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Bear the Burn

By:T. S. Joyce

Chapter One

Driving along Main Street, Dade Keller scratched behind the ear of the mutt sitting beside him in the passenger seat of his truck. Usually, he made Tank ride in the bed of his pickup, but today he’d taken pity on him and gave him a window seat. Tank was the firehouse’s mascot. Dade had meant to adopt a brave dog for the firehouse mascot, but Tank couldn’t even handle a yearly trip to the vet without losing his shit. A few shots in his furry butt made him howl like someone was ax murdering him.

Rubbing the brindle, short-haired hound-mix on the head, Dade muttered, “You know, if you stay still for the vet, we’ll get out of there in half an hour tops. You don’t have to make it traumatic for everyone involved.”

Tank cocked his head and slurped his panting tongue back in his mouth. One of his bottom canines caught on his lip. A honk sounded behind him and Dade waved an apology, then eased through the stale green light. Tank lived up at Fire Station 6 where Dade worked, but for some reason, he was always the one recruited for the dog’s annual vet check-ups. He didn’t really mind, though. He had a day off and nothing planned, and besides, he’d bonded with Tank over the two years he’d lived at the firehouse. As much as he hated admitting he had an attachment to anything, he loved that Tank followed him around and no one else when he was working his forty-eight hour shifts.

Secretly, he thought of Tank as his, but if he muttered that little gem out loud, Boone, one of his older brothers, would rib him relentlessly for going soft. And dammit, he was about as soft as a porcupine. IESA had done that—made him into a black ops weapon incapable of attaching to anyone. A vision of that day in the barn after Krueger had kidnapped Cody’s mate, Rory, played across his mind, and he winced. The memory caused him to touch the acid burn scars across his neck. A reminder that humans couldn’t be trusted with secrets.

A black sedan slid in behind him as he headed toward the vet clinic at the end of the main drag in Breckenridge. Dade narrowed his eyes in the rearview mirror at the familiar car.

It couldn’t be. Shayna couldn’t possibly be that dumb.

Dark, tinted windows hid the driver, but as he took the next right, the car behind him sped up and rode inches from his bumper.

“Shit,” Dade muttered, turning left onto a wooded dirt road. Tank growled. Nothing in Dade wanted to do this now, or ever, and he stifled his own snarl that softly rattled his chest. “Tell me about it, boy.”

He pulled off onto the shoulder and slid out of his truck, slammed the door behind him. Hooking his hands on his hips, he waited as Shayna took her time getting out of the sedan in sky-high heels and a short black skirt that was created to lure men to their deaths. This chick was a black widow if he’d ever seen one, and right now, with her brunette waves tickling her low neck line, lips painted red, and that cold, devil-may-care smile plastered on her face, she looked like a right proper little man-eater.

“What do you want, Shayna?”

Inside the truck, Tank was going mad, barking and lunging at the door. Impressive, since Tank liked everyone. Dade’s regard for the IESA operative sank further, if that was even possible.

“You know, when I went back to check on our little operation in the woods, all I found was a torched barn.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, but if I did, I’d say I regret that you weren’t there for the fireworks show.” Because Damon Daye would’ve definitely made sure she wasn’t here to blackmail shifters anymore.

“You fucked me once.” She leaned on the side of his truck and offered him a smile that failed to reach her eyes.

“I was drunk, and that was before I knew who you really were.”

“I want seconds.”

His single, humorless laugh cracked across the quiet woods. “That’s a hell no. Have a nice life, Shayna.” He turned and reached for his door handle, but she yanked him back with a strength she shouldn’t have possessed.

He swung around, but her eyes had changed from their emerald color to a churning silver. “What have you done?” he asked on a breath, dread slamming into him.

“It’s not what I did, but what one of your kind did for me. Everyone has a price.”

“I don’t.”

“Yes you do, Dade. Because I know who you’re sleeping with these days.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Lisa Warren.”

He took a step back from Shayna. “Who?”

Her eyes tightened and roiled like mercury. “I saw you leave her house last week.”

“The woman from the bar?”

Shayna drew up short. “You’re with her,” she said, less certain this time.