Axman Werebear (Saw Bears Book 5) (4 page)

BOOK: Axman Werebear (Saw Bears Book 5)
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Chapter Five

 

“Thank you,” Diem said as Bruiser handed her a small paper cup of what smelled and looked like sweet red wine.

“You’ll get used to it,” Brooke said as Diem lifted it to her nose and sniffed.

“It’s not… I’m not trying to be snobby about it. I haven’t drank much, so I wouldn’t know much of a difference in quality.”

Brooke rubbed her round belly absently from beside Diem on the tailgate of Bruiser’s pickup.

“Don’t let her fool you,” Bruiser said with a wink. “She’s a total snob.”

“Stop teasing her. This is all a lot to take in.” The alpha’s mate swung her blond hair over her shoulder and leaned back on locked arms. “When I first came here, Bruiser was the first one I met, and I thought he was a redneck idiot and this place was a dump. It grew on me, though. The people here make it impossible not to appreciate the little things about a home like this.”

The sun was sitting low in the sky, casting pinks and oranges across the mountains. It would be dark soon, but already, the boys had built up a raging bonfire at the end of the street, and someone had turned on hundreds of strands of outdoor lights. Strings of them were hung from every trailer and porch, connecting them all in a surprisingly cozy way.

Drew was driving Kellen, Skyler, Haydan, Everly, and Denison around in circles in a gravel parking lot. Diem squinted at the dilapidated old basketball hoop and thought perhaps there had once been a clearing for sports. Dust had kicked up in the shape of a tornado as Drew pulled the truck in tighter circles to the screaming, laughing amusement of the passengers holding on for dear life in the back.

“That looks terrifying,” Diem muttered. “And dangerous.”

“You’ve never done anything like that?” Bruiser asked.

She tried to imagine Mason going even five miles over the speed limit and shook her head. “Never.”

“They’d probably hate it if you drove,” Brighton whispered from where he leaned on the truck near her. His voice had been damaged by something, and he couldn’t do any more than rasp his words out. She could hear him just fine from this close, though.

“They’d probably all die if I drove. I’ve never learned.”

“What?” Brighton rasped out as he stood up straight. A face-cracking and mischievous grin took over his handsome features. “Well, tonight is your night. I hear Bruiser’s giving out free lessons.”

“No I ain’t. She insulted my truck already once today. I don’t trust her not to destroy her.”

“Fine,” Brighton whispered. “I’ll teach you.”

“Oh, God, turn that offer down quick,” Brooke said with a laugh. “Brighton is terrifying behind the wheel.”

“Am not,” he said with an offended frown.

“I saw that,” Bruiser said as he looked down at her with a calculating look.

“Saw what?” she asked, confused.

“You just smiled. It was tiny, but it counted. She feels, everyone,” he crowed. “Diem Daye feels.”

“All right asshole, they get it. Don’t tell my father, though. Smiles aren’t permitted in his house.” She stared down at her drink, which was still full and untasted in her hand. “I don’t know why I just said that. I’m sorry.”

“Girl, why are you apologizing?” Danielle asked. “Nobody ended up here without a past pushing them to look for a deeper connection with people who would understand them. Life isn’t always pretty, or clean. Don’t feel sorry for the grit. It is what it is, and I know your daddy. I work for him and have meetings with him a few times a week. I’m his environmentalist. He seems like a tough nut to crack. All the more reason to live like you mean it now. Smile all you want to here. Nobody is judging you.”

A weight lifted from Diem’s shoulders at the realization that really, no one here would judge her. They teased her an awful lot, but they didn’t seem to mean it. Making fun of each other and calling each other names seemed to be the way they told each other they accepted one another. She was just a misfit in a band of misfits, no more special or damaged than any of the rest of them.

“There it is again,” Bruiser mused. “Put that drink down, D. I’m rewarding you for those smiles tonight.”

“What do you mean?” she asked, setting the cup gingerly beside her.

“I mean, you’re going to learn to drive.”

“That sounds…no.” She shook her head hard. “No, absolutely not. I’ll wreck your truck, and then we’ll die, and then you’ll be mad at me, and then your ghost will haunt my ghost, and no. Nope.”

Bruiser was just staring at her with an amused smile and his hand outstretched, waiting.

She stretched her neck out and sighed. “Bruiser, I’m serious, I don’t want to wreck your truck. She means a lot to you. Obviously.”

“Come on,” he groaned, tossing his head back with impatience. “I’m a great teacher.”

“You’ve had six beers.”

“I’m highly functional when drinking.”

“He is,” Brooke said.

“This will be my wedding gift to you.”

“Driving your shitty truck? You shouldn’t have.”

Bruiser’s mouth dropped open, and he looked appalled. “I can’t tell if you’re joking or not. Your voice sounds so serious.”

Diem allowed a tiny smile. “Joke.”

Bruiser reached in his pocket, pulled out a set of jingly car keys, and gave them a shake. “You ready?”

“No.” She stood anyway and followed him with a tiny wave behind her to the members of the Ashe Crew cheering her on. She was about to have a head-on collision with something, everyone would be watching, she would be so embarrassed, and no one would want to be friends with her. That’s what was about to go down.

Diem wiped her sweaty palms against her jeans and nearly tripped over the flip-flops Mason had packed for her. At least he had packed her suitcase and not Father. He would’ve stacked it full of business suites and matching high heels, none of which mattered here.

Bruiser opened the door for her, and instead of reaming him for coddling her this time, she thanked him politely and slid onto the bench seat. This was different than with Mason and the house staff Father kept. Bruiser seemed to like doing things for her, and when she was grateful, his face turned even more handsome when he got that deep-dimpled smile.

“I like your crew,” she said shyly.

Bruiser jammed the key in the ignition and turned the roaring engine. “So you can be polite. I knew you had it in you.”

“I’m being serious. They are really nice, and we’re in a strange situation, and they could’ve been weird around me, but none of them have been. Except for Tagan. I don’t think he likes me much.”

“Tagan is reserved with his approval, but for good reason. He has to be. He’s alpha and has more on his shoulders, and if for some reason you didn’t fit in his crew, that stress would be on him. Plus, he’s been one of my best friends for the better part of a decade, and this was kind of sprung on him. He and Brooke are a love match, and he wants the same for his crew members. So far, it worked out with Kellen and Denison and Brighton. I came out of left field with my arrangement with your dad, and it has Tagan worried.”

“You want to know a secret?”

Bruiser leaned back and draped his arm across the back of the bench seat. His fingertips brushed her shoulders, and this time, she didn’t feel like balking away from him. “Yeah, D. Spill your secrets so I can figure you out.”

“I like the name Horace.”

“Shut it, no one likes that name. What were you really going to say?”

“This is the first time in my life I’ve been unchaperoned. No overbearing father, no bodyguard, no driver.”

“You feelin’ like you could find some trouble tonight?”

“Yeah, I feel…floaty.”

“That’s freedom. See? I didn’t steal it from you after all. Left pedal is the brake, right is the gas. Push the break all the way down before you put it into gear.”

Five minutes of instruction later, and Diem lurched the truck forward with a squeak.

“Well that was pretty damned cute,” Bruiser said. “A dragon shifter, and you just squeaked like Nards.”

“I can’t take anything you say seriously after you utter the word Nards.”

“Ease your foot onto the gas. Slower.”

The pickup lurched again, and Diem slammed on the brake. “Bruiser, I don’t think I can do this. It’s hard, and there really isn’t a good reason for me learning how to drive at this point.”

“If you’re talking about this being pointless because you’re going to die in childbirth, I already told you that ain’t gonna happen. I’ll buy us a pygmy piglet farm before I’d let my seed poison you, D. Now, stop complaining and own this shit like I know you can. You’re a fucking dragon who can fly.” He lowered his voice. “You can fly, can’t you?”

“Yes, I can fly, just no fire.”

“Okay, you’re a fucking dragon shifter who can fly over mountains and eat anyone who threatens you. You can do that too, right?”

She screwed up her face and swallowed bile that was creeping up the back of her throat. “I suppose I could, if I were a man-eater. Which I’m not.”

“My point is, you can do all of this magical shit, Diem. Drive the truck. Drive it. Go.”

Gripping the wheel, Diem eased onto the gas and drove a straight line toward an open field beside the fence that encircled the trailer park.

“I’m going to hit that tree.”

“Then turn the wheel,” Bruiser said, rolling the window down.

“Which way?”

“Whichever way feels right. Pick one.” He draped his arm out the window and relaxed against the seat like he hadn’t just entrusted his precious truck to a beginner driver.

She pulled the wheel to the right and got a feel of which way turned the truck where she wanted to go. She practiced braking and accelerating and giggled like a lesser shifter when Bruiser encouraged her to step on the gas and pull a few donuts. He even taught her to reverse the clunker truck before they drove back under the Asheland Mobile Park sign. She was wretched at it, but at least she had tried, and warm pride washed over her that she hadn’t chickened out.

Brooke, Danielle, and Everly clapped excitedly as she pulled to a stop near them. After Bruiser instructed her on the finer points of putting the truck into park and turning off the engine, she hopped out and grinned as Kellen handed her the warm cup of boxed wine back to her.

“You did some fine driving. Your mate looks proud of you, as he should be.”

“Thanks, Kellen,” she said in a soft voice. She clinked her tiny cup against his beer and slurped it down. It wasn’t bad, and Kellen automatically took the cup for a refill. “Steak’s ready,” he murmured, jerking his chin toward the bonfire.

So that was what smelled good. After the long day and skipping lunch, she was famished. She followed Bruiser and the others toward the rough, splinter-riddled buffet table that had been set up near the firelight.

Bruiser leaned in close, resting his hand on her back, and whispered, “I am really proud of you. You’re a quick learner.”

Heat flooded her face from ear tips to chin as she ducked her head under the compliment. She bumped his shoulder.

“I like your smile. I was scared when we did the ceremony today that you wouldn’t have it in you to smile, or to feel. You’re beautiful when you let your guard down.”

“So I’m not beautiful when it’s up?”

“You are then, too, but I like it best when you are open and animated.”

“It’ll be a hard habit to break while I’m out of my father’s direct line of sight. I eased off the monotone gig when I went away to college, but I’ve been working for Father for a few years now, and sometimes it’s hard not to reprimand myself for showing emotion.”

“It’ll get easier the longer you are here.”

Would it? Bruiser was being kind, but it didn’t change the fact that she would have to breed with him. Her days were numbered, thanks to the rare animal inside of her. Female dragon’s lifecycles were short. That much had been beat into her head since she was a kid. Bringing that up now would only ruin what was turning into the best night of her life, though, so she swallowed the argument down and boldly slipped her hand into his instead.

It was fun pretending that everything would be all right.

Bruiser seemed to enjoy touching her, and she had to admit, she thirsted for it. After all these years of being denied physical comfort, it was a relief to have someone who wanted to be close to her in such a way. It wasn’t anything obvious or inappropriate. Just a brush of his fingers on her hip when he said something to make her laugh, or a hand on the back when someone shimmied by her, too close. Once, he brushed her hair back out of her face when she threatened to eat all of his food and leave him hungry. The threat apparently didn’t scare a man like Bruiser if his dancing eyes were anything to go by.

His touch was addicting and awakened her sleeping dragon in ways she didn’t understand. And from the way his eyes had turned a muddy golden-green the first time she rested her head against his shoulder for just a moment as a thank you for a sweet compliment he’d given, she thought his animal was affected by her as well.

She would’ve given anything in that moment to be a bear instead of a dragon. Life would’ve been so uncomplicated. She’d be free to live with him for always and give him as many little cubs as he wanted. Their future could’ve been endless if she’d only taken after her mother instead of her father.

BOOK: Axman Werebear (Saw Bears Book 5)
9.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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