Authors: Marie Harte
Tags: #Shapeshifter, #Paranormal, #Fiction, #Romance, #Adult, #General
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This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.
Samhain Publishing, Ltd.
577 Mulberry Street, Suite 1520
Macon GA 31201
Copyright © 2008 by
Edited by Angela James
Cover by Anne Cain
All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
First Samhain Publishing, Ltd. electronic publication: April 2008
To Angie, a great editor who’s not as evil as her blog would tell you.
Cougar Falls, Montana
C-o-n-d-o-m. Worn in conjunction with sex. Take it into town, find a woman and use it, for God’s sake, or we’re not coming home.
Sincerely, Dean and Grady.
“Assholes.” Burke Chastell discreetly pocketed the small foil package in his pants and crumpled the note in his fist, dropping it on the table in front of him. Idiot brothers.
Grady must have written the note Burke had found folded and tucked into his shirt pocket. Dean could barely spell his own name, and “conjunction” was a three-syllable word.
So what if Burke had been a little testy lately? Since Charlotte Penny’s death, the entire town had been waiting on pins and needles for a reading of her will. But damned if her attorney would tell them anything. Gerald insisted they wait for Rachel Penny, Charlotte’s niece. A woman they’d never met, and who very likely wouldn’t be able to find Cougar Falls, in any case.
Glancing around at the small semi-crowded diner, Burke nodded at several of his neighbors, hoping Mac might choose today to leave the kitchen and wait on some tables.
Trying to focus on the menu he didn’t need, Burke groaned inwardly when he scented the cloyingly sweet smell of the woman who’d been harassing him for years.
“Burke, how nice to see you this morning.” Sarah Duncan interrupted his thoughts, and he quickly covered the ball of paper he’d crumpled on the table with a large hand.
God forbid Sarah get her hands on that nugget of gold. The woman was constantly in heat, and he had no urge to dip his wick where half the men in the county already had.
Sarah filled his cup with steaming coffee and waited for an acknowledgement, one hand resting on a curvy hip.
He grunted, and she shook her head. “Cat got your tongue?” She smirked, batting her eyes as if the cleverest girl in the world.
Why had he chosen the Fox’s Henhouse for breakfast today? He should have followed his instincts and driven the twenty miles into Whitefish instead of lingering in town.
“Funny, Sarah.” He sounded as if he’d just swallowed a bucket of gravel, but he had no inclination to play this morning. He needed to get a handle on Charlotte’s absent niece, on the Gray Wolves running amuck in Glacier, and to find that damned totem again before all hell broke loose.
Burke could feel the mystical totem’s loss as keenly as the others. In the air was a void where the totem’s strong spirit should have been protecting Cougar Falls. It was only a matter of time before the human populace took notice of the small town that
“didn’t exist”. Fuck. He had to find that totem.
“Come on, puma man. When you gonna give me a little lovin’?” Sarah did her best to engage him, bending down to show a generous cleavage as she stroked his forearm… without asking.
His hackles rose at the clear breach of etiquette. He might be a man, but he was a catamount as well, a feline Shifter protective of his space. Burke heard the chime of the door opening, but had his attention fixed on Sarah, in no mood for her games. “You couldn’t handle me even if you wanted to. Back off, and get me the damned special.
Now.” His growl alarmed the rest of the patrons in the diner, and he felt their stillness even as the rich aroma of fear wafted under his nose.
“Oh please. I guess even this far north the he-men are out in force.”
The belligerent voice had everyone in the room turning to stare at the newcomer in shock. A stranger. In the Fox’s Henhouse. In Cougar Falls.
“What? Is this a private restaurant, or can anyone order the ‘damned special’?” The stranger, a woman, glared down her nose at Burke, then turned a warm smile on Sarah.
“Is it okay if I sit anywhere?”
Sarah gaped dumbly until Burke nudged her. “Oh, um, yeah, sure. Have a seat wherever.” She beamed and fled behind the counter, her whispered exclamations audible to everyone but the stranger who sat as far away from Burke as possible, in a booth with a view of the mountains as well as the rest of the diner. He sniffed the air, trying to catch her scent, and found to his surprise…nothing.
Just like Charlotte Penny.
His blood heated at the thought that he might finally have found a lead on the missing totem, and he studied the woman, absorbing what he could. She looked nothing like Charlotte, but that didn’t rule her out as a relation. Charlotte had been a petite blonde, pretty in a soft, gentle way, and as wily as his grandfather.
This woman looked like an Amazon in comparison. Tall, stacked and ferocious as she glared his way before studying the menu. Her hair was a long blue-black, shiny and straight but curled at the ends over her shoulders. Thick black lashes framed light green eyes looking out from creamy, golden skin. Her nose was thin and turned up at the end, saved from being just short of cute by the sexy-as-hell mouth curled in contempt at the moment.
He couldn’t help lingering on her full breasts, their shape visible beneath the thin red T-shirt she wore. She obviously wasn’t from the area, judging by her clothing, inappropriate for Montana’s summer months. Even in July the sun refused to warm up beyond seventy degrees. Today’s sixty-five was no exception.
Burke glanced around him to note everyone giving him the look that said, Take care of her. And once again he questioned the notion of having a catamount in charge of the totem’s protection. The silver foxes were much better equipped to handle civilian authority and change. Both charming and sly, they’d been known to speak out of both sides of their mouths. Too bad his buddy Sheriff Ty Roderick presently had his hands full 7
of the snotty wolf clan. Now if Burke could just keep Dean and Grady out of that mess waiting to blow up in their faces…
Sarah reappeared, breaking his concentration, and slammed a plate filled with food in front of him. She quickened her step to the stranger and began chit-chatting, fishing for information.
“Sorry it took me so long. That one there…” Sarah paused, nodding toward Burke,
“…can be a bear before his eggs.”
In the table next to him, Joel Buchanan snorted under his breath. “Bear, my ass. Cat has no sense of decorum.”
Burke shot him a dark look that Joel ignored before turning back to his wife.
“I know all about his type,” the stranger said, her lips fixing his attention.
Damn, but her annoyance was starting to turn him on. Granted, she was hot. But normally, animosity didn’t have him half-hard. The woman didn’t seem as affected. He could sense she felt anything but arousal. Anger burned through her pores.
“Ah, sure. He’s okay, really.” Sarah glanced back at him anxiously and he rolled his eyes. She turned back to the woman. “How about I bring you the special, and you can see why our customers are just so irritated to have it?”
The woman grinned and handed Sarah her menu. “Sure thing.”
“So what brings you to our little town? Cougar Falls is kind of off the map.”
An understatement. Cougar Falls was not only not on the map, but thanks to the totem on Charlotte’s—what used to be Chastell—property, only Shifters and humans with the ability to turn could find the place unless brought along by one of the townsfolk.
“My aunt used to live here.” A collective sigh whispered throughout the room.
“Charlotte Penny? Maybe you knew her.”
Sarah clucked and patted the woman on the hand. To Burke’s perverse satisfaction, the woman tensed and slid her hand under the table once Sarah let her go, as averse to pawing as he’d been. He grinned and tucked into his food, his ears perked.
“Sure. Everyone knows—I mean, knew Charlotte. In a town this small, no one’s a stranger.” Sarah wiped her hands on her apron. “I’m Sarah Duncan.”
“Rachel Penny.” They shook hands.
Rachel. Burke stared at her. It fit. A strong name for a strong woman. Now how to change the bad impression he’d unintentionally given and get the woman to sell him Charlotte’s property?
Rachel did her best to ignore the hot stare running over her from head to mid-belly—
what was visible before the table cut her off. Why hadn’t she ignored the mountain view and sat with her back to the jerk? She couldn’t help glancing up, only to see his eyes locked on her with an intensity that had her fuming…and glaring back out at the mountains as she tried to ignore the answering race of her pulse.
Why did every good-looking son of a bitch have to be such a creep? Her ex-husband had been an Adonis, and he’d not only cheated on her, but systematically wiped through their savings with his legal bullshit and games. Thanks to him, she’d finally settled her divorce with a whopping one thousand dollars to her name—and three months later less five hundred more—no house, no car, and what clients she’d managed to tear from their previous joint Internet business.
Sitting several booths down from her, the guy oozing sex appeal and a bad temper seemed worse than Jesse. For one thing, he was better looking with a better body. And that voice… Much as she felt annoyed, that irritation struggled against desire rising sharply out of nowhere. Tamping it down was harder than it should have been, but Rachel managed.
Mr. Bad Ass had sandy blond hair long enough to need a cut, giving him a bad-boy appeal. His eyes were a bright, whiskey brown, and his chiseled jaw and firm chin hinted at more than stubbornness—an attribute that never failed to attract Rachel. I’m such an idiot. I shouldn’t look at this guy. He’s not what I need right now. I mean, come on. His attitude needs an overhaul…as does his seeming inability to look anywhere but at my breasts.
“Anytime you’re through undressing me with your eyes,” she snapped.
Several grumbles sounded around her, one louder than the others, and she glanced around the diner to see a bear of a man choking on his laughter sitting with a pretty blonde.
Bad Ass simply grinned, and her hormones shot into overdrive, making her warring lust and rage into a tangible thing.
His grin faded and he cocked his head, studying her with a deep scrutiny that had her feeling like prey. Muttering a curse under his breath, he pushed away his half-eaten plate, threw a few bills on the table and stormed out of the diner.
The minute he left, her libido subsided, and Rachel waited for her breakfast in relative peace. The rest of the locals left her alone, though she could feel the weight of their curiosity in the stares that refused to leave her. Natural enough in a small town, she supposed.
Sarah brought her the special, a cup of coffee and her ticket, and apologized profusely for taking so long. Thankfully, the touchy woman left without another word, allowing Rachel to finally satisfy her hunger…and dwell on the circumstances surrounding her newfound fate.
A year ago she’d thought she’d finalized the divorce with Jesse, only to have him drag her through court as he tried to swindle what he could out of their holdings. They’d never been rich, but they’d been comfortable, and happy, or at least, she’d thought so.
Finding him screwing their accountant had proven her seriously wrong. And Linda wasn’t younger or prettier than Rachel, which made it worse. Apparently, the backstabber was better in bed, because her breathy cries had alerted Rachel that something was definitely “wrong” with their accounts.
The quickie divorce she’d expected turned brutal as Jesse became the ex from hell.
As if cheating on her weren’t bad enough, he tried stealing from her as well. Six months of negotiating and he’d still managed to rip the company name away and nearly ruin her in the process. For God’s sake, she’d brought him into their Internet web design company. Her baby from the get-go. Yet his fancy lawyer handed him the company’s 10
name, more than half their assets he hadn’t already buried under false accounts, and her hard-earned reputation.
Rachel fervently hoped Linda gave him a disease, or better yet, an audit from the IRS.
Smiling into her eggs, which really were delicious, Rachel couldn’t help remembering her Aunt Charlotte’s raves over the diner’s full, sit-down breakfasts, which brought back the sad predicament landing Rachel in Cougar Falls again. The last time she’d visited she’d been all of six years old, and she could still remember crazy old Aunt Charlotte whispering of the magic underlying the town.