Almost anywhere else in the world, the Sun would have been up by now. There was a lot of dark, a lot of snow, and a lot of nothing in most of Alaska. Cedar Mongoyak was not a fan. She had reasons for leaving all of this behind. But she had also made the decision to join Trinity at the age of twenty-one, and Trinity wanted her back in Alaska at age twenty-eight.
Her stomach was full thanks to breakfast, but it wasn’t settled. She sat tall with her hands resting on her plentiful thighs as she stared out the tinted window of the black SUV she was riding in, resisting the urge to smash her face against the glass like she might have done as a kid had her parents owned a vehicle. She was over the nothingness, though. She liked living in big cities, thank you. And here she was back in Alaska of all places.
The trees passed by as dark blotches against a luminous sky. The stars were glowing sand scattered along a dark blue beach, and bits of the sky reflected in the Tanana River like a big mirror to Cedar’s left. Even with the SUV’s headlights, she could see the sky better now than she had in years. Big cities were not good for star viewing thanks to all the light pollution. Hey, she never said Alaska wasn’t beautiful.
She supposed she should be happy Trinity was trusting her with this, with Eurio. She was excited about that part, because she did her homework. All the little town really needed was some direction—hopefully—and she was nothing if not a proficient organizer. She was flattered Trinity thought she was the polar bear shifter for the job, but that didn’t help her disappointment about Alaska. She’d be spending Christmas in Eurio with shifters she didn’t know—not that she ever went home to see her family anyway.
A big hand waved in front of her face. Her eyes widened, and she tried to melt against the seat holding her, but she was as flat against the leather as she was going to get.
“What?” she growled. She smacked the hand away when the driver made it clear he had no intention of withdrawing on his own. She pouted and looked out the window again.
“Finally, I have your attention. You wouldn’t shut up before, and then I suddenly couldn’t get you out of your head.”
Cedar glanced over to her left at one of Trinity’s peacekeepers. He returned both hands to the steering wheel, and his eyes were on the road. The tires had caught on ice more than once since they had left Fairbanks, but Bruiser hadn’t cared an ounce. The tires always found traction, and he navigated just fine in the dark. That fucked-up left eye of his didn’t seem to hinder him any.
He was dangerous, a former mercenary, and not someone Cedar had spent a lot of time with. Also, he was sexy. Cedar had a thing for rough men. And all that muscle. Bruiser was ripped to hell. She just had to take one look at the corded muscles in his neck, and she knew. A man like him could handle her in bed. She was a big gal, and she liked big guys—though, unlike her type, she wasn’t sporting rows upon rows of muscles. And she didn’t want to be. She liked her body. These days. It would have been a lie to say it hadn’t made her self-conscious at times, but those times were no more.
“I have a lot on my mind,” Cedar said quietly. She went back to staring out her window. As sexy as Bruiser was, she probably didn’t want to get mixed up in that.
“As long as whatever’s on your mind doesn’t get in the way of your job, it’s fine.”
The ex-mercenary turned off the paved asphalt to take a hidden road within the trees. There was a lot of snow. It crunched underneath the tires, and Cedar bounced in her seat in time with the bumpy ride. She gripped the oh-shit handle to save her insides from jiggling around too much. Then she squinted her eyes at the bands of light cast by the SUV’s headlights. If not for the almost-covered tire tracks of a previous vehicle coming through here, she would have missed the turn entirely. She probably would have missed it anyway. Eurio was the same kind of middle-of-nowhere town as the place she grew up in farther north.
For a while, nothing changed. Then Cedar’s excellent night vision alerted her to the presence of cabins almost completely concealed within the predominantly black and white spruces.
They continued driving, and Cedar kept track of each cabin they passed. There were decent amounts of land in between most of them, leaving the town extremely spread out. She wondered if the shifters living here liked having so much space or if this added to Eurio’s dysfunction. Her clan had been close together. This kind of distance would have caused problems. It would have made them strangers. She sighed, realizing she likely had her work cut out for her.
Eventually, Bruiser drove them to a clearing and onto a wide riverbank. A little wooden building that looked like a fishing shanty sat on the edge of the icy water next to a jetty.
“We’re here,” Bruiser said.
Sighing, Cedar mentally prepared her stiff legs for walking as she reached for the door handle. Before her fingers could meet the smooth metal, her door swung open on its own. She let out a startled squeak that would have made a chipmunk proud and a polar bear, like herself, blush in embarrassment.
“What’s all this?” the culprit for her near heart attack asked. Cedar smelled bear and saw medium brown eyes glinting with the first rays of Sunlight peeking through snow-leaden branches. The stranger in front of her rivaled Bruiser in size. That was to say, she was now sitting between two hulking giants, typical bear shifter males. Unlike Bruiser, not a single scar marred the newcomer’s even skin—and he was a polar bear rather than a grizzly. It was different seeing him in person. She hadn’t realized how close his brown skin tone was to her own based on the pictures she had seen before coming out here; they had the same warm undertone.
“Ling couldn’t make it,” Bruiser replied easily.
“You’re Trinity Shifters?”
“Yep. Nice to meet you, Gale.” Bruiser pulled out his Trinity Peacekeeper ID anyone associated with the alliance would recognize. He reached an arm over Cedar and made sure the other shifter—Gale—could get a good look at it.
Gale grunted as he opened Cedar’s door wider. “Welcome to Eurio.” He held out his gloved hand, and Cedar didn’t hesitate to take it. His grip was firm as his big hand engulfed hers. But, at the same time, his touch was somehow soft. He let go once she was out of the SUV. She wouldn’t have minded his touch a bit longer, but this was for the best. He was also someone she probably shouldn’t get involved with. So, she did her best to ignore the heat flooding her body and went to the back of the SUV to retrieve her things from the trunk.
“So, what are your names and what are you doing here?” Gale asked as Bruiser exited the SUV.
Cedar glanced at the burly men as they joined her at the back of the SUV. She refitted her coat and pulled out her suitcase. She didn’t pull it all the way out of the trunk, though. Gale’s narrow-eyed stare made her pause.
“I’m Cedar Mongoyak,” she said before Bruiser could introduce her himself. “I’ll be staying in Eurio for a while to get this place in shape at Trinity’s request.”
Gale chuckled, but it wasn’t a friendly sound. His eyes hollowed, more bear than man. “Is that right?”
“That’s right,” Bruiser said. “You haven’t been straight with us. You’ve got a human resident now, and you didn’t think to pass that information along?”
“We’re not Trinity.”
“No, but you’re allied with Trinity to keep Eurio safe.”
“We’re allied with Trinity so shifters that need help can be referred to us and sent our way. Besides, Austin isn’t a threat.”
“All I know is Eurio doesn’t keep us updated and that might have to do with organization.” Bruiser gave Gale a hard look with his good eye as if daring him to confess more.
Gale said nothing.
“Unless you’re keeping us out of the loop on purpose.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it.”
“If you’re that worried about it, why not launch a full-scale interrogation? Turn Eurio inside out. Trinity has the power to do that.”
Cedar stepped in. “No reason to start a fight, boys. Trinity just wants to make sure Eurio is in top shape. I’m here to assist you with whatever you might need. I’m also here to digitize your paperwork and make sure everything is up to date. No offense, but your record keeping is atrocious.”
Gale raised an eyebrow.
“I was briefed on everything Trinity knows about Eurio.”
Bruiser said, “I’m just here to drop her off and make sure she’s in good company.”
Gale huffed out a hot breath that made white bloom in front of his face like a furious steam engine.
“But I don’t know why Trinity gave me an escort,” Cedar felt the need to clarify. “I’m plenty capable of taking care of myself.” Not that she minded bear-shifter eye candy. Right now, she had double. God, she was warned about Gale’s “uncooperative” attitude, but no one prepared her for what he was doing to her body. Once again, the pictures didn’t do him justice. That heat that spread through her body had her involuntarily clenching her thighs. She wouldn’t be able to hide the scent that came with her arousal.
Gale glanced at her with fire in his eyes; she was probably busted. Bruiser didn’t seem to notice, though—not that she would have minded being crushed in between these two. Apparently, it had been much too long since she had been with a man. That thought dredged up a memory better left buried. Not everyone appreciated her curves, and she was used to that, but she would never be shamed for them again.
“I need to check out the human you have living here before I go,” Bruiser informed.
“Look, Gale. It’s not a big deal. Humans and shifters together is what Trinity wants. Peaceful relations. Coexisting without having to hide what we are. Trinity wants to reveal shifters to all humans in a way that won’t start some kind of shifter-human war. Because that could happen.”
“I know all of that.”
“Then you know how important this is.”
Bruiser folded his arms, and Cedar tried not to drool and stare at his bulging muscles. The biceps on that guy. How? She could see them through the coat he was wearing over his standard peacekeeper combat gear. Male bear shifters really had the best bodies. Hands down.
“I don’t know why Trinity is wasting their time and manpower,” Gale said. “I’ve got everything here under control.”
“All the same, I want to meet Austin Cheshire,” Bruiser said. “And Cedar is staying here.”
Gale pursed his lips. “Fine. School just started, but I’ll take you to him.” He turned on his heel, but Bruiser closed the distance between them and gripped his shoulder. Gale’s entire body went rigid.
“Good. And, Gale, in the future, don’t hide things. You could get Ling in trouble by asking her to keep secrets for you. Secrets don’t serve anyone here. We can’t build trust on them.”
Gale jerked his shoulder out of Bruiser’s grasp and rounded on him. Cedar thought he might take a swing at him, but his fists were clenched at his sides when he faced the peacekeeper. “Understood,” he said through gritted teeth.
“I know you hate Trinity for what happened to Iris, but—”
“Not another word, Bruiser. Not if you know what’s good for you. Do you want your right eye to match your left?”
The air dropped several degrees. Cedar shivered uncontrollably and gripped her arms as she hugged herself. There was way too much testosterone here. Hell, and she was squeezing her thighs together so tightly it almost hurt. She was wet, wet, wet.
“Cedar!” Bruiser roared. “Focus. You’re making this difficult.” His nostrils flared.
Okay, so Mr. Ex-Mercenary was aware of her needy scent too. Humans wouldn’t have been able to tell she was aroused right now. She missed working with them already. That was what Trinity had her doing before: human relations. As in, she was working alongside them. None of them knew she was a shifter, but Trinity was getting closer and closer to changing that.
“Take me to Austin, and then I’m out,” Bruiser said. Cedar was impressed he didn’t rise to Gale’s bait and turn this into a fist fight. That was also sexy. She liked the whole “be the bigger man” thing.
Cedar saluted, Bruiser rolled his eyes, and Gale didn’t bother giving her a second glance.
“Might as well keep your things in the trunk,” Gale said. “It’ll be quicker to drive to the school.”
Cedar shrugged, and then she scrambled back into her seat. She was riding shotgun because there was no way she was going to give that up for grumpy Gale. Gale quietly took a seat in the back, Bruiser started the SUV, and they moved. It was silent beyond the hum of the engine.
But not for Cedar. She found herself wondering what it would be like to sleep with a bear shifter instead of a human. She never had. It had always been men for her, humans much weaker than her. The thought of being dominated by either of the two bears with her got her heart beating a little faster. But she had a job to do. And she was no stranger to finding comfort in her fantasies. None of it would become a reality. Bruiser was leaving. Gale was off limits. She needed to focus. Besides, she wasn’t really mate material anyway. That was why she had never slept with a shifter. All the polar bears she knew back home were crazy about mates and cubs, and she wasn’t interested in those.
Females back home were mothers and caregivers. When Cedar left, she learned women could be whatever they wanted to be. And she liked that freedom. She liked it a lot.