Book 2 in the Fae Touched Series
For love or duty…
Wolf shifter James Reed’s orders from the vampire prince are fairly simple. He’s to infiltrate a group of magical outcasts and stop them from igniting war between humans and the Fae Touched. What he has to do in order to complete his task and protect his family …well, that’s anything but simple…
Sarah Reed doesn’t believe for a second that her mate turned on their pack and deserted her…no matter how guilty he looks. There must be an explanation for his behavior, and she’s not going to rest until she finds it—and him. Even if it kills her.
With time running out and deadly enemies circling, only one thing is certain. If James and Sarah want their fairy tale, happily ever after, they’ll have to fight for it. And if they’re not careful they could lose the most important thing of all…each other.
Book 2 in the Fae Touched Series
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“I won’t do it.”
“It wasn’t a request, Mr. Reed.”
Wolf shifter James Reed turned from the Dádhe prince and strode to the chapel’s wall of floor-to-ceiling windows. He propped his shoulder on the engraved wooden frame and watched the sun begin its ascent over the streets of Mud Island’s Queenstown. James smiled without humor as the morning light spread across the cobblestones and chased away the dark shadows, guaranteeing the ESC’s vampire heir would have a painful trek home.
The pre-dawn, clandestine meeting was arranged without informing James of the reasons beforehand, and what had been revealed so far didn’t jell with the enormous sacrifice Prince Myles Handley was asking him to make.
“You don’t need my help unearthing a few witches who are in bed with the knights,” James said, grinding his teeth to keep them from lengthening. He was holding onto his human form by a thin thread.
The Knights of Humanity, or the KoH, was an influential human-run organization with a radical agenda to repeal the Fae Accord. Abolishment of the almost ninety-year-old treaty between the Fae Touched community of magic-users and their human neighbors would threaten the sovereignty of all nonhumans in the US, and could ultimately lead to war.
“If incendiary magic was used in the latest rash of off-island vandalism against Fae Touched owned businesses as we suspect,” James continued, “the traitorous Anwyll will be found and brought to the queen’s justice.” The swift punishments were far harsher than any carried out in a human court of law.
“Disloyal witches might not be all we have to worry about.” Prince Myles crossed over to James with his hands buried deep inside the pockets of crisply pressed trousers. The vampire didn’t flinch as the first diffused rays of daylight streaked across his face. “It appears the rumors that shifter outcasts have taken up with the knights to disrupt the peace between the two species are more than rumors. If true, we have to find out how these males are remaining sane without a Clan’s binding.”
“It’s not possible,” James said. An exiled Ferwyn wouldn’t be able to function long without an intact bond with an Alpha. He’d turn feral within twelve months of breaking ties with his shifter pack.
“Which is why your cooperation is vital. I need you to infiltrate the rebel Ferwyns. Discover whether another monarch has sent an Alpha across our borders to control these Clanless shifters and why they’ve chosen to join the enemy. Or if it turns out an outcast from our region is right-minded enough to hold together a surrogate pack…dispose of him.”
“When Noah was whelped, I promised Sarah that I was done with undercover work.”
“You can’t tell your mate or Commander Walker about this assignment. No one can know.”
James grabbed the lapels of the Dádhe’s suit and got up in Prince Myles’ impassive face. “You want my truemate to think I left her willingly? Lie to my Alpha?”
“It’s necessary for the success of the mission.” His voice was calm, his body lax. “Commander Walker would never approve the abandonment of his sister. Even though there is no one better suited for this job than you.”
“It won’t work.” James shook his head, unable to hold in a growl. “Sarah and the pack will never believe it. None of my teammates on the Guard will either.”
“Be convincing,” Prince Myles said, his incisors remained hidden, his scent unworried. “I’m counting on you being persuasive enough to cast doubt on your loyalty. Your apparent defection will do the rest.”
“No.” He lost the battle for control, claws emerging and tearing the expensive fabric of the vampire’s jacket. “I won’t let Sarah think I’ve deserted her.”
“Can Mrs. Reed convincingly fake the despair of a truemate’s betrayal?”
“No female could,” James snarled, gums swelling and canines aching for release.
“Exactly, and as I said earlier, this isn’t a request.” Prince Myles’ piercing green gaze met James’ glowing wolf-yellow without fear or sympathy. “A strong alpha male can survive a prolonged separation from his Ca’anam.”
“But our claimed females cannot. Mentally or physically. Her body will start deteriorating in a matter of weeks. And if I’m captured or forcibly kept away from Sarah too long…” He lifted the prince onto his toes, a low growl vibrating in his chest. “She. Could. Die.”
“Then don’t get caught,” he said, hands finally leaving his pockets to wrap around James’ wrists like cold, steel bands.
“How do you expect me to pull this off?” Was he going to do this? Did he have a choice?
“It shouldn’t be hard to fake that you’re tired of the ongoing harassment of our people by the humans and upset Commander Walker has not pressed the issue with the vampire queen.”
“Samuel won’t be fooled easily.” James pried his nails free, releasing the prince’s suitcoat.
Prince Myles straightened his tie, tugged at the cuffs of his dress shirt, and calmly said, “Challenge him for the position of Alpha in Memphis. That should be sufficient proof.”
“Fuck you,” James replied, teeth gritted.
“Remember to whom you are speaking, wolf.”
“Fuck you…milord.” The scent of damp earth and a hint of lengthened incisors warned James he was pushing the prince’s patience. He didn’t give a shit. “And I’m speaking to someone who wants my child to believe his father is a traitor.”
“Noah’s reached his majority. He’s hardly a pup.”
“Desert my pack.”
“Defy my Alpha and betray my queen.”
“They’ll be told the truth.” Prince Myles waved his manicured fingers. “Eventually.”
“Abandon my Ca’anam.” James’ voice broke. “Knowingly cause Sarah pain.”
“She’ll forgive you.” The vampire’s popped his jacket’s collar to cover the bare skin on his nape before slipping on mirrored aviators and turning to leave the small vestibule.
James opened the mating bond; the connection with Sarah strummed with peace and contentment. The pull of their tie told him she was west of the chapel. Still asleep in their bed. He’d left a note, explaining he had to run an errand for the Guard. The first of many lies to come if he accepted the assignment.
He couldn’t do it. Couldn’t hurt Sarah.
“Milord, I can’t…”
“Mr. Reed,” Prince Myles interrupted without turning around. He opened the exit door, and sunlight spilled into the room, washing over the Dádhe’s exposed skin. “I wouldn’t ask for this sacrifice if it wasn’t necessary. My gut tells me the freedom of our people…your family…could be at stake if we do nothing.”
The vampire dug his hands into his pockets again and stepped into the blazing sunshine.
James stared at the closed door, clutching the pew so tightly the wood creaked. “Your gut better be right.”
Sarah Walker Reed’s mate looked the same. His athletic build, long legs, well-defined arms, and trim waistline were unaltered since the day they met. The subtle creases fanning out from the corners of his light brown eyes were unchanged, the tiny laugh lines enhancing his devastating attractiveness. His jaw-length, dark blond hair remained stubbornly silver-free as did the sexy scruff on his chin; the short bristles pleasantly abraded her skin whenever he kissed her throat. The soft-spoken voice, so unusual for a dominant Ferwyn male in his prime, was identical, the quiet timbre never failing to send shivers up Sarah’s spine whenever he whispered in her ear.
But James wasn’t the same. Not even close.
“Wait!” She flew down the steps of the front porch. “James, please wait.”
Her truemate’s back stiffened, but he halted. He turned to face her, car keys dangling from his fingertips. “I’m in a hurry.”
“You’re always in a hurry lately,” she said, crossing her arms underneath her small breasts and taking a deep calming breath. In the past few days, James had taken to leaving the house before Sarah awoke and wasn’t home until she was already in bed. “Are you ever going to tell me what’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong.” His jaw clenched. He wouldn’t meet her eyes.
“Then why are you shutting me out?” Sarah reached for the mating bond and slammed against an impenetrable wall that didn’t do bodily harm, but thoroughly pulverized her emotions. Standing mere feet from James—her Ca’anam—and she couldn’t feel him.
A pack Alpha was the only Ferwyn with the ability to give and receive the emotions of other clanmates—with the exception of the private bond that existed between a truemated male and his chosen.
At first, Sarah thought James was blocking the link to spare her worrying over troubling issues at work; all shifter males were unwilling to cause pain to a mate, no matter how small the discomfort. And as a member of the Guard, their species’ version of law enforcement, James was exposed more than most Fae Touched to the uglier side of human and nonhuman nature.
He’d obstructed their bond in the past, usually after sustaining an injury of some kind. But the bond had been stifled on and off for two weeks now, the open periods growing shorter each day. Sarah had foolishly let it go, assuming whatever was upsetting James would eventually pass. It hadn’t.
James was the typical male alpha of their species: dominant outside and inside the bedroom. And Sarah loved it. Sex had always been intense between them. Wonderfully intense. But lately, her mate’s need held a frantic note. Words of devotion spoken while deep inside her harbored an almost desperate quality. He’d taken her again that morning with a tenderness and reverence scaring her more than the recent frenzied lovemaking ever had. It smacked of…goodbye.
If they were a human couple, Sarah would suspect an affair. Thank God it wasn’t possible with truemates. That kind of betrayal would kill her faster than if he used a knife to carve out her heart.
“Have I done something to make you angry with me?” she asked, eyes stinging with unshed tears. They couldn’t go on like this. It wasn’t right. Truemates grew closer the longer they were together. Not farther apart.
James’ gaze lowered to meet hers, and then Sarah was in his arms, smashed against his chest.
“No, baby,” he murmured into the top of her head, chin rolling her scent into his rough stubble.
“I’m not mad at you. Never at you.”
“I know you’re unhappy with my brother and Lady Rose.” She didn’t understand why James was suddenly discontent with the vampire queen and angry with Samuel’s refusal to challenge her rule. The hatred for the region’s Dádhe monarchy had seemed to come out of the blue. “Even if we don’t always agree, I’ll stand by you. You don’t have to cut me off to protect me.”
“He’s family and our pack Alpha, Sarah. I don’t want you in the middle of this.”
She drew back, all at once angry enough to spit. “How can I be anywhere else? My mate and my brother are at odds. I love you both, but as my Ca’anam, you hold my loyalty. First. Last. And always.”
James pulled her into his body, tucking her head underneath his jaw. “But you shouldn’t have to choose. I’m trying to spare you.”
Sarah felt his Adam’s apple move as he swallowed hard. His grip tightened around her shoulders.
“You know I love you. Love you more than anything in this world?” James asked with regret in his voice.
The scent of sorrow hit her nose for an instant before he broke the embrace and set her from him. He turned and unlocked the car.
She grabbed his t-shirt, fisting the black fabric with both hands. “Please, please tell me what’s wrong. You’re scaring me.”
“I’ve told you what’s wrong. I don’t want you involved in the region’s politics. That’s all.” James kept his face averted and opened the vehicle’s door with her still hanging onto his tee.
“I’m strong, James. I can take anything but you pulling away from me. I feel like I’m losing you a piece every day.”
His hand on the car’s roof clenched. “I have to get to work. We can talk about this later.”
“When? You’ve been avoiding me and this discussion for days.” She dropped her hands, pressing them into her aching stomach. “The increasing tension between humans and the Fae Touched concerns me as much as they do you.”
“Tonight. We’ll talk about it tonight,” he said, sliding behind the wheel. The door slammed shut, and he reversed down the narrow driveway.
Sarah watched him go. Tears spilled down her face as the camphor scent of a lie wafted faintly in the air.
by Lisa Rae Roman
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