Boone Freeman has a legendary reputation as a SEAL, both as a team leader and a man who doesn’t do relationships. Ever. After retiring from the Navy, at the request of his old friend Vixen he comes to Broken Peak, where fate has plans for him that includes more than just missions.
When he finally talks with one of the shifters in Hidden Clan, she threatens his commitment to no commitments.
Bella is beautiful, intelligent, and a fierce mountain lion shifter, but she has a problem. The male her former Clan Chief chose for her won’t take no for an answer, even after she ran away to the sanctuary of her uncle’s clan.
When her rejected mate’s obsession turns deadly, love confronts the danger. Will Bella lose the man she loves or will her love be enough to save Boone?
Boone wrenched his shoulder while running the obstacle course from hell that Vixen had created in the middle of the woods in Broken Peak. Instead of being the big tough frogman like he would have if he’d still been leading his squadron of SEALs, he begged out of the next run. He had nothing to prove since retiring from the Navy and exasperating the injury wasn’t worth coming second place to the tiny raccoon shifter who mocked Boone and the men who followed him to Broken Peak. He still wasn’t used to the terminology, but the idea of shifters no longer made him want to call for the men in white coats to come and take him away. It helped that the General hadn’t seemed at all fazed by the revelation when Vixen sat him down and explained it.
He headed into town instead of watching Maggie trounce his men yet again. The small cabins they lived in were nice, and he could have spent time in the Lodge with the members of Vixen’s pack. Sometimes Boone needed to return to the human world, and his wrenched shoulder was a perfect excuse.
War had a few options, like the coffee shop or diner, but he opted for the Dirty Whistle. As bars went, it was cleaner than most and as long as it wasn’t payday or a weekend night, relatively quiet.
Bella and her uncle stood at the end of the bar deep in discussion. When the bell above the door rang, she turned her head toward the door. From her glare, she wasn’t thrilled to see Boone walking in and sitting down at a stool. Thirty seconds after Boone sat down, a glass of amber liquid appeared in front of him. She didn’t have to ask what he wanted. He always ordered the same scotch.
Gareth, Bella’s uncle, sat down next to Boone fifteen minutes later. “Vixen doesn’t have you training?”
“I’m taking a break.” Boone lifted the glass. “There’s only so much of getting my ass kicked by Maggie before I need to ghost out.”
“Yeah, she’s a whirlwind. For what it’s worth, she kicks everyone’s ass, which is why no one enjoys training with her.” Gareth smirked and slapped Boone’s bad shoulder.
He tried to hide the wince, but wasn’t certain he was successful. The shifters had a sixth sense for reading body language. Even though the Navy had spent years training Boone how to hide things, the shifters usually saw right through the facades. If Gareth noticed the wince, he said nothing.
“I think Vixen’s trying to keep us from getting too bored. Trouble has a way of finding us when we’re not in country.”
“Be glad for the respite. For a while there we couldn’t go a week without someone entering the territory who didn’t belong.” Gareth slapped his hand down on the bar a few times before heading out the front door.
Bella stood in front of Boone. “Hurt?”
He kept his gaze on his glass of scotch. “No, just used a wrenched shoulder as an excuse.”
Bella narrowed her eyes at him. “Doesn’t a wrenched shoulder mean you’re hurt, Boone?”
She wasn’t wrong.
Did he hear the hint of laughter in her voice? Boone glanced up with a grin. “Word is your secret admirer isn’t taking your hints.”
“Yeah, he’s not the sharpest crayon. In fact, a broken crayon might be sharper than he is.”
Bella could charm the paint off a wall. No one stood a chance when she used her charm. Her blue eyes got bluer and her lips teased at a smile, like she had a joke she was dying to tell. So fucking cute that his cock twitched in his pants.
“He probably doesn’t have anything else going on in his life. Too bad there isn’t a gym in War he could hang out at. Without a gym, his deficiencies are more apparent.” Boone had clocked the large male standing seventy-five feet away from the bar when he came in.
Gareth had complained to Vixen about it, but she hadn’t been ready to start a war with Bella’s former clan just yet. Boone wasn’t sure that was the best choice. In his experience obsessed males, regardless if they were shifters or not, quickly turned to dangerous males.
“Yeah, he has like one asset, well two, looks and muscle, and when he can’t rely on those, it’s obvious that he was born without a brain.”
Boone pushed his scotch to the side. His conversation with Bella was more interesting than whatever thoughts he would have had sitting alone. “Is that a requirement? Having a brain? Is that why you’re ignoring him?”
Bella laughed softly, more of a breathy exhale than an actual laugh, but the sound caused another twitch to his cock. She had a sweater on over her shirt, a cardigan that she hadn’t bothered to button. It hinted at the swell of her breasts and for a moment Boone wished she wasn’t wearing the sweater.
“A brain is a requirement, yes, but that’s not why I’m ignoring him.”
“I broke up with someone by letting them catch me having sex with someone else.”
Bella stopped fidgeting with the bar rag and stared at Boone awe-stricken. “There wasn’t a better way?”
“It wasn’t my finest hour.” He didn’t make excuses for it. “She was pretty pissed. In fairness, she wasn’t a girlfriend, just a hookup. It wasn’t a breakup as much as I wanted her to leave me the fuck alone.”
“If she was anything like the women in War, she told everyone who would listen about it. Then she made an excuse and told everyone you slept with her to get back at someone else.”
“Close. She claimed the only reason I slept with her was, so I could tell everyone I slept with all the journalists embedded with us. Which wasn’t true, I never slept with two of the reporters.”
“I’m not sure that’s an achievement, Boone. Let me guess, the other two reporters were men?”
Boone shook his head.
“Ah, the type of women whose vibrators would run away from them if they had legs.” She called out his shallowness with a laugh.
He never would have guessed Bella was funny. Her comment might have been mean, but it didn’t make it less humorous.
“I just meant that once she saw me fucking someone else, she got the message. Maybe your stalker needs a message he can’t ignore.”
“Are you asking me to sleep with you?”
Boone shrugged his good shoulder. “Why not? I could bend you over the bar, show the gym-rat it’s time to move on.”
He half-expected a slap, but Bella surprised him with another breathy laugh. God, he could get used to hearing that sound all the time.
“I am sure Gareth would love that plan, but do you think your shoulder is up to it?”
“Bella, if you believe a shoulder is important for a good fuck, you’ve been doing it wrong.”
She laughed again as a pink flush warmed her cheeks. This time, his cock stood at full attention.
“I fear I don’t have a fraction of the experience of your past conquests. I’d be a disappointment.”
Boone slid closer to the bar, hiding his hard-on before she caught on that he might have only been half joking about fucking her on the bar. “You being a disappointment is impossible, Bella.”
She didn’t have a response and instead grabbed the cutting board with lemons and began slicing the fruit for garnishes. She was smiling. Boone lifted his glass of scotch and drank.
The silence that followed their exchange was comfortable. They might not have been talking, but they shared the space at the bar together, pretending they had been joking.
Boone finished his scotch and debated about getting a second. Normally he only had one, but he didn’t want to leave the Dirty Whistle just yet. It was order a drink or get Bella talking again.
“So, I shared a bit of my past with you. What are you going to give me in return? Is there someone you’d rather have hanging around than your admirer who won’t come within fifty feet of this place?”
Her head snapped up and Boone worried she’d slice her finger with the knife in her hand. Her eyes were wide as she stared at him. For a moment he imagined what they’d look like in a post-sex haze. He leaned closer until his chest rested against the bar.
Bella dropped the knife and smoothed her hands over the bar rag. “No. Not really. No.”
“Not really isn’t a no. Which is it? Or are you more of a one-night-stand kind of girl, someone who pounces and bounces?” Boone wasn’t sure why he continued talking about sex. Perhaps it was the blush on her cheeks. It might also have been that he was thinking with his ever-hardening cock.
She looked down at the lemon and picked the knife back up, returning to her task. Only the smile she had was gone. In its place was the professional half smile she used with customers.
Boone wanted the cause of her change to be because she’d rather have him as her admirer and tried to hide it from him. He was fairly certain it was his use of the words pounce and bounce. He hadn’t expected her to be impressed by it, but a small laugh would have been nice.
“Isn’t pouncing and bouncing what you do, Boone?”
Everyone, his squadron, Vixen, even the members of her pack, called him Free or Freeman. Only one person used his given name. His mother. Bella didn’t say his name the same way as his mom. She added a little breath that kicked his cock into high gear and made him want to bend her over the bar.
How the fuck had that thought entered his brain?
If his cock got any harder, it risked lifting the top up off the bar. He needed to rein his fantasies back under control, because his imagination was going places it didn’t need to be visiting. Leaving the bar with a hard-on at full mast wasn’t at the top of the list of new things he wanted to experience.
“Bella, I wouldn’t bounce from you.” Boone hoped the cheesy line would bring back the sweet smile he wanted to see again.
“But you’d first have to get the chance to pounce, Boone, and that won’t happen. Besides, I’m not the one who’s supposed to do the pouncing.” She didn’t look up from slicing the lemon, but that sweet smile was there.
Boone took it as a sign. A good sign.