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Boarlander Beast Boar

By:T. S. Joyce

Boarlander Beast Boar (Boarlander Bears Book 4) - T. S. Joyce

Chapter One




Pain was a part of this life. Scars were, too. There was no soft, cushy existence for shifters, and especially not one for Mason Croy.

There was just this: ache, loss, longing, anger. Always anger.

Mason spat blood. He angled his neck, cracked it, and then stretched it to the other side to do the same again. “Call me pig one more time,” he dared the three humans who’d lured him to the alley beside the post office.

The tall one held a bloody brick in his shaking hand, and his face was gore. It was that one who wouldn’t shut up in the post office. He just couldn’t let Mason pick up a package and leave in peace. Couldn’t let him run one lousy errand without having to swallow all the slurs and names he and his backwoods buddies came up with. And one had decided to video tape him, right up to the point when he’d ripped the phone from his hands and chucked it against the wall, shattering it into a million satisfying pieces.

Red tinted the edges of his vision as one of the men circled around him. Mason wasn’t stupid enough to get himself surrounded. Not when this one had brought a crow bar. Good. He hadn’t had a good fight since the night at the fight barn. Wailing on Clinton was the only thing that had settled the fire inside him, and then he’d spent two damn months pretending he was okay. Pretending there wasn’t some monstrous urge in him to destroy everything just to feel better. Pretending to be happy floating between Damon, the Gray Backs, and the Boarlanders. Fuck. Bash’s sad face flashed across his mind, and he shook his head hard to dislodge the vision.

His boar raged to escape him, but he couldn’t lose it like that. Not here. Crowbar lunged, swung hard, and Mason smiled in the instant he caught the cold metal and arched back his other arm. Finally.

The red in his vision turned black, and he was gone. He was driven only by instinct and pain. Something hit him hard in the back of the neck, but he wouldn’t worry about the others. Not now. With his knee on Crowbar’s chest, he wailed on him.

Someone was yelling. “Mason!”

Fuck off. I’m busy.

“Mason!”

Mason lifted his fist. Crowbar wouldn’t be crowing about what a freak he was anymore. He wouldn’t spew to anyone else about how his people should be shoved in cages. He wouldn’t talk anymore about shifter babies being put down or the government castrating the male monsters.

Mason was ripped backward so hard, his shoulder dislocated. Harrison’s furious blazing blue eyes were there, but Mason was trying to look around him at Crowbar. The Boarlander alpha had Mason pinned against the brick wall with his forearm on his neck, but Mason wasn’t done punishing that asshole yet.

“Stop it!” Harrison barked out, struggling to keep Mason from the anti-shifter humans. So much power in his voice, but his order washed right over his skin like a chilly wind. Silly alpha couldn’t give a rogue an order. Mason belonged to no one. Belonged nowhere.

I’m nothing.

His attackers were running now, their weapons discarded in the muddy alley. In a puddle where the brick lay, shallow waves lapped at it, his blood spreading from the gray stone outward.

“I’m good,” he gritted out.

“You aren’t—”

“I am!” Mason shoved Harrison off and gave the alpha his back. Harrison didn’t know it, but that was the biggest slight a boar could give. It was a sign of deep disrespect, but fuck it all, he shouldn’t have pulled him off that anti-shifter scum. Mason slammed his fist against the brick.

“What’s going on, man?”

Mason slid his bloody hands down the wall and squatted in the mud, gripped the back of his head to keep his skull from splitting apart. He couldn’t Change here. Couldn’t Change. Damon would be disappointed. Again.

What was wrong? He was being haunted. It had been ten years, but recently, Esmerelda had started showing up in his dreams, just as he remembered her, crying and sad. And right before he woke up in a cold sweat, she always said the same thing. They’re coming.

Mason retched, then shrugged Harrison’s hand off his back. He didn’t want touch. Never had. Touch meant something different to boars. Touch was for mates, and he’d failed his a decade ago. And now she was back as an excruciating reminder that he hadn’t been enough, and no matter how much he fought or Changed, it wouldn’t help. He deserved this hollow feeling in his middle. He’d earned it.

“Mason,” Harrison said, his tone softer this time. “What is it?”

Mason gritted his teeth and snapped his shoulder back into place, and the searing pain dulled the image of Esmerelda he had in his head. When he could see straight again, he dragged his gaze to Harrison. “I’m sorry,” he said, his voice cracking. Chest heaving, Mason stood and stumbled toward a water spigot on the side of the building. He turned it on and cupped his hands under the cold stream. Right before he splashed it onto his face, he saw his reflection there in the clear water. He barely recognized himself under the full beard and empty eyes. Wincing, he brought his hands to his face and then reached for more of the spewing water to rinse again. Too bad the water could only wash away blood and not memories.

“Bash misses you,” Harrison murmured from right beside him. “The girls, too. And me and Kirk. Hell, the trailer park isn’t the same without you. It feels…empty.”

Mason knew all about feeling empty. He’d just been really good at hiding that until recently.

“You moved out a month ago, and you haven’t visited once,” Harrison said. “And I hear things.”

“What things?”

“How you are in the woods. Diem and Clara are worried, and the dragon doesn’t say so, but I can see the worry in his eyes when I ask how you’re doing. You aren’t yourself.”

Mason swiped the collar of his cotton shirt over his face for a quick dry and then stood and squared up to Harrison. “Yeah? And who am I?”

Harrison shook his head and shrugged. “I thought I knew. You were good with us, man. You were okay.”

“Yeah,” he rasped out, because for a while with the Boarlanders, he’d felt okay. He’d had purpose, and that was a big deal to a man like him. But logging season had ended, and now he was back to where he had been before, living in mountains where he didn’t belong, where he floated on the outskirts like a ghost, never really a part of anything. “I’ll come by. I’ll see Bash and the girls, just…maybe give me some time.” Because they couldn’t see him like this. He was midway down one hellish spiral, and he hadn’t hit rock bottom yet. He’d be damned if he dragged any of them down with him.

“All right, man,” Harrison said, “I’ll see you soon.” He looked like Bash right now, his face all shadowed with sadness, and Mason ducked his gaze. He had to. He was carrying enough weight right now without feeling guilty over disappointing Harrison, too.

As Mason watched him walk out of the alley, he wished he was different. He wished his animal would settle. Wished he could be like Kirk and Bash, or hell, even Clinton. Wished he could choose a crew and allow himself to be a part of something bigger than himself. He wished he could be a Boarlander under Harrison, but his animal didn’t attach to people like he should. He hadn’t since Esmerelda.

Mason’s pocket vibrated, and he gritted his teeth against the urge to pull his cell phone out and toss it into the puddle. He knew who it was before he even looked at the caller ID.

“Please tell me you didn’t just send me to town to pick up a package that doesn’t exist,” Mason ground out as a greeting.

“There is a package, just not at the post office,” Damon said coolly.

“Spare me your riddles. What am I doing in Saratoga?”

“You need something I can’t give you,” the dragon-shifter said.

Mason snorted and leaned back against the gray brick of the alley wall. “You gave me a job, and friendship when I didn’t deserve it. What else do I need?”

“Remember when you saw me struggling and decided it was time for me to breed a new female? You reminded me that I’m happiest when I’m raising offspring and caring for a woman, but that’s not what you brought me when you paid for Clara to meet me. You weren’t looking for a breeder. You found me a mate instead.”

Mason narrowed his eyes suspiciously down the alleyway where Harrison had disappeared and pushed off the wall. “What did you do?”

“I have a new job for you.”

“Well, if breeding a woman is what you have in mind for me, you and I both know I have a zero percent chance of succeeding at that.”

“So they told you.”

“No, so I know. I’m not having this argument again. What job?”

“A driving job.”

Mason inhaled deeply and made his way around a muddy bog and out onto the sidewalk of the main drag in Saratoga. “I’ll be up there as soon as I can.”

“No, Mason. It’s not for me. I’ve hired a publicist to improve our public relations. We need it with the shifter rights vote approaching. You’ll be her driver.”

“Her.” Mason pulled his sunglasses from where he’d hooked them on the back of his shirt collar before the fight. Huh. He couldn’t believe they were still in one piece. Holding the phone between his ear and shoulder, he wiped a smear of red off the aviator lens and stepped out of the way of a stressed-out mother and two kids arguing over a plastic pony.

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