Authors: Sloane Meyers
Tags: #Contemporary, #Romance, #Fiction, #Paranormal, #Polar Bear, #Werebear, #Adult, #Erotic, #Shifter, #Mate, #Sexy, #Forever Love, #Ice Bear Shifters, #Grandmother, #Co-Worker, #Clan, #Girl Next-Door, #Dishonor Wishes, #Appealing, #Supernatural, #Escaping Somewhere, #Life Changes, #Attraction, #Plans, #Chance
Bearing the Frostbite
Ice Bear Shifters, Book 6
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.
James Tanner peeked around the edges of the tree he was hiding behind, looking up and down the forest trail to make sure no one else was around. He had stripped completely naked, and his clothes were folded into a neat pile next to the tree. Despite the mid-May sunshine, the temperatures were still cool enough to raise goose bumps on his naked skin. Glacier Point, Alaska never really warmed up enough to make running around without clothes comfortable, even in the middle of the summer.
But James wouldn’t be cold for long. Satisfied that the trail was empty, James closed his eyes and let out a long roar. Moments later, a large rush of energy burst from his body, shaking the nearby trees. A flash of light ran across the tundra as James’ skin thickened and became covered with dense, white fur. His face morphed from a human face to the long muzzle and cold, black nose of bear, and his hands transformed into giant paws accented by long, sharp claws. Huffing from the exertion of shifting, James spent a few moments catching his breath. He had completely changed into a massive polar bear, and he swung his large bear neck from side to side to work out the kinks that had formed from being constricted inside a human body.
When he felt stretched out enough, he took off running. He fell into an easy, ambling gait as the forest ended and the trail started crossing the wide-open tundra. He breathed in deeply, letting his sensitive bear nose take in the scents of arctic moss and willow shrubs. He let out another joyful roar as he felt the blood coursing through his veins, racing as his heart pumped faster in response to the physical exertion of running.
Out here, James felt free. He could forget the constricting feelings of playing by the rules of human society. He could distract himself from the pain of losing almost everyone that had mattered to him. James’ eyes darkened as he ran, and he shook his bear head, trying to shake off the feeling of despair that threatened to overwhelm him every time he remembered his clan. James had been born into a large clan of polar bear shifters. His clan had been around for centuries, and they were proud of their long line of strong, noble shifters. Life had been good, growing up with such a strong group of bears. While many clans spent their lives in the shadows, fearing what would happen if humans discovered shifters living among them, James’ clan had been proud to display their legendary abilities. The clan had been too large and too strong to bother itself with petty things like human superstitions. But that had all changed when the Blizzards, a rival clan of polar bear shifters, began taking over the Arctic.
The Blizzards had methodically killed off clan after clan of polar bear shifters. James, young and stubborn, had believed that his clan would be able to stand strong against the fury of the Blizzards. But he had been wrong. The Blizzards had grown too strong and too good at fighting for even his large clan to fend them off. In the end, James and his friend, Seth, had been the only ones to survive a massive Blizzards’ attack. But they soon discovered that one of their clan members who had disappeared months earlier, Hannah, had found a lifemate and joined another clan—the Northern Lights Clan. The Northern Lights Clan had also been battered by the Blizzards’ attacks, and their alpha, Neal, graciously took in James and Seth. James and Seth had helped their new clan take on the Blizzards and defeat them, killing off their male bears and sending the women and children running far away. Vanquishing the Blizzards had been gratifying, and had brought a small measure of healing to James’ heart. That didn’t stop him from missing his old clan like crazy, though.
James slowed his run slightly as he reached a spot on the tundra where the Arctic Ocean snaked into the flat, cold earth. He dove into the freezing cold water, not even flinching thanks to his thick, water-resistant fur. He could feel his muscles aching and starting to cry out in protest at the energy he was requiring of them, but he kept going despite the pain. Burning lungs were the only thing that seemed to quiet his restless mind these days.
The Northern Lights Clan had been a good place for James to land. The clan had treated him just like one of their own, and had even given him his own cabin. The five original Northern Lights shifters all lived on the outskirts of the town of Glacier Point, in beautiful log cabins they had built themselves. The close-knit group spent most of their free time together, especially now that there were several sweet little shifter cubs running around. The oldest cubs, twins Calum and Hope, were now over two years old, and talking up a storm. They said the funniest things in their cute toddler voices. Then there were “the triplets,” Avery, Alyssa, and Elliot. They weren’t really triplets, since they each had a different set of parents. But, they had all been born on the same day as each other, earning themselves the nickname of the triplets. And Neal’s lifemate, Christine, had recently announced that she was expecting a cub in October. Nothing compared with the joyful sound of children’s laughter, and James hoped to one day have a cub of his own.
That day was likely a long way off, however. He had no love interests, and no prospects. With most of the Arctic shifter clans wiped out or severely diminished in the wake of the Blizzard attacks, a bear who wanted a lifemate often had to find a human. James had nothing against humans, although he thought it must be strange to not be able to change into bear form at will. But finding a human who had nothing against shifters wasn’t an easy task. Humans often reacted in fear and disbelief when they discovered that shifters existed.
James turned around and began swimming back toward land. As he climbed onto solid ground once again, he felt his stomach rumbling from hunger. Sniffing around, he found one of the many small berry bushes that covered the tundra, and started downing the sweet, juicy pieces of fruit. A big puddle formed around his feet as the excess ocean water from his swim slid off his thick fur.
James felt happiest out here, in the fresh, open air. He loved the scents and muted sounds of the open tundra. He even loved the way the wind blew across the wide-open space. And, most of all, he loved the solitude. He could come out here to think, and to be alone.
Today, however, his solitude was broken by the whirring of a four-wheeler. James heard the engine long before he could see the vehicle. Annoyed, he wondered who had bothered to venture out here, to the far edges of the tundra. He crouched down, trying to blend his massive bear form into the cold, muddy ground. But, with the snow all melted, his white fur stuck out conspicuously against the darker earth. He did his best to look calm and uninterested in the four-wheeler, and the human driving it. Humans could be so unobservant, anyway. Maybe this one wouldn’t even notice him.
James didn’t personally care that much if a human saw him, but he knew that Neal liked for the clan members to keep a low profile. The Northern Lights Clan had been the victim of a bear hunt by scared humans a few years ago, and Neal remained wary of exposing the clan’s shifter abilities. Even though James was several miles from Glacier Point, some humans grew anxious if a bear was sighted anywhere remotely close to town. These humans always seemed convinced that a rogue bear meant an inevitable attack on the townspeople.
James crouched low and still, waiting for the four-wheeler to pass. And it almost did. But just when he had started to breathe a sigh of relief, the four-wheeler suddenly slowed, and turned toward him.
“What the heck?” James said to himself, trying to crouch even lower into the ground. But hiding his huge bear form was impossible. The four-wheeler drew closer, and came to a stop right in front of him. James had never had a human approach him while he was in bear form. Usually, if a human happened to see him, they would run away in fear. But this human seemed fearless. James sniffed the air. A woman. She was bundled from head to toe in generic, black winter clothing that did nothing for her curves—if she even had any. He couldn’t tell under all those layers. But he could clearly smell her sweet scent with a few deep draws of breath into his bear nose.
James let out a low warning growl, trying to encourage the woman to leave. But her eyes, the only part of her that was visible, did not register any fear.
“I know what you are,” she said. She spoke softly, in a matter-of-fact tone.
James let out another growl in response. Did she mean that she knew he was a shifter? And, if so, how? He drew in several long breaths, trying to see whether she smelled at all like a shifter herself. But, no. She was definitely one hundred percent human.
“I thought all of your kind were gone from this area. Your numbers have been dwindling rapidly, and I had worried that shifters were becoming extinct.”
James resisted the urge to panic. She somehow knew about shifters, and knew that he was one. Neal would be angry with James if he discovered that he had been in bear form in front of a human. But how was James supposed to know that a human was going to show up here, in the middle of the frozen tundra? And he still had no idea how the woman knew he was a shifter. James bared his teeth, hoping to scare off the woman and convince her that she was wrong. He was just another polar bear, out foraging for berries near the sea ice.
The woman laughed, and hopped off the four-wheeler.
“You can’t fool me,” she said. “I’m very experienced in the ways of all things supernatural.”
She walked right up to James, and reached out a gloved hand to stroke his large bear head. He snapped at her, intentionally missing but trying to display his large teeth for her benefit. He wanted to scare her off and convince her that he was nothing more than an ordinary bear, but the women merely smiled. Her deep blue eyes danced as she looked him over.
“Your bear is gorgeous,” she said. “Do you live in Glacier Point?”
James growled in response, and the woman laughed again. “Don’t worry. I don’t have anything against shifters. I’m not going to alert the townspeople and start a bear hunt. I just thought for sure that there were no shifters left in this region. It’s good to see one alive and well.”
The woman climbed back onto her four-wheeler, and gave James a little wave before driving away.
When she finally disappeared from view, James let out an angry roar, and started running back toward the forest. Frustration filled him as he ran. Whoever that woman was, she had just ruined the one peaceful spot left for him. How could he come out here and run freely when he knew that a human might be out here, watching him?
James reached the forest and ducked behind the trees where he had left his clothes. With a powerful whoosh of energy, he switched back into his human form. His dark brown hair and darker brown eyes glistened in the sunlight that filtered through the treetops, but he felt even colder than before. His solid muscles twitched as he pulled on his pants and shirt, and he wrestled with whether he should tell his alpha about the incident. He knew Neal would want to know about the woman, but he worried that Neal would try to enforce overzealous restrictions on the clan if he knew that their shifter status might be exposed.
James frowned as he pulled his boots over his thick socks. Maybe he should just pretend the whole thing never happened. After all, the woman didn’t know what he looked like in human form. It’s not like she would recognize him and point him out if she saw him walking around town. James stood to his full height, and started the long walk back to the clan’s cabins. He would keep silent about the incident, and hope it was an isolated encounter. Despite the wide open spaces around him, Glacier Point was starting to feel small and constricted. The last thing he wanted was more rules to follow.