Predator's Kiss

By: Rosanna Leo
Chapter 1

The enormous grizzly bear stalked toward the teenagers, its footfall eerily quiet for such a large beast. The animal skulked through the forest, camouflaged by trees and undergrowth.

They didn’t notice as the great animal lumbered in their direction. They were occupied with arguing over whether Megan Fox was hotter than Blake Lively. Two of the boys ganged up on the third in a vociferous display of enthusiasm over the former starlet’s breast size, and the third boy was forced to concede. They laughed as they hiked—talking trash and punching each other often as young men were apt to do, never noticing the bear. In between randy comments about each other’s mothers, they feasted on sandwiches and bags of potato chips packed in their rucksacks. There were no shouts of fear or astonishment as the animal drew near, never dreaming they were being followed.

And still the bear stalked closer, its great mouth open in what looked like a smile.

As the young men ended their discussion one of them finally looked up, startled by the sound of the big paws scratching through the scrub.

“Holy shit,” exclaimed the boy.

The bear’s voice reverberated in a quiet, ominous growl.

Three pairs of alarmed eyes darted toward the animal, growing wider with each passing second. There was a tense moment as the boys sized up the creature, and as the creature seemed to be sizing them up in return.

“Wait,” one of them whispered. “Is that…?”

The boys stared, and then their faces relaxed into three smiles, no longer afraid in the slightest. One of them doubled over, laughing. “Mr. Snow, is that you? For fuck’s sake. Thanks for creeping up on us, dude. I almost pissed my pants!”

*

Ryland Snow, still in the form of the grizzly, shook his head. The shape-shifter sucked in a breath and allowed his body to undergo the transformation to change him back from bear to man. He endured the quick stab of pain as his limbs shortened and his body hair retreated. His muscles snapped into place, as if a big nutcracker had cracked him like a walnut. Once he was comfortably settled in his human form, he angled an eyebrow at the teen.

“Carter, do you kiss your mother with that mouth?”

The boy Carter, still giggling, elbowed one of the other boys. “No, but I kiss Jim’s mother with that mouth!”

Jim winced. “Not cool, dude.” And then he pretended to gag.

Smiling to himself, Ryland quickly donned some clothes he’d previously stowed behind a log. He approached the boys with purpose. As he sized them up, giving each one a long, lingering look, they lost some of their bravado and had the decency to look bashful. Of course, Carter, Jim, and Dirk were all shape-shifters too, and they all realized they’d failed a crucial test. “Now,” Ryland said in a stern tone. “Who can tell me what’s wrong with this picture?”

Dirk mumbled, “We didn’t shift fast enough.”

“You didn’t shift at all in a situation where you should have,” Ryland replied. “What have I taught you boys? At the first sign of danger, you need to drop everything and analyze the threat. Trust your instincts. Yes, you know me, but you might not know the next bear.” He ran a hand through his hair, hoping his words were sinking in. “This is why you come to Gemini Island. So you can practice your shifting skills in a safe place.”

Carter, a gangly redhead who took a bit too much pride in his reputation as class clown, piped up. “My mom says we come here for the martinis.” He dared to laugh until Ryland’s look silenced him.

In truth, Ryland was trying hard not to laugh himself. He bit his lip, attempting to keep his severe mentor face on. “Yeah, well, considering what your mom has to deal with, she deserves all the martinis she wants.” He sighed and looked at them all in turn again. “You guys have to keep your wits about you.”

Jim frowned. “But my parents say the good thing about your lodge, Mr. Snow, is that we don’t need to keep our wits about us here. Gemini Island is probably the safest place for shifters out there. None of the mainlanders suspect what we are, and everyone on the island is just like us.”

“A shifter paradise, old chap,” Carter added in a really bad English accent. He pretended to doff an invisible top hat until Dirk swatted him in the shoulder.

“And that’s just the way I plan to keep it. Free of any threat to our kind. But that doesn’t give you an excuse to get sloppy.” Ryland peered at the boys, but couldn’t help grinning in satisfaction. It was good to know the boys felt safe here. All he’d ever wanted was to have a place where shifters like him felt welcome and secure, away from suspicious nonshifter eyes. That was why he’d sunk all his money into the very private Ursa Fishing Lodge. He’d grown up near the island and enjoyed nothing more than being among his own people.

The lodge combined all of his passions: the outdoors, fishing, and the shifter world. Gemini Island, actually a small community on Lake Gemini in Northern Ontario, was a haven. And because it had become so popular in the shifter community, it quickly became a thriving business for Ryland. Fishing in summer, hiking tours for families in the fall, and a little bit of snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in the winter. Lots of thick woodland for shifters to prowl through, unaccosted by hunters. The lodge was almost always booming and Ryland couldn’t be happier with his homegrown business.

His success led him to create a summer mentoring program for young shifters like those in front of him. Every summer he invited shifter teens in the community to participate. Specifically, he invited those who reminded him of himself at their age, teens who needed help dealing with their shifter gifts. They stayed at the lodge with their families, enjoyed the facilities, and Ryland counseled them as needed and shared his skills. So far, the program had been well-received and the families appreciated being in such a relaxed environment for a week or two.

Now if he could only find a way to ensure the teens didn’t become too relaxed. When they left, he wanted them to leave as strong shifters, capable of defending themselves and those they loved. Dismissing the thought for the moment, he said to the boys, “Are you all going to the fish fry Saturday night?”

“Stacey Johnson is, so hell yes,” Carter replied, laughing, referring to a comely teenage wolf shifter girl currently staying at the lodge with her folks.

“All right, then,” Ryland said, laughing himself. “Save a piece of halibut for me.”

“Won’t you be going, Mr. Snow?” Jim asked.

“Not sure,” Ryland answered, feeling the first pinch of a headache coming on. “I’m expecting, uh, family for a visit any time now.”

Dirk’s eyes widened. “Is it your brother Soren? Can we meet him? Please? Aw, man, that dude is sick! He plays the drums better than Tommy Lee.”

Ryland shook his head, surprised the boy even knew who Tommy Lee was. Of course he’d know Soren Snow. His brother was known the world over, adored the world over, for his musical prowess. His human fans didn’t know of Soren’s bear nature, but he was a virtual hero to shifters. Soren was one of the few musicians on the world stage who transitioned easily between rock and classical music. He played percussion like Animal from the Muppets, but had studied all the classics and was sought out by symphony orchestras as well. Thanks to his rock star persona, he’d managed to get shifter youth interested in classical music.

Too bad Soren gave his own brother indigestion with all the trouble he caused. “It’s not…”

“That dude is, like, always surrounded by hot girls,” Carter said on an awed breath. “Seriously, they love Soren Snow like bees love nectar.”

Ryland wrinkled his nose. He’d heard so much detail about his brother’s dalliances, both from him and from the Internet. It was no longer a titillating topic.

“Is he gonna sign autographs? Will he have his drums with him?” Carter continued.

“I never said Soren was coming to the resort,” Ryland muttered.