Sneak Peek—His to Seek

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Chapter One

 

It was a hot, sunny day in the Bahamas, the kind of day where you want to play hooky, sink your toes in the sand, grab a good book, and let the sun warm your face while you forget about the world.

Exactly the kind of day that Natalia Jackson had come to the Bahamas to enjoy. But she’d already spent too long avoiding reality and it was time to go back. After all, she’d promised her family she’d be there for the holidays, especially her cousin Kira, who was heavily pregnant with twins and barely able to move anymore. And with Thanksgiving almost upon them, Nat was running out of excuses to stay away.

She paid her cab driver and with her small suitcase in hand, gave one last look to the beautiful blue sky above, before she made her way inside the airport. Her flight was scheduled to leave in a little less than an hour. Just enough time to check in, buy a magazine, and board. Natalia had mastered the art of spending the least amount of time as she possibly could in the airport. For someone who liked to travel as much as she did, she hated the actual act of traveling.

But it was a small price to pay to move from place to place as freely as she did. It had been just over three years since she’d started up her online marketing business, and started making enough money that she could pack up everything she owned in a carry-on-sized suitcase and travel while running her business from her laptop.

She was living the dream.

Almost.

Her eyes landed on a couple at the bar. Honeymooners, probably. They couldn’t take their hands off each other and had that new kind of love that made everyone around them jealous.

She shouldn’t stare, but she couldn’t seem to look away. And then there it was, the familiar feeling of loneliness that crept in during the long nights while she laid awake night after night in different hotel rooms in different cities around the world. She traveled to experience new things, see the world, and find…what?

If anyone bothered to ask, her answer was always the same: “Life’s short. I want to live it to the fullest and see everything I can see. There’s a lot of world out there.”

It was all true, too. But there was one thing she wasn’t saying. As much as she loved her life and wouldn’t trade it, more and more every day, she couldn’t help but think about what it would be like to find someone to share it with her.

Just like her cousins and brother back home in Jackson Valley and Grizzly Ridge. They’d all seemed to find their fated mates, the highest form of connection for a bear shifter. A love like no other. A connection so strong you simply couldn’t breathe without the other person.

The idea of a mate, let alone a fated one, used to make Nat laugh. At the same time, it secretly scared the hell out of her. After all, why would you want to be so dependent on someone else that you needed them to simply function? It seemed insane.

And also amazing.

But she didn’t need to think about that now. Her phone chirped with a text message.

Are you really coming home?

She smiled at Kira’s text. They’d been coming more and more frequently since Kira had been put on bed rest after a terrible scare with her pregnancy. Instead of texting her back, Nat pressed the button to call her.

“Are you really coming back?” Kira answered on the first ring.

Nat laughed. “I am. And hello to you, too.”

“Seriously, you’re at the airport?”

“I am.”

“Oh, thank God! You know the doctors put me on bed rest, right? I’m barely allowed to move!”

“That’s a good thing.”

“It is not!” Nat could almost see her spirited cousin rolling her eyes on the other end of the phone. She knew bed rest would be driving Kira crazy. “But it’s for the best,” Kira added, in a resigned voice. “I don’t want anything to happen to these little peanuts.”

“Of course you don’t. I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you. I can’t imagine how scary that was for you.”

It had been only just over a week since Kira had collapsed at their family home at Grizzly Ridge. From what her brother told her, it had been very scary for everyone when Kira was rushed to the hospital down the mountain. Shifter pregnancies were hard. And Kira was pregnant with twins. Bi-shifter twins. She was a grizzly. Her mate was a wolf. There was no precedence for how that would turn out. And so far, it had created a very difficult pregnancy that was wearing on Kira by the day.

“I’m coming home. I promise I’ll sit with you and tell you stories and—”

“Stop it.” Kira laughed. “No one wants to waste their life sitting next to my bedside. Besides, they got me a doctor-approved wheelchair. As long as I basically don’t do anything strenuous so I can keep these babies in to cook a little while longer, I’m good.”

“Well, I’m still coming home,” Nat said. “I promised.”

“Good, because we’ve been very busy lining up suitable mates for you.”

Nat rolled her eyes. She knew her brother Ryker and her cousins all wanted her to experience the kind of love they had. Which was part of the reason she’d been getting the almost constant barrage of emails and texts asking her when she was going to settle down. Or worse, the promise of the setups that had started coming in the last few weeks.

Normally, Natalia loved visiting with her family, but the last time she’d been at Grizzly Ridge for her cousin Axel’s wedding—where, ironically, her own brother Ryker had found his mate—her family had really seemed to kick it into high gear with their mission to help her find the one.

She’d agreed to return for Thanksgiving, but the last thing she wanted was to meet any of the “He’s perfect for you!” guys her family and friends had been lining up for her to meet when she got there.

“No setups.” She groaned, but Nat wasn’t stupid. There would be no getting out of it.

“Oh no, you’re going to love—”

“Hey,” she interrupted her cousin. “I really have to go. They’re calling my flight.” It was a lie, and maybe they both knew it, but she really didn’t want to have that particular conversation right then. “I’ll see you soon, okay?”

Before Kira could answer, Nat disconnected the call, exhaled sharply, and shook her head. There was no help for it. Her family meant well. Besides, it wasn’t the right time to think about it because she really did have a plane to catch. But first, a bottle of water and a gossip magazine to lose herself in for the next few hours before she faced her family and all the love they shared that more and more she wished was hers.

Damn it.

Really, she needed to stop thinking about love or partners, or bloody mates.

Nat browsed the wall of magazines and her eyes instinctively landed on the gossip magazines she generally gravitated toward. Splashed on every cover were wedding pictures of Hollywood’s latest it couple. She shook her head and looked right past them.

Maybe a business mag instead?

Natalia moved over to the next shelf and grabbed the first one she saw that didn’t have a couple on it. She wasn’t even going to try to pretend that the gorgeous man on the cover, with his ice-blue eyes, wasn’t the reason she held Business Time in her hands.

She paid for her purchases and found a quiet corner near her gate to wait for her flight to be called.

“Thirty Under Thirty” was the lead, and it didn’t take Natalia long to find the story, and the corresponding picture of the sexy man on the cover.

Cyrus Steele.

Damn.

He was listed as the fourth most successful American under thirty, the son of a business magnate in Alaska who’d just inherited billions of dollars of his father’s money.

Trust fund baby.

The article listed a number of philanthropic activities he was involved in, so at least he wasn’t a completely spoiled brat.

Natalia felt bad the minute she let the thought cross her mind. He was probably a nice guy. Just because he had family money didn’t mean that he was a bad guy. She flipped back to the cover of the magazine and stared into his eyes. He really was handsome.

No.

More than handsome.

Sexy in a yes, please I’ll have some of that right now kind of way. It had been a long time since Nat had been attracted to someone, but this man…oh, she’d definitely end her dry spell for him. She laughed out loud at herself and the ridiculous way she was thinking about a man she’d never met. Especially when she hadn’t even finished the article that had been written about him.

Natalia turned back to the piece and read a little further. He was from Alaska, and according to the journalist, Cyrus was a bit of a reluctant billionaire and preferred to spend his time as far out of the limelight as possible, in the back woods of Alaska, where he enjoyed rock climbing, back country camping, fishing, and hunting.

A mountain man.

The article mentioned a number of the charities, funds, and initiatives he was involved in. She scanned a little more until she got to a comment about how Cyrus Steele was one of America’s most sought-after bachelors and now, more than anything, he hated the attention. Nat shrugged. An interesting twist.

Poor little rich boy.

She shook her head and closed the magazine before she read it all. She still had a few hours to kill on the flight ahead. Which, according to the overhead announcement, was just about to start boarding.

Nat gathered up her things and was just about to get in line to board when she saw him for the first time.

He was tall. Very tall. The magazine article had not mentioned that. Nor had it mentioned how incredibly massive his muscular shoulders were, or how his very presence filled the space, making it much smaller than it was. She couldn’t look anywhere but at him as he walked toward her.

Well, not toward her but in her direction.

He wore worn jeans, a T-shirt, and a baseball cap pulled low. Sunglasses hid his eyes, but there was no doubt that it was Cyrus Steele, and he was trying desperately to keep a low profile. A few moments later, when Natalia watched a small group of women run up to him, all but throwing themselves at him in their flimsy sundresses, she was absolutely certain of it.

Cyrus Steele, the fourth wealthiest “Thirty Under Thirty” and one of America’s most eligible bachelors, was there in the airport with her, and he needed rescuing.

#

He didn’t have to fly commercial. He had enough money in his pocket at that very moment to charter a private plane to take him back to the States, and then he wouldn’t have to deal with being recognized or having women—and sometimes men—throw themselves at him shamelessly. He wouldn’t have to worry about trying to fly under the radar, as if he ever could actually accomplish that with his six-foot-seven frame.

But he wouldn’t.

Cyrus Steele would never spend money unnecessarily or extravagantly on himself as long as he could use that money to help those less fortunate. Which meant unless he absolutely couldn’t help it, he would never charter a plane for himself when there was another option.

Even if it meant fending off the continual intrusion of the press who seemed hell-bent on ruining his life by publishing every single thing they could about him. Even if it had nothing to do with the good he was trying to do in the world. Hell, especially if it had nothing to do with the work he was doing. The press seemed much more interested in his personal life—of which he had none—than anything else.

It made him crazy how nobody actually cared about the real issues. Who gave a shit whether he was dating anyone or whether he liked cream in his coffee?

“Cyrus?” A female voice giggled, intruding on his thoughts. A moment later, it was joined by at least three more voices.

“Mr. Steele?”

“Are you Cyrus Steele?”

“You are, aren’t you?”

“There’s no way it’s him!”

“It’s totally him.”

Cyrus took a deep breath and shook his head. His business manager and close friend, Phillip Malone, would love this. He kept telling Cyrus the attention would die down and he should enjoy it while he could. But Cyrus wasn’t having it.

Before he could speak, one of the women—who looked a little too young, too sunburned, and too party animal for his taste—spoke again.

“Take off your sunglasses,” she demanded. “Cyrus Steele has those amazing eyes.”

One of the other women swooned next to him and he shook his head again. There was no way he was taking off his glasses.

Dammit.

He never should have agreed to the interview for Business Time. But he’d never considered for a minute that they’d put him and his eyes on the cover or turn him into some kind of celebrity.

“Sorry, ladies.” He tried to keep his voice friendly. “I’m afraid you have the wrong man.”

He wasn’t a good liar, despite the secrets he had to keep about who he really was: an alpha Kodiak bear shifter from Alaska and head of his clan. Not exactly the kind of news that would be received well by the outside world. Which was why he needed to keep his glasses on. The truth was always written all over his face and could be seen clearly in his eyes.

“No way.”

“You’re him.”

“Why are you in the Bahamas? Are you here alone?”

Cyrus tried to take a step backward, but they had him cornered. He glanced around, but there was no one there to save him. His trip to Nassau had been a solo venture to check out a new company that had set up a new installation of solar panels on the far end of the island. Their mission was to use solar power to desalinate the sea water and provide fresh drinking water to some of the less fortunate communities. It was a technology that could prove to be very powerful and useful all over the world, and one Cyrus was deeply interested in.

“Come on,” one of the women pleaded as she started to reach for his hat. “Can we take a selfie with you?”

“Sorry, ladies, I think you have the wrong man.” The intoxicating scent of salt, sand, and sea air with just the slightest hint of lime hit him hard enough that he had to take a staggering step backward. A new, dark-haired woman—tall, with all kinds of curves in all the right places—pushed easily through the throng of women and slid her arm through his.

“My husband here is just a simple farmer from Ohio.” She laughed and pulled herself closer to him.

Cyrus glanced down at her, because although she was tall, he still had at least half a foot on her. She looked up at him, her deep green eyes sparkling with mischief, and all of his questions were answered. She was saving him. And dammed if he didn’t need to be saved.

“That’s right.” He shrugged. “Just a farmer. Sorry to disappoint.”

He vaguely realized how ridiculous he sounded, even to his own ears, but the women didn’t seem to notice, especially because his dark-haired savior continued talking, smoothly covering up his fumbling. “Bobby and I are high school sweethearts, aren’t we, honey?” She didn’t wait for him to respond before she continued spinning her story. “We’re here on our honeymoon and you’ll have to excuse us.” She steered him away from the women, who sighed with disappointment. “I just don’t want to share him for even one more second because I just can’t seem to keep my hands off him.”

The strange woman spun around in his arm, stood on her tiptoes, and, before Cyrus understood what was happening, kissed him. The moment her lips touched his, everything fell away.

The group of annoying women, the magazine article, the airport, the fame he didn’t want any part of, the business he didn’t want to run, the death of his father…everything.

Shock waves raced through him and deep inside, his bear roared to life. And the only thing that mattered…was her.

 

Chapter Two

 

What the actual—

Natalia couldn’t even finish the thought because kissing this man took every single bit of her attention and homed it in very tightly on him.

Damn.

No. It was more than damn.

It was—

Over.

The second his lips left hers, she wanted them back with a ferocity that scared the hell out of her, particularly because in that moment, Natalia was pretty sure she’d do anything for another taste of him. And she did mean anything.

She opened her eyes but didn’t move away from his embrace. He still had those dark sunglasses on, but she didn’t need to see his eyes to feel them on her. He looked straight into her soul and she was more than happy to let him in.

After a moment, she blinked and noticed for the first time that the women who’d been flocking around Cyrus a moment ago, the ones she’d made the split-second decision to save him from, were gone. It was just the two of them in the middle of the concourse, as if there were no one else in the world.

Her bear practically purred deep inside her, content to be right there without a care in the world. Like making her flight.

Her flight!

Natalia spun around and looked at the gate where, only minutes earlier, the flight to Montana had just started to board. Or had it been longer than that? How much time had passed while she’d been standing there with Cyrus Steele? Kissing Cyrus Steele.

“Thank you,” he said after a moment.

She couldn’t help but notice that he still made no move to remove his arm from around her. And she was definitely not in a hurry for it to go anywhere, either.

“For the kiss? Or for saving you from a pack of rabid fans?”

His lips twitched up in the sexiest smile she’d ever seen. A panty-dropping smile. Damn. No wonder this man was on everyone’s hot list. He was fire.

“Both. And I don’t even know my wife’s name.”

“Natalia.” It seemed stupid to offer her hand when they’d already kissed. They were a little beyond handshakes. “Natalia Jackson.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Natalia. Cyrus Steele, but I get the feeling you already knew that.”

She shrugged. People started to move around them as a newly arrived plane began to disembark. “We should get out of the way.” Natalia took her new husband’s hand and led him to the side as an announcement called over the loudspeaker.

“Now seating section two on flight AA3543 to Bozeman, Montana.”

Reflexively, Natalia glanced back at her gate.

“Your flight?”

She nodded. There was no point lying. “Where are you headed?” It suddenly seemed very important to know and the thought of him walking away from her, never to be seen again, seemed unthinkable.

“New York.”

“Why do I get the impression you’re not excited about that?”

“I’d rather be in the mountains than a city.” He tipped his head.

And in that moment, he looked so sad and vulnerable that, for the first time, Natalia actually felt sorry for him. He may be a poor little rich boy but he sure didn’t seem very happy about it.

“Come with me.” The words came out of her mouth before she could think about what she was actually saying or, more importantly, what they would really mean.

“To Montana?”

She nodded, an idea taking shape. “To my cousin’s place. Grizzly Ridge.”

“Grizzlies.” He grinned. “I knew it.” He pressed a hand to his chest. “Kodiak.”

She wasn’t surprised he was a shifter; she could sense it. And his scent. He smelled of mountains and snow despite the fact that he’d obviously just spent some time in the tropical sun. Only shifters had such strong scents. But it did take her off guard that he was a Kodiak. She’d never met one before. And she told him so.

“Well, I’m glad to be your first. What’s Grizzly Ridge?”

He slipped the dark glasses from his face, and her breath literally caught in her throat. His eyes were absolutely magnetic. The photo on the cover of the magazine that was now tucked in her bag simply didn’t do them justice. They were the color of a glacier. So blue that if she hadn’t seen them for herself, she wouldn’t even believe that color could exist. Beyond the color, mischief sparkled in his gaze, and he winked at her.

“An eco-lodge in the Montana mountains. My cousins own it and run it and it’s absolutely gorgeous. It’s become very popular, but sometimes they don’t take any guests so we can have a family celebration.”

“Like for Thanksgiving?”

“Exactly.”

“And you’re inviting me?”

“Well, you kind of owe me.”

His eyes widened with surprise and laughter. “I owe you?”

“For saving your ass back there.”

He nodded. There was no way he could deny that. “So, for payback, you want me to come to Thanksgiving dinner?”

Her smile was sly, her idea fully formulated. It was perfect. She’d get to spend more time with Cyrus and it would get her family off her back about all of the setups they had for her. “Not exactly.”

He tilted his head and leaned in to her as one of the women from earlier walked by. He was so close she could feel his breath on her neck. So close that she felt his gasp of surprise when she told him what it was exactly that she did want.

“I need you to be my boyfriend.”

#

“You need me to be what?”

He lowered his voice almost at once, but not in time to avoid a few heads turning their way.

“Look, it’s nothing,” she said. But they both knew it wasn’t nothing. Cyrus didn’t know what it was, but there was definitely something between them. “My family is all over me about finding a mate and maybe if they think I’m happy with you, they’ll back off.”

There was a lot Cyrus wanted to say in reaction to that. He was pretty sure no one would have to think she was happy with him. She would be. That was for sure. “You don’t want a mate?” The question felt suddenly very important. “So you just want to throw them off the track?” It wasn’t uncommon for female bear shifters to not want to take a mate for a variety of reasons. Often, clans—particularly grizzly clans—would dictate mates for the female shifters in an effort to keep the bloodline pure and to ensure future generations of shifters. He wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that was Natalia’s story.

“No.” She shook her head, surprising him yet again. The woman was absolutely full of surprises. “It’s not that. I do want a mate.” Her words filled him with an entirely unexpected happiness. “Someday,” she added. “What I don’t want is to be set up with a whole series of my cousins’ friends who they think will be absolutely perfect.” She used her fingers to make air quotes. “And that’s why I need you.”

“Now boarding all remaining guests for flight AA3543 to Bozeman, Montana.”

Natalia looked over his shoulder toward the gate. “I’m running out of time.” Her eyes met his and, for a moment, he was lost. “Are you coming or not?”

He had to be in New York in two days for meetings. Always, meetings. If he let her get on that flight, he might never see her again. And that seemed suddenly far more unbearable than sitting for hours in a skyscraper, wearing an uncomfortable suit, nodding and smiling at a room full of people who just wanted to kiss his ass.

“Okay.” He grinned so widely that his cheeks ached from the effort.

How long had it been since he’d smiled so much?

Weeks? Months? Years maybe. And in the span of only a few minutes, he’d smiled more than he had in recent memory.

“You’ll come?” She bounced a little and the innocent action caused Cyrus’s bear to roar a little in his chest. She wore leggings and a button-up, slightly oversized blouse, with her dark hair in a twist on the top of her head. She was dressed for traveling, but she was absolutely the most gorgeous woman he’d ever seen, and when she smiled like that…breathtaking.

“I’ll come.” He nodded.

“Can we get you a ticket in time?”

He loved that she didn’t even ask about New York, as if she’d sensed that he didn’t want to go there in the first place and once again she was rescuing him. Which she most definitely was.

“I’m not worried about that.” He took her hand in his and together they moved quickly first to the gate, where a very brief conversation with a very star-struck flight attendant informed him that the flight was, in fact, not full. Cyrus winked at her and asked her very nicely to hold the flight for a few minutes while he sorted out a ticket, a request she gladly agreed to in exchange for an autograph.

Less than ten minutes later, Cyrus had purchased a first-class ticket in the seat next to Natalia’s. The fact that she was flying first class and traveling alone was one he found very interesting, just like most things about this woman he’d just met.

“You can make anything happen, can’t you?” Natalia laughed as they toasted with their complimentary champagne once they were seated.

“I could say the same about you,” he replied after taking a sip of the bubbly. “After all, you’re the one who got me on this plane.”

“True.” She tipped her glass at him. “I guess I am pretty incredible.”

“I’ll toast to that!”

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