When Olivia received the call to go out with her boyfriend Jared yesterday, she was ecstatic. He left her a voicemail telling her to wear something fancy, which compounded her excitement even more. Over the past few weeks, he had been incredibly busy with multiple business trips, making it impossible for them to each other. At first, their time together was a passionate, sensual whirlwind. He took her out on elaborate dates, always brought her flowers, and made her feel like a princess. These days, it felt like life kept getting in the way of all that.
Seeing him tonight in his tailored suit and tie under the restaurant’s dim, romantic lighting made all of her frustration feel like a distant memory. The only thing that mattered in the world was her time with him now. He placed his hand over hers on the table, and flashed her a bright smile as he pulled a small box out of his inner pocket with his other hand. Was he going to propose? Was he ready to take the next step? She didn’t want to get her hopes up, but with the nice restaurant, the mood, and the box...it was hard to imagine what else could be happening.
“Oh, Jared,” she said, her voice almost a whisper.
She always wondered how she would react during moments like these. Would she burst into happy tears? Would she giggle with excitement? Would she accept his proposal right away? Would she give it some thought and make him wait for an answer? As those thoughts jumbled her brain, she didn’t notice the woman approaching their table.
“Jared? What are you doing here? You said you were on a business trip,” the tall, blonde woman said as her gaze slid toward Olivia as if she just noticed there was another person sitting at the table. She sipped from a glass of red wine.
Business trip? He told her he was on a business trip? Olivia’s heart sank into the pit of her stomach. She tried to hold back the gut-wrenching despair threatening to consume her, but it was becoming increasingly difficult. Were all the times he’d told her he was away on a business trip a lie too?
“Missy, I can explain. The trip was canceled at the last minute. This is a friend from work. We were about to flesh out the details of next week’s audit,” Jared stammered, shooting Olivia a hard glare. He tucked the box back into his pocket and picked up the menu. “I’ll see you at home, dear. If you would, I’d like to return to my dinner.”
Missy shook her head and let out a burst of high-pitched, slightly hysterical laughter. It attracted stares from almost every other diner in the restaurant. Redness stained her cheeks, and she shook her head violently. “You bastard. No, you’re coming home right now.” She looked Olivia straight in the eye as she tossed the red wine into her face, instantly staining the red dress Olivia had worn to try to impress Jared.
Gasping, Olivia nearly knocked over her chair when she staggered to her feet, looking down at her dress in horror. Who was this woman, and what was she doing here? He called her ‘dear’. He never called Olivia pet names like that. Does Jared have more than one girlfriend? Nothing was making sense, and she wanted to get out of here as soon as possible. Jared grimaced and looked between her and Missy. He stood and flagged over a waiter.
“Napkins, please,” Jared sighed. He pinched the bridge of his nose as if this was starting to become tedious to him.
Missy didn’t look away from staring dangers at Olivia, despite the chaos surrounding them. She slowly shook her head. “You still have no idea what’s going on, do you? You’re not really his coworker. We both know that. You are just the latest toy for my husband to use for his own pleasure. I bet he was great at first. Luring you in like you’re really something special. Get this through your thick skull, girl. You’re not.” She slammed her wine glass down on the table and turned on her stiletto heel with her nose held high in the air.
Olivia couldn’t move; she felt completely frozen in place. She barely noticed Jared pressing a handful of napkins in her hand as he jogged after his wife.
A waitress came over after a few moments. She gently led Olivia to the bathroom, but she could not feel her touch.. Right now, she felt numb. How could she be such a fool? Her heart ached, and tears slid from her eyes. Her dress was ruined, and make-up streaked down her face. She finally came back to her senses enough to thank the waitress and clean up as much as she could before leaving the restaurant.
She kept her gaze low as she walked through the hushed tables of patrons, not wanting to meet anyone’s eyes. It was obvious how the whole thing looked, but she was not that kind of girl. She would have never done any of this if she knew he was in a relationship. Thankfully, Jared at least paid for what little they had enjoyed before making his escape.
* * *
Olivia curled up into a ball on the couch as she continued to binge whatever sappy Lifetime movies appeared on the screen in front of her. An empty bowl of ice cream and a pizza box sat before her on the coffee table. It was a Friday night, and instead of being out with “her man”, she was laying in front of the television with a stomach full of comfort food. She had a feeling her stomach wouldn’t be so comforted later on in the night.
She thought about calling one of her friends to tell them about what happened with Jared, but none of them ever liked him in the first place.. They were suspicious of his disappearing acts and big romantic gestures, and Olivia feared they would give her a bunch of ‘I told you so’s’. That was the last thing she needed to hear.
The worst part about the whole mess was that she still had her phone beside her on the couch on max volume in case Jared contacted her. Would he call and explain what happened? Was it all some sort of misunderstanding? Maybe the woman was a clingy ex? But she doubted that. From the look on Jared’s face, and the way the woman talked to her, it was like a nightmare come true. She was just too blind to see it before the bomb exploded in front of her.
Olivia massaged her temples and sipped on a glass of chardonnay. A migraine loomed on the horizon, but maybe the alcohol would dull the pain long enough for her to fall asleep. Her eyelids were starting to droop a little during a commercial break. Why did she still have cable TV? Most of these movies, or at least other romantic movie options, were available on Netflix or one of the many other streaming services. But she couldn’t quite overcome the nervousness she felt about cord-cutting. One of these days she would take the plunge.
The first commercial was an advertisement for an adult store website. Maybe she did not need a boyfriend. Maybe she would be better off without any man. Up next was a commercial for Prince Dating Agency. An ad for a sex store and then a dating agency? Seriously? Who was lining up these commercial slots? She grabbed the remote to turn off the television in disgust. The women who watched these sappy movies were probably vulnerable and recovering from similar situations to hers. Advertisers were vultures trying to prey on women like her.
However, as she watched the commercial, something about it seemed to almost call out to her. She couldn’t really describe it. “Find your perfect match with Prince Dating Agency,” the TV said. “True love is just a call or click away.”
Olivia reached for her cell phone and typed a note to herself about the name of this place. She would give them a call in the morning. Maybe... maybe it was worth a shot. What was the worst thing that could happen? They had a guarantee in place. If she didn’t meet the right person, she would get her money back. It also was not like she was strapped for cash. She had a good job and had what would have been a great life, if her relationship was not a complete and utter lie.
She text messaged her best friend, Sophia. It was time to start brushing herself off and talking about what happened so she could move on. If she was being honest, this might be a blessing in disguise. Her love life had been flat lining for a while now. Jared couldn’t—or wouldn’t—be bothered to spend time with her lately.
Olivia typed out: Hey Sophie, checking in. Probably should’ve done this earlier, but I needed some time to process. It’s over with Jared. Guess I was ‘the other woman.’ It wasn’t pretty. At all.
Sophie called back almost as soon as she hit the send button. “Oh my god, Olivia! You should’ve called me! What happened?”
“Ugh,” she let out a sigh and gathered her composure. There was no backing out of this now. “Well, Jared had been...busy lately. He said he was off on business trips. I thought it was amazing that he traveled for his work, and he used to show me pictures, too. What reason did I have to not believe him?” Even to her own ears, it sounded like she was trying to convince herself that her naivete was warranted. “But…I guess I shouldn’t have. We were at this fancy restaurant, and it was going so well. He ordered a bottle of wine, and then pulled this little jewelry box from his pocket. I thought he was going to propose.” Pain clenched at her chest when she thought about how that night might have ended in an alternate universe..
Sophie waited in silence for a few moments before prompting her to continue. “And then what happened?”
“Then a woman came over, confronted him, splashed red wine in my face, and told me she’s his wife. Oh, and that I’m just one girl in a long line of others that have fallen for him. He left with her, and I haven’t heard from him since,” she explained, and paused to take a breath. “I guess I should’ve listened to you girls. He was so nice to me. I didn’t expect—” she cut herself off to hold back sobs.
“You hang in there, Olivia. Don’t give up. Just because Jared didn’t treat you right doesn’t mean no one will. You’ll find someone,” Sophie reassured her. “Maybe you should take this time to focus on yourself. To heck with men…for now at least. Okay?”
“Okay.” Olivia pursed her lips, not knowing what to say to that, since she planned to do the exact opposite.. But Sophie didn’t need to know that. It was embarrassing enough that she was going to use a dating agency. She did not need everyone to know that she couldn’t find love on her own.
Mason and Ava sat across from Liam at their family’s large breakfast table. The happy, playful look on his big brother’s face was so new. His brother used to be a no-nonsense businessman. He seemed like a completely different man these days. Ava brought something out in him that Liam was almost jealous of.
Things had been going well with Liam’s girlfriend. Really, really well. In fact, he started to think that he might propose. But apparently, it wasn’t meant to be. A few nights ago, he went over to her place to spend some time watching Netflix and she hit him with the heartbreaking news. Cindy did not break up with him at first. That came later, after a few hours of arguing.
The company she worked for was expanding their New York office, and they wanted people to transfer over. That was great news. News he would have celebrated with her, if she had not secretly accepted the job without telling him. How could she do that? After the years they spent together? He thought she was the one. Now, he did not know what to think.
She expected him to be happy for her, and even worse, she could not understand why he was upset. When she called it quits, she admitted that part of her rationale was to work under some hotshot lawyer who once dated some B-list celebrity, and helped her reach her career goals, whatever that meant. If he weren’t a werebear, he might have been concerned by her ferocity. He never opened up to her about that side of him. It never felt urgent, and he was frankly worried about how she might react. He was comfortable with what they shared, even if he held back who—or what—he really was.
Liam plastered a smile on his face as his dad walked into the room carrying a platter of food. This was their Saturday morning ritual. A big, hearty breakfast to get the family together and kick off the weekend. No one knew that he and Cindy broke up. He did not want to face the questions, judgements, or negativity. His dad pushed his brother hard about finding a mate not long ago. He didn’t want that to be his fate.
He was wary of going through the pain and heartache of another relationship. Not while he still felt the sting of betrayal. So, instead of alerting anyone to his pain, he pretended that all was well in his world. Normally, that would be quite a challenge, but Mason and his smiling mate were drawing a lot of attention lately. Normally, he would be jealous of all the attention his brother was getting, but for now, Liam was pleased the heat was off of him.
“And here we are. Some of your mother’s finest cooking. I think she’s quite excited for the coming winter. She’s been making all sorts of Florida-inspired recipes, as if shes reminding me of my promises. Like I could forget,” Bradley said with humor in his voice.
“It looks wonderful, Mr. Sinclair,” Ava smiled. She glanced over at Mason with her brows knit together—who likely had nudged her—then she quickly added, “I meant, Bradley. My compliments to the chef.”
It was easy to see that their dad was just as excited about retiring from his position as pack alpha as Liam’s mother was. His mother loved her life, but the two of them started out in an arranged marriage with intense pressure to follow tradition, do their duty, and have cubs. His parents encouraged Liam and his brothers to find love and live their lives their own way, and now there were finally taking their own advice. No one could blame them for that.
“Yes, it really does, Dad,” Mason agreed.
Their mother walked out of the kitchen and into the dining room. She looked at her son and his mate. In between the apron she wore over her dress and cheery glow, she looked like she had been plucked from a television show from the ‘50s or ‘60s.. Her gaze drifted to Liam, and her demeanor faltered for a moment.
He should’ve known that his mom would figure out that something was wrong, but all he could do was avoid her gaze and hope she would not get a chance to approach him about it. His other brothers, Will and Noah, sat next to him. They were a little more quiet than usual, too, but seemed happy. He waited until his turn to pile food on his plate before digging in. He looked over at Will again, who was staring at him, sizing him up. Will raised his eyebrow slightly before looking back down at his plate. The two of them were attached at the hip growing up, so he knew that Will could sense that something was not right with Liam. They were the middle children, whereas Noah was the baby and Mason was the oldest. Will and Liam sometimes got lost in the shuffle, so they supported each other a lot during their formative years.
“So, I’d like to share some news with all of you,” Mason said, placing his fork down on his plate before taking Ava’s hand in his. “We’re expecting a child. A cub.” Mason looked at his mate with such love and pride.
A strange feeling swelled inside Liam’s chest. He wished desperately to find someone to share that strong of a bond with. Mason never thought that relationships were for him, and wanted to focus more on his career and their family company than a woman. Maybe that was Liam’s future, especially now that the two of them were expecting.
“Congratulations, my son!” Bradley said, hopping out of his chair and heading over to kiss his wife. “We’re going to be grandparents.”
Their mother smiled so brightly, and tears welled in her eyes. “I could sense that she was,” She cried while hugging Bradley tightly. “The female were bear’s nose is pretty intuned with that sort of thing, but hearing the words is more special than you can imagine.” She released her husband and headed over to the couple. “Congratulations. I’m so pleased.” She placed her hand on each of their shoulders. “Now if only the rest of my boys can find their mates, then I’d be one happy mama bear.” Her gaze slid over Liam and his brothers.
Liam looked at his mother, unsure what to say. Did she know? It certainly seemed like she did. He averted his gaze back to the food as Noah scoffed at their mother’s words.
“Mom, I’m not interested in finding a woman right now.” Noah was more like Mason than his older brother realized. “Look at Mason. He had time to find the right person. He earned his place in the company. I need to be able to do that before settling down, too.”
Liam doubted that conversation was going to go over well, especially with their dad giving Noah that stern frown. He shook his head, not wanting to get involved, and rose from the table once he’d finished eating. “Thank you for the delicious breakfast, Mom,” Liam said. “I have to head out. There are a few errands I want to get done while it’s early. Congrats, you too.” He kissed his mother on the cheek before picking up his plate.
“Oh no, you’re leaving already? I’d hoped everyone would stay for a little while longer, especially now that we have such excellent news. I baked a few pies.” Mason politely insisted that he had to leave, and she shrugged. “Oh well, we’ll see you later. Don’t forget to have some pie when you come home.”
“Sure thing, Mom,” he nodded. He headed into the kitchen to rinse off his plate, but he heard someone follow him in. He knew it was his brother Will..
“What’s up, Liam?” Will asked, his voice soft enough that the others wouldn’t overhear them. “I know something is bothering you. I’m sure Mom and the others know too. No one wants to say anything to ruin the celebratory mood, aside from Noah, apparently.” He rolled his eyes. “Then again, he’s not known for being subtle.”
“It’s complicated,” Liam replied carefully, not wanting to talk about it. “Besides, I don’t want to bring down the happy mood in there.”
“Come on, man. They’re in the other room. It’s fine. You’re not great at hiding your feelings, which makes you an incredible friend and brother. Great at work, too. People know you’re being straight when them. Just let me in.” He cocked his head to the side. “This is about Cindy, isn’t it?”
Liam shook his head. Will was like a dog with a bone when he wanted something. Trying to make him leave this alone was not going to work. “Okay, fine. We’re no longer together. She didn’t think to tell me about accepting a job in New York City. Then she topped it all off by telling me about some lawyer who dated a celebrity that she’ll be working for. What does that have to do with anything professionally?” He leaned back against the counter. “I didn’t react well, we argued, and broke up. That’s it. It sucks, and I’m still reeling from it.”
Will looked thoughtful for a moment. “Maybe you’re overthinking things. You can’t let one bad relationship stop you. You’ve see how well things are going with Mason. Maybe you should sign up for the dating agency too? It worked out well for him,” he advised.
Dating? Now? Liam wasn’t ready for more heartache. The last thing he needed was to get involved with another woman. But he would love to find someone special like his brother had.
“I’ll think about it.” He chuckled at his brothers stern glare, which was the spitting image of their father’s. “Fine,” he relented. “What’s the worst that could happen?”
Will placed his hand on Liam’s shoulder as he shook his head. “You certainly have Sinclair stubbornness down, but I’m sure you will see this is a good decision. Hang in there, and if you need to talk, give me a call.”
Olivia stared at her cell phone, trying to work up the nerve to solidify her decision to really do this dating agency thing. Sleeping on it had not helped much. Her dreams played back the date with Jared last night over and over again. But when it all came down to it, none of that was her fault. She was better off moving on with her life. He still hadn’t called her, not that she’d expected him to. Maybe it was another sign from the universe to stop thinking about him. He obviously was off trying to patch things up with his wife, and that was just as well.
That morning, another one of her friends reached out, having heard the news from Sophie.. She was so grateful for their kindness. . They did not judge her, regardless of how they felt about Jared.They cared that she was hurting and offered support and words of encouragement.. They arranged a girl’s night out on the town for next week.
She went to lunch with Isabella earlier that day. A few times, she thought about bringing up the dating agency. It didn’t feel right though, especially when Sophie had suggested she lay off men for a while. Maybe that was the right thing to do. If they knew she was diving into dating, would they think she was finding someone else to rebound from Jared? Was she rebounding?
But here she was, staring down at her cell phone as she typed in the number for Prince Dating Agency.
She kept worrying that she would be matched up with another married man, or someone in a relationship looking for a side piece. Then she tried to stop worrying. Surely a dating agency would be the safe choice for a woman in her position. It was likely better than meeting someone in a bar, like she had with Jared. .
She let out a breath and held the phone up to her ear as it rang. A young woman with a sweet voice answered, “Hello, this is Leslie. Prince Dating Agency where you’ll find the match of your dreams. How may I help you?”
Olivia opened her mouth and closed it again. She was glad that she called rather than going directly to their office. At least in the privacy of her own home she didn’t need to worry about her composure or how she looked answering questions. None of this felt normal for her since at work she was a calm, confident woman. “Hi, my name is Olivia. I’m interested in signing up, I suppose. Is there someone I can talk with that will walk me through the process or something like that?”
“Certainly, Miss...?” Leslie began.
“Tyson,” she answered. “My name is Olivia Tyson.”
“Miss Tyson, if you’d like I can set up a time for you to come in and speak with someone face-to-face, and if you’re content with our rules and guidelines, we can sign you up to find your perfect match. Ms. Prince, who founded the company, is our matchmaker. She’s incredibly successful. It’s almost magical how good she is at finding matches for our clients.”
“Great. Do you have any morning appointments available?” Magical? That was an interesting way of putting it, but maybe it was unintentional. Or maybe Ms. Prince really had a way with matchmaking. Olivia had never met a professional matchmaker. Her only experience with matchmaking was in high school when one of her friends tried to talk her into a blind date with one of the boys friend the baseball team. He was handsome, but his terrible attitude turned her off.
Olivia heard her typing and clicking from Leslie’s side of the phone.“Yes, of course,” she said. “Let’s see. There’s an opening with Kimberly on Monday morning, if that works well for you?”
Olivia glanced over at her wardrobe. Monday, huh? At least she had tomorrow to get her outfit in order, her nails done, and ready herself mentally before she met with the person at the dating agency. “Yes, that works great. Thank you.”
“You’re certainly welcome. Thank you for thinking of Prince Dating Agency. Have a wonderful day, and I hope you enjoy your meeting with Kim.” The line clicked after a few seconds, leaving Olivia alone, sitting cross-legged on her bed.
“Deep breaths,” she told herself out loud. “I’ve done crazier things than this before. If it doesn’t work out, no harm, no foul.” She took a few more deep breaths and leaned back on the bed, feeling excitement build up inside of her. This felt almost like an adventure. She went over to her closet, pouring over all of her dresses to find the right one. It took a little digging, but she finally found a blue dress that complimented her eyes. It was lovely, and it wouldn’t look too risqué at the office, especially with a cute lightweight sweater.
With a quick look at her nails and toes, she knew her next stop now that she’d found her dress. Besides, a manicure and pedicure would be a relaxing treat after the terrible dinner and subsequent break-up last night.
* * *
Monday morning came way too quickly. Olivia yawned as she sipped her creamy, hot coffee. Her schedule was fairly flexible as long as she was in the office during peak hours for her meetings and calls. With her early morning meeting at the Prince Dating Agency, she doubted she’d have a problem making it into the office. In fact, she might even be early since she would normally still be asleep right now.
She thought of surprising her co-workers with pastries from the delicious bakery down the street from their office building. She was in that good of a mood. Something about this felt right. After finishing up her coffee and rising her cup out in the sink, she double checked how she looked in the mirror, applied her lipstick, and exited her loft-style apartment. The drive to the Prince Dating Agency was quick, and she sat in the parking lot, feeling content..
“Not bad,” Olivia said, then she checked her face in the mirror before heading to the door. She wanted to make her best impression.
The young, blonde receptionist brightly smiled up at her when she walked through the door. “Hello, welcome to Prince Dating Agency. Ms. Prince will help you find your match shortly. May I have your name, please?”
Olivia walked to the receptionist’s desk and smiled back at her. “Olivia Tyson.”
The receptionist smiled. “Good to see you, Ms. Tyson. I’m Leslie. We spoke on the phone,” she said. “I’ll let Kimberly know you’re here. She’ll be with you shortly. Feel free to have a coffee or some hot chocolate while you’re waiting. We have a Keurig machine and light snacks in the waiting room.” She waved her hand in the direction of the machine.
“Thanks. Good to see you too, Leslie,” Olivia replied. She bypassed the light, organic snacks, not wanting to have anything stuck in her teeth when the time came for her meeting with Kimberly. Her gaze descended over the coffee and hot chocolate options, and decided a second cup could not hurt, especially since she was up earlier than usual this morning.
Her gaze slid over to a man who was walking into the building. He was dressed well, and for a moment, her heart fluttered at how handsome he was. She felt her heartbeat quicken.Letting out a breath, she grabbed a pouch of dark roast coffee before giving the display a final once over to make sure she picked out what she wanted.
After considering his younger brother’s words on Saturday morning, Liam made an appointment for the Prince Dating Agency that afternoon. Because he still lived at home like his other unmated brothers, he made an early morning appointment with the agency before anyone else in his house would be awake to ask questions about his activities.
He walked into the office after sitting in his sports car for a few minutes. Not long ago, he convinced his brother to try this out and now he was attempting to give himself the same pep talk. What if Cindy was an example of what he’d face in the future?
The cheery receptionist greeted him as soon as he walked in. “Welcome to Prince Dating Agency. Ms. Prince will help you find your match shortly. May I have your name, please?”
“Hi,” he said, walking up to the young woman’s desk. “It’s Liam Sinclair. I know I’m a little early.” He flashed her his grin, and he wasn’t surprised when her eyes widened a little and she licked her lower lip. Cindy always said he had grin that melted hearts and panties.
“R-right, Mr. Sinclair, it’s nice to meet you,” she replied, clearing her throat. “I’ll let Ms. Prince know you’re here. She’ll see you directly. She’s currently in a meeting, but if you’d like to have a cup of coffee or some hot cocoa, there’s a Keurig machine and light snacks in the waiting room.”
“Thank you.” He tilted his head to her, still smiling, then he walked off toward the Keurig machine she’d mentioned where a woman in a blue dress stood, browsing the different options. “Finding anything good?” he asked.
She spun around, looking surprised as her gaze slid up his body until it meet his eyes. It took a moment since he was likely a foot taller than her. “Huh? I...” Her eyes widened. Her lips parted for a moment before she closed her mouth. “It’s just the usual selection, I guess. Good variety.”
“I see. What are you leaning toward?” He glanced down at the K-cup in her hand. A dark roast. “That sounds good. I’ll have one of those too.” He gently took one from the rack and popped open the machine. “So, are you a regular around here?” He looked at the couple of other men and women sitting in the waiting room. Some were reading magazines while they drank their coffee while others looked at their phones.
“Me? No. It’s my first time. I barely know what I’m doing,” she said as he lifted the coffee from the machine and handed it to her.
“Funny. Me too. My brother did this not long ago. I actually encouraged him to give it a shot. Little did I know, I’d be here myself trying it out too.” He shook his head. He instantly felt comfortable talking to this woman, without really understanding why.
Once his coffee was finished brewing, he walked with her to a couple of chairs away from the rest of the crowd in the waiting room. He waited until she sat down before making himself comfortable.
She sipped her coffee and raised her eyebrows at him. “Your brother came here? How did that work out for him?”
Liam lifted his own eyebrows with a shrug. “Pretty well I’d say since the two of them moved in together and are expecting their first child.”
“Really? That’s great,” she smiled at him, and a genuine warmth and sincerity radiated from her. “I bet they’re so excited!And you’ll be the proud uncle, huh?”
“Really. They are thrilled. It’s been a while since I’ve seen my brother this happy. He wasn’t interested dating because he was such a workaholic.I helped convince him that he should go for it.”
That was only half of the story, but he could not very well tell her that the real reason for using dating agency was their father’s ultimatum that Mason find a mate or lose his position as the CEO of their family’s business and his rank of alpha. More importantly, it would ruin his relationship with their father. It had not been easy for him, but it provided the push he needed to go beyond his comfort zone. Now Mason’s life was better than ever.
Liam felt drawn to this mystery woman. His bear could feel it too since he wanted Liam to get much closer, but crowding the woman wouldn’t be polite. He barely knew her, and the last thing he wanted was to drive her away.
“So, why did you decide to follow in your brother’s footsteps?” She sipped on her coffee, but she kept her gaze on his. The tone was conversational, but Liam sensed her curiosity.
“It’s a long story, but I think it’s worth a shot if I could find the right girl. Maybe I could be as happy as my brother is, you know?” He looked away for a moment, feeling a little uncomfortable, but his bear followed it’s instincts. Looking away was a sign of weakness and submission. He would become his brother’s second-in-command in their pack. He wasn’t a submissive, so he met her eyes again. “How about you? What brings you here?”
Her face fell when he asked, and he wished he could take the words back the second he said them. “Like you said, it’s a long story. I’m here to see what things are like,” she explained. “Check out the process and maybe sign-up. But I saw a commercial on television. It seemed different, so I figured why not give it a try. Surely it’s better than meeting someone in a bar or wherever people are supposed to meet these days.” She chuckled, but it didn’t sound entirely happy.
“I know how you feel. That’s one reason why I’m doing this too. I’m a busy guy with meetings, a company to help run, and then there’s my family. I don’t want the stress of trying to meet someone on my plate as well. And I know how well it worked out for my brother, so I guess there’s that too.” Just from talking with this woman, the whole trip felt worth it to him. He was no longer wondering if Mason’s success was a fluke. If the women here were anything like her, then he made the right decision.
“A businessman?” she smiled at him and glanced down at his suit and tie. “I guess you’re not just dressed up for this meeting, then?”
Liam flashed a grin at her. “You could say that. I do clean up pretty well though, or so I’ve been told.” He shrugged a shoulder, deciding that sounded like he was talking about other women. He pivoted. “Then again, my mom always says the nicest things.”
She choked a little on her sip of coffee before giving him a bright smile. “Moms tend to be biased, but your mom isn’t lying. You look pretty good in a suit.” A pretty pink blush ran up her neck toward her cheeks after she said that, and he could feel any nervousness toward his upcoming meeting with the matchmaker fade away. “That was probably a little forward. Sorry.”
“No need to apologize. I’ll gladly accept a compliment from a woman as beautiful as you are. That’s a stunning dress.” He looked down at it before making eye contact once more. “It goes well with your eyes, too.”
The blush intensified and she lowered her gaze, but he knew she was looking at him through her long lashes. “That’s one of the reasons I bought it. It’s good for all sorts of occasions. I’m headed to work after this, and from the front, it’s modest enough.” She picked up her sweater that laid across her lap. “That’s one reason why I have this with me. And office buildings are usually on the cool side. So what do you do—”
“Miss Olivia Tyson?” a female voice cut in. When Olivia looked up to make eye contact with the woman, she smiled and continued talking. “Hello, I’m Kimberly Smith. I’ll be meeting with you today to discuss our process here at Prince Dating Agency, and hopefully get you all set up.” She looked between the two of them. “I hope I’m not interrupting.”
Olivia Tyson? That was a lovely name, just like the woman it belonged to.
Olivia glanced over at Kimberly. “Hello Kimberly, thank you. I’ll be there in just a moment,” she said, and looked back at Liam. “It was very nice talking with you.” She paused for a moment before standing up. “I know you will find a great partner like your brother did.” Her hand brushed against his, igniting something inside him, and drawing his bear toward the surface of his skin.
Every instinct within him wanted to take her hand and lead her out of this waiting room. He wished that he could take her somewhere to get to know her better, and eventually make her his mate. Work and other responsibilities be damned. But he knew that was impossible. “It was great talking with you too. I hope you find someone as well.” He had to let her go. At least he was in the right place to find the right woman. It happened with his brother here, and now believed it was possible for him. Meeting Olivia proved that. He watched her walk away with Kimberly. They talked as they walked, but he smiled when Olivia glanced back at him before disappearing down a hallway. Maybe he wasn’t the only one feeling optimistic.
Leslie the receptionist came over to him. “I’m sorry for the delay, Mr. Sinclair. Ms. Prince will just be a little while longer,” her tone was sincerely apologetic.
“Don’t worry about it. It’s fine.” Liam wasn’t concerned. He had plenty of time before he needed to get back to the office. .
Leslie let out a relieved sigh. “She will be with you shortly.” He went back to checking his schedule and scanning the news while he waited. His senses were on alert, waiting for a chance to see Olivia again. The thought of missing her made him tense.
Not long after the receptionist checked on him, a professional woman with a skirt that showcased her long legs came to the entrance of the waiting room. “Mr. Sinclair? It’s a pleasure to meet you, especially after helping your brother. Follow me. I’ll personally assist you with finding your perfect match.”
“Ms. Prince, thank you for taking the time to meet with me,” he replied. He rose to his feet and shook her extended hand, feeling a momentary spark that felt like static electricity. The hardwood floors wouldn’t have generated that.
A small smirk curved her lips. “You’re welcome. Shall we? I believe I have a good idea of what type of woman you’re looking for.”
Liam’s eyebrows drew together. Something about the way she spoke and her words put him a little on edge, but she seemed incredibly unique. His bear sensed it too. However, it was a risk he was willing to take.
Olivia licked her lips, unable to help the nervousness that twisted in her stomach. Talking with Kimberly was great, but it was hard to keep the conversation with that mystery man far from her mind. Walking back through the waiting room after her appointment, she was disappointed he was no longer there. She did not even get to ask him his name!
He was funny and easy to talk to. He did not make her feel self conscious or nervous when she stumbled over her thoughts, which was the opposite of her relationship with Jared. When Kimberly signed her up, she told her it typically took a few days for people to get a match. But she would be notified when the information came through. She wished that she could focus on her work rather than wondering who she might be paired with, but she could not stop obsessing.
During the meeting, she gave Kimberly some of her likes and dislikes in men. When she thought about her answers later on, most of the dislikes described traits of Jared, which shocked her. Had he scarred her that badly? Was she holding onto a grudge from the terrible date? Or maybe it was her subconscious helping her avoid another disastrous situation. If so, she greatly appreciated it.
Olivia leaned back in her office chair and she rubbed her eyes again. She wasn’t sure why, but nothing seemed to help her concentrate on the pile of emails that sat in her inbox. Her mind went back to the man she met at Prince Dating Agency. She needed to relax and stop fixating on him, because it was likely that he would not be her perfect match If she kept thinking about him and he wasn’t her match, she ran the risk of being disappointed. She would be setting herself up for failure with her actual match. But his tall stature and muscular body made her want to run her hands over him. She thought about how handsome he looked in his tailored suit, and couldn’t believe she actually had the nerve to compliment him. Who was this domineering woman, and where had she been hiding for the past couple years?
Everytime her phone buzzed, she jumped, thinking it could be the dating agency getting back to her with the results. The next few days were going to be intense if she kept up this kind of behavior. She needed something to distract her, and she knew just who she needed to come clean to about this fiasco. She called Sophie.
The phone rang a few times before her best friend answered. “Hey, girl. What’s going on? Usually I don’t hear from you during business hours.” Her friend was an web developer who owned her own business, so Olivia wasn’t bothering her by calling now. In fact, it was probably a welcomed break for both of them, who stared at their computers all day.
“I kinda did something this morning...” Olivia licked her dry lips again, letting the suspense hang in the air between them for a moment while she tried to decide how to say this.
“Please don’t tell me you called him! Please!” Sophie groaned.
Olivia’s eyes widened when she realized how her preamble sounded. “Oh, god, no! Of course not!” She took a deep breath. “I did something else, actually. There was this dating agency advertisement on television, and I signed up with them.”
The line was quiet for a few moments as her friend processed this new information. Was she about to get scolded for taking such a silly step? “You signed up with a dating agency?” Sophie sounded surprised, rather than disappointed or angry. “Wow, that’s a little sudden, don’t you think?” She cleared her throat. “But hey, I think this is good. If you feel confident that you are ready to get back out there, then I hope it goes well! Maybe if you meet a nice guy, you can tell me if he has a cute brother,” she giggled.
“Hmm... darn! That’s what I forgot to tell the woman I met with this morning. The man of my dreams must have a cute brother for my best friend. I was sure I was forgetting something.” Olivia couldn’t help but grin. “But I’d totally let you know. I’d make sure he was single first, too.” She meant that last part as a joke, but it sounded a little sad.
Sophie clicked her tongue. “You do know that we’re going to have to meet up so you can tell me all about this, right? I’m not going to be content with a brief phone call just saying you signed up.”
Olivia leaned forward in her chair to put her elbows on her desk. “I was hoping you’d say that. When are you calling it quits today? Maybe we can meet at six o’clock for dinner and drinks?”
“For you, girl? Always. I’ll have to hustle to get a few things done, but I’ll make it work. Let’s meet at Oscar’s for mojitos?”
Olivia grinned, feeling refreshed and much more calm than when she first picked up the phone. “Oscar’s it is! I could totally go for a mojito too. I’ll see you there, Soph. Thanks for being such a good friend.”
“You’re my best friend. I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend a Monday night than hanging out with you. Bye, girl.”
* * *
Oscar’s was pulsing with its usual fun, exciting atmosphere, complete with hot music, fantastic food, and great drinks. A dance floor was situated to one side of the building in its nightclub area, but Olivia and Sophie could watch people dancing from their table as they ate. It was always fun seeing people getting down on the dance floor. She danced with her friends on special nights, but tonight, Olivia sat in a booth across from Sophie with a big smile on her face. This was exactly what she’d needed: to spend time with her best friend and chat about what happened at the dating agency. She even told Sophie about the cute guy she met in the waiting room.
“The mojitos are strong tonight, girl,” Sophie shouted over the loud music. “Should I have one more?” she smirked before shaking her head. “Probably wouldn’t be a good idea, since I have another project to work on tomorrow. I doubt my client wants a hung over web developer working for him. Rum hits me hard.” The grin on her face faded when she looked over Olivia’s shoulder.
Olivia didn’t know what to make of that expression. She started to turn and look, but Sophie grabbed her hand from across the table. “What is it? Sophie?”
“Don’t look over there.” She returned her gaze to Olivia. “It’s Jared. He’s sitting at a table in the corner with some blonde woman. It’s not worth it.”
The happy, warm excitement Olivia felt melted away when she heard his name and the description of the woman he was with. She did not want to, but she needed to know if it was the woman she’d met, or another innocent woman who fell into his trap..
As discreetly as she could, Olivia over her shoulder to take a peek. He was with his wife, Missy. They looked happy together. He was holding her hands, and they were looking into each others eyes.
On second thought, maybe they were both just happy drunks. There were two empty bottles of wine on their table. Part of her thought about going over there and exacting some revenge, but she decided she would not stoop to their level. Neither of them were worth her time. She wasn’t going to let pettiness take over and ruin the great day she’d had.
Olivia couldn’t stop the frown from tugging at her lips when she turned back to Sophie. “That’s the wife who spilled wine on me. Looks like he’s back with her. Good for him, I guess,” she said, unable to stop the sadness from creeping into her voice.
Sophie took Olivia’s hand and gave it a tight squeeze. “Maybe that’s our cue to get out of here. Let’s not let them ruin our fun. How about we go back to your place and watch a movie?” she looked over Olivia’s shoulder again, and her reassuring smile was replaced with a horrified sneer. “Oh hell no. I think he saw us. He’s staggering over here. Ugh.” She quickly slid enough cash from her wallet to cover the food, drinks, and a generous tip. She slapped it on the table and stood up. “Hurry, Olivia.”
Olivia grabbed her purse and sweater. She stood up but was knocked back into her chair when Jared blocked her exit. “Jared. Hi. What are you doing here?” she said, trying to keep her voice civil as he stared down at her.
A sleazy grin curved his lips. “Olivia. You know how much I love that dress. Seeing all of that pretty skin,” he slurred, and reached his hand around to touch her, but she knocked his hand away. “When I saw the dress, I knew it was you.” He nodded toward the table. “My wife and I are having dinner together. Patching things up after the other night,” he mumbled as he undressed her with his eyes.
How had she ever found that gesture so sensual and appealing before? Now it just felt dirty, especially when he’d just said he was currently patching things up with his wife. She had to get away from him. This was too much.
“You’re drunk, Jared,” Olivia replied softly, trying to scoot past him. But it was no use. “Maybe you should go back to your wife. My friend and I were about to leave. Let me by, please.”
Jared glanced over at his wife. Missy played with her phone taking selfies, apparently oblivious to what was going on. “I was on the way to the bathroom. Did you think I left my wife to come chat with you?” he laughed, and the cold cruelty sent shivers down her spine. “I knew you were a dreamer, but I didn’t realize you thought so highly of yourself. Cute. Maybe if I wasn’t with someone like her, I’d be more interested in you.”
Olivia couldn’t believe he was saying all of this. he never heard him be so cruel, even when they fought. He would say mean things, but always profusely apologized and brought her flowers to make up for it. Tears threatened to spill from her eyes, and she looked away. He’d brought the jewelry box to their dinner. She’d thought her life was so great. He was kind and caring. Now she realized that she wasted years of her life with a man that never existed at all.
Sophie had flagged their waiter over while Jared insulted Olivia. The waiter crossed his arms over his bulky chest. “Please move so the lady can leave with her friend. Don’t make me call security, sir.” Jared stepped aside, knocking his shoulder into Sophie as he walked past. If the waiter hadn’t steadied Sophie, she might have fallen down. “Are you okay, miss?” he said, looking down at Sophie with concern.
Sophie held her shoulder. “I’ll be fine. Thank you for helping us.”
The waiter gave her a crooked grin. “My pleasure. Have a nice evening.”
Olivia definitely felt sparks between them. She almost told her friend to get his number, but the ring on his left hand made Olivia grimace. She took Sophie’s hand and waved to the waiter. “You too.”
Sophie shot her a confused look when they neared the exit. “Hey, what’s going on? Didn’t you see? He was so into me.”
“Yeah, he was into you. He was also married.” Olivia pulled her best friend into a hug, finally letting the tears fall down her cheeks. “Did all of that actually happen? How could that be Jared? My Jared?”
Her best friend held her tighter. “It did. I can’t believe he said that to you. It’s not true, you know,” she asserted. “You’re a smart, level-headed woman who has a big heart. You just let the wrong man in.” She rubbed Olivia’s back a little in comforting strokes.
“How will I ever know I’ve found the right man? I’m not sure I can trust my heart after… after that,” she said as her throat tightened with emotion.
“I wish I could tell you,” Sophie shrugged her shoulders, looking rather defeated. “I’ve never been in a long-term relationship. The men I’ve met tend to just get bored after a while and move on to greener pastures.” She made it sound like a joke, but it bothered her. “Let’s get out of here before we run into either of those two again.”
Olivia nodded, giving her friend one last quick hug before heading to the car.
Liam laid on his bed, scrolling on his phone. He stretched the muscles in his back and saw a notification pop up in his email. The sender was Prince Dating Agency. His meeting with Ms. Prince went surprisingly well. The sign up process was more straightforward than he thought, and the whole thing didn’t take long at all.
The questions she asked were a bit odd at times. What hair color did he like or not like on a woman? Did that really matter? Who goes for women strictly based on things like that? But he supposed it made sense for some of their clients. Maybe it helped narrow down options for certain people.
He tapped the notification Surprise jolted through him when he saw the subject. He tried not to rush through to the bottom where they detailed the name and information of his match. This was something he needed to take his time and read through. His bear, on the other hand, was relentless. A growl rumbled in his chest, and he finally scrolled through the body of the email to see who they’d paired him with. His heart nearly leapt out of his chest when he saw the woman’s name and a picture of Olivia Tyson. Giddiness rose up inside him, and he shot up from his bed. He needed to talk to someone about this. This news was too big to keep to himself.
He called Will. His brother wanted to know when he heard back and how things went, but he did not answer after a few rings. The time for the date was already set, so he wracked his brain trying to come up with date ideas.
He thought of more people to call. His parents were off limits. If he told his dad, then his mom would find out, and they still thought he was with Cindy. He didn’t want to tell them that he wasn’t, much less that he was following in his older brother’s footsteps to find a girl from a dating agency. They’d probably give him a pitiful look and a pat on the back. Then, it hit him: Mason. He could talk with his older brother. Liam was there for his brother when he was in this same position. Liam dialed Mason’s cell phone, and he answered in two rings.
“Hey, Liam. How’s it going?” he said, sounding a little distracted.
“Hey. Did I catch you at a bad time?” he grimaced. Maybe he should have called Noah, but Noah didn’t have much dating experience, and he was a known blabbermouth. He could very well tell to their parents if he felt like it could earn him some brownie points after his outburst during breakfast on Saturday.
Mason whispered something and from Ava’s feminine giggle, he knew it likely wasn’t directed at him. There was the sound of a door closing not long after he whispered, then Mason finally put the phone back near his mouth. “No, of course not. I was just spending time with Ava. What’s up?”
“Well, I can always call you back later, if you two need to ‘spend more time together’,” Liam said in a joking, suggestive tone.
“I’ll return to her once we’re done. You don’t tend to call, and you were distant at the office.” Mason sounded concerned, and Liam should have known that his brother would pick up on his cagey behavior. His older brother had acute senses, especially will his family. “Is everything okay?”
“It’s better now. To be honest, things ended with Cindy. I haven’t wanted to talk about it since things are going well with you and Ava, and I was the one who actually had a steady girlfriend. Mom and Dad might have freaked out that their second kid had ruined his chance at a mate.” He shook his head, keeping his voice down. He didn’t want either of them to walk by his room and hear his conversation.
“Anyway, Will talked me into trying out that dating agency you used, since you had such success.”
“Prince Dating Agency?” Mason asked, sounding strange. “Have you already met with them?”
“Yeah, the same one I suggested you go to. Remember? I met with them this morning.” Liam wasn’t sure why his brother was acting this way. It surprised him. They all assumed that Ava and Masons union was a standard matchmaking arrangement. Although, from what he saw and experienced of Ms. Prince, the words standard or normal didn’t appear to be in her vocabulary. Now he was curious.
“Of course. I know where I went, Liam. Who did you speak to while you were there?” Mason’s voice took on a carefully neutral tone.
“Ms. Prince herself. I thought I would have to speak with someone else first and go through a process, but it went well. They already sent me my match. I want to make sure I do this thing right, and that’s why I called. I thought maybe you could give me some pointers. But you are definitely being weird, so let’s talk about that. What is going on? Did something happen at the dating agency that I should be aware of?”
“It’s better if we talk in person,” Mason said hurriedly. “I’ll meet you at the cafe in fifteen minutes.” With that, he hung up.
Liam scratched the stubble on his chin and tucked his cell phone into his pocket before grabbing his keys and walking out the door.
* * *
It didn’t take long to get to the cafe. It was less than five minutes away for him, but Liam couldn’t help but wonder what the big deal was. Maybe it was nothing, or maybe Mason didn’t want his mate to overhear what he was going to say. Either way, he was glad they were meeting in person. Face to face, his bear could smell if Mason was was lying, or withholding information.
Liam sipped on his hot coffee. It warmed his throat as it went down, and he looked around the cafe again. His brother walked through the door in a pair of dark blue jeans and a t-shirt that stretched to conform to his muscular chest. He lifted his hand to get his brother’s attention.
Mason walked over in a few long, determined strides. It was any wonder his brother had found a mate. He could certainly be intimidating, but Liam didn’t feel that way. Most of it was an act to impress the pack and their business associates, and the rest was just how Mason was. His growl was worse than his bite.
He slid into the booth across from Liam and ordered himself a black coffee and a cherry-filled pastry. He stretched his arm out along the back of the booth and turning his attention to Liam. He got right down to business.
“When I went there, I screwed up. I broke some of their rules. I’m lucky they were lenient, but I’m sure they were because of Ava,” Mason said simply.
“Rules? What rules? How did you screw up?” Liam asked.
“This stays between you and me, little brother, okay?” At Liam’s nod, he continued. “Ava was going to work for them. We talked in the waiting room, and I felt something I’d never experienced before. My bear reacted to her. She was special, and I knew it right away. I didn’t get a chance to ask for her number before she was led back. During my first appointment, I asked about her. She told that it was against the rules for employees to date clients. I was stupid and arrogant. I asked to speak with a manager, made a deal with her not to hire Ava, and to get her matched with me. With Dad threatening to demote me and knowing she felt right to my bear, I had to take the chance. It wasn’t the best decision I’ve ever made. When I found out that Ava was having financial difficulties and needed the job, I contacted the manager. She’d said the damage was already done. Ms. Prince became involved, and she told Ava that the manager I spoke with no longer worked for her, and that they had every right to cut ties with me completely.” He shrugged. “Ava told her not to, and when I finally had a chance to speak with Ava again, we worked things out. I haven’t needed to deal with Ms. Prince after that, so it was a surprise to hear you mention her.”
Liam stared at his brother, unsure of what to say. This was rather shocking news. He let out a breath and shook his head. “Wow. I see what you mean. Why didn’t you tell me before about what happened?”
Mason opened his mouth to respond, but he stopped when the waitress put his coffee and pastry down on the table in front of him with a smile. He nodded his thanks to her. Once she walked away, he continued talking, “what was I supposed to say? I’d been an ass, nearly lost my mate after finding her, but hey, it all worked out in the end?” he shook his head. “I was ashamed of myself. But tell me more about what happened with you. You said Ms. Prince treated you well and you’ve already found a match?”
His older brother had a point. The way he’d met his mate was not easy, and he didn’t blame him for not wanting to discuss the details. “Ms. Prince was nice, thorough. There’s something different about her, isn’t there?” he said, and shrugged his suspicions away. It didn’t matter, especially since he was anxious to talk about date ideas. In his last relationship, they were pretty casual when it came to dates. “I was told it might take a few days, but yeah, I received the email a few minutes before I called you.” There wasn’t a reason to hold back now. “I met the woman I was matched with in the waiting room. We talked while we both waited for our appointments. She was beautiful, and really great to talk to. I didn’t want our conversation to end. Her name is Olivia Tyson.” He shifted in the booth. “My bear reacted to her as well, so I want to impress her. I’m not sure what to do. Cindy and I didn’t put a lot of effort into dates.”
Mason gave him a lopsided grin. “You want a date that’ll make your potential mate come crawling back for more? You’ve come to the right person.”
While Sophie did what she could to make Olivia feel better about what happened last night, it was hard not to think about the things that Jared said to her. All day at the office, she could not concentrate. Throughout the meetings and reading over the growing stack of emails that she kept putting off, she couldn’t get out of her own head.
She checked her phone to see what time it was, but the device started ringing in her hand. “Hello?”
“Hello, is this Ms. Tyson? This is Kimberly from Prince Dating Agency,” Kim said, sounding enthusiastic.
“Hi Kimberly. Yes, this is Olivia.”
“I have some great news for you,” Kim said. “We’ve found your match. I’ll be sending over an email to you shortly, but I wanted to tell you the news. I’ve received the time and place of where you’ll be meeting your match. His name is Liam Sinclair. It’s important to relax and have a good time. I’ll also include a few tips on making the most of the date inside the email. Remember, if you have any questions at all, feel free to call or reply to the email. Don’t feel like you’re alone in this. I’m here to help you in whatever way you might need.” Olivia’s mouth dropped open for a moment, then she closed it again as one of her co-workers walked by her glass door. She didn’t want to look shocked while at the office, even if a couple people had asked her if she was feeling alright. Had she looked that bad today? “Ms. Tyson? Are you still there? It’s exciting, isn’t it?” Kimberly asked with a soft giggle.
Olivia finally made her mouth start working again. “Yes, sorry. I’m just surprised. I didn’t expect the good news to come so soon. I’ll be on the lookout for the email. When and where was the date supposed to be, did you say?”
“I’m glad you asked. I got sidetracked. It will be tonight at eight o’clock at the marina. The note I received said to bring along a swimsuit if you feel inclined. I’m guessing it will be worth taking one along.”
Her eyes widened, and she turned toward the window behind her overlooking the expansive parking lot and the rest of the city. “Wow. I didn’t know it would be so soon.” That gave her another reason to get home as soon as she could. “Can’t it be delayed a little?”
“I’m sorry, but it’s important to be there if at all possible. I mentioned this during our meeting, remember? It’s part of the process,” she explained.
“Right. I apologize. Is the date formal? Casual? A pool party?” she joked. She grabbed the notepad from beside her keyboard and started making a list of everything she’d need to do before tonight.
“No need to apologize. It’s okay.” Kim clicked and typed a few times before answering, “The dress code is formal attire. Something like a little black dress would be perfect.”
“Thank you. I look forward to reading the email.” Olivia felt her nerves bundle up in her stomach. It was true. She was anxious to read it, but it also meant she would find out who this Liam Sinclair guy was. Would he be like the others? Like Jared?
“I’ll send it right over. Have a lovely date!” Kimberly said, then she hung up.
Olivia wrapped her arms around her stomach, feeling like a boa constrictor was coiling up within her belly. She instantly opened the email when it showed up in her mailbox. Her gaze skimmed the contents, which basically told her what she’d already been told, as well as a few dating tip items. Stuff that was pretty much common sense. She nearly dropped her phone when she saw a photograph of her match. The man from the waiting room? Her heart threatened to beat out of her chest. Meeting him had felt so right. Did he know she was his match too? What did he have planned? And why the swimsuit?
After she sent off a quick email to her co-workers that she needed to leave for the day and she would see them tomorrow, she collected her belongings and left the office.. Now she needed to wrack her brain to figure out what she was going to wear. He’d already seen her in the blue dress, not that she ever wanted to wear it again after what Jared said at the restaurant.
She drove home, thinking about what the evening might be like the whole way there. They were meeting at a marina? Maybe that was just as well. She didn’t want to have flashbacks to her dinner date with Jared.
* * *
The marina was beside a fancy restaurant that she’d never been to, so it was pretty easy to find. She parked her car in the lot and sat there for a few moments. Her bikini was bunched up in her purse.
She chose a black dress that hugged her curves and clung a little tighter to her figure than she remembered. It had a sweeping neckline, but didn’t show off her assets too much. She went to lick her lips, but stopped herself because she didn’t want to mess up her lipstick.
Butterflies fluttered in her stomach, and she took a few more deep breaths trying to keep herself calm. Everything was going to be fine. Liam seemed like a funny, nice guy. If their connection in the waiting room at Prince Dating Agency was any indication, this date would be better than many of the ones she had with Jared.
She squeezed the steering wheel when his name popped into her head. It was stupid to think about him, especially right now. He was in her past; Liam could be her future. She needed to let herself let go and move forward.
With one last forceful exhale, she sat up straight in the driver’s seat before stepping out of the car. On one of the docks at the marina, she saw Liam walking toward the parking lot. He was walking out to meet her halfway, although she was surprised that he could see her approaching from so far away. He grinned and lifted a hand to wave at her. He was dressed in a delicious tuxedo that, even from this distance, seemed perfectly tailored for his body.
Olivia waved back to him and walked around the car. She kept her hands at her side, carrying her purse and her keys. She suddenly felt almost naked in her dress, especially as the grin slipped from his lips. When Liam came closer, she could see that his expression switched to something a little more primal as he raked his gaze over her body before staring into her eyes.
“Good evening, Olivia. You look stunning.”
“Good evening to you too. As I said before, you definitely know how to wear a suit,” she replied, genuinely happy to be here with him.
“Thank you. Shall we?” Liam held out his arm to her, and she placed her hand in the crook of his elbow.
“You already know my name, but it feels silly not to introduce myself. I’m Olivia Tyson,” she said, looking up at him.
“I feel the same way. I was trying to decide whether or not to go there, but I’m glad you did. It’s good to be formally introduced. My name is Liam Sinclair.”
“Pleased to meet you, Liam,” she giggled. “Again, that is.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you too. Again.”
They made their way toward the dock. Her eyes nearly popped out of her head when they stood in front of the biggest yacht there. Her mouth dropped open, and she looked over at him. She could not seem to form words, as if something was blocking the path between her brain and her lips.
“This is my family’s yacht. It’s not completely mine, but it’s pretty incredible, huh?” he asked. When she still did not answer him, he continued. “I figured it might be nice to have dinner and soak in the Jacuzzi afterward. Just the two of us? Give us time to get to know one another and talk without having to deal with people.” He looked toward the man standing on the boat who held out his hand to help them across the gangplank. “Aside from the two people, Rodrigo and Becca, who will be assisting us, that is.”
As Liam helped her across, she couldn’t help the amazement she felt when she looked around at the vastness of everything on the yacht. When she finally found her voice, she couldn’t hide how impressed she was. “This is amazing. I’ve never been on a yacht before. I wasn’t sure why I needed to bring my bathing suit before, but I can see why now.”
Liam placed his hand softly on the middle of her back. “I’m glad. I was worried you might get the wrong idea, and while there are spare bathing suits here, I figured you would be more comfortable in your own.”
Wearing someone else’s swimsuit would have been strange. She was glad for the advanced notice. “I’m guessing you’re going to be wearing a swimsuit too?” Her gaze slid down his body too as a blush warmed her skin. Did she really just ask that, and in front of Rodrigo?
“It wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t, would it?” A smirk slid across his lips, and he nodded to Rodrigo who walked them to a table that covered plates and champagne glasses with a bottle in a wine bucket.
An attractive young woman stood next to the table and held out one chair for Olivia. “Good evening,” she greeted them. “If you need anything, please let me know.” When Olivia sat, Becca pushed her chair in and placed the napkin over her lap. The woman pulled Liam’s chair out for him too, then placed the napkin over his lap before pouring them glasses of champagne.
The bottle looked expensive. Liam wasn’t just a “businessman”, not from what she witnessed now. Normal businessmen don’t typically have personal family yachts. She couldn’t wait to learn more about him.
Becca lifted the lids on the dishes, and waited there a moment as Liam smiled to her. “Thank you, Becca. It looks delicious.”
Olivia was yet again in awe of how yummy the fresh fish looked and smelled. “Yes, wow, thank you.” Her stomach growled, and she glanced up at Liam who was watching her with a soft grin on his face. She returned the smile and began eating.
Liam couldn’t take his eyes off of Olivia during dinner. Being with her and just talking felt so good, like they’d known each other longer than just this one night. She could feel it too. She had to. Her eyes sparkled in the candlelight, and if the table was not separating them, he would have leaned over and kissed her so many times now.
The thought of seeing her in her swimsuit when the dress she wore already showcased how great her body was made him more eager to get into the Jacuzzi. His bear desperately wanted to feel skin-to-skin contact; to touch her and be close to her. He’d never had this reaction to Cindy. Maybe the two of them breaking up was for the best after all.
Olivia looked out over the water as she sat back in her chair, sipping the champagne. They basked in the comfortable silence and enjoyed hearing the waves lap against the sides of the boat.
“This is so peaceful,” she marveled. “I bet you and your family are out here a lot.”
“As often as we can be. My family loves being on the water. Some of my fondest childhood memories are being out here with my brothers and my father.” He pushed back his chair and stood up. “Are you ready to check out the Jacuzzi? Or do you need some more time? I have all night, and I’m happy to spend it in whatever way you’d like to,” he said.
“Seeing you in swim trunks? I’m ready for that.” She giggled, and the sound was beautiful, just like her.
“Oh? Okay then. What if I was going to break out a Speedo? Maybe I prefer thongs?” His signature mischievous grin spread across his lips, and her blush intensified a little. “I’m kidding. I have swim trunks. Although, I’m sure I could find a Speedo, if that’s what you were hoping for.”
“N-no, I mean, unless you want to wear something like that. I don’t judge!” She stood with him and picked up her purse. “Is there someplace for me to change? I didn’t think o wear my swimwear beneath my clothes.”
He nodded his head. “There are plenty of rooms here to change in,” he assured her. “Right this way.” He lead her toward one of the spare bedrooms before opening the door. “The Jacuzzi is on the next deck up. You can go on up if you want, but I’ll be back shortly if you decide to wait.”
She looked up toward the ceiling, then back at him. “I think I’ll wait for you. I wouldn’t want to get lost on my way there. I might never be found again with how big this place is,” she laughed nervously.
He couldn’t blame her. It had been pretty overwhelming when he was a kid, but it gave him and his brothers plenty of places to play hide and seek. Not that his parents loved them hiding and getting into things.
“No problem. I’ll be right back.” In no time, he changed into his swim trunks and was back to fetch Olivia. The door was still closed, but it opened as he raised his hand to knock.
“Hi,” she breathed.
The blue and gold bikini left little to the imagination. He took in her figure as he stood there with his hand still up. He stammered over his words, trying to regain his composure. “You’re very beautiful. That bikini...” he forced himself to return his attention to her eyes. “It’s really nice.”
Olivia gave him a shy grin and shrugged. “I liked the colors.” She held out her hand toward him, and he caught her drink him in as well. It seemed like he wasn’t the only one interested in objectifying the other. He was relieved, because he didn’t want seem too eager or like he expected anything sexual during the first date.
“The blue goes well with your eyes, but I’m sure you knew that already.” He brushed his thumb over her cheek as he looked into her eyes, captivated by them. She placed her small hand over his, her touch warm. The beast liked her from the moment they saw her in the waiting room, but he knew right now that Olivia was his mate. There was no denying it.
“I did,” she agreed. “But thank you.” She rose up on her tiptoes, placing a gentle kiss on his lips.
The caress caught him off-guard, and he drew her closer to him without thinking. If he wasn’t careful in these flimsy swim trunks, his cock might even get harder and put himself more on display for her than he wanted right now. He pulled back just enough so that their breath still mingled.
“Maybe we should head to the Jacuzzi,” he said. He didn’t want her to think that he hadn’t enjoyed the kiss, but he also did not want to get carried away and scare her off.
She slid her tongue over her lower lip and looked at him. “That’s a good idea. I hope I wasn’t too—”
Liam shook his head. “No, not at all. I really enjoyed it.” He closed the distance between them again, kissing her once more to prove his point before pulling back again.
They walked upstairs to the deck with the Jacuzzi, and he held her hand for stability as she stepped down into the hot tub before he followed after her. Comfortable silence stretched between the two of them for a moment before Olivia spoke up.
“Were you as surprised as I was to find out we were matched?” she asked, smiling over at him.
He chuckled. “I was pleasantly surprised. I kicked myself for not getting your number in the waiting room, but I guess that would make the whole dating agency experience a bust if I had.”
Her smile turned into a full-on grin. “I suppose you’re right. We still would have met at the dating agency, right? But I know what you mean. Not going through the process would’ve been hard to explain to my friends.” She scooted a little closer to him.
Liam stretched his arm across the back of the hot tub behind her. He wanted to put his arm around her, but worried it would be too much too soon. He wanted her to lead the way and show him how much she was comfortable with.
Olivia leaned her head back against his arm, and she looked up into his eyes. “I’m glad we were matched. You seem like a great guy. This is a really nice evening.” She tilted her head to the side, exposing her neck a little.
“I’m happy we were too. I’m glad you’re having a good time,” he agreed.
The bear within him saw that head tilt as a sign of submission, and wanted to claim her as their mate right then and there. All thoughts of holding back and trying to be the good guy faded slightly. His instincts clawed at his gut, and he moved away from his seat to crouch in the middle, pulling Olivia along with him.
She yelped in surprise and wrapped her arms around his neck when he settled there. The smile on her lips never slipped away, and it gave him the courage to keep going. He nuzzled his face into her neck, pressing a kiss over her pulse. He could feel it beating rapidly against his lips. A moan sprang from her throat as he continued kissing his way toward her shoulder, playfully nipping her here and there. His hands remained on her waist, even if he wanted to caress her body and memorize her curvy figure.
Her hands slid down his back, and he savored the feeling of her petite hands on him. He wasn’t sure if he ever felt this good. He lifted his head to kiss her on the lips, claiming her mouth with more intensity than before. His tongue slid over the seam of her closed mouth, asking for entrance, which she quickly gave.
She squirmed in his arms, moving forward so that their bodies pressed more snugly against one another’s. His erection nestled against her stomach, but she didn’t pull away. She leaned into him and continued exploring the muscles in his back and shoulders.
He pulled back just long enough to ask, “are you sure about this?”
* * *
Olivia bit her lower lip. Part of her felt a deeper connection with Liam than anyone she had ever been with. She wanted him, and she doubted this would be a one-time affair. But she’d never been the type of girl to go for sex on the first date. The last time she did that, it ended with the guy deciding he had his fun, and he never called or texted her again.
She looked into Liam’s eyes and didn’t want that to happen between the two of them. Maybe if she decided to wait, he would respect her for it and come back for more.
“I’m sure about this, but I think we shouldn’t do more than this yet.” How was she supposed to explain why? “I don’t think I’m ready for sex just yet. It’s better if we get to know eachother better first.” That was truthful enough.
Liam raised an eyebrow at her as if he didn’t quite believe her, but he nodded his head. “I understand,” he said. “I want you to be comfortable. I’m not going to pressure you into anything that you’re not ready for.” He waded back toward the bench, sitting on the edge so she could still be in his lap.
“Thanks.” She stared at his rock solid abdomen and pecs. Her mouth went dry just looking at his body. She wanted to run her hands over his muscles, but it might feel strange if she said she wasn’t ready for sex and then continued to tease him.
“Like what you see?” he asked, sensual humor warmed his voice, pulling at things low in her stomach.
Her desire to say yes to him was getting stronger by the moment. “Of course, I do. You’re in amazing shape. I bet you work out a lot,” she said, shocked by her own brazen attitude.
“Thanks. I enjoy going to the gym. I also like being out in nature and running.” His lips curled in a smile. “What do you like to do?”
“All sorts of things. Nature, going to the beach, surfing, shopping, movies. Enjoying what the city has to offer.” Being with him. That was something else she enjoyed.
“Sounds like we have a lot in common.” He looked over her, his gaze dropping to her lips. “Do you want to get out of the hot tub, or would you like to stay in here longer?” He held up his hands to reveal their prune-ish look. “I’m happy either way.”
She looked up at the dark sky. It was getting later, and she had to get up for work tomorrow. “As much as I hate to say it, I should probably get going.” She leaned toward him, kissing him on the lips again. “Let’s exchange numbers. I’ll text you when I get home.”
His hands slid back to her waist, and his hands moving over her sent warmth gathering between her legs. “You’re probably right,” he admitted. “I should get home too. Tomorrow will be another busy day at the office. Maybe we can get together after work? I can’t wait to see you again.”
“Of course, I’d love to get together then. Do you want to pick me up?” What did she just do? She asked him to come over? No, he didn’t have to come inside her place. It wasn’t as if she would be offering herself up for sex. Although, sitting on his lap like this…
“That sounds great. Maybe we’ll go to the pier, grab something to eat, and see the sunset?” he suggested.
She scooted back, sad to be free from his hands on her, and headed up the Jacuzzi stairs. “I couldn’t have thought up a better plan myself.” She glanced over her shoulder at him, seeing the desire in his eyes as he looked her over. He made her feel sexy and worthwhile. This night had surpassed her wildest expectations. She couldn’t wait to see Liam again.
Olivia couldn’t stop thinking about her magical night with Liam. The date went so much better than she anticipated. He was everything she hoped to find in a man, and then some. The fact his family had a yacht didn’t entirely play into it. Jared had been well off, too, but how Liam treated her was so special. The way he kissed her, and the time they spent in the Jacuzzi. His hands trailing over her body. The fantastic dinner they’ ate. Everything was incredible.
She pulled up outside of her complex and leaned back in the seat. When was the last time she’d felt so alive?
Her phone buzzed, and she remembered Sophie’s funny question about asking if Liam had a single brother. She thought about asking Liam, if it was him, to keep their conversation going. If it was Sophie, she’d have to confess she forgot to ask about the brother situation. When she peeked at her phone, she felt her heart plummet into her stomach. Why was Jared texting her? What gave him that right?
The last thing she needed was to think about him. She was moving forward, not backward. She tucked her cell phone away and headed inside her loft-style apartment. She put down her purse on the sofa before going to her bathroom to hang up the damp bikini.
She looked up at it and was reminded of how Liam reacted to seeing her in it. He struggled to control his wandering eyes. It made her feel so sexy and gave her the courage to kiss him.
She brushed her fingertip over her lower lip as she thought about their kiss again. He was a great kisser, and their chemistry set her body on fire. She took her phone from her purse, then walked up to the stairs to her bedroom. She opened her phone to see five new text messages from Jared. If she was a stronger woman, she would just block him and stop his little outburst in its tracks, but she didn’t want to deal with it at all.
She texted Liam instead: hope you made it home safely. Good night, hottie.
Within a few moments, he replied. I did, sexy. Had a very nice night. Sleep well.
Olivia couldn’t help herself. She could not wait to see him again. Once wasn’t enough when it came to Liam Sinclair. I had a fantastic time with you. Can’t wait for our next date. ;-)
He phone buzzed again. I’m looking forward to our next date too. ;-) The pier is going to be amazing with you.
There were so many things she’d like to do with him, and say to him. But she decided to leave him wanting more. She would respond tomorrow when hear brain wasn’t fuzzy with champagne and sleepy bliss. She pulled off her high heels, hearing the phone buzz again. When she saw it was Jared, she reached for it, tempted to turn it off and say to hell with him. But she used it for an alarm...and if he was sending this many texts, maybe it was important.
When she saw what he was saying, she flopped back onto the bed, feeling frustrated. Part of her hoped for these kinds of messages the night everything went into the toilet with them. He was saying that he wanted her back, and he was going to leave his wife for her. She meant a lot to him, more than his wife ever had, he’d never do anything to hurt her again, etc.
She tossed her phone aside on the bed and placed her hands over her face. Something was seriously wrong with him. How could he have been so cruel to her at Oscar’s and think she would happily take him back because he promised to leave his wife for her? What?
It didn’t matter. She did not need to be part of his craziness. He could stay in his bizarre relationship with his wife. Why his wife didn’t leave him if he acted this way? She would probably never know the answer to that question, because she hoped never to see either of them again.
Olivia pushed up from the bed and headed off to get a shower. There were more text messages from Jared when she came back from the bathroom, but she didn’t bother checking them. Instead, she set her alarm clock.
Maybe in the morning she would cut off all communication with Jared and block him. Or maybe it was time to change her phone number? That felt too dramatic and complicated. Besides, he came to her place before. She didn’t want him to come here when he found out her phone was disconnected.
With that thought in mind, she crawled under the blankets and turned off the lights. The sensual images of spending time with Liam in the Jacuzzi floated through her mind before sleep claimed her.
* * *
The sound of knocking on Olivia’s front door jolted her upright in bed. Her alarm clock had not gone off. Was she late for work? When she glanced over at her cell phone beside her on the nightstand, it showed the time as four o’clock in the morning. Who would be here this early?
The knocking was incessant. When she tried laying back down to ignore it, the knocking grew louder. She finally climbed out of bed and pulled her robe on to cover up her silky nightgown. She checked the peephole to see Jared standing there. He looked like he’d barely slept all night, and she was flooded with concern and worry about him. But she pushed those thoughts aside. It was on him if he was reeling from his own selfish and self-destructive actions. Still, she didn’t want her neighbors to complain about the noise so early in the morning.
After a few moments of indecision, Olivia opened the door. “What are you doing here, Jared?” She kept her body positioned in the doorway so he couldn’t push his way inside, and she crossed her arms over her chest showing him that she was not pleased with the interruption to her sleep.
“Were you sleeping?” he asked, looking her over. “Oh, I’m sorry. Can I come in? We need to talk, Olivia.”
She had the sudden need to roll her eyes, but she restrained herself. “Yes, I was asleep. I don’t need to be awake for another few hours.” She rubbed her sleepy eyes. “We’ve been over this when we were dating. But we’re not dating now, okay? You and your wife made it abundantly clear where we stood, so no, Jared. You can’t come in. I don’t really have anything to say to you.” She stepped back to push the door closed behind her, but he put his hand in the way. He held it open as he slammed into her and forced his way into her apartment.
“I said we need to talk. You’re going to give me a chance to talk, Olivia.” Olivia wished she’d brought her cell phone with her downstairs now. She wanted to call the police. Jared was really starting to scare her. Why was he being this way?
“We can talk later, okay? I need more sleep so I can be ready for work in a couple of hours,” she said, trying to reason with him.
He’d never been violent like this before. She hoped after a few minutes that he would just leave, and she could go back to dreaming of Liam. Somehow, that didn’t seem like a possibility, especially with the darkness gleaming in his eyes.
“You want to talk later? No. We’re going to talk right now. You’re going to explain a few things to me.” He pulled a rolled up manila envelope from his inside jacket pocket and smacked it on his hand. “You think you can just move on from me? No, I want you back in my life. You’re going to be mine and only mine. I’ve told Missy I’m leaving her for you. And this...” he opened the envelope and dumped photos on the floor between them.
Her breath caught in her throat when she saw pictures of herself in the tight dress she’d worn on the date last night, photographs of Liam, and some of the two of them making out in the Jacuzzi. How was this possible? A shiver trailed down her spine, coldness chilled her to the core.
“Where did you get those, Jared? Were you following me?” she said, sounding weak and helpless even to her own ears. “I don’t want anything to do with you.” She cleared her throat, trying to sound more confident. “You can’t just barge back into my life after what you did and said. You’re married.”
Jared rushed her, pushing her back against the closed front door. “I hired a private investigator. He knows all about what you’ve been up to. Going to a dating agency. There is no way that pretty boy could make you happy. I’m the only one who can do that. And I will be the only one.” He pulled a gun from the inside of his jacket and pushed it against her chest. “If you don’t think I’m serious about having you in my life, then you’re mistaken. I will not let anyone else have you if I can’t have you. If that’s not incentive enough, the private investigator found out where your new boy toy lives for me. He has a nice happy family. They would be very sad without one of their middle children,” he snapped as he pulled out another photo of an older couple that resembled Liam.
Tears poured down her cheeks. Olivia couldn’t believe this was happening. She did not want to put Liam or his family at risk, and she was scared that Jared was going to get tired of her and kill her. She opened and closed her mouth, trying to find the words to say to this evil man.
“Looks like you’re trying to say something. Let me help you out. Are you going to come back to me? Or do you want this man and his family to die?” he shoved the gun against her chest even harder.
She cried out in pain and fear as she closed her eyes. “I’ll be with you. Just please: don’t hurt him. Okay? Please.”
To her surprise, Jared lowered the gun and put his hand around the back of her neck, pulling her into his arms. “Shhh, there you go. It’s going to be okay now.” He tilted her chin up and kissed her, making her taste the revolting mix of alcohol and vomit. Everything in her wanted to struggle and pull back away from him, but she didn’t know how he’d react, so she stayed still and endured it until he finally pulled away. “You always did kiss like a dead fish,” he commented. He clapped her on the head and pushed her toward the stairs. “Call your office and tell them you’re taking a sick day.” He walked behind her. “Don’t let them know you’re with me, and don’t act all whiny or scared, or I’ll make you regret it.”
Olivia placed her hand on her head where he hit her, and she kept her eyes down. She thought about trying to call 9-1-1 when he wasn’t looking, but if he found out what she was doing...she didn’t want Liam or his family to be hurt because of her. She cared about him too much to let that to happen.
“Okay, I’ll call in. Just give me a moment to compose myself.” She headed to the bathroom, not bothering to close the door. She figured he would just break it open anyways. After splashing cool water on her face, she dried off with a hand towel. It didn’t help much, but gave her some time to calm down and be away from him.
He laid on her bed when she came back and the gun was beside him within arms reach. His gaze drifted up to her as he looked over her phone. “Cute text messages. Give your office a call now.” He held it out for her, and she could see that he’d been looking at her conversation with Liam. Olivia cleared her throat and took a deep breath before dialing her boss’s number. He wouldn’t be in the office right now, but she could leave a message for him. She kept her gaze on Jared as she put on her best sick, nasally voice and coughed a few times while telling the answering machine that she would not be in today. The moment she ended the call, Jared snatched the phone away from her. “Go on then. Get some sleep. We’ll have plenty of time to spend together when you wake up.”
Her stomach soured, but she did as he said. The thought of him being close to her disgusted her, so she was relieved when he clomped downstairs after she crawled into bed. Her gaze drifted up to the ceiling. After a few moments of staring, her eyes widened as she remembered the plans she made with Liam. He would be coming over here. This couldn’t be happening to her.
Olivia jumped when she felt the bed dip under someone else’s body weight. For one blissful moment, she thought about Liam, but the memory of her rude awakening this morning ripped that away. She went completely still as she opened her eyes.
Jared sat with his back facing her. “You know, you shouldn’t have told your friends we broke up,” he mused. “Think of how confused they’ll be when they find out we’re together again.” He slapped her cell phone with force on the nightstand without looking at her.
She worried for a moment about him breaking it, but that was the least of her concerns. Her gaze drifted to the other side of the bed. Maybe she could run down the stairs and escape? But he had the gun. If she tried to run, she had no doubt he would shoot her.
“You didn’t help matters, when you made a scene in front of Sophie. Even if I hadn’t…” Olivia trailed off.
He shook his head and looked her as if she were a foolish girl who had not learned her lesson. “You forced me to go there. The way you acted, how you looked. It needed to be said. Surely your friend understands that.”
It felt useless to argue with him. He was not even making sense. “Can I go make us breakfast? I’ll make your favorite?” she asked sweetly. She wasn’t hungry, but she wanted to get away from him. Perhaps she could gain his trust by doting on him while she figured out a way to get help.
Jared finally turned to look at her. “I suppose you can.” He didn’t look entirely convinced. “Let’s go downstairs then.” She felt him watching her as she descended the stairs.
The kitchen was beside the living room, and her gaze drifted over to the front door. She headed for the fridge, pulling her attention back since the last thing she needed right now was to piss him off. She made them breakfast in a deliberate fashion to avoid raising suspicion.
She sat at the kitchen table in front of him, pulling her robe tighter around her and wishing she could put on some clothes. “Is everything to your liking?” she asked, her voice cracking a little.
“I’ve had better, but it’s fine.” He sounded annoyed, hardened. She did not even recognize this as the man she spent years in love with.
Once they finished eating, she cleaned up their dishes. He stayed there, leaning against the counter, watching her. She looked at the knives in the sink, thinking about taking one and defending herself. But like the saying went, don’t bring a knife to a gunfight. She would just be asking for trouble if she threatened him with one.
“Let’s watch some television. I’m getting bored here, and since you’re not providing entertainment...” he looked at her as if she should be throwing herself at him, ready for his touch. “You gave it up to that man on the yacht. Was I not good enough for you? Did you have to find someone with more money, you little gold digger?” He spat on her kitchen floor.
That comment made her so angry she could not hold back. “You’re crazy,” she heard herself say. The moment the words left her lips, she knew she made a mistake. He charged across the kitchen toward her with his fist cocked back and swung, knocking her into the counter behind her. Blood trailed down her cheek. A whimper squeezed from her throat, and she put both hands over her face. “H-how could you do that, Jared?”
His lips twisted into a grimace, and he wrapped his arms around her. “I’m sorry,” he started. “I didn’t mean to. You brought that out in me. You shouldn’t have said that. Let’s just watch television and forget it ever happened. Okay?” When he pulled back, his face was calmer again. He placed his hand on her lower back and nudged her toward the couch.
It was hard not to watch the clock as the day drifted by. She heard her phone vibrate in Jared’s pocket as they watched some reality TV. She squelched a yawn, but just barely. The only way she kept herself entertained was planning different ways of escape, but none seemed plausible. She could only sit there and wait for this nightmare to hopefully end. Maybe he’d decide she wasn’t worth it and leave? Maybe he’d go back to his wife and forget Olivia existed? She could only hope that was the case. The more time that passed, the less optimistic she felt.
She looked at the wall clock again, and tension coursed through her. What was she going to do when Liam arrived? Would she just not answer the door? Would he take the hint, or would Jared allow that? If he got pissed at Liam and killed him for “interrupting” their time together, she’d never forgive herself.
She didn’t know what to do or what would make things better. Her stomach ached as nausea churned in her gut. Breakfast was hours ago, but now didn’t seem like it wanted to stay down. She opened her mouth to excuse herself to the restroom when Jared stood up abruptly. He grabbed the gun and glared down at her. “I’m going to the bathroom. You stay here. Understand me?”
Olivia nodded. She watched the television again, and wrapped a blanket around her tighter. When she heard the bathroom door shut, she felt relieved that Jared was gone, even just for a moment. She released the blanket and tossed it aside before standing up quietly. The space between the couch and the door felt like crossing an ocean. She strained to listen for Jared as her feet silently padded across the hardwood floor. When her hand encircled the doorknob, victory was within reach. Her other hand quietly grabbed the keys to her car, and the door opened with a soft squeak as the sound of running water hit her ears.
Panic squeezed her throat, and she stepped outside, softly closing the door behind her as the sound of heavy footsteps pounded against the floor now. He knows! She was part of the way to her car when her front door opened. Her gaze shifted to the blue sports car as it pulled into her parking lot. None of her neighbors had a car like that…
When she saw Liam in the driver’s seat, her chest tightened. Jared had a gun, and she didn’t doubt he would use it on Liam, or his family. She couldn’t let that happen. Jared cleared his throat loudly as if trying to get her attention, but he knew he already had it. She kicked herself for what she was about to do, but it was for Liam’s safety. She wanted to be with him, but there would be no future for them together if they were both dead.
For Liam, the work day was dragging. But he couldn’t stop himself smiling when he thought about spending more time with Olivia.The world felt a little brighter and more optimistic than it had a few days earlier. He typed out a few text messages to her, knowing she’d probably be busy, but craved connection with her again. Time passed by without any response from her. His first emotion was the sting of rejection. Did he imagine their connection? Had she decided that she didn’t want anything to do with him?
That theory didn’t make sense, because she’d sounded as excited about their next date as he did. Maybe Olivia was just really busy with work. His bear rumbled in his chest. Something felt wrong about that. He checked his cell phone again. It could be all in his head. He’d stick to their plan and go by her place at the set time. If something was wrong, they could talk it over.
Mason knocked on the open door to Liam’s office, and he stepped inside without waiting for an answer. They had a casual policy with one another while at work. Both of them pulled their weight in taking care of the family’s business, but sometimes they needed support and a shoulder to lean on. Liam set down his phone and leaned back in his chair. “Hey.”
“Are you okay? You don’t look too happy. Aren’t you going out tonight with your new lady?” he asked, walking over to sit in the chair in front of Liam’s desk.
“Supposedly. I sent her a few messages, but I haven’t gotten an answer so far. Hopefully I didn’t just imagine our attraction.” He shook his head and kept himself from glancing over at the phone again.
“I see. From what you said, it seemed like everything went well. Besides, your bear recognized her. I’m sure you’ll hear from her. She’s probably just preoccupied with work.” Mason gave him a hopeful smile, but it cracked a little around the edges. “You know, I don’t think there’s much else to be done today. Maybe go home, or you could head over to her place a little early.”
“Right, that wouldn’t make me look like a stalker at all.” He chuckled, but the more he thought about it, the more the idea of getting out of here to go see what was going on felt right.
“Well, I can’t act all high and mighty about that. I got Ava’s address from a private investigator,” he shrugged.
Liam rubbed his hands over his face before releasing a sigh. “Okay, I guess you’re right. I’ll go make sure everything’s fine. It feels like something’s...off, but what if she just doesn’t feel the same way? I could make a fool out of myself.”
“Would you rather risk making a fool of yourself, or not do anything and live with regret?” He patted his hand on the desk. “You know I’m always a phone call away if you need to talk. Come on. I’ll walk you out.” He stood up, and they talked a little as the two of them left the building.
Liam gave his big brother a brief hug. “Thanks for listening and encouraging me. I’ll let you know how things go,” he said. He hopped in his car and drove to Olivia’s apartment. It was in a nice complex, and he kept his eyes out for the different numbers on the buildings, trying to find the right one. But he didn’t need to see the building’s number to see Olivia standing near her car in a delicate robe and bare feet. She stood beside her car as he pulled in next to her.
The look on her face when she saw him took his breath away. She felt the same way about him as he did her. But why did that expression twist to something darker and more negative? He heard the man standing near her door gruffly clear his throat over his radio and air conditioning. Who was that? Olivia had not mentioned any guys in her life. Whoever it was, she turned to face them. Her shoulders slumped forward a little, but she walked to the man and gingerly wrapped her arms around him.
“I just wanted to make sure my car was locked, Jared,” she explained, her voice careful. “It is. Can I just talk with him for a moment, then I’ll be right inside?” she asked. “I’ll make you dinner, and we can continue watching TV? Or we can order a pizza or something?”
Jared placed his hand on Olivia’s lower back. His gaze met Liam’s as he slid it down to cup her butt. It made the bear inside him want to gnash his teeth and growl. Olivia just stood there, not reacting or removing the man’s hand. She seemed to accept it. This didn’t make sense. He didn’t have to watch this. Maybe his brother was right. He needed to find out why she hadn’t gotten back to him, to see what was going on. Now he knew. Anger and hurt clenched his chest, and he shook his head. His hands gripped the steering wheel so tightly that if he didn’t control himself, he might rip it off of the dashboard all together.
“No, you’re coming inside with me. Remember what I said?” Jared’s voice had an edge to it, but maybe that was the kind of man she liked.
“Yes, of course.” With one glance back at Liam, she walked inside. A mixture of emotions crossed her lovely features.
He put the car into reverse, not able to take this. She said nothing about having another man in her life, and from the way he ran his hand over her body, he knew Jared wasn’t a brother. Things went so well, and now she was pulling this kind of thing on him? It hurt worse than what Cindy had done, because his bear acknowledged Olivia as his mate.
His mind was racing. He took a few deep breaths, feeling his bear push closer and closer to the surface of his skin. If he were a younger bear with less self control, he might have gotten out of the car, shed his human skin, and let his bear rip Jared’s head off. He didn’t bother looking in the rear view mirror. He wanted as far away from Olivia’s place as possible.
He remembered his brother’s words about calling him if he needed anything. He certainly needed to vent right now, but even as thoughts and words raced through his head, something didn’t feel right. The man she was with sounded controlling, like a predator who had found and captured his prey instead of a man who genuinely cared for a woman.The thought made him slow his car even as he neared home. He pulled over to the side of the road, resting his forehead on the steering wheel as he focused his thoughts.
The whole event played over for him once more, and he realized that he was wrong to speed away in disgust. Maybe what he saw wasn’t what he thought it was. Maybe Jared wasn’t just a controlling boyfriend, but something much more sinister..
He shook his head and sat back in the seat. He turned around, heading back toward Olivia’s apartment. He was going to find out what was going on, one way or another. He would not accept defeat that easily. Hopefully when he returned to her place, the two of them could talk alone. If the man didn’t want that to happen, he’d just have to convince him otherwise.
* * *
Olivia looked back at Liam, feeling so many emotions wash through her. Part of her wanted to run to him, to tell him what was going on, to let him know that they were both in danger and to get help. But she didn’t want him to get hurt because of her. Watching him speed away through the window crushed her, and tears welled in her eyes before she could hold onto her emotions.
“Get away from the window. I’ll order us pizza for dinner. Get on the couch before I grab you by the hair and throw you on it.” Malice saturated Jared’s voice. Olivia’s fear intensified.
She scurried back to the couch, refusing to look over at him. If he saw her teary eyes, she had no idea how he would react. When she got to the couch, she wrapped herself in the blanket again, feeling a little safer with it around her. Her heart ached. Liam was such a nice guy; smart, funny, and great looking. Most importantly, he actually seemed to care about her. Now he probably wouldn’t want anything to do with her. The one thing keeping her going is that at least he would be alive. His family, too. She would even be alive. Physically, at least. Emotionally and mentally? That was another story. She tried to school her face and be strong, but she couldn’t stop the fear from taking hold of her. Jared was unhinged mentally. What would he do to her once he got bored of this?
Jared placed an order for the pizza without asking her what she might want. When he was done with that, he sat back on the couch beside her. Instead of giving her space like he did before, he sat closer to make sure she wouldn’t run away from him again.
Olivia kept her knees against her chest, and the blanket surrounding her, giving her its warmth and imaginary protection. She kept her gaze fixed on the television screen, but her attention went back to thinking of ways to escape from Jared or call the police. Her cell phone was still in his pocket. She chewed on her lower lip, deep enough in thought that she almost didn’t notice the knock on the front door. When Jared stirred from beside her, mumbling about how the pizza was early, she felt fear course through her again. Her gaze lifted to the clock. In all her life, she never had a pizza arrive so fast. She doubted it was the food. It could only be Liam.
That realization thrilled her because he cared enough to figure out what was going on, but it also filled her with dread. Jared wouldn’t want him here, and he might very well decide to kill him. She could not allow that to happen. She stood, keeping the blanket around her as Jared opened the front door.
“The fuck?” Jared exclaimed. “Go away. You’re not welcome here.”
“I need to speak with Olivia. Move out of my way.” Liam sounded deadly serious.
Olivia was panicking. If he didn’t leave, she wouldn’t be able to protect him. “Olivia doesn’t want to talk with you. You’re wasting your time here.” Jared remained rooted in the doorway, not giving in to the taller man.
“To me, it sounded like she wanted to earlier, but you ordered her to come inside with you,” Liam asserted. “Get out of my way. I want to see her.”
Jared crossed his arms over his chest, trying to intimidate Liam. “Maybe I did keep her in line, or maybe you’re imagining things. Either way, you’re going to leave right now if you know what’s good for you.”
Liam clenched his teeth. “Don’t threaten me.” His bear didn’t respond well to threats. He wasn’t about to stand around and let himself be talked to like this, especially when he needed to talk to Olivia and get to the bottom of this. He wanted to make sure she was safe.
“You’re messing with the wrong guy,” Jared puffed out his chest.
If Liam was another bear shifter who had not been taught lessons of respect and decency, he would be tempted to give in to his emotions and show this man who he was messing with.
“The same could be said for you,” Liam said, not feeling the slightest bit intimidated. “You have no idea who you’re messing with.”
“I think I do. You’re the man who my Olivia decided to date. I’m not going to give her up that easily, especially to someone like you. You think your fancy car and yacht are enough to win her heart? I don’t think so. She doesn’t care about you.”
He took a deep breath. The words didn’t ring true. Liam tried to capture Olivia’s scent in the air. His anger clouded his rational mind, but when he smelled the gun oil, everything changed. Nothing was as it seemed. This had to be why Olivia had been acting so distant and playing along with this crazy man. She was scared for her life. He couldn’t sit back and let her go through this danger. He refused to. His beast coiled within him. This time, it didn’t force its way to the surface. It knew that they needed to handle the situation with precision if they wanted Liam’s mate to make it out of this alive.
“Listen,” Liam began, changing his tone to one more resigned. “Just let me talk with her real quick. I need the closure, then if she wants to be with you, that’s fine.” He needed the man to feel like he’d won. He needed to see Olivia and make sure she wasn’t hurt. He smelled the faint coppery scent of blood, and it made his blood boil.
“You’ll leave once you talk with her. If you don’t, then I’m not going to be pleased.” Jared stepped aside, letting him in. He closed the door behind the two of them.
Hearing the click of the lock made the hair stand up on the back of his neck, but Liam knew that he could defend himself no matter what Jared tried to pull. Olivia stood beside the couch, frozen in place as if she’d become a statue carved in ivory. He crossed the distance between them in a handful of long strides, needing to see her. A bruise and a cut tainted her cheek. It wasn’t there before, and it pissed him off seeing it now.
He clenched his teeth until his jaw hurt. If he did not control himself, he wouldn’t be able to help her. “You okay?” he asked softly. It took everything in him not to reach out and caress her cheek. He kept his fists at his sides.
“I’m... I’m fine. You shouldn’t be here. What are you doing here?” she whispered back to him, then she spoke in a normal tone. “Thank you for coming, we can finally end this. Jared coming back to me made me realize that we’re not meant to be.” Pain filled her words. He could smell the lie. She didn’t mean what she was saying.
“I knew something wasn’t right. I’m here because I care about you. You don’t need to go through this. You’re safe now,” he whispered. “Not meant to be? You seemed content with me last night.” The latter words were louder, more for Jared than her. If they were going to have a double conversation, he needed to do his part.
“It’s not safe here. He has a... a gun,” she said, her voice low, then she raised her voice again. “I changed my mind today. Jared helped me see what I was missing.”
“I know he has a gun. I’m not going to run away and leave you alone, not when I know you’re in danger. I care about you. I’m going to protect you.” He stood up straighter and glanced over his shoulder at Jared, who was watching them. “And what exactly were you missing?” He turned his gaze back to Olivia.
“You could be killed. You have to leave. I don’t want anything to happen to you. He knows where you live...he threatened your family, too. He had a private investigator following me last night. He had pictures of us from your yacht,” she whispered. She started to tremble, and he saw just how frightened she was.
It made him want to snap and shift right then and there, damn the consequences. But he wouldn’t do it. He was better than that. Threatening him? That was one thing, but threatening his family and the woman who he wanted as his mate? He wouldn’t stand by and let that happen. Jared dug his own grave.
“Don’t worry about me. I’m stronger than I look,” he whispered back to her. He turned on his heel to look at Jared. “You know, I think she didn’t have that bruise when I left. If you know what’s good for you, you’re going to leave.” Provoking a man with a gun might not be the smartest idea, but he was not about to leave Olivia open for more abuse.
* * *
Liam knew Jared had a gun, what was he doing? Olivia could not stand back and just watch him do this. He was going to get himself shot—or worse! She moved to sandwich herself between the two of them, but Liam held her back.
“Maybe you should go change clothes, Olivia,” Liam said, his voice cooler than it had been moments before. “We had a date, and I’m not going to be denied.”
Her mouth dropped open at his intimidating tone. For a split second, she couldn’t believe her ears. But then it all made sense. He was trying to get her out of the way and to safety. She glanced between the two of them, but it would make her feel better to get into something other than her robe. With a few tentative steps back, she waited for some kind of reaction from either man. They kept their eyes on one another as if her presence wasn’t significant.
Jared finally waved his hand in dismissal, and she hurried up the stairs. “She’s not going anywhere with you. I’m not going anywhere either. I’ve given you plenty of warnings. You’re obviously not a smart man,” he snapped.
Olivia peeked over the railing to see Jared pull the gun from his waistband. He aimed it at Liam and fired. His body jerked, but that was the only sign that he’d been shot. It didn’t slow Liam down. She slapped her hand over her mouth to muffle her scream. Her heart pounded in her chest with fear. Her worst fears were coming true.
As she watched, Liam slammed his fist into the side of Jared’s head with the skill of a martial artist. His body staggered back before crumpling to the floor with a thud. Her heart continued to beat wildly as she watched Liam, expecting him to collapse at any moment, but to her surprise, he turned around and stared up at her immediately.
“Olivia, he won’t hurt you anymore. I won’t let him. Do you understand?” His voice was deadly serious, but it possessed a sincere warmth that made her chest tighten with emotion.
“I do. Is he… Is Jared dead?” She glanced back at him. She wasn’t sure which answer she wanted to hear.
Liam glanced back at Jared for a moment as if double checking for himself. “No, he’s alive. He’s just unconscious right now. Get changed and call the police. They can sort him out.”
Olivia’s gaze slid back over to where Liam was shot. “You need an ambulance too! You’ve been shot.” She couldn’t believe he was so calm. “How are you still standing?” She quickly put on some clothes before heading back down the steps.
“I don’t need an ambulance. In fact, I’d prefer if the police didn’t know I was injured. The bullet didn’t hit anything critical, and I’m... different.” His gaze followed her, but something about his expression shifted as if he needed to tell her something, but he wasn’t sure how.
“Different? What do you mean?”
* * *
Liam wasn’t sure if this was the right thing to do. He was told never to let anyone in on the secret that werebears and the supernatural in general existed. Now he was on the verge of telling Olivia. He hadn’t planned on revealing his secret so soon in their relationship, but now he didn’t have much choice.
She needed to know why he didn’t want an ambulance to come. If they treated him, they would want to take him to a hospital. Any doctor would realize something was different about him, and then would run tests. He would become a lab experiment, and the centuries of secrecy of their kind would be destroyed.
Instead of going through all of that, he needed to shift forms. It might be painful, but his body was resilient. The bullet struck him near the shoulder. While it stung, he wasn’t afraid of it doing lasting damage. Even a head shot wouldn’t have killed him. His gaze lifted to Olivia’s again as he sighed when she asked the inevitable question. He took one more deep breath before letting it out slowly.
“I’m a werebear. A shapeshifter.” Olivia came up short. Her mouth dropped open before she closed it and tried again, but no words came from her. Her eyebrows bunched together. “I know it’s a lot to take in.” Right about now he could use that phone call to his brother. How had he told his mate about what he was? This felt so strange.
She shook her head and cleared her throat after a few moments. “A werebear? Really? That’s...” He waited for her to finish the sentence, wondering what she could possibly be thinking. Would she no longer want anything to do with him? His bear roared internally at the possibility. They wanted Olivia too much for that to happen. “That’s incredible...and kind of intimidating.”
It was his turn to be surprised. He could understanding the intimidating aspect, but she thought him being a werebear was incredible? He wanted to pull her into his arms and hug her tightly, but he needed to focus. The longer he waited, the better the chances of the police arriving and finding him injured.
“I want to see you later. Let me know when and where, no matter what time it is.” He pressed a kiss to her lips. “We’ll talk more then. I promise.”
Olivia leaned up into the kiss, and nodded. “I’ll call you. Thank you for coming back, even if it was dangerous. I was so scared that I’d ruined my chances with you because of him. Take care of yourself. Please.”
Liam flashed a grin at her. “You’re welcome. I have to admit, I was angry at first, but something didn’t feel right. You didn’t seem to be acting like yourself. It set off silent alarms. See you later.”
He grabbed the blanket from the couch and wrapped it around his shoulders to hide the fact he was bleeding in case any of the neighbors saw him. As he was pulling out of the apartment complex, two cop cars with their lights on zipped by in the direction of Olivia’s.
Good. The sooner they were able to get Jared into custody, the better. He hated leaving her to deal with all of that on her own, but he didn’t have any other choice. He needed to protect his kind. When they were together again, he’d do whatever he could to make his absence up to her.
Hours passed as the police learned about what happened to Olivia, or at least the majority of the story. She left out parts in order to keep Liam safe. Jared came to his senses as the officers locked him in the back of a patrol car. He was coldly silent, and kept glaring at her. The whole process unnerved her. When everything was over, she slumped onto her couch. She reached for the blanket but remembered that Liam took it.
With her cell phone back in her possession, she called him. He answered on the second ring, “hey. Are you okay?”
“Exhausted after all the questions, but yeah. I feel better, especially now that I’m talking to you. Are you doing better? Did you get patched up?” she asked. She looked around her apartment. Before today, it was her safe space. Jared robbed her of that peace.
“I’m doing fine. Maybe not as good as new, but I’m well on my way.” His voice had that playful, mischievous tone that melted away the tension coursing through her. “Have you eaten?”
The pizza delivery man arrived during the police questioning. The box sat on her kitchen counter, but it didn’t appeal to her in the least. Her stomach growled. “No, I haven’t yet.”
“Let’s go somewhere together so you can get away from your place, at least for a little while.” She leaned her head against the arm of the couch, feeling a warm spark in her chest. He really cared about her.
“Okay, I’ll be ready. I… I don’t think I can be here tonight. I could ask one of my friends if I could crash with them…” her voice sounded hesitant and unsure, even to her own ears. She loved her friends, and they were super supportive. But right now, she didn’t have the energy to explain everything that happened.
“Would you like to stay with me? We could stay at a hotel or even the yacht. I live with my parents, not because I need to, but it’s a tradition for unmated werebears,” he explained. The slight nervousness in his tone brought a smile to her face.
“Yes, I’d love to stay with you. Maybe we could go to a hotel? Jared knows about the yacht, and I’d feel uncomfortable staying somewhere he knows about, even if it might sound silly...”
“Olivia, it doesn’t sound silly,” he assured her softly. “You’re right. It’s better to be safe. Go ahead and pack a few things. I’ll text you when I’m there.” He sounded calm and sure, and it made her feel less like her world was spinning out of control.
“Thank you. I mean it. I’ll see you soon.” It didn’t take long for her to throw a few things into a tote bag. As she finished packing, she received the text message from Liam and headed outside to meet him.
Liam drove them to a beachside hotel. Their large suite was on the top floor of the building. She blinked, freezing in the doorway for a moment. The hotel room looked sharp and luxurious, with a balcony and a breath-taking view of the ocean. Liam watched her react to the grandeur of the room. He nudged her forward gently so he could close the door behind them.
“This is incredible. You didn’t have to go out of your way for something like this. I didn’t expect...” she trailed off.
“I’m not doing this to impress you, Olivia. It’s a great room, but it’s also a distraction from what happened today. You deserve this.” His gaze slid down her body, and for a brief moment, she thought about what would be the perfect distraction: Liam.
“Okay. Tell me more about you. About being a werebear?” she asked, sitting on the edge of the bed.
Liam ran a hand through his hair as he sat beside her on the king-sized bed. “I was born a werebear. My father, mother, brothers are all werebears, too. It has run in my family since the very beginning.” He glanced toward the flat screen TV, deep in thought. “Remember when I told you about my brother? We are fated to have specific mates... and I think you’re mine. My bear really likes you. He reacted to you when we were in the waiting room, but it became more evident to me on the yacht. Being at your place and helping you solidified things for me.”
Olivia wasn’t sure how to react, but she knew that she had feelings of him from the moment they met too. The idea of being mated with Liam made her feel safe...and happy. “Is your bear dangerous? Can I see him?”
His lips quirked in a grin. “He can be dangerous, especially in situations like at your apartment, but I have really good control. For you? It’s safe. He wouldn’t hurt you.” He looked around them and stood, heading to the doors leading to the balcony to pull the curtains closed. “I guess there’s enough space here. He’s not small by any means.”
She couldn’t help but giggle at the unintended double entendre. Her giggle quickly faded when he stripped off his shirt and his hands went to his pants. She watched as his fingers moved to unfasten his belt. When he unzipped his jeans and she realized he didn’t have underwear on, her gaze jumped to his face.
A blush warmed her neck and her cheeks. “Wha... What are you doing?”
“I can’t show you my bear if I’m fully clothed. Like I said, he’s not small. He’d rip my clothes, and I’d have nothing to wear later.” The explanation made sense, but it didn’t stop the moisture from pooling between her legs when he tugged his jeans down.
“Right, that makes sense.” She couldn’t stop herself from looking at him. She saw him in his bathing suit, but this felt different. More intimate. He was revealing all of himself to her.
Her breath caught in her throat when he went down on his hands and knees. His body started moving and changing before her eyes. The sound of cracking and tearing and groans filled the room as his body reshaped itself. After a few long moments, a bear crouched before her in the hotel room.
“Oh my god. You really are a werebear.”
The bear huffed, and his tongue lolled out of his mouth as if he were laughing at her realization. He stalked toward her, looking like a protector, rather than a predator, like Jared. That realization struck her with a fierceness. She slid her tongue over her bottom lip, feeling her mouth go dry as he moved toward her. Her thighs quivered a little, and she could not stop herself from squeezing them together. Now, more than ever, she wanted him.
The large bear’s nose lifted a little, and he scented the air. His warm honey brown eyes met hers and darkened with desire. He continued stalking toward her, and his muzzle brushed against her knee, rubbing his cheek against her leg.
She steadily lowered her hand over his massive head. Despite everything, she wasn’t afraid of him. The intelligence in his eyes reminded her that underneath it all, this was Liam. He protected her and kept her safe when Jared threatened their lives. She trusted Liam and his bear.
He arched into her hand as she ran it over his large head and down the back of his neck toward his shoulders. She buried her fingers into his thick fur, savoring the feeling of it. Without thinking, she used her other hand too, enjoying the sensation and the heat of his breath on her legs through the thin yoga pants.
After a few moments, he pulled away from her. His gaze lifted toward hers, and he began his change back into a man, not bothering to move away. It didn’t disturb her as much this time, especially with her gaze locked with his. The cracking and popping were like distant tunes on a radio. The only thing that mattered was her connection to.
He pushed to his feet when he regained his human form. “Your hands feel so good. I’ve never been touched like that before in my bear form.”
Her gaze drifted down his naked body, and she paused at his protruding erection. Without thinking, she trailed her fingers over his shaft, stroking him. “Your bear is so majestic. I’m honored you showed me.” She glanced back up to look him in the eyes, but he was focused on her hand.
“Are you sure you want to do this? I want you to be my mate. This is serious for me.” He placed his hand on her wrist to make her pause, but his soft touch didn’t restrict her movements. He did not want it to stop any more than she did.
“I’m sure. I don’t know exactly what being a werebear’s mate entails, but I know how I feel, especially now.” She pulled her hand away to lift off her t-shirt.
He hungrily drank in her breasts, and he took that action as the permission he needed. He pulled her to her feet and slid down her yoga pants and panties in one swoop, then set her in the center of the huge bed.
She had never felt so vulnerable. He looked at her intently as he remained at the foot of the bed. For a moment, she wondered if he was going to stay there forever. But he slowly crawled up the bed, nudging her knees aside for him to move between her thighs.
He kissed her from her ankle up to her knee and then he slid his tongue up her thigh toward her moist core. Her body burned for him, and she spread her legs even farther apart, wanting desperately to feel his mouth on her. His tongue trailed over her lower lips and separated them. He stroked her clit before encircling it with his lips and sucking on the bud. A gasp fled her lips as she dug her fingers into the comforter. Liam pressed a finger against her entrance, and she arched into him, craving the sense of fullness he could provide.
He kept flicking his tongue over her clit as he slowly pushed his finger inside her. Her walls clenched around his finger, and his hungry eyes met hers. His eyes glowed with that same honey brown of his bear rather than the green she saw before. Seeing him like that made her eyes widen, but he didn’t scare her. She felt safer than she ever had with him this close. She couldn’t stop staring at him as his mouth caressed her most intimate parts.
“Liam, I want you inside me,” she said, her voice husky with desire.
His tongue swept lower when she spoke, and he removed his finger from her. Instead, he speared her with his tongue. His eyes darkened with desire even more than they had before.
A moan escaped her lips as he caressed her with his tongue. When he pulled back, he swiped it over her slit from her entrance to her clit before crawling up her body. He leaned forward, kissing her neck and breasts before brushing his lips against hers. His hips tilted forward, and she felt the press of his erection against her entrance.
She pushed against him as desire fanned flames throughout her body. She wanted him so badly. “Take me, please.”
Without any hesitation, he pressed into her, stretching her body to fit him inch by inch. By the time he was completely inside her, he was panting. His body shook as if he were holding himself in check. “You feel so good, Olivia.”
“You do too.” She wrapped her arms around his neck, sliding her hands through his dark hair and over his tense neck muscles.
He slowly withdrew until just his tip was inside her before sliding back in. His movements were controlled, steady at first, then picked up speed. Her moans and the way her body bucked beneath his gave him more confidence.
She couldn’t help herself. He made her feel so good. Her nails bit into his skin as he thrust inside her, making the large, heavy bed rock. She never felt so full and alive before. He perfectly angled his thrusts to the sensitive flesh inside her, and she moved her hand away from the back of his neck to put over her mouth as she grew closer to the edge with each stroke. Her moans grew louder as his cock rocked inside her.
He took her wrists and entwined his fingers with hers, pressing her hands into the bed. “I want to hear you. I don’t want you to muffle your desire for me.” His voice was low, guttural. It only enhanced her pleasure.
She didn’t feel confident that she could respond verbally, so she nodded her head as another moan escaped her lips. Her chest arched up into his, and he pulled back a little to slid his tongue over a nipple. He gave it proper attention, and drew it into an incredibly hard peak before he doing the same thing to the other.
When his mouth descended on hers once again, his tongue caressed her lower lip before slipping inside her mouth. Her body clenched around him tightly. Waves of pleasure exploded as her cries were swallowed by his mouth. His kiss became fiercer, more intense as he picked up speed. Each thrust drew out her pleasure until he slowed. The rumble of his groans vibrated against her chest as the warmth of his release filled her.
They remained like that for a few moments. Sweat dampened their skin in the cool hotel room. But she didn’t feel cold, not when Liam’s hot body blanketed hers. She looked up into his eyes and caressed his cheeks. “That was incredible. Thank you. Again. For everything.”
He finally withdrew from her and he rolled onto his side. He cradled her in his arms. “You’re incredible, Olivia. I don’t need thanks. Just you.” His hand trailed over her back as he stared up at the ceiling. Only then did she remember that Liam had been shot earlier that day. She sat up slightly.
He didn’t have a bandage on, but she saw the pink puckered scar near one of his shoulders. But that didn’t make sense. His gaze dropped to her eyeline and he gave her that lopsided smile, setting her body on fire yet again. “Yes, that’s where I was shot. That’s why I told you I’d be fine. Werebears have excellent healing capabilities.” He pulled her closer, kissing her again. “Excellent stamina too.” His words tightened her body and made her blush at the implication. “Whenever you’re ready, that is.”
Olivia straddled his waist and held his cock into her hand. She guided him toward her entrance as she pressed him inside her. “I’m more than ready.” The humor faded from his lips and eyes as a dark desire smoldered in his hot gaze. He cupped her hips with his hands, helping to guide her over his length.
They explored one another’s bodies for a few hours until the sun rose, then called out of work, and curled into each other’s arms. Olivia craved these moments. For the first time in a long time, she realized dreams really could come true.
Liam was helped by the bear pack’s doctor . When they arrived at the hotel, he silenced his cell phone, because they both needed the rest. Changing between his werebear form and his human form took a lot out of him, especially during the healing process. But Olivia’s health and safety made the pain of the bullet inconsequential. The thorough lovemaking session wore him out, too. But she was worth every second.
He opened his eyes to look down at her sleeping against his chest. He didn’t want to wake her. The thought of remaining here, forever in her arms, was an appealing one; even if it was impractical. After a few minutes, he extracted himself from her sleeping form.
He reached for his cell phone to see if he missed anything important at work. Apparently, the pack’s doctor reported his injury to his parents. They tried calling and texting him several times. He set his phone aside and placed his hands over his face, knowing he would need to explain everything, and soon. His all of brothers, even Noah, tried getting in touch with him. The fact Noah reached out surprised him, but maybe his baby brother cared more than he let on.
Leaving Olivia here wasn’t an option. If Jared hired a private investigator, he didn’t want to put her at risk if they were still out there, watching in the darkness. She needed to be with him, but more importantly, he wanted her to be with him. But he wasn’t excited about the prospect of telling his parents everything that happened. They would know that he broke up with Cindy without telling them, and that he went to the dating agency to meet Olivia. But he wasn’t ashamed of that. The only thing he wished went differently was the trauma of Jared’s arrival back in her life.
“What time is it?” Olivia asked as her warm hand slid over his back.
He set his phone down and turned on the bed to look at her. Her peaceful face was marred by the bandaged cut and the bruise on her face. Anger began to boil within his chest that she was hurt, but Jared would get what was coming to him. He’d help make sure of that by providing Olivia with the best lawyer he knew.
“It’s nearly 2:30. I need to go home. My parents and brothers have been trying to call. The pack’s doctor let them know I was hurt. I should let them know that I’m okay.” He shrugged a shoulder and trailed his thumb along her jawline. “Come with me?”
Olivia’s eyes widened a little, and she leaned her face into his hand. “Of course. If you want me to?” She swallowed before nodding.
He pressed a kiss against her lips. “I really do. It’s safer that way, too.”
Her full lips pressed into a thin line of concern as she considered his words. “You’re right. I didn’t think about that. I’d much rather be with you. You make me feel safe.” A pretty pink blush tinted her chest and ran up her neck toward her cheeks. He trailed his thumb down her throat toward her breasts.
“I’m glad. You deserve to feel safe and more.” He smoothed his palm over her breast and squeezed lightly before pressing a kiss to her lips. “I look forward to continuing where we left off after dealing with my parents.” The thought of plunging into her warm core made him hard again. He knew if he didn’t stand up and put his clothes on, his willpower would fade quickly. He might decide to stay here with her instead of doing what he knew had to be done.
“I can’t wait.” She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him back. The scent of her arousal filled his nostrils, and he groaned in anticipation. The desire to settle between her legs and take her was so powerful, it nearly drove him into action. “But, we should do that after you talk with your family,” she said at last, pulling away from him. A naughty glint sparkled in her eye as she ran her gaze over him. She wriggled from his arms and pulled on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt—along with undergarments—that she’d packed into her duffle bag.
“You’re not helping matters,” he said, gesturing toward his hard shaft.
“I think I am, just not in the way you’d like.” She winked at him, and he chuckled. She was “helping” all right.
He texted his parents and his brothers before getting dressed himself. He checked in with the front desk about keeping the hotel room for a few extra nights. Going back to Olivia’s place wasn’t a good idea, and he wanted to claim her body without the possibility of someone else in his family accidentally listening in on their lovemaking. Perhaps they could find somewhere to call their own. The drive to his parents’ house gave him enough time to think about what he was going to say to them.
* * *
Liam sat in his father’s study with his parents as they watched him carefully explain the events of the past few days. Olivia was at the kitchen table, where he left her with his brother and Ava. His parents took everything surprisingly well, even the fact Olivia was here with him. Maybe his mother had suspected something was wrong during Saturday morning breakfast.
“You should have talked with us sooner, son,” his father said, looking relatively calm. “You did good, though. I’m proud of you. I’m sorry to hear about what happened to Olivia. That man deserves whatever happens to him. If you or Olivia need anything, I’m more than happy to help.”
Bradley was still the alpha until the job was passed over to his brother Mason. He had a compassionate heart, different than many of the other werebear alphas around. He preferred leading with love rather than fear. There was no doubting his strength, but he strove for a friendly respect.
“Thank you, Dad. That means a lot.”
“I’m happy you’ve found your mate. You deserve to be happy.” His mother gave him a warm smile. “I suspected Cindy wasn’t the right one for you, especially since you never brought her around to visit us. You never told her about us, but Olivia knows and she carries your scent. Maybe we’ll be having even more grandchildren than we’d originally thought, Bradley. Perhaps we could wait on Florida until after our grandbabies are born and cared for.”
Liam stared at his parents, unable to believe that his mother mentioned delaying their snow birding, and that she was talking about him and Olivia having cubs. He blinked at the two of them, unable to find any words to say.
His father glanced over at his mother, sharing Liam’s surprise. He was getting more and more into the idea of them traveling, too. But the look on his face when Mason announced that he was going to be a grandfather was priceless. A similar expression spread across his features now. “Of course we can, honey. I want to spend time with our grandkids too.”
Liam kept quiet. He hadn’t talked with Olivia about if she even wanted to have kids, or how life would be like raising cubs together. Cindy had never wanted any, and she’d made that blatantly clear whenever anyone brought up the subject of children. They were at the early stages of their relationship. He wouldn’t say never, but neither of them should feel the need to rush into things.
They headed back to the kitchen after their conversation had wrapped up. Ava and Olivia were chatting at the kitchen table as Mason fixed coffee. He looked over his shoulder at his younger brother, but he remained quiet. Liam would catch Mason up on things later. Right now, he wanted to sit down and regain his composure, especially after the subject of children.
“Maybe we should head out and get some dinner soon, Olivia?” His stomach growled. He needed lots of food as a werebear, especially when he was recovering from a gunshot wound.
Olivia glanced back at him, her eyelashes lowered as she licked her lower lip. “Okay.” She smiled at his parents and then at Mason and Ava, keeping her gaze low. “Thank you all for inviting me into your home and making me so welcome here.”
His mother smiled brightly at her. “You’re welcome here any time, dear.” She held Bradley’s hand. “We’re glad you are part of the family. If you need anything, let us know right away.”
A blush reddened Olivia’s cheeks, and she nodded. “I will.” When they left his parents’ place, the drive back to the beach was a companionable quiet. He entwined his fingers in Olivia’s, and she pressed his hand against her cheek. “Your parents and family were really nice. Ava is great, too. I really like them,” she said.
“Just wait until you meet my other two brothers. You will hate them,” he replied . “I’m kidding. I’ve been blessed with a great family.” He cleared his throat, the talk about family reminding him of what his mother and father had said about grandchildren. Perhaps a change of conversation would be for the best. “We never got a chance to go to the beach. I was thinking we could head to the pier.”
She bit her lower lip. “I like that idea, but...” her voice trailed off, and he smelled her arousal in the air.
“But?” he glanced over at her, feeling his body react to hers.
“I was thinking we could have room service at the hotel. We could finish what we started earlier?” Her eyebrow rose, and a mischievous smile spread across her lips.
He did not expect this, but was more than happy to fulfill her wishes. “Room service it is, but I won’t be denied taking you to the beach tonight.”
“Deal. Maybe we can walk, dip our toes in the water, and watch the sunset.” She leaned her face against his hand, keeping it away from the bandage.
“We saw the sunrise. Seeing the sunset would make this day complete,” he said as the car behind him honked their horn. The light had turned green without him realizing it.
The drive back to the hotel went by quickly. When they returned to the room, Olivia ran down the items on the room service menu with him before she placed their order. Waiting for their food was arduous, but they kept their clothes on by kissing and touching one another, building up each other’s desire until they were lucky the bed didn’t catch on fire.
After they ate and made love a few times, Liam cradled her against his chest again as they laid in bed. “I’m glad you’re in my life, Olivia. You make it feel...complete.”
Tears sparkled in Olivia’s eyes as she looked up at him. One of them slid down her cheek, and he brushed it away. “I feel the same way about you. For the first time in a long time, I feel cherished and...loved, even. Being in your arms makes the world feel safe again.” She snuggled closer, running her finger tips over his chest.
He ran his hand over her naked shoulder and down her arm. “You’re the first person I’ve been able to show myself to. Everything that I am. You have no idea what that means to me. I’d do whatever it takes to protect you and make you happy.” His bear prodded at him to say the words he’d never said to anyone other than his family before. “I love you, Olivia.”
She didn’t bat an eyelash when he spoke the words that had coiled in his chest. A smile brightened her entire face, and she stretched up to kiss him on the lips. “I love you too.”