Leap of the Lion
THE WILD HUNT LEGACY, BOOK 4
She shifts for the first time on the day of her escape.
After a decade of captivity, Darcy MacCormac escapes the corrupt, clandestine organization called the Scythe, leaving family and friends behind. She must find a way to rescue them. Discovered by other shifters, the brand-new cougar gets two mentors. Blademage Gawain is an easy-going blacksmith with a steel-hard core. His brother Owen is a deadly warrior. Grumpy. Rude. And he doesn’t like her.
They aren’t the mates she’d dreamed of—they’re more.
Powerful, dominating Owen protects the clan—especially the weak—and the only remnant of an abused childhood is his avoidance of females. Now he has to mentor one? Although Gawain soon falls for the dauntless little cat, Owen knows better than to lose his head. But Darcy has a gift for repairing everything…including damaged hearts.
Love isn’t in her destiny.
In the brothers’ arms, Darcy finds safety. Comfort. And love. But however much she longs for a future with Owen and Gawain, her people need her. Somehow, she must find the courage and skills to save them, even if the attempt demands her life.
PRAISE FOR THIS SERIES
"As always, Cherise Sinclair provides a finely crafted book with fascinating characters, an intriguing plot, scorching hot sex, and total satisfaction with the outcome. 5 Stars – Purest Delight!" ~ Guilty Pleasures Book Reviews
"I was…COMPLETELY CAPTIVATED! Leap Of The Lion was just as sexy, edgy, and perfect as her BDSM romances." ~ Marie’s Tempting Reads
"As with the previous books in the series, expect a hot menage, paranormal romance, and people who make you want to find them and give them a hug." ~ Guilty Pleasures Book Reviews
Way to go, tinker.
Darcy wanted to cry—but, hey, not an option for a cougar. It was so amazing that she’d actually trawsfurred. Only…the miracle had turned into a disaster. Because she couldn’t shift back.
In the chilly September night, she lay curled up and shivering in a dirt hollow above a tiny stream. Her right hind leg, right foreleg, and ribs throbbed angrily. The gunshot wounds and the areas she’d cut with her knife were oozing and smelled foul. The wounds were infected.
And she was trapped.
Over the past…however long it had been…she’d kept trying and trying to trawsfur back to human form. No luck. As the humans would say, she was screwed. With her injured legs handicapping her and no experience, she hadn’t caught any food in the forest.
As far as she could tell, Seward Park was a tiny peninsula, a “finger” projecting out into a huge lake. Whenever she’d tried to escape the park, the Scythe had blocked her escape. Yesterday, they’d brought in hunting dogs and more men.
From experiments on the Dogwood captives, the Scythe knew tranquilizers drove shifters berserk, which explained why the hunters were shooting real bullets, aiming to disable her. They’d spotted her at dawn, and a bullet had grazed her ribs, slowing her even more. She’d escaped only because the park had opened, and the hunters retreated to their camp.
They’d find her tonight.
As her despair deepened, she rubbed her chin on her forepaws. She’d only be free and alive for a few more hours. When they realized she wouldn’t let them take her alive, they’d shoot to kill.
Well, if she died tonight, at least she’d gotten to be a cougar. She closed her eyes, feeling the breeze ruffle her fur. As each hair tip moved, the wind’s touch felt like a caress.
Her ears swiveled to catch the sound of a rustle in the grass. Ears that turned were so strange. And difficult to control. If she actually tried to make her ears or tail move, nothing happened. But now, with sickness and exhaustion overwhelming her, her feline instincts were taking over.
A louder noise caught her attention, and she lifted her nose to scent the breeze.
Only the forest fragrance.
Last night, she hadn’t caught the scent of any Dogwood shifter-soldiers with the Scythe’s humans and dogs. What if the male villagers showed up to hunt her tonight? Her stomach knotted. To keep their littermates safe, they’d follow orders and capture her. However, in cougar form, she couldn’t speak to tell them about the second concealed tracker.
Could her escape have gone any more wrong?
Sure, it could have. Other shifter females or males might have been hurt during her breakout. That would have been intolerable.
As almost silent footsteps sounded, her ears pivoted. She smelled the air, but the wind was wrong, blowing her scent toward whatever was coming.
A naked man stepped out of the brush, sniffed, and his gaze fixed on her hiding place.
Cold terror flooded her. Run! She leaped out of the hollow toward the thickest underbrush. Pain stabbed into her wounded legs, and she hissed. Gathering herself, she leaped toward the—
A cougar smashed into her, knocked her onto her side, and came down on top of her. He was heavy, so heavy, and more pain shot through her.
Her claws emerged, and she twisted to bring them to bear.
A terrifying growl reverberated in her ear. Teeth closed on the back of her neck, and each time she moved, his jaws bit down. The animal could sever her spine if he wanted.
Panting in dread, she went limp.
Her worst fear had come true—the Scythe had sent the shifter-soldiers.
Tell them. She had to tell the males about the trackers right now. Her paws twitched as she tried to trawsfur back to human.
She lay still under the male and trembled.
The naked human walked out of the brush. He was tall with short brown hair and a square jaw. His lack of clothing indicated he was a Daonain shifter and not human.
“Conclusions, Owen?” the male asked. “If she’s not fighting you, I’d guess she’s not feral?”
The cougar holding her down made a chirrup-purr of agreement.
When the naked shifter drew closer, the teeth on her neck tightened to ensure she couldn’t attack the unarmed male.
“I smell blood. Did you damage her?”
The cougar made a low growl of no.
Keeping his distance, the naked male circled her and made a grunting sound. “Her right hind and foreleg have infected wounds. Got a bloody graze across her right ribs deep enough to show bone. Either she has been poking herself with sticks or someone shot her. More than once.”
The rumble of anger from the heavy cougar filled Darcy’s brain, and she flattened her ears, wishing she were as tiny as a mouse. A mouse might have a chance.
The naked male stared down at her. “You need to trawsfur to human so we can figure out what to do.”
The order was like a kick to her belly. Everything in her surged forward, trying to do as he asked…and failing again. The sound she made was more of a kitten’s whimper than a cougar’s snarl. Her shivering increased.
“By the Lady, we don’t have time for this.” The male frowned at her. “Now, female.”
The teeth clamped on her neck released her. As magic tingled in the air, the cougar on her back was replaced by a huge male in human form. He rose to his feet.
The shorter male put his hands on his hips. “Got a suggestion, Owen?”
Darcy tried to stand.
“Don’t move, female.” Even in human form, the one named Owen had a growl that shattered her courage. Several inches over six feet, he had straight, rich brown hair to his shoulders, dark stubble along a strong jaw, and thick dark brows. He looked…mean.
When moonlight glinted across a blade-shaped scar on his cheekbone, she went still. Every Daonain knew the symbol for a cahir—a warrior of the Daonain.
He looked at the other male. “Tynan, I don’t think she can shift.”
“Of course she can shift. She’s fully grown, not some thirteen-year-old girl.”
“Uh-huh. I’m sure if you explain that to her carefully, she’ll trawsfur right back.”
Tynan gave the cahir a narrow-eyed look before turning his attention back to her. “You can’t change to human form, lass?”
Darcy shook her head from side to side. If they were Scythe, they wouldn’t talk with her. Although maybe their friendliness was a trick. If only her brain were working better. Still, why would they bother to talk? They wore knives and could simply cut her throat. Or bite through her spine. No discussion needed.
“Getting a wounded cat past the dogs and hunters will turn into what Calum’s mate calls a clusterfuck.” The annoyance in Owen’s low, rough voice was oddly reassuring…because he was on her side.
“No choice.” Tynan’s voice had the lilt of an Irish accent. “Cosantir’s orders.”
Cosantir? Darcy pulled in a breath of relief. A Cosantir, the God-empowered guardian of an entire territory, would never work for the Scythe. These males couldn’t be Scythe shifter-soldiers. Whatever were they doing in a city?
Oh, if she could only talk with them.
“Are you going to come with us nicely, female?” Owen’s question was blunt.
There was nothing she wanted more…but this was wrong. They couldn’t get her past the Scythe guarding the exits. She’d tried. The thought of putting these males into danger made her heart hurt. But she couldn’t speak and explain.
More importantly, they were offering her a chance to save the other villagers. She had to let them try. She nodded to Owen.
And if she died trying to escape? By the Mother’s sweet blessing, she would die in the company of her own kind.
“You know the area. Shift and lead us out, Tynan.” Owen trawsfurred and waited for the female to follow the wolf before bringing up the rear.
Tynan retraced their path for a while, then angled north to keep their scent from the encampment.
The little female—and fuck, she really was little—limped along without a sound. The air brought him the scent of her illness—sick, infected, starving. She was weak and wouldn’t be able to run long at all.
How could he sneak her past the encampment without the hunting dogs catching her scent? If it came to a chase, he might manage to wipe out the canines, but the animals were backed up by humans with weapons.
Anger ran through him and sang for him to enter their fucking camp and teach them the dangers of threatening a Daonain female.
Being sensible sucked. With a huff of disgust, he put his mind to devising a better plan than shred them all.
When Tynan finally halted and glanced back, Owen scuffed the dirt. In the paw language used by cublings during games, the gesture meant stay here. The cop might be competent in the city, but Owen lived in a forest—and hunted hellhounds. He’d do the reconnoitering.
Shifting to human, Tynan stepped in front of the female. The guards were too close for explanations, so the cop gripped her scruff and went down on his haunches, showing her that they’d wait.
After a second, she sank, belly to the ground.
Good. She was trying, and Owen appreciated that. On the trail, when she’d stumbled and thumped her wounded leg against a log, she hadn’t made a sound. Even now, as tremors shook her body, she stayed silent. She was sick—and scared—and by the God, she was a brave little thing.
He gave her a nod of approval before sliding silently into the brush and moving upwind. .
Before approaching the camp, he circled to approach from upward, crept closer, then took to a tree. From the high vantage point, Owen watched the hunters form a long line of men. The dogs were readied to go. Two guards were chatting near three black vans and two pickups to the right of the tents. Vehicles. Hmm.
Averse to metal, shifters rarely became mechanics. But as a teen, Gawain had learned to hotwire cars to help shifters who’d gotten themselves into awkward situations. City-dwelling Tynan might well know the trick.
Plan formulated, Owen headed back toward where he’d left the others, pausing to deal with one sentry. He generously put the human to sleep rather than gutting him.
Tynan and the female were still where he’d left them.
Owen shifted and crouched to murmur. “So, cop. Can you hotwire a truck?”
“That I can. Stealing a vehicle is your plan?” Tynan glanced at the female. “Right. I doubt she’d be able to walk out.”
“I doubt, too.” Owen gestured to the south. Downwind. He’d be able to draw the dogs and men away from the cars and keep them entertained. “I’ll create a diversion over there. The vehicles are on the north side. Take the pickup closest to the road, head for the exit, and I’ll catch up.”
Tynan’s displeased expression showed what he thought of driving away without Owen, but he nodded.
Owen pointed to the path they should take. “The guard there won’t bother you.”
“We’ll be off, then.” Tynan stroked the female and motioned for her to follow. After shifting to wolf form, he led the way down the trail Owen had indicated.
Time to hunt.
A few minutes later, Owen reached the end of the south sentry line and dropped out of the tree on top of the scent-impaired idiot. A quick slash-slash resulted in rewarding shouts of pain.
He leaped back into the trees, skipped the next sentry, and chose one who was walking in terrified circles. The scent of fear was gratifying.
His own scent should be drifting to the dogs about now.
Crouched on the branch, Owen waited for the right moment. The tip of his tail lashed. His haunches tensed.
The human turned.
Without a thought, Owen sprang, landed on the man’s back, and drove him onto his face. When Owen sank his fangs into the man’s shoulder, the pain-filled scream of terror was long and loud.
Shouldn’t be anyone asleep in the camp now.
Between the scent of cougar and the screams of pain, the dogs went into a frenzy. With several men shouting orders, chaos ensued.
Unheard in the uproar, an engine started up.
Huffing in satisfaction, Owen nipped the hunter’s ear to provoke another scream. And realized his mistake when shots peppered the area, snicking the leaves, and thwacking the tree trunks.
Owen snarled. The idiots were firing blindly, even with their own soldier in the line of fire.
A bullet hit the human, and his scream of agony sparked more gunfire.
Something thumped Owen’s leg—and pain burst like wildfire though his hind leg. A hiss escaped as he fought his cat instincts for control.
The squirrel-brained humans had shot him.