Into the Pride (Nuuba Pride Shifters #1) by Michelle Monkou (4 page)

BOOK: Into the Pride (Nuuba Pride Shifters #1) by Michelle Monkou
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“Yes, I definitely needed to sleep.” She broke off a piece of the apple-spice breakfast treat and nibbled.

“Are you still thinking? Stop over-obsessing on every detail.” The older woman set the dishes in the sink. She gazed at Starr with kind eyes.

“How am I going to do this? What if I can’t complete the mission?” For the first time, Starr admitted aloud her fear.

Madame Voorhees approached and drew her into a comforting embrace. Her layered shawls wrapped Starr in a cocoon. “We all have faith in you.” She stepped away from Starr. “Look at me.” The easygoing smile disappeared, replaced with her stern gaze. “Time is running out. In less than three days, you have to find the temple … or else, the prophecy…”

Starr looked at the woman who served as a beacon to guide the priestesses during these dangerous days. The success of the Cassiopeia Sisterhood relied on outside supporters like these beacons, men and women, who dedicated their lives to protecting and supporting the priestesses. Their symbol of five links in a circle alerted sisters in need of their presence. Or in Starr’s case, that the inn was a safe house with the interlinked circles at the top of the entrance arch to the property.

“The temple will be the answer. Find the temple and the pieces will slip into place to bring order to the chaos of our world.”

Starr blew out a frustrated breath. “Those who betrayed us had to know their act was an abomination.” She struggled to control her volume. “For a weaker kingdom to push its way forward … how dare they? The treaty with the humans gave the lower kingdoms a path to the downfall of the Nuuba dynasty.”

“Not everyone is our enemy, child,” Voorhees whispered. “Some are only pretending to go along with the new world order for survival’s sake. At least the earthquake halted their progress.”

“Didn’t help with our cause, though.”

“Yes, it did. You couldn’t do anything until you found David. Now … give him his space, let him take the lead.”

Starr conceded the point that nothing would be possible without the prince. From her small interaction with him, in his false memory of being a bodyguard, she only could hope that he would be ready to lead once the veil had been removed.

Three years ago, the king expelled his last breath, as a result of a bloody coup. A horrific earthquake followed the turmoil and further shook the fractured city and its residents.

Their troubles magnified when a tsunami crashed in moments later and wiped away the main palace grounds and surrounding government buildings. With the seat of power upended, the chaos allowed the humans to sweep through on rescue and rebuilding missions.

Corruption was rampant between the traitors and the humans. The temporary state of emergency status was deemed necessary by the humans and gladly enforced by the traitors until things were settled on the surface. Meanwhile, political in-fighting occurred. The governing body could never agree on the conditions necessary to lift the rule. Small rebel factions popped up like mushrooms, with mixed intentions, to disrupt any government body, or to return leadership to the dynasty. The current state of affairs was unsettling.

“Your training is complete, Starr. Go. Bring our prince home.”

“I hope your confidence in me isn’t misplaced.” Starr blinked back tears. She ran her fingers through her hair to push back the welling emotion that came with her stress.

“Good luck, dear.” Voorhees patted her cheek and gave her another warm hug.

Starr knew she’d need more than good luck. She had a feeling that the prince would be more than a handful in order to complete her job. And from the memory of his cock and bared ass, she knew that he’d be more than a handful in bed—but that wouldn’t happen, again. She brushed aside the reality that, once the dynasty was restored, their stations in life would separate them.

Her cell phone rang.
David Chastain
. She answered with a hopeful tone.

“How long are you going to keep me waiting? You’re on a thin rope with me, Starr.”

“So, you’ll help me? Great. I’ll be there shortly. I appreciate you going on blind faith with me.”

“Let’s just say that I’m intrigued.”

His intrigue was met by her weak-kneed excitement over his deep timbre. Why didn’t his sex appeal have a turn off button? His voice, deep, dark, and dangerous, stroked her like a masseuse in all the right places. He could read the newspaper and her body would respond, and only to him. Like now, with her nipples budded under her bra.

“By the way, I am impatient. Thirty minutes, Starr. Or you’ll have to waste someone else’s time to find your mythical temple.”

The things she’d want him to do with that mouth and tongue had her blushing. Starr cleared her throat to chase off the hunger for his cock to be inside her. “You’re all charm.”

“And that’s only the beginning. Now it’s twenty-nine minutes.”

 

Chapter Four

 

David stared as Starr arrived on the work site with the similar exhilarating, blasting effects of fresh air. He had wanted to call her the moment he’d finished reading the file. Page after page showed evidence that the coup had not been a spur of the moment betrayal and the solution would more than likely end with war. Loyalties would be tested and broken before this was over. The information, thanks to Starr, reinforced his plan to get to the palace.

In the recorded historical texts by the Sisterhood of Cassiopeia, the battle over the dominion had forewarned the royal family of such matters. Only High Priestess Izana had known the magnitude of its details, which she’d shared with King Frazeur and Queen Mayala. Reaction to the news appeared to split the royal family, with the king creating a secret order within his royal bodyguard, which David belonged to, and with the queen relying on a secret army of warrior priestesses.

David watched Starr walk toward him. Gone was the dowdy pantsuit. In its place, she wore a matching khaki shirt and shorts that showed off her bared legs and boots. All she needed to grace the fashion pages was a Panama hat set at a jaunty slant. The sexy image seemed at odds with his perception of her priestess lifestyle.

“I’m here, ready, and willing.”

“You barely made it.” Not that he was really timing her. His excitement almost popped while waiting for her to show up.

That slender chin, like the bottom tip of a heart, still jutted out. Determination shone in her hazel eyes. She definitely wasn’t one to avoid eye-to-eye contact. He appreciated that nuance. It was one way he could gage sincerity, desire, intentions.

“Well, I’m here.” She looked fresh, upbeat, and unaffected by their close proximity.

Meanwhile, his anatomy, interior and exterior, ran havoc with systems-overload. It was his turn for his skin to flush, twitch and crave her touch. In the short space of time, his imagination ran wild. Desire spun through him, touching down and lifting off to match the buoyant feeling that overcame him in her presence. His cock thickened, its arousal pressed against his pants.

Last night’s dream toyed with his new preoccupation—Starr and him. Not to be blindly optimistic, but he was willing to declare that soon, he would have her. More than have her as just a friend, but have her as a lover. In his scenario, they were in each other’s arms. His body over hers, balancing his weight for every pump in and out of the moist sweetness between her legs. The beast within grunted. The man, who he was, wanted her as
his
woman. His lion’s sixth sense didn’t second-guess his private wish.

“Your helmet. Wouldn’t want you to damage that pretty head.” With no helmet to hide his arousal, David surreptitiously adjusted his pants. “Let’s head to the conference room. You can meet the others on the team.”

The large room held the key members on the project. The heavy lifting and removal of debris was contracted out to a company run by humans. The city wouldn’t have it any other way. Full shifters had long since been rounded up and caged in zoo-like conditions. Instead of the public, their audiences were teams of scientists and animal behaviorists prodding and provoking full shifts to analyze the process.

Hybrids like him, who had a cocktail genetic mix as humans with beast-like instincts, were kept on short leashes. In some cases, medical means were used to subdue the inner beasts. Rumors had spread that genetic research was being conducted to find the link that caused the shift and the link that only produced the essence of the beast. Although he didn’t have much proof, David was sure that he had the ability to fully shift, despite his tag as a hybrid.
That
he was definitely not sharing with a soul.

“Everyone, this is Starr. She is a visiting archeologist on a research assignment. And once again, thank you for coming in on Saturday.” The welcomes and other words of greetings circled the room. The makeup of his team were hybrids and a few shifters in hiding, dressed in suits or overalls, but everyone wore heavy steel-toed boots for the dangerous conditions, both the structural threats and the enemy threat.

“Thanks to Mr. Chastain for inviting me.”

His eyebrow quirked. “David is fine. If you continue with Mr. Chastain, I’ll think that you’re referring to my father.”

A man extended his hand in greeting. “I’m Jason Wirks, the foreman.” He had the height and size to be a formidable force. Starr shook it, noting that his hand dwarfed her grasp.

He addressed David. “Boss, we found a better way in and have reinforced the walls into the next section of tunnels. But you just never know with these structures. Be careful. You, too, miss.”

“I’m looking forward to it.” Starr rocked up on her toes. Her wide grin was contagious.

David admired her gutsy style, but he’d see how tough she was when they were half a mile underground with only a flashlight.

A smaller team made up of the inner circle guards had the secret task of searching specific off-limit areas for the king’s private palace. Whatever it took and how many people he safely could trust with the job, he used. By next week, city officials were ready to propose legislation to abandon the dig for
budget
reasons.

And, when the property was found, he’d be removed immediately from the archaeological site. Everything that he’d found or tag would be turned over. Not only did he have to get in first, but he had to find the vault, as soon as possible.

In the secret vault, behind elaborate locks, King Frazeur’s ruling scepter, ceremonial jewelry, and ruling documents were expected to be found. The official records chronicled the Nuuba dynastic line, and what procedures were to be taken in the event of the destruction of the family’s line of descendants.

No incoming dynasty was expected to embrace the Nuuba plans, no matter how much King Frazeur was respected. But world conditions had changed. Theos was attractive to both humans and enemy prides. The Nuuba plan offered a radical mindset to continue dynastic rule without the monumental blood loss. Alphas didn’t have to take another Alpha down. Shared roles was the solution when no clear heir existed.

“Let’s go,” he said. Seeing Starr’s enthusiasm spike up a few notches, he felt sure that he’d have his hands full with keeping an eye on her.

The Sisterhood of Cassiopeia sounded like a fairy tale and he didn’t know what
she
was really up to. Getting into the palace vault also would allow him to see if there was any evidence that such a temple existed. And to see whether its purpose really was to serve at the Queen’s sole discretion. He shook his head at such utter nonsense.

“After you,” she motioned him to take the lead.

He would have preferred to watch her walk ahead of him. Hell, that was a view to be appreciated many times over. Coming and going, she was gorgeous, not stringy or super-skinny. Healthy. His taste in women consistently entertained a sweet tooth for a nice ass that he could sink his fingers into. The idea of a wild, erotic ride had him firmly in its grip. With Starr, her curves were in all the right places. David pushed his cock back into place.

Not yet. Not here.

They boarded a small elevator cab that dropped them deep under the belly of the city. The attached headlamps on their helmets cast long beams of white light into the inky blackness. The ride down was quiet. In a snap, David’s keen eyesight adjusted to penetrate the areas where the light didn’t reach. The cab came to a halt with a jolt. They exited over a burst of conversation as to who would go where. The workers and Foreman Wirks headed off to their designated part of the site. The smaller team waited aboveground for further instructions. Only he and Starr remained near the elevator.

The contrast between the thriving city above ground and the sense of decay surrounding them depressed him. On a weekday, the city, was a bustling hive with the lunch hour crowd marching their way to delis and fast food restaurants. Tourists emerging from their hotels would head off to see the sights. Noisy traffic beyond the island’s limit would plough through the narrow streets. Under this modern progress, jagged debris, crushed columns and walls, and strewn remnants of possessions filled the underground network. Mostly silent, punctuated by random creaks and the rumbling of falling material, the surroundings felt like a tomb. A distant, small rockslide added an additional eerie factor. Down here, they’d stepped into another dimension.

“I miss the old city.” Starr touched his arm, and he relaxed it so that she could slide her hand over the crook of his arm.

David steered her toward the opposite end of the corridor where he was sure the palace ruins were buried.

“It was a beauty, wasn’t it? An ancient city within the modern walls of an island.”

She nodded. “It was more than a tourist attraction. The king should never have signed the treaty to allow humans to come here. Sorry … my mouth will get me trouble.”

David snorted. “Do you really believe that living with the humans caused this? They would have invaded, taken over and destroyed it all, anyhow. It’s in their nature. This destruction was an inside job, by my kind, that came with help from the humans.”

“How do we get it back?” She tugged at his arm so that he had to stop and face her.

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