Jaz Nolan has problems and she knows it. After escaping captivity and torture, she spent weeks suspicious. Skittish. Nervous. Those feelings are fading with the help of a good therapist and she’s ready to move on.
The first item on her list is to claim her mates, Asa and Fisher. Then she intends to find the monster who kidnapped her and make him pay. And hopefully at the end of the day, she, Asa, and Fisher will all be standing and ready to go on to a future together, unfettered by the past.
ExcerptJazmina Nolan watched from her second-story bedroom window as a big, black SUV pulled into the drive and parked. Dread and anticipation twisted her stomach into knots, and she stood frozen in place, breath held, as the driver exited. Asa. Tall and thickly muscled, with short-cropped black hair, he had piercing blue eyes she couldn’t see from this distance. He was a beautiful man, especially for his age.
Then again, he was a werewolf. And they did age well.
She was thrilled to see him but irritated about the circumstances. Her twin sister, Sunny, and Sunny’s mates, Carlos and Declan, refused to leave Jaz unguarded for even a moment. No amount of pointing out that a bodyguard was overkill made a difference. For crissakes, she was in the middle of a werelion pride. No one would listen to her protests, however. At least she’d been asked—before Asa was approached about babysitting duty—if she could handle a week alone with him in the house. She’d taken the proposal seriously. It was the only fair thing to do, and she’d thought long and hard before saying yes.
He already knew her secret, knew what she was. One of the handful of known female shape-shifters in the world, and he’d seen her at her worst. Cowed. Beaten. Without hope.
It was dangerous, his knowing what she was. But exhilarating, too. He didn’t want to control her. Didn’t want to breed her to serve his own sick quest for power. He wanted her for the simple yet complicated reason that she was his mate. To be wanted just for herself, with no other ulterior motives… Well, it was a heady thing.
She watched as the others exited the house to welcome him. It should have been her job, but here she was, lurking out of sight. Carlos and Sunny loaded their vehicle while Declan, another werewolf and Sunny’s second mate, stopped to talk with Asa. They chatted a bit, two old friends catching up, and Asa glanced up at her window. Once. Briefly. He nodded a response to her slight wave, just a lifted hand really, and she knew she couldn’t remain in hiding forever.
When he turned away, so did she. She left her room, hurried down the steps before she could chicken out, and then went out the front door. She’d known he would hear when she stepped outside, and he slowly swiveled around to face her. He wasn’t hiding anything from her. She saw his frustration, his lust, his gentleness, and his worry. One couldn’t ask for a better mate, and she knew it.
He wasn’t her only mate, however. For some reason, not every werelion had a specific, destined mate, so those that did were expected to share—a key component of Pride Law, a tradition that grew out of a time when female shifters were believed nonexistent. Things were changing fast, though, and some females were evolving differently. Unlike the average werelion, she did have a mate. Two of them. She’d known as soon as she’d met them, with a stunning, forceful instinct that had grown into a painful craving over the last six months.
She caught Fisher’s scent on the faint breeze and knew he was somewhere close-by. Watching them. He was just as much hers as Asa was, but she avoided him. She wasn’t ready to accept him yet. But she knew he was in love with Asa. Knew they’d been together and that Fisher’d not only broken it off, but had fucked up badly enough that Asa might never take him back no matter how much he begged. It saddened her on Asa’s behalf and pissed her off. Why would anyone let such an incredible man go?
If she could scent Fisher close, so could Asa. So she marched down the steps to go stand by the man’s side and lend her unspoken support. Solidarity, right? After all, they’d both have to find a way to deal with Fisher. His shortcomings. His betrayals. And hell, maybe she was being too harsh. Who knew? She sure as hell didn’t. It was all still too fresh in her mind.
She’d been kidnapped by the Society, a group of rogue werewolves and feral werefelines. Much of her captivity in their Miami compound was a fog, but she’d caught Fisher’s scent from the underground prison cells in the compound, faint yet oddly seductive, for weeks before he’d come down to see the prisoners. One look and she’d known he was her mate, and his eyes had reflected the same knowledge. When he’d left the basement, she’d curled into a ball and cried, the only time she’d done so in almost eight weeks of captivity. She’d always wondered if she would be one of the lucky ones who had a mate, but to find out he was one of the bad guys? Discovering he was part of a group of shifters who looked down on humans and hunted them like prey was too much to bear. Two days later, he’d helped her escape.
She knew now he’d been there undercover, knew there was no way he could have rescued her and the other prisoners alone, that he’d had to wait for backup. But knowing that didn’t stop the pain in her chest, the feeling of abandonment, when she thought of it, when she saw him. She was working on accepting that he hadn’t been a member of the Society, that he hadn’t wanted to hurt her, but she was still a work in progress.
Then there was his relationship with her sister. She cut the thought off before it could fully form, before the sting of an entirely different kind of betrayal set in. His brief time with Sunny was something Jaz was working hard to let go. She knew it had only been one time. Declan was a werewolf and new to the pride, and it had been necessary for his acceptance.
The true hell of it was no matter how much her mind protested, and those protests were dwindling by the day as she grew stronger and her self-confidence returned, Fisher tempted her. He was a beautiful man, tall, his lean build deceptively powerful, with the same reddish-blond hair of most werelions. His was a little long and had a way of falling into his eyes that made her fingers itch to brush it away.
She couldn’t see a way out of their predicament, but she knew things couldn’t continue as they had. Maybe Fisher had major sucking-up abilities they hadn’t been the beneficiaries of yet? Maybe he had good, solid reasons for his actions. Probably she was just too newly freed from captivity to forgive anything.
But, Asa… He was different. He hadn’t left her a prisoner. Hadn’t slept with her sister. Okay, she and Fisher hadn’t been together yet. At the time it had happened, Fisher couldn’t have guessed they’d ever get together. But he had known her and known they were mates. She knew why he’d done what he had, and she had put up with her sister begging her for forgiveness for months on end after Sunny realized Fisher was Jaz’s mate. But had he tried to apologize once? Tried to explain even once? No. Nope. Nada.
Jerk. She wanted an explanation, from his lips damn it, and until she got it she wouldn’t be able to move on. And yeah, it would be impossible for him to give it to her as long as she kept avoiding him. She sighed. Was her therapist right? Had she used her anger as a shield while rebuilding her life? Was she clinging to it now as a crutch?
She twitched when Asa spoke. “I’m fine.”
She gave him a barely passable smile and cussed herself silently. Damn it, she could do this. She would do this. For a minute, she’d forgotten she wasn’t alone. She’d forgotten she was standing by a big, imposing man, and she quickly repressed a spike of fear. She was doing that more and more often of late. Forgetting. And that was major progress, because just a few weeks ago she wouldn’t have been able to stand there at all. So, not noticing for a minute? That was good.
It would be great if she could forget everything. The betrayal of someone she’d thought was a friend. The abduction. The terror of being held prisoner. Since she couldn’t undo that, she’d settle for not being afraid anymore. And sex. Hell, she was a werelion. She was hardwired for companionship, and the lack of it was really starting to be a problem. Why should she keep punishing herself?
She tried to look at Asa without being obvious about checking him out. He was so big. Her feline side purred a huge yes for sex, but her human side wanted to go slow. It had been… She struggled to remember the last time she’d shared a bed with a man. Over a year ago. It hadn’t been memorable, but she just knew it would be different with Asa. He cared about what she was feeling, what she was thinking. She’d had some very embarrassing phone conversations over the last several weeks while he’d tried to gently pry her preferences from her. Conversations she’d initiated, her curiosity winning out over her caution.
Was she ready for their relationship to advance to the next step? To make it physical? She was going to give it her best try, ready or not, and hope he really did have the patience he claimed.
Of course having decided to go through with her seduction plans, the horrible memories would intrude. The awful face of her torturer, the werewolf Burns, seemed to superimpose itself over Asa’s features.
His eyes narrowed as he studied her, and she knew he could smell her sudden surge of fear. Hell, so could she. Bitter. Acrid. It had no place between them, but there it was. She opened her mouth to explain, but all that came out was a squeak. There was only one thing to do. She fled.
She ran through the house to the back porch and stepped behind the half-hidden alcove Carlos had put up for her and Sunny. With her clothes stripped off and dumped on the short bench seat, she reached for the cat inside her and embraced the change. Her bones and muscles twisted, popped, changed. She padded out from behind the wall and leaped off the porch into the yard. She just needed a little run, a chance to get her head back on right, but at the edge of the lawn Fisher stepped out from behind a tree, arms crossed over his chest and shook his head.
“You know you don’t run alone.”
She wasn’t shifting back to argue with him. She hissed her displeasure, and with a put-upon sigh, he started pulling off his clothes. It was rare that she ran with him, and she didn’t want to now. Those were the only times she forgot why she was angry with him and the times when she was most tempted to give in to the physical attraction between them and jump him. She didn’t wait for him now, just took off into the woods. She’d have grinned at the dark curses that followed her if she’d been in human form.
He caught up with her in seconds, and they ran together, side by side. Every time she tried to venture off the trail, he nudged her back. It annoyed the crap out of her. They all treated her like a little kid that had to be alternately guarded or coddled. She was so done with that.
She was taking her life back. Starting with Asa. Today. Her cat side was in full agreement, and while in the lion’s form, she had no fear, no worries, no nervousness. She firmed her resolve. It was time. First, she’d settle things with Asa, and then they’d figure out what to do with Fisher together. And after that? She snarled as she turned back toward the house. After that, Burns.
She’d done her share of hunting down ferals and rogues, most of them members of the Society, while hiding her shape-shifting abilities from everyone. Usually, she’d anonymously tip one of the male Hunters, werewolves who hunted ferals and rogues, to their presence, but a few times she hadn’t had the time and had been forced to deal with them herself. It was one of the things that pissed her off so badly about her capture. She’d hunted them for years, but in the end they’d caught her. What a blow to the ego.
But not anymore. Those days were gone. It had taken several weeks and an unlikely alliance between the wolves and lions to rescue her, but they’d come. The wolves, Asa and Declan, had joined forces with Carlos and Sunny, though none of the men had known Sunny was looking for her sister. She’d kept it, and the fact that they were lion shifters, to herself. That secret was spilled during the rescue when they’d been forced to shift to escape. Fisher had helped, leading them to an alternate exit before rejoining the others to help in the fight. A couple of hours after that, she’d met Asa and was stunned to realize he was also her mate. Two mates. In a species that rarely even had one. What were the odds of that?
It had terrified her. She’d just spent eight weeks being terrorized by a man who’d heard rumors about shape-shifting females. Rumors about her and her sister. She’d denied everything, had refused to show Burns what she could do. What she was. No amount of beating or starvation would make her risk her sister’s life. Luckily, because she’d appeared weak he’d figured she was, and was most likely human. She hadn’t been raped. She knew some of her fellow captives hadn’t been so lucky. If she hadn’t had to shift to escape, no one would have been the wiser.
But Fisher and Asa? They’d seen. There was no denying it and no going back. She hadn’t had any problem reading his intent when Asa had said goodbye after the rescue and left her with her sister. He’d give her time to recover, to put her heart and mind back together. But, once he thought she was strong enough, his pursuit would be relentless. At the time, she’d shied away from the knowledge, totally unprepared to face him, to live with him. Thankfully, she was no longer that terrified woman. Who would have imagined given a few months she’d become the pursuer?
The house came into view, and Fisher stopped at the tree line. His place was close-by, but this one, where she lived, was Carlos’s. She’d been here since the rescue. If she hadn’t been a victim, she would have moved on by now. Neither Fisher nor Asa would have waited six months to claim her. They would have pushed, begged, cajoled, demanded—whatever it took to win her over. She was tired of being treated like spun glass, fragile and breakable, tired of suspecting it was true. Enough was enough. She could feel Fisher’s gaze following her into the yard, but she didn’t pay him any attention, just rushed off to put her plan into action.