A curvy, small town ballerina. A Bear Prince yearning for his mate. An archaic law forbidding them to wed…
Bear shifter Prince Andrei defends street ballerina Hannah from the noxious advances of an odious human toad. He soon realizes this unassuming young woman is his fated mate and is determined to win her heart and wed her- even if his rebellion will cost him his crown.
Hannah has only ever wanted to dance. Raised in a conservative Christian community, she fights to balance her small town values with the more worldly ways of the big city. When the magnetic stranger calling himself Andrew defends her from an assault, she can’t help but sense something dark and feral under his quiet, stern exterior.
When she discovers his secret identity, will the strength of their relationship hold up under the strain of a new, foreign life in the spotlight? And with a surprise pregnancy, does she even have a choice but to make their relationship work?
This 37K paranormal romance is for readers who enjoy billionaire alpha males, interracial (bwwm) couples and happily ever afters. Standalone, first in the Royal Bears series.
A taste of freedom was worth the price of evading his guards. Stealing a few precious moments to himself in a foreign land where he blended into a sea of people as long as he dressed down and kept to himself? He’d deal with his mother’s temper later.
He watched everything, everyone, as he wandered the streets of downtown, a little amused at his own wonder. Casakraine didn’t have cities with towers of glass and cement, soaring high into the skyline. Their architecture was just as old, just as beautiful… but lower to the ground. Not quite as tempting to Mother Nature to tear down in retaliation for such arrogance. Wasn’t there a story in one of the human holy books about a tower?
Andrei halted, gaze caught, spending a few precious minutes observing a beautiful young dancer on a busy street corner, moving with the grace of a Fae princess, oblivious of the traffic around her. Her limbs long and toned, nearly Bear-like strength evident in the perceived effortlessness of her movements. She’d confined her long black curls in a simple tail at her nape, smooth bistre skin bared by a neutral camisole and dancer’s shorts. Watching her eased the pain gathering behind his eyes, signaling the start of another migraine. He wondered if the dancer paid for her beauty and grace with some physical defect, the way he paid for his shifts with blinding headaches.
Her dancing should have been… provocative. Her lush form, though athletic, was still bountiful. Andrei knew from listening to his mother and sister speak over the years that ballerinas with bodies outside the stick-thin model norms worked harder for acceptance. But there was an innocence in her movements, as if she wasn’t quite yet awake to the true potential of her body. The potential for pleasure, for joy.
People walked around him on the street, some giving him irritated glances. True, he hadn’t picked an out of the way spot to stop and stare at her- he’d simply stopped. So people glanced, but kept moving. The anonymity was a blessing to Prince Andrei, the eldest, the Heir. The one with no life outside duty. His mother called him the moment his guards must have reported his defection.
“Andrei,” she snapped. “What are you doing? Your guards have a job to do. You have to stop this.”
“Mother, if only you could see what I’m seeing right now,” he replied, gaze trained on the dancer as if she would disappear if he blinked. “I’m going to send you a video.”
He disconnected the call, swiped to the camera, and began recording. Watched her through the screen for several minutes and then sent the video clip to the Queen’s cell. He didn’t have to wait long.
“The dancing is beautiful, but unless she’s your mate, I want you to come back to the hotel now.”
Izobelle paused. “Get the girl’s information, if you please. If she isn’t already in formal training, she should be.”
Trust his mother to see the whole thing from the lens of her pet project- which was why he was accompanying her here in Chicago, to kick off a new foreign exchange student program at a prestigious university in the city with a strong Fine Arts department. Selected students would receive full scholarships to study in his country, and vice versa.
Watching the dancer, he idly imagined that she was his mate. Andrei smiled, wry. If he brought home a human ballerina his mother would either be ecstatic to add a dancer’s genes to the bloodline, or horrified. Strength, beauty, poise, grace… he could do far worse.
* * *
Hannah danced. An early evening breeze against her skin reminded her she was all but naked, in public. Her mother would be irritated. Hannah pushed the thought away. Her body was an instrument, a vehicle for her art- not an object of shame.
People stopped to watch. She ignored them, mostly. Her instructor told her she had to stop turning inward when she danced- it was a flaw. She should dance outward, invite her audience to share her emotions. Hannah tried, but she was so used to pulling into herself, escaping into the power of her dreams that she struggled to break the habit. Even now, when she was months free of the confines of her rural, technology-free community.
A man crossed the street, eyes trained on her. She noticed because he walked with a dancer’s grace and a tourist’s foolishness, as if the cars would pass right through him. Hannah admired his bravery and was flattered, though wary, to be the object of his focus. Fending off one creep on a daily basis was enough. Life in the city had scoured some of the naiveté off her- but she knew she still smelled like small town girl.
Hannah met pale eyes briefly. He was a few feet too far for her to tell what color they were- just that they weren’t like hers, dark as earth after a good rain. She watched a smile curved lips thinner than she was used to, and though she couldn’t quite smile back, she hoped he saw the gratitude in her dance when he dropped a folded bill into her open gym bag. She tried not to look at the offerings before she was done each evening- she didn’t want discouragement to seep into her performance. There were days she made enough to eat over the weekend, there were days she came home with enough to buy a candy bar. It all depended on the mood of the crowd.
“You dance like the wind,” he said when her steps brought her a little closer.
Hannah slowed her movements, told herself it was good to interact with patrons sometimes.
“I’m heavier than wind,” she replied, practical.
He smiled. “You don’t move like it.”
A lilt of some place not America threaded through his words, bringing music to the quiet tenor of his voice.
“I train very hard to make it look easy.”
“Where do you train?”
She lowered her eyes. Was he… flirting? Hannah knew she had to protect herself from men who thought dancer meant exotic. But she was being silly. If he enjoyed dance, of course he would be curious where she trained.
“Loyola,” she said, moving back into her place to begin another set.
“What’s your name?”
Such an innocent question. She glanced at him, met patient eyes. Studied the face with even, sculpted features that could only be described as classically beautiful. Dark hair and a stern mouth- but somehow a warmth reached out and set her at ease. Maybe it was silly not to be more cautious- just because he was tall and handsome and spoke without the uncouth brashness she’d grown used to in men her age, didn’t mean he wasn’t dangerous. Too much authority in the broad set of his shoulders. Strength in the tall body. But…
His head lowered in acknowledgment. He watched her for a few more minutes. Every once in a while, she glanced at him from the corner of her eye, distracted. Something about his focus, an aura of utter confidence drew her out of herself. And he stood so still, not even the breeze ruffling through his dark hair. After a while he crossed the street again and she forced herself to forget him. To just dance. Feel the burn of muscle telling her it was time to either be done for the evening or push past the discomfort to earn a few more dollars. To train a few more minutes on this harsh public stage. Endure the pain, tap into the energy she pulled from… wherever. The earth, God, her own inner fire. Wherever it came from, it fed her limbs when they wanted to collapse. Fed her spirit when it wanted to bend. She wouldn’t make the break from her family be worth nothing.
* * *
If he turned off the cell, it would make his mother go bat shit crazy. Ahhh… the colorful phrases he’d picked up here in America. The best souvenirs. So he put the ringer on silent and watched the young woman dance some more, even as bursts of light in his vision warned him he should head back to the hotel. He pushed away the pain.
He’d moved away to give her space, sensing her unease at his proximity. The distance disturbed him, as if he were chilled to the bone but moving away from the warmth of a fire. Hannah was both older and younger than he’d expected, her eyes somber, a gravity one didn’t often find in college students. But when she spoke, her voice matched her movements, simultaneously innocent and sensual. She glanced at him every once in a while, her attention gossamer light but it burned through him with a fire he recognized as desire. Once he stopped admiring her as a piece of art, and began to imagine her as just a woman- well, Andrei had to yank his imagination away from where it was going. It felt… disrespectful of her, somehow.
It was dark when she stilled, bending over to scoop up the duffel bag in which several bills fluttered. A paltry take compared to what could be had by buskers in his capital. Americans- what was wrong with them? No one seemed to appreciate beauty, or to want to support it with anything more substantial than clapping.
Andrei checked his phone out of morbid curiosity- yes. Over a dozen missed calls from Constin, ostensibly his head of security for this trip. And a text from his mother, asking if he’d gotten the girl’s contact information. His brow rose. Mother was serious about the dancer then.
He glanced up in time to see the woman walking towards a bus. He cursed, running across traffic to catch the one right behind hers. He’d learned they stacked busses at rush hour- lucky for him. They were the same number, so he assumed they were going on the same route. He stood near the front, watching each stop through the wide glass windows to see when the dancer got off. Thanks to his mother for providing him with the excuse he needed- because he’d already come to a decision before watching her walk away. Women like her were rare- he wanted to know more, see if the magic he glimpsed under the surface was real, or just his wishful, fanciful thinking.
It became apparent after a good thirty minutes that she was traveling to a less wealthy part of town. Which made sense- even with a scholarship, a student wouldn’t be able to afford the rent downtown unless her parents were well off. He was lucky another passenger pulled the rope to get off at the same time he saw Hannah emerge- he would have missed her.
Exiting, he looked around, realizing he’d come to a part of town that would piss his guards off. And all because he was pursuing- not stalking- a beautiful young woman as if she were his missing Cinderella- or mate. Andrei sighed. Well, had he really expected to get through the week without making at least one impulsive decision? His own inner restlessness had warned him days ago he was on the verge of doing something… untoward.
He hoped Hannah might not think it odd of him to follow her. She didn’t know him, after all- certainly had no clue he was a Prince out on a freedom jaunt. It would be awkward if the woman he wanted didn’t want him back.
* * *
Hannah walked fast and kept her eyes open. This wasn’t the best part of the city, and it wasn’t the worst. No matter where a single woman went at night, it would be dangerous. If she were hurt, Hannah knew she wouldn’t be able to go home. Her parents would tell her any bad experience was a consequence of disobedience, a consequence of being a part of the ungodly world rather than staying safe in the community, away from technology and decadence. Hannah didn’t want technology or decadence, she just wanted to dance.
She drew her keys out of the duffel bag as she walked, preparing as she approached the building. She knew better than to stand there fumbling around in the dark advertising her presence as a potential victim.
“Hey, Hans, how’s it going?”
Her teeth clenched. Hannah kept walking as the voice called out to her. The sound of gym shoes across pavement let her know Harold was running to catch up. The manager of the building where she lived, he maintained a ground floor studio and made it his business to know the comings and goings of all the female tenants. He made her skin crawl.
She walked a little faster.
“Hey, wait up, I’m talking to you.”
Well, duh. That was why she was walking faster. She didn’t want him to talk to her. He seemed to think that she was just shy or something, and if he were obnoxious enough, she would take him up on the offer to spend some television time in his apartment.
“Didn’t hear you,” she lied when he drew alongside her. They were at the steps of the building by now. Hannah really didn’t know if she should wait for him to go ahead of her, or just dart up the stairs as quickly as possible. She didn’t want him behind her but she also didn’t want him to think her stillness was an invitation.
“Yeah, I think you did hear me,” he said.
He wore rumpled khakis and an oversized striped shirt. His age was indeterminate- somewhere between legal and old and horny.
“I don’t know what’s up with you, but I don’t like when a bitch thinks she can’t speak when I greet her.”
Hannah didn’t believe in smiling to diffuse a situation. Especially when an expletive rolled so casually off his tongue. As casually as her name. She stared at him, stony, then turned away. “Good night, Harold.”
He grabbed her upper arm.
“What are you doing?” Hannah didn’t like the high register of her voice- it screamed ‘victim’- but he’d startled her. First words, now actual touches.
“I just want to talk, Hans. Look, I know you don’t have any friends or family in the city-”
“I have friends. And a boyfriend. Who should be here any minute, so get your hand off me.”
His expression darkened with irritation. Hannah wondered if he just didn’t like rejection- or if he had a problem with women. She’d read about things like that. She’d gone to a public high school.
“You know, you could be more polite. I think maybe if I take you to my apartment, you’ll learn how to loosen up a bit.”