Authors: Eliza Gayle
Jessa walked away from the Blackwood Pack when she failed to deliver on her end of a contract she signed with them. But she fears that the ironclad nondisclosure agreement she signed won’t allow her to get far. There’s only one person she thinks might be able to help her, except he’s notoriously unhelpful and leads a gang of shifters that could be just as dangerous as the one she wants to leave.
And now there’s this new hottie she wants to sink her teeth into distracting her...
Fresh from an out of town trip that led to yet another friend’s mating, Calder has returned home with a grumpy and dissatisfied bear. That is until he meets one dazzling human goddess on his morning bakery run. With curves for miles and an obvious love for chocolate frosted cupcakes, he’s sure he has met his match.
Until he finds out she already belongs to Luke Blackwood and his boss, Bhric has made her strictly off limits.
essa stood on the sidewalk
, cupped her hands around her face while leaning forward and peered into the bakery window. The name Sweet Retreat had caught her eye from across the street and lured her in like an irresistible magnetic force. The cute colors and window display filled with dreamy cupcakes didn’t hurt either.
The tiny town of Deals Gap, North Carolina was beginning to reveal quite a few little treasures that made her decision to settle here for a while look like a solid choice.
Through the glass, she could make out the larger display cases filled with a large assortment of baked goodies that made her mouth water. With the day she’d had so far she would take one of everything. Between the broken pipe under her kitchen sink she had to repair herself and the overnight visit from some local critters that had her up half the night to the discovery of the mess said critters made across her front lawn with the trash she thought was secure, she deserved a treat.
Except she’d come to this small mountain town for a sort of fresh start and that meant getting control of her sweet tooth and maybe shedding some of her bad habits along with the dregs of her old life.
She had birthing hips. The words popped into her mind before she could stop them. It’s what she heard time and again from her friends and family in some oddly shaming attempt to make her think about how much she didn’t fit in with the rest of them. She pulled back from the glass and scoffed.
What a cruel joke that had turned out to be. These hips had not a thing to do with children since no babies were in her future now or ever. The pack's hot doctor had recently delivered that little nugget of joy. (What else do you call the man who pumped you so full of hormones that you can't get sex off the brain?)
The doctor had tried to break his news gently with a ‘you never know what can happen with Mother Nature’ delivery, but she got the gist. No babies no more contract. No more free room and board. And definitely no money.
Screw it, she thought to herself, pulling the front door open and striding inside. Today was her first full day in her new place, and she deserved a treat for all the hard work she’d put in on getting the cabin she rented livable. And there was still a lot more work to be done so she’d need an extra jolt of energy to go along with her morning coffee.
This moving crap was harder than it looked. It didn’t seem to matter that all of her worldly possessions had fit inside her compact SUV. The little place she rented a couple of miles outside the town had not turned out quite as perfect as the online pictures she used to decide to take the place.
Fortunately, the landlord seemed nice enough and he was in a hurry to rent the place cheap. Two things that she needed to get through this transition.
“Hey there, welcome to Sweet Retreat,” the lovely woman behind the counter said. “What can I get you?”
Jessa bit her lip and stepped carefully toward the cases. The woman seemed human, but she couldn’t know for sure. Unlike shifters, she did not have a special spidey-like sense of smell that made it easy for them to tell between species. And she’d come here under the impression this town might be some sort of shifter haven. A place for the ones who didn’t belong elsewhere. Kind of like her.
If she were shifter.
“I don’t know,” Jessa said, perusing her choices. “They all look so good.” And oh my god they did. There were rows and rows of decadently decorated cupcakes, donuts in every size and every flavor she could imagine, but it was the soft pillowy giant bear claws that ultimately drew her attention.
She pointed to one through the glass. “I want one of those. They look amazing. Is that maple frosting on top?”
The woman smiled. “It is.” She bent over and grabbed one from the back of the row with her gloved hand. “You know your breakfast treats.”
Before she could answer, the unmistakable sound of motorcycle pipes roared outside the front door. Jessie cringed and frantically looked around for an exit. Had Shane and his pack come after her already? Even though they’d called her useless? She couldn’t take the chance. She had to get out of here.
“You okay?” The woman placed a hand on Jessa’s and searched her eyes. “It’s just one of the locals named Calder coming for his morning donuts. He’s a friend and harmless, I swear.”
Jessa tried to play off her fear and simply nodded. To talk now would convey the fear seizing her gut. Until that moment, she hadn’t realized how much she hated the sound of an approaching motorcycle. Most of Shane’s pack rode them, and they were not good guys. In fact, they scared the holy hell out of her without even trying.
She barely had time to gather her wits before the bell dinged above the door when someone pushed it open.
“Morning, Calder,” the woman behind the counter called. “I’ll be with you in a sec.”
A deep voice spoke behind her, “No rush” in a rumbly tone that vibrated along her skin, raising gooseflesh.
“Here you go, hon.” She handed over the bear claw in a small bag and included a to-go cup of coffee. “On the house. I hope you’ll come back.” The woman winked at her. “I also included one of my famous chocolate frosted cupcakes. You look like you could use it.”
“I can pay,” Jessa said, alarmed at the look of pity on the woman’s face. This wasn’t the first impression she wanted to give in the town she might one day call home.
“I’m sure you can. But as the owner of this establishment, I get certain perks like giving a newcomer a free bear claw or cupcake to try in the hopes that she’ll love it so much she’ll come back again and again and again.” She smiled and thrust out her hand. “Name's Sienna by the way.”
Jessa blushed, feeling every bit of the heat now flooding her face. Her paranoia had flared to life because of a motorcycle, and now she was making a damned fool of herself.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to offend you." To her horror, she pretty much tripped over each word as it came out of her mouth. She shuddered to think of what was running through this woman's head.
"Hon, you didn't. Trust me. If I was offended, you would know it."
A low rumbled laugh sounded behind her.
Oh God, she'd momentarily forgotten that the motorcycle guy was standing behind her. What were her odds the floor would open up right about now and save her from this humiliating situation she'd landed in?
"Calder, you hush now, or I'm going to give my new customer all your donuts."
The laughter behind her died only to be replaced by an even deeper growl. An incredible sound she felt clear to her bones as it swept over her.
She whipped around. "I'm not really gonna—" The rest of her sentence died on her lips when she caught her first sight of the man standing behind her.
She looked up, her gaze only making it to his broad chest before having to look up much farther to see his face. Holy hell how tall was this guy? Much higher than her five feet seven inches that's for sure. The lower half of his face was hidden behind a beard way past scruff that seemed to amplify the ruddy red lips currently set in a grim line but looking no less gorgeous because of it.
Although gorgeous didn't seem like a strong enough word. Dark brown hair curled around his ears and neck, just touching the supple black leather of his jacket. Jessa lifted her gaze one more time and met his eyes.
She tried to hold back the gasp and failed. The ice blue stare of the stranger captivated her, making it impossible to look away. The hue alarmed her in its unnaturalness. Clearly this man had to be a shifter of some kind. But what kind? Or more specifically, what kind made him so damned big?
It wasn’t just the height, oh no, he was built like a truck. Thick, sturdy and with muscles on top of muscles if the bulges in his jacket were any indication. Her direct encounters with shifters only came from a certain pack of wolves that her father did business with. But she’d overheard them talking about bitchy felines who wouldn’t put out one night so it made sense that there could be far more than she knew.
When the corner of his mouth twitched, catching her gaze, she finally realized just how long she stood there staring at him without saying a word.
She blushed again. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to stare.”
One side of his mouth lifted into a half smile. “That’s all right. I’m used to it.”
She didn’t immediately respond as her non-functioning brain tried to comprehend his words over the five-alarm bells going off in her libido. It seemed the one hundred proof testosterone rolling off this man had triggered something inside her, and judging by the smirk and cocky response he expected it.
With no desire to further embarrass herself, she whipped back around and grabbed the to go bag and coffee from the woman’s hand. “Thank you so much for your generosity. I hope I’ll be back real soon.” She didn’t wait for a response, nor did she look at the man again when she rushed past him and through the door. The minute she got out of sight from the bakery, she took off running down the sidewalk needing to put as much space between her and him as possible.
Except her body was not made for running and she got only about two blocks away before she wanted to fall to the ground. Instead she ducked down a small alley and stopped, pressing her back into the brick wall.
She sucked in air and hoped the pain in her chest didn’t mean an oncoming heart attack. Her pulse thundered in her ears as she struggled to regain her breath. All while thinking about the stranger named Calder, who had to be a shifter. Albeit another one with an ego. She sighed. How disappointing.
Shifter DNA sure seemed to lead to an excess of good looking men, but the man she’d just encountered had rendered her nearly mute. And that was saying something for a girl whose teachers liked to call her loquacious in school. Her motor mouth rarely had an off switch, especially when she was anxious.
Speaking of which…
She grabbed the small purse from her shoulder, realizing she still had the pastry bag with the bear claw and cupcake clutched in her fist. That was something at least. She wouldn’t starve in the middle of her paranoia.
She looked to the right and then the left. What she didn’t have anymore was the coffee. She must have dropped it in her frantic run to put space between her and the oddly attractive man in the bakery. Damn. She had wanted--no NEEDED that dose of caffeine.
Shoving her hand into her purse, she fished out a bottle of medication. If ever there was an anxiety ridden moment that called for pharmaceuticals it was this one. She twisted open the bottle, shook one of the tiny white pills into her hand and shoved it in her mouth.
Jessa shook her head. Anxious was one thing. Crazy a whole other. For God’s sake what was wrong with her? Running? What the hell had she been thinking?
She wasn’t, that was the point. Or at least not rationally. Not when all that remained imprinted on her brain was a gorgeous seven foot tall hunk of man with a sarcastic smirk and a body that made her think of hot, sweaty and hopefully really filthy sex that would take all night long.