Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Teasers from the stories in Shifters in the Snow: Bundle of Joy

Tempt me Cowbear by Liv Brywood
The temperature outside had bite, but he enjoyed the cold. The sun hung low on the horizon, casting an orange glow across the snow. It was perfect.
He chose a seat at the table and motioned for her to sit next to him. She did. She was close enough that he could feel her warmth.
“This is literally the best biscuit I’ve ever had,” she mumbled between bites.
Crumbs caught on the corners of her mouth. It took everything in his body to keep from swiping them off with his fingers.
“I still can’t believe we made it.” She sipped her cocktail. “Are you going to eat or just keep watching me eat?”
“Oh, right.” He flushed as he shoveled a huge mouthful between his lips.
They ate in comfortable silence. After he’d scraped the last bite off of the plate, he sat back and patted his belly.
“I could eat those every day,” he said.
“Me too, except my ass would be the size of a water buffalo after about a week,” she said.
“Water buffalo?” He laughed. “You’re not even close to that size.”
“I have to keep my figure bikini-ready.” She leaned forward and placed her hand on his forearm.
“Don’t forget to meet me at the Jacuzzi tonight.”
A resounding roar echoed in his chest, his bear jumping at the thought of seeing her in a skimpy bikini. Every curve of her supple body would be on display. Every curve of her completely off-limits, totally not for him, body.
He swallowed loudly. Temptation jammed its wickedly sharp claws into his body, or maybe that was just his bear up to shenanigans.
Before he had a chance to turn her down, she hopped up.
“I’ll see you later,” she said.
As she walked back toward the B&B, her ass bounced, her hips swayed, and his resolve cracked like teeth on a popcorn kernel.

My Wound to Bear by Olivia Arran
Four minutes to go.
Grabbing my jacket off the back of the chair, I shrugged it on. Striding from the office, I flicked off the coffee maker.
The front door swung open.
I clamped my mouth shut as my bear roared his frustration inside my head.
Catching sight of red hair, my breath caught in my throat. “Gina?” It came out on a croak.
“Sorry I’m late! I hope you all didn’t wait for me,” she blurted out, bursting into the room in a flurry of movement.
“You’re not late.”
A line formed between her eyes. “I am late.”
“It doesn’t matter.” You’re here, was what I wanted to say. But didn’t.
“Okay…” Her frown deepened as she glanced around. “We’re doing the training here?”
She’s here for the training! “You’re the Smithrock representative?”
“Uh huh.” Her eyes widened as she took in the empty room. “Where’s everyone else?”
A whole day. Alone with her. “Thank you,” I muttered under my breath.
“Nothing. There’s only us.”
“No one else?”
I detected a hint of panic in her voice, but she was keeping it under control. “Tarq put in a special request, and I only ran the last session a month ago.” I didn’t add that I had only planned on running it once a year, since first aid certification in Craggstone wasn’t in high demand.
“Oh.” She hovered by the door, looking like she’d bolt at any sudden movement.
She blinked at me, her brown eyes wide and unseeing.
I made a split decision. “Follow me.” Giving her as wide a berth as I could, I grabbed my doctor’s bag from the side of the door and headed out.
Two seconds later she stood next to me on the sidewalk, the color returning to her cheeks and pinking them back up. “I’m sorry. I—”
“Don’t apologize to me, you don’t need to. Ever,” I added gruffly. “Why don’t we go for a walk and talk. Get to know one another?” I swept an arm out in front of me, crossing my fingers that this would work.
When the glimmer of a smile tugged her lips at my old-fashioned manners, I released the breath I’d been holding.

Burden by Elianne Adams
“Do you like to dance?” Joss asked her.
It had been so long since she’d done any dancing, but she used to love it. “I do. You?”
He gave her a pained look, then smiled again. “I do, but I’m not any good. In fact, Delana would say I’ve got two left feet. She tried showing me how years ago, but I’m not coordinated enough to make it happen.”
“You can’t possibly be that bad.”
Joss’s eyebrows rose. “You don’t think so? I may have broken one of her toes once.”
“Really?” She couldn’t fathom Joss not being good at something.
He threw his head back and laughed. “No, I didn’t do that, but I’m no good at it, that much is true.”
Joss captured her hand and brought her fingers to his lips. “If you’re brave enough to risk your toes, I’d love to dance with you.”
Her heart skipped a beat. The music faded with the end of the song and then started up again with a new one. “I’d like that.”
He stood, still holding her hand, then helped her to her feet. When they got to the makeshift dancefloor, he wrapped his arms around her and held her gaze. “If this gets to be too much for you, you’ll let me know?” he asked.
“I will,” she whispered, and he pulled her closer. Her breasts pressed lightly against his hard chest, and her rounded belly snugged against his flat one. She might have felt self-conscious except for the contented sigh he let out as he held her.
“This is nice,” he told her as he began moving.
More than nice. It was right. Violet rested her head against his shoulder and let the music flow through her. Sure enough, they’d only taken a dozen steps before Joss’s foot nudged up against her toes. He didn’t step on them, but his foot was nowhere near where it should have been.
Violet tried hard. She did, but she couldn’t help the little giggle that broke free.
They managed to make it about halfway through the song when Khet came waltzing by with Delana in his arms. Delana gave her a solemn look, mouthing “watch your toes” as she spun past.
That was it. The little giggle from before came back, quickly turning into a full-fledged laugh. Joss looked at her, a quizzical expression on his face, which only made her laugh harder. Then, in one ill-timed spin, his foot came down on top of hers. It was only a moment, and he had barely put any weight on it, but the look of sheer terror on his face had her howling.
“I’m so sorry. I told you I couldn’t dance. Are you alright?”
The more he apologized, the harder she laughed. People were staring, but she couldn’t help it. By the time she got herself under control, her cheeks hurt, and others around them were grinning.
Joss, on the other hand, stood there, looking at her. He wasn’t smiling, but he wasn’t frowning, either. Had she offended him? She nibbled on her bottom lip, trying to figure out what to say while keeping her giggles at bay.
He took the step needed to close the distance between them again and wrapped his arms loosely around her shoulders, maintaining eye contact. “Are you okay?” he asked. His chest rose and fell faster than it had before, and the warmth in his eyes grew hotter. His gaze flicked to her lips, and for an instant, she thought he might lean in and kiss her.
Her heart pounded. If there was any doubt left in her mind about her mate, his reaction to stepping so lightly on her toes sent those flying out the window. He wouldn’t hurt her.
She took a steadying breath. “I’m fine,” she whispered, then stepped on her tiptoes and pressed her lips to his.

Panther in a Pear Tree by Cynthia Fox
“Someone tries to kill me and you’re cracking jokes and expecting me to wear footy underwear?”
“These were a gift from my mother, thank you very much, and I’m assuming you’re barefoot … unless panthers have taken to wearing sneakers.” He ran his hand along the underwear and held up a plastic-coated foot. “Problem solved.” He dangled the clothing in front of him. “Here, kitty kitty.”
“You’re not seeing me naked.”
“Well, you can’t blame me for trying.” He tossed the long underwear over the bush and turned his back while she got dressed. “Are you hurt?”
“Just some scratches. I’ll heal.” She slid into the outfit and came out into the open. “My clothes are up on the ridge.”
“We can go collect them after lunch.”
“I’ll need you to be my alibi after lunch too. I’m going to rip those guys to shreds.”
“They were tourists. I’ve never seen that guide before, though. Can’t blame them,” he said, tilting his head and squinting. “In certain light, you really do look like a dove.”
“Tweet fucking tweet,” she said, flapping her arms.
“I think doves make more of a cooo sound,” Bobby said as he laughed and held his arms open. “How about a proper hug?”
Leah obliged and quickly pressed her body against his, inhaling deeply. He wrapped his arms around her and squeezed tightly.
“I really shouldn’t be making jokes,” he said, burying his face in her hair. “I just get a little silly when I’m around you. Thank God you weren’t hurt.”
“It’s really your fault this happened,” she said, pulling away and slapping his arm. "If you didn't smell so amazing, I would have noticed them before they started shooting."
He lifted his arm and sniffed his armpit. “Wooo, I am a little funky.”
“I was drunk on your funk,” she said with a shrug. “Like one-million-times-over-the-legal-limit drunk.”
He smiled briefly before his brows furrowed and a frown took over his face.
“What’s that look for?” she asked, taking a step back.
“I saw you around Thanksgiving, thought I flirted well, and nothing. Same thing the time before that and the time before that. You always run off. Therefore, what you’re saying is … I should maybe never shower again and you’ll come find me. Go for the funk.”
“Always go for the funk, but you smell pretty darn good when you’re clean too.”
“Then why the constant escape act?”
Leah craned her neck to look past his broad body. “Where are your mini Rangers?”
“Nice way to change the topic,” he said while trying his hardest not to smile. “We’ll continue this later.”
She walked ahead of him towards the sound of the children, but was pulled back as he yanked on the butt flap of the long underwear.
“Oh good, those buttons are nice and strong,” he said. “Just testing.”
She turned back and swiped at his hand. “I have claws. Remember that.”
“I sound more like prrrrrr.”

The Christmas Spirit by Gen GĂ©ricault
The sweet voice sang out to Beckett Holloway, urging him to descend the ladder of his bunk bed. The five-year-old bear shifter had already made up his mind: he would talk to her tonight.
His mother hadn’t believed him when he’d told her that he’d spied a pretty lady with black hair outside his window. Bonnie Holloway had shared one of those grown-up looks with Grandma Vi. They’d tittered over Beckett’s active imagination while Bonnie continued to nurse Hannah.
Pausing to peer out his window, Beckett beamed. The lady stood near the tall oaks. Even more snow had fallen in the hours since his mother had tucked him in for the night.
He’d need to be quiet. Though Beckett still struggled with his heightened senses, he’d already learned the individual sounds of his sleuth. His parents slept, though their respective inhale-exhale patterns were not as deep as they had been before Hannah’s arrival. His brand new baby sister, however, slept like a wild bear in hibernation. According to his father, Harrison, anyway.
Holding tight to the bannister, Beckett crept down the stairs without causing so much as a squeak from the wooden tread boards.
Rising onto his bare toes, Beckett reached for the lock on the front door. Sticking out his tongue, he squirmed and lifted himself higher. With a light flick, he unlocked the door and headed outside.
The powdery snow crunched beneath his feet. He did not feel the cold, but his mother always insisted he wear boots. Thinking she’d be mad if she discovered him out of his bed and outside with bare feet, Beckett plopped down on the porch steps and pulled on his green rain boots.
Tottering across the back yard, Beckett felt giddy. The snowbear he’d made with his father loomed tall under the moonlight.
The woman was still there. Her hair blew on the breeze. If Beckett had been older and wiser, he might have wondered how this was possible, considering the lack of wind.
He drew closer, sniffing the air to catch her scent.
“Everyone has a scent,” Harrison had recently told his son. “You can’t always tell if they’re good people or bad people just from a scent, but it’s important to take stock of all those individual smells.”
The pretty lady smelled like nothing.
She turned, her movements fluid and graceful. Her white dress danced on the air, billowing around her willowy frame. Her bare arms appeared as pale as the surrounding snow.
Beckett brightened at a sudden thought.
Maybe she was a shifter, too.
Racing forward, he didn’t pause to reconsider leaving the safety of his yard. Beckett was a big boy now that he had a baby sister to help protect. Even uncle Hud had said so.
With the snow squelching beneath the rubber soles of his boots, Beckett followed the pretty lady into the forest.

Deputy Bear by Scarlett Grove
“Are you still signed up to” Maisie asked.
So many of the bears from the Fate Mountain bear clan had found mates on already. Of all the guys on the Bear Patrol and the Rescue Bears, he was one of the last bears without a mate.
“I’ve checked almost every day for new matches. It’s beginning to get a little depressing.”
“I can see how that could be,” Maisie said sympathetically.
Knox didn’t want anyone to feel bad for him. He’d spent his life working hard and taking care of himself. Before he’d been drafted into the military during the war, he had worked in a lumber mill in Idaho. He’d grown up there with his alpha, Rollo Morris.
They’d even played football together in high school. After school, Rollo moved to San Francisco to work in the police department while Knox stayed at home in Idaho Falls. After he was drafted into the war, he ended up on the same Marine Special Forces unit with Rollo and the guys from the Bear Patrol.
After the war, they had all come to Fate Mountain to settle down and start families. Almost everyone had succeeded so far, except Knox. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and tried to turn it on but the battery was dead.
“I haven’t checked it since yesterday but my phone is out of juice. Maybe there’s a mate waiting in there for me now,” he said with a laugh.
“Maybe there is. Never give up hope, Knox. As they say, this is the season of miracles.”
Maisie patted him on the shoulder and walked back up the street to the bakery. With a sigh, Knox bent into the trunk of the car and pulled out a second bag of rock salt. He started at the other end of the sidewalk and began to pour the salt out on to the icy pavement. As he came to the front of the credit union, he dropped the bag on the ground.
The most delicious scent he’d ever smelled in his entire life wafted into his nostrils. He took a deep drag of the aroma and stood up straight, looking around.
As if out of the dream, a beautiful, curvy, chocolate-colored goddess walked up the street. She wore a bright pink coat with a fur-lined hood that she had pulled up over her head. It framed her gorgeous round face and accentuated the delicate curve of her feminine jawline. Her almond-shaped, hazel eyes glowed in the morning sunlight. Knox felt his eyes water at the sight of her.

Mountain Bear’s Baby by J.K. Harper
“Hi, Jessie.” Shane's deep rumble set things aflame inside Jessie and zipped shocked little shivers down her back. Standing there in her little yard, he looked like some wild creature of the woods, all burly and big and just outrageously—manly. He smelled like the snowy forest mixed with spicy, sexy man. Jessie felt suddenly almost dizzy from his scent.
“I'm sorry. I was a total ass the other day.” The words suddenly fell over themselves, like he'd been thinking them over and over and just needed to get them out. “Can I come in? I want a do-over on meeting my son. And on saying hi to you again. In a much better way than I did before.” His voice dropped on that last sentence, seeming to wrap around Jessie with a sensuality she remembered.
From head to toe, she flushed as she abruptly recalled hours of sweat-slicked eroticism with him. The most amazing, mind blowing, exciting, adventuresome, wild, sweet, fantastic eroticism of her life. Swallowing hard, she managed to nod and finally find her voice.
"Yeah. Of course." Jessie had no idea how she kept her voice casual. She juggled Grant over to one hip and reached forward with her free hand to unlatch the little gate in the fence that encircled her approximately two square yards of snow-covered front lawn. But Shane beat her to it, taking an easy stride forward to reach out his own dark brown denim clad arm to open the gate for them.
Murmuring a thank you, Jessie slipped past him toward her door.
Despite herself, she felt another flash of warmth as her body slipped past him at a distance of only about four inches. Wow. She'd forgotten how big he was. How masculine. How incredibly—dammit. Fine. Incredibly arousing.
Forcing herself to remember that she held a bouncing little baby in her arms and that this was no time to be letting her thoughts go to some pretty debauched memories, she took the few steps toward the apartment and opened the door. Trying not to focus too much on how much incredibly sexy space Shane took up in her tiny little apartment, Jessie went into the middle of the main room and gently set Grant on the floor so she could tug his wiggling little body out of his snowsuit.
She felt extremely heated. Hyperaware of Shane's proximity to her. Of his amazing scent, the one that made her think of the wildest depths of mountain forests, dark mossy caves, and snowstorms whipping with gale force winds of strength.
Jessie turned around. Shane's wild hair and dark beard made her want to rake her fingers through it. She wanted to feel it rasp against her skin as he kissed her.
Oh, for pete's sake. Dumb whacked out hormones. She made herself smile at him. Yet even as she did, something shifted in his expression. Something hungry and possessive crept over his face as he looked back at her. The whiskey-colored depths of his eyes darkened into a bronze sheen as his tongue dipped out against his upper lip for just a second, like he tasted something good there.
As if something divine lingered on his mouth and he wanted more of it.
Jessie realized, as she stood rooted to the carpet, her son's babbling little voice muted beneath the weird roaring in her ears, that the divine something Shane wanted more of was her.
Father Shiftmas by Edith Hawkes
All I could hear was my baby crying.
I started to run, not caring anymore if I was caught or thrown in jail. My instinct was to get to her before anyone else heard. But I was too late—the security guard already had her in his arms. I skidded to a halt on one side of the checkouts as he stared at me from just outside the restroom, the door closing behind him. “Hey, you!”
He looked from me to the baby, puzzlement on his face. God, his eyes. They glowed.
My heart rate spiked as the decision to fight or flee pulsed within me. What do I do? My baby needed me.
The security guard stepped forward an inch, the beam of his flashlight slowly rising to my face.
“Don’t come any closer!” I yelled, panic rising in my throat.
He halted his advance. “I don’t know what you think you are doing, but you best come with me.”
Dread soared, making me feel like I was going to be sick. If I went with him, gave myself up and allowed myself to get caught, I’d be spending god knows how many nights behind bars. But I had to get to her.
My legs were tired from their day’s travel, but I could and would still run. Send him on a merry chase around the store… lose him in the aisles and sneak back to Ava, for surely he would have to put her down to chase me. I nodded to myself, knowing what I had to do, but he seemed to take that as me giving up. He came closer again, stepping away from the restroom door. “Good, you made the right choice, come on. Let’s get this over with, shall we? What’s your name?”
“Fat chance of that!” I said and bolted down the snack aisle back the way I’d came.
“Goddamit!” I heard him yell from behind, and unable to know for sure if he was following—I wasn’t going to take the chance to find out—I kept running, abandoning my food and lantern along the way. My worn-out sneakers squeaked as I turned into the next aisle, never keeping to the same one for very long. Once I thought I’d gone far enough, I stopped dead still. My lungs burned, but I forced myself to breathe slowly, trying not to give my position away. I closed my eyes and let the sounds of the store prickle into focus.
Everything was quiet.
Ava had stopped crying, I thought with a start, my eyes springing open. The most horrible things crashed through my mind like a storming rhino. What had he done to her?!
I quickly but quietly hurried back to the front, edging along until the restroom door came into view. I was about thirty meters away, but even with the gloom of the store I could see no one.
Ten, nine, eight… I counted down, preparing myself to launch to where I’d last seen him with Ava, grab her, and run for it. The guy looked big, and he’d obviously not chased me before, so perhaps he would be too slow to stop and catch me now. I rocked back on my heels at the count of two just as he emerged from the right. He stood silhouetted in front of the glass doors.
“Come on, I know you’re there. Out you come. This is silly. You’ve got nowhere to run to; you won’t leave your baby behind. And I’m not going to hurt you.”
My throat thickened, the lump almost constricting my airway it felt so big. Could I trust him? My instincts were telling me yes, but with everything on the line I didn’t feel like I could chance it.
“What will…” I started, my voice croaky and small. “What will you do to me if I do what you say?” I stepped around the end of the aisle and faced him, willing myself to be brave.
Then I saw her in his arms, waving her chubby arms about like she didn’t have a care in the world.
Like she belonged there.

An Impawsible Christmas by J.M. Klaire
“Not to be rude, but introductions can wait,” Ivy said. “Someone is going to come get me any minute now and tell me it’s time to march down that aisle and I have got to hear how this ends first, so keep talking. And pass that flask back around again, if you don’t mind.”
“Good point. Where was I?”
“Between an Alpha and a mate. One wanted to kill you, one wanted to fuck you, I’m sure. Then what? Why did you smell like bear?”
“Right. I’ll get to that. So, I was standing there, listening to the two of them argue, slowly backing out in the hopes that they were too busy with each other to notice. I was thinking that I’d rather take my chances out in the woods in the snow.”
“I’m guessing that didn’t work. There’s no way a wolf who scented his mate would just let her go wandering off like that.”
“You guess correctly. I backed up into more wolves blocking me in, right as the one calling himself my mate said, “Let me scent them closer. I smell bear, too, but it’s not her.”
So he turns toward me, and I actually get a good look at him before he shifts wolf again. He’s naked as the day he was born, of course, and damn.
I look him down, and then I look him back up, and did I mention damn? He was sexy as sin and his eyes glowed with this heated need that just melted me to my core.
I didn’t say a word, but I could see him register my reaction to him, and he gave me this sexy-ass wink with this shit-eating grin, right before he shifted wolf again directly in front of me.
I just stood there, letting him poke his nose into pretty much anything he wanted to poke into, until he tried to go… you know, there. That’s when I swatted him. One handed, of course, cause I was still holding the baby I’d found in the snow.
After I swatted him away, and he surprisingly let me, not growling or biting me or anything, he padded back over to the Alpha. He shifted, keeping his very nice backside toward me, while they talked in hushed tones.
Finally, they came to some sort of decision. They both stared at me, serious looks on their faces, and the Alpha was the only one to speak.
“Fine. You can claim her. She has two days to decide to accept you, but she does not leave this den. Figure out that cub situation first. She’s your problem now, but in two days if she is not wearing your bite I will kill them both.”
“Nice guy,” Bella said sarcastically.
They were interrupted by a knock. Without waiting for a response, the door swung open, and a head popped inside.
“There you all are! The music has started. Enid, you’re already supposed to be seated. Hurry, hurry, the wedding has begun and we’ve no bride.”

Wolf Mate’s Secret by Bella Love-Wins
Yes, this last drink gave me just enough liquid courage to venture out into the cold. I told the bartender I was leaving, grabbed the warmest-looking winter coat from the lost and found box near the restrooms, then did a controlled stagger toward the door.
And there he was.
Landon again.
Standing in the middle of the doorway, staring down at me with a smirk on his face.
“Hey, beautiful,” he crooned.
“What the hell do you want?” I slurred, holding on to the door for balance as I looked him up and down. Yep. He was still just as sexy in my slightly more than tipsy state.
“There you go with that sweet-talking mouth of yours,” he teased, eyes grazing down my body. “And I see you may actually have a thing for Santa suits now.”
I looked down at my outfit under the winter coat I had just put on. I was in a thigh-high, red velvet Mrs. Santa dress with a thick black belt, and red velvet hat with a white pom-pom.
“So there’s a lot of staff absenteeism going on right now. It’s the freaking holidays. You know what it’s like.”
He nodded. “Yeah. I remember…hiring those high school kids who’d only last until the first paycheck before the holidays, and then they’d ditch the job.”
“Exactly, and it’s annoying as hell. I thought I’d have time to relax, and instead, I’m stuck filling in for those slackers.”
“Just another couple days until Christmas. Should be fine.”
“I hope so. Well, I’ve got things to do, if you’ll let me pass.”
He didn’t move from his spot. Only his lips turned up into a smile. “Are you sure I can’t convince you to stay for another drink?”
I took a brief moment to weigh the request while taking in his strong jawline, broad shoulders under a sleek black jacket, and firm muscles everywhere.
“I’m probably at my limit right now,” I explained. “I’ve got to get home.”
“That’s a shame. Hold on, you’re not driving, are you? Because I’ve had to treat more than my fair share of sloshed holiday party-goers at my regular job.”
“Of course not. I don’t even have a goddamned Ski-Doo to get myself over there. I’m walking, not that it’s any of your business.” I pressed my hands on his bulging chest to push him aside but he didn’t budge. Glaring up at him, I put on my most convincing poker face. I needed to hide the effect he already had on me as I stood there, overwhelmed by the rush of heat between my legs while his eyes seared into my brain. “Are you gonna let me by or what, slugger?”
He took a small step closer and leaned forward until his mouth was almost touching my ear. The warmth from his lips ignited my skin. My toes were curling in my boots and he hadn’t said a thing yet.
“Stop fighting this,” he demanded in a whisper.
Heat rose up into my cheeks as I struggled against the urge to grip his shirt and turn my face into what I knew was his waiting kiss. Maybe it would have been easier if I had not just knocked back more shots than I could remember. Not that I was pissed drunk, but the alcohol had definitely started to do a number on my level of coherence.
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
“You and me. Us. You feel something for me, and as much as you’ve tried to deny it over the years, you still do.”
I reared back a few inches and looked up into the smoking hot man’s face. “Listen carefully, Landon. There. Is. No. Us. Get that?”
The cocky bastard stared down between our bodies and grinned. “Is that why your hands are wrapped around my waist right now?”
I let my eyes trail down his shoulders. Crap. That was me hanging off him, groping his back, with my hips pressed up against his groin.
I pulled away and slid past him to get outside. “I was just trying to leave, is all,” I told him, not even believing the lie myself.

Dragon’s Christmas Baby by Anya Nowlan
Each dragon heir in the Silvertip line was entitled to a share of the hoard when he was ‘ready’ for it. When that time came was different for every dragon, something they were rumored to feel and sense, rather than distinctly know.
As far as Daelan was concerned, this could be the only reason why his dragon had dragged him, kicking and cursing, to Idaho of all places. And he was ready to take his gold and run right back where he came from.
In fact, the smell of treasure was so damn thick in the air that it was nearly suffocating to a dragon with very little of his own. His father’s partying lifestyle, which he had inherited, hadn’t exactly left much in the coffers.
“I can’t give it to you.”
Daelan’s voice strummed louder and lower than it should, the deep timber of his dragon coming through. In a flash, Donovan’s eyes were a deep, unsettling gold, his pupils slitted.
Though his body was still perfectly relaxed, Daelan could read his face easily enough. In the blink of an eye, the other dragon could shift and be ready to battle, if he thought Daelan posed any sort of a threat to his mate or dragonling.
Sensing the confrontation and wisely knowing it would not end well for either of them, Daelan took a moment to take a breath and calm his dragon down. His heart was pounding a mile a minute, while Donovan’s heartrate had barely spiked at all.
-Reserved bastard,- he thought grimly.
“Where’s your mate?” Donovan asked, pushing the tips of his fingers together before him and studying Daelan with interest that was sharp as a laser.
Daelan averted his eyes, going for the safety of the fire again. His dragon roused within him again, as if taunting him back.
Yeah, where is your mate?
“I don’t have one,” he answered, trying to keep his voice as even as he could.
The curse coming from Donovan was so unexpected that Daelan thought he’d crack something in his neck from whipping his head around so fast.
“What did you say?”
“I said, bullshit. Yes, you do. Where is she?”
Daelan ran a hand through his hair, slicking it through the damp black mop. Now his whole throat felt dry, and his dragonfire was no more than a tiny little speckle in the pit of his stomach, a foreboding sense of familiar guilt threatening to extinguish it.
“She isn’t here. How did you know? And don’t give me that ‘I’m a dragon, I just know’ crap. It won’t work on me.”
Donovan chuckled, visibly relaxing. Of course he would, the prick. Now that Daelan was perched on nails, Donovan could lean back and enjoy the miserable viewing experience.
“You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t have one. That’s the only way this works. There is a portioned hoard set aside for you in these mountains. The magic that protects it would only call to you when you become worthy.
“As the Alpha son of a dragon that did not control a major hoard himself, it would be when you’ve come of age, found a mate and had your first heir. I assume the child’s with the mother?”
Daelan’s world ground to a halt.
He stared at Donovan in perplexed silence, his mouth practically hanging open. Donovan’s sly amusement evaporated and he frowned, leaning forward.
“Daelan, you do know you have a son, right?”
Suddenly, it became so damn clear why staying away from Boston had been a herculean effort these past nine months.
-Marley. Shit. What have I done?-

Cheetah’s Never Run by Suki Selborne
Quinn paused for a moment to watch the children’s game. It was getting a little rowdy, and he smiled as he watched them.
“Your daughter looks exactly like you, y’know. She’s beautiful.”
“Thank you.” Tyla wondered idly if she should change Louella out of her dress, so her little tomboy could roll around the floor without ripping it.
“What’s her name?”
“That’s a pretty name.”
“Thank you, again.”
Before she could think of a better reply, one of the little boys got so excited that he shifted. His clothes tore, and a lion cub took his place.
Oh hell, no. “Louella, don’t you even—“
In the blink of an eye, a second kid shifted. One of April and Mindy’s many nieces turned into a panther cub.
The two little cubs leaped on each other, tussling and tumbling. Their discarded clothes were quickly flicked under a chair.
Quinn roared with laughter. “They look so cute when they’re cubs, don’t they?”
Louella jumped up and down as though something brilliant had occurred to her.
“No, Louella, don’t—“
To Tyla’s horror, Louella didn’t hear her mom over the noise of the party. Or—most likely—she heard her, but chose to ignore her.
In two seconds, she joined her friends, shredding her chiffon bridesmaid dress into rags.
There, where the little girl had been, stood her animal form.
A cheetah cub.
Quinn’s eyes grew wide. He seemed to loom even taller over Tyla as he stared at Louella.
“She’s a—“
Oh God.
“Quinn, I can—“
“No. No way.” He spun around, frowning. ““She’s a cheetah?”
Tyla rubbed her eyes, not caring if she smudged her eye makeup.
“The only cheetah family in Rocky Falls is mine.”
“Did you move away after we broke up?”
Tyla held eye contact and stayed very still. “No.”
She knew what was coming.
Quinn locked his hands behind his head, clearly overcome.
“Fuck, Tyla. She’s mine?” He turned back to the frolicking cheetah cub, then back at Tyla. “Your girl. Your Louella. She’s my daughter?”

The Honeybear’s Secret Baby by Jacqueline Sweet
It was after midnight on Christmas Day and there was no one else in the parking lot of the coastal motel. One lone lamp buzzed overhead and Jordan positioned herself in the middle of the circle of light. Across from the hotel was the Pacific Ocean, black and deep and cold. Snow fell but didn’t have the heart to stick to anything. A cold wind stirred the falling flakes into eddies and sent a chill down her spine.
“What is it with you two?” Alexandra asked. “I can see how you look at him.”
“They’re bound,” Mazzy said from inside the van. She was sitting next to Little Katie, who had curled up into a ball and fallen asleep. “Bound by blood and bound by fate.”
“He’s the baby daddy?” Duchess asked.
Jordan nodded.
Alexandra growled. “He’s the son of the Alpha of Bearfield, who is basically the de facto king of all west coast bears, and you knew this and robbed that house anyway? Girl, you aren’t usually this stupid.”

Dragon Baby by Milly Taiden
His backside kept distracting her from the wine. Every time she looked at it, his big muscled back shifted under his black T-shirt. She was amazed he could find clothes that fit him with how big he was. Then again, there was now big and tall sections at most major retailers. Why the hell did she care if he had clothes to wear?
She blinked and noticed he’d stopped, turned, and looked at her. “Yes?”
“I asked what is your favorite wine.”
“Oh. Um, I like white typically. Reisling or Pinot Grigio. Sometimes Moscato.”
He nodded and gave her another of those grins she had to warn every female in the city about.
“That’s it? You sure?” He gave a rough rumble of a laugh and turned back to the rows of bottles.
She placed her hands on her hips and glared at his back. “I like wine, so sue me.”
He walked farther into cellar, to a row of bottles that looked newer. He grabbed two bottles and turned to face her. “Ready?”
They were inches apart and when he went to walk past her, the small space meant he pressed his chest to hers. Their gazes locked and she held her breath as he rubbed his body over hers while sliding out. Her body came alive and every hormone in her took notice of how hard he felt. Of how good he smelled. Her tigress mewled under the skin, wanting a taste of him.
Once he was walking ahead of her, she focused on tamping down the surge of hormones telling her to make him hers. Thane Dreki was nowhere near the kind of man she wanted in her life.
Oh, you know you want to get into his pants.
Shut up!
She couldn’t stop her mind from rambling. All her thoughts had moved to the gutter and refused to go anywhere safe. She kept visualizing the man stripping. This man was not the kind to strip. He was the type that would rip his clothes off, and if he didn’t do it fast enough, she’d do it for him.

Angel by Holley Trent
Both women yipped when Grant suddenly appeared behind Leo with one hand propped against the truck roof.
She swatted at her brother and sidled around him. “You’re such a turd. Go away.”
Leo might have moved, but Grant kept his position at the back.
He was looking at Kinzy, or the seat, or Angel couldn’t tell what exactly, only that his gaze was down, and then suddenly it wasn’t, and Angel couldn’t look away.
His eyes were the color of leaves frosted with ice—green with silver streaks, or maybe the other way around. His pupils were large in the dim light.
Nostrils flaring.
Adam’s apple bobbing.
Leo reached back from the front seat and popped him on the nose with a rolled-up magazine. “Close the door. You’re letting the cold in.”
The abuse from his sister didn’t compel him to move, nor did the rumble of the truck’s engine when Arnold turned the key.
He was very still, and Angel knew because she couldn’t stop looking back. She didn’t understand what he was looking at, but some silly part of her brain thought maybe if she stared back long enough, she’d figure him out.
“Ugh, fine,” Leo said. “We’ll come back in the morning.”
Finally, he looked away. “What time?”
His voice was practically a growl, rumbling and impatient.
“I dunno,” Leo said blithely. “Maybe eight or nine. After breakfast.”
“Come earlier.”
“Uh, no. Not unless you plan on feeding us. Personally, I don’t think you’re either equipped or talented enough.”
Grant just stared at her.
“After breakfast.”
“Ma will be here after breakfast to watch Pete.”
“You’re working on Christmas?” Angel asked before she could recognize that her lips were moving. She pressed them together and locked her gaze on her knees.
“Gotta get the hay out,” he said. “Cows don’t care about holidays.”
“Oh. I guess that was a stupid question.”
“Nah, you can’t know what you don’t know, right?”
“Guess not,” she whispered. Her old alpha would have expected omniscience. She was slowly getting used to the more “mundane” requirements of her at Norseton.
“So you want us to come before Mama gets here?” Leo asked. “Why?”
“Because every damn day, she acts like she hasn’t seen me in a year, and wants to talk. If you’re here to distract her—”
“You’ll actually get outside on time,” Arnold said.
Grant grimaced. “Probably shitty of me to sound so ungrateful, given how much she helps out, but—”
“Yeah.” Leo sighed. “At least you were spared most of the chatter growing up. The girls got to hear it all.”
“What do you mean?” Angel asked.
“Oh, you know how it goes for women in wolfpacks. Be seen and not heard, and be seen as little as possible, at that. Mama always taught us girls to talk amongst ourselves and to zip our lips when we left the house.” Leo turned her head and muttered, “That’s why we all talk so much now.”
“And now, there’s a new alpha, so…the old rules don’t apply?”
“Sweetie, I don’t even know what the rules are anymore.”
“That makes two of us.”

The Panther’s Christmas Surprise by Alyse Zaftig
Amani was out of breath, but she had to keep running. If she didn’t lose her tail, she’d be toast.
She shimmied through a crack in the alleyway’s concrete wall. It didn’t look like much, but the slanted opening looked smaller than it really was.
Faster! She had to get away before —
“There you are.”
Her heart stopped and the world slowed around her.
She turned to look over her shoulder.
The guy advancing toward her had a gun in his hands and teeth as shiny and white as a great white shark.
“No need to run anymore,” he said, far too cheerfully for the situation. He thought he won.
She knew he was wrong.
She looked up and jumped.
She heard him take a shot at her. Either he wasn’t good with his gun or she’d really taken him by surprise, because she was climbing into an open window and running for her life.
She could hear a clatter coming from the alleyway as he jumped into the window, too.
She ran up the stairs. There were too many of them on the street, and with her luck she’d just run into another one.
She was gasping for breath now and cursed herself for not bothering to get an inhaler at a time when she could’ve easily gotten one. It would’ve come in handy right now when she was running for her life.
Then she was on the roof. It was beautiful up there, but she didn’t have time to enjoy the view.
She looked over the side. Well, that was one way out, but it ended in the morgue.
She looked at the nearby buildings, but she wasn’t a parkour maniac. None of them were close enough to jump to safely. She blessed her childhood gymnastics coaches for still being able to jump as high as she was able to jump.
She didn’t have a lot of time. He was sure to climb the stairs and bring his friends.
Was there anywhere to hide? There was some kind of vent over there that looked like it opened.
She pulled on it. A loud creak sounded, but there was empty space inside of it.
Without any other options, she went into the vent.
She had barely closed the opening when she saw him come up to the roof and look for her.
“Come out, come out, wherever you are,” he sang to her, as if they were playing a fun game of Hide and Seek. Sick, crazy bastard.
She heard a growl. Where was it coming from?

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