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Riley’s Downfall

By:Lynn Hagen


Chapter One




Riley Lakeland wasn’t a happy bear.

As a matter of fact, he was downright baffled.

He sat on his horse—a brown Arabian named Warrior—staring at the ranch from the other side of the corrals, wondering if Sterling Lagrange was going to come bolting out the back door like he seemed to do every morning, and praying that the man didn’t.

Sterling flat-out confused Riley, and he didn’t like being confused.

Riley liked his nice, boring life.

And Sterling was anything but boring.

The man bubbled with excitement and babbled on and on about nothing in particular. Riley had never heard anyone talk so damn much in his life. It was like someone filled the guy up with sugar every morning and let him loose on the Lakeland household. Riley was quiet, observant, and not so sure he could handle a chatty mate. He was never too keen on chatterboxes, and Sterling was the poster boy for chatting about absolutely nothing anytime he was near Riley.

Or anyone else.

There were times when Riley would swear his ears were going to bleed from Sterling talking so damn much. The guy even talked to the animals on the farm. He sure as shit hoped his mate wasn’t looking for them to respond. But with Sterling, no one really knew.

The man bounced around the ranch from one thing to the next when he wasn’t working at the diner. Riley had never seen anyone in such good spirits all of the time either. Sterling was always smiling, always waving at one person or the next, even strangers. The man’s light-grey eyes seemed to always glow with some unknown enjoyment.

Didn’t the guy ever have an off day?

“If you stare at the house any harder, you’ll go cross-eyed,” Chance, one of Riley’s younger brothers, teased. Riley was the eldest brother of seven sons. He was a single birth, while Chance had a twin, Chauncey. Then there were the triplets, Olsen, Bryce, and Gavin. Roman was the youngest, and the only other single birth besides Riley. It was a daunting role to be big brother to so many, but Riley had taken on the roll and felt he did a pretty decent job helping his pa keep them in line.

But the twins and triplets still managed to cause havoc around the ranch. The twins mainly, but Bryce wasn’t too far behind them. “He’ll be out here before you know it, running around trying to pet cows and chasing behind Pa or Abe.”

“Don’t you have some work to get done?” Riley groused. He didn’t like the fact that Chance could read him so well. He also didn’t like the fact that his mate ran behind his pa or that incompetent fey. Sterling shouldn’t be running behind any man except Riley.

Sadly, his mate had run behind Riley, until Riley had bit Sterling’s head off about following him around. Now Sterling steered clear of Riley, and he wasn’t sure what he should do to fix the situation.

Riley wasn’t even sure if he should.

He didn’t want his mate following him around like a lost puppy, but he didn’t want his mate following any other man around either.

Fuck, he was so damn confused.

Riley had wanted a mate just like any other shifter, even if he had hooped and hollered about not needing one. Maybe it was his protesting that landed him Sterling. Maybe fate was paying him back for all the times he scoffed at his brothers for acting like damn idiots for their mates. He wasn’t sure the reason why, but fate was getting her just due right now. And it was in the form of one sexy and chatty-as-hell mate.

Maybe he should hide all the sweets in the house. That just might calm the man down. But Riley had a feeling that his mate’s excited demeanor was all Sterling.

And that was a fucking scary-ass thought.

“Pa’s coming,” Chance warned and then rode off, leaving Riley to stare at the back door a moment longer before he, too, took off.

He may be his pa’s right-hand man, but Malcolm Lakeland didn’t screw around when it came to getting work done. And Riley had done nothing this morning except watch for his mate to bound from the back door. His pa would be pissed if he knew Riley was screwing off like this. They had a ranch to run, and all Riley had managed to do lately was duck and dodge Sterling, hiding at every turn.

How in the fuck did a human turn Riley into someone who shucked his work just to make sure the guy didn’t spot him? He was a bear. A big, dominant, take-no-shit bear shifter, and some slim, happy-go-lucky human had come along and put the fear of god into him.

He was so screwed.

He pulled his Stetson from his head, running a hand over his hair. It was an irritating habit he had developed lately around Sterling. He found himself running his hand over his head anytime he became frustrated.

He was surprised he wasn’t bald by now.

Just as Riley tucked his hat back on his head and turned back around to see his pa heading his way, he also saw Sterling bolt out the back door, waving his hand toward Riley’s pa with a big goofy grin on his handsome face.

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