I Married a Bear

By: A.T. Mitchell

I: Bear of a Wedding (Laura)

“I can't marry him, Daddy! I've never seen him, never spoken to him, and he's an honest to Gods grizzly! Yuck!” I sucked in badly needed air.

My whole body trembled as I stared at my reflection. The tight, cream colored dress constricted my whole body, making this entire nasty affair that much worse.

The gods are cruel today. I'm really supposed to celebrate my twenty-first birthday with an arranged marriage to a man who's not part of my clan?

Heck, he's not even a tiger!

“Now, Laura, don't make me explain this again.” He waited until I spun around to face him. “This wedding isn't about you. It's about our clan. Your marriage gives us a peace that's been bitter at best for generations. Tiger Bay can't afford a war with Denali. Not an open one where we all line up and do battle, anyway.”

I shook my head and stomped my foot. The tears were coming, but I resisted. Holding them in made the wild tremors sweeping through me even more intense.

Great. If I didn't breakdown in an embarrassing whimper, I might have a heart attack instead.

My tantrums were nothing new to my father. He crossed the room and gently laid his hand on my shoulder. I just wanted to slap it away.

“I've already assured you the marriage is for appearances only. He won't lay a hand on you. If he does, he'll have a whole pack of angry tigers breaking down his door to get you out of there.” Daddy paused. “Of course, you and I know he'll get tiger guns in his face either way. But we're not quite ready for that. We need to bide our time, let him feel safe with you. You remember all the little details I told you about the operation, right?”

I swallowed. Hard.

Daddy hadn't gotten to be Alpha of Tiger Bay by being some great peacemaker. He was cunning, ruthless, never a man who did anything without a very good reason.

He didn't swallow his pride either. Giving up his only daughter to some old treaty was a big compromise. I think he viewed it as an investment, expecting a return in blood and treasure.

Aside from his closest military advisers, I was the only one in Tiger Bay who knew what he really had planned after the wedding.

“It's just a few months, Laura,” he said softly. “Remember, if everything goes off without a hitch, this wedding will be the last insufferable arrangement between our two peoples. No more bears, plenty of hunting for tigers in their rich lands. Lots of lumber to feed our industry. All you have to do is put up with the brute for a little while. Then I'll find you a good man in a tiger clan who'll be your true mate. I promise.”

“Whatever,” I snorted. “It's easy for you to say. You don't have to live with a big ferocious bear for – how long? – months?”

He nodded. “The price of public service, my dear. We've lived the good life since you were born. Your mother raised you to be strong and conscientious, Laura. Gods rest her memory. If you can put your fears aside and go through with this today, then you'll honor her the best way I know how.”

He reached into his pocket. I reluctantly took the soft handkerchief he shoved toward me, blotting at my watery eyes.

Daddy smiled. His face was warm, excited. This was just another part of a long, high risk game to him, and I was one more chess piece.

Even so, I saw a father's concern in his eyes, too authentic to mistake for anything else.

He needed me to do this. Our family had profited from leading the clan and swore to protect it, and an Alpha's daughter was expected to share the same deep relationship.

The only thing worse than my impending marriage to a savage bear was letting him down. Or worse, letting down mother, wherever she'd gone with the gods.

“Okay, fine. I'll do it.”

“That's my girl!” Daddy embraced me in a big hug. “I'm proud of you. Learning to put your people first is a serious sign of growing up. Besides, you look so beautiful in your granny's dress...pretend this is just a rehearsal for the real thing. Someday, you'll marry a tiger who'll sweep you off your feet.”

I smiled at the thought. I needed something to smile about with the lace cuffs burning my wrists and neck.

Granny had been a full figured female too, but I was even bigger. Of course, most tigers were today thanks to better nutrition than what they had in the old days. Human technology and trade made our hunts a whole lot more reliable.

I sighed in Daddy's arms, grateful I wasn't really marrying my fated mate today. It wasn't the worst thing in the world knowing this was a purely political marriage, even if it felt like it in my panicky moments.

It would've been far worse to marry a handsome tiger and see the disappointment in his eyes when I came to the altar. None of the males in Tiger Bay had ever looked at me with real desire, and not just because Daddy would've torn their heads off if they did.

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