Authors: Sloane Meyers
Tags: #Contemporary, #Romance, #Fiction, #Paranormal, #Bear, #Werebear, #Adult, #Erotic, #Shifter, #Mate, #Firefighter, #Wildfire, #Sexy, #Boyfriend, #Secret, #Risk, #Smokejumper, #Beast, #Nurse, #Dreams, #Biggest Desire, #Tough Times, #Crashes, #Run Away, #New Life, #Rethink, #Future, #Intersects Past, #Past Demons, #Heartache, #Lonely, #Scared
An Ember to Bear
Fire Bear Shifters, Book 5
By Sloane Meyers
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Similarities to actual people or events are entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2015 by Sloane Meyers. All rights reserved.
Zach Brooks stood behind a large gas grill, flipping a dozen burgers in rapid succession. The meat sizzled as he turned each patty, and Zach paused to breathe in the aroma of the juicy meat. He’d been in a particularly bad mood the last few days, but the simple act of grilling up dinner had a calming effect on him. He watched the flames flickering below the meat, throwing a small splash of light onto the burgers. Behind him, the laughter of his alpha, Ian, and Ian’s lifemate, Charlotte, floated across the crisp air of the northern California night. He pushed off the hood of his sweatshirt so he could better eavesdrop on their conversation.
“Luke thinks the table’s unbreakable,” Ian said. “He said it’s made out of the strongest redwood available and can stand up to even the most forceful abuse. I say we test out his craftsmanship.”
Charlotte laughed and hopped onto the top of the picnic table Ian was pointing toward. “We should! Drop your pants and let’s test it right now, baby. We’d be doing him a favor—acting like quality control.”
“Ugh, guys,” Zach said, turning around to give them a disgusted look. “I’m standing right here.”
Charlotte jumped up and down on the top of the picnic table, waving her hands dismissively at Zach. “Turn around and focus on your grilling if you don’t want to see.”
“You guys are something else,” Zach said, rolling his eyes. But he couldn’t keep the grin off of his face as he turned back to the burgers. Ian and Charlotte were infamous among the clan for breaking a picnic table by having sex on it in the middle of the night. To be fair, the table they had broken had been well past its prime, but the pair would still never live it down. Luke, another of the clan members, had recently rekindled a love for woodworking. He’d decided his first project would be to replace the picnic table that had so dramatically met its demise.
Luke chose that moment to walk up with his lifemate, River.
“Charlotte!” Luke yelled out. “What the hell are you doing to my brand new picnic table?”
Charlotte shrugged and hopped up and down a few more times for good measure. “Just testing your craftsmanship. Gotta make sure the table will hold up to vigorous physical activity, if you know what I mean,” she said.
“Gross, Charlotte. We eat off of this table,” Luke said. Charlotte just laughed, and her laughter was joined moments later by that of two more clan members, Hunter and his lifemate, Riley. Hunter and Riley carefully balanced several white pie boxes on their arms as they made their way toward the picnic table.
“Looks like Charlotte’s already been hitting the vino,” Hunter said as he set down his pile of boxes. “It’s going to be an interesting night.”
“Vino? I need some,” Riley said, setting down her boxes as well. “I think I set a new record with the number of pies I baked at the shop today. I need to relax.”
Charlotte squealed and jumped off the table when she saw Riley. “Did you bring us pies? Gimme, gimme! I’ll trade you wine for pie.”
Riley laughed and started setting the pie boxes down on the tabletop that Charlotte had just vacated. Riley owned a pie shop in the nearby town of Red Valley, and was quickly becoming famous in the area for having the best pies in the area. Aromas of apple and cinnamon hit Luke’s nose before Riley had even opened the boxes, and his mouth started watering. Burgers and apple pie. Tonight’s barbecue was going to be an all-American feast.
Zach felt his bad mood lifting a little bit more. He just needed to focus on the positive. That was a thing, right? Focus on the good and your life magically improves. Isn’t that what all the self-help gurus taught? There was definitely some good in his life. He had a good, secure job as a forest firefighter. He was healthy. He got to spend plenty of time with his clan members, just hanging out eating burgers and drinking beer.
Zach frowned. There were good times, yes. But, in his opinion, the last year had been something of a shit show for his clan, the Burning Claws smokejumpers. In between parachuting out of airplanes to fight forest fires, three of the clan members had found lifemates—human lifemates. Zach had no choice but to tolerate the influx of humans into the clan, since Ian seemed to have no qualms about so many humans hanging around. As alpha, Ian’s word went unquestioned. Zach held the title of second in command, but that title didn’t mean much in actual practice. All of Zach’s pleading with Ian to stop allowing human lifemates had fallen on deaf ears. Zach wasn’t that surprised, though. Ian himself had taken a human lifemate, so he couldn’t really forbid his clan members from doing the same.
Zach frowned and tried to shift his attention back to the burgers. At one time, he had considered Ian his best friend. But, these days, he felt like there was an invisible wedge driven between them. The winter had made things worse. With no forest fires to fight during the cool, damp months, the clan members were all going a little stir crazy. Zach was constantly on edge, and the bear within him grew increasingly restless as the winter days passed by. Thankfully, winter was almost over, and work would be picking up again soon.
Zach poked at the burgers to check on them. Satisfied that they were done cooking, he grabbed his grill spatula and started piling them onto a large platter.
“Bon appétit,” he said with a dramatic flourish. He placed the platter on the middle of the new picnic table, which sat next to an older picnic table. The older picnic table had been covered with a generous assortment of chips, beer, soda, and potato salad. Zach grabbed a wheat beer and popped the top off, taking a long slow sip of the refreshing liquid. As he used the back of his arm to wipe the foam from his lips, he heard River squeal.
“Yes! He brought her!” River said, and took off running across the grass toward the airplane hangar that served as home base for the clan. Zach looked up to see the final member of his clan, Trevor, walking toward them with a gorgeous, auburn-haired woman on his arm. He furrowed his brow and his eyes darkened. He recognized that girl. She’d shown up at the hangar one day last week looking for Trevor, saying he’d saved her from a hotel fire and that she wanted to thank him. Zach had been as rude as possible to her, trying to discourage her from contacting Trevor any further. But, despite Zach’s forceful attempt to stop another bear-human romance in its tracks, Trevor had apparently managed to woo her in.
Zach took another long swig from his beer as he saw Trevor introduce his new girlfriend to River. River gave the girl a giant hug, and then pulled her by the arm over to where the rest of the women were quickly making their way through several bottles of wine. Zach shook his head in aggravation. These human women and their wine. They were obsessed with the stuff. What was wrong with a good old six-pack of beer?
“Well, well, Trevor,” Hunter said as Trevor approached the group. “Who’s the new arm candy?”
Trevor grinned sheepishly and pointed over at Bailey. “Everyone, this is Bailey Webb. I somehow managed to sweep this lovely lady off her feet, and she agreed to date me. All I had to do to impress her was save her from a burning building. No big deal.”
Everyone on the crew laughed—except for Zach. His scowl deepened as Trevor started introducing the clan to Bailey.
“This is Ian, our leader, or ‘alpha,’ as we call him. Next to him is his life mate, Charlotte. That’s Luke right there, and you just met his lifemate, River, who is obviously excited to have another girl in the group.”
River shrugged as she handed Bailey a plastic cup filled with red wine. “All we need to do now is find Zach a girl and we’ll have evened out the ratio.”
Zach’s scowl deepened. “Not gonna happen,” he said with a growl before gulping down the rest of his beer in one long series of swigs.
Trevor gave Zach an annoyed look. “You’ve already had the pleasure of meeting Zach,” Trevor said to Bailey. To her credit Bailey gave Zach a friendly smile and small wave.
Stupid human women, Zach thought. Always trying to act like they’re the bigger person or something. He knew better. They were capable of being completely heartless and cruel when they wanted to be. Zach tossed his empty beer bottle at a trash bag sitting near the old picnic table. He missed and hit the table, causing the bottle to shatter. But he didn’t flinch, just crossed his arms and raised an eyebrow at Trevor, daring him to say something else.
The tension in the air mounted, but no one said anything about the broken bottle. Trevor ignored Zach’s challenging look, and continued with introductions. “Over there is Hunter, and his lifemate, Riley. She’s the one who bakes those amazing pies.”
“Oh my god, Riley! I love your pies. It’s so cool to meet you,” Bailey said.
“It’s so nice to meet you as well,” Riley said. “And if you like my pies, then you’re in luck. I brought several of them to share for dessert tonight.”
Bailey oohed and ahhed over the boxes of pies on the picnic table. Then she took a paper plate that Charlotte offered her and started loading food onto it, while Hunter and Luke teased Trevor about how long it had taken him to find a woman willing to put up with him. Zach’s mood quickly plummeted again, and he began to lose his appetite. Even the big platter of burgers cooked to perfection didn’t draw his interest anymore.
Zach shifted his gaze over to his alpha. Why did Ian so willingly let the clan members bring humans to the smokejumpers’ base? Ian knew the danger the clan would face if the wrong human found out they were shifters and exposed them, and yet he seemed to so callously ignore it. The clan had already lost so much when the majority of its members were killed in a rockslide several years ago. Why did Ian insist on exposing them to more danger? Zach squeezed his eyes shut, and tried to mentally block out the sounds of laughter echoing through the air as Bailey, the newest human, joked and laughed with the rest of the crew as though she actually belonged here.
She didn’t belong. No human belonged in their world. Yet, standing right in front of him—right in the middle of his world—were four human women.
And then, Ian’s voice rose above the rest of the noise, his words providing the final push needed to send Zach stumbling over the edge of a cliff of anger.
“Didn’t I tell you to give Bailey a chance,” Ian said, clapping Trevor on the back. “And I was right, wasn’t I? Look at you two together. Obviously meant to be.”
Zach rose to his feet with a roar. “Meant to be?” he yelled, kicking at the new picnic table, then wincing as his toe hit the solid wood. “Humans and bears aren’t meant to be together. You guys all think that this is fate. That it’s some sort of destiny. But it’s not. It’s a dangerous game that you’re all playing. These humans drag your heart in and then hold it over you to get whatever they want. As soon as they know you’re a shifter, you’re powerless to stop them. Every single one of you has selfishly put our clan at risk.”
“Zach, come on,” Ian said. “Not all humans are out to get you. How many times do we have to have this conversation?”
Zach’s deep blue eyes blazed with anger, and he turned on his heel without replying. After walking about fifty feet, he turned around and marched back to the picnic tables. Wordlessly, he picked up one of the pie boxes from the table before storming off to the hangar. He grabbed his keys from where he’d left them on a work bench, then headed for the parking lot in front of the hangar. He needed a drink stiffer than beer, and he needed to get away from this bunch. None of them understood how deep the threat of betrayal could run when you let the wrong person into your life. But he did.
He’d made that mistake before, and he’d never make it again. The pain of the love he had lost to his long-gone ex, Traci—that bitch of a human, came washing back over him.
He headed for his truck, and fired up the engine of the old, black F250. He’d go to town, to a dark, lonely bar where no one knew his name, and he would forget everything. For one night, he’d forget his clan, and their human lifemates. He’d forget what Traci had done to him. And he’d forget that anguish that made his heart seize up every time he thought of that last conversation he’d had with her.