Read Bear Love Online

Authors: Belinda Meyers

Bear Love (10 page)

Chapter 15

“I can do this,” Jess whispered to herself as Cort opened
the rear door and freezing wind shivered through her hair. “I can do this.”

Suzy had heard her, and she turned
to grip Jess’s hand briefly and awkwardly. Both held ski poles. “You
,” she said. “Just follow me.”

Jess nodded tightly. She wanted to
ask Suzy not to get too far ahead, but of course that would be selfish. If Suzy
could get ahead, then she should. She should get as far away as possible. And
of course Suzy would be helping Cort down the mountain as she went—they had all
agreed on that. Jess simply wasn’t proficient enough to be helping an injured
skier. She could barely manage herself.

“I will,” Jess said. “I—”

She flinched as Mike, on the other
side of the building, shouted into the night, and she felt the blood drain from
her face.
Mike’s in danger, and it’s all
because of me.
She wanted to go to him, to help him, but she knew the best
thing she could do for him was to get far away, and fast, so that he could,

“Get ready,” Cort said, obviously
having to force the words out from between his gritted teeth. He looked wan and
deathly. Those lions had really worked him over. His wounds would have killed a
human, Jess thought, and no way anyone but a bear shifter would be contemplating
mountain sports after a mauling like that. As soon as the growling and
thrashing started, Cort said, “Go!”

Suzy helped him outside, and
together the two poled off and began vanishing down the slope. Suzy moved
easily and effortlessly, even in the near darkness, but she made herself go
slow in order to remain next to Cort. Jess felt a swell of admiration for her
She’s tougher than I ever knew.

Gathering her own strength, Jess
stepped outside on her skis, planted her poles in the snow and propelled
herself downslope. The ice grated under her skis, and her heart jackhammered
inside her rib cage, but the mountain scrolled away on both sides and the
sounds of the fighting began to diminish behind her. She was skiing!
I can do this,
she told herself again.
I can kick this mountain’s ass.

Ahead of her, Suzy and Cort were
somehow moving faster than she was, and she realized she’d once again made her
skies into a wedge shape, making her go slow.
I’m being chased by lion shifters and I’m acting like I’m on a bunny
Get a grip, Jess!

Using all her will, she forced her
legs to obey her commands and pried her feet apart so that her skis angled in a
more parallel fashion. The mountain scrolled by faster now. She wobbled but
kept upright, fending off the ice with her poles.
I’m doing it! I’m really doing it!

Suddenly she heard a noise at her
back. Craning her head, she noticed a shape just behind her, darting fluidly
down the slope. Her heart leapt into her throat. She recognized that shape. She
would recognize it anywhere. A lion.
It had to be. Mike had drawn the others to him, but Bryce had been too clever
and had staked out the backdoor.

“Damn you, just leave me alone!” Jess
shouted over her shoulder.

The lion only snarled in response.
She could practically feel its hot breath on the back of her thighs.

She shoved her poles into the ice,
propelling herself faster, faster. Her mind spun and tumbled, picturing
terrible fates. The growls of the lion grew louder behind her. She could hear
its ragged breathing. It was a warm weather creature, she knew; it would hate
these cold temperatures, and the pads of its feet weren’t meant for snow like a
bear’s were. That would slow it down, would frustrate it.
Too bad, jerk!

Still, she could hear its footfalls
behind her, the crunch of the snow beneath its pads and claws. It was heavy,
that was for sure.

Wildly, she lashed backward with
one of her poles. Felt it connect. The big cat yowled in protest. Hope surged
through her. She could fight back! She lashed behind her again. Again the pole
connected, but this time she’d struck too wildly, too recklessly. The motion
upset her balance and she listed too far to the right. Almost went over. At the
last moment, she leaned to the left, correcting her mistake, and was able to
balance herself again. Doing all this had slowed her down, though, just enough
for the lion to pounce.

She felt four hundred pounds of big
cat barrel into her. It was like being hit by a hurricane of flesh and blood
and bone. All the breath was driven from her, and then she was tumbling to the
slope, her skis whacking on the snow and nearly breaking her legs. At last she
crumpled, legs akimbo, to the snow, with the great lion astride her. Its eyes burned
like glowing jade, and a stream of saliva drooled from its gasping lips.

Panting, Jess stared up into its
snarling face and knew a fear unlike any she’d ever known.

“Bryce,” she made herself say,
hearing the quaver in her voice. “Is … that that you?”

The lion made a growling noise, but
she wasn’t sure if that was a yes or a no.

“Well, fuck off,” she said. One of
her arms was trapped between the lion’s legs, and it still gripped the ski
pole. With all of her strength, she brought the pole up into the animal’s
crotch. The lion stiffed and coughed.

With her other hand, Jess grabbed a
fist-f of snow and smashed it into the lion’s eyes. Blinded and in pain, it
bounded off of her, then shook itself to reorient itself. She scrambled to her
feet and tried to get her skis under her and pointed in the right direction. It
was more difficult than it should have been, and she was dismayed at how close
the drop-off was. Just a few feet away, a cliff dropped some forty or fifty
feet to snow-covered trees and rocks below.

As she worked to straighten
herself, she scanned for Suzy and Cort. They were just tiny dots far down the
mountainside, all but invisible in the night. Part of her rejoiced in their
successful getaway—they were safe!—but part of her wished she had their help.
Bryce (she was sure it was him) was going to be pissed.

Before she could get her skies
aligned or Bryce could pounce on her, another shape appeared, this one coming
from up the slope. Jess heard the sound of skis on ice and swiveled her head,
having to squint in the darkness. There was just enough light for her to make
out Mike barreling down the slope, naked but for ski boots. Dark streaks that
must be claw marks striped his chest and shoulders.

Bryce saw him, too, and rotated to
face him—too late! Mike smashed into Bryce full-speed, sending Bryce toward the
drop-off. When they came to a stop, Bryce was teetering on the drop-off. If he
could gather himself and strike at Mike, naked and human once more, Mike would
be completely defenseless.

Acting fast, Jess crouched down,
scooped up another ball of ice and hurled it into Bryce’s face. Startled, the
great cat recoiled … too far!

Bryce teetered on the brink, just
about to go over. Eyes narrowing, he latched his claws into the snow, trying to
recover …

“I don’t think so, asshat,” Mike

He made a fist and punched the
lion, right on the jaw.

Bryce yowled and plunged backward
into the abyss, slipping off the cliff and toward the trees far below.

Jess hurried to Mike’s side and
flung herself against him. Together they peered over the precipice.

“Do you see him?” she said, having
to gasp out her words.

Mike didn’t answer right away,
then: “No. But he’s gone, anyway.” He turned to her, wearing the biggest smile
she’d ever seen on him, and wrapped his huge arms about her. Feeling them
enveloping her, she wanted to melt. She had never felt so protected. “When I
saw him over you like that …” Agony contorted Mike’s face for a moment.

She nodded, feeling tearful. “Thank
God you came,” she said. She clutched him tight. He must be freezing, she

Or ... maybe not. Even as she
started to wonder if she should take her jacket off and offer it to him, she
could feel his cock begin to stiffen against her belly. He
said action got him going.

She smiled and shoved away.
“Later,” she promised. “First let’s get to the Resort.”

“Party pooper.”

Sudden worry made her look up the
slope. “Are the others still alive?”

He nodded, grimness returning to
his handsome face. “And they’ll be coming. Let’s go.”

Chapter 16

Fire roared in the huge fireplace while Mike, Suzy and Cort
told their story. Jess let them do most of the talking, only throwing in an
occasional bit herself. Mainly she drank beer after beer. The alcohol helped
settle her nerves, which she needed badly. It was some time before she stopped
shaking. The other bear shifters of Mike’s crew were gathered around, listening
intently. They were in the large den area that served as a lobby for the
Resort, and all the guests of the inn were either in their rooms or out on the
town. Every once in awhile one would enter, either coming or going, but these
were few and far between and they ignored the shifters—or at least didn’t
approach them.

“But how did you get away from the
four that attacked you?” Connor asked Mike, when they had finished their story.

Mike grimaced. “Wasn’t easy. I had
all four tearing into me, ripping and clawing.” Gingerly he touched his
shoulder, where one of the bandages was. He was bare-chested and covered in
white swaths of fabric that had become red with blood still soaking in them.
Lion claws had really savaged him. Jess had nursed him herself, though,
wrapping each wound. Even now the blood was drying, the gashes mending; some
would leave scars, she knew, but that was it; bear shifters were really

Muscular and sweaty, covered in
wounds earned in battle to protect her, the sight of Mike made heat pool in her
middle, and it had nothing to do with the beer or the fire or the knowledge
that she was protected by the group, although all of that too. Mainly it was
the look in Mike’s eyes whenever they fell on her. Oh boy, she had really done
it now.

“When I rolled, I could manage to
shake ‘em off for a moment,” Mike said. “When I did that for the last time, I
managed to get loose long enough to make it into one of the back rooms. I slammed
a door on them. Lions are fierce, but they can’t bust through a door as easily
as we can. They have to Shift to open doors. So I put a couple doors between
us, Shifted, shoved on my boots and skis and hit the slope. I knew Bryce was
still out there, and he’d be after Jess.”

Jess was sitting next to him, and
he reached over and squeezed her knee. She swallowed. His hand was large and
firm, and she didn’t miss the claiming nature of the gesture. He was putting
his hands on her in front of his crew as if to say,
She’s mine
. She could see the gesture wasn’t lost on the others,
either. Several nodded or smiled in approval, especially the two women present;
one was the feisty-looking young woman who’d been snapping pictures of Connor
earlier, and the other wore a policewoman’s jacket with the hat balanced on her
knee—obviously off-duty; the beer in her hand was a giveaway, too.

“Thank God I got to you in time,”
Mike said, and she could hear from the raggedness of his voice how much he
meant it, and how much it would have crushed him if Bryce had taken off with

Her cheeks warmed, and that pool of
heat in her middle grew hotter. “I’m glad, too,” she said, fighting the urge to
suck on her lower lip. She looked away, searching for Suzy—there! Rescue! “It’s
good Suzy was able to get Cort back here, too. I know I couldn’t have helped

Suzy smiled. “You did well enough.”

Cort, who was even more bandaged
that Mike, looking almost like a mummy, nodded and downed what appeared to be a
whole beer in one swallow. “She did good. Both the women did.” Even now he
refused to address either of the females directly.

“You did amazing,” Connor said,
meeting the eyes of both Jess and Suzy.

Mike grinned. “You should’ve seen
the look on Bryce’s cat-face when Jess pelted him with that snowball.”

Connor laughed. “I wish!”

That earned smiles and laughs from
all around. Jess couldn’t help smiling back. It felt good to be appreciated,
and good to be here with this rough-and-tumble lot of bear shifters. It was
both surreal and comfortable at the same time, somehow. She felt
in a way she never actually had at
her real home, not since she was a kid. What was more, she felt a renewed
appreciation for the members of Mike’s crew. They may have been just regular lumberjack
werebears before, but now they were the guardians of a sacred grove. And Jess
knew of it. She knew their secret. Mike had let her into their world, and she
was a part of it now. She hadn’t told Suzy yet, and she knew the shifters
wouldn’t want her to.

, she thought, feeling Mike’s warmth—even, occasionally, feeling his
meaty leg brushing up against her.
bear, opening up worlds for me.
It was becoming harder and harder to see
any reasonable way to keep excluding him from her life when he had made her
such a vital part of his.

“So what do we do now?” she made
herself say after another healthy swallow of beer. The bottle was cool and wet
beneath her fingers, the fire hot at her back. It even made her hair feel
toasty. It all made her feel very tipsy and very comfortable. Maybe

Attention swiveled to Connor, who
downed a swig of his own beer and mulled on the situation. Everyone quieted,
awaiting the decision of the alpha. At last he set his beer down and rose to
his feet. “Mike, Cort, Gahad, Rick, Taggart and Vale, you stay here. Look after
the women and the inn. The rest, come with me. We’re going lion-hunting.”

They grinned hard grins at each
other and stood. Mike wrapped a protective arm around Jess.

“You won’t kill them, though,
right?” she piped up, hating the squeak in her voice. “I mean, if you catch

They had already touched on this
earlier, and Connor let out a sigh. “I would rather just end their threat for
good and all. If we don’t, it will be sending a message to others of their stripe
that we’re lenient on troublemakers.”

Mike looked up, grimness on his
face. “I promised Jess we would take them to the Great Council if we can.
Obviously, if they won’t be taken alive, then that’s different.”

“You shouldn’t have done that,” Connor
said. Firelight danced in his eyes. “That’s my call to make, not yours.”

“It’s my mate they threatened,”
Mike said. With a grunt, he rose to his feet, and the two men stood there
glaring at each other. “Not yours.
have more say in this than anyone.”

Connor’s eyes narrowed. “Would the

Mike’s hands clenched into fists.
“Will I have to ask them?”

Connor’s chest swelled, and Jess
could feel a crackling in the air. Was he about to Shift? She gasped and
glanced at Suzy, who was rising and backing away.

“Now now, boys,” the policewoman
with the beer was saying. “Let’s quit the pissing match, alright? You’re both
tough, we get it. You both have a point. Now knock it off!”

The studly guy that had been
sitting next to her with an arm around her shoulders nodded and stood. “Barb’s
right,” he said. “Back it off, guys.”

The two men glared at each other
for another moment, then seemed to subside. The crackling in the air faded.

Jess sucked in a deep breath.
Thank you, Barb, whoever you are
. “Just
don’t kill them if you don’t have to,” she said. “They’re wrong, but in their
own way they’re kind of brave.”

“How can you say that?” said one of
the other bear shifters, she thought it was Jason with his sandy hair and brown
eyes. “They’re brainwashed monsters.”

“Yeah, and they’re only doing what
they think is right. To them that means going into enemy territory, risking
their lives. Not just everyone would take that risk to do what they think is
right. And they’re not hurting anyone—at least that’s not their goal,” she
added hastily, casting both Mike and Cort apologetic glances.

All the bear shifters stared at
her, as if in disbelief, and a swell of dismay rose in her. Had she just
screwed up that new-found sense of home by defying their beliefs and speaking
up for the enemy?

At last Mike grinned and squeezed
her shoulder. “Talk about guts,” he said. “My mate speaks her mind, and she’s
wise on top of it. Listen to her, Connor.”

With seeming reluctance, Connor
nodded, and the other shifters were nodding, too. They would at least think
about what she’d said, and, to judge by the admiring look on their faces, she
hadn’t screwed anything up at all. In fact, they seemed to respect her more now
than before. She could stand up to both lion shifters and bear shifters.

“Sometimes it takes more courage to
stand up to your friends than your enemies,” Connor said. “For that, I salute
you, Jessica Quinn. Now, boys, let’s get out there and kick some lion ass.”

What happened next shocked Jess so
much she almost dropped her bottle. All the bear shifters except for the ones Connor
had ordered to stay behind Shifted. The air crackled and seemed to grow hot,
and each man shucked off his clothes until he stood naked before the fire. Jess
felt heat radiate all the way through her at the splendid sight of all those
muscular naked men, and when she glanced (briefly) to Suzy she could see her
friend all but licking her lips. Yum! Then the shifters Shifted, great gray-brown
grizzly bears exploding from within them, and dropped to all fours.

Shaggy and growling, they streamed
out the door while the man named Taggart, Mike’s brother and almost twin, held
the door open for them.

“Go get ‘em,” Taggart said, as the
tide of fur and claws and teeth and muscle vanished into the night.

Taggart’s mate—Jess thought her
name was Alice, the feisty young woman—slapped one of the bears on the ass on
its way out and said, “Give ‘em hell, boys!”

“So what now?” Suzy said, when the
bears were all gone and the door was closed. “We just wait?”

Mike nodded. “Why don’t we get some

Taggart inspected his brother’s
injuries. He’d introduced himself to Jess while she was bandaging Mike up earlier
and now he seemed to be checking out her handiwork. Grimly, he nodded in
approval, then said, “Man, they really got you, brother.”

Mike looked rueful. “Could’ve been

“Got that right,” said Cort. He
leaned over for another beer, but groaned in pain and stopped. Smiling, Suzy
bent down and brought the bottle to him, and Jess didn’t miss the admiring look
on his face as he watched her bend over. Suzy seemed to realize it, too, and
flashed him a saucy smile. Shyly, he looked away.

Rick was pacing back and forth
restlessly, juking and jiving with his fists. Shadowboxing. “Can’t believe
Connor made us stay behind. I could’ve slaughtered those cats with one paw tied
behind my back.”

The policewoman Barb smiled. “Maybe
both, Winnie. That way you could talk them to death.”

He laughed and kissed her, and she
leaned into him. Jess realized she liked these women right away. Like them a
lot. And their men, too. Were Alice and Barb both bears? Jess discovered that
she was very curious about them, and their mates.

Suddenly she realized that Mike had
drifted close.

“I don’t know if I can sleep after
all that,” she told him, recalling his advice. “My blood’s still raging.”

He sort of lifted an eyebrow, and
she thought,
I walked right into that

“Well,” she added quickly, “maybe I
a little tired.”

His face fell, and she felt bad,
but the truth was that she needed time to sort out her feelings on all of this.
Was she really ready for all this to become her life? And what about Andrew?

Although the
truth was that Andrew seemed very far away. Like, a whole
world away.

And Mike … she could just reach out
and touch him …

She sighed and swallowed the last
of her beer.

“I’m going to bed,” she said, and
she didn’t need to add,

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