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So I Won a Werelion

So I Won a Werelion

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My obsession with shifters has only gotten me in trouble. So why on Earth would I go through with being a contestant on The Mating Game?
My self-appointed fairy dragmother is determined to make my life sparkle. Bibi le Bonnet swears she can find my forever shifter, the one who will finally claim me.
She might be fabulous, but she’s got her work cut out for her.
I’ll get three questions.
Why have all the local shifters had their claws out when it comes to me? Can Bibi really fix my life with a wave of her bejeweled wand? And will my past come back to bite me when I least expect it?
Three potential suitors.
Bibi doesn't mess around when it comes to finding the hottest eligible shifters. My first two options would get anyone's attention. But I'm shocked when lion shifter Gabe Wylde walks out from behind that curtain. Gabe’s been my best friend forever. He can't be 
my shifter – can he? No matter how this turns out, I’m about to see a completely different side of him.
And three dates to find my forever.
When my everyday life collides with ancient shifter secrets, I land in the crosshairs of Gabe's pride. Will he keep his promise to claim me as his mate, or will my fierce lion shifter leave me at the altar? I must be on reality TV, because no one could write an episode this tense.

Main Tropes

  • Growly, snowboarder lion shifter
  • Smokin' hot hero over 40
  • Heroine finally gets lucky at love
  • Fabulous fairy dragmother
  • Ancient Artifacts discovered
  • Best friends to lovers

Read Chapter One

A champagne-colored
sequined dress waited for me in The Mating Game trailer. A gorgeous, glimmering garment that belonged in a magical castle. A fairy tale. Even though
I’d tried it on during my last fitting, I couldn’t believe it was me in that mirror after I’d pulled it on. The dress hugged every curve. No, it did way more than that. The sequins exaggerated my hourglass shape, making me look like a Jessica Rabbit body double.

This was my fairy tale. Finally.

Goosebumps rippled over my skin.

Hot damn. This was real. And no one could take it away from me.

I let out a shaky breath and braced myself on the narrow counter before the mirror. The eyes that reflected back at me were wide and a little wild. Was I really doing this? My sister insisted that I was crazy for going on that stage, and for the first
time in forty-two years, she might be right.

But since I didn’t take life advice from anyone I wouldn’t be thrilled to trade lives with, here I
was in the makeup trailer of The Mating Game, ready to take the stage and choose my mate. 

It wasn’t my first dating reality show rodeo. Wasn’t sure if that should make me calm or
absolutely terrified. I was probably a fool to believe that this time I’d choose the shifter who was meant to spend forever with me.

With three questions, I’d pick my shifter mate, sight unseen.

What was I thinking, putting myself through this again, after I got so publicly rejected on The Real Werewives?

A smarter woman would get out before

The trailer door opened and I jerked around to stare as the host—my self-proclaimed fairy
dragmother, the fabulous Bibi le Bonnet—stepped inside. With her bright pink velvet dress, platinum blonde wig, and wolf ear headband, it was hard to remember a fierce beast lived inside her. 

She put her hand over her magenta lips. “Wendy! You look absolutely stunning!” 

“Don’t I?” It wasn’t like me to make such a bold statement, but it was true. The show’s
hairstylist had set and blown out my hair, and my makeup artist had glued on epic lashes. I looked like I was about to strut down the runway in a lingerie
show. 

Or take the stage on The Mating Game.

The glue on my lashes was still gummy when I batted them at Bibi, but she beamed in approval.

I loved that she was my biggest cheerleader—along with my best friend Gabe, who’d had my back
through every single horrible date—but a girl was allowed some doubts about
what she wanted right about now. 

The Mating Game glam squad swept into the trailer after Bibi. Everyone around me was acting
like this was any other day, and to them, it was. I tried to take comfort in that. They were doing their jobs—which included making me look my absolute best, getting me to relax before we did the last interview, and before Bibi announced
me to the live crowd and the three hidden shifters who claimed to be my mate. 

They were out there, waiting for me, and every time the crowd cheered, I wanted to puke.

“That dress is to die for,” Bibi said. “I might have to have one made for myself, if you wouldn’t mind twinning.”

I couldn’t imagine myself wearing a dress this fierce more than once, but this was my life now.

Holy crap, this was my life now. I took a much-needed sip of water before answering.

“Do it. Our matching dresses will make every influencer watching weep with envy.”

Bibi laughed. “That’s the energy we need on The Mating Game. You’re a fierce woman who’s about to absolutely own that stage.”

As if on cue, the crowd roared in the background, and Bibi slipped into a chair and patted the
one beside her in silent invitation.

“Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”

Knees shaking, I sank into the chair. “Of course not.”

“Turn a little more to the right.” Bjorn, The Mating Game cameraman, waved to me from the corner of the trailer. I blinked, realizing he’d already trained the camera on me. Only a fairy dragmother with a presence like Bibi could make me not notice
a six-foot-something bear shifter in the room. 

I obliged, moving as directed, then blinked as the makeup artist reappeared before me, wielding a
lipstick palette.

 “Before you start the interview, what would you like on your lips? I can go bold and bright, so your features will stand out for people while you’re on stage, or I can do something more neutral, since
you’ll probably be having a hot make out sesh with whichever shifter you choose.” She winked.

I froze, staring at the colors that could very likely be smeared on the face of a hot shifter before the night was over.

“Go bright,” Bibi said, as if my silence was all part of the plan. “A little bit of lipstick on a big, strong beast’s cheek is so hot.” 

The makeup artist nodded and put some of the red crème on her palette before dipping the brush
into it.

Bibi returned her attention to me. “You’re about to go on stage and choose the shifter you’ll spend forever with. Tell me what’s going through your mind.”

I cleared my throat and tried not to crush the glistening sequins of my dress in my grip. “It’s so
surreal. I’ve felt drawn to shifters for my entire life, but no one’s ever been brave enough to choose me as their mate.”

Bibi nodded sympathetically. I didn’t want her pity, but my shifter history was nothing
short of tragic. “Your path here hasn’t been simple.”

“No.” I knew what was coming next, and I had yet to figure out how to stop dreading it. I hated
the doubt that tightened my stomach every time I had to mention the last shifter who’d rejected me. 

Haven’t you dated a lot of the local shifters? How come none of them claimed you? 

“We both know you
have a little bit of a reputation with our viewers.” Bibi held her hand up as I groaned. “This is your chance to talk about what happened on The Real Werewives
when Sterling chose you…”

“Only to realize his wolf had it all wrong,” I grumbled. 

“Oh, I hate that,” Bibi said. “It makes it sound like you were a mistake. That couldn’t be further from the truth. There’s no science to how our animals choose a mate. It’s hard for a human to understand.”

My throat was dry, but I’d promised myself—and my fairy dragmother—that I wouldn’t run from this. “I was shocked when Sterling chose me in the first place. We’d dated in the
past, but it was never serious. We had fun, but I never felt that spark. But we all change as we get older, and have different priorities. So I thought this
time, he’d make me a priority, and I’d finally feel that connection. When he chose Tina instead, I didn’t want to let that chance go. I’m forty-two.
I thought it was the last one I’d get.” I didn’t feel old, but I was aware of the doors that had closed for me. Of the things I couldn’t change. Did I have a
chip on my shoulder and something to prove? 

Hell yes I did. 

Sterling wasn’t the only shifter who’d rejected me, he’d just been the most public. 

He wasn’t my mate,
simple as that. But this wasn’t about him. It was about me. I wanted a shifter mate. I couldn’t explain my determination, but I had no interest in human men.
I wanted to be claimed.

I wanted to belong.

“I’m done being the laughingstock of Sunset Springs. I’m not a pack bunny.” I met Bibi’s gaze. “I don’t want to talk about Sterling anymore.”

Her magenta lips curved with approval. “We don’t have to. He’s certainly not the first shifter
who’s broken your heart.”

I scoffed. I didn’twant to talk about anyone before him, either. “Not by a long shot.”

Bibi leaned forward in her chair. “This is our chance to control the narrative. Those reporters
will keep pulling skeletons out of your closet, looking for the bombshell story that will get all the clicks online. Let’s take that away from them. Tell me
about the shifter who broke your heart.”

I opened my mouth and hesitated. 

Was I actually going to say this? I’d hidden this truth for twenty-five years. But here I was,
clad head-to-toe in sequins, about to step onto a stage and put my future in the hands of three mystery shifters. 

The time for hiding was in the past. 

“Gabe,” I said softly.

Bibi’s sculpted brows lifted. “As in, your best friend, Gabe?”

I nodded. “When we were sixteen, he took me out to this overlook in the forest. I thought for sure
he wanted to have sex with me, and I’d practically gift wrapped my V-card for him.” Even now it hurt to think about that night, how I’d been so full of young
hope and love. “He found the most romantic spot I’d ever seen. I asked him if he wanted me. And he said no.”

When would it ever hurt less? Time did not heal all wounds.

“No!” Bibi gasped. “Why?”

I tipped my chin up, refusing to show how much that rejection still stung. “He said his pride
didn’t take mates.”

Only Bibi could make a frown a work of art. “But they have, and they do.”

“At the time, they didn’t,” I said dryly. 

“How does that make you feel?” It was Bibi’s signature question on The Mating Game, but she’d
honed it on The Real Werewives, and I had plenty of experience with all its sharp edges.

“Like crap. It was controversial as hell when the lions in that pride started taking mates. It wasn’t easy for them. They practically tore that pride apart.” As much as it cut to transport myself back to that night in the forest and unearth those old hurts, it was good to talk about this. I knew Bibi was doing this for a reason.
She was trying to clear the way for my new mate, whomever he was. “As an adult, I understand what Gabe had to lose, going against his pride. But damn, I wish he’d put it all on the line for me.”

No, I wouldn’t cry.

Since that night in the forest, Gabe and I had focused on our friendship. He’d become my best
friend, and I wouldn’t regret that. I loved our friendship—even if we’d never really cleared the air about that fateful night so long ago. He’d recently moved home after living in New Zealand for almost twenty years. I hadn’t seen
him much since I was prepping for the show, but maybe now he’d be ready to tell me what was going through his mind all those years ago.

Maybe I’d finally be ready to ask him.

“After all that,” Bibi said, “why do you still want a shifter to claim you?”

I’d had plenty of practice answering this question, too. The reason was as inexplicable as it was true. “Because there’s something magical about shifters. I’m drawn to them. I’ve tried to date human men, and they just don’t do it for me. So what if I’ve
been rejected before? I believe I’m meant to be with a shifter, and I’m not a quitter.”

Bibi clapped with obvious delight. “Well, you’re in luck, because your magical life is about to
begin. There are three handsome shifters waiting for you on that stage. I handpicked them—with the help of the audience, of course—out of dozens that
flew to Sunset Springs from around the world, just for the chance to claim you.”

Chills ran down my spine. “Where have you been all my life?” 

A fairy dragmother would have come in handy on numerous occasions before now. She could have spared me a world of hurt on The Real Werewives

Bibi waved her hand, bejeweled nails flashing. “One of the reasons I picked you for this show is because you never give up. You’re a fierce woman who knows exactly what she wants, and is willing to put herself out there to get it. I know you’ve had a
hard time in the shifter world, Wendy, but you’ll be an inspiration to women who are pursuing their dreams in the face of massive adversity. We’ll show them what’s possible when you never give up.”

I squared my shoulders. “I’m so excited.” 

“Good,” Bibi said. “Your mate is waiting on that stage.”

A heady mix of excitement and terror made it impossible to reply.

Bibi stepped smoothly into the void. “It’s almost time for you to go on that stage. Do you
want to practice your questions, or do you have any last-minute questions for me?”

If I didn’t go now, I never would. 

“I’m ready.” I nodded to the makeup artist and rose from the chair. 

Bibi squeezed my hand. “You so are.” She led me out of the trailer and gave me a fierce hug.
“The next time I see you will be on stage.” 

**

Marissa, the show’s producer, stood at the bottom of the stage stairs and held her hand out to me. I started to reach for her, then my gaze traveled past her, and my heart tumbled to my feet. Behind her stood a tall, golden god of a man—beard trimmed,
and sun-kissed locks pulled into a loose bun. His tan made his green eyes glow, and he couldn’t contain his smile when he saw me.

My best friend, and the one shifter I’d never gotten over.

Gabe was here, just like he said he’d be. I walked past Marissa in a daze and let Gabe wrap me
in the kind of hug that deliciously crushes your ribs and lifts your feet off the ground. 

“You’re gonna be great up there,” he murmured, his voice low and threaded with an emotion I
couldn’t identify. Whatever it was, it was all lion and I loved it. “Your mate can’t wait to claim you.”

I reluctantly slid out of his arms and tried to smile up at him. He’d said those words to me at
Cindy’s mating ceremony, when I thought he was going to kiss me.

Spoiler alert: he didn’t.

“I’m nervous,” I confessed.

“Don’t be.” He tipped my chin up. “If he treats you wrong, I’ll kick his ass.”

I let out a shaky laugh. “Promise?”

“Always.” The sound guy approached and clipped my microphone to my dress, and Gabe disappeared before
I could reply.

“Wendy is ready,” Marissa said into her headset.

That simple declaration turned my knees to pure jelly.

I followed Marissa to the side of the stage and focused on breathing. On not falling flat on my face in these sky-high stilettos—which would be a sin against this dress and the talents of the makeup and hair team.

“Now, it’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for.” Bibi was much easier to understand fromhere. “Please join me in welcoming Wendy Woodhead to The Mating Game stage!” 

I walked onto that stage in a daze. 

It was surreal. Everything was a swirl of lights and blurred faces. Was some of the audience…booing?

Ouch.

My time on The Real Werewives with Sterling had earned me some haters. 

Bibi beckoned me forward, a fuchsia promise of shelter from the storm. “Wendy Woodhead is a lifelong resident of Sunset Springs. She loves live music, scary movies, and of course, big, strong, sexy shifters. Which one of these three beasts will be the
one to claim her?”

People shouted numbers from the audience, coaching me to pick their favorite. Some held signs, mostly proclaiming that they wanted to be exactly where I was.

And still a couple of boos.

I somehow reached the chair beside Bibi and nearly crumpled into it. 

“You all know the drill,” Bibi said to the audience, voice pitched to carry perfectly across the
stage. “There are three beasts on the other side of the stage. Wendy will ask three questions, and each shifter will have a chance to win her over. But only
one will have the chance to claim her.”

The crowd roared. 

Bibi beamed at me. “Wendy, we’re all dying to hear your first question.”

For a moment, everyone in the audience became my sister’s face, full of disapproval and
disbelief. Telling me I was ridiculous. But I couldn’t give in to that doubt, couldn’t let myself give up. 

“I’m human,” I said, trying to focus on the screen hiding my would-be suitors. “How would
describe the way it feels to have an animal inside you?”

“Shifter Number One, please answer,” Bibi said.

 “How ‘bout I show you what it’s like to have an animal inside you?” Our first contestant sounded like he had a
pack-a-day habit. I hoped it was only the way they masked the voices to make the contestants completely anonymous.

There was no way Bjorn and his camera could miss my eyeroll at that answer. The crowd laughed as it got displayed on the big screens that hung on either side of the stage.

“Being a shifter means I’m one with nature.” Shifter Number Two’s voice sounded awfully
familiar. “I hope I’ll have the chance to show you the world through different eyes, so you can feel what it’s like for yourself.”

That was exactly what I wanted. Not only had I dreamed of being claimed by a shifter, I’d had
dreams where I was a shifter.

Maybe this wasn’t so hopeless after all.

“Shifter Number Three?”
Bibi prompted.

“It’s power. Raw, untamable power.” The crowd loved that answer, but I’d dated more than my fair share of shifter bad boys. Color me unimpressed. I was in the market for a grown-ass shifter who could keep his shit under control.

Gentleman in the streets, beast in the sheets. 

If you know, you know.

“Thank you.” Those weren’t exactly the answers I’d been hoping for, but then again, I didn’t really know what I wanted. To be claimed? To have someone finally sweep away the lingering desire I had for Gabe? Probably. I reminded myself all I needed was one wolf to claim me. “Second question. If I choose you, how will
you show me I’m your mate?”

“Oooh, I’m taking notes.” Bibi delighted the audience with a polished wink. “Here’s to three epic dates.”

The first contestant spoke up again, and his words reeked of stale cigarette smoke. “You’ll feel my beast vibrating through my skin any time I get to touch you. He can scent you from here. He wants you.”

Bibi and I shared a look. 

Her mouth formed an
‘O’. It took a lot to render a fairy godmother speechless, but Shifter Number One could check that accomplishment off his bucket list.

“I’ll ask you to take me to all your favorite places around Sunset Springs.” Shifter Number Two saved us from having to dignify that with a response. “I want to know what you love about this town, and then we’ll make our own memories.”

“Awww.” I couldn’t help but press a hand to my heart. I wasn’t supposed to be choosing yet.

The crowd let out a collective sigh, like they agreed with me.

“I’ll take you on the wildest dates,” the third shifter bellowed. “Ones that get your blood
pumping. And then I’ll bring you home and show you what it’s like to be claimed.”

“Forget Wendy. Claim me!” Someone from the crowd yelled.

I had to admit, the last part of his answer made me squirm in my seat. In a good way.

“Last question,” Bibi cooed. “And then you’ll choose which one of these magnificent beasts you
want to spend forever with.” 

This was it. My last chance to get a read on these three complete strangers before I invited
one of them to claim me.

Had I picked the right questions? I doubted everything.

All I could do was lay my heart on the line. “Speaking of forever, tell me what that means to you.
I want you to look into your crystal ball, if you have one, and tell me what our life will be like twenty years from now.”

“I love that question.” Bibi beamed. “Shifter Number One?”

“I live in the now, babe. Even when we’re mated, the future isn’t guaranteed for anyone.”

I looked skyward and shook my head. At least he was consistent.

“Shifter Number Two?” I prompted, bracing myself for another soul-destroying response.

“Hopefully, we’ll be sitting in front of a sweet cabin near one of these mountains, watching our
kids go off to prom,” he said, and I swore I could hear a smile in his voice. He wasn’t saying this to impress me, he wanted it, too. “I hope that our house is
the neighborhood hangout, and we can create memories that last much longer than us. We’ll travel the world, too, if that’s what you want. And I’ll make sure you know I want you as much as the first moment I laid eyes on you.” 

Oh, wow. 

The audience sighed with me. Shifter Number Two was definitely a favorite.

“We’ll start our own pack and live by our own rules,” Shifter Number Three boomed. “Our firstborn son will become alpha. And you’ll be my queen.”

That answer should have been romantic—it hit all the typical shifter notes— but nothing typically shifter ever worked in my favor.

“Thank you to our three magnificent shifters for answering Wendy’s questions.” Bibi turned to me. “Have you made your decision?”

I needed three thousand more questions.

Or did I?

No. I knew. “I think so.”

“Fabulous.” Bibi radiated anticipation. “How are you feeling?”

“Excited.” And absolutely terrified. What if my sister was right and I’d just made the world’s biggest fool out of myself? “And like I could throw up a little.”

“Gross.” I was pretty sure Shifter Number One said that, which was fine. The feeling was mutual.

“I hate this part.” Bibi made a sad face for the audience’s benefit. “We have to break the news to
one of these shifters that he is not your fated mate. Which beast will we bid adieu?” 

“Shifter Number One.” Didn’t have to stress over that part.

“Just wait ‘til you come crawling back to me, begging me to claim you. It won’t be so easy next
time. See ya, babe.” 

His statement was followed by static and a crash, like he’d ripped his microphone off and thrown
it to the ground.

Mere mortals might not notice that Bibi was shaken, but from this vantage point, I couldn’t miss
the slight tightening around her throat. Was that something personal, or was she steeling herself for my next rejection? “That leaves us with two very
handsome, very eligible shifters. Do you know which one you want to spend forever with?”

My body went numb. 

This was it. All I had to do was say the word and one of those shifters would walk out from behind that wall and claim me.

I’d wear his mark, and he’d be mine.

Assuming I didn’t get rejected.

Again.

I managed a shaky nod and whispered, “Shifter Number Two.”

Bibi’s eyes widened. “Oh, I’m so excited for the two of you to meet. But first, we must say
goodbye to Shifter Number Three. Thank you so much for competing on The
Mating Game
, and we hope you find the mate fated for you.”

At least he took it like an adult.

“Now it’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for.” Bibi placed her hand on her chest. “But
none of us more than Wendy. I’m so excited to introduce you to this shifter, and he is so ready to claim you. This lion is a world traveler, a championship athlete, and he has a secret.”

The crowd ooohed. 

I froze.

Wait a minute, what? I knew a shifter who fit that description.

But it couldn’t be
him. Had Bibi set me up to fail again? My gaze fixed on the screen. Hope and dread tangled in my chest. I wanted to run.

He’d already told me no. My whole life had been changed by that moment.

“It’s time for you to meet your mate, Wendy. Audience, let’s give a warm Mating Game welcome to
Gabe Wylde!”

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