Into the Pride (Nuuba Pride Shifters #1) by Michelle Monkou (2 page)

London’s face appeared in the mirror behind his shoulder. “I’m leaving.”

He nodded, wondering why she wasn’t fully dressed.

She padded closer on bare feet. Her purrs communicated her regret over their parting. He didn’t respond. Though she might not realize it, for him, breaking up was emotionally draining. He understood the need for a family unit. The Nuuba Pride championed family and unity beyond the tribal bonds. However, he could never fulfill that wish with London. Something in his gut knew she could never be the one.

David returned his focus to his reflection.

London’s hiss prickled the tiny hairs at the base of his neck to attention. Never had he seen her so angry. Now, her snarls grew louder with each heaving breath.

Too late, David saw the glint of a dagger’s blade. Its wide arc surged through the air. His back—the target. David spun and stumbled out of reach, using his arm as a shield to ward off the blow. Too late.

The long blade sliced his forearm. A second thrust. The blade stabbed the now bloodied limb. Dark red blood spilled from the wound.

He roared his pain. His fury. “What the f—!”

A fierce spin-kick, her toe-claws extended, breezed by within inches of his face. The move caused London to stagger, off-balance.

His good hand shot out.

Her throat with its nasty snarls offended him. She took hurt feelings to a whole new level. And now he was pissed.

David hoisted her by the throat and carried her, with her legs flailing, to the bedroom. Her nails shredded his arms. Loose skin hung in tatters.

Burning. Stinging. Intense heat-like blasts from a brick oven took over his arm. His hand unlocked her throat. In a vain attempt to dislodge the venom, he violently shook his hand. His breath caught, hitched … the paralysis began.

He roared with the last breath pushed from his lungs. Its frequency pierced her ears. Her cries of pain mixed with his. She backed away cupping her ears.

Suddenly, the pain in his arm subsided. Breathing grew easier. Stiffness in his muscles and limbs receded. Just to make sure, he held up each hand, closing and opening his fist.

Panic that once had gripped his gut now rolled off like an outgoing tide. Rage, on the other hand, took a bit longer to rein in. The emotion bucked and resisted his control, seeking a free run.

He watched her stand out of his reach, across from him. The space between them was charged with anticipation. Whatever
this
was, he knew it wasn’t over.
Be calm.
Either that, or he’d wring her neck.

“What was that for, London? You know me!” He looked at the dagger still impaled in his forearm. “Did you really thing that you could take me down? That I’d let you?”

Her venom almost did take him six feet under. But it would take about six wildcats for the venom to overpower his self-healing abilities. Something that she didn’t need to know.
Psycho bitch
.

She hissed. “I don’t like saying good-bye.”

“Thought you’d leave with your respect intact. You … we set the rules.” Of course, wildcats not only didn’t give a damn about rules, they didn’t have an ounce of loyalty, either. The highest bidder usually earned their services.

“Go to hell, David. You’ll get yours one day.”

“By whom?” He eyed the jumping pulse at her neck. It would be so easy. If only the rules for killing didn’t restrict his natural impulses. Only in the duty of service to the royal family or their concerns, as in the matter of their deaths, was he licensed to kill.

London averted her gaze.

“Who is after me?” All of his suspicions about her surged forth. He had an idea of who had betrayed the Nuuba Royal family. Was her overtop performance connected to the only man he gladly would kill? “Xavier?”

She said nothing.

“Answer me.” Quicker than she could blink her baby blues, he’d crossed the room. His hand wrapped around her throat—again, using slight pressure, just hard enough to make her gasp for air. She tried his patience.

“No one knows where Xavier is.”

He dragged his elongated nail across her carotid artery. “Then, who sent you in the first place?”

“Go to hell, you bastard.” She squirmed. The blaze of anger returned to her eyes.

“You’re boring and repetitive.” David hated to admit that London had dulled his senses. His cock had pulled a mutiny on his brain. Now there would be hell to pay. “What happened to Xavier? Why is the bastard lying low?”

She grinned.

“Go back to whoever sent you, whether it’s Xavier or one of his minions. Tell him that I will finish my job—the only thing that I live for—to kill him.”

His grip on her throat slackened. He allowed her to stand on her own, but stayed close enough in case she tried anything. If so, he’d snap her neck like a discarded toothpick.

Rubbing her neck, London stumbled away. “They will hunt you down. Rip your limbs from your body. Toss you to the hogs. And I will lick the blood from your skull.” Her pink tongue swept her lips as if already tasting him.

David pulled out the dagger from his arm. Blood flowed like a broken pipe.

His roar tore loose from deep within and filled the bedroom with its fury. The right side of his chest grew warm. Several seconds passed before he realized that the diamond in his skin burned hot. Its energy radiated throughout his body like a beacon. He readied for the shift. Nothing happened. Instead, his flesh started to knit and mend.

None of that seemed to matter to London who fled from the bedroom with her shoes hugged to her chest. David followed her, unwilling to pause long enough to get dressed.

She continued on a headlong pace, flinging open the front door, and running barefoot out into the courtyard.

“What the hell just happened?” David stared out at the empty courtyard, thankful that his nightmare ended, although he sensed it was temporary.

He headed to the kitchen sink and rinsed off his arm. One more wound to add to the numerous list.

A scent captured his attention.
Anise, cloves, cinnamon
.

Someone knocked at his front door.

“Um … excuse me. I’m looking for Mr. David Chastain.” A woman of average-to-tall height with straight, raven black hair, serious eyes, and dressed in the most dowdy pantsuit he’d ever seen hovered at his doorway.

David considered grabbing a frying pan in case she had a dagger to plunge into his arm. Though his radar didn’t ping. Her demeanor didn’t threaten. It had been a long night that taxed every part of him, including his patience. With crossed arms, legs parted, and feet firmly planted—he tiredly readied for Round Two.

“Come in.”

Her gaze flew down to his cock. “Oh, my.” She covered her eyes with her hands. “Please, are you Mr. Chastain?”

“I’m David. In the flesh.” Her embarrassment was quaint after dealing with the likes of London. “What do you want?”

“For you to get dressed, please.” Her hands, used as a shield, hadn’t lowered.

“And then?” He backed into the bedroom for his pants. No more turning his back on females.

“I need your help. A matter of life and death.” She inched her way forward following him. “We really don’t have much time.” She slowly lowered her hands from her eyes and waited for his response.

 

Chapter Two

 

David studied the dark-haired beauty with the warm caramel complexion. Not since his life as a guard had he been sought for matters of life and death. Those days were long gone. As an archeologist and historical archivist, how could he possibly be important for a human’s mission?

Other than triggering his memory with the familiar waft of spices, everything else about her held no connection. Now that pants covered his nakedness, she met his open assessment with equal directness.

He regarded her with curiosity. From her, what he read in her analysis was doubt. The very idea that she perceived him as not up to par needled at his ego.

Modesty wasn’t his vice. A few dings here and there, but overall he had the sleek, powerful design that nature intended, his cock included. At six-five, two hundred ten pounds, body fat at three percent, he was chiseled like a masterpiece. The perfect recruit for a royal bodyguard. And apparently the perfect recruit for a damsel in distress. Although the disdainful curl of her lips tempered his brag.

“It’s after midnight. I don’t tend to get calls for help in the middle of the night.” He paused. “From spicy … sweet … women who smell heavenly.”

From disdain to amusement, could it be that he’d managed to break through the icy exterior? A smile flittered on, then disappeared. Light from the nearby floor lamp cast a softened glow across her face, shimmering against her eyes. Hazel with hints of amber.
Exotic
.

He grabbed a shirt and slid it on.

“That’s a strange tattoo.” She stepped closer. Her hand paused in midair, where his shirt hung open, as if waiting for permission.

He flinched, but stayed his ground. A touch was like a kiss—he wanted to make the first move. And his tat was definitely off limits. Permission wasn’t granted. Instead, his fingers quickly fastened the buttons.

“Sorry.” She dropped her hand. Embarrassment flooded her face. “Didn’t mean to…” She blew out a breath and stuck her hands in her jacket pockets.

Maybe one day, he’d let her stroke those long, delicate fingers against his skin. There was interest on his side. Solid good looks, in spite of a body effectively hidden under unflattering clothes. Personality—not the shy type, but still under assessment.

From her perspective, he was sure that she had more than a smidgen of sexual interest in him. When it came to sex and carnal pleasures, he recognized awe. Rise in pulse. Flush to the skin. Restlessness from the moist desire stirring between the legs. Breasts thrust forward. Mouth dry. Nibbling on bottom lip. Pupils dilated. Now all she needed was to let go of inhibitions.

“Tell me your name.”

“Starr.” Her chin lifted a smidgen.

With every stroke of her hair, she flooded his room with the smell of her shampoo. A subtle mixture of wild orchids, violets and tangy mandarin. Every part of this woman smelled good. Did she work in a spice shop? He sucked in air through clenched teeth to taste the familiar scent that had followed him home almost every night. He closed the remaining distance between them for certainty sake.

David circled her, inhaling, processing, and deducing his level of danger. A shining curtain of dark hair hung well below her shoulders, resting against the middle of her stiffened back. His admiration continued its path downward and over her beautiful heart-shaped ass, evident even in the unflattering pantsuit.

“No last name?”

Now facing her, his inspection covered the slender lines from her neck to her shoulders and full swell of breasts, perfectly matched to the curves of her hips. She was tall, but not enough to stand forehead to forehead.

“Don’t feel that I need one.” She returned his scrutiny with a hard gaze that was stoic, reserved and proud—the pursed mouth and thrust of her chin spoke volumes. He detected no ill will. Nevertheless, his guard was still in place.

David ushered her back into the sitting area and indicated the couch. He took the seat opposite her.

“What exactly do you want, Starr?” Saying her name struck a discordant chord in his memory. He frowned, unable to sift quickly through the murky depths for an answer.

“I need your help.” She had taken the seat. “I’m on a mission, of sorts.” She spoke with cultured elocution, as if English wasn’t her first language.

“I don’t
do
missions.” Not too many knew of his past as a royal bodyguard. Even then, his assignments would come directly from the king. “I am contracted by the city to catalogue the remains of the Nuuba Kingdom. Many consider the old city gone after the earthquake, but I’m certain there is still much to learn and be shared with the people of Theos.” What he searched for would shift the balance of power, hopefully by peaceful means, but most likely by war.

“I’m looking for a temple,” Starr continued as if he hadn’t objected.

“I’m not a priest or a monk.” A temple? He hadn’t seen that coming. Avid history buffs and documentary producers frequently approached him with various quests and conspiracy theories about the Nuuba Dynasty and its influence. Some were harmless with their frenzied interest. Others, with sinister affiliations, bore further investigation when they triggered his alarm.

“I know who you are. That’s why I know you can help.” She sat on the edge of the seat, her hands tightly clasped to match her earnest expression. “The head temple was commissioned by the queen and dedicated to the Sisters of Cassiopeia. It was part of the palace buildings that were destroyed by the earthquake.”

“Its existence is a myth.” David sighed. Here was another zealous member of the Nuuba fandom. She probably belonged to a group who had monthly meetings and annual treks to discover artifacts. Many romanticized the ancient city’s history with exaggerations and downright inaccuracies. He’d hoped there was a real reason to have her around.

She visibly bristled. “Are you one of those jackasses who can’t believe that there was an order of female priestesses?” She bit her lip. “Sorry.”

“Look, let me drop a bit of history. There were always female cults in the kingdom. Some allegedly had magical powers, others professed to study medicine, and some were only a women’s club like other strange cults. These larger-than-life, girl-power stories draw in the tourists.” David’s irritation spiked. “Meanwhile, the real history of the Nuuba dynasty and the real details of its downfall remain in ruins below the city.”

That was more than a mouthful. More than he’d readily shared with anyone. David cleared his throat. “My turn to apologize.”

“No worries. We’re now even.” His determined visitor reached into a satchel and pulled out a worn manila file that barely contained its papers. She shoved it toward him. “The Sisters of Cassiopeia were not your regular ministry. There was a secret order of warrior priestesses.”

David snorted. Now, he’d add delusional next to beautiful for her description.

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