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Mountain Bear Buns: A BBW Bear Shifter Menage Paranormal Romance Novella (Bear Buns Denver Book 1) by Sable Sylvan (1)

Chapter One

Friday

Christiana Schmidt had never heard of Bear Buns, but even if she had, she wouldn’t have been prepared for what she’d seen when she first pulled her small sedan into the lot of the refurbished theater in the middle of a hot summer day. Bear Buns had taken over the old Lamppost Movie Hall, which had been abandoned since the 1990s. The movie theater had been constructed in the 1920s, but in the 1980s, it had been given the typical eighties treatment, with neon lights and lush white carpets that had gone gray with dust in the years since its closure. Now, for the first time, the theater was full of hustle and bustle…

…And full of naked shifter men.

Well, they were nearly naked. As Christiana got out of her car, she saw men rehearsing in the parking lot, under the hot Colorado sun. Some were stretching, others practicing their dance moves without the poles, mirrors, or barres commonly found in a dance studio, but they were all glistening with sweat. Their sequin hotpants glistened in the sun and the few wearing tops, well, their black tank tops clung to their chests.

That’s how Christiana knew these men were not just ordinary men. Most of the men were shirtless, their chests glossy and covered with distinctive marks. Those marks were their mate marks, and that could mean one thing and one thing only: these men were shifters. Although they all looked pretty much the same to Christiana, tanned, with tall, toned bodies, Christiana had a hunch they were predators. It was something about the way they moved. Their motions were fluid but strong, each flex of an arm or lunge of a leg intentional, making their muscles bulge and drawing the eye to bulges of another kind. Upon spotting more than a few trouser snakes begging for a taming, Christiana forced herself to look away. She thought about what she’d seen them doing and resisted looking back at the men. Who were they, and why were they practicing cardio in the parking lot of an old movie theater? And why did they have to move like that? Their every motion made it look as if they were practicing for a hunt, but the question was, what were they hunting for?

Although to the blind eye, the marks might look like tattoos or body art, pretty much everyone knew about mate marks in a big city like Denver. They were the marks shifters usually got on their eighteenth birthdays, marks that were meant to tell the shifters about their true loves, or, in shifter parlance, ‘fated mates.’

Christiana had a few shifter friends, but they weren’t exactly open about shifter matters with her. After all, she was a human. There were just some aspects of the shifter experience she’d never be able to understand. She couldn’t turn into an animal, but she could turn a kitchen full of groceries into a feast fit for a queen, with dessert to match, so she and her friends bonded over food instead.

Christiana was shocked by the shifters who seemed to be practicing not just dancing, but stripping. Mate marks were usually kept private, secret. She didn’t even know what mate marks her friends had. To see the mate marks out in the open, well, it made Christiana do quite the double take. Was she seeing shifters exhibiting their mate marks for all and sundry to see? What kind of a place was Bear Buns, anyway?

Christiana closed her car door and walked over to a woman in black with a clipboard who was stationed outside the back entryway.

“Excuse me,” said Christiana. “My name is Christiana Schmidt. I’m here to interview for the chef position.”

The bouncer looked over Christiana, from head to toe, and looked back at her clipboard.

“Christiana…Christiana…” said the bouncer out loud. “Maybe it’s under the S section…Ah. There you are. It was under ‘Schmidt.’ I’ll need to see some identification.”

“ID?” asked Christiana. “Uh, okay. Will a state ID do?”

She rummaged through her purse to find her wallet.

“That’s fine,” said the bouncer. “You wouldn’t believe what some people are doing to get in here.”

“What exactly is this place?” asked Christiana, passing the bouncer her ID card.

The bouncer looked at it and handed it back to Christiana.

“This is Bear Buns,” said the bouncer. “You have heard of Bear Buns, haven’t you?”

“I can’t say that I have,” said Christiana. “I just heard that this place needed a chef through the grapevine, somebody who specialized in food that’d please a predominantly female audience. I assumed this was a bakery, what with the name.”

“You’re thinking of the Bear Claw Bakery,” said the bouncer. “Common mistake. Bear Buns is…well, let’s just say our buns are hotter, fresher, and moister than whatever they have at that bakery.”

The bouncer pressed a button on her headset.

“We’ve got a Christiana Schmidt here to interview for the chef position,” said the bouncer. “Uh-huh. Okay. Got it.”

The bouncer looked back to Christiana.

“Somebody’ll be right out to get you,” said the bouncer. “I’d walk you in, but we’re more than a little understaffed today.” The bouncer saw a camera flash and frowned.

“I’ll be right back,” said the bouncer, before she left to go chase down whoever was taking paparazzi pics of the dancers.

Christiana watched as the bouncer ran off. The bouncer was curvy, but she knew how to hustle. The men were still practicing their dance moves underneath the sun, getting glossier and sweatier by the second.

“Ahem,” said a voice.

“Are you Christiana?” asked another voice.

Christiana turned. In front of her were two men in dark jeans with black shirts that, across the chest, read, ‘Bear Buns.’ Even though these men weren’t oiled up and stripped down, they were the only men that Christiana had seen at Bear Buns that had made her blush. There was something about them that made it hard for Christiana to look at them without feeling as if she was doing something naughty, something dangerous, something taboo.

The men looked nice enough, but at the same time, they looked predatory, more predatory than the shifters rehearsing their moves outside on the collapsed cardboard boxes. It was more than what these men were doing with their bodies. It was what they weren’t doing. They weren’t flexing or leaning sexily against the luxe walls of the club. They were standing naturally, but they were reading Christiana’s body like a book, line by line, up and down, and over again to ensure they’d memorized every last dense paragraph of her body. From the looks of their crotches, they looked like they were ready for a ‘pop’ quiz.

Christiana was a woman that was used to being flirted with. In fact, it had caused many problems for her in the past, but she had never experienced anything quite like what the shifter men were doing to her. She felt like a vulnerable deer, stalked by twin wolves in the woods, the two shifters in front of her managing to make her feel like she was being circled by them, even when they were standing still. Although the shifters were being polite to her, keeping their distance, Christiana could tell they wanted her, badly, and that they were trying their hardest not to be too flirty with her, which made her even more self-conscious of the situation.

The only thing more concerning than their reaction to seeing her was the gut instinct pulling Christiana toward the two hunks like a moth flying to a single flame split in twain. Even though Christiana had finally gone inside and was surrounded by air conditioning, she felt hotter than she’d felt outside, waiting for her hosts to arrive. Now that they’d come, she felt a bead of sweat forming between her ample bosom, and another form of wetness awakening the petals between her legs.

She managed to look back up at the men’s faces. It had to be nerves, right? She looked between the men. Both were both brunette, one with chocolate brown hair with honey streaks, the other with hair so dark it was nearly black, but it had a chestnut redness to it. They were tall, toned, and looking at her like they wanted to eat her up.

“Yes, I’m Miss Schmidt,” said Christiana, extending her hand. “I’m here to interview about the chef position.”

“Of course,” said the man with light hair. “My name is Chad, Chad Felixton.” He took her hand and shook it. Christiana wasn’t just surprised by Chad’s firm grip. It made sense he’d have a firm grip given how toned and strong he was. Chad was a barrel-chested man with a lot of upper body strength. She was surprised by the feeling of his hand in hers, and when he pulled his hand away, she realized why she was shocked. His hands had the marks of a bear shifter. They were rough and dark on the spots where his shift would have paws.

“And I’m Barrett,” said the man with dark hair, extending his hand. “Barrett Daniels. Come inside. Do you mind if we do a practical interview?”

“Not at all,” said Christiana, shaking Barrett’s hand. “But…I didn’t bring any ingredients for a practical interview.” As she pulled her hand away, her fingertips rubbed past the hard pads on Barrett’s hands. It was apparent that he, like Chad, was a bear shifter. No wonder she’d sensed something predatory. It had to be her body detecting the presence of two wolves in sheep’s clothing, two bears trapped in the bodies of two men that, in a second, could transform into something all fur and claws, something that could be cuddly and cute or terrifying and intimidating in a single second. For now, the bears were content to stay in their human forms, but who knew what could get this pair to transform? Could a single word set them off? Or were they as friendly and charming as they seemed?

“Trust me. We’ve got a stocked kitchen,” said Chad. “Let’s get you out of the hall and into the kitchen.”

“How much do you know about Bear Buns?” asked Barrett.

“Honestly, not a ton,” said Christiana. “When I searched on the web, all that popped up was a strip club in Seattle.”

“Our web presence isn’t search engine optimized yet,” apologized Barrett. “This is Bear Buns Denver. We’re the sister club to the club in Seattle, and we’re just opening. We haven’t had a show yet. That’s why we’re still hiring.”

“Still hiring?” asked Christiana. “You know I’m a chef, not a dancer, right?”

“All the dancers here are male. However, many women work at Bear Buns,” explained Barrett. “We employ more than just dancers. The club prints money, but it doesn’t run itself. It’s a high-class operation, and high class means high maintenance. Everything we do is meant to fulfill a highly specific female fantasy: the fantasy every woman who has fantasized about a shifter has had, the fantasy of falling in love with a shifter in a single night. The club’s goal is to help shifters find their true loves, showing their mate marks off to as many women as possible, as often as possible. The club’s approach is unorthodox, but we’ve got a strong track record of pairing up trios. While the dancers are on stage, people are needed to take care of the rest of the needs of the club. We hire people to take care of everything from makeup and costumes to food and drink, interior design, social media, marketing, you name it. There are chefs, costume designers, DJs, bartenders, makeup artists, heck, even theatre managers.”

“Chefs?” asked Christiana. “I wasn’t aware that strip clubs were known for their food.” What was that word that they’d used? Trios? Christiana didn’t know what the heck they were talking about, but surely, there’d be time to ask about that later.

“They aren’t usually, but this is no usual strip club,” said Barrett. “Bear Buns is technically a strip club because yes, the men strip down, all the way down. However, we do things differently here. Right now, this club isn’t much. Refurbishment is going to take another week. Opening night is next Friday.”

“Next Friday?” asked Christiana. “You seriously think all the construction is going to get done by then?” The inside of the club looked nearly finished but, there were still construction workers carrying mirrors and long dowels and cases of power tools through the halls of the club. The white carpeted floors had been replaced with lush black carpeting, but that would be just as difficult for them to clean. The club was much bigger on the inside than on the outside. That much was for sure. It was brightly lit and didn’t seem as sleazy or as creepy as a typical strip club.

“All that’s getting finished up are the secondary and tertiary stage areas as well as the dance studio,” said Chad. “That’s why our dancers are outside, practicing their routines.”

“So, what makes Bear Buns different again?” asked Christiana.

“We are a strip club that, first and foremost, prioritizes a woman’s pleasure,” explained Barrett. “We look to fulfill every desire a woman has, whether it’s for male entertainers or delicious food and drink.”

“And the club in Seattle was a hit?” asked Christiana. She looked at Barrett and Chad. They were tall, handsome men themselves. Why the heck were they in charge of hiring rather than shaking their booties dancing? It was inappropriate to look at the men that held the fate of her career in their hands in that way, but only a fool would call Barrett and Chad anything but stone cold attractive. They were shifters and looked it, with their firm, hard bodies, free of hibernation fat given that it was the middle of summer. They didn’t look like grizzlies, though. They should have, given their brown hair, which would be brown fur in their shifts, but there was something about them that made her think they had to be something else, something exotic.

“You bet,” said Chad. “There was on summer where every week, a new set of dancers found their fated mate. Of course, sometimes, there are dry periods. There’s no telling when Fate will wave her magic wand and match up a trio.”

“Are all the dancers shifters?” asked Christiana.

“They’re all bear shifters,” said Chad. “They’re all in pairs, looking for a mate to complete their ménage. That’s what Bear Buns is all about: finding the women that are meant to be with a given pair of shifters.”

“And it’s working?” asked Christiana. “I’m sorry. I’m not trying to insult your business. I’m just surprised that the business model has worked, that’s all.”

Christiana cringed internally. Had she managed to piss off Chad and Barrett? Had she just blown the interview, and would the two bears escort her from the premises in their human forms, or would they shift?

Christiana’s worries were put to rest when she saw Barrett look to Chad and saw them both start to smile.

“Think about it like this,” said Barrett. “Everyone is looking for true love if they haven’t found it yet. Every week, new women and new dancers come to Bear Buns. There’s always something new and delicious to offer the women, both on the stage and on their plates.”

“And speaking of plates…here’s the kitchen,” said Chad. He opened the door and let Christiana in.

Christiana gasped when she saw the kitchen. It had all new stainless-steel appliances, clean granite countertops, and there were brand new kitchen tools that were waiting to be broken in. There were beautiful restaurant quality plates, and when she got to the fridges, she wasn’t surprised to find that they were fully stocked with the finest ingredients the Midwest had to offer.

“What kind of food was served at Bear Buns Seattle?” Christiana asked, closing the fridge. “How many people are expected to come here on your busiest nights?”

“It was mainly desserts,” explained Chad. “The capacity of this club is much bigger. They only had two stages, one for The Twelve Dancing Bears, their most popular group, and one for everyone else. We have three main stages for our version of The Twelve Dancing Bears, and we also have six smaller stages for different types of shifters, mostly big cats.”

“You have nine stages?” asked Christiana. “How many people is that?”

“At full capacity…that’d be around…” started Chad. “Barrett, I can’t do the math. What is it?”

“It’s a hundred people per main stage, fifty per small stage, so, six hundred in total,” said Barrett. “Think you can handle dessert for six hundred people a night?”

“A night?” asked Christiana. She thought about what the ad had said. The salary at this place was incredibly high, and she didn’t have a fancy culinary degree, just the chops she’d honed working in the industry. Could she pull something out of her sleeve like the bear shifters could pull something out of their hotpants, or would she blow this opportunity? After all, she was between jobs and the market wasn’t great.

“I can,” said Christiana, once she had figured out what to do. “However, you’re going to need to hire on more help, including a chef’s assistant.”

“Done,” said Barrett. “That is…if you can prove that you’re the woman we should hire as our head chef.”

“Oh, I can prove it,” said Christiana. “This is going to take about an hour though. You sure you can wait that long?”

“You cool with us leaving you here to go do your thing?” asked Chad. He looked over Christiana, and his brown bear roared. Chad had always had an appetite for exceptionally beautiful women, but Christiana was stirring up another sort of hunger. It was a hunger for more than just her luscious curves. It was a desire to do more than tease her and drive her into a sassy frenzy. It was a desire that his bear had never felt before, and Chad knew that could only mean one thing.

“Fine with me,” said Christiana.

“Just find us outside, in the parking lot,” said Barrett. “We’ve got something we need to supervise.”

“I will,” promised Christiana.

Christiana went back to the fridge and started to gather up her ingredients, putting them all out in order in the method that French chefs call mise en place. That way, she would be able to more efficiently whip up a batch of the simple dessert she had planned. She rolled up her sleeves and put on her apron. There was cooking to do and a job to earn.

Three hours later, Christiana scooped the dessert into small disposable plastic cups with spoons and put the cups on a tray with some napkins. She carefully walked the tray of desserts down the hallway, out to the door to the parking lot. Somebody passing by helped her out by opening the door for her.

Christiana looked around. Where the heck were Barrett and Chad? Had they already left the lot, taking with them her chances of getting a job at the strip club?

She looked over to the dancers. They were still practicing their moves under the hot afternoon sun, their bodies glistening, as they repeated the steps taught to them by two men in sequined hotpants and black shirts with the words ‘Bear Buns’ emblazoned across the chest. The men wearing hotpants that shifted between looking brown and looking green depending on how the light hit the duochromatic sequins.

That’s when it hit Christiana. Barrett and Chad weren’t just her interviewers. They were frikkin’ strippers.

Christiana gulped. Barrett and Chad had looked good enough to eat when they were wearing their tight black shirts and jeans. In hotpants, their thick bulging calves were exposed to her, glistening in the sunlight, which made them look even bigger, even more powerful. As they turned and shook their hips, their butts just begged to be squeezed like ripe berries.

Barrett and Chad’s shirts were sticking to their bodies and hiding their mate marks. The mate mark was one of the few major marks of a shifter that a shifter kept in their human form. A shifter’s species determined where their mark appeared. For example, tiger shifters usually had mate marks in the form of tattoo-like marks on their arms. For bear shifters, the mark was on their chest, regardless of whether they were grizzly, polar, panda, or even koala bear shifters. Barrett and Chad’s marks, as well as the marks of the other bears practicing their dance moves, were hidden by their shirts.

Christiana wasn’t a shifter. Denver had shifters, but they mostly kept to themselves. Even though she didn’t have many shifter friends, she knew about the mate marks. They seemed so alien to her, so different than what she knew to be true about human men. Mate marks were supposed to tell a shifter who their true loves were, what the shifters called ‘fated mates.’ One of Christiana’s friends in college had ended up married before graduation because someone she was dating, a male shifter, had figured out that she was his fated mate. Somehow, the mate marks provided a clue as to who a shifter was meant to be with. Christiana didn’t know anything more about the details. She’d only seen a few mate marks in person, but never with someone she had slept with.

It was hard to believe that these men would be looking to settle down. After all, they had the sort of hard bodies that would make any woman want to jump their bones. These men could get any women they wanted, with no effort at all, yet, they were practicing their dance moves under the heat of the Colorado sun, which made another sort of heat grow between Christiana’s legs. All the men were handsome, but Barrett and Chad were the only ones with bodies that made Christiana find it hard to look at them as anything other than potential partners.

Christiana knew it was silly. After all, they would be her future bosses. Sleeping with the boss was totally unacceptable, especially for a female chef without formal training in a competitive industry in a lousy job market. Somehow, the fact it was forbidden made it all the more sinfully appealing, as appealing as her dessert would hopefully be for them. Would sleeping with two bosses be doubly bad?

Their hair was tousled and what Christiana wanted more than anything was to rub her face in it. It didn’t matter, though. She had a job to do.

Christiana walked over to the edge of the dance practice area and waited until Barrett and Chad finished their set. Once they were done with a given set of moves, they came over to her and looked at the tray.

“You made ice cream?” asked Barrett.

“Not just any ice cream,” said Christiana. “It’s rocky road ice cream. There’s a chocolate base, with freshly made marshmallows and almonds that I roasted in the oven to caramelize them a bit. The chocolate is the good stuff, not the stuff for kids. It’s a dark chocolate. The base is extra heavy whipping cream, which was also used to make the whipped cream and marshmallow topping. It’s a marshmallow flavored whipped cream made with a mix of my homemade marshmallow mix and of course, whipping cream.”

“Can we try some?” asked one of the dancers.

“We’ve never had the dancers ask to try any of the dishes before,” Chad said to Barrett.

“There’s a lot more where it came from,” said Christiana. “With up to six hundred women a night, you’re going to need to have a dessert that’s easy to make, easy to serve, that you can make in big batches. Sound like a dessert you know? Ice cream is kept frozen and tastes best frozen. It doesn’t need to be reheated or kept warm like other desserts. It’ll last longer in cold storage without losing its appeal. It doesn’t have to be just rocky road ice cream either. We can do a different ice cream every week. It’s the summer. It’s hot. It’s going to get even hotter in the club with all the people in each hall. You’re going to want a dessert that keeps people cool. All I’m going to need is some people that work under me so that I can concentrate on prepping each week’s new flavor of ice cream while they mix up the batch of ice cream for a given week. How does that sound?”

Chad and Barrett were both trying their shared bowl of ice cream while they listened to Christiana defend her choice in dessert, even though they had already made their choice from the moment that they’d had their first bite of her dessert. The dessert was delicious, and if it were good enough for the dancers, it would be good enough for them. However, a bowl of ice cream wasn’t the only thing that Chad and Barrett wanted to share. Now, they had their eye on something far sweeter and creamier, but also, way, way hotter.

“I think we only have one question,” said Chad.

“Yeah,” said Barrett. “When can you start?”

“You mean I’m getting the job?” asked Christiana. She nearly dropped her tray out of excitement.

“That’s right,” said Barrett. “We can offer you the salary listed on the site. We have a generous benefits package as well. We’ll look at hiring you an assistant and some chefs to work under you. Will three chefs do?”

“Three is fine,” said Christiana. “The only extra equipment we need is a bigger ice cream maker. You think you can find room for that in the budget?”

“Abso-frikkin’-lutely,” said Chad. “So…when are you starting?”

“I can start right now,” said Christiana.

“And what’ll be the next thing you whip up?” asked Barrett. “Fudge and cherry ripple, maybe?”

“Nope,” said Christiana. “Sports drink and sandwiches. You all need to keep your fluids and sugar levels up, or else we’re not going to have anyone to dance on opening night. Thank you again, so, so much. I’ll be right back out with food and drink.”

As Christiana left with a tray full of empty cups and dirty spoons, and the bouncer opened the door for her, Chad and Barrett watched her go. Her hips swung to keep the door open as she turned to make sure she didn’t drop empty ice cream cups on the clean carpeted floor. The tray was tucked into the ampleness of her waist before she rebalanced it on her buxom chest.

“She’s one heck of a woman,” said Chad.

“She’s more than just one heck of a woman,” said Barrett. “I think she might be the woman.”

“You can’t be serious,” said Chad. “If we all start hunting down our mates from among the women we hire, this club is going to get a reputation.”

“You mean I might get a fated mate and a reputation? Two for the price of one?” asked Barrett. “All the better. The hunt is on. The only question is, are you in?”

“I have to be,” said Chad. “Every ménage needs a third. You’re crazy for this one, Barrett. I just hope your crazy pays off.”

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