Thanks for stopping by! Here is a sneak peek at the first chapter in the first book of the Shifter Wars series: Waking the Bear. All materials copyrighted Kerry Adrienne. Please enjoy!
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.” Griff Martin tugged at his scruffy beard. “They pretty much came and shit all over our territory.” He stared at the map his bear clan buddies had brought to his house, one hand splayed across the paper landscape that denoted Deep Creek bear territory.
The map was as big as the kitchen table, and showed the topography of the entire forest around the Deep Creek National Park, including the secret entrance to the ancestors’ cave, the full park from boundary to boundary, and even a bit of the local areas that weren’t part of the national forest Griff and his fellow rangers patrolled.
Almost every grid sector had a red mark or squiggly line, showing where Sen Pal mountain lion pride tracks had been found or other evidence of encroachment was seen.
Damn lions. Tension surged through him. How dare they?
“Yep, they sure did.” Powell moved closer and squinted at the map. “Those rat-tailed bastards are sneaky as shit.”
Griff frowned. Something wasn’t right, and it wasn’t just the marks on the map. He could feel it in the pit of his stomach. The timing didn’t make sense. “Maybe they’re trying to lure us. Get us to spread out and check all these locations. Then attack while we’re dispersed.”
“Maybe. Or maybe it’s something more sinister.” Powell scowled.
“I can’t believe it.” Griff shook his head. The gnawing feeling in his gut worsened to full-blown nausea with a side of anger. Protecting the bear clan was his top priority. “I was awake several times a week for the whole winter, and I drove all the passable roads and ran the trails. I never saw a single lion. Or any evidence, for that matter.”
Dammit, how did I miss this? The tension that gripped him turned to frustration. He wasn’t sure who he was angrier with, himself or the lions. The semi-hibernation of winter was a pain in the ass. He could blame being sleepy for his mistake, but it didn’t matter.
He’d screwed up.
“They came all the way in to Tiny Fork.” Derek spoke quietly and traced a line on the map. “I saw those footprints myself when I was out looking for wood last week.” He shook his head. “I’ll admit, I was shocked. I spotted a male running along Oak’s Ridge a few weeks ago. They’re getting braver, that’s for sure.”
“Or more stupid.” Powell grunted. “Better hope I don’t meet up with one. This pisses me off.” He thumped his fist into his other palm.
Griff shook his head to clear the fuzziness from his hibernation hangover. Powell walked the line between bravery and stupidity himself. How he’d ever become a ranger was a mystery. “Well, there’s no evidence of them getting anywhere near the cave.”
The Sen Pal pride couldn’t really think they had a chance at reclaiming the Cave of Whispers. After so many generations, the Deep Creek bears had everything under control and they weren’t about to relinquish it. The bears protected the cave and the land from the nearby town of Oakwood to the town of Henredon on the far side, and through the national forest up to Buzzard’s Peak. Griff wasn’t about to lose the area to the lion shifters who’d killed his parents.
“No way they’re coming near the cave without a fight. They know that.” Powell jammed his fingertip onto the map. “Guards here. Here. And here.”
“I’m going to recommend that Elijah station more sentries and have the rangers patrol more. We can’t take any chances.” Griff stared at the map. With more than a hundred bears to defend the park if necessary, they could protect it well as long as they were prepared. Unless the lions wanted an all-out war, nothing was going to change those logistics. Certainly not a few paw prints in the snow.
“Good.” Derek nodded.
“They won’t ever take the cave. Not while I’m alive.” Griff stuck his hands in his pockets, his stomach pooling acid. He let out a low growl.
“Same.” Powell paced.
Keeping the den safe had been Griff’s top priority for a long time. One of his favorite memories of his mother was her taking him to the cave when he’d been very sick. She’d begged the cave spirits to choose her life instead of his. He didn’t remember anything answering, but her reverence of the place was enough for him to want to protect it. Plus, both his parents—and many other bears—were buried in the cave, so it was important to the whole clan. “The question is, what’s Elijah going to want to do right now? I’m sure he’s not happy.”
“When the den leader isn’t happy, no one is.” Derek pulled out a chair and straddled it. He’d gathered his long dark hair back into a messy knot but a shock of it fell over his face, concealing his eyes.
“Brother, first thing Elijah’s going to tell you to do is get a haircut.” Powell grinned and ran his hand through his own buzzed hair. “I already took care of my winter growth. Nice and smooth like a soldier. Ready to fight and then slip away in the night. If there’s an attack coming, I’m ready.”
“I don’t think there’s any doubt an attack is coming.” Griff met Powell’s glare. “The question is how soon. I don’t trust them, and I won’t let them harm the people I care about.” His stomach burned with anxiety and anger.
Derek growled and straightened his messy hair. “Elijah’s got more to worry about than my hair, Powell.”
“Yeah, we’ll see. Soldiers don’t have long hair.”
“You two stop. This is serious. Didn’t you hear me? They want the cave back.” Griff pursed his lips. His bear growled.
“They’ve always wanted the cave back.” Derek shrugged.
Griff fisted his hands and calmed his bear. Save the anger for the lions. “Where’s Elijah? I want to know his plan.”
“He’ll be here soon. Don’t worry about the lions. He’ll take care of them.” Powell straightened. “If I have to, I’ll take care of them. All of them. They’ll wish the only deep creek they ever heard of was a watering hole they read about in a children’s book.”
Griff took a breath to bite back a sharper retort. “Anybody want some coffee while we’re making a plan to save the world and get haircuts?”
“Yes, please.” Derek picked up the map. “I want to study it closer to see if we can pick out a pattern to their tracks. We may be missing something obvious.” He folded the map under his arm. “Who marked all these hits and trails, anyway? Took a lot of time.”
“I did.” Powell raised his hand and stretched. “Barely slept all winter. That’s commitment.”
“Of course.” Derek rolled his eyes at Griff then motioned Powell to follow him to the living room. “Let’s see if we can figure this out.”
“Be there in a minute.” Griff shuffled over to his kitchen sink to fill the coffee carafe with water. His kitchen in the provided ranger cabin was small but adequate, and of a much newer design than his old cabin. The park service even provided a dishwasher, which some of the older cabins didn’t have.
As the water ran, he stared out over the forest and the steep incline of the mountains in the distance. Mist covered the low pines and the gray sky seemed to blur the lines between rock and cloud. The lions could be nearby and an attack might be imminent. His hand shook as he filled the carafe. Finding out the truth could mean life or death.
Griff’s yard dropped off at a sharp angle into a valley littered with branches and leaves from last fall. Trees crisscrossed and limbs went every which way, making the slope appear like a briar patch. All camouflage for a lion or two who might be trying to spy on his ranger cabin. He didn’t see any movement at all, not even a squirrel.
Maybe the bears weren’t thinking clearly yet—it was pretty early in the season—but the lions’ encroachment didn’t necessarily mean they were coming after the cave, or wanted a full-scale war. Maybe they were gathering information while they knew the bears were mostly sleeping. Maybe everyone was overreacting.
That was a lot of maybes for a Monday morning in early spring.
He turned off the faucet and carried the carafe of water to the coffeemaker. The lions should’ve attacked while the bears slept. The advantage would have been theirs, if they could’ve located all the bears. After pouring the water into the coffeemaker, he grabbed the box of filters from the upper cabinet.
The situation didn’t make sense. Too much randomness in the footprints, maybe. He pulled out a filter from the stack of white cones. Elijah would know. The old bear had a knowledge beyond what could be considered ordinary.
Griff’s head throbbed, and every movement made it worse. All he wanted was a modest spring and summer park season with no injuries or crazy activities. He scooped in the coffee he’d ground fresh that morning. The bears would drink a full pot, no question. Maybe two. All of them needed caffeine to help stay awake after a long dreary winter.
Griff clicked the coffeemaker on and the familiar gurgle bubbled through. Derek and Powell were mumbling in the living room, still trying to interpret the Sen Pal patterns on the map. They’d have to involve the other bears soon, but Griff dreaded that. Some would react pretty strongly to knowing the lions had been in bear territory.
He reached for the ibuprofen bottle then a glass of water to get rid of his post-winter’s nap headache. The rich aroma of fresh-ground beans rose from the steam and he breathed it deeply. He stifled another yawn and popped a couple tablets, chasing them with a gulp of water.
Waking up was hard to do, especially when he knew his bed was piled with plaid flannel sheets, a heavy down comforter and enough pillows to cover the living room floor if he wanted. No shame in liking his bedding soft.
He heard Powell raising his voice. Something about a “damn lion.” Griff yawned. Elijah would temper the response and present a reasonable plan. He had to trust the den leader. It wasn’t up to Powell to decide how they’d handle the lions.
Right now, Griff could sleep another week without even trying. He set out coffee cups. His anger had receded, replaced with true worry. He didn’t want a war. People died in wars.
People he was close to.
He didn’t want anything to happen to his best friends, Derek and Powell, or any other bears for that matter. He’d already lost his parents and younger sister. A lump lodged in his throat and he swallowed hard. Elijah had been a great surrogate parent, but Griff often thought about what it would be like to be raised in a nuclear family. He missed them all, but knowing the lions had murdered his sister—a child—was something he’d never overcome. What would she have done with her life? He wondered if they’d still be as close. Her death drove him to protect the den more than any sense of duty ever could. He’d never get over the murder of his family.
Or forgive the murderers.
Where is Elijah?
A loud knock came at the front door, followed by a heavy slam. A blast of power swept through the kitchen like a rush of electricity, and Griff’s heart sped—Elijah had arrived. He felt the clan leader’s powerful presence as soon as he entered the house. Though Griff didn’t fully believe in the mojo magical mystical stuff Elijah and most of the den did, something happened when Elijah showed up.
Everyone felt it.
“It’s great to see you, Elijah,” Griff called. He stepped into the living area and took a sharp intake of breath.
Even after knowing the old bear his whole life, the man still held an impressive presence, almost frightening. In human form, he stood closer to seven feet and probably weighed nearly three hundred pounds of mostly muscle. The graying of his beard and long hair made him even more fierce, and even as a person, he carried himself like a bear. One half of his face was covered with a terrible scar and a black eye patch, but it didn’t affect his performance or leadership of the clan.
“You slept well, son?” Elijah trained his working eye on Griff then a smile flickered at the corners of his lips. “Did you dream of my grandchildren while the snows came down?”
Griff’s face burned as Powell and even Derek snickered. Elijah knew he wasn’t intending to have children. Hell, he wasn’t planning on having a mate. The world was too dangerous and things he loved tended to get yanked away. He wasn’t putting himself in that position, not after losing his family. Sure, the others could joke about it—and they could have mates and protect them. Griff would never be able to take the chance.
“I slept well.” He looked at the floor to avoid making eye contact with anyone.
Powell laughed. “How many children? You do know how children are made don’t you, Griff? Maybe you dreamt of Elijah’s grandchildren being conceived. How many mothers did you mate?”
Elijah’s growl set the windows rattling and for a second, Griff worried Elijah was about to shift into bear form. There’d be no stopping his anger if he did.
Griff turned away, wishing Powell wouldn’t tease him in front of Elijah, especially about such sensitive matters. The bear was old. How old, none of them was sure, but it wasn’t nice to poke fun at him. Powell took things too far, too often.
“I’ll see my grandchildren,” Elijah said. “My dreams in the cave have told me.”
Griff took a deep breath. Maybe one day the Sen Pal would no longer be a threat and maybe he could consider a mate. It wasn’t likely. Elijah would be devastated if Griff didn’t have children. He considered him a full-blood son, so carrying on the line fell on Griff’s shoulders.
A low growl formed in his chest and he let it rumble as a warning. Powell knew when to stop playing around, and the bear would shut up now that both Elijah and Griff had made it clear they weren’t amused.
“Maybe you should take a look at the map.” Griff waved toward the coffee table. “It shows all the Sen Pal ingresses onto our land while we slept.”
Derek tossed a log on the waning fire and Powell stuck his hands in his pockets and then sat on the couch.
Elijah nodded and coughed. “I knew the lions were starting trouble.” His voice was low. “I dreamed it. A massive war with many losses is coming. More than ever before, this war will nearly wipe out the shifters around Deep Creek. We have to try and stop it.”
“If you look—” Powell nodded toward the map “—the lions explored all around us while we slept. Stayed out of the ranger paths and out of our Sentinel paths, too. We were studying the positions to see if we could figure anything out.”
“Maybe they have a plan of attack or were just gathering intel.” Griff raised his eyebrows in question.
Elijah shook his head then sauntered to the table to look at the map, moving slowly and steadily like a bear in a human-shaped skin. No mistaking his power, both over those in the room and over the Deep Creek bears in general. He owned a small grocery store in town, and the humans trusted him as much as the bears did, despite his frightening presence. They didn’t even ask questions when he disappeared during winter, letting his trusted manager, a human, run the store for him.
The bears stilled, awaiting Elijah’s appraisal of the situation. He studied the map a couple of minutes then his broad shoulders slumped a fraction. “The lions are up to something and it isn’t something of the happy kind, for sure. For once, I had hopes my dreams were wrong, but I think they were accurate.”
“So what do we do?” Derek asked. “We can’t attack their compound. We’d be slaughtered.”
“No, not attack, but we’re gonna have to be ready to engage them when they attack us. The war we’ve been dreading is on the horizon and growing closer, and right now, I think a defensive position is the best option.”
“Why now?” Griff asked.
Elijah turned to him. “Why not now?”
Griff closed his eyes, his head throbbing. Why not now? Elijah seemed to be able to cut through everything and see the truth. The lions would come, without rhyme or reason.
The bears had to be ready.
He opened his eyes and saw Elijah staring. A slight nod was all it took to show his deference to the wisdom his surrogate father held. The clan needed and trusted Elijah. Whatever he said, would be done.
“Everyone should be awake, sir.” Derek stared out the large picture window into the forest. “I don’t think we’ll have trouble holding our own. We’re strong and we’ve trained.”
“We still have some winter fat, so we need to train more and harder. I don’t want to lose anyone in this battle if we can help it. Gather the clan and get them back on training schedule A.” Elijah folded the map. “We’ll meet in the Cave of Whispers on the night of the full moon. Till then, make sure everyone is keeping alert and watching out for lions. Report anything unusual.”
“Yes, sir,” Powell and Derek answered in unison.
Griff motioned toward the kitchen. “Coffee’s ready, if anybody wants some.” He rubbed his throbbing head. As soon as everyone left, he would take a nap.
“Me.” Derek ducked into the kitchen with Powell on his heels.
Griff started to follow but he felt Elijah’s hand on his shoulder.
“One more thing for you, Griff. It’s important.” Elijah reached into his pocket and pulled out a folded piece of paper. “We found this when we were downloading data from one of the cameras.”
Griff took the paper. “What is it?”
Griff unfolded the paper. A printout of a grainy picture from a wildlife camera filled the page in black and white. Dizziness made his head swim.
It couldn’t be. Griff looked to Elijah. It can’t be!
Elijah nodded, frowning.
“Evers.” Acid pooled in Griff’s stomach and he fought the urge to hurl. “But how? I thought he’d moved on. That lion is crazy.”
“He must have been away and now he’s back. Who knows? One thing’s for sure.” Elijah stared into Griff’s gaze, his eyes filled with fire.
“What’s that?” Griff crumpled the paper.
“He’s going to try and avenge his parents’ death.”
“That wasn’t my fault.”
“I know, but he insists it was. He’s not going to give up until you pay for it.”
“I never should have taken his father to the cave.”
“You tried, son.” Elijah put his hand on Griff’s shoulder.
The weight of it calmed Griff and he stood firm. He wasn’t afraid of Evers, but the lion was unstable. Unpredictable. He was a ghost from the past, one that he’d take care of if need be. “I should have let him die in the car. He wasn’t healed in the lake and now Evers thinks I killed him.”
“You need to go to the cave and talk to Shoshannah.” Elijah squeezed his shoulder and warmth radiated from his fingertips. “She’ll give you the guidance you need.”
“You know I don’t believe—”
“Doesn’t matter what you believe. You’re my son and I’ve asked you to go. You go.”
Griff bowed his head. “I’ll try to get out there sometime in the next week.” He backed away from Elijah’s grasp. The last thing he wanted was to spend any more time than he had to in the damp cave trying to talk to some ancestral spirit he didn’t believe in. The cave lake might have healing mineral waters, and many bears were buried there, including his family, but that didn’t mean the cave held a shifter spirit that handed out advice like fortune cookies.
Besides, he didn’t have time to go now. Not with Evers back and on the warpath.
“No. You need to go before tomorrow, before Evers is seen again.” Elijah’s voice dropped a register. “Promise me you will. If you don’t, you may not ever get the chance.”
“Why not?” Griff paused.
“Doesn’t matter. Just go.”
He couldn’t tell Elijah no. “Fine. I’ll go. But she’s never appeared to me or helped me at all. Not once. I don’t know why you think it will be any different now. Especially now.”
“Maybe it isn’t that she appears to you that’s important. Maybe it’s that you appear to her.”