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Bear shifter heiress Tamsin Artio is feeling the pressure. The last stage of breaking the curse placed on the factions rests in her hands. Normally she would step up and take one for the team.
Not this time.
She can’t fix anything by finding her fated mate, because her mate died over twenty years ago.
Malaki Bowen is searching for answers. Living off the grid, he doesn’t have much contact with people, nor does he make it a habit of carrying on conversations. But when he lost his powers, he knew it was time to work on his people skills.
Since he left the security of his mountain he’s been tracked by an unknown assassin. He’s spent months on the run while making his way to Sin City where the three bear royals were rumored to live.
His mission: outrun the assassin and finally claim his mate to end the curse.
Nothing is ever simple. And facing Tamsin for the first time since they were teens will kill him. That is, if Tamsin doesn’t kill him herself after she learns the truth.
“Why can’t they just leave me in peace?” Malaki muttered as he ducked behind another tree to avoid a bullet. He was getting tired of running, but he knew that if he stopped, they would catch him. He had to keep moving.
Suddenly, he heard the assassins or whoever the hell they were getting closer. He was about to give up, to demand why they were chasing him. But he doubted they would tell him.
But then he heard her voice. She was calling his name.
He turned around and saw her standing a few feet away, looking beautiful as always. Her black as coal hair blowing in the breeze. Even in the midst of all this chaos, she was calm and collected. Like the queen she would be some day. She held out her hand to him. When he reached for her, she vanished, replaced with the assassin charging straight for him.
He took off through the forest, heading down the mountain.
Months ago, he wouldn’t have worried about a few bullets, but now he had reason to be concerned. His magic was gone. That meant Malaki didn’t heal as fast as he once did. It would be too easy for his attackers to capture or kill him.
Not going to happen.
He’d made the mountain his home over twenty years ago. He lived in peace where no one knew who he was. After all, his own kind had thought he was dead. Now someone was trying to disturb his peace and quiet. And end his life.
Another shot rang out and tree bark flew through the air, missing his ear by inches.
“Son of a bear,” he groaned. If only he could shift, but with his magic gone that was a challenge to make happen on a regular basis. He’d tried one day and been in bear form for two weeks. He tired a few more times after that and the results were all different. Either he’d half shift or not at all. It was better to stay human unless he didn’t have another choice.
Running down the unmarked trail, he was able to get a good lead on the person shooting at him. Even though his magic was gone, he still had his super strength and speed. He used everything in him to make his way down the mountian.
When he got to the nearest town, it would be easier to lose the shooter in a crowd. Malaki hoped no humans would be harmed. But it was a risk he had to take.
He didn’t have his truck nearby. In winter, there was too much snow to keep a vehicle on the mountain and he hadn’t brought it up from town yet even though it was spring now. A judgment failure on his part for sure.
But if he could make it to the truck, he had a chance of getting away. Maybe he could find Tamsin again if he made it out of this alive. The thought of her gave him strength to keep going.
The closer he got to town, the more people he saw. It wouldn’t be long before the assassin found him again, so he put a little more speed in his forward motion. The faster he got out of there the better it was for everyone.
When he reached his truck that was parked in the grocer’s parking lot, he got in and peeled out of the parking lot. There was a shot and his back window shattered.
“Shit!” he cursed as he drove faster. The last thing he needed was to get pulled over by the cops.
The tires squealed as he turned onto the main road. There were too many people around for the shooter to take another shot. He was safe. For now.
A beat-up black van pulled out from a side road, forcing Malaki to slam on the brakes. Instantly, his truck door was ripped opened. A fist slammed into his face, making him growl. He caught the next punch before it made contact, and squeezed. The sound of crunching bones was accompanied by a cry of pain from his assailant.
Malaki pushed the man, making him stumble backward, losing his balance. He fell on the pavement as Malaki got out of his truck. “Who are you and why are you trying to kill me?”
The man, a wolf shifter, snarled before charging back at him, not answering his question. Malaki stared into the feral depths of a rogue. Dodging a another punch, he took matters into his own hands and snapped the neck of the person in front of him.
He hated killing people, but this had been a moment of self-defense. There hadn’t been another way to make him stop.
Seconds later, a demon materialized in front of him.
You’ve got to be kidding me.
Fury began to churn within, but Malaki kept it just under the surface. If he still had his magic, he would have ended the assassination attempts months ago. Using his human skill set wasn’t going to keep him alive very long if there were more of these assassins coming for him.
Letting his bear senses take over, he focused on the closest attacker. Thank goodness his shifter abilities weren’t all gone.
He waited for the demon to make the first move and when he did, Malaki dodged a punch while throwing one of his own. His fist connected with throat of the demon hard enough to snap his neck.
All these years living on a mountain, hiding from people and those in the shifter world might have made him socially awkward, but it didn’t stop him from learning how to defend himself when the need arose.
He’d always known that he’d have to go back to Tamsin and when he did, he would need to be able to protect her. She was the next in line to inherit the throne when her parents died.
The past was coming back to haunt him, and it was time to move into a future with his mate. He just didn’t know that the end of using magic would force him to find her now.
Assuming that his vehicle was tagged and would lead whoever was trying to kill him back to Tamsin, he ditched the truck and caught the next bus going in the opposite direction. It would take a bit longer to find a few connecting bus routes, but it was necessary to keep the assassins from following him to the Artio clan’s home.
Sin City was only about a day’s drive from his mountain home. But he had to take the roundabout way to get there to make sure he wasn’t followed. This would take him a little longer, but if it meant keeping his mate safe, he’d do it.
Malaki used several bus stations in some of the larger towns to get on a bus and then get off at the next stop only to hop another one going in the opposite direction.
He couldn’t teleport without magic these days, and he hated using planes. With his size, it felt like being stuck in a tin can. They were the worst place to get caught when someone was determined to kill him.
Looking over his shoulder at each stop, he was worried that he might be imagining things. What if this person had nothing to do with Tamsin and simply wanted him dead?
It might just be a lunatic that hated bears and wanted them all killed for some strange reason.
But why? That was a question he repeatedly asked himself since losing his magic.
Even as the thoughts flitted through his mind, he shrugged them off. This felt personal. It could be someone wanting to hurt Tamsin in some way if they killed him. As far as he knew, Tamsin thought he was dead. It was the main reason he hadn’t gone to her before now. But what if someone found out he was alive? And that someone wanted to hurt Tamsin, they’d come after him. The thought of them succeeding and delivering his dead body to his mate angered him all the more. It would destroy her all over again. He wasn’t going to let that happen.
His magic had been on the fritz for a while—months. He had chalked it up to not being able to be around a pack of bears for any given length of time. There were instances where bears had gone insane because they weren’t able to be with others of their kind.
While his isolation had been self-inflicted, he hadn’t expected to have this type of problem come up. Nothing he’d studied the past few months had prepared him for the effects that not having magic would have on his body or mental state.
He’d been able to shift a few times, but not in the same manner that had always come naturally. His bear was confused and craved their mate more than ever. It could be instinct, like a return home feature in his DNA. When crisis hits, go home to help. Tamsin was his home.
He was betting on Tamsin knowing what was going on and why magic had suddenly disappeared.
His mate was going to be pissed that he was alive and never sought her out. Her brothers would want to kick his ass for upsetting their sister. Their wrath would be worth finally seeing her.
Lost in thought about what he would say to his mate, Malaki almost missed that someone closed in behind him. When he started to turn, someone grabbed his neck. Just as fast, he threw his fist back, hitting his attacker in the groin.
A loud oof echoed from behind him as the assailant dropped to his knees, releasing Malaki’s neck.
Turning, Malaki stared down at the man. “Who sent you?”
The assassin shook their head.
“Very well, I didn’t want to have to do this.” Malaki pulled a vial of liquid from his pocket and emptied its contents on man in front him. The rogue before him began to melt until there was nothing left but tiny bits that dissolved into nothingness around them both.
Malaki took his seat again as if someone melting into thin air was absolutely a normal occurrence. Luckily, there weren’t many people on the bus.
When his magic disappeared, he’d visited a witch in the village to find out what was going on. The only information that she’d been able to give him was that magic had been cursed. Lucifer was jealous that the factions were becoming more powerful than he, so he cursed all factions.
But like all magic, there are loopholes and grey areas. Lucky for Malaki, the witch he went to see wasn’t part of a faction or coven so her powers were still with her. Lucky for Malaki.
He purchased several potions from her in case he needed them. It had seemed like the prudent thing at the time, and he’d taken all that she’d had ready.
He settled further into his seat and watched the terrain move along, each mile taking him closer to the woman he’d left behind all those years ago.
His true mate.