UNCLAIMED will be released just 3 weeks from today and I can’t wait for readers to dive into Dominic and Tatiana’s story! As we gear up for the launch, I’ll post one chapter each week along with a giveaway.
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She Works Hard to be Normal…Tatiana Winters loves the freedom of her life as a veterinarian in Oregon. It’s only reluctantly that she agrees to help cure a mysterious illness among the horses on a Montana ranch—the ranch of the Amoveo Prince. Tatiana is no ordinary vet—she’s a hybrid from the Timber Wolf Clan, but she wants nothing to do with the world of the Amoveo shifters.
But There’s No Escaping Destiny…Dominic Trejada serves as a Guardian, one of the elite protectors of the Prince’s Montana ranch. As a dedicated Amoveo warrior, he is desperate to find his mate, and time is running out. He knows Tatiana is the one—but if he can’t convince her, he may not be able to protect her from the evil that’s rapidly closing in…
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“Okay, pal,” Tatiana said evenly as she stroked the puppy’s coat and carried him to the exam room. “I know you’re not going to like this, but you need some stitches.”
Bumping the door open with her backside, she placed the puppy on the table. He lay quietly and timidly, watching her with those soulful brown eyes as she gathered the supplies she needed.
Tatiana found the poor creature on the side of the road, but she’d felt his energy signature—red with pain and anguish—before she ever saw him. The only real bonus about being half Amoveo was her ability to connect with animals on a psychic level. It made her an extremely effective veterinarian and had her patients’ owners calling her an animal whisperer.
It wasn’t that she actually spoke to them or that she could hear them speak with words—it was more like the ability to feel what the animals were feeling. Tatiana was able to sense their emotions and in turn could send the animal soothing energy waves. It allowed her to connect with them on a deeper level, which made the animals more willing to let her treat them.
Tatiana made quick work of cleaning up the little beagle as he responded to her calming energy, lying perfectly still while she sutured and dressed his wound. He licked her hand as she finished, and though she sensed gratitude in his energy waves, she also saw it in those gorgeous eyes.
She could connect with all animals but had an affinity for dogs, which was probably from being part of the Timber Wolf Clan. Sometimes she wondered if the animals knew she could shapeshift into a wolf.
“You’re just a big flirt, aren’t you?” she asked as she scooped him up and placed a kiss on his head. “Made me fall in love with you with one look from that sweet face. So you know what? I’m going to keep you.”
Tatiana leaned back to get a better look at him and smiled.
“Yup,” Tatiana said through a smile. “You’re a heartbreaker, alright. So what do you think about the name Casanova?”
The puppy answered with a face full of warm licks and a nibble on her ear.
“Alright,” Tatiana giggled. “Casanova it is, but I think we’ll go with Cass for short.”
Satisfied with his new moniker, he snuggled against her chest and lay still as her sister’s voice floated into Tatiana’s head. Hey, Sis. Layla’s familiar sound filled her mind. Are you alone, or is Matt with you? I need to see you right away.
I’m alone, Layla.
Tatiana grinned. Matt was her assistant and only friend outside of her siblings. Like her, he never knew his parents, but instead of being raised on a farm by a loving aunt like she had been, he grew up in foster homes and had no family to speak of.
Tatiana and her twin brother, Raife, may not have known their parents, but at least they had each other and their aunt Rosie. They were adopted and moved in when they were twelve, but they couldn’t have been closer to Rosie than if they were actual blood relatives.
Matt always said he and Tatiana were like two peas in a pod. Tatiana felt a bit sorry for him because he really didn’t have anyone other than her. He showed up looking for a job about a year ago, and they’d been thick as thieves ever since. However, as close as they were, he was still unaware of her unique heritage.
I’m in the exam room, but meet me in the waiting room, okay?
Tatiana held Cass a bit tighter as she made her way to the front office. Within seconds, the air-conditioned space filled with static electricity, and the air shimmered. Layla materialized in the center of the room. Her unruly red curls flowed wildly around her, and her brilliant green eyes sparkled brightly as she made quick work of kissing her sister on the cheek.
“I’ll never get used to that,” Tatiana said quietly as she hugged Cass for some much-needed reassurance, and to her surprise, the puppy snuggled closer and licked her neck. “Can all of them do that?”
“You mean all of us?” Layla said playfully as she let the puppy sniff her hand. “Yeah. The pure-blood Amoveo can do it, and the hybrids like us can do it.” She lifted one shoulder and scratched Cass behind the ears. “At least, the few that I’ve met so far. Once you find your mate, you’ll be able to do it too.”
“No thanks, Sis. I’ll stick to regular forms of human travel and human dating, for that matter. So what’s up?” Tatiana asked, changing the subject. She sat on the edge of the reception desk and watched her sister carefully. “You don’t usually pop in like this.”
“Hardee har har,” Layla said with a roll of her eyes.
“Sorry,” Tatiana said. “I couldn’t help myself.”
The smile faded from Layla’s eyes, and Tatiana sensed the tension in her energy waves as they swirled faster through the room. It was something akin to a breeze that only another Amoveo could feel.
“We need your help.”
“We?” Dread crawled up Tatiana’s back.
“Richard, the Prince of the Amoveo, asked me to come here to see if you’d be willing to help him. He has about a dozen Arabian horses that have all come down with something. And before you ask, no. Richard doesn’t want to use the vet he usually hires because he’s concerned the animals might have been poisoned, and if that were the case, then the vet would want to get the police involved. He suspects it was either a Purist, or possibly, part of the recent Caedo activity. Either way, we obviously can’t involve the human community.”
“Hear me out.” Layla put her hand up to stop the inevitable protest, and Tatiana snapped her mouth closed.
Tatiana made no secret about her feelings regarding the Amoveo. Purist Amoveo killed her father for mating with her human mother. After their mother died, none of them came looking for her or her twin brother, Raife. The two felt as though they’d been completely abandoned. Therefore, she had no love for the Amoveo or their world.
Tatiana’s mouth set in a tight line as she waited for her sister to continue.
“Thank you.” Layla let out a slow breath. “Now, listen. I know you aren’t jazzed about getting involved with the Amoveo. Believe me. I get it. You know that until I met William, I was on the same train as you. I thought they all hated hybrids—hated us—but it’s simply not true. Yes. There are some Amoveo—the Purists—who would sooner see us dead than sullying their bloodlines with human blood, but most Amoveo aren’t like that.” Her jaw tilted determinedly. “William isn’t,” she said, referring to her new husband. “He’s a Loyalist, just like the prince.”
“I know,” Tatiana said in a gentler tone. “I’ve only met William only a couple of times, but it’s obvious he’s crazy about you. I mean, he hovers around you and is more protective of you than Raife has ever been of either of us. I’m happy that you found someone who makes you so happy.” Tatiana’s face twisted with confusion, and she paused for a minute. “Wait a minute. Back up. Who or what is a Caedo?”
“The Caedo are a human family who know about us and hate us,” Layla said with a casual shrug as she sat on the sofa. “Apparently, they were the big bad enemy until the Purists got their panties in a bunch about us hybrids.”
“That’s a lovely little tidbit—hard to believe you’ve been keeping that to yourself,” Tatiana said sarcastically. “So there are two different groups that want to kill us. Awesome.”
“Richard and the others thought the Caedo were a nonissue, but it seems they started acting up again. They got wind of the little civil war we had with the Purists and decided to exploit the rift. Anyway, you wouldn’t have to worry about that. All you have to do is come to the ranch and check out the horses. When you’re done, you can split.”
“You’re killing me, you know that? Today was supposed to be my first day of vacation in the three years since I opened this place.”
“Perfect.” Layla smiled brightly. “You can vacation in Montana at the ranch. It’s gorgeous in the summer. Actually, it reminds me of the farm where we grew up.”
Tatiana glanced down at the sleeping puppy in her arms.
“You can bring the dog.”
“Thanks.” Tatiana chuckled. “Actually, he seems to be an empathetic little soul. I have a hunch he’d be a great therapy dog.” She locked eyes with her sister as an idea bloomed. “I’m bringing more than the dog. I’m bringing Matt too.”
“Shit.” Layla laid her head back on the sofa and tapped her jean-clad legs with her trimmed fingernails. “Bringing a human to the ranch is not going to go over well with anyone, especially not with the Guardians. Dominic in particular—he’s a big one for rules and tradition.”
“Sorry, Sis,” Tatiana said all too sweetly. “That is a deal-breaker. No Matt, no doc. Whoever this Dominic guy is, well, he’ll just have to like it or lump it.”
Tatiana meant it. She wanted to help her sister, but she needed a security blanket, a way to be sure she wasn’t going to get schooled by the Amoveo twenty-four-seven—a bunch of shifters trying to talk her into this mate nonsense. If she brought a human with her, then the Amoveo would have to be on their best behavior. Otherwise, they would risk letting the proverbial cat out of the bag.
“Fine. I’ll run it by Richard and Salinda. If that’s the only way we can get you to help, then I’m sure they’ll be okay with it.” Layla stood up. “So you’ll come to the ranch and help us find out what’s making the horses sick. Right?”
“Yes.” Tatiana rose from her spot on the desk and met her sister at the center of the room. “I’ll book Matt and me a flight and be there in a couple of days.”
“Right.” Layla nodded. “I’ll pick you up at the airport.”
“No,” Tatiana added quickly. “I’ll rent a car and drive there myself. Really, it’s fine.”
Layla let out sigh of frustration as she hugged her sister vigorously, which elicited a whine from Cass.
“It’s okay, little buddy.” Layla rubbed his ears and looked fondly at Tatiana. “I’m sorry as hell that the horses are sick, but I can’t say I’m disappointed to have you visit.” Her smile brightened. “Hey, you never know, maybe you’ll find your mate, or at least get a visit from him in the dream realm.”
“No thanks.” Tatiana laughed and shook her head vehemently. “When love finds me, it will be the old-fashioned way. No dreams. No weird shit. Just good, old-fashioned, true love and romance. We are half human, in case you’ve forgotten.”
“I guess that means that you and Matt aren’t…”
“Nah.” She made a face. “I think he’d like more, but we’re better as friends. No sparks. Y’know? I want a guy who will knock me out and have my head spinning.”
“Oh, I know exactly what you’re talking about.” Layla’s face turned as red as her hair, and she stuffed her hands in her pockets. “Actually, until I met William, I didn’t really know what sparks were, and believe me, when you find your mate, you’ll know what I’m talking about.”
“When I find the love of my life, there will be plenty of sparks.” Tatiana winked. “See you in a couple of days.”
Tatiana watched as Layla’s image wavered as though she were underwater, and as static crackled in the air, she vanished in a blink. As quiet settled, guilt swamped her.
She lied to her sister.
Tatiana already found her mate, or more to the point, her mate found her. She watched him time and again from the shadows of the dream realm as he hunted and stalked her in his tiger form. She had no idea what his name was or what he looked like as a human, but she did know he was dangerous. A predator. Yet for all his searching, she managed to stay hidden, and if she had anything to say about it, she would keep it that way.
“I’d have killed him twice if I could’ve,” Dominic growled, his voice bouncing through the sterile medical facility.
“Easy there, tiger,” Steven teased as he inspected the injury on his face. “You may be a bad ass from the Tiger Clan, but you’re still my patient, so sit still or you won’t get a lollipop.”
Steven’s teasing did nothing to improve Dominic’s mood. He was itching to get back outside and patrol the property, but the doctor was taking his sweet time. Steven, a member of the Coyote Clan and an excellent healer, was known for his use of humor to put his patients at ease, but right now, the last thing Dominic wanted to do was laugh. He was surprised Steven even had a sense of humor left given the suffering he had endured over the past year.
Dominic’s sense of humor, on the other hand, was nowhere to be found. There was nothing funny about what had transpired in the past week. Two Caedo assassins, members of the one human family who know of the Amoveo’s existence, snuck onto the ranch and attempted to murder the prince. Dominic killed one, but another shot Eric, the other Guardian, and escaped into the surrounding mountains.
Dominic sat unmoving on the hospital bed as Steven inspected the almost-healed injury, which ran down the left side of his face. Hands balled into fists in his lap, he stared past the healer to the blank wall behind him and concentrated on keeping his fury in check. Getting pissed at Steven wouldn’t help anything.
“The stitches have dissolved, and the wound is beginning to fade. You’ll have a scar, but from what I hear, chicks dig scars.” Steven removed the latex gloves and tossed them in the trash. “I have to be honest. I’m surprised you healed this quickly, especially considering you haven’t found your mate yet. Most fully mated Amoveo take longer to heal from a laceration as severe as this one.”
Steven picked up the tablet on his desk and entered information as he continued speaking.
“I guess you Tiger Clan boys are as tough as they say you are. Some say the tigers are the fiercest of all ten clans, and after treating you, I’d have to agree. However, you can’t avoid the inevitable outcome if you don’t connect with your mate.”
Frustration flared, and despite Dominic’s best efforts, his sharp brown eyes flickered and shifted into the glowing amber eyes of his tiger. He breathed deeply as he struggled for self-control and willed them back to their human state.
“A mate is irrelevant,” Dominic said evenly. “As Guardian, my loyalties and responsibilities lie with the prince and his family. Wounded or not, I will continue as Guardian and keep our prince, and everyone else on the ranch, safe.”
“Right.” Steven ran a hand through his shaggy blond hair and shook his head. “I get it, dude. You are not one to fuck with. You more than proved it when you killed that Caedo assassin and ripped his head off like he was made of tissue paper.”
“I would’ve done the same with the other one if I’d found him, but Eric’s wound looked severe and—”
“And you did what anyone would do. You stopped to help your friend and fellow Guardian. Eric healed as quickly as you did, by the way. It’s too bad we can’t figure out what’s making the horses sick, but from what I hear, they’ve got someone in mind to help.”
“Yes.” Dominic’s mouth set in a tight line. “One mare died this morning, and given the recent Caedo activity and the continued animosity with lingering Purists, Richard is reluctant to bring in the local veterinarian.”
“You’re pretty good at changing the subject, Dominic.”
Dominic swore and hopped off the bed. He snatched his black T-shirt off the chair before quickly pulling it on. “Why do you feel the need to bring up the issue of a mate, or more to the point, my lack of one?”
Dominic knew he sounded like a defensive asshole, but he couldn’t help it. Steven was right. He still hadn’t found his mate, and if he didn’t find her soon, his Amoveo abilities would vanish, leaving him to live the rest of his existence as a human.
That was the fate of any Amoveo who didn’t bond with a life mate by the age of thirty, and it wasn’t one he was interested in participating in. However, with his thirtieth birthday just a year away, he knew the reality of what awaited him.
No shapeshifting, minimal strength, no powers of visualization.
How would he effectively serve as Guardian if he was void of his Amoveo abilities? Dominic shoved the dark thoughts from his mind, refusing to believe that it was actually a possibility. His military training brought him to this place, and he would be damned if some bullshit legend of fated mates would take that away. Mate or no mate, he would stay the course and fulfill his duties.
Even if it meant dying in the process.
“Hey, man.” Steven raised his hands in surrender. “I’m just stating a fact, and it’s only out of concern for you as a healer and a friend.”
Dominic nodded and tucked his dog tags beneath his shirt. He hadn’t been in the human military for four years, but it was still a part of who he was, and he’d feel naked without that cool stainless steel pressing against his skin. It was where he learned his combat skills and intense focus, both of which were crucial to his position.
“Have you connected with her at all?” he asked. “Any sign of her in the dream realm?”
“Not exactly,” Dominic bit out, unable to look Steven in the eye.
All Amoveo connected with their mates in the dream realm before the physical plane. It was a crucial part of the mating process and one he hadn’t experienced yet.
“I don’t see her, but sometimes I can feel her there in the shadows and mists. I can sense her energy signature, and just when I think I have it, it slips away. It’s frustrating as hell, and if I didn’t know better, I’d think she was intentionally avoiding me.”
“I see.” Steven went to his desk and connected the tablet to his computer.
“And vanilla.” Dominic crossed his arms over his broad chest and breathed deeply as the memory of the scent filled his head. “Sometimes I catch the scent of vanilla and cherries.”
“Interesting.” Steven shucked his white lab coat and draped it over the back of the desk chair, revealing an Iron Maiden T-shirt and torn jeans. Without his lab coat he looked more like a roadie than a doctor. “I never saw Courtney in the dream realm either, not clearly at least, and if I hadn’t stumbled on her at that blasted Purist compound, I may never have found her. Don’t use us as an example though, our mating has been… unorthodox.”
“How do you mean?”
“Never mind.” Steven waved him off. “As far as your mate avoiding you, that is certainly a possibility, and if you’re concerned, I would suggest having a chat with my boy, Willie.”
“Layla avoided him?” Dominic’s brow knit in confusion. “That doesn’t make any sense. Why would our mates avoid us?”
“Dude, are you serious?” Steven smiled and punched a few buttons on his computer before looking back at Dominic. “If she’s a hybrid and has been raised away from our people, God only knows what she knows or doesn’t know about us. If she knows what she is, she may think all Amoveo are like the Purists and want her dead for being a hybrid. Maybe she thinks we’re all a bunch of chauvinistic pigs looking to drag our women into servitude. Hell, she may be a human and not even know that the Amoveo exist.”
Dominic was quiet as Steven’s words settled over him, and he felt like a dope for not thinking of these things sooner. This whole mate business was far more complicated than anyone ever let on.
“Or—” Steven sighed. “She could think you’re butt-ass ugly and be running in the other direction.”
Dominic cracked a smile in spite of himself and ran a hand over his cropped black hair.
“My point is,” Steven said solemnly, “avoiding finding your mate or ignoring it isn’t doing you any good, my friend. Your mate is out there somewhere, and if you don’t find her soon, then you’ll have to face the music one way or another.”
Dominic clenched his jaw and strapped the leather weapons belt securely around his waist. He pulled the massive hunting knife from its sheath and briefly inspected it. Seeing that shiny blade instantly put his anxious heart at ease, but the reality of what Steven said still weighed heavily.
“I appreciate your concern, but I can assure you that finding, or not finding my mate, will not impact my ability to protect the prince. I would give my life to protect our people from anyone who threatens our existence.”
“Yeah, I’m getting that,” Steven said through a laugh. “Listen, I don’t want to sound like an ungrateful ass. Courtney and I live here too, so your quick actions with those Caedo assassins protected her and the baby. She’s already been through so much and still isn’t fully recovered emotionally. The pregnancy is making it so much worse.”
Steven’s face darkened at the memories. Dominic heard about what some of the women were put through as involuntary participants in the Purist breeding program. He couldn’t imagine the helplessness and rage that Steven must have felt knowing his mate had suffered. Whatever it was, it must’ve been bad, because he never talked about it.
“It’s good to know that you and Eric have our backs.” Steven stuck his hand out, and Dominic promptly accepted. “Thank you.”
Dominic shook his hand quickly and gave him a brief nod of understanding before opening the door.
“Hey,” Steven called. “Catch.”
Dominic turned around and caught a lollipop as it came flying in his direction. He gave Steven a friendly smile as he stuck the lollipop in the pocket of his camo pants and headed out the door.
It’s not that he didn’t appreciate Steven’s gratitude, but it made him uncomfortable to be thanked for doing his job. Hell. He hadn’t even done it that well. One assassin got away, and as far as Dominic was concerned, that was a failure.
However, it was not one that would be repeated.
As Dominic headed up the steps from the medical facility to the main floor of the house, he couldn’t stop thinking about what Steven had said. Perhaps he was right. What if his mate had been avoiding him all along out of fear or ignorance?
Dominic swung the door open at the top of the stairs and instantly sensed familiar energy signatures, the spiritual fingerprints made by all Amoveo. Then an unfamiliar ripple in the air sent his protective instincts on high alert. He detected fear and apprehension flickering through the enormous house, and it was coming from an unknown Amoveo… and a human.
Caedo? That was all he could think. Another Caedo assassin or a Purist had infiltrated the property.
Dominic cut through the grand entry hall and in a blur of speed, he went immediately to the lavish living room to the left of the main hall. The scent of vanilla swamped him as he came to a halt in the doorway, ready for battle with glowing eyes and his knife drawn. The room was empty, but movement to his left captured his attention.
Without thinking, moving only on gut instinct, he spun to the left and grabbed the intruder, throwing them to the ground. In a matter of seconds, he straddled the small body and pinned the stranger easily beneath him. His knees held struggling arms to the floor, one hand curled over a slim shoulder, as the other held his knife poised high in the air, ready to strike.
As the haze of rage receded and the imminent danger was stifled, Dominic found himself staring into a pair of beautiful, furious golden eyes. A stunning hybrid Amoveo woman who smelled of cherries and vanilla glared at him, and if looks could kill, he’d be toast.
Shoulder-length dark hair framed a heart-shaped face stamped with anger, but through it all he detected a hauntingly familiar energy signature. It was the same one that slipped in and out of the dream realm and eluded him night after night.
Layla’s voice drifted over his shoulder.
“Do you think you could get off my sister?”
Sister? Dominic blinked in surprise and sheathed his knife as he stared at the woman still trapped beneath him. Her eyes burned brightly in their clan form as her intoxicating scent filled his head.
As he remembered those nights in the dream realm, his body tightened and responded to her on an instinctual level. She wiggled, attempting to get out from under, but he kept her there as the pieces fell into place.
Mate. That one word ran through his head over and over like an ancient mantra. This woman, the one he just tackled, as if she were a Caedo or Purist assassin, was his mate. Son of a bitch.