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Bear Cuffs (Broken Hill Bears #3)

By:Ariana Hawkes

Bear Cuffs (Broken Hill Bears #3)
        Author: Ariana Hawkes

       
         
       
        
    1

   
    Rocco Silvester crouched over his Black Kawasaki Ninja as it roared around the series of tight bends that sliced through Broken Hill's mountainous territory. He was shirtless, the huge, bunched muscles of his powerful torso and his tanned, tattooed skin bared to the night. He wasn't wearing a helmet either, relishing the sensation of the cool breeze whipping his face and making his shoulder-length black hair stream behind him. There was no-one to tell him he shouldn't be doing this; the narrow roads were deserted and the night was exceptionally dark, with no street lighting at all, and the moon no more than a sliver in the sky. A human riding this road at night would be tempting death, but Rocco had the benefit of a bear's keen eyesight, and he knew those mountainous roads as well as he knew the backs of his own scarred, large-knuckled hands. From time to time the wheels spun perilously close to the sheer drop on his right-hand side, and he had to lean in hard enough that his knee almost skimmed the tarmac, but his skill and the bike's flawless engineering kept the tires snugly adhered to the road.

    Freedom. These days, the only time he felt like this was when he was riding his bike. Just him and the grunt of the 1,000cc engine, alone in the sleeping world, expect for the occasional startled owl or terrified rabbit caught in the beam of his headlights.

    And then the alert sounded in his brain  –  his internal reminder that he had an obligation to return to. He ignored it for as long as possible, but now his mind was no longer roaming freely, but occupied once more with thoughts of the clan. Letting off a groan of defeat, he brought his bike to a stop with a squeal of rubber, pulled a u-turn, and headed down the mountain at full pelt.

   

    As Rocco approached the cabin belonging to Xander, his elder brother and Alpha of the Broken Hill Bears, he saw that he was sitting outside, waiting for him.

    "Hey, Brains," Rocco called, cutting the engine and swinging one long, muscular leg over the bike.

    "Speaking of brains, I don't want to be scraping yours off of the road when you come off that toy of yours and you're not wearing a helmet," Xander replied tersely. Rocco scrubbed at his hair, reorganizing it into its usual messy style.

    "There was no danger. The road was empty  –  as it always is  –  and I could ride it with my eyes shut."

    He took a seat on the bench next to his brother, ignoring the fact that Xander's eyes were flickering over the three new tattoos adorning his torso. There was a black bear standing on its back legs and roaring, to honor his father who'd recently died. There was a symbol which was only decipherable to him, and which stood for the initials of Maximus Silvester  –  his and Xander's older brother, who'd gone missing a couple of months earlier. And there was the motto 'semper fidelis' which he'd only had inked two weeks previously, as a symbol of his decision to return to the clan. He knew Xander didn't approve of his body modification choices, and he was thankful that he chose not to voice his opinion tonight. 

    "Where's Freya?" he asked of his brother's mate. Xander nodded toward his cabin.

    "Asleep already. As I should be, but I wanted to catch you tonight, as I've got something urgent to discuss with you." Rocco looked at him closely. His eyes were bright, which indicated that he'd come up with a plan he was excited about, but there was tension in his jaw, suggesting that he knew Rocco wasn't going to like it.

    Rocco cracked his knuckles, feigning carelessness, although his throat was tightening at what it might mean. He'd only been back in the clan for two weeks, but he sensed that Xander was waiting to pile responsibilities onto him.

    "You're not the only one who needs their zzz's, bro. What is it?" he said lightly. Xander's eyes assumed their serious expression as he slipped into business mode.

    "We had a visitor from the Black Paws a few days ago. Apparently they've recently been renovating their library, and seems like they've unearthed some ancient decree dating back from the 1700s. It states that if their numbers ever exceed ours, then they're entitled to demand that we hand over our eligible females to them, as mates for their clan members. One for every ten that they're over." Rocco had been slouching, one ankle resting on his opposite knee, but now he jolted upright.

    "What?" he demanded, with a snort of laughter. "Are you kidding me?" Xander let off a long rumble.

    "I wish I was, trust me. And I wish those morons had something better to do with their time than dig up 300-year-old laws, but unfortunately it's a real law, and it still stands. I had Neve look it over, and she says that the Black Paws are entitled to enforce it."

    "They're not going to though, are they?" Xander nodded grimly.

    "Well, it seems like they are. They've already made an official demand, and we have three weeks to comply."

    "This is crazy. I thought there was supposed to be a truce, and everything was cool between us?"

    "Yup. And that lasted a long time. All it's done is shift their priorities from being devious, to being obsessed with laws."

    "That filthy bunch of good-for-nothing half breeds!" Rocco roared, clenching his fists, while his bear let off a roar of its own. "They'll get their hands on our females over my dead body. I'll fight every single greasy, stinking one of them!" He got to his feet and prowled in a tight circle, his bear snarling and growling. And then he shot a look at Xander, who was watching him, a trace of amusement playing on his lips  –  lips that were so like Rocco's own.

    "What's funny? Why aren't you furious as well?" He came to a stop and glared at his brother, his huge biceps bunching as he rested his hands on his hips. A cunning look came into Xander's brown eyes.

    "Well, with Neve's assistance, I've been doing some digging of my own  – "

    "Don't tell me  –  you've found an even older and more obscure law?" Rocco cut in. Disappointment flashed across Xander's features. He hated it when anyone ruined his game.

    "Yes. And it turns out that there's another law that makes this law invalid."

    "Well, what is it?" Rocco demanded, when Xander's dramatic pause had gone on long enough. Xander cleared his throat.

    "The law is invalidated when a member of our ruling family is mated to a member of the ruling family of another clan."


     
       
         
       
        

    "Mate with another clan?" Rocco echoed. Xander shrugged.

    "It's not unheard of. Although it hasn't been very common since we started wrestling, and the animosity between the clans increased."

    "Do you have a clan in mind?"

    "The Pine Bluff Bears," Xander said immediately. "They're a decent crew. We've never had any major issues with them. They're smaller than we are too, so there's no danger of them trying to control us." Rocco nodded thoughtfully.

    "Makes sense, I guess. So, who  – ?" he cut himself off. "Wait." He glared at Xander. "You're talking about me, aren't you? This whole idea is about me getting mated to a Pine Bluff female?" Xander nodded gravely.

    "No! No way!" Rocco bellowed. "This isn't going to happen!" He paced up and down, his claws bursting through the ends of his fingers and his skin prickling as the fur tried to push its way out. "I'm only 23. You didn't mate until you were 27. Maximus isn't mated yet. Why should I mate so young?"

    "Rocco." Xander's voice became softer. "You've been through so much lately  –  losing our father; all the trouble with Maximus and his disappearance, and then the betrayals by certain clan members. And I know that losing that last fight hit you very hard as well. I don't blame you for taking off for a couple of months. I worried about you like hell, but I understood why you did it. You've had to grow up fast and shoulder a lot of responsibility. I understand that you've had all of the stress and none of the fun that comes with being a full-grown bear. Now you're back in Broken Hill, I think it's time for you to settle down, and enjoy what I have with Freya and what Braxton has with Neve."

    "No. I won't do it, Xander. I don't want a mate right now!" Rocco's voice was getting louder and louder, fury masking his pain. He wasn't ready. Why couldn't Xander see that? At the moment, it was all he could do to keep himself together, never mind be responsible for protecting a female as well.

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