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Bear Meets Girl (Pride #7)(9)

By:Shelly Laurenston

What an odd question ... “No. I’m not.”
Her grin was blindingly bright. “Cool! Then come with me. I’m heading back to the office anyway. We’ll totally get you fixed up.”
But she was dragging him out of the barbershop and down the street, Conway laughing and following them.
Cella cut through the training rink to get to the team’s locker room. She’d spent most of the afternoon with her KZS bosses. She was afraid they wouldn’t want anything to do with BPC, considering KZS’s history with that organization, but it seemed that like Gentry and the Group chief, Niles Van Holtz, out of Washington state, they wanted Baissier out. Now. So Cella would be again working with MacDermot and Smith. Although what anyone really expected to find at a damn taxidermist’s storefront, Cella didn’t know. But she was well aware that she was the muscle to their little team. She left the obsessing over every little detail to the canine and the canine-lover.
Of course, none of that mattered right now. She had a game tonight and just enough time to get in a warm-up. She had to be ready. Her father would be meeting up with his old buddies and watching the game from the owner’s box. She had to make sure that, at the very least, she didn’t embarrass herself in front of him.
Cella reached for the rink entrance door, but she heard the sounds coming through it. Knew what those sounds meant. Growling, she snatched the door open and rushed through.
“Unbelievable.” She dropped her bag and charged across the rink and right into the middle of the brawl, pushing the males back and away from Novikov. Because, as always, he was at the center of the fight. But what surprised Cella was that the one fighting him was Ulrich Van Holtz, the wolf the entire league referred to as “The Gentleman.” He was also the Carnivore team’s captain, goalie, and goddamn owner.
“I control this team!” Van Holtz shouted at Novikov. “Not you! Not ever!”
Blue eyes shifting to gold, the longest fangs she’d ever seen exploding from his gums, the hybrid roared, “Then you can take your goddamn team and—”
Cella punched Novikov, her fist slamming into his nose, shutting him up. Shocked and bleeding, he stumbled back, gawking down at her.
She pointed a finger at him. “Do not say anything you’re going to regret.” She spun, pointed that same finger at Van Holtz. “You either.” Cella looked around at the rest of her teammates. Well, at least the male ones. The females were sitting in the bleachers, eating popcorn. Useless. These people were useless! 
“We have a game in less than two hours,” she reminded them. “Let’s get ready.”
The males skated out, leaving Cella with Van Holtz and Novikov. She motioned to the three females watching them from the bleachers. But they only motioned back. Realizing it would be a waste of time to try to force those bitches to do anything, she walked over to Van Holtz first. “I’ll meet you in your office in about ten. Okay?”
When Van Holtz just stood there, scowling at Novikov, Cella turned him and shoved. “Ten minutes.”
She went back to Novikov and grabbed his arm, yanking him across the ice toward one of the exits. Without saying a word, she led him to Jai’s office.
“Maybe I could just—”
“Trust me!” the hybrid promised, practically skipping down the street like a little kid, but holding on to Crush like a linebacker while Conway followed behind them. Still laughing.
She dragged him into an office building, past the front desk, around a pillar, and into a small office. A feline sat at the desk, frowning when she saw what her friend was dragging in.
“We need your help, Gwenie.”
“Another stray, Blayne?”
“Really?” She sat back in her desk chair. “What’s his name?”
The canine chewed on her bottom lip, finally eking out, “Big handsome bear?”
Shaking her head, the friend began to turn away but the canine quickly explained, “He needs your help, Gwenie. He was at Mr. Peterson’s about to get a buzz cut!”
The feline turned back around, her frown worsening as she looked Crush over. “He’ll look like a mass murderer.”
“I was thinking more serial killer.” The canine looked up at him. “There’s actually a difference.”
“Yes, I know,” Crush responded. “Look, I can just go to one of those Quick Cut places—”
“Bite your tongue,” the one called Blayne gasped. “We don’t discuss those places here.”
The feline rolled her eyes. “I swear. The drama with you sometimes, Blayne.”
“Come on, Gwenie. Please? Help a bear-brother out.”
Finally laughing, a smile lighting up that pretty face, the feline stood. “All right, all right.” She pointed at herself. “Hi. Gwen O’Neill.”
“Oh! And I’m Blayne Thorpe. Sorry.”
Now it was Crush’s turn to frown. “Why do I know that name?” His frown deepened. “You’re not a criminal, are you?”
“Here or in Philadelphia?”
Confused and a little alarmed, Crush asked, “Does that matter?”
“Yes,” both females answered at the same time.
“Hey.” Conway, who’d been lounging against the doorway, enjoying every moment of Crush’s nightmare, stood straight, pointed at framed pictures on the office wall, and asked, “Do you guys know him?”
Crush stepped forward and leaned in to study the pictures, shock ripping through his system. “Holy ... do you know him?”
“Hockey fan?” the one named Gwen asked, grinning.
“Hockey stalker, more like it,” Conway joked.
“I don’t stalk. I just attend every home game. Religiously. Without question. Which is why I can’t worry about fancy cuts right now. Gotta get to the Sports Center. Game tonight.” The New York Carnivores, his home team, against the Alabama Slammers.
Still, Crush had to know ... “So do you guys really know Bo Novikov?”
The canine grinned. “A little.”Hhhhm. Probably a hockey groupie. But her name still sounded familiar; Crush just couldn’t remember why.
“Where are you sitting?” Blayne asked.
“Nosebleed seats. But they’re my nosebleed seats.”
“You didn’t invite me to the game,” Conway complained.
“I didn’t think your mate let you out of the house after dark.”
The feline took a handful of Crush’s hair and examined it closely. “Weird.”
“Do you mind not calling my hair weird? It gives me a complex.”
“It’s like hair, but different.”
“I’m leaving.” Crush started to walk out, but the feline hybrid yanked him back.
“Calm down. It was just an observation.” She dismissed all that with a wave of her hand. “Come on.” She grabbed a case from beside her desk. “Let me get to work. This might take some time.”
“Now you’re just trying to hurt my feelings.”
“Maybe.” She smirked. “But just a little.”
Jai Davis smiled at the e-mail her daughter had sent her. She had no idea how on God’s green earth she and Cella Malone had managed to have the sweetest, most reliable daughters on the planet, but somehow they had. Maybe the old adage “it takes a village to raise a child” was true. Because the Malones were definitely a village. In the beginning, the big cats had scared Jai. There were so many of them, all with their black hair and gold eyes and Irish names. And then there were the campers and RVs. When Jai met Cella, Butch Malone was still playing hockey and when he traveled, the entire family went with him. They’d all pack up their RVs and off they’d go.
It seemed so strange to Jai, so far outside what she considered normal life for a mountain lion from a very small family. Except for the fact that they could shift into another species, the Davises were very average. Nothing exciting about them at all. But the Malones ... well, excitement seemed to follow them around.
And, if things had been different, Jai probably wouldn’t have been friends with Cella, the overwhelming She-tiger with the mean right hook. She was loud; Jai tried not to be. Cella was wild; Jai didn’t know how to be. But the day she’d met Cella at the doctor’s office, both of them eight months pregnant and miserable, Jai was completely alone except for her parents. Her “friends” had spent more time talking shit about her and her pregnancy than actually supporting her.
Desperate to be away from her disapproving mother’s glare, which she’d have to see if she were to return home after her ob/gyn appointment, Jai had accepted Cella’s offer to hit Friendly’s Restaurant for a plate of fries and a chocolate shake. Of course, the timing had been perfect as Jai’s ex-boyfriend, Frost, had walked in with what Jai thought was her best friend. Even worse? They’d come over to say “hi” like that was somehow completely normal. At first, Cella had just sat there, observing. Then, before the new and awfully affectionate full-human couple had walked away, Cella had asked, “Is this the guy who knocked you up?” 
“And my best friend,” Jai had replied, so angry she wasn’t really thinking clearly. And not really expecting that particular information to set Cella Malone off. But man, did it set the girl off. Cella Malone had hauled her sizable bulk out of the seat and proceeded to yell in Laura’s face about loyalty and how she was a “whore bitch” for betraying her friend for some piece of cock. That’s around the time the shoving match started and Frost, always kind of stupid, had gotten between the two women. When Cella wouldn’t back down at his command, he’d pushed her. Just once. But it was enough for a Malone. Especially a pregnant Malone. Cella had laid out the all-star fullback with one punch.