Available at...
Amazon Kindle Unlimited

Author:
Series: Laid Bear #1
Genre(s): ,
Released: July 31, 2014

Book Description

Can the curvy girl get her hot werebear neighbor? Hell yeah!

Curvy girl Bethany Mills can't believe her good fortune when her new neighbor turns out to be devastatingly hot. But someone that gorgeous could never fall for someone like her...could he? A charming personality and appreciation for sappy music aren't the only things Maximilian Pearce is hiding, and just when Bethany thinks she might get her very own happily ever after, a shocking revelation forces her to make a heartbreaking choice.

Curvy girl Bethany Mills can't believe her good fortune when her new neighbor turns out to be devastatingly hot. But someone that gorgeous could never fall for someone like her...could he? A charming personality and appreciation for sappy music aren't the only things Maximilian Pearce is hiding, and just when Bethany thinks she might get her very own happily ever after, a shocking revelation forces her to make a heartbreaking choice.

A review from...

... K. Taylor

This was a really great beach read! I loved the chemistry between Bethany and Max, and the supporting characters were quirky and funny. The story was light, with a couple of darker twists, but nothing too heavy, which makes it a perfect beach read. It's also not so massive, like a lot of romances tend to be, that you have to dedicate weeks to just one book, but the ending doesn't leave you hanging either. Highly recommended!


Also in this series:

Read the First Three Chapters

CHAPTER 1

Bethany slowly fingered a gap in her front room’s blinds so she could peek at her new neighbor. Her landlord, a big gruff guy by the name of Chet who’d never seemed to like her much, had informed her he rented out the other side of the duplex and, oh by the way, he had someone very interested in her side if she was thinking about leaving.

She had no idea why Chet hated her so much, but ever since he bought the rental from her former landlord several months back, he’d been hinting she should find another place to live. Fuck you, I know my rights, she thought every time he made some comment like that.

So she was diligent about making sure her rent was on time, never a day late — even after he raised it unexpectedly — and that she never did anything he could evict her for. Heck, she even took care of most of the minor maintenance stuff in the place because it was easier than dealing with that jerk, even though it was his responsibility.

As Bethany peered out the window, she watched Chet hovering near the bed of the new guy’s pick-up. He was a fat, hairy schlub of a man while her new neighbor was what could only be described as eye candy. Yet her landlord acted like he usually did — superior to everyone else. Yuck.

Her new neighbor had been wearing a wife-beater — an honest-to-goodness wife-beater — when he arrived, but at some point he shed it as the heat of the day beat down on his bronzed skin. Sweat glistened on every hard curve of his torso, rivulets disappearing into the waistband of the jeans that rode deliciously low on his hips. She swiped her tongue across her dry lips, sucking her plump bottom lip between her teeth.

God, he was hot! Bethany’s heart raced at the thought of skimming her fingers — screw that, her lips — across all those ridges and bumps. It had been so long since she’d been with a man — like, almost a year, and then it was just a rough and drunken tumble at a friend’s party. Afterward, he’d called her a fat slut and stumbled out to his beater truck. She’d heard he got a DUI on the way home and was not-so-secretly pleased.

The memory of her last encounter brought her back into reality. She let the blinds snap closed and headed into the kitchen. Why get all hot and bothered over a guy who would never look twice at her? He looked like he should be an underwear model — probably was! — while she was big and tall and full of curves. The only guys she ever seemed to attract were either assholes or drunk, and more often than not, both.

As she rummaged around her freezer for just the right flavor ice cream, Bethany wondered how she was ever going to find a good man and have a family. She’d grown up with three older brothers who taught her how to be tough…on the outside. Inside, she was as soft as her ample ass.

Every rejection, every nasty comment, every disgusted look sent her farther and farther into an abyss of self-doubt and self-pity. She knew she couldn’t control other people’s reactions to her bountiful body, but she just wished that occasionally that reaction would be positive. Her friends all insisted she was gorgeous, voluptuous, Rubenesque, but she knew that was just shorthand for ‘fat’. Of course, eating Chunky Monkey out of the tub probably didn’t help matters.

She was jolted out of her reverie when the doorbell bonged. It didn’t bing-bong, like a normal doorbell; it had broken a few months earlier and now just bonged. One more thing Chet should fix but wouldn’t. She knew before she opened the door that he would be looming there, telling her she’d done something wrong — like the time she didn’t set the garbage cans at the curb just right — and ask yet again when she was moving.

The sight of her handsome new neighbor filling her doorway caused her throat to clench and her stomach to drop as the door swung open. Holy hell, this guy was even better up close. A sharp whiff of sweat caused her nostrils to flare. Her eyes closed as she inhaled this man’s feral scent, every bit of her body becoming highly sensitized in response. The sound of her own sigh startled her.

“Um, hi, neighbor.” There was definitely a hint of amusement in his deep rumbling voice. Oh, shit, he caught me! A deep crimson flush spread from her chest to her blond widow’s peak.

Bethany gulped and allowed her eyes to sweep up his rippled chest, droplets of sweat glistening in the sun, to his impossibly handsome face where they met warm brown eyes. She’d never seen eyes quite like his before, flecked with gold and…cinnamon? How was it possible that everything about this man was the most gorgeous thing she’d ever seen?

It took a moment for her to realize she hadn’t uttered a word yet. “Hi,” she squeaked. More than anything she wanted to avert her gaze but it was proving impossible. She was mortified, which wasn’t an unusual state for her, but this time she’d done it to herself in front of her god-like neighbor. Yet she couldn’t tear her eyes away from his. It was as if they were magnets locked together.

“Just wanted to introduce myself,” he said. Thank goodness he took the initiative or they would have stood there all day, Bethany drooling all over herself, no doubt. Her gaze trailed down his bulging arm to the hand he was extending to her. Why was everything moving in slow motion?!

“I’m Maximilian Pearce, but everyone calls me Max.”

Even his name was perfect!

“Uhh…” Her downfall was about to be complete because for the life of her, she couldn’t remember her own name. Brittany? Brittania? Bathilda? “Bethany… Mills.” It came out a whisper as she watched her fingers disappear into his paw of a hand.

The amused tone was back. There was something else, too. Something deeper, more throaty. “Well, it was a pleasure meeting you, Bethany. I’m sure we’ll bump into each other very soon.”

With that, he turned and strode back to his truck, where Chet stood glowering at her over Max’s shoulder. Bethany was numb as she eased the door shut, her eyes never leaving his perfect retreating figure. The last thing she saw before an eggshell white wall of door blocked her view was Max glancing back over his shoulder, his lips twitching in a smile. Then he winked.

* * *

The growl of Max’s truck driving away brought Bethany to her senses…on the floor. She’d just managed to close the door before leaning back against it and sliding into a puddle in her entryway. That was the most male interaction she’d had in months, if you didn’t count Chet (which she didn’t), and it was with the sexiest man on the planet.

“I have to call someone!” She flicked through her mental Rolodex, frantically trying to figure out who would be as giddy as she while still sane enough to offer her sound advice. Kimmy would tell her to fuck Max’s brains out, Paul would ask if he could fuck Max’s brains out, Joanne was visiting her sick mom…Charlotte! Charlotte will be the voice of reason, Bethany thought as she scrolled through her phone’s contact list.

“Hey, B! How freaky is this?” Charlotte wasn’t much for pleasantries. “I was just picking up the phone to call you and invite you over for a party on Saturday. Weird, huh?”

“Yeah, yeah, sounds good. Listen, I need some of your famous words of wisdom.”

“Sure, what’s up?”

Bethany described her interaction with her new neighbor, not leaving out a single detail, including his epic hotness. She wandered around the apartment as she spoke, ending up in front of the bathroom mirror.

Ohmigod!” she screamed into the phone.

“Shit, B! Take it down a notch.”

Bethany wanted to cry at what she saw. A big smear of Chunky Monkey was drying near her mouth, and a dollop decorated the tip of her nose. Charlotte just laughed at the news.

“Forget about it, B. So he’s hot, and so you had a little ice cream on your face. Big whoop. It’s not like anything can happen between you two anyway — you’re neighbors. Like gramps always said, never shit where you sleep…or eat, or something like that.”

Scrubbing the tell-tale signs of her culinary weakness away, Bethany let her friend’s words sink in. “Yeah, you’re probably right. Besides, a guy like him would be better suited to some hard-body like Kimmy.”

“Girl, don’t sell yourself short. You’re a good-looking broad. A lot of guys like a girl with a little meat on her bones. Kimmy’s a stone-cold fox but she’s all hard angles, ya know? She’d probably bruise him.”

Bethany giggled at Charlotte’s joke. She felt better. “I knew you were the right person to call, Char. Thanks.”

“Anytime, B. So are you a yes for Saturday?”

“Huh? Oh, sure, as long as I won’t be the only singleton there. I already feel enough like Bridget Jones without going to a couples’ party, thank you very much.”

“Weeeeell….”

“Oh, no, Char!”

“C’mon, it’ll be fine. There’s only one couple you don’t know. And Paul might come. You’ll have a blast. Besides, you haven’t been over for weeks. Please say yes?”

Charlotte knew Bethany couldn’t say no to her wheedling tone. “Fine. But I’m not bringing a goddamn thing!”

“Yay! See you at six, then. Bye, hon!”

CHAPTER 2

Bethany carefully avoided Max for several days, either sneaking out much earlier than she needed to or waiting till she heard his truck roar off, no doubt to his underwear modeling job. The humiliation she felt at their initial meeting had eased, and she spent the intervening days convincing herself that someone so pretty just had to be a moron. Or a jerk. Probably both.

So when they finally ran into each other taking out the trash, she only felt a slightly quicker pulse than she might have. The next morning was garbage pick-up day, and she was just smashing down the lid on the can when she heard his front door open. Thank God he’s wearing a t-shirt, she thought as she watched him approach from under her lashes.

“Hey, neighbor,” he said, grinning at her.

“Hi,” she mumbled, stepping out of his way and moving back toward her apartment. She tried to tell herself that she didn’t like him, but she knew she really was just afraid of embarrassing herself again.

“Nice night, huh?”

It would be rude to ignore him, so she stopped and muttered, “Yup.”

“You get a lot of animals knocking over the garbage cans?”

“Not so much.”

“Looks like prime raccoon territory,” he said, nodding his head toward the woods behind the house. Bethany loved walking in the woods; they were one of the main reasons she put up with Chet’s crap. She couldn’t bear the thought of moving to some big apartment complex where she’d be surrounded by concrete and aluminum siding. It cost a bit more, but she made enough as a marketing assistant at an ad agency to justify — barely — the extra cost.

“Yeah, I guess. But they haven’t bothered the cans for a while.”

“They used to?”

Despite her trumped-up loathing for the man, Bethany couldn’t help watch his biceps bulge as he forced his bag of garbage in the already-full can. She was having a hard time swallowing, much less speaking.

“Yeah, couple times a month they’d knock them over. I’d asked the previous owner to get those pest-proof cans, but Chet bought the place before she could, so…” She shrugged.

“What?”

Bethany cleared her throat, unsure of whether she should bad-mouth Chet in front of Max. He seemed genuinely interested, not like he was trying to trap her or get dirt that he’d report back to Chet. But she decided to be vague anyway. “Well, I haven’t wanted to bother him with minor things like that.”

Max surprised her by laughing. “You mean he’s an ass and getting him to do anything around here is like pulling teeth?”

She smiled and peeked up at him. Maybe he wasn’t so bad after all. “Something like that.”

“Listen, I should probably tell you something.” He looked away, scuffing his foot in the driveway’s gravel. She was drawn to the naughty little boy gesture. “Chet’s, um, sorta…my uncle.”

The color drained from Bethany’s face. Now Chet was going to hear about this conversation and really hate her. God only knew what he’d do. She took a step back from Max, frozen in place but wanting to run back to the comfort of her apartment. I knew it! she screamed to herself.

“Whoa, hold on,” he was saying but her heart thumped so loud she barely heard him. “I just didn’t want you to find out later and think I was some kind of spy. I know what he’s like and I won’t rat you out. Honest.” He crossed his fingers and gave her a hopeful smile.

Bethany wasn’t sure what to make of him. She’d built him up in her head to be a total asshole, but he seemed genuine and sweet, not at all like his uncle. It would be risky to take him at his word, but in replaying the scene in her head, she knew she hadn’t said anything really bad — Max had. She would just be cautious about what she said from here on out. Just in case.

“Good?” He seemed to be making a real effort to be neighborly, plus his crooked grin was irresistible, so she smiled back.

“Good.”

“It’s a nice evening,” he said, looking around the neighborhood. “Could I trouble you to show me around before it gets dark?”

Bethany eyed him. Her first instinct was to say no and hibernate in her cozy apartment, but it wouldn’t hurt to make nice with the landlord’s nephew. It also wouldn’t hurt her ego to be seen with such a bona fide hunk.

“Um, okay.  There’s not much to see, just your average neighborhood.” She shrugged and started walking, letting him catch up to her. She didn’t want to feed his undoubtedly enormous ego by fawning all over him.

He jogged up next to her as they walked toward Mrs. Hiscock’s house. She was just taking her twin babies out from the backseat of her car so Bethany asked if she’d like a hand.

“No, I’m fine.” Mrs. Hiscock was frazzled and obviously exhausted, but she would never let anyone help with the babies. It was like a point of pride or something.

“Ma’am?” Max had sidled up to her slowly, like he was approaching a wild animal. And in the state she was in, Mrs. Hiscock kind of was. “I’d be honored if you would allow me to hold one of your beautiful babies.”

Bethany almost laughed. No way was this wildly overprotective new mom going to just hand off one of her kids to this complete stranger — a man, no less. When that’s exactly what she did — with tears of gratitude in her eyes — Bethany’s jaw nearly bounced off the ground. What the…?

“Really? I hate bothering people, you know?” While Max swayed with little Joey tucked in his arms, Mrs. Hiscock started to deploy a massive two-seater stroller.

“Oh, you don’t need to do that, ma’am. Why don’t you and Bethany take the babies and I’ll carry your stuff in. Would that be okay?”

Mrs. Hiscock blinked at him in surprise. “Why…that would be…wonderful,” she gushed, looking between Max and Bethany with gratitude.

Max handed Joey off to Bethany while Mrs. Hiscock gathered up Janey from her car seat. When she was sure no one was watching, Bethany dipped her head to take a whiff of Joey sweet baby smell. A little sigh escaped her lips and when she looked up, Max was smirking at her.

“Baby fever?” he whispered.

She shot him a dark glare but couldn’t hold back a quiet laugh. “They just smell so good!”

“Your secret’s safe with me.” The wink he gave her nearly melted her defenses.

Once they’d seen Mrs. Hiscock and the babies in — she’d not only welcomed Max to the neighborhood but given him a big hug — they continued their tour.

“Next stop, Mr. Jacob’s web site,” said Bethany imitating a train conductor.

“What?” Max laughed.

She waved her arm expansively to Mr. Jacob’s side yard, filled with rusted out barbecues, some leaning at alarming angles. Pretending she was crushed by the failure of her joke, she explained. “Those are all Weber barbecues. Get it? ‘Web’ site? Yuk yuk yuk.”

Max groaned and rolled his eyes as they moved on to the Parkers’ place. Mr. Parker had to be about 187 years old but there he was, straining his frail body to maneuver an old toilet onto a very specific spot on his lawn. It was, in fact, the only spot that didn’t have a toilet already on it. All the rest were planted with the prettiest flowers you could ever want to see.

“Mr. Parker, this is Max. He’s moving in next door to me.” Bethany spoke quite loudly since the old fellow was nearly deaf.

“How do you do, sir?”

“Not bad, not bad. Niceta meetya.” Mr. Parker eyed Max up and down for a moment. “You look plenty strong. Wanna gimme a hand here?”

“Absolutely. Where would you like it?”

“Right over there, next to the lavender.”

Max effortlessly hoisted the toilet and plopped it where Mr. Parker pointed. “Good?”

“Yeah, yeah, but I could use a hand with the dirt, iffya don’t mind.”

Max threw Bethany an amused glance before fetching the bag of potting soil by the garage. “Here you go, sir. What else can I help with?”

Mr. Parker laughed. “Be careful whatchya wish for, young fella. But you could pour some of that into the bowl for me.”

“No problem, sir.”

Max continued helping and fetching for Mr. Parker until the new toilet was filled marigolds and the whole mess was cleaned up. Bethany contented herself with watching Max work while leaning a hip against the Parkers’ old Buick. No doubt about it, the guy was really nice to look at. And he seemed to be a genuinely nice guy, too, but she couldn’t let thoughts like that ping around in her brain for too long.

“Are you sure you want to keep going?” Bethany asked as they continued down the street. “Someone might rope you into helping them raise a barn or something.”

Max laughed. “It’s nice to be part of a community, don’t you think? Help each other out, make friends.”

“Yeah, I guess. It’s just…I’ve known most of these folks for a couple years now and have never had so much interaction with them.”

He glanced over at her and gave her a nudge with his hip. “Maybe you should try it sometime. You never know what kind of friend you’ll make.”

A crinkle formed at her brow as she tried not to read anything into his comment. He’s just making small talk.

The rest of the walk was relatively uneventful. No more needy mothers, no more elders in peril. Just two people indulging in a sunset stroll.

She’d started out assuming he was conceited but it didn’t take long to realize he wasn’t stuck-up at all. In fact, he was downright charming. He got her jokes, or at least pretended to find them funny, and seemed interested in her wacky views on the world. As they headed back to the duplex, she found herself warming to him, enjoying their conversation. Uh oh, she thought. Do NOT fall for this guy!

Max’s hand rested on her lower back as they walked down the sidewalk in front of their place, and she was very aware of its presence. “So you said the raccoons haven’t been bothering the cans much lately, huh?”

“Yeah, I can’t explain it. Maybe Chet killed them or something, but they don’t come around anymore.”

Max was thoughtful for a moment. “Those woods look nice,” he finally said, nodding toward the thick stand of trees that marched up to their backyard.

“They’re beautiful. I try to walk them every day.”

He eyed Bethany carefully. “Alone?”

“Sure, why not?”

“I dunno, just seems like a wild animal might ravage you or something.” He nudged her again, teasing. There was a glint in his eye that made her blush. Heat coursed through her body, pooling in her center.

She looked away and shrugged again. “Guess I’m not the ravagable type.”

Max’s hand pressed a little harder against her back. “I would have to disagree.”

Bethany gave him a sidelong glance to see if he was making fun of her, but his attention was focused on the woods behind the house.

As they reached their communal front porch, he turned to her. “Thanks for giving me a tour, Bethany. It was nice to get to know my neighbors. I’m looking forward to living here.”

He looked out to the street and fidgeted, like he was nervous. “I can’t do it tonight, but maybe we could barbecue or whatever sometime soon.”

Confusion swept through her. The little wrinkle between her eyebrows — the one she inherited from her mom and was thinking about getting Botox for — deepened as she tried to figure out what he was saying. Was he asking her out or was this just one neighbor inviting over another to be friendly? She realized that more than anything she wished for the former, but deep down didn’t believe it could be anything but the latter.

“Yeah, sure, sounds good.” She was careful to sound interested but not too eager. She would just die if he knew what was running through her dirty little brain right now — images of them rolling around naked in the backyard while steaks burned on the grill. Drool filled her mouth, and it wasn’t from thinking about steaks.

Max’s face lit up in a dazzling grin. “Great! Does Sunday afternoon work for you?”

Bethany could feel herself blinking in disbelief but was incapable of controlling her surprise. This was really happening. “Um, sure. What should I bring?”

Max grabbed both of her hands in his, smiling from ear to ear and shaking his head. “Just yourself. Come on over when you start to smell meat.”

The heat of his hands burned into Bethany’s palms. Her entire body was buzzing with desire for Max, and his happiness over their impending backyard barbecue made her wonder if he maybe could be interested in more than just a neighborly relationship with her.

Nah, he’s just new to the area and wants to meet people, she tried to tell herself. But the fact that his fingers were lingering on hers contradicted that thought. She had no idea what to think as she melted into his gold-flecked eyes.

He leaned in closer to her. “I’m really looking forward to getting to know you better, Bethany Mills.” His voice had turned husky and soft, sending a shudder through Bethany’s frame.

And then he was gone.

She hadn’t realized her eyes had closed, but when she opened them, Max’s front door was closing gently. She stood there for a moment, swaying in the dusky twilight wondering what had just happened.

CHAPTER 3

 

Bethany woke with a start in the middle of the night. She thought she’d heard some kind of noise but in her sleep-addled state she couldn’t quite remember what it was. For some reason ‘wild animal’ popped into her head. Probably just a dog barking, she thought as she shuffled into the bathroom for a pit stop.

She cursed the monkey who’d taken a dump in her mouth at some point during the night and wandered into the kitchen for a sip of water. “I’m just gonna have to pee again,” she grumbled while she let the tap run cold before filling a glass.

The first cool mouthful of water was slipping down her throat when a movement outside caught her eye. Her heart leapt automatically before she remembered that she was inside and whatever she saw was outside. She was always careful to check the locks on all her windows and doors before going to bed every night, so she knew she was safe.

Still…

She scanned the darkness, searching for another glimpse of whatever she’d seen. It must have come from the woods. They were no more than a few hundred yards from the duplex, and lord only knew what lived in there. She’d seen squirrels, deer, and even a fox once. But it was a big forest so it could possibly be home to much bigger wildlife, though she’d never seen signs of any.

As she raised the glass to her lips for another sip, she froze. Her eyes had adjusted enough to spot the creature. It lumbered slowly toward the duplex, its bulk rippling under a thick dark brown coat of fur. Bethany had never seen a bear in real life — hadn’t even known they inhabited the area.

Adrenaline pumped through her bloodstream, which woke her up in a hurry. Should she call someone? Who would that someone be? The police? Animal Control? The circus? All she knew was that she couldn’t move because she was paralyzed with fear.

Her arm started shaking from being held in a mid-drink position for so long — and possibly from terror — but now she was worried that any movement might catch the bear’s attention. It was no more than twenty feet from the stubby chain-link fence that encircled the tiny backyard, and it looked big enough to practically step over it. She shot a sidelong glance at her sliding glass door, not at all confident that it would keep out a bear of this size.

Her saucer-sized eyes watched as the creature approached the fence with purpose. It was almost as if it knew exactly where it was going. She barely noticed the water sloshing out of the glass and running down the length of her forearm, or her teeth chattering in her head.

She’d just decided to slowly ease the glass down and slink away from the window when the bear started growling and reared back on its hind legs. If she hadn’t just gone to the bathroom, Bethany knew her bladder would have released. Every hair on her body bristled and stood on end at the sounds coming from the beast outside the back gate.

If she’d been frightened by the bear, what she saw next sent her onto another plane of terror she never knew existed.

The fur covering the bear started rippling and shimmering in the moonlight. It threw its head back and rolled its shoulders like a man easing tension from them. It seemed to actually be shrinking in stature and girth, and its fur was fading into nothingness. In a matter of seconds, ‘it’ was no longer standing at the gate — Max was.

Bethany opened her mouth to scream but nothing came out, just like during her childhood nightmares. Little gasps of hot air trickled from her lips as she tried to find her voice. But before she could scream, her water-slickened hand lost its grip on the glass, which crashed into the sink. Max’s head whipped in her direction.

“Eep!” she squeaked as she dropped to the floor, imagining what he would do if he found out what she’d just witnessed. For a long, terrifying moment, she heard nothing. Her breathing stopped entirely at the grinding squeal of the back gate and didn’t start again until she heard Max’s backdoor slide shut.

Gasping for air, her body started shuddering. She was in shock. She managed to crawl to the couch, where she huddled under the gaudy throw her grandmother had crocheted for her. If she’d had a gun, she would have been cuddling it, but all she had was a chef’s knife, which trembled from the shaking her hands transmitted to it. Tears streamed down her face unheeded.

“What the fuck was that?” she whispered. Her brain tried to make sense of it but the circuits weren’t connecting. It was impossible and didn’t make sense. She felt like a robot who’d been given contradictory information: Does.Not.Compute. She started giggling hysterically at the robotic voice in her head, understanding she was quite possibly losing her mind, but more probably in shock.

It didn’t take long for the adrenaline crash to come. One minute she was shivering and muttering “Does not compute” under her blanket, the next she was vaguely aware of the knife slipping from her fingers and clattering to the floor before she passed into oblivion.

* * *

The slam of Max’s front door jarred Bethany awake the next morning. She was curled up on the couch, stiff as a board and utterly exhausted. She watched Max’s shadow move toward his truck’s shadow, then stop. He moved back toward her side of the duplex and stopped again. She was sure he could hear her heart pounding all the way outside.

“Please go away,” she whispered. Almost as if he’d heard her, he moved back to his truck and drove away.

Bethany let out a sigh of relief. But there was something else…regret. She liked Max. Sure, he was hot as hell, but there was more. He was a nice guy and seemed to genuinely like her.

But what she saw last night…

Did she really see it? The idea of Max being some kind of freaky shapeshifter was ridiculous, but she’d seen the bear with her own eyes. He was huge and brown and hairy. And he’d morphed into her gorgeous neighbor in a matter of an eyeblink.

Maybe that was it! Maybe she’d blinked and Max had chased off the bear and she just thought she saw him shrinking down in size, the bristly fur evaporating and turning into bronzed skin. Recalling Max’s naked form warmed her, making her squirm a little.

And now that the image was in her head, it was impossible to unsee. Max standing outside the gate, shimmering in the moonlight. Every muscle on his body highlighted by the moon. His long legs were lean and oh-so-lickable. But her mind’s eye kept traveling to that place between his legs, the place where glory lay.

Slapping herself lightly, Bethany told herself to snap out of it. Clearly a cold shower was in order. Maybe it would even clear her head a little so she could think things through.

Twenty minutes later, she padded into the kitchen, cuddled in a fuzzy robe, and started the coffee maker before cleaning up the broken glass in the sink. She was whistling a tune and felt quite content because she’d realized in the shower that she’d obviously sleepwalked during the night and had dreamed the shapeshifting episode. It was the only thing that made the slightest bit of sense.

Satisfied with what her waking brain convinced her was true, she set to work making a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs, her favorite. Just as she was sliding the over-easy eggs onto a plate, her phone chirped. Char-Char, the display read.

“Hey, Char! What’s up?” Her energy surprised her, making her wonder if she was overcompensating.

“I just wanted to confirm you’re coming tonight,” her friend said.

Shit, the party. Her good cheer was dampened by the thought of being the only person without a date at this thing, but Char didn’t ask for much from her so it was the least she could do. “Um, sure. Want me to come over early to help?”

“Nah, it’s handled.” Charlotte paused. “B, you sound weird. Everything okay?”

Char always knew when something was going on in Bethany’s life. That’s what best friends were for. “Yeah, just had a weird dream last night that kinda freaked me out. I’m cool now. See you around six, right?”

Bethany could tell Charlotte wanted to press the issue but she restrained herself. “Yup. Be there or be on my shit list forever!”

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