by Jade Buchanan
eBook BIN: 06118-01964
Navin Citrakaya is in trouble. His brother Rajiv’s rival is after Navin, and won’t rest until he claims Navin. Navin needs a protector, fast. Isha Rajendra will protect Navin under one condition — Navin must submit to Isha. Completely…
The Felidae collection contains the previously published novellas Laithe’s Pride, Asad’s Mate, Usama’s Journey, Lev’s Discovery, Navin’s Master, and Rowan’s Men.
Navin crouched, waiting for the sound of voices to fade before he gingerly stood up. He tested his ankle, careful not to put his full weight on it.
Damn, he was tired of this. It wasn’t anything outright that he could complain to the elders about. Although, he wouldn’t have gone to the older men even if it was an out and out attack on him. He needed to be strong, like Rajiv would be.
He didn’t want anyone to see him like this. Bad enough almost everyone within distance knew that Pran had it in for him. They didn’t need to know Navin was hiding from the larger man. He just didn’t know what to do. Pran was the stronger of the two of them. In a full on fight, Pran would win. There wouldn’t even be a contest. Rajiv had beaten him, but then again, Rajiv was a force unto himself. He was nearly the strongest Tigris in existence.
Rajiv was the only reason he was still alive. Navin wasn’t naïve enough to think anything else. Pran wasn’t going to kill him outright, because the first thing that would happen would be Rajiv’s return. If Rajiv had to come back to Himalay to bury his brother, he wouldn’t be happy. Hell, he’d probably kill first, ask questions later.
This was all Pran’s fault. If he hadn’t tried to fight in the Paridhav, the mate hunt, then he wouldn’t be after Navin right now. Pran had lost — badly — to Navin’s older brother. He took his defeat horribly, humiliated in front of the entire clan.
One of the other Tigris had taken a human and brought him back to their home planet, the first human to ever step foot on Himalay. He’d been out scouting other planets, and had become bored. Deciding to take home an oddity from his journey, the Tigris had only wanted the man as an amusement. Offering him up in a mate hunt had been the perfect solution.
Tigris had come from all over Himalay to participate. It had been decades since the last hunt had been called. It was a test of strength and endurance. All you had to do was outlast your opponents. Every time a combatant was knocked out, he or she was forced to leave, their tail tucked between their legs… literally.
The goal was to fight until the end, and the prize was the intended mate. The human, Aaron, had been furious when he’d found out. He just wanted to go home, and Navin didn’t blame him one bit. It was why he’d contacted Rajiv. Well, to be honest, he’d told his father to contact Rajiv, but it was the same thing.
Rajiv had returned to Himalay with Laithe and his pride. The other Felidae had been outraged that a human male was being offered up as a prize in a mate hunt. Laithe’s human mate, Rowan, was especially miffed — a new word he’d learned from her. Navin was afraid she was going to have a horrible image of the Tigris, but she seemed pretty fair-minded. She wouldn’t judge them all because of the actions of the majority. Navin had tried to make sure the ruling family of the Felidae realized that not all Tigris believed in the survival of the fittest.
Some of the Tigris just wanted to survive, period.
Look where it had gotten him. Hiding from the rest of the Tigris, determined to appear strong… at least on the outside. Inside, he was a mess. The incidents were escalating. This was getting serious, and he wasn’t sure what would happen next.
So far Pran had kept his troublemaking relatively small. It was just enough to make Navin concerned, but not enough to leave him so terrified he’d go running for help. He was actually becoming scared that it was all in his imagination. Sure, he’d had a few close calls with his food. But that could have been an accident. He couldn’t prove that Pran had contaminated his dried meat. He was just lucky he had a sensitive gag reflex. It had tasted horrible. If he hadn’t thrown up he might have swallowed the poisoned meat.
Still, it didn’t necessarily point the finger at Pran. Even if the meals had been doctored on purpose, there was no proof Pran was behind it.
This latest accident, though… was no accident. His notes were all gone, torn to pieces. At first glance it looked like an animal had gone through his sleeping quarters, trashing his equipment and destroying everything.
Everyone knew how much he treasured his research material. He wanted to be a researcher, studying the world around him. He took detailed notes wherever he went, cataloguing the flora and fauna, keeping track of migrating patterns and particular food sources of each animal in the area. It wasn’t as easy as it sounded either. Most of the animals on Himalay viewed him as a predator. It was pretty hard convincing your food that you just wanted to study them right now, not eat them. Because of that, he kept meticulous care of his research.
Now it was gone. He couldn’t salvage a single note.
He couldn’t prove if it was an animal or Pran, although, to his way of thinking they were pretty much the same thing at the moment. Pran was acting like an animal. This went beyond revenge against Rajiv for humiliating him. This was personal.
What the hell had he done to piss off one of the most powerful Tigris?
He crept along the path, swiveling his ears to keep track of the noises around him. He couldn’t afford to have someone come up on his weak side right now. Wincing, he stepped on his sore foot, shaking his head at his stupidity.
When he’d realized the destruction of his property was no accident, he’d panicked. Thinking that Pran might be lying in wait inside his abode, Navin had freaked out, stumbling back. Unfortunately, he’d caught his left foot on a broken piece of equipment, falling to the ground. His ankle would be fine. It was nothing more than a hard bruise, but boy, did it ever hurt.
Navin approached his destination, silently limping across the clearing, looking both ways.
“What are you doing here?”
Navin stopped, his shoulders hunching. Recognizing the voice, he jerked his tail, flattening his ears to his head. “I need to talk to you, Father.”
“What happened to you?”
Agni came at him from the left, a blur of orange and black. He looked so much like Rajiv that it was uncanny for a moment. The only difference between them was the excess of white Agni had around his face and neck. His fur was a brilliant orange, the individual strands sleek and short, interspersed with thick bands of black.
Navin sighed, trying to decide where to start.
“Just tell me, Navin. I know you, so stop trying to sort out the words in your mind. Just say whatever happened.”
He faced his father, studying the older man. “Someone, or something, wrecked my abode. All my notes, all my equipment, everything is gone.”
“Trashed, unrecoverable, shattered, destroyed, damaged, ruined…”
Agni coughed, a rumbling noise deep in his throat that escalated into a roar. “He’s going to pay for this.” Agni’s movements were brisk and controlled as he began pacing.
“We don’t know it was him.”
Agni turned to him with a stare of disbelief. “You cannot think to tell me someone else may be responsible for this? We know who it was, and he won’t get away with it this time.”
“I don’t have any proof. Could you imagine what would happen if I attacked him now? We both know I can’t fight him.”
“So, get someone else to do it.”
“You will do no such thing, Agni, and I can’t believe you would even suggest it.” His mother, Avani, approached them on silent feet, a comforting presence despite the fierce frown on her face. She was a lighter shade of orange, almost blonde in the sunlight with creamy brown stripes. A strip of cream colored fabric was bound around her chest, another at her waist. Her golden eyes flashed as she studied her mate and her son.
Navin took after his mother. He was the same shade of orange as his father and brother, but he had her creamy brown stripes. He was also slimmer than his father, inheriting his mother’s leanness.
“Navin, do not interrupt me. Your father doesn’t know what he’s talking about. We’ll just contact Rajiv, he’ll take care of this.”
“Ambaya, Mother, we can’t. I’m not calling Rajiv and that’s final.”
Navin wasn’t contacting his brother to come fight his battles for him. There was no surer way to lose face within the clans than to have a family member take care of you like you were still a little cub. Besides, he’d had a hard enough time convincing Rajiv to leave after the mate hunt. He couldn’t call him back now at the first sign of trouble.
Navin knew that Usama, Rajiv’s mate, had been pushing for Navin to join them, but he wasn’t ready for that. His brother had finally found his mate, and Navin wasn’t about to step in and ruin it for Rajiv. It had to be hard enough with everyone else on board to fully celebrate a new mating and Navin didn’t want to be the cause of any more tension for his brother. He’d hate to have to be around that many people on a daily basis anyway.
Usama Gatti was the youngest son of the leader of the Felidae. The Felidae included all the known species, the Leo with their fluffy manes, the spotted Pardus, the small, unsociable Lynx and the Tigris. They were governed by the Leo, the one species who were actually thrilled to be part of a group. The Pardus made excellent bodyguards. They were incredibly loyal and often lived on Felid, the Leo home world, protecting the pride leaders. The Lynx had their own home world and they very rarely associated with the others. There was only one that Navin knew, little Catan, who belonged to Usama’s pride.
With his white fur and his thick mane, Usama stood out among his family and the rest of the Leos but he had a hidden protective streak that showed itself on occasion. Usama was a fitting mate for Rajiv, no doubt about it, even though he wasn’t Tigris.
Usama’s older brother, Laithe, was destined to rule the clans one day and he was a fierce warrior already. As one of the pride leaders, he was responsible for a lot. His own pride was made up of his three younger brothers and their mates. They hadn’t started out that way, but apparently the addition of Laithe’s human mate had managed to bring them all together. It had allowed them to reveal their feelings for each other, and Navin was happy for them all.
Sure, Navin wanted a mate of his own, but he couldn’t imagine finding someone on Himalay, the Tigris home world, who would appreciate his differences. The Tigris were known for keeping things as they were. They hadn’t quite embraced change the way the ruling Leo had.
“Avani, the boy’s right. We can’t call Rajiv. He’ll need to find another protector.”
“You cannot be serious.” Avani turned to view her mate, her eyes wide.
“There’s only one man strong enough.”
“Who?” Navin asked, curious.
“No.” Avani wrung her hands, the only movement that betrayed her anxiety.
“There’s no one else,” Agni soothed, sliding his tail along his mate’s leg.
“Go off planet, Navin. We’ll contact Rajiv. He’ll come back here and he can take you away. It’s safer.”
“Mother, I won’t run to my big brother every time I have something happen to me.”
“So, instead you’ll run to a complete stranger? He’ll kill you without a second thought. You don’t know what the man’s like. Isha likes his privacy. Why else do you think he didn’t participate in the Paridhav?” Avani jerked in place, pleading with her eyes for him to drop this.
“I assumed he didn’t participate in the mate hunt for Aaron because he had no need for a human.”
“He has no need for anyone, Tigris or human.” Avani presented them with her back. Her tail slid back and forth.
“Isha’s a big, brutal bastard, but if he swears to protect you, then nothing will happen to you. It’s as simple as that. No one will go up against him,” Agni added.
Navin considered his father’s words. He didn’t know what else he could do at this point. He didn’t want to run to some stranger and beg for protection, but he had a feeling Pran was only going to escalate his aggression.
What would happen next? Navin could fight the man, but he didn’t want to do that unless it was his last resort. He wasn’t a fighter under normal circumstances. He preferred being left alone to his own devices. Why wouldn’t Pran just leave him alone?
“I don’t understand why he’s after me. I didn’t do anything to him. It was Rajiv who beat him. So why is he still trying to pick a fight?”
“It’s probably easier for him to take it out on you, Navin. He can’t get to Rajiv unless he wants to travel to Felid. Besides, Laithe and his pride are off planet more than they are on planet. It isn’t as easy as it seems to get a hold of him.” Agni stroked his chin in thought.
Navin nodded. It was true, the Leo home world, Felid, might be the home base of Laithe’s family, but the Leo pride leaders were often given the duty of patrolling the skies. They traveled in massive warships, visiting other planets, keeping the peace when it was needed. As the most politically powerful among the Felidae, the Leo were depended upon to make sure the rules were kept.
It was a job that should have gone to the Tigris, considering they were more powerful physically, but the Tigris were too solitary to bother with trying to rule other people. At least, for the most part, that was true. There were a few exceptions, and Pran seemed to be one of them. He was determined to be the best, the most dominant among the Tigris. The dominant Tigris was granted privileges that weren’t shared with the others. He was granted choice hunting grounds, and was consulted often whenever there was a dispute among the rest of them. It was a position many sought out. But it was also a position that only the strongest could hold.
Unfortunately, Pran didn’t exactly understand that you didn’t become a leader just because you said you were. You had to back it up with something.
It was why Agni wanted Navin to visit Isha. The big Tigris was the best of the best. He didn’t fight often, but he didn’t need to. It was well known that he could back up whatever decisions he made with might. His territory was smack in the middle of Himalay, surrounded by mountains on two sides and lakes on the others. A thin corridor marched between the two large bodies of water, allowing animals in and out but protecting his privacy.
It shouldn’t have been prime land, except for some reason wildlife seemed to prefer the lush grasslands in that area. It was enough to make Navin’s fingers itch to record the information and find out why they were attracted to that particular plot of land.
Isha didn’t have to go far to bag dinner. It was practically waiting on his doorstep. Besides, being central, he had access to all the other territories around him, including mating rights if he wanted it. It was a prime location.
“You think I should search him out? What if he refuses?”
“Then we start over again, and call Rajiv.” Agni reached forward, clasping Navin’s shoulder. “This is only going to get worse, and you know it. I don’t want you to get caught up in something that is out of your control. You have a tendency to get distracted by your surroundings and it would only take not paying attention once before I’d be calling my eldest back to attend your funeral. I won’t see that happen.”
“I’ll go, if that’s what you think is best. I’m sure he’ll say no, but what choice do I have?”
“If you don’t send word within two weeks, I’m calling Rajiv anyway,” Avani replied. “I won’t stand by and do nothing.”
“Two, and if you keep arguing, young man, it’ll be reduced even more. Don’t try to sway me. I’m not going to back down.”
Navin chuckled despite himself. If there was one thing you didn’t want to do on Himalay, it was piss off a mother by threatening her cub. The female Tigris were more fierce than any other among the Felidae. They refused to sit back and let the men fight their battles for them. Heck, half of them were better warriors anyway.
“I’ll be fine, Ambaya. Don’t worry about me.”
“I’ll always worry about my sons. That will never change. Be safe.”
Avani embraced him, pulling him forward into her arms. He inhaled deeply, comforting himself with her scent. Releasing his mother, he turned to embrace his father. “I’ll find some way to contact you. Trust me, I’ll be fine.”
“Just because you keep saying you’ll be fine doesn’t mean I’m actually going to believe you.” Avani sniffed.
“Let me worry about your mother. You figure out what you’re going to say to Isha to convince him to help you. He’s straightforward. Just give him something he wants and he’ll help you.”
Navin knew what he’d like the Tigris to ask him for in return for his protection, but he had a feeling it wouldn’t happen. He’d only seen Isha once before, and he’d never actually gotten close enough to talk to the man. But it didn’t stop him from admiring him from afar. Isha was drop-dead gorgeous. Exactly the type of man Navin was attracted to. Strong, powerful and just dominant enough you knew he preferred to call the shots during sex.
“Thank you, Father.”
Agni nodded abruptly, sniffing. “Go. Before Pran discovers you missing.”
Navin turned to leave, not allowing himself a backward glance. He knew what he had to do. Testing his bruised ankle, he lowered his full weight on his left leg, grimacing from the twinge of pain. He couldn’t allow himself to show any weakness before Isha, so he better start getting used to running on the injury. It wasn’t that bad anyway. It could have been a lot worse.
Within a few hours, he was deep in the forests blanketing Himalay. Occasionally he would have to cross one of the exposed grassy clearings and he was sore from tensing his body in fear of being followed. Logically, he knew Pran wasn’t following him. He’d backtracked a few times to see if Pran was downwind of him, but he hadn’t scented the man yet. It would be a lot easier if Pran smelled foul like his black heart hinted he should. Unfortunately, Pran was actually quite attractive when he wasn’t sneering. It was mostly his hatred of the Leos Rajiv lived with that made him look so ugly to Navin.
He stopped, extending his head and sniffing carefully at the edge of another clearing. He couldn’t detect anyone in the area, but it paid to be careful. Gingerly stepping out of the tree line, he lowered his center of gravity, crouching down to run across the clearing. Breathing hard, he reached the other side, studying the trees around him. He was now in Isha’s territory.
It didn’t take him long to figure out he was being watched.