Today’s rough cut is from Phoenix Alight.
Bearshifter Cameron Reynolds and his fated mate, phoenix shifter Frankie D’Angelo, began as a sidebar to her brother Harrison’s story in Phoenix Aflame.
Frankie and Cam’s HEA was originally supposed to be my Christmas short story. But their romance needed to be longer than that 15k limit, so I wrote a different story. When I came back to their story, the new plot of Alight did not mesh with this old material, so I didn’t include it.
This means, tragically, that six-year-old Quincy and Becky hiding behind Poppy Danger’s chair while Cameron bares his soul never happened. That would have been comedy gold.
I also made Cameron’s injuries much greater in the published version – he loses his bear and suffers from survivor’s guilt. But his Frankie was still the cure. And their stubborn you-give-in personalities remained the same.
Enjoy both the outtake and the jigsaw. Use the comments to let me know what you think, and your times too.
OUTTAKE FROM PHOENIX ALIGHT:
The doorbell woke him. Cameron stood up automatically. He had to grab the back of the couch to find his goddamn balance. Shift on a stick. He took his time getting to the door, fighting the dizziness every step. It better damn well be someone he wanted to see. Frankie D’Angelo dressed in her leathers grinned up at him. Well, dang.
She held out a red helmet to him. “Let’s take a ride.”
He leaned against the door jamb and took it. He turned the helmet from side to side while he thought of the words. Despite his world class headache and dizziness, he was tempted. It had been a long five months and sixteen days since he had last sat behind Frankie his arms around her waist in his hands and her fragrance in his nostrils. But duty and self-preservation triumphed over lust.
“Sorry. No can do. Riding a motorcycle is one of those activities that are off-limits for the time being.”
He stepped back and invited her into the guest house. He tottered back to the sitting room and the safety of the couch, trying not to be too obvious as he used the furniture for support.
“I wasn’t suggesting that we go off-road,” she said breezily.
As he made his slow way back to the couch, Cam enjoyed the back view of her luscious body. The leathers fit like a second skin, outlining the ripest, lushest body he had ever been privileged to know. He wanted those long legs clasping his waist and his hands full of that heart-shaped rump. She reached the sitting room and turned with a challenging smile. The jut of her jaw and the sparkle in her blue eyes shorted out his brain.
“I’m not supposed to do anything that jiggles my brain.” He summoned up a smile. “By rights, I should be lying in a dark, quiet room twiddling my thumbs.” He sat down on the couch and rested his head on its mercifully high back. Thank goodness the D’Angelos were all tall and had furniture sized accordingly.
“Is that why your blinds are down, Reynolds? I thought you were depressed.”
“Depressed?” Cameron gave that some thought. “You guess you could say I’m depressed. But I think it’s just coming having to come to terms with the fact that I’m done with Special Forces.”
Frankie plopped down in the recliner facing the couch. She pushed the lever to angle the seat back and extend the footrest. Her long legs crossed at the ankles. “What do you mean?”
Her eyes narrowed. “Harrison didn’t mention it.”
He started to shake his head and thought better of it. “I’ve had one concussion too many. You know how fussy Command is about physical and mental health in Special Forces – as they damn well have to be – well I had two concussions prior to this one. This last one was one too many. Oh, I’ll be allowed to fly a desk, but I’ll never go on an active mission again.”
Frankie’s mouth fell open and closed hastily. Her eyes darted around the room. “I’m sorry,” she said. She sounded embarrassed.
“So am I. But it’s happened to better men than me. I’ll just have to suck it up, Buttercup.” He clamped his jaw before he started whining about his luck.
“Will you leave the service?”
“Couldn’t if I wanted to. I’ve just been promoted. This injury shouldn’t lead to a medical discharge, just reassignment.”
“Oh. Did they say so?”
“Central command you mean?”
“Nope. But I’ve read the regs a million times. And I’ve been to I don’t know how many farewell bashes. When the time comes, it’s not as though you don’t know in advance it’s going to happen. And it’s not as if I don’t agree that the guys serving in Special Forces need to be at the peak of their mental and physical abilities. They can’t send a guy with brain damage into the field to put the lives of other men at risk.”
“Frankie, concussions are brain damage. I’ve had brain scans out the wazoo. The good news is I’ll recover, the bad news is that there are signs of the previous events.” He put scare quotes around ‘events’.
“So what’s to stop you going for a motorbike ride, Major?”
“For a start, the fact that I’ve been given a direct order from my superior officer to keep myself quiet,” Cameron said.
“Col. Tibold. Your brother just seconded his orders.” He breathed in deeply and closed his eyes to subdue the pain.
“I want to talk to you,” Frankie said. She lowered the footrest and raised the back of her chair. She stood up. “Come on. We have to get out of this place so we can talk. You can at least come for a walk, can’t you?”
“If I wear some sunglasses and I don’t go too fast.” He didn’t rise or open his eyes.
“How do you feel?”
“You hurt.” It wasn’t a question.
“Hmm.” He didn’t think it was a good idea to start lying to his own true love, but he hardly wanted to admit to her how feeble he was. Biker Girl was unlikely to be impressed by an invalid. He settled for a half-truth. “As good as can be expected. I decided not to take my pain meds this morning, so I have a bit of a headache.”
She sighed. “In other words, you have a headache that would fell a gorilla.”
Pretty much. But he had figured the pain killers were bad for his brain recovery. The shifter thing. Shifters had an exaggerated response to all drugs. Pain relief wasn’t worth the fog that accompanied it. “I’ll just get my sunglasses.” But he didn’t stand up.
“Keep your seat,” she said in resignation. “We’ll stay in here where it’s quiet.”
“Whatever you want.” He opened his eyes when she sat beside him.
“Why did you come?” she asked.
Her question surprised him. He had thought his reasons were obvious. “I only have the one sister and just the one niece. It wouldn’t be much of a Christmas I didn’t spend it with my sister and her family. Your mother has made it plain that, seeing as Tasha and I are orphans, I’m included in all family celebrations. And besides, Harrison told me that if I broke Tasha and Becky’s heart by going somewhere else for Christmas, he’d tear my heart out and eat it for breakfast.”
Frankie snorted. “Harrison said that?”
“Not precisely,” Cam admitted. “Your brother is too civilized to be that direct. But that’s what he meant.”
“What the hell are we going to do?” Frankie said.
“Not a lot we can do, Frankie, my love.”
“Don’t call me that.”
“Not saying it doesn’t make it not true.” He shut his eyes again. Her dark hair had a golden nimbus that he didn’t think was a paranormal glow – just his battered brain seeing things.
“Before this past July, you hadn’t set eyes on me for most of four years. Are you trying to tell me you’ve been carrying a torch for the last four years, Reynolds? Because I’ll tell you plain, I won’t believe you. I know what you guys on Delta Force are like.”
Cam had to agree she had a point. Tom-catting was pretty normal in Special Forces. The men attracted to that high risk, high pressure life liked their rest and relaxation to be just as exciting. Plus they enjoyed all the perquisites of being big, muscular, ripped males dripping with testosterone.
Whenever he and his buddies went into a bar they knew any of them could go home with any of the women lined up looking for a date. And most of them did. But since he’d met Frankie, that kind of casual sex had lost whatever limited appeal it had ever had.
“I guess you won’t believe me if I tell you I’ve been keeping my fly zipped?” And not just since last July when his sister had married her brother. Wasn’t even hard. Bears were faithful. How many men had his mate spread her legs for since she turned him down? He couldn’t even work up the energy for rage. Gray grief sucked at his soul.
“Nope. I know how much you like sex.”
He tipped his head back into the cushions and held out his hands palm up. “You’re right. I do like sex. But what I like more is making love to you, my darling.”
“I’m here. I’m available.” There was laughter in her voice. “What say we have a little fun for old times sake?” Her fingers toyed with the zipper of her jacket. That brought his eyes open and sent the blood rushing from his head.
Cam bounded to his feet. Pain lanced through his head. “Nuh huh. Nothing doing. Don’t tempt me. Even if I didn’t have the utmost respect for your father and your mother, even if I was prepared to abuse their hospitality by screwing their daughter in their own home, you have to remember that I only have one sister and one niece. I’m not about to piss in my own pot.”
“We could be discreet.”
“Get real, sweetheart. Your brother, who just happens to be my superior officer, is married to my sister. My niece calls you Aunt Frankie. Your niece calls me Uncle Camera. How in blazes can we carry on any sort of white-hot affair without causing a civil war?”
She smiled tantalizingly. “They don’t have to know. Like I said, we could be discreet.”
“The second you showed up for the Fourth of July, your entire family knew I was on point for you. Your father has already flat-out asked me what my intentions are. Your brothers have each taken me aside and asked the same question, in different words. The only one who hasn’t asked is your sister. I assume that’s because she already knows your intentions. For the record, I assured your father that mine were strictly honorable. The whole family is waiting for an announcement.”
Frankie’s beautiful face went as stiff as a mask. “What do you mean?”
“Well for a start, Quincy and Becky were playing Barbies in your father’s study when he asked me what was going on between the two of us.” He chuckled at her stunned expression. “Don’t pretend you didn’t know, Frankie. Quincy and Becky haven’t exactly been subtle. About once a week they ask me if we’re going to get married. Actually, what they ask is, when we’re going to get married. They’re very keen to wear those flower girl dresses again. Don’t pretend they haven’t asked you. Because I know damned well they have.”
Frankie sat back down again. “Sure they have. I told them that eavesdropping was unmannerly and dishonorable.”
He closed his eyes again. “Good luck with that. That ship has sailed, sweetheart.”
“I also told them we weren’t getting married.”
He hoped that was a smile on his face. “How’d that go down?”
“Quincy told me Poppy gave you permission. I hope you know that doesn’t mean a thing – even if the girls think it does.”
“It doesn’t mean we can have hot monkey sex with no strings attached. Quite the opposite,” he said wearily. He still didn’t bother to open his eyes.
“So what do you propose we do?” There was a challenge in her voice.
“As much as I would like to enjoy myself with you in that big bed your mother made up for me, no-can-do, sweetheart.” He crossed his arms across his chest and shook his head decisively. The movement sent spikes of pain flaring behind his eyes. Shift. “They’d know. Even if they weren’t phoenixes, they know.”
“So what should we do?”
“Stay the hell apart. Maintain a decorous neutrality. Or announce our engagement. Don’t look at me like that, Frankie. It’s not like this has come out of the clear blue sky. You’ve had a chance to sample the goods. Remember?”
She wasn’t actually pouting. But her face was stiff and her eyes blazing. “So?”
“So, you know how compatible we are. You know that I’m in love with you. I was pretty sure you were in love with me.” He waggled a hand. “If we want to get married, that will be fine. Everyone will be overjoyed. But we can’t have any kind of casual sex and create some big old drama in the bosom of your family. Not unless I want to run off to Timbuktu and never see my sister again.”
He had to be fucking joking. There was no way that she was going to permit herself to be tied down to a mate who was as arrogant and dominant as any of her brothers or her father were. But he was looking at her so guilelessly, his eyes so hopeful that she hardly knew what to say.
“I think if we’re careful we can have some fun,” she said.
His whole face changed. His body swelled. He looked bigger. Meaner. His gold-blond beard jutted. And underneath those curls a muscle jumped in his set jaw. The lapels of his old plaid bathroom fell apart as if the sash could no longer contain his burly body.
“There’s nothing to prevent us from being discreet,” she coaxed.
He leaned forward, fierce eyes wide, sensual lips tight. “Frankie D’Angelo, let me just explain the facts of life to you. There is nothing in the wide world I would like better than to lay you down, spread the best pair of thighs in America, and feast on your honey pot. It’s been four years since I had that nectar on my tongue. Four long starved years. But I will never again be the plaything of fate – or of Frankie D’Angelo. Understood?”
She could feel her anger rising. “You always have to be in charge,” she accused.
Judging by his grin, she must have said something really hilarious. The rigid muscles in his chest and arms relaxed. He leaned his head back against the cushions and closed his eyes once more. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. And then he spoke. “You cannot be seriously suggesting that you’re afraid of being dominated by me? Can you, Biker Girl?”
“Don’t call me that.”
“You used to like it,” he reminded her.
“You’re just like my brothers. You always have to be in charge. You always have to be right. If you weren’t so goddamned overbearing, maybe I could take a risk. But I’m not going to wind up a doormat for any man.”
“Overbearing.” His Georgia drawl had never been thicker or more syrupy. “Is that what you called it when you had me spread-eagled on the bed, lashed to your bed frame, tormenting me? Overbearing.” He savored the word.
She could feel the blood in her face. She remembered the incident all too well. Taunting that naked, hairy, excruciatingly aroused and writhing Adonis. “You could’ve broken free anytime you wanted to,” she said. “You weren’t exactly docile and submissive.”
“Nah,” he said. “I’m not submissive. Never pretended to be. And neither are you. But if you remember right, you’ll admit I never asked to shackle you. I’m not the dominatrix in this relationship.”
This is material not previously published. ©Isadora Montrose, 2016, 2019
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