Authors: Michelle Monkou
Already the beast shifted through its delivery until completely transformed. His lion’s mane grew thick and luxurious, a shade of golden honey mixed with dark hairs. He struck a regal pose of power, standing, on all fours, with right paw forward. Defined muscularity displayed his vitality. No doubt was entertained of his physical abilities. Retractable claws almost glinted their additional use as weapons.
The new king of the Nuuba Dynasty had returned to claim his rightful place in history. On cue, David roared, a thunderous number of grunts that escalated to blast the eardrums. On his own terms, at his own time, he wound down.
“Open your eyes.” She talked to him as if he were still David in human form.
He obeyed. His eyes were no longer the greenish hazel eyes with round pupils.
“Now do you remember?” She continued issuing prayers, this time for his protection.
He looked around the room and then at her. She knew that in this state his emotions were intense and volatile. In this state, he could kill her without the slightest provocation.
Emotions flickered across his face. He roared, soft and hoarse. She stroked his massive head and laid her face against his cheek. He blinked before pulling away and running out of the room.
Only a mournful roar was his response.
She stood alone, in front of the altar. “What have I done?”
David awoke from a deep sleep to raised voices arguing nearby. Where was he? Certainly not in his bedroom with its familiar oak furniture and standard beige walls. He blinked, hoping to clear the confusion. The effort to think felt like running full steam in knee-deep mud.
Damn. His back hurt. Straightening his leg, he hit a solid mass. He concentrated on penetrating the darkness to see what dangers may lurk.
Rocks. Debris. And he lay on the ground. Naked. A long gold cylinder clasped in his hand.
He sneezed. The dust tickled his nose. A patchwork of memories blasted to his consciousness.
Starr! The underground city. The ceremony.
Memories now flooded like a super-train bearing down the tracks. Every detail of life flashed and filed into his mind like a seriously large deck of cards.
“Wait a minute.” His voice echoed. “I shifted.” Complete recollection of the change rushed in with a physical shake up of his balance. The pain, the physical labor, the silent understanding between him and his beast. He’d run from Starr, seeking familiarity and comfort. His father’s palace provided the needed sanctuary, even if it was mere rubble. The gold cylinder had been taken from the vault. The documents, the last official wishes of his father were written and put away for him to find. Coming here with Starr had been more than coincidence.
All of it occurred under Starr’s ministry. Gratitude warmed his heart, but there was something else that he was ready to identify. Love. He wanted her to be his. Their match felt perfect. Not until this minute did he understand the reason behind his intense feelings. After they made love, the emotional tumult that he didn’t understand had caused him to push back with a cold attitude, and harsh tone.
More realization hit him square in the chest. Her one and only time to be with a man was with him. His grin turned into a chuckle. His humor had a touch of fatigued delirium as he doubled over laughing heartily.
The voices that initially had awaken him started up again with their argument. Time to investigate. David went in search of his clothes, which he found neatly folded in the area where the ceremony took place.
He’d just fastened the last button on his shirt, when Starr’s voice rose in the boisterous exchange. The other voice, a male, was muffled. No matter how hard he tried to listen and decipher, the man’s responses weren’t clear.
An odd vibe stirred his need to be cautious.
Nostrils flared to sniff the air. Could it be? The hairs raised on the back of his neck. His shoulders tensed. No mistaking the scent of another male lion. An Alpha. He growled, a low warning rumble. His successful shift caused him to be more suspicious now. And more territorial.
Quietly he walked toward them. As he got closer, the odd scent that confused his ability to decipher was not only that of an Alpha, but one close to death. Sickness oozed off his gaunt body. The repellant odor grew and he halted his approach. Should he be this close to whatever ate away at the man’s existence?
The sick Alpha mumbled in an unknown language. David’s spattering of Italian, French, and tourist essentials of Arabic didn’t help with this case.
Then Starr responded in the similar indecipherable sound of words that strung together in a sing-song way. Not only was her response soft, but her manner toward the man was gentle and attentive.
Jealousy built up with white-hot speed, pushing away dams like a raging current, ready to destroy and wipe away from existence. Veins pumped with his blood corded around his muscles. His head reared back and his canines elongated with their pinpoint edges. Sick or not, this Alpha shouldn’t be here. His beast face shifted in, ready to take the rest of his body for the ride.
Starr turned and saw his transformation. “Please, don’t. He needs you, David.” She ran to him, flinging herself into his arms. The lion retreated, knowing it wasn’t needed or wanted that day. Now that he knew he could shift and go full rage, he also knew he had to control each moment.
Starr returned her attention to the frail
curled in a sick ball at her feet. She left David and resumed cradling and rocking him in her arms. Her sobs never stopped. David had never seen anything like it. This beast hung in a horrific suspended state of man and lion. From his waist down to his feet, his lion had broken free and refused to return.
Soft wheezing was the clue that he still had life. His breathing labored as if it hurt to have his lungs expand or decrease. His ribcage protruded under thin skin.
“It’s okay. Come closer.”
David did walk closer, aiming his light at the creature’s face. The man, if he was to call it such, turned his head into Starr’s body.
David’s hands balled into fists.
The man clearly didn’t or couldn’t endure an intrusion. A long hollow roar came from him, seemingly dragging more energy from him.
“David, let me explain.”
The man looked up at him. His eyes barely opened. Drool pooled at the side of his mouth.
“You!” David took a step forward, his teeth bared. His body bulked.
His attention shifted back to Starr and he took a step back. How had he not noticed? The golden flecks in her soft brown eyes had transformed into familiar orbs. Her dark curly hair framed a face that had morphed with brow, cheek and chin like his mother’s strong, yet delicate shape. His
Who she was had never been in question. His mother had introduced them three years ago. Then, she wasn’t known to him as a priestess, but one of many of his mother’s personal attendants.
What she was also had never been in question. His mother tended to surround herself with those in need of food, shelter, and a kind hand. Whether they were shifters, hybrid, wildcats or jaguars, in his mother’s heart, all were welcomed.
Taking a more discerning inspection of Starr, all the attributes were there. She wasn’t a wildcat. Though she served as a priestess to the secret sisterhood, her true nature was pure beast. Anger fueled the betrayal, the sickening reality, that she was the one to not only lift his veil, but also to open his heart. Of all the women he could have fallen in love with, it had to be a lioness. He grimaced. A lioness who tended to her beast lover, who was also his mortal enemy. Xavier.
His claws extended. He circled the traitors. Contemplating their demise felt good. Nothing else soothed his rage. All her words of comfort and understanding stung his heart like the lashes of a whip. Those hands, her mouth and kisses that he treasured, her body that he paid homage to—all of the memories turned sour deep in his gut. His pride had turned inside out to shame. One thing was for sure, they would be dead before he left this room. And he wouldn’t need to shift to accomplish the task.
“He is not your enemy.”
“I remember everything. You made sure of that.” He fought his erotic yearnings for more time with her.
“Yes, but Xavier wasn’t the traitor.”
“He killed my parents. And he would have killed me, too, if the earthquake hadn’t stopped him.”
She stroked the man’s cheek and whispered in a strange language. “The High Priestess caused the earthquake to save both of you. The prophecy had been handed down of this very tragedy. That’s why the priestesses were formed to protect you.”
“I hope you don’t think for one second that you protected me from anything.”
“Your dynasty is an important one.”
“You don’t have to tell me what I already know. My father was the strongest in the land. Our line was destined to rule forever.”
“Your father had different ideas, David.”
He tightened his grip on the gold cylinder. “What would a priestess know about my father’s ideas?” He wasn’t going to let her talk her way out of this.
“He wanted the two dynasties to co-rule.”
“Are you mad?” He felt like the one going mad, on the quick train. Just the cadence in her speech nipped away at his defenses. “Let me explain what’s going to happen next. I’m going to snap your neck and put a foot in that bastard’s chest.”
She didn’t react, except for the one eyebrow that hitched. “Did you read the documents?”
Again, she used that calming voice on him. Damn, if it wasn’t working.
“It’s all there,” she said.
He hadn’t opened the cylinder. He couldn’t bear to read his father’s final words. The last link to his parents lie in that parchment. After he’d found it, the fatigue from the shift consumed him and he’d fallen asleep with the documents clutched to his chest.
David had to know. “Is he your lover? Are you traitors-in-arms?”
Tears shimmied down her cheeks. Her shoulders shuddered with her cries. And David’s heart twisted in agony that her misery and love ran so deep over this man.
He’d hoped that she had fallen as hard for him as he’d done for her, but saw that he’d been a fool. The image flashed back of her standing at the door when he greeted her naked, before he knew the truth of their first meeting. From that second, his heart echoed, and his soul had confirmed that she was the one.
She shook her head. “Xavier is not my lover. He is my brother.”
His claws retracted like a rubber band that popped.
Starr continued. “Xavier tried to help save the kingdom, but he got hurt. Vass is the one. As head of security, he used his position and authority to do his own bidding.”
“That’s impossible. No way.” David grabbed his head. Too much came at him.
“Vass made a deal with the humans.”
He shook his head. “Xavier was sent by the king to have the trade agreement signed by the humans. He left and never returned.” Recalling the details added fuel to David’s rage. “Ripping apart everything my parents built. Calling the shots from his hiding place. Coward!”
“You’ve got it wrong.” She looked up at him. Despite the tears shimmering in Starr’s eyes, her gaze didn’t slide away from his face. “I haven’t lied to you, my prince.”
His beast grunted, settling down on its haunches. How could he argue with the truth?
“The military turned on the king. Right? It wasn’t Xavier. They kidnapped, tortured, and kept him shut out of the kingdom.”
They both looked at the wreck of a man barely hanging on life.
David bared his teeth. His beast rose, ready for battle. “So Vass assassinated the king and queen.” The need for revenge had never left. Now he was ready to switch target and go for blood.
“Yes, I killed David’s daddy and mommy.” A man stepped from the shadows into the fringes of the light. Unlike Xavier’s frail body, this man was a model of fitness. “Thanks for bringing the happy party under one roof. If I’d known that Xavier was hiding out here, I would have paused to come break his neck.”
David lunged at him. His body didn’t fail with its battle-mode readiness. His claws barely missed its mark as Vass back-flipped out of the way.
“And that’s why you’re not the king.” Vass ran with a ferocious speed, jumped and kicked with both feet into David’s chest.
David flew through the air for several feet and landed on his back against the palace wall. Pain tried to make its bid on his body. Rage wrestled control and took ownership.
“First, I kill you. Then, I will finish off Xavier. Then I will have your combined powers inside me.”
Starr stood. “You need
to perform the ritual. And that’s not happening.”
Vass, in the same lightning speed, spun and caught her in mid-spin with an arm. He scooped her away from her brother and propelled her several feet into the air before letting her go.
David sprinted to catch her, staggering as she landed in his arms.
A mournful howl pierced his soul.
Vass had impaled Xavier’s shoulder with his hand claws. “Now, do you want to test my tenacity to this mission?”
London strutted onto the scene
from one of the remaining tunnels. She smiled an evil grin. “Told you that I would drink the blood from your skull.” She turned to Starr. Come over here, bitch.”
David held onto Starr.
Vass turned his hand in Xavier’s shoulder. Another cry echoed.
“Let me go, David,” Starr said.
“You can’t do this.” His grip tightened. After all he’d lost, he wanted to hold on to her regardless if it was a selfish thought.
“David, I love you.” Before he could respond, she elbowed him in his gut and ran toward Vass.
The minute that he saw her take the dagger, he knew her intentions. She aimed the dagger at her belly.
David’s inner beast exploded its shift in midair. Pure desperation fueled his lunge to close the gap. He swatted Starr to the ground jarring the dagger from its mark.
But he wasn’t done. He roared at Vass, who’d also shifted. His coloring was darker, with a smaller physique, but more agile.