That’s why when I finally slowed to a stop only inches from them, I drew my glasses up so they rested on top of my head and met Leo’s gaze straight on.
Leo the lion. On anyone else, it’d have been silly, a gimmick and nothing more. But not him. Never him. He stood tall and proud, his black hair and green eyes so unexpected amidst a Pride chock full of blue-eyed blondes, it made him seem dangerous. But then, only one look at that face and its bold angles would make you realize your first instinct had been right. The man was dangerous. He was their uncontested leader, the male heading their now female-less Pride.
It was unheard of. Usually, adult males were nomads and only gravitated to the females when it was time to copulate. But the Antelope Valley Pride had lost its last female, Sara, and now, there was only me left…
“Leo,” I finally said when I realized he wouldn’t speak up first.
“Jade,” he replied, his voice harsh.
Ah damn, I thought, he was still mad. Licking lips that were suddenly dry, I forced the uneasiness creeping inside me back to where it came from and asked, “What’s up with the welcoming committee?”
“We need to talk.”
“And we couldn’t do it at home?” Anger met my words. I could feel them bristle, all five of them, even Brian. “What? What did I say?”
“You dare calling it your home after you ran away, leaving us all without even thinking of the consequences!” Trent’s words came out as more of a growl than anything else.
My heartbeat picked up speed when I noticed their eyes had darkened, taking that amber hue that announced the emergence of their lions. “I had to leave. You know that.”
“We don’t know that,” Logan replied through gritted teeth.
“You had a life here. You had family and people who loved you, but you didn’t care enough about us to stay.”
“Oh no, Samuel. You know that’s not true.”
“Isn’t it?” Brian said, the tone of his voice unlike anything I’d ever heard from him before.
“I couldn’t stay here. I had to go live a…a normal life. I had to!”
“Why, Jade?” Leo’s gaze caught mine. “Because you feared us that much?”
“No.” I shook my head. My thoughts were unraveling. I’d known they would interrogate me, but I hadn’t expected it to start so soon. I’d been looking forward to stepping into my old home, the one I’d shared with Sara and was now mine. It held happy memories, bad ones too, sure, but I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t had some good times.
“Then, why?” Leo’s question ended up on a roar.
Our surroundings grew so quiet I could suddenly hear their ragged breathing. No birds calling, no insects muttering, or whatever the hell they did. Not a single sound but them…and me. I exhaled slowly, knowing I owed them the truth after all those years. “I needed to see whether I could live out there like a normal woman. I’d grown up with you, and I knew you were expecting me to become your Mate, but I wasn’t ready. I wanted to know if dating other men would…change the way I felt about you.”
Gazes still locked, I stared into Leo’s eyes and sighed. “No. No, it didn’t.”
Two seconds later, hands were on me.
“No!” I threw my hands out and kept them at bay.
Growls echoed all around me, and I realized they were now surrounding me. Five men, five lions, meant a lot of testosterone and a serious amount of muscles. Panic started rising inside me, the anxiety I’d so successfully managed to keep on hold until now. One touch from them, and I was a wreck. I’m never going to survive this, I thought as I protected my head with both hands, curling inwardly as if I could hide myself from them.