Cougar’s Mate: Instinct told her to run…
Shannon Rafferty learns that hanging out with the bad boys could be a dangerous business, but hooking up with a cop is even worse. Now she’s on the run, trying to avoid being murdered by his cougar shifter brothers and uncle. If that isn’t bad enough, a deputy sheriff hunts her down while she’s running as a cougar and trying to survive in the Colorado wilderness. He vows to protect her no matter what she’s done. With three dead boyfriends to her name, she’s sure she will be the death of Chase Buchanan before either of them can prevent it. No matter how much she knows she has to run again, he soon holds her heart hostage. But will that be enough to keep them both alive?
Chase Buchanan—as wilderness cabin resort owner, former US Army Special Forces, and part time deputy of the small town of Yuma, Colorado that boasts a love of cougars—is tasked to track down a cougar reported to be hunting human prey. Chase soon learns she’s a shifter, not a full-time cougar, and she’s on the run. When he takes her in, he vows to protect her. After losing his wife and baby to the human kind of predator years earlier, he’s not letting Shannon’s hunters kill her, too. But how is he going to hold onto the wild-cat woman, who is unpredictable at every turn, without losing his heart to her, and then losing her as well?
The sky grew darker as Shannon stared out the entrance of the cave, watching for any sign of danger. She hadn’t seen any hikers or hunters. Yes, she’d noticed the tents at the campsite near the lake. She’d even considered that after the men retired to their tents and their sleeping bags tonight, she could go there and catch a fish in the lake. The campers wouldn’t be able to see her at night. Then she’d have it made. But once she’d rescued the boy, she nixed that idea. If they somehow did catch sight of her, they would know she was a dangerous predator, looking for a new source of meat. Maybe even them.
It didn’t matter. She couldn’t have let the boy drown. Several times she’d woken during the day, thinking she’d heard a child screaming. Forget his having nightmares about last night. She was having them!
The moonlight softly illuminated the golden aspen, the leaves fluttering in the chilly breeze. She closed her eyes briefly.
She had enough nightmares to deal with without piling up any more on top of those. She had intended to stay here in the area because she hadn’t located any sign of wolves or black bears. If she ran into a black bear or wolf pack? Both predators would push a cougar out of their territory or kill him.
She hadn’t smelled either in the vicinity. Only cougars. And a lot of them. Cougars didn’t run in packs. Which was why a cougar would be at risk when encountering a wolf pack. A lone wolf was no match for a cougar’s claws and teeth. But with a lot of cougars congregating together? It had to mean they were shifters. And they kept the other big predators away. So she thought she had half a chance at surviving here. Bears and wolves would find some other place to hunt.
She’d never smelled so many cougars in one area before though and it did worry her that they’d locate her and then what? Interrogate her. Why would a female shifter run in the wilderness by herself with no camping equipment anywhere?
Even if they didn’t learn who she was, she couldn’t go to any of them and ask for help. Not in her cougar form. Without clothes, she couldn’t just walk into town naked, either. Besides, she was a wanted woman, and she was certain no one would believe her word over the rest of her boyfriend’s family. Not when Hennessey Kelly was a cop, which meant she was on her own.
The crimson sky turned to blackness and all that was left was the moon and a sprinkling of stars. Shannon rose, listened, her ears perked, trying to hear anything other than the sound of the breeze rustling the leaves down below. She heard no sign of humans and leapt down to the next ledge. Thankfully, her kind could leap eighteen feet in one bound, up or down. And horizontally? As much as forty to forty-five feet. At a sprint, she could run full out for short distances at forty to fifty miles per hour, which was what she had planned—to race back to the lake, despite discounting the idea earlier, and then take however long it took to catch her meal.
She’d made it to the second rock ledge when she saw something move in her peripheral vision. A man standing on a lower ledge off to her right, his hands reaching for his rifle, slung over his shoulder. How could he see her at dusk?
He moved quickly as if he was a military man and not just a hunter. Before she could leap at him, he fired a shot, the sound ringing in her ears, echoing across the rocks. The last thought she had as she collapsed on the rock ledge above him was that she had lived a month longer than she thought she would have ever managed.
As soon as the she-cat landed on the stone, asleep, hopefully, Chase struggled to reach the ledge she was lying on. If he’d been in his cougar form, no problem. But to reach her as a human, he could have used climbing gear.
He hated having to shoot her as much as it felt as if he were shooting one of his own people. But he wasn’t. He had just knocked out a wild cat protecting herself that might have killed him, based on survival instinct alone.
He grasped the top of the ledge, got a couple of toe holds with his boots, and pulled himself halfway up the rock face when he saw a naked woman lying on the granite, her back to him, and his tranquilizer dart in her shoulder. Shocking him to the core, he gaped at her. Holy shit.
Silky, dark brown, nearly black hair draped around her neck, the rest of her tan skin covered in chill bumps from the cold. Before he could climb on top of the ledge to reach her, and while he was still processing that the cougar was a shifter, and not a full she-cat, his cell phone rang.
His nerves, normally made of steel, shattered into a million fragments. He climbed up onto the ledge and hurried to pull the dart out of the woman’s shoulder, then jerked off his parka. After rushing to lay it on the ledge and then lifting her onto it, he pulled her arms into the sleeves and then buttoned it up to her throat. The parka only came to high thigh, but he couldn’t do anything about that for now. He glanced up at the cave above them, assuming she must have been staying there.
His breath coming out in a misty fog and his heart pounding hard, he made the rest of the arduous climb to reach the cave to grab her clothes and ID. He stalked inside, using his cell phone to provide some extra light as pitch black as it was in there, and found—nothing. Not a backpack, not a stitch of clothes. Certainly no ID. And she wasn’t anyone he remembered ever having seen before.
He hadn’t thought he could be shocked any further.
“God, what a nightmare.” He had to get the nearly naked, sleeping woman down the cliffs somehow. And he had to keep her warm until then.
He called Dan to give him an update. “Dan.”
“Yeah, I tried calling you to let you know the cougar headed in this direction at some point, but I haven’t found any sign of him. Have you discovered anything your way?”
“Yeah. I sure as hell did. I’m in one hell of a mess. I need your help… pronto.”
“Giving new meaning to the term alpha male where fantasy is reality.”
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