Bear Hearted: BBW Paranormal Shifter Romance

Bear Hearted

 

by Ava Hunt

 

A tale of losing one's heart and finding love

Copyright © 2016 by Ava Hunt

 

Cover by Rock Bottom Covers/Hard Candies Publishing

 

All rights reserved.

 

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author. The only exception is by a reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review.

 

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

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One man with so much to lose...

Toby Bridgewater thought he had it all; a sweet life and a hot girlfriend. One day on the golf course changes everything in a heartbeat.

 

One doctor with so much to prove...

Estrella Martinez knows that controversial methods can sometimes have surprising results that can alter a life's course, but she's in the business of saving lives.

 

Everything old is new again...

When Toby realizes that nothing in his new life is as it was before the surgery, it is Dr. Martinez that helps him pick up the pieces and learn to live bear-hearted.

Chapter One

 

Toby Bridgewater inhaled the sharp scent of the freshly-mowed grass before swinging his club and connecting with the golf ball with a satisfying
thwack!

Stanley let out a low whistle through his front bottom teeth as the two watched the ball soar into the distance. Toby had always been jealous of Stanley’s loud whistles, ever since he figured out how to do it to girls in the hallways at school.

Toby clenched his sweaty hand, trapped in his lucky gloves. “You’re turn, Stan.”

Stanley clicked his tongue and took another swig of his beer. The third one in barely two hours if Toby’s count was correct. Stan enjoyed his days off. Toby was more interested in winning. And with a tipsy friend, it was usually the case.

Toby moved away from his friend, assessing the course. He enjoyed the quiet, private club they played once a week. He was thankful for the time and money his father spent at the club, making it incredible easy for Toby to keep a membership.

Though a gentle breeze lifted the leaves on the trees surrounding the hole they played, his skin prickled with sweat. It was going to be another scorcher. Days into June and the heat was already sweeping through Atlanta.

The buzz of a cart neared and both men turned to see two women a young caddy pull up.

“Don’t mind us, y’all,” the taller of the two called.

“We’re just learnin’,” the other said in a thicker Southern accent than her friend.

The caddy was already on his phone, probably making easy money from these women.

Toby tipped his hat to the women. “We’re moving along now, you can practice all you want.”

The tall one stuck her bottom lip out. “You sure you don’t want to show us the ropes?”

Stan muttered a “damn” under his breath.

Toby smiled at the women. “Wish we could but we have reservations for lunch soon.” He gave them a wave and clapped a hand on Stan’s shoulder, pushing his slack-jaw away from temptation.

“You always do this, man,” Stan said as they walked to where their balls had landed.

Toby laughed incredulously. “Do what?”

“You always have these hot women all over you. If I wasn’t married, I might be jealous.”

Toby lifted his hat and swiped his handkerchief across his forehead, unsure how to respond. A low ringing settled in his ears as his vision shifted out of focus.

“Tobs?” Stanley asked.

Toby blinked and stared at his friend.

Stanley leaned on his club, crossing one foot over the other. “Did you hear me?”

Toby placed the hat back on his head. “Sorry I think I zoned out for a minute.”

“You look a little pale.”

“I’m fine.” Stepping forward, he knew he was not fine. The blue sky switched with the bright green grass and then his world went black.

A distant beeping filled Toby’s ears. He cracked an eyelid open. He was in a strange room. To his right was a bright hallway. A girl in scrubs hurried by.
How did I get to a hospital?
He sat up quickly. Something tugged at his arm. He followed the clear tube to a bag hanging on a post beside him. The beeping sound quickened.

“Hello?” he croaked, sounding like he’d been screaming at a crowded bar all night. The last place he remembered was the golf course with Stanley.

“Hey bud,” Stanley stood up from the chair next to the bed, rubbing his eyes.

“What happened?” Toby’s voice was still hoarse. He cleared it a few times.

Stanley stretched his arms above him. “You collapsed at the course. Thank God we had the golf cart handy. We met the ambulance at the club entrance.”

Toby briefly remembered snippets of being moved onto a stretcher. His hands fisted the stiff sheets. He took stock of his body. He
felt
fine. “What did the doctor say?”

Stanley shrugged. “They won’t tell me anything. Since I’m not technically family.” He snorted. “What they don’t know is that you and I are a different kind of family.”

Toby tried to smile, but the few seconds sitting without assistance was exhausting. He leaned against the flat pillow. “Did you talk to Alexa?” His girlfriend was due back home from her girl’s getaway that afternoon. How long had he been in there? The sun was setting through the window behind Stan. Surely she would have stopped by?

“I called her. “ Stanley stood beside the bed and patted Toby’s shoulder. “I’ll go get someone to talk to you.”

Stanley left the room and Toby didn’t think twice about the dismissive comment about Alexa. The two of them never got along. It was devastating to Toby that the  most important people in his life could barely look at each other. He hoped they would come around someday.

A remote rested beside him, attached to the bed. He pressed the button to increase the incline until he was sitting up. Next to the bed was a tray with a plastic cup and pitcher. Water was already sitting in the glass. He grabbed the cup and sucked from the straw. The water was gone in seconds. With his limited movement from the IV, he couldn’t reach the pitcher for more. Apparently collapsing made you very thirsty.

Stanley returned to the room with a woman. She was a head shorter than Stanley and her brown hair was tied up in a knot at the base of her neck. Her name tag said doctor but Toby would have pegged her for a nurse.  She lifted the clipboard from the side of his bed and scanned it before looking at him. Her brown eyes were serious, not revealing anything to Toby.

“I’m Dr. Martinez,” she said with a hint of a Spanish accent.

Toby held up the cup in his hand. “I was probably dehydrated right?”

Her expression tightened briefly before settling into a mask that Toby couldn’t decipher. 

“Have other family members suffered from a heart condition?” She lifted a pen from her pocket and poised it on the clipboard.

Wow, straight to the point. “My grandfather and father.”

She nodded and scribbled something down. “During our assessment,” she started. “We found that your heart wasn’t performing as expected for a man of your age. We would like to run some more tests before you leave.”

Toby looked at Stanley who was gnawing on one of his nails. “What do you think it is?”

Dr. Martinez glanced at Stanley.

“It’s fine,” Toby said. “He’s family.”

She slid the clipboard back into the holder. “We will know more after the tests are run. I will see you soon Mr. Bridgewater. Get some rest.”

Toby and Stanley watched the doctor leave.

Stanley was the first to speak. “She would have said something if she thought you were dying right?”

His attempted joke made Toby grimace. “Or she doesn’t want to get sued.”

Rapid clicking footfalls sounded in the hallway. “Toby? Toby, are you here?”

Stanley cleared his throat and Toby ignored the eye roll from his friend. “In here.”

Alexa Avery entered the room, her blue eyes wide. She flicked her blonde hair over each shoulder, hovering in the doorway. “I came as quickly as I could.”

Stanley snorted. “Didn’t your flight arrive hours ago?”

Alexa cut him a glance.

Stan patted the top of the bed. “I’m going to head out. I’ll be back soon.” He said nothing to Alexa as he passed her.

“See you, man,” Toby said.

Alexa clicked to Toby’s side and stood by the bed. Her French-manicured nails tapped together. “Christine’s driver insisted on dropping everyone off at her house before bringing me here. I tried to call but I think your phone is off.”

Or dead
. He had forgotten to charge it that morning and it hovered on low battery before he left for the club. Toby smiled and opened his hand. “It’s okay, babe. You’re here now.”

Alexa reached for his hand and immediately pulled back. “Are you contagious?”

He shook his head. Stanley said he called her. Maybe he didn’t leave specifics in a message? “No. I passed out on the course. The doctor is going to run some tests and I’ll be out of here in no time.”

She huffed out a breath. “That’s good. Tell Stanley not to scare me like that ever again. He told me to rush over here like it was an emergency.”

Toby pressed his lips together, smiling. “Hopefully it won’t happen again but I’ll be sure to tell him.”

Alexa sat on the edge of the chair Stanley had been sleeping on. She scooted it to his side and rested her soft hand against his.

They sat in silence for a few minutes, the rhythmic beating of his heart filling the room.

Alexa practically vibrated. Toby knew she wanted to say something. “Do you want to know about my trip?”

He nodded, he could use a distraction.

 

Chapter Two

 

The next day, Toby was subjected to a series of tests. All of the medical personnel were professional and didn’t give away any hint of his results. He began to think his prognosis could go either way. He never prayed much until that day. He needed to be healthy. The thought of how is father and grandfather looked before they died haunted him for years. He wasn’t going to do that to Alexa or Stan.

Stan and Alexa took separate turns throughout the day visiting with Toby. Stanley promised to cover for Toby at work. The most important thing was his health. He was happy to have them both with him even if it was at different times.

Alexa had come back from the cafeteria when Dr. Martinez walked into the room. “Mr. Bridgewater.” Her gaze fell on Alexa. “And your wife?”

“Girlfriend,” Toby and Alexa said at the same time. Though Alexa’s response was quicker.

Dr. Martinez took a deep breath. “This is never easy for me. Mr. Bridgewater—”

Toby squeezed Alexa’s hand. “Call me Toby,” he interrupted, knowing he was about to be delivered bad news. The least she could do was be less formal.

“Toby. You have a congenital heart defect. From your recollection of your paternal history, I’m surprised this wasn’t caught before.”

“I don’t like doctors,” he mumbled. Doctors were the ones who told his grandfather and father they were going to die. He wanted to live. He found the easiest way to do that was avoid doctors. Now he saw the flaw in his plan.

“This is a very serious matter.”

“I don’t understand. I eat healthy. Workout almost daily…”

“When it’s a genetic factor, sometimes those things can prolong a healthy life but most of the time it will catch up with you.”

Toby cleared his throat. “So what do we do about it, Doc?”

“Based on your results, my recommendation is for you to get a heart transplant.”

“A heart transplant?” Alexa echoed. She leaned her body weight into the bed.

Dr. Martinez nodded. “Without one I’m afraid you are living on borrowed time.”

“How long?” Toby asked.

“Let’s focus on getting you a heart first, Mr.—Toby.”

“I need to know, Doc,” Toby pressed.

The doctor paused before responding. “Based on my experience, I’d say less than a year.”

Alexa gasped and tears filled her eyes. “Your experience? What are you like twenty-five?”

“Alexa,” Toby warned, embarrassed by her outburst. She thought Toby was old for being thirty-three and he guessed Estrella to be closer to his age than Alexa’s own at twenty-two.

Dr. Martinez remained professional through the attitude. “I’ll give you two some time.” The doctor closed the door behind her, sealing the echo of her words in the room.
One year.
He stared at the door, unable to digest the information. His father and grandfather lived at least until their late fifties with their hearts. Why was he the one to die before then? He felt the traitorous organ thumping against his ribs and cursed it. He worked out and kept himself healthy since he was sixteen. Sure he liked to drink and eat whatever he wanted in moderation, but there were worse folks than him in the world. Why was
he
the one needing a new heart?

“I can’t believe this,” Alexa’s voice broke into his thoughts.

Toby looked at her, tracing the smooth lines of her face with his eyes. “I’ll figure this out. Let’s try and stay positive.”

She threw her hands in the air. “How can anything about this be positive? You need a new heart Toby. That can’t be easy.”

He swallowed the lump in his throat. “We have to try.”

She shook her head. “I need some time to process this.” She lifted her purse, this year’s birthday present from him, and headed for the door.

“Alexa,” he pleaded with her.

She was almost out of sight before turning to him. “I’ll come back soon.” Her eyes didn’t meet his. “I need some space.”

#

Alexa returned to the hospital the next day. She came in and sat in the chair by his side without a word. Toby noted the puffiness around her eyes. He would make this better for her. He had to. The life he imagined with her was going to happen. This wasn’t his time to die. It couldn’t be.

He knew he’d have to be the first to offer the olive branch. “The nurses said there is coffee in their lounge and you’re welcome to it.”

Her blue eyes pierced his. “I’m fine.” She pulled at the hem of her dress that barely reached her knees.

He knew she retreated inside herself when she was upset, while he was the complete opposite. He insisted on fixing things. “Thanks for coming in this morning.”

She shrugged. “I have to be here for you.”

He raised an eyebrow but before he could speak, a nurse walked in, one he didn’t recognize. She checked his vitals and swept out of the room as if she’d never been there.

“Do you need anything?” Alexa offered. Her tone suggested the words were being ripped from her mouth.

It’s a start
. “Water would be nice.”

They watched television for most of the day, making polite conversation. The reality shows that Alexa was interested in were boring enough to allow Toby’s mind to wander to his doubts and fears. What if they didn’t find a heart in time? What would his life look like at the end? Would he slowly rot in a hospital bed until his heart gave out? The thoughts left a sour taste in his mouth.

Though the appearance of Dr. Martinez chased them away.

Toby saw her mouth move but couldn’t pick out the words. “Alexa, can you turn that off?”

Alexa sighed heavily and turned the volume down a few notches, her gaze fixated on the screen.

“Good afternoon, Toby,” Dr. Martinez said. “How are you doing?”

“As good as I could be, considering,” he trailed off.

She nodded and checked his chart and vitals.

“Any luck?” he asked knowing it was a long shot.

She finished making her notes before answering. “It hasn’t been long since we entered you in the system. There are some forms for you to complete today and then we are able to discharge you in the morning.”

“That’s great, Doc.”

She smiled. “You can call me Estrella. We will be in close contact until the surgery.”

Toby nodded. “Estrella.”

Her smile touched her eyes as she patted his arm. “I’m going to work hard to get you the heart you deserve.”

“I appreciate that.”

Toby was able to breathe a sigh of relief when Estrella left. All of his doubts were whisked away by her words. For the first time since entering the hospital he felt lucky.

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