Bianca Bryant is back in Louisiana, needing help to destroy the Beast hunting her, but it’s the last place she wants to be. Immediate attraction bursts into flame the moment she meets the gorgeous twin alphas, Matt and Max, but discovering they’re her mates horrifies her. Thinking about hot sex with them is one thing. A future is another. She’s not sure she can trust men in power, much less the sons of the men who sent her into exile.
Matt and Max Vargus are thrilled to find their mate, but the wariness in her eyes confuses them. Resisting the fierce urge to claim her immediately, they seduce her slowly, showing her that she’s found a home, family and men to stand by her side. But danger still stalks Bianca and they’ll have to fight to protect her.
Excerpt from the first chapter:
“You know if you’re not going to listen to me, there’s really no reason for me to be here.” Bianca gritted her teeth. If that creature had been something she could handle on her own, she wouldn’t be here. Louisiana would be the last place she’d run to hid or for help. She wanted to hit something or someone. She looked over at the head of the New Orleans Protectorate, Paul Barr. Her first choice would be him.
The blond-haired man looked like a combination between an executive and surfer boy. His skin was so golden he could have just walked off some beach. Well, if he could relax enough to have fun at the beach. He’d been wearing a nice conventional gray suit and burgundy tie earlier this morning but now the jacket was gone and the collar of the shirt was open. She hadn’t ever met anyone as buttoned-down and controlled as he was.
“You knew we’d bring in some shifters to help.” Paul tapped a finger on the large rectangular table in the drab brown and beige conference room.
There was tension around his mouth and the muscles of his neck and jaw. She knew he didn’t understand her resistance. He hadn’t taken the time to try to listen. The mission would involve shifters and maybe vampires. They’d need the strength of at least some nonhumans. The Protectorate tried to work with the paranormals as much as possible and he seemed determined that it had to be her clan.
He dressed and had the commanding attitude a man of his rank should, but he didn’t pay attention at all. That was frustrating the hell out of her. She’d known he’d look for help. That was a given.
But she hadn’t had a clue they’d be bringing in tigers. They definitely hadn’t said a word about sending out an image of her to try to find her clan since she wouldn’t tell them which group it was. Those were important distinctions. Tigers hated magic and she’d been up to her neck in it for a few years. Her involvement with witches had been cut except for the witches with the Protectorate, but that probably wouldn’t matter. She didn’t want her old clan involved. The alphas and her father had a reason for throwing her out of the clan and she wasn’t sure the men in charge now were any different. Those men had believed she was a danger to the clan among other things. The fact that there was something even more dangerous than any tiger or human chasing her made contacting them even worse. This wasn’t how she wanted to meet them.
“Yeah, shifters in general. Since the New Orleans Protectorate works so well with paranormals I thought you’d put together a group of different shifters, maybe a few vampires and witches who’d have the best chance of fighting and killing the Beast. Not trying to find one specific group.” She glared at the blond man.
“Your clan deserves to know where you are.” Grant Cassin said as he walked into the room.
And there was irritation number two. She’d wondered where he was. He looked as if he’d just come from a night on the town. His shoulder-length, light blond hair appeared finger-combed, but his eyes were sharp and clear. He didn’t fit in with business attire and uniforms most of the people in this building wore. Today, he had on a black leather jacket, a black t-shirt and blue jeans. Casual attire seemed to be his preferred clothes.
Grant was a tiger shifter who worked for the Protectorate and had met her when she’d landed in New Orleans. She’d been a little cautious at first and he’d pulled out his badge as proof that he’d been sent for her. He’d been trying to pry the name of her clan out of her since that first meeting. She suspected he was the one who’d put the idea in Paul’s head. Neither man had paid any attention to her denials. As far as she was concerned, her clan didn’t deserve to know shit about her. Not where she was, what she did or anything else. They’d lost that right long ago. She might have been thinking about a home and maybe looking at her clan to see if the new alphas were different from the old ones. That didn’t mean that she wanted to contact them at one of the worst times of her life.
“How many times do I have to tell you? I don’t have a clan. I haven’t had one since I was thirteen.” She leaned forward and glared at him. This was getting on her nerves. She didn’t know when the Beast would find her and they were too busy tracking down possible relatives of hers to pay much attention to setting a trap for it. Not to mention the fact that her clan and family believed her to be dead. That was something that had stunned her.
“They didn’t—” Grant began.
Bianca felt a little trapped and had to stand. She leaned toward him her hands braced on the smudged and scratched, muted brown surface of the wooden table. “Let me tell you about my clan, the condensed version because I’m not going through it all for you. I was a thirteen year-old girl. I couldn’t shift and my father called me a freak and a piece of shit. He and the alphas of my clan sold me to a group of witches to free the alphas’ sons from a spell cast by other witches. That’s all I was good for you see.”
Grant just stared at her.
“So before you start defending them and telling me that it could have been dangerous for me to stay in the clan, you should be aware. I know all about the hate some people feel toward what I can do. I also know the alphas had their own agenda and that I wasn’t important enough to count. I wouldn’t want anything to do with them if they were still alive. Even though it wasn’t necessary, I legally changed my name to Bryant even though the Protectorate helped me obtain ID and documentation under that name. No way was I going to use Carver, my father’s last name.” Bianca shook her head, turned and looked out the long wall-length window to the parking lot below.
She was restless and she needed out of this room. It wasn’t cabin fever. She’d been in cities too long and needed to let her tiger roam free. The absence of trees in the immediate area helped a bit. If she saw a group of trees together, she wanted to get out and run, shift forms, climb or hunt. She’d relished shifting and running in her tiger body since she’d first become able to do it about three and a half years after she’d been sent away from the clan. Changing into a tiger had given her a little freedom during a time filled with pain and turmoil. When the silence stretched, she turned back to face them.
“I didn’t realize that it was that bad.” Grant looked toward Paul and she could see the regret on his face.
“I was a bargaining chip and they thought they’d gotten the bargain. They got rid of me and freed the alphas’ sons. I don’t want any of them near me until I know if any of this generation is better than my father’s.” She slid back into her seat. “So are you going to call off this stupid search?”
“I’m sorry.” Paul shook his head and looked distinctly uncomfortable.
“Yeah, I’ll accept your apology if you stop sending out my picture to every clan in the country.” She folded her arms across her chest and glared at him.
“No, I was saying I was sorry, because it’s too late. We’ve already found your relatives and your clan.” Paul shrugged as if there was nothing he could do.
“You contact them again and tell them there’s been a mistake.” She rose from her seat and began to pace. Nervousness and fear raced through her and her heart slammed inside her chest. Her stomach churned and she felt like throwing up the delicious crepes she’d had for lunch.
“I can’t do that. We didn’t track them down. Your uncle saw the photo and immediately knew you were related to him.” Paul shook his head. “It took them some time but they finally discovered exactly who you were. Your brother and the alphas of your clan are on their way here.”
Fucking great. She hadn’t been sure she wanted to meet them ever and now they were coming here. “You could turn them away when they get here.”
“Why would I do that?” Paul looked genuinely curious.
“Because it’s too dangerous here, because you’re an asshole, I don’t know and don’t care. Just make them go.” She turned to face him, tempted to bare her fangs at him again, but she knew Grant would just come to his defense.
He was more protective than a mother toward her cubs when it came to Paul. She didn’t know what was behind that and neither one seemed inclined to talk about it. Although when she’d last asked, it hadn’t been in the most civil tone. Maybe when they weren’t pissing her off, she’d try asking the question again.
“I’m not going to do that. They deserve a chance to prove they are better than the men you knew from your father and the old alphas. There’s no better way to prove that than now. If they step up to help when you’re in danger then you know they at least care enough to try,” Paul said with an encouraging smile.
“Or maybe they don’t want to lose face with the other clans if it gets out that they walked away from a female of their clan when she was in danger.” She slid a glance toward Grant. He knew tiger shifter society. From what she remembered, the opinion of other clans had seemed to be important to the alphas.
“You’re remembering it from the eyes of a child or the alphas of your clan likely were throwbacks.” Grant must have thought about what he was saying because he sighed and grimaced. “Considering what they did to you, they probably were throwbacks.”
“Don’t know, but thanks to you two, I might never be sure if they accept me because they really want me to rejoin the clan and find a place there or if they’re only doing this because of the pressure to keep up appearances.” She turned away and stared out the window again.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know there was a reason you wanted to wait. I thought you were afraid to take the risk of making the first move.” Paul’s voice sounded a little hesitant.
She rolled her eyes. Afraid, maybe she was a little, but it wouldn’t have held her back if the other reasons had been resolved. She’d wanted a chance to gauge their genuine reactions. That wasn’t going to be possible now. The message had gone out to all of the clans and they would know that. They had reason to hide their true reactions.
“You wouldn’t listen to me when I tried to tell you.” She turned around and sent a glance toward both of them. “You interrupted me or walked out of the room.”
“Well, we can’t turn them back. They’ll be here soon.” Paul took a deep breath.
“And they wouldn’t go anyway. Not when they know you’re here and they do.” Grant’s hand lifted in an almost soothing gesture. “And I have to admit that male pride might be behind part of that if you try to deny them.”
By his tone, she knew he thought she should have realized it without anyone telling her. She didn’t care about why they wouldn’t go away. It wouldn’t have happened if Paul and Grant had listened to her just once. She clenched her fists. If she had a short temper it would have already exploded. All it would have taken was a few minutes to actually listen and they wouldn’t be talking about this now.
“When will they be here?” She tossed a venomous look toward Grant. She blamed him more than Paul for this fiasco. Mister I’m-not-part-of-a-clan couldn’t leave it alone.
“If you look out the window, you might see them arriving.” Paul gestured to the windows. “I know they’re on their way, but I don’t know if they’re stopping to get rooms or are coming directly here.”
“Do they have any idea of what they could be getting into or didn’t you send the specifics with my picture?” She looked back at the commander of the New Orleans Protectorate. She wanted to kill him. Taking a few deep breaths she tried to calm down. She really wasn’t dealing well with this change. Anger filled her as she thought about what they’d done. All her plans and dreams were ruined by their stubbornness.
“I didn’t tell them the specifics, but they know that you are in danger. I didn’t keep that part out. I wouldn’t let them walk into the situation entirely unknowing.” Paul looked a little offended by the question.
She wasn’t going to apologize for asking. He’d been single-minded so far and getting someone from her clan here had been one of his primary goals. She didn’t know if he’d be completely honest in his quest to get someone here. Hell, her only information about him came from files, missions statements she’d read and her short time here. In some ways, he was a typical autocratic leader that thought his decisions were best in every situation. It frustrated her. She didn’t know what to expect from him. That and his stubborn refusal to listen to her had her questioning his decisions.
“So they have no idea how dangerous this could get and that the creature they’ll be facing isn’t even of this world.” She turned away from him and shook her head.
She’d never wanted something like that to happen. It was just wrong to bring someone into this blind. Anyone involved in this fight needed to know exactly what they were facing, because it wasn’t going to be easy to stop the Beast. People could die before this was finished. She grimaced. Images of a dark city street and screams of terror filled her mind. People already had died. The Protectorate was the organization that dealt with this kind of thing. They had all the information so at least they’d be prepared, but the shifters he was bringing here wouldn’t have that luxury. Few people had seen anything like this outside of nightmares.
“No, but they’ll want all the information about why you’re in danger. Don’t worry. They’ll find out.” Grant sounded certain of the fact.
She didn’t doubt they’d ask the questions when they got here, but she doubted any of them even imagined anything like the Beast. They wouldn’t know how hard it was to kill it and that they’d need an army-sized arsenal of weapons to do it. Stopping that thing wasn’t going to be a Sunday hunt.
The small phone at Paul’s side beeped. He lifted it and listened. When his eyes locked on her, she knew that the tigers had arrived. Her heart raced in her chest and her stomach lurched. She felt very much like puking or running. The conflicting emotions stirred anger. She couldn’t ever remember being this nervous. Taking deep breaths, she tried to calm herself. The last thing she wanted was to let them see how much this affected her. She didn’t know if they were anything like her father, but she did want some connection with her past. She’d always wanted it. That desire had only grown as the years had passed. She wished she could have picked the time and the place.
“Send them up. You know where we are,” Paul instructed tersely. He looked at her and raised his eyebrows as he slid the phone back into the holster at his waist. “You can delay this meeting for a day or two if you run out of here. It’s obvious you don’t want this to happen”
“Not with tiger sense of smell. They’d track me down before I got out of the building. Since you arranged this meeting, you’d better stick around for it. You can suffer through the yelling and whatever else happens since this is your fault.” She walked over and flopped into one of the conference chairs.
“It probably won’t be as bad as you think.” Grant rose from his chair and came to sit on her side of the table. He didn’t sit next to her, but he was there. In a way, the annoying man was showing his support.
“You’d better hope so, because you’re not blameless in this fiasco either.” She stared at the door, but didn’t hold back the growl in her voice.
Putting her hands flat on the table, she tried to ease the tension from her body. Her eyes slowly closed as she concentrated only on breathing. She wasn’t going to let these people know how nervous this meeting made her. Or how much it meant. When she felt a little calmer, she opened her eyes.
All her efforts to relax and let the anger flow away were washed away as three men came into the room. All three men had black hair, but two of them were twins. Those must be the tiger alphas. For the moment, she ignored them. The man she thought was her brother had brown skin like she had and deep brown eyes. He was tall and muscled, but he didn’t look Familiar. As far as she could tell, he didn’t even resemble her father. This man had kind eyes and her father hadn’t looked kind even in her earliest memories.
As for the other two, both men drew her. One of the twins had cut his black hair in an almost military buzz. His golden tan looked like he spent his time lounging by some pool, but the muscles and the hard look in those hazel eyes belied that impression. She couldn’t see him wasting much time at the side of a pool, but he didn’t look as intimidating as the man at his side. The other twin had long glossy black hair to his shoulder blades. Like his brother, he was muscular and tall. She’d bet he relaxed by going for a run, stalking prey or something active. Both men had a presence. She’d seen it in other alphas. It was almost an invisible cloak of power and confidence. Most people recognized it even before they said a word. They didn’t need to yell or threaten to get their point across. Following them was instinctive.
“I don’t see a smile on your face. Aren’t you happy to see your family again?” The alpha with longer hair ran his eyes over her as he walked over to the table. The two were dressed similarly, but she had a feeling it was mere coincidence. The one with short hair wore a green shirt and the other wore a blue shirt. They both wore black pants.
“I didn’t want this yet.” Her answer was low and flat and her voice rang with anger. She wasn’t going to smile or lie about it. They’d know it just as she’d know if they started lying. It was in the scent and in the facial expression.
“Yet. You didn’t want your clan contacted when you were in trouble.” The alpha with the shorter hair raised an eyebrow, but didn’t break stride as he walked over to the table.
“I don’t have a clan. I haven’t had one since I was thirteen. I’ve been on my own and before I contacted anyone from my past I wanted the trouble following me finished. Hell, I don’t know if I would have contacted anyone or if I can live in an established clan after so long. There were things I wanted to know first.” She shook her head. If she couldn’t deal with life among other tigers, getting others involved would only cause hurt and regret.