A Grizzly Kind Of Love (The Mating Game Book 3)

BOOK: A Grizzly Kind Of Love (The Mating Game Book 3)
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The Mating Game: A Grizzly Kind of Love

 

 

Copyright 2016 by Georgette St. Clair

 

This book is intended for readers 18 and older only, due to adult content. It is a work of fiction. All characters and locations in this book are products of the imagination of the author. No shifters were harmed during the creation of this book.  Actually, that’s not true, some shifters died horribly, but they had it coming to them.

 

License Statement

 

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each reader. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

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Chapter One

 

The lunchtime din at the Thirsty Camel wasn’t quite loud enough to drown out the tiny ping that signaled an incoming text message on Wynona Bennett’s phone. She smiled and pulled her phone out of her purse. These days, when someone sent her a text, it could only mean one thing: baby pictures.

“I have single-handedly caused a shifter population explosion this year,” Wynona mused as a waitress set down plates in front of her and her office manager, Gillian Frye. A cheeseburger with fries on the side for Wynona, and some weird quinoa tofu health mess for Gillian.

Wynona glanced down at her cell phone, where she’d just been texted a picture of a pair of adorable lion shifter cubs. She’d owned The Mating Game for two years now, and she had been responsible for several dozen successful marriages. First came love, then came marriage, then came cubs and kits and dragonlings and kittens in a baby carriage.

She was barraged with baby pictures these days, which filled her with satisfaction but also gave her a sharp twinge deep inside – a twinge she pretended not to notice. She shoved her phone back in her purse and attacked her hamburger, ignoring the other hunger that was seated deep inside her. The hunger for her own mate and cubs.

“That’s actually not possible,” Gillian observed gravely. “Nobody could single-handedly create a shifter population explosion. That would require a mate. Also, you have neither given birth nor adopted.” She tucked into her quinoa.

Gillian, an ocelot shifter, was a serious-looking young woman with big, round glasses and light brown hair pulled into a bun. She was the complete opposite of her friend and employer; she was petite, serious and dowdy, whereas Wynona, a redheaded wolf shifter, was full-figured, cheerful, and given to dressing in bright colors and loud patterns.

“I was speaking metaphorically. You know, because I’ve fixed up so many couples who’ve had cubs and kits and dragonlings and whatever, and…never mind,” Wynona said, shaking her head. She took another bite of her cheeseburger. Gillian had worked for her for a year and a half now, and Wynona still kept forgetting that you couldn’t talk to her like a normal person. Gillian was Mensa-level brilliant and compulsively organized, but took everything so literally that it was painful.

And once someone had presented her with a logical impossibility, she grabbed it with her teeth and worried it into the ground. “If you had a mate, and gave birth to many cubs, then you could…well, no, you still wouldn’t create an actual population
explosion
.” Her forkful of quinoa was poised in the air as she continued, earnestly arguing her point. “One shifter couple couldn’t do that. Not even if they were of an unusually prolific species.”

“Well, since I’m never going to have a mate, there’s no danger of any of that happening,” Wynona said, and took a big sip of iced tea to wash down her food. “There will be no cubs.” She struggled to keep the wistfulness from her voice.

She was thirty-six, and she was suddenly starting to hear the tick, tick, tick of her biological clock. However, after her marriage had ended in humiliating betrayal, she was more than a little wary of trusting men these days. She hadn’t even dated since her divorce, and when men tried to flirt with her, she politely shut them down.

Some women aren’t meant to be mated, Wynona. If you can’t be bothered to keep up your figure for a man, you can’t expect to keep a man.
Her mother’s words, uttered years ago when she’d found out about Wynona’s divorce, still stung.

Suck it, Portia
, Wynona thought, and stuffed several French fries into her mouth.
Wynona had never been permitted to call her mother “mom”, because that would betray her mother’s true age.

Gillian took a sip of ice water and considered Wynona’s statement. “Well, although science is quite advanced, it is still not possible to predict the future,” she reminded her boss. “And also, you are still in the age range where it’s highly likely that you’re still fertile.”

Wynona laughed. “Thanks for that optimistic assessment. You’re a veritable ray of sunshine today.”

“I am?” Gillian chewed her quinoa and looked baffled.

“You are. However, my first marriage ended in disaster. I am not eager for a repeat experience,” Wynona said. Was it too early in the day to start drinking? It was noon. One glass of wine. Talking about her ex always made her want to have a quick nip. Or three.

Gillian set down her fork and appeared to compose her thoughts for a moment.

“Do you believe that some people are simply not suited for mating?” she asked, with an odd expression Wynona hadn’t seen before.

“Well, sure,” Wynona said with a shrug. “I mean, if someone is, say, physically or emotionally abusive, they should stay single unless and until they get their own house in order. Or if someone is so insecure that they feel the need to be chronically unfaithful, you know, like the kind of man who would have sex with his wife’s best friend in their kitchen on the day his wife was throwing him a surprise birthday party…” Wynona looked down and realized that she’d partially shifted and extended her claws, ruining her manicure.

“That’s awfully specific.” Gillian looked confused.

“Waiter! An extra-large glass of merlot, please!” Wynona called out.

The merlot arrived quickly, and Wynona took a very large sip. One might even have called it a gulp. Gillian finished her meal and watched Wynona drink. “I have noticed that any mention of your ex-husband is followed by the immediate consumption of at least one glass of an alcoholic beverage, in much the way that Pavlov’s ringing of a bell caused his dogs to salivate.”

“You are not wrong,” Wynona said. “Bottoms up.”

As she drained the last of the wine, a vaguely familiar-looking woman strode up to her table, scowling. She looked to be in her forties, fashionably bony, and dripping in designer labels. Her pink and lime-green tweed dress was Chanel, her purse was a Birkin, her shoes were Louboutin. Thick ropes of pearls circled her slender neck.

“Wynona Bennett?” she said in a sharp, accusatory tone that Wynona didn’t like.

“Depends,” Wynona said uneasily.

Gillian stared at her in bafflement. “How could it possibly depend? Unless you suffered from multiple personality disorder.”

Wynona looked away from the woman and returned Gillian’s stare. “You’re lucky you’re a good secretary.”

“Oh, no, not at all,” Gillian corrected her politely. “It’s not luck. It’s a combination of excellent organizational skills and a work ethic instilled in me by my parents from an early age.”


Excuse
me,” the woman said, in a tone that suggested she wasn’t used to being ignored. “You’ve been avoiding my phone calls.”

“Ah.” Now she remembered where she knew the woman from. Cecily Shepherd, a bear shifter from a clan of bears who had been friends with her ex-husband Hartford. She’d met them when she and Hartford had moved to Cedar Park. One of the joys of divorcing him had been the thought that she’d never again have to associate with his pretentious country club friends.

“‘Never’ didn’t last as long as I thought,” she murmured.

“Beg pardon?” The woman raised an eyebrow.

“Yes, I have been avoiding your calls. I will not work with Zane. There are other mating agencies.”

“I can provide you with a list,” Gillian offered. “Wynona compiled it as a reference for clients whom she rejects. Less desirable clients. Unattractive, or rude, or—”

Cecily’s expression grew more and more horrified.

“Yep, she gets the point,” Wynona interrupted quickly. “Also, an important fact: honesty is not always the best policy.”

“It isn’t?” Gillian’s brows drew together in puzzlement. “I’m fairly sure it is.”

Cecily pulled a file folder out of her purse and slammed it down on the table in front of Wynona. She opened the folder and pointed to a picture of a handsome man with dark tousled hair, thick dark brows, and broad cheekbones. Wynona took one glance at the picture and started; she felt a sharp electric thrill course through her body.

Hello, handsome
.

She’d certainly never seen Zane at the country club; she would have remembered that. In the photograph, he was wearing jeans, and a T-shirt that looked as if it had been painted onto his muscular arms. He’d probably never set foot in a country club in his life.

Now there’s a bearskin rug I wouldn’t mind rolling around on naked…

Then she shook her head and looked away. Cecily wasn’t asking
her
to mate Zane – more’s the pity.

“Zane is not unattractive,” Cecily snapped. “No-one in my family is unattractive. He is very handsome, and heir to our considerable fortune. In fact, he is considered one of the most eligible bear shifters in the state.”

Wynona favored her with a polite smile. She hadn’t seen a picture of Zane before, but she did know of his reputation. “Yes, he’s certainly handsome. He’s also rude. He’s been turned down by three other mating agencies. We do speak to each other, you know.”

“It’s not his fault. He suffered terrible trauma as a cub. His parents were murdered and he lived a solitary, feral existence in the woods for many years, until he was discovered by hunters.” Cecily assumed a self-righteous expression. “That was ten years ago, but he’s still struggling to adapt to the civilized world.”

Wynona vaguely remembered reading about the story in the news. Zane’s parents had been murdered when he was five, and he’d been found when he was twenty. He was thirty now.

“I’m sorry for what he went through, but that doesn’t mean that any of my eligible bachelorettes want to be fixed up with someone who’s snappish, temperamental, and eats with his hands.”

“Actually, we don’t need a bachelorette for him. We have located one. Tiffany Charles.”

Tiffany was a rude, spoiled socialite who was well known in shifter high society. The two should work well together.

“Then you certainly don’t need me. Mazel Tov to the happy couple.”

“You don’t understand,” Cecily said condescendingly. “We don’t need you to find him a mate – we need you to make him mate-able.”

“Excuse you? Crazy bear say what?” Wynona said. She saw Gillian twitch; she found bad grammar painful.

Cecily spoke with exaggerated patience. “We want you to give him a personality makeover. Teach him how to be a good mate. Teach him table manners. Take him out on practice dates. Show him how to dress like a gentleman.”

“Why don’t
you
do that?”

“Heaven knows we’ve tried. Because of the trauma he suffered in his youth, it has been difficult to reintegrate him into the family. He prefers to associate with a crowd of motorcycle-riding ruffians, and he spends very little time with us.”

“Imagine that,” Wynona murmured. “So why do you think he’d listen to me?”

“You have the highest rate of successful pairings of any mating agency in town. Obviously you are capable of training shifters in how to behave in order to lure a prospective mate.”

Wynona burst out laughing. “Seriously? You think I do that by teaching people not to be themselves? Fake their way into a mating? You couldn’t be more wrong. My talent is in finding people’s love matches.”

Cecily scoffed.

“Nonsense, there’s no such thing as a love match. Look at me and my husband – we each fit the other’s list of requirements for an ideal mate down to a T, and we loathe each other.” She glanced across the room, and Wynona spotted a tall, scowling bear shifter with brown hair shot through with silver. He was standing by the doorway and impatiently jabbing away at his cell phone; it looked like he was sending someone a very nasty text. “But we are the ideal power couple, equal in terms of attractiveness and pedigree. We are the envy of all the couples in our social circle. That’s what marriage is all about.”

Wynona found herself momentarily speechless.

“Ah…yes…well…Does Zane even have anything in common with Tiffany?” she said. “What does he do for a living?”

“Oh, he fixes up
motorcycles
.” Cecily rolled her eyes. “It’s a hobby, really. He does it for
fun
. He lives on the family property for free.”

Wynona raised an eyebrow. “Isn’t it technically his property? Inherited from his parents?”

Cecily glared. “It doesn’t matter. My husband does all the actual work. He runs our timber business, as he did before Zane was so
thankfully
found. Zane hasn’t exhibited the least interest in the family business, or in behaving in a civilized fashion, and for all he cares we could probably all…” She suddenly stopped herself, and forced a pained, unnatural smile. “But you will turn him into a charming gentleman, and he will be mated.”

Wynona glanced longingly at her empty glass and wondered if it would be poor form to order an entire bottle and refuse to share. Probably, she decided. She stifled a sigh and returned her attention to Cecily, who was impatiently tapping her foot. “Since you obviously can’t stand him – and please don’t waste my time pretending otherwise – why do you even care if he’s mated? And what makes you think he’d agree to such a ridiculous project?”

Cecily’s perfectly plucked brows pinched together in a scowl. “Inheritance laws,” she muttered. “Anyway. Really not your concern.”

BOOK: A Grizzly Kind Of Love (The Mating Game Book 3)
11.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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