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Authors: Eve Langlais

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BOOK: When a Beta Roars
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Chapter Nineteen

A furor of snarls, yelled denials, and rude remarks about his ancestry greeted Hayder’s announcement.

It might have gone on for a while—and ended in carnage, given what one dog said about his mother. However, the outrage died down as an old fellow, sporting the latest in Grim Reaper robes, lifted his arms and uttered a single word, which echoed. “Silence.” It got everyone’s attention.

Cool trick, one that only true omegas could command. Leo could do the voice trick, but he preferred not to. Said he preferred a more hands-on approach. Literally.

As Hayder waited for the old dude to speak, his eyes scanned the area, even if he already knew the layout. Courageous and determined didn’t mean stupid. He’d checked things out before boldly striding in. Not that there was truly much to see.

They were in the woods. No buildings or roads marked the area. Yet despite the lack of manmade items, the huge clearing, ringed by forest, appeared artificial. The lack of trees in the unexpected meadow, even saplings or bushes, seemed to indicate some kind of grooming, and yet, if it was manmade, then whoever maintained it managed to keep a wild, untamed essence to the spot.

The rich clover covering the ground in a soft green carpet emitted a fragrant aroma that tickled his nose. If this wasn’t a life-or-death situation, he might have enjoyed a nice roll in the lush ground mattress, but it was hard to think about the simple pleasures when Arabella hung chained to a gigantic, half-dead tree.

Chained.

To a fucking tree.

He’d almost gone furry at the sight, especially when he realized they’d bound her with silver.

They dare to hurt our mate?

The temerity boggled his mind—and blew his lion’s. As Hayder let his gaze stray her way, he almost lost it again. Fucking chained. Like an animal.

Did they not know who she was?

The most important thing in the world.

My mate. My baby.

Keep it cool. Keep it calm. He couldn’t afford to let mindless rage control his actions. Lucky for him, a certain omega named Leo had taught him some techniques to rein in his wilder impulses.

Breathe in and focus on an object. Breathe out, stayed focused. Breathe in, focus on an object—
like that dude, the big one with the scraggly excuse for a beard, sneering on the end. He dies first.
Breathe out. Breathe in.
Need a second focus for after I kill the first one. How about his buddy beside him?

Keeping his eyes away from Arabella, whose expression he couldn’t read given the shadows, he chose to listen instead as the omega wolf, here on behalf of the Lycan Council, spoke to the crowd in general.

“A challenge has been placed. The Lycan Council recognizes the challenge and accepts it.”

One voice dared to yell with evident disbelief. “What the fuck, man? He’s a goddamn lion. He ain’t allowed to challenge for the pack.”

Murmurs erupted, and heads nodded all around. The curs thought they knew the laws.

Wrong.

Hayder allowed himself a tight smile. “Shall you tell them, old man, or shall I?”

Omega or not, the council dude shot him an irritated glare. “Don’t push it, cat.” The robed fellow turned to face the crowd. “Unfortunately, he is allowed. In a regular pack challenge, where the next alpha is chosen from within, outsiders aren’t allowed. However, since we made this an open challenge to bring in new blood, then the law clearly states any who wish to enter may do so by declaring themselves. Even if they’re not a male wolf. It is a loophole that, while discussed, was never actually closed.”

Because the Lycans never could agree to anything without a fight. In this case, Hayder thanked them for their idiocy.

“Unfair,” shouted a voice.

“Unfair?” Hayder’s brows rose in a querying note. “Is this your way of declaring all these fine men vying for pack alpha are too weak to prevail against a single lion?” He smiled—and yes, he made sure it was mocking.

Teeth gnashed, foreheads furrowed, and a low grumble arose, but there was no further argument about him competing.

“Do any others wish to contend?” the old fellow asked.

No one in the crowd stepped forth. Those who wanted to win the position of alpha already stood in the center of the clearing.

But wait. One more voice wanted to be heard.

“I challenge those present for the next position of alpha.”

Snickers immediately arose as Arabella’s challenge was submitted. Heckles and ridicule immediately followed.

“You can’t be alpha. You’re a girl,” yelled one fellow.

“You can dominate me any time,” said another with a leer. As he was one of the fighters vying for alpha, Hayder made a note to kill him first.
Leer after my woman, will he?

“I demand my right to challenge.” Despite being tied to a tree, she managed to sound quite determined, her voice barely wobbling, and yet, she had to be terrified.

However, she shouldn’t fear. After all, he had arrived to the rescue, just like a gallant knight—one with great hair.

Sharp teeth.
His lion saw their good attributes in a different light.

To Hayder’s surprise, the old fellow accepted her claim. “A challenge has been placed. The Lycan Council recognizes the challenge and accepts it.”

“Untie me then.”

The old fellow let a sly smile crease his lips. “No. While you can challenge, the rules don’t say we have to release you to do so. Challenges are come as is.”

And as is for her was a sacrificial hottie who, instead of dropping her head in defeat, threw daggers with her eyes.

So sexy. But now wasn’t the time to get distracted. Time to be a hero. “Are we going to get this show on the road? I’ve got rabbits to chase. A woman to claim. A pack to own.”

More than a few growls met his taunting words.

Being a bit of a smartass, Hayder made a ‘come and get me’ gesture with his fingers. He laughed when no one stepped forth.

Dude in the robes raised his arms in the air, the sleeves of his outfit sliding down to reveal skinny arms. But a slight body didn’t mean a tiny voice. The old guy omega-ed his next words so they fairly boomed. “Contenders, pair off. As you all know, there are only two rules. Fights are to be one-on-one. No teaming up and no weapons apart from you or your beast. Killing and maiming is allowed.”

“Don’t forget to tell them that cowards and cry babies may crawl off the field at any time to forfeit.” Hayder grinned as he flexed his shoulders.

The omega spat out the last part of his speech while glaring. “Last one standing shall be the new alpha of the Northern Lakes Pack.”

Rawr.

Okay, so Hayder was a little excited—and he just couldn’t hide it! Then again, roaring was never a bad thing, as it tended to freak out his opponents. It was one thing to knowingly go into a fight against someone of your species, but throw in a giant cat, with an impressive mane, smooth coat, razor-sharp claws, and determination? Yeah, the dogs knew they were in trouble.

Not a man to hide from danger, Hayder paired himself against the biggest contender. The bastard who’d leered at his woman.

Muscles bunched, eyes locked, and opponents prepared themselves.

The signal was simple. The old guy dropped his arms.

As Hayder dove into the skirmish, fists flying and connecting, he spent a quick second mentally thanking Arik who had the foresight to fly them in.

The chopper Arik had chartered had grabbed them from the condo’s rooftop, and while it did need to stop and refuel on the way, it made good time. Real good, which meant they could afford the inconvenience of being deposited a few miles out so that the lions, and one wolf brother who’d hitched a ride, could approach on foot with stealth as their ally.

Unfortunately, the caravan of cars and trucks hadn’t yet arrived, a major accident on the highway having delayed them.

It meant that there was only a half-dozen of them against a hundred or so. Challenging odds, or as Arik, the spoilsport, declared when they were plotting in the woods, “Fucking suicide. We’ll have to wait until the others arrive.”

Wait? Hayder wasn’t about to wait, and lucky for him, Jeoff had just the stalling tactic he needed.

“We can’t wait. I’ve got a plan. I’ll challenge for alpha.” A simple solution offered by Jeoff.

A solution Hayder tweaked to suit himself.

Originally, Jeoff planned to be the one to throw his hat into the ring, or was that put his left paw in, his left paw out, his left paw in and shake it all about?

However, Hayder wasn’t about to let him get the glory.
I’m going to save my baby.

As to what he’d do if, hold on, make that when, he won? He’d always wanted a pet growing up. Now he could have a whole pack.

The big dude he battled handled the first few smacks to his face with hardly a wince. The wrench of his head? Judging by the crack, not so well.

On to the next opponent. And the next.

It soon became apparent that, while teaming up wasn’t allowed, a certain cheat was taking place. None of the contending wolves were fighting each other. Nope, they lined up and waited their turn to attack Hayder.

Taken on one at a time, he didn’t worry about losing. He was more than a match for these bastards. What did worry him was fatigue. By the sixth fellow, Hayder tired. He slowed. As his strength waned, so did his speed. His opponents managed to land a few blows. This was where his hard head came in handy.
See, Mom, it turned out to be a good thing.

Lucky for him, he got a bit of respite once he’d finished off the first half of the men who fought him.

The old dude shouted, in a tone that resonated, “Challengers, you’ve shown your worth as a man. Now time to show your worth as a beast. All remaining participants for the alpha position shift.”

Fingers quickly tore clothes from the body. It didn’t take long since most had entered the battle ring clad only in shorts or pants.

Hayder made quick work of sliding his own trousers down. It took even less time to coax his lion forward. Adrenalized and eager, his feline bounded forward and took the driver’s seat to his body. Hayder breathed through the pain of the change then exulted in it because, as the agony of the morph faded, his senses sharpened. Strength returned to him.

An eagerness for battle infused him.

Lots of wolves to play with.

Rawr!

Chapter Twenty

Rawr.

While Arabella’s oral exclamation might not have the timbre or weight of a lion’s roar, it did aptly express her frustration.

Tied to a tree, a victim again. “Let me go,” she yelled in vain. No one in the crowd paid her any mind. She was beneath their notice. A mere woman.

A woman whose man risked all to save her.

To save me. Because I can’t save myself.

How many more times was she going to let people make choices for her? When would she stand up for herself? A few days ago, Arabella had thought she was powerless, that her only option was to hide. But hiding wasn’t a life. She had the right to choose her future. She didn’t have to let others make that choice for her.

She was allowed to fight.

What of the pain that comes from defiance?
Her wolf whispered the thought to her, but for once, Arabella didn’t let it quell her spirit.

What of the pain? She’d tried subservience. She’d tried ducking low. It didn’t stop the blows. Her meek attitude didn’t halt the disgusting words, or the shame. If submitting wasn’t working, then why was she allowing them to cow her? Would she stand and do nothing while others fought her battles?

Hell no.

When the Lycan elder asked if anyone else wished to fight, she surprised everyone by announcing her intent.

It had been accepted. Yay.

Of course, she did have a slight problem in that she was kind of tied up at the moment.

She let out a groan of frustration.

“Hold your Kibbles and Bits,” grumbled a familiar female voice. “Do you have any idea how hard it is to sneak up on a group of wolves when the damned wind keeps switching directions.”

“Luna, what are you doing here?” Arabella whispered, keeping her gaze on Hayder so as to not give the lioness away.

“Doing? Rectifying a mistake. Apparently, I should have taught you how to escape handcuffs before how to get out of a chokehold.”

“You should go. If they catch you—”

“Don’t start with the I’m-not-worth-the-help crap again.”

“I wasn’t going to. I was going to say if they catch you, you’ll probably end up with blood on your new T-shirt.”

Luna snickered. “Cold water will take care of that. No worries. Now hold still for a second, and I’ll have you out of those cuffs in a jiff.”

True to her word, Luna didn’t fiddle long before Arabella felt more than heard a click. Hard to hear when the crowd of watching Lycans cheered as Hayder tired.

The first half of the match was done. Now came the second part, beast to beast. Seven opponents left.

Hayder’s lion stood golden and gorgeous. A lethal machine with the softest mane.

Arms free, Arabella took a step from the tree, but not in the direction of freedom. Despite Luna tugging at her, Arabella couldn’t move. Fascinated, she watched as her leonine lover showed the deadly stealth and killer abilities of his kind.

He didn’t just dominate in size. He outclassed the wolves with bite and dexterity of the paws. With his claws he could swipe and hook a wolf. Once he yanked his opponent to the ground, his jaw clamped around the neck. Crunch. As one went down, another stepped in.

He was winning. Killing. But as before, after the fourth opponent, his movements slowed. His lion tired.  A slash of red appeared on a shoulder as a wolf managed a chomp.

Wince.

More blood flowed as teeth tore at his front leg.

Gasp.

Injured or not, Hayder wouldn’t give up.

He fights for me. He fights for us. Are you going to let this happen? Are you going to keep hiding?
She addressed the watching presence of her wolf.

As Hayder staggered, and another wound opened, the blood flowing in red sluggish lines, the leash holding her wolf prisoner snapped.
No more!

Her wolf snarled as she burst free. Clothes shredded, skin pulsed and rippled as fur sprouted.

Arabella emitted an ecstatic scream as the pain of the change swept her. At long last she was one again with her wolf.

They were united in body. Spirit. And rage.

They hurt our mate.

Then let’s hurt them back.

Only one contending wolf remained in the ring with the exhausted lion. The nastiest one. Fergus, a man with slabs of muscle, and a wolf that peeled back its lip to show pointed canines.

On four paws, she ran to the bloody field of battle, only to stop short instead of diving in.

She retained enough of her wits to know she couldn’t interfere. The laws allowed only one challenger at a time. If she tried to help him now, everything Hayder had sacrificed was for naught, not to mention, if she interfered, their lives would be forfeit.

Unless her tired lover conceded and let her finish this.

She tried to catch his eye, to convey her intent.
Let me fight.

I’m a woman. He’ll never let me. He’ll nev—

With a might bat of his paw, Hayder hobbled the grizzled wolf. Before Fergus could regain his feet, Hayder walked away, tail swishing.

She stared at him. They all did.

Fergus, the last wolf left standing, let out a howl of triumph.

She cut it short when she slammed into him.

This fight isn’t done.

As she grappled with the wolf, she had a moment to wonder what the hell she was doing, especially when the other wolf managed to nip her in the shoulder.

But the pain didn’t send her into a paralyzed panic, nor did she submit.

Those days were over.

I won’t be a victim again.
Of course that decision would work a lot better if she’d not stupidly challenged a full-sized male wolf.

I can’t do this.

So she thought. But Hayder seemed to think otherwise.

“Come on, baby. You can do this. He’s old and tired. Go rabid on his ass so we can finish this and go for dinner.”

I’m trying to, dammit.

“I hear there’s a twenty-four-hour diner that serves a juicy burger, homemade fries, and a killer Black Forest cake.”

Tempting, but it didn’t give her the extra fifty pounds she needed to truly take on Fergus. She twisted and avoided a pinning grip by the other wolf, but she was on the defensive. Not good.

“They’ve got rooms we can rent, too, with hot showers.”

Mmm. Naked time with her mate?
She narrowly avoided getting pinned.

“Maybe you could kiss my booboos better. That mean old wolf hurt me.”

A wounded mate?

Snap
.

As before, she didn’t truly recollect what she did. She just got to see the aftermath. It wasn’t pretty, left her messy, but it was effective.

She was the last wolf standing.

We won. We fucking won.

Her wolf emitted a joyous howl that rang through the silent clearing. It seemed those present were in a state of shock.

As she changed shapes, Hayder strode toward her, naked and tempting. She finished morphing in time for his exuberant whoop and twirl as he grabbed her around the waist and swung her.

“You did it, baby. You’re the new alpha.”

“Like hell,” snarled the elder, who glared at them both.

“Rules are rules,” Hayder taunted. “She challenged, you accepted, she won.”

The Lycan councilor was past listening. Splitting skin, he shed his robe and let his gray wolf out to play.

He bounded at them, jaws wide, a slavering beast, and yet Hayder didn’t budge. He simply tucked her into his side, and when the old wolf leaped, he grabbed him by the furry throat. He held the wolf in the air. The muscles in his arm bunched as he strained.

“Is this the kind of honor wolves have?” He shook the beast, who, of course, couldn’t answer, unless
grrr
counted.

With a tsk of disapproval, Hayder flung the wolf in the direction of the crowd. The Lycan councilmember landed with a yelp. When he stood, it was on three legs, the hind one held off the ground.

Injured and bested didn’t mean he’d accepted defeat. He let out an ululating howl, a howl repeated as everyone left in the field adopted their canine side and turned baleful eyes their way.

A violent tension filled the air, as did howls and snarls of challenge.

Uh-oh.

For a moment, a flutter of fear threatened. Arabella trembled but only for a second before her jaw dropped in stunned disbelief as the woods suddenly erupted with feline roars…

And golden fury.

The rest of the pride had arrived, and they were ready to fight.

Hayder laughed. “Betcha those Lycans weren’t expecting that.”

Nope, but even better, they were too busy fighting the pride’s army to bother her and Hayder.

She placed her hands on his chest and peered at his face. “I can’t believe you came for me.”

“Of course I did. I wasn’t letting one of these bastards claim you.”

“Thank you. I appreciate that.”

“You can thank me when I claim you later.” He winked.

He still meant to mate her? She let him off the hook. “You don’t have to claim me anymore. While I was tied to the tree, I came up with a plan to get them to leave me alone. First thing tomorrow, I’m going to make Jeoff the manager and beneficiary of my assets. ” It was what she should have done in the first place once she realized the packs were all after her money.

“Even if you’re poor, you’re still alpha of the pack now. People will want your job. You need someone to watch your back.”

“Which is why I’ll have Jeoff as my beta. He can handle enforcement for the pack.”

“Leaving you free and clear.”

“Exactly. So, you needn’t give up your life for me.”

“Baby, I am not claiming you as some sort of cure for your problems. I’m a lion.  I’m selfish. Claiming you is all about me because I want you. All to myself.”

“Even if we’re different?”

“Because we’re different. Because you’re awesome. What do you say? Will you—”

A furry body took that moment to interrupt, slamming into Hayder and sending her reeling.

“Do you mind?” bellowed Hayder as he quickly regained his feet and took on the interrupting wolf.

Tired, but not afraid, Arabella sat down on the soft clover, a spot not marked by blood, and watched. While the lions were clearly outnumbered, they still prevailed. They also showed mercy.

While some furry bodies lay on the field, never to rise again, most limped off into the shadows of the woods, leaving to lick their wounds and conceding the impromptu war to the lions.

While the moon might traditionally belong to the wolves, that didn’t stop the pride’s felines from setting up a chuffing sound, a victory song of sorts.

From the gathered golden bodies, one separated itself, his golden nimbus of hair framing his head, his amber eyes fixed on her. With majestic steps, Hayder came strutting, and when he drew alongside, she didn’t need to see the tilt of his head to understand what he wanted.

She clambered onto his back, burrowing her face in his mane, holding him tight and letting him carry her from the battleground.

A rumble overhead seemed almost conjured. How propitious that the rain would come to wash away the violence lest human authorities come across it.

Of course, while she welcomed the sluicing water, which rinsed the blood from her skin, Hayder let out a rumble of discontent as his fluffy mane soaked up the moisture and flattened.

The mini storm ended before they reached the pride vehicles located in a lot on the outskirts of the park. Once they got there, she slid off Hayder’s back and couldn’t hold in a giggle when Hayder switched back to his man shape.

“Something funny, baby?”

She pointed and snickered. “Your hair is curly.”

“Stupid rain,” he grumbled as he tried to finger comb and flatten the curling wisps.

As Hayder rummaged in the trunk of a truck, she couldn’t help but yawn and then sneeze as Hayder handed her a shirt that smelled of him.

To his credit he didn’t sigh loudly when she went into a mini fit, but he did threaten to shave Luna’s head if she didn’t stop laughing.

Not cowed at all, Luna replied, “Touch my hair and I’ll Nair you while you sleep.”

The banter of the lions that rode with them in the large Suburban lulled Arabella to sleep on Hayder’s lap. He claimed he held her so there’d be enough room for everyone. The fact that they ended up with the back seat to themselves didn’t change his stance. She remained on his lap, cuddled in his arms, and drooling on his shirt when she fell asleep, mouth open because her sinuses were stuffy again.

When the vehicle stopped and Hayder slid out of the backseat, still holding her in a firm grip, she woke but told her newly discovered independent streak to take a hike for the night. She liked this gallant side of Hayder. He treated her like something precious, and she, for one, intended to enjoy it.

BOOK: When a Beta Roars
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