Our heroine is on the move!
“Bears…” T’irla sighed as she walked along a narrow dirt path through the woods. She’d spent the last two months holed up with the triplet shifters. At first, her bear allergy was a form of torture, until they realized it didn’t bother her as long as they didn’t shift around her.
The sneezing and itching was nonexistent when the brothers were in water. A smirk spread her lips as she recalled how many hours they’d spent in the tub, the nearby lake, and the outdoor shower.
But alas, their time had come to an end. Rumors of a headless horseman patrolling the woods reached their love nest, and she knew she had to get home to Maelan before he found them. Who knew men without heads could be so possessive?
She’d elected to walk by her horse’s side on this journey, her legs too sore to sit comfortably in the saddle. ”Bears…” She giggled.
A loud roar tore through the woods, stopping her in her tracks. Her horse reared onto its hind legs, nearly knocking her over. T’irla tugged with all her might, and spoke in gentle soothing tones to calm her steed.
The startled beast seemed pacified, but she kept stroking its neck just to make sure. “Easy now. It’s all right.” She wanted to sound confident, but in her heart, she wanted to turn around and race back to the bear brothers’ house.
There was something peculiar about the sound of it. It wasn’t menacing for one thing. “Sounds like it’s hurt.” She didn’t know why, but she headed toward the sound, her horse snorting nervously all the while.
She followed the roars deep into the forest until she came upon a small clearing. There, lying on its side, was a large lion, its thick mane and body dappled by the sunlight filtering through the trees. The bushy end of its tail slapped at the leaf litter, the sight almost breaking her heart.
She stayed in the trees, and walked around to get a better view. The lion lay still, licking and biting at his paw. When he pulled his massive foot back, she saw a large splinter embedded deep between his claws.
“The poor thing.”
The lion heard her, and lifted his head, locking large amber eyes onto hers. He seemed to search her, staring into her for a moment before returning to nipping at the wood.
It looked so painful, she didn’t even realize her feet were moving until she was standing over the big cat. “I’m not going to hurt you. Just let me see your paw.” A deep rumbling resonated from the animal, and she took a timid step back. “I’m going to take that piece of wood out of there, but not if you’re going to bite.” She paused and shook her head. “Am I really trying to reason with a lion?”
She knelt next to the beast, swallowing down her fear and ignoring the thumping of her heart. His head was more than twice the width of her lap, and his canines were the size of daggers. If he wanted to kill her, she was toast. Minced toast.
She rubbed along the tan fur of his front leg, easing her way toward the injured paw. When she got close, he grunted, but remained still. She grasped the large splinter between her index finger and thumb and pulled.
Another roar, and her ears rang. She did’t let go, and rocked back on her heels for more leverage. Straining and groaning, she tugged relentlessly, ignoring the lion’s vocalizations. “It’s moving! Almost. Almost…” When she pulled it free, she stumbled backward, scrambling for balance.
She almost hit the ground, but a large pair of arms stopped her fall and lifted her to her feet.
“Thank you. I couldn’t change forms with that splinter pressing on a nerve.” The man in front of her had amber eyes, long, mahogany hair, luscious, full lips, and miles of tanned skin. He stood naked in front of her, rubbing her arms and looking her over. “Beauty and charity. I’m glad you crossed my path. Tell me, enticing one, what is your name?”
“What?” She’d never seen eyes so golden, skin so flawless, a body so tempting, a man so nude out in the forest.
“Your name? Will you tell me? I am called Lathan.”
She swallowed hard, doing her level best to keep her gaze above his navel. “I’m, T’irla.”
“T’irla…” He said her name on a breath, as if it was something sacred. “You have done me a kindness, T’irla. I am in your debt.” He dropped to one knee and kissed her hand.
His lips were warm against her skin. He lingered there, his breaths heating her even further, sending goosebumps up her arm. “I’m just… glad I could help. You don’t owe me anything. Just–”
In a flash, he pulled her down to him and rolled on top of her. “Allow me to show my appreciation.” He kissed her before she could speak, stealing her breath and muddying her thoughts.
His touch sent pulses and tingles straight to her core. She was all but drunk off the sensations he set loose inside her.
“Will you come back with me? I’d happily take you as my mate.”
She’d follow him into an active volcano if he’d keep kissing her. “Okay.”
His smile was wide, flashing straight, white teeth. “You will be well cared for. I have lots of land and a large house. You’ll have your own room, like the others.”
“What others?” T’irla pushed at his chest and wriggled out from under him.
“My other mates.” He raised an eyebrow, his expression conveying, “Duh.”
“Others? I thought I’d be your only mate.”
The bastard had the nerve to laugh. “Only one mate? What am I, a swan? Lions have prides, my darling. Don’t you worry your pretty head. I have more than enough love to give.”
She looked him up and down once more. As gorgeous as he was, she wanted to punch him in the throat for even suggesting joining his little harem. Who did he think he was? Clearly he’d been misinformed. “Get lost. I may not be a lion, but I’m the one who gets the pride, not the other way around.” She stood and brushed the dust from her clothes.
It was hard to walk away from such a specimen of manliness, but she mounted her horse and turned toward the trees. Lions might be kings of the beasts, but she was queen on her terms. Though, she was more than a little put out as her horse ambled along.
“T’irla, wait!” He ran up to her horse and held the reins.
“What is it?”
“I still owe you a favor. Please, let me do something for you.” He smirked and extended his long, broad tongue. “I ca sift it back if you wan.” His speech was slurred with his large lion’s tongue hanging out, but she understood him just fine.
She watched it curl and roll seductively, her skin burning at the sight of its undulations. There was only one answer for such an offer. “Oh, all right.”