“Come on, baby, you know you want to,” said Charlie as he tried to slip his hand up under her bra.
Halley Jordan and Charlie Murdock were enjoying themselves next to an overturned tree in a small clearing in the forest. Charlie had Halley wrapped in his arms as he kissed her with passion and skill… well, as much skill as a boy barely eighteen could have. She could feel his cock rapidly becoming hard and pressing against her through his jeans. Her nipples were beading up and forming stiff peaks under her lace bra. She was quite certain that the desire pooling between her legs was going to leave her lace panties damp before they finished.
“Stop it, Charlie. I told you no,” she said, pushing his hand away.
“Damn it, Hal. It isn’t like I don’t get to feel it just because there’s a piece of lace between my hand and your tits.”
She pushed his hand away more forcefully and sat up. “They’re my tits and I said no.”
He grabbed her hand and pushed it down past the waistband of his jeans. “I’ll let you touch my dick. Better yet, why don’t you get it out and I can teach you how to suck me off.”
Halley stood up and pushed him away. “What makes you think I don’t already know how?”
“Hal?” he called forlornly, as she grabbed her daypack and shoved her things back into it.
“I’m outta here, Charlie. You can get your ass up and hike out with me, or I’ll go by myself.”
“You can’t do that. There are cougars and wolves and whatever…”
“And you would do what about any of those?” she sneered. “I’m a big girl and I can take care of myself.”
She turned to walk away but stopped when he called to her again. She turned to see that he had opened the fly of his jeans and his cock was now jutting through it.
“Hal, you can’t leave me like this. It’s not nice to be known as a girl who’s a tease…” His voice was mildly threatening.
“Even worse to be a guy that’s known as one who can’t take no for an answer. I’d put that thing away if I were you, Charlie. It’s really not big enough to be out on its own.”
With that last retort, she headed away from the clearing and back toward what she thought was the trail they had used to get to the clearing. At first, she was grateful not to hear Charlie following her, but the further she got from the clearing, the more she realized she may have gotten disoriented and lost.
“Charlie?” she called. She wasn’t surprised when she received no answer. She and Charlie had been arguing more of late. He wanted to go further than she did.
Although she was deep in the woods, Halley could tell she was rapidly losing daylight. Even with as much time as she had spent roaming through the forest, the deep woods of the Rocky Mountains was no place to be alone, after dark and unarmed. She could hear the faint rushing of a stream nearby. Halley had stopped to listen to get her bearings when she heard a twig snap under the foot of something larger than a small creature. There were a number of things it could be—none of which would welcome her presence.
Halley whirled around to see what was stalking her. She saw nothing but the slight disturbance of the underbrush as something moved toward her with purpose and stealth. Halley realized that whatever it was, it was most likely a predator of some kind and meant her no good. The foliage was dense, but not overly tall—that ruled out a human. Deer, raccoon, and the like did not stalk; they scampered, ran, and hopped, but they didn’t stalk. Halley turned, desperately searching for something, anything she might use as a weapon.
As she bent over, Halley heard the rushing of the animal through the bushes as it mounted its attack. She was certain it intended to try to bring her down by knocking her to the ground before inflicting some kind of fatal bite. She spied a dead tree limb and sprang toward it. Grasping the branch, she spun in the direction that she feared the attack would spring from.
The first glimpse she had at whatever was hunting her was a blur of tawny fur and glistening white fangs. She swung the makeshift club with all her might and was able to knock the large cougar away from her, breaking the limb in two. So much for that weapon, she thought. Halley felt something warm trailing down the column of her throat. The animal’s razor-sharp teeth must have grazed her neck and opened a wound. Its claws had raked across her arms and chest, destroying her shirt and leaving a red, sticky trail in their wake. Halley realized it was her own blood.
Backing away, Halley’s eyes were riveted to the large cat as it bunched its muscles, making ready for another assault. As the cougar sprang, Halley feared the worst until she heard the bellow of a large grizzly as it entered the fray. She had gone from bad to worse. Being attacked by a mountain lion was one thing… trying to fend off a grizzly bear was quite another. Normally the two species fought over only one thing—their intended prey.
There was a brief skirmish before the cougar gave ground and fled to the relative safety of the underbrush. Rising up on its haunches, the great beast roared in triumph as it pawed the air, seeking to rip apart the sky with its great claws. The bear dwarfed her with its massive stature. As the bear dropped back down onto all fours, Halley thought her life was over. She screamed as she fell to the ground in a dead faint. Her last conscious thought was that perhaps she would die before it started to eat her.
Halley came to as a large man wiped a cold cloth across her face. He looked as though he had stepped off the cover of one of the mountain man romance novels she loved to read. He was enormous with ripened buckeye nut-colored hair, worn longer than most, and deep blue eyes.
“Wh-Who are you?” she stammered.
“I’m the Spirit of the Bear,” he said softly before covering her nose and mouth with a piece of cloth that had a slightly sweet but not unpleasant odor.
“Hey, Hal,” she heard a masculine voice call as she stood in the memorial park on the outskirts of town.
She turned and shook her head, smiling.
“Hey, Charlie,” she replied.
Halley’s story about the Spirit of the Bear having saved her had not been believed after she had left Charlie in the woods. Many had discounted, and most had scoffed at, her story about the grizzly that saved her and the mountain man who had run for miles to get her to the emergency room in order to save her life.
“So, you’re back?” Charlie said a bit sheepishly. “Are you going to live at your family’s old place?”
“That’s the plan. For the foreseeable future, I’m back. And yes, I’m going to live at my grandmother’s home,” said Halley, smiling. Sophia Jordan, Halley’s grandmother, had died two years before.
“I was sorry to hear that your grandmother passed. She was a great lady. I was still overseas and so couldn’t be here.” Charlie hesitated; he seemed unsure of himself, or at least of what he was about to say. “I never…” Charlie started. “I never should have left you in the woods. I always felt bad about that.”
“We were both kids, Charlie.” Halley reached out to him and squeezed his arm. “Don’t give it a second thought. I never did. I could have waited for you, but I stormed off so it’s just as much my fault as it was yours.”
He shook his head. “No, it wasn’t right. Two tours of duty taught me that there’s a right way and a wrong way to handle things and that was wrong. I always swore if I ever saw you again, I’d try and make amends.”
“Thanks, Charlie. I appreciate that. Are you back to stay then?”
“Yeah. Actually, I just got hired by the sheriff’s department. I start tomorrow. Maybe you, me, and Kaye could get together?”
“With this new gig starting, I don’t know how much time I’ll have, but I really would love to see both you and Kaye.”
Again, he looked a bit embarrassed. “Are you okay with me and Kaye being together?”
Halley grinned. “As long as you don’t leave her in the woods, we’re good.”
He laughed and looked relieved. “Still looking for your Bear Spirit?”
Halley had been the butt of a lot of jokes after her encounter with whatever it was that saved her. It would have been easier just to say she forgot or that it was a man, but she was quite certain that it was a bear and her story had never wavered. After all, how does one mistake a bear for a man?
“Hope springs eternal, Charlie. The government doesn’t have a lot of interest in the Spirit of the Bear, but who knows what I’ll find? Take care and if you see Kaye before I do, let her know I’m back.”
“Oh, she knows.”
Halley turned to look at him. “Let me guess, she let herself into the house and made it habitable?”
“You know Kaye… and she knows you.”
Halley walked back to her vintage 1937 Chevy truck shaking her head. It was her prized possession. After what happened on the mountain, she’d withdrawn from a lot of her former activities. She’d enrolled in auto shop and then lovingly restored the old wreck when she found it. Putting it in gear, she eased away from the curb and headed home.
Pulling into the driveway, she smiled. There, sitting on the front porch, was the only person who had never deserted her, never made fun of her, and never doubted the veracity of her story. Like Halley, Kaye Masters had always been a bit of an outcast. Her father was a famous bird dog trainer and something of an eccentric. Kaye had taken the skills she learned from him and become one of the most highly sought-after search and rescue people on the planet. She and her hounds, of which she had a variety, were flown all over the world to help hunt down criminals, find those who were lost, and to recover the remains of those caught in tragic circumstances.
Halley parked the truck and got out. “I should have known you’d be here.”
“Yep. I used the key you left with me and came over yesterday, pulled all the dust covers off the furniture, and had a cleaning crew come in. Then this morning I went shopping and your fridge is full, there’s beer on ice, and that crockpot recipe you sent me for pot roast is cooking away.”
Kaye got up and the two women embraced each other warmly.
“You didn’t have to go to all that trouble,” said Halley.
“No, I could have left it up to you and in a month, you’d still be eating takeout and sleeping in a bedroll.”
Halley laughed. Her friend wasn’t that far off the mark. They wrapped their arms around each other and entered the house.
From the edge of the dense woods that covered much of the acreage that had belonged to Halley’s grandmother, Bear watched Halley. So, she had returned. He had kept a close watch on her over the years. He had almost lost her to the cougar that day.
It had been a surprise to him each morning when he woke in his cave behind the falls to find he was still human and that only a regular night had passed. He could still call his bear spirit forward when he chose to and he often did. Most of the time, it was simply easier to exist as a bear than as a man. For him to reveal his existence, far too many explanations and lies would be needed.
Bear thought back over the years he had existed not as a human or as a grizzly but as a creature that was both. He had found he could shift between his two forms as needed. The fact was that the cougar’s bite to Halley’s neck and the claw marks should have killed her. He had moved heaven and earth to save her and had promised whatever power it was that had kept him alive for the past two centuries that if Halley could be saved, he would always keep her safe.
As the years had passed since the attack and he hadn’t gone back into hibernation, Bear had begun venturing out into some of the smaller towns to trade and get things that would give his home some of the creature comforts it lacked. He was puzzled by the fact that he had become more a creature of the living than one that existed only in the twilight of myth and legend.
Until Halley, he had not felt any stirring of desire for more than two hundred years. Bear had seen couples in the woods fucking and watched them with a detached interest. That had changed when he saw Halley. From the time he had seen her storm off from her boyfriend, Bear had an overwhelming desire to possess her. He began to dream and then to fantasize about having Halley underneath him—about suckling at her breast and mounting her to ease the ache that had taken up residence in his soul. When she left town to attend college and start her career, he had expected his rampant yearnings to go dormant once again. But that had not been the case.
Seeing Halley again, his cock grew hard and the almost overwhelming need to dominate and claim her reemerged. In the past, he had often followed her when she was hiking in the woods. He had seen her strip her clothes off on more than one occasion to swim naked in the rivers and streams that were abundant in the area. It had taken every ounce of his humanity not to join her in the meadows or waters and seize her as his mate.
Bear retreated deeper into the woods.
After Kaye left, Halley made a last check of the house and then headed upstairs. She’d asked Kaye to put her bags in her old room but when she entered there were no bags and the room looked different. She saw the note from Kaye on the bed.
I know you think you’re not ready to occupy Sophia’s room, but it’s time. Your grandmother would have thought keeping her room as some kind of memorial was wasteful. It’s gorgeous and has a private deck. I boxed up all her stuff. We can go shopping for new stuff whenever you want.
It’ll be fun. I promise. I love you.
I’m glad you’re back.
She hated to admit it but Halley knew Kaye was right. Her grandmother would have thought her using anything other than the master suite was stupid and would have admonished her to make the house her own. She walked down to the room that had once been her beloved grandmother’s and, taking a deep breath, opened the door.
God bless Kaye. The only thing that remained of her grandmother was Halley’s favorite picture of them together. The king-size bed was made up and was only missing a decorative duvet. There were no curtains on the French doors out to the deck or covering the windows, but on this side of the house they were unnecessary as those three walls were surrounded by dense woods.
Glad to be home, Halley stripped off her clothing and walked out onto the deck clad in nothing but the moonlight. Little did she know that a pair of eyes watched her with intent and longing. Halley reentered the bedroom, closed and locked the doors, and climbed into bed. She sighed with contentment. She’d forgotten how comfortable this bed was. She had spent many a night cozied up with her grandmother when something had frightened her.
The next morning Halley awoke to bright sunshine streaming through the windows and French doors. She stretched, got out of the bed, and walked out onto the deck, inhaling deeply. She took a quick look around to reassure herself that even in broad daylight she had privacy. Something hidden way back in the woods caught her eye, but she couldn’t quite make it out. Halley continued to stare at the spot but saw nothing of substance. She headed back into her room, took a shower, got dressed, and headed downstairs.
Kaye had indeed stocked her fridge with foods she knew Halley liked. She made herself a quick trout hash and enjoyed it with juice and a cup of coffee. Fortified for the day, she grabbed a pair of light-duty boots and headed into town.
Halley had been hired to conduct a study of how a proposed hotel and casino development might impact the environment and some of the keystone species that had been reintroduced over the past two decades—wolf, bear, and lynx among them. The rumor was that there was dirty money behind the development company. Her first stop was the town hall where she obtained copies of the permits for the proposed hotel and casino as well as the EPA’s initial environmental impact statement.
“Halley, or should I say Dr. Jordan?” said Annie, who had been the town clerk for as long as anyone could remember.
“Annie, you’ve known me my whole life… Halley is fine.”
“I heard the feds hired you. The boys behind this development won’t be too pleased. They’ve taken an office down on Main Street and are working hard to be everybody’s best friend.”
“I take it their efforts have not been successful with you?”
“Not one damn bit and they know it. They’re a little too slick… a little too polished for me. They’re touting how the hotel and casino will bring jobs and money into the economy. It’ll also bring the wrong kind of tourists, the mafia and the crime that comes along with them. The sheriff doesn’t care for them either.”
“Hey, I ran into Charlie Murdock at the memorial garden. He said he’s going to work as a deputy.”
“He’s a nice boy, Halley. He served in the army overseas. He left a callow youth and came home a nice young man.”
“That’s what I thought when I saw him. I was happy to see him.”
“You’re going to fight this proposal, aren’t you?”
“Professionally, I have to conduct a non-biased, scientific study, but I think the results will back my personal feelings. Personally, I plan to make their lives a living hell,” she laughed as she left the office.
Halley spotted the office of the Running Waters Development Company immediately. It was charming and chic and gave no indication that the resort they were proposing was anything more than a hotel and casino. Halley had no doubt it would bring a lot of business into their sleepy backwater. She was just as sure that it would damage if not destroy the way of life that many in the town and its surrounding area treasured. As she entered the unlocked door, a little brass bell over the door rang.
A handsome young man stepped out of a private office. He was dressed casually in a sweater and jeans. At first glance he looked like any other local, but a casual glance would not reveal the truth. His hair had been professionally cut and styled by a high-end salon, his jeans were by a trendy designer, and the sweater was cashmere. Halley smiled; he’d taken a lot of time, trouble, and money to look like he fit right in. Annie was right; he was a little too slick for Halley’s taste.
“Good morning,” the cultured voice said with a practiced smile that did not quite make it to his eyes. “How may I help you?”
“I’m Halley Jordan. I’ve been asked to conduct a wildlife study regarding your proposed development. I have to tell you that I grew up here and am more than a little bit familiar with your proposal. Let me be up front with you. You shouldn’t expect my findings to support your plans for this so-called resort.”
“Whoa! Do you always enter someone’s office guns blazing?” he quipped, amping up the wattage on his dazzling smile.
“I do when I recognize the place I’m entering is the devil’s den and houses the opposition. I just thought we ought to be able to get a good look at each other and know where the other stands.”
“You don’t know anything about me,” he said, trying to coax a smile from her.
Halley shook her head. She’d been around guys like this from the time she’d left for college. They were too rehearsed and studied for their own good, thought they had the world by the tail and that women would drop at their feet for any attention from them whatsoever.
“Oh, but I do. You’re one of the guys from the development company in Denver that’s already built one hotel and casino complex. The crime rate has gone sky high in that area and the native plants and species have been gravely impacted. You want to put another one in my town and destroy not only our way of life but a great deal of the wilderness that surrounds us.”
“Our proposed development could help bring a lot of business to this town and give it a real influx of cash.”
“It might, but not for the people who already call this place home. Even from first glance I can see that your proposal will decrease the natural and native habitat for numerous species. I’m sure once I’ve had a chance to study it in detail as well as the negative initial Environmental Impact Statement, I’ll find even more to object to.”
“We were told we’d get a fair hearing,” he challenged.
“And you will. I’m just one of the cogs in the wheel. The EPA and the Fish and Wildlife Service have requested assistance in assessing the harm that might come from allowing you to proceed. I’ll be doing a wildlife study of the area, specifically how some of the species that have been reintroduced into this area are faring and how your development might impact them. For the record, grizzlies, wolves, and lynx don’t much care for humans invading their territories. There is absolutely nothing about your casino that will be good for them.”
He walked out from behind the reception counter and extended his hand. “Well, Halley Jordan, my name is Cal.”
“Just Cal,” he said without lowering his hand. “I think maybe we got off on the wrong foot.”
“Well, Just Cal, you can put your hand away. As far as I’m concerned, you don’t have a right foot to stand on. As I said, I just wanted to get a good look at the opposition and let you know that while my scientific research will be above reproach, personally I’ll be fighting you every step of the way.”
Halley watched as Just Cal’s carefully plastered smile began to crumble away. “You might want to go easy, Miss…”
“It’s Doctor, Just Cal,” she said.
“I stand corrected.” The smile faded completely and the tone turned nasty. “You may want to watch your step, Dr. Jordan. There are formidable forces and a lot of money behind the effort to get the hotel and casino put here. The people I work for aren’t used to taking no for an answer and have the ability to squash the opposition if warranted.”
“Threats already? How absolutely charming. You want a fight? Bring it on. As for your threat? Be advised I have a permit to carry a concealed weapon and will be armed. You and your bully boys want to take a run at me? Take your best shot. Doing so ain’t for the faint of heart. You have yourself a lovely day and enjoy our town. I don’t think you’ll be here for long.”
She turned on her heel and exited the building. She laughed as she heard something crash against the door as it closed. No doubt about it, she’d made her point with Just Cal. She walked back to her truck inordinately happy with the exchange. She shook her head; her grandmother would have been proud.
Kaye called as Halley got into her truck to see if Halley wanted to head to one of the ski resort towns close by where they’d be able to find new furnishings for her room. Halley agreed and offered to pick Kaye up. The two had a lovely day catching up and then putting her room together. They were sitting on the front porch enjoying a beer when Charlie rolled up in his new patrol vehicle.
“Ladies,” he called cordially as he stepped out.
“Charlie,” they said in unison.
He shook his head. “Halley, you’re barely back twenty-four hours and have already pissed off some of the local bigwigs.”
“You mean Just Cal? Did he complain to the sheriff?”
“He did. He reiterated that they were only here to do good and didn’t appreciate some local troublemaker basically throwing down a gauntlet.”
“Funny that he didn’t pick it up while I was there but opted to go whine to the sheriff. I can assure you I did nothing illegal or even inappropriate. A bit bitchy perhaps, but nothing that will compromise my findings. I merely introduced myself and let him know that I would be one of those opposing their plans.”
Kaye laughed. “You get ‘em, Hal.”
Charlie shook his finger at Kaye. “Do not encourage her. These guys are big money and they have a lot of power behind them. You might want to tread lightly.”
Halley smiled. “The only place I do that is out in the wilderness. Those development boys can kiss my ass.”
“Seriously, Halley, watch your step. There’s a lot of locals who want this, and these Denver boys know how to play hardball.”
“So do I, Charlie…”
“All the same, watch yourself. Kaye, can I give you a lift home?”
Kaye looked at Halley and grinned. “Sure, Deputy Murdock. That would be real nice of you… wouldn’t it, Halley?”
Halley returned her friend’s smile. “If you say so. You two kids have fun.”
Kaye stepped off the porch with Charlie’s hand in the small of her back. As they headed toward his vehicle, Charlie’s hand drifted lower so that it rested on Kaye’s ass as she allowed him to escort her to his car. Halley shook her head and made a mental note to ask Kaye when that had started. Charlie had never been a bad guy, just a horny teenager. And she thought that two tours of duty had most likely resolved that.
Halley sat on the porch as darkness fell. The front porch lights came on automatically so she finished her beer and just rocked. She’d almost forgotten how peaceful it was just to sit and be present in the moment. She got up to head inside and stopped as she heard a lone wolf call and the scream of a lynx as it shattered the fallen night.
Halley was asleep and dreaming of the man who had saved her from the cougar. Over the years she had come to believe that the stories she heard from her grandmother and others had to have some basis in truth. It was hard to reconcile that it could be the same man. After all, no one lived that long, but she had to admit the romantic in her liked the idea that the original Spirit of the Bear had been a man who became a bear to avenge his murdered wife and then continued to protect the wilderness and help those who needed it.
Her peaceful slumber was disturbed when something woke her. She sat up and listened intently. At first, she could only hear the ticking of the pendulum clock hanging on the wall opposite her bed. Then she heard what sounded like someone, or more than one someone, outside the house. The house was far too removed from town, and it was entirely too late, for anyone to be here with anything less than nefarious intentions.
Silently, Halley pulled a long sweater over her head that covered her to mid-thigh and slipped down the stairs. She took the antique shotgun down from the mantel. Her grandmother had always kept it primed. She pulled open the drawer from the box that sat on the hearth and loaded both barrels. Halley knew the old house well and crept to the front window where she could peek out and see if there was anyone skulking about.
There, in her driveway, were five men. She couldn’t be sure as they were just outside the range of the yard lights, but she would have sworn one of them was Just Cal. She knew better than to step outside where she would be illuminated by the front porch light. She went out the kitchen door at the back of the house and made her way around to the shed, so she could use it as shelter.
“Gentlemen?” she called, startling them. “I don’t remember sending you invitations to come visit me nor did I give you permission to come calling. You need to leave here immediately.”
“You need to mind your own business,” one of them called back.
“Hey, Just Cal, remind your friends that I’m an official representative of the federal government and threatening me is not a good idea. And yes, Just Cal, I know you’re with them. Now, get off my land.”
“We know who you are, Halley Jordan. Consider this a friendly warning…”
Halley unloaded one barrel of the shotgun into the ground at their feet and smiled as they all jumped backward.
“Yeah?” she taunted. “So was that. The next time I’ll sight my gun on something other than the ground. Didn’t you hear me? Clear out!”
She watched them disperse so they were not all standing together. It was at that moment that she regretted not having pocketed more ammunition and/or calling the sheriff’s department before confronting the men who stood on her driveway. Halley moved back into the shadows and away from her earlier position. They didn’t need to know where she was.
Bear watched her confront the men. What the hell was wrong with her? Why had she left the safety of the house or not called the authorities? The one time he had talked to her grandmother, Sophia had warned him that her granddaughter was spirited and could be a bit foolhardy.
Five years ago, the old woman had come looking for him when she had learned her illness was terminal. She began wandering the woods calling his name. At first, he had ignored her but watched to ensure she was safe. Finally, she’d sat down on a fallen tree and hollered that she needed to talk to him and was willing to wait. Bear waited for more than five hours before finally joining her in the clearing.
“So, you finally decided to come talk to me?” she had asked.
“You are a stubborn old woman,” he had replied.
“I am. But I know who you are.”
“I am the Spirit of the Bear when he possesses me.”
“I don’t know about all of that, but I do know that you are Cade Devereaux.” She had smiled at the look of shock upon his face. “I don’t know how whatever happened to you happened, but don’t bother trying to deny it. For more than two hundred years, you’ve protected this land and the people and animals who chose to live our lives here.”
Cade had searched her face and knew that he would never be able to convince her otherwise. He walked over to the log and sat down beside her.
“I can’t explain it either. I just know that when my wife was murdered, I prayed for strength and to see those who killed her dead. I started tracking them and when I sought shelter in the base of a tree, I went to sleep and woke up as a bear. I’ve been doing that ever since. There’s no rhyme or reason for how long I hibernate, if that’s what it is. I do know that I am awakened when there is a need for me.”
“I know you saved her,” she had said softly. “I don’t know how much time I have left, Cade. Halley is the only thing in this world that matters to me. I’m dying and I worry about her.”
“She seems strong and capable.”
Sophia had nodded. “That she is. Sometimes too much for her own good. Like you, she loves this valley, the mountains, and all the creatures that dwell here. I have a bad feeling about what’s coming. I’ve spotted a couple of surveyors out in the wilderness. No need for them to be here. Except gambling is now legal in Colorado and I fear there are those who would destroy our town and this land to put up a casino.”
“Progress is difficult to stop,” he said sadly.
“But not impossible, and Halley knows that. She won’t back down from a fight. The men who want to put up a casino won’t think twice about killing off some wildlife biologist that got in their way. I need to know you’ll protect her.”
“I can’t give you that promise. I never know how long I will be awake.”
“But you haven’t hibernated since the cougar attacked her, have you? I’ve seen and felt your presence close to my home… especially when Halley is around. You’re connected to her somehow.”
This was not a topic Bear wished to discuss with her. The feelings of lust and dominance that he experienced when Halley was around were not ones he wanted to explore or share with anyone, especially her grandmother.
He nodded. “I am. I can’t explain why or how I know, but I do.”
“Watch over her for me, Cade. I have a feeling she’ll come home to fight these people. You’re going to need to keep her safe. Promise me you will do that.”
Bear smiled sadly. “But who will keep her safe from me?”
“You would never harm her. You have never harmed a woman or a child.”
“Nor have I felt for one what I feel for her. Not even my wife prompted the lust in me that I experience when I see your Halley.” Bear decided it was probably best if he shocked the old woman so she would find another protector for her granddaughter.
“And would it be so bad if she were yours?” the old woman had asked softly.
Bear had laughed bitterly. “Yes. If Halley were mine, she would be mine in every way. She would obey me or face the consequences. I am not an easy man to please. A modern girl like your Halley would hate being my woman.”
“But you would keep her safe. You would take care of her. Dare I say, you might even grow to love her?”
He had growled at the old woman as the bear inside him tried to come forward. He had to fight to keep from shifting. “Do not ask this thing of me.”
“I have no one else to ask,” she’d said. “I’ve known your secret since before you saved Halley. I’m the one that insured the homestead you built with your wife didn’t get turned under by a plow or a bulldozer. I’m the one that paid to have the memorial garden set up with the chimney from your cabin and your wife’s ashes protected as its centerpiece. You owe me, Cade Devereaux, and I’m calling in my marker.”
“I can see where your granddaughter got her obstinance.”
“No doubt you can. But do I have your word?”
He had nodded.
“Then,” she’d said, “I can die in peace. Take care of her, Cade. Do what you need to do to keep her safe and perhaps the two of you will find happiness together.”