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Leap of the Lion (The Wild Hunt Legacy #4)
Author:Cherise Sinclair

Leap of the Lion (The Wild Hunt Legacy #4)

Cherise Sinclair




Acknowledgments


Huge thanks go to my critique partners, Monette Michaels and Bianca Sommerland. Where would I be without you to keep my plots on the right trail?

A big squishy hug to Fiona Archer for enduring the worst year ever and still managing to perform a BFF’s handholding duties. Love you, girl.

To my beta readers, Lisa White, Marian Shulman, and Barb Jack, lots and lots of kittens. (The li’l pouncers are an expression of gratitude. Really.) Seriously, though, y’all are amazing. Thank you so, so much!





Prologue



?


Eight-year-old Owen Treharn closed the back door silently, heard his mother yelling, and froze. The kitchen was dark and empty. For once, he wasn’t the one in trouble. Although the sound of her anger hunched his shoulders, he crept toward the living room to see what was going on.

No one would hear him. Sneaking was a survival skill he’d mastered already.

He peeked around the corner.


Two of his littermates were in the room—Edwyn on the couch, Bonnie standing motionless in the corner.

Face dark red with rage, Mother shook a broken bowl at Bonnie. “I liked this bowl. That’s why it was on top of the refrigerator.”

“Bonnie wanted the candy out of it.” Edwyn gave her a taunting look.

Bonnie gasped. “I did not. You did. You climbed on a chair an’ knocked it off when you were grabbing the candy.”

Owen’s fingers dug into the doorframe. Bonnie wouldn’t steal candy. She never broke the rules. Even so, Mother would never believe Edwyn had busted the bowl. She thought Edwyn was perfect.

“How dare you blame Edwyn for something you did.” Mother slapped Bonnie across the face.

“No, Mother!” Bonnie screamed and cringed away.

No. No! Owen cringed, too. He glanced behind him at the back door and safety.

Bonnie was crying. Bonnie needed him.

Forcing his unwilling feet to move, he darted into the living room. Mother hit Bonnie again, and then he was there, between them. He shoved Bonnie toward the front door. “Run, Nee.”

“Demon-spawn.” His mother’s cruel name for him hurt almost as much as her hand hitting his face. Pain seared his face, and he turned, covering his head with his arms.

She didn’t stop.

Blow after blow struck his shoulders and back, burning through his skin, setting his world on fire. It hurt. Tears ran down his cheeks. Jaw clamped shut against the sobs, Owen bent his head and…endured.

A door slammed shut. Bonnie had escaped. She was safe.

Dodging the next blow, he tore for the kitchen, his mother on his heels. As he ran through the back doorway, she flung the broken bowl at him. It slammed into his hand, and blinded by tears, he fell down the back steps. His face ground into the dirt, scraping his chin and cheek. Ow, ow, ow. A sob broke out.

Mother stood on the steps. “You disgusting brat. Your sire was no good, and you’re no better, Demon-spawn.”

Gawain, his other littermate, was suddenly there. He yanked Owen to his feet. “C’mon, brawd.”

They ran for the forest.

Every footfall sent pain through Owen’s hand, and his eyes were so filled with tears, he kept tripping over branches.

Finally, Gawain slowed. “She gave up and went back to the house. Is here okay?”

“Yeah. It’s good.”

A sprite, wakened by their noise, chittered at them before popping back in her hole.

Gulping back sobs, Owen crumpled down into the soft debris on the forest floor. With his good hand, he wiped the tears away, wincing at the sore spots on his face. He was too old to be crying. But his hand, shoulders, and face hurt. The names she called him hurt, too. Why did she hate him so much? She loved Edwyn. Most of the time, she liked Gawain and Bonnie. But she’d always hated Owen.

With a tired grunt, Gawain dropped onto the ground, his face was streaked with sweat and dirt, his blue eyes worried. “What made her so mad this time?”

“Edwyn told her Bonnie broke the candy bowl.”

“Bonnie? She wouldn’t take Mother’s candy. He lied.” Gawain was smart that way. He understood people better than Owen did.

“Yeah. He lied.”

“Is Bonnie okay?” Gawain’s eyes narrowed. “You let Mother beat on you instead, didn’t you?”

Owen’s shrug made his shoulders hurt worse. “Why does she hate me so much?”

“Dunno.” Gawain sighed. “Maybe she’d love us if we looked like her. She loves Edwyn.”

Edwyn and Mother had skin the color of milk, and their hair was as light as the pearl necklace Mother always wore.

Owen’s thick, straight hair was as dark as the tree trunks around them. Where his arms weren’t bruised purple, his skin was reddish-brown. And his eyes were the color of the evergreens.

Gawain had blue eyes, hair a lighter brown than Owen’s, and his skin was golden with freckles.

Bonnie’s eyes were brown, but her hair was as yellow as the sun.

Owen scowled. “Other littermates don’t look much alike, and their mothers love them.” He wasn’t saying it right—he wasn’t good with words—but Gawain would understand. Gawain always understood him.

“I know. Mother’s different. Maybe she only wanted one cub.”

Owen closed his eyes. “Maybe.” If she had to love only one, she should have picked Gawain or Bonnie. Edwyn was a liar and a cheat—and even if Owen loved him, he didn’t really like Edwyn much. The sneaky weasel didn’t deserve their mother’s love.

And Owen didn’t deserve her hate…did he? What had he done to make her scream at him and hurt him all the time? “She sure didn’t want me.”

“I think it’s ’cause of your sire,” Gawain said.

“Did he make her mad, so she hates me instead?”

“That’s what Great-Aunt Sandy says.” Face streaked with tears, Bonnie stepped into the clearing and sat down next to Owen. “I’m sorry Mother hit you.”

“Better me than you.” Owen tried to smile even though his swollen cheek pulled painfully. “What did Great-Aunt say?”

“She told the grocer lady how your daddy was one of the males Mother mated with during a Gathering, and later, she wanted to be his mate, but he didn’t like her much. Only she kept bothering him until he made fun of her…and then he mated a really pretty female, and Mother got so mad she moved away to here in Pine Knoll.”

Gawain chewed on a finger. “Being made fun of would make her really mad.”

“Yeah.” And Mother could stay mad a really long time. His stomach dropped lower in his belly. If she hated his father, she’d never like him, either. She’d keep hating him and hitting him.

Owen blinked back more tears. He was only a little cub. He couldn’t hit her back. It wasn’t fair.

But life wasn’t fair, was it? He looked at his purpling swollen hand and felt the burning pain in his shoulders. No, life wasn’t fair.

Bonnie leaned her head on his shoulder. “Great-Aunt Sandy says she’s taking me away from here. From Mother. But I don’t want to leave you and Gawain.”