Authors: Madison Stevens
Tags: #paranormal romance
This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, locations, and incidents depicted in this work are of the author’s imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, locations, or events is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2016 Madison Stevens
No portion of this book may be transmitted or reproduced in any form, or by any means, without the prior written permission of the author.
Cover designed by Najla Qamber Designs
Lucas (Luna Lodge: Hunters of Atlas #3)
When Taylor Mills divorced her cheating husband, she never expected her town to turn against her. Now it seems like not putting up with a philander isn’t just going to hurt her, but also the family ranch. Though the hunky Lucas is a bright spot in her day, she doesn’t have time to even think about dating.
Hybrid Lucas knows Taylor is meant to be his Vestal, his true mate, but he’s not been able to do more than flirt with her during meat deliveries.
The sassy redhead and her hot body have consumed his thoughts since their first meeting. He stumbles over ways to get to know Taylor without revealing his hybrid nature and putting all the local hybrids at risk.
Time is their enemy. Desperate and out of options to save the family ranch, Taylor is forced to deal with one of the few groups that frighten the hybrids: the deadly Azilian cult.
Concern born of passion may not be enough to save them from the threats coming their way.
On an importance scale of one to ten, weeding the front flowerbed had to rank about a negative forty-seven on Taylor’s list of crap to do. Yet there she was, hot summer sun beating down on the back of her already sunburned neck, weeding a garden that made them absolutely no money but somehow still seemed to be the talk of the town.
“Fucking Doris,” she grumbled as she wiped the sweat off her brow and kicked at a particularly stubborn weed.
Doris had made it her life’s mission to cause Taylor trouble in whatever way she could manage ever since Taylor divorced her son. Not that she’d ever wanted Taylor for a daughter-in-law in the first place, but somehow divorcing the lousy cheating bastard had been a worse crime in her eyes than marrying him.
Taylor reached down to the base of a plant and pulled hard. The weed wiggled in the loose dirt, but she refused to let the damned thing win. She yanked harder.
The plant gave way all at once, sending her spiraling backward toward the rocky soil. She braced for the impact.
“Looks like you won the fight,” a smooth voice said in her ear.
Warm heat, unlike what she felt from the sun, passed over her. Her nipples hardened in response.
She knew who it was, the same man who had been driving her crazy for the past few months.
“Lucas,” she said. Her voice came out low and rattled a bit in the back of her throat. Something about the man filled her with a need she had never felt around any man before.
She looked up at the handsome man. Lucas had let his hair grow a bit over the summer. His soft brown hair had lightened in the sun and now displayed streaks of honey blond. His skin had tanned nicely.
Her gaze landed on his neck, and she swallowed hard as she stared at the muscles straining there and flowing into his shoulders as he helped her back into her standing position.
Lucas used his thick arms to steady her, and when he finally let go, her heart squeezed a little at his absence.
Taylor shook herself a little bit, trying to regain some composure. Sure, he was like a sculpture of a Greek god come to life, but still, she’d never had such a primal reaction to a man.
“Thanks,” she mumbled and glanced back up to his face.
He always wore dark shades, and it pissed her off to no end. It wasn’t like she thought he was trying to be too cool or something. People who had nothing to hide could and should look you in the eye. She’d learned that truth from dealing with her ex Dave.
Taylor turned on her heel and walked swiftly to the back of the house. She wiped her feet on the mat and turned the door handle.
Years ago the room had been a three-season porch, back when her mother had been alive, and the ranch had been thriving. Back before everything went to shit.
Now they used the space to hold meat. They could fit five chest freezers in the back, and that made it easy to sell the meat when they butchered one of the cattle.
She pointed to a freezer with a blue number two on it. It was the largest of the bunch.
“That one’s yours today,” she said.
Taylor only dared glance at Lucas but still didn’t escape his carefree smile.
“Only number two?” He grinned. “Looks like I need to try harder.”
Warmth shot through her.
No. She couldn’t let herself be drawn in by him. It was the slick ones you had to watch out for most. Those were the ones that broke your heart. A guy that hot couldn’t be that nice, not really. It was all an act, a way to get her to lower her guard. She was certain.
She hurried back out into the warm heat of the afternoon and then to the front of the house. She could hear his chuckle as she moved away from him and was glad that Lucas and his friends only came out once every other week. Taylor wasn’t sure she could handle much more than that from the smooth-talking man.
She smiled when a familiar woman, Nyx, stepped into view with Taylor’s father.
“I hope you’re ready for tomorrow,” Nyx said and grinned.
Taylor loved the small woman’s bold look. Never in a million years would she be able to pull off a streak of silver down the middle of her head. It was hard enough when the sun bleached her hair, leaving her with streaks of yellow in her strawberry blond hair.
“With the heat we’re expecting this weekend, I think I’m going to need it,” Taylor said and frowned a little as a trickle of sweat worked its way down her neck.
“Hottest on record for the month they’re saying,” her father said. “Makes a man thirsty just thinking about it. Think I’ll get our friend a drink for when he’s finished.”
Taylor glanced at her father nervously as he walked away. The recent heatwave had worried her. After the stroke, she knew the heat bothered him far more than he liked to admit.
His stroke had motivated her to take on more around the ranch. Although she wasn’t quite sure how much longer she could keep it up. Running the place was really more a two- or three-person job.
Her eyes found Lucas as he climbed into the back of the truck to move coolers around. He’d taken off the button-up shirt he had been wearing and now only wore a white tank.
The hard muscles in his arms strained as he lifted the heavy cooler to place it in a better position. Sun glistened off his tanned skin. Taylor took in a sharp breath as he leaned over another cooler to carry it out of the truck.
His tight jeans hugged him like a glove, and for a moment, the air whooshed out of her as he lifted the cooler, revealing just a hint of the hard abs that were hidden.
A flash of light caught her eye, and she looked toward the source. Though his head was still facing forward, that didn’t stop Lucas from staring out of the corner of his glasses. And there he was, staring right back at her.
She’d been caught. He had totally just caught her red handed as she ogled his body.
Still stunned, she watched as he gave a half-grin before hoisting the cooler a little higher up, offering a glimpse of a pretty blue tattoo on his upper arm.
Taylor shook herself away from his perfect form. This was so not what she needed, even if her body thought differently.
“I’ll pick you up at seven,” Nyx said and gave her a knowing wink.
It seemed like Lucas wasn’t the only one who had caught her staring.
Taylor nodded and could feel the blush as it worked its way up her neck to her ears.
“Sounds good,” she said and stepped onto the porch out of the heat.
Nyx pulled a check out of her pocket and handed it over to her. Nyx’s group purchase of the beef had been a nice, steady source of income for the ranch in a tight time.
“Rem wants to come out every week,” Nyx said. “Our numbers are growing, and we’re going to need it.”
Taylor nodded absently. The ranch could handle the increase. More business might even help them save the ranch, but she had to wonder what was up with the group.
Whenever she’d asked her friend, Lara, she’d gotten some sort of run around about them just being a large extended family. Yet not a single one of them looked alike other than being massive. Taylor hadn’t even been allowed to come visit her friend at their place when she had moved in with Magnus.
It was just odd, and in their town, odd was becoming a more frequent thing. Between the newcomers and the strange Azilian cult, no one really knew quite what they were walking into anymore.
“You okay?” Nyx asked and placed a tender hand on her shoulder.
Taylor swallowed her concerns and nodded back.
“Just trying to figure out how we’re going to keep this up.”
Nyx frowned. “Is once a week too much?”
Taylor shook her head and sat down on the porch swing.
“No, that’s the one blessing. It’s more trying to figure out how I’m going to get everything done when it’s just me.”
She sighed and pushed the swing a little. The gentle sway seemed to calm her nerves.
“You know he’d help you,” Nyx said quietly.
Taylor looked up at her. “He can’t really since the stroke. My father needs to take it easy.”
Nyx shook her head. “Lucas.” She nodded over to him as he loaded the last cooler into the back. “He has the time. He would help you. All you have to do is ask.”
She shook her head. It was great having people to buy from them and new friends, but she couldn’t ask him.
“It’s fine,” she said and sighed again. “I’ll figure it out.”
Taylor stood and dusted the dirt off her pants only to find her hands were even worse. “Think I’ll head in and take a shower.” She smiled and held up her dirty hands.
Her gaze drifted back to Lucas. The idea of help, especially in the package that help might come in, was more than a little tempting, but there was no way Lucas would solve their problems.
No, for now, she just needed to stay focused on what she could do herself to save the family ranch.
Taylor gave Nyx a small smile and walked into the house where clean clothes and a shower awaited.
Lucas sat quietly in the truck, still thinking about Taylor. He knew that she and her father had been struggling with the ranch, but it seemed like there was something more weighing her down. Maybe things were far worse than she ever let on.
Although Lara lived with the hybrids now, she still was sparse with details on Taylor. He was never sure if it was because, like the hybrids, she just didn’t know that much or if she felt she needed to keep her friend’s confidence.
Lucas suspected that if she knew more, her mate Magnus did as well, and, in turn, their leader Rem would.
He made up his mind to have a talk with Rem. Maybe there was something they could do. After all, if the ranch went under, they would have to find a new meat supplier, and the town wasn’t exactly a booming metropolis. Plus, every time they talked to someone new, it gave the Horatius Group a chance of finding them.
He shivered a little. Thinking about the organization that had held his people captive for who knew how long always left a raw feeling in his gut. Gaining their freedom hadn’t been a small task, and if they were caught, he doubted they would ever be given the chance to escape again.
And it wasn’t like they didn’t have other problems to worry about.
Everyone worried when they realized the Azilians were more than a simple cult and knew about hybrids and Vestals, the only women who could become mates of hybrids.
No one was sure if the cult’s leader was a hybrid, but if not, she definitely was something more than human. Fortunately, whatever strange scheme the Azilians were following, they seemed to be independent from the Horatius Group, and even Rem couldn’t be sure if they were also hiding from the Group.