Bear Fire: Bear Shifter Paranormal Romance (BBW) (Pine Ridge BBW Bear Shifter Paranormal Romance Series Book 4)

BOOK: Bear Fire: Bear Shifter Paranormal Romance (BBW) (Pine Ridge BBW Bear Shifter Paranormal Romance Series Book 4)
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BEAR FIRE:

Pine Ridge Shifters #4

 
 

by Belinda Meyers

 
 

Copyright
2016

All
rights reserved

Cover
image used with permission

 
 
 
 

Chapter 1

 
 

Eyes darting all about, Jackie Gage crossed the darkness of
the parking lot toward the tavern.

Leaves crunched behind her. She
spun, her hand flying to the pocket where she kept her knife. No one there. It
had just been the wind.

Probably.

Breathing raggedly, flinching at
every sound, she turned back around and pushed on toward the tavern. A cold
breeze blew down from the mountain’s peak, and she shuddered. What in Sam Hell
had made her think this was a good idea? She was a city girl, cat burglar
extraordinaire, used to high rises and fancy cars. Instead she was surrounded
by pickup trucks and cars on jacked-up wheels with rifle racks in the back.

Real
good move, Jackie
, she told herself. Another in a long line of excellent
decisions. She was a master at them. Or mistress. Whichever.

A man spitting tobacco lurched out
of the tavern entrance and reeled past Jackie. She recoiled and slipped around
him, agile as, well, a cat. She shoved through the doorway and into the tavern
interior. Instantly warmth and music surrounded her, along with the smell of
beer and buffalo wings. She shuddered again, this time in relief to be indoors
and out of the cold. She stomped her feet and blew on her hands. A few muscular
guys sat along the bar, laughing and drinking.

“May I help you, miss?”

Jackie whirled to see a waitress
smacking gum and looking bored. Jackie, who had once more gone for her knife,
made herself relax. A beer would help, she thought.
No. I need to stay sharp.

“Well?” said the waitress.

Jackie scanned for her contact but
didn’t see him.

“I’d like a booth,” Jackie said.

The waitress looked her over.
Evidently unimpressed, she made a
hmmf
noise and said, “Right this way, sug.”

She ushered Jackie over to a
shadowy booth along the wall, and Jackie slid in, keeping her purse—and the
special item hidden in it—tightly pressed against her thigh.

“What’ll you have, sug?” said the
waitress between gum-smacks.

Jackie ordered a light beer just to
make the woman go away, then gulped down several deep breaths and surveyed the
darkened interior again. There a few guys and one woman played pool, there a
group of rednecks, both men and women, slouched around a table and talked about
sports and other boring things. One big guy played darts. No slim middle-aged
man in golf clothes.
Shit
. What was
Jackie going to do?

He’ll
show up
, she told herself.
He has to.

If he didn’t, she was screwed. She’d
come all the way up into the mountains to utilize the thing in her purse before
the asshole hunting for it found her, but if she didn’t do it soon he
would
find her, and then she’d be dead.

After a while.

When the waitress arrived with her
drink, it took all of Jackie’s self-control not to down the glass of foaming
golden fluid in one swallow. Instead she pretended to drink it as the girl
sauntered away, pausing to flirt with one of the rednecks talking about sports.
Jackie couldn’t afford to dull her nerves. Not till this was behind her and her
new life had begun.

Where would she go? she asked
herself for the thousandth time. It was a topic she loved to fantasize about.
She would be able to go anywhere in the entire world. Where should she choose?
Paris? San Francisco? Something more exotic, like Shanghai? She smiled to
herself in pleasant reflection. The truth was it didn’t matter. Anywhere would
be better than where she’d come from, the life she’d led up till now. But that
part of her existence was all over. She’d shed it like a snake shed its skin.

“It’s all downhill from here, kid,”
she told herself as she pretended to sip her beer.

“Downhill from where?”

She snorted in surprise, blowing
beer foam onto the table in front of her, then jerked her head up. A huge shape
loomed over her, and for a moment her hand inched toward her hidden knife again.

She made herself relax. It was just
one of the men from the bar—she thought it was the man who’d been playing
darts. He was, admittedly, awesome to look at, with curly red-gold hair, wide
shoulders that tapered down to a thin waist, and strong, powerful legs.
Piercing blue eyes stared out of his ridiculously handsome face, and there was
some amusement in that expression, but something else, too, something Jackie
couldn’t quite place.

Embarrassment rose in her. He’d
caught her talking to herself.
Real good
job
, she told herself. She’d been alone too long. Talking to herself had
become second nature.

Also, she realized she had beer
foam on her upper lip. Mortified, she rubbed it away with the sleeve of her
black leather jacket.

“N-nothing,” she said. “Never
mind.” Then she realized it. “Did you come over here to flirt with me?”

He smiled. “May I?”

Before she could answer, he slid
into the booth opposite her, and she was now almost at eye level (well, not
quite—he was a foot taller than she was) with this giant male model of the
mountains. Part of her grew hot at his proximity.
Look at the size of those forearms! Down, girl
, she told herself.
Stick to the mission.

“Actually,” she said, “I’m
expecting someone. If you’d just leave me in peace, that would be for the
best.”

Instead, he flagged down the
waitress and said, “Marlene, beer for me and another for the lady.”

Jackie fumed. “I said please
leave.”

The man regarded her. Evidently he
wasn’t accustomed to being rebuffed. And no wonder. He wore a blue T-shirt so
tight Jackie could see his pecs jump when he shifted his weight, and his eight-pack
quiver, just slightly, when he leaned over the table. The dude was
ripped
.

She tore her gaze away, feeling her
cheeks grow hot. Despite herself, she downed a hasty sip of beer, thinking that
the time had come when a little alcohol might actually be of benefit to her
nerves, not a detriment.

“A hot girl comes into a bar and
sits alone, but then won’t accept a drink from a fella?” the (damn hot) guy
said.

“What of it?” she fired back.

He held up his hands, palms out.
“Whoa there, lass. I’m just talkin’. I’ll leave if you want, but let me figure
this out a bit.” His brows drew together. “You meetin’ your boyfriend?”

“No. But I’m meeting
someone
.”

“Your husband? I don’t see a ring.”

Jackie rolled her eyes. “Then I
guess you don’t need glasses, Sherlock. No, no husband. No boyfriend, no
husband. Just a gal having a drink if that’s okay.”

He peered at her glass. “But you’re
not doing that, either, are you? You haven’t touched a sip till just now.”

Slowly he looked her up and down,
and Jackie squirmed under his scrutiny. An expression was coming over his face,
and it wasn’t the simple flirty look he’d worn before. It wasn’t fear, either,
or suspicion. It was interest. She had piqued the curiosity of this god-like
mountain man.

“Look,” she said, “I appreciate the
offer of a drink, even the company. But I don’t have time right now.”

The waitress arrived with the
drinks and set them down. Smacking her gum, she flashed the man a blazing smile
that, despite everything, sent a spike of jealousy shooting down Jackie’s
spine.

“Everything all right, Matt, sugar?”
she said. He got the full
sugar
, not
just the
sug
the waitress had given
Jackie.

“Everything’s just fine, Marlene.
Except that I’m being given the heave-ho.”

Marlene’s gaze flicked to Jackie,
and she looked like she was eyeing a bug she’d tried to scrape off her shoe but
which was still magically clinging there, however mangled and flattened.

“Some women don’t have the sense
God gave a cracker,” Marlene opined to Matt, then blessed him with another
dazzling smile, revealing a mouthful of nicotine-stained teeth. “
Other
girls don’t have that problem.”

“Thanks, Marlene.”

The waitress turned her smile on
Jackie, only when she did it became withering. “Later, darlin’.”

She sauntered away, waving her ass
with more aplomb than strictly necessary. To Jackie’s surprise, Matt didn’t
watch Marlene go but kept his eyes on her instead. He didn’t seem ready to
leave Jackie quite yet, but he also seemed to realize it was his duty as a
gentleman—and he really did seem to be one, damn it—to withdraw. She’d given
him the boot, after all. Only a jerk would stick around when he wasn’t wanted.
For a moment, Jackie wished he were a little more of a jerk.

“Keep the drink,” he said. “That
is, if you do start drinkin’. I’ve got a game of darts to win, anyway. It was
nice to meet you …”

He held out, waiting for a name. Jackie
was tempted to either ignore the request or give him a false one. Not knowing
why, exactly, she said, “Jackie.”

He grinned wide. He had a great
smile, full of strong, even white teeth. “Jackie. It was a pleasure.”

He reached out a huge hand, and she
took it. His flesh was hot. Instead of shaking her hand, he brought it to his
full lips and kissed it. His lips were even hotter. Hot and soft. At the
contact, she felt heat flood her core, and she twisted in her seat.

“If you change your mind, I’ll be
over there,” Matt said, and inclined his head toward the bar. “I’ll be the one
winning.”

Chuckling endearingly at his own
joke, he rose from the booth and returned to the bar. Jackie couldn’t help but
watch him go. His jeans were as tight as his T-shirt, and they showed off his
muscular ass to great effect.
They don’t
have guys like him in the city, that’s for sure
, she thought. For a wild
moment she considered calling him back and letting him buy her that drink. But
that was crazy talk.

Right?

Before she could decide, another
shape slid into the seat Matt had just vacated, and Jackie flinched at the
suddenness of its arrival. The newcomer moved like a ghost. It was a lean man,
darkly dressed, and his furtive eyes darted to either side out of a waxen, pale
face before settling on Jackie. She felt ice touch the back of her neck.

“Are you Jackie Gage?” said the
newcomer, whom Jackie placed in his mid-thirties.

Gathering her nerve, she nodded.
“Who are you? You’re not Tannenbaum.”

“He couldn’t make it.”

“Why not?” Jackie heard both the
irritation and the fear in her voice. Most of all, she heard the strain. This
was her last step, the final hurdle she had to leap over before all this was
finished. Before it was all behind her, and her new life could begin. In Shanghai
or Paris or wherever. And it had been so close. Now this. But just what
was
this?

The pale man swallowed, his weirdly
large Adam’s apple bobbing up and down in his skinny throat. “He just
couldn’t.”

“Why?”

The man lowered his voice and
leaned in close. Sensing he was about to whisper, Jackie leaned in, too.

In a soft, sibilant voice, the man
said, “Because he’s being watched.”

It was Jackie’s turn to swallow.
“Shit,” she said. “That means they know I’m here. Or at least that I’m coming
here.” She made a fist, then forced her fingers to relax. Getting upset wasn’t
going to help her now.

The pale man leaned back. “He’s in
hiding. He won’t come out.”

“Where?”

The man nodded, as if he had
expected this. “His price is double now.”

Jackie sensed that if she balked,
the man wouldn’t provide Tannenbaum’s location. “Fine,” she hissed. “Double it
is.” She wondered how much Tannenbaum would see of it. This shaky little weasel
might just take off with the whole thing.

The pale man let out a rattling
breath, then withdrew a piece of folded paper from a pocket of his dark,
ragged-looking clothes and slid it across the table to her. Jackie snatched it
up, scanned the writing and raised her eyebrows.

“An address,” she said. “But that’s
no use to me. I’m not from here.”

“Then get a map.”

She started to protest, but the
pale man was already sliding out of the booth. Jackie hadn’t seen him enter,
and now she saw why. He didn’t leave by the front door but skulked down a hall
with a bathroom sign over it, presumably to a rear exit.

Damn
.

Jackie frowned at the address.
Sure, she could find a convenience store—provided the town had one—buy a map and
then make her way to the address. But she’d have to do it all at night, in a
strange town, and on foot. She’d taken the bus here, having left her car back
in the city and taken a series of buses and taxis and trains to get here. She’d
wanted to leave no trace of herself on the way here, and she knew the airports
would be watched. But somehow her hunter had found her anyway, it seemed. That
is, if Tannenbaum really was being watched.

Damn
,
she thought again.

At night … on foot … alone …

She chewed her bottom lip. Her gaze
swung up, from the piece of paper to Matt, laughing at one of his own jokes as
he threw a dart at the board. Bull’s eye! His friends at the bar groaned, and
Matt’s grin widened.

Sucking down a breath, Jackie
shoved the piece of paper in a pocket of her jeans, tossed down a few dollar
bills, then gulped the rest of her drink. She needed all the courage she could
get.

Leaving the booth, she approached
Matt, who was just tearing his darts from the board.

“Change your mind?” he said. To his
friends at the bar, he said, “This is Jackie.”

“Nice to meet ya, Jackie,” said
one, and the others echoed the sentiment. One was a woman wearing the jacket of
a sheriff or policewoman. The wide-brimmed hat rested on the bar. She must be
off-duty. Her eyes were kind and her face very likeable.

BOOK: Bear Fire: Bear Shifter Paranormal Romance (BBW) (Pine Ridge BBW Bear Shifter Paranormal Romance Series Book 4)
13.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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