"SHIT!" I choked out as screams and panic erupted around me. "Shit... shit!"
High Priest Jyrrel had dropped his own goblet in shock, backing away as the wolf seemed to focus its terror and fury on him. Without conscious thought, I shoved through the bodies running past me and charged forward, sliding to my knees next to the snarling animal and wrapping my arms around its shoulders, heedless of the razor sharp teeth bared inches from my face.
"Senovo!" I said. "You're safe! It's all right, I promise! I won't let anything happen."
The rough-coated, sinewy body in my arms was shaking like a leaf in a storm, so great was the animal's fear. I tugged the wolf backward a bit until our backs were at the altar, feeling it hunker further into the space between my body and the unyielding stone, still growling. New chaos erupted as guards charged into the courtyard armed with swords and javelins, no doubt drawn by the screaming onlookers who had fled moments ago.
The wolf stiffened as the guards' attention honed in on us, its hackles rising under my hands. I tried to press the animal more fully behind my body, but now it was struggling, fighting to free itself from my hold and reach the new threat. I could feel the situation spiraling out of control as the guards raised their weapons. Oh, gods, where was Andoc?
As if my thoughts had conjured him, Andoc ran full speed into the courtyard and slid to a halt, taking in the scene with wild eyes.
"Stop!" he roared, and shoved past the line of guards to stand between us and them. "Varanis! Have your guards lower their weapons! It's not a real wolf, it's Senovo—he's a shape-shifter!"
I hadn't even realized Varanis was among the guards, so focused had I been on keeping Senovo behind me. Now, though, I recognized the tall, red-haired form as she straightened from her defensive crouch, the bruises from her earlier fight with Andoc livid on the side of her face.
"Will he attack?" Varanis called warily.
"Not if you lower your damn weapons," Andoc snapped, still standing squarely between us and the raised javelins.
"Do it," said High Priest Jyrrel, who had retreated to the space in front of the benches. His voice was breathless, but he seemed steadier than he had before as he continued. "This is my fault. I didn't realize... but yes, lower your weapons. Clear the courtyard, calmly and quietly as you can. The situation is under control."
He was looking at me—no, at Senovo—with wonder in his eyes. After a moment's hesitation, Varanis said, "You heard the High Priest. Stand down, and get the remaining people out of here, as quickly and quietly as you can. And Andoc? You might have mentioned this ahead of time, for Deresta's sake."
"Not my secret to tell," Andoc said grimly.
Varanis made a noise of disgust, but her guards were already following orders, escorting the remaining handful of frightened spectators away and giving the three of us at the altar a wide berth. I loosened my hold on the wolf's shaggy neck slightly, as it once again tried to cower back behind the protection of my body. When we were alone except for the High Priest, Andoc turned to Jyrrel and said, "We need a room in the temple where we won't be disturbed tonight."
"Of course," Jyrrel said. "Anything you need. There is an empty guest room at the end of the hallway on the left, through that door." He indicated an open doorway off to our right. "I will precede you and make sure the way is clear."
Andoc nodded tightly and crossed the final few steps to us as Jyrrel went to clear the hallway. He fell to his knees and took both of us in his arms, the wolf squirming forward with a whimper to nuzzle between us.
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The Horse Mistress: Book 1Romance
Carivel was born female, but she has been secretly living as a boy for years in her adoptive village of Draebard. The last thing she needs is to fall for not one, but two unattainable men-a dominating warrior and a reluctant wolf-shifter with a horr...