Loading...
Menu
Ebooks   ➡  Fiction  ➡  Romance  ➡  Suspense  ➡  Paranormal

Claiming Their Royal Mate: Part One

p(((((((())))))))=.

Claiming Their Royal Mate

Part One

Tiffany Allee

Contents

Blurb

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Sneak Peek of Broken Prime

Sneak Peek of Billionaire Boss

Also by Tiffany Allee

About the Author

For adults only. This is an erotic romance that contains material that is not suitable for children.

***

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

***

Copyright © 2014 by Tiffany Allee. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means.

***

Edited by Smashing Edits

Cover design by Fiona Jayde

***

First Edition September 2014

***

Join the author’s newsletter for exclusive deals and freebies.

Blurb

Daniella Clark has never fit in—a fact she’s always blamed on being adopted. But when her body is overtaken by a need so fierce it defies human explanation, she turns to the one man she instinctively knows must have the answers she seeks—her sexy-as-sin neighbor. But his explanation isn’t one she can easily accept, and it means her sexual heat won’t go away without his help.

***

But it turns out her neighbor isn’t the only male she has to worry about. The prime of his people has laid claim to her. And though he radiates sexuality in a way that makes her mouth water, he’s more beast than man. With one weretiger charged to protect her, and the prime’s plan to claim her for his own, Daniella must fight to maintain her sense of self, even while they fight for her.

1

Holy crap. How had she accumulated so many clothes that no longer fit?

Barely keeping hold of the bags full of old clothes, Daniella Clark bumped her butt into the door to push it open. Stepping into the hallway, she hit something nearly as hard as the door—something that grunted at the contact. The bags slipped from her fingers to land on the threshold. The hard body she’d run into was attached to a large man blocking her doorway, and her glare didn’t seem to ruffle him at all.

The jerk was always in her way lately.

“Jeez. Way to skulk around my door. What do you want, Owen?” Daniella asked, hating the breathiness in her voice.

Her neighbor stared at her for a moment, and his nostrils flared. Something passed behind his gaze. Something that made her breath catch and tension build between her legs. But just as quickly as it appeared, it was gone. And he shrugged, arrogant mask engaged.

“I was just passing by. Not my fault you didn’t look where you were going.”

The man was seriously aggravating. She could hardly believe they’d been good friends the last year, ever since she’d accidentally locked herself out of her apartment. He’d been kind enough to give her a place to hang out while she’d waited for the building’s superintendent to show up with the key. From then on, they’d hung out at least once a week, sometimes more, depending on her schedule. That is, up until a month ago.

“I’m getting sick of you always being in my way, Owen.” She picked up the bags, needing something to look at that wasn’t her ridiculously hot neighbor. Her attraction to him itself was irritating because he wasn’t her type, even if he did make her weak in the knees. His face was hard, chiseled and memorable, but his features were too strong to be considered traditionally handsome—his nose too Roman and his jaw a little too wide. Not to mention he rarely smiled at her anymore, and she liked men who weren’t afraid to enjoy life.

Heck, that was why she’d liked his company for so long—his easy laughter and quick wit. Over the last month, it was as if he’d turned into a different man. One who didn’t smile much and who was quick to anger.

She tried not to take it personally, but the fact he’d just cut off their friendship, cold as ice, made being the bigger person difficult.

His full head of light brown hair was nice, if always a little too long—as if he were constantly two weeks late to the barber. But he was far bigger than guys she liked to date. Broad and muscled like a man who never left the gym. Although she’d never actually seen him at the gym near their Denver apartment complex, he had to work out somewhere. Men just didn’t achieve that level of muscle naturally.

But despite the fact he didn’t fit her usual mold, she found herself more than just a little attracted to him.

Of course, that was a hopeless cause if ever there was one. She’d seen his dates—all two of them—since he’d moved into the building. They were both model thin, and while she was usually pretty proud of her voluptuous form, no one would ever accuse her of being waif-like.

Her attraction had started with a tremor. Just the slightest quavering of her voice when she spoke to him. Then, just when she’d started looking at him differently, he’d shut down. Stopped talking to her, started making excuses for why he couldn’t hang out with her anymore. But he always seemed to be around. At her door when she walked out. Looking irritated to run into her in the parking lot.

“I was walking through a shared hallway. Would you prefer I jump out the window to get to my truck?” A hint of a smile touched his lips, and her breath caught.

Freaking-A. No way was a simple smile turning her on. She was really starting to dislike her neighbor. “I’d love for you to jump out a window or two. Heck, I’ll even help with a little push.”

And she wasn’t lying. Sure, she wouldn’t really push a man out a window, but something inside of her—the part that was continuously horny, lately—was also feeling pretty violent. It came out at the weirdest times, and it took every ounce of her self-control not to lash out. Probably she needed to go see her doctor about a new birth control or something. Out of whack hormones were likely the cause of her wild emotions.

Not that Owen was helping. He’d chased off two of her dates in the last month. Not by doing anything she could call him out for. No, he was too subtle for that. He’d just drop in to borrow sugar—when she’d never once seen the man bake. Or he’d say he thought he’d smelled gas coming from her apartment, and wanted to check. Then he’d glower in a way that made her dates run for the hills.

And then he started showing up at her apartment when she was feeling particularly…needy.

“Surely you wouldn’t want to see me injured.” His nose flared again, as if he couldn’t get enough of her smell. It was seriously disturbing.

Even more disturbing was the sudden wetness between her legs and the tension coiling in her belly. She really needed to get some if a man she didn’t even like could get her engine revving by smelling her. “I wouldn’t bet on that.”

“You’ll be happy I’m around, Daniella. Very soon.”

She tried to shove past him, but he moved out of her way before they touched, quick for such a large man. Part of her regretted the lack of contact, but the rest of her thought that part was batshit crazy.

Through narrowed eyes, Owen Shaw watched Daniella walk away. Her shapely hips swayed as she walked, and the scent surrounding her was nearly irresistible to him. As it would be to any of their kind who got within a few hundred feet of her. She had to be claimed. Soon.

If only to keep her safe.

After Daniella disappeared from his view, he hurried back to his apartment to watch her make her way to the back parking lot. He would have offered to take the bags, but she would have reacted the same way she did when he offered to do anything for her—with barely concealed irritation.

It was his own fault, for getting close to her. But it had seemed like the easiest way to watch over her until the heat took hold. And he had to admit, he liked her company. She was easy to laugh with, and utterly silly behind closed doors. Or she had been, when he’d allowed himself to spend time with her. Now, she mostly stared daggers and sniped at him. He couldn’t blame her.

His own reaction to her was to blame. Her rising heat had brought on him a wave of lust, the likes of which he’d never dealt with before. Not that he hadn’t been around women in heat before—although usually only ones in the beginning clutches of it since they were soon whisked away to private locations by their mates or a male willing to father children soon after. But none of those women had called to him the way Daniella did. As Erick’s second, many would have gladly taken him to father their children, but he’d resisted.

He’d always wanted a real mate. And something inside of him refused to settle for having children in any other way.

Weretigers lived a somewhat cloistered life. His people lived in the Colorado Rockies, keeping their small clan out of the way of humans, and away from the city life that appealed most to their greatest threat—the vampires. But their cabins dotted a large territory, so it wasn’t difficult for a pair to get away from the population when a female’s heat hit. That distance kept fights for the right to claim females to a minimum, and quelled the tempers that flared in the men around them as they vied for dominance.

But getting away right now wasn’t an option for him.

Resisting Daniella had been difficult when she’d simply been a beautiful woman with curves to die for, but now it was impossible.

So he did his best asshole impression—not difficult, considering his dick was hard half the time with no relief in sight, and he ached to claim her something fierce—to keep her at a safe distance.

He admired her independent spirit. And her stolid resistance to what had to be a steadily building lust for him surprised him. He didn’t take the attraction personally, even though a small part of him wished he could. It was simple biology. She was coming into her first heat. And he was the only male of their kind nearby.

Humans couldn’t satisfy her lust properly, and instinctually she likely knew that, but he’d kept any suitors away, anyway. As for other non-humans, none were likely to appeal to her instincts the same way as a tiger, but he watched all the same. A female were of any kind in heat was vulnerable, needy. Not to mention irresistible to any male who could smell her sweet scent.

Which was why he had to avoid her as much as possible. Why he’d had to end their friendship. But it also was why he still had to stay close enough to protect her.

She deposited the bags in her trunk and then swiped her hands on her thighs to rid herself of germs she didn’t even realize couldn’t hurt her. His cock swelled at the sight of her perfect ass. She had him so worked up all the time with her erotic scent that the briefest glimpse of her made him excited.

She headed back toward the building, and he watched her until she disappeared. The desire to leave his apartment, to meet her along the route to her home, to make sure she made it safely, was overwhelming. But it would be too easy to do more.

And that wasn’t his right.

No. He’d do his duty. Protect her. Watch over her. Keep her safe. And hope to hell Erick would get here in time.

Erick should have come months before, instead of sending Owen to watch over her. But his best friend and prime of their weretiger clan was methodical and logical; he wasn’t driven by passion or even empathy. He wanted to wait until her acceptance of him wouldn’t even be a question. Until she was so driven by need she would beg for him to take her.

By leaving her here in the human world, far away from where most of their clan lived, Erick avoided the risk of losing her affections to another of their kind. Her tiger would be attracted to Erick’s power, of that there was no doubt. But if Erick brought her to their territory too soon and her human self fell for another, Erick would have no choice but to challenge the male.

And there were too few weretigers left as it was.

Hell, their numbers were barely sufficient to hold the territory against other shifters and vampires who sought to make them into unusual, pricy pets.

Mating wasn’t necessarily permanent, but it often made both parties feel affection for the other, and attachment wasn’t uncommon. It could be resisted, but many times a couple remained paired beyond the initial heat. It was a reality that Erick was counting on. Like real tigers, weretigers weren’t always driven by animal instincts to live in clans or remain in couples, but their human sides did make it likely.

If nothing else, Erick hoped she would throw herself at him during her first heat. A heat he’d take advantage of by breeding her relentlessly until she carried his cub. After that, Erick would have little interest in her until she was in another heat. He made no effort to hide his goal—securing another generation of royal leaders.

Owen buried the growl in his throat at the thought.

It wasn’t right, the approach Erick was taking, even if Owen could see the logic in it. Erick needed to stay with the clan, keep them together as only a royal could. So Owen would guard her. Keep her safe until it was time to call Erick. It was his duty.

But he wouldn’t touch her, even if his dick never forgave him.

2

She hurt. Ached. Needed.

Daniella’s eyes flew open and she blinked against the darkness filling her room. She gulped air into her lungs. Had she been dreaming? She wasn’t sure. Whatever the cause, it was almost impossible to breathe around the wanting.

Two days had passed since she’d literally run into Owen outside of her apartment, and she hadn’t been able to get him out of her mind. Part of her felt empty, and that emptiness had grown into all-out need. But was it real? Or was she just horny and missing their friendship? It was possible she was transferring her feelings, mixing things up in her head.

She’d considered calling an ex-boyfriend. Surely one of them wouldn’t mind coming by for a quickie. But the idea didn’t excite her. Something inside of her insisted none of them would do. And even touching herself in the shower, slipping her own small finger inside her constantly aching sex, had only given her a moment’s reprieve.

“What the hell?” she whispered, her voice a wisp of its normal strength. But the darkness around her was silent.

Screw this. She was done waiting for whatever it was that her body needed.

Owen. He was the answer to this. She had to talk to him.

She pulled herself out of bed onto shaky legs. She’d slept naked—odd for her, but she hadn’t been able to stand the feel of clothing against her skin the last two nights. The soft material of the robe she pulled on teased her sensitive skin. Caressed it. She bit her lip against a moan.

A voice in the back of her mind protested. This wasn’t her. She’d never leave her apartment wearing only a short, thin robe, especially not to see her frustrating jerk of a neighbor.

But that voice was only a whisper against the need raging through her body.

She struggled into the hallway and banged on his door; the sound hurt her sensitive ears. Three knocks and the door opened.

Owen stood in the doorway, his large, muscular body bare save for a pair of boxer briefs. He pulled her inside, a motion so quick she barely felt his hands grip her arms before he released her on the other side of the doorframe. Then he wasn’t touching her. Instead, he peered out into the hallway, as if he thought she might not be alone.

“Are you all right? Did someone—”

“What the hell is wrong with me?” That wasn’t what she’d meant to ask, dammit. There was no real reason to believe Owen would have any idea what ailed her, but her instincts screamed he knew the answer.

Or maybe she was just confused. She couldn’t even manage a rational conversation at the moment. She clenched her hands into fists to keep herself from reaching out and touching him. And oh, how she wanted to touch the man who even now made her angry. Feel the muscles barely contained by his skin. Take in his scent, which teased the edge of her senses.

He stared at her, then took a long breath. His eyes widened. “Ah, hell, Daniella.”

The simple act of him saying her name pushed her blood pressure up a notch. She licked her lips and took an involuntary step toward him before stopping herself in her tracks.

“What is wrong with me?” She ground out every word.

“It’s not my place to say.” He shut the door behind him, turning his back to her.

She laughed, but the sound held no amusement. She was about ready to either jump out of her skin, or shove this man who she didn’t even care for to the ground so she could screw him seven ways from Sunday, and he was keeping secrets?

“Tell me!”

“It’s—you’re special. There’s something that your adoptive parents never prepared you for, didn’t know to prepare you for. But I’m only here to keep you safe. I can’t go into any more detail.” His eyes met hers, more amber than brown, and just his gaze sent a jolt of lust through her body.

“Fuck your secrets.” Her sex ached so badly that it hurt. And he smelled good, so damn good. Like a twisted mix of man and cinnamon. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to sleep with him or eat him. She pressed her thighs together, but the pressure only served to make her sensitive skin more inflamed.

His eyes narrowed in understanding. “Dammit. You’re in full heat. Come with me.”

He led her to a couch and had her sit. But she couldn’t sit—pressure seemed to only make it worse. So she lay down instead. The world was surreal, and Owen’s scent seemed to inundate the couch—a deep, masculine scent that teased her desire. A murmured voice caressed her ears and she realized he was on the phone.

What had he said—full heat? She had no clue what that could be. Was he calling an ambulance? She might be ill. She certainly didn’t feel right, although she didn’t feel sick, either. Could she have been poisoned? The pipes in the apartment building had to be old as dirt, probably filled with lead. Maybe she’d been drugged. But she hadn’t left her apartment all day, so how was that possible? Time-released Ecstasy wasn’t a thing, as far as she knew. It felt as though something—something outside of herself, outside of her control—was assaulting her.

“I’m going to try to help you,” Owen said, his voice strained.

Daniella opened her eyes and blinked against the brightness. She hadn’t noticed him approaching.

“Need you,” she managed.

“I know, kitten. I can’t give you that. But I can help you. Maybe make it not hurt so much. But to do that I have to touch you.” His voice deepened and her sex throbbed in response. “Do you want me to help you?”

“Please,” she said, her voice a whisper.

He tugged on the belt of her robe, and then slid it open with a hiss. Only vaguely did she realize she was naked in front of her annoying neighbor. Her former friend. Full breasts jutting out, her nipples were hard as rocks, as if they begged for his attention. And her core ached, electricity springing from it as if his gaze alone excited whatever it was inside of her that needed quenching.

“Goddamn, you’re beautiful,” he said, reverently.

He took one of her nipples into his mouth and suckled. She moaned and slid her fingers through his hair, pulling at it. Begging him silently to do more. Faster. More pressure.

He responded by moving to her other nipple and sucking harder. He bit down softly as his hand slid down to cup her sex, pressing only the slightest bit against her hard nub.

“Owen,” she cried out, not even recognizing her own voice. She came immediately, a flash of colors and light crisscrossing her vision.

He growled in response and rubbed her softly with his palm, pulling small aftershocks from her.

“That won’t be enough,” he muttered, as if to himself. But he pulled the sides of her robe back over her, hiding her body from his view. He didn’t get up from where he crouched by her on the couch, but he settled his hands on either side of her.

He was right. It wasn’t enough. Already she could feel the hunger just sated building again. But she could think better. Not clearly, by any means, but any ability to think was an improvement.

“Owen, what’s happening? Please, tell me.” Her pride bristled at the pleading tone in her voice. But she needed to know, and now. Because the desire was already pooling between her legs and crawling along her skin.

His expression was hard, as if he would refuse her again. But when his gaze locked onto hers, his face softened. “You’re not a normal woman, Daniella. When you hit maturity, your first heat began. Only sex with one of your own can sate the lust.”

“One of my own? I don’t understand. And what do you mean, maturity? This only started a couple of weeks ago, and I’m well into maturity.”

“It doesn’t hit like clockwork, at an exact age. But generally between nineteen and twenty-two, our women start going into heat. It’s not usually a problem, because we live in a community. There are men around to…take care of things, when the heat hits. But you’re different, Daniella. You weren’t raised with us.”

“I was adopted,” she murmured, mind racing. It was getting harder to think again. She squirmed, but the pressure only grew. “I’m twenty-three.”

“You’re a little older than normal. But like I said, it’s not clockwork. It’s all hormones, and hormones are unpredictable.”

She squirmed a bit, unable to help herself. Why did he have to rest his hands at her sides, when she needed his touch?

A haze settled over her vision, and he cursed under his breath. Suddenly the explanation didn’t seem so important. The why didn’t matter. Only the need.

“Owen,” she mumbled.

“I know, beautiful.”

She watched him this time, as he opened her robe. The amber flecks she’d noticed before in his eyes seemed to no longer be flecks; instead, the light amber appeared to overtake his irises, so that they were almost golden.

His gaze raked over her body again, and it made her already sensitive flesh burn. Suddenly, she didn’t feel limp. Didn’t feel stuck to the couch. Didn’t feel weak.

If she didn’t move, she might crawl out of her skin.

She took his mouth with her own, and after a moment’s hesitation, he kissed her back. His tongue slid against hers, softly testing at first, then with a fervor that made her cling to him. He tasted like peppermint.

She moaned into his mouth when he pulled her close. His body was cool against hers, or maybe whatever was wrong with her made her unnaturally hot.

With her legs wrapped around his waist, she could feel his erection pressed against where she needed it most. How could she ache for him this much? There was no doubt that he was attractive. He was the kind of man wet dreams were made of—tall and muscular and sexy as sin. But he irritated her with his constant presence, despite turning his nose up at their friendship, and his annoyingly standoffish nature. But none of that seemed to matter to her body.

Pushing her thoughts aside, she shimmied against him, rubbing her clit against the hard cock she could feel beneath his boxer briefs. His hands gripped her hips almost painfully hard, and she cried out in triumph.

“No!”

He tossed her and she had a moment of panic where she felt weightless, but she landed on something soft. A mattress. When had they gotten to his bedroom?

In a flash, she was back on him. Hands on his ass, pressing herself against his hardness. Seeking his delicious mouth with her own.

“None of that, kitten.” But his hips arched against her, sliding his thickness against her soft skin.

She bit at him, a warning snap at his face. Something inside of her was wild, raging. And it wanted out. It wanted Owen. To hurt him or fuck him. Maybe both.

His hand dug into her hair and pulled hard. She cried out at the flash of pain.

“I can’t take you. You’re going to have to accept what I can give you.”

Her body screamed at her to fight him. To take what was hers. But he pushed her onto the bed, easily controlling her flailing movements with his much larger frame.

But when his hand touched her mound softly, she stilled.

“That’s it, kitten. Relax. I’ll take care of you.”

But instead of his mere touch bringing her to orgasm, it only made her more needy, and she ground against his hand. He gave her a swift kiss, tongue only brushing against her own, and met her gaze with his golden eyes. Then, very purposefully, he lowered his head between her legs.

His tongue touched her, flickering out against her clit, and she gasped. Over and over he teased her, running his tongue around her entrance and sucking on her most sensitive spot, before pulling back to watch her reaction.

Unlike the first time he’d made her come, he seemed to want to draw her out. Not just give her momentary relief, but also torment her along the way. Enjoying her reactions while he tortured her. He worked her with his mouth, one hand reaching up to cup her breasts, to tease her nipples.

She moaned and writhed and gasped his name, but he refused to be rushed. Drawing her out with quick licks and the barest of touches, he reached behind her to grab the nape of her neck, forcing her to hold still with his free hand while he worked.

“Owen, please!” She was hot, so hot, burning for release. Her whole body was swollen and needy and empty.

“You want to come?” he asked, voice low. But it wasn’t really a question. He knew what she needed, but for some reason wanted to hear it from her lips. She made a mewling sound, the closest thing to words she could summon.

He leaned back down, and she could feel his fingers probing around her entrance, but no matter how she squirmed, he refused to penetrate her. Instead, he sucked on her clit, hard. Teeth nipped her, and she flew over the edge into oblivion.

He felt her spasm, and with her taste in his mouth, he almost said to hell with it and took her. How right it felt to have her shuddering beneath him. To have her calling his name. Like she was his.

Mine.

No. Thoughts like that would get him into trouble. He had a duty here. And his honor wouldn’t allow him to give in to his own desires.

He helped her sit up on the bed, and she pulled the robe tightly around her body, tying the belt and glancing around the room, eyes wide and dazed. But she seemed to be able to focus better. Good.

“Owen?” Her voice was sleepy and sated. “Tell me more. Tell me what I am.”

It wasn’t his place, but he couldn’t bring himself to deny her again. Not when she was already so vulnerable. Not after she’d already given him so much of herself. “You’re a weretiger.”

She blinked at him. “What?”

He took in a deep breath and regretted it immediately when her floral scent filled his nose, mixed with the spicy smell of her heat, and the intoxicating scent of her arousal.

“We’re human—mostly. But over time, we develop tiger characteristics.”

“So you’re saying I’m like a werewolf or something?” Her tone was doubtful, and he could hardly blame her. This wasn’t the way to show her what she was. He should have kept his mouth shut and waited until they were somewhere safe enough for a demonstration. But it was too late now, the cat—tiger—was out of the bag.

“No, not exactly. You aren’t bound by the moon or anything. And most of us can’t turn completely. The weakest of our kind eventually develop tiger traits—the strength or speed or claws. Most of us can turn partially at will. Only the purest bloodlines can shift into actual tigers.”

“This is insane.”

“Daniella—”

“You’re insane.” Her voice rose to a yell and she jumped off the bed to stand in front of him. Her fear was gone—he was glad to see that—but anger had replaced it. “What the hell are you even saying? Are you nuts or are you just messing with me?”

Shit. He had to show her. Something small, at least. Otherwise she might try to run. Hell, she might try to run after he showed her what he was, too. In that case, he’d have to wrestle her down.

Oh, yeah, smart. Wrestle down the woman in heat. See how that ends for you. You’ll be inside her in two seconds flat, fucking her for all you’re worth.

“Daniella. Look at me.” He wasn’t a royal—a tiger who could fully shift—but he wasn’t far from it.

Concentrating on his face, he forced images of his other form—a partial tiger—into the forefront of his mind. And with it, he pushed with his mind. His flesh moved, and the sensation distracted him. He almost forgot why he was shifting until a squeak of fear brought him back to himself.

Daniella had fallen back. She sat on the edge of the bed, wide-eyed and unblinking, her mouth partially open.

“You’re—”

“A weretiger. Like you.”

“But—your face.” She stared at him, fascinated, but no horror crossed her features. Instead, she simply appeared stunned, and more than a little intrigued.

He knew what his face looked like, and her reaction sent a rush of joy through him. If she hadn’t been shocked, he would have been surprised. It wouldn’t have surprised him, though, if she’d been disgusted.

Not that he was a bad-looking weretiger. In fact, he liked to joke with his Erick that he got the best of both creatures. Cat-like features on a very human frame, and unlike most of his kind, he could shift parts of himself without shifting into his entire partial form—handy if you needed a sharp claw but no whiskers. But he couldn’t turn into a full tiger.

Which was why she couldn’t be his. No matter how much he wanted her.

A shudder ran through her body. She glanced away from him and clutched her arms, hugging herself.

He was by her side before he could think better of it, kneeling in front of where she sat on the bed, and when she looked up, she started.

“Oh, sorry,” he said, then closed his eyes to concentrate on changing his face back to fully human.

When he opened his eyes, she stared at him, their faces only inches apart.

“That was cool.” The tiniest of grins blossomed on her face. “I wasn’t sure if I should run away or pet you.”

He smiled at her and she licked her lips.

Damn.

“I need to make a phone call.” He pushed up from the floor. Yes, a call. Before he asked her to pet him.

“Wait.”

Barely trusting himself to not do something stupid, he turned to face her. She was so pretty in the delicate robe. So sexy. So vulnerable.

He could still taste her.

“This…heat. Or whatever. How do we make it go away?” she asked.

“Sex,” he said, simply, but he clenched his hands at his sides to keep from reaching for her. Sex wouldn’t actually bring her out of the heat, but it would give her a long reprieve. Maybe long enough to get through the heat. Maybe.

“Then why—”

“Because you aren’t meant for me. You belong to my best friend.”

3

“What?” Anger rolled through her, pushing back some of the pulsating lust threatening to overwhelm her again. She jumped off his bed and stalked toward him. “What do you mean, I belong to your best friend? I’m my own person, Owen. No one owns me.”

“There are things happening here that you don’t understand.”

“Explain them to me.” How dare he? She was her own person. And this the twenty-first century.

“You have the ability to turn into a full tiger—or you will, with some training and practice. That’s rare, Daniella. Full tigers are known as royals among our people—even though they aren’t necessarily from the same bloodline. They breed with other royals. They keep our people strong.” Belief filled his eyes—he believed what he said was true, that this insane tradition was somehow necessary. But there was guilt there, too.

“So, what? I’m supposed to have a litter of kittens with a stranger for the good of some people I don’t even know? People I couldn’t care less about at this point?” The idea of it was so humiliating, so disgusting, she could barely wrap her mind around it.

“Yes. We’re not a fertile species—children are difficult to conceive, and impossible outside of the time when the female is in heat. Your first heat is the most powerful, and the most fertile time of your life. If we could give you more time—”

“This whole thing is bullshit.” Give her time? As if her time was theirs to give? She paced the room, finally noticing her surroundings. Other than the bed and a small dresser tucked into one corner, the room looked uninhabited. He’d been here nearly a year, since not long after she moved in. And it looked like he could have just moved in. It was all temporary for him. Just like watching her—a temporary duty. Something in her chest twisted at the thought.

“It’s the way things are done. For the good of the whole.”

“Well, screw your ways.” She stopped pacing, careful to stay a few feet away from him. Her voice softened, and she hated herself a little bit for asking because it probably sounded desperate, but it had to be said. “Why not you?”

“I have good control for a shifter—more powerful than most—but I can’t make a full change. I’m no royal. But my best friend is. That fact makes him our prime. Our leader.”

“Why is that so important? The full change thing?”

“It’s not easy to explain, but it’s not really about the form itself—it’s about the power it represents.” He paused, thinking. “Tigers don’t congregate well. We aren’t pack animals, like the wolves. It takes a powerful prime, a royal or—even better—a mated pair of royals to keep a clan together.”

That made sense, sort of. But why did they need to keep their people together? She almost asked, but her thoughts shifted to something far more important to her, far more personal. “How do you know I’m one of you—let alone I’m a…royal, or whatever?” A small, nervous laugh escaped her. “I’ve never changed into anything. What makes you so sure? I mean, how can you be certain?” The pitch of her voice rose with every word. She was on the edge of a major freak out—she could feel the panic growing in her chest. Concentrating on the details helped.

“If only one of your parents was a pureblood, you could go either way—royal or partial shifter. Those pairings are rare, because tigers raised among the clan know the importance of keeping royal bloodlines pure, but they do happen rarely. Like with my parents.” He cleared his throat. “When two royals breed, their children are nearly guaranteed to be royals. Both of your parents were purebloods, both royals.”

Were—not are. He referred to her parents in past tense. The questions were on the tip of her tongue. She’d wondered about her birth parents off and on since she’d found out as a teenager that she’d been adopted. But the importance of it had faded as she grew older—or she thought it had.

She couldn’t form the questions. Something about it felt like a trap. Like if she opened that door, he’d have her. He’d have something else to use to convince her of this madness.

“So you got the short end of the genetic stick,” she said, instead.

“Yes, unlike Erick,” he said. “Of course, he had two royal parents, so his lineage wasn’t quite the lottery mine was.”

“Well, screw your friend.”

“That’s the idea.” He gave her a small grin, but she refused to smile at his joke.

“Oh, fuck you, Owen.” She shook her head hard. “No. I’m not having sex with some stranger.”

His smile disappeared. “You will, Daniella. You won’t have a choice.”

She stopped pacing and stared at him. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“He’ll be here by morning. The heat will be back by then, in full.” His tone turned almost angry and his face hardened. “You’ll want him, then. You’ll need him. Hell, you’ll be ready to beg for it.”

She flew at him and slapped him across the face with all her strength and ire. He didn’t react to the slap; his head barely moved before his gaze returned to hers. But something behind his eyes took notice. And it was feral.

Inside of her, something reacted to the thing behind his eyes. Whatever it was, it wanted to attack him again. Push him. See if he was worthy.

What the fuck?

Panic rushed through her. He was right. The way she’d felt around him the last few hours…if it got worse and she was presented with a man who elicited in her the same rush of need as Owen, she’d be lost. And some part of her wanted it. The tiger part—if she could believe Owen.

No. She wasn’t a tiger. And she definitely wasn’t going to let hormones of any kind decide her fate.

“Fine, then, I’ll leave. Unless you plan on trying to keep me here by force,” she said.

A flash of something crossed his hard features. Regret? She couldn’t be sure.

“Of course not. I’m not a kidnapper. But there are dangers out there, Daniella. Frightening things that would love the chance at a vulnerable weretiger.”

“Like what?”

“Vampires, for one. We’re rare, and quite valued as pets. And worse things.”

Her laugh was hysterical, but she was beyond caring. “Vampires. Of course. Why wouldn’t there be vampires, too?”

He didn’t reply, and she blinked back the tears threatening to blind her. Time was of the essence; even as her anger faded slightly, the lust inside of her surged. Soon, she wouldn’t be able to think clearly.

“Fine,” she said, looking away from him. She swiped at a single tear that had escaped to run down her cheek. “I thought that we had something here. Or, I did, before you quit talking to me and started treating me like some sort of pariah.”

“Daniella—”

“No.” He didn’t get to talk. Didn’t deserve the chance to placate her with his excuses—his bullshit traditions and medieval people. “If you don’t care enough to claim me for yourself, then I guess your best friend will have to do. Hopefully, he’s more of a man than you are. Or is that more of a tiger than you?” Hysteria lurked inside, barely under her control.

She looked up to see a mixture of shock and rage and lust crossing his features. His hands shook at his sides, and he looked like he wasn’t sure if he wanted to hit her or fuck her.

“You don’t know how hard this is. I do care about you. It makes this a million times more difficult. But my duty—”

“Is more important than me. What I want. More important, even, than what you want. I get it.” She shook her head, pain building in her chest that had nothing to do with her so-called heat. “Stupid thing is, I wanted you before this heat thing started. And I was dumb enough to hope that you wanted me, too.”

A low growl cut through the air. Before she even registered he’d moved, he was on her. His lips met hers, ferocious and demanding. He didn’t ask—he took.

The heat surged in her, immediately reacting to his onslaught. No matter how angry she was with him, her body still wanted his. And deep down, she cared about Owen. Sex with someone she cared about, someone she wanted even without this stupid heat, was infinitely more appealing to her than sex with a total stranger, especially in this insane situation.

He pulled her against him, and for once his body felt as hot as her own. Skin crawling with need, she wrapped herself around him, molding her body to his, returning his kiss eagerly.

Then she was on the bed, his large body covering hers, his hands cradling her face.

“Do you have any idea how much I’ve wanted you?” he said, his voice gruff. “All those nights of watching old movies. The days of watching you, making sure you were safe.”

“No,” she said, honestly. There had been times when she thought she’d felt the weight of his gaze, only to glance at him and find he wasn’t even looking at her. “The women I saw you bring home…you were good at hiding it. ”

“I had to be. And those women were nothing to me, but I needed…otherwise, I might have come to you, and I couldn’t risk that. But I didn’t fuck them. I couldn’t.”

The question was on the tip of her tongue. What exactly had he done with those women? Lust shifted in her chest, colored by a sudden spike of jealousy. Her rational mind knew she shouldn’t be jealous—they hadn’t been a couple, or even dating. And she’d been the epitome of off limits to him.

But she didn’t care. She was jealous anyway.

His hand slid up to cup her breast and lust rushed back. She hadn’t even noticed her robe had opened at some point while they kissed. A shudder ran through her as he slid a rough thumb over her nipple. “There wasn’t a single night you were here that I didn’t have to struggle against a hard-on.”

“You really wanted me that much?” she whispered, trying to maintain the thread of their conversation while her mind fragmented, seeking only the sensations his body could bring.

A low chuckle escaped him. “If you knew how many times I’ve thought of you. How many times I’ve had to jack off just to keep myself from breaking your door down and taking you.”

An image flashed in her mind. Owen in the shower, stroking the long, hard cock she could feel against her thigh while thinking of her. Coming with her name on his lips.

Damn.

Her sex clenched at the thought, and she kissed him so he’d stop looking at her. So he wouldn’t see how crazed the idea made her. But he pulled back, grinning.

“You like that, don’t you?” Owen asked, not at all fooled. “The idea of me thinking of you. You want to know what I imagined? Your lips, stretched around my cock. Your pussy, hot and wet and waiting for me. Licking your pussy while you beg me to take you. I’ve got a million fantasies surrounding you, Daniella. Taking you every way possible.” His lips brushed her ear, sending a tingle down her neck. “I intend to explore every one of those fantasies. And more.”

The heat pulsed through her, mixing with her own desire, and she writhed against his hard, immoveable frame as his tongue plunged into her mouth.

He kissed and licked his way down the curve of her neck, and she slid her hands down his muscled back. Everywhere he touched, it felt like electricity flowed from him into her. Sparking and shooting pulses straight to her core.

“Need you, Owen.” She gritted her teeth against the sensation. She felt empty. Swollen. Like she might burst if he wasn’t inside of her right this instant.

But Owen wouldn’t be hurried. He pulled her nipple into his mouth and sucked hard.

As the pain mixed with pleasure almost pushed her over the edge, she cried out and gripped his hair He growled and licked her other nipple. It was almost too much, everywhere but where she needed him most. She writhed beneath him, trying to ease the unbearable pressure building in her core. But he refused to touch her between her legs; instead, he took his time with her, as if they had all the time in the world.

His rough hands and soft mouth slid down the curvature of her neck, over her breasts, and across her abdomen. He kissed her mouth softly, tasting her, before returning to his barrage on the rest of her body.

Tears pricked her eyes, the need building to such a degree that her mind wasn’t sure if it was pleasure or pain.

“Owen,” she managed, her voice carrying all the desperation she felt.

“What do you need, kitten?”

Their gazes locked. He wasn’t as unaffected as his onslaught had suggested. His irises appeared almost inhuman, and his expression was animalistic, despite his very human appearance.

“Need you. Please.”

His hand went between them and her hips surged up, trying to meet it. But he was prepared for her response, and he pulled his hand back.

“None of that,” he said, and the authority in his voice stilled her.

“Good,” he murmured, never moving his gaze from hers. Very softly, his hand slid against her, grazing her clit softly. She moaned, almost beyond thought. And when the thick digit slid inside her, she bucked against him.

“What do you want, beautiful?”

She writhed and moaned, unable to form words.

His hand moved from where he’d teased her to grab her hair and tug. The small bit of pain sent a shot of need straight to her sex, but also brought her a bit of focus.

“Say it,” he said.

What did he want her to say? She struggled to think.

“Tell me you want me to fuck you.”

Part of her rebelled against the command in his tone, but her body shivered in need, and the authority in his voice only made the need worse.

“Please,” she managed.

“Please what?” His voice offered none of the softness his gentle assault had just shown her body.

“Fuck me.”

He growled, and the next thing she knew, he’d flipped her around, onto her hands and knees. Her robe was gone. She looked over her shoulder, and saw him shimmy out of his boxer briefs. The material was wet—from her excitement or his, she wasn’t sure. His cock bobbed between his legs, hard and thick and long enough to make her knees shake.

He closed the short distance between them, his face a mask of concentration and lust. He slid a hand down her back and then gripped her hip, holding her still. She could feel him, sliding the tip of his hard dick over her entrance, and a low cry escaped her. She arched her back, trying to take him.

She let out a scream from the sudden fullness, the almost perfect rush of satisfaction that rolled over her. The orgasm hit, pounding through her from where they were joined to touch every part of her body. Distantly, she could feel him start to move.

Somewhere around the time she’d admitted wanting him before the heat hit, he’d made a decision. His honor was important, as was his promise to his best friend. His clan. But Daniella was more important. What she wanted mattered more than anything else.

And she wanted him.

With her pussy holding him tight, it was all he could do to stay still. To give her body a chance to get used to his hardness filling her. He wanted to kick himself for not going slower, for not easing himself into her trembling body. But her heat and the simple fact that he’d dreamed about this moment for months didn’t allow for slowness.

He started to move as soon as her body quit shaking from the orgasm. God, she was beautiful. Body touched with sweat and smelling of sex and floral shampoo and woman.

His woman.

Slowly, he rolled his hips against her, moving as carefully as he could manage. He’d already pushed himself into her like a rutting bull; he needed to slow back down, make sure it was as good for her as it was for him—better. He couldn’t live with himself if he hurt her.

She moaned, long and low when he moved, and he stopped.

“Are you all right?” He didn’t even recognize his own voice, taut with the strain of holding himself back.

She turned her head and looked at him over her shoulder, swollen lips turned up in a small grin. “Harder.”

He snarled. “I’m trying not to hurt you.”

“Did I ever tell you I like it rough?” she asked, voice breathy. Words hanging in the air, she pushed back, impaling herself on him fully. His balls brushed her clit, and she moaned again.

“Damn,” he ground out.

He couldn’t resist her demands. Her sexiness. Her ass trying to grind against him. God, she was so wet and hot and tight.

Gripping her hips hard, he started to fuck her.

Despite her words, he moved slowly at first, building a delicious rhythm that was both the greatest pleasure and the worst torture he’d ever inflicted upon himself. He watched his cock slide in and out of her wetness, her back arched to take him as deeply as she could, and the sight was almost too much for him to take.

When her cries grew breathier and louder, and the buildup inside him became almost painful, he moved faster. Thrusting in and out of her, as he’d imagined doing since the day he’d met her. One hand gripping her hips, he slipped the other around to pinch her clit.

With a low cry, she came again. Her pussy clenched around him and her body shuddered with release. Control already slipping, he let go.

Inside his mouth, his canines grew long, brushing his bottom lip as he gritted his teeth. Had to claim her. Make her his.

He lashed out, sinking his teeth into her neck as he held her hips with both hands in a hard grip. Awareness of anything but her disappeared, and he pumped into her, fucking her as hard as he could, any reason or concern utterly lost to him. Only the need to come inside her—his mate—mattered. Only the sensation of filling her body mattered. Only solidifying their connection mattered.

Poison pumped through his teeth and into her neck. In his arms, her body went stiff, then soft, as the paralytic in his teeth penetrated her system, rendering her immobile. Defenseless against his onslaught.

He thrust inside her as deep as he could, and the orgasm ripped through him, and beneath him, he felt her pussy convulse around him again. His dick pulsed and jerked as her body milked him; he yanked his teeth from her body and groaned out her name. Pleasure overwhelmed him, the orgasm mixing with the feline satisfaction of knowing that she was claimed.

Mine.

Colors flashed across his vision, and after a few moments, he slowly pulled himself out of her. She let out a small noise at the movement.

Sudden realization hit him. He’d bitten her.

Shit.

But the effects were already fading. He lay down next to her on the bed and pulled her into his arms, and she half-heartedly batted at him.

“What the hell was that?” she asked, voice small and distant. Propping herself up on an elbow she studied him. Her hand moved to rest on his bite mark, and she flinched when her fingers brushed against the small wounds.

“I’m sorry,” he said, gruffly. “I should have warned you. But I wasn’t planning on biting you—not yet. But in the moment, I couldn’t control it.” He gave her a small smile. “You bring out the beast in me.”

“I couldn’t move, but I could still feel you, moving inside me.” Her brows scrunched together adorably. “It was…different.”

“Bad?”

“I—I don’t know.” She sighed. “Okay, I’ll admit it was pretty good in the moment. But I’m not sure how I feel about it. I take it that was more weretiger BS?”

His smile widened at her words. Weretiger BS. Oh, how that would make Erick’s blood boil. “It’s something we do—feel the need to do—when we mate. Especially when a woman is in heat. Some sort of biological imperative. There is a paralyzing toxin that comes out when we bite. Keeps the female from getting away I guess.”

A very unfeminine snort. “How romantic.”

“Handy in a fight, though.”

Boneless, she released a sigh, and rested her head on his shoulder. “Well, whatever. Add this to the list of stuff I’m going to need more info on sooner rather than later.” A few short seconds later, a soft snore came from her.

With the heat temporarily sated, she would sleep now, probably for several hours. And when she woke up, he would be there. Ready to take care of her however he could. However she needed.

Complete and utter satisfaction hit him. It didn’t matter what they’d have to deal with going forward, because they’d face it together.

Even if the challenge was his best friend, his prime, and up until the moment he’d laid eyes on Daniella, the most important person in the world to him.

4

Erick watched the road closely, his two best men silent in the cab with him, and squeezed the wheel. Driving wasn’t something he enjoyed; it was unnatural. The truck was too slow. But his feet would have been slower.

He had driven as quickly as the truck would take him through the mountains his people ruled—despite the fact that the humans didn’t even know of their existence. But when he’d emerged onto well-used roads that were policed by officers who knew nothing of the clan, he had to slow down to near the speed limit. Dealing with humans would slow him down more than the speed limit.

“Have you seen her?” Glenn asked from the passenger seat.

Erick didn’t glance at him, the man who had acted as his second until Owen could return from his watch over Daniella.

“Yes.”

Glenn didn’t ask a follow-up question, and Erick didn’t invite one. Talking about the woman he was going to mate wasn’t going to happen.

The first—and only—time he’d seen her was still fresh in his mind. No closer than twenty feet, and still his reaction had been visceral.

Luscious, her form was exactly what he preferred in women. Curvy, yet sleek, ripe for fucking. Ripe for bearing his cubs.

Owen had cursed him for leaving him behind to watch her, to wait until she couldn’t resist him, but Erick couldn’t let his friend’s opinions bother him. To approach her any other way would require time, and wooing. Time was in short supply because he couldn’t be away from the clan long. And Erick knew nothing of wooing women for anything more than a quick fuck.

No. This way was simpler. It had required patience, but Erick had always been patient when stalking his prey. The woman wasn’t prey, but the same principles applied.

Owen had tried to convince him this way wouldn’t get him anything lasting, but that wasn’t his concern. His parents certainly hadn’t been in any kind of relationship—lasting or otherwise. As far as Erick had been able to tell, they could barely stand one another. They’d done their duty. Bred him and his younger brother. Created two new royals in a time when it was rare to see more than one born in the same clan in a single generation.

Not that it mattered that there were two of them. Nicolas had left the clan when he was little more than a teenager. Only Erick was left to carry the duty of keeping his people together. Keeping them strong.

Keeping them alive.

Like his father before him, he’d do his duty. The royal he’d tracked down with the relentlessness he was known for—Daniella—would accept him into her bed, during her heat if nothing else. Once she learned of their people, came to know them, perhaps she would be proud to continue their line.

But she didn’t have to like him.

Erick would enjoy taking her; his cock swelled even at the brief memory he had of her. And he would make sure she enjoyed being taken.

Moonlight peeked through the curtains when a heavy knock on the door rattled the apartment. Daniella was still tucked safely in his arms, fitting as if she’d been born to fit him.

Erick.

The clock radio next to the bed read three seventeen. The sun wouldn’t rise for several hours yet. He’d gotten here faster than Owen thought possible.

Another knock sounded, and Daniella stirred in his arms. She let out a small sigh and then nuzzled his neck.

He’d have liked nothing better than to wake her, slowly and languidly. Make love to her again, but this time he’d explore her. Find all the things that brought her to the edge. Figure out what made her writhe and beg and scream.

“Have to wake up now, kitten,” he murmured.

She blinked sleepily, but there was an edge behind her eyes. A need that would only grow the longer she went without breeding.

“Your prime?” She made half-hearted air quotes around the title.

“Yes.”

She pulled her robe tighter, and his resolve strengthened. The promises he had made to his prime and friend—and by extension, to his people—were important. But not as important as her. He would do anything he had to in order to protect Daniella. She was his. Just as he was undeniably hers.

But the cost to his clan could be huge. Guilt twinged in his chest. If only there was a way to keep her, yet allow for the certainty of a royal heir.

One possibility hadn’t been discussed yet—but he wasn’t sure bringing it up would do anything but push her further away. A possibility that wasn’t at all strange to his people—not even strange to him and Erick. But Daniella had been raised with humans, and something so far outside of what she’d consider normal and reasonable wasn’t something he could ask of her.

He gave her a quick kiss, hard and full of all the emotion he couldn’t express any other way in the time they had.

“You are mine,” he said, fiercely. “I will not give you up.”

She nodded, and some of the tension left her shoulders. He gave her hand a final, reassuring squeeze and went to answer the door.

It flew open just as he stepped out of the bedroom.

Erick stepped inside, filling the room with his large frame and commanding presence. However much Owen despised how he’d tried to take Daniella, he had to admit that his friend was born to rule. Every fiber of the man’s being screamed that he was to be obeyed.

Two of his best guards, Anton and Glenn, were at his heels. Owen stood his ground. From behind him, he heard Daniella stirring. Interested in seeing what the other man who wanted her looked like?

It didn’t matter. She was his now. And he would risk his life to keep her.

Erick’s gaze was hard when scanned the room. Without a word, he took a long, deep breath of air through his nose.

“You have mated her,” Erick said.

“Yes. She is mine.”

“You will fight for her.”

Owen tensed. “I will.”

Erick hesitated, but his hard expression didn’t soften. “Human form, then.”

His prime was giving him a chance. It didn’t matter that Erick was a royal and Owen was not—he could have specified tiger form. Owen’s partial shift form was powerful, but not as powerful as Erick’s full tiger. With a short nod, Owen agreed to the terms.

Erick struck.

She fell back from the doorway as Erick flew at Owen. Panic constricted her throat. Owen could handle himself, she didn’t doubt that, but his prime hadn’t come alone.

But the other men just stepped back, out of the way as the men sparred.

Erick got in the first strike, but Owen danced away from the next punch. Then he darted to one side and swung at Erick while his side was open. Erick’s expression didn’t reveal any pain.

She almost couldn’t follow their movements; they were that quick. Like the tigers Owen said shared their blood, they moved with a fierce grace.

They rarely hit one another, but the times they did were leaving their mark. Less than a minute of their eerily wordless sparring, blood and scrapes covered both of their faces, and she could only imagine what their ribs would look like when the bruises started to show. A crash when Owen landed on the coffee table. A loud thump when Owen threw Erick into his wall, leaving behind a large hole. But the only sound coming from them men was the occasional grunt when one got in a good hit. The sweet smell of sweat tinged with blood touched her nose.

How long would it go on? How long would Owen have to fight for her?

Her stomach churned at the thought. All of this was, in a weird way, her fault.

“Stop it!” she shouted.

Both men slowed, no longer striking, but not looking at her, either.

“This is so stupid. It doesn’t even matter who wins.”

That got their attention. Owen turned slightly to stare at her, careful to keep the other man in his peripheral vision.

“What is she talking about?” Erick ground out.

“Don’t ask him, asshole. I’m standing right here.” Somewhere in the back of her mind, she knew poking the tiger wasn’t the best idea. The man was obviously violent, and even though he wasn’t as physically imposing as Owen—he was tall, but not quite so muscular—Erick made her gut clench in fear in a way that Owen never had. Somehow she knew, instinctively, that under normal circumstances, Erick was the more dangerous of the two.

But she was feeling pretty violent herself. Whatever ancient machismo BS they were engaged in—well, she wasn’t the shut up and do whatever the men tell her to type. Their fight had the seriousness of a death match, and she wasn’t about to find out definitively how it would end. Not if she could do something about it.

Finally, Erick’s gaze slid to her. A quick glance at the fang marks in her neck, and then his intense eyes were locked on hers. “What are you talking about, woman?”

She didn’t roll her eyes, but it was a close call. The man was ruggedly handsome, and quite honestly one of the sexiest men she’d ever seen close up—just like Owen, yet so different. He was a bit more grizzled—in a wild man sort of way—and a couple of years older. Charcoal hair brushed his neck. A Calvin Klein model would be thankful to be blessed with Erick’s face. Yeah, he was pretty, however much that was worth. He was lucky for it because he’d never win any women with his charm.

“I’ve made my choice. I choose Owen. I don’t care who wins this fight. I’m going—staying—home with him.”

“This is a fight to the death,” Erick told her, grimly. “You will go home with whomever wins.”

“Wow. What year do you think this is? I will be with the man I choose, and it isn’t you, buddy. I go home with him or nobody.”

The smile he flashed her held no humor. “In another hour, the heat will hit and you will go home with any tiger who offers.”

She returned his smile with every bit of coldness she could summon. And considering his attitude, it was a lot. “You might get the chance to fuck me while I’m in heat, I’ll give you that. But you just wait. The first time you fall asleep or let your guard down, I will make you pay for his death. Can you still be king of the weretigers, or whatever the hell you are, gelded?”

Erick blinked. Hah! Apparently, even the big, bad prime of the tigers could be surprised.

One of the men behind him made a noise that sounded suspiciously like a laugh. But Owen refused to meet her gaze. He didn’t look happy. Damn. She’d made a wrong move. How was she supposed to know what the rules were? Besides, she wasn’t the type to sit around and knit while he fought their battles.

He should already know that.

“You would do no such thing. It is not honorable. That’s the sort of honorless fighting vampires engage in. We do not.” He stood proudly, as if his argument would hold water for her.

She shrugged, hoping she appeared far more nonchalant than she felt. Not that her appearance probably mattered to a guy who could smell the fear on her. “I’m not really into the honor thing. I was raised by humans, remember? I’m more about the sneaky vengeance.”

“Do you allow your woman to fight your battles?” Erick said, turning his gaze to his friend.

“No. We will finish this fight.” Owen glanced at her. “I will kill him for you.”

“Do whatever floats your boat, buddy. But don’t lay it on me. I don’t need your friend’s blood on your hands. And killing him isn’t going to turn me on. It sounds like a good way to send me packing, actually.” She frowned, and added, “After this heat thing passes, anyway.”

Erick’s frown deepened. “She is a most unusual female.”

“She was raised among humans.” Owen’s posture straightened, some of the tension leaving his hard frame. “She is a warrior in her own right.”

The unmistakable pride in his voice made her heart swell, even though she didn’t exactly think she qualified as a warrior. “Look, whatever. Isn’t there some kind of non-bloody compromise we could come to here? Because—no offense— you’re…” Extremely sexy but also super scary looking. “…A good looking guy and all, but I don’t even know you.”

“You don’t need to know me. Your tiger will recognize the dominance in mine.”

“Sorry. Not enough for me, pal.”

Erick’s gaze moved to Owen, and they shared a long look. Were weretigers telepathic or something? That seemed unlikely. But an idea was being exchanged, even if it was simply being communicated silently by men who knew each other well. She was certain that whatever compromise they suggested wasn’t something she was going to like.

Owen nodded at his friend, and Erick turned his attention to her. Her guts twisted tighter.

“Unlike some of our kind, I am not weak.” Erick didn’t look at Owen, but his meaning was clear, and if she’d actually had tiger fur, it would have bristled. “I do not require a female more often than her heat beckons. For the good of my people, I would be willing to share you with my second, claiming you only when your heat crests, and you are at your most fertile.”

“What the hell? You want to use me as some sort of broodmare? Breed me like an animal?” And what was his second? Did that mean Owen was the one in charge if something happened to Erick? Because she wouldn’t have minded something violent happening to the arrogant man in that moment. Like she was going to bend over and let this stranger breed her like an animal. An image of exactly that flashed in her mind, and she swallowed hard. No way. That was not turning her on. No matter what her body thought.

Something in his expression changed, but he covered the emotion so quickly she couldn’t identify it. “We’re not animals. But we are in danger of extinction. I will share you for the sake of my people. I’m not asking for a relationship,” he said, spitting out the last word as though it tasted bad. “I’m asking you to help preserve your clan.”

Owen shifted on his feet behind his prime, and she turned her gaze to him, swallowing the angry words she wanted to lob at his friend. But Owen didn’t look pissed, he looked…uncomfortable.

“You want me to do it!” She gaped at him. What the hell had just changed? How on earth could he even think of sharing her? Didn’t he care about her at all?

“No.” He approached and tried to take her hands in his, but she stepped back. “I’m sorry. I don’t want to share you. But what he’s saying his true. Our clan needs a royal line to lead it. They need the power that comes with it to stay together. Without a royal heir…”

“What?”

A darkness passed behind his gaze. “The clan will be no more. One way or another. Our generation will likely be the last without you.”

This was too much. They were asking for her to sacrifice her…what? Her morals? Her freedom? For what? People she didn’t know. “So find another broodmare!”

Erick laughed, but there was no humor in the sound. “If it were that easy, do you think I’d really be trying so hard to get into your bed?”

Outrage ran through her, and just a tiny thread of hurt—silly, since she didn’t know this man, so why would she expect him to want her? Then his words sank in. “How rare, exactly, are we?”

“Female royals are extremely rare. So rare, clans will fight for them. And they become rarer all the time.”

“Rarer all the—what the hell does that ominous shit mean?”

Owen closed the distance between them and touched her shoulder, no doubt trying to comfort her, but the simple touch ran through her body like fire.

“Shit,” she muttered, wrapping her arms around herself and stepping back. No matter what her body said, she was so not in the mood for sex right now.

“The heat is rising again,” Erick said. Then he moved forward, too. The men were too big, too overwhelming with both of them close-up, and her heat itched under her skin. Erick reached under her chin and tipped her head up so her eyes would meet his. “A decision must be made. You need only take my seed once, maybe twice a year—after this first heat ends.”

“What do you mean? After this year?” Her concentration slipped, and she found herself leaning into his slight touch. God, the man so wasn’t her type. Neither of them were. Too big. Too scary. Too everything. But in that moment, she had to stop herself from reaching for him, from crawling all over him.

“The first year or so, a female is very fertile. And the heat can remain, and arise, quickly. It makes pregnancy very likely. It’s a biological necessity for our people. We are not especially fertile.” His eyes were green, but he shared one trait with Owen—flecks of amber when the light hit them right. But they carried none of the kindness she saw in Owen’s—only something hard and cruel. Would his eyes turn more amber when he got riled up? “Our children would be prized. Cared for. They’d want for nothing.” His hand slid from her chin to cup her face.

Desire rolled under her skin, and she forced in a deep breath, unfortunately inhaling a tantalizing, masculine scent. So unique—similar to Owen, yes, but different. The temptation this man brought—she could never have imagined the lust a stranger could elicit. It must be the heat. Had to be. No way did she really want this man, this stranger.

She had to be logical about this.

“No.”

His hand fell from her cheek. “You refuse me?”

“No—I mean, yes. Sorry, but this is just too weird. And I can’t…I mean, I won’t.” The desire to give into him was difficult to breathe around. Knowing that not only did she have Owen’s permission, but also his encouragement, made the idea difficult to resist. But there was too much going on. Too much weird shit in a very short amount of time.

“Very well.” Erick didn’t reveal anything on his stony, handsome face. Was he disappointed? Why did she care? She didn’t know him or his clan. Worrying about herself was the best she could manage right now. “It was interesting, meeting you.”

Her stomach twisted in a curious mixture of fear and triumph, lust and need. Disappointment. And she opened her mouth to ask him to stay, to fuck her senseless, before snapping it closed. Damn heat.

“Would you like Anton to remain with you?” Erick asked Owen.

“We’ll be fine. I’ve sensed nothing since I got here, and we’ll follow you soon.” Owen gave her an apologetic shrug, then added, “Besides, we’d rather be alone.”

One of the men—Anton maybe?—grunted a small laugh.

“That’s not wise.”

Owen’s face hardened. “Give her—give us—some time. Crowding her with tigers isn’t going to make this easier. One night. That’s all I ask. We’ll return to the territory tomorrow.”

Erick looked like he wanted to argue—his body tense and his face matching Owen’s stubborn glare. But, jaw tight, he gave Owen a short nod. “Fine. Tomorrow.”

The warning didn’t pass his lips, but she was pretty darn sure Erick would be back to get them if they didn’t show. The man could insinuate more with a look than most people could get across in full sentences. A product of his upbringing? What kind of life would a rare royal live among their kind?

“Give us a minute,” Erick said. When Owen hesitated, he grunted. “Do you fear I’ll molest her if you let her out of your sight for a moment?”

“Abso-fucking-lutely.”

A small quirk touched Erick’s mouth and Owen fought a grin. Suddenly, she could see the camaraderie between them. What would her decision cost Owen? His friendship with Erick? His position within the clan?

“I swear I will not hurt her nor fuck her if you give us a moment alone,” Erick deadpanned.

Owen snorted and turned to her. “You’ll be okay?”

“No. I’m a delicate flower that must be protected constantly lest I wither and die.” Hah! Take that. She could be just as sarcastic as these two.

At that, Owen chuckled. He gave Erick a look which seemed to say “good luck”, then headed out of the apartment with the other two men. Erick waited, listening, before turning back to her.

When light green eyes caught hers, it was like being hit in the gut. She found herself suddenly breathless. Damn, the man was sexy.

“What did you want to talk about?” she said, her voice clearly nervous even to her own ears. There was no reason to be nervous—they’d won, right? But for some reason, it felt a little too easy. Too pat. Finally, it hit her why.

Erick wasn’t acting like a man who’d lost.

With one long stride, he’d again closed the distance between them. She gasped at his sudden nearness, and her foot slid back as if of its own free will. But she stopped there. She wasn’t running from this man—this predator.

No doubt he would chase her.

He cupped her face gently, and she fought not to lean into the soft touch. His lips moved close to hers and she braced herself for the kiss, her whole body suddenly flush again with renewed need.

If he kissed her, she didn’t think she’d even try to stop him.

But his mouth slid past hers, and his cheek brushed her own. Lips against her ear, his voice was low, for her ears alone. “This isn’t over. I will to have you. Soon.”

He inhaled deeply—was he sniffing her hair?—but before she could move an inch, Erick headed for the door. It slammed shut behind him, no longer entirely closing since he’d broken the frame to get in.

Energy filled the room—Erick’s energy. Even though he’d gone, his promise remained. Goosebumps prickled on her skin, and she was still rubbing them away when Owen returned.

“That was weird,” she said, after a moment of silence passed between them. After she reined in her heat enough to speak without risking she’d ask Owen to go after Erick. She wasn’t sure how to feel about Owen now, either. He’d been willing to share her…

Would that have really been so bad?

She shook off the random thought. It was the heat, not her. She had no desire to delve under the rock-hard surface of his clan’s prime to see what was beneath. Nope.

“What did he want?”

For some reason, Erick’s promise—threat?—wouldn’t come to her lips. The moment between them felt private. Ridiculous. If she were going to have any private moments, they wouldn’t be with Erick. “Nothing interesting.”

Owen turned to her, his mouth twisted in a grim line, but his eyes danced with mischief despite the bruises and scrapes on his skin. “You don’t have to tell me, but we do need to talk about what you did—stopping that fight.”

Her stomach clenched and she could feel the heat rising within her. She shifted, suddenly wet and achy.

“Get in the bedroom, kitten. And we’ll discuss weretiger protocols.”

“I can think of better things to do in the bedroom,” she said, and her voice came out breathless. Crap. She was supposed to be mad at him—scratch that, she was mad at him. But the need…the need was greater than her anger.

“Don’t worry. I’m just sure you’ll love your punishment for breaking at least three of our laws.” He stepped close and she leaned toward him, taking in his masculine scent, which now intermingled with the slight smell of blood and sweat. “Maybe I should spank you.”

It shouldn’t turn her on, she knew that. But between his scent and the adrenaline coursing through her after watching him fight for her, she almost dropped to her knees and offered herself to him. Letting go would feel so good. So perfect to have him pushing inside of her, his teeth digging into her neck. Taking what was his.

It took every bit of her fraying self-control to stay on her feet.

“I’m never going to be the kind of woman who sits by idly while you fight battles,” she said. He had to know that. No matter how much she wanted him, he had to want her, love her, for who she was.

His voice was low when he spoke, and his words sent a shot of need straight between her legs.

“I wouldn’t have you any other way.”

5

“You keep talking like that and you just might get laid.” She grinned at him, and Owen’s heart swelled in his chest. He’d been afraid she’d never forgive him after he suggested sharing her with Erick. She’d probably think even worse of him if he told her the whole truth. If he told her that she wouldn’t be the first woman they’d shared, not by a long shot.

But she would be the only one who really mattered, so he was going to keep that little fact to himself.

Besides, he’d smelled the change in her scent when she’d mentioned his dates. His nose wasn’t as good as a werewolf’s, but her anger had been strong enough, deep enough, for him to identify it easily. Why bring up women he’d shared with Erick when it would only hurt her?

Closing the distance between them, he took a deep breath, and the smell of her—amplified and enhanced by the heat—filled his lungs. He tucked a tuft of her hair behind her ear. “We should leave this place.”

“Now?” Her eyes sparkled with mischief and desire, then she frowned. “I’m still mad at you, you know.”

“For being willing to share you?”

“I—“ She swallowed hard, and the shine of tears twisted his gut. “It makes me feel like you don’t really want me.”

“That’s not it at all,” he said, fiercely. The fact she could think that… “You’re incredible. Beautiful and sexy and smart. Your kindness shines through even when you’re mad at me.”

“Then why?”

“Our people don’t have the same view of matings as humans.”

“So, what?” she said, fire back in her voice, even as the smell of her arousal permeated the air, bringing his cock near full attention. “You guys don’t care about cheating? Because that’s going to be a problem for me. A big one.”

“That’s not it—we’re loyal to our mates. I don’t know if it’s the animal instinct inside of us, or some kind of difference of genetics, but among mated pairs—committed to being together, not just fucking—cheating is practically unheard of. But we don’t always limit our pairings to traditional sets.”

She blinked. “You’re polyamorous?”

His lip twitched, but he managed not to smile at her very human way of looking at things. “That’s a good way to describe it. Females are much rarer than males, and our people rarely breed with nonhumans—not for anything other than, than…” He almost said the occasional fuck, but stopped himself in time.

A single brow rose. “One night stands?”

“Yes.” That was a nicer way to put it.

“But, that wasn’t exactly what Erick was proposing. Didn’t sound like it, anyway.”

He was relieved she didn’t ask why their women tended to number less than their men; he didn’t need to go into the gory details with her yet. The details about Erick would be difficult enough for a woman raised among humans to understand. “You have to understand. Erick was raised from birth to lead our people. He has always had that weight on his shoulders. His…priorities and the way he reacts to things, it’s all driven by that responsibility.” At her frown, he tried again. “We aren’t humans. Nor are we beasts. We’re something different. Our normal is your straight-up weird.”

“I don’t feel different.” She shivered, wrapping her arms around herself. “Well, I didn’t until this thing hit.”

“You may not have seen it because you didn’t know to look for it, but you are different.” He pulled her close and she wiggled against him, obviously wanting to do far more than talk. “We’ll speak of this later. For now…I can smell how much you need me.” When her eyes widened and her cheeks reddened, he added, “And I need you, too.” He took her wrist, and placed her hand on his fully erect cock. “Badly.”

“Oh,” she said. “I see.” The smell of her arousal deepened, and he lost his last thread of control.

He reached for her, but her arm came out, blocking him. A growl of frustration cut out of him, but he swallowed the sound.

“Will there be more changes? In me, I mean. I’d like to know what to expect.”

“Yes. But we have time. I will prepare you for them. Just not right this second.”

Her brows drew together, scrunched in confusion.

“I have to have you. Now.”

“Oh.” Her mouth dropped open. “This heat thing…it doesn’t just affect how I feel, does it?”

“No. It makes the men around you possessive. Makes them desire you. It kicks our instincts into even higher gear when we feel some sort of attachment. Getting near a mated pair when the female is in heat…well, men have lost their lives for simple misunderstandings. But it ensures our women are safe when they are at their most vulnerable.”

For some reason that didn’t seem to please her, and a frown creased her lips. But he wasn’t eager to chat about weretiger biology anymore. She’d been given enough information to absorb in one night. And he had to taste her. Touch her. Take her.

“Can we be done talking?” His voice was a growl, but he couldn’t help that. The scent of her arousal drowned him, and his cock was hard enough to break through his pants. Every instinct in his body thrummed with the desire to take.

Under his intense gaze, she softened. “God, yes.”

That was all he needed to hear. Without another word, he wrapped his arms around her and kissed her.

There was nothing soft in the way Owen took possession of her mouth, the way his hands roamed over her body, touching and squeezing and rubbing. She mewled when his hand moved between her legs and cupped her mound.

Then he was lowering her to the floor, muttering that the bedroom was too far. He pushed his pants just far enough down to free his cock.

With care she no longer had the brainpower to appreciate, he slid into her. Slick with desire, her body welcomed him, offering no resistance.

“So good,” he ground out against her neck. “Hot. So hot and tight.” Again with care, he began moving.

Her body automatically matched his careful rhythm. But she didn’t want careful. For some reason, Erick’s face flashed in her mind. His hard, almost cruel features, and the way his gaze had raked over her. Pure lust.

No, Erick wouldn’t fuck her slow. He’d fuck her hard and fast, leaving her no option but to take what he’d give her. Dominant to a fault, he’d take her forcefully, just to show her who was in control. And she’d love every minute of it—she knew it, even if she could barely admit it to herself.

“Harder,” she cried, her sex clenching around him as her orgasm touched the edge of her senses. She dug her fingers into his ass, demanding he take her the way she suddenly needed to be fucked.

Owen bit her neck—not hard, he took care to not puncture her skin again, but hard enough to push her over the edge. The orgasm crashed into her, even as he thrust into her with abandon.

“Owen!” His name was wrenched from her lips. He cried out, body shuddering over hers, even as she felt his cock twitching inside of her as he came.

Owen stayed above her, cradling her body with his for a long moment. Then he kissed her damp forehead softly and rolled to the side. Before she could grasp that he’d moved, he’d pulled her into the crook of his arm.

“Should I get ready to go?” He’d said they needed to go, hadn’t he? Stupid, heat-fuzzied memory. The prospect of moving wasn’t likely, but she’d do it if she had to. In a bit. A while. Maybe in an hour or so her limbs would respond to her commands. Maybe.

“Later,” he mumbled.

She grinned against his shoulder. “Tuckered you out, did I?”

“Quiet now, woman. Resting.”

A small laugh escaped her, and she managed to prop herself up on one elbow to look at his face. Eyes closed and satisfaction radiating from every pore, he didn’t look like he’d be moving anytime soon.

But a sudden surge of energy hit her, and she managed to get up to her wobbly feet. Was the worst of the heat over? She certainly felt better, more like herself—but different. She grinned, and she took a step toward the bathroom. Only to be stopped by a hand closing around her ankle. She looked down at Owen, but his eyes were still closed.

“Where you goin’?” he said, sounding half asleep.

“Shower, big guy. You take a nap in case this heat thing comes back. I’ll need you at full energy.”

He cracked a smile, but didn’t open his eyes. Instead, he rolled over onto his side, and a small snore came from his throat.

She shoved a fist over her mouth to keep from laughing at the poor man. Not fair. He’d done most of the work, after all. Not to mention the fight with Erick. Wasn’t fighting supposed to be one of the most exhausting things a person could do? Figured that would even wear out a weretiger.

She turned the shower on and stepped under the warm stream, reveling in the heat.

A weretiger. She wasn’t even human, if Owen was to be believed, and she did believe him. Something inside of her had believed him even before he’d flashed his second face.

Frowning at the thought, she lathered up, pretending her breasts hadn’t just pebbled at the smallest touch of her own hands. Worrying over the heat thing could wait. She was intent on thinking through the weretiger thing while she still had half a brain working for her.

She’d never felt like she had a beast living inside of her, or anything like that. The urge to hiss at someone had never hit her, and to her recollection, she’d always been a dog person.

So why was she so sure he was telling the truth?

Maybe it was as simple as the fact that she’d never fit in. Her life had been spent trying her best to be who she thought she was supposed to be, but she’d always felt like an imposter—an impersonator.

The only parents she’d ever known were no exception. They loved her and she loved them. And for the most part, they’d never had any real issues. Bob and Carol Clark were standup people, with nine-to-five jobs. They went to church every Sunday and had urged Daniella to go to school for business or law. Her desire to pursue art had been almost unfathomable to them. They’d forced smiles and supported her decision, but it had always been obvious to all of them that she wasn’t quite a perfect fit for their family.

Once, she would have readily blamed that on being adopted. But now…now she had a tiger with a crazier, but maybe more fitting, explanation.

And what a tiger.

Owen was everything she’d dreamed of—or he had been until he’d started acting like a jerk. Kind, intelligent, gorgeous. And with incredible taste in movies. Sure, he hadn’t struck Daniella as her type when they’d first met because he’d been so physically imposing, but she was more than a little aware she’d resisted any kind of attraction because she thought he was so far out of her league that he might as well be a dream.

She blinked into the shower spray, a sudden dread hitting her. Firmly, she pinched her own shoulder, hard.

“Ow,” she hissed softly. Okay, whew. Not a dream, then. But it was no wonder she was worried. Ending up with a man like Owen lusting after her was pretty unbelievable, but to have two men of that caliber fighting to have her…well, that just didn’t happen. Heck, such things probably didn’t even happen to super models all that often, let alone girls like herself.

The curtain flew open, and she screeched.

Wild-eyed, Owen stared at her. “Are you all right?”

“I’m fine! Holy crap, give a girl a heart attack, why don’t you?” She threw the washcloth at his head, but he ducked and dodged it easily, sending it to splat against his bathroom wall.

“I heard you. You were in pain.”

She just stared, until realization hit. Heat traveled up her neck to her face, and she turned to face the shower spray. “I’m fine.”

“Did I hurt you?” The fear in his voice drew her attention back to him.

“God, no. Why would you think that?”

“I was…rough with you. And you haven’t even changed, come into your power. You’re nearly as weak as a human right now.”

“Thanks, I guess. I’m fine.” No way was she admitting she’d pinched herself to make sure she wasn’t dreaming. That kind of thing could give a man a big head. “Really, Owen. I’m okay.”

He searched her face for a moment before nodding. “Then please, scoot over.”

“No way. You’ll totally hog the water,” she protested, but she scooted.

“I would never.”

“On your honor?” she teased.

He nodded gravely and stepped into the shower.

It took all of thirty seconds before she realized he’d lied. But by then, she didn’t care.

6

Daylight had peeked through the curtains by the time they’d settled into bed—and Daniella suspected the sun had been out for a couple of hours already. She was dead tired, and after agreeing with Owen that sleeping in his apartment—now un-lockable, thanks to his prime—wasn’t the best idea, they wandered over to her place to pass out. Even though her bed was queen-sized, Owen seemed to take up all the space. Luckily, he was more than willing to hold her—keeping her tucked against his body while they slept.

But when she woke, the bed beside her was empty. Still slightly warm to the touch, but empty. And night had fallen.

She blinked, searching the darkness for him. For half a second she thought it might have all been a strangely vivid dream, and her stomach dropped. Then she sat up to get a better view of the room, and her whole body ached with a mostly-pleasant pain. Her breasts were heavy and sore. And while she was a tiny bit sore between her legs—it had been a long time since she’d had sex, and never with a man as well-endowed as Owen—she could feel a different ache there as well.

The heat had calmed, but it wasn’t gone.

“Owen,” she called, keeping her voice pitched low for a reason she couldn’t name. Instinct, maybe. Or heck, likely just unreasonable fear. Her world had changed, shifted in ways she still didn’t understand, and it was no wonder she didn’t have her feet back under her yet.

“Owen?” she tried again, shoving the covers off. She hurried to her dresser and pulled on a pair of loose, cotton shorts she used to sleep in, and a black camisole. Even the soft cotton and loose material teased her nipples, brushed her most unsatisfyingly between her legs.

She sighed. Maybe Owen would be up for another round. A nice, slow, gentle round. Just as soon as she found him.

Just the thought of the man who had been her friend, then her enemy, and finally her lover made her press her thighs together to try to relieve the sudden ache. He was so gentle with her, so loving. Yet, all man. All tiger—not that she was ready to consider that fact too closely quite yet.

The kitchen was quiet as well, and no lights had been turned on in the apartment. Of course, that wasn’t exactly unusual given the amount of light that seeped through her curtains even when they were closed. Even now, when it was dark out, because of the streetlights surrounding the building.

Besides, for all she knew, Owen might be able to see in the dark like the cat he was. She grinned at the thought. It was hard to imagine—not that Owen didn’t have a little beast in him, but she’d never have guessed the wildness lurking in him would be greater than that of any other virile, masculine man.

Erick, on the other hand…

The weretiger prime was more beast than man, if she didn’t miss her guess. Something dark lurked in his eyes, and unlike Owen, he felt…different. Like he was a monster who just looked like a man.

Her sex clenched and she bit her lip. No. No way she found that attractive. It was just the heat. That’s it. She just needed to find Owen and he’d take care of the heat issue, stat. And she could forget about his weirdly alluring prime.

Where the heck was he?

Maybe he’d gone to his apartment, for clothes. Or food. That was likely, since she wasn’t sure she had anything edible other than ketchup in her fridge.

But wouldn’t he hear her if he was only a thin apartment wall away, calling for him? Heck, he’d heard her tiny little “Ow” in the shower after she’d pinched herself. The man—weretiger—had crazy good ears.

Telling herself that the heavy pit in her stomach was silly, she squared her shoulders and opened the door to her apartment. Nothing jumped out at her when she stepped into the quiet hall, nor did anything seem amiss in Owen’s apartment.

Except for the fact that he wasn’t there.

“Chill out,” she muttered to herself. “He wouldn’t just up and leave you.”

[_Great, now you’re talking to yourself. _]She shook her head.

Maybe he’d gone to the store. Yes, that made sense. She had no food. He was normally stocked up, but maybe he didn’t have whatever he’d want to feed a hungry woman in heat. Heck, pregnant women ate weird shit all the time. Yeah, she wasn’t pregnant, but being in heat had to wreak all sorts of insanity on the hormones. Any second now, she’d want peanut butter and pickle sandwiches.

“Check on the car, dummy,” she muttered again, then cursed under her breath. Owen was really going to think she’d gone off the deep end if he left her alone for a few minutes and she was already conversing with herself.

After taking a second to grab a pair of slip-on shoes she kept by her front door, she headed for the back of the building, which was where Owen always parked his little pickup.

She rounded the corner to the side of the building where he parked his truck. The roar warned her before she could even make out the shapes beneath the streetlights.

Too late.

The three men circling Owen didn’t look like anything scary at first glance. Two were nearly Owen’s six foot height, though both were a bit slimmer. The other was much smaller, almost waif-like and definitely not an inch over five-six.

But it was Owen’s reaction to them that made fear spike in her chest. He watched them warily, trying to keep them in his line of sight as they circled. Blood seeped from a new gash under his left eye, and he was avoiding putting weight on his right leg. She’d thought he’d been beat up after fighting Erick, but he’d looked damn good compared to how he looked now.

The other men didn’t look much better. One was bleeding steadily from his nose, and the shorter one’s neck had a large gash. The third she couldn’t make out as well; he stood in the shadows. But the way he stood appeared off, like he favored one side.

But none of that was what halted her in her tracks. Owen’s shifted face did that.

She bit back a gasp, but it was too late. The slight man turned his head to look at her. Something about the way he moved was off somehow—wrong. Almost robotic. He smiled at her, revealing long fangs, and she knew.

Vampire.

Holy crap.

“Run, Daniella!” Owen’s voice cut through her shock, and she met his desperate gaze. “Run!” he commanded in a loud roar that barely came out as an understandable word. He waved an arm, a gesture for her to leave, and her eyes locked on the fur and claws that had taken the place of his human hands.

Run, he’d said. But there were three of them—what if Owen needed her help?

Owen knocked the larger vampire onto the ground with a full-body kick that didn’t look humanly possible—and probably wasn’t—and was reaching for the second vampire. If she stayed against his wishes and one of them grabbed her, she could ruin everything. Owen would never forgive her. Worse, Owen would never forgive himself if she got herself killed. And she didn’t know how to shift, or if she could yet. How much help would one practically human woman be against vampires?

With a painful ache pressing against her chest and bile crawling its way up her throat, she ran. Adrenaline pumped through her body, making her move so fast she felt like she was flying. She ran without thinking. Without looking around. With the almost debilitating fear that she was being chased. When she couldn’t run anymore, she paused to lean against a tree, daring a look back. Nothing.

Heart pounding in her ears, her vision went fuzzy, and she fell to her hands and knees, struggling to breathe around the panic.

You’re not being chased. Breathe. Just breathe. Owen can’t be far behind you, and he’ll totally make fun of you if running makes you pass out.

Owen wouldn’t dare, she didn’t think, but the thought kept her breathing, and after what felt like an hour of gasping for breath and fearfully watching for a vampire to suddenly appear behind her, she managed to calm down. Her whole body still shook, but she managed to get back to her feet.

How far had she come? The area didn’t look super familiar, and judging by the direction she’d come, and what she knew of that was close by, she’d had to have run more than two miles.

Sheesh. Who knew a vampire was all it took to get her to run? Should have found one a few years ago. The pounds would have melted off.

The sun peeked over the horizon. Did sunlight kill vampires, or was that just a myth? If only she’d had more time to talk about all this with Owen, she might have actually had a chance to ask some useful questions about this hidden world she would have never guessed existed.

Of course, if she hadn’t been so busy jumping him the whole time…

“Dammit, Owen,” she muttered. “Did you have to wait until the last second to tell me what I am?” If he’d started this conversation with her a year ago, she’d know if it was safe to go back or not. She might have had some skills to fight. At least, she would have known what to do when faced with freaking vampires.

Yeah, berate the guy who could have just been killed protecting you. That’s nice.

The world spun at the thought. No. No way. Owen was fine. If he’d needed help, he wouldn’t have told her to run.

Except, of course, he would have.

Dread filled her, and she watched the way she’d come anxiously, willing Owen to appear. But he didn’t.

He’d be pissed if she showed back up and he was still fighting those vampires, but if something happened to him and she could have helped, even a little…

She had to go back.

Daylight was making its way free, but Denver wasn’t New York City, and cabs didn’t just wander the streets—not in this part of town, especially. No pay phones, either. She’d just have to truck it back.

Her body objected, but she pushed on, making it to a half-jog, half-speedwalking pace. Ten minutes later, things started looking familiar. And less than ten minutes after that, she saw her apartment in the distance. Maybe she hadn’t run as far as she’d thought.

Finding a sudden flood of energy at the sight of her building, she broke into a run, heading for the parking lot where she’d seen Owen. At the last second, she changed her mind and altered course, heading into her building instead. A five-second 9-1-1 call to say men were fighting in the parking lot, and she headed outside, clutching a butcher knife.

Police couldn’t hurt, right? They’d do a damn sight better than she would against vampires, she was sure of that much. And the advantage of help was worth the potential risk of getting to the parking lot a few seconds too late, a mantra she repeated in her head as she ran.

She forced in a deep breath, then crept out the back door and made her way out to the parking lot.

Empty.

Sure, there were cars there, but no people. Definitely no vampires that she could see. But also, no Owen.

[_Dammit. _]She looked anxiously at his truck, but it was still where he always parked it. A sour feeling in her stomach and panic making her breath come fast, she walked through the whole area, not seeing anything out of place, save for some dark streaking on the asphalt—blood—that no doubt had come from the fight.

Tears burned behind her eyelids and she furiously blinked them back. No time to cry now. Had to find Owen.

Maybe he’d gotten away, was looking for her even as she searched for him?

But somehow, she knew that wasn’t true. Her gut, tight with worry and fear, said Owen wasn’t okay.

Making another sweep of the area where they’d fought, she kept her butcher knife tightly in her grip at her side. Hopelessness trying to strangle her in its grip, she got down onto her hands and knees, looking under nearby cars, swallowing the sobs that threatened to break free.

She couldn’t cry right now. Then she’d be even more useless to Owen.

Morning sunlight reflected off of something under a nearby Ford compact, and after a glance behind her to ensure she was still alone, she wiggled under the car to grab it. A cell phone.

Owen’s cell phone—or the same model, at least.

Bile crawled up her throat. The phone’s screen was crushed, and the body of it was in only slightly better shape. It hadn’t been dropped, it had been smashed. Under someone’s boot, she would guess.

Gripping the phone so hard that it bit into her hand, she stared at the broken screen.

What the hell was she supposed to do now?

Want to be the first to know about Tiffany’s new releases? Join her newsletter! Updates will be delivered right to your inbox. No spam!

Sneak Peek of Broken Prime

A Royals Short Story

When Evie loses her way in the woods during a terrible storm, she is determined not to die. But snow and darkness close in and all seems lost—until a stranger finds her. Warm and safe at his cabin, she can’t help notice how sexy her rescuer is, and things go from warm to scorching hot.

***

But Nicolas lives alone on the mountain for a reason. And his secrets may be more dangerous to Evie than the cold.

Broken Prime is currently available on Amazon, or continue reading for an excerpt.

Evie Lane refused to die at twenty-one.

Panic pushed her pace to a jog, but though the whited-out landscape flew by faster, nothing looked familiar. Snow continued to fall, and she cursed loudly, blinking back tears that threatened to burn their way down her cheeks.

So stupid to tell the others to go ahead on their snowshoe trek. The sun had been out, the cabin smoke clearly visible in the sky, and she hadn’t realized there was zero cell service to be found. If she’d done what she’d said, taken a few pictures and caught up with her friends a little ways down the trail, things would have been fine. But she’d gotten distracted. Found a few shots she couldn’t resist. Decided to wait a little longer until the sun was perfect in the sky, providing just the right angle to the light.

And then the sun disappeared.

The storm rolled in so quickly, she’d barely noticed the first cloud on the horizon before the entire sky blotted out. She’d trudged on, even as snow started to fall, in the same direction the other girls had gone. When it got too dark to really see where she was going, she’d relied on their trail in the snow. Then the fresh snow piled high so fast that the trail disappeared, and she wasn’t even sure she was headed the right direction.

She forced a deep breath, then shivered violently. The air was cold, and her feet colder. She’d lost a glove at some point when she was still taking pictures, and her pocket didn’t seem to do much to keep out the chill.

Exhaustion seeped into her as she slowed to a walk.

“Help!” she yelled—or tried to. Her voice was wispy and thin after hours of calling out for her friends.

She crumpled in front of a tree and leaned against the solid wood, putting her face between her knees.

So tired.

The angry howl of the wind around her seemed to insulate her from the world, and for a while, time stood still. Regret filled her. She should have listened to her parents, gone with them to Europe. Might have been stressful, watching them try not to fight in front of her the whole time, but it would have been safe. Heck, she could have stayed at the dorm, used her break to study.

She’d wanted an adventure.

“Hey. Hey?”

Someone shook her, dragging her back into reality. She opened her eyes. The area around her was almost as dark as the one behind her eyelids. But she could make out a form, large and human-shaped, kneeling in front of her.

“I’m going to pick you up. Take you somewhere warm.”

Her mind moved slowly, and it took a few moments before she comprehended his words. But before she could nod in reply, the man had swept her into his arms and was moving. And either her perception was really messed up because of the cold and her freezing state, or the man moved fast.

Sneak Peek of Billionaire Boss

Office Party Part One

Faith Wilson needs a job—badly. She’s willing to do anything she can to secure a position with Lawrence & Associates. But when she’s told the job involves satisfying her coworkers and clients in every erotic way the boss deems necessary, she hesitates. But a little time in Mr. Lawrence’s office convinces her to throw caution to the wind and give it a shot.

***

But while the boss directs the show, he won’t touch her—not until she’s passed all of his tests. Faith thinks Mr. Lawrence might be worth the challenge, and she’s determined to make him desire her as badly as she wants him.

***

[_The Interview _]is an erotic short story with light BDSM elements. It involves a hot encounter between multiple male partners with one female interviewee (MFM) who is about to have her limits explored. It is not intended for young readers due to mature content. Adults only.

Chapter One

Faith wanted the job so badly she could taste it.

Seeing the office decided it. Not only was it nicely decorated with furniture that suggested they’d actually be able to pay their employees as promised, the air conditioning was divine.

It spoke to their ability to actually pay their employees, and that was pretty important considering her last job—as a secretary for a small fly-by-night injury attorney—still hadn’t paid her for her last month in their employ. Collecting had been pretty much impossible when they’d simply closed up shop and neglected to tell her. And it wasn’t like she had money to track them down.

Nervously, she tugged at the expensive skirt-suit she’d maxed her credit card out to purchase, and gave the receptionist a polite smile when the woman said Mr. Lawrence would be with her in a few minutes.

“Nice office,” she told the woman—Tara, according to the nameplate. Buxom and blond, she was more beautiful than anyone Faith had ever seen up close. But she seemed nice enough, and she flashed her big, bright teeth at Faith’s comment.

“It’s a very nice office.” Tara winked, then laughed. Her slight Southern accent softened what seemed to be an inside joke.

Faith didn’t get the joke, but she chuckled politely and did her best to pretend she wasn’t pretending. She needed this job, and if she had to laugh at jokes she didn’t understand to get it, she would.

It had been a hell of a month. Not only had she not been paid for her last few weeks of work, her boyfriend had split the second she’d suggested he start paying half the rent, since he crashed at her place pretty much every night he wasn’t passed out drunk on one of his buddies’ couches. To be honest, she hadn’t been too sorry to see him go, but she did miss the sex and the companionship.

Well, mostly just the sex. Her pet goldfish Puff was nearly as good a conversationalist as her ex.

“He’s a little behind today with all the interviews. Can I get you something to drink? Coffee? Water? We have some sodas, but I’ll have to check what kinds.”

“I’d take a water, if you don’t mind.”

“Sure thing, hon.”

Faith did her best not to fidget, forcing in a deep breath and trying to remember all the things her mom used to tell her about survival. You do what you have to, baby girl. I’ve no doubt you can do anything you have to in order to survive.

Blinking back the sudden moisture in her eyes at the thought of her mother, she smiled at Tara. The receptionist gave her a reassuring smile and handed her a bottle of water.

“Thank you.” She stood and accepted the water, then the sound of a door closing made her pause. A few seconds later, a man appeared from the hallway.

Tall and broad-shouldered, he filled the room the moment he entered it. His dark hair was cut in a close business cut, but waved a bit on the top. A tailored suit adorned his body, simultaneously professional and sexy. Dark blue eyes locked on hers, and the ability to breathe escaped her for a few seconds.

She stepped forward to shake his hand—he had to be Mr. Lawrence, because she couldn’t see this man being anything but the boss.

Gaze sliding away from hers, he halted and turned. “Thank you again for coming by, we’ll be in touch.” He shook a diminutive Asian woman’s hand. The pretty woman smiled at him shyly and turned to leave.

Faith clenched her hands into fists at her sides. What the hell was wrong with her? Sure, he was an impressive-looking man, but she hadn’t even noticed the woman walking beside him. Being that unobservant wasn’t likely to get her the job, for crying out loud.

So embarrassing.

“Miss Wilson?” His gaze swept over her, evaluating, but his expression didn’t reveal a thing.

She gave him a quick nod, unable to find her voice.

“This way.” Briskly, he turned from her and headed down the hall, not bothering to turn and make sure she followed.

Rushing after him, she tried to clear her thoughts. This job wasn’t optional—she needed it. Get your brain together, Faith.

His office was huge, with tall ceilings, decorated in a very masculine manner with dark, oversized furnishings. The desk stood in the middle of the room, facing the door. If it had been her office, she would have faced it toward the amazing view of Lake Michigan. Floor-to-ceiling windows revealed the dark water below.

Breathtaking.

“You like the view.”

It hadn’t sounded like a question, but she answered him anyway. “It’s incredible. I’m surprised you don’t turn your desk to face it.”

A hint of a smile touched his lips, and a surge of elation hit her. She’d amused him, and the man didn’t smile much. She didn’t have a lot of money to bet right now, but she’d have bet it all on that fact.

“I like to look at pretty things,” he conceded, eyes still locked on her. “But beautiful things can be distracting, if you allow them to be.”

Also by Tiffany Allee

Royals World

Claiming Their Royal Mate: The Collection

Prime Series: The Collection

Billionaire Boss

Billionaire Boss

Sons of Kane

Don’t Bite the Bridesmaid

Don’t Blackmail the Vampire

From the Files of the Otherworlder Enforcement Agency

Banshee Charmer

Succubus Lost

Lycan Unleashed

Vampire Games

Other Titles

Temptation by Fire

Heels and Heroes

About the Author

Tiffany Allee (aka Andie Devaux) writes sensual romance stories. When she’s not writing (or reading!), she can usually be found daydreaming, hiking, or attempting a new recipe. She thinks that life should require happily ever afters. And since she doesn’t make the rules of life, she instead applies this philosophy to the worlds she can control – the ones in her books.

@TiffanyAllee

authortiffanyallee

tiffanyallee.com

[email protected]


Claiming Their Royal Mate: Part One

Daniella Clark has never fit in—a fact she’s always blamed on being adopted. But when her body is overtaken by a need so fierce it defies human explanation, she turns to the one man she instinctively knows must have the answers she seeks—her sexy-as-sin neighbor. But his explanation isn’t one she can easily accept, and it means her sensual heat won’t go away without his help. But her neighbor isn’t the only male she has to worry about. The prime of his people has laid claim to her. And though he radiates sexuality in a way that makes her mouth water, he’s more beast than man. With one weretiger charged to protect her, and the prime’s plan to claim her for his own, Daniella must fight to maintain her sense of self, even while they fight for her. Claiming Their Royal Mate: Part One is a novella, and it is the first entry in a four-part sexy, m/f/m serial. The story contains erotic situations and is intended for mature readers.

  • Author: Tiffany Allee
  • Published: 2016-12-20 23:05:19
  • Words: 19680
Claiming Their Royal Mate: Part One Claiming Their Royal Mate: Part One