He’s big, burly, and way smarter than your average shapeshifting bear. He’s also about to get trapped by own his game…
Lou Crushek is a reasonable, mellow, easygoing kind of guy. But once someone starts killing the scumbags he works so hard to bust, that really gets under his fur. Especially when that someone is a curvy she-tiger with a skill set that’s turning Crush’s lone-bear world upside down—and bringing his passion out of hibernation…
As a member of an elite feline protection unit, Marcella Malone has no problem body-dropping anyone who hunts her kind. But Crush is proving one major pain in her gorgeous tail. The only reason she’s joined forces with him is to track down the wealthy human who’s got her entire species in his ruthless sights. It sure isn’t because Crush’s stubborn and contrary attitude is rubbing Cella in all the right ways…
“Laurenston’s characters shine with wit and depth.” —Publishers Weekly on Belong to the Night
Brutal, undeniable pain. The kind of pain that could kill
a man. Maybe it had. Maybe the pain throbbing in his
head right at this moment had killed him and he’d have to
spend eternity feeling like this. Like warmed-over shit melting
in the hot desert sun.
The worst part about all this? It was his fault. He had no
one to blame for this but himself—and those damn Jell-O
shots. He should have stayed away from them. He knew better.
All that alcohol in those delectable little jiggly squares . . .
what was he thinking? And now he could barely move without
pain. Brutal, undeniable pain.
Lou “Crush” Crushek tried to open his eyes, but that
only made things worse. It was morning and that light coming
through the window was destroying any brain activity
he had left. If he were home, he’d simply go back to sleep
for a few more hours, but he wasn’t home. He could tell.
The scent was different. He smelled feline. Everywhere he
Crush snarled a little. That’s whose fault this was. That
damn cat. Male lions. Never trust a male lion! Sure, this
particular male lion was married to a fellow NYPD detective
and was from one of the wealthiest Prides in Manhattan,
but he was also the asshole who’d brought the tray of
Jell-O shots around, in their innocuous-looking little cups,
and said, with that feline grin, “Go on. Try one.”
So ...Crush had tried one. Then another. And another.
After the eighth . . . well, he didn’t remember much of anything
after the eighth.
What Crush did remember was making the mistake of
going over to Detective Dez MacDermot’s house for a
“small get-together with some friends” that turned into
anything but. Normally, when parties or events became
something he didn’t want to deal with, Crush would find
the first exit and head on home to his TV and his quiet life.
At least the quiet life he had when he wasn’t working undercover,
pretending to be a merciless drug dealer, biker, and occasional
hit man. But honestly, Crush didn’t leave the stupid
party because he was, for lack of a better, manlier word, depressed.
A word he rarely used about himself. He wasn’t much for
sitting around, feeling sorry about his life. He was a bear,
after all. A polar bear specifically. No, not one of those guys
who insisted on swimming in the Atlantic during the middle
of winter to prove how virile he was. But a guy who could
swim in the Atlantic during the middle of winter and never
worry about dying of hypothermia. A guy who could shift
into an eight-foot, twelve-hundred-pound polar bear anytime
he wanted to. And, as a polar bear, sitting around
being depressed wasn’t really his thing. Instead, Crush lived
like most of his kind. Being curious. Asking too many questions.
Staring blankly at people until they became terrified
and ran away. Eating whenever he was even slightly hungry.
Too bad, though, Crush had discovered something that
all bears found distressing. He’d discovered there would be
change. Change was coming Crush’s way and he hated
change. He liked to know things were going along as they
should, and when that didn’t happen, he became depressed.
He still hadn’t recovered from the closing down of his favorite
deli five years ago. Or that six years ago they’d
moved his favorite shoe store—needless to say that as a six-
nine, three-hundred-pound guy, he couldn’t exactly pick up
his boots and sneakers from the local sports store—and
Crush still walked to where the old shoe store had stood,
gazing into the window, wishing things were like they once
were, until the customers inside the tea shop called police
about the “crazed meth dealer lurking outside the door.”
So no, Crush didn’t handle change well, but he didn’t see
that there was anything he could do to prevent this change
from happening. Not after one of his old partners had
called him and given him a heads-up. The man wouldn’t
have called unless he was sure. So now Crush was just waiting
for the anvil to drop.
Unfortunately, it felt like that anvil had already dropped
right on his head.
He couldn’t do this. He couldn’t sit here in a coworker’s
house, waiting for the hangover and migraine he had to go
away. No, he just needed to get a move on. He had to get
up. He had to deal with the pain. He had plans anyway for
the afternoon and he wasn’t about to miss out on them. So
he had to get up.
But there appeared to be a little problem with him just
leaping from bed and facing the day. And that problem was
the naked female sprawled across his chest.
Uncaring about the brutal pain it would cause, Crush
opened his eyes and looked down. Yep. That was a female
all right. A—he took a sniff—feline female. Crush’s lip curled.
Another feline. The most untrustworthy of species in his
opinion. And since he was naked, too, he could only assume
that they’d . . . well . . . you know.
Christ, what was wrong with him? This wasn’t like him.
Crush didn’t get drunk and sleep with random people. He
just didn’t. It wasn’t in his DNA. It wasn’t just the NYPD
who called him “By the Book” Crushek, either. He had
classmates from junior high, high school, and college who
called him that as well.
Yet a little depression, a few too many Jello-O shots to
drink at a house party, and here Lou Crushek was. Naked.
With a feline.
Who was this female anyway? Anyone he knew? Crush
didn’t think so. He knew lots of felines, but he didn’t spend
time around them because they were, as he’d already stated
and everyone knew, totally untrustworthy. It was a fact.
Look it up!
Too bad Crush couldn’t be one of those guys who drunkenly
slept with a woman only to sneak out before she woke
up. It would definitely make his life a whole lot easier, but
that would bring him to a new level of tacky he couldn’t
handle. Just because he felt his life falling apart around
him—he hated change!—didn’t mean he’d allow it to actually
fall apart. And part of keeping his life together was
doing the morally right thing.
Man, it sucked being a good guy all the time.
“Uh . . . miss?” Jeez! His voice sounded like gravel. He
cleared his throat and tried again. “Miss? Excuse me?” He
couldn’t see her very clearly with all that black hair, with
strands of white and red throughout, covering her face and
his chest. He recognized that hair color, though. She was a
Hating to wake her up, Crush tapped her shoulder. “Miss?”
“Uh . . . yeah, sorry. I . . . uh . . .” This was so hard. How
did he tell a woman he’d possibly had sex with that he didn’t
know her name? Couldn’t even remember having sex with
her? This was getting worse and worse. When the hell did
he become a frat boy?
Suddenly she stretched, her long body briefly writhing on
his. Crush ignored how good that felt and said, “Miss?”
She lifted her head and gold-green eyes blinked up at
Damn, she was pretty. He didn’t remember having sex
with her? Really? How drunk had he been last night?
She blinked at him in confusion; then she smiled. “Oh.
Yawning and slapping her hand against his chest, she levered
herself up and looked around the room, giving him a
monumental peek at her breasts and, wow, those were
freakin’ nice. “What time is it?” she asked.
“No idea. Early.”
She nodded and settled back onto his chest, eyes closing,
arms tightening around his chest. “Good. I’m still so tired.”
Wait. What just happened?
“I have to get up.”
“Another hour,” she bargained. “Maybe two. Just relax.”
Completely confused, Crush said, “Look—”
Her head snapped up, those eyes locking on him. “Are
you going to keep talking? ’Cause it’s irritating. I’m trying
to sleep, and I’m extremely hungover.”
Crush’s eyes narrowed. He was irritating? “Tell me we
didn’t have sex last night.”
“As drunk as you were?” She yawned, already bored
with him, it seemed. “I don’t think you could have gotten it
up with a crane.”
“Wait. Is that what you think? That we fucked?”
“We’re in bed together. What was I supposed to think?”
“That I was tired and needed someplace to sleep.”
“But we’re both . . .” He shrugged a little. “Naked.”
“Yeah, I was really drunk, too, so I just took my clothes
“Wasn’t there somewhere else you could have slept?”
“Most of the people who crashed here last night were either full-humans or canines. Have you ever tried to sleep
with a canine? They yip in their sleep. And run. It’s annoying.
And Mace wouldn’t take the couch so I could sleep
with his wife so—”
“You asked a lion male to move out of his bed for you?”
“Why wouldn’t I? Because he’s the majestic lion male,
king of the jungle? Or because he’s a rich Llewellyn of the
“Because it’s the man’s house.”
“It’s his wife’s house. MacDermot just allows him to stay
here with her and those giant, useless dogs she owns. And I
know she’d pick those ridiculous rotties over that lion in a
hot second.” She sat up. “Well . . . now I’m awake.”
“How annoying for you.” Crush struggled to sit up, too,
ignoring the screaming in his head.
“What are you so cranky about?”
“You basically just told me you used me like a giant pillow.”
“You were comfortable. And didn’t yip once. I hate the
yipping. Let me tell ya, you don’t know hell until you’ve
been trapped in a rainy, miserable jungle during monsoon
season with a bunch of canines. Everyone wet and miserable
and goddamn yipping.”
Crush tried to ignore his migraine and asked, “Why
would you be sitting in a miserable jungle with canines?”
“For lots of reasons.”
“Name two. No. Just name one. I challenge you.”
“You challenge me?” She laughed, her almost muzzlelike
nose crinkling a little as she looked him over. “Aren’t you
Finally, Crush had to ask, “Who are you?”
“If I wasn’t still hungover, I’d give you my most sultry
smile and tell you ‘your dream come to life.’ But, eh. I’m
just too tired to bother and, honestly, does one have to really
put in that much effort for a bear?”
“Are you always this insulting?”
“Insulting? This is me being nice. I even complimented
“Yes. Apparently I’m as comfortable as a pillow.”
“Yeah. But one of those full-body ones. Or like one of
those giant stuffed bears you get when you’re a kid. My dad
used to get me those and then he’d teach me how to maul
“I am not—”
She held up her finger. “Hold that.” Then the insane female
stretched out across his lap and reached down to the
floor, grabbing a phone out of her jeans.
Annoyed and disgustingly turned on, Crush snarled,
“Woman, get off me.”
“Ssssh,” she said, settling her butt onto his lap. “Business
Did she just shush him? She did, didn’t she?
“Yep?” she said into the phone, clearly uncaring that
they were still both naked and there was absolutely nothing
separating her ass from his cock. “Now? ’Cause I gotta get
home to the kid.”
Kid? The woman had a child, but she was hanging out
and getting drunk at house parties and torturing him with
her butt on his cock?
Thinking about all the shitty parents he had been forced
to deal with over the years as a cop, Crush hissed, “You
have a child?”
She nodded and while someone kept talking on the other
end of her phone, she whispered, “Have to get home. Still
breastfeeding.” Then, when Crush thought his head might
explode, she silently laughed and mouthed, “Just kidding.”
Holy hell, who was this woman?
“All right. All right. I’ll get Smith on it. You know she
loves morning jobs. I know she doesn’t work for you, but
think of it as outsourcing. We both know she can do the
damn job. Besides, she has to realize that not everything can
be the close-up kill.” Not knowing what she was talking
about, Crush was relieved when she winked at him. Good.
She was kidding. Because it would be really hard to arrest a
naked woman sitting in his lap. “Okay. Good. I’ll take care
She disconnected the call and tossed the phone back on
her jeans. “I’ve gotta go.”
“Yes. You need to get home to your child.”
“Yeah. Her, too.” She shrugged. “She’s pretty self-sufficient.
She can almost reach the stove.”
Unable to take any more, Crush pushed her off his lap.
Not as hard as he’d like—damn his morals—but at least he
got her off him and he could move away from her.
Grabbing his clothes, Crush stalked to the door.
“Don’t you want my number?” she asked him. “Maybe
the next time we could get drunk and then actually have
sex. If you’re worried about the kid, I can put a little brandy
in her milk bottle and she’ll be out like a light.”
Crush began to speak, but realized he would only say
something completely inappropriate and mean, something
he simply couldn’t bring himself to do. So instead he stormed
out, slamming the door behind him.
Tragically, however, Desiree MacDermott stood there in
her hallway, her green eyes growing wide as her gaze moved
down the length of his naked body while he lollygagged in
the middle of her hallway.
His fellow detective finally looked up into his face. “Hi,
uh . . . Crushek. How’s it going?”
“Fine. Thank you for inviting me to your party.”
“Okay.” They stood in the hallway another second, then
Crush said, “ ’Bye.”
And, with as much dignity as he could muster at six in
the morning while naked in a coworker’s house, and still
sporting a hangover and a semi hard-on—because even degenerates
could be sexy as hell in the morning—Crush
headed to his truck and absolute freedom.
Marcella “Bare Knuckles” Malone—She-tiger, feline nation
protection contractor for KZS, pro hockey player for
the championship shifter team the Carnivores, and the Malone
family’s bare-knuckles fighting champion—heard the
bedroom door open again, but she simply couldn’t stop her
hysterical, wheezing laughter. No one could! Why? Because
that had been the best!
She heard MacDermot, but Cella couldn’t answer her.
She was too busy laughing and trying to figure out who that
guy was. It wasn’t every day Cella got to meet guys who
looked like biker gang meth dealers, but had the moral fortitude
of Martin Luther. All that indignant outrage over her
untended daughter while sporting long, white polar bear
hair that reached past his shoulders, a perpetual scowl, a
scar on his neck, and pitch-black eyes that probably terrified
lots of people. Of course, if all that didn’t scare someone,
she was pretty sure that what had to be about six feet
and nine inches and about three hundred pounds or so of
hard muscle probably did the trick. Man, had that body
been like a thousand levels of perfect or what?
Yet even though the guy was really scary looking, Cella
just found all that intimidating scowling and raging anger
so cute. Like teddy bear cute. Plus, he was so damn uptight!
She didn’t know bears could be so uptight. Unless they were
startled into a rage, bears were usually the most laid-back
of all shifters, except lion males. Although Cella felt there
was a huge difference between laid-back and just plain lazy.
Even worse for that poor bear was how all that uptightness
brought out Cella’s worst feline qualities. Honestly, the
more uptight the bear became, the more she playfully swatted
at him. She couldn’t help herself. He was just so cute in
his moral outrage!
“Cella!” MacDermot demanded, also now laughing.
“What the hell did you do to the poor guy? I’ve never seen
him look like that before. He was about to blow a vein in
that big bear head of his!”
It was more than she could take. Cella rolled off the bed,
hitting the floor, which miraculously made her hangover go
far, far away.