Home > Ash Bear (Daughters of Beasts #3)(22)

Ash Bear (Daughters of Beasts #3)(22)
Author: T.S. Joyce

Ash smiled shyly, stepped right up to her, and gave her a quick hug, ignoring her offered hand. “We hug where I’m from,” Ash murmured. She cleared her throat and wrung her hands in front of her lap. “Grim said you were submissive, but you don’t feel submissive at all.”

“You sure do,” a man piped up. “That surprises me, Grim.”

“What of it, Todd?” Grim asked, glaring at him.

“Just a surprising choice in a mate is all. Seeing as how you’re Tarian through and through and should know better.” He spat. “She ain’t even a lion, is she?”

“No,” Grim said with zero hesitation. “Grizzly bear.” He nodded his chin at Todd. “She might be quiet, but I’d bet on her fucking you up in a fight.” He scanned the faces. “What is this?”

“An intervention,” a tall man said from the shadows beside the pavilion. He stood from where he’d been sitting in a rocking chair and stalked closer.

Ash hadn’t even noticed him there, and apparently Grim didn’t either because when he saw the heavily tattooed predator, his poker face faltered. “Ronin?”

“The one and only. I must say,” the blond-haired man said in a silky-smooth voice, “I’m a little surprised you remember me.”

“It’s been a long time,” Grim said, guiding Rose to stand on his other side.

The man, Ronin, reeked of dominance, almost as much as Grim, but was thinner and lither. He moved as if he concealed power. Just like Grim.

He didn’t slow until he was right in front of Grim, and the two titans sized each other up. The tension was so thick it was hard for Ash to breathe. But suddenly, Ronin cracked a smile and pulled Grim against his chest. Grim clapped him on the back hard and laughed. “Oh man, it’s been years.”

“Too many years, old friend,” Ronin murmured, releasing him.

“What the hell are you doing here? I thought you were clear of this place for good.”

One of the men behind Ronin snarled, but Grim put him in his place immediately. “Aw, fuck off, Terrence. I can say what I want. You have a problem, we can take it to the clearing.” Grim stared him down, fury radiating from him until Terrence dropped his gaze and exposed his neck.

“He doesn’t mean any harm,” Ronin rumbled. “Just loyal to me.”

“Yeah, well, every one of them was once loyal to Justin, too. They turn easy.” Grim gave Terrence an empty smile. “I learned that the hard way.”

“Ronin,” he introduced himself, offering a hand to Ash. His blue eyes were dancing as he pulled her hand to his lips and kissed her knuckles.

When Grim snarled out a single word “mine,” Ronin released her. Smart man because Ash was about three seconds away from swiping her claws across his face. She didn’t like uninvited touch that wasn’t from Grim.

“Where is everyone?” Grim asked.

The spark left Ronin’s eyes. “Council’s dead and so is Justin. Killed by Dark Kane’s Crew.”

“I heard. Idiot went after Beast.”

“Yep. The lions are trying to rebuild the council, and they started recruiting Tarian Pride members to make it up. They’ve split the pride right down the middle. Some want the council to be rebuilt, the ones looking for power, and some of us,” he said, gesturing to the shifters behind him, “want a different future for lions. One without the rule of the council.”

“Rebuilding the council with Tarian Pride members is the worst fuckin’ idea in the world,” Grim muttered. “Offense intended,” he said to the milling group in the pavilion. “Lions here aren’t known for their fair politics.”

“Agreed,” Ronin rumbled. “I came in to shake things up a little bit, but I can’t do it alone. I’m in the middle of a war. Half of Tarian is in town, half are here. The townies have an Alpha they want on the throne.” Ronin twitched his chin at the dozen men behind him. “But they seem to think I can turn things around for this Pride.”

“Who do they have in town?”

Ronin shook his head. “New blood. Like me. Typical Tarian Alpha. Reminds me of Justin.”

“Shhhit,” Grim murmured. “You put another Justin on the throne, the Pride is doomed.”

“Agreed.”

Grim looked at Ash and Rose, then frowned. “Why did you bring me to the pavilion, Ronin?”

“I need an enforcer—”

“Fuuuck that,” Grim snarled, walking back to the truck and pacing back. “Fuck that, Ronin. I’m not an enforcer anymore.”

“What are you then? You aren’t normal, Grim. You still have that damn monster in you. You’re still the Reaper.”

“No,” Ash murmured.

“Just listen to him,” Rose whispered.

“I know you hate what you are,” Ronin said, “but this is you. No one can enforce like you can. No one could best you as Second. Together, we could change the entire infrastructure of our fucked-up shifter race. Me and you. Ronin and the Reaper.”

“No,” Ash repeated louder. “He’s not just the Reaper. Not a weapon. He’s The Good, too. He’s Grim.” My Grim. She couldn’t lift her gaze from the stupid ground. “He can be happy. He’s Alpha of Rogue Pride.”

The scratching sound said Ronin was rubbing his beard in agitation, but she didn’t care.

“My mate’s right,” Grim said.

Ash gasped and held his hand fast. “You said the M-word,” she rushed out on a breath.

Grim murmured immediately, “Well you bit me, woman.”

“I know, but I didn’t think you thought…I mean…I didn’t know if you wanted…”

Grim lifted her hand to his lips and pressed a kiss against her knuckles, and all the chaotic jumbled mess of words in her head quieted. It was okay. He was okay, so she was okay. They could talk about this later.

Grim squeezed her hand and lowered it back down to his side. “I just came here to get my grandma out—”

“I don’t want to go,” Rose said softly.

“What?” Grim asked. “Then why did you tell me to come get you?”

“Because I wanted you to talk to Ronin face-to-face. You were such good friends as boys. Ronin was always a good boy, always had a good moral compass. It’s part of why he couldn’t stay in the Pride. And when the council saw how close you two were, even after they’d made the Reaper, they didn’t want him messing with your moral compass.”

“What moral compass?” Grim growled.

“Exactly,” said Rose.

Ash had never seen anyone look so sad as Rose when she murmured, “You didn’t have a shot at changing your fate in this Pride, Grim. But Ronin was banished and raised well, and he can fix us. I know he can.”

“At my expense?” Grim uttered softly.

“Your mate can stay here with us,” Ronin said. “She’ll have the protection of the Tarian Pride—”

“No,” Grim murmured.

Ash held his hand tight because his eyes were glowing brighter.

“You can have a dozen cubs, lion or bear, won’t matter. I just need you to—”

“No,” Grim said in a sterner tone.

“Just back me up and be my Second, and when we go after the new council, you’ll—”

“Kill?” Grim snarled. “Is that what you need from me, Ronin? Can you not feel him? Do you not remember what it was like for me when the Reaper was born? It got worse for me with every kill. Every drop of blood marred my soul and fed the devil inside of me. I left here wanting it all to end, and I found something I never thought could exist for a man like me instead.”

Ronin looked pissed, and his breathing was heavier as he stared down his nose at Grim. “And what’s that?” he asked, the words tapering into a smile.

Grim tipped his head toward Ash. “Hope. And I’m pretty damn determined to keep it. I’m not your Second, Ronin. I’m Alpha of my own Crew of fuck-ups now. I’m keeping them.”

“If the council is reinstated and Tarian Pride stays in the hands of the townies, who do you think they’ll come for? When all the dust settles, who do you think they’ll want to serve them?”

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