The Bearfield Baby Heist(2)By: Jacqueline Sweet
When you married a bear shifter, there was a certain amount of oddness you accepted into your life. He had brothers who were also bears. He occasionally had to go off on pack business, to negotiate with other clans or supernatural beings. Mina accepted this. It was weird, but he was worth it. They were worth it.
A year and a day after they met, they were married and mated. She got pregnant that very night. The whole thing was very magical. She was more than human afterwards. Some part of Matt’s magic had entered her and stayed with her, slowly transforming her. She wasn’t a shifter—it didn’t work like that—but she was now bear-blooded, a bear-mate. She could run without tiring. Her senses were sharpened. She could lift a fifty-pound bag of flour without a second thought. It was fun, at first.
But then came the complications.
Mina walked home from the bakery. It was dawn in Bearfield. She kept bakers’ hours, despite everyone telling her to take it easy. The rising sun painted the town in deep gold hues. The peak of the mountain loomed behind cotton candy fog, its presence obscured but always felt. The little town lay nestled in a crescent-shaped nook in the mountain. Shadows fell over half of the buildings, but the other half glowed in the dawn sun. Mina sighed with delight. She rarely saw her home like this. She arrived at her bakery before dawn, worked all morning baking and getting ready, then stayed until almost closing every day. They were long hours, but the place was hers. The hours were worth it. She was building something good in Bearfield. Every time she fed a local a muffin or a sweet bun and they smiled that blissful smile at her she could feel roots extending deeper into the earth. As she fed the people, they loved her. They made space for her.
When she’d lived in San Francisco, people had been nice in her neighborhood, but it was nothing like the home she’d found in Bearfield. Here, everyone knew her name. They knew where she lived. They invited her to barbecues and picnics, to their kids’ recitals. She was accepted by these people in a way that had never felt possible in the big city.
She walked past the movie theater, past the newspaper, past the grocery store and the spice shop. All the way across town until she was back at home.
Matt had a beautiful house when they met, and with her help it was now a beautiful home. It was a half-mile into the forest, down a muddy dirt road. Matt had made a walkway for her, though, that ran parallel to the driveway. He’d knocked down trees as a bear, shifted to a man, and carried them to his workshop. He and his brothers, the flighty Michael and ever-grumpy Marcus, had argued for hours about the best way to make the walk. Eventually they cut the trees into planks and had fashioned a little wooden walkway for Mina, with a railing along one side. Her own personal nature walk.
It was a present to celebrate her pregnancy, the first of a thousand little gifts from Matt’s brothers and the people of Bearfield.
Her child—their child—would be the first shifter baby born in a generation. The first since Matt’s brother Michael had been born.
Every time she walked the wooden path back to her house, through the dense forest, Mina could feel the love radiating from the reddish timber. Solar lanterns lighted her way, hanging from tree branches overhead. They were gifts from the raven people who lived deep in the woods. Something about them made Mina feel more like royalty, like the gifts were from a neighboring kingdom sent to pledge their support and not just a baby shower gift.
The wooden beams were mossy and slick with morning condensation. As Mina walked, her little one kicked and stretched harder than ever, driving the air from Mina’s lungs in a groan.
At home, she found Matt still asleep in their big bed. The morning light played across the curves of the muscles in his back and arms like it was fondling him, like it didn’t want to let go. His skin glowed like honey.
She tried to get into bed without waking him, but it was impossible. Her toes were just so cold, and his skin was so warm. She dug her feet under him to warm them and he yelped in surprise.
“Ice cubes!” Matt said. He popped his head up and looked around. His hair was standing up in a sleepy mess, like a porcupine pompadour. Then, blinking himself into consciousness, he smiled at the sight of Mina, melting her heart again. Everyone needed a devastatingly handsome man to smile at them in the morning.