Authors: Sloane Meyers
Tags: #Paranormal, #Romance, #Bear, #Fiction, #Adult, #Erotic, #Werebear, #Shifter, #Alaska, #Adventure, #Photographer, #Permanent Home, #Travels, #Vulnerable, #Home, #Mate
Bearing the Whiteout
Ice Bear Shifters, Book 2
By Sloane Meyers
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Similarities to actual people or events are entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2015 by Sloane Meyers. All rights reserved.
Eric Caldwell took a long, slow sip of his beer, and nodded his head dutifully as his friend Tyler droned on about the latest and greatest of workout methods. Tyler worked as a personal trainer in Glacier Point’s only gym, and he took his job pretty seriously. Tyler’s voice reverberated across the whole pub as he described power cleans and split jerks, and Eric vaguely caught on that these were some sort of weightlifting maneuvers. Eric could care less about workout regimes, but he let Tyler talk.
Not that Eric didn’t stay in shape. When the snow and ice had melted enough to allow outdoor running, Eric went for long runs through the beautiful Alaskan landscape on a daily basis. In Glacier Point, however, the temperature only remained above freezing from about June to September. The rest of the year, the piles of snow and ice everywhere made running outside impossible, so Eric logged a lot of time on the treadmill. He also did his fair share of pushups, crunches, and bicep curls. He stayed fit, as evidenced by his muscular body, but he didn’t need any of the fancy, new exercise fads that Tyler was peddling.
Eric was a big believer in keeping things simple.
Which was why he had never been too serious about having a woman in his life. Women complicated things. They were beautiful and fascinating—and absolutely full of contradictions. Eric didn’t have time for that. He thought love was a magnificent thing, and he was always happy for his friends when they found it, as his friend Ryker recently had. But better them than him.
Eric had had one serious girlfriend. Gina. Eric and Gina had been your quintessential on again, off again couple, and Eric had just assumed that eventually they would end up together as life mates. He wasn’t crazy about spending forever with her, but she had been nice enough. And he couldn’t just spend his entire life alone. Maybe lone wolves were a thing, but lone bears? Not so much. He figured that he’d need a mate, eventually. But then Gina had been killed in the poisoning tragedy that hit the Northern Lights Clan last year. After the poisoning, Eric had lost any interest he’d had in finding someone. The fewer people that you loved, the less chance you had of being hurt. Eric’s violet eyes darkened as he remembered the horror of watching most of his clan writhe in pain as they took their last breaths.
“Dude, are you even listening to me? You haven’t said anything more than ‘hmph’ in the last ten minutes, and now you’re staring daggers into your drink. I get the feeling your mind’s somewhere else.”
Eric rubbed his forehead and looked over at Eric. “Sorry. I randomly started thinking about Gina.”
Tyler’s eyes, the same shade of violet as Eric’s, darkened as well. Tyler patted Eric on the back, and the pair sat in silence for several minutes. Other than taking an occasional long sip from their beers, they made no sound. Tyler finally looked up and sighed, breaking the silence.
“Hey, I know no one can ever replace the bears we lost. But at least we finally have a chance to find someone again, since Neal relaxed his stance on dating humans.”
Neal was the alpha of the Northern Lights Clan. Neal had taken over leadership of the clan when Neal’s father, the previous alpha, had died in the poisoning tragedy. Like his father before him, Neal had forbidden his bears to mate with full humans. Humans often reacted with horror and revulsion if they discovered that bear shape shifters existed, and that horror often turned into bear hunts that attempted to exterminate entire clans. But as the number of bear shifters in the arctic dwindled, Neal had been forced to face the reality of the situation. There were only five Northern Lights bears left. If Neal didn’t allow his clan members to mate with humans, his clan would likely die off. Another one of the Northern Lights bears, Ryker, had already found a human mate. Her name was Kenzie, and she was expecting Ryker’s cub. Eric was happy for Ryker, and happy that the first ray of hope for the clan’s future was on the horizon. But that didn’t mean he wanted to deal with the emotions and ups and downs of a relationship. No thank you. He was perfectly happy doing his own thing, retreating far behind the walls he had built around his heart and avoiding the pain of love.
Eric shook his head at Tyler. “No way, man. You guys can all go find yourself a human mate. I’m not going to do that. Women are hard enough to handle as it is. And a
human? No thanks. That’s a hell of a lot more complication than I’m willing to deal with.”
“Sounds like someone’s a scaredy-bear,” Tyler said in a singsong voice.
Eric rolled his eyes. “I’m not scared, just smart.”
But Tyler wouldn’t let up. “I don’t think so, buddy. You claim that human females are so much worse to deal with than bears, but you’ve never even tried to date one. In fact, you’ve never dated anyone besides Gina, bear or human. You’re not exactly an expert on how to deal with women.”
Eric let out a low warning growl, but Tyler pressed ahead with his tirade, anyways.
“Look, Eric, I’m not trying to be insensitive to the fact that you lost Gina. But the fact is, she’s gone. Why don’t you stop hiding behind your tough guy facade and admit that you’re lonely? You claim you’re so busy with your ice fishing, but you’re not fooling anyone. Ice fishing is a hobby, not a career. And you don’t even go ice fishing during the two dark months of the year.”
“It’s not just a hobby,” Eric said. “I can make it into a career. If I get good enough at knowing where the right fishing spots are, then I can run tours and take tourists out to fish.”
Tyler rolled his eyes. “When’s the last time you saw tourists in Glacier Point? If they do come, they come in the summer, when the sun is shining.”
Eric couldn’t argue with what Tyler was saying. Glacier Point wasn’t exactly at the top of most travelers’ “must-see” list. The only people who lived here were researchers, oil men, and people who wished they were nomads but were too chicken to actually go completely off the grid. Glacier Point was so far north that the winter brought sixty-seven days of total darkness every year. Eric didn’t fish during that time at all. A few of the locals still went out, using spotlights, but Eric wasn’t interested. To make up for the two months of constant darkness in the winter, Glacier Point boasted eighty days of constant light in the summer. The only tourists who ever trickled through town came during those months, eager to witness the “midnight sun” phenomenon. But the sea ice would have melted by that point, making ice fishing impossible. Eric didn’t really care, because he didn’t need any money. The life insurance policies and assets of the deceased clan members had left the five remaining Northern Lights bears with more than enough funds to live comfortably. But the majority of them were still gainfully employed, just to keep themselves busy. Neal had a tattoo shop. Ryker worked as a security guard at the local superstore. And Tyler was obsessed with his personal trainer job. Only Alan joined Eric in avoiding real work. Alan claimed to be a writer, working on a novel. In reality, everyone knew that he spent his days in much the same way that Eric did—doing anything possible to avoid thinking about the loss of the rest of the clan, usually by taking long, solitary walks when the weather permitted.
Eric loved his clan members. Just the thought of losing another one of them tore his heart in two. Unfortunately, losing another clan member was a real possibility, thanks to the Blizzards. The Blizzards were a rival clan of polar bear shifters that had been the force behind the poisoning of the Northern Lights Clan. And the Blizzards were out for blood. They were determined to be the only polar bear shifters in the Arctic, and they were stopping at nothing to eliminate any polar bears who stood in their way. Luckily, the Blizzards were extremely sensitive to heat, so they moved even further North than Glacier Point when the weather started changing. It was late February now, and, while the weather was far from warm, and snow still fell off and on, the temperature was starting to shift toward tolerable. No one had seen a Blizzard for the last month, but Eric could never completely stop himself from looking over his shoulder. Neal was convinced they were gone until next winter, but Eric wasn’t so sure. And the last thing Eric wanted to do was bring a mate into the Arctic clan conflict. Anyone Eric loved would become a target automatically. He didn’t want to do that to anyone. And he didn’t want to love someone only to live in constant fear of losing them. No, sir. Eric would keep to himself, thereby keeping the collateral damage around him to a minimum.
But Eric didn’t want to explain all of this to Tyler, so he just scowled at him. “There are enough visitors coming through to keep me busy.”
Tyler rolled his eyes and signaled to the bartender for another round of drinks. Just as the new drinks arrived, the door to the pub swung open with great force, letting in a blast of cold air and a woman wearing a huge parka. She was so bundled up that only her honey brown eyes were visible, but you could tell from the sparks those eyes were shooting off that she was angry. She stomped snow from her boots dramatically as she slowly unwrapped herself from her oversized parka.
“See,” Eric said to Tyler, watching the spectacle with amusement. “You let a woman in and you’re just asking for a life full of displays of emotion like this. I bet you she’s upset about something her boyfriend said to her.”
Tyler leaned back and crossed his arms. “You always assume that. I bet you you’re wrong. I bet it has nothing to do with a boyfriend.”
Eric leaned back as well. “You know what? Fine. I’ll take the bet. Next round of drinks on whoever’s wrong.”
Tyler shook his head. “Oh, no. We’re making the stakes bigger on this game. If you’re right, then I’m not allowed to bring up your love life, or lack thereof, for the next month.”
“And if I’m wrong?”
Tyler looked at Eric with a glint in his eye. “If you’re wrong, then you have to ask her out.”
“On a date?”
“Yes, idiot. On a date. What’s the matter? Scared?”
Eric smirked and took a huge swig from his beer. “Fine. Game on. It’s going to be nice to have a month without you yakking on about the lack of women in my life.”
Tyler returned Eric’s smirk, then looked over to the door, where the woman had finally managed to untangle herself from her multiple layers of outerwear.
“Hey, chica,” Tyler called out to the woman. “There’s an open seat next to us, if you want.”
The woman gave Tyler a look of grateful relief, and scurried across the room to take a barstool next to Tyler. Eric couldn’t help but take in her stunning body. If he were to lose the bet and be forced on a date, at least he couldn’t complain about his potential date’s looks. She was magnificent. Her long, honey brown hair was shiny and sleek, hanging around her shoulders in little bit of a tangled mess thanks to the time it had spent bundled up in her winter hat. She finger combed the long tresses as she hopped onto the barstool next to Tyler. Her skin was a light shade of olive, and a small smattering of freckles covered her nose and cheeks. Her skinny jeans hugged her curves. From her long, lean muscles, it was obvious that she worked out. But she wasn’t stick thin, either, and Eric let his gaze slide appreciatively over her slender frame that had just a hint of curviness in all the right places. Her body was lovely, but the most beautiful thing about her was her smile. You could see just the hint of laugh lines forming around her mouth, and when she turned her soft lips upward, her whole face lit up. Eric found himself momentarily wishing he would lose his bet just so he would have an excuse to ask her out and spend an evening watching that vivacious smile. But he quickly overcame his moment of weakness, and sat back with a scowl, crossing his arms, as Tyler introduce himself to their new acquaintance.
“I’m Tyler, and this is my buddy Eric,” Tyler said gesturing in Eric’s direction and giving Eric a warning look when he saw the scowl on Eric’s face. The girl didn’t seem to notice Eric’s sour disposition, however. She extended her hand out first to Tyler, then to Eric. Her handshake was firm, and her hands were soft and warm.
“I’m Delaney. Delaney Parker. It’s so nice to know that friendly people actually exist in this town. I was beginning to lose hope.”
Eric snorted, earning himself another warning look from Tyler. Delaney gave Eric a curious look, but was interrupted by the bartender before she could ask any questions. She ordered a beer, and then Tyler took control of the conversation before Eric could make any sarcastic comments.
“You must have run across a pretty unfriendly person. You looked like you were in a little bit of a huff when you came in.”
Delaney sighed. “Unfriendly is an understatement. Downright rude is more like it. I was at another pub across town, The Gale Force, I think it was called? I was trying to ask some locals for tips on good places to get some photos of the sun rising over snow and ice, and they acted like I was asking for the combination to their safe or something. I’m a freelance photographer, and I came up here trying to snag some good shots of the Arctic to sell. I heard National Geographic is keen to do a piece on the Arctic next year, with all the global warming controversy still going on. I was warned that people up here tended to be reserved, but I didn’t realize that asking for tips on sunrise locations would be taken as prying.” Delaney shook her head and took a long sip from her beer.
Tyler laughed. “People here tend to get suspicious of outsiders for no good reason. Sometimes I think that trying to be the most cynical person in the room is almost an Olympic sport for folks around here. And The Gale Force is where all the old fogeys in town go to hang out. There are only two pubs in town. Gale Force and Northwinds. Stick with Northwinds. It’s where all the cool kids hang out.”