Authors: Morgan Rae
When Holly woke up, she was stretched out in bed. Alone. When she turned her head to the side, it lazily dawned on her that she’d slept in the middle of the mattress. How long had it been since she’d allowed herself to occupy more than a small corner of the bed, even when she was the only one in it?
She smiled and stretched out further, extending her arms out. Felt like the queen of her domain. Best sleep she’d had in her entire life.
And then her finger shimmered, the diamond sparkling. Her smile faded.
What was she doing
? Was she ready for this—really ready—to open up her heart again? What if he got bored of her? What if she came all this way and it didn’t work out?
What if, what if
Old anxieties curled inside her chest again, making her cocoon the blankets around her.
Was she really here to get married again and risk heartbreak? Or had she just needed to get
Holly pulled herself out of bed. She felt a new energy coursing through her, as though she were twenty years younger. From the tips of her fingers to her toes, she felt rejuvenated. Like she’d shrugged off ten pounds of snakeskin sometime in the night.
She cracked her knuckles. Showered (still felt slippery between her legs from last night) and changed into fresh clothes. She went downstairs and brewed a pot of coffee. She poured a mug and took it outside, where she sat on the porch swing and watched the sun filter light over the tops of the oaks and evergreens. Birds sang—twittering red birds and chortling finches. If she listened closely, she could hear the rumble of a tractor. Brent must be hard at work. She slipped slowly and half-wondered if the view behind a man’s house was enough to marry him for.
She was about halfway through her cup when the screen door creaked open again.
“Thought I’d find you out here,” he said and gestured to the spot beside her. “You mind?”
Last night, he hadn’t so much as uttered a
before shoving his tongue between her legs, and now he was asking for permission to take a
? She shook her head and scooted over. “Please.”
He sat down next to her. They watched the skyline for a second before he said, “Slept in your ring, huh?”
She twisted it on her finger. “Yeah.”
He looked over at her and said, “I know I said we’d wait until the end of the week—” He got in front of her and got on his knees. At first, she thought he was going to part her thighs again, and then she realized—
“I’m crazy about you,” he said. “I haven’t felt like this in a long time.”
She swallowed. Hard.
“And I don’t believe in waiting when I see a good thing.” He cupped her chin in his hand. “I want you, Holly. All of you. Forever. Will you marry me?”
her heart screamed.
her aching sex screamed. But—
“No,” her lips whispered breathlessly.
He blinked. If it weren’t for the seriousness of the situation, she might’ve been pleased she’d knocked the cocky man on his ass. Now, she just felt sympathetic. “No?” he repeated, as though it were a foreign word to his ears.
She shook her head. “I’m sorry.”
He got up. The chair creaked as he sat down beside her. After a quiet, somber second, he asked, “Did I move too fast?”
“No, well…kind of. Yes, that’s part of it. It’s not your fault. It’s just that…this weekend has been great. Really amazing. I can’t thank you enough for it, it’s more than I deserve. But when it’s over…the thought of what comes next terrifies me.”
“I’m in this,” he said firmly.
“You say that, but I don’t really know you. I don’t know that’s true. And I can’t afford to get my heart broken again.” She leaned in and softly pressed a small kiss to his lips. “I’m sorry,” she said. “Baggage, you know?”
“I’ve got baggage too,” he said. “I can carry yours.”
“No one can.” She smiled sadly, her fingertips resting at the scruff on his jaw. “No one but me.”
And maybe I’ll be alone forever, an old woman with nothing but her baggage to keep her company. But that’s okay. That hurts less than heartbreak.
Yet he looked more crushed than she thought he would. His eyes cast down, he suddenly looked older, beaten. Weary. Only for a second, though, and then he closed up entirely, his expression turning to stone, unreadable.
And that’s why I can’t marry you
, she thought to herself.
You’re hiding from me
“I understand,” he said coolly, as though she were laying him off from a job. He glanced up at her, took her fingers in his, and rubbed his thumb over the back of her hand. Then he pressed a kiss there and she felt his scruff and it almost—
—made her change her mind. “Thank you for your honesty.”
“Of course,” she said softly.
He stood then and said, “I’ll drive you to the train tomorrow. You’re welcome to stay here until—”
He didn’t finish his sentence. Instead, his eyes went wide and he fell to his knees again. Only this time he was clutching his chest, gasping. She quickly got up and rushed over to him, moving her hands to his shoulders. “Oh, God—Jacob, are you okay? What’s wrong?”
He panted wetly and grimaced in pain. “No,” she heard him mutter, “Not now…”
“Not now what?” The pain on his face terrified her. “Jacob—”
Jacob’s eyes locked onto Holly’s. A rim of gold shimmered around his irises. “Get out,” he told her. His voice was low, dangerous—a
Jacob buckled over again and groaned, his head low to the ground. Holly reached out to touch him, but his shirt ripped along his spine. She gasped and pulled back with surprise.
He ripped off the tatters of his shirt, then his pants, fell to his hands and knees, and—
Roared. Bones snapped, muscles tore, sockets popped. Ugly, violent sounds that made Holly feel weak. Her heart pounded harder, adrenaline taking over, as she watched Jacob’s body morph into something
. Finally, he lifted his head, and Holly felt lightheaded, like she might faint.
A bear. A full-grown, six-hundred-pound black bear was hunched on all fours in front of her. Right where Jacob had stood.
This can’t be happening
Holly scrambled back, quickly—too quickly—and lost her balance. Before she knew it, she had fallen off the porch and there was a hulking black bear snarling in her face.
Holly did the only thing she could think to do.
she prayed silently,
keep me safe. Make this stop. Please, God, please, please…
Holly—feeling suddenly like a child—squeezed her eyes tighter and covered her ears, tucking her head down. “Please, God, make this stop,” she whispered, over and over again.
And then, suddenly, it did.
Cautiously, Holly opened her eyes. She hadn’t been devoured. She didn’t feel teeth or claws ripping through her skin. Instead, she felt his wet nose touch the back of her hands.
. The bear barked once, a small, huffed sound, and then gave her a lick. As if to tell her:
it’s okay. You’re one of the good ones.
Bones snapped. Jacob—human and naked as the day he was born—crouched in front of her, catching his breath. Jacob’s gaze slowly met Holly’s—the golden hue died away in his eyes as his transformation sank back fully into his skin. He looked shaken, like the force of pulling back into his human form had exhausted him. He didn’t say anything for a second; they stared at one another as their heartbeats leveled out. What was there
say? Finally, he spoke in a low voice. “I’m sorry you had to see that. I didn’t want to scare you.”
She just panted, watching him wide-eyed.
“Now you know,” he said. “This is what I am.”
“Which is?” To her surprise, her voice didn’t shake—there was nothing but raw curiosity in her now.
“A shifter,” he said. “Sometimes I’m a human. Sometimes I’m a bear.”
“We need to talk,” she said.
The cuckoo clock ticked incessantly, filling the silences between them. Holly could almost
Jacob collecting his thoughts as he sat on the couch beside her, wearing his pants and the tattered remains of his shirt.
“I’m thirty-five,” he said. “I’m the only Alpha in my bloodline that’s made it this long.”
“What happens?” she asked. “Do they die?”
He shook his head. “It’s called moon sickness. Your Beast…it slowly but surely takes over. You turn. Change into a bear and never change back.”
A man, trapped forever in the body of a bear?
The thought sent a shudder through her. “How do you cure it?”
He glanced up at her—his dark eyes looked mournful, heavy. “There is no cure. All you can do is hope to keep the bear at bay for as long as you can.” He paused and then admitted, “That’s where you come in.”
“What do you mean?”
“I need someone to ground me. Someone who can remind me what it’s like to be…”
He lost the word. She picked it up for him. “Human.”
He nodded. “Exactly.”
“What if I can’t?” she asked.
“You calmed my bear just now,” he said. “No one’s ever been able to do that.” She went silent. Her fingers curled around her lips, lost in thought. “I know it sounds crazy,” he said when she’d been silent for too long.
“What do I get out of it?” she asked.
“Me,” he said. She looked dubious. He sighed, and then leaned forward with his hand on his knees. His frayed shirt fell open at the top, exposing his hairy chest underneath, and she tried not to think about digging her nails into that chest—not
. “There are perks to being the wife of a shifter,” he explained. “For one, I’m the Alpha of my clan. Which means people listen to you. They respect you. You get what you want, as long as the things you want are reasonable.”
Queen of the werebears?
This was getting weirder and weirder. “And?” she asked.
“And…we mate for life,” he said.
“Like marriage,” she said.
He shook his head. “Marriages can end. You know that firsthand. If you’re my mate…I will never cheat on you. I will never leave you. It goes against every one of my instincts. You have me by your side, for better or worse, until the day you die. That’s not a vow or a promise. That’s a fact.”
Holly fell silent. Her eyes remained stuck on a spot on the ground. She toyed with the hem of her dress as though it held secret answers in its stiches. Then, finally, she said, “I understand feeling half-human. Sometimes, I think I turned into a stone.”
When she looked up, he was staring at her. No judgment.
“Sometimes…” She sighed. “Sometimes…I feel like the older I got, the more hardened I became. I closed up from the inside out. When I was with Chris, I felt like I eventually just became part of the room. Inanimate. Unfeeling. Useless. Like wallpaper, or furniture, or…or a stone.”
Jacob took her chin gently between his fingers and lifted it. “Break a stone, you get a diamond,” he said.
“I want to break,” she whispered. The words sounded strange, crazy in her ears, and any other time, any other day, they would be. But right now, she
. She stood and hooked her arms around her man-bear’s neck.
His expression darkened, lust brewing behind his deep eyes, but he hesitated.
Holly wet her lips, held his gaze, and begged breathlessly, “Break me, Jacob. Please.”
His eyes never left hers. She felt his strong hands grab her from behind and he hoisted her up. Her legs wrapped tightly around his hips, her arms around his shoulders. Before she knew it, her back hit the wall, hard, and his hands reached down to peel her dress up over her head. Normally, she’d feel insecure in her own body, but she felt like she was living in a dream, floating, and for the first time in a long time she didn’t mind the way her curves fell out of her dress. It was the furthest thing from her mind, in fact, when he dropped her dress and kissed her, hard.
She moaned into his mouth, her breath coming in short gasps, and her fingers ripped at his clothes, tugging his shirt open. His tattered shirt gave no resistance, exposing his broad, strong chest, peppered with dark hair,
. She felt his lips on her throat, her tits, his hands on her hips, everything about him rough, desperate, like he wanted to devour her, and her nails dug deep into his chest. He growled, an animal noise that made her little clit swell and throb, and his body pressed tighter against hers, crushing her. She could feel his erection—strong, demanding—against her hip and she fumbled with his belt to free it.
There was something feral in his kiss. Sweet, tender Jacob was gone. This Jacob tasted ravenous, violent, like an animal let out of its cage. He shoved down the waistband of his pants—just enough—and his sheer size made her mouth go dry. His cock was hard, his head swollen red, much bigger than Chris, and for a second she wondered if he was more than she could take.
Even when he was so clearly aching to be inside of her, he took his time. “Goddamn, you’re beautiful,” he said in a way that sent shivers through her.
He spread her legs and stuck a finger inside of her. He crooked it and she whimpered, rubbing slickly against his knuckles. Then he fit another finger inside, and another; she was drenched and she swallowed them each greedily. He pumped them inside of her, making her tremble, and then the thought hit her:
he’s preparing me.
As he coaxed her, he murmured, “Is this okay?”
He was a bull in a china shop and even now he seemed to know that
was different from
. She nodded and said, “Yes. Please. I want it.”
He aligned his cock between her legs and eased himself inside. She felt the push of his head and whimpered, arching up on her toes at the sudden intrusion. But then he eased inside her fully, and she gasped, her nails digging into his shoulders. She felt filled in a way she never had before, like he was able to open up places inside her she’d never known existed.
“Oh God,” she said. “Oh God, oh God…”
“I’ve got you,” he murmured, his voice thick and reassuring. She wanted to lose herself in his arms completely. Strong arms, capable arms. Capable of protecting. She felt inexplicably safe here and held him tightly as though she meant to burrow inside his rib cage and stay there.
His body rolled against her in waves and she took it. Heating up from the inside out, engulfed in his arms, his body, she felt herself clench and quiver around him.
“That feels so good,” she murmured deliriously into the crook of his neck.
“I need you,” he panted.
“Yes,” she whined, her fingers digging into his chest.
?” he growled at her lips.
“Yes,” she whispered feverishly. “Yes, I’ll marry you.”
“Yeah?” he said, a question lingering in his eyes.
Are you sure?
She nodded, suddenly feeling small and vulnerable, her heart pitter-pattering in her chest. But then his mouth claimed hers, hard, passionately,
and she felt safe again and melted into his lips, desperate for his affection. His skin felt hot to the touch, his muscles coiled under her palms, and she could feel a burning settle deep in her core. Each thrust wound her up tighter and tighter until she felt like she was going to explode. She sipped air in short gasps as she fell against Jacob, fingers clutching.
“I love you, Holly,” Jacob murmured, his voice low and throaty.
It was her name on his tongue that did it and she cried out sharply, her nails digging into his skin as she throbbed around him. She felt him spill over seconds later, wet and hot inside of her, and she felt a shudder run through his muscles. Even now, he was hard steel on the outside, molten lava churning on the inside.
She caught her breath and rested her head against him. She could hear his heart. Pounding. Strong. Hard.
Holly’s throat contracted around the words
I love you too.