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Badlands: The Lion’s Den

By:Georgette St. Clair

he club, permanently.”

“Oh.” The way her breath caught in her throat set his nerves on fire. “That sounds…safer than I thought it would be.”

“Do you think you’d ever want to try something like that?” Finn asked.

Her eyes widened at the thought. “I…I don’t know,” she said, her cheeks coloring. “I mean…being half naked in front of all those people?” She glanced self-consciously down at her body.

“You’ve got to stop that,” Finn growled. “If I were looking for a woman – which I’m not – you would be exactly what I was looking for. You. Your body. Exactly like you are.” Damn. How had that spilled out of his mouth?

“Why aren’t you?” she asked, looking him right in the eye and catching him off guard. He wasn’t used to frank questions like that. The type of women who hung out at the Lion’s Den generally didn’t want much more from him than what was in his pants, and he preferred it that way.

“Why not? Well, I… Bad experience in the past. I’m just not relationship material.”

She gave him a chiding look. “That sounds like an excuse. We all have bad experiences. But anyway, that’s your business, not mine.”

Before he could answer her, Jennifer walked up to him. “Hey, are you and your sub going over to the other side? Looks like the whipping station is free,” she said in a loud voice, right when there was a lull in the music. Everyone within earshot swiveled around to stare at them.

Flora’s cheeks flamed red. “I’m not with him. I should go,” she said quickly, and turned and hurried off, disappearing into the crowd. Finn moved to follow her, and found himself blocked by Jennifer, who’d accidentally slid in front of him.

Finn scowled at her. Where had that come from? He’d never been with Jennifer, he’d ignored her mild attempts at flirting until she’d stopped, and she’d never acted like she cared when she saw him with a woman. She’d never pulled a cock-blocking move like that before.

“What was that all about?” he demanded.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I asked a simple question. Not my fault your weirdo friend freaked out,” she snapped, looking offended, and turned and hurried off through the crowd.

Finn was tempted to pursue her and demand an answer, but he let it go. He’d always tried to cut her more slack than he would anyone else. When she’d showed up at the Lion’s Den a few months after Marybeth’s death, he’d stepped in immediately. He’d gotten her a job and a place to stay. He’d spread the word that anybody who messed with Jennifer was messing with him.

But he’d also made it quite clear to Jennifer that he viewed her as a little sister, someone to be protected, and nothing more. She’d always been okay with that – hadn’t she?

With a growl of impatience, he hurried after Flora. What was she even doing here? She was in way over her head, both at this nightclub and in the Badlands in general.

He caught up with her at the front door. “Let me walk you to your car,” he said. “This is a rough neighborhood.”

“No, thank you. I didn’t drive here. I’m just going to walk back to my hotel.”

“By yourself?” He glanced at the clock on the wall in astonishment. It was quarter after twelve. “At this time of night? You do understand where you are, right?”

Since the Badlands were unregulated, shifters could do whatever they wanted there. Literally anything.

Outside the Badlands, shifters were strictly regulated. All shifters were required to be a member of a pack or a pride or a tribe, to ensure that they didn’t go feral. They carried identity cards and checked in monthly with the Council for Shifter Affairs.

Here, shifters went feral all the time – part of Finn’s job was to hunt down the ferals. The only law that existed was that which was created by the local Alphas, Rexes, or Warlords, or whatever the local leaders chose to call themselves. Leaders rose and fell, killed others or were killed, with the regularity of the rising and retreating tides.

This curvy innocent with the sexy repressed librarian vibe didn’t belong here.

“You can’t walk around here at night by yourself,” he said, following her outside.

“Oh, you don’t need to worry about me, thank you. I’m a cat shifter. I have claws.” She held out her hand and extended her claws, and for a brief moment her hand went flat and furry as it turned into a paw.

The fur was silvery white, shot through with black, like her hair. Silky-looking fur, he thought. He wanted to pet it.

But her notion that she could defend herself here was ridiculous. She was a lynx; even though shifter animals tended to be bigger than non-shifter animals, she’d probably weigh a hundred pounds at most in her lynx form. Could she defend herself against a pack of wolves? Or a lion? Or a bear?

Before he could answer her, she turned and walked away. Which hotel was she going to? he wondered. Wherever she was staying, she was heading out of the Hudsons’ territory.

The residents of their territory paid protection, and wore a large “H” symbol on their clothing to show their allegiance. Anyone without the symbol was fair game to the roving packs of thugs, or lone muggers, in the territory.

She wasn’t wearing an “H”, he realized now. And she wasn’t wearing any other Alpha’s or Rex’s or Chieftain’s symbol either, so she was unprotected. Did she not know about it? He hadn’t noticed before because frankly, she’d had his head totally fogged up from the minute he’d laid eyes on her.

He hesitated.

He didn’t know this girl. It was no fur off his back if she got mugged. He looked out for his own and nobody else – that was the rule he lived by these days.

His brother Liam was standing by the front door with Jose. He handed Finn a bottle of mineral water. Finn took a long swig of it.

“You going to let her go?” Liam asked him. He glanced at Jose. “That’s his new girlfriend.”

“Nice.” Jose nodded approvingly. “A step up, for you.”

Finn snorted. “What are we, in kindergarten? She’s not my girlfriend, a