Mates Since Birth (Half-breed Shifter Series) (5 page)

BOOK: Mates Since Birth (Half-breed Shifter Series)
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“I…what?” Ari blinked, clearly taken aback. When she glanced toward him, he could only guess he looked too smug for her preference because she immediately scowled and turned back to her mom. “No, I don’t remember him at all. Who is he?”

“Why, he’s one of my wards, of course. I was nanny to him and his sisters, Brynn and Rhea, until they were, what?” she glanced at him, frowning as she tried to remember. “Ten?”

“Twelve,” he corrected softly. He’d reached puberty when he hit twelve. He’d never forget that.

He could only assume it was his changing hormones and growing body that had prompted Knox into packing up his wife and daughter in the middle of the night and secreting them far away from him. Ironically, even after Dane had gotten his first woody and started looking at girls with a different perspective, he had still never looked at his five-year-old mate with sexual intent…not the way he looked at Ari today.

“I have photo albums full of him and his cub mates,” Jaycee was telling Ari. “For a couple years after we moved here, you used to ask to look at them daily.” Shaking her head, she let out a breath. “Honestly, Ari. How could you forget Dane? I swear, when we lived in Locks Hollow, he raised you more than I did.”

Slowly, Ari glanced his way, her brow furrowed with confusion. Something heavy passed through his chest as he watched her try to remember.

But she merely shook her head. “Locks Hollow?”

“Yes, that’s where we lived until you were five. Then the Hunters came and…” A look shadowed her face as she whirled to face Dane. “How is it you’re alive? Knox said the Hunters came and killed your entire family. You, your sisters, your parents. They were headed for our home next.”

Dane swallowed. So that’s how Knox had been able to sweep them away in the middle of the night without making a fuss or leaving a trace as to where they’d gone. He sent his old nanny a sad smile. “No Hunters ever came. My family still lives.”

Jaycee stared at him a moment, then shook her head. “No. That’s impossible. Knox…He woke me at two in the morning one night, told me they’d already murdered all of you and were coming for us next. We…we fled instantly, moved to Wyoming, even changed our name.”

“We changed our name?” Ari gasped. “Oh, my God. What’s our real name?”

“Roland,” Jaycee murmured. “It’s my maiden name, but since Knox didn’t have a surname…” She stopped trying to explain when Ari slumped down onto the edge of the couch and clutched her face between her hands.

“I’m not really a Fallow?” she uttered, looking bereft. “I’m a…a
Roland
?” By the way she spoke, the word felt foreign on her tongue. She looked up at Dane. “I don’t remember any of this.”

He wanted to go to her, hold her. But getting too close at such an emotional moment would most likely prove dangerous.

Jaycee sat next to her and took her hands. “I don’t understand.” She looked as confused as her daughter did. “Why would Knox lie? Why—”

“Because of me,” Dane murmured.

When his nanny looked up at him, no trace of comprehension in her gaze, he realized she didn’t know. Knox must not have told her how Dane had bonded to Ari. He glanced toward his mate, wondering if he should he let her explain it or if he should reveal the truth himself.

But a door opened in the back of the house, and the voice he dreaded most called out, “Jaycee, I’m home.”

Knowing he only had moments before all hell broke loose, Dane clutched Ari’s arm, urgently drawing her off the couch and to her feet. “Ari.” He grasped her hard, desperate to finish saying what he had come halfway across the country to say. “I need to tell you—”

But it was too late. Knox filled the entrance of the living room, his large, dominating body still as intimidating as it had been twenty years before.

Jerking to a halt, he stared at Dane a moment before his nose twitched. Though Dane continued to mask his scent, he knew the wolf could detect traces.

Eyes enlarging, Knox roared, “
You
. How dare you enter my home?”

Before anyone could gainsay him, he morphed into his wolf form and leapt, snarling and intent to kill as he dove for Dane’s jugular.

 

Chapter Three

 

 

Ari gasped, frozen with shock, while her father attacked the stranger calling himself Dane Griffin.

Though Dane had been so particular about his outfit only minutes ago, not wanting to damage his precious twelve hundred-dollar suit when he morphed into his jaguar, he shredded it now, immediately bursting into his animal to defend himself, teeth snapping, claws flashing. She could only gape as his tattered clothes dripped off his speckled fur while he leapt onto his hind legs to meet her father’s attack.

The two males roared when they collided, fur flying, paws swinging, and jaws gaping. The reverberation of their powerful impact seemed to send a shockwave of energy through the air, echoing through Ari’s chest. Growling and hissing in the middle of the carpeted floor, neither beast held back as he pounced. They slashed at each other with sharp fangs, batted with deadly claws.

When her mother jumped to her feet, eyes wide with alarm, Ari finally broke from of her amazed stupor.

“Mom!” She grasped Jaycee around the middle, yanking her back before Jaycee could try to jump between the two wild animals and get hurt in the crossfire. But Jaycee must’ve realized she couldn’t intervene because she twisted into Ari, pressing her face against her daughter’s shoulder with a sob. “Make them stop, Ari. Make them stop. One of them’s going to get hurt.”

Her desperation shocked Ari. Jaycee had always been one hundred percent devoted to Knox Fallow—er, Roland. Ari had never seen her worry about another male, but she looked shattered at the idea that either of these two might bring harm to the other. She loved them both.

Rattled, Ari wasn’t sure what she could do to stop them, but she knew she could do more than her powerless, human mother. Setting Jaycee safely out of the way from the snarling, warring animals, she turned to watch them a moment, entranced by their beauty and savagery.

She always thought her father was one of the strongest shifters alive, but the jaguar was certainly keeping up with him as he dodged a slashing paw and in return sank his teeth into the wolf’s shoulder. She knew she should be worried about her father, but there was something about the jungle cat that instilled a certain pride in her, amazed he wasn’t cowed by Knox. He actually gave her dad a good fight.

Her body grew restless with energy; it made her want to attack Dane next…but in an entirely different, sexual way. By the looks of him, he could handle a wild ride from her—something none of her human partners in the past could accomplish.

She blamed the excited carnal interest on her animals. The brutal, primal critters inside her were always drawn to brave, gutsy alphas who used both strength and intellect to get what they wanted. And any male who fought her father needed a sharp, savvy brain as well as a powerful physique.

Before she could come up with a plan to intervene, her father scraped his paw down the jaguar’s spine. With a very human-sounding shout of pain, Dane flickered from his animal to his human a few times before the animal melted away and he stumbled backward on two bare feet, a bloody, naked man.

Ari realized Dane must’ve been hurt badly, since all shifters reverted to their natural shape when in distress, and he was undoubtedly human in his natural shape.

She jumped forward, dodging between him and her father when Knox went to attack Dane with a final death blow. Though Dane had already twisted around to defend himself, she knew he wouldn’t stand a chance against an enraged wolf while he was trapped in his injured human body.

“Daddy!” she gasped, opening her arms wide to block as much of Dane as she could. “Stop.”

The wolf skidded to a halt on all fours and flashed his teeth at her, telling her with his body language to get out his way.

She stood her ground, glaring. “No. Are you insane? How dare you attack a peaceful visitor in the middle of your own living room?”

He huffed out a sound of impatience. She could see the frustration brewing in his brown eyes. He probably wanted to turn human so he could explain himself, but he didn’t want to reveal his naked body to her.

Rolling her eyes, she reeled away, muttering under her breath, “Stubborn, hotheaded wolf.”

Jaycee had already rushed to the jaguar’s side. “Dane?” He’d curled in around himself to hide his own nakedness, revealing a foot-long bloody gash marring a diagonal strip across his tanned back.

He sucked in a breath when his former nanny lightly touched his shoulder. “I’m fine,” he said, grating out the rusty words.

But, clearly, he wasn’t. Grabbing a throw blanket off the couch, Ari tossed it over him. Gratefully, he clutched it and tried to straighten only to hiss out another strangled breath and bend over double again. Both Ari and her mother surged forward, one woman catching his right arm, the other grasping his left.

“It’s okay, baby,” Jaycee crooned in a worried, maternal voice. “We’ve got you now. We won’t let him hurt you.”

Knox sniffed out an indignant wolf sound to gain their attention. When he stepped toward Jaycee, almost hesitantly, she seared him with a glare. “Don’t even come near me right now. What were you thinking, Knox? This is
Dane
!”

He whimpered and fell back a step, bowing his head in humble apology.

Dane straightened again, holding in his grimace, though Ari could clearly see the pain as his face drained of color. Holding the blanket over his shoulders like a king might wear a robe, he turned to arch the wolf a haughty stare.

“Knox,” he said, his voice rumbling out the name. He gave a slight nod in greeting before dryly adding, “So nice to see you again.”

Knox growled, snapping his teeth and dove forward, ready to attack once more.

Ari stomped her foot at him. “Daddy,” she scolded. “Behave.”

Next to her, Dane had started to shiver, though he managed to snicker derisively. “Bad dog.”

Knox growled at him again but remained motionless, his body vibrating furiously.

“This way,” Jaycee instructed as she steered Dane around and led him down a hall, deeper into the house.

Though she wanted to bat her mother away and take care of Dane herself, Ari let go of his arm, letting Jaycee lead him
off. She watched them a moment as her mother flipped on the light to Ari’s old bedroom and ushered him inside.

Once they both disappeared from view, she turned back to her father. She’d see to Dane later. First, she wanted some answers, and she had a feeling Knox could supply them.

Grasping a pair of emergency clothes her dad kept stashed behind the couch, she flung the shirt and pants at his furry paws. Then, turning her back to allow him privacy, she folded her arms across her chest and tapped her foot. “Who is he? And why did you try to kill him?”

Behind her, she heard clothes rustle before her father let out a tired human sigh.

Unwilling to wait a moment longer, she whirled around to find he’d already pulled his pants on and was fastening the fly. “Well?”

His gaze was weary and ancient as he eyed her. “What did he tell you?” Narrowing his eyes with suspicion, he demanded, “What did he
do
to you?”

“Nothing.” She frowned, irritated he wasn’t immediately explaining himself. “He showed up in my yard, rescued my cat stuck in my tree, and claimed I was his mate.” With a shrug, she added, “It was a bit of a shock since I don’t even
remember
him.”

“He’s a menace,” Knox said with a sneer. “From the moment you were born, I’ve wanted to slaughter the little cocksucker, and then slaughter him again for good measure.”

That, she could already tell. But… “Why?”

“He marked you, Ari, bonded with you, stole all your choices. My God, the bastard took your entire
future
.”

The impact of his words struck hard. It was true then. Dane Griffin was truly her mate.

Her father was right, the jaguar had stolen her life. She should’ve been able to choose her own mate, or even chosen not to bond with anyone if she so desired. She should’ve been able to go anywhere and do anything she wanted. But with a mate, she’d be tethered to him, unable to stray too far without constantly feeling the need to return to him. She sank down in the chair, a cold chill consuming her.

“And you just
let
him?” she croaked the words.

Knox looked devastated as he sat next to her. “I’m sorry. My God, Ari. I’m so sorry. I had no idea he would…it all happened so fast. One minute, Jaycee was screaming and writhing in pain, the next minute you were born, and she…Jaycee wasn’t moving. We were worried about her. He…Dane volunteered to take you to the nursery, so we let him and…”

He shook his head, looking lost. “You were alone with him only a few moments. When Jaycee woke and asked for you, I went to get you, except it was already too late. I could smell the bond he’d already created.”

Ari gulped, trying to control her erratic breathing. “Mom doesn’t know,” she said instead of asked. It was obvious Jaycee had no clue about any this mating, bonding business. She never would’ve kept something like this from Ari. Her father, on the other hand…oh, she could definitely see him thinking to protect her by telling her nothing.

BOOK: Mates Since Birth (Half-breed Shifter Series)
3.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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