Woodcutter werebear, p.1
(SAW BEARS, BOOK 2)
By T. S. JOYCE
Other Books in the Saw Bears Series
This book was not written as a standalone.
The author recommends to read these stories in order for optimal reader enjoyment.
Lumberjack Werebear (Book 1)
Timberman Werebear (Book 3) – Coming April 2015
Copyright © 2015 by T. S. Joyce
Copyright © 2015, T. S. Joyce
First electronic publication: March 2015
T. S. Joyce
All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. No part of this book may be scanned, uploaded or distributed via the Internet or any other means, electronic or print, without the author’s permission.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental. The author does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for third-party websites or their content.
Published in the United States of America
Kellen Brown stared at the flower arrangements in the cooler in the produce section of the grocery store. He’d been standing here for five minutes, trying to figure out which bouquet Brooke would like best. A grin took his face. She was coming home, and everything was going to be okay again. The Ashe crew had been broken without her, but now she would be back, and they would all take good care of her so she’d never have to leave again.
His uncle used to bring his mother roses. Mom always said they were her favorite. With a frown to ward off the memories, he picked a bouquet of pink roses, then rolled the wonky-wheeled cart toward a bored-looking cashier.
“Looks like you’re having a party,” the woman in front of him said so softly. Even with his oversensitive hearing, he almost missed it. She was a mousey-looking woman who’d managed to hide herself completely in an oversize, red-and-black flannel shirt with clunky boots over black leggings. Her dark hair was down and long, covering most of her face.
A flash of stunning green froze him in place as she glanced at him, then away.
“Yeah,” he murmured. “Brooke is coming back home. Such an occasion deserves a celebration.”
The woman swiped her credit card for the small amount of groceries she was purchasing and gave him a confused look. “Well, this Brooke sounds like a lucky woman.”
“She is. We all are.”
The woman couldn’t hold his stare—not even for a moment. He drew air into his nostrils, scenting her to see if his suspicions were true.
Fruit body wash, the soft smell that girls possess, and an undercurrent of animal struck him. “I know what you are.”
“What?” the woman whispered. She gave him another flash of those stunning eyes she was trying to keep hidden, but this time, they looked scared.
“I don’t know which exact animal you are, but I know what you are,” he clarified.
“Thank you,” she said to the baffled-looking cashier who handed her a receipt. With a frown for Kellen, she practically ran out of the store, her plastic bags of food bumping her legs.
Kellen sighed as he watched her leave. He’d never been good with women, or with anyone, really. He made people uncomfortable for some reason. Tagan, his alpha, said people just didn’t understand him or the way he was raised, but sometimes it felt like more than that. Sometimes it felt like he’d never be able to hold a conversation with anyone outside of the Ashe crew.
That revelation made him lonely.
There was an old Coke machine outside the store—one that sold glass bottles of soda. He always got one when he came into town, but when he saw the woman waiting on a bench out front, he bought two.
Kellen settled the cart against the backrest so it wouldn’t roll away, then sat down beside her. “I’m sorry I made you mad. Forgive me?” He handed her the cold bottle and popped the top of his own.
She took the bottle slowly, leaning away from him as if he was handing her the working parts of a bomb. “There’s nothing to forgive. I don’t know you.”
Damn, she was good at hiding her face. He wanted to see her eyes again, but she’d pulled all that dark hair in front of her and wouldn’t tilt her head his way.
“You shouldn’t sit by me. My boyfriend will be here any minute to pick me up, and he’ll be very angry if he sees you talking to me.”
“Why?” Kellen asked.
“Why would he be mad at you talking to another person?”
“Because that’s the way men are. They’re jealous and possessive.”
“No. That’s not the way they have to be. It’s only the way some men choose to be. Here, let me.” Kellen opened her soda, then handed her the metal top.
“You said you know what I am,” she whispered. “How did you know?”
He smiled at a mother bustling her trio of young children across the street. “Because we’re not so different.” Without any thought, he reached out and ran the knuckle of his finger from underneath her chin to the base of her throat.
The woman froze but allowed it. “You shouldn’t do that. My boyfriend…” She couldn’t seem to find any more words.
“I’m Kellen Cade Brown,” he said. When she didn’t answer, he asked, “What’s your name?”
Her attention darted this way and that, everywhere but at him. “I shouldn’t—Skyler. My name is Skyler.”
“Beautiful name for a beautiful woman,” he said matter-of-factly. With a nod of his head, he tinked his bottle of soda against hers.
“Your girlfriend wouldn’t like you saying those things to another woman,” Skyler said.
“Brooke. The one you bought the flowers for.”
“Oh, she wouldn’t mind. She’s nice.”
“You’re strange,” Skyler muttered.
Those two words gutted him. Sure, they were true, but he hadn’t wanted to hear that from her. He wanted Skyler to see him differently than everyone else did. He hunched inward against the pain. “Yeah.” He choked on the word as he stood. He smiled at her but she wouldn’t see it. She was still doing a bang-up job of avoiding his eyes.
“It was nice to meet you, Skyler.”
Another flash of green as she canted her head, a sharp gesture that would’ve told him what she was, even if his nose wasn’t working today. She lowered her gaze to the toes of his work boots, and he wondered if all of her kind were so submissive.
“I shouldn’t have said that,” she murmured. “It was mean. I’m strange, too.”
“No,” he said as he pulled a pink rose from the bouquet that rested in the cart and set it on the bench beside her. “You’re perfect.” Kellen gripped the cart handle and avoided the urge to look back at her again for the chance to see those stunning eyes once more. Pushing the cart toward the crosswalk, he gritted his teeth against the hurt in his chest.
“Kellen?” Skyler asked.
When he turned, she was standing by the bench with her face angled toward the ground holding the flower and the full bottle of Coke in front of her thighs. “I don’t think my boyfriend is coming for me. Can you give me a ride to my house?”
Kellen looked around the parking lot, astounded that
She followed a few paces behind, and the first tendrils of suspicion curled around his heart. He couldn’t tell if she was naturally submissive or if she was scared, but the idea of the latter ignited something ugly in his gut. He didn’t like when women were scared.
“Are you afraid of me?” he asked when he was settled behind the wheel and she was sitting as far across the bench seat of his truck as possible.
“No, but I should be.”
“No, you shouldn’t. I’d never hurt you. What are you afraid of?”
“Being seen with you.” Her answer was simple and honest, but it didn’t do anything to stifle the flame in his stomach.
“Where do you live?”
“Take a right on West Bridge Ave and take it all the way through town. Roger owns a cabin outside of the city limits. Roger is my boyfriend,” she explained.
The way she kept saying boyfriend bothered him. Not because he was jealous, but because the word lacked emotion. She could’ve been saying acquaintance for as much feeling as she put in the title.
“Is Roger your mate?” he asked, testing her.
She jerked her gaze to his, then away. “You shouldn’t talk like that,” she warned him in a low voice.
“Yes.” Her voice cracked, as if she hadn’t used it in a while, and the flame in his gut became brighter.
“You aren’t submissive naturally, are you?”
Skyler turned the knob on the radio volume until it blared a country song at an uncomfortable level.
Fine. She didn’t want to talk, and her life wasn’t his business, anyhow. That’s what Tagan would tell him, and Tagan knew about people. He was good at talking to them and making them feel comfortable. He was good at negotiations with the log buyers when the Ashe crew had acquired enough clean lumber to sell to the sawmill in Saratoga. If Tagan was sitting in the truck with him right now, he’d tell Kellen to drop the woman off and hightail it back to Asheland Mobile Park where home was.
A fifteen minute drive with blaring music and Skyler’s occasional direction brought him to a stop in front of a large log cabin off a dirt road.
Skyler let off a shaky breath after she scanned the front yard. “Good, he’s not here. Thank you for the ride.” Skyler turned and graced him with a tremulous smile. “And for the flower and the Coke, too.”
She was beautiful. Pert nose and high cheekbones. Thin lips in a pretty shade of pink, and those eyes. They looked even brighter surrounded by all that purple bruising.
She pushed the door open, but Kellen leaned over her lap and pulled it closed so hard the truck rocked.
“Who. The fuck. Did that to your face?”
Skyler froze, looking terrified, but he didn’t give a shit if his bear was making his face look savage right now. He wanted to kill whoever dared to lift a hand to this woman—to any woman.
“He didn’t mean to—”
“Bullshit. He did, and you know it. How many times?”
“How many times?” he asked, his voice tapering to a snarl on the last word.
“Holy crap,” she said, cowering against the window. “What are you?”
“Skyler, I swear to everything that is wrong in this world, if you don’t tell me who did this to you, I’m not going to be able to control my shift. Who?”
“Not my boyfriend,” she admitted. “My new mate.”
“Did you pick him?”
“Kellen, I don’t think—”
“Tell me how it works for your kind!” He gripped the wheel until his knuckles popped and raged white.
She stared at his hands with wide eyes. “Females don’t pick. Males do.”
“That’s all I needed to know. Buckle up.”
“What? No, I have to go inside before he comes home.”
Kellen shot her a warning look.
“Look, he didn’t hit me! I popped off, and he pushed me. I turned to escape him and tripped on the damned mat under the sink. I fell against the corner of the countertop. This was the first time he ever got really physical with—”
“It won’t be the last.”
“You don’t even know him!”
He huffed a humorless laugh. If this woman understood how well he knew Roger, without even meeting him, she’d stop talking and come with him. Kellen had been raised by a sonofabitch just like her mate, and he’d be hanged by the neck before he saw her end up like his mom did. “I know him well enough. Buckle up, or I’ll do it for you.”
With a snarl, he reached over her lap and jerked the seatbelt into place. When she was fastened in, he peeled out of the yard, shooting gravel behind them, and blasted back down the dirt road. “You plan on leaving him?”
“It’s not that simple.”
“No, it’s not. We obviously don’t have the same traditions that you and your people do.”
“Yeah? It’s customary to shove on women in your crew, is it?”
“Sometimes it’s just the way it has to be.” Her voice rang with hopelessness.
“Horseshit. There’s no excuse, no reason. You’re coming home with me.”
“Why?” Her voice catapulted up an octave.
“Because,” he said, daring a glance at her, “I’m going to show you how a woman should be treated.”
She turned her face slowly to the front window. “I’m being kidnapped.”
Kellen snorted. “No, Beautiful. You’re being rehabilitated.”
Skyler was going to have a full-blown panic attack right in the cab of Kellen’s truck.
She didn’t even know why she’d struck up a conversation with him in the line at the grocery store. She’d watched him agonize over which bouquet of flowers to pick, and something about his thoughtfulness had struck her as sweet. She’d known Roger for three months, but it was abundantly clear he’d never buy her flowers unless it was to throw at her gravestone. He hated her almost as much as she hated him. He had told her he’d asked the council to be mated to her because he cared for her, but he didn’t. He just wanted a trophy he could dominate so all the other warriors could see how macho and powerful he was. Roger was a grade-A, class-ten asshole behind his charming, serpent smile.
She was the unlucky one who’d been chosen by the great Roger Crestfall. He’d broken her in a few short months, but hey, he was a legacy with a bright future. She was supposed to be grateful for the life he’d forced her into.
And apparently, she was on a streak of questionable luck because Kellen had decided to kidnap her on the day Roger had demanded she be a better mate and make him dinner. One he can actually eat this time. Roger’s words. Kellen had said it wouldn’t be the last time her mate pushed her, and he was right. Everything in her had rattled with the truth of her situation when Kellen had spouted off that it would happen again.
It would, and next time it would be worse. The only thing she could do was be perfect, do everything Roger demanded, and try to minimize the risk. She had no choice if she wanted the protection of her people. Leaving him wasn’t easy like Kellen had said. Leaving her mate meant banishment.
Did she love Roger? No. She was scared of him—enough to evoke some kind of sick loyalty to him so he wouldn’t hurt her again.
She used to be stronger than this.
“Kellen, please take me home. I don’t want to go wherever you are taking me. I want to go back where I live with my mate.” Perhaps if she said it enough times, Kellen would listen. He talked in an odd manner, much too open about what they were. Geez, he’d practically outed her shifter status in front of the cashier in the grocery store. He had a blatantly honest
He didn’t answer, only turned up the radio like she’d done earlier.
She spoke louder. “What will Brooke say when you bring me to your place? She’ll be angry.”
“You speak of anger a lot, yet you aren’t an angry person. You aren’t mad that your face is bruised up because that prick made a bad decision. Brooke won’t be angry. She’s been hurt, too.”
Okay. So did he collect broken women? She didn’t understand. “Does your kind take multiple mates?”
Kellen threw her a disgusted look, then dragged his gaze back to the road. “We mate for life.”
“Well, so do we.”
“We also pick our mates. Do you love Roger?”
She wanted to say yes. Dammit, it was right on the tip of her tongue, that bitter, burning lie. If she said yes, Kellen might take her back. He thought he was saving her by stealing her away, but she’d only have hell to pay when Roger found her. And Roger wouldn’t stop with her. He’d bleed Kellen for taking his trophy.
The drive stretched on and on. Every time she twisted in her seat to plead with Kellen to take her back, his face turned severe and determined and he gripped the steering wheel harder. He drove them through miles of piney forest and winding roads without a word.
She didn’t know Kellen. He could be an ax murderer, and now she was in his truck, headed into the wilderness. No one knew who she was with or where she was going. She’d been so dumb to ask him for a ride. And now her stupid instincts seemed to be broken completely because she wasn’t freaking out half as much as she should’ve been. That was a bad sign, right? When a man was charismatic enough to steal her away and she hadn’t even tried to jump out of the truck once in the last hour.
“Where do you live?” she asked.
Kellen turned down the music and smiled. “You mean where do we live? I’m going to keep you safe, remember?”
She cast her shocked gaze out the window to the blurred greens and muddy browns that passed by as Kellen hit the gas on a straightaway. “If my mate found out I was living with you—”