Alan Carman was so happy he was singing. Rarely in life was everything exactly perfect. The sun was shining. He’d just been paid, pitiful an amount though that might be. And now he was headed home, flying down the freeway on a beautiful late summer day to tell his brother the most amazing news.
Which made it typical for his life that sirens started blaring right behind him. Cop car. A quick look down showed that he hadn’t been speeding, but the flashing lights were pretty clear, so he braked and pulled over.
Damn. Though—upside—even this wasn’t dimming his mood because today was a great day. His life had just changed for the better. The amazing, the absolutely, wonderful, joyous yes- all-is-exactly-as-it-ought-to-be better! Then he looked back and saw the police officer step out of her car. He knew that walk. Knew that body even though it was encased in the intimidating uniform of a state police officer. And now that he saw her, he also knew that God had given him exactly the most perfect day.
He grinned and lowered his window. This was going to be fun.
“License and registration, please.” Her voice was clipped, her eyes hidden behind mirrored sunglasses, and she in no way indicated that they’d grown up within a few miles of one another.
“Hi, Tonya. Guess what?”
Officer Tonya Kappes, gorgeous grizzly-shifter and all around badass, didn’t react though he watched carefully for any hint of softening. No relaxation of her spine, no tilt to her lips. Nothing despite the fact that she’d been his one obsession since his fourteenth birthday. He knew from his brother Carl when she started working for the state police. And he’d watched the news just in case she hit the media spotlight. For years they’d had no direct contact while he went through law school and she flew through the police academy. But now, on this day of all days, she was here pulling him over.
Must be fate.
“Come on, Tonya. It’s me on a beautiful day. Guess what?”
“Alan.” Just his name spoken in a flat voice. “Hand me your license and registration, please.”
Well, at least she recognized him. That was something, right? Still smiling—though the expression was getting more strained by the second—he pulled out his wallet and handed over his driver’s license. A moment later, he passed her his insurance information.
“Do you have any idea how fast you were going?” she asked, her voice deadpan.
“You were in a fifty-five zone.”
What? “No way. I know this route like the back of my hand. It’s not—”
“Changed last week.”
A speed trap. Of course.
“Damn it, doesn’t Michigan have any other way to fund themselves?”
“There were notices in all the local papers.”
“I’ve been working in Detroit.” He huffed out a breath. “Hell, Tonya, I’ll pay the ridiculous ticket. I’ll even donate to the policeman’s ball or whatever charity you want. Just do me one little favor and ask me what’s up!”
Pause. A long one, damn it. And then she lowered her sunglasses. Her sweet baby blues appeared and he almost melted right there. Sure she was all Officer Ice Queen, but right there were the eyes that had lived in his fantasies for over a decade.
“I passed the bar. As of today, I’m a real, live, honest-to-goodness attorney.”
He watched her face for her reaction. He waited for a whoop of joy or a slap of congratulations. Something that indicated she knew what this meant to him. Instead, her lips curved into a slow, shallow smile.
He huffed out a breath. That was a bit anticlimactic. So he abruptly twisted, crossed his arms, and leaned them against the car door such that he was as close as he could get to her without climbing out of his car. Then he smiled his most charming smile at her.
She arched her brows, but beyond that, didn’t seem to react at all.
“Celebrate with me, Tonya.”
“I’m in a relationship.”
Ah. Well that put a damper on his hormones, but even so he still wanted to catch up with her. “That’s great,” he lied. “Tell me about him.”
His brows arched. “Really?”
She nodded slowly. “If you tell a soul—”
“Not a word. I swear. But only if you tell me all about it.”
“Got a kink gene you want to indulge?” she drawled, her voice heavy with sarcasm.
He held up his hand. “No, Tonya. I got an interest in you. We grew up together. You gave me my first kiss—”
She flushed at that, and he took it with a measure of pride that she remembered it. Maybe even thought of it as pleasurably as he did.
“We’ve missed each other these last years. I’ve kept up through Carl but—”
“You still dating the Chinese girl?”
He shook his head.
So she had been paying attention. Good. “Jade and I are on the outs right now. She’s headed to New York and big city law. Couldn’t understand why I was going back to Gladwin.”
Tonya jolted. “You are?”
He nodded. “Carl really needs the help since Dad died. Has for a while, and I can’t keep splitting my time between Detroit and home.”
“So you quit Detroit?”
He grinned. “Yup. Turned in my notice today.”
“But what are you going to do in Gladwin? The clan can’t have that much legal work—”
“You’d be surprised. Plus, I’ll be looking in the surrounding area for work. Bay City isn’t that far. It won’t be a lot of money, but my expenses are low.” He shrugged. “Once Carl gets everything stabilized, I can look for a more permanent solution.”
“He’ll be grateful for the help.”
“So what about it?” he pressed. “Tell me all about your girlfriend over dinner? My treat?”
“Of course it’s your treat,” she said as she handed him back his license and registration. “Since I just accidentally screwed up this ticket.” She ripped up the moving violation, then gave him directions to a chain restaurant. “I’ll meet you there in an hour.”
“Bring your girl,” he said. “I’d love to meet her.”
She flashed him a sheepish look. “She’s actually a guy named Brian. He’s a dentist and the exact opposite of the meatheads I work with every damn day.”
“So not a muscle guy?”
“More like a ninety-pound weakling, but he makes me smile.”
“So why say you’re with a girl?”
Her gaze canted away. “Because guys stop arguing when I say I’m on a different team. Plus it helps them understand a female cop. Apparently only lesbos can be butch.”
He frowned and he tried to sort out what she’d just said. “You know that makes no sense, right?”
“And when did the human race ever make sense, Counselor?”
She had a point. And he had a desperate urge to learn more about what it took to be a female cop. What it had cost her and how it worked with the whole shifter thing. She started to walk away, but he reached out to touch her hand. Warm fingertips to hot skin. He brushed across the back of her hand and felt a jolt all the way through his body that lingered in his dick. And even more shocking, she seemed to have felt something, too. Her eyes widened and her breath caught. But that was the only reaction he could see.
“Does he know? About the bear thing?”
Tonya’s face paled and she shook her head. “He’s so normal, you know? I liked that about him. Not macho, not paranormal, just a boring dentist raised by nice middle-class people. Hell, the weirdest thing about him is he’s part Chippewa on his mom’s side. He even has allergies and hates camping.”
Alan listened carefully, keeping his expression neutral. She clearly had reservations about the relationship, but there was also a softness in her tone. A yearning that lay underneath her words that spoke of a deeper connection with the man.
“Do you love him?”
“I think so,” she said. “Maybe. Or maybe I just want the whole white-picket-fence thing.”
“Bring him to dinner. Let me meet him.”
She arched a brow. “You looking to give dating advice, Counselor?”
He snorted. “Never. I just want you happy, is all.” And wasn’t that God’s honest truth? “And I want to see if this dentist can do that.” Apparently, he couldn’t even say the man’s name.
She swallowed. “He’s going to propose soon. He bought a ring.”
Oh shit. This was serious. “You’re sure?”
“I saw the receipt. Didn’t mean to snoop, but he was careless.”
And Tonya noticed things. It was part of being a cop. “So that’s a good thing, right?”
“So I’m going to have to tell him. About the bear thing.”
Right. Always a dicey proposition. “Have you talked to Carl? Gotten his okay and all?” It was standard practice to ask permission from the alpha for revelations like this. It was rarely denied. Not in this day and age. But alphas liked to keep track of who was in on the secret and who wasn’t. And since she was a woman who followed the letter of the law, Tonya would be particular about following clan rules.
“Everything’s in place to tell Brian,” she said. “I just can’t seem to actually do it.”
“Do you need help?”
Her eyes sharpened for a moment. She looked like she was about to bite his head off for suggesting such a thing, and so he held up his hands in surrender.
“It was just an offer. I don’t know how I could help, but sometimes—”
“I know,” she said, cutting him off. Then she rubbed a hand over her face. “I haven’t gone running in a while and it’s making me antsy.”
He didn’t have to ask what kind of running she meant. Every shifter had to go animal wild for a time. Just let the bear out of the cage and go tromping through the woods in their natural form. “Have you tried Mark’s new software program? It takes the edge off.”
“Yeah. I love it, but it’s not enough.”
He nodded. He couldn’t relate to the need to go native, but he did understand it. So he touched her hand again, and this time the electrical surge was more like a warm wash of energy—sweet and gentle. “Call Brian and tell him you’re getting together with an old friend tonight. Celebrate my passing the bar and all,” he added with a grin.
“Yeah, I will—”
“But then go get your bear on at the state park. I’ll bring food to the campground for afterward and keep hold of your keys and stuff.” Shifters always ended up ravenous after a run. And it was always reassuring to know that someone watched the home fires while the animal went native. This he knew from years of holding car keys and warming the grill while bear play went on in the woods. They needed it, and he took comfort in keeping things safe while the clan went wild.
Tonya wasn’t immune to the lure. She hesitated, clearly tempted. “It’s been a long while, Alan. I might not be done until well after midnight.”
He shrugged. “I got no plans.”
Then she gave in. He saw it first in her eyes, which flashed gratitude even when her body was still trying to resist. But then every part of her sagged with relief.
And it wasn’t. Not even when she didn’t return to the campsite until after three in the morning. Not when she ate two steaks and finished the last of his beer. It wasn’t a problem until she kissed him on the cheek and hopped into her car, flushed and excited to return to her dentist.
Then he stood by his car and gave up hiding the boner that throbbed through every cell in his body. And he realized that while she was headed to her boyfriend, he was so very alone.
He thought the feeling would ease over time. He thought he would get past this childhood crush that was more about nostalgia than anything else. After all, she’d been his first kiss and it had blown his teenage mind.
But three months later, she showed up in Gladwin. She’d gotten a job as the sheriff’s newest deputy. Carl told him that the bear revelation hadn’t gone well with the dentist and she needed a change in scenery. And when Alan went to see Tonya, she was a totally different person.
All her defenses were up. Her shoulders were tight and her eyes were haunted. She declared in no uncertain terms that she wasn’t gay, but she sure as hell was over men. Her exact words were, “I’ve decided I’m asexual.”
Then she slammed the door in his face.