Brayden's Mate, страница 1часть #3 серии Fated Mates
Fated Mates Series
About the Author
Pretend You’ll Stay Excerpt
Also by Kathryn Kelly
“I hope we see a bear!” The six-year-old tourist jumped up and down, holding his coonskin cap with one hand and his toy rifle in his other hand.
Brayden Hunter grinned as he tightened a strap on the horse. “Be careful what you wish for, big guy. There are bears all around here.”
“Really?” The boy stood still, his eyes widened.
“It’s Andrew, right?”
The boy nodded.
“Yep. They’re all around these woods. But you can’t see them unless they want you to.”
The boy looked around him. “Do they eat people?”
“They only eat people who run off from the group.”
Andrew shook his head, his eyes wide. “I won’t run off.”
“Ready?” Brayden grinned. The boy nodded and held up his arms. Brayden swung him up to the back of the horse.
Brayden had a group of six for today’s horseback ride: a couple with two children, the six-year-old and their ten-year-old daughter, and a middle-aged couple.
Brayden nudged his horse, and they started up the trail, his little group behind him. There were patches of snow along the path, but the trail was clear. He listened to their chatter behind him. Heard someone delightedly point out a chipmunk panhandling at the edge of the path.
He noticed clouds banked low, obscuring the mountain peaks. It was going to snow today. Oddly enough, his weather girl had predicted the snow for tomorrow.
She was rarely wrong.
They reached the fork that led to Silver Creek Falls and continued their leisurely travel for another hour. By the time they reached the falls, it was time for a break. When the chatter slowed, it was usually an indication that they were getting tired and needed to stop.
With the roar of the falls as a backdrop, he dismounted and helped the two children off the horses. The others didn’t seem to need any help, so he left them to take care of themselves.
He took snacks out of the saddlebags and passed them out along with some bottles of water.
“Do you think we’ll see a bear up here?” Andrew asked.
Brayden smiled as he noticed that Andrew was staying close to the group. His warning was working. “Could be. The bears have a tendency to stay in the high country. We might see one today. You never know.”
Andrew took his toy gun off the horse and brandished it. “I’m ready for them.” He said.
“Oh no,” Brayden said. “It’s against the rules to shoot the bears.”
“Because this is their house. Besides, it’s winter, and they’re in hibernation, so they aren’t moving very fast right now, if at all. You’d have an unfair advantage.”
Andrew lowered his toy gun. “Okay.” He kicked at the ground. Brayden ruffled his hair.
Yes, they would see a bear.
But not yet.
Taylor Stone was lost.
There was no other way to put it. And it was going to snow. She didn’t need her computer’s radar to predict this one. The nimbostratus clouds had settled low along the mountains.
Her plan had been to get a lay of the land, then get out. She’d come back with her camera crew in a few days.
But now, she was lost and about to get caught in the snow. Snow that she’d stood in front of the camera on live TV and predicted would be here tomorrow.
Plenty of time for her to drive up to the Silver Creek Lodge, snag a story, and drive back in the morning.
Before the snow.
The snow that was supposed to be here tomorrow.
She had thought to get a better look from the ridge. But now her little gray suede moto boots were soaked. I should have known better than to get off the trail.
Taylor was much more at home at the mall than in the woods.
But spotting a shapeshifter in the mall was not going to happen.
If she could find a shapeshifter, she could be promoted from doing the weather to actually doing the news. Unfortunately, the next news anchor was going to be chosen in less than three weeks.
What had she been thinking? If she could just happen to spot one of the elusive creatures, she could capture it on her phone. Right. This was the last time she’d listen to Michael. It’ll be easy. Just go up to the Silver Creek Lodge and walk around. You’ll find a shapeshifter. Taylor rolled her eyes.
She pulled her phone out of her back pocket. At least she knew how to find her location. She used Google Maps on a regular basis to find her location from her car.
She clicked open her phone.
After their break, Brayden led the tourists up the trail to the old miner’s cabin, his typical destination for a full-day’s ride. They’d have lunch here, then be back to the lodge by mid-afternoon.
Occasionally, he would do an overnight ride, but those were rare these days. Most of the tourists chose the half-day ride up to the falls and back. It had been a while since he’d been to the miner’s cabin.
“Here we are,” he announced. “Everyone down, and we’ll have lunch.”
After he helped Andrew and his sister down, he took lunch from his saddle bags and set it on the picnic table. The tourists walked around, stretching their legs, snapping photos. Brayden volunteered to take one of Andrew and his family.
Then he sorted the sandwiches and little bags of chips on the table. “Help yourselves. We’ll need to head back in less than an hour, so we don’t get caught out in this unexpected snow. I’ll be back in a few minutes. While I’m here, I need to check on the trail up to Garnett Lake.”
“Is that the hiking trail you were telling us about?” Andrew’s dad asked.
“Yeah. And I may need to go ahead and close it.”
“I hope not. We were thinking about hiking up there tomorrow.”
Brayden nodded toward the sky. “You may have to hold off on that idea.” He put his foot in the stirrup and mounted his horse. “Don’t go anywhere. I’ll be right back.”
Brayden chuckled to himself as he disappeared around the trees and galloped a little way along the trail. This was his favorite part of the trip.
After finding a secluded spot, one that he often used, he dismounted and secured his horse. He didn’t do this for every group. Especially not when there were lots of hikers around. But Andrew was a good kid, and Brayden wanted him to have some excitement he could talk about for years to come.
He took off in a sprint, sure-footed on the rocks. He knew this unmarked path well. In fact, he was fairly certain that he was the only one who used it.
As far as he knew, Brayden was the only shifter who shifted into a bear for the enjoyment of the tourists.
Looking across the gully, he saw the guests sitting at the picnic table eating their lunch. They didn’t see him, so he would have find a way to get their attention.
He went to the edge of the ravine and sat down on his haunches. When no one saw him, he stood up and scratched his claws on an aspen tree. That did it.
Andrew was the first one to see him. “Look!” He cried. “A bear!” Andrew jumped up, and his dad grabbed his arm and told him to stay back.
Although Brayden was out of normal human earshot, as a bear, he could hear them talking clearly. He stood, stretching to his full height and posed for their cameras.
Brayden shook his fur, turned, and ambled along the ravine, then after disappearing in the trees, dashed back to where he’d left his clothes and his horse.
After shifting back into human form, he mounted his horse and rode back down the trail.
The tourists were still staring across the ravine where he’d been as a bear. As he rode into the clearing, Andrew ran toward him. “Guess what! We saw a bear!” The little boy’s face was flushed with excitement.
“You did not.” Brayden looked at him in disbelief.
“I did.” Andrew pointed across the ravine. “Everybody saw him.”
“Bears are hibernating right now.”
“Well…” Andrew frowned. “This one got up to take a break.”
“If you say so.”
“My dad took a picture.”
“Yeah? Can I see?”
Andrew grabbed his arm and tugged Brayden toward the picnic table where his dad was sitting now. “Dad, show Brayden the picture of the bear.”
Brayden looked at the picture of himself. He was a fine-looking bear, if he had to say so himself. “I guess you did see a bear. You’ve been honored.”
“Really?” Andrew asked. “What does that mean?”
“There’s an old Indian legend that says if a bear lets a boy see him during hibernation season, you’re going to grow up to work closely with and be in-tune with animals.”
Andrew’s eyes widened. His dad ruffled his son’s hair. “Hear that Andrew? You’ve been gifted.”
Andrew’s sister, Mia, rolled her eyes, but a smile played about her lips.
“See, Mia? You were wrong about this trip being a waste of time.” Andrew said, jumping up and down.
Brayden grinned. He loved his job.
Taylor put her palm against her forehead. I will not panic. It was still early afternoon, and though it was getting a little cloudy, there was no snowfall. Yet. Maybe, just maybe, she’d been right when she’d checked the Doppler radar this morning, and it wouldn’t actually start snowing until tomorrow.
Taylor was not an outdoorsy girl. The outdoors was best admired from a window. Or a painting. But growing up with two brothers, a few things had soaked in. It was best not to move. She’d only walk in circles.
Unless she could mark her path.
She opened her handbag, pulled out an ink pen, and made an ‘X’ on the nearest tree trunk. She couldn’t even see it. And scraping the bark off each tree would take far too much time. She’d just had her nails manicured that morning and didn’t care to damage the pretty pale pink nail polish she’d chosen.
She put the pen back in her handbag and noticed her lipstick. She pulled out the black tube as she studied the light red color, she pushed a crazy thought out of her mind. She was about to put it away when she heard something rustling in the brush behind her.
Desperate times called for desperate measures. She made a mark on the nearest tree with the lipstick. And this one she could see. Squaring her shoulders, she walked a few feet and marked another tree. She knew she was going in the right direction because the mountains stayed to her right.
Twenty minutes later, she still hadn’t found the path. She sat down on a fallen log to rest. Her boots were completely ruined. She should probably be thankful she hadn’t fallen in a hole or off the side of a cliff.
She heard rustling again, this time behind her. She turned around and sat very still. And waited.
Then she saw it.
With a little squeal, she jumped up and did the first thing that came to mind. She looked for a place to hide. She darted behind the nearest fir tree only two yards away.
Still too close to the bear.
“I know. I know bears can climb trees, but maybe it won’t see me.”
Taylor had never climbed a tree in her life. She hooked a leg over the lowest limb and pulled herself up. Then she did the same thing on another limb. Sitting on the second limb, she looked behind the branches of the fir tree and realized she wasn’t that far off the ground.
And the bear was ambling toward her.
She went up another limb and decided she was up high enough. What would be worse? Being eaten by a bear or falling out of a tree? Holding her breath, she decided there was no good answer. Especially since falling out of the tree doubtlessly led to being eaten by the bear.
The black bear reached her tree and stopped. It pawed at the ground and sniffed. Taylor held her breath. Then the bear turned its head looked up at her. She looked right into its dark brown eyes only inches away.
And realized too late that the bear could easily reach her.
Her heart was beating so fast, and the blood was pounding into her ears, that she could barely hear herself think.
“Good bear,” she said. “You look like a very nice bear. If I’m in your space, I’m so, so sorry.” She attempted a smile. “I just got turned around. Maybe you could just point me in the right direction to the trail.”
The bear tilted its head as she talked.
“If it helps any, I’m a vegetarian, so I don’t eat animals. It seems like a fair trade. I don’t eat your kind, and you don’t eat me. Seems fair enough, right?”
Taylor knew she was babbling to a bear. But the bear seemed to be actually listening to her.
And it wasn’t trying to eat her. Encouraged, she continued. “In fact, I should get a free pass because I’ve never trespassed before. My name’s Taylor. You might know me from the news channel. I do the weather. But then you probably don’t watch the news. Anyway, I’m hoping I don’t have to do the weather much longer.”
The bear made a noise that sounded much too much like a growl.
“Not that there’s anything wrong with doing the weather. The weather is very important. Especially for a bear. Which… by the way… shouldn’t you be hibernating?”
Why had Michael sent her up here to look for bear shifters in the cold weather when bears were hibernating anyway? He’d taken her for an idiot.
“Hey. Actually, if you want to eat someone, I can make a recommendation. Michael Banks. He’s not a very nice man, but I think he’d be much more worthy of eating. He’s probably at least twice as big as me. If you let me go, I’ll send him out here, and you can eat him.”
The bear shook its head and, turning, ambled away.
Taylor sat quietly for a minute. Then she muttered under her breath. “Bye. It was good talking to you. Just wait until I see that Michael Banks.”
After returning the guests to the lodge and helping his younger brother Zayden secure the horses in the stables and rubbing them down, Brayden had been looking forward to a beer on hi
He lived in the cabin farthest from the lodge, down by the river. When he was away from the lodge, he shifted into his bear and ran along the path. Unlike his siblings, Brayden embraced his bear and shifted at least once a day. He found the exercise to be much more interesting than jogging in human form.
As he set off down the trail, he heard someone walking in the woods off the path up ahead. It was a female. Whether he was in human form or bear form, Brayden was lured by the fair sex. His sister, Skylar, called him girl-crazy and warned him that once he found his fated mate, he wouldn’t be so interested in every girl that came through the lodge.
Brayden claimed he was merely searching for that elusive fated mate. After all, how could he find her if he didn’t interact with as many women as possible? It seemed perfectly logical.
As he followed the scent of the girl walking in front of him, he noticed some red marks on the trees. He stopped and sniffed one of the marks.
Intrigued, he followed the girl’s scent until he quickly caught up with her. She was sitting on a fallen log when she saw him. She was definitely not a hiker. She was wearing a short blue wool coat, tights, and what he thought of as city boots. Boots that were doubtless going in the dumpster after this trip.
He slowed so as not to frighten her too much, but when he saw this city girl climbing up a fir tree, he couldn’t resist a closer look. Didn’t she know that he could climb a tree much better than she could?