Authors: T. S. Joyce
Tags: #Romance, #Fiction, #Paranormal
CLAIM THE BEAR
(HELLS CANYON SHIFTERS, BOOK 4)
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 (
Avenge the Bear (
Heart of the Bear – Coming January 2015
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.
Dillon McCain wiped grout off his palms with a dirty rag and frowned out the tower window. Ethan was pacing below now, a new symptom of what had increasingly become what looked like insanity.
“You okay, man?” he called down the thirty foot drop to the meadow Ethan was currently making a thin trail in.
Back and forth, back and forth
. Ethan didn’t answer, just like he hadn’t the last ten times Dillon had asked.
Another chill snaked up Dillon’s spine as a low rumble reached his oversensitive ears. “Fuck this,” he muttered, pulling his cell phone from his pocket.
If Bron wanted his construction crew to work on the ranger station as a wedding gift to his cousin and Reese, that was fine. But in the three months Dillon had known Ethan, he’d never scared him like this. Hell, Dillon was harboring a dominant grizzly inside of him, and this beasty was urging him to lift his pant cuffs and flee.
Whatever was happening with Ethan, Dillon wasn’t equipped to deal with it on his own.
He jabbed the speed dial and crossed his arms as he lifted it to his ear.
“Hey, asshole,” Reese answered.
He snorted, and the worry melted away as he grinned. Reese was like the sister Mom had always tried for. He’d known her since high school and he loved and hated her in turn, just like family did. “Where are you?”
“Uhh, just got done with a ride along with the game warden. Found another poached bear up near He Devil. I’m getting into my truck now. Why? You need me to hold your hand while you tile the bathroom floor?”
“Ha. Pretty sure your mate would eat me whole if you held my hand.” Frowning down at Ethan, who was now standing in one place, but rocking his weight from side to side, he said, “Speaking of, your man is scaring me a little.”
Ethan swung an inhuman gaze up to directly where he was standing in the tower. The glass was tinted, and he likely couldn’t see Dillon, but he could clearly hear him easily enough.
Dillon padded into the bathroom and lowered his voice. “I think you need to come to the tower.”
“Why? What’s going on?” An engine revved in the background and the rumble of her truck’s acceleration reverberated through the ear piece.
“He’s been acting off this morning. And he’s throwing dominance like a maniac and has my bear cowed just being around him.”
“Did you try and talk to him?”
“Of course I did. He hasn’t responded in an hour.”
“Shit. I’ll be there in five.”
The line went dead.
At what point did he call Bron and bawl him out for leaving him as head of construction here? He understood his need to go with his mate, Sam, to Portland for her job. Or at least Dillon could imagine how protective he would be, if he ever found a mate, but he could’ve at least sent Logan with him. The reclusive clan of shifters were friendly enough, but something about Ethan’s bear always made Dillon’s animal hard to manage. He had no guess how Reese could stand being around her mate and not change back and forth all the time.
Another thing added to a long list he didn’t understand about a mating bond—and likely never would.
He sighed and made his way down the stairs of the park ranger’s tower that sat on the outskirts of Ethan’s Seven Devils clan. From here, when the wind kicked up, he could hear the murmurs and bustle of the mountain clan who lived in cabins nestled deep in the forest. Usually, Ethan was a good and reliable alpha for his people but today, he’d been in an obvious battle with his animal, and all for reasons Dillon couldn’t figure out.
He heard the roaring of Reese’s old truck long before he saw it. Like a wise bear, he gave Ethan plenty of space and waited on the edge of the meadow the alpha was pacing. Reese pulled up in her old clunker truck, now painted forest green with the ranger’s logo on the side. She slammed her door closed, but her mate didn’t even react.
“How long has he been doing this?” she asked, drawing up beside Dillon. Her honey blonde hair was pulled back, and her clear blue eyes were focused on Ethan with worry etched in every facet of her face.
“About an hour and fifteen minutes ago he started swatting the back of his neck like his instincts were kicking up. An hour ago, he stopped talking. The pacing is new.”
“Ethan,” she murmured, making her way through the hip tall grass. “Baby, what’s wrong?”
Dillon followed at a distance. He wasn’t one to get involved in this kind of grit, but it didn’t sit right with him to let Reese approach the bruin alone. Not when her mate was looking at her like this—like he didn’t remember who she was.
“What are you doing here?” Ethan asked, more growl than words.
His eyes were lightened and his face morphed into something fearsome. Tall and wide through the shoulders, and solid as a brick house, and what chance would Reese have if Bear decided she was a threat? None at all, that’s what.
Dillon stopped about ten yards away as Reese reached for Ethan. She cupped his face and he froze, then leaned into her touch, rubbing the rasp of his unshaven jaw against her palm until the sound carried to Dillon.
“Something’s wrong,” Ethan said in a helpless tone. “Something I can’t stop.”
“You can. Bear,” she said, addressing the animal inside of Ethan—the animal he’d never been able to control. “You can’t take his body now. It’s broad daylight and we’re too close to the campsites. You have to wait. You have to let Ethan stay with me.”
“I can’t,” he said in a strangled tone. “They’re coming.”
Ethan’s lips crashed onto hers, and a squeak of pain left her as he pulled her close. Dillon stepped forward and froze. What was he supposed to do? Ethan was being too rough with her, rucking up her shirt and holding her hair too tightly.
“Reese?” Dillon asked. Two more seconds of that pained noise in her throat and he was going to lose his shit.
He stepped toward them, but she held up a hand. “Don’t,” she pleaded. “He’s trying.”
Trying to what? Claim her right out here in the meadow? Right in front of him? Or perhaps he was using his connection with Reese to stay human?
“Ethan?” a feminine voice said over the radio up in the tower. Static followed. “Ethan!”
The alpha froze, clutching onto his mate.
“A woman just ran out of the woods in front of my jeep. I couldn’t stop fast enough. I clipped her, but when I got out to check on her, she changed. Ethan, can you hear me? She’s a lion, and she’s headed for the campsites.”
Dillon arched a horrified glance to Reese. Her eyes were wide with horror as Ethan hunched away from her.
“Get back!” Dillon yelled as he bolted for her.
Ethan seemed to draw into himself the second before the massive grizzly exploded from him. Dillon pushed his legs, pumping them harder and harder until they burned with the strain. He lunged in front of Reese just as Ethan lost himself to Bear. A powerful claw raked across his shoulder as he fell against Reese. Grunting with the singeing pain, he landed hard on top of her.
“Dillon,” she breathed. Her voice sounded small and scared.
“I’m fine,” he said, careful not to look at his injury. That would only make it hurt worse, and they weren’t out of the woods yet. Bear looked at them like he’d never seen them before, then turned and charged for the dirt road that led to the campsites.
“Ethan!” Reese screamed.
A monster bear with no human logic and a lioness were about to go to battle in a campground of unsuspecting humans. “Fuck,” Dillon growled, launching himself off Reese. This was going to hurt so badly. He hissed at the burn as he yanked his shredded shirt over his head and pulled the phone from his pocket as he ran.
Logan answered on the first ring. “Hey, man.”
“We’ve got lions in the mountains. Gather the clan to you and protect Abigail.”
Logan’s daughter was the only reason the lionesses were attacking now. They wanted the child with lion’s blood running through her veins. They wanted another daughter for their pride, despite her parents vowing to never let that happen. Bron had told the lion shifters’ alpha, Shira, if she or her pride stepped foot on his territory, she was declaring him as an enemy in a battle neither one of the clans could afford.
“What are you going to do?” Logan asked low.
Dillon kicked out of his pants and sprinted after Ethan’s receding back. “I’m going to try and stop a war.”
Breshia rocked little Samuel as he whimpered and sucked on a pacifier. The baby was a handsome little thing, all dark hair and dark eyes, just like his father. Breshia brought a pitied gaze up to Samuel’s mother, Shay.
Something terrible had happened to the woman. She sat in the nursery, detached from her child and staring out the window with tears in the corners of her eyes.
“Are you okay?” Breshia asked softly.
The corner of the woman’s lip lifted in a snarl. “Don’t you feel sorry for me. Not you. Pity yourself, but never me.”
The nursery had been constructed in the main house. Boldly painted butterflies hung from the ceiling, bins of toys lined the walls, and everywhere were bright primary colors so blindingly bright, it looked like a rainbow barfed on the room. All of the happy colors in the world couldn’t cover the reality of this place though. Of what happened here.
Samuel was the only cub in the pride right now, and he’d had the misfortune of being born male. Shay had been demoted in rank when he was born, and now she hovered near the bottom, just over Breshia.
Breshia had been born submissive, a curse to a lioness, and was used to being worthless to the pride, but Shay…Shay was struggling to adapt.
“You know,” Shay said, voice shaking as she looked out the window at nothing. “I used to hate you. I thought you were stupid. And I thought it was disgusting that you didn’t care about your appearance. But now…now I just think you’re pathetic. I feel sorry for you.”
“Oh, Shay,” Breshia said with a sad sigh. “Flattery will get you nowhere with me.”
The woman wrapped her oversized sweater tighter around herself. She hadn’t worn make-up since Samuel had been born, or brushed her hair. She’d always been awful to her, just like the others, but her insults had lost their sting now.
Shay was just as broken as Breshia.
“Samuel needs to eat,” she crooned as the little baby wiggled in her arms and fussed. “If you want him to grow big like the other males, you’ll need to stay on top of his feedings.”
“I don’t give a shit if he grows big or not.”
Breshia frowned and snuggled Samuel closer. “He’s still important.”
Shay offered her a dead look, then returned her attention to the window.
“Look, I can do everything for him but feed him. If you aren’t willing, then I’m switching him to formula so I can take better care of him.”
This was how it was. The pride raised the cubs. More specifically, Breshia raised the cubs because as Shira so eloquently put it, she wasn’t useful for anything else. But still, Shay should at least feel connected to her child. She was pouting like a spoiled brat and ignoring what was important. She’d had a perfect, healthy little cub. Breshia would give her belly button to have a cub as cunning someday, and here Shay sat, as if she could care less about feeding her child.
Winter pushed her head through the cracked doorway. “Shira’s ready for you.”
A nervous flutter filled Breshia’s belly as she nodded. “Be right there. Here,” she said, standing and offering Samuel back to his mother.
The woman brought wide, empty eyes back to her. “Is this your genetics meeting?”
“Thomas hurt me.”
Winter opened the door wider. “Now, Breshia.”
“What do you mean?” she asked, kneeling beside the woman. “What did he do to you?”
Shay’s throat moved as she swallowed hard. “You should run,” she whispered.
“Shay!” Winter barked out.
The woman cowered and hunched her shoulders near her ears.
Breshia handed her Samuel and slowly followed Winter out of the nursery. At the door, she turned, but Shay was unhooking her bra to feed Samuel and wouldn’t look at her.
Nothing in her wanted to do this. The genetics meeting was one she’d dreaded since her the Chicago pride had first started pushing for them, and now here it was, even earlier than expected. She was twenty-four, and now she would be expected to have a cub for the pride. For the single purpose of continuing her species.
Winter led her down a long, white hallway to Shira’s office. None of the walls were painted, giving the house a sterile, cold feel. It was big enough to house all eight of the lionesses in the Portland pride, but small enough that she had to sleep on the couch in the living room, where she’d been living for the last year. As soon as Shira became alpha, she kicked her from the room that is now the nursery and said big changes were coming. Could she move into an apartment on her own? Probably. She had enough in savings and made enough at her job at the local Jammer’s Coffee Café to pay rent and bills, but living outside of the pride wasn’t allowed for females.
She closed her eyes and sighed, and for the millionth time, wished she was a rogue male.
Shira sat behind a large oak desk, stained dark, and read over a stack of paperwork as Breshia entered the room.
“Sit down,” the alpha commanded.
Breshia sank into the plush leather chair and twisted back and forth until Winter took her place in the corner of the room.
Shira lifted an unamused gaze to her until she stopped moving and clamped her hands in her lap. “Sorry.”
“As you know, there are only twenty-five of us left in the world. Our pride, and the Chicago pride. Without cubs, we will go extinct in a generation.”
“How many cubs does Chicago have now?”
“None. The pool of genetics is growing so slim, none of their lionesses are compatible with the remaining males.”
God, she hoped that was true for her, too.
“You have Samuel now,” Breshia said.
Shira looked at her like she was an idiot. “Samuel is a male.”
And? “Okay, what about you? I thought you were ready for a cub.”
A predatory smile spread across her lips. “I have a cub. She lives in Hells Canyon.”
Breshia shook her head. “I…I guess I don’t understand.”
“Logan was my last genetic match. His brother is only related on his mother’s side, and his father is related to me. Logan was it for me, so the child he bore with that whore bear is mine. As soon as I can figure out how to get her back, she will be raised here, by you.”
Breshia rubbed her hands over her face and sighed a frustrated sound. “Shira, that baby has parents who love her. And an entire clan of bears protecting her. She belongs to Logan and his mate—”
“Don’t you call her that!” Shira bellowed, slamming her fists against the desk.
Breshia cowered and lowered her chin, then averted her eyes to the leg of desk. The lion inside of her had all but disappeared the second she stepped into the office with two dominant lionesses, and now she was on her own. As usual. God, maybe Shay was right. She was pathetic.
“While I’m waiting to get my cub back, we need to move forward with the genetic testing.”
“I thought I already did mine.”
“Stop talking,” she gritted out.
Shira opened her angry looking, gold-colored eyes wider and waited for Breshia to settle again. Wavy blonde tresses twitched with her movement, and her eyes were an attractive almond shape. She would’ve been a pretty woman if she didn’t snarl so much.
“So far, you are the only one besides Shay who is different enough genetically from our males to breed.”
Her heart dropped to the floor beneath her red peep toe wedges. Swallowing the lump in her throat, she sat up straighter, determined not to fall apart. “Who?”
“We’ll breed Shay again and hope for a better result than Samuel as soon as she is in heat again.”
Please let it be Jonathan or Cole.
Shira lifted her chin and narrowed her eyes. “Thomas.”
Thomas? Anyone but him. He was Samuel’s father, and cruel, and detached. And what Shay said earlier was still rattling around in Breshia’s head. It wasn’t like breeding was easy. There was no wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am and it was done. A heat cycle meant breeding several times a day to ensure a viable pregnancy. And if Thomas had hurt Shay while he was breeding her…
Breshia was going to be sick.
“Bring him in,” Shira ordered.
Winter opened the door and muttered something that she should’ve been able to hear, but couldn’t because blood seemed to be pounding in her ears in rhythm to her thundering heartbeat.
“Can you double check,” Breshia pleaded.
“I’ve triple checked. He’s your mate.”
No. No, no, no. He wasn’t her mate and he wasn’t Shay’s. He was Logan’s brother, the bad seed of the bunch and she couldn’t imagine losing her virginity to such an awful man.
“What about the challenges? Can’t they fight for breeding rights? Please, Shira, don’t make me do this. Not with him.”
A snarl ripped out of the alpha and she stood, towering over the desk and glaring Breshia down until she knelt on the carpet with her arms flung across her middle.
“You’ll do what is best for our kind. Challenges are obsolete after Logan. He could’ve had any lioness he wanted, but he bowed out of the mating games. Now, our options are even more severely limited. This is your chance to be of use to this pride, Breshia. I’d suggest you thank your fucking stars you aren’t worthless after all, and jump at the chance.”
“Besides,” Winter said in a cold voice, “this way you’ll finally get laid.”
She hated them. She hated this pride and this house. She hated all the males for getting to avoid the politics just because they were born with dicks. She hated the bears and the humans and everyone who didn’t have to sleep with Thomas and bear his child.
A heavy pair of shit-kicker boots graced the thick carpet in her peripheral vision. Thomas angled himself until his toes almost touched the side of her leg. “Give me five minutes with her and I’ll tell you how close to her heat cycle she is.”
“Don’t disappoint me again, Breshia,” Shira warned as she made her way out.
The door clicked closed behind the alpha, and Breshia sat shaking on the carpet.
“You weren’t my first option either,” Thomas said. “In fact, I’d rather fuck any other lioness here or in the Chicago pride than you, but I’m a man of honor and this is my duty to the pride, and to our kind. Sit in the chair.”
A pathetic mewling sound left her lips and she found it impossible to move.
“I said, sit. In. The. Chair.”
“Please,” she begged. “I haven’t ever done this before.”
“Had a heat?”
“No, not that,” she said, looking up into his cold, gray eyes. “I haven’t been with a man.”
“Ah.” A cruel smile spread across his face. “Well, if you think this is the part where I’ll promise to be gentle, that ain’t gonna happen, sweetheart.”
Fear clogged her throat, making it almost impossible to breathe. He yanked her arm and pushed her back into the chair. The leather of it felt much colder than it did a couple of minutes ago. She was shaking all over, her hands, her legs…her breath. She was frozen like a creak in winter, unable to move her arms to stop him from yanking her pants down her thighs. Tears streaked down the corners of her eyes as he pressed his nose into her lap and inhaled loudly.
The jangle of his belt buckle sounded and, in horror, she watched him unsheathe his cock and take a long, slow pull of it. A smile crooked his lips, and he looked up at her like he was surprised. “This is going to be more fun than I thought,” he murmured. “It seems your pussy is the prettiest thing about you.” He held out his hands like it was a rare beauty. “I mean, just look at it.”
“I don’t want to,” she said in a trembling voice.
His face twitched, revealing the monster underneath for just a moment before he replaced it with his placid expression once again. He stroked himself again and canted his head. “It smells like you’re close, but I can’t be sure unless I taste you. Do you want me to taste you, Breshia?”
“Now, mate. That’s no way to start off a heat cycle. I know you can feel it—the stirrings of something you can’t control.” He pulled his shirt over his head, and his taut stomach and chest flexed with the movement.
She inhaled sharply as her hormones surged. No matter how alluringly sculpted he was, all the beauty in the world couldn’t make up for his ruined soul. “You don’t know what being a mate is. Have you even seen Samuel?” At his blank stare, she said, “Your son. Have you even spent time with him?”
“That’s not what this is, and you know it. I have a job. It used to be to fight challengers to secure my right to breed, but now it’s all about genetics, and with Logan out of the picture, it seems I won the lottery. Not with you, of course, but with Shay and possibly with Winter. You’ll be bred by me every heat cycle from here on, and all of your many cubs will be my get. I’m all the mate you’ll ever have, so get used to seeing me. To feeling me.”
He ran his hand up her bare thighs, and she clenched them together instinctively.
“Oh, no, no, no,” he said with a pout. “That won’t do. Not when I’ve been charged with telling Shira when your heat cycle will start. Come here, love.”
“Don’t you fucking call me that. You’ve never loved anything in your life.”