Liam's Bride: BBW Werebear Romance (Clan Conroy Brides Book 1) (3 page)

 

 

 

Meredith let out a shaky breath. She concentrated on relaxing her jaw, one tooth at a time. "That went okay."

More than okay. He’d listened with every indication of seriousness. And the kindness he’d shown Brick- Meredith’s heart softened. Men like that made good fathers, good husbands. It was too bad men like that were rare.

"He didn’t say 'hell no' or kick us out, so I guess."

She half grimaced, half sighed and raised a hand to signal for the check. Lowered it back to her lap to hide the fine trembles. It had taken everything to remain composed in his presence. The warmth, the command he projected affected her, as if the air was super charged with pheromones. The server came to her table, smiles and graciousness.

"Your meal is compliments of the Chef, ma'am."

"Double cool," Brick said.

Meredith stared at the server, pride battling with practicality. The reality of her dwindling program budget and narrow personal finances swayed her towards practicality. "Oh. Well- give him my thanks and compliments for a fabulous meal. I’ll leave a positive review," she added.

The server smiled again. “We appreciate it. Honest reviews are the lifeblood of every small business.”

"He’s kinda nice, you know?" Brick said as they left. "Maybe he likes you. I thought he was checking you out a little hard, but I figured it was a werebear thing. They're supposed to be intense."

She felt as if she'd faced a firing squad, only it was a squad of one and she was naked, bared to the heated gaze of a male whose gun wasn't the steel type. She felt fire in her cheeks and bit her lip to distract herself. There was no denying she... reacted to him. But it absolutely wasn't attraction. Just nervousness, and the knowledge of who he was. Whose son he was. Meredith paused at the crosswalk, closing her eyes briefly. If he ever found out about her father, he would never renew the lease. The smart thing to do would be to get at least a three year contract out of him- just in case. And then see as little of him as possible.

"I think it's just a chef thing," Meredith said, opening her eyes as she heard Brick moving. They'd taken a bus to avoid expensive downtown parking. The meal counted as an expense of the program, but that wasn't necessary now.

She wondered if he would call her, or if the free meal was a parting gesture of sympathy to ease his conscience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER

3

 

 

 

 

 

They rode the bus to the YWCA, Meredith driving Brick the rest of the way to her foster home. She hadn't met the family- somehow the teen always avoided introducing her. Meredith worried about the placement, but also knew from nearly two years experience she wouldn't get a word out of the girl unless Brick wanted to talk.

Thinking of family, on a whim Meredith drove to the diner managed by her mother. Kathy would be on duty; Friday evenings were busy shifts. If it was hectic enough, her mother would rope Meredith into waiting tables for tips only, since she wasn't officially an employee and on the payroll.

Meredith had moonlighted on more Fridays than she could count. Teaching jobs were hard to come by in a small town, and though she scraped by conducting adult ESL classes online during the day, money was tight. Another frustration. It seemed in every aspect of her life money was an issue. And then someone like Liam Conroy waltzed in and just bought a whole building as if it money was no object.

Resentment welled up, followed by guilt. That man and his family deserved whatever good fortune came their way. She had no right to feel jealousy at his success.

"Mere!"

Her mother spotted her as soon as she walked in the door, noise blasting Meredith’s ears; the din of chatter, dishes clinking, cooks hawking orders, and high energy music a cacophony in the background. A marked difference from the restaurant she'd just left. It felt like home.

"Hey, Ma. Need help?"

Kathy shoved an apron at her. "Take section three. Cory called in with a sick kid. Emergency room."

Meredith grimaced in sympathy. Double whammy. A hospital co-pay and loss of what could be upwards to two hundred dollars in tips on a six hour shift. It was one of the many reasons why she'd always been careful with birth control- outside of marriage, how could she afford to take care of a child? So she directed her maternal instincts into caring for the teenagers in her program, and maybe one day...

She waited tables for two solid hours before a lull in customers allowed her to take a quick break. Leaning against a stack of boxes containing dry supplies in the employee break room- more of a storage closet with a couple of card tables set aside, her mother joined her a few minutes later, sighing as she kicked off her black restaurant shoes.

"This is the first break I've had in six hours," Kathy said, rubbing her feet. "Paydays are always like this."

"We've both earned a slice of pie after shift."

"With double ice cream." Mother grinned, abandoning feet to rebraid her dusty red hair. "Did you come to work or hang out?"

Meredith sighed, staring at the table, fingers tapping the hard plastic. "Ma..."

"Uh-oh. What's wrong?"

There was no way to say it, except to say it. "The YWCA is being sold to the son of Gerald Conroy."

Mother's entire countenance changed from a happy though exhausted woman, to someone tense from instant negative stress.

"That’s not good," Kathy replied, voice quiet. "You have to move the program to another location?"

"There
is
no other location. I... asked him to let us stay."

Grey eyes widened. "Meredith, does he know who your father is?"

"No."

Kathy shook her head. "There is no scenario where withholding that information will work out well."

"I was going to ask for a three year contract."

"
Meredith
. You have to tell him."

"He-"

"He's not a bad boy.” She began tapping the table in time with Meredith, stopped, lowered her hands to her lap. “What your father did is not your fault. You need to be honest, Meredith."

Honesty wasn't always what it was cracked up to be. What she
needed
was an affordable space for her program. What she
needed
was to not have to uproot an entire garden right before fall. What she
needed
was some kind of luck in her life instead of everything being complicated, for once.

"I'll think about it. When I talked to him he seemed..." she hesitated, trying to put into words an impression of him she didn’t quite yet understand. His body language, which coming from any other man would have led her to think- but that was ridiculous.

"Yes?"

"He didn't say no," she said after a minute, blushing. Kathy's eyes narrowed.

Meredith stood, hurriedly. "That's my break. I'll do another two hours and then head out, alright?"

"Huh. Meredith Lizanne-

"See ya, Ma."

She went back to her tables, avoiding the suspicion in her mother's eyes, cursing her pale skin. She couldn't help it. When she thought about the way he looked at her with such focus- all she could picture in her mind was how he would look above her. Inside her. It wasn’t until she was on her way home that she realized she’d completely forgotten to tell her mother that her father had called from jail, and would soon be out on parole.

 

 

 

She spent the next evening at her best friend’s house, going over the events of the previous week. It occurred to Meredith that since Tamar’s boss was the man she’d seen in Liam’s company- Alphonso- Tamar might have some insight.

“You did what?” Tamar’s shriek nearly drowned out her infant’s squeal as her tiny foot hit a plush bear swinging over her.

Meredith slanted her a
look
, irritated. “I think I was creative.”

Tamar stared at her, deep russet eyes wide. “You’re crazy. He’s a Bear. Do you know how territorial they get? One day this jerk insulted Al’s choice in new upholstery for the booths, and Al growled at him and threw him out of the bar. Literally threw him. The police just said they couldn’t help suicide by Bear.”

Meredith sighed, defeated. “It seemed like a good idea at the time. He was real nice about it. Comped the meal and invited Brick back for free.”

“Brick? That smart-mouthed, Goth faced-”

“Don’t talk about her like that. She’s a kid who’s had a tough life. She’s been working on her attitude.”

Tamar shut up. “Okay, that was mean.”

“Besides,” Meredith continued, “she didn’t have a dad growing up and her mother-”

The single mom held up a hand, full lips tight. “I get it.”

They both glanced at the baby squirming on the activity rug in front of them. One of her hands caught a plastic rattle, and she couldn’t quite figure out how to disengage. Luminous black eyes and curly hair, golden brown skin a cross between her mother’s deep hued tone and the Caucasian father Meredith only knew as the White Guy Who Knocked Tamar Up, the baby was the most beautiful Meredith had ever seen.

“It’s not your fault-” Meredith began.

Tamar smiled, nothing happy in the expression. “How is it not my fault? No one made me have unprotected sex with a- with her father.”

“Have you tried contacting him again?”

The silence was reply enough. “He knows where I am,” Tamar said. “If he wanted to see me, he could get on his damn motorcycle and be here in five minutes.”

“Um… motorcycle? You didn’t mention he had a motorcycle.” Meredith’s eyes narrowed. “Wait a minute. You told me he was from here originally. There aren’t that many guys from here who own motorcycles.”

Tamar avoided looking at her. “Just forget about it, okay? Forget I said anything.”

That wasn’t likely, but she could set it aside for now, like she’d set it aside for the last year. Meredith didn’t know the whole story of this guy and Tamar, but she thought her friend was being too quick to accept his non-involvement.

She shrugged. “Anyway, Liam said he’d consider it. He seemed interested.”

“Liam Conroy is never interested in anything a human has to say.”

Meredith winced. “My Dad is to blame for that. Liam can’t ever find out.”

Tamar rolled her eyes. She’d worn mascara today, living on the edge. Meredith knew Tamar’s Pastor father forbade his daughters wearing makeup. “Melodrama. Worst case scenario is he does, and you just have to find somewhere else to park your program. Better get a backup plan together, girl.”

“I’m working on it.” Only she wasn’t. The Y was her second home, and she wanted to stay. She’d just have to convince Liam to let her.

 

Liam felt eyes on him from across the street. Continuing to work, he waited. She'd come to him when she was ready. This early in the morning on a Saturday, the sun was already warm and a considerate breeze provided a bit of relief. The porch he'd rebuilt had finished drying weeks ago, but he hadn't gotten around to coating it with another layer of white paint until today. The first day he'd taken off since he could remember.

Finally she approached, emerging from the cover of trees. His house sat on the edge of a section of forest reserve specially cordoned off for Bear use, no humans allowed. The humans might resent it, but the fact was his people had been in North America for hundreds of years before the pilgrims ever landed. When the first Europeans had tried to conquer Bear inhabited lands, they’d been met with bloody resistance. Over the years, sheer numbers of humans and sheer bloody aggression from Bears produced a stalemate; so now the Bears owned entire vast tracks of forest land reserved for their use. It wasn’t like the old days, but it was… something. And since his family, the Conroy’s- a name adopted generations ago- controlled this area of the state, he was charged as the local Den Alpha with maintaining their borders, and their relationship with local humans.

“Hello, Mother.”

She studied him, eyes inscrutable. The sun brightened the burnt caramel color, a shade of brown no human possessed. He glanced at her face, paused, and drew himself up to his full height. He’d need every inch he could get; right now she was an Elder addressing an Alpha, and not his mother.

“I spoke with your sister,” Gwenafar said.

“Yeah? She talks too much.”

Liam knew he may have mentioned Meredith, may have been… frustrated in some of his word choices. The evening before, after the human woman left his restaurant, it had taken him until after closing to recover from the encounter. Not recover- that wasn’t quite the right word. But… return to equilibrium. She’d put him off balance. His desire to please her, his desire to take her home and chain her to his bed, disturbed him. He couldn’t recall reacting so strongly to a female before, Bear or human. Certainly not human. Norelle had nearly chewed his head off because of his snappish distraction.

“It seems as if you’ve taken the Circle’s edict seriously,” his mother said. “I was prepared for more… pushback.”

He scowled. He was no tame Alpha. “I’ve given the Circle’s edict all the consideration it deserves.”

She sat down on one of the dry steps, patting the spot next to her. He sat next to her reluctantly, but he couldn’t disrespect his mother.

“You don’t agree with it? The doctors we spoke with were convincing.”

It wasn’t that he didn’t agree. He’d read the reports along with all the other Alphas. “You know how I feel about humans,” he replied.

“Yes, I know, and I think it’s a shame you allow one bad seed to cloud your judgment of an entire species.”

She called the man who’d shot his father a ‘bad seed?’ That scum was a bit worse than bad seed. And if Liam ever saw that man in this town, or any of that man’s sons- if he had any- then he’d make it his duty to see they paid for the sins of the father.

“Is it so wrong to want to stay with our own kind?”

“No, not wrong. But we need the Alphas to set a good example. If we don’t introduce fresh genes into our community, we will die out.”

He understood that. But he thought seeking human brides should be a last resort. There were werebears in the international community they could find mates among. Granted, the politics of that would be… convoluted. And some of the European Bear cultures were a bit weird. But it could be done.

“I’ll do my duty, mother,” he said, an edge in his tone.

She sighed. “Tell me about this woman your sister said you met.”

He shrugged, staring up at the sky. “She runs a program at the YWCA. Gardening for problem kids.”

“Oh? That sounds promising if she works with children. Is she pretty?”

Pretty? She was fucking hot. Lush curves and fiery hair. And an attitude under the shyness that turned him on.

“She’s not ugly.”

Gwenafar laughed, wincing at the same time. “I hope you have a bit more finesse when trying to woo her.”

Finesse? He wanted to just toss her over his shoulder and have done with it. But he supposed things weren’t done like that anymore. Especially not with delicate human women. A Bear female would assume that if he staked a claim, his intentions were good. If she allowed him to carry her off, it was tantamount to a commitment. But then, he wouldn’t be carrying off a Bear female unless he was ready to mate her anyway. So was he really prepared to mate this woman? Marry her? His instincts seemed to be pushing him in that direction. Damnit.

“I see you have some thinking to do.” His mother stood. “I’ll leave you to your busy work. Just remember- this woman isn’t to blame for the bad things in our past, Liam. Don’t take your pain and anger out on her.”

He kissed her on the cheek before she left. It wasn’t a long walk back to her house- his childhood home.

His family allowed him another generous thirty minutes of work time before the next volley. Boden bounded up the steps, appearing from the side of the house. He liked to jump fences between yards and cross the alley rather than take the time to walk around the entire block. Lazy. Liam wondered what Meredith would think of the werebear family tendency to live in the same neighborhoods their entire lives. Entire extended families staying within walking distance of each other. It was rare for a member of a Den to leave his or her place of birth and rearing. Which was the problem.

“Did Ma stay long?”

His brother could scent that their mother had been by, but he wouldn’t know for how long. “Yes, she did. Were you sent to do your part to talk me into this mating?”

“Bit soon, isn’t it?” Boden disappeared in the house, came back out a moment later with two cold beers. “I know we need brides, but you just met a girl. No one said you had to rush things. Though, if you aren’t interested, let me know. I think I’d like a stab at her.” Boden grinned. “Literally.”

Liam growled, the involuntary rumble tearing from deep in his chest and startling them both. Boden held up his hands, one clutching the sweating can. “Hey, no foul. Clear field, bro. Just let me know if you decide to step back.”

“She’s mine.”

Boden saluted him with the can. “You should probably tell her that, then. Humans don’t do the whole mate on first sniff thing.”

Liam turned on his heels, storming into the house. The floorboards creaked. They were refinished, carefully buffed into gleaming warm life, but the original wood still creaked. Especially under his weight. A few colorful woven rugs were scattered in each room, absorbing some of the shock.

He entered his state of the art kitchen where he kept the house phone. He was old fashioned like that- he still believed in having an actual home phone number. Liam snatched it up from the black base, opening a drawer to withdraw a small notepad. He’d already talked the YWCA director into giving him Meredith’s phone number- just in case he needed to reach her for business purposes over the weekend.

Dialing, broad knuckles rapping against the granite counter.

“Hello?”

“Meredith.” He managed, barely, to rein in the snap of his voice.

“Mr. Conroy?”

He gritted his teeth. “Liam. Look, I want to talk to you about your proposal.”

“Okay,” she said slowly. “I’ll be in the office Monday at the usual time.”

“No. I want to see you tonight.”

“Mr.-Liam- I don’t think-”

“Don’t think. I’ll be at the Y at 9pm. Meet me in the kitchen.”

He hung up before she could say anything else, mind skipping ahead in the day. Plotting, planning. Deciding on how best to seduce one half shy, half suspicious human woman. And making it seem like it was all her idea.

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