Unbearable Heat (The Grizzly Next Door 2), page 1part #2 of The Grizzly Next Door Series
Unbearable Heat: The Grizzly Next Door
Copyright: 2015 Aya Morningstar
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When curvy Lily Waters' house is torched, the man she's burned for her whole life rushes through the flames to save her.
He's Seth Stone, the werebear next door, and a smoking-hot firefighter. He won't let Lily be left out in the cold, not when he's got a nice, toasty place to stay just down the street.
But Lily has been down that road before and gotten burned.
Seth drops everything to provide for Lily, but when his inner bear jolts awake from a ten-year hibernation, things heat up. His hidden beast can't help but notice Lily's generous curves and seductive lips.
Everything seems to fall right into place between them, at least until a pack of bloodthirsty werewolves swears revenge on Seth.
To be together, Seth and Lily must settle their past and fight tooth and nail for their future.
*This is a stand-alone novella with a happy ending and no cliff hanger. There is scorching and wild sex, so be warned!*
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Lily held an egg in one hand and the instruction booklet for the bread machine in the other. The egg—fresh from the fridge—was cold in her hand, and the instructions were already covered in flour and olive oil.
She read the next step aloud to herself. “Separate the white from the yolk, and put the egg white on top of the flour. If you plan to bake the dough in the oven, reserve the egg yolk to brush the bread before baking.”
Yeah, right. Lily didn’t buy this bread machine with a built-in timer and bake feature just to make dough. She wanted it fully automated to have fresh bread ready for her when she woke up. She’d save the yolk for French toast.
She cracked the egg open on the side of a bowl and then used her fingers to separate the slimy whites from the yolk. She more or less succeeded, but some yolk definitely ended up in with the flour. Close enough.
She put the yolk on a small dipping plate, which she covered and set back in the fridge. Just as she thumbed through to the next page of the recipe, she heard a loud knock at the door. Three knocks, mechanical and evenly spaced.
Her subconscious brain realized who it was before she took a step toward the door, and her regular brain figured it out just before she reached for the knob. Flynt Brenner. Her ex-boyfriend.
She hesitated. She hadn’t even touched the knob yet, and maybe he didn’t know she was home. The lights were on, but maybe she’d just forgotten to turn them off. Maybe Flynt had come on a whim, or maybe he’d tried to summon all his courage for this one attempt, and he wouldn’t bother her again.
No. Lily knew Flynt wouldn’t give up. She could ignore him now, but then he’d just be back in a few days. It was better to get it over with now. Just let him say what he wanted to say, let him get it out of his system, and then send him on his way.
She twisted the doorknob and opened the door. She didn’t try to feign surprise when she saw him. He looked a bit better than she’d remembered.... How long had it been since she’d seen him? A month? Two?
He was wearing a gray Henley with a few buttons undone, revealing just a hint of chest hair. He was glistening slightly with sweat, and Lily realized he must have started working out since they’d broken up. For one, his beer gut was mostly gone, and his jaw looked more defined. She looked down, and his chest, arms, and shoulders had definitely been doing some work.
He smiled at her, and his hooknose was still there, but he’d meticulously plucked his unibrow. Something he’d never done before.
In the fight before they broke up, he’d insulted Lily for her size, and in her anger, she’d retaliated by saying, “Two chins is better than one eyebrow.”
Looking at the bare skin between his newly-formed two eyebrows, Lily regretted her words, though she still didn’t regret the breakup.
“Hey, Lily,” Flynt said.
“Hey,” she said, forcing a small smile. She didn’t want him to think she was bitter or angry. She’d show him that she felt calm, that she was not upset. If she seemed as angry as when she rejected him now, he might think he still had a chance.
“Do you mind if I come in?”
“Oh,” Lily said. “Yeah, of course. Sorry.”
She took a step back and opened the door wide for him. He kicked his boots a few times on the welcome mat and then stepped inside.
She shut the door and asked, “Do you want something to drink?”
“No,” he said, “I’m fine. What’s that smell? Are you baking?”
They walked toward the kitchen, and she pointed to the bread machine. “Making bread. I’d offer you some, but it won’t be ready until morning.”
Flynt narrowed his eyes at the counter. “Come on, Lily, you’ve got like three power strips plugged into one outlet.”
“This old house has one outlet for the whole kitchen. What do you expect me to do?”
“Uh,” Flynt said, “maybe unplug what you’re not using?”
“I use everything,” Lily said, her voice harsher than she wanted it to sound.
“Okay,” Flynt said. “Sorry, you’re right. I didn’t come here to lecture you about fire hazards.”
Lily forced a nonchalant tone and asked, “So, what are you here for then?”
“You,” he said. “I mean...us.”
Lily bit her lip and looked down at the flour- and egg-yolk-stained instruction booklet. She didn’t want to see that desperate, searching look in Flynt’s eyes.
“Flynt,” she said, “there is no ‘us.’”
“I know,” he said, “but there could be again. We both messed up at the end, and I messed up way more than you. I understand that now.”
Lily realized that she did feel some lingering bitterness toward him. She forced it down and out of her mind and then said, “Neither of us messed up. We did what we had to do to end up here. And I think this is where we should be. Messing up would have been staying together.”
Finally she looked up at him. She couldn’t avoid his gaze forever. His eyes were wild and searching, and his mouth opened up and closed several times before he spoke again.
“What if I don’t accept that?” he said. “Good things aren’t easy, and they don’t just fall into your lap and stay there. You have to fight for them and hold onto them.”
Big words from him. If only he had acted that way while they were together. He’d taken her for granted. He’d spent so much time with his friends and so little time with her. He’d stopped even looking at her body. The spark had gone out, and Lily had felt better about everything—about her whole life—as soon as the initial pain of the breakup had died down. She didn’t want to go backward.
“I don’t want to talk in metaphors, Flynt. Life isn’t a motivational poster.”
His eyes iced over as she spoke. She’d moved too quickly. She’d planned to let him down more slowly than this. But there was really no gentle or kind way to say, I don’t love you anymore.
She continued before Flynt could cut her off. “Flynt, I’m happy now, and I haven’t been happy in quite a while. I won’t pretend to know how or what you feel, but I need to do what is best for me, and right now that is going to sleep alone, waking up, and enjoying my freshly-baked bread. You should go do whatever makes you happy and know that it’s over with us. You won’t find happiness with me.”
He nodded slowly and glanced back toward the front door. “Yeah,” he said, “you’re right. Sorry. Maybe we’ll see each other around town?”
“It’s a small town; I’m sure we will. Good luck, Flynt. Take care of yourself.”
He pointed at the tangled mess of cords and extension cables flowing from the socket. “You too, Lily.”
When she shut the door, a huge wave of relief washed across her. She hadn’t lied to him, because she did feel happy now, but she also felt lonely. She wanted to be with someone who loved her and protected her, someone who never took her for granted. If Lily wanted to be weak, she could take Flynt back. He looked better now, and taking him back would end her loneliness, but for how long?
She was proud of herself for not taking the easy way out, for doing what was best for her in the long term. And now she was exhausted, and she wanted nothing more than to crawl into bed.
She flossed, brushed her teeth, and washed her face. She remembered just before falling into the warm embrace of her sheets and pillows to set the bread machine timer. If she had forgotten, she would have woken up to oily flour and egg white over water rather than fragrant, crusty bread. She had to be at the office at 9 a.m., so she set the machine to start making the bread at 5 a.m. If she woke up around 7 a.m., it would be ready to eat when she got up.
Perfect, she thought, and she collapsed into bed.
Lily dreamt of bread. The fragrant scent of freshly-baked bread in the kitchen filled everything. The bread in her dreams wasn’t just a square loaf like what the bread machine would make; it was plump and round, and it was hatched on top with a knife to give it more room to expand. It was golden brown on top, and when she broke off a piece of it, there was a refreshing crunch sound. But the inside of the loaf was anything but crunchy. It was soft and wonderful—white and fluffy. It would be perfect for a nice herb-infused olive oil dip.
And just like a dream—because this was a dream—a shallow plate of golden olive oil appeared before her, and she dipped the steaming chunk of bread into the oil. She stirred it around, getting the rosemary and garlic and other herbs to stir around and stick to the bread. Just as she raised the piece to her mouth and got ready to take a bite, the scent flooding her nostrils turned to ash.
She smelled acrid burning, and the bread disappeared from her hand. She bolted upright and realized she was no longer dreaming. She was in bed, and the burning smell was real. Lily started coughing as she rose to her feet. She stood up, and the awful scent intensified. She breathed in, but her lungs rebelled with a hacking cough. She flicked on the light and saw smoke rising from beneath the door. She touched the doorknob, and it burned her as if she had touched a hot pan.
Shit. Was the whole house on fire? She suddenly remembered what Flynt had said about the power outlets, and she realized that the bread machine—newly bought and plugged in—might have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Lily’s bedroom was on the second floor, but if there was fire just on the other side of the door, she knew she might need to risk jumping. She opened up the window and looked down. She’d looked out this window countless times since she’d inherited this place from her grandma, but she’d never had to look out and think about jumping. There was a metal fence less than a foot from the wall, and though the decorative spikes on top of the fence were relatively dull, they would be plenty sharp when her weight fell onto them from two stories up. She might be able to take a running start and clear the fence, or maybe she could try to fall close enough to the wall to not hit the spikes. She spent a few seconds seriously considering the merits of jumping, but she decided it was a last resort. She needed another way out.
Her phone. She’d left it downstairs. She’d been in such a rush to just go to bed that she’d forgotten her phone. The chances that a neighbor or someone driving by on this small road was low. The road she lived on was a dead end, and she was almost the last house on the street. No one was coming to help her.
She threw open her closet and grabbed thick pairs of jeans, wool jackets, and big sweaters. She ran into the bathroom, which thankfully was attached to the bedroom and not blocked by the main hallway. She turned on the shower and threw the clothes under the stream of water. While the clothes soaked, she ran back to the bed and grabbed the bed sheets, and then she threw those into the sopping pile.
She threw open the cabinets beneath the sink and grabbed a cleaning bucket. She dumped the cleaning supplies onto the floor and scooped out the toilet water. She almost gagged as some of the water touched her hand, but she didn’t have time to worry about cleanliness right now. She used the shower to fill up the rest of the bucket, and then she rushed with the bucket back to the door.
It had felt like ages, but Lily realized she’d probably only wasted about a minute, maybe a minute and a half. She thought of dumping some water onto the doorknob to cool it down, but her adrenaline was pumping so hard through her veins that she just kicked the door. The doorknob fell away as soon as her foot made contact—the knob that was in the hallway must have burned away—and the door flung open with no resistance. The momentum of the kick nearly sent her falling into the hallway.
But the heat. God, the heat. She jumped backward and ran back to the bathroom. Her eyes were stinging, and it was getting hard to see through the smoke. She wrapped a soaked t-shirt around her face, covering her mouth and nostrils. It was hard to breath through it, but it was easier than breathing in the raw smoke. She wrapped herself in soaked jackets and sheets and lifted her bucket. She could make a mad dash through the upstairs hallway, hoping that the wet clothes would protect her.
And yet, what would she do once she found the stairs? What if the hundred-year-old stairs collapsed just like the doorknob as soon as she put any weight on them? And what if the fire were even worse downstairs? The front door was just a few feet from the end of the stairs.... She could run straight through. Right?
Seth Stone dreamt of his mate. He’d had this dream every night for the past week. And he always knew it was a dream when it happened, but it wasn’t the kind of lucid dream where he could control what happened. It was like a movie he was forced to watch, one where the main character was a dumbass and never did what he wanted him to. One where he shouted at the TV screen, “Just walk up to her! Tap her on the shoulder! Make a move! Come on!”
Seth was in the forest, and he was in human form. Most of his dreams were dreams of hunting or fishing or swimming, as a grizzly. But in this new dream about his mate, he was always human, and his mate never shifted either.
She was ahead of him, and he could smell her. She smelled like a crisp fall wind, carrying hints of fresh pine and pure stream water. Her hair was long and flowing, but he couldn’t make out its color. He couldn’t make out anything about his mate; he knew only that she was real. She was a real person, and if only he could get closer to her and see her face, he’d know who she was.
But dream Seth walked slowly and kept his distance, and his mate never turned around to face him. Sometimes she’d start to look to the side, but he never saw more than the barest hint of her nose.
Run after her! he thought, but dream Seth walked as slow as ever. Shift! Charge through the forest as a bear. She’ll shift too and you’ll see each other! Dream Seth remained human, and his mate walked farther into the forest.
And then Seth woke up. His back hurt, and his knees throbbed. Ugh, he’d fallen asleep in his truck again? He opened the door and stepped outside, and then he stretched. He tried to crack his neck, hoping it would suddenly relieve him of all stiffness, but he’d never been able to do that, and the attempt just made him sorer.
At least he healed fast. If he were a human, his neck might be sore for two more days, but he’d be good as new in about a half hour.
He checked his phone and saw that he had six missed calls and three text messages. He skimmed through and got the picture: Patrick wanted to know where he was, then he was pissed at him for not showing, and finally he had given up. Seth assumed the voicemails were from the woman Patrick had tried to set him up with, bu
He’d decided to take a quick nap in his truck before going to meet Anne. He had planned to go, but mostly because he owed Patrick. Seth didn’t need too much sleep in the fall, but when he slept, he slept. Nothing woke him up except for the firehouse’s loud, blaring alarm. It rattled his bones and jolted him awake, so as long as he napped in the firehouse, he never missed a fire. But cellphone ringtones and text message sounds? Forget it. Those never woke him up.
It was already 1 a.m., so Seth decided to just apologize to Patrick tomorrow. For now he’d just go home and sleep off the kinks in his back in his nice, big bed.
He got back in the truck and started it up. Then he went down the empty main road. Cascadia Falls was small, and anyone still out now was in a bar, not driving around town. He turned down the little road he lived on, and he hung his hand out the window as he drove. The cool fall air felt nice on his arm, and he considered just shifting when he got home and having a run through the forest. He lived at the very end of the road, well past where it went from paved to dirt. As he drove, the houses became farther and farther apart, and then he smelled smoke.
AYA MORNINGSTAR SERIES:
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