A Lion’s Heart
by AC Arthur
Book 1 in the Shadow Shifters Rebellion Series
Nisa Reynolds is a soldier. Despite her love and respect for her parents’ position in this fight, Nisa is determined to do things her way. If only she can convince the devilishly sexy white lion shifter traveling with her that her plan is the best option for the shifters survival…if only she were strong enough to fight the passion brewing between them.
Decan Canter’s tribe had long since learned to co-exist with the other feline shifter tribes as they all lived in Oasis and believed in saving their race by any means necessary. Having a direct order come to him from the Assembly Leader to escort his daughter across the country, wasn’t something he’d expected, yet he respected the order and had tried his best to obey. But Nisa Reynolds was unlike any other shifter Decan had ever met, and even if it meant dying at the hands of the reputed Roman Reynolds, he had to taste her…only, having her once, was never going to be enough.
A Lion’s Heart
Book 1 in the Shadow Shifters Rebellion Series
A Lion’s Heart
Sitting in a recliner with a cup of hot tea cooling in her hands, Kalina watched the television screen as if she expected something to jump through it at any moment. She was still a bit stiff as the stiches in her side healed. Beside her in another chair Ary sat close, rubbing her hand over Kalina’s back in an effort to keep her and the baby she was carrying calm.
“He’s alright,” Ary said slowly, her gaze also intent on the television screen. “They’re all coming back to us, Kalina. You cannot think otherwise.”
“They’re everywhere,” Kalina said softly. “Just everywhere and they’re killing whatever is in their way. Humans and shifters.”
In the corner, as was his favorite spot in any room that he occupied, Baxter held Shya in his arms, rubbing his chin along the little girl’s soft ebony curls. She’d flourished so much in the weeks since the blood transfusion from Ezra. Her chubby cheeks were the highlight of her cherub-like face, she had a smooth heavily-creamed coffee complexion and hazel brown eyes. She’d even grown two teeth at the bottom front of her mouth and now held tight to the spirit filled stick that had been converted into a rattle Baxter had given her the day she was born. Magdalena had given him the stick when he’d first left the Gungi to travel to the states with the Reynolds family. It was for protection, strength and solace, so Baxter had given it to Shya as the first born of the newest shifter generation. The Seer had already sent another spirited object for the first child of the Assembly Leader upon its birth.
Watching Kalina as she worked her fingers together, released and started the process again, Baxter wondered if that would come to fruition. The First Female looked tired after the injuries and subsequent surgery she’d endured because of the car accident. She’d lost a little weight but Ary assured them all that the baby inside her still thrived.
“There’s so much death,” Kalina whispered. “So much hate.”
Ary sighed. “I know. I know. But Rome is a good leader. He’ll get them all out of there. I know he will.”
But even to Baxter’s ears she did not sound confident.
In the next few minutes the mood in the tunnels shifted quickly. The first SUVs came barreling into the parking area. Calls came in rushed screams over the intercom system that had been installed into each room and the hallways of the tunnel. “Medical assistance needed! Medical assistance ASAP!”
Ary immediately rose from where she was seated. “You stay right here,” she told Kalina. “Do not move. I’ll come get you if it’s Rome.”
Kalina had already come to the edge of her seat, about to get up.
“Baxter, make her stay,” Ary called to him.
Baxter moved slowly from the corner, going to kneel in front of the First Female. “I need you to hold Shya, while I make sure all is well. Sit back and hold the baby,” he told her.
She looked up at him in a way that said she knew exactly what he was doing and wasn’t fooled one bit, but she did take Shya into her arms, cuddling the little girl close to her chest. Standing, Baxter nodded to Ary and watched the curandero rush from the room to take care of the wounded.
Within the next hour more trucks came in with more wounded Shadow Shifters, some already dead.
When Kalina thought she would go out of her mind, and Shya had fallen asleep in her lap, she stood. With a resigned sigh and no knowledge of exactly how much time had passed, she lay Shya in the cradle that had been brought down for her. As she stood, still fighting back the tears of dread, a hand touched her shoulder. Tears fell as she exhaled slowly, her entire body filling with warmth at his touch.
“Meu companheiro,” he said in his deep voice and Kalina’s shoulders began to shake. “Don’t. Please don’t cry,” Rome said, turning Kalina to face him.
She fell into his embrace, holding onto him so tightly she thought she might actually break him, or her arms, in the process. “I was so afraid,” she whispered into his shirt. “So afraid for you and for everyone.”
He rubbed his hands down the back of her head, then cupped her face and tilted her head until she stared up at him. “I am safe and I am here. I love you,” he told her, letting one hand slip down to rub over her protruding belly.
Kalina nodded. “You are safe and I love you.”
“Rome’s called a meeting in half an hour,” Eli said after he and Nivea had walked from their truck to the room one of the guard’s had directed them too. It was sparsely decorated with just a bed, one table and one chair, but the bathroom had a shower and they were told their clothes had been brought down here. “We have just enough time to grab a quick shower, stop by the infirmary to check on Ezra and then get to the meeting on time.”
He continued to talk, not sure why it was so imperative to keep moving. Especially when he knew Nivea had come in and sat on the edge of the bed, remaining very quiet.
“Jax called me on the eband to say that Ezra’s already in surgery. Ary’s working on him,” he said while pulling clothes from one of the bins that had been labeled with his name. “I want to get down there as soon as possible.”
Nivea still didn’t speak.
“He also said your sisters were doing well,” Eli continued. “I asked about your parents, too.”
“Stop,” she said softly. “Just stop.”
Eli did. He turned to face her and wanted to hit something, curse, or simply collapse at how sullen and helpless she looked at that very moment. Instead, he summoned the strength to go to her, sitting on the bed and wrapping one arm around her.
“It’s done,” he said. “We can’t go back and change it. We tried to stop it, but it’s done.”
Tears streamed from her eyes. Eli didn’t look at her but he could smell them, salty and sad and something clenched inside his chest tightly.
“They’re dying,” she told him. “I saw Pete die. That white lion took him down.” Her breath hitched and more tears fell. “We couldn’t stop it.”
“No,” Eli told her. “We couldn’t.”
“What will happen now?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” he replied honestly. “I really don’t know the answer to that question, Nivea.”
Then Eli moved and he lifted Nivea onto his lap, wrapping one strong arm around her waist, using his other to lift her face and cup her cheek. “All I know right here and right now is that I love you more than life itself. And I don’t ever want to lose you, not in battle, not because of some disagreement or lack of communication. I just want you, always.”
She looked at him through eyes blurred by tears, human eyes that had seen and experienced far too much in her young life. And he wanted to give her the world. Of course he didn’t know which world that would be, but Eli didn’t care. All he knew was that he was looking at his future, his life, the reason why he’d survived all that he had.
“I love you,” he told her again, touching his lips softly to hers. “I love you.”
She sighed into his kiss, whispering over his lips in response, “I love you, too.”
“We have not been able to contact Cole,” Rome said solemnly as he stood in front of what was left of his leadership team. “It is too soon to send a team out to search for him, but we will first thing in the morning. Ezra is in critical condition. Zach and a number of others are dead.”
At the table, Eli reached for Nivea’s hand. He’d seen his brother with tubes running all over him, eyes closed as he lay in the medically induced coma that Ary assured Eli would help him heal even faster than shifters normally did. It had taken a part of him to see his other half lying so still as if he were already dead, but he’d flattened his hand on his twin’s chest and felt his heart still beating. Nivea had stood right by his side, as Dawn had covered Eli’s hand with her own. For as much as Eli had been against his brother mating a human, he was at that moment happy that Ezra had found someone to love him the way he deserved to be loved. So he did not move when her hand rested on top of his and when Nivea leaned in, adding her hand on top of Dawn’s, his heart had swelled.
“We have been exposed,” Rome continued. “The humans now know without a doubt that there are Shadow Shifters living in this world with them. There will be repercussions for that revelation and there will most likely be more death.”
It was a solemn declaration, but one that was true nonetheless.
Nick and Ary stood stoically just behind Rome. Kalina sat in a chair to his right. Jax was ever present next to the First Female. X and Caprise who had sustained a pretty violent looking gash at her neck, stood to Rome’s other side, forming what, to Eli, would always be an impenetrable alliance. Baxter and Elder Alamar were all the way to the back, looking as grief stricken as the others felt.
“I’ll organize the recovery teams to go out at first light to search for the others that are missing,” Eli volunteered, wanting to take some of the stress off the Assembly Leader’s shoulders.
“I’ll help with that,” Bas said, speaking for the first time since returning to the tunnels and learning that Cole was missing.
“I’m going out to look for him myself,” Jace told the room in a tone that dared anyone to speak against him.
They would all go out to look for the Faction Leader.
“Right now it’s best if we try to get some rest,” Rome told them. “Teams will be assigned and briefed at five a.m. Then we’ll go out to search for survivors.”
“That’s not a good idea,” a new voice sounded throughout the room.
All eyes went to the man now standing in the doorway, the human that was familiar to some. He was surrounded by two shifters that had what looked like a death grip on his arms.
Nivea immediately stood. “What are you doing here?”
X and Nick both moved to the doorway to confront Agent Dorian Wilson.
“That’s a damned good question,” Nick said, staring into the man’s face.
“I was given directions,” Dorian told them. “By Rayna.”
“That bitch!” Nivea whispered and Caprise nodded her agreement.
“Hear what I have to say first,” Dorian insisted, his gaze seeking and resting on Rome. “You want to hear this before you decide how to proceed.”
At eleven a.m. on a Saturday morning, Eli walked behind his Assembly Leader as Roman Reynolds, Nick Delgado, Xavier Santos Markland, Sebastian Perry, Priya Drake and Agent Dorian Wilson were escorted into the Oval Office.
They crossed the room with solemn footsteps, their feet moving softly over the United States of America Presidential seal painted on the floor. Coming to a stop, Eli made sure to count each member of the Secret Service in the room. Their job was to guard President Wilson Reed, just as Eli’s was to guard Rome.
The President looked grim as he stared at Rome.
“You lied to me,” was the first thing the older man said, his glasses pushed up high on his face.
“I never lied,” Rome countered. “I did not tell you what you did not need to know.”
Wilson slammed his palms down on his desk. “I didn’t need to know that there were damned animals roaming around my country? Are you kidding me?”
“First,” Rome began. “The animals you refer to are housed in a zoo. What have been walking and mingling amongst the humans for hundreds of years are called Shadow Shifters. And up until last night you had no idea we existed.”
“That’s exactly what my problem with you is Reynolds! I allied myself with you. I supported you and your firm and the charities you reached out to.”
Rome interrupted. “Because those were the right things to do. I have always been an upstanding citizen, a successful lawyer and a contributor to this community as well as others. There was no need for you not to offer your support just because you had no knowledge of my DNA.”
“Don’t give me that smooth-ass lawyer crap! You should have told me!” Wilson was clearly outraged and he was afraid.
Sweat pricked his forehead and his hands shook after he’d slammed them on the desk, so he pulled them down to his lap instead. He was afraid of the shifters that had seemingly invaded his office.
When in truth, it was Priya and Dorian who had arranged for the private meeting as a form of damage control for the United States Government—to whom many countries were now looking at with thoughts of terrorism against their citizens, as last night’s attack involved several of their highest dignitaries. And for the shifters whose true nature had finally been unveiled… The President’s staff had jumped at this opportunity, but Rome had insisted it be a private meeting instead of a nationally-televised press conference.
“Now I want you to tell me where the rest of your kind are hiding and what you all plan to do now that you’re here,” Wilson told Rome.
The Assembly Leader shook his head. None of them had been overly optimistic about the human government being able to come to amicable terms with the shifters. That had been one of their greatest fears with exposure. But they’d agreed to the meeting, agreed with Dorian that it looked better for them, and it put forth the peaceful approach the agent now believed the shifters needed to take.
Dorian’s appearance had also been a huge question. But the agent had explained how he met Rayna and how the Lormenian shifter had wanted to help the Shadows by exposing and killing Boden. She’d wanted her sister’s safety, but she’d also wanted them to be able to live cohesively with the humans in this world. She’d left him a letter with the directions to the tunnels—which she knew because she’d been there to help them work on the construction—and she’d told him that if she did not return to the hotel by a certain time that night that he should assume that she was dead and get to Rome as quickly as possible. The agent had done just that.
“We are a peaceful species,” Rome told the President. “What happened last night was not our fault.”
“Big ass cats jumping over cars, biting and killing people, that’s not your fault?” Wilson inquired “When I’ve been told that you are yourself one of the big cats.”
Rome paused a moment, the room going completely silent as everyone waited for his response.
“Yes. I am one of the big cats. I am the Stateside Assembly Leader of the Shadow Shifters,” Rome said with confidence and pride.
Wilson stood then, squaring his shoulders so that his stance mimicked Rome’s.
“Then I command you to release the names and locations of every member of this species. I demand to know where every one of you are hiding so that we can deal with you appropriately,” Wilson said without hesitation, his angry gaze locked with Rome’s.
“I will not do that,” Rome told him calmly. “There’s no reason for any of us not responsible for last night’s fiasco to be, as you put it “dealt with”. And furthermore, I will not stand for the persecution and execution of my kind.”
Wilson nodded as if in resignation, before saying, “Then you have made the United States and possibly the entire world your enemy.”
Rome’s reply was immediate and was said just seconds before the Assembly Leader turned and left the room, his team following dutifully behind him.
“No, Mr. President. It is my goal to work with the humans, with your government, so that there will be no need for any of us to be enemies,” Rome said seriously. “You knew my parents. You know what type of man I am. You know what I stand for and what I believe. There is no reason for us to work against each other here. The Shadow Shifters simply want peace.”
Wilson Reed looked from one of his advisors to the next, then back to Rome and the others who stood with him. He sighed heavily, smoothing down his tie as he lowered himself slowly into his seat.
“I only want peace for my country,” the President said to Roman. “Can you promise that from your people?”
“We only want peace as well,” Rome told him. “So yes, I can promise you that. And if we all work together peace and harmony shall be what we have.”
20 Years Later
“She’s young,” First Female Kalina Reynolds told her husband, Assembly Leader Roman Reynolds.
“She’s smart,” he replied.
Kalina nodded. “She’s tenacious.”
Rome agreed before adding, “And stubborn.”
“Intelligent,” Kalina said as she moved across the room.
“Beautiful.” Rome followed her. “She is the best of both of us and the best Topétenia guard of this generation.”
Then the composure that she was known for possessing, the cool and always in control leader that the Assembly had come to expect whenever their First Female was around, slipped.
“I don’t care about that, Rome. She’s our baby and we’re letting her go into unchartered territory with a lion. We’re campaigning for first place in the bad parenting department.”
Rome knew it was coming and had been waiting patiently while she took her time admitting what was obvious. He resisted the urge to smile and stepped closer to his companheiro’s side, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. After all this time with her he still couldn’t believe she was standing by his side. So much had happened in the years since he first met Kalina in his office at the law firm. Some good things and some bad, but everything—from that very first day—impacted them together. One unit. One joining. With one daughter. The love of their lives.
“We’re doing what is necessary,” he said. “You were the one who came to me advising that she was restless.”
“Well, we should have found her a hobby. Not send her off to another part of the world, to do who knows what. The very unstable world that we now live in, I might add.”
Her hands had been clasped in front of her. Now they moved as she folded her arms across her chest and then dropped them again only seconds later. Before he could speak her hands were moving once more, this time to link at the back of her neck as she inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly.
“I do not regret coming to you after seeing how unhappy she was,” Kalina said finally, rotating her head and then letting her arms fall heavily to her sides. “But I did not expect this. You very wisely waited until the last minute to tell me about a new assignment.”
Rome leaned in to kiss her at the temple. He inhaled the sweet floral scent that was distinctly Kalina’s and shook his head.
“None of us expected things to turn out like this,” he said quietly.
“Magdalena’s prediction came too late,” she replied, turning slightly to look up to him.
“Yes, Baxter delivering the news from the Seer was ill-timed. Her prediction of death and destruction. The complete end of the race or a catastrophic change in who and what we were. All of that should have been known to us sooner. However, I don’t know what we might have done differently,” he said.
“I might not have wanted a child as much as I did,” she commented quietly.
They both looked through the soundproof glass shield that served as a window stretching the length of the main hall of Assembly Headquarters, where their daughter stood. Oasis was where they had been living for the last twenty years since the shifters had been unveiled to the world. The underground haven had begun as a series of tunnels to carry the shifters quickly from one place to another secretly. The night that all hell—or rather all the shadow tribes—had broken loose, those plans changed and for the last twenty years Commanding Officer Nick Delgado, as head of security for the Assembly, had worked alongside the other Faction Leaders to turn the tunnels into the shifters’ underground world.
Nobody knew they were here, no humans and no shifter that wasn’t in agreement with them and their desire to keep a low profile during the continued unrest above ground in the human world.
“We both wanted her and we’re both proud of her,” Rome stated solemnly.
Their daughter was a beautiful twenty year-old with her whole life ahead of her. She was packing the back of a black Tracer which was one of the Shadows’ vehicles that were specially re-designed for them and their new way of life underground. Among the many shifters in Oasis, a Bosinian couple who at one time had worked for a large automotive company above ground, had technologically enhanced the SUVs the Shadow guards and enforcers drove. They created the Tracer, Wrangler and Attacker vehicles for them to use on the mostly matted clay roads throughout the tunnels. Guard teams mostly drove the Tracer. Enforcers and upper level command used the Attacker, while the Wrangler was designed solely for personal use.
Nisa Reynolds was scheduled to drive her Tracer from Assembly Headquarters in the eastern zone to Central Headquarters located just beneath the state of Texas where Jace, the Pacific Zone Faction Leader and acting Central Zone Faction Leader, was waiting to meet her. Jace and Rome had worked together for going on thirty-five years now. He was a friend and Rome trusted him with his life. Now, Rome thought heavily, he was trusting him with his daughter’s life.
“She can do this,” Rome said. “I trust that she can get the job done.”
“I don’t doubt that,” Kalina replied. “You’ve taught her everything there is to know about being a good leader. What I’m more concerned about is how well she’s going to adapt to taking instructions from someone other than you and Eli. And what’s going to happen to the person who has to teach her that lesson.”
That person was Decan Canter.
A Serfin, white lion shifter.
He was standing next to the vehicle behind the one Nisa was loading another duffel bag into. Tall, around six-feet five-inches, muscular build, keen and intelligent eyes, United States military and Shifter Tactical Team trained, Decan had been Rome’s first and only choice for this assignment. Rome needed someone he could trust and someone he knew could protect Nisa during the trip to Central Headquarters. Decan’s father, Jalil, had been of great assistance to Jace as he’d worked to get all of the Shadows in the Central Zone entered into the Shadow Shifter database and scanned into the intricate security systems developed as the primary source of entry into Oasis. The Canter family was from Houston where Jalil had, at one time, held a job in telecommunications. Decan, had been one of the few Shadows able to secretly continue throughout the human school system after the Unveiling. He’d graduated with honors and immediately enlisted in the United States Marines.
“He looks hard and rigid,” Kalina continued, tearing Rome’s thoughts away from the dossier on Decan Canter which he’d reviewed for the hundredth time this morning.
“He’s a trained soldier with excellent tracking skills. He comes from a tribe reputed for its integrity and strength. He’s exactly what we need right now,” Rome told her.
“I fear this outing you’re sending them on is no longer about what we need as a species, but instead, how well these two will get along.”
Rome watched as Decan approached the back of the Tracer where Nisa stood. Even from this distance he could scent the tension rising between those two—the lion shifter and the jaguar one. Kalina was right, this was a test of sorts. One which he hoped with all his being his daughter would pass. Because if she didn’t, Rome had no idea what he would do with his spirited child. He had no idea how he could continue to protect her.
“I’ll take us south,” Nisa said when she smelled the lion coming up behind her.
Each feline in the Shadow family had a different scent. The Serfins possessed a very dominant fragrance, like burning cigars. This one had something else, a more potent aroma that doubled the intensity of his presence. Nisa refused to turn to face him, just as she decided not to explore his scent and how or why it was so different from any other shadow she’d met before.
“We’ll make it to Florida tonight and in the morning we’ll begin our journey west. There’s a high population of Croesteriia once we get into swamp territory. So far they haven’t been too much trouble in the eastern region, but Jace has reported needing to police them a little more in central and pacific. My thought is they’re restless. The tunnels do not provide enough space for satisfying the need to run and stretch. They want to go above ground more frequently,” she continued.
When her bags were as neat as she could get them in the tight space left after she’d ensured she had all the supplies needed for this trip, Nisa gave herself a little nod for a job well done. She took a step back and had to come up on her toes to reach for the door to close it. Just before her fingers could touch the cool metal, she watched as he came closer, one rope-veined arm extended as he pushed the door so that it came down slowly but still closed with a thunk. He leaned against it then, crossing his arms over his chest as if he now wanted applause for his assistance. Nisa wasn’t about to give it to him. Nor was she going to acknowledge the quick leap in her heart rate at the sight of him up close, dressed in full guard uniform looking like he should be on a door length poster for hot hunks.
“I’ll drive,” he said while she thought about what else she wanted to say to him.
“We’ll be in Florida before nightfall. There’s a secure location near the Everglades where you can go above ground and run. Tomorrow we’ll move out early and make it to Central Headquarters by nightfall. You can have another run then.”
His voice was deep, not so much as her father’s, but still a low timbre with a raspy edge that rubbed something inside her in an unexplainable way. Nisa kept her gaze trained on his icy blue eyes. The strong line of his jaw masked by a light coating of a beard and the black and white spray of tightly curled hair was of no interest of her. None at all.
“This is my truck. My mission. My call,” she asserted and just to make sure he knew she was serious, Nisa took a step forward, folding her arms over her chest as well.
His gaze immediately dropped to what she realized when she finally followed it, was the generous swell of cleavage displayed with her actions. Her uniform jacket was in the front seat where she’d tossed it earlier. For now, she wore only a blue tank top with a sports bra that didn’t offer her as much support as her size D cup breasts required.
Instantly annoyed, and much warmer under his perusal than she thought was acceptable, Nisa snapped her fingers and waited while he slowly dragged his gaze back up to her face.
“It might also be a good idea to stay focused on this mission. We might be underground but there are still dangers lurking,” she told him in what she hoped was a supervisory tone.
Even as a senior guard in the Assembly, Nisa had learned a long time ago that male shifters did not like dealing with the Assembly Leader’s daughter, unless it was to flirt with her. She hadn’t wanted the latter with any of the ones that had ever crossed her path, so she’d decided the light frost in her tone and steady eye contact usually hammered that fact down pretty quickly.
To his credit, this Shadow didn’t look like the type to argue. Nisa supposed that was a good thing. While she could easily out-argue someone—according to her best friend and daughter of one of her father’s best friends, Shya Delgado—she was relieved that he didn’t seem interested.
Relief dissipated almost instantly, leaving Nisa a bit deflated as he came closer to her and lifted a hand to smooth over his beard. No, that’s not what he was really doing. The arrogant lion was showing her the band of white stripes around the wrist portion of his jacket.
“I’m a Senior Enforcer,” he told her, in case she couldn’t count the stripes that marked his superiority. “This mission is mine to lead. We’re leaving in five minutes.”
Before Nisa could even consider a reply, he’d moved past her and was heading toward the driver’s side of the vehicle.
Names she could call him, ways she could insult him for being obnoxious and everything short of stomping her foot in anger, crossed her mind. But the tingling at the base of her neck held her still a few seconds. Then, she turned slowly, tilting her head back until she could see them.
Roman and Kalina Reynolds, the best parents a Shadow could have. As for a young woman, well, Nisa was certain that she was not the only person to go through the phase of wishing her parents would let her go without doubt. From the looks on their faces—even though her mother was waving and her father was giving her his best political smile—they were filled with doubt about letting her go on this mission.
She remained still while anger bubbled inside. This wasn’t how this was supposed to go. Nisa wanted to scream, and then she wanted to yank the Senior Enforcer’s smug self out of the driver’s seat of her vehicle.
That thought only fueled her anger.
Hadn’t she aced her tactical training, moving quickly up the ranks to become a Senior Guard at just twenty years old? Didn’t she know the Shadow Shifter history as far back as the very first jaguar shifter in the Gungi rainforest? Hadn’t she been instrumental in designing the new holodeck in the main control room? Didn’t she know all there was to know about each tribe, Magdalena the Seer, Baxter the Overseer and even the enemy Rogues? What more could she do to prove to them that she was ready?
Finding Cole Linden, the Central Zone Faction Leader, would be a start.
Cole had been missing since the night of the Unveiling twenty years ago. However, Nisa wasn’t as certain as her father and his friends that he was still alive. Even with that in mind, Nisa’s plan for this mission was, to lead this team from east to central without incident and then to help Jace Maybon and the Lead Enforcer in that region to train their guards on how to use the new boards that she’d designed to assist them in logistics and strategic mission planning. Eventually, that would lead to Jace recommending to her father that he turn the region over to her. Then, finally, Nisa would be in a position to not only lead, but to help her father in the battle he refused to fight against the humans that would see their entire species terminated. How was she going to do that now, with Mr. “This mission is mine to lead” on her back?
Nisa’s parents were her life. They meant everything to her. In turn, she was determined to make them as proud of her as she was of them and all that they’d done for the Shadows. That was her focus, her one goal in this life, and she would not let anyone or any situation deter her.
Not even the sexy lion who had already aroused pricked the cat inside of her.
She was sitting too close to him.
Even with the console and their ready box between them as he drove, she was too close. Her scent was too strong. Her breasts too alluring. The sound of her heartbeat too loud. The slight parting of her lips as she read over the maps on the board—and hand-held replica of the holodeck she’d created for the control room at Assembly Headquarters—she’d pulled out of her pack was too sexy.
He should have declined this position.
But the message that had come from the Assembly Leader a week ago was simple and really left no room for negotiation.
“I want you to escort my daughter to the Central Zone. Jace has a project there that Nisa can help implement.”
That’s how this particular situation had begun.
Decan’s fingers gripped the steering wheel as he recalled that two days after receiving the transmission via his comlink, he’d stood in Roman Reynolds’ office. There had been no nervousness, no anxiety, and no fear. He did feel immense respect for the shifter who had built a democracy for his species outside of the rainforest in Brazil where their kind had originated. It was an honor to be in his presence and Decan had no intention of ever forgetting that fact. Still, whatever he may have thought or felt before stepping into that room, Decan had tucked it securely away. It was a trick he’d learned after his first shift and one that had saved his life for a long time after. He pressed it all back, with the strength of the fierce cat that lived inside of him. Everything was moved out of his mind and his being so that there was just the basic human body. He’d done that so easily for so long that when the time had come he’d been almost useless against the attack executed on him. But that was long before the meeting with the Assembly Leader. And even longer before he’d first seen her.
“I can do that,” Decan remembered his response to the Assembly Leader.
“While you’re there Jace has some new information he’s uncovered through the help of some lycan friends above ground, to run past you.”
“There are other shifters above ground?” he’d asked, astonished by that knowledge as there had never been any mention of another species besides the humans and the shifters.
“There is a lot up there that you, nor I, know about,” had been Rome’s reply.
Decan hadn’t been given a chance to think about that as Rome had continued to talk about Jace and the lead he had on Cole Linden’s whereabouts. He was the FL who had disappeared amidst the chaos of the Unveiling. Decan didn’t know if the shadow was still alive or not, but he wasn’t going to argue the use of resources and manpower for this continued search. His time in the human military had taught him to never leave a man behind.
“Why me?” he had, however, asked because he’d needed to know.
His father had been sure it was because Rome recognized what a good leader Decan would make, but then Jalil tended to think the world of his only son. Decan was to be everything that Jalil would not allow his girls to achieve. That’s why, when Decan was just ten years old, his two sisters had gone underground with the rest of the family while Decan stayed with his mother’s adoptive parents above ground and continued with his human education.
“You are the one for this job,” Rome had assured him. “I trust you to take care of my daughter and to deliver her safely. Jace will keep me apprised of how things work out with you and his lead.”
In other words, Jace would report back to Rome on how good or bad a job Decan managed to do. So this was a test. Decan had never failed a test before and he wasn’t about to start now.
Clenching his jaw and staring straight ahead through the dark cavernous tunnel as he drove, Decan silently declared Jace’s report to the Assembly Leader would be phenomenal. So much so that Rome would have no choice but to name him the new Central Zone Faction Leader.
“There’s another set of tunnels just past the Virginia marker that might get us down there quicker.”
The feminine voice echoed throughout the otherwise quiet interior of the vehicle and Decan resisted the urge to turn to her. He knew how she looked. He’d seen that face on and off in his mind for the last six months, since the first time he had a glimpse of her at the quarterly meeting. He’d only been in Oasis for five months at that time, but his father had made sure he knew everything there was to know about the new haven for the Shadow Shifters the moment Decan had returned. Jalil had been excited to introduce Decan to all of the FLs at the meeting and finally, to the Assembly Leader.
“We don’t need to rush. We’re not expected at Central Headquarters until tomorrow night,” he replied and continued down the bumpy path.
After the initial tunnels were constructed, more emphasis had to be put on building the bunkers that would house all of the Shadows, as they’d been migrated underground fairly quickly. So most of the tunnel roads still remained unpaved. As evidenced by the multiple craters he drove over in the next few seconds. The vehicle took the shock like a champion and he was only slightly jostled as he continued to drive. She, on the other hand, dropped the board and cursed as she leaned forward to retrieve it.
“The roads on the alternate route have smoother passageways,” she snapped.
Decan did look over at her this time. He wanted to make sure she wasn’t hurt. He did not want to take in anymore details of her attire. She’d put on her jacket which had been a blessing, so her delectable cleavage was no longer on display. But her mission pants were tight, and as she’d bent over, her jacket and tank top rode up her back, giving him a glimpse of smooth chocolate toned skin that his fingers ached to caress.
“The priority was to build the bunkers for the families to occupy and the leadership to meet. Oasis needed to function as our new world. Going back to re-do the roads is taking time, but they will all be finished soon,” he said, still staring at her body as she sat back slowly in her seat.
“What are you a brochure for Nick Delgado’s construction team?” she asked.
His lips clamped shut tightly as he dragged his gaze up to her face. Such a pretty face, even if she frowned frequently and spent a lot of her time arguing with others. She had a pert little nose and sexy lips. Her hair was a short cap of springy dark curls that suited her compact, no fuss appearance. She didn’t need any fuss, every natural part of her was enough. It somehow felt like too much, for him at least
“It’s better if we stay on the main roads. Security cameras are embedded in the tunnel walls and there are always enforcers watching. This is the safer route, but I’ll do my best to hit the upcoming bumps as softly as possible.”
As if in response to his words and probably because he was paying more attention to her than the road ahead, the vehicle traveled over another crater section in the road and they were both rocked by the sudden motion. Decan was positive, though, that his chest didn’t look half as alluring as hers did during the incident.
“Wow,” she said then. “If that’s your best—”
Her words and the curse he was silently reciting to himself for letting his physical urges override his professional training, were both interrupted by another thump and more shaking of the vehicle.
Decan cursed as his fingers tightened on the steering wheel. Nisa echoed his sentiment as she now saw what he did.
Cheetahs, two of them, standing on the hood of the Tracer, teeth bared and ready to attack.