Sunday, November 9, 2008

Call of the Wolf is now in print!

Call of the wolf is finally out in print! Yeah! You can buy it at:

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Call of the Wolf

Now Avaliable from:

Chapter One

“Abby. Abby!”
Abigail Winthrope jerked her gaze from the countryside and stared blankly at the man who’d spoken to her.
His lips tightened. She could see impatience in his hard gray eyes. Dragging in a deep breath, he released it slowly, as if mentally counting to ten. “You’re going to have to get used to responding to that name or you’ll be in serious trouble, Ms. Winthrope.”
Abby felt her face heat and then, as rapidly as her face had flushed with embarrassment, the blood drained away and she went cold all over. “I’m sorry. I had something on my mind,” she muttered.
She could tell from the look he gave her that he didn’t believe it for a minute. Anger replaced the fear after a moment. She’d just had her entire life turned upside down—ceased to exist—as the person she’d been since birth become someone else. She was trying to adjust. She knew just as well as he did that her life depended on it. She was no idiot! “What were you saying?”
“Maybe we should go over your background one more time?”
Abby chewed her bottom lip to keep from screaming at him. They’d done nothing since the trial but go over it—weeks of going over and over it until she felt as if they were trying to brainwash her, shatter her hold on her identity, rather than coach her into remembering the new one. “Sure.”
He began firing questions at her like a machine gun. Where were you born? What’s your mother’s name? Where did you go to school? When were you born? Mother’s maiden name? Ex-husband’s name?
Abby managed to answer each question with barely a blink, and the agent relaxed fractionally. “We’re coming up on Ajax.”
Abby nodded nonchalantly, but her heart leapt at the announcement and began to beat a little faster tattoo against her chest wall.
It was her new home, her new life and, like her name, she’d had nothing to do with the choices made for her. It wasn’t excitement making her heart hammer painfully in her chest. It was dread … every bit as much fear as she’d faced in the courtroom when she’d testified.
Where was the justice, she thought bitterly, for a witness condemned to life on the run, or death? when the criminal they’d helped put behind bars carried on inside jail as if nothing had happened and would probably go home again before she reached middle age? Granted, it hadn’t been that grand a life, but it was hers. She’d put it together. She’d guided her own feet down the path she wanted to take. She’d made her own choices.
She hadn’t even chosen to be a federal witness. They’d bullied and threatened her in to it, making promises they knew damned well they couldn’t keep, and now she was going to be a school teacher in Bum-Fuck Nowhere, U.S.A., surrounded by strangers. And she couldn’t even contact the pathetic number of friends and family she’d had before her life had gone down the toilet.
She’d never felt so completely alone in her life.
It was odd that she could feel that way when she’d actually had so little contact with family members and friends in the past several years, been too caught up in her own life to spare a lot of time or thought for it. And yet, she’d known she could. She’d known they were there in the fringes of her life, going about their own lives, and she could reach out any time she wanted to.
Now she couldn’t.
Agent Milner slowed the car, dragging her from her unpleasant thoughts, and she glanced around in time to catch a glimpse of a tall, white sign with fancy lettering and decorative curlicues proclaiming the town. Beneath the town’s name was the announcement that it was incorporated—whoohoo!—and the population—which she didn’t catch. She didn’t need to. Any town that posted their population didn’t have much of a population to boast about.
Rounding a bend on the narrow highway they’d been following, Abby saw a smattering of houses and businesses and then a wide banner above the highway, which had become the main street.
Oddly enough, it was named Main Street!
The legend on the banner was an announcement of the town’s Harvest Moon Festival.
Now there was something to get worked up about, Abby thought sarcastically.
Milner slowed the car even more. Abby wondered if it was to allow her to get a really good look at her new ‘home’ until she noticed the speed limit sign of twenty-five mph. Good god!
Struggling with her negative thoughts, Abby focused on studying the ‘commercial district’ as they crept along Main Street, following a couple of other cars that seemed to think twenty mph was fast enough. It was Saturday, and cars lined the street on both sides. They had to stop a half a dozen times in the three blocks they traversed for cars backing out of parking spaces—no, they didn’t have parallel parking!
Milner stopped at what appeared to be the only traffic light the town boasted, glancing around with interest. “Looks like a nice little town.”
“You’re only saying that because you won’t be living here,” Abby said dryly.
He sent her a frowning glance. “Attitude can make the difference in whether you enjoy your new life or not,” he said like the prick he was.
“Bite me,” Abby muttered.
His lips tightened. “You’ll want to watch the language. You’re an elementary school teacher now.”
Abby sent him a fulminating glare. “And whose bright fucking idea was that?”
“The position was open.”
“And I’ll bet it was the only position open here.”
“It was. She died.”
Abby sent him a sharp look. “Joy, joy! They have a hell of a retirement plan … or did the little darlings give the poor thing a heart attack?”
“Look, Ben … Ms. Winthrope, you’re alive and you have an entire life all set up for you here … on the government tab. A new job, a house … everything you’ll need to start over.”
Abby narrowed her eyes at him. “I liked the life I had,” she said tightly, “so don’t take this ‘we did you a favor’ attitude with me!”
“Chances are you’d be dead now if we hadn’t. Maybe you should consider being more careful about the boyfriends you pick in the future?”
Abby clenched and unclenched her fists a few times, wrestling with her temper. It was a waste of time to strike out at Milner, even though she suspected he was the bastard behind her being pulled in as a witness to start with. Of course, it might have made her feel better to knock his head off—if she’d been capable of it—but it wouldn’t change anything. “I hadn’t had but three dates with Mikhail,” she pointed out tightly. “If y’all hadn’t bullied me into wearing that damned wire, my life wouldn’t have been in danger to start with!”
The bastard didn’t even have the grace to look guilty about fucking up her entire life. He shrugged, turning the corner as the light finally changed. “If it makes you feel better to blame everybody else ...”
Exactly how the hell he figured it was her fault escaped her. How many women ran criminal background checks on the men they dated, she’d like to know! It wasn’t as if Mikhail either looked like, or behaved like, a thug, damn it! He’d behaved and dressed like a well-to-do gentleman. He’d been young, handsome—sexy with his thick accent. Half the women in the office had been panting after him!
She was supposed to be able to just look at him and tell he was the crime boss of some huge Russian mob that dabbled in everything from gun running, to drugs, to prostitution?
If he’d seemed extremely wealthy, maybe she would’ve been suspicious … and maybe she would’ve just been even more dazzled.
Truthfully, she’d begun to feel just a little uneasy about Mikhail—some things had just seemed a little off—but she’d only been out with him a couple of times and he was a suave son-of-a-bitch. How was she supposed to have guessed he was grooming her to use her connections?
She shook off her unpleasant thoughts as Milner pulled to the curb in front of a tidy little one-story Victorian house with enough faux gingerbread to look like something out of a fairytale. The neat yard was surrounded by a white picket fence in the front and she could see a taller privacy fence surrounding the back yard beyond the private driveway that curved past the right side of the house.
Shutting the car off, Milner unfastened his seatbelt, glanced up and down the street and opened the door. Taking that as her cue, Abby unfastened her own belt and got out, scanning the neighborhood. Everything was neat and tidy from one end of the street to the other, as far as she could see. Not one house looked to be less than a hundred years old and they were probably older than that given the fact that all of them had the deep porches, enormous roofs, and the elevations of houses built more than a century earlier. Several of them looked as if they dated back to the Civil War or earlier.
She caught a glimpse of a few people up and down the street, mowing or working on flowerbeds, and a handful of children. Realizing most of them had stopped what they were doing to stare at the strangers in their midst, she nodded a little uncomfortably and turned as Milner joined her, following the paved walkway up to her front door.
A sign at the edge of the lawn of the house to her right caught her eye as she scanned the yard of her own house. Shady Rest Bed-and-Breakfast.
Glancing at the house, she discovered it was a rambling two-story Victorian. Rockers were placed strategically around the wide porch that seemed to wrap halfway around the house. One was occupied by an elderly woman who had a large bowl in her lap. A man was standing not far from her, one shoulder propped against one of the porch pillars, a second one was seated on the steps, his knees cocked in a negligent sprawl.
Nodding politely, she looked away, trying to ignore the uncomfortable flutter of her heart in her chest.
Neighbors, she wondered? Or guests?
She’d gotten the impression that they were young men—but men, not boys—a little old to still be living at home with ‘ma’ but young to consider visiting such a dirt-water town, or staying at a Bed-and-Breakfast. She sent Milner a questioning glance. Instead of acknowledging it, he moved ahead of her, scaling the steps to the high porch at a jog and pulling the screen door open.
Abby grasped the edge of the screen door and held it wide while Milner unlocked the front door and pushed it open. The interior of the house was cool and dark. Abby paused in the wide hall that bisected the house while Milner looked around and finally found a light switch, flicking it on and staring up at the cheap, single bulb fixture in the ceiling about twelve feet above them. An oversized door led off to the parlor on the right. Opposite that was another door, which opened into a bedroom.
After glancing at both, Abby followed the hallway back and found a second bedroom directly behind the front bedroom, a formal dining room behind the parlor, and a kitchen and bath at the back of the house. The house had been furnished—so thoughtful of the bastards who’d obviously disposed of her furniture!—but boxes were stacked in every room.
“Your personal belongings.”
Abby glanced at Milner, feeling the tension inside of her lessen a fraction. “Y’all packed up my apartment and brought my things?”
He shrugged. “Pretty much everything, I imagine … unless it was considered dangerous.”
Abby blinked at him. “Dangerous?” she echoed.
Again, he shrugged. “Anything that might tie you to your past.” He moved past her and set his briefcase on the small kitchen table. Opening it, he pulled out a folder and flipped it open, removing a driver’s license, a credit card, birth certificate, diploma, teaching certificate ….
Abby moved close enough to stare down at her ‘life,’ the one they’d invented for her. The credit card surprised her.
“The limit’s twenty-five hundred. You also have a bank account in your name at the Citizens Bank on Main Street with another twenty-five hundred. That should be enough to hold you until your paychecks.”
Their generosity was overwhelming! He must have read her opinion in her expression. “Everything’s paid for. Utility deposits—you have a late model car out back, no mortgage, and the kitchen is fully stocked—and a job waiting for you.” He pulled out a card, scribbled something on the back, and dropped in on the table. “I’m your contact. The number on the back is your case number. If you have any reason to suspect that you’re in danger, call me.”
As little as she liked the man—any of the men she’d had to deal with—it was terrifying to realize he was about to walk out of her life and she had nothing to cling to but a damned business card, nothing between her and the Russian mob but a phone number. She swallowed with effort. “I thought the whole idea of placing me in this dirt-water town was to ensure that any strangers would be noticed by everybody. And now I discover I’ve been parked on the doorstep of a Bed-and-Breakfast?”
He frowned, but since he seemed to wear a perpetual frown, it was hard to say whether he found that news as disquieting as she did or not. “We checked it out. The woman that owns it, Mrs. Parker, has lived here her entire life. She has four full time boarders—all of them have been thoroughly checked out—and she hasn’t had more than a dozen guests in the past year and a half.”
He glanced around at the kitchen. “This was used as a safe house several times in the past and there weren’t any problems. Any questions before I leave?”
Abby wrestled with the sudden urge to beg him to take her someplace else, anywhere else … or just to stay. “I start work Monday, right?”
He nodded. “Don’t lose my card.”
Heaving a shaky breath, she nodded a little jerkily in response, and then followed him back through the house and out on to the porch. He startled her by grasping her shoulders and dragging her up against him. Kissing her on the cheek, he set her away. “Take care, sis!” he said as he turned and jogged down the steps. He paused and turned back when he’d reached the walkway. “You’re comin’ to Irene’s for Christmas, right?”
Abby blinked at him but managed a nod.
He turned back to wave when he reached the car. Abby waved back. “Be careful!” she called out for the benefit of their audience although she hoped the bastard croaked.
Without glancing toward the neighboring house, she ducked back inside the moment his car drove off. Leaning weakly on the door she’d closed behind her, she waited until her heart had resumed a more normal rhythm and finally pushed away from the door. After wandering from room to room for a while, listening to the hollow echo of her heels against the hardwood floor, she finally stopped in the rear bedroom. She studied the colorful quilt on the wide bed for a moment, and then crossed the room and crawled into bed fully clothed, pulling the quilt over her head.
When every effort to summon tears and fall apart failed because she was just too numb to feel any emotion deeply, Abby got out of the bed again, moved to the boxes stacked near one window, and set about emptying and sorting. By the time she’d gone through every container in both bedrooms, she’d lost the ability to distance herself from her emotions.
Her personal effects consisted of approximately half of what had been packed. The designer business suits she’d accumulated to ‘dress for success’ by scrimping on everything else had disappeared. The wardrobe furnished by Uncle Sam for her new role as school teacher was the dowdiest bunch of rags she’d ever laid eyes on and she was absolutely furious.
Curbing the urge to shred them, or throw them in the floor and stomp them and pitch a royal tantrum, she dumped them on the bed and stalked out the back door of the house, searching for some means of venting the rage boiling inside of her and threatening to spill out. A cheap grill caught her eye as soon as she’d stepped onto the porch, the sort that was more of an aluminum dish on legs than a real grill and no doubt purchased at some bargain store like every fucking else they’d ‘provided.’ Narrowing her eyes at it speculatively for a moment, she finally stalked over and picked it up, pushed the screen door of the porch open with her hip and stalked down the steps and into the back yard. After planting the grill a goodly distance from anything that looked likely to go up in flames, she strode back up the steps and grabbed the small bag of charcoal bricks.
She removed the grill top when she’d reached the grill again, tossed it aside, and formed a mound of charcoal in the center of the pan. All she needed was something to light it.
Stalking to the trash can near the back steps, she shoved the empty bag into it and went back on the porch to look for something to start a fire. A can of lighter fluid, she discovered, had been left thoughtfully beside the grill and charcoal bricks, but she didn’t see any sign of a match or lighter. A search of the kitchen drawers turned up a box of oversized kitchen matches—no doubt to light the damned antiquated stove!—and she returned triumphantly to the yard armed with matches and lighter fluid.
Tucking the box of matches under one arm, she opened the can of lighter fluid and hosed down the charcoal bricks with the fluid until she’d emptied the can and was satisfied she’d put more than enough fuel on the bricks to produce a minor bonfire. Grasping the box of matches, she backed off a few paces and pulled a match out.
“You plannin’ on roastin’ an ox?”
The deep male voice startled Abby so badly she dropped the match she’d been on the point of striking. Whirling around, she spied a man propped negligently against the side of her porch, his arms folded over his chest.
Her gaze slid down the jacket clad upper torso that seemed impossibly broad—perhaps because of his folded arms and the jacket—following the stripe down the leg of his trousers to his serviceable black shoes.
Not a man, she mentally amended.
A cop!
Abby gaped at him, her mind scrambling madly for information it hadn’t registered—most importantly just how long he might’ve been standing at the end of her porch observing her and why he might have been watching her. She hadn’t noticed him. She sure as hell hadn’t heard him creeping up on her.
It was hard seeing past the brown-and-tan uniform. As he reached up, however, tipping the brimmed hat back on his head that he’d had pulled low across his brow, her gaze followed the movement and landed on his face. His thick, black, almost straight brows were tented upward above the bridge of his long, straight and surprisingly patrician nose. His eyes were narrowed, either against the brightness or in anger, she wasn’t certain which, and, in any case, he was, fortunately, too far away for her to discern the color of his eyes, but not too far to notice the thick fringe of black lashes.
There wasn’t a hint of a smile on his hard mouth.
“I beg your pardon?” Abby managed finally.
He gestured with his squared, cleft chin toward the grill. “That’s an awful lot of charcoal and lighter fluid for a hamburger—or a steak.”
Abby glanced toward the grill, trying to think. When no plausible excuse occurred to her, she returned her attention to the sheriff, who’d stood away from the porch and was sauntering toward her.
Big, she thought.
Brawny? Or fat?
A quick glance down his length didn’t discern a sign of a gut. “Uh … were you looking for somebody?”
He stopped when he was still a good yard away, tilting his head curiously. “You Abigail Winthrope?”
Abby stared at him blankly. “What?” she asked, stalling for time while she struggled to remember her name.
The straight, black brows lifted upward, tilting his hat forward again. “Sheriff Banner. Seth.”
Abby blinked at him. “Who?”
His hard mouth abruptly curled. A faint chuckle escaped him. “Guess I startled you.”
Startled didn’t begin to cover what he’d done to her. Dragging her gaze from him, she stared at the box of matches in her hand, then the grill full of charcoal she’d soaked down to start a bonfire for the clothes the Feds had so thoughtfully picked out for her to replace the designer suits she’d worked her ass off to pay for. She looked at the cop again. It wasn’t easy ignoring the fact that the man was damned easy on the eyes, but the uniform made it far less difficult than it might’ve been otherwise. “I’m sorry … Who did you say you were looking for?”
Something flickered in his eyes. “Abigail Winthrope. You are the new school teacher?”
Abby studied him, feeling decidedly unfriendly. She didn’t care if that smile ordinarily melted the hearts of women six to sixty, the heart palpitations the bastard had given her had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that he was a definite twelve on a scale of one to ten. “And why are you in my backyard?”
He looked a little taken aback.
Strike that. He looked a little pissed off. The smile flat-lined. His eyes narrowed again. “Mrs. Parker sent me to welcome you to town and invite you to dinner,” he said coolly.
Abby pasted a tight smile on her lips, searching her mind for the name until it finally surfaced—the neighbor with the Bed-and-Breakfast. “How very … neighborly of her! Do be sure to tell her how much I appreciate the invitation but, as you can see, I was just about to throw something on the grill.”
The sheriff studied her skeptically. “You’ll have the fire department down here inside of five minutes if you light that thing.”
Abby’s smile became more brittle. “Y’all have a fire department?”
His complexion darkened.
On one level, Abby was well aware that she was being a bitch and that it was damned stupid to set up the back of the local law. On another, she’d had about all she could take of the ‘law’ of the land and she was pissed off besides that he’d sneaked up on her. It was her backyard, damn it! If she wanted to build a fucking bonfire in her grill, she ought to be able to!
“We do. We have all sorts of things … just like they do in the big cities,” he responded with determined cordialness.
Abby fought the urge to ask him if that included electricity, running water, and sewage and managed to tamp it. She returned her gaze to the grill. As frustrated and angry as she was, as dead set as she was against even pretending to be friendly to a cop after all she’d been through, she realized she couldn’t really afford to deliberately set everyone against her when she had no where else to go. “Too much charcoal, huh?”
“About three times too much … unless you are plannin’ on grillin’ an entire steer,” he said dryly.
“I guess it wouldn’t be a very good idea to put them back in the bag,” she said a little doubtfully, wondering what to do with the shit now that she couldn’t vent her anger the way she’d planned.
“Not with a can of lighter fluid on them, no.”
Abby ground her teeth together. Obviously, he’d been observing her a lot longer than she’d realized. She tucked the box of matches under her arm again. “In that case, I guess I’ll just forget about grilling and fix a sandwich.”
“Or you could take Mrs. Parker up on her invitation and join us for dinner.”
Abby discovered she couldn’t really maintain her anger in the face of his determined politeness. “That’s sweet of her, but I’m really tired. And I haven’t even started unpacking my things.”
He studied her speculatively. “All the more reason to take her up on her offer. She’s a good cook.”
Abby looked down at the old jeans and t-shirt she’d put on to work in because they were comfortable and familiar—and she needed comfort and familiarity. She didn’t feel up to dealing with meeting strangers and trying to maintain the role the Feds had manufactured for her.
She didn’t think she would ever really be ready for it, though.
And she was hungry.
And she didn’t feel like cooking.
“I should probably change.”
She discovered when she met his gaze that he was surveying her with patent interest.
“Not on my account. You might want to put on a bra, though.”
Abby felt her face heating. She couldn’t resist the impulse to look down at herself, despite the fact that she more than half suspected he was only guessing. The t-shirt was old, but it certainly wasn’t thread bare.
It had a few holes in it, though, very small holes.
And her nipple had found one of them!
She jerked her head up and met his gaze. A faint tremor moved along his well chiseled lips, but he managed to keep from grinning at her.
“I’ll tell Mrs. Parker you’ll be along,” he murmured in a shaky voice, turning and striding away.

Friday, May 30, 2008

A sneak peak at my upcoming release, Darkling Seas!

Coming soon, from:

Chapter One

Exhilaration was still pumping the blood wildly through his veins as Damien guided the trap into the hatch of Dr. Miles Mortensen’s laboratory. As soon as the door had sealed, he moved around to the entrance and pressed the buzzer for admittance. The door slid open after only a brief wait, but Damien was still impatient as he moved inside and waited for the inner lock to open.
“You’re back!” Miles said unnecessarily.
Damien couldn’t help it. He grinned at the hopeful look on Miles’ face. “I caught one.”
The expressions that flitted swiftly across Miles’ face increased Damien’s amusement. “A terra-biped?”
Damien feigned a nonchalant shrug. “That’s what you paid me to trap.”
Miles still looked torn between excitement and disbelief. “I didn’t expect you back for months. You’re sure?”
Irritation flickered through Damien. “It looks like the pictures.”
“From mythology? They really look like that?” He almost looked surprised. “Is it alive?”
Damien had expected some shock. Hell, he’d been shocked himself when he discovered Miles was right and the things really did exist—he’d suspected he’d been hired and sent on a fool’s errand—but he was starting to get a little irritated. “As far as I know. I had to put it out. It’s a little one—I think a juvenile maybe, certainly not full grown. It wasn’t very strong, but it still put up a hell of a fight—nearly got away two or three times before I could get the net off and shove it in the trap.”
Anger spawned of disappointment, tautened Miles’ face. “I wanted a live one. I need a live one to study.”
Damien’s lips tightened. “Well, why don’t have a look at it?”
Miles looked startled. “It’s here?”
“Of course it’s here! Where the hell else would I take it?”
Miles whirled and dashed toward his lab before he could say anything else. Damien followed more slowly. He hoped to hell it was still alive. He didn’t relish having to go after another one. Although he wouldn’t have admitted it under torture, the place he’d had to go to capture one gave him the creeps. Of all the areas he had hunted, it was hands down the worst—more like something out of a nightmare than a real place.
Beyond that, he felt an unaccustomed twinge at the thought that he might’ve killed it. He was a hunter. Hell, he wasn’t used to bringing in living creatures—certainly not anything like this that wasn’t even supposed to exist.
The image of his first sight of it flickered through his mind and his gut twisted. It was a beautiful, delicate creature. It’s huge, blue eyes had looked so frightened he felt a little ill at the thought of seeing them dim with death.
Miles was plastered to the viewing window, staring at it when he entered the lab. He couldn’t detect anything about the doctor’s posture to tell him one way or another whether it was still alive and his belly cinched a little tighter. After a brief debate with himself, he moved close enough to peer at it through the glass. Narrowing his eyes, he studied the chest and saw with a mixture of relief and dismay that it was still moving—barely—the creature was still completely unconscious, though, and that made him uneasy. He hadn’t thought he’d hit it with enough current to knock it out this long.
But what the hell did he know about it? He’d never seen one before. It wasn’t like the things he usually hunted.
Miles glanced at him. “It’s still alive—for now anyway. Let’s just see if we can keep it that way long enough for me to gather a little data.”
Damien nodded, feeling a vague sense of nausea that annoyed him, wondering if he was starting to get too squeamish to do his job. “It’s so delicate,” he murmured. “I was too busy trying to subdue it to really notice. I hadn’t expected them to be colorful. They aren’t in the books. The scarlet capelette is what really caught my eye.”
Miles nodded. “I can see why it would. Beautiful. It’s so beautiful,” he murmured, a touch of awe in his voice. “It never occurred to me ….”
Discomfort stirred in Damien. He’d felt the same way—stunned. “Do you think it’s a male or a female?”
Miles scanned it slowly. “Hard to say. I might have to dissect it to find out.”
Damien’s belly clenched. Anger surged through him and an odd sense of possessiveness. He’d caught it. If the bastard was just going to take it apart, he could keep his damned pay. He’d take the little thing with him—not that he had a clue of how he was going to take care of it. “What the hell did you want me to catch it alive for if you were just going to dissect it?”
Miles turned to glare at him. “I wanted it alive so I could study it. I don’t plan to dissect it unless it dies—but if it does, that’s probably all I’ll get out of it.”
Damien’s face hardened, but he kept his opinion to himself. It was still breathing and it had taken a while to get back to the lab. If it had survived this long, he thought it was probably going to live—if the doctor didn’t do anything to change that.
Miles, he discovered, had gone back to studying it. “This flesh here looks odd,” he said, more to himself than Damien.
“What looks odd about it?” Damien demanded, even though he knew Miles wasn’t really talking to him.
“The texture doesn’t seem consistent with the rest of it. It’s wrinkled. I think it might be shedding. I’m going to take a sample and have a look at it under the scope.”
Both possessiveness and reluctance wafted through Damien that time. He clenched his teeth, struggling with the urge to tell Miles just to keep his damned hands off of it. Maybe he should decline the pay and take it with him, he wondered? He’d been too damned high on adrenaline at catching it to consider how he felt beyond that, but now that he’d had a little time to consider it he realized he didn’t particular want to give up his prize.
He sure as hell didn’t like the idea of Miles picking it apart. He hunted for food, not trophies, and he always did his best to kill as quickly and cleanly as possible.
Miles, he discovered, was looking at him. “I’m going in. Stand by in case it comes around and attacks.”
Damien nodded grimly, following him into the chamber and watching him while he opened the trap, removing the top half and setting it aside. His stomach churned as Miles began pulling at the flesh and finally took a scalpel and cut it. “I’ll be damned.”
Damien, who contrary to orders, had averted his gaze, looked at the creature again. “What?”
Miles didn’t say anything for several moments. Instead, from what Damien could see—and he really didn’t want to see—he began to clip more enthusiastically at the loose skin. Gods! He was going to fucking skin it alive? He clenched his hands into fists, struggling with the urge to grab Miles and slam him against the far wall, and beat him unconscious.
“I don’t think this is flesh at all—in fact—it isn’t.”
Perplexed, not sure he believed him, Damien inched a little closer so that he could actually see what Miles was doing. Surprise flickered through him when he saw that Miles had peeled the wrinkled skin back to reveal satiny smooth flesh beneath instead of the raw flesh he’d expected. Enthralled, he moved closer. Miles turned to glare at him for getting in his way, but Damien ignored him, studying the creature in fascination as Miles cut the remainder of the wrinkled covering away. “Maybe it was shedding and it just hadn’t fallen off yet?” he speculated.
“Maybe,” Miles said, sounding distracted. “I’ll be able to tell more when I can see it under the scope.”
Damien barely heard him. He was staring at the rounded globes on the creature’s chest. Each was tipped with a pink bud that had stood erect when Miles had cut the covering off.
Damien sent a quick look at Miles and then moved closer to examine the genitalia he’d discovered. Parting the lower limbs, Miles probed at the area with his fingers. Damien’s breath stilled as he stared at the matching scarlet thatch that surrounded the genitals. His throat closed as he watched Miles part the slit and peer at the dark pink petals of flesh between the creature’s legs.
It was definitely a female, he thought, feeling strangely lightheaded all of a sudden.
The legs jerked abruptly.
Miles leapt back, almost knocking Damien down in his rush to put some distance between himself and the creature. “It’s waking up!” Grabbing a piece of the flesh he’d cut away, he bolted for the door.
Damien was rooted to the spot, though, paralyzed as he watched the lids covering the eyes flicker and abruptly open. For a long moment he stared at the beautiful blue eyes he remembered and then the creature sprang into wild movement. Scrambling away from him in mindless terror, it plummeted off the bottom half of the trap and hit the floor with a sickening thud. Consternation filled him. Without considering the possibility of danger, he surged toward it. When he did, it opened its mouth and released a sound that rattled his ear drums, felt as if it would shatter them.
Wincing, he fell back, stared at it for a moment and finally retreated, closing the containment door.
White faced, his eyes so wide they looked like they’d pop from his head, Miles was standing at the observation window. “Are you out of your mind? We don’t know anything about these creatures! It could’ve killed you!”
Damien’s ears were still ringing painfully, but he was too stunned to feel pain anywhere else—if indeed the sound it—she—had emitted was capable of harming more than his hearing. “At least there’s no doubt it’s very much alive,” he said wryly.
* * * *
Pain was the first thing Angie had any awareness of. It wasn’t intense pain, but it was all encompassing. Every muscle in her body ached as if she’d clenched every single one so tightly that they’d cramped.
That wayward thought prompted a flood of memories, but they were too jumbled in her mind to grasp and sort.
Abandoning the effort, her mind switched to sorting the impressions flowing into her from her senses instead.
She was cold and wet, lying upon something hard. She could hear voices, but she couldn’t understand what they were saying. Her mind’s pursuit of understanding lifted her a little higher toward consciousness and she became aware of … fingers probing her sex. That jolted her wide awake.
The moment her eyes popped open, her brain snapped the image of two men—completely unknown to her—standing over her.
Not completely unknown. The one tall, heavily muscled one with black hair, she remembered instantly. He’d thrown a net over her, dragged her from the boat when she leaned out to help him in, and beneath the surface of the water.
Then he’d jolted her with something electric.
Scrambling away from the two men, she screamed. One of the men left immediately. The other, the one who’d nearly drown her, surged toward her. She screamed again.
He winced and then retreated toward the door, closing it, sealing her in.
Angie stared at the door, too terrified for a while to wrap her mind around anything. She was cold and wet, though, and her discomfort eventually penetrated her fear enough to redirect her mind.
Dismay filled her when she saw her clothes had been cut away. The front of her shirt was slashed and her shorts and panties were completely gone. Why would they cut her clothes off, she wondered blankly?
Uncurling finally from the tight ball she’d been holding herself in, she examined herself for injury as it occurred to her that that might be what they’d been doing, trying to remove her clothes to treat her for some kind of injury.
There wasn’t a sign of a cut, though, no huge missing sections of flesh from a shark bite or something of that nature.
Not that she remembered anything like that happening anyway ….
The room was bright, but the light looked strange, had an odd blue-green cast to it. When she lifted her head to look around, she discovered that both of the men were standing at a window, staring at her. She screamed again when she discovered that, covering herself and glancing a little wildly around for a place to hide.
The room was empty, though, except for the strange gurney she’d been lying on when she’d first come to.
Where the hell was she?
Ignoring the men for the moment, she focused beyond them at the room behind them and discovered it looked more like a laboratory than a hospital.
Shivering, she closed her eyes, trying to think.
She couldn’t remember much of anything after she’d gone into the water besides the sheer terror of discovering she couldn’t breathe and she couldn’t fight her way to the surface.
It must be a hospital, she decided, even if didn’t really look like any hospital she was familiar with.
Then again, it was undoubtedly a foreign one. It hadn’t just been her state that had prevented her from understanding what they were saying. They hadn’t been speaking English. Beyond that, they’d been too far from the states for her to have been air-lifted to a hospital there.
She struggled for a short while to try to recall where they’d been and what country she might have been taken to, but they’d been a long way from land in any direction.
She heard a deep rumbling of voices and opened her eyes again, discovering she could hear the two men talking to one another. Or rather, she heard the man with black hair say something to the one with golden brown hair. The second man stared at her hard and finally moved away from the window. A few moments later, she felt warm air begin to blow into the room. It raised more goose-bumps on her skin, but after a few minutes she began to feel warmer. Her jaw stopped cramping from the effort of trying to keep her teeth from chattering.
“Why am I here?” she asked in a quavering voice after a few minutes. “What is this place?”
The two men stared at her as if she’d grown another head and then looked at each other.
* * * *
“It’s … she’s trying to communicate,” Miles said in surprise, rising excitement in his voice. “She’s intelligent.”
Damien frowned, turning to look at her again. He felt oddly … tense, almost lightheaded every time he looked at her. It worried him, made him wonder if she’d done something to him, though he discovered he was reluctant to say anything. Partly that was because he realized Miles already suspected she was a dangerous creature and he didn’t want to say anything that might convince Miles that she was too dangerous to keep alive for study. But partly, he realized, it was because he actually knew exactly what it was about her that made him feel that way and it wasn’t something he particularly wanted to examine. “You think?” he asked a little hoarsely, realizing the queasy feeling in his stomach was certainty even though he’d asked. “You’re saying it isn’t an animal?”
Miles sent him a look. “Of course it’s an animal! We’re all animals. I’m suggesting this creature must be more intelligent than I’d thought—certainly more than the myths suggest.”
Damien swallowed with an effort. “She’s frightened,” he said, trying to keep any inflection from his voice. “It would be bad enough if she was a dumb beast. I don’t like this.”
Miles’ jaw tightened. “I don’t like it any more than you do,” he said coolly, “but we can’t learn about them if we don’t study them.”
Damien turned to consider him assessingly. Clearly, regardless of what he’d said, Miles didn’t give a fuck whether she was intelligent, and scared half to death, or not. He was too much a scientist to consider anything of more importance than his quest for knowledge.
Miles’ lips tightened. “If you’re so worried about it being frightened, help yourself. Try to soothe it. You’re supposed to be so damned good with animals. Don’t blame me, though, if she stings you or something!”
“If she had stingers, she would’ve done that when I caught her,” Damien pointed out. “She was fighting for her life, then.”
Miles shrugged. “As I said … it would actually be helpful if you could tame her, at least to handling. Don’t let it get loose in my lab, though.”
Damien gave him a look. “I don’t know a fucking thing about these things!” he snapped. “This isn’t like training a damned dolphin!”
“And very likely she isn’t even as intelligent as a dolphin! I don’t see why the same methods wouldn’t work, though. An animal is animal.”
Feeling his throat close, Damien turned to look at her again a little doubtfully. She did emit sound waves that were nearly as painful as the dolphin was capable of. He wasn’t sure his ears could take any more of that at the moment without rupturing. She seemed a little calmer now, though. “What do think she might eat?”
Shrugging, Miles studied her thoughtfully. “I’ve got no idea. The above is practically desolate, though, from everything I’ve heard. Probably pretty much the same things we eat. We could try some table scraps. If it doesn’t seem to affect her adversely ….”
Damien frowned. He didn’t particularly care for the idea of coaxing her to eat something that might hurt her. Aside from the fact that he didn’t want to hurt her, it might break what little trust he managed to build by feeding her. “Something fresh might be better.”
Miles narrowed his eyes thoughtfully. “This should be the first order business,” he said decisively. “We need to determine what it eats to keep it alive anyway. Why don’t you go gather an assortment of fresh food and I’ll see what I can find that it might be interested in in the preserver? Then, we’ll fix up a tray with the different things and see which it finds most appealing?”
“She,” Damien said, an edge to his voice.
Miles nodded. “Right.” He studied Damien. “Don’t get too attached to it. I can see you’re thinking along the lines of a pet, but I need to study it—I sent you after a lab animal—and it may not live.”
Damien felt a faint flush rise in his cheeks, but he didn’t deny it. Instead, after studying her a moment longer, he turned and left. “Wait until I get back,” he said, pausing at the door.
Miles chuckled. “Oh, don’t worry about that! I’m not ready to go near it until I’ve had the chance to study it a little more and make sure it isn’t dangerous!”
* * * *
It unnerved Angie when they didn’t respond to her questions. It seemed to spur a rather lengthy and involved conversation between them, though. She listened intently to the voices muffled by the glass that separated them, trying to figure out what they were talking about. Try though she might, she couldn’t figure out what language they were speaking.
When both of them turned to leave, she eased upward to see if she could tell where they were going.
A jolt went through her when she’d risen to her feet.
Both men were stark naked!
That discovery was almost as jolting as waking to find herself in this strange place to begin with, but not quite as jarring as the discovery that the skin below their waists was an almost iridescent blue-green, patterned, with odd little protrusions near their ankles that looked almost like narrow fins. She’d almost decided that they must be wearing something, even though she could clearly see their buttocks, when she realized that both men had the same fin like protrusions on their elbows and wrists and those were clearly bare. She could see that their entire upper bodies were bare, though their skin was as pale as hers, almost pale enough to look like white, form fitting knit, except that their faces and hands were just as pale, which she was sure precluded that possibility.
Under the circumstances, it wasn’t nearly as big a shock to see that both men had hair that flowed almost to their buttocks, but it still came as a surprise.
This just got more and more weird!
When they’d left, she moved to the window and stared at the room beyond her cell. Nothing in it looked more than vaguely familiar, but there was some similarity to the equipment that made her more certain that what she was looking at was a lab. The benches alone seemed to suggest that and there was a … sterility to the place that added to that impression—no gurney of any kind that she could see.
She was still staring at the room when the golden haired man returned carrying a tray that was covered with a cloth.
Her belly clenched with fear at the sight of the tray, images springing into her mind of medical instruments. He set it down and lifted his head to look at her.
She backed away from the window. Abruptly remembering she was naked, she covered her breasts with her arms.
He frowned, his gaze instantly sharpening at the movement. After hesitating a moment, he strode across the room toward the window.
Her gaze zeroed in of its own accord on his groin, her eyes widening.
Definitely naked, her shocked mind registered.
My god at the tool he was swinging!
She was so focused on it that he walked right up to the glass before she recovered her wits. She wasn’t sure she would have then except that the wall below the glass cut off her view, effectively breaking her mesmerized focus on his cock.
Reddening, she jerked her head up and stared up at him.
Christ! He must be nearly six and a half feet tall!
Either that or he was standing on something.
She hadn’t realized her jaw was at half-mast until she scurried further from the window. Closing her mouth, she moved as far away from him as she could, backing into the far corner.
She discovered his gaze had dropped. Belatedly recalling that she was as naked as he was from the waist down, she shifted one arm to cover her breasts, and dropped a hand down to cover her thatch.
His head jerked upward to meet her gaze when she did.
He tilted his head curiously, his eyes narrowing, though the expression seemed more thoughtful than angry.
He turned his head away after a moment, looking at something beyond her view, and then began to speak, gesturing toward her.
The black haired man appeared at the glass a moment later, studying her as curiously as the other man had.
The oddest sensation flickered through her.
She felt, suddenly, as if she’d woken to find herself in a zoo—as an exhibit.
After a moment, the black haired man disappeared again. Her belly tightened. She didn’t know why it unnerved her. She should’ve felt relieved that she didn’t have both of them staring at her.
It connected in her mind why she’d been uneasy when she heard the door latch click. She jerked her head toward the door as it slowly began to open, her heart leaping into her throat. After staring at it, too frozen with fear to move for several moments, she managed to make herself move.
The cell was small, though. There wasn’t anywhere to run.
She dodged behind the odd-looking gurney, cowering on the floor, trying to force her chaotic mind to think.
He was carrying the tray she’d seen the other man bring in and she thought for several moments that she might pass out from sheer terror. He stopped just inside, carefully closing and locking the door behind him.
For several moments, he merely stood there, as if he was as frozen as she was. Finally, releasing a slow, controlled breath, he sank slowly into a crouch, peering at her under the table.
She stared back at him, wide eyed.
He pursed his lips, making a kissing sound.
She blinked at him blankly, but her heart was thundering so loudly in her chest from fear that she couldn’t for the life of her figure out what in the hell he was making kissing noises at her for.
She didn’t want to find out either. Dragging her gaze from him, she darted several quick glances around the cell. No exit magically appeared. He was standing in front of the only one she’d noticed.
A round window snagged her gaze with the second cautious sweep. She stared at it—or rather the gloom beyond—hard. A small shark swam leisurely by the ‘window’. Her lips parted in stunned surprise.
She jerked her gaze back to the strange looking man and discovered he’d set the tray he was carrying down on the floor. She stared at the tray, jumping when he caught hold of the edge of the cloth and peeled it back.
There weren’t any medical instruments on it. She didn’t know what the hell it was, but it wasn’t instruments of torture. A dark green glob of something had been piled in one corner. Next to it, a fish, struggling uselessly to suck air into its gills flopped helplessly. Dragging her gaze from it after a moment, she glanced over the other things on the tray and saw that it looked like some sort of cooked food. It was on dishes.
What the fuck?
A live fish, a glob of what looked like fresh plucked seaweed and food?
He spoke. His deep voice didn’t regulate well to the low tones he was using. It made his voice sound husky.
A shiver traced its way down her spine, but she found his voice oddly reassuring. She realized after a moment that that was exactly what he was trying to do—reassure her by taking care to move slowly and unthreateningly and to speak low.
The question was, why?
He sat down, folding his legs. The movement drew her eyes right to his crotch, now ‘framed’ by his folded legs.
Good god! Her eyes felt like they might bulge from her head for a minute. The damned thing looked more like an underdeveloped third limb than a cock! It was as thick as her wrist and nearly as long as her forearm—soft!
The man on the other side of the glass said something, redirecting her attention. When she saw he was talking to the man inside with her, she glanced toward him again.
He’d dropped the cloth that had been covering the tray over his crotch, although she could see he was frowning, his expression doubtful.
She felt her face turning red.
Obviously both of them had noticed her absolute fascination with their genitals!
The black haired man studied her face curiously and said something to the other one.
* * * *
“What do suppose it means when she changes color like that?” Damien asked uneasily, though he didn’t take his eyes off of her. She could move with surprising speed, he’d discovered, when in her own element.
Miles said nothing for several moments. “I don’t know. She doesn’t seem angry. She’s changed colors like that several times. She was looking at my cock the time before, though—and then yours. Flashing? Like when our catkins are ready for mating?” he hazarded a guess.
Startled, Damien almost whipped his head around to look at Miles. He resisted the urge with an effort, but he couldn’t prevent his reaction to the suggestion. Heat washed over him. He felt his cock rising. Swallowing with an effort, he very casually dropped a forearm across his lap before the damned thing stood up and waved the fucking cloth at her.
He had the uncomfortable suspicion that she noticed anyway. Her gaze zeroed in on his crotch again, her eyes widening. She looked a lot more uneasy when she met his gaze, he thought wryly, than interested in mating.
Not that he was thinking that way. She was a … well, he didn’t actually know what she was. Gods! What the hell was wrong with him any damned way? He thought she was a beautiful creature—almost ethereal—but she was a creature!
Trying to distract himself, he looked down at the tray again, wondering what he should offer her first. Issuing a mental shrug, he picked up the fish he’d caught by the tail and lifted it invitingly. “Come on, pretty little catkin. You want something to eat? Are you hungry?”
“She isn’t a catkin,” Miles said dryly. “In case you haven’t noticed.”
“Shut the fuck up!” Damien snarled without thinking, then ground his teeth when he saw he’d startled her. “She’s female, isn’t she?”
“But not one of ours—not a catkin.”
Damien tamped his irritation with an effort. She looked close enough his cock was having trouble grasping that those pretty little petals of hers were off limits.
It was strange that the terra—whatever—looked so much like them.
And damned disconcerting. He had to keep reminding himself that she was an above creature, however intelligent she seemed, not a mer.
The expression that crossed her face when he waved the fish at her, as near as he could tell, seemed more of revulsion than interest. He dropped the fish again. Maybe they were grazing creatures? Scooping up a handful of the slimy seaweed, he held the dripping mess up in offering.
She stared at his hand and then looked at his face. He couldn’t tell anything about her expression that time. Intelligence flickered in her clear blue eyes, though. He stared at them, fascinated. It wasn’t until she blinked and looked down at the tray again that he managed to break the spell. He looked down, trying to decide what she was looking at and discovered his cock had managed to elude captivity. It was standing at attention, peering at her hopefully with its dark eye.
Resisting the urge to look at Miles to see if he’d noticed, he grasped his cock and shoved it down again, wincing slightly at the pain.
This was getting him nowhere fast. He couldn’t ‘gentle’ her when she wouldn’t let him come near her and she didn’t seem interested in anything anyway but his cock—and he sure as hell wasn’t putting that anywhere near her no matter how badly the brainless moron wanted to go there.
Lifting his head, he studied her. She wasn’t shivering anymore, but he couldn’t decide if that was just because she wasn’t cold or if she’d calmed down—or maybe both. As he scanned her, his attention was caught again by something that fascinated him almost as much as the pretty pink petals between her legs—the two little pink nubs surrounded by a slightly lighter pink area right in the center of the globes on her chest. The weren’t hard now like they had been before, or didn’t appear to be as hard as before. They looked just like the milk globes their catkins had—except that the tips were pink instead of blue. He wasn’t sure why he found them so fascinating.
The thought flashed in his mind before he could prevent it to wonder if they tasted any different from their catkins’ buds. His cock instantly tried to leap up again. He gritted his teeth at the pain that shot through him.
This wasn’t going well at all!
“She isn’t going to come to me. She remembers I’m the one that caught her and she’s afraid of me. I’m going to leave this food here and see if she’ll come out and eat.”
“Maybe if you’d quit waving your cock at her, she would anyway,” Miles said dryly. “Obviously, even if she is flashing for mating, it’s a signal that she isn’t interested in you.”

Saturday, January 19, 2008

A sneak peak at my upcoming release, Wolfen!

Available soon from:

Chapter One
Danika Whitney’s frustration had mellowed somewhat by the time she reached the edge of town. Pushing the worrisome puzzle of her latest defeat in tagging one of the wolves terrorizing the area to the back of her mind, she searched her pockets with one hand for the list she’d made for herself before she left the cabin.
“Shit!” she muttered when she discovered it wasn’t in her shirt pocket. When a similar search of her jeans pockets came up empty, she glanced at her carryall frowningly and finally let out a huff of irritation that ruffled the brownish blond tendrils straying from her ponytail over her brow and along her cheeks.
So much for thinking she’d let one trip into town suffice to hold her for another week! “I made a list,” she muttered to herself. “I know I did. I must’ve put it in the bag.”
She didn’t feel very reassured, but after contemplating turning around and heading back to the cabin she’d rented for her investigation, she dismissed it. She was hungry, damn it! That was probably why she’d forgotten the damned list. She’d had her mind on a nice hot ‘I didn’t cook it’ meal at the diner, and her latest failure, and she’d probably lain the note she’d made for herself down somewhere, or maybe just left it on the table where she’d sat down to write?
The roar of an engine behind her jerked her out of her preoccupation about her missing list. Danika flicked a glance in the rearview mirror of her truck and froze.
There was a pack of motorcycles roaring up behind her.
She stared at the leather clad men on motorcycles for several moments, feeling a jolt of adrenaline rush through her when it occurred to her that it didn’t look as if they had any intention of slowing down or stopping behind her. Transferring her gaze to the light at the intersection where she’d stopped on ‘autopilot’, she realized it wasn’t actually a traffic light at all but rather a blinking caution light.
Discomfited when it dawned at her that she’d been sitting at the intersection searching for her list while she waited for the light to change—which was never going to change—she took her foot off the brake. Before she could move forward, the men on the cycles, who did actually slow, whipped around her like the tide rolling around a bridge piling, three on one side, two on the other.
To a man, all five turned to stare at her as they moved around her.
Unnerved, Danika stared back them, glancing from one side to the other before it dawned on her she probably shouldn’t be looking at them at all. They looked rough, and dangerous, and it was never a good idea to encourage the notice of obvious gang members—probably felons and drug addicts.
They might think she was interested—as in flirting!
They might think she was angry because they’d broken the law by passing her at an intersection—on both sides—and consider it a challenge!
Averting her gaze as one unnerving thought after another flitted through her mind, she watched them surreptitiously as they turned the corner.
“Well shit!” They’d turned and headed down main street, which was where the ‘business’ district lay—her objective. “Now what?”
She didn’t want to appear to be following them, especially not when ‘the incident’ at the light might be something they could take exception to. One never knew with gangs, she was sure.
Not that she’d had any experience with gangs, or even studied gang mentality and behavior, but she did watch the news. People might think she was too out of step with the real world to notice things, but she did!
She decided to go straight instead of turning, hopeful that they meant to continue right on out of town. She was almost positive they weren’t local. Both the leather they were wearing and their bikes had looked dusty as if they’d been riding a while. Besides, she was pretty sure she would’ve noticed if there’d been a local biker gang even though she hadn’t been in the area long. It was something she felt certain would have stuck out in a community this tiny, particularly when it was mostly made up of farmers.
They’d looked a good bit younger than the bikers she’d seen riding up the interstate back home from time to time.
Not that she’d checked them out, but she’d been stunned enough to look and she’d seen a lot of shaggy hair that didn’t seem to be threaded with any gray at all and she’d caught a glimpse of smooth shaven faces that didn’t look weathered.
The hard muscles certainly didn’t look like anything that would belong to a more mature male. She hadn’t noticed any middle-aged, or beer, paunches.
Disturbed that she’d noticed so much when she’d been certain she hadn’t stared, she pulled in to the first parking spot she came to, grabbed her carryall and dumped the contents into the passenger seat, raking through it hopefully it in search of her list. Irritation flickered through her again when she saw it wasn’t in the bag either.
When she’d shoved everything back into the bag, she decided she’d delayed long enough the gang would’ve cleared town. She started the vehicle again. She would go eat first, she decided. It was never a good idea to go to the grocery store hungry and she could try to compile her list again while she was eating. It hadn’t been a long list. She didn’t need much, but she didn’t want to get all the way back out to the fishing camp where she was staying and discover she’d forgotten something it was going to be hard, or impossible, to do without, necessitating another trip into town.
Beyond the fact that she didn’t like to waste her time doing the same task two or three times because of something she’d forgotten, she had work to do and not much time to get results.
Truthfully, although she couldn’t quite put her finger on it, the locals made her uncomfortable. They seemed almost … hostile.
It didn’t make any sense. She’d been sent because of the wolf problem that had been reported. She was sure, given the fact that there’d been several cases reported of attacks on livestock, and even one on a resident, that they thought sending her was a waste of time, but she couldn’t see that that would account for the brooding sense of hostility she’d noticed when she’d arrived the week before. Mostly people just ignored her or considered her with amused contempt. She wouldn’t have been surprised at either reaction.
The antagonism she’d felt seemed out of place, but then it seemed to be a tight knit community pretty much isolated from the rest of the world. Maybe they just didn’t like strangers at all? Or maybe it was directly related to her purpose for coming. Maybe they thought sending her to do studies before they took action was just a way of paying lip service to their problem without actually doing anything?
She supposed she could understand how it could look that way to the casual observer, or that they might think they were being called liars for reporting the attacks at all. The behavior of the wolves was unprecedented, though.
Their existence in the area was startling enough when they were hundreds of miles from where there should’ve been any wolves, let alone a pack so large. She supposed that might explain the attacks—them being out of their element—but there seemed to be a plentiful food source in the forests. Why the wolves were going after livestock when they should’ve been content with the abundant wildlife, and should want to avoid men, was another mystery.
And then there was the man that had been attacked.
Of course, she hadn’t been able to verify that attack. Everyone had clammed up. She hadn’t even been able to learn the source of the original report let alone the victim.
Parking her vehicle near the diner, Danika got out and locked her doors by force of habit. Shoving her keys into her pocket instead of the bag, since it took too much time to search the thing for them, she headed into the diner, still mulling over the mystery she’d been sent to solve.
The bell over the door tinkled as she shoved the door open. The sound triggered earlier thoughts that had dogged her all the way into town, her latest failed attempt to tag one of the wolves. She’d been pissed off when she’d found the first tag but took it philosophically enough since she’d clipped it in his ear and figured it must have been loose enough for him to scratch it off. However, she’d brought the wolf down with a tranq the second time and embedded the tracker in his hip. He shouldn’t have been able to find it, let alone remove it, and yet she’d found that one discarded in the woods just like she had the first—discarded and mangled beyond use.
Wolves were intelligent, she knew, and she still found it almost eerie that she hadn’t managed to locate the pack—only the one lone wolf that she’d tagged, twice, because he’d been brazen enough to come almost right up to her cabin. Otherwise, they were almost like … ghosts—ghosts that left a lot of footprints and nothing else.
She came face to face with a local as she crossed the threshold. He narrowed his eyes at her, his lips tightening with anger. Surprised since she recognized him and he’d flirted with her when she’d first arrived, she moved aside for him to leave, turning to watch him curiously as he limped to his car.
Shaking her head to dismiss his strange behavior, she continued inside, allowing the door to swing closed behind her. The crowded diner quieted noticeably—enough that Danika become aware of it when she would ordinarily have been deep enough in thought to be oblivious. Feeling awkward at attracting so much attention, she struggled to pretend she hadn’t noticed as she moved further inside, since retreating didn’t seem to be a good idea. The restaurant appeared to be full, but, after glancing around, she decided to walk to the back to be sure before she beat a retreat.
One booth was vacant at the back and, as luck would have it, it was one of those huge u-shaped booths designed to accommodate a large group. She stared at it uncomfortably for a moment, undecided, torn between her growling stomach and her discomfort. Finally, she moved toward it, deciding she’d leave if they told her she had to.
Everyone seemed to return to their own interests as she slid into the seat and settled. Relaxing fractionally, she grabbed a menu and opened it. She’d been unnerved far more than she’d realized. It took her several moments to actually focus on the menu.
Her skin still prickled from all the staring eyes that had watched her progress through the diner. Trying to dismiss the feeling that everyone in the diner was still observing her, though more discretely now, Danika pretended an interest in the menu she didn’t particularly feel anymore.
She’d just managed to dismiss her uneasiness enough to actually begin reading when the bell over the door tinkled again. Focused now on trying to decide what she wanted off the menu she might’ve been oblivious except for the fact that the first tinkle was followed by another and then a third in quick succession. Suddenly aware that there seemed to be a lot of traffic at the door and that she’d settled her ass in the only available booth—built for a large party—she glanced up from the menu and froze when she saw that she hadn’t, as she’d hoped, heard people leaving.
The biker gang had just entered the diner.
The lowering volume she’d noticed when she’d come in was nothing compared to their reception. The diner went dead quiet.
They seemed unaware they had the attention of everyone in the place.
Her gaze collided with one of the men and a jolt went through her. For a handful of seconds, she couldn’t seem to drag her gaze away. Finally, the realization hit her that by allowing him to catch her gaze she’d drawn attention she didn’t want and she quickly averted her gaze to the menu again.
She couldn’t concentrate on it. Her ears felt as if they’d elongated with the intensity of their focus on the men. She heard the heavy tread of booted feet as they sauntered unhurriedly through the diner.
“Mind if we join you?”
Danika looked up automatically at the deep masculine voice. Startled when she discovered the man—the entire pack of men—was standing right in front of her booth and worse, the man was talking to her, Danika felt her eyes widen. Her thoughts went chaotic in a frantic attempt to find some reasonable excuse for why she minded that wouldn’t arouse their antagonism. “Well … uh ….”
The man who’d spoken to her slid into the seat. Frozen in place, she felt her eyes grow wider and wider the closer he came. Brought abruptly to the belated instinct to flee by the man’s proximity, Danika slid away from him, only to discover that three of the others had slid into the seat from the opposite side, pinning her in.
Wide eyed with panic, she stared at first one face and then another until she’d catalogued a mental photograph of each. It didn’t help that her imagination instantly kicked in and supplied her with a kaleidoscope of horrific images that all featured her as a victim and the pack as violent offenders.
“The name’s Balin.”
The voice was the deep rumble of a high testosterone male and it sent a wave of prickling sensation through Danika that she dimly recognized as a purely feminine reaction to an attractive male. She blinked for the first time in several minutes, realizing only then that she’d been staring slack jawed at the man who’d slid in beside her. Sucking in her first breath in as many minutes, which made it obvious by the dryness of her mouth that she’d been staring at him with her mouth open, she licked her dry lips and brought them together abruptly. Her eyes slid away as she pasted a nervous smile on her lips. “Danika,” she said weakly.
Where was a cop when she needed one?
Danika stared at the huge paw the blond man had extended across the table toward her, wondering if he was admitting to being a con man.
“Connor,” he amended as if he’d read her mind, “but everyone calls me Con.”
Or maybe it was just the blank look on her face?
Like a sleep walker, she extended her own hand, watching as it disappeared in the man’s clasp.
Still with the feeling that she was in the grips of a dream, or maybe a nightmare, Danika removed her hand from the man’s grasp and watched it disappear as the second enveloped it in a firm shake.
“Jared,” said the last of the five, who’d settled on the other side of Balin.
Marginally relieved when the five men grabbed menus and turned their attention to studying them instead of her, Danika tried to shift unobtrusively to put a little distance between herself and the men crowding her. She discovered it was useless. For all that they seemed more rangy than big, they were big men and the booth wasn’t nearly as big as it had seemed before they’d descended on her. There wasn’t much more than a couple of inches between her and the men now firmly entrenched on either side of her, Balin and Dakota.
Surprise flickered through her that she actually remembered the names. Ordinarily, she was very bad with names and it wasn’t as if she’d actually had her wits about her when they were making the introductions. For one, they were unnerving just by virtue of being a biker gang. She’d never been this close to the criminal element of society and she was sure she was petrified with terror, although she was in a state of shock that, fortunately, made it impossible for her to either faint or scream, and she sure as hell couldn’t run.
Secondly, although she was well aware that it was psychotic even to have such thoughts, despite their rough appearance and the fact that all of them were sporting at least a day’s growth of beard, Xavier was the closest to ‘just average’ of the bunch and he wasn’t actually average but several cuts above the best looking man she’d ever actually seen in person. They were all handsome enough any one of them could have made it as a model, or actor, despite the intimidating multitude of tattoos and piercings she could see at a glance that unnerved her more than she would’ve thought possible. Along with the unfashionably long hair they all had, though, the tattoos and piercings seemed to add to the wild, untamed air of the bunch.
The last time she could recall being this unnerved was when she’d looked up from taking notes in her wildlife studies and discovered one of her ‘subjects’ had noticed her and wandered close enough to study her.
Balin had a tiny ring at the outer corner of one eye brow she saw when she glanced at him again and her imagination took flight as to where else he might be pierced—his nipples, certainly. She couldn’t resist flicking a glance at the t-shirt molded to his rippling physique and the nipple rings brought her focus instantly to his hard pecs.
“What’s good?”
Her gaze jerked upward from his nipple rings to Balin’s face. She thought she saw a flicker of amusement in his hazel gaze. “What?” she asked blankly, her mind going wild at the question.
“On the menu.”
She felt her face heat. Trying to pretend she hadn’t been staring at his body, Danika frowned at the menu. “Uh … actually, I’m not from around here. I don’t really know.”
He dropped an arm along the back of the booth behind her, shifting to face her. “No?”
His hard thigh brushed hers when he shifted. Between the burning heat of that touch and her acute awareness of the arm behind her shoulders, Danika had to struggle to gather her wits.
“Maybe you’d know of a good place to stay around here, then? Or are you just passing through?”
She wanted to tell him she was just passing through in the worst kind of way, but his interest in a place to stay probably meant he was looking for a room for the night. If she lied and he found out, would he be pissed off?
She didn’t want to piss him off.
“I … uh ….”
“What will you folks be having?”
Relieved by the interruption of the waitress, Danika’s gaze snapped from Balin to the waitress standing over the table with a pad in her hands. “What’s tonight’s special?”
Gag! “I’ll take the baked chicken dinner, then.”
The men all ordered beef—thick steaks and all the trimmings—minus the ‘rabbit food’ they didn’t seem to approve of. They didn’t look like they had anywhere to put that much food, but then again, they were all painfully young and very muscular. They probably burnt up a couple of thousand calories just breathing.
Ordinarily, Danika didn’t pay much attention to her appearance or the passing years, but their youth made it impossible not to compare her age to theirs, and their beauty … well, she’d never felt quite as plain or unappealing, like a little brown duck that had found itself swimming in the midst of a flock of beautiful swans.
It didn’t occur to her until the waitress left that the woman hadn’t asked about dividing up the tickets. “Wait! Put mine on a separate ticket!”
The woman turned around to glare at her in irritation.
Balin waved her off. “Just leave it together. I’ll pay for hers.”
Struggling with indignation when the woman left without waiting to see if she was agreeable to that solution, Danika bent a tight smile on Balin. “I’ll just give you my share, then,” she said firmly.
He lifted the black, beringed brow. “Consider it payment for sharing the booth.”
Danika kept her smile with an effort. She didn’t want to argue with the man, not when he personified dangerous, but she wasn’t about to be obligated to a total stranger, especially a dangerous one. “That’s … sweet, but completely unnecessary.”
The comment provoked chuckles from the other men and she looked around at them in surprise. Con’s blue eyes were dancing with merriment as he divided a glance between her and Balin. “Sweet? Balin? Honey, you don’t have a clue.”
Honey? She might’ve taken exception to that, too, except some of her shock was beginning to wear off and, as it did, she was more and more uncomfortably aware that she wasn’t in the middle of a pack of swans.
They reminded her a lot more of a pack of … wolves, she decided, though she wasn’t certain why unless it had just popped into her mind because she’d been called in to study a wolf pack.
There was more to it than that, she decided. Balin was a bit more ‘solid’ looking than the others, not exactly stocky, but definitely more heavily muscled than the others. The rest of the gang, though, had the kind of builds that reminded her of wolves in the wild, muscular, but lean. Con was the only one of the bunch that was actually fair, though his complexion wasn’t. Every inch of skin exposed was tanned to a golden brown—which probably meant he spent a lot of time on that bike of his. Balin was almost his exact opposite. His hair was black enough it seemed obvious that his sharp features were the result of a lot of Native American blood or maybe Hispanic, although he looked more Native American and his name didn’t seem to be Spanish. Of the other three—Jared and Dakota were closest in coloring to Balin and Xavier, whose hair was a lot like hers, neither blond nor brown, but in between, was closest in coloring to Con.
They weren’t related that she could tell but then again not all siblings looked like peas from the same pod. She looked nothing like either her brother or her sister, fortunately for them, and unfortunately for her since she was the family ugly duckling.
More to occupy herself than for any other reason, Danika looked around for her bag and discovered Xavier had dropped it on the floor by her feet when he’d slid in beside her. Dragging it out from under the table, she dug around for a piece of paper and a pen while the men scanned the restaurant with keen interest.
Despite her optimism, she couldn’t think of anything to put on the list of things she needed.
“Taking notes?”
Startled at the low, husky voice near her ear when she was struggling to concentrate on recalling her list, Danika’s head whirled automatically in that direction and she found herself almost nose to nose with Balin. He stared back at her with patent interest.
Her instincts seriously impaired, her head finally recoiled on her neck and she leaned back to put a more comfortable distance between them. “Notes?” she repeated blankly.
He studied her a long moment and then flicked a glance at the envelope she’d pulled out of her bag.
“Oh. I was just trying to remember what I’d come to town to get. I forgot my list.”
A slow grin curled his lips. “You’re staying around here, then?”
Danika blinked at him, mentally kicking herself.
“Yes,” she mumbled, returning her attention to her project and staring at the paper hard to will her brain to function on a level above ‘female in heat’. The thought had no sooner flickered through her mind than she realized a good part of her jitters was exactly that.
It stood to reason, she excused herself. They were a damned good looking bunch and they practically wreaked of testosterone. She was a woman, after all, even though that wasn’t something she remembered very often.
“Is there a particular reason you don’t want to tell us where you’re staying?”
Danika felt her face heat again. She cleared her throat, searching for something to say that wouldn’t offend.
“We don’t bite … hard,” Con said with a husky chuckle.
“Just a little gnawing here and there,” Jared agreed with a wolfish grin.
“You’re scaring her,” Balin said coldly when she sent the two men a wide eyed look.
They were all scaring the shit out of her!
Unfortunately, it wasn’t fear that coiled in her lower belly, generating heat.
The men tensed at Balin’s rebuke—all of them. Danika flicked uneasy glances from one to another and finally looked at Balin, who seemed to be the focus of their brooding gazes. He’d tensed, as well, but she didn’t think she would’ve noticed if not for the fact that he was touching her. He looked singularly unimpressed by the fact that the other four men radiated hostility and aggression.
That thought sent a wave of cold through her.
Alphas, she realized, stunned. That was why she felt so uneasy. It wasn’t just the testosterone level at the table. It was the fact that she’d instinctively registered that all five men were alphas.
What in the world would bring five such dominant males together?
She dismissed the possibility that she figured into the equation just as she’d immediately dismissed the suspicion that either Con or Jared were actually flirting with her in reality. More likely, given the way they looked, they were just used to toying with whatever female came within their sphere.
“No, they’re not,” Danika lied, hoping to diffuse the situation.
Some of the tension eased from Balin. Amusement and something else she couldn’t quite grasp flickered through his hazel eyes. “No?”
She offered him a weak smile. “I know they’re just being playful.”
Dakota snorted, the sound a mixture of repressed amusement and mild annoyance “Con’s right. You are clueless, sweet thing,” he muttered in a rumbling growl of a voice.
She made the mistake of whirling to look at him when he spoke and discovered he’d shifted a lot closer than she’d realized. He was close enough she could see his eyes were dilated until she could barely discern the difference between the pupils and the thin, golden brown ring around the outer edge.
Her body, mindless thing that it was, still keyed more to animal instinct than sentient being, reacted with another wave of warmth at the blatant sexual interest in his eyes.
They must have been on the road a long time, she thought dimly, to have any interest in her.
Fortunately, the waitress arrived with their food, effectively distracting the men from her and each other.
“So … you’re not passing through and you haven’t been here long,” Balin said almost conversationally as they focused on their food. “Now I’m wondering what could’ve brought you to this little out of the way hick town.”
Danika flicked an uncomfortable glance around to see if any of the local ‘hicks’ had taken exception to the comment. It didn’t help her feelings when she noticed a number of people at the surrounding tables seemed to have their ears pricked to listen to the conversation.
She wasn’t certain why she got that impression. They seemed to be focused on their food and/ or their dining companions, but the impression resisted her efforts to dispel it with reason. “Work,” she said finally.
His black brows rose questioningly. When she ignored the silent command to continue, he pursued it. “What kind of work?”
“Oh, you wouldn’t be interested,” Danika said dismissively, not because she was concerned about telling him beyond a reluctance to get acquainted with an obvious gang member, but because she doubted he was interested or would be intrigued if she did tell him.
“Try me.”
She glanced at him in surprise and then looked around at the others at the table, discovering she had their full attention. Finally, she shrugged. “Wildlife management brought me down … or rather up, I guess since this is north of where I live … because they seem to be having trouble with wolves and I’m the closest they could get to an expert in that field on such short notice.”
Something flickered in their eyes, but it wasn’t surprise.
Why weren’t they surprised, she wondered?
Maybe they didn’t know wolves weren’t natural to the area, but surely they still should’ve been surprised at her vocation?
Jared, who’d leaned around Balin, studied her speculatively, then flicked an enigmatic look at the others. “I suppose from that,” he drawled after a moment, “that you’re supposed to observe and report back on whether to send trappers or hunters.”
Surprise flickered through her. “Actually, that’s pretty much it. They weren’t convinced there were wolves. This is a rogue pack—not native to the area and they’ve never had a problem with wolves. Their behavior is pretty peculiar for wolves to say the least.” She shrugged. “Not that I’m really an expert. I was doing a study on wolves in captivity in the Atlanta zoo. I haven’t actually studied them in the wild before … other animals, but not wolves,” she added quickly before they could get the impression that she didn’t have any idea of what she was doing.
She could only describe the expressions on their faces as grim, which both surprised and disappointed her—the grimness. Bored, wouldn’t have surprised her. People had a way of looking like they were searching for a polite way to scrape her loose the minute she got warmed up about her studies in wildlife.
“What were you doing the study for in Atlanta?” Dakota asked after an uncomfortable silence had descended at the table.
“Mating,” she said before she thought better of it. “They’re concerned—the zoo—that the wolves don’t have much interest in it.”

Friday, November 16, 2007

A sneak peak at my upcoming release, Feline Heat!

Available soon from:

Chapter One

"You're up next, Kate! Move it!" Marty growled.
Kate's belly instantly knotted into a tight ball of fear. Her heart rate shot up and her lungs began to labor to drag in air. Breathe, Kate, she commanded herself! Deep breath in, exhale slowly. Deep breath in, exhale.
Her mind was chaotic. It was a wonder she even managed to gather enough sense to focus on breathing slowly to keep from hyperventilating.
The man airbrushing the last of her 'costume' on, hurried to finish at Marty's prompting and finally stepped back. "You're ready."
Like hell!
She didn't voice the thought aloud. In the months since she'd 'agreed' to dance for Panas to work off her ex's gambling debts she'd learned it was a lot safer just to smile and nod like a good little slave and jump to do what she was told. If she looked sullen or moved too slowly she was liable to get slapped stupid. Voicing a complaint was just an invitation to get the shit beat out of her.
To the Russian mob that ran the operation, the Exotique`, the 'weaker sex' just meant easier control and they weren't the least bit bashful about using their superior strength to exert it.
Her knees felt like the bones and cartilage had melted to the consistency of jelly as she stood up from the bench where the man had been applying her 'costume' and surveyed the results in the tiny mirror above her make-up table. Her hair, which she'd always worn fairly long, had grown nearly to her waist, she saw with a touch of surprise, but it still fell short of concealing her nakedness. It had been lightened from her natural medium to dark brown with auburn highlights to a shade of red she'd hated since the first time she looked at it.
She was a feline tonight. God only knew what breed of cat she was supposed to be---Liger?-her skin was hyena with dark stripes here and there.
She decided she looked like a walking camo for a jungle setting rather than any kind of cat from the wild as she dropped weakly to the stool in front of her table and quickly darkened the tip of her nose, gripping her eyebrow pencil in a trembling hand to sketch a wobbly trio of 'whiskers' on either cheek.
She'd gotten used to standing bare assed naked on the stage in front of a roomful of hooting men-as used to it as she was ever going to get-but the special 'treat' the management had in mind for the night had threatened to turn her bowels to water.
She was supposed to 'make love' to her feline 'mates' on stage-an 'artistic' imitation of the act in dance, she'd been assured, not in actuality, but the 'props' weren't merely stuffed animals like those Panas typically used. He'd brought in two very much alive, great cats-drugged, he'd assure her, almost to the point of unconsciousness, chained, but still alive-and still dangerous because they were straight from the wild, not even close to tamed or trained beasts.
Of all the bizarre things that prick, Panas, had thought up, this one was light years ahead of anything else.
For the first time in her life, she wished she was drugged-too high to have any idea of what was going on.
They were bringing the beasts onto the stage when she arrived and positioned herself for the opening of her act. She thought for several horrifying moments that she was going to pee on herself, or worse, as she watched the keepers lead first an enormous Siberian Tiger and then an equally huge African Lion out on the stage and secure the chains threaded through their bejeweled collars to an eye bolt embedded in the floor on either side of the stage.
Both cats staggered drunkenly, their movements slow, awkward, as if they were swimming through water. It reassured her a little, gave rise to pity she hadn't anticipated.
The tiger dropped heavily onto his side once the three men half dragging, half pushing him managed to get him within reach of the bolt to secure his chain.
It also reassured her to see that they'd only left enough play in the chain to allow him to lay as he was. She doubted he'd be able to get to his feet.
He was absolutely enormous, though. She'd had no idea the things were so huge.
And muscled. She could see the muscles rippling beneath his beautiful coat.
As tall as the Russian thugs were, she'd be willing to bet he would top them by several feet if he stood on his hind legs.
A shot of knee weakening adrenaline spiked through her when she discovered the cat was watching her through narrowed golden eyes. As dulled as they were by the drugs pumped into him, she saw a gleam of both intelligence and interest in those golden depths as he surveyed her with unblinking intensity.
She hoped to hell they'd fed him before they brought him out!
Shivering, she dragged her gaze from the tiger and watched the men securing the lion. Like the tiger, he was a magnificent specimen. His coat sleek and healthy, his mane thick and luxuriant, he was nearly as big as the tiger. He was also almost as 'brawny'.
And, like the tiger, he seemed far more interested in her than he was in the men moving around him.
The men stepped off curtain, but they remained well within her view.
She wasn't reassured by the fact that they'd taken up the poles with loops on the ends she'd seen animal handlers use to catch and control animals.
Stinging prickles of dread rippled over her skin as she heard Panas, just on the other side of the curtain that still concealed her from the audience, trying to work the almost exclusively male audience into fever pitch anticipation.
The noise from the audience rose to a volume that literally vibrated the wood beneath her feet.
The cats stirred uneasily, dragging their focus from her to stare at the curtains, their ears flicking and turning on their uplifted heads like miniature radar tracking dishes.
She'd become the most popular dancer, a situation that mystified her and caused her no end of trouble with the other exotic dancers. She had two breasts and a pussy-just like they did. She thought she had a pretty good figure, but it was by no means the best-certainly not when 'best' seemed to be measured in the size of the breasts. She was older than all of the others, most of whom were barely twenty while she was breathing hard on thirty. And she was absolutely certain she didn't dance better. In fact, despite the fact that she'd gotten used to it, more or less, and generally managed to focus on the music instead of the men leering and hooting at her, she was still too shy of flaunting her nakedness to really relax, definitely too inhibited to fan her legs and expose her 'tonsils' like the others so often did. It took all she could do to keep her arms and legs moving, at all, and refrain from covering herself.
She strongly suspected it was the very fact that she looked so ill at ease and refused to show anything she could keep from showing that drove them up the wall.
She was so caught up in her thoughts, the curtains had already begun to part before she realized the moment was upon her. It was the music that actually caught her attention, however.
Drums. Jungle drums.
Her heart paced itself to match the beats, thudding heavily with each pat on the deep bass drum than accentuated the rhythm being played out on the lighter drums. She lifted her arms, beginning to gyrate slowly as the curtains swung wide and the spot lights, thankfully, half blinded her, making it almost impossible for her to see beyond the edge of the stage.
A half dozen dark skinned men, dressed in African garb, sat cross legged with the drums they were beating between their legs, three on either side of the stage.
She wondered if any of them had any idea that they were sitting directly in front of a lion and a tiger.
She somehow doubted it. They looked way too relaxed and focused on the music they were making with their drums.
Dead silence fell over the crowd as they spotted the two beasts and discovered the cats were watching them. The certainty that their attention was focused more on the cats than her drained some of the tension and stiffness from Kate as she moved slowly forward on the stage until she was positioned directly between the two cats. She went through the motions of 'offering' herself, wondering if the sweat popping from her pores and beginning to coat her body was enough to wet the paint that had dried on her skin and if she was smearing her stripes as she ran her hands over herself, cupping her breasts and massaging them.
The moment she did, she discovered the cats certainly didn't have their undivided attention. The steady beat of the drums drowned out most of the comments so that they blurred into an incomprehensible mumble, but she heard enough 'yeah, baby!' and 'bring it on, mama!' to assure her she'd recaptured their attention. She gyrated around to one side so that those on either side of the audience could get a better look at her assets, tucking her chin as if she was gazing down at herself and cutting her eyes at the tiger.
She had his full attention, too, she discovered, feeling her heart leap. His gaze was slumberous, but riveted on her nevertheless. Her heart was in her throat as she danced a little closer to him and pretended she was trying to entice him, moving sinuously while she felt herself up.
He studied her movements with an unblinking stare for many moments before he lifted his head and met her gaze. She tensed as he did, unable to prevent herself from meeting that golden stare, even though she had a bad feeling it was the wrong thing to do. Tearing her gaze from his after a moment, she turned away from him and moved slowly closer to the lion. As if she was trying to make up her mind of which to choose between the two, she turned from the lion after a few moments and moved back toward the tiger, inching a little closer each time. She'd made the circuit twice when she discovered Panas the Prick watching her from the wings-glaring at her actually, and motioning imperiously with his hand toward the animals.
Their fucking paws weren't nailed to the floor, she reflected with a burst of anger fed by fear-drugged and chained, or not, they hadn't shifted more than a hair, but both cats seemed way too mesmerized by her for Kate's peace of mind. By the time she'd danced to first one cat and then the other again, the audience was shouting directions she didn't want to understand and Panas looked like he was going to burst a blood vessel.
She slithered down to her knees that time, more because it felt like her knees would give out than because she wanted to comply with Panas' demands. Crawling toward the lion cautiously, she lifted a shaking hand and settled it on his side, hoping his reach wasn't long enough to knock her head off of her shoulders if he felt inclined to slap at her.
She felt a vibration filter through her palm as she stroked his fur from his belly to his hip. For several moments, her mind was so perfectly blank with terror, she couldn't figure out what the vibration was.
Then she realized he was purring.
It heartened her, but not by a hell of a lot.
Realizing her legs were too weak for her to actually regain her feet, she crawled across the stage to the other cat, approaching him warily. He tensed when she touched him and her heart tried to choke her. Almost as if he forced himself to relax, the muscles beneath her hand eased. She stroked her hand through his fur, feeling a rumbling purr begin from deep inside of him, but she couldn't work up the nerve to move closer.
She was supposed to rub herself on them.
She didn't think she could do that.
Trying to assure herself that Panas wouldn't beat her to death for deliberately ignoring his orders, she moved back to the lion and stroked him again. He began to purr again almost the moment she touched him, shifting almost restlessly, as if he wanted to turn to draw closer to her. Thankfully, the chain kept him from getting close enough to sniff her. She could see his nostrils flaring, though, knew he was 'tasting' the air for her scent.
Panas was making motions with his hands again when she dared a glance in his direction.
As she moved back to the tiger once more, the tiger watched her every move. The moment she reached out to begin stroking his belly and hip again, however, he lay down completely, settling his head against the floor and stretching his great body out as if inviting her to rub his belly.
Slightly reassured by the fact that his head, and those frightening jaws, weren't hovering over her, she inched a little closer and rubbed her face along his belly.
As quick as lightening, he hooked one great foreleg around her shoulders and dragged her full length against his belly. Before she could even remember her voice to scream, his huge head settled next to hers and she heard a rumbling, threatening growl directly in her ear.
* * * *
Sergei struggled against the effects of the drugs in his system, even though he'd learned by now that the fight was useless-worse than useless, actually. They'd brought him down with the drugs. When he'd wakened in a cage, he'd loosed his fury on the people who'd captured him, battering at the bars that imprisoned him until they'd raced to get more of the drug and used it to take his will to fight. He hadn't been lucid enough since that time to manage much more than eyeing them with deadly promise every time they came near his cage to feed him or drug him again.
He knew, though, that he was far, far from his home. Despite the drugs, he'd been aware of the passage of time in the elevation of the stench around him, the number of times he was fed and hosed down to cleanse the offal from his cage, which was barely big enough for him to turn around in much less to distance himself from his own excrement. The incessant heaving and rocking beneath him that made him too sick to attempt to fight even if not for the drugs had finally translated in his mind to 'ship' even though he'd never been on one before-had not traveled in any of the machines of man since he'd eschewed that side of his nature in favor of the wilds when he'd finally realized it was safer, both for him and for the man-children, for him to stay as far away from them as possible.
He was not of their kind, even though he had walked among them during much of his early years, nor yet of the beasts that was his other side. In truth, he belonged no where, but he preferred the honest savagery of his beast kindred to the brutal lies and deceptive nature of the man-children.
At least the beasts he lived among only killed for survival-to eat, to protect, for self-preservation-never merely for amusement or vindictiveness. They would not hunt him down and kill him only because he was different as they had his parents because they had been foolish enough to believe they could pass undetected among the man-children.
It had settled in his mind after a time that, if they hadn't killed him outright, they had a reason for allowing him to live. They had plans for him and that meant he still had the chance to live. All he had to do was bide his time. Sooner or later they'd slip up, become too confident, and when they did, they would pay for it with their lives and he would be free again, free to return to his life-such as it was.
The hunger to find another of his kind had eaten at him for years, the need for companionship, the need to mate. It had gone unfulfilled. In his beast form, he'd ranged far and wide and never sensed the presence of another like himself at all, let alone a female of his kind.
It was the need that had finally driven him back to the villages of man-children to walk among them, the hope that he'd find another of his kind there, living among them as he and his parents once had, but that hope had not only soured, it had gotten him captured.
He could only bear the constraints of his human skin for short periods before the itch to roam the wilds became nearly unbearable and it was his proximity to the man-children that had caught the notice of the hunters, he knew.
The irony was that those who'd captured him had brought him closer to another of his kind than he'd been since the deaths of his parents.
The South African was closer than he'd come before, at any rate. He was man-beast. He was feline-unfortunately not tiger, but it had given rise to renewed hope that he might know where others of their kind were.
He would find out when he found a way to free himself-for they had no way to communicate when they did not dare take their human forms-and if the lion knew of others, maybe he'd help him escape, as well.
And if he did not-maybe he would anyway.
He'd curbed his fury after a while, once it had finally settled in his thick skull that fighting them was not only useless, it encouraged them to keep him too drugged to use his wits. They still gave him far too much to have much mind about him, but at least he was awake part of the time now. At least he could see what was going on around him. At least his rambling thoughts connected from time to time.
As they had when he'd been brought to this place.
He was to be sold to a zoo, he'd discovered, but they hadn't found a buyer yet. They'd decided to make him 'earn his keep' by entertaining in their club/casino.
The first discovery had increased his rage to the point where he'd had difficulty pretending he was still too drugged to hold his head up, let alone alert enough to try to fight them.
The second discovery had made him glad he'd managed to contain his fury.
They were going to take him out of his cage.
When they did, he would have his first real opportunity to escape-if he was lucky.
He'd underestimated their wariness of him. Despite the fact that he'd pretended to be more than half asleep, they'd taken no chances. They'd shot him up with more of the hated drugs, waiting until they were certain the drugs were pumping through him before they'd opened the cage.
He'd tried to gather himself to launch an attack anyway, but had discovered he could barely stand. Reality had blurred around him as they fixed the collar around his neck and half dragged him from the cage, poking and prodding him until he'd stumbled to his feet. He'd had to splay his legs wide to remain standing once he'd gotten up and the drug had skewed his perceptions, making it almost impossible to walk. It had required absolute concentration to put one foot in front of the other and move when they'd started dragging on the chain and choking him with the collar around his neck.
Impotent rage had risen to life inside of him, but deeply, too deeply to summon it to his aid.
And then he'd seen her.
From the moment he'd spied her his entire focus had shifted to her. A hunger he barely recognized rose instantly and began gnawing at his gut, flooded his already drugged mind with a drug far more potent. He'd thought she wasn't real at first, tried to shake the image, tried to convince himself he was seeing things, and then he'd caught her scent and that had only confused him more. The drugs, he wondered? She looked like a she-beast, but she smelled human. Was she both, as he was? Or only human?
He struggled to recall the scents of his parents, to remember if they carried the smell of both man and beast, but he couldn't seem to remember. It seemed possible, though, that she would have the scent of man-child when she was in half-shift.
He didn't know, but he discovered he didn't care. Hunger pervaded him as he stared at her. Need surged through his body, setting it on fire. His man side wanted her with a feverish need that had him fairly quivering with the restraint he had to struggle to hold on to. His beast side decided he would have her.
The lion-man, he realized fairly quickly, wanted her, too. He could see the hunger in the other beast-man's eyes-smell it on him.
Savage possessiveness moved through him. He wanted her and he would have her. If he had to tear the lion-man's throat out and crawl over his bloody carcass to get her, he would!
She made it easy for him. After teasing him until it was all he could do to remain perfectly still and wait for his chance, driving him more mindless by the moment with the promise of her undulating body, her scent, and tentative touch, she made the mistake of moving within his reach.
He caught her, dragging her close enough he could finally wallow in her scent, immerse himself in it, the scent that had been driving him steadily closer and closer to madness. He could feel the warmth and softness of her and the instant he did, he lost his hold on his last tenuous thread of reason.