the door and wondered if I could make a break for it, but he quickly returned to my side with a first-aid kit.
Even though it was hot outside, Bess had told me to pack long-sleeved shirts and jeans or joggers. When I’d grumbled about broiling in so many clothes, she’d explained how they would provide added protection against bugs and plants. No matter how right she was, I hadn’t been in any rush to put on a pair of jeans when I woke up this morning. But in my defense, I’d thought there would be plenty of time before I did any serious hiking today…before I realized Sally was jealous enough of me to seriously consider pushing me over a cliff.
“Yeah, well…it wasn’t really a planned one,” I muttered.
“Did you get lost?” He looked up from the bandage and antiseptic wipe he’d pulled out of the kit, a wrinkle popping up in the middle of his brow. “The nearest campsite is almost six miles away. Did you hike all that way by yourself?”
Six miles. Whoa.
“I didn’t think I’d gone that far, but yeah.”
“Never again,” he grumbled, shaking his head.
“Not to worry, this was my first camping trip. It’s also going to be my last. I definitely wasn’t made for roughing it in the wilderness.” If I never saw another hiking trail for the rest of my life, it would be too soon.
“It’ll be different when you’re with me.”
My eyes widened as my head jerked back. “Um, I don’t know anything about you. Not even your name.”
“Keane Vetle.” He held out his free hand, and I gasped at the spark of electricity that jumped between us when I slid my palm against his.
Yanking my hand back, I whispered, “I’m Laina Ash.”
“Laina,” he rasped, his gaze drifting over my face. “Your name is beautiful. It suits you.”
My cheeks filled with heat at the compliment. “I like yours, too.”
“Good.” Holding the antiseptic wipe an inch above the scrape, he vowed, “This will sting a little, but I will never do anything to hurt you.”
His brown eyes gleamed with sincerity, making me feel safe enough to ask the question that had been plaguing me ever since I heard his footsteps behind me. “Then why did you chase me?”
“Because I couldn’t let you get away now that I’ve finally found you.”
Butterflies swirled in my belly at his answer, but I didn’t have time to enjoy them. Although the scratch was shallow, Keane hadn’t been joking about the sting from the antiseptic. My eyes watered as he gently brushed the wipe against my calf. I sniffled when he placed a bandage over the scratch and grunted, “There you go.”
My gaze drifted down, and I finally noticed he was barefoot. “Oh, my goodness! Forget about my little scrape. You don’t have any shoes on. Your feet have to be torn up. What in the world were you thinking?”
His lips curved up at my tsking sound of disapproval. “That if I didn’t move fast, I’d never see you again.”
“C’mon, let me see them.” I gestured him closer. “It’s only fair that I get to patch you up if you need it since you got to take care of me.”
“Good point. It is your right to look after me however you’d like.”
His quick agreement surprised me. And the way he said it made me feel as though his words had a deeper meaning, but I couldn’t imagine what that could be. Not that he gave me much time to speculate since he stood and turned around, lifting his feet so I could see the bottoms…after I managed to tear my gaze away from his perfectly rounded butt.
When I saw the condition of his feet, I gasped. “There isn’t a single scratch or scrape. How is that possible? Those trails in the woods were covered with twigs and stuff. There’s no way you avoided stepping on anything with how fast you were moving.”
“I’m a fast healer.” He dropped down on the couch next to me.
My heart raced in my chest as I pressed back against the arm to create some space between us. “Nobody can heal that quickly.”
“Maybe humans can’t.” He shrugged and quirked a brow. “I haven’t really paid much attention to them until now.”
“Humans?” I squeaked.
His eyes gleamed with humor as his lips curved into a grin. “Yes, human. Like you.”
“But, um…not you?”
“Nope.” He shook his head and scooted closer, stretching his arm against the back of the couch. “Sorry, baby. Fate had something other than a boring human male in mind for you.”
Maybe Sally had actually pushed me over a cliff, and I’d bumped my head. Either that or I’d managed to stumble my way straight into a paranormal romance like the ones I read. Was he a vampire? A wolf shifter? A fae king?
I squeezed my eyes shut and took a deep breath. “Have I knocked myself unconscious and am imagining all of this?”
“Nope.” He yanked me close, and my eyes popped open. “But if you were, you can be damn sure I’d figure out a way to invade your dreams. My grizzly and I won’t let anything stand in the way of claiming you.”
Okie dokie. Shifters were apparently real. Keane could turn into a bear. And judging by my reaction to him and how he was talking…I was his fated mate.
“Claiming me?” I echoed softly, trying to wrap my head around what was happening.
He stroked his fingers down my arm as he nodded. “I’m not good with pretty words. I can’t think of a good way to explain this all to you except to just get it out there. So I’m gonna be blunt, okay?”
I nodded. “Uh-huh.”
“I’m a grizzly bear shifter, and you’re my fated mate.”
I dropped my head against the back of the couch and sighed. “That’s what I thought you were going to say.”
“Wait. What?” He leaned over me and ran his fingers through my hair, close to my scalp. “Did you hit your head before I found you?”
“You didn’t find me. I found you,” I grumbled.
“Seriously, baby. Open your eyes. I need to make sure your pupils aren’t dilated or unequal. You might have a concussion.”
My lids lifted, and I stared up at him. “My head is fine.”
“You sure?” He didn’t look convinced.
“Are you worried because I’m not freaking out over the news that shifters are real, and you think I’m your fated mate? Thinking that I shouldn’t believe a word you’re saying?”
He tilted his head to the side, a considering gleam in his eyes. “Yeah, baby. We don’t exactly advertise our existence since it tends to be hard for humans to accept what we can do. I expected you to be shocked.”
“You have my boredom over the past half year to thank for why I’m taking this so well.”
His brows drew together. “I don’t understand.”
My cheeks heated as I admitted, “Two of my favorite guilty pleasures are reality television and reading romance novels.”
He shook his head. “You’re gonna have to give me more than that, baby. Because I’m not getting the point you’re trying to make.”
“I’ve read lots of books about shifters,” I mumbled.
His eyes widened. “There are books about shifters?”
“They’re not non-fiction. The stories are made up.” I pressed my lips together as I thought about how my life was turning out to be stranger than fiction. “Or at least I thought they weren’t real until I met you. But if shifters are searching for their fated mates, then I guess those romance authors got some of it right.”
“Hold up. Are you trying to tell me you read romance novels about shifters and fated mates?”
My cheeks got hotter as I whispered, “Yeah.”
I expected him to judge me the same way so many others had done before, but he grinned instead. “Were any of the guys grizzlies like me?”
Thinking about the book I finished last week, I nodded. “Yup.”
“He better have been your favorite,” he growled.
“He was.” I raked my gaze down his body. “But the reality of you is so much better than any hero in the books I read.”
“Damn straight, baby.” He flashed me a cocky grin before getting serious again. “I’m not sure how much else those books of yours got right about shifters and mates, but I’m so fucking glad they’ve made it easier for you to believe me. I figured I’d have to haul you outside so I could change into my grizzly to stop you from thinking I was crazy.”
“I definitely want to see your bear sometime, but you don’t have to shift to convince me that you’re telling the truth.” I clenched my thighs together to ease the ache in my core. “But I am curious to know how close the authors were to the truth when it comes to fated mates.”
His gaze dropped to my lap, and his nostrils flared. I couldn’t help but wonder if shifters really did have a heightened sense of scent, and Keane could smell my arousal. “What kind of things did they say in your books?”
No way in heck was I going to tell him about the steamy sex scenes with biting and knotting. Not when I already felt as though I would have an orgasm just from how he was looking at me.
Shaking my head, I murmured, “Nuh-uh, tell me how the whole fated mate thing works, and you can read one of my books later to find out how accurate they are for yourself.”
“I just might take you up on that offer.” Keane winked at me, and my inner walls clenched. “See what kind of things you like.”
I fanned myself with my hand. “Is it hot in here, or is it just me?”
“With how smokin’ hot you are, it’s definitely you, baby.” He leaned back and stretched his legs out, and I couldn’t miss the large bulge in his pants.
Crossing my arms against my chest—partly to hide how my nipples had pebbled and were pressing against my shirt, but also to stop myself from attacking the sexy beast sprawled next to me—I grumbled, “Explain now, compliments later.”
His brown eyes were filled with need as he spelled it out for me. “Fate gives shifters a match who is the other half of their soul. The person they’re destined to spend their life with. The only one they’ll ever want.”
My favorite shifter books all had one thing in common—mates never felt desire for anyone other than each other. I was afraid to get my hopes up, but it sounded like that was what Keane was saying. I needed to be sure, though. “And by that, you mean shifters only love their mates, nobody else? Or they can only have kids together?”
“I think this will help make it painfully clear.” He reached out, wrapped his fingers around my wrist, and pressed my palm against his hard-on. “My dick didn’t work until I caught your scent trail. From the day I was born until the day I die, you’re the only woman I will ever desire.”
Whoa. That was exactly what I was hoping to hear. “And how many years ago was that?”
“Fifty-five. How old are you?”
“Eighteen.” My gaze dropped to his hard-on again before jerking back up to his face. “You’re very hot for an old guy.”
A deep growl rumbled up his chest, making me giggle. “It’s good you think I’m hot because I’m the only man who’ll ever have you.”
I hadn’t ever so much as looked at another guy with interest, but I still had to ask, “How do you know I’m a virgin?”
His nostrils flared again. “I can practically smell your cherry from here. Can’t wait to taste your sweet innocence before I pop it on my cock, make you scream my name as you come, fill you with my seed, and sink my teeth into your shoulder to leave my mating mark on you.”
Just as our conversation was getting interesting, my stomach let out a loud rumble. Keane’s gaze dropped, and he jumped to his feet. “Shit, I should’ve realized you were hungry. I’m fucking up with you again.”
“Not even close. I’m happier sitting here with you than I have been in months.” I shook my head and let out a soft sigh. “Maybe ever, if I’m being honest with myself.”
“I’m happy to hear that.” He brushed a kiss against my forehead. “But you’re hungry, and it’s my privilege as your mate to take care of all your needs, including feeding you.”
The butterflies swirled in my belly again as my gaze darted toward the bathroom. “Could I take a shower while you’re cooking? I feel icky and would love to rinse off.”
“My home is your home now, Laina.” He held out a hand to help me to my feet even though I didn’t need any assistance. Sweeping his arm in a half-circle, he said, “Whatever you want is yours.”
“Thanks,” I whispered before rushing toward the bathroom. I hadn’t been joking about my need for a shower. Between hiking so many miles and spending last night in a cramped tent, I was anything but fresh. And if things with Keane were headed in the direction that I thought they were, being clean would help me feel less self-conscious.
After shutting the door behind me, I stripped out of my clothes and jumped in the shower. The hot water beating down on my sore body felt wonderful, and I ended up staying in there longer than I’d planned. When I finally got out, I felt refreshed and ready to take Keane up on his sensual promise.
The only problem was that I wasn’t looking forward to putting my dirty clothes back on. Lifting a T-shirt off the top of the hamper in the corner of the room, I sniffed to see if it smelled cleaner than what I’d been wearing. The woodsy scent of my mate filled my nostrils, making the choice an easy one. I tugged his shirt over my head, and the material covered me all the way to my knees.
I briefly considered pulling my panties on, but wrinkled my nose when I thought about how hot and sweaty I’d gotten while tramping around in the wilderness. Instead, I tossed them into the hamper along with everything else I had been wearing. When I opened the bathroom door again, the delicious scent of food drifted toward me.
“Lunch is ready,” Keane called, his voice turning raspy at the end when he saw that I was wearing his shirt.
Unless he’d forgotten to mention that he had X-ray vision, he had no idea that I didn’t have any panties on. But I still blushed as though he knew as I walked over and sat in the chair he pulled out for me. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome, baby.”
He set a plate in front of me, piled high with roasted pork tenderloin, fingerling potatoes, cinnamon apples, and asparagus. My stomach reminded me how long it had been since I last ate, and I dug right in, taking a bite of each dish before I said, “This is really good.”
“We lucked out.” He flashed me a grin over his cup of water. “Thora must’ve come over and stocked the fridge for me. It’s perfect timing because there’s a ton of gourmet stuff we can heat whenever we get hungry.”
I narrowed my eyes at him. “Who’s Thora?”
“Rome’s mate. He’s a member of my pack.” Keane jerked his chin toward his left shoulder. “She’s human but works as a chef for a restaurant owned by the Timber Ridge Pack. They used to split their time fairly evenly between both packs, but this is the first time they’ve been back up here since she had their first baby. Danika is two months old now, so it’s been a while.”
Knowing that the other woman belonged to someone else eased my flash of jealousy. It was totally unwarranted since Keane had just finished telling me that he wouldn’t want anyone other than me, but he seemed pleased that I was territorial over him.
As soon as I finished my last bite, he took the fork from me and set it on my plate. The air around us practically crackled with sexual tension as he lifted me off my chair and stalked toward the bedroom. His self-control had snapped, and my sexy mate was beyond ready to claim me.
I had only found my fated mate about an hour ago, but it felt as though I’d known Laina forever as I set her on my mattress. We still needed to learn the small details about each other’s lives, but I was already starting to fall head over heels in love with her. And it wasn’t just because she was the gorgeous woman fate had paired me with.
Something so gentle and sweet about my mate called to me on a different level. Her soft smiles and pink blushes were so damn cute, and I couldn’t wait to see how far down her body the color went when she was feeling shy.
Seeing her curvy body sprawled on my bed settled my inner beast. “You’re finally right where you belong.”
Her lips curved up, and her pretty hazel eyes were filled with passion. The combination had my cock pressing harder against my zipper. I needed to feel our naked bodies pressed against each other more than I needed my next breath. So I whipped my shirt over my head, flicked open the button of my jeans, yanked the zipper down, and shoved them down my legs. Since I’d gone commando, my dick sprung free, earning me a gasp from my gorgeous mate.
Her eyes were wide as she stared at my hard-on, her lips forming a perfect O. “Whoa.”
I wrapped my fingers around my cock and stroked my fist up and down the shaft while I stared down at her. “Don’t worry, baby. You were made to take me, remember?”
“Yeah, but…that was before I knew how big you were.” Her gaze drifted up to my chest and eventually my face. “Although I guess I should’ve known that you’d be huge all over.”
Her cheeks turned pink, and the color spread down her neck. Crawling onto the mattress, I started to slide the hem of my shirt up her thighs. “As much as I love seeing your sexy body covered by my shirt, I can’t wait to get you naked.”
“Then I guess it’s a good thing I went commando, too.”
Pre-come leaked from my cock at her confession. Her unique mixture of shy and bold was my kryptonite.
A growl rumbled up my chest when I discovered she was telling the truth, and her pretty little pussy, dripping with the proof of her desire, was bared to me. The final tethers of my self-control snapped, and I tore the soft material from her body before crashing down on top of her. “Be careful how you tease me, baby. I’m barely holding on by a thread here. I don’t want to hurt you.”
“It’s okay, big guy.” She twined her arms around my neck. “I was made to be yours, remember?”
I loved how she dished my own cocky words right back at me, but the time for talking had passed. I couldn’t wait any longer. Lowering my head, I covered her mouth with my own and growled as I got my first taste of my little mate. She was sweet and spicy at the same time, just like her personality. She gasped, and I took advantage of the parting of her lips to sweep my tongue inside to tangle with hers.
Her body writhed beneath mine as we kissed, the slide of her soft curves against my hard planes driving me wild. Grabbing her full ass, I lifted her against me, and her legs wrapped around my hips. The new position lined us up perfectly, with my hard-on nestled against the heat of her pussy. I finally ripped my lips from hers, both of us panting for breath. “Fuck, baby. You feel so damn good.”
“I had no idea it would be like this,” she whimpered, her nails digging into my shoulders. “I feel as though I’m on fire, and we’ve barely gotten started.”
“You need me to take the edge off for you?” I whispered, my breath hot against her ear before I nibbled on the lobe. “Make you come before I devour that perfect little pussy made for me and only me?”
“Yes, please,” she gasped, throwing her head back against the pillow.
Tightening my hold on her ass cheeks, I guided her pussy up and down my rock-hard shaft. Her wetness coated every inch of me, making it difficult for me not to shoot my come between our bodies. Especially when she started to rock against me, chasing her own pleasure. “C’mon, baby. Give it to me. Come all over my dick.”
She flew over the edge, screaming my name and drenching both of us with her release. The scent of her desire filled the air, and I wanted to gorge on the taste. Pushing her farther up the mattress, I settled between her legs and flung her thighs over my shoulders. Then I reached up to cup her breasts, her pebbled nipples pressing into my palms as I lowered my mouth to her glistening pussy.
I inhaled deeply, dragging the sweet scent of her desire deep into my lungs. Then I licked up the center of her pussy and groaned. “You taste so fucking perfect, baby. I’ll never get enough of you. Gonna eat this pretty little pussy every day before I fuck us both into a coma. It’s a damn good thing I have plenty of money in the bank and the pack is small because all my responsibilities will have to take a back seat to my need for you.”
Using my thumbs to part her lower lips, I flicked at the swollen bundle of nerves that would send her over the edge again. I felt a primal need to make her come as many times as I could before I finally sank my cock inside her tight channel. I had to make sure she was ready to take my big cock so I didn't hurt her.
After Laina came down from her second release, I lapped up her cream, avoiding her clit until she begged me for another orgasm. When her body was taut and her nails were digging into my scalp, I finally gave my mate what she wanted and sucked hard on her little bud. Her body shuddered, her hips pressing against my face to draw out her climax.
“Gonna pop that sweet cherry next,” I grunted when I finally lifted my mouth from her pussy.
I didn’t let her come down too far after her last release before I kneeled between her legs and notched the tip of my dick in her entrance. Her eyes were hazy with passion as she stared up at me, her blond hair spread across my pillows. The heat of her pussy scorched the crown of my cock, and I needed to feel her gripping my whole shaft. Without warning, I thrust inside and anchored myself deep with one powerful move of my hips before she could tense up.
The pleasure was intense, but I didn’t lose sight of the fact that I’d just ripped through her cherry. It took every ounce of my remaining control to hold still and ask, “You okay, baby?”
“I’m not sure.” She shifted a little, and a tortured groan was dragged from my chest. “I expected it to hurt more.”
“But it doesn’t?”
She shook her head, her lips curving into a smile of pure feminine pleasure. “I guess I really was made for you if your monster cock didn’t rip me in half.”
I let out a bark of startled laughter, stunned that I was laughing while my mate’s pussy was wrapped around me for the first time. I rarely found humor in anything. Having Laina in my life was already making me a better man. “I’m gonna assume that means you’re ready for me to move.”
She nodded and circled her legs around my waist. “Uh-huh.”
I started to move, slamming in and out of her tight channel hard and fast. Her walls clenched around me with each thrust, but she was wet enough to take me without too much resistance. Laina held on tight, her cries of pleasure echoing around the walls of my cabin. “Yes! Oh, yes!”
“Are you gonna come for me again, baby? Let me feel that pretty pussy flutter as you milk the come from my cock?” I scraped my teeth against her shoulder. “I want to fill you up until my come drips down your thighs while I sink my teeth right here, leaving a mark that no shifter will be able to mistake for anything but me claiming you as mine.”
“Please,” she panted, her inner walls spasming.
“Can’t do it until you come for me again, baby,” I warned as I pressed my knees into the mattress to change the angle of my cock as I continued to pound in and out of her. “Are you gonna give me what I need?”
“Yes!” she screamed, finally flying apart when I thrust into her so deep that the tip of my cock bumped against her cervix.
I roared her name as her release triggered mine. As my cock jerked, jets of come streamed into her tight channel, and I pressed my lips against her shoulder. My voice was hoarse as I asked, “Are you ready to become completely mine, baby? Forever?”
Laina didn’t hesitate when she tilted her head to the side to give me better access. “Absolutely.”
My grizzly roared his approval inside my head, his fur brushing against my skin as my canines extended. Man and beast truly became one for the first time in my long life, both of us united in the fierce need to claim our mate. It felt as though the planet stopped spinning on its axis as I sank my teeth into her soft skin. Then my soul collided with hers as we were both tossed into another powerful release, and all was right in the world again.
Waking up with Keane’s arms wrapped around me after having five mind-blowing orgasms and being claimed as his fated mate was the best thing ever. I wasn’t sure if it was the three-hour nap that had left me feeling so refreshed, or if it was a post-sex thing that I was going to experience on a regular basis from now on. Either way, I was happier than I ever remembered being, and it was all because of the gorgeous hunk of man next to me.
Twisting in his embrace, I smiled at him and realized he was already awake. “Hey, big guy. How long have you been waiting for me to wake up?”
“About an hour.”
“That’s a long time.” I had expected him to say five or ten minutes. “You didn’t have to stay in bed with me.”
He brushed a kiss against my temple. “It wasn’t a hardship, baby. I can’t think of a single thing I could’ve been doing that I would have enjoyed more.”
“I thought you said you weren’t good with pretty words,” I sighed as my heart melted over how sweet he could be.
He shrugged. “All I said was the truth.”
“And that makes it even prettier.” I rubbed my cheek against his chest. “Because I know you meant them.”
“Words are about the only pretty thing I can give you.” His gaze swept the room, and his lips pressed together in a flat line.
“What do you mean?”
“We can add onto the cabin. Put a tub in. Make whatever changes you’d like,” he offered, tightening his hold as though he thought I was going to try to get away from him. “I want you to be comfortable here.”
“Your cabin is already awesome,” I assured him, cuddling closer. “As long as I’m with you, I don’t care where we are.”
“I’m good with roughing it, so I never really worried about the amenities,” he explained. “But now that you’re here, the place could use some sprucing up.”
“Trust me, this cabin is eleventy billion times better than the tent I slept in last night.” I shuddered.
“I meant to ask earlier, but I got distracted by the overwhelming need to make you mine.” Cupping the back of my skull, he tilted my head back until we stared into each other’s eyes. “How’d you end up camping in the first place? I don’t think you’ve had a single good thing to say about the experience.”
“Yeah, because it was awful.” I sighed and shook my head. “I had no clue what to expect. Maybe if I had, I wouldn’t have jumped on the chance to make some friends at work. When I started working at the diner, I thought for sure I’d stop feeling like an outsider soon. But six months later, I still wasn’t getting invited to anything. Until this weekend.”
“My poor, sweet baby. I hate the thought of you being so lonely.” He brushed a kiss against my forehead. “At least you never have to worry about that again now that you’ve got me and our pack.”
I pressed my cheek against his chest so he wouldn’t see the tears that filled my eyes. “I was always kind of a loner in high school. I was hoping that the feeling of being the odd girl out would change after I graduated and moved out of my parents’ house. It just got worse, though, because I didn’t even have them to talk to since they were so mad that I wasn’t going to college or getting married. Even if Sally hadn’t filled my head with stories about how awesome camping was, I probably still would’ve said yes anyway.”
His palm stroked up and down my spine in a soothing gesture. “But camping wasn’t everything she said it would be?”
“The tent was smaller than I expected. It turned out that Sally didn't invite me because she was trying to be nice, and the bug repellent bracelet Bess gave me didn’t do anything. I’m surprised you were able to catch my scent at all since I had to cover myself with yucky bug spray. I swear, the only thing that went right with the camping trip was the food.”
His brows climbed as I ranted. “Shit, I should’ve thought to ask sooner. When did you last see your co-workers? They’re probably out of their minds with worry over you.”
“I highly doubt that.” I snorted. “I ran off because I overheard them talking about me, and Sally made it clear her life would be a whole lot easier if something happened to me while we were out there.”
“She wanted you to get lost in the woods so you couldn’t go back with them?” I nodded. “I’m gonna kill her.”
I knew I couldn’t keep him pinned to the mattress, but I still rolled on top of him and pressed my hands against his chest. “You can’t go around killing anyone who doesn’t like me.”
He glared up at me. “Oh yeah? Watch me.”
I needed to figure out a way to defuse this situation before he really did go hunting in the woods for her, but only one idea came to mind. I hated to give my co-worker any credit for what had happened, but I forced the words out anyway. “When you think about it, we both owe Sally. Big time.”
His brows drew together. “How do you figure that?”
“If she hadn’t been so jealous, I never would’ve run from her. And if I hadn’t done that, we wouldn’t have found each other.”
His eyes narrowed. “I think you skipped a part of the story. Why was she jealous?”
I had a feeling Keane wasn’t going to be happy with my explanation. “There’s this guy who is a regular customer at the diner where we work. Sally has a crush on him, but he’s asked me out a few times. I’d never paid any attention to him and didn’t even remember his name until I heard her and Bess talking about him, but apparently it was a really big deal to her.”
“I know.” I stroked my hands up and down his chest, trying to calm him down.
“If the bastard tries to hit on you again, Sally isn’t going to have to worry about him being interested in you instead of her.” His hands gripped my hips as something feral flashed in his eyes, almost as though his bear was staring at me instead of the man. “Because he’ll be dead.”
I didn’t think he was willing to see reason when it came to me and other men…and I had to admit that I liked how possessive he was. A lot.
“If I’m going to live here with you—”
“There’s no if about it,” he growled before I could finish what I was saying.
I shrugged. “Then you don’t need to worry about him. The diner is too far away for me to keep my job, so he won’t have the chance to ask me out again.”
“Good point.” His body relaxed beneath mine as his brows drew together. “What I don’t get is why she wanted to spend the weekend camping with you. Did she think that getting to know you better outside of work would help her figure out why that guy liked you?”
“Ah, no. Not exactly.” I cleared my throat before explaining what I’d overheard about John’s plans for this weekend.
“I guess you were right about me owing your co-worker.” He flipped me onto my back, his large body hovering over mine. “If she hadn’t gotten you away from him this weekend and he somehow managed to talk you into going on that date with him, I would’ve had to kill this John guy and then you might have been scared of me.”
He looked so devastated over the possibility that I would be afraid of him that it broke my heart. Even when I’d run from him, it hadn’t been out of fear but more of a deep-seated need for him to chase me that I could only guess had something to do with being his fated mate. “I could never be scared of you, and you would not have needed to kill anyone.”
“You’re wrong,” he insisted with a shake of his head, his brown eyes filled with fury over something that was never going to happen. “My grizzly would have scented his lust and broken free to rip his throat out.”
I had never seen violence except for on television, but his threat toward John didn’t freak me out because I knew that Keane had been telling the truth when he’d said he would never hurt me. Filled with determination to soothe my man, I twined my arms around his neck and pulled his face close enough so that I could press my lips against his. My kiss seemed to do the trick, and I made a mental note in case he ever needed to be talked off the proverbial cliff again. “You don’t need to be worried. Just as I was made for you, you were made for me. I’ve never noticed another man. Only you. Never wanted to go on a date with anyone but you. Never kissed anyone but you.”
The tension drained from his body at my confession. “If anyone’s going to take you on a hot air balloon ride, it’s gonna be me.”
“Yes,” I agreed. “You get all of my firsts. Every single one of them.”
I hadn’t meant my claim to be sexual, but when his hard-on brushed against my inner thigh, I couldn’t help but think of a first that I’d love to tackle. Sliding my hand between our bodies, I wrapped my fingers around his thick dick and gently squeezed. When he threw his head back and pressed deeper into my palm, I felt a rush of feminine power that gave me the confidence to suggest, “Like giving a blow job.”
“You want to suck my cock, baby?”
My cheeks filled with heat, but it wasn’t from embarrassment but passion this time. “Uh-huh.”
One of his hands slid over my chest to cup my breast, his thumb flicking over my nipple. “I’d love to see your pretty lips wrapped around me.”
I could see it in my head, and my inner walls clenched at the sexy picture he painted. I whimpered when he climbed off my body to stand next to the bed, but then I shivered when he wrapped his fingers around my wrist to tug me off the mattress too. He dropped a pillow onto the floor before pressing gently on my shoulders, guiding me to kneel in front of him.
His dick was swollen and red, with a bead of pre-come glistening on the tip. My mouth watered at the sight. I was as desperate to taste him as he’d been with my pussy earlier.
Cupping my cheeks with his palms, Keane stroked my bottom lip with his thumb as he tilted my head back to search my face. “You sure you want to do this, baby?”
“Yes,” I panted, flicking my tongue out to swipe against his thumb. “More than anything.”
He slid one of his hands to the back of my head, his fingers running through my hair before he fisted it. “Then part your lips to take me into your mouth.”
I moaned when he eased his dick past my lips, slowly feeding me each inch.
“Fuck,” he groaned, his hold on my hair tightening as the salty taste of his pre-come burst across my tongue. “Not sure how long I’m gonna be able to last. Your mouth is so damn wet, and you look perfect on your knees in front of me with your face full of my cock.”
I closed my lips around him to get better suction and sucked him to the back of my throat, loving that I was able to drive him wild.
“So fucking good. That’s it. Suck it, baby,” he urged, his hips pumping as he fucked my mouth. His hold on my head was gentle as he picked up speed.
My mouth couldn’t keep up with his thrusts. All I could do was relax my jaw and breathe while his dick glided in and out of my mouth. My eyes watered as he went deeper, the tip of his dick bumping against the back of my throat. On the next glide out, I sucked hard and swirled my tongue over the crown, and Keane roared my name as he flew over the edge. Come spurted from his cock, over my tongue, and down my throat while I swallowed him down.
“Oh, fuck, yes! Don’t lose a drop, baby.”
He eased his still hard dick out of my mouth, and I licked a few beads of come from the tip. “Mmm, you taste good.”
“So fucking amazing,” he growled as he bent low to wrap his hands around my hips and lift me into the air. Then he tossed me on the mattress and crawled between my thighs. “But now it’s my turn.”
He licked and nibbled his way down my body, sucking each of my nipples deep into his mouth. When he bit down on them, I felt the zing of desire in my core, and my back arched off the mattress. One of his hands drifted down my stomach to cup my mound, his middle finger sliding through my wetness to sink inside my pussy. By the time his tongue flicked over my clit, he’d added two more and was thrusting them in and out at a furious pace.
The tightness in my body snapped, and I screamed as waves of intense pleasure crashed over my body. “Keane! Yes! Oh, yes!”
“Fuck, yeah. Come for me, baby,” he growled against my damp flesh, drinking down my release while he built me up to another one.
I melted against the mattress when he finally let up and moved on top of me, his dick nestled between my legs, sliding through my wetness. Wrapping my arms around his neck, I sighed, “Wow, the things you can do to me with your mouth blow my mind.”
“Let me show you what I can do with my cock.”
Licking my lips, I murmured, “I remember.”
“I still think you could do with a reminder,” he grunted.
Crashing his mouth down on mine, he kissed me breathless as he slowly worked his dick inside my tight channel. He didn’t come up for air again until he was deeply seated with his balls resting against my butt. His deep brown eyes burned into mine while he began to fuck me hard and fast, setting a brutal pace. Digging my nails into his shoulders and gripping his hips with my knees, I held on for the ride of my life. Fast and furious, one mind-blowing orgasm after another.
My world narrowed to the two of us, and I wasn’t sure how much time had passed as our bodies moved in unison. His hips pumped while I met him thrust for thrust.
“Your pussy feels so fucking perfect, baby,” he grunted, bending my legs to push my knees against my chest as he slammed back inside.
“Yes, Keane,” I moaned, my pleasure building higher than it had ever been before. “More. Harder. Deeper.”
Moving to his knees, he put my legs on his shoulders and grabbed her butt to raise my hips. The new position gave me exactly what I’d begged for, his dick dragging against my inner walls as he filled me completely. My eyes drifted close, but my mate wasn’t having it. “Watch, baby. See how perfect we look with my cock covered in your come while I slide into your sweet pussy.”
My eyes opened, and my gaze drifted to where his dick was pounding in and out of me. The sight brought me closer to the edge, and I couldn’t look away as he kept moving.
“This pussy is mine,” he growled as one of his hands moved from my hip to grip my butt, his finger dipping between the cheeks. “And your ass belongs to me, too. Doesn’t it, baby?”
I couldn’t imagine how his huge dick would fit inside my dark hole, but I couldn’t deny that he owned every part of me. “Yes!”
“Someday, I’m gonna want to claim it, too,” Keane warned, moving his hand again to circle my clit with his thumb.
The passion coursing through my veins was almost more than I could bear. My need was fierce and nearly overwhelming. When he pinched my clit, he pushed my body past my limit. My eyes rolled to the back of my head as my release burned through me, leaving intense satisfaction in its wake. I trembled, my pussy rippling around Keane’s hard length as shockwave after shockwave blasted through my body. The clench of my inner walls threw him over the edge with me, and my pussy milked the come from his dick until our combined release spilled down my thighs.
“Mine!” he roared, his hips still pumping. “Only mine.”
He dropped down next to me, our sides pressed together while we panted for air. When I finally recovered enough to speak again, I murmured, “Remember when you said I could make any changes around here that I wanted?”
I tilted my head back to grin up at him. “If you don’t already have a washer and dryer, that’s the first thing we need to do. Because I have a feeling we’re going to need to clean the sheets a lot.”
His raspy chuckle was sexy enough that I wondered if I would be ready to go again soon, but I could barely lift my arms. My body was a boneless heap melted into the mattress. That last orgasm had completely drained me.
“There’s a small stackable set in the utility closet.”
“Good.” Not that I’d be up to using it anytime soon. It would be a while before I was ready to move again.
“And there’s an extra set of sheets in the bathroom closet,” he added.
“Even better.” Thinking about what he’d said after we had sex the first time, I giggled. “Because I think you did it.”
He slid his arm under my back and pulled me close. “Did what, baby?”
“Put us both into a coma.”
He beamed a cocky grin at me. “Damn straight.”
There was a pounding on the front door, and a growl rumbled up my chest at the interruption when all I wanted to do was stay cuddled with my mate until she was ready for another round of sex. She was exhausted after the last one, but my cock was still rock-hard. I had a feeling it was going to stay that way for the rest of my life since all I had to do was look, smell, or touch her, and I was ready to fuck.
I brushed a kiss against her temple before I climbed out of bed. “Stay here, baby. I’ll be right back.”
Then I pulled on my jeans before I stalked out of the bedroom toward the door. When I recognized the outline of Rome’s body through the front window, I sighed and shook my head. Yanking the door open, I grumbled, “Were you so pissed at me for knocking on your door this morning that you had to come and do the same to me before you left? You can skip the goodbyes since you damn well know I just found my mate. I’ll introduce her to you and the family the next time you’re up here.”
“Sorry, but no can do, alpha.” He lifted his hand so I could see the emergency alert on his cell phone screen.
It was rare for anyone to come up missing on our land since the wilderness didn’t draw many hikers this far out, but we still helped out when search and rescue teams were called in. Only the woman pictured in the alert wasn’t missing—I’d just left her in my bed. “Fuck.”
“Yeah, I figured you’d want to know that they’re going to send people out searching the woods for her first thing in the morning.” He stepped closer and lowered his voice. “I called Chief Elrod, but he said he couldn’t call off the search because some spoiled daddy’s boy kicked up a huge fuss when he found out the girls she was camping with came back without her.”
The jackass who wanted my mate must’ve been able to pull some pretty big strings if the head of the search and rescue team didn’t listen to Rome when he called. “I’ll take care of it.”
“Do you need any help?” Rome glanced over his shoulder toward his cabin. “Danika is down for the night. I could run into town with you and talk to the chief. Get him to see reason and call off the search since the girl is safe and sound.”
“Where are you going?”
I moved so Rome couldn’t see past me into the cabin and growled, “Give me a minute, and I’ll be ready to go.”
“Sure thing,” he agreed before I slammed the door shut in his face.
Turning toward my mate, I was relieved to see that she’d pulled one of my shirts on before she’d left our bedroom. “I thought I told you to stay in bed.”
She planted her hands on her hips and tilted her head to the side, a stubborn gleam in her hazel orbs. “It sounded as though something was wrong.”
“I want you to stay here with Thora and the baby. Leyton will come into town with Rome and me to take care of this. Artemis is probably in his cave, but his cell phone still gets reception. I’ll call him so he can fly here to watch over you while I’m gone.”
“That’s a lot to take in all at once, and I didn’t understand half of what you said.” Her nose scrunched as she stared up at me with wide eyes. “Who is Leyton? Why does Artemis live in a cave? How can he fly?”
We hadn’t even had a full day together, and the outside world was already intruding. It pissed me the fuck off and had my grizzly pushing against my skin, demanding that we hunt the human who was the reason I had to leave my mate so soon. Even if only for a little while. “Leyton is my brother. Artemis is a dragon shifter.”
“Dragons are real?” she gasped.
I couldn’t help but chuckle at her shock. She’d barely blinked when I told her about shifters and fated mates. “Yeah.”
Her reaction helped me to see past my fury as I explained the situation to her. When I was done, she asked, “Shouldn’t you talk to your alpha first?”
Her question stunned me until I realized I’d skipped over that part when I was telling her about life as a shifter. Moving close, I pulled her against my chest and brushed my lips against hers before I confessed, “I am the alpha, baby.”
“Oh.” Her eyes went wide as her pretty lips formed a perfect circle. “I guess that explains why you’re so bossy.”
“Admit it, you like it when I’m bossy.”
A pretty pink blush filled her cheeks, and my dick pressed against my zipper as I remembered how low it spread—all the way down to her perfect tits. “Only in bed.”
“Think about all the things I’m going to do to you there when I get back.” I captured her mouth in a deep kiss. “This won’t take me long.”
“Okay,” she muttered, stomping toward the bedroom. “But I’m going to stay here so I can get some rest, or else I won’t be ready for anything but sleep later on.”
Knowing that Rome wouldn’t be happy about leaving Thora and Danika alone, I called Booker and asked him to camp out on their front porch after I got off the phone with Artemis. The wolf and dragon who were part of my pack would watch over our mates while we took care of the situation with the chief.
When I climbed into the passenger seat of the car, my fury returned. It was too soon to be away from my mate. The bond between us was too new. My grizzly pushed against my skin, roaring in my head as the distance between us grew.
It was a good thing Rome volunteered to come with me. He drove down the mountain while my brother tried to keep me calm. Not that it did a lot of good. I was seeing red when we stomped into the chief’s office.
“My fiancée is safe and sound back in my cabin, right where she belongs,” I assured him, skipping over all the pleasantries to get straight to the point.
“Your fiancée?” he echoed, his brows drawing together.
The term wasn’t strong enough to describe who Laina was to me, but it was the best I could do around humans.
“Yes, Laina Ash,” I confirmed with a brisk nod.
Leyton stayed by my side as Rome approached the desk, showing him the emergency alert. “His fiancée is the woman reported as missing in the woods. She’s not lost. She’s just at her new home.”
“How do you know this man is telling the truth? He could have kidnapped her.” A guy sitting in a chair in the corner of the room jumped up and stomped his foot. “I demand that he bring her here so I can see for myself that she’s okay.”
The bond between my brother and I allowed us to communicate telepathically in our animal forms, but we’d never done it while we weren’t shifted. So I was stunned when I heard his voice in my head.
If you kill him, we’re going to have to take down the chief and anyone else in the building. He’s a little pissant. Nobody as far as your mate is concerned. Use your words to destroy him instead of your claws.
“John has no room to make any demands when it comes to my fiancée,” I growled, glaring at him over my shoulder. “If anyone is going to toss around allegations when it comes to Laina’s well-being, it’s going to be me. Not the guy who basically stalked my woman, looking for a way to get her to agree to go out on a date with him.”
There was a hint of my bear in my voice, and his skin went pale at my accusation. “I–um–I don’t know what you mean.”
“Seriously, John?” the chief sighed and shook his head.
John’s spine slammed straight, and he snapped, “Laina never said anything about him. If she had…”
I didn’t let him finish making excuses for his actions. “She didn’t owe you any explanations. No means no. Period.”
“Sorry for the inconvenience of making you come down the mountain,” Chief Elrod apologized as he tapped at his keyboard. “I should’ve listened to Rome when he called, but John was yipping in my ear about all the things that could happen to her out there. The search is off.”
“You’re just going to take his word that she’s all right?” John scoffed, puffing out his chest.
The chief stood and glared at him. “Yes, because his word counts for something. Keane has spent a decade helping my men rescue people who have actually gotten lost in the woods. He’s earned my trust. All you’ve got going for you is your daddy’s money. It’s no wonder the girl chose him over you.”
John’s face turned bright red before he rushed out of the room.
“I’ll have a talk with his father. You won’t hear from him again,” Chief Elrod promised.
My grizzly was pissed that we didn’t get the chance to maul the interloper who wanted my mate, but I was just happy to wrap everything up quickly so I could get back to her. And if he didn’t listen to his dad…then the asshole would go missing, never to be found in the wilderness that I had claimed as my own.
“Is there anything else you want to bring with you?” Keane asked as he bent over to pick up the box I’d just finished packing.
He hadn’t wasted any time in bringing me down the mountain to get my things. After the trouble John had caused last night, he wanted to get me moved into the cabin where he knew I’d be safe. Things had moved at lightning speed between us, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. When you knew, you knew.
I glanced around the apartment I’d lived in for the past six months. The place had never felt like home, and I wasn’t sad to be leaving. I’d never bothered to hang any artwork, and there weren’t any pictures of family or friends for me to display since my parents hadn’t let me take anything except my personal belongings when I left home. I’d been lucky to find the studio apartment. The rent was cheap, the lease was month-to-month, and it came furnished.
“Nothing else is mine.” I pointed at the bookshelf. “But I’m going to need one of those for the cabin.”
“Whatever you want, baby,” he easily agreed.
Dropping my keys on the kitchen counter, I followed him out the door. After he placed the last box into the bed of the truck, he opened the passenger door and helped me into the seat. Then we made the half-hour drive back up the mountain, Keane’s hand on my thigh the entire way.
It didn’t take him long to carry my things inside the cabin, stacking the boxes against the walls of each room where my stuff belonged. I was excited to put my stamp on the home I would share with him and dug into a few of the boxes while he set up my television. He didn’t have cable, but I’d be able to stream my favorite shows using the Wi-Fi, which totally worked for me.
Since I didn’t have a lot of stuff, it only took us about an hour to finish moving me into the cabin. When we were done, I rubbed my hands together and grinned. “It feels homier already.”
“I like having your things mixed in with mine,” he growled, pulling me close.
“I love you.” If Keane wasn’t a bear shifter and my mate, it would be too early for those three little words. But I was the luckiest girl in the world, and I didn’t need to hold them back. Nothing would scare him off from me because we were meant to be together.
“You mean the world to me, Laina.” He lifted me off my feet and swung me around in a circle. “I love you.”
“And I love your bear, too…even though I haven’t officially met him yet.”
He flashed me a grin. “You wanna see him?”
I bounced on the balls of my feet as I nodded. “Yes!”
“Good, because he’s dying to spend some time with you.” Kicking off his shoes, he stripped out of his shirt.
I bit my bottom lip as I stared at his broad chest. “Not that I’m complaining, but why are you getting naked?”
“I don’t want to ruin my clothes during my shift,” he explained.
“Ah, yeah. That makes sense.” I could have guessed that on my own since the shifters in the paranormal romance novels I read had to get naked before changing into their animal form. But it was hard for my brain to function properly when my sexy-as-sin mate was stripping in front of me.
All I could think about was sex…until he led me out onto the back porch and turned into a huge grizzly bear in the blink of an eye. “Whoa, you really are a big guy, aren’t you?”
He dropped onto all fours and bumped my hand with his giant head. His bear easily weighed three or four times as much as I did, but I didn’t feel an ounce of fear. Keane would never hurt me. Those sharp teeth and giant paws would only ever be used for my protection.
He let out a little chuff and bumped my hand again. “You want me to pet you, huh?”
When I stroked my fingers through his thick fur, a deep hum rumbled up his chest, letting me know how much his bear enjoyed my touch. He let me pet him for several minutes before he lumbered down the steps into the backyard and looked at me over his shoulder. Although I hadn’t put on my shoes, I followed after him, figuring that the grass was thick and green so my feet would be fine. But Keane had a different idea in mind.
He nuzzled his snout against my lower back before hunkering low to the ground. “Sorry, big guy. I don’t understand what you want.”
He nudged my back again and looked over his shoulder at his own. Then he dropped lower. My eyes widened as it dawned on me. “You want me to climb on your back?”
He made that humming sound again deep in his throat, and I rolled my eyes. “I cannot believe I’m actually going to do this. You’re lucky I trust you, big guy. Or else I’d be running screaming into the cabin right about now.”
I took a deep breath and let it out slowly, and then I scrambled onto his back. His fur was warm and soft beneath me as I tried to figure out how to hold on when he started to inch off the ground. Luckily, he stayed on all four paws as he ambled around the yard, which made it easier for me to stay on his back as he moved. As big as he was, I had plenty of room. After a little while, I relaxed and enjoyed the ride.
“Now that’s not something you see every day,” a female voice called.
I shrugged as best I could with my arms wrapped around his thick neck. “Yeah, I think this will take some getting used to.”
Keane carefully crossed over several yards until we were at the bottom of the stairs leading to their back porch.
“I’m Thora.” She jerked her thumb over her shoulder. “Rome is inside feeding our daughter before we hit the road.”
“Where are you headed?” I asked.
“We split our time between Timber Ridge and here,” she explained with an apologetic smile. “Sorry we can’t stay longer this time around, but I need to be at work tonight. It’s our first trip back since Danika was born, but she loves it here. We plan on getting back to our regular schedule, so you’ll see us again next weekend.”
Her gaze darted toward the giant grizzly beneath me, and her smile widened. “Maybe Keane will be ready to share you with me by then and we can have lunch.”
My grizzly mate let out an irritated huff, making it clear he wasn’t excited about the idea. “I’m sure we can come up with an appropriate bribe. The food you stocked his kitchen with is delicious.”
“I’ll let you in on a little secret about being a fated mate.” She wagged her brows. “Sex works better than food as a bribe.”
I giggled so hard that I would’ve fallen off Keane’s back if he hadn’t shifted to the right as I tumbled in that direction. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
Rome called her name from inside their cabin, and she gave me a little wave before going to see what he wanted. As Keane ambled back toward our home, I couldn’t help but wonder about how amazing everything had turned out for me. When I had accepted the invitation to go camping, I had hoped that it would be the start of a friendship with my two co-workers. Although I’d been horribly wrong about that, the result was better than I could have imagined. Running away from Sally and Bess and getting lost in the woods had led me straight to a better life.
Now I had Keane, the sexy man who’d been made for me, a cozy cabin to share with him…and maybe even a new friend in Thora.
“You’ll love it.”
I shook my head stubbornly.
“Don’t you trust me?” Keane asked, popping out his bottom lip. I couldn’t help laughing at the big, scary bear shifter trying to pout. It looked ridiculous, but I still found his attempt adorable, and my resolve weakened just a touch.
With a deep inhale, I crossed my arms over my chest and shook my head while standing my ground. “I am not going camping.”
His face transformed into a smoldering look that wet my panties and made butterflies swirl in my belly. Then he snaked an arm around me and yanked my body into his, letting me feel the impressive bulge in his jeans. “I’ll make it worth your while.”
“Cheater,” I huffed, knowing it wouldn’t take much more to make me give in.
A wide grin split his handsome face. “Whatever it takes, baby.” His smile turned smug, and from the glint in his eyes, I could tell he was confident he had a smoking gun. “Thora packed the cooler.”
Yup. I’d been taken down by gourmet food and orgasms.
“Fine. But you owe me, big guy.”
“Noted.” His smirk indicated that he had zero problems with that. Keane enjoyed spoiling me. He did everything he could to make sure I knew without a doubt that he loved me.
I was seriously the luckiest woman in the world, and if letting him take me camping was one way for me to prove the depth of my feelings right back, then I’d suck it up and deal with it.
It took less than ten minutes for Keane to load up the back of his truck since he’d had everything ready to go when I got home that afternoon from a shopping trip with Thora and some of the other mates in Timber Ridge.
He led me to the passenger side and lifted me into my seat, then brushed a kiss over my lips as he buckled me in. Once he was settled on his side, we drove off down the main path as the sun began to slowly sink below the horizon.
Around thirty minutes later, Keane turned the truck onto a much smaller—and from the looks of it, rarely used—path. I soaked in the beauty all around me. I’d easily settled into living in the wilderness, which had surprised me. But then, I would’ve been happy anywhere as long as I was with Keane. And he’d started modernizing our cabin a few weeks after I moved in. My favorite thing was the wall of bookshelves he’d built into the living room. I’d blushed at the thought of anyone who came over seeing all of my smutty books on display, but Keane insisted that I shouldn’t care what anyone else thought. I’d felt even better about it when Thora stopped by the first time the shelves were all set up and asked to borrow several novels after perusing my selection.
My thoughts scattered as Keane navigated the truck into a large clearing. There was a small area designated for parking, so he pulled in and stopped the truck. I stared out at the picturesque place, my mouth slack with awe.
He helped me out of the vehicle, and walking forward, I did a full revolution to see everything around me. A small waterfall fed into a little pond on one side of the clearing and a lookout on the other. The view of the forest below, painted in the last bit of color from the sunset, was breathtaking.
“This is incredible,” I whispered.
Keane wrapped his arms around me from behind and kissed my neck, sending a shiver down my spine. “It’s not nearly as beautiful as you.”
I sighed and leaned back against him, completely happy.
“There’s more,” he murmured, and I tipped my head back to look up at his face.
“More than this?”
He nodded and released me but took hold of my hand. “I promised camping with me would be different. That you’d love it.” Curious about what he had up his proverbial sleeve, I let him guide me toward the waterfall without a word.
We walked into the foliage just to the right of it, and I came to a sudden stop, gasping at the sight before me.
He’d brought me to another clearing, but this one was much smaller. There was only enough space for a picnic table, a campfire ring that could fit several chairs around it, and a tent big enough for three of Keane to sleep in. The trees were filled with twinkle lights that cast a pretty glow over the area now that the sun had fully set.
“I-I don't know what to say,” I breathed.
Keane squeezed my hand and pulled me in to tuck me into his side. Then he walked us over to the picnic table and urged me to sit on the bench seat.
“I’m hoping you’ll say yes,” he said gruffly as he dropped to one knee.
My eyes must have been popping right out of my head, and my jaw felt unhinged. Was he…? Holy cow!
“Weddings aren’t common among shifter couples,” he began, “because our mating is stronger than any piece of paper that declares we belong to each other. Although many do have a mating ceremony. However, since you’re human, I thought maybe the tradition might be important to you. And I will always do anything I can to give you whatever you ask for. So”—Keane shoved a hand into his pocket to retrieve a small box and flipped up the lid—“Laina Ash, will you marry me?”
The ring was a simple, a white-gold band with small diamonds spaced around the circle. It was perfect. But my favorite thing was the more masculine version tucked in there as well. A small laugh escaped my lips. “You just want me branded in yet another way to warn off all other males,” I teased.
“Damn straight,” Keane grunted as he grabbed my left hand and slid the band onto my finger.
“As long as you’re wearing my brand, too.”
“Like I said, damn straight, baby.”
“Then my answer is yes!” I grinned and took the other ring, sliding it onto his finger.
The second the ring was in place, his chest puffed out proudly, and I felt his love wash over me. It made what we had feel even more special because he was as anxious to declare himself mine as he was for me to be marked as his.
“I love you,” I whispered as I slipped my arms around his neck.
“I love you, too, baby.”
He scooped me up and stalked over to the tent, then set me on my feet so he could unzip the front and hold the flap back for me to enter.
The tent was just as big as it looked from the outside. “This is definitely a step up from the last one I slept in,” I laughed. “But I think you went a little overboard for just you and me.”
Keane grunted as he zipped the flap shut again, then turned to me and hauled me into his embrace. “I wanted to make sure there was plenty of room for rolling around.” Then he kissed me senseless before giving me multiple mind-blowing orgasms.
A knock on our door at nine o’clock at night had a growl of annoyance building up in my chest. If whoever that was woke up Atlas, they would find themselves facing off with one pissed-off grizzly.
Laina patted my shoulder and murmured, “Relax, big guy. Our cub would sleep through a tornado.”
She had a point. Still, I stomped to the front door and whipped it open, my most intimidating scowl firmly in place.
But my expression morphed into shock when I saw the person standing on my porch.
The wolf shifter looked tired, his shoulders hunched, and his head hung low. “Hey, Keane.”
I wanted to ask him where the hell he’d been. No one had seen him since his fated mate had rejected him years ago. But I was a private guy and didn’t appreciate anyone sticking their nose in my business, so I didn’t pry.
“What can I do for you?”
Aaron ran a hand over his short hair and sighed. “I need a place to crash for a while. I was hoping you’d let me use one of the unoccupied cabins.”
I didn’t hesitate. “Of course. There’s one down past Rome’s that’s empty.”
“Thanks, man.” He waited, watching me warily. Probably waiting for me to ask questions.
His posture visibly relaxed when I just nodded. “Let me know if you need anything,” I offered.
“Will do.” He lifted his chin in farewell, then stalked down the steps and off into the darkness.
“Who was that?” Laina asked when I returned to the living room.
I dropped back down onto the couch and hauled her against my side. “A friend from Timber Ridge. Haven’t seen him in years. He needs a place to crash for a bit.”
I shrugged, and Laina poked me in the side, rolling her eyes. “You didn’t ask, did you?”
“It’s none of our business, baby.” She looked ready to argue, so I pulled her onto my lap and captured her lips in a deep kiss.
After a minute, she leaned back and glared at me. “Oh, no, you aren’t going to distract me.”
“Wanna bet?” I grinned wickedly and wrapped her body around me as I stood and headed for our bedroom.
I hated being away from my family, so I rushed into the house as soon as I arrived. I’d been gone for a week dealing with some business and swore I would never leave them that long again. If I had to be away for more than a day, I’d just take them with me.
I was about to call out for my mate when I heard her talking in the living room. Quietly, I approached the entrance and stood there, soaking in the sight of my woman and our cub.
“That’s our family,” Laina cooed to Atlas as she set a picture frame on the center of the mantel.
When we collected all of Laina’s possessions, I’d been surprised that she didn’t have any pictures of her with her parents or other family. When I asked her about it, she said her parents hadn’t been big on taking pictures. She had a few snapshots of herself growing up, but not many.
I was determined to make up for it, so I captured photos of our life constantly, and Laina had filled our walls with memories.
Last weekend, we’d gone back to the spot where I proposed—now considered our special place—and she’d insisted on taking a family photo. Looking at the picture in its rustic wooden frame, sitting in such a prominent spot, I had to admit that I liked it.
“We’ll have to replace it in about nine months, though,” she murmured to Atlas before brushing a kiss over his fuzzy little head.
My breath caught in my lungs for a second, then I inhaled deeply. Sure enough, I could smell that Laina was pregnant. Holy shit. Elation burst through me, and I wanted to beat my chest and shout like a damn caveman.
I was surprised she’d figured it out since I hadn’t scented it before I left, and I’d only been gone a week. That had to mean someone else told her. I had a feeling I knew who it was, and I was going to beat the shit out of him. Or better yet, one day when my little brother found his fated mate, I’d give him hell and get retribution.
“I’m home,” I said gruffly as I stepped fully into the room.
Laina gasped and twirled around. Big grins spread across both her and Atlas’s faces, and I felt complete for the first time in seven days.
“Hi!” Laina squealed as she held our son close while she hurried over to me. I gathered them both up in my arms and sighed with contentment. “I’m so happy you’re home! We missed you!”
I tilted her chin up with one finger and gave her a quick, hard kiss. “Not nearly as much as I missed you two.”
Atlas stretched his chubby little arms out toward me, and I laughed as I plucked him up and held him high so I could blow a raspberry on his tummy. He giggled while his arms and legs flailed, whacking me in the head.
After playing with him for a few minutes, he puckered his lips and looked at my chest as though he expected me to have grown a pair of tits. “Um, that’s Mommy’s department,” I said with a chuckle as I handed him back to Laina. My gaze dropped to her breasts, and all the blood in my head rushed straight to my cock. “But it’s Daddy’s turn after yours.”
Laina’s eyes darkened, and she squirmed a little as she walked across the room to sit in her recliner and feed our cub.
“Fuck, I missed this,” I groaned as I slid in and out of my mate’s tight pussy.
Laina gasped as I rubbed over her G-spot, her legs squeezing my hips as she arched her back. “More,” she moaned.
My hips punched forward as I picked up my pace, fucking her hard and deep as if I could fuse our bodies together so we’d never be apart again. I cupped her milky tits and licked each nipple, making her cry out. “Shhh, baby. Don’t want to wake Atlas.”
I suddenly remembered what I’d discovered earlier. When I slowed down so I was leisurely thrusting in and out, Laina glared at me, making me chuckle.
“Is there something you want to tell me, baby?”
“Other than I want it faster and harder?” she sassed.
I pinched her nipples at her smart remark, and she gasped, bucking her hips up to try to take me deeper.
“I think you have something else to tell me before I give you what you want,” I said with a smirk. Although, my bravado would only last so long because I was nearing my breaking point.
“I can’t think when you’re inside me,” she panted.
Taking pity on her because I liked that she could only think about me when we were making love, I prompted, “Are you carrying my cub, baby?”
Her face lit up with joy, and she looked so damn beautiful. “You already know I am,” she laughed. I’d waited to let her tell me when she was pregnant with Atlas, but Leyton had opened his big mouth, yet again, and mentioned that I’d known since a few days after we conceived him.
“Yeah, but it’s more fun when you tell me.”
Laina placed her palms on my cheeks and smiled radiantly. “You’re gonna be a papa bear again.”
That was all it took to blow the last of my control to smithereens.
I took Laina’s mouth in a ravishing kiss and slammed in and out of her wildly. When I released her lips, she bit the bottom one to keep from waking the baby with her cries of ecstasy.
A tingling built at the base of my spine and my balls drew up, getting ready to explode. I licked a path to her neck, where my eyes locked on her mating bite.
“Fuck, baby,” I grunted. “Squeeze that tight pussy and come all over my dick.”
My hips shifted to hit all of Laina’s pleasure points with each thrust. Then I pinched her dripping peaks and sank my teeth into the mark that declared her as mine.
Our climaxes hit at the same time. Her pussy rippled around my cock as jets of hot come filled her womb until it was oozing down her thighs. My body shook with the force of the orgasm, and I nearly blacked out from the rapture.
I had no idea how it could possibly get any better, but I was proved wrong over and over. It was probably going to kill me at some point, but who wouldn’t want to go like that?
Retracting my fangs, I licked over Laina’s mark to close it, then placed a soft kiss there. Then I rolled over onto my back, taking her with me so she was sprawled over my body with my cock still buried inside her.
“Welcome home,” she whispered, rubbing her cheek into my chest hair.
“I had no idea what home truly was until you, baby,” I admitted. “This, our family, our life, it’s more than I ever dreamed of. I love you, baby.”
“I love you, too.” She giggled and rubbed her nose against my chest. “And I love my grizzly, too.”
My bear sighed happily and urged me to nuzzle her back. Then I wrapped her up in my arms and we drifted off to sleep.
Have you pre-ordered A Bridal Party to Remember for the special release week price? Eight brand-new stories for only 99¢! And the collection will only be available for a limited time!