Rebecca could still hear the hunters with guns behind her. Assholes. They’d come out here to take potshots at rabbits, but decided that the Kodiak bear they’d spotted would make a much better trophy.
Rebecca—the Kodiak in question—sprinted across a stretch of broken pavement that had once been a runway and back into the tall grasses and weeds. In the summer, this field would be lush with sunflowers. Now, in October, dry grasses crackled under her paws in the darkness.
More changes had occurred since this summer—Austin’s old airport was plowed up more every day to build condos and office complexes, which sprang up like fungi. Rebecca skirted a huge pile of upturned earth and chunks of asphalt, and kept running.
Even with the encroachment, these wide-open, flat fields were the best place in town for a Shifter bear to run, especially at night. Rebecca came out here several times a week to run off her frustrations, her hormones, or whatever, and just to be alone under the sky. On clear nights, the stars stretched to infinity, a blush of white against deep black.
She could pretend she was in Alaska again, where she might go for days without seeing a human, or even another bear, wild or otherwise. It had taken her forever to get used to living not only in a city but crammed into Shiftertown with other Shifters. Where she’d once existed in complete solitude, she now shared a house with another Kodiak of her clan, his human mate, and four assorted cubs, three of them fosters.
Rebecca had come to love them all, but sometimes, she needed to escape out here to run in the silence and the stillness.
“Got ’im!” one of the men behind her yelled.
So much for stillness. The men chasing her weren’t real hunters—just a bunch of stupid guys with too much firepower and too few brains.
They had no idea Rebecca was a she, not a he, and a Shifter, not a wild bear. They didn’t care. They were going to shoot her and drag her home, no matter what.
Rebecca’s advantage was that she knew this place like the back of her paw. She ran and dodged, finding the sudden valleys in what seemed a level, smooth plain. She felt grim satisfaction when one of the hunters yelled, “Damn, where’d he go?”
The thought What is a Kodiak bear doing running around the old airport? apparently never crossed their minds. These were the kind of guys who saw something moving and tried to shoot it. Their mothers must be so proud.
Rebecca ran through a drainage ditch, dry from lack of rain, and angled back toward Shiftertown, which lay a little north of the airport, in an older area bounded by Airport Boulevard. The bungalows there were similar to others in hidden neighborhoods around it, historic places developers hadn’t gone after yet.
Once Rebecca made it closer to Shiftertown, the hunters would have to give up. She’d hit busier roads, plus the Shifter trackers who patrolled the perimeter would make sure Rebecca got safely home.
Of course, Rebecca had to make it inside the perimeter first. She had about a half mile to go, and there were five hunters out here with her.
She dashed up out of the ditch, ready to sprint the last stretch back to Shiftertown . . . and almost landed on top of one of the hunters.
He yelled, “Shhhh-iii-t!” and rolled backwards, desperately clutching his gun. Rebecca didn’t give him a chance to shake off his terror. She pounced.
A couple thousand pounds of Kodiak coming down on him had to be a fearsome sight. The man scrambled out of the way and to his feet, screaming for his friends. Rebecca reached him in another stride and knocked his shotgun from his hands with her massive front paw. She scooped up the gun and rose on her hind legs, a Kodiak at its mightiest.
Her bear paws could manipulate things pretty well, and in a few seconds, she had the rifle uncocked and broken in half. The man she’d taken it from gibbered for a second, then turned and ran.
Rebecca dropped to all fours and ran in the opposite direction. But too late, the man’s friends had surrounded her, fear on their faces but rifles and shotguns raised. One trained a powerful lantern flashlight on her.
Rebecca had several choices, including shifting back to human to show him she wasn’t a wild bear. But that was risky—while Rebecca could be stronger than most human men, there were five of them, and they’d probably be delighted to find a naked woman among them. No telling what they’d try to do then.
She could run, dive into darkness and try to lose them with sheer speed and cunning. Or she could fight.
Rebecca rose on her hind feet, her ruff high. She spread her front paws, giant things the size of dinner plates, and roared. The sound shook the ground.
The men shouted, swore—one even laughed with the hysterical laughter of the truly terrified. A couple of them ran. One fired.
Rebecca’s reflexes made her dive aside, but buckshot grazed her side, hurting. Her frenzy grew, her human thoughts scattering as her bear instincts took over. Rebecca roared again, came down on all fours, and charged.
The men streamed outward like a startled flock of birds. Rebecca picked one at random, and gave chase.
The hunter sprinted away, forgetting about the gun in his hands, but he’d never be able to outrun Rebecca. She’d land on him, break his shotgun, flip his body back and forth between her paws—generally scare the crap out of him. Maybe she’d close her big teeth around his neck, tasting his fear. Something inside her told her she couldn’t kill him—she’d be executed for it—but that didn’t mean her bear couldn’t have a little fun.
Rebecca closed on the man as he panted in fear, invoking his deity with every breath. One more stride . . .
The hunter charged past another man, who was standing still, at first just one more patch of darkness. Moonlight glinted on the newcomer’s white-blond hair and the barrel of the rifle he aimed at Rebecca.
Not a shotgun—a tranq rifle. Behind him stood more men dressed in black, holding real guns, ready to shoot.
“Stand down,” the lead man said to Rebecca. He had no fear in his voice; he expected to be obeyed.
Rebecca skidded to a halt, her paws tearing up dirt and grass. She let the other human go—lesser prey. The man with the tranq rifle—now he pissed her off.
She rose up on her hind feet, growling, ready to grab the rifle out of his hands.
“Rebecca,” the man said in a calm voice. “There’s enough tranq in here to put you out for the rest of the night. You can either come with me on your own, or be dragged away by my men.”
Rebecca growled again, the sound rumbling through her body. Only one thing she could do in a situation like this.
She stretched to her full height, then she let herself slowly melt into her human form, fur receding and vanishing as her limbs changed. Her muzzle flattened, her face became human, and her paws became long-fingered human hands.
She would be stark naked when she finished shifting, but that was his problem, not hers.
Rebecca’s bear body finally vanished, and she shook herself out, her skin tingling from the shift. She put her hands on her hips, cocking her head so that her Collar caught the light.
“Walker Danielson,” she drawled. “What brings you out here in the middle of the night?”
If Rebecca had one weapon that could completely disarm Walker, it was this—standing naked in front of him, moonlight kissing her body.
Darkness hid most of her, but silver light touched her breasts, pale skin with dark areolas, her rich brown hair, and a smile he could never forget. The moonlight also glinted on her Collar, marking her as a Shifter and a captive.
“You bring me out here,” Walker said, not lowering the tranq gun. “I heard report of a bear running around the old airport.”
He knew the tranq rifle didn’t intimidate her. She could morph back into a bear the second she wanted to and take him down.
Walker had a vivid memory of lying on her living room carpet, while Rebecca as a giant bear stretched across his chest. She’d held him better than manacles. He hadn’t been able to move, barely able to breathe.
Rebecca hadn’t crushed or smothered him. She’d been gentle, holding him in place, only letting him up without a scratch when her roommate, Ronan, had come to chain him up. That had been Rebecca being nice, following Ronan’s orders. What she’d do now, out here alone in the night, was anyone’s guess.
“And naturally you thought of me,” Rebecca said, one hip canted. “I’m flattered.”
As always, Walker’s throat closed up when she turned on her full power. Words didn’t come easily to him at the best of times, and he had to struggle now to speak evenly. “Developers aren’t happy about people running around their new buildings. They have tight security.”
“When you say people, you mean Shifters.” Rebecca started toward him, her body swaying in the darkness. Walker’s finger sweated on the trigger. “Those human idiots were out here to shoot at rabbits. With big guns, so they could hear them go boom.”
She kept coming. Walker stood his ground. Rebecca didn’t believe he’d tranq her, not when she was in human form, naked and sexy. She was wrong.
The first time they’d met, Walker had been trying to free himself, and he’d worried about hurting the gorgeous woman left to guard him. He’d fought her, throwing her off, and while he’d hesitated, concerned after she’d slammed into the staircase, she’d climbed to her feet and stripped out of her clothes.
Instead of taking the moment to run, Walker had allowed himself to get distracted by her amazing body. He’d given her time to turn into a bear and pin him down.
Not this time. “I won’t shoot you if you walk away with me now,” Walker said, watching her through the gun’s scope.
“To do that, I need my clothes. Which I left over there.” Rebecca pointed one long finger off into the darkness. The gesture made her breasts move, and Walker kept sweating. “You think those hunters will leave me alone now that I’m a naked woman?”
“Don’t make me arrest you, Rebecca.”
“For what?” Her hand returned to her hip. “Having a run? By myself? The rabbits are safe from me.”
“For trespassing. The security companies out here mean serious business.”
“In other words, they don’t like Shifters.”
“They don’t like anyone. Come with me, and they won’t press charges.”
“Are you going to make me?” Rebecca’s voice went sultry. She could turn it on, this woman, and leave Walker aching all night. “You and whose army?”
“The platoon standing behind me. They have lights, tranq guns and other guns, and an armored Humvee.”
“Seriously?” Rebecca peered into the darkness. “All that for little ole me?” She sniffed. “I don’t smell anything.”
“They’re trained to cover scent. They’re experienced at tracking down Shifters.”
“Are you trying to scare me, Captain Danielson?” She resumed her slow stalk and her sexy voice.
“Major.” Walker cleared his throat. “Major Danielson now.”
“Oh, that’s right. How nice.”
She kept coming. Walker had to remind himself about twenty times that though she might be the sexiest woman alive, she was dangerous as hell, never mind the shock Collar around her neck.
Walker’s body wouldn’t manifest the right reaction. He should be wanting to fight the threat or flee from it. Instead, his instincts were telling him to throw down the rifle, grab Rebecca, haul her into his arms, and kiss the hell out of her.
His training kept him in a defensive stance, rifle raised. He hadn’t survived all this time in the most dangerous parts of the world by letting his hormones take over. Walker had learned to focus, to channel his energy into defeating the enemy, whether that might be crazed men trying to kill him in remote mountains or a beautiful Shifter smiling at him in the dark.
“Five seconds,” Walker said. “You stand there and let me escort you out, or I tranq you. Your choice.”
“Yeah? How about we talk about it? Just you and me?” Rebecca smiled—her warm smile that said she was large-hearted, friendly, and great in bed. She took another step toward him.
Walker knew what he had to do next. The decision was tough, but it was out of his hands.
He relaxed and lowered the tranq gun. “All right.”
Just like that, Rebecca was bear. The Kodiak snarled, ruff high, and came at him with giant paws, ready to battle.
Except Walker’s tranq dart was in her side. He’d lifted the rifle and fired as soon as she’d started to shift.
The bear’s eyes widened as the fast-acting tranq coursed through her body. She growled, her eyes going flat, and Walker knew exactly what she was saying.
Rebecca fell to the ground with a resounding thud. Ten men came out of the darkness to surround the bear whose sides now rose and fell in peaceful sleep.
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