Canyon Benedict knew Fiera Kent was his mate. An alpha knows his mate, after all. Every male child in their packs learned that fact before he learned to hunt with a bow. Respecting their mating law was sacred. It was the lifeblood of their entire existence. Without it, they might as well stay in human form and mix the bloodlines, ignoring their true nature until their shifter DNA no longer existed.
As they made their way toward the narrow part of the river where they could safely cross, Canyon squeezed Fiera’s hand. “We’re almost there.”
“Why don’t you want to talk in your home, or in mine?”
“This cabin is my family’s secret. My father, my uncles, my grandfathers, and my great-grandfathers have all used it as a place to get away from everyone and everything. It’s a retreat for an alpha and his mate, even if the only time alone together they can manage is one night.”
The cabin was on a small island near the shore, but only accessible over the water. Canyon had been there before, and mere days ago he’d marked the shallow place where it was safe to cross with stones in a pattern only he would recognize. The water would help mask their scent, and serve as a barrier to keep others away.
Fiera gazed up at him, her beautiful blue eyes filled with trepidation. He knew the reason for that, too. But soon, the reason for her fear would be in the past. Fiera was his mate and no one else’s.
“Canyon, taking me there to talk won’t change anything.”
As the filtered sunlight shone through a break in the clouds, Canyon stopped walking and held his breath to admire the beauty it cast on Fiera. Her dark hair sparkled like sun-dappled water, and her eyes were as blue as a summer sky. Mating with her for the first time was all he thought about. It had defined his existence for years now.
“Have you changed your mind about me, Fiera?” He brushed her hair with one hand, and the gesture caused his cock to spring to attention.
Fiera was an extraordinary girl. Correction… Fiera was an extraordinary woman. She was all grown up now, and Canyon wanted her more than ever. He had to fight with every ounce of willpower not to simply take her here on the forest floor. She was his mate, after all!
“Everything is complicated.”
“Hawke and his family are in Port Angeles all day, and they don’t know about this cabin. It’s the perfect spot for us to talk about everything and settle this, once and for all.”
At the mention of Hawke’s name, her eyes clouded with fear, which didn’t surprise him. “You make it sound so simple.”
“It is. Trust me.” He squeezed her hand again. “They can’t hurt you, Fiera.” His heart raced and his skin grew taut as his alpha lynx senses kicked in. He sniffed the air, searching for the scent of others, but there were none. He and Fiera were alone. “I won’t let them.”
Being alone wasn’t an easy thing to accomplish in pack life. By the time they reached puberty, they were keenly aware of the presence of all living creatures within half a mile or more, and it was rare that no other shifters were close by. But Canyon still wouldn’t feel safe until they were indoors.
When she averted her gaze, the hair on the back of his neck prickled. “You don’t know what you’re saying. Hawke’s family can hurt anyone in our village. They’ve been doing it for years. And the Elders have turned a blind eye each time.”
“That’s because every time a family makes a complaint against the Medinas, they retract it before the Elders can thoroughly investigate.”
“And why do you think that is? Fear.”
“You are my priority today.”
He knew this woman was his mate, and that’s why he needed to be alone with her. This was the perfect time, while the Medina family was out of the village. It was his intention to persuade Fiera to mate with him once and for all. After they did, Hawke could do nothing.
“Once we settle things between us, we’ll deal with the Elders and their complacency.” By bringing Fiera here without first having their official ceremony, Canyon was breaching protocol, but he didn’t care. How else was he supposed to handle this situation? Hawke Medina had forced him to take drastic measures.
“Canyon, what can the two of us do against an entire family?”
As Canyon placed a hand on each side of Fiera’s face, he reflected that simply touching her like this made the urge to shift so strong, he had trouble controlling it. “You are my mate. We both knew it, even before the Elders declared it so three months ago.”
“And even that hasn’t mattered to Hawke. He has defied them.”
Hawke had come forward and announced to Fiera’s family and to his own that he’d chosen Fiera. Canyon had filed a formal protest, and the Elders had sided with Canyon because Hawke had never declared his intentions for Fiera before that day. But Canyon had. Loudly, to anyone who would listen.
“Hawke has defied them because he’s using you for his family’s agenda. Fiera, Hawke is not your mate. He never was. We only have one, and you’re mine. You can’t be his, too.”
The tender look on her beautiful face made him want to shout for joy. “I know that. A female lynx only has one mate, and you’re mine.”
“That’s right. Exactly. We both know it. Our village Elders have declared it so. And I’m not about to let a fucking leopard with human blood in his mother’s family try to claim you instead.”
“It’s more complicated than Hawke simply wanting me as his mate.”
Every fiber of his being ached to touch her all over. He wasn’t about to let Hawke and the Medina family’s jealousy and greed screw this up for him, or for Fiera. He had made up his mind, and he wasn’t turning back. As far as Canyon was concerned, this was set in stone.
“It’s not complicated at all. I’ve waited ten years for you to come of age, Fiera.”
Longing and desperation filled her eyes. “I know you have.”
“Do you remember the first time I saw you? You were only five years old.” Canyon had just turned fifteen, and with one look at Fiera, he knew. She was his mate. Once he turned eighteen, though, he still had to wait for her to come of age.
“Of course I remember it.” She smiled.
“Then you haven’t changed your mind about me?” She was his. She belonged to him, and he wasn’t going to stand by and let another male take her from him.
“No.” Fiera shook her head. “I haven’t changed my mind, but you don’t understand.”
Pack law forbade any male from claiming a female as their mate until that girl’s eighteenth birthday. Fiera had turned eighteen three months ago. This should have been a done deal already. He and Fiera should have mated, and perhaps she’d even be with child by now.
“What is there to understand? You’ve said it yourself. We’re mates. There’s nothing standing in our way to make this official.”
Pack law was still pack law. Even the Medina family was bound by it. You don’t step in at zero hour and pull the rug out from under another alpha, no matter how far up a human’s ass you lived, or how much wealth and power your family had accumulated because of it. Since Hawke refused to obey the decision of the Elders, Canyon had to take matters into his own hands.
A birdcall made Fiera jump. That wasn’t like her. She loved being outdoors. Canyon took her hand again. “Come on. We’re almost there.”
“I don’t like not feeling safe out here alone anymore.” Her voice came out in a near-whisper, filled with sadness that made him see red. She glanced around, and Canyon actually saw her shiver.
Hawke’s family was in deep with the human business community because of his half-human mother, Nanette. Nanette’s family owned several businesses that were known for hostile takeovers of rivals.
The Medina family used bullying tactics and threats to get their way on nearly everything that affected pack life in their village. Canyon wouldn’t be surprised if they were threatening Fiera’s family as well.
There had been rumors for over a year now of companies trying to take over the Kent family’s business. Canyon and his father believed the Medinas were behind that. Canyon intended to discover the truth behind those rumors as well.
“It’s not right at all that you no longer feel safe outdoors or alone,” he said. “So let’s do something about it.”
When she nodded and squeezed his hand, they continued their journey across the water. Once they were inside the cabin, Canyon lit a lamp. After locking the door, he watched Fiera. She still looked nervous, but not as much as she had outdoors.
Once it had become apparent that Hawke wasn’t going to abide by the Elders’ decision, Fiera had begun avoiding him. Since it had never been like her to do that, Canyon had known something was very wrong. He’d refused to believe she’d changed her mind about him, so that only left one explanation—Hawke.
“Come and sit beside me.” He took her hand again. Tonight, if all went as he hoped, this cabin would be the place where Canyon finally marked Fiera as his own. Once he did, the Medina family would be powerless to use her and Hawke would be powerless to claim her.
After he led her to the sofa he took a seat, but Fiera scooted away from him toward the far end. Having her here in this cabin was pure delight, as well as torture. His dick was rock hard, and all he wanted to do was claim her as his own. Right now. Before anyone could find them and interfere.
But Canyon would not force her. That was as bad as claiming a woman who wasn’t your mate. He moved next to her. “Fiera, you’re with me. You’re safe now. No one will find us here.” Canyon stroked her hair, inhaling her scent. His entire body was on fire for this woman.
“You make it sound like being inside this cabin solves everything.” One of the things Canyon loved about Fiera was her spirit. This was no meek, mild female, and that excited him even further.
“We have enough food and supplies to stay here for a week. And don’t worry about your father. Stone and Arizona are staying with him. He won’t be alone.” Stone Rockwell and Arizona Collins were his two best friends. Canyon would trust them with his life.
Fiera’s father, Cash, had been losing his grip on reality ever since he’d lost his mate ten years ago. Fiera’s uncles had called on a couple of healers, but neither of them had been able to slow or reverse the mental decline. Canyon had heard his parents talking late one night, and they believed Cash had simply given up.
As such, Cash’s family business was in trouble. Fiera had no brothers, and the males in her family weren’t known for their business skills. Canyon and his father believed the Medinas were taking advantage of that, but they had no actual proof. Not yet, at least.
Canyon was convinced this was why Hawke had suddenly come forward and tried to claim Fiera. They were only using her as leverage. That had to be the reason, because she wasn’t Hawke’s mate.“You’re my mate, Fiera.” Canyon stroked her hair again. “We belong together. I’ve waited long enough. It’s time to make this official.”
It wasn’t the first time he’d sensed both desire and fear in her at his touch. Canyon had always attributed the latter to her youth and inexperience. But this time, he glimpsed something else in her eyes, and it caused him to draw away his hand. The last thing he wanted to do was upset his mate, but why was she so conflicted? What had he missed?
“I thought you’d be happy about this. It’s the only way we can finally be mated without Hawke’s family interfering. The Elders have declared it as law, so now there’s nothing to stop us. You want this, too. Don’t try to tell me I’m wrong.”
As she shook her head slightly, her eyes filled with an emotion he couldn’t interpret. Before he had time to process the fact that she’d moved, she was at the front door. She could move faster than he’d realized. He sprinted over to her and put his arms around her, his entire body aching with the need to hold her and make love to her.
“Let me go.”
It nearly broke his heart to hear the hardness in her sweet voice. It also made him see red again. “Fiera, what is going on? You told me I was your mate. We belong together.”
She struggled against his grip so hard he released it. He didn’t want her hurt. The look she gave him was more fearful than desperate as she tried to open the front door. “Unlock it.”
“You said we were going to talk.”
“We did talk. What else is there to say? You’re mine. We can stay here for days if we like. And when we leave, I’ll have marked you as my mate. It will be official, and there’s nothing anyone can do to reverse that.”
The pain on her face confused him even further. What the hell was going on?
“You don’t understand. I can’t do that.”
Canyon cupped her face, but she pulled away. “Don’t touch me again.”
“Fiera, tell me what’s wrong.” Why was she treating him this way? What the fuck had happened in the space of a week?
“This is wrong. You and me. I can’t let it happen.”
“Why not? You said—”
“I know what I said, but I was mistaken.”
“No. No you weren’t mistaken.” Canyon shook his head, as much to clear the confusing images as in protest of what he’d just heard. “Hawke said something to you, didn’t he? He did something to you!”
A dark haze filled Canyon’s mind. “If he touched you, I’ll kill him.” Canyon pulled Fiera into a tight embrace with one arm, while he pushed her hair aside to look for a mark.
“Stop that! He didn’t mark me. Let me go.”
The softness of her skin, coupled with her scent, drove him to distraction. Her lush curves molded against him, fueling his desire. He’d waited so long for this girl, and now that she was this close, he could barely control his arousal. She was aroused, too. He could smell it on her. She wanted him as badly as he wanted her.
“Fiera…” Canyon brushed his lips along her hair, forcing a soft whimper from her. “Stop fighting this. I won’t hurt you. We’re meant to be together. We both know it.”
As he moved his mouth to her neck, she drew in a shaky breath. Canyon bit her skin gently, but not enough to break the skin. Not yet. Her soft moan sent a rush of heat to his entire groin, and Canyon knew he was nearing the point of no return.
When he pressed his lips to hers, fireworks exploded behind his closed eyelids. But as he pulled her closer to his body, she jerked her mouth away from his. Canyon nearly recoiled at the fear and resignation in her beautiful blue eyes.
“Stop! Please! You don’t understand.” Her voice came out in a breathy whisper, and it was filled with the same desperation he saw on her face.
“You’re right.” Canyon tightened his grip on her. “I don’t fucking understand any of this. Explain it to me.”
This girl had been his since the moment he’d met her, and up until recently, she had told him she felt the same way. If Hawke had done or said something to change her mind, he’d fucking kill him in the town square, with his bare hands. And damn the consequences. Without Fiera, Canyon had no reason to live.
“I’m the only heir to my family’s business. If I mate with you instead of with Hawke, they will have my father declared mentally incompetent and take what’s left of the business.”
“My family will be ruined, and my father might as well be dead. You don’t completely understand their power. They will do this, Canyon. Of that I have no doubt. Things are already in motion. I can’t stop it unless I allow Hawke to make me his mate.”
As Canyon stared at her, his entire world tilted on its axis. He did not want to believe that the Medinas would stoop this low, but now he had no choice. Everything he and his father had suspected was true, only it was far worse than he’d imagined.
“They actually told you this?”
“Yes. That’s why I’ve been avoiding you this past week. When I’m near you…” The look on her face said it all. She did want him. He’d been right about that. His heart filled with joy until she sucked in a hard breath as if she was about to cry. “I only want to be with you, Canyon, but I can’t. I have to take Hawke as my mate instead.”
The knowledge she still believed he was her true mate meant nothing in light of this revelation. If he claimed Fiera as his own, she’d lose everything her family had worked generations for. But if he gave her up to Hawke, Canyon would lose his mate, and he and Fiera would both be miserable for the rest of their lives.