Authors: T. S. Joyce
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Paranormal, #Fantasy, #Werewolves & Shifters
(BEAR VALLEY SHIFTERS, BOOK 2)
By T. S. JOYCE
Bear Valley Shifters
The Witness and the Bear (
Return to the Bear (
Devoted to the Bear
Copyright © 2014 by T. S. Joyce
All Rights Reserved. Except as permitted under the United States Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, redistributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in any database or retrieval system, without prior written permission from the author.
The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
in his throat, the sound of Benson Riker’s bloodlust overpowered the roll of distant thunder. A drop of rain fell on his nose, and he twitched his head to rid himself of the obnoxious droplet that tickled the short fur there. Bears of every size and color were lined up to his left and right. He paced and emitted another low growl that hummed against his chest.
His parents had chosen wrong. After years of living on the outskirts of bear shifter law, they’d finally picked a clan. One with enemies.
Rain pattered on the leaves of the forest behind him, the opening clouds like unhappy gods shedding tears over the blood they would spill today. The falling water kicked up the scent of moist soil, and the air filled with ozone and wet fur. His paws, larger than the bears around him, made bowls in the mud, which filled with water and reflected the face of a raging beast.
rival clan wasn’t here to meet others of their kind, or to discuss boundary disputes. They were here for a hostile takeover, to claim Bear Valley as theirs. Clan law allowed shifter warfare over territory. It happened in nature, so why not for shifters? Except they were more than just bears. They were human, too.
Movement through the mist swayed trees
and drew his angry gaze. His lips curled over his teeth with the promise of destruction. Over his dead body would these strangers come into his territory and take the home he’d found.
A great grizzly stepped from the forest. His fur shook with every heavy step he took and the shifter’s eyes seemed to hold Riker—challenge him. The alpha of the Long Claw Clan was enormous and sca
rred from the battles he’d waged. As the woods moved with his warriors, he roared into the early morning storm. His breath clashed against the cool wind in a puff of steam as the battle cry filled the clearing.
Rodge, Bear Valley’s alpha, stepped forward and stood on his hind legs, then bellowed his acceptance.
Riker cast a narrow look at
his sister, Jenny, before he charged. If they died today, it would be in the pursuit of protecting clan territory. Their deaths would be honorable and mean something.
The others ran beside him, picking up speed as mud flew from divots in the wet earth
under their feet. Red rage filled Riker, spreading to the pads of his paws and spurring him on until he was as close to flying as a bear shifter could get. He’d kill them all for trespassing here. For putting his family, his people, the cubs of the clan in danger.
The Long Claw Clan rushed at them in a blur of raging motion, and Riker’s pounding heart urged him faster still.
He hit a chestnut colored brown bear with the force of a runaway train. Biting, clawing and slapping—the sound of braying battle permeated the clearing. The wind whipped at his matted fur, and settled the scent of warm blood into the sensitive lining of his nose. It was the blood of his people and his fury pulsed and grew until it was infinite.
Minutes stretched and the mud beneath his paws turned red as the battle raged and bears fell. He roared as he raked his claws against a dark grizzly’s neck and turned to fight another. The air had chilled and he stood alone among the dead. Vacant eyes stared back at him and furry mounds, no longer breathing
, scattered the clearing like ancient boulders.
So much loss. So much wasted. Their kind dwindled and still they fought and died for territory when the real danger lay outside of clan politics, with the humans.
Riker turned and searched the bodies for a honey colored grizzly, smaller than the others. A short bark of panic heaved from his throat, steaming the air in front of his snout.
As he looked from face to face, dread slammed into him.
Leaping over a pile
of carnage, he almost landed on the naked body of a woman, curled up with her knees drawn to her chest. Blood and rain spotted her skin, and red streams ran down her back. Canting his head, he studied her. She was beautiful, striking with nut-brown hair that had darkened in the rain. Her nose was slightly turned up on the end, and if she was still alive, her eyes would be…green.
Riker’s heart beat erratically in a pain
ful rhythm. He knew this woman. Her name was Hannah.
Straining his ears, he listened for her breathing, focused on a small, heart-shaped scar on the back of her exposed neck, but heard nothing. No breath, no fluttering heartbeat. Only silence and death filled the clearing.
Something ugly broke inside of him, and in desperation, he tried to pull her to him. His six inch claws sliced across the flesh of her arm and her blood spilled in rivers, filling the puddles around her.
No. He looked at the p
aws that had hurt her, the weapons of a monster that had maimed her fragile human body, and he stumbled backward.
A woman stood at the edge of the battlefield. Flowing robes cascaded around her
waif thin frame despite the weather and her eyes were white, seeing nothing and everything all at once. She watched him with a solemn expression.
“I told you, Riker.” She shook her head and her eyes looked so sad. “I told you she’d break you.”
Riker gasped and sat up in bed. He shot his hand out but found Hannah’s side cold and empty.
Ripping the covers away, he threw his legs over the edge, and froze.
Hannah stood on the balcony of the hotel, looking out over her city. She wore one of his oversized T-shirts and nothing else. The neon lights from the buildings across the street lit up her
bare legs in greens and blues and her light brown hair hung down her shoulders in waves that looked so soft, he wanted to touch them just to reassure himself she was really here. Really alive.
He had to get a grip. Battle readiness still
pumped through his veins, and he couldn’t come at her like a crazed maniac. Not after last night. Scrubbing his hand over his face, he clenched his hands in front of his mouth, rested his elbows on his knees and fought like hell to catch his breath. A fine sheen of sweat covered his body and the breeze from the open balcony door chilled him. He’d hurt her. Even if she had promised him forgiveness and fallen asleep against his shoulder as if she still felt safe with him, even after everything he’d put her through, he couldn’t rid himself of the sick feeling in his gut.
He’d hurt his mate. Yes, it had been necessary so that he could save her
from Stone’s men, but the grim set to her mouth as she graced him with her profile ripped at his insides.
Hannah’s time in New York was limited. Last night, when she’d come back to the hotel, back to Riker’s arms, she couldn’t escape her old home fast enough. Now, it was kind of tragic that she’d leave so soon. Her life was in Bear Valley with Riker and his clan of bear shifters, but this had been home once, before the trial and her sister’s death. Before she’d testified against Stone and been hunted by his vengeance.
The lights of the city made moonlight obsolete, so when she turned, the room was light enough that she could see Riker sitting on the edge of the bed. He watched her with gray eyes that had lightened to an inhuman color.
“Couldn’t sleep?” she asked, pressing her back against the cold balcony railing.
“Had a dream.” His voice was a deep rumble, still thick with sleep.
“Good or bad?”
“I dreamed about a battle I fought when I was eighteen, but the ending was different. The oracle was there.”
Hannah canted her head and smiled. “An oracle dream. So a good dream?”
He turned his head, as if he wanted to look away, but his gaze stayed faithfully on her. “Sure.” His long, powerful legs unfolded as he stood. He looked best in moonlight, but not even the neon signs of the music store across the street could disguise the ripple of muscle across Riker’s bare chest as he moved toward her. Powerful arms reached for her, and just as she thought he’d make a joke, in typical Riker fashion, he wrapped around her and buried his head against her neck, inhaling deeply.
The thin fabric of her oversized shirt bunched under his grip as he crushed her ribs into him as if he wanted her burrowed there, safe, and warm, and his. His desire was evident, pressed against her stomach like stone, but he didn’t move to kiss h
er—only hold her.
The dream hadn’t been a good one
as he’d said. Hers hadn’t either and now their aching hearts matched as they thumped off rhythm against each other.
Sliding her hands around his neck and holding him close, she whispered, “I dreamt of last night, before you came for me. Of the chains and not being able to reach the table of blades they were going to use on me.” She used to be afraid of baring her soul and fears to anyone, but Riker was bound to her now. He’d bled for her. He wouldn’t run
“You’re safe,” he rumbled against her neck, voice raw.
Was she? He and Jeremy had decided Dane was the only one under Stone’s influence with enough power to send waves of hit men after her, but what if they’d been wrong? What if that old criminal still had a trick or two up his sleeve? Stone didn’t seem the type to give up on revenge. He’d hunted her relentlessly for a year and all from prison. It wasn’t in her power to feel safe. Except here.
Only in Riker’s arms did the screaming demons of her past slink back in
to the shadows. Maybe it was the dominance and raw strength that emanated from him, or his undeniable ability to lead a clan of powerful shifters. She buried her face against his shoulder and closed her eyes. No, it was more than that. She loved him, trusted him. As long as he lived, he’d do everything in his power to protect her, and she’d do the same for him. And if that realization didn’t settle her fears, imagining the terrifying, twelve-foot tall grizzly bear that resided inside of him helped.
Stone was just a man.
Riker was more.
Desperate to rid herself of the last tingles of uncertainty, she brushe
d her lips against his neck, then under the sharp angles of his jaw. He hadn’t shaved since Bear Valley had been attacked and his short whiskers tickled her face. His shoulders slumped forward against her and a groan sounded deep in his throat.
“Touch me,” she whispered.
“Hannah,” he rasped, warning in his voice. “I’m still battle ready and you need gentle. I can’t give that to you right now.”
She trailed kisses down his throat and across his collar bone. Resistance was pointless. She didn’t need gentle. She needed Riker in all of his dominant, naked, rutting glory. She could handle battle ready. What she couldn’t handle was denying her need for him anymore. It had been days since he’d been inside her
. Rough or gentle, she hadn’t a preference tonight.
His hands gripped her shoulders and eased her back, his eyes tortured. “We’ll go get
an early breakfast first. Give my bear time to settle down.”
Stepping away, she sidled around him and crawled onto the bed. Tugging at the hem of her shirt, she pulled it over her head and her hair fell around her shoulders.
Her panties came next, tickling her ankles as she pulled them free. His gaze fell to her breasts and he stepped back into the room as if his feet were being dragged by a force beyond his own. Tossing him a challenging look, she turned away and settled onto the mattress on hands and knees. Over her shoulder, she said, “Don’t want breakfast. I want you.” God, she wanted him. The look in his eyes set her on fire.
The bed shifted behind her and she smiled. The closet doors in front of her were made of mirror glass. While she’d thought them outdated when she’d first explored the room, now she was grateful the hotel had dragged its feet on updating. She would’ve given all of her material possessions to see Riker’s face now.
Hungry inhuman color focused on her back. He’d shucked his boxers and the sight of him naked, shaft hard and proud, made it difficult to breathe. If his bear were running the show as Riker hinted, she’d give his animal her back and let him take what he wanted.
gritted out, as if he were fighting some inner battle she couldn’t see. He eased a finger into her as if to rev her up, but she was already plenty wet. Rocking against him, she closed her eyes and bit her lip against the feeling of rightness at his touch.
Easing out of her, he dug his fingers
into her hips, hard. “Hannah, I—”
“Riker,” she growled, impatient. “I know you think I need gentle tonight. You’re wrong.”
She could see it then, the moment when his bear took over. The concern left his face, replaced with smoldering hunger. His lips twisted into a slow smile and he pressed his hand between her shoulder blades. “Arch your back for me, love.”
Sinking down until her elbows rested against the soft mattress, she flexed her back and
ground against his pelvis, desperate to feel him against her. Her insides pulsed once as he thrust into her, like her body already anticipated what was coming. Riker cursed again behind her and followed with three hard strokes. His gaze found hers in the mirror and pressure filled her, pleasure and pain. He leaned forward until his chest pressed against the planes of her back and he balanced on one hand, his other brushing her hips and snaking between her legs. He rubbed her clit as he filled her and a helpless noise wrenched from her throat. She should’ve known. Whether his bear was in charge or not, he was going to bring her over the edge right along with him.