Authors: T. S. Joyce
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Paranormal, #Fantasy, #Werewolves & Shifters
Damn, damn, double damn. Riker had killed uncountable shifters in the battle’s he’d fought, but surely the charge wasn’t for one of them. The bear clans seemed to keep their deaths a very private matter. If he were being charged as a suspect in a bear murder, one of the rival clans would take the blame, which would cause Bear Valley to wage war. Maybe that’s what they wanted.
Or it could be the slew of Stone’s men who’d attacked the valley seven deep. She hadn’t any idea where the clan had buried those bo
dies, but they sure as sugar hadn’t invited the police to look upon their bear ravaged corpses. If the charge were for one or all of those men, no judge was going to tie a bear attack to Riker. Unless the police thought Riker had trained the bears or maybe threw the attackers into a bear pit. The idea that Blaine’s deputies knew about their shifter sides was just too disturbing to think about, so Hannah’s mind whirled around that little gem.
also Riker’s guards and Jeremy who’d been killed in battle, but unless the cops had dug up the clan graveyard, they wouldn’t suspect foul play. And Riker wasn’t responsible for their deaths. He’d tried to save them.
That left Dane and his
two lackeys up in New York. Riker had definitely killed them.
Hannah parked the truck in the only remaining spot in front of the police station. She gripped the wheel and took a long, deep steadying breath. If she could keep her cool, she would find out more information. If she flew off the handle, which she definitely felt like doing, they’d clam up on her and s
he’d have to slink back to the valley empty handed. She would have to go back home without Riker. Tears burned the back of her eyelids and she blinked to keep them at bay. “Buck up, girl,” she muttered. He needed her.
A bell ran
g out as she opened the door to the station. The office was bathed in beige and the lack of color gave it a sterile feel. An oversized desk cluttered the front and two more sat against the walls. Blaine and his rookie sat at them, on the phones while the deputy,
, his nametag read, stared at her with blond, winged up eyebrows from his seat behind the large front desk. His cold expression said she’d already irritated him somehow.
It was the sight at the back of the room that held her frozen though. A barred cell took up the wall, and though it was large, it wasn’t nearly
big enough to hold a man, or shifter, like Benson Riker.
Riker paced, shoulders hunched and eyes bright, reminding her of a pair of
sun bears that had manically travelled the fences of a zoo she’d been to once. He was caged and the tension in his strained body said he wasn’t handling it well. She felt claustrophobic just watching him.
His nostrils flared and he turned that inhuman gaze on her. His hands wrapped around the bars and he pulled so hard the metal clanged.
“Cut it out,” the rookie yelled.
Riker looked away just in time
for him to miss the churning color of his eyes. Oh, man, this was bad. Sooner or later, Riker’s bear was going to escape his human skin and all of Bear Valley’s secrets would pour into the police station.
When Riker lifted his cold gaze to her again, she mouthed,
Easy, my love
. She had to do something.
,” Bryant said in an irked tone as he waved his hand in front of her. “Can I help you?”
“That’s my…” She cleared her throat and spoke louder. “He’s mine.”
Both gold eyebrows arched now and his green eyes tightened. “He’s your what?”
“Hus—fiancé. He’s my fiancé.”
“I don’t see a ring on your finger.”
Right. She rubbed her thumb across the inside of her naked ring finger.
“I left it at home. Sorry, this has all been really unexpected. Can I talk to the sheriff about why exactly you’ve arrested him?”
“Sheriff is busy. You can talk to me.”
“It’s okay,” Blaine said from behind him. “Please step into the back room and I’ll explain as much as I’m able.” He turned to Bryant. “I’m waiting on a call. Can you keep an ear out for it?”
As she passed by, Bryant watched her like a vulture and it made her skin crawl. Riker’s lip lifted in a snarl and his glare bored into Bryant’s back, but she shook her head. No need to get even more worked up.
A small office at the back of the station harbored a single table and two chairs on opposite sides of the cold, metal furniture. An interrogation room. Blain closed the door softly behind them and she scanned the corners of the room. Two cameras pointed directly at her
from the ceiling.
With a wave, Blaine said, “They’re turned off. Not much use for them. Days are usually quiet around here.
Feeling wary still, she pursed her lips. “Can they be turned on from in there?” She pointed to a wall of mirror glass she was going to go out on a limb and guess was two-way.
“Yes, but the door creaks no matter how slow you open it
. We’ll hear it if someone gets in that room.”
“Good. Then what the shit, Blaine? You realize you have a fucking alpha
werebear pacing your jail cell, right? Bear, tiny cage, they don’t mix well if you catch my drift. He’s teetering. If you don’t realize how tight he’s strung, you’ve lost your damned mind.”
h, listen. This is all way over my head. I didn’t order this, nor is it our department pressing the charges. Orders came from higher up.”
“Who is he charged with murdering?” she gritted out. Her teeth were clenched so tight, her jaw hurt.
“Dane Mendel, Ellis Dade, and Ron O’Hara.”
She huffed a humorless
laugh and sank into one of the metal chairs. “Let me guess. You got a call from a Lieutenant Murphy.”
“How did you know?” Blaine’s dark eyes sparked and he sat across from her, lowered his voice to a whisper. “Hannah, you better tell me what went down up
in New York. I’m trying to put out fires here without any fucking water. Tell me how to get him out of this.”
“Does Murphy have proof?”
“He says he does. He’s headed here now to interrogate Riker tomorrow, then transfer him to New York for trial.”
“He wouldn’t say.”
arrested him with no proof?”
“Don’t whisper yell at me, Hannah! It’s not just me in this department. If I push too hard, they’ll connect me to Bear Valley and I won’t have any say in anything. I couldn’t get around arresting Riker. Not if
Murphy is bringing proof he murdered three men from New York.”
“We were careful. He wiped everything clean and was only in there for a few minutes. They had me…shit, Blaine, you’re
really going to make me revisit this.” She bit the tremble in her bottom lip to punish its treachery. Tears filled her eyes and she dashed them away. “Dane and his men had me chained to a wall in a torture room they’d set up just for me. They had all the instruments they’d use on me all lined up for me to see what was coming. They were going to kill me, Blaine. Slowly.”
“And Riker stopped them?”
She nodded, afraid if she spoke it would come out a sob. He scrubbed his hands over his face and shook his head. “What does Murphy have to do with this?”
“He works for Stone
, the man I testified against. I told you Jeremy was going after a rat in the force. Someone kept tipping Stone off to our safe houses. Got my handler Jimmy killed and his men were the ones who tortured Jeremy. I thought he’d forget about me if all of the other players were taken out of the game, but Murphy is still at it. I found out about him when we went to go pick up my belongings from an old friend. The cop, Murphy, was still visiting him to see if I’d come by. A year later and he’s still checking.”
“There’s not much I hate more in this world than a dirty fuckin’ cop.” Blaine’s lip twitched like he wanted to spit. “
That’s not the way most of us are. Most of us are trying to keep peace, but men like Murphy make our jobs that much harder.”
“I know you’re one of the good ones. What are our options?”
“I can only hold him for twenty-four hours without proof officially charging him. I’d let him go now if it weren’t for the rest of my force. The earliest I can do is in the morning. He’s got to spend the night here, Hannah, I’m sorry.”
Her heart felt heavy and weak. “And when Murphy shows up tomorrow?”
“We’ll pick apart his evidence and decide whether or not it’s enough to bring Riker in again. If it’s hair or DNA of any kind or anything that will hold up in trial, my hands are tied. But if Murphy’s grasping at straws, which it sounds like he is, he has no jurisdiction here. He’ll have to go back to New York empty handed. It all depends on what kind of proof he comes up with tomorrow.”
“When can I pick Riker
“I’m staying up here tonight to watch him. I’ll let him out at six in the morning before my deputies arrive. Until then, you need to get back to Bear Valley.”
“Can I talk to him before I go?”
“I’ll give you five minutes if you swear to explain everything to Jenny. I won’t see her and I know she’s pissed that I arrested her brother.
And I can’t risk calling her right now.”
Jenny was going to maim him when he got home tomorrow, but Hannah would put in a good word if it meant she got a few minutes with Riker. Plus, she could see Blaine didn’t have much control over this situation. He was trying and she felt better about Riker staying if Blaine was here to talk him down or, God forbid, cover for him if he ended up shifting in that damned cage tonight.
Blaine opened the interrogation room door for her, then pulled a ring of keys from his belt and opened the screeching metal door
to Riker’s cell.
“What are you doing?” Bryant asked from his desk up front.
“Letting her say goodbye to her fiancé before she has to go back home without him,” Blaine said testily. “We did arrest the man on some high falutin’ city force’s whim and he didn’t resist arrest. It’s the right thing to do.”
Bryant’s expression said he disagreed but Hannah was already through the bars and Riker rushed her and pulled her i
nto a lung-squeezing hug.
“Did you hear,” she whispered against his neck.
“Yeah, most of it. You’ll be here at six?”
“I’ll be here earlier, but you won’t be able to come home until then. You have to hold it together tonight, okay?”
“I need…” His voice sounded strangled. “If I were with you, this would be easier. My bear side can’t seem to settle behind these bars.”
Grinning into his neck, she said, “Riker, I don’t think these men would appreciate the sight of
you fulfilling your needs with me.”
A moment of silence passed, then another. Then a deep chuckle reverberated against her shoulder and he took a long breath near her hair. “Sorry. That sounded crazy and desperate.”
“Sounded like a bear,” she breathed. His laugh had loosened something tight and choking within her and she sighed. “One night and then you’ll be back in Bear Valley and we’ll take whatever Murphy’s mystery proof is when it comes.”
He pressed a
remarkable erection against her belly and his lips crooked in a mischievous smile. “What if you don’t like me the same tomorrow? Prison changes a man.”
She snorted and swatted at his hand, which was making impressive work at fond
ling her bosom. “This isn’t prison. It’s more like a drunk tank for the local mountain moonshiners.”
“Hannah,” Blaine said.
Right, time to go. “Control your bear, Riker. Relax, sleep, and I’ll be here in the morning. I love you.”
He pulled her hand against his chest, above his pounding heart, and rested his forehead against hers. “I love you
As she sat in Riker’s truck outside the station, she cursed her tears back into place and hit the steering wheel with the palm of her hand. It would be her first full night away from
him and the thought of sleeping in his cold bed alone hurt. She’d get about as much sleep tonight in his four-poster bed as he’d get on the cold bench in his cell.
skunk faced little anus worm. He’d given away her safe houses, got Jimmy killed and had helped Stone ruin her life. And now, just as she found hope at getting her old self back, he was here to ruin everything again.
If it was the last thing she did, Murphy
was going to pay for his treachery.
The council mem
bers filed out of Riker’s house one by one, and Hannah waved to them from the front porch.
“How are you holding up?” Cameron asked. After the meeting to update everyone about what she learned in town, Brody
, Dillon and Cameron all seemed inclined to linger. Maybe they didn’t have mates to go home to, but she was grateful they seemed genuinely concerned. It made her feel like she was already part of the clan in a way.
“I’ll be better when I know what Murphy is playing at.
Here’s what bothers me about his claims. If he actually takes Riker to trial, there’s a huge risk of the court linking him to Dane and then to Stone. So why risk it?”
“Because he’s desperate, like Blaine said,” Brody guessed. “You’ve slipped through his fingers for a year. I’ve known men like him. They live for the hunt and will stop at nothing to finish the game. He wouldn’t notice if he cut his own arm off, as long as he gets to you. And somehow, some way, he’s figured out the best way to get to you is by hurting Riker.
Just the mention of anyone hurting her mate made her blood boil to painful temperatures. She dug her fingernails into the palms of her clenched hands and swallowed hard. “I hate this.”
“We all do,” Cameron murmured. “The future of our clan rests upon this Murphy character’s ability to exact his revenge. We have to just trust you are a better hunter than him.”
She offered Dillon
his phone back, but Brody shook his head and curled her fingers around it. “You should keep the phone until we see this through. You’ll need a direct line to the council. Cameron might be alpha until Riker comes back, but we didn’t miss how easily you gave up a position that could’ve been yours.” He smiled kindly and stepped down the porch stairs after Dillon.
Cameron stayed, shuffling his weight from side to side. “Something has been bothering me and I owe you an apology for my actions in Merit’s
mishandling of Riker.”
Just the mention of Merit and what she’d done to Riker made Hannah swallow hard before answering. “Y
ou don’t have to explain. Merit is a master manipulator. You’ve been a good second to Riker and a good friend. You messed up but I don’t hold it against you. Neither does he.”
“Merit sold us lines, yes, but we should’ve been smart enough to see through them. We got caught up in following clan law to the letter and hurt you and
our alpha along the way.” He dropped his gaze to the notebook he held in his hands. Fingering a tattered corner, he said, “Despite what happened that night, Riker picked right. Merit would’ve made today a lot harder than it had to be, but you stepped in and did what you could to protect our people. If Riker makes it back for your mating ceremony in a few days, he’ll have a lot of people standing on his side, but I’d be proud to stand for you. Goodnight, Hannah.”
Stunned, she watched him disappear into the tree line. The last rays of sunlight permeated the clearing, making the swaying grass and wildflowers look otherworldly. Sighing, she leaned against the porch railing. The closer she came to becoming part of this clan, the more she wanted it. Not just to make Riker happy that his people accepted her, but for the
well-being of her soul.
She wished Marian had lived to see all this. To
witness her happy, finally having found her place in the world and a man who was worthy of protecting her heart. She maybe wouldn’t have told her sister about bear shifters, but she could almost see Marian’s smile if she were able to meet Riker, the one she used to get when she was truly happy. Hannah used to feel conscience-stricken over living when Marian hadn’t, but that survivor’s guilt had been washed away by her hours spent with Riker. No one here lived an easy life, and loss was part of walking this world. Bad people existed and she’d been lucky enough to survive her injuries at the hands of Stone’s men. Marian hadn’t, but it didn’t mean her sister’s shade would expect her to stop living and wallow in remorse instead. She’d want her to thrive for both of them. She owed it to Marian’s memory to be stronger.
All of her love hadn’t kept Marian alive, but this time it would be different. She knew her foes and Riker wasn’t just some target, waiting for an attack. He was a shifter and the strongest, most cunning man she knew. Tomorrow he would be free and he’d come home with a plan, of that she was sure.
He wasn’t taking a rest from reality locked up in that iron cage. He was plotting, much like Stone did from his prison too. Stone was one man with blind followers led by impure hearts. Riker was good to the core, with a clan who followed him because they could sense his integrity, see it in the way he touched their lives. She’d choose the side of Bear Valley any day and have a cleaner conscience because of it.
Wine. After a day like today, she wanted a glass of wine and there was still a
n unopened bottle of sweet white in the fridge. It was best if she kept busy, so she pulled the bag of new clothes from Riker’s truck and separated them out with the ones in the hamper. When the washer was swishing loudly and the next load sat ready and waiting its turn in a plastic basket on the laundry room floor, she popped the cork to her wine and heated up a frozen pizza from Riker’s freezer. Bachelor food left over from when she didn’t exist in his life. It tasted like cheesy cardboard but about now, anything would. Her appetite always disappeared when she was stressed.
Wine uncorked and poured, she meandered into Riker’s bedroom with the sole intention of staring miserably at his empty bed. The box of her old belongin
gs he’d set in the corner drew her attention instead. The glass clinked as she set it clumsily on the dresser, then she dragged the box to the middle of the room and sank onto the plush carpet beside it. She hesitated, fingers hovering over the tape as she wondered if opening it would release angels or demons.
The tape made a ripping s
ound as it tried to cling to its mother cardboard, but she was determined. And when it sat in a sticky pile next to her, she opened the lid with reverent fingers. Atop the pile of old memories was her parents’ wedding portrait. Marian had kept it on the wall in her living room before she’d passed away. It was an old black and white in a dusty bronze frame. Mom sat formally in front, Dad stood behind with his hand stiffly on her shoulder, but their faces… Something had made them laugh, the photographer perhaps, and they’d both cracked the most sincere, happy grins just as the picture was taken.
Hannah set it aside
and pulled out a dance trophy. She had been awful at it, even after years of practices and recitals, and her teacher had finally taken pity on her and given her an award for most improved. She hadn’t improved at all. Laughing thickly, she set it aside and pulled out something heavy wrapped in crackly brown paper. The tinkling of glass filled the room and she laid out thirty-one shot glasses, all from different states. Mom and Dad had taken her and Marian on road trips every summer growing up. To remember where they’d been, Hannah had collected shot glasses from gas stations and visitors centers they’d gone to. She’d thought that one day, she’d collect every state in America.
Pulling her wine from the dresser, she took a long pull
, and the flavors of ripe apricot and subtle citrus hummed against her taste buds. She lifted a stack of old photos from the box. Some were of her as a kid, some of Marian. A couple looked like snapshots from Mom and Dad’s honeymoon in Jamaica, but most of them were family pictures. Some formal, but the majority were impromptu, goofy pictures. Beach scenes, and hikes, bored looking teenagers at a national park, cook outs and campouts, and one with her and Marian fighting over the television remote with dopey grins on their faces. She didn’t realize she was crying until a tear splattered against a picture of her sister hugging her up tight at her high school graduation.
She’d been someone before all of this—before Stone. She’d meant something to people.
And not just any people, but good, loving, important people. How did she end up here? Twenty-four years old and out of control of her life. Everything had spiraled. She should be working a steady job and be independent. Instead, she only continued to remain alive because of the protection of an alpha bear shifter and his people. And dammit, she wished she could just save herself sometimes.
Knock, knock, knock.
Hannah frowned at the hallway that led to the front door. Dashing her hands over her face, she snatched her glass of wine and smoothed out her cutoff jean shorts. They were riddled with cleverly placed holes and not that presentable in front of council members, but it was getting late, so they’d have to take what they got.
When she threw open the door, Jenny stood on the porch, looking small and frail. Impressive since she had a
n alpha-slapping-grizzly living inside her. Jenny tried to smile but her lip trembled, and her eyes were red and puffy.
A single clucking sound came from Hannah before she pulled her in close. “He didn’t betray us. Blaine is up at the station with Riker right now trying to take the sting off his confinement.”
Jenny wrapped her arms around Hannah’s waist and sighed. She smelled like animal, which meant she’d probably been a bear most of the day while her emotions reeled. The trees over her shoulder swayed and swished as the wind picked up, and the stars had been covered by low hanging clouds, barely visible against the dark of night.
“You hungry?” Hannah asked.
“I ate a rabbit and a small grove of blueberries.”
“Gross to the rabbit part,” she said, drawing
Jenny inside and shutting the door behind her. “You want wine then?”
“No, my bear doesn’t tolerate it. I won’t be able to shift.” Her expression changed, became more determined and her dark eyes turned steely. “But I just changed and won’t need to
again for a while, so yeah. I could use a glass or three.”
The kitchen had an extr
emely masculine feel to it. Hannah had always been struck by it when she walked in by how dark and clean it was. The walls were painted in a squirrel brown and someone had been thoughtful enough to add wainscoting. Instead of white, they’d painted it a forest green color. Anywhere else, the color combination in a kitchen would be grating on the eyes, but here, it just fit. Alpha and Riker all in one. The countertops were made of natural wood, smoothed and polished and the appliances were modern in a manly stainless steel. It was the only kitchen she’d ever seen that looked like it should have a dick and a coon skinned cap.
The well-oiled cupboard didn’t even offer a squeak as she opened it to grab another wine glass, and as she poured, she explained what Blaine had told her.
Jenny still looked angry as she took her first sip, but at least she didn’t look closed off like she had during Riker’s arrest.
“Now you,” Jenny said. “Spill why you’ve been crying.”
“You mean besides the fact that my mate is in jail?”
“Yeah, besides that. It’s more.” Jenny
slowly traced the lip of her wine glass with her fingertip. “I can practically smell your misery.”
“We brought a box of my old belongings back from New York. I was just going through them.”
“And I interrupted?”
It’s okay. I probably needed a break.”
Jenny looked at her for a long time, sipping her wine. “Can I see?”
Lowering her chin, Hannah arched her eyebrows in surprise. “Okay.” Maybe it would feel nice to share Marian’s memories with another person. She trusted Jenny almost as much as Riker, and as much as her instinct encouraged her to hide Marian’s things away for herself, it would be good to talk about her. Let her sister go even. There was no more room in her life for ghosts.
On the bedroom floor, Jenny thumbed through the old photos with a
slight smile. Some made her laugh and some made her eyes sparkle with tears. “You had a good childhood.” It wasn’t a question, but a statement.
“It was the best,” Hannah said thickly. Sometimes she wished she could turn back time.
“Riker and I were all each other had. Mom and Dad didn’t know what to do with us when our changes became uncontrollable, and living outside of a clan made them paranoid. They didn’t let us have friends.”
“Why didn’t they pick a clan?”
“They did, before we were born. The Razor Tooth Clan. My dad was even alpha for a year. He was big, as big as Riker so he had the genetics for it, but didn’t have the mind for it. He couldn’t hold the clan for long and I think he resented the next alpha. He left within the year and took our mom with him. If you had kids, would you want to stay here?”
Her question caught Hannah off guard, and the answer felt important so she took her time mulling over the answer, worrying a piece of loose carpet thread
as she thought. Drawing her knee up to her chin like a shield, she said, “I haven’t thought about it. Kids weren’t exactly in the plans while I was on the run, and before that, I hadn’t dated anyone I was interested in starting a family with. After the first time we were together, I asked Riker about using protection, but he closed down and said we didn’t have anything to worry about. I figured kids weren’t a possibility for us.”
“They aren’t impossible, but your chances will be very slim. Blaine and I have been trying for years. Bear shifters and humans just don’t conceive easy for some reason.”
Hannah dropped her gaze, unable to witness the heartache in Jenny’s eyes. “Do you think Riker wanted kids before I came along?”