Jess’s self-doubts have blinded her to the reality of her own beauty. She feels herself unworthy of Gedeaddon’s heart, little suspecting she has had it for many years. Jess still holds onto her guilt over the death of little Em from so long ago. How can Gedeaddon love someone who let his sister die?
Gedeaddon believes himself to be a monster, even before he became a wolf lord. He has loved and wanted Jess for years, but he’s convinced a better man will come along to claim the beautiful tigress. What will he do should that happen?
Once inside the magical realm of Zendara, all bets are off, as Jess and Gedeaddon are swept up into a new relationship, a new way of life. But unseen forces are hard at work… whether for good or for evil remains to be seen.
The elegant beast sat on her haunches and dropped the box at his feet, earning his headshake. He opened a telepathic link with her. Is everything in here, or do I need to gather up the forgotten items? Her growl sufficed. Fine. He placed the magic box inside his backpack. “And the purpose of this?”
The tigress growled. Practicing stealth.
Arravis smiled. “She’ll be naked when she changes back.”
Gedeaddon threw the mage a sideways glance. “What are you going to do if I never give back your clothes?”
The tigress nuzzled his leg. I’ll take them.
He grabbed his pack. “I’d like to see you try.”
Arravis pointed toward the portal. “Let’s go.”
She spent the next few hours attempting to tackle him, but failed. She did discover the only good thing about being in tiger form was she had the ability to land on her feet without being hurt.
The mage snickered. “She’ll never catch you, will she?”
Gedeaddon grinned. “I doubt it.”
The frustrated tigress intently stalked the mage. When her miscalculation of distance caused her leap to catch his head with her mouth, she froze as her tooth sank into his jaw. Blood tainted her tongue and she lost her balance. Her shoulder struck the ground. She slid to a stop and spun around.
Staggered by the impact, Arravis grabbed his head and dropped to his knees. “No!” He pulled back his hand. “She broke the skin.”
Gedeaddon stared. “And that means?”
“I’ve never known a gifted lord’s bite to transfer, but it definitely doesn’t feel right, and her abilities do count as natural.”
“I know what it feels like when bitten, so tell me what you feel?”
“Intense pain! I’m feverish, and my stomach is churning.”
Their conversation came rushing back. A second bite would kill you. No animal lord in the history of Zendara has ever survived such a thing, and it has been outlawed for that reason. It is a painful death, since both animal forms fight each other, and the body is destroyed in the process. What happens if I bite Bonham? You will kill him, and such a thing in Zendara is considered murder unless committed in self-defense. There is no such thing as an accident in that situation, and you would be immediately marked for death. “What have you done?”
Jess stared in terror at the shivering mage. What should I do?
Arravis grabbed his cloak. “We’re too close to the portal. If someone sees this, they’ll kill her. Get me out of sight. Now.”
Gedeaddon scooped him up and opened a telepathic link with him. You want to protect her?
The mage flinched from the pain. She didn’t know, and her bite shouldn’t have transferred.
He set him beside a tree, his gaze fixed on the trembling tiger.
Still several feet away, Jess looked from one to the other. What should I do?
Gedeaddon growled viscerally. “You’re trying to get us both killed. That—” he snapped heatedly— “is the prince of Zendara, and you had to go and commit murder.”
The tigress shook her head. He’s not dead.
“Yet.” Furious, he strode toward her. “According to him and your procreation mate, no one has ever survived a second bite.”
Arravis clutched his stomach and curled into a ball. “That hurts!”
Jess shifted back and trembled. “What do I do?”
Gedeaddon angrily jerked his cloak from his neck and slipped it around her shoulders. “You better see what you can do to make it painless for him. I’ll get out your gear, and we’ll worry about running later.” He turned his thoughts private. After I kill him and get it over with.
She pulled the cloak tighter, uneasily slipped past him, and knelt. “I’m so sorry. I swear on my honor, I will never bite again. What can I do?”
“Keep me alive,” Arravis breathed hoarsely.
Gedeaddon opened the box, pulled out her clothes, armor, and backpack, then returned the closed coffer. Drawing his sword, he sighed.
* * * *
Jess gently touched the puncture, whispered a phrase, and closed the wound. She held his face and stared deep into his eyes. Within, a huge owl and a tiger battled for dominance, the mage caught in the middle. “You will not die, Arravis. I will not let you.”
“Move aside,” Gedeaddon ordered.
She gawked at his sword. “What are you going to do?”
“End his pain.”
“You can’t! That’s murder.”
“Would you rather have a murder charge on your head, or mine?” He growled at her headshake. “No animal lord has ever survived a second bite. It’s a very painful way to die because the animals fight one another and the person is destroyed in the process. If you bite an animal lord and transfer the bite, you kill whomever you bit. It’s called murder, and you’re marked for death.”
“I can save him. I can. Please let me try.”
“And if you don’t, they’ll know he died of an animal bite.”
“I won’t fail,” Jess avowed.
Gedeaddon relented. “How much time do you need?”
“Until he lives.”
“At least get dressed.” He turned away. “I’ll hunt and set up camp.” With a last look, he strode into the forest.
She grabbed her clothes and quickly tossed aside the undergarments. “Hold on, please.”
“I’ll try.” Arravis groaned.
She dropped the cloak, donned her pants, and hurriedly did them up. The mage gave a strangled scream through clenched teeth. Dropping her shirt, she grabbed his hands. Tiger claws broke through on one of his hands, owl talons on the other. Gripping pain seared through her. Both claws and talons dug into her hands as she desperately sought to pin his arms to the ground. “Gedeaddon!” Syn!
The deity’s voice was soft. Hold him. Get in his mind and pull him through.
Gedeaddon raced back to her side and slid to a halt. He seized Arravis’s hands and pinned them on the ground, safely away from either of them. “You can’t fight them.” He met her gaze.
Jess straddled the convulsing mage’s stomach. “I can and I will.” She cupped Arravis’s face in her hands and touched her forehead to his. “Come back to me.”
One wild arm broke free, and tiger claws raked down her side.