Someone was watching her.
Thoroughly scanning her surroundings, Mia debated amending her gut reaction. She was alone in the middle of the forest. If she was being watched, it had to be by an animal or bird.
Just the same, she’d heard distant rifle shots this morning. At the time, she’d been more pissed than alarmed because it wasn’t hunting season. If some idiot was poaching—damn it, that joker better not be scoping her out. Go back to where you belong. This mountain’s mine as long as I’m on it.
Experience had taught her how to be as silent as an animal, and she’d done so during her hike up Cougar Mountain. Quiet, so she could get in touch with the living creatures that shared this remote wild land with her and not run them off. She’d been rewarded when a yearling buck stepped from behind a pine tree and stared at her. She’d stared back, smiling. The two of them, human and nature’s creature, had studied each other for several minutes before the buck melted back into his surroundings.
Unfortunately, this time she felt no sense of peace and warmth. Instead, reality reared its ugly head. Whatever studied her now wasn’t a buck. Neither was it any of the other creatures that lived and died in the wilderness; she was now sure of that.
Unease crawled up her spine. Her body felt alive, not alarmed, but far from relaxed. Someone new to the forest might panic, but she felt more at home here than she ever felt in so-called civilization. Controlling her breathing and thoughts, she sent energy and strength to her legs. She had nothing to fear from an unseen hiker, camper, forest ranger, naturalist, or mushroom hunter.
And, yet… No, damn it, Jack the Ripper wasn’t hanging around!
She’d been away from the country that nourished and renewed her for too long; that’s why she was nervous and unsettled today. Two brief weeks of living out of suitcases in an upscale Washington, D.C., hotel had turned her urban, and what had always been familiar had become less so.
That’s why she’d decided to explore Cougar Mountain in northwestern California before returning to work as a Forest Service biologist, so she could get back in touch with her roots. She needed to trust her instincts again. Only, this afternoon her instinct was more than nagging—it was shouting.
She wasn’t alone.
“I know you’re out there.” The tops of the trees swallowed her voice. “If you’re playing a game, I don’t find it funny. I have a gun and a knife and know how to use both.”
Silence. Even the wind stopped teasing the pine branches.
A finger of alarm pressed against the top of her spine. “Look, I have as much right to be here as you do. I’ll go west, or east if you want west. Hell, I don’t have a problem with north or south. What I have a problem with is playing games.”
She couldn’t think of anything else to say after that. Much as she loved the evergreens, the thick vegetation provided too many places for someone to hide.
Okay, so her fellow traveler wasn’t interested in talking, she told herself in an attempt to calm herself. She had no problem with playing that game. Tossing back her long, single braid, she set her sights on the top of the rise she’d been climbing. The slope was steep enough that she had to lean forward to keep her balance, which caused her butt to stick out. Fine. Let the stranger have a gander at a firm, rounded mound. It wasn’t as if he’d ever get to touch it.
A soft and low sound, maybe deep breathing, silenced her own breath. A chilled wave coursed through her, stopping her forward progress, and a blip of something she hadn’t allowed herself to think about broke through. She’d been attracted to Cougar Mountain because of the legend surrounding it, a legend she’d fully expected to debunk.
But if there was something to the reason for the mountain’s name—
A man stood with his arms folded across a too-big chest, legs spread wide, muscled thighs and calves challenging his jeans to contain them, his dark eyes glinting with something she couldn’t or wouldn’t put a name to.
He was beautiful. Wild. Thick black hair so long it swept his shoulders. Days overdue for a shave. Broad shoulders and back; proud and, yes, arrogant. He held his mouth in an ungiving line, lips thinned in concentration, or anger, or something else beyond her comprehension. His facial bones were well displayed despite the stubble, jaw strong and cheekbones high. Those incredible and unnerving eyes were set deep in their sockets as if protecting them from deep scrutiny.
Although she wasn’t done studying the man’s unfathomable expression, Mia knew better than to let it distract her from his strength and size. Tall, maybe six feet two. Like his face, the rest of him carried no padding. He was all lean energy and health, his chest sheltered beneath a flannel shirt no bullet could stop.
No, she couldn’t—wouldn’t—shoot him.
Unless her life depended on it.
Shaking off the horrid image of aiming her pistol at that athletic form, she accepted that the only thing disturbing the lean line of his belly was a certain undeniable mound. A large, proud bulge that loosened her clenched jaw and softened her in ways she prayed he couldn’t guess.
Man. All man. Silent and watchful.
“One—one of us needs to say something,” she came up with, angry because her voice shook a little. “I’ve already shot off my mouth, so what say we make it your turn?”
Going by his lack of a reaction, she nearly believed he hadn’t heard her. But unless he was deaf, that wasn’t possible. Her career brought her in contact with men who made their living on their feet and working with their hands, so she was accustomed to well-toned males. To say she’d become immune to vibrant bodies would be a lie. She was a healthy young woman who loved nothing more than wrapping her body around and over a member of the opposite sex and feeling them become one.
But this man, this woodland stud, was putting the competition to shame. Yes, mystery and the possibility of danger added undeniable elements, but it was more than that. The appeal went deeper than a near-perfect physique.
“Okay, so you aren’t interested in talking. I understand. I do. I came here because I needed some downtime.” About to wipe her suddenly damp hands on her hips, she clenched them instead. “I want to put some more miles behind me while it’s light, so I’ll just be moving on.”
Maybe thirty feet separated them. A former high school and college track star, she was still fast on her feet. If he so much as made a menacing move in her direction, she’d leave him in her dust.
Not that she wanted to.
Shit, what was this? Some fantasy that she and Mr. Mysterious-and-Sexy’s eyes had once met across a crowded room? Not only wasn’t she a woman for romantic fantasies, this wasn’t a room, and it wasn’t crowded. Most telling, he was more intimidating than intriguing.
Not that it mattered, because she’d never see him again.
Swallowing disappointment, she made a quarter turn and took her first step toward what appeared to be a decent deer trail. She thought about asking what had brought him to the area and if he’d heard the rumors about cougar spirits and spells, but he probably wouldn’t respond to that, either. One step became two and then three. She told herself to relax, that the awkward encounter was nearly behind her.
“I’ve been waiting for you.”
His voice was a rumble, a deep and low growl. Unsettling as the tone was, his words made her shiver. And stop.
Run. Get the hell out of here. But, damn it, she’d never backed down from anything. After taking a halfway calming breath, she faced him. Moments ago he’d been standing in the sun as if inviting her scrutiny, but now he stepped into the shadows. Either that or the shadows had reached out to envelop him.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She paced every word, keeping them strong. But underneath, something was happening to her, a little more softening in her sex and a hell of a lot of awareness of herself as a woman. Not just a one hundred-twenty-pound woman being confronted by a man who might outweigh her by a hundred pounds, but female in its most basic form.
“You might not understand now, but you will,” he said.
© Vonna Harper
Author: Vonna Harper
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
To tame a wild thing, first you must gain her trust…
Mia’s retreat on Cougar Mountain was supposed to be a quiet time of communing with nature. Instead, she can’t shake the sense she’s being watched. The reason why appears before her, chilling her to the bone. His name is Stark. And he says he’s been waiting for her.
She takes to her heels, but it does no good. Captured and bound, she is surprised to feel no fear. Instead, she is mesmerized as her soul drinks deeply of his dark, commanding sexuality.
Stark once fought the Cougar Spirits, but now he embraces their mission to protect the forest and its creatures. Mia is his destined mate, perfectly made to fight by his side. But first he must tame her, starting with a slow and relentless seduction of her body—while he reveals each painful bit of his past.
Mia finds herself sinking into his touches, seeing the world as he sees it. But as shots ring out in the forest, she sees something else. A vision that Stark may never understand…and could not only destroy the bare beginnings of their destined love, but their mission to save the wilderness.
This book has been previously published and has been revised from its original release.