Authors: Sloane Meyers
Tags: #Contemporary, #Romance, #Fiction, #Paranormal, #Bear, #Werebear, #Adult, #Erotic, #Shifter, #Mate, #Firefighter, #Wildfire, #Sexy, #Boyfriend, #Secret, #Risk, #Smokejumper, #Beast, #Nurse, #Dreams, #Biggest Desire, #Tough Times, #Crashes, #Run Away, #New Life, #Rethink, #Future, #Intersects Past, #Past Demons, #Heartache, #Lonely, #Scared
Mindy Olsen rubbed her feet on the ratty door mat just inside the entryway to Red Valley Booze Bar, the very uncreatively named bar that had a similarly uncreative menu. You could have a burger or chicken fingers for dinner, with a side of either potato chips or French fries. Those were your only choices, but at only five bucks for a generous portion, the price was right. The place also stocked a full bar, and a rotating selection of beers on tap. The drinks were cheap, but good—just like the food.
Since she discovered the place early last year, Mindy had been coming here for dinner several times a week. Not many people seemed to know about it, but the owner didn’t care. The only advertising he engaged in was a small neon sign outside the door that simply said “Beer.” There was usually one bartender on duty, who also took on the role of chef if someone ordered food. Tonight, Kyle was manning the bar.
“Evening, Mindy,” Kyle said when she walked through the door. “How was work?”
“Hey, Kyle. It was okay. No new patients today for me, so it was a pretty slow day,” Mindy said as she walked up to the bar and slid into one of the rickety bar stools. She worked the day shift as a nurse at Red Valley Hospital, and was still wearing her scrubs. After years of putting in her time on the graveyard shift, she’d finally been able to snatch up an opening on the daytime crew last April. Even though it’d been almost a year since her schedule had changed, eating dinner at a semi-normal time still felt like a luxury, and she didn’t take that luxury for granted.
“What’ll it be tonight?” Kyle asked, already walking toward the small kitchen. He knew Mindy was always starving when she stopped by after work.
“Chicken fingers, with fries, please. And let me try that new pale ale you’ve got on tap.”
Kyle nodded and started heating up the deep fryer before pouring Mindy her beer. As he went back to busying himself with cooking, Mindy pulled out her phone and started mindlessly scrolling through her Facebook news feed. She was giggling at an article on funny dog antics when the door opened and a tall, brawny man stomped into the bar. He had chestnut brown hair and deep blue eyes, and his face was handsome and chiseled. But his lips were set in an angry scowl, and his eyes blazed with a rage unlike any Mindy had witnessed before. In his hands, he carried a white box that looked like some sort of takeout box or cake box.
He walked up to the bar and took a seat a few barstools down from Mindy, throwing his keys down on the bar top as he slid into his seat and eyed the bottles of liquor stacked behind the bar. He set the white box carefully down next to his keys.
Kyle glanced up from the chicken fingers he was almost done cooking. “Be right with you,” he said, as he grabbed a plate for Mindy’s food. He piled the food onto the plate and then slid it in front of Mindy.
“What’ll it be?” Kyle asked, wiping the grease from his hands onto a bar towel as he walked up to the man.
“A double shot of your best whiskey, to start,” the man said.
Kyle nodded and grabbed a snifter glass and a bottle of whiskey, then gave the man a generous pour. “Rough day, huh?”
The man nodded as Kyle pushed the drink across the counter toward him. “You could say that.”
“Want to talk about it?” Kyle asked.
“Nah, but I do want to eat this pie. Is it alright if I eat it in here?”
Kyle shrugged. “Sure, man. Ain’t no skin off my back. Want me to grab you a fork and a plate.” The man nodded, and Kyle went to grab some dinnerware.
Mindy watched the large man out of the corner of her eye as he downed his whiskey in several large gulps and slid the glass back across to Kyle. “I’ll take a refill on the whiskey, too.”
Mindy snickered. “That’s how you drink whiskey? What a crime. It should be slowly sipped, and enjoyed.”
The man turned his blazing, sharp blue eyes toward Mindy and raised an eyebrow. “Trust me, sweetheart, if you’d had the day I’ve had, you’d be drinking it that way, too. Or, really, the life I’ve had.”
Mindy shrugged and went back to looking at her phone, picking up a fry and blowing on it to cool it down. She shouldn’t have bothered to even say anything to the man. She definitely didn’t want to get into a long discussion about someone’s life problems. She got enough of that at work. Many of her patients had been through rough times, and often had no one to talk to about it. As their nurse, Mindy strove to provide them with a sympathetic listening ear in addition to quality medical care. But she was off the clock right now. All she wanted to do was sit here and eat her chicken fingers in peace.
After another double shot of whiskey, though, the man seemed to be getting in touch with his talkative side.
“I’ll tell you one thing,” he said, as he lifted the lid of the pie box and cut himself a generous slice. “Pretty women like you are nothing but trouble. T-r-o-u-b-l-e.”
Mindy raised an eyebrow at him and swallowed the French fry in her mouth. “Ah, I see. Girl broke your heart.”
The man snorted. “Something like that. It’s not exactly what you think, though.”
Mindy shrugged at his cryptic response, but didn’t take the bait. If she asked him what he meant, he would probably launch into a long tale about the girl who promised to love him forever and then ran off with his best friend or some shenanigans like that. She’d heard the same story a thousand times from her patients, in various forms. Everyone thought they had it worse than anyone else ever had. They all thought their heart had been broken in more pieces than any shattered heart before theirs. Mindy knew better, but she never said so. Pain was just the human condition. Whether the ache was physical or emotional, or both, everyone had their own unique form of sorrow to wrestle.
The man closed the pie box, and Mindy saw a logo with the words “The Sweet Crust” embossed on the lid of the box.
“Oh!” she said. “I love that place. Their pies are so good. I’m a nurse and I recently had a patient receive one of those pies as a gift. She shared a slice with me and I’ve been hooked on them ever since. Which is probably not so good for my waistline, but, oh well.”
The man looked Mindy up and down. “You’re waistline looks pretty good to me,” he said, then shoved a forkful of pie in his mouth.
Mindy blushed, and she heard Kyle at the other end of the bar, coughing to cover his laughter. He knew Mindy hated unsolicited male attention.
Mindy raised her chin defiantly. “Well, in that case, I’ll take a big slice of that pie, please,” she said. She crossed her arms, daring the man to say no. He just laughed and slid the whole box toward her.
“It’s all yours. Eat as much as you want. I got it for free from a friend, anyway.”
Mindy’s defiance melted as the aroma of apple cinnamon hit her nose. “Mmm, it smells like heaven in a box.”
The man chuckled. “I know. Probably because the gal that makes them has some sort of divine gift for pie-making. I’m Zach, by the way.”
“I’m Mindy. Thanks for the pie, Zach.”
“No problem. So, you’re a nurse, huh? Does that mean if I want to spend some time with you, I should break a bone or something and land myself in the hospital?”
Mindy rolled her eyes. “How clever,” she said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “I’ve never heard that one before.”
Zach laughed, and signaled Kyle for another refill on his drink. Mindy saw Kyle glance doubtfully at Zach’s car keys, but he went to grab another double shot of whiskey, anyway.
“What do you do for a living?” Mindy asked. “Is there a high risk of broken bones?”
Zach laughed again. “You could say so. I’m a smokejumper.”
Mindy’s eyes widened. “A smokejumper? Isn’t that where you jump out of planes into a forest fire?”
“Well, we jump out of planes to fight forest fires. We generally try not to jump
“Okay, well, you know what I mean. What’s that like?”
“It’s a lot of boring, hard physical labor, interspersed with a few minutes of excitement when we jump out of the plane. But I get to do it with my good buddies, and I get to help save the beautiful forests around here. So, I can’t complain too much.”
The angry look in Zach’s eyes had softened somewhat as he started talking about his job. Whatever girl trouble had been bothering him seemed to fade away as he thought about the work that he felt so passionate about. Despite her resolve not to get involved in trying to make this guy feel better, Mindy couldn’t stop herself from responding to the spark of happiness she saw in his eyes. She pushed him to keep talking about things that made him happy.
“Was it hard to learn to jump out of a plane?” she asked, hoping that would keep him talking.
And it did. For the next hour, over several more shots and another huge slice of pie, Zach told Mindy all about the vigorous smokejumper training he had endured. He told her about some of the fires they had gone to fight, and even about one time that they had to be rescued by a helicopter when a fire burned out of control. By the time the clock hit nine-thirty, Zach’s mood had lifted considerably, but he had downed far too many whiskeys to be safe to drive. When he stood up and announced that he should get going, Mindy jumped up and grabbed his keys off the bar top before he could.
“Uh-uh. No way are you getting in a vehicle right now, Mister. I’ll drive you home and you can come pick up your car tomorrow.”
“I’m toshally okee,” Zach slurred out, making a very uncoordinated effort to snatch his keys out of Mindy’s hands. She pulled them further out of his reach.
“You are not okay,” Mindy said. “I’m driving you home.”
She took the last swig out of her beer glass and then hopped off the barstool, giving Zach a little push in the direction of the door. She almost gasped at the feel of his back muscles. The man was built like a solid rock. He hadn’t been kidding when he said he had to be in good physical shape for his job.
“Are you sure you’re okay taking him?” Kyle asked, concern lacing his voice. “I can call him a cab.”
“I’m fine,” Mindy called over her shoulder, still pushing Zach toward the door. “You know cabs around here take forever to show up. Besides, he’s harmless. He’s basically like a big, drunk teddy bear.”
Kyle didn’t protest further, and Mindy continued to lead Zach out to her old, red Toyota Camry. She slid him into the passenger seat, and fastened the buckle around him, holding her breath against the stench of the whiskey on his breath. He looked up at the sky and laughed.
“The moon is so bright,” he said, his eyes widening.
Mindy glanced up at the dull sliver of the moon that was mostly hidden behind some rapidly gathering clouds, and shook her head.
“Uh-huh,” she said, rolling her eyes. “I’ve never seen it so bright. Where do you live, Zach?”
“By the airplanes,” he said, and laughed again.
Mindy sighed and walked around to the driver’s seat. “Okay. You live by the airplanes? Can you tell me where the airplanes are?”
“By the runway,” Zach said, and then started laughing again. “The moon is so bright. Bright, bright, bright.”
Mindy glanced up at the sky, where the moon was now hidden completely by what appeared to be storm clouds. Maybe she should have just let Kyle call this guy a cab. Damn her stupid need to always help everyone out. Suddenly, she had an idea.
“Zach, can I see your driver’s license?” she asked.
“Sure,” he said, then started laughing again. “It’s on the moon.”
Mindy heaved another sigh, and then slid her hand between the seat and Zach’s ass, trying to reach into the back pocket of his jeans and find his wallet.
“Mmm, that feels good,” he said as Mindy’s hand felt around for his pocket.
“Yeah, well, don’t get used to it,” she said, although she had to admit that his ass felt pretty good, too. Like his back, it seemed to consist of pure muscle. Mindy found the wallet and pulled it out quickly, then started flipping through the disorganized mess of cards inside. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see that Zach had an erection pushing up against the fabric of his jeans. And, from the looks of it, he was huge. She did a double take as she stared at the outline of his dick pushing insistently against his pants. For a moment, she let herself imagine actually spending the night with him. It had been so long since she’d paid attention to a guy, and she felt a familiar warm craving stirring in her stomach.
In the next instant, she shook her head, and opened her car door. That was it. She had to get a grip, here. What was she thinking? She couldn’t take home a strange guy who had just gotten an erection from her feeling around for his wallet. She would go back inside and let Kyle call the guy a cab.
But as she started to step out of the car, she heard the loud snorting of a snore. He had fallen asleep, and, if the sound of his snoring was any indication, he wouldn’t be waking up any time soon. Mindy shut her door again and continued flipping through Zach’s wallet. She found his driver’s license and put the address on it into her phone’s GPS. It looked like he lived somewhere about fifteen minutes outside of town.
Mindy looked over at Zach, who was slumped against the door in what looked like a very uncomfortable manner. She sighed and fired up her engine. Hopefully the address on his driver’s license was current and correct. As she pulled out of the parking lot, the clouds in the sky continued to darken. Mindy cast a worried look at the sky. Hopefully, if it was going to storm, she would manage to make it home before the rain started.