Home > Ash Bear (Daughters of Beasts #3)(13)

Ash Bear (Daughters of Beasts #3)(13)
Author: T.S. Joyce

The sound got closer and closer. She lived out in the middle of nowhere, so it had to be him. She arranged her face to be mad because he was very late and shouldn’t be greeted with a smile when he did something wrong.

He parked right in front of the house in the SUV rental and shoved open the door. “I know I’m late. I’m so sorry.”

“Why?”

Grim was wearing the same black T-shirt that clung to his powerful shoulders, the sleeves of his blue flannel were rolled up to his elbows. The gray beanie was pulled low on his forehead, and his skin was paler than she remembered. The black tattoos on his neck looked so dark next to his white skin. His eyes were hollow, and he looked unwell.

But all he said in answer was, “There’s no excuse good enough to make up for being an hour late, Ash. Light me up.”

Like a glowstick? “I don’t know what that means.”

“You can yell at me.”

“Did you Change?”

He ducked his gaze, and that was answer enough.

“Into the Reaper?”

He nodded slightly.

“Well…I suppose that’s okay then. You aren’t easy, are you? This is one of those times when I have to decide if I accept the bad part or leave, right?”

Grim inhaled deeply. “Yeah. You’ll have a lot of those moments with me. And if you leave, I’ll understand. It’s okay.”

She canted her head and studied him. In his hand was clutched a small paper bag. “Did you bring me a present?”

He huffed a relieved-sounding chuckle and closed the distance between them. He handed her the bag.

“I really love presents,” she whispered, giving up on trying to hide her smile. “And I missed you and thought you didn’t want to see me anymore. I really wanted to go to a movie tonight.” She opened the paper bag and gasped at the present inside. It was a tiny flower pot, no bigger than a golf ball. On the packaging was a picture of miniature pink roses.

“It has everything you need to start growing the roses in that tiny pot. When they get big enough, you can transplant them into the yard. And I’ll kill anyone who rips them up.”

“Ooooh,” she said on a breath, holding the tiny pot and crinkling paper bag to her chest. “This is my favorite present.”

He searched her face with an awed look she didn’t understand.

“What?” she asked, worried.

“You just look so pretty when you smile like that. Your cheeks go all pink. I think they turn pink when you’re happy.”

Wow. No one had ever looked that closely at her. Now her cheeks were probably getting even pinker. “I like being happy,” she whispered.

“I know. I can tell. It’s just…well, I’m not usually the one that makes anyone happy.”

“Well, you do that for me,” she said with a nod. “I’m going to grow pretty roses and cut off the thorns and send some to your grandma.”

Grim wasn’t even growling right now. That was new. He was just smiling. He pulled her in for a warm hug that smushed her boobs against his stony chest and made her feel all fluttery inside.

Boys could make a girl’s chest hurt, sure. But they could also fill them up with butterflies, and butterflies were her favorite bug.

Grim swallowed hard. “You asked if it hurt.”

“The Good and The Bad?”

“Yeah.” Grim held her closer and swayed with her. “Yes, it hurts.”

“All the time?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, Grim.” She rested her cheek against his chest and scratched his back gently as they rocked. “If I could take it away for a little while, I would.”

“Really?”

“Of course. It must be very hard to stay steady when you get pulled like that. Tug of war for you all the time. In my head, I get mad at my bear when she is too submissive. I wish she was different sometimes. And you have two different ones.” She looked up into his face and touched his beard lightly. “You are very strong, Grim.”

He chuckled darkly and shook his head. “Wrong,” he said, using her word from last night at the bar. “Why would you think that, woman? I want to kill everything. I want to fight everything. I can’t stand the man I am. I can’t stand the animal I am. I can’t stop my Changes, I can’t do my job, and I can’t be an Alpha for my Crew. I can’t keep you. I know I can’t. And I want to. It’s the first thing I’ve really wanted in I-don’t-even-know-how-long. And it makes me angry. Makes me pissed I can’t have one thing I want.”

“But you can.”

“Ash, you’re breakable. It’s not your job to fix a monster. You’ll lose some of the things I like about you. You’ll have to accept things when you deserve better. And you’ll compromise over and over until you realize how unfair it is that I picked you. I like you a lot. I like you enough to know you deserve much better than where I’m headed.”

Ash huffed a breath and tugged his beard. “Are you done tryin’ to leave?”

He froze, looking utterly stunned that his beard had been accosted, but so what? He was being ridiculous.

“This is a boring talk,” she assured him. “Doesn’t change anything. I still want to be around you tonight. And probably tomorrow night. And probably the next night until your Crew makes you go back to your mountains. And then I’ll be very sad and wait to see if you message my bangaboarlander page. I’ll imagine what your life is like there and make ten-ten wishes that you find happy moments. Because you deserve them.”

Grim shook his head, back and forth, back and forth, but she pressed her fingertips tighter against his cheeks to keep him in place.

“You don’t see me right,” he whispered.

“Maybe it’s everyone else who doesn’t see you right.”

He swallowed hard and moved away from her. He angled his face at the SUV in her driveway. “Come on, Good Girl. You’re shivering, and there are butt-warmers in the truck. I don’t like when you’re cold.”

As she walked beside him, she slipped her hand into his because she was figuring him out. He wasn’t as worried about her being cold as he was about her words. She was breaking him down a little. Why? Because Ash knew no one had been nice to him like this. No one had ever told him he was worth anything more than an enforcer for a bunch of heartless monster lions. But he was so, so, soooo much more. He was still here. Still fighting. Tough man. She respected that way more than a man who’d buckled under the darkness and quit. Who’d given in. Grim wasn’t a quitter. She’d never figured out someone this easily. He was like a book. He had triumphant chapters and scary chapters. Right now, the triumphant chapters were short and the scary ones long. But that was okay because, for once, she was good at reading. For her, every interaction with people was confusing and hard. Every day was the same. But Grim had come in and made sense to her. She felt relieved around him. And she didn’t want him to leave. So…she was going to keep breaking up his scary chapters with the nice words she thought because, no matter how strong a man was, he should hear the good.

Grim squeezed her hand, and when he looked down at her, his eyes were a brilliant green. Hello, The Good. He was telling her thank you for being nice to him. For being understanding. Those green eyes were a reward. She understood his thank you. It was another sentence of his book that she could read.

“What kind of music do you like?” he asked as she buckled herself into the passenger’s seat.

“Uuuuum,” she drawled out as she rested her fingertips against the vent blasting warm air. “I like the music on the one-oh-eight-point-five station.”

Grim hit the seek button on the radio until it settled on the station. A Youngbloodz song was playing its first chorus. She mouthed the lyrics and bobbed her head to the fast beat as she stared out the window at the snowy woods blurring by.

Grim laughed, and it sounded surprised, so she looked over at him to try to understand. He took his eyes off the road long enough to look at her with a big what-the-hell grin, then back to the road, then back to her. Ash’s cheeks felt hot again, so she ducked her gaze and scrunched up her nose in embarrassment.

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