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Consumed (Gem Creek Bears Book 7)

Consumed (Gem Creek Bears Book 7)

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Click To Read The Synopsis

Sometimes we aren’t meant to see how life will unfold.

Samantha Mathers never foresaw herself returning to Gem Creek, and she never saw her Gran becoming sick—not even with the gift of premonition she was born with.

Then again, Sam’s gift doesn’t work like that.

If it did, she would have known her feelings for Nash Orsin would come rushing back the second she saw him. She would have also known to trust her gut—and her bear—when it comes to Damon Kincaid, the persistent snake shifter intent on using her gift for his benefit. However, Sam’s gift clearly has a few blind spots.

Click To Read Chapter One

Memories are tricky. The moment they scratch the surface of your consciousness, you’re at their mercy until they run their course, or you find a way to force them back into their box. Forcing them away sounds easy, but it’s not. Once a memory surfaces, there’s always a rabbit hole waiting beneath, ready and willing to swallow you. The only way to win against memories you’d rather forget is to find a way to grow numb to them. 

In order to do this, you need to know their kryptonite. 

Every memory is different, and so is their kryptonite. However, each is a living, breathing thing taking up residency inside your mind—inside your soul. 

Memories have a heartbeat. One you can feel. One that either beats in sync with yours or throws it into a tailspin.

Memories of Nash are my tailspins. 

Art is their kryptonite.

I scratched my brush along the canvas, tracing over the word painted there once more. This time I pressed the coarse bristles of the brush into the canvas harder. Deeper. Until they dug into its textured surface. Tears fell from my eyes as the word, the emotion swallowing me whole, glared back at me from the canvas. 


It was what I’d felt bubbling inside me since Gran called to tell me she was sick and I needed to come home. My insides felt hollow, and my world felt as though it had spun out of control. Not only did returning to Gem Creek mean facing whatever illness had fallen upon Gran, but it also meant returning to the scene of my biggest heartbreak. 

It meant returning to Nash. 

My mind spun out as old memories of him surfaced while worries of Gran’s health twisted at my gut. I traced over the word on the canvas once more, hoping to purge the emotion from my heart—from my soul—with each stroke of the brush. Generally, this worked. I’d paint whatever emotion I was drowning in on the canvas before painting over it with whatever image I had in mind. 

It was both cathartic and therapeutic.

It was something I needed the way some need meditation or journaling. Painting and drawing—art in general—had always been a love of mine, but it wasn’t until I moved to the city last year that I’d learned just how much I needed it in my life.

It kept me sane.

I switched to a thin bristle brush, dipping the tip into muted gray paint before beginning to sketch out the vision inside my head carefully. Before I could make the first stroke, a familiar tingling sensation pulsed through my palm. It built in my fingertips, and then my hand moved along the canvas on its own accord to paint a new image suspended in my mind.

Mountains. A garden. A wooden rocking chair. A matching table and a glass of water with condensation dripping down its side. 

Once the painting was finished, I took a step back and glared at it with a skeptical eye. The scene felt familiar.

Where was this?

Excess energy from my gift fizzed in the air, bursting like soda bubbles around me, while I thought. I studied the chair and the table. I studied the backdrop of the mountains with a small garden etched into the land. I knew this place. The mountain view felt familiar. Nothing else did, except maybe the porch.

It was Gran’s cabin in Gem Creek. 

When had she gotten rid of the old weathered porch swing and bought a rocker with a matching table? And when had she put in a garden? I hadn’t remembered her mentioning it. Her having one didn’t surprise me, though. Like all bear shifters, she loved spending time outdoors and having a garden was just another way for her to do it.

My cell rang, startling me. My bear made a noise, one I knew meant she was laughing at how easily I’d spooked.

I set my paintbrush down and reached for my phone, my gut twisting with even more worry. Every time my phone rang now, I worried it would be bad news about Gran. While she wouldn’t tell me over the phone the other night what was wrong, she didn’t need to. I could sense she was asking me to come home because whatever it was, it was serious. It was in her tone.

I answered my phone on the fourth ring, hoping to catch it before it went to voicemail because it was Karen calling, and I knew how much she hated leaving voicemails. I also knew because of her annoyance toward it she wouldn’t leave one and that she’d also purposely ignore my return call, making me wait to hear whatever she had to say that much longer out of spite. 

It was how she worked.

“Hey,” I said, answering her call. I placed my cell in the crook of my shoulder and picked my brush up again to smooth out a few lines.

“Hey, are you still in the city?”


“Good. Glad I caught you before you left. I didn’t think I would,” Karen said, sounding out of breath. She was always doing something. The woman reminded me of a lifesize hummingbird, flapping about at breakneck speed. “When are you leaving again?”

“Not until tonight. I have a few things I need to finish up before then.” Part truth and part lie. 

I did have a few things I needed to do—like load up the houseplants I knew would need the most care and finish packing—but mainly I was hanging around until later because I wasn’t ready to confront my past yet.

Meaning Nash.

“Awesome. Great. I need the last piece in the Origin Series,” Karen said. The sound of papers rustling around filtered through the phone. I could picture her rummaging through the stack that always decorated her desk while she hunted for the right one. “You mentioned finishing it the other day.”

My gaze shifted to the painting in the corner, leaning against the brick wall of my apartment, and my stomach dipped at the sight. There were very few pieces of mine I felt should stay hidden from the world, and that series was one of them. I’d never intended to put them up for sale. Karen had dropped by my place to pick up another painting for the gallery I’d finished and spotted the first two in the series. She’d taken them with her and placed them on the gallery’s online site for all to see without realizing that series wasn’t for sale. When I noticed the paintings were gone, it was too late. 

Karen had already sold them.

She’d called me to find out their series name for the buyer before I could ask what she’d done with them. The deal was final, so I told her the name that came to me from thin air for it—origins. I also mentioned there would be one more because I could feel that familiar tingle already pulsing in my hand while talking to her about the series. 

I also knew then what they represented—the shifter sickness.

The first painting was of a woman wearing a tattered white dress standing in a swamp. The second was of a glass jar bathing in moonlight. And the final image ended up being of two sets of bare feet with glowing water wrapping around their ankles and light rippling outward from them.

It wasn’t until later that I learned who the buyer had been—Damon Kincaid.

To say I wasn’t Damon’s biggest fan was an understatement. The guy rubbed me the wrong way. He wasn’t a jerk, but there was a sense of arrogance about him I didn’t care for. My bear didn’t care for him either. 

However, that could be because Damon Kincaid was a snake shifter. 

Snakes had always put both of us on edge, giving us the heebie-jeebies.

“Sam? Hello?” Karen asked, drawing my attention back to her. I realized then I still hadn’t answered her about the piece. I hadn’t said anything beyond, hey. 

“Yeah. I’m still here. Sorry.” I put my paintbrush down and grabbed hold of my phone, releasing it from the crook of my neck. “It’s ready. It’s sitting in the corner of my apartment. Do you want me to drop it off at the gallery before I head out of town?”

“Can you? That would be perfect, especially if you can get it here before five. Damon Kincaid is coming personally to pick it up. He also mentioned he’d like to speak with you. I gave him your number in case you two don’t cross paths today. I hope you don’t mind.”

I squeezed my eyes shut, hating she’d given him my number. Damon had seemed obsessed with my paintings since we’d met by chance at the gallery shortly after I moved to Denton. I assumed this obsession spurred from his snake being able to sense my bear—or quite possibly my gift. While I wasn’t one hundred percent sure he’d picked up on it, I did have my suspicions. 

“How thoughtful of you,” I said, allowing heavy sarcasm to have its way with my words.

“Yeah, yeah. I can hear your enthusiasm. Regardless of how you feel about Damon, he’s one of my highest paying buyers. You’ve made thousands off him too, and I’m sure you wouldn’t mind making even more. I don’t know if he wants to ask you out on a date or if he’s interested in commissioning work from you, but I’m sure speaking with him will be worth your while. Besides, the man is serious eye candy. He’s tall, dark, and handsome. And those penetrating eyes of his. Yum.”

I rolled my eyes, even though she couldn’t see, despite the smirk twisting my lips. “He’s not my type.”

“What is your type then? You’ve turned away so many yummy morsels this year.” The sounds of her rifling through more papers filtered through the phone. It was quickly followed by the clacking of keys on a keyboard. “You’re too beautiful and young to be single. If you can’t find someone, then there is absolutely no hope for a girl like me. Although, I think I’m starting to realize you haven’t found someone because you’re either too damn picky or still hung up on someone else.”

I licked my lips. I wasn’t picky, but she’d hit the nail on the head with the other part though. I was hung up on someone else. In fact, I’d already met Mr. Right—and he’d broken my heart.

“Anyway,” I said, dragging the word out. “I’ll make sure I get the piece there tonight, but I can’t promise I’ll hang around long enough to speak with Damon.”

“Okay. Fine. I guess it doesn’t matter if you speak with him anyway, because like I said, I already gave him your number. I’m sure he’ll be in touch.” I didn’t have to be in the room with her to know a wicked smile had sprung onto her face.

“You’re a real piece of work, you know that?” I asked with a chuckle.

“I’ve been called worse.” There was a pause and then the sound of tapping around on a keyboard again. “So, when do you think you’ll be back from Gem Creek?”

My heart dipped to my stomach. I hadn’t told Karen why I was returning home, just that I was. The sound of my hometown’s name coming from her was jarring. It was like two worlds colliding, worlds I’d never thought would. 

I’d done everything in my power to leave Gem Creek behind. 

Denton had been my fresh start. It was someplace new. A place that hadn’t been tainted by my past. The only exception was Gran. She’d come to visit a few times. I’d even begged her at Thanksgiving and Christmas to visit me in the city because I didn’t want to go home. She’d caved both holidays and came to stay with me.

Now I was coming to her; only it wasn’t for something happy like a holiday. I was returning home because she was sick.

With what, though?

I knew the clan had found their Mystic because Gran kept me in the loop. I didn’t understand why Tris couldn’t just heal her? Even though it wasn’t the shifter sickness Gran was sick with, Tris should be able to cure it. While her presence in the clan meant the shifter sickness couldn’t touch any of the members, it also meant she could heal them from things their own personal healing abilities couldn’t.

“Um. I’m not sure, but I think it might be a month or so.” I wanted it to be longer. Heck, I hoped it would be, but the way Gran had sounded on the phone made it seem as though time was of the essence.

“Will you be working on new stuff while you’re there?” Karen asked. 

“Maybe. Probably,” I said. “I’m not sure yet.”

It all depended on the state Gran was in when I got there.

“Okay, well, if you happen to paint any masterpieces while there you know I can pop an image and some info into the newsletter or up on the website to generate excitement among buyers and fans of your stuff,” she said.

“Thanks. I’ll let you know if I have anything. I didn’t mention it before, but I’m heading to Gem Creek because my Gran called. She’s sick.”

“Oh my gosh! I’m so sorry. Here I am rambling on about Damon Kincaid and you working while away.”

“It’s okay. I should have said something.” I wasn’t sure why I hadn’t. Maybe because once I did, it gave the worries and fears forming inside me more life. “And I’m sure I’ll end up painting something while I’m there. I’ll send you a picture of it if I do.”

Heartache made for good art. It feeds the muse. Since going back to Gem Creek would bring me plenty of heartache, I figured my muse would be fed for a while.

“No worries if you don’t. Keep me posted, okay? Let me know how things are going with your sweet Gran. Send her my love, and let me know if there’s anything you need from me.”

Warmth filled me as well as my bear because we both knew Karen meant what she said. While I hadn’t made many friends in the city, Karen definitely counted as one. She knew more about my past and my family than anyone here. However, Karen didn’t know about my bear. 

The only ones who did were those in the Maverick crew. 

I’d learned of them by chance from a girl in my apartment complex. She’d noticed when I was moving in, I was a shifter and invited me to join their crew. I held out for the first two months, but my bear wasn’t about to let me go any longer. So, I joined them for a non-formal meet up once a month at a lake house two hours away from Denton. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to keep my bear settled—along with turning my apartment into a jungle of houseplants so she could feel like she was outdoors. 

“I mean it. Call me if you need anything,” Karen insisted, pulling me back to our conversation.

“I will. Actually, there is something you can do for me,” I said as I glanced at the few gigantic houseplants I owned.

“Sure. What?”

“I need someone to water my plants while I’m gone,” I said.

“Uh, anything but that. You know I have a black thumb. Are you seriously willing to trust me with that task? Those plants are your babies.”

“All you’ll have to do is swing by to water them once a week. That’s it.”

She exhaled a long sigh. “Once a week? I think I can remember that.”

“Make yourself a calendar reminder if you’re worried,” I said. “And, thank you!”

“Don’t thank me yet. Wait until you come back and see if they’re still alive.” She chuckled. “I don’t know if I’ll see you before you leave, but you can drop your key on my desk when you bring that painting by. Drive safe. Call me later and give your Gran a hug for me. I’m so sorry she’s not well.”

“Thanks. I’ll talk to you soon.” I hung up and started cleaning up my mess at the easel. 

An hour and a half later, my apartment was spotless but I still hadn’t finished packing. I checked my watch, noticing it was almost four fifteen, as I made my way to my bedroom. There was no way I’d be able to clean myself up, finish packing, and make it to the gallery in time to meet with Damon Kincaid. Karen might be upset with me, but like she’d said—he had my number. He could always call to discuss whatever it was he wanted to. After I took a quick shower, I finished stuffing my suitcase with things I probably wouldn’t even wear while at Gran’s and then hauled it to my SUV. I loaded up the painting Damon wanted next and then the one I’d just finished, thinking it was something Gran might like. Plus, I wanted to see if I was right about her porch. Then, I did a walkthrough of my apartment, grabbing houseplants I thought would be too sensitive to leave under Karen’s care. She might forget to water them or water them too much. I’d only intended to take three or four with me, but the more I glanced around, the more plants I loaded into my vehicle. It looked like a jungle before I forced myself to stop obsessing.

When I made it to the gallery there were lights on inside, but I knew the place was closed. I unlocked the door and slipped inside, hauling the final Origin painting with me. I dropped it in Karen’s office chair and then unfastened my apartment key from my ring to leave with her. I scratched out a quick thank you on a sticky note and headed back through the gallery. My bear went on high alert when I spotted a tall figure outside the door of the building. I realized who it was when I pushed the door open and stepped out.

“Miss Mathers, it’s nice to see you again,” Damon Kincaid said, flashing me a sly smile that reminded me of the snake residing inside him.

“Mr. Kincaid,” I muttered, trying to sound as polite as possible. “I’m sorry, but we’re closed. You’ll have to come back another time.”

“Is that so? Karen said the painting of yours I’ve already purchased would be here after five.” He glanced at his watch, licked his lips, and then lifted his gaze to mine again. “It’s after five, is it not?”

I fought the desire to roll my eyes. Oh, Karen and I were going to have words. She’d set me up. Better yet, she knew me better than she let on. Karen had known I would be late. She’d known I wouldn’t make it here before five to speak with Damon in person so she’d told him to come after.

She was good.

“Then I guess you’re right on time, but unfortunately, I am running late for something important. You’ll have to get a hold of Karen tomorrow. I’m sorry, but I have to go,” I said as I squeezed my way past him, heading toward my vehicle.

“I certainly will, but I am glad I caught you. You’re the person I wanted to speak with anyway,” Damon said, gripping my wrist and bringing me to a standstill. My bear worked her way to the surface at the feel of his touch. I locked eyes with him, knowing she’d made my eyes flash bright. He released me, and a crooked grin sprang to his face. “Relax. I’d like to hire you, Miss Mathers.”

I arched a brow. So, Karen had been right—he did want to commission me for a painting. 

“For?” I asked, wondering what he’d ask me to paint.

“A specific piece,” he said, his S sounding heavy as his eyes flashed while his snake surfaced. My bear paced. She’d grown uneasy. Frankly, so had I. “One that requires your special talent to shine through.”

“My special talent?” 

Was this his way of telling me he enjoyed my work, but also asking me to step it up a notch for him? Or was he telling me in a roundabout way he knew about my gift?

“I’d like you to paint something for me using your skill of premonition.” His eyes never wavered from mine when he spoke. Instead, his tongue darted out to lick his full lips. It lingered there too long, almost as though he was tasting the air.

My pulse hammered in my ears.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t do those types of commissions,” I said, my throat feeling thick. I took a step toward my SUV, eager to put distance between us, but he blocked me.

Damon’s eyes darkened. “Name your price, Miss Mathers.” He reached into a suit pocket and pulled out a wad of bills. When he unclipped them and began counting, I noticed they were all hundreds.

While naming my price sounded tempting, especially with the sight of so much money in front of me, his whole approach seemed sleazy.

“There is no price, Mr. Kincaid. I don’t do commissions of that type,” I said before sidestepping him and walking to the opposite side of my car. I popped the driver door open and moved to slide behind the wheel.

“Think on it, Miss Mathers,” Damon insisted, his jaw hard set. “I need you to paint a specific picture for me, and I’ll pay you whatever you want.”

“I don’t think so,” I said before closing my door and cranking the engine of my SUV to life.

I pulled away, leaving him in the parking lot of the gallery, staring after me. Our eyes locked in my rearview mirror, and his snake surfaced again. My stomach somersaulted at the sight.

I hoped turning him down hadn’t been a huge mistake.

Sometimes we aren’t meant to see how life will unfold.

Samantha Mathers never foresaw herself returning to Gem Creek, and she never saw her Gran becoming sick—not even with the gift of premonition she was born with.

Then again, Sam’s gift doesn’t work like that.

Main Tropes

  • Second Chance Romance
  • Bear Shifters
  • Small Town

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