Home > Tarian Alpha (New Tarian Pride #1)(4)

Tarian Alpha (New Tarian Pride #1)(4)
Author: T.S. Joyce

Annamora yanked on her shirt, but Emerald just stood there on the edge of the porchlight, frozen in equal parts awe and horror.

The Alpha of the New Tarian Pride was a killer.

“Girl, you’re on your own. I have to warn everyone,” Annamora said on a shaking breath, and then she was off into the woods like a bullet.

Wait, what? Emerald turned and bolted for Annamora’s bouncing shadow, but the farther she got from the porch light of the little cabin, the worse the visibility became. She sniffed the air, but there had been a lot of shifters in these woods so everything was mixed up and confusing. This way. No…this way. Emerald skidded to a stop, huffing breath and looking left and right. “Annamora?” she whispered to no answer.

Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap! She was afraid of the dark, and now she was in these unfamiliar woods that belonged to monsters with a murderous rival Alpha, and probably his whole Pride was here to kill off everyone, and she was lost! She was the worst at survival ever.

Something rustled to her left, and she froze.

A lion roared suddenly in the distance, and with a squeak, Emerald ducked down and covered her ears. Woods. Dark woods. Woods with lions in them, just like the night Mom and Dad had fled the Tarian Pride. Just like then. Her face was throbbing with pain. Tears of anger and fear over those stupid memories were staining her cheeks and everything was wrong.

More rustling, closer, and she couldn’t hold it back anymore. All the horror of the last year hiding from the Tarian Pride, all the anger when she’d found her dad missing, all the anguish at leaving and signing her life away. the pain in her face and her heart…

She inhaled deeply and screamed.

A hand clamped over her mouth and yanked her back against a solid wall. No, not a solid wall. Nostrils flaring, she inhaled the scent of him. Cologne, man, blood. Something musky. Masculine shampoo? Or beard oil?

The blood was the biggest scent, though. It clung to the lining of her nose and made her want to gag.

“Shhhhh,” he murmured in a deep rumbling voice against her ear.

She couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t breathe! Her chest was going to explode as she panted for breath that didn’t feed her lungs. She was panicking. Trapped. And inside, her lioness sat frozen, just like she always did around dominants, and this man was the most dominant she’d ever felt.

She was going to die. Killer. He was a killer. Couldn’t breathe. She looked up to the stars, twinkling through the branches of the winter-bare trees above her.

I’m so sorry, Dad.

And then her vision collapsed inward, and everything went dark.

Chapter Three

Shit! The girl had passed out!

She’d just gone totally limp in his arms. He clung to her, holding her close to his pounding heart as he tracked the trio of Old Tarians racing through the woods a hundred yards off. They appeared and disappeared in the trees, holding flashlights, headed right for the cabin. They wouldn’t find Rose there, though, since she was crouched behind him with her hand resting on his lower back. All they would find was the carcass of the asshole who’d beat on Rose.

“Ronin,” Rose whispered, sidling around him, “look at her face.”

Ronin had great night vision, the only gift his good-for-nothing dad had ever given him through genetics. The moon cast her face in blue hues as he cradled her body like a child and looked upon the damage someone had done to her. She looked like Rose. He was going to fucking kill every male here. Blood was dried on her swollen lip, and her cheeks were still damp with tears. The left side of her face was so swollen it was hard to tell what she looked like.

What the fuck was he supposed to do with this? He’d only meant to keep her from screaming and giving their position away.

“We have to move,” Rose whispered.

He fucking knew. He’d come here with no backup, trying to steal Rose back quietly, but he’d lost it on that lion who’d hurt her and wasted too much time.

But he sat here frozen, looking at the woman in his arms, unable to move, unable to set her down gently in the snow and leave her to endure whatever this Pride had been doing to her.

Women were queens. Queens. Male lions had it all wrong. The boys weren’t important. They were weapons, but females were the intelligence. The ones who softened hard hearts and made boys salvageable.

This one had been mistreated, and he couldn’t just leave her.

She’d been crying.

“Ronin,” Rose warned.

Fuck. He was kidnapping two lionesses from the Old Tarian Pride tonight.

Without a word, he stood, hoisting the woman in his arms. Rose’s hand stayed right on his back. She didn’t see as well in the dark anymore.

He cut straight for the ravine because the Pride wouldn’t expect their escape to be the hardest route. But Ronin wasn’t scared of hard. Nothing in his life, and he meant nothing, had been easy.

And if they caught up to them, okay. He would let the snarling lion inside of him loose on this asshole Pride and see who survived. Because right now, he was in the presence of two battered women at their hands, and he was ready to steal every last one of their breaths.

If it had been only him, he would have turned back around and been a live grenade right in the heart of the Old Tarian Pride. The only thing that kept him moving forward were the tear stains on the woman’s cheeks.

Someday very soon, he would have his revenge, but not tonight.

Chapter Four

The hazy murmur of voices dragged Emerald from a deep sleep. Perhaps she was still dreaming. So many vivid images had bombarded her slumber, but she hadn’t been able to wake up. She’d had to get through them all instead. Maybe this was another one.

“…you can’t just go out on your own, Alpha…”

“Kannon, how many times have I told you, stop calling me that.”

“Doesn’t matter how much you tell us. We’re still Tarian! That’s the way we talk to an Alpha.”

No answer.

Kannon’s voice came again. “Meeting is in ten minutes, and how are you going to explain last night?”

“I don’t have to explain shit.”

“Yeah, you do. You put this all together. You want to rehab us? Well then remind us why we are backing you.”

“I brought Rose back—”

“Alone! Without anyone knowing! What would’ve happened if you got caught? If you and Rose were killed? We would have no leadership, and we would all be sitting ducks. And now you’ve brought her back here? You’re going to turn this war into a fight over females, and it takes away from everything we’re trying to accomplish.”

A terrifying snarl rattled the air around her.

Okay, this dream wasn’t that good. It was kind of scary and didn’t make any sense. Emerald squinted her eyes open. The room was blurry for a moment before she focused on a tall, lean man slamming another dark-haired man against the wall.

The man against the wall exposed his throat, but his face said he wasn’t sorry for anything he’d said. “I’m on your team, you know,” the dark-haired man, Kannon, growled. “Not all Tarians are bad.”

“Fuck!” the tall man yelled. He shoved off the other man and sat heavily into a chair on the other side of the room. Kannon left, slamming the door behind him.

Uh, this was not a dream. Where the hell was she? Scared into stillness, she watched the man run his hands down his beard and then rest his elbows on his knees. He stared at the ground, shaking his head. In a ragged whisper, he said, “What am I doing?”

The man had blond hair, longer so it curled right at his shoulders, pushed back like he’d run his hands through it over and over. He had a thick beard, a couple shades darker, and his torso was covered in tattoos. How could she tell? Because the man wasn’t wearing a shirt. A bandage was slung across his body from ribs to shoulder, and at his shoulder, there was a big blood stain, but he wasn’t favoring the injury. It was definitely the man from last night, the one that had something familiar about him. She couldn’t put her finger on it. It was something in his profile when he looked out the window. Sharp cheek bones, and his eyes were slightly slanted upward, giving him a feline look even in his human form. He wore dark jeans that were ripped at one knee, and a gold chain wallet sat in his back pocket, the gold chain clinking against the chair when he moved.

He didn’t look so dangerous right now as he rested his chin on his clasped hands and stared out the window.

He looked…vulnerable.

She released the breath she was holding as slowly as she could, but the man snapped his attention to her. And the second they locked eyes, she was stunned into stillness again.

She knew him. Oh, God, she knew him. Those eyes. Those shocked, wide eyes. Blue like the ocean. They would turn goldish-green when he Changed. She’d only seen eyes like that once, in a blond little boy who had protected her on the playground when she was a cub.

“Emerald,” he murmured, unblinking.

“Ronin?”

He stood and strode toward her. Three banging steps from his boots, and he stopped. His face was unreadable as he stared at her. He gestured to her face. “What happened?”

Her head hurt so much to move, but she sat up, using the covers as a shield for her body. She dragged her fingertips to her throbbing cheek. “I’m not healing very fast,” she said, dropping her gaze in shame.

“That’ll happen when you’re stressed. Your lioness…she’s…”

“She’s what?”

“Shut down. I can’t even feel her.”

“Me either. It’s her move. She leaves easy.” Why did she feel like crying again? She forced the words past her tightening vocal chords. “I thought you were dead.”

“Ha.” He inhaled deeply and made his way to the wall, as far away from her as he could, and leaned against it. “The council tried. Damn-near succeeded too, but I had a hero.”

“Who?”

“Damon Daye. A couple of the council members took me into the woods to kill me, but he was there. He and a grizzly shifter named Beaston. The griz said Damon didn’t even need to kill the men wanting to slit my throat. Beaston said they had a worse fate coming, and he smiled. Leon was killed in that war against Beast last year. He lived bad, and died bad. He was killed running away, and he suffered, and when I found that out, I could just see Beaston’s smile in my head. That old wily grizzly didn’t have to kill Leon, didn’t have to carry that death on his soul. Karma got him. That night in these woods, all those years ago, he and Damon saved me and drove me straight from Tarian territory to a Clan of tiger shifters. They plucked me from death and set me on a totally different road. One that lead me here. Those tigers turned everything around for me.”

   
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