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Bearly A Chance (Soulmate Shifters in Mystery, Alaska Book #3.5)
Ryder opened his eyes just enough for the light in the room to peek in—a sunrise inching its way over a mountain. Warmth radiated toward his body too, just like the rising suns back home. His skin was warmer than he liked, and his bones ached from knitting themselves back together.
The fall should’ve killed him.
But it hadn’t. He was breathing. His heart beat. And his mind still wanted her.
Somehow she’d managed to carry him all the way down the mountain and into town. And now they were inside the other female’s home. The one he’d heard speaking in the vehicle. And here in this house.
How long had he been lying on the floor?
Both feminine voices floated in his mind even now, whistling and whispering like a breeze through tall forest trees. They were talking, but it wasn’t worth the effort to focus on what they were saying.
He needed to move. And he hated being in this form. Being a man was strange and uncomfortable. On Reylea, wolves lived in their beast form most of their lives. A pack functioned perfectly without conversation. Every being knew their place. Knew their job. Knew their duty.
Here in this new world it was chaotic.
Their prince sought vengeance for a lost mate, and it had cost the pack dearly. So many lives lost. The magick-bender had saved them, sacrificed her life so they could live, but their leader’s stupidity—his best friend’s stupidity—had drawn them into a battle they couldn’t win.
Raish was a good alpha. At least he had been before the death of his mate.
His friend and prince and alpha—Raish—was dead now. The pack had been decimated by the dragon and the other shifters. Blood had been everywhere when he ran. He’d abandoned his pack. When Raish had fallen, he’d been ready to leave the area permanently. Disappear into the snow and find another life. Start over.
Then he’d seen her. Ava.
He’d seen the glow of his mate’s soul. He’d seen tribe—his pack—about to rip her to shreds. In that moment there had been no other choice. He’d fought for her. And won.
His tribe-mates died. He’d tasted their blood. Heard their last breaths. Watched as their blood had stained the snow red.
He was a traitor to his pack. To his family.
He should’ve died on that mountain so Fate would have to find her another. Another more worthy.
Ryder called the magick of his beast and shifted noiselessly into his wolf. The wounds were closed, but far from healed. Bones and muscle were still knitting themselves back together.
Everything was sore.
Pain shot from the tips of his paws, up his legs, along his spine. Every breath moved his lungs and stretch ribs that had been broken. There wasn’t a single part of him that didn’t ache. Still. It was better in this shape.
Less vulnerable. Less desirable.
His mate was a bear. She didn’t want a wolf.
It didn’t matter that she’d saved him. It’d been in the heat of the moment. Now that she was off the mountain. The fighting over. She would realize it would be better if she just let him go.
He looked at the fire burning in the black iron box and then at the closed front door. He would have to shift to open it. And in this still-wounded condition, he wouldn’t be able to hunt.
Ryder turned back to the warmth of the fire, curled up and went to sleep.
Almost a week later…
He never opened the door and left. He hadn’t been able to bring himself to leave her. To leave Ava. One day he’d come close. He’d shifted, opened the door, and stood looking down the street and off into the forest. And there hadn’t been a thing out there he wanted.
Wide open space. Animals to hunt. Freedom.
Everything he wanted was in this cozy little house.
The woman—his mate. She was here. Ava was here.
The three of them had been existing together in Connie’s house. Of course, he’d been a wolf the whole time, refusing to shift, hoping Ava would give up on him while secretly wishing that she wouldn’t.
Well the secret wish had come true in a way. Ava told him before she left for her shift at the café today that no matter how long he stayed a wolf, they belonged together and if he wanted to be her pet instead of her mate, she could live with that for now.
It’d been a lie. He could hear the hurt in his mate’s voice, and it was all his fault. He was breaking her, and it tore at his heart worse than any blade or claw ever could.
He huffed out a breath and lifted his head from the blanket where he was sprawled out on the floor. Connie was always calling him a prehistoric canine—whatever that meant, but the human female seemed to have gotten used to him. Her pulse didn’t speed up anymore when she saw him, and she’d pet his head a couple of time while telling him how weird it was to know he was a guy in a wolf’s body.
He really saw it the other way around though. He was a wolf who sometimes happened to be a man.
Ryder glanced toward the door. Footsteps crunched on the gravel outside. Not heavy enough to be male. The strides were too long to be Connie’s. It was unlikely Ava would be back to the house this early, but it did sound like her.
His lip curled and a growl started low in his belly.
The lock on the door clicked and Ava entered, her long brown curls caressing her shoulders. She glanced his direction and smiled a wistful-sad smile that made him want to be a man more than he’d ever in his life before.
“Your fur is looking better. Wounds are too. How’s the inside feeling?”
Ryder gave a low annoyed woof. She was baiting him. She was always trying to get him to talk. Talking was difficult. Uncomfortable. Why wouldn’t she just sit with him? He loved hearing her voice. Feeling her hands on him. She’d said she was okay with him being an animal for now—which had been an outright lie—but was he? Was he punishing them both by lying to himself?
He wasn’t going back to the pack. Most of them were dead.
He wasn’t going to leave Ava, but staying put her in danger with the Reyleans living in and around the town. Except no one had come looking for them. She’d been going to her job all week. She’d spoken to her brother. He’d heard her tell Connie more than once.
“Good chat. I had an entire table’s order of soda spill on my jeans and I’m sticky.”
Ryder sniffed the air. He could smell the syrupy sweetness in the air and see the brown stain splashed across her pants—jeans—she called the blue pants jeans. He was learning. Slowly.
He stepped toward her, expecting a pat as she walked by. Maybe a scratch behind the ears. Also, no one had left any food out on the table this morning before they left. He hadn’t wanted to make a mess in Connie’s house looking around and risk angering their host.
Ava gave a frustrated sigh and walked behind the couch toward the hallway, keeping the furniture between them. No pet. No scratch. No smile at all. The faint scent of sadness wafted from her slumped body as it disappeared from his view.
It’d been getting stronger all week. Every day there’d been less interaction. She said she wanted him, but she was pulling away a little more each day, withdrawing and shutting down. Her smiles were less often. Her laughter less happy.
It was his fault.
He shifted, calling up the magick inside him, and stood on two legs. It was a strange feeling. He flexed his hands, opening and closing his fists. He breathed deeply. His sense of smell changed drastically as a man. His vision. Everything was weaker. Everything was less.
Except how much he desired his mate.
He wanted Ava more than ever. His body was tense. Hungry. His cock was hard and straining beneath his tosa. His pulse roared in his ears, driving him forward. Driving him toward the sound of the water running down the hallway. His mate was showering.
His mate was naked and unclaimed.
If she would have him, Ryder intended to inform Ava he wanted to be much more than her pet.
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