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Falke’s Captive – Puma Nights #2

FalkesCaptive-300x454ISBN: 9781426892431

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A graduate student working in animal genetics, Beth Coldwell is in town to track and tag big cats in the wild. Her prospects for the summer only improve when she meets Kelan and Reidar Falke and decides the sexy brothers are the right pair to fulfill her other, less than scientific, desires…

But her research is a threat to the Falke family secret. When Kelan, in cougar form, is captured, that secret comes closer than ever to being revealed. He escapes, but not before Beth draws a blood sample, and analysis shows this is no ordinary mountain lion.

Kelan and Reidar cannot deny the powerful attraction they feel toward Beth. She might just be their destined mate. But if they reveal themselves to her, will she embrace who they are or see them as just another science experiment?


 

Reidar Falke took a swig of ice-cold beer and leaned back in their usual U-shaped booth with a satisfied sigh. “That hit the spot.” He pushed his emptied plate aside and waited for his brother Kelan to finish off the last of his own meal.

The Tap ‘n Tine was their favorite Leavenworth hole-in-the-wall and the preferred Falke family rendezvous point after long hours spent catering to tourists at Catamount Outfitters.

His two youngest brothers, Sindre and Torsten, arrived and slid into the booth, each one with matching mugs of golden, foam-topped heaven. Gunnar had been invited too, but he’d opted out to check in with their eldest sibling, Axel, who’d taken the day off-an advantage to being the alpha and majority owner of the family business.

“You’re late,” Reidar told the new arrivals. “We decided not to wait.” Torsten and Sindre both scowled at him.

Kelan grinned and glanced at their younger brothers. “Lookin’ a little damp around the collar, guys.”

Sindre narrowed his eyes. “You misled us about the Kramers and their rafting trip.”

“Yeah,” Torsten added, “those ‘beautiful daughters’ you raved about, Kel, are preteens.”

“Hey, I don’t recall anyone asking me how old they were, and I didn’t lie. They’re pretty.” He cast a smirk at Reidar. “Cute as a button.”

Reidar chuckled and drank his beer. As part of their jobs, the brothers often teamed up in pairs to take tourists on guided hikes into the national forest or on white water rafting expeditions down river. In most cases, the trips were routine, easy. But when children were added to the mix, easy was seldom a description that fit.

“Cute… Sure they’re cute!” Torsten glared. “And totally useless when trying to steer a raft through rapids.”

“God, the squeals.” Sindre cringed at the memory and ran fingers through his damp hair. “My ears are still ringing.”

Reidar shook his head. His youngest brothers were so dramatic and always fun to tease. “At least you got to be outdoors today. You could’ve been cooped up at the store facing flashbulbs all day.” With the two of them conned into taking the rafting job, and Axel taking yet another day off for reasons he wouldn’t share, Kelan and Gunnar had manned the store, leaving him shifted into catamount form as Falke, the store’s furry and fanged security system. “That new ad campaign has really brought in the traffic. I swear I’m still seeing spots.”

“Quit whining.” Kelan rolled his eyes and then pointed at their siblings. “You two survived. Besides, you won the job fair and square. I asked for best two out of three, and you both said no.”

The game of Rock, Paper, Scissors had become a family tradition, started by their mother, to resolve disputes in the Falke household. With six rambunctious boys, all with the ability to turn into fierce cougars, settling conflicts in non-violent ways had been a must to preserve individual health and the family unit, not to mention furniture and windows.

Now as men, somewhat more mature in handling their wilder natures, the brothers honored their mother’s memory by using the game as a fun way to settle matters at work.

“How were we to know-”

“Maybe next time,” Reidar said, interrupting Torsten, “you’ll make sure to know what the clients look like and how old they are before you do battle over who gets the job.”

The brothers grew quiet as they continued imbibing. Garth Brooks’s voice filtered from the corner jukebox near the bar, and a few couples swayed to the beat in a small open area designated for dancing. The Tap ‘n Tine’s cold beer, good food and usual lack of curious tourists made the pub a traditional after-work destination.

Six brothers who all looked strikingly similar were guaranteed to attract attention, which was great for business, but at the same time, their family secret warranted caution. They liked the notoriety, but being on constant guard could prove taxing. Reidar enjoyed moments like this when the brothers could hang out together and relax.

“Pretty good crowd tonight,” Kelan observed, finishing off the last of his beer.

“Mmm-hmm,” Reidar agreed, not bothering to look around. “So, have you spoken with Ax, yet?”

Kelan set his glass down with an audible thud. “How? You know he wasn’t at work today.”

“Speak to him about what?” Torsten wanted to know.

When Kelan refused to answer, Reidar said, “Kel has a great idea that could open up our sales distribution beyond the city limits and generate more revenue.” He turned to his twin, the brother he’d grown closest to over the years. “We closed up a while ago. You had plenty of time to drop in on him at home.”

“What’s the matter, Kel?” Sindre teased. “You scared?”

Kelan snorted. “Scared of Ax? You wish.” He picked up his mug. “I’m empty. You dolts need anything from the bar?”

“Sure,” Reidar responded with a knowing grin. Kelan could evade, but he’d have to pay for it. “You can buy us a second round.”

Kelan just nodded and headed for the bar, which meant he seriously didn’t want to discuss the topic.

Sindre muttered, “He’s scared.”

“No,” Reidar said, “he’s worried.”

“‘Bout what?”

Reidar had his suspicions but didn’t care to share them with his younger siblings. Although, he figured they’d suffer similar concerns when they began feeling the urge to break from the family. Ever since Axel and Gunnar settled down with their mate, Reidar had noticed a change in Kelan, an antsy irritability that manifested into increased confrontations with Axel whenever the family’s alpha was around. Being closer to Kelan than any of the other siblings, Reidar recognized his alpha impulses. He wondered if Kelan did. And worried about what might happen when those natural instincts grew too strong to ignore.

He watched as Kelan made his way to the bar, and then scanned the mass of patrons. Most of the faces were familiar to him-locals with whom he and his siblings had grown up. But one face weaving through the crowd caught his eye. Her dark hair was pulled back into a tight bun, and the stylish copper-colored frames of her glasses made her look like a sexy school marm. A very sexy one, he thought as she stepped into his unobstructed view and he caught a better glimpse of her body. All long, slim legs and womanly curves showcased by snug jeans and a T-shirt.

“Reidar?” Torsten asked, turning to see what had attracted his attention. When he spotted the lone female, he let loose a low whistle and jostled Sindre with an elbow.

One look and Sindre popped off with, “I say we do battle.” He and Torsten faced Reidar, fists at the ready.

Growing up in a small town, the uniqueness of their births-a set of quadruplets followed by triplets-meant the Falkes were well known. He couldn’t speak for his baby sister, but with the community being a year-round tourist hub, that also meant finding companionship of the opposite sex came rather easy. However, being brothers and shifters, competition had always been a natural part of the dating scene.

Tonight, though, Reidar was in no mood to play a child’s game over the right to approach the stranger. He fought the urge to smile when he saw Kelan’s reaction the moment she neared the bar. Instead of returning to their booth, his twin did what any hot-blooded single male would do; he slid onto a barstool next to the beauty.

When his brother also removed and pocketed his collar, Reidar lost his fight and grinned. Although they followed tradition by wearing the collars with their family crest, both men usually removed them before approaching a potential date, especially out-of-towners unfamiliar with the Falke family eccentricities.

They wore them because the town required the Falke puma to wear one, and any one of the brothers could be required to shift into that role at any time, so it was easier to always have it on. But collars were also considered symbols of submission by some folks, and there was nothing submissive about him or Kelan. Better to avoid potential confusion from the start.

“Come on, Reidar,” Sindre said with a chuckle, “or do ya forfeit without a fight?”

“Too late, boys. First come, first served.” Reidar removed his own collar and watched with avid interest as the scene at the bar unfolded.

His younger brothers both turned to see what he meant by his remark, and then Torsten groaned.

“Shit,” Sindre said, “if Kelan gets his claws into her, there’s not a chance in hell for any of us.”

“Speak for yourself, whelps.” He and Kelan had shared women before. A female fantasy the pair happily indulged whenever a tourist with the right interests came along. The only question was whether this woman would be interested.

“I’ve checked into a hotel,” Beth Coldwell told her professor on the phone as she weaved her way through the locals toward a vacant barstool. She hadn’t had a meal since breakfast and was starving. The candy bar at the gas station a few hours ago didn’t count.

“Where?” the professor asked.

“In Leavenworth. I didn’t make it to Wenatchee before nightfall, but there’s a Forest Service office here. I’ve already contacted the park rangers and will set up a meeting with one to discuss trails we could use and where the best places might be for us to begin.”

She slipped a butt cheek on the stool and smiled at the bartender. Covering the mouthpiece, she ordered a screwdriver, light on the alcohol, and a menu.

“What’s that?” she asked, not catching the last of what the caller had said.

“I said to be sure and verify locations for setting up the mobile lab too. I doubt we’ll be able to pull the trailer into some of the more remote areas we’ll be exploring.”

“Okay. I won’t forget.”

Professor James Whitmore had a lot riding on this sponsored research project, as did the university, so the fact that he’d let her, a grad student, take point by scouting locations where they could begin meant a great deal. She’d been ecstatic when he’d chosen her as one of two students to help with the field research. The information she gathered this summer would go a long way toward giving her the data she needed to write her dissertation and earn her doctorate.

“Good, good,” he was saying. “And you’ll let me know what the park service has to say tomorrow?”

“Yes. Absolutely.”

“All right. I want to have the first two locales identified soon, so we can get started immediately upon my arrival.”

“Yes, sir.” The professor had wanted to begin the weekend after finals, but post-semester faculty obligations had held him up, which was why he’d entrusted the set-up for this first leg of the project to her. She was determined not to let him down. “When can Tim bring the trailer?”

“Soon as you give the word that a suitable command post location has been found.”

“Okay.”

Tim Radke, a fellow grad student, also happened to work for his father’s commercial delivery company and had the necessary license to transport the equipment vital to their project, the most important piece being a twenty-eight-foot semi trailer that housed the mobile lab.

“You have his number?” the professor asked.

“Yes.”

“Good. If all goes as planned, I should be able to make it there by sometime on Saturday.”

“I’ll have everything ready to go.”

“I know you will, Beth. Stay in touch.”

A click signaled the end of the call, so Beth pocketed her cell phone and browsed the menu.

“I’d recommend the steak or a burger,” a deep voice said, its volume quiet and sultry enough to make her tingle. “The clam chowder’s from a can.”

That last part had her smiling. Looking over to the man occupying the stool next to hers, she locked gazes with a pair of hazel eyes that stole her thoughts.

“Um…” She shoved her glasses up her nose. The damn things were always slipping. She should have had them adjusted before she left Seattle. “Really?”

He flashed straight pearly whites in a smile that made his eyes gleam but didn’t quite soften the chiseled angles of a handsome face. His tawny hair, mussed in a sexy just-out-of bed look, reached the collar of his T-shirt and had her mind diving for a very naughty place.

Oh, wow.

“Yes, trust me.” His expression changed again to one of grim promise. “I’ve had it before. It’s not for the faint of heart.”

“What isn’t?”

That smile again. “The clam chowder.”

“Oh, right.” She laughed at herself and looked back at the menu, hoping he couldn’t see the heat pinken her cheeks in the pub’s low lighting. “Steak, huh?”

“New York strip is my favorite. It’s the best in town. Unless of course you’re not the carnivorous type.” He touched her hand as he turned her menu slightly toward him and looked down. “I’m not exactly sure where the veggie dishes are.”

“I like meat.”

I like meat? She prayed he didn’t fall into the same gutter where her mind was already drowning. She didn’t think her face could burn any hotter. And where had all the air gone?

He met her gaze again. “You do? Great. Then, yes, definitely the steak. The mashed potatoes are good too, and fresh. None of that powdered stuff.”

She smiled just as the bartender set her drink down and asked if she was ready. After ordering New York strip and potatoes, she sipped her drink and waited for the stranger to get his mug refilled from the tap.

When he turned toward her again, she pressed her glasses back into place and then held out her hand. “Thanks for the suggestion. I’m Beth Coldwell.”

“Kelan.” He took her hand in his, engulfing it with his warmth. “Kelan Falke. You’re welcome.”

She didn’t want to release his hand. It was big, warm and rough. Just the thought of that hand on other parts of her body made her tummy flutter. She licked her lips and tried to focus her brain elsewhere. “Kelan? That’s a cool name. Mine’s really Elizabeth, but my friends call me Beth.”

“Pleasure to meet you, Beth.” When he let go of her hand, she wanted to snatch his back and hang on. A ludicrous urge, and one she didn’t act upon. Thankfully. She didn’t even know the guy, but there was something about him…

Damn, he’s gorgeous.

“So, what brings you to Leavenworth?” He sipped his beer and leaned his forearm on the bar. “Don’t tell me you’re just passing through.”

Oh, he was good. What a line. He probably did this on a regular basis. Now that the shock of his appearance had worn off-as much as sitting next to the sexiest guy in the bar could wear off-she was better able to handle small talk.

“I might be around for a little while.” She’d actually planned on setting up their base of operations in Wenatchee or perhaps farther north near Chelan, but Leavenworth was looking pretty good at the moment. Unwilling to share all her secrets, and possibly bore him to death with scientific business, she added, “When my…friends arrive, we plan on doing quite a bit of hiking.”

She was surprised to see him grin. “Yeah? You need a guide?”

She chuckled. “Why? You volunteering?”

He shrugged. “Maybe. These friends of yours… How many are there, and are they boy or girl friends?”

She grinned wider and played along. “Well, there’s two of them, and they’re both men.”

He slapped his hand over his heart as if in pain. “Seriously?”

She laughed again. “Yes, just a couple of good friends, but…” She leaned closer. “They’re not here tonight.” She dared a wink at him and wondered where in the world she’d found such bravado.

He smiled back at her, and she realized that somehow the man beside her made it so easy. He was charming and handsome, and she wasn’t keeping up professional appearances for colleagues on campus. With this stranger, she was free to be herself, if only for a little while. Just tonight. No harm in a little flirtation.

And she was having fun, something she hadn’t done in quite some time, what with classes and hours upon hours spent in the lab. A nice change of pace-one she’d all but forgotten existed until this chance meeting with Kelan Falke.

He had a nice name to go with that handsome face. Sexy. She liked the way it felt on her tongue.

The bartender delivered her food, and as she picked up her fork, she glanced at him. “You on a liquid diet?”

He cast a look at his beer and chuckled. “No. I finished a double bacon cheeseburger just a bit ago.”

“And you were supposed to order another round,” a new arrival said from behind them in a voice that rumbled with a sexy bass tone.

Beth turned to greet the newcomer and froze when she saw double.

Deep down she knew it was rude to stare. Twins were not unheard of in the world, but she never expected to see two men like the hard-bodied hunk on the barstool beside her. The first one had been a big enough surprise. The second had all her fantasies coming into focus.

Not that she’d act out those fantasies. She was a single woman in an unfamiliar town, in a pub no less. She wasn’t the type to pick up strangers and take them home with her, even if they looked like these two.

But still. Oh my God!

Permanent link to this article: http://annaleighkeatonbooks.com/2014/09/falkes-captive-puma-nights-2/

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