Authors: Kimber White
I acted without thinking. I turned to Jax and went up on my tiptoes. I
slid my hand behind his neck and thanked him with a kiss. A simple gesture, one
meant to be light and chaste. But, when Jax leaned down and his hand rested on
my lower back, something lit up inside of me. His lips were warm and wet, and I
sank into him. Air went out of me and my head swirled. His tongue flicked at
the corner of my mouth and a groan of pleasure came out of me unbidden.
I finally pulled away, took a staggering step backward, and turned
toward my car. It took me a beat to catch my breath. I ran a hand through my
hair and steadied myself. I squeezed my eyes shut, bracing to turn around and
face Jax again.
“Thanks again,” I said, my words coming out in a rush of air. I
plastered a polite smile on my face, hoping to downplay the heat of that kiss
as I finally turned to look up at him. When I did though, he was gone.
The bear’s thoughts ripped through me. It took every ounce of strength
I had to turn and run deep into the woods. If I’d been a second too slow, Nora
would have turned around and seen it. The touch of her lips against mine
brought the bear roaring to the surface. I tore through the woods to get away
from her at the same time every cell in my body wanted me to go back.
Want. Want. Want.
I drove my fist into the nearest tree trunk, sending bark flying. Blood
poured out of deep scratches on my knuckles. I brought my hand up to my face
and flexed my fingers. By the time I exhaled again, the scratches had already
healed, just leaving caked blood behind. It felt good. Raw. I needed more of
it. I punched the tree again and again until blood dripped over my forearm. But
the wounds healed quickly every time. I breathed in the fresh, crisp air and
waited for the sun to sink below the horizon. I’d let the bear out only when
the sky turned pitch black and I knew Nora was long gone.
Her scent was everywhere. It seemed to permeate my pores. It didn’t
mean anything. It
mean anything. She was just a girl. I’d just
been asleep for so long my senses were heightened, my thoughts jumbled. She was
just a girl like all the others…the very kind I couldn’t have. Except, why did
I know her name before she told me? Why had she grown so bold as to reach out
and try and touch a sleeping bear? I pushed those thoughts aside. They’d do me
no good now.
Tonight, I’d let the bear have his way. I would hunt and forage, get my
fill of the lake trout zipping through the stream at the base of the hidden
waterfall on the north side of the pioneer cabin. Then, I’d feel normal. This
obsession with Nora would go away and I’d be able to think again and plan.
That’s what I needed. A plan. There were those close by who would demand
answers soon. I’d been away far longer than I’d intended. They might not let
that slide. By the time the sun rose again, I’d be a new man and ready to face
the consequences of my choices. Whatever those might be.
The next morning, I woke up in a regular bed with clean sheets pulled
up to my chin and the late summer breeze blowing across my chest. It felt like
home for the first time in longer than I cared to remember. This cabin…
This wasn’t the small pioneer home Nora stumbled upon yesterday. That was mine
too, or at least, it belonged to my family. But this place, I’d built with my
own two hands from the ground up. The place was tucked away amid the tall pine
and birch trees along the ridge just a few miles to the west of where I’d
stopped to hibernate. Friends had looked after it while I went away, and now it
was time to find them again.
But not yet. I had just these few moments left to myself. When I closed
my eyes, I saw Nora’s face smiling back at me, her blue eyes shining. If I
breathed in deep enough, I could almost imagine the scent of her still. Clean
and fresh. Feminine. My bear stirred within me and my cock grew stiff. I wanted
her. That dark knowledge gnawed at me. I
her. But I could never
have her. Women like Nora could only get hurt by men like me.
I stretched, showered, and threw on a fresh pair of jeans, t-shirt, and
work boots. It was time to go back to the mine and check on my crew. I missed
them, but still dreaded every second of this. I’d been gone for nearly a year,
and there was no telling what I might find when I got there.
I went outside, found my truck just where I’d left it with a full tank
of gas. Smiling, I found the keys under the visor and it started on the first
try. Oh, yeah. My crew had taken care of that for me too. I owed them
everything. I owed them my life. Now it was time to try and begin to pay them
The Wild Ridge Mining Company was actually a co-op run by a group of
bear shifters here on the ridge. Each of us runs our own claim, but we abide by
a simple set of rules. Well, really only one main rule. Nobody fucks with
anyone else’s livelihood. A big part of that meant keeping our shifter nature
hidden from outsiders. Sounds easy, except shit between bears can get
complicated. Especially these days with trouble always brewing from the wolf
packs to the south. Some of that trouble is what kept me away for so long. But,
I didn’t want to think about that now, I’d put it behind me. It was time to get
back to the business of being Caleb Lord’s son and my own man too. I ran my
father’s crew now, and he made me the head of the family. I just had the
sneaking suspicion there might be a few who wouldn’t want to make that easy for
I pulled into the parking lot of the company store on the north side of
the entrance to my mine. My stomach flipped when I saw the row of other trucks
parked outside. I hadn’t seen a soul last night, but word must have spread
quickly that I was back. The bear inside me grew unsettled; he was spoiling for
“Easy, bear,” I said. “You’ve done quite enough.”
I slammed the truck into park, tucked my keys back under the visor, and
headed up the wooden porch steps. Movement to my right made me freeze. Cullen
charged me, his smile widened, showing a deep dimple in his right cheek. He
came to me, leaned in and slapped me on the back. He was big and broad, his
faded Red Wings t-shirt stretched across his chest.
“Jax, man, what a sight for sore eyes you are.” My heart lifted at his
words. I knew I wouldn’t have to worry about Cullen. He was part of the James
family crew. The Lords and Jameses had been allied for the better part of two
centuries. Still, it felt damn good to hear his words gush out and know they
were genuine. Cullen had probably been responsible for keeping my place intact
and my truck running while I was gone.
“Good to see you, man,” I said, clasping his hand tight. Cullen’s smile
dropped just a touch. He put his arm around my shoulder and gestured with his
chin to follow him around the corner on the other side of the porch.
“Before you head in there,” he said. “We need to have a little talk.”
I swallowed hard. “Is that why you were lurking around here waiting for
Cullen nodded. “You need to know what’s been going down since you
I nodded. I’d expected an inquisition from the rest of the heads of the
bear families. I was damn glad Cullen was here to give me a heads up about
where things stood. Doing so put him at a little bit of a risk depending on
which way the wind blew with the others.
“First thing,” he said as we stepped off the porch and headed a good
bit into the surrounding woods, “how are things with your sister?”
My sister, Olivia. She was the reason I’d left Wild Ridge last year.
She’d gotten into some trouble with a wolf pack further south. She’d run off
with one of them, as a matter of fact. It had taken me, my father, and a few
members of the other families to deal with it. It had also almost cost me my
life. Dragging the other bears into it kind of skirted on violating our code of
staying under the radar with outsiders. Nothing more outside than werewolves. I
knew there might be a few who’d hold it against me.
“Olivia’s good,” I said. “That’s all settled now.” I knew Cullen would
want more details. No doubt the rumors the other bears brought back were a hell
of a lot wilder than the truth. But, I wanted to put it behind me. I’d gotten
hurt so badly I couldn’t shift for weeks. Now, I was fully healed. I just
wanted to get my own life back.
Cullen nodded, but his eyes still looked troubled. “Well, let’s just
say it’s mostly settled. A lot went down after the others came back. Haven’t
you talked to Caleb?”
I shrugged. My father hadn’t handled the knowledge of having a daughter
off with a wolf very well. “Not yet. And I don’t expect I will for a long time.
He headed up to the Yukon after we handled things with Olivia. He wanted to clear
his head and see some old friends there. I don’t think he’s much in the mood to
answer questions about shit that’s nobody else’s business.”
“Right. He told us he was leaving. Some of the old timers weren’t too
happy about it. There was a vote, Jax.”
My heart dropped. A vote. I knew my father would face ramifications for
dragging some of the bear families into our mess. I should have stayed by his
side, but after my fight with the wolf pack, I would have died without
hibernating first. I didn’t think I wanted to know the outcome of that vote.
“It was close,” Cullen said. “A few of the families thought Caleb
should forfeit his rights to the mine and wanted to drive him off the ridge
altogether. And you with him.”
“Families? Let me guess. Simon Marshall was the ringleader.” I choked
back the bile rising in my throat. Those fuckers actually thought banishing my
father would have been justified?
Cullen let out a breath that told me all I needed to know. Simon was
the head of the Marshall family crew. “He was in the minority, but yes. Everyone
calmed the hell down after a while. Caleb pissed a few people off, but he’s
still Caleb. Nobody can forget that your grandfather’s the one responsible for
settling this land and founding the mining operation for all of us in the first
place, and that Caleb helped grow it to what we are today. The Lord name still
carries a lot of weight around here.”
“Right. But I’m guessing you’re about to tell me whatever chips my
family name held, this last drama cashed them all in.”
Cullen hung his head then finally nodded. “Pretty much, Jax. Pretty
much. But who cares? You’re back now. Things can start getting back to normal.”
“I surely fucking hope so. And thank you, man. I know you’re the one
who looked after my place while I was gone. I won’t forget it. So, is that all,
or are there any other surprises I need to look forward to? What about you? Is
Hank still hanging around, or has he finally let you take over your family’s
The grim set to Cullen’s mouth told me the answer. Old Hank James was
still hanging on. Cullen put an arm around me as we started walking back toward
the company store. “Hank is Hank. And, well, Simon’s still the asshole he’s
always been. Unfortunately, there are enough of them like him, so I’m not going
to lie and tell you re-entry is going to be smooth for you. I did what I could,
but Simon’s poached quite a bit of your crew in your absence.”
Fucking Simon. Except, with my father gone and me with him, there
probably wasn’t a damn thing I could do about any of that now. I’d have to
swallow my anger and get back to business. As soon as I started pulling more
copper out of the ground, it would go a long way toward rectifying all of this.
“It is what it is,” I said. “Let’s just get this shit over with. I’ve
got work to do.”
The bell above the door jangled when I walked in. The wooden
floorboards creaked beneath my feet as I walked past the rows of food supplies
and toward the back room where I knew I’d find everyone waiting. I kept my head
up, my shoulders back and the bear still inside of me while I faced whatever
they meant to throw at me.
Simon leaned over the large, wooden conference table with his palms
spread flat against it. He looked over a surveyor’s map with his blond brow
furrowed. He’d heard me come in. Of course, they all would have all sensed me
before I got within a mile of the place, but Simon kept his head down for one
beat, then another before he slowly lifted his gaze to mine. His dark green
eyes flashed, and his brow creased in a scowl.
“Have a nice nap?” Simon said, finally straightening. He crossed his
arms in front of him and leaned back against the wall.
I couldn’t help it; the bear growled inside of me. Simon’s bear
flickered to life in his eyes too. I knew what I had to do.
“Outside,” I said, my voice low.
Simon raised a single brow. His eyes went dark, the pupil widening and
the iris turning completely brown. Bear eyes. There was no turning back for
either of us. We could talk at each other all fucking day long, but this was
simpler and would end things quicker. I hoped.
I smashed through the front door just ahead of him. Cullen and the
others poured out of the store behind us and took positions along the porch
railing. When I turned, Simon bared his teeth. My own bear rippled just below
the surface. If I shifted now, this might get out of hand. We wanted to smash
each other’s faces in, not fight to the death. I took a step forward, rounding
on Simon, and dropped my shoulder. I let him throw the first punch.
He caught me square on the nose. Blood sprayed across the grass as I
staggered back. Then, I charged Simon, hitting him in the center of the chest
with my shoulder. I drove him to the ground, landing body blows as I did it.
His claws came out and tore across my shoulder blades. I reared back and
slugged him again across the jaw. It broke my fucking hand, I think. He shoved
me off him and we were on our feet again.
He caught me on the chin. I drilled him in the ribs. We went blow for
blow. Finally, we both staggered forward and landed hard on the porch steps.
Blood poured from a cut on my cheek. Simon’s left eye swelled shut. I held my
broken hand against my chest. By the set of his nose, I was pretty sure I’d
broken it. He reached up and grasped the bridge of his nose with his thumb and
forefinger and pushed the bones back in place.