Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Just 2 More Weeks Until the Release of UNCLAIMED! Read Chapters 1 and 2!

As promised, I'm posting a chapter a week leading up to the release. If you haven't done it yet, you can read Chapter One here and I've posted Chapter Two below. Next week I'll post Chapter Three and then....it'll be release day! Whoooo hoooo!

Chapter 2

The weight of his body held her to the floor, but it was the predatory look in his eyes that kept her from moving. Tatiana didn’t notice the knife at first. She couldn’t think. All she could do was feel.
The pressure of his hard, male body and the heat of his gaze were frightening and intriguing. Her heart hammered in her chest as she wrestled for calm amid the storm of emotions that battered her. If it had been any other stranger, she would have cried out for help, but this man wasn’t exactly a stranger.
Tatiana knew those eyes.
They were the same amber eyes she hid from night after night. This man, whoever he was, was the one who stalked her in the dream realm. Although this was the first time she had seen him in his human form, there was no mistaking him. Between the intense, piercing stare and the vivid energy signature, she knew exactly who he was.
This was her Amoveo mate.
The man had been powerful and intimidating in his tiger form. As a human, he was equally formidable and had a penetrating gaze that sent her body into overdrive.
Sparks flickered over her skin, and her heart thumped uncontrollably in her chest. What was it she said to Layla? She wanted to get knocked on her ass by sparks? Apparently, the universe was listening and had a sense of humor.
Jet-black hair cut short in a military style and dark eyebrows framed fierce glowing eyes. He was ruggedly handsome with a well-chiseled face that was marred only by a jagged scar, running down his left cheek. Instead of making him seem macabre or scary, it made him dangerously sexy.
Tatiana resisted the crazy urge to reach out and touch it, to soothe the raw-looking flesh with tender strokes. In spite of the bizarre situation, every cell of her body lit up beneath his touch and intent observation. Her stomach fluttered with a heady combination of nerves and lust, making her cringe at her body’s ridiculous response.
This guy had tackled her for God’s sake. The last thing in the world she should have felt was turned on, but that didn’t change the fact that she was.
Gritting her teeth, she glared back at him, meeting his challenge. The man embodied danger. He was relentless, aggressive, and intense. The thought of denying him was both empowering and terrifying. Somewhere through the haze of sensations she heard Layla’s voice drift in between them.
A smile curved his lips, and the spell was broken. Fingers, which were curled around her shoulder, loosened and brushed over her skin as he immediately stood up and offered her a hand.
Tatiana shot him a look of contempt and hopped to her feet without help. He studied her quietly, and she did her best not to squirm under his inspection, praying all the while he didn’t suspect the same thing she did.
Perhaps he didn’t recognize her? Maybe her efforts to hide from him had worked. However, as his eyes twinkled wickedly, she knew she was out of luck. Damn it.
“Charming.” She sighed as she brushed off the back of her shorts and adjusted her tank top. “Well, you get points for the most original greeting I’ve ever gotten, and considering I’ve been tackled by animals twice your size, although markedly more civilized, that’s saying something.”
The smile faded from his lips. The man actually looked contrite, and it gave her hope that perhaps, beneath all that aggression, there was a person willing to overlook the fated mate nonsense. Sparks or no sparks, she would not be told whom she could love or spend her life with, and she had zero interest in being dragged into the crazy Amoveo world.
“Apologies,” he said tightly with a tilt of his head. He held his hands behind his back and stood at attention before casting an accusing glance to Layla. “I was unprepared for visitors this morning. I didn’t think our guests were arriving until later this afternoon.”
“Sorry, Dominic. I forgot to tell you they caught an earlier flight,” Layla said with a short laugh. She brushed past him and quickly grabbed Tatiana in a warm hug. “It’s so good to have you here, Tati. Don’t mind Dominic, he’s a little quick on the draw ever since those Caedo guys started acting up.”
Tatiana hugged her sister, and they giggled like children. She pulled back and tugged one of Layla’s long red curls.
“I’ll be sure to announce my presence before I enter a room.” Tatiana gave Dominic a sidelong glance. “I wouldn’t want to get tackled again.”
“Sorry.” Dominic shrugged as he held her gaze. “Your energy signature wasn’t entirely familiar.”
“Right.” Tatiana looked away and ran a hand through her dark hair. He did recognize her, or at least he sensed something. Shit. “Well, now it is.”
“So you talk to animals?” He cocked his head to one side as he looked her up and down. “Like Doctor Dolittle?”
“Not exactly.” Tatiana lifted one shoulder and adjusted her top as she tried not to notice the way his eyes lingered on her body. “I don’t hear them speak with words. I read their energy signatures and feel their emotions. I sense things. That’s all.”
“I sense things too. Like a human,” Dominic said quietly. “I can smell one all over you.”
“Oh really? Well, that would be my vet tech, Matt, or it could be any human I was on a plane with today.”
“Oh man.” Layla laughed and walked to the picture window. “You made him wait in the car?” Dominic flicked a glance toward the window but didn’t move from his spot as Tatiana continued. “Hell, it could even be me because in case you haven’t noticed, I’m half human.”
Tatiana shot him a look of annoyance and folded her arms over her breasts. He referred to being part human as though it was the worst odor he’d ever had the displeasure of experiencing.
“So, tell me, Dominic. Are you one of those Purist Amoveo assholes that I’ve heard about? If that’s the case, then I’ll get back in my car and go home.”
“What?” His features darkened, and his stubble-covered jaw clenched. “I am not a Purist.” Dominic’s dark eyes locked on her, and though Tatiana’s heart raced faster, she refused to give an inch. “I am a Guardian, and it’s my business to know who is here on the ranch.”
Dominic stepped closer as he spoke, but she held her ground and looked him in the eye.
“Two human assassins snuck onto the property recently and attempted to kill the prince and his family.” His tone grew gentler as did his expression. “I do not hate humans. I do, however, have a bone to pick with anyone who would harm the people I care about. That includes humans or Amoveo.”
Heat spread over her skin as she held his stare, and Tatiana’s breath caught in her throat. She hoped like hell she could get a hold over her out-of-control hormones before she embarrassed herself and let her eyes shift. That only happened when she got really mad, or turned on, or in this case, both.
Dominic stilled and arched one eyebrow. “Did Layla say there’s a human waiting in your car?” His voice dropped low. “You brought a human to this ranch?”
“Yes.” Tatiana stepped to the side and picked up the backpack she’d tossed on the couch when she came in. “If you hadn’t been so busy lecturing me and telling me how badly I stink, you might’ve realized it sooner. In fact, now I’m the one who’s being rude, because he’s been out there for a while.”
“He?” His eyes flickered and snapped to their clan form as his hands balled into fists at his side. “You traveled here with a man? Alone?”
Holy crap. He was jealous.
Tatiana suppressed a smile as she realized the tide had turned in her favor. Matt’s presence would not only keep the Amoveo at bay, but he could keep Dominic at arm’s length. How could he pursue her and claim her as his mate if she was already spoken for?
“Yes.” Tatiana threw her backpack over one shoulder casually. “Matt’s my vet tech and my boyfriend.”
“What?” Dominic and Layla said in unison.
Before Layla could call her out on her big fat lie, two of the most beautiful people Tatiana had ever seen swept into the room. The woman had a little girl about eight or nine months old in her arms. They radiated power, and based on the strength of their energy, they had to be the royal couple.
Her heart pounded as they moved toward her. She had never been around this many pure-blood Amoveo in her life. Long-held fears flooded her, and she gripped the strap of the backpack, praying for the strength to at least look like she wasn’t terrified. She was relatively certain that her energy signature revealed her for the coward she was. It practically screamed get me the hell out of here.
“Outstanding,” the prince said as he entered the room with his wife at his side. “We’re glad to see you’ve arrived safely.”
Dominic stepped aside but didn’t take his intense gaze off her. Tatiana tried not to notice the way he looked at her, but it was unavoidable. He was unavoidable. She did her best to ignore him and focused her attention on the prince and his wife.
Richard had long, shoulder-length black hair and light blue eyes. Dressed in jeans and a tailored shirt, he radiated casual confidence and approached Tatiana with an extended hand. The two of them didn’t look a day over thirty-five, but according to Layla, they were over three hundred years old.
Maybe that mating thing wasn’t all bad?
“I am Richard Muldavi, Prince of the Amoveo. This is my mate, Salinda, and our daughter, Jessica. Welcome to the ranch, Tatiana. We are immensely grateful that you agreed to treat our horses.”
“We can’t tell you how much we appreciate this,” Salinda said as she leaned into her husband’s embrace and gave him a loving look. Jessica gurgled and smiled at her parents as she grabbed a lock of her mother’s long, dark hair. “Richard was worried you wouldn’t be willing to do it, but Layla assured him you would rise to the challenge.”
“I’d do anything for my sister.” Tatiana smiled tightly and stuck her hand in the pocket of her shorts. “Even come to a ranch full of Amoveo.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Dominic interrupted. Everyone looked at him in surprise, and Layla moved across the room. She stood protectively at Tatiana’s side and sent her comforting waves of reassuring energy. “You are Amoveo, a hybrid from the Wolf Clan—Timber Wolf Clan, if I’m not mistaken—so why are you reluctant to be among your own people?”
“Dominic—” Layla began.
“No, Layla. I am the Head Guardian of this property,” Dominic continued. “It is my duty to protect everyone here from any threat. Purist. Caedo.” He leveled a deadly glare at Tatiana. “Anyone who is a threat to our people will not be tolerated, so I think we deserve an answer to my question.”
A heavy silence filled the room, and just when Tatiana thought she’d scream with frustration, the baby laughed and reached toward Dominic. The sound of Jessica’s gurgling immediately broke the tension, and without missing a beat, Salinda passed the baby to Dominic.
The transformation from beast to man was instantaneous and rendered Tatiana speechless.
“It seems your girlfriend is vying for your attention again, Dominic,” Salinda said with a laugh. “She adores him.”
Tatiana watched in stunned silence as the hulking brute of a man was reduced to jelly by the chubby little baby in his arms. Dominic grinned at Jessica as her pudgy fingers found the chain around his neck. He pulled a set of dog tags from beneath his T-shirt and gave them to the baby, who promptly drooled all over them.
“The feeling’s mutual,” Dominic said as he glanced at Tatiana.
Tatiana’s gaze met his briefly, and even that momentary connection made her stomach flutter. What was it about the sight of a man holding a baby that could make a woman swoon? A couple of minutes ago, Tatiana would never have suspected that he was capable of anything other than caveman-like behavior, and yet here he was, wrapped around the finger of an adorable little girl.
“Dominic,” Richard said. “Tatiana is our guest, and she has come here, after much convincing by her sister, to help us.” Richard faced Tatiana as he placed his arm over Salinda’s shoulders. “She is not only a hybrid, but a talented veterinarian, and if Layla trusts her, then we will as well.”
“I’m sure that before long, the trust will flow both ways,” Salinda said warmly. “We have set up one of the guest cabins on the property for you. I hope you will be comfortable there. I can assure you that your privacy will be respected, and Dominic and Eric will do their best to keep all of us safe.”
“Yes, well, I heard about the incident you had here recently. How can you be certain something like that won’t happen again?” Tatiana asked the question as though she wasn’t totally unnerved by the entire situation. She glanced at Dominic and the baby, and when the cherub-faced little girl smiled back, some of her nervousness eased. She turned her attention to Richard. “Are you concerned about other surprise visits?”
“We’ve taken a few extra safety measures. I’ve placed a shield around the property, which should alert us if any other Amoveo visualize themselves here.” Richard smiled at his daughter who reached out to him with chubby little arms. He took her from Dominic and placed a kiss on the child’s head. “The people I care most about in the world are here on this ranch, Tatiana. The last thing I want is violence taking place at my home and around my daughter. I won’t lie to you. Ever since Artimus and his followers declared war on the rest of our people, we have all been in danger.”
“Artimus?” Tatiana looked at Layla for answers.
“He was the leader of the Purist rebellion. A real bastard,” Layla said. “The kind of charismatic psycho who gets people to follow his lead, and then by the time they figure out what a crazy asshole he is, they’re too terrified to stop him.”
“Great.” Tatiana gave her sister a look. “Where is he now?”
“Dead,” Dominic said with a shrug.
“At any rate,” Richard said. “While I can’t promise you no one will try anything, I can promise you we will do everything we can to keep you safe.”
“Thank you,” Tatiana said without sparing so much as a glance at Dominic. “But there is one other thing. The friend that I have with me, my boyfriend, is human and doesn’t know about the Amoveo or my unusual background. I realize that might make some of you uncomfortable, so we can stay at the motel in town instead. I already reserved a room.”
“Can’t be much of a boyfriend if he doesn’t know who you really are,” Dominic said evenly.
The beast was back. Great.
Tatiana opened her mouth to retort, but snapped it shut immediately because he was right. If she did have a boyfriend, someone she loved and trusted, the last thing Tatiana would do is keep such a special part of herself a secret. She didn’t know what was more annoying. The fact that he was right, or that she didn’t have a snappy retort.
“Don’t be silly.” Salinda shot Dominic a look of reproach before he could make more remarks. “You are doing us a favor and have left your home and your business to come help us. Layla tells me that you even changed your vacation plans, so I’m sure we can control ourselves while your friend is here. I’ll simply let the others know to avoid shifting and so forth in front of—”
“Matt,” Tatiana said with a brief glance to Dominic. “His name is Matt.”
Dominic folded his lean, muscular arms over his chest, and Tatiana watched his jaw flicker with tension… and then she heard him.
A human? They’re going to let some human they’ve never met stay on the property, and a human male no less?
Tatiana froze as Dominic’s deep baritone brushed the edges of her mind, and all the breath rushed from her lungs as the surprising effect from the intimate mental connection washed through her. The only people she ever telepathed with were her siblings, Raife and Layla, but it never felt like this.
Warmth rippled over her skin, her breasts tingled, and the most feminine part of her tightened. Dominic’s eyes narrowed and flickered to their clan form as the mental link solidified. Another man will not share your bed. Not a fucking chance.
Tatiana’s lips parted as another rush of heat flared through her, and before she could stop it, her eyes tingled and snapped into the glowing eyes of her wolf.
The room fell silent as the others looked from Dominic to Tatiana.
Dominic’s lips lifted at the corners as his voice touched her mind on a growl. I see you… mate.
Tatiana sucked in a deep breath and willed her eyes to shift back to their human state. Dominic’s, however, glowed brightly and remained locked on her.
“No,” she said out loud.
Nobody moved, and you could cut the tension in the air with a freaking knife. Tatiana steeled her resolve and kept her voice calm, hoping her energy signature would follow suit.
“I may be half Amoveo, but I’m also half human, and if you ask Layla, she’d probably say mostly human. I have zero interest in this fated mate stuff.”
Flicking an apologetic look to Richard and his wife, she continued.
“I’m sorry. I know all of you feel differently, including Layla. I’ve seen how happy she is with William, and I’ve heard about others like us who found their mates, but that’s just not part of my plan. I hope I’m not embarrassing anyone by addressing this publicly, but I’d rather nip it in the bud, so to speak.” She was babbling and seemed unable to stop. “As I mentioned, I have a boyfriend, and I’m already spoken for. I’m here only to help the horses, and then Matt and I will go back to Oregon.”
Tatiana looked at the others and, to her relief, saw nothing but curiosity, from her sister in particular. Liar, liar pants on fire. Layla’s teasing voice touched her mind with comforting familiarity, instantly quelling her nerves. You told me he wasn’t your boyfriend. No sparks, remember? Based on the combustible energy waves flowing between you and Dominic, I’d say you found sparks… and then some.
Tatiana elbowed Layla but said nothing, and she didn’t miss the knowing look that passed between Richard and Salinda. Wonderful.
“Not a problem.” Dominic’s calm, even voice broke the silence. “My priority is protecting this ranch.” To her surprise, he turned his attention to the prince. “Speaking of which, I should get back to it.” Dominic smiled at baby Jessica and tapped her nose with one finger. “See ya later, kid.”
The baby gave him a drool-filled grin as he left, and Tatiana tried not to notice that he looked as good from the back as he did from the front. The black T-shirt molded perfectly to his broad muscular back, and the camo pants certainly didn’t camouflage that rock-solid ass.
The man didn’t seem to have an ounce of body fat anywhere.
Just as that thought whisked through her mind, Dominic paused in the archway and turned to face her. Tatiana’s face burned with embarrassment as he caught her staring at his backside.
“Oh, and for the record, I have no interest in a woman who isn’t interested in me.” His eyes crinkled at the corners, and the muscles in his chest flexed beneath the black T-shirt. “But we both know,” he said with a wink, “you’re interested.”
Before she could respond and tell him what an arrogant, presumptuous jerk he was, Dominic left. Tatiana snapped her mouth shut and prayed her face wasn’t bright red, but based on Layla’s smile, she was red like a tomato.
As the front door closed, his deep baritone drifted into her mind.
Let the games begin.
The smile fell from Dominic’s face the second he stepped out onto the front porch of the sprawling colonial house. The telepathic connection with Tatiana was unexpected, and Dominic was not a huge fan of surprises. He’d never telepathed with anyone unintentionally, and based on the look on her face, neither had she. It’s not that he wasn’t happy about the instant contact, he was simply unprepared, and Dominic was never unprepared for battle.
He shook his head as a smile bloomed. Getting that pixie of a woman to agree to be his mate would probably be the toughest fight of his life. She was beautiful and sexy in an understated way. She had a toned, well-shaped body that fit perfectly with his, but it was her enormous dark eyes that had him spinning.
Aside from her physical beauty, she possessed a steely inner strength that he admired. She was stubborn and determined, two qualities he found desirable in a woman. Dominic knew some guys liked women who needed rescuing, but not him. He wanted a woman who would challenge him and keep him on his toes. Something told him that Tatiana fit the bill. Nothing in the preliminary report he’d received could have prepared him for the swarm of sensations he just experienced.
One look. Damn it all. She turned him inside out with one look.
Sun glinting off the blue rental car in the driveway, along with the faint energy wave from the human sitting in it, captured his attention. He detected the man’s weak signature, and even though he knew he should walk on by and patrol the property again, he didn’t. Dominic trotted down the steps and made his way to the car, barely noticing the heat of the summer sun as it beat down.
Gravel crunched under the soles of his shoes as he studied the human with each step he took. The passenger door swung open as Dominic approached, and a young man, perhaps mid-twenties, stepped out. He had a grin on his face and a puppy in his arms. He may have been around the same age as Dominic, younger by a year or two, but he gave the impression of someone more youthful.
The dog whined and sniffed at Dominic as he approached, which was not unexpected. Dogs seemed more in tune with the animal side of Amoveo, and this little mutt was no different. The guy, on the other hand, remained as clueless to Dominic’s true nature as most humans were.
Matt’s energy signature was typical for a human, and he had an open, innocent look in his eyes. Dominic suspected Tatiana was lying about Matt being her boyfriend, and now that he met him, he was relatively certain it was bullshit. This kid was no match for the feisty, no-nonsense woman he had just met.
Matt was all of five foot nine with a slim, wiry build. Hell, he was no match for anyone. Even the puppy could kick his ass.
“Hi, I’m Matt,” he said as he placed the dog on the ground, allowing him to explore. “I’m Tatiana’s assistant and at the moment, dog walker.”
“Dominic.” He shook Matt’s hand briefly before folding his arms over his chest and staring the kid down. “Head of security here at the ranch.”
“Security?” Matt laughed and ran a hand over his messy brown hair as he looked at the sprawling property with the backdrop of looming mountains. He stretched his arms over his head and arched his back, working out the kinks from traveling. “What does a place out here in the middle of nowhere need security for?”
“Never can tell,” Dominic said quietly. “Things aren’t always what they seem to be.”
“Right.” Matt stuffed his hands in his pockets awkwardly and turned his attention to the dog currently sniffing around Dominic’s feet. He was clearly intimidated by Dominic and visibly nervous. “Maybe I should put Cass on a leash?”
“So,” Dominic asked, “how long have you and Tatiana been together?”
“We’ve been working together for about a year. She’s incredible,” Matt said enthusiastically, his demeanor immediately changing at the mention of Tatiana. “I’ve never met anyone who has the kind of connection with animals that she does. It’s uncanny, man, and if I didn’t know better, I’d think she could actually talk to them.”
“She’s a regular Doctor Dolittle, huh?” Dominic said as he squatted down and scratched the dog’s floppy ears.
Dominic had heard that hybrid Amoveo possessed unique abilities, and it sounded like Tatiana was no different. Communicating with animals was an interesting power. He’d never met another Amoveo with that particular ability, and it made Tatiana even more intriguing.
Glancing over his shoulder toward the house, he caught a glimpse of her in the window as he rose to his feet. She didn’t look happy that Dominic was chatting with her boyfriend.
“Tell me, Matt,” Dominic said quietly. “Are you and Tatiana involved on more than a professional level?”
“What?” Matt’s blue eyes grew round, and his face went bright red. “No. I mean, sure we’re friends, and we work together.” He stuffed his hands in the pockets of his jeans and looked down at the dog again, avoiding Dominic’s stare. “She’s too busy with her practice to date anyone.”
Matt shot him a quick look of disapproval as he fiddled with the change in his pockets. Dominic suppressed a victorious smile. Bingo. Matt wasn’t Tatiana’s boyfriend, but he’d probably give up his paycheck for the chance.
Silence stretched awkwardly as Dominic studied Matt. He seemed harmless enough, but in Dominic’s experience, sometimes those were the ones you had to watch . Dominic, better than anyone, knew looks could be deceiving.
Hell, Dominic’s own sister had been a traitor, and her betrayal stung as badly as the fact that he didn’t see it coming. He’d never been more humiliated in all his life and, after everything settled down, Dominic even offered to relinquish his role as Guardian, but Richard and Salinda wouldn’t hear of it.
The Muldavis may not have held him responsible for his sister’s actions, but Dominic sure as hell did. Mistakes were unacceptable for a Guardian because people could get killed.
Dominic stuffed down the uncomfortable memories and prevented his eyes from shifting. Poor Matt would probably piss himself, and even though the idea was amusing, he refrained from breaking the rules. Besides, he wasn’t a bully.
“I wonder how much longer Tatiana is going to be?” Matt said while keeping his eye on the puppy and off Dominic.
“I have a feeling she’ll be along in a minute.”
Dominic sensed her agitated energy from all the way outside and suppressed a grin as he touched her mind with his. I’m having a nice chat with your boyfriend, Tatiana.
The connection was severed as quickly as it had been made, and a dark void swiftly replaced the vibrant telepathic contact. Dominic’s smile faded as he realized she had closed her mind to him and for all intents and purposes, slammed the door in his face.
About five seconds later, he heard Tatiana and Layla coming down the porch steps, and the now familiar humming of her energy signature filled the air. She didn’t respond when he tried to reconnect. Try as she might, Tatiana couldn’t completely hide from him. A warm gust of wind preempted her arrival and announced her presence with a whiff of cherries and vanilla.
“Hey,” Matt said with a wave. A smile of relief washed over his face as he spotted Tatiana, and he quickly cut a wide path around Dominic.
“Hey, yourself,” she said sweetly.
Dominic turned around just in time to see Tatiana plant a big kiss on Matt’s cheek before taking the puppy from him.
“Cass,” she said as she patted the dog’s head. “Are you being a good boy?”
The look of surprise on Layla’s face was only matched by Dominic’s. Son of a bitch. A low growl rumbled in his chest, and it took herculean strength not to let his eyes shift as he loomed large behind Matt. I suggest you stop doing that, or we’re going to have problems. And by we, I mean you and this kid who almost fainted when you kissed him.
You were the one who wanted to play games. Tatiana’s sweet voice touched his mind as she peered at him over the puppy’s head before turning her attention back to Matt.
“Sorry I kept you waiting so long, but we had to get a few things straightened out,” she said, flicking her eyes briefly to Dominic. “Just needed to lay the ground rules for the duration of our stay.”
“N—no problem,” Matt sputtered happily and gave a victorious glance over his shoulder at Dominic. He hooked his thumbs in the back pocket of his jeans and nodded toward the house. “Are we staying at the motel in town, or should I bring our bags inside?”
“Neither,” Layla said. She bit her lip, as though she was trying to stop herself from laughing. “You two are staying in one of the guesthouses here on the ranch, next door to Dominic’s, in fact,” she said with a big smile. “But Tatiana wanted to look at the horses first.”
“Matt, grab my medical bag from the backseat. Would you?” Tatiana followed Layla to the massive red and white barn to the right of the house. “We’ll get some vitals on them and see where to go from there. No point in wasting time,” she said over her shoulder with a pointed look to Dominic. “We’re here to help the horses, so let’s get to it.”
“You got it.” Matt turned around and almost ran face-first into Dominic’s chest. “Whoa, sorry.”
Unmoving, Dominic kept his eyes on Tatiana as she disappeared through the barn doors. Matt ran bag in hand to catch up to her, wasting no time in putting distance between him and Dominic.
What was he doing? Why the hell was he letting some woman he barely knew get under his skin? So what if she was his mate? He never in his life forced himself on a woman, and he sure as shit wasn’t starting now—mate or not—no matter how intriguing, sexy, or enticing she was. Dominic swore, and his eyes shifted with a tingling snap.
There’s a human on the ranch. Eric’s urgent voice interrupted his thoughts. Dominic, do you see him? Is it a Caedo?
It’s fine, Eric. Dominic responded tightly. It’s the vet’s assistant.
Seconds later, static electricity filled the air as Eric materialized next to his fellow Guardian, looking no less irritated by the situation. Eric was as tall as Dominic but with a leaner build, typical for men of the Panther Clan. He was a fierce fighter and adept at slipping in and out of situations undetected.
Eric’s eyes glowed yellow, and his nostrils flared as he stared at the open door of the barn. “Layla’s sister brought a human to the ranch?” His eyes flickered back to their human state. “What the hell is she thinking?”
“He’s her shield.” Dominic stood stone still and fought to keep his energy signature from betraying his irritation. “She’s using him. At least, that’s what I suspect.”
“Shield?” Eric adjusted the dagger he had tucked in his belt. “What are you talking about?”
“Tatiana’s using his presence to shield herself from all of us.” Dominic flicked a brief glance at Eric. “Remember what William and Layla said? She agreed to come here only as a favor to her sister. She’s not interested in our world, and by having this human along for the ride, she knows the rest of us will have to play along.”
“So, this human isn’t part of the Vasullus family?” Eric asked, referring to the select few humans who knew of the Amoveo’s existence and helped if needed.
“Nope.” Dominic turned on his heels and strode away from the barn as Eric followed. “Has no idea what we are.”
They walked in silence for a few moments, and Dominic debated telling Eric the most important part. Up until today, both were without their mates and had practically given up hope of finding one. He wondered if Eric would be happy for him or feel betrayed.
“She’s not trying to keep all the Amoveo away,” he murmured. “Tatiana is my mate.”
“Hold up.” Eric grabbed his arm and stopped dead in his tracks. “Say again?”
“Tatiana is my mate.” Dominic flicked a brief glance at Eric, and his mouth set in a tight line. “She’s a hybrid from the Timber Wolf Clan.”
“I don’t get it.” Eric’s brow furrowed in confusion, and the smile at his lips faltered. “Why aren’t you doing a fucking backflip right now? Shit, man,” he said through a laugh. “You should grab that girl and get busy. Now, you’ll have no trouble staying on as Guardian.”
“It’s not that simple.” He put his hands on his hips and let out a slow breath, struggling to hang onto his patience. “She tried to get me to believe that Matt, this human, is not only her assistant, but also her boyfriend. She basically told me to fuck off, and I have a feeling that it’ll be a cold day in hell before she mates with me.”
“Bullshit.” Eric clapped him on the shoulder. “She’s your mate. You’re hers. End of story.”
“It’s not that cut and dry.” Dominic shook his head and walked toward the open field with the mountains looming large. Now, more than ever, he could use a run in his tiger form, but that wasn’t in the cards until he was deep into the mountains. “She is not the least bit interested in mating. I don’t care how desperate I am to keep my full strength, there’s no goddamn way I’m forcing her to hook up with me.”
Eric started to protest, but Dominic held up his hand, preventing further conversation. “They’ll be leaving soon enough, but while they’re here we have to be careful about when and where we use our abilities.”
“Shit.” Eric matched his stride and groaned as he wiped sweat from his brow with the back of his hand. “Damn it all! If it were winter, the guy would be less likely to roam outside.”
“Matt seems harmless enough, but I’d like you to keep an extra eye on him. He and Tatiana are staying in the empty cabin by mine, and since I don’t know him, I don’t trust him. Run a background check. Layla should have his information. I’ll speak to William and see what he knows.”
“You’re the boss,” Eric replied. “I’ll take care of it this afternoon. Do you want me to take the night shift?”
Dominic nodded as he scanned the area. “Let’s keep a rotation of twelve-hour shifts while our guests are here. We’ll patrol in our human form on the main grounds and limit our clan form to the wooded-mountain areas. We can’t risk Matt seeing more than he should. I’ve imprinted on Tatiana’s energy signature, so I’ll be able to find her if and when necessary.” He let out a sigh.
“We get to play human twenty-four-seven?” Eric grumbled. “I don’t know about you, Dom, but I’m not much for playing games.”
“Me either,” Dominic said on a growl. “But if I’m going to play, you can bet your ass I’m going to win.”

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