Leif is used to being alone but he guards his few friends with a vigilant eye. After hearing the mutants were planning to attack the Moon Pack he decides to ask Anthony for help in hunting down Lorus Korl, the psychotic scientist who created the mutants. When Blake, an ex-mutant agrees to accompany Leif to the Fae World. He isn’t sure what to make of the wolf shifter who claims they are soul mates and fated to be together.
Blake had been hoping to run into Leif now that he’d been reverted to his previous form. Upon learning Leif planned to wander into the Fae World alone he agrees to go along. After a sexy night of fun he knows Leif is his mate.
Rhaegar has waited year after lonely year for his mate. When two delicious shifters enter his world he knows he needs to convince them to stay. Unfortunately fate is fickle and Rhaegar might just lose his men before he’s had a chance make them his.
Rhaegar paced from one end of his treasure-filled cave to the other, his tail slashing right and left as he walked. Even the happy crunch of gold coins beneath his claws didn’t induce its usual burst of joy.
“Is it too much to want a mate?” he asked the piles of gems and precious metals about him.
He wasn’t surprised when they didn’t answer.
Despite being the oldest of his kind, Rhaegar still hadn’t found anyone to share his cave with. He’d tried. He’d even spent years bedding every eligible dragon in his clutch—some of them more than once, just to be certain.
Centuries came and went, and he still hadn’t come any closer to finding a companion. Maybe the Fae King would keep his promise to help Rhaegar find his mate. Past experiences with the Fae didn’t make him optimistic that they would keep their end of any bargain. However, King Kylen had honest eyes and the love of a wolf shifter. If nothing else, the Fae King would follow through because he wouldn’t want to be shown as a liar in front of his mate. The fae were always more concerned with their reputation than reality.
Rhaegar wanted a relationship like the King had with his strong wolf, a partner who would stand by his side. None of the dragons in the mountain had proven to be the right match. Although they were fine for occasional romps in the treasure trove, they weren’t his forever lover. He wished their clutch still had a seer to guide him, but the last one had died over two hundred years ago, and she’d never been particularly helpful. She hadn’t even foreseen her own death.
“You have a visitor, my lord.” A deep rumbly voice interrupted Rhaegar’s isolation. He spun around to find his second-in-command, Hartmut, standing at Rhaegar’s cave entrance in his human form. Hart was his oldest friend and right-hand helper. In matters of interspecies relations, Hart always had the inside track. The fae might think this world was theirs, but the dragons only let them run it because they themselves weren’t an ambitious race. A good cave with lots of treasure kept dragons happy. Besides, if they didn’t have the Fae, where would they get all their gold?
“Who’s visiting?” Rhaegar forced his attention back to Hart’s statement, pretending to show interest.
Hart curled his lip, revealing a sharp fang. “The Fae King. At least he brought his mate with him.”
The dragons as a whole disliked the Fae for an ancient betrayal between the species. The long chain of corrupt Fae Kings hadn’t helped relations any. The bright honesty in Farro’s eyes soothed some of Rhaegar’s instinctive distrust of the new High Fae King. Rhaegar was withholding full approval of the royal until Kylen had ruled for a few centuries, though. The last king hadn’t been too bad before he turned insane.
“Good, I like Farro.”
Hart grunted. “Who wouldn’t? I saw his pup in the woods yesterday; he’s fucking adorable. I sent word that harming the halfling is an automatic death sentence.”
“Good.” Any species would rethink that approach if the pup had dragon protection. “Go ahead and allow the Fae King passage.”
Rhaegar closed his eyes and concentrated on transforming from dragon to human. He didn’t particularly enjoy his human shape. The weak protection of his bipedal flesh was a poor comparison to his mighty scales. However, he didn’t wish the Fae King to be uncomfortable, and remaining a dragon might be considered an act of aggression. At this time, Rhaegar needed King Kylen’s help if he wished to find a mate. He might not like the idea of having a fae partner, but since none of the dragons were his mate, he had to expand his search.
“Greetings, Rhaegar.” Kylen took two steps into the cave before giving a low, graceful bow.
Farro nodded, the proper greeting from one shifter to another when they weren’t in the same hierarchy.
“Greetings, Fae King and King Mate. What brings you to my lowly accommodations?”
Farro snorted. “If by lowly you mean blindingly wealthy, I’d have to agree with you.”
“I thought we’d agreed I’d do the talking,” Kylen scolded in an affectionate tone.
Farro folded his arms across his chest. “Sorry, oh mighty king, please continue.”
Rhaegar threw back his head and laughed, the sound echoing across the cave. “It is nice to see you two again. How may I help you?”
He doubted the two royals traipsed up the mountain for a purely social call.
“It is more what we can do for you,” Kylen corrected. “We’re throwing a coronation party to celebrate joining the two kingdoms together. Since most of the Fae will be together in one place, I thought it would be a good time for you and a few of your companions to come and see if you can find your mates.”
“And what will we have to do in return?” Nothing came for free. Despite their agreement, this was almost too good to be true.
“Make sure I’m not killed at my own party.” Kylen flashed Rhaegar a wry grin. “Most of the Fae are on my side, but there’s always someone who thinks their favorite fae can do a better job. I need protection against them since I don’t know who to trust yet. People who guarded my back as a fellow soldiers might be just as likely to shove a sword through me now.”
Farro growled softly. “If anyone tries to hurt you, I will rip out their throat.”
“That won’t help me if they’ve already killed me, love. And I won’t put you in danger too. We can’t leave our son without his fathers.”
“And you trust me?” Rhaegar didn’t bother to keep the surprise out of his voice. Watching over the King was a big responsibility, and not one he thought they’d give a dragon they barely knew.
“You don’t have anything to gain by my death.”
Kylen didn’t add that Rhaegar had a lot to lose if an assassination attempt on Kylen succeeded. Dragonkin might not be as lucky with the next Fae King. There had been some battles in the past in which both sides had lost a lot of people for no particular reason other than the Fae King wanted a war.
“True.” Rhaegar grinned. “I’ll be happy to come help out.”
He could think of several dragonkin who’d love to visit the Fae palace to seek their mates. Rhaegar wasn’t the only dragon waiting to find his other half. After the royals left, Rhaegar spent the rest of the afternoon daydreaming about finding his mate.
Leif swooped across the field, tilting his wings to the right to take another aerial pass. He idly swirled in a tight loop as he examined the ground below. He’d followed the mutants into the trees, but they’d disappeared beneath the heavy foliage. Gliding lower, he landed on a branch as close to the mutants as he dared. He’d been watching Flen, the leader of the downtown mutants, for several days now. He didn’t trust him not to start something with the Moon Pack.
Although this small cell of mutants was happy with their new form, they resented the Moon Pack’s established territory. Leif suspected they still worshipped Lorus Korl, the Fae scientist who had created them, and supported his goals of taking over the world and setting himself up as its ruler. Leif just needed concrete evidence he could take back to Silver, the Moon Pack alpha. The wolf shifter wouldn’t attack the mutants without facts, and there were too many mutants to be certain which group were the ones that had attacked the pack building.
Leif suspected Korl still hid in the Fae World behind one of his worshippers. Maybe he could talk to Anthony about getting passage through a portal to hunt the scientist. The pack owed him a favor. It might be time to collect.
Korl had been responsible for the slaughter of Leif’s flock. In his search to increase his mutant army, Korl had tried to branch out into other species. None of the ravens had survived. He’d only been gone a week for a military buddy’s wedding, but he’d returned to find his entire family decimated. Leif had found their broken bodies rotting at the side of the road where Korl’s men had dumped them. The stench of mutants had soaked the area and wrenched Leif’s heart. They hadn’t even respected the ravens’ deaths enough to bury them.
Now Leif focused all his time and energy on hunting down Korl and making him pay. Good thing Leif had inherited all of his flock’s insurance money. It gave him the funds to pursue their killer.
“We must take down the Moon Pack.” Flen’s deep voice echoed across the small clearing as he addressed a group of twenty mutants. He marched back and forth as he spoke, his elongated limbs swaying unnaturally with each step. “They will crumble if we destroy their leader. They are nothing but a bunch of puppies chasing their tails. Chop off their head, and they will fall beneath our will.”
Leif fluffed his feathers. The cold air cut through his small body and whipped away his heat. For a moment, he envied the wolves their furry coats, even if he would never exchange a moment of warmth for the ability to fly.
“How do we destroy Silver? He has his mate to protect him,” another mutant piped up, breaking into Leif’s sad contemplation of the freezing night air.
Flen backhanded the questioner. “Anthony isn’t that strong. Stories about him are exaggerated.”
A rumble of dissent filtered through the group. The mutants were leery of the demi-god who could hurl lightning bolts. Leif didn’t blame them. Anthony had turned a bunch of them into piles of ash when they invaded the Moon Pack building several months ago. Leif wondered who Flen thought he could convince with his lies. None of his mutants looked appeased.
After the incident at the pack house, though, the mutants had backed off for a bit. Recently, more mutants had joined the original pack and become increasingly hostile to other shifters in the area. Leif was trying to tally the number in the pack. He could tell the mutants in the clearing weren’t the full group; there weren’t enough bodies crowding about. The others must’ve stayed behind at their hideout. Leif had yet to find their new location. They’d moved from the warehouse district to a new secret spot a few weeks ago. He liked to keep tabs on the mutants’ actions in case they went after the Moon Pack again.
Leif watched over his few friends with a fierce protectiveness. If the mutants were going to attack, Leif wanted all the details to pass on to Silver. Dare topped the list of the people Leif would kill or die for. Silly for a raven to protect a tiger, but Dare was a goofy kitty while Leif had the soul of a predator.
Something moved in the trees, and Leif hopped from branch to branch to take a closer look. The glint of metal and a loud pop were his only warnings before a line of pain seared across his wing. When did the mutants get weapons? Leif inwardly cursed. Apparently, he wasn’t as stealthy a bird as he had thought. Time to regroup.
“Damn spy!” someone shouted. “I think I got him.”
Jumping off his branch, Leif flapped away. His arm burned like the fires of hell were raging through it. He glided as much as he dared, trying to conserve his strength. Blood dripped down his wing, sprinkling the ground below. Leif grabbed air currents when he could to take the strain off his injury. Finally, he spotted his apartment from above.
The red building squatted in the corner of a city block, a pile of old bricks slapped together like the art project of a haphazard child on a sugar high. He loved his place even if it wasn’t in the best part of town. Leif preferred to save his money for more important things than lodging. He rarely stayed home anyway.
Sighting his balcony from above, Leif angled his wings to control his spiraling descent. Pain streaked through his body with each flap of his injured wing. His landing lacked its usual grace as he wobbled awkwardly on his perch. He clenched his claws around the rail to prevent a disastrous toppling onto his head.
After the world stopped spinning, Leif hopped to the cement floor, then through the bird flap he’d cut into the door. Once inside, he transformed into his human shape. Leif stretched his arms and sighed. His arm muscles were always bunched after flight. He examined the slight mark on his shoulder. Luckily, the bullet hadn’t remained embedded in his skin. The wound had sealed at Leif’s transformation, leaving a mostly healed scar behind. Another few hours and there would be no sign of the injury at all. Good thing the bullet had just grazed him. If it had lodged in his body he would’ve had to stay a bird until he could get the piece of metal removed. There was no telling where a bullet would travel if it remained in the body during shifting. A miscalculation could cause shrapnel to embed in Leif’s heart.
He shook off his unease at his close call. No sense fixating on something that didn’t happen.
A soft meow pulled his attention to the ball of fluff on the back of his recliner.
“I don’t supposed you made dinner?” he asked the small kitten.
Flattened ears met his question followed by a low hiss.
“Like I thought. Useless feline. You can’t adopt me,” Leif argued. “I’m a bird. Birds don’t keep cats as pets.”
Despite his declaration, he obediently scratched the petulant cat behind her ears. The tiny motor revved until Leif’s fingers vibrated from the kitten’s purring. After several minutes of stroking the soft coat, he abandoned his furry friend to take a hot shower. He might be healed, but blood still covered his right shoulder. The sticky substance would begin to itch in a hurry if he allowed it to dry on his skin.
Leif sighed as the scalding water poured over him. Tilting his head, he soaked his hair and gave it a quick wash. His mind spun over the implications of the mutants moving closer to the Moon Pack. He’d have to send a warning to Anthony. Maybe he’d give Dare a quick phone call instead. He tried to keep under the radar of the demi-god. Anthony might be a good guy, but he freaked Leif the hell out. The alpha mate’s ability to fling lightning bolts with the same ease other people breathed had Leif avoiding Anthony except in extreme emergencies.
Leif gave his body a cursory swipe with a towel before he headed to the bedroom to pull on some clothes. Black ripped jeans and a white tee polished off his look for a comfortable night in front of the television. An imperious meow greeted his return to the living room.
“Still angling for some tuna?”
The tiny beast gave another demanding chirp, oddly birdlike.
“Don’t think imitating me will get you any favors.” Leif scooped the grouchy prima donna into the crook of his arm and continued his petting. “Some badass I am,” he grumbled.
Someone banged on his door and broke his contemplation of the tiger-striped creature in his arms. Her bright green eyes glowed with curiosity, or maybe it was malice. He could never tell with cats. When Leif had rescued the small kitten from the dumpster the week before, he thought he’d only have her for a few days. Efforts to pawn the little beast off on neighbors and a few passing strangers had so far netted no positive results.
The knocking continued.
“I guess we’d best go see who’s come to visit.” Leif kept a grip on the feline. If he held her, then he knew her location. The last thing he needed was for her to get free from his apartment and start wandering the halls. Although his building allowed pets, they weren’t supposed to be roaming free. If this kept up, he’d have to get the damn beast a collar.
Leif stepped up his pace when his unexpected visitor began to growl on the other side of the door. Peeking through the peephole, Leif smiled at what he discovered. He yanked the door open.
“Dare! What brings you here?”
Dare stared at Leif’s hands for a long moment. “Why would a bird have a cat?”
Leif grinned at Steven over Dare’s shoulder. “I don’t know. Why would a wolf have a tiger?”
Steven stepped past Dare, letting himself into Leif’s apartment. “Because the tiger mauled me into submission.”
Leif noticed the wolf shifter moved out of Dare’s reach before speaking.
Dare grinned at Leif. “It’s true.”
He stepped back to let the tiger shifter inside. “What are you two doing here?”
“I couldn’t get you on the phone, and I was worried.” Dare settled comfortably on Leif’s couch, avoiding the rip in the middle with the ease of a constant visitor.
“I came to keep him out of trouble,” Steven added.
Leif snorted. “I don’t think it’s possible to keep Dare out of trouble. I’m sorry I had you worried. I went flying to spy on the mutants.”
“I wish I could fly,” Dare mused.
Steven snorted. “There’s no way Leif can haul your tiger ass into the sky.”
Leif shrugged. “Sorry, Dare.” He couldn’t deny the facts even if he would’ve put it more diplomatically.
Dare rolled his eyes. “I didn’t expect you to, I was just saying. I mean, who doesn’t want to fly?”
“Me.” Steven raised his hand. “I don’t even like planes. The thought of flying makes me ill. Did you learn anything?”
“Flen thinks taking out Silver will get rid of the Moon Pack. He’s trying to convince the others that Anthony isn’t that big of a threat,” Leif said.
“He’s an idiot,” Steven stated. “But he could be a dangerous idiot. I’ll let Silver know so he can be extra alert.”
“Thanks.” Leif’s duty was now discharged. They’d been warned. “Why are you here anyway?”
Although Dare visited fairly often, this wasn’t one of his usual days.
Dare smiled. “I came to check on you and bring you an invitation from Anthony.”
Leif shivered. Bird shifters preferred to avoid magic that could knock them out of the air. “Why is he inviting me to anything?”
More importantly, how could he get out of it?
“He’s opening his new hotel. He sent this as a thank you for all of your help.” Dare pulled a cream envelope out of his jacket pocket. It had Leif’s name embossed in gold across the front.
Leif reluctantly accepted the envelope. After examining the intricate lettering, he popped the seal and pulled out the invitation. It took him a moment to scan the card and find the information he needed.
“Oh good, it looks like I’m free that day.” He let sarcasm color his tone.
Steven snorted his amusement.
It would’ve been shocking if he hadn’t been available. Leif didn’t have a large social circle. He spent all his time battling and stalking mutants to glean information. Leif perked up at the thought of who else might be attending. Maybe Blake would show. Leif had heard the mutant had been changed back to his previous form. Anthony had some sort of mad de-mutation powers.
Leif looked forward to seeing what non-mutant Blake looked like. Even as a mutant, Blake had appealed to Leif.
“Excellent.” Steven stood and slapped Leif on the back with unnecessary force. “I’d hate to have to return to Anthony and tell him you refused to come to his party. It might hurt his feelings.”
“We wouldn’t want that. His mate would rip off my wings,” Leif said, only partly kidding.
Steven grinned. “Silver might at that.”
Dare slapped Steven on the leg. “You don’t have to sound so happy about that.”
Steven shrugged. “We all have our crosses to bear.”
“Thanks.” Leif rolled his eyes at Steven’s smirk. After Dare’s rough time dealing with his magically induced blindness, it was nice to see his friend smiling again.
Dare stood to wrap an arm around Leif’s shoulders and give him a quick hug. The tiger shifter released him as soon as Steven began growling. “I look forward to seeing you at the party.”
The kitten purred when Dare reached over and scratched her under the chin.
“Aww, feline bonding,” Leif teased.
“She’s adorable.” Dare made a rumbly, purring sound back at the kitten.
“She needs a home.” Leif flashed his friend a hopeful smile.
“I think she has one.” Dare winked at Leif before turning to his mate. “Let’s go, pup.”
“Pup? I’m all wolf, baby!” Steven snarled. If the hot look he passed Dare was any indication, they would be having a very active night.
After Steven and Dare left, Leif plopped down on his couch. The kitten purred loud enough for a cat ten times its size.
“You’re a loud beasty.” The kitten licked Leif’s finger. “You think I’m going to have to keep you, don’t you? Did you miss when I tried to pawn you off on the tiger?”
The kitten made a soft mew of disdain as if she mocked his attempt to unload her on his visitor. Leif tilted his head back against the couch cushions. The feline kneaded his leg, the tiny pinpricks of her claws piercing through his pants.
“You aren’t going to win a bowl of milk by clawing me to death,” Leif scolded. “What do you think I should wear to the opening? I’m hoping something without cat hair; I’d never live that down.”
Mentally reviewing his wardrobe, Leif realized the most tragic of events was about to occur—shopping.