Husband Fur Hire (Bears Fur Hire Book 1)

 

 

 

HUSBAND FUR HIRE

(BEARS FUR HIRE, BOOK 1)

By T. S. JOYCE

Husband Fur Hire

Copyright © 2015 by T. S. Joyce

 

Copyright © 2015, T. S. Joyce

First electronic publication: October 2015

 

T. S. Joyce

www.tsjoycewrites.wordpress.com

 

All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. No part of this book may be scanned, uploaded or distributed via the Internet or any other means, electronic or print, without the author’s permission.

 

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:

This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental. The author does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for third-party websites or their content.

 

Published in the United States of America

 

Chapter One

 

“You get out of my house!” Elyse screamed.

She chugged breath and blinked fast to hold the moisture that rimmed her eyes at bay. She would not cry for this man, not one tear.

“Our house, Elyse. It’s
our
house!” Cole yelled. He looked insane. Hazel eyes blazing, face red, veins popping out of his forehead, he was pacing their bedroom like a caged animal.

Cole McCall was the biggest liar she’d ever met.

He’d lied about being a good man, and about being faithful. He’d broken every promise he’d ever made her, and now this? Elyse wiped her throbbing lip with the back of her hand, and it came back with a smear of crimson.

He’d lost his damned mind if he thought she was one of those women who would take a hand to the face and stick around.

In a rush, she ran out of the bedroom and bolted for the gun rack near the front door. She yanked off an old shotgun, snapped it open, shoved two shells into the barrel, then popped it back into place with a satisfying crack of metal.

“What are you doing?” Cole yelled as he came out of the bedroom, hands in his hair, eyes wilder than she’d ever seen them. He was going crazy. Crazy. She’d watched him slowly lose his mind over the last few months, and she’d been patient, but this was where the horse got off this buggy.

“I said get the fuck out of my house!” Her lip throbbed in time with her racing heart, and her arms shook with shock, but when she gripped the gun and aimed at his chest, her hands steadied. “I hope you know me well enough to understand I don’t bluff.”

“Baby,” he crooned, holding out his palms. Cole’s eyes cooled, and he smiled apologetically, the snake. “You don’t want me to go.”

“I really, really do.”

“You won’t make it through winter without me hunting for us.”

“You gave half our food away to your good for nothin’ brothers, Cole. I sincerely think I’ll be better off without you pissin’ away my money and depleting my winter stock. You don’t even work with me! You don’t. You’ve left me alone to do everything, and you come back only when you want something or when you need someone to hurt. You’re broken. I can’t fix you, and I don’t want to try to anymore.” She cocked the gun. “Gather your shit.”

“I didn’t mean to hit you—”

“Oh, don’t you dare.” She shook her head hard and glared. “Don’t you dare insult me with that garbage. You will never be forgiven for lifting a hand to me, Cole. Never.”

“I love you, Elyse.” He took a step toward her, hands out in surrender. “It was an accident.”

She huffed a humorless laugh and raised the barrel of the rifle to the vicinity of his forehead. “Take another step, and I’ll blow a hole in you so big I’ll see the fucking kitchen through you. Get your things and never come back. If I see you on my property again, I’ll shoot you for trespassing.”

Cole’s shocked gaze lowered to the barrel of the shotgun pointed at him. Elyse gasped when he gripped the end and pulled it to his head for a moment, but he released it and strode into the other room. God, he’d almost forced her hand. Cole really was losing his mind.

The rustle of his duffle bag against the bed was loud in the silence of the small living room, and it seemed to take him hours to pack, though it couldn’t have been more than ten minutes. Ten minutes to exit her life. That should’ve told her everything right there. He had never really been in this.

He would have to take his snow machine to get to Galena, but she didn’t care. She would get her other one working again. She could move on and forget Cole McCall had ever existed. She hoped.

His hair was mussed when he came out of the bedroom with his belongings strapped over one shoulder. Even if his eyes were pooled with regret, he didn’t have any tears for her. Crazy didn’t cry.

Crazy Cole, like everyone in town had called him, and he’d gone and proved them right. Her disappointment was infinite.

“I’m sorry,” he murmured with one last, long look. It was the sincerest she’d seen him in months.

Then he walked out of her house and into the dark winter, and Elyse knew with certainty that this would be the last she ever saw of him.

****

The worst thing about being a grizzly shifter wasn’t the Change. It wasn’t the pain that came along with it or having to hide his true nature from the humans he interacted with. It wasn’t even the violence he was called upon to perform as a shifter enforcer.

The worst thing about being a grizzly shifter was the hunger.

Ian Silver huffed three frozen breaths in the depths of his den, preparing himself for the pain of the Change back into his human body. The one right after hibernation was agony, but it would be easy after this. Or if not easy, at least less painful.

Closing his eyes, he tucked his animal away. It was a slow process, and he had to concentrate on each area of his body. The small, dark room echoed with the sounds of snapping bones and grunts of pain and the snarling of an angry animal that didn’t want to be pushed inside yet. But then, his bear never wanted to be stifled.

It wasn’t until he lay on the cold wood floor of his den as a human, naked and shivering, that he noticed the manila envelope someone had shoved under the thick wood of his door. He’d built this cabin inside a cave more than a decade ago on the land his ancestors had made their dens, and no one knew his whereabouts except for his two brothers, who wouldn’t pay him a visit even if he was dying, and Clayton Reed, head of Alaska Shifter Enforcement. Fuck.

Ian was hungry—starving, in fact—and the last thing he wanted to deal with after six months of hibernation was an enforcer job.

With a growl and a glare for the damning envelope, he dressed as quickly as his sore muscles allowed. Thick sweater, jeans, warm socks, and hiking boots on, and he was up, stretching his aching joints. He caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror. Gaunt face, emaciated body, clothes hanging off him, hollow eyes, and one gnarly beard. Even the blue of his eyes was dull. He always hated the way he looked after hibernation—as weak as a dried twig, and just as ready to snap.

Ripping his gaze away from the reflective glass, he reached for his jacket draped over the dresser and beat off a healthy layer of dust. It was dark in his one-room den, but his night vision was impeccable, so he didn’t have any problems finding his way around. This place was for sleeping only and lacked the amenities he needed to refuel his depleted body. Tonight, he would stay in a hotel in town and eat until he was glutted. Whoever’s file that envelope contained was going to eat him for breakfast if he didn’t build up his strength.

Ian pocketed his wallet along with all the money in the safe that shadowed the corner, then picked up the envelope. The weight was too substantial for a warning order. Clayton had definitely sent him something big.

He’d planned on eating before he opened the envelope, but it had been a couple of years since he’d done a thick-packet kill order, and one of the shifters around here must’ve fucked up royally if Ian was being called to hunt them.

He took one last glance around his den before shoving open the door, allowing the dim cave light to filter in. Even as muted as it was, the brightness hurt his eyes after sleeping so long. The envelope crinkled in his hands as he pulled the stack of papers and pictures from it. A strange jolt blasted through his body as his gaze landed on the first image. It was a color picture of a woman. Honey-colored hair tied back, long neck, pursed lips, and troubled, hollow eyes that looked eerily similar to his right now, except she was human and hadn’t been asleep for the past six months. She had a hoe in her hands and was working a garden, and the look on her face said the photographer had caught her at a moment when she’d only just glanced up from her work, then likely returned her attention right back to it. Her eyes were a strange gold-green color, and she didn’t wear a stitch of make-up.

Ian shook his head and gritted his teeth so hard his jaw ached. Clayton knew better than this. He knew better than to give him a kill order on a woman. Ian spat on the ground and pushed the picture aside. Cole McCall stared back at him with wild eyes that said his inner wolf had taken the last of his sanity. That was more like it. Ian scanned the paperwork to make sure it was McCall he was supposed to hunt and not the pretty woman in the photograph.

An unreasonably large wave of relief washed through his chest as he read the name. The lady was an innocent. Elyse Abram. Pretty name for a pretty woman, and not his intended target. She was just Cole’s bad decision to try and hold a mate while his inner wolf slipped into madness. The McCall boys were all the same, descended from a long line of crazy werewolves. And man-eaters, every last one of them. Dumb fuck had involved a woman in his final year of sanity. Cole was even stupider than Ian had thought.

When Ian looked at the picture of the woman again, a strange warmth tingled in his fingertips where they connected to the glossy paper. Any man with eyes could see a woman like her was fine-bred and beautiful. Much too good to couple up with a McCall. Troubled by his sympathetic thoughts, Ian shoved the entire file back into the folder and slammed the door of his den closed, then strode out of the stone-encased tunnel and crawled through the small opening in the rocks and out into the sunlight.

Inhaling deeply, he closed his eyes and tilted his face up toward the sun. Even with half a foot of snow still covering Afognak Island, he’d never felt anything better. The woman was safe from him, and soon she’d be safe from Cole McCall and whatever idiot thing he’d done to get a price on his head. He was about to eat for the first time in six months, and he’d survived another winter. Life wasn’t all peaches and berries, but this was the best a grizzly shifter could ask for.

Getting off Afognak meant uncovering the boat he’d hidden at the start of winter and dragging it to the beach. Not many came to this island, especially in this season. Hunters and hikers mostly, but no one lived here except him. There were a few cabins dotting the island that weren’t made for permanent residence, but provided temporary protection for visitors from the wild brown bears that called this place home. Only the bravest hunters, or the most desperate, went after black-tail deer at the risk of running into a grizzly. Afognak was also said to be haunted, a rumor probably started by his ancestors and one he fueled if anyone asked because he liked his peace and quiet. The untamed land felt like home to a half-feral shifter like himself.

The boat engine was frozen and needed work and new fuel, so getting the dinghy in the water and hearing the whine of the little motor took a couple of hours. And all the while, his stomach growled.

The waters of the Marmot Bay were passable, but there were still ice chunks everywhere, so he had to be careful not to damage his hull as he maneuvered toward Kodiak Island. By trade, he was an Alaskan bush pilot, like one of his brothers and father before him, but he kept his plane in Pilot’s Point to keep the werewolves off his trail when he went to sleep for the winter.

Damn, he was hungry. The second he set foot on land, he pulled his boat out of the frigid waters and tracked down his traditional post-hibernation restaurant to tuck into. It was an old inn that didn’t get much traffic outside of tourist season, and the wait staff never commented on how much he could eat in one sitting.

It was here, in the back corner of the darkest room, that he pulled the envelope from his inside jacket pocket. The thick, heavy packet had been burning a hole against his chest. Or so it felt because the entire way here, he’d craved to take it out and stare at the woman’s picture again. This hibernation had apparently made him lose his damned mind.

The server was friendly, a local he’d seen before, and she only hesitated a moment when he ordered one of everything on the menu.

Galena, Alaska
the paperwork read—the last place Cole McCall had been seen. That would be one helluva flight for a warm-up, but anything was doable for his old red and white Cessna 182. He’d get her up and running and probably get there by tomorrow, depending on how many places he needed to stop for fuel and food.

He frowned at the photo of the woman again. It was hard to tell in the grainy picture, but it looked like her lip was split. Ian swallowed a snarl that started deep in his chest, and tried to convince himself that the growl was about being hungry and not his protective instincts kicking up. He had no claim on this woman, and it came as zero shock if McCall had mishandled her. Asshole. Ian shoved Elyse Abram’s picture to the back of the stack and tried to concentrate through the rage that was boiling his blood.

“Are you okay, sir?” the waitress asked in a concerned tone.

She’d put plates of food all over the table, and he hadn’t even noticed her working beside him. Shit.
Focus.

“Yeah,” he rasped out. It had been a long time since he’d used his voice, so he cleared it and tried again. “Yeah, I’m fine.”
Smile. More genuinely.
“Thanks.”

He read as he ate. McCall had been on a tear for the last month. Two trapper attacks, one fatal, but that wasn’t the worst of it. That wasn’t what got Cole hunted by someone like Ian. It was the picture of the little six-year-old girl. Dark hair and dark inquisitive eyes, probably Alaska Native. She’d been attacked right outside of Kaltag by a single, unprovoked wolf with McCall’s dark gray saddle back markings.

“Mother fucker,” Ian rumbled, more growl than words.

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