Curvy, slightly self-conscious Claire Redmon is a woman with a few addictions: her dopey dog, inhaler, and fantasies about a big, muscled-up bear of a guy who she just knows is going to sweep her off her feet.
Yeah, right. Dating has never been this scientist’s forte, but she’s about to learn that when it comes to bears, reality is always better than fantasy, and two is ALWAYS better than one!
Kidnapped from their clan as cubs, tortured and subjected to experiments, Stone and Fury are barely surviving. The alpha werebears know nothing but pain, suffering, and darkness. When they are simultaneously gripped by a sensation neither can explain, not even the strongest tranquilizers can contain their rage.
They must escape. No excuses, no regrets.
Driven by something they don’t understand, they roar, claw and fight their way to freedom. As they escape the only home they’ve ever known, the bears run headlong into a girl with entrancing eyes and a scent that warms them to the core. A woman that they’ve never seen before, but who seems mysteriously familiar. Suddenly, it all makes sense - that surge must have been fate, and this woman is... their mate!
These are two bears who do EVERYTHING together, and don’t take no for an answer. No matter what, they will take her, have her, and make her theirs. Forever.
“What was that?” A sound drew her immediate attention. She whirled on her toes, trying to pierce the darkness with her phone. “Who’s there?”
A long, slow, almost leisurely scratching sound sent the hair on the back of Claire’s neck into a full-attention stand. She tightened her lips and narrowed her eyes in concentration, as though that would break the tension, the darkness.
Another scratching sound, behind her this time.
“Hello? Stop messing around, whoever you are. I was called to come down here to see you, Dr. Eckert, where are you?”
Messing around, she thought with a humorless laugh. No one’s ever messed around here. And especially not like this.
She began to back away, as good sense overtook her obnoxious curiosity. I need to get help, call the police, call the army, something.
Claire found when she began to back away that she’d walked further into the lab than she realized. But still she stared straight ahead, unable to contain the sense of fascination that drew her to this work in the first place. A PhD in molecular biology got her all the way to a desk job that bored her to tears, but still she was curious, thirsty for knowledge. On the weekends, she usually picked a cave system somewhere and went exploring. This wasn’t any different, except yeah, no, it was completely, totally different in every conceivable way.
Another noise, more distant this time.
Instinctively she took two puffs on her inhaler, then a third because she figured things might get serious.
“Okay,” she called out, “right, so whoever is in there, I’m gonna go now. I’ll come back, and, uh, holy shit!”
“Claire?” Dr. Eckert blurted as she backed straight into the rotund scientist, and immediately dropped her phone with fright and surprise. “What are you doing down here? And what the hell is B-3 doing open? Sam! Sam!”
Instinctively, she put her hand where she knew there’d be a light switch. The one good thing about buildings like this was that nothing was unpredictable. After trying the light switch to no effect, Claire crouched to scoop up her phone, and as she did, she noticed something move in the back in the darkness. Her pale blue eyes had always been sensitive to light, to the point that driving in the morning, with the sun in her face, was painful. Suddenly, as she saw another vague, almost blurry-looking figure move in the background of the lab, she was glad for it.
“Doctor,” she began, then trailed off. Something in the back of her mind told her to be quiet, not to call the man’s attention. Something seemed to soothe her anxiousness, to calm her nerves.
“Come on, Claire,” Eckert said, grabbing at her shoulder and pulling. “Come along. Nothing to see in here. Nothing at all. Just a mistake.”
She stood, but shrugged the damp palm off of her shoulder. “What’s in here?” she asked, suddenly emboldened. She’d never spoken to him so easily. “Something’s not right.”
The damp hand returned to her, though on her upper arm. “Nothing. Come on, nothing to see here.”
“Why are you so defensive?” she turned to face Eckert and noticed that she could make out beads of sweat on his upper lip.
Good night vision is one thing. This is... entirely something else. Why can I see like this?
The feeling of calm came again, even as Eckert’s heart began to race which, for some reason, Claire was able to sense. She moved her eyes rapidly around, and noticed a slight tremble in the fingertips that still prodded her skin in the instant before the sweaty doctor’s grip tightened.
“Need to go,” he said. “Nothing here.”
Something in his voice was trickling. Sticking, maybe? Was it panic she heard? It made no sense, nothing did. But still, she felt so calm, so at peace. Her normal disposition was nothing at all like this. All the words that could be used to describe Claire Redmon, “calm” wasn’t one of them.
“You’re worried about something, very obviously, Eckert,” Claire said.
Her voice didn’t even feel like her own, it was as though someone else was using her, though she knew that wasn’t true. It was something she’d always wanted to do, but never had the courage.
That’s what I’m feeling. Courage. Of all the...
“Claire! Now!” Eckert grabbed her tighter and yanked on her hand, so hard that a tinge of pain shot through her shoulder. “We need to go!”
“Not until you tell me what’s in here.”
Her voice was steel.
This was not normal, not at all. Not the lab, not how she was acting, none of it made any sense. But at the same time?
“Answer me,” she demanded, once again surprised at the strength of her own voice. “What’s going on in here?”
Eckert had a look of sour disdain on his face that she wasn’t entirely sure he knew she could see. “Oh just come on,” he said, clearly losing his patience. “Don’t be an idiot, girl, you don’t know anything about any of this.”
“Something happened, Sam is gone, and you’re going to tell me what.”
It was like she’d taken three shots of whiskey, but didn’t feel all wonky. This, I could get used to feeling.
Another noise in the back of the room, but Eckert didn’t react. He can’t hear it. He can’t hear what’s going on at all. I wonder if he can see the same motion I can. Can that be right? How is that possible? This is actually happening, isn’t it?
He was tugging at her, and normally, she wouldn’t have been able to resist.
Shouldn’t have been able to resist.
And then the whole world exploded at once.
Whatever was scratching the ground started toward where Claire and Eckert were standing. She heard it, she felt the presence moving toward her, and then she saw them – those eyes. Those golden, glittering eyes. I wasn’t imagining them? One gold, one green. I thought they were both gold?
She shook her head, aware that the room was so dark that Eckert couldn’t even see that, much less the thing creeping in her direction.
Every shred of sense in her brain told her to run, to get away as fast as she could, but the calm in her heart kept her in place. And still, Eckert had no idea that they were sharing a space with anything at all.
She felt something soft, something... furry brush against her ankle where she’d rolled her jeans’ legs up so that they didn’t flop on her feet. Just like “calm”, “tall” was never a word used to describe Claire Redmon.
“What’s in here, Eckert?” she asked again, in the instant before she saw a second pair of eyes, just like the others, one was gold, one was green. But on this pair, the left eye was gold, the right eye green. “Talk.”
“Doesn’t matter,” he said, shivering slightly. “It’s secret. No one’s supposed to be in here except those of us with clearance. Not you, that’s for sure.”
The way he said it made her stomach turn. Normally though she’d be cowed, she’d be afraid, but instead she felt like she wanted to slap him.
So she did.
Sharply, right across his puffy, never-quite-shaved-right cheek.
“Ow! You stupid woman, what the hell was that for?”
That earned him another one.
“Goddamn,” he hissed. “How can anyone be so petulant?”
That earned a scoff instead of a slap. Whatever was creeping around had gathered on either side of her, and whatever it was seemed like it was going to keep her safe, though she had no idea why she thought that.
“I wouldn’t say that sort of stuff again,” she warned him. “I don’t have to put up with it. Not from you, not from anyone.”
“You do if you value your job.”
She let that one slide. “So, what is in here?”
He was pulling at her still, but she grabbed his wrist. “What’s in here, Eckert?” it was less a question, more a demand.
“Let me go,” he said. “If you’re stupid enough to be in here, in the dark, with these things, then they can have you. Let me go!”
“No,” she said, flatly. “Not until you tell me what is going on in here.”
“Experiments, you idiot, what do you think?” he was really trying to pull, but all five-foot-three, hundred-and-sixty-pounds of Claire dug in her heels and held fast. “Let me go!”
“What kind of experiments? What sort of subjects?”
She hadn’t questioned anyone this intensely since she taught introductory biology at Princeton three years before as a graduate student. It felt good. Really, really good.
“Drug trials, genetic testing,” he said. He was starting to panic. She could smell his fear, which was, on the one hand, incredibly strange, and on the other hand, incredibly coppery. She always figured fear was more of a urine smell.
“Go on,” she urged. “I know you want out of here. I can feel you trying to pull away, but I’m not letting go until I’m satisfied.”
Damn this feels good. I really could get used to feeling like this all the time.
He tried to cover the fear by sighing and acting impatient. But she could smell the sweat, the coppery tinge of panic. Eckert wasn’t fooling her. “And where’s Sam?”
“That I don’t know,” he said. “I really wish I did, and I really wish you’d let the hell go of my arm!”
“Experiments on what?”
He was shaking his head, imperceptible to human senses, his teeth were beginning to chatter, and the wormy wetness of his wrist was growing damper by the moment. She tightened her grip. “On what, Eckert?”
“What are you, a corporate spy? Who the fuck cares what we’re experimenting on. Furthermore, how do you figure it’s any of your—”
“It’s my business because I’m asking, and you’re trying to get away.” She twisted his arm just a little, just to show she could. “Talk.”
“I... fine, fine I don’t see the harm. Bears.”
Claire quirked her eyebrow. “That’s... not normal. What are you doing with them?”
“Me? As in me personally? Nothing. I’m a corporate scientist you imbecilic child, I do what I’m told!”
He squirmed again, twisting his arm, but she answered with a harder wrench. Eckert squealed a little, which reached her ears like the sweetest music she’d ever heard. All this time answering to this slimy shit heel, and he’s still treating me like this?
“Three years, I’ve run your errands, got your coffee, changed my schedule every single time you decided you wanted to change yours. Every step I take, every time I eat, sleep, drink or breathe has been because that’s when you wanted me to do it. And you still treat me like this?”
Something growled. Something very close, and very furry, growled.
Claire turned her head to the left. Then the right.
She was standing between them.
“Then take it up with HR, you moron! You’re hurting me! I’ll have you arrested! I’ll have you fired!”
“What kind of experiments, Eckert? Be specific.”
Eyes caressed either side of Claire’s face. She felt them before she turned to see that they were, in fact, both looking at her. She had to incline her head slightly – if these were bears, they were the tallest damn bears she’d ever encountered.
And the calmest ones, Claire thought. Of course, I’m standing here between them when any reasonable person would be running.
“Oh for Christ’s sake,” he said, although she interrupted him with another wrench of his arm.
“Answer,” she said. The bears growled.
She felt their voices rumble in her chest, felt – as strange as it was – the beating of their hearts. That weird birthmark on her chest began to tingle again, in time with their beating hearts.
“Answer,” she hissed through gritted teeth. “Answer me.”
“If I don’t get out of here, and you don’t get out of here, we’ll both be dead as soon as they bother to move,” Eckert said.
He really has no idea. Not a clue in the world. She felt another tingle, this one in her belly, and then lower down, between her legs, she felt a slightly embarrassing stir.
“They’re...” he unleashed a sigh. “No one will believe you anyway, you’re just a worthless intern. They’re special bears. With... they change.”
He was pausing every time she twisted his wrist. “Change?”
She thought she heard one of her companions laugh.
“What do you mean, change? And there are only two of them?”
“Two?” he stammered. “How did you know? How...?”
“I, er, no, there are more. Only two in this lab. They change, they,” he was starting to panic more and more as he spoke. That coppery stink began to irritate Claire’s nose. She found that she resented him, not for what he’d done, or for what he’d said, but for his weakness, for his fear. “They change from bears to humans. They have supernatural healing abilities, and their strength is almost immeasurable.”
She accepted that far more rapidly than anyone with half a brain should have. Then again, she was standing right between them, so questioning reality didn’t seem like a very smart idea, either.
“What do you want with them?” she asked, with haunting calm. That time though, it was her own emotion, rather than whatever it was that made her feel so serene. “Why them?”
“Serums,” Eckert croaked as she twisted again. “They... the military, they want... Ow!”
One of her bear guardians tensed, as though he was preparing to move; as though he was about to pounce. “Talk,” she said flatly. “Details.”
“I don’t—ah!—I don’t know, Claire, I don’t know! I just do what I’m told!”
A million thoughts ran through her head like an old timey reel-to-reel. It all made a perverse sort of sense. The secrecy, the uniformed visitors, the daily clipboard copying, the ridiculous security. She shook her head, smiling despite herself. “You know more than this.”
Her voice was low and dangerous.
“No! I don’t! I have no idea what the military wants with the samples. I can speculate, but what’s the point of that? We lost one of them earlier this year, he... escaped. Ended up dead. The wilderness doesn’t treat things that shouldn’t be very kindly.”
Another growl. Something was about to happen.
“These are unnatural creatures, Claire,” Eckert’s voice had gone from disdainful to desperate. Was that begging she sensed? The start of a plea? “They’re unearthly, they’re not normal, they have to be studied, they have to be understood!”
In a short, violent burst, the tension she felt on either side of her erupted. One of her companions snatched Eckert from her grasp, the other buried teeth into his shoulder. Eckert let out a scream, but only very brief, before he was silenced with a sickening crunch.
“Unnatural,” one of her companions said in a voice that seemed to hurt, as though it hadn’t been used in a long, long time. “Did you hear that? We’re unnatural.”
The other presence grunted a short laugh. “Whatever we are, we have to go. And she has to come with us.”
“What... who are you?” Claire asked, her voice trembling for the first time since she’d entered the lab. “Why me? And did you just kill him?” She already knew the answer, but was slightly surprised at her complete lack of emotion at what had just happened.
“Crimes... unspeakable crimes. Unspeakable pain,” the one with the deeper, more somber voice said. “Unspeakable horrors.”
“Come on,” the other one said. “We can worry about that later. If we’re going to find the others, we have to get the hell out of here before the damn army shows up. And you know they will.”
“Claire, he called you?”
She nodded, absolutely dumbfounded, but still with that feeling of calm.
“Is there anywhere we can hide? We’ve been in here for,” he trailed off.
“Too long to know how long,” the other one finished.
“Yeah,” she said. “Woods about a mile from here. Pretty dense. I guess that’d work?”
“It’ll have to. Get on.”
Without thinking about it, Claire slid onto the back of one of the bears, and felt his heart thudding against her chest. His fur, thick and heavy, and warm, surrounded her, eased what little remained of her nervousness.
“Which way is out?” the other asked. “And the elevator’s still working, right?”
“D-down the hall to the left is out. And the elevator worked when I came down it about five minutes ago.” She seemed like she was about to say something else, but trailed off.
“Good enough. We’ll keep you safe.”
And somehow, against all reason, against all logic and sense, she knew he would.