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Timberman Werebear

By: T. S. Joyce

Chapter One

Danielle Clayton had made the worst decision of her life moving back to Saratoga.

That awful choice was highlighted by the man sitting on the stage across the bar in a halo of blinding spotlight taking a long pull of what was likely a whiskey and coke as he prepared to perform his next song.

How did she know it was a whiskey and coke? Because she knew him as well as anyone could get to know a sack of secrets like Denison Beck. Charming, funny, entirely comfortable under scrutiny, outspoken, mouthy red-blooded man. All the outer attributes he allowed people to see. Attributes that made people feel like they knew him when they really didn’t know him at all.

Denison Beck was an enigma. Always had been, always would be.

She cast a lingering glance over her shoulder as his darker haired twin brother, Brighton, strummed the first chord of the next song. Sounded like it would be a country crooner. Denison looked different than he had four years ago. He’d lost the lankiness of boyhood and grown short, dark scruff on his face. Probably intentional and not from laziness. Denison had been a perfectionist when she’d had cause to know him on a personal level. At least he seemed to be from the few times she was allowed to visit his meticulously tidy home, back when they were dating.

As Denison pressed the frets of his guitar with long, graceful fingers, his bicep bulged under the dark green T-shirt that clung to his defined musculature like a second skin. Gym rat. She’d forgotten to add gym rat to his list of known qualities. And sex pot.

She took a sip of her cranberry vodka and tried to yank her gaze away from his flexing pec as he strummed along with Brighton. Nope. Her eyes refused, the traitors, and traveled down to his powerful legs, bent at the knee as he settled into his rhythm on the old bar stool. Even the holes in his jeans had probably been bought that way. She couldn’t imagine him looking like a slouch without purpose. But it wasn’t his demigod body that had slayed her all those years ago. It had been his eyes. Under the designer-messy sandy-brown crop of hair, his eyes were soft and gray as he belted out the first lyric in that deep, rich baritone that used to make her ovaries explode. The trio of ladies at the next table sighed in unison, then leaned closer.

“Aw, for crap’s sake,” she muttered and dragged her attention back to her drink. She wasn’t going to be one of his groupies. Not this time around.

This time, she was here for a job. That was all.

Her hands shook, and she checked the door once more. If Darren didn’t show in three minutes, she was out of here. It was cruel to expect her to sit here and listen to her ex sing songs about a love he knew nothing about. And Darren, that little piss-ant, was half an hour late. It was his idea to have a business meeting at a bar, and he’d just so happened to pick Denison’s old haunt. Admittedly, she had hoped to enjoy some fond memories here tonight, not see her danged ex doing what he’d probably been doing the entire four years she’d been away at school—singing at Sammy’s Bar and banging locals.

Freaking Denison. He’d never change. Which made her take a long, head-clearing pull of air and nod her head at how justified she had been in leaving his ass. Except in her bout of self-righteousness, she inhaled the plume of a passerby’s exhaled cigarette smoke and coughed in the most unattractive snort she’d ever heard come from a woman. Lovely.

Time to go. She stood, but a tall man with piercing blue eyes blocked her way.

“Leavin’ so soon?” he asked in a thick drawl.

She smiled politely and took a final sip of her drink, then set the glass on the table with a clunk. “I’ve been here long enough. ’Scuse me.”

“Let me buy you another drink,” the man said. “My name’s Matt, and I’ve been watching you sitting over here by yourself. I came here alone tonight, too, so I get it.”

“Get what?” ’Cause she sure as snickers didn’t need a man right now, if that was what he was implying. She especially didn’t need one to pity flirt with her to make her feel like she wasn’t just some loser sitting alone in a bar.

Matt lowered his head and voice. “I get that you came here looking for a…connection.”

She screwed up her lips and swallowed a giggle. “Connection, no. Stiff drink, yes.” And a meeting with that little weasel Darren before he headed into the wilderness on his own. “I’m just going to close out my tab and be on my way.”

He snatched her cell phone from her hand and typed in a number, then saved it to her contacts, the ass. “So, what’s your name?” he asked with a cool, playboy smile.

His teeth were blinding white, like he’d bleached them with household cleaners. She couldn’t take her eyes away from them. His feline grin was like a bug light, calling to her.