Authors: T. S. Joyce
Tags: #Romance, #Fantasy, #Werewolves & Shifters, #Paranormal, #Literature & Fiction
AVENGE THE BEAR
(HELLS CANYON SHIFTERS, BOOK 3)
By T. S. JOYCE
This book is not intended to be a standalone. For your reading enjoyment, the author recommends you read the series in order.
Hells Canyon Shifters
Call of the Bear (
Fealty of the Bear (
Copyright © 2014 by T. S. Joyce
All Rights Reserved. Except as permitted under the United States Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, redistributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in any database or retrieval system, without prior written permission from the author.
The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Muriel frowned at the glowing screen on her cell phone. It rang again, but she hesitated answering. The number had a Portland area code, and besides Samantha and Logan, who had both moved to Joseph, she didn’t know anyone from there.
“Baby, you ready?” Logan asked, poking his head into their bedroom.
The phone stopped rattling against her palm and she lifted her gaze to her mate. Not only her mate, but now he was her husband. A small ceremony in the side yard with all of their closest friends, and they’d intertwined their fates forever. He straightened and canted his head as he raked his gaze over her body.
She meant to get ready, really she had, but the unknown number had called three times in a row without leaving a message, and thoroughly distracted her. Now, she sat cross-legged on the bed she shared with Logan with pajama pants clinging to her hips and nothing more.
Logan approached slowly, eyes steady on her breasts. The outer rim of his dark eyes turned gold, a giveaway to his excitement. Those eyes used to scare her before she knew what they meant—before she knew the man she loved had a lion living inside of him. Now the inhuman color made her possessive of him. He was hers in every way now.
His lips curled into a satisfied smile as he dropped his gaze to her stomach, now much rounder than it had been a few months ago. Dropping to his knees in front of her, he reached for her hips. He pulled her closer until her stomach rested against his stubbled jaw, and she ran her fingers through his dark hair.
“How are my girls?” he rumbled against the tight skin over her middle.
Pride surged through her as a tiny answering kick bumped against her insides. The movement was still too small for Logan to feel, but Muriel was smitten at the proof that Logan’s child was growing inside of her. “How do you know it’s a girl?”
“I had a dream about her?”
“Oh? And in this dream, was she a bear or a lion shifter?”
“I don’t know.” He shrugged and eased back to rub his large hands affectionately over the swell of her pregnancy.
The way he said it made it sound like he didn’t really care either. Bear or lion, it wouldn’t matter to them. The child would be loved and adored, no matter if she was born into Muriel’s bear clan, or Logan’s lion pride. Her child would be the first hybrid shifter in several generations, but none of that mattered.
What mattered was the family she was building with the man she loved.
The phone on the bed buzzed again, capturing Logan’s attention. His expression grew dark as he glared at the number on the screen. Lifting dead eyes to Muriel, he accepted the call and brought the cell to his ear. “How did you get this number, Shira?”
The mention of the lioness froze her into place. Not even the warmth of Logan’s caressing hand across her stomach could slow the ice that crept through her veins.
“I want permission to come see your mate,” Shira said.
Muriel’s heightened sense of hearing picked up every word the other woman gritted out.
“Bron has made it clear I can’t come to Hells Canyon without an invite. And I have no intention of declaring war if I can avoid it.”
“Permission denied,” Logan ground out. “I’m no longer your concern and I’m part of the Hells Canyon shifters now, under the protection of a Cress alpha. Whatever you have to say, say it now and be done with it.”
“I know,” she said. “I know that…” A long sigh filled the line. “I know that
carries your child. If the baby is a lion, I want it raised in our pride.”
Logan laughed a shocked sound. “Our child will be raised here in Joseph, by both my wife and I.”
“You aren’t understanding me,” Shira said. “I want you and your…that
to move to Portland, so the child can be raised with her own kind. We’re only fifty left, and every lion shifter is important to our future. She won’t fit in Joseph, just like you don’t. The baby will need to be raised with its own people or it’ll grow up confused and resentful.”
“Our baby won’t be alone. If she’s a bear, she’ll have the fealty of the clans. If she’s a lion, she’ll have me.”
“You said she,” Shira breathed. “Do you know for certain it’s a girl?”
“Shira,” Logan warned.
“Think about what you’re doing. You’ll raise a dominant lioness in a clan of bears. She’ll always be an outsider. She’ll never fit in. Here, with the pride, she’ll be a high ranking member of our culture.”
she’s a lion,” he spat out. “And if she turns into a bear? What if we moved back and she grew attached to the pride, and then on her first shift everyone watches her change into a black bear. Can you imagine the disgust on your pride’s faces? Can you? Because I can. I know exactly how you would treat my child. You’d shun her. She’d be a disappointment to you. It’s different here. You said I don’t belong in Joseph, but you’re wrong. I have friends here. No. They’re more than that. I have a family. And they don’t give a shit if I’m a lion or a werewombat or a fucking weremouse. That’s why I’ve chosen this place to start my family, Shira. I do belong here, and my child will too.”
“We will get her back,” Shira said low.
“Don’t you threaten me. I’ll burn the pride to keep my family safe. You won’t have to be worried about being endangered anymore. You’ll be fucking extinct.”
A loud snarl rippled through the phone, but Logan disconnected the call and stood so fast, he blurred. Baring his teeth, he gripped the phone like he was debating chucking it against the wall.
Muriel stood and threw her arms around his neck. He smelled like anger and animal. “Stay with me,” she breathed as his body began to shake.
When he eased back, his eyes blazed gold and she knew there was no stopping the shift now. He searched her eyes, then looked away like he couldn’t hold her gaze. Like he was disappointed in himself as he fell to his knees. His eyes stayed focused on her protruding belly as his face lengthened and his fingers curled. A ripping sound filled the bedroom as his clothes were destroyed, and a massive lion shredded his way out of Logan’s body.
With a helpless sound, Muriel sat back onto the bed. Shira still had more control over Logan’s emotions than either of them wanted. She had the urge to claw the woman to tiny pieces for bringing the lion unbidden from Logan—for threatening to take her unborn child. For threatening to destroy everything she’d worked so hard for.
Finally, after everything she’d been through, Muriel was happy, and she’d be damned if some bitch lioness came and darkened the life she’d fought for.
Logan wasn’t like her when he shifted. He was a slave to his animal, more beast than man when he turned. When she was a bear, she still thought like a human, but not Logan.
He turned predator.
He lowered his chin, and stared at her with those inhuman eyes. His mane was thick, and his paws the size of dinner plates. A short rumble came from his snarled lips and he flicked his tail behind him like the agitated crack of a whip.
“Logan,” she whispered. He wouldn’t hurt her. He wouldn’t. But there was a reason he tried not to change around her.
His approach was slow, like he was hunting, and his eyes never left hers. She couldn’t change to defend herself. Not while she was pregnant.
“Logan,” she tried again, the word hard to force from her closing throat. “I love you.”
The snarl left his lips, and for a moment he looked uncertain. He blinked and dropped his unsettling gaze to her stomach. She’d brought her hands protectively in front of it.
His barrel chest heaved and he took the last step toward her. Muriel could smell her own fear, bitter and acrid against her sensitive nose, but when she closed her eyes against the uncertainty of being so close to Logan, a soft noise touched her ears.
The rumble of a long purr filled the space between them, and he brushed his great block head against her. She’d never been this close to Logan’s lion before.
Releasing a shaky breath, she didn’t balk when he wrapped a giant paw around her back. Pulling her forward, he nuzzled her stomach gently, and relieved, she ran her fingers through the course fur of his mane.
He knew her. Even in this form, he was hers, and she his. His giant tongue, dry and rough, ran the length of her stomach like he was cleaning her, but it was more than that. As he closed his eyes and licked her skin, he was trying to comfort her in the only way his animal knew how.
She didn’t think it possible, but in this moment, she loved him even more. Even lost to his beast, he cared about her—understood her needs.
Screw Shira and all of her treacherous plans.
She and Logan would rally the clan and bring every bear shifter in Joseph down on her head if she even stepped foot in Hells Canyon.
She leaned her cheek against her mate’s ear as he purred on.
It made no difference if their baby turned out to be bear or lion.
Over her cold, lifeless body would Shira ever take her child.
Reese Evans hooked her hands on her hips and glared at the box of Trent’s old things. Framed pictures of them together, mixed tapes, high school yearbooks, oversized T-shirts she used to wear to bed. An oversized stuffed bear hung over the side. Trent had won that for her at the founder’s day carnival three years ago. Back before everything went wrong.
Pursing her lips, she stared out the window at the overcast day. He’d died six months ago, and it still felt like he would walk through the door and greet her with a kiss on the cheek and a joke.
Trent always joked. Especially when she talked about settling down.
“Well,” she muttered, “at least you got out of that conversation, didn’t you, Trent?”
He would never have to dodge a commitment conversation again. He’d gone just how he wanted. Unattached.
Too bad when he died, he took a piece of her heart with him. The part that allowed her to love and find joy. Now she plastered on a smile and told everyone in town she was fine, when inside she was anything but. Inside, she was as broken as the antique perfume bottle Trent had given her for her sixteenth birthday. No matter how much she’d tried to tape that old glass together, it would never be the same again. It would never hold perfume like it was made to do. For the rest of its days, it would be empty, just like she was.
A knock sounded, and she hefted the box to the entryway of her small one story, then opened the front door. Muriel stood on her front porch, wringing her hands and looking decidedly more swollen around the middle than the last time she’d seen her.
“I have a strange request,” she said, her long, dark hair twitching as she shifted her weight.
Reese frowned and opened the door wider. “Name it.”
“I have been summoned,” Muriel said ominously as she stepped through to the living room. “I got a call from the Seven Devils clan, and I thought it was my dad, but it was Rieland Morgan. She said her new alpha wanted a meeting with me.”
“Who’s their new alpha?”
“I honestly don’t know. I haven’t been up there in years. The only time I tried, I stopped short when Logan collapsed on the road leading in. And after I chose Logan as my mate, my dad only answered one of my phone calls.” Her face dropped to an empty smile. “He’s more of an angry letter writer.”
“Is Logan going with you?” No way should Muriel take a meeting with those rangy shifters at the base of the He Devil Mountain alone.
“Rieland said, and I quote, ‘Leave your pet kitty at home.’ End quote.”
“Ha! If she actually met Logan, and looked into his scary ass eyes, she wouldn’t be teasing him like that. He’s a right proper monster.” Reese leaned on the arm of her worn couch. “You want me to go with you?”
“I don’t want to go alone, and I’ve seen you fight. I called Bron, but he can’t get involved in rival clan politics without causing serious tension. Not after we broke the alliance with our divorce. He said to ask you,” she rushed out. “So I am. Will you go with me?”
“For bodyguard duty? Hell yes.” Plus, Muriel was carrying a baby, and those were rare around here. Reese wouldn’t say so, but she’d do just about anything for that little kiddo in Muriel’s tummy.
Muriel’s gaze drifted to the box of Trent’s things. “Did I interrupt something?”
“Nah. I’m just cleaning house.” She tried to say it flippantly, but her voice cracked on the last word. “Come on. Let’s get this done. I’ve never visited the Seven Devils clan and want to see how those serial killer recluses live.”
“They aren’t serial killers,” Muriel chided as she led the way to her silver jeep parked crooked on the cracked driveway. “They just like their privacy.”
“You know who else likes their privacy?” Reese asked, climbing into the passenger’s side. “Serial killers. And you have to at least have a guess at who is alpha now. There are only twenty-five shifters living up there in those mountains, and you were queen of the clan in high school, right? Who are you betting?”
Muriel turned the key and backed out of the driveway. “Uh, I don’t know. There are only a few men our age, but it could be one of the older men too. There were a couple of lady grizzlies who have a shot at it. Tell me about the box of stuff, Reese.”
The jeep was one of those made-for-muddin’ vehicles with the open doors, a roll bar, fabric top and fat tires. Reese held onto the grab bar and ticked her head to the side. The last thing she wanted to do was talk about Trent. Talking about Trent made her remember how much it had hurt to lose him. But Muriel was waiting, and kept looking at her like she expected an answer, so there was no wiggling out of this one.
“It’s time I got his stuff out of my house. I keep holding onto it…I can’t move on with it there. It reminds me of him, you know? I don’t know that thinking about him helps.”
“I know it’s not the same, but when I married Bron, I’d been dating a boy named Danny. You might meet him today. When I moved to Joseph, I had to tear my heart away from him, and it felt like he’d died. I lost him.” Muriel shot her a significant glance. “Keeping busy helps. Moving on helps more.”
Move on? Trent had only died six months ago. And sure, their relationship was basically an open one for a few years before that—his choice—but she’d loved him. She wasn’t equipped to just turn it on and off like that. Still, it’s not like she hadn’t thought of this. Hell, she’d got to a point a few weeks ago where she was willing to try anything to stifle the ever-present ache in her chest.
“I went out with Dillon.”
Muriel’s eyes went wide and she dared a glance at her. “I can’t tell if you’re serious.”
“Well, why not? I’ve known him forever. It was a safe date. We had plenty to talk about, and he knew if he tried to kiss me at the door, I’d deck him, so it was a win-win.”
“You used Dillon to get your first date out of the way and ease back into it, didn’t you?”
“Something like that,” Reese admitted. “Dating is scary. You got lucky with Logan and didn’t have to put yourself out there again. I was with Trent since I was a kid and never had to do the whole dating scene. I thought if I let Dillon take me out, I’d get a glimpse of what it would be like.”
“And it was like dating my brother.”
“Ew,” Muriel said, scrunching up her face.
“Not like that, just like, there was no attraction there. No desire to kiss him or hold his hand. I checked my watch a lot and so did he. It was pretty weird.”
“Dillon is hot though.”
“Oh, he’s a sexpot, for sure. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
“Nothing is wrong with you. Dillon just isn’t it for you.”
“Don’t tell Samantha I went out with him. She’d never let me live it down. Why didn’t you ask her to come with us? If anyone can calm an angry clan of bears, it’s her.”
Muriel turned left onto East First Street and blew past the main drag in town. “I called her too, but she and Bron are up in Portland for one of her work meetings today.”
“Oh.” The wind picked up and whipped Reese’s honey-blond hair in front of her face. Tucking it behind her ear, she said, “At least Sam got to keep her job. No one’s hiring here in town right now.”
“You looking for a new job?” Muriel asked.
“Yeah, I hate waiting tables. And my manager cut me out of Saturday night shifts, so money is tight. Well, tighter than usual.”
“I understand that,” Muriel muttered, turning onto a dirt road outside of town. “Selling pottery barely pays my bills. Things have only eased up lately because Logan is working a steady job with Bron and Dillon, but I don’t know how we’re going to pay for all of the baby stuff we’ll need.”
“You’ll be fine. Logan’s a hard worker and he doesn’t strike me as a man who would let his family go cold in the winter. I have absolute faith that he’ll make sure everything is okay.”
Muriel looked shocked. Her lip quivered in her normal, sweetly sensitive way.
“Oh, no,” Reese said, backpedaling. “What did I say to get you worked up now?”
“Thank you,” Muriel said, gripping the wheel. “You guys don’t have to accept Logan. I didn’t ever think you would, but you let him in and you never treat him differently when we’re out, and it means the world to me that you have such confidence in him. And you’re right. He would do anything to keep the lights on. I’m worrying over nothing.”
“Mushy bear,” Reese accused with a grin.
Muriel laughed thickly and dashed dampness from her lashes with the back of her hand. “I can’t help it. I’m sappy normally, and the baby hormones have me crying at every damned commercial. I even cried in the preview to a movie the other day. A preview!”
Reese chuckled and stretched her legs in the small space under the dashboard. “From what I hear, that won’t let up when the baby comes. Mothering will make you more sensitive too.”
Talk of this sent a pang of hurt through her. Samantha and Bron were trying for a baby too, and Reese had thought at this point in her life, that’s where she would be. Instead, someone killed her chance at a family. Reese swallowed the lump in her throat and watched the woods as they whipped past.
Maybe moving Trent’s stuff out of her house wasn’t the solution. Perhaps she wasn’t able to move on because his murderer was still out there thinking he’d got away with his dark deed. Reese would find him, and when she did, she’d gut him. Then, and only then, could she heal and search for a new path to her life. The old path, the one that was supposed to be her destiny, had been broken and ravaged by the flames that killed the man she had loved.
Pine and alder lined the road and towered up toward the sky. As Muriel hit the gas and sped around a mud hole in the road, the Oregon mountain landscape blurred to greens and browns of every shade.
As she slowed, Reese read a hand painted sign someone had nailed to a tree.
Private property. Turn back now.
“Homey,” Reese murmured. “I half expected them to greet us with machetes or something, to be honest.”
Muriel nodded to a lowlying tree branch. “They know we’re here.”
Reese squinted at a camouflaged camera lens. “Huh. Paranoid much?”
“They have to be. They are park rangers. It’s why they’re allowed to live on this land. They keep all of this side of He Devil protected and the tourists in line. No one is allowed in their camp without an invitation because it’s home base for them.”
“Did you grow up in a tent?” Reese asked. She’d heard stories.
“No, we slept under the stars, silly bear. Like we were born to do.”
Whatever hippy dippy shit these bears were on, they could keep it. Reese’s animal liked camping out in the woods just fine, but the human in her loved a good hot shower in the morning. And coffee makers and dishwashers. She wouldn’t last a week in bear shifter sleep away camp with all of the mosquitos and ticks.
Muriel pulled through a final grove of trees and into a clearing. Mouth hanging open, Reese leaned forward and stared out the front window.
Muriel had lied about sleeping in the woods. A long row of small log cabins lined the edge of the meadow, and in the middle sat a canvas tent with a couple of men talking over what appeared to be a huge map. A green truck with a tan forest ranger logo zoomed from behind it and disappeared into the woods behind the houses. Two small children played on a swing set near the last cabin, and a woman sat near them, reading. When she looked up, she frowned at the jeep and called the children to her. Before Muriel had even parked the car in front of the center tent, the woman had hustled the kids into a cabin near the end.
“You fibbing little fibber,” she muttered as Muriel watched her reaction with an obnoxious grin.
“It wasn’t a total lie. My dad would take me camping sometimes. But mostly we lived in the cabins. You just seemed so convinced that this place was some kind of commune. You should see your face right now.”
“Shut it,” Reese muttered as a woman in a ranger’s uniform approached.
“Hey, Rieland,” Muriel greeted her.
“You’re late,” the woman said in a stern tone. She was short, with full cheeks, thin lips, and the dourest expression Reese had ever witnessed on another person’s face—like she expected the world to come to an end at any moment.
The answering smile on Muriel’s mouth was shallow and humorless. “Perhaps we wouldn’t be late if I was given more than an hour’s notice. I’m here. What do you want?”
“It’s not me who wanted you here.” Rieland twitched her head toward a large cabin on the end with a sign over the door that read,
Ranger Station Office
. “It’s Ethan who has called a meeting with you.”
Rieland’s left eyebrow arched like she was annoyed by Muriel’s question. “Yeah. Surely you remember him. He’s our age. Or maybe being with the Hells Canyon shifters for this long has dumbed you down.”
“Hey,” Reese warned, stepping from the jeep and fully ready to wrap her fingers around the woman’s neck for being a disrespectful little twat.
Muriel yanked her arm and she remembered herself, but just barely.
“Watch how you talk to her or you’ll be grinding your food and eating without teeth for the next fifty years,” Reese growled low.
Rieland leveled her a challenging look. “I’ll talk to that lion’s whore however I want.”