The Bear Queen has a fence around her heart. The Alpha Clan Chief has an ax to chop it down. Their enemy lurks, waiting for an opportunity to strike…
Izobelle Sahakian, a Bear Queen renown for her beauty and wit, rules Casakraine with an iron fist. She struggles not to succumb to her desire for the most unsuitable alpha male at court- the leader of a foreign country.
Malvin Dacus, Clan Chief of Talogroth, must seduce a rich bride to save Talogroth. His mission derails when a matebond sparks to life with the headstrong Queen.
But difficulty casts a shadow over their wary, intense courtship. Malvin must end the rebellion of his older sister before she rallies the Clans against him or has him killed. Izobelle may help- but first she has to learn to trust. Will she accept their bond before it’s too late, or will the dark side of her past destroy her final chance at happiness?
This is a steamy paranormal bear shifter romance with adventure, court intrigue and family dynamics for readers who enjoy reading about strong, complex heroines and fierce, protective alpha males. 3rd in the Royal Bears series, may be enjoyed as a standalone. Includes opportunity to download a bonus Happily Ever After short story at the end.
“I suppose congratulations are in order.”
Izobelle Sahakian, Queen of Casakraine, smiled. Fiora, a Lord of the Assembly and as close to being a friend as was possible, raised her wineglass. They clinked a salute, as Izobelle observed her son and his human mate holding their own small, intimate pre-dinner court. Hannah sat with the poise of a trained dancer though Izobelle could detect the discomfort in her lack of smile and the coolness of her dark eyes. The pair would host tonight- she had other plans.
“Two cubs raised and now mated,” Izobelle said. “A grandchild on the way. Not too poorly done for several decades worth of work.”
“And two weddings to pay for.”
“Hmm. The price of fecundity.” Though dear daughter- now Queen of Khaihalland, should foot some of her own bill.
“Did you think they would turn out so well, all those years ago?” Fiora asked.
Izobelle was old enough, and far enough removed from the upheaval of the time Fiora referred to, not to throw her wineglass across the room. Any anger now over that… male’s… betrayal was purely visceral. Luckily Andrei mostly favored her, and not his father.
“Well, you can’t blame a cub for his or her genes.”
“He’s loyal. Have you told him your plans?”
Izobelle sipped, rolling the flavor of the wine around her tongue. “He suspects. But I can’t have a fully grown Heir running around the world with no weightier a chain than a wife.”
Idleness had led to his father’s dissolution, and ultimately to the sordid ambition propelling his attempt to seize the throne from his wife. Stupid meat. No one had successfully challenged the Sahakian’s for centuries, and the rule wouldn’t fail during Izobelle’s time.
Fiora laughed. “What, you don’t trust the mating bed and a new cub to keep him firmly leashed to home?”
“Please. I trust so little.”
“The consequence of rule, I suppose. And speaking of the mating bed…” She nodded towards the male who approached. “That is what I truly meant by congratulations. You almost have him ensnared.”
“Ah. Not quite. We are still in the opening bar of the dance. And please, no reference to mating. Sex only.”
“It won’t be sex only with that one. He has the look.”
Izobelle grimaced. “I’ll take your observation under advisement.”
“Careful playing with your toys, Izobelle,” Fiora said, amused. “They break.”
“Or will break you.” She lifted a finger. “I always put my toys down when they start to play back.”
God forbid the male have the mating look about him when dallying with her. She wasn’t fool enough to start that particular dance- a mere husband had managed to cause a lifetime’s worth of damage. No, thank you. She would play with him until they tired of each other, but if he thought to take it any further, he and his males would find themselves firmly welcomed to leave. His draw was already far too alluring. Almost… compelling. Her Bear stirred, Izobelle pushing her other side back to sleep. Mad things happened when she let the Sow loose.
Fiora rolled her eyes. “You and your trust issues. It’s been how many years? Take a permanent lover and be done with it. You’re in the prime of your youth, you should have a consort.”
“He’s far too feisty.”
“He’s not very polished. Pretty- and quite obviously alpha- but a bit unhewn.”
Izobelle smiled. “The unhewn ones make the best lovers.”
Too much polish meant an overabundance of time at court- and time at court meant a male with ambitions. She didn’t mind a little ambition- it added spice. But damned if she’d have a male in her bed who saw her as a means to an end.
She crooked her finger, catching future lover’s eye, and smiled as he smoothly changed trajectory, approaching.
“Ladies,” he said, the rough burr of his voice charming.
Malvin Dacus, Clan Chief of Talogren and as fine a specimen as any she’d yet seen, bowed. Not as low as he should have, considering he was in her court. But as the ruler of a foreign land, and the male she currently had her claws set on, Izobelle would allow him some indulgences.
One must make allowances for the high spirits of younger males, after all.
“Malvin,” she greeted, dropping his honorific, as he had dropped hers. Rebellious, this one. Idly, she began counting on one hand the number of times he’d addressed her properly. One, when he’d first presented himself at court as a boy and she already a nicely filled out youthful Princess. Two, when he’d formally asked for her daughter’s hand in marriage. Three… hmmm.
Fiora excused herself with a snort, nodding to the Clan Chief as she passed. He arched a dark brow, crossing bare arms across a wickedly sculpted chest. He wore the leather vest, plaid wrap and dark trousers his people considered formal wear. Despite complaints, Izobelle had no objections. His arms did any Bear justice and why deprive the ladies of the court of the sight because a few nobles took his lack of black tie as an insult?
“You rang, Izo?”
“Hardly.” She’d summoned him, yes, but with some dignity. That he’d responded at all told her it was time to up the ante. “We simply wished to take our leave of you and bid you enjoy our table.”
He titled his head, the tangled strands of his wild black hair slithering over his shoulders. “Goin’ somewhere?”
She rose, handing her wineglass to a discreetly placed staff member. “We will forgo the evening meal and spend time in quiet reflection in our palace library. Do you enjoy reading for… pleasure?”
His eyes narrowed, just a fraction, then his mouth curved. “I enjoy many things for pleasure, darlin’.”
“Hmm. You might want to visit our library then. The trip may be insightful.”
* * *
Silky, court trained seducer.
Husband and betrayer.
Izobelle inhaled, closing the oversized leather bound book. She hadn’t had his entry or photograph removed because her children deserved to know the face of their father. Because she was still Sahakian, and to remove him would be to remove an object lesson on the futility of betraying one of her line.
Let everyone marvel she hadn’t stricken his name and face from official records. Let his face remind her that ultimately, she’d triumphed over him. Andrei was loyal to her, not to his father’s family. Miahela was loyal. Her husband’s predictions had never come true, his poisonous machinations ripped out from the root.
She would never fall prey to dishonesty clothed in beautiful artifice again.
Izobelle exhaled, banishing dark thoughts. She was well and triumphant, her country and family prospering- and it was time to play.
Being Queen of Casakraine did have its advantages, after all. One, she could skip a state dinner at will, installing her annoyed son in her place and leaving orders that no one was to seek her presence. That would even work for a few hours before someone- son, Assembly Lord, or elevated staff, forgot their place. The second, less public advantage, was that she could claim the entire palace library to herself for an evening. She accepted a few disgruntled looks as she ushered everyone out. The Royal Librarian merely looked resigned though Izobelle suspected that was a front for pleasure over an unexpected evening off. Izobelle didn’t think the female should have to work past the dinner hour, but she supposed it was her fault. Years of pulling the staff away to assist with late night searches of arcane bits of law or history, or even reading recommendations, had kept them past normal working hours.
Besides, Bears were night owls anyway.
She browsed ancient wood shelves to pass the time, searching for anything to read that wasn’t political, educational or required thought. Impatience and anticipation wouldn’t allow room for thought. Plucking a human romance out of the fantasy fiction section, she took the stairs to the second level seating areas to find the ideal vantage point from which to wait for her quarry.
The Queen despised waiting.
After a time, Izobelle marked the page and set aside the book. She rose, pacing the upper level, keeping an eye on the main doors below. Her fingers wrapped around the carved wood railings as she leaned over like a child, long hair falling around her shoulders. Perhaps her restlessness was due to the influx of mating pheromones in the air, provided by her own dear children. It had to be the reason behind her sudden fixed desire for this one male.
A whisper of cloth and subtle blast of heat warned her he’d arrived a moment before hands wrapped around her upper arms. Izobelle filled her lungs with his scent, a clean, strong musk of alpha male.
“I didn’t think you would come,” she said.
She didn’t order he release her. Not yet. Let her enjoy his hands on her for just a moment, daydream for just a moment. That one perfect thing, a trustworthy male. A male who loved her strength and didn’t fear it.
“Ignore an invitation from a beautiful female? My males would laugh at me.”
He pulled her away from the railing, back into the shrouding darkness of a corner sitting area. One of her favorites, actually, as it provided the best view from the top floor- and the least view from the bottom. The rough silk of his hair brushed her neck as he lowered his head, mouth close to her ear. She suppressed a small shudder.
“I wasn’t hungry,” she said. “I thought we might as well… talk.”
“It’s a matter of state, apparently, when the Queen chooses not to eat. Andrei noticed when I left.”
The warning amused her. “Of course. Andrei is my son.”
And her Heir. Her will was his will. And if he didn’t like the partner she’d chosen for her most recent dance, the only problem she would allow him was the problem of holding his tongue.
“What sport has Her Majesty in mind for the evening?”
Sport. She liked that word. It summoned all kinds of dark, heated images like the deep, wicked rasp of his voice. Oh, to have this male at her mercy, in her bed. Or the other way around- if he was strong enough. Clan Chief of all Talogroth, he would have to be. The Talogren were a wild people, choosing a closer connection to the land and their Clans than many Bears did in modern times.
“What are you thinking, Izo?” He shifted behind her, a subtle press of hard chest and thigh against her back, fingers tightening on her arms.
That if she was anyone else, she could have this male and be damned with the consequences. But then- what consequences were there for ordinary people? They could love and mate and wed whom they chose, without the threat of betrayal or ulterior motives hanging over their necks. The most she could hope for was to indulge in carnal needs.
There was no way to hide the scent of her arousal, the rising pace of her heart rate. Bears never tried to hide their attraction. Ignore it, set it aside as inconsequential. But never pretend it didn’t exist. It was why she’d known he hadn’t really been attracted to her daughter- his scent had never changed near Mia. But near Izobelle… the Clan Chief’s pulse tripped, raced, his eyes brightened with the lust of his Bear urging him towards a female clearly in heat.
How to manage an affair with a head of state? Very carefully.
“Let’s sit,” she said, and slipped out of his hold to settle into a plush leather armchair.
He followed, stretching out long legs, crossing them at the ankle. Green eyes focused on her face. “What did ya want to talk about?”
Izobelle tilted her head, a small smile curving her lips. “How are you feeling about Mia spurning you?”
“I’m not certain how it could be considered a spurning when she was already mated.”
And quite publicly claimed by her mate as well, swiping her from under Malvin’s bride hunting nose. Leaving the field wide open for Izobelle.
“Hmm. A reasonable attitude. Males are often quite irrational. Even my own son.”
Malvin grinned, the expression a little too wolfish for a Bear. “My daughter keeps me clear headed. So if ya feared I would leave with my nose out of joint and then harry your borders because I fancied myself in love with the Princess, ya do no’ need to worry.”
“You were attracted to her, though.”
He laced his fingers, studying her. “Well now, attraction’s an interestin’ thing. While she was here, I thought her very beautiful. No’ that beauty matters much in the long term.”
“No?” Interested, she pulled her cell from her pocket and sent a quick text to the kitchen staff for a snack to be sent up, then turned her attention back to him. “Beauty is not a female’s most valuable asset?”
He rolled his eyes. For an uncomfortable moment, it reminded her of a teenage Andrei. She didn’t mind a younger male- but not that young.
“You’re known as the most beautiful Bear in Casakraine. Has it helped you?”
Had her beauty helped her, or harmed her? Certainly her position in life had shielded her from the kind of petty annoyances a commoner would have to endure. Though Bears were more mannerly than humans, males were male, after all.
“It was a useful asset but my position was assured regardless. My place in the family line already set before I was born. So even had I been homely, I don’t think my life would have changed much. Was your wife beautiful?”
“Yes.” He paused. “I’m told she was plain for a human. But…”
Izobelle smiled, indulgent. “She was lovely to you. That’s all that counts.”
He inclined his head. “I didn’t marry her for her looks. Her mouth snared me.”
“I prefer a female with a clever tongue. Wit.”
Her brow rose. “And here I thought you were going to refer to her skills in-”
The upper level lights brightened, and the elevator pinged. Castle staff wheeled in a cart at that point, set out several small dishes and a pot of steaming chocolate.
“You don’t mind do you?” she asked Malvin. “I did miss my dinner. You’re welcome to graze as well.”
He shook his head. “Your kitchen is fearsome. I took my fill at the table.”
She popped an olive in her mouth, savoring the flavor of the creamy cheese inside. “Careful. Males tend towards fat as they age.”
His eyes roved over her body. “And yet you eat every night and have managed to stay as fit as a teenager.”
“I run.” She chuckled a bit at the inside joke. He wouldn’t know she referred self-deprecatingly to her own rampages through the castle halls. Had to keep the staff on their toes, after all. And her children. Especially her children.
“I’ve witnessed your runs through the palace.” Any drier and smoke would come from his mouth instead of words. “Your Bear is a fearsome creature when riled.”
She sniffed. “If I wasn’t surrounded by incompetence, I wouldn’t lose my temper so often.”
He smiled wryly. “Do no’ be fearin’ another war because your girl refused me. I’m made of sterner stuff than that.”
“I certainly hope so,” she said, allowing the purr in her voice. Her eyes drifted over his body. “Much… sterner… stuff.”
“If I had known you wanted to talk politics, Izo, I would have stayed at supper. I thought you wanted to dally.”
“I do want to dally. Are you discrete?”
“Are ya teasin’ me, female?”
“No.” She rose, took a step towards him.
He looked up at her, unmoving in his seat. “If you come any closer…”
Izobelle closed the small space between him. He took her by the waist, quick as a striking snake, tumbling her onto his lap. She shifted, straddling him.
Eyes dark, he plucked the buttons of her blouse. “If ya want me to stop, say no,” he said.
She twined her arm around his neck, intrigued. “And what do you plan on doing to me?”
“Tonight? I’ll just have a bit of a taste. You aren’t ready to give everything yet.”
“Dear, I hardly think I’ll ever give you everything.”
He undid another button, pushing aside cloth and staring. “What if I want everything?”
“Why don’t we just worry about what’s currently within reach, hmm? My face is up here, Dacus.”
“Damn, but ya can’t expect me to pay attention to yer face when…” he filled his hands with twin globes, massaging the weight of her breasts. “Damn me.”
He lowered his head, licking a delicate line between the deep valley of her breasts. Clever fingers reached behind her back, undoing the clasp of her bra. When his mouth closed on a bare nipple, her hips undulated. Damn him, damn her. Her clit swelled with insistent heat, a moan in the back of Izobelle’s throat as he toyed with her. She wanted to shed the shirt, shed her pants, splay herself open right on the floor for him to feast.
“I can’t- I think…” she could barely think. Her hand tangled in his hair. “Malvin.”
His head rose, fingers replacing mouth. Twisting, tugging, sending tiny sparks deep into her core.
“You want more. You need more.” His voice crooned in her ear. “My cock is only a thin layer of fabric away.”
She could slip off her pants, unzip his and impale herself on him, right then and there. Desperate, she kissed him, closing her eyes to avoid the brilliant glow of his, knowing hers would also be bright with the lust of her Bear. Their tongues collided, teeth nipping lips, drawing blood. She didn’t know if it was hers or his she tasted.
She craved him- but she wasn’t ready.
Izobelle tore her head away. “Malvin, help me.”
His eyes closed, face tight and he rose, placing her on her feet and stepping away. She moved towards the light and out of their shaded make out corner, buttoning up her blouse.
Warmth at her back, soft breath in her ear. His arms settled around her, gently, hold comforting rather than sexual.
“A male will learn things about himself when faced with a beautiful female he wants more of but can’t have.”
“I apologize,” she said coolly. She didn’t really- she had a right to change her mind. But it was easier to say so.
“Izobelle Sahakian. You do no’ have to say, or be, sorry. No male has a right to take what a female doesn’t want to give. Even if she changes her mind while naked and wide open on his bed.”
Her lips curved and she turned, pressing a soft kiss on his cheek.
“Would you like to have dinner this week?” she asked.
“I eat. You eat. Why not?”
“Good. I’ll send a note when I’ve looked at my calendar.”
He held her eyes. “I’m not prey, Izobelle Sahakian. You’ll amuse yourself only so long before I collect or walk away.”
She smiled at him. “Don’t worry, dear. When it’s time for collection, you’ll know.” She paused. “Goodnight, Clan Chief.”