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A Lion, A Tiger and Her Bear...Oh My!: A Howls Romance (The Mates of Bear Paw River Book 4) by Everleigh Clark (1)

Prologue

 

Sam

 

Heart’s still beating, check.

Heavy eyelids, check.

Dark room that smells like piss and blood, ugh, double check.

Arms heavy, check.

Legs feel like fire ants crawling on them, check.

Sprawled on a bed in torn jeans with no shoes, check.

 

Either she was reenacting parts of Tequila versus Sam 2017, or she was officially held prisoner in the shifter facility in Kentucky. Cuervo night had not quite felt this bad, so she was going for option number two.

Isabella Werner, aka Izzy or fake abductor working as a double agent for the bad guys, had “bearnapped” Sam, and gotten them both in place to could rescue Sam’s cousin.

Some human assholes had found out about the existence of shifters and were now keeping them prisoner, and doing tests on them. No shifter deserved this kind of treatment. But, even worse, was that Sam’s favorite cousin, Caleb, was in this place. They had to get him and the rest out, no matter what.

And if that meant being shifter bait, despite the damn hangover from the tranq darts, then so be it. At least she wouldn’t come out of this one with a damn tattoo of the Starship Enterprise. But if someone tatted her with a Ferengi, she’d have to kill them.

Sam rolled over, assessing her latest purple and black bruise on her arm as the numbness slowly faded. Okay, that one was going to last a while. But it was worth it.

So, what next? For now, she needed to continue pretending she was just an incapacitated and weakened bear shifter.

Izzy stood in front of the door, her blonde hair covering her blue eyes. Okay, Sam could have actually started liking the chick, if she hadn’t tranq-darted her in front of the guards and hauled her big ass over to this shithole. That was one thing they couldn’t fake. Mom had injected her ahead of time with an antidote. Hopefully, the antidote would start working soon. She hadn’t had time to check yet. Ya know, the whole tied down, pretending to be woozy shit...

Well, it wasn’t all Izzy’s fault. Sam had signed on for this. Hell, she’d offered to be the bait. Bear bait? Hell yeah. Anything to get her cousin out of here.

When Caleb, who’d been missing for years, had suddenly returned with a female wolf shifter in tow, she’d been surprised’. Even more shocked when he told her about the shit a group of humans had been doing to shifters. Someone had decided to capture shifters, take them to old shut-down facilities, and do Goddess knew what to them. Torture? Violence? Testing? What was their end game? Why shifters?

She didn’t have time to worry about that now. Izzie was advancing on her with a gleam in her eye.

Sam’s bear was already pissed off and didn’t like being manhandled by the beyotch. But she couldn’t blame Izzy—she was just a female wolf playing a crucial role to get the prisoners out of here. She was also most likely the mate of her cousin Caleb. She’s not going to hurt us, Win. Just chill, she told her bear.

Could they have come up with a crazier idea? How fucking insane was it to go back into the facility that had kidnapped Izzy in the first place? Yeah, fucked up. Then again, for her cousin, Sam would do anything including portraying Damsel in Distress Bear Undercover on a gurney waiting to be manhandled.

Her bear gave a low rumble of warning when Izzy opened the door for two human guards. The assholes looked like they were ready to have fun with her, and she normally would have obliged them with a nice little punch to the head, kick to the groin, maybe a slash in the nuts, whatever it took. But no. One whacked out, sleepy, and slightly pissed off female coming right up.

“Yo, bitch, Bossman said I could toy with you a bit,” Izzy said with a feral smile.

Sam rumbled back at her, “You want to mess with me, honey, bring it.”

Izzy punched her, and Sam took it. This was kind of fun. She hadn’t played like this in a long time. Her bear still gave a cry of frustrated rage at being punched by the other shifter.

The two larger guards dragged Sam up by her arms, released her legs, and pulled her out the door as Izzy followed.

Okay, maybe she liked the smaller female. She was funny, brave, and not as high and mighty as one would expect a princess to act like.

Not yet, Win Win, she quietly reminded her poor, angry bear. We have to give the rest of the team time to get in place. And we need to find Caleb.

Her bear gave a chuff and quieted.

In the lab, they strapped her to another gurney. Caleb was next door; she could sense his distress. She surveyed the room. It was a bit too white. Like Mr. Clean had screwed Clorox, and their baby had vomited titanium-white all over the room. Super bright fluorescent bulbs practically seared her retinas, a clean almost devoid-of-scent smell wafting around the room. They must pay a lot for disinfectants. The guards strapped her into a huge metal chair like she’d been in as a kid when seeing the dentist. Only her dentist hadn’t shackled her arms and legs and tied a leather belt around her waist. Hell, it was getting a bit hard to breathe. Her bear was seriously about to freak out.

Calm, Win. We can do this. She breathed in through her nose and out through her mouth, once, twice, then once more. Mom had taught her how to center herself after a few self-defense classes had shaken her up as a teenager.

She closed her eyes and envisioned a huge beam of light shooting out from her feet and going down. Straight through to the center of the Earth. From the top of her head, her beam shot up, up, up, through the atmosphere, past Pluto, and into the most distant stars she could think of. The glow anchored her and then wrapped around her, cocooning her in the safe, warmth. And she was finally able to breathe again.

Izzy had continued on into the next room.

“What’s wrong with her?” one of the fugly guards asked.

“Hell if I know. The wolf roughed her up a bit. Maybe she hurt her.”

Sam listened to the scuffling of feet and the low voices of the guards.’’

Izzy gave a low whistle from the other room. If Sam hadn’t been straining for it, she might not have heard it. That was the signal. She had found Caleb. Now they just needed to wait for the sign that the rest of the team was in place. The team leader, Stone—a panther shifter—had said it should be pretty big. Like an explosion on the other side of the facility or the lights going out with a bang. Hell, she liked big bangs.

She couldn’t quite hear what was going on in that other room, but she could sense Caleb’s pain and frustration. She prayed her sweet cousin, who was more like a beloved big brother to her, would be okay. Please hang on.

How much longer? She reminded herself to relax and unclench her fists. They still thought she was under from the last jab with their fucked-up monster-making potion. It had done a doozy on Izzy, even, making her betray her own mate, Caleb. But Izzy had powered through it long enough to get help, pleading with the other bears to rescue him. Sam’s mom had made up an antidote they believed would reverse the effects of these psychos’ drugs. But no one was 100 percent it would work. For now, they just had to keep playing their roles.

The rest of the team, including her other cousin, Bo, the Alpha of her town, Bear Paw River, were all in place, awaiting the signal, and they were damn well going to get every shifter out. Or die trying. She was down with that, too. She gave a tiny shimmy and felt the knife settled along the crease of her hip. Idiot humans didn’t even to think to search her for weapons. They thought their precious new wolf soldier was still under their control. They also believed Sam was too gone with the drugs in her system to break free, let alone shift. And the cuffs on her? The chain was just long enough to allow her to reach her knife when she needed it. She might hurt her shoulder a bit, but it would be worth it.

She grinned and took a few more deep breaths. She could get out of this then, if her mom’s antidote running through her system worked, she’d shift into her brown bear and take down a few mother fuckers on her way to rescue Caleb. This was going to be fun.

She just had to be patient. Dammit. She hated being patient.

Loud footsteps stalked toward her. “Think we can have a little fun with this one while she waits for Bossman?” His hot, putrid breath slithered over her cheek, and she felt like retching.

“I don’t see why not. Bossman doesn’t care what we do to get the beasts ready for testing.”

“Cool. This one’s not as ugly as the rest.” A firm hand stroked along her side and across her breast.

Oh shit.

Another hand crawled up her legs, forcing them apart, and she whimpered. No, no, no. This was too close to what that asshole, Jennings Hammond had done. Her father’s enforcer had made this same move years ago, his breath minty and smoky. Don’t throw up. Don’t lose it, girl. She bit her lip and wheezed a hiccupped breath through her lips as the hand crept farther up her thighs. Closer to her…

“No, you stupid mother fucker!” she shrieked and writhed in the chair, rattling chains and cuffs, the leather biting into her abdomen. Her eyes glazed over, and the first tear fell as she groaned, and her body thrashed in place. Anything to keep that hand from coming closer.

A loud roar from the other room, and everything stopped. Then chaos. Holy fuck on a Cheez-It, Caleb had lost control of his grizzly. He was in pain. And very, very dangerous.

Too late to wait for reinforcements. She was outta here.

Sam snapped her head forward and reveled in the crunch as her skull met Gropey’s nose. Yeah, she probably shattered it. Good. He yelled in pain, and his head bobbed back and then toward her chest.

Wrenching her left arm behind her, she was able to grab her knife. “Get the fucking keys or you lose your head.” She held the blade up to the man’s neck, pressing in a little so a few drops of blood ran down his neck.

He gave a scared baby kitten mewl, and with trembling hands tried to pass them to her.

“Unlock me.” She pressed a little deeper into the pale skin.

He shakily unlocked both hands and held out the keys to her.

Why was he so scared of her? He was shaking in his army-navy store boots.

Oh. Her teeth had sharpened and her snout elongated. Guess he had not seen a half-shift yet. Well, he was going to love this next part.

As soon as she was free, she released the man, and he stumbled back. Then the first dart whizzed past her. The second one hit her in the upper arm.

“You really think that’s going to stop me?” She stood and bared her teeth as the rampage continued next door. Yanking the cuff off her arm, she gave one more human F-bomb, before shifting into her bear. Her clothes tore as she added three hundred pounds of brown fur and muscle to her already thick frame. Her bear was free and elated to finally be in the game.

She roared at the two men, batted the dart guns out of their hands, and slapped them with her meaty paw. They both went sailing and crashed into the wall.

A loud, female yell from the other room stopped her advance. Before turning, she gave one last grumble to the knocked-out guards and raced from the room on all four paws.

Whoa, Nellie! Caleb was in super grizz form, stretched out as high as the ceiling, a pissed-off look on his furry snout. She heard the footsteps of two other men hightailing it out of there and down the hall but couldn’t take her eyes off her cousin. Enraged, mighty, fur rippling as he bellowed, crashing into things, roaring again. Izzy was in the corner, bow in hand, a perplexed WTF look on her face. Okay, time to distract the big guy so Izzy could get the antidote into him. Would the dart get him out of his shift, knock him on his ass, or get him back into the right frame of mind? Too late to worry about that.

Sam rushed in and through her furry body into Caleb’s chest. Yeah, that got his attention.

He glared down at her, his chest heaving, low breaths growly and quite scary.

Okay, so Caleb didn’t recognize her as friend and family. She’d heard about the crap they were putting into the shifters to make them obedient little fucking drones. At least the mating call between them should keep him from tearing out Izzy’s heart. Unless he was too far gone?

Sam needed to take her game to a new level. From bear bait to bear-straction. She chuffed up at the larger bear and smacked him in the snout. Oh hell. That pissed him off even more. She nodded at Izzy who had set her tranq dart into the groove of her bow. Sam ducked. The dart hissed through the air after the thwack of the bow strings.

Caleb gave a loud roar and fell against the wall.

One, two, three, four…

His gargantuan paws hit the floor right where her head had been. He barreled past her, turned to give one last bellow of rage, then raced on all fours out the door.

That went well.

Turning down Sam’s offer to help, Izzy rushed out to track down Caleb. Both knew he wouldn’t hurt his mate. Besides, they were running out of time.

Sam shifted back into her bear and went on the search for prisoners. Easily scenting her mother, she ran down the hall past the sign that said D Hall. She hoped Izzy would get Caleb out of the complex.

She was almost jealous. What would it be like to have a male who would fight the effects of a super drug to keep from hurting you, who would die to protect you?

She snorted and continued down the hall. She didn’t need a man to save her. She was quite capable of protecting herself. And the loneliness she felt every year when her mating heat kicked up a notch? Hell, that’s what sex was for. And condoms. Lots of condoms.

The first small explosion rocked the back of the facility, and the lights flickered on and off. There was her signal. Go time. Let’s go save some shifters, she said, and her bear heartily chuffed in agreement.

~.~

Sam hobbled out of the building on four shaky paws. Her bear wasn’t doing too well—not with a fucking bullet in her shoulder and one lodged right above her knee. She’d told Mom and Caleb to go ahead with the rest of the really injured shifters. Her bear groaned again. Poor baby. It’s okay. I’ll shift back so you can rest for a while. You chill. Okay, Sam never talked like this to anyone except for cubs—well, and her bear. No one would have ever guessed, but her bear was softhearted, kind, and sweet. Hated anything to do with violence. Come on, Win Win. I’ll take over from here. You did a great job, and I’m proud of you. Her bear chuffed, pleased to be helpful, and eased to the back. As the air around her shimmered, Sam felt a piercing ache in her thigh. She let out a huge groan in human form and sagged to the ground. Shit, the face-plant on cement was going to hurt. She pushed her hands out in front of her and prepared for hard contact.

A pair of strong arms grabbed her around the waist and hefted her upward. Into the arms of the scariest dude she’d ever seen. Tall, blond, with scars running down his left cheek and over his eye. She stifled her wince. Blondie was a shifter who’d come in with Stone and Bo’s rescue team. She couldn’t tell what animal he was, but she could smell his masculine musk and feel his strength wrapping around her whole body.

“You all right, female?” His gruff voice sent shivers down her spine. His blue eyes softened for a moment as he assessed her.

“I’m not a damsel in fucking distress. Put me down.” Yeah, way to piss off the guy who kept you from breaking your nose. But she couldn’t stop herself. Between the pain, the aggression still surging through her body, and her mating heat building up to hammer her within the next few weeks, she was a mess. And her inner filter was on permanent vacation.

His lips tilted up at the corners in a hint of a smirk, and the scars disappeared for a moment, showing him for a rugged bad boy with panty-dropping good looks. Shit.

“I’m not even wearing panties.”

“Is that a problem for a bear?” He grinned down at her, and she cursed herself for thinking out loud. So yeah, bullets didn’t really help her filter.

“Put me down before you hurt yourself.”

“Since you almost face-planted a minute ago, I’m going to ignore your request.”

“It wasn’t…a…request.” She fumbled for a way out of the firm arms and warm chest making her feel tingly and safe instead of warrior bitch.

“Sweetheart, I’m not letting you down until I have you safe in the truck.”

“My name isn’t fucking sweetheart. It’s Sam. And I am not going in a vehicle with you. Take me over to the van my mom’s driving.” She gave him a hard shove, which did nothing but jar her already sore fingers.

“I’m sorry, Sam.” Another male strode up to them. Where her current mode of transportation was all Greek god and blond, this male was cute, taller, and dark-haired—with dimples. She loved dimples. Gah!

“Ida says the van is full, and she has to hurry back to your town to get medical help for some of the more injured shifters. She asked if you’re okay driving back with us. I’m Noah Shaw, and this is my brother, Traeger.”

“Do I have a choice in the matter?” she grumbled, wiggling in Traeger’s arms.

“Of course, you got a choice.” The blond tightened his arms around her. “You can come with us or fucking walk home with a bullet in your leg.”

What the hell?

“Stop being an asshole,” Noah said to him and smiled at her. “You can go back home with anyone you want. We thought you might do better stretched out in the back of our truck instead of curled up in a van with the rest of the injured parties. We have the luxury of stopping for the night, too, so you can get a shower, rest …” He smiled, and the damn dimple appeared again. “Whatever you want to do, Sammy.”

Damn, the way dimples said her name… Hell, she could let that nickname slide. Just this once. She examined the lot for her other rides. They had to get going quick before the place exploded. The Impala Zach and Nissa drove wasn’t going to fit her big ass, not now that Izzy had commandeered the back. The van was full. She didn’t know Stone, the panther dude in charge of this little group. Shit. “Fine. I’ll ride with you guys. But you can let me walk myself to the damn truck.”

“No time. Our main bombs are about to go off, and I want to be past Main Street when the first one goes.”

“What is with you Alpha assholes?” She fidgeted until he scowled and put her. Ouch, yeah, standing didn’t feel much better. She should take him up on the supernatural taxi offer. But her pride was not feeling it.

He leaned down until his stern gaze and strong chin were right in front of her. “Come on, before your leg gets worse. We don’t know what kind of alloy they used in their bullets.”

“Fine. You can help me walk to the truck. But I’m not letting you carry me anymore.” A sudden jolt shot through her whole body, and she whimpered in pain and almost keeled over. This time, he didn’t wait for her approval before he scooped her into his arms. And damn if she cared at the moment. Her leg was killing her. But she was a badass. Sam Cooper wasn’t supposed to be carried off a battlefield like a damn porcelain doll. “I can…walk…” Yeah, even she didn’t believe her own words.

“Sweetheart, we can do this the easy way or the hard way.” He carried her as if she weighed next to nothing.

“What’s the hard way? A splint and tourniquet using duct tape and dental floss?” She winced as the pain grew.

“Nah.” He squeezed her ass. “I flip you over fireman style and smack your gorgeous ass all the way back to my truck.”

She pretended she didn’t just melt a little at the thought of being manhandled by him. She blamed her upcoming heat. “Kinky bastard, eh?”

“No.” He grinned and shifted her, so her ass was seated in the palm of his hand as he strode to the truck. “Alpha. Lion.”

He put her gently in the back of the truck and ran around the front to the driver’s door as Noah climbed in the passenger side.

“Lions and bears don’t have a great history in my neck of the woods.”

He grunted and pulled out behind the rest of their small convoy just as the first explosion rocked behind them.

“So, I’m a bitchy bear with a bullet in her thigh, and blondie is a lion with a big ego. What are you, dimples?”

Noah’s white teeth shone brightly in the light from the explosions. “Tiger.”

“Oh…my.”

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