Authors: Vonnie Davis
Bearing It All
is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
A Loveswept eBook Original
Copyright Â© 2015 by Vonnie Davis
My Highland Bride
by Maeve Greyson copyright Â© 2015 by Maeve Greyson
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Loveswept, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.
is a registered trademark and the
colophon is a trademark of Penguin Random House LLC.
This book contains an excerpt from the forthcoming book
My Highland Bride
by Maeve Greyson. This excerpt has been set for this edition only and may not reflect the final content of the forthcoming edition.
Cover design: Seductive Designs
Cover photograph: Igor Kireev/Shutterstock (man), gnagel/istock (bear)
To Ronan Matheson, this was home. Quiet seclusion. No meals served by the clock. No strange boarders to be gracious to in his own home. No tours through the ancient castleâturnedâvacation lodge to explain the clan's history. This was his spaceâ¦his and his internal bear's. Two hours away from his family's lodge, this small cabin he'd built in the rocky, pine-dense mountains of the upper Scottish Highlands was theirs.
Arriving at the retreat was always a hurried routine to get the generator running, firewood brought in, and the supplies unloaded from his truck. He'd take a few minutes to contact his family's lodge through an old ham radio to let them know he'd arrived safely; in this highly remote area, where there was no cell reception, this was his only reach to the outside worldâand for a few weeks, he liked it this way. Then he'd strip, shift, and lumber outside so his bear could run through the trees and brush. He inhaled the mountain air as a bear, detecting every animal within hundreds of yards. Leaves and pine needles rustled; a pine marten was creating a nest for the night. Dusk would approach soon.
An almost silent, strange-shaped black aircraft zoomed low overhead, which snagged his attention. A faint whooshing sound followed. His bear stopped and tilted his head, seeking the direction of the unfamiliar noise. At first, he suspected somethingâ¦a tree, perhapsâ¦had fallen across the stream, blocking the natural flow of water and creating the strange racket but, nay. This was different and growing louder.
He stood on his hind legs to get a better view.
“Oh, shit! Oh, holy shit! Ohhh, holy blessed mother of Prada effing shit!” a strange human shrieked.
He jerked his head skyward at a person plummeting toward him, tied to a billowing red parachute.
Nay, buddy, ye take care of the intruder. Roar yer furry arse off.
The bear roared, bared his teeth, and waved his upper legs in a threatening manner.
The trespasser yanked like crazy on the ropes as if they'd swerve him in a different direction, but it didna matter. He crashed into the bear with a powerful combination of his weight and the force of his speed, his knees ramming the beast's shoulders to the ground. The sudden impact knocked the wind out of the bear as both he and the person from the sky fought to push away the silky fabric. For a few fear-filled minutes, the two made eye contact and the dark-lashed person screamed so loudly, the bear's chin rose and he glanced over his head at the forest behind them, searching for a quick retreat from the infernal racket.
The curvy human's heart beat like a frightened rabbit. Both the person's skin and hair had an odor of wild strawberries. Its arms wouldna be still as it fought to escape the bear's hold. And its persistent high-pitched screeching made the animal's ears ring.
Finally, the person stopped screaming. “
A bear! I've landed on a wild and wicked bear! Holy hell, have I escaped the CIA only to become a bear's dinner?” The personâFrench, if Ronan had to guessâreached between them and unclicked the belt holding the parachute apparatus before slipping his arms free, tossing more of the red silk over the bear's head, and rolling away from the parachute.
Ronan's bear fought to work his way from under the mountain of a soft batch of fabric and, with one eye exposed, lay still to watch his adversary scramble toward a tree and stand.
The human was a woman.
A frantic, voluptuous woman with arms that waved as she grumbled.
A bear! A freakin' smelly, hairy bear. Survival classes never taught me proper procedure for landing from a jump with my crotch under a bear's chin. Damn incompetent instructors. Hell, they claimed they were preparing us for anything we'd encounter.” She slipped off her backpack. “Calm down.” Both of her opened hands made a pushing down motion. “
I've read several survival guides. I know what to do. I can handle this. I can. My nerves are running rampant and I'm allowing them to freak me out.”
She placed her fingertips on her forehead as if trying to gather her thoughts on how to handle this unexpected scenario. “Do not run from a bear. Make yourself a large target and yell to scare the bear away. Bears are easily frightened unless it's mating season.
“Oh, wouldn't it be just my horrible luck to fall on a horny bear? Oh, hell and shit.” She stood on her toes, her arms outstretched and her hands poised like claws. “Roar! Growl! Snarl! Hiss! Run, you hairy bastard!” She bellowed like Colleen, Ronan's niece, when she was throwing a tantrum.
Even with his bear at the forefront of their dual persona, Ronan turned over and laughed. Laughed like he hadna in years.
Me God, what a gutsy woman. Funny and plucky at the same time. Although her crotch did smell nice.
Bloody hell, he'd been over two months without a member of the weaker sex.
I think I like this one. She's ours.
Before Ronan could tell his bear what he thought of his foolish idea, the female stomped over and poked the bear in the arse with the toe of her boot. “Are you laughing at me? What kind of bear laughs?”
Get rid of her, Brother Bear, before the Frenchwoman decides to give ye a haircut, spray ye with perfume, and puts a rhinestone collar and leash on ye to make ye her pet.
The bear stood, fought off the parachute, tossing it aside, and roared, the sound echoing off the pines and bare trees.
The small, oddly shaped airplane crashed against the steep, granite, snow-covered mountain. The loud explosion startled the bear, but not the woman. She merely gave it a salute, blew it a kiss, and bid it
To his surprise, she unzipped her jumpsuit partway and jerked a pistol from her shoulder holster. “Look, I followed the book and you had the audacity to laugh? Now, if you don't run the hell away, I'm going to shoot your bear balls off.” Her commanding voice echoed off the pines, too. This woman was used to giving orders and having them followed.
The bear bounded for the thick brush.
We'll have to go back to the cabin and shift. She might find us again.
The cabin Ronan had constructed was their safety zone. The two-room hut was built from local stone and logs he'd cut and dragged to create the drive from the lane, if one could call the rutted path by such a name. For ease of shifting, he'd dug a small basement beneath his sleeping alcove. He'd camouflaged the exterior entry to the basement with brush and small rocks cemented to the steel door.
After shifting, he bounded up the interior steps and pulled a heavy cord. The bookshelves slid back so he could enter his bedroom.
Even though he was still naked, Ronan added a few logs from the nearby firewood bin to the stone hearth to warm the cabin a little more. He lit two kerosene lamps to illuminate the living area. By now the generator had run the hot water heater long enough for a quick shower. Dressed, he puttered around the kitchen end of the great room, making a pot of coffeeâstrong, the way he liked itâand two sandwiches.
Think we'll see her again?
“Who? Crazy woman?” At the lodge, their communication was more telepathic. Here, alone in the wilds, Ronan could openly speak to his other half.
She's got guts, kicking a bear's arse like she did mine. Ye ken what Effie, the baffy American witch, told ye.
“Bloody hell!” Ronan slammed his palm on the bar's counter between the kitchen and living room. “She arranged this, didna she? Her and her pink hair and pelican baffies and talk about covens and witches and auras. Oh, this has her mark of hippie craziness all over it.” His arms waved about as he raged. Months ago, he'd told Effie, grandmother to his eldest brother's wife, that he was too busy to find a woman. He went on to brag he was quite happy being alone. That the only way he'd even consider a woman was if she dropped from the feckin' sky. He groaned and downed his first cup of coffee. Him and his big whisky-loosened tongue.
And hadna Effie teased him about the woman who would knock him on his Scottish arse?
Nay, he didna believe a minute of her witchy nonsense. What happened today was pure coincidence.
He washed his dish and knife, setting them in the drainer. What did the strange woman mean by survival training and the CIA? Why did she exhibit such an odd reaction when the plane crashed into the tall, steep rocky mount, creating a gigantic blast? What was the Frenchwoman doing with a gun? Not a hunting rifle, but a high-powered Beretta revolver in a shoulder holster beneath her jumpsuit? He poured another cup of coffee.
She's coming. She's stumbling through the woods, making an awful racket.
Ronan glanced out the window over the sink. A flashlight beam bobbed in the distance. It dropped once when she evidently fell. Bloody hell, she was out of her element. He'd have to bring her inside and help her or she wouldna survive the night. He leaned his hip against the sink, watching as the beam grew closer. Just what he bloody hell wanted to ruin his quiet time at the cabinâa woman.
Anisa Brosseau didn't care if the devil himself lived in this cabin. She wrapped her hand around the handle of her Beretta. Right now, she'd even take on the chain-saw murderer. After her collision with the bear, she didn't think she'd be afraid of anything or anyone ever again.
The odor of smoke curling from the chimney instilled hope of a warm welcome. There were faint lights at the windows. She needed a long bath, a hot meal, a glass of wine, and a warm, comfy bed. She'd just survived the day from hell.
Better make that a week of one hellacious unearthing after another.
From the moment she'd discovered her phone and apartment were bugged by the CIA and she was being set up as the mole within the International Coalition Against Terrorismâor ICATâfor the sale of intel to enemy forces, she'd done what she could to keep her name in the clear. While she'd been sucked deeper into the vortex of deceit and false evidence, she'd been forced to choose. Plan an escape or prepare for an arrest. She'd stolen a drone, jumped from the aircraft when the battery packet was nearly out of power, landed on a bear and, later, stepped knee-deep in mud or muck or whatever the hell that frigid wet stuff had been. Her flight suit and boots were so heavy with slime, she could barely move her legs.
Sheer determination pushed her up the sturdy wooden steps. After removing her helmet and tucking it under her arm, she pounded on the door. Whoever lived alone in this remote part of the world was probably cranky and craggy. What the hell? She could deal with whatever was on the other side of this portal.
The door opened and so did her mouth. Well over six feet of sheer brute strength scowled at her. He had honey-colored hair pulled back in a ponytail. Brown eyes with golden flecks glowered at her. The sleeves of his white thermal shirt were pushed up far enough to reveal a full-sleeve tribal tattoo on one arm, while both were heavily muscled, corded with thick veins.
he wore a kilt. Toned thighs and calves grew from beneath the plaid of an honest-to-goodness kilt. She probably should stop staring, but she didn't think men really wore those things. Not anymore.
His annoyed gaze slowly traveled over her, and the man never once smiled in welcome. “Looks like ye've had a rough day. Did ye mean to wade through the bogs?” His voice was deep and rich like her favorite espresso from her cousin Gaston's cafÃ© in Paris. The stranger's head tilted to the side. “And do ye always drool like that? Is it a family trait, lass?”
She narrowed her eyes.
Buster, you do not
want to mess with me.
“No more than your rudeness must be one of your family's mannerisms. I hope you're kinder to your wife than you are to strangers.”
He crossed his arms and widened his stance. “I dinna have a wife.”
“Now, why doesn't that surprise me? I don't see any signs of a dog, either.” She glanced around the small, yet neat cabin. “I bet you've scared it off, too.” She stood straight, as if at attention. “Okay, how much is it going to cost me?”
His thick eyebrows rose. “How much is
going to bloody well cost ye?”
“A place to stay for the night. A bath. Some of that strong-smelling coffee, a bite to eat and a place to sleepâ¦aloneâ¦and undisturbed.”
“Pardon me honesty, lass, but I'd say ye're already more than a wee bit disturbed.”
If he thought for a minute she'd put up with his insults just so she could have a warm place to stay and a bathâwhich she really, really wantedâhe simply had no clue and she wasn't about to teach the Scottish ass.
She extended her palm in a stop gesture. “Look, I'm sorry I bothered you. Pretend I was never here.” She pivoted, socked on her helmet, and clomped down the steps on legs and boots that both felt like they weighed a ton. No doubt steam shimmered off her hard headgear and shoulders. Damn, she was pissed. But, what the hell? She'd been through two rough survival courses. One had been three weeks in the swamps of Alabama and the second for a month in Israel, training with Mossad. It always took her a while to settle in to new situations but, once she did, she was fineâand she'd be fine here as soon as she found a place to bed down and roll into the space blanket compactly folded in a pocket of her backpack.
“Wait! I didna mean to offend. Come inside.”
Said the spider to the fly.
The man and his scowls could go to blazes. “Don't bother yourself. I'll be fine. It was only in a moment of weakness that I knocked on your door. No need to concern yourself.” She'd been taught well to take care of herself.
Earlier, she'd passed a copse of Scottish pines growing close together. She could crawl beneath their low-hanging branches and bed down for the night. Of course, if she didn't pick up the pace, it would be daylight before she reached them again.
Just think of the thigh workout I'm getting. To say nothing of my ass 'cause it's positively dragging.