Authors: Clara Moore
Tags: #BBW, #Paranormal, #Suspense, #Romantic Suspense, #Romance, #Bear Shifter, #Soldier, #Military, #Western, #Shifter Creek, #SciFi, #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Short Story, #Bear Cubs, #Au Pair, #Human, #Woods Vacation, #Family Kidnapped, #Brother's Friend, #Fated Mate, #Protection
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Wanted by the Soldier Bear
“Pick me up,” Michael pleaded, holding his little arms out wide. Cecelia couldn’t resist. He was too adorable with his trusting blue eyes and little blonde head. She lifted Michael up into her arms, bobbing the four-year-old as his sister and brother ran around her feet.
Cecelia Conrad didn’t usually cave to the adorable. With her raven-black hair and dark green eyes, she preferred the night over the day, mystery over mirth. But something about children lightened her spirit. It was why she had studied child development in college, and why she’d looked for work as an au pair upon graduating, eventually landing a job with the Johannsson family.
They were a beautiful bunch with their Scandinavian blonde hair and bright blue eyes – all except the father, who looked more Mediterranean than Scandinavian. The children took after their mother, Diana Johannsson, a hardworking woman with a genuine smile.
On a normal day, Cecelia took care of the children while Diana ran her own marketing company and their dad played big man at his law firm, but this wasn’t a normal day. They were on vacation, trading in the buzz of the city for the restfulness of the wilderness. As Cecelia held Michael on the porch of the log cabin where they were staying, if a two-story timber palace could be called a cabin, she looked out into an endless forest.
“You’re an angel,” Michael sang, twirling a piece of her nightshade hair around his finger.
Cecelia smiled and set him down. “Go play,” she encouraged. It was a good thing she did. As soon as Michael’s feet touched the ground, he hiccupped and turned into a bear cub.
“Oops,” he said when he changed back into a boy, covering his mouth. “I hiccupped.”
Thank mercy the clothes of shifters return with the flesh
, Cecelia thought as she watched Michael and his siblings run around.
Otherwise, I’d spend all day redressing triplets.
Nearby, Diana sat in a cushioned lounge chair drinking a pink lemonade Cecelia suspected had a shot of something special added to it. Between sips, she chatted loudly on her phone. “I miss the city already,” she groaned. “There’s no cosmopolitan on the Great Frontier.” She paused. “Yes, mother, I know we can come home at any time, but this will be good for us. We have bear in our blood. We need wide open spaces.”
She laughed as if she’d just told a joke, but then her face fell. “Mother, not this again. There’s no danger out here. You’re being oversensitive, like the time you thought the triplets were drowning at sea and it turned out they were only watching Sponge Bob. You need seer spectacles.” She laughed again.
Cecelia tuned the conversation out. Fixing a button on her purple flannel shirt, she wondered what it was like to shift. She never had, and she never would. Most of the members of her family were shifters, but the gene wasn’t always passed down. Her older brother was a shifter. At will, he turned into a big brown grizzly, but his heart was gentle, at least when it came to those he felt he needed to protect. He was in the military, using his abilities for good.
“My mom’s at it again,” Diana called from her lounge chair, tucking her phone away. “Being a seer is only a gift if you can see straight.”
That was something else Cecelia had missed out on – special gifts. It was rare, but some shifters could do extraordinary things, like see what others could not or make the earth tremble with a stomp of their foot.
“What is she worried about this time?” she asked.
“She thinks we’re in danger out here in the woods. I told her the only danger here was my husband’s barbequing skills.”
“The fearsome three are running around so much, they’d eat a plate of dandelions if you gave it to them.”
“They may have to if he burns everything again. I was thinking… there’s a tree house down the path. Why don’t you take the children there to play for a few hours? There’s something else I want my husband to set on fire.”
Cecelia tried not to cringe. Diana had no filter. It was one of the reasons she loved her, but sometimes it was too much. “I predict a fourth cub soon,” she said as she began rounding up the kids.
“So did my mom,” Diana called as they headed for the path. “That was three years ago.”
They were being watched. Cecelia could sense it. She may not be able to shift into a bear like her brother could, but she still had the instincts of an animal. As the children climbed within the tree house, Cecelia circled the clearing, hunting the hunter.
“Who’s there?” she demanded, peering into the thick wood around them.The feeling vanished.
It’s the wilderness
, she told herself.
There are lots of critters watching us out here. Squirrels. Owls. Deer. It’s harmless.
Still, she could not shake the uneasiness away, so she decided to bring the children back to the house. She’d given their parents plenty of time to have their fun. After a semi-edible dinner on the porch, Cecelia put the kids to bed, tucking Michael in last.
“Tell me a story,” he begged. “The one about the three bears.”
“Can you promise me you won’t hiccup?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.
“I’ll try,” he said, pronouncing his
“Okay. I’ll tell you a story.” She sat next to him on the bed, and he cuddled into her arms. Children loved curvy nannies. Being big and beautiful worked in her favor as an au pair. In her arms, the children felt nourished and safe.
“Once upon a time, there was a girl thief named Goldilocks. While Mama, Papa, and Baby Bear were away, the horrible girl snuck in and stole all the porridge.”
“Boo!” the children cried together, all three listening in.
“Not only did she eat all the porridge, but then the lazy girl slept in their beds. When Mama, Papa, and Baby Bear returned to the house, they were so upset, Baby Bear started to cry, which thankfully scared the girl thief away.”
“I like that story,” Michael said, yawning. “But it made me sleepy.”
“Then shut your eyes, Baby Bear,” Cecelia hummed. “All of you.”
“You’re not Goldilocks,” Michael proclaimed as he closed his eyes. “You’re an angel. You watch over people.”
“I’m no angel, but that’s sweet of you to think so,” she said as she walked to the door to shut out the lights. “Goodnight, Baby Bears. You sleep tight, and I’ll keep the monsters away.”
Cecelia didn’t sleep well. Her room was on the far side of the cabin, away from the family so that she could have her privacy. There was no noise; silence surrounded her. Coming from the clamor of the city, perhaps it was the silence that unsettled her sleep, filling it with terror.
She kept having nightmares, first of her brother fighting in his war, and then she was in a dark room, black like tar, with men’s voices surrounding her, hushed like whispers. She couldn’t hear what they were saying, but their whispers danced around her like a den of snakes.
She woke groggy, but she was glad to be awake. The early dawn was a relief. There was nothing to fear. The world was as it should be. Needing coffee, Cecelia threw on her purple flannel and went to the kitchen. The family would rise soon – first the kids then the parents. Leaning against the kitchen counter with the mug of coffee next to her cheek, she breathed in her last moments of peace before the day really started.
The peace lasted a lot longer than she expected. The kids should be up causing a ruckus by now, hitting their little paws against the pots and pans as she made them scrambled eggs and toast. Afraid they were bouncing around on their beds or tossing their toys around like confetti, she went to check on them, but they weren’t there, so she searched the rest of the house.
“Where are you hiding, Baby Bears?” she called, pulling the curtain back from the sliding glass door that led out onto the porch.
There was nothing, only the unsettling silence.
Deciding they must be with their parents, she knocked on the bedroom door, expecting Diana to shout at the kids to go leave with their CeCe, but again – nothing. Risking the embarrassment, she opened the door. The room was empty.
Cecelia wasn’t the type to frighten easily. Anger often preceded her fear when trouble presented itself, but not this time. Something was wrong. Very wrong. The part of her that wanted everything to be okay tried to convince her that the family had gone for an early walk or were fishing for their breakfast, but she pushed the nonsense away. Families on vacation didn’t rise before the sun, not when little kids were involved.
To be sure, she ran outside to where the minivan was parked in the drive. It was still there, glinting silver in the sunlight. That wasn’t all. Embedded in the hard mud was a fresh set of tire tracks – tracks that had not been there the day before.
Overcome with emotion, Cecelia fell to her knees in the mud. The family was gone, stolen in the night.
“Barry,” Cecelia sputtered to the operator. “Barry Conrad.”
She was calling her brother’s base in god only knew where. His missions were kept secret, untraceable, but there was always an emergency line.
The operator put her on hold. “I’m sorry,” he said when he returned. “Barry Conrad is in the middle of a meeting.”
“But I need him. Now. It’s an emergency.”
Of course it was an emergency. She wouldn’t be calling if it wasn’t. Why couldn’t the operator understand that?
“Would you like to leave a message?”
“Yeah. The message is get my brother. I’m out in the middle of nowhere. The family I work for has been kidnapped, and I don’t know–”
“Did you say kidnapped?” the operator asked.
Holding on was the one thing she was trying desperately to do. And she was failing. Images of the triplets being held captive kept wrenching at her heart.
“CeCe, I’m here,” Barry said, coming on the line. “What’s wrong?”
She explained everything to him. The conversation was not calm. She spoke rapidly, her hysteria rising. “Can you come?” she asked when she was finished.
“I’m thousands of miles away,” he reminded her. “And I’m in the middle of an important operation.”
“More important than saving the Johannssons?”
“That’s not fair.”
She didn’t apologize. “I have no choice but to go to the police.”
“Don’t do that,” he directed sternly. “If this is a bear issue, there’ll be hell to pay.”
Cecelia never understood that – why the world of shifters had to stay so secret. Being a bear was as natural as being a human.
“Listen,” Barry said, “I’m going to send someone who can help. His name is Marcus Sanders. He’s an old military buddy of mine. He’s in the next state over, so he can be to you in a few hours. Wait for him.”
“What if they come back?” she asked. “Whoever they are.”
“Run,”Barry told her without hesitation. “Keep your ears open and trust your instincts. No one has sharper instincts than you, sis. If you think trouble is headed your way, you run.”
Waiting was torture. She didn’t know what to do with herself. After pacing madly around the drive, listening to every little noise, she finally settled inside on a rocking chair that overlooked the front of the house. Pulling a blue knitted blanket over her flannel shirt for comfort, she stood watch.
None of it made sense. Why would someone kidnap an entire family? The only thing she could think of was that Mr. Johannsson had worked a legal case that pissed off one of his clients.
Oh god... if Michael hiccupped and shifted into a bear...
She couldn’t think about it, so she rocked in the chair, waiting and wondering.
Why didn’t they take me?
By the time the sun hung low in the sky, Cecelia gave up hope anyone was coming to help. Then she saw headlights sweep across the window, dim in the fading light. She’d given her brother the location of the cabin, but she forgot to ask what this Marcus guy looked like. It was a mistake. For all she knew, the kidnappers had returned.
Abruptly, she shot up from the rocking chair and slid behind the sofa. It was a poor hiding spot, but it was better than waiting out in the open for dangers unknown. A car door slammed shut outside, and she heard footsteps on the porch. Soon after, the front door opens.
I forgot to lock it! S
he realized, sickened as she peeked from behind the sofa.
The man who walked in was no soldier. He was built like one, with strong arms that ripped through his T-shirt, but he was unruly, with mass tattoos down those strong, tanned arms and dark hair that, though short, was undisciplined. Her instincts told her he was the rebellious, fly free type. Her brother was the exact opposite. He lived for structure and authority. That’s how soldiers stayed alive.
A strange déjà vu sensation ripped through her, and she quietly fell back down behind the sofa, her heart racing. He was probably going to kill her, but all she could fixate on was how sexy the guy was.
Don’t be an idiot
, she scolded herself silently.
He’s not here to help you. He’s here to hurt you.
“Cecelia,” the man said from somewhere nearby. “Come out from behind the sofa. It’s me, Marcus. Your brother sent me.” There was an impatience to his tone, like he was berating a child, but she didn’t care. She was just glad he was someone good, even though he looked so bad.
“The sofa, really?” he asked when she appeared. “You should have gone for the gun cabinet.”
“Be happy I didn’t,” she returned. “Thank you for coming.”
“I was obligated to,” he stated, sounding very much like he didn’t want to be there. “Tell me, where is this family of yours?”
“If I knew, I wouldn’t need you.”
“Oh, you need me, honey,” he said, his brown eyes serious. “But probably only to talk sense into you. What makes you think they were kidnapped? Your brother filled me in on most of the details, but I’m not convinced. A hundred things could have happened here. They could be out teaching the kiddos to hunt like bears, or there could have been an emergency and they’re at the hospital, or they’re stuck in a tree somewhere.”
She rolled her eyes, frustrated. This was not a time forbear humor. “Trust me, something’s wrong. They would have told me if any of those things were happening.”
He still wasn’t convinced. “Hate to break it to you, but you’re just the help. You’re the last on the list of–” Marcus stopped and went to the fireplace.
“What is it?” she asked, joining him.
He gently placed his hand behind her back, protective, and pointed with his other hand above the mantle.
“I don’t understand,” she said, surprised by how familiar and intimate his touch felt.
“The carving in the wood. It’s the symbol of the Bear Hunters. Was it here when you arrived?”
Now she understood. Shocked, she stared at the squiggles in the wall that formed the symbol. It looked like a primitive sun, something seen on a tribal painting. “I don’t know,” she told him. “It’s been too warm to light the fire.”
“No bear would sleep here if it was,” he claimed, his expression like steel. “This is trouble.”
He was finally giving the situation the attention it deserved, but it was no comfort to Cecelia. It was worse than she could have imagined. Bear Hunters were lethal. With a knot in her gut, she traced her hand across the carving. “That’s why they didn’t take me. I’m no bear.”
“Good thing I am,” he disclosed. “I can try to track them.”
It meant he’d face the Bear Hunters on his own, but she didn’t protest. The triplets were out there. Inhaling deeply, Marcus took in the scent of the family, and then he went outside. She followed him and stood on the porch.
“What can I do?”
“Wait here,” he instructed, and then he changed, becoming a large black bear with the same unruliness as his human form. Growling into the twilight to make his superior strength known, he sniffed the air, matching the family’s scent better than a bloodhound, and he charged off, leaving her alone in the cabin once more.