On the cusps of adulthood with nothing to show for her name, Princess Aryana, is faced with the disheartening notion of her future. Her eighteenth birthday is approaching and so then, is the call of her to be wedded.
All heard of the lioness under her shifter skin. Daughter to a fallen werewolf ruler with a nomad lioness as her mother, the princess is as wild as she is beautiful. Her suitor must be powerful and patient, and above all, he must be loving.
There are many men who are interested in marrying her. There's only one problem.
She is in love with the King, her guardian for the past four years, and he does not return her devotion.
~~~~~ Excerpt ~~~~~
Once a year, they retreat to a castle in the woods and run in the forests. The king only ever brings a small envoy with him when he goes, unwilling to make it into more trouble than it is.
They set off together in the beginning of Winter, right after her eighteenth birthday. They make quite a sight, a lion, a lioness, and a tiger travelling together. The three predators lounging in the forests means they are given a wide berth by every other creature. They catch something occasionally, but Leo would skin and cook the meat over fire before they would eat them.
It is the second day of their trip that something out of the norm happens. Aryana asks for their horse and disappears into the city after their morning run before either of them could stop her, shouting something about getting more spices for the deer they brought down that morning.
James's pacing is enough to drive everyone to insanity and Leo would lose his temper if he wasn't so worried either.
“It may be a good thing,” he says quietly as he cuts into the muscles of the deer. He looks completely savage as he does this. His shirt lays abandoned by the side and even though he is careful, there are blood splatters on his chest.
“A good thing?” James mutter incredulously, growling at him for a second before gaining control of his beast and grimacing apologetically.
“We coddle the girl,” he says. “It is good that she has friends she would like to meet without our company. We can be quite… overbearing.”
“What friends?” James snarls.
“She's allowed to have friends,” Leo says patiently. He is one of the few people who can speak to their king in such a manner. Anyone else would have cowered and run at this point. A tiger can take a lion in a fight. “She needs friends, people her age who treat her as an equal. She needs to socialize and know people outside of the castle.”
Leo struggles not to roll his eyes. “Because at some point, she is going to have to leave.”
James bare his teeth at Leo, fangs growing in his mouth and his eyes flashing golden. “She's not leaving,” he snarls.
“Are you going to keep her as your ward for her entire life, my friend?” he asks, keeping his gaze low as he works on the meat, cutting it into smaller, more manageable pieces. “Will you keep her in the castle forever? Are you going to wed her and keep her for yourself? I told you to keep her elsewhere until she is of age but you were too stubborn. And now she thinks of you as her father, what are you going to do?”
James pulls back, cursing, and turns his face away. “You're right,” he says so softly that Leo would not have heard him if he hasn't been paying so much attention. This is a disaster. At least she's stopped the ridiculous thing of calling him 'father'. That was an unpleasant time for everyone involved and fills him with guilt.
“If it's any consolation, I wish I wasn't,” Leo says kindly.
It's not, but he doesn't respond.