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Authors: Ivy Sinclair

A Bear of a Reputation

BOOK: A Bear of a Reputation
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A Bear of a Reputation (Greyelf Grizzlies #1)

 

By Ivy Sinclair

 

Copyright 2015 Smith Sinclair Books

ebook Edition

 

Cover Design by Charity Hendry

 

ebook Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to the online retailer of your choice and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

CHAPTER ONE

 

I couldn’t sleep well, even on the best of nights. It went back to when I was a kid. I used to have horrible visions that monsters waited underneath my bed to gobble me up whole. It wasn’t because my parents were reading
Grimms’ Fairy Tales
to me, either. At the time, shifters were finally revealing themselves to the world and asking to be treated equally and fairly. There were so many suspicions and doubts and fears on both sides. It’s amazing that the world made it out the other side in one piece. Mostly, anyway.

In our back corner of the world in rural Minnesota, the impact was felt more profoundly than others for a couple of reasons. First, it was discovered that our rinky-dink town of Greyelf sat at the intersection of territories claimed by several varieties of shifter clans. It made for many a terse council meeting as dividing lines were drawn and the policies and procedures that facilitated everyone just getting along were documented and agreed upon. The second reason, though, had to do with a man named Markus Kasper.

Markus was a bear shifter who had the charisma and good looks that caused the media to draw comparisons between him and a young JFK. His articulate arguments and ability to negotiate like no one’s business brought him to the center of the worldwide human–shifter debate that year. Markus just happened to be a resident of Greyelf and the alpha of the Greyelf Grizzly Clan.

Markus and Greyelf made national news for an entire year as shifter clans and humans figured out how to work and live beside each other. The work done here was held up as the shining example for all. That was why my father, a hardened news reporter from Chicago, decided to uproot his family and move us to the wilds of Minnesota. He bought the local newspaper and set up shop thinking that, as long as Markus Kasper lived there, Greyelf would continue to be the pulse of the nation. He figured he’d eventually have to win some kind of prestigious newspaper award by being here.

For a ten-year-old kid, moving anywhere beyond the comfort of your school and neighborhood was scary enough. But then to be put smack-dab in the middle of a maelstrom of humans along with bear, wolf, panther, and coyote shifters was frightening. The world was too quiet out in the back country, so unlike the city. It took me months to adjust and for my mother and father to talk me back into sleeping in my own bed. But I never rested easy, although I slowly accepted the new, strange world that I lived in along with the rest of the world.

My uneasy pact with sleep was the reason that I sprang awake immediately when the old police scanner went off in the other room that served as my office next to my bedroom. My eyes were immediately drawn to the clock. It was just 2:00 a.m. Nothing good ever happened in Greyelf at 2:00 a.m.

As the last vestiges of sleep left my mind, I dropped my feet to the floor and immediately tucked them into slippers. The floors of my creaky house were cold even on the warmest of summer nights, and the weather was just slipping reluctantly from winter to spring. This year it seemed particularly intent on holding us in its icy grasp for as long as possible.

I pulled my sweatshirt off the bedpost and slipped it over my head even as I moved toward the doorway to the next room. I honestly couldn’t remember the last time the scanner had gone off at this time of night. I figured old Ricky Rooney had probably gotten picked up again for being drunk and disorderly. It was almost amusing at this point. Old Rooney lost his driver’s license sometime before I was born. That didn’t stop him from pedaling all over town on a bicycle, proving to be a bit of a menace on the roads at all hours of the day and night. I was waiting with bated breath for the day that I would be writing up his obituary. To that end, the apple hadn’t fallen far from the tree. I was coming up on my three-year anniversary working for my father’s newspaper.

Padding across the rug that separated my bedroom from my office, I heard the crackle of static, and then a male voice came through the speakers again.

“Bear down off Shulman’s Trail. Got caught in one of those rusty old bear traps. He’s hurt real bad.” That was Deputy Billy Miller. My cheeks flushed even as I heard his voice. I had been ducking Billy’s calls for over a week now.

“Who is it?” replied a wizened, raspy voice that carried years of cigarette smoking in it. Magda Pern was a fixture in the Greyelf Police Department. She’d been running the front desk for forty years, and I was certain if Magda had it her way, she’d be running it for forty more. She could also be counted on to keep the Greyelf gossip mill fully informed of all of the goings-on around any formal police investigations—not that there were that many. Magda was one of my best sources. I glanced at my liquor shelf on the other side of the room. I kept it stocked with maple bacon bourbon for just this kind of occasion.

“Hard to tell,” Miller replied. His voice sounded strained and out of breath. “He’s still phasing back, but it looks like he’s stuck halfway in between. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Phasing
. That was a word that had been added to Webster’s dictionary ten years ago. Shifters were quite particular about how to describe their transitions between their two physical forms. It was part of my job as a reporter to be as accurate and sensitive to my readership as possible.

“I’ve got an ambulance on its way,” Magda said. “But they had to do a run down to Culver Creek, so it might be awhile.”

There was a long pause. “I don’t think it’ll matter.” Miller’s voice was flat. “He’s gone. Christ, Magda. I’m pretty sure it’s Markus Kasper.”

I felt my heartbeat stop for a moment, and I froze in place. Time stood still for a moment as a pair of dark-green eyes invaded my thoughts. Then it sped up again, and I moved across the room to the scanner. My hands hovered above it as I willed what I had just heard not to be true.

“You’re fucking kidding me, right?” Magda had a mouth on her like a sailor. I always figured that’s why she fit in so well with the cops.

“You can’t tell anyone about this, Magda. Not one peep!” Miller said. I understood the urgency in his voice. “Get Sheriff Monroe over here now. He’ll have to tell me what to do next. This is way out of my league.”

I turned the scanner off. I didn’t need to hear any more. I needed to go. I tore into my bedroom and grabbed the first pair of jeans that I could find. My cell phone was charging next to my bed, and I dialed my dad’s number even as I slid my jeans on.

He answered on the first ring. “Somebody better be dead.”

“Markus Kasper,” I said. That was the way of our relationship. Neither one of us was much for small talk or any kind of bullshit. “I just heard it on the police scanner. Something about getting caught in a bear trap out on Shulman’s Trail, and now he’s dead. Obviously, I’m missing some of the details.”

“Jesus Christ! The Summit is next week,” my father said.

Naturally, that was the part of the story that my father was focused on. Earl Lene had been chasing the big story for most of his career. I knew that was how he’d look at this scoop, with the critical eye of a hardened reporter who had heard and seen it all. I understood it, but the news of Markus’s death was hitting me hard for a completely different reason. Markus’s connection to an earlier part of my life still smarted despite the passage of time.

“What do you want me to do?” I asked. I was dressed and had my bag slung over my shoulder. Inside were my notebooks, recorder, and maps for every square inch of Fulton County. I had crawled through a lot of muck and mud to get the real scoop for my stories. Earl expected no less.

“Was it an accident?”

“I don’t know. They didn’t say,” I said.

“Get your butt over to the hospital. See what you can dig up there. I’ll head over to the police department.”

“Sheriff Monroe is going to have his hands full. He’s not going to have a lot of patience for you or any questions,” I reminded him. To say that my father and Sheriff Monroe had a tenuous relationship at best was an understatement.

“Sheriff Monroe is a servant of this town, and my taxes pay his salary. We’ll print a special edition today and get this out as soon as we can. I’m not going to let one of the national papers pick this one up before us.”

My dad lived in constant fear of being scooped. It should have been amusing, but in this instance, it wasn’t. I felt sick.

“You listening to me, Maren?”

I realized that I hadn’t heard his last several sentences. “I’m looking for my car keys,” I said to avoid his question.

There was a heavy sigh on the other end of the phone. “I thought you were over all that. It’s been ten years.”

I was glad that my dad wasn’t there to see the heat that I felt rising in my cheeks. “I don’t know what you are talking about.”

“If the Greyelf Grizzly clan has to make a succession call, then there is a chance that he’ll come back. We both know that, so you better get ready for it.”

“He who?” I made my voice as neutral as possible, as if I had no idea whatsoever what he was talking about.

“Don’t do that. I may be old, but I’m not blind, deaf, or dumb. I know that boy broke your heart, but I would hope that you’d have outgrown your schoolgirl crush and moved on by now. Especially knowing his background.”

This was definitely a train of conversation that I had no intention of following. It was far better to let sleeping dogs lie. “I couldn’t care less about Lukas Kasper, Dad. You’re right. It has been ten years, and I’d practically forgotten he even existed.”

“The Grizzlies keep a lot of that succession business inside the Clan, but I know that Lukas hasn’t resigned his claim,” Dad said. “It’s been a bit of a bone of contention between Markus and the sheriff for years. He told me once when he’d had a few too many shots a couple of years back.” Magda Pern wasn’t the only one who got around in the gossip circles.

“I gotta go,” I said. “I want to beat the ambulance there if I can.”

“Call me as soon as you know anything,” Dad said. “I want as much information as we can get ready to go for an afternoon edition.”

I hung up the phone and stared at it for a minute. Lukas Kasper. A ghost from my past—one I hadn’t thought I’d ever have to confront again, because he left Greyelf ten years ago. There was no indication in all that time that he planned on ever coming back. He had hated it here. If there was anything that was ingrained in my memories of Lukas more than anything else, it was his extreme dislike for anything and everything about our picturesque small town.

I had already hit the remote start on my car while I was getting dressed, so by the time I settled myself behind the wheel, my butt already felt the warmth of the seat heater. That one thing was an absolute necessity for braving the arctic Minnesota winters. You never stayed outside any longer than you had to, and when you did, you had to make those excursions out into the chilled air as comfortable as possible.

Turning the ignition, I looked into the rearview mirror. The street behind me was empty. As I swung my truck around, I hit the brakes. A large black bear stood directly in the middle of the road, staring at me. It swung its massive head toward me in a display of annoyance and then lumbered to the other side of the street before continuing down the slight slope to disappear into the tree line. My heart skipped another beat. I counted to ten, but the bear didn’t reappear. I took a deep breath and gently put my foot down on the gas once again.

Twenty-five minutes later, I slid the truck into a parking spot outside the emergency room at Fulton County Hospital. It was the only hospital within a hundred miles of Greyelf, and I knew that this was where the ambulance would bring Markus.

Markus was sixteen years older than his younger brother, Lukas. I remember always being intimidated by him whenever he was home. Even then, he had the polish of a young politician, and he took his role as facilitator of the shifter-human treaties very seriously. When everything went down with the negotiation of the peace treaty between the shifter clans, Markus had seemed to be the only one qualified to step in and lead. He was the calming voice of logic and reason. He brought structure to the chaos. And in the eighteen years since then, he had led the Grizzly Clan to prosperous and peaceful times while also being a national figure of hope for shifters everywhere.

No one understood how Markus and Lukas could possibly be related. They couldn’t be more opposite. Lukas was rash, loud, and quick to anger. I think that Markus had spent more than half his time cleaning up after messes of Lukas’s making. For all the admiration the town showered on Markus, they heaped equal amounts of impatience and annoyance on his younger brother.

As I stared at the entrance to the emergency room, I wondered again if even this tragedy would be enough to bring Lukas back to Greyelf. His decision to leave had been a complete surprise to me. It had come on the heels of a particularly bitter argument with Markus. I often wondered if Markus felt any remorse for the fact that he drove his brother away.

“Even my own brother wants to get rid of me.”
The hurt in Lukas’s voice had been enough to shatter my eighteen-year-old soul. I had offered him the only comfort that I knew how to give at the time to make him feel like he belonged here in Greyelf, and then he was gone.

“Bastard,” I said to the empty air around me. I wiped away the tear that had traveled down my cheek. I grabbed my bag and swung the door open. I was here for the job. Markus Kasper had been a pillar of Greyelf’s community, and people needed to know the truth about what happened to him. That was how I played my part. The rest of the drama was irrelevant. And if Lukas Kasper was stupid enough to show his face again, I would spit in it.

BOOK: A Bear of a Reputation
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