Authors: T. S. Joyce
(HARPER’S MOUNTAINS, BOOK 3)
By T. S. JOYCE
Copyright © 2016 by T. S. Joyce
Copyright © 2016, T. S. Joyce
First electronic publication: May 2016
T. S. Joyce
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.
Cover Image: Furious Fotog
Cover Model: Caylan Hughes
Bloodrunner Dragon (
Bloodrunner Bear (
Novak Raven (Book 4) – Coming June 2016
Ryder gritted his teeth and chucked the chair as hard as he could against the wall of the trailer. It shattered into a thousand splinters over the old shredded couch. He fucking hated this. He fucking hated everything.
His insides were molten, and every muscle was filled with adrenaline that made it impossible to stay still. She’d ended it. Ended them. Ended him.
One stupid text had ruined his life. A text! He’d loved Erica with everything he had and she’d broken up with him via
He shoved over an old table and kicked viciously at the debris on the floor.
This is what Clinton did when he got filled with too much emotion. He came into the Trash Trailer and destroyed shit. Right now, Ryder was so mad his inner owl wouldn’t even come out.
Ryder threw a vase against the wall, but it didn’t ease the hurt in his chest. He squatted down, overwhelmed that nothing was helping. Hands gripping the back of his neck, he screamed as loud as he could.
“Boy, what are you doin’?” Clinton asked from the doorway.
“What you do when you’re pissed.”
The crunch of Clinton’s boots on glass was loud in the quiet of the trailer. He lifted Ryder by the neck of the shirt and shoved him roughly into the only chair Ryder hadn’t destroyed. Then the tall, dirty blond, bearded Crazy Clinton leaned his back against a dresser he’d stripped the drawers from and crossed his arms over his chest. “I know what this is about.”
“You don’t know nothin’,” Ryder argued.
“Boy, talk to me like that again, and I’ll whoop your ass.”
Ryder believed it, too, so like the wise owl he was, he zipped his lips.
“I’ve watched you act out for years now,” Clinton murmured, eyes narrowed, head cocked. “You got somethin’ deep in you that you can’t fill. I know that feeling.”
“She was it for me.”
“Erica wasn’t it. She liked the idea of dating a shifter, didn’t matter who it was.”
“Not like you should’ve. Trust me. She ain’t it.”
Ryder huffed a humorless breath and nudged the jagged shards of the vase that had scattered across the floor with the toe of his boot. He shook his head in denial.
“You bonded when you were a kid.”
“Yeah, and it almost broke me! Why do you want a bond so fucking bad right now, kid? Huh? It’s hard. It fills your head. I mean shit, live a little before you tether yourself to someone else. Find yourself. Make yourself good enough to care for a mate before you go trying to force a bond.”
More crunching glass, and now Ryder’s stepdad, Mason, was standing in the doorway. “Erica?” he asked in that deep tenor that should’ve soothed Ryder, but right now it only made him feel like his feathers had been ruffled the wrong way. He didn’t want Mason or mom worrying.
“She ended it with me. I’m fine.” Ryder murmured.
“You aren’t.” Mason squatted near Clinton, his dark eyes earnest. He turned a splintered table leg over and over in his hand like he was mulling over what he wanted to say. “Just because this didn’t work out doesn’t mean you fell short.”
“It doesn’t, Ryder. You have it in your head that you aren’t enough, and boy, I swear you are.”
“Not for Erica. Not for…” His real dad. That asshole was the one who put the hole in his middle in the first place. No one could fix it. No one could fix him. “I want what you and Mom have,” Ryder admitted low to Mason. “I want someone to see me and want me as much as I want them. I want to take care of them. I want kids. I want happy ever after.”
“But you’re not there yet,” Mason said softly. “You’re young, Ryder. You haven’t met her, but someday you will.”
Mason shook his head. “I don’t know.”
“Beaston told me he couldn’t see my mate.”
“Beaston don’t see everything,” Clinton muttered. “That don’t mean you won’t find one.”
“I just have this feeling that I’m going to be one of those bachelor shifters who won’t be able to bond to a mate. I won’t be able to get it to stick.”
Mason stood and sauntered over to him, pulled his head against his side, and clapped his back roughly. “Air Ryder, you got me to stick with a look. From the first time I saw you, you were my boy. You’re enough.”
Ryder relaxed against the man who had come into his life and become his father, no questions asked. The fire in his middle cooled, and he squeezed his eyes tightly closed. Mason had given him everything—a home, a place in the Boarlander Crew. He made Mom happy.
So why the hell did Ryder still feel so wild?
“You want to go piss off the roof and set somethin’ on fire?” Clinton asked.
Ryder let off a single, soft laugh and nodded. “Yeah.”
He stood and gave Mason a rough hug, then ducked out of the way when he ruffled his hair.
“Maybe you’ll get the girl next time,” Mason said.
Ryder turned at the door and offered the man who’d raised him a slight smile so he wouldn’t worry. “Maybe so.”
God, did he hope. He couldn’t even imagine the pain of being a ship at sea forever without finding his anchor.
Alexis Porter pushed open the door to Alana’s Coffee & Sweets and hoped to hell Alana still had some of her cherry turnovers left. Alexis’s clients had been very specific. She was to cook everything for their breakfast in the morning except the turnovers Alana Warren’s café was known for. Those they wanted imported from Bryson City.
There was no one behind the counter, but a quick look around and Alana was standing at a booth in the corner, arms locked against the bright lime green table. She was talking low to a redheaded man who was staring out the big front window with his hands linked behind his head. Freckles covered his face, and his eyes were a strange color she couldn’t identify from here. Looking pissed, he shook his head at something Alana said.
She shouldn’t be staring, so Alexis forced her gaze away from him and made her way to the counter.
“I’m serious, Ryder,” Alana said, as the sound of her shoes thudded across the wood floors. “Don’t let her do it.”
Alana was shaking her head as she ducked behind the counter, her chestnut curls twitching with the gesture. She looked up with a smile, but her soft brown eyes were troubled. “Hey, Lexi. What can I do for you?”
“Uuuh, please tell me you have cherry turnovers left. I know I’m late in the day, but my clients won’t be moved on these.”
Alana put up a finger and ducked into the kitchen, then back. “Do you have ten minutes to wait? They’ll be fresh out of the oven.”
“Oh my gosh, you’re a life saver.”
Alana giggled and said, “You might as well add them to your menu. What is that, three requests in two weeks?”
“Yeah, you’re killin’ me. Thirty minutes each way every time a client does this.”
“Dayum,” she said through a grin. “I still can’t believe my café has taken off like this since the remodel. It gave me a platform to advertise my pastries.” Alana leaned onto the counter and lowered her voice. “I think by the end of this month, I might actually be able to pay my bills
pay the deposits for the wedding.”
Her dark skin practically glowed in the afternoon sunlight that streamed through the front window. That glow had shown up after she’d met her fiancé, Aaron, a few months back. It was good to see love do that to someone Alexis had known for so long. But the second Alana’s eyes flickered to the table in the corner, her smile disappeared.
Alexis followed her worried gaze. “What’s wrong?”
Alana heaved a sigh, blowing one of her curls out of her face. “That one over there doesn’t know when to let go. If you’re gonna sit down while you wait, I would suggest anywhere but by him. He’s an emotional monster on Tuesday afternoons.”
“Okay,” Alexis murmured.
Alana bustled off into the kitchen. Alexis looked around at the full tables and the only two open were a booth next to the redheaded muscle man or a table in front of his. Great. She debated just standing here like a dope for the next ten minutes, but customers were filing in the door, and she was in the way.
Slowly, quietly, she padded to the booth and sat down. When the man looked up at her for an instant, she was stunned by his eye color. Gold irises, red hair, all those muscles stretching his thin T-shirt and, holy sheeyit, they didn’t make ’em like this around here. He must’ve been an import to Bryson City. She would’ve remembered him.
The man cracked his knuckles and glared down at his closed laptop sitting on the table in front of him. He checked his watch, stared at it for ten seconds, blew out three quick breaths, and opened the computer.
His sensual lips thinned into a plastered smile as he leaned back on the bench seat and sat still as a robot. “Come on, come on, come on,” he murmured through his teeth. His brightly colored eyes narrowed to slits as time went on, and he muttered, “Come on you jerky-shirted sucker-puppy—heeeey.” The forced smile was back. “There you are. You actually answered this time. Hey Serena, you look great.” He looked like he was about to barf on those words.
If Alexis strained, she could just hear the voice on the other end of the video chat he was on. “Can’t say the same for you, Ryder. You look like shit without me.”
Alexis gasped as her cheeks heated to fire. What a little she-demon. Embarrassed to be eavesdropping, Alexis looked anywhere but at the man. She couldn’t leave now, though, or it would be awkward. Shoot.
Come on turnovers. Cook faster!
Ryder cleared his throat and leaned forward, lowered his voice. “Can I talk to her?”
“She doesn’t want to talk to you because you left her. You left her, you left me, and we’re both pretty fed up with how you ended everything.”
Whoa, he left his kid behind?
“First off,” he growled out, “I left you, not her, and if we’re being technical about it, you really bowed out when I caught you sucking on Stewart’s micro-penis in our bedroom. And furthermore, I still can’t believe you fucking left me for someone named
“He’s an accountant with a steady income. What do you do, Ryder? Nothing. You sit around and get drunk with your friends and talk about all these babies you want but can’t provide for.”
Ryder waved his fists around in a furious little tantrum. “Just let me see her! You don’t have to strip me down, Serena. I just want to see her. Just…let me see my baby.”
“I’m breeding her soon.”
Breeding her? What the fuck?
Ryder’s mouth fell open, and he shook his head slowly. “Don’t say that.”
“I’m breeding her, and you’ll never see her puppies.”
Oooh, thank God. They were talking about a dog, not a child.
“You’re a terrible person,” Ryder whisper-screamed. “Those will be my grand-puppies! I want her back—”
“You’ll never get her back until you come home.”
“I am home.”
“Home is where I am! You said I was it. You bonded to me, so Stewart shouldn’t have changed your feelings.”
“I saw you lick his hairy balls.”
“So? You’re an animal, Ryder. You could’ve fucked around with other women, and I wouldn’t have gone to such an extreme. You moved across the damn country.”
“His O-face was so gross looking.” Ryder’s lips were twisted down like he wanted to retch. He made an appalling, ridiculous face with his mouth hanging open wide and moaned a couple times. “It was like that. Do you really want your kids to have faces like that?”
When he made the face again, Alexis snorted, then pursed her lips against her laugh.
“No, because I don’t want kids, like I’ve told you a billion times.”
“False. You told me it one time after we’d been together for three years and after I had to clean Stewart’s nut-sweat off my bed sheets. Stewart looks like a pimple and smells like hamster farts.”
Alexis nonchalantly put her hand over her mouth to hide her laughter and looked behind her so Ryder wouldn’t see her face. But nope. She couldn’t stop her shoulders from shaking with her silent laughter.
“Are you done?” the woman asked.
“Ryder,” Alana warned from behind the counter. “Finesse, or you won’t get what you want.”
Alexis peeked back just as Ryder inhaled deeply, his muscular pecs pressing against his T-shirt that she could now read.
Blow me, it’s my birthday
“Does he snuggle Dottie when he’s watching television?” Ryder asked. “Hmm? Does he take her to the dog park and on walks? Does he buy her new collars and share his ice cream cones with her? Does he wipe her mouth after she eats?”
“Oh, my God, no, because she’s a dog, not a baby.”
“And now she’s mine. If you want to see her so badly, then come back.”
Ryder’s ruddy brows lifted high, and he looked so hopeful. “Dottie? Dot, come here, baby. Come in front of the camera!” He squinted. “No, don’t let mommy push that button. Bite mommy!” There was some kind of scuffle, loud static, and now Ryder was grasping the screen in a death grip. “Don’t!” The sound cut off, and he stared at the screen with eyes the size of dinner plates.
Ryder stood and yelled the word, “Noooo.” He gripped the edge of his computer like he would flip it, but Alana reminded him blandly, “You need that.”
In one smooth motion, Ryder picked up his mug and raised it in the air to throw it on the floor.
“Break that dish, and I’m gonna tan your hide,” Alana said.
Ryder set the mug down gently, ripped open a sugar packet, and moved to pour it on the floor when Alana said, “I
Looking utterly pissed, Ryder sat down and dumped creamer into his coffee, then crumpled up the small plastic container in his fist, and all the while he glared at Alana, daring her to say something.
“She makes me so mad,” Ryder gritted out. “I should call her back.”
“No!” Alexis and Alana yelled at the same time.
Ryder jolted upright, eyes locked on Alexis as though he’d just now noticed she was here. The restaurant had grown eerily quiet as she froze under his attention.
Clearing her throat, Alexis said, “Speaking from a female point of view, if that little…jerky-shirted sucker-puppy hung up on you just to avoid letting you get a glimpse of Dottie, she’s drama. And she’s probably sitting by her computer waiting for you to call so she can feel superior. She likes the power she has over you right now. Don’t give her that.”
“But my dog—”
“You need to let her go. That woman uses the dog as leverage.”
Suspiciously, he asked, “How do you know so much about girls?”
“My vagina is my resume.” What in creation had just possessed her to say that?
“Your turnovers are ready,” Alana called.
Perfect timing. “It was nice to eavesdrop on you,” Alexis said. “I mean meet you. You’re very cute.”
“I mean, I like gingers.”
. “I mean you can do better than that nut-licking floozy.” She stood and looked heavenward for the strength to stop rambling. With a tiny wave at the striking man, she muttered, “Bye bye now,” like a total dork, and then hurriedly shuffled over to the counter where Alana was ringing up her box of pastries.
Her fingers shook as she rushed to pay, and she told Alana to keep the change just to escape faster.
“What’s your name?” Ryder asked from across the room.
“Uuuh, Alexis. People call me Lexi.”
“Sexy Lexi, I like it.”
Alana rolled her eyes and handed Lexi the bag. “Ryder, don’t be a twat.”
“That doesn’t offend me. I love twats.”
Lexi snorted, but swallowed it down and bit her bottom lip to hide her smile. This man was too amusing for his own good, or hers. “Bye, Alana.” She gave her friend a polite smile and high-kneed it for the door.
“See ya later, Sexy Lexi,” Ryder said. But where she expected to see humor on his face, his eyebrows were drawn down and furrowed.
He was so cute! Those freckles and fair skin, perfect nose, great smile, dimples, and now his eye color had morphed to a vibrant blue. He was definitely one of those shifters, but she had no clue what kind. For all Lexi knew, he could be a bear shifter like Alana was now.
She forced herself to break her gaze from Ryder’s, and just as she did, she smashed face first into the glass door. Mortified, she apologized—to the door—then escaped out into the sunlight. She inhaled deeply as she jogged to her mud-splattered black jeep parked right in front of the café.
As she pulled out of the parking spot, she looked through the window of Alana’s shop one last time to see Ryder standing there, head cocked, eyes narrowed as he watched her leave. He was biting the corner of his lip like she was as confusing to him as he was to her.
He was taller and wider in the shoulders than she’d been able to tell before, and now her hormones were surging. It was probably just the animal in him that was affecting her like this. That was a thing, right? She’d seen it on websites. Animal magnetism or something.
Yeah. That was all it was.
Lexi hit the gas and blasted down Main Street and away from the sexy, red-headed giant. The sooner she got back to work up in the Smoky Mountains, the better. That man was hung up on his ex, and Lexi had been there, done that.
She would not set herself up to be any man’s rebound.