Bear in the Rough: Bear Shifter Romance (Broken Hill Bears Book 1)

 

 

 

BEAR IN THE ROUGH

 

Broken Hill Bears

 

 

 

 

ARIANA HAWKES

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright ©2016 by Ariana Hawkes

 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events and businesses is purely coincidental.

 

 

This is a standalone, full length novel, of 55,000 words (around 250 standard pages)

 

 

 

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A 4.6-star rated, comedy romance featuring one kickass roller derby chick, two scorching-hot Alphas, and the naughty nip that changed their lives forever.

 

The only thing missing from Aspen Richardson’s life is a man who will love her just the way she is. In the small town she calls home, bullies from the past remain, making her wonder if it's ever going to happen. But, things are about to change in a major way, as the secret Aspen’s parents have been keeping from her comes out…

 

“This book definitely needs to be added to your MUST read list – you will quickly fall in love with this steamy and fast paced story.”

 

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Chapter One

 

 

The solid thunk of fists on flesh. The grunts of exertion and pain. The crack of bones. The ripe mingled scents of perspiration, bear and fear. The screams of a thousand fans going wild. It had been five long years since Xander had last experienced that heady concoction, but it was home. And he was all too aware that it was about to become his life once again. Like it or not, he was back, and here to stay.

Keeping in the shadows to avoid detection by any of the clan, he climbed up the steep flight of steps to the eagle’s nest VIP box, sitting high above the ring. Years of rigorous training had made him very light-footed for a bear of his size, and his steps were almost silent. It was too dark to make out any faces, but his sensitive nose picked out the presence of several individuals that he used to know well. He positioned himself right at the back of the enclosure, his height affording him a view over the heads of the rest of them.

Two card girls occupied the ring, striding around in miniscule bikinis, grinning for their adoring fans. He allowed himself a small smile as he recognized the tall, agile physique of Mihaila– a tigress shifter, adopted by his clan when she was a baby. Her long red hair hung down her back in plaits, and her teeth gleamed under the harsh lights. The other girl was from the Black Paw Ridge clan. He couldn’t recall her name, but he remembered that she and Mihaila hated each other with a passion. When the night was over, they’d most likely be hashing out some grudges around the back of the venue. As they exited the ring to whoops and cheers and offers of marriage, Xander smirked to see Mihaila subtly tripping her rival so she stumbled off the stage.

The music stopped altogether, and only the sound of the audience’s voices remained. Xander scanned their faces, observing the typical combination of excitement and nerves. They waved banners and chanted the names of their favorite fighters. The silence went on and on, building their anticipation, until hard rock music burst from the speakers at an ear-splitting volume, the beat hard and insistent. The crowd screamed until their throats were raw. They knew who owned this song. Their heads twisted in a Mexican wave to the mouth of the tunnel that led to the ring. Xander craned his neck too, his eyes trained on the spot where the wrestler would emerge.

A figure appeared in the shadows, right at the back of the tunnel, inciting yells and screams, before disappearing again. It was part of the show, Xander knew. They’d get the crowd all stirred up and crazy, to the point that people had to be pulled out and given oxygen, and then they’d come on. He was dimly aware that his pulse had quickened as he waited along with the rest.

The figure moved back and forth; other members of the crew stepped out, pretended to be him. But at last, there he was, a huge, menacing presence. Totally unmistakable.

“The fearsome, the incredible, Maximus Silvester, of the Broken Hill Bears!”

the compère yelled.

Xander’s throat tightened. Maximus Silvester: the clan’s champion wrestler, and the older brother he hadn’t seen for five years. He watched his brother emerge into the brightly-lit arena, and then he blinked hard. Maximus’ torso was covered in scars, great diagonal welts, running from his shoulders to the waistband of the shiny, red and indigo-colored shorts he was wearing. Wrestlers got scarred, of course, but this was something more. And Maximus was a champion. To be scarred this badly from fights, you’d have to be losing matches pretty frequently.

Maximus let off growls and roars as he sauntered along the tunnel on his way to the ring, his voice clearly audible without the need of a microphone. The tunnel was made of bulletproof glass, as the audience well knew, but they still shrank away with screams of barely-repressed hysteria as he hurled himself against it, snarling and curling his lip.

The chants and whoops got louder and louder as he launched himself into the ring and strutted around, roaring and displaying his powerful physique to thousands of hungry eyes. Xander couldn’t hold back a twinge of pride at the sight of him. He was a formidable opponent, and very rarely beaten.

Before long, Maximus’ theme tune stopped, replaced by a raucous death-metal track and the air filled with a mixture of boos and hisses, along with the cheers and chants. The rubber-necking switched to the tunnel on the opposite side of the ring, and Xander watched as a Black Paw Ridge fighter came into view. He narrowed his eyes.
I should know who this is
, he thought.
A bear with his reputation can’t be new to the clan, and must have been around while I was growing up.
But he didn’t recognize the tall, heavily-scarred figure who swaggered to the stage.

“The terrifying, the phenomenal, Enzo Gutierrez!” the compère bawled, and Xander was none the wiser.

Once Enzo had performed his own theatre of menace, the referee – a shifter from a different clan – climbed into the ring with his microphone.

“What have you got to say to Enzo?” he bawled, thrusting it toward Maximus.

“I’m gonna fucking tear him apart! I’m gonna send him crying to his momma!” Maximus snarled. Xander smiled to hear his brother’s voice, however distorted it was just then. Enzo similarly promised to “rip him a new one,” and “break every bone in his miserable body,” and the starting bell rang.

Maximus launched himself onto Enzo with no hesitation, slamming him against the ropes, and it all began. Bear shifters didn’t act; they fought for real. Every slam, punch, choke hold and kick was 100% genuine. Any blood that was spilled – and there was sometimes a lot of it – was from real wounds inflicted by a vicious opponent, rather than the crafty nick of a razorblade favored by human wrestling matches. And they fought until someone was beat. Fights were never rigged. It was a mark of bear pride to fight until an opponent was thoroughly defeated. And in any case, the hatred between the Broken Hill Bears and the Black Paw Ridge Bears ran too deep for anyone to be let off lightly. Night after night, they battled like this, acting out their legendary hatred of each other.

Xander watched his brother with curiosity. He’d been a very strong fighter five years ago, but Xander could see that he’d honed his technique since then. He was very fast and powerful, with the agility of a smaller man, and he punched and kicked and ducked and wove with lightning-fast reactions. Enzo was a powerful opponent too, Xander noted with dismay. He almost matched his brother in strength, and he had a vicious streak. He went for the low blows, trying to catch Maximus off guard.

The rounds continued. Three-minute spurts, each leaving both fighters breathing heavily and soaked in sweat. Maximus was the first to draw blood, opening up a cut above Enzo’s right eyebrow. Xander tasted the tang of adrenaline in his mouth. Fights were often lost and won by such things, as an opponent partially blinded by blood was a lot easier to beat. As the round ended, Enzo threw himself down on his seat and his medical team rushed over, fixing up his wound with butterfly stitches. Halfway through the next round, the wound opened up again, and as Maximus landed a punch square in Enzo’s face, blood sprayed out of it, spattering the bullet-proof glass separating the fans from the bears. The audience let off a deafening scream, part horror, part bloodlust.
These humans who are so terrified of us aren’t so very different from us at all,
Xander thought with a wry smile.

The bell rang for the end of the sixth round and a brief intermission, and Enzo charged out of the ring, bellowing for his crew like a wounded bull. Maximus stayed in the ring, yelling to the crowd, flexing his muscles, boasting about what he was going to do to his opponent in the second half. Camera equipment was winched over the bulletproof glass and lowered in front of Maximus’ face, and he prodded it with an index finger and snarled into it, and his best fighting face was beamed onto a 15-foot screen at the side of the ring. This boasting and posturing was theater. The only part of the show that was staged. The bears got tired of showing off like this, but it whipped the crowd up into a delirious frenzy. It was what made the audience devoted fans, flocking to see the shows, buying the tickets the moment they were released.

Maximus suddenly became very still and looked up, up high to the VIP box, until he was looking right into Xander’s eyes. And then he leapt over the rope, bounded through the tunnel, and disappeared from sight.

Xander heard a pounding of feet on the stairs behind him, and Maximus appeared at the entrance to the VIP box, huge and perspiring heavily, arms hanging loosely at his sides. His eyes locked with Xander’s, radiating hostility.

“You’re back,” he said, his lips curling up on one side.

“Back for good this time,” Xander said and he bridged the space between them in a couple of strides, before drawing his older brother into a hard hug. Maximus’ arms clamped around his ribs, as if he was trying to crush them.

“You’re looking good, bro,” he said as they drew apart.

“So are you,” Xander replied, noting that his brother’s face had matured since they’d been apart; his jaw and cheekbones had broadened, giving him a hard, implacable look. His narrow blue eyes were as impenetrable as ever, while his golden brown hair was cropped shorter than he used to wear it. Up close, his scars looked vicious, like the marks made by an animal. Xander gestured to them. “What happened?” Maximus waved his hand dismissively.

“That’s a story for another time. You’ve missed a lot. Anyway, I’ve got to get back to the show.” He turned abruptly and headed back to the stairs. Right before he disappeared from sight, he glanced back at Xander.

“Good to see you, bro,” he said, that curl of his lip again, which was almost a sneer.

This is going to be every bit as difficult as I expected,
Xander thought grimly.

 

The second half of the match was vicious. Enzo had evidently been given the pep talk of his life, and he threw everything he had at Maximus. Meanwhile, Maximus’ style had become more ruthless; almost cruel, Xander noted. He continued the choke holds after the referee had told him to let go, and he aimed for the eyebrow gash again and again. There was no law against it, but wrestlers had an unspoken agreement not to worsen an injury that they’d already caused.
Does he always fight like this, or has something got him real riled up?
Xander wondered as the gash burst open again, spraying blood onto Maximus’ chest. Before long, Enzo was bleeding from two other spots, and the mat began to get slick with his blood. Xander could see that both fighters were having trouble keeping their footing as they aimed kicks and punches. The audience could also tell that something was up between them. There were ooohs and ahhhs of shock, mingled in with the usual cacophony of excited screams.

Enzo couldn’t keep going under Maximus’ relentless assault. His determination only lasted for the seventh round, and in the eighth, he was back on the ropes, fending off a series of blows that hit him like a jackhammer. A vicious uppercut sent him sliding to the floor, and when the referee gave him the count, he slipped and slid in his own blood, unable to regain his footing.

Four more rounds passed, with Enzo looking increasingly beat. When the final bell rang, the referee seized Maximus’ hand and raised it to the sky. The almost unconquered fighter had won yet another match. Maximus gave a victory roar and strutted around the stage, looking like a primeval beast that had just finished feasting on a buffalo. Then he gestured for the mike, and the referee handed it over.

“Another pathetic loser from the Black Paws bites the dust!” he bellowed. “And if that wasn’t excitement enough for you, I have a very special announcement to make: my long lost brother is back! He’s been away on a five-year mission, but he’s returned to kick some ass. I hope you can hear that, you miserable excuses for bears! My brother, the greatest fighter of the Broken Hill Bears, never before beaten, is here to kick the shit out of you! Xander, come and show your face!” Xander stiffened. No-one else would’ve picked up on the sarcasm in his brother’s voice, but he heard, it loud and clear. Maximus turned until he was looking directly at him again. At the same time, all the bears in the VIP box turned and stared at him too, letting off rumbles of surprise.

“Xander!” yelled a guy he recognized but couldn’t name. “You’re back!” They all rushed toward him, hugging him roughly and slapping him on the back.

“You’ve got to go in the ring now, man!” one of them yelled. He shook his head.
No.
This was the last thing he needed right now. But before he knew it, his shirt was being tugged over his head.

“Stop!” he bellowed, and his arms flew out to the sides, scattering them.

“Where’s my brother, Xander?” Maximus roared from the ring. There was a taunt in his voice, and Xander knew he couldn’t fail to rise to the challenge.

“Come on. We need to show the Black Paws that they’re nothing anymore,” one of the other bears said. He sighed, pulled his t-shirt off and threw it aside, then jogged down the steps and all the way to the ring. He grabbed the ropes, threw a somersault, and landed with a bounce right next to his brother.

“That’s right!” he roared, snatching the mike. “Xander the Great is back! You know what happened to my namesake one time?”

“No!” the audience screamed, in an incredible wave of sound.

“He wept, because there were no more worlds to conquer! That’s right! He was such a great fighter that he beat down any obstacle in his path. Well, I’m telling you, I’ve been all around the world for the last five years, and now I’m back. Ready to conquer any damn wrestler who thinks he’s up to the challenge!” While the crowd yelled and screamed and clapped, he cringed inwardly. He didn’t know how those words came out of his mouth. Still, he was glad that he hadn’t lost his talent for driveling bullshit. The audience was lapping it up though, bawling “Xander, Xander!”, trying to turn ‘Xander the Great’ into a chant.

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