Eventide of the Bear

By: Cherise Sinclair

Buttoning her blouse, she stood in the doorway, impeccably made up…of course. The world might fall apart around her, but her appearance would never suffer. “Ryder! Well…” Her eyes narrowed.

Just the sight of her made his guts twist. He pushed past her and into the house.

Stinking of whiskey, a skinny young male on the living room couch grabbed for his jeans. “By the God, what’s the rush?” The male tried unsuccessfully to stand.

Ryder turned to Genevieve. “Where’s my cub?”

“Who? What cub?” She widened her eyes.

Ryder knew the I’m-so-confused trick. Knew most of her tricks.

Glare fading, the male offered Ryder a slack-faced grin. “You’re Minette’s sire? Should have seen it. She looks just like you.”

Minette. Now the cub had a name. “Where is she?”

“She’s around. Probably…” The male’s mouth shut, and he looked away.

The cub was here when adults were fucking in the living room? Sure, the Daonain were fairly open about mating. Not that open.

Ryder stalked to the doors at the back of the house. One was obviously Genevieve’s. Jewelry and clothing lay in piles on the dresser and nightstands. The king-size bed stank of mating and her nose-clogging perfume.

He opened the other bedroom door. The scent of mildew and dirt mingled with little girl sweetness. The room held no bed, no dresser—no furniture at all. The wood floor was gouged and rough, and the puke-green walls displayed fist-sized holes. Small, battered shoes lay in the center of the room. A pile of blankets filled one corner.

No child.

He returned to the living room. Genevieve and the male hadn’t moved.

The young fuck-buddy would be easier to intimidate. “Where. Is. She?” he growled at the male.

The male paled. “Uh, sometimes she runs out back if—” He edged away from Genevieve.

If her mother had one of her screaming fits?

When he’d lived with Genevieve, he’d done the same. Ryder went out the back door and across the barren yard. A straggly wire fence. No toys. One aged oak tree. No good hiding places. However, as he crossed the weedy excuse for a lawn, he spotted a tree pixie hiding on the lowest branch. It was dividing its attention between him and something in the hollow dug out between the oak’s roots.

Ryder approached the tree slowly and looked down.

A tiny child huddled in the damp and dark burrow. So thin. Big, hazel eyes stared up at him. Bruises showed on her chin and one cheekbone, with more scattered on her bare arms and legs.

The Goddess would weep.

Slowly, he went down on one knee. What did one say to a cub? Hell, he didn’t even enjoy talking to adults.

“Hey.” He swallowed, feeling huge as he stared at the miniature person. “You must be Minette.”

She cringed away, breaking his heart.

Her shirt and shorts were torn. Her brown hair was matted. And her scent said she hadn’t been washed in a long time. How could anyone—even Genevieve—treat a cub so poorly? Rage boiled in his veins—but he shut it down. And tried to smile.

The bone structure of her face was a feminine version of his own, as was the dent above her upper lip. The straight nose and high cheekbones were not only his, but reminded him of how Ben looked at five. Minette was his, all right. It wouldn’t matter if she weren’t. He wouldn’t leave a badger cub in this place, let alone a shifter child.

“I’m your daddy, Minette.” Only a hint of a growl crept into the words. “I’m going to take you to a place where you’ll have a soft bed and all the food you want to eat.”

No reaction. Not even tears.

Herne help him, what would he do if she cried?

Feeling like crying himself, he leaned forward. She didn’t fight as he lifted her and cradled her against his chest. She couldn’t weigh more than a feather. Too fucking light.

He walked into the house. “She’s going with me.”

“Oh, no. No, she’s not. That’s my cub.” Genevieve blocked the front door, hands on her hips.

His anger increased to a roaring fire. No. Don’t scare the baby. “She’s mine, as well, and you obviously aren’t capable of caring for a child.”

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