Prologue Or, Where Bear Reveals The Truth
I’VElied to you from the beginning, and for that, I’m sorry.
My name is Bear McKenna, and I’m in a shitload of trouble. “It didn’t have to come to this,” Otter growls, the barrel of the gun he’s pointing at me like a gaping black tunnel. “You should have just left it alone, Bear!”
I glare at him, this man who I thought loved me, but who, in the end, betrayed me like no other had done before. I take another step back, and my right foot slips off the edge of the rooftop we stand on, the street below at least eight hundred feet down. Blood trickles down from the cut on my face where he’d caught me off guard, right after I’d discovered who he really was. How did I not know? That this man, my man, was not who he seemed?
“How long?” I snarl at him. “How long have you been working for the FBI hunting my kind? Was any of this real? Did you ever care about me at all?”
This causes pain to cloud his hard face, and his eyes grow dark. The gun pointed at my head begins to shake. There’s doubt in him, and my breath catches in my throat. Maybe… just maybe….
“I was recruited right out of high school,” he says as he begins to pace, the gun still pointed at me. “I was told that there were things in this world, things that defied belief, and that they were dangerous, and we had to stop them. They said I had an extraordinary aptitude for everything I did, and I was a perfect candidate for a new division of the FBI. I was trained to find these things… and to stop them.”
“What things?” I snap at him, needing him to say it, needing to be sure. He stops, and I hear him take a ragged breath before he whispers: “Were-Bears.”
Shit. So he does know.
I didn’t get my nickname as I’d told you before. I got it because of what I was, what I could become. I discovered at a very early age that I was a shifter, a being capable of turning from human form into that of an animal. You’ve probably heard all the shifter lore before, but I’m here to tell you it’s all bullshit. There’s no such thing as Werewolves, or Were-Panthers, or Were-Giraffes. Only Were-Bears actually exist, and we are slowly dying out, our kind hunted almost to the point of extinction. The Council of the Bears had called an emergency session to try and curb the tide against us, but I was unable to get there in time, seeing as how my supposed boyfriend had suddenly become the hunter and trapped me here on this rooftop.
Thunder explodes overhead. Lightning flashes. “I trusted you!” I shout at him as rain begins to fall from the darkened sky. “You are my—” But I stop myself before I make the biggest mistake of all. He can’t know what he is to me, not if he’s to stay safe.
But this is Otter, and I should know better. “I am your what?” he asks me, taking another step closer.
It seems despite my resolve, I can deny him nothing. “You are my mate,” I say miserably. “A Were-Bear is destined to be with only one person, one person who understands him completely, whose biological makeup completes the bear. It’s next to impossible to actually find one’s mate, but I found you. Somehow the Bear God saw fit to give me you. It was always you.”
“I knew it,” he breathes. “I knew there was something….” I shake my head, trying to clear out the hope starting to crowd in my mind. “It doesn’t matter,” I whisper. “You’re a part of the FBI’s secret side agency: People for the Execution of Terrestrial Abnormalities. I knew it the moment I saw your PETA badge!”
“Bear, you don’t understand!” Otter says as he lowers his gun and rushes to me. My Were-Bear instincts threaten to take over, wanting to maul him and shred the skin from his bones, and then hibernate for three to six months in a cave on a nest of grass and leaves while my stored body fat keeps me alive through the winter. But I look up into the gold-green, the eyes of my mate, and the rain falls down around us, and I can’t maul him any more than I can turn him away. “You don’t understand!” he says again. “I’m not what you think I am, either!”
“You’re not?” I whisper as he kisses my forehead gently.
“No,” he says, taking a step back. “I only agreed to go into PETA because I knew I could keep tabs on what they were doing from the inside.
You see, I know what you are. I’ve known for a long time. Because… because I’ve been keeping a secret too.” “What?” I ask, chills racing down my spine. “What is it?” “I’m a Were too,” he says, setting his gun down onto the ground. “Bear, there aren’t just Were-Bears in the world. Werewolves are bullshit, but there are others. I….”
“Tell me!” He closes his eyes and raises his face toward the sky. “I… am a WereOtter.” Then, as if my night couldn’t get any stranger, Otter’s skin suddenly
begins to shift and tremble, fine brown hairs sprouting from his arms as he shrinks. Muscles and bone snap and creak as they shorten, and within seconds, Otter the man is gone, and from a pile of clothes crawls out a fat brown otter. He waddles over to me and sits up on his haunches, his nose twitching as I fall to my knees.
“Otter?” I whisper. “You’re… an otter?”
Yes, I hear him say in my head, his voice a caress. I’ve always been a Were-Otter. “Why didn’t you just tell me?” I ask, my voice hoarse. “Don’t you know how alone I was? Even with you there, I felt so alone because I couldn’t tell you my greatest secret!”
Otter looks at me sadly, his whiskers drooping. I just wanted to keep you safe. If they had found out about you, you would have been taken from me. And I’m not just talking about PETA.
“Who?” I ask, not wanting to know the answer. A loud crack of thunder rolls out of the sky. His nose twitches in my direction, and for a moment, I wonder if he is trying to smell me. I think that’s very weird. The Clan of Otters, he says. There was a prophecy foretold generations ago that there would be a union between a Were-Bear and a Were-Otter, and it would unite the two groups. But Otters are fiercely territorial and have since been trying to negate the prophecy so we don’t have to share our underwater dens. Bear… there’s something you should know: you are my mate too. And the prophecy… is about us.
“No,” I whisper. “It can’t be.” Otter falls back to his feet and waddles back to his clothes. It is true, he thinks back at me. And I have the proof right here. Bear, what I am about to show you has never been seen outside of the Clan of Otters. I risked my life to get this, in case a moment like this arose, where I needed to make you believe. But first, shifting always drains me, and I need to eat to regain my strength. Otter pulls a clam out of his coat pocket and rolls over onto his back, placing the shellfish on his stomach.