Home > Ash Bear (Daughters of Beasts #3)(7)

Ash Bear (Daughters of Beasts #3)(7)
Author: T.S. Joyce

“You look pretty again.” She whispered it so softly he almost missed it over the growling in his throat. Fuckin’ Reaper was going to make him miss her weird compliments.

“What’s the match site you’re on?”

Ash was taking a sip of her beer and sputtered and coughed. Recovering quickly, she said, “It’s silly.”

“It’s just me and you here. We can say whatever we want.”

“But…”

“But what?”

“I want to keep you. For tonight.”

She was worried he would leave? “You have me. For tonight.” He wanted her for longer, but he was going to leave her alone and let her have a good life. Not poison her with the Reaper.

“There’s a site that got started a long time ago in Damon’s Mountains. ’S called bangaboarlander dot com.”

Grim purposefully kept his face as composed as he could. “Okay.” He adjusted the burning logs with a rusted iron poker he found on the ground. “I can’t imagine you needing help to find a mate.”

Ash kept her gaze on her plate as she moved her food around with the tip of her fork. She went quiet, and he could almost, almost smell some emotion coming from her—sadness?

He sat on the chair next to hers and took a long swig of his beer, studying her, waiting for her to talk to him.

When she didn’t, he finally pushed. “You okay?”

“I don’t like being teased.”

“Who teased you?”

“You’re doing it. I know it’s a joke, you saying I shouldn’t have trouble finding a mate. I don’t like it.”

Aw crap, he didn’t mean to make her feel like he was making fun of her. “Look at me,” he murmured.

When she shook her head, she looked so sad it punched him in the gut. Fuck. He wasn’t good with people. He hurt everyone. This is why he was king of the Last Chance Crew.

He should leave. He should get up, set his plate down, walk into the woods, and never come back. The Reaper inside of him gave a slow smile. He couldn’t stop snarling. He wanted to hurt the thing that had hurt her, but that was him. He was the hurter. Always the hurter.

For once in his life, he wanted to give smiles instead. For her. Feeling like shit on the bottom of a boot, Grim pulled his chair right next to hers and gently gripped her chin, bringing her gaze to his. “I wasn’t teasing. You have pretty eyes and a figure that makes my balls clench just walking behind you. You have a sweet disposition, and you care about people. You don’t just waltz through your life unaffected by the people around you. You’re a good friend to Juno and Remi, and you think a lot about other people’s feelings, and—”

“I ain’t one of those smart girls. And my body is shaped like a number eight, not a number one. I live here alone and will probably never leave the Boarlanders. No boy has ever stuck around because I don’t make sense to anybody, and nobody makes sense to me. I’ve been on bangaboarlander for three years since Juno set up my account for my twenty-fifth birthday, and people always message, but they don’t care about me after I respond. I bore them.”

Grim released her chin because, truth be told, he felt like he’d just stuck a fork in a light socket. “None of that matches the girl I see. And besides, eight is my favorite number. You’re the least boring person I’ve ever talked to. Fuck anyone who made you feel that way. Give me a list, and I’ll take care of them.”

“W-what?”

“A list, Ash. Give me a list of those boys’ names who made feel that way about yourself. Fuck anyone who ever made you feel like you don’t make sense.” He gritted his teeth so hard his jaw ached. “You’re just about the only thing that’s made sense to me in years.”

Chapter Six

Ash sat there stunned. She made sense to him? A trill of excitement zinged through her that made her want to make him presents. Pizza rolls and pocket knives and heart-shaped cards and all the special stuff she’d watched her friends in Damon’s Mountains give their mates over the years. She wanted to make more smiles on his face. Pretty smiles, not the ones like when he gritted his teeth at his Crewmates at the bar.

“How did you meet your people?” she asked, suddenly desperate to know more about him.

“You want confessions? It’s probably best to get them out of the way, and then you can decide whether I sleep inside or outside tonight.”

She shook her head slightly. What did that mean?

Grim pushed the bull hoodie off his head, adjusted the peas on his shoulder, relaxed back against the back of the lounge chair, and stared at the fire. “I’m in Rogue Pride to exist until I get too tired to keep going.”

Those last two words broke her heart. “Don’t say that. Don’t be tired.”

He gave her a small crooked smile that didn’t reach his amber-colored eyes. He growled a lot. Between sentences, between words, even when he was just sitting there. “I was raised in the Tarian Pride. They made me who I am. Made the Reaper. I was born with a dominant lion, raised with the intention I would Challenge for Alpha someday. I was brought up to hate everyone. My grandma was a submissive lioness. Both my parents were killed in Pride politics when I was a cub. There was a council, five dominant lions who chose kings for the Pride. They’d chosen me when I showed I liked to fight early on. So when I wasn’t with my grandma, they were training me to be a killer. It’s all I knew. I had my grandma trying her best to keep me good, but I had the council reinforcing the bad. Started fighting when I was twelve. I wanted to fight everything. To kill every male who even looked at me wrong, and the council was proud of that. I was rewarded for every fight won. And then I lost a fight. A big one. I was eighteen. There was one other lion being brought up to be high in the ranks. An asshole named Justin Moore. Justin was a problem. He was a womanizer. He thought females were there for him to breed when he took Alpha and nothing else. They existed to give him future cubs. They were nothing more than a wet hole to stick his dick in. Made me sick, watching him treat the females like shit. We hated each other. Hated. If a male ever treated my grandma the way Justin treated the females, I would kill him slow and not lose a second of sleep. We had to homeschool because the council was creating monsters who couldn’t be in a public setting. So, we were kept nestled in the heart of the Pride, built like weapons, taught the politics, taught how to work the Pride, taught how to be ruthless Tarian kings, knowing one of us would rule the Pride when the Alpha got too old and weak to hold it. One of us was born to kill him.” Grim looked over at Ash, his eyes sparking with something she didn’t understand. “Do you want to run yet?”

But he wasn’t evil. Just tortured. Her eyes burned with tears because she wished for a better story for him. She wished he’d had an easy time growing up. She pushed the hood off her head, set down her plate, and threw the blanket around her shoulders like a cape. Then she crawled onto his lounger right behind him and wrapped the blanket around them both. She hugged him up tight because that’s what her dad had always taught her. If someone was broken, a hug could keep their pieces together.

“Keep going,” she whispered.

Grim inhaled deeply. “I’ve never talked about this before. Not out loud. I’ve only replayed it in my head.”

“Tell it to me like a movie. Take me there. Tell me about how the Reaper came to be.”

“Okay.” Grim sucked in a deep breath and patted her hands on his stomach. “I lost a fight to Justin. We nearly murdered each other, our lions hated each other so bad. We both ended up in the middle of a field, in the middle of a bad storm, bleeding out while the Tarian Pride stood around us waiting to see which one of us died first so our families could be honored or stripped of their honor. You like stormy weather, but rainclouds always remind me of the day I died. I remember my grandma screaming and crying as the council held her back. She wanted to help me, but I couldn’t be helped. I was built to die or survive in that field. I tried to hold on. I wanted to keep my eyes open so bad, but everything hurt, and my lungs weren’t working right. I was so cold. I tried to focus on my grandma. Her hair was down, silver already from stressing over the monster I turned out to be. It was whipping in the storm. Tears were streaming down her face, and her eyes were bright green like my lion’s used to be. She Changed and fought everyone, but there were too many, and I lost sight of her in the mass of lions. I couldn’t move. My fuckin’ neck was ripped open. I was lying there painting the grass red. I died first.”

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