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Dean Brooks was born a Prince, but his father’s life of luxury was never one he wanted. Determined to make his own path, he accepts the role as prince regent to a small town in the middle of nowhere known as Dahlia City. But when war threatens, Dean will do anything to prevent his father from getting involved, including taking a shifter hostage in hopes of bargaining with the neighboring pack.
Fate has played a cruel joke on the black jaguar shifter, Malachi Xavier. Or at least that’s what he thinks when he realizes the human who has imprisoned him is his mate. To make matters worse, Dean has no knowledge of their bond or its significance.
But the more time they spend together, the more neither of them can deny their feelings. Malachi will have to decide if it’s worth giving up everything he’s ever known for the human that’s captured his heart.
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Dean dropped the ground as the blast passed over him. An explosion sounded behind him, and he knew it had hit his city’s wall.
“Goddamn it!” he cursed. He glanced to Mike, who was lying next to him, coughing from the wind that had been knocked out of him when he’d dodged the flash of magick that had been hurled in their direction.
Ever since this war started between the shifters of Lupunar City and the Stragorri Hunters, Dean’s city had been caught in the crossfire, and now they had pissed him off for the last time. His people couldn’t even leave the city walls without facing an onslaught of magick and weaponry. Enough was enough.
Dean developed a tick in his jaw as his muscles tensed. He reached for the grenade strapped to Mike’s belt and tossed it toward the commotion. Another explosion sent debris and dirt flying back at them. Dean covered his head to shield his eyes just before the cloud of dust reached them.
“Fuck, dude.” Mike spit out the dirt that had bombarded his mouth and nostrils. “A little warning would’ve been nice.”
“You should’ve been paying attention,” Dean countered. Mike rolled his eyes in annoyance.
When the dirt began to settle, Mike sat up, daring a glance at the suddenly quiet landscape. “Looks like they split when you tossed that grenade.”
“Did I hit anyone?” Dean almost felt a twinge of guilt, but he knew if he hadn’t acted, it would’ve been his civilians caught in the conflict before long.
Mike shook his head.
“Nope, looks like you missed them by a long shot, but whatever.” He shrugged. “It scared them off for now.”
“Amen to that,” Dean said as he took the hand Mike offered to help him up. He cringed as he looked at the hole in his city wall. That wall was the only thing protecting his people from this fight, and Dean was over it. This war didn’t involve them, and as much as he despised the idea of confronting either one of those bastards, it looked like it was his only option. Maybe they could come to some kind of peaceful agreement, like a treaty. If Dean could avoid war, he’d gladly sign his soul away.
Dean met Mike’s eyes and let out a sigh.
“Don’t you even think about it,” Mike warned. He gripped Dean’s shoulder, and Dean shrugged him off.
“I’ve got to, Mike. They’re going to destroy us all if I don’t do something.” He raked a hand through his mud-caked hair and motioned for his guards to come closer.
The noblemen they’d been protecting seemed fine, and Dean was grateful for that at least. His father would’ve killed him if something had happened to the men he’d sent there to conduct business. Thank god humans no longer had to use the old means of transportation, otherwise there was no way they would’ve made it.
Conjuring a portal was the safest method of traveling now, but portals still couldn’t be conjured directly within the city, and with the way things had been on his borders, Dean had thought it best to give them a personal welcome. He was glad he did as he looked around the destruction left behind by the paranormals and Hunters.
“Don’t do anything crazy, Dean.” Mike stood next to him and turned his dark-brown eyes upon him.
Dean knew Mike was against the idea of him forming a treaty with either side. They were nothing but monsters in his eyes, and hell, for all Dean knew he was right. Dean had only encountered the Stragorri once in his life. He was five when Wulfrick Stragorri had been summoned to his father’s palace for an ongoing investigation regarding a hit he’d ordered in the area he was in charge of. He hated the man the moment he saw him, and Dean knew his father felt the same way. There was something about Wulfrick that wasn’t quite right.
His dad had tried for many years to find some reason to bring him before the Council. The Stragorri were bad news, and his father wanted them out of his territory. They didn’t obey his laws, and they believed they were superior to humans in every way possible. The only reason Wulfrick even bothered with his dad’s summons was because Dean’s father was king of the Northlands, and as such, he had the power to make the Hunters luxurious life here very uncomfortable.
Humans might not be much to Hunters or paranormals, but they had learned to survive and over time with the help of their ever-growing knowledge of magick, they could be pretty damn scary when it came to ruling over the elements of the land. Dean had seen his father do some crazy shit to those who dared to defy his rulings. Drought, famine, plague, anything that could be thought of, his father could do it. Bonuses to being King, he guessed.
That life wasn’t for him, though. Dean didn’t want anyone to know who his father was or that his birthright was to inherit the whole northern hemisphere. That was the main reason he’d left it all behind to be in charge of this little city and start a new life for himself, somewhere far enough away that no one would recognize him or treat him like he was some prized gem that had to be handled with care.
All he wanted was to live peacefully off the grid. His father wasn’t satisfied with that proposal, so Dean had ended up as prince regent of the city of Dahlia. It was a compromise. His identity still got to remain anonymous, and his dad was off his back. It was the perfect life until the Hunters and paranormals had to go and fuck it up for him. To say he was pissed was an understatement.
“Dean, don’t ignore me.” The irritation in Mike’s voice was clear as day.
Dean rolled his eyes at his best friend. “I’m not ignoring you. I’m just not agreeing with you. You know we need a treaty. We’re in this war whether we like it or not, and if a treaty could potentially keep the fights out of our own backyard, that would be great.” But the thought of making a treaty with the Stragorri made his stomach churn. It was the last thing he wanted to do, and his only option left was the East Side Pack of Lupunar City.
Shifters were a new territory for Dean. He’d never even come into contact with one until they’d started fighting outside his city’s walls, but as of right now they seemed to be the lesser of two evils.
Mike started to say something, and Dean held up a hand to silence him. He’d already made up his mind.
“I’m going to Lupunar City. Who wants to come with me?” Dean addressed the question to his guardsmen who grinned with enthusiasm at his proposition. They were always up for Dean’s wild and crazy antics.
“Dean,” Mike growled. His nostrils flared as they always did when Dean had done or said something he thought was stupid. “I can’t allow it. As your appointed right-hand man, I must put my foot down on this.”
Mike’s reminder that they were more than just friends really irritated Dean. Mike was his personal bodyguard. They’d grown up together, and when Dean had wanted to leave the safety of his father’s palace, Mike had been sanctioned to go with him and look after him at all costs, but it still didn’t give him the right to order him around like a commoner.
Dean pursed his lips and eyed the man up and down. “Might I remind you of your place?” he said through clenched teeth.
Mike’s jaw hardened and his gaze dropped to the ground, but he didn’t say anything more and Dean was glad. He didn’t need any additional stresses added to the task at hand. Getting inside the East Side Pack would be easy. Dean was sure of it. It was getting back he was worried about.
Humans could travel between the cities as they pleased. Some even lived in shifter-infested towns, but walking into a Pack’s stronghold was another story, and Dean wasn’t sure if the Alpha would hear their case and let them go or imprison them for trespassing. Either way, Dean had no choice. He wasn’t about to sit around here and wait for the next attack.
* * * *
Malachi walked into the Assembly room and took his usual seat as he waited for his Alpha to begin the meeting. Night and Adam were already there, and his Alpha was shuffling through some of the paperwork he had strewn about the table in front of him. Malachi glanced at the clock. It was getting late in the evening, and he hoped this meeting wouldn’t take long. He really didn’t see any reason his presence was necessary.
He was Head Shaman. His duties were healing the sick and injured. He could care less about the details of the war his Pack was in and that was all this Assembly meeting was going to cover today. War was more of Night and Adam’s expertise. Night was Head Protector, and he was in charge of the Sentinels that were being sent off to fight. Adam was Head Enforcer. He was responsible for the Enforcers who maintained order and carried out the Alpha’s laws within the Pack. They were much more suited to make these decisions than Malachi. He knew nothing about war.
“Well, it’s about that time,” his Alpha stated as he pulled out the paper he’d been searching for from the stack. “Here’s the recent strategy I’ve been working on with Night. I think it just might enable us to take another portion of the Stragorris’ land, right here.”
His Alpha pointed to an indiscernible point on the hand drawn map. “I think it would be very advantageous if we were able to acquire this bit. It’d give us a direct opening to their main estate, but I wanted to pass it on to you three and get your opinions first. This would be dangerous and could cause great casualties.”
Malachi rubbed his temples. He could already feel the headache forming.
“What do you think, Malachi?” his Alpha, Jared, addressed him directly. Malachi’s eyes met Jared’s, and he shrugged. He wasn’t sure what to say. He wasn’t trained enough in combat to really gauge how this plan would be carried out and if it would be the right move. Jared knew this, but he wanted their input, and Malachi could see the uncertainty within his Alpha’s eyes.
“I—” Malachi started, but the sound of the opening double doors behind them interrupted him before he could finish.
“Alpha, I tried to stop them!” A guardsman named Cerilius called just as three armed men stormed through the door with Cerilius trailing behind them. Malachi cocked his head to the side as he studied the intruders. They were dressed in army camouflage apparel and carried military-issued guns. They had to be human.
Malachi took a deep breath and inhaled their scents to be sure. His heart stopped when the man in the middle stepped forward and approached Jared. His eyes fixated upon him as he stared at the brave and stupid human with a cocky smirk planted firmly on his face. Malachi reached within himself until he found the source of his power. He willed it forward to sneak a peek at the man’s soul. It was Malachi’s gift. He could look inside a person and see their true character. It was also what made him a good healer. He had the ability to bring people back from almost anything so long as he could connect to their soul and hold on to it until he could repair their injures or cure them of their illnesses.
A bright-blue aura surrounded the human that had caught his attention. Malachi’s heart dropped to the pit of his stomach. He could see it clear as day. This man’s soul resonated in rhythm with his own, and that could only mean one thing. This human was his mate.
* * * *
“Who are you, and why have you barged into my home?” the Alpha said in a clipped tone. His intimidating stare didn’t faze Dean one bit.
The corners of his lips curved upward into a semblance of a smile as he slung his gun over his shoulder and extended his hand to the seated shifter. “The name’s Dean. Dean Brooks.”
The Alpha looked him over and stood without taking his hand. His eyes flickered to the other shifter that had chased after Dean and his men when they’d barged through the front door. “I will deal with you later.”
“And as for you,” he said, returning his attention back to Dean. “Didn’t your father ever teach you any manners?”
Dean’s grin widened. So he’s a sarcastic motherfucker. “Sorry for barging in, but what else was I supposed to do? Request an audience? There’s no way you would’ve met with me. I’m human.”
The Alpha wrinkled his nose as if disgusted by his smell. “That much is obvious, but perhaps you should’ve at least tried the polite route first. I might have surprised you. Now what is it you want? As if you couldn’t tell, I’m kind of in the middle of something.”
“I want to talk about you keeping your shifters and war out of my back yard. Just name your price, and I’m sure we can come to some kind of agreement,” Dean said, cutting right to the chase.
The Alpha snorted. “You come barging into my home, wielding guns against my servants, and then claim you want to form some kind of a treaty with me?”
“Yup. That about sums it up.” Dean flashed him a broad grin. “Actually, this nasty little fight between you and the Stragorri has put my city in a bit of a tight spot. We’re caught smack dab in the middle, and I’m tired of trying to fight off shifters and Hunters from my lands, so I’ve come to figure out what I need to do to make sure my city is protected.”
The Alpha’s golden eyes stared back at him. “And what do you have to offer in return for our protection?”
Dean hadn’t thought that far ahead. He’d assumed the Alpha would have a list of demands or conditions to which he’d have to agree to before they’d leave him and his people alone. He didn’t think he’d need to bribe him. There was very little Dean had to offer a group of shifters. He had no idea what they would even want. He couldn’t promise them aid and the full support of his father because that would require him to inform his father of his current predicament, which would only result in the immediate removal of his beloved position. Aid from Dahlia’s civilians was also out of the question. Dean barely had enough people to guard the city.
Despite this hurdle, he wasn’t about to let this stop him. “I’ll give you any amount of gold you desire, and you may use my land and outstretching vicinity for your encampments so long as my people aren’t harmed.”
He didn’t like the thought of being so close to so many shifters and handing over the town’s reserve in gold to the Alpha shifter, but it was his only option. He had nothing else to give.
The Alpha eyed him up and down. “I thought your kind didn’t much care for us. Why don’t you just ask the Hunters to protect you? It is part of their job description, isn’t it?”
He had a point. Hunters were supposed to protect them. That was their original intention when humans had first created them, but many no longer upheld the laws of the Council. They only cared about themselves, and the Stragorri were notorious for such behaviors. They could’ve cared less about some small human city in the middle of nowhere.
“Why would I not want a treaty with you? You know the Stragorri and what they’re capable of. They aren’t exactly warm and fuzzy when it comes to humans. To them, I’m just a monkey in a meat suit. They don’t give a shit about us or anything we have to offer. In case you haven’t noticed they could care less about our land or our money, and so what if you’re shifters? I personally don’t give a fuck if you’re Satan himself so long as you can keep my city off the battlefield of this little war.” Dean met the Alpha’s eyes with a challenging stare. He wasn’t going to back down.
The Alpha sighed, and his posture relaxed for the first time since they had entered his home. “Look, what was it? Dean?”
Dean gave a short nod.“I’d like to help, but I’ve got my hands full trying to fight off the Stragorri and maintaining peace within in my own territory. Even if I could help you, I’d still have to get it approved by the other people I have treaties with.” The Alpha spoke with regard, but his empathies only pissed Dean off. They meant nothing if he wasn’t willing to act on them.
“Fine,” Dean said with coldness in his tone. He should’ve listened to Mike. This was a pointless endeavor. “Sorry for bothering you.”
Dean turned on his heel and the men at his side followed. The Alpha didn’t try to stop him as he passed through the doors he’d charged through only moments before. He was grateful for that at least. It looked like he’d be able to return home with no problems. He didn’t know what he was going to do, but he’d figure something out.
* * * *
Malachi didn’t know what had possessed him to follow the human. But here he was, lurking in the shadows like some criminal staring at the man who was his mate.
After the interruption of their Assembly meeting, Jared had decided to reschedule it so he could deal with Cerilius for not keeping his post and allowing the humans into the main house without permission. Alpha had not been happy with the Sentinel, and Malachi didn’t want to stick around to see that punishment. He’d decided to follow Dean instead.
He still couldn’t believe it. This human, this fragile creature standing in front of him was the man he was destined to be with. The idea just blew his mind. He couldn’t even fathom being with anyone other than another shifter, but yet he was oddly intrigued. He could feel their bond already pulling at his desire and curiosity, and Malachi knew it was only a matter of time before he gave into those feelings. Standing at such a close proximity wasn’t helping either. He needed to just end this now and walk away while he still could.
Dean’s laughter broke his train of thought, and Malachi watched his whole face light up as he clapped one of his comrades on the back.
“Oh, come on, Mike. The shifters weren’t so bad, now were they?” The warmth in Dean’s voice could be heard even from where Malachi stood, hidden behind a tree in Lupunar Park.
The guy named Mike glared at Dean. “I don’t like risking my life on a day-to-day basis, and for all I know those things are still watching us, waiting for the right time to attack.”
The way Mike spat the word thing left a bad taste in Malachi’s mouth. Humans were a discriminatory lot, and Malachi supposed he should be used to it by now, but it still didn’t take the sting out of the words.
“Don’t be such a grouch. The shifters were fine. In fact, I think they might’ve been more receptive if I had gone through the proper channels and requested an audience with the Alpha.”
“I don’t think so. They didn’t seem too happy with the proposition. I think you’re beating a dead horse there, and we just need to look at our other options for dealing with this issue,” Mike said as he took out what looked like a piece of chalk and began drawing on the nearest wall.
Malachi crouched lower, shielding himself even more with the tree he was hiding behind. Mike stood only a few feet away and Malachi definitely didn’t want to get caught by these humans. The arsenal of weaponry they were carrying was enough to ward off anyone with half a brain.
Dean shrugged as he pulled out a dagger. “Well, no use in crying over spilt milk.” He sliced his palm with the blade, and blood pooled in his hand. Mike stepped out of his way, allowing Dean access to the chalk drawing.
Malachi peered over the side of the tree to get a better look at what the humans were doing. The drawing was quite obviously a pentagram with strange symbols at each point. He didn’t recognize any of them. Malachi had never seen any kind of magick like this. Most shifters stayed away from the practice altogether since they usually had their own unique abilities that didn’t require any kinds of spells or witchcraft.
Malachi wasn’t completely clueless, though. He knew enough to know this was a pretty powerful spell they were casting, especially if it involved human blood. Night had taught him a few things about the world of magick. He had learned it from his days as a Hunter before he joined the Pack and as the war with the Stragorri carried on, their Alpha had thought it best if they all learned everything they could from him.
Malachi took a step forward as he leaned in closer to watch his mate. He was curious to see what they were up to. Dean pressed his hand in the center of the pentagram, smearing his blood along the stone wall. A flash of light instantly surrounded everyone within the vicinity. The blinding brightness caused Malachi to cover his eyes. He jumped back from the assault, but it was too late.
A falling sensation consumed him as the ground beneath his feet shifted. He could feel himself being drawn closer and closer to the source of the light. Malachi turned to grip the tree for support, but the tree was now long gone. In the distance he could see the pair fading behind him as his body continued to float through the tunnel conjured by the humans. Somehow, he’d been sucked into the spell they’d cast and there was no escape in sight.
What the hell?
Panic filled him as he continued to fall behind the humans. He didn’t know where the fuck he was going or what would happen when he got there, but there was no way he’d be able to go unnoticed by the humans now. A second portal appeared, and he passed through the opening. He was greeted by the sight of unfamiliar land rising to meet him. Malachi shielded his face just before he collided with the ground.
Pain radiated throughout his body from the impact. He groaned and rolled to his back trying to catch the breath that had been knocked out of him.
The sound of a gun being cocked grabbed his attention, and he turned to find the source. He wasn’t good at recognizing most human weapons, but this one he knew very well. It was the same type of gun his father used to carry. He stared into the barrel of a Colt .45 M1911, his mate’s finger wrapped around the trigger.
Dean cocked his head to the side with a smug, sideways grin plastered across his face. “Well, well, well. What do we have here?”