Danger returns to the Bearwalker clan…
Peace has been restored to the clan, or so Guardian Marin believes until the day a mysterious stranger appears among them.
Lucien is unlike any Bearwalker they've known: he's big, bad and hellbent on conquering the clan. Realizing he's in for the fight of his life, Marin must enlist the help of the clan's human Protector to win back his kin and save them from the horror Lucien brings.
Determined to prove her worth as Protector, Lindy agrees to help Marin free the clan from Lucien's grasp. But she soon discovers that danger involves not only the clan, but her own human family, and may destroy her fragile relationship with Marin.
With Lindy by his side, Marin is forced to battle his own demons and face a devastating family secret that could destroy everything--and everyone--he loves.
Being followed by a black bear in Wisconsin's Northwoods was the inspiration behind Lori Johnson's fascination with the lore and natural history of these beautiful creatures, and the impetus behind her first book, People of the Bear.
After earning a Biology degree from Valparaiso University, she combined her love of nature and writing to publish numerous nonfiction articles in local and national magazines. She lives in Illinois with her husband, daughter and a menagerie of pets.
Explore Lori's world of black bears at www.lori-johnson.com
Lindy Anderson stared at the wooden medallion dangling from the string in her fingers. The ancient wood was burnished from the touch of innumerable hands over the years, but the image it bore was still as sharp and clear as the day it had been carved. Her eyes followed the outline of the tiny image—tracing four legs, a head with rounded ears and a stocky body. A tiny, perfect bear. It was an image that reminded her not only of the Bearwalkers she was sworn to protect, but of how her life had changed since the day she’d found the naked shapeshifter on her icy porch steps. Mostly, though, it reminded her of her love for their Guardian, who was neither wholly man nor wholly bear, but lost somewhere in-between.
Even now, she sometimes had trouble accepting the fact that the shapeshifters were real. They were folklore come to life, literally, on her family room floor. Gareth had proven that to her when he’d shifted during his sleep, changing from a gunshot-wounded man to a cinnamon-colored bear. Once she knew his secret, his clan had been forced to either accept her or kill her, and luckily for her, they had chosen the former.
She had never dreamed that she would be welcomed into a clan of shapeshifters, let alone end up rescuing them from the humans who had discovered their existence. It had been so easy to turn against people of her own species that it scared her. But then, that’s how it is when you’re in love, she figured. You’ll do anything for those you care about.
So when Marin had offered her the wooden medallion, the ancient symbol of the human Protectors who vowed to safeguard the clan, she’d gladly accepted. She had willingly taken on the burden of protecting creatures so rare that few even knew of their existence. And for a woman who had recently sworn off men, she’d fallen for Marin faster and harder than a building falling to dynamite.
The bear man was incredible. He had the body of a god and the courage of a hero, but a heart seriously in need of repair. His strength was obvious just by looking at his six-foot-four, 230-pound body of muscle. When he walked through the forest in his human skin, his olive-gold hue glistened as though a bronze statue of a Greek god had come to life and was strolling in the sunlight of Olympia. His jet hair was so black it shimmered with a bluish cast in the light and perfectly matched the dark depths of his penetrating eyes. And oh, when those eyes gazed at her they penetrated right to her soul.
When he assumed his bear form, he was still imposing. Moving with speed and agility that seemed impossible for a bruin his size, Marin took down anything that threatened his clan. Born of the Guardian line, he had dedicated his forty years to protecting his bear kin from the humans that constantly threatened their safety. Only once had he failed. That mistake had cost him the life of his beloved mate and had changed him forever.
Lindy put the string around her neck and let the medallion slide down inside her shirt. It rested in its usual spot. She laid her hand over it and pressed it close to her heart, knowing that this is where the precious symbol would remain for the rest of her life. She gazed out the kitchen window toward the forest where they lived, her shoulder pressed against the woodwork for support, and let her memory slip back to the day she’d learned Marin’s agonizing secret.
In her memory, the daylight faded to darkness so cold and biting it took her breath away. She followed the he-bears of the clan as they pursued Marin’s kidnappers through the forest that night, hoping and praying that he was still alive. Then the silence was shattered by a terrifying howl of agony and they all knew that there was still time to save him.
They had burst into the kidnappers’s camp and found their Guardian beaten and helplessly chained to a tree. The humans had narrowly escaped into the darkness. The bears charged after them, leaving her to care for Marin. In the little time she had known him, he’d scared her so badly that she wished it was one of the other Bearwalkers she’d come to rescue instead of him. Marin had damn near killed her the first time he saw her with Gareth, guaranteeing himself a place of terror in her heart. Still, he was the most gorgeous and exciting man she’d ever seen and he toyed with her as though the feeling might be mutual. It gave her hope that someday she might break down the defensive wall that he had built around himself.
In her mind, she saw him chained to the tree, naked, beaten and freezing to death in the bitter cold of the night. She knew she had to save him, knew that the only way was to share her body heat with him, so she’d passed the night with her bare skin pressed against the flesh of the man who had almost killed her. Her heart thumped wildly even now at the memory of his heart beating next to hers, of his muscular chest so hard and strong against her body. She knew then that she wanted him more than any man she’d ever wanted in her life.
In a moment of weakness uncharacteristic of him, he’d told her how the hunters took the life of his mate and how much he’d grown to hate humans because of it. For the first time, she understood the reason for the depth of his hatred, even though she knew she must be included in that hatred. But then he had turned her world upside-down with the admission that he wanted and needed her the way he had his own mate. He’d set her soul on fire that night.
When he was finally freed, she’d taken him to her home to heal his wounds and had ended up healing his heart, too. She remembered the way he looked lying in her bathtub, the steam rising above his bruised body, and the way his dark eyes bored into hers before he’d pulled her close for a kiss. It was the first time he’d ever been kissed, and he made her feel like it was her first time, too. To this day she could still feel the warmth of his lips on hers. How could she ever forget that?
Then he was gone. Despite the kiss and the warm words shared between them, she’d known that he must leave. His life was with the clan, among his own kind, and not with her, as much as she wished it to be. Marin would never stop being the Guardian of the Bear People. All she could do was wait for the day when the clan needed her help and protection again. Then he would come for her. Maybe by then, he would have come to terms with his humanity. Unlike the others in his clan, he was part human. The recent discovery of his shameful heritage had ripped him apart, and as much as she wanted to help him, she couldn’t. He would have to work it out for himself. With a heavy heart, she’d been forced to admit that only then would the wall between them finally come down. And so she waited.