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Bear Meets Girl (Pride #7)(3)

By:Shelly Laurenston

“Morning, Cella!” cheery voices called out.
“Hey, Aunt Kathleen, Aunt Marie, Aunt Karen.”
It must have snowed last night, but not hard. Still, the cold felt good against her bare feet. This was her kind’s time of year. The lions and cheetahs could have their summers because the Siberian tigers had the winter. Snow, bracing cold, harsh winds. Lovely.
“Morning to you, little Marcella.”
“Morning, Uncle Aidan, Uncle Ennis, Uncle Tommy.”
Cella reached her parents’ home and went through the side gate into the yard. She walked around the side of the five-bedroom house and into the back. As comfortable with the freezing cold as Cella, her daughter was outside at one of the patio tables by herself, a tall glass of milk nearby, crayons all over the top along with coloring books. Cella sat down next to her, leaned over, and pinched her beautiful child’s cheek.
“How’s my little baby girl?”
Gold eyes just like her own looked Cella over before asking in a decidedly non-childlike voice, “Nice dress, Ma. Still working the docks?”
Smart. Ass.
Crush leaned out the window a bit, looking down at MacDermot’s feet. Sitting quietly there were her four dogs. Waiting. For her. “That’s impressive.”
“It’s a skill. I’ll admit.”
Crush settled back. “So you just happened to be passing?”
“No. We usually walk the other way. But one of my neighbors called. She knows I’m a cop. Apparently there’s a meth dealer hanging around, threatening everyone. A big, old scary guy in a blue pickup.”
“I am not old. I’m not even forty. Unlike others.”
“Discuss my true age at your own risk, buddy. But I’m sure it’s the hair. Although they got the ‘big scary’ part right.”
She laughed and handed him something wrapped in a paper towel. “A corn muffin?”
“I didn’t have any honeybuns.”
“I am not a grizzly, MacDermot. I’m a polar, and I am not a fan of honey.”
“Okay. Well, I didn’t have any walrus blubber hanging around, either.”
God, he was being an ass. “Mac—”
“I just figured youse might be hungry.”
Uh-oh. He knew what the appearance of that Bronx accent meant. Of course, he only noticed it because MacDermot’s time away from New York when she was a Marine had given her some kind of weird, flat accent. But when she got pissed ... look out. Even worse, she’d started pointing a gloved finger at him. 
“I was just trying to be fuckin’ nice. Next time I won’t fuckin’ bother!”
MacDermot’s dogs snarled at him, and the cub slashed at his window while giving what could only be called a baby-roar.
Crush turned to the full-human and raised a brow. “You have quite the control of the wild kingdom here, MacDermot.”
She snorted, and they both laughed. Okay. He did like MacDermot. She was one of the few people—full-human or shifter—who didn’t get on his nerves.
“I’m sorry,” Crush finally admitted. “Jell-O shots are not my friend.”
“I told Mace not to have those. I was like, ‘What are we? A frat?’ Hey, do you want to come in for breakfast?”
“Nah. I actually need to get going. Gotta game today.”
“God, are you still playing on that shitty hockey team?”
He wanted to argue with her about the level of skill his NYPD shifter team had, but the reality was ... they really did suck. The shifter firefighters and EMT guys kicked their asses constantly.
She patted his arm. “Are you okay?”
“I’m just hungover. When I got out here, I just meant to close my eyes for a few minutes and before I knew it—”
“No, no. I mean ... when you got here last night. You weren’t your usual scowling, non-talkative self. You seemed a more depressed scowling, non-talkative self. Anything I can help you with?”
Crush locked gazes with her, let out a breath. “Not unless you can get me out of this.”
“Get you out of ... oh.” She smirked. “Heard about the transfer, huh?”
“Yeah. I heard about it. I have very good connections. Now can you get me out or not?”
“What makes you think I can get you out?”
“Heard you had some pull.”
“Crushek, in the NYPD’s shifter division, I’m just the crazy full-human that apparently smells like cat and that everybody steers clear of when I get pissed off.”
He had to laugh. “Predators always know when to run, MacDermot.”
Cella sat back, smirking at her nearly eighteen-year-old daughter, Meghan. Okay. So Cella had lied to the bear. She couldn’t help it. Watching the look of horror on his face when he’d thought she’d left her toddler daughter all by herself while she went out partying kind of made her morning.
Well, actually ... waking up with all that delicious naked bear flesh had made her morning. The rest of it was really just the icing on top of that cake.
Examining the coloring book her daughter was working on, Cella stated, “I see they’re really challenging you in that private school I’m paying for.”
“I was watching the kids this morning,” Meghan said about her young cousins, her attention still locked on what she was doing, “and we were coloring.”
“But the kids are gone.”
“I don’t like to start things and not finish.” She carefully added a little orange to the sun at the top of the page, of course making sure to not go outside the lines. Cella fondly remembered her own coloring books. Nothing had been in the lines. She hated lines. Hated limits. Amazing since Cella had done so well in the Marines. No one thought she would, especially her family. They were so certain she’d wash out during Basic that they didn’t even complain when she said she’d signed up. In fact ... they’d all laughed at her. “Our Cella Malone? A Marine? Yeah. Right.” But the Marines had given Cella the freedom she couldn’t have gotten anywhere else. Freedom from her family. From the Malones. At least for a little while.“There.” Her daughter pushed the coloring book away. “Done.” She placed the crayon on the table. When Cella was gone, Meghan would come back and put all the crayons back in the box—in their original order. “Did you have breakfast?”
“I’ll make you something.”
“Why do you bother asking me when you’re going to make me something anyway?”
“It’s polite.” Meghan leaned in and kissed Cella on the cheek. “Did you have a good time last night at your party?”
“Eh. It was okay. Mostly full-human cops and their full-human wives.”
“Your cat killer friends and that dog didn’t come?”
“First off, they, we, are not cat killers. If you want to be accurate, we’re killer cats. And that dog has saved my life a few times. Respect that.”
“I don’t know why you still do that job. You don’t need the money anymore.”
“What? You think Boston University is going to pay for itself? Speaking of which, did you get that paperwork in?”
“Yeah. Sure.”
“I do not want to pay for an apartment in that area, Meghan. Make sure you get a dorm room.”
“Can we talk about this later?”
“Why are you getting so cranky?” Cella frowned. “You have been so cranky lately.”
“I haven’t been cranky.”
“You’ve been totally cranky. At least to me.”
“I don’t mean to be. It’s just very stressful right now.”
“It’s your final semester, Meghan. You’ve already been accepted to college and you’re doing great in school. You shouldn’t be stressing about anything. Just relax. Try and have a good time. I honestly don’t know where you get this intensity from. It’s definitely not a Malone thing. And you didn’t get it from your father. I remember him when he was seventeen.”
“You’re not going to tell me another Dad-and-hash story are you? Because I don’t want to think about my father as some loser.”
“Your father was never a loser. Besides, he grew out of that phase. Look at him now. A responsible accountant about to marry the feline of his dreams.”
As always when Cella mentioned Brian’s upcoming wedding, their daughter got the strangest expression on her face. Cella had begun to think she was upset about the whole event. Seemed typical for a teenager to feel that way but ... but Meghan was far from typical. And she had to know this didn’t change anything. Not between her and her dad.
Cella tossed her shoes up on the table and caught hold of her daughter’s hands. “Talk to me, Meghan.” 
“About what?”
“I mention your dad, you get weird.” Cella tilted her head to the side, studying the beautiful girl she adored. “Is it the wedding?”
“No, of course not.”
“You know this doesn’t change anything between you and your dad. He loves you, Meghan, and so does Rivka.”
“You just like Rivka because she’s another cat killer.”
“You love Rivka and we are not cat killers. Stop calling us that. We are protectors of the cat nation. Like the Marines or—”
“The C.I.A.?”
“Well, you don’t have to get nasty.” Tired of this same damn argument—Meghan, like Cella’s mother, Barb, was not a fan of Cella’s career as a Katzenhaus contractor—Cella released her daughter’s hands and grabbed her shoes. “You know, Meghan, I’m just trying to be helpful and let you know I’m here for you.”