“An offer, I make. One that you cannot refuse, little Misha.”
Clamping her lips together tight, Misha did her best to give a straight face to the utterly crazy yet loveable woman standing in front of her, instead of laughing straight out. “Auntie Arina, have you been watching mobster movies again?”
The Russian tiger shifter who looked, dressed, and often acted like a wild twenty-year-old, but was closer to forty, gave her a hand wave and a pft as an answer. “You know I have to learn this American lingo if, fitting in, I’m going to do.”
This time, Misha didn’t bother holding the laughter in. “Yes, but you sound like Yoda when you do it.”
Auntie Arina gave her a glare of annoyance, and Misha decided to return to unpacking her suitcase that was lying on the hotel room bed. That didn’t stop Auntie Arina from continuing to give her opinion.
“I just do not understand, my little медве́дь, why you left Russia, our beloved homeland, and the pride, to come on some goose of the wild chase?”
A long suffering sigh escaped Misha as she pulled out another shirt and hung it up in the closet. How could she make Auntie Arina understand that she had inadvertently answered her own question with her question?
Hearing Arina call her медве́дь, pronounced “meed-VYEHT”, was something the entire Vasiliev Pride had called her as an affectionate nickname since they welcomed Misha into the pride. The word held the same meaning as the name they had christened her with. She had been too young and traumatized to remember the name her biological parents had given her. Bear.
Misha was the sole bear shifter in a pride of Russian Siberian tiger shifters.
They had not treated her badly. In fact, they had saved her life by rescuing Misha from a cruel human circus that had presumably killed her parents while they were in their bear form, and then captured her in the same vulnerable state.
Her past wasn’t all bad, though. The Vasiliev Pride had loved, cared, and protected her when they could have just shoved her off on the first bear shifters they came across. None of the men or women had tried to take over the role as new parents, and she had grown up with an army of adopted meddling aunts and grumpy uncles. Somewhere over the years, though, they had stopped looking at her as a bear, and more as a family member, which was sometimes a problematic situation.
For example, all young Vasiliev tigresses were encouraged to mate and produce cubs. The pride’s numbers were shrinking, and reproduction was on the top of their priorities. So when they accepted Misha as one of their own, naturally they expected her to do what all the other tigresses did: cat around.
Now that was a problem. Misha had absolutely no desire to sleep around with a bunch of men and get knocked up. She couldn’t explain it to them, but deep down inside, her bear yearned for more—a connection. It was what she lacked with all the men of the pride, which was why she was here, visiting Grayslake, Georgia, searching for a connection.
Perhaps it wasn’t quite the romantic one her extended tiger family wanted her to get, but in her opinion, it was just as important.
While cleaning out Auntie Arina’s attic a few months ago, Misha stumbled across something she never expected to find: a clue to her identity.
There, in boxes of old clothes Auntie Arina probably hadn’t worn in years, buried at the bottom, was a newspaper from twenty-two years ago and several towns over. At first, she had been confused as to why Arina would have kept it at all. Her aunt had always said the only good news was the kind she didn’t have to read or watch, so why did she have the yellowed, brittle newspaper buried underneath a pile of horrible clothing from the eighties? Why would the woman who didn’t pay attention to the world outside the pride have a human newspaper?
Like any young bear, Misha had a horrible sense of curiosity, or maybe that came from being raised with a bunch of cats. Either way, she found herself flipping through the pages. Then, there it was, in aged, bold black ink. The headline:
LOCAL FAMILY GOES MISSING
The article went on to talk about how a young family—husband, wife, and toddler—living on the edge of town had seemingly disappeared into thin air. Their belongings had been left behind, money on the kitchen table, food in the pantry, and clothes in the closet. Not a single item out of place, just abandoned as if the family had gotten up and walked out one day, never to return.
The piece ended with claims of suspicions and worries about the family, but that’s not what kept Misha’s eyes riveted to the page. It was the small black and white, three-by-five picture of the family with kind eyes and smiles. The man had his arm wrapped around both the woman and child, and the woman had the side of her face resting lovingly on top of the little girl’s head.
The little girl with her face.
It seemed too impossible to believe, living all these years in this town of feline shifters with no memories as to who she was, and Auntie Arina had known almost the entire time. Misha knew she should be furious with her adopted aunt for keeping the truth from her, yet she couldn’t bring herself to get angry at a woman who had loved and protected her for as long as she could remember. That didn’t mean she wasn’t frustrated with her adopted aunt.
As soon as she had been old enough to handle confronting the frightening flashbacks she had from the circus, she began asking Arina if she knew what had happened to her parents, if perhaps they were alive. All her aunt would ever say was, “I don’t know where they are.”
Technically, it wasn’t a lie. After confronting Arina with the article, she had plainly told Misha that she hadn’t known where her parents were. However, it all boiled down to one simple truth: Arina firmly believed her parents would have never voluntarily left her.
Since the tigers had found Misha in that horrible circus, and once they had seen the newspaper article, they had assumed the worst. Misha’s parents were dead; probably killed by the very circus that had captured her.
Hearing that had totally broken her heart. What child didn’t wonder about their real parents when they knew they were adopted? Misha had dreamed of finding them alive one day. Then she had realized just how hopeless those dreams had been. Aunt Arina then pointed out one very important fact.
In that article was the name of the missing couple: Ludwig and Hanna Wisniewski. Also listed was their daughter, Anna Wisniewski.
That didn’t mean she was ready to run out and change her name. Not to disrespect her biological parents, but she had been Misha for twenty-two years. She would stay Misha until the day she died. Wouldn’t it be nice to maybe know more about her family, though?
In place of her pain bloomed a completely different feeling. Hope. It took a lot of begging and pleading, but eventually, her adopted aunts and uncles gave in and helped her track down the relatives of the missing Wisniewski couple. Unfortunately, the only one they could find was a possible cousin who had been born in America. And that is how Misha ended up here in Grayslake, looking for her cousin Borys Anderson.
He had been born to an American father and a Polish mother in an arranged mating thirty years ago in Alabama. Sometime after his birth, however, his father had been killed in a fight and his mother had taken him and sought sanctuary with the compassionate leader, the Itan, of the bear clan in Grayslake.
Now it was up to Misha to find Borys. Thankfully, she wasn’t doing it alone since Auntie Arina had insisted on coming with her. Misha would have never asked any of her Vasiliev Pride family members to leave their home for her, but she was utterly grateful that the woman had decided she couldn’t let Misha do this by herself. Arina had told her quite fervently that “Stuck together, family should be.” Misha didn’t giggle at her aunt’s garbled attempt at English, but the sentiment did make her smile wholeheartedly.
Now, very soon, she was going to be in a bear’s den, surrounded by other bear shifters for the first time in her life. Misha might not be a scaredy-cat due to her genetics, but she was a scaredy-bear. All she could hope was that the current Itan of Grayslake was just as compassionate as the former one who had taken in Borys’s mother when she had asked for asylum.
Copyright © 2016 Jessie Lane & Amazon Kindle Worlds.
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