Out of the Cage: Meeting his mate in the most unlikely of places, a wolf must figure out how to win the loyalty of his polar bear.
Beta Dixon Holsteen is more than ready to leave behind Savannah, Georgia and the problems facing the Shifter Council. He misses the beauty of his mountain home and the bonds he’s forming in his pack. After returning to the council’s headquarters for one last meeting, Dixon stops at the cafeteria to get a bite to eat before heading to the airport. To his surprise, he scents his mate in a big polar bear shifter bussing tables. He learns Helsinki Akna had been picked up while in the company of a rogue ex-councilman. Speaking with the big, shy man, Dixon realizes quickly that it wouldn’t take much for someone to manipulate the soft-spoken bear. His mate is a bit…dim. Still, Dixon knows that finding a fated mate is a gift, and he wants him. When Dixon makes his intentions known, Helsinki is confused, being under the belief that Fate doesn’t create same-sex matings. Some of those who Helsinki associates with reinforce that opinion. Can Dixon convince Helsinki they truly are meant for each other while extricating him from the unhealthy influences he’s been under for years?
Rubbing the bridge of his nose, Beta Dixon Holsteen did his best to pay attention. He would rather have been anywhere but at the ex-councilmen’s trials. For expediency, both ex-councilman Paraben Krakow and ex-councilman Sasha Delaney were being tried at the same time. Along with them were some of their top leaders—well, the ones who hadn’t died in the fighting, anyway.
“This is a farce!”
Dixon couldn’t help it. Upon hearing Paraben’s outburst, he rolled his eyes. The wolf shifter would never accept any opinion but his own.
“I am a councilman,” Paraben claimed, standing tall behind the podium despite the chains around his wrists and ankles. “My actions are above reproach, and you are the ones deserving punishment for attempting to stop me from strengthening our people.”
“For the love of the gods,” Councilman Nigel Granis grumbled. “Shut the fuck up, Krakow. No one gave you permission to speak.”
Paraben pinned a hate-filled stare on the Siberian tiger shifter.
Nigel ignored him in favor of glancing at the other six councilmen—each of a different shifter species, some predator and some prey. “Are we ready to call a vote?”
“We are,” Councilman Regales Colearian, a grizzly shifter, stated gruffly, his honey-brown eyes holding a steely gleam. “Thumbs down for death. Thumbs up for leniency.” Then Regales lifted his own hand and pointed down.
In swift, steady succession, each councilman lifted a hand and made a thumbs down motion. The final councilman, Georgio Peregrine—an elk shifter who had supported Paraben’s views in the past—slowly lifted his hand. His expression turned pained.
“I am sorry, Paraben,” Georgio murmured, his voice holding a wealth of sorrow. “I believed in your views for years, but”—he pointed his thumb toward the floor—“I have learned over the last couple of years that our views are antiquated.” Then his features hardened. “And I could never support someone selling our kind to humans to be tortured, gay or not.”
While Sasha’s already fair features paled even more, leaving him a pasty shade, and a shudder racked through the coyote shifter, Paraben snarled and lunged toward Georgio. The chains stalled him for only a brief second, snapping with a resounding crack. Paraben began to shift, murder gleaming in his green eyes.
Dixon jumped from his seat.
Before Dixon could even begin to shift, a heavily muscled blond who’d been standing at the wall moved even faster. He jumped at the shifting Paraben. In mid-air, he changed into a massive komodo dragon.
The dragon landed on top of the still-morphing Paraben. In a swift move, he wrapped his jaws around the almost-wolf and jerked his head. With a resounding snap and a sickening squelch, the komodo snapped Paraben’s neck while tearing out his throat.
Georgio trembled even as he sat back down, having risen at some point, probably intending to flee, considering the panicked scent rolling off the elk shifter.
“Thank you, Enforcer Delanrue,” Councilman Lorian Bakerman, a buffalo shifter, stated gruffly. His dark brown eyes narrowed as he pinned his gaze on a clearly sweating Sasha. “Are you going to fight, Sasha? Or accept your fate with dignity?”
Sasha’s nostrils flared as he straightened. His eyes narrowed even as the acrid scent of his fear filled the large room. After swallowing hard enough to cause his Adam’s apple to bob, Sasha took a step forward.
“Your changing values are like quicksand that will suck the shifter race under, making us vulnerable to the humans,” Sasha stated coldly, spitting the last word out like a curse and pinning his spiteful gaze on Theo, the human mate of Councilman Regales Colearian. “Paraben may have discovered a way to hide his lies, but the humans have the same ability.” Scoffing, Sasha sneered. “Somehow, that human has tricked you into thinking he’s your fated mate. Best discover the means of this ability, or it will be the downfall of our race.” Then Sasha spat on the floor in Theo’s direction. “May Fate make you rue the day you discarded our guidance.”
Regales curled his lip in a snarl, his big hands tightening on the arms of his chair.
Dixon guessed only Theo’s hand on Regales’s shoulder kept the councilman from rising.
In a droll voice, Councilman Aiden Ridgeston commented in his British accent, “We’ll be sure to take that under advisement.” Then the deer shifter focused on the komodo dragon enforcer. “If you would carry out the sentence, Enforcer Delanrue.”
Without a second of hesitation, Enforcer Delanrue advanced on Sasha. The other shifter’s eyes widened with fear, and he took a step backward. The enforcer didn’t give the ex-councilman time to take another.
Enforcer Delanrue pounced on Sasha, taking him to the black marble floor of the sentencing room. The dragon sank his teeth into the other shifter’s throat and tore it out with ease, swiftly ending Sasha’s life. After Delanrue spat the flesh out, he moved toward the wall where his stoic-faced brothers waited.
While Dixon hadn’t been introduced to everyone in the trio, he’d heard the stories. The three Drudeson brothers were all komodo dragon shifters, all enforcers, and were damn loyal to the council. Each differed in small ways.
Enforcer Delanrue was the oldest and the most serious. He worked as a council interrogator, and he had no qualms about using questionable and brutal methods to get the answers he wanted from someone. Everyone who spoke of him scented just a little of fear when they talked about his abilities.
The middle brother—Enforcer Dane—was good friends with Councilman Regales. He worked as a personal guard to the grizzly shifter whenever he was in the council building. His disposition came across as intense but not as intimidating. Dixon had spoken to him a few times and found his confidence attractive.