When Denali’s car breaks down in bear shifter territory, he knows he’s in trouble. As an otter he doesn’t stand a chance against a bear. His best hope is to get to a phone and call for help. But a bear attacks him before he can get more than a mile down the road.
Clyde, a bear shifter, knew taking his cousin Kai out for a run would be a bad idea even before they came upon the otter. Now he just wants to make it up to Denali, whose ankle is badly damaged from Kai’s attack. He takes Denali to Brody, a human who is also their local shifter doctor, and believes his responsibility for the otter is done at that point.
When the dreams come for both of them, proving that they’re mates, Denali comes to Clyde to find out how to break their mate bond. But resisting his bear turns out to be impossible, even though Denali knows it will tear his otter family apart.
Denali’s car puttered to a steamy overheated stop on the side of the highway where the only thing he’d seen for the last several miles had been massive old pine trees stretching all around him. The scenery was beautiful, but it made him nervous, because he knew without question that his car had broken down in bear shifter territory.
He whimpered a little as he got out of the relative safety of his car to pop the hood. He waved his hands in front of his face to get some of the steam and smoke out of the way. It didn’t do much good. Being absolutely useless when it came to cars, he had no idea how to even begin to assess what was wrong with his fourteen-year-old sedan. Denali sighed and left his hood propped open to let the engine air out. His phone was beside him on the seat, but of course he’d forgotten his charger back at his cousin’s house, and now the phone was dead after listening to music the whole way up there.
He really needed to get out of such a dangerous place. That was the first thing. As an otter he might be a fast, careful predator in the water, but on land he was small and fairly helpless as he bounced around the woods. He wouldn’t last an hour before the bears knew he was in their land and came after him.
Denali huffed irritably at his own stupidity. He’d been impatient to get home, so instead of driving the three hours around their territory, he’d decided to cut through and save time to get home faster. He’d been ready for a hot bath after a shift and a bit of the smoked salmon he had in his fridge. He’d even planned out which shows he was going to watch on his DVR after he’d had a chance to really relax.
But now he was stuck there with nothing around but woods for miles. And behind every tree he knew there was a bear shifter potentially waiting out there to get him. He grabbed his phone, his wallet, and his keys and started walking. Eventually he had to find somewhere he could call his cousin from—maybe he could come get him, and with any luck, maybe Denali could get home by midnight. That gave him four hours. He had to move fast.
When it became dark an hour later, Denali started paying even more attention to his surroundings. His gaze caught even small movements in the darkness. The fine dark hairs on the back of his neck rose with each little noise. When the sharp crunch of branches breaking under heavy feet came from the north, he was almost glad to know where the threat was coming from.
He was frozen for a few seconds, but as the big brown bear cleared the trees Denali snapped out of his shock and started running. He didn’t get very far, though, as the bear shifter closed on him. He screamed as the bear grabbed him by his ankle, tearing into his skin, and he stumbled and tried to keep running, even as he was limping.
The bear jumped on his back and he went down hard. Denali shut his eyes. Blood filled his mouth as the bear loomed over him. He whimpered and curled up as tightly as he could and waited for the bear’s punishment for daring to come into their territory. The bear couldn’t kill him, since that was against shifter law, but gnawing on him a little was well within the bear’s rights. With the recent conflicts between the otters and bears, it was entirely possible that there might be more than a little chewing. He knew a bear could do a lot to him and not kill him.
“Kai! Get off of him!”
Denali didn’t open his eyes to see who was yelling. He was far too focused on trying to breathe as the bear leaned down on him, cutting off his air. Soon breathing became impossible and then, without any oxygen coming into his lungs, he slowly passed out with the bear still on top of him. He thought he might have even heard the bear laughing at his futile attempts to struggle.