Authors: Vivian Arend
Tags: #Werecats, #Shifters, #Paranormal, #Romance, #Werewolves, #Adult, #Werebears
Because they demanded bears: Lillie Applegarth, Fatin Soufan, Erika Brooks. May you always have a grumpy, furry, hot-tempered hero with a heart of gold (and a pocket full of diamonds) at your beck and call.
Hey, we can dream, right?
Life is a fiddler, and we all must dance.
From gloom where mocks that will-o’-wisp,
Free-will I heard a voice cry: “Say, give us a chance.”
Chance! Oh, there is no chance!
The scene is set,
Up with the curtain!
Man, the marionette,
Resumes his part.
On the other side of the ornate sanctuary doors, voices murmured. The low tones of pipe-organ music lent an air of anticipation to the setting. Caroline Bradley took a deep breath to calm her nerves and the rich scent of roses swirled upward from the bouquet in her hand to fill her senses.
One of life’s mysteries. How did a fully human woman, who just happened to know about the shifters living in Whitehorse, end up in this predicament?
Just lucky, I guess.
Caroline laughed at her own joke as she regarded her companion in limbo, the Takhini Alpha. Evan Stone wore a sharply tailored black tux and a crisp white shirt that only emphasized his dark good looks. There was no way to stop her heart from skipping a beat. Wolf genes were damn sexy in the first place. Add in that GQ outfit and the lazy smile twisting his lips, and she was liable to end up a sloppy puddle of melted butter if she wasn’t careful.
“You look gorgeous.” Evan tugged one of the spirals of blonde hair falling artistically from her temple. “And bonus, a little less like you’re going to puke than you did five minutes ago.”
Her stomach gave a warning twinge. “You’re such a soothing fellow.”
He tucked his fingers under her chin and lifted until there was nowhere for her to look but into his beautiful dark gaze. His thumb caressed her cheek. A gesture he’d made many times over the past months that connected them so intimately. So caringly.
Caroline cupped his hand to her face, the familiar touch reassuring and right. “You sure about this?”
Good grief, as sure as she could be. “Evan, I’m wearing a bloody wedding dress. I’ve got flowers in my hair and the most uncomfortable bit of elastic around my thigh masquerading as a garter belt. There are over a thousand people on the other side of that door, and in two minutes we’re supposed to march down that aisle and…”
“…and simply make official what we already knew.” He leaned in and pressed his warm lips to her forehead, passing over his unwavering confidence. “I’ll be with you every step of the way, holding your hand.”
She turned her face and nuzzled his palm before tugging his hand away. “You’re going to make things crazy, getting your scent all over me.”
“Hey, what could happen, a fight to the death on a mountain hillside or something? I don’t think so.” His raised brow made her smile. As the head of the Takhini pack, having Evan on her side had been more wonderful than anything she’d remembered. Until now—
The world was about to change for good.
The doors opened a crack and the music swelled.
“Shit.” The word snuck out even as she straightened her spine.
Evan snorted as he pulled her veil forward then helped her face the doors, the expansive train of her dress flaring behind her like a semiobedient dragon tail. “Smile. You’d think we were walking toward a firing squad.”
“I could arrange that.”
“Of course you could, but you don’t have to. There’s no need for any more fighting.” Evan shook a finger at her. “Because of you. I’m so proud.”
They stared at each other, and Caroline’s lips curled into a real smile this time. “Damn right, you are.”
Evan laughed, the sound ringing full and clear as they faced the gathering. People turned in expectation as they passed, Evan supporting her fingers over his arm as they marched in time with the processional. He petted her gently. “You are, as always, incredible. One step at a time, you can do this.”
One step at a time. Caroline clutched him tighter.
The pews were filled, leaving standing room only along the edges of the sanctuary. Turned toward them was a sea of faces. Pack members and visiting bears all mixed in with locals, most humans totally unaware they were seated next to a man or woman who in their spare time loved to go furry and run through the Yukon wilderness.
Good people, all of them. She was doing this for them. So Mr. Jacks over there, who didn’t know he was flirting with a lynx shifter, wouldn’t have to find out. So the bloodshed that had threatened her pack and her city would stop—she was doing this because it was right for more people than her alone.
Evan paused three feet short of the stairs that rose to where the actual ceremony was to take place. He twisted her to face him, lifted her veil and cleared his throat. “I know it’s not proper, but screw it. For old times’ sake. You’re one in a million, Caroline. Thanks for being a part of my life.”
He leaned in and kissed her. For real. Never slipped her any tongue, though, which was good, because the involuntary reaction to
wasn’t the kind of thing she wanted to deal with when at least five hundred of the people watching all had oversensitive sniffers. But it was a real kiss—his hand cradling the back of her neck, holding her in position as he gave her his full attention.
That slow murmur of voices returned in a heart beat, the noise rising in volume as people gasped in shock or twittered out muffled laughter.
And under the whispers, a low, enticing rumble that made her toes curl.
Evan pulled back, grinning his fool head off, his gaze locked on hers. Caroline’s cheeks steamed they were so hot. “You did that to yank his chain,” she muttered as she attempted to pull herself back into a state of counterfeit calm.
“Yup,” Evan admitted readily. “Just because there’s a wedding about to take place doesn’t mean you stop being my good, good friend.”
Goose bumps broke over her. The deep, growly voice rolling in her ears belonged to only one person.
She and Evan turned together to discover that the enormous shifter who’d strolled into Whitehorse and spun everything upside down had joined them, and now stood inches away. His big body close enough to heat her.
Caroline swallowed hard.
Tyler’s expression was dark, none of his usual levelheaded diplomacy visible. “Good friends who don’t
kiss from here on. Just so we’re clear.”
Evan shrugged. “No problem. Got it.”
Tyler stared for a long moment. Nodded. Then shifted his gaze to meet Caroline’s. “You ready?”
He held out his arm, elbow raised high. She pulled herself together once more and rested her hand on his tuxedo-clad arm. Left Evan standing behind as she and Tyler walked up the short flight to the dais. Left her old life behind.
Oh Lordy, what had she done?
Whitehorse, seven days earlier
“We’ll be landing soon.” Justin plopped himself into the oversized seat opposite Tyler and buckled himself in. “Should be no delays at the airport—I arranged our arrival so we land well ahead of the commercial flight the other delegates are traveling on.”
“Of course you did.” Tyler sipped the last of his wine and stared out the window, mentally ordering the next couple hours according to the least frustrating tasks he could remove from his list quickly. “Transportation organized?”
“Limo for the first days.”
A growl of annoyance escaped before he caught himself.
“I know, I know, but play along for a bit, okay?” Justin tugged the empty wine glass from his fingers and handed it to a male secretary walking in the aisle. “We have to stick with standard protocol until we get things lined up and all the security has been double-checked—”
“Justin. I wrote the security handbook. I know what’s in there.”
“Right.” Justin tapped his fingers on the armrest. “We’ve booked in at the Moonshine Inn. Your suite is—”
Tyler lifted a hand to interrupt the man. “I swear you’re nervous or something, because you’re rambling. You’ve already gone through the details of our accommodation as well as the schedule for the first two days of conclave. Verbally once plus you left me three copies to read.”
Pressure changed as the plane started its descent. Tyler examined his best friend, who happened to also be his personal advisor and bodyguard.
As if he, a bear shifter, needed a guard, but traditions weren’t easy to break. So long as Tyler didn’t have to put up with sycophants, he had no problem spending time with his friend as they dealt with the issues of clan security.
Still, there had to be something wrong. Justin was normally far more relaxed. “You got word of trouble brewing?”
Justin blinked then shook his head. “A bad feeling is all. There’s been nothing but problems for the first two weeks of conclave between kidnapping and extortion, and plain old stupidity on the part of a few clans. I don’t expect anything will get better for the final set of votes merely because we’ve shifted locations from Dawson City to Whitehorse.”
“Of course there’s still trouble coming.” Tyler thought back through the notes he’d read on the previous territory-distribution talks. The events weren’t held often, but the opportunity for an orderly exchange of resources and ideas was still the best way to stop the overaggressive bear shifters from methodically taking out most of their population and ninety percent of the other shifters in the north.
Bears on a rampage weren’t a pretty sight.
“We’ll deal with the troubles in a civilized manner. We aren’t dogs to fight over a bone.” Tyler spoke louder as the props on his private plane increased in volume. “Speaking of which, did you find more information regarding the wolf pack in Whitehorse?”
Justin laughed. “Yes, from the strangest source, actually. You’ll never guess who.”
Tyler was tempted to make him lay a wager, but nabbing money from his best friend on a sure bet was far too unsportsmanlike. If he was going to gamble, he wanted the risk to mean something. “I’d never in a million years guess you spoke to my brother, Frank.”
Justin’s expression twisted in disgust. “You’re not a lot of fun at times.”
“I know everything…”
They both laughed as the plane touched down with a gentle kiss of the wheels to the tarmac. “Yeah, you have more resources than a gopher has holes. How did you figure out Frank was in town?”
“He texted me.”
“Frank?” Justin’s tone of voice was somewhere along the lines of hearing that Lady Gaga had flown a solo trip to the moon.
“Well, someone must have texted for him because I doubt he has a phone or a computer, but he’s staying with the Takhini pack.” Shocking information in and of itself, but true.
“You don’t need my report, then?” Justin stood as the pilot smoothly taxied the plane toward the terminal.
“Oh, I need it. Frank was his usual loquacious self. ‘At the Takhini pack house. See you for dinner. You’re buying.’ This makes me even more curious what kind of pack Whitehorse has that they welcome outcast bears into their midst.”
“Curious situation to be sure. And it’s two packs, not one.”
This got stranger by the minute. “There are two wolf packs in the city? What kind of masochists are they? They must have total control over the media because I haven’t seen any weekly reports of bloodshed in the streets.”
Tyler joined his guard at the exit door. They waited briefly until the path was cleared, then Justin stepped out and looked around before giving the go-ahead. “Word is Takhini is in charge and Canyon has gone into hiding. We’re staying at the hotel owned by the Takhini pack. Current Alpha is originally from the Hudson Bay pack.”
Tyler whistled. “Impressive.”
“Yeah, name of Evan Stone—took over about a year ago and seems to be controlling them okay. The other pack, all I could find was a name, Sam, and a lot of fuzzy rumours.”