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
In the next instant, his lips met hers. She felt a deep warmth running through her body, starting where his mouth was touching hers, then radiating across her entire body. He took his time, gently pressing his lips against hers and raising a hand to gently stroke her cheek. The radio played softly in the background, filling the car with country music, but the only other sound was the soft smacking of their kiss.
James started pushing the kiss deeper, slipping his tongue past Alexis’ lips and into her mouth. She closed her eyes and drank in the sensation of his tongue dancing with hers while his fingers warmed her cheeks. The bright summer sun lit up the Alaskan sky and cast a cheery glow on the couple as Alexis relished the moment. It had been such a long time since she’d had a chance to truly enjoy anything, and even longer since she’d felt a man’s touch on her skin. Life had been so busy with surviving that she had forgotten what it felt like to savor a happy moment.
For several minutes, James continued to kiss her, alternating between stroking her cheek and stroking her hair. Alexis felt the warmth in her body growing, centering itself in a blaze of desire between her legs. She resisted the urge to moan as James ran one hand down her back, sending delightful shivers up and down her spine. Her breathing grew heavier as every atom of her being focused its attention on the gorgeous man entangling his body with hers.
And then, he pulled back. He gave her a soft kiss on the nose, and the sweetest smile she had ever seen. His soulful, shifter eyes looked at her apologetically.
“I’m sorry,” he said sincerely. “I don’t want to keep you from your grandma.”
Alexis wanted to protest. She wanted to tell him to keep kissing her, and that odds were that her grandma was just fine. But she did feel a little guilty for sitting out here and making out with James while her grandmother was alone inside the townhome. And, besides, she could use a little time to process how she felt about this new development in her friendship with James. So, she nodded and reached for the door handle.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, then,” she said. James nodded and gave her a little wave, and then Alexis left the vehicle. She pulled out her keys and unlocked the front door, then turned to give James one more wave before stepping into the house. The droning sound of a news program reached her ears as she entered the front hallway and threw her keys into the small trinket dish on a decorative table near the front door.
“Grams? Is that you?” Alexis called out as she started walking toward the living room. Alexis hadn’t come home to find her grandmother out of bed in a very long time, and she felt her heart take a hopeful leap at the thought that maybe her grandmother’s condition was actually improving.
“In here, Dear,” Grams called out, just as Alexis made it to the living room. Grams sat on the couch with a thick quilt tucked around her body. The television set was set to a world news channel, and the reporter was saying something about a large earthquake in Asia. Alexis sat on the couch and snuggled up close to her grandmother, just as she’d done as a young child.
“How are you, Grams?” Alexis asked.
“Never better,” came the standard reply. Then the two sat in silence for several minutes, watching the television display scenes of devastation from halfway across the world. Alexis hated watching the news, with its never-ending loop of depressing stories. But her grandma had taken a liking to it lately. Alexis supposed that seeing scenes from all over the world, even depressing ones, helped her grandma feel a little less cooped up. Grams had been active and outgoing her entire life. It was only within the last year that she had been forced to stay home most of the time, and to move away from her few close friends who lived back in the rural areas.
“Who’s the guy?” Grams asked, her question breaking into Alexis’ thoughts.
What the heck
, Alexis thought.
How does she know there’s a guy?
Alexis tried to give her grandmother a confused look.
“What guy?” she asked, as though her grandmother had lost her mind.
But her grandmother just laughed. “I wasn’t born yesterday, darling. I see you coming home from work happier and happier every day. And today you were practically glowing when you walked into the room. Your smile looked like it couldn’t possibly stretch any wider.”
Alexis bit her lip to keep from grinning. Trying to tell her grandma that there was no guy would be a waste of breath, so she decided to play down the situation instead.
“It’s just a silly crush, Grams,” Alexis said. “Nothing worth getting worked up about. There’s just a guy at work that’s cute, and it’s fun to see him every day. That’s all.”
Alexis’ grandmother huffed and continued staring at the television for a few minutes. Finally, she spoke.
“You know, you should go out and have some fun now and then. You’re young, and I’m sure you’ve made some friends at work. Go live a little bit. I know I’m dying, but there’s not much you can do to help me. You don’t have to spend every free moment here, fretting and worrying over me. It’s just life, Alexis. I know my time is getting closer, and I’m at peace with that.”
“I can’t just leave you here by yourself,” Alexis said, horrified. “I already feel awful enough leaving you while I go to work, but I don’t have a choice.”
“You shouldn’t feel awful. You should be happy for the job and a chance to get out. And really, if you want to do your dying old grandma any favors, you should go have some fun. Seeing you live your life would make my heart happy.”
Alexis sighed and stood. “I appreciate that, Grams. But, really, it’s just a silly crush. Nothing more. I’m going to go make some tea, now. Do you want some?”
Alexis’ grandmother nodded, and Alexis made her way to the kitchen, feeling guilty for lying to her grandmother.
As much as she tried to fight the thought, Alexis knew it was time to admit the truth to herself: James was so much more than just a silly crush.
James wore a goofy grin on his face for the entire drive back to his cabin. He had never imagined when he met Alexis out on the tundra several weeks ago that he would end up falling in love with her. But he had.
And he had fallen hard and fast. Working near her all day, every day, had driven him wild. He had been attracted to women before, but never like this. Alexis had become all he could think about, and the bear inside of him went crazy whenever she was around. He had tried to push away the feelings at first, worried that things would be too complicated since she knew he was a shifter. Then, one day, a light bulb went off in his head and he realized that her knowing he was a shifter actually made things easier. He wouldn’t have to break the news to her gently—she already knew. And despite knowing, she still treated him like a normal human, for the most part. Sure, she made snarky comments about his shifting abilities being supernatural, which annoyed him somewhat. But, overall, she seemed to just accept him for who he was.
James pulled up in front of his cabin and parked, then saw that Neal was sitting on his front porch a few doors down, soaking in the bright, 10 p.m. sunshine. James hopped out of his truck and decided to go spend a few minutes talking to his alpha. Neal always offered good advice, and James was hoping he could get a few pointers on how to navigate through a new relationship.
“Hey,” Neal said as James approached the porch. “How’s it going? Feel free to grab a beer from the fridge if you want.”
“Thanks,” James said, and went inside for a moment to choose a pale ale from Neal’s fridge. He popped the top off and then came back to the porch, where he settled into one of the sturdy wooden chairs next to Neal.
“How’s Christine doing?” James asked before taking a long sip from his beer.
“Pretty good overall. She’s had a relatively uneventful pregnancy so far. She just gets more and more exhausted as the weeks go by, though. And she still has a few months to go.”
James nodded. “I don’t know much about pregnancy, but it seems like it takes a lot out of you.”
Neal chuckled. “Yeah. Christine has informed me that it’s best if I just assume I don’t understand at all what it’s like to be pregnant, which is fair enough, I guess. I’m so excited to be a dad, though. Watching the clan grow with all the new cubs has been a great feeling, but even that pales in comparison to the anticipation of having your own cub.”
“Hopefully I’ll get to experience that someday,” James said.
“You will,” Neal said confidently. “You’re smart, kind, and good-looking. I know there’s an amazing woman out there waiting for you.”
“Yeah, about that,” James said. “How did you know Christine was the one?”
Neal raised an eyebrow in James’ direction. “Uh-oh, does someone have his eye on a prospective lifemate?”
James blushed. “Maybe. I met a girl at work, and I’m really starting to fall for her. Her name’s Alexis, and I’m pretty sure she likes me, too. And she knows I’m a shifter,” James said with an apologetic shrug, and then rushed to explain. “I didn’t tell her. She figured it out on her own. Somehow she seems to have some weird sense about these things.”
To James’ relief, Neal didn’t seem upset that Alexis knew he was a shifter. James had heard stories about Neal flying off the handle at his clan members in the past at the smallest possibility that they had outed the clan to humans. But James had never seen Neal get irrationally upset about things like that. Ryker told James that Neal had mellowed quite a bit since the other bears had taken human mates, and especially since Neal met Christine. Now, Neal just stroked his chin thoughtfully.
“Is she native Alaskan?”
James raised his eyebrows in surprise. “She is, actually. How did you know that?”
“I’ve heard that native Alaskans are often able to recognize shifters. They’ve lived among shifters for so long that they’ve learned to recognize things like the difference in gait between a normal bear and a shifter bear. And they can see the animal essence in a shifter’s eyes, too. They’re generally accepting of shifters, although they’re superstitious. They think shifting is a deep, supernatural thing, although we know it’s just a genetic mutation.”
James nodded his head forcefully. “That sounds like Alexis, exactly. She keeps trying to convince me that I have some kind of spiritual ability because I can shift. We’ve basically just agreed to disagree on that point.”
Neal smiled. “Agree to disagree,” he repeated. “Sounds like you’re already an old pro at this relationship thing.”
“Hardly,” James said with a laugh. “That’s actually why I came over here to talk to you. I was hoping you might have some insights on how to know whether a woman is worth pursuing. I really like Alexis, but I’ve already had so much heartache in my life. I don’t want to invest a bunch of emotional energy in a relationship if it’s not going to pan out.”
“I don’t know that I have any grand insights to offer,” Neal said as he leaned back in his chair and took a swig of beer. “People have been trying for centuries to figure love out, and I don’t think anyone has succeeded yet. All I can tell you is what I’ve learned myself, which is that you have to be willing to take chances, and you have to understand that things often won’t work out the way you think they will. Christine and I got off to a really rough start. At one point she even called me a monster.”
James eyes widened. “She did? But you guys seem so happy together, and so perfect for each other.”
“Well, we’re very happy together now. But my point is, sometimes it takes a while to get to that point. I think the best thing to do if you’re interested in someone is to just take a chance and go for it. Spend a ton of time with Alexis. Get to know her better, and don’t worry if there are some big bumps in the road initially. If it’s meant to be, your heart will tell you so. And the feeling will only grow stronger the more you spend time with her.”
James nodded slowly, mulling over Neal’s words. He already felt connected to Alexis on a deeper level. Maybe it was time to take more action instead of spending so much time thinking about things. James took a long, last sip from his beer and determined right then to stop fretting about how to know whether this was meant to be. He had already kissed Alexis, and she had been receptive to that. Obviously, she was interested in him, too. He would go to work tomorrow and just straight up tell her that he thought they had a future together and he’d like to explore the possibility further.
He hadn’t planned on finding love at his new job, but now that the opportunity had presented itself, he was going to take his alpha’s advice and take a chance.
James stood and clapped Neal on the shoulder as he made his way to the porch steps. “Thanks, Neal. It helps to hear encouraging words from someone who’s been there.”
“Anytime, buddy,” Neal said. “Good luck. Let me know how things are going, and feel free to bring Alexis by to meet the clan, if you think she’s trustworthy. I trust your judgment.”
James nodded his thanks, and then took off in the direction of his own cabin. He resisted the urge to skip like a little girl at the excitement that filled him when he thought of seeing Alexis the next day.
* * *
But James didn’t see Alexis the next day. Or the day after that. Alexis had called in sick, and, try as he might, James couldn’t get much information from their supervisor on whether she had said anything about how she was doing or what the illness was. He kicked himself for not bothering to get her phone number. He hadn’t asked because he hadn’t wanted to seem too eager. In Glacier Point, most people only had a home phone. Since there were no cell towers, the only mobile phones available were satellite phones, which were prohibitively expensive for most people. Since phones weren’t a major form of communication in the area, James had felt that asking Alexis for her number would seem too forward.
James tried to focus on his work and not read too much into Alexis’ absence. He couldn’t keep himself from worrying that she wasn’t showing up to work because she regretted their kiss. She wouldn’t pretend to be sick to avoid him, right? James spent the whole day arguing with himself over whether he was being too paranoid about the whole thing.
When Alexis called in again for the third day in a row, James was genuinely worried. He tried to get the manager to give him Alexis’ number, but the manager wouldn’t, citing privacy laws. The manager did feel free to rant at great length about how he thought Alexis was faking being sick so that she could get out of having to work. James decided at that point that he needed to go check on Alexis. He felt a little strange showing up at her house unannounced, but he thought it might be nice to take her some chicken soup and check on her to let her know she had a friend who cared about her. He also thought it might be nice to warn her that their manager was questioning her dedication to her job. If she had to miss more days, it might be a good idea for her to get a doctor’s note.
After work that day, James went by the local superstore where Ryker worked. He picked up a few cans of chicken noodle soup, and a bouquet that consisted entirely of carnations. James wasn’t an expert on buying women flowers, but he knew enough to know that the bouquet wasn’t the fanciest or most romantic arrangement of flowers. It was all the superstore had available, though, so it would have to do for now. James drove to Alexis’ house and parked in front, glancing at his watch and frowning. It was ten p.m., which was way too late to show up at someone’s house without warning. But the hours James was working right now didn’t give him much of a choice. Tomorrow night he would be getting off just as late. There were still lights on in the townhome, so James held his breath as he approached, hoping that Alexis was still up and would forgive him for coming over at this hour.
Before he could talk himself out of it, James reached up and rang the doorbell. He nervously shifted his weight back and forth between his feet while balancing the flowers and brown paper sack of soup cans in his hands. He heard voices from somewhere behind the door, and the sound of chair legs scraping against hardwood. For several long, agonizing moments, he waited. The voices grew louder and more urgent, although he couldn’t make out the words. It sounded like one of them was male.
James’ heart sank. Did Alexis have another man in her life? Had he been a fool, thinking that he actually had a chance to woo her and win her heart? James didn’t have much time to think about these questions, though, because the door suddenly flew open and Alexis was standing right in front of him. She was wearing plaid, fleece pajama pants and a loose gray t-shirt, and her hair was pulled up into a messy, haphazard bun. Her skin looked pale, and James noticed the bags under her eyes as she looked up at him. Despite the complete lack of effort put into her appearance at that moment, James still thought she looked beautiful.
“James? What are you doing here?” she asked. Her voice didn’t exactly sound upset, but she didn’t seem thrilled to see him, either.
James held up the soup and flowers. “I was worried about you when you called in sick to work several days in a row. I brought you something to help you feel better.”
Alexis’ eyes softened for a moment, but then she shook her head in a vigorous “no” motion. “You shouldn’t have come,” she said, although she sounded more scared than angry.
“Why not? I wanted to make sure you were okay. I care about you,” James said, resisting the urge to say “I love you.” It was way too soon for that.
Before Alexis could reply, the town doctor appeared in the hallway, toting his large, black medical bag. James felt relief flooding over him when he realized that the male voice he’d heard had belonged to the doctor.
“Well, Alexis, I’ve done everything I can. Just try to keep her comfortable. I’ll come back by in the morning to check on her. Try to get some rest, for her sake and yours,” the doctor said. He nodded a brief acknowledgment at James, and then headed out to his car.
James watched him leaving, and suddenly understanding dawned on him. “You’re not the one who’s sick, are you?” he asked Alexis. “It’s your grandma. She’s not doing well, is she?”
Alexis sighed and put her face in her hands. “You should go,” she said, her voice muffled by her palms. She sounded almost frightened.
“Let me stay and help you,” James said. “You look exhausted, and I’m sure you could use some rest.”
“I’m fine,” Alexis said, pleading. “Please just go.”
Before James could say anything else, he heard a frail voice calling from somewhere down the hallway.
“Alexis? Who’s there? Is it that guy you’ve been pining over? Bring him in here so I can meet him.”
“You have to leave, now,” Alexis said. Then she gave James a small shove backwards to push him away from the door, sending the soup cans flying from his hands and bouncing down the stairs. James looked up with a hurt, confused expression, and saw Alexis’ eyes widening in horror as the frail voice grew stronger and more insistent.
“Now, Alexis. I want to meet him.”