The first day of Mia’s new life in Grayslake, Georgia is not going as planned. The house her grandfather left her looks ready to crumble, boxes cover every inch of the floor and—oh—there’s a bear cub in her pantry. It gets worse when the cub’s uncle comes by and busts out his fur and claws while on her front porch. Then it gets loads better because suddenly there’s a hot hunk of badge-wearing werebear on her lawn ready to rescue her. Yum. Of course, he has to ruin things by trying to take the cub out of her hands. Ha! The cub is hers… No ifs, ands, or bears about it.
Werebear Ty can’t seem to get the curvaceous, delectable Mia to understand that, even if she is one-quarter werebear, she isn’t keeping the cub. Ty is the Grayslake Itan, the clan’s leader, and the little werebear is going home with him… Unless it isn’t. It’s her smile. If she’d stop smiling and being gorgeous, his inner-bear would support him and Ty would get his way. But the beast wants to make their woman happy, so it’s perfectly content to let her do as she pleases. Then things change. Threats arise, danger comes close, and Ty demands she return to his den. No ifs, ands, or mates about that.
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A bear cub sat in her pantry.
Mia squinted and peered into the dim interior. Yup, a bear cub. The small ball of fur shifted, reflective black eyes settling on her with interest.
Heck no, she was not being mauled by a bear.
She slammed the door shut and counted to five, sure it’d been a figment of her imagination. Her mind had been playing tricks on her ever since she’d walked through the door of her deceased grandfather’s home. Part of her wondered if he’d decided to haunt her as he’d always threatened. A familiar pang of grief speared her heart. That fleeting thought brought back the memory of standing at the old man’s graveside less than a week ago, clutching her dad’s hand as her grandfather was lowered into the ground.
Her eyes stung, tears forming and clouding her vision, and she wiped away the moisture as it trailed down her cheeks. He was gone. She needed to push past the grief and live her life. He’d whoop her from one end of the house to the other if he caught her crying over him. The man had lived to a hundred, and he’d been ready for a break already.
A low, barking whine came from the pantry, the solid wood muffling the sound but that didn’t negate the source’s existence.
She had a bear cub. In her pantry.
Gripping the knob, she eased the door open and peeked inside. Yup, still there. Huddled in a tiny ball, little eyes trained on her. Every inch of his fur stood on end.
“Hey, little guy.” Mia kept her voice low, hopefully soothing to the cub. She was either dealing with a wild young one or a baby werebear. She was in Grayslake, Georgia. All werebears, all the time. She glanced at the cub. Mia voted for werebear. Like, really, really voted for werebear.
She hadn’t inherited the ability to shift but her dad easily transformed from man to bear and back. So, she’d grown up knowing about shifters. And he’d told her, and proved to her, over and over again that weres in their animal form still held onto their human thoughts.
She extended a hand toward the cub and kept her voice pitched low. “Hey, sweetheart. Did you get stuck in here? You ready to come out?”
The little cub shook its head and scrambled deeper into the corner.
Crap. Well, crap on one hand and woo-hoo on the other. She was fairly sure she was dealing with a were, but he remained in her pantry.
“Okay,” she sighed. “The thing about it is, you probably belong to someone who is a heck of a lot bigger than you and me put together. Your momma is going to be angry her cub is missing, and I don’t wanna get between you and her.”
Like, really, really didn’t want to get between a cub and its mother. While a werebear had human love in its heart, there was also the bear’s possessiveness and insane drive to kill anything, or anyone, who came between it and its young.
The cub shook its head, and its eyes glistened, shining with moisture that hadn’t been there before. This had to happen on her first day in Grayslake.
“Okay, well, I’m gonna leave the door open. So, when you’re ready to come out—” More trembling and an actual tear escaped the cub’s eye.
“Listen, little guy, or girl, I’m sure you belong to someone and they’re going to be so worried.” She took a chance, and sought to confirm her beliefs. “Why don’t you shift for me and tell me where you live? I’ll take you home—”
The cub whined and clawed the ground, nails digging furrows into the hundred year old wood floors.
“Hey,” she snapped. Cub or not, common courtesy spanned species barriers. “No scratching the floors.” The little bear immediately stopped. “Thank you. Now—”
A harsh, heavy pounding on her front door yanked her attention from the cub. The wood rattled in its frame, reminding her she needed to hunt up a repairman to replace it. The door was original to the house, and she hated to swap it out with something modern, but in a town filled with bears… She’d rather have an extra layer of protection in case one of the residents turned cranky at having a mostly-human in their midst.
The hammering came again, followed by a rough yell, and she sighed. Was everyone in Grayslake intent on disrupting Mia’s move? First the cub and now this guy. She’d only been in town a freakin’ day.
“Answer.” Thud. “This.” Pound. “Door.” Crack.
Aw, the crack did it. She’d buried her grandfather less than a week ago and was moving into his home at his bequest. Now some stranger decided to damage a piece of her memories. She didn’t think so.
Mia looked to the cub once again. “I’ll be right back, little one. Let me…” Her words trailed off as the pungent scent of urine hit her, and a widening puddle emerged from beneath the cub. She didn’t need her father’s shifter senses. The small bear’s stark fear was unmistakable. There was a reason the cub was hiding, cowering, in her pantry, and she guessed it had everything to do with the man darn near breaking down her door.
She held a hand out, palm facing the small one. “Stay.”
The only response she received was a tiny shudder.
More pounding from the front of the house echoed down the hallway, the man’s increasing growls easily reaching her through the old walls. If this guy had anything to do with the cub, like she suspected, then she’d be facing a werebear pretty darned soon.
Which really sucked.