Bear Home for Christmas: BBW Holiday Paranormal Bear Shifter Romance (Christmas Bear Shifter Romance Book 1)

BOOK: Bear Home for Christmas: BBW Holiday Paranormal Bear Shifter Romance (Christmas Bear Shifter Romance Book 1)
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Bear Home for Christmas

 

 

 

ARIANA HAWKES

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2015 Ariana Hawkes

All rights reserved.

 

 

This is a standalone, 28,000-word HEA romance, perfect for a lunch break, bath time, or a little dose of me-time, wherever you are!

 

 

 

 

Your free book is waiting!

 

 

A 4.5-star rated, comedy romance featuring one kickass roller derby chick, two scorching-hot Alphas, and the naughty nip that changed their lives forever.

 

The only thing missing from Aspen Richardson’s life is a man who will love her just the way she is. In the small town she calls home, bullies from the past remain, making her wonder if it's ever going to happen. But, things are about to change in a major way, as the secret Aspen’s parents have been keeping from her comes out…

 

“This book definitely needs to be added to your MUST read list – you will quickly fall in love with this steamy and fast paced story.”

 

Get your free book now!

 

(If your device doesn’t support links, go to www.arianahawkes.com/freebook)

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

The girl stepped down from the Greyhound, shivering as an icy blast of wind lashed her in the face and forced its way beneath her winter coat. She pushed her face into her scarf and fastened her coat belt more tightly around her waist as she shuffled over to the luggage hold to retrieve her bag. The ground was frozen, and she regretted yet again that the soles of her boots were so worn. It was too late to buy any new ones – as if she had the money for them anyway. The luggage guy grunted as he lifted every piece of luggage out, including hers, although it only weighed a few pounds.

“Name?” he snapped.

“Noelle Hollis,” she said, waiting for him to make a sarcastic comment, but he just nodded and passed her the bag. She hated her name. Her parents had picked it because she was born on December 25
th
, and it was a constant reminder of a time of year she’d rather forget.

“Thank you, and merry Christmas,” she said, far more perkily than she felt. He glanced at her over his shoulder, silently, and his expression chilled her to the bone. It was desolate, completely blank, lacking in any human warmth or optimism.
I guess there are people out there who hate Christmas even more than I do,
she thought. She threw her duffel bag over her shoulder and started walking.

She hadn’t been back to Northwood in almost 12 years, but she hadn’t forgotten the way. She passed through the dark, narrow streets that surrounded the dingy bus station, and quickly entered the heart of downtown. Her spirits lifted a little at the sight of the pretty town center. It wasn’t quite as she’d pictured it, the heavy snow covering every surface, transforming it into an alien world, but she still recognized it as the place where she’d felt happiest during her difficult and angst-ridden teens. Every residential window was illuminated with festive lights and decorations – the signs of cozy, loving homes. A huge Christmas tree stood in the middle of the central square, twenty feet tall and laden with baubles and tinsel. There was a tiny ice rink on one side of it where kids, well wrapped up in colorful scarves and coats, laughed and shrieked as they zoomed around chasing each other, knocking their friends over. Their parents watched them on the sidelines, glowing with pride. On the other side of the square was a German Christmas market, with bright stalls wafting delicious smells of mulled wine and sausages into the freezing air.

Noelle didn’t slow as she passed it. Christmas was for other people, people with normal lives. Not her. She turned onto a bustling street full of shoppers rushing to buy the last few gifts before the holidays, and followed it for ten minutes until the stores thinned out and it led to a quieter, suburban neighborhood. Her pulse quickened as she turned onto a narrow street and followed the house numbers, until she reached the one she’d been looking for: Number 34. A festive wreath decorated a white door that had been added since she’d last been there. She tried to remember the old door, but it was indistinct in her memory. She vaguely recalled her hand brushing some old, splintering wood and flaked red paint, but then the impression was gone again. Maybe that had been somewhere else – one of the many other places she’d lived in her teens.

She hung back, chewing her lower lip. No-one was expecting her, and although she’d been traveling all day to get there, she was now nervous to knock. Instead, she surveyed the front of the house. The small garden was transformed by a covering of snow – the lawn, the shrubbery and the potted plants, all concealed beneath a flawless white blanket. She’d played in that garden in summer many times, but it seemed unreal, like a snatch of somebody else’s memory had been implanted into her head. The window frame was new as well. It looked like an expensive job. The net curtains were closed, but they finished an inch above the windowsill, and there was a glow of orange light showing from inside the room. She crept closer, bending until it was at her eye level, and peered through cautiously. The sight of a human figure made her jerk backwards, as guiltily as a peeping Tom.
I’ve got no reason to feel like this,
she reminded herself, and looked again. It wasn’t either of her old foster parents. It was an elderly man, sitting in a rocking chair. He appeared to be asleep, a newspaper open on his lap.
Who is it?
She searched her memory. The parent of one of them? An uncle? She couldn’t recall anyone that he could feasibly be.

Her stomach tightening, she walked up to the front door. For a moment, she was tempted to walk away, but she’d come all this way. It would be stupid to leave without trying to see them. She lifted the knocker and rapped three times. It was an empty, hollow sound, seeming to echo into the quiet house. She waited, counting the seconds. At 71, heavy footsteps sounded in the corridor and the wreath trembled as the door was snatched open. A woman in her late forties, with tightly-curled brown hair, thin, compressed lips, and deep grooves running from her nose to the sides of her mouth looked out at her. Her eyes widened slightly as she discovered that she didn’t recognize the girl on the doorstep, and she twisted her lips into a polite smile.

“Can I help you?” she said. Noelle’s heart had sunk so heavily that she struggled to reply.

“I – I was looking for Mary-Alice and Bob,” she stuttered. The woman’s expression told her everything she needed to know.

“I’m sorry. There’s no-one of that name here,” she said.

“They used to live here. At least 12 years ago, but maybe more recently.”

“Oh, we’ve only been here for the past six months, and the previous owners had a different name. It must’ve been a while back.”

“Did they leave a forwarding address or anything?”

“No. I’m afraid not. We don’t even have the details of the previous owners. They got their mail redirected, and that was it.” Noelle took a deep breath, her head swimming.
That’s it then
. There was nothing else she could do.

“Thanks for your help,” she murmured, already turning away.  

“Are you ok, dear?” the woman said, a flash of softness breaking through her brusque manner.

“Yeah, I’m fine. Thanks.” She turned and walked quickly away from the house and the street, for the very last time.

Noelle dug her nails into the palms of her hands to distract herself from the tears that were threatening to spill from her eyes.
What was I thinking?
she demanded of herself, angrily.
Of course they’ve moved on after 12 years.
It was such a dumb idea to come here.
Dumb. Dumb. Dumb. Just like every decision I’ve ever made.
And, just like most of her decisions, she hadn’t thought it through for very long before she’d bought her ticket at a Greyhound bus station and boarded a bus for a six-hour journey to visit the foster parents she hadn’t been in touch with for years. She kicked at the snow as she walked.
Why do I do these things?
She asked herself. But she already knew the answer: it was desperation. Pure and simple. She’d had nowhere to go for Christmas, and she couldn’t bear to spend yet another Christmas day alone in her cold, draughty house share, the empty bedrooms reminding her that all her roommates had gone home to their loving families, or were snuggled up in ski cabins with their boyfriends and girlfriends.

She’d woken up that morning, looked at the big number 23 on her bedside calendar, staring at her mockingly, and known she had to leave. She’d had many foster parents during her childhood, most for short periods, in between longer spells at children’s homes, but Mary-Alice and Bob Ricard stood out as the kindest ones. She’d only been with them for four months. They specialized in taking children who were in crisis for short periods only, and their comfortably untidy house was always full to bursting. They’d let her stay as long as they possibly could, but then a longer-term home had been found for her, with an apparently nice, sweet couple
. Who’d turned out to be anything but,
she thought, grinding her teeth at the recollection. After she’d left the Ricards’ place, Mary-Alice had sent her a few letters, but Noelle had been so listless and miserable living with the new foster parents that she’d lacked the energy to reply, and the contact between them had ended. She wondered where they’d gone. Maybe they’d moved on to a bigger house so they could take more kids. It was crazy to think she could’ve stayed with them for Christmas anyway – they probably had every available sleeping spot filled with children who needed their care.

By now, Noelle was back in the town square, and the happy, festive scene was like a punch in the stomach. At the side of the market, a kid was having a screaming fit, throwing himself on the ground, while his parents stared at him exasperated, weighed down with bags of shopping. It was so unfair. There were all these people, stressed about the big day, probably freaking out that their turkey wasn’t going to be big enough, maybe wishing that they didn’t have to deal with the festive season at all, and here she was, she who loved Christmas more than anybody, having no-one to celebrate it with. Every year, she felt like a stray dog, out in the cold, with its nose pressed up to a window, watching everyone celebrating inside.

Noelle wandered aimlessly, not knowing what to do. She could wait for the next bus back to the town she now called home, but the thought of returning to her cold, lonely room made her shrivel up inside. Maybe she could find a motel or something. She was too cold to think logically. Her feet were freezing, and maybe damp as well. It wouldn’t be a surprise to find that she had holes in her boots.

She was now trudging along a wide, pedestrianized street. Most of the stores had Christmas trees in the windows and colored lights were strung from one side of the street to the other, reflecting red and blue and silver on the snow. Every festive symbol was a sharp reminder of how alone she was. She passed a café with a little blackboard outside advertising pumpkin spice lattes.
That actually sounded really good
, she thought. And she needed to warm up for a little while so her brain would thaw and start to work again.

There was a long line inside, but she didn’t care. Time didn’t have a lot of relevance right now. As she waited, she gazed straight ahead at nothing, trying not to think, just concentrating on the burn in her fingers and toes as they came to life again. It was a cozy place, with dim lighting, and tasteful festive decorations.

“What’s your name?” the chirpy clerk demanded, sharpie poised in hand as he took her order.

“Noe – Noemie,” she said. If she told him her name and he commented on it, as he was bound to, she might just fall apart. Turn into a puddle, right here on the floor.

“No-ay-mie,” he repeated slowly, spelling it just like that on the side of the cup. She was pretty sure that wasn’t how you spelled it, but whatever. She paid and as she took a step to the side to join the coffee-delivery line, she collided with someone, stepping right on their foot.

“Oh, I’m sorry. Excuse me,” a deep, masculine voice said, just as she opened her mouth to apologize. Something about the voice made her whip around, and she found she was staring at a dark green, rough cotton shirt. She raised her head another six inches and gazed directly into the most incredible eyes she’d ever seen in her life. They were large and almost black, with startling depth to them, and they were fringed by sooty black lashes.

“God, I’m sorry, it was my fault,” she said. Her gaze shot to his feet and she sighed in relief at the sight of a pair of steel toe-capped boots. She wasn’t a small girl by any means, but she was sure she hadn’t done him a lot of damage.

“No problem,” he said in a warm tone, and flashed her a smile of well-shaped lips and lovely, even teeth. He was gorgeous, she realized distractedly. She took a step back, he squeezed past her and they went on their way.

When Noelle’s coffee was ready, she took a seat at a table that looked right into the café, away from the plastic Christmas tree in the corner and the sickeningly festive scene visible from the windows. She’d also bought a turkey and cranberry sandwich and a slice of carrot cake – the first things she’d eaten since breakfast – and she devoured them in minutes, surprised that she’d been able to go for so long without food.

She wrapped her hands around her coffee and stared down at it miserably. She didn’t want to see the other people in the café, all the cute couples, comparing the gifts they’d bought. Right now, she felt like the loneliest person in the whole world. Christmas hadn’t always been this painful, which was exactly what made it so hard to deal with nowadays. When she’d been a little kid, it had been the happiest day of the year: her birthday and Christmas day all rolled into one. Her mom and dad always made a huge effort to mark it as a double celebration, saying it was important that her birthday didn’t get swallowed up by Christmas. When she woke up, there was always a stocking packed with thoughtful little gifts at the end of the bed, and a pile of birthday presents on the floor. Then downstairs was a giant tree with another pile of presents underneath. They’d have birthday cake in the afternoon before the Christmas dinner, and a few days later they’d have another celebration day, just for her birthday.

She was a generous-spirited kid, and she saved her pocket money for weeks before Christmas, buying her parents the best things she could think of, and she made them little handicrafts as well. Christmas day was playing with her new toys, and her mom helping her to make a snowman, while her dad cooked the turkey. Then they had a big lunch with her granddad and grandma, followed by snuggling on the couch, watching movies.

BOOK: Bear Home for Christmas: BBW Holiday Paranormal Bear Shifter Romance (Christmas Bear Shifter Romance Book 1)
4.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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