Get lost in the powerful, sexy novella by Kate Baxter where one alpha shifter will do whatever it takes to claim the woman he can *bearly* resist...
Caden Mitchell is the ultimate alpha. Known to most as a smoldering hot billionaire, his secret weapon- the ability to shapeshift into a strong and deadly bear- allows him to be the most ruthless enforcer of the Sortiari, a paranormal organization tasked with keeping the course of Fate on the right track. But when the ailing health of his grandmother leads him back home, the luscious curves of his childhood nemesis will be too much to resist...
Leah Ridgeway never expected Caden to give her the time of day. With his abs cut from stone and powerful, strong arms, she knows there's no chance he's interested in her handful of curves. But Caden is tormented by thoughts of her beautiful body. And when evil threatens Leah's very life, Caden will stop at nothing to keep her safe...and claim her as his mate...in Stripped Bear.
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By Kate Baxter
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 Kate Baxter
All rights reserved.
Caden Mitchell brought the Mercedes AMG to a stop in the wide circular driveway of the Mitchell family's sprawling estate. In the dark of night, the towering mansion appeared foreboding, its haughty four stories of weathered gray stone towering over the landscape like an ancient sentinel. It was one of the oldest properties in Lake George, a fixture of the upstate New York landscape. A stretch of wooded land that encompassed five hundred acres stretched out beyond the manicured grounds. The secluded property had kept the Mitchell family's secrets for generations. As one of the last bear shifters in his family line, all of it would pass to him much sooner than he'd thought. He was practically an endangered species. It had been too damned long since he'd been home. And it was unfortunate that it had taken his grandmother being on her deathbed to get him there.
He killed the engine and headed toward the massive oak entrance. The door swung open and Cade was welcomed by one of his grandmother's staff. "She's expecting you," Geoffrey said.
Cade grunted a quick thanks under his breath and dropped his bag in the foyer before he headed up the stairs.
He'd been gone for far too goddamned long. He felt out of place in this house that had been his childhood home. His grandmother had expressed her disappointment when he'd told her he'd taken a job with the Sortiari, an esoteric organization that had been manipulating the course of Fate for millennia. She'd insisted that the Sortiari couldn't be trusted. That they reviled all supernatural beings and that they'd use him and dispose of him the moment he was no longer of use to them. His grandmother had always been a bit paranoid. The members of the Sortiari might have been egotistical bastards, but most of them were every bit as supernatural as Cade.
As a shifter, Cade didn't possess the magic that some of the organization's mages wielded. Cade brought brute strength to the table. That and a ruthlessness that made even the most powerful of magic users cower in their overpriced loafers. Cade answered to the director of the Sortiari and no one else. His assignments for the director were as secretive as the organization itself. They paid him well for his efforts and there wasn't a soul in the supernatural world who didn't know who he was and likewise didn't fear him.
Cade had quickly become addicted to the power and influence he'd gained through his affiliation with the Sortiari and he wasn't planning to leave their ranks anytime soon. In fact, the director had called him last week with orders to report to Los Angeles, ASAP. Something big was on the horizon and they wanted Cade front and center. Family took precedence over the Sortiari's needs, however. Cade's grandmother was the only family he had left. She'd raised him. And he wasn't leaving as long as she needed him.
He took a right at the top of the second-story landing. The third and fourth stories of the enormous mansion were all but vacated these days. Cade was glad that his grandmother had decided to move to one of the rooms closer to the ground floor. He hated to think of her negotiating all of those stairs. Despite her protests, he really should have had an elevator installed ...
Luanne Mitchell was a tough old bird. Which made the news of her illness so much harder to accept. Shifters weren't immortal like some other members of the supernatural community, but they were made of sterner stuff than most. She'd always been so vibrant. So full of life. This sudden turn was a goddamned shock. Cade was very well connected. He'd find a way to help her. But first, he needed to know what in the hell was wrong.
He stopped at the end of the long hallway and eased open the door to the southernmost bedroom. A single bedside lamp illuminated the vast space and his grandmother lay in the middle of an enormous king-sized bed, nestled under a pile of blankets.
"Caden?" Her voice was soft, but clear in the quiet room.
"It's me, Grandma. How are you feeling?"
"Come closer, boy, and let me get a look at you." Her sly tone would have shamed any wolf, though Cade knew firsthand that the matriarch of the Mitchell family was more stalwart than any lupine creature that walked the earth.
His footfalls barely made a sound on the expensive rugs as he crossed the room. She stretched out her arm when he reached the side of the bed and he took her much smaller hand in his. She wrapped her fingers around his and squeezed, showcasing far too much strength for a woman lying on her deathbed.
Suspicion gathered under Cade's skin and caused the fine hairs to stand up on his arms. She painted a picture of fragile helplessness, buried beneath the pile of blankets, but her grip on his hands told a completely different story. Cade fixed his grandmother with an accusing stare, his mouth puckered and jaw set. "How are you feeling?"
Her lids slowly opened to reveal dark blue eyes sparkling with mischief. Her thin lips curved into a smile. "How I've missed you, my boy." Her voice didn't betray an ounce of weakness. The sound of the front door opening drew Cade's attention and his grandmother's smile widened. "And you're just in time."
Just in time for what?
* * *
Leah Ridgeway stepped through the open doorway and offered her coat to Geoffrey. He'd been a fixture in the Mitchell household for as long as she could remember, and was nearly as old as Luanne Mitchell herself. God, it had been years since she'd been in this house, but not a single thing had changed. It was like stepping into the past, and a wave of nostalgia washed over her. She could almost picture herself as a girl again. Waiting impatiently while her father and Luanne conducted business in the study.
"Mrs. Mitchell's bedroom is on the second story," Geoffrey said. "South wing, the last door at the end of the hallway. She's expecting you."
"Okay," Leah said. "Thanks."
Her gaze settled on a swanky leather duffel that had been left in the foyer. Was someone else here? A tremor of anxiety rushed through her bloodstream. Luanne had only one living family member that Leah knew of, and though he hadn't been around for several years, he was the last man on the face of the earth she wanted to run into.
"Is someone else here?" she asked, one foot planted on the bottom step. "I don't want to interrupt anything."
"As I said, she's expecting you," Geoffrey replied. Not exactly a definitive answer. "Please, go right up."
Leah found it odd that Luanne would ask to see her in the first place. True, her father had been Luanne's attorney for years and had handled matters regarding the Mitchell estate for longer than she could remember, but she hadn't been close with Luanne for sixteen years. Not since the day Cade had told her exactly what he thought of her before packing up and leaving them all behind. Leah swallowed down the bitterness that burned in her throat. She'd spent the better part of her preteen and teenage years pining for Luanne's grandson and when she'd finally mustered up the courage to tell him how she felt, he'd made it clear that he found her abrasive, stubborn, and generally difficult to be in the same room with. After Cade left, Leah hadn't been able to find a reason to continue to visit. She'd graduated from high school four years later, graduated from NYU with honors, and started her life. It had taken years to convince herself to not give Caden Mitchell another passing thought.
Halfway up the wide staircase, her text message alert went off. Leah dug her phone out of her back pocket and frowned as she read Adam's text:
Got called in to the hospital. Probably won't be home tonight. Sorry.
With just a week until their wedding, Leah had hoped that Adam would be home tonight to discuss some last-minute details. It seemed like he spent more time at the hospital than he did at home lately. Leah tried not to let it bother her. She didn't want to be one of those women. The clingy, whiny type who demanded attention and coddling twenty-four hours a day. She had her own life. Her own career. It wasn't like the art gallery didn't keep her busy, too. Still, it would've been nice if Adam could make the time to be involved in some aspect of their wedding.
As Leah made her way to the second-story landing, she wondered if Luanne had asked her there tonight to discuss her art collection. The Mitchell estate owned several pieces that were considered priceless, including a Monet that she'd give her right arm to own. Luanne was quite the philanthropist, always generous with the family's immense fortune. A spark of excitement ignited in Leah's stomach at the thought that she might have been asked here tonight because Luanne wanted her to be the private curator of her art collection.
It would be a dream come true.
When she reached the top of the stairs, Leah fired off a quick text to Adam letting him know that she understood he was needed at the hospital and that she hoped he had a good night. He was a good man. Gentle. With a sense of humor that brightened her days. His passion for medicine rivaled hers for art. She loved Adam's mind. His brilliance. And his selflessness. But it seemed like with every passing day she had to remind herself of all of Adam's many good qualities. As though she needed to remind herself—or convince herself—of why she'd wanted to marry him. It could have been pre-wedding jitters. Everyone got them, right? She admired Adam's dedication to his career, even if he'd been so busy that their sex life had taken a backseat to work lately. Surely that was normal? No one fucked like bunnies months into a relationship. Or did they?
After Cade had left, Leah did everything in her power to banish him from her mind. She became like a shark, always in motion lest she drown from the realization that he was gone and never coming back. She quickly became a serial dater, though nothing serious. A date here or there, a boyfriend for a week until something hinted that it might get serious, and then she'd move on. She'd focused on school, her career, anything to keep her from thinking of Cade. Leah scoffed. As though any of those distractions had worked. Then she'd met Adam a couple of years ago. Leah had actually found comfort in his company, something she'd yet to find in anyone other than Cade. Adam had calmed her, made her feel safe. After a year or so, she found that she could slow down. Her mind didn't race anymore, and she'd almost forgotten about Caden Mitchell entirely. That is, until tonight.
Leah let out a sigh as she reached the door at the end of the hallway. Adam was a wonderful man. Her assessment of their relationship wasn't fair. Especially this close to the wedding. He was successful, even-tempered—he'd never once so much as raised his voice at her—and level-headed. Who needed recklessness and passion? She knew exactly how annoying a man with a temper could be. She'd spent enough time in Cade's company to know that's not what she wanted in a man. Once things settled down at the hospital and the stress of the wedding was over, they'd level out. They'd find a rhythm and passion that fit their relationship. Adam would make a great husband.
Leah brought her hand up to the door and knocked. Luanne's voice called out clear and strong from the other side, "Come in, dear! We've been waiting for you."
We? Just what in the hell was Luanne Mitchell up to?CHAPTER 2
Cade looked down at his grandmother, eyes narrowed in accusation. Her own expression was the epitome of innocence, wide-eyed and sweet. She might have looked like a harmless old woman on the outside, but her devilish intent was unmistakable. He had no idea who stood on the other side of that door, but Cade had a feeling that whoever it was, he wasn't going to be happy about it.
The door cracked open and then swung wide. Cade's grandmother gave his hand a squeeze and his heart leaped up into his throat as a woman walked into the room. Shadows clung to her form, making her look almost ethereal. Dressed in a pair of skinny jeans that hugged her lush curves, a short jacket that skimmed her waistband, and a deep V-neck t-shirt that showcased the luscious swell of her breasts. Who was she?
"Luanne, I didn't realize you had company. I can come back later."
That voice. Low and husky with a seductive edge that caused Cade's gut to bottom the fuck out. He knew that voice. It haunted his dreams and a fair share of his nightmares. A low rumble gathered in Cade's chest as she came closer. The last time he'd seen her she'd been a petulant fourteen-year-old girl. Strong willed, demanding, and so sure of what she wanted. He'd been away from home for far too long. Jesus. Leah. The woman she'd become stole Cade's breath and caused his heart to pound against his ribs. Absolutely stunning.
"You'll do no such thing." Luanne sat up straighter in the bed and braced her back against the headboard. No longer the ailing geriatric on her last leg, it seemed. "Come in, Leah." She patted the mattress. "Sit."
The muted thud of her heels as they struck the carpet was the only sound in the room. With every step that closed the distance between them, Cade became more aware of her: the gentle sway of her hips, the curve of her thighs, the confidence she exuded without even trying. Her scent, heady and sweet—lavender under the heat of the sun—wafted over him, and Cade's body responded, his cock twitching behind his fly, hardening with every step she took toward him.
"Right here, dear." His grandmother patted the mattress again. "It's been ages since I've seen you."
Leah rounded the opposite side of the bed from where Cade stood. She lowered herself down to the mattress and glanced his way. Their eyes locked and Cade's mouth went dry. Every muscle in his body pulled taut. Her clear blue eyes held his gaze for a long moment before she lowered her lashes and turned her attention to his grandmother. "Luanne, are you all right? What's this all about?"
She pulled Leah in for a quick hug. "You remember Caden, don't you?"
"Yes, of course." She didn't look at him this time and Cade found himself wishing that he could capture her attention once more. "How are you, Cade?"
"A gentleman takes a lady's hand when reacquainting himself, Caden."
His suspicious gaze slid to his grandmother. Of all the ornery, manipulative, underhanded ... He cut off his train of thought as he cast a stern frown in her direction, his jaw set. He reluctantly reached out his hand and said, "I'm well, Leah. How are you?"
He took her much smaller hand in his and Cade's world spun out of orbit.
A ripple of energy traveled up the length of his arm. It twined up and over his shoulder, spread outward over his chest and around his neck. Heat pulsed in the seeking vines that dove beneath the surface of his skin, burrowing deeper, past muscle, sinew, and bone into the microscopic cells that constructed him. The flare of heat intensified at his solar plexus, burst outward, and punched into his sternum like a fist. Cade drew in a shuddering breath as his eyes went wide. Undeniable instinct exploded in the animal part of his brain, igniting an urge so intense that his vision blurred. Holy shit.
He jerked his hand back as though he'd been burned. With nothing more than a touch, Leah had laid claim to him and she didn't even know it. How could this have happened? And more importantly, how had his grandmother known it would happen? Cade took a step back and then another until his legs met the wingchair near the corner of the room. He sat his ass down, stunned, and stared at the woman who'd once been the girl he'd left home to escape.
For the better part of twenty minutes, Leah made small talk with his grandmother. Cade stared, dumbstruck, his mind warring with his body, with his very instinct. He vibrated with awareness of her, the sight of her T-shirt gaping away from her ample breasts, the sweet scent that clung to her, the warm tenor of her voice sending Cade into a sensory overload that would have dropped his ass to the floor had he not already been sitting.
He brought his gaze up to find Leah studying him, those light-blue eyes of hers almost accusing. His own brows came down sharply as he worked his jaw, willing it to unclench. "What?" He hadn't meant the word to come out so sharply, but he couldn't do a goddamned thing about it now.
Excerpted from Stripped Bear by Kate Baxter. Copyright © 2015 Kate Baxter. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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