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Bearly Sweet
Author: Loni Ree

Chapter 1
“It’s going to take a miracle for us to get this place ready.” Bethany throws her blonde ponytail over her shoulder and grumbles as she attempts to scrape years of grime off the fifties-era laminate countertop.
“I know,” Cora, my youngest sister, agrees. “We must’ve been crazy to take on this project by ourselves.” Three humans moving into the mainly shifter community went over like a lead balloon. So far, we haven’t been able to get anyone to even give us an estimate to repair the falling down building.
“Stop complaining and get your butts into gear. We can totally do this.” I put on my cheerleading hat, attempting to portray false confidence.
Growing up as the oldest of three daughters was both a blessing and a curse. My parents gave me the most freedom but then tempered it with more responsibilities. Plus, I was the one who got blamed for everything. They say trouble flows downhill, but it didn’t work that way in the Sweet home. I was always the first one to be blamed. If all three of us were involved in the incident, my parents’ anger cooled by the time it got to Cora. Her major offenses where just minor inconveniences.
My mother always swore that having three girls within three years was the reason for her prematurely graying hair. My dad swears that Bethany and I used up all the sweet genes and left the sassiness for Cora.
“If we get a miracle.” My youngest sister insists, “I’m starting to think we bit off more than we can chew.”
“We’re going to whip this place into shape and have the best honey bun bakery in the entire country.” I school my features into a cool, confident mask before turning to my sisters. My effort falls flat as the two of them stare back, unimpressed with my confidence. So far, we’re pretty freaking unpopular in town. Most residents ignore our presence while a few actually bare their teeth when we approach.
“Uncle Stewart would roll over in his grave if he knew we spent our inheritance on this place,” Bethany groans. “He’s going to haunt us for sure.”
“Uncle Stewart told us to use the money to earn our independence,” I remind the Debbie downers. Our father’s elderly uncle lived with us for the last ten years of his hundred-year life. The fun, loving, bachelor millionaire was still a hoot in his old age. I’m not sure who caused more trouble in our home, him or us. “He wanted to give us the ability to make our own choices and have an exciting life.”
“I’m not sure buying a broken-down old building in a bear shifter community was what he had in mind.” Bethany holds her scraper up. “He definitely would’ve checked out the building before buying it.”
“We all agreed.” I refuse to let my sisters spin this around so it’s my fault. “Since it’s nearly impossible for humans to buy real estate in Honey Pot Hollow, the realtor told us we’d have to buy anything that came up listed on the human-accessible market.” This building isn’t in the best of shape, but the town council allowed non-shifter owners. “We had to jump on this opportunity.” No telling when another one would come available.
Years ago, our parents took us on a cross-country camping trip. When we stopped in Honey Pot Hollow, something called to all three of us. Bethany, Cora, and I all vowed to move to the predominantly shifter community one day. And here we are. Oof.
“While you two crabapples finish up the first round of cleaning, I’m going to head down to Growler’s Market and grab us something quick for dinner tonight.”
I don’t give my sisters time to argue. I pull off my work gloves and wash the grime off my hands before heading out the door. Hopefully, a pizza and a bottle of wine will improve their moods.
Feeling like a bug under a microscope, I sense every single eye in the grocery store following me as I make my way from aisle to aisle. I take a deep breath and force myself to keep shopping.
I round the corner without looking and ram my cart into another cart. “Oh, excuse me,” I quickly apologize, figuring I’m in so much trouble. The freaking town already hates us.
When the gorgeous woman glances up and smiles brightly, I look behind me to make sure her smile is for me. “That’s no problem, dear. It’s hard to see around the corners.” She steps close and holds out her hand. “I’m Ophelia Bearly, but please call me Momma Bear. Everyone else does.”
I shake her hand and smile back. “Mabel Sweet.”
“Did you buy the old bakery on Main Street?” That’s the most anyone in town has spoken to me since we moved here two weeks ago.
“I did.” I’m shocked a bear shifter is willing to speak to me in public. “My two sisters and I are hoping to open within a few weeks if we can get everything in shape.”
“How are the renovations coming?” She seems interested, but my Spidey sense kicks in, telling me something else is going on here.
“Slowly. We couldn’t find any available contractors, so we’re trying to do the work ourselves.” I can’t believe I’m standing in Growler’s Market’s freezer section discussing my problems with a stranger.
“That’s too bad.” Momma Bear taps her chin a few times. “You know what? My oldest son owns a construction company, Bearly Construction. I think he might have an opening on his schedule.” Her oldest son? This woman is beautiful and young. I can’t believe she’s a day over thirty. There isn’t a strand of gray in her caramel-colored hair or a line marring her peaches and cream complexion. I hope I look this good in five years when I turn thirty.
“Really?” I’m barely able to contain my excitement. Bethany and Cora will be so happy if we can hire some help.
“Hold on one second and let me look at his schedule.” She pulls out her cellphone and begins to type. “I’m his secretary,” Momma Bear explains as she stares at the screen. “He sure does.”
“When can he come by and give me an estimate?” Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I jump in to arrange for her son to give us an estimate. If it’s even slightly reasonable, we’re going to take it.
“Does tomorrow work for you?”
It works for me, but a little voice in the back of my mind tells me something is too good to be true about this. Ignoring the naysayer, I arrange for her son to come by first thing in the morning and finish my shopping before my good luck runs out.