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Bearly A Chance (Soulmate Shifters in Mystery, Alaska Book #3.5)
Ava slipped out of her stiff sticky jeans one leg at a time and tossed them to the tile floor. The rest of her clothing quickly followed. She glanced at the mirror over the sink but the steam from the hot water had already fogged it up.
She needed a good hot soak. She needed to forget that her mate was laying in the middle of Connie’s floor and didn’t want her. All this time. Through a portal. Into another world. He fought for her. She chased him down and saved his damn life and he just laid there like…Connie called him a lazy hound dog. Ava didn’t really know what a hound dog was, but it didn’t sound like a compliment.
Her bear wanted to maul things, but pieces of her heart were being peeled away strip by strip. The pain in her soul was like breathing smoke and ash. It burned. Everything hurt. Everything was messed up.
Her brother would hate her when he realized what she had done. She still hadn’t told him. Refused to answer his texts with more than an ‘I’m fine.” Didn’t answer his calls either. She didn’t have the willpower to not tell him.
At least he’d respected her wishes and hadn’t hunted her down. They’d been at Connie’s place over a week. The Tribe was made up of apex predators. Any one of them could’ve found her if they really wanted to. She’d had to go back to work. Losing her job wasn’t really an option unless she wanted to starve.
She pulled her hair loose from its braid, cringing every time her fingers slid through a sticky spot. The damn drink had splashed all the way up into her hair.
Ava pulled back the pink and purple floral shower curtain and sighed as the scalding hot water lanced over her skin, cutting away the syrup. It didn’t wash away the pain and frustration though. That it just warmed up. Loosened. Pried it from the clutches of her chest where she thought she locked it up safe and sound.
Tears pricked at the corners of her eyes. She sniffed and ran her face under the hot water. She wouldn’t cry. Fate had made a mistake. She’d given her a mate who didn’t want her.
Was she unappealing?
As a bear she was larger than many other species females. She was taller than almost every woman she’d met in Mystery too. Maybe she was intimidating.
Or not pretty enough?
Was he not attracted to her?
She ran her hands over her curvy hips and larger than average breasts. Other males had tried to mate with her in town. They told her she was pretty. She’d been approached by more than one since she’d arrived in town.
Turned them all down. Walked away hoping for the story she really wanted—a Fated mate.
Her fingers curled into a fist. Her fingernails bit into her palms, digging just deep enough to cause pain but not enough to break the skin and draw blood. She wanted to draw blood though. It would be easier to bleed from a wound than to keep hiding her broken and bloodied heart from the wolf that slept and ate and moped around Connie’s house.
Her chest tightened and her stomach turned over, making her suck in a quick breath. She took a few slow breaths and let the rhythm of the water pound against her shoulders. Slowly the urge to retch up her breakfast passed.
The vaguely familiar male voice came from inside the bathroom door. Ava’s heart leapt in her chest like a bird taking flight. It couldn’t be.
She swatted the shower curtain aside and swallowed. Her mouth dropped open and she stared.
Ryder was naked. And the magick of the soul call made his tanned skin glow. It was beautiful. She could see it when he was a wolf too, but in human form it was so much more ethereal and alluring. Her body craved to be closer. To touch.
His tosa—the leather kilt all warriors from Reylea wore—lay in a puddle of fabric covering one of Connie’s bright fuschia-colored bath rugs.
Muscles layered upon muscles. Lean and hard. Massive. His shoulders sloped down to strong arms that would dwarf hers. She hadn’t taken the time to appreciate his physique the few times she’d seen him in his human form.
But now. Like this. Up close.
She let her eyes drift lower to the line of his hips. To the cock she wanted to touch and taste and let him do everything to her she could imagine.
He was everything her body desired and then some.
A rumble rolled up her throat along with every primal mating instinct within her. Her heart beat wildly, excitement heated her body, but then the worm of fear wriggled in the pit of her stomach, and she couldn’t move. Couldn’t speak. He hadn’t wanted her before now.
What changed? Why was he standing before her now like an offering from Fate herself?
“I…” He paused and his gaze flicked to the wall, like he was searching for a word. “I was a fool, Ava.” He canted his head and took a step forward, meeting her gaze once again.
She still couldn’t talk. Only look at him. Only want.
“I do not deserve a mate like you, but I want you Ava. I’m willing to do anything to get you to give me another chance.”
Tears burned behind her eyes. Her stomach twisted into knots. “Why?” The question slipped out before she could stop it, but once it was out, she needed an answer. “Why now?”
Her hands trembled at her sides. She wanted him to touch her, stroke her, warm her body while she slept. All the things she’d dreamed a mate would be.
“I’ve watched you pull away bit by bit. The bright strong amazing energy inside you shrivels and dies a little more with each passing day. I am losing you right in front of me. I am watching your soul die and I am dying with you.”
Tears ran down her face now, scalding her cheeks as much as the hot water from the shower burned her shoulders.
“I don’t know how it will work with us, with the tribe, with whatever might be left of my pack, but I want you Ava. I want to be your mate. I want you to be mine. Fate put us together and I ran like a coward because I thought it would be too hard.”
He knelt to the floor in front of the shower stall and bowed his head. Ava shuddered in a breath and put a hand against the wall for balance. Her knees felt like jelly and her head was swimming.
It couldn’t be real. She was dreaming.
“I am at your mercy. I will rise only if you wish it. I will touch you only if you wish it. I will leave if you do not wish to have me any longer. I deserve whatever fate you speak.”
Ryder looked up, regarding her with the same careful expression she’d seen in the eyes of his wolf. Her body was humming. Her heart was drumming. She’d dreamed of this moment. How it could be. How he would claim her, but she never imagined it happening while she was standing naked in the shower, water spraying over her, and him kneeling on Connie’s bathroom floor. Beautiful and regal and asking her to forgive him.
This she hadn’t dreamed. This she hadn’t expected.
She took a deep breath, feeding her lungs the oxygen she’d deprived from them over the last minute or so. Then the air came easier. Ragged quick shuddered breaths. She couldn’t breathe fast enough to keep up with the pace of her racing heart.
Ava licked her bottom lip and clenched her thighs. A punishing wave of pleasure blossomed deep her belly, even more than before.
Ryder’s nostrils flared. His gaze dipped to the apex of her thighs and a husky groan rolled from his chest. Deep. Desperate. Determined.
She forgave him. She did. There was no life without him. Only emptiness and despair. She’d felt it descend upon her as the days had dragged on. It had been killing her soul, just as he claimed.
Ava reached out a hand, tracing the line of his cheek with her fingertips. A spark tingled through her fingers and up her arm and straight to her heart like a lightning strike.
Did he feel it too?
Ryder didn’t speak, but he rose from the floor and stepped into her. He was taller and broader and for once she felt small and feminine and protected. His arms circled her, strong and secure.
They’d touched before. She’d carried him down the mountain. But it was the first time he’d held her. The first time she’d felt as though she belonged in his arms. The first time she’d felt her need mirrored by his own.
It was good.
The unrest and doubt and worry settled in her chest, sunk to her feet, and slipped away, draining out of the shower along with the running water.
He does feel it.
The spark in his mate’s gaze gave him hope. She touched him and everything was right in his world again. Everything he’d been fighting against fell away just like his shed tosa. This was all of him. Everything he had to offer.
He was hers. Completely and eternally as the Fates had decided in that split second on the mountain in the middle of the fight. Her soul call had glowed from within her from the first moment he saw her, but it had been fading over the week they spent together, dying out like an untended campfire. Now her skin was brightly luminescent from the magick again and she glowed brighter than ever before. She was his moon in a dark night sky.
He’d nearly wasted Fate’s gift with his stubbornness and foolish notions of what was acceptable and what could work. He was wolf. She was bear. On Reylea perhaps it would’ve been impossible. But here in this new world. It was a fresh start. The old rules didn’t have to apply.
The tribe in Mystery was an example of how much things had changed. Those warriors had all found humans as mates.
Ava was his and from this moment on he would fight for her.
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