Return To The Bear
as desensitized to casual sex as the Long Claws were. Whether it was true or not, she wanted to think Benson Riker was faithful to his mate because Joanna still so desperately wanted to believe in love. Not the kind Nathan wielded to keep his mates cowed, but the real, heart pounding, die for each other kind. Romeo and Juliet romance had to exist in the world, because if it didn’t, then why was she traipsing through the haunted woods at night, risking her life to save the missing piece of a love story? It just had to be out there. Maybe not for her, but for someone—perhaps someone like Hannah.
    Dunn sat on the front porch of a dilapidated wood cabin, kicking his leg off the side and peeling an apple with the long blade of a knife. She cursed her luck. Anyone but Dunn would’ve made this easier.
    “I brought you and the prisoner dinner,” she said, her voice much more steady than she felt.
    He rocked his head back and frowned. “Why?”
    “Because Nathan told me to, you dipshit. I’m getting punished for overstepping my rank,” she droned, as if she were repeating a lecture she’d endured earlier tonight. “So now I get to go gallivanting through the freaking woods at night, up to the Kodiak’s haunted cabins because apparently, this is the best way to scare me straight. I’m on food assignments for the human until he figures out what to do with her.”
    Dunn looked at her blankly and she hoped Hannah wasn’t already dead. It would definitely look suspicious if she was bringing a corpse a pork chop dinner.
    She arched her eyebrow. “I’ve been demoted in the clan to servant.”
    “Ha!” Dun said, rocking back, then standing. “I knew you couldn’t hold a top position long. You’re too dumb to keep your mouth shut. Well, she’s feisty, so don’t get too close to her. I’m going to take a piss.”
    “Gross.” She opened the door and checked behind her to make sure Dunn was really headed for the trees, then pulled it shut behind her.
    A lantern had been lit in the tiny cabin, but that didn’t seem to scare the roaches. The y skittered this way and that across the uneven boards.
    The crumpled woman on the floor had seen better days. Half of her face was swollen and her lip was split. A trickle of blood had dried under her nose and her hair was wild and matted. As she sat up and scooted backward, Joanna dropped her gaze to her bound ankles. Those would have to be cut before they made a run for it tomorrow. Where she expected fear in the woman’s eyes, instead, there was anger. She was a fighter. Good.
    Joanna dropped to the floor in front of her, and checked the door once more. In a whisper she asked, “Are you Hannah, mate of Benson Riker?”
    The woman frowned and nodded. “Who are you?”
    “My name is Joanna. I’m a prisoner too.”
    “Are you messing with my head, Joanna? Because I’ve had a really bad couple of days and I can’t handle—”
    “Shhh. Just listen. Brody Bannister showed up today and has promised to take me away from here if I bring you to him tomorrow night. Can you walk?”
    A long trembling sigh left Hannah’s lips. “I think so. I’m losing circulation in my ankles though, so I don’t know how well I’ll be able to by tomorrow.”
    The ties did seem to be cutting into her skin. “I can’t loosen them or Dunn will know something is wrong. I’m sorry.” She was so sorry. This kind of punishment wasn’t fit for anyone. “Can I trust Brody?”
    “Yes,” Hannah said low. “He’s one of the best men I know. He’s a trusted councilman in our clan. Riker, my mate, trusts him unconditionally. He’s good.”
    “Eat, stay strong, be ready. I’ll be here at sunset tomorrow.”
    As Joanna stood to leave, Hannah lurched forward. “Joanna. If…if I don’t make it or if something happens to me, can you get a message to my mate?”
    The air felt thicker, clogging Joanna’s throat and she struggled to swallow. The desperation in Hannah’s eyes tore at her heart.

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