by Michelle Hasker
eBook ISBN: 06734-02167
Cade knows Sairah is his mate, but she’s been raised on Earth. What he doesn’t know is how to convince her she’s not only an alien, but a lion shifter, as well.
When Matt’s best friend and boss finds a mate, it means a lot more lonely nights for him — until he meets Stacey and realizes his mate has been right under his nose the whole time. But a man with a past like his and no future doesn’t deserve a woman to love him. If only the sexy, stubborn woman would take no for an answer.
Jacob finds himself on trial for a crime he hasn’t committed… yet. Even worse? With his mate under suspicion, only one thing can save them now. The whole truth.
The Leandros Collection contains the previously released novellas Sairah’s Salvation, Matthew’s Redemption, and Dana’s Release.
Sairah moaned and rolled on her back as hands slid over her. Questing hands that had explored every inch of her body for the past few months. Hands that brought her to the pinnacle of desire and thrust her into orgasms so intense she woke entangled in drenched sheets.
But she wasn’t asleep. Not yet. She’d just closed her eyes when the sweet scent of magnolias drifted into her bedroom. How is this possible? Can he be real? Is tonight the night he fulfills my fantasy? God, I wish!
Opening her eyes was out of the question. He might vanish and she’d be left alone. Again.
Sairah gasped as nimble fingers pinched her nipples until they hardened. Tingles raced through her body as her lover worked his magic. He brought her to the edge, then changed tactics and drew her back to that edge time and again, not letting her crest. All coherent thought fled.
With a moan, she arched into his touch, praying this time she’d find release. Her mouth opened wordlessly as shivers raced up her spine. Sairah fisted her hands in her sheets and turned her face, burying it against her pillow. The urge to demand he fuck her was almost overwhelming.
The sound of a baby crying pierced the air, bringing her out of the fantasy with such force she fought to catch her breath. Her pussy ached, and her nipples were swollen buds.
Sairah sat up with a gasp and looked around. All trace of her lover had vanished, but the scent of the blossoms remained. Had he really been here?
Another wail brought her out of bed before she could contemplate more about the realistic dream. Sairah tugged on a pair of jeans and a T-shirt as fast as she could. She pulled on her sneakers, grabbed a flashlight, and ran outside.
What is a child doing outside at this time of night? And behind my house no less!
The sound brought back memories she’d rather have left buried. A neighbor’s child had been four when she’d wandered out of her backyard and into the forest. By the time they found her body she’d been missing for days. If she could prevent something terrible from happening to someone else’s child, she would. No matter the cost.
Sairah dodged a thorny branch and delved deeper into the forest. The warning her neighbors gave her last week when she moved in raced through her mind. Never go into the woods. Especially not alone, and never at night. Evil lurks in there.
Sairah heard the cry again and shivered, suddenly cold. Worry and fear urged her deeper into the trees. She squeezed between two oak trees, trying to follow the narrow path that led from her backyard into the dark woods. At least the full moon gave her some light to see by, but the trees and bushes hid rocks and roots that slowed her progress. It was no wonder people disappeared in here. They probably wandered in circles until they starved to death.
She didn’t know what evil they spoke of, but if there was even a slight chance that a child could be in danger, she would risk it. Her life would be a small price to pay to spare a family from the agony of losing their baby. She didn’t have much to lose anyway.
The sweet scent of magnolias tickled her nose, reminding her of her dream man. The tall, blond man who set her flesh on fire and ignited desires that terrified her in their intensity. In her dreams, a group of strangers surrounded them as he cupped the side of her face and pressed his naked body against hers until she woke quivering with need.
Suddenly everything grew quiet. Sairah snapped out of her daydream with enough force to make her stumble. While she crouched and rubbed her stinging palms on her jeans-clad knees, she listened to the eerie silence. Usually a predator caused a silence such as this. Maybe the stories of wild cats were true. Cats didn’t frighten her, but dogs did, and there were also rumors of wolves in these parts. Sairah would rather take her chance with a cat any day.
A twig snapped on her left. She turned slowly, hoping it was just a squirrel. On the ground a few feet away she noticed something small and unmoving. It lay in the shadows, making it difficult to identify. She shone the flashlight at the area but couldn’t make anything out.
As Sairah stepped closer to it, the scent of blood and feces grew stronger until it became unbearable. She pinched her nose to shut out the offensive odor. Sairah nudged the small furry mound with her foot. The head rolled to the side so that lifeless black eyes stared at her from the familiar face of a raccoon.
Sairah released her nose and covered her mouth to stifle the scream that rose in her throat as she backed away from the dead animal. What had done this?
A growl came from her right. Sairah turned with as little motion as possible, and looked for the source of the noise. She spied a dark shape under a small pine tree. A large, grotesque wolf-like creature crept forward and stopped just outside of the shadows. At least she thought it was a wolf. It was larger than any she’d ever seen either in captivity or in the documentaries on television. Its beady black eyes were focused on her, sending shivers skittering up her spine, and not from the cold this time.
When the creature took another step toward her, panic flared as the moonlight illuminated it. Long, black hair covered it from the top of its head to the tip of its tail. Its ears stood up as if it was listening to something. Sairah held her breath and listened, but the only sound she could hear was the thundering of her heart as it slammed in her chest.
The ears lowered and its mouth opened, revealing large, white teeth. Teeth that dripped with fresh blood. Her heart leapt in her throat as she turned and ran, fear overriding common sense as she fled through the forest, the giant wolf right on her heels.
Sairah pushed her body to its limit, ignoring her burning lungs and calves. She raced through a thorny bush, scraping her arms and legs through her jeans and T-shirt as the briars snagged her.
After tearing herself free, she continued to run. Twigs snapped beneath her feet. Branches smacked her face and caught in her hair. She didn’t know if it was her imagination or if she really could feel the creature’s hot breath on her neck, scorching her sensitive flesh, but either way she didn’t stop to check.
The panting sounds the wolf made grew closer each time she stumbled. Unable to stop herself, Sairah chanced a look behind her and tripped. The flashlight flickered and went out when it hit the ground, bounced and skittered away. She went down hard, landing on her left arm. Sairah cried out as intense pain swept through her.
Cradling her arm close, Sairah tried to stand up, but tripped on the root again and fell back down. A low growl reached her ears, and Sairah looked up into the evil eyes of the beast less than five feet away.
In slow motion it rose on its hind legs and walked toward her as a human would. Bones and muscles shifted until the creature resembled a hairy man with a long, narrow face.
“My God,” she gasped and tried to push herself backward in the cold, damp leaves.
It was a werewolf. Only, those creatures weren’t supposed to exist. They were bedtime tales or movies made to frighten people. How could this thing be real?
A half-human, half-wolf hand closed around her ankle, claws digging into her flesh. She felt around in the dirt with her right hand until she found a stick. She prayed it was long and sturdy as she lifted it out of the leaves and stabbed at the beast with it. The werewolf howled in pain as she slammed the stick into its face. Temporarily free, Sairah scrambled up and ran as fast as she could, praying the moon would go behind the clouds so the creature would revert to full human form. Or was that just something made up for the movies? Her thoughts veered to the fantastical as she ran for her life.
When she reached a small clearing Sairah glanced around in terror. She struggled to breathe as she realized it had chased her into a dead end. The werewolf probably knew these woods better than anyone else. Judging by the amount of bones under the pine tree in the far corner, most of its prey was probably trapped and devoured here.
The clearing was surrounded on three sides by a tall, flat wall of rock. Sairah glanced down at her left arm still cradled against her chest. If it wasn’t broken it was sprained for sure, leaving her no chance to climb out. There was only one way left to escape. The way she came in. And that exit led to the beast.
Taking a deep breath, she tried to concentrate on survival. What did she know about wolves? Nothing. Her whole life had been spent studying cats. None of that would help her now. Sairah turned and searched the path she’d made as she’d rushed between the trees. Where was the creature? He should have entered the clearing by now. Was he playing with her? Taunting her?
Sairah closed her eyes and listened. The sounds of his heavy footsteps in the woods moved closer. He was closing in on her. In seconds he would burst into the clearing and kill her.
Any minute now she would wake up in her own bed and laugh at her overactive imagination.
She heard the creature step into the clearing. So much for a dream.
Glancing around for a better weapon than the stick she still wielded, Sairah spied a large branch on the ground. She grabbed it and lifted it in her right hand, keeping her left arm cradled against her chest. Turning to face the creature, Sairah braced herself. She might as well face the beast and die fighting for her life instead of cowering in fear.
The werewolf stepped into the open, narrowed its eyes, and twisted its mouth in what she supposed was a smile. With a growl, it slowly advanced toward her. Maybe it wanted her to run again? Fat chance. She knew that was futile.
Sairah inched her way back until she felt the hard wall of the rock dig into her shoulders. She lifted the makeshift club with her good arm and prepared to swing it. As the creature drew closer she gave a silent prayer for help. She wasn’t ready to die. Not like this.
A loud roar echoed in the enclosed area. Her attacker froze. Sairah looked up in time to see a large, tan cat jump down from the top of the cliff. It glanced at her for a second then focused on the wolf-man. Silently, it padded in between them and faced the werewolf without the slightest hesitation. A lion? In North Carolina? In the woods behind my house? There was no mistaking that large gorgeous mane or tan body and long tail. It must have escaped from a private facility.
Sairah sent thanks to the Lord for answering her prayer and sending this magnificent creature to her aid. The werewolf had returned to complete wolf form. He growled and bared gruesome teeth, but the cat didn’t back down.
Eyeing the distance between the two and the path, Sairah wondered if she’d be able to sneak past them and escape. There was no way she could outrun the animals, but could they climb a tree after her? The wolf would probably have to change to human form to climb the tree, but she could clamber higher than the lion.
As slowly as she could, Sairah edged toward the opening. If the cat kept the wolf distracted long enough…
The wolf turned and leapt on her before she could finish the thought, or draw in a breath to scream. Razor-sharp teeth sank into her shoulder, pinning her to the ground. Sairah cried out in pain as pointed teeth pierced her skin and drew blood. The animal wanted to break either her neck or back to keep her immobile.
A roar filled the air, causing immense pain to her eardrums, just before those deadly teeth released her shoulder, taking flesh with them.
Sairah gasped for air and tried desperately to blink tears out of her eyes. Damn. It hurt worse than the time the neighbor’s dog had attacked her and torn open her leg.
Sairah struggled into a sitting position as she listened to the two animals fight. The battle seemed to go on forever, but finally the forest grew silent again. She wiped the tears out of her eyes until she could see the animals. The lion stood over the inert body of the wolf. Was it dead?
The wolf raised its head and growled at the lion again. The cat crouched as if ready to pounce. Sairah knew cats liked to play with their food. The lion was bigger than the werewolf and could easily kill it. The thought flittered through her mind that maybe the cat was a shape shifter as well.
Both animals sprang and collided in midair. This time the cat crumpled to the ground. The wolf bared its teeth and turned her way again. Sairah gasped and tried to slide backward as the animal advanced toward her. She was bleeding heavily. The scent of her blood and fear would fuel both animals’ baser instincts.
With her back against sharp stones, Sairah took a deep breath and opened her mouth to scream. The sound strangled in her throat as the cat leapt onto the back of the wolf, sinking its teeth into the creature’s neck.
Sairah stared as the cat shook his head, his mane flapping against the wolf’s head. Part of her filed away the awesome event under one of the most amazing things she’d ever seen, and the other part of her prayed she’d live to tell the tale at work.
The cat released the wolf and stepped back. It leaned forward into the wolf’s face. For a second she thought he was checking to see if the wolf was breathing. But that was silly. Wasn’t it?
Nothing made sense right now. Especially not this. Werewolves and giant African lions in Lexington?
Sairah shivered and tried to hold as still as possible. Maybe the lion would forget she was there. Please go away.
As if he heard her unspoken plea, the cat looked up into her eyes with an intelligence that startled her. She spent her days with cats. She’d worked in many zoos across the United States, and never had she seen one like this. She knew they were intelligent, but this one looked at her with pity. If he were a human she’d believe it, but would a cat look at a wounded woman this way? Nope, he’d gobble her up and look around for dessert. What if the cat wasn’t an answer to her prayer, but had come to challenge the wolf to dinner?
“Shoo,” she shouted at the top of her lungs. “Scat!” Even though she knew it was useless, she had to try. “You don’t want to eat me,” she protested. “I’m too skinny, just bones.”
The cat tilted its head and lifted its ears as if listening to her.
“I’m too chewy, I’ll give you heartburn. And I bet right now I smell pretty bad,” she added for good measure.
That last comment struck her as funny, and Sairah let out a chuckle. The cat made a strange face. If she weren’t half out of it from the pain, she’d swear it smiled. Sairah pressed a hand over the deep wounds on her shoulder and tried to stand up. Even superficial wounds could bleed heavily, but the amount of blood and the speed at which she was losing it worried her. Would she be able to make it back to her house?
“No.” Sairah gasped as she swayed. The forest grew dark, and the cat moved closer. “Thank you for killing the wolf. Please don’t eat me.”
Sairah tried to stare at the lion in an intimidating manner, but she was pretty sure she looked more like a feast than a ferocious creature.
I don’t want to eat you. At least, not in the way you think.
Great. She could now add delusional to her symptoms. Mercifully, the pain wasn’t so bad anymore. Sairah watched the cat stalk toward her slowly. At least she’d be unconscious while he killed her, Sairah thought as she slipped into the welcoming darkness while staring at deep golden eyes.
* * *
Cade paced back and forth. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to happen. That stupid wolf’s attack screwed up his plan big time. He’d thought there would be plenty of time to gradually introduce himself to her. But no. The wolf had ruined everything.
Sairah Mellon, his future mate, lay so still and pale on her bed that he actually felt fear. For a warrior like him, fear of any kind was prohibited. Cade wiped suddenly sweaty palms against his khaki pants and reached for her wrist again. He needed the soothing beat of her pulse under his fingertips to reassure him. If he’d screwed up…
Have I lost my perspective and put her in even more danger? Cade was always cool under pressure. Or at least that was what his brothers liked to say. What had gone wrong tonight? Someone had threatened his mate. That was what. Well, she wasn’t his mate yet, but she would be as soon as he could manage it.
This was one time he was glad his family wasn’t around. He’d never live this mistake down as long as he lived. How had he missed noticing a werewolf hanging around her house? Because he’d been too busy admiring her skimpy lingerie.
And now he’d have to think up a good explanation for how he found her in the middle of the forest and brought her home. He knew she hadn’t been afraid of the lion until the werewolf bit her. She feared the scent of blood would cause him to attack.
Think, Cade. Think. Panic was not good. It made even the best of men make mistakes, and Cade wasn’t the best. Not even close.
There was nothing he could do but initiate Plan B.