The Shifter’s Hostage, страница 1часть #5 серии Shades of Shifters
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The Shifter's Hostage
A Paranormal BBW Romance
By: T.S. Ryder
Table of Contents
Chapter One – Lydia
Chapter Two – Ian
Chapter Three – Lydia
Chapter Four – Ian
Chapter Five – Lydia
Chapter Six – Ian
Chapter Seven – Lydia
Chapter Eight – Ian
Chapter Nine – Lydia
Chapter Ten – Ian
Chapter Eleven – Lydia
Specially Selected Bonus Content
Night of the New Moon
The Vampire King's Captive
The Shifter's Secret Son
Mated to Two Beasts
The Shifting Boss's Mate
The Bad Bear's Baby
The Werewolf's Secret Baby
Chosen by the Vampire King
The Alpha's Secret Son
The Bear Detective's Mate
About T.S. Ryder
Selected Other Books by T.S. Ryder
Join the Heartbeat Reads Readers Club now if you want to receive the EXCLUSIVE hot short story paranormal romance trilogy “The Beast’s Heart” for FREE and get notifications of new releases and promotions.
Chapter One – Lydia
"Please, just kill me already."
Lydia Crawford lay stretched out on the floor of the restaurant she managed, the cool floor doing nothing to soothe the swollen, uncomfortable ache in her belly. Her waistband cut into her stomach, her skin stretched to the point where she felt like a single poke would make her burst open like an overripe peach. She moaned in agony.
The head chef of the restaurant, Amber, finished wiping down her food prep station and turned towards Lydia with a critical look in her eye. "You know, it's your own fault you're in this state."
Lydia managed half a glare at her. "Is not."
"Hey, nobody forced you to eat all that dessert. In fact, if I recall, I warned you that you shouldn't." Amber shook her head, smoothing her apron over slender hips. "It'll be a miracle if you don't die during the night. That was enough food to feed three tables. You should have just let me throw it in the trash."
"But they were only three days old," Lydia protested. "And you know that Boston cream pie is my favorite. And blueberry cheesecake, and coconut cupcakes… I couldn't let it all go to waste!"
Amber nudged Lydia's side with her toe just enough to make the horizontal manager groan again. "If you keep that up, it will all go to your waist. For all your moaning about not being able to lose weight—"
"Yes, thank you," Lydia interrupted. "If you're not going to sympathize with my terrible plight, the least you could do is get a flour sack and suffocate me with it. Put me out of my miserable, hypocritical existence."
Amber rolled her eyes. "Get up. You're my ride home."
"My keys are in my coat pocket. Just leave me here to die."
"Okay, now you're just getting annoying. Let's go. "
Lydia sighed. She ought to have known she wouldn’t get any sympathy from Amber. It didn't help that they went through this ritual at least once a month. It just hurt to see all those beautiful desserts getting chucked into the garbage because three days was apparently too old. To make matters worse, the restaurant owner, Maria, was against donating leftover food. It was a tragedy. If they were going to the homeless or basically any cause besides rotting in a landfill, Lydia wouldn't have to eat them all.
"Come on," Amber pressed, tapping her foot impatiently. "If we're quick about getting out of here, I'll be able to catch a rerun of I Love Lucy before it's time to go to bed."
"I hate Lucy," Lydia grumbled but nonetheless rolled over. She groaned as her too-full stomach wobbled in protest. Maybe this time she'd learned her lesson and she wouldn't overindulge like this again in the future. "You know, this is all your fault. If you weren't such a good cook, I wouldn't gorge myself on your food all the time."
Amber prodded Lydia in the stomach, making her groan again. "If you weren't a glutton, you wouldn't be in this situation."
Lydia got to her feet, the heaviness of the food resting on her pelvic bones. Ugh. "Keep it up, missy. Just keep laughing at me, and when I open up a restaurant of my own, I'll leave you here with this dump to rot among your three-day-old pies."
"If you even open your own restaurant. You've been saying that for, what, five years now?" Amber patted her back gently as if trying to burp her like a baby. "Always the threat of not hiring me on. But it's not much of a threat if you don't have your own place, is it?"
That was true enough. Lydia stuffed her arms into her jacket, frowning as she considered it. It was a big risk to open up her own place. A risk she wanted to take, but one she was too frightened to make just yet. She always said she needed more experience and money, but she practically ran Maria's restaurant single-handedly and handled most of the business as well as managing the workers. She knew all the ropes. With Amber as a partner, they had more than enough money for the initial investment. All they really needed was a loan to handle the first few months and they could have their own place in no time.
"I don't think it's the right time," Lydia said. "Not with the economy the way it is right now. Even this place has been a bit slower for a couple months now."
Amber shook her head, looking a little exasperated. "Is it ever going to be the right time for you? Lydia, you know I've received other offers. If things don't start happening between us, I'm going to have to accept one of them. We've got dreams, yeah, but I have dreams, too. And they don't involve sitting around here with Maria scolding me for every ounce of flour that goes to waste or getting into a tizzy about the cakes and pies we have to throw out, but then going back and yelling at me for not having three days' worth of desserts premade for customers."
"I know. I know." Lydia sighed.
She needed to just push on through and get things done, but it was difficult for her to make changes in her life. It was easy for her to push back against Maria's unreasonable attitude, but leaps of faith were never her strong suit.
"Okay, I'll make you a deal," she said, looking Amber in the eye. "I am going to get my head on straight and we'll start the process of opening our own place by the end of the month. If I'm not ready by then… then it might be better for you to take up one of those offers. I don't want you waiting around here forever."
The two women shook hands, then laughed at how formal they were being. They headed for the door leading from the kitchen, but before they got there, two men rushed into the room. Both wore black masks covering their faces. Guns glinted in their hands.
Amber clutched Lydia's arm, gasping. Lydia reached for a knife to use as a weapon, then snatched her hand back. They had guns.
"We're unarmed – don't shoot," she said, raising her hands. "My money is in my purse. Just take what you want and leave us alone."
The men didn't speak as they came at the women. Amber screamed. Lydia filled her lungs, ready to do the same. As soon as one of the guns buried itself in her ribs, however, she froze. Air fled her, her heart hammering. She couldn't move as she stared at the eyes, the only visible part of his face. They were cold, calculating. Bile rose in her throat and the old scar on her chest ached with a burning fire.
Still silent, the men shoved at both her and Amber. Lydia stumbled, almost hitti
Lydia yelped a strangled scream as one of the men plunged his hand into her pocket. He yanked out her cellphone while the other man took Amber's. They slipped out of the freezer and slammed the door. Lydia reached for the inside handle but withdrew.
Tears flooded her eyes. She was going to die. They didn't get her twenty years ago and were back to finish the job. They were going to kill her like they killed her parents—
"I don't want to die," Amber whimpered. "Don't let them…"
Lydia shoved aside her racing thoughts. This wasn't connected to her parents' murders all those years ago. She took stock of the room. There was no way to activate the alarm in here, but the temperature controls were inside the room and there was no way to lock the freezer doors.
"If they wanted to hurt us, they would be doing that, not leaving us in here." Their breath clouded the air, but Lydia took a silent moment to be grateful they'd both put on their jackets before the masked men came in. "Come on, they can't lock us in here, but they might be able to jam the door. Turn the thermostat up all the way to make sure we don't freeze, and then help me move this rack in front of the door. If they want to come back for us, we'll put up such a wall that it won't be worth it."
Amber shuddered but moved to do as Lydia said. Lydia herself wrapped her hands in the sleeves of her jacket and moved to the first rack. Just as she grabbed it, the sound of an explosion made the ground rumble. She stumbled backward, tripping over a fallen bucket of ice-cream.
The door opened and Amber screamed, but it wasn't the black-masked men who stepped into the freezer. Lydia's jaw dropped open when she saw the man standing there. Taller than her by at least a foot with sandy-brown hair, stunning gray eyes, and a body that you'd have to live in the gym to get.
Ian Orkney. The Asshole, as he was known in the restaurant.
"Just my luck," he grumbled. "You couldn't have left before they attacked, could you?"
Lydia jumped to her feet, mouth agape, and pointed at him. His expensive suit was nearly all burned off, revealing a hairless chest and well-defined abs. "What happened?"
Ian strode in past her and grabbed Amber. She squealed as he slung her over his shoulder. Lydia's eyes widened as he came at her next, but didn't move. There was no way he'd be able to carry both of them.
But he could. Lydia gasped when Ian grabbed her thighs and hoisted her over his shoulder. She cried out in protest, wiggling around, but Ian's hand clamped firmly over her butt and she couldn’t get free. She glanced at Amber to see her face white with a tinge of green to it.
"Put us down," Lydia demanded. "Right now!"
Ian ignored her as he carried them from the freezer. The kitchen was utterly blackened, everything charred and burnt. The smell of smoke choked Lydia. She was too stunned to say anything else as Ian carried her and Amber out of the restaurant. He all but tossed them into the backseat of a sporty little two-door convertible with the top rolled down. Lydia straightened herself shaking her head to get her senses back.
"Okay, what the heck? What's going on here? Did you have our restaurant blown up? What are you doing here?"
Ian slid into the driver's seat. "I'm the one who will be asking questions, Miss Crawfoot. To start with, why are demons after you?"
Chapter Two – Ian
Ian was afraid that the redhead was going to throw up all over his car. Her face was green, but luckily she managed to keep it all in. Crawfoot – her first name escaped him at the moment – had scrambled into the front seat, presumably to escape the possibility of being vomited on. However, she hadn't spoken since her initial exclamation of 'Demons!' when her face turned to a shade of white previously seen only on corpses as she slumped in the seat. Both women had blank-eyed looks on their faces that he was well familiar with. Shock.
When he pulled into the massive garage attached to his mansion, things changed.
"Demons?" Crawfoot shrieked, bolting upright. "What do you mean… demons?"
Ian sighed. He had begun to hope that this could be avoided and she'd just tell him the truth. Apparently, she would need some gentle prodding. Or not so gentle prodding. "Look, demons don't just come after people for no reason, so can you spare me the innocent act? The only way we can resolve this is if you're honest with me."
"Okay. Okay. I can do that. Now, what are you talking about, demons?"
"I mean the fallen angels, the children of Satan, creatures of evil, hell-fiends. Whatever you want to call them." Ian got out of the car and picked out the redhead, setting her on her feet, before moving for Crawfoot. The petite, chubby woman jumped out of the car, slamming the door behind her. Ian flinched. "Hey! Watch that! You'll scratch the paint."
"What do you mean that demons were after us?" Crawfoot demanded, putting her hands on her hips. "And what did they do to the restaurant? Maria's going to kill us; the kitchen is a total write-off. Did they set off a bomb?"
Right. He had almost forgotten the damage he had done when he half-shifted and burned the demons to a crisp. Ian pulled his cellphone from his pocket and phoned his clean-up guy. He gave him the address of the restaurant and turned back to the women. He was going to get answers – but not from the redhead, as she chose that moment to faint. He caught her instinctively, grunting with annoyance. Really, what was next? Swooning in a tower like a fairy-tale princess? She was feather-light in his arms as he picked her up, but her weight was the least of his worries.
"Put her down!" Crawfoot shouted. "Right now!"
Ian rolled his eyes and headed inside.
"I'm calling the cops!"
"Please do. Then you can explain why there is a crater in your kitchen."
"I'll say we were attacked and then you showed up. You're the one who will have to explain." Crawfoot patted her pockets. Her shoulders slumped. "They took my phone."
He snorted, walking from the garage. Crawfoot followed, a scowl on her face. Ian took the collapsed woman to one of the guest rooms and put her on the bed. Crawfoot immediately pushed between them as though he had evil intentions. He grabbed her wrist and dragged her from the room. She didn't resist as much as he expected. Maybe this wouldn't be as difficult as he feared.
Once outside, Ian straightened his shoulders and puffed out his chest, narrowing his eyes. In his experience, it helped intimidate people. This little human, however, straightened up right back at him and glared. Odd. From his experiences with her, she seemed to be the kind with crippling self-doubt that would make her an ideal doormat.
"Look here, Mr. Asshole. You can't just stroll into a burnt-up kitchen, kidnap me and Amber, bring us to your fancy mansion, and then just toss her into bed without giving us any answers. So, you are going to tell me what is going on, who those men were, and what they wanted. Understood?" She poked him in the chest.
Did she really not know? Ian glared down at her for a moment, studying the small details in her face. Lips, eyes, color. He could see nothing that indicated deception. Great… So she had no clue that she had been targeted by demons.
"Mr. Asshole?" he repeated.
"Please. That can't surprise you. Last week, you sent your meal back four times because the sauce wasn't drizzled right." The little human rolled her eyes. "And you've been coming to the restaurant for months, but you still think my name's Crawfoot instead of Crawford!"
That didn't sound right. Ian's frown increased. He hadn't wanted to go to her little restaurant. The food was good, better than a lot of the fancier places he'd been in, but it was still an underwhelming environment. It needed more glitz and glam for his taste.
But he'd been having visions of this night when Crawfoot –Crawford – and the other woman were attacked by demons. It had been somewhat different in his visions: she was alone and the demons slit her throat. So he had
Now, the question was: why did they come after this ordinary human?
Ian cursed. It would take time to get answers and, in the meantime, it wasn't safe for the women to be out there. "The other one is Amber?"
Her eyes narrowed. "You think they were after her?"
"No. They were definitely after you. What's your name? First name, I mean."
"Lydia." She drew the name out suspiciously. "Why the sudden interest in our names?"
"You're going to be living here and we might as well be on a first-name basis."
Lydia's jaw dropped. Her face paled, and she looked almost as frightened as she had when he first opened the freezer door. Speaking of which, he needed to put on some new clothing. The burst of flame and half-transformation had wrecked the suit. Shame. It was his best casual wear. Maybe it was time to invest in a pair of jeans.
Being around humans wasn't something he particularly enjoyed on the best of days. Now having two of them living with him, able to discover his secret, and putting his life at risk…
If I didn't have a sacred obligation to defend the world, I'd let the demons have them, he thought. In his opinion, humans weren't much better than the hell-fiends.
He started to walk away, but Lydia rounded him and shoved her hand against his chest, stopping him. "Wait. We'll be living here? Please, do explain why we would have to do that."
Ian brushed her hand off him. "You don't want the demons to be successful the next time they come after you, do you?"
The blood drained from her face.
"I thought not. They're too afraid to attack me head-on, so as long as you're under my roof, you'll be safe. It will give me time to figure out what's so special about you, at least. You can pick any room you want to stay in. Just stay off the third floor. It's my private space."