Home > Ash Bear (Daughters of Beasts #3)(16)

Ash Bear (Daughters of Beasts #3)(16)
Author: T.S. Joyce

“Grim.”

“Grimleton.”

“Grimapotamus.”

“Grimmy Grim Grim.”

Stupid fucking rock.

And stupid fucking Grim for being a legitimate psychopath who made up words for a rock in his least favorite friend’s voice.

Rhett was a canker sore.

But as much as he didn’t trust Vyr, the Red Dragon had made some fair points earlier. One of them being that he should maybe try to be a better Alpha. Or at the very least, let the Rogue Pride Crew in a little bit.

So when everyone was distracted with gathering the blankets and the popcorn bowl, he strode over to the dumb pebble, stooped down to pick it up, and pocketed it as fast as he could.

He shoved his hands deep in his pockets and made his way back to the SUV, only daring to glance up once. Everyone was busy and hadn’t paid attention to what he’d done except for Ash, who wore the prettiest smile he’d ever seen.

Of course, he had to stop and kiss her just to taste how sweet she was.

And when he cast a glance at Rhett, he caught the Rogue Pride jokester looking at him with an expression he didn’t understand. Busted, Rhett looked away fast and busied himself with folding a blanket.

Grim held out his arm for Ash so she wouldn’t slip on the ice, and led her back to the passenger side of the SUV as she called her goodbyes over her shoulder. She was so damn cute. And confident talking to the others. It was a big difference from the way she’d been last night. Maybe she just didn’t like being in big crowds, but a selfish part of him hoped she was more confident because she knew she was safe with him. Seriously, seriously safe. He would gut anyone who even looked at her wrong.

Grim jogged around the back of the SUV as the Crew was climbing into the borrowed pickup truck.

Old Grim would’ve gotten into his ride, rolled down the window like he was about to say something nice, then flip them off and peel out hard enough to throw snow all over them.

But Ash would be disappointed if he did that, so New Grim tried to ignore them instead. But then he thought she would be disappointed in that, too, so he kicked the tire and snarled as he spun around. The entire Crew jumped in unison as he barked out, “Listen up, you cretins.” He cleared his throat and lifted his chin higher. “Tonight wasn’t terrible.”

And then he got in the SUV and drove away, only looking in the rearview mirror once to witness Rhett standing in the middle of the parking lot waving to him and wearing this dumb, mushy smile like he’d just seen the birth of his first kid.

So Grim rolled down the window and flipped him off.

Baby steps.

Chapter Thirteen

Grim was starting to feel different from the inside out.

It was terrifying.

He’d been exactly the same for so long he didn’t know how to do this…this…changing thing. But the beautiful girl beside him had turned everything inside out.

She made him feel salvageable. Oh, he wasn’t a sentimental man. The opposite really. He was a realist and had known from the day the Reaper was born that he would only live a half-life. No real friends, no mate, no cubs, no future. He was cursed to live in the moment and hope to God he could keep the Reaper under control enough to make it to the next moment, and the next and the next.

Rinse and repeat until his last breath which, honestly, he’d figured would come from one of the Rogue Pride Crew or from Vyr himself.

Yet here he was, still breathing, and not only that, but he was feeling emotions a monster like him had no business feeling.

He should run…right?

He should leave this little siren alone before he became addicted to the way she made him feel. Before he got protective and defensive and claimed her. Before he ruined her life.

But sitting here in the SUV, vents blasting warm air on them, Ash holding onto his arm and singing softly to a hip hop song, he couldn’t even imagine walking away.

Not for himself, and not for the benefit of her either.

And that, right there, was proof he was a monster. A selfish one. One who put the little glimpse of happiness he felt before her safety.

The Reaper was here, waiting and watching her. Hunting her maybe, he didn’t know. Nothing made sense except he liked this high she gave him.

Hope.

He startled slightly. He still wasn’t used to the good lion’s voice yet.

Ash had both arms wrapped around his bicep as he rested his free hand on her thigh. She kissed his arm softly, and his heart rate raced a little less. She was a drug. Whatever made Ash Ash, spoke to him in a way that no one else ever had.

He was a chipped and damaged wrecking ball destined to always be just that, a destroyer, but tonight he’d watched her laugh and smile and tell him nice things that made him have moments where he thought, I can do this. I can be okay for her.

Was this just The Good talking? Was the good lion just so desperate to hold onto all the face time he could get that he would endanger Ash to have it?

He trusted his animals about zero percent. Maybe less.

He pulled to a stop in front of her little cabin. She’d left the front porch light on, and the little place looked homey. But a sudden homesickness washed over him, and it rocked him back a bit.

“I wish I could show you my den.”

“In the trailer park? In the Oregon mountains?”

Grim turned off the car and relaxed back. “Yeah. I wish I could show you my life. My mess of a life. Show you all the bad parts to test you and see how fast you run.”

“I’m not a huge fan of cardio, Grim.”

He snorted, and then another chuckle escaped him. She was smiling, so she knew she was being funny this time. She was so damn cute. The perfect combination of sexy, adorable, and funny. It was a hard balance to manage for a person, but she did it flawlessly.

He’d never felt this way about any person.

“I don’t know how to pair up or take care of a woman,” he admitted.

“You took care of me just fine today,” she said with a shrug.

Fuck, he couldn’t believe he was about to tell her this. It was a big admission. “In the Tarian Pride, after the Reaper was born, they made a rule for me.”

“I don’t like that. You’re a king. Why would a king have to mind rules?” Her voice was lower and had grit to it. Good girl. Protective she-grizzly.

“My value to the Pride was as an enforcer. I had no choice. I was wrecked, had very little control, couldn’t live with another Pride the way I was. They would have killed me as soon as they figured out how damaged I was. I was one of those lions you put down, not keep. The rule was that I wasn’t allowed to have a female. They were afraid a female would soften me, and I wouldn’t be as useful to them.”

“For fighting?”

“Yes. I built a reputation. The Reaper loved the fight, and I didn’t lose. Not after he was born. Most of the time I could just show up in a territory, and we could claim it. The shifters there would feel my attention on them, feel me hunting them, and they would pack up and leave. I fed the Reaper on the blood of those fights.”

“No, no, no. The Tarian Pride fed the Reaper.”

Grim ran his hands over his mohawk and sighed. “I wanted companionship, but the females were kept away from me. Everyone was kept away from me. I lived a solitary life so I would stay angry. So I would keep the chip they’d carved into my shoulder. I only left that pride six months ago.” He shrugged and shook his head. “I don’t know how to take care of something fragile.”

“Okay, well, that has nothing to do with me.”

“What?”

“I’m not fragile.” There was such pure honesty in those three words. It was something she knew to be true about herself, and it made him think.

What was fragile? Was it smiling and enjoying life and appreciating the simple things? No. Was it submissiveness? No, he’d never seen that as a weakness either. His grandma was submissive, but she’d been steadfast and strong and taken every awful and hurtful word the Tarian Pride had fed her and swallowed it down, and then lived her life despite them. For a second, he’d been mistaken that Ash was weak because she was choosing to be around him, a walking disaster. But perhaps that showed Ash’s strength, not weakness, to know in her heart he was part monster and stick beside him anyway.

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