🔥📚Amy Star’s Goldie Lox Reverse Harem Paranormal Romance [FREE] Sneak Peak
A special treat for Simply Shifters subscribers who have not yet checked out Amy Star’s bestselling series, Goldie Lox And Her Trio Of Bears
The opening chapter is available to read for free for a limited time below, enjoy!
Available on Kindle Unlimited. To continue reading the book in full then click here!
Jillian Lox’s romantic hike in the mountains with her boyfriend turns into a nightmare when he tries to kill her. After fighting him off, she manages to escape deeper into the woods, injured and terrified for her life.
As darkness sets in, she stumbles upon a cabin where she meets three gorgeous bear shifters: Connor Evans, Vincent Morris, and Finn Stanton, and decides to stay with them after learning a shocking truth about herself.
Jillian is a powerful oracle and vessel, destined to save the bear shifters’ species by having a child with one of them. As the men go to any lengths to seduce her, Jillian’s choice is made even harder when she develops feelings for all of them.
With the survival of the trio of bear shifters resting on Jillian’s decision, which Werebear will be just right for her?
“Come on, Jill.” Ted pulled his designer shirt on over his head. “With the way you’re always flooding my newsfeed with posts about the environment, I thought you’d be loving this.”
“The view is gorgeous.” Jillian sighed as a guilty blush greeted her cheek. “And saving the planet is everyone’s responsibility.”
“But?” He put his arms around her, brushing a lock of blond, wavy hair behind her ear.
“I still like indoor plumbing and Wi-Fi.” She gave him a half-hearted peck before pulling away. “I’m going to make some hot tea.”
She wanted to be a good sport about being dragged out to the middle of nowhere. But, as much as she craved authentic life experiences, this was a bit more than she had bargained for.
“You’re a spoiled brat; you know that?” Ted smiled, slapping her backside as she put the kettle onto the rack hanging over the fire-pit.
“You seem to like it.” She clenched her teeth.
Ted had some annoying habits, but he wasn’t the worst guy she’d ever dated. They’d been acquainted for years because their families had dragged them along to a lot of the same fancy social functions.
“I do, actually.” He turned around to rummage through his backpack. “In fact, I would like nothing more than to spoil you for the rest of our lives.”
Jillian’s eyes widened as she turned around to find Ted on one knee, holding up a tiny black box.
He opened the top to reveal a massive sparkling diamond that almost glowed in the reflection of the sunset. She clapped both hands over her mouth.
“I… uh.” She tried to swallow, but her mouth had gone completely dry.
“I know it’s only been six months.” He smiled. “But they’ve been the happiest six months of my life.”
“Wait.” Her eyebrows tilted upward. “Let’s think about this for a second.”
“You’re the only person that I’ve ever imagined settling down and starting a family with.” He held up the box a little higher.
I can’t get married! I’m twenty-four years old, and I’ve never even had my own apartment.
Jillian’s brow furrowed at the thoughts racing through her head. She imagined all the pictures they would soon be posting, probably a kissy photo with her left hand strategically placed on his cheek to show off the ring.
Picture perfect artificial happiness…
Jillian’s father, Congressman James Lox, would be delighted for the media frenzy. It would give him a chance to remind all the voters what a loving family man he was. Her mother would demand full control of all the wedding plans, complete with a film crew to document everything. Kathrine Lox prided herself on being the perfect trophy wife, often reminding Jillian that her best option for a secure future would be to find a good man.
I might be young, and maybe it’s a little naïve of me. But I do not want to be my mother.
“I don’t think I’m ready for this, Ted.” Her voice cracked as she forced out the words. The smile faded from his lips as he stood up. Jillian wrung her hands. “You’re amazing, and I really like spending time with you. It’s just that…”
“You don’t think I’m good enough?” He looked down at the ring and then back at her, his blue eyes flashing as he puffed his chest out. “Just because my father had to work to get where he is, building his company up brick by brick.”
“What?” She wrinkled her nose. “No, that’s not it at all.”
“Then what’s your problem?” His face reddened.
“The problem… is that I’m still trying to figure out who I want to be.” She frowned. “This isn’t a decision people should take lightly.”
“You took shooting me down pretty lightly.” Ted took a deep breath before putting his hands on her shoulders and starting over. “Look, I haven’t figured myself out yet, either. Both of us have some growing up to do; I get that. I just want us to do it together.”
Behind that charming camera-ready smile and those sad, puppy-dog eyes, there was something cold and imposing that sent chills up her spine. She looked away, folding her arms.
“Jill.” He stroked her cheek. “I love you more than I ever thought I’d be capable of loving another person.”
“And the fact that your father has been pressuring my father into passing that bill to let him drill here had nothing to do with the timing of this little trip?” She looked into his eyes, searching for an answer.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” He clenched his jaw.
“I don’t live under a rock.” She took a step back. “I know your dad wants to drill here. That environmentalist group is protesting and writing petitions to my father not to let it happen. Us getting engaged would take the media’s focus off of all that, wouldn’t it? This just seems like weird timing.”
“This is so typical of you…” He scoffed. “You pull your head out of your entitled little fairy tale life just long enough to peek out and get all self-righteous about shit you obviously don’t know a goddamn thing about.”
“Okay.” She put up her hands and turned to walk away. “I don’t want to fight.”
Ted grabbed her arm, digging his fingers into her skin.
“Ted.” She twisted her arm in his grasp. “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll take your hands off me right now.”
“Or what, princess?” He pulled her close and grabbed a handful of her hair with his other hand. “Or what?”
She brought her knee up as hard as she could, nailing him square in the groin. He let go, doubling over as she bolted down the hiking trail. Pulling her phone out of her back pocket, she struggled to focus on the keypad as she dialed 9-1-1 and hit the green button.
CALL NOT SENT
Crouching behind a tree to catch her breath, she looked at the icon at the top of her screen to find she had no signal.
“Shit!” She held up her phone higher, her chin trembling as the icon blinked. The sound of footsteps crunching through leaves on the path made her snap to action. Ted ran five miles every morning, and she knew there was no chance of her outrunning him on the trail. Grabbing a tree branch, she turned a sharp corner, sliding down the steep hillside toward the river.
“What the fuck are you thinking?” his voice called from only a few yards behind her. “Stop!”
She didn’t even slow down. Reaching the bottom of the hill, she took off again, jumping over a rotten log and dodging a low-hanging branch as she wove between the trees.
Stupid! She cursed herself for coming all the way out here. When Ted said he was taking her on a romantic getaway in the mountains, she was expecting a ski lodge with room service and a concierge, or at the very least, a cabin with running water and electricity. By the time she realized what he actually had in mind, she would have been too embarrassed to back out.
His footsteps were even closer now; no matter how fast or how far she ran, it was only a matter of time before he caught up. She was fast approaching a ledge, and she was going to have to make a split-second decision: jump or face Ted. Her heart thrummed in her ears as she glanced over her shoulder just as he reached out to grab her.
“Don’t touch me!” Her shirt ripped as he yanked her backward.
“What the hell is your problem?” He shoved her to the ground, pinning her wrists with his hands.
“Get off me.” She thrashed around, but he was too strong. Never having been in this position before, she panicked and spat at him.
He froze, and for a second, she thought he might let her up. His fist made a solid impact against her left cheekbone, and her body went limp as pain surged through her eye socket. The burning in her lungs faded to the back of her mind as she cradled her face.
“Fuck!” Ted wiped the spit off his cheek. “You stupid bitch, why did you do that?”
“I’m sorry.” Jillian’s stomach turned as she tried to focus on the cold palm of her hand against her cheek. “Will you get off me, please?”
“You spit in my fucking face, Jillian.” He bared his teeth. “What was I supposed to do?”
“Look,” she opened her eyes, “let’s just hike back to the car and forget about it.”
“Right,” he scoffed, “like a pampered little daddy’s girl like you would pass up the chance to play the victim in front of all the cameras.”
“Ted. I just want to go home.” Tears gathered in the corners of her eyes, and her hands trembled as the adrenaline wore off.
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you? Roll in with a shiner and spin it like I’m some kind of woman-beater. You’ll probably go on a bunch of talk shows and tell them about how I chased you through the woods and attacked you. My dad’s company can’t afford publicity like that. I’m so fucked, and it’s all your fault!”
“Ted, you’re overreacting. Just take me home.” She took a deep breath. “I promise this will stay between us, okay?”
“It’s too late.” His eyes darted around the red and yellow leaves covering the ground, settling on a gray rock jutting out from the forest floor. Tightening his hands around her throat, he dragged her a couple of feet, placing the back of her head against the rock.
“What are you doing?” Her heart raced as an unsettling calm came over his face. “Ted?”
“You got lost in the woods…” He licked his chapped lips. “I’ll spend a day or two at the campsite and say I was looking for you. That’ll give the animals time to get rid of everything. By the time I get to a ranger station, you’ll be gone like none of this ever happened.”
“No!” Her eyes widened as he pressed his lips together. “Ted, stop!”
In one last desperate effort to fight back, she lashed out like a feral cat, screaming and clawing at his face. He lifted her head and brought it down against the rock, sending more pain shooting through the back of her skull.
“I’ll try to make this quick,” he whispered through clenched teeth as he lifted her head again.
A deafening roar shook the air, vibrating through Jillian’s entire body. Ted released her, jumping to his feet and stumbling backward. She gasped, coughing as she rubbed her throat and rolled to her side. Reaching back to rub her head, something warm and wet trickled through her hair. She held up her hand, rubbing her thumb against the wetness on her fingers. Her mind registered the color red as darkness crept in and her eyes rolled back. She shook her head and blinked hard, refusing to pass out. A massive brown bear lumbered into view.
Oh God. Do I play dead? I think with a black bear, you curl up in the fetal position, and with a brown bear, you have to yell and wave your arms. Or is it the other way around?
Ted stared the beast down, slowly backing away as the animal advanced with a deep growl, shaking the ground with every step. Backing up to the ledge, Jillian peered down into the river, cold misty air rushing up over her face.
She winced as the back of her head throbbed, and she realized there was no time to think about this. Taking the deepest breath she could muster, she hurled herself into the churning rapids below.
The icy water rushed over her skin like razorblades as she kicked for the surface. As soon as her face was above water, she screamed, her stiff limbs struggling to paddle for shore. Hitting a boulder, she tried to claw her way up the smooth surface but was swept away, sucked under by the current. She pumped her legs, suddenly wishing more than anything that she could have just one more chance at her stupid, fake, boring life. If she made it out of here, there were so many things she would do differently.
Her flailing arms burst through the surface, grabbing a piece of driftwood, clinging to it for dear life as she stretched her neck out of the water. Her limbs weakened, threatening to give out as the river raged around her. Just when she thought she couldn’t take anymore, the narrow waterway widened, and the violent waves gave way to calm glassy ripples.
She kicked toward a rocky beach, still holding the chunk of driftwood against her chest, groaning with relief as her feet reached the bottom. Mud squished between her toes as she realized one of her shoes was missing. Collapsing onto the smooth pebbles, she stared up at the trees, struggling to catch her breath. As much as she wanted to get up and keep running, some part of her kept saying that this was all just a nightmare. She rubbed her eyes, telling herself over and over again that this couldn’t be happening.
It was a dream, right? It had to be.
She shivered as the stars came out, and soon, they shone down through the branches. The throng of treefrogs and crickets overwhelmed her as she covered her ears. Reality set in; it wasn’t a dream. Ted had tried to kill her, and now she was lost in the middle of one of the country’s largest national parks. Sitting up, she reached for the back of her head, clenching her teeth as she found the gash in her scalp. She flexed her fingers, rubbing her hands together and blowing into them as she stood up.
I’m no expert on survival. The moon’s reflection danced on the water. But we drove past a river on our way in. Maybe if I follow this far enough, I can find a road and flag down some help.
The thorn bushes clustered alongside the river didn’t make for an ideal hiking trail, especially with one shoe. She ventured a little farther into the woods, keeping one ear on the river, convinced that following it was her ticket home. Her stomach growled, and she rubbed the dull ache, frowning as she glanced around for any berry bushes. She had eaten some almonds at lunchtime, but she wasn’t a fan of the canned ravioli Ted had packed for their actual meals. Licking her lips, she examined the thorny bushes, finding that they were utterly devoid of berries.
The sound of something shuffling through the leaves made her body go rigid. The treefrogs and crickets stopped singing, and she held her breath as whatever it was came closer.
Is it Ted? She trembled, clenching her fists at her sides. Is it the bear?
Her chest heaved with every breath as she stood frozen and exposed. Turning her head, she looked over her shoulder. She wanted to believe she was alone, but the hairs on the back of her neck told her that someone was watching.
She crouched, planting her feet beneath her, getting ready.
She lowered her brow.
As she charged through the darkness, twigs and sharp rocks shredded the sole of her bare foot. But this was life or death, and she wasn’t ready to surrender just yet. Ted didn’t get the best of her; neither did that gigantic bear or the river. It would be incredibly shitty for fate to bring her this far only to abandon her now.
Her foot caught the gnarled root of a tree, and she fell forward, tumbling down a steep embankment. Whether it was a tree trunk or a rock that struck her forehead, she had no idea. There was no resisting the abyss of unconsciousness that swallowed her.
In her delirium, a vision came to her. A handsome, bearded stranger scooped her up, carrying her to safety. As soon as his hands touched her skin, a sense of peace settled over her like a warm blanket.
“Am I dead?” Her voice was barely a whisper.
No answer came from the stranger. His dark eyes only seemed to harbor more questions. Her fear faded as she embraced the dark oblivion before her. If it had to end, at least she went down fighting. A deep, dreamless void consumed her mind as she slept.
Her eyes fluttered open, and she realized she wasn’t quite dead yet. Streams of sunlight filtered in through the window, and she breathed deeply as her senses returned. The throbbing in her head reminded her that everything that had happened was real. But this time, when she reached for her wound, she found a soft bandage. Sitting up, she looked at the room around her. It was simple and rustic, like something you’d expect to see on one of those vegan yoga retreats her friend Elaina was always talking about.
“I think you’re reading too much into this.” A young man’s voice came from the other room. “Sure, it’s a weird coincidence that you both saved the same chick, but that doesn’t mean she’s the one from the prophecy. It just means she had awful taste in men, and she’s clumsy.”
“I didn’t get this far, believing in coincidence,” a deeper voice responded. “There’s something special about her. I can feel it.”
Oh God. Jillian frowned. I’ve stumbled onto some backwoods cult.
She lifted the sheet to find that she was only wearing her bra and panties, both of which were still a little damp from her swim in the river. The bottom of one of her feet stung from all the cuts and gouges sustained the night before. She squinted at the scratches adorning her hands and wrists, which had been the only exposed skin besides her face. She didn’t even want to look in a mirror at that point.
Where are my clothes?
She glanced around the room, but the designer jeans, shirt, and hoodie she’d been wearing were nowhere in sight. As the panic welled up in her chest, she took a deep breath.
Let’s solve one problem at a time. I can push the screen out of that window and be out of here before they even realize I’m awake.
Biting her lip as she looked down at the old floorboards, placing the ball of her foot down. She grimaced as the wood creaked under her weight.
“You’re both out of your minds,” the younger voice continued. “I say we dump her at the nearest road and let her ass hitch-hike back to civilization.”
“Out of the question.” The man with the deep voice was the one calling the shots. “The last thing we need is for her to give the cops a description of three squatters living out in the middle of Hemlock Park.”
Are these guys escaped convicts or something?
“He’s right.” A third voice piped in. “There’s going to be police involvement because her boyfriend tried to kill her. If we dump her at the nearest road, there’s no guarantee that he won’t be the first one to find her.”
How do they know about Ted? There was no one else around; unless they were watching from the bushes, which is a whole other level of creepy. Whatever, I’m not waiting around here for these guys to argue over what to do with me. For all I know, they’ll decide that the most logical solution is to put a bullet in my head and bury me in the woods somewhere.
Tiptoeing toward the window, she wrapped the sheet around herself like a bath towel.
Finally, some luck!
The view from the window revealed that she was on the ground floor. She pressed against the metal frame, expecting it to pop out easily, but it was wedged securely into the track. Pushing a little harder, she rocked her weight against it until the frame snapped free, clattering to the ground outside. She froze as the arguing in the next room ceased.
“Sounds like our house guest is awake.” Heavy footsteps accompanied the deepest voice as he advanced toward the door.
Jillian hopped up onto the windowsill, swung her legs out, and slid off. As soon as her feet touched the cold earth, she dashed for the tree line. A bearded face appeared in the screenless window behind her, the same man that had picked her up when she fell the previous night.
She had been almost positive that his face had been part of a concussed dream, those dark eyes peering out from beneath intense angular brows, one of which bore a sharp scar at the arch. His shoulder-length, brown, wavy hair fell carelessly around his face as he leaned out with an almost-amused smile concealed beneath his facial hair.
Focusing on the rocky path in front of her, she clutched the sheet to her chest and kept running. The dried-out foliage was thicker out here. Tiny branches clawed at her face and bare shoulders, pulling the bandage off her head as she pushed her way through the brush.
I need to make it back to the river. Sooner or later I’ll run into a group of hikers or a park ranger or something.
After several minutes, the absence of footsteps behind her eased her mind enough to slow down. Leaning over and bracing one hand on her knee, she panted, struggling to catch her breath as she scanned the surrounding landscape. There was no sign or sound of the river anywhere. The bushes snagged the sheet as she pulled away. She spotted a deer trail that promised gentler terrain and let out a sigh of relief.
They didn’t follow me. She looked back, reassuring herself. Maybe they were just afraid of someone stumbling onto their little squatter pad.
For no reason that she could decern, the hairs on the back of her neck suddenly stood on end. A falling sensation swept through her body, causing her to stumble, bracing herself against a tree. She strained to open her eyes as her vision was obscured by what her mind registered as a swirl of pink and purple clouds.
Blinking, she clung to the tree-trunk and shook her head, reaffirming that she was awake.
“What’s happening?” She hadn’t meant to speak out loud. As the colors swirled, she found that she could look around even though her physical body didn’t seem to be present. The clouds she had seen were now below her. Lifting her gaze, she drifted into the cosmos. The stars moved, clinging like droplets of water to an invisible face in the darkness.
They slipped me something. Oh, God! She whimpered, hugging the tree a little tighter. These guys are hippies, so that means mushrooms or acid, right? I just need to stand right here and ride it out, like the time Elaina went to Costa Rica and did ayahuasca. It’s just a bad trip, and it’ll be over soon.
The cosmic face opened its eyes like two exploding stars, and the light poured into Jillian, filling up her body until she thought she might burst. Everything vanished, and she suddenly found herself staring at the screen of her tablet.
“Hey, babe.” A slightly older version of Ted sat across the kitchen table, sipping his coffee. “I’m going to be working late tonight. Don’t wait up, okay?”
“Oh… Okay.” Jillian looked down at her tablet and scrolled through her feed. Post after post, it was filled with notifications and tiny red hexagons, indicating that she was not nearly as popular as she had been last time she looked. Clicking on a post featuring a picture of her and Ted at her father’s annual charity gala, she scrolled through dozens of hate comments from environmentalist groups, internet celebrities, and random people she’d never heard of.
“Are you messing around on social media again?” Ted cleared his throat as he set down his coffee mug. “I thought we talked about that. Doctor Lim says it’s bad for your anxiety.”
“I was just checking my messages.” Her body went rigid as she backed out of the application and set down the tablet.
“You know how upssssssset it makes me when you lie.” Something about his voice made her shudder. Ted stood up to walk around the table, and Jillian swallowed hard. Ted’s legs melted into a long scaly serpentine body. “There’sssss nothing worsssssse than a liar.”
“What the…” Jillian scrambled to her feet, knocking over her chair as she backed against the kitchen island.
Ted’s face stretched outward, his skull cracking and distorting as his mouth widened, revealing two slick fangs, dripping with yellow liquid.
A loud rushing wind pummeled her senses, pulling her backward and thrusting her consciousness into her body. The vision ended, leaving her heart pounding against the inside of her ribcage. The hissing sound of the wind lingered, and her eyes drifted to something gray moving in the grass by her feet.
“Oh my God.” Her voice was barely a whisper as she watched the tan rattle emerge from the creature’s coils.
“Don’t… move…” A man appeared between two trees, a few yards from her. “It’s more afraid of you than you are of it.”
“I seriously doubt it.” She scowled at the guy, recognizing his voice as the one that wanted to drop her off at the nearest road. “Aren’t you going to shoot it or something?”
“Do I look like I carry a gun?” He held out his arms, and Jillian looked him up and down. He was about six inches taller than her with floppy, black hair, almond-shaped eyes, and sparse five o’clock shadow. His thermal undershirt was stained, and his tan cargo pants were frayed at the bottom. He wasn’t exactly what she’d pictured. She expected dreadlocks and maybe a tie-dye shirt. This guy seemed civilized enough, but he was more rugged than the men she was used to.
“I don’t know; you live in the fucking woods, and you’re chasing me, so probably!” Her eyes teared up. “Look, I’ve had a horrible night, and I just want to go home.”
“Last night will seem like a picnic if you don’t stay still.” He lifted his hand, palm facing down. “Listen to me and stop talking.”
“Forget it. I need to get out of here.” As she took a step back, the rattling intensified, and she paused. “I think if I get behind the tree, I’ll be able to back away.”
“Don’t…” The man’s eyes widened as she dashed for the safety of the tree. The snake’s body sprung forward with wide-open jaws as it clamped onto her calf.
Jillian screamed as the two syringe-like fangs sank into her flesh. Falling forward, she was barely able to keep a hold on the sheet. Lifting her head, she looked back just in time to see the snake’s tail as it slithered into the underbrush.
“Godammit.” The man rushed over, kneeling at her side. “Let me see.”
Sitting up, she flinched as he came close, but the gentleness in his tone made her relax.
“I don’t think he got me. My head hurts worse than my leg.” The dried blood crusted in the back of her hair made her want to scratch it.
The man moved the sheet aside, examining the two puncture marks before letting out a long heavy sigh. “Listen to me.” When he locked eyes with her, the worry on his face made her break into a cold sweat. “When I tell you that you need to stay calm, I’m not just saying it because panic annoys me. I mean, you need to take slow, steady breaths and keep your heart rate down. That was a Timber Rattler. Right now, it might just feel like a little bee sting, but as the venom spreads through your bloodstream, it’s going to get much worse.”
“I get the feeling you don’t have much experience calming people down.” Jillian frowned.
“I know you don’t know me, and believe me, I don’t like this any more than you, but you’re going to have to let me carry you back to the cabin.” He reached toward her, and she shrank back.
“Wait a second.” She looked down at the blood trickling from the fang marks. “Should we tie something around my leg?”
“It won’t stop the venom from spreading.” His expression was soft, but Jillian could sense in his tone that he was getting frustrated. “It’ll just cause an even bigger problem when the swelling starts.”
“Should we be trying to suck the poison out or something?” She fanned the bite that was starting to burn.
“Sure, if you want an infection to go along with your snake bite.” He wrinkled his nose. “Would you seriously let a complete stranger put their mouth on an open wound?”
“Don’t be an asshole.” She crossed her arms. “I read it in a book once.” She blushed at the lie; she saw it in a movie.
“Right.” He pressed his lips together. “So, if I pick you up, are you going to freak out? Because that would defeat the whole purpose of trying to keep your heart-rate down.”
“Do I have a choice?”
“I mean, about a third of rattlesnake bites are dry bites.” He shrugged. “There’s a one in three chance that she didn’t shoot you full of venom. You’re a big girl. If you want to chance it and try to hike your way out of here, I’ll tell the guys I couldn’t find you.”
“You’d do that?” She looked up at him.
“I’m not a fan of being pushed into doing things I don’t want to do. If I forced you to come with me, I’d be a massive hypocrite.”
“You seem like a nice person.” She sighed. “I’m Jillian, by the way.”
“Finn.” He held out his hands and lifted his eyebrows as if asking permission.
Jillian put her hands around his neck as he scooped her up into his arms and jogged back in the direction of the cabin. Despite how fast he moved, his steps were surprisingly smooth. Still, she sucked in a sharp breath as her leg bounced when he leaped over a gully.
“Hang in there, Goldie.” He held her close. “We’re almost there.”
At no point did Jillian feel like he might drop her. He hadn’t even really worked up a sweat by the time they reached the cabin.
“What happened?” The bearded man ran outside, leaving the front door open behind him.
“Timber Rattler.” Finn panted. “It was a big one.”
“At least you got lucky with that.” The bearded man towered over Finn by at least a foot.
“How is that lucky?” Jillian winced, looking down at her swollen calf.
“Baby rattlers have a more concentrated venom and no control over how much they inject. It looks like he nailed you pretty good.” The bearded man moved to the side, comparing her ankles to see how bad the swelling was.
“We have maybe twenty minutes to get her antivenin.” Finn’s eyes darted around as if he were searching for a solution to their dilemma.
A lump formed in Jillian’s throat. The fact that he was visibly worried made it hard for her to keep calm.
“We have to head out to the ranger station.”
“That station is a two-hour run even if we shift.” A blond man in his early twenties leaned on the door jam.
Shift? She wiped the sweat from her face as she tried to figure out what he might mean by that.
“The transmitter on the radio is still busted; we can’t broadcast.” The tall blond crossed his arms.
“Fuck!” Finn pushed past the blond guy and laid Jillian down on the sofa. “What do we do?”
“Vincent.” The blond put his hand on the bearded man’s shoulder. “You’ve gotta have some kind of herbal remedy for this. Make a poultice or something like when I got bit.”
“Yeah.” Vincent ran a hand through his hair. “A poultice might draw some of the venom out. Finn, get to the greenhouse; I need comfrey, aloe vera, turmeric, two limes, and a potato.”
“A fucking potato, Vince?” Finn gaped. “You can’t be serious.”
“Conner,” Vincent continued. “From the pantry, I need clean bandages, aspirin tablets, salt, and baking soda.”
Conner snapped to action and rushed into the kitchen, grabbing a wrought iron ring attached to the floorboards. Lifting the trap door, he climbed down a ladder to the hidden lower level.
“Vince.” Finn put his hands on his hips with a pleading look. “She’s not like us, man. Your grandmother’s homeopathic placeboes can’t do shit for a rattlesnake bite. We need to get her to the hospital.”
“Finn, come out to the greenhouse with me.” Vincent nodded toward the front door that was still open.
Finn rolled his eyes but did as he asked, leaving Jillian alone with her thoughts. Her lips and hands tingled as the numbness around her lips spread to her cheeks.
I don’t think this is adrenaline.
The area around the fang-marks was turning purple. Jillian groaned, clenching her teeth as the pain spread. Conner’s head came up from the trap door, and he placed the retrieved items on the edge before pulling himself up.
“I got the grinding stone, too.” He smiled, closing the trap door. “Do you want some water?”
“I am a little thirsty.” She wiped the cold sweat from her forehead. “This is really starting to hurt; do you have anything for the pain?”
“You want a shot of moonshine?” He shrugged.
“That might make me throw up right now.” She squirmed, shifting her weight.
“Try not to move around too much.” He squatted down, placing a stone bowl on the floor and popping the lid off the aspirin bottle. Shaking a few tablets out, he smashed them up with the grinding stone before combining the salt and baking soda. “I’ll go get that water.”
“Wait.” She reached out, placing her hand on his arm.
“What is it?” His blue eyes sparked something in her. Sure, Ted’s eyes were blue; her own eyes were blue, for crying out loud. But his were warm in a way she couldn’t explain.
“You said before that he made this for you when you got bitten.” She glanced down at her leg. “Did it work?”
“Yeah.” He smiled, lifting his pant leg to show her the two white dots on his ankle.
“Finn doesn’t think it’ll work.” She studied his expression.
“Finn is a pessimist by nature.” He sat down, cross-legged next to her, and took her hand. “He’s a lovable guy, but his bedside manner kind of sucks.”
“Yeah, he doesn’t have much of a filter, does he?” Her lip curled back as she gently touched the tip of one finger to the most swollen part of her leg. “He also said that I’m not like you guys. What did he mean by that?”
“God, that guy.” Conner huffed. “No filter… yeah, that’s pretty much Finn in a nutshell. He probably just meant that you’re not a dirty, sweaty mountain-man. I mean, we do have amazing immune systems from all the… pollen and what have you.” He nodded, clearing his throat.
“You must think I’m really stupid if I’m supposed to believe a potato is as good as going to the hospital.” Jillian narrowed her eyes at him.
“Potatoes are very porous.” Vincent ducked as he came through the doorway. “I never said they’re as good as going to the hospital, but…”
“Even if we ran toward the ranger station at full sprint, we’d never make it in time,” Finn interrupted. “We either treat you here and now with what we have, or you’ve got no chance at all.”
“Dammit, Finn!” Conner smacked him in the back of the head. “What the hell is wrong with you?”
“Enough!” Vincent’s booming voice made both of them cease their bickering and look at him. Finn slapped Conner on the back of the head as Vincent crouched down, taking his knife off his belt. “Get the cheese grater, Conner.”
“So basically, I’m fucked.” Jillian nodded, pressing her lips together.
“Finn doesn’t put a whole lot of faith in my grandmother’s recipes. Still, he could have approached the topic with a sliver of tact.” Vincent glared at Finn.
“I don’t think it’s right to bullshit someone when it’s their life on the line,” Finn muttered.
“Right.” Conner rolled his eyes. “Because it’s so much better to scare the shit out of her for no reason.”
“It’s okay.” Jillian’s voice cracked. “After everything I’ve been through in the last twenty-four hours, I’ll do it if only to make sure my dick-head ex rots in jail for attempted murder.”
“Revenge is as good a motivator as anything.” Vincent’s eyes squinted as he smiled, touching her cheek. “You’re tough as all hell, and I don’t doubt that you have it in you.”
The three men worked together, making a paste from the lime juice and dry ingredients. Combining the mixture with the shredded potato, Vincent put a glob of the mixture onto a clean cloth and pressed it to the bite. Jillian screamed at his touch, snapping upright so fast that Conner had to push her down and hold her still while Vince wrapped the bandage.
“God, she’s burning up.” Conner’s eyes widened as he looked to Vincent.
“Keep a hold of her.” Vincent patted Conner on the shoulder and looked at Finn. “Cold water and a clean washcloth.”
Finn nodded and headed outside. Jillian’s teeth chattered as she trembled in Conner’s arms.
“You’re okay.” He brushed her hair back as she looked up at him through half-closed lids.
“It hurts,” she sobbed, tears streaming down her cheeks.
“Oh, I know. Believe me.” He smiled. “When I got bit last year, I didn’t die, but when I was going through the worst of it, I remember wishing I would.”
“You know what?” Jillian’s shallow breaths became more labored as she reached up and touched his chin. “If we had kids, their eyes would be so blue.”
Great. She’s delirious. Conner frowned, wondering where the hell Finn was with that water. That was when it dawned on him. Kids!
“Hey.” He looked at Vince, who was tucking the end of the bandage into itself. “If she’s the vessel from the prophecy, wouldn’t that make her one of us?”
“No,” Vincent whispered, “if she were a shifter, she would have known by now, and she definitely wouldn’t have let that guy rough her up like he did.”
“Then why do you think she’s the one?” Conner’s brow furrowed. “What exactly did the oracle say she saw?”
“Grandmother said that a girl with golden hair would rise from the river wearing a crown of roses. She said that her womb glowed with the life-giving energy of the sun.” He took a deep breath, reciting the story he’d heard a thousand times. “Three bears would save her life, and through her love and power, she would be the one to revive our kind and mend the Rift that separated Earth from the Great Spirit.”
“Crown of roses?” Conner looked down at her.
“When I saw her walking through the trees last night.” Vincent stood up and looked out the window. “The moonlight hit the blood in her hair. I swear it looked like…”
“Roses,” the whisper of a smile appeared at the corner of Conner’s lips as he pictured her.
“Maybe it was just my mind processing an old story and then seeing what I wanted to see. But I swear I felt instantly drawn to her.” Vincent touched a lock of her hair. “Even before you told me about her jumping into the river.”
“So, what about the rest of it? There are three of us. We’re supposed to save her life.” Conner’s eyes ignited. “I know it wasn’t talking about scaring off her boyfriend or picking her up in the woods. You were the one that scared her and made her fall in the first place. This… this is what your prophecy was talking about; that means there’s a way for us to save her. If she was already a member of our den, what would you do?”
“I don’t know,” Vincent snapped. “It doesn’t matter because she’s not.”
“In the old times before the Rift,” Conner insisted. “What would the ancient ones have done?”
“They would have…” Vincent rubbed the back of his neck as he paced the length of the room. “They’d take her to the circle and perform the healing ritual.”
“Then, that’s the answer.” Conner’s posture straightened. “We have to go now!”
“It’s almost three miles away.” Finn appeared in the doorway with a bucket and came to kneel beside Conner.
“He’s got a point.” Vincent shook his head. “The spirits haven’t responded to our songs in over a century. Moving her might just put her in unnecessary pain.”
“It’s not unnecessary if it saves her life.” Conner’s eyes darted between his two den-mates. “Guys, come on. From what little bit you know about this girl, do you think she’d want to just lie down and die? I saw her fight back when that guy attacked her. She got bounced off the rocks for half a mile of rough rapids and walked out on her own two feet. I’m telling you, she’s a fighter.”
“When she got bit, even when I told her how bad it could get…” Finn took a step toward Vincent. “If she was afraid, she didn’t show it.”
“Am I hallucinating, or are you two agreeing on something for once?” Vincent crossed his arms, arching a scarred eyebrow.
Finn and Conner looked at each other and nodded in acknowledgment.
“Well, then I guess we’re doing this.”
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