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Loving Hallie by Krystal Shannan (1)

1

This was it. Prince Reginald Montague III was the last royal werewolf on her list of whom her parents would’ve called upon for her mate hunt—had they still lived—and he lived in some out-of-the-way small town in Canada. She was pretty sure she’d seen a diner and a couple of bars as they’d driven through. Nothing but snow and trees and more snow.

“I think it looks like fun. We should take a run.” Hallie’s inner wolf chuckled.

Hallie rolled her eyes and stared out the window into the bright white powder-covered landscape. Her aunt had let her twenty-fifth birthday come and go without so much as a whisper. Understandable, after everything that had happened. Her eldest sister had trampled tradition, scraping through her mate hunt by the edges of her fangs, and married a common wolf. Then Nicole got kidnapped by her magickally fated mate—a leopard shifter sent by their blood grandparents to force her into a hunt. Even her twin sister Tess had run off with a bear shifter. Ever single one of the Demakis sisters had snubbed tradition. Expectation. Everything their parents had wanted for them.

“You can’t just ignore me. I get a say in this wild goose chase you’re on too, you know.”

“Do shut it,” Hallie snapped aloud, frowning at the strange look the car driver flashed her via the rearview mirror. If only humans knew what it was like to share a soul with another entity—one that could talk. No secrets. No breaks. Ever.

“You’re just pissed. No need to take it out on me because you want your mate to be a royal.”

“It’s what they would’ve wanted. What everyone expects.” Even her aunt had mentioned it on more than one occasion after the shock over her mother’s death had passed. The New York pack ran like a well oiled machine. Her father’s sister was a brilliant and well-loved leader and Hallie loved it there. Had no desire to stay, but as a Demakis royal werewolf, Hallie was the heir to the vacant throne in Las Vegas. A throne that if left empty too long would start to cause problems between the other ruling packs.

Something her aunt was always reminding her of. The Vegas region was her responsibility. Her sisters had abandoned it to her. Samantha had abdicated, wanting nothing to do with the royals that nearly killed her and her fated mate.

“Can’t really blame her for that, can you?” Her inner wolf whispered the question.

“No.”

The driver raised an eyebrow and stopped the black town car in front of a large wrought iron gate. He lowered his window and a gust of arctic air chilled her face like the slap of a hand. “It’s so cold.”

“Winter in Canada is cold, ma’am,” the driver replied, punching in a code to a keypad for the gate.

A snarky comment nearly shot out in reply, but she managed to strangle it halfway between her brain and her mouth. No need to irk the staff, especially if she decided to choose Montague as a mate—correction—husband.

The gate screeched open slowly and they proceeded through at a snails pace. Snow lined both sides of the freshly plowed drive. Large cedar and spruce trees blocked the view of what Hallie supposed was a large house. The Montague’s were quite wealthy, probably more so than even her family. She didn’t like the idea of marrying for money or power, but she did want to make her parents proud. Make her aunt proud. Make the Demakis original proud. She was his legacy. The only one left who could follow tradition if she could just manage to make a choice.

Forty-two suitors. Nineteen countries. Twenty-three weeks. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been home, much less a time when she hadn’t been living out of a suitcase. Exhaustion alone might make her settle on this last man before even taking a look at him.

They turned a bend in the road a few minutes later and Hallie managed not to blurt out a cry of shock. Not only were the Montague’s wealthy, she was pretty sure what they called an estate could double as a castle.

Three stories of grey granite stone etched with columns and gables reminiscent of Greek architecture stood impressively on the hill ahead. Nothing she’d seen on her trip thus far had come close to comparing.

They passed through another gate, opened and waiting for them, engraved with a large M. From there the drive led into a courtyard and circled around under a covered pass-thru at a grand entrance. The front door had to be at least ten or fifteen feet tall.

Shielded from most of the fluffy rampage of snowflakes swirling in the gusty wind, a man in a plain black suit stepped toward the stopped car and opened her door.

She stepped out, wincing again at the bite of the cold air.

Another man stepped through the large door with a smile that could’ve melted a glacier. It certainly put her nerves at ease. “Welcome to my home.”

“Thank you.” She took his extended hand, hoping for a spark. Something that would tell her Montague was the right choice. Something beyond business.

He was good-looking, tall, a great smile. Flashing green eyes. Hair as black as night, curled and grazed the tops of his shoulder. Reginald Montague could’ve been a GQ model in another life.

“It’s a pleasure to have you, Miss Demakis. Your aunt has said so many wonderful things. I’m eager to get to know the woman behind the stories.”

Oh. What had her aunt said.

“Probably everything,” her wolf said, her annoyance festering on her soul like a blister ready to rupture.

“It’s so good to be here. You have a spectacular home. Please call me Hallie.” She said, unable to keep from craning her neck as they walked in the front entry. The foyer alone was bigger than her large loft back in New York.

“Wonderful. Please extend me the same courtesy. Although my name is Reginald as I’m sure you’re well aware, most friends call me Dante.”

She turned toward him and raised a curious eyebrow.

“My middle name.” His tone carried a hint of amusement through the formal tone he’d used so far. “Glad you like the house, though I suppose we would be moving to Las Vegas to take permanent residence in your family home? That is at least what I understood from your aunt’s correspondence. Montague house would always be an excellent vacation home.”

“Right.” Wait. What? Who was this guy to just assume he would be her choice. “Except this—us—isn’t a done deal yet. Just a date. An introduction.”

“Of course and a Valentine’s date nonetheless. Where are my manners? I’m just so pleased to have this opportunity.” He continued on as if she hadn’t just attempted to dash all his hopes to the ground and stomp on them in her three-inch black patent pumps. “Stories about your family have circulated since your family’s original sire came back to the council. It’s all anyone talks about.”

“I hadn’t noticed.” She had, but gossip wasn’t something Hallie liked to listen to. The fact that this man did, didn’t earn him any brownie points. Neither did the fact that he hung onto her arm like a clingy two-year-old.

If he wasn’t so pretty, she’d have come up with an excuse to turn around and walk right out again.

“Shallow much?” her wolf chided.

Shut it. If I have to force myself into a marriage, at least I’m sexually attracted to him. She waited for a response. No comment? Fine. Be that way. Her wolf wasn’t attracted to the royal at all. Never had been attracted to a single guy she’d ever been with or dated…ever. But the choices had all been interviewed, dated, and discussed. Her aunt had informed her on the flight up to this out of the way Canadian town that Montague would be a great choice and her last choice. She’d exhausted the list of eligible royals.

It all came down to Reginald—correction, Dante—and a Valentine’s Day date. Gods, she wanted to barf. This was not the road she’d seen her duty to her parents taking her down.

“The dining hall is this way, would you like to see the preparations?”

“Of course. Thank you. My bag is—”

“Vance,” Dante bellowed. A man appeared from the shadows. Long and lean. Blue eyes that captured her gaze for a moment and took her breath away. His blond hair was cut short, almost in a military buzz. He walked like a predator, footsteps soundless on the marble floor as he approached. “Vance, get the lady’s bags from the car and take them to her prepared guest suite.”

The man—Vance—broke eye contact and Hallie felt her wolf awaken and howl in disappointment at the loss of the connection. “Mate. He’s ours. You found him.”

You can’t be serious. Hallie thought back, struggling to keep her body posture relaxed and unfocused on the male exiting the hallway. The male that her wolf thought was their mate. The man’s mere glance had stilled her heart in her chest. They hadn’t even touched and she trembled at the thought. What would it have been like if they had?

She couldn’t let it happen. This was a diplomatic date. A mission so-to-speak. She couldn’t miss something she never had. Now all she had to do was avoid Dante’s man.

“Indefinitely?”

You’re not helping. I have to do this. I have responsibilities.

“Who says he’s not the right choice instead of this highfaluting pampered pretty-boy?”

You do remember I’m rich too.

Irrelevant.

“Hallie?”

“S-sorry,” she sputtered, turning to face Dante once more. “I got caught up in my thoughts. It’s been such a long trip.”

“Of course. Here I am dragging you all around this stuffy old house when you’d probably much rather take a bath and relax for a few hours before dinner. The chef is preparing your favorite —venison steak diane. I took the liberty of asking your aunt for suggestions.”

“That’s so kind of you. It’s been too long since I enjoyed that dish. I look forward to dinner,” Hallie answered, regaining most of her poise and control, although her wolf was still practically prancing and yipping with glee that their fated mate was within reach.

Dante waved down a female staff person. “Martha, please escort Miss Demakis to her suite upstairs.” He released Hallie’s arm and grasped her hand instead. “Please excuse me, I have a few business matters waiting for my attention.”

Hallie nodded. “Absolutely. I’ll see you for dinner.”

He bowed, let go of her hand and then walked away, leaving her to navigate the churning sea of doubt growing in her mind and heart.

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