UNTAMED (FERAL BONDS BOOK ONE)
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- ⭐ 7.5
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When Zaire Torva, enforcer of the Bay Pines pack, finds his mate near death in an underground fighting ring, he has no idea Lathan Ferox crashing into his life will turn his whole world upside-down. The struggle to save the man who claims Zaire’s heart tests their newly formed bond. And proves there’s nothing Zaire won’t do for him. Only, sharing him might be an issue. While on a mission to retrieve a runaway wolf cub, Zaire and Lathan come across a beautiful, fierce young woman, Embry Caelitēs, who watches over the child with all the instincts of a mare guarding her foal. Separating the two is impossible, and Embry possesses powers that can help Lathan tame his beast. Unfortunately, Zaire and Embry are like oil and water, clashing at every turn. All they have in common is how much they’re willing to sacrifice for the ones they love. Surrendering to the wild passion of the animal within, Zaire’s tempered connection with Embry grows, but will it be enough as Lathan’s very existence proves too great a risk for any peaceful pack to take? As Embry’s past closes in on her, and their little cub faces the danger she tried to escape, will love be enough to keep them all alive?
Three Years Earlier
Fresh blood slicked Embry Caelitēs’s hands as she stepped away from her brother, but she didn’t bother wiping them clean. There would be more. She watched Ace carefully strip off his shirt, pain stealing across his features. Pain he’d kept hidden until now. After another vicious battle he’d won, but not without sustaining a deep gash across his ribs.
Any sign of weakness would bring more challenges. So far, his skills kept most of the males of the herd at bay. There were plenty of females who wouldn’t be as…difficult to get close to as Embry, but those males who considered her the ultimate prize would wait for the right opportunity.
Wait for Ace to be too wounded to protect her.
Once he’d defeated the last challenger, he’d gone off alone to shift, packing a ripped piece of his dirty shirt against the gash before dressing quickly. He’d put on a brave face while the elders congratulated him.
Then returned to their cabin, lurching into the bathroom to vomit, pure agony making it almost impossible for him to rise even after she’d used her power to slow the bleeding.
This couldn’t be their life. Endless fights, whispered threats in the darkness, her skin crawling whenever a man glanced her way. She knew what they wanted, but she hadn’t realized no one would stop them from taking it by force.
No one but Ace.
Why hadn’t her mother warned her? Why had she pretended men could be gentle and sweet? Other than Ace, Embry didn’t believe any could look at her without imagining her naked and helpless, pinned under him as he…
Inhaling slowly, Embry pulled out a kitchen chair and gave her brother a hard look. “Sit.”
“It’s fine, Embry. Don’t waste your strength on me.” He let out a heavy sigh, then sat. “You should use it to escape.”
“I won’t leave you. Or our mother.” She knelt by his side and eyed the wound, trying to ignore the scars around it. He was only nineteen, a year older than her, and he’d done his duty to the herd. He should be enjoying the perks that came with being proven a fertile male, not spending all his time defending her. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. Embry, look at me.” He grabbed her wrist before she could place her hand over the wound. “Maybe they won’t come after you if you leave. Mother is pregnant again. Between the new baby and my son, our family has given the herd more than enough. You’re too young to start breeding anyway.”
She wasn’t and he damn well knew it. He’d been younger than her when he’d been forced to mate for the first time. “Do you really believe someone like Virgil would let me go? This isn’t the first time you’ve had to fight him.”
“Because he’s an asshole.” Ace pressed his eyes shut as she twisted free and laid her hand over the wound. He shuddered as the heat of her powers seeped into the broken flesh. “He won’t stop. None of them will so long as you’re within reach.”
“They would if I chose one of them.”
His sharp tone distracted the steady flow of magic and the energy from within spilled too fast to contain. Scalding pain flared over her palm as she sealed the gash. She swallowed hard, the scent of burnt skin making her nauseous.
If only she’d been born a fighter, rather than a healer, they wouldn’t be having this conversation. Female fighters were never fertile.
So they were never forced to mate.
Virgil had been the first to try with her. Before her eighteenth birthday, when she’d been out in the field checking on the wheat crops. Without warning, he’d knocked her off her feet, tearing her dress, his slimy lips rubbing against her cheek. She’d screamed, hoping her neighbors, who were within view, would help her.
They turned away, leaving her to him.
Reality hit her then. What she’d been shielded from her whole life. Females of breeding age could be taken by any man unless she had kin, or the strength herself, to stop him. Only pregnant women, and the very young, were protected by the herd. Her mother didn’t breed with different men again and again, risking her life, simply to strengthen the herd.
She did it to avoid this.
Ace heard her screams just in time. He’d stopped Virgil, almost killed him then, but the guard had intervened before he’d landed the fatal blow.
To calm him, the guard agreed any man who wanted to claim her had to come to him first. Her brother had the right to see if the man was worthy. Which always meant a physical battle, lasting until one man either withdrew or couldn’t fight anymore.
Never death, studs were too valuable, but they could survive a lot. So long as Ace could fight without damaging his ability to sire foals, they wouldn’t stop him.
Her brother had made it clear he’d continue until she either chose a man willingly or escaped the herd.
Leaving wasn’t an option, no matter how often he insisted it was. Mother was always sick. She’d lost so many babies over the years, and never truly recovered. Embry had to be here to take care of her, of the house and the gardens around it. Their farm fed most of the village, far enough from where they grazed for the vegetation to flourish.
If she had her way, she’d let half the men in the village starve, but the women, the few children, deserved better.
“I can’t just stand back and watch you fight anymore, Ace. And I can’t abandon our home.” She stepped away from him, shaking her head before heading to the sink to pump some water so she could wash her hands. “What if you taught me to defend myself?”
“You shouldn’t have to.” He stood, moving gingerly, and came over to the sink, dropping his shirt in the cold water to soak out the blood. “All those books you read—Embry, you know you don’t have to live this way.”
“Neither do you.”
“I have a son I want to make sure doesn’t grow up to be another Virgil. When he’s weaned, if his mother allows, I might take him away from here. But you don’t have to wait.”
“Let’s agree to disagree.”
“This isn’t the type of thing we can—”
“I love you, Ace. But drop it. Either you teach me how to defend myself or I’ll find someone else to do it. You won’t leave your son. I won’t leave you or mother.” She forced a smile, wishing things could be different. “End of story.”
Bracing his hands on the edge of the sink, he bowed his head, nodding slowly. “I’ll teach you, but you have to promise me something.”
She didn’t like the sound of that, but she kept quiet, waiting for him to continue.
“If it’s just me keeping you here, if I can’t protect you anymore…” His throat worked as he looked up and met her eyes. “You’ll leave before you let them do to you what they’ve done to our mother.”
Tears blurring her vision, Embry turned away from him, hugging herself tight. Their mother was in her bedroom upstairs, sleeping peacefully for once. That wouldn’t last. When she woke, they’d have to try to get her to eat. If she could keep anything down. In six months, she’d deliver another baby.
Hopefully, this one would live. If the infant survived, mother wouldn’t be asked to mate again for at least a year. A year might be long enough to make her strong. Strong enough for them to leave here together.
With their kind, infants surviving to term was rare. Most women didn’t make it past childbirth. That their mother had beat the odds twice meant they had the nicest house, the most land, and the respect of the elders.
All those things weren’t worth losing her.
But they would. One day, if she wasn’t taken away from here, giving the herd another foal would kill her.
“Maybe we can try to convince her, after she has the baby—”
“Promise me, Embry.” Ace’s lips edged up, though the slight smile didn’t reach his eyes. He pulled a small, sheathed dagger from his belt. “And I’ll make sure you can use this next time one of those fuckers comes after you.”
Wetting her lips, she stared at the knife. Ace wouldn’t have to fight as often if men knew she could protect herself. This would buy their family some time. Things would have to get really bad for her to abandon everyone and everything she loved.
She put her hand over her brother’s and nodded slowly, saying the two words she hoped she could forget once this conversation was over.
Out on the streets, Lathan Ferox didn’t question his control, but the second he crossed the threshold into the Spades bar, the assault on his sense proved how little he had. Scents of sweat and piss and blood, alcohol, perfume, cologne, wood and oil, all came at him, so strong he couldn’t breathe without tasting them. He shouldn’t be aware of them at all, but he’d changed. A change he still hadn’t adapted to.
Not as a man anyway.
He’d been warned not to test his control when he’d been left alone in the motel room. Told to wait.
He wasn’t ready.
But staying there with nothing but the low growl in the back of his mind was gonna drive him insane. He needed to be around people. Prove to himself he still belonged with them.
Only, you don’t.
Black ball cap pulled low over his eyes to shield them from the glaring neon lights, Lathan forced himself to keep moving. Head down, he wove through the crowd until he reached th
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