Steele sat drinking beer with Slade on the balcony overlooking the mountains that bordered Slade and Cricket’s property. The day was crisp and the sky clear blue. He had argued with his brother about taking a mate and then returned to headquarters. First, he’d talk to Kiara about his Vegas wedding. Unfortunately, he had just missed her. She went home, but would return tomorrow. Maybe she’d wait to talk to him about Gaby before going raving werewolf mad. Kiara must understand, he’d forgotten the lycan mating rules. At least no one but Rylee knew Gaby’s location. Frustrated, he phoned Rylee. She told him Gaby was here. Slade had returned from a rescue mission and picked up Steele by helicopter from headquarters to hang out at his place until Cricket and Gaby returned from their picnic ride. “I told King Conan, I won’t take a mate. At least not for now.” Unless, it kept Gaby safe.
Slade gave him a sidelong glance. “Let me guess, he threatened to take your title?”
“Not quite. Unfortunately, my nephew is not well, and my niece is a beta. I’m a much needed royal spare.”
“If Maxwell is not well, then Margo has no choice but to become the next queen, not you.”
“That and I told my brother it’s not necessary since he’ll live long enough for Margo to ascend the throne.” He scratched the stubble on his chin. “You appear happy with your choice of Cricket over your title.”
Slade finished his beer and sighed. “I’d give up a thousand titles for Cricket.”
I feel that way about Gaby. “If only I can do the same.” The king let Slade keep his Yukon territory.
“I get it. The only way you’d be allowed to mate Gaby would be if she was a Stallo woman.”
Slade didn’t know Gaby was a wolf-segen. Not only was she human, but their ancestral enemy, a person who could point out a werewolf. They had the mother of all relationship complications. Steele raked his hair back. “You’re right. I have to give her up.”
“Not so fast. If you and Gaby agree, she can remain your pet. That is if your future mate allows it.”
“I wouldn’t do that to Gaby.” He sighed. “We must part.” After he said goodbye to Gaby, he’d pay Kiara a visit. The bitch needed a lecture about entering his private den without permission. He’d tell Kiara he would choose another mate and she shouldn’t blame Gaby for their fake marriage. Convince her not to shame him in front of the council.
“Before I met Cricket, nothing but duty mattered. Then I lost my pack. She saved me from morphogenesis.”
The condition where a werewolf refused to shift. Prince Maxwell’s current affliction. “I was such a dick for being closed-minded.”
“You’ve come around.” He stuck out his hand for a shake. “No hard feelings.”
“Good to know.”
Slade raised his bottle of beer. “Cricket and I support your relationship with Gaby.”
“My only goal is making sure Gaby is safe from Kiara.”
“Unless you accept her as a mate, it’s none of her business who you keep as a pet.”
“She found out Gaby and I got married in Las Vegas.”
“How the hell did she hear that?”
“She invaded my den and found our only wedding picture and my ring.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“I wish I was.” He sighed. “I’m hoping your pilot can drop me off at Kiara’s estate. After I explain things to Gaby.”
“Of course, he can take you anywhere, but why the fuck to Kiara’s?”
“She needs to know I don’t intend to have her as a mate before she challenges Gaby to a fight.”
“Would she resort to that archaic law?”
“Why not? She’s told the whole damn world I’m her intended.”
“Kiara wants greater royal prestige. And you buddy, are it, even if you’re just a spare heir.”
“She’ll need to look elsewhere.” The sound of horses gladdened Steele’s heart. “They’re back.”
Slade stood and looked over the railing. “Shit.”
Steele’s adrenaline spiked. “Kiara found her!”
Slade growled, shifted and took off toward the trail. Hot on their scent.
Steele shifted and joined him at a dead run. Please, let there be a better reason their horses returned without them.
Gaby fretted. Cricket fell into a deep sleep. She peeked beneath the bandana covering Cricket’s wound. The bleeding had stopped. Although her injury could be internal. The wolf pack guarding her and Cricket turned their attention toward the forest. They growled, but slowly backed up. Kiara must have returned with more men. Gaby’s pulse quickened. She gently patted her cheek. “Cricket, wake up.”
Cricket opened her eyes. “Was I asleep?”
“Sorry, what’s up?”
“The wolves are alarmed. Kiara might have returned.”
“Huh?” Cricket sniffed and then smiled. “Hubby is earlier than expected.” She shook her head and winced. “Pretty sure he freaked when the horses returned without us.”
Gaby beamed. “Your knight in wolfish armor.”
“Your knight is with him, too.”
“The one and only.” Cricket glanced at the wolves. “You might ask them to scram.”
Trusting Cricket’s senses, Gaby commanded the pack to leave. They did, and quite enthusiastically.
A white wolf and a gray wolf dashed toward them. Gaby recognized Steele’s wolf form and her heart gladdened. What was he doing here?
Gaby moved out of Slade’s path to his mate.
The white wolf immediately licked his wife.
Cricket tried to push him back. “Honestly, it’s just a cut.”
Slade shifted. Naked and blessed with the same god-like muscular frame as Steele. “The hell it’s just a cut. I smell a hemorrhage.” He cradled Cricket in his arms.
Steele shifted to human form, drew Gaby in his arms and sniffed. “You are unhurt. What happened?”
“Your mate, Kiara happened.”
“She is not my mate!” Steele growled.
Slade’s tone deepened as he gazed at Cricket. “Kiara hurt you?”
“Tried to hurt Gaby, but I didn’t let her.”
Slade shook his head. “Rylee is going to nip her overseer position in the bud.”
Steele gazed at Gaby and kissed her long and hard. She responded, pressing her palms along his unshaved jaw line. He groaned in pleasure and closed his eyes to savor every sense she satisfied. Oh, baby. Her scent and taste sent him into the zone. Mine. Alive and safe in his arms. How did Cricket fight off an alpha? And her guards? He broke the kiss and stared at Cricket. “How are you both still alive?”
Cricket shrugged. “Let’s say we had a little help from the animal kingdom.”
Slade raised a brow. “What do you mean?”
“I’m not allowed to say. Top secret.”
Slade paused and sniffed. “I smell bear, wolves and mountain lions. What the fuck?”
“I’m a wolf charmer,” volunteered Gaby.
“Gaby. No.” Steele protested.
Slade turned to Gaby. “I thought wolf charmers no longer existed.”
Cricket smiled. “If it weren’t for her wolf charming thingy, pretty sure we would have been murdered.”
Slade kissed her tenderly on her forehead. “All that matters is you are safe. Thanks, Gaby.” He gently bit Cricket’s neck.
Steele narrowed his eyes at Gaby. “The animals attacked her for you?”
“Yep. She and two of her betas. Between the grizzly, wolf pack and two mountain lions, they took off.”
Steele sighed. “Now she has evidence to order your death.”
“Would you have been happier if she’d killed me and Cricket instead?”
“No. Of course not.”
Slade released Cricket. “It’s Kiara’s ass after Rylee hears she almost killed our most valuable team member and our guest.”
“Ah, thank you, honey.”
Steele rubbed his neck. “I need to talk to Kiara.”
“What for?” asked Gaby.
“To keep her from talking.”
“She doesn’t look like the reasonable type.”
Slade nodded. “Gaby’s got a point. How the hell are you going to do that?”
“I’ll agree to make her my mate if she promises to keep Gaby’s gift a secret.”
Gaby’s cheeks reddened. “But you don’t love her?”
“Irrelevant. Your life is more important than my feelings. Besides, my brother ordered me to mate her.”
Slade helped Cricket up. “We’ll talk about this at home.” He picked her up. “Ready?”
Cricket frowned. “I can run.”
“Yeah, but you can’t keep up.”
Steele nodded. “You too.” He lifted Gaby and followed Slade at a brisk run back to his place.
In the guest room, Gaby packed her luggage. Steele had called Rylee for help. The alpha ordered Cricket and Slade to another safe house. Running didn’t bother her as much as Steele trying to cut a deal with Kiara. Like hell she’d let that bitch have him without a fight. At least one that didn’t include claws and fangs. She closed her suitcase and went to check on Steele.
He stood in the living room near the fireplace on the phone. Not good. He bore his fangs and paced like a caged tiger. His tone angry.
Cricket grabbed her arm and pulled her into the doorway. “The situation has turned into DEFCON 1.”
Gaby’s pulse quickened. “As in nuclear war?”
“The king knows you are a wolf charmer.”
Shit. “Is that who Steele is talking to?”
“Yeah. When Steele called Kiara, she happened to be in King Conan’s office. She then handed the phone to the king.”
“I take it he’s not pleased Steele had a brief marriage with a wolf charmer.”
“If you had wolf hearing, you would shit your pants.”
“You can hear what the king is saying?”
“Yeah, but don’t worry. Rylee has disobeyed royal orders before.”
“What royal order?”
“Kill you on sight.”
“He plans to evoke the Edict of Segner 1590 that orders the immediate execution of wolf-segens. He just told Steele he’ll offer a reward of forest territory to whoever bags you.”
Her gut twisted not out of only fear but also disgust on what their kind had done to hers. “I’m pretty much dead meat.”
Cricket pressed a finger to her lips. “Shh. Listen.”
Gaby leaned in to listen to Steele.
“Brother, she’s an innocent woman.” Steele sighed and spoke as calm as possible. “Let her stay with Rylee. I’ll mate Kiara and leave Team Greywolf. And Kiara will quit her position as overseer.”
Steele negotiated to save her life. But at such a cost. Yet, was there part of him that loved Kiara, or at least lusted for the attractive she-wolf? He might hate the idea in the beginning, but maybe over time, after they had a litter of pups, he’d lose any affection for her. She’d remain a distant memory of when he was Kane.
Cricket blurted. “Don’t do it.”
He narrowed his eyes at Cricket and she bowed her head.
Steele shot Gaby a look of despair and listened for a long time. “Tell her I agree to that as well.” His hands clawed and he crushed the phone.
Afraid to ask, Gaby finally broke the silence. “What did you agree to?”
Steele growled and turned his back to her. “To never see you, talk about you, or even think about you.”
No. Gaby stepped closer. “What will become of me?”
Steele slowly turned and faced her. “The king wants you banished from all lycan territory.”
Cricket frowned. “What? She’s taken the vow. He can’t do that.”
“If she doesn’t leave, he’ll call for her execution on the grounds she’s a wolf charmer.”
Slade walked in and held Cricket. “He’s not paying us a royal visit is he?”
“No. He is on his way to Wildwood Island to see Myra. He didn’t say when he’d be back, but knowing him, he’ll order his soldiers to make sure she leaves.”
Gaby straightened her back. “I’ll go.”
Steele nodded. “Rylee will arrange a place outside our territory. You took the vow and we trust you won’t point out any lycans.”
“What about Tomlin?” Cricket asked. “He still wants her back at Project Sabertooth.”
Steele pressed his forehead. “My hope is you and the team will put an end to Project Sabertooth.”
Tomlin had lost men and the Keep appeared to have gone back into their hole. Gaby braved a reluctant smile. “Besides, locating me will be like finding a needle in the haystack.”
“We’ll find a safe house,” said Cricket.
Slade turned to Steele. “We can arrange for you to hide.”
Steele stared out the window as dark clouds rolled in. “And if caught, we would all be executed or given a werewolf lobotomy.”
Gaby could no longer hold back her tears. She stormed out to the guest room and slammed the door.
The hardest moment in his life was watching Gaby dash out of the room in tears. Every instinct begged him to go after her. Tell her he could never live without her. That he loved her more than life itself. Protect her. Yet, what good was it, if even a moment longer with Gaby meant her death?
Slade interrupted his torment. “Steele, my pilot says there is a storm coming. He recommends waiting until the morning.”
“I’ll fly it myself.” He’d learned to fly helicopters long before he joined Team Greywolf.
“Are you sure?”
“Don’t worry, I’ll beat the storm.”
“Yeah, but why the rush?”
“Kiara wants me at my brother’s castle in less than two hours, or else, she and the king will issue orders for Gaby’s execution.”
Slade scowled. “Her word is shit after nearly killing Cricket.”
“I better get going.”
Slade patted him on his back. “I trust you’ll land it if the storm turns bad.”
“Promise to keep Gaby safe until Rylee makes arrangements.”
“You have my word.”
“Later, then.” Not wanting to risk a delay due to the weather, he flew to his brother’s castle.
As if on cue, lightning struck just as he landed on the helipad. Thunder boomed. Rain pounded the ground. He stepped out to a line of royal guards. Why the fucking welcome committee?
Steele stalked into the hall and glowered at Kiara. She welcomed him at the entrance with a warm smile. “I so longed to see you, my mate.”
“I agreed to the terms. I want Gaby’s protection in writing.”
Kiara laughed. “Prince Steele, you only need my verbal promise.” She regarded him. “That is if you keep yours.”
“Wonderful.” She attempted to kiss him, but he turned his face and she managed a peck on the check. “I only wish your brother were here. He rushed off on business. Myra is still on Wildwood Island. Hopefully on meds.”
“Stop disrespecting Queen Myra.”
Kiara sneered. “I’m only saying what everybody knows, she is not well in the head.”
“Myra has improved and furthermore, as my mate, you will not gossip about her health.”
“As your mate, I’d be most happy to keep quiet about all delicate matters.”
Sinclair came in. “Prince Steele, shall I prepare dinner for two?”
“Not tonight.” He lifted a brow at Kiara. “I’m sure the princess can spare me a day to attend to my royal duties.”
“I understand. This will give me a chance to begin arrangements for the mating ceremony.”
Steele flinched. “How soon?”
Kiara batted her long lashes. “Unfortunately, it might take as long as a month. My parents are in Europe for a few more weeks and the invitations must be sent.”
He faked a smile. “No hurry.”
Kiara walked up to him and bit the tip of his nose, an intimate gesture between mates. He stiffened, but kept his disgust at bay. She winked. “Later, love.”
Steele returned to his private den. He told his brother he’d call when he arrived. By now, he and Myra were on their way to Norway. He took out his mobile.
Conan immediately picked up. “Steele, I take it you are with Kiara.”
“As you commanded, my liege.” No affection in his tone, just blind obedience.
“We are brothers; let us have peace between us.”
“Peace will come knowing you’ve drawn up a royal writ, that Gaby is not to be harmed no matter who learns of her gift.”
“I’ll have Sinclair draw one up and sign it on my return.”
“I want the council to have a copy before their next session.”
“Very well, I’ll sign it electronically and return it by tomorrow. However, if she turns on our society by fingering our kind, I will rescind the order.”
“Trust me. She will never betray us.” Not the way I betrayed her.
“I personally have a hard time trusting a jealous woman.”
“Do you mean Gaby or Kiara?”
“Does it matter? One was jilted and the other must live with the knowledge you love another.”
Shame filled his heart. He and Gaby shared dreams. Was that not a true sign they were mates? “Imagine if I had blackmailed you to mate Myra.”
“No comparison. Damn it, Steele. Not only did you fall in love with a human but a wolf charmer.”
He snorted. “I despise Kiara, but I agreed to save the love of my life. The woman you forbid me to ever see again.”
“I will not allow you to bring shame to the Wildwood royal linage. Our father and Maccon almost cost us our kingdom. I’m not above having you banished or ordering a wolf lobotomy to save our dignity.”
Steele smirked. “If not for keeping Gaby safe, I’d gladly welcome even death.”
“Forget her, brother. If Kiara picks up on your thoughts about her, the bargain is broken. Don’t think she won’t go to the council and make her case. Of all the available females, Kiara is one of the most powerful.”
“If you don’t mind, I need to call Rylee and resign.”
“Steele, it’s for your own good.”
Having Gaby would have been for his own good. “Give my best to Myra.”
“I will. Don’t worry, brother. I’ll call Sinclair immediately.”
Steele hung up and paced his living room. He couldn’t help but notice the entire castle reeked of Kiara’s scent. How the hell would he initiate a mating with the woman who ruined his life? He sighed and called Rylee. “Ma’am. I have bad news.”
Rylee sighed. “Cricket just told me.”
“If you want to allocate my LIA estate to a worthy member, I’d be more than happy to donate it.”
“May I remind you an alpha cannot be coerced into taking a mate not of his liking?”
“I did it to keep Gaby safe.”
“I told you, I’m working on ridding the wolf-segen edict.”
“I convinced Conan to draw up a royal writ against harming her. Although, I doubt the council will approve keeping a woman who can identify our kind.”
“Unlike the Middle Ages, our wolf charmer has taken the vow of secrecy.”
“You sound hopeful.”
“Think of all the humans that work with us. With technology and social media, any one of them could have revealed our kind, yet none has done so. And the few that tried were taken care of. Anyway, who in their right mind will believe Gaby without solid evidence?”
“Even so, Kiara is still a threat.” He had agreed to the bond, however, it was Kiara’s right to fight and likely kill Gaby. “Not to mention my brother will fight to dismantle Team Greywolf.”
Rylee snorted. “King Conan and your father threatened to do away with my team for ages. Yet, here we are. Still standing strong.”
“My official resignation from Team Greywolf might soften his resolve.”
“No offense, but like your father, King Conan hates humans with a savage passion. He will never agree to allow us to continue. Not if it means helping them.”
It pained Steele to think he once felt the same way about humans. Hell, even low status lycans annoyed him. Because he’d been a jerk, it was his karma to fall in love with a human. Then lose her. “I’ll reiterate to him how important human lives are to our survival.”
“I’ll put you on temporary leave, Commander Steele. After a couple months, if you still want to step down, I’ll accept your resignation.”
“If you insist, ma’am, but only for a month. Kiara says the bonding ritual will happen in a month or less.”
“Talk about a shotgun wedding.”
“Are you at headquarters, ma’am?”
“I’ll be back in a few days. Don’t worry. Nothing will happen to Gaby.”
“Good. All that matters is her safety.”