Lions, Tigers, and Sexy Bears Oh My! by Candace Havens
A Montana town where no one is who they seem....
Everything about runaway heiress Ainsley McLeon screamed trouble—from her luscious midnight locks to her Louboutin-clad toes. Yet sexy, stoic bar owner Luc couldn't deny the instant connection he felt to the tempting stranger…or the long-dead feelings she evoked. She could work in his pub until her truck was fixed but after that she had to leave town for good.
Ainsley traveled with her own emotional baggage and there was no way she'd fall for the bear-tempered Luc...no matter how many passionate nights she spent in his bed or how safe she felt in his muscular arms. Can these two opposites find love in the middle of a blizzard, or will Luc's darker side and Ainsley's past catch up with them?
About the Author
Award-winning author Candace Havens lives in Texas with her mostly understanding husband, two children and two dogs, Scoobie and Gizmo. When she isn't living in the imaginary worlds she creates, she's interviewing celebrities, writers and producers for her job as a TV columnist, and talking about movies with 96.3 KSCS. She runs a free online workshop for writers.
Read an Excerpt
Lions, Tigers, and Sexy Bears, Oh My!
By Candace Havens, Shannon Godwin
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Candace Havens
All rights reserved.
The icy air outside was too much for the heater of the well-used Ford truck. Ainsley worried her fingers would have to be forcibly removed from the steering wheel they were so cold. The blinding snow didn't help. Even if there were somewhere for her to stop, visibility was zero. She'd been on the winding Montana road for hours without any sign of life. With her luck, she'd probably freeze to death in the wilderness. It had been that kind of day.
She imagined the headlines her sudden flight from her life in California would cause. "Heiress to McLeon Fortune Disappears Without a Trace." She sniffed and stomped her Louboutin-clad left foot on the floor of the truck to keep it from getting frostbite. At least out in the wilds of Montana, she didn't have to worry about her family trying to murder her. Maybe they'd get lucky and a bear would eat her.
Stop it. New life. Remember? We're leaving all that behind.
But betrayal was a hard thing for her to forget. Especially, when it was done at the hands of those she trusted most.
She glanced down to make sure she'd turned the knob the right way for the heat and frowned. The salesman should have mentioned that the truck didn't have heat and one of the headlights was broken. The guy hadn't blinked an eye when she'd handed over five hundred dollars and said she didn't want to have to worry about paper work. He'd given her the keys and put the money in his pocket.
Shivering uncontrollably, she hunched her shoulders and leaned forward. The wipers didn't work so well, but she could see something in the road ahead. Pumping the breaks to slow down, the back of the truck shifted and slid sideways across the ice. Trees whizzed past her as she turned into the skid like she'd always been told to do, but to no avail.
"Craaapppp," she screamed as she let go of the wheel realizing nothing she did would help. Everything happened so fast as the vehicle plowed through a snow bank and into a tree.
The force knocked her face and head against the steering wheel at the same time, the seatbelt cutting into her ribs and waist.
The truck sputtered and the radio made a strange squawking sound. Reaching over she turned it off. Coughing as if it gasped for its last breath, everything quit all at once.
She closed her eyes and she let go of the breath she'd been holding.
Out in the middle of nowhere without a cell phone, heat, or even a coat. Brilliant.
When she'd left Beverly Hills, she'd driven straight to the airport, bought a ticket to a place no one would think to look for her, and boarded the plane ten minutes later.
"Grrrrrrrr." Something growled outside the door of the truck.
She locked her jaw to keep her chattering teeth quiet.
Twisting carefully, she tried to pop the button on the seatbelt but it didn't work. Jamming her finger harder, her nail broke but the latch didn't give.
Wonderful. Instead of freezing to death, I'll be eaten by a wild animal. Part of her mind wondered which death would be worse, as the other side of her brain tried to find a way out.
Of course, she could have stayed in L.A. and let the guys with guns kill her.
Leaning toward the window, she used her hand to wipe away the frosted fog. There was no light to see anything but she sensed whatever it was that growled moved.
She needed light. Her purse had fallen to the floor during the crash. Using her leg, she hooked it over her toe and brought it to the seat. Inside she found the small diamond encrusted key chain with her initial. On the loop with the keys, there was a small penlight she used to find things in her bucket of a purse. Flashing it out the window, the prowling creature came into view.
"No, way." She closed her eyes and opened them again. She must have hit her head harder than she thought.
The orange and black stripes were unmistakable.
What in the hell was a tiger doing in the middle of Montana? The huge monster's eyes burned into hers.
Well, at least it would be somewhat exotic to die by tiger.
The beast, seemingly curious about the light, eased closer to the door and sniffed. As a child, Ainsley had been on safari with her mother and father and she'd seen what a tiger could do to its prey in a matter of seconds. The vehicle jiggled and a loud thump hit the bed of the truck. This was it.
Only ribbons of Ainsley would be left by the time it was done.
The perfect ending to the worst day of her life.
Well, not the worst. That had been last year when her parents died, but this was close.
Another large thump in the truck bed caused her to jump.
Glancing back, she saw the tiger's nose pressed against the window, which was only a few inches from her head. Expecting a large paw to crash through the glass at any moment, she held her breath.
Nothing happened. Lovely, it was toying with her.
"Just kill me," she screamed. "It's the least you could do. Don't make me wait."
The tiger's head popped back as if it understood what she said.
Then it sat there staring at her.
Tears welled, but she refused to let them fall. She was a McLeon. She never cried. Not even when she put her parents in the ground.
Sniffling, she willed herself to focus. She reached down for the seatbelt and tried unsuccessfully to undo it again.
When she turned back, the tiger continued to stare.
The absurdity of the situation wasn't lost on her.
"So, hang around these woods often?"
The tiger made a noise that sounded like a snort and its big fangs poked out.
"That's it. I'm delirious. Now I think you're laughing at me."
The tiger nodded. Or at least she thought it did.
Great. I can't even die sane.
She'd read how hypothermia led to hallucinations. But she couldn't decide whether it would be better if the tiger were real or not. Hypothermia was serious ... but then again, a tiger in her truck bed definitely counted as a bad situation. Before she could say something else, a light blinded her. Shading her eyes with her hand, she could have sworn the tiger nodded at her again before jumping out of the truck bed and disappearing into the night.
"Ma'am," a male voice called to her.
She started when a fist pounded on the window beside her.
"Are you okay?"
"Yes," she mumbled. "My seatbelt is stuck." She looked up and caught the dim outline of some kind of officer, his badge on his chest the only thing she could make out, then turned her attention back to her seatbelt latch.
"Unlock the door, and let me see if I can help," the voice offered.
She did what he asked but the handle on the door didn't work. No matter how hard she pulled, the thing didn't budge.
"Lean back," the voice ordered.
The sound of metal ripping was followed by a blast of freezing cold air that sucked the breath right out of her. Screaming seemed like a good idea, but the shock of the tiger — or the cold blast from the door being ripped open — caused a brain freeze, and not the fun kind from eating ice cream.
"What the hell?" the man asked.
"Where is your coat? Why are you dressed like that? Were you on your way to some party? And at the very least you should have some blankets with you." The man shone the flashlight across the cab and then back at her.
She agreed that her skirt, blouse, and heels were hardly appropriate for the weather but she hadn't had time to worry about that when she fled for her life.
Without waiting for an answer he brought out a huge knife.
"Hey," she shouted but he ignored her as he sliced though the belt.
Then he stood there for a moment.
"You can't walk in those shoes."
"Who are you?" she asked, lifting her chin.
"Don't get all hoity toity with me lady. We don't take kindly to that sort of attitude around here."
The words on the tip of her tongue were sharp and angry. So she did the only thing she could, she bit back her retort. This was no time to make enemies. This man wanted to help her out of a situation that was almost certain death.
"Please forgive me," she said as her teeth chattered. "I'm cold, hungry and scared to death. My body feels like someone pummeled me and did I mention I'm cold?" She shivered uncontrollably.
"Ah, hell." The man scooped her up out of the truck as if her five-foot seven frame weighed nothing. That couldn't have been further from the truth. Her mother used to say Ainsley was big boned, but everyone knew it was her obsession with food that kept her a healthy size twelve- — maybe a ten if she double-Spanxed her curves.
Before she could breathe in the freezing air, she was inside a squad car with warmth blowing at her full blast. She held out her hands to the heat. Maybe she'd survive the frostbite after all.
The man opened the driver door and handed over her purse.
"Thank you," she said.
"Be right back," he said. She watched as he strode toward the truck. He shook his head as if he saw something in the bed of it. Maybe the tiger paw prints? Did she have a Life of Pi moment with the tiger? Was it all her imagination?
The officer pulled out a camera phone and took a picture before stuffing it in his pocket. Then he opened his trunk and pulled out some kind of bundle.
"Wrap these around you," he said handing her three wool blankets. The scratchy material was rash inducing, but she wasn't about to complain. She wrapped one around her shoulders, and another around her legs. She put the third one over her head.
"You're very kind, officer," she said, her teeth still chattering.
"Sorry about being short with you. Comes with the job, and I was worried you had frostbite. I'm Deputy Conrad Joseph," he introduced himself as he put the car in gear.
"I'm Ainsley, uh, Carter," she said trying to think of a name that would hide her identity. He'd caught her off guard with the introduction.
"Well, Ms. Carter, care to explain why you're trespassing on a protected preserve?"
* * *
As the full moon neared, a wild vibe hovered around the bar as it always did this time of the month. The edgy energy meant Luc had to keep a sharp eye on the crowd. Tempers flared quickly in Clarksville, Montana; an all-out brawl might explode in a matter of seconds.
Patty picked up a tray laden with empty beer bottles.
Dammit, Luc hopped over the bar and grabbed the tray. More than once she'd strained her lower back. The last thing he needed was for her to collapse in the middle of the bar. Keen would kill him, or at least he'd try.
"What the —" Patty gasped as he lifted the tray out of her hands.
"I told you not to carry the heavy trays. You call for me," Luc's voice was gruff with concern. Keen and Patty were two of his best friends and if he hadn't been so desperate for help in the bar, she'd be at home with her feet up and her pregnant body reclined.
Slapping at his hand, she tried to reach the tray. But with Luc at six feet five inches tall, she didn't have a chance. "I'm not an invalid," she grouched.
"No, but I'd rather you not go into labor with half of our bar glasses in your hands." He pushed through the crowd at the large pine bar and set down the barware.
"Chris, you're on dish duty tonight," Luc pointed a finger at the young man on a stool at the end of the bar, who promptly nodded.
No one ever argued with Luc. That's the way he wanted it. And the only pay Chris needed was a few bottles of beer. He liked being behind the bar and chatting with the customers.
Luc, on the other hand, was tired. His body's natural need to sleep was a constant fight. Didn't matter how much he slumbered; he always felt half-zombie, half-grouch in the winter.
"Uh, Luc?" Patty grabbed his arm as she doubled over.
"Keen!" Luc yelled as he scooped her up. "It's time."
"Fuck!" Keen ran around the pool tables, taking his wife from Luc's arms.
"Baby, why didn't you say something?" Keen brushed the hair out of her eyes. The tenderness between them tore at Luc's heart. Soon they'd have their perfect family of four. The twins would be healthy — Luc had willed it so. Knowing he could never — would never — again be in Keen's place, Luc wanted this for his friend. Keen had been there for Luc when things were at their worst and seen him through the sorrow that had broken him.
"Doc," Luc nodded toward a booth in the corner but the other man was already following Keen, who held his wife tight in his arms, to the door. Luc wanted to go with them but he had to run the bar. The only other people he'd trust with it were on the way to the small hospital about a mile down the road.
Well-wishers hooted and whistled as the three of them passed through the door.
An old version "She's Having My Baby" played on the jukebox. It was a tradition but Luc hated that song. Reminded him of a time when it was played for his family.
The Cress boys' argument rose over the din of noise. Those kids never gave it a rest.
Luc lumbered toward the pool tables. The boys, who acted like they didn't have a brain between them, hit each other on the head with the pool cues. Damn kids would put out an eye if they weren't careful. And those pool cues weren't cheap.
The crowd around the boys died down as everyone turned to look at Luc, who stood with his arms crossed. It took a few minutes, but the eighteen-year-old boys stopped fighting when they finally noticed the silence.
They stepped back when they saw Luc towering over them.
The cues found their way down to the table and the boys discovered their hiking boots had become mighty interesting.
"Sorry, Luc," Joey Cress said softly.
"What's that?" Luc's voice held no kindness. It was the only way to keep the rowdy kids in check. He remembered how he had been at that age, which was one of the reasons he was so tough on them.
"Sorry, sir," Jaime Cress said.
"You boys get behind the counter and help Chris with the dishes and glassware. You're also responsible for bussing the tables. I have to keep the kitchen going."
The twins nodded.
"And boys ... you break anything in my bar tonight and your heads will be on the wall in the morning."
The threat quieted the crowd even more. The edginess ebbed as he followed the Cress brothers and handed them each an apron to protect their clothing. He'd never had to put a hand on a single patron in all the years he'd owned The Cub Club. His presence was enough to scare them into submission, and he was good with that.
As he passed through the back of the bar, a strange smell assailed his senses. Sweet honey and some kind of flower reminded him of springtime.
The crowd parted and the only noise was from the song on the jukebox.
Luc lifted his head to meet the most beautiful pair of green eyes he'd ever seen.
Trouble stared him down. Luc was the first one to break eye contact. He wasn't sure that had ever happened before.
She teetered on a pair of ridiculous heels, her tight black skirt leaving nothing to the imagination. Her full breasts were pushed up in some kind of white lacy material that showed through the few buttons of her shirt she'd left open. Her ebony hair was pinned in one of those loose ballerina things on top of her head. Luc liked long hair and hated to see a woman try to tame it.
The fantasy of many a man walked toward him on two of the longest legs he'd seen in some time.
He saw a slight shiver pass through her as she drew closer. But she held her head high.
"Are you Luc?" she asked as she tossed her purse on the bar.
Not trusting his voice, he nodded.
"I'm here to apply for the job."CHAPTER 2
Ainsley held her chin up as the dark black eyes of the bar owner stared at her with amusement. A towering force of a man, he had shaggy black hair that framed a rugged face. Damn he was gorgeous, but she couldn't let that distract her from her mission. Those sexy eyes of his narrowed again. It was obvious she was out of her element but he would not intimidate her. No one would ever do that again. She wanted this job. She needed it if she wanted to ever leave town. The tow truck driver had informed Deputy Conrad that the truck's engine had been damaged. He estimated at least two thousand dollars was needed in repairs. About fifteen hundred dollars more than she'd paid for it.
So she was stuck in this two-bit town until she could raise enough to buy a new car or get the repairs made. Pulling money from her sizable bank accounts wasn't an option. It would be too easy for someone to track her. Still in shock over what had happened the last week, she wanted to crawl in a hole and weep, but she had to survive. The first step was acquiring a job.
The deputy had mentioned one of the waitresses was about to have a baby and that the bar owner needed some help. But he didn't look like a man who needed anything.
"Do you have any experience?" The giant bear of a man hadn't taken his eyes off her since she entered the bar except very briefly when she'd first refused to look away.
"Yes," she said. He didn't ask specifically about waitressing experience so she hadn't lied. She did have experience working with the public and particularly difficult clients. While the patrons at the bar might not have the money involved with her business, they couldn't be any more difficult to handle.
His eyebrow shot up and she knew he didn't believe her.
"I've never worked in a place like this," she put a hand on the bar to steady herself. What was it about this guy? He had to be well over six feet and had some of the widest shoulders she'd ever seen. She wanted to run her hands through his hair, and to trail her fingers down that rugged face.
Excerpted from Lions, Tigers, and Sexy Bears, Oh My! by Candace Havens, Shannon Godwin. Copyright © 2013 Candace Havens. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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