Book 4 of the Dark Protector Series
Sometimes You Mate For Life
Katie Smith is the best of her class, part of an elite hunting force trained to eliminate werewolves from the hills of Western Virginia. She’s good at it because she has the kind of focus and drive that won’t back down no matter how steep the odds. Call it southern sass. Whatever it is, there’s no denying her willingness to risk everything for the only man she’s ever cared about–a man on the verge of losing his very humanity. . .
Sometimes You Mate To Stay Alive
For the past ten years Jordan Pride has dedicated his life to protecting his people from a deadly shifter virus. But in a rare moment of distraction, Jordan’s guard drops just long enough for his fate to take an irreversible twist. Unless the woman he loves surrenders everything to him, again and again, under a full moon rising. . .
As nights went, it wasn’t a bad one to die.
Jordan Pride ducked behind a tree in the West Virginia forest, his footsteps silent and deadly, not sure how he’d suddenly become prey. As a lion shifter, as the leader of the feline nation, he was usually more of a predator than he liked to admit.
The force surrounding him edged closer, altering the atmospheric pressure enough to flood adrenaline through his veins. Clouds blanketed the sky, keeping the meager moon hidden. Good thing he could see in the dark. He considered shifting into a lion, but for now, he wanted the clear thinking he had only in human form. Once he let the animal free, instinct overcame intellect. For now, he needed to think this through. .
He gave a barely perceptible nod to his enforcer, Mac. Mac’s eyes burned a harsh emerald through the dusk, the soldier seriously pissed someone had breached the security on shifter headquarters. Not someone—the Kurjans. The enemy smelled of sulfur, a smell Jordan had always associated with evil.
The air stank with sulfur.
The Kurjans were an evil vampire race unable to venture into the sun without getting fried. Unlike the true vampires who were Jordan’s allies—who enjoyed a day at the beach. Nighttime created excellent opportunities to attack, and the Kurjans had waited for a good one. Dark and deadly.
Mac’s brother, Noah, flanked his other side, looking even angrier than Mac, if that were possible. In fact, Noah had been pissed for the last ten years—since they’d moved to the mountains of West Virginia—since they’d forced their people into caverns and caves. Anything to avoid the Kurjan-created virus that destroyed their DNA and turned them into monsters.
Apparently the Kurjans had found them. Well. It had taken the bastards a decade.
Though ten years of war had depleted Jordan’s forces and been incredibly difficult for his people. His soldiers were battered and bruised…if not dead.
Jordan’s canines elongated…the beast within wanting to spring free. Not quite yet. He shot a triumphant grin at Noah. They’d hidden long enough to protect the children, the future. And yeah, for the most part, female shifters were hidden as well.
Well, everyone but the one female he’d give his left arm to protect. No. Katie had to be on the front lines, searching out the few remaining infected shifters. Unfortunately, once infected with the virus, male shifters became werewolves—true beasts that had to be put down for good.
A snarl lifted his lips.
The battle plan had just changed—thanks to the force around him returning to war against shifters. For the last decade, the Kurjans had directed their energy to taking out the vampires. Apparently they’d now switched tactics.
If he survived the night, he’d call Katie home tomorrow. The thought of her, the image of those stunning bourbon-colored eyes filtered through his memory and shot him into true lion form.
His bones cracked, his muscles shifted, and he landed on all fours. Graceful and deadly.
He ran toward the stench, knowing the enemy waited. Yet they probably hadn’t expected him to jump high, sailing right for the throat of the closest scout. While most mountain lions weighed about a hundred and fifty pounds, shifters weighed twice that. His canines aimed true, slicing through cartilage and bone like warm toffee. Blood sprayed as he flung the Kurjan’s pasty white head into the dark recesses of the forest with a low snarl.
Jordan may be the leader of the feline world—through circumstances that still kept him awake at night—but at heart, he was a soldier. Fate had always planned for him to die in battle. Alone, as he deserved.
A whistle of wind sounded, then sharp pains impacted his body from every direction. Startled, he dropped to all fours.
Arrows? The bastards were using arrows?
Rage ripped through him and he shook wildly, ripping the missiles from his flesh to go flying.
His hiss came out more of a growl as he spotted another Kurjan. Red-haired with black tips, the freak had swirling purple eyes. Medals decorated his left breast—a high-up soldier. He smiled, revealing sharp yellow canines.
Jordan snarled back. Whatever the Kurjans were doing, it was going to backfire. Letting the animal fully take over, Jordan descended into the primal being he usually kept at bay. The Kurjan pointed a green gun at him and fired.
He dodged, then sprung.
Time to kill.
Present day—one week later
Katie Smith smelled him before she saw him. His natural scent of cinnamon and oak mixed with an edge of anger, choking the oxygen from the room. She shut the door to her apartment, schooled her face, and turned toward the threat. “Hello, Jordan. Forget how to knock?”
His rangy body sprawled in the leather chair she and her roommate, Maggie, had spent three days haggling for. While she and Maggie both chased werewolves, they also worked other jobs for money. During the war, pride funds had dried up.
Jordan raised an eyebrow, arrogant and pissed. “I sent orders for you to move to Realm Headquarters after the attack on our headquarters last week.”
She inhaled deep, her gaze meeting tawny eyes. God, she’d missed him the last ten years. Even now, angry enough to smack him, she’d give almost anything to run her hands through the thick hair falling to his shoulders. Blonde, brown, a hint of black, the multitude of raw colors proving beyond doubt his base nature was that of a mountain lion. Like her. “I haven’t followed your orders in a decade. Now you need to leave.”
She flung her car keys into the merino glass bowl on the table by the door. Next to the glass sat a stack of files—names and faces of known infected shifters. She should file those…the werewolves had all been found and killed.
Jordan stood. Long, lean, and rangy. Nearly a foot taller than her own five foot six. Her living room shrank. He’d worn his customary faded jeans, dark T-shirt, and cowboy boots. The outfit was as formal as Jordan ever dressed—if anything, he might have a nicer pair of boots for a special occasion. “Who exactly do you think you and the boys answer to, Kate?”
The urge to step back pissed her off. He was going to pull rank on her. On all of them. “Listen, I know you’re the leader of the feline clans—”
“Disobeying me was never an option for you.”
She swallowed hard and put her hands on her hips. Seeing him in her apartment wasn’t coming close to the fantasies she’d had of the moment. The man would never view her as an adult. As a woman. She shoved the pain down. “Wrong. I understand you’re older than dirt, Jordan, but I’m modern and choose to live my own life.”
Like the lion hidden just under his human surface, he stalked past the leather sofa, his eyes darkening to topaz, steady on his prey. “Ah, sweetheart. This is an incredibly bad time to mess with me.”
Her breath caught hard in her chest while desire slammed into her abdomen. Something feral lit his eyes…something new. Deadly and deep. The wildness made something kick to life inside her. “What the fuck’s going on?”
He stopped moving a foot away. “I believe I taught you not to swear at me. True?”
She cleared her throat. “I’m not six years old anymore.”
His lips tipped in almost a smile. “I know. And I guarantee when I spank you now, the end result will be much different than you throwing a stuffed pig at me and pouting for a week.”
She forgot how to breathe. What was he saying? No. Just words—he was just using words. Was he teasing her? Flirting? She struggled to focus. “Jordan, the moon will be full in less than a week, and I have work to do.”
He shook his head. “I’ve given you a decade to work this out of your system. You’re done.”
Out of her system? True surprise mingled with a rapidly growing anger inside her. “This, as you so moronically put it, is not exactly a choice in vocation. I was infected with a virus that makes it possible for me to track werewolves.”
The air changed. His eyes darkened to burnt gold and a tension swirled toward her. “No. You were infected with a virus that makes it impossible, for now, for you to shift from human to cougar.” Danger and fury rode each word. He reached out to manacle one burning hand around her bicep. “Then…not trusting the scientists enough to cure you, you purposefully infected yourself with the catalyst to speed the virus up.”
Yeah, she had. The catalyst was supposed to increase the potency of the virus so the illness ran its course sooner…either killing the subject or dying out. Probably. She’d expected the virus to allow her to shift again, and had gone against all protocol and injected the weapon into her bloodstream.
Apparently the shifter remained pissed about her attempt, too. “I thought my body would fight the virus so I could shift again,” she whispered. That’s what had happened to her roommate, Maggie…who now shifted into a wolf once a month during the full moon. Katie would’ve done anything to keep the possibility of being with Jordan open—to recapture her ability to shift.
“Yet that didn’t happen, did it?”
“No.” Instead, she’d been gifted with the ability to feel the monsters roaming around them…to get into their heads and find the beasts. Those who had once been shifters and now were werewolves. Damn the Kurjans for creating the biological weapon. Of course, the bug only affected shifters, with their twenty-eight chromosomal pairs, and vampire mates, who had twenty-seven pairs. No one knew about witches. They protected their own, and no witch had been infected. Yet. Katie sighed. “I’m good at this, Jordan.”
His lip twisted. “Which is why you’re going under the king’s protection. To safety.”
More danger was coming? Fear slammed into her abdomen. Had he found out about her special project? The one monster she couldn’t quite catch? “We’ve pretty much eradicated werewolves in the south. What new danger?”
Regret twisted his lips. “I’m sorry, Katie—the three wolves on the Bane’s Council have decided to consolidate—they want to return to taking care of all werewolf threats without the outlying squads.”
“They can’t do that.”
“The Council has dealt with all werewolf threats for eons by itself, and it can do as it chooses. All outlying squads are being decommissioned by the end of next month.”
Something flickered in Jordan’s eyes. Was he lying?
“There are still too many threats.” Katie took a deep breath. “The Bane’s Council of three wolves can’t cover the entire world anymore. Also, while I can’t shift, I can still sense the werewolves.” So far a unique gift…just for her.
Jordan scrubbed a hand over his face. “I wish the scientists would figure out why Maggie is the only infected female shifter able to shift. The rest of you…”
Yeah. The rest of them stayed in human form all the time. Feline, canine, or multi…no females could shift after being infected with the virus. Only Maggie. “I guess it’s better than the alternative.” All the infected males shifted into werewolves—true animals, created to hunt and kill.
“The members of the Bane’s Council are killers—that’s what they do.” Jordan’s voice softened. “I’ll give you the night to pack, Katie. Tomorrow morning we leave.”
She frowned. For ten years she’d hunted monsters. She’d fought. Yet, here he stood, not seeing her. Just seeing the child of the past. Just one reason why it was never going to happen between them.
“My job is here.” There was no hiding for Katie Smith. She’d made a good life, one with purpose, and if she couldn’t have Jordan, she’d keep what she’d created. Besides, the monster she couldn’t catch kept getting stronger…bolder. She had to take him down during the coming full moon. “I already told Janie Kayrs I wouldn’t make it to her sixteenth birthday party next week.” Katie’s refusal had nothing to do with wanting to avoid seeing Jordan at the party. She’d tried to convince herself the decade apart had lessened her feelings for the lion leader. Silly cougar—she shouldn’t lie to herself.
“Janie will be relieved you’ve changed your mind.” His face hardened into something unrecognizable. A tension emanated from him, a vibration of energy. A new energy. “I’ll have movers get your furnishings—Dage and I’ve decided Maggie will be based out of Oregon as well.”
“I don’t work for either you or Dage.” The jury was out on whether she worked for the Bane’s Council, actually. The council’s three wolves had spent lifetimes hunting down infected humans who became werewolves. While the poor human souls only lived a few months, they wreaked serious damage during that time. The council members hunted and destroyed them.
Once Virus-27 created infected shifters, werewolves became a different species—one that lived forever as monsters. The council had needed help, thus creating the outlying squads. The squads were still needed.
She fought to remain calm. “During the last ten years, we’ve caught and killed nearly two hundred werewolves…saving so many human lives I can’t even count that high.” If the beasts had remained alive, they would’ve taken out more human populations than the plague. “In addition, we’re closer to finding the Kurjan headquarters.” Every shifter harbored the fear that the Kurjan Virus-27 would go airborne someday. The Kurjans needed to be taken out first.
She straightened her shoulders, facing a different man than the one she’d always known. War during the last decade had been hard on him…maybe too hard. “Go home, Jordan.”
In a burst of power, he moved, lifting her against the wall. Way too fast. He leaned in close enough for his gaze to burn her face. “It wasn’t a request.”
While the man had always been stronger than most…this was unreal. Surprise and distress kept Katie immobile. “What’s really going on?” The heat from his grip combined with his scent and softened her thighs.
Shock crossed his face. In slow motion, he glanced down at his hands holding her aloft. As if surprised they belonged to him. “I, uh, I’m sorry.”
He was finally holding her. Desire pebbled her nipples. Her core heated.
Symmetrical nostrils flared when he inhaled. A dark flush cut across his high cheekbones. “Jesus, Kate.”
The damn shifter could smell her. Embarrassment at her arousal dried the spit in her mouth. Until he moved forward, pressing a rock-hard erection between her legs.
Mouth to thighs, she flooded.
The wall cooled her back while the man heated her entire front as he held her aloft. So easily. Too easily.
Focus. She needed to focus. Was this really happening? Her fantasies didn’t come close to this heat—to this need. The breath caught in her throat and she held still. So still maybe he wouldn’t stop. Maybe he’d finally kiss her. “Jordan.”
He blinked. Once. Twice. “I’m sorry, Kate. I shouldn’t have grabbed you.”
Even so, he settled deeper into the vee between her legs.
Nothing in the world would make her look away. She held his gaze, mesmerized by the multitude of colors combining into topaz. “I’m a big girl.” They’d never be able to mate. She knew that. The man ruled the entire feline world—he couldn’t mate with an infected lioness unable to shift. With someone who might pass on the genetic mutation.
Resulting freedom brought the moment into sharp focus. Pain, too. But also…freedom with the clear knowledge they’d never go anywhere spread through her like a swarm of hungry bees. Her chin lifted—along with her thighs.
Throwing challenge into her smile, she clasped her ankles at the small of his back, sliding along the prominent line of his erection. Her hands clenched his shoulders. “So. I’ve been waiting a long time for this.”
Dreams died. She knew that firsthand. She’d also learned—the rough way—to take the good and ride it hard.
“Kate.” Her name came out more of a groan. His tongue wet his lips.
Elation mingled with an odd despair inside her to result in determination. What the hell. She had nothing to lose. “You want me, Jordan.” Proof of his desire pulsed against her, even through her jeans. Every ounce of strength she had went into keeping the amazement off her face. He actually wanted her. “There’s no way we can go back to living near each other—not going to work.”
His gaze dropped to her lips. One broad hand threaded through her hair, tangling at the nape. “I’m dropping you off—going to fight.”
The words were simple, the tone final. A good-bye of sorts? “You’ve fought before.” Panic bit her words off. It would be just like Jordan to squire her to safety if he were about to fight to the death. To get his affairs in order. What wasn’t he telling her? She began to struggle.
He quickly, easily, immobilized her—pressing her body into the wall. “Stop moving. Please, God…stop moving.”
He tugged her head back. Erotic tingles jerked along her scalp. Her breasts pressed against his chest, forcing a groan from her. So hard. So male. The need echoed her heartbeat between her ears. “Please, Jordan.”
“Ah, Kate.” Sadness filtered through his amazing eyes. His hold tightened. Regret and inevitability exhaled on his sigh. Better than any dream, his head lowered toward hers.
Then his lips found hers, and she forgot all about sadness and dreams.
Fire, promise, despair, all comingled in his kiss, his lips firm, his tongue gentle. So much softness. The shoulders under her hands went rigid with restraint, a vibration of control as he kept himself in check.
Slowly, too damn slowly, he halted the kiss, levering back. Desire and apology cut hard into the lines of his face.
Oh, hell no.
Swift as the cat she’d once been, she clutched both hands in his thick hair, yanking his mouth back down. Wild, nearly desperate, she slid her tongue inside, pressing her entire body along his length. Demand had her rubbing against him, need had her taking what she wanted. What she needed.
For almost two seconds, he held back.
The first growl came from down deep. He pivoted away from the wall, one hand in her hair, the other cupping her ass. Holding her aloft—taking control. He wrenched her head to the side, stealing her balance, destroying her equilibrium.
His tongue thrust deep, his lips demanding, his mouth scorching hot. The snapping of his control almost made a sound…the sound of warning.
She met it with a sound of longing.
He reacted as if time stood against them, taking three steps and dropping her to the sofa, following her down, his mouth busy on hers the entire time.
Buttons scattered as he ripped her shirt open. Kisses, hot and wild, peppered her jaw, neck, and collarbone until he reached her breasts. “No bra,” he rumbled against her flesh before taking one aching nipple in his mouth.
She arched, crying out. Splinters of red-hot pleasure whipped from her breast to her begging core. Then he nipped.
A ringing set up between her ears. She shoved the sound back, lost in the amazing sensation of Jordan’s mouth on her. Finally. His body trapping hers. Desire flowing around them.
He lifted his head. “Phone.”
Oh. The ringing. “Ignore it.” Her hands flattened out across his broad back, not even coming close to spanning the masculine width. The muscles shifted, vibrating beneath her palms. So much strength.
The machine clicked on. A male voice. “Hi, Kate. I have a new set of files and should be there in a minute. Um, we need to talk.” The message stopped.
Jordan drew in a harsh breath.
Shit, shit, shit. “That was Baye—he can see you tomorrow.” Katie’s mind spun. “Let me call him back.”
“No.” Gently, Jordan tugged her shirt back into place. The mood was certainly broken. “His brother will be calling him tonight to return to the ranch—we’ve had to relocate headquarters. I’ll see him after I get you to safety.”
Baye and his two brothers had served as Jordan’s enforcers for about a century. When Katie had ventured out on her own, Jordan had sent Baye with her. He’d swiftly become her confidant, often joining her and Maggie for a drink after work. While cats and wolves didn’t usually get along well, Maggie seemed like one of them. Wolf or not.
Katie dropped her hands from Jordan’s shoulders, not willing to beg. The harsh expression on his face promised it wasn’t going to happen. Ever. “Jordan—”
“I have a meeting, too.” He levered to his feet. Regret flashed bright through his dark eyes. “I, this, we…this shouldn’t have happened. I’m sorry.” His hands shook. “Be ready tomorrow.”
His words penetrated her foggy mind. “I can’t. Besides my werewolf job, I work hard as a dispatcher for the police force during the day. Just quitting on the spot would be terrible for my coworkers.” She enjoyed her job and heard first about any odd animal attacks.
Maggie worked at the hospital during the day shift for the same reason. But she was just part-time, which gave her freedom to travel west for testing every few months.
Of course, the vampires had to work their magic on the computer systems of both the human police force and hospital to circumvent background checks. Maggie had also needed bloodwork to be employed at the hospital. Such tests were easily manipulated by the vampires—more specifically by Kane Kayrs, the smartest guy on the planet.
Jordan’s eyes hardened. “Call and quit, Katie. I’m not asking.” Three strides and he disappeared out the door.
Damnit. Katie pressed a trembling hand to her burning mouth. Hopefully that huge erection would cause him serious pain. Finally, to have been so close. But no, Jordan had stopped. He didn’t want her—at least not badly enough to take a chance. She’d known him almost her entire life. When Jordan wanted something, nothing stopped him. Time to face that fact and stop freaking pining.
Katie jumped up, her body humming, aching from remaining unfulfilled. Her heart splintering. She ran into her bedroom and changed her damaged shirt, emerging just as someone knocked on the door.
Her breath caught. It wasn’t Jordan. Yet she dashed forward, throwing the oak door open to reveal Baye. All six feet of him—tough-ass feline shifter. Behind him stood Lance, tiger shifter and fighting champion. The three of them made up a squad. Her squad.
Disappointment threatened to choke her. “Hi.” She gestured them inside.
Baye didn’t move, surveying the room, scenting the air. Symmetrical nostrils flared and he ran a rough hand through his dark, shoulder-length hair. “Lion.”
“I know Pride’s scent as well as my own.” Baye lifted an eyebrow, stepping inside.
Lance followed and quietly, too softly, he shut the door and handed her a file. “We have a new report of an infection.”
Of course they did. Now she had to go out and hunt a shifter who had probably been a good man at one time. “Just one, huh?” Taking a deep breath, she returned to the sofa, trying so hard not to think of Jordan pressing her into the soft leather.
Baye leaned against the door. Lance hovered near the couch.
What was their problem? She frowned.
Baye’s eyes darkened further. “Open the file.”
A tickle set up at the base of her spine. Her lungs compressed. Something whispered she should run. Shrugging her shoulders, she flipped open the file.
Jordan Pride’s picture stared back at her.
Rebecca Zanetti website
I love this series and can't wait for Jordan and Katie's story!! WOO-HOO!! :)
I love this series and can't wait for Jordan and Katie's story!! WOO-HOO!! :)