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Bear Meets Girl (Pride #7)(61)

By:Shelly Laurenston

“That sounds like my problem, not yours.”
“Good point. Besides, who cares? You’re off the team anyway. Out on your ass. That’s gotta hurt.”
Cella’s eyes narrowed, locking on the bear, while her mother and aunts backed up a little farther.
Crush jerked his finger over his shoulder. “Mr. Novikov brought you flowers.”
“It’s Bo, you geek. Bo. Not Mr. Novikov.”
“He’s planning to go without an enforcer now that you’re out. I told him to go with Gene Martin.”
“Are you insane?” Cella demanded, wondering what had gotten into the bear.
“What’s wrong with him?”
“Everything! First off, he’s second string for a reason. Second, he should still be in the minors. The only reason he’s not is because his father pulled strings to get him in. And third, he gets even the tiniest cut and he’s ready to go straight to a hospital bed. He’s weak and kind of stupid. There’s no way he can replace me.” 
“Who would you suggest?”
“The Reed kid.”
The flowers were suddenly flung to the side, revealing Novikov. He’d brought her flowers? Really sweet, but she was sure he’d only done that because Blayne must have talked him into it.
“Reed?” Novikov growled. “Are you fucking kidding me?”
“The kid has real potential and wolves are great enforcers. Remember my Uncle Jimmy?”
“Uncle Jimmy?” Crush blinked. “Do you mean Jimmy Caufield?”
“Jimmy ‘I maul because it pleases me’ Caufield? That Jimmy Caufield?”
“Well ... I just call him Uncle Jimmy. He’s one of my godfathers. He bought me my first car when I was stationed in Korea that year. Why are you staring at me like that?”
“Because I think part of me hates you right now.”
“You had to buy your own first car?”
“Well, yeah, but that’s not what I’m ... forget it.”
Novikov pushed past Crush. “You can’t be serious about Reed.”
“I’m completely serious about Reed. Don’t let that hillbilly accent fool you—”
“Hey!” Dee-Ann complained from the hallway.
“—he’s good. And he could prove that to you if you gave him the chance.”
“No one gave me the chance and I proved myself.”
“Only because you’re a friendless loser who never worries about how he might come off to people.”
“I am not friendless.”
“Then name two friends you have that aren’t Blayne Thorpe.”
“And don’t mention those two Eurotrash foxes you sometimes have hanging around.”
“They’re not Eurotrash. They’re from Maine.”
“Whatever. Here. I’ll make it easy on you. Name one friend you have that’s not a fox financially living off you or a crazed wolfdog who thinks her derby team is more important than my hockey team.”
Novikov looked around, saw not only Cella waiting for his answer, but her mother and all her aunts. That’s when he suddenly pointed at Crush.
“Him? You don’t even know his name.”
“It’s Crushek.”
“First name?”
Watching Novikov try to remember what she was sure Blayne had told him, Cella bit the inside of her mouth to keep from laughing.
“Lou,” he finally answered. “Lou Crushek. Crush for short.” Novikov scowled at Crush. “Right?”
His mouth hanging open, Crush stared at his current favorite player. “Huh?”
“That’s your name, right? And we’re friends, right?” Novikov pushed between clenched teeth.
“Uh ... yeah. Okay. Sure.”
“See?” Novikov said to Cella, clearly feeling triumphant. “I have friends.”
“Clearly. It must also help he’s not really a threat since he doesn’t play hockey professionally. Unlike Reed.”
“Are you saying that some flea-bitten wolf referred to as ‘one of the Reed boys’ is a threat to me?”
“That’s why you’re not giving him a chance, right? Because you’re afraid he’ll make you look bad?”
“Like hell he’ll—”
“Then give him a shot.” Cella shrugged, trying to keep it all casual. “It couldn’t hurt.”“He needs work.”
“Cella can help him,” Crush volunteered.
“I can?”
“You can. When your leg’s healed.”
“But I’m off the team.”
“Doesn’t mean you can’t help the hillbilly.”
“Perhaps I’m too devastated by this entire tragedy to—”
“Yeah. Blah, blah, blah,” Novikov cut in. “The least you can do is work with the guy.”
Wondering how the hell she’d gotten backed into this corner by two idiot bears, Cella dropped the black bear in her arms so she could cross them over her chest to show exactly how annoyed she was.
“Fine! I’ll do it. But give me a couple of weeks, okay?”
“Excuse me.” Jai pushed her way into the room, her eyes going wide at the sight of Cella. “What are you doing out of bed?”
“I don’t remember.”
“Then get your ass back there. I swear to God, I leave you alone for five goddamn minutes ...”
In the end, Crush sat with Cella while they removed the bandages from her leg and replaced the brace. He knew it was painful for her, but she handled it really well. It seemed that her issue was less about the removal of the bandages than about the way it was handled. Cella wasn’t much for getting pounced on.
Once she was back in bed, her leg propped up again, a healthy lunch on its way to her room, her mother and aunts off to buy her magazines and candy, Cella finally looked at Crush and accused, “You set me up.”
“No, I didn’t.”
“So is this some psychological thing? I’m supposed to help the team so that I can recover from my trauma?”
“I’m not really a therapist, Cella.” He relaxed back in the chair and put his feet up on the bed. “I just don’t think you should limit yourself.”
“Limit myself to what?”
“Either you play or you’re not involved with hockey.”
“So what am I supposed to do?”
“You’ll figure it out.”
“Or you can just tell me.”
“After-school specials always say you need to learn life lessons on your own.”
“You’re actually using after-school specials as a guide to how to manage me?”
“It’s no stranger than Dez using National Geographic to handle her husband.”
She chuckled. “That makes a little more sense, I think.” She played with the blanket they’d put over her. “Are you heading home soon?”
“You’re not?” 
“Are you leaving tonight?”
“No. I’m not leaving until they’re sure the knee has healed up properly.”
“Then you have your answer.”
“You’re staying until my knee heals?”
“Pretty much.
“Think the hospital will let you stay?”
“No one’s asking me to leave.”
“Because you’re a bear?”
“ ’Cause I’m a cop. The benefits of the badge.”
“Must be nice.”
“I think so.”
Dee-Ann Smith walked into the room and Crush watched Cella bite her lip to prevent her from laughing at the poor She-wolf’s swollen face.
“Where’s my gun, feline?”
“Your gun?”
“Yeah. The one you assaulted me with and then used on that black bear.”
“I didn’t use the gun on the bear. I just had him in a headlock. He’s lucky I didn’t use a sleeper hold on him.”
Cella shrugged. “I don’t know. Haven’t seen it since I hit you with it.”
“Trifling,” Smith snarled before crouching down and disappearing under the bed.
“You shouldn’t have gotten in the middle,” Cella said.
“I was trying to help your dumb ass, you ungrateful heifer.”
“Didn’t need your help, backwoods.”
Smith wiggled out from under the bed. She had her gun and tucked it back into its holster. “Don’t make me cranky, whore, or I’m liable to break that knee of yours all over again.
“Blow me.”
The She-wolf gave the finger and walked out. Two seconds later, she walked back in. “When you’re feelin’ better ... dinner?”
“Sure. Can I bring Crush?”
“Sure. See ya.”
“Yep.” Cella reached for the newspaper someone had left on her side table, checking out the front page news. “Don’t try to understand our friendship,” she said to Crush without looking up from her paper. “Just accept it.”
“I’m thinking that’s a good plan.”
Forced to stay in a hotel while a specialized crew cleaned up her house—they usually handled crime scenes—Peg was relieved to at least be back at her office. Her assistant told her she had lots of messages from “concerned bears,” but Peg was in no mood to talk to any of these people. She just had to get her paws on Whitlan.
For nearly fifteen years Whitlan had been one of the most important snitches for the FBI and NYPD. He’d ratted out his fellow scumbags with an almost childlike glee. And Peg had used him for almost the same thing. Only she hadn’t been trying to stop drugs from being smuggled into the country or guns moving from one state to another. Instead she’d used Whitlan to tell her who the hunters were and exactly where they were hunting. BPC had shut down big-game hunters all over the Eastern Seaboard. It was something that had made her invaluable to the bear community and gave her a name to be feared and respected among the other species. But what she hadn’t known, just like the FBI and the NYPD hadn’t known, was that Whitlan was ratting out any fellow scumbag that got in his way or fucked with his business, while constantly moving his own product and doing his own deals. He’d made a fortune running guns, selling dope, and trafficking humans. But his hobby? That was hunting shifters. Especially male lions and bears. So while Peg and BPC were taking out some single, lowlife hunter in Jersey that Whitlan just didn’t like, Whitlan was in Delaware or Connecticut or someplace else with a full hunting party, taking down some grizzly with four kids and a wife in Yonkers.Unfortunately, by the time Peg had figured out what Whitlan was up to, he’d already hunted, killed, and stuffed one of the sons of Jebediah Meirston, patriarch of the Meirston bear clan, a very old and very powerful jewelry merchant family. Jebediah himself had come to Peg asking her to help him find the hunter who’d killed his boy, and considering how much money the Meirstons gave to BPC, her assistance was not in question. Yet the more Peg had dug into what happened, the more terrified she’d become, because she soon realized what a fool she’d been. Just like the FBI and the NYPD. Only when the news got out that she’d let some full-human play her, there’d be no trial, no newspaper headlines. She’d be lucky if there’d even be a grave because bears didn’t really tolerate stupidity. And God, she’d been so stupid.