Luna Flowers hated being late. For any reason. Lateness on her part meant a lack of respect for other people’s time. Six years of being a blogger had taught her that time waited for no one. In the early days of her career, she’d missed more than one interview by being late.
What made it worse was that this wasn’t just an interview she was late for, it was a wedding.
The stacked heels she wore wobbled dangerously on the rocky parking lot as Luna raced towards the Lusty Leopard. She snorted back a giggle. Only a shifter wedding would happen at a dive bar surrounded by the majesty of the mountains of western North Carolina.
The door was heavy. A throwback relic to when craftsmen made doors out of solid oak or pine. With a final grunt, she pulled it open before stepping into the cool, dim interior.
She sighed with relief when she realized the wedding hadn’t started yet.
“I’m sorry, ma’am, but we’re having a private party.”
Luna’s jaw dropped. Holy mother of huge! He was literally the biggest man she had ever seen. At just a fraction over five feet five inches, Luna was used to shifters towering over her. Especially the bear ones, although the breadth of rhino shifters still made her gasp. This one was tall enough to be a rhinoceros, but Luna hadn’t heard of them in western North Carolina. The man in the suit (who knew suits came in that size?) had to be close to seven feet tall.
“Oh, I know. I was invited,” she replied, hoping to brazen the situation out. She took a step back to give her a little more personal space. Her heart rate kicked up a notch as she slowly took in the man who stood before her.
“Luna! I’m so glad you’re here!” Melody, the bride, came out of the ladies’ room and rushed her. “It’s okay, Jason. She’s a guest.”
Jason exchanged a look with Melody before nodding. He stepped back and allowed Luna the rest of the way into the bar.
Luna hurried past the behemoth of a man and if her shoulder just happened to graze his torso, well, who was she to complain?
Trying to be discrete, Luna mingled with the fellow guests and occasionally snapped a photo. Her followers would love seeing all the handsome shifters filling the bar.
“You’re the blogger, right?” Jason asked, frowning at her when she took another picture.
Feeling that surge of emotion when he spoke to her, Luna nodded mutely. Nervously, she bit her lip and waited for him to continue.
“Don’t you think you should get permission before you take pictures?”
The bands of tension tightened around her chest. “I thought you all knew?”
“Knew what?” He tilted his head as he looked at her.
“I’m here to blog about the wedding. My followers are going to want pictures. Stories. The whole thing.” Luna smiled a little cheekily and held her phone up to take a picture of him. “See?”
Jason walked away with a chuff of displeasure. Luna stared after him for a moment before shaking it off. She was there to do a job, after all. But, keeping Jason’s words in mind, she asked before taking any more shots.
She accepted a glass of wine from a waitress and took a long calming sip. Luna took a deep breath, feeling the sweet, fruity alcohol travel through her system. She was almost finished with her glass when a subtle chime sounded alerting the guests it was time to take their seats.
The dance floor of the Leopard was arranged with several rows of seats. Downing the last of her wine in a long swallow, Luna got into line to be shown to her seat. There were two ushers waiting to escort guests down. One of which was Jason.
“Groom or bride?” Jason asked when she made it to the front of the row.
“Excuse me?” Luna blushed, realizing her brain had somehow short-circuited somewhere between synapses. Instead of impressing the sexy shifter with her heels and just a touch of cleavage, Luna was pretty sure he thought she was an idiot.
“I’m helping to seat the guests,” Jason explained, dark eyes glittering with some emotion Luna very much wanted to explore. “Are you a friend of the bride or the groom?” He waved a mammoth hand towards the friends and family already assembled for the wedding.
“Bride, I guess. She’s the one who invited me.”
Jason blinked slowly, and Luna third guessed his animal. Could he be a cat? But dang, she’d never seen any of the cat species get this big. It was considered rude to ask, at least among the shifters she’d met in Maine, but still. She wanted to know.
He offered the crook of his arm for her and Luna accepted it cautiously. Touching him sent a shiver of reaction through her body. Her breath caught when the heat of his forearm registered through the fine wool of his sleeve. Luna swallowed, desperately trying to get control of her hormones. Maybe downing a glass of wine wasn’t one of her better ideas.
And yet, Jason with the intriguing dusting of facial hair and dark buzzed hair, made Luna shiver with desire.
“Is this seat okay,” Luna asked, pointing to a spot next to another single woman. Maybe she could get some more local flavor to add to her blog.
“Of course. As you wish.” Jason said, guiding her into one of half a dozen of seats on the left side of the aisle.
“Thank you,” Luna replied, surprised to hear the husky, aroused rasp in her own voice. She licked her lips and watched with desperate, hungry eyes as Jason walked away.
And a fine rear view to boot, she thought with what she hoped was a well-concealed leer.
“What did that mean?”
Luna looked up from studying Jason’s bottom to smile at the woman sitting next to her. “Excuse me? Hi, I’m Luna.”
“From the blog, right? I’m Flo Holiday. I’m a waitress at the diner in town and all-around busybody.”
“Yes, I am the blogger, and busybodies are my favorite type of people. I guess everyone knew I was on my way.” Luna frowned. “What did you mean you didn’t know why he said that?”
“That whole as you wish thing.” Flo waved her hand at the twenty or so guests lined up in the Leopard’s back room. “We aren’t much on formality here, sugar. But that sounded like a line from a movie.”
Luna smiled in confusion. Maybe she’d had more to drink than she’d thought.
“He’s a good boy,” Flo said with a firm nod of her chin.
“I wouldn’t exactly call him a boy,” Luna commented dryly.
“Oh sugar, when you’re as old as I am, they all start looking like boys.”
Luna smiled at Flo. “You’re hardly old,” she whispered.
Luna smoothed the floral skirt of her dress with damp hands. Guilt slammed into her like a wall. She felt like an imposter as the shifters of Maxwell Mountain welcomed her with open arms. Or, mostly open arms. A few of them watched her with guarded, suspicious eyes.
Creole James, the manager of the Lusty Leopard, looked at her with more than a little disdain. As a woman and a shifter blogger, she was used to skeptical glances from male shifters. Some thought she was just a shifter chaser—a woman only interested in being with shifters for the sex or notoriety. But Luna hadn’t gotten to where she was by being afraid of dirty looks or by sleeping with her subjects.
At twenty-five, she ran one of the most popular shifter blogs in the country. Her social media reach was in the millions, and she’d turned down more mainstream media interviews than she’d accepted. Shifter Sightings had begun as a quest for information but had quickly morphed into a passion project. Finally, she was on the brink of discovering the information she desperately needed, but the subterfuge bothered her.
Rafe, the groom, took his spot next to the pastor. Quinn Maxwell, the de facto leader of the Maxwell Mountain shifter group, stood next to him.
The music shifted before sliding into Mendelssohn’s Wedding March.
“Isn’t she beautiful,” Flo whispered, dabbing at her eyes with the corner of a handkerchief.
Luna shifted to look behind her. Leading the way was Lacey St. Claire. Lacey’s long cascades of blonde hair were pulled back in a simple chignon, and her eyes never left her mate, Quinn.
Half a beat behind Lacey was Melody Strauss. The petite girl with light honey-colored hair stood tall and proud, her ivory dress making her skin glow with health.
Envy pulsed within Luna. This was exactly what she wanted, to find a man she loved who loved her in return. She’d written off the idea of love years ago, though. As her mother often told her, the women in their line had broken man-picker-outers. Until that was fixed, they were doomed to repeat the mistakes of earlier generations.
The vows were beautiful and more than once, Luna teared up to hear the beautiful couple declare their love for each other.
Flo smiled over at her as the pastor declared them husband and wife. “I swear, every time I attend one, I think it will be the last. They’re so beautiful they make me cry.”
Luna walked beside the chatty waitress with the strong southern accent. “Me, too,” she admitted.
“Come sit at my table,” Flo said, wiping her eyes one last time. They left the back room and entered the small dining area. Four tables were set up for the small reception. “I want to hear all the good stuff you know about the shifters around the country.”
Luna accepted the invitation but only smiled mysteriously. “If you want to know about the good stuff, you need to read my blog.”
Flo laughed as they took their seats. “Well, sugar, information trade might be the name of the game.”
Luna grinned at her. “Challenge accepted.
Jason Fox was thirteen the first time he realized the world was too small for him. When he hit his full adult height of 6’7” at nineteen with broad shoulders and tree trunks for legs, he made the decision to join the Shifter Special Forces.
The choice of accepting bear DNA wasn’t really a decision at all. He was a big hairy dude who liked to eat. So were bears. It was a match made in heaven.
Jason had no regrets. He loved being a Shifter. Enjoyed the camaraderie of the other Shifters he’d met. He’d been a damn good soldier and if he took a little more pleasure when it came to being an enforcer, well. He was okay with that.
What Jason hated, however, was how he never seemed to get used to things that were fragile. From cell phones to antique furniture, it all made him uncomfortable. He knew he was a bear in a china store and he hated it.
He didn’t date much. Oh, he’d sown some oats when he’d been younger. He’d been stationed in Germany in his twenties and explored the more relaxed side of European culture.
On returning to the States, he’d settled down in Silver Fells, North Carolina. He loved the small-town feel his fellow shifters gave him. He wasn’t the same randy boy he’d once been, though. If he met someone, he wanted a forever kind of girl.
So, when the cute little blogger with the big grey eyes and platinum-blonde hair appeared, Jason knew he was in trouble. Delicate with just the right amount of curves, she was everything he wanted and nothing he could claim.
“Look at that,” Flo called to him. “Looks like you’re sitting here with Luna and me.”
Jason felt his eyes go wide as he took the last seat left open to him. Right next to Luna. He nodded towards her, not surprised when she dropped her eyes down to her plate. She wiped at her cheeks, and he was pretty sure she was crying.
“You okay?” he whispered as the toasts began.
She nodded, more than a little sad. “It’s just so beautiful. I guess I’m a little envious of how much they love each other, you know?” Luna lifted one shoulder in a half-shrug.
Jason looked from Luna to the newly married couple. Despite sitting in a room full of friends and family, the couple’s connection sizzled. Long, intense glances promised a heated wedding night.
“It’s not always easy to be a shifter. We don’t exactly fit into civilization. It makes me glad they found each other.”
Luna smiled at him, a tentative bubble of awareness growing between them. “I am, too,” she said.
Jason’s heart ached. He wanted her to smile like that at him for the rest of his life. He lifted his wine glass in a small toast gesture.
Luna lifted hers, and they clinked lightly. But when Jason pulled his back, the delicate stem snapped in half.
“Oh.” Luna’s mouth formed a perfect O in surprise as they both looked at the glass hit the table.
Jason felt shame work its way up his spine. “I’m not good with delicate things,” he said red-faced.
Her grey eyes took in the relative size of the size of his hands—paws really—compared to the wine glass. Calmly and deliberately, she helped him clean up the mess.
“You don’t have to.”
Luna placed her hand on the back of his wrist. Her delicate fingers seemed out of place on an arm running thick with muscle and sinew. “I want to help.”
“Sorry,” Jason said again. Why was he such a klutz?
“Accidents happen,” she whispered.
Jason found that he liked her hand on his. Not holding it. Not restraining. The hesitant touch of attraction sent a deep-seated warmth through his skin and down into his bear’s soul.
“Let’s see if we can get this cleaned up before anyone notices.” She wrinkled her nose playfully at him, and her eyes were full of mischief as though cleaning up this mess was a little adventure just the two of them were on.
Jason wanted that more than he could express in words. With all the weddings going on in town, he felt his aloneness with exquisite pain. All he craved was a separate dimension where the two of them existed, and Jason felt like a normal man.
“I think we got it all.”
Luna opened her mouth to respond but stiffened with a small sound of distress.
“Are you okay?” An overwhelming desire to alleviate and eliminate anything that upset Luna washed over him. He scanned the area, looking for clues but it was only his boss, Cree.
Luna didn’t say a word. Jason’s fingers touched her pulse point just to make sure she was still breathing. She was stiff beneath his touch her breath shallow and reedy.
Wide grey eyes were now frozen with panic. Her pupils were dilated, and she trembled. “Are you afraid of me?”
Luna shook her head. She glanced behind her sheer terror in every line of her body. Unwittingly, Jason lifted his hand and stroked her cheek. He watched as she inhaled his scent, seemingly drawing comfort from him.
Jason frowned, doubt creeping up within him. Was Luna human? Or shifter?
Luna opened her eyes, and their gazes met. Jason felt his mouth grow dry as he looked deep into the pale blue and swirling grey of her eyes. Gravity pulled at them, and for a moment Jason could almost taste the sweetness of her lips.
He felt more than saw Cree pause by the band. Every hackle, every instinct, every desire warned Jason to keep Cree away from Luna. It was a crazy impulse. Cree was well and truly mated and posed no visible threat to Luna.
And yet, Jason had learned to respect his intuition.