Mountain man or mountain lion? In his case—one and the same.
When Rachel arrives in Cougar Falls for a reading of her aunt’s will, she finds herself in a strange little town. The fantastic tales that the townsfolk tell about a clan of people who can shift into animals are nothing but folklore. Aren’t they?
Burke is taken with sexy Rachel, even more so when she shows signs of possessing Ac-Taw blood. But this puts her in more danger than she knows, danger that only increases the urgency to mark her as his own. Rachel comes to realize she’s inherited much more than just property. She has also inherited a destiny to protect her newfound home, and her new love.
For the Ac-Taw aren’t just legend-they’re real.
Rachel finished off her breakfast and slowly sipped her coffee. According to Gerald Winter, her aunt’s attorney, Charlotte had died peacefully in her sleep. She’d left her house and some property to Rachel, and a few other odds and ends that Gerald would read today in the will. Rachel, unfortunately or fortunately, depending upon her mood, had to be present to hear the legalities. She winced, recalling her last debacle with lawyers, the wounds still fresh.
Yet, it wasn’t as if she had any other place to go. Her parents were dead. She had no siblings and few friends outside the ones Jesse had managed to steal after the divorce. Hell. The greater the distance between herself and her pitiful old life, the better. She’d spent the past nine months fighting, and the past three months licking her wounds. Wasn’t it time to start over again? And with a clean slate this time.
Brooding over the optimistic idiot inside of her brewing with good tidings, Rachel gulped the last of her overly sweet coffee and glared at the packets in the center of the booth. Who ever heard of pink packets of sugar?
Grabbing her wallet out of her purse, she paid for her meal and left a tip for Sarah, then left the diner and its curious patrons behind. As she walked down the street toward her rental car, however, an altercation nearby forced her to stop.
Twenty feet down the alley to her right, Rachel saw the rude guy from the diner ducking punches from three overgrown bullies. Why she thought of the fight in those precise terms she didn’t know, but she had a definite sense that Bad Ass was the innocent party. The fact that the huge thugs crowding him looked like walking wolf-men made it easier to portray the rude guy as the good guy.
Good lord, but how hairy and huge did they grow them up here? Bad Ass was at least six-four, and the men trying to pin him to the wall between them were as big if not bigger. All three looked like linebackers for a pro team, and they sported long, thick hair, beards and mustaches like mountain men from hell. One of them turned to study her, and even in the daylight his eyes seemed to gleam with a preternatural shine.
Shit. That is too weird. And this is way beyond my ability to make right.
Before she could call for help, Bad Ass slugged two of the men with fists so fast they looked a blur, putting his assailants down for the count. The remaining thug lunged at him, only to find himself suddenly plastered against the brick wall. Somehow, Bad Ass had used the thug’s momentum against him, to his advantage. Throughout the fight, Rachel stood still, frozen by the animal-like grunts, brutal hits and sheer wildness frothing between the men. But when Bad Ass and then the other one started growling and_…hissing…_at each other, she took several steps back, thoroughly freaked out.
Had she not known better, she’d swear that thug was looking more and more wolf-like. And the cries coming from Bad Ass sounded feline, like a big cat howling a warning as his eyes narrowed, the color of his pupils reflecting an odd shine in the shadows of the alley.
A warm hand on her shoulder scared a mortifying squeak out of her, and Rachel spun around in a heartbeat. Seeing a badge, she breathed a sigh of relief.
“Easy, miss. I’ll take care of this.” The lawman tipped his hat at her and quietly spoke into his walkie-talkie, radioing for help. He walked toward the brawlers with an easy gait. Like the men in the alley, the sheriff had a feral quality about him. Something in the slant of his brows, the sharpness of his gaze and the readiness in his face. He sported denims and a work shirt, his hat worn from wear, but no gun belt that she could see.
Shorter than the men fighting by a few inches but no less muscular, the sheriff stopped a few feet in front of them. He said nothing, merely tapped his foot. When they continued to ignore him, spitting and knocking into one another, he crossed his arms and murmured something under his breath, and the two opponents sprang apart as if dashed with cold water.
“Burke, take Ms. Penny to see Gerald. He’s waiting on you two. And Hart, you come with me.”
The hairy brute grumbled but followed the sheriff without question, glaring over his shoulder at Bad Ass—at Burke. Four more men appeared at the mouth of the alley and dragged the two unconscious thugs from the scene. Deputies, maybe, though the four looked more like locals than lawmen. They spent an inordinate amount of time studying her, to her discomfort. And the strange, almost hungry looks on their faces had her taking a step back, only to bump into Burke.
Burke ignored her, however, and glared at the men moving the bodies. They hurried out of the alley, leaving Rachel and Burke alone. Together.
Not sure how she felt about being summarily dismissed by the sheriff, Rachel stared at Burke, her expression guarded as she wondered why she’d been left with such a dangerous man.
Burke scowled at her as he straightened his appearance. For a fight in which he’d been outnumbered three to one, he looked surprisingly none the worse for wear. Running his hands through his hair, he tugged the loose strands out of his eyes and tucked the denim shirt he wore back into his jeans.
Unable to stop herself, Rachel watched his long fingers inching under the waistband of his pants and couldn’t help wondering if his skin felt warm even through a layer of clothes. A burst of longing, of animal need, rippled through her body and left as suddenly as it had come. She shivered, confused, praying Burke assumed it was from the cooling temperature.
Seeing her distress, he shook his head and grumbled under his breath. But to her astonishment, he shrugged out of his shirt, leaving him clad in a thin white tee and denims.
“Before you shatter all your pretty white teeth from chattering, put this on.” He didn’t give her a chance to refuse and enfolded her in the large garment. Oh crap, it smelled like him. And her libido, which had gone dormant in the diner except for one brief flare just moments ago, rose again with a vicious slap.
Having helped her into his shirt, Burke began to take his arms from around her when he suddenly froze, then stepped even closer. This near to him, Rachel couldn’t miss the rising bulge pressing against her belly, or fail to note the quickening in his breath as she stared at his broad chest.
“Shit. I just knew you were going to be trouble,” he rumbled before swooping down on her.