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Lian Roch (Bayou Heat)

By:Alexandra Ivy

Chapter 1

The streets of the small town of La Pierre, Louisiana were empty and the handful of houses locked up tight.

It could be because it was well past midnight with the faintest hint of an autumn chill in the air.

Or maybe it was the fact that the town was perched on the edge of the bayous where anything might crawl out and attack the unwary. Including a race of puma shifters known as Pantera who the humans had just learned weren’t creatures of myth and legend.

Yeah, that might make the locals a little twitchy.

There was, however, one business in town that was still open to customers no matter how late or dangerous it might be.

The Cougar’s Den was the local bar that doubled as a meeting place for the Pantera.

The two-story wooden building was built on tall stilts with a tin roof that was faded to a miserable shade of mustard. There were also shutters painted a dull green that could offer protection during hurricane season, and a rickety staircase that had nearly been the death of more than one human trying to make their way home after a long night of drinking.

Inside there was the mandatory bar with tall stools, a cramped dance floor and a couple of shabby pool tables at the back of the long, darkly paneled barroom.

There was even an old-fashioned jukebox that was currently blaring out Lynyrd Skynyrd to the dozen Pantera males lined up at the bar or playing pool.

Perched on one of the stools, Lian sipped his chilled water, looking every inch a badass Hunter.

It wasn’t just the fact he was well over six foot, with broad shoulders and muscles that looked like they’d been carved from granite. Or the dark hair that had been pulled into a long braid that hung to his waist. Or even the jeans and faded Iron Maiden shirt.

It was the restless hunger in the whiskey-gold eyes and the barely leashed violence that buzzed in the air around him.

Of course, the Suit seated next to him didn’t look much more civilized.

Michel might be a Diplomat, but there was no mistaking the fact that a lethal predator prowled behind those cunning green eyes. Oh, and if that wasn’t scary enough, there was also the skull-shaved head, and broad body that was currently covered by a casual cotton shirt that was tucked into his black slacks.

At the moment, he was tossing back his favorite shot of whiskey as Lian filled him in on the latest happenings in the Wildlands.

Raphael, the leader of the Suits, had been careful not to share too much information when he sent out word to call his Diplomatic staff home. They’d discovered the hard way that not everyone could be trusted. Not even among the Pantera.

“Hiss is a traitor?” the Suit breathed in horror. “Fuck me.”

Lian nodded. There were a lot of ‘fuck mes’ going around the Wildlands over the past few days.

Not only because Hiss had been actively working with their enemies, but because the Pantera had been attacked by the disciples of Shakpi who’d been determined to sacrifice Ashe’s baby.

Oh, and the fact that they had the evil goddess—who was currently unconscious and trapped in a human body—locked in a secluded cabin in the middle of the Wildlands.

“Yeah, that’s the general consensus.”

Michel gave a shake of his head. “Why would he betray us?”

“He claims the elders were responsible for the death of his family. Only—”

Lian halted, glancing around the room to make sure there weren’t any humans lurking in the dark corners.

“Only what?” Michel prompted.

He pitched his voice low enough that it wouldn’t carry. Even if there weren’t any humans close enough to overhear his words, and the jukebox continued to blare out Sweet Home Alabama, he simply assumed that the place had been bugged.

At least in the public rooms.

Paranoid? Maybe. But the past few weeks had taught him that they had enemies hiding everywhere.

Hiss was proof of that.

Damn him to hell.

“Only Sebastian’s new mate, Reny, is his sister.”

Shock widened Michel’s eyes. “Hiss’s sister?”

“Yep.”

“I thought his entire family was dead.”

“That’s what we all thought.”

“Shit. I need another round.”

Michel motioned to the tall, golden-haired male who was lazily washing glasses. The Pantera spy who was currently acting as a bartender tossed the bottle in Michel’s direction, obviously sensing the Suit needed more than one shot.

Lian reached for his water, lifting it toward his friend. “At least we have some good news.”

“We do.” Michel abruptly smiled. “The babe.”

Despite the fact they were ass-deep in trouble, the birth of Raphael and Ashe’s baby was something they could all celebrate. The first child born to the Pantera in over fifty years.

“She takes after her mother,” Lian murmured. “A true beauty.”

“To Soyala,” the Suit announced, his voice deep in tribute as he touched his glass to Lian’s. “Our future.”

“To Soyala.”

They both took a drink before Michel was setting aside his glass and studying Lian with a somber expression.

“Did Raphael tell you why he was calling the Suits back to the Wildlands?”

“He wasn’t comfortable sharing the fact that Shakpi is still alive over the phone,” Lian pointed out in wry tones. “Plus, he wants to hear firsthand what’s going on in the world. He’s worried about the humans and their reactions to learning the Pantera aren’t just a figment of their imagination.”

“Yeah, he should be.” Michel rubbed the back of his neck, his expression troubled. “The stories of rabid man-beasts who sneak out of the swamps to eat babies and rape women are all over the streets of New Orleans. Half the population wants to drop a nuke on the Wildlands to get rid of the dangerous mutants, and the other half wants to gather us up and put us in protective custody.” Michel gave a dramatic shudder. “I don’t know which one scares me the most.”

“No shit,” Lian agreed with an answering shudder. “It’s going to get even worse when they discover two of them were killed when they tried to get ahold of Ashe’s baby.”

Michel scowled. “They attacked us.”

“You’re the supposed expert on humans, dude,” Lian reminded his friend. “You know they won’t care that we were only protecting ourselves.”

“True.” His hand curled into a fist on top of the bar, a sudden heat blasting from his body. “For now, we’re terrifying monsters who’ve stepped straight out of their horror stories.”

“Exactly. They don’t need a reason to want us dead.”

There was a brief silence as they considered the potential clusterfuck that waited for them, then Michel gave a shake of his head.

“Okay, I get that things are tense, but Raphael can’t expect us to cower in the Wildlands forever?”

Lian shrugged. “I’m guessing it’s temporary, but right now our leader is a little—”

“Ape-shit crazy?” Michel helpfully supplied.

Lian gave a sharp bark of laughter. Raphael was always aggressive. Now he was downright…well, ape-shit crazy was the perfect description.

“Yeah, that about sums it up,” he wryly admitted. “I don’t blame him. Not only is he a new father to a baby who carries the fate of the Pantera on her tiny shoulders, but we have a half-dozen Pantera traitors we have to deal with, and a powerful deity who might awaken any second and continue her evil plot to destroy us.”

“Fair enough.” Michel poured himself another shot of whiskey. “Has anyone come up with any bright ideas of how to kill the bitch?”

Lian swallowed a sigh.

No one wanted the bitch goddess dead more than he did, but he wasn’t happy with his current assignment.

He was supposed to be a Hunter, not a damned babysitter.

“The Geeks are studying the ancient scrolls,” he muttered.

Michel arched a brow. “Isn’t that a little old-school for them?”

“Desperate times, mon ami.”

“You can say that shit again. Did they find anything that can help?”

“Not really, but they did locate a few scrolls that’d been stashed at the bottom of the original receptacle,” he said. The receptacle was an ornately carved chest that had been discovered in the back of the caverns. It was believed that it had belonged to Opela. Most of the writings contained a history of the Pantera, along with the laws that still governed their people. “They hope the hidden texts will reveal how Opela stopped her insane sister the first time.”

“Why do they only hope?” Michel demanded. “Can’t they tell?”

Lian folded his arms on the bar, his muscles bulging beneath the T-shirt.

“They’re written in an ancient script,” he explained. “The Geeks haven’t been able to translate them yet.”

Michel rolled his eyes. Lian didn’t blame his friend. Like their current streak of bad luck wasn’t enough. Now the scrolls they needed had to be written in some weird chicken scratches?

“So we’re fucked?”

“Maybe not.” Lian once again lowered his voice. “Xavier asked me to fetch some scholar who specializes in obscure languages and bring him to the Wildlands.”

Michel blinked, looking exactly like Lian had felt when Xavier had approached him.

Baffled. And dubious.

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