Authors: Tianna Xander
Tags: #Paranormal, #Erotic Romance, #Shapeshifter, #Ménage
“She smells a little like the river mixed with moss, fish and her own sweet scent.” He bent his head toward her neck, drawing in a deep breath. “I like it.”
“You’re an idiot. Your cat likes it. My cat likes it, but I wouldn’t tell her that when she’s conscious, if I were you.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right.” Noah chuckled. “Never tell a woman she smells like fish. It’s a good way to get a foot planted in your crotch.”
“Among other things, yes.” Ronan watched while Noah picked her up.
“What are we going to tell her about the huge black cat she saw before she passed out?” Noah turned and headed toward the cabin. “It’s not as though things like that are common occurrences, even here in Paradise.”
“I don’t know. Maybe we’ll get lucky and we won’t have to explain that to her.”
“We’re never that lucky.”
“I know,” Ronan replied with a shake of his head. If they were, they never would have found the woman on their watch.
If only they could be lucky enough to have the gods, fates, or whatever step in and find them a mate like some of the others in Paradise.
How many times had he and Noah wished they had found their mate? How many times had they stood by and watched others in town find the person that would complete them? He sighed. Too many times.
“I’ve been thinking that maybe we should leave Paradise and look for our mate. I’m tired of doing nothing. It’s not as though she’ll fall into our laps like others have fallen into the lives of their mates.”
He looked over at the woman in Noah’s arms. “I would like to have thought that this one was meant for us, but so far, she hasn’t stirred my senses in any way, other than to remind me that one of us needs to catch dinner or we’re each eating another nasty MRE that Fish brought up here last fall. I’d like to punch the ass that had the nerve to call them Meals Ready to Eat.”
He grimaced when he thought of the meals that Fish, one of the retired Army Rangers, brought up to the cabin. They might be nutritional, but they tasted like ass. “I’ll go get busy fishing or I’ll see if I can catch a rabbit or two.”
“Rabbit would most likely be better. We can make a soup or stew with what’s stored in the root cellar. We might even be able to get away with no meat. I saw some onions and beans down there. We might get lucky and find a canned ham, too.”
“Fine. You look for something to eat, and I’ll run down the mountain far enough to get a signal and call for help. She’ll never let us carry her down the mountain when she wakes up. I’m sure of it.”
Stacia woke slowly. Her head pounded and her body ached everywhere. She could have been wrong, but it felt as though even her hair hurt. Was that even possible? She frowned.
Opening her eyes, she rolled over. Taking a deep breath, she started coughing and couldn’t stop. Why did her lungs hurt so much?”
Her memories returned slowly as she lay on her side, her breaths shallow. She’d run to the river with the hope of escaping the grizzlies and fell into the rapids there. The swift current swept her away and after a while, she’d lost track of time. She might have even lost consciousness, but she wasn’t sure.
There was a huge cat! She remembered that much. Was it a mountain lion? Were mountain lions black? Years ago, she would have insisted it was a black panther, but she’d found they didn’t exist. Not really. The large cats most called black panthers were black jaguars, cougars or some other cat with a color mutation.
Content to stay where she was if it meant she wouldn’t cough, Stacia took the opportunity to look around the room. She was alone—at least for the time being.
“How did I get here?” Her stomach ached with the realization that she had no idea where she was or whom she was with, at the moment.
“We brought you here.”
Stacia jumped and screamed at the sound of the deep voice coming from the foot of the bed. The scream sent her into another coughing fit. Why couldn’t she take deep breaths?
“Don’t excite yourself. You swallowed quite a bit of water. You’re lucky you didn’t drown.”
“I know,” she whispered as she glanced at the man.
He was gorgeous. About six-foot three if she had to guess, and she did. The man was every inch a god. Short black hair framed his too-perfect face with a straight nose and arched brows over beautiful gray-green eyes.
Shirtless, his wide chest covered in black hair, Stacia found it difficult to look back up into those glorious gray-green eyes. Normally, she wasn’t one to like a lot of hair on a man, but for some reason, it fit on this one.
Built like a football player, she was certain the man could bench press a small car. She stared at him for a moment. Scratch that. He could probably bench press a mid-sized car. He carried a large, odd-shaped can in one hand, the other held a small cloth bag. It appeared as though the bag held rocks or something else of an equal size and shape.
“Where am I?” Moving slowly, she sat up and looked around. It was obvious that she was in a cabin, but…where was the cabin? How far did she travel down that river?
“You’re in a cabin on the outskirts of Paradise.” Moving closer, he knelt next to the bed and reached out.
Stacia flinched back, She didn’t know this man. Why would she want him touching her?
“I’m not going to hurt you. I was just going to introduce myself.” He held out his hand again, palm up. “I’m Noah Gibb.”
“I’m Stacia Naylor.” She still didn’t want to touch the man. She didn’t know a thing about him. Wasn’t she at enough of a disadvantage without giving the man possession of her hand?
When she didn’t offer her hand, he felt her forehead. “I just wanted to see if you had a fever. There’s a bottle of aspirin in the bathroom if you have a headache. You’ve got a pretty bad lump on the back of your head.”
“You have a bathroom here?” Stacia sat up with a grimace as her head pounded. The place didn’t look big enough to have a separate room for washing.
Reaching up, she felt the back of her head. He was right. She had a
lump back there. “Do you think I could take a shower?” A nice warm shower sounded lovely. Maybe it would ease some of her aches and pains.
“Of course you can take a shower. We have a generator to run the well, water heater, and a small refrigerator while we’re here.” He grinned. There isn’t much in the fridge. We’d planned to live off the land while we were here.”
Her gaze shifted to one of his large hands. “Canned ham is living off the land?” She grinned. If he’d wanted to appear macho, he should have lost the ham before announcing his arrival.
“Well…” He grinned. “We had been eating fish from the river, and wild onions and potatoes that someone had thoughtfully stored in the root cellar last fall. When you arrived, we thought it best to get one of the canned hams someone left down there and make a stew.”
“Ham stew?” She wrinkled her nose. “Why not slice it and fry it? You could also fry up the potatoes and onions. You could even cook it all in the same pan. It wouldn’t be stew, but I suppose it would be close and have more flavor than something that would simmer all day in a pan of water.”
“I knew I liked you, the minute I laid eyes on you.” He smiled again. “That’s a wonderful idea.”
“Great. I’m glad you liked it.” She moved to sit up and frowned. She’d planned to ask him to direct her to the bathroom and the shower. “Why am I naked?”
“Oh. I should have mentioned that,” he said as he walked away. It was as though it was perfectly normal for him to undress strange women in his cabin on the outskirts of Paradise—wherever
was. “You were wet and freezing. We thought it best to get you out of your wet clothes.”
There it was again. That
word. It had barely registered the first time he said it. He must have a wife or girlfriend with him. If so, maybe it wasn’t as bad as she thought and that the woman had undressed her. It was unsettling to think of a strange man undressing her.
before. Are you up here with your wife?”
Noah laughed as he dug a large frying pan out of the cabinet next to the sink. “Hardly. I don’t think anyone wants to marry the ass I’m up here with.” Still smiling, he placed the pan on the stove. “We’re up here because it was our turn to stay here for the weekend. We have special…duties while we’re here.”
“Oh.” Stacia pressed her lips together. That was a mean thing to say about a person, even if he was up here because their boss had ordered them up here to work. “Isn’t kind of mean to assume no one would want to spend time with her?”
“Her? What?” He frowned as he turned to look at her. “I’m not up here with a woman.
“Oh, God.” She held the blanket tighter about her. “Your companion is a man?” She looked down at herself, her face burning as she realized it had been a strange man who undressed her after all. “Which one of you took my clothes off?”
“Oh. I understand now.” He gave her another one of those devastating smiles of his. “I did. But it was dark and I kept the lights off so I wouldn’t see much.” He winked. “I promise.”
Sure he had. Holding the covers tight, Stacia flopped back on the bed and threw her arm over her face. Could things get any worse?
At that moment, a loud pounding came from just outside the wall next to the bed. “What’s that?”
“That’s most likely Ronan. He went to go call for help. With luck, we’ll have you down the mountain and at Doc Martin’s in no time.”
“You said that we were on the outskirts of Paradise. Where exactly
“We’re about fifty miles south of Mason, as the crow flies.” He had just finished slicing the ham when the door burst open, and another god on Earth walked through the door. Taller than Noah, his head almost brushed the ceiling as he walked through the door.
Dark brown hair hung to his broad shoulders. He wore a tattoo of a snarling cat on his left bicep. Like Noah, he was shirtless. Button fly jeans rode low on his hips. His large, bare feet were dirty, as though he’d hiked down the mountain barefoot. Perhaps he had. They both seemed the mountain man type.
“I finally got in touch with the sheriff. He’s sending up a rescue unit to take the girl down the mountain. Did you find anything to eat?”
She’s awake. For God’s sake, don’t scare the shit out of her.
Remember, she’s human and she knows nothing about us,
Noah said to Ronan as soon as he burst through the door.
You’ve already scared her half to death, bursting in like that.
“Our guest has awoken, Ronan.” Noah moved forward and indicated the bed against the front wall. “This is Stacia Naylor,” he added with a smile.
Stop scowling. She’s liable to think that you mean to harm her. She’s rather skittish. I haven’t had the time to ask her how she made it to the river.
That wasn’t entirely true. He’d had the time. Noah knew he’d had plenty of time to find out why she was in the river, banged up and bleeding. He just hadn’t wanted to take the time. Mostly, he’d wanted to get to know the woman, though he had no idea why.
For some reason, finding out about the woman had seemed more important than finding out what happened to her. He still liked the way she smelled, but there was nothing remarkable about her scent.
The woman couldn’t possibly be their mate. Everyone he’d ever talked to about it had said that they had known their mate almost immediately after scenting them.
While Stacia Naylor smelled almost good enough to eat, it didn’t make his blood boil with the need to be with her, to make love to her, the way he’d heard should happen with a
He stared at the woman. Her dark hair was a mess. She would probably cry when she saw herself in the mirror. Dark circles under her eyes told him that she needed rest. Lots of rest.
When he first reentered the cabin, she’d looked up at him with those strange amber eyes filled with distrust.
He couldn’t blame her. A lot of things could happen to a lone woman in the mountains, which brought him back to wondering what she’d been doing in the water in the first place.
“How did you end up in the river?” Noah finally managed to voice the question they had both wondered about ever since they saw her on her knees in the river, throwing up a river of water.
You haven’t asked her that yet?
Ronan gave a disgusted sigh.
Maybe you should have made the call.
Any other time, Noah would have replied to that remark, but Stacia looked up at him, tears in her unusual eyes.
“Grizzlies. They attacked our camp.” Sniffling, she wiped the back of her arm across her face. “I’d finished setting up my gear first. I remember I was kind of upset at Buffy.” She stared at the floor. “Buffy was Brian, the tax attorney’s girlfriend. She was a greenie. She never should have been there.”
“A greenie?” Noah had never heard that term before—at least never applied to a woman.
“Yeah. She wasn’t experienced in the least.”
“Experienced at what?” Ronan asked as he grabbed two chairs from the table and dragged them over to the bed. He plunked one down next to Noah, sitting in the other.
“Hiking.” She sniffed again. “We were all hiking. We were supposed to hike from just south of British Columbia to Helena. It was a commercial hiking expedition. At least it was supposed to be.” She bit her lip. “I’m not sure where we were when the grizzlies attacked. I only remember running for the river, hoping that I could lose them if I jumped into the rapids.”
“Rapids would explain the lump on the back of her head,” Noah said as he looked at Ronan.
“And you have no idea where you were when they attacked?” Ronan leaned forward in his seat. “Any idea would be better than nothing. We could attempt to send out a search party, if we had an idea.”
She shook her head. I only know that we were five days out of the area where we started. I know the guide had said something about being a day from Flathead lake, but that’s all I know.”
Noah met Ronan’s gaze. “The lake isn’t far from here.”
Do you think the sheriff could pull together a search party? A group from Mason, maybe?