“Would you two please get a room?” Zachary teased Dominic and Tatiana. The Head Guardian and his mate were lip-locking again.
That sight wasn’t unusual here on the Montana ranch, because they were just like the other two mated couples who lived here. In fact, as the only unmated Amoveo at the ranch, Zachary was starting to feel like a fifth wheel.
“Do you guys ever stop pawing each other?” He winked at Tati, who was doing her best to wiggle out of Dominic’s grasp. “You’re gonna get chapped lips if you keep that up.”
“You’re just jealous,” Dominic growled. He kissed the top of Tatiana’s head and draped his arm around her shoulders as he fished the keys out of the pocket of his jeans. “See, Tati? Unmated Amoveo men are notoriously cranky.”
“Really?” Zachary laughed. “Then what’s your excuse?”
“Yeah, well…I’m a lot less cranky since I found Tati.” He straightened his back, and in that moment, Dominic looked a lot like he did when he was in his Tiger Clan form. “You’ll see what I’m talking about when you find your mate.”
“No thanks, man.” Zach shook his head and made a face of derision. “One woman for the rest of my days? I don’t think so. I know you guys are all into it, and that’s great for you, but I’m not a one-woman man. Never have been and never will be.”
“No sign of your mate in the dream realm?” Dominic asked, referring to the way all Amoveo first connect with their mates. “You haven’t found her there yet at all?”
“Nope.” Zachary pressed his lips together and shrugged while avoiding Dominic’s inspecting gaze. “No dream-walking Amoveo babes in my world.”
“So you don’t mind losing your powers? You’d trade sex with multiple different women for a life-mate and your Amoveo abilities?” Tati asked with genuine curiosity. “You’re, what, twenty-five? If you don’t connect with your mate by thirty, then you’ll lose all of your Amoveo gifts and live the rest of your life as a human.”
“That’s what I hear.” Zachary nodded slowly and looked from Tatiana to Dominic. “But five years is a long way off, and as you both know, a lot can happen between now and then. I’m not much for planning out the future, because it isn’t promised to anyone. Mate or no mate. I’ll just keep taking it one day at a time.”
Zachary hoisted his duffel bag into the back of Dominic’s pickup truck. When he released the bag, a sharp pain shimmered from his shoulder and down his right arm. The four bullet wounds he had gotten during a Caedo attack last month were almost healed, and yet his muscles still screamed in protest. He hated showing any kind of weakness, especially in front of Dominic. He pressed his fingers to his shoulder, and pain was quickly replaced by rage when memories from the attack came roaring back to life.
The Caedo family was their age-old enemy and among the select few who knew about the Amoveo, the secret society of shapeshifters who lived quietly among the humans. Having his people accosted right here on the ranch by the Caedo was bad enough, but it was made far worse by the betrayal of one of their own. Eric, a fellow Guardian for the Amoveo and a Panther Clan warrior, had sided with the Caedo and betrayed their people.
And he did it for money.
Zachary’s mouth set in a tight line, and he rolled his shoulder in an attempt to ease the pain. While the pain ebbed, Zachary recalled the silent promise he had made to himself that day. If he ever encountered another Caedo, he would shift into his Lion Clan form and tear them to shreds. No questions asked. No mercy.
In his opinion, the only good Caedo was a dead one.
“Whatever makes you happy, I suppose. Although he is right about one thing, Dom.” Tatiana elbowed her mate playfully, her voice pulling Zachary from his thoughts. “You can be cranky.”
“See?” Zachary let out a short laugh and glanced at them over the bed of the pickup truck. Without thinking about it, he pressed his fingers to the throbbing sore spot on his shoulder. “Even your mate knows what a pain in the ass you are.”
Tatiana’s smile faded when she caught sight of the pained expression on Zachary’s face. Slipping out of her mate’s embrace, she jogged around the truck and immediately went to Zachary’s side. Tatiana was a talented veterinarian and a human hybrid from the Wolf Clan, and ever since mating with Dominic, her powers had grown substantially. In fact, her healing abilities were no longer limited to animals, and if it weren’t for her, Zachary might not have survived his wounds.
“Hey.” Tatiana placed one hand on his shoulder and gently urged him to look at her. He squared his shoulders and held her concerned stare, trying to act as though nothing were wrong. “I thought you said the pain was gone. You know, the only reason I gave you medical clearance for this little jaunt to Mexico was because you said you felt totally fine.”
“I am fine, Doc.” Zachary let out a beleaguered sigh and tugged open the passenger-side door. “My muscles are just a little sore. That’s all. Some fun in the sun with a few bikini-clad babes, and I’ll be good as new.”
“I don’t know.” Tatiana folded her arms over her breasts, cocked her head to one side, and gave him a narrow-eyed look. “I’m not crazy about you taking this trip by yourself. You’re a Guardian, Zachary, and very important to the prince…to all of us.”
“Tati, he needs a break. Prince Richard and I agreed that Zach needs some time to heal and clear his head before resuming his Guardian duties,” Dominic said with a weary sigh from the driver’s side of the truck. “He’s a big boy. If he has any trouble, we can visualize ourselves to wherever he is in a blink. We’ve both imprinted on the kid’s energy signature, right?”
“Right,” Tati agreed, referring to the spiritual fingerprint of energy that all Amoveo had. “But still…”
“Exactly.” Zachary gave Dominic a nod. He wished he could use visualization to get to Baja, but because he hadn’t been there before to imprint on the damn location, he had to take a freaking airplane. He checked his watch and let out a low whistle. “We gotta go, man, or I’m gonna miss my flight.”
“Oh, fine. But call us when you get there.” Tati popped up and kissed his cheek. “And be careful.”
“Yes, mom.” Zachary rolled his eyes and laughed before getting in the truck. “Jeez. You guys need to have a kid so she can dole out that mothering stuff for real.”
“Whoa there.” Dom’s eyes grew as wide as saucers and he held up both hands. “We’re not having a kid yet. I mean, we just got hitched a month ago.” He leaned forward and looked at Tatiana, who was leaning in the passenger-side window, giving him the stink eye. “Right?”
“Who knows?” Tatiana shrugged and winked at Zachary. “For all I know, I could be knocked up already.”
Zachary suppressed a grin and turned to Dominic, who looked like he might throw up.
“Shit.” Dominic swallowed and gripped the steering wheel with both hands. “Are you serious?”
“Nope,” Tati said playfully. “Just kidding.”
“That was mean,” Zachary said, chuckling.
“I know.” Tati sighed. “But the look on his face was priceless.”
“Very funny.” Dominic threw the truck into reverse. “When I get back, you’re gonna pay for that, Tatiana.”
“I should hope so,” Tatiana purred. She tapped the hood of the truck and waved at the two men while they backed up. “Have fun and be careful, Zach.”
Dominic and Zachary drove to the airport with the music playing and in a comfortable silence only shared by true friends. As the Montana scenery flew by, Zachary thought about what Tatiana had said. It nagged at him because he hadn’t been completely truthful. He knew that losing his powers was the price he would pay for remaining unmated, but that wasn’t the only way an Amoveo could lose their abilities.
Zachary would also lose his powers if his mate were human.
“Hey.” Dominic shut the radio off and switched lanes, heading toward the airport exit. “What’s going on with you, kid?”
“I’m only a few years younger than you.” Zachary checked the time on his phone again, anxious to get on that plane and get to Mexico. “Why do you insist on calling me ‘kid’?”
“I dunno.” Dominic shrugged and glanced at Zachary with a smirk. “I guess because as far as Guardians go, you’re on the newer side. I’ve been a Guardian for five years, and you’ve only been on board for a few months. Plus, you act like a horny teenager all the time and chase women like it’s your job. That’s something a kid does. Now, how about you tell me why you needed to get away from the ranch so damn bad.”
“Just need a break. That’s all.” Zachary rested his elbow in the open window and kept his eyes on the road. “I’ll be back in a week and ready to roll.”
“I smell bullshit.” Dominic pulled into the airport and headed for the departure drop-off. “I saw you flinch when I brought up finding your mate in the dream realm. Care to tell me why you lied?”
Zachary let out a slow breath as Dominic parked at the curb in front of the American Airlines sign. Tapping his fingers on the edge of the open window, he debated just how much to tell Dominic. Based on the tense silence in the car, not answering him wasn’t an option.
“Can you just let it go?” Zachary asked quietly before glancing at his friend.
“Nope.” Dominic shook his head and leaned back in the driver’s seat while keeping his intense gaze on Zach. “Start talking or you aren’t going anywhere.”
“Why is finding my mate or not finding her so damn important to you, Dom?”
“Well, aside from the fact that you’re my friend, you’re also on my team.” Dominic adjusted the rear-view mirror while he spoke in a quiet, commanding tone. “If you’ve got your head up your ass, then you’re not going to be much good as a Guardian. Trust me. I’ve been there. Now…what’s going on?”
“She’s human,” Zachary said quietly. “At least that’s what I think. She doesn’t seem to know I’m there, and I can’t even see her face, dude, because she’s always got her back to me. Ah, crap. I don’t know what I’m talking about, okay? For the past week, I’ve been dreaming about a curvy chick with long, wavy auburn hair, and the only other distinguishing feature is her hands. She’s always walking along the beach, picking up seashells, and every time I try and catch up to her, she gets farther away. She’s got these long, delicate fingers…”
“Why do you think she’s human?”
“Her energy signature.” Zachary pictured that gorgeous long hair and those hands. “Hers…this woman in the dream…it’s different. It’s not as thick as Amoveo energy, but it’s… I don’t know how to describe it. It’s like music or something. Lighter. There’s also something about her total unawareness of my presence. I guess I figured that if she were a full-blooded Amoveo woman, or a hybrid like Tati, then she’d notice me there.”
“True.” Dominic nodded. “Tatiana knew I was there and the little minx hid from me. William too. He said that Layla ran away from him and told him to screw off. Most of the hybrid women, so far, have had some kind of awareness in the dream realm.”
“So I’m right?” He looked out the window at the various humans rushing to catch their flights. “My mate is probably human,” Zach murmured.
“Sounds like it,” Dominic said slowly. His eyes narrowed and remained locked on Zach. “Is that a problem for you?”
“No!” Zachary snapped his head around and locked eyes with Dom, knowing what he was really asking. He wanted to know if Zach was having some Purist Amoveo tendencies. Was he disgusted by the idea of having a human mate, like their friend Boris, or a hy-brid like Tatiana? “Damn, man. You know I’m not a Purist. I hate those assholes almost as much as I hate the fucking Caedo. That’s not the problem.”
“Then what is it? Are you worried about how to bring her into our world and tell her who we are?”
“Shit.” Zachary ran one hand through his short blond hair. “I don’t know, Dom. Maybe she’s better off if I leave her alone, y’know? What’s the point of mating with her? I’ll lose my powers anyway, and this woman—whoever she is—will get dragged into the middle of all the Amoveo troubles. Doesn’t seem fair. Seems kind of pointless, actually.”
“I guess, but don’t you think you should give her the choice?” Dominic asked. “Doesn’t seem right to just go ahead and make that decision for her. If Tati were here, she’d tell you that you’re being a jerk.”
“Maybe.” Zachary let out a slow breath. “I gotta get outta here for a little while and clear my head, man.”
“Right.” Dominic slapped him on the arm and jutted his chin toward the airport doors. “You better hurry up or you’ll miss your flight.”
“Thanks.” Zachary got out of the truck, shut the door, and grabbed his duffel bag out of the back. Before leaving, he leaned one hand on the open window and dipped his head so he could look Dom in the eyes. “You’re not gonna tell anyone about this, are you?”
“Not a word.” Dom made a motion as though he was zipping his lips shut. “Just one word of caution from someone who’s been through the whole mating process?”
“You can’t run from it, Zach.” Dominic’s voice was low and edged with seriousness. “Trust me. You’ve got to face it head-on and deal with it one way or another.”
“I know. I’m going to deal with it in Mexico with lots of drinks and, with any luck, sex with some beach beauties.” Zach waved at Dom, who was chuckling and shaking his head. “I’ll see you guys in a week.”
As he started to walk away, Dominic called him back.
“One more thing.”
“Yes?” Zach slung the duffel over one shoulder and turned to face his friend.
“Enjoy that Lothario persona while you can, because when you do find your mate…you’ll never see another woman the same way ever again. In fact, the idea of being with anyone other than your mate will seem totally ludicrous.”
“What? No way, man,” Zach scoffed and rolled his eyes at the ridiculous notion before winking at a pretty little blonde who strolled by. He let out a low whistle and wondered if that cutie would be on his flight. “Dude. What are you talking about?”
“You’ll see,” Dominic said through a laugh.
As Zachary watched the truck pull away, he couldn’t help but chuckle, because if there was one thing Zachary loved, it was women—all women. He couldn’t even fathom the idea of wanting to be with only one for the rest of his life. Nope. Actually, it was probably better if his mate was human. It would be far easier to avoid the life-mate bond, and at the same time, he could keep his focus on the one job he could do with or without his Amoveo powers.
Hunting down the Caedo and making them pay.
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