Authors: Scarlett Grove
Copyright © 2016 by Scarlett Grove
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?” Chief Bear, Levi Blackthorn said through the mouthpiece of his walkie-talkie.
“We’re cresting the northern summit,” said Angus, known as Big Bear on the rescue crew.
“Report,” said Levi.
“There are ski tracks half a mile down the slope from here. Zach is going for a closer look,” said Duke, code name Brew Bear.
“Tell Ski Bear to be careful this time. We don’t need two rescues today because of his antics.”
Zach, their expert ski instructor, was known for his impulsive moves on and off the mountain. Levi heard Zach begin to object, but the walkie-talkie cut out.
Levi walked out from under the tent canopy of Alpha Station and turned back to look at his data analyst and computer technician Corey. Snow covered the ground and lined the branches of the evergreen trees. At this altitude, the world was still enveloped in white and would be for the next several months.
"You know that polar bear can’t resist any opportunity to perform one of his stunts,” Corey said, his eyes focused on his computer screen.
Levi and his crew had been together since their days in the military. He knew he could count on his men no matter what.
“Tell me more about this dating app you developed,” Levi said, scratching his chin and changing the subject from Zach’s misbehavior.
“It’s only been live a few months and there are already thousands of women registered,” Corey said, still focused on his data analysis. “Delta Crew is headed west down the slope toward the ravine. There’s a frozen creek that runs north to south at the bottom. The natural tendency would be to follow the slope along the creek bed.”
“Alpha Station to Ski Bear. Follow the ravine south along the creek bed,” Levi said.
“Copy that, Chief Bear,” Zach said through the walkie-talkie.
“Tell me more about these women,” Levi said to Corey, walking back under the Alpha Station’s protective canopy.
“I don’t read their profiles or anything. I just know there are tens of thousands of registered female users. Almost exclusively human.”
Levi thought about this for a moment. He, like many male shifters, was without a mate. Since there were more male shifters than female shifters by a ratio of five to one, finding a mate within his own kind was rare.
“And these human women really want to mate with shifters?”
“It’s a dating app. The mating part is up to each individual couple,” Corey said, finally meeting Levi’s gaze.
“These human women are willing to date shifters?”
“Apparently. I was able to identify a gap in the market and have provided a service that was clearly lacking.”
Levi leaned over Corey’s shoulder, and Corey pointed at the creek bed on the map. He explained that his probability analysis suggested the crew would find the missing skier where the creek dropped off in a frozen waterfall.
Levi agreed with Corey’s assessment. The human tendency would be to go along the path of least resistance. The skier would have then been stopped by the cliff at the waterfall.
Levi couldn’t help thinking about all of those human women who wanted to date shifters. A few short years ago, he never would have believed this would happen.
When Levi was still a child, the Great Shifter Council had decided to go public with the existence of shifters. They had believed then that it would give shifters greater freedom in the world. They hadn’t anticipated the violent human backlash that followed.
Like many young men of his generation, when it was time to prove himself loyal to his country, he’d joined the military six years ago. Levi and his search and rescue crew of bears had all served as Navy SEALs together.
After the human’s war, the crew had all come to Fate Mountain to join the shifter community that prospered there. Things had changed a lot since Levi was a child. Shifters had won the legal right to equality, and the majority of humans had become much more tolerant. It was hard to forget those early days, though. There had been so much violence and death in his community.
He thought about the prospect of dating and mating human woman now that things had settled down. Since so many male shifters had been drafted into the military, the new thing in human media was to idealize them. They’d been rebranded as superhot, hunky heroes.
It was a strange turn of events that most of the male shifters he knew weren’t ready to accept yet. Levi certainly wasn’t ready to accept it, no matter how much he wanted to find someone to love.
Levi had settled on Fate Mountain and used his family’s inheritance to buy Fate Mountain Lodge. Even with all his success and the change in attitude toward shifters, Levi still felt unsure about dating human women.
There weren’t a lot of single, young women on Fate Mountain. It was a rural community, and the age range tended to be towards the upper end of the spectrum. Lately, Levi felt compelled to find a mate and start a family. It was only natural for a shifter his age to want to find a woman.
In the old days, many shifter males mated with human women. Back then, it was easier for shifters to find their fated mates. Now the world was so distracted. With the upheaval of shifters coming out to the public, it had become really hard for men like Levi to find his one true mate.
Corey’s new dating app promised to fill that void in the community. Levi pulled out his cell phone and flicked on the screen. He had reception up here from Corey’s hotspot Wi-Fi and was able to connect to the Internet.
“How do I download this thing?” Levi said, navigating through his phone. As a business owner, he had to be somewhat literate with technology, but it still wasn’t his favorite thing.
“Just go to Mate.com, and it will start to download directly to your phone.”
“Alpha Station,” Zach’s voice came through the walkie-talkie. “Ski Bear has eyes on the target.”
Zach gave his coordinates, and Levi instructed Angus and Duke to intersect with Zach at the target location. He listened for their updates, momentarily forgetting about the dating app downloading onto his phone.
“Big Bear to Alpha Station, we’ve intersected with Ski Bear on the target. Target appears wounded and hypothermic.”
“Apply first aid and load the target onto the rescue sled,” Levi said through the walkie-talkie.
“They’ll need to head east up the slope and then move south down around the mountain, bypassing the frozen waterfall,” Corey said.
Levi relayed Corey’s message to Delta Crew and listened for updates as his crew pulled the wounded skier out of the ravine and back up the mountain. Once they made it to the northern summit, they walked along the ridge. Just as Delta Crew arrived at Alpha Station, an ambulance pulled up behind Levi’s truck.
The crew helped the EMTs load the skier into the back of the ambulance and drove away. Levi snatched his phone from the folding table where he’d left it beside Corey’s computers and slipped it into his pocket. He would have to complete the Mate.com questionnaire later.
His rescue crew packed up and loaded Alpha Station in the back of Levi’s pickup truck. Corey and Zach rode in Levi’s crew cab while Duke and Angus drove back down the mountain in Angus’s truck.
“Are we celebrating at the lodge or at the brewery?” Duke asked over the walkie-talkie on the seat of Levi’s truck.
Duke was known as Brew Bear because his day job was running a microbrewery in Fate Mountain Village. His craft beer was known throughout Oregon and the Pacific Northwest for its original flavor, zesty freshness, and obscenely high alcohol content. Levi always kept it on tap at the lodge.
Levi knew that if they celebrated at the brewery, they would all end up with a hangover in the morning. Instead, he invited all the rescue bears to the lodge for a free meal and a reasonable amount of beer.
“We celebrated at the lodge last time,” Duke objected.
“I have too much to do tomorrow to get drunk on your brew,” Levi said.
“He is the chief,” Angus said.
When soft-spoken Big Bear said something, everybody listened.
The two trucks arrived at the lodge at sunset as soft snowflakes danced in the fading mountain sunlight. Down by the lake, most of the snow had already melted. As the flakes dropped to the ground, they disappeared in the damp soil. Purple crocuses poked their heads up through the rich green grass around the front of the lodge.
Once inside, the crew took their usual table in the main dining room for their celebratory feast. A waiter brought all five men plates of big, juicy steaks and pints of Duke’s Fate Mountain lager. While they were eating and celebrating the successful rescue of yet another standard human on Fate Mountain, Levi took a peek at his phone.
Corey’s app made him answer a shit ton of questions before it would let him see any of the women. Levi narrowed his eyes at the crazy questions, trying to make heads or tails of how they could match him to his mate.
While Duke tried to beat Angus at an arm wrestling match, which everyone knew was futile, Levi finished the questionnaire. He added a photo Zach had taken of him a few weeks ago and filled in a few paragraphs for a profile. He pressed a button, and a second later, he was live on Mate.com. His chest fluttered with anxiety, and he immediately wanted to erase the profile. Corey leaned over to look at what had Levi distracted for so long, and Levi snatched the phone away.
“Did you create a profile?” Corey asked.
“None of your business,” Levi snapped.
“It’s not like you have to find a mate. I don’t want one.”
“Then why did you develop a shifter dating app?” Levi asked, astonished.
“I told you, I saw a gap in the marketplace and capitalized on it. I’m a data analyst. That’s what I do. It doesn’t mean I have to use my own invention.”
“Corey invented a dating app?” Duke said, stroking his beard.
“It’s for male shifters to meet human women,” Levi informed him.
“Curvy human women?” Zach asked, glee in his eyes.
“Curvy women,” Angus said, almost at a growl.
“You can all sign up if you want. I’ll even waive the monthly fee,” Corey said.
“How generous,” Zach said.
“We can’t all make a living showing off for tourists,” Corey said to Zach.
“Hey, I show off for locals too,” Corey corrected his geeky bear friend.
Levi was irritated. He hadn’t wanted to bring it up to the whole crew. But now the cat was out of the bag, and they knew he was looking for love. Maybe Corey’s new dating app would help them all find their own fated mates.
After saying goodbye to his crew and settling up for the night, Levi went to his private suite on the top floor of the lodge. It was more like a three-bedroom luxury apartment than a hotel room. It had all the amenities of home, and he was quite happy there. Except for one thing. He didn’t have a mate.
He sat on the plush leather couch in front of the picture window that looked over the lake. With the last snow of the season falling in twisting flurries under the moonlight, Levi pulled his phone from his pocket and checked his Mate.com app.
Part of the sign-up process included answering whole lot of questions about himself. Apparently Corey’s algorithms could match a shifter with his perfect mate with an accuracy of ninety-nine point nine percent. How he did it, Levi had no idea. He wasn’t a computer geek like Corey.
The system had matched Levi with half a dozen women who were in the upper ninety percent range of compatibility. But none of them were a hundred percent match. None of them were his fated mate.
If Corey’s app couldn’t match them, then maybe his fated mate just wasn’t out there. Or maybe she just wasn’t on Corey’s dating site. Levi growled and put the phone down on the coffee table, resolving that he would be alone forever.
He picked up the remote control and clicked on his big screen television to catch up on the sports scores. There were several high profile athletes who had come out as shifters. Many sports leagues were in the process of forming shifter only teams because shifters dominated humans so easily it was pretty much unfair.
As he was watching a cougar shifter confound an entire team of human basketball players, Levi heard his phone ping. Assuming it must be one of his crew, Levi picked up the phone and flicked his thumb across the screen.
Instead of seeing a text from one of the guys, he saw a notification from the Mate.com app. On his screen was a picture of a pretty, curvy brown-haired girl with hazel eyes and honey colored skin. Levi’s heart instantly melted.
Her name was Juliet.