Saturday, March 31, 2012

MALPAS by Marion Webb-De Sisto

Writers on the Wrong Side of the Road

The most dangerous rule-wreckers from Alternative-Read.com have written stories for this 'adults only' anthology. "We took away the rules and let them write whatever the hell they liked."

A 'must have' book, covering different genres, all speculative fiction and great reading for those times when you're curled up in front of a fire on a cold evening.

The featured novella is Malpas, a Fantasy tale by Marion Webb-De Sisto. A modern-day librarian and a demon come together in erotic dreams. Can these two very different individuals, who are drawn together by lust, eventually find true love? For one reviewer, who described this story as an erotica beauty and beast, it was her personal favorite.

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~ Malpas ~

Feeling less tired, Sara watched a movie that didn’t end until midnight. She then made herself a hot chocolate drink and finally went to bed. Sleep came quickly. Before long she was having a dream that was set in her library. She was placing a number of books on their appropriate shelves, but when she was finished, the books fell down on the floor. Sara bent down, picked them up and placed them back where they belonged. Once again, the books fell down and, as she stooped to retrieve them, a strong musky aroma wafted over her. There was only one person who carried that smell, Malpas. She heard:

“I have missed you, Sara Harding.”

She wanted to tell him she’d also missed him, but was actually horrified by having such a thought. Instead, she pulled the obsidian pendant from under what she presumed was her blouse and realized she was wearing a nightgown, not her work clothes. To be in the library dressed only in her nightgown was embarrassing, yet not as important as making him aware she knew what he was and had protection against him. In the classic style of holding a vampire at bay with a cross, Sara brandished her pendant and declared, “I am protected by the Goddess. I banish you back to Hell or wherever you belong.”

There was silence for a moment, and then a throaty chuckle came from Malpas. “So now you know I’m not an imaginary character? That saves me the annoyance of telling you who I am. I was going to do that tonight.”

Sara suddenly realized he was speaking out loud and not in her mind. She remarked:

“You said you were only allowed to speak English telepathically. Why are you now talking in my language?"

“For you, sweet Sara, I break the rules. If I speak only in your mind, I appear to be a dream character. I want you to know I am real.”

She waved the pendant in what she hoped was his direction and reiterated, “I banish you!”

“Obsidian would only protect you from me if I’d never touched you. As you know, I have caressed and done much more to you, Sara, so your pendant is useless against me.”

“My friend, Angie, told me what you are. She said obsidian is very protective so don’t try to pretend it has no power over you. Go back to Hell!”

“I speak the truth. Your pendant cannot stop me from talking to you or doing whatever I wish.”

One of his hands covered hers and with his other one he took the pendant from her grasp. He placed it under her nightgown and between her breasts. His fingers gently caressed her as his hand moved back up. “Let us go to the place where we normally meet.” The library vanished and Sara knew they were in that nowhere location, the one Angie called the alpha state. She said:

“Angie told me this place isn’t the dream state. When we’re here, I’m almost awake. That means I’m not dreaming you.”

“Your friend is correct. This is the level in which those, such as I, like to act. I can come to you in dreams, as I just did, but other than the waking state this is where we can physically relate.”

That information nudged her curiosity. “You can be with me when I’m awake?”

“Yes, but then you would think you were hallucinating. Hearing a voice and having sex with an unseen entity would be impossible to accept.”

“Could I see you, too?”

“That would be traumatic. I don’t resemble anything you could consider pleasant.”

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IT'S ALL RELATIVE by J.M. Snyder

IT'S ALL RELATIVE by J.M. Snyder


Re-released with an updated cover!

When Michael Knapp brings his lover Dan Biggs home to meet his parents, he doesn't expect things to go smoothly. His mother's been trying to marry him off for years, and sometimes he isn't even sure his father knows he exists. He has always felt like the shadow son, competing with his terminally stupid older brother and smart-mouthed little sister for his parents' attention. Coming out to them over dinner seemed like the perfect opportunity to finally get noticed.

But an unexpected phone call interrupts his announcement -- Aunt Evie, the family matriarch, is dead. With Dan in tow, Michael follows his family to Sugar Creek, where he spent his summers growing up, to prepare for the funeral.

Amid an overabundance of memories and relatives, Michael's world begins to slip. His dysfunctional family, Evie's death, and an old friend's confession all threaten to smother him. Worse, in his grief and confusion he seems determined to inadvertently push everyone away, including his lover. Can he and Dan move beyond his family and his past to a new life together, before Michael's insecurities tear them apart?

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EXCERPT:
Note: may contain sexually explicit scenes of a homoerotic nature.


Dan wakes before my parents or Ray -- it's the military in him. He can't sleep in even if he doesn't have to be on base before dawn. When I hear him in the kitchen, I give Caitlin a quick grin and hurry in to kiss him good morning. "Hey," I sigh, coming up behind him and wrapping my arms around his waist. He stands at the sink, pouring himself a glass of orange juice, and he looks something close to amazing in his gray ARMY t-shirt and PT shorts. They're tight around his ass and hang loose on his thighs -- whoever designed those things knew just how to show off a soldier's best assets. I'm glad the t-shirt hangs low enough to hide what Dan's packing from Caitlin's young eyes and sarcastic mouth.

He half-turns in my embrace and kisses me in greeting. "Did you sleep well?" he asks. I nod in reply. With him beside me, I slept like a baby.

"I can make you breakfast," I tell him, just because that's what I do in the mornings, I cook for him. Mostly eggs, though I saw some pancake mix in the cabinet, if he's up for that. Since we're alone in the kitchen, I run my hands up beneath the bottom of his t-shirt and rub his taut stomach. Kissing his shoulder, I murmur, "I love you."

He sets the orange juice aside and turns to hug me close. His hands smooth the bangs away from my forehead, tuck the wavy hair behind my ears, but the strands fall back into place on their own accord as he cradles my chin to kiss me again. "Love you," he purrs, and between us I feel faint stirrings of interest at his groin. "We can head back to bed, if you want," he suggests. "Breakfast can wait."

"My eyes!" I frown at Caitlin as she stumbles into the kitchen, eyes closed, cereal bowl in one hand and the other thrown out in front of herself dramatically to feel her way. "Jeez, boys. Take it upstairs, why don't you? What will the neighbors think?"

I kick out at her as she passes, but she's quick -- she dodges my foot and still manages to sock me in the arm with one small fist. I slap her shoulder and she hits me again. Damn, she has good reflexes. When I'm about to try a third time, though, Dan catches my hand and folds my arm between us as he holds me tight. "Don't," he admonishes. "No fighting."

I'm well aware that I'm suddenly Caitlin's age again, picking with her the way I am, but she doesn't seem to mind. "You're just jealous," I tell her. I stick out my tongue and marvel at how I can go from twenty-five to two in one minute flat. "I've got a hot boy to freak and you don't."

Caitlin flips her hair over her shoulder and gives me a look that simply says, puh-leaze. "You don't know my hot boy," she says. "I ain't jealous of yours, trust me."

Intrigued in spite of myself, I let Dan slip free and lean against the sink. "You have a boyfriend?" I ask as Dan pours himself a bowl of cereal.

"Of course," Caitlin snorts. As if she might not. "I'm not Ray, Michael. I date."

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ON THE VERGE OF I DO by Heidi Betts

Dynasties: The Kincaids Book 4

Wedding, Interrupted

It’s hard for events planner Kara Kincaid to be planning her sister's wedding to the man Kara's had a crush on since childhood. Even harder when said sister calls the whole thing off. Hardest still is when the jilted groom shows Kara some very personal attention, threatening to destroy her relationship with her family - and Kara ends up in his bed anyway.

After a just-friends engagement that just didn't work, hotel magnate Eli Houghton thinks he's finally found the right woman. His new plan: convince Kara there's no hidden agenda, and that the magic words are I do…

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~Excerpt~

The elevator doors slid open and they stepped inside. Eli swiped his pass key and punched the button for his private suites, then brought her around so they could face forward while remaining in physical contact. Otherwise, she was sure they looked perfectly professional, perfectly normal.

The doors slid closed, shutting them in together, alone. One minute she was staring at their blurry reflection in the polished silver of the double elevator doors. The next, she was spinning like a top, coming to rest between the hard wall of Eli’s broad chest at her front and the cool steel of the doors at her back.

“I can’t wait one more minute to do this,” he growled.

She opened her mouth to ask Do what?, but didn’t get the chance to voice the first syllable before his mouth crushed down on hers. It took her completely by surprise, cutting off her oxygen and making her muscles go limp as noodles.

Against her better judgment, when his tongue licked the seam of her lips and he attempted to nudge his way inside, she let him. It was just a kiss, after all. Just one . . . tiny . . . kiss.

Somewhere over their heads, a bell dinged. The sound didn’t have time to register in her fog-laden brain before the doors behind her slid open and she fell backward.

Eli stumbled after her, catching them both before they ended up in an undignified pile on the foyer floor. Keeping them on their feet, he continued backing her across the entryway until she was once again stopped by a wall. He pinned her there with his body, touching her from collarbones to knee bones.

He kissed her again, not nearly as gently as he had in the elevator. If the kiss in the elevator could be called gentle, which is couldn’t. But he didn’t wait for her compliance, didn’t give her time to adjust or a chance to open her mouth in invitation. He simply leaned in and took what he wanted.

For long, languid moments, they stood there, tasting, touching, letting the rest of the world spin out of control. His hands clutched her waist. His erection pressed into her belly. In return, she pawed at his shoulders, her nails kneading him through the material of his suit jacket like a kitten kneading for cream.

When he released her mouth, she gasped. Then, while she was sucking air into her scalded, much-abused lungs, he caught her off-guard by scooping her into his arms.

She let out a startled yip to find herself suddenly horizontal, literally swept off her feet. “What are you doing?”

“What do you think?” he retorted without inflection, not sounding the least bit out of breath, even though she was still struggling not to pant.

Now that he wasn’t muddling her mind with steamy kisses and subtle strokes of his hands up and down her sides, she could almost think straight, and she knew this wasn’t right. Knew they couldn’t do what he was carrying her off to do.

Pressing a palm to his rock-solid shoulder and wiggling slightly in his embrace, she said, “Eli, no. We can’t do this.”

“Yes,” he told her in no uncertain terms. “We can.”

Reaching the bedroom doorway, he elbowed open the pocket doors and headed straight for the massive king size mattress at its center. The entire room was decorated in shades of the ocean—sand, turquoise, salmon—and the bed was made up with a thick golden comforter with enough pillows stacked against the woven bamboo headboard to build a fort.

That’s all she had time to notice, though, as he carried her around to the side and set her on her feet so he could begin tossing those pillows onto the floor and tearing back the covers. Snowy white sheets in what she was sure was the finest Egyptian cotton lay beneath, just begging to be dirtied and rumpled.

Uh-oh. She took a step back in self-preservation.

Eli noticed her retreat immediately.

“Oh, no, you don’t,” he mumbled, grabbing her wrist and tugging her toward him.

Her hands went up to stop her from bumping into his chest, but he apparently wanted her to do just that, because he kept tugging until she made contact with a solid thump.

“We can’t do this, Eli,” she said again, trying desperately to make him see sense.

“Yes,” he returned with even more resolve than before, “we can.”

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MIMI ATTACKS! by Hayden Thorne

MIMI ATTACKS! by Hayden Thorne


Book 5 in the Masks series

Following Arachnaman’s bigoted, hateful attacks, life in beleaguered Vintage City finally quiets down, but it doesn’t last long. Eric’s father begins to show symptoms of extreme fatigue, symptoms that Eric notices in a number of other people he sees elsewhere. Along with the superheroes, he tries to find a common denominator in all this, the surprising result being a new perfume shop that hawks very strong fragrances. A familiar pair of supervillains is suspected, but before the heroes can further investigate the motives behind this threat, people exhibiting symptoms of illness are transformed in the most shocking way, throwing Vintage City in a state of panic.

In the meantime, Eric monitors the Unofficial Calais Fan Club, which is now exploding with romantic Mary Sue fanfiction involving Calais as well as curious messages posted by a girl who’s apparently wildly in love with the superhero. References to her making “new friends” alert Eric to suspect that she and the current mayhem being inflicted on Vintage City are somehow tied together. The stakes are now raised for Eric, whose father has become a victim to a new crime wave and whose superhero boyfriend might also be under threat. All this, and he’s yet to survive school and find a job.

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EXCERPT:

I stopped about ten feet from the pile of crates and boxes. “Look, you’d better give yourselves up now before you get into more trouble,” I said.

The munchkin whispers continued. Then they fell silent, and I waited for another minute. I opened my mouth to say something when a figure appeared from behind a battered box.

It was a little girl, creeping out in a rainbow-striped T-shirt and shorts. She looked at me without blinking, her stolen stash hanging from both hands. Without saying a thing, she inched closer, and I couldn’t help but crouch down to come as close to her height as possible. Maybe having some towering gay boy who was running on perpetual sexual frustration intimidated her.

“It’s okay,” I said, trying to sound as gentle as I could. “No one’s going to hurt you. It’s not your fault you’re breaking the law.”

She nodded, pinching her mouth into a tight line. I waited for her to come closer, but she stopped about three feet away. It was pretty hard to read what could be going through her head at the moment. I’d never been in a situation where I had to communicate with a saucer-eyed kid-adult before. The only thing that crossed my mind was the thought that she looked like a Japanese anime character without the funky colored hair.

“Hey,” I said, even braving a smile. “Could you help me find your friends?”

She regarded me for another second, all sweet and cute. Then her face contorted, turned red, and she yelled, “Now! Get the motherfucker!”

And just like that, I heard shouts and screams coming from everywhere, and I turned in time to see a couple of tiny boys flying out from a pile of crates, their little faces twisted in rage. They landed right on top of me, and I fell back with a loud yelp. Stars exploded behind my eyeballs, and the world spun crazily. From elsewhere, I heard other little voices shout, and soon they were all on top of me, pounding away with their fists, kicking me, and in one case, biting my arm.

“Ow! What the hell! Get your stinking paws off me! Ow! Ow!” I flailed, pushed, squirmed, kicked, and tried just about everything short of actually punching a toddler, but there were too many of them ganging up on me.

“Someone grab his arms!” a girl cried out. “He’s yanking at my ponytail!”

I felt someone lock on to my left arm, nearly twisting my elbow out of its socket. I managed to turn my head and catch sight of a curly-haired boy literally clinging to my arm with both hands and legs, pulling it away from my body and forcing it down on the ground. I only had one arm and two legs to use against about six or seven psychotic kids.

“Let’s use him for ransom!”

I gritted my teeth and struggled more even though my energy was totally spent, and my back hurt, with me being pinned on top of my bulky-ass messenger bag. The world continued to whirl around in a bizarre psychedelic pattern, and I was getting really dizzy. My limbs were all sore, and my legs throbbed with pain from being kicked repeatedly.

“Hold his legs! Quick!”

Both my legs immediately flattened out on the ground, with two kids holding them down. They gripped my ankles and sat on my knees, tearing another jolt of pain from my strained muscles. For one crazy moment, I had to stop and think about what they’d just said, and I shook my head at it before continuing my one-armed struggle, which, I was sure, looked pretty pathetic from an overhead view.

“Got you now, you little meddler!” a boy crowed, and my right arm was finally immobilized. Like my left arm, someone had wrapped himself around it and brought it down, so that I lay on the filthy, slimy ground with my limbs all splayed out. Not only were toddlers clinging to them to keep me from moving, but I had a couple of girls sitting on my groin, which was a bad, bad, bad thing.

I wasn’t turned on by the pressure, no. I realized then that I needed to take a leak so badly. Little screwballs.

The dust finally cleared, with all of us panting and gasping for air. I was drenched in sweat as I stared dizzily up at the sky. “So what now?” I finally demanded once I found my voice again. “Are you going to sit on me like this all day or something? Not very impressive if you’re all trying to score your way up the supervillain ladder.”

“Oh, look, he’s beaten, and he still gives us sass,” the curly-haired boy on my left arm said. He actually sneered. “Typical.”

“Sounds like my twins,” the little girl, who was my distraction earlier, said. She was the one who sat on my genitals. That was a totally inappropriate -- not to mention illegal -- picture we made. I glanced down at her and saw her stick a thumb in her mouth. Yeah, absolutely, totally so not legal.

I squirmed despite being pinned down like that. “So what’re you all going to do now? Hold me for ransom? How? You don’t even have a plan. My family ain’t exactly swimming in cash, and the superheroes will kick your teeny asses and probably pass out from boredom doing it.”

“Yeah, really sassy,” someone piped up.

“Sassy can be a good thing. It’s great distraction, if you ask me,” a voice said from somewhere down the alley, and my heart leaped. I actually grinned at the sky even though it threatened to spew acid rain on us.

“Heya, Miss Pyro!” I called out. “Good to have you here!”

“How’s it going?” she replied, all cheerful. “How’s babysitting working out for ya?”

“It sucks ass.”

“The heroes!” the toddler sitting on my right leg cried out. He and his buddy had their backs to where Miss Pyro stood -- or hovered. The rest of their gang just froze where they were, glaring and channeling all their toddler fury into those expressions.

“Well, just one for now,” Miss Pyro said. I heard the crunch of her boots against the slimy asphalt.

I cleared my throat. “Uh -- try not to turn me into Peking duck when you save me, okay? I kind of want to live long enough to marry Peter and run off into the sunset with him.”

“No sweat. I’m doing a head count right now.”

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Friday, March 30, 2012

SOLE SURVIVOR by Matthew Scrivens

SOLE SURVIVOR by Matthew Scrivens


Two men want Adam Huntington. One wants to love him, the other wants to kill him.

Five years ago, Adam survived an attack by one of California’s most horrific serial killers. The experience scarred him, both inside and out. So to create a new life -- one without the world-known moniker, Adam, the Sole Survivor -- he moves to New York City, where he can be just another face in the crowd.

NYPD Detective Jake O'Malley takes the motto of “Serve and Protect” very seriously in all things, especially in matters of the heart. He’s had enough of cheating lovers and believes in monogamy, respect, and romance. His first date with Adam is a disaster. But when their paths cross ten months later, he asks for a second chance. Despite his large and physically imposing frame, Jake hopes Adam will come to trust and eventually love him.

Todd Eldin sees his muscled body as a finely honed tool, perfect for seducing and killing. When the police begin searching for the killer in a series of sexually sadistic murders, Todd successfully operates below the radar, until he spins a web to catch a more prominent prey -- Adam, the one that got away.

Has Adam finally outrun his luck? Can anyone survive the horrors of being caged, beaten and tortured for a second time? Or will Adam be able to use what he learned in California to save himself and his lover? Who will survive this deadliest of love triangles?

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EXCERPT:
Note: may contain sexually explicit scenes of a homoerotic nature.

Adam straightened a stack of papers for the umpteenth time. He realigned the stapler with the paper clip holder on the desk, again, his sweaty palms leaving marks on whatever they touched. Get a grip, dude! Adam told himself. He took several deep breaths and let each one out slowly. This helped to calm his racing pulse -- a bit. His eyes scanned the office, again. He took in the tidy space: the filing cabinet with the table lamp on top, the framed degrees on the walls, the small bookshelf filled with reference works on psychology, self-help, group dynamics, and such. Not the most exciting of topics but ones that helped Adam more efficiently run the groups and provide life coaching to the clients. He tried picturing how a first-time visitor would see the sparsely decorated office -- more utilitarian than Architectural Digest.

The only thing of any interest was a medium-sized picture of a bumblebee on a vivid fuchsia Gerbera daisy against a brilliant blue sky and the words “Gravity is Optional!” printed in bold black lettering across the bottom.

The picture was a very personal one, one that Adam had asked an artist friend to create. The words had come to him one night as he’d slept. There had been many nights he’d thought he couldn’t go on. Too much had happened, too many horrible things seen and experienced. In the midst of this torturous psychological whirlwind, his brain had tossed him the curious saying about gravity.

If Adam’s subconscious mind was talking to him, helping him heal from the horror he’d endured, he needed to figure out what it was trying to say. So he’d searched the Internet for clues as to what the phrase meant. He’d stumbled upon some articles that stated the laws of aerodynamics proved the bumblebee should be incapable of flying. While this was more science humor than solid science fact, it had given Adam the key to understanding the phrase. His subconscious mind had been telling him even though things appeared solid and concrete, that wasn’t the only truth. In fact, he was just a small dot on a small planet in a medium-sized galaxy and he could choose how he wanted to live his life, how he wanted to react, how he wanted to feel.

Maybe gravity existed because everyone agreed it did, and maybe the bumblebee flew because he believed he could. What seemed impossible was actually possible because he believed it to be so. Okay, it wasn’t the greatest logic and had little basis in scientific fact, but it had been a great psychological Band-Aid. The phrase had really gotten Adam thinking outside the usual victim box, and it had been vital to his healing. Realizing there was a bigger worldview than the one he had been allowing himself, Adam started looking for new and different ways of viewing situations.

“Okay, that little jaunt to philosophy-land had killed a few minutes.” He leaned back in his office chair and sighed, again. Dude, you’re only putting off the inevitable, he told himself. “What the fuck were you thinking inviting Jake O’Malley up here?”

It wasn’t that Adam didn’t find the detective incredibly attractive. He did. The man radiated sex. It was just that Adam had made a huge jackass out of himself on their blind date and had spent the last ten months studiously avoiding Jake O’Malley. Well, not exactly avoiding him; Adam had seen him out at some of the clubs, but he’d only seen Jake from a distance. Although he’d been careful to stay out of sight, he had to admit he’d taken time to surreptitiously observe the gorgeous detective at play in his natural environment.

What Adam observed had only fueled his confusion. The detective was always surrounded by a group of good-looking friends, but he seemed to stand apart, his eyes scanning the room, as if he were guarding his friends. This apparent protectiveness was sexy as hell. Once or twice, Adam had watched as Jake defused a minor scuffle between inebriated guys, not in an aggressive manner but with humor and a gentle, albeit firm, hand.

So what had made the date such a disaster? he wondered.

At the time, Adam had still been experiencing frequent nightmares and not getting enough sleep. That particular day, he’d really been struggling with his sense of self-worth. Vulnerable was not the best state of mind to be in when going on a blind date!

Adam allowed his mind to drift back to that fateful night. He usually avoided thinking too much about it, because whenever he did the embarrassment always felt dreadfully fresh. Their mutual friend Mark had set them up. He’d really pushed Adam to go out with Jake, telling him what an incredibly hot man the detective was and what a good heart he had, that he was a monogamy kind of guy, not a player and blah, blah, blah. Adam had been intrigued but worried about his own level of readiness. Mark had used some very persuasive skills, also known as nagging, to convince Adam.


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INSIDE PASSAGE TO MURDER by Alan Scott

INSIDE PASSAGE TO MURDER by Alan Scott


Paranormal sleuth Mark Shotridge dreams of an Alaskan cruise ship in trouble and books passage to investigate his vision. After leaving Seward the first night at sea, Mark has another vision that suggests someone has been thrown overboard into the icy waters of the north Pacific.

Though no one is reported missing, Mark begins to question his special abilities. But soon a crew member is found murdered in his cabin, and Mark is certain there is more going on than he originally suspected. As the body count rises, he realizes a serial killer might be on board.

With his psychic abilities put to the test, can Mark stop the ruthless killer and unravel the mystery behind the murders before the ship docks in Vancouver?

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EXCERPT:


Mark looked in both directions along the promenade. Something jingled again in the back of his mind, beckoning him to the rear of the ship. He turned and walked toward the stern, maintaining caution with each step. Using his telepathy to scan ahead of him, he searched for any indication of danger, but he sensed nothing. As he approached, the soft hiss of the wake behind the ship became louder. He stopped and looked out over the stern railing at the broad wake, lit by the dim overhead lights. The foam disappeared into the blackness behind the ship.

What’s going on here? Frustration prompted a return of the nagging question. Every time I think I feel something’s wrong, I find nothing. Am I losing my touch?

Everything seemed to be in order. The sound of the wake and the cold morning breeze on his face calmed him, rather than indicated something was wrong. In contradiction, his psionic power rang loudly in his head. He took another deep breath, inhaling the frigid air, and tried to relax.

He extended his right hand to lean on the rail. As he made contact with the metal, he suddenly felt a sharp, excruciating pain in his right side, and doubled over in agony. Mark reached across with his left hand to grab his side, unable to release his right. He became disoriented and light-headed as though he was falling from a great height, swaying from the feeling.

A shock of black hair flashed before his eyes followed by a naked, portly body tumbling over in the air as it fell. A impression of light-headedness came over him, like he was doing flips off a springboard. Then he had a violent sensation of icy cold water over his head. The cold was painful, sapping all his strength and stealing his breath. He gasped for air, but he could not find the surface. With extreme effort, Mark yanked his right hand back from the railing, clutching it with his left. The painful and terrifying sensation began to fade.

“Gotta watch out for static electricity there, son!”

Mark jerked his head around as the military man and his wife approached at a brisk pace. Both wore sweatshirts and pants with sneakers, clearly out for morning exercise.

“Excuse me?” Mark asked, startled and very uneasy, since he had felt no other presence on the promenade when he walked out onto the deck. Also, his telepathy had not sensed them when he had used it just seconds ago.

“I saw you put your hand up there then snatch it back like you had been zapped or something,” the man said with a huge smile, as he and his wife strode past. Mark realized his vision had lasted an instant, although it seemed like several long, horrifying minutes.

“Yes, that’s it,” he grinned weakly, still holding his hand as though it had been injured. “Nasty shock.” Mark did his best to look casual. “It’s a cruise. Aren’t you supposed to sleep in?” he asked, trying to sound nonchalant.

“We did sleep in,” the woman beamed with a cheerful smile as they headed up the direction from which he just came.

Mark waited until the couple had walked away a short distance. From this vantage point at the stern, he could see the entire length of the port side of the ship. Turning in the opposite direction, he hurled his telepathy forward to the other side of the ship.

No one there. At least, I hope no one is there.

His failure to sense the presence of the military man and his wife left him rattled.

Mark glanced back at the railing, scanning it with his percipience, careful not to invoke the horrific vision he just witnessed. Something else was there, grabbing at his attention.

A handprint! His mind's eye saw an image, where someone had clutched the railing, leaving an impression of their hand behind.

What am I seeing? Is it residual heat? Paint? A chill ran over his body that had nothing to do with the cold air. Blood!

He took off in a frantic run to the starboard side. Bolting through the doors opposite the ones from which he’d exited, he bounded up the stairs to Deck Ten, officers’ quarters. The elevators would be too slow. As with the bridge, the corridor to the officers’ quarters was barricaded against would-be intruders by a less-than-intimidating door adorned with a keypad. No time to figure out the combination now using his usual methodology. Mark gave the interior doorknob a nudge with his telekinesis and the door opened. He searched the immediate area with his telepathy, found the mental signature he was looking for and crept to the Security Officer’s cabin as silently as possible.

Mark knocked on the door to Dale Jacoby’s cabin. He didn’t want to arouse any of the other officers. He waited for a few seconds, and then knocked again, a little louder this time. On the other side of the door, his clairsentience told him Dale had awakened, and was climbing to his feet.

“Who is it?” Dale demanded from the other side of the door, his voice heavy with sleep and almost incoherent.

“It’s Mark. Open up!” he hissed. “Hurry!” He waited a few more seconds. Dale opened the door and blinked in the bright lights of the hallway.

“Shotridge? What the hell is going on? What time is it?” he said, gruff and confused. The white terry cloth robe he wore had the Netherlands Star logo on the left lapel.

Mark rushed past him into the cabin and told him to close the door.

“Someone’s been thrown overboard,” he declared, once inside.

“What? What makes you say that? Who was it? Did you see this happen?” Dale gasped, wide awake now.

“I don’t know who, but whoever it was, they were shot or stabbed prior to being thrown overboard.” Mark described his vision and experience. “I’m pretty certain it was a male, and he was naked when he was thrown overboard. I think he was still alive when it happened, although he would not have lasted long once he hit the cold water. Hypothermia would have set in almost at once and in his injured state he wouldn’t have the strength to tread water.”

“How do you know all that?” Dale was skeptical and caustic.

“The image I received showed a body unclothed, and I could also see some body hair and short black scalp hair, but that’s about all. The vision happened too fast for me to concentrate on the victim.”

Mark waited until Dale had thrown on some jeans, a Mist of the Ocean sport shirt assigned to all of the officers, and a jacket. They left the cabin. Mark led Dale down to the Lower Promenade, to the stern railing where he had his horrible vision.

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

DUSTED by Declan Sands

DUSTED by Declan Sands

Blood-Hound Book One

Bounty hunter Matthew Blood is a Bloodhound shifter, so tracking things comes naturally to him. But when one of his skips gets blasted out of a fourth floor window, Matt goes after the only other person in the vicinity, and gets fairy-smacked himself.

Rum leaves the safety of the mound to bust a fairy dust ring and rescue some captured fairies. In the process, he quickly finds himself the target of the sexy bounty hunter tracking one of the dealers. Trapped and being pursued on multiple fronts, Rum asks Blood for help.

Blood is happy to lend a hand, but he soon discovers fairy dust isn't the only addictive thing about a fairy.

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Blood-Hound 1: Dusted
Declan Sands
All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2012 Declan Sands

This e-book file contains sexually explicit scenes and adult language which some may find offensive and which is not appropriate for a young audience. Changeling Press E-Books are for sale to adults, only, as defined by the laws of the country in which you made your purchase. Please store your files wisely, where they cannot be accessed by under-aged readers.


Earthbound recruit 56741 daily report. Missing subject not found. Search continues. I'll keep you apprised.

* * *

The dog snuffled him, whining as he flicked a hand to send it away. Bail Enforcement Agent Matthew Blood was on a case, and he didn't have time for the usual displays of canine worship.

The man across the street climbed out of his car and stretched. He'd been on the road pretty much all day. He'd gone north again -- Matt suspected he'd gone to Michigan, though he'd lost him around South Bend.

The little dog licked Matt's arm and he growled, low and deep in his throat. Yelping with alarm, the cute bitch scurried away. But she didn't go far. She dropped to her haunches beneath an abandoned car, her eyes periodically glowing red in the headlights arcing into a turn at the nearby intersection.

Matt returned his attention to the skip and found the street empty. "Fuck!"

Glaring at the little dog, he quickly stripped, dropped to all fours, and shifted. He slid from the shadows and padded across the street.

Scenting the area around the car, Matt took care to keep his long ears out of a shiny puddle of dirty oil as he gathered as much information as he could from the odors surrounding the car and the spot where the skip had been standing.

The car was covered with a variety of aromas, many of them from another place. The salty tang of Great Lakes sand overlaid the smell of asphalt and rich, black earth trapped in the tire tread.

He padded around to the car door and focused on the bail fugitive's scent. The man was tired, nervous -- evidenced by the strong odor of sweat -- and he'd had chili for dinner. The chili wasn't sitting well in his stomach. The bail fugitive also smelled like the product he'd been illegally carrying from Indiana to Michigan for months. The reason he'd been arrested. He'd never stopped his illegal activities, and he'd proven himself to be a runner. He should never have been let out on bail in the first place.

But Matt wouldn't tell the cops that when he brought him in. He'd just take the certified copies of the arrest warrant and the undertaking and get paid for snagging the guy. If the guy ran again he'd get paid again. And there was no danger he'd escape Matt. With his special qualities and off-Earth monitoring technology, Matt could find and bring any skips he wanted back to jail. If his employer wanted to bond them back out again it was no skin off his talented nose.

Said nose led Matt to the front door of a soot-stained brick building, where the skip's scent trail was cut off. He shoved at the door with his nose but it was firmly shut. He'd have to shift back to follow the skip inside.

Matt loped back toward the alley where he'd shed his clothes, thinking that a race of creatures which could trace its roots back millennia, with technology allowing them to travel the universe to distant planets, should have come up with a fix for the opposable thumb issue.

He rounded the corner to the alley and the little bitch lifted her head, wagging her grubby tail happily. She gave him a single bark in greeting. Matt's bark wasn't quite as happy. But it served to get her off his pile of discarded clothes.

There was a soft sound, like a gasp of supercharged air, as he was pulling on his last shoe. Matt's head shot up. Glass shattered out into the night, followed by a dull, meaty thud. Still working his way into his sneaker, Matt hobbled back out to the street and found his skip, lying in a spreading pool of his own blood on the glass-strewn sidewalk.

A sharp intake of breath from above drew Matt's gaze, four stories up, where a pale, handsome face was outlined by the jagged remains of the broken window. A terrified gaze locked onto his.

"Well, shit!" Matt started running even as the face disappeared from view. It looked like he'd be bringing a murderer to the police, rather than a lowly, dead drug smuggler.

* * *

Matt hit the locked exterior door and reared back, kicking it hard. The flimsy door slammed inward and he hit the stairs, moving at superhuman speed toward the floors above.

Footsteps pounded over his head, accompanied by the sound of terrified breathing as, presumably, the man he'd seen in the window above was making a run for it. A slim, dark form flashed by the top of the stairs as Matt hit the fourth floor landing and he leapt, hitting the runner mid-body and sending him sprawling sideways with a yelp of alarm.

They skidded across the thin, dirty carpet and hit the wall opposite the stairs. The man beneath him started swinging, his fists glancing off Matt's face and shoulders as he fought desperately to get free.

Matt struggled to hold him down while trying to still the man's flailing arms and legs. The man's breath wheezed in and out of his chest and beads of sweat flew as his desperation increased. Matt's sensitive nose scented ozone, and he registered a flash of energy just before one of the flailing fists connected to his temple and his head snapped sideways. It was a good shot for such a slender assailant, and it caught Matt off guard.

Blood ran from his nose, and he saw stars. Light flashed, heat flared, and Matt flew backward and hit the wall hard. The edges of his vision folded inward and turned black as he slipped down the wall and passed out.

* * *

Dust clogged Matt's sinuses, feeding the mother of all sneezes in his sensitive nostrils. The sneeze almost ripped his head off, sending shards of pain slicing through his brain from its impact. A moldy, aged scent accompanied the dust. His nose twitched as he fought another sneeze.

A rough tongue bathed his face, the ministrations more painful than they should have been. He struggled to open his eyes and found himself staring into the bright, brown gaze of the little bitch from the street below. When she saw he was awake she barked in greeting and stood, wagging her tail happily.

Matt tried to sit up and pain sluiced through him. He groaned and rolled to his back. He lay there for a moment, gathering his senses and trying to catalogue the pain. He decided he didn't have any specific injuries, just an overall feeling of having been bludgeoned.

Rubbing a hand over his face, Matt grimaced. His skin was hot and sore, like a bad sunburn, and he was gritty. When he looked at his fingers, there was some kind of residue on them.

Sirens sounded in the distance, bringing Matt back to the reason he was in the building. He ground his teeth and rolled, standing. Moving stiffly down the hall, he headed for the front of the building, where his skip had fallen to his death. A door at the end of the hallway was open. Matt pulled his compressed oxygen gun and stuck his head through the door. "Hello? Anybody in here?"

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A FAMILY AFFAIR by Maria Ling

A FAMILY AFFAIR by Maria Ling

Henrietta Dean needs money, and fast, or her family will lose their home. Lieutenant John Hoyle is dashing, handsome -- and penniless, depending on his skill at cards to finance his army career.

Both attend the season in York, hoping to marry wealth. They meet and fall in love, each believing the other to be the perfect match. But when they discover the truth, can their relationship survive?

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An Excerpt from: A Family Affair

Copyright © 2012 Maria Ling

All rights reserved, Wild Child Publishing.



Henrietta shifted nervously. Her new gown, made for the occasion, was entirely fit for a grown-up young woman making her d├ębut in York society at the Assembly Rooms ball. In other words, it showed more of her arms and chest than could possibly be considered decent. It was chilly, too, despite the heat from the hundreds of wax candles that surrounded her and shimmered in the air.

"I told you I would need a pelisse," she complained to Edward --quietly, for several nearby couples were eyeing them both with overt interest.

"Money didn't run to that," Edward muttered without disturbing the polite smile affixed to his mouth. "I don't mind spending on the dress --it's vital to present you in the most attractive wrapping any seamstress could devise --but you'll have to find warmth from within."

"I'm the seamstress," Henrietta reminded him. She rested her elbow against the tiny stain along one seam. A speck of blood had fallen on the fabric when she pierced the skin of her fingertip with the needle. She had done what she could with cold water, but the traces remained.

"And a fine one, too. Here's William."

Henrietta's smile grew more natural as she watched her brother enter in the company of some other officers. They did look handsome, tall and fit in their dark blue dolmans and sleek white trousers. William spotted her and Edward, flicked them a greeting with his hand, then steered his nearest companion over towards them.

"My brother Edward, my sister Henrietta. My lieutenant, John Hoyle."

"Mr. Dean. Miss Dean." John Hoyle was an imposing man, seen this near. He topped William, so Henrietta had to crane her neck to look up at him. The expression in his eyes and the set of his jaw told her this was a man who knew how to command. His eyes were a very dark brown, with a look that drove straight through her, and set in a stern face. Then he smiled, and the effect was immediate: a fun, playful expression danced across his face, and made her smile in return.

"An honour," Edward said crisply, assuming control of the situation. Henrietta could almost hear him whisper 'No officers!' But John Hoyle was handsome, and William thought highly of him, and if he were rich as well, what harm could flirtation do? If nothing else, it would show her best side to any prospects among the onlookers.

"A pleasure," Henrietta corrected, which drew another smile. "We have heard much from William about your abilities."

"Not, I hope, as a horseman. I am infamous in the mess for that."

"Won't go slow," William said, laughing. "Crowds everyone else out of line. The colonel is furious."

"He's only furious because I won't marry his daughter," Hoyle replied. "Or perhaps it's because he lost so handsomely to me at whist the other night. I'm much obliged to him."

"I didn't know he had a daughter."

"Only one, and she's married. I was jesting."

Henrietta breathed out --imperceptibly, she hoped. Against a colonel's daughter, who must have an excellent fortune, a poor gentleman farmer's daughter wouldn't have much to offer.

It did alert her to the level of competition. Henrietta glanced around the room. Her dress was good, and in the latest fashion, but she keenly felt her lack of jewellery. Edward's money hadn't run to that, either.

The musicians tuned their instruments. Hoyle bowed to her, before she had dared to hope.

"I trust you'll keep me in mind for the first dance, Miss Dean."

"I'd be delighted."

"Here's an acquaintance of mine that I wish you to meet," Edward said. "Excuse us, gentlemen." He dragged Henrietta away with a firm grip on her arm.

"Stop it," Henrietta whispered as soon as their faces were averted. "I like him."

"He's an officer," Edward growled back. "And he gambles at high stakes, and he's William's friend. How many arguments do you want me to range against him? Here's Mr. Swann, now. Be nice to him."

"I'm always nice."

"You know what I mean. Try. For your brother, yes?"

Henrietta did the best she could, but her heart faltered at the next introduction. Mr. Swann --clearly a mercantile acquaintance of Edward's, given the way they immediately fell to discussing the price of butter --seemed a pleasant man, but he was forty and balding and entirely lacking in dash.

"Miss Dean?" A playful voice in her ear rescued her from the tedium of lading rights and salt mills. "We have this dance, I believe."

"Then I'll claim the next," Mr. Swann said and gave her a fatherly smile.

Henrietta agreed --she could hardly do less, in common courtesy, and Edward's eyes were on her. Still, she was glad when Hoyle led her away.


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CHEERAGE FEARAGE by Kimberly Dana

CHEERAGE FEARAGE by Kimberly Dana

Fly high and die! Welcome to Camp Valentine - a cheerleading camp with raging spirit. A ghost that is! It’s ten years after Lexy Mills’ bizarre death, but the bloodthirsty pranks are still going down at a hypnotic pace. Urban legend says it’s Lexy seeking revenge, picking off cheerleaders one by one in a symphony of horrors. But is it? Tiki Tinklemeyer, an indentured servant to the geek label, is thrown into the middle of camp mayhem while perpetually plagued by her alter egos, Sally Self-Conscious and Natalie Negative Thoughts. Not only is she out of her element spending a week with the micro-miniskirt V.I.P.’s, but now someone wants to kill her. Is it Heather-Amber, the indisputable emotional terrorist with a disdain for the new girl; Lexy herself; or some other tanorexic with a mean herkie/toe touch combo?

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An Excerpt from: Cheerage Fearage

Copyright © 2012 Kimberly Dana

All rights reserved, Wild Child Publishing.


With the determined patience of a professional assassin, the blonde counted slowly to fifty, waiting for the shapely, agile form that had cruelly beat her out of every competition to go still and flaccid forever. She delighted in feeling the strong steady pulse slow to a mere fleeting throb and then finally to complete nothingness. When the time came, the blonde released the body into the dark water without pause or sentiment, and gracefully swam back to the dock, crawling up the ladder with a smooth, athletic gait.

Mission accomplished.

Giddily content, the blonde patted away streaming lines of lake water with her tank top, tossing it back on along with her vintage cutoffs. She left the other’s clothes balled up below the “NO DIVING” sign and never looked back. The long-suffering second-in-command was now the captain of the Valentine Cheerleading Squad.

It was official. The queen bee had been dethroned and destroyed.

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ONCE MORE LOVE by

ONCE MORE LOVE by Jean Reiner

With three adult children and 50 plus years under her belt, Liz Liner has had her share of heartache. A year was not long enough to mourn her beloved husband Larry. But loneliness is a hard burden to shoulder, even when she has her faith to comfort her, and Philip is an attractive man.

Even after seven years of being alone, Philip still misses his wife Trish. He’s dated a number of women since her death, but none of them touched him deeply like Trish. Now that he’s approaching his sixtieth birthday, he’s nearly given up on love. But then he meets Liz, and he’s instantly attracted. Perhaps there’s still a chance for him.

It should be simple, but Liz and Philip are from different faiths. From their friends and family to the clergy, everyone seems to be against their relationship.

Can their love stand strong against the disappointments and trials that lay ahead of them? Or will other’s prejudices prevent them from finding happily ever after?

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An Excerpt from: Once More Love

Copyright © 2012 Jean Reiner

All rights reserved, Wild Child Publishing.

Liz walked back to the window. “Here you are and thank you,” she said to the two women as she handed them their tickets. She blew a loose hair on her forehead. She looked through the stack again, wishing all the tickets would be gone. Unfortunately, there were still a few left.

“Hey, don’t stop there,” Mary said. “Tell me more about Margo.”

“I was thinking of watching the play tonight, but I don’t think I want to see it with someone else in the role of Margo. I loved doing her so much.”

Clapping her hands together, she laughed and said, “I loved saying, ‘Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night!’ I was so excited when I won the Best Actress in a Musical award for that role. I’ll always cherish having been given the opportunity to play that part. Larry said he was so proud of me.” The smile died on her lips. Here I am working box office tonight, and Larry isn’t...No don’t go there again. She lowered her eyelids trying to hide the hurt she felt. It was so hard to accept the fact that he was gone. I miss Larry as much today as when it first happened. Why did it have to happen? She clenched her hands into tight fists. Her chin dropped to her chest.

She was so lost in her thoughts that a light rapping on the ledge of the window startled her. The rapping was followed by a deep, icy voice. “Sorry, I don’t mean to disturb you, but we do need our tickets.”

Liz turned to look at Mary who shrugged in helplessness since she was busy handling a complaint about seating. Liz blushed as she rushed to rifle through the tickets. “I beg your pardon. I am so sorry.” Her voice took on a crisp, business-like edge. “Your name, please?” She looked up at the intruder. She saw a very distinguished looking gentleman. He had beautiful grey hair and blue eyes that seemed to be smiling at her. How could that be after he’d just been so sarcastic? He was quite a bit taller than she. Liz decided he must be close to six feet. Their eyes met and locked. There appeared to be a challenge in his look. Liz had the strangest feeling.

Have we met before? I think I would have remembered.

“The name is Philip McCaffery,” he said.

Liz looked through the ticket tray twice. “I’m sorry Mr. Caffery, but I don’t

see your tickets.” She tried to keep him from seeing her shaking hands.

“I said McCaffery,” he replied, “Caffery the way you said it but with a Mac in front.” He laughed.

Liz’s embarrassment grew. “I didn’t understand. I’m sorry. I had a feeling that I shouldn’t be here tonight.” A sigh of relief escaped her when she located his tickets. “Oh, yes, I’m sorry, here they are.” She handed him the envelope with the two tickets in it just as a tall, pretty blonde woman joined him.

“This had better be good,” Philip said to his companion in a joking yet threatening way. The lights in the lobby flickered a warning causing the noise in the lobby to dim as the crowd moved toward the theater area. Liz watched as the woman settled her arm in the crook of his elbow.

With a bemused shake of her head, the blonde looked at Liz. “I can’t take him anywhere.” A warm smile lit her face. Extracting her arm from Philip’s, she said, “Well, hello, Liz. I’m Betty Pollard. It’s been such a long time since I’ve seen you.” Her hand came to rest on her companion’s shoulder.

Liz’s eyes followed her every move. She’d had that wonderful kind of familiarity with Larry. There was that jealousy again. She returned the smile, but not with the same warmth. Her hands and eyes returned to the ticket tray.

Betty’s smile grew broader. “I was in Applause with you. I know you don’t remember me. I was one of the chorus girls.” She laughed. “I don’t think you could tell that by looking at me today.” She frowned as she looked down at herself.

Liz looked at Betty’s still well-proportioned, albeit heavier body, and broadened her smile. “You still look pretty to me.”

A smile replaced her frown as Betty continued, “You may not remember me but I remember how wonderful you were as Margo.”

All this flattery caused Liz to be a little nervous and more than slightly self-conscious. Liz pushed her hand through her hair. “Thank you. Thanks for the compliment. I do remember you,” she fibbed. “I’m surprised and pleased you remembered me after all this time.” Liz smiled naturally now. Meeting someone who had been in a play with her brought back all the pleasures of the play. She was relaxed and in a better mood.

Philip’s gaze never left Liz’s flushed, smiling, animated face. She could feel him staring at her. She felt her blush deepen. Her face and hands felt warm. She blotted her lip again. She talked to Betty, but she knew he was staring at her. Why is he looking at me that way? Why do I like the fact that he’s looking at me?

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A PERFECT STORM by Lori Foster

A PERFECT STORM by Lori Foster

Men Who Walk The Edge Of Honor Book Four

He never saw her coming...

Spencer Lark already knows too many secrets about Arizona Storm, including the nightmare she survived and her resulting trust issues. But in order to expose a smuggling ring - and continue avenging his own tragic past - the bounty hunter reluctantly agrees to make Arizona a decoy. Yet nothing has equipped him for her hypnotic blend of fragility and bravery, or for the protective instincts she stirs in him.

Arizona wants to reclaim her life, which means acting as bait to lure the enemy into a trap. Sure it's dangerous, especially with a partner as distractingly appealing as Spencer. But as their plan - and their chemistry - shifts into high gear, Arizona may discover there's an even greater risk in surrendering her heart to a hero...

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Excerpt - Chapter One

Arizona Storm sat quietly on the overstuffed chair, her chin resting on her drawn-up knees, her fingers laced together around her shins.

Waiting.

In the quiet, shadowed room, she breathed in the unique aroma of aftershave and gun oil, and the headier scent of warm male. On the back of the chair behind her he’d tossed his jeans and a rumpled T-shirt. Close at hand on the nightstand, he’d placed his freshly cleaned gun and his deadly switchblade.

His discarded boxers lay on the floor.

He fascinated her.

After breaking into his house, she’d removed her sneakers and put them next to his boots by the front door. The air conditioning, set on high, left her toes cold, but he’d covered himself with no more than a thin sheet.

Again and again, her gaze tracked over him, from one big foot sticking out over the side of the bed, up and over his flat, solid abs covered by the snowy white sheet, to his chest – not covered by anything except enticing body hair.

With one arm behind his head, she saw his underarm and the dark tuft of hair there. Seeing that almost made him look vulnerable – except that, despite his relaxed pose, the positioning of his long arm made a thick biceps bulge.

At nearly six and a half feet tall, solidly built and finely sculpted, Spencer Lark was one of the biggest, strongest, most impressive men she’d ever met.

And she knew some really prime specimens.

His long lashes shadowed his high cheekbones, but that didn’t detract from the bruising beneath one eye. A recent fight? She smiled while picturing it, sure that Spencer had come out ahead. His skill at fighting intrigued her even more than his big bod.

Amazing, but even his slightly crooked nose held her rapt. When and how had he broken it?

She inhaled a deep breath and let it out in a quiet sigh that, given the silence in his home and Spencer’s acute instincts, disturbed his slumber.

Arizona admitted to herself that maybe she’d wanted to wake him. After all, she’d been watching him – and waiting – for awhile now.

His head turned on the pillow, his legs shifted.

Holding herself perfectly still, she waited to see if he’d awaken, what he’d do, what he’d say. She didn’t know him all that well, and yet… she did.

Sort of.

They’d met nearly a month ago while they were both on a sting. Immediately, they’d butted heads, and he’d infuriated her by interfering with her life.

But worse, he’d robbed her of the revenge she desperately craved.

Sure, he had his own need for revenge, so she understood his motives. She didn’t forgive him. Not yet, anyway.

But she did understand.

At least, she thought she did. Once they talked it over, then she’d decide for sure.

He made a soft, gravelly sound as he stretched that long, strong body. His chin tucked in. Muscles flexed.

The sheet tented.

Eyes widening, Arizona stared, not really alarmed, but no longer so at ease, either. She had a very dark history with aroused men, so she doubted she’d ever be unaffected by them. But she didn’t let it get in her way, not when she wanted something, not when she had a goal in mind.

She knew she should have taken Spencer’s gun, at the very least moved it out of his reach. But instead she’d found him in the bed, and before she’d even thought it through, she’d taken the empty seat and settled in to study him while he slept.

Since that fateful day when her destiny had been stolen from her, she’d seen him only a handful of times. She tried to stay away. She tried to forget about him.

She hadn’t been successful.

Stretching, he brought his hand out from behind his head, around to rub over his hair, across his face, down his chest.

As he gave a sleepy, growling groan of waking, that hand disappeared under the sheet.

Arizona’s lips parted and her heartbeat tripped up. She cleared her throat. “Spence?”

Freezing, without moving any other body part, he opened his eyes and met her gaze.

She frowned at him.

He didn’t look super-startled, and he said nothing. He just stared at her.

With his hand still under there.

“Yeah…” Semi-satisfied with his frozen reaction, she nodded at his lap. “You weren’t going for a little tug, were you? Because, as your spectator, I’d just as soon not see it.”

He brought his hand out and put it back behind his head, still silent, still watching her. Almost… relaxed.

His gaze was so dark, so compelling, she felt like squirming, damn it. “I mean, I guess I could wait in the other room if it’s really necessary. That is, if you don’t take too long.”

He disappointed her by not reacting. As if he often woke with an uninvited woman playing voyeur in his bedroom, he looked her over, from her bare toes up to her long, wind-tangled hair.

“Been here long?”

“Maybe half an hour or so.” Curiosity prompted her to ask, “Were you going to… you know?” She nodded at his lap.

“Most men say hi to the boys first thing.”

“Say hi?”

With no sign of discomfort, he shrugged one shoulder. “You broke in.”

A statement, not a question. She did her own casual shrug. “Since you’re not dumb enough to leave the place unlocked, yeah, I had to.”

He turned his head, but not to check on the time. He saw the gun still on the nightstand where he’d left it, and brought his gaze back to hers again. “You know how to make coffee?”

One eyebrow lifted high. “Trying to get me out of the room so you can leave the bed? I’m not squeamish, you know. I mean, with my background, I’ve seen plenty of –”

He threw off the sheet and sat up, effectively shutting down her snide retort.

Ho boy.

“If you don’t know how to make coffee, just say so.” Spencer stretched again, harder, longer this time. Sitting on the side of the bed, he snagged up his boxers and stepped into them. As he stood, he pulled them up.

They fit like a glove.

He still had a tent going.

And she still stared.

He picked up the gun and, giving away some trust issues, checked to make sure she hadn’t unloaded it. Discovering she hadn’t touched it at all, he nodded in satisfaction.

As he passed her, he chucked her under the chin. “It’s called morning wood, little girl. No reason for alarm.” Gun in hand, he went on past her and into the bathroom. The door closed quietly behind him.

Belatedly, Arizona got her mouth shut. Oh how she hated when he called her “little girl.” As of today, she wasn’t quite as young as he thought, and given her experiences, well, she hadn’t felt like a kid in a very long time.

Her brows snapped down and her spine stiffened. She would not let him get to her. Huh-uh. No way.

This was her game. She would call the shots, and if anyone had to be tongue-tied, it’d be him.

She shoved to her feet, but did not stomp. Excesses of emotion gave away too much. She didn’t want him to know how he affected her.

At the bathroom door, voice cold and collected, she stated, “I’ll be the kitchen.”

Minutes later, just to prove a point, she went about making coffee.

* * *

Spencer stood with his hands braced on the porcelain sink, his head hanging, his muscles twitchy.

What the hell?

Sure, he knew Arizona Storm was a reckless, impetuous, headstrong girl. He’d figured that out in the first few seconds of her acquaintance.

But breaking and entering?

Why the hell had she sat there watching him sleep?

He felt… violated. Angry.

He felt extreme pity. For her.

Damn, but he didn’t want her, not in his house, not in his head. He could control the first.

Hadn’t had much luck controlling the second.

Not trusting her to respect his privacy, knowing damn good and well she would snoop without remorse, he gave up the idea of a shower and shave and instead rushed through brushing his teeth, splashing his face and finger combing his hair.

Since she wasn’t in his bedroom anymore, he took the time to pull on his jeans, but rather than mess with the holster, he just stuck the gun in his waistband. He grabbed up his knife, opened it, closed it again and slid it into his pocket.

Barefoot and shirtless, he went in search of Arizona – and he had to admit, anticipation chased away the cobwebs of old memories and lack of sleep.

Seeing her slumped in a kitchen chair, arms crossed, one foot hooked behind a chair leg, jolted his senses even more.

God Almighty, she was a beauty.

Slim, long-legged and generously stacked, with a face like a wet dream, Arizona would turn heads wherever she went. Dark wavy hair hung down her back, usually in disarray. Honey-colored skin seemed in direct contrast with light blue, heavily lashed eyes. A full mouth, a strong chin, high cheekbones…

He wondered at the mixed heritage that had produced such a dream.

As he stood unnoticed in the doorway, she chewed at a thumbnail. Arizona didn’t wear make-up, or polish her nails, or do much of anything to enhance her looks – and she didn’t need to. She could wear burlap and men would burn for her.

“Nervous?”

She went still before affecting a bored expression and swiveling her head to face him. “Do you always sleep till noon?”

“When I’ve been up all night, yes.” He made a beeline for the coffee pot, but didn’t thank her for making it. After all, she’d come in uninvited. “You want a cup?”

“If you have sugar and milk.”

“Creamer.” He poured two cups and set them on the table, then got the creamer from the fridge. The sugar bowl sat in the middle of the table, framed by salt and pepper shakers.

Like many of the things in his kitchen, they resembled cows in one way or another.

His wife had bought the novelty items years ago.

While blowing on the hot coffee, Spencer ruthlessly squashed bad memories. Arizona loaded her coffee with two heaping spoonfuls of sugar and a liberal splash of the cream.

He watched her lush mouth as she sipped, sipped again.

Shaking himself, he took a drink, and nearly choked. Strong enough to peel the lining from his throat, it was the worst coffee he’d ever tasted. Arizona didn’t seem to notice though, so he manned up and drank without complaint.

The overdose of caffeine would do him good.

Silence dragged out while they each gave attention to their coffee. He wouldn’t be the first to break.

Finally she eyed him. “How come you were out late? Carousing?”

Actually, he’d needed to expend some energy for reasons he wouldn’t yet examine too closely. Shrugging, he said, “I hit up a bar, found a little trouble.” He looked at her. “You know how it is, right?”

To his disgruntlement, she nodded. “Yeah, I did the same. But I fared better than you.” Her mouth quirked in a small grin and she winked. “No black eye.”

Had she really been in a bar? Looking for trouble?

Again?

He didn’t need to defend himself, not to her, but still he said, “You should see the other three guys.”

“Yeah? Only three?” Tsking, she let her gaze drift over him. “Any other bruises?”

“No.”

She propped her chin on a fist. “One lucky punch, huh?”

Did she have to appear so amused by idiotic drinking and brawling? “Something like that.” Actually it was a thrown chair that had caught him, but whatever. He wouldn’t encourage her with details. “So tell me, little girl. What were you doing in a bar?”

She looked away. With one finger, she traced along the top of her coffee cup. “Sometimes,” she said low, her voice almost whimsical, “I just need a distraction.”

His chest tightened. He waited to see if she’d elaborate, if she’d share details of her tragic background spent with human traffickers. She had a need to even the score with people already dead, the monsters who’d hurt her badly.

Suddenly she leaned forward. “Can you keep a secret?”

Damn, he didn’t want to play these games. “Depends.”

She scowled. “On what?”

“On whether or not keeping it is in your best interest.”

Sitting back in irritation, she demanded, “Why does that concern you?”

He countered with, “Why do you want to tell me?”

For long moments they stared at each other, and then she broke. “Fuck it. I don’t. Not anymore.” After downing the rest of her coffee, she scraped back her chair. “I’m outta here.”

Spencer caught her wrist. And of course, that got her going.

Quick temper and a boulder-sized chip on her shoulder had her swinging a fist. He dodged it, but she kicked and caught him in the shin. Luckily she didn’t wear shoes, so it didn’t hurt.

Much.

In the ensuing scuffle, his coffee cup hit the floor and broke.

Given they were both barefoot, he did the expedient thing and tossed her over his shoulder. Clamping a hand over her thighs, he warned, “Bite me, and I swear to God, you won’t like the consequences.”

Rather than struggle, she braced her elbows on his back. “You’ve threatened me before.”

“Because you’ve attacked me before.” Stepping over and around the mess on his floor, he went into the hallway, then figured, what the hell, and went on into the living room.

He dumped her on the couch.

She bounded right back off again.

Another scuffle, and damn it, it was too early and he was too tired to put up with it.

“Arizona!” He locked her in close in a now familiar hold – at least with her – keeping her back to his chest, her arms pinned down. He squeezed her tight enough to steal her breath. “Knock it off already, will you?”

Her head dropped back against his chest so she could glare at him. He waited, refusing to relent, driven by… God knew what.

She gave one sharp nod.

Spencer opened his arms, but quickly stepped out of her reach. “Okay?”

“Screw you.”

So much animosity, so much rage at the world. She’d never admit it, but Arizona needed a friend, a confidante, and if it put him through hell, well, so what? He’d been in hell for awhile now. “You came to me, remember?”

“And now I’m trying to leave!”

His head pounded. If she walked out now, he’d spend the rest of the day worrying about her.

Or following her.

He worked his jaw, then said, “I’ll keep your secret. What is it?”

“Oh, aren’t you the generous one?”

He sighed. “The sneer is unappealing. Just tell me what it is.”

The narrowing of her eyes emphasized the pale, bright blue color and the thickness of her long, inky lashes. She drew two deep breaths, making it tough for him to keep his attention off her chest.

“It’s my birthday.”

Huh. Of all the things he’d imagined, that wasn’t one of them. It wasn’t even one of the top fifty.

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Monday, March 26, 2012

DARKEST WOLF by Rebecca Royce

DARKEST WOLF by Rebecca Royce

The Westervelt Wolves Book 7

Rex Kane has always known he was different than his brothers, down to the fact that when he shifts into his wolf form, his coat is completely black. Always in trouble, he is given one more chance by his brother Tristan, the alpha of the Westervelt pack, to bring back to their island a witch who can stop some of the magical assault that has plagued their war-torn home. Rex knows he has one last chance to set things right. Everything depends on him and he cannot fail.

Elizabeth Willow has been cursed to look so repulsive no human eyes can bear to view her. Raised in a gentle coven of witches, she is ill prepared for the realities of the harsh world she now lives in. Raised to mistrust wolf-shifters as witch-killers, she cannot seem to help being drawn to Rex. Even if she doesn't believe she is his so-called mate. He can see her as she really is and is the first person to look her in the eyes in years. Although she is not naturally devious, she sees no choice but to use Rex to gain her own freedom and her family’s safety.

Together, Rex and Elizabeth will see just how evil the people around them can be. If they can trust their hearts, perhaps they will survive another night. If not, both of their battles will never be won.

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Excerpt:
Chapter One

The smells of human overindulgence wafted through his nose, making him want to turn on his heel and go out the way he’d gone in.

Rex Kane observed the scene before him with a strange amount of detachment, considering he was currently seeing his mate for the very first time. Two women—no, witches, he corrected—lay in strangely positioned forms frozen on the floor. Twins, he would guess them to be. Possibly even identical. He sniffed the air. Yep, they had matching scents. They were the very rare, but absolutely possible oddity, of identical twins. He would never be able to tell them apart, not by smell anyway.

His gaze moved slowly over the diner’s kitchen. At the moment, the twin witches offered no threat to him. They’d been frozen. He had no idea how long they’d stay immobile and, truth was, he didn’t particularly care. Witches didn’t frighten him. They annoyed the piss out of him—there was a difference.

The unconscious man, who, unless his nose was completely off, would wake up again shortly, also didn’t bother him. No, the elderly gentleman seemed to be temporarily stunned. He was also human. Not a threat.

But Rex did feel nervous and, considering how rarely anxiety bothered him, he was willing to acknowledge the sensation for a few brief seconds before he would deny it had ever happened completely. He raised an eyebrow and forced his attention to stay on the source of his temporary anxiety: his mate.

You’re sure she’s mine? He had to ask his wolf again. Maybe there’d been some kind of mistake. The universe couldn’t be this cruel to him.

Ours. His wolf bristled at the question. His canine half had never liked being questioned over anything.

She’s not even a wolf. Rex crossed his hands over his chest. She’s not even latent. She possesses no wolf blood whatsoever. Wouldn’t you like to make a different choice for us?

Fate has chosen and she is perfect. In another second his inner-canine might start growling at him. Rex couldn’t remember the last time he and his other half had been so at odds with one another. It had been decades at least.

He sighed. She’s a witch.

And therein lay the problem. Rex hated witches. As far as he was concerned, witches were the bane of humanity. All witches should be put to death before they were allowed to cause any more trouble. In fact, he’d been sent out by his brother to find a witch and bring her back—willing or not—to Westervelt in order to help them with a problem they faced because of other witches.

Hell, this sucks.

His wolf made a sound somewhere between a harrumph and a sigh, which seemed a little odd for a canine. Your opinion is noted.

“Witch.” Rex spoke to the woman who would be with him for eternity. “What exactly is going on in this room?”

The little woman glared at him. Her hair fell somewhere between the shades of brown and blonde, hanging low past her shoulders. He had no idea what to call the unusual color but he felt certain she would know how she wanted it referred. Women were particular when it came to their own presentation. She’d either think of herself as being blonde or brunette, and he better not make the mistake of calling it something else or she might turn him into a frog.

Her blue eyes flared with anger and another emotion he didn’t know how to define. She stood up, and even then she barely reached his midsection. His mate was also small.

Wonderful. She’s also breakable. How fantastic.

Sarcasm is beneath you, Randolph. Only his wolf ever used his full name. He hated it.

“Wolf,” she snapped back at him. “What does it look like? They’re frozen, he’s out cold, and I’m going to be dead, dead, dead before the day is over.”

“No you will not.” He scoffed at the idea. No one would harm her. Whatever this—situation—entailed, he would handle it like he did everything else: with just enough violence to ensure it never happened again.

“Oh yes? You’re some kind of prophet? You can read the future?” She fisted her hands, and he had to suppress the smile threatening to take charge of his face. Whoever this witch turned out to be, she had a spine of steel. Confidence seemed incredibly important as a quality for his mate. Things tended to go to hell quickly for his pack.

“Who are you anyway, and what are you doing here? I’ve had enough wolves today to last me a lifetime.”

“Oh yes? Been consorting with a lot of wolves lately?” He sniffed the air. Yes, the witch was correct. There had been wolves here. A female, if he wasn’t mistaken. He didn’t know her but she had a familiar scent to her like a distant memory he couldn’t make surface. The other wolf—male—he knew, and he almost gasped at the familiarity. Parker Lewis. He hadn’t seen or heard from him in almost forty years. He’d vanished right after the world had nearly ended for his pack. They’d thought he’d died with his parents.

What the hell had he been doing in this truck stop diner in New Jersey?

No matter. Both Parker and the she-wolf were gone now. He’d have to inform Tristan and move on. He had an agenda and it didn’t include finding Parker and the mysterious female wolf, at least, not yet.

The unknown human man on the floor groaned. Rex watched him silently for a second before growing bored. He extended his hand to the witch. “Come on. We need to leave.”

She looked at his outstretched offering as if he’d handed her the sharp end of a sword to hold. “You need to leave. I need to decide how the hell I’m getting out of trouble and I need to decide fast. Skedaddle. I can’t deal with you now. Go do whatever wolves do, whoever you are.”

“My name is Rex Kane.”

The woman rolled her eyes. “Oh great. A Kane. Today just became more complete for me. Out on one of your witch-killing expeditions?”

“It is polite when someone gives you their name to give them one back.” He didn’t want to tell her his true mission wasn’t to kill a witch but to kidnap one. His stop at the diner had been fateful. He’d been filling his car up with gas when he’d scented them inside.

“You want to talk to me about manners?” She stomped forward. “I don’t deal with murderers. I certainly don’t give them my name.”

Nodding, he looked around the room. “As far as I can tell, you have two choices. You can stay here with this motley crew.” He pointed to the still frozen witch-sisters. “Or you can come with me and let me fix whatever problem you are having.” Why did no one ever see the simple solutions he did? Why did everyone have to make life so complicated? Things were never nearly as difficult as they first seemed to be.

“Simple, huh?” She shook her head. “Seems like it’s out of the frying pan and into the flame.”

He shook his head. “Are your words some kind of expression I should be familiar with?” Humans and their idiocy…

“You might know it if you ever left your strange island but you wolves don’t travel much, do you? You prefer to stay there and fester in between killing witches everywhere you go.”

Seems like she doesn’t like wolves.

Was his wolf just now paying attention? “Let me be clear.” He stepped toward her. Over the stink of grease and fatty foods he could smell her personal aroma. He’d always loved citrus. It made everything seem clean and pure. His mate—whoever she was—smelled like oranges right off the tree. His mouth watered. For the first time ever he had the inclination to grab another being and kiss them—hard—with or without their consent. I crave her.

His wolf sighed. I know. Restrain yourself, won’t you?

“You can come with me willingly or I will take you without your consent. Your choice. Make it, nameless-one.”

She threw her hands in the air. “Why are you even concerning yourself with this? I’m no one to you. Move on.”

“I’m afraid I can’t.” Since he’d found her, he’d have to deal with her regardless of predilection for the dark arts. Was it possible to stop being a witch or was it something where once you started you could never stop?

“Why, by the goddess, can you not?” She covered her mouth. “Now I’m sounding like you. Did anyone ever teach you how to speak so you’d sound more normal?”

“Yes.” He extended his hand again. “I would prefer to have this conversation elsewhere.”

“Why? What conversation are we having?”

He growled at her defiance. His mate defined stubbornness with her pert chin she held high in the air. “You are my mate, witch, and you will come with me wherever I go from now on.”

Silence filled the room. The sound of diners’ complaints from the main restaurant travelled through the double doors to make up the only sound in the area except for the occasional hiss of the fry grill, which he suspected needed to be fiddled with or turned off. The witch had yet to react to his announcement. She stared at him, openmouthed like a landed fish.

“Rex Kane.” Her voice sounded hoarse. “I am not your mate. I could never, would never be a mate to a creature like you. Go find one of your own abominations to play with.”

He’d had enough. With a growl he hadn’t planned and couldn’t control, he picked the tiny woman up over his shoulder. She shrieked and kicked her feet. “Put me down this very instant or I will make you sorry you ever touched me.”

“Try it and I will make you repent.” His sisters-in-law had temporarily warded him from witches. It wouldn’t last forever. Hence the reason why they needed a witch—they could never permanently protect themselves from the evil ministrations of his father’s pet coven.

He couldn’t take her out through the diner. In this day and age, humans had rules about abduction and, if she wanted to, the witch could make his life miserably harder than it need be. He would still get her out of there but he could do without the scene she would cause.

Instead, he carted her out the back door of the kitchen. The smell of restaurant garbage made him want to gag as he hurried with the screaming woman still perched over his shoulder toward his van. “Witch, you will listen.”

She snarled, an impressive sound considering she was not a canine. “Wolf, you will put me down.”

“I will.” He nodded. “Inside my van. I can either tie you up and stick you in the back, or you can behave like a well brought up woman and sit up front with me.”

“You have no idea how I was brought up.”

“I will have your choice.”

She cursed. “The back of the van.”

Fine. So far Rex’s mating was not going the way he might have hoped. None of his brothers had this much trouble with their soul mates. His brother Tristan had been trapped as a wolf, his brother Theo had accidentally managed to take part of the soul of a demon inside of him, Az’s mate had herself been stuck as a wolf, and Michael had mated a latent wolf-shifter who had been horribly abused. And, yet, none of them had found a mate as bad-tempered as his. Hell, he still didn’t know this witch’s name.

Thumping her down on the inside of the van, he grabbed some rope he kept stored there. Also collected were lots of tools and assorted weaponry he might need whenever he left the island. All of his equipment would have to be moved up front because even tied up he suspected his mate-slash-witch would find a way to wound him if she could.

She was going to have to go up front with him whether she liked it or not. He grabbed the rope and tied her wrists. “I really don’t want to do this to you. I have no interest in tying you up.”

Her eyes flared with anger. “I thought you wolves were into all kinds of kinky stuff.”

Rex rolled his eyes. The woman would say anything to get a rise out of him at the moment. “When I have your hands on me sexually, I won’t want you tied.” She gulped, the muscles on her neck stretching slightly. He wondered if he’d made her mouth go dry. “Nothing to say?”

With her wrists fully secured, he heaved her over his shoulder again. “Stop. Right now. I don’t like how you’re holding me. It makes me feel like you’re going to drop me on the ground.”

“Witch, if you weighed twice what you do, I wouldn’t drop you. I’m a wolf-shifter. I can carry three times my own body weight.”

“Good to know.” She kicked again, this time landing a blow on his chest. It stung but he wouldn’t rub it, not in front of her. In their power struggle, he would come up on top. This witch would not be allowed to see him weak, even if she were his mate.

She is.

He wanted to slam his wolf. Shut up. “I would think you would be pleased. You said they were going to kill you. I’ve removed you from the situation, witch.”

“Would you please stop calling me witch?” Her eyes flared as he placed her in the front passenger side of his blue van, bending over to buckle her in like she was a child who needed help.

“What else should I call you since you won’t tell me your name?” He closed the door and used his key remote to lock her in while he walked to the driver’s side. If she managed to escape and run away, he would catch her with no trouble. But the time he spent doing it could be better spent getting back to Maine. If he rushed, he would be there in seven hours.

In an irony not lost on him, this wasn’t his first time in New Jersey picking up a mate he needed to bring back to Maine. The only difference was the first time Tristan had been with him, stuck in wolf form, and Tristan’s mate Ashlee had at least accepted she was mated to Tristan.

Also, it hadn’t been his fate and soul on the line. Which seemed, he rapidly discovered, to make all the difference. Was he doomed to spar with this woman’s attitude for the rest of eternity?

Not the rest. You will start to age as soon as you take care of the sexual part of mating. Then you’ll live a normal and happy life like the rest of your family.

Only if I can avoid getting murdered by my father. His wolf had left the troubling part out of the happily-ever-after scenario.

Yes, if you can manage to not get killed.

He opened the car door and slipped inside, keys in hand. The witch stared at him through hooded eyes. He didn’t like her quietness, not one bit. Sniffing the air, he tried to get a sense of what her emotions were based on her smell. Most of his brothers couldn’t decipher as well as he could. It had been his gift—and burden—since childhood. Having a really sensitive nose made it impossible to do certain things. Before he’d learned to control it, the faintest aromas could make him physically ill. If something was about to go bad in the refrigerator, he might be sick for days.

The other side of his scent issues was he could easily discern things other wolf-shifters could not: like the moods of those around him. Right now, his orange-scented mate smelled … perturbed. She wasn’t really angry nor was she confused. The witch radiated a feeling somewhere in between.

“If I tell you my name, will you let me go?”

“No.” He didn’t like her feeling any anger at all. In her position, he might too be annoyed. Still, something inside of him he didn’t want to particularly examine churned at the thought she had displeasure with him.

“I didn’t think so.” She sank down in her seat. “I don’t know why I’m surprised I’m being kidnapped by a psychotic witch-killing wolf. These sorts of things happen to me all the time.”

Really? He started the car and pulled it into traffic, watching where he went to make sure he did so in a safe manner. He wouldn’t risk her by being careless. “It does?”

“Sure. I’m cursed, after all, which doesn’t happen if you have great luck.”

“You’re cursed?” He nearly stuttered on the word. Rex knew something about curses. They’d all lived with one for thirty years until Ashlee had come and the pack had thrown it out. Most of the pack had died because of the blasted thing. “But you’re a witch.”

She shook her head. “Look, Kane.”

He really wished she wouldn’t use his last name to address him. It reminded him too much of his father. But he had no desire to interrupt her when she talked. Her voice had a lyrical, soothing quality he wanted to listen to for a while.

“I wasn’t born this ugly. In my normal form I’m not gorgeous, but I’m not grotesque either. People can look at me without wincing. I appreciate you’ve chosen not to flinch or look away. You’re the second wolf today to do so, which is, actually, incredibly kind considering what you all are. But don’t you want to abduct a better-looking person? Surely, there can’t be much fun in this.”

Rex felt dumbfounded. He’d always prided himself on being a smart man. But he couldn’t make head or tails of what she’d just said to him. “Let me see if I can understand what you are saying.”

She shifted in her seat, and he wished he could trust her so he could untie her wrists. “Okay.”

“People can’t look at you without flinching?”

“Correct.” She motioned to her face. “Can you blame them?”

He ignored her question. “Why is this?”

“Because of the sores, the puss, the misshapen nose, the way my eyes are narrowed, my stringy hair and the other ways in which I now resemble a stereotypical crone.” She swung her head around to look out the window into the sunset. “And by the way, I take it back. You’re an asshole for making me list all the things wrong with me when you can see them perfectly for yourself.”

“Witch, I cannot see any of what you described. Do you need what the humans call a psychiatrist? Are you unwell?” He sniffed at the air. She didn’t smell of mental illness.

Her head turned around, the eyes he could now see had as much gray in them as they did blue stared back at him. “Are you serious or just playing some kind of a game? Because I know the wolf earlier could see how horrendous I looked.”

“You are of petite stature. Your breasts are round and look like they would fill up my hands.” She sucked in her breath as he said his words but he wasn’t done. “You have brownish-blondish hair. I will call it whatever color you would like me to call it. Your eyes are … beautiful. Blue, gray. Your nose is not askew. By contrast, I would call it pert. Your chin is stubborn. All in all, if you were not a witch, I would call you a pixie.”

She was silent for two seconds before tears slid down her face. Silent, she did not wipe them away. Neither did she slip into hysterics. “I used to look as you described me.”

“It’s how you look to me.”

“How?” She shook her head.

“I’m your mate. I see you as you are, witch.”

“My name is Liz. Stop calling me witch.”

He felt a smile twitch at his mouth. He’d gotten the name. Already, he’d made progress. If only it would be as easy to get her to save his pack.

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