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Bear Meets Girl (Pride #7)(11)

By:Shelly Laurenston

The wolf sat in his chair, his head on his desk, his eyes staring out the window. She hated seeing him so miserable. Although, she must admit, she preferred this to the time she’d walked in and found Smith under the desk giving him a hummer. But hey, they were in love. Cella couldn’t argue with anyone being in love.
“He drives me nuts, Cella,” Van Holtz admitted before she’d even said a word. “Just the sight of him makes me want to smash his face in.”
“Just out of curiosity ... how come?”
“He’s just so sure he’s right.” Van Holtz lifted his head, planted his elbows on the desk, and rested his chin on his raised fists. “He never listens to anyone else.” Pretty brown eyes narrowed on her. Actually, all of the man was pretty. Just damn pretty. “Except you. He listens to you.”
“Only because he finds me completely nonthreatening.”
“No. He respects you.”
“Wrong. He respects my dad. Everyone respects Nice Guy Malone.”
“I want him to quit. I want him out.”
Cella had been afraid this was coming. There was only so far a man’s unbeatable talent could go to make up for his annoying OCD tendencies, and few shifters had patience for OCD anything.
“I know you do. But ... let me handle him.”
“You? Why would you want to do that?”
“It’s like you said. He listens to me. He trusts me. I’m his enforcer. He knows I have his back on the ice and off. And you know I have the team’s back.”
“I can’t ask you—”
“Yes, you can.” She closed his door and stepped farther into the office. “I do this shit all the time with my own family. The Malones band together against outsiders, but inside, they fight constantly. My father alone has eighteen siblings.”
Van Holtz sat up straight. “Not with the same ...”
“Oh, God, no.” Cella laughed. “No way. It took my grandmother ages to settle down with one male.”
The wolf’s eyes grew wide. “Wait ... are you saying that all your father’s siblings are from the same—” 
“Mother. Yeah. Grammy Malone. The Malones are matriarchal and the females only settle down when we’re ready to or when the women of the family feel it’s ‘time,’ ” Cella said with air quotes. “Although, they don’t do much matchmaking these days. Thank God.”
Van Holtz shook his head. “I’m sorry. I can’t let it go. Your grandmother had—”
“Eighteen children. Yes. Happily, too. She loves her kids.”
“She’s still around?”
“Yeah. She retired from KZS about—”
“She was in KZS?”
“Who do you think taught me to be a sniper?”
“The Marines.”
“Nah. It was Grammy Malone.”
“But when did she have time?”
“She made time. Plus, she had the entire Malone family to help raise her kids. And the last eight were all with Gramps anyway. But we all help each other raise each other’s kids. When I was in the Marines or on the road with the teams I was on, the Malones raised my kid. When Jai was doing twenty-four-hour stints as a resident or during finals in med school, Malones raised Josie. And now that our schedules are more manageable, we help raise my cousins’ kids. That’s how it works for us. That’s what we do.”
Cella reached across the desk and patted Van Holtz’s hand. “So as you can see ... I’m totally qualified to handle a Bo Novikov.”
“Yeah ...” Van Holtz admitted, gazing at her, “I’m really starting to see that.”
Crush looked at his watch again. Then he checked his phone. He had several text messages from a possible dealer he’d been hoping to use as a CI. Of course, now that was all dead in the water. A reminder that made Crush begin to feel angry again about being pulled out of the work he loved so much. All because of that vicious sow, Baissier. To think, after all these years, she still hated him. Then again, he really hated her.
Deciding it was time to get to his seat, he filed the messages and—
“Hey, Crush. Crush!”
He bit back a sigh, regretting he’d told the hybrid his nickname because now she wouldn’t stop using it, and prepared himself to tell the sweetest girl he’d ever met he had to go.
“I’d like you to meet my fiancé,” she said, skipping up to him. “Bo Novikov.”
Crush’s head snapped up and he looked directly—well, almost because the man was four inches taller—into the eyes of the meanest player ever in shifter sports history and Lou Crushek’s personal hero.
Then Crush stared—and he kept staring.
Cella tracked her father down in the busy hallway, the meeting place for teammates and their family or guests before the game began.
“Hey, Daddy.” Decked out for the game except for her stick, skates, and helmet, Cella reached up and hugged her father.
“Hey, kid.” He hugged her, tight. “How are you feelin’?”
Cella leaned back and gazed up at her father. “I’m fine.”
“Good, good. I know it’s hard, but your focus has to be on the game. Remember that.”
“I know, Dad. My focus is always on the game.”
“Yeah, sure. Of course.” He patted her shoulder and gave her what she could only term a brave smile. Then he hugged her again. “You know I love you, right? We all love you.”
What the fuck was going on? “Daddy, I know.”
“Good, good.”
Pulling away from her father and wondering when, exactly, he’d lost his mind, Cella asked, “You all set in the suite?”“Sure. Guys are all here, too. They’re rootin’ for ya.” The “guys” were some of the best shifter players from the East Coast teams’ past. Her father’s friends now. Every few months or so during the season, they’d all come in to watch a game, bullshit about the past, and drink. There was always lots of drinking.
Maybe her father had already put away a few Guinnesses, but Cella didn’t think so. He was just acting ... weird.
“Have a good game, baby.” He kissed her forehead.
“Thanks, Daddy.”
Her father gave her one more brave smile before walking away.
Realizing she couldn’t worry about the craziness of her family right now, Cella turned and took a quick look over the crowd to make sure she wasn’t missing anyone—like an investor—whose ass she could be kissing.
Cella had no moral issues with that sort of thing. It was important sometimes to keep the team getting all the cool extras. And what was a little hand-shaking, fake smiling, happy-go-lucky bullshit spreading if it meant getting those extra soft and fluffy towels in the locker rooms or first-class trips to Hawaii or Rio?
Since there didn’t seem to be anyone tonight who needed a little Cella-attention, she decided to head back to the locker room, but then she caught sight of him.
Cella barely bit back her roar and glared at Smith standing behind her. “Stop sneaking up on me, hillbilly.”
“Be more alert, Yankee.”
“So everything set?”
“Yep. MacDermot pulled a surveillance team together to work the taxidermist. She said to give ’em a couple of days. What were you just staring at?”
“That bear from earlier. MacDermot’s new partner. The cute one. He’s here.”
Smith followed Cella’s gaze. “Hair’s shorter.”
“It’s known as a haircut. Basic grooming, Smith. You should look into it.”
The She-wolf grinned. “Always so sweet on me, ain’tcha, Malone?”
Cella grabbed Smith’s arm. “Come on.”
“I wanna go torture the bear some more.”
Smith shook her off. “Can’t you do that on your own?”
“Would it kill you to be a girl for just five minutes?”
“What’s my pussy gotta do with anything?”
“Oh, come on!” She glanced back at the bear. “It’ll be fun.”
Cella reached for Smith, but she found nothing but air. And when she turned to look for her, the She-wolf was long gone.
“How does the bitch do that?”
Crush cleared his throat and tried again to speak in actual sentences. “Um ... it’s nice to meet you, Mr. Novikov.” Holy shit. Holy shit! He was talking to Bo Novikov. The Bo Novikov. There was only one player greater than Bo Novikov and he no longer played. But Crush had been following Novikov’s career for years and had been like a little kid when he’d found out Novikov had been picked up by the New York Carnivores. Now Crush didn’t have to worry about paying for those away trips just to get a chance to see Novikov play more than a couple of times a year. 
And now ... now Crush was standing in front of the man. Talking. To him.
Holy shit! Holy shit!
“Call him Bo!” Blayne cheered. “Right, honey?”
“I don’t care,” the hybrid sighed.
“What’s wrong?” Blayne asked. “And what happened to your face?” When he didn’t answer, she accused, “You’ve been fighting with Ric again, haven’t you?”
“And there you go taking his side. You never even ask what happened.”
“Did it involve a list?”
Novikov crossed his arms over his chest. “Can I go now?”
“No!” the wolfdog snapped. “You’re going to learn to be nice to your fans if it’s the last thing I make you do. Now be nice to Crush. He’s a polar, too.”