A Tiger's Bounty

By: Terry Bolryder

Chapter One

Jace looked at the small piece of paper in his hand one last time, then stuffed it in the pocket of his beat-up leather jacket as he walked down the abandoned street.

Though quiet, this was the dangerous part of town. The part where if you parked overnight, you’d wake up to find your car stripped to its frame in the morning. The kind of place where gunshots were a regular occurrence and every window was either barred or boarded.

1230 Willow Street 4E, the paper read. One of Jace’s informants had given it to him earlier that day, and with luck, it would be the last piece of the puzzle that led him to the bastard he was after.

Then it would be payday.

In spite of how devoid of glamor his job was, Jace loved being a bounty hunter. The thrill of the hunt, always chasing someone, always zeroing in on his prey. The tiger inside him was only satisfied when he was at work.

And thanks to the general state of shifter society these days, there was plenty of work to be done. With packs dissolving, leaders and alphas scarce, and crime rates on the rise, it was like all hell had broken loose in this part of the country.

The dragons in his area that normally monitored things and took care of unruly elements were swamped, leaving them looking for ways to better handle the crime levels in their area. As a rare, powerful tiger shifter, Jace was one of those ways.

He casually checked the placard on the building to his right. 1200. Almost there. Even though it had only rained a little earlier today, the streets were still moist and glistened under the dim light of streetlamps. Every sort of rank smell you could imagine hung in the air around him—motor oil, dumpsters, wafting cigarette smoke from open windows, and rain gutter stench, just to name a few. Around him he could hear the buzz and crackle of dying streetlights, the whistle of a chilly breeze as it passed through alleys and between buildings, hushed conversations in the buildings that lined the streets and far-off traffic from the interstate on the other side of the railroad tracks.

1230. This was it.

All Jace knew about this guy was he was a wolf shifter and his name was Brenner. And he was wanted for murdering his pack alpha in cold blood a few months ago, along with a string of other crimes.

Wolf shifters were generally pretty easy. Except for the fact that they rarely worked alone—unlike bears, who could pack a punch but were usually loners. But you name it, Jace had hunted it at least once or twice in his years of doing this.

He tested the outer door of the five-story apartment complex that looked like every other five-story building in this area. Dilapidated red brick, an entryway that looked like someone had taken a bat to it, and a buzzer that looked a half century past its prime. He considered buzzing someone, but that rarely worked, and the last thing he needed was to alert his quarry that he was coming.

Jace pulled his wallet from his back pocket and found a curved tool that was the thinness of a credit card. He inserted it into the space between the door and the frame and pulled once. The door came free, and he slipped inside, closing it behind him.

Thankfully, the second door was wide open. Inside, he was greeted by a small lobby with no furniture and only one large, ugly rug that was so dirty and worn Jace could only guess at what color it used to be.

Now he was on full alert, all his senses working at a hundred percent. Every sound, every conversation, even a whisper, he could hear with his tiger hearing. As he made his way up the winding stairwell, his footsteps were completely noiseless. He moved silently up the first floor, the second floor, the third, meeting no one and hearing nothing of import.

When he reached the fourth floor, he could hear low voices speaking. He moved past apartments A, B, C, and D, arriving finally at E. Inside, he could make out what sounded like three men, probably seated around a table. He could smell smoke filtering through the cracks around the door and could scent what was probably cheap alcohol. He could hear the quiet sound of cards being shuffled and passed around.

“So when are you going to take the merchandise for a spin?” one man said in a suggestive voice.

“When she’s come to. Doing it with a limp noodle ain’t my thing,” another spoke, this one deeper and gruffer.

While they talked amongst themselves, Jace pulled a pair of clean leather gloves from the inside pocket of his jacket and quietly slid them on. Last thing he needed to do was leave his fingerprints everywhere in case some worried neighbor called the cops. Not that they ever did, but it was worth avoiding catching hell from his older brother.

After they were on, he unholstered a pistol from inside his jacket, cocked it, and waited at the door, looking for an opening. He wouldn’t use his gun unless he absolutely had to, since gunfire always increased the chance of someone calling the police. But at this time of night, people locked themselves inside their apartments and stayed put, so he had time to wait for the right opportunity.

“I’m going to take a piss. Count me outta this hand,” one of the men said preceding the sound of a chair squeaking across the floor as he stood and walked out of the room.

This was the opportunity.

Every muscle in Jace’s body sprang into action as he kicked open the door and rushed into the apartment. He passed a tiny kitchen on his right and came into the living room, which was in fact only a little larger than an average bedroom in size. At a small, round fold-up table were seated two large men who stared up at him, both shocked and angry.

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