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Bear Meets Girl (Pride #7)(4)

By:Shelly Laurenston

Meghan rolled her eyes. “Ma ... is there anything about me—or you, for that matter—that screams let’s sit down and talk about our feelings?”
“I’m trying a different approach. I’m trying to be ... ya know ... a proper mother. Thoughtful and caring and ... and all that other shit.”
“Ma, being a hockey enforcer for a guy nicknamed the Marauder, killing on order from a thousand yards away, and being the kind of mom I don’t want my male friends around because all they do is stare at your breasts and drool ... these are your strengths. Let’s not stray too far from that. Okay? Great. Now I’m going to make you some waffles. You’ll eat, and then you can go upstairs and shower off that funk of ... of ... ?”
“Bear,” Cella admitted.
“Right. Bear. Yeah, you can go wash that off and you and I will pretend we never had this discussion, okay? Great. Thanks!”
Cella watched her daughter head back into the house they shared with Cella’s parents. Cella had known all those years ago when she headed off to the Marines that she was taking a risk. The risk of losing her daughter. But what was she supposed to do? Raise another Malone She-tiger? So the kid could end up sitting around all day with all the other “aunts,” plotting and planning?
“Just a few more months, Malone,” she reminded herself. Just a few more months and the kid would be out of here and off to college, to do whatever she wanted. Meghan’s whole world was open in front of her with absolutely no limitations. And that’s why Cella had risked everything. Some days she still risked everything. And she’d keep risking everything until her kid had everything she’d ever dreamed of.
Picking up her shoes, Cella headed into the house. Her mother, rushing out the side door attached to the garage to handle some rich full-human’s wedding, quickly kissed her on the cheek.
“I might be late,” she said. “Make sure your father eats.”
“I will.”
Cella came around the corner and met her daughter in the hallway. The two felines stared at each other until Cella said, “I love you, you trifling little heifer.”
“I love you, too, Ma. Even when you’re dressed like a high-priced hooker.”
“I’d have to be high priced to pay for these shoes.”
Crush sat on the bench and waited. He was grateful that MacDermot had gotten him up when she did. Most Sundays during the winter were game days for him and he hated missing even one. He played hockey with a bunch of local Queens and Long Island shifters from different precincts and firehouses because he wasn’t good enough for pro ... or even semipro. He was, to be honest, barely good enough for weekend hockey with his friends and thankfully he’d given up his childhood dream of being one of the “greatest players of all time” long before he reached junior high. He actually left that particular dream to those who had real talent. Instead, Crush played on the weekends with people who didn’t care how bad he was, and the rest of the time he was a diehard fan of the pros, shifter and human.“So how was MacDermot’s party?” his partner Conway asked.
Crush winced. “I don’t wanna talk about it.”
“That good, huh? I’m surprised you went.”
“You’re not exactly known for going to parties that don’t end with you arresting everybody at some later date.”
“I know you’ve heard,” Crush accused when Conway fell silent. “About the transfer.”
“Yeah. I have. Although I’ve only heard about it for you. Not for me.”
“Miller has been wanting to get rid of me for years,” Crush complained about his captain.
“You terrify the man, but he has no idea why. You can’t exactly blame him, though.”
“Yes. I can.”
The coyote shook his head. “Look, don’t be an idiot, Crushek. This is your chance to make some real money. Do you know how much that division pays their detectives?”
“I don’t care. God knows I’m not into this shit for the money.”
“You’re into it to be a badass.”
“I am a badass.”
“But you can still be a badass and make money to help you pay the mortgage on your new place. In fact, you get this job and you might actually be able to live in your house rather than in that rat hole you’ve been using for your cover.”
“I do live in my—”
“You can have friends that are actually friends rather than just people you plan to eventually arrest.”
“I get your—”
“Maybe a girlfriend. Someone who wasn’t once a stripper with a sob story.”
“Okay.” Crush studied his ex-partner. “This is your wife talking to me, isn’t it? Through you.”
“You know she worries about you.”
“And I didn’t date the stripper; I just bought bus tickets for her and her kids.”
Annoyed, Crush snarled and looked back at the game. “I’m not wearing a suit.”
Conway snorted. “No one in that division wears a suit. And maybe you’ll get to work with MacDermot now. You two seem to strangely get along. Of course, with her living with that male cat, you must be like a breath of fresh air.”
“But what am I going to do there? Kill on command?”
“They don’t do that ... I don’t think.”
“Yeah. That’s comforting.”
“God, Crushek, get over it already,” Conway snapped. “Nothing’s worse than a whiny bear. Especially a whiny bear that’s going to be making a lot more money than I will.” 
Crush didn’t say anything, just skated out onto the ice with his fellow players when it was time. Conway was with him, a few minutes later, going for a puck. That’s when Crush coldcocked him with his stick.
The coyote, eyes crossing, went out like a light, crashing to the ice, and their team captain yelled, “Jesus, Crushek! I thought we told you no more hitting Conway!”
Crush shrugged. “He called me whiny.”
Freshly showered and wearing sweatpants, tank top, and sneakers, Cella walked into the family kitchen, but immediately stopped right at the threshold.
It was her father, brothers, and several of her aunts around the kitchen table. Normally nothing weird. The kitchen table was where they always met to talk, argue, and occasionally eat. The dining room was for holiday dinners or, as her mom put it, “fancy meals.” But what really worried her was that as soon as Cella walked in, they all stopped talking and faced her, gazing at her. Her family didn’t stop talking for anything. Malones were not known for being a quiet breed of feline.
“Hi,” she said, wondering what the hell was going on.
Cella’s father, Butch “Nice Guy” Malone, walked over to her and gave Cella a big hug, softly murmuring, “Don’t ever forget, baby, we’ll always love you.”
“Okay,” Cella said, pulling away from her father and nodding at her family before walking out.
She went across the backyard, around the Olympic-size family pool, and into the connected backyard of her best friend’s family. Cella hadn’t met Jai Davis, a mountain lion originally from Valley Stream, Long Island, until they were both seventeen and very pregnant. But they’d become friends quickly with both of them being feline and teen moms. As soon as the girls were born, the pair had teamed up, sharing responsibilities when they could, and covering for each other when necessary. It wasn’t normal for Malones to allow outsiders into their world, but her father had accepted the Davises without question, which meant all the Malone males accepted them without question. And when Cella’s third cousins moved out, returning to a Malone campsite in Boston and leaving the house next door available, the Davises had moved in.
Although, how Cella’s father had talked not only Juen Davis, Jai’s mom, into making the move, but had convinced his sisters to allow outsiders onto their street, Cella still didn’t know. But her father did have a way.
Yet Cella had never been more grateful for her father’s smooth-talking ways as she was the moment she walked into the Davis kitchen and asked, “Am I dying?”
Jai Davis, working on paperwork at the kitchen table, didn’t even look up as she replied, “Yes. Although to be accurate we all are.”
Cella rolled her eyes. That was the only downside of the Davis family. They were intellectuals. Juen Davis was a lawyer, Jai’s father had been a heart surgeon before his death five years ago, and Jai was an orthopedic surgeon with a side specialty in artery repair. Necessary for her job as head of the entire medical staff of the Sports Center, where most shifter games, pro and minor, for the tri-state area were played—and where many arteries were severely damaged.
“Well,” Cella pushed, “am I literally dying? You know. This moment. From a tumor or something you haven’t told me about?”
Jai finally raised her head and studied Cella. They had similarly colored eyes: bright gold, although there was no green in Jai’s. Otherwise, they couldn’t look more different. Jai was black and Asian while Cella couldn’t be more Irish if she’d come from Ellis Island with the word “Irish” stamped across her forehead. “Why would you think you are?”
“Because my family just met me in the kitchen to tell me they love me. My family.”“My mother tells me that all the time.”