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Mail-Order Bear: BBW Bear Shifter Paranormal Romance (BRIDES fur BEARS Book 5), page 1

 

Mail-Order Bear: BBW Bear Shifter Paranormal Romance (BRIDES fur BEARS Book 5)
 


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Mail-Order Bear: BBW Bear Shifter Paranormal Romance (BRIDES fur BEARS Book 5)


  MAIL-ORDER BEAR

  By

  Natalie Kristen

  For more books set in Shadow Point

  BRIDES fur BEARS

  Bad Bear (Book 1)

  Brave Bear (Book 2)

  Brash Bear (Book 3)

  Big Bear (Book 4)

  Mail-Order Bear (Book 5)

  GRAY BEARS

  Marrying the Bear (Book 1)

  Loving the Bear (Book 2)

  Mating the Bear (Book 3)

  Tempting the Bear (Book 4)

  Taming the Lion (Book 5)

  Embracing the Lion (Book 6)

  Copyright © 2016 by Natalie Kristen

  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

  No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are used fictitiously or are the products of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to actual locales, events, establishments or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  About this Book

  Lauren Sanchez is up to her eyeballs in trouble. There is no way she can pay off her brother's debt, but the wolves aren't going to let her off.

  Unless...her name isn't Sanchez.

  Being a mail-order bride is the only way she can get married in a hurry and get out of this dangerous situation. She has to stay alive, not just for herself, but for her young nephew, Eddie, who has just been orphaned.

  One disastrous divorce is quite enough for Reid Ken, thank you very much. Reid swears he will never let a woman into his life again.

  Too bad his interfering cousin, Damien, doesn't get the memo.

  Reid is furious when he learns that his cousin has gotten him a mail-order bride. He is determined to send the devious, gold-digging woman away. But when he sees Lauren and Eddie, he just doesn't have the heart to turn them out of his house.

  Lauren thought she'd signed up for a loveless, passionless marriage. She never thought she would find true love, and have a beautiful, happy family.

  When danger comes for them, Lauren will fight tooth and claw to protect her newfound happiness. And this is a fight she cannot afford to lose...

  * * * * *

  CHAPTER ONE

  Lauren Sanchez tugged gently at her four-year-old nephew's hand. “Come on, Eddie, let's go home.”

  Eddie nodded and looked up at her. Lauren saw that the little boy's eyes were dry. “Okay, Aunt Lauren.”

  As they walked through the cemetery gates, Eddie turned to glance over his shoulder. “Goodbye, Papa,” the boy whispered before turning around and staring stoically ahead.

  Lauren's heart constricted painfully in her chest. Her little nephew was only four, but he was now an orphan. Eddie had lost his mom when he was a baby, and now, he was burying his father. Lauren glanced worriedly at the boy. He hadn't shed a single tear.

  “Eddie...” she began softly.

  “I want to go home, Aunt Lauren. With you,” Eddie said in a plaintive voice.

  Lauren blinked rapidly, the meaning and weight of the little boy's words slamming into her gut. “Oh Eddie,” she cried, bending down to hug him tightly. “Of course you're coming home with me! You're my nephew, my family.”

  “You...won't leave me, will you, Aunt Lauren?” he asked, swallowing hard. He was trying so hard not to cry, but Lauren could see the stark fear in his dark brown eyes.

  “I will never leave you,” Lauren said fiercely. “We stay together, no matter what.”

  “Promise?” He held out his little pinky.

  “Promise!” Lauren pinky-promised.

  A pinky-promise was the most sacred, serious vow, and a four-year-old knew that. Satisfied that his Aunt Lauren would never abandon him now, Eddie nodded and managed a tiny, wavering smile.

  Lauren took Eddie's hand firmly and started down the street, refusing to look back at her brother's grave. Alex was her elder brother, and she grieved for him. But she hadn't been too shocked when the police knocked on her door to inform her that Alex had been killed in a bar brawl.

  After his wife died, Alex spent his days drinking and gambling instead of caring for his young son. At first, Lauren had tried to comfort him and talk to him. She knew how devastating it was to lose someone you loved so unexpectedly and she gave him the space and time to come to terms with his loss and pull himself together. But Alex never pulled himself together. Instead, he pulled them all down with him.

  Her brother seemed to have forgotten that he even had a son. He drank, gambled and womanized. He didn't come home and he didn't pay the rent. Lauren had to take her little nephew in and care for him, or the boy would have no roof over his head and no food in his tummy. She worked as a sales assistant in a shoe boutique. She loved shoes and was an efficient, hardworking employee. She could never afford to buy a nice pair for herself, but she loved her job. Her boss paid her well and she enjoyed interacting with the customers and seeing their glowing, satisfied faces as they walked out of the shop with their purchases.

  But after work, while the other young, carefree, single ladies in town enjoyed a nice dinner with friends or went on a hot date, Lauren rushed home to care for her nephew. Her landlady was sweet and helped take care of the boy while she was at work, but she couldn't possibly ask Mrs Gururani to continue babysitting Eddie in the evenings as well. Mrs Gururani had her own kids to take care of. Her youngest son was just a year older than Eddie.

  Lauren often showed Eddie photos of his mom. She wanted Eddie to know that his mom loved him. It was bad enough that the boy could see that his father didn't want him, didn't care for him. “You should have seen her face when she first held you in her arms,” Lauren would tell Eddie. “Your mother was so proud, so happy! She loved you very, very much.”

  And now Eddie had lost the one remaining parent he had. Granted Alex hadn't been much of a father, but still, he was Eddie's dad. Now Eddie only had her.

  Lauren tightened her grip on Eddie's small, quivering hand as they crossed the street. His hand was cold and clammy.

  “Aunt Lauren,” Eddie began in a frightened voice.

  “What's wrong, Eddie?”

  Lauren looked up and instinctively tugged Eddie back. She spun on her heel but before she could urge Eddie to run, two men stepped in front of her. She heard a step behind her and didn't bother turning around.

  There was no way to escape.

  CHAPTER TWO

  Lauren found herself surrounded by three large men with hard faces and cold, predatory eyes. She pushed Eddie behind her and gulped too loudly. Squaring her shoulders, she met their stares head on and hoped they wouldn't see the terror in her eyes.

  She recognized the tattoos on their arms. They were members of the Dire Wolves, a powerful gang who owned a large number of underground gambling dens.

  “You are Lauren Sanchez,” one of the Wolves said. It wasn't a question. And it was pointless to deny it. They knew who she was.

  Lauren swallowed. Her heartbeat sounded way too loud.

  What did the Dire Wolves want with her?

  “Your brother, Alex Sanchez, owes us money,” another Dire Wolf said in a deceptively polite, reasonable tone. “You are his family. You will pay your brother's debt.”

  “D-debt?” She closed her eyes and inwardly screamed a curse at her dead brother. Hadn't she paid his debts so many times before?
She had zero savings because she'd had to bail him out time and again. “H-how much?”

  Lauren almost fainted on the spot when she heard the amount that Alex owed. There was no way in hell she could come up with that kind of money. She could sell her body, her soul, everything she had which wasn't much, and still fall short.

  “Please...Alex is dead,” she tried in desperation. “His debt dies with him. I can't pay what he owes you.”

  The three burly men regarded her without emotion, without compassion. After a while, the man standing behind her spoke up. She jumped at his voice and whirled round. The man was a little shorter than the other two Wolves, but older. His salt-and-pepper hair was cut close to the scalp and his arms were scarred and sinewy. But his eyes weren't cruel. “If your name is Sanchez, you pay,” he said slowly. “But if you are no longer his family, we don't go after someone else's woman.”

  She shook her head in confusion. “I c-can't...” she stammered.

  “One month. Then we will find you again.”

  Lauren opened her mouth to plead and reason with them but the older Wolf held up his hand and jerked his head at his comrades.

  The other two men obeyed the silent command and stepped back.

  Lauren and Eddie were free to go. For now.

  Lauren grabbed Eddie's hand and fled. They ran like the devil himself was at their heels. Perhaps it would be better for them if it was the devil and not the Dire Wolves who was after them.

  They didn't stop running until they reached their block. Scrambling up the stairs to their second-story apartment, Lauren jabbed her key madly at the keyhole. It took her a few tries before she could unlock the door and fling it open.

  Once they were in their small, bare apartment, Lauren slammed the door shut behind them and locked it. She pushed a chair against the door and closed all the windows.

  This wasn't going to keep the Wolves out, but she didn't know what else to do. She wanted to crawl under the bed and just stay there even though she knew it was no use hiding. Even if she packed up and ran away with Eddie, the Wolves would find them.

  She turned around and saw Eddie standing in the middle of the room, staring at her with wide, frightened eyes. He didn't say a word and he looked very pale.

  “Don't worry, we'll be fine,” Lauren said in a shaky voice. She closed her eyes and turned away. She hated lying to her nephew.

  CHAPTER THREE

  Eddie didn't answer but his stomach rumbled loudly.

  “Oh!” Lauren winced and hurried to the kitchen. “I'll make us some sandwiches for dinner. Can you get the plates, Eddie?”

  Preparing dinner took her mind momentarily off the Wolves' threat. They sat down at the wobbly kitchen table and ate in silence.

  “Those men. They're wolves,” Eddie said, staring at the crumbs on his plate.

  “Yeah,” Lauren said absently as she drank her milk.

  “No, Aunt Lauren, they are wolves,” Eddie repeated.

  Lauren started and stared at her nephew.

  “How do you know?” she asked carefully.

  “I can smell them,” the boy said.

  Lauren nodded slowly. Her elder brother, Alex inherited the shifter gene from their father, while she took after their human mother. Alex could shift into a bear, and evidently, he had passed the shifter gene on to his son. Eddie had never shifted, but he was still very young. Alex only started shifting when he hit puberty.

  Lauren bit the inside of her cheek. There were rumors that the Dire Wolves were wolf shifters. She had never seen any of them in wolf form, but it made sense that these fearsome gangsters were wolves. They were certainly as brutal and merciless as animals.

  “What about me?” she asked Eddie with a teasing smile. “What am I?”

  A bear like you? she thought hopefully. If she could shift into a bear like her father and brother, she'd be able to protect Eddie much better. If anyone dared harm a hair on his head, she would let her inner bear out and claw the bastard to shreds!

  “You're Aunt Lauren!” Eddie replied.

  Lauren laughed. “Yes, yes I am. All right now. Put your plate and glass in the sink and let's get you to bed. It's been a long day and the sooner it's over, the better,” she muttered grimly.

  Eddie was fast asleep by the time she drew the covers over his shoulders. It had been a long, stressful, exhausting day.

  Lauren sat down heavily at the kitchen table and put her head in her hands. This was a thoroughly rotten, horrible day, but she knew there would be even worse days ahead.

  She had to think of a way to get the Wolves off their backs. How could Alex do this to them?

  She stared at the clock on the wall, following the movement of the second hand. Her vision began to blur and she realized that she was crying.

  For a long time, Lauren sat alone in the kitchen, angrily wiping away her tears. She didn't want to cry. Crying accomplished nothing, and it made her feel stupid and weak. But she couldn't help her tears.

  Her brother was a selfish sonofabitch! She had shouldered his responsibilities during his lifetime and now, even when he was in his grave, she had to shoulder his debt.

  It would take her years, decades, several lifetimes to pay off his disastrous, crushing debt!

  What was Alex thinking, incurring such a mountainous debt? The simple, stark answer was—he wasn't thinking at all. Not of them, certainly. If he had given even the slightest thought to his family, his young son, he would never have done this and dumped this terrible, dangerous burden on them.

  Lauren shuddered with pain, fear and rage.

  Her life was over if the Dire Wolves got their claws into her.

  CHAPTER FOUR

  Lauren knew the Dire Wolves would never let her go so easily. She owed them, so they owned her, body and soul. The Wolves would chain her to one of their strip clubs and work her to death.

  She was only twenty-one, and she had her own dreams and girlish hopes. She didn't need to be swept off her feet by some fairy-tale prince, but she did hope to fall in love, get married and have a family. Of course Eddie would stay with her, and he would have so many cousins to play with.

  But that dream was going up in smoke. She would never have that beautiful, happy family. And what was going to happen to Eddie?

  Alex was gone, but his troubles hadn't gone with him. They were crashing down on their heads, burying them alive.

  Going to the sink to splash cold water on her face, Lauren rubbed her eyes and forced herself to think clearly.

  She replayed the Wolves' words in her mind. She remembered that older wolf, and how he had spoken very slowly, very deliberately to her. That wolf was trying to tell her something.

  But if you are no longer his family, we don't go after someone else's woman.

  What in the world did he mean?

  She repeated the words out loud and froze suddenly. Her eyes widened as she gripped the edge of the sink to steady herself.

  In a sudden flash of insight, Lauren understood. The Dire Wolves were savage and violent, but their boss held some old-fashioned ideas. Females were regarded as the property of their fathers and husbands. Once a daughter was married, she was considered to belong to her new family.

  So—if she got married, and changed her last name…

  If your name is Sanchez, you pay.

  The way out of this was for her to get married. It was the only way. In her desperation, she seized on the idea and refused to let go. It was a lifeline, the only way for her and Eddie to escape the clutches of the Dire Wolves.

  But who would marry her?

  She didn't have a boyfriend, she hadn't had one since she broke up with her high school sweetheart. The Dire Wolves had given her just one month. Then they would come looking for her.

  She had one month to get married.

  Lauren let out a strangled laugh. It was a desolate, hollow sound.

  She slumped into a chair and shook the ridiculous idea out of
her head.

  Think, Lauren! Think of a real, practical solution!

  Rubbing her eyes furiously, she swore and swallowed a sob. No use crying. She had to come up with a plan to save Eddie and herself.

  As she dropped her hands, she saw an old newspaper on her table. Her neighbor had dropped by a couple of days ago and had left the paper behind. Something caught her eye. An ad for a bride.

  A mail-order bride.

  Breathlessly, Lauren grabbed the paper and read the ad. A bear shifter in Shadow Point was looking for a bride.

  The guy was thirty-five, divorced, a tradesman and he was looking for a wife. The ad called for an honest, healthy woman between the ages of twenty-five and forty-five who would be willing to relocate to Shadow Point.

  Lauren sucked in a breath when she read the last line of the ad.

  He was willing to consider a widow or divorcee with kids.

  Lauren stared at the words “with kids”. This man wouldn't mind if she came with a kid.

  Without thinking, Lauren snatched up a pen and the tattered notebook lying on the kitchen counter. She knew next to nothing about this man. All she knew was that he wasn't a Dire Wolf. He was a bear shifter.

  Lauren gulped as she stared at the ad again. Could she do this?

  Yes, she could and she would.

  This might just be her answer and their salvation. She could be married within a month, and they would be free of the Dire Wolves.

  Her hand was shaking too hard, but eventually she managed to get the words down on paper.

  It was almost dawn when she sealed the envelope and addressed it to the PO box listed in the ad. The kitchen table was littered with crumpled pieces of paper and half-drunk cups of coffee.

  “Please reply,” she whispered fervently.

  CHAPTER FIVE

 
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