by Jade Buchanan
eBook ISBN: 06184-01986
Jai realizes he’s found two people that complete him. Only, one wants nothing to do with him, and the other claims he’s only interested in women.
The Pridelands collection contains the previously released novellas Darren’s Surprise, Zula’s Stand, Sheer’s Choice, Griffin’s Joy, Khalid’s Challenge, and Achan’s Peace.
Mike slammed the tailgate shut, checking to make sure it was latched completely. His little rust bucket was almost ready to be sent to the truck cemetery, but she had a few more trips left in her.
Walking around the driver’s side, he figured he might have a few more of these trips to make if things didn’t change. It wasn’t as if he didn’t like visiting his cousin, Darren, but the circumstances weren’t the best.
Darren’s brother, Aaron, had gone missing two months ago after going up to visit their cabin north of Muncho Lake. Darren began getting worried when Aaron didn’t return so he went up after him, only to find no sign of Aaron. It was as if he’d been abducted by aliens or something. A search and rescue team was called in, using aircraft and ground trackers, but there was absolutely no trace of him. If they didn’t have the proof of his gear and the food he’d brought up, Mike wouldn’t have believed Aaron had ever been in Northern B.C.
Darren had decided to stay up north instead of going back home, desperately hoping Aaron would just walk in one day. Mike knew better. If Aaron hadn’t come home yet, he probably wouldn’t. There was too much wildlife up near Muncho Lake and the Provincial Park was a huge area. If Aaron had gotten lost in the park, they’d never find his body.
He was trying to be positive, really he was, but he was more practical about these sorts of things. Mike didn’t want to get his hopes up.
Starting his truck, Mike slowly pulled out onto the road. He needed to stop for coffee before the trip. It was roughly 150 miles from Fort Nelson to the park and he needed to stay alert. Just coming off a twenty-one day rotation working ten hours a day, he was exhausted. It was a good thing his project was done and he had a week off. He could just zone out on the couch and let Darren take care of food.
Mike pulled into the drive thru of his coffee paradise just before leaving town. He wasn’t in the mood for small talk, and thankfully neither was the lady working. Timmies in hand, he was now ready for the drive along the Alaska Highway.
Half an hour later, he had to admit he was glad to be out in the wilderness. Heck, he’d even brought his rifle in case he decided to do a bit of hunting while he was up here.
They called Northwest B.C. “the Serengeti of North America” for a reason. At any minute you could see any number of animals. Stone sheep, mountain goats, bison, moose, elk, caribou, white-tailed and mule deer, wolves, coyotes, foxes, grizzly bears, black bears, lynx and wolverines roamed the countryside. It was an eco-tourist’s haven and a hunter’s paradise.
It was days like this he was thankful he lived up here. He wouldn’t do well in a city. He was a small-town boy at heart. He liked to get his hands dirty, play in the dirt, sleep on the ground. He’d wither and die if he had to live among steel and glass buildings.
That was definitely one of the things that set him and his sister apart. They’d both grown up in the same place, but Mike treasured being out in the wild while Joy would really rather be living it up in the city. She was a party girl with a heart of gold. He sure did miss her some days.
Mike was glad when he entered the eastern park limits through the Alaska Highway Corridor. He really wasn’t paying attention to his surroundings. The view was almost wasted on him today.
Reaching the small campground where he normally left his truck, he got out to stretch his legs. Most of the park was protected land and you weren’t allowed to bring vehicles off the designated areas. He’d have to hike the rest of the way in. It wasn’t far, though. If they’d been smart, his family would have stocked up on a few trail ponies and they wouldn’t have to worry about carrying everything, but Mike’s father always believed a little work never hurt you.
Still, the first time Aaron and Darren had been told they’d have to hike with their overflowing packs up to the cabin… the looks on their faces had been priceless. They weren’t used to roughing it seeing as they’d been raised in the city.
Shrugging his heavy pack on, Mike breathed in the fresh air. They were definitely coming up on a cold snap, but he didn’t mind it too much. It was almost like being in heaven. Or at least it was his version of what he wanted heaven to be like.
He took out the heavy canvas case holding his rifle, cradling it protectively before slinging it over his shoulder. His sidearm was next, a .454 Casull, just in case he came upon anything larger than a deer. His bear spray was hooked on the side of his pack, so he didn’t have to worry about that.
It was too late to hunt mule deer but you never knew when you’d come upon a nice lynx. They were still in hunting season until February, so he was good to go. Hell, he’d even take a nice cougar if he saw one. Though he preferred mulies over any other animal. There was just something about a mule deer that called to him. Too bad they weren’t in season. Maybe he’d get some time off closer to the end of the year and he’d be able to get out again. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d gone on a nice hunt.
With one last check to make sure his doors were locked, Mike set out to find a little peace and quiet.
* * *
“No, no fucking way, Aaron.”
Zula Steinsson heaved a sigh, wishing desperately for a little peace and quiet. If she had to listen to the Coleman brothers fight one more time, she’d gut someone. Unfortunately, if she did, her brother would probably take her head, so she was trying to be reasonable. Durai was partial to Darren, being his mate and all.
She was used to being around men, but at least on the ship she could go off alone. Durai respected her privacy and the rest never bothered her once she was in her room. It was one of the privileges of being the only female on board. Her brothers and her other pride members knew enough about Leo females to know she could take every one of them if she wanted to. You didn’t go around riling a female up if you valued your hide.
And when she wanted peace and quiet, she got it. Unfortunately, the humans didn’t quite understand that. They were driving her crazy.
This space wasn’t large enough for so many people. Between the two Coleman brothers, Zula, and her four brothers, Aaron’s two mates and the Bolen twins, she barely had enough room to breathe. One tiny room and an even tinier loft upstairs weren’t the best of surroundings. She dearly wanted to go back to the ship. Her brothers at least had the right idea. They were in the forest, searching for a way out of here at this very minute. Not one of them felt comfortable enough to sit inside the tiny, cramped cabin.
“Enough. If you’re going to fight, go outside,” she growled, waving her hand at the two men.
It still took some getting used to whenever she saw them. They were so unlike her people. She’d had a tough enough time accepting Griffin and Mazin Bolen when they joined Durai’s pride, and they weren’t all that different compared to the humans. The two brothers were of the Pardus clan, both tawny gold with large black spots. Her own fur was a paler color than theirs, although none of the Leo had spots like the Pardus. They didn’t have stripes like the Tigris, either, or the thick lustrous fur of the Lynx clan. In comparison the Leo were almost plain, their rich fur all one color, except for the lush and full manes the males had. Her own hair was a shade darker than her body.
She wasn’t as dark as her brothers. She wasn’t as large as them, either, and that had always annoyed her growing up. She just wanted to fit in, and belong with the rest of them. Considering she was the second oldest, she should have been able to do more with her brothers, but their mother never liked the idea of Zula gallivanting around with the boys. She figured she should stay closer to their abode, and craft and gather with the other women.
Zula shuddered just thinking of it. Thank all that was mighty her father stepped in and let Zula do what she wanted. She wasn’t born to be a gatherer of plants. She was a hunter. One of the mighty Steinssons. Just like her brothers and their father and his father before him.
Reaching down with her right hand, Zula fingered the knife strapped to her thigh. It was a gift from her father, given to her the night she joined Durai’s pride as an official member of his crew. Most women weren’t allowed to journey into space with the men. Unless she was mated to one of the pride leaders, a woman stayed at home on Felid, their home world. Zula was the first to leave planet and travel.
Okay, so she was doing it surrounded by her four brothers. That didn’t take anything away from her achievement. She was finally doing what she wanted to do.
If she was honest with herself, some days she really wished she could find a Leo who completed her and be able to raise cubs with him. The only problem was, she failed to link with any pride leader on Felid. She wasn’t a match for them, didn’t have a mind link with any of them. It was disappointing for her family. Her father had initially hoped she would mind link with Laithe, the heir to the rule of the Leos, but he had found his mate in a little human female.
She was too much of an alpha female herself to actively try to cultivate a relationship with someone, anyway. Zula had never found any Leo who made her want to be in a relationship. Until she found that Leo who made her forget herself, she was content to be alone. She wanted a man who clouded her mind with passion, who wanted to be with her above all others, who thought she was perfect, just the way she was. She just hadn’t found him yet. If he even existed.
“Durai said we couldn’t go outside, remember?” Darren’s voice interrupted her musing.
Zula jerked, tossing her head to glare at the two men now facing her. She’d almost forgotten the reason she was stuck in here with them in the first place. After their encounter in the forest with the creature that looked so similar to them, they had all agreed they needed to leave immediately. It had been scary, seeing a being that resembled them but walked on all fours instead of upright. Like looking in your ancestor’s eyes. When the amazing creature had been killed, they had all been frightened. If humans hated these creatures so much they would shoot and kill them, what would they do if they found one of the Felidae?
Darren had put his foot down though, about leaving right away, after thinking about it overnight. He wouldn’t leave until he’d seen someone from his family, to prevent them from worrying about the two men any more than they already had been. He knew how much his family had panicked at Aaron’s disappearance and didn’t want them to worry about him as well. She thought it was admirable, but it was causing her more stress.
The rest of her pride couldn’t stand the small quarters and escaped out into the forest as often as they could. But someone had to stay here and wait for Darren’s family to arrive. Meaning, someone had to stay and watch over them. She’d drawn babysitting duty on the brothers today.
They were so similar they almost looked like twins upon first glance. But there were enough differences to make it obvious once you knew them. Darren was the elder, and she had to admit that her brother, Durai, was a lucky Leo for mating with him. His hair was the color of some of the Tigris she’d seen before, a deep orange red. His skin was pale, a beautiful milky white covered in small spots he called freckles. He turned the most alarming shade of red when he was embarrassed, or if he went out into the sun for too long. Really, he was fragile. No Leo would burn under the sun’s rays. It was almost unheard of.
His younger brother was similar in build. Both of the Coleman brothers were lanky, shorter than the Leo men they were mated to. Aaron was missing the spots that covered Darren’s chest, although he did have a full beard that covered his lower face and the most peculiar wire frames around his eyes. Apparently his vision wasn’t the best.
She sighed. “Please just keep it down, then.”
“Wait, could you just answer one thing for me? Aaron keeps saying it’s gonna happen, but I’ll kill your brother if he intends to do it.” Darren placed both hands on his hips, a frown pulling the corners of his mouth down.
“Is Durai gonna pierce something during some mating ceremony that everyone attends?”
Zula blinked, considering his question. He looked uncomfortable now and Aaron could barely hold in his snort of laughter. “Are you asking about the ritual piercing?”
“I told you so!”
“No, no way!”
Lifting her hand before they could get started again, Zula prayed for patience. Here she was wishing she could go through that rite, and Darren wasn’t even aware of how lucky he was.
“It is part of the mating ritual and a very sacred rite. A symbol of your connection to your mate, of the fact that you are now one. He promises to protect you and cherish you and by accepting his ring through your most intimate part, you show your promise to accept his love and protection. Our people pray for the day we can go through the same rite. You won’t be officially mated to Durai until you stand before the Appaliunas, the father lion, and declare your intentions.”
“Well, Jesus. If Aaron’d just said it like that, I would have been okay with it.”
“Oh, right, I’m really sure you would have just opened your legs and told Durai to go ahead and split the head of your dick with a piece of metal.”
“Are you trying to pick a fight with me? ’Cause you’re so close to getting an ass whooping you’ve never experienced.”
“Oh, yeah? The only ones allowed to whoop my ass are Lev and Morgan, so don’t even –”
Zula stood, snarling, cutting off their words and drawing their attention back to her. Standing, she was nearly taller than them. Actually, she was a tiny bit taller than Darren, but that was only if she perked her ears up.
She opened her mouth to say something when the front door slammed open, bouncing against the wall once.
“Darren! I’m home. Did ya miss me?”