While helping out some of his buddies, Aziel Boltson learns the creatures that go bump in the night are real. His mother’s stories are true—gargoyles, shifters, and more actually exist. The local paranormals—a gargoyle clutch—have an estate north of town. Aziel loves using the natural wildlife as an outdoor gym, lifting tree branches and swimming in the pond. Spotting the pond’s local gator going after a huge otter, Aziel moves to intervene. He ends up injured, but it’s not all bad. The otter turns into the sexiest man Aziel has ever seen—Jerome Laguna. While he’s never been with a guy, he can’t help but want this one. To Aziel’s pleasure, Jerome claims he is his mate. Unfortunately, a prophesy of Aziel’s mother’s rears its ugly head in the form of Jerome’s family attempting to hunt him down and take him back to the Amazon. Can Aziel and his friends help Jerome escape his otter family’s clutches or will the prophesy be fulfilled, forcing Aziel to lose his one true love and his future in one fell swoop?
Aziel made it to the pond without mishap. His chest heaved just a little and, walking in place, he took a second to check his heartrate. Just high enough to get a good burn.
Happiness filling him, Aziel grabbed a book from his bag and flipped it to a page he’d marked the evening before. He started a swift pace around the pond, searching the banks for the fern he wanted. It took a good ten minutes, but he finally spotted it.
Aziel crouched, placing his bag and book on the ground. He pulled out the necessary supplies to bag a sample of the fern. Just as he tucked everything back in his bag, he heard a loud splash.
His curiosity piqued, Aziel shifted left and peered around a bush. He swept his gaze over the area, wondering what could have caused such a noise. Ripples on the surface of the water caught his attention, the broken surface around thirty yards away and to his left.
Gaping, Aziel watched in awe as a massive animal swam through the water. He knew it wasn’t the alligator shifter, Tristan. The alligator was albino, and this creature was a deep brown.
Aziel watched in wonder as the creature dove under the water, resurfaced, then dove again. After a few moments of that, it flipped over to float on its back and began eating a fish it must have caught. It suddenly hit Aziel that what he watched was an otter…although it was bigger than any otter he’d ever heard of.
Was it a shifter?
To Aziel’s shock, Tristan’s alligator surfaced a few feet next to the otter and hissed. The otter squealed in obvious shock, then swam as swiftly as it could toward the closest bank. That happened to be only a few feet from where Aziel still stood.
Seeing Tristan following, Aziel crouched, then leaped, landing in the shallows between the otter and Tristan. Pain seared through his left leg as he scraped it along something sharp under the water. His leg buckled and he lost his balance, splashing face-first into the water.
* * * *
The shock of having an albino alligator appear only feet away combined with the appearance of a shouting human caused Jerome to act on instinct. He struck out with his sharp hind claws. Connecting with the thick flesh of the human’s leg caused the man to cry out and fall.
That was good. It gave him a chance to get away from the alligator. A second later, the smell of blood flooding the water filled the air. An instant after that, two things hit Jerome at once.
The albino was a shifter…and the human was his mate.
Swinging around, Jerome searched for both figures. All he saw was the churning of water. Fear speared through him, and he turned back, intending to head into the water and find the human.
Instead, up popped a pale-skinned male, water dripping off his lean torso. He swished around in the water before gripping something and pulling up a gasping, sputtering human. The pale man easily heaved what turned out to be a massive black man to a standing position, easily betraying who was the shifter and who was the human.
“Damn it all, Aziel,” the pale man grumbled, scowling at the much larger man. “What the hell? I wasn’t actually going to hurt him.” Without waiting for a response from the human—Aziel—the smaller man turned his attention to Jerome. “And you. Shift, goddammit. You can explain what you’re doing in Chieftain Maelgwn’s territory.”
Chieftain Maelgwn? What kind of shifter leader didn’t call themselves alpha? Who were these people?
Jerome began to shift even before the odd questions finished rambling through his head. It wasn’t like he had much choice. The alligator shifter had his scent now, so he would have no trouble tracking him.
Besides, if he was truly in another shifter’s territory, he needed to ask forgiveness and beg leniency.
As Jerome shifted, his muscles popping, his tendons snapping, and his limbs cracking, he heard the pale man ask, “You okay, Aziel? Where are you hurt?”
“My calf,” Aziel responded gruffly. “Cut it on something.”
“You cut it on something all right,” the alligator shifter responded snidely. “You cut it on that otter’s claws.”