Authors: T. S. Joyce
BEAR THE HEAT
(FIRE BEARS, BOOK 3)
By T. S. JOYCE
The author recommends reading this series in order for maximum reader enjoyment.
Bear My Soul (
Bear the Burn (
For more of these characters, pick up the spinoff Saw Bears series
Lumberjack Werebear (
Woodcutter Werebear (
Timberman Werebear (
Sawman Werebear (
Axman Werebear (
Copyright © 2015 by T. S. Joyce
Copyright © 2015, T. S. Joyce
First electronic publication: June 2015
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
A thunderous booming sounded against the walls of Boone Keller’s cabin. Muscles jerking, he sat up in bed. The pounding rattled his front door a second time, and he lurched for the bedroom light switch. The illumination burned his eyes, and he winced and shielded his face from the harsh lights above.
The knocking was louder now, and if the person on the other side of that door didn’t quit, they were going to splinter the wooden barrier that stood between him and the woods outside.
“I’m coming,” he called out, stumbling for the living room. A curse tumbled from his lips for the arm of the couch he slammed into, then he threw open the door.
Cody stood there, wide-eyed, and if Boone wasn’t mistaken, terrified. He’d never seen his older brother scared before.
“Take my boy and keep him safe,” Cody said in a desperate voice as he shoved his five-year-old son, Aaron, into Boone’s arms.
The rattling of automatic gunfire echoed through the woods.
“What’s happening?” Boone asked, scanning the woods as he clutched a whimpering Aaron tight to his chest.
“They’ve found us.”
Cody backed off the front porch, and his piercing blue eyes dimmed with sadness. “Everyone.”
Rory, Cody’s mate, lay crumpled in the yard, her eyes fixed on him. “Boone, save him,” she said in a hoarse whisper.
Adrenaline dumped into his veins as he raked his horrified gaze over her open stomach. Crimson stained her white sundress.
“Cody?” he uttered as he ripped his attention away from Rory’s suffering and searched his front yard. Cody had disappeared into the shadows as if he’d never existed at all.
“Run,” his alpha’s voice whispered on the wind.
Panting with panic, heart pounding against his sternum, Boone held Aaron tight against his chest and ran for the safety of the woods. This territory was his. He knew every nook and cranny, every rock crevice and cliff.
Branches whipped his face and shoulders as he ducked and dodged around them to protect Aaron. To the left, running parallel, Gage was herding his mate, Leah, and their two cubs in the same direction. Blue moonlight covered them in eerie shadows, but he knew their scent. They were his crew, and they were here, running with him toward safety.
“Where’s Dade?” Boone yelled, his voice sounding hollow against the onslaught of peppering gunfire.
Gage didn’t answer, didn’t even turn his head.
Aaron was crying now, frail shoulders shaking. He hadn’t hit his first growth spurt yet and was tiny still, in need of protection.
“It’s okay,” Boone panted out as his limbs became heavy. “You’re safe with me, little bear.” He hoped his words sounded more confident than he felt.
He slowed, struggling against the waterlogged sensation his legs had adopted. His feet dragged through the pine needles that blanketed the forest floor, and when he turned to Gage to ask for help, a spray of bullets echoed through the wilderness and bowed Gage and his family forward with pained cries.
“Gage!” Boone yelled, desperation clawing at his throat.
Turning away in horror, he laid eyes on Ma, kneeling in the dirt, humming an off-key tune as she rocked back and forth, back and forth. She was hunched over something, so he dragged his heavy body closer and searched the ground in front of her. Dade and Bruiser lay beside each other, heads resting in Ma’s lap, eyes clouded, staring vacantly into the space between them, faces smattered with blood. Quinn lay alone in front of them, white dress tattered and knees bloodied. She was struggling on her last breath, her lungs rattling with fluid.
“Oh, God!” Boone cried, shaking his head. “Ma, run!”
“Too late for me, my Boone. My heart died with my boys.” A crack of gunfire sounded and Ma jolted straight up, a look of shock and pain in her blue eyes. A red stain spread across her chest as she whispered, “Save her.”
Her? Boone looked down in his arms, but he wasn’t holding Aaron anymore. He was holding Cora.
“I’m scared,” Cora whispered, blond hair whipping about in the wind, hazel eyes as round as the full moon.
“You should be,” Shayna whispered from the shadows. “Boone brought you to the Reaper.” She stepped out from behind a towering spruce tree, handgun trained on the woman in his arms.
“It’s okay,” Cora whispered just before Shayna pulled the trigger.
The sound of metal cracking against the firing pin was deafening, and Cora slid from his arms.
“Nooo!” he screamed, the word transforming into a roar.
Boone woke up yelling, throat hoarse, body rigid from fighting in his mind. His bedroom was dark, but the blue moonlight filtered through the open window as the chilly fall breeze brushed across his damp skin.
Supernatural electricity zinged up his arms and legs, sparking against his muscles until he seized. Back arching against the tossed bed sheets, he began his Change just as the first whisper reached his ear.
“Laura will be so pissed she missed this,” someone murmured, laughter in their voice.
Helplessly, Boone dragged his gaze to the window, where a cellphone camera showed a terrifying reflection of himself—veins bulging, skin ripping, fur sprouting, screaming…roaring.
Fury blasted through him in the final moments of his Change. He was a territorial hellion. These intruders had come onto his land, witnessed another one of his nightmares…the ones where he couldn’t save the people he cared about. They saw him vulnerable. Recorded it to be replayed over and over again.
No, no, no.
Boone stood up on his hind legs and roared. Scared whimpers from the spies, and that was better. They should know.
Boone Keller was a monster—a death bringer—and they should see their end coming.
He dropped to all fours, claws raking against the carpet and lips curling back over his long canines.
And then he charged.
Cora Wright nudged an oversize pair of sunglasses higher up her nose with her shoulder and dodged a pair of rowdy kids running from their harried mother on the sidewalk of Main Street. She gripped the two plastic cups of fragrant coffee tighter and smiled her understanding as the mother apologized and rushed past. Cora liked kids and volunteered for an afterschool reading program once a week at a local elementary school, so she understood perfectly well how rambunctious they could be.
The sidewalk was crowded for this early in the morning, but she shouldn’t be surprised. Tourists rose early in Breckenridge, as did the locals to open their souvenir shops and restaurants.
She bustled under the hand-painted
sign and through the front door of Mack’s Gourmet Candy Shop. The smell of fresh melted chocolate, fruit fillings, and assorted nuts was enough to lift her spirits. The sight of her raven-haired, tattoo-covered cousin, Joslyn “Jos” Mack, who talked animatedly to a customer near a working taffy-stretching machine, drew a sigh of relief from her lips. Talking to Jos would make her feel better. She had a way with wise words and advice, and a soft way of thinking that Cora needed about now.
“Whoa,” Jos said as she approached the counter. “You look like shit.”
Or maybe not.
“Thanks a lot.” Cora smiled politely at the man at the counter who took his crinkling package of chocolate Danishes and sidled around her. “I brought you coffee in exchange for a shoulder to lean on.”
“Woman, look at that sign over there.”
Cora squinted through the dark tint of her sunglasses and read the chalkboard with the neon lettering.
Best coffee in town.
“Well, how was I supposed to know you served coffee? Or breakfast for that matter? This is a candy shop, and this is my first time in here.”
“Is it from the cake shop?” Jos asked, eyeing the steaming cups.
“Maybe.” Cora handed her one and took a sip of her own.
The shop was bustling three strong, but no one seemed ready to check out, so Cora double-timed it around the counter and took the seat Jos pointed to. “Lay it on me. Except if this is about assface. I can’t handle him this morning.”
“Why? What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. Just nervous about passing the fire inspection. Since this building was remodeled, they have to come in and make sure it’s safe and I’m not violating any fire safety codes. It’s the last obstacle until we are officially
open for business. Wait, this is about assface, isn’t it?”
“You know, I’m not even going to tell you to stop calling him that anymore.” Cora swallowed hard. “Jos, we’re really done this time.”
Jos’s dark eyebrows lifted high, and she leaned forward and lowered her voice. “What did he do?”
Cora shook her head, unable to put words to the heinous betrayal Eddie had laid on her heart.
“He cheated again, didn’t he?”
Pain slashed through Cora’s middle at the memory of the night she’d caught him with another woman. “Yeah. I told him to get out that night, but he said it was his house, and if I wanted to split up, I had to leave.”
“What? You pay half that rent. He cheated. He should move out.”
“Yeah, he didn’t even make the girl leave. She was some tourist, I think. I’ve never seen her before. She was in the kitchen, drinking coffee out of my favorite mug while I packed.”
Jos’s dark eyes flashed with fury, and she ran her hand roughly through her short, spiked hair. “I don’t get you Cora. You are strong as all get-out when it comes to everything but Eddie. Why have you let it get this far?”
“That’s not what I need to hear right now.”
“Okay, when did this happen?”
“Last week. I’ve been staying at the condo up the hill, trying to get my head on straight.”
“What? Why didn’t you tell me? You could’ve been staying in our extra bedroom.”
“I don’t want to inconvenience you and Meredith. You are basically on your honeymoon, and I’d be intruding with my boxes of Kleenexes and patheticness.”
“Patheticness isn’t a word.”
Cora sighed and leveled her a look over the rim of her sunglasses. “Not helping.”
Jos slid the glasses from Cora’s face and cupped her cheek. “Darlin’, you can’t be hiding behind those lenses forever. That man doesn’t deserve your tears, and you work in television. Puffy eyes don’t become a badass like you. You should’ve left him the first time he pulled this.”
Another wave of self-loathing slid over Cora’s shoulders as she warmed her fingers around the coffee cup. “I really should’ve. Eddie was a waste of three years.”
Jos turned and rang up a customer, then leaned against the counter and dug her phone from her back pocket. “You know what’ll make you feel better?”
“What?” Cora asked, frowning at her cousin as she poked around on the screen of her cell.
“Taking your mind off Eddie. You aren’t the only one having a bad week. Have you seen this? It started going viral this morning.”
“What is it?” she said, squinting at the dark video.
“You know the Kellers?”
“Of course, I do.”
“Someone snuck onto Boone Keller’s property and videotaped him in the throes of a nightmare.”
Horrified, Cora watched Boone kick off the covers to his bed. The camera was held by a shaky hand, and it was dark, but with the moonlight, she could easily make him out. “I shouldn’t be watching this,” she murmured, but she couldn’t take her eyes from the man as he arched his back against his mattress and let off a long, low, feral snarl. What a horrible violation of this man—this shifter’s—privacy.
She gasped as he screamed the word
and lurched awake, only to go rigid as a giant, blond grizzly ripped from his body with a smattering of pops that sounded like snapping bones. His eyes reflected strangely in the moonlight as he stood on his hind legs and leveled the camera with a wild glare, then charged toward the open window. There was muttering on the tape, too low for her to make out on the cell, even at high volume, but the shaking camera documented a terrified run through thick woods. The tape cut off half a minute later.
Cora barely registered the draft from the open door as she and Jos stared at the glowing screen.
“Over a million hits already and look at all those comments,” Jos said low. “It doesn’t look like he meant to shift into a bear, and that lack of control has people freaking out.”
A man cleared his throat on the other side of the counter, and Cora froze. Cody and Gage Keller stared at her and Jos with matching, unamused expressions, while Boone Keller himself stood off to the side, looking down at the legs of one of the iron tables in Jos’s candy shop. His mouth was set in a grim line. Double shit.
“I v-voted for you to be reinstated as firemen,” Jos said, stumbling over her words. “I’m pro-shifter.”
“Much appreciated,” Cody, alpha of the Breck Crew, said in a deep voice. “You mind if we get started?”
Jos inhaled harshly and pursed her lips. “Go ahead.”
Gage and Cody strode off toward the back room, but as Boone passed, he paused beside her. His blond, normally shoulder-length hair had been pulled back in a band, and his piercing blue gaze lifted slowly to hers. Clad in a casual navy blue fireman’s uniform and thick boots, he looked tall and dashing despite the hard set of his lips.
“You smell sad, Cora. Are those tears for me?”
Petrified into place, she shook her head and breathed out, “No. They were for Eddie.”
His eyes tightened slightly before he turned away from her and strode after his brothers.
“Son of a hairy gobshite,” Jos whispered. “They totally busted us watching that awful video. I’m so screwed.”
Cora wiped her cheeks, but she didn’t have any tears. Just puffy eyes and damp lashes. Bear shifters could smell sadness? “Maybe it’ll be fine. The Kellers are professionals. Maybe they’ll still pass you.”
“Yeah right,” Jos muttered. “People don’t do that kind of stuff anymore. They’re going to fail me. I know it.”
Jos had worked so hard for this shop. She and her wife, Meredith, had been saving for years to open a business right on Main Street, and now that dream was facing this obstacle? It was her fault. “I’ll fix this.”
Shoving her sunglasses in the purse slung across her shoulder, Cora made her way to the back room, her hiking boots squeaking against the clean, white tile floors.
The brothers were talking low in the back room, but it sounded like a conversation about how close some of the boxes were to the fire exit, and definitely not about her and Jos’s asshattery watching that stupid video.
“’Scuse me, Boone?”
The somber man slid a glance to her. “What?” His voice chilled her blood and sent gooseflesh skittering across her arms.
She scrunched up her nose and asked, “Can I talk to you for a minute?”
“This isn’t a social call, Cora. I’m working.” The way he said her name slid warmth over her skin. It sounded so familiar coming from his lips, as if they’d known each other for years instead of officially meeting a couple of minutes ago.
“Please,” she said.
His gaze dipped to her lips, and he frowned. “Yeah, okay.” He brushed Cody’s arm with his knuckles. “I’ll be right back.”
Cody grunted a caveman-like sound, as if he gave zero figs if his brother left to talk to her or not. Geez, it was intimidating being in a small room with these three men. And not just because they were harboring giant brown bears inside of them either. They each commanded attention and made the room feel much smaller than it actually was—and all without any apparent effort. Especially Boone, who somehow loomed more like a giant with every step he took toward her.
She led him into a narrow hallway that led to Jos and Meredith’s office and turned around, where she ran smack into his chest.
“Jesus,” he muttered, grabbing her arms and steadying her. Then he yanked his hands away like she was a hot branding iron. “What do you want?” he asked, the word sharp as a blade.
Boone crossed his arms over his chest like a protective shield, and Cora tried and failed not to gawk at his flexed pecs and biceps under the thin material of his shirt. Down one arm was a sleeve of tattoos, lacking any color save black ink, in intricate designs she couldn’t understand. She was staring. Cora cleared her throat and forced her eyes to meet his. “I’m sorry. You know, for earlier. I shouldn’t have looked at that stupid video. It was awful that happened to you. I’m…sorry.”
“You already said that.”
“Well, I double mean it.”
Cora opened her mouth and clacked it closed again, frowning so hard her forehead hurt. That wasn’t what she’d expected him to ask.
His golden blond eyebrows wrenched high as he waited.
“He’s nobody to me anymore.”
“But he hurt you.” A statement, not a question.
“Anyway, I just didn’t want you to fail Jos’s shop because of that really bad lapse in judgement.”
“So, you pulled me away from the inspection to let me know you’re sorry you were caught—not to actually talk to me?”
“Yeah. No.” She pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes at him, feeling unbalanced. “I don’t know.”
“Don’t worry about it.” Boone twitched his head like he’d been wounded. “I wouldn’t have failed a shop for personal reasons, you know. That’s not me, and it’s not my brothers either. Thought you would’ve known that.”
“Wait,” she said, grabbing his arm as he turned to leave.
He yanked it back, just as he’d done before. “What, Cora?” His eyes sparked with fury.
“How would I have known that? I don’t even know you.”
Boone nodded slowly, and a humorless smile took his lips as he hooked his hands on his waist and looked at the ground. “That’s right. You don’t. But you defend me and
enough. I thought you, of all people, would see me—us—as good, decent people. Not just mindless animals.”
He turned and left her in the hallway. She made an exasperated sound deep in her throat, utterly baffled at the exchange. She did defend them, often and publicly. She worked for the news and put her career on the line to point out when the anti-shifter rioters were being dick-pastries. How rude that he questioned her support. She’d been the loudest one at all the rallies when they first came out a few months ago, risking her job to loudly support their side. The right side. The side of justice and fairness. The side of equal rights and the right to live safely like the rest of the public.
“Jerk,” she muttered.
“I heard that,” Boone called.
“Shit,” she murmured.
“Heard that, too.”
An angry little screech marched up the back of her throat, and she left in a huff. Stupid bear hearing. Jos was with a customer, so Cora waved a frustrated goodbye and yanked her coffee off the counter, then made her way out the door. She’d call her cousin later, but right now, her temper was as hot as a roman candle. She could blame that on her Irish heritage, but really, it was Boone’s fault. As if she needed to be called out by a stranger. Her insides were breaking apart after Eddie had stomped on her devotion. Work had given her a few career-smudging “mental health” days off, and her cameraman, Carl, had jumped right on over to Ivanna Prichard, who was an intern after Cora’s job and openly anti-shifter. And now Boone Keller was giving her shit? Confusing and sexy, the stone-bodied Viking had given her grief like they’d been childhood friends.