Authors: Katie Reus
Dr. Cindy Shahi is resigned to being mateless, but her inner jaguar has needs that must be sated. An encounter with a deliciously sexy stranger is the perfect chance for a night of no-strings primal passion.
Elias was content to be a lone wolf until the moment he laid eyes—and much more—on Cindy. Their intense attraction can mean only one thing: the mating call. And when it becomes clear someone isn’t happy about their budding relationship, all of Elias’s protective instincts go on high alert. He’ll do anything to keep Cindy safe—and convince her that he intends to claim her as his own, no matter what.
Heart of the Jaguar
Cindy Shahi gently nudged her best friend Israel as his sister and her new mate said their “I do’s” in front of the crowd of about one hundred shifters and humans. Technically Gabriela and Owen, Alpha of the local wolf pack, were already mated but they’d decided to get married too. “How does it feel to have your sister married?” Cindy whispered, already guessing from the scowl on his face.
Israel just snarled under his breath and she bit back a grin. Considering Israel had recently mated with Owen’s younger sister, he didn’t have much of a reason to get angry. Still, it was his prerogative as an older brother, she supposed. They’d been best friends since college and even though Cindy didn’t belong to his family’s jaguar pride, they’d treated her like family from the moment she’d moved to Bear Mountain, Montana.
Ignoring her friend’s additional grunt of annoyance as the couple turned and looked at the crowd, smiles on their faces, Cindy couldn’t contain her own smile. They looked so perfect together, and she was glad they’d both found such evident happiness. She didn’t know Owen well, but he’d always seemed so reserved, as if he was holding part of himself back from the world. Even his own pack. But not anymore. Not with a new mate by his side.
The wedding ceremony had been very informal and had been held under the stars on Owen’s pack’s land. Twinkle lights and lanterns were strung up above them between the trees, creating an extra bit of sparkle. Everyone was dressed casually, some more than others. May in Montana was still pretty cold so it was mid-fifties at the moment, but with her shifter blood she’d worn only a loose sweater over her long, flapper-inspired vintage dress.
There was a portable dance floor set up, a full bar and a section of rounded tables that most people wouldn’t be sitting at. She knew how the wolves were and they liked to party given the chance. Even now as the newly mated couple greeted their guests, the music had started and shifters and humans alike were moving onto the dance floor or heading toward the bar.
“When can I expect you to settle down and give me cubs?” Patricia, Israel’s mother and basically a second mother to Cindy, appeared out of nowhere and threw an arm around Cindy’s shoulders.
“Ah...” She looked to her friend for help, but Israel just smirked and headed off toward his sister and Owen. Glancing up at Patricia, who was half a foot taller than she was, she forced a smile. She loved the woman, but she was tired of questions about when she’d be settling down. She loved her job and quiet life and wasn’t looking for anything serious. “I could go for a glass of wine. How about you?”
Patricia’s eyes narrowed at the clear deflection, but before she could respond, her husband was there, whisking her away onto the dance floor and saving Cindy. Just as quickly Axel, Israel’s twenty-four-year-old brother, grabbed Cindy’s hand.
“Come on. Let me push you around the dance floor. We’ll show these wolves that jaguars have better moves.” Axel looked so much like his sister with the same honey-brown hair and dark eyes, there was no doubt they were related. He was much easier going though, with a quick smile for everyone.
Falling into his loose embrace, she let him pull her onto the wooden platform under a cluster of white lights. Normally she needed a glass of wine or two before she loosened up enough to dance, but the energy in the air was exhilarating. Everyone was in a good mood tonight. Israel’s new mate had just given birth and now there was this new mating, basically joining the small jaguar pride and big wolf pack in Bear Mountain. After the string of attacks months ago that had pitted the two groups against one another, all this harmony was a beautiful thing.
She danced with Axel for a few songs, and before she could think about grabbing a drink or resting her feet, one of the wolves pulled her in for another dance. At least all this dancing would keep Patricia off her back about settling down.
Because that was the last thing on her mind. Now,
was another thing entirely. It had been two long years since she’d been with anyone, and she was about to lose her mind. She’d had plenty of offers from humans in town and even some wolf shifters, but wolves tended to get territorial and that wasn’t something she wanted to deal with. She wished she could meet someone just passing through and have hours and hours of hot, sweaty sex. She wasn’t in heat, but she desperately missed the physical pleasure of sex. As part jaguar, she was animalistic in nature and she’d been denying that part of herself for far too long. Unfortunately she knew meeting someone who wasn’t part of Owen’s pack or the town wasn’t likely to happen anytime soon.
* * *
Elias took a sip of his beer, watching the humans, jaguar shifters and his own kind—wolves—move across the dance floor, everyone clearly having a good time. Leaning against a big oak tree that was just starting to get back some of its leaves in time for a late spring, he felt more than heard the approach from behind.
“Why aren’t you out there?” Owen asked, his voice quiet as he came to stand next to him.
Elias snorted. “I should be asking you that.”
With a beer of his own, the tall Alpha shrugged. “Gabriela’s dancing with her father and I don’t dance.”
“You’ll be dancing soon.” It was clear Owen would do any damn thing his new mate wanted.
Owen chuckled softly. “You’re probably right. So...you staying?”
Elias understood that he didn’t mean for the night or even the week. Owen wanted to know if he’d be sticking around on a permanent basis. They’d been in the army together years ago, but Owen had gotten out and taken over his pack when his father died. Elias had stayed in another four years until he blew his knee out. Well, shattered it, and it hadn’t healed properly. For a shifter to sustain that kind of damage was rare. But he’d jumped out of a low-flying plane and his chute hadn’t opened up when it was supposed to. If he’d been human, he’d have died from the brutal impact. And because he’d been with a team of humans, he hadn’t been able to shift to his wolf form. If he had been, he’d have likely healed faster—and possibly completely. As it was, there was no room in Special Forces for a guy with a fucked-up leg, and Elias wasn’t going to sit behind a desk. “I like it here.”
“That’s not an answer.”
“Your brother will be pissed if you put me as your second-in-command.” Owen’s brother was young and a hothead. “No he won’t. We’ve already talked and he seemed relieved.” Owen took another sip of his beer, his eyebrows raised. “So?”
Elias pushed out a long breath. He wasn’t cut out to be a lone wolf, and he needed an Alpha. A pack. He might have an alpha temperament, but he needed a leader and a pack to belong to. And Owen was one of the finest men he’d ever known. “Yeah, I’m staying.”
“About time you gave me an answer,” Owen grumbled.
“It’s your wedding present.”
“Whatever cheap ass, you better get us something better than that.”
Elias chuckled. “When will you announce it?”
Owen shrugged. “Monday. I’ll call a meeting and—”
Elias’s entire body went on alert. “Holy shit, who is
?” He felt as if he’d been punched in the chest as he watched a dark-haired beauty squeeze out from the crowd on the dance floor. Pushing a strand of hair out of her face, she headed straight for the bar. Wearing a cream-colored dress that reminded him of something out of the Roaring ‘20s, she moved with a fluidity that told him she wasn’t quite human. The color of her dress was beautiful against her darker skin. She was definitely of Indian heritage. He didn’t think she was part of Owen’s pack, and he hadn’t noticed her at the ceremony.
Owen tracked his line of sight and frowned. “Cindy Shahi. She’s a jaguar shifter but not part of Gabriela’s family’s pride.”
“And she lives here?” One more reason to move here permanently. His decision sounded even better now.
“She’s the only local shifter doctor within a hundred-mile radius, and she’s off-limits. We can’t afford to piss her off inadvertently, and if you sleep with her and never call her again, you will
piss her off.” There was a subtle warning note in Owen’s voice.
Elias snorted. If this woman let him into her bed, he’d never leave it. “Is she mated or seeing anyone?” The only things that mattered.
“No, but she’s going to shoot you down anyway—”
“I’ll talk to you later.” Elias knew he should show more respect to his new Alpha, but hell, nothing was keeping him away from that woman.
Owen muttered under his breath as Elias strode toward her, but there was no true anger in the Alpha’s voice. Tuning everything else out, Elias kept his stride even until he reached the bar. Smiling softly at the bartender, she picked up her glass of wine and turned.
She froze, her dark eyes blinking in surprise as she noticed him. The desire that flared in those depths was real and so very deep. She sucked in a quick breath as she raked a quick, assessing gaze over him. The jaguar female wasn’t very tall, maybe five foot two, but she was lean, and now that he was up close he could smell her natural amber-and-vanilla scent. It was intoxicating, and the longer she watched him the more intense it grew. Oh yeah, she was attracted to him too and wasn’t trying to hide it.
He wasn’t sure how long they stood there staring at each other, but when the shifter behind the bar cleared his throat and asked what he wanted, Elias just tugged Cindy’s free hand and pulled her away toward one of the free tables. Though he wanted to pull her into his lap, he sat next to her and feigned civility. He couldn’t act like some barbarian throwback around a woman like this. “I’m Elias.”
“I’m Cindy.” Her voice was deeper than he’d expected, and the breathless quality instantly aroused him.
“Owen told me.”
“Oh.” She blinked, her cheeks flushing as she swallowed hard. She seemed nervous, and he realized he needed to come up with something intelligent to say.
“You’re the local doctor?” He’d managed a question. Good for him.
She nodded, her gaze fixing on his lips as she licked her own. He wondered if she was even aware of the action. “Are you a friend of Owen’s? I know you’re not part of the pack.”
“We were in the army together, and... You are so beautiful.” He inwardly cringed at how idiotic he sounded. “I’m sorry, I’m normally not such a jackass.” He hadn’t had trouble talking to females since he was fifteen, but just being in this woman’s presence made him tongue-tied and feeling like a randy cub with his first crush. His entire body was taut and primed, as if his wolf might take over if he wasn’t sated immediately. Her scent...he could drown in it.
She laughed lightly. “You’re not, and thank you. I’m guessing I’m not the only one who feels this intense...” She gestured between them, her delicate hands drawing his attention. He wondered how they’d feel wrapped around his cock.
Then he wanted to kick himself for the image that evoked. “No.” That one word came out hoarse.
Cindy smiled then, a full one, and it took his breath away. She had a larger-than-life type of beauty. Her hair was such a dark brown it looked almost black. It fell straight, thick and heavy down past her breasts. Though she was petite and compact, there was no hiding the luscious curves under that dress. He’d always had taller, more athletic sexual partners, but everything about this woman called to his most primal side. Her big, dark eyes were filled with erotic promises, and those lips... God, her full lips made him think all sorts of dirty, wicked things. As he stared and fantasized he realized she was talking.