Bear with Me

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1O. Venom

CALLUM

The ride to the White Swan was pretty quick as it wasn’t too far from the Go Ape location. If anything, it was too quick for my liking. I was enjoying too much having Flame’s gentle arms wrapped around me as my bike sped down the narrow roads around the lake. Having her so close to me and my bear made both of us more relaxed, more at peace with everything around us.

The White Swan was not my usual preferred pub but this was exactly why I picked it- it was classier than the usual haunts that most shifters preferred, which meant it was also quieter and I could enjoy my mate’s company without having rowdy crowds of shifters to ruin the moment. A bonus was the fact that it was also right by the lake and had a huge terrace which was going to allow us to enjoy the spectacular view that the setting sun was about to provide.

“What would you like to drink?” I asked once we were inside the pub.

“Surprise me.” Her eyes sparkled with playfulness. I loved how mischievous she was always with me, bantering and pushing me, daring me in a little competition. “I have just one condition- it has to be something Scottish.”

Ha, I knew exactly what to get us- something that I was sure she had never even heard of in London.

“Just grab us a table, and I’ll be there in a minute.”

Usually, I was more of a whisky guy like many of us in the area. Shifters didn’t really get drunk because of our speedy metabolisms. It was not impossible, but you needed to drink a lot of alcohol in a very short period of time to get even remotely tipsy. Whisky was our preferred drink because we could simply enjoy the magnificent flavours and savour our drink.

But the drink I had in mind was typical for the region, so it was a no-brainer to order that, even if Jack was going to bite my head off for ordering a cocktail, never mind that it was not one for the light-hearted.

“Two Venoms on my tab, please, Paddy.”

I grabbed the drinks as soon as the two pints of luminous green liquid were ready and made my way over to Scarlett on the terrace.

She was so busy admiring the beautiful scenery in front of us that she didn’t even hear me coming. I knew how she felt though- I could easily find myself gazing at her for hours. She was a red-haired goddess, a work of art. But her beauty ran way beyond her appearance- her personality was even more spectacular than her looks.

“Oh wow, what is this?” She quizzed me, her eyes widened at the sight of the cocktails.

“We call it Venom in Scotland.”

“Like snake venom? Bloody hell, this sounds dangerous.” The audible gulp that came from her made me chuckle.

“Scared, Flame?”

“Me? Of course not. Trust me, I’ve had plenty of training with alcohol. If I survived Jagerbombs and Tequila, this should be easy. What’s in it anyway?”

“Let’s see. A typical Venom cocktail contains whisky liqueur, triple sec, vodka, blue alcopop and orange juice poured over ice. In this case, blue WKD, vodka, Southern Comfort and fresh orange juice.”

Her eyes looked like they were about to pop with every ingredient that I mentioned.

“Blimey, you don’t mess around here.” She grabbed her drink and lifted it for a toast. “Well, cheers.”

I took a sip from my pint glass and immediately remembered why I did not like cocktails- too damn sweet for my liking! A double order of my favourite amber liquid was definitely on the cards for the next round.

Once I stopped thinking about my drink, I realised just how quiet it was. The terrace was very peaceful because we were the only customers outside, and Scarlett had gone back to taking in the view.

“I had fun today.” Her voice came out almost like a whisper as she continued to look ahead before her head turned towards me in what seemed like slow motion. “Thank you.”

“I had a blast as well,” I muttered back. Of course, spending time with her was always going to be great but I had genuinely enjoyed that outdoor adventure, even if half of the time I felt like a flying monkey.

Silence settled in between us once again.

Ask her something, you idiot, Mahon protested in my head. We are meant to win her over- how do you plan to do that if we don’t get to know her better?

Alright, alright, you are right.

“So, what do you like to do in your spare time?” A lock of unruly strawberry hair broke away from the rest, and I had to fight the urge to lean forward and tuck it behind her ear, gently caressing her cheek in doing so. Instead, I tried to focus on my words. “I doubt there is a lot of Go Ape in London, so what keeps Scarlett Miller busy outside of work.”

Her melodic laughter rang in the air. “No, no outdoor adventures for me. Actually, I didn’t have much free time- I was working in finance, so life was always pretty hectic because of work and I did not have much time to enjoy nature. That’s why I like it here.”

My breath bottle up in my chest for a second. Her words sent a jolt of hopefulness through my body. “You do?” I beamed.

“Yes. It’s peaceful and green. You can feel free.”

I knew it was not a good idea to get my expectations up but hearing her say that she liked the area, my home, had me feeling on top of the world and it gave me hope that she wanted to stay.

“But to answer your question, I am a musician.” Gone was the confident girl next to me. Instead, I saw a timid beauty, slumped in her chair while her gaze focused on the floor. “I sing and write my own music.”

Her words came out like an embarrassing confession and I couldn’t understand why. If anything, I was even more fascinated by her now.

“That sounds amazing. I am sure you are very talented.” That was no lie- I was convinced that there was nothing that she would be anything short of remarkable at. “Would you perhaps sing for me?”

Her cheeks reddened at my question and her breathing quickened- my little mate was shy. Her coy smile was so fucking adorable that all I could think about was pulling her in for a kiss and reassuring her that she should never be embarrassed around me.

“Maybe... One day.” There it was again. Hope. “I’m a bit private when it comes to my music. Most people don’t even know that’s my hobby. But it was my outlet as I was growing up. My parents loved me. Well, they still do.”

She stopped and took a deep breath to steady the slight tremble in her voice as she spoke. I was not sure what was it that bothered her but Mahon stirred angrily as we were both getting agitated at the fact that something made our mate unhappy.

“They were just very demanding when I was younger. Nothing I ever did was good enough and they always wanted me to do better. It was a lot of pressure on a kid, so music was my only outlet.” She fiddled with her hair as she continued to speak. “When I went to uni, I could finally be my own person. Yet, all those years of fearing that I would always be a disappointment stayed with me, even if hidden deep down. So, yes- I don’t tell anyone about being a musician. Christ, I don’t even know why I told you all of this.”

Her laugh was nervous and uncertain now, nothing like the carefree girl earlier on. “Sorry- this is some heavy shit. I didn’t mean to ruin the drinks.”

I hated that she was hurting and, even more so, that she tried to sweep her own emotions under the carpet, like she was not allowed to feel the way she did. As if she was expected to never be vulnerable. And yet, I hated myself even more because I couldn’t tell her the truth- that she could always count on me, that I would be there to protect her and put a smile on her face, that she could always be herself with me. Above all, that I was her mate and she was mine. The words were right there, on the tip of my tongue, waiting to spill out. But I couldn’t say anything. Not yet.

That did not mean that I was not going to be there for her.

In the blink of an eye, I moved my chair closer to her and lifted her chin up so that I could see her beautiful eyes. “You are a magnificent woman, Flame. Anyone who cannot see that is a fool and does not deserve your time or attention. You should never doubt yourself because there is not a thing that you should change- you are perfect as you are. Never let anyone tell you otherwise!”

Her eyes bore into mine and I could feel myself get lost in those stunning green orbs.

Then came the electricity that ran through me, bringing every cell of my body to life as she placed her hand on top of mine.

“Thank you.” Her gratitude was so genuine that it extinguished the fire of anger that was burning inside my soul at the idea of anyone making my mate feel like she was not good enough.

“There is nothing to thank me for. I simply speak the truth. And we all carry our scars and wounds- even I do.”

I leaned back in my chair, wondering whether to continue. It was not that I did not want her to know about my life. Speaking about the past was just something that I never really did because there was no point. I had already wasted too many years as a little boy trying to figure out what I had done to make my parents leave me at the mercy of strangers and I never found the answer. So I shut the part of my life out. Instead, I focused on the future, on being part of the community like Catriona had taught me.

But I also knew I needed to share this with Flame. Having her open up to me like this was a moment I treasured and I was honoured that she had decided to trust me with her secret. She allowed herself to be vulnerable with me and I had to do the same.

“My parents abandoned me at the doorstep of…,” I paused, thinking how to explain things to her without revealing my world yet,” the community that I live in.”

“I’m so sorry, Callum.”

“Don’t be- it’s not your fault.”

“I know but I am sure that this is something that is not easy for you.” Her stunning eyes were all teary, her gentle hand resting on mine as she tried to comfort me—the compassion of a true born Luna.

“To be honest, I just never think about it anymore. I locked the memories away a long time ago and threw the key away. Safe to say that I don’t really talk about this, even if everyone in my community knows my story.”

Her mood changed, and I could see her own internal struggle written all over her face. “It’s hard, isn’t it?”

“What is?”

“Not letting your past define you. And not to feel alone, even amongst others.”

Yes, it was.

I never admitted it to anyone, not even to myself, but that fear of being alone again, of being rejected once again still lingered in my heart. After all, if my own parents abandoned me, why wouldn’t anyone else?

Anyone else but her.

My mate.

Our bond was always going to bring us back to each other and keep us together.

“Sorry, I made this conversation heavy once again.” She buried her face in her hands before she looked up again. “I just...I don’t know what it is about you but something tells me that I can trust you, even if we barely know each other. And I must admit it feels nice to be able to talk about this.”

Her smile was back and that made me smile in turn.

“You know- and I promise, it’s not the Venom speaking- you are such a bear.”

I froze in my seat, a million questions suddenly going through my mind. Did she know? Had Riley told her something?

“Bear with me for a second,” she giggled. “I’ve always had this thing about finding similarities between people and various animals. You know, figuring out their spirit animal. It’s just a thing that I did as a girl and it stuck with me. My equivalent of astrological signs.”

Goddess, she really was meant to be my mate and become a part of the shifter world.

“And why do you think I am a bear?”

“Well, for starters, your gruff, outgoing personality. You are a very protective and caring person. And even your look makes me think of a bear- you are a big, strong guy but in a very cuddly way.” She giggled again.

Being called cuddly by my mate was endearing and offensive at the same time. I wanted her also to see how fierce her mate was. Mahon’s roar in my head told me he also felt the same way.

Flame rested both of her hands on my legs to support herself while she leaned forward, bringing her face closer to mine in a jokey attempt to invade my space and mess with me.

“Don’t give me that face. I think you are really authoritative and others respect you, that much I could tell from what I have seen everywhere that we’ve been together. But even if you are like that with others, I feel comforted in your presence, the way that a big cuddly teddy bear makes you feel.”

“Trust me, Flame,” I let a low growl of dark promises out as I got closer to her, “you have no idea what kind of a beast I can be.”

The mood in the air changed in a heartbeat. My jeans tightened while I watched her pupils dilate from lustful words. I could feel her breathing quicken and her arousal spike, very much like my own.

It was Scar who broke the tension. “I think we need another drink. Be back in five,” she said and she sprinted inside the pub, running away from me.

Fuck, this was not what I had in mind for tonight.

I didn’t want to rush things between us. But I had to admit that the day was going better than planned- we had fun, we got on like a house on fire and we opened up to each other. All in all, things were moving in the right direction.

The creaking of the door terrace snapped me out of my thoughts. I turned around to see if Flame needed any help but instead I was greeted by the anger and disappointment written all over her face.

She. Was. Mad.

Very mad.

I watched her march angrily back to our table but my attempt to even open my mouth and ask what was wrong was futile.

Time stood still as she grabbed the remainder of my Venom and threw it in my face. I stood there, stunned and confused about what had brought that on.

“How could you, Callum?”

**************

God damn it, this chapter an emotional rollercoaster- I was awww-ing, grinning, feeling sad for them. And then, then there was THAT ending!😲😲😲

What do you think happened? And what were your reactions as you read (feel free to use emojis for more accurate recreation 😉)?

I hope you enjoyed this longer chapter and their cute moments because things are about to get 😱😱😱😱😱😱😱😱 (yes, all these emojis are needed, trust me!).

Can’t wait to hear what you all thought. You know the drill- drop me a comment (..or two..or three....or twenty) and hit Like/Review if you are enjoying the book so far.☺️

See you on Friday,
Iveto xx

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