“Come here, tiger. We must speak,” Creighton mumbled to himself. “You’ve been tasked with defending the supers,” he continued. He knew his job. He’d been defending his friends as long as he could remember. But meeting with the sources? He wasn’t sure what they wanted. The sources, the oldest beings in the universe, had called on him. When the sources summoned a super, he or she was to drop everything and show up. He or she would learn their fate and accept what the sources planned. As far as he was concerned, he knew his fate—protecting his human, Vanessa, from the rogue hunters.
He stared at the rock walls of the cave of the sources. Who lived in such a rustic place? Sure, he was a tiger, and the animal preferred the outside, but bland black-and-gray walls with no illumination? Come on. He needed a way to see where he was going, energy…something not here. His shoes clunked on the hard-packed earth as he strode to the bit of brightness at the end of the cave. He noticed shadows moving in the faint glow. The sources? He’d found them? Cool. The words I’m here
lingered on his tongue. Shouting to the ancient beings wasn’t bright. He’d wait for them to address him. The closer he got to the light, the slower he moved. A feeling of dread washed over him. This wasn’t going to be some nice, happy meeting. Nope. His tiger groaned. This wasn’t going to be pleasant at all.
“Come closer,” the Leader said. He leaned forward enough for Creighton to see his scraggly white beard. The hood obscured his face. The being pointed a long, bony finger at Creighton. “Do you know why you are here?’
“I’m here to learn my fate and to thank you for summoning me.” Creighton suppressed a smile. Never let it be said he had no manners. “I’m defending the supers, like you’ve asked.” He wondered what exactly the Leader was sitting on. Air? A rock chair? He couldn’t tell. Not knowing added to his growing alarm. Would they whisk him away to fight another part of the war and force him to leave his friends? Crazy thoughts, but then again, he wasn’t sure what to expect.
“You’re a cocky tiger.” The Leader turned over his palm. A flash of light flickered from the center of his hand. “You have been called upon because of the war. It has grown much worse than anticipated and is out of control. You need to be doing more than simply defending.”
Creighton nodded and tuned his thoughts to fight mode. “We cannot tell the rogue hunters from the main group. The defenders are trying their best, but without information, we feel we’re all working blind.”
“You are,” another source said. This one sounded female. “The supernatural races depend on you.”
“Wait.” Creighton disobeyed the cardinal rule of the sources and stepped closer to the ancient beings. “Me? Our merry band of misfits is a solid unit. You can’t mean that I am the only one who can stop this. You just told Kynan he was the one to end the war. This cannot wholly be on my head.” Good Goddess, he understood tactical maneuvers and reconnaissance, but playing with emotions and understanding the enemy weren’t his strong points.
The source cackled. “You will grow in numbers.”
“Great.” He liked the sound of the group getting larger. Maybe they’d find some more vampires and a couple more shifters to balance them out. Or they’d be given the opportunity to have children. One day he wanted to make lots of children with Vanessa, but the relationship was still new. “We can use all the help we can get, but you said to grow in numbers. Is having children soon a good idea?”
“Not so fast, tiger. Do you enjoy being in your human form?”
“Yes, very much.” But he didn’t like the tone change in the sources. “Why?” More of his surroundings came into view. Black and brown streaked on the walls along with something else—figures. He tipped his head. He should’ve been listening, but the images grabbed his attention. Some of the folk-art-type figures looked like animals.
“To keep the human form from being locked away forever, you must find your mate. It is time you accepted that part of your fate as well,” the source said, pulling his attention back to the situation.
“I believe I’ve found her.” Now they were getting somewhere. He’d known all along his fate lay with Vanessa and that she was his true mate. He thought about her in his dreams. Even if she turned him down, he knew where his heart belonged—with his pasha, Vanessa.
“You believe? Tiger, there is much more to finding a mate besides belief.”
He gritted his teeth. He assumed the sources would make the situation difficult, but not this much. “Vanessa is a suitable pasha. She’s a seer. She’s also beautiful, and we have perfect chemistry.” In and out of bed. So they’d only been together a few weeks and spent most of their time having sex. He knew his heart. He pressed his lips together to keep from spilling that tidbit of information. The sources didn’t need to know they had a great sex life.
“She is unworthy of you.”
“I don’t agree,” he snapped. Unworthy? Hell’s bells, she wasn’t worthy. She’d stood up to Brad and the other hunters when she could’ve easily run away. Her fortitude endeared her to him. He looked at the images again. The figures appeared to be moving. To tell the future?
“Your mate will need to be more than a seer. You are a tiger and must have a mate to match your power and strength.” The Leader leaned back in his seat, hiding himself almost completely in the shadows. The flame burning from his palm extinguished. “Do you wish to extinguish your power like this?”
As the Leader spoke, the image of a man faded, and a large cat took its place. A cat-shifter? The female beside that tiger vanished. Shit. Creighton’s stomach churned.
“What happens if I take the wrong person—or tiger—as my pasha?” He couldn’t risk losing Vanessa or proving the cave art correct.
“You will become useless to the cause. Your human form will recede, and the animal will become dominant.” The Leader blew the residual smoke from the fire toward Creighton. “Within a short time, you will go mad without your true pasha, and the hunters will have to eradicate you.”
Fuck. Creighton fought back his growing irritation. “So I can be happy with Vanessa and hope she is my true mate, or I can dump the woman I’m close to in order to help the supers win the war and maybe even find that elusive mate? Sounds swell.” He shook his head. “At least tell me who this pasha is I’m looking for. I’d hate to be wasting my time and energy for nothing.” The light grew dimmer, and he couldn’t see the Leader, but he felt the Leader’s icy stare. He stifled a shiver. “Just doesn’t seem right.”
“I cannot tell you the identity of your mate. You must find the person or super worthy enough to be your pasha. Someone worthy of a tiger.”
He already had found that person. His heart ached. They honestly wanted him to choose.
“Your time in your human form grows short. In less than three weeks’ time in human weeks, you must find your pasha. If you cannot find your mate or if you choose to take the wrong person”—the Leader stressed the word person
—“you will suffer the consequences. Your tiger will take over, and you’ll be little more than a beast—a beast fighting madness. Understood?”
He didn’t have much choice. The moment he was born, his fate was sealed. “I understand.” He didn’t agree, but he accepted the word of the sources. Around him the world plunged into darkness. The cave walls disappeared, and the ground beneath him shifted. The sources called when they wanted a super and sent him or her back just as fast. Creighton stumbled and knocked into the hallway wall.
He collapsed on the carpet and weighed his options as he regained his bearings. Vanessa had been the only light in his life. She gave him reason for not giving up. But how could he keep seeing her while searching for his elusive mate?
Easy, he couldn’t. He’d have to pick one or the other.
But who would protect her, and how the hell was he going to sit back and allow another man to touch her? If the rogue hunters found out about her—and they would once the information from Brad’s killing got back to them—she’d be kidnapped or killed. Brad, Kynan’s pasha’s ex, caused a shit storm with his attempted murder on his friends. Soon, more anger and war would descend on the small group, and he refused to leave Vanessa alone in harm’s way.
She might not be his mate, but he wasn’t giving up his seer without a fight. Not a chance.
“Hey, you’re back.” Vanessa threw her arms around Creighton’s neck. “You scared me. I know this is a huge mansion and all, but don’t just disappear like that.”
“Huh?” He tugged her to his chest. Her brown eyes glittered. When she smiled, a little more of the ice around his heart melted. “I’m sorry. I spaced for a moment. Catch me up on what happened.”
Her eyebrows rose, and then she frowned. “Spaced?” She snorted and flipped her golden-blonde hair over her shoulder. “Okay, I’ll play along. You were going to get something for us to eat, and when I looked for you, poof! Gone! No CR in the hallway, kitchen, or anywhere else I looked. I screamed for Ky and Lexa when I saw the car was still in the garage. When I came back to the room, you’re here and acting like you’ve been a million miles away.”
“I kind of was.”
“Creighton.” Kynan, his friend the vampire and owner of the mansion, sprinted down the hallway. “What happened?” He stopped short. “You were summoned, weren’t you?”
“Yes.” The moment he replied, he wished he hadn’t been asked the question. He hated to admit he’d been summoned, because then he’d have to explain that Vanessa wasn’t his pasha. The color drained from Kynan’s pale face, but he didn’t say anything.
“Summoned? By whom and for what?” Vanessa slid out of his arms and stood. She smoothed her T-shirt down her curvy frame. “What’s going on, and why do I have a bad feeling about what you’re going to say?”
Shit. He knew this would happen. Creighton leaned against the wall and forked his fingers into his hair. “The sources called on me. It’s my time to find my mate and build up my power so we can fight the war.”
“When do we get started?” Vanessa asked. “I’m game.”
“It’s—it’s not that simple.” Kynan nodded and folded his arms. Once he’d found his pasha, Lexa, he’d been able to step out of the shadows and walk in the light. He was still a vampire but much more powerful. “Finding one’s mate can be life or death. Vanessa, you should go back to your suite and talk to Creighton.” He nodded and left them alone in the hallway.
“Yeah,” Creighton said and pushed off the wall. “This is complicated.”
“Okay.” Vanessa offered her hand. “Let’s do this thing. How do we make you all super and powerful?” She threaded their fingers together. “Hot sex? Special words? Hot sex and special words? Come on, I’m trying to lighten the mood a little.”
“I know you are.” He draped his arm around her shoulders. “I appreciate it.” He opened the door to the suite they shared. “It’s a long process, finding my mate. I need to soul search and follow my heart.”
“I’m right here. Done.” She bounced into the room ahead of him. “Now what?”
Creighton stood in the doorway. How the hell was he going to crush her spirit and tell her the truth when he wasn’t so sure the sources were correct? Down in his gut, he believed she was his pasha. “Like I said, it’s complicated. Sit, and we’ll talk.” And hopefully you’ll still count me as your friend when all of this is over.