I am really excited to bring you the final installment of Bear Fate. The book will be in the stores around Dec 5. That version will have all the steamy elements that were too hot for this website, as well as incorporating all the great suggestions from my readers. I cannot thank you enough for all your helpful comments.
The entire novel is still free on this blog. On Dec 2, however, I have to remove all but the final two chapters, so as not to violate my contract with Amazon. Of course, if you have Kindle Unlimited, you can read the final version for free there.
“Will you marry me, Amber?”
“You may not want to when I tell you my secret,” she warned him.
It was the rejection he had feared. He knew his whole face tightened and his damaged eye twitched. But Amber’s gaze did not flinch. She held out her hands, but she did not take his. She was waiting for him to accept them. This was not about him but about her. Plainly she thought there might be a real problem.
Were they secretly first cousins? He thought not. Clumsily he groped for her hands and squeezed. “I don’t think you’re likely to have any kind of a secret that would make me change my mind. But you go ahead and tell me. I’m listening.” He tried to make his voice reassuring, even though the thought of losing her made every muscle in his throat – his body – tighten.
“Remember you came into my cabin that first morning and I was dressing? You came to warn me about a bear?”
“Sure. I’m pretty sure I fell in love with you that second – if I wasn’t in love already. You are mighty alluring in your soft, pink skin.”
She didn’t smile. Her blue eyes were shadowed. She swallowed hard. “What if I told you I was that bear you saw swimming and running behind this cabin?”
He threw his head back and began to laugh with relief and dawning realization. “I’m an idiot. A triple-damned fool.”
“It’s not funny.”
“Joke’s on me.” He tugged her onto his lap and adjusted her over his woody. Looked like he was going to be suffering from a young man’s problem for the next while. He could deal with that.
“You think it’s funny that I’m a bear?” she squeaked.
He hugged her close and tried and failed to stop laughing. “The Bascoms too, right?”
“See, I should have put it all together when bears kept turning up on the Double B. Those poachers last year complained they were mauled by a bear. That cub playing down by the creek. At night, there’s been a bear prowling around here – around your cabin. You’d think even a fool like me would have figured it out by now.”
Soft hands held his face still. “Lance Prescott, you’re no fool. But do you already know about shifters?”
“I was in Recon, honey. About every other guy was a danged shifter. Don’t get me wrong, they earned their places, same as me. But it’s a lot easier for guys with preternaturally sharp reflexes and animal strength.” He thought of his buddies, dead and alive. Good guys all of them. Ferris, Ricardo, Yamamoto, Enright.
“Yes, it is. But we’re who we are. We’re born this way. And our babies will likely be shifters too.”
“Occasionally, a non-shifter is born in a mixed marriage,” she said primly.
He cuddled her close. “Mixed marriage!” He wiped his eyes. “We’ll love our babies, whatever they are, my darling. Tell me something, honey, you got any Enrights in the part of Washington State where you’re from?”
“The Enrights own the lumber mill in Hanover. Uncle Ed is some sort of distant cousin. His mother was a Bascom.” Just as he was afraid she was going to give him a genealogy lesson to rival any of his grandmother’s, she stopped and asked, “Why?”
“A million years ago I knew a Jack Enright. He’s the son of a gun who put that tattoo artist up to inking a bear over my heart.”
“That sounds like my cousin Jack. He’s a Marine* – or at least he was. He was in Recon. And he’s still a practical joker.”
Joy rose like a fountain in his heart and spilled into laughter. “There are no former Marines, darlin’.” He couldn’t stop laughing. The thought of Jack Enright being related to Amber filled him with a sense of rightness, of delight.
“This is true. So, seeing as you don’t mind that I’m a bear, I’ll marry you Lance Prescott.”
He sighed dramatically. “If we’re telling secrets, I better get mine off my chest.”
She looked worried, so he hurried into speech. “My first name is Lancelot.”
“That’s so romantic.” She nestled closer.
Which was proof if he had needed any that she truly loved him.
“When will you marry me?” he pressed.
“As soon as you like. But it will have to be in French Town, and you will have to talk to my Uncle Pierre.”
“Of course.” He drew a deep breath. “And we’ll have to go to Duneden so you can meet my people.”
“I’ll look forward to it.”
“I love you Amber, more than life itself.”
“And I love you too. But we better get our clothes on, because there are forty mares who want their stalls cleaned in twenty minutes.”
He kissed her. Stood. “Do I get breakfast first?”
French Town, July,
There hadn’t been another wedding like it since Troy Reynolds had married Lisa Marie Johnston.* The French Town Inn was dressed for Fourth of July just past. The Bride and Groom had kept the red white and blue decorations and added flowers to match. The big room sparkled, the band played, and the throng made merry.
To give away the bride, Pierre Benoit had ferreted out his ancient navy suit and added a chestful of medals that rivaled those on the bridegroom’s chest. The bride was wearing a long white gown that seemed to have been made for her. It was difficult to tell, because she was a tall, buxom young woman, but she might have been pregnant. Either way, she looked radiant.
The French doors of the dining room overlooking the river had been opened to the wide terrace. The fiddlers had been playing traditional tunes and the country dances had been long and vigorous. Some of the guests had gone outside when the dance floor filled up and were do-si-do-ing up and down the terrace, laughingly avoiding those people taking the air.
Amber felt a strong arm circle her waist. She smiled up at her husband. “My father is complaining that he hasn’t danced with you yet, sweetheart.”
Lance looked so strong and happy in his dress blues. Although his jacket strained across his shoulders. Apparently, heaving hay was a better workout than combat training. Who knew?
“We can’t have that,” she responded. She broke off her conversation with Erin Benoit** and took Lance’s outstretched hand.
“This is a galliard,” she whispered as the fiddler launched into a new tune. “Does your dad know the steps?” “Probably not. But he’ll pick them up,” Lance said confidently.
Robbie Jeff Prescott gave her a big grin that broke her heart. In a better world, Lance would have looked like this handsome, silver-haired man. But she pushed such melancholy thoughts down deep. They didn’t need to spoil her wedding day. She loved her husband, scars and all.
“Shall we?” Robbie Jeff asked.
“I’d like that, sir.” Amber led him demurely onto the dance floor where couples had begun the intricate country dance. “Are you familiar with our folk dances?”
“Nope. But I’ll pick up the steps. We’re great dancers in Duneden.” The dance carried them apart and back together. “Lance is a changed man,” Robbie Jeff said. “Don’t think his mom and I are not grateful.”
Amber felt her face heat. “If he’s changed, it’s his own hard work,” she replied. Which was totally true.
The next set of couples took their hands and separated them. And then Moira Prescott and her cousin Lenny** were curtseying and bowing to her and Robbie Jeff.
“Lance has done very well for himself,” Moira whispered, “He’s married into a fine family.”
Amber caught herself before she explained that the Benoits were only cousins and she was related to the less than sterling Duprés. But she caught herself. Uncle Bobby and Aunt Marlene were no more closely related to her than her more respectable cousins. Besides, she was now a Prescott. And as respectable as all get out.
“Can I have my wife back, Dad?” Lance demanded when the dance was done.
“Certainly.” Robbie Jeff kissed her cheek. “Welcome to the family,” he said for at least the twenty-fourth time.
He and Lance exchanged a man hug and then Lance swept her off into a waltz.
“Did you ask for this?” she asked.
“I did. I needed to hold my bride. How are you holding up?”
“Fine.” Since they had discovered she was pregnant, Lance had been hovering. But she didn’t mind – it made her feel loved and cared for. A warm safe feeling to go with the exciting bedroom feelings that were now a normal part of her life.
He spun her in a circle in time to the music. Over in a corner she saw his grandfather Prescott in conference with Jack Enright***, Patrick***, and Uncle Pierre. “What are those four up to?” she mused aloud.
“A little idea I had,” Lance admitted. “You were complaining that there were hardly any jobs around here. I thought maybe turning your applejack tradition into a legitimate distillery might solve that problem.”
“That’s a great idea,” she said enthusiastically.
“There’s always money in hard liquor,” Lance said. “Only, they want me to manage the plant.”
She didn’t even have to think. “No.”
“No?” He swallowed so hard his Adam’s apple bobbed like a kid’s. “We could live here, near your sister and your nieces. To say nothing of the rest of your relatives.”
Stella, Bethany and Hope were long out of hospital and growing like weeds in spring. Hope had even learned to sit up and Bethany and Stella could roll over. Aunty Amber had face time with them every evening on Skype. Being closer to them was a temptation. One Amber easily resisted.
“Still, no. You and I have made new lives, good lives, in Colorado. We’re not going to mess with that, Lance. I appreciate you coming to French Town for our wedding, but I don’t expect you to make it permanent.”
It might undo all the good the peaceful life in Colorado had accomplished. She wasn’t about to risk flashbacks.
“Are you sure?” He twirled her again.
“Absolutely sure. Not to mention that I just got a promotion and a raise and everything. And so have you. Now that I am the stud record keeper, Laura is going to pay for me to get my Masters of Library Science and computer training. You are officially Head Trainer at the Stud. Why would we want to change?”
It was a measure of how far he had come that he was willing to take on the responsibility and the title of the job he had been doing for years. Not for anything were they going to mess with his stability. Happiness was partly knowing when you had enough. They had more than enough already with good jobs, a lovely house, and a baby on the way.
“Oh, Amber, I could make a lot more money as the CEO of a distillery.”
“You’d be utterly miserable in an office. You love training horses. You love Colorado.”
“Let them find someone else to take on the distillery. There’s plenty of talent right here in these hills,” she assured him. “And with the Bascoms flying back and forth between Washington and Colorado, I will be able to hitch a ride whenever I want to see Heather and her girls.”
“I’d do it for you,” he swore.
“I know. But I’ll be happy with what we’ve got. I love your house – especially since you let me redecorate.”
Lance had dipped into his trust fund and bought all new furniture to replace the shabby stuff he had been living with since he moved into that place. Laura had renovated the kitchen and added a second bathroom.
Right there on the dance floor Lance swept her into his arms and kissed her deeply. The music drifted to a stop. The room filled with the rowdy cheers of a hundred bear shifter throats and the whistles and hoots of the younger generation.
She was breathless and she knew her face was scarlet when he lifted his mouth from hers and led her off the dance floor and out into the wonderful new life that they had made for themselves to prove the power of love.
*Bearly a Bride
This is material not previously published. ©Isadora Montrose, 2017