Ursa Major by Mary Winter
genre: very sensual paranormal shape shifter
length: full length novel
Sarah Doyle's job with a reputable Washington firm sends her to the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge to write an honest report about oil drilling. She's aided by Liam Phillips, owner of RoundTheBend Eco Tours. All she wants is a few weeks in the wilderness and to keep her personal opinions in check so she can write the unbiased report her firm requests. Get in and get out. That's what she's done in the past, and what she expects to do now. She hadn't counted on her sexy, rugged guide or the feelings he kindles inside her.
Liam is a man who will do anything to save his home and keep his secret safe. The remote countryside keeps his people hidden. It's their refuge and their home. He expects a stuffy political puppet, not a woman as untamed as the land he loves. His goal is to give Sarah the information she needs and send her back to Washington D.C. as soon as possible.
However, pressures back in Washington DC, and from Liam's people, are mounting. Sarah has to persevere for her own peace of mind, for an entire ecosystem, and for a people she doesn't even know. But time is running out and Liam may have to reveal his darkest secrets in order to save everything.
For the bear, it was one threat too many. Dropping to all fours, it whirled away and run deeper into the woods. Liam waited until it had disappeared. He turned to Sarah. "You okay?" he asked.
She nodded, eyes wide, skin pale with fright. Sweat beaded on her brow, not quite strong enough to overpower her lavender scent.
That damn floral fragrance had probably been what drew the bear in the first place. He should have made her shower, except he wasn't sure his libido could have handled the image. Adrenaline pounded through his veins. He stepped forward, once, twice, noticing she never moved. Shock. Standing before her, he wrapped her in his arms and drew her against his chest. "It's all right. The bear is gone," he crooned. "You're safe."
"Am I?" Her innocent question cut him to the core. If she only knew the truth, she'd realize how safe she was with him, at least from other bears. "I've never been camping before. My first day out, I'm nearly attacked by a bear. I've only read about all of this. We're miles from the ATV. If something happens to you, I'm-" Her voice broke.
"Shh. Nothing's going to happen to me." He rubbed his hand up and down her spine, feeling her burrow even deeper against his chest. Through his layers of clothing, and hers, he felt her body heat, smelled that damn scent that would be haunting his dreams. His body reacted, driven partially by adrenaline, partially by the beautiful woman in his arms. He shifted, not wanting her to feel his arousal. Now so wasn't the time.
"You don't know that," she replied.
"Yes, I do." He leaned back, cupping her chin and tilting her face so their gazes collided. "I won't let anything happen to you. I do this for a living."
"You attack bears for a living?" Spots of color appeared on her cheeks. Her breath came in shallow pants.
He grinned. He couldn't help it. "Not exactly." Brushing his thumb across her lower lip, he drank in the sight of her. Sure, she'd screamed. Anyone would have in the situation. The important thing was that she stood her ground. She didn't run. Didn't put herself into a position to be harmed. And, she'd listened to him. Out here, that could make a difference between life and death.
Silence wrapped around him. After her initial shock, Sarah appeared to be calming down. Her breathing slowed, the flush remained on her cheeks, though it could have been from the chill or from being pressed so intimately against him. Her arms remained wrapped around his torso. One of them should move. Neither did.
Her lips parted.
His body throbbed with the need to release the tension building inside it. The need to taste her pounded in his mind. Just to find out if she tasted as heavenly as she smelled. His head dipped toward hers.
She swayed against him, her fingers clenching on his back, pulling him closer. Her heartbeat reverberated in her chest. Her legs tangled with his.
He shouldn't do this. He couldn't do this. She'd hired him to show her around Alaska, not seduce her moments after she'd been frightened by a bear. But she'd stood her ground. She was a brave woman. And with a sigh, he gave into the desire to taste her.
A puff of air caressed his mouth as his lips descended on hers. A gentle touch of skin against skin, just enough friction to whet his appetite for more. A tiny, needy moan emerged from her mouth, and just like that, he knew he had to have her. He drew her lower lip between his and ran his tongue along the length. In his arms, she shuddered.
Gentle, like working with a scared animal, he coaxed her mouth to his, increased the pressure, used his tongue to urge her lips open, and when she parted beneath him it was like the very heavens opening up with sunshine on a cloudy day. She tasted of a hint of mint, and when her tongue ventured out to meet his, shocks jolted through his body.
His hand on her back slid to her waist, splaying across her lower back to pull her closer to him. Her fingers clenched in his sweat shirt, her tongue boldly sliding along his. He may have started the kiss. She joined it with enthusiasm. He pulled away long enough to slant his lips across hers, deepening the kiss. A primal groan rumbled through his chest.
His lips stilled. Wait. What was he doing? He pulled back, his body aching with the need to resume the kiss. Except he shouldn't. Now wasn't the place or the time for this. Breathing heavily, he forced his hands to release her. He stepped back to put distance between them.
Sarah swayed toward him, then straightened. Her fingers slid from his shirt. Letting her hands fall to her sides, she balled her fists.
"I'm sorry," he said. "We shouldn't have done that. Now isn't the time for such things. Are you sure you're okay? The bear didn't hurt you?" He felt like an ass, first for kissing her, then for apologizing. Still, if they were to stay out here for any length of time, they needed boundaries, and needed them about ten minutes ago.
"I'm fine, thanks. I'm a big girl." Her voice wavered only a little. "Do you want me to continue gathering wood?"
"Why don't you head back to camp? Looks like we have plenty for a while. It may not be fancy, but we can eat off of some of the rations I have in my packs for today." He offered his hand as he turned back toward the trail.
She ignored it, striding forward on her own. "You can go back and get dinner. I'll be all right."
"You sure?" Uncertain whether she drew on her inner strength or simply bravado, he didn't want to push her. "Because it's all right. I make a great soup with dehydrated vegetables."
"Go. I won't hinder you. I'm sorry I screamed. The bear frightened me."
"Don't be sorry." He stopped her with a hand on her arm. "I told you to yell if you got into trouble, and that's exactly what you did. Hell, the bear frightened me." The white lie slid easily off his tongue. If it reassured her, then he didn't mind the telling of it.
"Do you think he'll come back?"
Liam shrugged. No sense in lying too much. "It's hard to say. We startled him. So he'll be leery about coming back. But there's no guarantee he won't."