The bear dropped to all fours and charged toward her with unbelievable speed, feet thumping against the earth like a drum.
Darcy screamed again, feet churning uselessly against the rocks. She grabbed a handful of pebbles and threw them as the bear broke from the shrubs a few feet away. Flinging her arms up to cover her face, she glimpsed a golden shape streaking in from the side.
It slammed into the bear, bowling it sideways and tumbling into the bushes. A wide swath of brush flattened in their wake. Darcy lowered her arms, gaping at the entangled creatures. The second beast was almost as large as the first, its long, golden tail lashing as it snarled and clawed the other predator. Do we even have mountain lions in Alaska?
The animals circled each other, fangs bared, ears laid back. Lunging forward, the bear struck with one giant paw. The big cat sprang straight up, out of the way. He landed on the bear’s shoulders, sinking his fangs into its neck.
With a deafening bellow, the bear reared, shaking the lion off. The lion twisted and landed on its feet. Facing off, they circled again, snarling and lunging.
I have to get out of here. Darcy pushed upright, palms stinging and sticky with blood from where she’d fallen against the rocks. A jolt of blinding pain shot up her ankle, and it suddenly refused to take her weight. Breathing shallowly, she leaned one palm against the cliff and hop-stepped back the direction she’d come.
The mountain lion appeared to be driving the bear away, pursuing it toward the trees at the other end of the slope. Darcy had no idea how she’d been lucky enough to have two predators decide to duke it out with each other instead of have her for a snack, but she wasn’t about to complain.
She tripped over a root, collapsing to her hands and knees. The sound of battle had ceased, and for a moment, she held still listening. Was it too much to hope they’d forgotten she was here? Maybe she should just crawl away so they wouldn’t see her over the bushes. She lifted her head, aiming for the tree line.
Her gaze connected with the tawny golden eyes of the mountain lion. He crouched less than an arm’s length away, muzzle stained crimson and one ear torn. She jolted backward, toppling onto her backside like a crab. This is it. The end. No one would even find her body because the lion would drag her off and eat her.
The lion prowled forward, a deep purr vibrating the air. His golden eyes mesmerized her, and her heart thundered so hard, she couldn’t breathe. She found herself unable to look away.
He stepped forward slowly, gracefully, until his front paws straddled her. She was forced to lie back to avoid bumping noses. Barely breathing, she lay beneath him, the heat of his body radiating against her.
“N-nice kitty,” she whispered.
He continued purring, lowering his face to rub his cheek against hers.
She cringed, expecting fangs. Only the rough prickle of his whiskers rubbed her skin. With trembling hands, she pushed his head away, the tawny fur lush and soft against her palms.
The big cat responded by purring louder. His golden eyes held an intelligence she hadn’t expected. Why wasn’t he tearing into her? Could he be somebody’s pet? She dug her fingers into the thick fur and the tight fear in her chest eased a bit.
A long rough tongue snaked out to taste her throat, sending a surprisingly sensual shiver through her. She lay perfectly still as the lion moved down her body, snuffling and licking and rubbing. Was he marking her? She knew nothing about mountain lions.
He lifted a wide paw and placed it on her belly, kneading gently without baring his claws. Her skin quivered under the touch. He nudged his head up the inside of her thigh until he reached her center, hot breath penetrating her jeans.
She gasped, belly tightening around unexpected butterflies. Oh, God. She’d never had a fetish for animals, but this lion…
The cat lifted his head, intelligent gaze connecting to hers. He seemed to be considering. After several heartbeats, the air between them shimmered. The cat’s features grew hazy, muzzle flattening and ears receding. The furry hide smoothed, and the limbs lengthened. Within moments, the beast was replaced by a tawny-haired, golden-eyed man kneeling between her legs. His hands were planted on the ground on either side of her thighs, every naked square inch of him rippling with muscle.
In a voice like a roll of thunder, he asked, “Why do you reek of catnip?”