Bad Bear Day by Milly Taiden
Austin trailed Jasmine through the crowd, though he glanced behind them, wondering if they were being followed.
Jasmine had gone from beaming at the spider-people parade to looking absolutely aghast. Austin thought it might be a safe bet that she’d remembered the con exclusive at the exact time she wanted to avoid an interaction with someone.
He wanted to ask her about it. Wanted to tell her that he’d be happy to intimidate anyone who dared threaten her, but that was probably a bit strong for a first date.
For a human, anyway.
For a Kodiak bear shifter like himself, it was well within reason to stake your claim the very second you found your mate.
He really couldn’t believe it had happened. He’d signed up with Gerri’s Paranormal Dating Agency sometime in the previous year. He couldn’t remember exactly — it had been long enough ago that he’d almost forgotten until Gerri called.
“I have set you up on a blind date. You’re taking her to an anime and comic convention here in New York City. Oh, and also, dress up as someone from… uh… Demon Slayer.”
He shook his head. Though he knew Gerri’s reputation, he hadn’t really believed it could be true until he met Jasmine face-to-face.
And that elusive, once-in-a-lifetime, you’ll only find it if you’re really, really lucky feeling walloped him.
Austin Stone, bear clan Alpha and corporate billionaire, had actually met his mate.
Thank you, Gerri Wilder.
Jasmine was beautiful. That much was evident even though he didn’t know her true hair color thanks to her red wig. She was spirited. He knew from the way she challenged him over whether or not he’d really embroidered his own costume. And she was friendly, as seen from her interaction with her friends.
Austin couldn’t wait to learn even more.
Attending the con with her was an added bonus. He was enjoying seeing this side of it. He hadn’t lied to her that he had been going to cons since college. He just hadn’t told her that he was usually on the other side… among the talent.
Luckily, as a voice actor, Austin wouldn’t be easily recognized. Especially not in a hat and wig.
Seven-foot-tall bear shifter billionaires weren’t often the first suspected of voicing fifteen-year-old robot ninja assassins and chibi fox demon spirits.
It was also strange to see his real name on his badge instead of the professional one he used to hide his voice acting hobby. Austin sought to protect more than just his own ego. Suppose his corporate shareholders got a whiff of how their CEO spent his free time. In that case, it might damage his credibility with the firm.
As they bobbed and weaved through the thick crowd in the enormous room, he wondered how Jasmine normally navigated the thing on her own. She was dainty and clearly couldn’t see above the mob as Austin could. Sure, giant banners hung from the ceiling that guided people to the booths they were looking for, but Jasmine still had to dart through little openings between bodies to progress.
Though she did it with a confidence that impressed him.
On the other hand, Austin simply had to put one foot in front of the other to move forward. The sea of people just somehow automatically parted for him.
He looked behind him and noticed a few other short people trailed in his wake. One in a Black Widow jumpsuit smiled bashfully. He gave her a reassuring nod, letting her know he was happy to be their crowd blocker and turned back to Jasmine.
He’d had a hard time taking his eyes off her from the moment she opened her apartment door.
She’s a nerd goddess in that costume.
And she’s my mate.
He’d thought Gerri had been pulling his leg. Then, he thought maybe it was an elaborate setup. Perhaps someone had given his mate the Tanjiro costume and told her to play along.
It wasn’t until Jasmine began basically elbowing people to get to the booth that had the limited edition stuffies that he knew for a fact that she was a real nerd.
And now he couldn’t believe his luck.
He’d known how rare it would be for him to find the perfect woman. The world was so big, and finding a mate seemed near impossible. He’d hoped for it, dreamed of it, even, all the while keeping his bed warm with women he found less than fulfilling.
Dating a bear from his clan? Forget it. They might be willing to accept a partnership, knowing they weren’t mates and would never have kids, but only because they wanted the power from being with the Alpha.
When he went for corporate-type humans, they never seemed to share his hidden passion for anime and other things nerdy. They balked at his collection of toys and comic books.
And if he went for a con girl, they always ended up changing once they found out his secret voice acting hobby. Going from casual geek to extreme fangirl in three… two… one…
Would Jasmine be the same?
Looking at her curvy figure, her flashing green eyes, and her huge smile as she scored one of the limited edition, con exclusive, stuffed animals, he really hoped not.
Not that it mattered. With Jasmine, he had from now until eternity to figure it out. To make it work.
She was his mate. And Gerri promised perfection… or something like that.
He drank in the sight of her and felt his heart flutter, not to mention his cock twitch.
“Sir, are you next?” the booth worker asked.
He looked to Jasmine. “You want a second one?” he offered as they were one per person.
“Um, no, it’s okay. You can buy it and sell it for a lot on eBay or other collector sites.”
He had no need for the money. “No, if you don’t want two, then I’ll pass. Let someone else in line have the joy of nabbing one.”
Jasmine’s mouth quirked at that. “An honorable man, I like that.”
They continued on, stopping at booths here and there. Austin even managed to score an exclusive from his favorite franchise. One he usually would have missed out on had he been in the back.
Pretty cool to be on this side of a con, he thought again.
But it was even better having a girl like Jasmine by his side.
They posed for more pictures, just the two of them, and when they found other awesome costumes, with them as well.
It wasn’t until another pair from Demon Slayer — dressed as Nezuko and her husband Zenitsu — stopped them for a photo when Austin’s cover was blown.
“Hey, I recognize you! You’re Dallas Wetherbane!”
“Yeah, I am,” he admitted, and the couple excitedly pulled out autograph books for him to sign.
Once they were gone, Jasmine raised an eyebrow. “You’re a voice actor?”
Here we go… time for her to fangirl out and the day to be ruined. “I am,” he replied.
She nodded. “Cool.”
Then… she walked on to the next booth.
Is that it?
He blinked in surprise and took a few large strides to catch up with her. “It’s a side gig,” he explained.
“Really? I’ve definitely seen that name, Dallas Wetherbane, in some things. Anime dubs and video games, right?” she asked while examining a knit hat with cat ears.
“Yeah,” he affirmed.
“How did you get into it?” She finally looked at him, but it wasn’t with the fangirl intensity that he dreaded. Instead, it was with a sincere curiosity aimed at him as a person, not him as a celebrity.
It was pretty nice to see.
“Believe it or not, it was totally an accident. One of my friends works for the animation studio, and the guy they hired didn't bother to show up. I was there, and I did a couple of takes, and next thing you know, I'm a regular series member and getting recommended for other jobs besides it.”
“Cool!” She set the hat back down and meandered to the next booth, which had many tiny bottles filled with mushrooms and houses and what looked like strangely shaped frog figurines living inside. “You said it’s your side gig? What do you do for the main gig?”
“Uh, business,” he answered vaguely. “Nothing interesting.”
She laughed. “I’m in accounting, so I know how that is. The voice acting must help keep things fun.”
“Yeah, it does,” Austin said, starting to relax.
Was this girl for real?
They walked around the con for hours, shopping, getting autographs, appreciating the folks down artist alley. They sat in panels, listening to creators and actors talk about their work. They stopped for mini donuts and lemonade for lunch, but it was hardly enough for a big man like him to subsist on.
When his stomach grumbled around dinner time, it was loud enough for Jasmine to hear.
“Oh my god, I didn’t even think about the fact that we haven’t eaten a real meal!”
He smiled sheepishly. “I kind of got wrapped up in the fun of the day. I’ve never just wandered around like this.”
“But you said…” Realization dawned in her eyes. “Oh. You've been to these cons but as talent, not…” She pointed to her badge.
“Yeah. But I have to say, having a seasoned pro like yourself as a guide is definitely the way to do it.”
“I’d kind of wondered why you’d let me choose everything we did today,” she said. “Well, we’ve done pretty much everything, so how about you choose where we go for dinner?”