DARK PRINCE’S DESIRE
Steel Born #4
Harlequin Nocturne Cravings
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Tigress changeling Yelena Morozova came to quiet Mad Dog Valley in the Oregon mountains to lick her wounds after her work at a war-zone girls’ school went terribly wrong and she lost her ability to shapeshift. If she can’t find her way back to the verita luna—the Second Truth that is a wereling’s heart and soul—she will go insane and die. If she can’t find a way to reconcile her human and beast selves, she can never hope to someday unite the wereling world with the oblivious humans and free her half-blood sisters from their Siberian exile. But when she falls through a watery fairy ring into the phaedrealii—the long-lost court of the phae—she finds more threatening changes than even her brave tigress heart might survive.
The mad Queen’s court is spinning out of control, and Arazael—known to the rightfully wary as Raze the Ruiner—sees only one way to save the phae: permanently lock the court away from the temptations of the sunlit realm. During the Iron Wars, as the phae were losing ground to the encroaching humans, Raze helped create the sanctuary of the phaedrealii. To fulfill his vows to his brother who would have been King, Raze will lock the wards once and for all, though it will take every last drop of his magic-infused blood.
Instead, he finds himself with an armful of furiously wet tigress.
Yelena’s shocking shift is only temporary—lasting just long enough to awaken the sensual feline yearnings she’d thought lost—so she needs to discover how this dark and dour phae’s touch unlocked the verita luna in her. Meanwhile, Raze can’t let this golden cat go until he finds how she slipped through his wards around the phaedrealii…and around his emotions, the same dangerous feelings driving the Queen and her phae to desperate raids into the sunlit realm.
As they seek to unravel each other’s secrets, they realize their shared entrapment—he in the phae court he helped create and fears to abandon, she in the twist of her wounded verita luna—brought them together, but an escalating imbalance between the worlds of man and magic, between light and illusion, might drive them apart forever.
Raze pressed the point of the athame into the geas on his wrist, feeling his pulse beat against the steel. A bead of red welled up. His blood would feed the wards he’d carved around the court and seal the phaedrealii forever. He needed to slice deep and fast before—
Though he was holding his breath, the crimson frost that had melted across the floor riffled, as if an unseen finger swirled the pool. Suspicion stayed his hand. He was the only one in the corridor. Nothing could pass the wards he’d carved. Except…
Letting the athame fall to his side, he leaned forward to peer into the pool.
He had only a glimpse of a wild golden eye before a massive form burst from the shallow pool. Impossible, of course, but the phaedrealii had a way of throwing the impossible in one’s face.
Just as he was face-to-face with those golden eyes, not to mention the ivory fangs connected to a giant, infuriated tiger.
A spray of icy water followed the beast in a scintillating veil that smelled of dark forests and moonlight. And something hotter, spicier. Instinctively, Raze raised the athame, but the tiger batted it away. In all his battles during the Iron Age, even when defeat had become inevitable, he’d never lost his grip.
He lost it now.
The athame spun away down the corridor, the metallic clatter lost in the tiger’s roar that shook the marble. The sound vibrated in his bones, and the beast’s spicy breath swept his face.
He spun the opposite direction of the lost knife, whirling behind the beast, feeling the smoldering heat from that big body.
He had a tigress by the tail.
Not literally, though. The long striped tail lashed him across the thighs with power enough to stagger him.
This was no illusion of the phae, no glamour to melt away come daylight. This was a creature of sun and shadow, her pelt hued from richest gold and saffron to darkest night. And her claws were almost as long as his athame.
He dodged as she raked at him, faster than anything that size should be. He jumped the other direction, reaching toward his blade, focused on summoning it to his hand.…But one claw snagged in his gray cloak. He stumbled as she dragged him back with another furious roar, pulling him beneath her body, her front legs straddling him.
He lifted one bared forearm, the geas scars gleaming pale against his dark skin, to block her jaws. His hand braced against the soft, damp fur as he tried to fend her off. The thud of her massive heartbeat echoed through his palm, as clear as a morning bell tolling.
She froze above him, lips drawn back in a snarl. A surge of power almost made him turn his head, but he refused to look away from his oncoming demise. So he saw the faint shimmer on every long whisker and strand of lush fur that signaled her change.
This time he did shudder, the force of the verita luna irresistible. He’d never been so close to a shifting wereling. All but enclosed within her embrace, the sensation was… intoxicating. The shimmering energy danced across his skin like trailing fingertips, as if the verita luna wanted to mold him into something else, something new.
But he was no wereling with a Second Truth. The phae had a million faces, none of them true.
He steeled himself against the tingling in his skin that made his blood race. In another moment, that tidal pull in his flesh would get embarrassing under the loose gray clothes he’d worn for the final, bloody step of locking down the wards.
The tigress tilted back her head as the change pulsed through her, bones shrinking, hard muscles softening to curves, the coarse silk of her striped pelt merging into even silkier skin.
Bare, wet skin, and his hand remained centered in the valley between the enticingly full mounds of her breasts.
Crouched above him, the woman angled her head to look at him, and her cinnamon-hued hair streamed over her creamy skin to tickle his knuckles. Her eyes were still golden, still the beast.
“What did you do to me?” she growled.