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
Alexis felt her heart sinking as her grandmother called again for her to bring James into the townhome. This situation was not going to end well. If she denied James entry, her grandmother was going to be angry and suspicious. And she could already see the hurt in James’ face at her hesitation to invite him in. He thought she was ashamed of him. But she wasn’t ashamed of him. In fact, she wanted nothing more than to parade through the streets of Glacier Point, shouting that she had found the best man in the world and that his name was James Tanner.
Except that he wasn’t a man. He was shifter, a step above men. And her ever-perceptive grandmother would know the minute James walked into the room that James hid a bear within him. Her grandmother would lecture her about the dangers of getting mixed up with the supernatural, and probably forbid her to date him. Then what was she supposed to do? Defy her dying grandmother? Alexis would never be able to live with herself if she did that. Her grandmother had no one else left. She didn’t want to make her last days miserable.
What had she been thinking, getting tangled up with James? Sure, he was a lot of fun, and he was one of the kindest and most gorgeous men she had ever met. But she had known from the beginning that he was a shifter. She had known from the beginning that things between them would hit this wall sooner or later. She would have to choose between following her heart or following centuries of the wisdom of her people. As much as Alexis wanted to follow her heart, the roots of her upbringing ran deep. She couldn’t just walk away from everything she had been taught as a child. And she definitely couldn’t date a shifter in front of her grandmother.
Alexis heard her grandmother calling out again, and saw James questioning, hurt eyes looking over at her as he picked up the soup cans. She started to panic. Quick, she told herself. Think of an excuse that sounds somewhat valid for why he can’t come in.
“She’s really not doing well,” Alexis said. “I don’t think it’s a good idea for her to have visitors right now.”
“All the more reason for me to come in,” James said. “I can help you, Alexis. Let me be there for you.”
Alexis stammered out a few words, trying to explain why that wouldn’t be a good idea, and then saw to her shock her grandmother’s small frame rounding the corner of the hallway. Her grandmother had been almost too weak to her lift her hand when the doctor was here earlier, but now she had somehow managed to drag herself out of bed and to the hallway.
A woman who wants to see her granddaughter find love has no limitations, Alexis thought with a mixture of admiration and resignation.
Just as Alexis had predicted, her grandmother knew the moment she saw James that he was a shifter.
“I see,” Grams said, as she looked James up and down. Then she started hobbling back toward the bedroom, calling over her shoulder, “Bring him in.”
James gave Alexia another questioning look, and Alexis sighed and nodded, then opened the front door wider.
“Come on in,” she said. “I’m just warning you that my grandmother is not going to be a fan of my dating a shifter. She doesn’t hate shifters, but she clings very strongly to the belief that shifting is a supernatural power. She thinks a full human dating a shifter is a bad idea. Something about the natural and supernatural not mixing well.”
James set the soup and flowers down on a small table in the entryway, then reached over and squeezed Alexis’ hand. “Don’t worry. I’ll do my best to put your grandmother at ease. If she’s adamant that we not be in a relationship, then maybe she’ll at least let us be friends. I think if she gets to know me a little better, she’ll see that there’s nothing about my special abilities that prevents me from being a good boyfriend.”
Alexis felt a surge of warmth go through her at James’ touch. She smiled weakly at his words. “Thanks,” she said, barely above a whisper. “I just don’t want to upset her right now, you know? She’s already so frail.”
James squeezed her hand again. “Don’t worry,” he repeated. “Everything is going to be fine.”
Alexis led James to her grandmother’s bedroom, where the old woman was back in bed, but sitting up against the headboard with an expectant look in her eye. Alexis couldn’t believe that her grandmother had found the energy to get out of bed and now was sitting up. Where had this sudden burst of strength come from? James sat on a chair next to the bed and Alexis sat on the foot of the bed, and they both waited patiently for the old woman to speak.
“He’s a handsome one,” Grams said, looking James up and down.
“Grams!” Alexis said, her cheeks turning pink with embarrassment.
The old woman shrugged. “I just call it like I see it,” she said, and then extended her hand to James. “I’m Alexis’ grandmother. You can call me Grams.”
“I’m James,” he said, and gently shook her hand. Alexis sat on her hands and waited with bated breath, wondering what her grandmother was going to say to him about shifting. She knew there was no way Grams would just act like she didn’t know. She was far too direct for that.
“So, what clan are you with?” Grams asked, not even bothering to go through the formality of asking James whether he was a shifter, or saying that she knew he was one. James didn’t miss a beat.
“I grew up in the Frozen Claws Clan,” he said. “But all except three of my clan members were killed in a fight with a rival clan, the Blizzards. The alpha of the Northern Lights Clan offered to take me and my other two clan members in, so now I’m part of their clan. They’ve been very good to me.”
Grams shook her head sadly. “It’s such a travesty, all of the fighting that goes on amongst the clans. You all have such wonderful abilities. You should use them to keep the region safe and secure. You should help people live in peace instead of stirring up bloodshed.”
Alexis cringed. She hoped James wouldn’t take offense at her grandmother’s words. After all, it’s not like he was responsible for the actions of the entire shifter community. To her relief, James smiled and nodded slowly.
“I hated the bloodshed. As long as I live, I’ll do everything I can to ensure that the ice bear clans of the Arctic live in peace.
Grams smiled at him. “Good man. It was very nice to meet you, James. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’d like a moment alone with my granddaughter.”
James stood and gave Grams a gentle pat on the shoulder, and then left the room.
Alexis’ grandmother patted the bed next to her and motioned to Alexis. “Come here, dear,” she said. Alexis scooted from the foot of the bed and sat next to her grandmother, snuggling up against the older woman’s warm body. Alexis breathed in her scent, and was immediately transformed back to the many times she had sat on the bed just like this as a little girl. Her grandmother used to read her stories every night, and they had traveled to so many far away fantasy worlds together from the comfort of a cozy bed.
Alexis wanted to say something to defend James to her grandmother. She wanted to explain that he
a good man, and that love could transcend the boundaries between the natural and the supernatural. But Alexis forced herself to remain quiet. It wasn’t her place to speak. She had to respect the older woman and let her be the first to comment on the situation.
After what felt like an eternity, her grandmother finally spoke.
“I like him,” she said simply.
Alexis sat up in surprise. “Really? Even though he’s a shifter?”
There was another long pause as her grandmother seemed to consider her words carefully.
“I know I’ve spent a lot of time in my life talking about how a human in a relationship with a shifter is a bad idea. But old age has a way of mellowing you and changing your views on things. I’ve realized that the most important thing in this life is love. Love can overcome any challenge, even the one of combining the life of a human with the life of a shifter. When I see the way you and James look at each other, I see the look of love. Who am I to stop love, whatever form it might come in? Enjoy him, Alexis. Take care of him, and let him take care of you.”
Alexis felt a flood of tears threatening the back of her eyelids as a feeling of overwhelming joy rushed over her. “Really, Grams? You’re not mad at me? And you think it’s okay if I stay with him?”
Grams looked kindly down at Alexis. “I’m not mad, sweetheart. Quite the opposite, in fact. I’m happy to see that you found someone who loves you before I’m gone. It gives me a lot of peace to know you’ll be taken care of. He’s the right one for you, Alexis. I can feel it in my bones. I’m sorry for making you feel like you had to hide him from me. All I want is your happiness.”
Alexis leaned her head against Gram’s chest. “Thank you so much, Grams. I love you.”
“I love you, too, darling,” Grams said.
Those were the last words she ever spoke. After several minutes of silence, Grams breathing began to grow shallower and shallower, until eventually Alexis could hardly detect a trace of movement in her grandmother’s chest.
“Grams?” Alexis asked cautiously as she sat up. There was no answer, and she gave her grandmother a little shrug. “Grams?” she asked, with more urgency this time. Again, no answer. Alexis put her finger under her grandmother’s nose, but there was no flow of air going in or out. With tears starting to spill down her cheeks, Alexis put her hands on her grandmother’s wrist, desperate to find a pulse. There was nothing. The old woman was gone.
“Grams, no! Don’t leave me!” Alexis cried out, and flung herself at her grandmother’s lifeless form, wrapping her in a giant embrace. Despite the fact that Alexis had known this moment was coming, the pain still hit her with an unexpected force. Grams had been the last family she had left. She was all alone in the world now. Long, grief-stricken sobs escaped from Alexis’ throat as the tears came faster. She wasn’t sure how long she had been sobbing when she suddenly felt a strong pair of arms pulling her up off of the bed. James lifted her into his embrace and carried her like a baby out to the couch, where he sat with her while she sobbed. She wasn’t sure how long she cried, but it must have been hours. When the tears finally gave way to exhaustion, Alexis felt herself slipping off into a fitful sleep. The last thing she remembered thinking before sleep claimed her was that she wasn’t alone in the world, after all.
She still had James.
The next days and weeks passed in a blur for Alexis. She resigned from her job at the airport, even though she could have used the money. But the grief she felt at losing her grandmother had drained her of all of her emotional energy. She had nothing left to give to people who wanted to complain about flight delays and lost Louis Vuitton luggage. The funeral came and went in a hazy mixture of smiling bravely at long-lost acquaintances and making decisions about casket design—decisions that seemed so silly and insignificant to Alexis. Her grandmother was dead. She was free from the worry of human concerns about how and where to lay to rest the shell of a body that had only been the house for the deeper part of her, the part of her that was now gone. Alexis imagined that deeper part of her grandmother floating in the wide open Alaskan sky, looking down on her and watching over her still. Imaginations like these were the only way Alexis could keep from breaking down into tears every moment.
James became Alexis’ rock. He helped her sort through the confusing maze of things that needed to be done to take care of someone’s death, and he let her cry for hours when she needed to. He even offered to leave his job at the airport, so he could be with her without any restrictions on his schedule, but Alexis wouldn’t let him do that. She didn’t want him to completely lose his own life while taking care of her. Besides, she was sure he needed a space of his own, too. He would never admit it out loud, but Alexis suspected that getting a break from his crying girlfriend probably helped James keep his sanity. As it was, he barely went home to his own cabin. He showed up at Alexis’ townhome every night after work, usually with dinner of some sort. It was a good thing, because, these days, Alexis often forgot to eat when she was left by herself.
Although there were moments Alexis thought life would never feel normal again, things did start to settle into a new normal as the weeks passed. Life took on a routine feeling, especially as the midnight sun slowly started losing its grip and dark nights began returning to Glacier Point. Having the structure of dark nights and light days somehow gave Alexis a sense of normalcy. The darkness would slowly take over more and more of every day, until the town fell under total darkness by the end of November. As the sun gradually lost its grip on Glacier Point, so did the tourists.
One crisp evening near the beginning of September, James came home from work carrying an oversized bottle of wine and a frozen pizza box.
“Tonight, we celebrate,” he said, proudly holding up the wine bottle. Wine in Glacier Point was very expensive, due to the high cost of importing it all the way up to northern Alaska. Because of this, unless you happened to be filthy rich, wine was usually reserved for very special occasions.
Alexis couldn’t help but laugh. “So, you’re pairing a bottle of wine with a frozen pizza? How fancy.”
“I know, I know. But it’s the supreme, stuffed crust, artisan flour version of frozen pizza. So, you know, sort of fancy.”
Alexis rolled her eyes at him and stepped back from the box of her grandmother’s old clothes that she had been packing up to donate. Alexis had been slowly working through her grandmother’s things, trying to figure out what to donate, what to keep, and what to sell. She had made good progress, and was nearly done with the project. The lease on the townhome ended in a month, and, as much as Alexis hated to move and leave the last place she had lived with her grandmother, she knew she would have to find somewhere else to live. The place was too big for her by herself, and she didn’t want to blow through her finances by spending it all on rent. Her grandmother had been receiving a monthly pension, which had ended on her death. Alexis had been left with Gram’s modest savings account, and no insurance money. Certainly enough to live comfortably for a few months until she found a job, but not enough to pay the rent on a place that was too big for her, anyway.
Alexis wiped her dusty hands off on her jeans as she stood, then tugged at her soft, red sweater to straighten it. She was glad she had at least showered today, and put on clothes that weren’t pajamas. Surely, a bottle of wine deserved at least that much courtesy.
“What are we celebrating?” Alexis asked, as James headed for the kitchen to preheat the oven for the pizza.
“The end of tourist season,” he called over his shoulder, and Alexis couldn’t help but giggle.
“You must be pretty excited about it, if you decided to buy a bottle of wine to celebrate.”
“Well,” he said as he made his way back to the living room where Alexis was standing, “That’s not all I’m celebrating. I’ve also been offered a permanent job at the airport. Sort of.”
Alexis raised an eyebrow. “Sort of? How can you be ‘sort of’ offered a permanent job?”
“Well, even though tourist season is over and they’re getting rid of the seasonal workers, one of their normal full-time employees is going out on maternity leave in October. There aren’t any new full-time positions opening up, but the manager said she’s been impressed with my work and would love it if I could cover for the woman while she’s on leave. The woman is planning to take a six month leave of absence, so by the time she’s back, the seasonal work will be starting up again. I shouldn’t have much of a break in my work schedule, and, hopefully, by the end of the next tourist season, they’ll be so familiar with me that I can get a truly permanent position. At any rate, I have a job for the next year, at least.”
“James, that’s great,” Alexis said, reaching over to give him a hug. “I know you’ve been worried about what you’re going to do when tourist season ends.”
“Well, it is great. But that’s not even the end of it,” James said, and then paused dramatically.
“Oh?” Alexis said, raising her eyebrow again.
“We’re going on vacation. At least, I hope we are. I’m going to Montana for a few weeks, and I want you to come with me. Since I don’t start my ‘sort of permanent’ position until October, I have a few weeks off. You know part of my reason for taking this job was that I wanted to save some money to take a little trip. It looks like I have the money and time to do it, after all.”
Alexis faltered. “I don’t know, James. I mean, spending a week on vacation with you sounds amazing. But I still have stuff to do here. And I don’t have a lot of extra money right now.”
“You need a break, sweetheart,” James said. “You’ve been through so much, and you’ve been working so hard to get everything with your grandma’s affairs squared away. Take a week or two and come relax with me. I’m going to Glacier National Park in Montana. It’s supposed to be beautiful this time of year. I can help you pay for the trip. I don’t have a lot of expenses since I’m living in the cabins with the clan, and I’ve been saving almost all of my paychecks from the airline.”
Alexis hesitated. The idea of going somewhere new, especially with James, was tempting. But Alexis felt a little uncomfortable taking money from James. Even though they had considered themselves to be boyfriend and girlfriend for a while now, they hadn’t had much time to really “date” given their circumstances. In fact, they hadn’t even slept together yet. Alexis had been drowning in grief too much to think about much else. She wasn’t sure that their relationship was at the level where she felt comfortable taking a free vacation from him.
James noticed her hesitation. “Just think about it, okay,” he said as he started heading back to the kitchen to put the pizza in the oven. “I don’t want to put pressure on you to make a split-second decision, but I would love it if you came with me. And, if it makes you feel better, just pay for your plane ticket and meals. It will be less expensive for you that way, and I have to pay for the hotel and rental car whether you come or not, so it’s not like that’s making any difference to me.”
Alexis sighed. “Okay, I’ll think about it,” she said.
Twenty minutes later, she sat on the couch in the living room with James, enjoying a glass of Pinot Noir and a fresh slice of cheesy supreme pizza. In the background, the television was broadcasting the latest reality show craze. It was a spelling bee of sorts, where the contestants had to take a jello shot every time they spelled a word correctly. As the spelling bee went on, the contestants had more and more trouble concentrating on each letter of the words they were trying to spell.
Alexis half-watched the show, and half lost herself in her own thoughts, mulling over the idea of a vacation in her mind. It had been so long since she’d done something just for fun. She knew if her grandmother was still here, she would have been encouraging Alexis to go for it. Somewhere between her second slice of pizza and third glass of wine, Alexis decided to honor her grandmother’s memory by making the trip.
“I’ll do it,” she said, suddenly, startling James out of his pizza and wine induced daze.
“Do what?” he asked, tearing his eyes away from the television, where a woman who had downed six jello shots was struggling to spell the word “daisy.”
“I’ll go on vacation with you. You’re right, I need a break. And the idea of whole stretch of time to spend together without outside responsibilities is too enticing to resist.”
James grinned. “Yes!” he said. “We are going to have so much fun. Have you ever been to Montana?”
Alexis shook her head no.
“Me either,” James said. “We can see it for the first time together!”
He leaned over to give Alexis a quick kiss, but when he tried to pull away, she threw her arms around him and pulled him back. She tilted her head toward his and put her lips on his lips.
“Not so fast, mister,” she whispered, and then began kissing him deeply. He moaned, and melted into her kiss, pushing her down onto her back on the couch and slipping his tongue past her lips.
Alexis’ heart started beating faster, and she felt a surge of warmth rushing through her. She felt dizzy with the exhilaration of the moment. Maybe it was just the wine, or maybe it was the promise of happy moments returning to her life. Or maybe, it was the fact that the most gorgeous man she had ever met was currently lying on top of her with his tongue in her mouth and his erection pushing against the space between her legs. Whatever the reason, Alexis couldn’t stop the tingling, hot sensation that was beginning to radiate through her body. And, really, why would she have wanted to? This felt like heaven.
James continued to kiss Alexis for several minutes, and she felt herself growing moist between her legs in anticipation of what was to come. More, more, she silently pleaded. James seemed to hear her unspoken message, because he reached his arms down and grabbed the hem of her sweater, struggling to pull it up and over her head. He disentangled her arms from the long sleeves and then tossed the sweater aside, quickly sliding his hands behind Alexis’ back and unclasping the hooks of her black bra. Alexis breathed heavily in anticipation as he gently slid the bra straps off of her shoulders and tossed the garment away as well.
Alexis felt her nipples hardening, both with the chill of being exposed to the air and with the anticipation of James’ touch. And his touch did not disappoint. He moved his hands to her breasts, tracing a line with his finger from one nipple to the other and then back again. He drew circles around each nipple, and then used his thumbs to stroke each hard, attentive peak. Just when Alexis thought she couldn’t take the pleasure of the sensation anymore, James switched to using his mouth.
Alexis moaned as James’ warm, wet tongue introduced itself to her breasts. The little wet trails he left around each nipple sent delicious shivers through her body. She closed her eyes and arched her back as he began to nibble gently, paying equal attention to each side. She could feel her panties soaking through with the juices of her anticipation. James pulled back with a mischievous grin in his eyes and then slid his body down the couch to where he could reach the button on Alexis’ jeans. He made quick work of unbuttoning and unzipping her jeans, then pulling them off and adding them to the growing pile of discarded clothing. He grabbed the edge of her panties with his teeth and let out a sexy growl as he used his mouth to pull down the garment. Alexis wanted to protest the fact that she was completely naked and he still had on all of his clothes, but she was too breathless to speak. She managed to reach down and pull off his long-sleeved t-shirt, exposing his sculpted six-pack. She briefly traced the outline of his abs with her finger, but was stopped in her tracks when James slid backwards on the couch again and positioned his head right between her legs.
Alexis felt her whole body responding with a fresh burst of passionate shivers as James slid his tongue into her. He licked up her juices hungrily, and sketched circles on her inside walls. Every nerve ending in Alexis’ body tingled as the pressure from James’ efforts began to build to a delightfully unbearable level. She groaned and grasped the edge of the couch, trying to find some leverage against the tsunami that was building inside of her. But the only relief was to give in, and Alexis soon did, letting the waves of her orgasm crash over her with intense ferocity. The heat and ecstasy of the moment washed over Alexis for several long moments, and she panted in delight as the pleasure of James’ touch radiated through her body.
When the sensation finally slowed, James looked up at her and grinned.
“Ready for more?” he asked. Alexis could only moan in response, and James’ grin widened. He jumped off the couch and quickly removed his jeans and briefs, revealing a huge, rock hard dick bigger than anything Alexis could have imagined. She smiled and gave James a sultry look.