Zhaul had just wanted a night of fun…away from the responsibilities of his panda sleuth. Accepting the offer of a back-room hook-up from the wrong person landed him in a cage as a science experiment. Upon being rescued, Zhaul is devastated to learn that no one in his sleuth had even reported him missing. Meeting his mate lifts his spirits. Learning that the black bear shifter has been be-spelled by witches, Zhaul thinks perhaps Fate is laughing at him. The alpha of the shifter gang who’d rescued him as well as his mate—Kontra and Tim—assure him that there is a way to break the spell, and they’ll do everything in their power to help him find it. Then he discovers a way to connect with his mate—climbing trees. Can Zhaul discover how to build on that before those who’d held him captive come calling?
“I’m sorry.” Zhaul scowled at Tim, the alpha-mate of the shifter gang that had rescued him. Disbelief flooded him. “What did you just say?”
“Your mate is in the next room.”
Yup, that’s what I thought he’d said.
Rubbing one palm over his jeans-clad thigh, Zhaul used his other to scrub his short, neatly trimmed beard. It had felt so good to be able to shave. The asshole scientists who’d trapped him in animal form hadn’t allowed him any human decency.
And all because I wanted a fun night away from my sleuth.
Pushing those thoughts out of his mind, Zhaul nibbled his bottom lip for a moment, trying to make proper sense of Tim’s words. “But only I can recognize my mate,” he began slowly, parsing out what confused him the most. Meeting the male’s compassion-filled hazel eyes, Zhaul asked, “How could you possibly know my mate is in the next room?”
“I had a vision,” Tim answered simply. He glanced over his shoulder at Kontra—a massive grizzly shifter and the leader of the gang—and gave his man a tight smile before returning his attention to Zhaul. “But I don’t know which one in there is your mate, so you’ll have to let us know.” After another second of hesitation, Tim added, “And it’ll be interesting to see how he reacts.”
Zhaul felt more confused than ever. His mind reeled with the information dump Tim and Kontra had laid on him that day. He wasn’t entirely certain that, after everything that had happened, he was ready to meet his mate.
Except, finding my mate is a gift, no matter the rotten timing.
Besides, maybe this is Fate’s way of apologizing for giving me a shit family.
As much as Zhaul didn’t want to think about it, he couldn’t get everything to stop swirling through his head. He’d lain in that cage for almost six months—he’d learned that once he’d been rescued—thinking about what he could have possibly missed about the man who he’d followed into the alley for a quickie. Zhaul didn’t know what he’d done to give away the fact that he was a shifter or how the twink even knew about shifters, to begin with.
Zhaul supposed it didn’t matter. He’d been hit with a tranq dart before the door had even finished closing behind him. The twink had sneered at Zhaul as he’d fallen, calling him a freak. Then the blond had backed up and watched with a smug look on his face as men in black shirts and camo pants had carried him off. Zhaul had woken in animal form in a cage, and he’d been there until Kontra and his men had rescued him.
And now I know I wasn’t even reported missing by my sleuth. Bastards.
While Zhaul had known his family had been disappointed in him when he’d come out as gay, never would he have thought they would just ignore the fact that he was gone. Well, to be fair, he supposed he wouldn’t put it past his father and alpha. His mother and older brother, however, surely they would have gone around them to notify…someone?
Should I try to find them? Or leave it lie?
Yuma’s gentle voice murmuring his name pulled Zhaul out of his thoughts. He turned to stare at the little penguin shifter sitting on the bed beside him. The pretty man peered at him with worry in his big brown eyes.
Swallowing hard, Zhaul asked, “Why are you curious about how my mate reacts?” He would worry about family shit later—if at all. A thought flickered through his mind. “Has he already acted homophobic?”
Kontra’s entire gang—over two dozen men—was comprised of a bunch of mated gay couples. If one of the bear shifters in the next room had already expressed a bigoted opinion, then Zhaul hoped that man didn’t end up being his mate. Plus, why would they be in the house if they did have a problem with homosexuals?
Unless they’re rescued shifters like me…
Currently, the gang had set up their home base in the home of Olson Caynar. He’d volunteered the use of his home, and since it was deep in the bayou and easily defendable, Kontra had taken him up on his offer. Besides, it gave the guys something to do—fixing up the old place—while some of them strategized on how to infiltrate and take out other facilities. It also gave those rescued a chance to recover.
For a short while, Olson had been a guard at the facility where Zhaul had been held. The human had quit after seeing one-too-many questionable things. Zhaul had heard that Olson felt guilty for not reporting the place to the authorities, but Zhaul didn’t think that would have helped, anyway.
Since joining Kontra’s people, Zhaul had learned how the facilities were supposed to be a secret—an extension of a government conspiracy.
“No, they don’t say anything at all, actually,” Kontra told him, rubbing his fingers along the edge of his goatee. “There’s six of them in there. They’re in bear form, and they were be-spelled by a circle of witches.” Scowling, Kontra shook his head. “What is it with some people?”
“Power can corrupt,” Tim commented softly. Peering over his shoulder at Kontra, he murmured, “Not everyone can be as awesome as you, my mate.”
Kontra scoffed, his lips twitching. “Not awesome, but thanks, babe.”
Tim returned his focus to Zhaul and stage whispered, “He really is awesome.” As Kontra snorted while pinning a fond look Tim’s way, his mate continued, “Anyway, are you ready to go meet these guys? My vision showed a bear shifting, then you being held by a good-looking brown-skinned guy with a beard.” Rising to his feet, Tim shrugged. “I just can’t tell which bear it is, so let us know.”