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Alpha Hunted 2: Bella & Mac

by J. M. Klaire



Feeling desperate and alone, pregnant with a baby left behind during a rape, the last thing Bella needs is for her were-hunter sister to bring strange men home.

Mac, a bear shifter traveling with his adopted wolf pack, scents pregnant Bella as his mate. Mac's first instinct is to provide for and protect Bella, but Bella's first instinct is to aim a shovel at his head.

Secrets and shifters being welcomed into a house of were-hunters, who each hold secrets of their own. What could possibly go wrong?



The Alpha Hunted Series Recommended Reading order:


Before The Hunt: Sandra & Naythan (Prequel)

Alpha Hunted: Keelyn & Bane

Alpha Hunted 2: Bella & Mac

Alpha Hunted 3: Ivy, David & Ryker

Alpha Hunted 4: Enid & The King

An Impawsible Christmas (Sequel)



Each paranormal shifter romance can be read as a stand-alone, though the Alpha Hunted saga does have an over-arcing, bigger story that carries through the entire series. Get them all on J. M. Klaire’s website JKlaireRomance.com


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events and incidents are

either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

Copyright © 2017 by JM Klaire

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical

means, including any information storage, transmission and/or retrieval systems, without

written permission from the author or publisher, except for the use of brief quotations in a

book review.

Published by JKlaire Romance

http://www.jklaireromance.com

ISBN-10: 1523604131 

ISBN-13: 978-1523604135














Author's Note:

I've been asked when/where this series takes place.

It takes place in a world of my making. If shifters really did exist, cars were never invented, people still paid rents to kings, but the future rolled on to the current date, that's where/when this series takes place. So basically now, only with kings, castles, shifters and no cars, lol. Why? Because I made it up, that's why.

Enjoy!


Chapter 1


Bella stood in the shaded isolation of the chicken coop, crying. She was supposed to be collecting eggs in her apron, but her apron lay against her still relatively flat stomach as she hid her face in her hands and let the tears flow.

The chicken coop was one of the only places she could get any privacy, since shutting herself up in her bedroom and never coming out would only attract the attentions of her mother, Enid, and her sister, Ivy. They meant well, her family, but she needed a break from the pity in their eyes.

Thankfully she saw no shame there, but pity was bad enough. And she felt enough shame for all of them.

She knew in her brain that the rape wasn't her fault, but sometimes, in moments like right now, she wondered if there hadn't been something she could have done differently. If she hadn't been so friendly, maybe he wouldn't have taken her outgoing personality for interest.

Maybe if she was harder, tougher, like her other sister Keelyn, maybe he wouldn't have followed her. Maybe he wouldn't have taunted her, calling her a tease as he pushed her into the abandoned barn between town and home, tripping her and pinning her down on the dirt floor.

Maybe she wouldn't be carrying this child and throwing up at odd hours, if she'd only chosen a different time of day to run her errands.

Maybe he wouldn't have been found hours later, hanging from a light post in the center of town.

Although that part I can live with, she thought.

Jovial voices suddenly reached her ears, startling her and making her jump. She wiped her face, erasing the evidence of the tears as she listened hard, trying to place the voices rudely breaking into her quiet moments this early in the morning.

She didn't recognize the voices, but she could tell they belonged to men.

Shit.

Strange men were the last thing she needed right now.

But wait, I know that other voice with them. That's Keelyn!

Then her youngest sister, Ivy, called out in her direction, "Hey Bella, we're gonna need more eggs!"

Bella wiped her eyes once more, and tried to smooth her pitch black hair before leaning out the doorway of the chicken coop and grinning like a fool at her eldest sister, who'd finally come back home.

Keelyn was a were-hunter. She had been providing for the family by killing werewolves, collecting their bounties and selling their hides to pay the rent since the day their father had been killed doing the same thing.

Even the thought of were-wolves sent a shiver down Bella's spine.

Vile, nasty creatures, she thought. I don't know how Keelyn does it, but I'm glad she does. The fewer were-kind around these parts, the better.

She was glad to see that her sister had safely returned, but she was also confused.

Keelyn had never brought strangers home with her before.

Bella eyed the rag-tag group with Keeyln, trying to figure out why she brought them here this time.

Her eyes were drawn first to the very pregnant woman with her sister, but she wasn't really ready to acknowledge someone who shared her condition, only a lot further along.

She pulled her eyes from the large, swollen belly to take in the others with Keelyn, and decided she'd rather deal with the woman. Yes, she was pregnant too, but at least she wasn't a man.

The other three with Keelyn and the pregnant woman were all men, and Bella found herself wondering which of them had forced himself on that poor woman, causing her belly to fill and round.

She mentally shook herself, knowing it was her own circumstances warping how she was seeing the strangers, but unable to change her thinking.

She plastered a smile she didn't really feel onto her face and tried to act normal.

Keelyn didn't know about what happened yet, and Bella was hoping that as long as the strangers were here, she wouldn't. At least Keelyn wouldn't look at her with pity. Maybe for a little while she could pretend everything was normal.

"Welcome Keelyn, and Keelyn's friends! Everyone likes eggs, I assume?" She yelled out the chicken coop's open doorway. "Hey Keelyn, I didn't think you had any friends, did you pay this lot to follow you home?"

"I missed you too, Bella. Hurry your ass up and get in here, I want to hear all about how much you missed me."

It felt good to harass her sister again. Her smile, for a second, almost reached her eyes.

She swung her gaze over the group again, her eyes stopping and being held by one of the men with her sister.

He was tall. Taller than anyone she'd ever seen before. Big. Broad shouldered. He had what she would have called 'a nice face' in her previous life. Before. But now, after, it was his eyes that held her attention.

They were brown. Deep brown, like melted chocolate. But it wasn't their color that threw her. It was the primal look in them as he stared back at her that froze her to where she stood.

Her body started to react before her mind could unfreeze.

Somewhere deep, her very core responded to that look. She felt a surge of electricity rush between them, but before her body could melt under that gaze, before her feminine nature could trigger her to respond with a soft smile, a blush, or a lowering of her gaze, her mind unfroze.

It panicked.

Her heart started racing and her breathing sped up, but it was fear feeding her body now.

Her mind replayed images of her rape in the abandoned barn.

Of how he looked and smelled. Of the things he said as he pushed himself into her and ground his hips against her. Animalistic, that's what she remembered most. How his eyes glazed over as he found his release in her. How he rutted inside her, out of control.

Then after, when he was tucking himself away, he couldn't even look at her.

"I'm sorry," he'd said, right before he backed away and turned, running out of the barn and leaving her there in a puddle of skirts, on her back, in the dirt.

Bella broke the connection with the stranger's eyes, ducking back into the chicken coop and leaning against the wall just inside.

She squeezed her eyes shut, trying to block out the memories.

She took deep breaths and reminded herself that she was safe. She was home. And he was dead.

Bella pulled herself together as well as she could. She made a pocket out of her apron and filled it with enough eggs to feed the group that showed up out of the blue, and after taking another deep breath, she headed across the garden and into the house she grew up in.

Act natural, she chanted under her breath. Just act natural. Normal. Pretend everything is normal. Sit quietly, and let everyone else interact. You'll be fine. All men aren't like Sammy. You'll be fine.

As Bella walked through the open door to the kitchen, where her mother and sister were already cooking breakfast for their guests, Bella heard Keelyn's voice rise in surprise.

"Bella? Are you kidding me?"

Immediately Bella responded, "Damn it! You guys told her already? You couldn't let her settle in first?"

Crap. All she'd wanted was some time. She knew her sister would find out eventually, but she'd really been hoping that the strangers would be gone before her secret was revealed.

What the hell? Who thought they had the right to tell Keelyn anything yet?

Her stomach dropped, and she wasn't sure if the nausea she felt rising in the back of her throat was from the unwanted pregnancy or from knowing that she was being discussed in front of strangers.

Especially the tall one with the animal lust in his eyes.

Bella turned toward Keelyn, her apron still full of warm eggs from the chickens. She hadn't even made it all the way inside yet and they were talking about her!

"We don't even know these other people, and you've already spilled everything?"

Hurt and anger stung her eyes and she blinked, trying to keep the tears at bay.

She vaguely heard her mother denying that they told anyone anything, but her attention was on Keelyn alone.

Keelyn responded, saying something about how she'd run into their nearest neighbors, David and his eldest son Jordan, the night before.

Bella almost saw red when she realized the neighbors had been talking about her, telling her sister everything already, before Keelyn had even made it home safely.

And the strangers? Did they know as well?

Maybe that will dampen the look in the tall one's eyes, she thought. She was used goods now. Surely he wouldn't still look at her like he just did outside.

"Let me guess, they couldn't keep their big mouths shut? They might as well make a grand announcement at the castle, save themselves some time from spreading my story one person at a time."

The words felt like venom on her lips. She wasn't used to thinking the worst of people, and even now it didn't feel right.

"They meant well, Bella..."

Her sister kept speaking but she barely heard. She looked at Keelyn, preparing to say more, but the look in her sister's eyes stopped her. Calmed her.

There was no pity there. Just her sister being her sister. Maybe some worry, but mostly she saw love. It was enough to reach through the unaccustomed anger and it allowed Bella to regain herself some.

With a sigh she gave the eggs she was carrying to her mother and said, "I know. I'm sure they meant well, but..."

She ignored everyone else in the room, sure that what little control over herself she'd managed to collect would disappear if she concentrated on anyone but Keelyn.

"How you holding up?" Keelyn asked.

"As well as could be expected, I guess. All things considered. But let's not talk about that now, please. Let's just eat. How about you introduce everyone, Kee. Let's start there, shall we?"

She uttered the polite words, but she didn't care about the introductions. At least until Keelyn introduced the pregnant lady.

Sandra was her name, and it seems she was the wife of one of the men, Naythan. She heard the other names as well, Bane and Mac, but she just let the rest of their words fall around her.

She watched Sandra's belly in fear and fascination instead.

It rolled. As everyone talked around her, she watched the woman's stomach roll and warp as she stared at it.

Of course living on a farm Bella was no stranger to the animals and their pregnancies. She'd even helped with the birthing on occasion. But seeing Sandra's stomach pulsate and stretch just reminded her of what was growing deep in her own belly.

She'd told her mom, and Ivy before that, that it wasn't the baby's fault that its father was an ass, but that didn't mean she was in any hurry for this whole situation to grow, either.

Throwing up was one thing. She could almost pretend that she was just coming down with something. But once she looked like Sandra...

Bella pulled her eyes from the woman's stomach and pushed her food around on her plate. She wasn't hungry, and she'd be lucky if she made it through everyone else eating without running from the room to throw up.

After everyone ate, Ivy showed the guests to their rooms, telling them to rest. The five had traveled hard to get here, and according to Keelyn, the strangers would be moving on in the morning.

They were trying to get Sandra to her mother's place, just a day or so further on. Sandra needed her mother's knowledge and herbs to calm her pregnancy until it was time to deliver.

Bella eyed Sandra's stomach again, thinking they might want to hurry.

* * * * *

Later on, after everyone had rested, the farm's work was done for the day, and dinner was also pushed around on her plate, Bella took advantage of her mom and sister trying to get to know Keeyln's friends and she slipped outside when no one was looking.

Keelyn had been trying to get Bella alone all day, probably to talk, but Bella had no interest in talking to her sister in private. At least not until everyone else was gone in the morning.

As soon as she saw Keelyn off in a quiet corner with the one they called Bane, Bella slipped out.

The sky was dark already, a pale moon trying its best to light up the garden spread out before her. She settled into the swing her father had made many years before, rocking it with small kicks of her feet as she rolled her shoulders up and back, trying to work out the kinks.

She'd just started to relax when she heard movement from the shadows. She looked around, trying to place the soft, shuffling noise, while also darting her eyes here and there, trying to find a weapon close at hand.

There!

A shovel lay near the flower bed nearby, the one Ivy said she was going to try to get some new variety of plant to grow in.

She grabbed the long shaft, leaning it against her shoulder, elbows out, with the heavy, metal, digging end raised toward the sky.

She looked like all of David's sons next door when he was first teaching them to hit balls with a bat, but in her mind it was something way more sinister than balls headed her way in the darkness.

The quiet shuffling turned into footsteps, and Bella's grip tightened around the shovel, fully prepared to knock whoever was headed her way right on their ass.

Never again, she thought, as the cause of the sounds turned the corner, stepping into her sight.

The man stopped short, seemingly as shocked as she was to see someone else out here in the dark.

They stared at each other for a few seconds in silence. She recognized the tall one, the one named Mac, but she still held tight to the shovel.

She watched as he took her in, looking her up and down.

She imagined she looked a sight, standing in front of the porch swing, ready and willing to do some swinging of her own. Towards his head. Or maybe his balls. He was way too tall for her to do much damage to his head.

His eyes softened as he looked at her. His gaze no longer held the heat from before. She figured as much. She was damaged goods after all, and she knew he knew it.

No, his gaze held no heat, or pity, thankfully. Just surprise at finding her out here, about to aim a shovel at his gut.

"It's a beautiful evening."

"It was..." she answered, not relaxing her stance in the slightest.

He didn't seem to notice.

"You're one of Keelyn's sisters. Bella, right?"

"What of it?"

"Would you mind if I sat out here with you for a while? It's all a bit overwhelming inside. I'm more used to just being alone, or with Bane's pa...family."

"I'd rather you didn't."

She expected him to argue his case, or at least ask her why she was still standing there halfcocked and fully prepared to come at him with a shovel, but he only nodded his head.

"Fair enough."

He dipped his head in her direction, making her think that if he'd been wearing a hat he would have tipped it toward her.

Weird.

He stepped around her, aiming at the door she'd snuck out of earlier.

As he opened the door to go inside, curiosity got the best of her.

"You aren't going to ask me about the shovel?"

She heard a deep but soft laugh escape him before he answered.

"After hanging out with your sister, that seems quite normal. Goodnight, Bella. I'm sorry I intruded."

And with that he closed the door with a quiet thud, leaving her alone in the dark, and almost sorry she'd chased him off.



Chapter 2


Mac let himself into the house after speaking with Bella.

Before he could even process their conversation, starting with how bad he felt for startling Bella, and how much he wished he could hunt down and kill the already dead reason she reacted to strange noises in the safety of her own family's garden by grabbing a shovel to use as a bat, he ran into Bane.

"Any luck?"

Mac knew exactly what his friend was referring to, and he just shook his head no, saying, "You think you had it hard scenting Keelyn as your mate? Try scenting Bella. Yeah, you had it pretty bad, a were-wolf scenting a were-hunter as his one true love. I'll give you that. I'm even sorry I laughed so hard when it happened, karma and all. But at least Keelyn didn't jump at every sound, turning on you with a shovel aimed for your gut."

Bane couldn't help himself, he laughed at Mac as he remembered Keelyn turning on him in the forest with a bow and arrow aimed at his crotch.

"Actually, minus the shovel, that's exactly how we started."

"So there is hope?" Mac asked, almost sarcastically, with only a tiny bit of pleading thrown in for good measure.

"There is always hope, my friend. My wolf steered me right, as will your bear. You'll break through her defenses, Mac. I have every faith."

"She never did let loose of the shovel. If you peek out there, she's probably still standing there, ready to swing."

"At least she didn't kill your mother," Bane said, referring to his own situation with Keelyn. "Bella will be child's play compared to Keelyn. You've just got to flash her some of that werebear charm."

"So," Mac replied, turning the tables on Bane. "You've told Keelyn's mom that you two are mated? That her daughter, the were-hunter, has been tamed by a wolf in human's clothing?"

"Not exactly."

"I didn't think so."

"But, we aren't talking about Keelyn right now. We were talking about you, and your pregnant, shovel swinging mate."

"She can't be my mate, Bane. Surely I scented her wrong."

"Oh no, I was there, remember? After we arrived this morning Ivy led us toward breakfast, yelling something to Bella about needing to collect more eggs, and you went white as a ghost when Bella's smiling faced peered out of that chicken coop harassing Keelyn. I remember exactly how that went down. Want me to refresh your memory?"

Mac thought of Bella's response to him just moments ago in the garden when he answered Bane with her words, "I'd rather you didn't."

"Too bad. After you laughed at me when I scented Keelyn, all covered in dead wolf scent, still wearing a wolf's furr draped over her shoulders? Allow me to remind you how pale you looked when you said, "I've found my mate, Bane. And she's carrying another man's baby."

"Maybe I was mistaken."

"You wish."

"Classy response."

"There is nothing classy about scenting your mate the very first time. Trust me, I know from experience. It knocks you on your ass, but classy isn't a word I'd use to describe it. So, out back just now, did she still scent as your mate?"

"She scented of fear. No, it was more than just fear. She scented of primal, basic panic."

"And?"

"And what?"

"What else did young Bella scent of?"

"Mostly panic. I already told you."

"Mostly? What else was there?"

"I'm not sure."

"Yes you are, you just don't know what to make of it."

Mac hesitated, not trusting his own nose.

"Spill it, Mac. Did she still scent of forever?"

He nodded after a bit, saying, "Yes. She did. My bear has claimed her as ours. She scented of fear, panic, confusion, arousal, and most definitely she scented of forever. She is destined to be my mate, Bane."

"So what's the problem?"

Bane's laughing eyes told Mac he was already well aware of the problem, he was just giving his best friend hell.

"She's carrying another man's cub. Or child. Or whatever. And a rapist's cub, to boot."

"That does make it interesting."

"And she hates me, Bane. My bear has recognized her as my mate, but she is terrified of me. I scare her."

"You'll just have to work on that part then, won't you?"

"When, exactly? We are leaving in the morning to get Sandra to her mother's."

"We don't really need you to go with us. Naythan and I can see Sandra home."

"So I should just stay here? Uninvited, I might add. Me, Bella who hates me, Keelyn who you're abandoning, with Ivy and their mother? With Keelyn the only one knowing I'm a bear shifter? With her family known for hunting and hating shifters? Sounds fun. Maybe I should shift, get a horn caught in my paw out in the woods, and see if they decide to help me or kill me? It worked for Androcles and the lion, right? Everyone knows everything you hear about from the fables are true."

"I'm not abandoning Keelyn," Bane responded, latching onto that out of everything else Mac had said.

"You aren't? How do you figure?"

"Keelyn... wait, nice try. We were talking about you."

"I don't see how this could ever work, Bane."

"Yeah, I know the feeling."

They were interrupted by the one sister not being discussed in secret.

"Don't you two look suspicious, all whispering in the corner. What's going on?"

She was a tiny thing, so very different from both of her sisters in that regard. Her eyes were shining with amusement, but narrowed at them in accusation. Her hands were on her hips, blonde tendrils framing her face, her chin thrust out at them, obviously expecting an answer.

"Good evening, Ivy. Beautiful night."

"Hmm, I wouldn't know. I've been inside trying to corner Keelyn. Every time I get close she gets pulled somewhere else. What's with you guys? What are you not telling us?"

"Nothing," Mac lied. "We were just discussing Sandra. How far is her mom's place from here again?"

"About a day. Are you sure she'll make it there? She already looks like she's about to pop."

"She'll make it on sheer force of will alone. She's determined."

"I understand determination. She sounds stubborn, like me."

"Seems to be a family trait," Bane said, his eyes darting over Ivy's small frame and landing on Keelyn.

"It is. We all have the ability to set our sights on something and go after it. Hunt it down until it falls before us. To latch onto a feeling, a suspicion, and to gnaw at it until you know the truth."

"Sounds painful," Mac grinned down at her, amused by the challenge in her eyes. His bear fought the urge to tease her, to ruffle her hair or to bat at her with a paw to see what she'd do. He wished Bella was like this, would come up to him and challenge him, try to get to know him a bit, instead of being so closed off. He understood it, but he wished the fire he saw in Keelyn, and already in tiny little Ivy, would flash in Bella.

Or at least be expressed more playfully, instead of with a shovel aimed at his head.

"You guys are hiding something, I just know it. It will come out eventually, you know. The truth always does," she stared the two men down, seemingly oblivious to the fact that she had to look way up to do so.

Mac smiled and nodded down at her, cryptically quoting, "Not everything that is true needs to be said."

"Hmm." Ivy quoted back at him, "Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain't goin' away."



Chapter 3


The scent of maple syrup teased Bella's senses until the growling of her stomach finally forced her eyes open.

Coffee, bacon, pancakes, she checked them off in her mind as each individual scent teased her, promising her a delicious meal she knew she'd never be able to keep down. She cursed her growling stomach, knowing it would be crackers for her while her sisters got to eat the wonderful breakfast her mother was preparing.

She rolled over in bed, yanking the blanket over her head to try and block the glorious smells coming from the kitchen, but they seeped under the blanket with her, torturing her in the moments before she was fully awake.

She tried to go back to sleep, tried to postpone the nausea she knew would hit her the minute she sat up to face another new day.

Damn it, why did her mom have to tease her like this? She thought as her empty stomach and full bladder finally won the battle against the softness of her bed and her will to stay tunneled under her covers forever.

She sat up as slowly as she could, trying to gauge if she could make it down the hall to the bathroom before her stomach tried to get rid of contents it didn't actually possess, or if she'd need to spend a few minutes over her trash can first instead.

She thought maybe she could make it.

She threw her robe on, wrapping it around herself and sliding her feet into her slippers before opening her bedroom door and aiming herself down the hall.

Shit, shit, shit, she thought as her stomach rebelled, making her gag as she picked up speed, practically running now toward the bathroom.

She vaguely noted odd, pained sounds coming from the room Sandra and Naythan were given the night before. She picked up speed, preferring to wait and wonder what the hell was going on in there after she made her own odd, pained, morning sick sounds.

After her dry heaves subsided, she heard a quiet knocking on the bathroom door. She opened the door, fully expecting Ivy's smiling face, a glass of water and a plate of salt crackers filling her hands.

Mac's wide chest met her eyes instead.

After she tipped her head back some to meet his gaze, she heard herself growl up at him, "I thought you would be gone by now."

She watched a dark shadow flit across the back of his eyes before he blinked down at her, and if she hadn't felt like death warmed over she knew she probably would feel bad for being the reason his smiling face clouded over, but another wave of nausea knocked the guilt right out of her.

"Suck it!"

"What the hell did you just..?"

Before she could either finish her outraged sentence, or turn back and make a lunge for the toilet, the huge beast of a man waved something mostly round and white in front of her face before pressing it to her lips and into her mouth as she tried to protest.

"Don't talk, just suck. Give it a second, it should calm your stomach."

At least five different, sarcastic responses fought all over themselves in her head, each one vying for the chance to be the one she spat back at the man filling the doorway before her, but whatever he shoved into her mouth was taking up too much room to be spoken around.

Peppermint, she noted in the seconds before her hand rose of its own accord to remove the offending chunk so she could tell him exactly what she thought about him shoving things into her mouth without her permission.

He grabbed her wrist before her hand made it to her mouth though, and he held it in his massive, warm grip as he looked down at her.

Watching her work her mouth around the chunk he said, "Once the urge to vomit has passed from sucking on that, come find me. I have something else for you."

And with that said, he disappeared from view.

She stepped forward, sticking her head out into the hall and watching him walk away. He took up every inch of the hallway, she noticed. He even seemed to have to duck some, so his head didn't scrape, until he stepped out into the taller ceilinged living room, and then out of sight.

She turned her head the other way, looking down the hall toward the now high pitched, screechy noises she heard on that side.

She met Naythan's amused face staring back at her. He winked and grinned at her, then withdrew himself back into the room he must still be sharing with Sandra as another panting grunt fell out from behind him and into the hallway before he shut the door again, muffling the sounds some, with him gone from view and the hallway now empty.

What in the hell...?

After Bella cleaned up and dressed, the whole time sucking hard on the melting peppermint that actually seemed to be working to calm her stomach, she did go looking for Mac.

She told herself that it wasn't really to see what else he'd said he had for her, but to find out what the hell was going on, and why no one had left before dawn, like they had planned, to get Sandra home.

Although, she thought as more pained sounds came from behind Sandra's closed door, she figured she could guess that much on her own.

Sandra wasn't going anywhere, she was going to have her baby right here, probably today.

Bella followed the amazing breakfast smells into the kitchen, expecting to see her mother cooking and Mac pulling peppermint out of his ass or something, since she knew it wasn't something common to their kitchen.

She stopped in the doorway to the kitchen, trying to take in the odd scene.

Her mom and Ivy were seated at the kitchen table, talking, laughing and sipping coffee, while Mac, complete with her mother's apron barely covering anything on his huge frame, puttered about the kitchen.

He seemed to be simultaneously flipping pancakes, frying bacon, warming syrup and draining the honey from what looked to be a huge honeycomb into a bowl, all the while adding the occasional low timbered remark to what her mother and sister were saying.

Bella looked around at them, in awe. Her mother never let anyone but her daughters cook in her kitchen, and yet there she sat, not only letting some strange new giant of a man cook, but she seemed to be relaxed and enjoying it!

And Mac, well he looked like he was right at home, the awkwardness of their run-in last night in the garden nowhere to be seen.

"Aw, there she is. Sit Bella, I want you to try something and see if it helps."

She did what Mac directed, following orders out of shock more than any urge to actually sit down.

A steaming mug of something appeared before her and she muttered a confused thank you up at Mac.

"It's more peppermint," he said, answering her unasked question. "Peppermint tea, to be exact. That way you can sit and sip something while everyone else has coffee. It should help calm your stomach, same as the chunk I gave you earlier. Is it working? How do you feel?"

She took a moment before answering, to take stock of herself.

"Ok," she said, surprised to find that it was true. "Much better, actually. How did you know? Where did you get it?"

"You can thank Sandra for the knowledge," Mac said, grinning down at her from above.

She nodded, sipping on the hot liquid he'd given her.

"But as to the where?" Her mom's voice cut in, "Mac went and got it. Along with the honeycomb. He went out and collected the eggs, too. And had this feast in the works before any of us even realized how hungry we were. Thank you, Mac. It was very thoughtful of you."

"It was my pleasure, ma'am. I figured it was the least I could do since you were up helping Sandra all night. I'm not sure anyone got much sleep. To be honest, I was just trying to be useful and stay out of the way."

"I told you, Mac, call me Enid. Anyone who cooks like this can use my given name," her mom said with a smile.

Bella was almost afraid to ask, since she seemed to be the only one in the house who slept like the dead and had no idea what had gone on overnight.

"So, Sandra," Bella waded into the conversation. "I take it she won't be traveling any time soon?"

"Nope. Keelyn and Bane left in the night to go to Sandra's mom's and bring her back here instead. Sandra says she's not far along enough to give birth, that difficult pregnancies run in the family and her mom will come with some herbs to calm the pains, but my guess is that there will be a baby pretty soon. I may not have her mother's knowledge of herbs, but I've seen many an animal in labor. Still though, I hope her mom gets here in time. I'm sure she'd want to be a part of all this."

"Speaking of Keelyn and Bane," Ivy said. "What's going on there, Mac?"

"What do you mean?" He asked, placing a single slice of bacon in front of Bella, and passing out heaping plates of bacon, pancakes soaked in syrup, scrambled eggs and toast in front of Ivy and Enid.

Bella eyed the bacon suspiciously as Mac tried to wiggle out of answering Ivy's question.

"I mean, what's going on with my sister and Bane? There's an odd tension there. Every time I see them talking to each other, or looking at each other, I wager with myself if it's safe to leave them alone together. I'm not sure if they'll rip each other's clothes off or rip each other's throats out."

"Seems like both could be fun," Mac mumbled under his breath with a sly smile.

Bella wasn't sure anyone else heard it, but she did. She also wasn't sure if the chills the words gave her were of pleasure or fear.

"Slow bites. Let each bite settle before you take another," Mac directed the words to her and the single piece of bacon before her, ignoring Ivy as he urged Bella to try to eat something.

He finished with, "Trust me, I'm a doctor."

"Really?"

"No, not really. But trust me anyway."

Mac's grin spread over his face slowly, like the warm, wild honey dripping out of the honeycomb next to him on the counter.

"What are you, then?"

His smile faltered, his eyes cooling as she watched.

"I'm sorry?"

"If you aren't a doctor, what are you? What do you do? Why are you here?"

"Bella! Don't be rude."

"I'm just trying to understand. Keelyn's never returned home with anyone in tow before, let alone four strangers."

She turned back to Mac, finishing with, "How do you know Keelyn, exactly?"



Chapter 4


Mac usually wasn't one to go for a run. A tree climb, maybe. Especially if there was an active bee hive and some honey to be found. He could even get behind the idea of going for a swim. But to run for running's sake, like Bane and his wolf pack liked to do? Nope.

So why am I running now? Maybe hanging out with wolves as much as I do corrupted me somewhat, he thought.

Or maybe, between Bella's questions, Ivy's suspicions, Sandra's labor and his bear's insistence on providing for Bella already, by getting her some peppermint and cooking for her and her family, maybe he just needed to burn off some steam. In bear form. Running through the woods surrounding Bella's family's house. Again.

The first time he'd ducked out for some alone time in bear form was right after Bella had cornered him with questions about who he was and what he did. He'd never been so happy in all his life to hear pained screaming coming from a pregnant woman before.

Sandra's muffled, distant sounds chose that perfect moment to escalate to a pitch almost up into dog and wolf only hearing range, and Mac breathed a sigh of relief when the kitchen cleared out. Ivy and Enid left their coffees on the table as they leaped up to go help Naythan out with Sandra as they all prayed Sandra's mom would arrive in time.

After a hard look in his direction, Bella followed her sister and mother, turning back to grab the peppermint tea he'd prepared for her.

"Thanks. For the tea, I mean. It does seem to be helping."

She seemed to thank him almost against her will. He guessed that manners overpowered distrust inside her, at least for a minute. He had no doubt though that his time in the spotlight of either hers or Ivy's attentions would come back around again soon.

As she walked out of the room, he watched the sway of her hips as she retreated, his bear growling his need for her just under the surface of his control.

His mind flashed back on the way her lips had felt under his fingertip as he slid the peppermint inside her mouth just outside of the bathroom earlier.

Soft, pillowy, warm lips teased his memory. Even the fact that she was having morning sickness couldn't tamp down the shock of electricity he'd felt just by grazing her lip as she stood before him, angry accusations in her eyes as he told her to suck it.

He'd meant the peppermint, obviously. But watching her take it wrong in that first instant led his mind where hers had gone, and it took all he had to turn away from her and walk away.

His bear wasn't happy with that decision, and wanted to go back. To touch her again. To tell her what he knew to be true, that she would be his, that he would protect her and take care of her, and that everything would be ok.

After the women went to Sandra's aid, he tucked the uneaten food into the refrigerator for later, cleaned up the kitchen so the women wouldn't have to after attending Sandra, and he let himself out of the house, intending to just go for a bit of a walk and get some fresh air.

Instead he found himself ducking into the woods, stripping his clothes off, tucking the bundle high up on a tree branch, and shifting into his bear to escape for a while.

The second time he used his bear to get away for a bit was later, after Bane and Keelyn came back with Sandra's mom, who arrived just in time to tell Sandra that there wouldn't be any herbal calming of her pains. Just as everyone thought, Sandra was in full-on labor.

Mac tried to stay out of the way as much as possible, preferring to take care of those taking care of Sandra instead of jumping right into the middle of a human birthing a werewolf cub.

Tensions were high right after the baby was born though, since Enid, Bella and Ivy had no idea Naythan, and therefore Naythan and Sandra's new baby, was anything but human.

According to a whispered conversation Mac had with Bane after his return, Sandra's mom did know her human daughter was mated to a werewolf, but that information had so far been kept from Keelyn's mom and sisters, since they were a well-known were-hunter family by trade.

The biggest source of tension surrounding the babe's birth was the question of how soon the baby would shift into wolf form. Were-cubs were born human, but the ability to shift was different with each and every child. Sandra's baby could be human forever, since Sandra was human, or, since Naythan was a werewolf, the baby could also possess the ability to shift. The problem was that the cub could stay human until puberty hit, shift minutes or hours after birth, or anytime in between.

Mac kept an eye on everyone, throwing food their direction, or tea and coffee, when they would wander, exhausted, into the kitchen he'd practically taken over.

Mrs. Mitchell, Sandra's mom, put Keelyn to work as a sort of midwife's helper, which Keelyn really seemed to enjoy.

Good, Mac thought happily. Maybe she will leave her days of hunting and killing were-kind behind her, now that she has Bane and his pack.

Mac watched Bane watch Keelyn, smiling to himself as he decided that Bane and Keelyn really would be fine. They'd work out their issues and settle into being mates, Mac was sure of it. Naythan and Sandra were as close as ever, in the middle of ushering their first cub into the world. Mac was very happy for his friends and their mates. He found himself wondering if he'd ever be so lucky himself.

Yes, he'd found his mate in Bella. His bear was quite insistent on that fact. But the path from scenting her to claiming her as his looked like it was going to be a rocky one.

He'd decided he couldn't care less if she carried another man's cub, since it wasn't her choice. It's not like she loved another or anything. His bear had no issues taking care of her, or her growing child. Animals in the wild had been known to adopt and take care of babies who sometimes weren't even of their own kind.

His bear just saw Bella's growing baby as a part of Bella, and since Bella was to be his mate, then that meant that Bella's baby was to be Mac's baby too, end of story.

If only it would be that easy to convince Bella, he thought.

Mac watched as Bane tore by him, through the kitchen and outside, his mind obviously in turmoil. It wasn't very long before Keelyn followed in Bane's footsteps, a determined look on her face.

Yes, go to him, Mac thought in Keelyn's direction, sending her support in thought if not in words. You two are destined, mated. If a werewolf and a were-hunter can make it work, maybe there really is hope for a bear shifter and a pregnant, angry, were-hunter's sister, as well.

* * * * *


A few hours later, Bane and Keelyn still missing in action, Naythan and Sandra spending time together with their brand new son, and Enid, Bella and Ivy all resting, Mac took advantage of not being needed. He wandered out into the woods again, finding the tree he'd been using to store his clothes in and tucking them there again. He shifted into his bear form and headed off at a lumbering run toward a stream he'd discovered nearby. He figured some stream fishing and some yummy salmon would do him good, and help him relax.

On his way back, sated with fish and cooled off from his swim, he spotted a taller than normal Keelyn moving through the trees. He sped up and headed to cross her path, noting as he got closer why she was suddenly so tall.

She was riding Bane in his wolf form, straddling the wolf's back as they seemed to be heading back toward Keelyn's.

When the pair saw Mac loping toward them, they stopped and waited for him to catch up.

Mac shifted mid stride, taking the last few feet in his human form, as Keelyn climbed down from Bane, allowing him to shift human as well.

"This should really be way weirder than it is. I think you two have corrupted me," Keelyn spoke with a grin, her eyes flashing back and forth between Mac and Bane.

"How so?" Mac asked her.

"I'm the only one dressed. The three of us are standing in the woods, about to converse I'm sure, and you two are both buck ass naked. And it's just normal now."

Bane grinned at her and turned to Mac, saying, "We have an announcement to make."

"You're with cub? Congratulations!"

"No."

"Oh, sorry. What announcement?"

"We're engaged!"

"Why?"

Keelyn's fist landed on Mac's bicep in a halfhearted punch.

Mac laughed as he realized what his reaction probably sounded like to the human.

"I just meant since you are already mated and all. Sorry, Kee."

"You're forgiven. It's for mom, mainly. And my sisters. Humans don't recognize bite marks as rings, or sex as a marriage contract."

"So you guys worked it out? I was hoping you would. So now what? What's the plan?"

"We're headed home," Keelyn spoke. "To tell everyone that we are getting married. Mom will want a few months to a year to plan a wedding, but we want it done faster. Way faster. Since we are already one in the eyes of Bane's pack, this is just a formality for my family."

"Sandra's mom read us the riot act when we went to get her and bring her here to help with the birth," Bane clarified, filling in some missing pieces for Mac.

"Yeah. I think her exact words were 'Give your mamma a proper wedding. That woman has been through enough.'"

Mac grinned, nodding.

"So, does this engagement announcement also include a 'surprise, he's a shifter!' announcement as well?"

By the panicked look that shot onto Keelyn's face, and the negative shake to Bane's head, Mac guessed not.

"Ah, one life changing announcement at a time, I see."

"Yeah, I'd like for the lot of us to survive a few more days at least. Until Sandra can run again," Keelyn said the words with a teasing grin.

Mac nodded.

"I guess that makes sense. Do you really think it would come to that, Keelyn? Does your family hate our kind that much?"

"I see my amazing personality has been enough to make you forget how we all met, Mac. Was my walking through town with a werewolf's hide on my shoulders all that forgettable?"

"Bane's reaction is etched into my mind forever, Kee. As is the image of the furrier you were headed to sell that hide to. Seeing him hanging there from his own doorway, with two of your arrows pinning his outstretched hands to the frame, with his pants down around his ankles? Those two things, my dear, are things I will never forget, as long as I live."

He watched as Keelyn's face reddened in embarrassment at the memories Mac mentioned.

She'd gone into the furrier's shop to sell the hide around her neck, passing Bane and his pack in the street just out front. The furrier was a known asshole, who propositioned her quite rudely while she was inside. When she left him she had her cash, she still had the furr to sell elsewhere, and the furrier was quite embarrassed, and pissed, at literally being caught with his pants down, and bested by a woman, to boot.

Bane had scented Keelyn as his mate, but was pissed when he realized his mate was a were-hunter, so he followed Keelyn, to prove his wolf wrong. The rest, as they say, is history.

The story, although funny now, in hind sight, brought up questions in Mac's mind that he felt needed to be addressed before any announcements were made down at the house.

"So, Keelyn, if you two are to be married in the human fashion, and you've accepted Bane's claiming bite..."

"I have hung up my bow, Mac. I knew even before Bane and I worked things out that I could never go back to were-hunting. Not after meeting all of you. Bane's wolf pack, and you as well, Mac, are family to me now. Of course, once I do tell my mom and sisters about what you all really are, you may very well be my only family," she said with a wry, sad laugh. "But still. Mac, I deeply regret all the years I..."

He watched as her eyes filled with tears at the memories only she could see.

"I didn't mean to upset you."

"I know. You've always been very kind. I just..."

She wiped at a tear that escaped, running down her cheek before she continued.

"If only things had been different, Mac."

"Then you wouldn't be here. You wouldn't have found Bane, I wouldn't have scented Bella. Things have a way of working out for the best."

"Speaking of Bella," Keelyn said, seemingly glad to change the topic, even if toward an equally sticky subject. "How has that been going? Make any progress while we were gone getting Mrs. Mitchell for Sandra?"

"That depends on what you'd consider progress, I guess. Bella thanked me for getting her some peppermints. They help with the morning sickness."

"Nice! What else?"

"Yeah, that's about it."

Bane and Keelyn laughed at the sad tone in Mac's voice.

"Ah, so it's not going well? Sounds like stubborn resistance to our charms runs deep in this family, Mac. At least Bella hasn't shot you yet."

"That's not fair!" Keelyn's protest was loud and offended. "I only shot you because...Oh, forget it! You two are hopeless!"

The guys were laughing at her, teasing her, and Mac was glad she was still around to tease, and had accepted his best friend as her mate. Now if only he could work the same magic on her sister.

"So, shall we head down and see how this engagement announcement plays out?" Mac asked the pair, preparing to shift back into his bear form and aim for the tree his clothes were hidden in near the house.

"Yeah, about that. Hey Mac, think you could slip inside the house and get me some clothes? I kind of lost mine in the shift when Keelyn and I were..."

"Stop! Stop talking right there! I don't need to hear anymore. Yes, I'll bring you out some clothes, just stop talking."



Chapter 5


"Peppermint, huh?" Ivy asked Bella as the pair stood alone in the kitchen.

"What about it?"

"Jeeze, Bella. Testy much?"

"What are you talking about?"

"I was asking, or trying to, before you bit my head off, if the peppermint Mac brought you was working."

"It seems to be."

"Did you thank him for getting it for you? Or Sandra, for telling him about it? Or did you snap at them, too?"

"I thanked him. I'm not a total ass."

"Could have fooled me."

"Ivy, what the hell is your problem?"

"You are, if you want to know the truth. Look, I get it, OK? You were raped. It was horrible. I'm not making light or being sarcastic, honest. I can't even imagine what you went through. But you're taking it out on the wrong person."

"Oh, who should I be taking it out on?"

"If life was fair? Sammy. He did this," she said, with a wave at Bella's midsection. "But you can't take it out on him, cause he's dead. You're scared. You're traumatized. You're angry. As you should be. But I didn't do it. Keelyn didn't do it. Mac didn't do it."

"What are you trying to say?"

"We want to help you, Bella. We want to be there for you. If you would maybe talk about it some? To someone? It might help."

"Talking won't change anything."

"It won't change what happened, no. But it might change how you feel about it. If you keep it inside, if you let it lock you up and change you, then Sammy wins, don't you see? If you let it destroy you, it will. It has the power to change you. To make you angry and hateful. To make you doubt every man you ever meet, for the actions of one asshole. Most men aren't monsters, Bella. You know this. Deep down, you know this. But the mind is an amazing thing. You can let it use you, turn you into a victim from here on out, defined by a thing someone evil did to you, or you can fight it. You can let us help you fight it. It can be a thing that happened to you, instead of the thing that defines you from here on out. Have you thought about what you're going to do with the baby?"

"No."

"It's half you, Bella. If you decide to keep it, it will be loved, despite its father. If seeing it, raising it, will hurt you, there are many couples who..."

"I know. I don't want to talk about this anymore."

The door leading outside opened, startling them and making them jump.

Mac stepped inside, sliding to a stop before them.

"Sorry ladies, I didn't mean to scare you. I've just got to grab something. Be right back."

As he wormed his way past, he laid a hand on the small of Bella's back so he could slide by, saying, "Excuse me, Bell."

He kept going, oblivious to the reactions he left behind him.

Bella just nodded, stepping aside for him. She kept her face as blank as she could, not wanting to let him see the reaction his simple touch evoked.

She hugged her arms around her middle, rubbing and soothing the goose-bumps that rose with the touch of his hand. For a minute her mind flashed back to the bathroom, his finger against her lips, sliding a mint into her mouth.

She wondered what his lips would feel like against hers. Would he be rough, like Sammy had been, or...

"Bella!"

"What?" She turned back to Ivy again, still as testy toward her sister as she was at the beginning of this painful conversation.

"He touched you!"

"Yeah, I know. I was there."

"No, Bella. I mean... you let him."

It took her a second to register what Ivy meant.

"You didn't grab the nearest object and aim it at his head," Ivy said with a grin.

"I didn't, did I? I didn't even tell him to back off, or to get his damn hands..."

"...off you before you scream," Ivy finished for her, with her grin turning into a joyous giggle.

"I'm never going to live that one down, am I?"

"I doubt it. Was that the first time Mac has touched you?"

Bella shook her head no, and told Ivy about the peppermint.

"These guys are hiding something, Bella. I'm sure of it. But... that aside, I think Mac might be good for you. What do you think of him?"

She didn't have a chance to answer before Mac was back, with an arm full of clothes, headed back outside.

"Mac?"

"Yeah?" He paused in the doorway, turning toward Ivy, who'd called his name.

"Running away from home?" She asked him, with a glance down at the clothes he carried.

"Ha! No. These are Bane's. There was an...issue. In the woods. He just needs a change of clothes. We'll all be right back."

"Is Keelyn with him? Is she ok?"

"Yes, on both counts."

"What's going on with those two?"

Mac just grinned, looking from Ivy to Bella and back again, his smile widening, and his eyes lit up with mischief.

"Soon enough, ladies. You'll know soon enough."

And with that, he slid outside, shutting the door softly behind him.

"Curiouser and curiouser," Ivy mumbled as she took stock of the little bit of color that was gracing Bella's cheeks as she stared thoughtfully at the door Mac just disappeared from.

"Bella, promise me something would you?"

"What?"

"To keep an open mind. Choose open, not closed. Choose forgiveness. Choose joy. Reach for it, every chance you get."

"What are you talking about now?"

"Choose light, choose happiness, choose love. Always choose love."

"Ivy, now you're the one making me want to aim something at your head," she said, shaking her head and walking away.


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