by Suzanne Thomas
eBook ISBN: None Given
Alice has to come to terms with not only her raging desire for the five were-bear Dupries brothers but also the knowledge that she has become a ferocious and dangerous animal herself. Will the love and devotion the five men besiege her with be enough to overcome the overwhelming knowledge that she is no longer who she thought she was?
The slow procession of wagons finally stopped just at the edge of the little town called Dolton, Colorado, as the sign proclaimed in painstakingly chiseled wording. Where they stopped, the entrance—or exit if one were coming from the opposite direction—was within walking distance. They normally didn’t stop so close to a town, so the convenience was appreciated by the weary travelers. The different families set about making a temporary camp as women and men milled about in apathy and exhaustion. Haggard faces and skeletal frames depicted a hard crossing. Children did not run around screaming and playing like normal, but followed their elders around in a sort of comatose state.
Some of the men wandered into town but most didn’t have the energy and stayed with the women to set up. The wagon master walked up and down the train to talk to people, making sure everything was handled. No one noticed the small woman sneak into town along the backside of the wagons. The alley between two buildings was right next to the end wagon and very easy to miss if someone wanted not to be seen.
Alice furtively glanced over her shoulder to make sure no one saw her. This would be the eighth town that she had tried and not a single honorable position was available in any of the previous seven towns. She thought she was ill-fated. The merchants she asked had suggested a couple of occupations that she had no interest in, and if that was the case, all she had to do was say yes to the wagon master’s suggestion, which was why she was trying so hard to find work anywhere away from him and the men on the train.
She plastered herself against the side of the building, feeling the wooden slats dig into her spine as she watched one of the men in question go through the saloon doors. She definitely didn’t want to go in that direction. Peeking around the corner, she slipped into the group of people walking by to get her wits together. She would try the mercantile first. She would go in, be confident, and tell the owner that she was experienced and reliable. She would list all her good qualities. She had done this many times, so it would be easy, she thought to herself.
The entire way there, she tried to build her confidence. The problem was she was nervous and afraid because the alternative was horrible. She missed her father desperately. Being alone was not something she had ever envisioned. She thought by now she and her father would be set up in one of these towns and their own shingle put out doing business. To lose him so suddenly had been a shock that lasted hundreds of miles. She had existed in a haze of sorrow. Thankfully, the conversation she had overheard had snapped her out of her mourning.
She still couldn’t believe the audacity Mr. Taylor had in offering her to the other men. He made it sound like she would be thankful for their protection. Oh, he would be expecting her to accommodate him as well, but she would be able to choose among the others.
Some proposition, she thought in a huff. She’ll accommodate him, all right, with her foot on his butt.
The jingle of the door announced her entrance. She smiled at the man behind the counter and ambled on down the aisles. She was a little dismayed at the stores smallness, not enough work for one person, let alone two. She looked at the merchandise on sale, seeing the variety. She saw many tools for mining and trapping. The jingle from the door singled new arrivals, so she changed her direction and went to the back wall. The different candy jars pulled her toward them. She saw peppermint sticks and lemon drops as well as her favorite, honey drops. She picked up the lid to inhale the sweet smell.
“May I help you, miss?” asked the man who was behind the counter, startling her. She jumped a little before gently replacing the lid, not wanting to break the darn thing before asking for a job.
“Yes, sir, I was wondering if you had a position of employment open. I am experienced in clerking, and I am hard worker,” she said softly.
The man shook his head. “I am sorry, miss, but my wife and I run this store, and we don’t need any help. If you had come at the beginning of summer, I might have hired you temporarily.”
“Do you happen to know of anyone in town hiring right now?” she asked.
“I think Harry’s had a sign up a couple of days ago, but I haven’t been down there to see if it was still there. Harry’s is the cookhouse about ten buildings on your right. Walk out of here and turn left,” he said as he was called away by a customer.
She walked out and followed the directions. She made sure that none of the train’s passengers saw her as she walked along the boardwalk. She saw a dog hiding under the walkway in front of her. She could hear the growl from where she was. Well that would top her day, she thought as she envisioned the bite those teeth could inflict. She slowed down, let the men behind her go first, and followed quickly. She heard a yelp in front of her, along with a curse that was muffled. A man turned a reddened face to her and apologized. She smiled demurely and lifted her skirt to sidestep him.
She muffled a giggle so the gentleman wouldn’t hear. The nice thing to do would have been to thank him for taking the bite. Her father would have laughed with her, she thought sadly. He would have probably done the same thing. She stifled another giggle. She missed him.
The bustle of the small town flowed around him as he stood breathing deeply. His senses filled with an overwhelming musk. His whole body absorbed the elusive scent, eliminating everything else. He didn’t smell the dung and filth of the streets that usually permeated the air. He centered his focus on finding the direction of the smell. He let it flood his nostrils as he followed it.
When he entered the general store, he clenched his fists as his cock hardened. He knew she had been here recently. The whole store permeated with her intoxicating scent, telling him she had spent some time here. The small store had merchandise packed on top of merchandise. He went up and down the aisles as he tried to follow her progress. The strongest scent, he found by the candy section while it lingered over the jars. He smiled as he took in the seductive aroma near the honey drops. He scooped up the jar, took it the counter, and purchased the entire contents. He had the clerk package it and leave it there so he could pick it up later.
He stepped out onto the boardwalk and trailed his mate to the next stop. He paused briefly from his pursuit, held back by a furious growl. He looked down as a dog came out from under the lip of the walkway and went to bite him. He felt himself growl low in his throat, causing the dog to stop and cower. The ragged mongrel took one sniff of the man, turned tail, and ran yelping. He didn’t miss a step as he went on.
His mate’s scent mixed with the smell of food as he stopped before entering the door. He went into the chow hall and watched the hustle of the workers and the men eating at different tables. Only a few women sat with the men, and, as he crossed the floor, none of them possessed that aroma he looked for.
“Steak and eggs or hasher and eggs?” asked the little man in a dirty apron.
“I’m looking for the woman who was here a couple of minutes ago. Did you see where she happened to go?”
“The only woman that could be was here looking for a job. I sent her away, as I have all the help I need. I suggested, with her looks, that she should go over to the whorehouse and she would be hired in a second.” The little man looked up and choked on his laughter. He visibly trembled and took several steps back before pointing in a direction.
Brand felt the rage that consumed him, and it almost made him shift right then and there. Only years of control helped him overcome the urge. He slammed the door with enough force to shake the entire building.
He walked along the edge of the boardwalk as he tried to get himself under control. He almost missed the exchange of words that made him freeze.
“Did you see that little morsel asking for a job over at Harry’s? I wouldn’t mind offering her a job.” The man gave a dirty laugh to his friend. “I just saw her go into the Landmark hotel, and I’m going over there to see if I can do a little persuading.”
When Brand heard that, he changed directions and headed to the closest hotel. His ground-eating gait quickly had him walking into the lobby. He stopped short as her fragrance flooded his senses, causing his cock to swell in excitement. The low growl, barely audible, made the man standing next to him sidle away as quickly as possible.
“I can work in any part of the hotel, sir,” she said to the man shaking his head sadly.
She apparently had been talking to him awhile, as the number of customers lined up behind her fidgeted. The man placed his attention on the next person in line, clearly stating that he was done with the conversation.
She turned dejectedly from the counter. He could see tears shining in her eyes as she hurried out the door. She passed right by him, overflowing his senses with her essence. He took a deep breath to fill his nostrils with her. He turned and followed.
She stopped a little ways away and leaned against the building. She lifted a hand to wipe angrily at the tears flowing freely down her cheeks. He turned as rapid footsteps came up behind him. Seeing the man who had made the comment about offering her a position, he reached out and grabbed him and pulled him up by his shirtfront. He growled low in his throat right in front of the man’s face.
“Touch her and you are dead,” he rumbled out in a low voice so as to not disturb his mate.
The man gasped and paled as he took in the size and obvious strength of the giant who held him. He gave the woman a look of remorse and nodded his head in agreement. He was roughly deposited back on his feet to scurry away as fast as he had come.
The woman in question didn’t even notice as she continued down the boardwalk. She also didn’t notice the number of times that he had to fend off would-be assailants who took her for prey.
He finally had enough and walked to intercept her next entry to an establishment.
“Excuse me, miss. My name is Brand Dupries, and I couldn’t help but overhear that you were looking for a job. I happen to be in town to find a housekeeper for my ranch. My brothers and I are in dire straits, as our last housekeeper married and left,” he lied without care.
The tension mounted as he waited for her answer. Her hands visibly shook, and the blush on her beautiful cheeks stood out on her pale face. Her hair, the color of a wheat field, hugged her head in a wraparound braid. Her ample breasts moved with every breath she took, and it required all his strength not to stare. Her small waist accentuated full hips. His palms itched to hold her plump ass in them.
She was unbelievably beautiful, and she belonged to him and his brothers. He understood that if she didn’t agree to willingly go with him that he would take that decision away from her with little to no qualms.
* * * *
She kept glancing up at him through her long, thick lashes. His dusty trail-worn clothes were well made, though very dirty. He looked like any other mountain man who flooded the towns she had been in recently. She had many propositions from these mountain men to go with them to their home for about every job imaginable. She was down to her last dollar, and something about this man instilled trust. She didn’t understand the reasoning. He even smelled good, for goodness sakes, which was odd.
“Hello Mr. Dupries my name is Alice Purcell. What would my job be?” she asked in a small voice. The relief that she felt almost made her giddy. She listened to his list of duties and nodded her head every now and then. She really didn’t care what the duties were, as long as they got her away from the wagon train.
“I have a few things to pick up at the mercantile, and then I was heading out. Do you have much baggage to take?” he asked as he gently took her arm and headed in that direction.
“I have one bag that the wagon train leader is holding for me,” she said as she struggled to keep up with his stride. He must have noticed, as he slowed down and sent a look of apology down to her.
She found herself right back where she started. This time, she entered the store with a lighter heart. She followed Brand around, helping him choose the additional supplies he needed. She picked out items that he wanted and set them on the counter. With the last item placed on the counter, Brand paid the clerk and they carried the purchases out to the packhorse, hooked up beside the store.
She helped him secure everything, all the while taking little peeks at him from under her lashes. He was so large. By far the biggest man she had ever met. He moved with such smoothness, grace even, for such a huge man. She could spend hours just watching him walk. God, what is wrong with me? She asked herself, trying to control the fluttering in her stomach.
She had so many questions for him but wanted to put as many miles between her and the wagon train as possible, so she stopped herself before asking.
This was so unlike her, she thought. Why am I, all of a sudden, so trusting? This is not me.
Even though he had been nice and courteous and he’d given her a way out of there, away from an inconceivable fate, she questioned her sanity.
His very touch seemed to lighten her heart. With every breath she took, his smell made her more relaxed than she had been in months.
She felt safe.
The clerk walked out to them and handed Brand a small package that he placed in his coat pocket. When the clerk turned to her to wish her luck, she smiled and thanked him.
Brand walked over to his horse and, before she could ask, lifted her up onto its rump. She gave a small gasp as he quickly mounted in front of her. The horse was a huge, beautiful buckskin that didn’t even fidget with the added weight. She had never seen such a large horse. Though given the giant who owned him, she could see the need for such a big animal. He fastened the lead rope to his pommel and headed over to the wagon train.
All activity stopped as they rode up. Several of the men sent glares their way. The train leader hurried up to them, clearly agitated.
“Get off that horse, you stupid girl,” the leader barked out. “You know you don’t have to do this. There have been a couple of good offers for you. You can even choose between them.”
* * * *
Brand felt her tighten her hands around his waist and tremble. His protective instincts came to full force as he took in several of the lecherous expressions on the surrounding men. He guessed the offers were not to her liking.
He smoothly dismounted and placed a restraining hand on Alice’s thigh to keep her mounted. His towering height and ominous expression caused several of the men to rethink their position and beat a hasty retreat. The leader was either overconfident or just plain stupid as he tried to maneuver around him to reach for his mate. His progress suddenly halted as Brand smoothly stepped into his path.
Brand let the monster, which was always near the surface, bleed into his eyes when the man finally looked up at him. He smiled slowly when the man backed up and noticeably swallowed.
The leader said, after finding his voice, “The girl is under my protection ever since her father was killed in a wagon accident. I have made it so she has a protector.”
Brand looked at each man and finally settled his heavy gaze again on the man in front of him. “I will make myself very clear. The girl is now under my protection. If any man wants to object, they can, of course, do so, but I would highly recommend against it.”
“Alice,” someone said in a small voice from between the wagons. The voice belonged to an old woman who had gone unnoticed in the tension-filled atmosphere. She made her way over to the horse, totally ignoring the towering giant in front of her.
“Is this what you want, Alice?” she asked.
“Yes, Mrs. Willis, this is totally my decision, and thank-you again for all your kindness when my father died. I don’t know what I would have done without you.
“I need my bag, Mr. Taylor,” Alice said to the leader.
He huffed off to retrieve it and all but threw the bag at Brand. Brand caught it without flinching and secured it to the packhorse.
Mrs. Willis grabbed his arm and halted his remounting. He looked down into brown eyes filled with determination. “Take care of the girl, sir, or you will be sorry.”
That this came from a woman barely reaching his belt would have been hilarious if not for the tingle that traveled from her hands to his arm. He saw her eyes widen when his beast answered back in a surge of power. She smiled up at him and squeezed his arm.
“You and your brothers will be wonderful mates to my girl,” she whispered, to his astonishment.