Read Devoted to the Bear Online

Authors: T. S. Joyce

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Paranormal, #Fantasy, #Werewolves & Shifters

Devoted to the Bear (3 page)

“Hannah,” Riker warned. “It was two days ago, before Dane. They might have been working together and now he’s cut off too. You still might be safe.”

Not about to discuss her terror in front of Robert, who was now as much a stranger as the rest of the world
had become in the last year of seclusion, she bolted for the door.

Might be. She
might
be safe. This morning she was undeniably safe though and the loss of that certainty ripped at her, shredding her until her knees felt like they’d buckle under the strain of her dismay.

“Thank you,” she whispered through trembling lips.
She fled Robert’s apartment and sent a disparaging glance to the door across the hallway. That apartment had served as her personal torture chamber. She’d spent time with Jeremy and her sister there. It was full of ghosts.

“Hannah,” Robert said, following her into the hallway. “Are you okay?”

She’d been hunted like an animal relentlessly for a year, she’d lost her family, and Jimmy and Jeremy had died trying to protect her. She’d been tortured with her sister and suffered survivor’s guilt at living when Marian was the one who deserved life. She’d watched Riker’s clan bury their own dead because her past had come back to hurt them, and she’d been chained to a wall last night, thinking she’d lost Riker and her life all at once. No, she wasn’t fucking all right. She was a mess. A walking disaster that fate had pummeled until she wasn’t even recognizable anymore. She was a scarred shell of the woman she used to be, and now that she had a chance to put her old self back together again with the man she loved, even more threats sprang up from the woodwork. No one said life was easy, but it shouldn’t be this hard, for this long.

Robert didn’t have to know any of this though. He led a normal life where people weren’t trying t
o kill him or his loved ones. As a reward for his kindness, she wouldn’t taint his life with the truth of hers.

“I’m fine,” she s
aid with a brave smile, then walked down the stairs of the apartment building without a single glance back.

Robert had dodged a bullet when their date had fallen through. He wasn’t strong enough to shoulder the burdens she carried but it wasn’t his fault. Only a man, not entirely human, dominant
and battle hardened could bear the danger that enveloped her life and survive it.

She’d landed on Riker’s front porch because at least one of the fates was looking out for her, cheering on the underdog. And Hannah swore it with every breath she had remaining in her body, she wouldn’t let her lucky stars down.

She’d come too far and had too much to lose to break now.

Chapter Three

“Hey,” Riker called from behind.

Hannah hoofed it faster as warm tears trekked down her cheeks. People were starting to stare. Cutting through the throng of bodies walking the pavement, she stepped into the street and thrust her hand into the air. Three cabs passed her by, but the fourth pulled over. She slid in just as Riker reached her.

“Where to?” the cabby asked. His accent was thick and his
coffee colored eyes landed on Hannah through the rearview.

Riker stared, confusion filling his eyes until she couldn’t look at him. She couldn’t handle failing anything else right now.

“The airport,” Riker said, turning his attention to the cab driver. “We have a flight to catch.”

“Just for the record,” she said, rambling and reeling, “I hesitated on telling Robert what we were
because boyfriend didn’t sound serious enough and mate isn’t exactly universally accepted as a relationship status.”

His fingers clutched
tighter to the box on his lip, as if he were forcing himself into stillness.

“No kissing in my cab,” the driver said, pointing a finger into the air.

Hannah dashed her tears away with the back of her hand. “We aren’t kissing.”

“Not yet, but I can see the look in your man’s face and none of that wil
l occur in this car, am I clear?”

“I won’t touch her,” Riker said blandly.

“Of course he won’t. He’s my bodyguard.” She flung the last word into the universe like a curse.

“Don’t,” Riker warned.

“Why are you with me?”

His neck hit the head
rest and he shook his head. “Jesus.”

“You’ve known me less than a month and I’m like a
venus fly trap, except I don’t catch flies. I catch death. Marian, Jimmy, Jeremy,” she said, ticking names off her fingers.

Riker grabbed her hands so fast she gasped. “I said don’t
.”

“No kissing,”
the cabby sang.

Panic laced her veins and she rambled on, spewing her worst fears. “If you’d just chosen Merit, you would be with your people. You wouldn’t have had to do what you did for me last night. Your people would still be alive, Riker. Say it. Merit was the better choice.”

“Hannah, you’re scared and you aren’t thinking straight right now.”

“Say it!” she shrieked.

“Merit was the safer choice, Hannah. Not the better choice. You’re it for me.” He yanked her closer. “Dammit, can’t you see you’re it for me? Don’t bring her up again.”

“I have to.”
Her voice had dipped to a ragged whisper.

“Why?”

“Because it’s not the summer solstice yet and you still have time to bail. You should remember your options.”

The muscle under his left eye twitched and he gritted his teeth. Inches separated
them and the stormy color in his eyes said he wasn’t backing down. “No, this isn’t about my options. This is about you panicking and trying to push me away. You aren’t protecting me by doing this.” He gripped her hair and pulled her to him until the warmth of his mouth brushed her lips. “Won’t work, so cut it out.”

“No kissing.” The driver’s angry eyes
flashed in the rearview mirror and Riker released her.

It wasn’t a test. He’d do best to remember he still had options if he didn’
t want to tether himself to her. But if it were a test, he would’ve passed with flying colors and fireworks in the background.

“What do we do now?” she asked, sniffling.

“We go back home.”

“You mean we run.
” The word tasted bitter against her tongue.

“It’s not running, Hannah. I can’t go up against every dirty cop in the NYPD and the further away you are from the city, the better a chance we have at him giving up on you. If he comes for you, we’ll cross that bridge
then. As it stands, I’m not waiting around for Murphy to find you.” Relaxing into the seat, he muttered, “You’re too close to Stone’s grasp and it makes me want to kill things.”

He looked pissed but he linked his fingers with hers before he turned his attention to the passing city outside the window. And that one small gesture soothed her like a security blanket. It was terribly difficult to feel unsafe under the immediate protection of Benson Riker.

****

That asshole
, Murphy. Hannah had been safe and now she was at risk again and Riker wanted to rip the man’s head from his shoulders. How did a cop sink low enough to work for a criminal like Stone? From prison? Riker wanted to spit.

His senses were
on alert. She didn’t smell like sunshine and fruit shampoo and the special tang that clung to her skin and marked her as Hannah right now. She smelled like roiling fear.

He wanted to fuck her until she couldn’t think about anything but release and his seed spilling down the insides of her legs. He wanted her crying out his name
in passion, not washed in the terror of being hunted. She didn’t need to know that though. All she needed to know was that he was here for her.

She was different from the female shifters at Bear Valley. She was emotional and vulnerable an
d affectionate—a beautiful puzzle he’d gladly spend the rest of his life figuring out. Sure, sometimes he was confused as hell trying to understand what she needed without asking. But when he got it right, she always made the reward so satisfying.

The cab pulled into the airport and Riker pulled out two twenties
. After he handed it to the man he yanked Hannah’s mouth to his so hard her front teeth brushed his. He didn’t care if he bled. He hoped he did. He wanted her to mark him after trying to give him away. She melted under his touch, leaned into him and he thrust his tongue into her mouth just to taste her want. Her eyes held a drunken haze when he pulled away. “Keep the change,” he told the scowling cab driver, and pulled his mate from the car. The smell of the air freshener had given him the beginnings of a headache.

What he wanted to do was find a quiet co
rner and lose himself in Hannah and free them both from the tension that wracked them. But the flight wouldn’t wait for him to get off on his girl, so he cut the crowd for her to arrive unmaimed at checkin.

He hated flying. The bear inside of him
loathed cramped up spaces, but he was so ready to leave the city behind. It would’ve been nice to stay and see where Hannah was from. He wanted to know every single thing about her, and this seemed like a good place to start. But as much as he’d tried to convince her Murphy was probably working with Dane and no longer a threat, his instincts screamed otherwise. Stone, that thorough, vengeful mother fucker…someday he was going to pay for what he’d done to Hannah. And if it weren’t for the pesky prison keeping him out of reach, Riker would be going straight for his throat. Eliminating Dane and his lackeys only treated the symptoms. The source of the infection sat untouchable behind bars.

If Murphy caught wind of them near his city, he’
d be watching the airlines. Riker’s ears itched to escape with Hannah safe in his protection. The faster, the better.

When Hannah’s belongings were taped up and secured in the box she’d taken from Robert, they glided through security and found their terminal. This trip was much different than the one they’d taken yesterday. Yesterday? God, it felt like days since they’d come here. So much had happened, so many extreme highs and lows. He’d kept her from drinking on the flight in. She was trying to get hammered before she turned herself over to Dane for torture. Brave Hannah. She
had sacrificed herself so that his people would be safe. She really was it for him. If she couldn’t see how utterly consumed by her he was, she was as blind as the oracle in his dream.

He wouldn’t stop her from drinking this time if she wanted. She deserved to relax and enjoy herself. His bear didn’t tolerate alcohol and besides, he had to
drive home and he’d never put Hannah at risk by driving with so much as a beer buzz. His cargo was too precious. But he wouldn’t mind if she cut loose. He’d enjoy it, in fact. She was different outside of Bear Valley. Hell, he was too without the entire welfare of the clan resting on his shoulders, but she was even more mysterious and worldly. She knew things he’d never guess at because he hadn’t put all that much effort into joining the human world. She would keep him entertained all his days.

“Why are you looking at me like that?”
Hannah asked, a smile tugging the corners of her full lips. He wanted to taste it. The smell of her fear lifted with her smiles and that kind of magic probably tasted delicious.

“I’m just ready to get you back to Bear Valley.”

“You missing home?”

Growling playfully, he pulled her from her seat
near the terminal and into his lap. Nipping at her neck, he said, “I miss our home.”

She froze and pulled away, her eyes wide. Unsure, he stroked her cheek. Her hands slid over his should
ers and squeezed. “Benson Riker, you just gave me butterflies.”

It sounded like a good thing, but she was so still in his arms. “What does that mean?”

“Butterflies? It’s like…” She placed her hands over her stomach and pressed. “It’s like when you have these little happy flutters in your middle because something meaningful has happened. You said
our
home, so I got butterflies.”

He liked that. Giving her butterflies seemed like a big
achievement and he couldn’t help the grin that took his face.

He’d try to make her have flutters
in her middle more often.

Chapter Four

Home, home, home. Forget the muck that was still swirling around the city, the Big Horn Mountains loomed in the distance, blanketing Hannah in the warmth of belonging. She’d never been much of an outdoorsy person before Jeremy had dropped her off on Riker’s land, but she’d done a whole lot of changing over these past few weeks.

Plus, the last time she’d traveled this washed-out road, she’d been sure she’d never see this place again. Hanging her head out the window, she inhaled the earthy fragrance. Mother Nature’s perfume and she was a natural kind of gal. It had rained for the past week, but today it was sunny and the mud puddles were beginning to dry up.

Riker leaned back, one hand out the window to catch the breeze and the other hanging limply over the steering wheel. He dared to take his eyes off the road often, watching her like he was trying to figure her out. She
didn’t mind. She felt free.

“You ever been
muddin’?” Riker asked in a deliciously deep voice.

“What’s
muddin’?”

He sat straight up and jerked the wheel, headed straight for a muddy wallow off the dirt road. Screaming, Hannah rolled up the window as fast as she could. Mud splattered her face before she could get it all the way up. Riker’s booming laugh filled the cab as they swerved this way and that, throwing up rooster tails of watery soil against the windows. He gassed and braked and spun them in circles like he’d done this a hundred times. Maybe he had.

Holding the grab bar for dear life, she squealed as they hit another turn and laughed until her cheeks hurt.

He pulled to a stop on a dry
patch off the main road while Hannah tried to catch her breath. This was exactly right, perfect for a homecoming. All of her fear was in the muddy, winding tire tracks that snaked all over the grassy glen behind them.

The engine
idled loudly, but Riker didn’t seem in a hurry to leave. He sat gripping the wheel and staring at her, the remnants of a smile still playing on his lips. He hadn’t bothered to roll up his window, so splatters of mud coated his cheek and shirt, making his lightened eyes even brighter surrounded by all that rich soil.

His gaze raked over her and she bit her bottom lip against the urge to straddle him. She
had made the first move last night. If Riker wanted her, he could come and get her. Moments dragged and still, he watched her. “You’re so beautiful.” Reaching over, he thumbed a smear of mud from her cheek. “You fit just right here, Hannah, with me.”

She leaned against the passenger door, wiggled her bottom in a show to get more comfortable. “You know, I always imagined my first time would be something like this.”

“Your first time with a man?” His dark eyebrows arched up, but he didn’t look displeased.

“When I was younger, but old enough to
think about what it would be like, I always imagined it would be like in the movies.”

“So you think the cab of my truck is like the movies?”

“I wish you were my first,” she blurted out. Heat crept into her cheeks but if she was brave enough to say it, she should be brave enough to watch his reaction.

He stalked her, pulled her ankles together with one hand and
eased her underneath him until she was flat against the bench seat. She ran her fingertips over his straining triceps, tensed and strong as he hovered over her. His lips brushed her neck and she spread her legs, opening for him as he lowered himself against her.


You wish I was your first?” he rumbled against her ear.

“Yes,” she whispered.

“How about if I’m your last.”

Oh, she knew what he meant. He was declaring himself to her. Bonding them closer than any marriage certificate could ever do. There was oath laced in his words and her heart pounded against her sternum with the realization
that he’d become crucial to her life.

He tugged her shorts down her legs
, and a faint ripping sound fill the space of the cab. The man seemed to like ruining her panties and surprising her with more. The slow zip of his pants made her whimper and brace against him, but he stilled her hips with a firm grip. “Say yes.”

Couldn’
t he see the answer in her eyes? She was his, body, soul, spirit, everything, from the moment she saw him standing stoically on his front porch. Even formal, and bearing ill news, a little piece of her had loved him in the moments they’d first laid eyes on each other. “Yes,” she whispered. Such a simple word, but from the way he looked at her, it felt so important.

“There’s a mating ceremony in three days at the summer solstice. Will you be bound?”

“To you?” she asked.

His fingers dug
deeper into her hips, stilling her undulating. “To me.”

“Forever?”

“Longer.”

Her breath caught in her throat, and she swallowed the urge to cry.
“Yes.” The word came out the barest of a whisper, but he’d hear it. He was a bear after all. Her bear.

“Hannah,” he said, teasing her wet folds with the head of his cock. “You’re my first in all the ways that matter. No one else touches you.
Every other woman was just sex. Nothing more, just mindless. It’s different with you. You make me feel…” He shook his head and clenched his teeth as if the word he searched for simply didn’t exist.

“It’s enough, Riker. That I make you feel is enough.”

He rewarded her understanding by sliding into her slowly, filling her until she arched her back against him. Torturously deliberate strokes promised a languid release, and she slipped her hands under the hem of his shirt, pulled it free of his body. Grunting as he bucked harder, he pulled her shirt away and unfastened her bra with a practiced
snick
of his fingers. He was so warm and alive against her skin. Kneading one breast in his strong hand, he drew the taut nipple of the other into his mouth and lapped it. She clutched at his back and spread her legs wider. He slid deeper and she gasped and writhed against him, desperate for more.

Teasing, he pulled his entire hard length out of her and filled her again. Slow
, calculated movements had her teetering on the edge of release, only to be pulled back again. Oh, he wanted her to feel him this time. It wasn’t like last night where she tempted him into getting her way. He was going to make her beg, bite, shudder, and whisper his name like a prayer on her lips.

His mouth found hers and he
angled his head, kissing her so deep she felt drunk with lust. His tongue explored her mouth and she reveled in the taste of him. His strokes came shorter now, only pulling back by centimeters before crashing against her hips again. Gently, he pulled her hair until her neck arched and he grazed his teeth against the sensitive skin there. She watched his face as he came, and his pulsing need brought her own climax. There was no screaming his name or clawing his back. Gazes locked, bodies anchored, they tipped over the edge of utter abandon together, throbbing against each other as his seed spilled out of her, too much for her to hold.

“I love you,” he whispered against her lips.

And the butterflies fluttered on.

****

Hannah had never been more excited to see no trespassing signs in her life. The fence line was riddled with the hand painted warnings. Two guards met Riker at his window with happy greetings for their returned alpha.

“Any trouble while we were gone?”

“All’s been quiet, sir,” one of the guards said. He was a tall man with shoulder length blond hair. Weston, she thought his name was.

She’d just started getting to know the shifters of Bear Valley before Stone’s men attacked the clan. Now, she felt the urge to make up for lost time.

“First lady’s back, huh?” Weston said with a bright grin. “Good to see you safe with us again.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever missed a place so much in my life.” He was a shifter. He’d be able to hear the honesty in her tone. This place was home in every way that mattered.

Weston smacked his palm against the open window frame and shoved off. “Jenny’s going to kick your ass,” he called as Riker gave a two-fingered wave and pulled away.

The vision of how upset Jenny had been when she’d left tugged at her and suddenly, she wished the miles that stretched from the front gate to the center of the
valley weren’t so long. Jenny was her best friend. Sure, she’d thrown her in the challenge ring and forced her to vie for a mating with Riker, but that had worked out, and over time, she’d come to depend on Jenny. It was strange to think of having a friend again. It had been a long time since she’d had to sever ties with the people that filled the lonely spaces in her old life. Jenny wasn’t so fragile though. Hannah could let her guard down because Jenny was sister to the alpha and one of the toughest bears she knew.

The risk she felt in New York melted with each mile she drew closer to Riker’s house. Murphy might very well be after her still, but he had a whole lot of protective, murderous bears to get
through in order to hurt her further. And if she were a betting woman, she’d bet on her bears any day.

The shadows of the coming night stretched across the dirt road as they bumped along. She was bone deep weary, but Riker seemed rejuvenated to be in his territory again. His eyes lightened to the gray of a dove’s breast and he sat up straighter. She loved seeing him here. He was powerful and decisive in the city, but here, among his clan and land, he was a force of nature.

A chill rattled her spine and he canted his head, rested that inhuman gaze on her. “Mate, are you well?”

Oh, yeah. His bear was running things now. Formal Riker usually hinted that he was trying to keep tight control of something she couldn’t see.

Sliding over the bench seat to rest against his warmth, she leaned her head on his shoulder and splayed her fingers against his powerful thigh. “Better than well. Do you need to change tonight? I’ll wait up if you do.”

“Is it obvious?”

She ran a light fingernail against his cheek, under the blazing color. “Your eyes give you away. It’s been a hard couple of days.”

“I’ll probably be out late. You shouldn’t wait up. I’ll be in bed beside you when you wake.”

A night without Riker sounded about as fun as waxing her legs but he had to take care of his primal side and she’d have to adjust.

The mountains in the background had gone dark against the evenin
g sky. Lights from cabins illuminated the clearing, and the land moved with clan members walking home for dinner after a long day of work. Riker’s house sat at the end of a row of cabins—large and Victorian, with a wraparound front porch. It had been painted the color of pine bark with white trim. The big house wouldn’t always belong to Riker. It was the alpha’s house and Riker had to win by violence in the alpha challenges every year. Someday, when he retired from running the clan, perhaps they’d pick a cabin on the outskirts of the community and live out their days happily in a more modest home. But for the foreseeable future, Riker, the strongest and most lethal of the grizzlies that dwelled in Bear Valley, lived in the alpha’s house.

Riker never talked about it, but Jenny had told
Hannah he had led them through the last battle for Bear Valley land the first year he’d won alpha rank. The clan had known prosperity from then on under Riker’s careful leadership. He cared about his clan, worked the fields alongside them and spent hours with them each day, listening to their needs. He weighed each decision about their future carefully. Good men still existed in the world, and Benson Riker was one of them.

“I’m really proud of you,” she said into the quiet cab of his truck.

He cut the engine and draped an arm around the back of the seat, around her shoulders. “Why do you say that?”

“You’re good for your people. I see the way you care about them and it makes me really proud of the things you’ve accomplished here.”

Twitching his head, he murmured, “Sounds like you’ve been talking to my sister again. She has a romantic way of looking at things.” He cocked his head, his gaze steady and glowing in the waning light. “There will be more battles, Hannah. Doesn’t matter what I do to avoid them, other shifters will come for Bear Valley. You’re in danger in the city, but someday, you’ll be in danger here too.” He brushed a loose strand of hair from her face and tucked it behind her ear. “Maybe it’s selfish of me to keep you here, but I’ll protect you. I just wanted you to know how things are for us. We’re in a time of peace right now, but someday, we’ll have to fight for it again and by then, you’ll be a part of it. A part of us.”

With a sigh, she leaned into his side as he wrapped his arm around her. “I’ll fight with you when that day comes. Bear Valley is my home too.”

His expression was troubled, his eyebrows low but she couldn’t do anything to settle the tension there. Someday’s and might be’s would come when they came, but worrying over them now wouldn’t solve anything.

“Benson.
Elden. Riker!” Jenny screamed from the front porch of his house.

The dark headed, slight woman punched her fists to her hips and glared at the truck with an expression that could freeze hell.

“You’re middle name is Elden?” Hannah sucked her lips into her mouth to keep from laughing.

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