Koda’s found his sister, Winnie, and now he’s made a life for himself in Gray Ridge, Colorado. As a bear shifter, he’s naturally a loner, and with so few females around, he’s resigned to never finding his mate. But when he stumbles upon a woman in the woods, his whole world changes.
Snow’s been on the run and has made a makeshift family with a band of seven wanderers. While resting in the woods and waiting for them to come back, something big finds her.
When Koda and Snow collide, they realize their stories are woven together more tightly than they could have imagined. Will the truth break their mates bond? Or will it bind them closer together?
Warning: This fairy-tale shifter story is full of alpha sweetness with a side of growly bear. What’s not to love?! If you love a classic story with a dirty twist, then get your click on!
It’s still dark when I wake up with a jolt, the cold sweat covering my naked body. It takes me a moment, like it always does, to remember where I am and that I’m safe. The seconds tick by, and my breathing evens out. Rubbing my hands against my eyes, I remind myself that I’m not in a cage.
I give up on sleep and get up from the bed. I make my way to the bathroom, turn on the shower, and get in before the water has a chance to warm up. I’m used to cold showers after being denied the luxury of hot water for so long and then having to bathe in rivers when I escaped.
I soap up and try not to think about my past, but it always comes flooding back after a nightmare. I can’t seem to stop it, so I just have to ride it out until all the feelings pass. This dream was like so many before, most of it exactly the same, but sometimes my mind likes to add in details that weren’t there, just to fuck with me.
This time when I was dreaming, I was in the cage again. The one they kept me locked in unless they were running tests. They had a theory that if shifters were kept in small places, they would be less likely, or unable, to shift.
In this dream, I was in the cage, and I could hear Winnie crying. I know this didn’t happen because Winnie was never captured with me. She got away. I always have to remind myself of that. We were young when we were caught, but she fought and was able to get free. I was too drugged up to know what happened, and all I could remember was waking up in a cell without her.
I’d learned over the years that we were taken by a company that was doing research on shifters. They kept us as if we were animals in a lab. It was a horrible time in my life, and ever since I broke free, my only goal was finding my sister. When I found her, it was only to see that she had amnesia and was being cared for here in Gray Ridge. Winnie had gotten lucky, and Alpha Stone had taken her into the pack and kept her safe. When I found her, and when her memories came back, I felt like my journey had finally come to an end.
Only it didn’t.
I’m a bear shifter, and there aren’t as many of us as there are of other species. Even fewer bear shifter females exist. When Winnie mated with Alpha Stone, I could have left, but I didn’t want to. Bears aren’t normally pack animals, but they are close to their families. I couldn’t move away from Winnie after finally finding her, even though she was mated.
Thankfully, Alpha Stone welcomed me into the pack and gave me some land. Xavier, one of the wolf shifters, and I built my cabin out here to give me some space away from the pack and also to have a way to stay close to Winnie.
I’d been in captivity for so long that I was worried I wouldn’t be able to adjust to pack life. But Xavier had gone through some trauma before he met his mate, and he was able to give me some advice to help me cope.
When we built the house, he helped me put in extra security measures so that I could feel safe again. My nightmares used to be a lot worse, and I think he knew it. So to help, we installed bolted locks both inside and outside the entry points of the house. The locks are in place in a way that no one is going in or out of my home without my permission. The extra security helps me sleep. As long as the nightmares don’t creep in.
When I’ve finished showering, I make myself breakfast and have coffee. My life is very quiet, and I don’t have many friends—just the Gray Ridge pack people who Winnie makes me hang out with. I look over at the counter and see an invitation to a kid’s birthday party at Xavier and Gwen’s home. I know I should want to go and be around everyone, but I feel myself getting tired and wanting to hibernate.
I let out a long sigh and try to shake off the dark mood. Internally, I know that I’m safe and everything is okay. I’m just getting used to the world again. Also being around a lot of happy mated couples can start to wear on any single shifter after a while. There’s a longing that comes with wanting to find your mate, and knowing I probably never will sends another wave of sadness over me.
Closing my eyes, I see dark hair and blue eyes. I try to grab on to the image, but it’s gone like smoke through my fingers. I think of the image every time I think about finding my mate. I don’t even know where the image is from or how I remember it, but something about it is familiar.
I push away from the table and clean up the kitchen. When I finish, I look outside. The sun has come up and it’s starting to snow a bit. I love this time of year. The cool air and the clean smells of the forest calm my bear. I feel him stir inside me, and I decide he could use a walk in the woods.
Bears aren’t much for running or spending energy when they don’t have to. Our shifters are usually really big and solidly built. I lost a lot of weight when I was being held captive, but in the time since, I’ve put on a lot of weight. It feels good to have the extra layers of thick muscle and even a little extra around my mid-section. We’re pretty hairy, too, and I definitely meet that type. My long beard and chest hair help keep me warm when it’s cold out. So even though it’s snowing, I don’t need much coverage.
I’ve got on a long-sleeved, cream-colored thermal shirt and jeans. I go over to the door, pull on my boots, and then go about unlocking the door. I walk outside and turn, locking the cabin back up.
The woods are quiet, and my bear is enjoying the peace. He likes being outside, but a lot of times my fear overrides his need and we stay indoors. This is good for both of us, at least for a little while.
I walk for a few miles and come through the clearing next to the lake. I don’t usually venture to this side of the protected lands, but I just need a change today. New scenery. Something inside me is telling me this will be best for me and my bear. That we need a new direction and something different to see today.
Looking off in the distance, I see a dark figure on the ground. My bear is instantly alert, and I widen my stance, preparing for danger. I raise my nose, trying to catch a scent, but the wind is at my back. Slowly and silently, I walk around the edge of the lake, looking for danger from every direction.
My bear is pacing, trying to get out, but I want to be able to hold my skin. I’m always terrified that someone will try to take me again after getting captured the last time, so I’m being extra cautious.
I don’t know what possesses me to even want to investigate the dark figure. Normally, I would just turn and run. But something’s pulling me in that direction, and I need to see what it is.
As I step closer, I see the dark figure take shape. The scent still hasn’t come my way, but I can make out that it’s a person lying in the snow. My steps are tentative and slow, and I move closer and closer.
When I realize it’s a woman, my heart starts to beat faster and my steps quicken. What if she’s a shifter in trouble? I don’t know everyone in the pack yet, so this could be a member in distress.
Moving close, I see that her eyes are closed and she’s lying on her back with her arms outstretched. She must not have been here long because not much snow has fallen on her. It’s starting to come down heavier now, and she’s getting a small dusting on her face and body.
She’s got thick black hair and skin the color of cream. Her lips are blood red, and something inside of me is pulling me towards her. I can’t explain the force that makes me go to her, but something inside me knows that I must help her.
Something inside me needs to kiss her. Taste her… Brand her.
I kneel down beside her, and the sound wakes her. Her big eyes pop open, and the blue there strikes me right in the chest. Her eyes are the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. I want to get lost in them and let them carry me away. There’s something about them that’s familiar and safe, but also terrifying and confusing.
A heartbeat passes between us, and for a second I’m pulled back in time to a place I thought I’d left. Fear grips me, but then the woman smiles up at me, and all of that melts away.
“Hi,” she whispers, and I light up at the word. I start to say something back, but at that moment her scent hits me, and I my throat nearly closes up.
Rage pulses through me, and I start to stand. I want to get away from this human as fast as I can, but suddenly I’m dizzy with need. I inhale again, and I feel my bear trying to take over. He’s clawing inside me to get out to roar, but I hold him tight, trying to catch my brain up to my body.
Mate, my bear growls over and over, and I realize that this human is my mate. A human. The one thing in this world that I not only fear but never want to be near again is my mate.
I growl long and low, but the human doesn’t look surprised. She sits up and pushes back from me, but I reach out, snatching her ankle before she can get away.
“Mine,” I say through gritted teeth. I didn’t want this, not like this. But my body has no choice.
“Let me go.” I look into her eyes to see panic there. “Don’t, please. My brothers will worry. I know what you are, please don’t do this.”
The plea for her family pulls at my heart. How many times had I begged to be let free to find my family? How many times had I begged for news of my sister? I feel sadness for her, but then it’s followed by anger. Her kind are the ones that kept me from Winnie. This human is my mate. I have every right to take her from her human people.
“You’re mine now,” I say, pulling her off the ground and throwing her over my shoulder.
“Please let me go. I swear I won’t come back. I’ll never tell anyone.”
As the snow comes down heavier and heavier, I carry her back to my cabin. Our tracks are covered and no one will be able to find us. I’m taking my mate home, and she will get used to it.
“You can’t do this. You can’t take me.” There is so much panic in her voice that I nearly stop and go back, not wanting to upset her.
“I will treat you kindly and no harm will ever come to you as long as I live.” I take a breath and keep walking. “It’s more than your kind ever gave me.”
Alexa Riley is two sassy friends who got together and wrote some dirty books. They are both married moms of two who love football, donuts, and obsessed book heroes.
They specialize in insta-love, over-the-top, sweet, and cheesy love stories that don’t take all year to read. If you want something SAFE, short, and always with a happily ever after, then Alexa Riley is for you!