Authors: T. S. Joyce
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Paranormal, #Fantasy, #Werewolves & Shifters
shoulders lifted to her earlobes. “I don’t know.”
“Merit could’ve given him kids.”
“Kids wouldn’t have been a solution for what would be wrong between Riker and Merit. Nothing good would’ve come from his bear choosing her.”
Troubled, Hannah pulled her high
school diploma from the box, then a yearbook. As she flipped through it, looking for Marian’s picture, Jenny pulled out a stack of thin canvas paintings Hannah had made in an art class Mom insisted she take when she was in middle school.
“Oh my goodness. Hannah.” Jenny held up a picture of a bear standing on a rock in the middle of a river.
Her face cracked into a grin and she cocked her head, squinted at the atrocious picture. It was funny. When she was thirteen, she’d thought it the greatest picture in all the land, but with age and experience, it was now clear that she’d never, ever had a chance at becoming an artist. The bear wasn’t even brown. It was more the color of burnt orange and the proportions were all wrong. His legs and snout were way too short. Even his eyeballs were pointed different directions. She snorted a laugh. “That’s hideous.”
“It’s like you knew! Here’s a painting of your future mate right here.”
Jenny doubled over, laughing her tits off and Hannah snatched the painting to get a better look. “I should hang this in Riker’s office.”
Jenny downed the last couple ounces of her second glass of wine and reached for the nearly empty bottle they’d brought with them. “You definitely should. Put his name across the top first though. He’ll be so impressed.”
Laughing so hard, tears fled the corners of her eyes, Hannah ran into his office, rummaged through the supply drawer for a permanent marker and wrote
across the top. Jenny was hunched over in the doorway braying laughter as she pinned it to the wall right above his desk. It looked even uglier there under the glaring recessed lighting right above it.
Maybe it was the wine, or perhaps just the hideousness that conflicted so starkly with Riker’s actual bear form, but Hannah had needed that laugh, and from the relief in Jenny’s face, she’d needed it too. When they returned to the box, all that was left was a rock collection she had no idea why she’d kept,
her sister’s childhood jewelry box, two stuffed teddy bears named Max and Periwinkle, and a tattered old copy of Jane Eyre Marian had gifted her for Christmas one year.
Hannah moved to break down the box, but Jenny lurched forward. “Wait, there’s one more thing.” She lifted out a folded piece of paper that read
in unfamiliar handwriting.
The remnants of her earlier smile dropped as she
unfolded the letter. Four little words, harmless apart, but horrifying together were scribbled across the page in red ink.
I’m coming for you.
Riker woke with a start. He couldn’t remember the dream he was having but it left him unsettled. His heart sounded loud and fast in the quiet dark of the station and he tried to settle down. Stiffly, he sat up and stretched his aching neck. The jailhouse bench made a cold and unforgiving mattress.
At least his bear wasn’t trying to shred him from the inside out anymore. A few minutes hugging Hannah had helped more than she would ever know. Her touch settled him and for the hundredth time since she’d come barreling into his life, he marveled at her effect on his animal.
He’d never thought he’d find a love match, just a good one with a mate he didn’t want to strangle, who would support him in clan politics.
Hannah was more. She was everything.
The clock on the wall said it was only midnight. What an asshole clock. Six more hours until he’d be free of this place.
Until Murphy brings his proof.
He brushed the thought away, afraid of what the threat of a long sentence behind bars would do to his bear.
Blaine sat at his desk, glaring at his computer like it held the secret to eternal youth
. He ran his hands through his thick hair, a gesture usually reserved for when he was thinking really hard about something. He probably didn’t even notice the habit.
Riker stood and draped his arms over the bars, locked one leg and squinted at the screen. His vision was better than most humans, but the distance was still
pretty far to read words so small.
It looked like Blaine was reading prison visitation records.
“Can’t sleep?” Riker asked.
The chair croaked as his brother-in-law twisted to face him. He looked tired and upset and his hair stuck up in all directions. He’d probably been raking his hands through it all night. “If we could tie Murphy to Stone, or even to
Dane and prove he’s dirty, we have a better shot at getting you off, even if he has something to take to trial.”
“Ah. You’re putting together a case.” He’d never doubted Blaine. “What have you got so far?”
“Murphy visited Stone in prison right after the trial, which is good for us. I wish he would’ve gone more, because then we’d build a relationship between them for the court, but it still helps. How is Murphy communicating with Stone? Or is he working on that one order right after the trial? So, I’ve canvased the database for visits to Stone and there’s one man who comes to see him every week. His last visit was three days ago.”
“Right before Murphy paid Hannah’s friend a visit in New York.”
“Exactly. If I can prove a relationship between that guy and Murphy, it would help our case. And then if we could connect Murphy and Dane, that would be almost as good. He’d hang himself in court. Right now, I’m trying to figure out how they are communicating. I’ve pulled his phone records too, so I’ll start on that next. He knows how to work the system and it’ll be hard to catch him. But we’ll see if we can’t find phone calls between him and any of Stone’s men. The more I learn about this guy, the more I think he’s a bigger player than even Jeremy knew.”
Riker’s shoes made a shuffling sound as he shifted his weight
, and the toe of his boot made an echoing sound against one of the metal bars. “Murphy hasn’t been caught yet because he’s used his badge as a shield so far. That won’t protect him forever though.” It definitely wouldn’t protect the man from him.
Blaine nodded slowly and turned back to the computer. “
Not when he’s making blatant moves like locking you up. That’s a challenge if I’ve ever seen one. If you go to trial, there’s a big chance the court will find something that doesn’t add up with him. Plus, you and Hannah could accuse him at any time in front of a judge. He’s gotten cocky. Thinks he’s untouchable,” Blaine muttered, clicking to the next screen. “But I’m going to find something on him.”
Riker’s scalp tingled and he searched the ceiling for a vent.
“Why now? Why is he making his move right after we left the city? I think Hannah’s neighbor didn’t tell us everything he knew. Some of the things he said rang false and he could’ve given us Murphy’s card. Instead, he kept it for himself.”
nk he made a call to Murphy after you left?” Blaine asked, scratching the two day shadow on his jaw.
“That’s exactly what I think. I didn’t trust that little prick then, and I sure don’t trust him with this
kind of timing. And what the fuck is happening with this draft.” He swatted the back of his neck and shook his head. He hadn’t yet found a single reason for the chill that was washing over his skin in waves.
“What draft? The air condition isn’t even on.”
Riker scanned the room for open windows and shook his head again, trying to rid himself of the tingle against his skin. Gripping the bars until his knuckles turned white, he growled, “Blaine, can you make a call to Cameron? Have him check on Hannah.”
Jenny snatched the letter from Hannah’s hands and read it with a frown. “Who wrote this? Hannah, who wrote this?” Anger and a tinge of fear laced her words.
should be afraid. Hannah had underestimated Murphy’s cunning. Underestimated his ability to sway people to do what he wanted. She wanted to believe Robert had been out of the building when Murphy had placed the note like a little mind grenade into the bottom of her precious possessions. That monster had touched her things, her parents wedding photograph, her sister’s jewelry box. She wanted to believe that Robert had nothing to do with this, but betrayal welled up inside of her. She’d liked him once.
Panicked, she flew to the open window and slammed it closed, locked the pane into place and spun. Jenny caught her arms. “Hannah, be reasonable. We’re in the middle of Bear Valley and the gates are guarded. There
’s a hundred and fifty bears in the immediate vicinity. He’s not coming here.”
One hundred fifty bears, all asleep. “You don’t understand the way these people work. We have to lock the doors, or leave, or…I don’t know.
“You want to leave?
” Jenny asked, gripping her shoulders. “We can go to my house if it will make you feel better.”
The front door was unlocked and
she needed to check the back of the house as well. There wasn’t time to spend planning when she so desperately needed action. It wasn’t just her who was exposed. Jenny was here too. She bolted for the entryway, and just as her fingertips brushed the lock, the door flew open, rocketing into the side of her head. She fell back with a shriek.
et warmth trickled down her ear and her eyes went wide at the sight of a handgun aimed at her face. Leaning forward, the man wrenched her hair away from her neck and smiled at the heart shaped scar he no doubt saw there. It was the scar that marked her as Stone’s hit to take.
“I’ve been looking for you a long time.” Sweat dotted his brow and matted his dark, thinning hair. His nose was long and crooked like it had been broken and never reset. Eyes, as blue and bottomless as the ocean swam with delight as his thin lips stretched into a wicked grin. If she’d had any doubt who gripped her inches away from his face before now, his teeth would’ve blighted it.
His front tooth lay crooked over its companion, just like Robert described. The cold metal of the gun jammed into her cheek, and his grin broadened.
A glass vase shattered against his head and the gun jerked, went off with a deafening blast r
ight beside her face. Murphy sprawled onto the floor and suddenly Jenny was tugging her upward, her mouth moving like she was screaming something but all Hannah could hear was this grating ringing in her ears. Glass shards fell from her clothes and onto to the floor as she lurched up and ran behind Jenny for the kitchen. There was a back door that led straight into the woods and Jenny knew these trails. She could find a safe place for them to hide.
Hannah in front of her as they reached the door but the weight of her hand on Hannah’s back disappeared and she spun. Her friend’s neck twisted backward as Murphy yanked her hair.
“No,” Hannah yelled.
Murphy’s face was cut and bloody and when he smiled, his crooked tooth was covered in crimson. Jenny gripped his forearm but he’d pulled her against his chest. She looked so scared as he pulled the gun to her temple.
“Jenny,” she cried. “Change!”
“I can’t,” she whispered. “The wine.”
Oh, God. “I’ll do what you want,” she rushed out. “Just don’t hurt her. She has nothing to do with this.”
“Back to the front door,” he ordered. “Now.”
Jenny shook her head, but she didn’t understand. Murphy would kill her. Stone’s men killed everyone because life meant nothing to them.
Hannah held up her hands in surrender and sidled around Murphy, then walked backward to the front of the house. He followed, holding Jenny hostage and helpless. Tears streaked her cheeks and her dark eyes were brimming with fear and Hannah couldn’t take her gaze from her trembling lips. More pain. More agony. She’d brought evil to Bear Valley and now Jenny was caught in its cold grip.
“In the trunk,” Murphy clipped out.
The trunk of a mercury colored sedan with rental plates was already open, like he’d known he was going to stuff her in there before he even came in. Cocky bastard.
“Don’t do it.” Jenny’s voice sounded strangled.
Anger slashed across Murphy’s eyes and he shoved her away and bashed her head with the butt of his gun.
“Jenny!” she s
creamed as her friend crumpled into a limp heap against a bed of wild grass.
Murphy aimed his pistol at her unconscious body.
“Please don’t. I’m getting in. See?”
He shot her a distracted look and holstered his pistol, strode for her and shoved her in. The trunk lid slammed closed,
immersing her in darkness. Moments ticked by with nothing but the sound of her whimpering and shaky breath as she waited to hear another round of gunfire go off. The door closing sounded muffled from the coffin she’d been shoved in, and when the engine roared to life, she was wracked with dismay and relief. She was going to die, but at least he hadn’t shot Jenny. She still needed help though.
The car peeled out, the sound of flying gravel loud as it pinged off the undercarriage of the car. She had to think. Crying, she felt around for an emergency release. They made those in some cars for instances just like this. Her frantic fingers touched and pulled and pressed every surface she could find but the trunk stayed closed. Breathing deeply, she imagined all the air being pulled into her lungs and her suffocating alone
here, in the dark. She bit her bottom lip hard and tried to focus. Falling apart would only end her life faster and Jenny needed help.
She’d seen it on a show once, where someone had escaped by kicking out the tail lights and waving down the cars behind them. Scooting to the back, she braced her shoulders against the wall and lined up her foot. She kicked it once but it didn’t budge. Gritting her teeth, she kicked and kicked until her ankle felt bruised and finally, the tail light cracked and flew
out, held to the car only by a thin wire. Problem was, no one was behind the car to see her hand waving for help and now dirt was seeping in from the gravel the tires kicked up, making it hard to breathe.
“Come on,” she said through clenched teeth. She felt around the trunk again but all she found was a spare tire kit with a tire iron that might be helpful when Murphy opened the trunk, but didn’t help her now. Fumbling frantically, she almost sobbed when she saw the
gates with their no trespassing signs pass by through the broken tail light. Where the hell were the guards?
’s phone. Her breath became ragged as she felt around her pockets. Please please please, tell her she had put it back into the pocket of her cutoffs.
Yes! She flipped it open but it had no reception. Dammit, she needed to call help to Jenny. What if she was bleeding out on Riker’s front lawn
? No one would even know she was injured until morning. She pressed one and tossed a silent prayer into the universe that the call would connect. “Come on Brody.” The phone rang once and disconnected. She tried again but it didn’t even ring this time. The car slowed and she fumbled through the settings to locate the camera. Shoving the phone against the open light, she took a picture of the road sign as the car turned right, then texted it to Brody. He probably wouldn’t get it with no reception, but she was willing to try anything.
She hit the speed dial again and static rang out over the line. “Brody, I don’t know if you can hear me but Murphy has me. He’s taken me out of Bear Valley. Jenny is
in front of Riker’s house, hurt bad. We need help.” A dial tone sounded and she cursed.
She hung up and tried again, repeated her message into the void. She called eight more times before the next turn. As soon as the car slowed, she hung the phone out of the hole she’d kicked
open and snapped a picture of the road sign, then texted it to Brody again. The first picture she’d sent dinged across the screen and told her the text had failed to send. Immediately, she pressed
Highway turned to
another gravel road under the tires and she could see a billowing dust trail in the illumination of the one intact tail light. Rolling on her back, she squeezed her eyes closed against the consuming fear that crept over her.