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Authors: Shelly Laurenston

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BOOK: Big Bad Beast
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“Both of you stop it,” Blayne snapped. “And Dee’s here because I want her to be here,” she told Novikov.
“She tagged you like a wildebeest.”
“Would you let that go already?”
“Here.” Lock reached over to the sideboard, grabbed one of the big baskets of bread, and slammed it in front of Novikov. “Shove this in your hole and keep quiet.”
Snarling a little, the rude bastard continued to glare at Dee-Ann, and Ric was ready to climb across the table and tear the hybrid’s face off with his teeth. But Blayne had a good handle on her mate, pulling a notepad out of his back pocket and proceeding to write on it.
“What are you doing to my list?” he demanded as if she’d stolen his wallet.
“Just making a few . . . changes.” She held up the list. “I drew hearts and flowers on it!”
“Give me that!” Novikov yanked it back from her and so began another lecture on the proper use of lists.
How Blayne tolerated it, Ric had no idea. To each their own, he guessed.
Ric picked up his fork, ready to dig into his medallions of gazelle and deer in wine sauce. But finding only an empty plate where his food used to be, he decided that he’d been right. Dee-Ann had been hungry.
“What?” Dee asked around his gazelle when he raised a brow in her direction. “You were busy talkin’.”
Dee ate the most amazing angel’s food cake with white icing and listened to the chatter going on around her.
It seemed wedding plans were not going well for Lock and his mate because their mothers had different views on pretty much everything. Blayne was worried her wedding would top five hundred guests “easy,” and Ric was arguing with Novikov about . . . well, about pretty much everything, but mostly about who to add to their team and who to drop. Since she had no interest in weddings, Dee listened mostly to the hockey discussion. Especially since Reece Lee Reed was on the team now.
Dee had grown up with the Reed boys. Although she’d always been closest to Rory, the eldest, she was tight with all of them. Ricky Lee Reed was currently in Tokyo, working in the Japanese division of her cousin Bobby Ray’s security business. Yet all the Reed boys were as close to her as her cousins Sissy Mae and Bobby Ray. Then again, her cousins had never faced the wrath of Eggie Smith when caught trying to sneak her drunk ass back into her parents’ house. So, like Lock MacRyrie, the Reeds had earned her loyalty.
After a few minutes, the conversation turned to Cella Malone, and MacRyrie said to Dee, “By the way . . . Malone moved back to the city. She’s on the team now.”
Dee gazed at the bear while Ric chuckled beside her. “I know,” she said.
“Oh.” The grizzly’s head tipped to the side and he asked, “Did you know you have a bunch of bruises on your face?”
“I’m aware.”
He thought a moment and added, “It’s not because of Malone, is it?”
“Do I really need to answer that?”
He shook his head, dug into his platter-sized slice of berry-nut cake. “I’m thinking, no, you don’t.”
“Do you know Marcella Malone?” Teacup asked.
“My face does,” Dee muttered.
“Isn’t she great? She’s so nice and sweet. I met her at team practice the other day. Her dad is ‘Nice Guy’ Malone.”
“Fascinating,” Dee lied, then slammed her fork into Ric’s before he could get some of her cake. “Don’t you need that hand to work so you can keep cooking?”
“You won’t share?”
“Not without a fight.”
Ric leaned in a bit, the rest of the table having a discussion about something else she couldn’t care less about. “And don’t let this thing with Marcella Malone bother you, Dee. You have more important work to do. I expect you to impress me.”
“Because that’s my life goal,” she replied dryly. “To impress a Van Holtz.”
“All the Packs would be better off if that
was
their life’s goal.”
“Y’all born with that level of arrogance?”
Ric grinned, showing perfect, gleaming white teeth. “It seems that way. Although my Aunt Irene says she hasn’t quite figured out if it’s an inborn personality trait or a genetic defect. But she’s working on it.”
Ric walked his guests out of his restaurant. It was a hot, muggy night and he couldn’t wait to get home. But he still had to ensure the kitchen was shut down properly, that he knew what was being delivered tomorrow so he could start working on the menu for himself and his Aunt Adelle, who shared executive chef duties with him, and that he dealt with any complaints that may have come up in the evening if they had to do with his crew.
“Everything all right?” Lock asked him, the pair standing off to the side while the others watched a hyped-up Blayne do backflips in her skates. He could only guess that there was some processed sugar in the honey cake the pastry chef had made. He’d have to check since it was listed on the menu as a sugar-free dessert.
“I thought I saw Stein earlier.”
Lock turned toward him, eyes blinking wide. “Are you sure it was him?”
“Not really. But it
looked
like him.”
“Your father’s going to have a fit if the kid’s back.”
“I know.”
“Are you going to help him?”
“No.”
“Ric—”
“I’m not.” The kid had broken his heart. Ric wasn’t about to help him now. Those days were over. “The kid’s on his own, which—according to him—is the way he likes it.”
“Stubborn.”
“It’s a flaw I’ve learned to live with.”
By now Novikov had a wriggling “I need to run and be free!” Blayne over his shoulder. “Anyone need a ride?” he asked, heading to what Lock called the man’s “military transport.” A vehicle so big, it could get an entire Roman legion in it.
“No, thanks. We have our truck.”
“Okay. See you at the game tomorrow.” He started to open the door of his truck, but stopped and faced them. He thought a moment and said, “And thank you for dinner.”
Ric, confused by the sudden bout of politeness, answered, “You’re welcome.”
With a nod, he suddenly slapped Blayne’s rear and said, “Happy now? I said thank you to your loser friends and Gwen.”
“It’s progress! Now let me go to run free!”
“You’ll be in Connecticut before I can catch you and I have a game tomorrow.”
He got her into his vehicle and put a seatbelt on her. It appeared to be a standard seatbelt but, for whatever reason, Blayne seemed unable to get it off, giving Novikov time to get around and inside the vehicle before his mate could make a run for it.
Watching her try to wiggle and fight her way out of that seatbelt, Ric stated, “I feel like we should be rescuing her.”
“Really?” Gwen asked, slipping her arm around Lock’s waist. “I always feel like I should be rescuing
him
. He’s gotta go home and deal with a hyped-up Blayne for the next few hours.”
Ric shook his head. “I need to talk to Jean-Louis about his honey cake. It’s supposed to be sugar free.”
“You gonna tell him, hoss?” Dee suddenly asked from behind Ric. To be honest, he’d thought she’d left a while ago.
Lock, appearing caught, shrugged. “Don’t know what you mean.” He grabbed Gwen’s hand. “Let’s go.”
“Wait. What’s the redneck talking about?” Gwen demanded, forced to follow her mate to their truck.
Ric sighed. “Okay. What’s going on?”
“I’m only telling you ’cause I don’t want Jean-whatever—”
“Jean-Louis.”
“Yeah. Him. He makes the best angel’s food cake I’ve ever had and I don’t want him fired over something not his fault. But when Novikov wasn’t looking, MacRyrie put sugar in Blayne’s
soothing
chamomile tea.”
Ric, working hard not to laugh, said, “Oh. That’s
horrible
. I’ll talk to Lock about it tomorrow.”
“What about you re-organizing Novikov’s hockey bag while he was in the bathroom? You gonna tell MacRyrie about that, too?”
“Probably not . . . right away.”
She grinned. “Y’all are so mean to that boy.”
“You act as if he doesn’t deserve it.”
“I didn’t say that, but where I come from, we tolerate our rude ones when they play a sport that well. We put up with Mitch Shaw for the town’s football season.”
“Mitch isn’t rude, though. He’s just”—he thought a minute and finally finished—“Mitch.”
“That don’t make it right.” She winked and began to amble off. He’d never met anyone who ambled in Manhattan, but Dee managed to.
“Uh . . . need a lift home?”
“Not going home. Got that meeting with that idiot feline and Desiree early in the morning and it’s too far to travel.”
“You can stay at my place,” he offered, hoping to look innocent and helpful rather than lustful and desperate.
“No, but thank you kindly. I’ll crash at Rory Reed’s tonight. He’s staying at Brendon Shaw’s hotel with the rest of the Pack, so he’s got room service and a real comfortable couch.”
“But my place has me and my waffles with blueberries.”
“I can’t keep living off you, Van Holtz.”
“It’s not living off me if you’re going to be my wife anyway.”
Turning around and walking backward, she said, “Huh?”
Ric decided this wasn’t the time. “Nothing. Have a good night, Dee-Ann.”
“You, too.” She turned back around and quickly faded into the shadows. “And thanks for dinner.”
He sighed, thinking about another lonely night in his bed. “Anytime.”
C
HAPTER
4
 
R
ory Lee Reed was lying in his bed, wondering how much longer he’d have to sit here and hold this full-human female, when—finally!—his bedroom door slowly creaked open.
The full-human raised her head from his chest and, in a panicked whisper, “Rory . . .” She tapped his shoulder. “Rory. Wake up!”
He pretended to come awake, and looked across the room at Dee-Ann. She stood in his doorway, one denim-clad leg crossed over the other, Big Betty—the name he and his brothers had given her bowie knife—in one hand while she cleaned under the fingernails of the other.
“Dee . . . Dee-Ann? What are you doing here?”
“Came for my man,” she growled low and turned her head a bit so the early morning light made the yellow of her eyes stand out that much more. And, if he didn’t know her, he’d be terrified.
Heh.
“You told me you were single,” the full-human accused.
“Uh . . . well . . .”
“It doesn’t matter,” she said quickly and Rory stopped just short of rolling his eyes. She was one of
those.
“You need to roll up out of here, darlin’,” Dee explained in a slow drawl. “Before I start gettin’ cranky.”
“Rory’s with me now,” the full-human told Dee. “I’m sorry if that hurts, but that’s the way it is.”
Dee’s eyes flicked over to his and without saying a word, he begged,
Please don’t leave me. Please don’t leave me.
They’d only been on three dates! Three dates that led to one night of solid, entertaining sex. But, as was the way with some of these full-humans, that was sometimes enough.
His daddy had warned him. Warned him but good. “Stay away from the full-humans, boy. They’re clingy and don’t know when to walk away. They’ll put up a fight.”
Of course, that warning came when Rory was sixteen. He was now thirty-five and, he just decided at this moment, way too old for this shit. By the time his daddy was his age, he had a mate, four healthy pups, and a decent business to keep them all going. And what his father hadn’t needed at the age of thirty-five was his best friend trying to help him get rid of his latest conquest . . . who wasn’t much of a conquest anyway. She’d practically dived into his bed.
“You gonna take care of our six kids, too?” Dee asked.
Six? Good Lord.
The full-human blinked. “Six?”
Tapping her knife against the tip of each finger, Dee named each imaginary offspring. “There’s Benny Ray, Johnny James, Jackie Duke, Juney Peach”—
Juney Peach?—
“Sadie Mae, and Sassy. She’s gonna be our pageant queen, ain’t she, Rory Lee?”
“You have six children?” the full-human demanded.
“And each one gets child support,” Dee added. “A real good amount, too. And with the oldest only seven . . . that’s a whole bunch of years of financial care he owes us. Ain’t that right, Rory Lee?”
Rory stared at the full-human and answered, “I take care of my kids.”
The poor room service waiter looked absolutely terrified when an hysterically laughing Rory answered the door. And with Dee on the couch laughing so hard she had tears, he placed the tray, got the signature from Rory, and took off.
“Juney Peach?”
Arms around her stomach, Dee replied, “Couldn’t use names of my kin. Didn’t know if she’d met them or not.”
Dropping on the couch across from her, Rory shook his head. “That’s it, Dee-Ann. I’m not doing it anymore.”
Wiping tears from her eyes, Dee-Ann sat up. “Not that again,” she sighed. “You always say that and I always end up rescuing your ass the morning after from clingy full-humans.”
“I’m thinking it’s time for me to settle down. I got a good job. The Pack’s in a secure place.” He looked her up and down. “You busy?”
“Oh, that’s nice.”
“You’re not still waiting for
love
are you?”
“When was I ever—”
“Third grade. ‘Rory. One day I’m gonna find true luuuuuuvvv. ’ ”
“I never said that.”
“Mind like a steel trap. Trust me, darlin’. You said it. Meant it, too.”
“I meant lots of things when I was in third grade. So did you. If I recall, you were gonna be ‘president of this here United States.’ ”
“I still could be.”
“That’s all we need. A Reed in the White House.”
“I’d make you my Secretary of Defense.”
“You’d better.” Dee glanced at her watch. “Shit. I gotta eat and get out of here.”
“Work?”
“I’m working with KZS now.”
Rory laughed. “Kitty, Inc.? Have fun with that.”
“More like watch my back.”
“If you’re worried, why are you—”
“Too much to explain. Not in the mood.” She dug into her bacon and waffles and no, it wasn’t nearly as good as Ric’s.
“Call me if you need something. Things are kind of quiet right now at the office, so I have time.”
“Everything all right?”
“Things have definitely slowed down, but we are still getting more work than most agencies. I think things will pick up when Bobby Ray’s back at the office full time.”
“He’s not?”
“Spending time with his pup.”
Dee wasn’t surprised by that. Wolf males often invested as much time in their pups as the females.
“What about Mace?”
“He’s got the name that gets the wealthy in, but his personality . . . we’re better with Bobby Ray handling that end.”
“You do it. Until Bobby Ray gets back.”
“Me? Why me?”
“You’re as smooth as Bobby Ray, and don’t pretend you’re not. At least don’t pretend to me.”
Dee glanced at her watch again, shoveled the rest of the food into her mouth, followed by a few gulps of scalding hot coffee.
“All right. Gotta go.”
“See ya.”
Dee left her friend’s hotel room and headed out. She wasn’t looking forward to this day, but the faster she could get it over with, the quicker she could be done with Marcella Malone.
Ric was on his computer, playing with his money in his home office, when Mrs. M. walked in. She’d been Ric’s housekeeper for years and she always took good care of him. She was older now, though, and only worked three days a week, but that was okay with Ric. When one found good staff, especially staff that made the best soda bread and brisket this side of Ireland, one remained flexible.
“Your mother’s here.”
Ric looked up from his financial reports and he knew he was frowning.
“Are you too busy?” she asked.
“No. No, of course not. Just give me a minute.”
“Of course.”
Ric piled together all the paperwork and put it away in his big safe. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust his mother, but if she was coming to see him, unannounced, it most likely involved his father. And Ric would rather that she didn’t see anything his father would feel the need to drag out of her. His mother was not a very good liar and his father always knew when she was hiding something.
He was back at his desk when Jennifer Van Holtz walked in.
“Ulrich.”
“Mom.” He came around his desk and kissed both her cheeks. “You look wonderful.”
“Thank you.”
He held a seat for her and she sat down. Rather than return to his own chair, he rested his backside against his desk and smiled at her. “So what brings you here?”
When she twisted her hands in her lap and looked away, Ric answered for her. “Dad?”
“Well,” she began, “you two have never gotten along and he thought it might be better coming from me.”
“What might be better?”
“You know your father has always wanted to try his hand at something a little different.”
“Like being a coroner?”
First she looked stern, then she gave a little laugh. “I meant with his restaurants.”
“That’s down to Uncle Van.” But why Alder Van Holtz would want to change the theme of their restaurants when they were doing so well, Ric didn’t know. To quote Dee-Ann, “If it ain’t broke, leave it the hell alone.”
“He knows that. But nothing can stop him from doing something on his own.”
“Absolutely.”
Ric did all sorts of things on his own and Uncle Van never once complained, which he appreciated.
“And he has some backers already who are more than willing to invest in a new restaurant.”
“A new restaurant? Now?” In this economy? Ric was just grateful the Van Holtz Steak House and Fine Dining chain was doing so well
despite
everything else that was going on. But shifters did like their “natural” foods, as they called it. Polars wanted their seal blubber, lions wanted their gazelle legs, wolves wanted their deer marrow. . . .
“I know it sounds very challenging. He understands that, but he’s really got some great ideas and plans—”
“But?”
“He could use another backer.”
“Preferably his son, who he probably won’t bother paying back because he wants to believe that my money is his money?”
“Ulrich—”
“Mom.” He crouched in front of her and took her small hands into his own. “I know you want to help him, and maybe he’s got the best idea for a new restaurant chain that will make him a ton of money. And maybe it would be something I’d love to invest in . . . if I trusted him. I don’t trust him.”
“He’s your father.”
“He hates me.”
“That’s not true.”
“Mom.” Ric laughed. “Come on. You sent me to Uncle Van’s every summer rather than risk me spending days home alone with just him and Wendell while you were out. Probably because you were afraid of what he’d do while you were gone.”
She snatched her hands back from his and stood, stepping away from her son. “Ulrich Van Holtz! That is a horrible thing to say about your own father.”
Ric stood, shrugged. “But not exactly inaccurate.”
Dee walked into the Group offices cafeteria and immediately noticed how quickly all conversation stopped.
“What now?” she asked the room.
One of the coyote weapons technicians, with his legs up on one of the tables, grinned at her and asked, “You’re working with KZS?”
“Yeah. And?”
“You?
You
?”
“What’s that supposed to mean? I work with the worthless, lazy evil felines around here all the time. It don’t make me no nevermind.”
“Perhaps,” one of the cheetahs sweetly suggested, “referring to felines as lazy and evil—”
“Don’t forget worthless,” Dee reminded her with a smile.
“Right. Perhaps . . . that might suggest that you, of all beings on this planet, shouldn’t be working with the pro-feline, noncanine-fan Katzenhaft members.”
“But why? When I’m willing to overlook y’all’s flaws and annoying feline habits?”
“This isn’t just some feline,” a sloth bear pointed out over canine laughter. “This is Bare Knuckles Malone. She used to play with the Nevada Slammers before she came out here. She ranks third in all-time penalty minutes behind The Marauder and that polar bear who tore off a hyena’s jaw with his teeth.”
Dee sweetly crossed her hands over her upper chest. “Are y’all worried about me?”
“No,” the entire room kicked back, making Dee laugh until that hand slammed down on her shoulder, nearly ripping it out of her socket.
“Smith,” Malone said, smiling.
“Malone.” Dee glanced at the hand gripping her shoulder. “You wanna keep those fingers, feline?”
“You wanna take your best shot, backwoods?”
“Wait, wait,” a male wolf injected. “Don’t do this . . .” He stood. “Until we pull the tables back.”
Blayne Thorpe wiggled her cute little butt out from under the restaurant’s kitchen sink. “All done!”
Ric finished up the eggs, bacon, and toast, and placed it on the counter where Blayne would have her late breakfast.
“Thanks for getting here so quick,” he said, before wiping down his pans. “We’re completely booked for lunch and dinner, so a backed-up sink would have killed us.”
“No problem.” Blayne scrubbed her hands clean before hopping up on a stool and enjoying her food while watching Ric’s crew get ready for their lunch service. She managed to light up the room without being intrusive. It was definitely a gift, especially in a busy restaurant kitchen.
“So,” she asked, “are you going to give your dad the money?”
BOOK: Big Bad Beast
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