Home > Ash Bear (Daughters of Beasts #3)

Ash Bear (Daughters of Beasts #3)
Author: T.S. Joyce

Chapter One

Love meant something different to everyone.

For some, it was freedom.

For some, it was pain.

For some, it was a distraction.

For some, happiness.

For some, it was home.

But for Ashlynn Kane, love had been utterly…unattainable.

Love was for smart girls who read a lot, who could talk easy and flirt. It was for the outgoing girls who knew how to curl their hair into perfect beach waves, contour their cheekbones, and make everyone in a room laugh.

Love was for girls who were everything she was not.

Mousey, quiet, shy, slow to speak because the words in her mind didn’t come out right when she opened her lips… Who could be a match for that?

Her father, Bash Kane, had always told her there was a mate for everyone, but she was twenty-eight years old and had never even had a serious boyfriend.

One of her dear friends, Remington Novak, bumped her shoulder gently and said, “Look, she’s here.” Remi pointed to the front door of Sammy’s Bar, and the blaring country music faded away.

Her other best friend, Juno Beck, walked through the crowd and froze, stared at her mate up on stage with her lips slightly parted. She looked so different than the last time Ash had seen her. She wore her hair down and was in ripped-up black jeans and a black tank top that hugged her curves instead of those stuffy pant suits she wore when she was schmoozing her music clients. But how she dressed wasn’t the only change. Juno didn’t look tired anymore, and her cheeks were rosy. She looked so pretty.

A huge smile stretched Ash’s face as she arched her gaze to Rhett Copeland, Juno’s mate, playing a concert up on stage.

Remi leaned back and rested her cheek against Ash’s, and Ash put her arms around her and hugged her neck. Remi sighed. She was a good friend, happy for Juno, just like Ash was happy for her.

“Holy shit, y’all, she’s here,” Rhett said from the stage.

The crowd erupted in cheering. Remi did one of those shrill whistles, but Ash was more of a clap softly and watch kinda girl.

“Damn, you’re a sight for sore eyes, woman,” Rhett said into the microphone. “I fuckin’ missed you.”

“Awwwwwwwww!” came the chorus of girls.

“Booooo,” called a man with a mohawk a couple seats down the bar.

“Yeah, boooo and barf,” Remi’s mate, Kamp, called out, cupping his hands around his mouth.

Remi was laughing really hard.

“I have the worst friends in the world,” Rhett said with a chuckle.

He was talking to the crowd, but Ash was already in her head again. He’d called Remi a friend, but Remi was her friend. And Juno’s. She didn’t know these people—these Rogue Pride shifters. And Remi and Juno were different now, so vibrant and alive while she was exactly the same as she’d always been. Same old Ash. Everything was confusing. Everybody had left her and changed and come back, but she didn’t fit anymore, did she?

Brighton and Denison Beck were making their way to the stage to sing with Rhett. He was staring at Juno like she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen.

Someday, she wished all of her 1010 wishes would come true and a man would look at her the way Rhett looked at Juno.

“Your hair is puffy,” growled the man a few seats down the bar.

He probably wasn’t talking to her so she let herself get lost in the ooey, gooey, lovey eyes Juno and Rhett were making when he said into the microphone, “This one’s called ‘Goodish Intentions.’”

“Awww,” Ash murmured low, snuggling her cheek against Remi’s. This was the song Juno’s dad had written for her mom. She’d always loved it, and now her mate was singing it to her.

She’d also made lots of 1010 wishes that her friends would find their mates, and at least those had come true.

“I said your hair is puffy.”

Ash frowned at the man leaning on the bar top with both elbows, his hands clasped around a glass of beer. His black hair was styled into a mohawk, and his neck was covered in tattoos. He wore a gray thermal sweater with the sleeves pushed up, exposing tattooed forearms. His gold eyes were extra squinty as he glared at her.

She had wished someone would look at her like Rhett looked at Juno, but all she got was an insult and a tattooed behemoth staring at her with his golden eyes all angry-looking.

“Me?” Ash asked, patting her hair with one hand.

Remi narrowed her eyes at the giant and said, “Suck a tit, Grim.”

“And blue,” he said, his voice all snarly and low.

Ash stopped petting her blue hair and ducked her gaze. This man—this Grim—was very dominant. He filled the whole room with that icky feeling of being too big for his skin. He felt like the dragons did when they were here, which…one of them was. Damon Daye, the Blue Dragon himself and owner of the mountains she called home, was sitting at the very end of the bar, frowning at Grim.

Monsters. Too many monsters.

And when she glanced up to check, the monster with the mohawk was still staring at her.

“I don’t hate puffy blue hair.” Grim ripped his eerie yellow gaze away from her and went back to staring at the television that was playing an infomercial for some gadget that took the shells off of boiled eggs. The volume wasn’t even on, and everyone else in the room was watching Rhett Copeland sweeping Juno off her feet.

He really didn’t seem to care at all, just sipping his beer every thirty seconds or so. Not that she was paying attention, but she was good at counting. She didn’t have smarts about other stuff, but she could count good and she was good at computers like her dad. So far those little party tricks had earned her zero attention from the less-fairer sex.

This was usually the part where she clammed up and didn’t respond or look at a person for the rest of the night, but she was feeling brave because, look at Juno and her bright smile, and look at Remi leaning against Kamp as he whispered into her ear. This Grim would go home to his mountains soon, and she would never see him again. He wasn’t like all the other shifters here who lived in Damon’s Mountains and knew how she was. He was different, a stranger. Mom had always told her strangers were bad, but to Ash, they were good. Someteimes she could be braver with strangers.

Layla was working the bar tonight, and right as Ash opened her mouth to say something to the gargantuan tattooed man, Layla interrupted with a, “Here you go, Ash.” And then she slid her a shot of tequila and a lime. It was her favorite drink because, for some reason, it reminded her of tacos, and she loved tacos. “Thank you,” Ash said as she pulled the shot glass closer.

Layla gave her a knowing nod and then twitched her head at the giant. “Go on then.”

Ash’s hands started shaking. This was a bad idea. The music was so good, but it was loud. The stuff that made sense in her head never came out right. That man had something bad inside of him. Something very very good, but also something very very bad. She’d seen men at war with each other, but never a man at war with himself, but she felt more stuff than other shifters felt, and Grim was a mess-up like her. A glitch. He was different from other shifters, and that almost made her brave enough to talk to him, but then maybe she should just take this shot and be quiet. Like always.

So she did.

She took the shot and sucked on the lime to calm the burn in her mouth, and then she pushed the shot glass toward Layla to convince herself to pay attention to Rhett and Juno. But then the Grim man, without even looking away from the television, said, “I’ll buy that one for her, and can you get her another?” He lowered his scary gaze to Layla and finished it with a low, rumbling, “Please.”

Layla’s arms were resting on the counter, and when he looked at her, she froze. All the hairs on Layla’s arms lifted as if she’d touched an electric fence.

But Grim had offered to buy Ash a drink. So that was nice. Something good and something bad in him. Something good and bad.

“Sure,” Layla said softly, and then Kong was there. Her mate. Big-ass silverback gorilla shifter the size of a tank with a shaved head, staring at Grim from the other side of the bar. Monsters. Sooooo many monsters. Ash’s hands shook and shook.

Grim blinked slowly and glanced at Kong, didn’t look impressed, and then went back to watching the infomercials.

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