Title: The Chosen One
Kali, warrior queen of Zudris, had her heart broken five years before when Gar, the warrior she’d chosen for her mate, walked away. Now he’d returned, bringing two priests of the Order of The Chosen One. The Order had singled her out to do their test, because of her Pantherinae blood, which marked her with eyes of a cat.
Walking away from Kali had been the hardest thing Gar had ever done. If he hadn’t, she would have depended on him and wouldn’t have grown into the strong queen she was.
Doing the test awakens something inside Kali. In her dreams, she meets an ancient Pantherinae shaman, who can shapeshift into a black panther. One who wants to claim her as his mate.
He was back. Kali’s heart beat faster. Just the sight of Gar standing in her throne room with the other supplicants sent her senses reeling. Why had he come?
She focused her attention on the next person who stood patiently in line. As queen of Zudris it was her duty to settle disputes among her people, and she took her duty seriously, making sure to listen closely to both sides. Today she found it hard to pay attention as Gar watched her every move. Her body all too clearly remembered what it felt like to be held in his strong arms, to have his powerful body surging into hers.
After the final petitioner was heard, Kali remained on her throne and waited for the room to empty. Only Gar remained. She sat straighter, adjusting her broadsword where it hung at her waist, as he walked across the room. It’d been five years since she’d last seen him. He’d left when she’d needed him the most.
He moved with a warrior’s grace—sleek muscles rippling with each step he took. Kali’s gaze followed his progress. At six feet nine, Gar was a giant among men. Heavily muscled from years of swinging a broadsword, he would make an adversary think twice before crossing him. He wore his white-blond hair long, the ends falling just past his broad shoulders. His pale green eyes were blank, showing no emotion. No smile played upon his firm lips. She remembered how they’d felt on hers. She’d missed tasting them. At twenty-six, he was a man in his prime.
Gar stood before her, waiting. He never bowed to her, and never had. That was what had drawn Kali to him in the beginning. He’d never treated her as if she were someone who had to be revered. He’d made her feel like his equal. To him, she wasn’t just the warrior queen of Zudris. She was also Kali. He was the only one with whom she could be herself. Just plain Kali.
Kali looked into his tanned, handsome face. She’d have to speak first. “I see you’ve returned. Didn’t you vow never to do so the last time we spoke?”
“I might have been too hasty in making that vow.”
Kali gripped the arms of her throne. The feeling of betrayal rose inside her. She’d been eighteen when she’d ascended the throne of Zudris. At the time, her people had been embroiled in an ongoing two-hundred-year war with a neighboring country. With Gar fighting at her side, she’d begun to drive their opponents back across the border. Just before the final battle, he’d refused to fight, and she’d had to lead her warriors alone. She’d emerged victorious, finally giving peace to her people, but at a terrible cost to herself. The one man who owned her heart had walked away, leaving her alone to pick up the scattered pieces that were left of her country. He was to have been her mate, her prince consort, and he’d walked away without as much as a backward glance. He’d given it all up. Gave up on her.
“What do you want, Gar?”
“I can see you haven’t forgiven me.”
Kali narrowed her eyes. “You left me when I needed you.”
“You know I had my reasons.”
“I no more understand why you felt it was necessary today than I did then. My feelings on that subject haven’t changed.”
Gar stepped closer and placed his hands on top of hers. Bending forward, his gaze swept her face. “Nor have mine, Kali. If anything, I feel more strongly about it. You’re the one.”
Having him stand so close, Kali had to resist the urge to pull him to her so she could devour his mouth with hers. She took a deep breath and filled her nostrils with his scent. The musky maleness of it brought images of hot, sweaty sex to mind. Memories of Gar in bed with her, his hard body pressed to hers as she held him tight. Wetness pooled between her legs as she ached for him to possess her again, but then his words sank in. She stood and pushed past him with a snarl before she stepped to the middle of the room.
“I’m not the one.”
Gar turned to face her and shook his head. “Kali, think of what you could do with the power.”
They were back to that old argument again, picking up where they’d left off five years before with Gar pushing and her resisting, no matter how convincing he sounded. “The price of failure is too high. How could you ask me to take that chance?”
“Because I believe you can do it.”
“I wish I felt as sure as you do.”
“At least listen to what the priests have to say.”
Kali growled with rage. “You brought priests of the Order here?”
“I’ve been with the brothers for the last few years.”
“You’ve become one of them?”
“No. I stay with them to learn. The more I’ve seen, the more strongly I feel you need to speak with them.”
“I don’t like the position you’ve put me in. You know what could happen if I refuse.”
“If there was another way to get you to agree, believe me, I would have used it. You left me no choice.”
“Like when you had no choice and walked away.”
Before Gar could respond, Kali walked out of the throne room. All the old hurts she’d pushed aside came to the surface. She cursed the blood that ran through her veins. It was Pantherinae, which caused her eyes to be those of a cat, pure gold in color and pupils mere slits. They were a gift from her great-great-grandmother. Kali was the only one of the royal line to be marked so since. It’d given the Order all they needed to latch on to her.