He can’t help but fall for her—big feet and all.

Grumpy Zach isn’t interested in settling down. He’s a lion on a mission, with no time for a mate. As if fate cares what he wants.

An order from his king has him guarding a peculiar stowaway who might have answers to a mystery—and causes him to question his heart.

It will take all his feline skill to keep her safe as they race to locate a dangerous treasure. As they come to rely on each other, things start to heat up.

Until the unexpected tears them apart.

But Zach won’t give up without a fight, because this lion knows he’s found his mate.

Excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE

The ice cracked under Zach’s paw, and he leapt before it had a chance to collapse. He really regretted his choice to accept a mission that involved him travelling to the Arctic. The only kind of cold he usually tolerated involved skis and hot cocoa.

Not running for his life, his four legs pounding, trying to outpace the heaving ground caused by the suddenly active volcano. As if the shivering ground and lifting ice chunks weren’t bad enough, fissures began hissing with steam.

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It meant they had to move fast—they being Zach, Nora, and Peter. They weaved past the scalding jets and leapt over chasms that hadn’t yet turned into steam cookers. Zach could only hope they made it to their ride before the whole plateau collapsed.

The popping ice began to slow, and they outpaced the destruction as the mist thinned. Zach saw the chopper right where he’d left it on the ice field—military-grade but unmarked. It had special dispensation to fly, and he’d have no trouble, so long as he didn’t draw attention.

They bolted for it, legs pumping, bodies low and long. A lion could run up to fifty miles per hour. When this desperate, it was probably closer to sixty.

Once they were close enough, Zach shifted and yanked open the cockpit door. He had to get the engine going. Fast. He’d not been out here long, so it should still be reasonably warm. The engine started, and the blades began turning. He grabbed a duffle bag and opened it before tossing clothes around like confetti. Shirt for you. Pants for me. Unisize rubberized booties. Easier to pack and better than being barefoot when in his two-legged shape. People had a thing about toes showing, especially in cold climates.

A steam whistle popped through the ice as the devastation neared.

Zach barked, “Buckle up, we’re leaving!” Without checking to make sure they were secured, he thrust them into the air. Not a moment too soon.

A fissure opened below them, and even rising quickly, the hot gust heated them something fierce. He banked away from it. As they got clear of the steam and into the fresher air, he noticed it. A scent that didn’t belong.

But he couldn’t worry about that yet. The cataclysm had spread. Cracks appeared ahead of them, hissing steam and forcing him higher and higher. He moved them away, following the coordinates back to the place where he’d borrowed their ride.

With the danger easing, Nora exclaimed, “Holy shit, Zach. I can’t believe you came in a chopper.”

“Yeah, it wasn’t my first choice,” he admitted, keeping an eye on his gauges. His first thought when he realized that he’d have to infiltrate the Arctic was actually a snowmobile. A chopper wasn’t exactly ideal, given the cold conditions. And they weren’t meant for long flights in these types of temperatures. However, given that he didn’t know who or what he might be bringing back—or the urgency of the mission—he opted for something a little bigger and faster.

“Glad you found us.”

“Only found you by a fluke. I was actually following some of those human mercenaries again.” They’d been causing some problems in their desperate attempt to get their hands on a treasure of late. The humans didn’t get it, but neither did the good Pride.

“Do you think Svetlana made it out with the box?” Nora asked.

“Maybe. Depends if they got out fast enough.” After all, they’d made it.

Peter finally joined the conversation. “Shouldn’t we be discussing the fact that the box turned me into a lion?”

“I don’t know why you’re surprised. The book did, after all, say that might happen.”

Peter’s voice held wry amusement as he said, “Doesn’t mean I believed it would actually happen.” He could be excused for the attitude given he’d woken up that morning as a man, and was now a shapeshifting lion. Wouldn’t that fuck with some people in the Pride?

“It happened, and now we need to worry about it happening again if Svetlana chooses to use it.”

“Use it to do what? Turn people into were—animals? Why?” Peter asked, sounding baffled as to why anyone would choose that.

“Don’t you know why?” Nora cajoled. “Admit it, you feel more powerful. You can see better. Hear better. The human you never could have outraced the volcano.”

“I won’t deny that it feels good.”

“Only good?” Nora teased.

“Okay, more,” he admitted with a chuckle. “But that kind of magic…there’s no way the box can consistently do it. It’s got to have some sort of battery or quota.”

“What if it doesn’t? What if Svetlana and her grandmother did escape, and they begin selling its use?”

“How is more of us a bad thing?” Zach asked.

“The stories show the magic going two ways. What if it can unmake shifters, too?”

An ominous thought that overshadowed Zach’s concern over the possible stowaway.

As he flew, Nora explained to Peter what being a shifter meant. The rules. The advantages. The disadvantages. Zach didn’t say a word when Nora told Peter he’d have to make a once-a-year vet appointment for his shots and anal gland squeeze.

Not true, but something the older teens liked to tease the younger ones with. A rite of passage for many. Peter was just older than most.

When he began complaining about all the rules, Nora offered to play the world’s tiniest violin.”

To which Peter laughed and said, “Don’t you dare.”

Their flirting was both cute and annoying at once. Zach did his best to ignore it as well as the occasional kissing noises. When they started, he focused on the flight and tried to figure out the scent that didn’t belong.

Definitely hadn’t been there on his trip over. He could only imagine it—they—had stowed away in the storage area where he’d tossed some equipment in case things went sideways in the Russian Arctic—which they had, and in spectacular fashion. It turned out two other groups were also looking for the artifact they sought, and in comedic timing, they’d all ended up in the underground cave at the same time.

Which made him wonder. “Who got to the cave first?”

“We did,” Nora announced. “Then those bloody humans. Then Svetlana and her grandma.”

“You forgot the yeti,” Peter muttered.

“The what?” Zach asked.

“When we first arrived in the cave, we encountered a rare Russian yeti. Beautiful creature. Soft with silvery white-gray fur. I called her Fluffy.”

“I don’t think there is such a thing as Russian yeti.”

“Thank you. That’s what I told her,” Peter exclaimed.

“Then what was it?” Nora huffed.

“Sasquatch,” Peter said.

“Isn’t that the same thing?” Zach remarked.

“No.” Nora sounded firm on that point.

“Pretty sure it and bigfoot are all the same thing.”

“Yetis have white fur.”

“So do some tigers. They’re still in the same family.”

The argument kept going, and yet there was a playfulness to it. Nora, Zach’s sometimes mission partner, had found her mate.

The hormones rolling off her and Peter were distracting, and rather than have them go at it in the back seat when things got a little too wet and fleshy, Zach interrupted by asking questions about their journey to the cave as they’d gone in different directions—Nora following an old riddle that’d taken her through a hidden tunnel system, Zach following the humans hunting them.

He was never gladder than when he could finally land and dump them off. He hoped he never acted so dumb. The only thing that should ever get such a lovey-dovey stare was blue-cooked steak drizzled with garlic butter. There were only two things Zach loved in life: food and his cat.

The moment they landed, he basically told Nora and Peter to fuck off, but nicely, offering them the use of his rental. He’d hire a taxi to take him to the hotel after he was done with his paperwork. At least, that’s what he told them.

As the newly infatuated couple went off, he pretended to check over the chopper, waiting until they were out of sight.

“You can come out now.” His curiosity had him sniffing and trying to figure out who’d snuck aboard. He didn’t know the scent and wasn’t sure what to expect, other than he knew it wasn’t Svetlana or her grandmother. Tiger had a distinctive scent. The only thing he could tell with any certainty was that his stowaway wasn’t human.

“I know you’re in there. Come out.” He peered deeper but still saw nothing. Could he be mistaken?

Just when he was about to start rummaging for himself, a rustling preceded the biggest fucking eyes he’d ever seen, a bright and icy blue. Fine features framed by silver and gray hair that hung down over her naked frame.

The petite female—at least compared to him—blinked thick lashes at him, her lip sucked in as if nervous.

“Who the fuck are you?” he barked, not at all taken in by her innocent face.

Only to blink as she replied with an unexpected, “Fluffy.”

“Uh. What?” And better yet, what the fuck was she? He took a sniff, then another, because her scent was so strange. Yet…familiar. Hadn’t he recently gotten a whiff of it in that cave in Russia where his last mission went sideways—a polite way of saying the wrong side won?

She smelled cold and crisp like the woods in winter with a coppery hint of something else.

Blood.

“You’re injured.” He reached for her, only to have her bare her teeth and hiss.

“Don’t you get snippy with me,” he barked. “Show me the wound.”

She stared at him cautiously. She didn’t understand.

He mimed, pointing to a gash on his arm, then at her. “Are you hurt?”

Her eyes widened, and she nodded. Pushing aside her hair, she showed off more of her nude body and the sluggishly bleeding bullet hole.

Had she been in the cave during the firefight? How had no one seen her?

Unless…

Couldn’t be.

He eyed her anew. “Are you the yeti from the cave?”

She cocked her head.

“Guess you can’t exactly answer that.” Was it even possible? Yetis weren’t real. The only Simian-type shifters he knew of were of the gorilla variety, and they preferred warmer climates.

“I’m Zach.” He poked himself in the chest.

She smiled. “Fluffy.”

Fluffy being the name Nora had bestowed on the beast she’d wanted to adopt as a pet. Wouldn’t she be excited to find out that her new pet hadn’t died when the cave collapsed?

Wouldn’t she be even more surprised to realize that her Yeti was a shapeshifter? Nora wouldn’t be able to keep it. They had laws about owning sentient beings.

“What am I going to do with you?” He had no one to foist Fluffy off onto. He’d stupidly sent Nora and Peter off. They were probably cementing their mating bond at this very moment in the back seat of the rental. There went the deposit. But even more horrifying, they were willingly going to bond.

Shudder. The idea of being with one person for life? Never. The only other being he could tolerate for any amount of time was his cat, Nefertiti—Neffi. A demanding Himalayan kitten that had grown into an even more bossy feline. He left her with his father when he had to leave town on business. They hated each other. Which meant she’d be mad when he returned. Would probably piss all over his pillow. Do her nails on the couch. And sleep in her bed instead of with him.

He’d better put in an order with the market now to ensure that he had fresh seafood tidbits to apologize.

Fluffy kept staring at him as if waiting for something.

Oh, yeah. What to do with her? He’d kind of expected her to run off by this point. Wasn’t that their modus operandi? Why had she stowed away on his chopper? Given that she was obviously a cold-climate creature, shouldn’t she have stayed on the ice fields?

The ice field they may have had a hand in destroying.

Crap.

She’d obviously raced ahead of the destruction and hidden on board, tracing his trail back. On his way in, he’d had to forgo caution for haste so he didn’t lose those he was following. The human mercenary team had opted to go in on snowmobiles, easy to follow. When he landed, he was only minutes behind.

“Reckon I can’t leave you here.” Heavy sigh. “Let’s get you somewhere warm where we can get you some food and clothes.” He’d seen plenty of nudity in his life, and yet hers distracted him. She had the type of frame he liked, solid if a tad too willowy. Some might have thought her large compared to modern ideals.

Personally, Zach found most women undersized. No one wanted to get a neck cramp trying to kiss someone. Not to mention, fear hurting them, given his size. And what about if he wanted them to do a couple’s Spartan race? He needed someone who could keep up. She had decent legs and could probably do a three-legged race with him.

Fluffy was small compared to Zach, but bigger than most of the lionesses and humans he ran into. Over six feet, her frame willowy but strong. Long legs and arms, a short torso with a faint dip at the waist. And her breasts…

Oops. He averted his gaze and pulled off his thick sweater, wishing he’d brought a few more. Explaining why you were outside naked in the cold always caused too many questions. A shifter knew it might have to go native.

Case in point, they’d bolted from the collapsing cavern on four furry legs and raced across the ice field. Human skin would have been damaged by the steam erupting from the rifts. The cold that bit the feet. Which was why he’d ensured that the chopper had a duffle of clothes.

He handed her the shirt. She eyed it and then him. Cocked her head.

“Put it on.” He shook it.

She grabbed it and began playing with it, getting it open and jamming it over her head, only to panic once she couldn’t find the head hole.

He snatched it free, and she halted in her frantic scramble.

He shook his head. “Have you never worn clothes before?” He would have loved to put the sweater back on. It was freaking cold. “Watch.” He showed her how he put it on. Popping his head through the hole.

She studied him intently the entire time. When he handed it over once more, she didn’t panic, simply wedged it over her head, offering up the biggest smile.

He must have been tired because he grinned back. “Now, for the arms.” He lifted his and then inclined his head.

She managed to get one of them in almost right away, but the other did that thing where it wouldn’t let the hand pop out easily. She snarled, and her hand went through the fabric.

She smiled in triumph.

“It’s a start. Let’s go, Fluffy.” He jerked his thumb and started to walk, only to realize that she didn’t follow. She hovered inside the chopper, looking lost in his sweater.

“Don’t be afraid. Ain’t nothing out here. We know the guy who owns this place.”

Still, she hesitated.

He took a few steps back, his irritation growing. The urge to snap, “Move!,” rising to his lips.

She looked scared. Cautious. If she’d never left the frozen plains, then she’d probably never seen civilization.

Wolf girl, meet yeti woman. Why him? This was the kind of thing better suited to anyone buthim—someone with compassion and a soft touch.

They needed patience too, of which he never had a supply. So, rather than be gentle and kind, he barked, “Get your ass moving, Fluffy. Let’s go. I don’t have all fucking night.”

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