Authors: Sloane Meyers
Tags: #Paranormal, #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Romance, #Forever Love, #Adult, #Erotic, #Shifter, #Mate, #Suspense, #Violence, #Supernatural, #Panda Bears, #Legendary, #Alpha Male, #Bachelor, #Single Woman, #Secrets, #U.S. Coast Guard, #Marine Biologist, #Rescue Swimmer, #Friendship, #Angry, #Military, #Life Tailspin, #Life Saver
An Alpha’s Storm
Water Bear Shifters, Book 1
By Sloane Meyers
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Similarities to actual people or events are entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2015 by Sloane Meyers. All rights reserved.
Brett Smith woke with a start. He was naked, but a thin white sheet covered his body. The sheet was plastered to his skin by the sweat that coated every square centimeter of his body. After blinking a few times, his eyes started adjusting to the darkness around him, and he could make out the shape of the room. He had no idea where he was, but he guessed that he couldn’t be too far from home. Out of the room’s small, lone window, he could see the outlines of towering pine trees. Looked like he was still in Maine, at least.
How long had he been sleeping before the fever broke? Hours? Days? Weeks? Not that it mattered. He had no clan left. No family, no friends. No one left to protect. Brett felt his heart squeezing tight within his chest as the grief started to wash over him again. He took a few deep breaths, trying to steady his spinning head and quiet his aching heart.
Alphas don’t cry
. The mantra his father had repeated to him hundreds of time during his childhood came flooding back to his mind, as it always did during difficult times. Alphas don’t cry. They man up, and face whatever life throws at them. Brett closed his eyes and sat up slowly, pushing away worries of what he would do next. He needed to figure out where he was, and how long he had been here. Then he could start thinking about how to move forward.
After a few more deep breaths, he opened his eyes. When he looked to his left, he realized for the first time that three dark shadows sat on the other side of the room, silently observing him. Fellow shifters, it seemed, if Brett could trust the strong scent of bear now hitting his nose. His own bear senses were returning, flooding him with the sounds, scents and sights of the room around him that his human senses had missed. Everything became sharper, more vivid…more real. He was really here, in a strange cabin in the middle of Maine with three strangers, who were watching him somewhat creepily.
“Welcome back,” one of the shifters said, his voice deep and strong. The voice of an alpha.
“Who are you?” Brett asked, keeping his own voice guarded. He didn’t sense any danger, but he wasn’t quite ready to trust that his instincts were completely recovered and back to normal.
“I’m Lance. Lance Bowman. Alpha to the now destroyed Saddleback Mountain Shifters.”
Lance stood and walked a few feet toward the door of the room. He flipped a light switch, and, after a few moments of flickering, the room was flooded with the soft light of the single light bulb that hung from the ceiling. Brett could now see the three men clearly. All were alphas. The unmistakable fire of confidence that filled their eyes, and the way they sat, so tall and proud, gave them away.
“The Epidemic destroyed your clan?” Brett asked, even though he already knew the answer.
Lance nodded, then gestured toward the other men. “This is Ben, and on the end over there is Ace. We all lost our entire clans, just like you lost yours, may they rest in peace.”
Brett bowed his head in silence for a moment, both out of respect to his fallen clan members and out of a need to maintain his composure. Alphas don’t cry. Especially not when they’re in a room filled with other alphas.
“How long was I out?” Brett asked as he raised his head again.
“About three weeks,” Ben said. “We thought we were going to lose you several times, but you managed to beat back death again and again. You’re a strong one.”
“So are all of you, it would seem,” Brett said.
Ben shrugged, then sighed bitterly. “I suppose we are. But now we’re all that’s left.”
Brett’s eyes widened. “No one else survived?”
Ben shook his head no, and Brett felt his heart sinking.
“Four panda alphas. That’s it,” Lance chimed in. “The rest of the pandas are gone. Even most of the alphas didn’t make it this time. None of their cubs did. They were too small to fight off this epidemic.”
Brett closed his eyes again. How could this really be happening? The clans had worked so hard to protect themselves. They had been growing stronger in numbers, until there were hundreds of panda shifters spread across North America, making up dozens of clans.
“Are you sure?” Brett asked, even though it was obvious his fellow alphas already knew the answer.
Ben nodded. “We searched high and low across the United States and Canada, not stopping until we had confirmed the death count. We found you on the verge of death yourself, and nursed you back to health. It’s just the four of us, now.”
Brett looked down at his hands, trying to process what he had just heard. The Great Epidemic had swept through the panda shifter clans so quickly that entire clans had been wiped out within days. There was no time to find a cure, let alone a vaccine. The pandas had faced severe epidemics before, but never anything this ruthless. Nothing that had killed even the alphas.
Panda shifters had come to North America centuries ago, trying to escape the various disease epidemics that frequently swept through Europe and Asia. Pandas were the rarest of shifters, legendary and, some would say, even magical. They were the strongest of the bear shifters, and the most agile. But they had one great weakness: they were extremely susceptible to severe illnesses. Anything more than a common cold tended to spread like wildfire through a clan, killing off large numbers of pandas in days. Because of this, panda clans kept to themselves, living off the grid as much as possible. The only exceptions to this vulnerability were the panda shifters who carried the alpha gene. While most panda shifters had low immunity, pandas who carried the alpha gene had stronger than normal immunity. They survived, and thrived, even in the face of severe illnesses.
Until this last epidemic. A group of human scientists, who knew about shifters and wanted them wiped out, had crafted a virus specifically aimed at the pandas. The virus had been brutal enough to take down even many of the alphas. It had almost taken down Brett, and he wished for a moment that it had. What did he have left to live for, with his entire clan gone? All he wanted to do at this point was curl up in a ball of tears and mourn his lost bears.
Alphas don’t cry
Brett forced himself to hold his head high. “So what now?” he asked, hoping that one of the other alphas had a better solution to this predicament than he did.
“We’ve been discussing that over the last few weeks,” Ace said, using a sweeping gesture of his arm to indicate the other two alphas sitting near him. “We need to go somewhere that the scientists won’t expect us to be. Somewhere in the middle of a bunch of people, where pandas normally wouldn’t go for fear of communicable diseases. And somewhere that we can find a job doing a lot of physical activity, so that all of our brute strength doesn’t just build up inside of us, unreleased and simmering below the surface.”
“I’m guessing you’ve come up with a few ideas?” Brett asked.
Ace smiled, and nodded. “The military. It’s a lot of people, all mixed in together into different companies, brigades, platoons—you get the point. And many of the jobs involve a lot of physical activity. It’s the perfect place for a group of shifters to hide.”
“So, we all just join the army together? But then we lose control over where we go. They’ll send us all to different bases and we’ll be completely alone. Don’t you think it’s better to stick together, if we really are the last of the panda shifters?” Brett asked, furrowing his brow.
Lance smiled and gestured in Ace’s direction. “Don’t worry, Brett. We’ve got an Ace up our sleeves, so to speak.”
All of the other alphas laughed at Lance’s cheesy joke, while Brett’s brow furrowed down further in confusion.
“I know a guy who is really high up in the Department of Homeland Security, which is the department in charge of the Coast Guard branch of the military,” Ace explained. “I’ve already talked to him and called in a few favors. He’s going to make sure we can all stick together if we join the Coast Guard, as long as we agree to be flexible on where they might send us.”
Brett rolled over this information in his mind for several long moments. He had only regained consciousness about ten minutes ago, so he was starting to feel a little overwhelmed at all the new information being thrown at him. His old alpha instincts told him that he should take time to carefully weigh his options before moving forward. But Brett frowned as he realized that the instinct to make rational, well-planned decisions came from the need to make sure his clan was protected. He had no more clan to protect. He was it. The last of his clan, and one of the last panda shifters in North America.
To hell with it. Brett didn’t care if it was the right decision. It was better than sitting around in Maine, moping and alone.
“I’m in,” Brett said, looking around at his new friends, his only remaining connection to the shifter community. “Coast Guard, here I come.”
* * *
Five Years Later
* * *
Brett watched the black waves of the Pacific Ocean speeding by below him. He knew the San Diego skyline was growing smaller and smaller behind them, although he couldn’t see it from his seat across from the door of the helicopter. He shifted his weight and tugged absentmindedly on his bright orange dry suit. The fins he wore on his feet were bright yellow, and his rescue swimmer harness had already been secured on his body.
The smell of salty sea air floated into the helicopter, filling his nostrils with the familiar scent of ocean water mixed with helicopter fuel. As they drew closer to the estimated rescue site, Brett slipped on his night vision goggles. Everything turned a funny shade of green when he did, but it became much easier to see. Adrenaline pumped through his veins when the sight of debris floating in the water came into view. The helicopter’s search light swept over the angry water, looking for survivors. From his vantage point, Brett could tell that the waves were easily swelling to heights of fifteen feet or more. Just another day on the job.
Chatter from Ace and Ben, who served as the helicopter’s pilot and copilot, filled Brett’s ears as they hovered over a large, rapidly sinking sea vessel. Beside Brett, Lance sat in the seat next to the open door of the helicopter. Lance worked as the flight mechanic on their team, which meant he held the responsibility for lowering and lifting Brett into the water. Lance also pulled the survivors up through whatever means necessary—a rescue basket, a medical litter, or even just through Brett plain old holding on to them. Lance then assisted Brett in providing emergency medical care to survivors who were in bad shape. Tonight, if there were any survivors, it looked like they might be in need of medical care. From the spread of debris in the water, it appeared that the ship’s demise had occurred quickly and violently.
“I’ve got one!” Lance suddenly yelled out. The helicopter came to a hover over the sinking ship and debris, and Lance pointed out to Brett the small figure in the water. The survivor, who appeared to be female, was bobbing up and down violently in the angry waves, but she held a bright green light stick that made it possible to keep her in sight.
“Looks like she’s got a life jacket on, at least,” Lance said, then glanced over at Brett. “You ready to go?”
Brett nodded, scooting into position in the door of the helicopter. He clipped his harness into the aircraft’s hoist cable, and then gave Lance a nod and a thumbs up. Lance began lowering Brett down into the dark ocean. The wind blew fiercely tonight, swinging Brett forcefully back and forth as his hoist cable lowered him closer and closer to the surface of the ocean. During daylight, Brett sometimes jumped straight from the helicopter into the water, no strings attached. But at night, regulations required the use of the hoist cable. The darkness of the ocean was unforgiving, and if the helicopter lost sight of the rescue swimmer during a launch, they might never see him again.
As Brett eased into the water, spray from the waves and from the helicopter’s backwash pelted him. The spray made it difficult to see, but he managed to locate his survivor a few yards away. Even in the darkness, he could clearly see the worried expression on her face. Brett gave the helicopter a thumbs up to let them know he was safe in the water, and then he disconnected himself from the hoist cable so he could swim to the woman.
When he reached her, he saw that she was shaking violently. No doubt her body was becoming hypothermic. She held up her glowing light stick, waving it frantically in Brett’s face as though he still needed help seeing where she was. Brett swam right in front of her face and yelled out the words he’d said countless times over the last few years.
“I’m petty officer Brett Smith with the United States Coast Guard. You’re going to be okay.”
The woman looked back at him like a deer in headlights, still waving her light stick. “The ship went down so fast,” she managed to choke out. “I don’t know where the others are.”
“We’ll find them,” Brett reassured her. “First, let’s get you into the rescue helicopter.”
He quickly briefed the woman on what would happen. He would grab her in a firm hold and swim her over to the rescue basket that was being lowered as they spoke. He would help her into the basket, and his colleague in the helicopter would then lift her up. He would provide her with warm blankets and any emergency medical attention she required.
The woman nodded, clearly relieved that her life-threatening ordeal in the ocean was coming to an end. Her dark hair was plastered in wet tangles onto her head and parts of her face, and she continued to shiver violently from her extended exposure to the water. Even during summertime in southern California, the water temperatures were cool enough to bring on hypothermia with extended exposure. Brett needed to get this woman up to the helicopter so she could get warmed up, and then he needed to find her friends. He hadn’t seen any other survivors from his vantage point in the helicopter a few minutes ago, and he hoped that his reassurances to the woman that the others would be found wouldn’t turn out to be nothing but an empty promise.
Brett helped the woman into the rescue basket, and her violent shivering became even more apparent as she came out of the water and was exposed to the heavy winds. Brett made sure she was secure, and then gave Lance a thumbs up sign. As the rescue basket started rising toward the helicopter, Ben’s voice came crackling into the radio earpiece that was lodged in Brett’s ear.
“We’ve got another one. Looks like a male, about a fifty feet north of you.”
Brett started swimming, his strong arms cutting through the water as his flippered feet pummeled the water with urgency. He found the man, who looked to be no older than eighteen and didn’t appear to weigh much more than the woman Brett had just rescued.
“I’m petty officer Brett Smith, with the United States Coast Guard. You’re going to be okay.”
He briefed the man the same way he had briefed the woman, and then began swimming him back toward the rescue basket. Halfway there, the man panicked. He started thrashing wildly and screaming, threatening to pull Brett under the frothy waves with him. He knocked off Brett’s mask and tried to wrap his arms around Brett’s head in a frantic bear hug.
Cursing under his breath, Brett struggled to maintain control of his survivor as the frantic man pulled them both under. Brett had dealt with this type of panic before, but the young man’s strength had caught him off guard. The skinny arms that the man was now flailing about held a surprising amount of strength. Fear can be a powerful thing.
Brett closed his eyes against the saltwater that stung his eyes, and managed to rewrap his arms around the survivor, pinning those skinny, flailing arms securely down. Brett swam toward the surface, kicking his powerful legs against the churning ocean. After a few more minutes of struggle, he managed to get the terrified survivor into the rescue basket. He replaced his mask, with its night vision goggles, thankful to be able to open his eyes again without stinging spray irritating them. His radio crackled to life, letting him know that the other two survivors had been located. Both were men, and both were, thankfully, compliant and calm as Brett lifted them into the rescue basket. When Brett had finally sent the last survivor up, Lance lowered the hoist cable back down and Brett reattached it to his rescue harness. Lance pulled Brett back into the helicopter, where Brett pulled off his flippers and mask and immediately began assisting Lance with providing first aid to the four survivors. They were all suffering from various levels of hypothermia, and were understandably shocked and upset. But, other than that, they seemed to have escaped the ordeal without major harm. Their boat was a complete loss, but boats could be replaced. Lives could not be.
Brett smiled with satisfaction as the helicopter touched down at the Coast Guard air base in San Diego. It has been the first call of the night on the first day of a three day shift, and Brett couldn’t have asked for a better start to the week. Seeing four people on board that aircraft who would have died if not for the efforts of his crew made the stress and pressures of this job more than worth it. After rescues like this, Brett could almost forget the pain of losing his clan.