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Sebastian Aristide (Bayou Heat)

By:Alexandra Ivy


The small cabin with a thatched roof wasn’t a traditional prison. There were no bars. No locks. No uniformed guards.

Instead, it was hidden on an isolated island in the Wildlands, surrounded by thick, untamed foliage and a treacherous bog that could kill the unwary. Just outside the door, several large Pantera in cat form stood on constant guard. But it was the magic of the elders which ensured that no one was going in or out of the small structure.

It was a place that only a handful of Pantera even realized existed. They didn’t need to know, because it was where those Pantera who lost control of their cats and became feral were taken to be put to death.

Not precisely a tourist attraction.

Today, however, it housed a far more dangerous predator than a crazed panther.

The ultimate evil.

And the Wildlands would never be the same.

Inside the cabin, Shakpi sat on the narrow cot that was the only furnishing in the room.

She didn’t care about the stifling heat, or the bugs that crawled over the dirt floor.

In fact, she rejoiced in them.

After what felt like an eternity of being trapped beneath the Wildlands, she had broken out of the prison her sister, Opela, had created by sacrificing her own life. Now she savored the sensation of freedom.

Oh, she hadn’t entirely escaped. Opela’s magic had effectively bound her to this land…the bitch. But over the past century, Shakpi had slowly and patiently weakened the edges of the prison. Once she could touch the world, she began calling her human slaves, using them to spread her infection that started the slow destruction of the Wildlands. As her power grew she could begin to manipulate the Pantera themselves, using them as pawns in their own annihilation.

Still, she remained stuck, her incorporeal form trapped by her sister’s spell.

It wasn’t until the Shaman had started to use his skills to contact his ancestors that she realized she could tap into his connection to the dead. Carefully she began infusing a small part of herself into the human male. The spell that had held her captive was meant to recognize the power of a goddess, not a human. She was slowly camouflaging herself in the guise of the Shaman.

It’d taken years. But Shakpi had learned to be patient. Even when the Shaman had seemingly disappeared just when she was prepared to complete her transformation. She knew he would return.

Her destiny was to rule the world.

It was written in the stars.

And her faith had been rewarded. Just a few hours ago the man had reappeared in the Wildlands, arrogantly opening himself to her possession. Fool.

Unfortunately, she hadn’t quite anticipated the downside of being sheathed in a human form.

Not until she’d been so rudely attacked by the Pantera.

It was only then that she realized that while she was immortal, her new body was vulnerable to damage. Which was the only reason she was currently trapped in the cabin instead of destroying the bastards who’d dared to try and kill her.

Thankfully she was able to use her powers to hold off the initial rush of Pantera, managing to kill at least a half dozen before they’d driven her into this tiny cell and retreated.

No doubt they were even now debating how to kill a goddess without losing more of their warriors, but Shakpi wasn’t particularly worried. At least not about escaping from the cabin. She had telepathically linked with one of her disciples who was swiftly approaching to release her.

Her only concern was how she was going to complete her destruction of the Wildlands.

The human form she was forced to use was too fragile to allow her to use the full might of her powers. And worse, it was susceptible to injury.

She glanced down at her male body that was covered by bloody clothing.

The deep gashes that had nearly sliced off the arms and one leg were healing, thanks to her magic, but it would take days before the pathetically weak body would be fully recovered.

Clearly she would have to find another way to complete her revenge.

Starting with an army.

And speaking of an army…

Shakpi rose to her feet as she heard the soft sound of voices outside the door. It seemed her rescue had arrived.

There was a brief delay as if the approaching Pantera was being questioned about his right to enter the cabin. Then at last, Shakpi could detect the fading scent of her guards.

A smile curled her lips, or rather the lips of Chayton, as the door was pushed open and the male Hunter entered the cramped room.

“Hello, Hiss.” The words echoed through the air, filled with a power that proved she was no human. “Be the first to welcome your goddess into the world.”


The Suits’ private headquarters near the center of the Wildlands looked more like a mansion from “Gone With The Wind” than an office building. A sweeping Colonial-style structure, it was painted white with black shutters, and had six fluted columns that held up the second-story balcony.

Inside, however, it was a buzzing hub of activity, filled with the sort of high-tech equipment usually reserved for the military. Pantera Diplomats often used the Geeks to hack and spy and infiltrate the human world. It was the easiest way to keep track of their enemies.

Then there were the Suits who preferred to do their job the old-fashioned way.

By getting their hands dirty.

And no one was better at getting his hands dirty than Sebastian Duval.

A tall male with bronze skin, he had a chiseled body that was currently covered by a pair of black chinos and a white silk shirt left open at the neck. He had pale green eyes swirled with yellow that most women called hazel, and tawny hair threaded with gold that brushed his broad shoulders.

He had a sophisticated gloss that allowed him to move among humans without them sensing that a lethal animal prowled just below his skin.

It was a skill that had served him well over the past century as fewer and fewer people remembered the presence of the strange puma shifters that lived in the deepest part of the bayous. Now they were mere myths to all but the highest human government officials who had agreed to keep their presence wrapped in secrecy.

Or at least their presence had been a secret until two weeks ago.

Prowling from one end of the long room that held a half dozen desks and a line of monitors on the paneled wall, Sebastian had a phone pressed to his ear, rapidly reassuring the governor of Arkansas that there wasn’t a feral pack of Pantera ravaging their way across the country.

Christ…it was a pain in his ass.

He didn’t know who or what was behind the strange attacks that had started in New Orleans and were rapidly spreading across the South. And he was pissed as hell that he was being forced to waste time dealing with hysterical politicians who’d somehow gotten a bug up their asses that there were wild pumas hunting innocent humans.


He needed to be concentrating his attention on the hunt for Shakpi, or even helping the warriors to prepare for the coming war.

And there would be a war…there was no doubt about that.

Now that the goddess had been released from her prison it was only a matter of time before she tried to destroy the Pantera.

Offering his solemn promise that he would give his full cooperation to the governor, Sebastian ended his call just as Raphael stepped through the open door.

Instantly a silence filled the room.

The head of the Suits was that kind of man. It wasn’t his golden good looks or his large body, or even the arrogance etched onto his lean face that captured and held attention of the dozen Pantera. He was, quite simply, a natural born leader who commanded respect.

Today his expression was grim as he glanced around the gathered Pantera. “Clear the room,” he barked.

Sebastian felt a stab of concern as the men and women swiftly exited by a side door, leaving him alone with the older man.

Two good things had come out of Shakpi’s escape. The first was that the rot that had been destroying the Wildlands had suddenly stopped spreading. And the second was the fact that Raphael’s mate, Ashe, was no longer fighting for her life, or the life of their unborn cub.

Or at least, she hadn’t been the last time he’d checked in with his leader.

Now his heart slammed against his ribs as he studied his companion’s stark expression.

“Ashe?” he rasped, barely daring to breathe until Raphael flashed a reassuring smile.

“Is well.”

“Thank god,” Sebastian breathed. Ashe was not only Raphael’s mate, but she was currently carrying the first Pantera child in over fifty years.

A priceless treasure they would all protect with their lives.

“No, thank Isi,” Raphael muttered.

Sebastian arched a brow. Isi was Ashe’s long-lost sister, and since her arrival the infection or poison or whatever it was that had been slowly killing the fragile young woman had nearly disappeared.

“You believe she’s responsible for your mate’s recovery?”

Raphael folded his arms over his chest. “No doubt in my mind.”

“So why does she remain in isolation?”

“Because the elders refuse to admit they could be wrong.” Disgust laced his words. “They are convinced that she is destined to destroy the Wildlands. And they have enough influence to sway a large number of our people.”

“The rumor is that Isi’s blood did scorch the earth,” Sebastian said, repeating the gossip that was swirling among the Pantera.

“Isi isn’t the danger,” Raphael snapped, clearly not there to discuss the mystery of his sister-in-law. “We have to be united if we are to defeat Shakpi.”