Book Two in the Ariel Estates saga continues with Eli Novak, Secretary of Ariel, and the human male, Shayne Matthews who turns Eli’s world upside down.
Eli Novak, lion-shifter and Secretary of Ariel Estates has never been more fulfilled. Or more torn and confused in his life. No male has ever heated his blood or crept into his dreams before. Well, except for one. But that was over long before it ever started. So he’s straight, right? He loves women. Always has. So how can this strawberry-blond human male who stumbled onto their land have him questioning everything he ever thought he knew about himself.
Shayne Matthews is lost in the Smokey Mountains when a light in the distance leads the way to what he thinks could be a potential rescue. But it’s a decision that ends up landing him in a cell. Inside a world he never knew existed, fear turns to lust and a whirlwind of an adventure that puts him in the middle of a battle for dominance and power.
When the thirst for blood at Ariel Estates rears its ugly head once more, Eli is forced into a triangle of options where there is no right move. He must choose between his best friend, the human who’s claimed his heart, and what is in the Pride’s best interest.
For the hundredth time, Shayne Matthews stared at the cracked face of the compass in his palm. Frustrated, he shoved it back in his pocket. Why the hell he even kept the thing anymore was a complete mystery. Did he think it was somehow going to miraculously be repaired the next time he pulled it out?
Peeking up through the canopy of pine and maple branches, Shayne watched as the Great Smokey Mountain sky went from blue to streaks of crimson with the setting sun. He shrugged off his backpack and dropped it onto the soft earth. Fatigue had set in, and his back still ached from the fall he’d taken down an embankment two days ago—the somersault that had broken his compass. Shayne pivoted, performing another quick survey of the area. His fingers curled into a tight fist.
Still lost as a motherfucker.
He’d hiked in this general area a few times when he was a kid and was royally pissed that he’d allowed himself to get disoriented.
After unrolling his sleeping bag, Shayne settled down on the insulated surface and pulled out the last baggie of trail mix along with his final piece of beef jerky for dinner. Come morning, he was going to have to find his way to a road and get back on track. The situation was getting serious. He was out of food. Shayne took a sip from his thermos, and shook the canister. He was about two swallows away from depleting his water supply, too. Damn. Things just kept getting better and better.
An hour later, darkness settled around him like a cool fog. He turned onto his side and pulled the edges of the sleeping bag over his shoulder, willing himself to shut down his mind and allow sleep to carry him away. A gust of wind rustled the leaves on the trees, and a light flickered in the distance. He blinked and pushed up onto his elbow. That did not look a star. It was too bright and the color all wrong. Again the wind kicked up, lifting the hair from his forehead and blowing it back. There. The yellowish glow of what looked like a streetlight shone through the trees like a beacon.
Shit. With the forest so dense, Shayne hadn’t realized he was so close to civilization.
He jumped to his feet, stowed his gear back inside his backpack and set out. Traveling during the night on unfamiliar terrain wasn’t the safest thing to do, but he couldn’t be far away from whatever required that streetlight. And as much as he loved the Appalachians, he was ready to go home. Not that there was much to go home to since his mother’s death six months ago. Caring for his mom during her two-year battle with cancer had been all consuming. Shayne had put his life on hold. Yet, if he had to do it again, he would.
In a heartbeat.
Rebecca Ann Matthews had been one hell of a woman. She’d raised him as a single parent without ever once asking for a handout, and he’d never gone to bed hungry. When she’d taken her last breath, he’d been grateful it was in her sleep. She’d peacefully slipped away. Shoving the melancholy thoughts aside, he quickened his pace in the direction of—please God!—a way home.
An hour later, Shayne finally reached as close as he was going to get to his light source. It had been a longer hike then he’d anticipated to get there. Swiping the sheen of sweat from his brow, he sucked in another deep breath. Wherever the hell there was.
He stared up at what had to be close to ten feet of chain link fence, considering he was six-feet tall and the damn thing was well over his head. What the hell were they trying to keep in—or out—of the place?
Shayne peered through the metal loops. A couple of storage buildings occupied the space with their metal siding walls pressed up close to the fencing. The orange glow of the streetlight between them revealed a narrow paved road that ran up to the out buildings.
Roads meant cars.
Cars meant a way out, a trip back to where he started. Yes!
He shrugged off his backpack, allowing it to tap the chain link in the process. The metal rattled but no snap, crackle, and pop. Thank goodness for small favors; at least it wasn’t electrified.
Returning his backpack onto his shoulders, Shayne studied the top edge of the fence. No barbed wire.
This was doable.
He’d scaled more difficult cliffs—minus the simple hillside from two days ago. Not his most graceful moment. On the bright side, there were no witnesses, so he had complete deniability. Well, as long as they didn’t get a look at him naked with all the bruises he was sure lined his ass. Shayne almost laughed out loud. Like that was going to happen anytime soon. Caring for his mother over the last couple of years had been his number one priority, and as a result, his sex life became nonexistent. His dick would probably recoil if someone other than his own hand reached for it.
Shayne curled his fingers through the cool metal before hoisting himself up, becoming one with the vertical chain link. Digging the toe of his boot in, he moved upward, the fence bowing slightly with his added weight. Easy. He had this. Up and up he climbed. He reached the top in less than a minute, but it felt like forever, his biceps and quads were seizing up by the time he’d arrived. Fatigue due to his extended stay in nature had reared its ugly head, affecting his endurance.
He grunted and swung a leg over the fence followed by the rest of his body. Shayne dropped to the earth below with a humpf and crouched, assessing his immediate surroundings. Nothing moved, the area remained as quiet as before.
“So far so good,” he mumbled.
After a quick dusting off, he straightened and eased forward. His heart pounded out a jungle beat inside his head. The reality of what he was doing hadn’t escaped him. He was trespassing. All he needed was either a phone or a ride back to where he’d parked his car. He wasn’t looking for trouble. Wasn’t spying. Didn’t give a rat’s ass what was behind the fence unless it had four wheels and rolled.
His boots thumped on the black asphalt as he made his way deeper into the enclosed territory. That’s when it struck him. He was the only thing making any noise at all. The woods around him had suddenly gone quiet.
Cha-ching. The metal on metal sliding sound of a bullet chambering rang in his ear right before the cold steel of a pistol’s muzzle tapped his temple. Shayne froze mid-step.
“You’ve got about five seconds to explain what the hell you’re doing on private property,” a deep, gravelly male voice commanded beside him.
Are you fucking kidding me? Guns? He was in the middle of damn nowhere. What the hell did they have stored up here? Plutonium? Ebola?
“You think we’re playing with you, boy?” A large man dressed in all black stepped into view, the gun still pressed to the side of Shayne’s head. “Let me assure you, this is no game.” He shoved the pistol harder against Shayne’s skull and flashed a sadistic grin. Shayne blinked. Something about the guy didn’t quite look…normal. His teeth appeared almost too large for his mouth. Lips too broad.
“I-I,” Shayne began. “You see…” He licked his lips. The large guy’s eyelids narrowed, and Shayne’s peripheral vision detected movement of a second guard closing in on his other side.
Oh fuck. Me.
Shayne twisted on his heels, knocking the gun away from his temple with his forearm and the first man backward with a sidekick. Shrugging his backpack from shoulders, he whirled, slamming the pack into the next dude’s gut.
To hell with his gear.
Shayne let go and made a run for it, arms pumping, boots chewing up the pavement. His fight or flight instinct had kicked in full force, and at the moment, it screamed fly like a bat out of hell!
His gut told him those guys weren’t going to believe the only thing he’d wanted was rescue. They didn’t look like the Good Samaritan type. More like the kind who’d be happy to get you off their mountain—for good.
He hadn’t made it but a few hundred yards when something rammed him from behind. Shayne hit the road, the side of his face skidding along the rough asphalt. Fire lit up his nerve endings. Air punched from his lungs, and his vision blurred. Son of a bitch!
Before he could kick start his diaphragm back into action, Shayne was flipped over, his wrists cinched in front of him, and yanked onto his feet. Going vertical, he gasped and stared into the pissed-off face of the man who he’d kicked in the chest. The hulk-o-guard leaned in and growled, literally growled, with the whole baring his teeth, chest vibrating kind of action.
Damn. What was up with this guy?
If his face didn’t hurt so damn bad, and add the fact that he was probably about to die, Shayne would have been tempted to laugh from the absurd intensity of it all.
With one man on each side, they dragged Shayne forward. “Where are you taking me?”
“Shut up,” the one on his left snarled.
“I have a right to know what you’re planning to do to me,” Shayne snapped in return.
“You’re on our property now.” Hulk jerked his head in Shayne’s direction. “Subject to our rules. We’ll decide what you do and do not have a right to. Something you should have thought about before you opted to climb over that fence.” He turned his gaze back to their path.
“Who are you people?”
Silence. The twin muscle jocks of the night kept on target, face forward, as if they hadn’t heard the question. Bastards. His head throbbed like a mother. From the impact with the road, aftereffects from his adrenaline rush, or the frustrating assholes talking in riddles…who the hell knew? Shayne was just ready to get the hell out of there.
“Listen, I really just want to go home. I’m not trying to stick my nose in whatever business you have going on here.” He might as well have been communicating with a store mannequin for all the response he got to his pleas.
Moments later, they shoved him onto the back of a golf cart, securing him to the bench seat’s armrest with another zip tie. Shayne glanced over his shoulder as they weaved in and out of the woodlands. Soon, a large home with a massive stone front like something out of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and outdoor lighting that accented its features snagged his attention. They rolled past, but turned, heading behind the mansion. Before moving out of range, he caught sight of more homes farther down the street, smaller ones, sprinkling the block with a dose of middle class America.
A neighborhood? What kind of neighborhood needed an armed, black-ops team to guard it?