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Cursed Pack

Troubled Mates, Book 2

Cursed Pack

April 8, 2024

Two misfits with little in common…

The paranormal species have come out to humans, creating havoc and unease, but Princess Malikah doesn’t care. She’s too busy trying to survive the foreign world in which she and her fellow gargoyles have arrived by mistake. Several youngsters in their fledgling clan have succumbed to a mystery disease, and the adult gargoyles blame her. She can’t find a job, and they’re surviving on handouts. Malikah has no time for the annoying wolf who follows her when her entire world is imploding and she’s making one mistake after another.

Werewolf scientist Seth’s life is in upheaval. Honor dictates that he steals a formula with potentially dire consequences for his fellow wolves, his werewolf boss is hunting him without mercy, and he’s developed weird, stalkerish tendencies, trailing an attractive woman around the city like a lost puppy. Then, there are the peculiar dreams, which make no sense. Yeah, he’s losing his mind.

Malikah is understandably wary when Seth approaches her, but they have more in common than they realize. Their uneasy truce grows into friendship and more, but fate is a fickle witch, and she has other plans to test the unlikely pair. 

Other Books in the Troubled Mates series

Read an Excerpt

Shadowclaw Clan, Northern England.

Malikah tiptoed along the passage, her overnight bag in hand. She stepped over a creaky floorboard and carefully approached the open door of the manor house reception room. If she were lucky, she’d avoid her mother.

“Malikah, is that you?”

Or perhaps not.

Malikah’s shoulders slumped because she’d intended to sneak out to party with Alfred and his friends. Her parents disliked him, expecting her to marry into a powerful gargoyle family to strengthen their position, not waste her time with a lazy, disreputable human. Alfred was not good enough for a princess.

“Malikah.” Her mother’s stern voice made her straighten, and she quickly squashed her annoyance before entering the main reception room.

Her mother sat in a high-backed chair, surrounded by a group of equally regal gargoyles—her ladies-in-wait. They were taking a tea break, but given the numerous papers on the oak coffee table, it was apparent they’d been planning a royal event. Each woman turned to Malikah as she entered their domain. Best to hold her tongue. She waited and held still, despite the nervous flutter in her chest.

Her mother’s black eyes glistened in the sunlight, as hard and unyielding as onyx. Malikah recognized this expression. It was the one that announced I am not pleased. Her mother’s gaze swept her from head to toe, took in her ragged jeans and skimpy blue top. She tutted.

“What is it, Mother?” she asked, trying to keep her voice steady. Her gaze drifted past the deep royal blue damask curtains to the rose garden and the gorgeous sunny day beyond. When her mother cleared her throat, Malikah jumped to attention.

“What are you wearing? You resemble a trashy human when we expect guests this evening. The crown prince from Denmark is arriving for talks with your father.”

Malikah’s stomach hollowed with churning fear. A crown prince?

“W-what sort of talks?” She hated her telltale stutter because her mother noticed. The queen observed everything, which made her an excellent ruler.

“Discussions to determine our kingdom’s future,” her mother replied, her voice sharp. “We must impress our visitors. Your father and I have discussed potential matches and believe this is the perfect opportunity to introduce you to the prince.”

Malikah’s heart sank. She’d always known her parents would push a political marriage, but being placed on display like a museum artifact made her stomach lurch.

“I understand, Mother,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper. “I will do my best to represent our kingdom.”

“Excellent. Now, prepare yourself. You must look your best for tonight’s dinner.” She waved a disparaging hand at Malikah’s clothing. “Change into something more worthy of a gargoyle princess.”

Malikah dipped a quick curtsy and left the room at a suitable princesslike pace, her overnight bag still clutched tightly. Dread settled in her chest, a noose tightening around her neck that not even gargoyle strength could break. When she was with Alfred and her other friends, she felt free. She felt alive. But her parents loathed the human who still knew nothing of her world. And now, her mother had clarified their wishes. She could soon expect a loveless marriage for political gain.

In her bedroom, she placed her bag on the bed and walked over to the window to stare at the blue lake and the oak forest. She couldn’t imagine spending her life in a Danish palace, playing the dutiful wife to a foreign prince.

She had to wriggle from this closing trap.

A firm knock on her bedroom door had her stiffening, anger flooding her.

“Yes,” she snapped.

“The seamstress has arrived. The queen wishes you to try on the gown she commissioned in case we require last-minute alterations,” a lady-in-wait said.

Malikah clenched her hands at her sides. “I’ll be there in ten minutes.”

“The seamstress is waiting in the small reception room. Her Majesty told me to tell you to go immediately.”

“Very well.” Malikah stomped to the door and flung it open, not troubling to hide her displeasure.

The lady-in-wait bowed her head and stepped aside, allowing Malikah to pass. Somehow, she must meet Alfred at the bonfire party in the forest.

Possible escape plans circled her mind. She could climb a tree near the palace walls and jump over or sneak through one of the side gates. The latter seemed more sensible, so she focused on that avenue.

Malikah entered the small reception room, full of determination. It was her favorite room, but today, the cream-colored walls and the oil paintings of flowers and landscapes did nothing to blunt her bad mood. She tromped past an elegant maroon chair and ignored the sun streaming through the windows to glare at the seamstress.

The seamstress, a middle-aged woman with kind eyes and a warm disposition, stood near a full-length mirror, a puddle of green and gold silk on the table beside her. Malikah noted her simple yet impeccably tailored dress and growled.

“Your Highness.” Her expression didn’t change from friendly and accommodating, but Malikah saw the quick up-and-down scan of her jeans and sleeveless top. The curl of her top lip.

“Make this as fast as possible,” Malikah said.

The seamstress inclined her head. “The dress is ready for you.”

Even her voice was calm, and that irked Malikah. She was a royal princess and should have more say, given her heir status. With bad grace, she stripped and donned the gown. The green silk shimmered and flowed around her body, fitting almost perfectly.

Madam Bernadette made minor adjustments, her manner meticulous.

Malikah fidgeted, silent while the seamstress worked. She twisted ideas. Plans. And all she decided was to escape after dinner once the gentlemen retired to their cigars and port. She’d tell her mother she’d like a spot of air and invite the other young ladies to go with her. They wouldn’t accept her invitation. The royal court’s disapproval of her was palpable, yet they spent time with Malikah because of her position. They felt obligated.

All went to plan. Dinner was excruciating, full of boring discussions of the Stonehurst clan and their creeping, grasping ways. Gossip about European families—who was marrying and those single and eligible.

The crown prince flirted with Malikah and hinted his discussions with her father had gone swimmingly. His slimy smile, when his gaze slithered over her breasts, made her want to vomit. None of the delicious meats and vegetables, the berry wine, or the triumphant and towering dessert tempted her to eat. Instead, a hard knot collected in her stomach.

Finally, after her father’s nod, her mother stood with a swish of her rose-pink gown and gestured for the ladies to withdraw to the reception room for tea.

Malikah rose with alacrity, eager to escape to the garden. Once she’d gone, her mother wouldn’t create a fuss. Oh, she’d express anger tomorrow and punish Malikah in a diabolical way, but it would be worth it to see Alfred.

Once the ladies took their seats, Malikah wandered to the open terrace doors. The scent of roses and a buttery note from the oak forest drifted inside.

“It’s such a beautiful evening,” she said. Nothing less than the truth. “I might walk in the garden. Would anyone like to join me?”

Several of the girls stared at her, their expressions aghast.

“But it’s cold,” said a blonde beauty.

Yes, because her shoulders were bare, and her breasts almost poured out of her scarlet gown.

Malikah smiled, wide and genuine instead of her usual twist of lips—the fake smile where emotion never reached her eyes. “That’s okay. I’m only going outside for a short time.”

Without waiting for a reply, Malikah departed. Her heart raced as she hurried down the stairs to the garden. Stars studded the night sky, and a half-moon lit her path. She ran through the gardens, inhaling the rose and jasmine in the air. Freedom called with each step she took. At any other time, she might’ve shifted to gargoyle and flown over the moon-speckled countryside. Outside the estate, she took a well-trod path toward the clearing in the middle of the oak forest. A tinge of smoke carried in the wind. They’d already started.

As Malikah grew closer, voices drifted to her.

“I’m gonna be rich. Malikah is hooked, and once I have the marriage contract signed, I’ll give away my garden center job.”

Malikah halted, anguish darting her chest along with a blast of heat. She recognized Alfred’s voice, and his arrogant bragging sent a tremor through her. Ooh! Her vision blurred as she hovered behind a giant oak trunk. Her parents had been right.

Male and female laughter rang out, cruel at her expense.

“Jenny and I have a game where she pretends to be her. It’s so funny. We laugh and laugh.” Alfred lowered his voice to a suspenseful whisper. “And the sex is smokin’.”

He had another girl.

Malikah’s heart twisted in searing pain, and she clamped her teeth on her lip to keep the tears away. The heat in her chest whirled and grew. Alfred had deceived her with his smooth talk and soulful glances. His handsome face. He’d betrayed her.

Malikah closed her eyes, centering herself and gathering tight control, as January, her gargoyle guide, had taught her. The heat in her chest retreated. When she opened them again, her eyes glowed with an otherworldly light, and her transformation to her gargoyle form was instant. She spread her wings wide. The voices from the clearing ceased, replaced by shocked gasps, as she took a flying leap into the air, her speed rattling the tree branches.

“What was that?” Alfred demanded.

“Sounded too big for a bird,” a woman said, her words rapid and pitch high.

Malikah’s lips curved but didn’t come close to a smile. She was more than a joke, but after three swift wingbeats, she was too far away to hear the commotion.

The wind buffeted her body, the updraft lifting her until the trees were a smudge on the landscape. The stars sparkled like jewels while the moon did its best to light the rolling hills.

She flew for half an hour before steeling herself to return to the manor. At least she was calmer, the angry fire in her chest a mere ember. If she saw Alfred again, she might punch the conniving wretch. He didn’t know she was a gargoyle, and she was so thankful she hadn’t confided this secret.

Reluctantly, she turned back, her heart heavy with shame, embarrassment, and anger, some aimed at herself. Headstrong and determined, her father had informed her. Right now, she understood her bloody-mindedness had impeded her judgment.

Without warning, a loud screech pierced her reverie.

A distress signal.

A call to arms.

Immediately, she dived toward the forest. She landed with a thump and shifted smoothly. Her gown rustled as she hustled to the forest’s edge, battle cries and shouts carrying to her.

Malikah skidded to a halt, gaze scanning the manor. What she saw chilled her. Gargoyles swarmed the sky, diving and shrieking in victorious cries. Giant winged beasts, much bigger and stronger than she wielded swords and battleaxes.

A woman rushed into the garden Malikah had suggested they wander through after dinner. An immense slate-gray gargoyle swooped and slashed with his sword. In that one sweep of steel, her head separated from her torso, and she dropped.

Horror filled Malikah as she spotted several gargoyles splitting off and flying toward the village.

Did they mean to murder everyone?

Malikah thought quickly, that cursed heat flaring through her chest. She should…no! Given the number of the enemy, they’d surround her before she could use her power to save anyone. What would her guardian advise? She sucked in a head-clearing breath. January would tell her to save as many gargoyles as she could. Malikah squared her shoulders and focused. She wouldn’t make it to the village in time to shout a warning, but several outlying houses existed. She could alert them of the danger.

Instead of flying, she picked up her skirts and dashed through the forest, hoping to remain undetected. She ran like she’d never run before until each breath emerged in a hoarse, whistling pant. Her legs ached, her flimsy shoes no protection against the forest floor stones and twigs. They rubbed, a blister growing, but when she might’ve given up in the past, she kept racing across the uneven ground.

Finally, a house appeared in the distance, and she flitted from tree to tree, hoping to escape notice. In the distance, screams rang out from the village. Inhuman cries that had horror rising up her throat. Malikah forced her legs onward. When she finally reached the thatched cottage, she burst inside.

The family was having dinner, and a bulky male leaped to his feet.

“What do you mean by invading our home?” he demanded in a deep, gravelly voice.

“The manor house and the village are under assault. Hurry, you must hide before the attacking clan extends their search.”


The adults exchanged a glance.

“It’s the truth. Step outside. You can hear the screams.”

After another exchanged glance, the adults stood and hustled toward the ajar door. It was clear they didn’t believe her. Malikah had seen them around and, to her shame, recalled her rudeness. She’d stared straight through them because she’d considered them coarse and uneducated.

“Please believe me,” she said. “Where is your nearest neighbor? I must warn them.” A shudder worked through her. Horror. “They’re killing everyone.”

The couple stepped outside, and she spotted the second they believed her.

“Children, quick. Come now,” the mother said. “We’ll go to the old barn. It will be safer than our house.”

“Take the children,” her husband said. “I will warn the others.”

“Which way is your closest neighbor?” Malikah asked.

The gargoyle gestured to the right. “At the end of the lane. Tell them to come to the dilapidated barn. It appears disused and will make a satisfactory hiding place.

With a nod, she ran in the direction he’d indicated, pushing every scrap of pain to the back of her mind. A blister, aching legs, and oxygen-starved, burning lungs were nothing compared to life.

Once again, she had difficulty persuading the gargoyle family she was telling the truth. She clasped the woman’s arm and dragged her to the door. Flames and shrieks and battle cries flared from the village. The color fled the woman’s cheeks as crazed enemy laughter reached them.

“We’ll go to the barn,” the woman said. “Another family lives that way.”

“I’ll warn them,” Malikah promised.

The woman nodded and sprang into action.

Fire licked the village when Malikah and the last group entered the barn. The gargoyles stared at her, but Malikah didn’t care what they thought. The barn represented safety even though it smelled of musty hay and mouse droppings.

She sank into a corner, exhausted, every muscle aching, and closed her eyes. She immediately opened them again and shuddered, rubbing at her breastbone to massage away the ball of heat collected there. A sliver of guilt ran through her at her lack of action. Of course, she’d tell her guardian, but she’d hardly saved anyone, and they might all die yet.

Her mind slid back to the carnage and refused to stop replaying the beheading. The gargoyle slayer’s face had been full of unrelenting glee and satisfaction. The horror of it made her stomach swirl, and she pressed her fingers into her sternum to the point of pain.

Shouts and laughter came from overhead, and none of their group spoke or moved. Malikah held her breath and prayed as she never had before. The night seemed to still, and the flap of wings, the taunting calls of gravel-deep voices carried on the night air, sounding way too close.

“No one at that house,” one called.

“The others are empty,” a gruff voice reported.

“Should we search, captain?” the first asked.

“No, the flare will take care of them. Return to base so we’re behind the wards when the magic occurs.”

The flare?

Malikah puzzled over the gargoyle’s words. She glanced at the others, and their confusion was plain even in the blackness of the barn’s interior.

The flap of wings and chatter, the laughter and the screams faded, but still, their group scarcely breathed. The wait was interminable, but like the others, Malikah remained silent, disbelief filling her mind.

Another five minutes passed, and one of the male gargoyles stepped toward the door.

Malikah opened her mouth to protest when a bright flare seared her eyeballs. She raised her hands, but her muscles locked.

The light confused her. Malikah couldn’t discern anything in the barn. She felt a wave of intense heat, and her skin prickled as if it were on fire. When the brightness faded, Malikah found herself frozen.

Then, her world faded to black.