🔥📚Amy Star’s House Of Bears [FREE] Sneak Peak
A special treat for Simply Shifters subscribers who have not yet checked out Amy Star and Samantha Snow’s bestselling series, “House Of Bears”
The opening chapter is available to read for free for a limited time below, enjoy!
Available on Kindle Unlimited. To continue reading the book in full then click here!
From struggling to even find a match on Tinder to suddenly being desired by four muscle-bound werebears. Life just got very interesting for Holly Smart…
So it all began when I inherited a house in Oregon from a grandmother I barely knew. This was strange enough on its own.
But little did I know the house came bundled with a bunch of hunky men who not only refused to leave but insisted I live with them.
Oh, and they were all shapeshifting WereBears!
They said, it was my “destiny” to bear a child with one of them and bring everlasting peace to all of the bear clans in the world.
Sounds crazy right?
Yet here I am agreeing to it as there is something about these men that is just drawing me in.
Anyway, strap yourself in as this is where one hell of a freakin’ story begins…
CHAPTER ONE – Holly
Holly Robin Smart did not like rain.
In fact, she hated it. Why else would she have spent the last two years hiding out in Southern California where seasons didn’t exist? Most of her family was still in Louisiana. It rained all the time there, though most people wouldn’t think so. It was the worst kind of rain. It came in quick, violent bursts immediately followed by blinding sunshine. It was like living in a sauna.
Holly took a gap year when she had graduated high school two years ago. The very first thing she did was pack everything into her car and drive to L.A. The moment she had arrived, she fell in love with the city.
Her gap year turned into a second gap year. She told her parents she was testing out different fields so she could settle on one she really loved before shelling out tens of thousands of dollars for tuition. The truth was, Holly had no idea what she wanted to do with her life. She had a job she enjoyed working as a secretary for a B-list celebrity agent.
Her parents didn’t think her job would put her on a reliable career path. They’d pestered her and pestered her and pestered her until she finally agreed to register for a few classes. Holly had chosen an affordable college that offered everything online, allowing her to prioritize her job.
She’d chosen anthropology for her major because it had the smallest of requirements, but to her surprise, she was actually really enjoying it. Learning about different cultures was fascinating but not fascinating enough to make her prioritize her studies over her job. She was finally starting to earn some respect from her boss.
This week, her boss was having her organize a huge networking event to pick up new clients. Holly was so excited and grateful for the opportunity. It could potentially open so many doors for her.
Then, she’d gotten the letter.
She could feel it burning a hole in her handbag in the passenger seat of her car. It was that damn letter’s fault she was driving in the rain right now. She hadn’t stopped since she had left her motel four hours ago. Gas was running low. She’d have to find a station soon.
Holly couldn’t remember the last building she saw. She’d been on this same, stupid, two-lane road for most of her drive. Nothing but thick, green-gray trees on either side of her, as far as she could tell.
She cursed the letter again. She couldn’t curse the person who wrote it. It wasn’t polite to curse the dead.
The letter was dated the day before her grandmother Pearl died. The thought made a chill run up and down her spine. As the road in front of her grew hazier with rain and fog, she pictured the spidery handwriting of the letter.
My darling granddaughter,
I bet you don’t remember me. I should’ve made more of an effort to be in your life. I apologize for not doing better. Someday soon, you’ll understand why it had to be that way—
Two blinding headlights appeared out of nowhere. Holly couldn’t see the yellow lane divider or either side of the road anymore. The beams leaked into the fog, making everything blurry and otherworldly.
Panicked, Holly clenched the wheel. The oncoming driver looked way too close to the middle of the road. She swerved and immediately skidded on the slick road. She tried to jerk the wheel in the opposite direction, but she’d lost traction completely. With nothing else to do, she slammed on the brakes. Her scream drowned out the sound of the screeching brakes.
The car stopped suddenly. Holly realized that she’d skidded into a tree. She dented her front bumper. White steam poured out from under the hood.
“Fuck!” She slammed her hands on the steering wheel. Her horn made half-hearted beeps with every impact. “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!”
Movement in the rearview mirror caught her eye. Someone was walking toward her, though the rain and fog were so thick she couldn’t make out much. The figure was tall and broad, so it was probably a guy. Other than that, she had no clue.
She reached into her glove box and grabbed her pepper spray. After every late-night walk, every dark alley shortcut, and every skeevy bar she’d been to in the last two years, she never used it. She clutched it close and made sure her car doors were locked.
He approached the driver’s side door. He was so tall she couldn’t see anything other than his dark jeans, gray T-shirt, and red flannel.
“Of course, he’s wearing a fucking flannel,” she muttered. She knew it was the style in Oregon, but she thought she’d get more than fifty miles into the state before the stereotypes started ringing true.
He knocked on the window, making her jump.
“If I just ignore him, he’ll go away,” she whispered, nodding to herself. Everything was going to be fine. She wasn’t sure if her car still ran or not, but she’d cross that bridge as soon as the stranger at her window went away.
“Hey!” He knocked again. “Are you okay in there?” He kept knocking and knocking.
With a shaky sigh, Holly rolled her window down a few inches. “I’m fine, thanks. You can move along,” she said without looking at him.
“I don’t think you’re fine.” His voice was smooth, velvety, and sexy as hell. Before she could stop herself, Holly looked up at him.
At first, all she saw was his eyes. Intense, gray-green like the foggy forest around her, and breathtaking. It took her a moment before she was able to take in his other features. His strong, square jaw was covered in stubble. Normally, she hated that, but on him, it worked. His skin was surprisingly tan for a place that’s cloudy all the time.
He must spend a lot of time outdoors.
His dark, wavy hair was shaggy and glistened with droplets of mist.
“Your car is in bad shape,” he said.
Holly flinched. She was staring. “I’m sure it’ll be fine,” she stammered.
Those gray-green eyes looked so serious. “It won’t,” he said. “My cousin is the mechanic of the family, but I know a thing or two. That thing isn’t going anywhere.”
“Fine,” she said. “Where is the nearest town?” She immediately regretted those words. Now he knew she wasn’t familiar with the area. She was definitely going to be taken to a cabin in the woods…and not in a fun way.
“About twenty miles in the direction you were going,” he replied with a sympathetic smile.
“Fuck,” she muttered.
“I can give you a lift,” the stranger said. “I don’t mind.”
“But you were going the other way,” Holly pointed out. “Why were you driving in the center of the road in the first place? That’s why I crashed, you asshole.”
Maybe insulting the stranger wasn’t the best idea, but Holly always had a little trouble holding her tongue. The one time she had gone to visit Grandmother, Pearl had chastised her for it.
Damn it, Pearl. This is all your fault. That doesn’t count as cursing the dead. I’m simply stating facts.
“I wasn’t driving in the center of the road,” he said. “I’ve lived here all my life. I know how to drive on these roads blindfolded. I’m sorry you crashed, but you’re clearly not used to driving in these conditions.”
“Your headlights were blinding!” Holly argued.
“Look.” The stranger ran a hand through his hair, knocking some of the droplets loose. “If you want me to call a tow truck, I can. I know the guy who owns the towing service. He’ll give you a good rate. Sound fair?”
“Fine,” she muttered.
He pulled out his phone and dialed a number. “Hey, Mac. It’s Johnny. I need a favor.”
Holly heard a man’s voice through the speaker but couldn’t make out the words.
“What’s your name?” the stranger, Johnny, asked her.
“Holly,” she said.
Johnny gave her a strange look.
“Mac, I’m going to have to call you back,” Johnny said quickly before disconnecting the call. “Are you related to Pearl?”
“She was my grandmother,” she replied. “I’m here for the service and to see to her affairs. Did you know her?”
“Everyone in Silver Spruce knew Pearl.” His smile was filled with kindness as he talked about Pearl. “She was a real pillar of the community. We’re all going to miss her.”
“So am I,” Holly said. She left out the part where she never knew Pearl that well.
“How about this,” Johnny said. “I’ll give you a ride into town. It’s the least I can do for Pearl’s granddaughter.”
Something about him drew her in. She didn’t understand it, and she couldn’t resist it. Surely, someone who knew Pearl couldn’t be that dangerous, right? It’s not like she had much choice, anyway.
“Sure.” She nodded. “What about my car?”
“Mac can still get it for you if you want,” he offered. “I probably should’ve thought of that before hanging up. Your name caught me off guard, that’s all. I wasn’t expecting to run into Pearl’s granddaughter today.”
“You were expecting me on another day?” she asked with a wry smile.
“The whole town figured Pearl’s family would be showing up sooner or later.” He shrugged. “Come on, let’s get you to town. I’m Johnny, if you didn’t catch it. Johnny Walker.”
“Pleasure.” Holly grabbed her purse and her overnight bag and bolted out of the car. His truck, a beat-up old thing that might’ve once been yellow, was parked across the road. Together, they dashed through the rain. Holly was soaked by the time she reached the passenger side. She yanked on the handle. It was locked.
She had to wait for Johnny to reach across the passenger seat and unlock it manually.
“Sorry about that.” He grinned from behind the wheel. “I like old stuff.”
As she climbed into the truck, he eyed her purse and her small bag.
“Is that all you have?”
“I’m not staying long,” she replied.
“You might be staying longer than you realize.” His words put a chill in her blood.
She must’ve been making a face because he immediately started laughing.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize how creepy that sounded until I said it. What I mean is, it might take a few days to get your car back in shape.”
“Oh,” Holly said, relieved. “Yeah, you have a point.”
Johnny started up his truck, which sounded like a small jet rather than a car. He pulled a quick U-turn in the middle of the road. Impressive, with the roads so slick.
Holly watched the trees grow taller and thicker as they drove toward Silver Spruce. As they drove in silence, she envisioned the letter in her purse.
My darling granddaughter,
I bet you don’t remember me. I should’ve made more of an effort to be in your life. I apologize for not doing better. Someday soon, you’ll understand why it had to be that way. This will come as a surprise to you, but I’m giving you my home. You only saw it once, when you were six, but I think you liked it.
You can sell it if you want, but I don’t think you will. I know that might sound odd, but I have a way of knowing these things. It’s one of the perks of living past your ninetieth birthday.
The town of Silver Spruce is unlike any other place in the world. I’m sure it’ll draw you in just as it did me.
The house, affectionally called Moonrise Manor by the locals, is special just like you. It’s hard to explain in writing, but you’ll know what I mean as soon as you get there.
I’d tell you more, but I’m afraid you’ll think I’ve gone senile and dismiss the contents of this letter. You’ll understand everything soon enough. Be brave. Be smart. Be strong. I’m not likely to see you again.
All my love,
CHAPTER TWO – Holly
The town of Silver Spruce literally had a Main Street. Holly didn’t think towns still had roads called Main Street anymore. That only existed in TV shows set in quintessential small towns that were really sets. Silver Spruce made all of those sets look like crap.
“Is the general store called General Store?” Holly asked.
“No,” Johnny scoffed. “It’s called Griz’s General Store.”
“Of course, it is.” Holly laughed.
“That diner over there.” Johnny pointed across the cramped cab. “Best meatloaf you’ll ever have in your life.”
“Is that so?” she asked, not looking. As cute as the town was, Holly wasn’t interested in general stores and meatloaf. All she wanted was to get to her grandmother’s house and figure out what the deal was with her cryptic letter.
“I swear on my mother.” Johnny laughed. “Best French fries, too. You know the good ones where they’re crispy and golden on the outside and soft on the inside but not so soft they’re mushy? That’s what they serve at Robeline’s Diner.”
Holly knew exactly what kind of French fries Johnny was talking about. Picturing them made her mouth water. She’d skipped breakfast that morning. The only thing she’d put in her stomach since she’d woken up was some really bad iced coffee. She didn’t even finish it.
“Hungry, huh?” Johnny gave her a knowing smile. “Describing the French fries always makes people hungry. How about a pit stop?”
As tempting as it sounded, Holly just wanted to get to her grandmother’s house, get the affairs in order, and get back to her life.
“Maybe some other time.” She didn’t want to be outright rude to Johnny, especially after he went out of his way to help her.
“Look,” he sighed, “Pearl was a pillar of the community. A lot of people were affected by her death. I bet seeing you would cheer people right up.”
“Seriously?” Holly blinked in surprise. She had no idea her grandmother was such an important town figure. “I’m not sure what I could do to make people feel better. I barely knew Grandmother Pearl.” A twinge of guilt spread through Holly’s chest. She should’ve reached out to Grandmother Pearl more.
“I know it sounds weird,” Johnny nodded, “but trust me.”
“You do realize we’re strangers, right?”
“Pearl raised me more than my own parents did.”
Holly tried not to let her shock show on her face. She had no idea! Yeah, communication between Grandmother Pearl and the rest of the family was sparse, but you’d think something like that would’ve come up at least once.
“I had no idea,” Holly murmured. “I can’t believe I had no idea.” Now, she felt like a real asshole.
“Yeah, let’s go by the diner.”
“Fantastic!” Johnny shot her a smile that made her heart do a weird flutter.
This day had gone to hell, but there was no denying he was a handsome man. That was just an objective fact.
“Our timing couldn’t be better. In a town as small as this, everyone is more or less on the same schedule. Just about every shop owner closes up and heads to the diner around this time.”
“Great,” Holly said through gritted teeth. Being paraded in front of the whole town as Pearl Smart’s granddaughter was the last thing she wanted to do.
Do it for the French fries, she told herself.
Johnny pulled into a parking spot right in front of the diner. He exited the truck, jogged around to the passenger side, and opened Holly’s door before she could properly collect herself.
“Careful.” He grinned. “Everything’s pretty slippery after the rain.”
Holly fought the urge to roll her eyes. Yes, she’d been living in Southern California for the last two years, but she could still manage to get out of a truck. What did he take her for? Did he think she was completely helpless?
The moment she put her boot on the running board, she slipped. She yelped and prepared to hit the slick asphalt hard, but the impact never came. Johnny moved like lightning, sliding his arms beneath her and breaking her fall. With one leg still in the truck and one leg dangling uselessly, Holly looked up at him.
“Don’t you say a word,” she muttered.
“I wasn’t going to,” he smiled easily, “but I expected you to say thank you.”
“Thank you,” she said. “Can you set me down now?”
“I’ve saved you twice now, you realize.” Johnny set Holly upright. “Yet, neither of your thanks have sounded genuine.”
“It’s been a day.” She sighed. “My manners will be better after I deal with my grandmother’s estate.” A strange look came into his eyes.
He looked sad, but there was also a note of pity mixed with…something else Holly couldn’t identify. Had she ever seen a man with such expressive eyes before? She went through a mental flipbook of every man she’d spent an extended amount of time with. They all looked vacant compared to Johnny.
Stop it. You’re not here to make friends, she warned herself. Though, when she looked at Johnny, friend was the last thing that came to mind. She made sure to walk in front of him to the diner. If she hadn’t, she wouldn’t have been able to stop herself from staring.
Walking in front of him didn’t stop him from holding open the door for her. When she stepped into Robeline’s Diner, she wasn’t expecting it to be so dark. It wasn’t a particularly bright day out, so it was surprising that the darkness was so jarring.
The walls were of light-absorbing dark wood. The upholstery of the booths and chairs was a deep red, almost black. The windows, of which there were plenty, were all made of thick stained glass showing a variety of scenes, mostly woodland animals. Every lamp in the place emitted a dull, yellow light. It wasn’t an unpleasant interior, just not what Holly was expecting. Whenever she heard the word ‘diner,’ she pictured black-and-white-checkered floors, a milkshake bar, and cherry red booths.
Nearly every booth in the diner was filled with people. Mostly men. Handsome men. What kind of town was this? It was like Holly had stepped into some ultimate lumberjack fantasy. Was lumber even the town’s main export? With a name like Silver Spruce, it didn’t seem unlikely.
Just about everyone nodded to Johnny when they saw him, then they shifted their gaze to Holly. She noted the guarded look in their expressions. This town wasn’t used to outsiders.
“Everyone,” Johnny spoke clearly. “This is Holly Smart, Pearl’s granddaughter.”
Just like that, the entire atmosphere of the room changed. The shift was so dramatic, Holly felt compelled to take a step back.
“Has she been to the house yet?” asked the biggest man Holly had ever seen in her life. It wasn’t just that he was tall, he was broad as well. He was the broad side of the barn.
“Not yet, Griz,” Johnny replied.
“Griz?” Holly blurted. “Like the General Store?”
“Yes and no,” the man Johnny called Griz said. Honestly, Griz was the most fitting name for a man of that stature. “Griz was my father. When he passed, I got the store and kept the name. The nickname was passed on to me. You can call me Garret, if you like. Garret Harris.” He reached over the back of his booth and offered Holly a hand the size of her head. Holly took his hand, fearing for her finger bones, but he shook it with surprising gentleness. His smile was filled with warmth.
“I figured it would be nice for you all to meet her,” Johnny continued. “Since Pearl was so important to us.”
“I’m happy to see that my grandmother had such a strong community surrounding her,” Holly said.
“We’re going to miss Pearl,” another handsome man said. “I’m Keller Graham, by the way.”
“Nice to meet you.” Holly nodded. Johnny, Garret, and Keller. She could remember that.
“We’re going to grab a bite before heading up to the house. Holly hasn’t eaten yet.”
Holly looked up at Johnny. “I never told you that.”
“Your grumbling stomach did.” He winked.
“Ah.” Holly placed a hand on her stomach. “I can’t argue with that.”
“Join us.” Keller gestured to the empty booth seat beside him. “We haven’t ordered yet.”
“Don’t mind if we do.” Johnny ushered Holly into the empty seat beside Garret. There was no way both him and Johnny could fit on one side. Johnny and Keller only had a few inches between them in the booth.
Holly sat ramrod straight, unable to relax. She expected a quick bite, not sitting in a booth with strangers, while more strangers pretended they weren’t looking at her from the corner of their eyes.
“So, did you all know my grandmother as well as Johnny did?” she asked.
“She was like a mother to a lot of us around here,” Garret said.
Holly frowned. “Johnny said something like that earlier,” she said. “Did a lot of parents have to commute to work?” There couldn’t have been many jobs in this town.
“That’s a long, complicated story.” Keller chuckled. “Not for an empty stomach.”
Holly took the hint and didn’t press further.
“What can I get for you, honey?” a kind-looking waitress asked.
“Um.” Holly never saw a menu. “What’s good?”
“Everything,” all of them said at the same time.
Holly pushed her back against the seat, severely weirded out. “Burger and fries please,” she said.
Everyone gave her a nod of approval. What the hell was this place? Was her grandmother in a cult or something? It looked nice at first, but Holly was definitely getting some strange vibes. When the waitress left, Keller looked at Holly.
“So, how are you liking Silver Spruce?”
“So far, all I’ve seen is part of the main street and this place,” she answered truthfully. “It’s a pretty place, that’s for sure.”
“There’s nothing like it.” Garret grinned. “Hopefully, you’ll have a chance to see more of it.”
“I don’t plan on staying long.” Holly offered an apologetic smile. “But the town seems great.”
“Maybe we can tempt you to stay and see for yourself.” Johnny leaned forward with a conspiratorial wink that made Holly want to grin like a damn fool.
“We’ll see,” she replied, not wanting to appear rude. She turned her attention to Garret. “You run the general store. What do you two do?”
“I’m a private contractor,” Keller spoke up. “Not a lot of work in town, but there are plenty of jobs in neighboring towns.”
“That’s nice.” Holly nodded. She knew next to nothing about construction. She looked at Johnny. “And you?”
“He’s our resident grifter,” Garret said with a smirk.
“I prefer the term vagabond, thank you very much.”
“In other words…unemployed?” Holly asked.
“A jack of all trades,” Keller said. “If you need it, Johnny can do it.”
“Except for repair a car,” Johnny jumped in. “Otherwise, I would’ve fixed yours on the roadside for you.”
“What happened to your car?” Garret looked at Holly.
She was taken aback by the genuine concern in his eyes. They’d only known each other a few minutes, yet she felt like he truly did care about the answer to his question.
“I took an unplanned off-roading expedition,” she said. “Johnny happened to be driving by.”
“Are you sure he didn’t cause the crash?” Keller looked at Johnny with an arched brow.
“He says he didn’t.” She laughed. “The jury is still out.”
“Even if I did, which I didn’t,” he said pointedly, “I’ve more than made up for it.”
“How do you figure?” Holly laughed.
“I’ve gotten you food, I can cut a deal to fix your car, and I’ve introduced you to two new friends.” He gives Keller a friendly pat on the shoulder.
Before Holly could say anything, the waitress returned with four huge plates of food, including the best-looking burger she’d ever seen. Her mouth watered at the sight of it. Her stomach made an incredibly unflattering grumble that elicited a chuckle from the men at the table.
“See why it was no mystery for me to figure out she was hungry?” Johnny joked.
“I don’t have to take that from a vagabond,” Holly shot back, unable to stop herself from smiling. Normally, she wasn’t that great with strangers. It took her a while to truly relax around new people. Strangely, she felt right at home with Garret, Keller, and Johnny now that the initial awkwardness had worn off. Granted, there was still plenty of awkwardness, but it wasn’t getting in the way.
They lapsed into silence as they ate. Holly snuck glances at them between bites. Keller and Johnny were night and day. Where Johnny was dark and moody-looking, Keller was fair and had that all-American look about him: sandy blond hair, bright blue eyes, and clean-cut.
Garret’s hair was wavy like Johnny’s, but his was tinged with red, as was his well-groomed beard. It was more than stubble but not so long that he looked like a wild man. Holly didn’t usually like beards, but on Garret, it worked.
Holly didn’t speak again until her plate was clean.
“What did I tell you about the French fries?” Johnny asked. “They’re good, right?”
“They’re the best I’ve ever had. Same with the burger. I’m definitely coming back here before I leave.”
“How about for dinner?” Johnny looked at Garret and Keller.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Holly said quickly. “I have no idea how much work I’m going to have to do with my grandmother’s home.”
“But you’ll have to eat, won’t you?” Keller interjected.
“And we’re more than happy to help with your grandmother’s house,” Garret said.
Both Johnny and Keller’s gazes flicked to Garret. Maybe she was overthinking it, but Holly could’ve sworn it was a warning.
“You guys are super nice, but it’s not necessary,” Holly assured them. When the bill came, she reached for her wallet. All three men told her to stop.
“You’re a guest in this town,” Keller said. “That earns some special perks.”
“And we’d never let a lady pay for her meal after a car accident,” Garret added.
“Has anyone ever told you that you guys are a lot to handle?” she asked, only half-joking.
“All the time.” Johnny grinned.
“He gets it more than either of us.” Keller jerked his chin toward Johnny.
Holly looked at him with narrowed eyes. “I knew you were trouble.”
“I never said I wasn’t.” Johnny grinned, and her stomach did a strange flip.
She’d never met anyone like him, like any of them, before. She sure as hell didn’t think she’d find herself sitting at a table with three unbelievably handsome men. What was in the Silver Spruce water and where could she get some?
“Come on,” Johnny said once the bill was settled. “We should get you to your grandmother’s.”
“You’re right.” Holly nodded. She almost wished she could stay in the booth longer. “It was nice meeting you both.”
“I’m sure we’ll bump into each other again.” Keller smiled.
As she and Johnny walked out of the diner, he looked back at Keller and Garret. They exchanged another strange look that put Holly on edge. There was more going on than what met the eye, but what?