Kurt gritted his teeth as he looked down at the glowing screen of his cell phone. Trina was calling. Again. Probably to weasel his location from him because that cougar shifter had blurred lines when it came to loyalty. The whole damn Darby Clan did.
His phone dinged. Oh good, another voicemail he would ignore.
But when a text came through that said she’d sent an image, curiosity got his cat. He opened it and squinted at the picture of a street fire. Looked like it was burning right in the middle of Main Street in Darby. What the fuck?
He picked up the phone from the old, ratty motel bed and studied a second picture that came through. It was an aerial view, probably taken from the roof of the GutShot bar.
The fire was in the shape of a bear.
This was a death oath, an obvious one, and whoever had burned it had lit it right there in the middle of town for every shifter and human alike to see. These flames meant the Two Claws Clan of bear shifters was in deep shit.
Kurt checked that Gunner, his six-year-old son, was still sleeping soundly under the covers of the musty bed. It was the best he could do for his boy when they were on the run like this.
Trina was calling again.
“Hello,” he answered.
“You need to get back to Darby.”
“So your Clan can hunt me again? No thanks. I have a cub to protect.”
“Kurt, there is no Clan chasing you anymore. There is no Clan at all.”
“Yeah?” he asked, tired already of Trina’s bullshit. He leaned back on a locked arm and asked, “Then who is burning a death oath for the bears?”
“Red Dead Mayhem.”
Kurt sat straight up. The air had gone thick, and he felt like he was inhaling cement. The crows were after the bears?
“What do you mean there ain’t a Clan chasing us?”
“They’re dead.” Trina choked out. “All dead.”
“The Darby Clan?”
“They drew the grizzlies into town, then attacked the Two Claws females when they were unprotected. Tried to Turn Hairpin Trigger’s mate and scarred the Warmaker’s mate real bad. The crows joined the war. The bears killed every single cougar shifter in this godforsaken town except me and Dad.” She was crying pretty good by the end of the explanation. He could tell by the hitches in her voice and the waver of her tone.
“Well, they fuckin’ deserved it,” Kurt growled, his veins filling with red rage. “When?”
“The night you left town. You missed the war by hours. Trig’s mate was Turned into a polar bear so save her from the mountain lion the Darby Clan put in her.”
Chills blasted across his skin. He hunched over, head between his knees, because he was going to pass out or lose his dinner or both. Ava Turned? Sweet human Ava? With an animal in her now? And Karis was scarred? And he hadn’t been there to protect them.
“Why the fuck did you leave me that note, Trina?” he asked.
“You know the note. Don’t bullshit me. The one that told me the Clan was coming for me, and I had to get me and Gunner out of there to keep the bears safe. Why would you do that? You let them go after two females? And no protection from me? Are you fuckin’ serious?”
“I didn’t write any note, Kurt!”
“Well, I know Karis and Ava’s handwriting, and they didn’t write it! And the note was definitely from a girl. The hearts dotting the I’s gave you away.”
“You’re an asshole,” Trina said, voice shaking with fury. “I’ve never dotted an I with a heart in my entire life. I don’t know who wrote you that note, but it wasn’t me. I haven’t been to the ranch until earlier today when I went there asking about you, because my dumb ass was gonna beg for you to be the new Alpha of the Darby Clan. Don’t matter if me and my dad were on the outskirts of that Clan, Kurt. The bonds all got shot to hell, and I can’t stop crying. My whole body hurts, and I was gonna beg you to make it stop, but you weren’t there. Typical. I called you as soon as I saw that death oath burning, trying to help you, believe it or not. Your friends are about to have a murder of crows on them. They don’t stop, Kurt. You get that, right? The crows? Whatever they want, whatever beef they have with the bears, that entire shifter race won’t stop until the coffins drop for Two Claws. Come back and help your friends or don’t. I don’t give a shit anymore.”
The line went dead.
Kurt thought about giving into the rage in his soul and chucking his phone at the wall to watch it shatter, just like he’d shattered the day his mate died, like when he betrayed his Alpha, like the day he left Two Claws Ranch. His life was nothing but broken pieces, and he was a shell pretending to be a whole so he could be okay for his kid.
Someone had sent him away. Someone had written him a note, betrayed him and the Clan, and the girls got hurt by it. His friends got hurt.
Kurt scrubbed his hands down his face and pressed the heels of his palms against his eyes to ease the building headache there.
Gunner stirred, and Kurt rested his elbows on his knees, and watched his boy stretch. Gunner usually slept like a stone, but Kurt’s tension was probably waking him up. His son had been more sensitive to him lately.
Okay. Far as he could tell, he had two options.
One, he could keep runnin’ and make one-hundred-percent certain his boy was safe from any backlash for him killing the Alpha of the Darby Clan.
Or two, he could go back and make a stand with the Two Claws Clan, like he’d done the night he’d killed his old Alpha. He owed Trig for giving him sanctuary. Everyone in town called him Hairpin Trigger because of his beastly temper. The Warmaker got a bad nickname, too, for never backing down from a fight. But the townies and the Darby Clan had never really understood the bears. They might be outlaws, but they weren’t the bad guys. They were just trying to survive and protect their territory, their mates, their legacy.
Trina’s body hurt? She had no idea what pain was. Kurt’s heart had broken with the loss of Gunner’s mother, and his body had broken in that Alpha fight. Now he wasn’t healing. A wise shifter would’ve cut and run from a fight with Red Dead Mayhem, but where the lines of loyalty had been blurred with the late Darby Clan, they never had been for Two Claws.
Kurt had picked his people. Killed for them. Gone rogue for them. Bled for them still.
Daddy?” Gunner asked softly.
“Yeah, Boy Boy?”
“Where are we going next?”
Kurt heaved a sigh and looked his son in the eyes. Gunner’s blood was already bad. He had a fuckin’ cougar in him. He would fight the monster all his life to stay good. Kurt couldn’t teach his son to be a good man if he wasn’t a good man himself.
Those bears might not be his Clan, but they were his friends.
And friends had each other’s backs always.
“We’re going back to the Two Claws Ranch.”