The Lion's Pride(3)

By: Terra Wolf & Olivia Arran

Being my best friends, it didn’t work. “It’s been six months, honey. Your divorce is final now!”

Just hearing the words hurt, though I tried to hide it. They didn’t need to know that I still mourned my marriage. Not my husband; I’d accepted that he was an asshole and I was better off without him. But my marriage was supposedly a new beginning. It was meant to signify a different chapter in my life, of leaving all the silliness and heartbreak of dating behind. No more worrying did I look fat in this? Or, was green really my most flattering color? I’d also thought it would mean finally going from being a single woman to a mother, a role I had desperately craved.

And now I was a divorcee. Didn’t that have a nice ring to it? I tried really hard, but bitterness tended to cloud my thoughts these days, dragging me down with them. Think positive! I tried to pull myself together, if not for my sake, for my friends. They had been wonderful, rallying around me with hugs and wine. They were just trying to help, and it was my own fault that I hadn’t let them in, that they didn’t know I wasn’t fine with it.

“Okay, but I’m not doing the speed dating thing.” No way did I want to get saddled with another man, not so soon after the last one. I’d made a promise—I was putting myself first for once. Which meant my happiness, my career, and screw everyone else.

Kate beamed at me, giving my shoulder a quick squeeze. “You might change your mind—”

“I won’t.”

“We’ll see,” she trilled, leading the way into the main room.

Sound enveloped me, wrapping me in the dull thud of a beat that vibrated up through my feet, tingling through my bones. “So, what makes this place so special?” No sooner had the words left my mouth, I knew.

Shifters… They were everywhere, lounging on couches and propping up walls. Normally, you couldn’t tell a shifter from a human—not for sure, anyway. But here, it was obvious they weren’t even trying to act human. If I had to describe what made them different, I would have to say it was their energy. Shifters moved with a natural grace and predatory air, not because they thought they were better than us mere humans, but because it was who they were. The animal inside of them giving them that extra special quality that made them stand apart.

“Here’s your button with your number on.”

I waved the badge away. No way was I playing this game, shifters or not—men were men, and I’d sworn off them. “Nope.”

“Aw, come on, Lara!” Tina pouted, pinning her button just above her impressive cleavage. “There’s humans here, too!”

“It’s not that.” And it really wasn’t. I had nothing against shifters; the few I’d actually met had been friendly and nice. No different from humans, actually. “I’m just not ready. I’ll just grab a drink and watch you guys work it.”

Kate leaned in, putting her mouth next to my ear in a feeble attempt to be heard over the throbbing beat. “Hey, did you know that it’s Zane Sarson who owns this place?” She shook her head at my blank expression, her red hair swinging back and forth. “Seriously? You’ve never heard of him? Have you been living under a rock?”

I gave her my best really-you-had-to-go-there look.

“Sorry, sweetie. Of course you’ve had your mind on other things.” She patted my arm. “He’s been listed as one of the most eligible bachelors this year, with fur and without. They say he’s gorgeous, but totally untouchable. No one even had a picture of him so they had to put a photo of a lion for his slot in the magazine! Word on the street is he’s an incredible lover, very generous, if you know what I mean?” She nudged me, wriggling her eyebrows.

“He sounds the opposite of my type,” I commented, trying not to laugh. Rich, aloof playboy bachelors? Done that—had just divorced one, though, of course, he hadn’t been when we first met. The fame had come later, after the I do’s.

“Being rich doesn’t automatically make him an asshole, honey,” Tina piped up, her eyes darting around the room, her foot tapping in time to the beat.

“If his reputation precedes him, then he’s definitely not the kind of guy I’d like to meet, if I was looking for a guy—which I’m not.”

Suddenly, the music faded and a woman walked out into the center of the room. More like stalked, actually. She was tall and had the kind of figure that went out, then in, then out again in a voluptuous ripple of curves, her tailored jacket and pants fitting like a second skin. Short white-blonde hair lay in a sculptured pixie bob, emphasizing her big blue eyes and pink glossy lips. “Ladies and gentleman, welcome to The Pride and the first ever True Date event. We are about to begin, so if those participating could take a moment to listen, I’ll explain what’s going to happen. Then the fun will begin!” She made a flourish in the air, her eyes glowing a liquid silver.