Read the first chapter from The Highlander's Mate available only in the Highland Shifters 12-Author boxed set | Liliana Rhodes

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The Highland Shifters boxed set is made up of almost entirely never before released stories, including mine! My story is The Highlander’s Mate and it is a prequel to Wolf at Her Door.

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About The Highlander’s Mate – A Prequel to Wolf at Her Door
The Highlander’s Mate by Liliana Rhodes: Centuries after an ancient curse on his clan tore werewolf Bran MacCulloch away from his mate Ainsley Drummond, he catches her scent on the breeze. But how can it be her?

Continue reading for the first chapter of The Highlander’s Mate

The Highlander's Mate by Liliana Rhodes

Prologue

Ainsley

I remembered everything as if it just happened yesterday. Only it wasn’t so recent, it was a long time ago. Time didn’t change how I felt or the pain that coursed through my chest whenever I thought of him…Bran. He was the love of my life, the one who made me feel things I never thought possible, but I had to leave him. It was the hardest decision I had ever made, one I might not have chosen if I realized how long forever would feel without him.

Chapter One

Bran

Where the hell was I? Turning off the road, I noticed a sign that said Leeds Point. I was in New Jersey, a state I had been to a couple of times before and had never thought I would return to again.

This time was different though. I caught her scent and I had to follow it. I didn’t have a choice. I would follow that scent wherever it led me. It had been over four hundred years since I first caught her scent. How could she still be alive?

The road was dark with only a few street lamps guiding me. I didn’t know where I was headed, but in the distance I saw a green neon sign for a bar called Night Shift. Did people accept shifters in this strange town? Or was that name just a coincidence?

As I steered the car towards the rickety old wooden building, I knew the answer–the air was filled with shifters. Breathing in deeply, I tried to catch her scent, but it wasn’t there. If I were patient, it would come back to me. It had to.

Everything around the building looked worn down and deserted. Why would any shifter or even human come here? I knew the bar was a dive before I even stepped out of my car. But for some unexplainable reason, I felt that was where I needed to be.

Wearing jeans and a polo shirt, I knew I would fit in with the crowd. It was a habit I cultivated a long time ago. Someone like me didn’t want to stand out in the crowd. Blending in was safer. Not that I was afraid of anything, I just didn’t want to attract attention to myself.

Walking past the large man at the door, I sensed he was a manatee shifter. I always recognized what each shifter was. I had been around for too long to not recognize the subtleties. The place only had a few tables in one corner by the bar. There were some shifters shooting pool, another looking through the selections at the jukebox, an alpha grizzly behind the bar, and a wolf by a pinball machine talking to a brunette human and her friend. They were wearing skirts that were too short for their own good. He was going to cause trouble before the night was through.

I stepped up to the bar and stood between two stools. No point in getting too comfortable yet, I thought. The bear nodded at me as he walked over. He was a tanned, muscular man with kind eyes and the scent of a human on him. A couple of women at the end of the bar were talking about him. I closed my eyes briefly to listen.

“Rafael is so hot,” a woman with blonde highlights said to her friend. “I don’t know what he sees in that weirdo Pinky Smythe.”

“Come on sweetie, I promise I’ll bring you back to your friend later. Let’s go for a ride,” the wolf by the pinball machine said.

“My name isn’t sweetie, it’s Suzy,” the human he was talking to said.

Turning to look over at the wolf, I could see him becoming more aggressive. He was pushing himself closer to her even though she was pulling away. Her hands were on his chest as she tried to keep him at a distance, but he didn’t realize any of it. He was too tuned into her humanness to notice the fear in her eyes. I knew men like that. It didn’t matter if they were human or shifter, they were always wrong.

“What can I get you?” Rafael asked.

“Whatever’s on tap,” I said without looking at him, feeling the amber glow of my eyes.

Pushing my dark, chin-length wavy hair back, I left the bar and walked towards the pinball machine. The fur was already beginning to sprout along my neck and arms, but I wouldn’t make a full shift to wolf. I only wanted its strength.

No one else in the bar could hear what was going on between the wolf and Suzy. These shifters weren’t like me or any of my clan. Most shifters weren’t like us. Focusing my attention on the wolf, I listened in again.

“Let’s go honey, I’m tired of this game you’re playing. I know you want it.”

The wolf grabbed Suzy by her arm and she tried to yank it away, but it was useless.

“Let her go!” her friend said as she pushed at the wolf.

With his free arm, he swatted the friend away like she was a bug, his eyes glowing amber. She stumbled onto a nearby table, which tipped over and landed on the floor. I had seen enough.

The wolf turned towards the door, dragging Suzy with him. Just as she screamed, I put my hand on his shoulder, turned him towards me, and let my fist meet his face. I never hit a man who didn’t see it coming. It wasn’t the way of a Highlander.

He let go of the human, and she ran to her friend as Rafael leapt over the bar and stood between the wolf and the women. The wolf threw a punch at me, but he was too slow and I easily stepped aside then grabbed him by the back of his neck as he lost his balance.

The manatee at the door entered the room. With one hand, I held the wolf shifter by the back of his neck and tossed him towards the door. If he wanted to act like trash, he deserved to be treated as such.

As I made my way back to the bar, the few people around stepped out of my way, their eyes wide. Whether human or shifter, I was used to that look from others whenever I displayed my strength.

Rafael brought Suzy and her friend to the bar and gave them a couple of drinks. Then he tilted a frozen mug under the tap as he filled it and placed it on the bar in front of me.

“That’s on the house,” he said.

“No, I’m a paying customer,” I said.

“You’re not from around here, are you?”

“What gave me away, lad?” I said jokingly.

“You’re not the only one with an accent, you know,” he said, letting his New Orleans roots shine through.

“Our voices will always tell our tale,” I said with a grin.

It didn’t matter how long I had been away from Scotland, it never left my voice.

Suzy slid over a few stools with her friend close behind and sat beside me. They were both tempting with full cherry-glossed lips, but I knew why that wolf chose Suzy over her friend.

While humans thought of Suzy as fat, shifters saw her as curvy and luscious. Her scent called to my own wolf spirit to play, but hers wasn’t the scent I longed for.

“Thank you for helping me,” she said with a shy smile. “I’m Suzy, and this is my friend Michelle. Wow, look at your eyes. Are they grey? You know, you’re my hero. Who knows what would’ve happened if you hadn’t come along.”

“I know what would have happened, Suzy,” I said. “You and your friend should know better than to come to a shifter bar at night. Just like humans, not every shifter is as honorable as they should be.”

She looked down, embarrassed, and I felt bad for talking to her like that. I couldn’t help but treat her like a child. She was a child. But in comparison to me, they all were.

***

After a couple of hours, the bar emptied. The bouncer came in and sat down with his feet up on a table, his chair leaning back unsteadily against the wall. Rafael took glasses out of the dishwasher under the bar and dried them with a rag. I continued to nurse my beer.

“If you don’t mind my asking,” Rafael said with a tilt of his head, “what are you? I’m sensing you’re a shifter, but there’s something else. I’m Rafael LeCroix by the way, grizzly alpha.”

I admired his courage and gave him a smile. Most men wouldn’t ask me a question like that. Most men didn’t speak to me.

“Nice to meet you, Rafael. I’m Bran MacCulloch. Aye, I am a shifter. A wolf shifter to be exact, just as the rest of my clan are. The something else, I can’t really explain. It doesn’t have a name, but I was born in the 1500s in Scotland.”

“You’re…immortal?” he asked, his eyes growing wider.

“Yes, all of Clan MacCulloch is, unfortunately. I’ve spent the last four hundred years wandering after losing my love, my mate. Every so often, I catch what I believe is her scent. That’s why I’m here now. I’m sure I’m going mad because she died a long time ago, but I had to follow it anyway.”

“You’re hoping you’re wrong and she’s still alive,” he said.

I smiled and rubbed my stubbly chin as I admired how perceptive he was.

“Yes, I’m hoping to find her. Or even some news of her. Looking back, it was the hope that she might be alive that kept me going. Since the day I first caught her scent and saw her hair being whipped around by the wind, I knew she was the one for me.”

“You look like you’re in the mood to talk,” he said.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve spoken to anyone. I don’t usually bother, but there’s something about you, Rafael. Maybe it’s just having her scent in my lungs that’s making me do it, but I can’t help but reminisce.”

“Well, the bar is closed so you’ve got all night,” he said, smiling.

“I’ve wandered a lot these many years and I’ve learned how to change my language and appearance to fit in. I’ve never told anyone my story before, but for your benefit, I will tell it to you in your modern English.”

“Thank you,” he said, pulling up a stool and taking a seat. “I’d be honored to hear it.”

I gave him a nod, appreciating the respect of someone so young. It was something I didn’t often find these days.

“My story starts a very long time ago in a magical place, the Highlands, my home…”

Thanks for reading the excerpt for The Highlander’s Mate! I hope you enjoyed meeting Bran. Right now this story is only available in the Highland Shifters boxed set, but it will be included in Wolf at Her Door.

Visit my website at www.LilianaRhodes.com to see all my upcoming releases!

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