Bear It All

By: Rochelle Paige

McMahon Clan 2 (Fated Mates Book 5)





Dedication


This book would not have been possible without all the virtual hand-holding Elle Christensen did while I was writing Braden & Tahlia’s story. Thanks for always being there to give me a pat on the back... or a kick in the butt when one is needed.





Prologue


Tahlia


Growing up as the daughter of one of the pride’s few defending lionesses meant you were raised one way and one way only: toughened up to be strong enough to help defend the pride from intruders. My mom wasn’t merely a defender, though. She was the best we had, better even than some of our full grown males, making her the highest ranking lioness in the pride since our prime hadn’t found his mate yet. As her only daughter, the expectations were steep for me. Subsequently, my mom took her dedication to a whole new level.

Weapons training, hand-to-hand combat, survival techniques, defensive driving, surveillance and counter-surveillance—I had been trained in them all. She hired the best from inside and outside the shifter world to come teach me. The last thing my mom wanted was tooth and claw to be the only weapons in my arsenal. In the end, it turned out she had trained me a little too well. There were many different kinds of shifters in the world, each with their own form of leadership, but the shifter council ruled over us all. Those who served on it were the strongest, fiercest, and most cunning of our kind. The last thing most of us wanted was to have their focus aimed our way—and I had caught their attention.

I’d barely turned eighteen when I received an invitation to meet with them. Although I was young, I wasn’t stupid. I knew the invitation was a mere formality. It should have been called a summons instead, because I didn’t have a choice about attending. The last thing I wanted was to bring the wrath of the council down on myself, my mom, or my pride.

I’d been incredibly nervous and uncertain about what they could possibly want from me, but I was surprised to find how quickly the wolf shifter who led the council put me at ease. Then, I was flat-out stunned by what he asked of me. They wanted a female operative and the alpha who represented the lion shifter community had thrown my name out as a good candidate?

“It’s highly unusual for me to make this request of a young shifter, but we have an urgent situation in which you are uniquely suited to provide assistance.”

“You want to send me out on a mission for the council?” I sputtered. In our world, it was common knowledge the council had agents at their disposal, but I’d never actually met one of them or even considered in my wildest dreams they would ask me to work for them. It was virtually impossible to believe they would ever think me capable enough to act on their behalf. The council was run by alpha males—not exactly a species with a reputation for handing responsibility over to women. “You know I’m a girl, right?”

The look he leveled my way reminded me I was being a tad bit disrespectful to a powerful alpha wolf. I quickly lowered my gaze, not wanting to get on the wrong side of the council’s leader. I might have a tendency to be snarky from time to time, but I wasn’t stupid.

“I’ve found that women have a distinct advantage in secret warfare due to their ability to multitask,” he explained. “They’re also better at playing a role because it seems to come more naturally. Plus, in my experience, they’re able to suppress their ego more easily in order to attain a goal.”

I raised my eyes in time to catch the pointed stare he sent my way and knew I’d proven his point. It might have stung my pride a little to show him the respect he deserved, but I had done it anyway without much thought. Had I been one of the guys from my pride, my reaction probably would have been different. “What exactly do you need me to do?”

“I need you to allow yourself to be kidnapped.”

His answer didn’t just shock me—it changed my life. Once he explained the situation involving the disappearance of a dozen young female shifters, I agreed to help and became part of the team they sent in to take care of the situation. The satisfaction I felt in helping to rescue those girls was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. Working for the council gave me a purpose beyond protecting our pride, and it wasn’t a feeling I was willing to let go.

Luckily, the council had further use of my skills. Most of my missions during the five years I’d worked for them were short, lasting a week at most—long enough to make a difference, but short enough I didn’t miss my pride. My mom was incredibly proud of the role I played for the council and never hesitated to tell me how I owed it all to her. But if I were gone too long, she also let me know I needed to wrap things up more quickly and get my ass back home.