Lumberjack werebear, p.1
(SAW BEARS, BOOK 1)
By T. S. JOYCE
Copyright © 2015 by T. S. Joyce
Copyright © 2015, T. S. Joyce
First electronic publication: February 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
The brakes on Brooke Belle’s Volvo screeched as she pulled to a stop and glared at the sign above her front window.
Asheland Mobile Park, it read.
Mobile park? Her mentor, Meredith, had described the rustic oasis she was going to be spending the next three weeks in as if it was a row of quaint Victorian cottages nestled near Saratoga, Wyoming. Not a trailer park.
She shook her phone, as if the GPS was to blame, and rechecked the address Meredith had scribbled onto a notecard. She should’ve known something was amiss when she had to travel an hour outside of town to end up here.
The sun was sinking behind scenic mountains that stood guard over the ten tiny mobile homes in front of her. No way did she want to brave those switchbacks again in the dark. She’d barely survived the winding roads to get here in broad daylight. With a muttered curse, she eased forward and parked in front of the first trailer on the left that had an Office sign over the front door.
Her brakes squeaked again, but she wasn’t embarrassed. The concrete pad she parked on was cracked like a spider web and was sprouting an interestingly-shaped weed garden. No one was going to judge her here.
Slowly, cautiously, she stepped from the safety of her car and made her way up the creaking porch stairs to the office. After opening the screen door, she knocked soundly on the inner one, which seemed to be made of plywood held together by mold. Wiping her knuckles on her jeans, she waited. And waited.
Where was everyone?
She narrowed her eyes at the shadows that stretched across the dirt road and bisected two rows of trailers. She blew air out of her cheeks with impatience. A few old pickup trucks sat in front of some of the houses, but from the way the grass was hugging the tires, they’d likely been there for a while.
Well, shitsicles. No one was here. Now what was she supposed to do?
“Are you lost?” a deep voice sounded from beside the porch.
Brooke started and jumped back. “Balls!” She clasped her chest like it would keep her skittering heart inside. “You scared me.”
A tall, stocky man leaned against the corner of the office with his arms crossed as if he’d been there the entire time. The frown on his face made it hard to tell if he was handsome or not. “I asked if you were lost.”
“Hopefully.” She cleared her throat and straightened her spine. “Could you help me figure out if I’ve made a wrong turn somewhere? I’m looking for 1010 Asheford Drive. I’m supposed to be renting a cabin for a few weeks.”
The man’s eyebrows shot up, exposing his dark eyes beneath. His gaze drifted to a dilapidated trailer, and a chuckle rumbled from his chest. “Miss, if you’re looking for a vacation home of some sort, you rented the wrong one.”
Brooke pursed her lips and absorbed the appearance of the small trailer smack dab in the middle of the park. From here, it clearly read 1010, if she ignored that the last zero was dangling and hanging on by one last rusty nail.
She was going to kill Meredith.
“Name’s Bruiser,” the man said with a grin.
“Your parents thought about it, and the name they came up with for their child was Bruiser?”
“Aren’t you a judgy little thing? Since you’re so curious about my upbringing, no. They named me Horace, which got me taunted as a kid until I grew big enough to beat the shit out of my bullies. They were the ones who gave me the name Bruiser.”
“I didn’t mean to…” She inhaled deeply and started again. “I’m sorry. It’s been a long day, and this place,” she said, holding her hands up helplessly, “wasn’t what I expected it to be.”
“I’d imagine not. Wait here, and I’ll get someone who can help you.” The corner of his lip twitched as he turned and strode to the trailer next door. “Connor,” he called, banging on the metal side of the house. “Need your help with something.”
“What the fuck, Bruiser?” a man called from inside. He ducked under the too short door, buckling his belt with a look of pure fury on his face. “Today is one of my days off. All I ask is for one day where I don’t have to wear any gosh danged…” His eyes drifted to her, and he froze. “Pants,” he finished. He was all ruffled blond hair and bewildered green eyes.
Brooke snorted. Really, she tried to hide the laugh, but she hadn’t known there was such a thing as a pants-off day.
“It’s not funny,” he muttered, gripping the railing of his porch. “What do you want?”
“Uhh, a friend of mine rented a house for me. Bruiser over here tells me I have the right address, and that you can help me.”
Connor’s eyes went wide. “Brooke Belle?”
Her heart sank to the toes of her sneakers. “That would be me.”
“Holy shit, you showed up. And early. You weren’t supposed to be here until next week. Hypothetically. If you showed up.” He frowned. “Which I never thought you would actually do, because look around. This ain’t ideal for a vacation.”
“That’s what I said, and what are you talking about?” Bruiser asked, crossing his arms over his chest again until his biceps flexed. “No women up here. You know the rules. We aren’t into renting to strangers, either. Especially not high fallutin’ city slickin’ judgy judgertons like this one. No offense,” he said as he flicked his attention to her, then away.
“None taken.” She didn’t want to hunker down in hillbilly town any more than Bruiser wanted her here.
Connor took his time looking her up and down. Suddenly feeling vulnerable, she swallowed hard and clasped her hands in front of her thighs.
“Meredith sent her,” was all Connor said before he stepped lightly down his porch stairs and sauntered over to the office where she stood.
She could’ve sworn he sniffed her hair as he passed to pull the front door open. Creepy.
Bruiser chuckled. His chuckling then turned to laughter as he bent at the waist and locked his hands on his knees, chortling until he wheezed. The ass. “Ho!” he said, standing and wiping moisture from the corners of his eyes. “Tagan is going to lose it when he finds out about her.” Bruiser pointed to Connor and grinned. “He’s gonna bleed you.”
“Shut up,” Connor muttered, then disappeared inside.
Talk of bleeding people jacked up Brooke’s discomfort another notch. She took a seat in front of the desk in a cracked faux leather chair that Connor had pointed to.
He sank into a matching seat behind the desk. “You got a boyfriend back hom
“A boyfriend, a lover, bedmate, whatever. You got a man waiting for you?”
“That’s none of your business.”
Connor was trouble. If she hadn’t suspected his unwanted intentions before, this question would’ve sealed it. She definitely wasn’t looking for any male attention. “I should go.” She should’ve left the second she saw the sign for the mobile park. Now, she’d lost precious minutes of daylight.
“Pipe down. I’m not asking for me. Well,” he said with a wink. “Not only for me.”
“Bruiser’s not my type,” Brooke gritted out.
“Fair enough,” he murmured as he rifled through a desk drawer. “Here.” He tossed her a key, which she wasn’t ready for and dropped on the floor. “Nice reflexes.”
To hide her irritation from the idiot behind the desk, she leaned over to retrieve the key, giving the carpet a dirty look. “Thanks, but no thanks. I really should be going. Meredith made some sort of mistake. I don’t belong here.”
“Damned straight you don’t, but unless you want to navigate back roads in the dark, I’d suggest you make yourself cozy in trailer 1010.”
Okay, the mention of those roads in the dark did scare her enough to clutch the key. “Does it lock?” A.K.A—could she escape the hair-sniffer who was looking at her boobs right now?
“’Course it does. That one’s got a fancy double lock and everything.”
She shouldn’t stay. Her danger radar was blaring off the hook, but her options were limited. Stay here until the crack of dawn when she could barrel out of this dump or get lost in the dark. In the woods. Without food or water.
“Thank you,” she said through clenched teeth.
Connor leaned back with an arrogant smile and hooked his hands behind his head. “You’re welcome, princess.”
“It’s just Brooke.”
“All right then, you have a nice day…princess.”
Swallowing the verbal lashing that was clawing its way up her throat, she stood, smoothed the wrinkles from her jeans, then marched out the front door.
One night here, and then she was gone. She’d rent a room in Saratoga and try to heal her broken muse there. Anything would be better than with a couple of burly, foul-mouthed, irritating men.
One night, then Asheland Mobile Park would be nothing but a blotch in her rearview mirror.
Trailer 1010 was in better shape on the inside than it looked like on the outside. It was old, and there was a giant dead spider on the counter, but someone had taken the time to put dark wood laminate flooring in and had recently painted the walls and cabinets. The chemical smell still clung to the air. A green couch sat in front of a small entertainment center, and the kitchen wasn’t disgusting, so there was that. It was actually cuter than she imagined a house like this could be. White cabinets, a deep sink, a purring refrigerator, and wainscoting around the tiny breakfast nook walls, and this place was downright passable as a viable living space. It even had a surprising amount of character.
She kicked a small pile of leftover lumber out of the doorway of the bedroom attached to the kitchen and nodded her head slowly at the decent size of the bedroom. A small bathroom was just on the other side. Brown-colored shower, outdated light fixtures, and a horrid looking faux marble sink with burn marks said the bathroom hadn’t been updated like the rest of the house, but when she turned on the faucet, it worked, so it would be good enough for the night. She’d never seen a washer and dryer in a bathroom before, but she supposed trailer designers had to get creative with space in a tiny home like this.
Back across the living room, a large second bedroom and bathroom took up nearly half the trailer. If she were staying, which she wasn’t, this was where she would’ve set up her temporary art studio.
“First thing’s first,” she muttered, checking the window lock.
The pane was old, and the seal had broken sometime in the trailer’s long history since a cool breeze brushed her skin and raised chill bumps on her arms. She made sure it was nice and secure. The rest of the windows were the same, all drafty. She rubbed her arms to bring some warmth back into them and began to unfold the clean-smelling sheets and comforter someone had thoughtfully placed on the end of the queen-size mattress. At least the bed had a frame and stood off the ground, in case any of those terrifying spiders were still lurking about.
“They’re back,” Connor called out, scaring the devil out of Brooke.
She looked around frantically. She could’ve sworn she locked the door behind her, but he sounded as if he were right beside her. Heart pounding, she moved the thin blue curtain to the side and watched Connor give a two fingered wave to someone she couldn’t see. Her mouth hung open. The walls must be thin as paper for her to hear him so easily. She eyeballed the width of the wall connected to the window, and it was less than three inches thick. Huh. She narrowed her eyes at the sagging ceiling and hooked her hands on her hips. Hopefully, the place would stand for one more night until she was out of here.
Movement caught her eye, and her attention jerked to a small brown mound that skittered across the floor and into the bathroom. A mouse!
A scream, the pitch of which she’d never heard come from her vocal chords, shrieked from her. Instinctively, she bolted away from the critter, hands in the air as her legs pumped through the kitchen and living room. Chills ran up her spine as she imagined it chasing her. Gasping to scream again, she fumbled with the front door lock. A whimper turned into a high-pitched squawk just as she threw open the door.
A man holding a yellow hard hat ran into her full-force, and they fell back into the entryway.
When she screamed again, the man closed his blazing blue eyes and hunched into himself as if the sound physically hurt him.
“Woman, stop it! What’s wrong?” The man looked around frantically, as if he was searching for the danger.
Brooke felt something touch her hair. “It’s in my hair! It’s in my hair, isn’t it?”
“What?” He searched her hair from his position right on top of her.
He froze, then his body relaxed. One dark eyebrow cocked up as he propped himself up on his elbows. “A mouse? Seriously? I thought you were dying.”
He hovered over her, hips cradled between her legs, breathing hard like he’d just sprinted to her aid. His impossibly blue eyes searched her face, and something happened. Something instinctual. Something indiscernible sparked in the space between them. Mouse forgotten and chest heaving, she raked her gaze over his locked arms and bulging triceps. His hole-riddled gray T-shirt and the thick cords of muscle that peeked from it. His Adam’s Apple bobbed as he swallowed hard, as if he were feeling the same stunned flare she was. Straight nose, dark skin covered in dirt and dried sweat, animated eyebrows, and dark hair cropped short. He was beautiful. Masculine as hell, but beautiful was the word that came to mind.
A crowd had apparently gathered outside because Bruiser’s voice filled the entire house. “Looks like she’s claimed boys. Tagan’s already having his way with her.”
The Tagan he spoke of looked down at their connected hips with wide eyes, and scrambled off her like she’d just set his dick on fire.
He stood and slammed the door closed, cutting off the gawking view of what looked like six or seven men. Glowering, he stood over her and refused to offer her a hand when she stumbled getting up.
“Who the hell are you?” he asked, his voice low and gravelly. Sexy.
“Brooke Belle.” Her name came out a squeak, which reminded her of the mouse. Jumping around him, she grabbed onto the back of his shirt with one hand and pointed to the bedroom with the other. “There’s a giant mouse in there. Or a rat. Or a ferret or prairie dog, I don’t know. It’s huge.” Damn her voice as it shook.
“I don’t give a shit about some mouse, woman. What’re you doing in my bunkhouse?”
“Your bunkhouse? No, no, no. There’s been some mistak
Connor shoved his head through the door, face red like he was pissed. “I saw her first.”
“Get out!” Tagan bellowed. He was terrifying.
Brooke covered her ears and cowered.
Connor narrowed his eyes and slowly shut the door.
“Fantastic,” Tagan growled out, swinging his gaze to her. He jammed an accusing finger at the door. “And you caught the attention of that one? I want answers and now. Who. The hell. Are you?”
Brooke straightened her back and tipped her chin up primly. “I’ll talk when you take care of the mouse.”
“Take care of the—” With a snarl, he chucked his hard hat at the couch and stomped into the bedroom, leaving a mud trail behind him, the brute.
She was a little surprised he didn’t go through the squishy parts in the floor with his clunking work boots. Not five seconds later, he came out holding the tail of the rodent—a small brown mouse and definitely not the size of a prairie dog. He swung it toward her until she backed into the wall, then disappeared outside with it. Another five seconds, and he was back inside, arms crossed, head cocked, eyes blazing, and apparently waiting for her to speak.
“I’m Brooke Belle, like I said, and I was under the assumption that my mentor had rented a cottage retreat for me. And then I came here, and it was not as expected.”
“You can’t stay here.”
“Yeah, I get that, but I’m not comfortable finding Saratoga in the dark either. Connor told me I could stay the night and leave in the morning.”
Tagan dragged a troubled gaze toward the door. “What else did Connor say to you?”
“That’s none of your business.”
“Yeah, it is! Connor is—” He ran his hands roughly through his short hair. “One night.” He turned and opened the door, then said over his shoulder, “And I don’t want you talking to Connor anymore. Is that clear?”
“Great.” He slammed the door so hard, it rattled the trailer.