Authors: Stacey Espino
Ben’s calm aura transformed in an instant as his odd greenish-yellow eyes narrowed. “I didn’t invite you.”
“But you invite
? For a scratch?”
Ben took a deep breath, the tick in his jaw going strong.
“I can’t leave my friends,” said Bella.
Or let you take me into the woods alone.
She had no clue who this guy was, even if he’d been a gentleman. “Maybe you could help us build a fire?”
Her sexy stranger ran his hands up and down her arms to create warmth from friction. His touch sent tingles all the way to her clit. How long had it been since she’d been with a man? She couldn’t even remember exactly. This blond stud brought out all her base desires. Ben had such a magnetic aura that reined her in effortlessly. He may not have realized the significance of saving her from Keith, but it meant a lot to her. “Okay. I don’t want you to be cold. But you should still consider my offer.”
Within minutes of bending down beside Keith and Dave’s fire pit, Ben had the beginnings of a healthy fire going. She didn’t know how he’d done it without flint or a lighter. Bella could respect a man’s man, one that knew how to survive in the wilderness. It was a turn-on. Not that his shaggy mop of dirty-blond hair, perfect white teeth, and classic good looks had anything to do with her escalating hormone levels. His tall, leanly muscled body, with biceps straining in the sleeves of his white T-shirt, did nothing for her. Yeah, right! All she could think about was him wrapping those strong arms around her to fend off the cold. Why wasn’t his skin broken out in gooseflesh like everyone else’s when he only wore a thin T-shirt? Talk about survivalist and a thick manhide. Her pussy began to pulse with a desire she’d never really known. The men she’d been with in her life had done little for her libido, and none of her relationships had lasted more than a few months.
Ben brushed his hands together as he rose from the roaring flames and turned to face her with such intensity she felt weak in the knees. It was as if he knew what she was thinking, that he sensed her arousal and thrived on it like a man possessed. She froze when he moved in on her. All her natural senses were heightened. She could hear her heart pounding in her ears and the crunch of dirt under his heavy black boots as he neared.
“Awesome!” Dave slammed the truck door shut and joined Keith at the fire. “You do this?”
The bubble of intimacy, or what she believed to be an intimate moment, was shattered in an instant.
Ben had previously had no intentions of showing himself to the campers. He’d remained on the periphery of the campsite all night, unable to tear himself away after picking up her unique scent. When she’d stepped out of her shelter in the morning, he rose to attention, spying her from the shadows of the forest. He wasn’t disappointed.
His mate had long, dark hair and fair skin. Even in her disheveled state, he was awe-struck by her beauty. His cock hardened, knowing she belonged to him, knowing one day soon he’d have her under him. He couldn’t keep his eyes off her or stop testing her scent on the slight breeze, like the finest perfume, one that was both new and familiar. He’d been waiting his entire life for her alone, and neither of them even realized it.
Ben had watched the girl as she entered the woods, following her, watching her, knowing she’d never hear or see him. The forest was his element whether as man or beast. Once, she was nearly atop him, oblivious to his presence as he crouched in the underbrush. He could feel her emotions, and it was a unique connection, one usually shared only between pack members. Ben closed his eyes and breathed in deeply. He hadn’t even marked her, but already, they had bonded on a spiritual level. She allowed their link to take hold of her, drifting through the forest as if she’d lived there all her life.
Although he enjoyed watching his woman, staying close, he had no plans on meeting her until he had time to come up with a decent plan. She was one hundred percent
, and he knew about human customs. His alphas were mated to a human, and she was not one to bend over backwards. They had their work cut out for them convincing her to accept their true nature. He wanted to be sure he didn’t scare the woman off. He’d have to court her, earn her trust. Unlike a female wolf, she wouldn’t follow her instincts.
His plan was going along fine until that bastard threatened her when she returned to the campsite. The limp dick raised his voice and stalked her, both unacceptable. Ben could smell the acidic scent of her fear, which only brought his beast to the surface. Threaten his mate and threaten him. Without thinking, he moved into action, ready to rip the man’s throat out. But once he was by her side, and knew he could keep her safe, his anger subsided and his rational thoughts returned. Tamping down the wolf was difficult when he was used to letting it run rampant. Living in the forest without taking leave to visit the city to socialize with humans, he’d lost a bit of his humanity with time.
“I’ll speak with my friends. Maybe they wouldn’t mind if your camping party joined us for dinner.” He’d sensed her trepidation when he asked her to leave with him, but he had to get her alone to allow them a chance to bond. How could he get to know her or show her how much she affected him if Dumb and Dumber were on them like glue? He thought he’d have his work cut out for him getting a human woman to warm up to him, but he could scent her desire. It was potent, earthy, a hormonal signature made just for him—one he couldn’t resist. As he watched her, his main focus was maintaining control when all he really wanted to do was knock her to the ground and fuck her raw.
“Great. Then we wouldn’t have to worry about finding a grocery store,” said Keith.
Ben stifled the growl rumbling to the surface. At some point, he’d have to leave her alone with the two men and every instinct within him screamed to stay by her side. There were two other females in their group. He’d wait until they returned, and then find Callen to tell him the amazing news that he
had found his mate.
Callen may be one of their alphas now, but he’d always be Ben’s best friend. They got along so well together, but unfortunately their close tie had begun to unravel since Callen’s mating. Although he’d resented his pack mate for months, all hostility now fizzled away. Ben knew exactly what Callen meant by the pull of the mating bond. Would he be able to give Bella his love bite, marking her as his, one day? Just the thought sent a shower of peace through his blood and made his cock harden simultaneously.
“How far out are you camped?” asked Bella, hooking her thumbs in the front pockets of her jeans. He could feel her discomfort and desire in equal parts. He wasn’t that intimidating, was he? If she realized how easily she could wrap him around her little finger, she’d be brimming with confidence. He’d eagerly drop to his knees to get a taste of her sweet little pussy. She had no idea that he was made for her pleasure.
“It’s a good hike from here.”
Try miles away.
Travelling in his wolf form through the forest took no time at all. If he had to lead her group through the old growth forest, it could take hours.
Keith and the other man joined them, moving into their bubble of space without permission. “You said you were a hunter? What are you doing way out here, alone? You don’t look dressed to hunt.” This guy was proving to be more of a problem than he initially expected. Human males usually gave shifters a wide berth of space, without knowing why. They emanated a dominant energy that was usually enough to guarantee them undeterred visits in the city. Keith needed to learn some manners, and he’d love to teach them to him. But, no, he’d behave for Bella’s sake.
The cold and harsh elements didn’t affect Ben, even in his human skin. He had to remember that it would be seen as abnormal to be walking around in a thin T-shirt in the frigid morning hours. “I was just scouting the area nearby when I heard yelling.”
“That would be Bella’s fault,” snapped Keith. “She wandered off and freaked out my girlfriend.”
He bit his tongue before replying. “Good thing she did or I’d never have stumbled across you.” Damn, he wanted to pull Bella against him. Her lips trembled from the cold, and he had the warmth to stave off the chill. He ignored the men, leading her away by the elbow. “Sit,” he told her when they reached a dark green canvas chair.
She complied and sat down with a wince. The poor girl had probably bruised her ass when she fell. He’d love to kiss it better, but that would have to come later. When the time came, he’d kiss every inch of her luscious body. Ben knelt on one leg in front of her, the fresh dew on the ground penetrating the knee of his blue jeans. He loved the feel of her skin against his. Her wrists were thin and feminine. When he looked into her eyes, hers were dark and wide, and he couldn’t help but stare. How could a virtual stranger have such an effect on him? He always believed he would choose his mate when he was ready, that finding “the one” was a bunch of bullshit. How wrong he was. There was no choice. Bella was the only woman for him, and he adored every detail from her big brown eyes and dark, flowing hair, to her full lips and small pixie nose.
“It’s nothing. Just a scrape.” She attempted to tug away, but his hands shackled her wrists. Could she feel what he felt when she looked in his eyes? Was the pull there for her, too?
“I don’t want a mark on you,” he said without thinking. He didn’t want to come across as overbearing and weird her out, but it was the truth. His woman would be taken care of, protected, and satisfied. Even a scratch wasn’t acceptable, in his opinion.
“It’s not your fault. Don’t worry about it.”
“I do worry.” She tried to replicate disinterest, a normal custom for human females, but he could feel the energy passing between them. No way was she that immune. “Tell me, Bella. Do you like being this deep in the forest?”
She whispered, “It scares me.”
“There’s nothing to be afraid of. You were made to come here.” He wanted to add, “made to be with me,” but stopped himself. Too soon.
“Maybe a lifetime ago, but I’m not a young woman anymore.”
“Age has no power over a person. We have the same dreams until the day we die. It’s only our fears that stop us from following our dreams.”
She smiled, and he felt the beauty of it radiate through his body. He wished he could tell her everything in one breath—that he was a wolf shifter, and that she was his mate. How would that go over?
Bella swallowed hard, and he decided he better back off for a while. He released her and stood to his full height. She was so fucking tiny, he could scoop her up and steal away into the forest. He wanted to, but decided it was time to leave. The females were almost back. Their footfalls were easy to distinguish in the unpopulated area.
“I’ll stop by later after I speak with my friends. Take care.” He turned and glared at Keith and Dave before returning to the forest.
* * * *
Bella’s mind was a muddle of emotions. The hunter was the hottest guy she’d ever seen, with a body to die for. If there was ever a man to risk a one-night stand on, it would be him…not that she would. He just had some sort of magnetic pull that was hard to resist. She was even tempted to leave with him, forget Keith and the whole forced camping trip. When he abruptly stood and left, she felt breathless and empty, like she should follow him to the ends of the Earth. He had a cute smile and the deep, hypnotic tone of his voice was comforting. She could listen to him talking forever. Bella wondered if he lived in the city. The thought of leaving without getting to know him, or at least get his number, filled her with dread.
There was no way he wasn’t attracted to her. A man didn’t look at a woman like she was something to eat if he wasn’t interested. Ben had an animalistic quality that made her pussy pulse. His unique greenish-yellow eyes and full lips were a tempting distraction, making her feel more like a hunter than a woman. She watched him walk away until the forest consumed him.
. She sighed and mentally scolded herself for not flirting when she had the chance.
A few minutes later, Amanda and Sara returned to the campsite, empty-handed. “No luck?” Bella asked as she stood to meet them.
“Not unless you like tree bark and poison mushrooms for breakfast.” Amanda dropped down on a fallen tree trunk and sighed. “I’m starved.”
“Looks like we’re in luck, babe.” Keith moved to sit beside Amanda. “We’re going to have dinner with some hunters. We won’t have to leave to get food after all.”
his friends agree to have us. That’s if he comes back at all,” said Bella. She hoped she was wrong and he returned. How could she ask for his number if he stayed away?
“He’ll be back,” said Keith. “He made us a fire. He’s not going to let us starve to death.”
The fire crackled, and Bella moved close to warm her hands. She couldn’t stop reflecting on the way Ben looked at her. It had made her whole body heat, and she had to stop herself from imagining him naked. With every muscle straining against the cotton of his T-shirt, it wasn’t difficult to envision. She was no fool. The guy also had a hard-on for her. It took everything she had not to stare at the impressive bulge in his jeans.
“I say we should get out of here today,” said Dave. “I mean, come on, even if he comes back, that’s one meal. What about the fact we’re starving now? What about tomorrow? This was a bad idea.”
“Why didn’t anyone think to pack food?” asked Sara. “Seriously. That’s basic, isn’t it? If I had known, I would have gone shopping, but you said everything was taken care of.”
Amanda stood and whirled on Sara and Dave. “Sorry, okay!” She threw up her arms. “I was thinking about camping equipment, not food. I can’t remember everything. It took me all day just to find all the pieces to the tent in the storage locker.”
Their budding argument was cut short when a loud pop made everyone jump. It was like a mini-explosion, but there was no smoke or fire. Bella’s hands flew to her ears as her heartbeat ran rampant behind her ribs.
“What the fuck was that?” Keith got up and approached the SUV with timid steps. “What the hell?” Everyone gathered around when Keith’s guarded stance eased.
“How did that happen?” asked Dave, bending down to examine the truck tires. Bella peered over his shoulder. Both tires on the left of the vehicle were blown out, tilting the whole mass of metal to one side. The whistle of air continued to sound as the remaining air leaked from the holes.
Of all the luck.
Everyone looked around, scanning the tree line. There was nothing to explain the tires self-combusting. They couldn’t just blame the incident on a criminal because this wasn’t the city. The tires probably couldn’t handle the rugged terrain they travelled to get this far into the woods. They were completely alone in the wilderness and now had no way of getting back to civilization. Even with the spare mounted on the back of the SUV, they’d still be running on a flat.
“That’s really weird.” Amanda stood to the side rubbing her arms up and down. “What do we do now?”
“Honey, this trip was your idea.” Keith dragged a hand through his black hair and exhaled in a growl. “Never mind. We’ll head into the forest the way that hunter left. We should stumble on their campsite sooner or later. They’ll have to help us now.”
“I said never mind. Let’s go.” Keith tucked a crowbar under his arm and snatched Amanda’s hand before plodding toward the forest. Dave and Sara followed with a flashlight. Bella knew it was unlikely they’d find what they were looking for. They had no survival training, and the forests this deep in the British Columbia wilderness were nearly impossible to navigate and full of creatures a camper wouldn’t want to come across without a rifle. She remembered her night in the little tent when she swore she saw the shadow of a wolf. What about bears? This was a very bad idea, but she didn’t want to be left alone at the campsite either. Against her better judgment, Bella followed her friends into the underbrush. They were already calling out, hoping Ben would still be in earshot. Hopefully they didn’t attract unwanted attention.