“We’d better get home, girl,” she said, stroking Bonnie’s silky ears, “before someone realizes I’m actually gone.”
She climbed to her feet, digging her bare toes into the dirt with a luxurious sigh. Then using her shirt like a pouch, she plucked some egg-shaped lekkle fruit from between its spray of long, spiky leaves the color of lavender. After having grown up eating and tending to these plants and many others, she had to remind herself they were once foreign to this planet.
Almost all the alien plants contained many more nutrients than anything edible on Earth. As well as increasing longevity, they greatly enhanced healing. Even her mother’s once inability to conceive had been restored. Shame her mum hadn’t known that fact before she’d made the promise to give away one of her children.
Whatever. It would be small consolation for Aline.
Eden stroked the lightly furred skin of one of the fruits. In all her life she’d had no memory of falling ill, not even with the once apparently common cold humans had suffered from.
Yeah, but then I’m not wholly human.
Eden stilled, pressing a hand to her brow. She felt…weird, disorientated by the blanket of sensation moving over her. Perhaps she was finally coming down with something?
Her senses hummed, her skin breaking into goose bumps though a hot flush swept through her body. Some sixth sense warned her to leave, to get back to the house. But as if moving through a thick fog, she instead slowly turned.
Bonnie’s hackles rose, the dog growling even before Eden truly comprehended she wasn’t alone.
Oh Aline, no.
The lekkle thudded unnoticed to the ground. A wave of despair at losing her sister rendered her weak, giddy, even as the bare-chested alien leaned nonchalantly against a giant red gum.
She couldn’t tear her eyes away from him—the stranger whose alien genetics she partly shared. If sunsets were a measure of beauty, then he was a crimson and gold sky framing the midnight blue of a deep sea. And though fathomless, his stare was a many shades lighter blue, measuring her, drinking her in. Inhaling her.
Breath shuddered from her lungs, while oddly, pleasant sensations fluttered within, fighting off horror.
Aline’s intended—not hers!
She shook her head, forcing her muscles to cooperate as she took a step backward. “Leave me alone.”
You want Aline, not me.
He straightened, so very tall, much taller than her five foot ten. Strands of his longish, dark-gold hair fluttered in the late afternoon breeze. “The time has come. We belong together, Princess. You know this.”
Princess? Her eyes narrowed. He thought she was Aline? She bit back sudden, hysterical laughter. The prince of Carèche thought she was his soon-to-be intended!
As sisters, she and Aline were as different from each other as a white rose was to a red-flowering weed. If the alien only knew his mistake he’d be running fast from her in search of his intended.
Her hands fisted. “Go. Fuck. Yourself.”
Akeisha Turayne swiped the sheen of sweat from her brow, wrinkling her nose at the stale, jasmine-perfumed oil that no longer masked the sweat of too many women—forty-seven, to be exact—milling around the holding ground of the royal palace as though cattle at auction.
The sun beat down, blazing hot and unmindful of her and the women who wanted only to look their best, to look beautiful, delicate and fresh-faced for their ruler, the great Zaneean king, Judas Mahskam.
Soon enough he’d cast his shrewd gaze upon them, each and every one of whom hoped against hope to be the chosen one. Akeisha’s pulse spiked. She forgot the heat, the sweat and the flies for just a moment as delicious, nervous anticipation built within.
She’d been told many times in her twenty-one years she was blessed with great beauty. And now…at last, she had the chance to use it to her advantage, to play the genetic card she’d been dealt.
A breeze abruptly picked up, swirling rank body odors through the air. And as a trio of trumpeters stepped up onto a podium and blew out notes to herald the king’s arrival, she swiped a lock of long silver hair from her eyes with unsteady hands.
Judas was finally here, ready to choose for his harem, if any of the females were agreeable to him. A hush fell over the women, one or two letting loose a nervous giggle as their king and potential lover stood on the dais above.
Akeisha shivered, despite the heat. She’d seen him in many paintings and drawings, but in person he was magnificent. Though not handsome in the classic sense with his squared, jutting chin, his beaked nose and full, almost feminine lips that seemed permanently pressed into a hard line, he oozed charisma and power.
Raven dark hair brushed his shoulders, outlining his fierce expression as his gaze took everything…everyone in. Tall and muscular, he was even more imposing high above them.
An excitement and desperate need to be noticed, to be selected, rippled through the women. For many, failing to meet their king’s expectations today meant going back to a life of squalor. For Akeisha, it was far worse.
She lifted her chin. She had no choice. She had to succeed. The survival of her people depended on her.
Judas didn’t speak as his dark brown, almost black stare rested on them one at a time. When his stare moved to Akeisha, she didn’t drop her eyes in a show of subservience as the other women had done. She’d always been headstrong, she could only hope he appreciated that trait.
If he chose her he wouldn’t be getting an obedient lapdog. He’d be getting fire and passion right alongside a desperate solemnity from a circumstance that even now sucked at her soul.
Her chin tilted higher as his stare abruptly dropped, perusing her near naked body in its twin strips of diaphanous white cloth that all the women had been forced to wear.
One horizontal strip barely covered her breasts, the cloth ends tied at her back. The number nineteen had been painted in black across the cloth along her breasts as her identity. A wider strip of cloth hung low on her hips, draping just beneath her ass cheeks and the folds of her pussy.
The sweat had rendered the sheer garment completely transparent and her breasts hardened beneath his scrutiny, her nipples tightening into buds. Her cunt clenched, heat pulsing deep in her womb.
When he snared her gaze, his eyes flared, his expression growing fierce as something all too primal sizzled between them.
She had his full attention now. She needed to keep it.
Her skin prickling with arousal, she held his burning stare as she untied her top and let it flutter to the sandy ground. The silence was almost deafening. Her hands trembled as she untied the knotted cloth ends at her hips, and as the last piece of cloth tumbled to her bare feet, the women around her hissed their outraged disbelief.
She ignored them, her focus all on the king.
Even from a distance she could see the wanton glow of his eyes. Then his lips twisted in a fleeting grin before his stare moved onto the next woman.
She’d lost him.
Damn it. Failure flooded through her. She had to be the chosen one. She had to be the one to get under his skin, to make him desire her like none other. There was no other way to be able to change his mind-set on a number of issues that affected a small population of people on the verge of extinction. The larakytes. Outcasts. And the very last of the shape shifter tribes.
She’d not fail them a second time.
The king finished examining number forty-seven and stepped back from the podium, his face inscrutable and hard. He turned to the captain of his guard and conferred for a few moments.
The captain nodded and then stepped forward. “The king has chosen.” He swept his hand toward the palace’s huge, lichen-covered rock wall, where two slaves pulled open heavy double doors. “You may all wait inside.” He cleared his throat, his narrowed, assessing eyes moving back to her. “Except number nineteen.”
She stilled, then nodded acknowledgement. Her hands curled into fists as exhilaration and fear clawed in her gut.
The captain pointed to a much smaller, single door further along, where a eunuch, distinguishable in his loin-cloth and pierced nipples, stood guard. “Congratulations. You will enter the hallowed rooms of the king. You will be prepared for his pleasure.”
A sudden rap on the front door caused Kristen Treymore to release an unsteady breath.
She’d heard no car pull into the driveway, no footsteps come up the handful of rickety stairs. But she knew who stood on the other side of the stained wooden door.
Conrad Doyle. Protector and childhood friend.
The one man she’d wronged.
She touched the top of her tender cheekbone—and winced, not needing to see her bruises to imagine how bad she looked. But at least there were no dislocations this time, nothing broken. As her fingertips drifted carefully over her swollen, half-shut eye, the knock thumped again, louder and more urgent.
She swallowed hard before dredging up the tattered remains of her dignity. She didn’t want Conrad to see her like this, didn’t want pity to shadow his knowing gaze.
Bloody hell. His sympathy was the last thing she wanted. Ever.
She pushed to her feet, aware her legs were almost too weak to support her. Shock did that to a person.
“I’m coming,” she croaked. Conrad wasn’t going anywhere. She might as well get this over and done with.
She glanced at the bed, where the heavyset body of her ‘loving’ husband, Jack Treymore, lay almost comatose except for his rhythmic, loud snoring. She curled her lips at the vile bourbon fumes on his breath, at his overhanging paunch fed by too much liquor.
Her bag was packed, money stashed, but until she knew her step-daughter, Melanie, was safe and not returning, she couldn’t leave this hell that had become her life. Melanie, the step-daughter she loved like her own flesh and blood. The child she could never have.
She’d done all she could for the withdrawn teen, but in the end Melanie had run away from the erratic love-hate relationship with her father. The violence. Kristen hoped and prayed she’d stay away.
She staggered to the front door, throwing a bathrobe over her torn silk chemise and untying her hair to help hide at least a little of her condition.
Just about everyone in the tiny, inland Australian town of Mudgebulla had a pretty good idea of what went on behind her closed doors. She shut her eyes, swiping a hand over her face and feeling weary beyond her years. There was a time that everyone knowing about her abuse would have destroyed her.
But it wasn’t just about her anymore. She had Melanie to consider.
She opened her eyes about the same time she flipped on the front exterior light, then pulled open the door—and drank in Conrad as though he was a drug to dull all her pain. He was so tall, so broad shouldered and seemingly indestructible. God, she wanted only to collapse against his strength, his kindness.
She dropped her stare, snapping out of her momentary madness. But not before absently noting his rumpled and sun-streaked hair was long overdue for a cut. Somehow it suited him. “The neighbourhood grapevine is alive and well?” she asked dully.
Conrad clasped her chin with a gentle hand, bringing her stare back to his. “Yes.” His eyes narrowed as he studied the warzone that was her face. “Why do you stay?” His voice cracked, his calmness a facade. “Only a scumbag lowlife would do this to a woman—to you.”
Ally cracked open the door. No movement, no odd sounds. And yet…
She drew in a steadying breath. All the running and hiding, the uncertainty was getting to her.
In the distance a gray, smoky haze indicated some of the city fires were still raging. She shivered a little. Already much of Sydney had been reduced to ash. She only hoped the outer suburbs would stay clear of the intercity infernos.
Perhaps the steadily building clouds would dump enough rain to put out the fires.
“Let’s go, Bonnie.”
Ally half-crouched as she jogged through the front yard and out through the olive-green painted wire gate, Bonnie’s shaggy tail waving through the air as she loped easily alongside.
Alert to any sound, any movement, she kept close to the buildings as she slowed to a walk, severely tempted to drive one of the many cars sitting in any number of garages, keys already in the ignition. Except the roads were cluttered with vehicles of all descriptions, most of them containing more than forgotten keys inside.
She shook her head. She wouldn’t risk drawing attention to herself from the sky patrol. At least on foot she made barely a sound.
A loud crack sounded somewhere behind her—as if something—someone? had trod on a stick or a broken fragment of glass. She stilled. Her pulse jerked crazily. She wanted almost desperately to slink into the nearest house. But that was madness. If the aliens had even a vague idea of where she’d been hiding, she needed to get much farther away.
Bonnie whined uncertainly. The hairs on the back of Ally’s nape prickled. She sucked in a horrified breath and slowly turned around.
For a moment, one infinitesimal beat, she froze, as if a mouse in the presence of a cobra. Dear Lord, he’s beautiful. And unlike any alien she’d ever imagined. He was almost human. But not.
He was bare-chested and huge. Big shoulders, dark brown hair shorn close to his scalp and a primal yearning in his brilliant, unnatural green stare that caused goose bumps to prickle all over her body and her nipples to tighten unwillingly beneath her tee shirt.
Something Wicked This Way Comes: Vol 1
The process of shifting took less than a minute. And yet, for Grace, watching his painful transformation was akin to watching a car crash in slow motion.
His eyes grew large and glowed like red fire. His face expanded, twisted. He snarled as his face elongated with a snout, his hands fisting at the pain. Even above the noise of the shrieking alarm she could hear the snap of his bones as his arms and hands extended, became legs and clawed feet.
A massive tail formed from his tailbone as huge, paper-thin wings pushed through his skin then folded like pleats down his side. His skin changed texture and pulsed with a chameleonic rainbow of colors before his mottled scales settled into pitch black, like the darkening night outside.
The entrance door blasted off its hinges and skidded across the floor. Grace turned as five members of her team—the best operatives in the business—stalked through the door in standard formation, their faces fully masked.
Grace sucked in a deep breath and held it as she sprinted for the crouched dragon that was easily the size of a Clydesdale. His nostrils flared, going from pink to deep red as he roared a warning at the intruders.
The operatives paused briefly, probably stunned at the beast before them—then fired a thunderous round of teargas grenades into the room.
Grace knew she was in trouble. The team would need to use a gas many times more powerful than normal to have any effect on the dragon. Easily enough chemicals to kill a human…kill her.
Did all the years living as a tight-knit unit, protecting each other’s backs, count for nothing?
She shut a door in her mind to block the pain of her team’s betrayal and leapt, snaring hold of Benson’s smooth-scaled neck before closing her eyes to the toxic fumes and slinging a leg over his back.
One of her spiked heels jabbed into his scaly flesh. His skin shivered. Then he rose, and for just one moment faced the team. If he truly was able to breathe fire, he didn’t—perhaps because he understood the flammable risk with the chemical compounds misting the air.
With one last roar he spun around and lunged toward the floor-to-ceiling windows. He took just two powerful bounds then Grace heard windows pop and shatter as the full force of his weight hit them. A rush of air—fresh, crisp and oh so welcome—blasted her face. Sucking in a breath, she jerked her eyes open as the world tilted and they went into freefall.
It seemed he knew exactly who stood behind him even before he slowly turned to face her.
Her heart stilled as his intense, dark stare isolated her, drank her in. “Zee,” he said huskily, almost uncertainly.
Love swelled from somewhere deep inside. “Saul,” she whispered.
He stared at her for what seemed like an eternity. “You came back.”
She took a half-step forward. Heat flooded through her body like a raging fever, flushing her skin with its warmth. Oh, god. Her feelings for him hadn’t changed. Not one bit. She nodded. “Yes.” She only wished she could have come sooner.
Her answer seemed to rouse him, to send him into action. “Everyone out,” he said hoarsely. “Now!”
All the men except Lewie, his second-in-command, scattered, leaving behind their winnings. The women stayed put. The blonde threw Zahlee a poisonous glare but she was all honeyed sweetness when she turned back to Saul. “What about us, sweet cakes?”
He brushed her off and then shrugged free from the brunette’s clasp on his shoulders. “Our business is done.” He snapped his fingers to the much-older Lewie. “The girls are yours now. If they’re willing,” he warned.
Zahlee all but shuddered at the idea. Odds were, the girls would stay. They weren’t about to give up their lavish lifestyle anytime soon. She only hoped the blonde and her brunette friend enjoyed rough sex. In the time, many years ago, when she’d been with Saul, she’d seen plenty of women bruised and sore from Lewie’s sexual peccadilloes.
Lewie nodded, not bothering to hide the wicked gleam in his eyes as he ushered the women out.
Zahlee stepped away from the old thug. She was aware that age probably had not mellowed Lewie’s sexual penchant for violence, and was even more aware that displaying anxiety would only invite his interest.
Saul stood then, tall and striking. He wasn’t classically handsome but he possessed a powerful aura that drew the eye. Even now, so many years later, his whole persona screamed danger—perhaps more so. But it didn’t repel. He was utterly charismatic.
He strode toward her. His brilliant gray eyes studied her, ate her up, as he clasped her hands and drew her farther into the room. “Tell me this time you’re staying,” he croaked.
Her breath caught. All these years later and he still really did love her, despite what she’d done. She’d hurt him so much, possibly even more than she’d hurt herself when she’d left him. Left her son. “I am.”
Some of the tautness left his face as he nodded once. But determination as quickly set his face into tough, uncompromising lines. “Promise you won’t leave again.”
“I…yes. I promise.”
His eyelids swept low, concealing his thoughts. His doubts? Then he leaned forward with a throaty growl, claiming her mouth with his.
Oh, Saul. She settled into the hard planes of his body, her mouth opening under his like a flower in full bloom. It’d been so long, too long.
Had he lain awake at night, every night, thinking about her? Had he touched himself, wishing it was she who touched him, wishing it was she who brought him to climax? Had he gone to sleep with her name on his mind, her face in his dreams?
Somehow she knew he had, in just the same way she had for him.
She couldn’t withhold a moan as his tongue found and tangled with hers. He tasted of Cuban cigar smoke, whiskey and spices. She sighed, savoring his vitality, his maleness, even as the stubble on his jaw scraped over her delicate skin in a familiar caress.
No one else had ever made her feel like that. No one else had ever really made her feel. Period. She’d never connected with anyone emotionally, mentally, as she did with her human lover.Saul’s large hands cupped her ass, his fingers brushing up and down the slippery texture of her dress. He pulled back, his dark eyes alight with desire. “I never imagined lime green could look so damn good.”
The man towering over her had to be close to seven feet tall and all primitive power. His long, mocha-dark hair was also tied at the nape by a leather clasp.
For one fleeting moment that felt like an eternity, she gawked. Another alien. But oh so different from the others. Bigger, more commanding and powerful. Magnetic.
She swallowed hard and dropped her gaze from his piercing golden stare. Her eyes skittered along the bare expanse of his torso and rippling abs before she paused on a strangled gasp of air. The alien’s skin-colored pants, made of some kind of delicate, stretchy material, clung to his burgeoning cock like a lover’s caress.
She forced herself to breathe, to drag her gaze away from his cock, which was surely much bigger than any human’s.
“You came to me,” he said in English. His deep, lilting voice was oddly erotic, entrancing, and caused unwelcome shivers to pulse down her spine.
“No. Don’t be insane! Of…of course not! I’m looking for my people.” She turned her head, searching for an escape route. But running was impossible. The other aliens had surrounded them, their yellow eyes gleaming with carnal need.
“Then you’re wasting your time. All of your men are dead. And only a few hundred of your women survived.”
“What?” There was a roaring in her ears. Dizziness assailed her. Her pulse surged into a gallop. “No! That’s impossible.”
In one effortless move, he swept her into his arms, snapping out his incomprehensible language to the other men as they moved within touching distance around them. The aliens stepped back with obvious reluctance, their eyes narrowed slits as he carried her toward a large, domed building made of the same or a similar substance as his pants.
In that moment she hardly cared where he took her.
Most of the human race dead? It was inconceivable and yet, somehow she knew it was true. But why had she been spared? She swallowed. “What happened to them? To…to my people?” she asked hoarsely.
His eyes, much more golden than the other aliens, studied her face. “Nearly all your people died of the same virus that killed all our women and a good many of our men.” He shrugged. “It seems, in your race, it’s the women who have a much stronger resistance to the virus than men.”
She closed her eyes, faint with the knowledge that she was one of only a small number of human females left. She grew fainter still from the unmasked need etched into every line of his handsome face.
She should be afraid of this man, and she was, to an extent. Only, something much more powerful pulled at her senses—a fascination that overrode fear.
“The virus will have wiped your memory,” he said matter-of-factly, ducking his head a little to shoulder his way through the hanging double doors. “But once your immune system kills the virus, most of your memories will return.”
“Most?” she asked weakly.
“Yes. The ones you want to remember.”
Oh. Why did she get the uneasy feeling she wouldn’t have too many recollections she’d want to dredge up?
She only absently noted the flimsy hangings of assorted colors that seemingly parted before them as he carried her inside and which she guessed were room dividers. She was all too aware of his exotic scent, something vaguely citrus and earthy, woodsy, that sent warmth through her blood and to places she didn’t want warmed.
Her heart was pumping hard when he set her on her feet. She swallowed hard. “Who are you?”
“In your language my name is Darrius Yethala Merle. You may call me Dar.”
“Dar.” Such a simple word, and yet it made her think of something erotic. It made her think of sex. “You…speak English.”
He nodded, explaining, “It took us many years to travel to your Earth. In that time our…airwave transmitter-receivers allowed us to learn your language.”
Her mind whirled. What did he mean, exactly? That they had some kind of satellite dish to listen in to humans’ televised programs and radio shows?
“So…what…what do you want?”
His eyes smoldered, almost replicating the color of the leaping flames atop the tall wooden spikes that were their only light source. “You know what I want,” he said softly. When she shook her head, vehemently rejecting his claim, he cut in, “No need for denial. I feel your interest. And soon you will wish we had found you much, much earlier.”
“We?” she gasped.
His lips curled at one corner. “Our men still outnumber your women at least forty to one. An unfortunate occurrence since we’re fundamentally a possessive race.”
She stepped back. “So what are you saying? That you…you share women?”
His nostrils flared. “Yes.” His smile was pure seduction. “Though only the prime males of our species get to mate with Earth women.”
Even as horror filled her mind, her womb clenched with need, her pussy moistening. “That’s not going to happen. Not ever! Bad enough one of your kind, but multiple men—”
He stepped toward her. “It will happen,” he said softly, decisively. “We Carèche people are of the same likeness as human. You won’t be disappointed.”
The werewolf sank onto his belly among the tall, brittle grass, staying motionless and ever watchful as he peered over the rim of a fissured escarpment knotted with weeds.
A log cabin some forty yards below sat smack bang in the middle of a bare paddock, scorched dry by a long gone Australian summer and a seemingly endless drought. Only a distant line of gum trees broke the desolation, framing the night sky like shadowy sentinels.
He shifted restlessly. His werewolf muscles, used to the flex and shift of a loping run, were stiff from his vigil that had seen him return here these last two nights.
Beneath his thick black pelt his skin prickled with anticipation. The waiting was the hardest. Sheer willpower alone kept him frozen in place even when he was primed to explode from the thicket of yellowed grasses. But there’d be no racing against fate.
With the moon big and fat on the horizon, soon there would be no more waiting, no more hiding.
There were no signs of life inside the cabin. No lights broke the darkness, no television screen flickered. Not even a wisp of fireplace smoke lingered in the crisp winter air.
A mortal would assume the dwelling was unoccupied. The werewolf knew better.
He slunk lower still in the tall, dry grass, whining low as his ears pricked forward, alert to the sudden movement inside the cabin.
The woman, his weren, had awakened.
Seconds later the door swung open. She appeared in the doorway, very much alone, the moonlight turning her long red-gold hair to flame.
The werewolf’s tongue slipped out, sweeping a semicircle around his whiskered muzzle.
She looked surreal in her virginal high-necked and long-sleeved sheer white dress. The full moon lit up her slender silhouette and showcased the swell of her breasts, her almost flat belly and the dark triangle of her pussy between her thighs.
A growl rumbled deep in his chest, his belly tightening.
But still he didn’t move, though he could feel the vibrations of her emotions—anxiety, confusion, lust. The latter would intensify very quickly after her change, until every other sentiment would cease to exist, cease to matter.
He had hoped she’d come to realize she wasn’t dreaming, hoped her subconscious would come to terms with her psyche long before she’d arrived here. But it was obvious she was clueless.
Most werewolf parents chose not to break the news to their children of their birthright, preferring they enjoy a normal childhood—and indeed, for a short time, adulthood—for as long as possible.
But in his experience, it was better a werewolf knew and accepted who they were well before their first complete transition on their twenty-fifth birthday. Well before the thrall of the full moon, and its sexual pull, overcame them.
Even now, unbeknownst to her, the male in him was stimulating her senses, inciting her change and a deep yearning for her wolf-mate.
His hunger for her was twofold.
He whined again, watching her stumble outside, her hands pressed to her belly. He lifted his snout, scenting the air, tasting her pheromones. Need lanced straight to his loins, turning his whine into a barely restrained howl.
But he would not approach her now. Her transition was almost upon her. The agony of change would, for a few minutes at least, override all else.
The woman abruptly flung back her head, the moonlight flooding her pale face. She spread her arms wide and laughed aloud, spinning like a top to a rhythm she had yet to understand.
His eyes narrowed, distorting the vivid abstract colors of his werewolf sight.
It was time to make himself known.
Elyse Wellston laughed again, the sound even more discordant and shrill. No surprise. She’d known these last few days she was going stir-crazy. Her emotions, already shot to pieces, had been seesawing right off the charts.
After close to five years living with a possessive, carefully masked madman, she’d chosen now to fall to pieces? She was only glad Caleb, her monster of a fiancé—ex-fiancé—hadn’t yet succeeded in tracking her down to witness her slide into insanity.
She swallowed. If she stuck to her plan, stayed solitary, invisible, she had at least half a chance to outmaneuver his far-reaching tentacles, his powerful influence.
Her belly cramped, much more painfully than what she’d experienced just minutes earlier. She bent over double. Laughter skidded into a strangled gasp, sweat beading on her forehead and upper lip. Pain, sharp and intense, exploded behind her eyes, a tunnel vision of swirling, too-brilliant colors.
Her legs collapsed beneath her and she slumped to her knees with a groan, her throat convulsing, her skin rippling.
What is happening to me?
“I think you’re totally delectable.”
She snorted inelegantly and accelerated the last eight kilometers toward town but inwardly, a different warmth infused her. Warmth she hadn’t felt for anyone—straying husband particularly—for too many years to contemplate.
“Sorry,” he apologized again. “I have a habit of speaking my mind.”
“Don’t be sorry,” she managed in an even tone. “You’re really quite the charmer.”
And probably a decade younger.
He chuckled. “My mother used to say I could charm the birds right out of the trees.”
“I believe that,” she said, smiling now too. “What else did she say?” She resisted clapping a hand to her mouth. She wasn’t a nosy person. She was a shy and gauche, I-don’t-make-waves kind of girl. But just this once, she wanted to know a little something extra about a man—this man. Discover what made him tick, what made him who he was today.
He shrugged and she glanced over to see his ever-widening grin, dimples appearing on his lightly whiskered cheeks. “She said I was a lover, not a fighter.”
She turned away, hardly seeing the cream-colored Brahman cattle grazing in the big, grassy paddocks to the right or the endless rows of sugarcane on her left. It was as though his words had pushed the temperature up another three or four degrees, pushed her mind into thrilling places it hadn’t been since…before Stefan.
They topped a rise and in the valley below, the small town of Marshville awaited, shimmering beneath a late afternoon sun.
“I’ve made you uncomfortable,” he noted with a shake of his head. “I guess I’m not used to a beautiful woman being so insecure.”
Heat burned her cheeks. She bit her bottom lip, feeling his eyes study her profile, her body, as if he were a connoisseur of women. She shivered then, goose bumps prickling her sweat-dampened skin. She held no doubts he was well practiced in the art of seduction, though he certainly didn’t try to hide a hard cock behind smooth lies and twisted slurs. “You really are forthright, aren’t you?”
He plucked off his hat, and from the corner of her vision she saw him run an outspread hand through the blond-tipped waves of light-brown hair. “It’s the way my mother raised me,” he said, plunking the hat back onto his head and glancing out the side window.
He must miss his mother, she realized, and guessed that she’d just recently passed away. Sadness engulfed her at his loss, followed as quickly by envy. What she’d have done to have known her mother and father before drugs and alcohol had decimated their minds and tainted their souls. Instead she’d done the rounds of foster homes, where ill will and mistreatment too often waited.
Townhouses appeared on either side of the road and as the first intersection loomed ahead she said almost reluctantly, “I can drop you off anywhere in town. Just let me know where.”
He nodded. “Thank you.” Turning back to her, he asked throatily, “Any motel you care to recommend?”
She immediately understood his bold suggestion, if she wanted to take it.
Don’t even think about it!
Looking straight ahead, her hands fisted the steering wheel as her pussy seeped with anticipation. “Yes.” She swallowed hard. “Yes, I do, actually.” Holy smokes, she was doing it! She was going ahead with it! And she knew just the motel to use.
Jake’s hand was suddenly on her bare thigh, his fingers caressing the flesh just below the hem of her butter-yellow skirt. “I’m glad you stopped back there and picked me up,” he murmured huskily.
“I’m glad too,” she said, and realized she meant it. Too long now she’d believed her ex-husband’s taunts about her sexual inadequacy, her inexperience and shyness. Jake seemed the perfect candidate to prove Stefan wrong, to prove to her that she was all woman.
Hell. This wolf was big. Intimidating. And he meant business. His silver-gray eyes flashed as his tail arched high, his snout compressed.
Pheromones thickened the air and sharpened acute need. The flex and bunch of his muscles revealed his impatience a split second before he surged toward her.
She leapt forward, meeting him halfway, her teeth bared as she went straight for his throat. Canines sank past his thick brown-black pelt and through corded muscle and skin before drawing blood.
The metallic tang filled her mouth, intoxicating as any drug. She whimpered even as he broke free and whipped around, the dominant male ruthless and barely restrained.
His near shoulder rammed her hard and knocked her flying, and she thudded onto the dry-baked earth, air whooshing out of her lungs.
Shit. She could do nothing but wait for the oxygen that finally wheezed back into her lungs. And the male, damn him to hell, prowled forward, completely aware of her plight.
He was in his element, his prime, and she squirmed helplessly when his weight pressed her hard against the earth. Rotting vegetation and pungent eucalyptus filled her nostrils, quickly replaced by his raw male scent.
Every cell demanded she rut with him, seek the satisfaction she craved. But she wouldn’t be an easy lay. She wanted foreplay…at least, the werewolf version of it.
She faked collapse from oxygen deprivation, and as he shifted to snuffle her face with his wet nose, she made her move. Twisting free, she shot forward. Now she was in her element. Even as a lycan, she was swift, a fact that enhanced the chase, the rough and tumble.
Hard and fast was the order of the day, especially for a male who knew he might have a rival to contend with, one who could challenge his claim to sire future generations. But Holly could scent no other males as she used all the inherent agility and grace of the wolf to outrun and outmaneuver her counterpart.
He was up for the game and closed in fast. The brewing storm crept upon them. Overhead, heavy black clouds concealed the moon and plunged everything into darkness. She knew that either of them could have changed back to human in that moment. Neither did. It seemed that this was a challenge he relished as well.
Lightning split the sky and briefly illuminated the ground but Holly used her exceptional lycan sight as she jumped from a rotting log and belly flopped into the creek she’d earlier crossed. Her legs moving like pistons, she swam to the other side, scrabbling for purchase on the slippery bank even as he splashed in from behind.
The adrenaline of the hunt, the chase, was fast dissolving. In some primeval part of her mind, Holly knew only the strongest, fleetest and most powerful lycan—one who could better her, master her—was worth mating. Having a future generation of smart, tough, fast werewolves was paramount.
Heavy raindrops splattered the earth when the large male caught up and pinned her to the ground, his jaw clamped to her ruff.
A lycan in lust was no gentleman.
A menacing growl rumbled deep in his throat—the male making his intentions clear. He wasn’t to be messed with. Only when she willingly surrendered, staying passive beneath him, did his weight abruptly change, his form becoming lighter and more compact as paws became hands and his lycan body became human.
Holly felt the change come upon her immediately after and she tried to relax as she endured the pain. To resist was futile. Fighting the change made it almost intolerable. As with all lycans, she had little control when changing from human to beast as a full moon climbed the sky.
When sexually aroused, and with fulfillment close, lycans invariably changed back into human form. None really understood why they became human again—fear of bestiality? Fewer cared. When hormones raced out of control, the instinct to mate took over all logic.
Holly whined low in her throat, yielding quickly to the stranger and to her own change. There was little time to pacify the beast within. She needed to copulate, and she needed to now.
Her fur abruptly withdrew into skin that contracted like vacuum wrap. Her bones shifted and popped, her skull growing even as her snout retracted.
He was a master at change. The process had been all but over in seconds and hadn’t seemed to bother him one bit. Clearly he had grown immune to the torment of change.
She sagged, hardly aware the hurting had gone and that she was human once more, until his fangs retreated, his bite became a kiss.
Facedown, she moaned. Electric shivers pulsed through every nerve ending that his mouth touched. His tongue flicked her ear, his cock nudged between her thighs.
The smell of money, and lots of it, permeated the air of the Sydney Casino as Celeste Diamond stepped out of the elevator and onto its lavish third floor. Booked exclusively for invitation-only guests, it was here the rich and powerful, the famous and not-so-famous, came to flaunt their splendor.
She scarcely noticed. Instead, every one of her senses isolated the man who’d gone to great lengths this last month—with little success—to get to know her.
Pascal Daniels was a name synonymous to power and wealth, with murky undercurrents linking him to the seedy underworld of organized crime. Add notorious playboy to the mix and he was one black sheep she’d do well to avoid—if only she wasn’t a heartbeat away from tearing the clothes right off his magnificent body!
Heat crept up her throat as high-voltage lust zapped straight between her thighs. Her nipples pebbled beneath her white sheath dress and the corset bra under the many layers of gauzy material encircling her torso.
Pascal would never see the physical evidence puckering just for him. The corset disguised more than just her gargoyle wings.
She watched him push to his feet in one smooth, fluid movement. He towered above the blackjack table and a pair of scantily clad women who’d been hanging over him. He ignored them both. Instead, his hot stare feasted on her, swept her up and down like a lover’s caress, his attention hers alone.
She swallowed convulsively. When he abandoned his chips with a careless wave, the breath wedged somewhere low in her throat.
Oh, dear god. Am I ready for this?
Her spine snapped tight, subduing the hideous, bat-like appendages quivering beneath their bonds. And for just one moment self-doubt iced the carnal heat flowing like lava in her veins. Would this man be so fascinated if he saw her in all her naked glory, with her unbound wings stretched high and wide?
She’d never give him the chance to find out.
Oh, they’d be intimate this night, except it would be strictly on her terms, when she was ready and not before. She would never be one of his easy conquests.
With slow provocation, she turned her back on him, a gesture that made her shiver even as she burned. Had anyone ever had the nerve to snub this man?
Snatching a flute of champagne from a passing tray, she sipped the bubbles of decadence while dancing her way around the milling crowd of glitterati. She needn’t look behind to see if he followed—her every molecule screamed that he did. A gurgle of laughter spilled free, a dizzy excitement from the thrill of the hunt. She hadn’t felt so alive, so utterly aroused…ever!
He was here again. Kallie knew it the moment she strutted onto the stage in a white cowgirl hat and matching, sleek tasseled dress. Even as the Sydney club echoed with wolf whistles and lewd cheers, from somewhere in the crowd she felt his stare.
Seth Masterton. A man going to the stratosphere in the corporate world. A rising star. He could have any woman he wanted, and yet here he was, watching her.
Her skin tingled, her pulse thudding like a freight train quickly gaining speed. She smiled, hoping he liked what he saw! And hell, she wasn’t one to disappoint.
Heavy bass flooded the stage. A spotlight dazzled directly above her, the spectator’s faces now dim in the crowd as she threw her head back and then strode forward, hips swiveling to the beat before she grabbed hold of the center pole and executed a turn.
Ha. The audience would expect more, but she liked to tease, liked the pretense of innocence before she showed her true self. Literally.
Shoulder blades bracketed against the pole, Kallie leaned back, tan, thigh-high, heeled boots spread wide and arms above her head as she slithered down and then ever so slowly up. It was just her and the music now. The men, and probably a few women, were all silent, salivating as she did her thing.
A delicious thrill zapped straight between her thighs. Yes, she danced for everyone who’d paid to watch. But in reality, Kallie danced for only one person—Seth.
She straightened and the tips of her fingers traced the outer rim of her cowgirl hat. Then, with a flick of her wrist, she launched it through the air, her arrow-straight blonde hair immediately cascading to her waist.
A roar of approval met her performance. The room pulsed with energy and crackled with lust and Kallie couldn’t deny the excitement leaping within.
She stilled, closing her eyes to soak it all in. She could have any man or woman here tonight—married, gay, rich or poor. The knowledge licked through her veins and made her pussy wet.
She’d fuck Seth tonight.
With a smile of anticipation, she opened her eyes and sashayed forward. A hidden, industrial fan ensured the sudden gust of air whipped back her long hair and pressed the white dress against her straining breasts.
A chair waited for her at the front of the stage and she stilled behind it while she looked out into the darkness to her left, sensing Seth’s presence. She shivered with longing.
This is for you.
One hand resting on the high-backed seat, she gyrated to the music while her other hand lifted. Her fingers, one by one, released the studs at the front of her dress. It peeled open to reveal glimpses of gold-tanned flesh and barely-there crimson lace underwear.
The music peaked and then went silent. She heard someone moan even before the light slipped away and ran over the crowd.
She stepped out of her dress and kicked it to one side. And in the cover of shadows she allowed her smile to fade while long repressed grief stirred and swelled.
It was bizarre how life had panned out. Sorrow had catapulted her onto this journey of self-discovery, this exploring of her fantasies, where for the brief moments when she was on stage, she felt whole and beautiful again.
Oh god. Don’t think about it. Not now!
“It isn’t over between us. Not by a long shot.”
Kia Montana hid a smile as she rolled up her sheer stockings and clipped them to her lace suspenders. Pushing her feet into the heeled shoes she’d tossed aside so carelessly the night before, she glanced over at the gorgeous man sprawled out on her hotel bed.Passion emanated from him, scorching and hot. She gave him a cool smile, resisting an impulse to sashay over, lean forward and trace her tongue along the salty warmth of his collarbone, and down over the hardened buds of his dusky nipples.
Even harder to withstand was the urge to sink her fangs into his delectable throat, taste the pulsating warmth of his essence while he brought her to climax just once more.
She breathed slow and deep, and his glittering, gun-metal eyes held her gaze when she said, “Sorry, I don’t do relationships.” “Don’t apologize,” he drawled. And as she slipped into her crimson lace bra, a savage light sparked deep in his stare. “I know just how to change your mind.”
Her breasts, still tingling from his mouth, his clever hands, hardened under his scrutiny as she clipped the bra into place. Her pulses jumped, but it was his declaration that kick-started her heart into high speed. She inhaled slowly, gaining control. “Oh?” she queried with an Oscar winning note of boredom.
“You want access to all of Sydney’s underworld places. As your escort, I can offer you that.” He smiled at her silence. “A ticket to where only an exclusive few have been.”
Her heartbeat surged into a frantic gallop as excitement writhed deep inside. When she’d seen him at last night’s shindig, moving through the crème de le crème of the Sydney crowd like he owned each and every party-goer there, her instincts had clamored.
He held the key.
She kept her face an impassive mask. This could be her one opportunity to get close to Sean Maximillus, the reclusive, centuries old Vampire Lord.
She managed an idle smirk. “Running short of eager, beautiful young women to parade around?”
A crack of laughter shot from his sexy mouth. “Never. Quite the contrary.” His eyes drank her in. “Apart from your obvious charms,” he shrugged, “you intrigue me.” He sat up, dark hair tousled. Abs rippled beneath his golden skin while he ran an outstretched hand over a strong jaw already shadowed with growth.
Such masterful hands, she mused. They’d stroked and caressed in all the right places, until she’d quivered with lust, then undulated with pleasure. She forced back the memory and a sudden, feverish ache. Arching a brow, she queried throatily, “Really? I guess you’re bored with simpering women?”
A muscle jerked along his unyielding jaw. Then he grinned and pushed to his feet before taking a few strides her way. The pad of his thumb brushed beneath her chin. “You’re extraordinary, do you know that?”
Something passed between them, some kind of magnetic pull that held her breathless and still. “You have no idea,” she whispered.His eyes widened, and his hand dropped. Spell broken. “You’re so sure of that?”
She looked away, disorientated. Never before had it felt as if all her highly-developed senses had short-circuited, leaving her vulnerable. Exposed. She swayed, perversely thankful for his hands that immediately lifted to frame her hips, steadying her.
Her vision blurred, and she closed her eyes for a second before stepping out of his hold and looking back up. “I never told you my name.”
Hardness lurked beneath the brilliant shimmer of his stare. Without warning, his head dropped to hers. His mouth covered her lips in an open-mouthed kiss that jump-started every nerve ending in her body and made her forget for just one moment, her single-minded purpose.
As quickly, he pulled back, expression fierce. “Amore. You didn’t need to tell me who you are.”
“Go away,” she mumbled, even as her eyes devoured all six feet five inches of him as he stood taut and moody at the end of the four-poster bed.
She shivered, less with unease and more with longing, though one could be forgiven for feeling the former. His black, military-style cropped hair and the scar running straight from the bridge of his nose to the hairline of his wide brow added to his sinister aura.
“Why, am I interrupting something?” His frosty, gray-blue eyes swept the scene and it was pure reflex when she touched her swollen mouth before curling a hand around her mussed hair. His eyes darkened. “Because from where I’m standing, your latest lover is out for the count.”
She dropped her hand and sat up. The bedcovers tumbled to her waist, revealing the globes of her breasts, her nipples, which hardened under his gaze. “It was a big night.” And not in the way you think. She managed a shrug. “He’s recovering.” She swung her legs to one side of the bed. Turning her back on him, she asked dryly, “Are you jealous?”
Feigning indifference to the simmering quiet, she rose and padded across the soft beige carpet. She stooped, retrieving her discarded clothes strewn in a trail from the bedroom door.
Cray would imagine the worst. Who wouldn’t when it looked as if her clothes had been all but torn from her in a fit of passion? It might have started off that way, but ardor—at least on her behalf—had quickly dulled.
She wanted her gargoyle, or no man at all.
She felt the burn of his eyes scorch the air, spiking her nipples harder still. Her pussy contracted as the whole of her body reacted to his predatory hunger. Yet even in her high state of arousal her mind whirred with a far different kind of longing as she awaited his reply.
Dear God, did nothing get under his skin?
She tugged on her black lace thong, chilled by his shot of mirthless laughter and then as quickly burning hot when he closed the distance with just a stride. She dragged in a breath when his arms encircled her from behind. His large hands cradled her aching, heavy breasts while his fingers skillfully stroked her sensitive nipples.
“Should I be jealous?” he asked.
Despite her best intentions, she reveled in his touch. She caught her breath as waves of sensation melted her against him like a long-lost piece of a puzzle. “You tell me.”
Wry amusement overlaid a hardness she’d yet to crack as he said, “We could dance around a straight answer for hours but I don’t have the luxury of time to play mind games.”
His erection nudged the small of her back, indicating what game he’d really like time for if he’d just once forget his guardian role and relent to their attraction.
She wriggled, brushing against the impressive length of his cock and losing herself in his unyielding strength as she tucked her head beneath one of his arms.
“Don’t you ever just let yourself go, enjoy the moment?” She hated the breathlessness in her voice, hated how he could be physically aroused but emotionally unaffected.
He stiffened. “Nice sentiments. But I’m never intimate with the one I protect. You know that.”
She jerked free. Thrusting her head and arms through the floaty folds of her crimson designer dress, she pivoted to face him. “I never asked for your protection.”
“No one ever does.”
If she’d been anyone else, she’d have shrunk back from the latent coldness in his stare. But she wasn’t anyone else and she’d known nothing but sacrifice from this man…this gargoyle.
Cray dropped into a crouch and grabbed her high-heeled shoes from beneath the bed. He motioned her over and this time she knew better than to argue. She’d pushed him far enough.
His hands cradled first one foot then the other as he slipped on her shoes. Diamonds winked along the straps crisscrossing her toes. Her eyes fluttered closed as flames licked from the soles of her feet and leapt straight to her already burning core.
“Such a thankless job.” She cleared her throat and opened her eyes to his downturned head, almost giving in to the need to run her hands over his spiky hair. “Don’t you ever wish for something in return?”
With one fluid motion, he stood, making Loretta glad she wore stilettos. At five-foot-three, she barely reached his chest but heels brought her eyes to his chin level. She tore her gaze away from his sexy lips and studied his unnerving face.
Stone cold really was an apt description for his unyielding expression. She should know. She’d tried for nearly three years now to bring his impervious emotions to heel.
A large hand snared the crook of her elbow before he escorted her toward the balcony’s locked, sliding door. With a faint chink, it yielded to his force and slid open in a whisper of sound.
“I wish for many things,” he growled, guiding her out onto the small platform nestled high atop the eighteen-story apartment block. “But wishes and dreams are wasted on a gargoyle.”
I don’t believe so.
She twisted to face him. Tilting back her head, she watched the intensity on his face as he blocked his human awareness and focused his highly developed, gargoyle senses. His nostrils flared as he scented the air, his large frame taut and still while he took in the sounds of the night.
With eyes that glowed feral and bright as ice chips, he swept the area, double-checking for insomniacs and early risers—for anyone who might potentially witness his change and their unconventional exit.
Apparently satisfied at their privacy, he shrugged off his black, ankle-length coat and draped it over her shoulders. She tugged the folds around her in a gesture of long practice, surreptitiously inhaling his brandy-and-spice scent.
And not for the first time was she aware of just how safe she felt, enfolded in his jacket, cocooned from all that was bad in the world.
Lights dotted the cityscape of Sydney, a faint awareness of dawn in the air when Cray shifted from human into a winged creature of the night and folded her into his arms.
The change was effortless. If Loretta hadn’t known about his ability—his curse—she’d hardly have noticed the slight hunching of his shoulders, or the broadening of his body as bat-like, eight-foot-span wings sprouted from either side of his spine as he gripped her tightly. Only the wrench and give of his clothes, which fell to the floor in tattered wisps, betrayed his true shift of identity.
Shame it was dark, she’d have appreciated the sight of his masculine charms in the flesh. Even etched in stone, she’d not been disappointed.
Unlike the ugly and inanimate carved gargoyles that littered many gardens and lawns, Cray retained much of his human looks.
Oh, she knew he didn’t see anything remotely handsome in his gargoyle form but he was so wrong. From the large and rather fine-boned sweep of his wings, to his more subtle physical modifications, he was fascinating.
The remnants of his shirt and pants fluttered over the balcony and she twined her fingers behind his neck when he climbed the railing and stretched his webbed wings with a barely audible swish.
Her heart thumped, her senses in overdrive as she went giddy with anticipation for the buzz to come.
Cray leapt high. Her belly dropped as adrenaline skyrocketed, the ground a blur of lights beneath them as the winter air whipped her long gold-brown hair into her eyes and bit into her skin.
He wrapped her close to his chest, pressing the coat fully closed to deflect the worst of the cold, and Loretta wondered what it would feel like to have him really care about her.
She fought back a sudden, weary sigh. He was honor-bound to ensure her well-being. She was his top priority, but only as her guardian, nothing else. Besides, if he did care, he would’ve retrieved her long before she fell into yet another stranger’s bed.
Her grip tightened. She was a fool to wish he saw her as anything more than a spoiled heiress.