Copyright © Nicole Austin, 2015
Cornflower-blue skies streaked with white clouds blanketed mile after mile of dry hills covered with rock, scrub brush and skeletal trees. The fall day was perfect—sunny, seventy degrees and breezy. Yet nothing could ease my white-knuckled grip on the porch railing as the emotional roller-coaster keeping me on edge soared higher.
Staring out over miles of open land had my lioness itching to run. Feeling her stir inside me was foreign. She’d been quiet the past several years since I’d stopped letting her out to play. A burst of fear tightened my chest, shortening my breath and squeezing my heart in a fierce grip at the mere thought of shifting. While stronger in feline form, I was also more vulnerable, especially since I no longer had an alpha male’s protection. Not that my sire’s protection had ever saved me.
A car horn blared, drawing my attention as more people spilled from a variety of vehicles. The entire yard brimmed with felines who bustled about preparing for the party. Off to one side, a group of males worked to set up huge white party tents, tables and chairs under the close supervision of some females.
Lorelei, my half sister, rushed outside to join me, appearing nervous.
“Chloe, when’s the last time you talked to your mom?” she asked and bit her lower lip as a dark sedan pulled up.
My heart ached with the reminder it had been five long years since I’d seen or spoken with Elaine. “Not since I left. Why?”
She gave my arm a brief squeeze. “Try to keep an open mind.”
Oh great. That didn’t sound good. Fingers of dread tightened my abdomen and spread outward as the car doors opened. A handsome male in his late forties exited the driver’s side and moved around to open the passenger door. He was tall with broad shoulders and thick black hair starting to show some grey at the temples. My mother took his outstretched hand, smiling up at the male as she rose, looking happier than I’d ever seen her. The male wrapped an arm protectively around her and the couple headed toward us.
“That’s Elaine’s new mate,” Lorelei said.
I watched, rapt, as another male stepped out of the car and glanced around. Lorelei continued to talk but her voice was drowned out by the loud roar in my head as my heartbeat skyrocketed, blood pounding through my veins in a dizzying rush. Drinking in the glorious sight of him, my breath caught in my throat.
Standing tall and confident, he ran a hand through a lush golden mane streaked with varying shades of brown, auburn and black. Broad shoulders and muscular arms were shown off to perfection in a tight black T-shirt. His torso arrowed down to trim hips hugged by low-slung faded jeans, his big feet thrust into flip flops. But what did me in were the fathomless depths of his sparking bronze eyes that locked on mine and held me captive.
He moved like a predator, stalking toward me with a smooth, rolling gait. I wanted to strip off my clothes, shift and drop to my belly, waggling my tail in his direction. As I mentally stripped him, heat flooded my abdomen, hot cream gushing from my aching pussy to soak my panties.
I was only peripherally aware of my mother drawing me into a tight embrace, stroking my hair, cupping my face in her palms and gushing effusively.
“Oh, Chloe. I’ve missed you so much. I’m so glad you’re finally home.”
“Let her breathe, sweetheart,” the older male chastised, drawing mom’s attention.
“Chloe, this is my mate, Markus Andris. Your stepfather.”
“It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, Chloe.”
“Uh huh, same here,” I mumbled, attention focused on the other male as he moved up the steps onto the porch. Drawing in a hard breath, I caught his intoxicating scent, which made me feel giddy. My lioness paced within me, purring louder the closer the male came.
Mate. At last. My mate.
Elaine glanced at the younger male. “Declan, I’d like you to meet my cub, Chloe Stanis.” Mom turned toward me. “Chloe, this is Declan Andris, your stepbrother.”
“My what?” I croaked, unsure if the question was meant for my lioness, my mother or both.
My mate, my lioness claimed.
“Your stepbrother,” Elaine repeated.
My heart did a flip, seized and stopped beating, rising up into my throat as my vision narrowed, growing dark at the edges, the world spinning wildly. I wobbled drunkenly, weak knees barely holding me upright.
“Whoa.” The male, Declan, reached out and clasped my elbow, simultaneously steadying me and sending electrical tingles shooting through my body, zinging straight to my heart. “Careful, sis.”
Sis? Oh God, how can this be happening? My stepbrother is my mate?