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JINGLE BEARS


SUSAN E SCOTT





Jingle Bears

Copyright © 2017, Susan E Scott

Published by Painted Hearts Publishing

Smashwords Edition


About the Book You Have Purchased


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Jingle Bears

Copyright © 2017 Susan E Scott


ISBN 10: 1-946379-34-4

ISBN 13: 978-1-946379-34-4


Publication Date: December 2017

Author: Susan E Scott

Editor: Ashley Kain

Cover design by E Keith

All cover art and logo copyright © 2017 by Painted Hearts Publishing


ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: This literary work may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including electronic or photographic reproduction, in whole or in part, without express written permission.

All characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.






Chapter One



Caleb Falcon, Sheriff of the county and leader of his clan of bear shifters, shook his head and sighed in frustration. “I don’t know what you want anymore, Connor. Last year you started nagging me about getting a Christmas tree two weeks before Thanksgiving. This year, you haven’t mentioned it and it’s the first week of December. Then, when I simply mentioned us going to pick one out tonight, you practically bit my head off. What the hell is wrong with you?”

“Nothing is wrong with me and to be clear, I most certainly did not bite your head off. I simply commented that it would be fine to use that little tabletop tree you used for years before I came to live here, the one with its five or six ornaments and one strand of lights. You know, that pitiful thing that looked about as bad as Charlie Brown’s.”

“I have no clue what the hell you’re talking about or who the hell Charlie Brown is.” He narrowed his eyes. “Is he an old boyfriend?”

Connor looked at him in disbelief. “Are you kidding me? God, Falcon, you’re not that much older than me. Charlie Brown, the cartoon. Did you have a television when you were growing up? Didn’t you ever see A Charlie Brown Christmas?”

Suddenly, Falcon remembered and pictured that ridiculous tree in his mind. “Yeah, I remember now.” Falcon took a deep breath and held it in for a minute before blowing it out. He watched as Connor stood up from the table where they’d been having breakfast and picked up his plate, carrying it to the trash can and dumping the contents into it. Connor hadn’t taken one bite of the food on his plate. Falcon frowned. “Baby, something is wrong and I need you to tell me what it is.”

Connor turned his back to Falcon and said, simply, “Nothing.”

Falcon stood up so quickly he almost knocked his chair over, but caught it just in time. “Goddamnit, Connor! If you tell me nothing is wrong one more time, I swear to God I’m going to have a stroke. You’ve been telling me that shit for several months and I ain’t buying it. We need to get whatever you’ve got a bug up your ass about cleared up and today would be a good day to do it.”

Connor raised an eyebrow at Falcon. “Really?”

Falcon picked up his uniform jacket and slid his arms into it. “Yes. Really. Now, I have to go to work. I’m already running late, but you have your cute little ass ready when I get home from work because we’re going to get a fucking Christmas tree. Today.”

Connor gave him a look that could kill. “Falcon, you know that big, bad Alpha bear shit does not work on me.”

Falcon just looked at him. “Be ready.” He turned and walked out, slamming the door behind him.

Connor hurried across the room, pulled the door open and slammed it as hard as he could.

Falcon was just getting into his SUV when the sound reverberated throughout the garage. He couldn’t help but laugh. Damn he loved that man, but he was definitely a handful, and no matter what Connor said, something was most certainly wrong.


****


Asher Phoenix was lounging in the front office of the Sheriff’s Department, waiting for Falcon to come in. He was thinking that it was unusual for him to be late, when about that time, the front door burst open and Falcon stomped in.

“Morning, Sheriff.”

Falcon didn’t break stride and hardly looked at Ash as he growled out, “Morning.”

Ash stood up and followed the sheriff to his office, chuckling at his friend. “My, my, someone is certainly a grouchy old bear this morning.” He snickered. “Pardon the pun.”

Falcon gave him a look that would have stopped a lesser man in his tracks, but not Ash. He simply plopped down in the chair across from Falcon and smiled. They’d been friends since they were children and the big man didn’t intimidate him.

Falcon frowned at him. “What are you doing here and where the hell is Will?”

Ash huffed out a laugh. “You are having a bad day. If you recall, Will is on vacation this week, and I’m going to be covering for him since I don’t have any remodeling work scheduled. It’s too close to Christmas and people don’t want to spend their money on redoing their kitchen or bathroom, so I’m at your disposal until Will gets back. That’s why I’m here—to see if you want me to stay in the office all day or just afternoons.”

Falcon rubbed his forehead and sighed. “Oh, yeah. Sorry. I forgot all about Will taking the week off.” He paused. “Listen, you can do whatever is convenient for you. Will usually comes in about mid-morning and stays an hour or two after I go home. You can do that if it works for you. The most important thing is I need you to be here in the afternoons.”

“Okay. No problem. Like I said, I don’t really have any construction work lined up so I’ll just work Will’s schedule, if that’s okay, and if something pressing comes up, I’ll let you know. How about that?”

“That’s fine with me. I appreciate you doing this.”

“Sure.” He sat there for a minute looking at Falcon, who was staring out his office window. He couldn’t remember a time when he’d seen his friend this distracted. He waited for a minute for Falcon to say something and when he didn’t, Ash decided to jump on in with both feet. Something had been off with his friend for a while now and it had gotten worse in the last month. “What’s going on with you, Falcon? Are you okay? Is Connor?”

At the mention of Connor’s name, Falcon turned and looked at him.

Ah. Connor. They must have had a fight. Or two. Connor was Falcon’s boyfriend? Lover? Partner? Whatever. They’d been together a little over a year and according to Falcon’s grandmother, Connor was his fated mate. Whatever the hell that meant. Not being a full-blooded bear shifter himself, since his mother was human, Ash didn’t know all the teachings and beliefs of the Bear Clan. His father had begun telling him some of the legends and traditions when Ash was a teenager, but that had ended when a fatal car crash had taken his father’s life.

As far as Ash could tell, it just meant that they were something like soulmates, but with a stronger connection somehow. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense to him, but that was okay because he didn’t believe any of that soulmate crap anyway. Suddenly, Alex’s face popped into his mind. No. Hell, no. Get him out of your head. Talk to Falcon. Ash looked at his friend.

“So, Falcon, is there anything you want to talk about? You know I’m a good listener.” It was true. They’d always been able to talk to each other about anything. Well, almost anything. He’d never been completely honest with Falcon about his reason for coming back to Falcon’s Ridge from Atlanta. Not the real reason, anyway. He could tell that Falcon knew that the truth was not some bullshit about how he’d discovered that living in a big city wasn’t for him. He’d never mentioned Alex in any way other than the architect whose firm he worked for. Damn. Why did he have Alex on the brain this morning? He continued to stare at Falcon, waiting to see if he’d answer, and prayed that none of this showed on his face.


****


Falcon sat there, looking at his friend’s concerned expression, trying to decide if he wanted to discuss this with Ash. And if he did, where the hell to start? Finally, he came to a decision. He needed to talk about it (whatever it was) and see if he could make any sense of what was going on. Maybe saying it out loud to someone would make him see that he was being ridiculous, and he didn’t trust anyone more than Ash. They’d shared a lot of secrets through the years.

Falcon took a deep breath. “Yeah, Ash, I think I do need to talk about it, if you’ve got time.”

“I’ve got nothing but time, so shoot.”

“It’s Connor.”

“I kinda had that figured out. What about him?”

“There’s something wrong with him.”

“You mean he’s sick?”

“No, not sick exactly.” He paused. “Although, for the last few days, he hasn’t looked well. When I asked him about it, he said he was fine, but I don’t know. Anyway, he wouldn’t discuss it any farther, just said he had to work on his book and walked out of the room. Actually, it was more like he stomped out, like he was totally annoyed with me for asking.”

“Well, since he’s working on a new book, maybe the writing isn’t going well and he’s in a bad mood. You’ve said before that he can get pretty crabby when he’s writing.”

Falcon grinned. “Yeah, he can be a real asshole, but this is different. He’s never actually looked sick before. Oh, he’s given me looks that could kill if I interrupted him, and he’s been a total smart-ass, but he’s never looked pale and weak. And he was always ready for sex.”

“Okay. I take it that that’s not the case right now.”

“Oh, we still have sex, but it’s like he has no enthusiasm for it, like he’s just enduring it, and trust me, that’s not Connor. The thing is, something has been going on with him for a while now. It’s like his whole attitude toward me and our relationship has changed. Sometimes he’s edgy, other times he seems sad, but the bottom line is that he never appears to be happy anymore. I’m beginning to wonder if he still loves me—if he ever did, that is. Maybe it was just lust and he’s tired of me now. Maybe he’s ready to move on and doesn’t know how to tell me.”

Ash snorted. “Come on, Falcon. You know better than that. Anybody can see that he’s crazy about you.”

“Well, that’s good because I sure as hell can’t.”

“How long has this been going on? I mean, can you pinpoint approximately when it started?”

“That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out and it seems to be around the time of Gabe’s wedding. I remember kidding him about being so grouchy during that time, but I thought it was because he was so busy helping Blake with all the plans. Now, it seems like he never changed back to the old Connor.”

Ash sat quietly for a moment before saying anything. “Listen, I may be way off base here, but let me just throw this out there and see what you think.”

Falcon smiled sadly. “Go ahead. I’m willing to entertain any ideas or solutions, because I’m sick of this.”

“Okay. Here’s what I’m wondering. What if he’s upset because Gabe and Blake got married, but y’all aren’t?” Ash gave Falcon a wink. “I mean, maybe it’s like the song says: if you like it, you need to put a ring on it.

Falcon chuckled. “I didn’t know you were a Beyoncé fan.”

Ash laughed. “Bro, there are many things you don’t know about me, but we’re off the subject here. Have you thought about the marriage thing?”

“Yeah, I have, actually, and as a matter of fact, I’d planned on asking him to marry me at Christmas. I’ve already bought a ring. Now, I’m not even sure if he’d say yes.”

“Oh, my God, Falcon, surely things haven’t gotten that bad.” He put his arms on Falcon’s desk and leaned forward. “Look, you just need to sit him down and make him tell you what’s going on with him.”

Falcon rolled his eyes. “And in what universe do you see me making Connor do anything he doesn’t want to do?”

“I don’t know. That’s not my problem. I’m only here to listen and give sound advice.”

“Yeah, thanks for all your help.”

“Anytime, my friend. Anytime. What are friends for?”

Falcon gave his friend the one finger salute and laughed. Then, he gave Ash a serious look. “I know you’re right, and I need to do this sooner rather than later. So why don’t you go on home for a while and relieve me a little early this afternoon? I need to get to the bottom of this and I already told him that we’d go look for a Christmas tree when I got home today.”

“That’s cool. I’ll see you in a while.”

When Ash left, Falcon sat there thinking about how he was going to approach this with Connor. The mood his mate had been in lately was certainly not conducive to serious talks without total war breaking out. Not to mention the fact that he’d already pissed Connor off this morning. He dreaded it, but Ash was right—he had to know what the problem was before he could fix it. If it was about getting married, then he’d just go ahead and give him the damn ring. He’d wanted it to be a surprise on Christmas morning, but what the hell.



Chapter Two



Connor had been trying to write ever since Falcon left for work this morning, but had only been able to get about five hundred words done. He’d finally given up and decided to lie down for a while. Falcon had pissed him off so badly this morning, he should have known he wouldn’t be able to get his thoughts together enough to be able to write anything that made a bit of sense. Now, to intensify the problem, he had a raging headache and felt nauseated.

It’d been a long time since he’d had a migraine, but this sure felt like one. He was surprised, because the new medicine the doctor had prescribed had been working so well, and he’d been taking it every day. On the other hand, maybe it wasn’t a migraine because he’d been feeling like this for about a week. Even the worst ones had never lasted that long.

He must have dozed off because when his phone rang, the sound reverberated in his head and scared the hell out of him. He considered not answering, but what if it was Falcon? What if he was hurt? True, he was pissed at him most of the time these days, but he still loved him so much it hurt. He grabbed the phone off the bedside table and said hello without looking at the caller ID.

“Connor, are you busy?”

It was his best friend, Blake, who was now kind of his brother-in-law since he’d married Falcon’s twin brother. Wait. No. Falcon and I aren’t married. He sighed. “No, I had a headache, so I was lying down.”


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