softly say goodbye book cover
Part of the Redemption's Price series:

The dream of a pride and a mate isn't supposed to cost him everything.

Snow leopard shifter Blair Kincade has spent a lifetime using football to fill the gaping hole in his soul. Being an alpha without a pride sucks. As does being lied to about it his entire life by none other than the one he should've been able to trust: his adopted father. Meeting a visiting Russian snow leopard turns into finding the last survivors of his destroyed pride. And the possibility of a mate bond with a woman strong enough to stand by him.

Ballerina Oksana Bukovskaya has come to Colorado with one goal in mind: to save her adopted father, who's slowly losing his memory. There have been one too many attempts on his life, and she's not leaving until he's safe in the Boulder pride lands. Falling for an alpha she thought dead is an unexpected complication.

Uncovering the pieces of what happened to their pride reveals Ares's fingerprints all over a slaughter no one remembers. Plus he's sent one of his assassins after the only man who could've stopped it. Finding the answers--and the killer--is the only way Blair can protect his pride

There's just one problem. It might cost him his mate.

Published:
Genres:
Excerpt:

Chapter 1

Blair Kincade pasted on his five-millionth smile of the last six weeks and lied to the camera. Thank the gods, the photographer didn’t linger. The Fund banquet always drew them by the dozens and he was in no mood to pretend a second longer than necessary. Dad didn’t deserve it.

He pulled away from his father and tossed back the rest of his champagne. Not that it’d do anything to him, but half his life was about appearances. Tonight, it was the appearance of a happy family, by putting on an act for the cameras and grant recipients. Right now, he wanted every person in this place to leave him the hell alone. Including his father.

“Thank you for doing this, son.”

READ MORE

A soft growl escaped. “I’m here for Owen. Not you.”
John Kincade sighed, just as softly as Blair had growled. Which meant every set of shifter ears in the room heard it. “I messed up, Blair. I admit it. You’re still my son, and I couldn’t love you any more if you were my flesh and blood.”

Blair counted to three so he wouldn’t start a fight. The last thing he needed was to loose claws and fangs on the man who’d raised him, while half of Denver watched. They didn’t need to see their beloved Super Bowl-bound quarterback turn into a snow leopard and get his ass kicked by an almost two-hundred-year-old cougar-turned-lion. “I’m grateful you protected me. But you also denied me everything I was born for.” His throat tightened almost to the point of pain. “After losing your own pride, how could you do that to me?”

“They’re dead, son. All of them. Had you stayed out there as a helpless cub, you’d be dead too.”

“It wasn’t your call to make.” He faced the man who’d raised him, loved him, protected him. “You lied to me for almost thirty years, and I’m supposed to be okay with it? Newsflash, Dad. I’m not.” His human side still thought of the man as his father, but his leopard rebelled at any thought of him as Dad. The fight almost caused physical pain sometimes. Like now. Along with a burning need to get out of the same space.

“Another reporter’s coming.”

“Nice sidestep. This conversation is over anyway.” He brushed past Dad and started looking for Owen.

The annual awards gala of The Samuel Kincade Fund wasn’t a place for the faint of heart. Denver’s elite came in droves, along with politicians, a few celebrities, athletes, and many of the grant recipients. This year the latter group included his older brother Gabe’s mate, Dr. Autumn Dailey. She was doing a DNA study on wild cougar populations, had accidentally tangled with the now-dead Teton pride, and mated with Gabe in the process.

Which made Blair jealous. He longed for a mate of his own, someone to share life with. To share his pain with. When carried by two, it ceased to be as heavy.
Blair followed Owen’s scent to a corner where he hid behind some plants. An undertone of bitterness laced his scent, and Blair put his body between Owen and the crowds. “You don’t look so good.”

A pale and shaking Owen met his gaze. “There are…so many. People.”

Blair moved in closer. Put his hands on Owen’s shoulders. “I know. If you need to leave, I’ll take you anywhere you want to go.”

“I’m alpha, Blair. This shouldn’t…I can’t—”

“You can leave, Owen, if you really need to. This is a huge thing, and you’ve already been braver than expected.”

Owen leaned forward, and Blair enclosed him in a tight hug. The future alpha of the Boulder pride was a certified agoraphobic. Blair held him as tight as he dared, since Owen outranked him on the alpha scale. “Are you still taking your medication for this?”

“I stopped because it hasn’t happened in ages.” Owen shuddered. “I’d hoped Sekhmet fixed this too.”
The Egyptian goddess of healing and one of the eyes of Ra. She’d healed Owen physically last summer, when he’d been returned to them after being missing for twenty-two years. “I think she heals physical things. This is mental.”

Another shudder, and Owen pressed in tighter. “Can we go outside for a little while?”

Outside. Into gardens covered with snow. His snow leopard forgot all about being mad at Dad and pressed so hard against him, fur rubbed the inside of his skin.

“Of course.”

He steered his trembling baby brother outside, nodding to Gabe and the other security guys as they went past. All acknowledged the movement, but none followed.

An expanse of fresh snow met them, and Blair drew the scent into his lungs. Nothing in the world smelled better than fresh fallen snow. It sparkled in the soft light of a garden lit with strands of white twinkle lights woven into now-bare trees and hidden in hedges. It was also deserted—exactly what Owen needed right then.

Owen peeled away from him and wandered into the shadows. Blair knelt on the pea gravel path and dug his hand into the snow mounded on the side. He let a partial shift go through his hand so his leopard could feel the snow on a paw and quiet down. The leopard didn’t approve of sacrificing their last free night to be here at the gala instead of roaming the snow-covered mountains in the pride lands.

“How come there aren’t any snow leopards in the pride?”

Blair lifted his gaze toward where Owen’s voice came from. Switched to his leopard vision so he could see his brother. “We don’t play well with other cats. Then there’s also the whole communist countries part, and the Himalayas.”

“I can see why they’d want to stay in mountains like that. Where did your pride live?”

Blair raked his paw through the snow once more, shifted it back to his hand, and remained crouched by the soothing chill of the snow. “Siberia.”

“That’s a lot of territory.”

“Maahes says we were close to Lake Baikal and the Mongolian border, in a place called the Tunkinsky National Park.”
Owen appeared out of the shadows, color once more

in his face and the trembling eased. “You don’t look like a Mongol horde.”

Blair threw a handful snow at Owen, who dodged it, a hint of a smile playing with his mouth. Owen stepped back onto the path, snow sticking to his shoes. “You believe Maahes about where you were born?”

“No reason not to.” Blair stood.

“Then why are you so angry about all of this?”

A growl slipped out. “Because they lied to me for almost thirty years. They should’ve told me the truth when I was old enough to understand what pride destruction means.”

Owen eased closer to him. Touched his shoulder for a moment—the touch of an alpha to an upset pride mate. One Blair no longer accepted from Dad, but could from Owen. And his baby brother appeared to know it. “You were, what, nine when I was taken?”
Blair nodded.

“Has it occurred to you fear of losing you might’ve kept them silent about it?”

“I know it did. They almost smothered me, Owen. I took the Arkansas scholarship to get away from it. If they’d told me the truth, I wouldn’t have gone so far away from snow my leopard almost died. And I wouldn’t be so angry right now.” He spun away from Owen’s too-perceptive scrutiny. “All my life I’ve known something important had been taken from me before I could remember it. I asked Dad a hundred times why I was the only natural snow leopard in the family, and I never got a straight answer.”

Owen’s touch returned to his shoulder, anchoring him in reality. In pride. “It could’ve been because Dad has no idea. How else do you explain Adam being a tiger?”
Blair shook his head. “But he doesn’t act like a tiger any more than Gabe acts like a jaguar, or Ben like a leopard. I act like a snow leopard, Owen. I think like one. I need snow and mountains the same way I need oxygen, and I’m happy to go days at a time without seeing or speaking to another living soul. And I’m insanely patient in predator mode. I tracked an elk for twenty hours last year before taking it down. None of that is normal Boulder behavior.”

“It’s normal snow leopard?”

“Yes.”

The touch became Owen resting his arm on Blair’s shoulders and holding him close. “Did you ask Maahes to look for anyone who asked for vengeance?”

“Of course. He didn’t find anything, and told me it probably means they’re all dead.”

Owen squeezed. “Don’t be too sure. Remember, for the last two thousand years we thought he was dead. With everything that’s happened in Russia in the last century, I have zero issues with assuming the Russian cats gave up on any and all hope of our gods caring. Which means if someone besides you is still alive, they’re not going to ask vengeance of a god they no longer trust.”

“I thought of that already. But it doesn’t help me find them. The only thing I can think of is going there and roaming the mountains to see if my presence calls anyone.” He leaned his head over to make contact with Owen’s, needing the touch as much as he needed the cold and snow. “Which assumes any survivors stayed in the area. Which is dumb, if I’m honest. The safe thing to do would be to make contact with other prides and hope for a place.”

“Then contact the other prides, see if anything shakes loose.”

“There’s only one actual snow leopard pride left in Russia, and they’re over a thousand miles west of where I was born. I plan to make contact after the game next week, but I don’t expect them to tell me anything I don’t already know.”

“Could you go over there and see if your presence calls anyone?”

Blair nodded. “It’s risky, though.” He pulled away from Owen. “And most likely pointless.”

Owen scratched at his chin. “Maybe. Maybe not. Me and Dad know when something happens. You’re alpha too. Surely you’d know.”

“I was three. Most alpha connections don’t start forming until after puberty.”

“Whatever you decide to do, I’ll back you.”

Blair smiled at his brother. “Thank you.”

Owen lifted his head in a sudden jerk, and sniffed. “You smell that?”

Blair sniffed too. “Yes.” Another one, slower this time, to draw more in. “Not Boulder.”

“Why do you think I asked?”

Blair’s leopard huffed through his human throat.

“Any idea what kind of cat it is?”

“Leopard. Not African, though.”

“Persian?”

Something in Blair flickered. Stretched for the scent. “Snow.” He glanced at Owen. “I can’t explain it, but I have to find out who it is. Alone.”

Owen nodded. “I’ll go tell Gabe. Shout if you need us.” He hurried off.

Blair put his back to the hall, and his brothers, and followed the scent deeper into the garden. At the fountain, he stopped dead in his tracks and stared at the beauty in front of him.

She stood on the edge of the fountain, her arms spread out to her sides as though they were wings, with her fingers just so, back arched, and her head tilted so she looked up at the night sky. Her heels were on the ground, and her left leg extended with the most extreme pointing of toes he’d ever seen. The extended leg stuck out of the deep slit in her floor-length dress, revealing a muscular calf his running back would envy.

She looked over her shoulder, and he forgot to breathe. The most exquisite face with high cheekbones and huge eyes, all framed with honeyed curls, gave her an air of both serious and saucy. Even with his leopard’s superior night vision, the color of her eyes was a mystery. “It’s impolite to stare.”
Her voice did him in. Never in his life had anything sounded so perfect. And her accent. Magical. “It’s risky to stand barefoot on the edge of a fountain when it’s twenty degrees and dark.”

She moved her extended leg and executed a perfect spin on the ball of her foot to face him. Then she lowered her leg and balanced on the edge of the ledge. “You always walk around frozen gardens without a coat?”

“When the snow is fresh, absolutely.”

The soft, seductive tilt of her lips drew him in even more. “You are the only other snow leopard I’ve scented this evening.”

“Because you and I are the only ones here.”

She stepped off the ledge and into her shoes. “How does a snow leopard function amongst so many Persian leopards and cougars?”

“Not very well, to be honest.” He took a step toward her. “Blair Kincade. This whole shindig is hosted by my father.”

She didn’t flinch at his approach. “Oksana Bukovskaya. Why is your face everywhere I go?”

“Denver’s a little obsessed with football.”

One perfect eyebrow arched. “A little?”

He laughed. “Okay, a lot. We’re playing for the championship for the second time since I joined the team. I’m a Colorado native, so it’s ramping up the excitement.”

“Ah.” She nodded once as the sound came out. “You are dedicated, then?”

“Of course. You don’t get to this level without it.” He cocked his head. “You’re an athlete of some type, too. What do you do?”

“Ballet. I’m a visiting artist to the Denver Ballet Company.”

That explained the odd pose on the fountain, and the liquid way she’d hopped off. “My knowledge of your art begins and ends with The Nutcracker.”

Her lips curved in a half-motion, and her eyes sparkled. “You have the good sense to call it my art. For that, I shall forgive your lack of knowledge.”

“Appreciate it. What brings you to this gala?”

She stepped into the space beside him, all controlled power and intoxicating snow leopard scent. “I’m a replacement date via the symphony.”

He went stone-still. He hadn’t scented any sirens, but it didn’t hurt to double-check. “Orchestra?”

Da. I avoid sirens whenever possible.”

“Wise choice. However, the symphony here is officially allied with my pride.”

“I heard rumors of it.” She met and held his gaze without flinching. A strong dominant, which made perfect sense considering she was here alone. Snow leopard submissives were rare, according to his research over the last few months. “I should go back inside before my date comes looking. He doesn’t know what I really am.”

Blair held out his elbow. “Allow me?”

She looked at his arm, then back at him. “I am not arm candy, Blair Kincade.”

“I know. Coming back in with me will signal my overprotective brothers that you’re not to be interrogated. And it’ll give all the reporters something interesting to talk about, since I’m a confirmed bachelor with zero public interest in the finer points of life.”

Her eyes danced, and she pressed her lips together. “I like the way your mind works.” She curved her hand in the crook of his elbow. “Being seen with you can’t hurt one bit in the free PR department for my performances here.”

He did nothing to hide his own urge to smile, and escorted the gorgeous snow leopard back into the borderline stifling warmth of a hall packed with hundreds of people. Gabe flashed him a thumb’s up as he went by. Blair rolled his eyes.

“One of your brothers?”

“Yeah. All but one are older, and they’re insufferably nosy.”

“Aren’t we all?” Laughter danced in her tone.

“Sure. But my family has the market cornered on not knowing when to stop.”

“It’s something to treasure. Not all of us are so lucky.” No trace of the laughter remained.

Instead, intense, shared sorrow pulled at his leopard. He put his free hand over hers. Shared pain, yes. And maybe a clue. But without revealing he was born in Russia. “You lost your pride?”
Da. I was a five-year-old cub when it happened.”

“I’m so sorry, Oksana.” He tugged her into a shadowed area out of the main walkway. “Boulder is a place where all without a pride are welcome. At the end of World War Two, Bastet charged my father with making a place where the European prides could come to heal and rebuild their numbers. Many stayed.”

“Are there other snow leopards besides you?”

“Not born ones. My dad and our next alpha can be one, but it’s the hardest one for them to hold.”

Her eyes were the most beautiful hazel green he’d ever seen. The browns and greens of a forest. “An adult survived the slaughter too, and he’s taken care of me ever since. Something in him is broken. He needs to be under an alpha and strong wardens.” She sucked in a breath. Met his gaze again. “I accepted this invitation in the hopes of meeting the pride and seeing if you can help him.”

“Then Bastet guided us together outside. Of course we can do that. You’re welcome too, for as long as you want to stay.”

She drew in a shaky breath. “It’s not as hard for me, since I don’t remember being in a pride. He does remember, and I know he’s lonely.”

“Come meet my dad. Two of his wardens are also here.”

The last of the sorrow around her fell away. “Spasiba, Blair.”

The Russian word slid over him, melting into his soul like butter on Mom’s fresh bread. Many thought it an ugly language, but not Blair. He’d always been drawn to it, always found something soothing in the unique sounds and cadence. This particular word meant “thank you”. “You’re most welcome, Oksana. Word of warning, though. He’s intimidating.”

“I am a Russian principal ballerina. An intimidating alpha is less threatening than an angry Russian ballet mistress.”

Blair laughed. “Ditto for one of my coaches. Dad could take scary lessons from him.”

“Lead on.”

Blair did just that, winding through the crowds, nodding at people he knew, all while keeping Oksana close—all the better to give the gossip mill fodder for tomorrow. Something more interesting than lists of attendees, or if any couples had fights.

Then again, it’d also make his teammates razz him without mercy when they got wind of it. Blair Kincade, married to his sport, seen with a beautiful dancer. Someone was bound to find a bad joke in it somewhere.

Dad stood with Mom near the stage, Mom radiant in a dark red evening gown, her hair piled on top of her head in one of her elaborate up-dos with curls and lots of pins and a bit of a 1940s look to it. Some of the pictures of when she and Dad first mated after the war put her in the bombshell pinup category.

Mom leaned into Dad, listening to him with every part of her body. There were worse families to end up part of, if he was honest with himself. At least he’d grown up with parents who loved each other. Watching them fall in love all over again, now that Owen was home safe, qualified as magical.

And made him long all the more for a mate of his own.

The crowd parted, and Dad caught sight of them. Blair’s leopard recoiled, wanting to both run away and rake his face. Curious how it had no bad feelings toward Mom. Then again, maybe not. She hadn’t been the one to lie to his face about who he was. Only Dad had made that mistake.

“We have a visiting snow leopard who needs to speak with you.” He stopped outside of touching distance. “Oksana Bukovskaya, John Kincade. Boulder alpha.”
Dad’s eyes hued gold, and his intimidating factor went through the roof.

Blair’s leopard reacted with a vicious shove. Every alpha instinct in him went on high alert, and he shifted his body to protect a snow leopard he didn’t know.

COLLAPSE
His Soul To Keep cover

To save his soul, he risks condemning the world.

Boulder pride security chief Gabe Kincade is losing his mind. It's the only explanation for remembering a past life in ancient Egypt as one of Maahes's warriors. Meeting a gorgeous scientist his jaguar says is his mate is a complication he can't afford—and can't resist. Ares is after him, and if the god catches him, he's dead. Again.

Wildlife geneticist Autumn Dailey has spent the last fifteen years tracking big cat DNA. She's on the verge of a huge discovery, and the key might be in the samples from her cougar population study. Being kidnapped by people who turn into cougars proves she's found her something huge. Gabe Kincade showing up and promising to protect her from an unhinged alpha is an unexpected bonus. So is falling in love with him.

But Ares knows who Gabe really is and what he can do. The Greek god of war will do anything to take possession of his soul. Including a temptation from his past capable of destroying Autumn. To save her, Gabe has to save himself. No matter the cost.

Published:
Genres:
Excerpt:

Chapter 1

“Get it together, man. You don’t have time to go insane.” Gabriel Kincade turned away from the bathroom mirror and went outside on his back porch. Maybe looking at the beauty of a Colorado fall morning would help erase the lingering dream. A dream of the sands of Egypt hot beneath his jaguar’s paws, where the heat was almost a living entity and the great pyramids of Giza were nothing but a landmark telling him how much further until he reached home and safety.

His jaguar paced restlessly beneath his skin, the need to shift making him itch. It wanted to return to the heat of the Egyptian desert. Not face another Rocky Mountain winter. Which at once made no sense and all the sense in the world. Jaguars were jungle cats, and craved heat. But they weren’t indigenous to the African continent, so why the hell did his jaguar insist it was home?

READ MORE

He checked his watch and hissed. Almost late. Back inside and he dressed in his slate blue suit, a cream shirt, a gray tie, and his cat’s eye cuff links. No one in his pride understood the comfort he derived from dressing this way. Including himself. But it made all the difference when he had to interact with the human world.

Same deal for the leather interior of his almost-luxury SUV he’d bought six months ago. Brand new. Some assumed him pretentious and snobby because he’d gone to law school at Harvard and always had a new car and expensive clothes. The trappings brought comfort and peace. If only he could figure out why, since no one else in his family was attracted to the same things.

He slid behind the wheel, turned on the seat warmer to banish the chill, and headed toward the university for his breakfast meeting. Meeting with sirens weirded him out, but it was necessary to cement the alliance Dad and David Michaels were trying to build.

As he pulled into the parking lot, his phone buzzed. He parked, and lifted it from the cup-holder. Owen, his youngest brother and future alpha of the Boulder pride. “Hey.”

“He still doesn’t get it, Gabe. I can’t talk to him yet.”

Gabe leaned his head back, staring through the sunroof at the brilliant blue of a perfect October morning. “It’s been almost three months. You have to at some point. He knows how bad he messed up. All he wants is a chance to earn back your trust.”

Owen sniffed. “He proved to me he’s a siren. There is no earning back my trust.”

David Michaels, newly minted leader of the Denver symphony and the only brother Owen had known for over twenty years. They’d been closer than close. Until David turned himself in to the old symphony leader to save his brother and mate, then fell prey to the woman’s control and shattered the brother he’d sworn to protect.

Thinking about it still made Gabe want to rip the siren’s throat out. But he refrained due to how much it’d hurt his only sister, David’s mate. “His curse is broken. I think you owe him a chance to make things right.”

“I don’t owe him a damn thing.”

Gabe straightened. “You’re wrong there, little brother. Our whole family owes him everything. I’m saying it aloud for my benefit too. As mad as you are at him, you’d regret it the rest of your life if he died with this rift in place.”

Silence on the other end.

“Just remember Berenice was controlling him through a blood bond. He truly didn’t recognize you. If he had, he’d have found a way to get rid of her without hurting you.”

“Talking to yourself again?”

“No.” He killed the seat warmer and the engine. “I was there, remember? I know siren blood control when I see it.” He’d always known. Another piece of knowledge he couldn’t explain. “Ask Maahes if you can use his cabin as neutral ground to meet with David. If he didn’t love you, he wouldn’t be busting his ass trying to get you to talk to him.”

A huff—part cat, part man. “I’ll think about it.”

“Good. I’m late for my meeting, so I’ll talk to you later.” He ended the call, slid the phone into the inside pocket of his jacket, and headed into the cafe with his tablet in hand. These breakfast meetings were designed for him and his symphony counterpart, one of David’s council members, to get to know each other and figure out how to work together to keep Ares from making more trouble. They rotated between Denver, Josh’s territory, and Boulder, Gabe’s territory.

Stepping into the cafe made his jaguar tense. He didn’t like the sirens. Or having to be nice to them. Gabe paused to give his jaguar a moment to adjust. Human and siren scents mixed with warm syrup, cinnamon, chocolate, coffee, bacon, and eggs. Out of habit, he sorted the living scents. Nine sirens, in addition to the one he was meeting with. Two shifters carrying his pride scent, and one who didn’t. Almost forty humans.

He looked at every siren. Not a single one could meet his gaze. Except the one he was meeting with, Josh Hall. His darker skin tone and lighter build like David’s made him almost pretty. But the siren had a core of steel and had already proven loyalty to his leader. As well as being willing to face the strength of the Boulder pride when he’d deemed it necessary to save David. That, Gabe respected.

Gabe made his way though the tables and took the empty chair. Said nothing until the waitress came over to take his order and fill his coffee cup. “Owen called me a few minutes ago.”

Josh sipped his coffee. “David tried to see him last night. Didn’t go well.”

“He’ll come around.”

“Wish he’d do it faster. A couple of Western symphonies have figured out he’s David’s weakness. They’ll go after him at some point.”

Gabe grimaced. He’d been teaching Owen how to fight, but he still had a long way to go before he could defend himself without help and harness the power of his alpha status. He might’ve pinned Dad on the Fourth, yet Dad was right. Owen wasn’t ready to take his place. At the current rate of progression, he might never be.

All because David had fallen prey to Berenice’s control and fed on his brother.

“The New Mexico symphonies are sending reps to talk to us in a couple weeks. They want to meet with your pride as well.”

Gabe drowned his French toast in maple syrup, then sliced into it. “We’re not the dominant pride there. Why us?”

Josh lifted one eyebrow. “You really expect me to believe the New Mexico alpha makes big decisions alone?”

Gabe shrugged. “Had to try.”

Josh let out a low chuckle and shook his head. “This is still weird for me too.”

“Glad we’re on the same page.”

The conversation turned to their scheduled topic of Halloween and all it entailed. Maybe this year would be quieter, since the Denver symphony was no longer an enemy.

Gabe accepted a refill on his coffee, savoring his meal. Another thing he never took for granted and didn’t understand why. The company wasn’t half bad either. In another world, he and Josh probably would’ve been friends.

Another customer came in, and the person’s scent made his jaguar sit up. Gabe looked to the door and the stunning woman heading for the counter. Her path brought her right by his table, and he breathed her in. Cool and crisp, with a hint of water lily and pomegranate—a scent he’d never found around here, and one that made his jaguar homesick. Long brown hair pulled back in a braid. Luminous, soft-looking skin the color of the desert sands his jaguar claimed as home. A facial structure similar enough to Mom’s to whisper Latino or Hispanic ancestry, probably one of her parents or grandparents.

Ours. Mate.

Gabe squelched the urge to turn in his chair and keep his gaze on her. Never had his jaguar said anything about a woman. Or a man. He was almost tempted to argue, but arguing with himself never ended well. Especially when the jaguar started it.

“Morning, Autumn. Usual?”

“Of course.”

His jaguar went boneless, the two words not even directed at him as persuasive as just the right kind of stroking on his fur. Mate. Her voice was, simply put, the sweetest of music. Not too high, not too low. If she whispered his name, he’d be gone forever.

Keeping his attention on his plate took every bit of concentration he had. And still her scent wouldn’t let go, and her chit-chat with the lady at the counter kept stroking his fur. Mate.

He looked heavenward without moving his head. I know that. She’s human. So much for not arguing with himself.

Mate. Ours.

She sailed past him on her way back outside, a cup of coffee in one hand and a bag in the other. Muffins, according to his nose. Apple cinnamon and pumpkin. Excellent choices. Her braid swayed along her back, contrasting with exquisite beauty against the hunter green of her jacket. Black dress slacks and plain loafers teased him with visions of her in a skirt and heels.

No. She was a total stranger and he had no business undressing her in his mind. Talk about rude and inconsiderate.

She went to the silver sedan beside his SUV, set her muffins on the roof, and dug into her purse. A broad-chested man came up beside her. Autumn went stiff and her eyes widened. The glass couldn’t hide the acrid bite of fear in her scent. The man grabbed her arm, and coffee sloshed over both of them.

Gabe shoved back from the table. “Excuse me, Josh.” He had to check his stride so he didn’t run out the door.

“Get your hands off me.” The fear wasn’t in her voice, but the other man was a shifter—his scent marking him as a cougar—and he scented it the same as Gabe. He saw it in the satisfaction stealing over the man’s face. Gabe’s jaguar rose up, begging to be unleashed and spill the other shifter’s guts. Claws pricked at his fingertips, three of them slicing out anyway.

“Not until I get my answer.”

“The lady said to let go.” Gabe stopped a couple feet from the shifter, arms crossed.

The other shifter looked him up and down. “Bug off, Kincade.”

Recognition hit. One of the secondary wardens from the Teton pride. “I’m the one who lives here. So why don’t you do as the lady asked and go home?”

“You’re just like your father, meddling in things that don’t concern you.”

Gabe couldn’t help it. A low growl came out of his throat. The warden appeared to realize what it meant, because he released Autumn and backed away. Gabe continued staring at the warden as he climbed into a big truck. The Teton alpha was a piece of work, and his wardens weren’t much better.

“Thank you.”

Gabe turned his full human attention to Autumn, his jaguar still focused on the threat to their mate. “He’s bothered you before?”

“Can’t take no for an answer.” Autumn set her half-empty coffee cup on the roof of her car and looked at her sleeve and pants. “Blast. I’m already late.”

“May I get you another cup of coffee while you clean up?” Damn. Too eager.

She studied him, her head tilted to the right just enough to show off the slope of her neck. “I guess. This is the first time he’s taken off without me threatening to call the police. Thanks for that.” She unlocked the car and set the muffin bag on the seat, then locked it up again.

He walked beside her back into the cafe, held the door, and went to the counter for her coffee while she continued into the ladies room to clean up. What on earth did the Teton pride want with this woman?

She joined him at the counter, grimacing at the stain on her dark shirt. “Thank God I didn’t wear white today.” She lifted her head. Met his gaze. “How did he know you?”

Human meant he couldn’t tell her the whole truth. “My company has had some business dealings with his employer. They weren’t pleasant.”

Autumn looked him up and down, obviously taking in his clothing and the way he carried himself. “Who do you work for?”

“The Kincade Group.”

“What do they do, exactly?”

His jaguar sighed with intense pleasure at the sound of her voice. The man seized the chance to keep talking to her. “A lot of development, architectural design, commercial properties, some infrastructure engineering. That kind of stuff. We’ve been part of Boulder for over a hundred years.”

“I had no idea they had such roots in the area. Pretty cool.” She glanced at the clock on the wall. “I’m almost late. It was nice meeting you. Thanks for the help and coffee.”

He opened his mouth to say something to make her stop, but she sailed past him and was in her car so fast all he could do was stand there and gape as she left.

“You’ll get nowhere with her, so don’t even ask me for her name.”

He faced the hostess, working on keeping his face from giving anything away. “Wouldn’t dream of it. How much do I owe you?”

She rang him up and he paid, with another cup of coffee to go. If Autumn was his mate, Bastet would make sure they met again. Under better circumstances. That was one of the best things about mates in his world—you couldn’t hide from each other. When it was time, it was time, and nothing short of death could stop it.

Josh grinned as he stood from his chair. “I won’t tell a soul.”

“You better not.” Gabe’s jaguar growled in the words. He left the cafe, coffee in hand, and slid into his SUV. He pulled his phone from his jacket and dropped it in the cup-holder beside his coffee. It buzzed as he cranked the engine. He hit the button on his steering wheel to answer the call. Bluetooth was a wonderful invention.

“It’s Erica. You busy?”

“No. What do you need?”

“For you to come to the lab. I’ve been sending stuff to John for almost a month now, with no real answer. He has to know about this.”

Gabe backed out of his space and headed for the University of Colorado campus. “What’s going on?”

“Not discussing it over the phone. You have to see it. Now’s a great time because my boss is running late. If you’re close, you might beat her in.”

“Ten minutes.” He ended the call, the coffee in his stomach turning into the most vitriolic of acids. Bobby, Dad’s second warden, handled all of the science related things right now since most of the people involved were from his pride. Including Erica. Trying to send the info straight to Dad explained why he hadn’t seen it. Unless it had Bobby’s name on it, nobody knew Dad had to see it.

He parked and went inside. Erica met him. “My boss just got here, but it’ll still be a little while before we have the morning meeting. She didn’t look too happy.”

Gabe followed Erica through a maze of halls and into a small office. A massive plasma TV mounted on the wall dominated the space. “What’s going on?”

Erica turned the TV on and an incomprehensible mess appeared. “We’re mapping wild cougar population DNA right now. Somehow, seven of the Teton pride cougars got tagged and collected from.”

Gabe crossed his arms loosely and stared at the mass of colorful graphs. “Some of our DNA was collected during the last cougar population study. Why is it different this time?”

Erica went to the screen and tapped a spot left of center. “There’s something really strange going on with it. I’m collecting samples from our pride to do some comparisons, off the record. I want to get you so I have a better cross-section to work from and figure out if it’s in the human DNA or the animal.”

Gabe turned his full attention on Erica. She was a submissive, and he could pull every last detail out of her if he wanted. But he didn’t. It violated her, and made him feel like a slimeball. She was also a certifiable genius and had been working with their DNA for over twenty years. Besides, something else was more important. “Why did you go outside the chain?”

Erica lowered her gaze, without lowering her head. Her soft black curls fluttered around her face. “It’s important. If I’m right, the Teton pride is in big trouble.”

Gabe took a step toward her. Relaxed his posture and kept his voice gentle. “Dad hasn’t seen any of it. Bobby screens this stuff and goes to Dad when he has all the information he needs to explain it.”

Erica scuffed her shoe on the carpet. “I thought it’d be faster to go straight to John.”

“Not with this. He glazes over when DNA gets mentioned.” Gabe stroked her cheek. “Everything you’ve sent to him, send it to me and Bobby. We’ll make sure he’s briefed so we can figure out what to do.”

“I’m sorry,” she whispered.

He pulled her into a hug. “It’s all right. It’s not like there’s a time bomb involved.”

Erica accepted the reassurance, then stepped back and turned to the screen. “I wouldn’t say that, exactly. I need permission to share it with a human scientist I know.”

Gabe opened his mouth, but Erica’s raised hand stayed him. “She knows about us. Since my boss doesn’t, I can’t go to her.”

Gabe nodded. “I’ll see what I can do.”

Erica beamed. Took up station beside him and walked him back into the maze. Pomegranate and water lily made him stop at a junction, his jaguar rolling around in the scent and his human body frozen.

Autumn came around the corner, stopped, and put her hands on her hips.

COLLAPSE
Book Cover: To Hold A Siren's Heart
Part of the Redemption's Price series:
Editions:ePubKindle

Sleeping with the enemy is never a good idea. Neither is falling in love with her.

Siren David Michaels lives by one rule: no relationships. His kind are cursed to lives of jealousy and selfishness when it comes to relationships. Having a one-night stand with a sexy stranger sounded good at the time. The last thing he expected was to see her show up seven years later claiming his very sick little brother is the long-lost next alpha of the Boulder pride.

Megan Kincade, only daughter of the Boulder pride alpha, hasn't stopped dreaming about the dark-haired man she slept with in Florida. The last thing she expected was to find him claiming her little brother as his own, and learning he's a siren. The enemy.

Taking his little brother back to his family is the only way for him to live. But if David loses him, he loses his humanity. And he also sets off a war if his symphony finds him. Then there's the problem of falling in love with the alpha's daughter.

When David's symphony comes for him, he gives himself up to save Meg and Owen. The love he thinks himself incapable of is the only thing that can save him. Provided Meg can find the courage to defy her pride and save her siren's heart.

Published:
Genres:
Excerpt:

Chapter 1

It had been seven years, eight months, and sixteen days since David Michaels wanted to seduce someone. The woman sitting on his neighbor’s porch, with her purple hair falling across her shoulders and neck, made every inch of his body strain to go to her. Made his throat ache to release his siren song and carry her off.

He slid out of his SUV and slammed the door hard enough to make her look toward him. She did. Then stood and poked her head through Dante’s front door. A moment later, both of them headed across Dante’s yard.

READ MORE

David rounded his car to meet them halfway. And froze, breath stuck in his throat. She wasn’t just any woman, but the one from the hotel bar in Orlando seven years ago. The one he’d shared his bed with that night in a one-night stand he hadn’t forgotten. Nights with a girl were so rare he remembered all of them, but judging by the blank look on her face she didn’t recognize him. Probably not a bad thing.

Dante stopped at the edge of the driveway and shoved his hands in his pockets. David sucked in a breath. “How was your trip?” He didn’t want to know the answer to his question, but his little brother’s life depended on it.

Dante had spent the last week in Denver meeting with the Boulder Pride leadership to see if Owen had come from there. Being a form-bound cat shifter wasn’t in doubt. Just where he’d come from. “I have enough information to believe I’m right. If I am, Owen may be an alpha.”

David turned his back on Dante and the girl he knew only as C. Anything but an alpha. He closed his eyes, beyond certain they were turning red and would give him away. Owen was his link to emotions, to seeing humans as people instead of food. Without his brother, David was just another siren doing anything to feed. Including trampling other people’s privacy and right to self-determination.

Owen was also the only person or thing standing between him and a loneliness so deep it might drive him to do something stupid. On the other hand, Owen was dying. With months to live, instead of the two centuries plus he’d have if he were really an Egyptian cat shifter.

A familiar hand landed on his shoulder. Squeezed. “I wanted to be wrong, David. You’ve no idea how much. All the evidence says he’s Owen Kincade.”

“Who’s the girl?”

“His sister, Megan. We decided she’d be the least threatening.”

David opened his eyes. Found his hands choking the life out of the strap on his messenger bag, talons slicing out between his fingers and digging into his palms. Better that than lose another bag, especially when it had his work laptop in it. “Did you tell them anything about me?”

“Just that you’re very close, and if they want Owen back they have to accept you as well.”

David let out a soundless laugh. “Yeah, right. Once they find out what I am, one way or another I’m dead.”

“Maybe, maybe not.” The weight of Dante’s hand disappeared. “We should take her inside and get this over with. Owen’s running out of time.”

David faced the girl again. It was her. No doubt about it A little older, a little curvier, a little more beautiful, but standing with the same easy grace that should have told him back then she was a cat. He hadn’t exactly been paying attention to details, though. Kinda hard to do when lust crowded everything else from his brain.

She met his stare with a cool, distant one, full of an odd kind of dominance he’d never seen before. “Megan Kincade.”

“David Michaels.”

“What are you?” Megan crossed her arms, cocking her head and continuing to stare at him.

“None of your business right now. I’ve protected Owen from our world. He’s not going to believe this.”

“I’m prepared to demonstrate.”

“Good. You’ll have to.” He put his back to her and headed for the front door. Her dominance had nothing on his, despite the fact she never dropped her gaze while speaking. He focused on his hands and pulled his talons back in. The way they came out and curved would give him away in a heartbeat. He managed to get the door open without dropping his keys.

Silence met him. Owen was stretched out in his recliner, both cats in his lap, eyes closed. David took his bag off and set it on the couch, then went to Owen and flattened his hand on Owen’s forehead. A little feverish still.

Owen’s eyes fluttered. It took him a moment to focus, and one side of his mouth lifted. “You’re late,” he whispered.

“The design meeting got a little heated. Apparently I don’t know what I’m talking about when it comes to pressure tolerance.”

“He’s an idiot and you’re a genius.”

David ruffled Owen’s hair. “Thanks, bro.” He settled on the recliner arm, unable to hold Owen’s gaze because of all the pain in it. The temptation to feed on it was a daily fight, and right now he was off enough he might give in.

“What’s wrong?”

“You’re too perceptive for your own good.”

Owen swatted at his leg. A very feline move, now that David knew for certain what he was. Sure, he’d suspected it for several years. But without proof, he’d ignored it. “You know that trip Dante took to Colorado?”

“Yeah.”

“He went out there looking for your birth family.” David looked at Owen so he wouldn’t miss his reaction. Owen’s reactions tended to subtle, but David had over fifteen years’ experience reading them. To him, they were as obvious as another siren’s cloaked wings.

Owen’s forehead creased. “Why Colorado? I thought I was from here.”

“Dad suspected how you got here was illegal. You were so scared and traumatized they couldn’t be bothered to care about the means. You needed a family to protect you from whatever monsters haunted your dreams.” Dad knew those monsters were real, but he’d never figured out what they were.

Owen shuddered. “The dream monsters are back, David. They’re bigger now. Scarier. With more teeth.”

“They won’t get you, Owee, I promise.”

Owen leaned into him, and David wrapped his arms around his brother’s shoulders. “Dante really thinks he found my birth family?”

David held him tighter. This family wouldn’t want him around. They’d make him leave, tell him to never contact Owen again. By the time Owen cemented his place in the pride hierarchy, it’d be too late for David to hold on to the humanity he’d found. “Yes.”

“So why are you scared? You’re my family, too.” Owen paused. Pulled back and touched David’s face to get him to make eye contact. “And why does Dante care about finding my birth family? You’ve never explained that part of it.”

“I was honoring Dad’s wishes.” But now he faced watching his brother die if he didn’t break his promise to Dad. The way he’d watched his father die. The way Owen had watched their mother die. “But I don’t want you to die.”

“I’m too young to die,” Owen whispered.

“I agree. If Dante is right, you won’t, for a very long time. It’s a chance I think we have to take.” Finagling it right meant he could keep the spirit of his promise to Dad, while saving his link to real emotion and keeping himself from becoming a monster. He shifted on the arm to ease the metal digging into his ass. “He brought someone back you might be related to. They’re waiting outside.”

Owen sighed, and settled into the recliner again. His breathing shifted into one of his pain patterns. He wore both of his wrist braces, both ankle braces, and the way he kept his legs said his knees and hips hurt as well. The rheumatoid arthritis was eating him alive, creating a cascade of health problems that had required Owen to first give up working on his accounting degree, then forced him to quit his job. “I want my life back, David. They can come in.”

David didn’t move. “There’s one more thing. The world you can see…it’s not the only one.”

“I know.”

“You just think you do. Enjoy this moment, little brother. The world you know is about to disappear forever.” David left the recliner and went to the door. Motioned Dante and Megan inside. His fingers itched to run through her hair, see if the new color changed the texture he remembered. In Orlando, her hair had been plain old brown. But he kept his fingers to himself. Giving himself away accomplished nothing.

She shook her head. “I’ll stay out here until Dante has filled him in.”

David closed the door most of the way and returned to his spot on the recliner arm, but on the other side this time.

“Hey, kiddo.” Dante ruffled Owen’s hair.

“I stopped being a kid a long time ago.” Owen stuck his tongue out at Dante. “David told me what you think you found.”

Dante dropped onto the couch, closest to Owen. “I’m as positive as I can be without a DNA test. There’s a catch, though.”

“There usually is.”

Dante bent forward, rested his forearms on his knees, and looked at Owen. “We have to go out there to prove it.”

Owen’s hand found David’s. Squeezed so hard David heard his talons crunching against bone. “Why?”

“Did David mention to you this world you see isn’t the only one?”

Owen nodded. David didn’t free his hand. Owen needed it to keep him grounded. Having one’s world turn inside out wasn’t easy.

“David and I are part of this other world. So are you. The problem is, you’ve been locked out of it. To get you back in, we have to go out there. I need their help to get you back in.” Dante’s gaze flicked to David for a moment.

“We can’t do it with them coming here?”

“No.”

Owen tilted his head to the left. “I’m not sure I believe you.”

Dante sighed. “I don’t expect you to. That’s why I brought your sister back with me. You probably won’t recognize her, but she’ll recognize you.”

“I was a little kid the last time she saw me, if she’s my sister.”

Dante stood. “She’ll know. Trust me, Owen. Please.”

Owen looked to David. He wanted to tell him no, he didn’t have to trust Dante. Didn’t have to let this woman in. Didn’t have to accept his birth family might want him back. But the price of that answer was Owen’s life. David squeezed Owen’s hand again. “He’s right.”

“Fine.”

Dante went to the door and opened it. Megan Kincade sauntered in like she owned the place, her gaze fixed on Owen. David had to remind himself to keep breathing. Nothing good could come of his being attracted to the daughter of one of the most powerful shifter alphas in the world.

He’d sworn to Dad he’d protect Owen no matter what. Twice already he’d failed. A third time was not going to happen. No matter what it cost him along the way.

Owen stared at her. Leaned forward a bit in his chair, but didn’t release David’s hand. And David didn’t pull away. They faced things together or not at all. “Why do I feel like I know you?”

“Because you do.” Megan perched on the edge of the couch, in the space closest to Owen. “Your cat recognizes me.”

Owen shook his head. “I don’t have a cat.”

“Yes, you do. It’s locked inside you and can’t get out.” She held her hand out, palm up, claws extending from her fingertips. “I have one too.”

Those hands knew his body. Had done magical things to it and left him bordering on incoherent.

Owen ran his index finger across her palm, and up each finger to touch all five claws. Claws coming from her fingers marked her as Egyptian, whereas David’s talons between his fingers marked him as Greek.

Owen pulled his hand back. “Prove it.”

Megan stood, went to the hearth, closed her eyes, and the shift happened in an instant. One millisecond she was a human woman with purple hair, wearing jeans and a Disney t-shirt. The next she was a sleek, tawny cougar with amber eyes and brown-tipped ears. Owen gasped. David didn’t move a single muscle. She was magnificent. And just as beautiful in cat form as she’d been in human form. Every part of his body went up in flames with the need to feel her fur.

Super bad idea.

“This can’t be real,” Owen whispered.

Megan took a step toward Owen. David leaned forward, eyes narrowed, vision tinted red. Shit. His eyes were turning again and giving him away. The list of creatures whose eyes went red was very short, and none were welcome in Egyptian shifter lands. Megan stared at him and her own eyes narrowed, in response to his going red, no doubt.

No one was hurting Owen, least of all a member of the family who hadn’t spent the last twenty-two years searching for him.

“Easy, David. She means no harm.”

David transferred his glare to Dante. The fact they could communicate telepathically meant Dante had god blood in him. But he guarded his true identity with the same zeal as David did his. “You’re not the one with a sworn oath hanging over you. I wouldn’t change it for anything, but you know what’ll happen to me if Owen gets hurt.”

“If she makes a move on him, I’ll flash her out before she can make contact. Happy?”

Yes.” David returned his attention to Megan and Owen. She now sat at his feet as he scratched her head. When he stopped to rest his hand, she rubbed her cheek on his pants. Her purr filled the room.

The next sound made him snarl inside. Owen’s purr, for the first time, was audible. Owen put his hand to his chest. Looked at David, his eyes wide and the rings of brown and blue in them being swallowed by the green. Also a first. Meg was reaching his cat. “Why am I purring?”

David sucked in a deep breath and held it a moment. His inner siren—the one no one alive had ever seen or ever would see—screamed for blood. Owen’s purr belonged to him, not Megan Kincade or Dante. Owen’s sub-vocal purr soothed his siren madness and provided the harmonic resonance his bones needed. It wasn’t to be shared with anyone.

But Owen’s cat seemed to think otherwise, and it was a good sign of his cat still being alive and able to get out. “You’re purring because you’re a cat.” He leaned in. Whispered. “You always purr when I hold you. You’ve just never heard it before.”

Owen’s hand cupped his neck and held him in place. “I can feel something scratching at my mind, like it’s trying to pull a wall down.”

“That’s exactly what’s happening, Owen.” Dante knelt in front of him and put his hands on Owen’s knees. “Your cat knows Megan, knows she can help free him from his prison.”

“How can this be real?”

David kept his attention totally on Owen. He had to ignore Megan’s presence or he’d end up going for her throat. “Cats have always followed you. Remember? They do whatever you ask. They protect you. Strays were always following you home. You remember the zoo field trip when you were twelve?”

Owen nodded. “The lions laid down when I looked at them. And the leopards, the jaguar, the cougar, and the tigers. But why?”

Dante let out a low whistle. He’d never heard the story before. “You’re not just a cat, Owen.” He paused a moment. “The evidence says you’re an alpha. Every animal you encounter knows it. Whatever was used to bind you into human form is so well done, I had no idea you were alpha until your father told me you were showing the signs. There are no alphas your father trusts to take his place. If we don’t get you home and freed, your pride will be torn apart by internal and external war.”

Owen leaned into David. “I don’t want that much responsibility.”

“You’ll grow into it.”

Owen shook his head, then collapsed against the back of the recliner, eyes closed. David pressed his palm to Owen’s forehead and grimaced. Spiking fever. “You need to go. He’s exhausted.”

Dante stood. Megan’s cat disappeared and she once again became the woman who heated David’s blood past boiling. Really, he had no business being so attracted to someone from another pantheon. Besides, a happy ending was impossible for him, even without that little wrinkle.

He watched them leave. Megan threw one last glare at him over her shoulder before Dante hauled her outside.

“Are they gone?” Owen whispered.

“For now.”

Owen’s eyes fluttered open, and he stopped trying to hide the wheezing taking over his lungs. “Why have you never mentioned any of this?”

“Dad made me promise not to. He thought it’d be safer for you.”

“Why?”

David shrugged.

“Are you a cat too?”

“No.” He stood. Sitting on the recliner arm for one more second might split his tailbone. “It’s safer right now if you don’t know what I am. Dante does, and he won’t let anything happen to me.”

Owen narrowed his eyes and frowned. “You told him, but you won’t tell your own brother?”

“He guessed. I’ve never willingly told anyone what I am. It’s too dangerous.”

Owen’s frown relaxed, but didn’t go away. “For you, or the person who knows?”

“Both. Once you’re capable of protecting yourself, I’ll show you what I am and what I can do.”

Owen lifted his left hand, pinky extended and his other fingers folded against his palm. David swallowed a sigh and hooked his left pinky around Owen’s. “Promise. But when you’re alpha of one of the biggest prides in the world, you don’t need to go around making people pinky swear with you.”

The last vestige of the frown disappeared in the light of Owen’s smile. Which David met with his own. These were the moments he lived for, when Owen’s illness disappeared and he was once more the happy-go-lucky little brother who’d died the day he found their mother dead in her bed.

“I’m hungry. Then I need to get in the hot tub for a while.”

David nodded and left Owen in the recliner while he put supper together from the week’s leftovers. If they were heading for Colorado, he needed to get the fridge cleaned out.

He sagged against the stove. Colorado. Shit. The one place Dad had made him swear to never go back to. And the one place he had to go to if he wanted his brother to live.

COLLAPSE
Reviews:In'D Tale Magazine on http://www.indtale.com/reviews/paranormal-urban-fantasy/hold-sirens-heart-redemptions-price-book-1 wrote:

"An enthralling dip into the paranormal world of romance filled with danger, adventure, and passion." 5 stars from InD' Tale Magazine