Pierce Nillian is shy, socially awkward, and hasn’t had a real date in years. At least not one that wasn’t with someone from one of his therapy groups. When he meets a man needing help with an injured dog, Pierce knows how to help. He’s a marine biologist who works with animals all day, and also has two dogs of his own. Once the dog is patched up, he expects not to see Tim again.
But the next day Tim comes back, and this time he’s brought reinforcements in the form of his sister, along with Pierce’s little sister, who it turns out are dating each other. To add to it, Nikki and Jo can’t be together officially until Tim finds a mate, because Nikki and Tim are bear shifters. Pierce has done a lot of things for his sister in the past, but becoming a bear’s mate is a tall order. His gut reaction is to refuse, but Tim is good at getting his way, and he wants Pierce for himself.
August in Seattle was beautiful, though really anytime along the northwest coast was an ideal time to get out there and do something, or so Pierce’s personal trainer had been telling him for the past month. Pierce, however, preferred to stay on the couch and watch movies of people running around rather than actually doing it. But just before eight on a Saturday morning he’d finally grown tired of her asking him every day, sometimes even twice a day, when he was actually going to start doing something about getting in shape instead of just talking about it.
Running was not his strong suit, which he learned five minutes after he started down the trail, as he stood bent over and trying to catch his breath. Pierce was out of shape by at least twenty pounds, and vowed, as he watched guys run by in cute little shorts and not even pay him or his dogs any attention, things needed to change.
Certainly his two massive German shepherds were on board with the idea of getting out more. Their bushy tails wagged like crazy as they looked up at him expectantly, the worry already clear in their eyes, as if they knew he was half ready to just give up and go back home, denying them their run. Pierce chugged half a bottle of water and straightened up enough to try this working out thing again, since he was pretty sure he’d just rushed into it. Maybe there would be hope for him after a bit of a warm up. Probably not, but he was trying to be positive. That was his psychiatrist adding in her two cents.
“Alright, boys, let’s go,” Pierce told his dogs before he shoved his water bottle into the holder attached to his belt. Donner and Blitzen, having been named by his niece for two of Santa’s reindeer, started walking forward on the wide trail. A little stream bubbled along to the left, and the hill beside the dirt parking lot lay to their right.
Pierce was especially glad at times like this when he was walking both of them that he’d invested in some great training for them as puppies, because a lot of people walked past them with their dogs dragging them along. Between the two boys he would have had nearly three hundred pounds of dogs pulling him if that had been the case. He’d had his shoulder dislocated once, in a hiking accident as a teenager, and he knew his body couldn’t handle dogs their size if they’d been fighting him the whole time.
Pierce turned to see who was being called, mostly out of curiosity, since he didn’t know anyone at the park, and found himself facing a much younger guy who was definitely used to being out there, by the shape he was in. Running shorts and dark blue shoes of the same shade were the only things the guy had on, and it took Pierce a good minute to stop staring at muscles only models had before he realized the guy was actually addressing him.
“Um, hi,” Pierce said when he caught up to him. His dogs tried to go toward the stranger, eager to greet someone new, but he pulled them back. Not many people were used to big dogs, and definitely not two of them. Even though his boys didn’t weigh much more than an adult male Labrador retriever, for some reason people were far more afraid of them. He figured it was the German Shepard’s breed reputation as being fierce protectors. Pierce had chosen them because of their intelligence. But he should have been thinking less about his dogs and far more about the man standing in front of him.
“What?” Pierce asked the stranger, sure he’d missed something that the man had said since he was looking at Pierce expectantly.