So I Dared a Dragon
So I Dared a Dragon
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PLEASE NOTE: THIS TITLE IS A PREORDER. THE BOOK WILL BE AVAILABLE LATE 2024. (RELEASE DATE TO BE ANNOUNCED SOON) PAYMENT IS DUE AT THE TIME OF YOUR ORDER, AND THE BOOK WILL BE DELIVERED ON RELEASE DAY.
Calista dropped a bombshell when she crashed The Mating Game stage. Bibi is determined to make things right and not break her best friend's heart...or Hugo's for that matter. But when it comes to Calista, this is just the start of the surprises.
This might be the wildest episode of The Mating Game yet!
- Growly, protective alpha wolf shifter
- Smokin' hot hero over 40
- Curvy heroine starting over
- Dating Reality Show
- Fated Mates
Read Chapter One
Read Chapter One
Thirty days. That was all The Real Werewives thought I needed to secure my future.
Thirty days to find a mate, when I hadn't managed to accomplish that feat in forty-five years. No fucking sweat, right? But soon after that, an obscure condition in our land treaty would come to pass. If no heir was available to be named as our next alpha, we’d lose everything we’d worked so hard for. I wondered if our ancestors had the foresight to see this mess. That our mate matches would dry up. That no babies would be born to mated members of this pack in two and a half decades.
Some called it a curse. I didn’t believe that.
The treaty expiration was the fire under our asses we needed to take action. That was what I kept telling myself, and everyone in the pack who thought I was crazy to turn to a reality dating show to solve the problem. We’d grow old too fast with no children, no fresh blood to reset our way of thinking. If we didn’t do something, our pack would die out, or we’d have everything taken from us because we were too weak and lonely to fight back.
Thirty days to change everything.
I was wolf enough to admit I’d watched every episode of The Real Werewives. At first, I was looking for pointers, but when my right-hand man, Mason, joked after one too many beers that maybe we should approach the producers of the show about our predicament, I couldn’t get the idea out of my head.
I looked out at my ranch from my office window. The sprawling view of the gently rolling fields, framed by snowcapped mountains was never any less breathtaking, even when it was at risk. Maybe it was even more beautiful now that I could lose it. I owed it to my pack to take this chance.
Now there were as many Real Werewives trailers as horse trailers, and the ranch was crawling with crew members who said they wanted to get a feel for our land before we started shooting.
Soon the ladies who held our fate in their hands would arrive. They’d be staying at the ski chalet we operated, located at the far edge of the ranch. We made sure to pull out all the stops—keeping our award-winning chef and the spa staff on past the end of the busy season to cater to their every need. No matter what happened, these women were my guests, and I wanted to make sure everyone knew how good life could be here.
The pack thought I was crazy. They were in the denial stage of grief, that we couldn’t possibly lose everything we’d worked so hard for. I’d moved into the bargaining stage, and I’d put Stephanie Manada, the executive producer of The Real Werewives of Colorado Ranch, into the driver’s seat.
She promised results, but she warned me they might not happen as I expected.
A knock on my office door startled me. “Come in.”
Stephanie poked her head in and grinned. She was one of those rare humans who understood our world.
“Ready to watch the audition tapes?” she asked.
“Ready as I’ll ever be.” I’d never let my guard down in front of anyone before, especially a human. “This looked so easy on the other seasons.”
Her laugh ended in a grunt as she hauled her equipment into the office. I rose to help her as soon as I realized how much she had with her. The woman never went anywhere without her camera.
“The pack is here to help you with your equipment,” I reminded her as she waved me off.
“I’m used to it. And when we’re out on dates, we can’t exactly bring an entourage. It would kill the mood.” She cracked open the case that held her camera stand. “At this point, I’ve done enough of these shows that I can tell you it’s never easy. No matter what side of the camera you’re on.”
“I don’t want easy. I want a mate. You can make it look like magic in editing.” I wouldn’t admit how many times I’d watched the episodes, even after the rest of the pack had gone home. I’d stop and rewind over and over again, savoring the moment when the wolf knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the woman standing in front of him was his mate. Fated to belong to him and only him.
My animal rumbled inside me. He had his own doubts about this arrangement, but we were in uncharted territory and we all had to operate on a hefty amount of faith to get something we’d never had before.
She’s here, he insisted. Don’t screw this up. Trust your instincts.
Another grunt as she secured the camera on the stand. “It is magic, and a lot of soul searching and heartache, too. We’re going way outside the playbook this season, because we’ve never had anything like this at stake before. The mate pairings have always been a fun bonus for packs that were already thriving. Not necessary to their survival. To kick off a new season, we usually schedule a party, have the Werewives meet the pack, and go with what happens naturally from there. But we need results, fast. This time, we’ll intervene a little bit. I’ve never let the wolves choose the ladies before they’ve had a chance to meet them.”
I sensed her doubt. “But they’ll still be our mates?”
She shook her head and turned on one of her many laptops. “I think so. All the shifters in previous seasons say they knew as soon as they found her. The method is unprecedented, even for The Real Werewives. I haven’t decided yet how much of this part viewers will see. They like to believe in the magic, like you do.”
An uneasy feeling rolled through me. She’d promised results, but not that she could save our pack.
“The network has the final say, of course. Tonight, we’ll film the pack watching the audition tapes,” she added.
“The guys will be here soon.” I’d invited the guys closest to me to watch the auditions, hoping they’d find their mates. These were the pack members I’d trusted to help me run the ranch and the ski chalet, and any of their children could be considered next in line for alpha. Running Colorado Ranch was a massive operation, and we’d made our land invaluable. We’d invested carefully and made moves to grow when it made sense. But if this show backfired, and there were no women able to help us pass this down to the next generation, we’d put a giant bullseye on our backs. Unclaimed land like this would cause a war. Humans and shifters alike would fight and claw to the death over what should’ve been my birthright.
I refused to lose it.
I heard the guys coming before they got to the office. “All right, I was promised a mate. Where the hell is she, Saint?” Mason grinned at us from the doorway.
“Sit your ass down and let Stephanie work her magic. She’s getting the audition videos ready now.”
He settled on the couch, followed by Levi, Austin, Damon, and Sterling. The most powerful wolves in my pack. The guys who’d worked by my side for years. If the Werewives could give us the magic we needed, we’d bring in more contestants, and make sure anyone in our pack who wanted a mate could have one.
“So what is this, like home shopping for a mate?” Sterling grinned as he cracked open his beer. Cans were passed around, but I shook my head when I was offered one. I wouldn’t stop the guys from having fun with this, but I was their alpha. Someone had to stay clearheaded.
“Something like that.” Stephanie gave the crew a wary grin, aware of the fact she was about to lose control over the situation. “I’m pretty sure I’ve met all of you, but this has been a whirlwind for me, and I’m sure you’ve seen a lot of unfamiliar faces this week too.”
“Yeah, no one’s ever wanted to film me working with cattle before.” Austin waggled his eyebrows at her.
“We’ll want to film you doing a lot of things.” That got an ooh from the crowd. “I’m Stephanie Manada, executive producer of this season of The Real Werewives. You’ll come to know me as the one who’s always pointing a camera at you, and the one who’s asking all the questions.”
“I’ve got a few questions, too.” Sterling leaned forward, and the brim of his cowboy hat obscured most of his face. But the camera would pick up his ever present, shit-eating grin. He was my wildcard. But he had a good heart, and he’d do the right thing, even if he’d give me a heart attack while doing it. “Do you film everything? I mean…everything. We have to produce heirs. I’m not sure what channel you show this on, but—”
“We know when to leave,” Stephanie cut him off before he got into the details. “The signal is to look directly into the camera. It’s the only time you should ever do that, by the way.”
“Why?” Damon, the quietest of all of us, asked.
“Looking directly into the camera is jarring to the viewer, and it makes it look fake, like you know there’s a camera there. A lot of contestants ask if we write scripts for them. We don’t. All we do is provide you with potential Werewives, and you take it from there. We can help set up dates, but we want her to fall in love with your ideas, not ours.”
“Werewives.” Sterling shook his head. “Maybe that’s where we got it wrong. We didn’t give them a fancy name.”
“Are you gonna take this seriously? Because there are a lot of guys in this pack who’d jump at a chance like this.” I growled. The males in the pack had suffered the most. Some of our she-wolves had successfully mated with members of other packs, but then they went to live with their mates. Our pack had no claim to those heirs. “And I can replace your asses with theirs at any time.”
He held his hands up. “My only concern is we’re wasting time with humans. What if they can’t deliver?”
“We opened the auditions up to she-wolves, ” Stephanie said. “For some reason, male wolves are more open to pledging allegiance to another alpha than she-wolves. Can’t lie, that shocked me. There are a few that submitted videos. I assume you’ll know them when you see them.”
“The only thing we haven’t tried is mating with humans,” I reminded them. “We’re up against the clock, but Stephanie’s promised me she’ll keep searching for willing she-wolves.”
I shifted a hard gaze to her to guarantee she’d make good on that promise.
“We’re always recruiting for the show. The highest percentage of mate matches has been with humans, and they’ve been able to get pregnant. I planned to ease you into the realities of welcoming the Werewives into your lives, but as you’ll come to realize on this show, nothing ever goes according to plan. Have you considered how your treaty will recognize a half-human heir? That’s the first question.”
Groans erupted through the room as the guys considered her question.
“Have we, Saint?” Austin asked. “What if we go through all this trouble and the treaty doesn’t recognize our heirs?”
The treaty was honored by pack leaders in the area, ones who breathed tradition like oxygen and came from a long line of wolves and other shifters who’d succeeded by keeping things the same for generations. I’d been humbled to be a part of such an esteemed group.
“I haven’t discussed it with them yet.” I expected those looks. No one had to say oh shit to make it heard loud and clear. This treaty was messy, and I was taking it one step at a time. The first thing I needed was a guarantee the other packs would stand up for us. “They haven’t been willing to help us so far, but once they see that we’ve made progress—"
“What if you piss them off and they dissolve the treaty anyway?” Mason rose from the couch, pacing the room. He was the only one who’d come to the last leadership meeting with me, and he knew how deep the stick was lodged in their collective asses. “They hate change, Saint.”
“Right. And our pack losing this land is far more disruptive for them than us having half-human children.” I was out of my chair too. This office was too small to contain our energy. If I didn’t calm him down, he’d shift soon. A wolf without a mission in these mountains was a magnet for trouble. “They’ll agree we’ve acted in the best interest of the pack.”
Mason sighed. “We hope. A half-human alpha will change everything.”
“Stephanie has videos of women who want to meet us.” Levi broke the tension with his reminder. “Don’t know about you, but even if this all goes to shit, it would be nice to wake up with a gorgeous woman in my bed.”
A few grumbles of agreement, and order was restored.
Stephanie handed us all notebooks. “We’ve never done this any other season, and I want to make sure we stay respectful to our Werewives. They’re brave to uproot their lives and take a chance on a bunch of unknown wolves who needed them a hell of a lot more than the ladies need the pack. As you watch each audition write down your thoughts. Would you like to get to know her? It’s okay if you don’t see a mate connection right away. Like I’ve said, this is a totally new way of doing things, and we’re just gauging interest. We want to make the best possible matches. I’m the only one who will ever see these notes.”
Tension filled the room as all the guys got more serious than I’d ever seen them. They might have busted my balls about my methods, but there was no doubt how badly they wanted this to work.
“What if we know one of them is our mate?” Sterling asked.
“Write it down, and I’ll prioritize filming your episode.” Stephanie’s finger hovered over the keyboard. “Ready?”
This moment would change the course of our pack. “So ready.”
“These videos are short introductions. The ladies will tell you a little about themselves, and why they think they have what it takes to be a Real Werewife. If you have any questions for her after watching her video, write those down too.”
She hit play.
Silence filled the room before the video started. A pretty woman appeared on the screen, telling us a little about her life and how she saw it as an adventure. The guys stared at the screen, looking for a sign she was the one.
Stephanie paused the video. “Would you rather I stop after each one so you can write your notes that way?”
“Yeah. I don’t want to miss anything,” Austin said.
My stomach filled with dread, and my wolf grew restless inside me as we watched the videos. After each woman’s name, I put a question mark. Maybe. No one struck me as the one, and I glanced over at the guys, wondering if they had the same feeling I did.
But my wolf pushed doubt aside when the next woman appeared on the screen. She was beautiful, with long dark shiny hair and green eyes that made me do a double take. Was she a shifter? No matter who she was, she was wild.
“Hi. My name is Gretta Goodson and I have a confession to make.”
“Her.” I broke Stephanie’s rule, but my wolf was feeling a whole bunch of unfamiliar things and he was twisting inside me, desperate to make himself heard. “Get her here. Now.”
“Don’t you want to hear her confession?” Mason asked. “I’ve got to admit, I’m curious as hell.”
“Don’t need to,” I growled. My wolf had already told me everything I needed to know about Gretta Goodson.