Lynx shifter Trace Wilson’s fun-loving exterior hides a heart scarred by severe domestic violence—a heart that might not ever trust another male, fated mate or not. When Trace moves to Seattle to take his place as trainer and council representative to the Glacier Rim Tribe, he discovers his mate is the vampire prince Sasha Tolstoi, leader of the Konstantin Coven. It’s not something Trace is ready to accept. Not now, maybe not ever. But if there’s one thing Sasha knows how to do, it’s how to be patient, especially when his fated heart is also his perfect sub.
When an outside force threatens the fragile bond slowly forming between them—and nearly kills Trace—Trace’s instincts shift into high gear. Sasha is powerful, and that means he has enemies, among them several rival covens and an uncle determined to force Sasha into a marriage with a vampire princess. But why involve the lynx Trace in their maneuvering? Finding the culprit won’t be easy, and it will mean building trust—a slow and difficult prospect for someone who’s suffered as much as Trace. Finding a way to move beyond the past, and to love, before those out to finish Sasha can destroy either, is a race the two fated hearts have to win.
“SIR, ARE you sure there’s nothing any of us can do to lighten your mood?” Jalin asked as Sasha stared out the window next to his chair. The view outside wasn’t any better or worse than from his suite of rooms, but seeing the worried look on his most trusted assistant’s face hadn’t gotten any easier in the last few years. Not that an answer on how to solve the issues facing him would appear no matter where he looked. He knew because early on, he’d tried.READ MORE
The view outside his window was magnificent, even if it was lost on him. The grounds at his covenstead were always perfectly maintained—his people would do no less for their prince, of course. This year the gardens were filled with roses in a vast array of colors and types, as well as climbing vines and other flowering plants complementing the benches and statuary, depending on which area you viewed. The mountains in the distance were glorious, no matter how many decades or centuries one looked upon them. But with no one to share them with….
Jalin sighed, something that not that long ago would have annoyed Sasha. Until recently, Jalin would never have done such within Sasha’s hearing, believing it was beyond inappropriate to show such attitude and emotion to his liege. But Sasha understood, even if he didn’t seem to be able to care. He was worrying them, those closest to him. Probably some of the others in his coven as well, which wasn’t the best thing to do. If any of his enemies found out about his distraction or morose attitude of late, he would be putting his friends, family, and more in danger. Even that truth failed to stir much within him, though.
“Your worry is duly noted, Jalin. But I can’t fix things how you want me to.” Sasha took a deep breath and pasted on a smile. “Now, do you have today’s agenda for me?”
“Yes, sir. Also Jason called and would like, and I quote, ‘my best friend to get off his little fanged ass and call me.’”
He couldn’t help it. Even with how he felt, Sasha still found himself chuckling. “That was a pretty good impression of Jason, actually. Keith would love to see you do that.”
The gulp he got for a reply only made him laugh harder. “See, you wanted me lighter, and you found a way. By the way, why did Jason call you instead of me?” Even in the years since Jason had learned of who and what Sasha truly was and had met Jalin (Sasha’s valet and assistant) and Summer and Dimka (his personal guard, though they had spent a few years guarding Jason until he had met and been claimed by his lynx shifter mate, Keith Skyler), Jason still always sought Sasha first, no matter what.
“I believe he did call you, but you didn’t answer. You’ve been doing that a lot as of late, sir. It’s, well… we’re worried. Dimka said your… distraction, along with some of your other more—” He paused, head cocked to the side as he seemed to think for a moment. “—worrisome behaviors started about the same time you ran into that cat, um, Trace—the council representative—not that long ago. You’ve always seemed to get along well enough with him, even if you two do appear a little cool toward one another. But since that night, you seem….”
Jalin continued talking, but Sasha couldn’t make himself pay attention. Sasha knew the night Jalin referenced, and yes, that was part of the problem. He’d been out, Dimka and Summer his loyal shadows as usual, when he’d run into Keith Skyler’s council representative cat, Trace. The lynx had been dressed to kill. His pale blond hair had been artfully arranged in spikes so he resembled some fanciful manga character, only more lovely. Trace had worn skintight black jeans, a slim-fitting pale green turtleneck sweater that made his jade eyes nearly glow, and a pair of low-cut black boots with silver buckles. Unfortunately the other accessory he had was a cute human, probably in his early thirties, hanging all over him.
Sasha and Trace weren’t a couple. They never had been, never would be, and yet Sasha still felt the sting of betrayal. Again. And it was stupid to be upset a damn cat wanted to hang out with a human instead of him when they’d mutually rejected the idea of bonding with the other. Sadly that didn’t help him feel any better.
Instead of dwelling on what would never be, Sasha pulled his cell out of his pocket and tapped the screen, then frowned when it didn’t light up. He tried clicking the side button but again, nothing happened. “Dammit. I think I let it die. That might explain why he couldn’t get me. I suppose I should be glad he didn’t show up worried.” Or angry.
Jalin held out his hand. When Sasha handed his phone over, he checked Jalin’s face, but it gave nothing away. Of course, that was one of the reasons Sasha’s father had chosen Jalin to be Sasha’s assistant and, well, valet, basically, when he was a younger prince. Jalin disappeared for a moment, then returned and handed Sasha the cell back, except it lit up this time.
“I have a couple of replacement batteries for all your devices, just in case. The battery that was in there is on the charger now and will be ready soon. As for the rest of your day, you need to call Jason, as I said. You have a formal meeting with Alpha Keith this afternoon at his home on the tribe lands. Your coven members would like to see you out and about, especially if your old, playful, princely self could make an appearance.” Jalin sounded so hopeful, and for that alone, Sasha resolved to do better at hiding his pain.
At least it wasn’t like human royalty. He didn’t have a king or queen to cater to. As the ruling prince, he was the ruler of all vampires in the area, just as Keith was the ruler of all the lynx in his tribal area. Actually in Keith’s case, because he was a Chosen of Baast, other alphas were starting to swear loyalty to him, something Sasha knew he needed to keep an eye on if he could just manage to keep his attention on anything other than his issues, thanks to Trace.
“And I sent Summer to investigate a couple of possibly rogue vampires new to the area.”
Rogue? Sasha pinned Jalin with a glare, not amused to only just now be learning of this. He never allowed any vampires who might jeopardize his coven, his allies in his territory, or Jason. “Why wasn’t I informed of their presence immediately?”
“I only learned of them just before coming in to speak with you, my lord—sir.” Jalin would learn, dammit. Sasha worked in the human world and couldn’t have his personal assistant using nobility terms around the humans. Hospital CEOs, while pompous at times, simply didn’t have their workers use my lord or liege in the normal course of their day. It would cause undue curiosity and concern—things he and his allies did not need. “They haven’t done anything, that we know of, to warrant anything but Summer checking on them. They haven’t even been in the city long enough to have broken protocol. They are still within time constraints about entrance versus presentation, sir. I merely wished to gather the information you would need and to alert you to their presence.”
“I want to know the moment Summer reports back.”
“Yes, sir. Also your mother’s uncle sent word again that he wishes an audience with you about your rejection of the proposed betrothal between yourself and Princess Tatiana.”
Sasha spun back to face Jalin as he clenched his fists so tight he felt flesh give to nails. “If I ever bond, it will be for love and love only. He will not force my hand in this!”
“Y-yes, my lord,” Jalin squeaked. “I-I-I—”
“Mother would never have allowed him to try this, and I will not be browbeaten or guilted into bonding to some girl for his gain.”
Jalin trembled where he stood as he continued to stare at Sasha. Sasha knew he needed to control his temper better, but bonding was a sore point, and not just because of Trace. He’d always hated the idea of forced marriage—and this wasn’t his uncle’s first attempt.
Sasha knew how much even his friends feared his temper when he unleashed it, not that he had ever harmed any of those closest to him, be they friend or servant. Only Jason, of all his friends alive, had never seen the true power held within him, and he’d once watched as Sasha held a feline twice his size off the ground as he strangled him unconscious. Sasha found out later the lynx shifter in question had since lost the ability to make a sound in either his human or his cat skins. The point was, Jalin didn’t deserve Sasha’s anger or pain, as none of this was Jalin’s fault.
“Dammit, Jalin,” he said, pitching his voice as soft and calm as he could manage. “I’m not upset with you and should not have taken it out on you like that.”
“It’s all right, my—”
“No, it’s not, and being your prince makes what I just said and did even less forgivable.”
“But understandable considering what he’s trying to do to you.”
There was that. Sasha had never approved of forced, arranged marriages, even when they were commonplace. He knew his father, the previous prince, had felt the same, and his parents had been a true bond pair, or what vampires called fated hearts. Sasha had always held out a tiny little hope he would find his own fated partner—even if such destined bondings were so rare that many didn’t believe them to be more than children’s stories, like the fairy tales told to human children about fairy godmothers and princesses. However, since both his parents and his sister had found their fated heart, the child within him had hoped. Unfortunately, like them, that hope was now gone.
“Maybe if you took a consort? Even if only in name, maybe your uncle would give up and find something useful to do instead of frustrate you with women you have no interest in?” Jalin then flushed a light pink. Vampires never colored much, but it was still both fetching and amusing. “I didn’t mean to speak out of turn about your uncle. Forgive me, please.”
Sasha waved away Jalin’s worries and instead addressed the true issue. “I can’t do that to someone—make them believe they have my affections but then withhold the same.”
“Surely there’s someone—”
“No, and there won’t be.” Not as long as Trace lived—and lynx were a rather long-lived race. Not that Sasha thought Trace was all that old for a man, much less for a shifter, nor could he tolerate the thought of anything happening to the infuriating cat.
Unlike Trace, the thought of touching anyone else made Sasha physically ill. He’d tried a couple of times over the last few years to ignore what should have been between them. They had never done anything more than shake hands once, so he had hoped he could have a normal life still. Unfortunately he’d had to face the truth: not only did Trace not want to bond with Sasha, but Trace was out trolling bars for companionship. He still couldn’t figure out how Trace could do that when Sasha could barely manage to touch his own coven members in a platonic sense since meeting the damnable feline—not without the horrible sense he was somehow filthy down to his core after, and that was from nonsexual touching. Sex wasn’t possible. Not since the day he’d met Trace.
“Not even for—”
“For the love of all that’s holy, please don’t continue that sentence.” Please. Sasha wasn’t even safe from Trace in his dreams or imaginings now, so no, he doubted he could take Jalin’s hopes right then. “Now go be positive somewhere else so I can call Jason.”
“As you wish.”
Sasha waited for the door to close before he grumbled, “And you are so not Westley.”