If pride goeth before a fall, what does bitter and nasty get you? If you’re Romeo Gatti, you end up a lonely recluse with no friends and no love life to speak of. He might be part of the Wildcat Hills Pride, but with his prickly personality, he’s not going to be a candidate for pride mate of the month anytime soon. A nasty break-up has hardened his heart and also his resolve to never be hurt again. That is, until Jules Armitage breezes into Wildcat Hills.
Politics might be the art of the possible, but diplomacy can be a balancing act, even at the best of times. Which these aren’t. As ambassador, Jules finds himself walking a dangerous tightrope. One misstep can spell disaster. When he finds himself tossed off pride lands by Alpha Xander himself, Jules has no choice but to leave his unclaimed mate behind, to both their chagrins.
Behind the smoke and mirrors lies truth. But will Jules ever get the chance to tell Romeo the reality of his situation, and will the other man even be willing to listen? Sometimes honesty can get you killed, if it falls into the wrong hands… Politics might be the art of the possible, but diplomacy can be a balancing act, even at the best of times. Which these aren’t. As ambassador, Jules finds himself walking a dangerous tightrope. One misstep can spell disaster. When he finds himself tossed off pride lands by Alpha Xander himself, Jules has no choice but to leave his unclaimed mate behind, to both their chagrins.
Behind the smoke and mirrors lies truth. But will Jules ever get the chance to tell Romeo the reality of his situation, and will the other man even be willing to listen? Sometimes honesty can get you killed, if it falls into the wrong hands…
“It’s time for you to leave my pride. You’ve worn out your welcome. Gather your stuff.”
Romeo forced his face into a mask of bored indifference as he leaned casually against a cluttered bookshelf in Malcolm’s living room. He was glad he’d always been able to hide his true feelings when he saw Jules flinch at Xander’s harsh words. Romeo refused to feel bad for the slender wren shifter who looked as though he’d fallen out of the glossy pages of a GQ magazine.
Jules Armitage was Romeo’s mate. That didn’t mean shit, though. There would never be a happily ever after for them. No words of love. No claiming. Nothing.
Because not only was Jules a traitor to his own race and a spy sent by the Council to dig up dirt on Alpha Xander, but Jules had also never made a secret of his dislike for Romeo. Oh, and Romeo was sure something had happened between Jules and Malcolm.
“Alpha—” Jules stopped when Xander held up his hand.
“Come by my office as soon as you’re done.”
Malcolm grunted. “Means I don’t have to babysit him any longer. Good.”
Romeo wasn’t fooled. Of course, Malcolm would mourn his loss. There wasn’t a twink in a twenty-mile radius who Malcolm hadn’t lured into his bed. Romeo was sure Malcolm had made his move as soon as Jules stepped foot onto pride lands. Not that he knew for sure or could even find out. Romeo wasn’t on speaking terms with either his mate or his ex.
“You’ll watch him pack, Ro,” Xander said in his usual, commanding manner.
Romeo pointed at his chest, eyes wide. “Why me?”
Jules glared daggers at him. “Don’t bother. Go and play with Malcolm. I bet you’re glad I’ll be gone soon.”
Xander snarled. “Quit the jealous bitching. All three of you.”
Turning on his heel, Jules stormed up the stairs. A door banged upstairs. Then they heard Jules stomp across the floor.
“For a tiny bird, he’s got one hell of a heavy foot. And a temper.” Malcolm smirked, waggling his eyebrows.
Romeo contemplated shifting so he could scratch out the enforcer’s eyes. He didn’t want to know how Malcolm knew about Jules’ temper. “Whatever. I’ll check that he doesn’t steal something.” With some luck, he’d get through this without strangling Jules. He followed the wren shifter’s path up the stairs and entered the guestroom. As soon as he’d closed the door behind him, Romeo found himself with an armful of twink.
They fell against the wall with a thud. Romeo had never been interested in men of his own stature, so Jules clinging to him felt odd. He liked big, beefy, muscled guys.
Like Malcolm, the cheating fucker.
But no, Romeo had to get a mate who was slight.
“Jules,” he said, his voice ringing with annoyed impatience. After a moment, Romeo lost the battle against Jules’ alluring scent. He wrapped his arms around Jules and hid his face against his neck.
Jules smelled good. Too good. Romeo’s damn ocelot purred because Jules’ scent reminded him of the electricity-laden, heavy air right before a storm.
What the hell am I doing? Cuddling with the enemy?
“What are you doing? I thought you despised me?” Romeo felt Jules shudder in his arms, and closed his eyes. Their mating was doomed. What the fuck had fate been thinking? Jules was somehow tangled in the shit happening at the Council, or Xander wouldn’t be tossing him out. If Xander didn’t trust Jules, Romeo wouldn’t trust his mate either. As an ambassador, of course Jules had to know about the Council’s inner workings. Romeo found it hard to believe Jules had never had doubts about their work ethics.
“I’m so sorry,” Jules whispered and held him tighter. His grip was a tad uncomfortable, even with Romeo’s shifter strength.
“What for?” Sleeping with my ex? Leaving me? Betraying us?
“I don’t despise you. This is so complicated.” He licked his lips, shooting him a look from underneath ridiculously long lashes. “We can’t bond before I leave.”
“That’s no surprise. But I wouldn’t want to bond with you anyway.” Romeo placed one hand on Jules’ chest and pushed, trying to free himself. He heard Jules swallow thickly. “You’ve been hostile since we first met. And I can see the way Malcolm looks at you.” He crossed his arms over his chest. “The jealous fit downstairs was proof enough he means more to you than I do.”
Jules rolled his eyes. “God damn. Be serious for one fucking second. When we met, I thought you were still in love with Malcolm. I lashed out, and I was mad at you. Then I was even madder because you implied I’d have sex with the guy.”
“Are you trying to tell me this is all a big misunderstanding?” When Jules nodded, Romeo pressed his lips into a firm line. “Fine. Tell me why you don’t want me as your mate.”
“I can’t risk it.”
Although Jules looked honestly sorry, Romeo knew his mate was hiding something from him.
Jules hung his head. “I… It’s… You’ve heard Xander. I’m no longer welcome here. I need to return to the Council before my superiors grow suspicious. If I return bonded to a cat…” He grimaced. “They’ll scent you right away.”
Romeo frowned. He didn’t know why those words hurt so much. He’d all but given up on their mating days ago. “Of course your birdy friends wouldn’t appreciate you bonding with the enemy.”
Jules gasped. His gray eyes were round and wet.
“Quit with the fake tears. You’re a spy for the Council,” Romeo snapped. “Do us both a favor and tell it like it is. You didn’t just keep me at arm’s length because of Malcolm.”