He’s a kidnapper.

An agent of the Council.

…and her mate.

When strong-willed, courageous Nicole Demakis sacrificed herself for her friend and rode away with Aaron Katsaros, a known assassin, she had no idea how much it would change the course of her life.  Aaron, the sexy, brooding leopard, is destined to be hers, but the Council may have other plans for them.

It’s up to Nicole to show the leopard that he can change his spots and succumb to his deepest and most yearning desires.  

CHAPTER ONE

The plane’s vibrations awakened Nicole Demakis. She didn’t remember going to sleep. The last thing she remembered was getting in the car with him and driving away from the cabin outside of Logan, Utah.

Her eyes flew open and she nearly came out of her seat. They were in an airplane now! He was sitting across from her, watching intently. Flecks of gold sparkled in his brown eyes. The smell of feline filled her lungs, but her wolf remained surprisingly calm. The idea that magick had matched her with another species didn’t really bother Nicole, either. She’d wanted to find her true match, and she had. But instead of claiming her, he was taking her to her estranged grandparents where she would be given away at some ritualistic, barbaric ceremony.

Now someone else will claim me. Shit!

“How long have I been out?”

“About twenty-four hours. We are well on our way to Greece.” His voice rumbled deep in his chest, making the hairs on her neck stand on end.

Her magick rippled and sparked, reaching for him. It took every ounce of control to remain in her seat. She had to play it cool. Throwing herself at him was not playing it cool.

“Why did you drug me?”

He shrugged and looked out the small, round window to his left. “It was easier.”

“Easier?” she scoffed. Coward!

“He is our mate.” Her wolf stretched inside her mind, waking from the drug.

I know. But knocking me out still makes him a coward.

“We need him to want us, Nicole. Not hate us. He’s the only way out of this whole mess.”

That shouldn’t be too hard.

Her wolf chuckled. She wasn’t the only one who could smell his arousal and hear his heart racing. He was as good as seduced already.

To hell with it! She slid from her seat and moved the short distance between them on her knees. His eyes widened and his pupils dilated as Nicole slid her hands up his thighs and inhaled his sandalwood scent.

Attraction was not a problem. She’d been drawn to him the first time she’d seen him —the parking lot in Logan where they’d fought and he’d stolen Sarah. When they touched for the first time, the connection started to build. It was the way the magick worked. He couldn’t avoid it for long, and she had no intention of letting him.

The last thing she wanted was to mate some prick and live for centuries knowing her true mate had been just within reach, if only she’d taken a chance.

His thighs tightened beneath her fingers. Even through the thick denim of his jeans, she could feel the tension. Resistance is futile. I will make sure of it. She eased her hands closer to the growing bulge.

“No.” He snatched her hands and moved her back to her seat in one fluid movement.

What the hell?

“No?” She twirled her hair and opened her legs wider, inviting him in. It was too bad she wasn’t wearing a skirt. Jeans weren’t nearly as accessible. “You’re my mate, kitty cat, and I don’t even know your name.”

He snarled and wrapped his hand around her throat. His fingers tightened, but not enough to restrict her breathing. Their eyes met and she held his glare. If he thought he could intimidate her, he had another thing coming. Nicole Demakis didn’t take anything lying down.

“Except maybe a man,” her wolf teased.

Shut it! You’re not helping.

Magick flared around Nicole and her wolf pushed outward, reaching toward him.

“I am no kitty cat,” he firmly stated. His eyes glowed bright gold and his nostrils flared.

Pleasure ran through her senses akin to savoring a sweet piece of dark chocolate. She’d ruffled his fur. Awww … tough shit! She smiled and batted her eyelashes, knowing full well exactly what he was.

Fangs lengthened in his mouth and his claws scraped against her neck. It might have scared her if she hadn’t known how aroused he was. But now, his show of dominance just turned her on more. She didn’t mind playing rough.

“I’m a leopard, not a house cat.” His voice was deep and silky like her satin sheets at the inn. His dark hair rolled in waves nearly to his shoulders. And that olive complexion with a sexy five o’clock shadow whispered of Mediterranean descent.

She parted her lips and ran her tongue slowly across them. His eyes tracked the movement and his grip tightened around her neck. She relaxed her body, giving no resistance to his hold on her. She directed her gaze to his now semi-glowing eyes, meeting his glare with courage. Just like everything else, she would face him head on.

Right now, what she really wanted was a kiss. Growling and irritated cat be damned, she was taking one. She leaned forward and pressed her lips softly to his. He didn’t pull away, but he didn’t reciprocate either. She flicked her tongue along his lips, moistening them. He tasted so good. She pulled his bottom lip into her mouth, sucking gently, then nipping for good measure. His body had hardly moved, except to relax his grip on her throat. Well, damn.

She pushed him harder, pressing her tongue into his mouth, being careful to avoid slicing it on his still-extended fangs. A growl rumbled from his chest and he leaned forward, taking control of the kiss and pinning her firmly into her chair.

“It’s about time,” her wolf said.

I told you it wouldn’t be hard. She smiled against his mouth.

Their tongues danced together, each working to take control. Nicole didn’t back off. She was used to being in charge and had no intention of letting this feline mercenary just drop her off with Grandma and Grandpa Antipas. Not without winning him to her side of the rebellion first.

His magick hummed in tune with hers, sending sparks of pleasure traversing across her skin. It was erotic stimulation for the nervous system. Her sex throbbed, making her painfully aware she was still dressed. The panties she was wearing were soaked and the denim of her jeans rubbed across the wet lace, torturing her swollen clit. She moaned into his mouth and thrust out her chest.

Instead of more contact, he released her hand and backed away.

Son-of-a-fried-donut! What the hell?

“Hungry?” Her wolf’s snarky tone only pissed her off more.

“The only thing better than sex with the Adonis in front of me would be a nice fluffy fried donut!” she snarled, then clamped her hand over her mouth. Shit!

Her wolf’s laughter rang in the back of her mind.

She glared at the man only a few feet from her. He raised an eyebrow, but didn’t speak. She’d give her right arm to hear inside his head. What was he thinking? Considering? Would he really hand over his true mate to be hunted by other men?

“I don’t suppose you have any donuts on the flight menu, since you’ve apparently decided I’m off yours.”

He crossed his arms, apparently unimpressed with her attempt at humor.

Damn it! She sighed. This was going to be a long flight.

Kicking off her shoes, she tucked her feet beneath her and leaned back in the large, comfy captain’s chair. New tactic. If he didn’t want her, he wanted something else. Everyone in this world had a price. The trick was figuring out what it was. She was willing to pay anything to stay out of the clutches of her royal grandparents.

“What do my grandparents have over you? Why are you willing to sacrifice your sanity and happiness by abandoning your true mate?”

A sigh slipped from him and he returned to the chair across from her. “My sister.”

A pang of understanding cut its way through her heart. She knew what it was like to sacrifice for family. Hell, she’d sacrificed for a girl who wasn’t family when she’d agreed to come to the cabin and leave with him. But even though Sarah wasn’t blood, she was pack. And pack was family. Blood didn’t matter in the her pack. After what happened with her sister Samantha’s hunt, her father had joined his sister and brother in the rebellion and had broken ties with the Council.

“They have your sister? Why would my grandparents have your sister?” She’s a cat.

“All the royal families force loyalty by holding family members as collateral,” he said. “Nothing says ‘don’t screw up’ like holding an ax to the throat of a loved one.”

Her back stiffened and she tightened her grip on the armrest of her chair. So that’s his price. The Council was a little archaic in its practices, but kidnapping and extortion sounded a bit far-fetched. Though it explained why her grandparents had a cat shifter in their employ. Cats weren’t known for their loyalty to wolf families, and vice versa.

“That’s not how it works where I’m from.”

He scoffed. “Don’t tell me your royal parents didn’t have plenty of men who worked for them without question.”

“Of course they did. But their families were part of the pack. They were protected, just like the rest of us. Nobody’s life was threatened and no one was forced to stay if they wanted to leave.” Her jaw tightened and she narrowed her eyes. “My sisters and I are the only ones unable to escape this family. No matter how far we run, it’s never far enough.”

***

He winced under her bitter tone. It couldn’t be helped. It was her life for his sister’s. Allowing Nicole Antipas Demakis her freedom was a price he was unwilling to pay. He hated the Antipas family with every ounce of will he possessed. He had wanted to hate Nicole, but from the very first moment he’d seen her in that out-of-way town in the Teton Mountains, he wanted only one thing—to possess her.

Recognizing her as his true mate had buried his hatred. Now he felt only pain. Pain that he had no choice but to turn her over to her grandparents. Pain that he was causing his true mate anguish and suffering. Pain in knowing they would both suffer when she was bonded to another.

His leopard paced angrily in his mind, refusing to speak to him since taking Nicole in Utah.

“This isn’t a fight we can win.”

Her blue eyes flashed, flecks of gold glowing brightly in them. “You won’t even try.”

Her tone spoke volumes. Disbelief. Disappointment. Disgust.

I won’t sacrifice my sister’s life for my own happiness.

Silence.

You can’t punish me for this!

Still no response. The cat within continued with the cold shoulder.

“I’m sorry, Nicole. This is the way it is.”

“I can help you. Surely together we can get your sister away from my grandparents.”

Her plea pulled at his heart. If only it were that easy. He would have stolen her away from the Antipas palace decades ago. “Sasha has been cursed to remain in animal form. Only a powerful witch can undo it, and the Council keeps those with such powers under lock and key.”

“That’s why you were so interested in Kate,” she said.

“It’s rumored she’s more than just a witch.”

Her eyes widened in surprise, but she didn’t speak to confirm or deny his statement.

“Do you know what she is?” he asked, waiting, hoping she would let something slip. She’d already confirmed Kate Aribas was a member of their pack. If she was really a witch, really the legendary goddess Isis, she could be the answer to saving his sister. To saving everyone the damn royal wolves had locked away in their cages.

Nicole crossed her arms. Her lips tightened in a firm line. “She’s a friend and married to a member of our pack.”

“You already told me that,” he growled. “Is she the goddess Isis—the creator of the feline shifter races?”

Her mouth opened to speak, but she snapped it closed. Her gaze fell to the floor. She was avoiding the question. Her legs shifted beneath her and her posture became rigid in the chair again.

A yes or no wasn’t needed any longer. Her body language confirmed his suspicions. His sister’s salvation and rescue lay within reach. He only needed Nicole’s help. Which he wasn’t going to get if he allowed the hunt to proceed as planned.

***

Renata waited just across the street from the building where Melinda Demakis Mavros resided. Her husband, Marrock Mavros, was the alpha of the New York wolf pack, but everyone knew he let Melinda do whatever she wanted.

It was rare, if ever, that he was even in town. The mating had been consummated, but neither party could stand the company of the other. Marrock had no desire to run a pack and Melinda took full advantage. They struck a bargain decades ago. She got control of the New York wolf pack. Her husband got to travel the world doing whatever the hell he pleased with whomever he wished.

Marrock didn’t matter. Not right now. Melinda was the one the Council wanted gone. Renata had been watching her for weeks now. Every Thursday it was tea with friends at the café down the street. She was always surrounded by security, but it wouldn’t matter. The poison would take down everyone.

Everyone but her.

She’d taken the antidote this morning with her breakfast. A few drops in her coffee and the strong poison wouldn’t react with her nervous system at all. Without the antidote, their hearts would stop and they would die in moments as their lungs slowly released every last bit of air and then refused to draw in more.

The small vial of dark powder was warm in her palm. This was going to be the easiest, cleanest kill she’d done so far. Not that blood bothered her, but a public death was best done with some stealth to avoid attracting authorities.

A security camera watched the sidewalk from both sides. Renata tugged down the furry hood on her coat to block most of her face from view as she moved into the crosswalk with a dozen other people and crossed the street.

The flow of people moved like a current in a river—all moving together as one. She followed the current of bodies and turned left toward the oncoming wave of people. Melinda exited the building as scheduled, flanked by several inconspicuous bodyguards. They were all in plain clothes, but Renata saw the constant glances in every direction. The way they formed a box around their mistress, protecting her on all sides. Too bad it wouldn’t make any difference.

The wind was at her back. Her chance was now. There wouldn’t be a better time. Any second they would see and smell her. Then it would be all for nothing. Many would die, but not the ones she wished. Melinda was old like she was, powerful, smart. She could move fast enough to evade the poison if she knew it was coming.

Renata pulled the vial from her pocket. In that split second, her gaze met Melinda’s. Instead of surprise, she noted anger in her sister-in-law’s flashing blue eyes.

The bodyguards moved to intercept. She crushed the thin glass in her gloved hand and raised her palm. The wind did the rest. The black powder lifted into the air and flew straight at them. They blinked, but nothing happened. Melinda also continued toward her, unchanged by the poison swirling through the air. People on either side of them began coughing and collapsing on the sidewalk. A few coughs and then stillness, the poison didn’t cause its victims suffering. A near-instant death was its only gift.

Why aren’t they dying? Realization only took a few moments, but those seconds of hesitation cost her. Melinda’s bodyguards grabbed Renata’s arms. She snarled, twisting in their grasp, breaking free. Behind her were six more men, all with gazes fixed on her.

“It’s over, Renata,” Melinda’s voice called from behind her. “If I should even call you that. If you don’t come willingly, you will be forced. Even with your royal blood, you will not overpower ten men.”

She turned to face Melinda and lunged, but bodies collided with hers before she got within ten feet of the alpha female. Pavement rushed to meet her and she grimaced as her face hit the cold concrete. Four bodyguards held her down. She heaved back, throwing several off, but a needle prick in her neck was followed quickly by black spots in her vision, a wave of nausea, and loss of motor function. Fucking bitch was ready for me. No one knew where I was going …

“Get her inside before the authorities arrive.” Melinda’s voice barked out commands. Renata was aware of being picked up and moved, but she couldn’t tell where or what direction.

“Glad to see the draft worked. Is she out completely yet?” A vaguely familiar voice resonated from across the room. Renata searched her mind for the connection, but drew a blank. Whatever they had injected her with was making thinking difficult, too.

“No. She flexes her arms from time to time, testing our hold,” the guard on her right responded.

Fucker. I’ll be sure to rip out your throat first.

“Not before I rip out yours, bitch,” the familiar woman’s voice hissed in her ear.

How had she gotten across the room so quickly, and how did she know? Fuck. What was she doing here?

“Remember me, Renata?”

“Vampire bitch,” she hissed, trying to lunge, but the guards easily held her back. “How did you know?”

“You let your guard down after you bashed my head into the counter a few times. I got to see all the gory thoughts in your nasty, little brain.”

Renata roared, throwing off one of the guards. Three more rushed in to push her to the ground. “I’ll kill you this time, witch.”

Someone’s hand dug into her hair and pulled her head forward. She saw Melinda through the dark spots and curled her lip. The alpha female tugged her head up and met her gaze, hate seething from her ocean blue eyes. “I should kill you for all those innocent humans lying dead on the sidewalk outside my building. You insufferable bitch. I should kill you for murdering my brother. I should kill you just to make sure you never try again.”

“But,” Renata murmured. It was coming. Someone or something had ordered her caught instead of executed.

“But, I promised Hallie and Tess I would catch you instead.”

“Awww, that’s sweet. My girls think their mother is still inside me somewhere.” Her muscles were starting to come back to life. She just needed to keep Melinda distracted long enough.

“Open it!” Melinda snarled.

Open what? Her foggy brain tried to focus, but her vision was still blurred.

Metal creaked from across the room. One shove from Melinda sent her hurtling through the air. Her back connected with several metal bars and she groaned. Those broken ribs would hurt for a while. Or longer.

Why wasn’t her magick surging to heal her? She crawled to her knees, her fingers finding cold metal plating beneath her. Straining her eyes, she saw bars blocking her way. A cage? Fuck that! She gathered her strength and lunged at the wall, screaming in pain as her shoulder connected with the metal.

It should have moved or bent. Something!

“What have you done to me?” Her shoulder throbbed and her magick receded even further, refusing to protect or heal her body.

The smell of vampire grew less. Camila, Kate’s vampire witch friend had left the room.

“Enjoy your cage, Renata,” Melinda sneered. “You won’t be going anywhere. The Council can just forget about its little revenge-filled minion. You know they were going to kill you anyway, right?”

“I would have killed some of them first,” she snarled.

“Between the Originals and the lower Council members, you wouldn’t have done shit, Renata. You may have royal blood and magick flowing through your veins, but none of us are any match for the Originals or our elders, except maybe your daughters.”

“The Council deserves to die for what they did to me.” She sank to the floor in the center of the cage and wailed. Everything was for naught. She’d let her guard down and a filthy vampire witch had wormed her way into her mind. “I deserve my revenge.”

“Not today you don’t.” Melinda said.

Metal hinges twisted, and everyone else left the room except two of the bodyguards. She could smell their presence and hear their heartbeats. She was a prisoner trapped by her blind rage. How had she not seen this? They’d tricked her. No one had ever tricked her before.

She screamed and threw herself against the bars again. They didn’t give and her shoulder ached even more, bringing tears to her always-dry eyes. It wasn’t fair. She’d planned everything so carefully. Vengeance was her reason for existence. Why wouldn’t they just kill her?

“Because I’m still in here.” Renata’s weak voice whispered in the back of her mind.

They’ll never forgive you.

“They might.”