The Steel Bear: A BBW Bear Shifter Romance (Highland Brothers) (2 page)

BOOK: The Steel Bear: A BBW Bear Shifter Romance (Highland Brothers)
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3
Crawford

C
rawford inhaled deeply
, smelling the mix of leaves, soil, and grass that reminded him of home. Highland House had been in the family for over a hundred years.

He leaned over the front porch railing, peering into the trees. Only woods bordered the property. It was a two-hour drive from the city. It was remote, secluded, and the perfect place to find some inspiration for his latest project.

He wasn’t the only one who used the place to get away. His brother Hudson often holed up in the cabin to write his bestsellers, and Striker had the property’s landscape to thank for his most successful studio exhibits.

Crawford’s elbows dug harder into the wood beams. Damn it. His mind was going in opposite directions. The architect wanted to finish the museum. The bear wanted to find his mate.

He turned for the front door. There was only one problem he could solve right now, and that was to get something down on paper before the presentation was due.

He climbed the stairs to the second story. The house had three master suites. Hudson had claimed the downstairs residence as his own. He said he could write better there. The brothers didn’t argue.

Crawford’s room was in the back of the hallway, tucked away in the corner. A few years ago he connected the suite to an adjoining room he could use as a design studio. The view from the upstairs room was spectacular. There were shades of green, brown, and gray that stole his breath. If this didn’t get his creative juices going, nothing would.

He stood behind the desk, closed his eyes, and waited for inspiration to hit.

Mila

A
fter canvassing
her emails and cleaning her desk from the top drawer to the bottom of the filing cabinet, Mila looked around the office.

Everyone seemed busy. There were three other architects in the firm. The office had projects lined up for the next five years. It was one of the perks of being with an established firm. There was always going to be long-term stability here. But without her boss, her day was pointless. She tapped her pen against her keyboard.

She debated all morning whether she should call Crawford. It would make sense that he might have an assignment for her while he was out of the office. She reached for her phone and hesitated long enough to talk herself out of it.

“If he needed you, he would have called,” she whispered to herself. She spun in her chair, letting the sharp points of her heels drag across the plastic mat under the chair.

“I’m headed to lunch. Would you cover reception for me?” Agnes asked as she poked her head in the office.

Startled by the intrusion, Mila jumped in her seat. “Uh. Sure. How long?”

It wasn’t as if it mattered. She was basically twiddling her thumbs today.

Agnes smiled. “Well, while the cat’s away I was thinking about getting my nails done at lunch today. Would you mind if I were gone for an hour or so?”

Mila waved her on. “Sure. Go ahead. I’ll cover for you.” She gathered her things to relocate to the reception area while Agnes was gone.

“Thanks, honey. I’ll be back as soon as I can.” The older woman seemed to suddenly have an added bounce in her step as she tapped the elevator button.

Mila glanced around Agnes’s workspace. It was tidy. Her main responsibility was to answer the incoming calls and direct clients to conference rooms when they arrived for an appointment.

She scrolled over the appointments on today’s calendar. Crawford’s schedule was empty. She dipped lower to read Agnes’s scratchy handwriting. She had made notes in Crawford’s column on the architects’ main calendar.

Highland House

She bit her lower lip. Was he at Highland House? She wasn’t quite sure where the Highland family estate was located, only that Crawford mentioned it from time to time as his refuge.

She pictured him with his head buried over a sketch of the museum. Holed up in a dark cabin. Lonely. Hungry. His wide strong hands splayed over his drawing. His eyes stormy with frustration. She twisted her lips together.

The chime of the elevator doors pulled her to the present.

“Hey there, don’t usually see you up here.” The delivery man wielded a fat grin in her direction.

“Oh just filling in for Agnes during lunch break.”

He began to unload his cart next to the reception desk. “Not much today.”

Mila looked at the packages with disdain. Had she really fallen to mail girl? This crush was absurd.

She took the signature tablet from the carrier.

“Nice seeing a pretty face up here.” He winked.

“Er, thanks.” She handed it back to him. She noticed his eyes were stuck between her breasts. She had a sudden urge to fasten the top button of her collar, concealing her neck from him.

“Have a good day.” He waved before stepping on the elevator.

Mila groaned, thankful the doors closed, carrying him to another floor. The guy gave her the creeps.

She bent over the small stack of packages. There on top was one marked
Crawford Highland
. She retrieved it from the pile, flipping it over in her hands.

“Hmm.” She read the return address. It was from the museum board.

It had to be the contract. This was critical. She ripped it open, knowing Crawford would want the information inside. She skimmed the documents. Every page needed his initials.

She fumbled through her purse, searching for her phone. She pressed it against her ear as she waited for him to answer. It went straight to voicemail.

“Crawford, hey it’s Mila. The museum contracts just arrived at the office and they need your signature. Give me a call back with your address and I’ll overnight them to you.” She paused. “And thanks again for walking me to my car last night.” She hung up.

That was the dumbest thing she could have added to the message. She wondered if there was a way to call back and erase it, but instead she stared at the phone, waiting for him to call her back.

4
Crawford

I
t had been
five hours at least since he locked himself in the studio. He felt the familiar pain return to his shoulders. The drawing was starting to take shape, but he knew it was shit. He needed a good run. Crawford stretched his arms over his head, ready to let his bear out. Not in the house, though. It was one of the house rules. No animals allowed inside.

He jogged down the stairs and walked through the garage into the backyard. There was a garden that seemed to always have some kind of herb or vegetable in season. He passed it on his way into the woods.

He pulled his T-shirt over his head and folded it in his hands. He unbuckled his belt, unsnapped his jeans, and stepped out of his pants. He laid the empty clothes on a gnarled stump. For a second he let the crisp air circle his human body. The rigid muscles of his torso. The deep V of his hipbones. The bulge of his biceps.

He smiled as he let his bear take control of his body. He loved the force at which the animal erupted. It was powerful and beautiful. He felt strong and invincible as his bear. He rambled through the forest, knowing he was the fiercest creature in the woods.

He had decided he wasn’t going to return to Seattle until the museum drawing was completed. Once he had the final sketch, he would have to turn it over to the digital team who would provide the specs and begin compiling material numbers needed for the budget. He was holding up the entire process, damn it.

He barreled through the trails, kicking dirt and stones under his paws as he ran deeper into the depths of his childhood stomping grounds. He needed this. Fresh air. Space. Road to let his bear run.

Mila

M
ila looked
at the documents in her hand. It was five o’clock and still no word from Crawford. She had left a second message an hour ago. If he didn’t sign the documents the contract could go to another firm. She glanced at his empty office. If he hadn’t taken off so suddenly this wouldn’t be a problem.

She watched as one by one the office employees shut down their computers for the day and began to leave. Some had kids to pick up at daycare. Some had dinner to prepare for their husbands. Some had soccer practice or even a date after work. She tapped her nails on her desk. She had a lonely apartment.

“That’s it,” she whispered. “He needs these papers.” She shoved the envelope into her messenger bag, turned off her lamp, and locked the door.

As she crossed the parking lot the plan came together. She would drive straight to Highland House, hand the documents to Crawford to sign, and be back in Seattle tonight before her bedtime. She could messenger them to the board in the morning. All problems averted.

She plugged her phone into the car’s battery charger. According the map it would take two hours from the office to make it to the cabin. She wasn’t exactly proud of how she had acquired the address. It had taken an hour of combing through Crawford’s desk before she found something with the address. But now that she had it, she knew it was imperative she use it. He would see her initiative. Her go-getter spunk. Her ability to identify a crisis and take action. At least, that’s what she told herself as she drove out of the city and toward Highland House.

Crawford

The run today had worked. His bear felt satisfied. Well, almost satisfied. Crawford felt the hunger for a mate clawing at him. He knew his she-bear was out there waiting for him. But he had to deal with that later. The firm was counting on this multi-million dollar deal to go through. It would bring in ten million from the start.

He threw a log on the fire, and watched as the flames danced around the dry timber, throwing sparks into the air. It was good to be home. He walked to the wine cellar below the kitchen in search of a bottle of red. He felt like a drink was in order.

As he climbed the stairs, he thought he heard a knock at the front door. He placed the bottle on the kitchen counter and hurried to the foyer.

He whipped the door open. He didn’t know what or who he expected to find on the front porch, but it sure as hell wasn’t Mila Lane.

“Mila?”

“Hey. I tried calling, but I couldn’t get you so I drove here and I kept driving and I thought I was lost, but I guess I wasn’t because I’m here. And you’re here, so I found it.” She laughed nervously.

He studied her. She was wearing high heels. The little ones that fastened at her ankle. She must have come straight from work.

“What are you doing here?” he asked.

“Oh.” She reached inside her bag. “I didn’t explain that part I guess. Here.” She shoved a mailing envelope in his hand. “It’s the contract for the museum. It has a seventy-two hour expiration on it, and I thought if you didn’t sign it then we could lose it and I know you don’t want to lose it.”

He took the package and flipped it over. “Why don’t you come in for a second?” He opened the door for her.

“Thanks. I think I drank three cups of coffee on the way over so I wouldn’t fall asleep and I might be a little jittery.” Her heels sounded hollow on the hardwood floors.

“I still don’t understand why you drove all the way out here. And how in the hell did you find me?”

She bit her lip. “I tried to call you. I left messages. Now we only have sixty-hours left to return the contract. I thought you would want them as soon as possible. I didn’t know any other way to get them signed.” She lowered her eyes. “I’m sorry. I know this is your private retreat.”

He shook his head. “No. Don’t apologize. It’s my fault. I knew they were being delivered today and I simply forgot. That was pretty shitty of me.”

He placed the envelope on the counter. “It’s not like I have a design to give them anyway. This might all be for nothing. Maybe I should let the contract default.”

“Don’t say that. You’ll come up with something.” She looked around the room, her eyes landing on the fire blazing in the hearth. “This place is gorgeous. How could you not find your inspiration here?” She stepped closer to the glow.

He chuckled. “That’s what I’m hoping.”

“It makes sense to me. The office has to be the hardest place for you to find your creative side.”

She stopped in front of the fire. The orange and red hues casting golden flecks in her hair. Crawford’s breath hitched in the back of his throat for a second, and he felt a fleeting sensation from his bear. He shook his head.

“You think so?” He followed her footsteps to the mantle.

“Of course. How is anyone supposed to focus with the phone constantly ringing and people popping in your office? It’s insanity in there.” She turned to face him and he noticed the green in her eyes for the first time. They were like rich emeralds.

He shook his head again. “Yes. Exactly. I needed a break.” He took a step toward the couch. “Thought I’d clear my head.” He walked toward the kitchen. “I just brought up a bottle of red from the wine cellar. Would you like a glass?”

He busied himself in the kitchen trying to find the wine opener. He didn’t know which one of his brothers had misplaced it. He pulled it triumphantly from the spatula drawer.

“I guess one glass wouldn’t hurt. But just one.” Mila held up a finger. “I have to drive back tonight.”

He fastened the corkscrew and pulled the cork from the bottle with ease. The aroma filled his nostrils. He loved red wine. It was thick and hearty, full of life. He filled two goblets from the cabinet and walked back into the great room.

It was odd seeing Mila here. She was always in the office before him each morning, greeting him with his favorite coffee. Her smile was usually the first thing he saw when he stepped off the elevator. But here, it seemed out of place.

He crossed the room and handed her a goblet.

“Thank you.” She smiled. “Mmm, this is amazing. I love reds. Not that I don’t drink white wine, because I do, but red is just…soothing, fulfilling. You know?”

He gulped a swallow. “I do know.”

He sat on the couch across from her. She crossed one leg over the other, and he saw a hint of skin between her legs. He heard the slight rumble from his bear, and he felt the need to lock him up. He was starting to cause problems. He shouldn’t be looking at Mila’s legs.

“You didn’t miss much at the office today.” Mila nervously reported the rundown from the firm. He listened as she told him about how one copy machine spit out half a ream of paper. How the accounting department issued a memo on saving money on paper, and how two people were out with strep throat.

“Yeah, sounds like I chose a good day to skip.” He grinned. The wine was starting to warm him.

Mila laughed. “I guess everybody deserves to skip work every once in a while.” She rested her empty goblet on the coffee table. “Even the boss.”

“Oh, I think especially the boss.” Crawford stood. “Let me get another glass for you.” He walked into the kitchen and returned with the open bottle.

“No. I can’t. I have to drive back.” She held her hand over the glass. “With
that
contract.”

“Drive back tonight?” He looked at the clock. “I don’t think I can send you out on these roads at this hour. There are no lights until you get to the main road and I’m not particularly interested in my assistant dropping off one of the ravines.”

“Really? You think I should stay?” Her eyes widened.

He nodded. “There are twenty rooms in this house. You can take your pick. But, no way am I letting you drive after dark out here.” He filled her goblet to the top, satisfied she had stopped protesting. “You’re an early bird. You can take off in the morning.”

“If you really think so.” She touched the wine to her lips, and he noticed the flush on her cheeks, the fullness of her mouth, and the pink of her warm skin.

Shit. He knew what his bear was doing. Hungry for a woman, he was trying to convince him Mila would do. No. That wasn’t how it was going to happen. He would know when he found his mate. It would be magical and poetic. It wasn’t going to be the young office assistant. No, that’s not how this would happen.

BOOK: The Steel Bear: A BBW Bear Shifter Romance (Highland Brothers)
9.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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