Liam's Bride: BBW Werebear Romance (Clan Conroy Brides Book 1) (10 page)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER

10

 

 

 

 

 

She’d left her charger in his truck.

“Fu-udge,” she said, flopping down on her couch in disgust. She stared at her laptop. Six hours of lessons to teach, four hours left on the battery. Darnit. No choice. She rose, texting Liam, hating that she had to bother him, expecting to have to chase him down at the restaurant. She chewed her lip, brow furrowing; dealing with an aggravated Bear in Chef mode wasn’t her idea of fun.

:Don’t worry, sweet. I’ll have my brother deliver.:

She sighed in relief. He wasn’t annoyed, and she’d get her charger. The doorbell rang twenty minutes later. Meredith opened the door, staring at the male standing with her charger dangling from his hands.

“Hi,” she said, head titling.

The man grinned. “I’m the handsome one.”

Meredith smothered a snort. “Thank your mama,” she said, reaching out. Frowning when he pulled the charger out of her reach, almost… teasing.

“I can see why he’s besotted,” Liam’s brother said, gaze roaming up and down her body.

His eyes were chocolate rather than bottomless coal, hair with hints of red in the light rather than Liam’s dense raven wing black. They were of a similar height, though this one seemed leaner, less intense. His eyes sparkled, mischievous in a bad boy trickster way that before meeting Liam, would have made heart patter- right before she backed away and slammed the door. Bad boys were so not her thing.

Even two weeks ago the presence of a strange male at her door would have disturbed her. She supposed something about belonging to Liam infused her with a new confidence. She didn’t feel quite so alone anymore. Oh, she’d always had her mother, had Tamar. But this was different. Still, she resented this man’s perusal and nearly slammed the door in his face. She
would
have words with Liam over his brother’s manners.

“I hardly think he’s besotted. Can I have my charger, please?”

He quirked an eyebrow. “If you give me a kiss.”

Meredith’s lips thinned. She began to close the door when he exclaimed.

“Okay, okay, just kidding.”

She stopped. “I didn't think it was funny,” she replied, voice flat.

He sighed. “He gets all the hot ones,” he complained. “Listen, if you ever decide to leave that autocrat, I’m right here waiting, baby.”

The… boy… opened his arms wide. Meredith shook her head, snatching the charger out of his hand, relaxing. He was just one big flirt with younger brother syndrome.

“I’ll let Liam know you tried to poach on his woman,” she said, shutting the door in his suddenly alarmed face.

 

 

 

Meredith rose from her crouch, craving one of Liam’s cayenne mint lemonades, about to turn on her heels to go to the kitchen and ransack the pantry for at least the powdered stuff she kept on hand for the teens when she stumbled, dizziness momentarily blackening her vision.

A slender hand wrapped around her arm. “Whoa, teach. You okay?”

She waited until she could see again, a fine tremble in her knees, and realized the creeping fatigue she’d blamed on thirst and heat could be something more serious. She hadn’t been able to eat that morning, appetite gone.

“I’m okay. Is Patrick still sick with the flu?” One of her teenagers had been missing for two days now, ever since the incident with Liam’s brother, though he’d texted Meredith to let her know he would be back when he felt better. She’d appreciated the notice since they were getting to the time of year where every hand counted. There was canning to do, preserves and jams and salsa to make and package. Orders to fill from people who would come to the Farmer’s Market to pick up their produce.

“He wasn’t in school today,” Brick said. “You didn’t catch it did you?”

“I might have.” It would explain the lingering touch of nausea for the last few days. “I’m going to go inside and sit down for a minute.”  And hope the crews were on a break and she could have some silence. Watching them convert the building into a culinary school with a small television studio was interesting, but noisy.

But by the day after next, Meredith realized she wasn’t going to beat the virus after all. She woke up by the skin of her teeth, the kind of exhausted where it hurt to even lift her hand to fumble a text to Sheane. There was no way she was coming in today. She used her phone to go into her class schedule and canceled all her students for the next two days, to be on the safe side. Then allowed herself to sink back into sleep.

Pounding on the front door woke her, and the insistent vibrating of the cell where she’d dropped it next to her pillow. Meredith lifted her head, saw it was Liam, and came to a conclusion.

By the light coming through the curtains she knew it was well past afternoon. Sitting up, she realized she felt much better- since she could sit up without her head swirling and her body protesting the effort. Grimacing at the taste in her mouth, she texted Liam to give her five minutes to brush her teeth- they weren’t quite at the stage where she was comfortable with bad breath and gunk in her eyes though they’d been together for over a month. The pounding stopped, but she could almost feel his hulking impatience.

“I’m coming,” she muttered, doing nothing more than the bare minimum. She sniffed under her arm and winced. She’d let him in, then dash back to the bathroom and clean up for real. He’d just have to wait.

“Are you okay?” he demanded, walking in almost before she had the door open. She shuffled back quickly to avoid jamming her toes.

“The flu,” she said.

“Sheane told me you were sick. Brick said it started two days ago. Why didn’t you call me?”

She stared at him. “You were out of town. What do you think you were going to-”

He inhaled, nostrils flaring. “You smell different,” he said, frowning.

“Well, Jesus, I would have taken a shower if you’d given me some warning.”

“No. It’s not that.” He stared at her, a queer expression on his face. “Hey, I’ve got to make a phone call. I’ll be right back, okay?”

Meredith shrugged. Whatever. It would give her time to wash up. By the time he returned she was clean, though her hair was still wet. She’d even slathered up in some of her favorite Bath and Body Works scented lotion, the kind she always stocked up on but never had a reason to wear.

“That stuff is strong,” Liam said, coming through the front door. “But not strong enough. Meredith, I need you to come with me.”

“Where?” she asked. She’d just been about to make herself a sandwich, suddenly ravenous, and a cup of extra strong coffee to chase away the last vestiges of fatigue. “I was going to make a sandwich, I’m kinda hungry.”

“You haven’t eaten anything today?” His brow furrowed.

“Not in the last few days, really. I haven’t had an appetite.”

“Meredith! You have to eat.” He grabbed her upper arm, hustling her out of the door. “We’ll stop by the restaurant and get you something healthy. And you’ll eat all of it.”

“Oookaaay.” She looked at him sideways, brow rising. “You’re acting really weird. I’m not a skinny gal, you know. I won’t waste away if I don’t eat for a day or two.”

His mouth firmed as he ushered her into the car, fastening her seatbelt with a fussiness that would have amused her if she weren’t already annoyed. The restaurant wasn’t far, or said annoyance would have gotten the better of her manners. He didn’t seem in the mood to talk, so she closed her eyes and dozed the few minutes to his restaurant.

“I asked Mother to meet us here,” Liam said, touching her shoulder.

Her eyes flew open as it hit her. “I’m meeting your mother?”

“Yeah. Don’t worry about it.”

He walked around the truck and opened her door, helping her down the step as if she were a fragile old woman.

“Liam, are you sure-”

“There’s a nice rock eye salmon today,” he said, ignoring her. “And a couscous cake we’re working on with a dried berry compote. Sit down and I’ll bring you a plate.”

She felt odd, sitting down in the restaurant like a patron when she was the owner’s girlfriend getting special treatment. Relaxed when he led her through the kitchen and into the back of the restaurant where there was an employee break room. It was nice, the walls painted in bistro neutrals. A flat screened television and the same tables and chairs from the restaurant were arranged comfortably. Employee lockers lined one wall, nice ones that weren’t an eyesore with the decor.

"Sit down and I’ll bring you a plate."

She sat and a few minutes later a tall young woman with a long dark braid and wide set hazel brown eyes entered the room with a steaming plate of food.

"Hi," she said, staring at Meredith.

Meredith stared back. After a second the woman moved, placing the food down on the table. Her head titled, nostrils flaring. She backed up several feet, eyes narrowing.

"Uh... hello." Meredith knew the woman must work in the kitchen- she wore a white jacket.

"I’m Norelle. Liam’s sister."

Of course. She looked like Liam, albeit smaller and female, her features more delicate. She would have been very young at the time of the murder.

The female Bear shifted. "Liam asked me to bring that to you, he got caught up with a line cook. He'll be right back, though."

"Tell him to take his time," Meredith said, remembering to breathe.

The woman nodded and backed out of the room. Meredith began to eat a minute later, digging into the meal with two days’ worth of hunger. She was half way through her meal and starting to feel full enough to look around for the television remote, when a door she hadn't noticed on the far side of the room buzzed. She stared, wondering what she should do. It buzzed again.

Rising, she opened the door. A young man in jeans and a branded polo stood at the door with a clipboard. "Delivery."

"Oh- um, I don’t work here. Let me get someone."

She stuck her head out of the breakroom door and immediately winced.

"It’s burnt," Liam roared. "And bland. Fire again, and this time get it right. Salt and pepper, salt and pepper!"

Meredith trotted down the hall and stopped at the kitchen threshold, not ashamed to admit to herself she felt somewhat.... intimidated. Norelle moved with whiplash speed as Liam barked orders, sleeves rolled up. He wasn’t in a jacket, which told Meredith he hadn’t planned on working.

"Liam?" she called, clasping her hands behind her.

His glanced her way, eyes narrow. She forced her feet to remain glued to the floor. "There’s a delivery at the back door."

Norelle swore. "The market order. Kriss called off, she was supposed to handle that. I'll go."

"I need you on the line," Liam snapped, looking around.

"I can do it," Meredith said. "Just count all the boxes and make sure the order is correct, right? I help my mom out at her diner."

"You can judge produce?" Liam asked, frowning.

"Weelll, I grow it, so I think-"

He nodded, turning back to the line with a wave. "Go."

Feeling annoyance from his curtness would be a waste of emotional energy. Liam the Chef didn’t care if she was aggravated by his brisk manner. He just wanted the job done.

Meredith went back to the break room, opening the door for the delivery man again. "I'll take care of everything. The kitchen is busy."

He looked her up and down with a raised brow but shrugged. "New intern?" he asked, waving a hand at his crew. Two men jumped out of the truck.

"Nah. Owner’s girlfriend." It felt both odd and right to say it.

"Huh. Free food, man. I hear the chow here is good."

"It sure is." She took the clipboard and began marking off items, rifling through the boxes to inspect the fresh produce. Nothing canned, which she heartily approved of.

"Mere?"

Her head jerked up. "Dad?"

Harvey set a box on the ground, grinning. He wore a cap and the same branded polo. "Hey, small world."

"This is your new job?" She hadn’t quite trusted him when he’d said he was working, trying to put his life back together.

"Yeah." He returned to the truck and unloaded another box. "They hire people with records. I didn’t know you worked here."

"I don’t," she replied quietly. "It's... my boyfriend does. I’m helping him out."

"Really? He's the manager?"

"Something like that."

"That's nice, sweetheart. Well, I’ve got to get back, I’ll talk to you later, okay?"

She nodded, about to finish checking the last box when the back door swung open. Norelle stuck her head out.

"Hey, there was a lull, finally. Everything good?" The woman glanced at Harvey, and froze. "I know you," she said softly.

He glanced at her curiously. "Probably not. I’ve got an average kind of face. Hey, see you later, sweetheart, have a good day."

"You, too." It was stupid, she knew, but in that one moment the contentment in his normally shadowed eyes touched her heart and she couldn’t bring herself to rebuff him. People could change, after all, and wasn't the point of jail to serve out a sentence? Who was she to continue to punish him - and herself- once society decided his sentence was over?

"You know him?" Norelle asked,

Meredith handed her the clipboard, brushing past her. "I was able to verify the order and everything looks good, but you'll want to double check. Tell Liam I had to get to the Y, okay?"

"Wait a minute," her lover's sister began, voice deepening.

"Bye," Meredith said brightly with a bouncy wave, walking fast through the alley and around to the front of the building. She'd just hop on a bus and get the hell out of there before Norelle put two and two together and told Liam.

But in her heart she knew she couldn’t put off having that talk with him any longer.

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