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Bearly A Chance (Soulmate Shifters in Mystery, Alaska Book #3.5)
Ryder forced his eyes to open…well, one eye. It was dark, but there wasn’t a lot of light. He was inside some type of vehicle. Panic sliced through his heart like a sharp claw through flesh. But the searing chokehold of anxiety was short lived. His mate was right in front of him. Her voice was softly carrying from the front seat and mixed with that of another female he didn’t recognize.
His wounds still burned. He didn’t have the strength to lift his head, but breathing was easier and he could feel his body slowly working to knit itself back together. He’d thought the fall would’ve ended him, but somehow his mate had gotten him off the mountain.
She was strong. It made him proud.
He closed his eyes again and let the exhaustion overwhelm him once again, sinking into the welcoming blackness where he couldn’t feel any pain.
Ava lifted Ryder from the truck and followed Connie around the side of her house. The human female lived near the small runway/airport, quite a distance from the Jenkins. None of the Tribe would have any reason to come out this far. And the ride in the truck would’ve muddied whatever trail scent any of them might try to use to track her from the mountain.
If she knew her brother, they were or would be looking for her. She would have to text him at some point and let him know she was alive and well…
Now she needed to get Ryder settled out of sight. The less he was out in the open, the less likely anyone would be able to pick up his scent or hers.
A snug little barn was tucked behind Connie’s house. Weathered logs, almost like a cabin made the structure look cozy and inviting. Connie slid the big door on the front open just enough for her to walk inside with Ryder. The floors were planked and covered with straw.
Connie flipped a switch and two large suspended lights above their heads flickered to life.
“It’s not much. But it’s out of the wind, dry, and the straw will be warm. My brother used to keep his sled dogs out here.”
“Where is he now? He won’t be coming back?” Ava slipped Ryder off her shoulder gently and onto a soft pile of fresh-smelling straw. The scent of dog still lingered. They hadn’t been gone long. Maybe a week.
Connie’s mouth tightened and she shook her head, unspoken pain clouding her face. “He won’t be back.” She backed through the barn door. “Come on into the house once you have the wolf settled. I’ll make you some tea and you can tell me what the hell is really going on in this town.”
Ava’s gut churned and twisted and rolled, sending nauseating streaks out through her body like lightning strikes. She wasn’t going to escape this female’s questions.
Though if she had to be perfectly honest, she would be glad to have someone to talk to that knew what she was…who she was… She wasn’t in the Tribe and wouldn’t be welcomed now. She didn’t have friends in town. The other waitresses at the diner weren’t really that welcoming and Ava hadn’t pursued friendship with anyone. If they didn’t want to get to know her, she didn’t want to get to know them.
“Thank you,” Ava said, her voice breaking. She was safe now. Ryder was safe. Not without a great cost. He could still die. She was so tired, she’d considered just dropping where she stood and passing out. She’d left her brother. Left the tribe that would’ve taken her in. Now she’d given away their secret to a stranger who expected even more of an explanation. This day really couldn’t get any worse…right?
She turned away from Ryder to see Connie’s face had paled. Whiter than snow paled. Her mouth was open. The human was trying to speak, but the words kept choking in her throat like they were stuck on a bent fork. All that came out was nonsensical gurgles.
Ava whirled back around. Sure enough Ryder’s form had morphed. Instead of a giant black wolf. He lay bare-chested, wearing only his leather Tosa around his waist. The gashes on his chest and legs were angry and red, but he wasn’t bleeding profusely any longer. This transition hadn’t helped the healing, though.
“Stupid! Change back,” Ava said, her voice a deep growl in her chest. She was shaking, mostly with fear. What would the human do now? Had she ruined everyone’s life? Would they be put in a prison now? Killed? What about Naomi and her unborn babies.
Terror and shame blossomed inside Ava like a dark fungus, choking out any hope she might have had for salvaging this situation. Col would kill her swiftly. That was the only known quantity in her world right now. The dragon would burn them both. And the human.
“No. Freaking. Way.” The words fell from Connie’s lips like a car powering over speedbumps. “He was a wolf. Right? I didn’t just imagine that.”
Ava clamped down on the overwhelming urge to scream. She swallowed her fear, tamping it down into the rolling pit that called itself a stomach. “You will die.”
That got Connie’s attention. Her gaze flipped from Ryder to Ava and she narrowed her gaze. “What the hell does that mean? I’m still not going to tell. Even though…I mean…wow…just wow. Wait? Does this mean—” Connie raised an eyebrow. “Are you a wolf too?”
“If the tribe finds out that you know. They will kill you.”
“Well, you’re not going to tell them are you?”
Ava shook her head. “No, and you’re still not going to turn us in to your government?”
“Nope. If there are mutant people who can turn into giant predators. I’m not about to get on their bad side. Did you see the size of him? He’s bigger than any natural wolf I’ve ever seen on TV or in person. He’s like 10,000BC prehistoric huge!” Connie bit her lip. Her gaze darted between Ava and Ryder again. “Talking. Now. Would be good.”
Ava sucked a quick breath. Imminent danger from the tribe notwithstanding, at least she didn’t have to worry about Connie running off and calling the authorities. “I’m not going to tell them. He’s my mate. I don’t even want the tribe to know right now. I haven’t figured out how to tell them in such a way that they won’t execute him immediately.”
“Why would they kill him?”
“I’m a wolf. The others hate wolves,” Ryder said from behind Ava, his raspy voice soothed the frayed edges of her nerves.
“So you’re not a wolf, then?” Connie tipped her chin toward Ava and waited.
“No. I’m a bear.”
“Holy frack. Are you as big as he is?”
Ava couldn’t help the slight smile that curved the corners of her mouth. “A bit bigger actually.” She knelt beside Ryder and shook her head. “You need to shift back. You will heal faster as your beast.”
“It will only call the others faster. My scent is less this way.”
“Well, let’s get him inside. You can’t stay out here if you’re not wearing fur. It’s a nice barn, but it’s not that nice.” Connie took a step forward. “You guys aren’t going to like bite me, are you?”
“We only bite people we like,” Ryder said, a pained smile crossing his face.
Connie paused. “Ohhhh.” She nodded and took another step forward. “Got it. Guess I’m safe then cause you two keep looking at each other like you need a room.” She nervous-laughed and held out a hand to Ava’s mate. Ava bit back a possessive growl. She knew the woman didn’t mean anything by the gesture. “I’m Connie, by the way.”
Ryder stared at Connie’s hand and then turned to Ava.
“It’s a human greeting. They shake hands with everyone.”
“Even the females?”
“I’m standing right here.” Connie snatched her hand back and backed up a step.
Ava helped Ryder to shaky feet, shouldering most of his weight easily. He was lighter as a man than his beast, but she was exhausted from the hike and needed more rest than she was willing to admit right now.
Connie looked like she wanted to offer her shoulder too, but realized she was height-challenged and wouldn’t be much help. She backed away, opened the barn and held Ava could help Ryder hobble his way up the path to the house.
“Thank you for your help, Connie.” Ryder said, once Ava had gotten him through the door and into the warm cozy home.
Ava appreciated the cabin-like natural wood walls and ceiling. The furniture was multi-colored and bright, like Connie’s personality. Chipper and comforting all in the same breath.
“Where would he be most comfortable? Couch? Bed?” Connie snapped the deadbolt on the door into place and turned to face Ava.
“By the stove,” Ava said, nodding at the iron woodstove in the corner of the living space.
“I’ll stay on the floor till more of these wounds close up,” Ryder said, his words coming out painfully strained.
“Blankets would be appreciated.”
“Are you sure? The floor?”
Ava nodded, helping Ryder across the room and depositing him on the hardwood in front of the gloriously warm woodstove.
“Blankets are in the coffee table chest. I’ll go make some hot tea. Be back in a minute.”
Connie disappeared around the corner and Ava listened to clinking dishes for a moment before moving again. This time to fetch blankets. She was so tired. Her eyes were starting to droop closed. Her bear had been keeping her going this whole time because she had to. They would’ve died on the mountain. But now it was warm. They were safe with Connie. At least for now. The tribe didn’t know where they were. They wouldn’t be able to track them.
Sleep was an option she hadn’t been able to entertain until this very moment.
“Ava,” Ryder’s voice punched through the fog of exhaustion clouding her brain.
She snapped back to the present. Grabbed several blankets from the chest and moved back to Ryder’s side. She rolled one for a pillow and then covered him with a second.
“You need to sleep, too.”
Ava nodded. “I know. You first.”
“Stay close.” He reached up, brushing his fingertips along her jawline.
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