When she arrived at the castle for the engagement social, she was her human self. But before she had a chance to walk through the ballroom doors, her lioness took hold and would not let go.
She was a force to be reckoned with, strong and dominating. And now she was on the hunt.
Whatever she’d caught wind of, she liked…she wanted. Her lioness smashed against her so hard that she rocketed through her soul to take form.
Now, with her pale-gold and shimmering fur, she prowled into the ballroom.
A hush fell over the crowd there, and Cora herself shrunk inside. It was not like her to call attention to herself, but her lioness did not care.
She ignored them all as if she owned the entire lot of them and couldn’t care less that they now gawked at her. Instead, she was focused and alert.
She was looking for something…homing in on wherever that delicious smell came from.
Humans and shifters alike were present. All familiar with a shifter’s hunt, they eased away from her cautiously.
All shifters in the room would be able to sense her heat, her desire—encouraging more than a few of the braver males to shift and move near her to catch the aromatic pheromones she was sending off.
If they got too close, her lioness would lash out at them. There was only one male in the bunch she wanted, and only one that she was willing to grant access to.
It was her mate, and her lioness soul had found him. She intended to serve up a mate for Cora herself, whether she liked it or not. The thought unraveled her, causing her to tremble.
The lioness marched straight for the hosts of the party, the ones that everyone had greeted when they arrived and were now waiting to announce their nuptials.
Inside, her human cringed, trying to rein in her beast. The king and his fiancée would be there, the evening intended to celebrate their impending mating with both their packs in attendance.
What was her lioness thinking? She would never be able to show her face around here anymore—if she wasn’t completely banished from the pride lands due to her boldness.
Talk about being a party crasher!
Cora tried with every fiber of her being to put her lioness back in the cage. To put her back in the proverbial cell that she had been forced in for most of her life.
She urged, pleaded, and even tried to command her retreat so that she could return to her human form once more.
The embarrassment of it all would send her packing, would send her onto another pride’s lands, but she would risk it not to further embarrass the king and his fiancée.
But it was too late. Despite all her efforts, her lioness refused to budge. And now she had found him.
The delicious smell wafted from him like ambrosia from the gods, and even Cora’s human form found it intoxicating.
The shifter was already in his lion form, and before Cora knew what was happening, they started to circle one another. She had no idea who he was in his human form, but he was magnificent as his beast.
Though her lioness was allowing him near, she expected him to prove himself worthy. He let out a roar that echoed through the room, vibrating the glass both in the windows and on tables.
The guests were in awe of the sheer force of it, all in attendance dropping down to show their deference to the sheer power that filled the room.
All except for her lioness.
For her lioness, there was an expectation that he would be commanding, and the vibrations coursed through her body in delicious waves. But, to earn admission, he would have to dominate.
The rumble in her chest ricocheted against his commands, sending a clear message.
When he closed the space between them, she stood on her haunches and lashed out her huge paws with claws extended at him.
The strength that was unleashed as her two paws whipped out in front of her to make contact was incredible, considering how long she had been restrained within her host.
This was her warning to him. She would show no mercy, and she would draw blood if he was undeserving of her.
He strode around her, waiting for his moment to spring while staying just beyond her reach. This lion was a hunter, smart and clever.
Ready to take advantage of any weakness he saw, he swiped out a paw to test her awareness. He taunted and teased her, and her lioness loved it. It made her nearly purr at his actions, and Cora was mortified.
When she let her weight fall back to her haunches, preparing to launch at him, he took advantage of the moment.
With lightning speed, he rounded on her blind side. Those strong jaws opened, and he bolted forward to close his jaws over the excess skin around her neck.
The gentleness that he exhibited warmed Cora’s heart, but it was also demanding enough to make her beast submit.
Her lioness rotated sharply, trying to shake him off. The strength in her rose as she swiped indignant paws through the air, vexed at being caught off guard.
But the massive male was not to be thwarted. With a speed to be revered, he followed her movement for movement, before biting down harder on the nape of her neck.
The pinch of it was enough to warm her center, the sliver of pain that bolted through her erotic. He allowed his weight to pin her front half to the ground, then shifted himself around her.
That is when Cora froze inside, her heart nearly stopped in her chest.
The lion sidestepped until he was behind her, the weight of his front half still pressing heavy over Cora’s lioness and his clamped jaws restraining her to prevent either escape or retribution.
When he was directly behind her heated mound, he mounted her in front of the entire social gathering.
Inside, she could feel the very air around her rumble as her beast purred with sensual delight and pleasure.
Her lioness did not know who he was, had never seen his human face, just knew that he was hers, and she meant to have him in all his glory.
Cora was mortified at the spectacle, the humiliation of her eager and wanton lioness on display, the beastly carousal plaguing her as she allowed him access where none had before. None had ever melted her beast.
Cora herself tried to disintegrate in the heat of it all. The massive paws of the male that rode her dug into her flesh as he restricted her movements, but she did not care.
The waves of pleasure that spiraled through her from being joined to her mate were heaven, and her throat vibrated with her mewls and purrs.
Thrusting behind her, he worked at satiating that beastly hunger. The closer he got to his beastly release, the more his claws sank into that beautiful pale fur of hers.
Small rivulets of blood trickled from the wounds his claws inflicted, only intensifying the pleasure of their mating.
Though her lioness paid no heed, Cora was only slightly more aware when panel screens were brought in by servants and placed around the two joined lions as their intimacy came to a climax.
The lion bit harder into the flesh behind her neck, causing her lioness to roar with her own gratification as her heat was sated.
Moments later, he sounded off his own roar behind her as he met his own lustful needs.
There were murmurs, gasps, giggles, and mutterings that drifted to Cora as the beast behind her finally wriggled off her form.
Their joining would not bear fruit. It was symbolic of their bonded souls. This was the extent of her knowledge of what just transpired.
Cora was nothing more than an orphan, and one that was reluctantly foisted upon others to care for.
Her life had been sheltered, and she’d stayed as far from the other pride members as her adopted parents could keep her. She always felt like an embarrassment to her adopted parents—unwanted.
There was a time when she tried to help them fill the void of not being able to have children of their own, but they seemed unappreciative of her efforts—especially Anton, her adopted dad.
Truth was, there seemed to be so much loyalty and love between her parents, but no romance. It was as if they were more like friends who helped each other to accomplish a common goal.
Not that Cora would know what love and romance looked like, but she imagined how it might be when she met her mate. And it was anything but what she was now experiencing.
Raised an omega, she would never dream of stepping outside of her station in life to dare ask her parents any questions with regards to their relationship, let alone about mating.
Omega-borns were not meant for much but servitude, and her parents tried desperately to drill that into her from the time that she was young.
In one such lesson, Cora had been young, but the lesson was well remembered.
Her lioness had been pacing that morning and seemed rather restless. After checking to make sure that no one was home, and that she was out of prying neighbors’ eyes, she allowed her lioness to push forward.
The beast ran wild through the forest that had edged their property, and Cora loved the feel of the freedom of it.
Time lapsed from minutes to hours before Cora finally pushed her lioness to head for home. Before she made it out of the clearing, she had shifted back to her human form and clothed herself.
When she went inside, her adopted parents were back, and her father had nearly marched a path into their wooden floors.
“Where in the hell have you been?” Her father strode over to her and snatched her by the collar of her shirt.
“Anton, put her down!” Her mother ran over to him and pulled at the sleeve of the arm that had her suspended in the air.
“No, Darcy! She is a liability. We shouldn’t have risked ourselves for her.” The shake that he gave her nearly made her teeth smash together as he shook her to and fro.
“She is a child. There is a lot she still has to learn.” The imploring look she gave him was pitiful, pleading with finer sensibilities that he may or may not have had.
“Please, Anton. I will teach her better. I promise.”
“You’re damn right you will, or there won’t be a next time.” His voice was dark, and his words struck fear in Cora’s heart.
He flung his arm through the air and sent her flying across the room. She glanced off the dining room table, knocking over the chairs on the other side of the table before crashing into the wall.
The injuries on other parts of her body were not as severe, but her body shifted midair, and she landed headfirst into the wall.
The concussion she suffered took weeks for her to shake, but the memories led her to cage her beast and refuse to allow her reign again.
Even when her lioness paced and became restless, Cora would meditate and find ways to force her into submission. Any way that would keep her beast locked away.
And now this!
Tonight, her adopted parents were to introduce her to a man that they had selected on her behalf. It was time for her to be mated, they told her.
They had met their obligation in raising her, and it was time for a man to pick up where they were happy enough to leave off. To take the burden off them and take her into his home.
This incident would surely cause them to disown her. She could almost hear the horror in their voices and the shocked look in their eyes at her audacity. But it was not hers to control.
Panting, she looked down to see her own pale hands in front of her. Her pale blonde hair hung in ringlets in front of her as they delicately danced along the floor with every trembling breath she took.
In her human form once more, she lifted her head enough to see the thick, plush robes that had been left for them within the enclosure.
Snatching one from its small peg, she prayed that her companion—her lioness’s mate—was still too sapped and wearied to notice her.
She had to leave, and she only hoped she could do so as inconspicuously as possible. Her whole form wanted nothing more than to run as far away from here as she could.
With quick movements, she stuffed her arms into the too-large robe and closed it around her to shield her whole being within its folds.
Lifting the collar up against her face, she raised it to cover everything up to her eyes. She would only need just enough to see her way out.
Sliding past the small slit in between the panels, she heard gasps and murmurs. All she could think of was to run, to get as far away from here as possible.
Though her dainty legs were not very long, she stretched them to aching as she sprinted to the double doors she had entered through.
The whole room was watching her, too stunned to do anything about her departure. She willed her legs to move faster, nearly tripping on the hem of the robe.
A voice from behind her boomed through the room, thick with a ferocious growl that commanded nothing but compliance. “Stop her!”
The order given, two guards blocked her passage as she approached the doors that would have led to her freedom. She didn’t dare turn around, afraid to see who came for her.
Her eyes looked up to the guards, pleading with them to let her through.
“Please,” she whispered frantically. “You have to let me through. I can’t… It wasn’t…”
Her sensitive ears could hear the padded footsteps closing in behind her, feeling as if they were pounding inside her head.
“Please, it was a mistake. I am so sorry. If you let me go, I will leave and never come back. I promise.”
The guards looked at her, perplexed.
Before they could form a proper response, a hand wrapped around her arm just above her elbow. It took her by surprise, and she yelped loudly as she flinched from its grasp.
Her embarrassment still prevented her from looking in the eyes of her mate, but she could smell him…could smell them.
The fear of seeing the judgment in his eyes kept her focused on the path in front of her, hoping feverishly that she might see an opportunity to make a hasty departure.
With his strong hand guiding her from behind, they passed through a set of doors and guards that led to a foyer beyond.
There, she made out a set of double doors with windows on each side that gave her a glimpse of the outdoors.
Moving her feet and body toward the front doors, she was immediately tugged back toward the man himself, clearly having made other plans for her.
The firm touch moved her to the staircase as she started to protest. “Please, you don’t understand. That was a mistake. I am so sorry. I don’t know what got into me.”
She twisted in his arms, hoping that she could impress on him how dreadful she felt about the interruption. Hoping she could make him see the necessity of releasing her.
However, when she saw him, fear and panic overwhelmed her.
He was absolutely the most gorgeous man she had ever seen. Those dark eyes pierced right through her, causing her to wonder if indeed eyes could be black in color.
His dark, thick hair was mussed and a couple of locks flopped haphazardly over his brow. Strong chin, nose, and cheeks… It all called to her.
Even the patch of tanned skin that peeked from beneath his own robe was smooth with dark, delicate curls that peppered his exposed chest.
And then there was that delicious scent that nearly had her coming undone.
But he wasn’t supposed to be here, standing on the staircase with her. He was supposed to be in attendance at the engagement party…with his fiancée.
His lips lifted into a taunting smile before he answered her. “I believe it was me that, how did you say…got into you?”
The blush crept on her suddenly as heat flooded through, her mouth gaping open. Never had she had a man speak so boldly to her, and she had no response.
That was until she remembered who he was, her manners and discipline kicking in where everything else remained frazzled.
“Oh! I am so sorry, your highness!” Her elbow still clutched in his hand, she curtsied clumsily. Without looking up, she continued her pleas. “I promise, I will leave here and never show my face again!”
Trickles of tears started down her face and she feebly tugged her arm away from him to no avail. What would her parents say about this disastrous situation? What would Anton do?
His eyes narrowed, and his mouth was close to a snarl. “Then you would doom us both.”
“I don’t know what you mean.” Her voice was weak next to his, her wide eyes unwillingly wrenched to meet his gaze at his declaration.
A troubled expression fell across his features, his nostrils slightly flared. Shaking his head, he started to steer her back up the stairs.
“Never mind, we will discuss it later. Right now, we need to get to my quarters.”
Her skin paled, and her stomach tightened. The quiver in her voice made it sound so different to her own ears.
“Your quarters?” Her breathing became ragged and labored, heat sweeping over her while she worked to control herself. “Why?”
The words stopped his ascent briefly as he turned lifted brows toward her, his mouth slightly opened. Then, as quickly as it was there, it was gone.
His eyes narrowed, and one side of his lip lifted in consternation.
“Are you familiar with what happens once our beasts have mated?”
Her head shook slightly, and her lip quivered. She bit down on her bottom lip to try to quell the tremor. He sighed, and then pulled her up the remaining set of stairs.
“Well, you are about to find out. We just need to make sure we are behind closed doors when the first rush of need comes.”
Cora attempted one more time to pull her arm from his grasp, trying to appeal to his better sense. “But, your engagement…”
His voice, smooth and stern, cut off her protests. “Is now ours. You will want to get a move on, my sweet. Your heat comes.”
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