Authors: Liza Street
The Sierra Pride, Book 1
By Liza Street
Hera Watterson’s flight from her small town into the Sierras hasn’t gone unnoticed. The guys after her really want the evidence she’s trying to bring to Reno. Fleeing isn’t easy when her ex-fiancé is a drug dealer…and the chief of police. It’s even harder when a super-hot guy with funny eyes starts getting into her business when her car breaks down. Radiator overheating? Sure. But that doesn’t have anything to do with the molten feeling spreading through her core.
Blake Fournier has been wandering around the wilderness for months, often coming back to stay at his family’s ranch for just a couple of days before heading out again. His mountain lion is bored and listless, tired of the routine of hunts, fights, and one-night stands. His first impression of the woman stuck on the side of the road? She’s absolutely gorgeous. Second impression? Completely paranoid. But once he gets to know her, his lion only wants to wander into one last place: her heart.
Content warning: This sexy shapeshifter novelette includes a happily-ever-after as well as explicit love scenes and naughty language. It is intended for adults.
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The Sierra Pride Series:
1. Fierce Wanderer
2. Fierce Heartbreaker (due out June 2016)
3. Fierce Protector (due out July 2016)
4. Fierce Player (due out August 2016)
5. Fierce Dancer (due out September 2016)
6. Fierce Informer (due out October 2016)
7. Fierce Survivor (due out November 2016)
8. Fierce Lover (due out December 2016)
Hera wasn’t sure how long her old Mustang would hold up on the twisty mountain roads, but there was no time to stop. The car was an ‘85, and not something she’d planned to drive outside of her hometown of Winston. She patted out a reassuring rhythm on the gear shift. “Come on, honey,” she said. “Just get me to Reno.”
Sixty miles away. They could do it. They were in this together.
She glanced in the rearview mirror. The white pickup had been following her for a while. Stop it, she told herself. There weren’t many turnoffs—where else could the pickup go but forward, the same direction she was headed? If she had a panic attack every time someone was behind her, she’d never get to Reno.
The pickup pulled forward, nearly to her rear bumper, before falling back again. There was a sign for a passing lane in half a mile. She forced her fingers to relax on the steering wheel. A death grip wouldn’t get her anywhere faster.
There was the passing lane. Hera eased back on the gas, hoping the pickup would pull forward and pass her. She slowed further and even stuck her arm out the window, gesturing the truck forward. He came right up on her tail but still wouldn’t go around. A dark green SUV zoomed past both of them, but the pickup stayed on her bumper.
Either an asshole or a hired goon, she thought. He pulled back once more, giving her space, even when she slowed again. Her heart beat faster. He was following her, now she was sure of it. Tobin had figured out where she was going and sent someone after her. At the base of a twisting incline, she downshifted and slammed down on the gas. The little Mustang shot forward, engine roaring. If she got far enough ahead, she’d pull down a forest service road and take cover behind the pines and manzanita. But she had to get really far ahead if she didn’t want a dust cloud giving away her retreat.
The engine wasn’t sounding good, though, and steam was billowing from the hood. She glanced at the temperature gauge. Shit. It was overheating. There hadn’t been time to give her a tune-up in the school garage where Hera taught auto mechanics. There hadn’t even been time to grab more than a couple changes of clothes and her toothbrush. No time to buy a prepaid cell phone to use in emergencies. Afraid of her regular cell being tracked, even though she’d turned it off, she’d left it behind. Now she was in the woods, alone with an ominous white pickup and a failing engine.
On the next upward curve, the Mustang sputtered. Frantic, Hera pushed down the gas pedal. “Come on come on come
The engine died. Hera maneuvered the car toward the edge of the road, half on the shoulder and half in a low ditch. She checked the rearview. The white pickup came around the bend and slowed. She braced herself for it to stop, for someone to run out and grab her, but the truck traveled past.
She let out a shaky laugh. Paranoid. She patted the dashboard. “Oh, girl, we’re going to make it. Don’t you worry.”
She unbuckled and popped the hood release, then climbed out to examine the engine. A cloud of steam billowed up from underneath the hood. Just as she thought, something with the radiator. As she poked around, she discovered that the upper radiator hose was leaking. Shit. If the Mustang was going to go anywhere at all, she’d need a new hose. Hera looked up at the trees, as if hoping a spare hose might be dangling above her, like a pine cone.
Even though it was only a two-lane highway, the road was too exposed. She had to get out of here, away from the car. The sooner, the better. There was no telling how soon Tobin would figure out she ran, no telling how soon he’d send someone after her. Destroy the evidence, kill Hera to keep her quiet.
She slammed down the hood and ran around the back of the car. She grabbed her gym bag with her clothes and toiletries, and the folder of photos—the only evidence of Tobin’s crimes. If she had to hike to Reno, so be it.
She’d taken five steps up the hillside when the sound of an engine reached her ears. She skidded back down the few steps she’d taken. Her escape wouldn’t work if witnesses could remember seeing a dark-haired woman with a duffel bag, hiking up a hill from her car. Tobin would find her in no time at all. She scrambled to a stop about ten feet from the Mustang, just in time to see the white pickup coming from the opposite direction. He’d turned around and come back. The truck slowed to a stop on the other side of the road.
This is it, she thought. The end.
A lanky, lean-muscled man got out of the truck. His light brown hair had golden highlights and swept down over his forehead, and his Star Wars t-shirt was tight enough to reveal a broad chest chock-full of muscles. His eyes were just as noteworthy. Even from across the road she could see they were the kind of brown a girl could get lost in.
Well, she thought, if this is the end, it doesn’t look so bad at all.
The woman was crazy. She was turned to the side, as if not sure whether to run toward her car or away from it. Blake could smell the fear on her, all the way across the road, and other than how she drove her car to death, there was nothing to be afraid of.
Unless she was afraid of
He stopped short before crossing the highway.
True, he was intimidating. Back in high school, punks used to pick fights with him just to prove something. They always lost. Then, when he got older, the same thing would happen in bars. He stopped going to bars. Unfortunate, because in this rural area, a bar was the best place to find women.
But here was a woman right in front of him. Packaged like a gift, even, in a bright blue top and slim-cut jeans. Her curves looked touchable, and her ass looked like it would fit just right in the palms of his hands. He clenched his fists.
Get yourself under control.
“Car trouble?” he asked.
“Everything’s fine,” she said. “I can handle it.”
“Like hell you can,” he muttered under his breath. In a handful of loping strides he was across the road. He opened the driver’s side door, reached in, and popped open the hood.
The woman stopped cowering and moved next to him, hands on her hips. She must not have thought he was dangerous anymore.
“Do you often start poking around under a girl’s hood without invitation, or is this a special occasion?”
He looked up from the engine. He could feel his brows pull together in confusion. “You’re stuck here. You need a—”
“A new radiator hose. I know.”
He nodded, trying to keep his eyes on her light blue ones, and away from the deep line formed by her cleavage as she leaned next to him. “So you know cars.”
She rolled her eyes. “Yeah.”
“So what the hell are you doing driving this one in the mountains, alone? The radiator’s easy enough to maintain, you just gotta pay attention to it.” Like a relationship, he thought wryly. Something his brother Jude would be quick to point out.
He had to hold back a smile. If she’d been a mountain lion, her fur would’ve been standing on end. He could imagine it, how she’d snarl and make herself look bigger.
“I was following you so close because I could smell that your engine was overheating. I knew something was wrong.”
something wrong with my car?”
An RV was approaching, chugging up the hill, too big for its lane. Blake didn’t think, he just grabbed the woman and dragged her away from the side of the road. She smelled so good, he stopped watching where he was going so he could look at her eyes. They were a faint blue, with flecks of gray.
He lost his balance, and they tumbled into the pine needles.
“Ow!” Her voice sounded more annoyed than hurt.
“Sorry!” he said over the sound of the RV.
The RV rumbled by. The woman was rigid in his arms, with fright or anger, he didn’t know, and he didn’t care. She felt good there, her skin soft. She smelled like wildflowers.
She cleared her throat. “I think I’m safe now.”
“What? Oh.” He let her go and stood up, sorry to lose contact. “Look, my phone’s in my truck. Let’s call someone for you. Highway patrol? A family member? Boyfriend?”
Her scent changed immediately, from flowers to panic. She was afraid of something. What? Highway patrol? Maybe there was a warrant out for her arrest. Her boyfriend? Maybe he was abusive. The woman was a puzzle and damned if he didn’t want to figure her out.
He held out a hand to help her up, but she ignored him.
“I can make my own phone calls,” she said, shortly. “I’ve got my phone right here and I think you’ve done quite enough. Thanks.”
Blake sensed a lie, but if she was crazy, he wanted no part of it, no matter how prettily that crazy was packaged. “Fine,” he said. “Good luck.”
He stalked back to his truck, feeling her eyes on him the whole way. He watched her reflection from his truck window, but she wasn’t moving. She wasn’t searching in her bag for a phone, she wasn’t kicking her car, she wasn’t doing anything. What was her plan?
He spun around and rushed back across the highway. “Show me.”
“What?” she squeaked.
She reminded him of a rabbit. A soft, sexy rabbit…
stop it, Blake. Don’t go there
. “Show me your phone.”
She immediately got defensive. “I don’t need to show you my phone. What are you, my dad?”
“If I was, I wouldn’t let you out of my sight for a minute. You’ve got trouble written all over you.”
“Get away,” she said, “or I’ll pepper spray you.”
He laughed. “You don’t have any pepper spray.” But he backed up anyway. He might like dominating his women, but he didn’t like scaring them.
Another vehicle was coming up the hill, a mid-sized truck from the sound of its engine. Blake stepped toward her, his hands up to show he wasn’t hiding anything. “I’m not going to hurt you,” he said.
A red truck rounded the corner, and the bullets started flying.
Hera froze. She knew she was supposed to do something when being shot at, but what? She could only remember stop, drop, and roll for fires, and duck under something big like a table for earthquakes.
The man leaped on her, pulling her to the ground for the second time in five minutes. Hera hoped it wasn’t going to become a pattern.
Then again, terrifying as this was, he felt kind of good pressed against her.
But the bullets were whizzing past them, striking her Mustang, her beautiful girl. The truck gunned its engine and sped past.
She looked up at the man. His brown eyes looked strange, too dilated.
“Are you okay?” she asked. “Were you hit?”
“No,” he said. “But you were.”
His gaze went to her arm, and she looked down. Blood pumped sluggishly from a wound near her elbow.
“Oh. Um.” She wondered why she wasn’t screaming and crying. It hurt like a hundred devils were branding her skin, but she couldn’t bring herself to care.
“You’re in shock. Let’s call the police. I’ll drive you to a hospital, there’s no time to wait for an ambulance.” He ripped a strip of fabric from the bottom of his Star Wars t-shirt and wrapped it around her arm.
“No. No hospitals,” she said. Last thing she needed was some APB put out on her and for Tobin to have them handcuff her to a gurney.