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Allegiance of Honor

By´╝ÜNalini Singh

PART 1





Chapter 1


LUCAS HUNTER, ALPHA of the DarkRiver leopards, ended the comm call with a touch of his index finger against the screen. The outwardly calm action belied his current state of mind: his jaw was a grim line, his claws shoving at the insides of his skin as the black panther within snarled.

He was still battling the urge to release that snarl when one of his sentinels stuck his head into the room. That room was Lucas’s private office at the pack’s Chinatown HQ, from where they ran their myriad business enterprises. Pitch-black hair and dark green eyes vivid against the deep brown of his skin, his shoulders solid, Clay was officially the Chief Construction Supervisor at DarkRiver Construction, but before that, he was one of the most trusted members of the pack, a man Lucas knew would always have his back.

Today, the sentinel was dressed as if he planned to go to a site, his pants of a tough black material appropriate for the outdoor environment and his T-shirt wild green with DarkRiver Construction in white on the back. But when he spoke, he said, “Jon and his friends found something down by the piers.”

Lucas scowled, not in the mood for juvenile high jinks today. “Why aren’t they in school?”

“Half day off. Some big citywide teachers meeting.” Clay’s right T-shirt sleeve lifted as he braced his hand against the doorjamb, revealing the slashing lines of the tattoo that echoed the hunter marks on the right side of Lucas’s face. Lucas had been born with those jagged, primal marks that identified him as a changeling hunter, born with the ability to track down and execute changelings who’d gone rogue, submerging totally into the animal side of their nature.

Unlike wild animals, however, rogue changelings couldn’t be left to roam, because despite their animal skin, they weren’t animals. Rogues always came after the people they had loved when whole, as if part of them remembered who they’d once been and envied their packmates and lovers for still living that life. Lucas hadn’t had to execute a rogue for over seven years, and he hoped that record held for another seven and another and another.

No alpha wanted to kill his people.

Clay’s tattoo denoted something far different; like the rest of DarkRiver’s sentinels, he’d had the mark inked as a silent symbol of his loyalty to Lucas. That loyalty was a truth Lucas never took for granted. An alpha who didn’t value the respect of such strong men and women shouldn’t be alpha.

“Anyway, I’m heading over to see what’s up,” Clay said now. “Kid sounds worried.”

“I’ll come with you.” Lucas walked around his desk, shrugging his shoulders back to loosen muscles that had bunched up at the start of the comm call and stayed that way. “Could do with the fresh air. You want to walk?” It wasn’t far to the waterfront.

Clay glanced at the heavy black watch strapped to his left wrist. “Better drive. I have to be at a work site within the hour.”

“I’ll walk back so you can head to the site straight after we speak to the boys.” Sliding out his phone, Lucas sent a message as they walked out of the building and hopped in a pack vehicle.

The reply that made his phone buzz thirty seconds later helped with his feral tension. As did the emotions that kissed him through his mating bond with Sascha. Nothing calmed his panther as quickly as her touch. And though she was a woman who could heal emotional wounds, her empathic gift a treasured one, he knew she wasn’t trying to manipulate or influence him. It was Sascha’s love itself that settled him, along with the knowledge that she and their child were safe and sound.

Beside him, Clay stayed silent until after they’d pulled away from the HQ. That silence held no dark emotional undertones as it once had—the big, heavily muscled sentinel was simply quiet.

“A pool of silence,” Lucas’s mate had said not long ago, the white stars on black of her cardinal gaze lit with the sparks of color that appeared only in the eyes of empaths. “But it’s not emptiness. Clay’s just so calm, so centered, and so very, very content that I feel an untainted peace when I’m near him.”

Clay hadn’t always been that way. He’d come into DarkRiver as a strong but undisciplined eighteen-year-old who’d never before been part of a pack, who’d never even known another changeling leopard his entire existence. More than that, he’d spent years in juvenile detention. It had left him angry and lost and aggressive, a big, dangerous cat who’d had no idea how to handle either his strength or the fury riding him.

It was Nathan, DarkRiver’s most senior sentinel, who’d found that lost boy and hauled him into DarkRiver. But it was Clay who’d done the hard work to become a sentinel himself, earning his place at Lucas’s side. Emotionally, he’d still been broken for a long time, his duties to DarkRiver and his loyalty to Lucas and the other sentinels the only things that kept him from surrendering to his demons.

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