As soon as the earrings and shoes came off, he knew it was a brawl.
A brawl he wanted no part of. Especially when he’d been trying to sneak out. And one of the hardest things for someone like him to do was sneak anywhere. Yet he couldn’t walk away, he couldn’t turn his back. This was his friend’s wedding, and he wouldn’t let a couple of cats ruin it because they couldn’t hold their liquor or their predatory instinct to maul. But maybe, just maybe, if he defused this fast enough, he could still make it out without being caught. The key was to prevent an audience. No audience, no witnesses, and sneaking away could continue.
There. A goal. He liked goals.
And with that goal solidly in mind, Lachlan “Lock” MacRyrie walked through the trees surrounding the Long Island, New York, property that held his friend’s wedding. He’d never been to a wedding at a castle before but it fit the style of the bride, who brought geekiness to a whole new level. In fact, she was the one who’d told him to go. Wait. That wasn’t right. She didn’t tell him to go. She’d told him to, “Make a break for it! Before the hounds of darkness come for you and destroy our plans to release our people from their enslavement! Go, Lachlan MacRyrie of the Clan MacRyrie. Go! And don’t look back, my friend!” It would seem strange to those who didn’t know her, but Lock knew it was simply Jessica Ward’s way of saying, “Could you look more miserable? Just go already!”
He’d never been so grateful, although it wasn’t Jess’s fault he was having a miserable time. He did a little better at full-human events since he mostly received the “shock and awe” reaction. But among his own kind, the reaction was much less…welcoming.
Not exactly surprising, though, when the predators knew what he was. Knew that he could shift to a ten-foot, fifteen-hundred-pound, silver-tipped grizzly bear whenever the mood struck him. How did they know? Because from early childhood, shifter parents taught their cubs and pups to recognize a few things: the cackle of a hyena, the roar of a male lion, the howls of nearby wolves, and the scent of a grizzly. For the first three on that list, the directions were simple: “If you hear one of those and we’re separated, call for me. Right away.” But when it came to the grizzly, the directions were much more…specific: “When you catch that scent, go in the opposite direction. If you stumble across one, do not wake it up. If you do wake one up, pretend you’re dead or climb into a tree. High into a tree. And if you get between a sow and her cubs—pray.”
Tragically, Lock couldn’t even argue that any of what the other breeds said was false, although it was perhaps blown a bit out of proportion.
In the end, though, none of that mattered, because he didn’t like parties, detested weddings, and being trapped in this tux was annoying him beyond reason. Normally, to save his sanity, he wouldn’t even attend something like this, but he couldn’t miss Jess Ward’s wedding. A more amazing woman, shifter, and friend a man could never hope to have, and that’s why Lock was going to undertake the painful task of getting between two snarling females before they started tearing into each other. He was almost on them, was only a few feet from getting past the trees and between them, with luck before blood was spilled, because nothing attracted shifter attention quicker than the scent of fresh blood—and, of course, two drunk chicks fighting.
Yet before he could take those last steps, she was there, shoving the two females apart before they’d made contact. With her fangs out, a low and deadly growl rolling past her lips, she held her arms out from her body to keep them separated.
“A mixed breed,” some lioness had sneered about her earlier in the evening when this feline had passed. The more politically correct term was, of course, hybrid. A ridiculously gorgeous hybrid, too, whom Lock had first caught sight of at the ceremony. At the time, he’d felt someone staring at him, but that wasn’t unusual. People stared at him all the time. Yet when he’d finally glanced over his shoulder, out of mere bear-curiosity, to see who it was…well, he’d looked right at her. And, for the rest of the evening—through the synchronized wild dog dancing, the county-wolf line dancing, and the incessant conga lines led by some annoying male lion—Lock had watched her any time she’d come into his line of sight.
It was hard not to watch her when she was wearing that deliciously thin sleeveless black gown, equipped with only two little strings tied around her neck to hold the delicate material up, displaying the shoulders of an Olympic swimmer, while the thigh-high slit slightly off to the side revealed the legs of an Olympic gymnast. Or maybe he was fascinated by that striking face with those almond-shaped, bright gold eyes; the small nose that made him think of a house cat’s muzzle; those full lips that made him think of nothing but hot, sweaty sex; and those almost razor-sharp cheekbones that made him think she might be nothing but trouble.
Was it really any surprise he’d been unable to look away—or that he’d spent most of the evening thinking about asking her if she wanted a drink? Yeah, he’d thought about it. He was a bear and bears were notorious thinkers. They’d study, they’d think, then they’d move. Unfortunately he’d never found the chance to move. Not with her flitting all over that reception. Not that she was being social, though. She wasn’t. He watched her talk to a few people, but mostly she seemed to be on the hunt for something or someone, her gold eyes ever watchful, ever scoping out a target. He was surprised the Marines hadn’t recruited her. They’d snagged Lock right out of college and placed him with the Shifter-only Unit. He could easily see her as one of his teammates. Then again, probably not a good idea. He wouldn’t have gotten much done if he was busy staring at her all day.
“Cut this shit out right now,” she snarled at the two females. Her voice was low, a little rough. He liked it.
“Back off!” one lioness said. “This whore’s mine.”
“That’s it!” The hybrid let out a breath, lowered her arms to her sides. “That is it. Whatever Roxy O’Neill told you, it’s a load of crap.”
“How do you know?”
“Because I do. And if you weren’t on your fifth martini and you on your seventh Long Island iced tea, you dumb bitches would know that, too.”