Authors: Sloane Meyers
Tags: #Paranormal, #Polarbear, #Shifter, #Erotic, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Fantasy, #Supernatural, #Suspense, #Romantic Suspense, #Danger, #Holiday, #Christmas, #Adult, #Forever Love, #Yuletide Greetings, #Seasonal, #Christmas Time, #Winter, #Snowy Weather, #Red Valley, #California, #Black Bear, #Smokejumpers, #Accident, #Painful Past, #Revelation, #Festive Season, #Action, #Adventure, #Mates, #Series
Carter continued to shiver uncontrollably as the rain picked up again. He had almost completely lost feeling in his legs by now, and waves of nausea kept rolling over him. He couldn’t tell if the sick feeling was from hunger, dehydration, or just plain old fear that this might actually be how things ended for him.
He had heard his phone ringing in the toolbox a few times. He had no idea who was calling him, but he crossed his fingers that whoever it was would realize soon that he hadn’t returned the call. It was a thin sliver of hope to hold onto, but he had to cling to whatever he could right now.
The cabin creaked and moaned as the wind grew stronger. Carter hoped that the beams above him were stable enough that they wouldn’t fall, too. If one of those massive things hit his head, then he was a goner for sure. Carter closed his eyes and began to count, trying to block out the morbid thoughts running through his brain. As he passed the number one thousand with his counting, he thought he felt light hitting his eyes. When he opened his eyes, he saw that it wasn’t his imagination. Two headlights were traveling down the narrow driveway to the cabin, piercing the darkness of the cloudy, rainy night. Carter’s heart leapt as he realized there was no other place the car could be heading than the small parking area right in front of the cabin.
“Hey! Over here,” he yelled, waving his hand in the air wildly. His weak voice didn’t carry far through the wind and rain, and it was unlikely the driver of the car could hear him from the inside of the vehicle, anyway. But that didn’t stop Carter from yelling. He had no idea who this was or how they had found him here, but he was saved.
* * *
Clara squinted as she navigated the tiny driveway to the cabin, thankful that she paid attention to the directions the old woman had given her. The driveway had been hard to find in the dark and rain, and she would have had trouble seeing it had she not been warned to watch for it right after the large rock wall that jutted halfway into the road. She couldn’t help but feeling a little bit nuts as she bounced over the rocky ground toward the cabin. What kind of a wild goose chase was this? But before she could get too far into questioning her decision to drive alone into the middle of nowhere on a dark rainy night, she saw it: Carter’s truck. Her headlights picked it up as she approached the cabin, and she knew for sure then that she had found him.
Her heart sank as she realized that no lights shone from the cabin. The whole clearing around the cabin was dark except for the spots where Clara’s headlights shone. If Carter wasn’t in the cabin, that meant he was out in the woods somewhere. And that would make him impossible to find, unless Clara shifted. Clara bit her lip in determination as she drove over the last stretch of bumpy ground. She didn’t want to have to shift and reveal herself as different to Carter. But if that was what she had to do to save him, then so be it. As a bear, she would be able to track him down by scent and find him quickly in the woods. She just hoped that she wasn’t too late to save him from whatever trouble he had gotten himself into.
Clara parked next to Carter’s truck, and hopped out into the rain. The wind howled so loudly that Clara could barely hear herself think, and she was instantly soaked as she stepped out of the protection of her vehicle. Clara didn’t care, though. She had more important things to worry about right now than her clothes getting soaked again.
Clara tried the door on the truck, and found it unlocked. She climbed in the truck, but didn’t see anything that would indicate anything amiss. A travel mug of coffee sat in the cup holder, and a green canvas messenger bag was thrown across the passenger seat. Nothing looked unusual. Clara did find a flashlight lantern on the passenger side floor, and tested it to see if it worked. Thankfully, it did. A strong beam of light shot forward from the lantern when Clara turned the switch to the “on” position, and she hopped out of the truck to go inspect the cabin.
When she shone the light beam on the front porch of the cabin, that’s when she saw him. Carter was on his back, waving his arms wildly in the air, which created strange shadows when the flashlight was aimed in his direction.
“Carter!” Clara screamed out, running the short distance to the porch. She soon saw the problem. He had been pinned under a gigantic beam of wood. The beam was much larger than anything Clara would have expected to see in a log cabin. This cabin was huge, though. More like a mansion log cabin than the small, one-room type of dwelling Clara usually associated with cabins. Clara swept her light over Carter, assessing the situation. Carter was covered in leaves and other debris that the wind had blown over him. He was shivering and wet, and had a gash across his forehead that looked like it was oozing blood slowly.
“H-how did y-you find m-me?” he asked through chattering teeth.
“Long story. I’ll tell you later,” Clara said. “It’s not important right now. What is important is getting you out of here. Do you think your legs are broken?”
“I-I think they’re o-okay,” he said. “I-I j-just can’t m-move.”
Clara nodded, and then noticed with alarm that Carter’s fingertips looked slightly blue under the light of the flashlight. She needed to get him somewhere warm and dry as soon as possible. She swept the light over the beam, and knew that trying to move it herself would prove impossible. But if she called someone right now, it would take them at least an hour to get here. And leaving Carter pinned here in the cold rain for another hour didn’t seem like a good idea. Clara knew there was only one way she could move this log herself: her bear could do it. She hadn’t planned to reveal herself to Carter so soon, if ever. But this situation left her with little choice. He was already in bad shape, and seemed to have lost a lot of blood. If she didn’t act quickly, there might not even be a Carter left to reveal herself to anymore.
“Carter, listen to me. I’m going to get this log off of you, but it’s going to require me to show you a side of me that might frighten you.”
Carter’s glassy eyes tried to focus on Clara. “I-I don’t t-think you can m-move this yourself. You n-need to c-call for help.”
Clara took a deep breath. She didn’t want to waste anymore time trying to explain this to Carter. She would get him out of here and somewhere warm and dry, and then enlighten Carter on the details of who she really was. “Carter, I know this is going to seem crazy to you, but I’m a bear shifter. I can turn into a polar bear at will, and my bear will be strong enough to move this beam.”
Carter didn’t say anything. He just looked at Clara like she had lost her mind. Or maybe he thought he had lost his mind and was imagining that all of this was happening. It didn’t matter. Clara gave him a reassuring pat on the forehead, and then stood behind him to take off all of her clothes so they wouldn’t be ruined from her shifting. She didn’t have any spare clothes in the car, so she had no choice to get naked before she shifted. Otherwise, she’d be driving naked all the way back to Red Valley.
Carter glanced backward at Clara, confusion etched into his face as he realized she was undressing. Clara sighed. This wasn’t exactly the way you wanted a guy you were interested in to see you naked for the first time, but it couldn’t be helped right now. She shivered as she peeled off her last articles of clothing, and then threw her head back and roared as she shifted. Her skin thickened and became covered with dense, white fur, and her face changed into the face of a bear, with a long, fuzzy muzzle and furry round ears. Her hands melted into giant paws, with large, sharp claws at the end. Clara huffed a few times as her transformation completed, rolling her neck back and forth to work out the kinks. A quick glance at Carter showed her that he was, predictably, shocked. She couldn’t worry about that right now, though. She needed to get that log off of him and get him somewhere warm.
She moved quickly to Carter’s side, and placed both of her giant front paws onto the beam. She let out a roar as she pushed. Even with the strength of a bear filling her, it took all of Clara’s energy to force the beam to budge. Carter grimaced and howled with pain as the heavy beam rolled away, and then he was free. He sat up, slowly, gingerly, and looked around. His eyes were wide and disbelieving, and he sat there just staring at Clara’s bear while shivering violently. He probably thought that he was hallucinating. Clara padded over to him on her giant paws and gave him a nudge with her muzzle, trying to see if he could stand. He didn’t look frightened, necessarily. Just shocked.
Clara realized that he wasn’t going to attempt to move to the car until she told him to snap out of it and stand up. She shifted back to human form so she could talk, sending of a whoosh of energy and light as her fur became skin once again, and her human face returned. She quickly put her clothes back on, and then reached out for Carter’s hand.
“Can you walk?” she asked. “Are your legs okay?”
His face had changed from an expression of shock to an expression of extreme pain. “I-I think I c-can walk,” he stuttered out. “It’s j-just that the f-feeling coming b-back into my legs is s-so painful. L-like pins and needles.”
Clara nodded. “The pain should pass in a minute or two,” she said, then pulled him up with her hand. “Come on, I need to get you somewhere warm.”
Clara managed to help Carter hobble over to her car, where she deposited him in the passenger seat and buckled the seatbelt around him. She got into the driver’s seat and turned the heater on full blast, then started the long drive back toward Red Valley. She glanced over at Carter, who seemed to be fading in and out of consciousness at this point. His breathing was slow and shallow, and he seemed to be staring off into space. The vacant expression in his eyes frightened Clara.
“Come on, Carter. Stay with me,” she said, reaching over to give his shoulder a little shake. He turned his head to look at her, but it seemed to take him some time to register what he was looking at.
Clara decided in that moment that she needed to get him help as soon as possible. She programmed the smokejumpers’ base into the GPS. Hopefully, Ian would understand her bringing a human to the base unannounced. Carter had already seen Clara shift, so he was unlikely to be accidentally exposed to any shifter secrets more startling than that, anyway. And the base was only about thirty minutes from here, as opposed to the hospital in Red Valley, which would likely be an hour-long drive, at least. Clara needed to get help and get Carter in dry clothes as soon as possible, so she decided to risk Ian’s anger and take Carter right into the middle of the shifter den.
Thirty minutes later, Clara pulled into the parking lot in front of the airplane hangar. The clock on her dashboard read 11:05, and Clara realized she had been involved in this search and rescue mission for several hours at this point. In the seat next to her, Carter still looked around with the same scary, vacant look. He had managed to remain conscious, though, which Clara felt was a good sign.
“All right, Carter, wait here for just a minute. Let me go see who can help us,” Clara said. She hopped out of her car and ran into the hangar, where she found everyone in the crew except Riley gathered around the Christmas tree, drinking hot chocolate while they talked and laughed. Their laughter faded off as they turned to look at Clara, who was a dirty, wet mess. Her hair hung in damp tangles around her face, and her clothes were covered in dirt, leaves, flour, and water.
“What the hell happened to you?” Ian asked, concern filling his voice. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Clara said, silently praying that Ian’s concern would not turn to anger when he discovered whom she had brought to base. “But Carter is not. I need help.”
“Carter?” Zach piped in, furrowing his brow. “Carter Shaw?”
“Yes, Carter Shaw. The guy who did the bunkhouse expansion. He got pinned under a log at a cabin he was working on, and he was out in the rain and cold for I don’t know how long. He looks like he might have hypothermia. I’m sorry for bringing a human here without warning, but he’s in bad shape. I was hoping to get help.”
Before Clara had even finished speaking, Mindy jumped up. “Where is he?” Mindy asked.
“In my car. I left him in there with the heater running, but he’s still wearing wet clothes and shivering.”
Mindy’s nurse training took over. “Luke, if I remember correctly, you’re closest in size to Zach. Go get him some dry clothes. River, go to the kitchen and boil some water to make herbal tea. Bring a mug of it over here as soon as it’s ready. Trevor and Hunter, go grab as many blankets as you can carry, and a pillow or two. Zach and Ian, come help me bring Carter in from the car. Bailey, you take care of Clara. Make sure she gets in some warm clothes herself, and gets a mug of hot tea, too.”
No one questioned Mindy’s instructions. Even Ian, the alpha, nodded his approval.
“Alright everyone, you heard the woman,” Ian said. “Hop to it, now. You’ve all got a job to do.”
Clara allowed Bailey to lead her away to the bunkhouse. She methodically went through the motions of taking off her wet clothes and putting on the dry clothes that Bailey offered, then sat in a chair in front of a mirror while Bailey brushed and blow dried her hair.
“You poor thing,” Bailey said. “Sounds like you’ve had quite a traumatic night.”
“Yeah, well it might be about to get more traumatic,” Clara said.
Bailey raised an eyebrow at Clara in the mirror. “Oh?”
“I shifted in front of Carter,” Clara explained. “I had to in order to save him. But I’m not sure how Ian will react.”
Bailey smiled at Clara. “Don’t worry about that. Ian generally reacts to situations like this with a pretty levelheaded stance. He’ll want to make sure that Carter isn’t going to go broadcasting that you’re a shifter to the entire city of Red Valley. But Ian understands that these things happen.”
“I hope you’re right,” Clara said, trepidation filling her voice.
When Clara was finally warm and dry, with a mug of hot tea between her hands, she followed Bailey back to the hangar. The whole clan was in there. Even Riley had arrived home from work, and was listening with wide eyes as Mindy told her that Clara had rescued Carter from dying of hypothermia. When Clara entered the room, everyone turned their attention to her. Everyone wanted to hear her story. But Clara wasn’t interested in story time until she’d had a chance to make sure that Carter was alright.
“Where’s Carter?” she asked.
“He’s sleeping in a spare room in the bunkhouse,” Mindy said. “He’s going to be just fine. He had a mild case of hypothermia, but he recovered with dry clothes, blankets, and hot tea. He had several bruises and a big gash on his forehead, but I cleaned it off and it wasn’t deep enough to require stitches. He was exhausted, so we put him to bed, but I’m sure he’ll wake up good as new tomorrow.”
Clara nodded, relief flooding her. “That’s good to hear,” she said.
“So,” Ian said, raising his voice slightly to take control of the room. “Carter was babbling about a bear. Mind telling us if you know anything about that?”
Clara sighed, and then told the whole story to the room, starting with the bouquet deliveries from a secret admirer, and ending with her arrival on base with Carter.
“Do you think he’ll say anything to anyone, about shifting?” Zach asked.
Clara shrugged. “I don’t know what to tell you, honestly. I don’t really think he will, but it was difficult to gauge his true reaction because he was so out of it.”
Ian stroked his chin thoughtfully. “I always thought Carter seemed like a reasonable person. But, of course, you never know how people will react to finding out that shifters exist. Let’s just keep an eye on how Carter reacts when he wakes up tomorrow. He doesn’t have a vehicle here, so he can’t run off on us very easily. And he didn’t have a cell phone on him, so he can’t call anyone to sound the alarm. If he does freak out, we should be able to intercept him easily and calm him down before he does something stupid like calling the police.”
Clara nodded, relieved at Ian’s calm reaction. “Thank you, Ian,” she said. “I’m sorry to expose my bear to a human like that, but I felt like I didn’t have a choice.”
“You did the right thing,” Ian said. “Now we just need to do the prudent thing and keep an eye on Carter to make sure he doesn’t overreact. I’m sure everything is going to turn out just fine. Now, it’s pretty late, so why don’t we all hit the sack. We can discuss this more tomorrow, if necessary.”
There were tired murmurs of agreement, and the clan members started heading for the bunkhouse.
Riley caught up with Clara as they were walking over. “I can’t believe Carter was your secret admirer,” she said. “And that you knew he needed help. This story is just so sweet and perfect.”
“Well,” Clara said, letting out a long sigh, “We’ll see how perfect it is when Carter wakes up and realizes he’s been rescued by a bear.”