The Lovers: Destiny's Prerogative
By: Karen Michelle Nutt
Published By: Tease Publishing LLC
ISBN # 978-1-934678-62-2
Word Count: 32,000
All Romance E-books:
Destiny's Prerogative by Karen Michelle Nutt
When Dr. Shay McCormick died, there was no white light, no loved one to comfort her. There was a half-man, half-jaguar there to greet her. He's a decedent of the nagual, a spirit guide. It isn't her time and he leads her to safety. Shay wants proof shapeshifters exist. Her curiosity leads her into a world of danger and to Gabriel Cruzado. Fate threw them together, but despite their differences, they work together, eliminating a threat to their future. Destined to be lovers long before he touched her soul and she saved his life.
Demetrius Cruzado loosened his tie as he thought about his visit earlier today from Antonio Vertiz.
Vertiz ran the local pub in town where most of the preternatural beings hung out. He asked Demetrius to look into the disappearance of his son, Tony, a sixteen year-old werejaguar, who went missing two months ago. Demetrius practiced law; he didn't run a detective agency. Because Vertiz and his father went way back, he made a few calls. To his chagrin, he discovered a rash of missing person reports had been filed in the Los Angeles region alone. At first the cops assumed the gangs were retaliating against each other, but now the faction targeted teenage weres--good kids with no history of trouble.
A few years back, his cousin at the San Francisco PD told him they experienced a similar problem. The police ferreted out a cult--humans whose motto stated: Eliminate shapeshifters from existence. Demetrius knew it had been too quiet.
Before he left the office, he put out a bulletin alerting the nearby were community to watch for suspicious behavior. How he detested humans who acted out of fear and not facts. Weres in general didn't threaten mankind. Sure, an occasional rogue shapeshifter reared his ugly head, but statistically speaking, humans murdered in greater numbers.
Demetrius headed down the long hall of the family estate glancing at the portraits Gabriel had painted of jaguars, large, strong and determined. Demetrius had to admit his brother's talent surpassed the conventional in the way he blended the colors triggering the painting to life. At first glance, one would only see the scenery until the optical illusion revealed the animal, as if it could leap from the foliage.
Gabriel finished a painting yesterday for the preserve's auction. Demetrius hoped his brother remembered to deliver it. With Gabriel's change nearing its peak, he'd been unpredictable.
Demetrius opened the mahogany wood door to the study, flipping on the lights as he walked in. He dropped his briefcase by his recliner before heading to the sidebar to pour himself a glass of wine. He sipped, the dark liquid held the aroma of mint and black currant. He let the silky texture linger in his mouth before he swallowed. “Aah, exactly what I needed.”
He intended to indulge again, but a sound pricked his ears. His face tightened, his adrenaline level spiked as he scanned the room for the intruder. Spotting a whispery movement near his desk, he placed his glass down, keeping his gaze locked on his prey. He moved with swiftness born to his kind and lunged. He grabbed the intruder by the scuff of his shirt and hauled him up, eager to do damage.
“Holy …” Demetrius bit back a curse. “Gabriel, what are you doing? I almost drove my fists into your skull.” Demetrius let go of his brother, shoving him aside.
Gabriel slumped forward.
“What in the world?” Demetrius' hand snaked out once more and steadied him. He pulled out the desk chair, letting his brother fall into the seat. “What's happened to you? Are you hurt?” He scanned for injuries.
“I'm spent,” Gabriel rasped out, his massive shoulders heaving with each breath he took.
Demetrius took in his brother's appearance and frowned. T-shirt halfway tucked into his jeans; his thick dark hair matted to his head, while trickles of sweat dripped down his face. His normally bronzed skin appeared pasty and blotchy. Demetrius' eyes narrowed to slits as he realized what caused his brother's rapid deterioration. “You channeled, didn't you?”
Gabriel met his gaze. “I had to. A lost soul wandered between life and death. I couldn't ignore the plea.”
“You know it's too risky for you right now. It's near your time. You could have been lost.”
“Better me than the woman I guided back.”
Demetrius' right eyebrow rose. “A woman? Your grandness of honor staggers me.”
Gabriel breathed an exaggerated sigh. “How do you live with yourself, Demetrius? How do you pretend the souls aren't out there? We're the descendants of the nagual. The Jaguar is our brother and we are one.”
“I accept we are shapeshifters. No, correction.” His voice had risen. “I embrace it, but I do not risk my life to save a human who would rather see us dead. I will do business with them, I will live among them, but I will not risk my neck by playing hero in the astral plane.” His cold eyes sniped at him.
“You need a human to mate,” he reminded his brother.
“Need? The statement is a perverse joke in itself. We're ordered to take one and change them so we may strengthen our numbers. They're hybrids, Gabriel. I can smell them a mile away. They aren't born weres and you would be wise to remember the difference.”
They stared at each other with eyes the same color of golden brown. Gabriel took a ragged breath as he spoke. “The woman, this lost soul, accepted me in my were state.”
Horrified, Demetrius snarled. “You appeared to her as a jaguar? Even if she couldn't project her own illusion, you should have.”
“I couldn't help it. The changes in my body interfered with my shifting.” His tongue moistened his lips. “She didn't fear me. In fact she seemed more comfortable with my animal side.”
Demetrius rolled his eyes heavenward. “All fine and interesting, but where was Sandra when you were risking your life on the astral plane? She should have stopped you. Until you bond, you shouldn't shapeshift or channel. Did you forget what we were taught? I don't understand why the two of you are prolonging the mating ritual. Do it already or does Sandra find some perverted pleasure from your suffering?”
“She's gone,” Gabriel stated. He clutched the chair and squeezed his eyes shut.
Demetrius pierced his lips together as he noticed Gabriel's pallor turn a nice shade of green. “What do you mean gone?”
Gabriel opened his eyes, the unspoken pain illuminating them. “She left me.” He swallowed hard.
Demetrius remained silent until the information hit home. “She can't leave you. You marked her. She let you.”
“I didn't initiate the final bite. She couldn't deal with becoming what we are.”
“Now,” Demetrius threw up his hands. “She decides this now. Dammit Gabriel, you should have taken her anyway.”
“Not against her will. I don't want a mate who will despise me for changing her.”
Demetrius heard the slight warning in his brother's voice, but he chose to ignore it. “You only have to mate once every year. She could stand you for that long.”
Gabriel slammed his fist down. The sudden movement cost him. He swayed and he gripped the side of the desk. Demetrius cringed as he witnessed his brother swallow back the bile threatening to come up. After a few seconds, he gained control again. “I want someone willing to take the bite, be my partner for life,” Gabriel insisted.
Disgusted with his brother, Demetrius couldn't stop the heavy dose of sarcasm from dripping into his words. “Well fool, I can see how splendidly true love has worked out for you so far. You've run out of options, haven't you?”
“I'll deal with it.” Gabriel leaned back in the chair.
“How are you planning to do this? If you haven't looked in a mirror lately, you look like shit. You're body is already giving into the changes and in little over two weeks it will be the full moon and too late to help you.”
Gabriel clamped his mouth shut. The ringing silence drew out.
Then it dawned on Demetrius how his brother planned on dealing with the situation. He wouldn't mate. “You're insane.” He threw up his hands and backed away from the desk. “No one has ever survived, Gabriel. Don't let Sandra's rejection guide you in your decision. Choose someone else.”
Gabriel rubbed his hands over his face. “It must be my mate's prerogative.”
“Oh stop being a martyr. So what if Sandra didn't want to be a werejaguar. If you aren't aware of the options, it's also your choice to live or die.”
“You are being overly dramatic, Demetrius. I may survive the change.”
“And be what? If you survive, you won't blend in with the humans. Your animal side will become dominant.”
“Then put me in the Feline Wildlife Preserve. The Cruzados donate enough money to them? I'll live out my days there.”
“Fine stupid ass. If you survive, I'll see you're placed in a nice cell for the rest of your life.”
“Hey, look at the bright side, I may combust eliminating your worries.”
“Fabulous,” he scorned. “I'll let our parent's know their eldest son decided to take a cosmic nap instead of taking a mate. If you were so bent on finding your soul mate, you shouldn't have wasted your time with a human who didn't give a damn.”
“She cared,” Gabriel defended Sandra.
Demetrius' gazed pinned him down. Everyone knew Sandra Tupac's father suffocated her with his perverse shaman rules. The woman jumped at the sight of her own shadow, but Gabriel loved lost souls. No one could deny he hadn't tried, but Sandra's fears were more than Gabriel could handle. “Love is not what it's cracked up to be,” Demetrius said. “When my time comes, I'll pay for a woman. We have the money. That's the advantage of being a Cruzado.”
“I think your plan constitutes as prostitution.”
“I'll marry her. The Cruzado name alone is worth its weight in gold. She'll have prestige in the were community and the money to go with it. All she'll have to do is sleep with me once a year. Frankly, I don't see how that's a bad trade off.”
“It sounds cold and lonely.”
“And your way sounds so much better. Now tell me where Sandra is holed up. I'll drag her ass back here and you'll deliver the mating bite.”
“I won't do it. I gave her my word that she would be safe. Don't you dare give her another reason to fear us.”
“The surprises keep on coming. You knew she feared us, yet you stayed with her. I don't care how good-looking the woman is the grief she's given you isn't worth it. Now you'll die for her so you can prove your human side of compassion is the dominant. Get over yourself. This is survival of the fittest.”
“I said leave it. It's my choice.”
Demetrius' nostrils flared as he scrambled for another argument to sway his brother. At a loss for words, he slammed his fists on the desk and left the room.
“I should handle this on my own.” Demetrius played with the idea before he vetoed it. He might need help. “Lucas could lend a hand.” He played with the idea and cringed.
Demetrius preferred control and insisted on order. The laid back youngest Cruzado, by two years, knew nothing of organization. He preferred to spend his time at the beach, lounging in the sun without a care in the world. All werejaguars loved the water, but Lucas took it to a new level. Beach bum status fit him to a tee. Dark hair streaked lighter by the sun, and his skin held a tropical glow all year round. His wardrobe consisted of t-shirts, board shorts and flip-flops. Demetrius didn't mind the casual look, but the guy didn't own anything else.
Lucas was here now. Demetrius convinced him to stay until the special dedication dinner at the Feline Wildlife Preserve. So he'd be here for at least a couple of more weeks. That reminded Demetrius, he needed to find something in his closet for Lucas to borrow. Being about the same size, it shouldn't be difficult.
He didn't knock, but burst into his brother's room.
Lucas leaned over his surfboard, probably examining it for dings. He looked up with an upward jerk of his head in greeting. “Hey.”
“We have a problem,” Demetrius announced.
“Yeah? What kind of problem?” Lucas continued to work on his surfboard.
“Sandra left Gabriel out to dry.”
“Man, that sucks.”
Demetrius rolled his eyes. “It will if we don't find someone to take Sandra's place.”
“Us?” Lucas' attention riveted to him. He put his board down and focused. “Don't you think Gabriel should choose?”
“He won't. He doesn't want to jeopardize the woman. He's afraid he might harm her. She might be allergic to the were gene. She might die. Blah, blah, blah,” his sarcasm dripped nastily.
Lucas' brow furrowed. “Sure it might be risky, but he has to take someone. Granted a soul mate would be preferred, but he can't be choosy now.”
“Exactly.” Demetrius threw up his hands relieved Lucas joined him on the same page. “However, sainted Gabriel will have nothing to do with it.”
“So what can we do?” Lucas shrugged.
A slow smile spread across Demetrius' face as a plan formed in his mind. “We bring a woman to him.”
Lucas chuckled joining in on the joke until he met Demetrius' somber expression. “Oh come on. What are you going to do? Hold Gabriel down and hope the woman takes advantage of him. Besides, Gabriel will never forgive us if the girl dies.”
Demetrius harrumphed. “I didn't say I had all the details worked out.”
“What do you have worked out?”
“Uh …” Demetrius rubbed his chin. Then he remembered something Gabriel told him. He looked at Lucas with a smug smile. “Gabriel channeled.”
“He made a connection with a human, revealing his jaguar form. He marked her soul.”
Lucas nodded. “It could work. The were DNA won't be such a shock to her system.”
“Exactly,” Demetrius said. “All we have to do is find out who she is.”
“How do you plan on accomplishing that feat, calling every hospital to find out who had a near death experience?”
“No.” He smiled. “You are.” He turned and headed for the door.
“Oh come on, Demetrius,” Lucas whined.
“And,” Demetrius looked back at his brother, his gaze taking in his brown board shorts and t-shirt. “I'll have a suit ready for you.”
“Suit? What for?”
“For the fundraiser at the Feline Wildlife Preserve.” He grinned as he continued on his way.
“Fine, but I'm not wearing shoes,” Lucas called after his brother.