Bear’s Fake Bride, page 1part #3 of Bears of the Wild Series
Bear’s Fake Bride
Bears of the Wild
Bear’s Fake Bride
Text Copyright © 2019 by Lola Gabriel
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events or locales is entirely coincidental.
First printing, 2019
Secret Woods Books
Secret Woods Books
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Rowan’s ears popped as his plane descended. He rolled his jaw, trying to make his head feel normal again, and looked outside. It was all grey, and rain was hitting the portal of his double-thick window. Rain was rare in Anchorage, and Rowan was excited for it, though he usually didn’t care about the weather. And he was glad to be alone for this short trip. At home, the mud flats were still frozen, and his mother was on his case whenever he saw her. Plus, his best friend had just had a baby, and everyone, it seemed, was content to stay home this spring and do whatever they did there. Rowan, on the other hand, still lived on the land where he had grown up. At his mother’s insistence, of course.
The plane began to taxi, and Rowan resisted the urge to unclip his belt and jump up. A long weekend alone in Seattle might not sound great to everyone, but to Rowan, it was an anticipated paradise. He tried not to look too impatient as the cabin staff asked them to stay still until the seatbelt signs went off. And then, a few minutes later, not to look too visibly eager as the rows in front of him began to stand and file out.
Finally, it was Rowan’s turn to stand up, grab his carry on, and get out of the plane. On the runway, he almost wanted to put his arms out and open his mouth to the rain. Back home, all they got was cold sludge, ice, or snow.
Rowan had no reason to be in Seattle exactly. He’d told his family that a friend had just moved there, but in actual fact, he knew no one at all in the city. Google had just flagged some cheap flights, and it was only a few hours south, so he’d planned a trip alone. Really, he shouldn’t have to tell his mother anything. He was older than was really proper, but she was very insistent, and he did see her almost every day. This was despite his ability to slink behind tree trunks or into nearby doorways when she passed by and he didn’t feel up to another Shakespearean speech about how she hoped one day to share all this land and her innate knowledge of it with a few grandkids.
Rowan was, obviously, nowhere near giving her grandkids. So he’d come to Seattle to stay in an Airbnb and eat good food and drink craft beer and maybe see a show or a movie and perhaps buy some books.
Understandably, he was excited.
His taxi drove him through the dark of Thursday night, to an ex-industrial building not far from the waterfront. He keyed in a code, pushed open a door, and ascended a set of stairs.
The place was ridiculous; not huge, but high ceilinged and with a brand-new kitchen area and a bed in an alcove that was on palettes almost at floor level, yet clearly the sheet set was three hundred dollars worth of gray linen. On the counter was fresh sourdough and butter, and there were three beers in the fridge. He chose the Hopscoth IPA. Renting an apartment was so much better than getting a hotel. Although, what was he going to do now? There was no concierge to ask for recommendations. He knew he was close to a lively area of town, but that was all. He was going to have to wander around in the rain.
Luckily, Rowan had bought a rain jacket specifically for this trip. Usually content with a full thick coat or a down jacket at home in Anchorage, he had never before needed such a thing. Now he worried it looked too new, a bright blue that made it appear as though he was trying to alert cars to his presence. It didn’t scream sophistication. But it was practical at least, he guessed, and who was going to care? No one new him. He was going to find a quietish bar and drink beer and finish the collection of short stories he had started reading on the plane.
In no rush, he finished his Hopscotch IPA and opened his bag on the mattress. He slipped off the sweats and shirt he had worn for the plane ride and found jeans and leather boots and a rather heavily patterned shirt.
The rain had left Rowan’s mid-brown hair wavier than he was used to, but he decided he liked it. Not that he was going out to make an impression on anyone in particular, but being somewhere new had its romantic allure. Anchorage was a proper city, and he had lived there all his life, except for his time at college, which had been a very long time ago. He knew every face and every bar, coffee shop, restaurant, and sidewalk. Not to mention, he was responsible for its continued wellbeing in so many ways.
Tonight, though, and for the rest of this weekend, he was going to forget how much they needed him at home and his mother’s nagging for him to find a mate; how very little say he felt he had in his own future at the moment. He was going to read and eat and drink and just be the carefree young man he appeared, to outsiders, to be.
Outside, the streetlights glowed orange through the rain, and everything was slick and black and, Rowan thought, beautiful, full of reflections. He splashed through the damp streets, enjoying the mild bite in the air.
It didn’t take him long to reach a street full of bars, but they all seemed too bright and boisterous. Since it was Friday night and a wild evening was expected, he was after something more sedate… or maybe just divier. He headed down a side street, and after very little time, he was outside a warmly-lit bar with a jukebox playing. He ducked inside and took his rain jacket off as soon as he could, hanging it on the back of a chair. Then he ordered a beer and sat down with his book.
As much as he had been enjoying it on the plane, Rowan could no longer concentrate. Above the book’s pages, he was taking in everyone else present. There was a grizzled guy with a moustache at the side of the bar wearing a stained shirt and khaki pants. He looked like he’d been around since this was a regularly working port, and now that it was filled with bougie apartments, he’d found himself cast up upon the shore of this bar, drinking light beer after light beer and unsticking and resticking the nicotine patch on his arm.
Rowan pulled up a bar stool, wincing at its scrape on the wood floor and wishing his shirt was quieter. There were a few people drinking slowly at the tables behind him, but he leaned forward to get the attention of the bartender. Looking around for the deals on the chalkboard behi
The bartender nodded. “Tab?”
“Sure,” Rowan said and handed over his Alaska USA debit card. The bartender raised his eyebrows.
“You visiting? I guess we have better weather than you do, at least.”
“Right. And my family isn’t here.” The bartender laughed.
“Wild weekend planned?” Rowan smiled but didn’t nod. The lanky, bearded man gave him his beer. “You’re lucky,” he said. “The special is whatever we have left over, but today, it’s a decent sour.”
Rowan took a sip of the grapefruit flavored beer. It wasn’t bad at all. Then the bartender placed a shot of tequila in front of him.
“A welcome gift,” he said. Rowan put his beer down.
“Thanks,” he said. “I promise to spend a bunch of money here.” The bartender shrugged in response.
“Whatever. Have a good time, man. I get paid hourly. Just tip well.”
Rowan knocked back the shot, sucked on the dry slice of lime, and wiped his hands. From his backpack, he pulled his book, The Old Man and the Sea, out of the front pocket and opened it to a page with a turned corner.
The dude was in a boat. He had a fish.
Rowan kept the slim book open with one hand and reached into his pocket for his phone with the other. He didn’t want to be opening a dating app, but he was. He imagined his mother’s ire. How would he find a wife this way? Well, for one weekend, he couldn’t care less.
With one thumb saving his page, he began swiping. He didn’t do this much at home because of obvious issues of recognizability. Here, however, he was just a twenty-something year old with ice-blue eyes and brown hair that was straighter in the pictures than it was currently. He swiped mostly left, dismissing couples looking for a third and women looking for serious relationships, until he eventually landed on, “Here for a good time, not a long time. Kidding. Sort of. Road tripping. May be lonely and amenable to hanging out.”
She was a brunette, and her eyes were forest green. In her first photo, there was a smile playing at her lips, and she was wearing a top that showed her pale shoulders and the lines of her collarbones. She looked content with herself, which was really appealing. Rowan swiped through her photos. She was hiking in one, drinking a beer at a brewery in another, and at a party in the final one. She was doing a good job at displaying something like a full life. Rowan swiped right. He might as well, it wasn’t like there was time…
IT’S A MATCH!
Rowan smiled. An online flirt was always fun.
Hey, he typed. How’s your evening going?
Seconds later, a reply came. Rainy and lonely, how’s yours?
Much the same. What are you doing in Seattle?
Just visiting. You?
Rowan paused for a moment, then typed back. Much the same also. Escaping real life. Weekend away.
There was a longer pause, like the conversation was petering out, and Rowan drank some of his beer and opened his book again. Eventually, though, just as he was about to order a second beer, his phone buzzed.
Having an exciting time in this dive bar? Everything you expected and more?
The hairs on the back of Rowan’s neck stood up. Automatically, he looked around, craning from side to side from his prime position at the bar.
A woman was walking toward him. She was wearing a scarf, brushing her bangs from her eyes. She sat next to him, displacing a bar stool and catching it with one hand. “Oops.”
Rowan stared at her.
“Hi,” she said, grinning at him. “Going to buy me a drink?”
“Uh…” Rowan was caught as off guard as the stool had been. “What?”
The woman brushed her hair from her face again, showing freckles and dimples in the dim bar light.
“I didn’t follow you here, promise, but you saw I was less than a mile away, right? Pretty much fate.” She put out a hand. “Holly,” she said. Rowan allowed himself a half-laugh.
“Shit,” he said. He took her hand. “Hi, Holly.” He gestured to the stool beside him. “Sit down.” Holly raised her eyebrows.
“I was going to.” She hopped up onto the stool. She was staring at him, her lips in a half smile. Why was she—? “And you’re Rowan,” she added. “I know our names are on the app, but be polite.” Rowan nodded—a strange thing to do, but that was somehow his first reaction.
“Yes,” he agreed.
“Okay, I’ll have whatever beer it is you’re drinking,” Holly said, unravelling her long scarf. Then she said, “Hey! We’re both plants! Double fate! Holly and Rowan!” Finally placing her scarf in her lap, Holly leaned over. “Urgh,” she groaned. “Hemingway?” Rowan pulled the slim book away.
“What?” he asked, suddenly defensive. Holly shrugged.
“Nothing.” Rowan slipped the volume into his pocket, and Holly raised her eyebrows and took a sip of her drink.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Holly said, “just that you’re a wavy-haired boy in his grandad’s shirt, on the West Coast, with Hemingway poking out of his jacket pocket.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
Holly was playing with the label of her beer, looking at it in deep concentration instead of at Rowan. When her eyes came up to meet his, they were flashing with mischief.
“It’s just a look, is all. Artsy boy with a boy-book in his pocket and a patterned shirt and… is that the beginning of facial hair?” She reached toward his chin, and he almost batted her away.
“I was traveling,” he said.
“Yeah, right.” Holly stopped short of actually touching him. “For how many days?”
Rowan leaned over the bar and held up his empty glass. The bartender nodded.
“Thanks,” he said as the fresh beer was set down. Then, “Is this your idea of flirting? Because it could take some work.”
Holly looked mock-shocked and put a hand over her mouth.
“Oh, my, how forward of you… and no. If I was flirting, I’d be pulling your hair and flicking you with a shatterproof ruler. Do you know nothing of romance?”
Rowan relaxed a little. He laughed. She was messing with him. At least she seemed smart, and he couldn’t deny that she was pretty, whether she actually was flirting with him or not.
“Okay, fine, you’ve got me,” he said. “Why is this a boy book?” He pulled out Hemingway again to put it on top of the bar.
“One man battling the elements! Come on. And it’s Hemingway. Did he write a single convincing female character? A single female character he didn’t want to bang?”
Rowan let out a little sigh. “‘Hills Like White Elephants’?”
Holly shook her head. “No way, buster. Some guy persuades his girlfriend into an abortion, telling her they’ll be together forever and crap. And he can speak the language and she can’t!”
Holly was animated, leaning toward him, her cheeks getting pink from the discussion and because she was still wearing a thick cable knit sweater.
“All right,” Rowan said. “But I mean, she’s a distinct character at least…”
“Yeah!” Holly jumped in. “A distinct character with no autonomy!” She shook her head. “You know how many wives and mistresses he had? I’ll make you a reading list, okay?”
Rowan had to admit he was bested. When he’d been at college… well, there hadn’t been many female authors on the syllabi, anyway.
“Thank you,” he said. “Clearly, I have an awful lot to learn.”
Holly put a hand on his knee, her face sincere. “Don’t worry, I can cure you.”
There was certainly a little warm buzz when she touched him. Rowan smiled. Was this buzz attraction, or was it…? Rowan looked closer at Holly. She narrowed her eyes at him.
“You’re being awkward. Come on, put your book away and let’s go sit on real seats, my stool feels like it’s about to tip over.” Holly wobbled back and forth, demonstrating that her stool had legs of rather different length
Rowan hopped off his stool and hurried over. He tried to hold down her navy-blue crop top without brushing her skin, but it was impossible. The backs of his fingers lay against the soft skin below her sternum, where he could feel her heartbeat. But it was only for a second at most.
“Thanks!” Holly emerged from her sweater, grinning. “I’m a doofus. Is my hair insane now, too?”
Rowan shrugged and turned his palms outwards, abdicating from answering. Her hair was a mess, but the wild mane framed her round face well.
Holly took a scrunchy from her wrist, leaned over, and flipped her hair forwards, pulling it into a high ponytail. Rowan was always astonished by women’s ability to do that, or to twist it into a knot on their head, bobby pins in their teeth. There was something alluring about the concentration, coupled with the practiced ease of the movement.
“What?” Holly asked. “Is it all lumpy?”
Rowan blinked. “No, you’re fine.”
“Great.” Holly plopped down on one side of the booth. Rowan slipped into the other side, still somewhat wondering how he had ended up on this… not-date with the strange, captivating woman opposite him. “So,” Holly said, “enough about misogynist male writers of the twentieth century, or I’ll go on forever. What brought a pretty boy like you to a place like this?” Rowan tried to hide his embarrassment at being called pretty, even facetiously, by taking off his jacket.
Other author's books:
- Code of the Alpha: Shifter Romance CollectionMate's Kiss: Royal Dragon CurseAlpha's Nanny: Bears of the WildMate's Baby: Royal Dragon CurseBear’s Fake Bride
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