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Alpha Hunted 3: Ivy, David & Ryker

by J. M. Klaire



When two wolf-pack enforcers show up right in the middle of some serious family drama, Ivy is almost too busy with her own personal crisis to notice how hot the tattooed bad boys are.

With secrets being revealed left and right, her family being hunted, and her own hidden identity a key to the whole thing, the last thing she needs is two lone wolves claiming that she, and only she, can complete their triad and become their mate.

Not sure she even believes in fated mates, and needing to keep her family together while getting to the bottom of a mystery three generations in the making, she tells the men no.

And no isn't a word they are used to hearing.





The Alpha Hunted Series Recommended Reading order:


Before The Hunt: Sandra & Naythan (Prequel)

Alpha Hunted: Keelyn & Bane

Alpha Hunted 2: Bella & Mac

Alpha Hunted 3: Ivy, David & Ryker

Alpha Hunted 4: Enid & The King

An Impawsible Christmas (Sequel)



Each paranormal shifter romance can be read as a stand-alone, though the Alpha Hunted saga does have an over-arcing, bigger story that carries through the entire series. Get them all on J. M. Klaire’s website JKlaireRomance.com



This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events and incidents are

either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

Copyright © 2017 by JM Klaire

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical

means, including any information storage, transmission and/or retrieval systems, without

written permission from the author or publisher, except for the use of brief quotations in a

book review.

Published by JKlaire Romance

http://www.jklaireromance.com

ISBN-10:1983835765

ISBN-13:978-1983835766 










Author's Note:

I've been asked when/where this series takes place.

It takes place in a world of my making. If shifters really did exist, cars were never invented, people still paid rents to kings, but the future rolled on to the current date, that's where/when this series takes place. So basically now, only with kings, castles, shifters and no cars, lol. Why? Because I made it up, that's why.

Enjoy!



Alpha Hunted 3: Ivy, David & Ryker

by J. M. Klaire


Chapter 1


Ivy's first thought when the supposedly human infant shifted into a wolf pup in front of her eyes was Oh holy hell, this can't be good.

She'd been talking in the kitchen with her sister Keelyn, and Keelyn's fiancé Bane, when it happened. Their friends Sandra and Naythan had come into the kitchen together, laughing and teasing each other as only a married couple exhausted and loopy from caring for their first baby could.

Sandra was holding their infant son, Ash, in her arms as Naythan said something that made Sandra giggle and blush. Naythan reacted to Sandra's pleasure by leaning in close to her, biting her ear, mumbling something undoubtedly dirty under his breath, and punctuating his low whisper with an equally low, rumbling growl.

The baby in Sandra's arms twisted suddenly, tightening up in what Ivy assumed was going to be a loud cry, startled by his father's growl so near his own ears as it was aimed into his mother's, but the shrieking wail Ivy expected never came.

What Ash did instead of wail was to writhe and then elongate under the blanket he was wrapped in, and then suddenly grow and twist so quickly, and with such force, that Sandra was forced to grope empty air in an effort to try to catch the bundle that was now falling from her arms.

Ivy lunged as well, trying to catch baby Ash before he hit the kitchen floor, but all she caught was the edge of the blanket as a ball of dark fur on four legs landed smoothly on his paws and took off out of the kitchen at a dead run.

"Oh, fuck!"

Keelyn's panicked words hit Ivy's ears, and all Ivy could do was laugh at what was obviously a prank well pulled.

"Very funny, guys! You almost gave me a heart attack," Ivy giggled, her hands covering her mouth and her eyes wide as she spoke. "Where in the world did you get a dog and whose idea was it to wrap it up and pretend it was Ash?"

When Ash's parents didn't laugh and say something like, "You should have seen your faces!" Ivy's laughter turned to confusion.

She turned to Keelyn, only to see that her sister's face was now a white mask of panic-stricken knowledge, as all the blood had drained from it.

Keelyn never panicked. She was a were-hunter who faced danger every day, so her panic pierced Ivy straight through the heart.

"That was a joke, right? What the hell is going on you guys?"

She was answered by a loud crash in the other room. Glass broke, it sounded like a chair or two fell over, and a growl that could have only come from a small, trapped animal filled the house.

Her mom's voice rang out from somewhere else in the house, adding to the chaos, "What in bloody hell was that?"

The animal answered Enid's question with a howl that chilled Ivy's blood, and suddenly everyone was in motion.

Ivy followed Keelyn, Bane, Sandra and Naythan out of the kitchen, and she caught sight of her mother's face once everyone was all in the same room.

Enid's face was just as white as Keelyn's was, only there was no panic on it. Her mom's face glowed with horror instead, and that look was quickly replaced with hatred.

What the hell was going on?

Someone swung the door that lead out back open, from the outside, and Ivy heard Naythan yell, "No! Don't let him out, I just need another minute! Aww, hell."

Ivy watched as the dark ball of fur made a mad dash for the open door, and disappeared out into the night, past her other sister Bella, and Bella's suitor Mac.

Bella and Mac had been out back, and it was clear that Mac had been the one to open the door, probably after hearing all hell break loose in here.

Naythan pushed passed Bella and Mac, waiting until he was clear of the doorway and fully outside before growling, "Damn it, Mac. Now I've gotta chase him down."

Mac didn't even have time to respond before Naythan threw himself forward, four paws hitting the grass where two feet had been a second before.

Naythan took off after Ash as Bane stepped outside as well.

"I'm going, too. To help corral the cub, pack style. You should probably stay here. Your scent will confuse him, turning what Ash thinks is a playful chase he doesn't quite understand yet into a pursuit of a different kind."

Mac just nodded as Bane also shifted into a wolf and disappeared into the trees, helping Naythan try to catch Ash.

"What. Are. You?"

Her sister Bella's words reached Ivy's ears as she stepped outside with Keelyn, Enid and Sandra at her heels.

Sandra started pacing at the tree line, trying to see through the trees to wherever the wolves had gone, her infant son included. Keelyn looked guilty as sin, and Enid just looked pissed.

When Mac didn't answer her, Bella turned to Keelyn instead, saying, "What the hell just happened, Kee? Tell me Bane and Naythan did not just turn into wolves before my eyes. The little wolf Naythan ran after so panicked- tell me that wasn't tiny little Ash."

When everyone just stared at her she yelled the words louder, "TELL ME! Tell me something, damn it! What the hell is going on? Did you know? Did you know your fiancé was a wolf? Let's start there, sister."

She spat out the word sister like she was already condemning Keelyn for being personally responsible for everything she'd seen tonight.

Keelyn nodded at her.

"Yes, I knew Bane was a wolf. Not when we met, but I knew when I brought him here. I knew when I accepted his proposal."

"And Naythan?"

"And Naythan."

"And Sandra?"

"Sandra is human."

"Mac?"

"Mac isn't a wolf, he's..."

"He isn't?"

Her eyes swung to Mac, pinning him where he stood.

"Bella, I was going to tell you..."

"But you didn't! She says you're not a wolf."

"I'm a bear. Bane's my best friend. He has been since we were cubs. His wolf pack adopted me..."

Ivy's head spun with everything she was hearing and seeing, and she had no idea her night was only just beginning.

Her heart broke for Bella as Bella turned on Mac.

Bella had been raped, and left with child. The rapist was someone they knew, Sammy, and Sammy had hung himself in the center of town right after the rape. Bella was still coming to terms with everything.

The whole family was, really.

Then Keelyn, who hunted were-kind for a living, had come home with a group of strangers in tow, introducing Ivy, her mother and her sister Bella to Bane, Keelyn's new fiance, and his friends Sandra, Naythan and Mac.

Mac, it seemed, had fallen for Bella, and after some time Bella seemed to be falling for him as well, actually allowing someone into her heart after all she had been through.

It turns out though, that the group had arrived with a lot of secrets.

Ivy wondered at Keelyn's motives- bringing shifters here, to a house that hated, and hunted, their kind. She watched Keelyn as her eyes kept darting out into the woods, where her fiancé, the werewolf, had disappeared.

What all must have gone on between those two, for the were-huntress to bed down with the were-wolf? Maybe times were finally changing?

As the thoughts flowed through Ivy's quite curious brain, the revelations just kept coming.

Her mother's voice pierced the air then, "Sammy was a shifter? What is it with this family getting attacked by shifters? Do we have a 'rape me and leave your spawn here' scent on us?"

All chaos and commotion stopped, as every eye swung toward Enid as she finished speaking.

Ivy lowered her brows in concentration. She must have missed something while her mind was wandering.

Bella thought Sammy, the guy who had raped her, was a shifter? Since when?

"What?" Her mom kept talking. "Why do you think your granddad hunted them so mercilessly? Why do you think your father did after him? They are evil bastards who leave nothing but pain and fear and unwanted babies behind them!"

Keelyn was the first to speak.

"What do you mean, mom? Who was raped by a shifter?"

"I just told you! Your grandmother."

"You never said. We knew great-grandma was attacked, right after they moved here, but no one ever said grandma was, too. And he raped her?"

"You think I wanted it to be common knowledge that I was born of an unholy union between a virgin and a beast?"

"What the hell are you saying, mom?"

Ivy's eyes volleyed back and forth as words flew around her.

"I'm saying your grandmother was attacked, and left with child, just like Bella. I was that child. She was about Bella's age when it happened. Your grandfather took pity on her and married her, not knowing how I'd come out. They fell in love, over time, but never had another child. I think I broke her, to be honest. That's when your grandfather started hunting them.

Your dad knew my blood line, but he was willing to marry me anyway. By the time we married I'd already gone through puberty, of course. So we knew that since I hadn't shifted by then, that I never would.

I was trying to find a way to tell you Keelyn, since you were marrying, that the odds were against your children being beasts, since I never shifted, but that you also carry diluted shifter blood. All you girls do. You need to watch out for any kids you have, just in case. But hell, if Bane is one too, the odds are great that your kids won't be kids, they'll be cubs. Just like Ash there. Is that what you want, Keelyn? I was trying to find a way to break it to you. I was afraid that you'd hate me, knowing you carry shifter blood, since you made it your life's work to hunt them down, just like your father, and his father before."

"That's funny," Keelyn muttered. "You were afraid to tell me that I might birth a shifter with this marriage, and I was afraid to tell you the same damn thing."

Ivy's heart had stopped beating, and then it suddenly sped up, like it was trying to catch all the beats it had missed. Her breathing was labored, but thankfully no one noticed. She bit the tender skin on the inside of her cheek, in an effort to keep in control of herself.

Shifter blood? Grandma was raped by a shifter? Mom is half-shifter?

Her thoughts volleyed and her tiny fists clenched tight at her sides as she took it all in.

"Ivy, are you alright?"

Ivy didn't answer Bella, but addressed Enid instead.

"What kind of shifter, mom?"

"What do you mean?"

"What kind of shifter raped grandma?" She tried to keep her voice calm, fighting the shout that she wanted to unleash. She took a deep breath and held it, deep in her lungs, time dragging on forever, until her mother spoke again.

"I don't know," she answered, thinking. "Odd, but she never said. He raped her as a man, and I never shifted. I have no idea Ivy, why?"

"Just curious," Ivy uttered, her words fading off with her finally expelled breath.

Ivy's blood rushed through her ears as the pieces finally fell into place.

All these years and she finally knew how...

Her thoughts were broken again, this time by Bella's sharp voice, mid-sentence, aimed at Keelyn.

"...So he bit you and made you one of them, then?"

"No! He hasn't turned me, he just claimed me. It was a mistake. Look, I know this sounds bad, but I made mistakes, too. I was the one who killed his mom, to start with..."

"You killed his mother? Before or after he bit you?"

"Before. Years before. As a matter of fact it was his mother who was my first kill, she was the one who..."

Keelyn stopped speaking so suddenly that Ivy thought she was going to hurt herself trying to suck the words back.

She tried to put Keelyn's words into some kind of meaning, but her mother beat her to it.

"His mother was your first kill? You mean your fiancé's mother was the one who killed your father?"

Her words got louder and more shrill as the question went on.

"And you are still going to marry him? What the fuck is wrong with you?"

"Wait," Bella finally caught up some. "Bane's wolf-mom killed dad, you killed her, and now you two are... And you brought him here? With reinforcements? What the fuck, Keelyn?"

Bella turned to Mac before Keelyn could even answer, "Let me guess, you knew all of this?"

Mac's jaw tightened, and his eyes closed in a pained expression, but he nodded that yes, he was aware of everything.

"Well son of a bitch. This has been a night full of information, hasn't it?"

Ivy had to agree.



Chapter 2


"Do you know for sure that Grandma was raped by a shifter? If you never shifted, and you don't know what his animal form was, maybe she was mistaken?" Keelyn asked Enid.

"I said I don't want to talk about this anymore," Enid answered.

Mac added his voice to the confusion.

"Bella, please listen to me..."

Once Mac started begging Bella for forgiveness, telling her that he had fallen for her, and had only hidden the fact that he himself was a shifter to protect her, Ivy let her mind wander elsewhere, but it didn't get to wander for long.

Moments later, Naythan stepped back through the tree-line, still in his wolf form, with Ash's tiny fuzz-ball of a wolf dangling from his teeth as his father carried him by the scruff of his neck.

Sandra pounced on them, taking Ash from Naythan and standing back so Naythan could shift human.

Bane stepped out of the tree line right behind him, and was also about to shift when a howl pierced the night air.

Bane paused, listening, as the wolf howl dipped and climbed in pitch. Instead of tearing back into the woods again to confront the newcomer, Bane went ahead with his shift, starting to speak as soon as was humanly possible.

"That's David and Ryker. Do not be afraid, they are members of my pack. It doesn't sound like they are saying hello on a patrol of this area though. They are here for us. This probably won't be a friendly social call. They are two of my best... I guess you would call them...guards. Enforcers, maybe. If they are traveling together, it's something dangerous. If they are coming to tell their Alpha without handling things themselves, it's not only dangerous but it is huge."

"Awesome, of course it is," Ivy heard Bella mutter under her breath.

Two new wolves stepped out of the woods moments later, and they shifted human to speak with their Alpha. Ivy couldn't help but stare as their forms changed while she watched in fascination.

Ivy's eyes once again bounced back and forth, only this time it was between two of the hottest men she had ever seen in her life.

Enforcers. That looks like a good word for these two.

They were gloriously naked, as were Naythan and Bane now, after shifting. These two, though, were covered in tattoos. They seemed to share the same tattoo Naythan, Bane and Mac wore- some kind of pack marking, Ivy guessed. But where the others only had the unifying pack mark, David and Ryker had more. Ink flowed and covered much of every flat plane and curve of muscle the two men had.

Ivy wanted to walk over to them and trace every line with her finger, just to make sure she saw every mark and took in every change in shading, or contrasting shape. On both of them.

She felt herself blush and she bit the inside of her cheek harder to try to hide her body's reaction. She knew that shifters could sense things, could scent things, and she didn't really want her reaction to be noticed at all, but especially not at a time like this.

"Lions."

Ivy's attention snapped away from the hard bodies of Bane's enforcers and zeroed in on the words they were saying, instead.

"An entire pride attacked the castle. They got in as a small group of three men and a dozen or so women, looking for work and willing to do anything from housekeeping and maintenance to security, from our understanding," David said.

Ryker just nodded once, letting David fill Bane in.

"Then, once their bellies had been filled of the King's food, and they'd been given beds, they waited until most of the castle slept before attacking. They shifted into their lion forms, mostly lionesses, obviously, but the three males divided the castle into thirds, leading the attacks in a very systematic and deadly way."

"The King?"

"The King lives. He is injured though. Badly. Casualties' were high. More than half of the castle's inhabitants were killed. The lions are holding the King hostage. The lions hold the king responsible for what happened to his queen."

"I thought that had been settled, peacefully?"

"It had been, until the Queen's daughter mated with one of the male lions. Once the young lioness gained some power by bearing a son, she convinced her mate that her mother had been sold from the pride to the King, instead of the joining being a mutual agreement to join the two families. And then once the Queen died like she did, well... Let's just say the pride is now determined to not only take over the castle, which it has. They also plan on killing the King, very publicly, in a month's time."

"Why a month?"

"Their wedding anniversary, Alpha. It was two years before that the lioness married the King, becoming queen, and almost exactly a year later she was..."

"What ransom are they requiring for the King's release?"

"A confession, to start with. They want the Queen's death publically confessed as murder instead of an accident, and, until they get their confession, they are spreading out. If he confesses, they will let him go, alive, days travel from the castle and told never to return. I don't believe them. I think they will kill him with or without a confession."

"I agree. You said they are spreading out. Spreading out where?"

"To wherever you are, Alpha. They have sworn to hunt you and your new mate down, and kill you both, if they are not appeased. Most of the pride is holding down the fort, but two lionesses have been dispatched here. They won't be far behind us. Some of the castle's occupants escaped, and came to us in warning. We came as fast as we could, but we probably only have hours on them. A day at most, if they stayed til dawn before they departed."

"If they think the lioness was sold to be queen, who do they think sold her? It would have had to be a member of the pride, working with the King, if it was true."

"I'm not sure, Alpha."

"And why do they want me, or Keelyn?"

"You were the witness to the betrothal, they think you also had a hand in selling the lioness. Plus, they think you somehow also took your mate by force."

"What? Why would they think that?"

"They see no other way for a were-huntress to mate a were."

"That makes no sense. If Keelyn was bought and sold, why would they want to kill her? Why not just me, releasing her?"

"They're lions, Alpha. Their fork-in-the-road descendants chase string. Who knows how their minds work?"

Ivy bristled at those words, shooting a glare at David before she could control her reaction.

His gaze met hers and she stopped breathing entirely. Her heart raced as their eyes locked and he kept speaking to Bane. He raised an eyebrow at her and that small motion startled her enough to be able to break the stare and look away.

"Ivy, where did Bella go?"

Mac's words, addressing her, pulled her attention back to the here and now again.

She looked around, but didn't see her sister.

"I don't know, I didn't see her get up."

He looked to Keelyn, who shook her head.

"Bella?" He yelled, heading into the house.

Since he had the inside covered, Ivy looked around outside. She stood still for a few beats, took a few deep breaths, and then let her gut pull her out to the stable. Her fears were confirmed.

She ran back to the house, practically colliding with Mac as he was coming back out, and she said, "She's not here. And a horse is missing as well. She's gone, Mac."


* * * * *


Shortly after, Ivy found herself riding bear-back, on Mac, as he tore through the woods after Bella. Keelyn rode Bane, her bow and arrow snug against her back, as Bane said good bye to David and Ryker with his pack connection, aiming them in a slightly different direction, as all six of them followed Bella's scent.

Mac had tried to stop Ivy from coming, but she wouldn't be dissuaded. Finally, in a last ditch effort, he had offered her his back, so she wouldn't slow them all down. Ivy knew Mac was surprised when she accepted, and she knew that he was curious as to why her reaction to all of this wasn't more like her mother's, who had insisted that Naythan and Ash stayed outside if they stayed behind with her at all, but she didn't bother to fill him in.

Sandra had made it known that she would be staying outside with her family then as well, and Ivy saw that Mac was about to come to their defense, but she stopped him, saying "You can't help those who won't accept it, Mac. There will be time for that later. Right now we need to go. Bella's safety is more important than my mother's ignorance."

When he asked her how she was ok with hitching a ride on him, when Enid so clearly wasn't ok with any of it, all she was willing to say about it was, "Let's just say that I understand things a little more now, that's all. Can we go?"

Ivy held tight, knees clenched against Mac's sides as he ran as fast a bear could. Her fists were buried in his fur and she could feel the emotion running through him as he tried to keep up with the faster speed of the wolves as they all ran after Bella's scent.

Mac loved Bella, Ivy could tell.

She hoped that Bella would be able to see past her issues with shifters and see Mac for the sweet, protective, loving man he was. She wanted nothing more than for her sister to find happiness after everything that had happened to her, and she hoped Bella would be able to open her heart again, once they found her safe.

And they would, Ivy thought. They would find her safe!

She hoped the words as they ran. Ivy didn't know how much Bella had heard before she took off, but she knew that her sister had at least heard that there were lions in the area, coming this way. She hoped they would find Bella before the lions did.

Ivy saw Bane scent the air, and she felt Mac dig deeper inside himself and find even more speed. She thought maybe they were getting close, and then she heard it.

A lion!

A lion was attacking Bella!

Without thinking, Ivy drew her knees up higher, until her feet were under her, and she squatted on Mac's back as he ran. She felt him start to react to her sudden movement, but before he could do anything, she unclenched her fists from Mac's fur, pressed off hard against his back with her feet, and she launched herself away from him.

She shifted mid-launch, leaping off the bear as a human, but landing ahead of him as a lioness, already in a full-out run as each of her paws dug into the earth for purchase and she ran hell-bent for leather to protect her sister from her own kind.



Chapter 3


Ivy could smell the tang of blood as she ran. Her thick lion tail flew behind her, acting as a rudder as she swerved around trees and ran toward the scent.

Her muscles stretched and bunched as she ran, finally free again, hunting out in the open in the form she'd hidden from everyone, but especially from her family, forever.

It felt amazing to see through her lion's eyes again. To scent with a nose so much more advanced than her human one. In this form she could also tap into Bane's pack mind, just a tiny bit. She wasn't of his pack, so her connection wasn't the best, but he offered himself to her, and opened his mind, and his connection, to her to use.

She felt surprise in Mac's mind, but not much else. She guessed his connection wasn't great either, as a bear with wolves, so she searched out more connections. Bane and Naythan were both surprised, but she felt them urge her on.

She was seeking out someone closer to Bella though, hoping to find the mind of the other lion. Even if she couldn't connect to it, maybe she could zero in on its location, finding Bella in the process.

She didn't bump minds with the lion, but she did bump minds with David and Ryker.

Weird, they weren't the least bit surprised.

She actually heard Ryker think, 'I told you so' at David.

David thought back, 'Damn. You were right. I had her pegged as a fox. Something small and quick.'

Bane's mind jumped on both of theirs. 'You knew she was a shifter, and you didn't share this information?'

His voice was harsh in her mind. He was chastising his enforcers for keeping him, their alpha, in the dark.

'We just joined this party. We had no idea what information was known by whom. We would have told you.'

Ivy felt Bane acknowledge that truth, but she felt Bella at the same time. She was close. Any second now...

There!

Ivy spotted the other lion, its back legs poised to pounce.

Ivy swerved, launching herself at the lion at the exact same time the lion became airborne, Bella in its sights.

Ivy knocked the lion out of the air with a heavy thud of colliding bodies. Her teeth found purchase just for a minute in the other lion's neck, but as they fell together, rolling over each other, she lost her grip.

She felt the others slide in behind her, protecting Bella and surrounding her as she fought with the lioness.

She heard Bella's voice call out.

"Don't shoot yet! One lion saved me from the other."

"I know. It was the damnedest thing I ever saw!" Keelyn shouted back.

The lioness fought back hard, knowing it was outnumbered. It pinned Ivy down in the dirt, and Ivy heard Mac's bear roar in protest.

She jerked and rolled, switching their positions and gaining the upper hand.

It felt so good to let her lion out! To explore every instinct and give her animal form control.

"Why are they fighting each other?" Bella yelled out to Keelyn, the only one not in an animal form and therefore capable of answering her back. "Bane's men said lions attacked the castle. Why are they attacking each other instead of both attacking us?"

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you," Keelyn answered back.

Ivy heard the pride in her sister's voice and it fed her animal spirit. At least one sister was obviously ok with this sudden turn of events.

But what will Bella think?

She shook the thought away. Down that road lay distraction, and she needed to neutralize this lion before she could afford to let down her guard and think about what her other sister's reaction would be to finding out she was a lion shifter.

Ivy saw her opening and took it, taking the other lion's neck between her jaws and biting down. She tugged and jerked, ripping the lion up in a way that would have killed a normal lion.

Of course, this particular lion was a shifter, and therefore needed its heart to be pierced to actually kill it, so Ivy yanked and rolled and flipped the shifter into position, determined to kill this thing that had tried to kill her sister.

Once it was done, and the shifter lay dead, Ivy backed away from her kill.

She looked at everyone surrounding her, human and shifter alike. The air was thick with questions. Confusion fought with adrenaline, pride, and other animal scents as Ivy took in all the reactions around her.

She did the only thing she could think to. She sat. She wanted to catch her breath a minute before she had to deal with everyone's reactions of her shifting lion for the first time.

Well, the first time that any of them had known about.

As she sat, the caution-filled energy seemed to go out of everyone in a relieved sigh, and huge animals shifted to human all around her at once.

Once everyone but Ivy had shifted, she heard Keelyn call out to her.

"You might as well get it over with. There's only one of us here who might take issue with you now," she said, kindly.

Ivy looked from Keelyn to Bella then, and Bella stared back at her cat form, more confused than ever.

With what almost looked to Bella like a sigh of resignation, Ivy got to her feet. With one quick whip of her thick tail, Ivy started to shift.

The huge, graceful cat shrunk, pulling in on itself, and in just seconds Bella found herself staring at her very tiny, very blonde, very naked, sister Ivy.

"Well fuck me running," Bella muttered, right before her legs gave out and her eyes rolled back in her head.

Thankfully Mac was still standing so close to her, otherwise Bella would have fallen to the ground in a dead faint. Mac caught her mid swoon, scooping her up in his arms and saying to the others over her head, "Well that went well."


* * * * *


Mac handed Bella's unconscious body to Bane to hold so he could shift to bear and they could all keep going to where Bella had obviously been headed- her Aunt Patty's.

Mac had originally said something about taking Bella home, but Ivy said no.

"We need more information. Mom just dropped a hell of a bomb on us, and as grateful as I am to know where my ability to shift lion came from, I'd like to know more. Since we're already half way there, plus we know mom isn't going to tell us anything else, I think we should keep going. Aunt Patty is grandma's sister. If anyone knows about grandma being raped by a lion, it would be her own sister, right?

Plus, it may be a big coincidence, but if grandma's rapist was lion, and the shifters attacking the king, and now us, are lions, maybe she knows something that would help us. Lions, until today, were unheard of around here. There is still a second lion headed this way, right?"

David answered, "As far as we know."

Ivy nodded, saying, "Then we need all the information we can get, and we aren't getting it from mom. Let's go."

Ivy started to shift, not waiting for an answer, but Keelyn stopped her.

"Ivy, wait! Speaking of information- care to tell us about the huge elephant in the room?"

Ivy grinned, "We have to deal with elephants now, too?"

"Very funny. You know what I mean."

"The elephant is my lion."

"Bingo. Care to tell us how long we've had a lion shifter in the family?"

"I'd say since the day Ivy was born," Ryker said with a sarcastic smirk twisting his lips.

"Very funny to you, too. I see you and Ivy have the same sense of humor."

Ivy bit her lip to keep from smiling at Ryker, but she couldn't resist shooting him an amused glance.

Meeting his eyes sent odd sparks of heat through her body, so she quickly lowered her gaze and decided she'd rather address her sister's curiosity than her own thoughts about one of Bane's enforcers.

"When puberty hit, I knew. I was terrified, at first. I didn't know what was happening. And then when I did, I was even more terrified. Every time you'd go out on a were-hunt, Keelyn, I... Let's just say it has been a really hard few years. It made for a hell of a twelfth birthday present though, let me tell you. Here, have some claws and a tail, happy birthday! Surprise! You get to hide the fact that you're a lion from your shifter-hunting family."

"Speaking of birthdays! Ivy, with everything going on lately, I almost forgot. Yours is in just a couple of days."

"Oh yeah. I forgot, too. Actually I think it's more like that I try to forget about my birthdays. I think I'm scarred from my twelfth. I almost dread them now. So, if we just want to keep forgetting, that would be fine with me."

"Nonsense! I mean it's not like a birthday is gonna suddenly cause you to turn into a different animal or something. There is no other shoe just waiting to fall. Think of it this way, little sister- this year the secret is out. No more hiding. For your birthday, you get to finally just be you."

Ivy thought about what her sister was saying, and couldn't keep a grin from spreading on her face.

"That's true, huh? Everyone who is important to me knows my secret. You don't hunt were-kind anymore, so that's a bonus. Maybe you're right. Only..."

"Only what?"

"Bella didn't take it well. Plus, I saw how she reacted to Mac's secret. She's my sister, I don't want to lose her. After all she's been through... now this is added on top?"

"Bella will come around, I'm not at all worried about that. Love has a way of breaking down walls like hers."

Keelyn smiled at Mac as she said that, obviously trying to reassure him as well.

"Oh shit, there is still one person who doesn't know. And she's going to take it a lot worse than Bella, for sure."

"Who...?" Keelyn started to say, but then Ivy saw the knowledge hit her, and they both spoke at the exact same time.

"Mom."

After a few beats of silence, as they both rolled that over in their minds, Ivy said, "Shall we go? Let's get Bella somewhere she can rest. Today has been rough. Hey! I just thought of something. Sammy couldn't have been a shifter! He was found hanging, right? Nothing was piercing his heart? So he can't be a shifter or hanging alone wouldn't have killed him. That's some good news we can give her when she wakes- the asshole who raped her was just a human asshole."

"He's lucky I didn't get to him first," Keelyn said. "But, yeah, you're right. He had to just be human. Ok, let's go. Mac, I guess you can shift now. Can you keep Bella on your back like she is? She doesn't need to be awake and hanging on? Should either I or Ivy hold her? Can you carry two?"

"I can. I think Ivy is itching to shift though. Look at her, she's almost bursting with it."

"I'll hold her if you need me too, of course. I was hoping to run with you guys, now that I don't have to hide it, but Bella's health comes first."

"I've only ever ridden on Bane, but if you don't mind, Mac, I'd love to see what the world looks like from the back of a bear," Keelyn grinned. "That is, if my mate doesn't mind."

"I don't mind. We can travel faster that way. Stopping every mile or so to pick your sister up off the ground would really slow us down, plus it probably wouldn't be good for the baby to fall off a bear."

"Good point."

Mac shifted bear and lowered himself so Keelyn could climb on and get settled before Bane gave her Bella's weight in front of her.

Once they were settled, everyone else shifted, including Ivy. The bear, lion and three wolves headed off, aiming over the river and through the woods, to Aunt Patty's house, they go.



Chapter 4


Ivy heard Keelyn talking to Bella about her as she got closer to where Bella was resting.

"I don't blame Ivy for not telling us," Keelyn was saying. "Look how you reacted over Mac and the rest of them."

"That's different! They hid it from us. If Ivy had told us when she first found out- when did she find out anyway? We could have all figured it out together. She's my sister! Mom would have told us about her parentage sooner. We could have..."

Ivy interrupted Bella as she walked into the room, ready to get everything out in the open.

"Could have what? Hunted me? Shunned me? Do you know how confusing it's been? Having these urges? Knowing something was wrong with me, but not being entirely sure?"

"When did you find out? How did you?" Bella asked.

"I wasn't entirely sure, not until well into puberty."

"Ivy, that's been years!"

"Is that why you asked mom what kind of shifter raped grandma?" Keelyn jumped in.

"Yeah. I figured I already knew the answer, since I was a lion and all, but I wanted to hear it. I thought I was the only lion anywhere around here. I've hidden it for years, only shifting when the urge got absolutely irresistible, waiting until I was far away from the house to hunt. I thought I was some kind of freak, but then when mom said what she said, I knew she was speaking the truth. I guess it skipped a generation, but I figured grandma's rapist must have been a lion. It explained sooo much.

Then when Bane's men came, and started talking about lions attacking the castle, that was a sucker punch. Finally I hear about others nearby, others like me, and they are murderers! They're attacking the castle, holding the king in preparation to kill him, and they are hunting Bane and Keelyn, to boot. I just couldn't comprehend it. Then you took off, Bella, before David and Ryker said there were two lions sent out here, hunting Bane and Keelyn, so I knew I had to go with them to find you.

There wasn't time to tell anyone what I was, but when I saw that lion about to rip your throat out-" Ivy stopped, tearing up at the memory.

Keelyn jumped in, talking to Bella so Ivy could take a moment and control herself.

They talked about where the second lion could be, and how important it was to get any information they could from Patty, here, and then head back home in case the second lion was headed for Enid, Naythan, Sandra and Ash.

Bella wanted to get up and go home immediately, but she relented when everyone reminded her that she had just passed out and needed to rest, for her baby's sake if not her own.

Talking about Bella's baby reminded Ivy that they had realized that there was no way Sammy, her rapist, had been a shifter, and they told Bella how he had to be human since he was found hung, but with his heart intact.

"So if Sammy was just human..." Bella mused aloud.

"So is the baby. Minus any shifter blood you yourself bring to the equation, which, another generation away from your grandmother, means that odds are, you aren't carrying a shifter's spawn," Bane said, stone faced.

Ivy heard the words spoken without emotion, and knew Bane was keeping himself tightly controlled as he repeated words similar to what he knew Bella believed about his race.

Ivy watched as thoughts and emotions played over Bella's face after everything she had heard, and seen, tonight.

"So," Bella spoke finally, letting everyone in the room in on her thoughts. "Sammy, the man who raped me, who I thought was a shifter, wasn't. And Ivy, who is my sister, who I love and adore, is a shifter. Keelyn, who used to hunt their kind, has now mated with and agreed to marry one of them. Naythan and Bane, both men I've come to admire and care for, aren't just men after all, but shifters. And Mac..."

Ivy watched Bella's face as she thought about Mac. Her face had been closed, in confusion and pain, but as she ran whatever thoughts she was thinking around in her head, Ivy saw Bella's face soften, and when Bella closed her eyes for a second before she started to speak again, Ivy knew that the words that were about to be said would begin to heal Bella's heart, and that her own relationship with her sister would eventually be ok, even though she had hidden her lion from everyone.

"It seems I've been very backward in my beliefs. It seems that I thought black was white, and white was black. I need to find Mac, to talk to him. Is he here?"

"Yeah, he's here somewhere," Bane answered. "He's been worried about you and the baby. He's been trying to give you some space. Bella, he's a good man. A great man, to be honest. You really couldn't do any better in a mate. Even knowing how you felt about him, he carried you here. Even before that, in the heat of battle, he..."

"He stood guard over me, I know. I remember."

Bane nodded, content to stay quiet from there.

"He even said he didn't care that I carried another man's baby. He said it didn't matter, that he already knew about it when he scented me. He said that if I carried a baby inside me, then that baby was meant to be his as well, to love and to raise, if I chose to keep it.

He said I hold his heart, and I know I've been stupid, and blind, but now I see.

If grandma hadn't kept mom, her own rapist's baby, raising her with granddad, none of us would be here. Not Kee, not me, not Ivy. I need to go to Mac."

Aunt Patty's voice broke in right then. She'd entered the room to tell them she had some food ready for them all, but instead she spoke up in surprise.

"Who said Enid was a rapist's baby? Enid? Hmmm, if I remember correctly, there was more than a fair share of doubt to that story. The way I remember it was a little bit different. I saw how your grandmother was when that boy came sniffing around, no pun intended. I always thought his version of the story was closer to the truth. I think your grandmother lay down with that shifter of her own free will. More than once, too, I'd bet. But when our daddy got wind of it, well suddenly she was denying everything. Almost cost him his life, it did."

All eyes turned to Enid's mother's sister then, but she wouldn't say much more. She finally shut down their questions with the words, "I am too tired from all the excitement to dive into old memories tonight. I'm too old for this staying up shit, and I'm going to bed. I promise to let you all grill me in the morning, over breakfast, after I've had some coffee. Until then though, I'm calling it a night."

As soon as Patty retired for the night, Bella jumped up saying she had some serious apologizing to do to Mac, and that she would also join everyone for breakfast, but that until then no one was to come looking for her, and with that she left the room as well, leaving Ivy, Keelyn and Bane to stare at each other.

Finally Ivy said, "Until morning, then?"

When Keelyn and Bane nodded, Ivy excused herself, and headed to the room Aunt Patty had lent her for the night, a room she'd be sharing with her cousins, content to let everything rest until morning.


* * * * *


Ivy tried to settle in to sleep, but she couldn't quiet her thoughts. It didn't help that her one cousin snored like a lumberjack and the other one, who Ivy was sharing the bigger bed with, flopped like a fish, elbowing Ivy in the face every time she started to finally drift off.

Ivy thought back over the eventful night, which started with baby Ash shifting wolf out of the blue, and ended with her own self shifting lion, even more out of the blue.

She felt calm in the knowledge that her sister Bella would come around. She already seemed to be adjusting to how she thought of shifters, and Ivy was glad. She knew that Mac had been a big part of her sister's attitude adjustment, and she was grateful Bella had Mac to turn to, and she hoped Mac would be understanding and open to Bella's apology.

She only hoped that their mother Enid would eventually come around as well. She seemed to be the most entrenched in her beliefs, but Ivy figured that was only normal. She'd been told all her life that her mother had been raped by a shifter, and that shifters were evil, so it wasn't surprising that she'd taught her daughters the same thing, especially after Enid's husband had been killed by one.

Wow, Ivy thought. Dad gets killed by a shifter, and Keelyn kills it in defense of her father, and herself, and becomes a were-hunter. Then, years later, Keelyn not only falls for a shifter, but of all the shifters in the world, she falls for the one whose mother was the very shifter who had killed their father.

Ivy wondered how that conversation had gone.

'Your mom killed my dad,' Keelyn says.

'And then you killed my mom,' Bane says back.

'So, we're even then? Wanna get married?'

Ivy tossed and turned in bed just trying to follow all the strands of her thoughts.

So then Keelyn brings Bane home, with other shifters in tow, and doesn't tell anyone what they really are. One of their shifter friends, a bear, falls for Bella, who also hates shifters. Then poor Bella finds out in a matter of hours that not only is her love interest a shifter, but so is her sister!

Wow, we are one fucked up family.

Her cousin shifted again beside her, and a knee drove itself into the softness of Ivy's side, as a forearm landed square across Ivy's face, shooting pain up through her nose.

Her first instinct was to partially shift and whack her sleeping cousin with her powerful paw, claws out or retracted she wasn't sure, but she restrained herself.

That's it! That's what I need! I need to expend some of this nervous energy in lion form. I need to run. I need to scent the night air. I need to hunt something down and kill it. Then maybe I can think.

Ivy rolled out of bed before she could talk herself out of it, or before her cousin rolled over again and she could no longer resist flipping her out of her own bed with one giant lion paw just to watch her hit the floor.

Ivy let herself quietly out of her Aunt's house, mindful of everyone sleeping. She padded out, past the barn, to where the woods began. She stripped off the clothes she'd borrowed from the cousins after ruining her own in her impromptu leaping shift off of Mac's back hours before, and tucked them on a tree branch for safe keeping until she got back.

She stood just inside the tree line, naked, enjoying the caress of the slight breeze as it washed over her skin. She tilted her head back and looked through the canopy of trees and up into the stars, breathing deeply. The stars weren't as bright as they normally were, since the full moon was outshining them tonight. She grinned up at the moon, letting its light bathe her face as she thought A moonlit run, what could be more perfect tonight?

She stretched her arms out at her sides, reaching out, and then up, cupping the moon in her outstretched hands, pretending for a second that all was well in the world as the optical illusion of holding the round, full moon in her grasp filled her with joy, and the promise of a great night ahead.

She dropped her arms to her sides and the moon held its place in the sky as she turned her face from it and let her lion form flow through her, lengthening her body, strengthening her muscles and freeing her soul.

She was tempted to let out a roar, just to feel it echo through her, but she didn't want to wake everyone and scare the living hell out of them, thinking the second lion from the castle was here, so she kept her urge to roar quiet.

She did take a second to sniff the air though, hoping to scent a deer or a rabbit nearby to chase after, but it wasn't the scent of prey that filled her nose, it was the scent of sex.



Chapter 5


Ivy turned her head, scenting the air, curious. The heady musk was coming from the barn, but it wasn't barn animals that were getting it on.

That's Bella and Mac!

Her human embarrassment at catching her sister in the barn, with Mac, during a very private moment, warred with her lion's animal instinct. She wanted to roar again, the urge stronger this time. The joy of knowing that her sister was taking Mac as her mate, right now, this very minute, made both her animal and her human sides very happy.

Bella would be OK! She and Bella would be OK!

If Bella could bed Mac, and accept a bear as a mate, then Ivy knew she'd accept a sister who was a lion. She'd thought as much, after what Bella had said earlier, but now she was sure.

Her human side wanted to slink away and forget that she knew something so private about her sister, before her sister even got the chance to tell anyone, but her lion wanted to celebrate.

Yes, my family is an odd one, to say the least, she thought. But we are going to make everything work. We're sisters. We'll support each other as we all learn how to live in a reality that is the absolute opposite of what we'd been raised to believe, but we will figure it out together. We'll be there for each other. Now if only we can also change how our mother sees shifters, everything would be perfect...

SNAP

Her lion was off and running before the sound of the broken branch ever hit her human thoughts. She gave in to her lion, abandoning thoughts of her mother or her sisters, as her animal started to chase the deer that had the misfortune to misstep so close to a lion that needed to hunt, needed to run, almost more than it needed to breathe.

Ivy ran after the deer like her very life depended on catching it, like she hadn't eaten in ages, and felling the deer was all that stood between her and her survival.

She dodged around trees and ran full out, leaping and landing just to spin when the deer shifted directions, to leap and land again.

She could scent its fear and she followed the trail of it, focused only on the now, the goal, the kill. Her heartbeat and the rushing of her blood through her veins filled her ears, nothing mattered but the moment she was in, and she felt alive!

A sound off to her right pulled her attention from the deer. She shot a glance that way, to see if it was friend, foe, or inconsequential before turning her attention back to her fleeing prey.

It was big, and it was running with her. It was also aiming for the deer, and she was torn between stepping it up to show that the animal was her kill, not his, and turning to attack it instead, for trying to steal prey that was obviously hers.

What would dare challenge a lion for a deer? Maybe it needs to die instead!

She shot another glance at her competition. It was a wolf!

Actually, it was more than just a wolf. It was David's wolf, and it was gaining speed. He was about to not only catch up with her, but to pass her.

She dug deep and found more speed. She'd show him! This was her kill, not his! He had no right.

She swerved, using her tail to counterbalance. She elongated her gait, determined not to let him pass her.

She zeroed in on the deer again, following its winding path with her eyes, but movement ahead of the deer caught her attention.

Damn it! Ryker, too? What the hell?

That's it! She thought, This ends, now!

She slowed abruptly, letting David shoot ahead of her, between her and where Ryker ran. Instead of letting David pass, when he started to cross her path just in front of her, she pounced, hitting his wolf square in his side.

Her weight knocked him off his trajectory, and his feet, and the pair rolled together until a tree trunk stopped them and she stood over him, pinning his wolf form down in the dirt.

He snarled up at her, but she shut him up by gripping his throat in her teeth and biting down just enough to let him know she was serious.

He stilled, and she was about to release him, shift human, and yell at him for interfering in her hunt, when she was knocked off her feet, much the same way she had taken David down.

Ryker had her pinned on her back and she started to roar but David's voice rang out, silencing her.

"Don't! You'll have Bane and Mac out here in a flash if they hear a lion's pissy mewlings."

David stood, human and naked, beside them as Ryker's wolf still had her lion pinned down.

A lion's pissy mewlings? How dare he!

Ryker's mind made contact with hers, teasing her as he stood over her.

What's wrong, cat? Wolf got your tongue?

You wish!

Even as she thought it, she regretted the juvenile response. Before he could think anything else she thought, What the hell is wrong with you two? That kill was mine!

She shifted human underneath Ryker's wolf, thinking that would make him back off of her and let her up, but he didn't.

He matched her shift with his own, but kept her pinned down, straddling her, as she started to hiss her words at the both of them.

"Why were you after my kill?"

"We weren't, until we realized that you weren't either," Ryker said, as he still held her down.

David added, "If you were going to kill it, you would have. You had many chances, but you either didn't know how to take it down, or you were just playing with it. Either way, chasing it til it died of fright would have been cruel."


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