Bear My Perfect Gift

By: Ariana Hawkes

(Christmas Bear Shifter Romance Book 3)

Chapter One

All was quiet on Stonybear Peak. Caleb Ridgeman gazed over the frozen world of his clan’s territory, all the way to the distant horizon, the line of pale yellow light glowing above the snow, and wondered again why he hadn’t slept right through the day. It was the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, when the sun barely rose from its bed before sinking back and plunging the land into blackness once more. Caleb’s clan semi-hibernated during the bitter winter months, sleeping up to 23 hours a day, and sleeping right through the solstice was a tradition for them. In fact, it was more than a tradition – it was a superstition. There was a story, which has been passed on for generations, that dark spirits awoke on the shortest day, and if you went outside, they could whisper in your ear and lure you into all kinds of mischief.

All the cabins of his clan members were in darkness, not a single light showing in any of the windows. Caleb sighed. He was outside because something had jolted him from his sleep like a thunderbolt hitting his cabin, and he’d leapt out of bed and stood in the middle of the room staring into the darkness in bewilderment. He’d decided to go outside and get some fresh air to see if he could figure out what it was.

As the sun sunk further beneath the horizon, draining the last yellowish tinge from the clouds and returning them to slate gray, he rubbed his head, thinking hard. What was it? It was like a half-formed idea, or one of those dreams that you remember for a second when you awake, but then they’re gone, like ghosts.

A night bird gave a long, throaty call, welcoming the darkness back, and Caleb shouted out in realization: he had to leave Stonybear Peak. That was it! A voice had spoken to him in his sleep, telling him that he had to leave his home to fulfil his destiny. Wow. It’s not surprising that I jumped out of bed like someone had lit a fire underneath me, he thought. That’s about the craziest thought I’ve ever had.

Then he shook himself. He’d never lived anywhere other than Stonybear Peak – hell, he’d barely visited any other town. The small community was the center of his world. How could he even think about leaving it?

But the truth was staring him right in the face. He hadn’t found his mate, and, with every winter that passed, he became more and more aware of it. More and more despondent, more certain that it wouldn’t happen. All the other members of his clan were either mated, or were several years younger than him. No-one could understand why he was still single. He was always hearing what a great guy he was, and how any lady bear would be lucky to have him, but he just hadn’t found the one. It was particularly hard on him as he was a sociable guy, and yearned to share his life with someone special. But he was beginning to resign himself to a life of solitude – and that was exactly why he knew that leaving town was the right thing to do. He opened his huge jaws and let out a roar that tore through the woods and across the snowy plains. Birds took flight from the trees, and, half a mile away, small mammals dashed back into their burrows. It was a sound of shock and joy and pain, all rolled into one. For the first time in he didn’t know how long he had a purpose. He didn’t have to wait for life to happen to him, as one year rolled into another. He didn’t have to hope that somebody new might move to Stonybear Peak and magically turn out to be his mate. He was going to go out and make it happen!

There was a loud creaking 100 feet away, and Caleb turned his head towards the sound. Three cabins along a door burst open, and a black, furry head poked out. His heart leapt at the sight of his best friend, Dominic. Dominic gave a questioning rumble, and Caleb rumbled back, reassuring him that everything was fine. He wasn’t being attacked by a pack of wolves. Dominic gave a rumble of annoyance, shook his head and retreated into his cabin, banging the door shut behind him. Caleb started after him. He needed to tell someone about his discovery, right now. But – he glanced down at his huge paws, buried in the deep snow – that was a conversation that would be a lot easier in his human form. He rushed back to his cabin to shift.

Dominic was a long time opening his door again, and Caleb rapped until his knuckles were sore. At last, the door was snatched open and a long black muzzle poked out, followed by two brown eyes, glazed with sleepiness. Caleb pushed past him and bounded into the cabin.

“I’ve had a revelation!” he announced, his voice louder than he’d intended. Dominic closed the door quickly. It was so cold up in these northern reaches that retaining warmth in the cabins was always a struggle. Dominic fidgeted and pawed at the ground, and Caleb could tell that he was reluctant to summon up the huge effort required to shift into his human form. “I’m leaving Stonybear Peak!” he continued. That did it. Dominic’s huge body folded in on itself, his bones snapped and crunched, his fur retreated, revealing tan skin, there was a violent jerk, and he was standing on two feet as a man. A man whose face wore an expression of absolute bewilderment, his eyes open wide enough to reveal the whites all the way around.

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