Crouching by the cliff edge for a better view, Fix had just raised his binoculars when a hard shove against his back knocked him off balance. Scrambling to regain his footing, he tried to twist around and grab the rock edge, but the dirt on the cliff beneath him suddenly gave way. Air rushed over his face. He remembered screaming, then blackness.
He never saw who attacked him.
When he came to, he found himself facedown in a gully. He tried shifting to lion form, believing he could handle his injuries more easily as a lion than a human. Dead wrong. An unbelievable burn exploded across his back as if he’d been ripped in two. He screamed in agony, his head pounding like a jackhammer. Unable to hold on to his sanity, he begged and pleaded to the gods, offering up his future firstborn son. Anything to stop the pain.
Lying on the rocks panting, half-human, half-lion, he lacked the strength to reshift. Minutes later, or maybe hours—time held no meaning while he drifted in and out of consciousness—Fix heard voices. One carried above the others. A voice he recognized but couldn’t put a name to. But at that moment, he couldn’t come up with his own name.
Lifted onto a board, he fought to remain focused and resolute, but a small whimper escaped through his clenched teeth, and he bit back a scream when thick canvas straps tightened across his chest. Once again, blessed blackness overtook him.
He awoke, blinking against a harsh light. His nose wrinkled from the strident odor of disinfectant, and a tube trailed from the back of his hand to a clear bag hung on a pole. A hospital room? Yet yellow flowers adorned the quilted bedcovers, and against the wall, an oval mirror perched above a dainty woman’s vanity dresser like the kind his grandmother had in her bedroom.
A deep grunt to Fix’s right sent an instinctual rush of adrenaline through his veins. Jerking his head, he willed his body to follow, hands bunching into fists, but to no avail.
A swarthy man sitting next to the bed narrowed his eyes, then rose and left the room. Gritting his teeth, Fix sank back into the pillow.
Within minutes, a string of unfamiliar faces paraded past him and questions were asked for which he had no answers. He had no use for these surly men and their meaningless riddles.
lingered at the doorway. A halo of walnut-colored curls framed a sweet, compassionate face with the warmest brown eyes he’d ever seen. His gaze drank in her generous curves emphasized by a tight camisole and jeans. Her lush softness sent blood racing to his groin.
“Caryn,” a gruff voice called from outside the makeshift hospital room.
She turned toward the voice, and a slight frown drew her eyebrows together.
Fix’s breath hitched. She could help him. He felt it in his bones. “Caryn,” he whispered to her, drawing her attention.
Her head tilted. “What’s your name?”
The memory came to him. “Fix.”
“Fix? Can’t say I’ve heard that name before.” Her smile revealed deep dimples in her cheeks, and she leaned against the door frame.
“A nickname,” he replied, distracted by the tempting view offered by her low-cut shirt and the hint of hard nipples beneath.
But a strange thought rolled around the back of his mind. She was not his kind. Yet he wasn’t sure what that even meant. He shrugged off the warning, not giving a fuck what kind she was. She was hot, and he couldn’t help imagining those shapely hips of hers straddled over his—
* * * *
A huffing noise brought him back to the present. Ice Queen frowned and adjusted the towel over his boner. Served her right. At least she’d behold a real cock. Probably more than her skinny, uptight ass could ever handle.
Alina picked up a clipboard and jotted something down, then grabbed his athletic shorts from a chair and tossed them onto his chest. She cast an icy blue gaze at him, a freak among golden-eyed African lions. “You’ll be working in the swimming pool today. Get dressed.”
Fix waited for her to leave the room before he pushed himself upright and dragged the shorts over his weakened legs. It had been a year since he’d been pushed off a cliff and left for dead. A year since he’d been betrayed. And he still didn’t know why or by whom.
He couldn’t suppress a shiver. Rescued from the gully and brought to the hyena chairman’s palace, he awoke a few days later in a run-down warehouse where he endured months in captivity at the hands of brutal hyena soldiers, a prisoner of war. The experience left scars way beyond the physical.
How could he have been snatched from the palace and taken to a POW camp without a word to his father? His lips flattened. Unfortunately, he might never learn the answer. He lowered himself from the massage table onto his wheelchair.
Although his days as a soldier—first in the Alpha Force and then in the Alpha Elites paramilitary force—were over, he was nothing if not a fighter. Since his release three months earlier, his recovery had been arduous and painful. Days of progress mixed with days of frustration.
And every so often, the lovely Caryn Plumar came to visit him. Always chaperoned by his kid sister, Holly. Not that Fix minded seeing his sister, but here he was, a man of twenty-eight forced by circumstance to live at home with his father and abide by the man’s rules. Executive Geos Ainran, high-ranking member of Parliament, was progressive for a first-caste lion, but the man had his limits.
Allowing his son to date the daughter of the hyena chairman crossed the line.
* * * *
Caryn Plumar finished applying a touch of coral lipstick, grabbed her purse, and strode down the hallway outside her suite to the main entryway of the palace.
Stifling a groan, she halted. One thousand rooms over thirteen acres, yet she could never escape the palace unnoticed. “Yes, Kondo?”
He bowed. “You are on your way out?”
The slight uptick of his eyebrow conveyed what his words did not. She gave the family’s head butler a twisted smile. “I am going to visit my friend, Holly Ainran.”
Kondo stiffened. “The lioness.”
Caryn straightened to her full height, granting her several inches over the stocky man, and wrinkled her nose. “Yes, the lioness
“Not to mention daughter of a parliamentary executive.”
The butler damn near turned green.
She shook her head. “Seriously, Kondo, don’t be such a fossil.”
The man clasped and unclasped his hands, a worried expression on his face. “Does Ms. Plumar wish accompaniment?”
“If Father’s bodyguards don’t mind hanging out at a dance club?” She cocked her head and flicked a pointed glance at the sturdy, unsmiling men in dark suits who waited in silence.
One adjusted his jacket and replied with a nervous cough; the other simply grimaced.
“Guess not,” she said with a shrug. She patted Kondo’s arm. “Don’t wait up for me.”
Caryn left the palatial grounds and drove into the city near the borderlands—neutral territory—where hyenas and lions either ignored one another or met in underground trendy clubs designed to shake off the restrictions enforced by a society shaped by years of conflict.
She pulled up in front of a refurbished warehouse and handed her keys to a valet. After stepping out of the car, she adjusted her jeans to smooth the wrinkles, then brushed a hand through her abundant curls that seemed determined to have a mind of their own.
A burly young man standing by the door gave her the once-over and nodded his approval. “Down the hall.”
A sign read LEAVE THE WAR AT THE DOOR. She followed the hand-drawn arrows on the walls, yet when she came upon two young hyenas kissing and groping each other in the hallway, their moans desperate, her brisk walk slowed. Would a man ever feel so greedy to ravish her in a public hallway? With a sigh, she continued forward. She’d been far too protected. No man had ever dared give her a second look. No hyena man, at any rate. Too damn scared of her father.
The door to the club opened, and the deep bass from the band boomed in her ears. Stepping inside, she was assailed by the scents of alcohol, sweat, and cheap perfume. She headed for the bar and ordered a drink, then spied Holly sitting at a table with two other women. No sign of Fix.
A flash of disappointment stole through Caryn, and her shoulders drooped. Girls’ night only. She shook her head to dispel the negative thoughts. Hell, at least it was a night out. Carrying her drink, she worked her way through the crowd to her friend’s table.
Holly smiled and waved, and Caryn slipped into the seat next to her. Her friend gave her a quick hug. “So glad you could come.”
Caryn nodded hello to Holly’s friend Elise, a mated lioness, who introduced her pride mate, Shani. The women’s nonstop talk of estrus and ovulation bored Caryn to tears. Even Holly, recently mated, rolled her eyes at her friends. Maybe with several females in a pride, cubbing became their primary focus. Caryn traced the rim of her drink with a finger, unable to imagine sharing a man and having him in her bed only once a week. Then again, she didn’t have a man at all. Who was she to pass judgment?
She tossed her drink back, welcoming the burn down her throat.
“Hey,” she said, leaning into Holly. “I thought your brother might come tonight.”
“I thought so too.” Holly glanced around the club. “He said he would come.” She shrugged. “Guess he changed his mind.”
Their inhibitions dampened by alcohol, people drifted to the dance floor, and the club began to heat up. Beneath the table, Caryn tapped her feet to the heavy beat, getting her groove on just watching the dancing bodies bounce and sway.
“C’mon!” she shouted over the music, grabbing her friend’s hand. What was the point of going to a dance club, if not to dance? “Who needs men anyway?”
Holly laughed, and all four women stormed the dance floor. Jumping up and down, Holly pumped her fists while Elise and Shani danced arm in arm.
Rolling her hips, Caryn lost herself in the sensuous rhythm that matched the beat of her pulse, the floor vibrating from the thumping bass. Holly, Elise, and Shani formed a chain with other dancers, twirling and gyrating across the floor.
Hands squeezed Caryn’s hips from behind.
“That better be you, Holly,” she growled.
A deep chuckle sounded, and Caryn threw a glance over her shoulder. “Fix!”
Maneuvering his wheelchair forward, he bumped the backs of her knees. Legs collapsing, she flailed, but he grabbed her around the waist and deftly pulled her onto his lap.
He grinned. “Hey, there, Ms. Plumar.”
She clutched her hands to her chest to calm the heart palpitations. To cover her nervous reaction, she smiled. “Good to see you. Am I, uh, hurting you?”
He rocked his pelvis upward, his golden eyes heavy-lidded. “What do you think?”
Her eyes widened. Whoa.
Guess that part of him wasn’t paralyzed. Heat flushed her cheeks, and she swallowed hard, a fluttery feeling in her stomach. Laughing, she pushed off his arms and stood to face him.
“You wish,” she said, slipping her hands into the back pockets of her jeans and feigning a swagger she didn’t quite feel.
This sexy lion man with the silky red hair could push her carnal buttons, and she knew better than to lose her cool around him. War had a way of creating impenetrable boundaries, and she and Fix were not on the same side.
But when his gaze singed her like a hot branding iron, she teetered on the edge of doing something completely stupid. Like dragging him off into a darkened corner.
Sweat dripped between her breasts. Closing her eyes, she recited a calming mantra under her breath, all the while thinking what she wouldn’t give to have his heated kisses run down her naked body.
“Hey, Fix,” a woman murmured in a seductive voice.
Caryn’s eyes flew open.
“Hey, Zuri.” He swiveled his wheelchair and high-fived a far too pretty woman with braids down to her hips and skin like rich chocolate.
Grasping his hand, the woman leaned over to whisper in his ear. He smiled, nodding.
Zuri lifted her chin and held Caryn’s gaze for a moment; then her lips curved into a smirk. With a toss of her braids over her shoulder, she sashayed toward the bar, amplifying the sway in her hips.
And Fix couldn’t take his eyes off the display.
Caryn’s stomach roiled, but what did she expect? He was a first-caste lion. Born to lord over a pride of females. She swore between pursed lips, unsure whether to slink off, tail between her legs, or stand her ground and fight for his attention.
Head held high, she returned to her table. She possessed far too much self-respect to grovel for any man. Not even one as charismatic as Fix Ainran.
In the short time since his release from the rogue bastards who’d tortured and starved him, he’d gained weight and strength. He was a far slimmer version of the Herculean man she’d met a year ago when her father’s aides rescued him from the north ravine. Lying on the bed in the guest bedroom, broken in body but not in spirit, he’d captured her with his sensual stare, his golden eyes taking in her every move.
Did he even remember her from that day?
Wheeling his chair to their table, he flashed his devilish smile at Elise, who cooed like a rutting wildebeest. Stifling a growl, Caryn waved the waitress over and ordered another drink, though she hadn’t a clue why she bothered. There wasn’t enough alcohol in the entire club to help her cope with a preening alpha male lion on the prowl.
Fix must have said something flirty to the arriving waitress, because the woman smiled broadly, her hand lingering over his as she set his beer on the table.
Clenching her teeth, Caryn twisted a cocktail napkin between her fingers. No, she was nothing special to Fix Ainran. Just another victim of his charms.