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Badlands: The Lion’s Den

By:Georgette St. Clair

“Well, too bad for him, cuzh he’sh not here and I am.” The jerk exhaled a cloud of beer fumes mixed with halitosis as he slurred his words.

She fanned the air with her hand and slid farther down the bar. “Excuse me, I said no.” Now she had an exasperated edge to her voice.

“Hey, why you gotta be sush a bish—owww!” he howled as Finn grabbed his arm.

The man finally turned to look at Finn, who stood a good six inches taller than him, and his eyes widened in fear. By then it was too late. Finn picked him up by the collar and carried him, legs kicking and arms flailing, over to the front door.

He stepped outside into the cool night air, still holding the guy aloft.

“He’s eighty-sixed,” Finn said to Jose, one of the three bouncers standing by the front door. That meant the guy was permanently banned.

Jose nodded.

After Finn dropped the guy on the ground, he actually turned around and, comically, tried to run past Finn back into the club.

Finn grabbed him by the collar and spun him around, dropping him once more. He planted a boot on the drunk’s ass and pushed. The guy went sprawling, face down, and then scrambled to his feet and hurried off, head hanging low, without looking back.

Several blocks in the opposite direction, Finn heard loud shouts, and then a clattering sound that made him start, and he froze where he stood.

He’d been home for almost three years now, and it was still the same. Loud, sudden sounds set his heart racing and sent adrenaline shooting through his veins, and just like that, he was thousands of miles away and it was happening all over again.

The heat was pitiless. The sky was a burning, saturated blue, the light glaring off the superheated sand. The baking air was dry in Finn’s throat…and tinged with the unmistakable scent of blood. Sweat trickled down his temples, gluing his hair to his brow, and his tongue felt thick and clumsy in his mouth. His thirst was almost physically painful, but his canteen was empty.

The village was remote and poverty-stricken, but the locals had shared what food and water they had with the squad. Just as well, as they’d been down to a single MRE a day, and there was little to hunt out here in the middle of Bumfuck Nowhere, even for an all-shifter squad. The nocturnal desert rodents were fast, and didn’t go far to fill empty bellies. But the last of the villagers had fled now, terrified by the rumors that insurgents in the area were planning an attack.

Now the ramshackle buildings lay abandoned, eerily silent except for the sharp report of gunfire and an occasional bark of command. Their transport was useless, the engines clogged with sand, even if they’d had any fuel. Their comm units were out of range of any other squad. There was no prospect of reinforcements. It was do or die.

Finn leaned his shoulder against the weathered wooden planks and peered cautiously around the side of the building, flinching back as a bullet buried itself in the sand inches from where he was taking cover with one half of the squad. They were battered and battle-weary, but there were no soldiers anywhere he’d rather have at his back. They’d been to Hell and back together. And here they were again. Hell.

“Finn!” Jose barked at him, and Finn realized that the big, scarred wolf shifter had been calling his name for the last minute.

“Yeah, what?” he rasped. He felt his heart pounding in his chest.

Jose shook his head at Finn. “It was just some garbage cans banging together, man. Stop being such a pussy.”

At that, Finn let out a harsh laugh. Jose always knew exactly what to say to him. If he’d shown the least sign of pity or worry over Finn’s flashes of PTSD, it would have been like pouring salt in a wound, but when he gave Finn crap just like any of the other bouncers, it just made Finn laugh.

“Better than being a butt-sniffing canine,” he said as his pulse rate slowed.

“Actually, I’m more of a boob man, myself,” Jose said, taking no offense. That was true. Jose’s main girl, Krystle, was no slouch in the boob department.

Finn felt a different tension in him now; a strong pull to find the feline shifter again.

He hurried back inside, heading for the end of the bar where his little feline had been sitting. His feline? Where had that thought come from? he scolded himself as he shoved his way none too gently through the crowd. Several patrons flashed scowls at him, but none of them dared speak up. There was his size, and he had a certain reputation.

He got to the spot where she’d been sitting. A surprisingly strong slash of disappointment burned through him as he saw that her seat was empty and she was nowhere in sight.

Chapter Two

He glanced around the room with a scowl. He was taller than most of the people there, but the room was getting more and more crowded, and he couldn’t see her. Could she have gone out the back exit?

He leaned against one of the columns and decided just to let it go. She was distracting. He didn’t need distractions. He had enough to worry about, like holding together the fractured pieces of his sanity, getting through the night without being ripped awake by screaming nightmares, and keeping the bears on their side of town before an all-out war over territory took place.

But even as those dark thoughts raced through his head, he found himself walking across the room again, elbowing through the crowd, scenting the air, searching for her.

He found her standing by the velvet ropes that separated the bar from the BDSM play area. She was standing there, nervously clutching her oversized canvas purse like it was a life preserver and watching with a mingled look of interest and trepidation.

She was staring at a woman who was bent over the spanking bench. The woman’s legs were spread, and her hands secured with leather cuffs in front of her. Red, raised welts slashed across the ivory globes of her buttocks. The woman was being spanked with a ri

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