He thinks we’re destined to be together. I think he’s crazy… Or maybe that’s me.
All I wanted when I came home was to see my brother, Josh, and his mate, Mira. If only things were that simple.
I’m called the “beloved human” of Kade, the alluring golden-eyed leader of the Royal Alexander pride. Its members consider me his possession. I avoid thinking too hard about what that means by teasing him mercilessly. Did I mention I borrowed his prize car and skipped town when I thought he was being a jerk to one of his pride mates?
Since I’ve returned, I’ve had bigger problems. My nightmares are back, stronger than ever, and they’re starting to bleed into the real world. To make them stop, I have to discover the truth behind the attack that cost me my baby and my fiancé. Their deaths need justice. And I need my revenge.
Ever since I healed Zoe, she’s been my responsibility in the group to handle—and to control. I never asked to claim her, and I didn’t want to. Until now. She’s the one. My mate. And the timing couldn’t be worse. Other shifters are making bets on how soon I’ll lose my title, and fears over a prophesy have made our group a target. But I’ll do anything to protect Zoe, to ensure our pride is a safe place for the future we could have together. All that’s left is to convince her—and to prevent my enemies from claiming what’s mine.
“…it was everything I wanted it to be!!“
Copyright© 2019 by Nancy Corrigan (writing as Dana Archer). All rights reserved.
“All we got left is fox piss.” The guy in a lumberjack flannel glances over his shoulder. “You want that? Otherwise, I got more cover scents coming next week.”
“Ugh…sure.” Nose scrunched, I slap a twenty on the counter. Hiding from predators is messing with my beauty regimen, but a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.
Being a shifter’s property sucks. Big-time. Knowing my new life goal is to trigger my “owner” makes up for it.
Lumberjack guy hands over a small paper bag and my change. “This weekend is supposed to be the warmest on record for the end of February. Your man gonna enjoy it by doing a little hunting?”
A twisted chuckle escapes me. I pocket the money without meeting the guy’s eyes or trying to figure out where I saw them before. “Maybe. He won’t be getting anything, unfortunately.”
“Don’t he know anything ’bout hunting?”
“Oh, he’s an expert.” I just don’t plan on allowing Kade Alexander to capture me, even if the mighty Royal pride leader finds me. Unless he locks me up, escaping is as easy as walking out the door. He’s too honorable to stop me. He proved that the night I would’ve drowned my sorrows in him. His decency irritated me when all I wanted was to get lost in sex, but that’s Kade. He’s all about honor when it suits him. Sleeping with his obligatory human possession would’ve complicated things and been bad for his image.
“Well, don’t be too hard on him. Hunting around here ain’t good these days. I blame that damn wolf reintroduction program. Too many predators getting all the deer and shit now. Or scaring them off. Ain’t just us here in West Virginia either. Up in Ohio, my cousins got the same problem and the same damn reintroduction program. Freakin’ predators all over the woods there too. Not for long. A group of us are gonna start hunting them. We’re gonna make ’em fear us. If your man wants to join in, send him over.”
A shiver of unease slithers over me. Only immortal Royal shifters can take a bullet and walk away without a scratch. They only have to worry about losing their heads or hearts. Single shifters, on the other hand, possess one animal, not three, and are long-lived, not immortal. For a single shifter, a gunshot might very well end their life, and there are a lot of single shifters who call this neck of the country, home. “When are you planning on going out?”
“After it snows again. Your man got time to join in on the fun? We’re scouting the woods now, trying to figure out what areas they’re favoring and where they’re hunkering down. Seems like they’re all over the damn place.”
“I’ll tell him.” I swallow against the dryness in my throat and hurry to the door, but I don’t step out.
Another car is parked next to mine. Well, technically the black muscle car belongs to my “owner,” but it’s mine now. At least temporarily. Possession is nine-tenths of the law. Besides, I’ve decided this car is payback for messing with what little sanity I have left.
A black man climbs out of the other car. A huge black man with muscle upon muscle, a hard cut to his jaw, and skin so dark, it almost carries a purplish hue. He takes in the ’Cuda, sweeping his gaze over the muscle car I spent all morning washing and waxing, with the same appreciative admiration most guys exhibit when they happen upon Kade’s car until they realize it’s being driven by a girl. Then they get all condescending, assuming I can’t handle what’s under the hood.
Huffing, I cross my arms, the paper bag crinkling in my fisted grip, as he hunkers down to inspect the silver—bug-free and gleaming—grille. “It’s a ’71 Plymouth Barracuda with a HEMI, and it was restored less than a year ago with custom detailing, modern security, and a kick-ass sound system.”
Without taking his eyes off the car, he skims a finger over the glossy black paint. “It’s a beauty.”
“Thanks. I love my car.” I lean against the shop’s doorjamb. His haughty look should be coming any second now.
Head tilted slightly, he inhales deeply enough his white T-shirt stretches over the chest he’s probably spent years developing. Then he turns his head and meets my eyes. No condescending doubt. No envy. He focuses on me with a piercing glare, giving the impression he can see right through me. “Your car, huh?”
My pulse kicks up, the hairs stand up on my arms, and the sound of my blood racing in my ears is all about instinct. With this man’s attention on me, I want to cower or maybe hide, drawing a cloak over myself and praying death passes over me. Neither response would do any good. He’d rip my innermost secrets from me if he wanted to expose them. I can’t say how I know that. I just do. The truth is the soul-deep kind, and it’s the kind of awareness I’ve learned not to ignore.
I choke on the lump in my throat as everything within me—even the crazy part that loves to laugh in the face of danger—demands I run, but I force myself to hold my ground and respond. “Yes. It’s mine.”
In one smooth move, he stands. With his arms loose at his sides, he closes the distance between us. Again my heart tries to make an escape. I press the heel of my palm to my chest. The demand I turn tail and take off grows with each step the man takes.
“Jarah! The man. The myth. The legend.”
Lumberjack guy crosses the porch, meeting Jarah as he reaches the top step. Jarah gives him a bear hug and sets the other man to the side and out of his way in a display of easy strength. Lumberjack guy smacks Jarah on the back, obviously not bothered by the fact he was just manhandled. “Seriously, man. What ya doing out here? Thought you were hitting the road, destination unknown.”
“My grandsons started crying when I went to leave.” Jarah’s deep voice matches his hulking frame, but the lilt to his words hints at a stint in Ireland in his past. “I couldn’t do it.”
“You’re staying, then?”
“It appears that way. At least until the boys get a little older and can understand I’ll always come back to them.” Jarah cuts me a glance. “Love’s like that. No matter how far people wander, they always return to where their soul belongs.”
The sudden stinging in my eyes blurs Jarah’s face. I turn my head into my arm, scrubbing at the irritation. Dang emotions, always blindsiding me at the most unexpected moments.
“Great. Then you goin’ scoutin’ with us? My buddy that I told you about is coming home in a couple of days. He’s the best tracker out there and has been itching to take those animals down as much as we are. He says it’s time to stake our claim. Rid us of the vermin. Just like we all want. You and me both, you know? Make it safe for us in the woods.” The excitement in lumberjack guy’s voice reminds me of someone who’s getting to hang out with the cool kid.
“I hear you. What time are we leaving?”
Jarah’s comment draws my attention back to him. He’s watching me. Probably hasn’t stopped. That meant he likely caught the sheen of tears in my eyes. He’s not standing that far from me.
“Early. We want to be in the woods before they wake.”
“Then I’ll skip coffee until we get back. We wouldn’t want any predators picking up unusual scents on us.” Jarah’s brown-eyed gaze never leaves mine as he addresses the other man.
“They won’t.” Lumberjack guy chuckles. “All they’ll smell is coon urine. Got a case under the counter for us.”
“What?” I step forward. “I thought you only had fox piss left.”
Lumberjack guy takes a step back at my sharp tone and quickly pulls out a container of chew from his flannel’s front pocket, the faded circle marking where it’s normally kept. Not looking at me, he shoves a wad into his mouth. “Yep. That’s all I had left for you to buy.”
I don’t know why I’m complaining. Racoon cover scent isn’t any better than fox. Both stink like, well, piss. Besides, I only need to use the stuff tonight. After my little visit to see my brother and his wife, mate, partner, or whatever Mira is to Josh, I’m out of here. It doesn’t matter how much Josh and Mira beg. The open road—destination unknown—is calling my name, and I’ll never have a grandson stopping me.
“Whatever.” I take a step toward the stairs, but Jarah doesn’t move to let me by. He settles his hand against the railing, blocking the small space I might’ve used to squeeze by him. I glance at him. For a moment, the illusion of black flames dancing in his eyes stops my heart. Then he blinks, and I huff out a breath I’d been holding.
“I think your bottle of cover scent must’ve leaked on you.” Jarah takes the dry brown paper bag from me. He pulls the amber-colored container out and sniffs the seal—the unbroken seal. “Definitely leaking. Get this pretty lady a new bottle and toss in a bottle of coon urine for her hassle.”
“Leaking? Sorry… I didn’t realize… I should’ve—”
“I’m sure Miss…” Jarah stares at me, leaving a pregnant pause for me to fill.
The spinning world around me heaves my gut. With a hand pressed to my mouth, I sway forward. My legs give out, and the sensation of falling draws me down. Strong arms grip my biceps, stopping me from bruising my knees. Black flames fill my vision.
“Are you okay, Miss…”
“Conway. Zoe Conway.” My name is on my lips before I can think better of it. Dangit! I’m too close to the Alexander pride lands to be dropping my name.
Holding me up with an arm around my waist, Jarah wipes the back of his hand across my forehead. The odd sickness fades. “You’re not running a fever. Have you eaten recently, Zoe?”
“I don’t have any money for food.” Again, the truth spills from my mouth.
“No money, huh?” Jarah sets me away from him, pulls out a wad of twenties, and hands me half.
I shake my head—the nausea gone as if I hadn’t just been ready to heave my guts—and shove the money back. “I can’t take this.”
“Sure you can.” He retrieves a pen from his back pocket, uncaps it with his teeth, then scribbles a number on the top bill. “And if you feel guilty about taking it, call me. I’ll set it up so you can work a couple of hours answering the phone at my tattoo shop.”
No ink covers his exposed skin—hands, neck, or face—but that doesn’t mean he’s not tattooed. Clothing hides a lot—from scars to tattoos. “I’m not staying around.”
Bristling, I plant a hand on my cocked hip. “I’m not afraid of anything.”
Jarah laughs, the deep sound shaking his chest. “Hope you don’t actually believe that, Ms. Conway. Everyone’s afraid of something.”
Just like that, Jarah’s amusement cuts off. He stuffs the money into the unwrinkled paper bag lumberjack guy hands him, then holds the package out to me. “If I were you, I’d get wherever you’re going and stay out of the woods. Lots of predators around these parts. They’d eat you up if given the chance.”
“So I’ve heard. And thanks for the cash. Appreciate it.” I snatch the bag, then hurry to the ’Cuda.
With trembling fingers, I unlock the car, climb behind the wheel, and get out of there. The tires kick up rocks, but I don’t look in the rearview mirror. I press the accelerator to the floor, leaving the odd encounter behind me, but with each mile, tension builds, tightening my muscles. I let up on the gas as an itch spreads across my shoulders and down my spine.
Once I cross the border of the Alexander pride lands, there’s a good chance I’ll run into the man whose scent will forever be a part of me. No amount of animal cover-up will save me from him. The predators in these woods know who I am and what I am. They also call Kade alpha.
The ’Cuda coasts over the unmarked boundary. There’s no checkpoint. No guards. Nobody running out of the woods to stop me. Absolutely nothing happens.
“Guess the king of the land is too busy sleeping in his big comfy bed to be worried about looking out for little ol’ me.” Chuckling, I grip the gear shift.
A hand covers mine. A palm stifles my scream. And a warm breath caresses my cheek. “Welcome home, Zoe.”
The voice slips through me, loosening my muscles and warming my body. Kade’s the only man capable of both calming and arousing me with only a few words directed my way. That means only one thing:
I’ve been caught.
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“I enjoyed the book, the story, characters but above all of that, the fact that it was clean (without) filthy language. Well done!”