Lion Kings, Book 1
Published 2015 by Book Boutiques.
Copyright © 2015, Renee George.
All rights reserved.
They touch me and I am found. I spread my thighs allowing Cage to penetrate me with his fingers while Adam laps at my juices, drinking my desire pooling into Cage’s hand. I am feast to their famine. Cage increases his pace, thrusting, adding another finger as his thumb dances over the engorged bundle of my sex.
He leans his upper body over mine, his eyes the color of a setting sun, an amber-brown, just shy of true orange. As a child, his masters forced him into his other form for long periods of time. Too long. He has short, thick golden blond hair with deep sideburns that end at his jaw where his short beard begins. Those golden lashes, long and curled, frame his unusual eyes as if by design. His powerful body, cut from stone, is only rivaled by Adam’s.
He rubs his face against my cheek, scenting me. Marking me. I am his.
Adam’s tongue replaces Cage’s thumb. He sucks and licks as growing heat rushes to my groin. My nipples perk in the night air begging for attention. Cage, as if reading my mind, captures one of the tightly bound buds with his lips, drawing it between his teeth. I gasp as they both pleasure me with their mouths, their hands…
Adam spreads my legs wider now as he seats himself between my thighs.
Yes, I plead. Yes. I want him in me so badly. He’s such a large and dominant male, I know that when he pushes inside me, I will feel every thick inch of him.
His eyes are the color of midnight, but I can see hints of yellow slipping to the edges as his control is tested. He wants to be tender. He doesn’t want my first time to hurt.
“Clary,” he whispers my chosen name.
“God, she’s so wet,” I hear Cage say, “So ready for us, brother.”
They are not blood, but experience has made them brothers. They are not gentle, but suffering has made them kind. They are not possessions, but love has made them mine.
My beautiful men. My lion kings.
My breath hitches as Cage removes his fingers from my cleft, and I feel the solid head of Adam‘s length pressed against my opening. When he sheaths himself, so fast and so deep within me, I cry out in pain, in pleasure, in joy.
Madeline Granger’s own raspy shout startled her awake. The bright sunlight filtered through the trees and blinded her with its glare. She blinked. Sunlight? Trees? She rolled to her side—twigs, rocks, and tree roots bit into her ribs and hip. Not again.
Maddie had been sleepwalking since she was fourteen. They’d started after she had her first period, and had only gotten worse with time. Her parents had taken her to the family doctor after the second time it happened, and he made the diagnosis.
Where was she? The last thing Maddie remembered was driving through Topeka without a real plan. Then she’d stopped in some Podunk town and took a room at the El Rancho, which should have been named El Roacho. The place had two things going for it—it was cheap and it was cheap. Unfortunately, Maddie had just about blown through her savings.
Just six months earlier, she’d been living at home with her parents while attending Sedgwick County Community College. Maddie had been determined to learn a trade. She wouldn’t be the “happy homemaker” of the 1950s. Not like her mother. It had been three years since Kennedy’s assassination, and his death changed the world. Changed Madeline.
After a strange encounter with a psychic at the county carnival, she’d gotten suddenly, unaccountably restless. The next thing she knew, she’d jumped in the Woody her parents gave her and beat feet out of her hometown, Park City. She knew her parents would worry, so she hadn’t asked permission. Her strange disorder made her feel like an outcast in her town. She’d never even had a date—only the weirdoes wanted anything to do with Mad Maddie. It wasn’t so much the sleepwalking that freaked people out. It was more the whacky, really personal, and really accurate secrets she would share about people during these episodes.
She’d been accused of being a snoop and a gossip, and some people had even threatened her with physical harm. Sometimes she remembered bits and pieces of what happened while in her nocturnal trances, things she did or saw or said, but they were always dream-like and weirdly…disconnected…like the experience was happening to someone else and she was merely an observer. With the exception of her mother, no one believed she couldn’t control her problem.
The desire to travel was the excuse Madeline needed to start over—start a new life where people didn’t know about her troubles. Every Midwest town she passed through made her more and more anxious to move, to keep going. It was as if the invisible strings of wanderlust had taken an unforgivable hold with its relentless pull.
Her dream had been so vivid and exotic. So real. She’d recollected bits and pieces of those same two gorgeous men in other dreams, but with this one—she shivered, trying to ignore the gathered moisture between her thighs—she vividly recalled everything. Why couldn’t that happen in real life? Her mother always told her there was someone for everyone, but Maddie often felt she was destined to be alone.
Maddie stood and dusted her blue Capri pants. Thank Heaven, she wasn’t naked. Only once, had she awakened with no clothes on, and she’d given the neighbors on her street a real show that night. She went to bed in a night shirt and shorts, and hadn’t remembered putting on the calf length pants, the dusty green camisole, or the low-heeled sandals. She was thankful to have clothes, but even more thankful she hadn’t gotten herself killed. Her legs and feet weren’t too sore, so she couldn’t have walked further than a couple of miles, but even so, she’d had to have crossed a few streets to get out of town.
Why me? Maddie dusted herself off. The question always made her feel simpering. She wouldn’t feel sorry for herself. Her sleepwalking disorder was something she’d learned to live with, because it was better than the alternative.
At the edge of the woods, the tree line broke and opened to a field full of tents, trailers, and small wooden structures. The really large, colorful tent at the center of the activity displayed the familiar words “Pantheros & Co. Carnival.” The same carnival that had worked her hometown’s fair months earlier.
The moment she saw the tent, the urge to travel disappeared. It was as if the wind at her back, ever pushing her forward, suddenly stilled. “Wow,” she said, exhaling a long held breath. “I’ve ran away to the circus.”
When Pantheros & Co. Carnival had come to Sedgwick County, Maddie had snuck off, against her parents’ wishes, to meet some kids from her community college. It had been a “be there, or be square” moment. One of the girls talked Maddie into getting her palm read by a psychic who went by the name of Madame Divine. It turned out to be the only part of the carnival she saw that night. A major sense of foreboding took hold of Maddie the moment Madame Divine held her hands and asked her to open her mind. Even the memory of the incident sent a shiver down Maddie’s spine. She’d ignored the sharp taunts from the other students and fled home right after.
Now, as she wandered toward the small set-up, she felt dazed as if she were still dreaming. A small man who couldn’t have been more than four feet tall held up his hands at her approach. Maddie gawked at his long fingers, such a dichotomy to his short stature. His voice, a deep baritone, and almost boomed when he spoke. “We’re not open yet, kid. Come back tomorrow.”
A flicker of movement caught Maddie’s eye. She pivoted her gaze in time to see the hind end of a giant animal with fur the color of spun gold lope between the openings of the large tent. Ignoring the insistent shouts of protest from the small man, Maddie strode to the tent, quickening her pace to almost a run. She wasn’t prepared for what she saw on the other side.
Two men—one with short golden-blond hair and beard, the other with long, pale-blond hair—clasped hands, and in one giant leap, the man with the shorter hair was up in a hand stand, balancing on nothing but his partner’s grip. They were incredibly still as their muscles barely moved with the effort.
Maddie gaped as the man with the longer hair squatted, lowering himself until he sat on the ground. They mesmerized her with their grace, as the bearded man kept his feet pointed straight up while the other guy flattened his back and legs to the ground until they formed a capital L. Next, the man in the air let go with one hand, raising his arm to his side, all the while keeping his body straight. He angled his legs sideways.
How could he possibly stay balanced? He took his partner’s hand again, and Maddie marveled at the power in his body—both their bodies. They were not skinny men, but broadly built with wide chests and arms bigger than her thighs, yet the long haired man held his collaborator as if he were light as a cotton ball.
They began to slowly bend at the elbows until both their forearms were at forty-five degree angles, and the long-haired man’s upper arms were flat against the ground. The other man’s short hair brushed his chest. Maddie caught the slow grin spread on the pale-blond’s lips as his partner lowered his body until they were face to face and completely parallel. The short-haired man parted his legs in a split that had Maddie aching between her thighs.
He lowered his toes until they touched the ground. The pale-blond raised himself from the ground, and with a feat showing complete mastery of his body, slid out from between his partner’s legs to move into a hand stand over his partners head.
“Bitchin’,” Maddie said, unable to keep the overwhelming awe out of her voice.
They both sharply turned their heads toward her, and the long-haired Adonis dismounted. They both sprang to their feet. Seeing their faces, not just in profile, Maddie gasped…and blushed, when she recognized them both.
The men from her dream. The one with the shorter hair was Cage, the other Adam. How was it possible? They were dream lovers, not flesh and blood. As they headed toward her with graceful strides, Maddie had to stop herself from swooning. “Cage and Adam,” she whispered.
“Damn it, miss. I told you to come back tomorrow,” a baritone voice boomed from behind her—the dwarf who’d tried to stop her before.
“It’s alright, Carl,” the pale-blond, Adam, said, waving the bad-tempered man out.
The dwarf snarled and mumbled a barely audible rant as he stormed out of the tent.
The bearded man, Cage, approached her first. Maddie quaked at the mere size of him. He had to stand at least six or seven inches over six feet tall, and his broad shoulders and wide chest cast a long shadow that covered Maddie in darkness. His face was a spectacular array of chiseled lines, a strong Roman nose, and a square jaw—just like in her dream. His eyes shined like mirrors when he tilted his head and caught the light from one of the kerosene lanterns. “Do we know you?” He thinned his wide, masculine lips.
“No,” Maddie squeaked out. She steeled her courage to speak again. “I…Shoot.”
Adam, just as tall, just as broad, but his face—more heart-shaped than square and his lips were narrow, but full—had an open curiosity. “You called us by our given names.”
Maddie gulped. “Maybe I read it on a program or something. You all were in my town a while back.”
“We don’t use our real names, girl,” Cage said. He pointed to a yellow sign near the tent entrance. “The Lion Kings” was spelled out in large, swooping red letters. Maddie could hear the growl reverberating in his every word.
Gooseflesh raised on her skin and she began to shake. In the dream, she’d thought of them as her lion kings…and they had called her Clary. A pet name? Some kind of endearment maybe?
She hadn’t seen them when they carnival had come to her town, or at least she didn’t think she’d forget two spectacularly gorgeous men if she saw them. But how else would she know they were called The Lion Kings? It still didn’t explain how she knew their names. She rubbed her arms trying to stop the tremors in her muscles.
“You’re scaring her, brother,” Adam admonished.
“It’s not you,” she said. Suddenly, both men were outlined by a halo of light, and Maddie’s tongue, fingers, and feet began to tingle. Her lungs constricted in her chest as if a large fist held her in its grasp. Her skin began to itch and burn and tighten until she thought it would split. Her legs wobbled. She dropped to her knees, still fighting whatever was taking her over. She could hear voices, too many to make out words. An insectile buzzing filled her head.
“What’s happening?” Cage reached out to steady her.
She had the sense that if they touched her she would be lost. If the man made contact with her skin, she would lose her battle—she would rip apart. “Don’t touch me!” Maddie shouted “Don’t,” she pleaded as the halo grew in size, engulfing the men in its hazy illumination. Adam put his hand on her shoulder while, simultaneously, Cage grabbed her elbow.
Maddie’s eyes rolled back until she plunged into darkness. I don’t have Cage and Adam’s night vision. While my abilities give me the gift of sight, it doesn’t extend to actual eyesight. The note had said to come on my own. It was a matter of life or death. Marlena and Darren’s shouts cut through the stillness of the evening when I pass by their trailer. Warmth creeps into my cheeks in a slow flush. They aren’t fighting…
“Girl,” Maddie heard as she felt someone shaking her by the shoulders. “Are you okay?”
Dazedly, she found her voice. “Marlena and Darren are at it again.”
“What?” Cage asked sharply. “They’re at what again? And how in the world do you know Marlena and Darren?”
Maddie blinked. “Who?”
“You just said their names.”
“No, I didn’t.” Maddie had a vague recollection—a form of deja vu. “Maybe. I don’t know.” She’d had waking dreams before, but nothing so immediate as this one. Not since Madame Divine. Her feet and legs felt boneless, and she gazed at the two men holding her—Cage’s almost orange-brown eyes, the color of a setting sun…Adam’s midnight blue eyes with a stripe of gold around the outer edge. Even though she was still a virgin, she remembered what it was like in her dream when Adam had entered her body, when Cage had latched on to her nipple. Her body seemed to shiver from the inside out.
Then everything went black.
Adam Michaels stared at the young woman who—other than the occasional movement—slept soundly in Alana Gupta’s bunk. Alana, whose stage name was Isis, rarely slept in her trailer, so she grudgingly agreed to let them keep the young woman there. The strange young lady hadn’t had any I.D. on her, so he didn’t know who she was, how old she was, or where she was from. She could have been a runaway, or a curious teenager, but Adam doubted it. He gauged her to be around twenty, maybe twenty-one. Too many years with the carnival, carding kids who tried to get into the after-show, and he’d gotten pretty good at guessing ages.
She’d had light blue eyes, the color of a clear sky—he’d felt almost mesmerized by them when she’d met his gaze. Now, as she slept, her light brown hair was dark around her forehead where perspiration saturated the color. Her cherub lips puckered and her small upturned nose wrinkled occasionally drawing a smile from Adam. He tried, without much success, to avoid staring at her luscious curves. Her rounded hips and full breasts could give any of the dancers in the carnival’s burlesque show a run for their money. She’d only been passed out for a couple of hours, but Adam worried she wouldn’t wake up.
He’d wanted to take her to the hospital. Cage wanted to dump her at the nearest gas station and let someone else deal with her, but Carl didn’t want the trouble that would come with explaining to the local authorities what they were doing with an unconscious girl. Cage used that as another reason they should dump her somewhere. His brother could be merciless at times. They’d compromised by taking the young woman to Alana. She was a trained nurse, and she also practiced holistic remedies—a real asset for the company.
She knew our names. He and Cage didn’t mix with the townies, so how it was possible? Had she overheard someone use their names? She’d acted surprised. The woman stirred Adam in a way he hadn’t felt in a long time. He thought she did the same for Cage, which was the exact reason his world-weary brother wanted to ditch her as quickly as possible. Cage had suffered a lot of pain in his short life. More than anyone should bear.
When they lost Clary, it took months for Adam to recover—he feared Cage never would. Clary had been the glue holding Cage together. He needed Adam and Clary to anchor him, to keep his rage at bay. Without Clary, Adam constantly worried that Cage might hurt one of town folk who frequented their show. Cage wouldn’t go to prison—he would kill himself, or find a way to get the cops to kill him, before going into another cage. When he was an infant, Cage had been sold into slavery to the Armando Bros. Circus. He’d spent fifteen years either on stage in or a small six-foot by three-foot enclosure. The older of the Armando brothers, Joe, named him Cage, since that’s where he spent ninety-eight percent of his time.
When Adam rescued him ten years ago, and it was a rescue, he gave his fellow lion shifter a chance to give himself a new name, but Cage had insisted he didn’t want to be called anything else. He wore his name like a badge of courage. Even though Cage was seven years his junior, his experiences had aged him. He’d never gotten to experience the joy of childhood. Loving Clary was the closest Cage had ever been to happy. As he stared at the young woman, he wondered…
Maddie awoke in a cold sweat. Where was she? The motel? Her unfocused brain couldn’t think straight. She squinted at the wooden paneling on the wall, pulling up the blankets until they covered her ears. The bed—lumpy, but soft and warm—smelled like her parents’ Labrador retriever, not foul, but distinctively dog. She rolled to her back, taking in the colorful swathes of fabric dangling from the low ceiling. A clinking noise startled her and drew her attention.
A woman in a gold and blue silk robe arranged bottles on a shelf. She had sleek raven hair so long the ends reached her cinched waist. “You are in my quarters, child,” she said without looking at Maddie. Her voice held a foreign accent, but Maddie couldn’t derive the woman’s country of origin.
Slowly, the woman turned to face Maddie. Her skin, along with her beauty, was porcelain and flawless, while her eyes, darkened around the lids with a charcoal liner, were the color of fresh grass. Maddie had never seen anyone with that eye color before—so unnaturally green. When the woman moved closer, she dragged her gaze over Maddie from head to toe. “Can you speak?”
Her dry mouth made it hard to force the word, “Yes.”
The door opened. Adam walked in carrying a tray of flat bread, orange slices, and cheese in one hand and a carafe of juice in the other. He wore a black, sleeveless body suit that showed over every muscular bulge. Maddie swallowed hard. Every bulge. His gaze held a genuine warmth when he looked at Maddie. “Just checking in on our guest, Isis.”
Maddie curled her knees to her chest. She’d never had a “day walking” incident before and it scared her. Had she done something while she’d been out? Did Adam think she was a lunatic now? Did Cage? Why wouldn’t they? God, she hoped she didn’t do anything embarrassing. “Uh, hi,” she muttered, glancing away when Adam’s gaze caught her eyes.
“She is fine, as you can see.” Isis took off her robe. Under she wore nothing but a crystal bikini that barely held her perky, full breasts in place, and certainly didn’t do much to cover her bottom. “I’m late. Can you get the latch?”
Maddie noticed then that the back of Isis’s gown had two straps dangling.
Adam hooked them, then gave the exotic beauty a dismissive nod. Once Isis left, he turned his attention back to Maddie.
A knife of jealousy slashed through Maddie as the dark-haired beauty departed. She’d never had boys after her, but not because she was homely. However, next to Isis, she paled in comparison. “She…I…What…” Being in the same room with Adam addled Maddie’s brain. It was as if she’d forgotten how to complete sentences. Finally she settled on, “She’s very pretty.”
“Yes, she is,” Adam said. Maddie heart sunk as his voice dropped an octave, breathy and sexy. “Just like the serpent in the Garden of Eden, Isis is designed to tempt.”
Heat crept into her cheeks again. “What?”
His cheeks dimpled when he smiled. “That’s how she’s introduced. Isis is a snake dancer.”
“She dances with snakes?” Maddie couldn’t keep the incredulity out of her voice.
“Among other things.”
Maddie wasn’t certain she wanted to know what other things. “Isis is the headliner in our after-show. It’s adults only and costs extra. She’s very good at what she does.”
Maddie didn’t want to talk about Isis anymore—didn’t want to draw attention to a woman who didn’t need any help in that area. She changed the subject. “Have I been out all day?”
“Almost two days,” Adam said. “Like Sleeping Beauty. We were all drawing straws to see who would wake you up with true love’s kiss.”
Maddie snorted a laugh. “You’re a funny man, Adam.”
He narrowed his gaze. “You seem to know my name. I think it’s only fair that I know yours.”
“Madeline.” Suddenly, under his watchful gaze, she felt nervously shy. “Maddie.”
He smirked then rubbed his chin in a thoughtful manner. “Madeline.”
Self-consciously, she brushed her fingers through her sleep ratted hair, working hard to smooth the edges. Adam probably thought she was nuts. Mad Maddie. Anyone around her long enough would think it. “I might look crazy, but I’m not.”
“I believe you.” His direct gaze unnerved Maddie and made her lower parts draw tight with desire. He raised one brow, his expression appraising.
A light thump against the backside of the trailer drew his attention away. He turned to look out a small rectangular window. God, his physique from the side view was just as good as the front and back, and the tights he wore left very little—or big, as was the case—to the imagination.
An abrupt knock on the trailer’s door startled Maddie. A brusque voice said, “Adam.” Her heart beat wildly. The voice belonged to Cage. “Need some help wrangling the lot lice?”
Maddie scratched at her head. She’d never heard of lot lice, but they sounded awful. “Is it contagious?”
“Lot lice isn’t a condition. The boys need help clearing off the town folk from the midway. The after-show is wrapping up, and we can’t shut it all down until we get all the rubes out of here.”
“Am I a…rube?”
“I’m not sure what you are.” He winked. “I’ll let you know when I make up my mind.”
“Until then, can I come with you? I’d like to stretch my legs.”
Adam shook his head. “Maybe you should take it easy tonight. Rest. You can see everything tomorrow.”
“What about Isis? Won’t she want her bed back?”
“Oh, she never sleeps in here.”
Maddie felt another stabbing pang of jealousy. She averted her eyes, so Adam couldn’t read her expression.
“She’s Carl’s woman.”
“Carl?” Maddie shook her head, unable to hide her disbelief. “The little man?”
“He prefers dwarf, but yes.”
Maddie saw the look of disappointment on Adam’s face and inwardly flinched. She’d been called strange or weird by people who thought of her as different, and she didn’t want Adam to think she was that kind of person. “I’m sorry.” She pulled the blankets around her shoulders as she sat up. “I didn’t mean anything by that, except she’s just so beautiful. She could have any man she wants.”
“Yes,” Adam agreed. “And she wants Carl.”
“We’re used to being judged by outsiders.” He set the tray and juice on the stand next to the small bed. “Eat something. You need to keep up your strength. Then try to get some rest. I’ll see you in the morning for breakfast.”
After Adam left, Maddie groaned. She wanted to smack herself. Her reaction to Adam’s revelation about Isis and Carl shamed her. She didn’t want anyone to think she was a bigot. And she really didn’t want Adam to think of her as an outsider.
Maddie took an orange slice from the tray and nibbled the pulp. Why had she dreamed of Cage and Adam? What did it mean that she’d ended up at their carnival? Love has made them mine. She had so many questions and very few answers. Tomorrow she would ask. Tonight, she would sleep.
Cage had been outside Alana’s trailer when Adam had been in with the girl. Madeline…Maddie, she’d said. His chest rumbled with a low, quiet growl. Why did Adam insist on keeping her? She’d be nothing but trouble if they didn’t get rid of her soon. Besides, she set his teeth on edge.
Something about the newcomer disturbed Cage and pushed his control to the brink. He’d been the one to catch her when she passed out, and having her in his arms had felt…strange. When Adam flirted with her in the trailer, Cage felt a twinge of regret along with a spark of anger.
Clary had only been gone six months. Too soon for Cage to think about courting another woman, even if she stirred him. He’d slapped the backside of the trailer before he’d gone around the front, knowing Adam would pay heed.
“She needs to go,” Cage said quietly when Adam opened the door.
“Brother,” Adam replied as he jumped down the steps. His disapproving glare brought heat to Cage’s cheeks.
Hadn’t the others said the same thing about Cage when Adam first rescued him? He’d been wild—out of control. His first taste of freedom had unleashed his savagery. If it hadn’t been for Adam…
As they walked in silence through the midway, a woman stepped out from the shadows behind one of the game stands. Alice Deckard, the carnival’s contortionist, waved at both men. Cage bit off his disgust. He liked her less than he liked the stranger. Alice had been Adam’s lover, before he’d freed Cage. She’d thought of Cage as a sub-species, not worth her time. It had caused a serious rift between Adam and herself, and she blamed Cage for their break-up nine years ago.
Why didn’t she just move on?
“Alice,” Adam said, his voice warm and welcoming. He kissed her cheek when she neared. Her long blond hair was pulled back in a severe braid giving her green eyes a slight slant. Dark eye-liner emphasized the angle and made her look exotic.
She smiled, keeping her voice light and friendly. “Carl says the back lot is clear. Darren’s finishing up through the tents, and the parking lot is empty. I think we’re good.”
Cage fought the impulse to scoff. Adam had taken Alice in after she’d been shot in her mountain lion form. She’d been hunting deer in the Missouri Ozarks and ended up being the hunted. She’d managed to escape the woods before transforming back to her human self and collapsing in a ditch near 65 Highway. By sheer luck, Adam had spotted her. He, with the help of Alana, saved Alice.
She’d seduced Adam, but their relationship couldn’t withstand her possessive nature. Adam would never be hers alone. He belonged to all under his protection. Under our protection, Cage mentally amended.
He couldn’t forgive her for how she’d acted when Adam first brought him to the carnival. Cage’s first year of freedom had been a constant fight against his own angry savagery—something Alice tried to exploit to her advantage. Her actions changed nearly cost him everything. Cage promised to keep her lies a secret if she promised to let Adam go. In nine years, she’d never gone back on her word, so neither had Cage. But she’d put a barrier between him and his adopted brother that not even time had been able to fix.
Clary had fixed it, he reminded himself, albeit temporarily. Bitterness and regret crept into his thoughts. Her death, another tragedy had erected the barrier once again. He missed Clary. Missed how she made him feel. Missed how her love had brought him and Adam closer. Missed how a simple touch from her could calm his restless spirit.
Madeline. A stab of guilt brought a scowl to his face. He didn’t even know this Madeline, yet how she made him feel was a betrayal to Clary’s memory.
“Brother,” he said to Adam after they’d finished shutting down and made it back to their trailer. “About this girl.” He forced the words from his lips. “Now that she’s awake, I think we should send her on her way in the morning.” Cage’s gut clenched as he once again asked Adam to get rid of the girl. He ached for her in an unnatural way. He hated the idea that his beast side, once again, was trying to take control.
“Let’s not speak of it now.” Adam put his hand on Cage’s shoulder to reassure him. “Tomorrow we’ll talk more.”
They both undressed and crawled into bed. Cage curled up, putting his back to Adam’s side. Adam stroked his arm and back. Cage sighed, the tension and anxiety melting at Adam’s touch. To a human, they might have looked like homosexual lovers, but their connection as lions, the pair-bond that had formed between them, went beyond sexual. It was a bond stronger than blood, stronger than love.
Adam’s low purr and his comforting touch eased Cage’s troubled thoughts. Within minutes, he fell fast asleep.
The next morning, Maddie dressed in a yellow shift dress Isis had laid out for her and left the safety of the trailer that had been her haven for two days. Her bladder screamed to be emptied, even as her stomach rumbled to get filled. She hoped to hell there was a toilet at this place. No way did she want to pee in the woods.
Carl was the first person she saw. “Excuse me.”
He glared up at Maddie, baring his teeth. “What do you want?”
God. Someone woke up grumpy. “Is there a bathroom?”
He pointed toward to a Job-Johnny she hadn’t seen before.
“Thanks.” Luckily the unit was free, and she stepped inside. At least the portable toilet was clean, even if it didn’t smell like roses.
When she exited, Maddie tripped over a buried root…and into Cage’s arms.
“We have to stop meeting like this,” she said, feeling breathless at his touch. Her nipples hardened as his dark amber gaze found its way to her breasts.
He licked his lips, and she fought back moan. God, he was so gorgeous. She wanted him to rub his beard against her entire body, leaving no inch untouched. Would his face be as rough as it looked, or as soft as she remembered from the dream? He was so tall she had to stretch when she reached up and stroked his cheek.
Her lower body tightened with need as she thought about the dream, and how she felt when he’d sucked her nipples while he’d worked two fingers inside her body. He rubbed the corner of his mouth against her palm, his eyes closing as she caressed his face. His strong hand slid up her thigh, and she gave into her desire, melting against him.
Suddenly his whole body stiffened. His eyes widened, and a low growl emanated as he let her go with a slight push. “Don’t touch me, woman.”
Maddie stumbled back, bracing herself on the Job-Johnny. His sudden change in demeanor frightened her. Some women hid when confronted by something that made them afraid, but Maddie had always been the type to react with anger. “Uh, you grabbed me, asshole.” She straightened the dress where Cage had pulled it up over her hip. The way he’d gone from hot to cold put her off-center. “Where’s Adam?”
Cage curled his fingers into fists. “I’m not your goddamned tour guide.” He sharply turned on his heel and stalked off.
She stared at him as he disappeared behind the big top before erupting into a frustrated shout. It took a couple of seconds for her stomach to stop its jittery dance.
“Girl,” she heard a woman call. She turned and saw Isis the snake dancer waving her over.
Maddie cast one last glance where Cage had disappeared and rubbed her arms to ward off the shiver creeping across her skin. “Hey,” Maddie said.
“Adam is looking for you.” She turned, and Maddie knew there was an expectation she would follow.
Isis led Maddie to a small open area on the far end of the carnival, the opposite side of the parking lot. There were tables set up with folding chairs filled with men and woman of different sizes and obvious backgrounds. Her eyes locked on a large woman with a hairy face sitting with a very tall and broad man. His wide jaw and protruding forehead reminded Maddie of early Cro-Magnon man.
The woman laughed and wrapped her arms around his narrow waist. He smiled down at her and kissed the top of her head. Adam was at the head of their table. He laughed as the woman said something Maddie couldn’t hear, slapped the giant on the belly, and then tilted her head at an angle to kiss him solid on his wide mouth.
Adam quickly noticed Maddie, and patted the seat next to him. There was a plate of food already there, and she wondered whose seat she’d be taking. Cage’s? She took the seat down one from the full plate.
The bearded woman raised a brow. “This your new stray, Adam?”
Maddie said, “No,” at the same time that Adam said, “Yes.”
The woman slapped the table and laughed, the rich sound filling the empty space around them. “I like her already.” She wiped a greasy palm on her dress and held her hand out. “I’m Marlena.” She stroked her facial hair with her thumb and forefinger. “The bearded lady, obviously.”
“I’m Maddie Granger.” Maddie took the woman’s thick, chubby hand and gave it a squeeze. “Nice to meet you.”
Marlena assessed Maddie for a moment then gestured to the giant man next to her. “This here’s my man Darren.”
Their names were familiar—Marlena and Darren are at it again… In her dream, she’d walked past their trailer where they’d been having very noisy sex. Maddie’s cheeks warmed. “I…er…it’s nice to meet you both.”
She felt Adam’s gaze, and she worried he’d think she was judging Marlena and Darren, the way she had with Isis and Carl. She didn’t want him thinking she was a really awful person, so she drew herself up and held out her hand to briefly shake Darren’s.
Adam pushed the plate down in front of her. “Eat up. You must be starving.”
He’d made the plate for her, and for some stupid reason, it made Maddie deliriously happy.
She looked down at the scrambled eggs, more orange slices, and thick white peppered gravy over toast. The combined aroma made her mouth water and her stomach growl. Her hands shook at she picked up the fork next to the plate. “Thank you,” she said to Adam when she finally got the nerve to look at him.
Her heart raced when she saw the easy smile that lit his dark-blue eyes. The color of midnight… On impulse, she reached out and covered his hand with her own. The warmth of his skin sent a shock of tingles up her arm. He raised a questioning brow, but didn’t move his hand away. He didn’t have to. Maddie snatched her hand back as if she’d stuck it in a mess of hot coals.
“I’m sorry,” she mumbled, staring down into her plate of eggs, her appetite suddenly abated. “I don’t know what’s gotten into me.” Since she’d been at the carnival, she hadn’t wanted to leave. It was the first time in nearly six months that she didn’t feel the call of the road.
Adam lifted his hand and sniffed the back of it. “Cage,” he said absently. He smiled, ignoring her apology. “Where are you from, Madeline?”
“Maddie,” she corrected.
“Madeline is a very beautiful name. A woman’s name.”
Maddie’s woman parts all took notice of Adam. Her bits throbbed and her nipples perked. She definitely wanted him to see her as a grown-up. “I guess you can call me Madeline.”
He rewarded her with a sweet smile. A smile just for her and her alone. Maddie’s appetite returned. She happily dove into the pleasingly good meal.
Cage snarled as he waited for Adam to arrive at the tent to practice their routine. They’d thrown in a few new tricks that needed to be perfected. To kill time he did pull-ups on the lowered trapeze bar until his biceps burned. He let go, dropping the few feet to the center ring. That woman! His frustration grew with every minute Adam allowed her to stay.
He’d marked her palm with his scent! How could he so callously scent another woman who wasn’t Clary? He paced with aggressive energy. He needed a good work out. Something to take the piss and vinegar, as Marlena liked to say, out of him. He began jogging the rings, his mind racing with every step. The woman had felt so good in his arms, so vulnerable and sexy. When she’d stroked his face, his instinct took over as he’d rubbed himself against her hand. Her supple thigh, her curvy body pressed against his, had made his cock jerk to attention. It had also snapped him out of the spell she put him under.
Clary had been human, but she’d been an anomaly, like the rest of Pantheros & Company. She’d been a psychic—a real medium with the ability to foresee the future. His heart sank as he wished he could talk to her again. Hold her just one more time. Her death had left a hole in Cage, and it seemed nothing and no one could fill.
Except when he’d held the irritating woman. Why did he have these feelings for this stranger, this human female, so frail…so much like Clary? Why did Maddie feel so right in his arms? Anger exploded in Cage and he grabbed the nearest item, a small wooden stand. He threw it across the ring, roaring his rage and loss and grief, as it shattered against the hard dirt floor.
Adam ducked inside the tent before Cage could grab the next stand. “Calm yourself, brother.”
Cage sagged to his knees, the rage sputtering until it was no more than an ember in his gut. Adam wasted no time coming to his side. He squatted next to Cage and put his arms around him. “I think she’s meant to be ours, brother.”
“No,” Cage said with hollow denial. She felt like theirs already, but he couldn’t reconcile his new feelings for Maddie with his grief for Clary Sage.
“We shall see,” was all Adam said. “Let’s practice. Or are you too tired?”
“I’m ready.” Cage looked at Adam, holding back the unshed tears.
Adam placed his hand on the back of Cage’s neck, his fingers massaging into the tightly knotted muscles. “I know you are.”
Adam hurt for Cage. He could see how conflicted his brother was over Madeline. She’d thrown Adam for a loop in the beginning, but now that he’d had time to think about her, and their connection to her, he understood that a true match rarely came along once in a lifetime. It would be foolish of him and Cage to turn away from a second chance out of loyalty to their lost love.
His chest squeezed as he remembered Clary. He thought there would never be another woman after her, but this Madeline was proving that maybe the gods did know mercy. Cage would say if the gods were involved then Madeline was a cruel joke. She was so different from Clary. Clary had been docile, almost submissive—exactly what two dominant males needed in a mate. Her beauty was only rivaled by her generosity and kindness. She’d been able to soothe Cage in a way Adam couldn’t. He loved her for saving Cage from his own demons.
Madeline was a different creature all together. If Clary had been sharpened steel, Madeline was a blunt edge. In a very short time, Adam learned she was quick to judge, quick to anger, and quick to passion. He smelled it on her with every encounter. Clary had taken longer to come around—a slow burn. She’d been uncertain about mating with two lion-shifters and becoming their queen. It had taken almost of year of courting for her to finally agree. Their time as a trio had been cut short too soon. Nearly two years of pure happiness—he’d almost forgotten what Cage had been like before she loved them, before they’d claimed her.
As he watched his brother torment himself over the loss, Adam knew Madeline would never replace Clary, but it didn’t mean they couldn’t learn to love again. When Madeline had touched his hand at breakfast, he could smell Cage’s scent on her. She would have had to have touched his face, and he would have had to release the oil from the tiny glands at the side of his mouth on purpose.
What had happened in the short time it had taken Madeline to leave Alana’s trailer and find her way to the dining area? Cage was too keyed up to ask him now. Adam would wait until tonight. He’d wait until Cage relaxed next to him, where he could calm his brother if needed. He would wait.