Authors: Tianna Xander
Tags: #Paranormal, #Erotic Romance, #Shapeshifter, #Ménage
Mason would be about a day’s walk from Flathead lake. If Mason had man eaters nearby, he was sure the town’s sheriff would want to know about it.
“Go call the sheriff and tell him about this new set of developments,” Ronan said as he stood. “I’ll stay here and finish the meal you started. It will still be at least an hour and a half before the rescue workers arrive and I’m starving. ”
“Okay. I’ve finished dicing up the ham into chunks and washed the potatoes and onions. Just slice it up and fry it all together. I’ll be right back.”
“Noah was just about to tell me where your bathroom is, when you came back,” Stacia said as she yanked the sheet from the bed and wrapped it around her. “Would you care to enlighten me, instead?”
Standing, Stacia tried not to stare at Ronan. She really did. How would she ever sit across a table from the man and eat when she couldn’t stop staring. She’d be drooling next.
She took a step forward and grimaced. Her legs ached. Her feet were on fire and she could swear someone had beat her about the lower back and hips with a baseball bat. Yes. She definitely needed a soak in some hot water, though a shower would do.
“I’d really like to get washed up. I feel sticky and gritty.” It was most likely from the sand and river water. It was okay to wash in the river when there were no other facilities, but Stacia refused to walk down to the river for a bath, wearing nothing.
It had been bad enough to wash in the river with the group. She never knew if one of the guys had been watching them while they bathed. Of course, had they ever caught the men nearby, they would have said something like,
I was only here in case you screamed. I wasn’t watching, I swear.
Stacia had heard that before, from her ex-boyfriend. The jerk watched her and the three girls they had taken hiking as an underprivileged teen camping trip.
Not only had she lost her license as a guide because of it, she’d had to declare bankruptcy because the parents had sued. Of course Larry had ended up in jail and as far as she was concerned, it served his perverted ass right.
It had taken her five years to trust a guide enough to hike with him in a co-ed atmosphere and look at what had happened.
Maybe Stacia needed to give up hiking altogether. She loved it, but apparently, it didn’t love her. Or, rather, it loved to rake her life over the coals.
Stacia had no reason to trust this man. For all she knew, he could have wanted to stay behind because he intended to force himself on her. At the very least, he probably intended to make a pass. Men were dogs. All of them.
“Sure. I’ll show it to you,” Ronan said as he limped over to a doorway just past the stove. She hadn’t seen the door before. She wasn’t sure why. Maybe it was because she had a headache from hell and she could barely keep her eyes open because of it.
Ronan opened the door and ushered her into a room that was quite a bit larger than she’d suspected.
“Sometimes men bring their wives when they’re sent up here. The women like the larger room.” He smiled and Stacia’s knees went weak.
When he smiled, his entire face transformed. It was as though the smile lit up his entire face. He resembled a little boy at Christmas who had just gotten the gift he wanted most.
Returning his smile, she held the sheet tighter. “I’m going to take a bath, if you don’t mind.” She bit her lip then frowned. “Where are my clothes?”
The last thing she wanted to do was dress up in dirty clothes after her bath, but she didn’t have much of a choice.
“I washed them this morning before I headed down the mountain to make a call.”
He didn’t remind her that the reason he’d walked down some mountain trail barefoot was to call rescue workers in for her.
“You know, I never thanked you and Noah for rescuing me.” She smiled and, taking a leap of faith, she held out her hand. “I’m Stacia Naylor. It’s nice to meet you, Ronan.”
She stared up into his dark eyes and wondered how a man could possibly be so beautiful.
Thick, dark lashes framed his masculine face. His nose was a blade, straight. His dark brows arched perfectly over dark brown eyes.
“There’s shampoo and soap in there. You’re welcome to use it.” He raised his arm and leaned against the door frame. It was all Stacia could do to keep herself from inviting the man to join her.
What was wrong with her? She frowned. Stacia Naylor was
in the habit of bathing with strange men, no matter how beautiful they were.
Ronan stared down into the girl’s face. He wanted to kiss her, though he had no idea why. She wasn’t his mate. She couldn’t be. Everyone had said that a mate’s scent would drive him wild.
While he found the woman attractive, he wasn’t crazy about her—not in that sense, anyway.
Still, she looked up at him through those beautiful amber eyes and he could almost imagine how she would look as a Jaguar. Her coat would be a mottled brown. The darker rosettes on her coat would shine with golden highlights and she would stare at him with those amber, cat-eyes.
Just the thought made him want the woman more than he already did. His groin ached with the need for release.
“Thank you for that. I’m sure I’ll wash my hair two or three times to get the sand out of it, if you don’t mind.”
“No.” He shook his head. Blinking slowly, he had the most incredible urge to make her run, just so he could chase after her. “I don’t mind. Use as much of it as you need.”
“Thanks again.” Smiling, she shut the door in his face. The sound of the lock clicking into place punctuated the sound of the door shutting and Ronan could do nothing but stare at the closed door for several minutes.
After what seemed an eternity, he heard Stacia turn on the water and he stepped away from the door with a shake of his head. “What in the hell is the matter with you, Baldwin?” Shaking his head, he stalked into the kitchen to finish their meal.
The scent of seaweed and river water filled his senses as he stood at the counter and chopped onions and potatoes until they were in tiny cubes.
“She’s not your mate.” Just saying the words made him growl. Why was he so attracted to her? Why couldn’t he concentrate on his task? He couldn’t concentrate on anything but the woman in the bathroom.
It didn’t matter that she wasn’t his mate. All that seemed to matter was entering that bathroom, climbing into that tub with her and thrusting his cock inside her…repeatedly. But why?
Turning, he stared at the bathroom door. She wasn’t their mate. She couldn’t be. She didn’t arouse the heat in him. He didn’t feel the burning need of the
He only felt the need to possess her.
Ronan spun around and faced the sink once more. He concentrated on finishing his task and, when done, scraped the raw vegetables into the pan with the ham.
Maybe it was this domestic task making him feel this way. He never cooked if he could avoid it. Perhaps the act of cooking, made him want to have a woman by his side. Maybe he was just too damned old to be alone still, or maybe, just maybe, he was tired of having no one but Noah in his life.
“That’s a lot of maybes,” he said to himself as he stared through the window over the sink.
Ronan turned their meal one last time before heading outside. He needed a bath himself. Rounding the side of the cabin, he turned on the water and picked up the hose. He’d wash out here. There was a bar of natural soap and he’d dry off well enough in the sun. It wasn’t warm yet, by any means, but at least he’d smell better.
Why he was worried about it was beyond him. He certainly wasn’t washing the stink off of himself to please the woman. She wasn’t his mate and he wasn’t about to touch her.
Ronan smiled at that thought. The hell he wasn’t.
Stacia soaked in the tub as long as she dared. Though the hot water stung her legs when she’d first climbed into the tub, they felt better now. Soaking had cleansed a good portion of the dirt from her wounds and the hot water relaxed her stiff muscles.
Having almost fallen asleep a few times, she decided it was time to get out of the tub before she passed out and drowned in the tub. She didn’t want to narrowly escape drowning in the river only to do so in a tub.
Standing, she pulled a towel off the rack and towel-dried her hair before paying attention to her body. She wasn’t in a hurry to pat the towel over her injuries, no matter how soft it seemed.
After she dried herself, she wrapped the towel around her torso, picked up the sheet and wrapped it around her before she headed back out into the main room.
The glorious scent of frying ham and onions made her stomach growl. Stacia walked over to the stove to turn it before it burned. Ronan was nowhere in sight and she had no idea how long he’d been gone.
At least if she had to almost drown and have two men find her, she had hit the jackpot in that respect. Not only were they gorgeous, apparently, they were trustworthy if Ronan had told the truth and they’d called the sheriff about her.
She bit her lip as she thought about that. Had he really called the sheriff or did they have some other nefarious plans for her? Staring down into the pan, Stacia wondered what she should do. Should she run, or stay here and meet her fate, whatever that was?
Thinking of the woods she saw beyond the window in front of her, she knew she really had no other choice than to stay and hope the men were as chivalrous as they seemed. The last thing she needed to do was to run from an imagined peril into the very real danger of the woods of the Montana mountains.
The door burst open. Stacia spun around and screamed when she saw the bear in the doorway. It had probably smelled the ham. Or maybe it was one of those strange bears that seemed almost rabid in following its prey no matter how far they got from them.
She screamed again when a large black cat jumped on the bear’s back, sinking its claws into the thick hide. It looked like a black jaguar, just like the one she saw at the lake.
Were they fighting over her now? Taking advantage of the distraction, she spun around and ran to the bathroom. The inside door wouldn’t be much of a deterrent, but at least it would afford some protection.
Where were the guys? Had the wild animals gotten them, too? She moved to look through the window, hoping to see at least one of them run up with a gun in his hand, but she saw nothing.
Stacia climbed into the tub, curled up into a little ball and sobbed. This trip had been nothing but one accident after another. She should have stayed home. At least if she had, she would have lived to see her thirtieth birthday.
A while later, she wasn’t sure how long exactly, she heard Noah’s voice. “Come on, Stacia. We have to get you out of the tub. We need to cleanse Ronan’s wounds,” he said as he picked her up in his arms.
“Did the bear attack Ronan?” She sobbed on Noah’s shoulder. “Is he going to die?”
“No, he’s not going to die. He attacked the bear unarmed. He took a swat in the stomach. I need to clean his wounds.”
“What about the jaguar? I saw a black jaguar. Did the cat get him, too?”
“No, Stacia. The cat didn’t get him, only the bear.”
“Will it come back?” Trembling in his arms, she started sobbing again. It followed me, didn’t it. It’s going to come back again and again until it kills me, isn’t it?”
Why did these things have to happen to her? Why couldn’t she live a normal life with the man she loved? She wanted to have children, grow old and see her grandchildren, but that bear was bound to kill her before she could leave this mountain. As crazy as it seemed, it was almost as though the thing hated her and wanted her dead.
“No, sweetheart, it’s dead. It will never be able to attack anyone ever again.”
Dead. It was really dead? She’d never have to worry about that bear trying to eat her ever again?
Stacia hadn’t realized that Noah was carrying her until he sat her on the bed and lowered himself next to her.
It was then that she noticed that there were other men in the room. One of the men covered her with a thermal blanket and set a change of clothes in her lap. They looked too big, but she wasn’t going to complain. It was better than a bath towel, no matter how she looked at it.
“You’re welcome,” the man said as he smiled down at her.
Unable to make out his badge number, she could only see that the man was a sheriff’s deputy before he turned away and followed three men into the bathroom. She could only assume that the man they carried was Ronan...covered in blood.
Standing, Stacia dropped the blanket. Clutching the towel about her, she rushed outside and fell to her knees in front of the porch. She tried to ignore the large bloody bear around the side of the cabin as she leaned forward and retched.
Noah sat in the sheriff’s office with the sheriff, his mate and the alpha triad.
“Why do you think the bear attacked? I know they’ve just woken from a long sleep and they’re most likely hungry, but they don’t normally attack humans,” Adam Greer, the alpha said with a frown.
“No, they don’t,” his second, Nick Hill, said from behind him.
Their mate, Nina, sat on Nick’s lap, holding a toddler. She bounced the dark-haired child on her lap as she frowned. “So what do we do now? We can’t have people combing the woods looking for missing humans.”
“I don’t know what else we
do but allow it,” Merrick, sheriff of Paradise said as he moved to the window and stared out over the town. “We can’t very well deny them access to the area. Not only would they force their way in, it would look just plain suspicious.”
Resting his hands on his hips, he turned. “The girl is still with the doc’s wife?” He’d directed his question to Noah.
“Yes, sir, she is.”
“Good. Keep her there.”
“Fine by me,” Noah agreed. It wasn’t until he’d held her close after the bear’s attack that he realized she was, indeed, their mate. The slow burning of the
had begun. Apparently, the river water had done something to cover her scent.