Back at the cabin, Axel cooked up a plateful of fried fish. It was beautifully seasoned and it tasted surprisingly delicious. I was impressed with his culinary skills because I couldn’t cook for shit.
“This is good.” I nodded and pointed to the food with my fork.
I noticed his cheeks blush and he smiled a shy smile at my compliment.
“I caught it down at the lake while you were taking a nap.” He tried to sound indifferent as if it was an everyday thing.
Men just didn’t hunt for food where I came from. They made a dinner reservation. I wondered if he’d caught it with a fishing rod or whether he’d hunted for it in bear form.
“So, you like to fish?” I asked, more to make conversation. I couldn’t really give a rat's ass.
He looked at me as if I was dumb. “Nooo, I like to pet them and put them back,” he muttered sarcastically.
I shot him sly eyes. “Alright, no need to be like that.”
Just when I thought the conversation was going well, he would always have to say something to ruin the moment.
Axel shifted uncomfortably on his chair, stabbing at the last few pieces of fish before letting his fork drop and clatter onto his plate.
“Lost my appetite,” he mumbled, scrubbing a hand over his stressed face.
It wasn't hard to see what was going on here. He was concerned about bringing a shit storm to The Ridge. My shoulders slumped as I exhaled a heavy sigh.
We'd been over this. Had I just wasted my breath for the past half hour?
“What did I say, hm? I said I’d take care of it. If we go back now, they’d never let me come back.” I knew it was the truth too. My parents would hire bodyguards to watch over me.
I stood up, took my plate over to the bin, then began scraping the remaining scraps into it. I then began filling the sink with hot soapy water. A chore that I’d never done before.
“Here, pass me your plate.” I held out my hand. I hadn’t meant to look at him with such a hardened glare but he was really starting to grate on my last nerve.
He kidnapped me, and now he was afraid of the consequences. Boo-hoo! Luckily for him, it was the best thing that had ever happened to me. Nobody would come looking for me here. I was certain of it.
“Huh? You don’t have to do that. Here let me.” He took three large strides over to the sink and attempted to take over the dishwashing duties.
I stood firm, refusing to budge. “I can manage.”
“Yeah, but you probably never even...” he started to ramble while we both nudged each other out of the way of the sink, desperately fighting over the soapy scouring pad.
He could have forcefully removed me but he didn’t. I slapped his hands away as he attempted to wash the dirty plate, sending soap suds flying everywhere. I snapped to look in his direction.
“Probably what? There’s no probably about it. I’ve never done a day's housework in my life, I’ve never cooked or done my own laundry. I’ve had a golden spoon rammed so far up my ass that when I smile, I could give Goldie a run for his money! So back the fuck up and let me wash the goddamned dishes! You cooked, so it's only fair,” I finished my rant, pointing a soap sud coated finger at him.
My chest heaved as I gasped to fill my lungs. I’d yelled all that without stopping for air. He backed away, holding both palms up in front of him. I huffed and wiped a cluster of soap bubbles from my eyebrow with the back of my hand.
Axel grabbed a dish-cloth and started to dry the dishes in silence. He gave a frustrated sigh as he snatched the now clean plate from the draining rack.
I hated the awkward feeling that clung to the air. I wasn’t overly struck on angry silences. Just as I was about to be the first one to crumble, Axel broke the ice.
“I have absolutely nothing to offer you.” He swallowed thickly. “I’m not rich, I’m nothing like your fancy Wall Street boys.” He shrugged as if he thought it was hopeless. “This is just about everything I own right here.” He gestured around at the small cabin. "You sure this is what you want?"
I huffed in annoyance and turned to face him full on. “I was born rich. I’ve wanted for nothing—ever. But you know what? Money isn’t everything, and those assholes can’t hold a candle to you.”
Ain't that the truth?
Axel threw the cloth down on the kitchen counter and stood with his arms crossed, giving me a confused scowl.
“Cut the crap. I saw your car, which was a red Bugatti Chiron, in case you didn’t know. You probably got it because it matched your nail polish. I bet you said, "Ooo! I’ll take the red one," didn’t you? I bet you didn’t even know what make or model the car actually fucking was.” His voice was laced with his signature sarcastic tone.
I was dying to smile. I had to have a moment to look away before I scrunched my nose and made a cute little grunt noise as if to say "meh, so what." I didn't know what it was until my father told me.
”Who cares. I have another one in blue.” I gave an indifferent shrug.
Axel stared at me in stunned silence. He couldn’t tell if he’d hit the nail on the head or not. He was annoyingly accurate but I wasn’t going to tell him that.
I rolled my eyes. “Look, what I’m saying is, I’d give up all that crap just to stay with you.” I poked his chest with my finger.
I did pick the car out of a brochure. I’d pointed at it when my dad asked me what I wanted for my birthday, and I said, "One of those, please." He mentioned that it also came in blue, to which I replied, "Oh, cool." On the day of my birthday, I woke up to two cars. One red, one blue.
Thank you very much, Pop!
I kept my voice sugar-sweet, despite his snarky comment. I wasn’t gonna rise to it.
“You’ve shown me more affection in the past twenty-four hours than I’ve ever felt in twenty-two years. I like you. Everything else is just stuff. My parents throw money at their problems, thinking that it solves everything, but it's the little things that count.” I felt my face flush with heat as he pulled me by my waist.
“You like me, huh? And you wanna mate with me?” He asked as if he still couldn’t quite believe it. I could smell his warm masculine cologne, which left me feeling light-headed and intoxicated.
I slid my palms across his rock hard chest and rose up on my tip-toes to press my lips to his.
"For the love of Prada, it's a definite yes.”
He pulled back. “And you wanna stay here with me, in my humble abode?” He questioned again.
I growled in frustration. “Does a bear shit in the woods?” I realized what I just said, then tried to recover. “For the last time, yes!”
I really thought he was gonna come back with a sarcastic retort but he didn’t—thank God!
He blew out a breath of relief. “Do you wanna come to meet my family and join the crazy bunch? I’ve gotta warn you, they’re pretty rowdy.”
I cocked an eyebrow. “You want me to meet your mom?” I couldn’t keep myself from smiling.
Here was the perfect example of boyfriend material standing right in front of me. He who wanted to form some kind of marriage bond, and who looked as if he was hand-sculpted by the Gods themselves, he was asking me, yes, me, whether I was feeling okay about it. From where I was standing, it was pretty much a no-brainer.
“Sure, I’ll meet your folks. That’s fair.” I sucked in a breath through my bared teeth in an apologetic grimace.
“You will, unfortunately, have the displeasure of meeting mine.” My honest comment made him laugh.
“Looking forward to it.” He widened his eyes with sarcasm.
We rummaged through piles of clothes in his closet for something remotely half decent that would fit me. He handed me a pair of jeans that were his when he was fifteen, and a couple of shirts that I could use to tie at the bottom.
I took a pair of scissors to the jeans and turned them into shorts, instead. Then I tried on the make-shift outfit, along with an old pair of Axel's boots from his younger years. Teamed together, it didn’t look half bad.
Axel wolf-whistled playfully as I came to show him, twirling around for a grand finale.
“Look at you, looking all country chic.” He leaned down for a quick kiss.
I wrapped my arms around his neck so that he couldn’t get away, turning it into a full-on make-out session as I went straight for the goods. He ended up naked and pinned to the sitting room floor while I remained fully clothed, rocking his world with my oral skills.
I felt accomplished as my handsome mountain man recovered himself from a mind-blowing orgasm. I didn’t expect him to return the favor. That was my little display of gratitude, right there.
“Am I your girlfriend now?” I near held my breath while I waited for him to answer.
He answered a little too eagerly “Yeah—yes, absolutely.”
I felt my heart flutter as he confirmed what I wanted to hear.
“When can we go see your folks?” I asked a little apprehensively.
I really wanted them to like me. I wasn’t sure they would if a whole load of trouble came to The Ridge because of me.
He was busy doing up his jeans as he spoke, “Ahh, well, you see....” He fumbled around for the right words.
I leaned against the door frame as he straightened out his clothing.
“You alright?” I inquired, noticing how awkward he'd become.
“Yeah, um, Riley, my folks are what you call 'old school'.” He rubbed the back of his neck, sheepishly.
“Old school?” I repeated his words, not quite getting what he meant, “In what way?” I titled my head, narrowing my eyes questioningly.
“They don’t believe in cohabitation before mating,” he said, making a cringe face.
The penny dropped.
That kind of old school. Riiight!
My eyes widened with realization.
“Well, why don’t we just mate then?” I looked at him as if to say ′duh′.
“We could if you’re ready?” he gave a fast response.
Hallelujah, finally this hunk of a bear shifter had found his sexual confidence and was about to grant me my wishes.
“Let's get straight to it then.” I went to remove my clothing.
I knew he could be ready and raring to go in a matter of seconds. That was his super skill. A gift from the Gods. My eyes looked towards the ceiling as I inwardly thought 'thank you!'
Axel waved a hand in front of him. “Riley, stop, I need to do it out in the open. There’s not enough room in here.”
I scrunched my nose. “What?” I looked around the sparsely furnished sitting room. He wasn’t making sense. At all. “There’s plenty of room,” I scoffed. “Don’t be so ridiculous, what do you wanna do, swing from the light fitting? Which I’m totally game for, just so you know.”
The color drained out of Axel's face. It looked as if this was the part of the conversation that he’d been dreading to have with me.
“I need to partially shift when I bite you.” He winced at my reaction.
“Bite me? What the hell do you mean, bite me?” I shrieked, completely horrified.
He moved towards me in a desperate attempt to calm me down. “Wait, wait, it's natural for us shifters. It’s a mating mark, which means it’ll show other shifters that you belong to me.”
“Will it hurt?” I shuddered at the mere thought of it. I hated the sight of blood. I was so squeamish, that I couldn’t even watch Grey's Anatomy without hiding behind a cushion.
Axel dragged a hand down his face, seeming unsure how to continue our conversation. “Yeah, it’ll hurt a bit, but I’ll be as gentle as I can.”
“And you say you’ll need to shift in order to do this? So what, you’re gonna fuck me as a bear? Are you kidding me?” My voice sounded shrill as I had a miniature panic attack.
He groaned and gripped his forehead. “You’re not listening. I need to partially shift. Don’t worry, it's not the same as bestiality."
I tried to swallow but my mouth had run dry. “It better fucking not be," I warned, my voice tainted with revulsion. "How come we can't just do it in here? I’m confused.”
Axel spoke soothingly, pulling me into his chest as he rubbed the center of my back in small circles.
“In order to complete the mating ritual, we need to be out in the open.”
“Out in the open? You mean outside?” My voice sounded strained as I realized just what he meant.
It was one of my biggest phobias coming true. I could feel my pulse pounding in my ears.
Axel paused before he spoke. “Riley, I’m gonna need to take you in the woods.”