Abandoned and Unseen
Book 2 in the Branded Packs Series
When bear shifter, Anya Tucker fell in love with the wrong man, the only thing she left with was a broken heart—and her two bear cubs. Now she’s mended her wounds and learned that in order to raise her babies she can only trust herself. When her sons meet the lazy cat next door and fall heads over tails for him, she’ll do whatever she takes to protect them—even from a past she’d thought she’d left behind.
Cole McDermott is a jaguar on a mission. Long naps, a willing woman, and a full stomach is usually all he needs when it comes to relaxing after a long day of protecting his Pack. Then he meets Anya and the burn of temptation is silky and tantalizing indeed. When a horror from Anya’s past threatens everything she loves, Cole will put everything aside and fight for her family—as well as his own.
Nicole Bradley had no reason to live after the humans murdered her son. Not until she learns to hunt down those responsible for his death. Shifting into her wolf form at night, she slips out of the compound, determined to do as much damage as possible. The last thing she expected was to discover secrets that could destroy the SAU.
Polar shifter, Tucker Stone, lives off the grid. It’s the only way the Unseen can avoid being rounded up by the humans and tossed into a compound. Besides, he’s a loner by nature. But he can’t walk away when he sees the pretty female wolf in danger. Risking exposure, he takes her to his hidden den and tries to heal her wounds.
Can a reclusive polar bear and a wolf with a death wish find happiness together?
Abandoned and Unseen
A branch cracked under the soft pad of a paw, but Cole McDermott didn’t twitch his ears at the sound. The wind brushed his fur, the scent of predator and home wrapping around him. He kept perfectly still from his perch in the tree beside his house. He didn’t want those tracking him to know he’d heard their loud trek through the forest. In fact, he’d heard them long before they’d mistakenly stepped on a fallen branch. These two needed lessons on how to properly hunt their prey.
That, however, was not Cole’s job.
Normally, as a Tracker, he would have been the one hunting. Today, however, he was the prey. And as the prey, he’d do his best to stay still so the hunters wouldn’t know he’d caught on to them. To lie in wait would allow those who hunted him to fall into a false sense of security. His father had taught him that long ago.
He was currently sprawled out on a low branch, close enough to the ground that he’d be able to land easily if he fell. Of course, he was a cat, so he always landed on his feet. And since he was in his jaguar form, he’d be in even better shape if he fell. Of course, he hadn’t fallen out of a tree since he was a cub, so the point was moot anyway.
The hunters came closer, their steps becoming tentative even as they grew louder. He flicked his tail, once, twice. The hunters froze, their bodies pressing closer to the ground. Cole may have had his eyes closed, but he could still hear the underbrush pressed close to the hunters’ tender bellies.
Cole yawned, his mouth stretching wide, his fangs gleaming in the sunlight that filtered through the trees.
See? Harmless cat here. Just sleeping the day away. Easy prey.
If only these hunters knew the truth. But again, he wouldn’t be the one to teach them such darkness. They didn’t need to know that behind the yawn, the stretch, was a predator in its own right. They would soon find out.
But not today.
The two hunters came closer, and Cole forced himself not to move. It wouldn’t do to alert them that their prey was well and truly awake.
When one of them batted at his tail, Cole held back his smile. Well, as much of a smile as he could, considering he was in his jaguar form at the moment. The other one went to his twins’ side and batted as well, each of them letting out a tiny growl when Cole curled his tail up, making it harder for the two bear cubs to attack.
Cole swished his tail back and forth, enjoying the way the two cubs rolled around in their bear form, chasing each other when they weren’t jumping at him. These two hunters needed to learn a few things about tracking, but they’d learn it from their family eventually. He just enjoyed hearing them sound happy, innocent. If they’d been in human form, he was sure the two would have been laughing.
There wasn’t much to laugh at these days in the compound.
He let the two play for a bit longer, not even bothering to open his eyes. They weren’t climbing the tree to get him so they’d be safe. Bear cubs could climb for sure, but they were still in the learning stages at their age. He thought they were about four, but he wasn’t sure. He hadn’t actually spoken to them. Instead, he’d stayed in cat form each time they’d snuck their way to his tree over the past two weeks.
Cole didn’t bother worrying or getting angry about two bear cubs encroaching on his territory. He had other things to worry about, and something like this was minimal. In fact, he’d rather just lie in the tree and conserve his energy for the cage and ritual fighting he’d be partaking in a bit later. That always got his adrenaline up. It also kept the Packs happy since all three species were now forced to live in one compound thanks to the humans who thought they could control what they didn’t understand.
Plus, as Tracker, he could be called upon to protect his Pack at any moment. He had the best sense of smell of the entire Feline section, and he was pretty sure he could out-track even the bears and wolves he was forced to live with. So, if someone were coming at them within the compound—or, even outside the den walls since he could jump pretty darn high—he’d be able to find out who it was and take care of it before someone got hurt. That was his duty to his Alpha, and he was damn glad to do it.
Other than that and the fighting, he’d rather just lie in this tree and soak in the minimal sunrays that hit his fur. If a willing woman showed up and wanted to scratch an itch, he wouldn’t be opposed. But two cubs who just wanted to play, after having their caged-in life be rocked from the boundaries up, wasn’t worth Cole bolstering the energy to stop them. As long as they weren’t using their claws on him, he was fine.
Of course, on that note, perhaps he should have cared a little bit more.
After all, where there were bear cubs, there was probably a momma bear just around the corner. And she didn’t hold back with her claws.
And that would be momma bear right then. He let his claws come out slightly, only to dig into the branch he rested on. He’d heard that Anya Dare had a wicked right hook, and he wasn’t in the mood to go flying when she found out her cubs had been playing with him without her supervision. That woman had no sense of fun when it came to her kids. It wasn’t as if he’d ever hurt the cubs.
She didn’t know that, however.
She only saw a lazy cat, who didn’t bother to shoo her kids back to their prison—aka their new home. Of course, it probably wasn’t like that. She just didn’t like her cubs hanging out with him. Anya hated him for some reason, and he could never quite figure out why. It wasn’t as if he’d known her for long. The Ursines had only been living with the Felines and Canines for two weeks. In fact, the Felines hadn’t been living in the Canine compound for that long either. Everything was still new, but Anya had seemed to take a firm disliking to him the moment she’d seen him.
And now it sounded as if he cared. Well he didn’t. He only cared about sleeping, sexy shifter females who wanted in his bed, and protecting his Pack. And not necessarily in that order.
Cole finally opened his eyes to see Anya glaring at him. Damn she had pretty eyes—bright blue, flashing with a hint of fire and anger. He wasn’t that far up from the ground, and the grizzly momma had to be close to six-feet tall; she could have easily jumped and taken him down with one paw.
The cubs let out tiny growls from behind his tree. Cole risked his life, considering Anya still glared at him, and turned to watch the two little boys in bear form peek out from either side of the large trunk.
Anya let out a small growl, and Cole shot his gaze to her. She curled her lip at him then stalked toward her sons. Cole stayed where he was, not wanting to anger her further. He wasn’t in the mood to go up against a momma grizzly in a rage. He wasn’t sure if he’d win.
“What did I say, boys? What did I say about leaving the house without telling me?” She folded her arms under her ample breasts, and Cole did his best not to stare. He couldn’t help it. She was fucking gorgeous—not that he’d tell her that. Ever.
He valued his life, after all.
Owen and Lucas lowered their heads and padded at the dirt. They were adorable. Seriously. Cole loved kids, and one day hoped to have a few of his own with a nice cat who was adventurous in bed and would meet him stride for stride when it came to protecting his Pack. Or maybe he’d mate with a nice little submissive who would pamper his cat while taking care of the other side of the Pack that most never knew existed.
What Cole wouldn’t be doing, was dealing with Anya for longer than he needed to. He might like Owen and Lucas, but he did not want to be on the receiving end of an angry female protecting her cubs. No one in their right mind did.
“Don’t think looking cute will get you out of this, boys,” she said firmly, but Cole still heard the smile in her voice. She wasn’t a bad mother, a little overprotective, but he couldn’t blame her for that. Not with what was going on around them. “You guys snuck out of the house. I was scared. Don’t you get that? You can’t just sneak out of our home like that and not tell me where you’re going. You know you can’t come out to another’s territory without permission. Especially his.”
What did she mean by that? Especially his. What was so wrong with him?
Cole kept his gaze on the boys as they made their way out from behind the tree, their heads down and their little paws dragging along the dirt. They didn’t look scared, more resigned that they’d gotten caught breaking the rules. Cole held back a wince. He should have done something about them coming out to him, but he hadn’t thought they were hurting anyone. Despite the fact that he’d been around cubs all his life within the compound walls, he wasn’t that used to children.
The cubs went to her legs, rubbing their necks and bodies along her. She reached down and rubbed their heads, her mouth a thin line. “Don’t do it again, boys. I’m not going to lose you. Got me?”
The two made little growls then sat on their rumps, blinking up at their mother. Seriously. Adorable.
Anya probably wouldn’t appreciate him saying so, however.
“You found them?” a deep voice said from the direction of Anya’s home.
Cole flicked his ear toward the intruder, his body tense. “Yes, Oliver,” Anya answered. “They’re right where you thought they’d be. With him.”
He was starting to hate the way she said him like that. Cole searched his mental file for who Oliver was within the Ursine Pack—yes, bears, cats, and wolves were each called Packs. That’s what happened when the damn wolves named things centuries ago and Cole’s ancestors had gone with it. Oliver was the Foreseer of the Ursines. Meaning he could tell the future—or at least make some predictions about immediate changes or danger based on premonitions. Cole wasn’t quite sure what it all entailed since Felines and Canines didn’t have a Foreseer counterpart. Instead, the wolves had an Omega, and the cats had a Shaman—or at least they would once they found him or her. It was hard to find each of their hierarchy within the walls of their confinement, but that was another story altogether.
Oliver was not only the Foreseer but Anya’s brother, as well. For some reason, that relieved some of the tension in Cole’s joints. He wasn’t quite sure how he felt about the fact that he’d not only gone tense, but had lost that tension when he figured out who the other male was.
“Go with your uncle, boys,” Anya ordered, her voice firm but not angry anymore. “I need to talk with Mr. Feline over here.”
Cole held back a wince. She wouldn’t even say his name. Well, this couldn’t end well; though he hadn’t thought it would once she’d stepped toward him all angry-like.
The boys gave him one last look then started the walk back to their place. Oliver raised a brow at him then followed. Cole wasn’t quite sure what to think of that brow, but at the moment, he had other, more pressing matters to deal with. Namely, the momma bear glaring daggers at him.
“You need to stop encouraging them,” she snapped. “They’re babies. And they are curious. I get that. But we don’t know how safe it is here, and you just sit here all lazy-like and let them play with your tail. You’re an adult. A Tracker. Act like it.”
He opened his mouth in an exaggerated yawn. She’d yelled at him for this before, and it wasn’t his fault. The cubs were, like she’d just said, curious. If they wanted to play with his tail, then he’d let them. They weren’t hurting him, and Anya needed to breathe.
“You’re an asshole,” she snapped. “So freaking lazy you can’t even turn back to human and defend yourself. Some Tracker the cats have. Leave my boys alone. If they come back here, send them back to me. Or come get me. I don’t want them out on their own. I’m all they have, Tracker. I’m not going to let them get hurt because you think it’s fun to break my rules.”
First, he wasn’t going to shift because he’d be naked. And being naked near her when he had a hard-on—because, come on, she was freaking sexy—wasn’t worth risking his life after she got a look at him sporting wood because of her. Second, he wasn’t lazy, he just picked his battles. As for her boys? Next time, he might just send them back. She had a point when it came to safety. He would never hurt them—they were cubs—but there were human patrols coming through the compound at all times. He wouldn’t see those boys hurt because the humans were in the wrong. However, he wasn’t going to shift and tell her this. She didn’t want to hear it. She had her own reasons for being angry, he suspected, and him defending himself wouldn’t help. Instead, he swished his tail, his eyes on hers.
She lifted her lip in another snarl then threw up her hands. “I can’t with you.” She turned on her heel and stomped back toward her home. He couldn’t help but watch the way her jeans hugged her ass as she did so. She was one sexy blonde Amazon of a woman. Not for him, but it didn’t hurt to look.
“I see you’re making all kinds of friends,” Gibson drawled as he slid through the trees.
Cole had scented the wolf come up a few moments before but hadn’t let on to Anya. He wasn’t sure she’d noticed the man there since she’d been so focused on Cole. Plus, with all the new smells around her, he knew it would take a bit longer than a couple of weeks for her to get her bearings when it came to the different scents of the compound. He didn’t want to see her embarrassed for her outburst in public. And he didn’t know how he felt about that last thought. Instead of dwelling on it, he stretched, lifting his back in a curl before jumping down to the forest floor. With a shake, he shifted back to human. It was fast, a painful reminder that his body held two forms that didn’t quite mesh when one thought of the physics behind it.
“Get some pants on,” Gibson said smoothly. He ran a hand through his dark black hair that always ended up in his face. The damn man had one of those emo rocker haircuts that looked like it took an hour to get perfect each morning. Though Cole knew it just came naturally to the wolf. “You’re late for your appointment, and I don’t need to see your bare ass.”
“It’s a cat ass,” Cole said with a grin and shook it before bending over to grab the pair of sweats he’d left in a nearby bush.
“I so didn’t need to see that. I think I’m blind.”
Cole smiled wide as he slid his sweats over his hips. “You know you liked it.”
The wolf flipped him off, the ink on his fingers standing out against his pale skin. “I might like cock and pussy equally, but that doesn’t mean I want yours, asshole.”
“Like I said, you like my asshole.”
Gibson let out a groan.
“See, you’re groaning.” Cole smacked the man on his back and started walking. “I don’t know how you ever lived without me.”
“It was much easier, let me tell you,” Gibson muttered.
Gibson muttered a lot, but also talked Cole’s ear off when he wanted to. The other man didn’t speak much according to the rest of the Pack. He apparently liked Cole enough to open himself up a bit more. He was the Pack tattoo artist, in charge of not only personal ink, but also the ritual ink that came with being a mate, a Pack member, and a shifter. The three emblems blended into one full tattoo once a shifter found their mate, though most of the Pack members only held two—the brand the humans forced them to wear that Gibson tattooed over, and the tattoo that signified what Pack they were born or made into. He did that work for wolves alone, but he also did other work—like the piece he was doing for Cole—for the other shifters. There was a feline artist, the one who had done the ritual work on Cole’s forearm, but he liked Gibson’s work better. Not that he’d ever say that. People may be pissed about him and Gibson’s friendship, and that he let the other man work on his back, but the rest of the shifters would just have to get over it. The three Packs had been forced to live in one small compound—times were changing, and hating one another for being a different kind of shifter had to be pushed into the past if they were to survive.
“You’re looking serious over there,” Gibson said as they walked into the wolf’s home. He pointed to the chair near the tattoo station and lifted his chin. “Sit. I’ll get you ready. Now, tell me what’s on your mind.”
Cole did as he was told. He hadn’t bothered to put a shirt on, so he didn’t have to deal with that. “I thought you didn’t like to speak while doing this. That’s what Holden said.” Holden was the wolf Alpha. He’d married a newly-turned human a couple of months back, and that had been the catalyst for not only the move of the Packs but so much more.
“I don’t like to speak unless I have something to say. And I like talking to you because you usually just listen.” Gibson worked on setting up his station and prepping Cole’s back. This was the second day of work on the piece. While humans would have to wait between sessions, he healed fast enough that he only had to wait a day. He could have probably done it all in one session, but that was asking a lot of the wolf who had his own duties within the compound.
“So, you never did say anything about Anya. Why does she hate you so much?” The wolf’s foot worked the pedal and he began working on Cole’s back. The buzz of the needle settled Cole’s cat and he relaxed, even as he thought about Anya and her apparent dislike of him.
“She called me lazy.”
Gibson snorted. “Well, you kind of are, but probably not for the reasons she thinks.”
“I’m not lazy.” Cole scowled. “I just don’t like wasting my energy on things that I won’t win. Or at least things that won’t be worth it if I win. The cubs wanted to play, and I didn’t want to growl at them to go. At least with me there, they were safe.
“But she didn’t see it that way. I’d say she shouldn’t have let the cubs get out, but there’s no way to stop shifter cubs sometimes. The fact that they felt safe enough to venture out tells you she raised them right. Thanks to the humans surrounding us, some shifters scare the hell out of their children to keep them safe. So much that they inherently cripple them.”
And that was the crux of it. They were shifters, not human. They had the ability to become the animal they were born with and, therefore, had to assume the responsibility that came with it. When they’d come out to the humans and revealed that there was something more to them than the others understood, shifters had been forced into compounds—collared and branded, but not forgotten. He’d been three when his parents risked their lives trying to protect him. They’d lost the battle, and he’d ended up raised by a group of shifters within the den walls who had tried to heal the orphans of their generation.
His people had lost so much, and now with each new decision brought on by the Shifter Accommodation Unit—the SAU for short—he was afraid they’d be one step closer to a new war where the casualty of peace would be far greater than the wars of their past.
Gibson worked on his back, and Cole tried to settle the deep ache in his bones that told him that peace was far from being within his grasp. He may be deemed lazy by a certain momma bear, but he hadn’t earned that description. He’d fight for what was his—bleed for it, die for it.
Only, a new age was upon them, and the three shifter Packs were forced to live with one another as punishments for crimes that shouldn’t have been deemed offenses in the first place, Cole wasn’t sure he would be able to fight an enemy he didn’t understand.
His world had changed once again, and he knew he’d have to take a stand with his Pack and with the other Packs he now lived with, to protect his people. He just prayed Anya and her cubs weren’t caught in the crossfire. He’d seen the pain in her eyes, the weariness that came from years of being on alert, tuned to the danger from those who would rise against them. He didn’t want to see that again, didn’t want to see the woman who had raised those cubs hurt because of a battle far from being won. Only he didn’t know why he felt that way, nor did he feel he had the right to.
He was only a lazy cat, a Tracker, a jaguar. Only worth the blood he put on the line.
Nothing more. Nothing less.