Cherished by the Cougar
A Shifters in Love Fun & Flirty Romance
(Mystic Bay Book 2)
I am excited to show you the fabulous cover for my next Mystic Bay romance. Cherished by the Cougar is now in pre-orders for 99¢. Reserve your copy today!
I haven’t had a cat hero before and who knew they were such fun to write! Ryan and Claudia get off to a rocky start, being forced into marriage. But how can any sorceress resist an Alpha Male who bonds instantly with her wild cub son?
I am dying to know what favorite cat characteristics you’d like to see in cougar shifters!
At first, she thought it was that lying tom cat Dominic Rutherford standing on her doorstep. She was slamming the door in his arrogant face when the man spoke. His voice was different. Deeper. Darker. It set every nerve in her body to vibrate. Just in case, she raised her psychic shield.
“Are you Claudia Peterson?” He moved forward as he spoke. He was using a cane and she took an automatic step backward to give him space.
His tall broad-shouldered frame was the same as Dominic’s. He had the same crisp, golden blond hair and the same patrician features. But he was considerably thicker through the chest and shoulders as though he worked out harder. Despite his limp, he carried himself like a soldier.
“Yes, I’m Claudia Peterson.” Why was she whispering?
He didn’t seem to notice. His gold eyes inspected her shabby cottage with real interest. She remembered that Aunt Robin had sold it to one of the Rutherfords. Presumably this was her new landlord. He held out a huge hand and she slipped hers into it.
Despite her shield, she felt a frisson pass between them as they shook.
“I’m Ryan Rutherford. We need to talk.” He handed her an envelope. Peeled off his jacket and hung it on her hook without asking.
“I have sixty days from serving of notice to quit,” she said without opening it.
She glanced down. The buff-colored envelope was over-sized and very official looking. MARRIAGE CERTIFICATE was typed across it. Absolutely not an eviction notice. “What the heck is this?”
“Open it.” His voice was friendly, but it was an order.
It was easier to do as he asked than start a fight. The envelope wasn’t even sealed. The flap was only folded over. She took out the large sheet of paper inside and opened it out. “What on earth?”
“I was ruder,” he said conversationally. “May I sit down? We need to talk.”
Her throat felt suddenly tight. She nodded. He sat in the armchair, using his good leg to balance. She perched on the edge of the couch. “Where did you get this?” she asked.
“My grandfather handed it to me a few days ago. He received it from Robin Fairchild.”
She believed him. The psychic prints on the paper were Robin’s all right. “Is it legal?” she asked.
“It’s a forgery,” he said mildly. “You and I have never met. Remember?”
Well, of course she knew she wasn’t married to Ryan Rutherford. She wasn’t married to anyone. She sneaked another look at the marriage certificate. Ryan James Rutherford.
“If Aunt Robin created this, you’d never be able to prove it was a fake,” she told him gloomily. Not unless Claudia was to unbind the spell. But before she did that, she had better think long and hard. Unbinding was always unpredictable.
She eyed him over the frail barrier of the certificate. The shield protecting her also prevented her intuition from getting a true grasp of his character. Couldn’t be helped. But if ever she needed to be able to read another person’s intentions, now was the time.
Ryan Rutherford had to be a close relative of Dominic’s. And just as rich. He was wearing the same type of casual, hand-tailored clothes that looked simple, yet were incredibly expensive. His shirt lay across his shoulders without a wrinkle. But his pants looked a little snug around his right knee. So his injury was recent.
“Apparently the Council is getting set to kick you off the island. You and your cub.” Ryan’s voice was calm, but there was that easy authority again. This man was used to giving orders.
“My son,” she emphasized the word. Cub, indeed! “And I have come to the notice of the Council, but it hasn’t actually come to a vote,” she pointed out.
“No? That’s probably for the best. Anyway, I gather the mayor and Deputy Mayor Sullivan intend to use their copy of that certificate to prevent you from being voted off.”
That was news to her. She tried to get a feel for this Rutherford. He didn’t look like the sort of guy who allowed himself to be married off to a stranger. He looked like the I’m-in-charge Alpha Male type. The my-way-or-the-highway type. Like Dominic. There was a chilling thought.
“You’re taking this pretty lightly.” Whereas she felt as if her head might burst with the effort of staying calm.
“I threw my hissy fit back in Seattle.”
She smiled, as he no doubt intended her to smile. The concept of this big dominant male throwing a tantrum was comical. He was looking around with that interested expression again.
“It’s a rental,” she found herself explaining. “Came furnished.”
His smile transformed his rather grim features. He really was as handsome as his kinsman. “I was looking for the cu-kid.”
“Jimmy’s playing in the backyard. I’m not sure I want him to meet you.”
He raised both golden brows, leaned back in his chair and thrust his long lean legs into the room, claiming the space as his own. “Looks to me as though Sully and Robin have us both over a barrel. It’s not just that piece of paper. Hell, last I heard, divorce was still a thing in Oregon, so it’s not like they can force us to stay married.”
“Go on. What’s the stick they’re using on you?”
“If young James Mitchell doesn’t get a Rutherford daddy pronto, the Council will void our title to all the Rutherford property on this island.”
She felt her eyes grow round. “Can they do that?”
“But didn’t your people buy it after the Haverstocks were evicted?”
He snorted. “Evicted.” He rolled the word carefully in his mouth and spat it out. “That would be sorcerer talk for killed, right?”
“Were they killed?”
“You betcha. Otherwise you wouldn’t be here. And, yes, after we hunters cleaned up that nest of vicious psychopaths, we still had to buy our land from the Town Council – at full market value. And, yes, to this day we hold the land at their sole discretion.”
“Oh. So what happens if I scupper the deal?”
He looked blank. Not a sailor then.
“Sink this scheme,” she clarified.
“I know what scupper means. But it doesn’t arise. You and I are married. For better or worse, Mrs. Rutherford. Until death do us part.”
“Are you threatening me?”
“If necessary. I figured I’d save the threats for when I ran out of better ideas. I’m here to make all your dreams come true, Claudia. Tell me what you want most in the world and I’ll see what I can do.”
He smiled his charmer’s smile again. Just a quick flash, as if he were genuinely amused. “I’ll admit that I had more material bribes in mind.”
“Aren’t we getting a little ahead of ourselves?” she countered. “I want to know why your name is on this certificate.”
He shrugged. An easy glide of big muscles under his crisp sports shirt. He took a smaller envelope out of his breast pocket and handed it to her. “I think so it matches this one.”
Her hands shook as she opened the envelope imprinted with Oregon Center for Health Statistics. It was Jimmy’s birth certificate. But where she had deliberately left his father’s name blank, Ryan James Rutherford had been filled in. Her son last name was now registered as Rutherford instead of Peterson. Robin had been thorough.
She rose and went to the old writing desk and rummaged through the file box where she kept her papers. Jimmy’s file was thin. Just his immunization records and his birth certificate. She pulled them both out. His birth certificate matched the copy Ryan had given her. Aunt Robin had taken care of the details.
“But why you?” she asked peeking out the window into the yard. Jimmy was on all fours, playing some complex game among the raspberry canes. She returned to the couch. “That still doesn’t explain why they picked you.”
“Your boy’s a Rutherford.” He opened his arms wide, flaunting that broad chest at her. Despite her shield her stomach clenched tight and a throbbing began deep inside her. “I’m the last bachelor in my cohort. Or I was. I seem to have been married for four years.” His tone was dryly amused. “That could be why they settled on me, or it could be a bunch of other stuff.”
“Like you naming your boy James.”
“My grandfather Golightly is named James. My mother’s father.”
“I see. And then there’s the date of Jimmy’s birth. Nine months after Adam’s wedding. I understand you were playing chambermaid at the Inn that weekend.”
Claudia nodded. “Aunt Robin needed the extra help with so many guests staying there for the wedding. I don’t remember you.”
“I stayed with my parents at their cottage. But I was at the inn for the rehearsal dinner and the wedding. And to clinch matters, the boy is a cougar and he has the Rutherford Y chromosome.”
She was on her feet fist clenched, stuttering with wrath and anxiety. “A-a-and y-y-you kn-kn-know this h-h-how?”
He was standing before her and easing her back onto the couch. “Sit down before you fall down.” She could feel him through her shield as a pleasant humming through her whole body. “That’s better.” He went back to the armchair limping worse without his cane.
“No one had permission to take Jimmy’s DNA.”
“You’re holding a forged marriage certificate, and you’re up in arms about a little spit or snot?” He shook his head. Not a golden hair budged. It wouldn’t dare. “Anyway, in case you’re interested, the lab compared my grandfather’s DNA with Jimmy’s. He’s one of us.”
“But not yours,” she shot back.
“Absolutely, he’s mine. You have the paper to prove it.” His voice was still amused.
But there was nothing funny about this situation. “Don’t you want to know who the father really is?”
Big white teeth flashed. “Which of my brothers or cousins do you want me to have to kill?”
“Kill?” she gasped.
“Kill.” His voice was hard and flat. “You are my wife. If I knew for a fact which dumbass son of a tom cat seduced you I’d have to deal with him, wouldn’t I?”
He looked even more dangerous. But not to her. Her pulse didn’t even rise, although though his body swelled and his face grew hard.
“Tell me he didn’t force himself on you,” he said through a jaw clenched so tight those teeth were going to ache later.
“It wasn’t rape,” she confirmed. “He just neglected to mention that he already had a wife.” Certainly Dominic had deliberately led her to believe she was his fated mate. For a while she had been convinced he was hers.
Ryan pulled air into his chest. Breathed out. Visibly got himself under control. “I apologize on his behalf,” he ground out. “The Rutherfords owe you. I’m here to pay the debt.”
“With marriage? It really wasn’t your fault.” And she wasn’t sure she was ready to marry a stranger. Her thoughts spun madly. Could she cope with Jimmy off-island? Could she marry a stranger? Only Ryan Rutherford didn’t feel like a stranger. Had Robin put a love spell on her? Well of course she had. Robin was thorough.
Ryan broke into her reverie. “Has he at least been meeting his financial obligations?” He glanced around at the shabby room.
She waved a hand in negation. “I didn’t tell him about Jimmy. When I discovered he already had—” she paused, “A family, I told him to get lost.”
Ryan shook his head. Disgust stiffening that wide square jaw. “Did you have that bubble thing going around your aura when you kissed him off?” he asked curiously. “Because a cat should have been able to detect that you were pregnant.”
“You can sense my shield?” No one had ever been able to do that. No one.
“Well, sure. It’s like your aura is frozen solid. But not flat-lined. I’ve never seen anything like it. Makes it hard to get a reading on you.” He sniffed. “I can’t even tell if you’re scared or just worried.” He sounded indignant.
“You could tell all that from my aura?”
“And your scent. I’m a hunter, Claudia. My cougar senses pick up on emotions, intentions, health, and yes stuff like ovulation and pregnancy.”
“Oh.” She resolved to keep her shield up.
“Doesn’t it use a lot of energy?” he inquired.
Now that he mentioned it, it did. She had to use a lot more psychic power to keep her shield intact against Ryan’s probing than she had to deflect Kevin’s magic. He was probably off the charts powerful. Maybe the Council was right to be worried about their child. Except, he wasn’t really the father. Focus, Claudia.
“Yes,” she answered his question. “But you’re a stranger.”
“Your husband. I mean you no harm, Claudia. Like I said, we Rutherfords owe you and I’m here to grant you your deepest wish. World peace excluded.”
“Back up. Are you telling me that Robin picked you because you’re available, although she is aware some other cougar is Jimmy’s sperm donor?”
He winced. “I gathered she and Sully think I’m the son of a cat who knocked you up. For all the reasons I gave before. But mostly because of this.” He slapped his right thigh.
“I was bitten by a hooded cobra shifter six weeks ago. Damned bite won’t heal. I think your supporters believe I’m cursed.”
It was her turn to shake her head. Unlike his sleek hair, her curls flopped around. “I’m a talent detector. I couldn’t curse you if I tried.”
“What about your parents?”
“I guess,” she said doubtfully. “They do have a lot of talent. Dad’s a weather worker. You experienced any floods or lightning strikes?”
He grinned. “Nope. But your mom’s a healer, isn’t she? She could hex a bite.”
“She would never!”
He held up a big hand. His big left hand. A wide gold band flashed on his ring finger. “She wouldn’t need to. Shifter venom doesn’t need any kind of boost from a witch.”
“My. Mother. Is. Not. A. Witch.”
“Sorry. Is it all right to call her a sorceress?”
“That’s what she is. Witch, warlock, wizard, are not polite terms. I’d think someone who’s been coming to West Haven all his life would know better.”
“I apologize. I guess I figured it was like you guys calling us hunters, as if it could ever be an insult. We are hunters. Beasts of prey. Big cats. And proud of it, I might add. We use the word without shame.”
“Well it’s not the same. To call a sorcerer or sorceress one of the W words is to suggest that they stir cauldrons and chant incantations to the moon. The only thing worse is to call one of us a magician. Magicians are non-sensitives who perform tricks.”
“Got it. I apologize for insulting your mother. But even if she wouldn’t curse me, here I am with a bum leg. And she could have made sure I didn’t heal. Right?”
“Potentially. But she didn’t.”
“Well, of course not. I’m not the father. Why would you sic her onto me? But just for the record, did they hex the guy who did knock you up?”
“Of course not! We don’t do stuff like that. It’s – it’s uncivilized.” Besides she had identified Jimmy’s father to no one.
“Yeah.” He smiled that dangerous smile again. “See, that’s the thing about us cougars, we’re fundamentally uncivilized.”
This is material not previously published. ©Isadora Montrose, 2018