Authors: Ruby Shae
Tags: #BBW, #Paranormal, #Polar Bear Shifter, #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Romance, #Forever Love, #Adult, #Erotic, #Mate, #Supernatural, #Protection, #Bachelor, #Single Woman, #Bury Step-Father, #Returns Home, #Hometown, #Holland Family, #Seven Years, #Corrupt Male, #Abandoned Family, #Charade, #Reconcile, #Notorious, #Exposed Reasons, #Emotional, #Hiatus
The door of the shop hadn’t even closed behind her before Jillian heard Riley’s squeal rise above the din, and everyone turned in her direction. The crowd consisted of a few familiar faces, but most were strangers.
“Oh my god! JILLY!”
Riley left her customer mid-order, and ran out from behind the busy counter with her arms stretched wide. Jillian opened her arms just in time to accept her friend’s tackle hug.
“I missed you,” Jillian whispered, knowing her friend would hear.
“You’ve been gone way too long,” Riley scolded.
“Riley, what’s going on out he—Jillian Masters!”
Ridge Masters, the tallest of the Holland siblings, and the second oldest, came out from behind the counter.
“Don’t go anywhere,” Riley warned, stepping out of the way to give her brother room to say hello.
“I’ll be here,” she assured her friend.
Riley went back to taking orders, and Ridge gave her a hug.
“It’s good to see you, Silly Jilly.”
Ridge was a whole head taller than her, and his hug enveloped her in warmth. She blinked away tears as she hugged him back and rested her head on his chest. Ridge and Ryker had always called her Silly Jilly, and she hadn’t realized how much she’d missed their brotherly teasing.
“Stop hogging all the hugs and help Riley.”
Ryker’s booming voice sounded from behind Ridge, and he reluctantly let her go.
“Stay,” he barked, before running back behind the counter.
Jillian watched him retreat and then turned to face Ryker.
“Welcome home, Silly Jilly,” Ryker said, hugging her. “It’s good to have you back where you belong.”
“I’m only here a week,” she whispered as the tears she’d fought to hold in escaped and slid down her cheeks, “but it’s good to be here.”
Someone bumped into her on their way out of the store, and Ryker pulled her out of the way. They sat down at an empty table by the window, and she wiped her eyes on the edge of her sleeve. The scene was similar to one that happened nearly ten years before when her mother died. Ryker had sat her down by the window and assured her everything would work out.
“I know you weren’t close to Fred, but I’m sorry he’s gone. How are you holding up?” Ryker asked.
“I’m fine. I haven’t spoken to him since I left, and I was honestly surprised to find out I was listed as his next of kin.”
“He was successful in business, but not much else,” he reminded her. “Even before he met your mom, he spent most of his life working and the rest being alone. He’d honestly shocked the few people who knew him when he’d brought home a wife and a teenaged daughter.”
“That’s true,” she agreed. “He was definitely a loner.”
“When’s the service?”
“There won’t be a full service, but we planned the viewing for Saturday from one to four, and then he’ll be buried next to my mom, with no observers, the following day. He left very detailed instructions, including an up-to-date obituary, and those were his wishes.”
“That seems true to his personality,” Ryker nodded.
“You’re right,” she agreed. “I imagine the few friends he had will want to say goodbye and pay their respects, but I don’t expect a large turnout.”
“Well, you know we’ll be there,” he assured her, “so you won’t be alone. Do you need help cleaning out the house?”
“No. I went through mom’s stuff when she passed, and I took everything I owned with me when I left. Nothing else means anything to me. His estate manager is handling everything.”
“Good. You’ll have more time to visit with us. I’d better take Riley’s place before she has a heart attack. Do you want a
“Yes, please,” she smiled.
Ryker got up from the table, disappeared behind the counter, and started making her drink. A
was made up of coffee, white chocolate and peppermint, and it was the best thing she’d ever tasted.
When Riley turned eighteen, Ryker gave in and let her indulge in a cup of java too, and both girls fell in love with the minty heaven in a cup.
Of course, a white chocolate peppermint mocha wasn’t unusual. She could order one in nearly every coffee house she’d ever visited, but nothing tasted as good as home. In her mind,
coffee was the best, and no other brand could compare.
Riley bounded toward her with a coffee in each hand, and she couldn’t help but laugh. Her beautiful friend was the shortest of the Holland siblings, and while all the men were tall and muscular, Riley’s curvy body was an anomaly in the family. Their friendship had formed instantly, but their bond deepened with the ability to understand the pitfalls of being a plus-sized teen in a thin world.
“I think Ryker was afraid you’d take off when he turned his back,” Riley laughed. “I haven’t seen him move so fast behind the counter in years.”
Jillian laughed, too, and took a sip of her coffee. The steaming flavored brew warmed her throat and soothed most of her angst about seeing Reid.
Where was he?
Why hadn’t she seen him yet?
She’d nearly gained enough courage to ask about him when she noticed the scar on the left side of Riley’s mouth. It started where her lips came together and seemed to disappear in her ear. The thought of her friend being in pain tore at her insides, especially because shifters rarely scarred. Scarring only happened when shifting to heal wasn’t possible, and the wound had been left untreated for more than twenty-four hours.
“Don’t ask,” Riley pleaded. “Not here. I’ll tell you everything when we’re alone.”
Jillian nodded and reached across the table to give her friend’s hand a squeeze. Tears filled her eyes, but she blinked them away. Riley had been in pain, and most likely alone, and she hadn’t been around to help.
She was a shitty friend.
“You couldn’t have done anything,” Riley assured her. “Even if you’d been here, you couldn’t have done anything, and our friendship would have been tested. It took awhile for Ryker and Ridge to figure it out, and it was almost too late.”
Jillian didn’t miss the fact that her friend omitted Reid. Why? Had something happened? Was he hurt, too? Or had he finally found his mate and moved away? The suspense was killing her, and luckily, her friend took pity on her.
“He’s still in town, but he moved out, and he hasn’t worked here in five years,” Riley said, sadly. “He’s changed, Jilly, and not in a good way.”
“What do you mean? How has he changed?”
Her friend shook her head.
“I think it’s best if you see for yourself. He owns a bar on the edge of town called
The Dirty Bear.
We can go tonight if you want.”
“Okay, that sounds good,” Jillian agreed. “I’d really like to see him.”
“You won’t be happy,” Riley warned, “but I think it’s necessary. Where are you staying?”
They made a plan to meet at her motel later that night, and then they talked of other things until the guys made Riley get back to work. She spent another hour talking with Ryker and Ridge before she left
and got back into her rental car.
Riley’s warning had been cryptic and unsettling, but she had to see for herself. Alone. If Reid really had changed, she didn’t want to find out in a bar full of people.
She opened the GPS app on her phone and typed
The Dirty Bear
in the search bar. It was too early for the bar to be open, but if Reid wasn’t inside the building, maybe one of his staff would be and they could tell her where to find him.
The plan was farfetched, but she didn’t turn back.
She had to try.
Reid leaned against the kitchen counter of his apartment, and sipped his coffee. Under the surface, his bear growled and paced, desperate to get out, run, and track down his mate. The fact that he had no clue where to look didn’t phase the animal, and his human side fought hard for control.
It didn’t help that his cock was rock hard, and his skin felt itchy and too tight for his frame. He’d managed to put on a loose, worn pair of jeans, but they were the only clothing he could manage, and he’d had trouble with the zipper. He hadn’t even tried the button.
Thinking about his mate always provoked his bear, and left the man angry, agitated, and full of sexual tension. Though he hated the outcome, he couldn’t force himself to stop.
Had she found someone?
Was she happy?
Did she ever think about him?
If he could, he would push her out of his mind completely, but he knew that would never happen. He’d never marked her, but it didn’t matter. She was bound to him by an invisible, unbreakable bond that could never be broken, and the result left him in his own personal version of hell.
While she was free to find love elsewhere, he wasn’t. Not completely. He could move on, even find someone new, but the immeasurable hole in his soul would never completely close.
A knock on the door pushed his melancholy thoughts aside, and he crossed the room in four strides, determined to see who waited on the other side. His apartment was above the bar, but it was only accessible from the outside. The open entrance meant literally anyone could land on his doorstep, but they rarely did. When he wasn’t at work, most people left him alone, and he preferred it that way.
He opened the door to find the woman from the night before standing on his dirty, faded welcome mat. The old mat suddenly bothered him, and the ridiculous sentiment fueled his anger. Deep inside, the bear growled again, but he ignored the animal.
What the fuck?
He didn’t give a shit about the mat five minutes ago, five days ago, or even five years ago when he’d first moved in, and he certainly didn’t care about it now.
I’m going fucking crazy!
The woman held up both hands, as if making a peace offering, and he got a flash of her overly manicured claws. Though normally he’d refuse immediately, he didn’t like to fuck the same woman twice, he’d been considering her offer until he caught sight of her talons. He wasn’t sure he wanted a repeat of the night before. The scratches on his skin may heal easily, but that didn’t erase the fact that he didn’t enjoy receiving them. He wasn’t into pain.
Maybe I can tie her to the headboard…
“Round two?” she asked, ignoring his glare.
She held a beverage tray in one hand, filled with two steaming cups of coffee and a bag of donuts shoved in between, and the other gripped a bottle of crème liquor.
If he turned her away, he knew his thoughts would continue down the same road, and possibly spiral out of control. Even now, as she stood before him, thoughts of Jillian invaded his mind.
What would Jillian think of his welcome mat?
What kind of mat did she have on her doorstep?
I want to see her doorstep!
God, he needed a drink, and he’d take the mediocre sex that came with it. He was willing to do anything to try and stop the direction of his wayward thoughts. Booze and bad sex was better than the persistent, perpetual urge to hunt down his mate and force his claim.
She’d left, and nothing would ever change that.
He stepped back and silently invited the woman in. She smiled triumphantly, and he had a feeling she’d come back knowing about his fuck-only-once rule.
Once inside the spacious apartment, she walked toward the kitchen and he followed her. She still wore the same outfit from the night before, and he shook his head.
Her super short, denim miniskirt, combined with the sheer, black long sleeve top, and silver, strappy six-inch heels, looked anything but sexy. Not only did she look ridiculous in the light of day, she’d gone to the donut shop and the liquor store dressed in next to nothing. If she bent over, the skirt would reveal her uncovered ass, and the top only had a three-inch panel in front to hide her braless boobs. Granted, she didn’t need a bra, but if he’d seen her on the street, he would have pegged her as a prostitute and kept a wide berth.
For all you know, she is a prostitute, asshole.
It was true, he didn’t know her at all. Her profession was a complete mystery to him, and he wanted to keep it that way. She definitely wasn’t his kind of woman, but then none of them were.
She set the offerings on the counter, and he went straight for the liquor bottle and cracked the seal. She pulled a cup out of the tray and handed it to him, but he ignored her and filled the mug he’d been nursing to the brim. The coffee had already been below the halfway mark, and he only tasted alcohol as he gulped down the new drink.
She chattered about nothing, and made herself at home by pulling open the doors to two of his nearly empty cabinets. She closed them and took a step in his direction.
“Do you have any sugar?” she asked, reaching for another door.
“Nope,” he said, placing his hand flat on the panel inches above hers.
He glared at her as she pulled on the wood anyway, and when the door didn’t budge, she laughed and reached for the liquor.