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Authors: Jo Andrews

Tags: #Erotica

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BOOK: Driving Force
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* * * * *

 

Okay, he’d asked for that. Why couldn’t he ever keep his mouth shut when he was around her?

But just thinking of that jerk-off she’d been with made him feel as if a wrecking ball had slammed into his gut. He had never felt jealousy before that night of the prom, when he’d seen her with that himbo, had never known that it could feel like a knife twisting under his ribs. But he’d gotten awful familiar with that feeling in the two years following, especially when for a while there it looked as if she was going to move in with Mr. Plastic.

Ian had tried to avoid her after that, but it really was a small town and he hadn’t been able to totally avoid seeing them together, shopping or dining or just walking hand in hand down the street. Sierra was still living with her mother, but he’d see them together and know that Useless was getting what he would never ever have.

He’d wanted to rip him apart. Tear him into little, tiny shreds and strew them across the state. Cops would have been finding his body for weeks.

Hadn’t done it. Hadn’t had the right. And anyway, if it hadn’t been that moron, it would have been someone else. Someone not him. Wouldn’t have mattered who, it would still have torn him up.

Then the inevitable had happened and the asshole had taken off on her as everyone had known he would. A little while later, Sierra too had left Castleton. It had been at once a relief and a loss to him that she was gone—he didn’t have to see her all the time, but still there was an emptiness in the middle of him that nothing could fill.

Sierra’s mom had known what was going on with him. He didn’t know how, but she had. She had never been surprised when he would see her in town and invite her to have coffee with him, had never failed to answer in detail when he’d asked with careful casualness how Sierra was doing.

Now Mrs. Wallace was gone and here Sierra was, back again. But that gulf between them was still there, always would be, and there was nothing he could do about it.

She didn’t say another word to him the whole way to her place, keeping her head turned to stare out of the window into the dark. Once there, she waited for him to unload her groceries onto her front porch, her averted gaze and rigid stance making it clear that he wasn’t welcome in her house, not even to take her groceries inside. Finally she thanked him in a frigidly polite voice while still never once looking at him.

He deserved her anger and he knew it. The bitterness had just suddenly come spilling out. He had no right to that bitterness, no right to lash out at her the way he had. But damn he hurt.

He had to stay away from her. That was all there was to it. Come anywhere close and bad things happened. But he was so hopelessly hung up on her.

 

He was on Main Street the next day when the tow truck brought Sierra’s car in. A black-and-white pulled to a stop beside him and Abel Painter leaned over.

“Did a good job on that, didn’t she?” Abel remarked.

“Seems it wasn’t her fault. There was a lion on the road.”

“Lion, huh?” Their gazes met. “Had she been drinking, by any chance?”

“Stone-cold sober.”

“Pity,” muttered Abel.

“Told her it had to have been a deer.”

“That would make a lot more sense. Think I’ll go talk to Kurt Lowe.”

“Tell him his people seem to be getting careless.”

“Looks like.”

Abel drove off, frowning, and Ian put the incident out of his mind. It was up to Abel and Kurt to handle the ramifications now.

A week later, Abel called. “Clan meeting at twenty-two hundred tonight.”

Ian’s brows rose. “What’s up?”

“Dunno. Kurt called and asked me to put the word out. Didn’t say anything more.”

“We’ll be there.”

The meeting was held at the usual place, down in the basement of the town library where the lights wouldn’t show and betray that something was taking place. Since Maggie Kindle, the head librarian, was one of them, the library was a convenient place to meet. A cozy, cuddly lady with age-whitened hair and gray-green snow-leopard eyes, Maggie made pastry to die for. Ian and Simon helped themselves greedily to one of every kind available while Maggie beamed benevolently at them.

“So, where’s Neal?” she asked as people started drifting in one by one.

“Brainiac’s attending a symposium in Seattle,” said Simon. Both he and Ian were proud of their brother’s genius-level IQ, but never failed to kid him about it.

“He’s thinking of contracting himself out for stud service to the leopard clan there,” Ian murmured. “They need new blood and Neal figures he might as well sample the Jager females since he was going to be in the area anyway. It’ll keep him occupied for a month or two.”

“You three are a disgrace,” laughed Maggie. “Well, maybe having cubs, even if they are in another clan, will settle him down some.”

“Why should it?” Ian shrugged and Maggie gave him an exasperated look.

“Having cubs makes one responsible. But that’s something you’d know nothing about.”

“Hey, Simon’s the responsible one, Neal’s the smart one and I’m supposed to be the player.”

Ian wasn’t really a player anymore. Not since Sierra had come back to Castleton. Just plain wasn’t interested in anyone else. But he’d always had a rep, which had got worse over the four years she’d been gone, when he’d run around tearing through the whole state, trying to convince himself that any willing Shifter body could take her place. Once she’d come back, though, it hadn’t been possible to keep on living in that river in Egypt. Still, the rep made a useful cover-up, saving his pride.

Maggie frowned at him. “Your daddy and granddaddy worked hard creating that spread of yours. You’ve got a duty to keep the line going.”

“No, I don’t,” said Ian flatly. “Bloodline is what counts. Sooner or later, Simon or Neal will have cubs. Those kids can take over when the time comes.”

“Aren’t you interested in having children of your own?”

“Not in the least. There’s a lot of Shifter females of all species don’t want to breed or already have kids and don’t want more. We get along just fine.”

“It gets lonely, Ian. Everyone needs ties.”

He was lonely already and the only tie he wanted was with someone he couldn’t have. He wouldn’t settle for second best.

“Got Neal and Simon and whatever family they decide to bring home. That’s all I need.”

“Doesn’t seem right.”

“What’s right, Maggie,” he said harshly, fighting to conceal his irritation, “is not to be here at all. To be back in the world we came from. But we can’t go back and now we don’t really know what it’s like to be a true Shifter in that world. There isn’t even an oral tradition, since no bards or mages ever came through. It’s all lost. We’ve adapted to this world. Taken its names, accepted its traditions and ways of living. We make our own rules.”

“Yes,” said Kurt Lowe behind him. “That’s exactly what this meeting is about.”

All three of them swung around to stare at him. He was a force to be reckoned with, was Kurt Lowe, the patriarch of the twenty-strong pride of lions in Wade County. He was huge, his mane of shaggy gold hair now shot with white as he aged. No one messed with Kurt, not even Nick Korda, the lone tiger in the gathering, who was the only one who outweighed him. Anyone else who tried would end up as nothing but an oily smear on the ground. Nick could probably take Kurt, but he knew damn well that the entire Lowe clan would land on him the very next second and tear him to pieces. Possibly, back in the other world, a younger male might have seized Kurt’s place by now, but here the pride allowed no challenges. Young males with ambitions were forced to leave and no one would take Kurt’s place until he died of old age.

“The meeting’s about making our own rules?” Maggie asked, puzzled.

“It’s about how we’ve changed. Is everyone here?” Kurt looked around, then nodded at the mutter of assent that came back. “Okay. The thing I wanted to tell all of you is that a week ago the Gate opened.”

People gasped and someone exclaimed, “That flash of light!”

“Could be,” agreed Kurt. “I saw in the paper that the idiots who call themselves experts are saying it was ball lightning. But I’m betting it was the Gate.”

“But the Gate hasn’t opened in a century!” Maggie exclaimed.

“How do you know that a portal to the other world opened?” Abel Painter asked sharply, coming forward from the back of the room, still in his Castleton PD uniform.

“Because the guy who came through cried challenge on me.”

“Son of a bitch,” muttered someone. “The old ways still exist back there, then.”

“Challenge, huh?” said Abel, rubbing a hand uneasily back and forth over the top of his brush-cut golden-brown head. “Then he’s lion, obviously. But you didn’t fight him.”

“We weren’t gonna let that happen,” growled Maud Lowe, Kurt’s second-in-command, her eyes flashing momentarily red in the fluorescent lights as she thrust back the heavy fall of her tawny hair. “No way, no day. The pride said fuck off.”

“Not done,” said Ian. “Refusing to fight is to default and surrender the pride. Dad told me that once. His grandma told him.”

“Like we’d let some stranger take over as clan lord! We told the moron the pride won’t leave Kurt. He didn’t like that. Called it interfering. But we don’t know anything about him and he doesn’t know the way things operate around here. That was easy to see.”

Ian shook his head. “Doesn’t work that way. Not knowing anything about him wouldn’t have mattered in the old days. That’s the way they kept from getting inbred. Newcomer kills the previous lord and takes over the pride. The way he sees it, you’re breaking the rules.”

“Those rules don’t apply here!” snapped Maud.

“How old is this guy?” Abel asked.

“See, that’s just it. He’s not a kid. This isn’t a case of some adolescent getting his hormones running and going and attacking the nearest pride-lord.”

“Then what’s he like?”

“Big. Midthirties. Black hair. Has plenty of attitude.”

Abel leaned forward, his eyes intent. “What’s he doing here? How’d he get through the Gate? Did you think to ask? Did someone open it for him or did he fall through by accident?”

“In other words, did he jump or was he pushed?” murmured Ian, amused.

Maud frowned. “You think he was kicked out of that world?”

“That’s how a lot of our ancestors ended up here.”

“Don’t need the old country dumping their problems on us,” growled Nick Korda in his deep, rumbling voice. “Got enough of our own.”

Maud made an irritable gesture. “We asked. He didn’t say. Went off into a rant about how we’ve screwed up the natural order of things. Said this should all be pride country. The rest of you shouldn’t be around. Says we should drive you off.”

Nick’s brows went up. “What’s the big? We’re all cats here. The closest wolf pack is four counties over.”

“Should all be lion. No competition.” Maud grinned at him. “Like you, ti-grrr.”

Nick cast a suddenly interested look at her and Maud leered at him. Kurt made an exasperated sound.

“Do that later, you two. Worse, he didn’t like humans living in the same territory. Said there should be complete separation of the two species.”

“Good luck with that, since it’s their world,” muttered Ian.

Kurt nodded grimly. “We’re trying not to let them know we even exist and he wants us to muscle them off our turf. I tried to explain that it isn’t our turf. It’s theirs. They’re everywhere, except maybe Antarctica, and I personally don’t want to live there. And what kind of muscle does he think we have? There’s several billion of them and only a few thousand of us, scattered all over the globe. Even here in Castleton, where we’ve sort of collected, it’s still three thousand of them and fifty of us—twenty if he wants to count only the lions. Hassling humans is a nice way to commit suicide, especially with the weapons they can bring to bear.”

“He didn’t listen, of course,” Maud said bitterly. “We told him if he went after even one of them as a human, he’d be called a murderer and have the cops after him, and if he went after them as a cat, he’d have every hunter in the state having the time of their lives. If he wants to be a rug on somebody’s floor, go ahead. Just don’t get us involved. We made it clear that if he even tried to hurt the humans, we’d take him out ourselves as a threat to the safety of our community. He called us traitors. Several nuts over fruitcake maximum, this Arrhan.”

“Is that his name?”

“That’s what he said.”

“It’s the old ways,” Maggie said worriedly. “It’s like having some medieval baron turn up who’s never heard of the Magna Carta, so starts having conniption fits about the peasants having rights. He hasn’t made the adaptation. Who knows what kind of damage he’ll do before he learns to adjust?”

Kurt frowned. “That wasn’t a stupid man I was talking to. I don’t know why he’s here, whether he fled through the Gate to avoid some threat or was cast through it by enemies. But now that he’s here, he’ll learn fast. Our granddaddies have told us that passage through the Gate gives one the ability to speak and understand and even read the new world’s language. If I were him, I’d read the newspapers, listen to the TV, do some research. It’s not some Viking berserker we’ve got here.”

BOOK: Driving Force
7.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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