Steel Beauty Page 1

Author: Dana Marie Bell

Series: Halle Pumas #4

Genres: Romance

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Prologue

November

“No  fucking  way.” Rick stared at Max Cannon, the Halle Puma Alpha, and wondered what his head would

look like rolling down the driveway. “My mate goes home with me.”

“How are the Wolves going to react to an injured, non-Wolf Luna? Think, Rick! Not only is she injured,  she’s Puma. And until you can fully claim her, she’s Pride.  My  Pride.” Rick watched Max cross his arms  over his chest. He wanted to rip them off and beat him over the head with them.

He’d had a thoroughly rotten day. He’d been shot, killed a rogue, found his mate, found out his mate  Was  hurt  , and now had to deal with a territorial cat intent on sending him on his way. “She comes home with me.”

Max sighed and rubbed his forehead. “Look, Rick, I know how I would feel if this were Emma.”

Rick nodded shortly. The big cat  would  understand, somewhat.

“But, and this is a big but, Belinda hasn’t had the easiest time of it in the last couple of weeks. You’re new  to your position, as well. You need to solidify your Pack and prepare them for what they’re going to have  to deal with when Belinda gets there. You’ll also have to prepare Belinda.”

“Belle.”

Rick looked at the pale mate of the Puma Marshall, Sheri Montgomery, the one who’d been the cause of  Rick coming down to Halle in the first place. “Belle?” Who was thisBelle, and what did she have to do with Belinda?

Sheri shot a look at Simon, who winced. Rick’s eyes narrowed at the guilty flush on the Beta’s face and wondered what the man was hiding. Sheri turned back to Rick with a grimace. “Belinda is who she was when she was friends with Livia, the mask she wore to fit into Livia’s social set. Belle is who she  really  is.”

Simon nodded. “And that’s something else that needs to be dealt with.”

Rick sighed and sunk down onto Max’s leather sofa. The Alpha had dragged him, literally, out of  Adrian’s house, shoved him in his Durango, and carried him off. It hadn’t taken long for the rest of the  Pride’s inner core to show up. Only the fact that his own Marshall hadn’t been worried for him had kept him from biting some cat ass. “You are going to explain all of this shit, right?”

Emma spoke up. “I’ll try. Okay, roughly a month ago Max marked me as his and claimed me as his  Curana.” Rick nodded. Curana was Puma equivalent of Luna, the Alpha female of a Pack, or in Emma’s case, a Pride. “He gave me the Curana’s ring, and I wore it to the annual Halle masquerade. When Livia realized Max had mated me, she freaked out. She attacked Becky, Simon’s mate, while Becky was still human.”

Ouch. That explained why the woman had been Outcast. An unprovoked attack on a human? This Livia person was lucky Max or Simon hadn’t ripped her throat out. That’s what Rick would have done.

“What does this have to do with Belle?”

Emma shrugged. “Belle and Livia were best friends, and it was well known Belle wanted to mate with

Simon.”

Rick stiffened.Mate with Simon?  Now he understood some of why the Beta had looked guilty.

Emma continued the story, leaning against Max with a sigh. “Because Livia attacked Becky, and Belindawasn’t anywhere near the party at the time it happened, most of the Pride assumed she’d helped Livia insome way or another. Hell, even we assumed it at first.”

Rick clenched his jaw against his immediate response. He didn’t know Belle well enough to know if shewas capable of such a thing, despite every single one of his instincts screaming that she wasn’t. “Whathappened next?”

“Livia was Outcast, and Belle…”

Emma looked up at Max, but it was Simon who answered. “Belle proved herself to us. She helped save Becky when Becky collapsed at work, and she sacrificed herself to save Sheri from a psychotic stalker.” Simon shook his head. “I never thought Belle had it in her to do that, but she proved me wrong.”

“She proved all of us wrong.” Max snuggled Emma close, a frown on his face. “But we’ve had a difficult time getting the rest of the Pride to see that, despite everything she’s done. In essence, they’ve shunned her. She’s lost her job, almost lost her apartment, and even with her injury we had a hard time getting volunteers to protect her when she needed it.”

Rick bit back a growl. The danger was past, and theyhad  figured out how to protect his mate in the end. But the fallout on Belle had been, in Rick’s mind, totally unwarranted. Just because her ex-best friendhad been a psychotic bitch didn’t mean Belle should be held responsible for the other woman’s actions. He couldn’t wait to get her away from the self-righteous assholes who were making her life a misery.

He stood, ready to walk out Max’s front door, put his female in his car, and take off for home.

“Rick.” Becky stood, ignoring Simon’s outstretched hand. “I’m probably one of the last people Belinda would expect to stand up for her right now, but I have to say, she’s had a horrible time of it. Don’t make it worse for her.”

Max blocked his path to the front door. “Are there any doctors up by you who can handle an injuredshifter? Any who can deal with the physical therapy she’s going to need?”

Rick growled.

Max, the smug bastard, smiled. “Are you willing to move down here for the next few months? No? Thengo home. Let her heal. Then, when she’s ready, come and take her.”

“Take her home.”

“What?” Max turned to his little dark-haired mate.

“Take herhome  . You said take her.”

Max gave her a puzzled frown. “Well, that too.”

Rick snorted, amused for the first time that day, as Emma rolled her eyes at Max.

Max put his hand on Rick’s shoulder, squeezing reassuringly. “I give you my word that no harm will

come to your mate while she is under my protection.”

The formal vow, accompanied by a flash of Max’s power, reassured him. Looking around, he saw thedetermination on the faces of the rulers of the Halle Pride, and knew he’d lost this round.

He accepted Max’s oath, and the separation that would accompany his decision, with a great deal ofreluctance.

But there was no way in hell he was going to stay completely out of his mate’s life for the next fewmonths. He might not have her by his side, but he’d be damned if he didn’t havesome  piece of her.

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