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Authors: T.S. Joyce

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Return To The Bear

BOOK: Return To The Bear
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RETURN TO THE BEAR

(BEAR VALLEY SHIFTERS, BOOK 3)

By T. S. JOYCE

 

Other Books in t
his Series

 

Bear Valley Shifters

 

The Witness and the Bear (
Book 1
)

Devoted to the Bear (
Book 2
)

Betray the Bear (
Book 4
)

 

Redeem the Bear

(Book 5, Coming September 2014)

 

Return to 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.

 

Dedication

 

 

For Tawnya.

Prologue

 

Hannah Michaels pulled on her hiking boots, tied them tightly,
then rolled her jeans over the laces. The healing wounds that stretched from her sternum to her right shoulder burned with the movement. Three long cuts announced she was Riker’s. They told the story of how she was the mate of the alpha, and a private smile ghosted her lips. The pain only reminded her of their commitment. It wouldn’t hurt forever, but she’d always remember the day he claimed her. Their road hadn’t been an easy one, but as she stood and pulled the neck of her green cotton shirt aside to reveal Riker’s claim on her in the hallway mirror, she thought maybe it hadn’t been easy because nothing important ever was.

Snatching the twin
cups of steaming coffee, she loped down the porch stairs of Riker’s sprawling Victorian home. It was the alpha’s house, though someday, when he stepped down or lost an alpha challenge, they’d pick a smaller cabin on the outskirts of Bear Valley. Still, this place was special. They’d started their lives here and a piece of her would always see it as home, no matter who lived in it after her.

The sun was barely peeking over the horizon, illuminating the Big Horn Mountains behind the rows of cabins in deep gray color. The morning was cool, but not enough to wear a sweater. The coffee
warmed her hands as she found the trail that led to the cattle fences. After almost being killed by Stone, the man she’d testified against, she wasn’t taking any of these beautiful clear mornings for granted. She was alive, despite all of the men he’d sent to snuff her out. She’d lived in seclusion in witness protection for a year, and now she vowed not to squander the special moments.

Even if she wanted to, Riker wouldn’t let her. She
hopped over a fallen log and bit her lip against the smile that threatened to take her face when she thought about the things he’d done to her this morning. The man was insatiable. Jenny said all dominant bear shifters were like that, and Riker was about as dominant as they came. He’d stepped into the shower behind her this morning and slid into her without a word. No
good morning
or
did you sleep well
from her mate. Riker spoke with his body. He’d gripped her hair and spilled into her, uttered her name like he couldn’t help it, and she still glowed with the after effects of a good morning bedding. Or showering? Whatever the reason for Riker’s physical needs, she was glad she was the one who got to catch him when he needed her.

A twig snapped behind her and she spun, sloshing one of the coffees. “Shit,” she muttered, steadying her shaking hands. Sh
e’d probably never get over the hunted feeling that had come from a year of running for her life. One of the cups was now half empty and she grimaced. She’d be a good friend and give Jenny the full one.

“You got me banished,” Merit said from twenty yards up the trail. Clad in
dark wash jeans and a see-through white blouse that complimented a lacey bra and hugged her curves, her hair was pulled back into a pony tail that curled perfectly on the end. Her lips, glossed in red, were turned down. The woman was pretty now, but someday she was going to have some serious frown lines.

“I didn’t do anything to get
you banished, Merit. If you get booted out of here, it’s probably because the council is tired of your manipulative—”

“I came to apologize,” she
interrupted blandly.

“Oh.” Hannah shuffled her feet and shifted her weight. “For what, exactly, are you apologizing?” There was a plethora of reasons she was queen of the naughty list, but Merit, to Hannah’s knowledge, had never been held accountable for any of her actions.

“I just came back from a meeting with Riker and the council, and they said if I apologize to you publically, I can stay.”

Hannah twisted and looked longingly down the trail that led to work. She really just wanted to see Jenny and hand off one of these coffees, and get to her chores that seemed
never-ending. If she didn’t start work soon, she’d be at the barns late tonight, which meant longer before she could see Riker.

“Look, I don’t give a
two soggy waffles whether you’re banished or not. You tried to take Riker from me, and you manipulated him into your bed. Hurt him, and me, in the process and you’ve called no less than three council meetings trying to have me kicked out of Bear Valley and have my mating to Riker overturned. Apology not accepted Merit. I don’t owe you any favors.”

Merit sniffled. The little weasel really sniffled and her blue eyes filled with tears. “I don’t want to leave my home,” she said thick
ly. “I like it here and I swear I’ll leave you and Riker alone. I know it was wrong of me to act like such a spoiled brat, but surely I don’t deserve to be put out in the streets. I don’t have anywhere else to go.” Her lip quivered. “Please.”

Hannah wanted to kick a pinecone right into her crying face for making her feel bad after everything the psycho had done. B
ut banishment was awful. Riker and Jenny had explained that it was hard for bear shifters to survive outside of a clan. “Fine,” she gritted through clenched teeth. “When do you have to apologize?”

“Today. Could you come with me now? Riker and the council are still in meetings this morning and I could gather enough
people for a public apology while everyone is on their way to work. We could put this entire mess behind us right now.”

Goody. “All right.” Hannah frowned at her coffee. If she’d have known she’d be traipsing through the woods with Merit this morning, she would’ve liquored up her cup of joe.

“Thank you, Hannah. I mean it. You’re really saving my skin here.”

Merit turned but not before Hannah caught her smirk. She didn’t believe a word she was saying and each syllable rang with such a false note. Maybe this was a bad idea. How would Merit ever learn unless she was punished for her actions? Was she just enabling her more by allowing her to stay? But then, Hannah was the alpha’s mate and should be setting a good example. Holding grudges and being petty just didn’t sit well with her.

Merit held out her hand gallantly and gestured for Hannah to go first. Something about having Merit at her back made her skin crawl but she dutifully marched through the woods toward Riker’s office. At least she’d get to see him again before tonight.

Hannah frowned at the late model black sedan that sat at the mouth of the trail. Who in their right mind would’ve driven all the way through the brush and parked it—

A prick stung her neck, like a wasp’s stinger, and she jerked, swatting at the bug as she moved to escape. Merit pulled a needle from her skin and a triumphant smile stretched her face.

“What the hell?
What are you doing?” Panic laced Hannah’s words as the edges of her vision blurred. She pressed her hand over the tiny prick in her neck like that would slow the numbness washing through her.

Merit
grabbed her hair and Hannah slapped her face, nails clawed.

Gasping, Merit shoved her to the ground and ran the palm of her hand over her bleeding cheek. “You stupid bitch,” she breathed.

Hannah struggled to sit up, but her body seemed detached and nothing worked right. Every second, her limbs grew heavier. “What did you give me?” she slurred.

“Horse tranquilizers. Seemed fitting.” Merit grabbed the base of her pony tail again and dragged her to the back seat of her car. The door screeched as she pulled it open and Hannah struggled to escape
, but her arms and legs were useless. Her breath shook and her heart hammered her desire to flee. Merit was crazy. She hadn’t seen how far gone she was before now, but the woman was certifiable. “Riker!” she called, only the word came out a mumble and a quiet one at that.

Roughly, Merit
shoved her onto the back seat and shut the door. Hannah scrabbled for the door handle, but she didn’t have the strength or coordination to pull it. The last thing she saw before Merit threw a heavy blanket over her was a suitcase shoved in the front seat and Merit’s feral smile.

The
driver’s side door opened and the car rocked under Merit’s weight. The corner of the blanket lifted and the woman leaned over the back of her seat, her expensive perfume assaulting Hannah’s senses. “I’m taking you to the Long Claw Clan, Hannah. Just think about that on the way. If you aren’t terrified, you should be. They don’t mate for life there. It isn’t civilized like here. There aren’t rules or councils. There is one alpha and he’s a blood thirsty brute who fucks every woman in the clan as he pleases. You’ll be no different and Riker will never find you. And if, by some miracle, your mate eventually tracks you down, you’ll already be ruined and he won’t be able to take you back without starting a war between Bear Valley and the Long Claws. Trust me when I say, you aren’t worth that kind of blood spillage.”

Hannah couldn’t move and her breath came shallow as she panted in fear. Her eyelids grew heavier, and everything blurred except for the smug expression on Merit’s face.

“Hannah.” Merit’s crimson smile stretched wider. “I. Win.”

Chapter
One

 

Joanna Penn pushed her legs harder, trampling over brambles and brush. Her lungs burned with each intake of breath but she couldn’t slow down. She couldn’t ever slow down if she wished to escape the Long Claws and Nathan’s reach. She’d have to find the Raiders or perhaps try to track down any surviving members of Blood Den. They’d scattered into the wind, but even if she could find two or three of them, they might be enough to keep her safe. Or maybe she could even find Bear Valley if she could avoid capture by Nathan’s clan for as long as it would take to travel there. Surely, someone would offer her sanctuary.

She should ha
ve worn jeans, but she hadn’t figured on a chance at fleeing when she dressed this morning. Now, warmth trickled down her legs from the dozens of cuts she’d sustained running from the shifters who chased her.

She was changing. Every day she could feel herself turning into someone she wasn’t and if she ever wanted to see her old self again, to be happy, she had to leave now.

“This way,” a man shouted from behind her, and she cursed shifter noses.

The scent of her
blood was drawing the bears that hunted her. Veering off the path, she cut through the trees and swallowed down a whimper. They were so close.

A giant grizzly
leapt from behind a grove of tightly woven trees and Joanna’s scream of terror tapered into a roar as her beast ripped out of her. She stood on her hind legs, mirroring the grizzly who circled her. He charged first, teeth bared as he landed a resonating
slap
against her shoulder. She clawed and scrabbled, but fell backward and he followed. His giant paws landed on either side of her head and his black eyes swam with hatred as he pressed his pelvis against hers.

“Dunn,” Blake said languidly from his relaxed position against a tree. “She’s Nathan’s and you know it. Rein it in or he’ll have your head on a stake out front of his
house.”

Dunn snarled, then his eyes narrowed and he pushed off her.

“Change back, Joanna,” Blake commanded. “The game is through and you’re caught. Best if we get you back to Nathan before he has any more time to build his fury.”

Blake, that smarmy asshole, had a point. Nathan, alpha of the Long Claw Clan, didn’t like to wait.

Her clothes lay in tatters from her unintentional shift and she hesitated. Maybe she could just walk back as a bear and find clothes when she arrived at the community.

“Now,” Blake ordered.

Dunn had already changed back and stood with his hands on his hips, smiling wickedly with his erection proudly on display. Well, she was safe from mishandling by that idiot because of Nathan’s arrogance. He didn’t take other men’s seconds. Blake hadn’t been kidding about Dunn’s impending doom if he so much as kissed her. With a sigh, she closed her eyes and shrunk back to her human form.

Dunn sucked on his teeth and devoured her body with his
gaze. She flipped him off and followed Blake back toward the trail.

“So your plan was what, Joanna?” Blake admonished. “Run until you found town? You don’t even know where you are and people saw you leave. You weren’t exactly stealthy about your escape this time. What is this? Time number three? Give up
, Joanna. Bow to your fate and let Nathan claim you.”

“Let him make me one of his whores, you mean?”

Blake turned so fast, she gasped. He jabbed a finger in her face and growled, low in his throat. “Don’t you call them that. His mates are to be honored and revered. They’ll bear sons of the strongest bloodline the Long Claws have ever known. Call them whores again and I’ll put you in seclusion for a week. Do you understand?”

“Yes.” Her voice came out a ragged whisper. She’d been in seclusion before and the cost had nearly been her mind.

Mates, plural. Nathan had three of them and she would be just another notch on his belt. Another trophy for him to boast about. The spoils of a war her people had lost to the Long Claws. How could he blame her for not wanting to mate with the man who’d killed and scattered her people?

Blake spun and stomped
down the trail. “You could have it a lot worse than to pair with the most feared alpha in the world, you know,” he called over his shoulder. “He takes good care of his mates and he makes it no secret that you are special to him. You’ll be taken care of.”

Where she came from, the Blood Den Clan, bears mated for life and monogamously. Sharing a mate with a harem of other women would suck the joy from her soul. She believed in love now, but if she allowed a pairing with him, she’d be jaded and grow hard, like
Nathan’s mates would become when the fun of being mated to the alpha wore off and they realized they were sharing his affection. It worked for now, but it wouldn’t—couldn’t—work forever. Arguing with Blake was pointless though. He never listened or cared.

The clan was bustling with activity. T
wo cubs in their bear form play-fought in the street as their mothers laughed and chatted in the shade of one of the house porches. The homes here were cookie cutter. Kit homes had been ordered two years ago when the land had been taken from a rival clan, and the Long Claws had begun immediate work to adapt to living in the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming. She’d been newly taken in at the time and hadn’t understood that good people had died trying to defend this stretch of land. Now that she knew the dark history of the demise of the Kodiak Clan, the place felt haunted.

Great jungle
gardens lay beside a sprawling orchard with every fruit tree and bush imaginable. Perspiring men worked on fences and laughing kids weaved through the crowd. If she didn’t know the bloody origins of this place, it would be peaceful—a place she could call home. As it stood, she’d had too many personal conversations with Nathan to ignore the fact that shifters had died so this clan could inhabit this land.

Why Nathan, the most powerful alpha she’d ever met, felt the need to bare his soul to her, she’d never know.

Down an alley of children playing a game of marbles they stepped. At the mouth of it was a two story home with gray siding and an inviting stone walkway. She closed her eyes and took a steadying breath before she stepped through the door behind Blake. Nathan was going to punish her. Oh, he’d never laid a hand on any woman that she’d ever seen, but Nathan was creative with his punishments. And she was in heat.

Heat. The bane of her current existence, and likely the reason Nathan was so adamant about claiming her. That and she’d told him
no
about two dozen times. The man had probably never heard the word before he conquered her people and took her in.

Blake led her down a hallway, past a large office and then up a flight of stairs. The top story was a s
ingle room with blackout curtains, incense, a king sized bed and pillows set up in front of a fireplace. The elaborate fabrics in the room were dyed in deep gold and burgundy. This was the room Nathan…let off steam.

There was no door, so as soon as she
climbed to the top of the stairs, her gaze collided with Nathan’s.

Be strong.

His eyes were mossy green under thick golden eyebrows. His blond hair was cut short on the sides, and tousled longer on top. The man was tall and lithe when he moved, more like a panther than the gigantic bear that slept inside of him. There wasn’t an ounce of body fat on him. How did she know this? Because he was sitting completely naked on a wooden throne with one knee drawn up comfortably and his hand resting over his mouth. His eyes sparked with temper and she wanted to run.

“Leave us,” he said in a deep, firm voice. “Wait,” he said as Blake turned to
retreat down the stairs. His gaze still hadn’t strayed from hers. “Bring me Anya.”

Shit. She suddenly would’ve given a femur bone for some clothes
, but the best she could do was cover her thighs with her hands and hope her burning blush didn’t offend him more. His eyes raked down her body slowly, then he gestured her closer with a flick of his fingers.

When she stood
a few feet away from the foot of his throne, she bit her bottom lip to try and stifle the tremble that had taken her breath. Everyone seemed to enjoy being in heat around here but her. She wasn’t new to it at twenty-four, and when she’d lived with the Blood Den Clan, she’d had men she trusted with relieving the pressure of her cycle. Men she liked, who weren’t possessive. Men who didn’t ask her to give them anything in return, only a night. It was the same here. Casual, but for some reason, over the past year, something in her had changed. Or maybe broken was a better word. She didn’t want to have sex with just anyone anymore. She wanted it to mean something.

“Why,” Nathan said in a deep and commanding voice, “do you run from me?”

He’d hear a lie so what was the point in trying? “Because I don’t want to be here.”

“Do I not take care of you? Do I not give you enough status in the clan? For chrissakes, Joanna. You are one of the highest ranking females, above even my mates. So why
the fuck,” he bellowed, standing, “do you keep trying to escape like you are some prisoner?”

“Because you treat me like one! I’m not here by choice, Nathan. I’m here because you waged war against my people and spared my life.”

“And you waste the gift I gave you?”

“You’ve never lived un
der someone else’s thumb, so you don’t know how it is. I can’t imagine you’d sit idly by while the man who destroyed your people laid down rule after rule for you to follow.”

He shrugged like her words didn’t matter. “That’s war, Joanna. If you don’t like it, you can join Blood Den in their graves.”

“You’d do that? You’d kill me after everything?” He’d been kind once. The last alpha was the one who’d decreed the Long Claws wage war with Blood Den. Nathan had been second then, and had won the battle for his alpha. And now he was leader and his heart had gone cold. He’d begged his alpha for her life on the edge of that blood-soaked battlefield, and now he would toss her body in the dirt?

Leani
ng forward, his eyes narrowed like a big cat’s before it tackled its prey. “Don’t test me. I’ve been patient with you and still you deny me. I want you as my mate, it’s no secret. Everyone knows it. I’ve been clear with my intentions from day one—”

“No
, you didn’t. You pretended to be my friend. Can’t you see I’m not happy here?” Her voice dipped to a whisper. “Just let me go.”

He’d frozen
inches away from her face and emotion slashed across his eyes. She’d almost missed it, but it had been there. Somewhere in him, he still harbored a soul. The wicked twist of his smile, however, dropped her stomach to the floor like she’d just fallen off a cliff.

“Spread your legs,” he murmured.

He wouldn’t touch her. It wasn’t his way to take a woman against her will. His pride was too big to admit a woman didn’t want him. Instead, he’d been patiently hunting her for weeks, driving her to inferno as her heat had grown stronger.

Hormones were her traitorous little enemies. Like a wanton woman, she pulled her hands away from her sex and
splayed her legs. Nathan pushed to the edge of his throne until his jutting erection was inches from her entrance.

“Be mine.”

“Nathan,” she pleaded, voice shaking. “I can’t. I want more than what you can give me.”

“I can give you everything,” he said, crouching on the floor. His powerful muscles tensed as he lowered himself in front of her thighs. His warm breath caressed the building moisture there and she shuddered and let her head drop backward. Her eyes rolled closed.

“You’re so ripe, Joanna. I could make you come with my breath if you wished it.”

She was burning. It didn’t matter if it was Nathan, or any other man touching her, she felt reckless to be held. Stupid heat.

“Do you wish it?” he asked, his breath tickling her sensitive skin.

She couldn’t remember how to talk. Forming words was suddenly beyond her abilities and her knees, those
double-crossing little bitches, gave. His caressing tongue slid into her and his hands gripped her hips, holding her upright. It was the first time he’d touched her and the pain of his fingers digging into her flesh overpowered the ecstasy of his deep thrusting tongue.

This wasn’t what she wanted. It was what her body wanted, but not her heart.

“Stop,” she whispered half-heartedly.

His touch disappeared immediately. When she opened her eyes, he was standing to his full height, much taller than her. His eyes were so
dilated, the green had all but disappeared, replaced by searing blackness.

“Can’t you see what you do to me?” he asked low.

His hands were clenched at his sides and his erection jutted hard as a stone between them. He never let anyone see this kind of emotion. She knew, because she watched for it. But how could she explain monogamy to someone more animal than man?

“I want to be with one man,” she said, swaying toward him like her body still required his heat. “And I want to be his only mate. You can’t give that to me. I need more.”

His face grew ruddy and his eyes took on a dangerous glint. “You would have me forsake all other women, just so I could be with you?”

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