Authors: Belinda Meyers
Pine Ridge Shifters #3
by Belinda Meyers
image used with permission
When Jessica Quinn bumped into the stranger, a bear-like
growl escaped his lips. Instantly she recoiled, feeling her eyes go wide.
“Excuse me,” he said.
He certainly was bear-like, she
thought, tall and broad, his rugged face covered in whiskers. Could he be ...
He was waiting for a response, she
realized, her mind lagging.
“Um ... uh ...” She mentally kicked
herself. Was she staring? “Excuse
she made herself say, then winced.
He smiled, large even white teeth
showing through the stubble. He really was quite handsome, in a roguish sort of
way, with piercing blue eyes, wavy black hair, a strong jaw and very bitable
full lips. He wore a tight gray T-shirt that hugged his eight-pack and pecs,
which could have been carved from marble. Instantly she told herself not to
think about it. About him. It was too soon. Much too soon.
“Can I get you a drink?” he asked.
Despite herself, she liked the deep, rough, growly sound of his voice.
Suddenly she realized how close she
was to him, just inches away from his deep chest, staring up into his
mysterious blue eyes. She could smell him, or at least his aftershave, all
musky and primal. It was almost like he was surrounding her, like she was in
his embrace somehow.
Maybe it was the beer she’d just
drunk (her first in months!), but she almost took him up on his offer.
“No thanks,” she made herself say.
“My friend’s waiting for me.”
She nodded toward a table along the
wall, where Suzanne was watching the interaction between Jess and the stranger
with what could only be described as a lascivious smile. When she saw Jess
looking, Suzy raised her bottle in a toast, or maybe encouragement. Did she
Jess to hook up with the guy?
The man glanced over at Suzy, and
Jess thought she saw relief in his face. He had thought her “friend” might be a
dude, she realized.
Shit, now he thinks
I’m available. Run, Jess, run!
“That’s too bad,” he said. “Maybe
“Probably not. I’ve got to …”
She started to walk off without
finishing. Her mind was such a confused jumble she didn’t know if she could
have finished anyway.
He laid a hand on her upper arm
near the shoulder, and she jumped. He hadn’t stopped her, though, or turned her
roughly around. If he’d done that, she might have slapped him. He was just letting
her feel him. Just the touch of his strong hand on her bare shoulder (
WHY did I wear the strapless
shivers through every part of her. Instantly she felt heat radiate from her
“If you change your mind, I’m over
there,” he said, indicating the bar.
She’d turned half around to see
him, and their eyes locked. She nearly fell into his deep blue orbs. Maybe
seeing it, he grinned wider, kind of smugly.
“I’m Mike, by the way,” he said.
She pulled away from his touch, but
that confident spark in his eyes didn’t vanish. She found it both annoying and
charming. She wanted to slap him
him, maybe at the same time. He would like it rough, she thought. He made
want it rough.
“I was just going,” she said, as
coldly as she could make herself, and strode away. Music and conversation
surrounded her, along with the smells of buffalo wings, French fries and beer.
It was a busy place Suzy had picked out, and Jess wondered how often her friend
Jess couldn’t believe she had just
run into the guy—Mike—like that. He must think she was an idiot. The truth was
she hadn’t been in a bar in a long time, and she’d never been in a bar like
this, way up in the mountains with the wind howling through the pines outside
and country music filling the warm air inside. It had all disoriented her.
Jess stopped halfway to Suzy’s
table, feeling strange somehow, and turned to see Mike still watching her. He
smiled, tipped his head in cowboy fashion, then strode powerfully toward the
bar. When his eyes left hers, Jess felt weirdly cold. It was as if she’d been
standing in the sun, but the sun had shifted and now she was in the shade.
“What was that all about?” Suzy
said when Jess sat down at the table, feeling more out of sorts than ever.
“He’s as cute as they come! And did you
the way he was looking at you? I’d gobble him up in two seconds. And then I’d
gobble him again, but I’d take my time.”
“He just wanted an easy lay, that’s
all,” Jess said. “He sensed I was vulnerable and moved in for the kill. That’s
all it was.”
Suzanne Mayhew barked a laugh.
“You’re as vulnerable as a tank, honey. But even a tank’s got its weaknesses. Like
a Howitzer missile. That man is your Howitzer.”
“Bullshit,” Jess said. Usually she
didn’t talk like that, but Suzy brought it out in her.
Suzy only smiled and ordered a beer
off a passing waiter, batting her eyes at him as she did; he
have a nice ass, Jess had to admit.
Feeling like she needed more booze, she drained her current bottle and ordered
“The last thing I want is another
man,” Jess said, once the new round had come. “Heck, I just got rid of the last
“Here’s to freedom,” Suzy said, and
lifted her bottle.
They clinked bottles and drank. Jess
downed half her bottle in one long swallow.
“Thank goodness,” she said. “It’s
over—the divorce, I mean. I never thought it would end.”
“A shame Andrew got the house.”
“I don’t care. At the end, I didn’t
care about any of it. But it’ll be a long time before I’ll let myself be with a
“I get it,” Suzy said. “You need to
find your feet again, right?”
“That’s right. Get my mojo back. Be
independent. I’m so glad you asked me out here for the week. It’s good to get
out of the city.” It had seemed like the perfect opportunity for a little
adventure and girl-time. Now Jess wondered if that had been wise. Maybe she
wasn’t ready. Especially if “adventure” meant “men”.
“But no more of
,” she added, eyes flicking back to
Mike, and pulled another long sip. The bottle felt cold and wet beneath her fingers,
the beer rich on her tongue.
Suzy smiled. “I think that’s a nice
idea in principle, babes, but I wouldn’t let that hold you back from having a
little fun.” She laughed. “Or a lot of fun, if that guy’s packing what I think
Jess felt her cheeks burn.
She glanced over to the bar, where
Mike was talking with another rough-looking man while they both drank, then
back to Suzy. “I think,” Jess said quietly. “I think he might be one of
Suzy looked at her blankly for a
moment. “Oh! You mean shifters?”
Several people at nearby tables
glanced over. Jess made patting motions with her hands and said, “Shhh.”
“Please.” Suzy said. “Everyone
knows this town has one of the highest shifter populations in the country.
Proportionately, anyway. And most of those are bear shifters.”
“You think he’s a bear shifter?”
“Maybe. He looks the part, doesn’t
The media was still buzzing about
the “coming out” of the shifters, and that had happened two years ago. After
her initial shock, Jess had accepted it and moved on with her boring life as a
suit at a real estate company during the day and an unhappy wife during the
evenings and weekends. She had never paid much attention to the endless stories
about shifter events and politics. None of it could help her sell a house or
fix her broken relationship with Andrew.
“You’re not a shifter hater, are
you?” Suzy said.
“What? No!” Jess gulped down a deep
breath. “The truth is, I kind of think …”
Suzy leaned forward. “Yes?”
“Well …” Jess bit her lip.
Jess drained the bottle. “I kind of
think it’s sexy.”
“I’m here to tell you, babes, it
“You’ve … been with one of them?”
is too plain a phrase. I had my world
. And that’s the truth. We didn’t
leave the bed for a whole weekend, and I could barely walk when I did.”
“Why didn’t you stay with him?”
“We had a fling, and that was that.
It was great, but …” Suzy rolled her shoulders. “Anyway, it was
a-fucking-mazing. If that fella of yours is one, well, you’re in for a treat.
I’m not saying all bear shifters are alike in bed, but if they can all do that
growly thing …” She shivered in obvious delight, downed her beer, and they both
ordered another from the waiter with the tight ass.
“Can I buy the next round?”
Jess and Suzy turned to see a
handsome man with sculpted blond hair and full, pouty lips dressed in a
“Good evening, ladies,” he said.
“Evening,” Suzy said.
“Allow me to introduce myself. I’m
Bryce Manner. You two look lovely tonight.”
“Hon, we look lovely
Something flashed in his eyes.
Anger at being corrected? “Of course,” he said. “I have no doubt.”
“My friend is just teasing,” Jess
said. “But I think we’re good—for drinks, I mean.”
“I was thinking a bottle of
something vintage,” he said. “Something precious for something precious. I’ve
been told they have a nice selection of aged wines here.”
“Something old for something
young?” Suzy said, and laughed. “Thanks, Bryce, dear, but Jess is right.
of us needs to drive
home, and we still haven’t decided who.”
His green eyes narrowed, just a
fraction, as they swiveled to Jess. “You seemed to have plenty of time for that
.” Without looking, he nodded
toward the bar, and Jess saw that Mike was still there beside his friend. “I
saw how you two got on.”
a shifter?” Jess said, intrigued despite herself.
Bryce sneered. “He’s an
“That’s a little harsh,” said Suzy.
Bryce ignored her. Still talking to
Jess, he said, “I thought I could save you from the shame of consorting with a
brute like that, but I can see my efforts are wasted.”
“Guess so,” Jess said. “Oh, and you
know where you can stick your wine bottle.”
“Hey!” said Suzy. “Back off, pal.”
“Oh, I’ll back off, all right. You two
stupid cows aren’t worthy of my time, anyway.”
Suzy stood up angrily and made to
slap his face. He was too fast, though, and caught her wrist.
touch me, slut,” he said, squeezing.
Jess shot to her feet. “Let go of
“I thought you didn’t have time for
me,” Bryce said. “Glad to know I have your attention now.”
A growling voice came from behind
him: “Let go of her, asshole.”
Bryce spun. He was tall, but Mike
was taller, and broader, too. Jess felt something warm inside her when he
cracked a fist into a meaty palm.
“I don’t think the ladies want your
company,” Mike said.
“I didn’t ask your opinion,” Bryce
He had let go of Suzy, who took Jess’s
hand and pulled her away, or tried to. Jess didn’t budge. She wouldn’t abandon
Mike. If Bryce tried anything, she would jump on his back and slow him down so
he couldn’t hurt Mike, at least not much.
Not that Mike looked like he needed
her help. From the glower he was sending Bryce, he appeared ready to rip the
blond guy apart with his bare hands.
“You ready to take this up a
notch?” Bryce said, casually unbuttoning the top button of his expensive shirt.
Mike snorted. “Your funeral.”
A crowd had gathered around them,
but a burly figure barreled through from the bar, shouting, “Break it up,
people! Break it up!” Reaching the site of the confrontation, he said, “Mike,
at it again? Really? And who are you, fancy fella? Never mind. Both of you,
take it outside if you’re gonna take it, but I hope you have enough sense not
to.” He glared at both of them, rolling up his sleeves to reveal burly arms
covered in coarse black hair. He had thick black eyebrows and lively hazel
eyes. Jess thought he might be the barkeep or even the owner. “Do I need to ask
the hard way?” he added.
Bryce sneered, something he was
good at with his pouty lips. It made Jess want to punch him.
“I’ve had enough of your establishment,”
Bryce told the barkeep, if that’s what he was, and flicked imaginary dust off
his arms. “It’s as rough and dull as you are.”
He moved toward the door. Several
other men, all wearing haughty expressions and expensive clothes, fell in with
him, and soon the lot of them were gone. Jess breathed a sigh of relief.
“Pricks,” Mike said.
“I mean it, my friend,” the barkeep
told him. “No more fighting in here. Got it? Especially not you. I don’t need
my place trashed again. That jerk might think this place is rough now, but it
was a lot rougher after the last time you cut loose.”
Mike spread his arms. “Who, me? Abe,
I’m a lamb. Well, okay, not a
exactly. But I’m—”
“Yeah yeah.” Abe sighed. “At least
you helped fix the place back up afterward, I’ll give you that. Anyway, I gotta
get back to the bar. Those drinks won’t serve themselves. Just hold it in,
Jess wondered if he
might mean Mike’s bear. Without another word, Abe crossed back to the bar, and
the crowd that had formed to watch the fight gradually broke up and went back
to their drinks and conversation.
Mike’s attention turned from Jess
“He didn’t hurt you, did he?” Mike
held out one of his large hands, and Suzy, with an expression of wonder on her
face, put her own hand in it.
Jess felt a momentary flash of
jealousy but told herself she was being silly. Mike was just being kind, that