Seneca’s Faith (Shadowcat Nation #4) – Chapter 1
Consciousness returned along with a pounding headache and raging case of dry mouth. On the flip side, these two unpleasant realities were nicely balanced by the sound of Gage’s sexy voice murmuring in her ear.
Seneca smiled and snuggled deeper under the covers, unwilling to let go of any dream involving Gage McAvoy. A guarded part of her mind warned her she shouldn’t entertain any fantasies where he was concerned—after all, he was getting married to her sister—but she ignored the inner caution.
“Come on, gorgeous. That’s it.”
She hummed in response to his low rumble. He’d always been able to make her shiver with that dark chocolate voice edged in bourbon. Even his clean laundry and soap scent surrounded her. Nice dream.
She frowned at the urgency underlying his words—not sexy at all, more annoyed, or perhaps alarmed. He’d never sounded like that in her fantasies before. Dream Gage always wanted her as much as she wanted him.
The intrusion of reality had her struggling to open her eyes. Unfortunately, lead weights seemed to have been attached to the lids. She grumbled at the effort it took.
“There you go. Look at me, Seneca.”
“Please shut up and give me a minute,” she half-slurred, half-snapped.
Silence greeted her request. A wealth of information existed in that silence, but she was too fuzzy-headed to sift through facts right now. Instead, she focused on making her body function.
With effort she managed to crack one eye open blearily to find Gage leaning over her. Her gaze locked in on his full lips, but knowing now this wasn’t a dream, she dragged it up to his green eyes. Irritation with herself at these inappropriate reactions made her give him a grumpy glower before she glanced away. She recognized she was lying on a four-poster bed with ornate red and gold raw silk curtains. Ugh. She detested raw silk. The material was draped everywhere in her home thanks to her sister’s pretentious tastes.
She turned back to the man in the bed with her. “Where are we?”
Concern darkened his eyes to moss green. “My best guess is we’ve been drugged and kidnapped.”
She said nothing for a long moment.
“Seneca?” His brows beetled as she continued to absorb that in silence. “Honey, are you okay?”
At first, she thought his concern was truly for her, but then her brain started to fire on all cylinders. Of course, he was worried. As far as he knew, she was the type of shifter who shouldn’t be able to handle this situation, and he’d have to deal with her weakness.
Ignoring the pain in her head, she pushed herself up to sitting. She took a minute to rub the sleep out of her eyes before she glanced over at the man beside her. Gage was handsome as ever with his dark hair cropped short, strong jaw, and sexy lips. Slightly too large ears meant he could swing from hot to adorable in a heartbeat. He looked amazing in a tux, especially with the jacket off, sleeves rolled up, and bow tie undone and hanging loosely.
Wait. A tux…
Memory clicked in and a quick glance down told her everything she needed to know. She still wore her cream-colored chiffon bridesmaid dress. Last she remembered, she was taking her sister’s wedding present for her soon-to-be husband to him before the ceremony. Then nothing.
He ran a hand over his face. “Your guess is as good as mine.”
“Did you get married?”
He held up a ringless left hand. “I don’t think so.”
He didn’t sound overly upset by that fact, not that he would be necessarily. His and Lareina’s marriage was arranged, a political procedure. “What’s the last thing you remember?”
“I was in the back room of the chapel, waiting to inform—” He stopped, lips compressed. “Someone knocked. That’s it.”
“I think I was the one who knocked. I was bringing you Lareina’s wedding gift.” That explained the why them question…sort of.
He held up a hand. “I woke up about two minutes before you.”
“Ah.” She blinked as he suddenly rolled off the bed.
She could sense the leashed animal inside him, his stride smooth and powerful. Rather than continue to watch him—she hadn’t been an obsessed teenager in years, despite the periodic fantasy involving the two of them—she looked around instead. The room was large, boasting not only the big bed on which she still lay, but a sitting area with couches and tables, and a large mahogany armoire. Decorated in an oriental style with golds and reds, the walls were made of what appeared to be sand. Gauzy drapes lifted in a breeze from the open window and revealed the black sky beyond.
Gage prowled to the door, only to find it locked. Next he moved to the other door which he opened to reveal an en suite bathroom decorated in creams and golds and sporting a massive tub—one she’d be thrilled about if they weren’t in a serious pickle. At least they were being well-treated. Maybe she could petition to stay. Living with Gage and Lareina as leaders of their dare of cougar shifters was not something she’d been looking forward to anyway.
Forcing her sluggish limbs to respond, Seneca scooted off the bed, and made her way to the open window. The moon was full, illuminating a stark desert landscape beyond. The temperature was surprisingly comfortable in the room, given the open window. A downward glance revealed a long drop to a rocky cliff below. They appeared to be in a kind of castle, or fort perhaps, built into the side of a mountain. A sinking sensation filled the pit in her stomach. Already knowing the answer, but checking anyway, she ran her hand along the rough-textured windowsill. Yup. The walls were definitely made of sand.
“We’re in the lions’ den,” she called over her shoulder.
“I know.” His heavy response came from directly behind her, much closer than she’d anticipated. Damn his stealthy mountain lion abilities. They weren’t called shadowcats for nothing.
She turned to face him, and crossed her arms defensively. “That’s right. You’ve been here before.” She was proud of how steady her voice sounded. Granted, she’d had years of practice hiding her true thoughts and feelings.
He nodded, eyes watchful.
She’d bet he expected her to bring up how he hadn’t let her come on that particular mission, but she didn’t. “Any idea why they dragged us here?”
He didn’t say anything at first. When he did speak, he used a soft voice and careful words. “I’m guessing it has something to do with your father.”
She could tell by the tense set of his shoulders he assumed she’d wig out on him. As a known latent and a submissive, that would be the appropriate response, but she was still too befuddled to react normally. “The lions blame him for the fighting between shifters.”
They could get in line. She nodded, and a look of relief passed over his features, which struck her as oddly funny. Poor guy didn’t want to deal with a hysterical female.
“So we’re what? Revenge? Leverage?”
Expression grim, he shrugged. “Any of the above.”
“Do you think they’re going to kill us?” She swallowed around her real fear. They’d recently learned a large pride of African lion shifters was responsible for the inter-shifter war that had been raging the better part of twenty-five years. More than that, those lions blamed her father for starting the conflict in the first place.
In a move that had her eyes widening in shock, he stepped closer and took her face between his hands. “I won’t let them hurt you.”
She froze and couldn’t pull her gaze away from the odd intensity in his eyes.
A loud knock at the door broke the moment. His hands fell from her face to her shoulders, and both of them glanced toward the door. The sound of a key being turned in the lock preceded the heavy wood door being swung open. Gage stepped in front of her—a protective reflex she wouldn’t allow herself to take personally—so she had to stand on tiptoe to see over his broad shoulder. A lanky man with midnight skin entered, accompanied by a maneless male lion with a jagged scar that sliced through one eye, cloudy with blindness.
“I am Edward,” the man spoke with a slight accent. “This is my brother Beno.” He indicated the lion with a wave. “Our mistress would like a word with you.”
Seneca glanced at Gage, waiting for him to make a move. She shivered at the cold, calculating light in his eyes as he regarded the two lion shifters.
“You’ll find clothes in the wardrobe,” Edward said, drawing her gaze back to him. “We’ll return in a half hour to escort you.” With a formal bow of their heads, they retreated, the clack of Beno’s claws against the tile floor following them out the room.
She blew out a pent up breath and glanced at Gage again. He stared at the door and made no move. With a mental shrug, she stepped away and crossed the room to the armoire. Opening the creaky wooden doors of the antique piece of furniture, she found several outfits within, some for a woman and some for a man. She rifled through the lady’s clothes.
“What are you doing?”
She didn’t turn at the question. “Changing.” She wrinkled her nose. Whoever picked these clothes had selected a sexier style than she preferred to wear, but anything was better than her bridesmaid dress. She snagged the most conservative of the outfits.
She was tempted to glare at the tone Gage chose to use, but instead sent him a serene smile as she passed by on her way to the bathroom to change. “This dress is uncomfortable, and I’d prefer to be wearing something else to meet our captor.” She sent his tux a meaningful glance. “Wouldn’t you?”
She had to hold back a chuckle as he gaped at her, mouth slightly ajar. Technically, she should be putting on a terrified act to keep up her persona as the poor little shifter who couldn’t shift. She just didn’t have the energy or desire to do so. Not anymore.
Not that she wasn’t frightened…she was. But somehow being kidnapped by her father’s enemy was the final impetus she needed to quit the dog and pony show she’d been putting on since childhood. Gage would have to get used to her real personality. Fast.