Hannah’s Fate (A Shadowcat Nation Prequel) – Chapter 1
“Nick Jensen’s back. Have you seen him yet?”
Hannah’s ears perked up. She was scrunched down in a high-backed chair, so the two women who’d just entered the common room had no idea she was there. When she recognized Stella’s high-pitched voice, she pulled her legs up and made herself as small as she could.
“Mmmmm…and he’s even yummier now than he was before, if that’s possible,” Cathie, Stella’s wingman—or wing woman—said. Hannah cringed. She wasn’t sure which of them she disliked more.
“I heard he hasn’t taken a Mate yet,” Cathie continued.
“Whoa. Well, I bet I could convince him that it’s time he did. I was just meant to be a Mate of an Alpha’s Council leader. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s gorgeous.”
The girls’ voices faded as they left the room. They must have been just passing through. The compound the Keller Dare occupied had three common rooms, and they all had multiple entrances. This layout was intentionally designed to bring them all together more often, to force them to interact with one another whether they wanted to or not. As mountain lion shifters, they all tended to be loners, part of the nature of the beast inside them. The wild cats were elusive and highly territorial. In face, not everyone lived at the compound. Most lived elsewhere and just came and went as they pleased. Cougars needed too much space to stay in one place for long.
As soon as Hannah knew Stella and Cathie were well gone, she hopped up and made a break for her room. If Nick was around, she was going to make herself scarce. Even though it had been nearly eight years, the shame his rejection caused her felt as fresh and as raw as if it happened yesterday.
She’d been such an idiot. Totally cliché. In love with her brother’s best friend for years…ever since she was twelve and he was eighteen. Then, when she’d been a sixteen-year-old, hormone-driven kid, she had thrown herself at the so-hot-it-should-be-illegal Nick Jensen…and been totally and humiliatingly rejected.
Logically, Hannah knew that she’d grown up, and that the intense emotions connected with that evening were tied to her sixteen-year-old perspective of that night. Regardless of time and age, even after achieving not only her bachelor’s degree, but also her master’s in business and earning her way onto the Alpha’s Council at only twenty-four, thinking back to that horrifying moment still brought her right back into it. That awful, want-to-die-of-mortification moment. The shame that had only his name. Her cheeks heated at the thought. Ugh.
Luckily, right after the most embarrassing night of her entire life, Nick had gone back to college and hadn’t come home, and a few years later Hannah was able to escape to college herself. She’d eventually had a boyfriend…several, lost her virginity, grew up, made some mistakes, and now here she was, back with her family where she belonged. But she hadn’t seen Nick in the year since she’d come home. Jaxon, Hannah’s older brother and the dare’s Alpha, had sent him away to work on some intra-dare relationships.
So why are you hiding, then? her inner voice taunted her.
Not hiding, she argued with herself. There’ll be plenty of time to bump into Nick Jensen. He’s home for good now, after all. And so what if he hasn’t found a Mate yet?
Stella and Cathie were welcome to him. She couldn’t care less.
Two days later, Hannah sat beside Jaxon in the conference room where the Council usually met to discuss business. Her brother and the Alpha of their Dare of cougar shifters.
Hannah was incredibly proud to have earned her place beside her brother on the Alpha’s Council at such a young age. She now managed many of the corporations they owned. And she loved it. She was good at it. So why the hell was she so nervous?
Because Nick would be at this meeting, that was why.
Hannah flicked an invisible piece of dirt off her skirt. She’d changed her stupid clothes at least five times. Jeez… Was she sixteen again? She wanted to look like she hadn’t been trying, but at the same time, it wouldn’t hurt if his jaw dropped to the floor when he first saw her. Fantasies of Nick falling on his knees and professing what an idiot he’d been to reject her filled her head. She ruthlessly pushed them aside.
Confidence, Hannah. She repeated that mantra over and over again. She was a successful, strong, capable woman. Gone were the glasses, the acne, and the awful hair. Her roommates in college had seen to that much better than her alpha brother could have. But more than that, her success was enough to give anyone a feeling of accomplishment. Nick was just a man, for heaven’s sake. Nothing to get all freaked out about.
“Something bothering you?” Jaxon’s deep voice caught her attention.
Hannah feigned casual surprise. “Not at all. Why do you ask?”
He reached under the table and stilled her jiggling leg with his hand. Hannah laughed and tried to play it off. “Too much coffee this morning, I guess.”
“Mmm-hmmm.” Jaxon turned back to the report he’d been reading.
Hannah flipped open her laptop. Plenty of things to keep her busy, and if she was concentrating on them then she wouldn’t be concentrating on the door. She managed to get lost in a spreadsheet as the rest of the leaders started to filter into the room.