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Cursed (Gem Creek Bears Book 6)

Cursed (Gem Creek Bears Book 6)

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Click To Read The Synopsis

Sometimes finding our inner strength is key.

All Vada Palmer ever wanted was a family and a place to call home. When she finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time, that dream is crushed.

Now she’s on the run from someone who claims she’s his.

It isn’t until Vada finds herself at Gem Creek Campground that she begins to feel at peace. The place calls to her, and so does a particular Orsin brother. While Vada knows she shouldn’t get comfortable, she can’t help it, especially once she learns some living at the campground share her secret—they have a bear inside them too.

Click To Read Chapter One

My heart pounded as I stared at my cell, watching Stone’s number light up the screen. I knew it was him. It had to be. The same number had been calling me since the night Mark died, even though I refused to answer. 

How had Stone gotten my number, though?

I hadn’t given it to him willingly. A bitter taste coated the inside of my mouth as my stomach hardened. I’d never given Stone anything willingly. 


Sparks of anger shot through me. My mind dipped to a few nights ago—the night Mark died.  That must have been when Stone got my number. He had to have copied it from Mark’s cell.

God, Mark.

The anger I felt slipped away as an ache built in the back of my throat. My stomach twisted as clips from the last time I’d seen Mark flashed through my mind. Nausea rolled through my gut, causing bile to rise up the back of my throat. I swallowed hard and wrapped my arms around my knees, drawing them into my chest while I fought against the sensation of breaking apart.

I’d been stupid to think someone like Stone wouldn’t look for me—that he’d forget about me if I left town. I should have known it wouldn’t be easy to get away from him. I should have known how persistent he’d be.

After all, he’d said I was his. 

My blood simmered hot at the reminder. The monster inside me paced, confused by my sudden emotional shifts.

My cell continued to ring.

The desire to toss it into the creek pulsed through me, but I didn’t give in. I knew if I did, no one would be able to get a hold of me. 

Not even Taylor.

The thought of not being able to touch base with her, to know that she was okay, didn’t set well with me. I needed to stay in contact with her. 

She was the only person I regretted leaving behind. 

I’d had no choice, though. Leaving Taylor behind had been for her safety. She shouldn’t be around me. No one should. 

Not with this monster inside me. 

My body prickled with the sensation of feeling rundown, and I wondered if it was as simple as that, or if it was related to the monster inside me. There was no way of knowing. I gripped my knees tighter, waiting for it to pass.

My cell fell silent, and I muttered a few curse words to Stone. I hated this. I hated him and what he’d done to me. 

A cough forced its way past my lips, and the familiar sense of panic rushed through me. I tried to shove it away by telling myself it was just a cold. People caught colds during the summer months all the time.

Still, it didn’t make me feel any better.

The sensation of being off wasn’t something I could shake easily. I’d tried. A slight sense of dizziness flipped through me, causing the grassy area I sat in to feel as though it were swaying beneath me. I sank my teeth into my bottom lip.

The monster Stone infected me with was making me sick.

No matter how much I tried to not believe it—to not even think about it—somewhere deep down I knew it was the truth. I wiped the thin layer of sweat across my brow away and sighed. I was feverish, and the heat was getting to me. I thought it would be cooler by the creek—which was why I’d opted to rent an RV close to it—but it wasn’t. 

It was still hotter than Hades, even in the shade.

My cell pinged with a new voicemail. My attention snapped to it. I grabbed it and hovered my thumb over the play button, debating if I should listen to Stone’s message—to any of them. He’d called more times than I could count the past few days, but I’d ignored every call and message. Part of me wanted to hear what he had to say, but an even larger part didn’t care to. What did it matter? Listening to his messages wouldn’t change what happened. It wouldn’t change what he did. All it would do is feed my fears and piss me off. 

I was scared of Stone, and I hated myself for it. He held power over me.

You’re mine now

Stone’s words swam through my head, sending a shiver down my spine despite the heat and my feverish body. My gaze dipped to the thick leather bracelet strapped to my wrist. I’d bought it at a gas station to cover the bite mark Stone had given me. While it was perfect for hiding the mark from others, it wasn’t as good at hiding it from me. 

I could still see it—all angry and red—through the thick bracelet as if I wasn’t wearing one at all.

My teeth clenched together as my gaze dipped to the creek. I wanted to rewind time. If I could, I’d stop myself from going to Mark’s that night. I’d keep myself from being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Then, none of this would’ve happened and I’d be home.


Had the Chambers house been my home? I’d only been there four months. Granted, four months was longer than I’d made it at some of my other foster homes, but four months was nothing in the long run. 

It was a brief blip in time. 

Still, the Chambers had been decent to me. Most people weren’t willing to take in teens. All anyone wanted were little kids. I’d been raised in the foster system, so I knew how it worked. 

Something warm, yet cold hit my bare shoulder with a splat. I froze, knowing immediately what it most likely was—bird crap. I inhaled a deep breath before looking. Sure enough, a fat glob of white bird crap decorated my right shoulder.

“Freaking awesome,” I grumbled. 

My gaze drifted around, searching for a leaf that didn’t look like poison ivy to use to wipe it off. There was nothing besides blades of grass and a few twigs. I shimmied closer to the creek and scooped water into my hand to splash on it. The water was cool against my heated skin, soothing even. 

I was getting worse. I knew this, but I still hoped my body would fight this monster off and win.  

My cell chimed with a new text, and I grew stiff. Was Stone texting me now? He hadn’t before, but maybe he’d reached his boiling point with me not answering his calls. I didn’t know much about the guy. I’d only met him twice. 

All I knew was that Mark had owed him money. He was scary. And he was capable of unspeakable things. Also, there was literally a monster inside him.

I didn’t know anything else.

I wiped my hands on my shorts and stepped to where I’d left my phone in the grass. My heart hammered as I bent to pick it up, but the hammering stopped when I noticed Taylor’s name instead of Stone’s.

Happy Birthday, Vada!!!

I smiled at her text. My smile grew over the next few seconds as she blew up my phone with birthday associated emojis. 

God, I missed her. 

My throat pinched tight with the threat of tears, but I forced them away. I couldn’t cry, because if I started I might never stop.

How had she remembered it was my birthday when even I hadn’t? 

It was hard to believe that today I was eighteen. I’d been counting down to this day since I was old enough to know how. Being eighteen meant I was no longer legally obligated to stay in the foster system. It meant I could finally be free to live the life I’d always wanted for myself. I coughed again and was reminded that the life I’d always dreamed of having was still out of reach.

Thanks to Stone.

While I might be free from the foster system, I doubted I’d ever be free from the monster he’d infected me with. Tears pricked the corner of my eyes. I blinked them away, refusing to cry, and tapped out a reply to Taylor.

Thanks, T. How are you? Mrs. Chambers treating you okay? - Vada

I chewed my thumbnail, waiting for her response. Leaving meant Taylor would now be the oldest kid in the Chambers household. While I hated it for her, I also knew the Chambers were better than most foster parents she could be paired with. With them, all you had to do was earn your keep without giving any sass.

The problem was that Taylor was sassy.

She was new to the foster system and had recently turned thirteen, which meant she thought she knew everything. She hadn’t been in the system long enough to know when to be thankful for a family like the Chambers or when to keep her mouth shut so they’d keep her. 

Being in the system my whole life, I’d learned that harsh reality at a young age.

Which was why I knew when my caseworker placed me in the Chambers household that I’d do whatever they asked so I could stay until my eighteenth birthday. I’d been there four months and had only been days away from accomplishing that goal when I left. 

Yeah. I’m fine. I mean, I miss you, but I’m fine.

My shoulders sagged. I hated I’d left her behind. She was a good kid. She’d gotten to the Chambers a month after I had. We’d shared an attic bedroom and immediately felt like sisters.

I know. I miss you too. - Vada

A rush of heat spread through me, causing even more beads of sweat to break out across my skin. My clothes stuck to me in places they shouldn’t, and I felt like I might be sick. I made my way to the creek again and slid my sandals off. Then, dipped my toes in. Cool, rushing water greeted me, and I swore the monster inside me sighed with relief at the same time I did.

It was an odd sensation. One I wasn’t sure I liked.

Did you make it to where you wanted to go?

I pulled in a deep breath and glanced around. My lips quirked into a slight smile as I took in the scenery. 

Yeah. I did. - Vada


Did the Chambers find my note? - Vada

While I hadn’t said much in it, I’d at least thanked them for everything they’d done for me the last few months. They already knew I’d made plans to leave town and head farther south once I turned eighteen. It wasn’t something I’d kept a secret. In the letter though, I lied and told them an opportunity had presented itself and I’d taken it.

Taylor knew the same story. I hadn’t given her any details of my true reasons for leaving to keep her safe. 

I hated that I’d left in the middle of the night without warning, though. Almost as much as I hated not being able to tell anyone the real reason why—Stone had said I was his, and I knew better than to doubt that he meant it. If I stayed, he would have figured out where I lived and caused the Chambers trouble to get to me. They were decent people and didn’t deserve the type of trouble he would bring. Plus, I needed to ensure Taylor stayed safe. It wouldn’t have taken Stone long to figure out that I cared about her. He seemed like the type to use her against me to get what he wanted, and I couldn’t have that on my conscience.

Yeah. She did. I think she misses you, too. We all do. She ordered a cake for your birthday. A pretty white one with teal flowers around the edges.

I swallowed hard, my throat suddenly dry. No one had ever bought me a cake for my birthday before. I’d gotten cupcakes once, and ice cream a handful of times, but no one had ever bought me an actual cake. 

It warmed my heart and made me feel like shit all at once knowing Mrs. Chambers had.

Eat a big piece for me, okay? And find a way to make Mrs. Chambers smile, even if it’s just a small one. - Vada

A tear slid down my cheek. I hated the mess I’d gotten myself into and how uncertain my future seemed.

I will. Call me later or something, okay?

I wiped my tears and tapped out a reply.

I will. Promise. - Vada

I tossed my cell on the grass beside me and pulled my knees to my chin again. Then, I wrapped my arms around my shins and stared at the creek’s flowing water. Guilt twisted through my gut, pinching and pulling at my insides. Leaving sucked, but it had been the right thing to do. I knew that. 

A stinging pain shot through my wrist.

It wasn’t anything I hadn’t felt before. Still, it took me by surprise. I glared at the leather bracelet covering the bite mark. A shaky breath pushed past my lips. Then, I clasped the fingers of my opposite hand over the bracelet and squeezed, hoping to ease the pain with pressure.

It didn’t work. 

Instead, the pain intensified, sending nausea rippling through my stomach. I bit down on my bottom lip, hard enough to nearly draw blood, and squeezed my eyes shut, knowing more pain was coming. It hit as hard as every time before, leaving me feeling as though I were being split in two. My breathing heightened as I struggled to work past it. The pain spread to the center of my chest where the monster seemed to congregate, and I thought I might pass out. Instead, I continued my deep breathing and tried to focus on willing whatever was causing this away. 

My eyes flew open at the sounds of small feet coming my way. 

Two little girls with pigtails and matching pink polka-dot bathing suits darted past me, heading to the creek.

“I’m so sorry,” a woman dressed in a pale yellow sundress and oversized hat insisted as she rushed after them. “Girls, I told you we have to be mindful of others. Come farther down the creek so we don’t bother this poor girl.”

I wiped at my sweaty face and attempted to soften my features. The sharp pain in my center dissipated, and I released my wrist, thankful the monster had fallen back to the farthest corner of me for the time being.

I flashed the woman a slight smile, hoping it didn’t look as forced as it felt. “It’s okay. I was just leaving. I think it’s time for a popsicle or something cold. I’m sweating to death out here.”

“Popsicle!” the youngest of the two girls shouted. Excitement radiated through her, causing my smile to widen. She was cute. “Mommy, can we have a popsicle too? Please?”

I flashed the mom an apologetic look. I stood and wiped my bottom off before grabbing my cell and heading toward the general store. 

“Let’s play in the creek for a while. We can have a popsicle after,” I heard the woman say to them as I walked away.

While I hadn’t intended to head to the general store, a popsicle did sound good. Also, since it was my birthday—and I wasn’t able to enjoy the cake Mrs. Chambers had bought me—I figured I could splurge on a popsicle or an ice cream as a treat for myself.

I made my way past the RV I’d rented and cut through the grass to the gravel road. Once I crossed to the other side, I weaved between shrubbery toward the pond. A little boy and his dad were fishing there. They wore matching vests and hats with lures attached to the rims. It was the cutest thing I’d ever seen. As I made my way past them, the little boy waved.

“Hey. I’m gonna catch a fish,” the little boy shouted to me. “A real big one. Like this big.” He held out his arms to show the size of the fish he was hoping to catch and nodded his head.

“Oh, that would be awesome,” I said. “Good luck.”

“Thanks,” the dad said, smiling.

The tiny general store came into view between a sprinkle of trees, and I found myself craving a waffle cone with two scoops of cookie dough ice cream. The wooden steps creaked beneath my weight as I made my way up them. When I opened the door and stepped inside, cool air pressed against my clammy skin. Immediately, I found it easier to breathe. I slung my braid over my shoulder and wiped the sweat from my brow while I made my way through the store to the ice cream counter.

“Hey, Sapphire. Can I help you find anything?” the guy behind the counter asked when he spotted me. His eyes were kind, and they reminded me of warm chocolate.

“Sapphire?” I asked, wondering why he’d called me that. My eyes were blue, but they weren’t close to being sapphire blue. They were a dull shade of blue most people overlooked.

The guy flashed me a shy, crooked grin. When his cheeks tinted pink and he rubbed along the back of his neck, I realized I’d embarrassed him. I bit my bottom lip, instantly feeling bad. “Yeah. I mean, since that’s the name of the RV you rented and all.”

“Oh, right. I forgot that was the name of it.” Crap. I was dumb. The gemstone and crystal names had been something I’d thought was cool about this place. In fact, it was one of the reasons I’d decided to come here.

“I should have called you by your name instead of trying to seem clever. Sorry,” he said, his crooked grin growing. “I just don’t know your name.” 


“Vada.” He repeated it, and I found that I liked the way my name rolled off his tongue. It sent butterflies fluttering through the pit of my stomach, which was a sensation I hadn’t felt in a long time. “Like from the movie My Girl?”


I hated when people asked me that question. Mainly because I didn’t know the answer. Not the real one. I could speculate all day about why my parents had named me Vada and then given me up for adoption, but I would never know. All I knew about my parents was that my mom had been a teenager when she had me. I knew nothing about my dad. There was a possibility though that my mom had been a fan of the movie. Who knew? Most of the time, that was what I told people. Other times, I pretended I’d never heard of it, even though it was one of my favorites. 

The funeral scene always made me cry. Poor Thomas J. I would never get over his fictional death.

“Maybe,” I insisted before stepping to the ice cream counter to see which flavors were available. Chocolate chip cookie dough caught my eye. “I’ll take a waffle cone with two scoops of chocolate chip cookie dough, please.”

“Good choice.” He slid the compartment open, and I was glad he didn’t try to tell me it was too early for ice cream. “I’m Rhett. In case you were wondering.” He flashed me another lopsided smirk that did things to me, and then scooped out two scoops into a waffle cone.

“Nice to meet you, Rhett,” I said.

Something shifted through his eyes when I said his name. I swore I saw them brighten, but only for a split second. The monster inside me squirmed. Not because it wanted free, but because it was nervous by what I thought I saw. 

I didn’t blame it. 

I shifted my attention away from Rhett while I tried to calm the beast within by massaging my chest with the palm of my hand. A sign that read free rainbow sprinkles if it’s your birthday caught my eye.

“And since today is my birthday… I think I’ll take the free rainbow sprinkles too,” I said. After all, you only lived once. Might as well enjoy sprinkles when you could.

Rhett grabbed a large jar of sprinkles and shook them on top. “Today’s your birthday?”

“Yep.” I crammed my hands into the pockets of my shorts. “I’m finally eighteen.” I wasn’t sure why I’d added that last part on. Maybe it was because, for whatever reason, I enjoyed talking with him. We’d just met, but I enjoyed something about his energy. It filled me with a sense of comfort I couldn’t explain. 

“That’s a big one,” he beamed. “I celebrated it back in May.” 

Hmm. So, he was my age. Interesting. I’d thought he was older than me by at least a year, maybe two. It was in the way he carried himself and something in his eyes. He seemed like an old soul. Or at the very least, someone who’d been through a lot in life already. 

I knew the look well because I had it too.

“Well, happy belated birthday,” I said, taking my waffle cone from him.

“Thanks,” he said. “Happy birthday to you, too. Any big plans?”

“You see it.” I lifted my ice cream into the air.

Rhett leaned his elbows against the counter, his eyes boring into me. Being the center of his attention felt easy. It felt good. The monster inside me seemed to agree. I could sense it. “Is that why you booked your stay here? As like a birthday getaway?”

I shifted on my feet, uncomfortable with the sudden topic shift. He’d had the getaway part right, but my being here had nothing to do with my birthday or celebrating of any kind.

“No, I just—I needed to get away for a while.” Not a complete lie, but not entirely the truth either. For whatever reason, I found I didn’t want to lie to him. He had kind eyes and a calm demeanor. Something about him made me feel comfortable, like I’d known him my entire life. 

Lying to him didn’t seem right.

“This is a good place to do it,” Rhett said. “A lot of people come here to get away for a while.”

“It has seemed busy these past couple of days.” I grabbed the crumpled ten-dollar bill from my front pocket and held it out to him to pay for the ice cream. 

He held up a hand and shook his head, refusing to take my money. “It’s on me. Happy birthday.”

“Oh, thanks.” I flashed him a smile. It was the most genuine one I’d mustered in days.

“Enjoy. Oh, and make sure you check out some of the cool things we have to offer around here. Especially today, being your birthday and all.”

“I might,” I said, even though I didn’t think I would. It was my first flat-out lie to him, and I hated the way it made me feel. Money was too much of an issue for me, though. I only had a couple hundred dollars to my name. Spending it on anything that wasn’t a necessity seemed dumb.

“That sounded like a lie.” Rhett called me out and I liked it.

My lips twisted into a smirk. “How much does gem mining cost? That’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”

If it wasn’t too pricey, I might be able to swing it.

“Ten bucks for a bucket of dirt or fifteen for two.”

I held up my crumpled ten. “Perfect. It’s in my price range.”

“Nice, but if you give me a few hours to work on my brother, Nash, I’m sure I can talk him into filling in for me here so I can go with you. Then, I guarantee you’ll get the free birthday discount.”

I held his stare. Was he flirting with me? He flashed me an adorable grin, and I knew then he absolutely was. As much as I knew I shouldn’t flirt back, I couldn’t help myself. A part of me desperately wanted to feel normal, today especially, even if it was only for a few hours. 

After all I’d been through recently, I deserved it.

“Sure. Okay,” I said. “Swing by my RV when you’re ready.”

Rhett nodded his head, and his lips twisted into a smirk. “Okay. See you soon.”

“Cool,” I said before heading to the exit.

Gem mining sounded fun, and Rhett seemed like a nice guy. Maybe this birthday wouldn’t be as craptastic as all my others after all.

Sometimes finding our inner strength is key.

All Vada Palmer ever wanted was a family and a place to call home. When she finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time, that dream is crushed.

Now she’s on the run from someone who claims she’s his.

Main Tropes

  • Found Family
  • Bear Shifters
  • Small Town

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