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Authors: Amber Kell

Tags: #M/M Paranormal Romance, #Shifters

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BOOK: A Prideless Man
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“Right now I teach colleges classes online.” James rubbed his hands together as he spoke.

“Do your hands bother you?”

He shrugged. “Sometimes. Once I’m typing for a while they usually loosen up. There’s only so much physical activity I can do. I can’t stand on my feet long enough to teach a class at a university.”

He didn’t understand about physical limitations, but he imagined it must be hard to be young and so aware of your weakness. With the moon close to full he had more energy than he knew what to do with. He wished he could pass some of his excess energy to James.

A phone rang close by. James reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a small cell phone. When he looked at the display he paled.

“I—I’ve got to go,” he stuttered. Before Lou could protest, James threw some money on the table and left. Bewildered, he watched the human hobble out of the diner.

Lou’s protective instincts rushed forward. Someone upset his man. A low growl built in his chest.

“Scare him off already?” Kelly walked up and placed Lou’s bill on the table.

It took him a moment to pull back his bear in order to calm enough to answer. “No. I don’t think it was me.” Strange, most humans were wary of bear shifters because of their size and power even in human form. James looked about six feet tall but was extremely thin due to his poor health. Lou could snap him like a toothpick. However, when James saw the shifter in the diner his scent hadn’t changed. If anything he became calmer when he saw Lou.

Intrigued, he watched James through the diner window talking into his phone. Tension filled the human’s body as he leaned on his cane and appeared to be shouting into the receiver. Concerned, Lou threw money on the table and left the restaurant. No one should upset the sweet man who obviously had enough problems of his own.

A PRIDELESS MAN

Amber Kell

10

By the time he reached James the other man had shoved the phone back into his pocket.

Fury poured off him like a physical force. Confusion filled Lou. He had never met a non-shifter who could project his anger like a field of energy before.

“Are you okay?”

When James turned around, Lou stepped back. The human’s medium brown eyes…glowed gold. Traces of lion scent filled Lou’s nose. He looked around, seeking its source. The sidewalks were clear. No sign of members of the pride.

“What’s wrong?” James asked.

“Nothing.” What could he say? That the human smelt like a lion and his eyes flashed shifter gold? James would think he was crazy. Already he watched Lou as if he were a little unhinged.

Talan would know what to do. He’d grown up with the lion alpha and knew he’d be able to ask him questions and not be ridiculed. The easy-going lion was a solid friend. The jury was still out on his friend’s new mate Adrian, but anyone who could take down another wolf with the swipe of his claw had Lou’s vote. At least he didn’t have to worry whether Adrian could protect his mate.

“I’m going back to my place.” James gave a half-hearted smile, worry flashing in his eyes.

“Sure. I’ll see you later.” Lou suppressed the desire to follow the other man down the street, a huff of frustration escaping from his mouth. The man drove him insane. He didn’t know why James enthralled him, but he couldn’t deny the other man’s pull.

James turned at the sound. “Did you just huff at me?” Lou yawned in response.

A slow smile crossed James face.

“What?”

“I make you nervous?” The shy man with the cane turned into a teasing man with a sparkle in his eyes from one minute to the next.

“Why would you say that?”

“Bears yawn when they’re nervous.”

“How would you know?”

James tilted his head as he examined Lou, considering. “I did some research on shifter animal traits when I moved into town. What kind of bear are you?” A PRIDELESS MAN

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11

“Kodiak.” Lou puffed out his chest.

“You’re a little south for your kind, aren’t you?” Lou shrugged. “Habitats are changing with human intrusion. We go where we can and leave the wild land to the natural bears. As shifters we have a wider territory we can cover and, besides, I’m not all Kodiak. My mother’s mother has polar in her family den.”

“Ahh. But you didn’t answer my question. Why do I make you nervous?” James couldn’t understand how he could make a big bear shifter nervous, but it was absolutely adorable.

The sheriff looked at his feet as he spoke. “I was wondering if you’d like to have lunch sometime.”

James watched the man’s shuffling feet. The confident sheriff didn’t make eye contact.

Instead his glanced up and down the street as if searching for someone to arrest in order to get out of their conversation. For a moment James got a whiff of a scent telling him the sheriff wasn’t just nervous, he was downright frightened of rejection. He must be imagining it.

Nerves didn’t have a scent and if they did, he certainly wouldn’t smell them.

James found the sheriff’s attention flattering. If nothing else, he could spend a meal with an interesting person. He didn’t see any future together, since he was such a mess, but it didn’t mean they couldn’t have lunch. Besides, he’d never made anyone nervous before.

“Sure, I’d love to have lunch with you sometime.”

“Really, you’ll have lunch with me?” Lou’s eyes snapped back to him.

James couldn’t stop smiling. Despite the conversation with his father still chilling his bones, a few minutes alone with the sweet bear cheered him. For the moment he could pretend he was a normal man who could attract a gorgeous bear shifter, not a man two steps from becoming a permanent cripple. It was only a matter of time before a cane wouldn’t be enough support any more and he’d have to move to a wheelchair. The medicine worked less and less over time.

“How about Wednesday?” He needed to get back to his apartment and take a shot.

Whenever he took the super-concentrated medicine his body always went into shock for at least a day. It wasn’t fun, but he’d learned to cope. James specialised in surviving from one day to the next. Over the years he’d developed the talent of enduring. Not enjoying his life, but enduring. His gaze travelled up and down the muscular bear shifter. Maybe it was time A PRIDELESS MAN

Amber Kell

12

to have a little fun. He didn’t care about the price—he’d suffer through anything to get the gorgeous man before him into his bed.

“Wednesday?” The sheriff frowned, mulling it over so much like a ponderous bear James stifled a laugh. Fuck, he was cute.

“Yes, Wednesday. Unless you have something else scheduled?” He tried to hide his disappointment, not wanting to appear needy.

“Why can’t you have lunch with me today?”

Relief shot through him so fast he almost lost his grip on the cane. “I’d love to, but I’m going to be busy today and tomorrow. Wednesday is the earliest I can do.” A cold light entered the shifter’s eyes. “Who are you seeing?”

“What?” How had he lost control of this conversation? “I’m not seeing anyone else, I just can’t see you.”

“Why?”

He didn’t want to tell the sheriff about his meds. He wasn’t completely certain they were legal. Who knew what his father put in the stuff? However, the few times he tried to live without them led to black outs and screaming migraines for weeks after. He still didn’t recall an entire month during his fifteenth summer, the beginning and end of his rebellious period, until now.

After his father scared off another shifter friend of James’ a month ago, he stopped stomaching his father’s rhetoric against shifters, packed up his stuff, and moved away.

He still contacted his father by email and phone. James didn’t have it in him to completely cut off the man who single-handedly raised him. Although hiding in a town of shape shifters was the perfect location. His father would never step foot in this town.

Unfortunately, as rebellious as he wanted to be, there were inherent difficulties in living away from his father/drug dealer. Since he couldn’t go to the corner drugstore and get his prescription filled eventually he’d have to tell the man his location for medicine delivery.

“Wednesday, take it or not.” He knew the first rule in dealing with shape shifters.

Never show weakness even if you were about to piss in your shoes.

“I’ll take it.”

“Good.” James hoped he hid his relief well. “Do you want to meet here?” He nodded towards the diner. The town wasn’t known for its gourmet cuisine, but the café had a nice solid menu with tasty sandwiches and fries cooked to crispy perfection.

A PRIDELESS MAN

Amber Kell

13

“Here is fine. Noon. Wednesday. I’ll see you then.” James gave Lou a wide smile. “See you then.”

Determined to leave on a high note, and before the sheriff started to interrogate him, James turned away to limp back home. Luckily in a town this small, he could easily walk from place to place. With his seizures it wasn’t always safe to drive.

Lou watched the younger man leave until he turned the bend and disappeared. James’

evasiveness triggered the sheriff’s detective instincts. What did the other man have to hide?

Shrugging it off, Lou headed to the office. One way or another, he’d eventually discover all of James’ secrets. Business was slow in this town. Even other shifters hesitated to cause trouble with a bear for a sheriff, which made his days uneventful and gave him plenty of time to investigate his odd human.

“Morning, Sheriff.” As he entered the Sheriff’s Department, KC’s pointed face peeked at him over his computer. The fox shifter’s freckled face had its customary wide smile as he greeted his boss. Although a strikingly handsome man, Lou’s bear never showed the least interest in the smaller shifter. There was a fragility to the fox his bear found disturbing, as if beneath the bright smile lived a broken man.

“Good Morning, KC. Anything I need to worry about?”

“You mean beside the pretty man with the cane?” KC handed over a cup of black coffee earning a grateful smile from his boss. The department budget didn’t extend to a secretary so Lou, more often than not, made his own black swill. No one in the office called his concoction coffee.

KC did all the office work. He processed paperwork, updated databases, handled phones, did research and when the whim struck him, made coffee.

“Doesn’t anyone in this town have anything to do except watch me and James?”

“Nope. Not when we’ve never seen you interested in anyone before.” The fox gave him a sly smile. “Besides, if you bomb I might ask him out. He’s really cute.” For the first time in his life, Lou lost complete control of his bear. A loud roar poured out of his throat, claws ripped through his fingers and fur spouted a thick coat covering his skin. In the far distance he heard a soft noise of fear. The bear snapped his head around to face the sound. Far down below a small man cowered behind his desk.

Threat
.

A PRIDELESS MAN

Amber Kell

14

The other man threatened to take what was his.

The bear roared his displeasure.

“Lou, I didn’t mean it. I didn’t know he was your mate.”
Mate?

His mate. Images of James flashed through his mind. The sweet human wouldn’t approve if he ate the other man. With a snarl Lou turned away from the creature behind the desk and lumbered down the hall. With each step he transitioned back from bear to man. Fur coat faded, height shrunk, claws retracted, until he was only a human walking to his office.

“Nice ass,” KC shouted, giving a wolf whistle.

“Just for that I’m not apologising.” Lou entered his office, slamming the door behind him. Taking a deep breath he leaned against the door. “Shit, I am so fucked. James is my mate.”

What was he going to do now?

A PRIDELESS MAN

Amber Kell

15

Chapter Two

James stumbled through his apartment doorway leaning heavily on the cane as pain ricocheted through his body. His muscles ached, his bones hurt, and pain seared through his veins like acid. He had to admit the truth, even if only to the spider hovering in the corner of his ceiling—the medicine was no longer working. The dosage he usually took now barely dented the agony.

From his desk the wooden box called to him.

Just this once.

Images of Lou frowning at him with disapproval ran through James’ head. He longed to replace the imaginary disgust with a look of lust, to have someone finally desire him as a man. The drugs whispered a soft song of peace, to feel no pain.

“Fuck.”

Like a man in a dream he walked over to the walnut box. Flipping open the metal latches he opened the case with one shaking hand, the other one gripping his cane with a white-knuckled hold.

Taking a deep breath, he gave into the inevitable. He couldn’t continue this way. After suffering his way to his twenties, he’d had enough.

He pushed the syringe into the liquid vial and drew back the plunger, watching with a dry mouth as the drug was sucked into the glass tube.

“Sorry, Lou,” he whispered. He imagined the bear shifter’s disappointment as he plunged the syringe into his arm. He barely removed the needle before the drugs took effect.

Too much. This time something went wrong. Instead of the sweet rush of relief, it felt like fire ants were crawling across his skin, biting him with their fiery sting. His body convulsed, his bones crackled and as white noise filled his ears, James’s eyes rolled into the back of his head and he tumbled to the floor.

* * * *

KC rushed into Lou’s office. “Sheriff, you need to get to the hospital. His landlady called and said he overdosed.”

A PRIDELESS MAN

Amber Kell

16

“What?”

“They’ve sent him to the local hospital but it looks pretty bad.”

“I’m on my way.” Lou brushed past the fox shifter without another word. He was halfway to the hospital in his sheriff’s truck before he took a breath. Fear filled him like an icy storm, chilling his soul as he drove towards the hospital with unseemly speed. What could’ve happened between dining at the café and going to his apartment?

BOOK: A Prideless Man
4.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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