Authors: Moxie North
Mackenzie turned on her cowboy boots, the gravel crunching under her feet, as she strode to the silver Hummer that he knew had the license plate ‘Rochon 1’. Of course, his dad would offer up his rig for her to go chasing after his wayward son.
He did take a moment to appreciate the fine sway of her ass in those tight jeans as she strode away from him. His bear was whining, so he told him to suck it up. He knew he couldn’t go home, couldn’t be so close to her tonight. Once she pulled out and had started making her way down the road, Conner took out his phone and texted Cage that she had left the motel and should be back within the hour. They had learned their lesson after Jinger. Turning back to the motel office, he checked in for the night.
Mackenzie drove home talking to herself the whole time. “Who does he think he is? The fates have seriously screwed me over. A bear, a goddamn bear! What the hell am I supposed to do with a bear? Besides the obvious honey jokes, I’m at a loss. Mom is gonna be sooo pissed.”
Her mother was a lioness in the truest sense. Their family was wealthy, strong and well-liked. They had lived in California for as long as anyone could remember. Her mother had high hopes that her daughter would find the perfect cougar to mate with and continue their, in her mind, distinguished line.
“Fat chance of that,” she huffed.
Thank goodness she had excellent directional skills. She was able to turn on the unmarked road that led back to the Rochon family’s houses. She liked it here, she liked home too. The warm California days, tanning by her family’s pool. Mackenzie guessed long hot days were not something often seen in the Pacific Northwest.
Shit, she’d have to move. She hadn’t even thought of that before. With the rush of emotions and her cougar’s clawing and growling to get out and to her mate she hadn’t realized. There was no way a bear like Conner would be able to fit in the heavily populated wine country where she lived. They needed trees and mountains and ugh, fish.
“I have to get him to talk to me first, before I need to worry about moving.”
Parking the huge Hummer in front of the cabin, she saw the lights were all still on. Walking up to the house, the door swung open and Connie Rochon rushed out towards her.
“Oh, sweetheart, I’m sorry I raised such an asshole.”
At his mother’s acknowledgment of the shitty situation, Mackenzie burst into tears. The kind women folded her into her arms and squeezed.
“We will figure this all out. He’s my youngest and I’m afraid we’ve spoiled him,” she tried to explain.
Turning, Connie led her back into the house. She saw Edward, Dax, and the rest of the family in the living room including Cage and Wyatt.
Dax walked up to her and Connie let her go into her brother’s arms. “You okay, Kenzi?”
“Yeah, he was in the bar trying to pick a fight with a bunch of bikers.” At this, she saw Cage and Wyatt both turn to her.
“He what,” Cage growled.
“Don’t worry, I got him out of there. I don’t think he was going to go back after I left. He did let me know that he wasn’t interested in me. That kinda sucked,” she admitted.
“We talked to him, Kenzi. He does want you, his bear is over the moon. It’s just that…” Cage tried to explain.
“Conner and his bear tend to butt heads and until one of them wins out, they stay in limbo about things. I know he wants you, he just has to work it all out first. Get his head on straight, then I’m sure he’ll come for you,” Wyatt said encouragingly.
“Your brother better get his head out of his ass and fast. I don’t like my sister upset,” Dax growled towards the three bears standing across from him.
Cage couldn’t help but return the growl; his Alpha bear didn’t like being challenged. Even if it was from another Alpha shifter. “I understand how upsetting this is Dax, but I think we all need to work together so we have the best outcome here.”
Dax snorted, “Best outcome huh? Why don’t you call my mother and tell her what went down tonight and I’ll go kick some sense into your brother? Deal?”
“Although I can see how some ass kicking would be beneficial, I think we need to all sleep on this. Give everyone some time to settle down and we can meet here for breakfast and come up with some kind of game plan to make sure Kenzi and Conner end up happily together. Because that is what we all really want, right?” Edward sagely suggested.
“That seems like a splendid idea,” Connie called out clapping her hands. She was not about to let her sons and Dax tear up her living room scrapping over Conner.
“Let’s get poor Kenzi tucked into her bed. She’s had a long day, and the rest of you can head home. Breakfast is at seven, I’ll make Swedish pancakes,” she said.
Cage laughed at this, he was surrounded by women who thought every problem could be solved with food.
Hearing the pancake plan, Sophie jumped off the couch where she and Jinger had been doing a tennis match of head swings as the shifters in the room barked at each other. “Ohh, I’ve never made those! Will you teach me?”
The women gathered around Mackenzie, pulling her from her brother’s arms and chatted about batter and lemons as they hustled her down the hallway. Kenzi managed to look over her shoulder as she was dragged down the hall to see her brother give her a head nod telling her it would be okay.
Once the women had vacated the living room, the men turned back to each other.
“Who needs a beer?” Wyatt was already heading to the kitchen.
A chorus of yes’s echoed in the room. Dax dropped to a chair across from the two sofas that faced each other. The Rochon men took their seats once they had beers in hand.
“Well, fuck,” Dax said, popping the top of his beer and taking a long swig.
“Yup,” Cage agreed, tipping his bottle back.
“You boys will be the death of me,” their dad said shaking his head.
“Hey! I’m the good one! No trouble from me,” Wyatt said, smacking his lips after chugging half his beer.
Their dad just snorted.
“How the hell am I going to tell my family that my little sister is mated to a bear?” Dax sighed.
“What’s wrong with bears?” Cage calmly asked.
“Don’t get me wrong, nothing wrong with bears. Big, strong, and capable. But my family, or I should say my mother, had big plans for Kenzi. There was a cougar family in Nevada that, well let’s just say have a vested interest in a number of casinos. My mother was expecting to form an alliance of some sort.”
“Well the fates decide who your mate is to be,” Wyatt said around his beer bottle.
“I know that, and you know that. But my mother…she thought she knew better than the fates. I think she hoped if Kenzi just spent enough time with that family that she’d find her mate somehow,” Dax explained.
“Well, I guess she might not be too happy about this situation,” Edward chimed in.
“Nope, not too happy,” Dax agreed.
Down the hall, the ladies were all swirling around Mackenzie who was sitting on the bed. They were all talking over each other and answering each other at the same time. It was very confusing.
“You have to help with the wedding plans!” Sophie squealed. “Cage and I are bonded, but we still need a wedding. My parents are flying in a few weeks early to get acquainted and let’s just say they are going to be in for a culture shock. Plus I’m doing a lot of the catering for the wedding so we’re having some big cooking days leading up to it. I would sure love an extra set of hands.”
“Uh, sure, I mean I’m no chef, but I can stir and chop,” Mackenzie offered lamely.
“Perfect! I’ll take anything I can get. Connie is all over the decorations and party rental stuff. Because we are having it here, I was able to keep most of my family back in England. Trust me, it’s better that way. Anywho, we are having it at the sweetest little chapel not far from here. Cage said it was built at the turn of the century as a place for the loggers to spend their Sundays. They haven’t had a regular minister there in years, but it’s available to use. We are setting up tables outside under the trees. I think it will be perfect!” Sophie chattered excitedly.
“It will be perfect. Of course if it had been a double wedding, we’d only have to rent the tables once,” Connie sighed.
“We’ve talked about this, Wyatt and I will let you know when we feel the need for a ceremony,” Jinger said. She was more than happy being mated to Wyatt. Enjoying their time together gave her parents the feeling of them just dating. Explaining a quickie marriage would have them freaking out.
Sophie’s family wasn’t at all surprised to get the call that she was marrying her boss. They sounded properly resigned to their non-conformist daughter’s shenanigans.
“I’d love to help out Sophie, if I’m still here,” Mackenzie couldn’t help but add.
“Of course you’ll be here sweetie, don’t you worry. We’ll get everything sorted in no time,” Connie assured.
Mackenzie nodded. “I’m really tired, it’s been a long day. If you don’t mind I’d like to go to sleep.”
“Oh my goodness, I’m so sorry. Here we are yapping your ear off. Poor thing has had more than enough excitement. Let’s go girls; we’ll see you in the morning. Sleep well Kenzi,” Connie said, leaning over and giving her a motherly kiss on her head.
Sophie and Jinger called out their goodbyes and left her to her thoughts. Her cat was anxious and upset. She didn’t blame her. She wanted to head outside and let her animal run, but she didn’t know the area, and to be honest, she was exhausted. Maybe after a good night’s rest, Conner would come to his senses.
The next morning brought fluffy pancakes as big as a plate, covered in lemon juice and powdered sugar, but no Conner.
The family tried to keep up a light banter, everyone ignoring the fact that Conner was markedly absent.
Mackenzie insisted on heading out to the base camp with Dax. They both scoured the area, trying to pick up the scent of Tony. They got nothing. Wyatt offered to take them up to the current cut site and Dax agreed that they were getting nowhere at the current location.
The drive up the mountain was helpful. Mackenzie rolled down the window and let the fresh pine-scented breeze wash over her.
“Wyatt, where is a good place to run? My cat sure could use a break,” she asked.
“Anywhere around our cabins is good. We have two hundred acres that butts up against government land. There is no hunting out here, but I’d be careful just the same. It’s not unheard of for someone to poach out here,” Wyatt warned.
“We’ll go together, huh sis,” Dax said looking back at her.
“Sure, that’d be nice.” Heading off for a hard run with Dax did sound nice. It was something to look forward to later.
“It’s nice here, smells good,” she remarked.
“I’m sure California is nice too,” Wyatt offered.
“Oh it’s nice all right. But sometimes it all feels a little too….” She searched for the right word.
“Tame?” Dax offered with a knowing smile.
“Yes brother, tame,” she said with a small chuckle.
“Oh, I see, so you’re the wild one in the family?” Wyatt teased.
“Hmm, not so much wild as unwilling to be squashed into a mold not of my making,” Mackenzie offered.
“Ahh, very diplomatic response. Mother would be proud,” Dax snarked.
“Speaking of mother, oh great and mighty Alpha, have you called her?” Mackenzie decided to poke the lion so to speak.
“No, and I’m not going to. I decided that until you two were settled, there was no reason to involve her,” he said formally.
“Chicken shit,” she muttered.
Wyatt thought that was pretty funny, he broke out into a barking laugh.
“Oh great and mighty Alpha, I’m going to have to remember that for Cage,” he quipped.
“So when is Cage going to take over? I’m sure his uncle would be happy to retire,” Dax asked.
“Well, Uncle John said whenever Cage was ready, they would have the formal ceremony. I think he’s waiting until we have this mess figured out. And waiting until he has Sophie tied to him in every way. The life of an alpha’s mate can be daunting. I mean bears are pretty easygoing, unlike you high drama cats. There are the usual disputes to mediate among family, nothing too serious. But still it’s a lot of work and added stress,” Wyatt said.
“Can’t really deny that, although I should kick your ass for saying it out loud,” Dax warned.
“Hmph, go ahead and try it,” Wyatt egged him on.
“For pete’s sake,” Mackenzie moaned in the back seat.
The bantering continued as they made their way up the mountain. Pulling up to a number of trucks parked along the road, the three shifters got out and started towards the semi-trucks lined up waiting their turn to be loaded.
“Yo, Jake!” Wyatt called out to their foreman.
Seeing them, the foreman spoke to someone close by him and then turned to walk towards them. As he got closer, he stopped when he didn’t recognize Dax or Mackenzie.
“Don’t worry, Jake, they aren’t from any government agency,” Wyatt laughed.
“Whew, sorry about that folks. I don’t do well when the pencil pushers show up. Coming up here aggravatin’ me.”
“I understand, I’m Dax and this is my sister Mackenzie. We are family friends of the Rochons,” Dax explained.
“Well then, nice to meet you both,” Jake said, offering a hand for them to shake.
“I thought I’d show them around a bit. They’ve never seen an operation like this. Don’t mind us, we’ll stay out of your way,” Wyatt promised.
“Sounds good, we’re busy today. Trees are coming fast and clean, just the way I like it,” he said, tipping his hat to them before turning back the direction he’d come.
Wyatt gave them both a nod and they all started walking around the cars and machines near the road.
Coming up to a large machine that looked a bulldozer but with a forked blade on the front, Mackenzie stopped. She turned to look at the machine, her cat growling in her head, urging her closer. She strode forward scenting the air as she went, something was familiar. Moving through the layers of sawdust, sap and fresh earth, she smelled something else. Something dirty, unwashed, something she had smelled before.
“Dax!” Mackenzie called out, turning to see her brother running towards her. Dax took in the golden eyes and went straight towards the large machine.
Coming up behind them, Wyatt said, “That’s a brush piling cat, scoops up the slash, the junk left on the ground after a cut.”
“I smell him,” Mackenzie said, knowing Wyatt could see her cat in her eyes.
“Me too, Tony has been here,” Dax warned.
Wyatt got down close to the tracks and scanned over the area. “Get Jake for me, will ya?” Not taking his eyes off where he was looking. Not sure what he was looking for, he examined every part separately.
Dax called out to Jake and waved him over. Jake ran up, “What’s up boss?”
“Help me go over this, look for anything wrong or out of place. I have a bad feeling,” he offered as explanation.
The two went over it, top to bottom, finally Wyatt called out, “Here, the hydraulic line is cut. We’d never have seen it this far under.”
“Son of a bitch!” Jake called out.
“At least this wouldn’t hurt anyone,” Wyatt offered some solace. He was mad someone touched their gear again too. But this kind of sabotage didn’t get anyone killed.
Once Wyatt arranged with Jake to have the equipment fixed, he called into to Cage to let him know that Tony was still around.
Pulling into the base camp, the three left the truck and headed towards the office. As they approached, the door slammed open and Conner stomped down the steps. Catching site of Mackenzie he came to a halt and sucked in a lung full of air. Taking a few steps closer, he scented again. His eyes were shining and without a word, he turned and headed for his Jeep. They watched as he peeled out and didn’t look back.
Sighing, Mackenzie turned to her brother and said, “I think I’m going to head back to the cabin. Can you catch a ride with Cage?”
Nodding, her brother offered her a sympathetic look and a lethal glare in the direction of Conner. Wyatt just tossed her the keys and smiled reassuringly at her.
Mackenzie got back into the truck and aimed it towards the cabins. Parking in front of the main house, she knew Connie and possibly Sophie were inside. She wasn’t up to seeing them right now. Walking behind the house, she went far enough into the trees so the house was just visible in the distance. She stripped out of her clothes and left them piled neatly next to a fallen log.
Taking a breath, she asked her cat if she wanted to run. The resounding roar had her laughing, she let her cougar push forward, unfolding out of her skin in a shimmering sparkle.
Her cat was average size for a cougar, or mountain lion or puma depending on where you lived. Mackenzie’s animal even looked like her, curvy and athletic. A tan colored coat with flecks of gold shining through it. Giving a long exaggerated stretch, she wanted her cat to have fun, and pulled back, letting her have the lead.
The cat took the opportunity and took off at a dead run, jumping over fallen logs and scattering the small animals ahead of her.
They ran for hours, even tracked a bunny down for a snack. Mackenzie was not a big fan of raw meat, but it kept her animal happy and they were one. It was happy, she was happy. Or relatively speaking.
Realizing it was getting late, her cougar knew it was time to head back too. They took it slower making their way back to the cabin. By the time she could see the faint glow of the cabin in the distance, she’d slowed to a walk.
Her cat suddenly hunkered down in the brush. Mackenzie hadn’t been paying that much attention, but now knew there was something else out there. Scanning with their excellent night vision, she saw a lumbering form trotting towards them.
Her first thought was they should run the other way, but as the direction of the wind changed, the scent of her mate floated over her. It made her damn cat purr, frisky tramp.
The huge grizzly stopped in front of where they were crouched down and let out a ridiculously loud roar.
Oh no he didn’t.