Authors: Morgan Rae
She nodded dumbly, suddenly feeling like a shy, doe-eyed teenager frozen at the cool kids’ cafeteria table. Especially when she realized she’d left her shoes on the back porch and was now standing in front of them with grass-stained bare feet. She thrust his bottle of beer out in offering. “I thought you might be thirsty.”
Over the porch rail, she could see the lanky honeypot shoot her a glare.
The corners of Jacob’s eyes crinkled in (endeared? She hoped?) surprise. “You thought right.”
“Where’s mine?” Brent complained.
“Put a ring on my finger and I’ll get you a beer,” Holly said with a smile as she started to twist the cap from Jacob’s Black Horn.
“I think I like this one,” Brent said, wagging a finger towards her as he turned back to Jacob. “Y’can keep her.”
“I plan on it,” Jacob said. The cap bit into Holly’s palm and refused to budge, which was when Holly realized that it was most definitely
a twist-off. She needed a bottle opener. Which was, no doubt, tucked away in the pocket of a very
, lanky honeypot.
Holly felt a crimson blush rising in her cheeks.
Jacob seemed to notice her plight because he cupped his hand over the top of the bottle and said, “Mind if I give it a try?” She released her grip and he twisted his palm over the top. The bottle fizzed open under his strong grip and he lapped the foam from the top.
“Y’think that’s brutal, you should see him open one a’ those with his dick,” Brent said.
” Jacob warned. “We’ve got a lady in our presence, in case you haven’t noticed. Inside voices.”
“Oh, I’ve noticed,” Brent said and winked at Holly. “Looking good, darling.”
“Brent,” she returned stiffly. She was already feeling embarrassed, and Brent’s penetrating stare didn’t help. Yet Holly pressed a smile onto her lips and said to Jacob, “I’ll see you at the truck.”
“I’ll only be a second longer.” Before she could run, duck, and hide under the foundation of the house (or as low as she could possibly get), he snagged her chin in his fingers and said, “C’mere.” Holly leaned in and melted against the firm press of his lips. Just like that—with his warmth, his stone-hard love—she felt grounded, a little less off-kilter. He sealed the kiss and Holly gave him a small, grateful smile before slipping off.
“Where’s mine?” she heard Brent call out, followed by an “Ow” as Jacob, no doubt, flicked something at his head.
Holly still felt anxious wings fluttering in her chest, but she was at least partially sedated by the strength of Jacob’s kiss. Her good feelings were cut short, however, when she turned around and came face-to-face with a scowling Cassidy in the doorway. “Can we talk?” Cassidy said in that sharp, no-nonsense tone that reminded Holly of visiting the principal.
“Yes, of course,” Holly said and stepped into her mother-in-law’s house, trying to ignore the sinking feeling in her gut.
“What is the goddamn hell are you doing?” Cassidy asked once the door swung closed behind them.
Holly blinked. Cassidy looked like she might burst into flames in any second. “Is this…about your beer?” she tried. “I only left it for a second—”
“What? No!” Cassidy snapped, her voice hushed but her tone pointed. “What where you doing bringing Jacob his drink like that?”
Now Holly was
lost. Her heartbeat fluttered as her head swam to figure out what she’d done wrong. “I’m sorry?”
“Look,” Cassidy growled, “we don’t keep honeypots around because we like the view. It’s about
. You get that? I know you’re a human, but…you’ve got kings, right? Queens, nobles…yada yada. Jacob here is king of our clan, which makes you queen by default. Don’t get too excited about that, because what I saw out there was a queen jumping around in a jester suit. You think it’s flattering on you, doing the work of honeypots?”
Holly was speechless. “I didn’t mean to…offend anyone…”
“Well, you did. When you go out there and mess up the order of things, you make yourself look like an idiot. And when you look like an idiot, Jacob looks like an idiot for making you his mate. We’re the strongest bear clan this side of California. You think we got here looking like idiots?”
Holly was fighting a losing battle with her tear ducts. “No,” she said shakily, “I understand all of that, I just…Miranda said—”
?” Cassidy spat the name like it was poison. “Don’t listen to a thing she says. Honeypots are one thing, but Miranda is a…a…” Cassidy waved her arms as thought she could catch the word out of thin air. “A honey
“Is that a thing?” Holly asked cautiously.
“No!” Cassidy pinched the bridge of her nose, exasperated. “Just…find a corner and stay there so you don’t embarrass this clan any further. Please.”
Holly’s throat felt tight, like she’d been hung from a hangman’s noose. She nodded and barely mumbled out the, “Yes, of course,” before she was out the door.
By time Alice answered the phone, Holly’s voice was already shaking with bridled tears. “What if I’ve made a mistake?” Holly whispered once her old friend had quieted her down a peg.
“I thought things were going well with tall, dark, and cowboy?” Alice’s voice echoed sympathetically over the line.
“They are,” Holly said as she bowed her head. Even in the passenger side of Jacob’s dark truck, alone, she kept her voice down just in case the clan could hear her with their shifter ears. “They’re going really…really well. He’s great. It’s just…everything else.”
“Families are always hard to deal with,” Alice said. “Especially when they’re not your own. Does he have some, like…crazy tiger mom or something?”
,” Holly muttered.
“Nothing…it’s just…” Holly sighed and rubbed her hand over her face. She hated that she couldn’t just come out and tell Alice,
Hey, so my new husband is a bear and wants to put a permanent bite mark in my neck. Plus they have a harem of sluts called honeypots and, get this, I got honey-trapped by the ringleader.
“There are a lot of
in their family,” she explained. “A lot of rituals and…ways of being that I’m just not familiar with. And I don’t know if I ever will be.”
“So you just have to assimilate.
. C’mon, you’re a quick learner. You’ll pick it up in no time. Have a cram session or something. Make index cards. I’ll help.”
Holly laughed through wet eyes. “God, I wish you were here, Alice,” she said. “I would definitely take you up on that.”
“It’s because I’m a genius trapped in a middle-aged mother’s body. Hey, remember that book where that girl was trying to assimilate so she had sex with her husband in front of all his friends and everything? It was a classic or something?”
Holly chuckled. “
Game of Thrones
isn’t technically classic literature, Alice. But I see your point.”
“So you should do something like that. Or group orgy. That’ll get you all real close, right? Just go crazy. What do you have to lose? Remember, they’re the ones getting the prize here. They should be working to impress
, not the other way around.”
Holly glanced up and saw Jacob’s figure lumbering towards the truck. “Right…I’ve got to go, Jacob’s here.”
“Alright. Keep me updated. Love you, Holly.”
“Love you too. Tell Brad I said hi.”
Jacob was already inside and gunning up the engine by the time Holly ended the call. “Who was that?” he asked.
“Alice,” Holly said. “You remember, from the wedding?”
“I remember.” Without Alice, the truck somehow felt colder, the air between them stale. “How’s she doing?” he asked.
“Fine,” Holly said.
From the corner of her eyes, she could see Jacob glance over at her and knit his eyebrows. “How’re
Holly’s back stiffened at that question. She smiled, because she didn’t want to lie to him, not this early in the marriage, and asked, “Can we go home?”
He nodded. “What princess wants, princess gets.”
Jacob’s truck began its grinding climb up the hill to his house. They sat the rest of the ride in silence, save the murmuring twang from his radio. By time they got inside, the air still felt charged with dangerous, negative electricity. Holly’s jacket rustled as Jacob rolled it off her shoulders and she offered a small, “Thank you.”
“Don’t mention it.” He hung up her jacket in the foyer closet as Holly made a beeline for the kitchen. She didn’t get far, however, before his strong voice stopped her short, like a barbed arrow. “Holly. You wanna tell me what’s bothering you, or you just gonna pout about it?”
Holly felt her shoulders square off. “I’m fine,” she said stiffly.
“Hey.” She felt his hand on her arm, pulling her around to face him. And here, in the soft, amber lights of their house, he seemed gentler. The strict edges around his eyes faded and the growl in his tone muted; he was back to being
. No distractions. He looked genuinely concerned when he said, “
doesn’t work in this house.”
It does when you say it
, she wanted to say. She’d seen the way his hands shook from time to time. She knew his bear or…
…was gnawing at him. And still, he bared his teeth and smiled through it. Instead of opening her mouth, Holly buttoned her lower lip with her teeth.
“Tell me,” he said, his thumb coaxing as it rubbed over her bare arm. “Is it something I did?”
“No…” Holly sighed and rested her hand on his chest. “It’s…not you. You’re great. I’m just, um…”
There was his stare.
. She couldn’t escape it. It made her self-conscious, so she swallowed and averted her eyes, staring at the rug on the floor.
“I feel like a fish out of water,” she confessed.
“You’re just getting your feet wet,” he said. “It happens.”
“No, it’s…” Holly twisted away from him. Being too close to him made her antsy. It was too tempting to avoid this conversation with a kiss, then a deeper kiss, and then a couple hours of sex bent over the arm of the couch. She paced around the den and dragged her fingers through her ginger hair. “It’s more than that. This isn’t just a…family I’ve married into. It’s like a…whole other species. There are rules and traditions and…I don’t think I’m what you want. At all.”
“Holly—” he started, but she lifted her finger.
“Please let me finish. I know you like me because we’re…different…because I help ground you in…humanity, or however you would like to phrase it, but maybe we’re too different. You don’t read Jane Austen and I don’t drink beer and I don’t know when to bring you your drink or
bring you your drink or when I’m humiliating you in front of your entire clan.”
Jacob’s eyebrows knit together at that, but he kept silent, so she kept going. “And…and then there’s all these
around the ranch,” she said, making a sweeping gesture with her hand. “You know you have the pick of the litter.”
“You’re right,” he said, finally breaking in. His voice was low and he said with deep authority, “I do have the pick of the litter. And I chose you.”
Holly went silent at that. Jacob picked up the slack and continued.
“If I don’t make you my mate soon,” he said plainly, “any one of my transformations could be my last. But I’m willing to wait. For you. I’m not forcing anything on you until you’re ready. I know it’s a lot, trust me, and there are a lot of good women who would’ve gone running for the hills long before now. You? You’re stronger than that.” He paused, let that sink in, and then added, “But if you’re backing out of this…I need to know sooner rather than later. Time is kinda of the essence here.”
“I know,” she whispered. There it was again.
Go all in, or all out. No pressure
“I can be patient,” he said. “But I can’t separate myself from the Beast. If the Beast is unhappy—”
“Then so are you?” Holly finished for him.
She saw Jacob’s jaw tighten. “I’ll give you all the time you need. Just don’t tug my leash.”
“I’ve got some homework to grade,” she said suddenly, peeling back. “I should get started on that.”
His eyes never left hers. “I’ll see you upstairs.”
“Sure.” She ducked out of his grasp and went to hide in the couch.
She heard him sigh, and then finally he growled, “Dammit, Holly.”
She looked back at him, blinked. He lifted a hand, and then dropped it uselessly to his side. “Look—we’re married now. I’m not going anywhere. Neither are you. This’ll be a hell of a lot easier once you accept that.”
Was it that easy? Just stop asking questions, stop doubting?
Go both feet in and never turn back?
Holly gave a small shrug and then said simply, “I’m an academic, Jacob. Asking me not to overanalyze is like asking me to stop breathing.”
Jacob crooked an eyebrow and said, “Alright. Well, when you decide to shut off your brain, you know where to find me.”
Holly watched Jacob climb the stairs and heard the click of their bedroom door. She lingered downstairs and sank into the couch, raking her fingers through her hair as the clock ticked on.
Holly pulled her bag over and lifted out a yellow notepad and a pen. She pulled her notepad over and turned it to a clean page. There, she made two columns. She wrote:
She paused, nibbling the end of her pen, then jotted down:
Heart: an organ designed to pump blood through the body.
Head: learning, reading, love through understanding, acceptance.
Holly stared at her list. Her chest ached suddenly. Holly rubbed her hand over her left shoulder, knitting her eyebrows. Her heart was like a broken bone, acting up when it rained, and it was going to take a while to clean all this rust off of the hinges around her ribcage.
She took a breath, drew a line underneath what she’d written, and wrote out another list. Only this time, she tried to imagine what Jacob would write down.
Heart: passion, loyalty, family, love.
Head: designed to fit perfectly between Holly’s thighs.
A small grin lifted her lips at her own joke and she twisted the end of her pen between her teeth.
God, she was going crazy, wasn’t she?
But maybe that’s what love was. Maybe it was high time Holly went a little crazy.