Read Devoted to the Bear Online

Authors: T. S. Joyce

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

Devoted to the Bear (5 page)

Jenny squealed. That’s the only word to describe the joyous shriek that eked from her vocal cords. “It’s a good thing we’re heading into town. We need to get you an outfit. Something pretty. You’ll be officially one of the clan then and it’s a big moment.”

“Are there going to be people…I mean will it happen like when Riker had to bed Merit?”

Jenny took her gaze from the road long enough for Hannah to register her frown. “You mean will people have to witness you and Riker having sex? No. Hell no. That was just Merit’s twisted plan to get Riker to choose her in front of council members and his second. It won’t be like that. Besides, you smell like Riker now. It’s clear he’s doing his duty to you.”

“Duty?”

“Not like that. I mean that he’s taking care of you. You’re mate of the alpha, Hannah. You’ll have an important place among our people, even after Riker’s reign is through. Your mate should be revering you, and from your scent, it’s obvious he is.”

Dipping her chin, Hannah sniffed herself, but couldn’t
smell anything other than whatever laundry detergent Jenny had used to wash the shirt. “Do you think the clan is angry that Riker didn’t choose a bear shifter as a mate?” The answer mattered. She wanted to be accepted, and ghosts of what-could-have-been threatened to hurt her chances at assimilation.

“Some of them are frustrated but they’ll get over it. What choice do they have? Riker’s bear has chosen, so they can either get on board or get out. I can’t imagine he’ll be too patient with naysayers. He’s a fair leader, but he’s no pushover. He runs Bear Valley with a strict hand, but anyone with eyes can see it’s
for the good of our people. He’s taking a risk choosing you, but so what? It’ll blow over and people won’t think about it after a while. That’s the way it is with Blaine. I think that sometimes the clan forgets he’s human.”

As Jenny pulled the oversized tru
ck onto the main road, a highway sign reading
Sheridan 20 miles
passed by.

Hannah reached for the radio dials and found a radio station blaring a
Cage the Elephant
song. Jenny bobbed her head to the beat and didn’t seem to mind her choice.

The term
town
was an overstatement. Village was more like it. Sheridan, Montana, population six hundred and forty-eight and only a couple times bigger than the population of bear shifters that lived in secret among the mountain passes just thirty miles away.

The main street was so small
Hannah controlled her blinking, lest she miss it. The police station was the biggest building by far and Blaine’s cruiser was parked in front of it. A diner advertising famous pies seemed to be the busiest at the end of the street with six cars parked out front. A general store was connected to a store called Miser’s. This was the building Jenny parked in front of. Racks of clothes had been set out front with big red signs reading
clearance
.

The next hour was spent scouring the
hangers for good deals and well-fitting clothes. Riker had lost his last ever-loving marbles if he thought anywhere in this town sold lace panties, so she settled on a pack of bikini cut cottons and made a mental note to track down a computer to order his preferred lingerie later. Patience was a virtue and if he placed such importance on her undergarments, maybe he should quit ripping them up like an animal. A private smile ghosted her lips. Okay, so she liked when he acted like an animal and if she was really honest, she even liked the satisfying sound of the fabric ripping under his desperate fingers. On second thought, she grabbed another pack of cotton comfys and made her way to the register. A pair of jeans, ankle height hiking boots, three clearance shirts and undergarments and she was still well under the cash Riker had given her.

Jenny toted three bags and together, they shoved them into the back seat of the truck before dashing across the street to the diner. With a frown puckering her dark, delicate eyebrows, Jenny checked her phone as they sat in a booth against the big window. “I texted Blaine to meet us for lunch but he hasn’t responded.”

Hannah pulled the plastic menu from the holder by the ketchup and said, “Maybe he’s really busy at work.”

Jenny’s eyes were closed off and thoughtful as she cast her gaze to Blaine’s police cruiser across the street. Okay, so maybe busy didn’t often apply to the
department of Sheridan, but Hannah couldn’t imagine Blaine ignoring his wife on purpose. Every time she had seen him, he’d bent over backward to make sure Jenny was comfortable and happy, and she did the same for him. Their relationship was inspiring.

Eventually the waitress brought out cheeseburger baskets and twin ice waters and Hannah kept u
p the conversation because Jenny seemed to become more and more uneasy. It wasn’t until the slice of cherry pie was set on the table in between them that Hannah felt it too. That instinct of wrongness that Jenny’s furrier side had probably been feeling all this time. A chair clattered against the tile as a man backed into it, and he stared at the window with wide eyes.

Across the street, three police cruisers, including Blaine’s, lit up the little town. Seconds later, the sirens sounded as they pulled from the parking lot and blasted up the road. Jenny’s face had gone an ash gray color and her chest heaved as if she couldn’t catch her breath.

“He’ll be fine,” Hannah said, patting her hand. It was his job. Whatever crime he was chasing probably happened more than Jenny knew. She usually wasn’t in town to worry over him, was all. He’d be back in Bear Valley, telling her all about some moonshining mountain man who’d killed a neighbor’s mountain goat at dinner tonight.

The r
ubberneckers stretched against the windows until the wailing cars disappeared up the highway.

Jenny’s voice trembled when she whispered, “I think we should go home now.”

“But we haven’t finished the pie yet.”

Standing, Jenny
threw down a twenty and bolted past the onlookers talking in trios about the possibility of real crime near their town. Hannah grabbed her purse and ran after her.

She barely had the truck door closed before Jenny peeled out of the parking lot.

Chapter Six

Riker tossed his pen onto the stack of paperwork littering his desk. Cameron had just left and the meeting had been long and tedious. Financial talk always wore him down. They were possibly the most important meetings he conducted and he and Cameron worked well together, but half the time he had to slow his second down and ask him to use smaller words. Riker was an intelligent man, but Cameron’s brain worked on a different wavelength.

Pinching the bridge of his nose, he hoped the tension headache that loomed just behind his eyes
would stay at bay. He still needed to visit the fields and address two foremen complaints before he could take a break. Before he could see Hannah again.

The office chair creaked as he relaxed into it. She was probably having fun with Jenny and the corner of his lip lifted in a smile. He’d been doing that a lot since she came into his life. Before her, he’d thought leading his people was the only thing that could m
ake him feel satisfied. Now, he practically whistled wherever he went.

A vision of Hannah, teasing her
slick opening with her finger brushed his mind. She’d been so confident in her body last night, so open with what she needed from him and his cock twitched to life just thinking about her.

He’d been wrong. His mate found lots of ways to make him happy.

A sound caught his attention and he froze, listening. Not a sound exactly, but something just above his heightened senses. The hair on his neck rose with a chill and he massaged the cold skin there. Standing, he strode to the front door and waited. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, and none of the other shifters who ambled around the row of houses near the office building seemed wary.

His crazy bear. He’d been overprotective since Hannah had vied to be mated to him. Now, every damned out of place cricket set him off. Rubbing the back of his prickling neck once more, he turned to shut the door.

There it was again. Faint, but he could hear it if he tuned out the forest sounds. Cameron talked easily with Nathan Billings near the tree line, and when his head snapped to the same direction, Riker knew it wasn’t just him.

“Cam.”

“I hear it.” Cameron jogged toward him, his notebook flapping haphazardly with the jouncing movement.

Narrowing his eyes, Riker
asked, “What is it?”

“Sounds like sirens, sir.”

“Shit.” Cameron was right. As soon as he said the words, the familiarity clicked into place. Running, he took off for his house, which was positioned at the mouth of the road. What if Hannah had been taken or something had happened to her while she and Jenny were in town. Oh, God. What if he’d lost her and this was the moment that destroyed his life?

Minutes
felt like hours as he paced the yard. Scrubbing his hands through his hair, he tried to settle enough to hide the feral glow that would light his eyes if he let his bear push him too much. The clan was gathering, men and women jogging from the trails that snaked through their sanctuary. Cops on bear shifter land was bad. Really, really bad.

Th
ree cop cars, blaring lights and sirens pulled into the yard, skidding to a stop in front of him. The crowd around him looked scared and restless.

“Keep calm,” he
ordered. It wasn’t just his bear that was a concern. One misstep from any of the eighty shifters gathered here and they tipped their hand, spilled their secrets. Every last one of them would be at risk. Not just their clan, but the Raiders, the Rocky Hunters, Blood Den, the Long Claws, all of them. Every last clan from here to the end of the world would be hunted down if humans figured out they weren’t the superior species.

Blaine stepped from his cruiser and Riker jogged toward him. “Hannah?”

Blaine shook his head and slashed his hand through the air in front of him in warning.
She’s fine
, he mouthed.

The entire police force of Sheridan was here and Riker
held out his hands, confused. “Why are you on our land then?” Blaine didn’t want the deputy and rookie who followed him to know of his affiliation with the place, so be it. But he had little patience for trespassers without good reason.

“Benson Riker,”
Blaine said, pulling a pair of handcuffs from his belt. “You’re under arrest.”

****

By the time Jenny pulled up to Bear Valley gates, it was apparent something was horribly wrong. Skidding left and right, Jenny was relentless on the gas as they blasted down the dirt road. Juniper, Oak, and Engelmann and towering Lodgepole pines blurred by, all so green and vibrant in their summer color, it began to make Hannah carsick. When they finally pulled in behind the police cruisers, the scene before her was nothing short of horrifying. Riker was in handcuffs, his downturned eyes blazing, and Blaine was leading him to his car. The lights, red and blue, were blinding in the shadow of the mountains but at least the officers had the decency to turn the sirens off. The crowd surged as Riker was led away and Hannah threw open the door and ran for him.

“What are you doing?” Jenny cried, but one warning glance from Blaine stopped her in her tracks.

Hannah tried to catch Riker’s eye, but his gaze stayed on the ground. When his shoulder brushed hers, he glanced up at her so quickly, she almost missed it. The color of his eyes couldn’t pass for human if his life depended on it. Blaine’s deputies weren’t in the know and Riker had some serious covering up to do. “What is he being accused of?” Hannah asked Blaine, fighting to control the panic that threatened to close up her throat completely.

Blaine put a hand on Riker’s head and guided him into the back seat of his cruiser. With a tortured look at Hannah, he said, “Murder.”

Murder. The word filled her with green sloshing sickness when he said it like that, but which murder was Riker being accused of? He’d been on a maiming spree trying to protect her, but it was all in self-defense. And they were all fucking soulless criminals bent on torturing innocent people. Society wasn’t exactly going to miss them. Riker had probably saved countless lives by ridding the world of those serial murderers.

She looked to Jenny for help, but the woman shook with barely checked fury and her husband withered under her murderous glare. The mass of shifters faces ranged from fearful to enraged
, and a group of men heaved toward the cruisers.

“Stop,” Hannah
yelled, rushing forward and putting her hands up to slow their progress.

“They’re taking our alpha,” a man growled.

“And they’re taking my mate. But they’re cops,” she admonished low. “Our rules don’t apply out there. I’ll figure this out, but you’ll have every state trooper in Montana down on this place if you resist on his behalf. Back. The fuck. Off.”

By inches they retreated and the cruisers whipped around the yard and
disappeared down the dirt road. Scanning the crowd, it looked like only about half of the clan were here. Merit stood in the crowd, a cruel smirk twisting her lips, but Hannah didn’t have time for her. No doubt she’d twist this any way she could to anyone who would listen, but right now, Riker was who mattered.

“Council members!
” Hannah called. “Are any of the council members here? And Cameron.”

Four of the six council members stepped forward, as well as Riker’s second, Cameron.

“Pow wow,” she said breathlessly, gesturing toward Riker’s front porch. When the last, an old man named Dillon, caned his way up the stairs, she lowered her voice and leveled with them. “What does this mean for the clan? What are the laws? Who runs the show while Riker is locked up?”

“Usually the mate of the alpha can take over if he is gone for only a few days, but you haven’t been officially initiated as his mate or as part of the clan.”

She waved her hand. “That’s fine, I’ll be in town trying to figure out what is happening with Riker anyway. Who’s next?”

Brody, the youngest member of the council pushed his glasses further up his nose. “Then it would be the second, Cameron, but this is only a temporary fix, Hannah.”

“What do you mean?” She didn’t want to make them feel rushed, but nearly all of her mind was behind the wheel of the truck already and blasting down the dirt road.

“Five days. The alpha has five absent days before alpha challenges can be issued and another can take over.
And Riker has already spent two taking you to New York.”

Shit
popsicles! After everything, Riker could still lose his rank in the clan if she didn’t find a way to spring him from jail in three days’ time.

“Nobody wants that,” Cameron said
in a quiet voice. “We’ve studied the challengers and none are up to follow in Riker’s footsteps. He’s been good for the clan, but it’s more than that. If the other bear shifter clans catch wind that Bear Valley is in turmoil, they’ll attack. We need Riker to run this place, but we also need him to lead us into battle if it comes down to it. No one can touch the number of fights he’s led us through. He’s a brawler. We need him as ruling alpha.” His blue eyes were so earnest, pleading for her understanding.

With clenched hands, she gripped
her hair at her nape, then puffed a gust of air. “Okay, Cameron, you and the council keep this place running. I’ll be in touch the minute I have news.”

Dillon
handed her a cell phone. “Press one. It’s speed dial for Brody. He can keep us up to date on anything you find out. Do you need an escort?”

“The less bears in town right now, the better. I’ll call.” She
pocketed the phone and jumped over the stairs, then cut through the milling crowd. “Jenny, you stay here,” she called, wishing she felt as confident as she sounded.

Blain di
dn’t want Jenny involved and Hannah didn’t know why. She didn’t know anything. Blaine wouldn’t betray them though. He just wouldn’t. She clung to that instinct as Jenny nodded absently, her gaze still glued to the road with the settling dust trail.

“I’ll be back as soon as I find out anything. Everyone, just stay here.” Hannah bolted for the truck and twisted the keys
in the ignition. The engine roared to life and she followed the cruisers out of Bear Valley.

Over her cold, lifeless body was that all the time she got with Riker.

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