Lion Conquers All by Krystal Shannan
August in Mystery, Alaska…
The small mountain town in the valley east of Denali, called Mystery, had become his home over the last eight months. He couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.
He and his brothers had each found a place to belong and to serve. They served the Tribe and the town. They did everything exactly as the Tribe requested. They played by the human rules—always.
No shifting in town.
No shifting anywhere except on the Tribe land and at night under the cover of darkness.
Shenn and his mate even had a little one on the way. He would be an uncle in less than two months. It was a good distraction from his long-term-assault to win over Connie.
His soul match.
A woman who was kinder than any he’d ever met, and yet vehemently against getting close to him. Though as the months had stretched and he’d watched over her, it wasn’t just him she avoided. She avoided all male company if possible. In a group, she was fine, but she got anxious and uncomfortable when people started pairing off.
That knowledge broke his heart as much as it fueled his rage.
Someone had hurt her.
With that knowledge, he’d vowed he never would be a source of pain for her. He would never push. Never make her feel uncomfortable. She was the most important thing to him in this entire new world…even if he had to watch over her from afar for the rest of his life.
He stopped his patrol car in front of her little white house on Firefly Lane.
She had a bright blue door. He’d been informed it was Tardis-blue. Which he’d later researched and found a television show that both confused and amazed him at the same time. This world was fascinating. Ava had assured him the Tardis was fantasy. That almost anything he saw on the television was a story someone had made up.
He stared at Connie’s house for a while, imagining what she was doing inside, and wishing that he was there with her.
The white slats on her front porch were bright and clean. Brightly colored wind chimes hung about every six feet across the front from the eaves. They tinkled and sang in the wind and had become a familiar and soothing sound to him.
He took a deep breath, taking in the faintest hint of her scent in the air. It was like lifeblood to him.
She was awake.
She was always up early. But she never came outside to her porch until after 6:30am.
Aarav looked down at his watch. 6:21am. He was on time.
He stalked up to her porch, barely making a sound on the grassy yard. He set the coffee from Lily’s Cafe on the rail close to the doorway so she’d see it when she came out—a tall, iced, caramel machiatto. She drank them like a typical person would consume water.
He didn’t understand the obsession.
He’d tried the drink. It wasn’t bad, but caffeine didn’t agree with him and while coffee smelled pleasant overall, he didn’t particularly care for the taste.
He left the coffee, checked the level of the wood pile on the side of the house, and then got back in his car and left before she came outside.
He wasn’t sure if she’d noticed him coming by every morning. He didn’t try to hide, but he also didn’t try to invade her space or ask for her attention.
She never came outside while he was out front.
Not once in nearly eight months.
And that was okay, because she hadn’t told him to stop either. And that right there was a win for him.
He drove by the Smoke Jumper/Search and Rescue “shack” as it was affectionately called. Shenn and Veer waved from their seat on the rickety porch.
Both had joined and along with one of the dragons from Seattle, had practically taken over the entire program for the town after completing their certification programs. There were still a couple of humans from the town that were a part of the team as well and they all got on great together. The humans of course didn’t know what the Reyleans were. The Vraka and his mate had made it quite clear that keeping “what” they were a secret was of the utmost importance.
Aarav was happy he’d chosen the sheriff’s office. He’d learned so much about the town and how humans operated. It made it easier to keep closer to Connie too, since she bounced between the town’s empty medical practice building and the official EMT desk inside the sheriff’s office.
She did everything for this town. Everything and anything they needed her to do. And she did it with a smile and an encouraging word. He’d seen her calm grown adults having a panic attack and soothe babies with an upset stomach.
At some point she would let him take care of her too.
He continued on, parking in front of the empty sheriff’s office. He always made his first round before the office officially opened. The sheriff himself rarely appeared before 11am, and even when he did, he was always drunk and barely functioning.
This morning Col was standing at the base of the stairs leading to the front door. Aarav straightened his deputy uniform and got out of the patrol car. “Good morning, Vraka.”
“No formalities in town. Col, will be fine.” The big male’s words were slow and defined and purposeful.
Aarav tipped his chin respectfully. “Col then, what can I do for you?”
“Wanted to check in. I hadn’t talked to you in a couple of weeks. Winter is set to hit any day. How are you and your brothers doing? Do any of you need to come out to our land and take a run? I know it’s hard being in town and holding back your beast for long stretches.”
“That would be much appreciated. I know I could use one. I’ll tell the others. Perhaps this weekend? I think we’re actually all off on this coming Saturday together. Doesn’t happen often.”
Today was Monday. What was another few days? He’d gone this long already. His lion was pissed as hell and his brothers were probably feeling the same inner turmoil, but this is what they signed on for. They promised to follow the rules. These were the rules necessary so that they could stay in town, be accepted, and keep the Tribe safe.
Connie warned the Tribe back in January. People were watching. People were suspicious. Col had been very clear about rules when he’d allowed them to find work in town.
Shenn and Veer lived at their workplace when they were on call, but otherwise, they all still lived in the underground bunker beneath the Mystery Community Center. There wasn’t much in town available to rent. And building a cabin was expensive, slow, and had to be done during the summer. They’d have to wait their turn.
He and his brothers had made the bunker comfortable, but it was still a bunker. It wasn’t a home. But they all agreed it was a huge step up from sleeping in the woods and stealing or being forced to hurt people to survive.
He was grateful. They all were.
They were hoping to pool enough money together to help Shenn and Heather find an actual apartment to rent when one came available. The bunker was large, but it didn’t afford much privacy and their little one was due in less than two months.
“How is Heather?”
Aarav smiled, his chest warming. Col always asked about her. He always wanted to know about everyone. He was a dragon, but he cared equally about his Tribe. Even new members.
He and his brothers had come to Mystery through less than positive events, but once the decision had been made to spare them. They were just…accepted.
Made part of the family.
He’d never thought he and his brothers would have that again after the Ka’lagh took everything from them and forced them into service.
“She is well. Eager to find a home, though.” Aarav leaned against the rail and smiled, thinking of a happy future where his brother had children. “I can’t wait to see his little one. It’s been so long. We never thought any of us would have a chance for a mate or a life.”
Col’s expression was somber and serious, the dragon’s face rarely gave away what he was thinking unless his little mate was around. “Eventually there will be space for everyone on our land. Hopefully some of the summer visitors will vacate the apartments near the MCC once the first snow hits. Then they should be able to get a place to themselves. With the little one, we will need to get them a cabin built sooner than later.”
“They have time. Little ones don’t usually start shifting until they can crawl.”
Col’s face tightened and his lips pressed into a straight line. “It will be closer than I prefer, but there’s no way to get another cabin underway until next spring. If it comes down to it, I’m sure we can find them a temporary place in one of the existing cabins. Please keep me apprised. The last thing we need is a baby lion wandering about in public.”
A chuckle slipped from Aarav’s chest. “No, that would definitely not win me any points with Connie.”
A rare grin split Col’s face. “How goes that endeavor?”
Aarav was quite sure that his difficulties with the human woman were a source of pleasure for Col. “We exist in each other’s town civilly. She doesn’t run from me, but she doesn’t really speak to me either unless it’s work.”
“Do you still bring her gifts?”
“Every morning I bring her the special coffee she likes. And I check the wood pile. Anything she needs, I find a way to take care of it. One of the neighbor boys accidentally broke one of her windows. She taped it up and went to work. When I saw the replacement had arrived from Anchorage, it was the first thing I got done that day. Owen helped. He’s very good at building things.”
“Yes, he is. She let you in her house?”
“She let Owen in. I arrived a few minutes later. I didn’t go inside. I worked strictly outside the house.”
“How did she take that?”
“She didn’t say anything. She gave me a suspicious look, but left to go to work about ten minutes later and told Owen to lock up when we finished.”
“What do you plan to do?”
“Wait,” Aarav said without hesitation. “Something happened to her. Something bad. If you watch closely enough, you can see that she’s not interested in any man. It’s not just me. And even though she acts comfortable around the Tribe, she gets very nervous if it’s not a group setting and she’s alone with only one male or two.”
“I’ve had the same suspicions since meeting her. I do try not to put her in those situations, but unfortunately she has been needed on multiple occasions. She is the only healer in the town. Naomi and I always try to send one of the females to whatever location we have requested her presence for help.”
“You are a good leader, Col. You and Naomi. My brothers and I are blessed that you allowed us to remain here in Mystery.”
“You were good men trapped in a bad situation. You did what good men would do. You were respectful of the women in your care. You protected them and kept them safe. You continue to prove the same over and over for the town. You are a good example to the town for our group. This year has been a good year for building trust, especially after all the trouble last year and having to rebuild the community center. We have brought a lot of noise and upset to what was a quiet and very still town.”
Aarav bowed his head. “Thank you. Again, we will never be able to thank you enough for your Tribe’s acceptance and we will strive to earn it over again every day of our lives.”
“Continue to be the good men I know you are. That is all I ask.” Col put a hand on Aarav’s shoulder and leaned closer until their foreheads touched.
The moment was brief but meaningful.
He knew Col was checking up on him and his brothers, but mostly because he cared about them, not because he was worried that they were going to go off and do something foolish or stupid.
They were invited to dinner with the Tribe at least once a week.
There was laughing and eating and drinking and the babies were passed around. He and his brothers hadn’t held a baby in years. Hadn’t seen happy families in years.
It was everything they thought they’d never have again.