New Paranormal Romance from Bestselling MM Authors Charlie Cochet and Macy Blake.
A grumpy lion shifter duke with secrets, a sassy human who knows nothing of the shifter world, and a fiery arrangement neither of them expected.
Cormac Donegan, Duke of Everard, is all too familiar with the perils of his shifter world, especially as a Dahlia, one of the dragon king’s elite spies. After a mission nearly costs him his life, Cormac is sidelined, healing and grieving his heavy losses. Then a different kind of trouble shows up on his doorstep, a human claiming to be his fiancé.
When Jason Reaves is nearly killed in a house fire, it becomes clear that someone is trying to murder him. With his already fragile health deteriorating, Jason’s only hope is to call in the debt a stranger owes his father– a favor that promises safety, protection… and marriage.
Jason’s escape leads him and his service dog, Mouse, to an impressive country estate. He’s expecting the older man who’d made the promise, not his ruggedly handsome son–who happens to be a Duke, as in rich and royal.
Will this Cinderfella find his happily ever after in the arms of a dashing–if somewhat irritable–duke? Or will Cormac’s secrets prove to be more dangerous than the shifters hunting him?
Warm, wet sandpaper dragged over Jason’s face, leaving behind a long, damp trail in its wake. Nothing could be a more jarring wake-up call than a giant dog tongue licking his cheek, his dog’s order to get up as she had urgent outside business to do.
“Mouse,” Jason whined without bothering to open his eyes, “do you really gotta go?”
Considering the extensive amount of training his service dog had gone through, he already knew the answer. If she woke him up, then yes, she really had to—wait. Why hadn’t she given him his morning tackle when he’d spoken? She also wasn’t doing her typical off-duty puppy prance that involved her giant paws stepping in unfortunate places.
Something was wrong.
Jason opened his eyes to find his fiercely loyal German Shepherd standing over him on the bed, her ears pointed straight up and her face directed toward his bedroom window. Her focus didn’t waiver for an instant.
And her hackles were raised.
Mouse never raised her hackles.
Jason eased himself into a sitting position, careful not to move too quickly. One of the joys of having a disorder that resulted in irregular blood pressure meant Jason was prone to fainting. Moving suddenly from lying down to sitting up meant he went down again, except the second time would be because he passed out. It was as frustrating and dangerous as it sounded. Hence his need for a specially trained cardio service dog.
Jason reminded himself to keep his oxygen levels up by taking deep breaths. He focused on inhaling and exhaling in an even rhythm, as well as monitoring his body for any signs of incoming vertigo. Luckily, he didn’t find any. He kept his attention on Mouse’s body language while monitoring his own heart rate and blood pressure.
Over the past few years, he and Mouse had developed a bond unlike anything Jason had ever experienced. He knew what every ear flick, side-eye, and huff of breath meant, just like she knew what every flutter of his heart and lungs indicated. Her laser focus on the window? That was new and more than a little scary.
Mouse concentrated on a sound only she could hear. Even though he couldn’t make out her dark eyes in the dim light of his room, Jason watched as she tracked someone—or something—outside of his house. He glanced at the clock on his bedside table. Three in the morning. Definitely not a good sign. He grabbed his cell phone and dialed 911.
“Nine-one-one, what is your emergency?”
“Someone is outside of my house,” Jason whispered urgently. Breathe. He couldn’t let his heart rate spike. “My service dog is alerting me. I need help, please.”
He rattled off his address, and the operator on the other end of the line didn’t hesitate as her fingers clacked on a keyboard in the background. Jason watched Mouse, waiting for any signals she might give him. The great thing about German Shepherds? They had the most expressive ears. Every movement of them might as well have been a complete sentence to Jason.
“Stay on the line with me,” the operator said.
“Okay,” Jason whispered.
It was okay. He was going to be okay. All he had to do was breathe and not pass out. Keep his heart rate steady even though his panic rose by the second.
“We have an officer on the way. Where are you located in the house?”
“I’m in bed. It takes me a few minutes to get up because I have a condition…it doesn’t matter. Do I need to hide?”
“Stay where you are for now. What’s your name?”
He kept his voice as quiet as possible, but his eyes never left Mouse. His room had two windows. One faced the front of the house where the Christmas lights he hadn’t had the energy to take down still twinkled through the window.
Mouse’s attention wasn’t on that window, though. Her focus was on the other side of the room, where the window faced the dark back corner of the house. Her ears twitched and moved slightly as whatever was out there moved farther around the house toward the back door.
Had he locked it?
He couldn’t remember. He’d taken Mouse out for her last potty break at about ten o’clock the night before. He’d kicked off his snow boots and wiped off her feet—there was just enough snow on the ground to make them wet and muddy—but he couldn’t remember turning back around and sliding the lock into place.
Jason swallowed hard. “They’re going around back. I can’t remember if I locked the door.”
“You’re doing great, Jason. Hang in there. Help is on the way. Is there a place for you to hide?”
Seconds later, neither his fear nor finding a hiding place mattered. Glass shattered from what sounded like the kitchen window. Mouse went from at attention to alert in an instant. She spun and poked Jason in the arm, her usual signal that he was about to have an episode.
“Not now,” Jason whimpered.
Calm. He had to keep calm.
“I think I’m—”
The fire alarms in the house shrieked, startling him and causing his heart rate to skyrocket. Mouse poked him once more.
“Send fire trucks,” Jason gasped, his lungs starting to falter as one of his attacks hit. And as much as he hated the idea, “And an ambulance.”
Glass shattered again, this time from farther away—the living room maybe—and Jason didn’t waste another second. He scrambled out of bed and snatched his backpack from its position in front of his nightstand.
He always kept a go bag packed because he never knew when he’d have an episode bad enough to send him to the hospital. Essentials for himself and Mouse were in that bag at all times.
Mouse decreased his need for emergency help, but Jason never got out of the habit. His dad had ingrained the need for him to be prepared to deal with his illness at all times. He shoved his wallet, keys, laptop, tablet, and external hard drive from his nightstand into the bag. Those pieces of electronics held his life’s work, and he couldn’t leave them behind. He added the photo album of him and his dad he’d not been without since the funeral. Mouse’s leash and harness went on her next, the well-practiced movements taking seconds.
Only then did Jason take a moment to look around the room. Crackling flames echoed through the house. He needed to get out, but what waited for him? Not that it mattered. Whatever he had to face outside wouldn’t be worse than the fire sweeping through his childhood home.
Mouse remained focused on the back of the house. The shrieking alarms would likely lead to a migraine—another delightful part of his complicated diagnosis—and he had a sneaking suspicion he only had a few more seconds to grab anything else from the room.
Would the police arrive in time?
Or did he have to face whatever awaited him outside on his own? Mouse might look ferocious, but she wasn’t trained in protection. He’d be putting them both at risk if he went out there before help arrived.
Smoke crept under the door.
Time was up.