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
One month later…
Reid walked to the edge of town in his bear form, stood on a snow mound hidden between the trees, and shook out his fur.
The Dirty Bear
was on the other side of the road, and though it was the middle of the day, he noted two cars in the parking lot. He’d completely disappeared for a little over a month, but Hayden and Hayley had kept his business going.
He remembered back to five years ago when the two ginger-haired siblings had arrived in town and answered his ad for help. Their past was a mystery, but that hadn’t mattered. They were polar bear shifters, like his family, and they’d needed a break. A lot had changed since then.
He’d trusted Hayden almost immediately, and while Jillian had been right—he had treated the male, and his sister, like shit—they’d formed a strange friendship. Hayden had disagreed with most of his choices, but the man had stuck by him even when he hadn’t warranted it.
Hayden and Hayley deserved something better…and so did he.
Four weeks ago, when he’d walked out of Jillian’s motel room, he’d been swamped with emotion. Anger, pain, and regret had been at the forefront, but there was more. He’d longed for love, happiness and kindness—for the good man he once was—and he’d needed them from his family and friends, as well as his mate.
The multitude of emotions had nearly sent him over the edge, and he might have done something stupid if it hadn’t been for his bear. For the first time in seven years, he listened to his animal and shifted.
He left his car in the motel parking lot and walked into the woods. He walked until his legs would no longer carry him, and then he collapsed and allowed his animal to take over.
Shifter magic allowed him to shift with his clothes on, and he liked that he didn’t have to worry about his wallet or keys. His personal effects would stay with him during the change, and when he was ready to go home, he would be fully dressed.
Once the change was complete, his bear had roared in victory and immediately covered himself in snow. The playful rolling, burrowing, and overall joy was hard to ignore, and the full effect of his neglect had slammed into him full force. He’d not only been a shit to his mate, family and employees, but he’d been a dick to his bear, the very best part of him.
His bear ran with abandon, and Reid didn’t try to stop him. His large paws ate up miles of the snow covered terrain, and he realized the animal had been right all along. The change had brought him peace.
He’d missed his animal and the desire to shift back into his human form fled the longer he’d stayed a bear. Unfortunately, he couldn’t have one without the other, and the animal forced him to roam back home.
As civilization neared, so did clarity and understanding.
It was too late to change the past, but the future stretched out in front of him. A few changes, and he’d gain back most of what he’d lost.
Only then could he try and win back his mate.
He made sure he was hidden, shifted back into his human form, and walked across the street to
The Dirty Bear
. A gust of wind hollered through the parking lot, and he realized his hair and beard had grown longer. He would take care of them soon, but there was something more important he had to do first.
He opened the metal door to his bar and stepped inside the building. Voices were coming from the storage room, and he listened a minute before crossing the room to find his employees.
“Hayden, I know you feel indebted to him, but this is too much,” Hayley said. “What if he never comes back? This isn’t our responsibility.”
“Look, I understand your concern,” Hayden said, “but he’ll be back. Until then, Ryker knows what’s going on, and all of the bills are getting paid. I don’t feel right about giving up on him. Not yet.”
“You’re too giving,” Hayley said. “He wouldn’t do the same for you.”
“No I wouldn’t,” Reid chimed in.
“Reid!” They both said his name in unison.
“Where have you been?” Hayley asked.
“You look like shit, man,” Hayden chimed in.
“I’ll explain everything, soon,” Reid said, “but not right now. Hayden, if you don’t mind running things for one more night, I’d like to meet with you tomorrow to discuss some changes I’d like to implement.”
“Sure,” Hayden said. “What time?”
“Be here at one,” Reid said. “I’ll bring lunch.”
His next stop was his apartment, and then the barber.
A few hours later, he stood on the steps of his family home holding a bouquet of pink carnations tied with a matching ribbon. When Ryker opened the door, he swallowed hard and prepared to grovel.
“Hi, can I come in?” he asked.
Ryker nodded once, stepped back and pulled the door open.
He walked into the dining room and found Riley, Ridge and Jane sitting at the dinner table. Ridge stood, but his sister and Jane stayed seated.
“I’m not here to cause trouble,” Reid said. “I’m here to apologize. To all of you, but especially Riley.”
He held the flowers out to his sister.
“I’m sorry,” he said, stepping further inside the room. Ryker joined them in the doorway behind him. “For everything, but mostly for what I did to you in
. I know I hurt you, and I promise it will never happen again.”
“Where have you been?” Ryker asked. “Jillian told us you went to her motel room in the middle of the night, and then you were gone. You missed Fred’s viewing.”
“I know,” he said simply, “but I doubt she wanted me there anyway. She told me exactly what she thought of me, and though it was ugly, it forced me to face the truth. After I left her room, I shifted and I’ve been running ever since.”
“Does Hayden know you’re back?” Ridge asked.
“Yes, I talked to him earlier today, and we have a meeting to discuss business tomorrow.”
Everyone looked at Riley, and waited for her decision.
“I’m glad you shaved and cut your hair,” Riley said quietly.
“Me too,” Reid said. “I’ve missed you, sis.”
“I’ve missed you, too.”
Riley got up, rounded the dinner table, and gave him a huge hug.
After that, he received a hug from Ridge, Jane, and finally Ryker.
“I’d like to come back,” Reid said to his oldest brother. “I don’t want to live here permanently, because I’m going to try and get Jillian back, but I’d like to be part of
again if I can convince her to move back here with me.”
“It’s about time,” Ryker said. “Now how are you going to get that girl?”
After he admitted to not asking Jillian to stay, which his family had already figured out, he explained his plans, including the changes he had in mind for
The Dirty Bear
. His siblings agreed to help in any way possible—including keeping his transformation a secret from his mate.
One more month later…
Jillian walked to her apartment slowly, her horrible date on her heels. She’d already thanked the man for dinner, turned down his request to spend the night, and said goodbye, but he’d followed her to her door anyway.
She had a feeling getting rid of him wouldn’t be easy, and she racked her brain for a way to escape. If he decided to force his way into her apartment, she wouldn’t be able to stop him, and the possible outcome made her stomach churn.
It had been two months since she’d returned from Longmeadow, and in an effort to finally move on and forget about Reid once and for all, she’d lowered her standards and started dating more often. Sadly, the only result had been meeting jerks more frequently. In fact, it seemed as if she’d become some kind of loser magnet.
Her date was a perfect example.
Dinner had consisted of fat jokes and rude comments about her size, and then later, when she’d denied his request to park somewhere and make-out, he’d pouted and begrudgingly driven her home. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t leave her alone.
“Well, this is it,” she said, stopping a few feet away from her apartment door. “Goodnight.”
“Aren’t you going to invite me in?” he asked.
“No,” she said simply.
He grabbed her wrist and pulled, causing her to stumble toward him. He was strong, stronger than he looked, and he held her wrist in a bruising grip as he spoke.
“Listen you little fat bitch,” he sneered. “I didn’t go broke buying you dinner so you could say goodnight without paying me back. I want my dick sucked hard, and if you’re a good girl, I might let you swallow instead of exploding all over your face.”
“Let. Her. Go.”
The booming words were followed by a fierce growl, and a second later, Reid stepped out from the shadows.
Reid was here, in her town, and he looked amazing.
He’d shaved, cut his blue-black hair in a short, sexy cut, and even though his face was a mask of anger, she could see that the tired stress lines she’d noticed two months ago were gone. His dark brown eyes still looked black, but she had a feeling it was because they were focused on her date, and the fact that he still hadn’t let her go.
“Mind your own business,” her date called over his shoulder.
Anyone with half a brain would have let her go when the primal growl had filled the air, but her date was obviously clueless.
Reid walked up to them and wrapped his fingers around the man’s wrist. Slowly, he tightened his grip until the man let go of her and dropped to his knees.
“She is my business,” Reid growled again. “Apologize.”
“I’m sorry,” the man said.
“Louder,” Reid barked.
“I’m sorry,” the man yelled.
“Good,” Reid said, dropping his arm. “Now get the fuck out of here, and don’t come back. If I see you around here again, or anywhere near my woman, next time I won’t be so nice.”
The words shouldn’t have sent her heart racing, she’d already said goodbye, but his appearance had changed. Had he made other changes? Was he going to try and win her back? Did she want him to?
Of course she did. But had he changed enough? Could she forgive him—or his past—if he had?
They both watched as her date hurried back to the parking lot, and then Reid turned to face her.
“Hi,” he said.
“Hi,” she returned. “Thank you for saving me. I was frightened.”
He raised his arm, as if to embrace her, and then dropped it quickly.
“What were you doing with him anyway?”
“Trying to get over you.”
The words slipped out, and her cheeks felt like they were on fire.
Reid’s eyes flashed, and a blast of heat raced to her core. Seven years ago, it had always been like that with them. If she hadn’t been sure before, now there was no denying he’d connected with his animal again.
“How’s that going?” he teased.
“Not so good,” she laughed.
“We need to talk,” he said, his voice void of all humor, “and your wrist is going to bruise if we don’t get some ice on it. Can I come in?”
She nodded, and he extended his hand for her keys.
Without a thought, she dropped them into his palm, and then he opened the door and allowed her to precede him into the apartment.
Reid looked around appreciatively, and she smiled. The place wasn’t much, but it was roomy and comfortable, and the part of her that still cared what he thought was glad he liked it.
He followed her into the kitchen and grabbed the towel out of her hands.
“Sit,” he said, opening the freezer.
She took a seat at the tiny bistro table and waited while he prepared her ice pack. After he gently wrapped her wrist in the cold protection, he sat across from her and cleared his throat.
“You were right about me,” he started. “I was convinced you left me because you wanted to leave, and I latched onto my anger and didn’t let go. At the time, I honestly believed I was somehow winning. I was combating my loss with my own twisted version of success in order to prove I hadn’t cracked, but instead, I became something disgraceful.”
“After I left your motel room,” he continued, “I shifted and ran. I stayed in my bear form for over a month, and at one point, I thought I might never come back. But then I remembered you, and Riley, and my brothers and Hayden and Hayley, and I realized I still had a chance to make things right. I know I’ve made some mistakes, but if you can give me another chance, I promise you won’t regret it.”
She believed him immediately, but she knew she shouldn’t. Words were easy to say, but actions sometimes told a different story. She needed time.
“Before you answer, hear me out. I’m not suggesting we rush into anything. I’m proposing we start dating again. I’m staying in town indefinitely, and we can go as slow or fast as you’d like.”
“You’re staying here indefinitely?” she doubted. “You can’t do that.”