Return to Cougarville as the town’s mayor, and resident Alpha cougar, matches wits with a trauma surgeon who sparks his animal instincts.
Samantha Becker is a busy and talented trauma surgeon with no time for nonsense. Her sister may have a special Shifter Gene, but Sammie is fairly certain she doesn’t have it, and she’s happy with her life the way it is. She doesn’t need the complicated Shifter lifestyle, and she certainly doesn’t need Liam Keller: Alpha cougar, Mayor of Cougarville and undercover billionaire. She hates him, but Liam is unable to get the curvy surgeon out of his head.
But the Shifter world isn’t ready to let Sammie go. She’s being stalked by someone who’s desperate for Shifter hormones, and Liam takes it upon himself to protect Sammie from harm. Things begin heating up between Sammie and Liam, but will they have to succumb to their inner animals in order to save Sammie’s life?
Evangeline Anderson's Cougar Bait is fun, sexy and will take readers on an emotional thrill ride.
About the Author
Evangeline Anderson is the author of the Brides of the Kindred, Alien Mate Index, and Born to Darkness series. She lives in Florida, and, to her delight, she gets paid for having a dirty mind.
Read an Excerpt
By Evangeline Anderson
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2017 Evangeline Anderson
All rights reserved.
"You're going where?" Liam Keller looked in disbelief at the curvy blond surgeon who had saved his life.
Well, he tried to look at her, anyway. After his fight with Mathis Blackwell the night before, he was in piss-poor shape, one eye swollen completely shut and the other barely a slit. The rest of him ached like holy hell too — that damn Buck had really done a number on him. Still, he tried to focus because what Samantha Becker was telling him was more than a little troubling.
"I'm going to Vegas to a trauma convention, which was where I was supposed to be all week, until I got sucked into going to your weird little town instead. How are you even awake?" She frowned at him. "There's no way the anesthesia should have worn off this soon."
"Shifters heal quickly." Keller made a dismissive gesture and winced — his right arm was in a cast and felt wrong somehow ... probably broken.
"Don't do that! You shouldn't be moving at all right now." Samantha's lovely voice took on a stern, no-nonsense note. "You nearly died last night — I was in the OR eight hours trying to save you. Don't go screwing up all my hard work."
"Yes, ma'am." He sketched a salute with the other hand and wound up wincing again — this one had all kinds of wires and tubes attached to it. What the hell had Samantha done to him in the OR while he was out cold — turned him into the Bionic Man? At the moment he felt like he had more hardware coming out of him than the exit of a Home Depot.
"I told you, don't move." She put out a hand — presumably to hold him still — and her fingers touched his bare arm.
An electrical shock ran between them — but not the kind you get from static electricity. This was more of a sexual charge — a sensual lightning bolt that crackled between the two of them, electrocuting both with pleasure. Keller bit back a growl and felt his shaft go instantly hard under the thin hospital gown some bastard had put on him while he was unconscious.
Samantha gasped and jumped back, looking at him as if he'd just groped her. Her scent — lovely and feminine, though not the scent of a Rejuvenating female — suddenly intensified and took on a hot note Keller's sensitive Cougar nose couldn't miss.
"Hey!" she exclaimed. "What did you ... how did you ...?"
"I didn't do anything," Keller growled. "That, my dear Samantha, is what is known as a 'telling sign' among Shifters."
"A telling sign? What the hell is that?" She looked angry and uncertain.
Keller sighed. "It means you have the Gene," he said simply. "The Shifter Gene."
"No, I don't," she denied quickly. "That weird pharmacist, Fiona, told my sister Sadie that if I hadn't started the, uh, Rejuvenation process by now, I probably don't have the Gene."
The Shifter Gene was carried by both male and female Shifters. In males it became activated around age eighteen or twenty — the age of sexual maturity. But in females, the Gene didn't activate until they were somewhere in their late thirties to early fifties. And it would only become active at that time if the woman was single or hadn't been sexually active with a man who claimed her as his own for six months. Once it activated, though, it didn't stop — it rolled back the clock by twenty or more years, restoring the Rejuvenating female — or "Juvie" as Shifters called them — to her early twenties. Not only that, it induced a state of hyperfertility, forcing the female Juvie to get bred by a willing Alpha male or die during the full moon.
Samantha knew all this — Keller knew she did because she'd been in his bar, The Cougar's Den — where her sister, Sadie, had explained it to her. She hadn't believed any of it, however, until both Keller and Mathis Blackwell had Shifted into their animal forms and fought nearly to the death.
My death, Keller thought with another wince.
But more even than his defeat at the hands — or hooves to be more accurate — of his rival, Keller was worried about the look of denial on Samantha's lovely face.
"I don't have the Gene," she insisted again.
"Just because it hasn't been activated doesn't mean you don't have it," Keller said patiently. "In fact, that little 'jolt' that just passed between us when you touched my skin is proof positive you do have it. I'm an Alpha and your body recognized me as a potential mate — the telling sign is a wake-up call, letting you know a male who can meet your needs is in the vicinity."
"A potential mate?" Samantha gave him an incredulous look. "Dream on, buddy. You're what — twenty-eight?"
"Twenty-six." Keller spoke with as much dignity as he could muster.
"Okay, well I'm forty. As in the big four-oh. And in case you haven't noticed, I'm not Rejuvenating like my sister Sadie did. Besides, I thought it was her you were interested in, not me."
"I was interested in her reproductive potential," Keller said stiffly. "And I didn't want her to become an Unformed — a female Shifter who has no animal shape to shift to during the full moon."
"I know what an 'Unformed' supposedly is." Samantha frowned. "But you don't have to worry about Sadie. She's life-bonded to Mathis — whatever that means — and already talking about having his babies." She made a face.
Keller raised an eyebrow at her.
"Do you object to her being with Blackwell or 'having his babies,' as you put it?"
"I've got nothing against Mathis — he seems like a really nice guy, unlike some people I could mention."
She gave him a look he supposed he deserved — he had locked her and her sister up in his bar to try and force Sadie to mate with him. But that was only because she was the first Juvie that had been seen in his hometown of Cougarville in almost a decade. Juvies — Rejuvenated Shifter females — were incredibly rare and valuable since they were the only females able to reliably pass on the Shifter Gene and bear the next generation of Shifters.
"So it's the 'babies' part of the equation you don't like?" he asked blandly, being careful not to let his face show any emotion.
"I'm not a baby kind of girl." Samantha shrugged. "Never wanted any of my own, and I guess I can't figure out why Sadie would want to start all over again when she just got her twins off to college."
"I see." Again, Keller kept his face blank, but in the back of his mind he heard another voice saying, I don't want this baby! I can't have it — not now! With an effort, he pushed the memory away.
"We seem to have gotten off topic," he said to Samantha. "The point I was trying to make earlier is that you do have the Shifter Gene, and it could still potentially become active. Which means you should stay near an Alpha male who could help you if you started feeling the breeding fever."
"An Alpha male like you, you mean?" She raised an eyebrow at him. "Didn't we just establish that you are way too young for me?"
"I'm not quite so young and inexperienced as you seem to think," Keller growled. "I gained early admission into MIT at age fourteen. Following that, I got an MBA at Harvard Business School. By twenty-one I had taken my family's company public and our stock went from selling at seven dollars a share to two hundred a share almost overnight. By twenty-five —"
"That's all very impressive," Samantha said, cutting him off. "But it doesn't change the fact that you're fourteen years younger than me." She sighed. "Look, I really don't have time for this. I have a plane to catch to Sin City, where I'll hopefully have time to do a little sinning of my own before I have to give my lecture."
Keller felt a wave of possessiveness rise in him at her words — which made no sense. He had no claim on the woman before him — nor did he want to. He told himself he was only upset because Samantha was proposing to walk into very dangerous territory with no way to defend herself.
"You say you're giving a lecture?" he said, trying to keep his tone light and even. "What's it about?"
"My personal methods of snatching a Sabertooth cougar from the jaws of death after he gets his stupid, furry self trampled by a huge prehistoric stag." She arched an eyebrow at him. "Too bad you can't be there to hear it — it's really cutting-edge stuff."
"You're hilarious," Keller said flatly. "My point is, can someone else give the lecture for you?"
"What?" She frowned. "Why would I ask someone else to give it for me?"
"Because Vegas isn't safe — not for unmated Shifter females, and especially not for a Juvie," he growled, losing his light-and-easy tone.
"We've already established I'm neither one of those things," she snapped. "But even if I was, what makes Vegas so much more dangerous than any other big city?"
"The Hyenas," Keller told her. "They're some of the most ruthless and greedy Shifters around."
"So they literally turn into huge prehistoric Hyenas?" Samantha asked. "What does an Ice Age Hyena even look like?"
"Actually, they're mostly half-breeds who aren't welcome in other Shifter communities," Keller explained tersely. "They tend to have more Hyena blood in them than anything else, so that's what they're called, even though it's not strictly accurate."
"Half-breeds?" She frowned. "How is that possible? I thought a female Shifter — a Juvie — turned into whatever animal the male who, er, bred her was. And then they stick together. So how —"
"Half-breeds happen when Hyenas go on raids," Keller said tightly. "When they rape a female Shifter from another clan to make more half-breeds like themselves."
"Rape?" Her eyes flew wide.
"Hyenas are completely amoral — they have no problem with rape. Or with capturing other Shifters, drugging them, and shipping them off to the government, or even private testing facilities for their own gain. I'm telling you, Samantha, don't go there. It's not safe."
"Oh please." She made an incredulous face, as though she thought he was just trying to scare her. "You expect me to avoid a whole area of the country — arguably the most fun area — just because there are a few Shifters there you don't like, and there's an off chance they might target me if a gene I possibly have suddenly becomes active? I don't think so."
"Let me go with you then, if you're so set on going," Keller said urgently. "You'll need someone to protect you if one of the Hyenas sniffs you out."
The sharp, critical look on Samantha's lovely face softened for a moment.
"Look, Keller — I'll be the first to admit you're one damn impressive and imposing specimen when you're on your feet. But you nearly died last night — you're not going to be up to protecting anyone for a long, long time. Just stay here and heal up, okay? Relax."
"How can I relax when I know you're going into danger?" Keller demanded. He wished like hell he could get out of the damn hospital bed, grab her by the shoulders and shake her for being so willfully ignorant.
"First of all, Vegas isn't dangerous unless you have a gambling problem, which I don't," Samantha said, frowning. "Second, I'm a grown-ass woman and I can take care of myself!" She glanced at her watch. "And I'm going to miss my plane if I don't go right now. It's a long drive from here to the airport."
"To hell with this!" Keller started trying to get up despite all the tubes and wires and casts that covered him, but Samantha pointed a finger at him menacingly.
"You stay right there and don't give the nurses any trouble or I'll leave orders for them to give you an enema every hour on the hour. I promise you won't like that one damn bit. You might be a huge muscular guy who can turn into a horse-sized cougar, but I am in charge here. Got it?" Keller just glared at her.
"Got it?" Samantha repeated sternly. "Am I making myself clear? And are you going to behave?"
"You're walking into danger," he growled. "For an intelligent, highly educated woman, you're acting very stupidly."
"No, the only stupid thing I did was to come back here and check on you," she snapped. "I'm leaving now, Keller, and I don't expect to hear from you again. You can follow up with your regular doctor for any physical therapy or after-care treatment you might need."
Before he could say anything else, she left, pushing open the door of his ICU room and leaving him to fume in silence.CHAPTER 2
Well, that was interesting. Samantha settled in her airplane seat and prepared to take a nap. She'd been up all night saving the life of that ungrateful asshole Keller, and she was dead tired. Only she couldn't seem to get comfortable. She couldn't get Keller's bruised and battered face — his one good eye blazing at her — out of her mind.
Why was that?
He's an asshole, she told herself uneasily. He was just trying to scare you. Forget it. Forget him and his whole crazy town and everybody in it. Well, except for her twin, Sadie, that was.
How in the world her sister — who had always been the most stable, sedate person in the world, with the most boring, normal life anyone could imagine — had gotten herself mixed up in the plot of a real-life monster movie was more than Samantha could comprehend. Or no, the Shifters weren't monsters exactly, she supposed. It was more like they had an animal side — one which could literally come out in the open on full-moon nights.
And somehow, now, her sister was one of them. According to Sadie, she could now change into a beautiful doe to complement Mathis's huge, scary, prehistoric buck. The buck Samantha had seen the night before — she was still trying to forget the image of her sister's new boyfriend ... mate ... or whatever he was — changing from a human into an animal that had been extinct since the last Ice Age.
Of course, Keller changing into a cougar the size of a draft horse had been pretty damn impressive too. Not to mention terrifying. Samantha still shivered when she thought of the six-inch fangs and deadly claws he sported in that form. He was scary enough as a man — he had to be six foot seven if he was an inch — with the muscles to match his large size. But as a Cougar, well ... he was in a whole different league.
It had taken all Samantha's courage the night before to approach the massive beast Keller had changed into after Mathis's buck had trampled him almost to death. Sadie had tried to warn her that he might be dangerous — that a wounded beast was far more deadly than a healthy one. Samantha had known her sister was right, but somehow she couldn't help herself — she had to save him.
She still remembered approaching him, the huge, furry side with its tawny fur heaving for breath. His fur had been bloody, his immense body wounded, trampled, and torn. He'd been lying on his side, and the one eye she could see had rolled up to meet hers. It was the same silvery-leaf-green color as Keller's human eyes. In it, Samantha had thought she'd seen human intelligence.
"I'm not going to hurt you, buddy," she'd murmured, trying to make her voice soft and soothing. "Just want to take a look and see if I can help. Okay?"
To her surprise, the immense, furry head had nodded once, though it clearly hurt Keller to make the movement. That one surprisingly human gesture in the huge beast had given her the courage to put her hands on him and assess his injuries — which had been massive and traumatic.
Samantha still didn't know how he had survived being so savagely trampled. One eye had been nearly torn from its socket, his liver had been lacerated, multiple bones had been broken, and she was almost certain he was going to lose one of his kidneys. Still, he had hung in there and today, after an eight-hour surgery, he was awake and trying to get out of his bed in the ICU to keep her from going to Vegas.
Too bad somebody can't bottle some of the Shifter essence, or whatever it is that makes them so freaking unkillable, Samantha thought, finally closing her eyes as the plane taxied down the runway in preparation for liftoff. Drug companies would make a fortune off it.
Then the plane lifted into the sky, the G-forces pressing down against her entire body like a giant hand, and she gave a contented sigh. Unlike many people who have flight anxiety, Samantha had the exact opposite reaction to flying. Being up in a plane was usually quite restful for her — maybe because she was in the one place where she couldn't be called in at the last minute to perform emergency surgery. Just knowing that she was out of reach and completely free of any obligations relaxed her completely.
This flight was no exception. Pushing the thoughts of her troublesome patient and her sister's new, strange situation out of her head, Samantha took a deep breath and let herself drift off....
Excerpted from Cougar Bait by Evangeline Anderson. Copyright © 2017 Evangeline Anderson. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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