Lord of the Bears (Wild Ridge Bears Book 1) (9 page)

BOOK: Lord of the Bears (Wild Ridge Bears Book 1)
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“What for?” Cullen asked.

“The only outsider anyone has sensed on clan lands leads straight back
to you, Jax,” Trevor said. “You gotta tell us what you know.”

“Nothing,” I answered.

“Dammit, Jax!” This time Bo stepped forward. He at least had the
decency to look sick to his stomach. “Cullen, don’t you just sit there silent
either. There was a girl out here taking pictures. Jax, you talked to her.
Simon and Cullen both could smell her on you. Now’s the time to explain why
this isn’t anything we need to worry about.”

“It
is
already something we need to worry about!” Simon’s voice
boomed, rattling the windows. “This is a courtesy letter. The Vista Foundation
is Damon Spence. He’s got money and connections in Washington. You all know who
he is. Now this asshole sends a letter with exhibits. He’s asking for
permission to send a crew out to survey the pioneer cabin.”

“So what?” I said, rising slowly to my feet. “So fucking what? That
cabin is on private property.
My
private property. Damon Spence has no
standing here even
with
his government connections.”

“Did you sleep so long your brains scrambled?” Simon leaned across the
table and dug his fists into the wood. “It won’t matter if he gets a hair up
his ass about that place. All he’s got to do is drum up a social media
campaign.
Save the Cabin
or whatever the hell else he wants. We’ll have
every tree hugger in the state traipsing around out here.”

“Then we’ll get our own court order and drive them off for
trespassing.”

Simon kicked one of the benches over and started pacing on the other
side of the room. “No good. No damn good at all. Because then they’re going to
start snooping around the mines again. Before you know it, we’ll all be
underground. Do you see now?”

He turned around and spread his arms wide.

“I told all of you when Caleb came to the clans asking for help for his
slut of a daughter that getting involved would go bad for us. I told you the
Lords only look out for themselves. Now, here we are, less than a year later
and there’s a new threat that leads straight back to another Lord’s literal
doorstep. What the hell else is it going to take to open your eyes?”

I moved around the table and crossed the distance between us. I stood
chest to chest with Simon. His eyes darkened and mine did too. The need to
shift coursed through me, making it hard to breathe.

“And I’m telling you, those pictures and Damon Spence have nothing to
do with me. You say one more word about my sister and yeah…we
are
going
to need to have a different conversation.”

“Yeah?” Simon didn’t back down. A hand closed around my arm, and it
took everything in me not to shake it off as Hank and Cullen tried to pull me
back. Bo and Rafe had a hold of Simon and tried to do the same.

“Not like this, boys,” Hank said. “Everyone needs to just calm down.
We’ll draft a response to Damon Spence. We’ll get our lawyers involved if we
have to.”

“Yeah. You do that,” Simon said. “Meanwhile, I’ve already taken steps
to clean up this mess.”

 “What steps?” I said, my voice hollow. But Simon didn’t have to say
anything. I saw the answer in the swirling storm behind his eyes. The corner of
his mouth curled into a smile as he saw the understanding come into my own
face.

This whole meeting was just a farce designed to keep me here. Nora. I’d
been foolish enough that first night to let Simon get close to me. He had his
fill of her scent all over me. He could track her as easily as I could. And I
could tell by the hard flash of his eyes that he’d already gone after her.

 

 

Chapter Nine

Nora

A bear. Jax was a bear. The bear was Jax. For the last twenty minutes I
paced from the living room to my kitchen, around the coffee table where my
laptop sat and back again. Finally, I stopped and stood in the middle of the
living room with one hand on my hip and the other on top of my head as if I
needed to hold it to keep it from popping off. A trickle of sweat poured down
the center of my back and the air grew thick. I sank down into the nearest
chair and buried my face in my trembling hands.

Jax was a bear and I was losing my mind.

Except I’d never had clearer thoughts than I did just then. I went back
to my laptop and zoomed in on the vivid pictures. Jax’s face stared at me, not
with rage. Confusion, maybe. His intense gaze tracked the path I’d just taken
through the woods. The muscles of his naked chest flexed. Veins popped on his
forearms. But, those eyes. They were so dark, the pupils dilated to large
circles. The whites were replaced by a deep brown, matching the color of his
hair. I touched the screen, letting my fingers trail along the curve of his
jaw. Inhaling, I closed my eyes and tried to remember his scent when I’d
touched him for real.

Real. That was the word. As incredible as all of this was, I knew the
truth. It slammed into me, matching my pounding pulse. This was real. Jax was
real. The bear was real.

Go to him.

I reared back, away from the computer screen. My thoughts came to me
unbidden. Go to him. I slammed my laptop shut and started pacing again. It had
been like this back in the woods, and until now I’d almost forgotten. Or
rather, I hadn’t let myself remember. But, when I approached that cabin, it
felt like something pulled me there. Sure, Aaron had pulled up a map and we’d
talked about where I should hike. But, I’d veered away from the hiking trail.
At the time, I knew that could be dangerous. I’d done it anyway. Then, when I
found the bear…when I found Jax…sleeping, I hadn’t been afraid. I could tell
myself it was just the shock of seeing a large, hibernating bear. Who wouldn’t
need a second or two to process that? But why hadn’t I run right then?

Because he belonged to me.

I shook my head. I covered my mouth with my hand again. The same hand
I’d used to reach for Jax’s sleeping form and run through his thick, sable fur.
I held my hand out and looked at it. There’d been magic in those woods. I had
felt it, I just didn’t understand it. But, it had been as real as the fingers I
now flexed in front of me. I should have been afraid then. I should be afraid
now. Except I wasn’t.

I needed answers.

I pulled my purse over my shoulder and hunted for my keys. A plan
formed in my head. I had to go talk to him. Jax had to explain himself to me.
Even as I thought it, I knew I was bordering on crazy here. No matter what else
Jax was, he was a virtual stranger. Worse, he could be dangerous. But, my need
to see him again rippled through me stronger than any hunger I’d ever felt.
What had pulled me to him out in the woods that day was still real and still
there. I needed to understand it.

I threw on a fresh pair of jeans and tied my hair into a top knot. I
packed an extra phone charger, two bottles of water, and some power bars. I
wasn’t much of a hiker, but something told me it wouldn’t matter. Jax could
have hurt me. He’d had two very real opportunities to make me disappear, and
both times all he’d done is keep me safe. As I headed for the door, my phone
rang inside my purse and nearly made me jump out of my skin.

Without even looking at the caller I.D. I answered it. A split second
later, I regretted that decision.

“Nora. God, I’m so glad you answered. I wasn’t sure if you would,”
Aaron said, gasping as if he’d been running.

I opened my mouth to say something, but couldn’t think of a damn thing
bad enough to call him.

“Nora? Are you there? Are you okay? Please say something.”

“Aaron, I’m going to block your number after this. I don’t have time
for you.”

Aaron made a choked sound that sent a fresh wave of heated rage through
me. What kind of idiot did he have to be to think I would want to hear from him
ever again?

“I’m sorry. Nora. I mean it. I’m sorry. Things got out of hand, and I
panicked. But, I can fix everything. I don’t want you to leave. I don’t want
you to stay mad at me.”

“Aaron,” I said, sighing. “I think you’re going to have to get used to
the fact that you really can’t have everything you want.”

“I know. I know. Look, I feel awful how we left things. That’s not what
I wanted.”

“How
we
left things? That’s what you’re apologizing for? Are you
kidding me? Aaron, no means no. I take responsibility for my own actions. I should
never have agreed to come work at Vista after we went out. That was a recipe
for disaster. But everything that’s happened after that is on you. We broke up.
You couldn’t handle it. Then you tried to fire me because you couldn’t get me
to change my mind. That’s six kinds of sexual harassment. You’re lucky you’ve
got Daddy to clean up your messes.”

 “I know. I know. You’re right. One hundred percent.”

“Goodbye, Aaron. I can’t talk about this or to you anymore.”

“Nora, wait. Please? Let me make it up to you.”

“Gross, Aaron. Seriously. Goodbye.”

There was true panic in his voice that made no sense to me. What the
hell was he afraid of? He and his father got everything they wanted.

My blood ran cold as I looked back at my laptop. Damon had my SIM card.
Had he seen the ones of Jax? Did they already know who and what he was?

My palms started to sweat, and I rubbed them on my jeans. I pulled the flash
drive out of my laptop and put it in my purse. God. Of
course
Damon knew
what he had on that SIM card. I just wished I’d been more forceful in asking
him to give it back to me.

I needed to see Jax again. I needed to understand the truth. Adjusting
the weight of my purse on my shoulder, I headed out the door.

***

This was a risk. I knew that. Once I got to that stretch of M-28 where
the trail hit, it would start to get dark. I wished I had some way to call Jax.
Maybe he would have agreed to meet me on neutral turf. Sure, that would have
been the wise thing to do. But nothing about this made any traditional sense.
All I trusted right now was the burning feeling I had low in my gut that told
me whatever else happened, I needed to go to Jax.

My phone rang three more times on the way out to the ridge. I reached
into my bag and put it on silent. I parked the car well over on the shoulder
and sat for a moment with my hands gripping the steering wheel. I pressed my
forehead against it and focused on breathing. All the rational things I should
care about swirled around in my brain.

What was I doing here? How could I possibly ever go back? Maybe the
smart thing to do would be to just turn this car around and head home to
Traverse City. See my parents. Regroup. I could see if I could get my job back
at the local sports bar until the semester started. All of that would be so
easy. It would be safe. But, the idea of never seeing Jax again, never trying
to understand what he was or what I saw made my stomach drop.

I got out of the car. I adjusted my purse so it hung across my chest
and looked both ways. The road was deserted. A turkey buzzard flew overhead,
soaring then dropping fast toward some meal it must have spied further down the
road.

“Great,” I whispered to no one. “Carrion.”

I checked my phone. The missed calls were all from Aaron. I found the
square outline of my flash drive where I’d tucked into the side pocket of my
purse. Aaron was desperate for something from me, and it had to be more than
just my affections. The only person I think he was truly afraid of was his
father. Well, until Jax, that was. I couldn’t help the slow smile that lifted
the corners of my mouth thinking of what Jax had done to him. I hated myself a
little for that. I wanted Aaron out of my life, but I didn’t really want him
hurt.

I crossed the road and headed to the edge of the forest. It was quiet
at nearly dusk. A crow cawed in the distance and the trees rustled with a
slight breeze. It was the kind of evening that could make me feel like I was
the only person left in the world.

My phone went off again, vibrating against my hip. I let out a breath
and stepped onto the trail. Each step I took made me less sure about my
decision.

This was nuts. Certifiable. Assuming I could even find Jax out here,
who’s to say he wanted to see me? What would I say when I found him? What did I
have to go on other than a gut feeling and barely contained lust? God. He could
hurt me. I went a little bit farther and the trees seemed to close in around
me. Branches reached out, snarling in my hair. It felt like a sign. Turn away.
Go back.

When I heard a low growl in the distance, I decided to listen to those
signs. I heard another growl, deep and threatening. Something was out there,
something big and dangerous. The same voice rose up in my mind that had told me
to go to Jax. This time though, it just said
run
.

“Fuck this,” I said under my breath. Then I turned and ran. My phone
vibrated in my purse yet again. Once I’d made the decision to get the hell out
of there, every cell in my body seemed to scream at me at once.

Go! Faster!

Whatever strange sensation I thought I’d felt pulling me toward Jax, it
seemed the opposite was true now. I couldn’t seem to get out of those woods
fast enough. In fact, for the rest of my life, I might have nightmares about
not making it out.

I did though. It was fully dark when I finally burst back through the
tree line. My car was still parked at an angle right where I left it. I
rummaged for my keys and hit the remote lock. Sweat caked my shirt to my chest
as I slammed the key into the ignition and turned it. The car didn’t start on
the first try, and my heart dropped. It started on the second try though, and I
whipped the steering wheel around and headed back for home.

My heart raced and I felt sick to my stomach as I tore down the
freeway. I broke every speed limit and rolled through a few red lights at
deserted intersections. But, I put distance between myself and that ridge, and
I wasn’t entirely sure if that was a good thing. When I pulled into the parking
lot of my apartment, I could finally breathe again. Shaking my head, I stepped
out of the car and headed up the wooden steps on the outside of the building. I
was on the second floor with an exterior entrance.

I hesitated for a fraction of a second at my door. The lights were on
inside, and I couldn’t remember if I’d left them that way. It was such a minor
thing, but it raised the hairs on the back of my neck.

I opened the door and walked inside.

A bomb went off. I sank to my knees for a second before finding the
strength to stand. Every kitchen cupboard was open, some of them torn off the
hinges. My garbage was strewn all over the floor. Wet coffee grounds spread
over the floor, bleeding between the tiles. The living room was worse. Tufts of
white covered everything where someone had slashed my couches and ripped apart
every cushion. I stepped carefully around the wreckage and pushed down the bile
rising in my throat.

Someone had violated every corner of my space, even the air. It
smelled…well…wild in here, like overturned earth and rotted grass. I couldn’t
bring myself to go into my bedroom. My heart pounded with alarm, and it
occurred to me whoever did this might still be here. I backed out of the living
room, nearly tripping over the overturned garbage can. I would have fallen down
face first, but strong hands reached out and grabbed me under the elbows. I
screamed and tried to pull away.

“Nora!”

I looked up and saw a wall of muscle beneath a black cotton t-shirt.

“You?” I cried out and tore my arms out of his grip. “Why?”

Jax stood before me, lines of worry etched into his face. He came to
me. When he touched me again, he was gentle, carving a hand over the curve of
my skull and pulling me to him.

“Are you all right?” he whispered. “We need to get you out of here.
You’re not safe anymore.”

“Who are you?” I said, on the verge of hysteria. “Was this you?”

I pulled away from him again and backed into the kitchen counter.

“No,” he said, then dropped his head. “And I promise I’ll explain
everything. But, for now I need you to trust me.”

“I don’t. I can’t.”

Jax’s shoulders dropped. He had pain in his eyes when he looked at me.
For just an instant, they flashed dark, and I saw the bear inside of him. I
should have been afraid. I suppose some part of me was. But then he came to me.

“Nora. You have to. Please.”

Go to him. You belong to him. Jax is a bear. The bear is Jax.

Again, the thoughts came unbidden in my mind. But this time, I gave in to
them. When Jax held out his hand again, I took it.

BOOK: Lord of the Bears (Wild Ridge Bears Book 1)
2.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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