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Chapter 1


Fauna opened the garage door and ran down the steps. “Moxy.” She knew this was where she was hiding; she could feel her.

Ava looked up from the bike and pointed. “She insisted she was coming with me.” She shrugged and went back to work.

Fauna heard her cry and went over and looked under the bench. “What are you doing out here?” Reaching under, she scooped up the shaggy cat and hugged her. “You know being out of the house terrifies you. Silly thing.” The frightened creature relaxed in her arms. “Let’s get you back inside.” Standing up, she turned to go back up the steps and a mountain lion bounded by the open garage door.

Ava stood up and looked at her. “Did a…”

“I told you she was going to try it again.” Princess Kara ran by.

“With you.” Prince Rafael was running right behind her. “I didn’t think she would with me.”

Fauna hurried up the steps, opened the door, and set Moxy inside. Closing it, she turned to come back down when Princess Paisley ran in front of the garage.

She stopped and then looked inside. “Tawny hitched a ride with Raf.”

Ava grinned and then pointed to Fauna. “She is who you need.”

Paisley looked at her with hope on her face.

Fauna ran down the stairs and out of the garage. “Is that the cat everyone talks about?”

“More like a brat,” Paisley said and then started running. “Which way did they go?” She skidded to a stop and looked down one alley and then the other. “There’s Kara.” She ran toward her.

Fauna slowed and focused on what was around her. It was hard because it was a mountain lion. She’d never had the opportunity to sense something like that before. Well, except that time at the zoo and with so many animals, it had been overwhelming—that and she’d been thirteen.

By the time she reached the others, she didn’t have to ask where the feline had gone. She stopped beside the others and then turned and looked up. Sitting on a metal fire escape was a beautiful young cat. Her sides were heaving from the run, but she sensed some fear as well. The city was no place for her. The smell and stench of everything would have her radar and senses so mixed up. She guessed her age close to a year, but if she was domesticated, then it was sometimes hard to tell. Not having to survive seasons with sparse food made a big difference in growth.

“If I go up there, she’s going to keep climbing until we’re on the roof,” Kara said.

Rafael nodded, trying to catch his breath. “I could go up on the roof and cut her off.” He looked at the door leading into the building.

“There’s no need.” Fauna smiled up at the animal. “Aren’t you beautiful?” She glanced at Kara. “What is her name?”

“Tawny.” Kara looked up at her. “You are in big trouble, missy.” She put her hands on her hips.

Fauna couldn’t help feeling amused. She walked over until she was at the bottom of the ladder and looked at it. “You’re quite the climber, Tawny.” She held out her hand and sent calming vibrations toward the animal. “You should come down. I would love to meet you.” She kept her voice steady and used as much of her ability as she could without calling every rodent in the neighborhood to her. Doing that once had been bad enough. Never again.

Tawny pranced on the spot.

Fauna looked around at the others. “Roll that bin this way.” She pointed to the large garbage dumpster. If the animal were any bigger, she wouldn’t have suggested it, but she wasn’t large enough to leap right to the ground. She narrowed her eyes and looked at the bin. The lid would cushion her landing. Hopefully, she didn’t bend the thick plastic lid in half, then they’d have a rubbish-scented cat to take home.

She looked back up at her and heard the bin moving. “You’re going to have to hit that, girl. We don’t want any sprained legs from taking too big of a jump.” She checked it was placed close enough. “Okay, Tawny, come down and meet me.” She backed up until she could smell she was near the dumpster. Turning, she patted the top of it and then held her hand out to the animal. “Let’s go.” She sent a quick burst of urgency to her. Not enough to panic her to run all over again, just enough to get her down.

Tawny pranced for a second and then pushed off with her powerful back legs. She looked so graceful flying through the air. The dumpster slid when she landed, but Fauna had been prepared for that and moved right alongside it. Tawny touched her nose against the lid and then pulled it back in disgust.

“Not very nice smelling, is it?” Fauna smiled. “The city is no place for you, girl.” She stepped back. “Come on. Come here.”

Tawny jumped down and then bound over to Fauna and almost knocked her over, rubbing into her.

Fauna bent down and rubbed her hands along her back. “That’s a good girl.” She squatted down, held the animal’s face, and looked into her eyes. She could sense emotions without touching a creature, but like this, she could feel them. “Oh, poor girl.” She rubbed her face along the animal’s jaw and then looked over at Kara and her mate. “She’s lonely, that’s why she followed dad.”

Rafael sighed. “We’re out of places to leave her when we have to go, which is all the time lately.”

Kara looked like she wanted to cry. She came over and dropped to her knees beside Tawny. “What am I going to do with you?” She glanced at Fauna. “I know she gets lonely and bored, but it’s not like I can go into a pet store and buy a kitten. She’d probably eat it.” She rubbed the cat’s face, and Tawny collapsed, half on Kara’s legs. “The bunnies near the palace hide now.”

Fauna smiled—the palace. Oh, to have such problems, she thought. “What about a dog, she looked at Tawny, a big dog.”

Kara shook her head. “She seems prejudiced toward canines.” She shook her head. “I don’t know what to do.”

“We could get her another abandoned animal for a friend,” Rafael suggested. “I just don’t know when I’ll have time to go trekking in the mountains to find one.”

Fauna gave him a long look. “The mountains?”

He nodded. “Leone and I used to go to them to hunt—” He grinned. “—mostly when we were young. It was a great way to get away from our brothers.”

Fauna shrugged. “I can go along and find any strays.” She rubbed her hand along the animal’s jaw. “Do you want a girlfriend or a boyfriend?”

“Oh god. No boys.” Rafael shook his head. “Then we’d have more of them trampling everything around the palace.”

Fauna nodded. “Okay.” She nudged the cat’s face with her nose. “No boys for you.”

“I’ll take her home. I’ll get someone to run interference and port back here.” Rafael came over and squatted down beside Tawny. She rubbed her head into him. “Step back.” He gave Fauna a lop-sided smile. “Unless you want to visit Alterealm.”

“Oh.” Fauna got up and backed up a few feet. Prince and mountain lion vanished. “I will never get used to that.” She said quietly.

Kara chuckled. “You actually do after a while.” She touched her arm. “You’re really willing to go find her a friend? In a mountain?”

Fauna nodded. “Yeah. I’ll have to see if one of the girls will come with me because of the ‘no going anywhere alone’ rule, but I’d love some fresh air and wildlife.”

Kara shook her head. “I had enough of that when I found her.”

“How did you find her?” Fauna put her hand to her face and sniffed it. Moxy was going to be one upset kitty when she smelled that.

“Well—an evil mage banished me to Canada in the middle of the snow. I saw blood and found her covered in blood and freezing—” She looked like she wanted to cry as she spoke. “I found a place for us to hide until Rafael found us.” She nodded. “And I wasn’t leaving her behind.”

“She was little in the middle of winter? That’s not normal.” Fauna didn’t have to ask because she already knew that some jerk had killed her parents so they could have a cool-looking rug. “She loves you to bits, she just needs a friend.”

Kara sighed. “If you could find something smaller than she’s going to be when she’s fully grown, that would be great.” She bit her lip. “I don’t see Mitz being happy about two her size tearing through the palace and breaking things.”

Fauna winced. She’d never been in a palace, of course, but had to figure that anything in one wasn’t cheap. “I’ll try.”

Prince Rafael reappeared. “Tim and Felix are tossing balls for her to chase.” He smiled at his mate. “Not ones she’ll try eating this time.”

“Good.” Kara nodded. “Fauna is going to go to the mountains and find Tawny, a smaller friend.”

Rafael looked at her. “Not alone.” He pointed to the fire escape. “You have some kind of power, and that makes it dangerous to…”

“I know.” Fauna shrugged. “I don’t know what my ability would be good for someone trying to take over and end realms, though. It’s only creatures I can communicate with.”

“With our luck, they’d call herds of rhinoceros to run over our ass.” He shook his head. “We’ll find you someone to go with you.” He looked at his mate. “Any of the guards into the outdoors?”

“Crash.” Fauna waited until the prince looked back at her. “Rhinos aren’t a herd, they’re a called a crash.”

He snorted. “Which just makes me more determined to make sure no one gets their hands on your ability.” He pulled out his phone. “A crash.” He mumbled and dialed it while walking away.

Fauna smiled at Kara. “I’m going to go back and tell Capri what is happening.” She looked at Rafael, waving his hand around while he was talking. “When do you think we’ll be going? I’ll need supplies.”

“Don’t worry about anything. We’ll make sure you have what you need.” She waved her hand at her mate. He lowered the phone. “Get her a porter bracelet with a tracker and programmed for her place.” He nodded and put the phone back to his ear. She gave Fauna an awkward smile. “If you have any trouble, it will bring home in a blink.”

Fauna really had to tell everyone now. “Just let me know. I’ll be at home.” She walked away quickly. Going into the mountains where there was real wildlife and fresh air. “Just a little bit of heaven.” She whispered.

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