Dead of Winter (Battle of the Bulls #2) - T. S. Joyce Page 0,1

just barely missed the bull shifter in his human skin when he scurried up the alleyway fence. He rammed where the heckler had disappeared and dented in that length of fencing. Across the alleyway, his agent, Cheyenne, was yelling profanities at Train Wreck. Little hellion woman didn’t like anyone messing with their heads right before a big buck.

As a kid, he’d always wanted a guard dog. Who the hell would’ve ever thought he would get one in the form of a five-foot-six mouthy woman?

The handlers were behind him with hot shots in their hands, threatening him to move forward by the pulsating electric current on the ends of the long wands.

First Time Train Wreck, watch your back tonight. I’m gonna find you after you buck.

He bolted forward, his hooves sinking into the alleyway dirt. The crowd outside was cheering a deafening sound. He trotted to the end of the alley and loaded into chute number two. The handlers closed him in, and this was the part he hated—the before. The cage. The waiting. The few minutes before a buck where a rider had to settle on his back and he was trapped under that human’s weight and spurs. The clang of a fence made him flinch back, and he slammed his horn against the gate hard. The gateman was ready, holding the rope attached to the gate taught, weight on his back leg, eyes boring through the slats of the gate at Dead. Dead had trampled him before, but the old coot had learned his lesson. Now, he always got out of the way fast. Pity.

Dunbar Cooper was settling onto his back now, his spurs running painfully down Dead’s ribs as he eased his legs on either side of his back. Dead held still. For now. Quickdraw was loading two chutes down, ready to buck after Dead. He was kicking and headbutting the rails, making a mess of his rider’s head. That was his favorite move in the chutes.

Dead’s? He liked to stay still, and then when the rider got comfortable and distracted, he would screw with him. The announcer was telling the huge crowd Dead’s entire life story. God, he hated this part of the circuit now. All the research into his past, all the rumors, all the conversation about who he really was. Right now, they were talking about his mother, the human, the vessel for this monster bull shifter, and blah blah blah. Too bad Mom didn’t mean to be a vessel for a bull shifter. Too bad she’d done her best to cut the animal right out of Dead. But go ahead, Mr. Announcer. Talk about her like she’s worth a damn. Talk about her like Dead hadn’t gotten himself here by his own bootstraps with no help from anyone, especially not his mother. That’s what humans did. They took the credit away from the animals. Of course, the announcers would give credit to his human mom.

Dunbar’s spur dug into his side harder, and Dead reared back and slammed him against the gate. The rider yelled but held. Little barnacle. He was going to be tough to buck. Dunbar had been making a run and had some confidence in him now.

Cheyenne and Two Shots Down’s voices echoed through his head. They were here now and riled up on his behalf. Protective herd.

Cheyenne was ripping on the flankman for putting the rope on Dead’s nuts, and Two Shots was leaning down into the chute, yelling at him to, “Buck up, Dead! Train Wreck will take your place if you don’t put Dunbar on the ground. No mercy. Get rid of him!”

Adrenaline pumped through his body. Dead looked out through the slats to the arena again. Gateman was ready, pickup men were ready across the dirt clearing, the bullfighters were all tensed and waiting.

A man laced a rope through the chute slats and flung it around his head behind his horns but in front of the muscular hump on his back. Shit. They did this when there wasn’t enough fight in a bull. Dead hated the feel of the rope sliding back and forth, back and forth on his neck. He slammed his body against the gate, but still the rope rubbed, back and forth, back and forth.

Thunderstruck blared over the loudspeakers, and he could feel Dunbar nod to the gateman.

The second the gateman pulled the rope and it released from his neck, and Dead flew out of the chute. When his front hooves hit the dirt, he