Authors: Ariana McGregor
Mouse shifter and cheesecake addict Tara Evans is having a tough time of it. Her abusive ex has just arrived in town. Her sister has arrived for a visit and is clearly hiding something. Now her mate has just walked in the door. Worst of all? She's out of cheesecake.
Alex Russell may be a grizzly bear but there is one thing that can have him quaking like a cub. His mother. She's in town and determined that it's time he was mated. Alex would never admit it to her but he agrees. The problem is that he will never settle for anyone other than his true mate and he hasn't met her yet.
Can Tara and Alex manage to get their act together while fending off an enthusiastic mama bear and an unscrupulous ex?
Bearly A Squeak
By Ariana McGregor
Copyright © 2016 Adara Anderson
All rights reserved.
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All characters and events in this publication are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Thanks for the help and all the pep talks.
Ooh, cheesecake! Would anyone notice if she 'borrowed' a piece? Tara's fingers twitched as she eyed up her favourite snack. She really shouldn't. Barry, her ex, had always told her that she ate too much, that she needed to lose weight. He had been a violent, abusive jerk, and she was so happy to not be around him, to have finally escaped him. Still, sometimes she heard his voice in her head, repeating many of the nasty things he'd said during their relationship. Most people had a little inner voice that whispered to them at times, undermining their confidence, making them feel bad. Hers just happened to sound exactly like her ex.
She sighed. No cheesecake for her today. Sob. Evil swine or not, Barry was not entirely wrong about her ever-expanding butt. A steady diet of cheesecake tended to have that effect. She forced herself to look away from the tempting cheesecake. Peeking through the kitchen door, she saw Ethan picking up his morning coffee order. Dana was serving him, giggling at something he'd said. Their hands brushed, lingered. It was all adorably soppy, sweet, and sickening all at once. Tara experienced a little pang of jealousy. Not of Ethan exactly, no. It was more that she wished someone looked at her the way Ethan looked at Dana. Was that too much to ask?
She eyed the cheesecake again. Screw it. She could always start her diet again tomorrow. She reached out to it, freezing when a ringing noise cut through the air. She jumped and snatched her hand back, her heart pounding.
“I didn't touch it,” she squeaked, eyes darting around but finding no one. Oh, right. Her phone was ringing. Not the cheesecake police. She rolled her eyes at herself. Nobody cared if she ate the cheesecake, nobody except her own conscience. Stupid conscience.
Rummaging through her bag, she found her phone, saw her sister's name and answered.
“Hey Sara,” she greeted her twin. Yeah, her name was Tara and her twin sister was Sara. As if that wasn't bad enough, their younger sister was called Kara. Then there were the cousins. Lara, Mara, and Nara. Her family were evil when it came to naming kids. Pure evil. Surely that should have counted as abuse.
“Hey sis,” Sara's voice came over the phone. “How's stuff?”
“Good,” Tara said. Her eyes strayed to a lonely looking slice of cheesecake. “How's everything going with you?”
“Yeah, good,” Sara answered. She paused. “I thought maybe I could visit for a while. If that's okay.”
“Of course it's ok,” Tara said straight away. “You don't need to ask. Is everything ok?” Her sister sounded a little strange. Well, truthfully she sounded the opposite of strange. Sara sounded normal, quiet even. Sara was not a quiet, normal girl. If she sounded normal, it meant something wasn't right. Sara had always been the louder, more confident twin.
“I'm fine,” Sara said, her voice a little shaky. Even through the phone, the cheerfulness sounded false. “I just have a little free time and I haven't seen you in a while. I miss you.”
Guilt flashed through her. Once extremely close to her sisters, Tara rarely saw them now. In the last few years they hadn't even spoken much. It was her fault. Completely. She hadn't wanted them to know how bad things were with Barry, so she'd kept her distance. When she'd eventually found the courage to leave her ex, she'd left her family too. Packed up and moved to a new town where nobody knew her story. A fresh start. She'd never meant to abandon her family, but other than the occasional phone call or birthday card, she had kept her distance. Unwilling to explain how she had ended up here, it was easier to limit conversations. Easier but lonely.
“I miss you too, sis,” Tara said softly. “I'd love to have you come visit.”
“Awesome,” her sister said. “I should arrive sometime tomorrow. Still at the same address?”
“Yeah,” Tara said, eyes drifting back to the cheesecake. That slice was sitting off by itself. It would be a shame to leave it there all alone. It would be an act of kindness to put it out of its misery, right? “I'm working tomorrow, so pop into the cafe and I'll give you the key.”
“Ok, love you sis.”
“Love you too.” Tara ended the call, frowning a little. Sara sounded different, troubled. Once Sara arrived, she'd get everything sorted. It would be easier to get her to talk in person.
Turning around, she spotted the cheesecake still sitting there. Looking at her. Calling to her. Seducing her, it could be argued. After all, she was only human. Mostly. Well technically she was a shifter, which meant practically human with a few added perks and the ability to turn into a mouse. Not exactly the type of shifter that struck fear into the hearts of people. Except people with a fear of small animals that scurried. Not for the first time, she wished she could be something cooler. Like a tiger. Or a yeti. Did those really exist?
She watched the cheesecake from the corner of her eye. Surely one little piece wouldn't hurt. One innocent little slice of cheesecake. She reached towards it.
The door banged open and she snatched her hand back.
“I didn't touch it,” she squeaked, spinning around so fast that she nearly lost her balance.
Dana watched her, an amused smile on her face. “Is it calling to you again? Begging to be eaten?”
“Can I help it if baked goods have suicidal tendencies?” she asked, smiling back.
“Are the chocolate cupcakes ready yet?” Dana asked, looking around.
She gestured to a table where the cakes sat waiting to be decorated. “I still need to ice them. I'll do it now.”
“Cool,” Dana said, leaving the kitchen to see to a customer.
Tara hummed to herself as she worked. She loved her job. Who wouldn't? Surrounded by the smell of cakes all day, being able to eat any misshapen ones. Funny how she usually managed to bake a few imperfect cakes. She smiled to herself. Life was good. Tomorrow she would get to see her sister, she'd sort out whatever was wrong with Sara, and then they could have fun together.
She finished icing the last cupcake and set the icing aside. Her eyes strayed back to the cheesecake. She'd been good all day, she deserved something nice. She reached out a hand.
BUZZ! The oven timer had gone off.
“I swear I didn't touch it!” she hissed to the universe.
Grr. What did a bear have to do to get some peace around here? Alex stomped through the police station to his office. People scattered out of his way, suddenly deciding that they needed to be elsewhere. On another day he might have been amused by it. Particularly by the police officer who actually dived over a desk to get out of his path. He heard the thunk and quiet curse as the officer hit the floor on the other side of the desk. Normally that would have been hilarious. Not today.
It had all started a few days ago. A perfectly normal day. Right up until he'd opened his front door and found his mother on his doorstep. With suitcases. Grr. He loved his mother, really he did. He just loved her better when she wasn't actually there. In his house. Rearranging things. Talking his ear off about how it was time he settled down and found his mate. Provided some grandcubs.
Stomping into his office, he slammed the door. A crash informed him that yet another picture had been shaken off the wall. He threw himself into his chair, ignoring the way it creaked alarmingly. A mate. Hmph. It wasn't as though he didn’t think about it. He did. Actually, in the last few years, he'd thought about it quite often. He liked the idea, in theory, and had imagined what it would be like to have someone special to go home to after work. So, yeah, he was already well aware that he was getting older and hadn't found his mate yet. It was a sore point for him. His mother, being his mother, had zoomed right into that tender spot and poked it. Over and over, every time he'd spoken to her in the last few days. He'd tried to steer her away from the topic, even suggested she might like to visit her other son or her daughter. Yeah, it was every bear for himself in his family and he'd gladly toss his siblings to their mother. Sadly, it hadn't worked. Apparently, as her eldest child, she'd be sorting him out first before turning to his siblings. Grr. Stupid birth order.
What was he supposed to do? His mate wasn't suddenly going to turn up just because he wanted to find her. He wanted his true mate, not just any woman. If he settled, he would always feel cheated, that something was missing. What if he mated someone and then found his true mate? That would be a disaster of epic proportions. It's what had happened to his parents. They hadn't been true mates and then when his father found his true mate, he'd up and left them. He could understand his father leaving his mother, even though he hated it. The pull between true mates was strong, impossible to deny for long. Leaving his kids? Unforgivable. Alex Russell senior had walked out on his family and never looked back. No phone calls or visits to the kids. No birthday cards. Nothing. Alex Russell junior was making damn sure he wouldn't do the same.
How was he supposed to find his true mate? Not his mother's suggestion. He couldn't repress the shudder at the memory. His mother had a few friends with daughters she thought Alex should meet. Uh, no. Just no. He knew perfectly well which women his mother was thinking about and he'd rather give his bear a bikini wax. In a corner of his mind, his bear opened one eye and growled at him. He reminded his bear about the women in question. The bear shuddered and went back to sleep. First there was Carla. Exceptionally loud with a shrill voice, she was also drunk more often than not. Then there was Denise. His mother referred to her as 'a lovely girl who is just a little bit unbalanced'. Alex referred to her as 'batshit crazy with a side of psycho'. The latest had been Suzie. To be fair, Suzie was a great person, attractive, sane, and fun. There was just the fact that she had a tendency towards committing crimes, pretty much all the time. It would be embarrassing to be in a relationship with someone he had to keep arresting.
Besides, the problem remained that he'd met all three women and knew that they weren't his true mate. How could he find the woman who was?
This day sucked. Really sucked. Sucked more than a dehydrated vampire at a blood bank. That's how much today sucked.
Tara leaned on the counter. She hated being at the front of the shop, preferring to spend most of her time through the back. Customers were a necessary evil in her line of work, but she preferred it when they weren't in the same room as her. Today was Dana's day off and Fiona had called in sick. Hannah was here but couldn’t do everything by herself, so Tara was splitting her time between the kitchen and helping serve customers. However, the suckiest part of her sucktastic day? They'd run out of cheesecake.
The one bright spot was that her sister should arrive today. That almost made up for the lack of cheesecake. Almost, but not quite.