Prologue: Ivy's Hero
(DO NOT READ THIS IF YOU HAVE NOT READ BOOKS ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR, FIVE, SIX, SEVEN & EIGHT) -Her Shifter Bodyguard / Shifter On Ice / The Shifter Bar / Bearing the Shifter / Dreaming of the Shifter / Shifting the Shifter / Pucking the Shifter / Running from the Shifter-
-Forty Years Ago-
‘Flowers, pretty flowers,’ a young shifter cub purred as she ran through the flowers, her paws hitting the moss and dirt, tickling the pads beneath the fur.
With a yelp of joy, she jumped into the air and landed on a soft patch of grass. She hasn’t been able to run around like this in a long time. Her parents won’t allow her out of the cave. But now… Now she’s free!
Today, her daddy told her she could run around as long as she stayed in the meadow. The bad men were gone, and it was safe again.
An unfamiliar smell blew in the breeze, and she paused as she sniffed the air. It wasn’t human. It was a shifter like her. She started to walk toward the smell. It was so strong. She has never smelt a shifter like this before. It wasn’t scary; it was… nice.
She moved through the woods and came to an opening she had never seen before. There were yellow and blue flowers everywhere.
She sprang into the air, landed in a patch of blue flowers, and sniffed them. They were almost as tall as her. She ran around the field of flowers—forgetting for a moment that she was following a new scent.
She cried out when the teeth of the trap sank into her flesh. She’s not where she’s supposed to be. She shouldn’t have left her field.
Everything went black, and the cub lay in the field, bleeding. Her parents were too far away to find her.
Daryl Kraftman’s cougar’s head snapped up when he heard the cry. A cub was in trouble. He sniffed the air and smelt blood. With his heart racing, he followed the scent. It wasn’t too far from where he’d been investigating the hunters.
He came to a field full of yellow and blue flowers. He followed the scent and found the cub snagged in a nasty trap. He instantly shifted to his human form and knelt beside the cub.
He felt for a pulse and sighed with relief when he found one.
“It’s okay, little one. You’re safe now,” he murmured, though he wasn’t sure how bad the damage was.
He pried the trap open and lifted the cub into his arms. Even with the red of her blood, she was the most beautiful white tiger he had ever seen.
“I’ve got you,” he whispered when the cub whimpered. “Where are your parents?”
A noise behind him had him spinning around.
“You have my prey.” The hunter grinned at Daryl.
Daryl growled as he held the cub to his chest. “She’s only a cub.”
The hunter shrugged. “What do I care? I get good money for their pelts. If I can catch them before they shift,” he said with an evil grin.
Daryl glared at the man. So, it’s true. Humans are selling shifter pelts.
“You won’t get this one,” Daryl snarled.
The hunter laughed. “You can’t carry her in your shifter form. So how are you going to escape me?” he asked, holding up his rifle. “Too bad you shifted to your human form. Your cougar is magnificent.”
The riffle went off, and Daryl dodged the bullet as he turned and ran from the hunter. If he didn’t have the cub to worry about, he’d have shifted and killed the ignorant jack ass.
“Come on, little one. Shift, so you can tell me where your family is,” Daryl murmured to the cub.
The cub’s eyes opened a sliver, and instead of sensing fear from the cub, he sensed trust as the cub cuddled against him.
‘I found the scent,’ the cub thought as she curled against the man carrying him away from the evil field. She started to close her eyes, and the man shook her.
“Don’t pass out on me, little one. You need to shift so you can tell me where I’m going.”
The man’s voice was sweetness to her ears, and she wanted to fall asleep to it. She started to purr, and the man sighed. She can’t shift—she hurts too much to shift. She just wants to go to sleep…
“Hey!” Daryl yelled as he gave the cub another shake. “Shift, sweetie, shift for me.”
‘For you, anything.’ The cub started to shift, and the man hid behind a tree, holding her while her body trembled with pain.
“Good girl,” Daryl whispered as he watched the white tiger shift into a pretty little girl with white-blond hair. “Now, where are your parents?”
“The caves,” she whispered. “We hide from the hunters.”
Daryl growled. He’d had a feeling families were hiding out here—away from the humans.
“Do you know which cave?” he asked, looking around them to ensure the hunter hadn’t caught up to them.
The girl shook her head.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“Ivy,” she whispered, then started to cry when a pain shot through her body.
“It’s okay, little one. You’ll heal soon, and then there will be no more pain.” He smiled. “By the way, my name is Daryl.”
“Daryl.” She smiled and took a whiff of him. “You smell good.”
He chuckled. “I probably smell like sweat and moss.”
She giggled. “You smell nice. Safe.”
Daryl smiled. “Let’s get you back to your family before the hunter finds us.” He stood, the girl still in his arms. “Can you tell from here where to go?”
She blinked as she looked around them. “That way.” She pointed to their right.
He nodded, then started running in that direction.
He came into an open field full of white flowers and looked around.
“That way.” She pointed to a path that led to the caves.
Daryl followed the path and found a group of shifters standing around outside several caves.
“Ivy!” someone cried when they saw them.
“Mommy!” Ivy cried when she saw her mother.
“Oh, my baby,” the woman said as she took Ivy from Daryl.
Daryl found himself missing the girl.
“What happened?” a man asked as he walked up to them.
“She’d gotten herself snapped in a trap. She’s healing nicely,” Daryl informed them.
Ivy’s mother—who had the same white-blond hair as her daughter—smiled at Daryl. “Thank you.”
Daryl nodded. “I was tracking the hunter when I heard her scream.”
“You must be Daryl Kraftman,” Ivy’s father said with a smile, holding his hand out. “Nick Colvern.”
Daryl shook the man’s hand. “I heard you’d gone into hiding. Is it really that bad?”
“It is.” Nick nodded. “Thank you for bringing our daughter home. We don’t know what we would do if we lost her.”
Daryl nodded. “The hunter is chasing us. You may want to move your group.”
Nick nodded. “Thanks.”
“I can draw his attention away from here so you guys can gather everyone and head out,” Daryl offered.
“We couldn’t ask that of you,” Ivy’s mother said, wide-eyed.
Daryl smiled. “It’s okay, ma’am. It’s my job. Now, you all get ready to move, and I’ll go find the hunter and lead him away from here.”
“Daryl!” Ivy cried, holding her arms out to him.
Daryl smiled as he pulled her into his arms and kissed her forehead. “You’re safe now. You’re with your mom and dad. They’ll protect you.”
Ivy nodded. “Thank you,” she whispered.
Daryl smiled. “You take care. And don’t go running into unfamiliar fields.”
Ivy giggled as she held onto Daryl’s neck. “Okay,” she whispered, then leaned back and looked into his eyes. “Will I see you again?”
Daryl smiled. “I hope so.” He kissed her cheek and handed her back to her mother. “Start packing and get everyone to another location. I’ll talk to the elders and find a safer place for all of you.”
“Thank you.” Nick nodded.
Daryl nodded, then waved and turned to walk away.
Daryl turned just in time to watch Ivy jump out of her mother’s arms and run at him. He squatted down and caught her when she jumped at him.
“Don’t go,” she cried.
He sighed. “I have to, little one. I need to distract the hunter so you and your family can escape.”
She pouted as she sniffled.
He pulled her back from him and wiped a tear from her cheek. “I’ll find you again.” He smiled.
Her lips formed a small smile. “Promise?”
He nodded. “I promise.”
She threw her arms around his neck again, and he sighed as he hugged her. Her mother had to pull her off him. She cried and screamed, and it broke Daryl’s heart to leave her like this.
He could hear her cries as he ran through the woods. He shifted and concentrated on finding the hunter’s scent. The faster he found the hunter and distracted him—the sooner Ivy and her family would be safe. And he can see her again. Something pulled him to her; he wasn’t sure what it was. Maybe it was because he’d always wanted a little sister.
He caught the hunter’s scent and found the man close to where he’d last seen him. He let the hunter see his cougar, then took off in the opposite direction of Ivy and her family.
He kept the hunter away from Ivy and the others, but he never saw her again.
-Two weeks later-
“I’m looking for a Daryl Kraftman.”
Daryl turned to the man and noticed his silver eyes. “I’m Daryl Kraftman.”
The man held his hand out. “I’m Scott Turner. I have some bad news.”
Daryl hesitated for a moment before he shook the man’s hand. Bad news is never a good thing to hear.
“We found the refugees. They never made it to the next safe zone.”
Daryl felt his heart plummet to his stomach. “Ivy?”
“Sorry. They’re all dead.”
Daryl growled. How did the hunter find them? He knows the man had been on his cougar’s ass the whole time.
“How?” Daryl asked.
“They were ambushed….”
“I mean, how the fuck did the hunter get to them when he was chasing me?!” Daryl snarled.
“We think he had other people working for him.”
Daryl shook his head. “This should never have happened.”
“I agree.” Scott nodded. “We have an all-out hunt for the hunters. Take no one alive.”
Daryl looked the man in the eyes. “Have the elders agreed to this?”
“They have,” Scott affirmed.
“I’m in.” Daryl nodded.
He was pretty sure he could get his brothers involved as well.