Authors: Kimber White
The bear woke before I did. Light and sound crashed through me, jarring
me out of the darkness. But, the bear was already on the move before I could
see anything. His hunger was mine. His fury too. Something had dragged him into
consciousness, and it had nothing to do with me. I felt only primal need and
aching hunger. One clear thought tore through him and finally reached me.
It finally made me open my eyes to see what the bear did.
She couldn’t be real. It wasn’t possible. How in God’s name could
someone like her have found her way back here? Not even another bear would dare
to trespass here. And yet, she had.
There was just an instant when she wasn’t afraid. If I’d been able to
get control of the bear, it might have been different. I would have kept him
still so she’d think he was dead or even just sleeping. But, the bear was fully
in control at that moment and all I could do was look at her. She had robin’s
egg blue eyes, wide and bright. She blinked once and did the unthinkable. She
reached for me. She reached for the bear. Long, slender fingers came closer.
Her scent. Her touch. Heat speared through me. Desire flared through my
synapses, short circuiting my thoughts and the bear’s with it. God, he wouldn’t
mean to, but he might kill her if I couldn’t stop him from reaching for her. I
was him and he was me. The same thought tore through both of us.
She froze then staggered backward. Golden blonde hair framed her face
in spiral curls that bounced like springs as she tried to get her footing. We
inhaled, the bear and me. Impossible. She was just a girl.
Her screams filled the air and stabbed into me.
to shout. Or
, perhaps. But, the bear was still in control. The roar
rose through me and out through the bear. I saw her in a kaleidoscope of colors
through the bear’s eyes. Shimmering gold like the color of her hair. Red heat.
Her lips as they formed a small “O” before she finally turned to run. Pale
whites. Her soft skin where it wasn’t flushed with heat and fear.
I knew I should rein the bear in. But, I was still stuck between waking
and sleep, somehow. She might just be a hibernation dream. They could be vivid
and disjointed. But in that fraction of a second as she turned, her hair
snapped around and brushed my face. The bear’s face. Soft curls and
honeysuckle. A few golden strands caught in my claw as I raised my hand…my paw
to touch her. Lightning seemed to tear through my veins.
I moved toward her. Just one step. Then another. She screamed again and
scrambled up the hill. I meant to stand still and let her go, but the bear
still had enough control, and he covered massive amounts of ground as she fled.
Finally, as the bear leaped forward and cleared a fallen log, I came into
myself all the way. Jarring, painful, bones breaking, flesh ripping and
reknitting. I tasted blood in my mouth. She didn’t turn back. Good girl. She
didn’t see as one black claw stretched forward, then receded, brown fur turning
to tanned flesh and I curled my hand and pulled it against my sweat-covered chest.
I staggered forward on two shaky legs, crouched low to the ground then
dove for cover behind a bush. The girl screamed one last time, then disappeared
through the thick foliage. I nearly called out to her then; she was going the
wrong way. She’d find nothing but the cliff face and a forty foot drop down. There
could be worse things out there than a hibernating werebear. The words formed
in my brain, but my voice was still too raw to use.
Nora. I shouldn’t know her name, and yet on some instinctual level I
knew I was right. Nora. She was Nora. And I still wanted her.
I tore a hand through my hair. Sweat poured down my face and into my
eyes. God. How long had I been out? The trees were in full bloom now and on
some of the highest branches, they even started to brown. Summer? Late summer?
I crawled forward and put my hand on the nearest tree trunk, using it to steady
myself as I got my legs under me.
Nora. It took everything in me not to call out to her. Her scent was
everywhere, sweet and strong. She was afraid. Terrified. But, there was
something else there too. Something dark and wicked. It was the thing that drew
her to me as I slept in the hollow of a decaying oak tree. No woman in her
right mind would have done what she did. And yet…she did.
“Fuck,” I muttered to myself as I got to my feet. It killed me to do
it, but I had to go the other way, away from Nora and back toward the cabin. I
couldn’t go after her like this, naked and sweating from the exertion of my
shift. Plus, I needed a minute or two to catch my breath and make sure I had
the bear well and fully under control before I saw her again.
The easy thing, the
thing to do would have been to simply
leave the ridge for a while and stay the hell away from her. I couldn’t do that
though. She was running. She was scared. She’d get lost or hurt, and it would
be all my fault. The image of Nora hurt, lying on the ground, dying tore
through my consciousness and nearly drove me to my knees again.
“Fuck!” I shouted to the sky. What the hell was she doing out here
I got back down to the cabin and went inside. The door creaked as I had
to nearly pull it off its hinges to open it. I should have woken long before
this and fixed the place. That had been the plan. God, it was a mess of piled
leaves and nesting material of the bolder critters who’d used the place when I
wasn’t here to chase them off. I had an old cedar chest shoved up against one
wall under a tarp. I threw the tarp to the side and opened the lid. As quickly
as my stiff limbs would let me, I pulled on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. I
had a pair of old hiking boots in there too. I shoved my feet into them, bones
creaking, then stretched as well as I could.
I had ground to cover. Nora was still running. It would take me nothing
to catch up to her, but I didn’t want to scare her again. I had an empty
canteen on a hook on the wall and grabbed that too. Let her think I was just a
hiker who happened upon her. Plausible enough, and her mind would want to
accept it. It made sense. It was logical, sort of. But I knew her heart and
heated blood might try to tell her something different.
“Quiet, bear,” I said to myself. “You’ve caused me enough trouble for
I walked out of the cabin and took a deep breath, filling my lungs with
fresh, crisp air. My bones ached. My stomach growled. It would be hard to stay
focused. It wasn’t good for me to come out of it like this. If I’d had my way,
I would have risen slowly. Peacefully. I would have stayed in the bear for a
few days after waking. Tracking. Hunting. Fishing. After I’d gotten used to the
feel of the earth beneath my paws again and had surveyed every corner of my
territory, only then would I have come back into myself and dealt with
Still, it felt good to use my legs. Adrenaline shot through me, warming
my blood as I broke into a brisk jog and headed north toward the cliffs. The
tangy scent of the lake filled my nostrils, practically calling me to it. Off
in the distance, I could scent the tankers rushing along the shipping lanes on
Lake Superior. Human smells. Normal things. It helped curb the wildness
simmering just beneath. I just hoped it would be enough to tether me when I
found Nora and quiet the bear. It would have to be. I couldn’t risk letting her
see me shift. I knew nothing about her except that she didn’t belong here. I’d
been asleep for months at least. Almost a year, most likely. Until I knew how
things were along Wild Ridge, the sooner I could get Nora safely away, the
She was getting very close to the cliffs and still running. Slower now.
I was gaining on her. She’d changed directions at least twice. She must have
thought she was heading for the highway. Not quite. She went too far east. And
she wasn’t in a wild panic anymore. That would help. Otherwise, with my luck
she’d try to mace my ass or something the minute I got close. No way I could
keep the bear in check if that happened.
The roaring waterfall of the highest cliffs reached my ears. She was
close. I darted behind the trees to stay hidden. But then, I saw her. Nora
reached the cliff face and turned around, cupping her hand to her brow to
shield her eyes from the sun.
God. My heart dropped to my feet. I’d only seen her through the bear’s
eyes at first. She was stunning. That mass of blonde curls framed her face,
wild and unruly. Without the curls I’d guess it would have hung to the middle
of her back. But, it sprang in all directions, bobbing just at her shoulders. I
moved closer. She still didn’t see me. Soon, I’d have to make a noise or call
out to her. But, I wanted this moment. I wanted to watch her, study her, know
her. Something told me everything would change the instant she turned and
looked at me. So for now, I just wanted this.
She swore at her phone as she held it up to her ear then tapped at the
screen. Dead battery or no signal. Maybe both. Shit. I didn’t have a phone
either. I’d have to walk her back down the ridge. If she’d even trust me enough
to come with me. A very long time to keep the bear under control around her. My
stomach growled and my spine prickled. Oh yes, the bear was there, just under
the surface, hungry and waiting.
Steeling myself with a deep intake of air, I stepped out of the tree
line and walked toward her. I stopped myself just before I called out to her. I
shouldn’t know her name yet, except I did. I pushed back the thoughts about
what that could mean.
“Hello!” I called out, hoping my voice didn’t sound too rough. It was
raspy and deeper than normal, but I tried to sound friendly at least.
Nora whirled around. She crossed her arms in front of her in a
defensive posture and took a step back as I came toward her. I put my palms out
and walked slowly.
“It’s okay,” I said. “You just, uh, you look lost. Can I help?”
Nora tucked a hair behind her ear and put a hand to the side of her
face to block the sun. I walked up to her but kept my distance. I drank in
every detail of her face as she looked up at me with those bright, questioning
eyes. I followed her long, delicate lashes as she blinked. She had soft, white
skin with a dusting of freckles over her straight nose except where it turned
up just a bit at the end. Her toned biceps flexed as she moved her hands to her
hips and smiled at me. She was tall. Very tall. At six foot eight, I still
towered over her, but she came up nearly to my shoulder.
“Hello,” she said, her voice skittering over me, and making the hair
along my spine stand on end.
“My name is Jax,” I said. “Jaxon Lord.”
“Uh. I’m Nora,” she said, and my heart skipped a beat. Of course I knew
it. And yet, some part of me wanted to deny who and what she might be. If I’d
been wrong about the name that would have told me something. It would have been
a relief…at least it should have been. But, I wasn’t wrong.
“Nora Gentry,” she said. I sang the name over and over in my head. “And
yeah. I uh, I guess I got a little turned around. You wouldn’t by chance have a
phone I could borrow, would you? My battery died. I need to call for my ride.
My boss is on his way to pick me up and should be along any second, actually; I
just want to let him know I’m ready to go.”
I cocked my head to the side and a smile lifted the corner of my mouth.
She was lying. She didn’t trust me, of course. And she shouldn’t. No one was
coming up here for her. A shudder of fear passed through me thinking about what
might have happened if I hadn’t found her first.
“Sorry,” I said. “Even if I did, you probably can’t get a signal this
far up the ridge. Not much out here but birds and bears.” Her eyes widened and
her cheeks flushed. I don’t know why the hell I said that.
“And me,” I quickly covered. “Come on. Are you parked along M-28?”
“What? Uh. Yes.” She didn’t realize that I’d just caught her in a lie. Her
boss wasn’t coming for her. She’d ventured out here all on her own. I could see
in her eyes the realization of how foolish she’d been. I could be anyone. She
could be in real trouble. It took everything in me not to say the words
bubbling just below the surface. I would never let anyone or anything hurt her.
Not now. Not ever.
“Come on,” I said and held out my hand. “There’s a trail just a little
to the southwest. If we hurry we can get you back to your car before it gets
She knew she shouldn’t trust me. I expected her eyes to narrow with
distrust. They didn’t though. Instead, she reached out and took my hand. When
her skin touched mine, lightening went off again beneath my flesh. The hairs
prickled along my spine, and I knew if she could see beneath my shirt she’d see
the skin ripple where the bear struggled to break free. Oh, God. To be this
close to her. To have her this close to the bear. Nora felt something too. It
was just a fraction of a second, but her eyes flashed with knowledge she didn’t