Read An Ember To Bear (Fire Bear Shifters 5) Online

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

An Ember To Bear (Fire Bear Shifters 5) (5 page)

BOOK: An Ember To Bear (Fire Bear Shifters 5)
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“Zach? What are you doing here?”

Zach turned around, and there she was. They say that alcohol makes people look better than they actually are. But today, sober and hungover as he was, Zach still felt the air go out of his lungs at the sight of Mindy. The bright, midday sun that streamed in through the large front windows of the hospital entrance lit up her hair from behind, making it look like it was actually on fire. Her skin glowed with a thin layer of perspiration, and her cheeks were flushed pink. She looked like she had been running. Her deep green eyes, so expressive and lovely, darted back and forth between Zach and the receptionist. She raised an eyebrow in confusion.

“Well, I’m glad to see that you at least remember my name,” Zach said. “Hopefully, you also remember the bar we were at last night, because I don’t. I’m not sure how I got home, but it wasn’t in my truck. I’m assuming I left the truck at the bar, but I don’t even know the name of the bar, let alone where it is. You’re the only detail I can remember from last night, so I came here trying to find you in hopes that it would help me find my truck.”

Mindy rolled her eyes, and started laughing sardonically. “Wow, you really were blackout drunk, weren’t you? Your truck is at Red Valley Booze Bar, which is also where your keys are. I dropped them off there before work this morning, because I know the guy that owns the place. He’s always there early to balance the books, or check the stock, or do whatever businessy stuff bar owners do. Anyway, he has your keys. Just like I told you last night that he would.”

“Wait, you drove me home?” Zach asked, starting to put a few more pieces together. He had a sudden, vague recollection of a woman pushing him through the rain into the door of the airplane hangar.

“Yes, I did,” Mindy said, and let out an exasperated sigh. “I drove you home in the pouring rain, and then I changed a tire myself, because we had a blowout in the middle of the monsoon. It would have been nice if you had been a knight in shining armor and taken care of the tire change for me, but you were passed out drunk in my passenger seat. So I had to do it myself. No worries, though, you did get out long enough to inspect the job and make sure I was doing it right. You also took a piss on the side of the road and completely took off your shoes and pants. Thankfully, you put your underwear back on. Oh, and let’s not forget that despite not being able to help me with the tire change, you were definitely able to go on and on about how beautiful you thought I was. So, that’s nice to know. It would’ve been nicer to have had hand with the tire, but I guess I can’t be too greedy now, can I?”

Zach stared at Mindy when she ended her tirade. Behind him, he heard the receptionist laughing so hard that she snorted.

“I, uh…um,” he said, and let his voice trail off. He didn’t know exactly what to say. He felt like he should apologize, but that seemed like a weird thing to do for events he couldn’t even remember.

“Look, it’s cool,” Mindy said. “At least I learned a lesson: don’t try to be a nice girl by taking the drunk guy home as a favor. You seemed pretty cool at the bar, and you also seemed like you’d had a bad day, so I thought I would help get you home so you wouldn’t have to wait for a cab. I guess that was silly, because, as blacked out as you were, you wouldn’t have even known that you were waiting for a cab. But, anyway, there’s my good deed for the month. Or year, or whatever. Your keys are at the bar. It’s on the corner of Main and Elm Street. Now, if there’s nothing else you need, I have a lot of work to do. Not all of us can get sloshed on a weeknight and then take the whole next day to recover.”

“Sorry,” Zach said weakly. “Thanks for driving me home, and for changing the tire. And sorry for calling you beautiful. That was all a product of my being drunk. I can assure you, I’m not interested in dating you, so sorry if I came onto you.”

Mindy raised an eyebrow at Zach. “I’m not sure I should be flattered by an apology where you tell me you’re sorry for calling me beautiful,” she said. “But, whatever. I honestly don’t really care if you think I’m beautiful or want to date me. I’m going to get back to work now. Have a nice life.”

Zach watched as Mindy stomped off. The anger in her voice had been evident. Maybe he hadn’t chosen the best words to apologize. He hadn’t meant that to come out the way did, but he wasn’t going to waste time worrying about it, either. Red Valley was a fairly large town, and odds were good that he wouldn’t run across Mindy again. At least he’d done what he came here to do. He knew where his car was, and he could go get it. No sense in hanging around here anymore.

And yet, Zach didn’t turn to leave right away. Instead, he watched Mindy as she stormed off down the hallway. He felt a rumbling within him, and he almost laughed. His bear wanted Mindy, that was obvious. But no way in hell was he going to go after another human. It did feel strange, though, after years of managing to avoid being attracted to anyone, to suddenly feel the warmth of desire flooding over him. Mindy turned a corner and disappeared from Zach’s view. He sighed, and ran his fingers through his hair.

“Oh, look,” the receptionist said in a sing-song voice. “It looks like someone is a little more interested in Mindy then he was admitting to being.”

Zach scowled at the receptionist and spun on his heel. “I don’t date,” he yelled over his shoulder. “Girls are nothing but trouble.”

Zach marched quickly away, rolling his eyes at how meddling and annoying human woman could be. He actually felt a little smug as he walked toward the exit. He knew he was a good-looking guy. He had to keep himself in top physical shape for his job, and women often expressed interest in him. But he wasn’t available for them, or the silly games they played. He had more important things to do with his time.

Just as he finished rolling his eyes, he felt a sharp whack on his forehead. Behind him, he heard the receptionist bursting into a fit of giggles. He rubbed his forehead and looked up to realize that he had walked straight into the glass exit door without seeing it. Angrily, he pushed the door open to step outside, turning to give the receptionist one more meaningful glare before he left. But, when he turned around, he saw Mindy standing back at the receptionist’s desk. Mindy’s green eyes were wide, and filled with a smug satisfaction. He didn’t know why she had come back, or how she had gotten to the desk so quickly. But she had clearly seen Zach’s klutzy run-in with the door.

“That was almost as graceful as when you got out of the car in the rain last night,” Mindy called out.

Zach scowled at her. She might be beautiful, but he didn’t have time in his life for sass like that. The last thing he did before turning and walking away from her for good was to smile as sweetly as he possibly could, and then raise his left hand to emphatically flip her off.

Chapter Five

Mindy slipped behind the driver’s seat of her car, and took a deep breath to steady her nerves. She checked her reflection in the mirror, and sighed at the wild curls of red hair that insisted on escaping from the bun had she pulled them into. Her face looked unnatural to her with the little bit of makeup she had put on, even though it consisted of barely more than a light dusting of powder, some mascara, and some sheer lip gloss. She tugged on the long sleeves of her simple gray dress, and wished that she chosen something else to wear to this meeting.

Oh well, too late now. Good thing she’d at least had the foresight to bring these clothes with her to work. As it was, she was barely going to make it to the meeting with Mr. Stewart on time. An emergency had come up with one of her patients just as she’d been getting ready to clock out from her nursing shift. Everything had turned out okay, thankfully, but the half-hour she’d spent stabilizing the patient had eaten into any time she would have had to actually drive home and get ready there. So, she’d taken the backpack of clothes and makeup she’d packed “just in case,” and used the bathroom in the nurses’ lounge to change and freshen up.

She knew Mr. Stewart wouldn’t understand if she showed up even a minute late. He was looking for any reason to label her as irresponsible, and he wouldn’t care that her delay had been due to staying a few minutes extra at work to save someone’s life. He didn’t care about any of the details of her life or work. He only cared about the fact that she was single, and, therefore—in his opinion—not a good candidate to adopt a child. Mindy was sure he’d only agreed to this meeting because he was tired of her begging him to sit down with her and let her fully make her case for why she would make a good parent, even if there was no father figure in the picture.

Mindy started the engine on her car and began the thirty minute drive to Red Valley Orphanage. She had volunteered there at least once a week for the last three years. To be honest, at first, she hadn’t thought she could do it. But Mindy’s therapist had told her that spending some time around children might be a good way for her to get past the overwhelming sadness she felt from knowing she would never have a child of her own. Mindy hadn’t been so sure about that theory, but, to her surprise it had actually worked. Mindy had fallen in love with the kids at the orphanage, and had realized that there were a lot of ways to become a mother. Giving birth to your own child wasn’t the only possibility.

And having a biological child was a possibility Mindy had lost forever. At the tender young age of twenty-four, she had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Mindy was a fighter, and had beaten the cancer—but she hadn’t escaped without emotional and physical scars. The biggest scar the cancer had left behind was the one across her stomach, where the doctors had cut her open for a complete hysterectomy. All of her life, all she’d wanted was to be a mom. In the span of a few minutes, a grim faced doctor had crushed that dream when he told her, without sugarcoating it, that her only chance of surviving was to have surgery to remove her tumor filled ovaries and uterus.

Mindy had mourned the loss of her planned future for a long time. It had seemed so unfair of the universe to deal such a harsh, final blow to someone so young. But, as time went on, she learned to focus on the positives. After all, she had survived cancer. Other than her inability to have a child, she was a completely healthy, normal twenty-something. Mindy had poured herself into her nursing job, and then into her weekly volunteer sessions at the orphanage. She had begun to feel truly happy again, until she had taken on the grand idea of adopting from the orphanage. It seemed like an easy decision to her. There were several children who needed permanent homes, and she loved all of the kids there. The only hard part would be figuring out which of the orphans would be the best match to live with her permanently. She loved all of them, and would have taken them all in if she could have.

Her grand plans came to a screeching halt when Mr. Stewart laughed in her face.

“You? Adopt a child? You must be joking,” he’d said.

Mindy had been taken aback by his reaction. She’d tried to present him with evidence that a single woman could raise a child on her own. She’d pored over research articles and found case studies of orphans who had been adopted by single parents and led successful lives. But Mr. Stewart had refused to listen. He had continued to insist that a single parent, especially a single woman, couldn’t provide a child with the stability that he or she needed.

Mindy pulled into the parking lot of the orphanage and smoothed the fabric of her dress as she stepped out of the car. She grabbed the folder of information she had prepared, and flipped through it quickly to make sure it contained everything she needed. She had compiled evidence of her responsibility, putting in records of everything in her life that she thought might possibly indicate stability. She had copies of her nursing school transcripts—straight As! She’d made copies of her tax returns for the last three years, showing that she had the income to support a child. She brought her annual reviews from work, so Mr. Stewart could see the glowing reviews she received from her managers. She had her bank statements, to show that she managed her accounts responsibly and had money in savings. She’d printed out numerous articles she’d read on child development, to prove that she would take the happiness and health of her young charge seriously. She had brought along every document she could think of that might convince Mr. Stewart to let her adopt one of those precious children.

Mindy took a deep breath, held her head up high, and marched into the orphanage. The building was an old elementary school that had been converted into a children’s home, and it was clean and bright, if a bit sterile. Shoe cubbies neatly lined the entryway, and the floor and walls were spotless. Mr. Stewart treated the children with kindness and respect, but he did run a tight ship. With twenty-seven kids of varying ages running around, Mindy couldn’t fault him for that. Things could get out of control easily if he let them.

As she walked down the hallway, her black kitten heels clicked on the hard floor, and tiny heads started poking out of the doorways to inspect the noise.

“Miss Mindy, Miss Mindy!” a chorus of little voices started cheering. Within moments, Mindy was surrounded by tiny arms, all jostling to get the closest spot next to their beloved friend.

“I lost a tooth!” six-year-old Emma proudly proclaimed, smiling widely to show off the gap in her mouth.

“You did, indeed,” Mindy said, inspecting Emma’s smile. “What a big girl you are. You’re growing up too quickly!”

Emma’s little chest puffed in pride at being called a big girl, and she continued to smile with her teeth showing, so that everyone could see just what a big girl she really was.

“Miss Mindy, we got a new toy for the playground this week. It’s a big green sambox!” four-year-old Drew said, tugging on Mindy’s arm with excitement.

“A sambox?” Mindy asked, unsure of what Drew was referring to.

“He means a
sandbox
,” twelve-year-old Anna interrupted, rolling her eyes in that particularly impatient way that all twelve-year-old girls seem to have mastered.

“Oh! A sandbox. How fun,” Mindy said.

Drew beamed. “It’s my new favorite toy,” he said. “I wuv the sambox.”

“Sandbox,” Anna corrected again, letting out a long sigh. Drew just smiled up at her and nodded.

“Sambox.”

Mr. Stewart, hearing the commotion, stuck his head out from his office at the end of the long hallway. He glanced at his watch disapprovingly, and Mindy resisted the urge to roll her eyes. She was
maybe
two minutes late. Maybe.

“Alright, my little lovebugs, I need to talk to Mr. Stewart for a few minutes. I’ll be back to play with you in a little bit,” Mindy said.

“Aw, but I wanna play now,” Emma said, sticking her lower lip out in a little pout. Mindy squeezed her shoulder.

“I know. But I have to talk to him first. We can play soon, and I promise we’ll have lots of fun. We can even do another tea party with your bears,” Mindy said.

Emma started jumping up and down in excitement, and ran off down the hallway screaming, “Tea party, tea party, tea party!”

Mindy cringed, expecting Mr. Stewart to yell at Emma to stop running and use an inside voice, but he had already disappeared back into his office. She quickly scurried after him.

“Shut the door, Mindy,” he said, barely looking up from a document on his desk that he was reviewing.

Mindy shut the door, and then took a seat in one of the stiff, faux leather chairs that stood across from Mr. Stewart’s desk. She waited patiently for him to finish reading, although she was sure he was only making her wait to make some sort of point about how busy he was and how inconvenienced he had been by her tardiness. After several long, awkward minutes, he finally looked up.

“So, how can I help you?” he asked.

Mindy straightened her back and smiled brightly. “Well, I think you might have an idea of why I wanted to meet with you today. As you know, I’m very interested in adopting one of the children in your orphanage.”

“And, as you know,” Mr. Stewart interrupted, “I don’t believe a single, working woman can provide the stability needed for a child. Who would take care of the child? How will you provide for the financial needs of the child? And who will be a father figure?”

Mindy bit her bottom lip to keep her angry words at bay. She believed there was a special place in hell for people like Mr. Stewart, who so clearly looked down on working women. But that was his problem. She wasn’t here to argue with him. She was here to lay down some cold hard facts.

“I can provide plenty of stability,” Mindy said, and started pulling out her tax returns and bank documents. As you can see, I have a steady job with an income that makes me capable of supporting two people. And I live near one of the best elementary schools in Red Valley, which also boasts a top notch after school care program. The child would be well taken care of even on the days I have to work. As for a father figure, I know plenty of men who are fond of children and could provide a good male role model. I work closely with doctors and male nurses, and I know there are several good male teachers at the school near my house.”

Mindy paused for a moment, and then added, “I also know a firefighter.”

That last comment stretched into white lie territory. She did technically know a firefighter—but he was a smokejumper whom she hoped to never see again. Mr. Stewart didn’t need to know that, though.

Mr. Stewart frowned, and started flipping through Mindy’s financial information.

“You’ve only got ten thousand dollars in your savings account,” he said.

Mindy frowned. She thought ten thousand dollars and no debt was a pretty good cushion. How much did Mr. Stewart expect her to have? She had worked her ass off, scrimping and saving, to build up that nice little rainy day fund.

“I can survive several months on ten grand,” Mindy pointed out. “My job is very secure, but even if I were to be laid off for some reason, I should be able to find another job quickly. There’s a shortage of good nurses around here.”

Mr. Stewart frowned, and leaned back in his seat. “I tell you what, Mindy. I know you really want to adopt. And you’ve obviously worked hard to build a good life for yourself and learn as much about children as you can. If you get that savings account up to fifty thousand, then I’ll let you adopt.”

Mindy coughed in disbelief. “Fifty thousand dollars? That will take me years to save!”

“Then I suggest you start now,” Mr. Stewart said with a smirk. “Was there anything else I could help you with?”

Mindy was seething on the inside, but she forced herself to remain calm. She gathered up her papers and stuffed them back into her folder in a disorganized clump, then left Mr. Stewart’s office. She shut his door behind her and leaned against the wall of the hallway, taking deep breaths to calm herself. He knew that getting fifty thousand dollars in a savings account would be next to impossible for her. It had taken her three years of incredibly frugal living to scrape together the ten thousand she had now.

She should just give up on this agency and find a new orphanage. There were plenty of places in California where the directors would be more open minded, and would actually be excited to place a child in a loving, stable home. Why had she decided to volunteer at the one place where the director was a total prick? She squeezed her eyes shut and tilted her head up toward the ceiling, slapping the palm of her empty hand against the cold wall behind her. This had been a waste of time. She would find somewhere else to go.

Just as quickly as she made that decision, she changed her mind. Or, rather, a tiny four-year-old boy with an adorably freckled face changed her mind. When she felt a tiny hand grasping hers, she looked down and saw Drew’s hopeful face looking up at her.

“Miss Mindy? Can you play in the sambox now?” he asked.

Mindy’s heart broke a little as she looked down at his innocent face. “Yes, sweet pea. I can play in the sandbox now.”

She let Drew lead her out to the backyard, and they were joined along the way by Emma, who held three stuffed bears and a plastic teacup in her arms.

“Teddy wants a tea party in the sandbox,” Emma explained.

Mindy smiled and took one of the bears from Emma. “Then Teddy should have a tea party in the sandbox. Come on.”

BOOK: An Ember To Bear (Fire Bear Shifters 5)
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