Bear-ly Human (Bear Claw Security Book 4) (6 page)

BOOK: Bear-ly Human (Bear Claw Security Book 4)
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Chapter 7

H
ercules quickly discovered
he wasn’t a fan of croquet. The mallets were awkward. There wasn’t enough movement in the sun, and there was far too much time for chitchat. Particularly for Bentley to keep walking to the next wicket with Hera after knocking Hercules’s ball out of the way.

It wasn’t Herc’s fault he’d spent his childhood alone in the dark rather than out in the sun, knocking balls around with other boys.

That was unfair to Bentley, though, because he clearly was most interested in knocking balls around with Hera.

Hercules stifled a growl and resisted the urge to kick the ball next to him—into the back of Bentley’s gelled head.

“You coming?” Bentley called back, putting a casual arm around Hera’s shoulder. He nearly shot forward, but she gently removed the arm and gave Herc another warning look.

He tried to calm down. But the whole morning he’d been watching Bentley blatantly disrespect his fake relationship with his fake fiancé.

He was about to swing his mallet at a ball out of turn when he heard a male voice call out from behind them. A tall, brown-haired man was walking across the lawn toward them.

Unlike Bentley or Adam, the man had a presence about him that Hercules instantly respected. He still had a refined demeanor, but there was something about him, something hidden under the surface that seemed like carefully contained danger.

Hercules liked him instantly. He looked over at the other two dudes, who seemed dismayed another man was joining them. Even if Adam didn’t seem interested in Hera, he was firmly in Bentley’s corner when it came to him winning her.

Hercules would have to wait and see which side this new man was on.

“Who is that?” Hera asked, setting down her mallet and walking over to where her parents were sitting on lawn chairs, watching.

“Dean Nichols,” her dad said. “I know his father through work. Just a good man. I think you two will actually get along.” He sent a sideways glance at Bentley. “Unlike some people.”

Hercules caught up to Hera’s side and walked over with the family to meet up with Dean.

He was wearing a navy sweater and khakis and shoved his hands in his pockets as they got close. “Beautiful weather,” he said, looking up at the sapphire skies. He didn’t attempt to make further introductions, so Hera’s dad stepped in.

“Dean, this is my wife, May. And my daughter, Valerie.” Dean stepped forward to politely shake hands as he was introduced. “And her fiancé, John.” Hercules shook the other man’s hand, impressed to see he was about the same height, despite having a more refined appearance. There was something about him he couldn’t place. Some undefined charisma that drew him in.

The man gave him a warm smile and then moved on to shake Bentley’s and Adam’s hands as they were introduced. Hercules saw Dean’s polite expression waver for just a moment as he looked them over, but then he was back to his pleasant self.

“Playing croquet?” he asked, observing the lawn. “Have I missed out?”

“We can always start another game,” Bentley said, sneering at Hercules. “John’s hopelessly behind.”

Hera sent Bentley a glare that was completely lost on the other man.

“Or we could play something else,” Dean suggested, looking over at Hercules. “I don’t know about you, but I’m used to football on a sunny day. Not croquet.”

Hell yeah.
Finally, someone on his side. “Yeah, nothing like football.” He’d had a lot of fun games with the guys in his squad. And he definitely wouldn’t mind an excuse to throw Bentley to the ground.

Bentley looked like he didn’t like the idea, but Hera’s dad liked it on the basis of fairness.

“Football,” he said, nodding. “I like it. We can sit with Val, and the four of you can decide teams.”

Hercules cast a glance at Rob. Was this his way of sizing up all the men he’d brought? Hercules didn’t care. He was going to win, and he was going to hopefully hurt Bentley in the process. Maybe then he’d keep his hands off Hercules’s fake fiancé.

“You okay with this?” Hera asked, touching his arm. Her touch was like sunlight spreading through him. Her light-blond hair shone in the sun, her blue eyes radiant. All he could think of was someone like Bentley trying to take her from him.

“Hell yeah, I’m okay with it,” he muttered for her ears only. He cracked his knuckles as Dean and Bentley discussed rules. “I can’t wait.”

“You be careful,” she said. “And don’t do something to make him sue you.”

Hercules raised an eyebrow. Suing over a game of football? He really was in an alternate dimension. “I’ll be careful.” No, the one who would be careful after this was Bentley. Careful about touching Hercules’s woman.

Hera eyed him suspiciously, as if she could tell what he was thinking but couldn’t prove it. “Don’t do anything stupid.”

“I won’t.” He cupped her cheeks and pressed a kiss to her forehead. Damn, it felt good to touch her. To claim her. Even if it were pretend. “Cheer me on, okay?”

She nodded. “I will. Only appropriate, right?”

He nodded, gave her hand a squeeze, and then let her go and walked over to the others.

Game time.

* * *

H
era sat
next to her dad, biting her nails and wishing she could be as amused as he was at the carnage that was ensuing.

Adam and Dean were trying to just play the game.

Hercules and Bentley were apparently trying to kill each other.

Each time one of the bear shifters tackled the other, it was like it was the last shot they were going to get to wreck another human. And while Hercules had taken a few shots and was still walking like nothing had happened, Bentley was starting to look a little worse for wear. He got up after his latest fall and glared at Hercules, who just tossed his head proudly and dusted off his hands like he’d gotten rid of some pernicious dirt.

“I like him,” her dad said. “What’s his backstory?”

“I thought you weren’t interested in hearing about a man who could date me for two years and not meet my family.”

Rob shrugged and ran a hand through his graying hair. May was cheering as Dean took the ball down the field for a touchdown. “I wasn’t sure if he was serious or just playing around. Even when I met him, he had this awkwardness to him. This… distance.” He gestured at the field with a laugh. “But watching this? That’s definitely the look of a mate,” he said as Hercules high-fived Dean for the touchdown and then sent Bentley a menacing glare, bumping his shoulder as he passed him.

It was interesting seeing one of the best special ops soldiers she’d worked with getting all juvenile over a game.

But he didn’t hate all the men. He actually seemed to be getting along with Dean. Respecting him. Her stomach twisted uncomfortably. If Hercules tried to push her toward another man, a part of her would die inside. She had to believe he wouldn’t do it.

“Penny for your thoughts?” her dad asked. “You seem nervous.”

She looked up into her father’s eyes, for the first time feeling a bit guilty for lying to him about Hercules being her mate. But she had been hoping that with her showing him she wanted him, that she was willing to compromise, that she could make that lie a reality.

But she’d forgotten how stubborn Hercules could be.

Right now, talking strategy with Dean, he was finally being the Herc she remembered with all the guys. Light, funny, handsome. Carefree.

Meaning he was hiding his real self again.

He looked up and saw her watching, and she turned away.

“Is something going on with you two?” her dad asked. “Long distance troubles?”

She shook her head, still feeling Hercules’s eyes on her.

“I’m telling you, though, the more I see him look at you, the more I buy into this. That’s just how I looked at your mother before we were mated. Like I’d never wanted anything more.”

“Gross, Dad.”

He laughed and reached over to pull his wife over to his side. “Hon, come be gross with me.” He kissed her cheek. “Not gross. Happy.”

May settled in on the chair next to her husband, looking content. Hera couldn’t lie. Sometimes she wanted that. Someone to partner with.

If it was with Hercules.

But if not, she’d rather throw herself into work and spend her time alone.

She looked up just in time to see Hercules tackle Bentley again and winced at the force of it.

“Those two don’t like each other, do they?”

Bentley got up and wiped dirt off his face and then looked like he was about to charge Hercules, who was already walking toward her, looking triumphant about their victory.

Hercules saw the look on her face and turned just in time to see Bentley coming at him. Rage filled his face as he turned to the other man, but then Dean was between them, putting up a hand and calming them somehow.

She couldn’t hear what he was saying, but was grateful it made both Bentley and Hercules stand down. Hercules put out a finger and said something, and Bentley’s hands clenched into fists.

Then Dean put a hand on Bentley’s chest, stopping him, and Hercules ignored him and strode toward her, his face glowing with triumph.

She expected him to stop or say something to her dad or mom, but instead, he bent down and picked her up out of the chair. He put her on her feet and then took her face in his hands and gave her a long, searing victory kiss right there in front of everyone.

It was so possessive, so strong, filling her from head to toe with so much want she was sure everyone around them had to be embarrassed.

Or jealous in Bentley’s case.

But Hercules didn’t seem to care. With this kiss, he seemed to be admitting what she already knew. That he wanted her for himself. That he couldn’t let her go, let anyone else be with her.

He was probably just momentarily out of his senses with jealousy.

But right now, he was all male triumph, and all he wanted for a trophy was her.

So she dug her hands into his biceps and let him kiss her.

She heard a wolf whistle and looked up to see Dean walking toward them, doing a slow clap.

In the distance, Bentley looked murderous. Adam didn’t look appear to care.

She was sort of glad Bentley was her only problem at the moment. It gave her time to think about what to do with Hercules. How to get closer to him again.

He looked down at her lips, seeming eager to go again, but they were interrupted when her dad spoke.

“Ahem, that was, um… an interesting ending to the game,” he said. “But is everyone ready for lunch?”

Hercules laughed nervously and rubbed his hands over her arms. For a fake fiancé, he sure didn’t seem eager to let go. Hera let the others go ahead of them and waited back with him, enjoying his touch on her skin. Enjoying the sunlight. Her heart was still pounding from the excitement of the way he’d claimed her.

“Hercules?” she asked.

“Yes?” he said, looking down at her. A lot of his hair had come out of his ponytail, and he didn’t seem to care. His shirt was disheveled and covered in grass stains, his sweater long abandoned. He looked like the man she remembered.

“What was
that
?”

He rolled up his sleeves and sighed, watching the backs of everyone leaving and then at the grass around them. Then he faced her with resigned eyes. “I don’t honestly know.”

“You got jealous,” she said.

“Obviously,” he retorted, his hand on her waist.

“You’re confusing me.”

“I’m confusing myself,” he said, pulling her close so they were hip to hip, heat between them.

Delicious images filled her mind.

“You want me,” she said.

“I never stopped wanting you,” he said. He dipped his head to the curve of her shoulder “I’m trying to be the good man here. But when I see one of them look at you…”

“Dean’s nice,” she said, testing him.

He let out a little growl.

“I’m not the man I thought I was, Hera. Every moment I’m with you, I find my logic flying out the window. Like it did when we were together.”

She looked up at him hopefully. “Does this mean you can give us another chance?”

He shook his head. “I don’t know. Dammit, I don’t know what the right thing is anymore. My heart keeps telling me I want you. But my mind knows this can’t work.”

“Then stop thinking,” she said. “Stop worrying about what will happen. I’ll tell you what. I’ll make this really easy for you. I’ll ask you only one thing. And we’ll go from there. No expectations. Nothing else needed.”

“Okay,” he said tentatively.

“Will you come see me tonight?” she asked, looking up at him meaningfully so he would know what she meant.

He pushed her hair back tenderly, his face firm as he thought. “I shouldn’t. We shouldn’t.”

“But?”

“But I’ll come to you tonight,” he said. “Goodness help us both.”

She grinned. “And goodness help Bentley if he keeps coming after me.”

Hercules cracked his knuckles. “That’s a damn surety.”

She laughed and linked arms with him, aware of a sizzle deep inside her at the thought of Hercules’s promise.

He’d be coming tonight.

Hopefully, they both would.

BOOK: Bear-ly Human (Bear Claw Security Book 4)
4.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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