Sarai’s Fortune (Shadowcat Nation #2) – Chapter 1
Sarai shivered as the chill from the early morning air seeped into her bones. A faint mist swirled through the surrounding trees, leaving drops of dew on the grass, and clinging to her clothes and hair. Sarai ignored the discomfort and concentrated on her training.
The sun wasn’t quite up and the only light came from the large mansion-like compound at her back. Sarai stood at the edge of the sparring mat, facing a dummy across the way. She focused on her target, threw, then hissed through her teeth, unhappy with her aim. She was off her game today. She knew why. With a deep breath, she forced the thoughts plaguing her to the back of her mind and instead focused on the moment.
Sarai set her stance, right foot in back, feet apart but in line, as though she were walking on a tight rope. Shoulders square to the target. Putting her left hand out to line up, she gripped the knife handle between her fingers and hurled it, releasing the weapon just as her hand came in line with the dummy across the mat. The blade sank in at the windpipe with a very satisfying thud.
An image flashed in her mind—that of a form prowling toward her in the darkness. With a gasp, Sarai dropped into a crouch. Unfortunately, her timing was off. She knew it as soon as a body ploughed into her, knocking her over.
Sarai hit the ground with a muffled oomf. She didn’t bother to sit up. Instead, she stayed where she lay on the ground and turned her head to meet the laughing eyes of her best friend. The feisty brunette Andie Keller lay on the ground beside her.
“Was that really necessary?” Sarai asked with a single raised eyebrow.
Andie chuckled. “Your visions are still getting in the way of your fighting skills, I see.”
A Seer since the day she was born, Sarai often received visions of the past, present, and future. The ability was the bane of her existence, having brought her nothing but sadness, fear, and oppression. Seeing the future was a gift she wouldn’t wish on her worst enemy.
She sighed. “Obviously.”
“Sarai!” A male voice sounded in the air, off to the right, behind the trees.
“I’m all right,” Sarai called back. “It’s just Andie.”
Sarai’s guard appeared from the tree line at the edge of the mat. He mock-glared at Andie for a moment. “Figures it’d be you. You gave me a heart attack, you know.”
Andie rolled her eyes. She trained all the guards; consequently, she knew how to get around them. “I practically walked right in front of your face.”
He grumbled in response as he moved back to his position. Sarai kept her smile to herself. The only person better at stealth than Andie was her new husband and Fated Mate, Jaxon Keller, the Alpha of the Keller Dare of mountain lion shifters.
Andie shifted her gaze back to Sarai. “You don’t look surprised to see me.”
Sarai sat up, leaning back against her hands. “I saw you coming home from your honeymoon several days ago.” She tilted her head. “Why the early return?”
Andie also sat up, wrapping her arms around her knees. “Keeps anyone watching on their toes.”
Sarai nodded. It made sense.
These days the world was not a safe one for cougar shifters. If it wasn’t direct enemies like the pack shifters—wolves, coyotes, and so forth—it was infighting within the dares. The Shadowcat Nation was still relatively new, attempting to force something unnatural for the sake of survival. Like their wild animal counterparts, cougar shifters did not function well in society. Only the preservation of their lives and their lands had forced their hands.
Each of the dares in the Nation was led by an Alpha. At one point, her greatest fear was that the new Alpha in her dare would be Kyle Carstairs. He’d once been in line to inherit the Alpha position of the Carstairs Dare from his father, Walter. After Andie killed Walter, and her mate, Jaxon, kicked Kyle’s ass, the sadistic bastard escaped, gone rogue. Sarai knew better than anyone that they shouldn’t assume he was out of the picture.
In fact, the threat he, among others, posed was one of the reasons Andie and Jaxon, who were each an Alpha of their own dare, needed to come home sooner rather than later. Taking a long honeymoon at this time really wasn’t an option.
Andie looked over at the knife-throwing dummy Sarai had been working on before being tackled to the ground. “You’re getting better.”
“I wasn’t very focused today actually. Usually I’m more accurate with the throws.”
“Dad not helping you anymore?”
Andie had been the one to start teaching Sarai basic fighting skills. She’d insisted Sarai needed to be able to defend herself. Of course, Andie had no idea at the time how true that statement was, and Sarai had accepted her friend’s tutelage gratefully. It had been Andie who’d discovered Sarai’s talent for knife throwing. Unfortunately, knives weren’t Andie’s strength, not like hand-to-hand combat. However, they were her father’s forte. She’d had him secretly teach Sarai the subtler arts.
Sarai shook her head. “He says I left him behind a long time ago.”
Andie raised her eyebrows. “Good for you!” Then she frowned. “But why are you still practicing this early? I know we had to hide your training at our old dare, but here you’re safe.”
Sarai took her time answering. Eventually, she said, “Keeping my training a secret is important.” I think.
“Ah,” Andie said, immediately getting the hint.
Sarai only shared her visions when she felt it could help. Even then, she often didn’t share everything. Knowing your future was not always a good thing. Keeping secrets had become habit. Including the unfortunate fact that if her visions involved her, they weren’t always clear. They could be hazy at best, patchy often, and a black hole when it was really bad.
Andie hopped up, dusting her hands off on the seat of her running shorts. She held out a hand to pull Sarai up.
“I’m going for a run,” Andie said. “But there are some things we need to discuss.”
“After breakfast?” Andie asked as she started to back away. “My room?”
“Sounds good.” Sarai raised her hand as her friend spun around and ran into the woods at a fast clip.
As she gathered her gear and put away the dummies, the rhythm of Sarai’s heartbeat picked up a little. Was she finally going to have her answer to the question that had been tormenting her for months?
She glanced up at the large building that made up the safe haven, home, and business of the Keller Dare. A single structure, from her vantage point behind the buildings, she could see the extensive wings. Made of natural stone and wood, it fit beautifully in the surrounding Bitterroot mountain range in Idaho.
All of the compounds of the Shadowcat Nation were similarly impressive, though in different ways. When the original Alphas had formed the Nation, they’d done something crazy-stupid. They’d pooled all the resources of every cougar joining the dares to bet it all in an insane series of big gambles in Las Vegas.
Sarai still couldn’t understand the logic, but she did understand desperate times called for desperate measures. They’d needed money to support this method they’d chosen to ensure their survival. To give them credit, they’d had a Seer to guide their every move. The risk had paid off and been the basis for starting the wealth of the Nation. One of the results was the compounds like this one. The main base for each dare.
But, try as she might, she just couldn’t see it as her home. This one wasn’t a prison like the Carstairs Dare compound where she’d lived the last twenty years. It wasn’t home either. She wasn’t safe here. She wasn’t sure she was safe anywhere.
She just hoped that whatever solution Andie had devised, it had nothing to do with Zac Montclair. Any future where Sarai and Zac were together was doomed.
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