Unbearable Desire (Paranormal Bear Shifter Romance) (Bear Valley Clan Book 1), page 1
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This book is a work of fiction. Any similarity to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
This book contains adult themes, explicit language and sexual situations. It is intended for mature audiences.
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The rest of the bears were down in the valley, gorging on trout before their long hibernation. Kai watched over his clan from the western slope of the mountain, his senses on high alert. It hadn't rained in almost a moon. The pickings were slim and every bear clan in the valley would be competing for enough food to survive the winter. He needed to stay vigilant for his clan.
A rush of wings overhead was his first sign that something was amiss. The flock of swallows formed a panicked ball that twisted and turned as one as the birds fled the unseen danger. Kai lifted himself up onto his hind legs and sniffed the crisp mountain air.
The scent that came down from the mountain was wrong. The chemical burn singed his nostrils and set his bear growling low in his throat.
"Remain with the clan, I will return," he thought to his beta. Faron lifted his head and then bowed it in response, acknowledging a direct order from his alpha. Kai dropped down to all fours and loped into the woods.
This side of the river was not his territory. He was trespassing, a transgression that could cost him his life if caught. But the danger posed to his small clan was more important that any taboos. Kai lifted his shaggy head and caught the chemical tang in the air, and raced toward it.
As he neared the source of the smell, he heard human voices, shouting and panicked. Kai slowed up and halted, confused. A ramshackle structure had been hastily assembled from weathered boards and scraps of aluminum. It looked like a crude dwelling place for humans, but humans never ventured this far into the wilderness. And if they did, they were scared off by the clan that controlled this territory.
Kai padded closer, growling continuously now. The forest floor was littered with trash; bottles and tanks broken and oozing harsh liquids.
A strange man leaned against a tree, a long stick cradled in his arms. He picked his nails indolently, seemingly unaware of the threat that hung in the air. Kai growled low.
The man stood up straight, swinging the stick up to his shoulders. "Who the fuck is out there?" he yelled, fear strangling his voice.
Kai roared in defiance, pulling himself up onto his hind legs to let the man see his full strength.
There was a deafening noise and a feeling like fire shot across Kai's shoulder. "Get the fuck outta here, bear, these are our woods!"
Kai roared, dropping back down to four legs. The pain in his shoulder was fierce. He roared again, ready to maul the intruder.
But just as he readied his charge, there came a panicked shout. He and the intruder both turned to see a dirty, panicked man ran headlong out of the shelter, tearing at his clothes. "Mitchell!" he cried at the man at the tree. "Get the fuck outta there, she's gonna blow!"
Another man came screaming out of the ramshackle shelter. "Dwayne it off, get it the fuck off!" he keened in a high, inhuman scream, twisting and thrashing so violently that he collapsed on the ground.
The other man swore and ran to the fallen man, dragging him away from the shelter. Kai backed away watching as the Dwayne stripped the man naked. His tortured cries turned into gurgling gasps. Bright red welts begun appearing all over the fallen man's body and the harsh tang in the air hung heavy and poisonously low to the ground.
"What the fuck?" Mitchell stalked forward, no longer caring about the bear.
"I dunno, fuck, Boyd, stay alive you stupid fuck." He shook the dying man, but the gurgles were weakening.
The two men stared back that the shelter. Mitchell gulped, "You think it's okay to...?"
There was a bright, blinding flash, and then a shockwave sent Kai tumbling. He landed hard and gasping in the poisonous air, and his animal took over. Turning tail, he took one look backward at the rising fireball, then tore back down through the trees.
The dry forest was burning. All around him he could hear the panicked cries of the animals who could flee the blaze and the horrifying screams of those who couldn't. A spark rushed ahead on the wind and settled on his fur, setting it alight. Kai tucked his front legs under and rolled in a somersault, extinguishing the flames mid-stride.
Faron was standing at the edge of the clearing. As soon as he saw Kai, he loped up to his alpha.
"Humans," Kai panted. "Human's set fire to the forest."
Faron was aghast. "The Falls Creek Clan allowed humans to damage their territory?"
"I do not know. We must move upstream. Get the others."
"I will do this." Faron was already streaking across the riverbank, as fast as his four legs could carry him. One by one the black heads popped up from the river.
Kai stood on the far bank, watching and counting. When he was certain that his whole clan had moved to safety, he set off himself. A hot wind blasted him in the back as he splashed across the wide river and up the sloped banks to his own territory.
Humans in the forest, he thought, letting the rest of the clan hear him. There were humans in the forest and they were living there without being supervised. We must alert the Falls Creek Clan and remain vigilant through the winter's hibernation. Kai winced as the flames roared hotter. Humans cannot be trusted.
The cabin squatted there in the clearing, nestled into the harsh landscape like it belonged there. The snow had melted back enough to reveal the patches of bare, muddy ground, but the earth was still hard and unyielding under my feet. I zipped up my snow jacket and shrugged my hands into my pockets, then set out across the field to my home for the next six months.
Gabby had heard me pull up. My sister was standing in the doorway our grandparents' cabin, her nervous hands tapping excitedly against the frame. She looked worn and frazzled, but still full of nervous anxiety. Her dark blonde hair was caught back in a hasty braid, but a halo of frizz stood out from her scalp. There were purple shadows underneath her darting green eyes and her pretty lips had a downward tilt I had never seen before.
She was clad in a heavy wool sweater I recognized as my Gran's. And a pair of wool trousers that most certainly were Pa's.
"Ellie," she exhaled as she saw me.
"Hey Gabs." I stepped up on to the porch and straight into my older sister's arms. She held me tightly, not saying anything, but I could feel her shoulders shaking as she stifled her sobs.
"I'm here now, Gabby. You can take a break."
"I'm okay," she lied, pulling back and wiping her eyes.
"How is she?" I asked, peering round the door and into the dark interior of the cabin.
Gabby lowered her voice. "I'm never sure how much she understands, so I'm going to be quiet. But she's close, Ellie. She's probably not going to last your full six months."
I sucked in my breath as she led me over the threshold. The scent of ill health hung heavy in my nostrils, unable to be dispelled by the chill mountain air. My stomach roiled. I had never smelled death before, but now that I did, my first animal instinct was to run away from the danger. But I loved my sister and
The first thing I saw were the medications lined up on the windowsill. The window over the kitchen sink had a deep sill, and the pill bottles were stacked so high they nearly blocked the view outside. The light coming through took on the amber hue of the bottles themselves, distorting the rest of the dark kitchen.
I had a weird feeling of everything sliding sideways as I looked around the rest of the kitchen. Everything was the same as it had been when I was a child, but everything in my life was different. There was no tinkling laugh from my grandmother, no clucking concern from my mother, no gruff affection from my grandfather. My sister and I were grown and grief-worn; two completely different girls from the ones who had run about this cabin laughing and teasing. But the place itself remained the same.
I saw the old, cranky stovetop; the box of matches for lighting the gas in its usual place. I saw the pile of battered recipe books dusty with disuse. I saw the old red-plaid curtains, hand-sewn by my Gran when she was my Pa's happy and eager bride.I stood in the kitchen, soaked in memories, staring intently at that dusty window. I was deliberately not looking into the living room. Not until I heard a low, guttural noise that sounded almost inhuman.
"Yeah, she's here, Gran," Gabby called into the dark room. "Ellie came to see you."
I rolled my shoulders back and nodded at my sister, who led me into the living room. In my childhood this had been my favorite place. The outside wall was dominated by a deep, long fireplace the crackled merrily all winter long. But the fire was out now, and the room was chilled. My grandfather had hung pelts on the walls to help with the cold, but those pelts were now taken down and piled into the easy chair for some reason.
It took me a moment to realize they were covering my Gran.
I tried to catch the gasp before it left my lips, but it tore free from my throat of its own accord. My grandmother, my beautiful, sweet, Gran, had shriveled down into a crude imitation of her former self. She resembled nothing so much as a newborn bird, wrinkled and helpless, her mouth opening and closing soundlessly. Her body was so shriveled that the blankets barely rose around her.
I went to her and knelt by her side. 'Hey there Granny Bea." My voice got strangled in my throat and came out in only a whisper. But she still turned her head towards my voice.
"You're little Ellie," she declared, lifting her hand. I put my head underneath it and she patted my hair gently, just like she had when I was a child.
Gabby was watching from over by the window, her face a strange mix of sadness and hurt. "She always did like you best," Gabby declared. "Sometimes whole days would go by without her having the faintest notion of who I was, but she recognized you right away.
My grandmother's tentative pats slowed and I heard the sound of faint snoring. Pulling myself up to a stand, I watched her head loll to the side as she drifted off to sleep. "I'm here now Gabby," I said in response to her unspoken accusation. "I'll take care of her. You deserve a break."
She heaved a huge sigh and rolled her temples in her fists, then let out a short, barking laugh. "You know what's funny? I've been counting the days til you got here and sprung me from this prison, but now that you're here, I can't bring myself to leave. What if she goes and I'm not here to hold her hand?"
I cupped Gabby's exhausted face in my hand. "Then you can know that you did right by her for six whole months. Go have a life now, Gabby. I'm here, it's my turn to take care of her now."
Gabby looked at me, exhaustion written on every new line on her face. My sister was only three years older than me, but her time up here had aged her. She fell forward into my arms and I struggled to hold her upright as her shoulders shook. Her mute sobbing sounded more like relief than sadness.
It had been her idea to trade off the years like this, and it had been her idea to take the first half. Our mother's death had sent her reeling, and in her sorrow and grief she had shut down, ultimately losing both her job and her boyfriend in the ensuing depression. She had craved the isolation of the cabin and I had been eager to do whatever it took to make her happy, agreeing with her as she outlined our lives for the next year. I would stay down in the valley and wind down our mother's affairs while she holed herself up with our grandmother. Then after six months, I would relieve her and she would venture back into the world again
I patted her thick braid and stroked her hair behind her ears as her sobs slowed. She pulled back from my shoulder, gulping deep, hiccuping breaths, pulling herself together just as quickly as she had fallen apart. I felt a rush of affection and admiration for my sister. "And for god's sake go get a mani-pedi or something." I smiled at her. "You've gone completely feral up here."
The idea made Gabby laugh through her tears. Girly was never a word to describe my big sister. She was practical and responsible in all things, and that included forgoing such little luxuries. She was the type to rinse and reuse plastic sandwich bags and fill gallon jugs to put in her toilet tank.
I was nowhere near as resourceful and the thought weighed on me heavily as I helped her pack her pickup. Gran was sleeping soundly now, but what happened when Gabby pulled out of the field and started down that dirt road? I would be alone in the house with the shell of my grandmother, lonely and isolated, as winter still clung to the edges of the season. A lump of dread formed in my throat even as I told Gabby to go and promised her I would be fine. I even stood in the middle of the field and smiled brightly as I waved to her retreating pickup.
The wind whistling down off the peak sounded like the moaning of some damned spirit. I shivered in spite of my snow jacket, not from the cold.
This place didn't seem so familiar any more.
A fish this early in the springtime was a decadence that couldn't be passed up. Kai,stood perfectly still at the banks of the rushing river.
Across from him, the charred remains of the forest fire stood black and silent. The fire had raged for days, taking with it a large swath of territory of the Falls Creek Clan. Before their hibernation. the rival clan had sent an envoy begging to be allowed into the Bear Valley Clan's territory to forage.
Kai had considered their entreaty coldly. Allowing humans to encroach on their land had been an error that did not deserve mercy. He had half a mind to send the envoy back to his alpha with a bright red claw mark as his answer. But when he considered it with his human mind, he saw an opportunity for his own clan's gain.
And now that the spring had awakened them, his plan could be put into action.
The cold wind whipped down from the snowy peaks behind him, ruffling his black fur. He lifted his head and sniffed, his alpha senses always on high alert.
He could smell the familiar scents of his territory, a land he knew so well he could identify each rock and twig. But this breeze brought with it a new scent from up on the peak.
The silvery trout was swimming languidly, stupefied by the cold water. Kai knew that he still needed to be careful. The long winter had dulled his hunting instincts, and hunger was making him hasty. He snuffled a little, trying to drive that curious new smell out of his flaring nostrils. It was distracting him.
One broad stroke of his heavy paw and the trout was flopping on the riverbank. Kai snapped it up quickly with his powerful jaws and felt the bones of its spine break in his mouth.
He barely tasted the cold flesh as it slid down the throat. The trout was gone in seconds and it had barely touched his hunger.
Kai padded downward along the banks of the river, his sharp eyes scanning the rushing water for any more lost trout. But it was too early in the season, the spawning wouldn’t happen for at least a moon's cycle from now.
The new scent wafted down again and he lifted his shaggy head from his search. His bear went on high alert, still rattled from the forest fire the previous autumn. New scents meant trouble.
There shouldn't be anything unfamiliar up on Palmer's Peak. The old woman barely came out of doors any more, and though he had bee
But this new scent was alarming him. Maybe it was because he was in his bear form right now. His human mind was pushed aside, and animal instinct now demanded that he assess the threat. Though his belly twisted with hunger, he stopped just before the rockfall and turned back to look up the peak.
Yes there was something new up there and he needed to know what it was. Or who. His bear growled low in his throat as he started off, every strand of black fur on his neck standing upright. There was something alien about this scent that frightened his animal. It didn't smell like the intruders, with their unwashed bodies and chemical tang. It smelled like something else entirely.
As he loped easily over the hard ground, Kai inhaled deeply, letting it wash over his tongue and fill his lungs. It was unlike anything he had ever smelled before. It seemed to permeate all the cells in his body, enlivening them and waking him from his winter stupor. He found himself moving faster now, driven to find the source of it. His bear was nearing a frenzy, pushing his human further and further to the edge of his mind, his animal completely in charge. His human mind feared what his bear might be capable of doing in such a state. He had never felt himself so utterly lost before.
The easiest way to the top was to take the human's road. It would be dangerous to be out and exposed like that. Making himself vulnerable went against every alpha instinct he possessed, but speed was more important. He burst out of the woods onto the gravel surface of the roadway, his winter-weak eyes squinting in the bright sunlight. He ran up the mountain as fast as he could, that scent drawing him closer and closer to the squat cabin that had crowned this peak for nearly a hundred years.