Authors: Vivi Andrews
Tags: #Canada;Yukon Territory;shifters;old flame;second chances
Their history? Complicated. Their chemistry? Incendiary.
Lone Pine Pride, Book 4
Ten years ago, Moira shared one hot night with the bear-shifter of her dreams, but when she took him up on his offer to join him at the Lone Pine Pride, reality landed with a thud. She quickly realized that he was only looking for a momentary distraction, not a happily ever after.
She’s been trying to get over him ever since, but no other shifter has measured up to the big bad bear.
When Hugo met Moira in a Yukon bar, he poured out his unrequited love for his alpha’s mate as he pounded down drinks. While Hugo remembers telling Moira he was emotionally unavailable, apparently she only heard his need for sexual healing.
He’s always felt guilty for unintentionally leading her on. But now that the woman he thought he wanted is finally available, he’s beginning to wonder if the one he really needs is the woman with whom he shared one incendiary night—then let slip through his fingers.
Warning: This book contains a stubborn old bear, mixed messages, mixed-up emotions, and lots of mixed drinks. Before reading, remember that the best cure for a hangover is NOT “hair of the bear”.
For Matt and Carl—thanks for the inspiration, fellas.
Moira considered herself a pragmatist. She wasn’t the kind to pine. She made a point not to regret the path not taken—even if she had once desperately wanted to take it.
So she didn’t often think about that night, or the foolish hopes she’d briefly entertained all those years ago. The life that might have been.
Nevertheless, when she heard the announcement, as surprise flowed around the Pride Hall, her first thought was of
The Alpha of Lone Pine Pride was stepping down, handing over power to his chosen successor. No longer Alpha, his wife would no longer be Alpha’s mate. Which meant their relationship would no longer be crucial to the stability of the pride. They could divorce.
Hugo was free to pursue her now.
Moira told herself she was happy for him, happy that the stupid old bear was finally in a position to find his bliss with the soon-to-be-former Alpha’s mate. He’d pined for her for twenty-five years. At this point he deserved a medal for unrequited fidelity. Spending his golden years with the love of his life was a fitting reward.
But Moira still felt a traitorous tightness in her chest—traitor to her own determination to be over him—an ache she didn’t want to acknowledge as her last spidery thread of hope finally snapped now that Lucienne was free.
Hugo would never choose Moira now.
She sat in the Pride Hall, surrounded by her pride mates, projecting calm. Her colleague, Dr. Brandt—whom she still could never seem to think of as just Aaron, no matter how many times he asked her to call him that—leaned forward at her side, hanging on the Alpha’s every word as the announcements continued, outlining the changes to come in the pride. Thankfully, Brandt hadn’t noticed Moira’s momentary lapse into futile romanticism. Why would he? She was a steady, reliable fixture in the pride. No reason to expect emotional outbursts from sensible Moira—even as the shifters around her stirred restlessly with each new bit of news.
Moira couldn’t work up much concern about the changes. She’d adapted to a lot in her life. She would adapt to this too. No sense worrying about how it would affect them. The effects would be seen only too soon.
As the meeting continued, she let her gaze drift over the figures on the stage. The narrow space was packed—fitting, in a way, as the entire pride was busting at the seams with overcrowding these days, new shifters arriving every day begging for sanctuary from the Organization that hunted them.
Gregory Fallon, the current Alpha, stood shoulder to shoulder with his successor, Roman. Both men were massive and muscular—lions bristling with physical strength and an indefinable sense of authority.
At Roman’s other side was the lean, dark-haired cougar shifter who would be bucking pride tradition by becoming the first non-lioness Alpha’s mate. Patch was dwarfed by her lover, but what she lacked in stature, she made up for in guts as she stood at his side, her hand clasped in his, and stared down any who would doubt their bond. As if anyone would doubt a love so obvious and fierce.
In contrast, on Greg’s other side, his mate stood with regal poise, supporting him, but without a trace of affection flowing between them. Lucienne. She was beautiful. Even at fifty she was an exquisite woman—tall, blonde, attractively curved but without the softness that Moira seemed to carry with her own curves. Moira could definitely see the appeal. Lucienne was almost too perfect to be touched by mortal hands, the radiant, distant queen of the pride. Hugo’s obsession.
Lucienne and Greg’s daughter, Lila, had joined them on the stage as well, along with her own non-lion lover. Just weeks ago Moira had sat in the Pride Hall as the announcement was made that Lila would marry Roman—and the girl had looked like a deer in headlights. Now she stood beaming at her jaguar fiancé’s side while Roman pledged himself to the pride and Patch instead.
It was quite the romantic tableau—everyone blissfully coupled off—but Moira’s gaze skimmed over it, drawn irresistibly to the hulking shadow looming behind it all.
Greg and Roman were both well over six feet, but Hugo towered over both of them. A mountainous bear of a man—which she supposed was fitting for a bear shifter, though Moira also took the shape of a powerful grizzly and her human form was about as bear-like as a bunny. But Hugo looked like a bear. Even his deep, rumbling voice was bear-like. A dark brown beard, just beginning to go to gray only added to his rugged appeal.
Hugo. The Alpha’s best friend and most trusted advisor.
Hugo. Who had loved the Alpha’s wife in silence for as long as Moira had known him.
Hugo. Who would have been a dead ringer for Paul Bunyan if he’d ever worn a flannel shirt.
And Hugo. Who always looked at Moira with the flushed awkwardness of guilt after that one night.
The lynx shifter seated on Moira’s left leaned over to comment on how
it all was—Roman and Lila both deciding to marry for love rather than duty—and Moira realized the meeting was starting to break up. She smiled and murmured something agreeable, barely aware of her own words.
For love rather than duty.
Lucienne and Greg had married for duty. They seemed to have a powerful respect for one another, but Moira didn’t think she’d ever seen either one of them look at the other the way Roman looked at Patch.
Would Hugo be free to look at Lucienne that way now? He’d always been so careful to hide his emotions. Moira never would have suspected the truth if he hadn’t told her—back on that stupid, stupid night. But he and Lucienne wouldn’t have to hide anymore. Perhaps they would wait a month or two, give the transition time to stabilize before Lucienne left Greg for Hugo, or they would begin with a very discreet affair, but the future was all but inevitable now. Hugo’s one true love was finally free.
“Moira? Are you growling?”
She whipped around to regard Brandt, cutting off the growl that was indeed rumbling in her throat. “A tickle in my throat,” she said, taking care not to rush the words and give away the lie. “I hope I’m not coming down with something.”
“Cold season,” Brandt muttered direly. Shifters were immune to most human-borne illnesses, but no one escaped the common cold. And the more fearsome the beast, it seemed the bigger baby they were when they got the sniffles.
Hugo would probably be the worst of all.
Not that she cared what he was like or who would be bringing him chicken soup. She’d long since given up on the idea of any sort of future with the big dumb bear—so why did this feel like the death knell of her hopes? Drat it all, she wasn’t supposed to have those hopes anymore. She’d excised them years ago.
“You should get some extra rest. Take care of yourself,” Brandt said as they rose and began shuffling toward the exits with the rest of the pride. “I’ll hold down the fort at the infirmary tonight. I need you in top shape, Moira, my girl. Wouldn’t want the powers that be to figure out how useless I am without you.”
She forced herself to smile at his teasing. Dr. Brandt was a flirt and a bit of a playboy, but he was a good friend, a great doctor, and he’d always respected her skills as a shifter healer, even when she’d first arrived at Lone Pine and hadn’t had any proper medical schooling to her name. Now she could lay claim to a nursing degree, but she was still more focused on midwifery and the more holistic side of shifter treatment. There were so many things about their physiology that bordered on magic, it was hard for her to take a purely scientific view. Any woman who could shape shift from a hundred-and-forty-pound woman to a six-hundred-pound bear had to have an appreciation for the inexplicable and mystical.
She was tempted to refuse Brandt’s offer to cover her shift at the infirmary. Throwing herself into work sounded like the perfect distraction. But in spite of the influx of shifters into the pride, there likely wouldn’t be much work to throw herself into. Things at the infirmary had been slow since their last patient—a hawk refugee—had been given a clean bill of health and released.
Generally speaking things were always slow at the infirmary. Shifters got sick less, healed more quickly, and were far less likely to come to a doctor when they were sick or injured in the first place than their human counterparts. Moira had regular appointments with the pride females who wanted to keep their birth control shots up to date, but other than that, she pretty much had to drag her pride mates in for check-ups kicking and screaming.
She’d never seen Hugo inside the confines of the infirmary.
And that, right there, was why she would accept Brandt’s offer.
Her focus was fractured. She couldn’t seem to stop thinking about the foolish bear. He crept into every corner of her thoughts in a way she hadn’t allowed in years. She needed to take some time and come to terms with this change. Get her pragmatic, practical self back on track.
“I think I will take the night off, if you don’t mind,” she said. “Nip this thing in the bud.”
“Excellent. I promise not to burn down the building in your absence.” He squeezed her arm. “Go heal thyself.”
Outside at a fork in the path, Moira split away from Brandt’s side, giving a wave as he headed down to the infirmary and she climbed a small hill to the pride condo complex where she lived. The building was one of the newer additions to the pride and more human in design than most of the more rustic structures that were part of the old pride compound. Many shifters liked to live close to the land, keeping in touch with their animal sides and rigging doors to open for both hands and paws, but Moira had always preferred more human comforts. When she felt the need to indulge her bear side, she went into the wilderness to do so, but the rest of the time the other half of her soul slumbered in contented hibernation.
She rounded the corner of the building, her thoughts already on the bubble bath she would draw for herself, when a large shadow separated itself from the darkness and roused the ursine instincts sleeping inside her.
He’d always smelled like home. Maybe that was why it was so hard to push him out of her thoughts.
The rumble of his voice vibrated through her core and she clenched her thighs against the sudden, unwanted response of her body. “What are you doing here, Hugo?”
He lived on the opposite side of the compound. It was part of the appeal of her place.
He flushed—that stupid, guilty flush—and didn’t quite meet her eyes. Embarrassed as always by her mere existence. “I wanted to get your take on your former patient. The Hawk. He’s going to be involved in more of our missions against the Organization and I wanted to make sure he was physically and mentally sound enough to continue—”
“Dr. Brandt can tell you everything you need to know. He’s at the infirmary.”
He did meet her eyes then, the liquid brown making something hot and unwelcome stir in her abdomen. “I’d like your opinion. You have incredible instincts.”
About everyone except you.
She wanted nothing more than to snipe at him again. She was so irrationally angry with him. Angry that he was officially beyond her reach. But he was also trying to protect the pride and so she reined in her own pointless emotional folly.
“You don’t need to worry,” she said, speaking of the hawk shifter who had recently escaped Organization clutches and found his way to Lone Pine. “He’s conflicted. Things are more complicated than they seem in his relationship with the Organization doctor he’s searching for, but he is a good man and he won’t hurt the pride if he can avoid it.”
“Good,” Hugo rumbled—and Moira’s lady parts shivered in delight.
“I should go.” She moved around him on the walkway, but some devil made her stop and give him a pointed look over her shoulder. “Congratulations.”
He frowned, confusion drawing a line between his thick, dark brows.
“About Lucienne. I guess she’s all yours now.”
The confusion cleared, replaced by wariness. “Moira…”
Hugo watched the petite, softly curved figure of the only female bear in the pride disappear inside her apartment. As always when he was near Moira, the sting of uncertainty and a tinge of regret burned at the back of his throat.
He was used to being decisive. Sure. He didn’t make decisions rashly—he wouldn’t be much use as an advisor to Greg if he did—but when he did make them, he didn’t regret. He wasn’t mired by doubt and second-guessing.
Except with Moira.
He’d made a choice, over a decade ago now, and every time he looked at her he wondered if that choice had been a mistake. It had felt like the right decision at the time, but this doubt, this constant doubt…
But it was only doubt. He wasn’t
he’d made a mistake. And without certainty, he couldn’t take action, couldn’t change the decision he’d made eleven years ago. Moira deserved better than to be jerked around by his confusion. So he did nothing. And wondered.
He’d screwed up, given her the wrong impression and hurt her the first time. He didn’t want to do that again. The last thing he needed was another dose of guilt every time he looked at her.
Hugo shook himself and turned away before one of his pride mates caught him staring at her door. That was exactly the kind of gossip neither of them needed. There was enough rumor and innuendo in the pride without him fueling it.
I guess she’s all yours now.
A frown tugged at his mouth. Moira clearly thought Lucienne was going to run into his arms now that their positions in the pride no longer made it impossible. Hugo probed the thought and found it…foreign. He hadn’t even considered the possibility of a future with Lucienne before Moira mentioned it.
He’d gotten so used to the idea that they could never be together that anything else didn’t even occur to him. And now that it had…it still felt wrong. He’d made that choice already—the choice to give up Lucienne—and unlike with Moira, he’d never doubted that one for a second.
But did the lioness doubt? Did Lucienne expect that now she and Greg would separate and they could be together? A complex welter of emotions rose at the thought—emotions he hadn’t felt so keenly in nearly a dozen years—but Hugo pushed them back into their box and headed up to the main house. He had a report on the Hawk to give Greg and Roman.