To protect his pack, he must guard his heart.
Lost on Bodmin Moor, twelve-year-old Talia Summers was cold, hurt and terrified, before being saved by a black panther that materialized out of the night.
Years later, Talia returns to the moor in search of that magnificent beast, but instead finds a man leading a clan of shape shifters. Yet the connection she remembers is strangely absent. She despairs of ever finding it again—until a stranger steps into her shower.
Back to claim his rightful place, Caleb McLeod’s fierce attraction to his half-brother’s female is tempered by the fact she’s a human. Worse, a journalist. He’ll not have his people’s survival threatened by a human female who continually pushes the boundaries of pack rules.
His solution? Mate with her. Control her. And if his brother doesn’t like it, they’ll simply have to share. For now.
But suspicion and lies threaten the growing bond between Talia and Caleb, and the past has a way of catching up. A way of destroying the bridge built between two worlds…between two hearts.
Since she’d deliberately gotten home early, Talia headed straight to the kitchen to put lasagna in the oven. She intended to make the evening special, to make up for some of the tension between her and Joshua.
Since the day was hot, unbearably so, she headed to the shower.
She’d expected Josh to be home, but wasn’t overly worried. He’d likely taken himself off to the moor and hadn’t yet gotten her text asking him to join her.
Thinking it might bring them closer if he’d shared that part of himself, Talia had once asked him to shift in front of her, but he’d steadfastly refused. It was his time, he’d said. Something he couldn’t share with anyone, even her.
Many times when she woke in the night he would be gone. On his return, he’d often wake her and they would make love. Lately, he’d come home with a restless energy. She’d feel him slide into bed, turn over and slip into a troubled sleep.
Maybe it was all part of being a shapeshifter. Something to do with the phases of the moon. She stripped off her work clothes, put the shower on cool, and stepped beneath the spray. Closing her eyes, she enjoyed the feel of the water against her skin and let the tension of the day slide off her shoulders.
Over the spray of water, she heard the click of the back door. Joshua was home. She didn’t call out. He’d hear the shower soon enough, and by the time he reached the bathroom he would have stripped out of his clothes.
How was it that all their problems seemed to fall away when they had sex? Here, they were compatible. Here, they saw eye to eye.
So why did she still crave something that possibly didn’t even exist?
Unbidden, her thoughts slipped back to that night she’d gotten lost on the moor. Why in heaven was she thinking about it so often these days? It was as if something called to her, made her more aware of her longing for what she’d experienced back then. Josh had been a young panther, he’d told her, running solo for the first time. Most of his kind didn’t experience shifting until they reached puberty, and they had to run with more experienced members until they learned the secrets and challenges of the moor.
She’d been so desperate to learn more, to talk to him about that night and how much it had meant to her, but he was always circumspect. Probably because shifters weren’t supposed to talk about their experiences on the moor, especially not with humans.
Pushing the thoughts away, she continued to soap herself, anticipating the moment the bathroom door would open and Joshua would stand there in all his glory and ready to play. With her free hand, she reached out and rubbed at the steamy shower screen, giving herself a clear window through which she would be able to see him. She could hear his footsteps—weird how attuned she was becoming to sound, scent and vision. It was almost as if her own senses had sharpened since she’d mated with a shifter. Perhaps that was a side effect? She’d have to check it out with Joshua. That was, if he’d be willing to discuss it.
The footsteps seemed to wander from room to room, and she speculated as to what particular game Joshua was playing. Had he thought of yet another inventive way to string out the anticipation? To make her wait for him so that she was so hot by the time he reached her that she’d be desperate to jump him?
She’d be damned if she’d call out to him, because that was probably one of his intentions. Instead, she kept her mouth shut and determined to play whatever game they were in the middle of. She unhooked the shower attachment, and held it ready at chest level, so that when he opened the door to the shower cubicle, she’d be in the perfect position to blast him.
She bit down on her bottom lip. Denied the warmth of the shower water, she shivered from both the cool air on her flesh and the thought of what was to come. Knowing Josh, he’d be pissed when she drenched him, but a pissed and aroused Joshua was often a joy to behold.
The footsteps grew louder and seconds later, the slow squeak of the door signaled his arrival. Since her peephole had steamed up again, she couldn’t see him, but smiled as the dark shadow approached the cubicle door. She hummed softly, sashayed a little, so that he’d think she was unaware of his presence and was simply enjoying her shower.
The shadow remained outside the door, perfectly still and strangely menacing. Something niggled, seeming a little off. Did Josh seem taller, broader? She mentally nudged it away as a trick of the light, and possibly her own arousal. But goose-bumps lifted the tiny hairs on her arms and she gripped the showerhead tighter.
Without warning, the cubicle door swung open and Talia had the breath knocked out of her momentarily as the cold snap of air whooshed into the small space. Narrowing her eyes, she raised the showerhead and let the spray hit Josh full in the face.
“What the hell?”
The deep curse that echoed around the bathroom and the strong hand that clasped her wrist belonged not to her husband, but some brute of a man who towered over her while she stood naked and trembling.
“Who…what do you think you’re d-doing?”
With his free hand, he wiped his drenched face. “My question exactly, sweetheart.”
His deep green eyes glared at her, his grip tightening around her wrist so that she dropped the showerhead to the floor. In the process, it sprayed them both with water, soaking his dark gray T-shirt and jeans. It earned her another dark curse.
She tried to scream, but nothing came out. So she did the next best thing. She fought. Kicking, hitting out with her free hand, and meeting nothing but rock-solid muscle.
“Get out!” She lashed out once more, tugging furiously at his grip on her and trying in vain to get free of him. Her breath backed up in her lungs, all her muscles tight and trembling. “Let go of me!”
He wiped his face again, the lower part of it sporting dark stubble. Talia let her gaze skim over him, trying to memorize his features for when she had to give a description to the police. God. He was built like a truck. His neck alone would rival the span of her waist, while his chest rippled and heaved beneath the soaked shirt.
Suddenly aware of her nakedness, she ceased her perusal. “If you don’t let go of me, I’ll scream. So help me, I’ll scream loud enough to wake the dead.”
He only grinned at that, yet there was little humor in it. Feral, she thought dazedly. He reminded her of a determined predator…
Bloody hell. Was he a shifter? A member of a visiting pack? It seemed to happen pretty frequently, but from what she knew, they didn’t engage in breaking and entering.
The thought that this man might be a shifter terrified her. She knew of their strength, of their power. Of their primal charm and charisma…which had to explain the sudden resurgence of arousal that powered through her trembling body.
“Go ahead and scream. There’s nobody around to hear you.”
He was right, of course, and she shivered with alarm. Most of their neighbors were at work, and the house itself was on the edge of the moor, its strategic position giving the pack’s leader both status and tactical strength.
She raised her chin and made herself stare him straight in the eye. “You don’t scare me.”
Another feral grin. “Is that so?” He glanced insolently down at her breasts and the hard, pebbled nipples that rose to attention. “But it sure looks like I do something to you, sweetheart.”
She gasped, and he abruptly released his hold on her and stepped back. Since he was still blocking her exit from the cubicle, Talia couldn’t reach the towel she’d placed on the railing outside without brushing her body against him. She crossed one arm to cover her breasts, then reached down to palm her hand over her center.
When he glanced to where her hands were purposefully placed, she suffered the punch of his assessing gaze and felt more naked than ever.
“If you leave now, I won’t report you,” she stated, thankful that her voice had regained some of its authority. “Just go.”
In answer, he raised his arm over his head and grabbed the back of his sodden shirt. Effortlessly, he shrugged it off and dropped it to the floor.
Eyeing his chest, Talia swallowed. She’d thought Joshua’s chest was ripped, but this man’s was something else. Scars scored the wide expanse of hard, solid muscle, crisscrossing as if someone had planned to create a specific pattern there. But they did little to mar the sheer masculine perfection of his upper body. Down the right side of his torso, a deeper, angrier-looking scar traveled from his ribcage to disappear beneath his jeans.
So lost in her heady examination, she didn’t realize he’d moved closer to her.
She jerked back, flattening herself against the cubicle wall. “Don’t you dare touch me.”
He spared her a glance. “Just undertaking some damage control. If my jeans get any wetter, I’ll need to ditch them, then there’ll be two of us naked in this shower.” He reached around her to turn off the faucet. “From your overreaction so far, I’m not sure you’d be too happy about that.”
“My overreaction?” The absolute nerve of the jerk. “You’ve barged in here, threatened me—”
“Wasn’t aware I’d done anything to you.”
She half expected him to add yet, but he strolled across to the railing and picked up the towel she’d placed there. He tossed it to her, making her almost giddy with relief. If he was going to let her dry herself, surely his intentions weren’t quite as dishonorable as she’d feared.
She wrapped the towel tightly around herself, keeping her gaze firmly on him. He went over to the rack and selected another towel with which he proceeded to dry himself.
Her fears shot into orbit again when he positioned himself in front of the bathroom door, effectively barring her escape the way he had in the cubicle. Gingerly, she stepped out. If she could at least get access to the bathroom cabinet, she might be able to select something to use as a weapon.
“What’s your name?”
The question took her by surprise and she jerked her chin toward him. “I should be asking you that. So I know who to report when I make my statement to the police.”
Perhaps in retrospect, she shouldn’t antagonize him, but the nerve of the man. Breaking into her home, terrorizing her, demanding to know her name as if she were the intruder.
He laughed. “And just how many arrests has old Bill Tucker made recently?”
“You know him?”
“Since I was a kid. And if we’re talking arrests, maybe I should be the one pressing charges.”
“I don’t know what you mean. Now will you please stand aside and let me out of this bathroom?”
He threw the damp towel onto a nearby chair. “You’re not going anywhere, sweetheart. At least not until you answer my question.”
Since he’d planted his feet and crossed his arms over his massive chest, Talia swallowed down fresh tension. “What…what question?”
“Just what the hell are you doing in my house?”
A red-hot panther shifter with an over-the-top possessive streak, a human reporter trying desperately to retain her independence, and enough sexual heat to set fire to the moors of Cornwall.
First Beast by Faye Avalon
Beasts of Bodmin Moor, Book 1
Samhain Publishing: https://www.samhainpublishing.com/book/5660/first-beast
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