A Tree Frog and Her Honey Badger by Julia Mills


“Well, hell, Buck,” his little sister grumbled, crossing her arms over her chest and furrowing her brows. He was pretty sure she even added a harrumph before going on. "If I'd known you wanted to go into law enforcement, I could've put in a good word for you at the Agency. We could've worked together. Just like old times. Like here at the bar, only we wouldn't have had to clean up messes and Mom isn't there to tell us what to do."

“Yeah, I know.” He tried not to sound ungrateful for the offer. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to work with his sister. Heck, they were family, and in the Blackthorne clan, that meant everything. It was just that… that… “I really wanted to do this on my own, sis. Ya know?”

“I heard that, Miss Missy," came the immediate gruff rebuke from Janice, his mom, the leader of their honey badger clan. Not anywhere near done, the owner of the renowned Sundowner—the largest and most popular paranormal bar in the whole southern half of the U.S.—grumbled, her index finger pointing right at his sister. "Workin' with me is a pleasure. I'm a damned delight every minute of every day, and you know it."

“Yeah, Mom.” Shauna sighed, without the slightest attempt at being subtle with her sarcasm. “You’re a number one, top of the list…”

"Queen of the hill," Buck's youngest brother, Jack, chimed in, singing the rest of “New York, New York” in the background.

Ignoring everything else but making her point, as was the usual, Janice pointed out, "And you know that your brother's always been that way. Always had to do things for himself. Never wants anyone's help. Hell, he demanded to be born a month early, kicking and screaming, ready to get a move on, not even giving your daddy or me time to call the midwife.”

Shaking her head and chuckling, she added, “He walked before he crawled at five months old and had a black eye ten minutes later.”

Winking in his direction, Buck's mom turned back to his sister, not missing a beat or taking a breath. "Shauna, my girl, you know damned good and well every single one of your brothers is the same way. They get the stubbornness from your daddy's side. God rest his soul. They just gotta do every damned thing the hard way."

Her chuckles getting louder, the honey badger matriarch added, "Usually through the mud, the muck, and the blood."

“You are so right, Momma, I wholeheartedly agree.” Shauna nodded like one of those bobblehead dogs in the back of Old Lady Simpson’s bubble-gum pink 1959 Cadillac Eldorado.

"Can you help a guy out?" Buck asked Abe, his brother-in-law, a revered Dragon Guardsmen and member of the Dragon Protection Agency—another super-secret, protect-the-world-but-stay-hidden, and deal-with-the-shit-nobody-else-can Agency that only took the best of the best from the paranormal community. Abe was a true warrior, inside and out. "I mean, I know Shauna is your mate and all, but, daaaaaamn. Throw a guy a bone. We're bros. You're supposed to have my back."

The dragon they all called a Hell's Angels' Reject because he was big, bald, bad to the bone, heavily tattooed, and rode an extra-large Harley Fat Boy, chuckled, snaked his arm around Shauna, pulled her close, and laid a kiss atop her head. "Son, I know which side my bread is buttered on…"

“And he knows what the couch feels like if he pisses me off,” Buck’s sister growled before giving in and letting out the chuckle that already had her shoulders bouncing up and down.

"Wow, sis," Spencer, the second male in the Blackthorne family pecking order, yelped as he entered the backside of the bar carrying two cases of Corona and one of Jack Daniels. "You women are so cold. Go straight for the kill. Know you got us guys right where you want us. Y'all are scary. Hope to hell my mate never finds me."

"Yeah, right." Abe's low rumbling laugher filled the empty bar. "You say that now, but just wait till she's close. You get that first whiff of something so sweet, so wonderful that you just wanna find her, pick her up, and throw her over your shoulder and head for the hills." Pausing to take a quick breath, his laughter getting the best of him, the Guardsman nodded with wide eyes. "Listen up, kid. I know what I'm talkin' 'bout. Your sister had me tied around her finger from the get-go."

Kissing Shauna's cheek, Abe winked. "And that's exactly where I wanted to be. Still do."

Buck couldn't help but roll his eyes as Shauna and Abe did the whole “lookin' into each other's eyes” thing that lovers—especially shifters—did. It was sickening in the best of times and downright obnoxious as of late.