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Courtship's Conquest
Author: Abigail Kelly

Chapter One



February 2045 - San Francisco, The Elvish Protectorate

Camille Solbourne, first cousin to the sovereign ruler of the Elvish Protectorate and one of the last three living descendants of the Dia family, turned a corner so sharply, she nearly lost a heel.

Somewhere else in the cavernous warren of the Summit Hall, a crowd’s roar went up, shaking the walls and bouncing off of fine marble floors. She didn’t hear it. All she was aware of, all she could feel and hear and taste, was him.

And that meant she had to run.

The Hall wasn’t particularly familiar to her. She rarely left her mother’s Napa estate, and even when she spent time with her cousins in San Francisco, they didn’t care to pass the time in the awe inspiring labyrinth where the elvish government made their laws.

It didn’t matter, though. She didn’t need to know where she was going. She just needed to get out.

Camille’s skin burned as pheromones washed through her veins. Her heart stuttered a wild, uneven beat. Sweat beaded along her spine beneath the silk of her ice blue dress. Her bones felt ill-suited to their muscled confines. The beds of her claws ached. Even her vision was sharper.

All it took was one deep breath of his scent, one touch of his fingers to the soft, vulnerable underside of her chin, and she was changed.


Camille made another wild turn into an unfamiliar corridor, her heels clattering against the black marble floor, and spotted a door to a small, unused meeting room. Her preference was to get outside and as far away from Solbourne Tower as she possibly could, but what if he was out there? What if he waited for her by the steps or lingered in the shadows of the parking garage? She thought he darted after her when she fled the green room behind the sovereign’s podium, but if he pursued her, wouldn’t he have already caught her?

A more insidious inner voice than that of her anxiety whispered, What if he isn’t waiting? What if he’s already forgotten you, like he did before?

She shook the crushing doubt loose and kept going. She would not turn around. She would not look to see if he followed. She would not take any unnecessary risk.

It was much smarter to lie low until she was absolutely certain he was no longer on the small spit of land that was the elvish stronghold. Even if he wasn’t looking for her, she couldn’t risk it.

Intuition pulled her in another direction, away from any exits. Don’t expose yourself outside. Hiding is smarter.

Camille darted down the hall, her breaths rasping in a throat that felt like sandpaper, and attempted to pry open the door. Her first try didn’t do anything productive. Her hand shook too badly. Her glove, white silk with diamond-tipped claw-caps, slid against the bronze handle. Growling, she just managed it on her second try.

The room was small and dark, with a single, shuttered window in the far right corner. A wooden table sat in the center, framed by four chairs and overlooked by a large feed screen on one wall. It was a room that would have looked at home in any corporate office or government building, but to her it was a refuge. She would hide away until the day’s meetings were over and her brother sought her out to give her the all-clear.

Camille dove in, her mind in a wild tangle of fear and desire, fury and desperation, yearning and revulsion.

How had she survived this once, only to succumb again? Why now? If her mother found out that she’d been in the same room with him, it would kill her — or, knowing Marian Dia Solbourne, she would try to kill him first.

Everything in Camille balked at the thought. Not that her mother stood a chance in her deteriorated state, but the idea of Viktor being injured made her stomach roil—

The door was on its return swing, sailing toward the jamb with all the force of a desperate woman’s shove, when a tanned hand slid into the gap. Camille made a sharp sound of alarm and jumped back. She stumbled into a chair, knocking it onto the floor with a clatter.

She knew that hand. She knew that skin. She knew that tantalizing scent of salt and musk and clean, sweet sweat like she knew her own soul.

Gods, she thought, furious at the wash of relief and pleasure that swept through her, he followed me.

With a small push, the door swung open.

Viktor Hamilton, alpha of the Merced pack and figure of her sweetest nightmares, stood in the doorway. His beautiful face was cast half in shadow by the light from the hall, obscuring the fine lines of his features, the luminous quality of his cornflower blue eyes.

But she didn’t need the light to see him, to know him. Camille’s soul had been branded by the shifter nearly twenty years prior. She could never forget him, no matter how hard she tried.

“Cam…” Viktor’s voice was a deep, jagged rumble. It lacked his usual lackadaisical cheer and was softer, gentler than it had any right to be. “I didn’t mean to scare you off. I’m sorry about what happened in there.”

He was apologizing for manhandling her, pulling her away from interceding in what could have been a politically catastrophic fight between her cousins, but all she heard was the bass rumble of his voice, that sensual shifter purr that made even the most sensible people beg for more.

Everything in her, instinct and soul, snapped to attention. Without intending to, she sucked in a deep breath, bringing more of him into her lungs until it felt like there were millions of tiny bubbles popping in her veins.

No! Run!

Her logical mind, the part of her that was all raw, wounded fury, had no plans to give into the pull that had rearranged her hormones and stolen her good sense. She’d done it once and suffered the consequences.

Camille gripped the edge of the table to steady herself — and keep herself away from Viktor — straightened her shoulders, and hoarsely demanded, “What part of me trying to get away from you as fast as possible told you to follow me? Get out!”

“I wouldn’t have if you didn’t look like you were ready to shatter into a thousand pieces,” he shot back. “Did you really think I was going to let you run off after all that without even checking to make sure you were okay?”

Camille let out a distinctly elvish hiss. “I’m fine. Now get out.”

Viktor’s eyes went from human to coyote. In the dark, his pupils suddenly expanded and glowed with the vivid green of a predator’s vision.

With a flick of his wrist, the door shut with a resounding bang.

“Cam,” he tried again, moving a step closer.

She took a hasty step to the left. Viktor stilled and raised his hands in a placating gesture, but his eyes were still coyote bright and fixed on her with a hungry look she knew too well.

“You didn’t have to run. I just want to talk to you. I’m not going to attack you or something.” He sucked in a small, shuddering breath. “You know that. You know me. You can sheath your claws for a second.”

A base, animalistic part of her almost wished he would lunge for her. Then she would really have a reason to flex her claws a little. “I don’t know you, Alpha Hamilton. That sort of thing tends to happen when you haven’t spoken to someone in twenty years. What could you possibly have to say to me now?”

Why would he bother seeking her out now, after so long? He had been very clear about what he wanted from her twenty years ago, after all. Humiliatingly, heartbreakingly clear.

Was it pity that drove him?

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