Betting on her Bear
A Shifter Special Forces Short Story
By Summer Donnelly
Everly Miller sauntered out of the back room of the Lusty Leopard Bar and Grille. The twenty-two-year old’s wide silk skirts brushed sensually against her bare legs. She struggled for a deep breath against the tightened lacings of her corset. The ribbon tied around her neck was set at a jaunty angle, ends trailing across her lightly freckled chest. Her strawberry blonde hair trailed down her back in tight corkscrew curls while the front was pulled from her forehead to emphasize her heart-shaped face.
She loved the first Monday of the month. Her boss, Cree James, organized the monthly game to help raise money to cover medical costs for the local shifter population. As much as Everly enjoyed helping people, that wasn’t the only reason she looked forward to the monthly game.
“I adore that outfit,” Fiona Hamilton said coming up behind her. “I wished the boss picked me to work the game.” She’d only been employed at the Leopard for two weeks, and this was the first charity game. “You’re so pretty. No wonder you can get away with showing your body off like that.”
“Do you think so?” Everly asked. Her mother had always made under-the-breath comments about the width of her hips and the thickness of her thighs.
“Absolutely,” Fee responded with a smile.
“I love it, too,” Everly confessed with a little wrinkle of her nose. She knew the corset exposed a tad more cleavage than was strictly proper but serving wenches got better tips with the more cleavage they showed. And besides, the costume made her feel pretty and feminine.
“I can’t believe how the silk skirts feel against my skin.” Everly stroked the lines of the burgundy skirt. But as much as she liked playing dress up for the monthly charity game, she didn’t want to keep all the action for herself. “But if you want to be in the game next month, Fee, I’ll trade shifts with you.”
“I know you really want to be in the game,” Fee teased. “And it has nothing to do with wearing a silk skirt.”
Bright pink tinged Everly’s delicate cheeks. “Is it that obvious?” she asked.
Fee hugged her friend gently. “To me? Yes. To the bear shifter in question? Probably not as much.”
“I don’t pay ya’ll for chatting,” Jason Fox growled from behind the bar.
Fee flipped the handsome bartender the middle finger. “You don’t pay us at all, Jason. You’re just the bartender.” Jason rolled his eyes in response.
“Stop,” Everly scolded. “You know I need this job. It’s the only one I could find while I’m in school. I need every dollar I can get.” A graphic art student at Maxwell Community College, Everly had a scholarship which covered her school expenses but needed a job for rent and food.
Because of her dyslexia, college hadn’t been easy for Everly. Her parents, refusing to believe the medical diagnosis, had suggested that since she hadn’t graduated before her twenty-first birthday, perhaps she should look elsewhere for support.
Everly had packed a bag, her laptop, and set out to find a new path.
Fee looked chagrined. “I’m sorry. I know. But if you need the tip money, why do you work the charity game?”
Just then Quinn Maxwell came in for the game. Hot on his heels were Zane Dixon and DeShawn Gagnon. Everly whimpered lightly as Zane moved with a predator’s grace.
Zane was well over six feet tall with broad shoulders that tapered neatly down into a sharp V. His white T-shirt was tucked into worn denim, and a leather vest completed his outfit for the night’s Western-themed poker game.
Eyes the color of winter gazed around the room, and Everly felt herself drawn ever closer to his power.
“You got it bad, girl,” Fee remarked.
“You have no idea.” Everly closed her eyes, praying for relief from the unrequited feelings coursing through her.
Fee smirked. “Is he worth losing out on a night’s tips?”
Everly took a deep, shuddering breath. “Oh, hell, yeah.” Now, if only the bear shifter would notice her.
Zane restrained his growl of discontent as the little waitress hustled drinks back to the back room. Soft breasts pushed against her tight corset and bounced lightly with every step. Sweat coated her hairline and caused the beauty’s copper-colored curls to darken to a walnut brown.
He had a love/ hate relationship with the monthly poker game. He liked having a chance to hang out with other shifters and raise money. He loved seeing sweet Everly in her corset and skirts. But he hated how other men ogled her. Despite never saying more than two words to the girl, Zane considered her his.
His bear considered her his.
But the man, much to his libido’s chagrin, resisted.
Everly bit her lip as she took another drink order and Zane fought the urge to soothe away the sting of her bite. If Zane were honest, he wanted to kiss all the plump bits of her flesh better.
Zane sighed and adjusted the fit of his jeans.
“Get me another,” cried DeShawn, playing the part of the town drunk. He slammed his hand down on the table and wobbled convincingly.
“Whisky, right?” Everly asked, smiling shyly at the man. Zane felt an unreasonable desire to punch his friend’s face in.
“What about you, Zane?” Were Zane’s ears playing tricks on him or did she stumble over his first name? “Can I get you another drink?” Everly asked when she got to Zane. Her large green eyes called to him, encouraging him to dive in and find freeroll into whatever happened next.
Zane wasn’t sure who wanted him dead. Cree for demanding period costumes for his staff for the charity game. Everly for looking so delectable in her cowboy call girl outfit. Or the Fates for putting them both in his path.
Zane left his home town in a bid to get away from judging eyes, not in the search for a bed partner. But when he saw the tiny college student serving drinks, he couldn’t make his legs travel further than Maxwell Mountain, North Carolina.
“A drink?” Everly asked again, her voice growing hesitant.
“Oh, sorry. Yeah, a bourbon. Neat. Thanks.” She nodded without writing the order down. Zane wondered how she memorized all their drinks without paper and pen.
Their eyes met, and Zane shifted in his seat as desire shot through his body. He was either going to have to figure a way to get the redhead out of his headspace or leave town.
But Maxwell Mountain was the first shifter town he’d found where people respected his privacy while letting him be a part of the community. Zane didn’t want to leave and yet, what did he need with a teenage waitress?
The door to the back room burst opened and slammed against the opposing wall. Enough tension rose in the room to change the temperature. Unconsciously, Everly stepped back towards Zane’s protective heat.
Sheriff Kyle Winters glared at the gathered group of men. His silvery grey hair spilled from beneath the brim of his hat. His brown uniform was perfectly pressed. Cold blue eyes took in the scene before him. Anger and resentment rolled off of him in waves.
Zane sized him up in an instant. Winters was arrogant. Petty. The kind of man who would spit in another man’s whiskey just for the pleasure of ruining the drink.
Quinn nodded to the man. “Sheriff. Can we help you?”
“There’s a horse out front,” the sheriff said, eyes narrowing. “No livestock allowed in the town limits of Silver Fells.”
“It’s my horse.” After making sure his cards were completely face down, Zane stood. “I’ve been coming here for a few months. It’s never been an issue before.”
“Litter issues,” Sheriff Winters said. “Health problems.”
“I’m sure a horse in town isn’t that big of a deal.”
The sheriff narrowed his eyes. “And you are?”
“Stan Holt. Mayor of Silver Fells.”
Zane couldn’t help the sardonic grin as he waited for the sheriff to respond to the mayor.
“Then you should know the ordinances better than anyone,” Sheriff Winters returned, eyes narrowed.
Zane sighed. He hated pissing contests. “The game usually winds up at ten. How about if I promise not to bring him back next month, okay?”
“Not good enough.” Winters eyed Zane up with the same intensity Zane used to observe the sheriff. “Do I know you? Are you new to the county?”
“Been a few months,” Zane responded, chin tilted and jaw firm. He hadn’t served his country for a decade to be pushed around by some pissant small-town sheriff.
“He’s staying in one of my cabins.” Quinn vouched for him.
“Another shifter?” Winters asked with a sneer.
“Bear. You got an issue with it?” Zane challenged. He was sick of the scorn and mockery in civilian’s voices. It’s why he’d left his hometown in upstate New York.
“Only when they park their damn horses on my streets.”
Zane rolled his eyes. What kind of a dick for brains hated horses? “He’s tethered out front. Not hurting anyone. I’ll clean up any mess he makes. If it makes you feel better, I won’t bring him back again.”
“So, you’re refusing to move your horse?”
“Oh, for pity’s sake,” Quinn said, facing off against the sheriff on Zane’s behalf. “Back off, Winters.”
“Or what? You’re going to sic your dog on me.” The insult towards Quinn’s Mastiff form was clear.
Zane flinched for Quinn, and yet the older man took it in stride. Calm brown eyes met the sheriff’s with a silent challenge. “I don’t know why you’ve got such a hardon for Zane or his horse but get over it.”
Cree came to the entrance of his back room. He nodded to Everly to leave.
Zane felt her loss immediately. “Problem, gentlemen?”
Winters raised one arthritic finger and pointed it straight at Zane. “This asshole thinks he can bring a horse into the center of town. The ordinances are clear. There’s even a sign.”
Cree’s lips twisted in derision. “One sign you posted behind the grocery store. No one else knows it’s there.”
Zane almost smiled when the sheriff began sputtering in outrage.
“Besides, if I remember correctly, that law was passed in 1932 so teams of horses didn’t startle when cars drove around.”
A wild flush appeared on the sheriff’s cheeks. “And if it did?”
“Then you’d also know that it doesn’t apply to private property,” Cree said, icy green eyes challenging the sheriff’s authority. “And just to remind you in case you forgot, the Leopard is private property.” Cree’s arms folded across his chest and he stared at Winters with the narrow-eyed intent of a mountain lion. “Now, stop wasting my time, harassing my patrons, and get out before I call someone with more influence than you’ll ever have.”
Sputtering with indignation, Winters stormed out of the private room just as Everly returned with the drinks. “Get out of my way, you stupid girl!” He pulled back a hand and purposefully tipped her tray.
“What the?” Everly demanded as she overbalanced in order to keep the tumblers from falling to the floor. Using every ounce of her concentration, she rebalanced the tray. No glasses were broken, but several of the drinks spilled. “Look what you made me do!” A hot flush stained her cheeks as she glared at the lawman.
“Get out. Now.” Cree grabbed the sheriff by the collar. “You come in here, insult my customers, attack my waitress, and steal my profits. Get the hell out. Now.” Acting as his own bouncer, Cree hustled the older man out the door.
“You okay?” Zane asked, grabbing a towel from the sideboard to help clean the mess.
Everly only nodded, her eyes averted. “I feel so stupid. You don’t think I’ll get in trouble, do you?” Outside the window, they heard Cree continuing his diatribe against the sheriff’s overreach of power.
Zane smiled. “Sounds like Cree knows just where to place the blame.”
When Everly left to refill the drink orders, Zane couldn’t help but follow the sweet movement of her rear. Maybe he wasn’t too old for her, after all, he thought. A college sophomore was what these days? Nineteen? Twenty? Were eight years really that big of an issue?
As she finally handed out the round of drinks, her boss’ cursing caught her attention. She slid between DeShawn and Zane to hand out their drinks. And if the upper curve of her breast just happened to touch the sleeve of Zane’s shirt? Well, oopsie. Call her a klutz.
After setting Zane’s drink down on his coaster with a bashful smile, Everly went to the window and pulled aside the curtain. And snorted with laughter.
Zane folded his hand and went to stand in position behind her. “What’s going on?” he asked.
She shivered in response to the warm puff of his breath. “Look at the sheriff’s shiny black shoes.” Everly turned to look up at him and stopped. She’d never noticed other people’s lips before, but Zane’s looked beyond kissably soft. They were temptation personified.
“He stepped in Archer’s shit.” Laughter shook Zane’s broad shoulders, and Everly had to clench her fists to keep from stroking his chestnut hair. She closed her eyes. How could one man be the embodiment of everything she found attractive.
“Isn’t that a kicker? Sounds like Archer is the real hero in this scuffle,” Everly teased, gazing up at Zane from the corners of her eyes.
Zane met her gaze for one full second. Two. A third. He took her hand and led her away from the hotly contested game. “I’m at my limit, Everly Miller.”
The breath caught in Everly’s throat. “Wh-what do you mean?” Had she done something wrong? All she’d wanted was for him to notice her. But had she somehow misjudged the situation? Had she gone too far?
Zane tilted her chin. “You’re way too young for me, little girl. You’re dancing with more fire than you can handle.”
Everly frowned. Zane didn’t look that old. “I’m twenty-two. How old are you?”
Zane’s mouth dropped in surprise. “You don’t look a day over eighteen.”
She crossed her arms over her chest, wincing when she realized how much it pushed her boobs out. If Zane wasn’t interested in her curves, she shouldn’t be showing them. Instantly, she dropped her arms to her sides.
“Well, I am,” she said with a sniff. Everly turned on the ball of one foot to storm away, but Zane caught her by the arm.
“You’re twenty-two,” he clarified.
“Yes. Not that I’d be interested in an old man like you.” How dare he think she’d lie.
Zane pressed his body against hers, gently forcing her back into a wall. “Twenty-seven isn’t old,” he said. He leaned over, his warm breath sending tingles down her spine.
“You said it first,” Everly said, swallowing when she felt the touch of Zane’s broad chest against her breasts. The gentle friction made her acutely aware of the touch.
“Maybe I changed my mind,” Zane said, tilting his head down to whisper in her ear. Eyes drifting shut, Everly reveled in the thrill that slid down her spine with languid ease.
“I was worried the sheriff was going to arrest you,” Everly said, glancing up at him.
Zane brushed his nose against the bridge of Everly’s nose. The gesture was sweet and heart-wrenching. “Didn’t you know, little Everly? When in doubt, always bet on the bear.”
She giggled in response. “I’ll remember that.”
“You do that,” he teased, brown eyes warm and enticing.
Her breathing grew ragged with the first delicate licks of arousal. “What are you saying?”
“Would you go out with me?” Zane asked, his fingers twining in her curls.
She felt her body soften in response. “Yes.”
Zane’s lips were supple and tender as he pressed a kiss on hers. Pleasure was like a siren’s call, luring her closer. Until with warm, sweet satisfaction, they shared their first kiss.