Posted in Books, Teasers

Upcoming book from Anne Kane Running From the Cyborg

Cover of Running From The Cyborg

Running from the Cyborg
(Terras Five – Book Five)
By Anne Kane
Genres: Sci –Fi, Cyborgs, romance

Blurb:
She can run but she can’t hide from the sexy cyborg who has her in his sights.

Caitlyn: Gorgeous. Feisty. Human. A survivor in an unforgiving galaxy. Running from an enemy she can’t see for reasons she doesn’t understand. Whoever he is, he’s trying to kill her.

Jakob: Large. Mouthwateringly sexy. Loyal. Cyborg. Determined to find the female who seduced him, gave him a night he’d never forget, then disappeared before he woke. When he finally manages to catch up to her, he intends to do whatever it takes to keep her at his side.

Excerpt:
She whirled to face Jakob, raising one hand to cover her mouth. Wouldn’t do to have him see how happy she was to be cornered by his big muscular self.
Jakob slid to a stop just inside the doorway and leaned casually against the metal frame. His eyes danced with a mixture of lust and mirth as he lifted one brow to study her. “Tag? Don’t you think I’ve wasted enough time chasing you back and forward across the galaxy? You want me to chase you around my ship as well?”
Caitlyn sauntered across the room, striving to look casual. “I don’t see why not. Don’t you think the prize is worth the effort?”
“The prize?” Jakob pushed himself off the wall, stalking toward her. “ I didn’t realize you were offering yourself up as a prize if I caught you. I would have put more effort into the chase had I known.” He reached her side and cupped the back of her head in one large hand, tilting it up so that he could gaze directly into her eyes.
“Umm…” She didn’t manage to get out more than that strangled exclamation before his mouth descended, scorching a kiss across her lips. A soft whimper escaped her lips as he stole her breath away, his tongue sweeping the inside of her mouth with the intimate ease of a longtime lover. Damn, but he knew how to silence her with a single kiss.
He tasted good, so damn good she wanted more. Winding an arm around his neck, she drew his head down to her level.
His hands dropped to her ass, pulling her in close against him as the kiss deepened from sensual to demanding. She could feel the hard ridge of his erection pressing into her belly, and the knowledge that he wanted her that much fueled her own lust.
Damn! This was so not good.
She wanted him. Craved him, craved his touch. The timing sucked. She could not afford to be distracted from the need to survive.
Jakob swore softly, his hands going to her shirt. He fumbled with the closure for a long moment before grasping the edges in his hands and ripping the material right down the middle.
Her breasts spilled out into his waiting hands, and she whimpered as his rough palms swiped across the sensitive nipples. It felt good. So good. Too good
Surely a little dalliance while they were en route wouldn’t matter?
Cyborgs didn’t do forever, she reminded herself.
She seized the closure at the top of his flight suit, pulling it down with a quick jerk of her hand. The soft whir of the mechanism filled the room as the material parted. She slid her hand inside, palm flat against the tight muscles of his chest.
So hard. So male. So damn tempting.
She moved her hand lower, pushing the fabric out of her way. Lower. Across the hard planes of his abs. Down.
He shrugged, and the top of the flight suit fell away from his shoulders leaving him bare to the hips.
She gave the flight suit one last tug, and it pooled around his ankles.
His cock burst free, arcing proudly up from its nest of thick curls. Caitlyn wrapped her fingers around the hard shaft.
So thick. So long. It pulsed eagerly in her hand.
Dropping to her knees, she took him into her mouth and ran her tongue around the mushroom shaped head, savoring the musky male taste.
Jakob tangled his fingers in her hair and let out a low growl. “Damn, Caitlyn. You are enough to drive a cyborg insane. You know just what to do to make me forget how pissed off I am.”
Yeah. She really did. For just this tiny bit of time she felt totally in control, and it felt good. Great, actually.
She glided her head up and down his rigid shaft, enjoying the sounds of his arousal, the little groans and growls that slipped out of his lips.
She reached up to cup his balls, squeezing gently, tugging just a little, teasing him with her fingers.
Control. Yeah. When most of your life felt like a total mess, control was a drug she craved almost as much as she craved this big idiot.
“Enough.” His voice was hoarse, edgy with need as he pulled himself out of her mouth and pulled her to her feet. His lips came down on hers, harsh and demanding.
She gave back as good as she got, her tongue darting between his parted lips to let him taste himself on her.
He grunted loudly and brought his hands up to push impatiently at the fabric of her pants. They skimmed down over her hips, and Caitlyn kicked them off and to the side.
Jakob slipped his hands beneath her buttocks and lifted her off her feet. She dangled helplessly in the air, her back scraping against the cold metal of the wall. He recaptured her mouth as he slowly lowered her onto his hard shaft.
Oh, sweet mother of the universe!
Caitlyn wrapped her legs around his hips, locking her ankles behind him as he began to move his hips , using his cybernetic strength to hold her up off the ground as he thrust his cock deep.

AuthorBio and Links
Anne Kane lives in the beautiful Okanagan Valley with a bouncy little rescue dog who’s breed defies description, a cantankerous Himalayan cat, and too many fish to count. She spent many years trying to fit in and act normal, but finally gave up the effort. She started writing romance in 2008, and her fate was sealed when she won a publishing contract with Red Sage Publishing and just a month later Changeling Press accepted her first submission. Since then she had published more than thirty stories in a variety of sub-genres, all with a happily ever after.

Her hobbies, when she’s not playing with the characters in her head, include kayaking, hiking, swimming, playing guitar, singing and of course, reading.

You can find Anne around the web at:
Ann’s Website

Anne’s Blog

Anne’s Twitter

Anne’s FacebookGood Reads

Buy her book on Amazon

Buy the book at B&N

Posted in Books, Teasers

New Changeling Press Pre-Releases

Several new books are available at Changeling Press. Check them out!Check out these pre-releases from Changeling Press!

Sir Spanksalot (Sexscape 2
)by Alice Gaines
$3.99
Sale Price: $3.39

Transported into her favorite game, SexScape, Maddy meets a sexy devil named Sir Spanksalot. Really.
Buy it today at Changeling PressBuy it today at Changeling Press
Pre-order Now:
Amazon
Barnes and Nobel

KOBO/Wal-Mart
iTunes

Mysti and Starr (Wild Witches of Beaver Bay 1)
by Kate Hill
$4.99
Sale Price: $4.24

Family magic summons Mysti Wild to her destined mate–a demon hunting biker with secrets of his own.

Buy it today at Changeling Press

Pre-Order Now:
Amazon
Barnes and Nobel
KOBO/Wal-Mart
iTunes

Intergalactic Brides Vol. 3
by Jessica Coulter Smith
$5.99
Sale Price: $4.79

Three sexy aliens and the women who can’t resist them — an unexpected out of this world romance.

Buy it today at Changeling Press

Pre-Order Now:
Amazon
Barnes and Nobel
KOBO/Wal-Mart

iTunes

Intergalatic Brides Vol. 3by Jessica Coulter Smith

Print $12.95

Three sexy aliens and the women who can’t resist them — an unexpected out of this world romance.

Buy it today at Amazon

Enjoy!

Posted in Books, Teasers

My new book will be released early!

Hello everybody! I have great news! The release date for my new book has been moved to August 30. It will be available from changeling press on Friday

Excerpt: Technical Difficulties

Chapter One

The dragon had been brutalized. As Medical Technician Johnson worked over the corpse, she couldn’t miss the signs. The poor dragon-in-human-guise was female. She hadn’t been raped; at least there were no signs of trauma to the uterus, nor fluids. But she’d been ripped apart, flesh from bone. There were tears in the muscle that bespoke deep and terrible injuries.
Sonya Johnson whispered, “I think you were dead when most of these were inflicted.” She’d quickly discovered the cause of death: a crushed skull that had occurred while the dragon was in human form. Now all she wanted was to be done chronicling the post mortem atrocities and see to it that the poor soul had a decent burial.
Sonya smiled just a little. Thinking of any dragon as a “poor soul” was a little like calling a lion a kitty cat. Dragons, like werewolves, she thought with a shudder, were known for taking care of themselves. Both Apex predators of the magical world, for slightly different reasons, they were treated with respect and almost obsessive politeness by other magical beings and the few humans unlucky enough to know about their existence.
“Humans like me.” Her smile was gone as she finished cataloging the last injury. Shaking her head, Sonya covered the body with a sheet and left the autopsy room. She locked the door before heading into her office.
All right, so it wasn’t technically “her” office any more than the autopsy room belonged to her. But she thought of both as her property because she spent more time in them than anyone else. That was thanks to the doctoral-level degree she was seeking from SearchLight Academy in Reptilian Magical Creatures: Treatment and Dissection. Unlike those who studied humans, magical creature experts were expected to have a wider knowledge base. The closest comparison Sonya could make was a general practice physician. And even they weren’t responsible for both the living and the dead.
She had just finished her second year of postgraduate work. It was May. She had a blissful ten weeks off for the summer. Of course, she was still expected to work on her dissertation, so “rest” wasn’t in her vocabulary. But she wouldn’t be attending biweekly meetings with this or that professor to discuss her research. She might even have considered a week away from the City of Tampa, where she worked, and its lesser cousin, the City of St. Petersburg, where she lived. But she hadn’t scheduled any time off because she’d been too fixated on her dissertation to think beyond the next few days.
Someone knocked on the office door. Not closed completely and made of a light pressboard, the door opened a little more.
Sonya caught sight of a skirt in a bold print and a tapered shoe. She called, “Come in.”
A woman stepped in. But then she spoke. “Sorry to disturb you.” And Sonya’s mind went sideways. Not because there was anything particularly wrong with the voice. It was just that she wasn’t used to hearing a slightly male voice coming out of a woman’s body.
Transgender. That’s what they call themselves. And, on the heels of that, I hate it when someone says “they” about my people so I will not start out by thinking of this person as a part of “they.” She’s dressed as a woman. I’ll call her “her.”
“Um,” she said uncomfortably, “you’re not. Please sit down.”
The transgender person… The woman, Sonya scolded herself…didn’t sit. Neither did she shut the door. “Thanks, but…” She looked briefly discomfited. “I’m Agent Brown. Maxine.”
$That surely wasn’t the name you were born with. Oh, shut the fuck up! She doesn’t want you staring, and you will get over yourself.
Sonya realized Maxine was waiting for a response. Her small, delicate and frankly slightly attractive nose was turning slightly red, just like Sonya’s did when she was embarrassed. “I’m sorry,” she said, rising and extending her hand. “I’m Sonya Johnson, one of the medical techs.”
The moment their hands touched, the hair on the back of Sonya’s neck stood up. She pulled back rather quickly. “Um…um…” She looked away from the hand she’d shaken and into eyes that were startling in their beauty. Honey-brown and shadowed by lashes as thick and long as any ever seen in a boys’ band, they took Sonya’s breath away. She forgot for a moment that her neck was prickling and smiled. “How may I help you?”
Maxine, who had taken a step forward to grip Sonya’s hand, retreated at least that far. “Agent Wellington wants to see you when it’s convenient.” She hesitated before adding, “He’s the head of Werewolf Watch.”
Sonya shivered. She couldn’t help herself. She hated werewolves. They were the craziest, most terrifying— $Oh, get ahold of yourself. If you’re being called, you specifically… She met Maxine’s eyes. “You $are looking for me specifically, right? Because Jenny Davis could—”
“I’m sorry. He wants you personally.” She really did look empathetic. “If it helps, it will just be him, you, and me in a large conference room.”
Sonya’s particular skills were needed. She specialized in dragons and basilisks. What could she possibly do for a werewolf? Because Wellington had to be a werewolf. Unlike in the Department of Dragons, with which Sonya worked on a regular basis, Werewolf Watch was stuffed to capacity with its namesakes.
$Shit. That probably means this woman is a werewolf. She looked directly into Maxine’s eyes, needing to know. “You’re a werewolf too?”
Maxine nodded. “Agent Wellington said to tell you he understands your circumstances, whatever those are, and that he wouldn’t call for you unless it was absolutely necessary.”
$Whatever those are. She doesn’t know. Sonya felt a little better. “Can he give me fifteen minutes to…to…” She glanced down at her report. $To finish my work flashed across her mind, but it would take at least two hours to do that.
“I’ll tell him you’ll be up in thirty,” Maxine said gently. Still a little more comforted, Sonya said, “Thank you. I’ll be up soon.”
Maxine left, closing the door behind her.
$Black, like me. But transgender and werewolf. The three modifiers to the name Agent Maxine Brown hit one right after the other. Sonya sank into her chair and covered her face with her hands. If she was going to have a prayer of working with werewolves…
Her mind insisted on calling them monsters.
If she was going to have any hope in Hell of working with those…people…she needed to calm down. So, instead of focusing on her report, she began the deep breathing exercises a SearchLight therapist had taught her shortly after a werewolf nearly ripped her arm off.
* * * *
Maxine was just leaving the frightened human’s office when she heard the distant ching close of the elevator doors. She ignored it and started, slowly, away from the site of confrontation. It wasn’t that she hated near-arguments, but the stench of MedTech Johnson’s fear had shortened Maxine’s breath and made her heart speed up.
The only things that had saved the encounter from becoming a meltdown were Sonya Johnson’s refusal to dwell in terror and the woman’s distraction (bordering on obsession) about Maxine being trans.
Mild telepathy could be more than mildly helpful.
The sound of rubber wheels on tile caught Maxine’s attention. Putting her thoughts about Sonya Johnson aside, she walked around a corner—and saw a genie approaching.
To be fair, he wasn’t dressed like a cartoon genie and, so far as she knew, there wasn’t a stereotypical way for a wish-giver to walk or talk. In this case, Maxine wasn’t even relying on her telepathy. Her nose told her what kind of magical creature was pushing the sheeted gurney. “Agent Morrison.”
Blond haired and blue-eyed, he flashed a stellar smile. “Luke, please. You have me at a disadvantage.”
“Maxine Brown, field agent in Werewolf Watch.”
The genie nodded. “Mark, er, Agent Tavery, found another pair. A dragon and a werewolf. They were discovered in Ybor City about an hour ago. I’m taking the dragon half to Sonya.”
Obviously, Luke had worked with Sonya before, to call her by her first name, and with such respect in his voice. “She’s been summoned up to WW. Do my bosses know about the latest bodies?”
“Absolutely.” Luke frowned. “Does Sonya know she’s expected to go into the wolf’s den, if you’ll excuse the expression?”
“She does. I promised her a large conference room so she’ll have distance from Agent Wellington and me.”
Luke nodded and his frown smoothed out. “Well, I’ll just leave this in the autopsy room.”
Maxine looked down at the sheet-covered form and felt her gut tighten. If this turned out to be murder, as the first two killings had been… Well, no one, not even a dragon, deserved to die before his or her time.
Luke said, “The werewolf half isn’t a member of the Fehrna pack.”
Not from Maxine’s pack. Fehrna Susan, the only alpha in Tampa, had come here from Montana after the slaughter of ’78.
“Like the other werewolf from the first murdered pair, he’s from far away based on his clothes and…” He laughed. “And other tells I don’t understand.”
“What’s the dragon’s gender?”
“Female.”
Like the first pair. A female dragon and a male werewolf.
Luke shook his head. “I don’t understand why they’re being killed in twos.”
“Probably they killed each other. Either out of self-defense or hatred.” And it was the slaughter of ’78 she was thinking of.
“They came all the way to Florida to do that?”
“Maybe they were both here for separate reasons and met by chance.” Maxine frowned. “Although finding a second similar pair, female dragon, male werewolf, makes that less likely.” She started to walk past Luke. She was heading for the stairs since traveling in an elevator was too confining.
But she stopped and turned. A question appeared like a floating neon sign in her head. “Agent Morrison, Luke, aren’t you in the MMCD? Why are you delivering dead bodies?”
Luke chuckled. “The head of Miscellaneous Magical Creatures let me run this errand since he had nothing else for me to do.”
This thought flitted from Luke’s mind to hers. She didn’t often get complete sentences. He must have been feeling his gratitude, or his love for his husband, intensely. $I’d do anything for my Mark but getting out of that cramped office…he was doing me a favor.
Maxine felt a pang of sorrow. She missed having a mate who filled her with a sense of strong devotion.
Luke had reached one of the autopsy rooms. He raised his hand and waved it in front of the door. There was the sound of an invisible hand knocking and then the door opened even though the room, Maxine saw, was empty.
“MedTech Johnson is in her office,” she told Luke.
He glanced over his shoulder. “I guessed as much.” He touched his ear. “I can hear her breathing. Have a good day.” He wheeled the gurney in.
As Maxine opened the door to the stairwell, her thoughts went back to Sonya Johnson and the fear rolling off her in waves. $Except for one instant. When our eyes met. Then she seemed…interested? Aroused? Maxine shook her head. $I can’t read humans very well. Just werewolves or half-wolves. Whatever she was feeling, she wasn’t scared for a moment. Did that mean Sonya Johnson had hope to be not afraid some day?
Maxine wished it so. Both for Sonya’s sake and because, under the fear, the woman was attractive. $And probably straight. And at least somewhat intimidated by trans people.
She reached the first landing. $In other words, she’s not attainable.

Posted in Books, Teasers

Rocket Hades: Abyss Pre-Order Book Information

ROCKET (Hades Abyss MC) by Harley Wylde
Published by Changeling Press

Cover Artist: Bryan Keller

ROCKET Hades Abyss MC2 book cover
ROCKET Hades Abyss MC2 book cover

Genres/Themes: MC Romance, Contemporary, New Adult, Interracial

ABOUT THE BOOK

Violeta — It’s been a year since I was brought to the US and given to Rocket. I’d thought he was like the others and would only cause me pain. I was wrong. Rocket is the kindest, sweetest man I’ve ever met. I arrived an abused, pregnant teen. Now I’m a more confident woman, and I have Rocket to thank. Falling in love with him was inevitable, but now I need him to see me as a desirable woman and not a girl who needs his protection.

Rocket — The young girl who came to live with me was more broken than I’d realized. The horrors she faced have made her stronger, but it didn’t happen overnight. It’s hard not to watch her, to want her. I shouldn’t. I’m too damn old for an eighteen-year-old woman. She’s not as fragile, physically and emotionally, but I can’t shut off the protector inside me that wants to shelter her and keep her safe. When she’s taken, I know that the men responsible will die. I only hope that side of me doesn’t scare my sweet Vi, but nothing will stop me from spilling their blood. I just don’t know if we can end the war before it starts, or if this will only be the beginning. I’ll keep her safe, no matter the cost, because she’s mine whether she knows it or not.
WARNING: This book contains violence, strong language, explicit sex scenes, and an abused woman. But it also has a biker who will protect the woman he loves, no cheating, and a guaranteed happily-ever-after.
Pre-Order your copy today!
Releasing August 9th at online retailers.

Amazon WorldWide

B&N – Nook

iTunes

Kobo

Too eager to wait until August 9th? You can get it on August 2nd at Changeling Press

What do the ARC reviews say about Rocket?

“This is such a great book. I love it! Violeta has blossomed into quite the confident young woman. Rocket is perfect for her.” — Victoria @ GoodReads

“Their love is sweet, so darn sweet but the heat isn’t missing between them either. I love the pure escapism that I find in Ms Wylde’s books. I can open one of her stories and dive right in.” — Leslee @ GoodReads

KEEP READING FOR A SNEAK PEEK…

All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2019 Harley Wylde

I peered out the front blinds and couldn’t contain my sigh. Rocket was outside washing his bike. Shirtless. It hadn’t taken me very long to get over my fear of him. The man had been nothing but kind to me, gentle even, as if he were afraid I’d break. No one had ever treated me better, not a male someone anyway. Even Luciana’s husband had frightened me at first. Then I’d seen the way he looked at her, knew that he cared for her, and I’d realized that there were decent men in the world. Spider was one, and so was Rocket. It had taken some time to feel the same about the rest of the Hades Abyss crew, but I now understood that I was completely safe here. None of them would hurt me, or my sister. For the first time in our lives, we were protected.
Once my fear had subsided, the little things Rocket did to take care of me had started to make me feel something. At first, I’d thought maybe I saw him as a friend or older brother, but that hadn’t felt right. It wasn’t until my sister had given me a knowing look that I’d realized I was falling in love with him. Not that it did me any good. I was seventeen, a child in his eyes. For a little while longer at any rate. I would be eighteen soon, but I didn’t know if that would matter. Just because I felt something for him didn’t mean he felt the same about me. He never did anything inappropriate or said anything he shouldn’t. He was nice, but not in a flirty type of way.
I’d thought Id heard him in his room one night, my name on his lips and the unmistakable sound of a man jerking off. The next morning, he wouldn’t look me in the eye and Id wondered if h’d been thinking of me while pleasuring himself. To some it might have seemed wrong, but after everything Id been through, I didn’t view life the way most people would. Despite my age, I hadn’t been a child in a long while, and back home my father could have easily married me off to someone by now. After the initial awkwardness with Rocket that morning, things had returned to normal between us, which meant he was treating me like a child in need of protection and not a woman. It aggravated me, more than just a little.
“Just a few weeks,” Luciana said from where she sat on the sofa.
“What?”
“You’re almost eighteen.”
I shrugged a shoulder. Rocket was protective, but it didn’t go further than that. I didn’t think it ever would. He’d already seen me naked that first day. Maybe I wasn’t his type. Just because Id heard him doing that and saying my name didn’t mean much. Men had needs, and I was the woman he saw day in and day out. It was likely that and nothing more. Id always thought men didn’t really have a type, that any woman would do, but then Id never met someone like him before. He’d not once brought a woman home. It didn’t mean he was’t seeing someone the times he wasn’t at the house, but I tried not to think about that.
“He cares about you,” she insisted.
“I know he does, but he doesn’t love me. Not the way a man loves a woman.” At least, it didn’t seem like he did. There were times I thought I caught a certain look in his eyes, but it was gone so fast Id convinced myself I was imagining things. Wishful thinking on my part.
“I know you think he doesn’t see you that way, but you’re wrong.”

ABOUT HARLEY…
Short. Erotic. Sweet. Harley’s other half would probably say those words describe her, but they also describe her books. When Harley is writing, her motto is the hotter the better. Off the charts sex, commanding men, and the women who can’t deny them. If you want men who talk dirty, are sexy as hell, and take what they want, then you’ve come to the right place.
Harley Wylde is the “wilder” side of award-winning author Jessica Coulter Smith. Visit Jessica’s website at jessicacoultersmith.com or Harley’s website at harleywylde.com.

****** COVER AND OTHER IMAGES BEL

Posted in Teasers

Technical Difficulties Excerpt

Technical Difficulties

Chapter One

The dragon had been brutalized. As Medical Technician Johnson worked over the corpse, she couldn’t miss the signs. The poor dragon-in-human-guise was female. She hadn’t been raped; at least there were no signs of trauma to the uterus, nor fluids. But she’d been ripped apart, flesh from bone. There were tears in the muscle that bespoke deep and terrible injuries.
Sonya Johnson whispered, “I think you were dead when most of these were inflicted.” She’d quickly discovered the cause of death: a crushed skull that had occurred while the dragon was in human form. Now all she wanted was to be done chronicling the post mortem atrocities and see to it that the poor soul had a decent burial.
Sonya smiled just a little. Thinking of any dragon as a “poor soul” was a little like calling a lion a kitty cat. Dragons, like werewolves, she thought with a shudder, were known for taking care of themselves. Both Apex predators of the magical world, for slightly different reasons, they were treated with respect and almost obsessive politeness by other magical beings and the few humans unlucky enough to know about their existence.
“Humans like me.” Her smile was gone as she finished cataloging the last injury. Shaking her head, Sonya covered the body with a sheet and left the autopsy room. She locked the door before heading into her office.
All right, so it wasn’t technically “her” office any more than the autopsy room belonged to her. But she thought of both as her property because she spent more time in them than anyone else. That was thanks to the doctoral-level degree she was seeking from SearchLight Academy in Reptilian Magical Creatures: Treatment and Dissection. Unlike those who studied humans, magical creature experts were expected to have a wider knowledge base. The closest comparison Sonya could make was a general practice physician. And even they weren’t responsible for both the living and the dead.
She had just finished her second year of postgraduate work. It was May. She had a blissful ten weeks off for the summer. Of course, she was still expected to work on her dissertation, so “rest” wasn’t in her vocabulary. But she wouldn’t be attending biweekly meetings with this or that professor to discuss her research. She might even have considered a week away from the City of Tampa, where she worked, and its lesser cousin, the City of St. Petersburg, where she lived. But she hadn’t scheduled any time off because she’d been too fixated on her dissertation to think beyond the next few days.
Someone knocked on the office door. Not closed completely and made of a light pressboard, the door opened a little more.
Sonya caught sight of a skirt in a bold print and a tapered shoe. She called, “Come in.”
A woman stepped in. But then she spoke. “Sorry to disturb you.” And Sonya’s mind went sideways. Not because there was anything particularly wrong with the voice. It was just that she wasn’t used to hearing a slightly male voice coming out of a woman’s body.
Transgender. That’s what they call themselves. And, on the heels of that, I hate it when someone says “they” about my people so I will not start out by thinking of this person as a part of “they.” She’s dressed as a woman. I’ll call her “her.”
“Um,” she said uncomfortably, “you’re not. Please sit down.”
The transgender person… The woman, Sonya scolded herself…didn’t sit. Neither did she shut the door. “Thanks, but…” She looked briefly discomfited. “I’m Agent Brown. Maxine.”
$That surely wasn’t the name you were born with. Oh, shut the fuck up! She doesn’t want you staring, and you will get over yourself.
Sonya realized Maxine was waiting for a response. Her small, delicate and frankly slightly attractive nose was turning slightly red, just like Sonya’s did when she was embarrassed. “I’m sorry,” she said, rising and extending her hand. “I’m Sonya Johnson, one of the medical techs.”
The moment their hands touched, the hair on the back of Sonya’s neck stood up. She pulled back rather quickly. “Um…um…” She looked away from the hand she’d shaken and into eyes that were startling in their beauty. Honey-brown and shadowed by lashes as thick and long as any ever seen in a boys’ band, they took Sonya’s breath away. She forgot for a moment that her neck was prickling and smiled. “How may I help you?”
Maxine, who had taken a step forward to grip Sonya’s hand, retreated at least that far. “Agent Wellington wants to see you when it’s convenient.” She hesitated before adding, “He’s the head of Werewolf Watch.”
Sonya shivered. She couldn’t help herself. She hated werewolves. They were the craziest, most terrifying— $Oh, get ahold of yourself. If you’re being called, you specifically… She met Maxine’s eyes. “You $are looking for me specifically, right? Because Jenny Davis could—”
“I’m sorry. He wants you personally.” She really did look empathetic. “If it helps, it will just be him, you, and me in a large conference room.”
Sonya’s particular skills were needed. She specialized in dragons and basilisks. What could she possibly do for a werewolf? Because Wellington had to be a werewolf. Unlike in the Department of Dragons, with which Sonya worked on a regular basis, Werewolf Watch was stuffed to capacity with its namesakes.
$Shit. That probably means this woman is a werewolf. She looked directly into Maxine’s eyes, needing to know. “You’re a werewolf too?”
Maxine nodded. “Agent Wellington said to tell you he understands your circumstances, whatever those are, and that he wouldn’t call for you unless it was absolutely necessary.”
$Whatever those are. She doesn’t know. Sonya felt a little better. “Can he give me fifteen minutes to…to…” She glanced down at her report. $To finish my work flashed across her mind, but it would take at least two hours to do that.
“I’ll tell him you’ll be up in thirty,” Maxine said gently. Still a little more comforted, Sonya said, “Thank you. I’ll be up soon.”
Maxine left, closing the door behind her.
$Black, like me. But transgender and werewolf. The three modifiers to the name Agent Maxine Brown hit one right after the other. Sonya sank into her chair and covered her face with her hands. If she was going to have a prayer of working with werewolves…
Her mind insisted on calling them monsters.
If she was going to have any hope in Hell of working with those…people…she needed to calm down. So, instead of focusing on her report, she began the deep breathing exercises a SearchLight therapist had taught her shortly after a werewolf nearly ripped her arm off.
* * * *
Maxine was just leaving the frightened human’s office when she heard the distant ching close of the elevator doors. She ignored it and started, slowly, away from the site of confrontation. It wasn’t that she hated near-arguments, but the stench of MedTech Johnson’s fear had shortened Maxine’s breath and made her heart speed up.
The only things that had saved the encounter from becoming a meltdown were Sonya Johnson’s refusal to dwell in terror and the woman’s distraction (bordering on obsession) about Maxine being trans.
Mild telepathy could be more than mildly helpful.
The sound of rubber wheels on tile caught Maxine’s attention. Putting her thoughts about Sonya Johnson aside, she walked around a corner—and saw a genie approaching.
To be fair, he wasn’t dressed like a cartoon genie and, so far as she knew, there wasn’t a stereotypical way for a wish-giver to walk or talk. In this case, Maxine wasn’t even relying on her telepathy. Her nose told her what kind of magical creature was pushing the sheeted gurney. “Agent Morrison.”
Blond haired and blue-eyed, he flashed a stellar smile. “Luke, please. You have me at a disadvantage.”
“Maxine Brown, field agent in Werewolf Watch.”
The genie nodded. “Mark, er, Agent Tavery, found another pair. A dragon and a werewolf. They were discovered in Ybor City about an hour ago. I’m taking the dragon half to Sonya.”
Obviously, Luke had worked with Sonya before, to call her by her first name, and with such respect in his voice. “She’s been summoned up to WW. Do my bosses know about the latest bodies?”
“Absolutely.” Luke frowned. “Does Sonya know she’s expected to go into the wolf’s den, if you’ll excuse the expression?”
“She does. I promised her a large conference room so she’ll have distance from Agent Wellington and me.”
Luke nodded and his frown smoothed out. “Well, I’ll just leave this in the autopsy room.”
Maxine looked down at the sheet-covered form and felt her gut tighten. If this turned out to be murder, as the first two killings had been… Well, no one, not even a dragon, deserved to die before his or her time.
Luke said, “The werewolf half isn’t a member of the Fehrna pack.”
Not from Maxine’s pack. Fehrna Susan, the only alpha in Tampa, had come here from Montana after the slaughter of ’78.
“Like the other werewolf from the first murdered pair, he’s from far away based on his clothes and…” He laughed. “And other tells I don’t understand.”
“What’s the dragon’s gender?”
“Female.”
Like the first pair. A female dragon and a male werewolf.
Luke shook his head. “I don’t understand why they’re being killed in twos.”
“Probably they killed each other. Either out of self-defense or hatred.” And it was the slaughter of ’78 she was thinking of.
“They came all the way to Florida to do that?”
“Maybe they were both here for separate reasons and met by chance.” Maxine frowned. “Although finding a second similar pair, female dragon, male werewolf, makes that less likely.” She started to walk past Luke. She was heading for the stairs since traveling in an elevator was too confining.
But she stopped and turned. A question appeared like a floating neon sign in her head. “Agent Morrison, Luke, aren’t you in the MMCD? Why are you delivering dead bodies?”
Luke chuckled. “The head of Miscellaneous Magical Creatures let me run this errand since he had nothing else for me to do.”
This thought flitted from Luke’s mind to hers. She didn’t often get complete sentences. He must have been feeling his gratitude, or his love for his husband, intensely. $I’d do anything for my Mark but getting out of that cramped office…he was doing me a favor.
Maxine felt a pang of sorrow. She missed having a mate who filled her with a sense of strong devotion.
Luke had reached one of the autopsy rooms. He raised his hand and waved it in front of the door. There was the sound of an invisible hand knocking and then the door opened even though the room, Maxine saw, was empty.
“MedTech Johnson is in her office,” she told Luke.
He glanced over his shoulder. “I guessed as much.” He touched his ear. “I can hear her breathing. Have a good day.” He wheeled the gurney in.
As Maxine opened the door to the stairwell, her thoughts went back to Sonya Johnson and the fear rolling off her in waves. $Except for one instant. When our eyes met. Then she seemed…interested? Aroused? Maxine shook her head. $I can’t read humans very well. Just werewolves or half-wolves. Whatever she was feeling, she wasn’t scared for a moment. Did that mean Sonya Johnson had hope to be not afraid some day?
Maxine wished it so. Both for Sonya’s sake and because, under the fear, the woman was attractive. $And probably straight. And
aTechnical Difficulties

Chapter One

The dragon had been brutalized. As Medical Technician Johnson worked over the corpse, she couldn’t miss the signs. The poor dragon-in-human-guise was female. She hadn’t been raped; at least there were no signs of trauma to the uterus, nor fluids. But she’d been ripped apart, flesh from bone. There were tears in the muscle that bespoke deep and terrible injuries.
Sonya Johnson whispered, “I think you were dead when most of these were inflicted.” She’d quickly discovered the cause of death: a crushed skull that had occurred while the dragon was in human form. Now all she wanted was to be done chronicling the post mortem atrocities and see to it that the poor soul had a decent burial.
Sonya smiled just a little. Thinking of any dragon as a “poor soul” was a little like calling a lion a kitty cat. Dragons, like werewolves, she thought with a shudder, were known for taking care of themselves. Both Apex predators of the magical world, for slightly different reasons, they were treated with respect and almost obsessive politeness by other magical beings and the few humans unlucky enough to know about their existence.
“Humans like me.” Her smile was gone as she finished cataloging the last injury. Shaking her head, Sonya covered the body with a sheet and left the autopsy room. She locked the door before heading into her office.
All right, so it wasn’t technically “her” office any more than the autopsy room belonged to her. But she thought of both as her property because she spent more time in them than anyone else. That was thanks to the doctoral-level degree she was seeking from SearchLight Academy in Reptilian Magical Creatures: Treatment and Dissection. Unlike those who studied humans, magical creature experts were expected to have a wider knowledge base. The closest comparison Sonya could make was a general practice physician. And even they weren’t responsible for both the living and the dead.
She had just finished her second year of postgraduate work. It was May. She had a blissful ten weeks off for the summer. Of course, she was still expected to work on her dissertation, so “rest” wasn’t in her vocabulary. But she wouldn’t be attending biweekly meetings with this or that professor to discuss her research. She might even have considered a week away from the City of Tampa, where she worked, and its lesser cousin, the City of St. Petersburg, where she lived. But she hadn’t scheduled any time off because she’d been too fixated on her dissertation to think beyond the next few days.
Someone knocked on the office door. Not closed completely and made of a light pressboard, the door opened a little more.
Sonya caught sight of a skirt in a bold print and a tapered shoe. She called, “Come in.”
A woman stepped in. But then she spoke. “Sorry to disturb you.” And Sonya’s mind went sideways. Not because there was anything particularly wrong with the voice. It was just that she wasn’t used to hearing a slightly male voice coming out of a woman’s body.
Transgender. That’s what they call themselves. And, on the heels of that, I hate it when someone says “they” about my people so I will not start out by thinking of this person as a part of “they.” She’s dressed as a woman. I’ll call her “her.”
“Um,” she said uncomfortably, “you’re not. Please sit down.”
The transgender person… The woman, Sonya scolded herself…didn’t sit. Neither did she shut the door. “Thanks, but…” She looked briefly discomfited. “I’m Agent Brown. Maxine.”
$That surely wasn’t the name you were born with. Oh, shut the fuck up! She doesn’t want you staring, and you will get over yourself.
Sonya realized Maxine was waiting for a response. Her small, delicate and frankly slightly attractive nose was turning slightly red, just like Sonya’s did when she was embarrassed. “I’m sorry,” she said, rising and extending her hand. “I’m Sonya Johnson, one of the medical techs.”
The moment their hands touched, the hair on the back of Sonya’s neck stood up. She pulled back rather quickly. “Um…um…” She looked away from the hand she’d shaken and into eyes that were startling in their beauty. Honey-brown and shadowed by lashes as thick and long as any ever seen in a boys’ band, they took Sonya’s breath away. She forgot for a moment that her neck was prickling and smiled. “How may I help you?”
Maxine, who had taken a step forward to grip Sonya’s hand, retreated at least that far. “Agent Wellington wants to see you when it’s convenient.” She hesitated before adding, “He’s the head of Werewolf Watch.”
Sonya shivered. She couldn’t help herself. She hated werewolves. They were the craziest, most terrifying— $Oh, get ahold of yourself. If you’re being called, you specifically… She met Maxine’s eyes. “You $are looking for me specifically, right? Because Jenny Davis could—”
“I’m sorry. He wants you personally.” She really did look empathetic. “If it helps, it will just be him, you, and me in a large conference room.”
Sonya’s particular skills were needed. She specialized in dragons and basilisks. What could she possibly do for a werewolf? Because Wellington had to be a werewolf. Unlike in the Department of Dragons, with which Sonya worked on a regular basis, Werewolf Watch was stuffed to capacity with its namesakes.
$Shit. That probably means this woman is a werewolf. She looked directly into Maxine’s eyes, needing to know. “You’re a werewolf too?”
Maxine nodded. “Agent Wellington said to tell you he understands your circumstances, whatever those are, and that he wouldn’t call for you unless it was absolutely necessary.”
$Whatever those are. She doesn’t know. Sonya felt a little better. “Can he give me fifteen minutes to…to…” She glanced down at her report. $To finish my work flashed across her mind, but it would take at least two hours to do that.
“I’ll tell him you’ll be up in thirty,” Maxine said gently. Still a little more comforted, Sonya said, “Thank you. I’ll be up soon.”
Maxine left, closing the door behind her.
$Black, like me. But transgender and werewolf. The three modifiers to the name Agent Maxine Brown hit one right after the other. Sonya sank into her chair and covered her face with her hands. If she was going to have a prayer of working with werewolves…
Her mind insisted on calling them monsters.
If she was going to have any hope in Hell of working with those…people…she needed to calm down. So, instead of focusing on her report, she began the deep breathing exercises a SearchLight therapist had taught her shortly after a werewolf nearly ripped her arm off.
* * * *
Maxine was just leaving the frightened human’s office when she heard the distant ching close of the elevator doors. She ignored it and started, slowly, away from the site of confrontation. It wasn’t that she hated near-arguments, but the stench of MedTech Johnson’s fear had shortened Maxine’s breath and made her heart speed up.
The only things that had saved the encounter from becoming a meltdown were Sonya Johnson’s refusal to dwell in terror and the woman’s distraction (bordering on obsession) about Maxine being trans.
Mild telepathy could be more than mildly helpful.
The sound of rubber wheels on tile caught Maxine’s attention. Putting her thoughts about Sonya Johnson aside, she walked around a corner—and saw a genie approaching.
To be fair, he wasn’t dressed like a cartoon genie and, so far as she knew, there wasn’t a stereotypical way for a wish-giver to walk or talk. In this case, Maxine wasn’t even relying on her telepathy. Her nose told her what kind of magical creature was pushing the sheeted gurney. “Agent Morrison.”
Blond haired and blue-eyed, he flashed a stellar smile. “Luke, please. You have me at a disadvantage.”
“Maxine Brown, field agent in Werewolf Watch.”
The genie nodded. “Mark, er, Agent Tavery, found another pair. A dragon and a werewolf. They were discovered in Ybor City about an hour ago. I’m taking the dragon half to Sonya.”
Obviously, Luke had worked with Sonya before, to call her by her first name, and with such respect in his voice. “She’s been summoned up to WW. Do my bosses know about the latest bodies?”
“Absolutely.” Luke frowned. “Does Sonya know she’s expected to go into the wolf’s den, if you’ll excuse the expression?”
“She does. I promised her a large conference room so she’ll have distance from Agent Wellington and me.”
Luke nodded and his frown smoothed out. “Well, I’ll just leave this in the autopsy room.”
Maxine looked down at the sheet-covered form and felt her gut tighten. If this turned out to be murder, as the first two killings had been… Well, no one, not even a dragon, deserved to die before his or her time.
Luke said, “The werewolf half isn’t a member of the Fehrna pack.”
Not from Maxine’s pack. Fehrna Susan, the only alpha in Tampa, had come here from Montana after the slaughter of ’78.
“Like the other werewolf from the first murdered pair, he’s from far away based on his clothes and…” He laughed. “And other tells I don’t understand.”
“What’s the dragon’s gender?”
“Female.”
Like the first pair. A female dragon and a male werewolf.
Luke shook his head. “I don’t understand why they’re being killed in twos.”
“Probably they killed each other. Either out of self-defense or hatred.” And it was the slaughter of ’78 she was thinking of.
“They came all the way to Florida to do that?”
“Maybe they were both here for separate reasons and met by chance.” Maxine frowned. “Although finding a second similar pair, female dragon, male werewolf, makes that less likely.” She started to walk past Luke. She was heading for the stairs since traveling in an elevator was too confining.
But she stopped and turned. A question appeared like a floating neon sign in her head. “Agent Morrison, Luke, aren’t you in the MMCD? Why are you delivering dead bodies?”
Luke chuckled. “The head of Miscellaneous Magical Creatures let me run this errand since he had nothing else for me to do.”
This thought flitted from Luke’s mind to hers. She didn’t often get complete sentences. He must have been feeling his gratitude, or his love for his husband, intensely. $I’d do anything for my Mark but getting out of that cramped office…he was doing me a favor.
Maxine felt a pang of sorrow. She missed having a mate who filled her with a sense of strong devotion.
Luke had reached one of the autopsy rooms. He raised his hand and waved it in front of the door. There was the sound of an invisible hand knocking and then the door opened even though the room, Maxine saw, was empty.
“MedTech Johnson is in her office,” she told Luke.
He glanced over his shoulder. “I guessed as much.” He touched his ear. “I can hear her breathing. Have a good day.” He wheeled the gurney in.
As Maxine opened the door to the stairwell, her thoughts went back to Sonya Johnson and the fear rolling off her in waves. $Except for one instant. When our eyes met. Then she seemed…interested? Aroused? Maxine shook her head. $I can’t read humans very well. Just werewolves or half-wolves. Whatever she was feeling, she wasn’t scared for a moment. Did that mean Sonya Johnson had hope to be not afraid some day?
Maxine wished it so. Both for Sonya’s sake and because, under the fear, the woman was attractive. $And probably straight. And at least somewhat intimidated by trans people.
She reached the first landing. $In other words, she’s not
Technical Difficulties

Chapter One

The dragon had been brutalized. As Medical Technician Johnson worked over the corpse, she couldn’t miss the signs. The poor dragon-in-human-guise was female. She hadn’t been raped; at least there were no signs of trauma to the uterus, nor fluids. But she’d been ripped apart, flesh from bone. There were tears in the muscle that bespoke deep and terrible injuries.
Sonya Johnson whispered, “I think you were dead when most of these were inflicted.” She’d quickly discovered the cause of death: a crushed skull that had occurred while the dragon was in human form. Now all she wanted was to be done chronicling the post mortem atrocities and see to it that the poor soul had a decent burial.
Sonya smiled just a little. Thinking of any dragon as a “poor soul” was a little like calling a lion a kitty cat. Dragons, like werewolves, she thought with a shudder, were known for taking care of themselves. Both Apex predators of the magical world, for slightly different reasons, they were treated with respect and almost obsessive politeness by other magical beings and the few humans unlucky enough to know about their existence.
“Humans like me.” Her smile was gone as she finished cataloging the last injury. Shaking her head, Sonya covered the body with a sheet and left the autopsy room. She locked the door before heading into her office.
All right, so it wasn’t technically “her” office any more than the autopsy room belonged to her. But she thought of both as her property because she spent more time in them than anyone else. That was thanks to the doctoral-level degree she was seeking from SearchLight Academy in Reptilian Magical Creatures: Treatment and Dissection. Unlike those who studied humans, magical creature experts were expected to have a wider knowledge base. The closest comparison Sonya could make was a general practice physician. And even they weren’t responsible for both the living and the dead.
She had just finished her second year of postgraduate work. It was May. She had a blissful ten weeks off for the summer. Of course, she was still expected to work on her dissertation, so “rest” wasn’t in her vocabulary. But she wouldn’t be attending biweekly meetings with this or that professor to discuss her research. She might even have considered a week away from the City of Tampa, where she worked, and its lesser cousin, the City of St. Petersburg, where she lived. But she hadn’t scheduled any time off because she’d been too fixated on her dissertation to think beyond the next few days.
Someone knocked on the office door. Not closed completely and made of a light pressboard, the door opened a little more.
Sonya caught sight of a skirt in a bold print and a tapered shoe. She called, “Come in.”
A woman stepped in. But then she spoke. “Sorry to disturb you.” And Sonya’s mind went sideways. Not because there was anything particularly wrong with the voice. It was just that she wasn’t used to hearing a slightly male voice coming out of a woman’s body.
Transgender. That’s what they call themselves. And, on the heels of that, I hate it when someone says “they” about my people so I will not start out by thinking of this person as a part of “they.” She’s dressed as a woman. I’ll call her “her.”
“Um,” she said uncomfortably, “you’re not. Please sit down.”
The transgender person… The woman, Sonya scolded herself…didn’t sit. Neither did she shut the door. “Thanks, but…” She looked briefly discomfited. “I’m Agent Brown. Maxine.”
$That surely wasn’t the name you were born with. Oh, shut the fuck up! She doesn’t want you staring, and you will get over yourself.
Sonya realized Maxine was waiting for a response. Her small, delicate and frankly slightly attractive nose was turning slightly red, just like Sonya’s did when she was embarrassed. “I’m sorry,” she said, rising and extending her hand. “I’m Sonya Johnson, one of the medical techs.”
The moment their hands touched, the hair on the back of Sonya’s neck stood up. She pulled back rather quickly. “Um…um…” She looked away from the hand she’d shaken and into eyes that were startling in their beauty. Honey-brown and shadowed by lashes as thick and long as any ever seen in a boys’ band, they took Sonya’s breath away. She forgot for a moment that her neck was prickling and smiled. “How may I help you?”
Maxine, who had taken a step forward to grip Sonya’s hand, retreated at least that far. “Agent Wellington wants to see you when it’s convenient.” She hesitated before adding, “He’s the head of Werewolf Watch.”
Sonya shivered. She couldn’t help herself. She hated werewolves. They were the craziest, most terrifying— $Oh, get ahold of yourself. If you’re being called, you specifically… She met Maxine’s eyes. “You $are looking for me specifically, right? Because Jenny Davis could—”
“I’m sorry. He wants you personally.” She really did look empathetic. “If it helps, it will just be him, you, and me in a large conference room.”
Sonya’s particular skills were needed. She specialized in dragons and basilisks. What could she possibly do for a werewolf? Because Wellington had to be a werewolf. Unlike in the Department of Dragons, with which Sonya worked on a regular basis, Werewolf Watch was stuffed to capacity with its namesakes.
$Shit. That probably means this woman is a werewolf. She looked directly into Maxine’s eyes, needing to know. “You’re a werewolf too?”
Maxine nodded. “Agent Wellington said to tell you he understands your circumstances, whatever those are, and that he wouldn’t call for you unless it was absolutely necessary.”
$Whatever those are. She doesn’t know. Sonya felt a little better. “Can he give me fifteen minutes to…to…” She glanced down at her report. $To finish my work flashed across her mind, but it would take at least two hours to do that.
“I’ll tell him you’ll be up in thirty,” Maxine said gently. Still a little more comforted, Sonya said, “Thank you. I’ll be up soon.”
Maxine left, closing the door behind her.
$Black, like me. But transgender and werewolf. The three modifiers to the name Agent Maxine Brown hit one right after the other. Sonya sank into her chair and covered her face with her hands. If she was going to have a prayer of working with werewolves…
Her mind insisted on calling them monsters.
If she was going to have any hope in Hell of working with those…people…she needed to calm down. So, instead of focusing on her report, she began the deep breathing exercises a SearchLight therapist had taught her shortly after a werewolf nearly ripped her arm off.
* * * *
Maxine was just leaving the frightened human’s office when she heard the distant ching close of the elevator doors. She ignored it and started, slowly, away from the site of confrontation. It wasn’t that she hated near-arguments, but the stench of MedTech Johnson’s fear had shortened Maxine’s breath and made her heart speed up.
The only things that had saved the encounter from becoming a meltdown were Sonya Johnson’s refusal to dwell in terror and the woman’s distraction (bordering on obsession) about Maxine being trans.
Mild telepathy could be more than mildly helpful.
The sound of rubber wheels on tile caught Maxine’s attention. Putting her thoughts about Sonya Johnson aside, she walked around a corner—and saw a genie approaching.
To be fair, he wasn’t dressed like a cartoon genie and, so far as she knew, there wasn’t a stereotypical way for a wish-giver to walk or talk. In this case, Maxine wasn’t even relying on her telepathy. Her nose told her what kind of magical creature was pushing the sheeted gurney. “Agent Morrison.”
Blond haired and blue-eyed, he flashed a stellar smile. “Luke, please. You have me at a disadvantage.”
“Maxine Brown, field agent in Werewolf Watch.”
The genie nodded. “Mark, er, Agent Tavery, found another pair. A dragon and a werewolf. They were discovered in Ybor City about an hour ago. I’m taking the dragon half to Sonya.”
Obviously, Luke had worked with Sonya before, to call her by her first name, and with such respect in his voice. “She’s been summoned up to WW. Do my bosses know about the latest bodies?”
“Absolutely.” Luke frowned. “Does Sonya know she’s expected to go into the wolf’s den, if you’ll excuse the expression?”
“She does. I promised her a large conference room so she’ll have distance from Agent Wellington and me.”
Luke nodded and his frown smoothed out. “Well, I’ll just leave this in the autopsy room.”
Maxine looked down at the sheet-covered form and felt her gut tighten. If this turned out to be murder, as the first two killings had been… Well, no one, not even a dragon, deserved to die before his or her time.
Luke said, “The werewolf half isn’t a member of the Fehrna pack.”
Not from Maxine’s pack. Fehrna Susan, the only alpha in Tampa, had come here from Montana after the slaughter of ’78.
“Like the other werewolf from the first murdered pair, he’s from far away based on his clothes and…” He laughed. “And other tells I don’t understand.”
“What’s the dragon’s gender?”
“Female.”
Like the first pair. A female dragon and a male werewolf.
Luke shook his head. “I don’t understand why they’re being killed in twos.”
“Probably they killed each other. Either out of self-defense or hatred.” And it was the slaughter of ’78 she was thinking of.
“They came all the way to Florida to do that?”
“Maybe they were both here for separate reasons and met by chance.” Maxine frowned. “Although finding a second similar pair, female dragon, male werewolf, makes that less likely.” She started to walk past Luke. She was heading for the stairs since traveling in an elevator was too confining.
But she stopped and turned. A question appeared like a floating neon sign in her head. “Agent Morrison, Luke, aren’t you in the MMCD? Why are you delivering dead bodies?”
Luke chuckled. “The head of Miscellaneous Magical Creatures let me run this errand since he had nothing else for me to do.”
This thought flitted from Luke’s mind to hers. She didn’t often get complete sentences. He must have been feeling his gratitude, or his love for his husband, intensely. $I’d do anything for my Mark but getting out of that cramped office…he was doing me a favor.
Maxine felt a pang of sorrow. She missed having a mate who filled her with a sense of strong devotion.
Luke had reached one of the autopsy rooms. He raised his hand and waved it in front of the door. There was the sound of an invisible hand knocking and then the door opened even though the room, Maxine saw, was empty.
“MedTech Johnson is in her office,” she told Luke.
He glanced over his shoulder. “I guessed as much.” He touched his ear. “I can hear her breathing. Have a good day.” He wheeled the gurney in.
As Maxine opened the door to the stairwell, her thoughts went back to Sonya Johnson and the fear rolling off her in waves. $Except for one instant. When our eyes met. Then she seemed…interested? Aroused? Maxine shook her head. $I can’t read humans very well. Just werewolves or half-wolves. Whatever she was feeling, she wasn’t scared for a moment. Did that mean Sonya Johnson had hope to be not afraid some day?
Maxine wished it so. Both for Sonya’s sake and because, under the fear, the woman was attractive. $And probably straight. And at least somewhat intimidated by trans people.
She reached the first landing. $In other words, she’s not attainable.

tainable.

t least somewhat intimidated by trans people.
She reached the first landing. $In other words, she’s not attainable.

Posted in Books, Teasers

Fiery First Chapter Friday Roosters 3

Host’s Note: Please visit www.emilycarrington.com every Friday for a Fiery First Chapter of a new or recent release. Sometimes there will be giveaways, always there will be pleasure.


Title: Roosters 3: Bastard’s New Baby
Author: Raisa Greywood

Blurb
Jackson: I need a wife. I’d much rather keep my string of submissives and the occasional lady I can take out in public, but my job — no, my very identity as Jackson McKenna, CEO of McKenna Logistics — is at risk if I don’t find some woman to marry. I wish I could find a woman who could do both. She would be intelligent, beautiful, of course, and be filthy enough to drop to her knees and service me in a parking lot before walking into a country club with perfect lipstick and manners. Nobody’s that lucky, though. That woman doesn’t exist.

Siobhan: I need a husband. I’d much rather focus my attention on Andy, my nephew and the son of my deceased sister. Despite my sister and her husband’s wishes, his grandparents want his trust fund and threaten to take him from me. They call me a whore and say I’m not a good guardian because I’m not married. In this small Ohio town, their argument holds weight. But Siobhan Jane O’Malley doesn’t roll over for anyone, and they’re going to find out I fight dirty. And I’m going to have to get very dirty when Jackson McKenna makes me his wife.

—–
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Chapter 1
Siobhan closed her eyes and prayed for patience. Lila Sievers gave her ulcers on a good day. “I don’t remember how many times I’ve told you this, Lila. I. Have. A. Job. Interview.”
Andy’s grandmother snorted. “A likely story. You’re getting all dolled up in that cheap suit for a date. And you expect me to watch my grandson while you gallivant around the county.” Straightening to her full height of just under five feet, Lila wagged a bony finger in Siobhan’s face. “Let me tell you this, missy—”
A horn tooted outside and she heaved a sigh of relief as she gathered her portfolio and purse. “Thank you for watching Andy. I’ll be back in a few hours. He should wake up soon, but his breakfast is already in the fridge in the purple bowl. Please don’t forget to change him this time.”
Lila scowled. “As if I need instructions from the likes of you.”
She had the door half open, but slammed it and spun around to face Lila. “It took a week to get rid of the diaper rash from the last time you took care of him. I’d prefer Andy not go through that again.” Looking at the clock on the stove, Siobhan winced and raced outside into the rain. She didn’t have time to deal with Lila anymore.
Watching her heels and the hem of her skirt, she climbed into her neighbor’s truck. “Thanks for the lift, Mr. James. I really appreciate it.”
Reggie James spat with unerring accuracy into the Mason jar between his legs. Siobhan was both entranced by his skill and appalled by the action and the nasty brown fluid arrowing into the receptacle. But he was her neighbor, and for all his bad habits, he was a good man. There were far too few of those these days, and Laura, his wife, was a lucky lady.
“No problem.” He glanced sideways at her, “I would have looked at it, you know.”
“I’m pretty sure it’s just a starter motor, but thanks. I already got a tow truck out.”
“Good idea. You don’t want to ruin your pretty suit messing with it. I’ll be in town until noon if you need a ride back. Just look for me at Marge’s Diner.”
“Thanks.” She listened with half an ear to his tales of his great-grandchildren, too focused on her mental preparations for her interview with McKenna Logistics. Thankfully, he didn’t notice her inattention.
She blinked when the transmission grumbled as he put his old truck into park, surprised that they’d already arrived.
His grizzled jaw worked his lips into a smile around the wad of tobacco in his mouth. “Good luck with the interview, honey! You’ll like Jackson. He’s a good boy.”
“Thanks!” She opened the door and dropped to the pavement, opening her umbrella. This summer storm wasn’t the best way to make an entrance, but she’d have to manage. “I’ll meet you or give you a call if I find another ride.”
She slammed the door and waved as he drove away, leaving her at the corner of Main and Spruce. The Prairie School building across the street would hopefully be her new workplace if she managed to nail this interview. It was a temporary assignment, covering for Jackson McKenna’s PA, who was out for maternity leave. It was also a shot at getting something that wasn’t bartending or waiting tables. She mentally thanked her friend Moira from the book club for the scoop on the job. She’d have to find a really filthy book for her to read after this.
Siobhan tried to forget the fight she’d had with Lila that morning. To hear Andy’s grandmother, Siobhan was nothing but a whore because she hadn’t found a husband before twenty-five. Lila had even gone so far as to hire a private investigator to take pictures through her windows, hoping to catch some incriminating photographs.
That was yet another reason to hate Lila. She hadn’t gotten laid in months, thanks to the nosy old cow. She was even afraid to use her vibrator under the covers, for fear that the creepy slime of a detective Lila hired had installed cameras in her house.
How a great guy like her brother-in-law had come from such awful people would forever be a mystery to her. There was a reason Dan and Susan had chosen her to be their son’s godmother and guardian. Hell, it was because of Lila and Alfred Sievers that she’d sold a very lucrative business in Chicago to move into Dan and Susan’s old house in the middle of nowhere in southern Ohio. They’d gotten a court order to keep her from taking him out of state without permission.
She knew they were waiting for her to dip into his trust fund, but she wouldn’t. They would be the first ones to scream misuse, and she refused to give them the opportunity. They thought they could drive her off by taking away her livelihood and spreading enough nasty rumors that she couldn’t find work. They’d learn differently soon enough. Siobhan Jane O’Malley didn’t take that shit from anyone.
That two million dollars was there for his care, but it was his legacy. Not hers, and certainly not Lila’s. She’d already seen the printed MLS listings for Hilton Head condos on their coffee table. If they were given custody, his trust would go everywhere but toward his care.
Though she could ask her parents, she didn’t want to bother them. They didn’t have the financial assets to take Lila on in a legal battle, and the situation would only worry them. Besides, Susan and Dan had asked her to care for Andy, not either set of grandparents.
She could take care of Andy by herself, thank you very fucking much. She didn’t need a damned thing: not a man, and not Andy’s money. They’d do fine, and come hell or high water, she’d live up to her sister’s last request.
***
“Hey Mikey, you think you want to try some of this?”
Jackson stared down at the slender blonde on the bed as he tugged his jeans over his hips. He’d already given her sufficient aftercare that she was bright eyed and ready for round two – a necessary evil when playing in a private home. He was always happier when he could foist the important duty off on someone else. “Sorry, honey. I need to motor. Got things to do.”
He had no idea what her name was, but that was fine. She didn’t know his either. He never, ever gave his conquests his real name.
She pouted and stroked the landing strip over her pussy. Rope marks covered her wrists and ankles, evidence of their play. They’d fade soon enough. When she bent her knee, he saw thin stripes from his crop on the creamy skin of her upper thigh. He felt vaguely guilty that he’d taken his irritation at his job out on her tender flesh, but she hadn’t complained.
The smell of their sex was thick in her stuffy bedroom and he very nearly forgot about work. But duty called, and he needed to turn himself back into Jackson and leave Mike behind for another evening. She had no idea he was like superman; bland corporate executive by day, grease-stained biker with a penchant for whips and soft rope by night. He wanted to laugh at the analogy.
“You keep doing that and go back to sleep after you come,” he ordered.
The woman gave him another small pout, but nodded and settled back into the damp sheets, her fingers busy between her legs as Jackson closed her door behind him.
He started his bike and let it putter to the end of the driveway. There was no reason to wake the neighbors this early in the morning. He shifted and picked up speed as he left the residential area for the supercenter off the highway. He needed more condoms.
The clerk glanced down at the pair of economy sized boxes in Jackson’s hands and smirked as he went through the self-checkout. “Dude, I don’t know what you got under the hood, but you need to tell a brother your ways. This is the third time this month.”
“It’s only Monday.”
“That doesn’t make it better. How are you getting all the ladies?”
Jackson sighed and decided to give the boy a piece of advice. “Figure out what makes them come so hard they pass out. Do that over and over until they beg you to stop before you take anything for yourself.”
The boy frowned. “Nah, there has to be more.”
“Nope. That’s it. If you don’t have claw marks on your back, you aren’t doing it right.” He winked and added, “Practice makes perfect, son. Just don’t forget that no means no.” Holding up his purchases, he added, “And don’t forget these.”
He left the boy staring after him, counting the advice his good deed for the day. His mother would be so proud of him for educating America’s youth.
It was pouring rain by the time he was showered and dressed in a Jackson McKenna appropriate suit. Mike and all his trappings were safely hidden away for another day. Getting into his car, he glanced at the clock on his dash and swore. He was going to be late meeting with the woman his mother had recommended for a position as his temporary PA. He’d considered firing Rachel for her bad judgment in letting her husband knock her up, but her leave would only be a few months. He could put up with a temp for that long.
Lost in thought, he picked up speed as he drove the familiar route through downtown Briartown. It would be nice if someone called him by his real name as he was doing wicked things to their quivering flesh. He shook his head and downshifted as he turned the corner of Spruce and Poplar toward the last of the red lights blocking his way. If he kept them gagged, he didn’t have to listen to them scream someone else’s name
His phone chimed a text notification as he approached the intersection and he thumbed it awake. Yanking the wheel over, he pulled into his reserved parking spot and read the message. Glancing at the time, he sighed irritably and returned his mother’s message, agreeing to take her to dinner tomorrow evening, though he ignored her increasingly shrill demands about finding a girlfriend, or better yet, a wife.
He’d have to do it sooner or later, but he hated being forced into marriage. His mother had every intention of issuing a vote of no confidence if he wasn’t at least engaged by the time Haruto Nakamura of Nakamura Shipping retired. The old man wouldn’t sell to a company headed by a single man, and McKenna Logistics needed the influx of assets and connections badly. She’d already told him to update his resume.
If he was lucky, his mystery wife would pump out a few brats to give Moira McKenna her grandchildren and leave him alone to focus on his company. If he was very lucky, he’d find a nice girl who could put on pearls and a frothy dress for business dinners after she’d gone down on him in the parking lot. That was a fantasy, though. A woman filthy enough to give a public blow job would never be an executive’s trophy wife. A sharp tap rattled the Mustang’s window and he pushed the thought aside. Nobody was that lucky.
***
The walk signal flashed white at her. She hopped over the torrent of water racing toward the storm drain, landing a few steps away from the curb.
She was so focused on the building in front of her that she didn’t see the yellow Mustang speeding around the corner. She looked up as tires screeched in the early morning air. The engine roared its downshift and she watched in horror as it barreled through the intersection, completely ignoring the red light.
“Fuck!”
She turned and darted toward the sidewalk, but her heels caught in the sewer grate and sent her falling forward. Her knees hit the pavement as the Mustang sped past, the pain making her bite her lip as tears escaped to mix with the rain. As her umbrella tumbled away in the gusty wind, she caught a glimpse of a man at the wheel, his eyes trained on the phone in his right hand.
Hauling herself to her feet, Siobhan looked down at herself and swore viciously, the syllables clipped and virulent. Her dove gray suit was blackened with mud and filth, her stockings were torn, and blood seeped from ugly scrapes on both knees. She was soaked to the skin from the pounding rain and the deep puddles she’d landed in. At least her favorite Louboutins were intact. She hadn’t broken a heel, though the expensive leather stilettos might never be the same.
Hot tears welled in her eyes, and she scowled as the Mustang careened into a parking spot in front of McKenna Logistics. Wiping the mud from her face, she stood and faced the building, watching as the man who had almost run her down sat in his car, still screwing around with his phone. With her luck, he probably worked there and she’d have to see him every day.
If she got the job at all, that is. She wasn’t exactly successful interview material right now, but decided it was better to show up and explain. Maybe Mr. McKenna would be understanding and let her reschedule.
She crossed the street and tapped on the tinted window, ready to give the driver a piece of her mind. Yet when the dark glass lowered into the door, she nearly swallowed her tongue. He was an asshole, but a gorgeous asshole.
His chestnut hair laid neatly; the haircut alone probably cost more than her car. Wide blue eyes were surrounded by incredibly long lashes, and damn, that late night ginger and gray scruff on his jaw made her thighs twitch. Well, at least until he opened his mouth.
He looked her up and down and wrinkled his nose. “St. Leo’s has a homeless shelter right down the street, miss. I believe the soup kitchen is open today, and they might have something in the charity box…”
Nice. Two people in one day dissing her favorite suit. At least the asshole had an excuse now that he’d ruined it. “This used to be a six-hundred-dollar suit before you decided to be a total dick and run me down.”
He blinked at her in surprise and opened his mouth, but she spoke right over him. “Did it ever occur to you that red lights are there for a fucking reason, asshole? If I wasn’t already going to be late because you were too busy playing with your goddamned phone, I’d call the cops and have you arrested.”
“I… Let me pay…” He fumbled in his pocket, his reddened face turned away from her.
“You know what?” she interrupted. “Fuck you. Save your money for your next speeding ticket.”
She spun on her heel and limped toward her destination, hoping they had a washroom with lots of towels.
A blast of air conditioning made her shiver as she opened the door. A tall, elegant woman with pin straight brown hair looked up from a fashion magazine, blinking at Siobhan’s disheveled appearance. Her severe black suit matched the stark Scandinavian décor. “Can I help you? St. Leo’s…”
Gritting her teeth, she said, “I know. I apologize for my appearance. Someone ran a red light and nearly hit me.” Siobhan drew in a breath. “Sorry. I’m Siobhan O’Malley. I’m interviewing with Mr. McKenna for the PA position. Is there somewhere I can clean up before our meeting?” She looked down and winced at the blood trickling down her shins from her scraped knees. “And maybe some bandages, if you have them? I’m happy to reschedule if Mr. McKenna prefers to postpone our interview.”
Wrinkling her nose in distaste, she said, “I guess it’s okay. There’s a first aid kit on the shelf in the bathroom.” The woman led her past a cubicle farm and down a darkened hallway to a bathroom, a cloud of strong perfume in her wake. Workers glanced at her, their eyes filled with curiosity.
The lights flickered on as the door opened and Siobhan turned to give the woman her thanks, but she’d already walked away. Shrugging, she closed the door behind her and got to work.
***
Mandy’s pretty face was set into a sneer as she sashayed into his office, her heels clicking on the marble floor. She had enough makeup caked on that it was hard to discern a real expression on her.
He would have liked to have seen a smile on the face of the blonde he’d nearly run down. She was a knockout, despite the fury in her poisonous green eyes. She rocked the half-drowned waif look, for sure.
And damn, the woman had a rack to die for. He would have loved to see her in nothing but a corset and those fuck me black stilettos. There was nothing finer a little flesh on a woman, and she was built like a brick shithouse. She was tall, too. He liked not having to bend down to kiss a woman. His cock stiffened as he remembered those sweet, pink lips spilling the most deliciously profane words. He wanted to give that filthy mouth something else to do. He wanted to see those pouty lips wrapped around his cock, or maybe a ball gag.
But first impressions counted, and he’d done a piss poor job of it. There wasn’t much he could do to make up for nearly killing her, assuming he ever saw her again. She’d disappeared around the corner before he’d had a chance to get out of his car. There wasn’t a greeting card for, ‘Sorry I almost killed you’. That was definitely a flowers event. Jewelry might be better.
Shifting in his chair, he readjusted his hardening cock and firmly put the image of that stacked blonde in nothing but rope and those shoes out of his head. He had to focus on business.
“Your PA interview is here…sir.”
Mandy’s breathy little girl whisper annoyed him, but he didn’t mention it. When she leaned forward, exposing surgically altered cleavage, he huffed out a breath and leaned away from her and the overpowering scent of her perfume.
Women like Mandy were the reason he refused to consider a relationship. She would play the part of a trophy wife well enough, but he couldn’t imagine her skinny body in his ropes. And if he had to have a wife, he wanted someone with a fucking brain in her head. If women like Mandy were what he had to choose from, he’d almost rather be out of work.
“Show her in, please.”
Ignoring his order, she folded her lanky frame into the chair in front of his desk and crossed her legs. Her skirt rode up, baring a long thigh almost to her hip. “She’s in the bathroom trying to clean herself up. I guess she forgot to look both ways before crossing the street and someone almost hit her. I should have told her not to bother.”
She stretched out a hand, checking her manicure, and thankfully not looking at him. What were the odds that there were two women in this town who had almost gotten run down on a Monday morning? He must have been a very good boy in a past life. Or maybe not. He scowled as he remembered his mother had recommended the blonde for an interview. Worse, he’d still be out a PA. What were the odds some banging blonde in a rumpled suit would have the skills he needed?
“I doubt soap and water are going to improve on things, Jack,” she continued. “We should tell her the position has been filled. She isn’t the sort of person we want representing McKenna Logistics.”
“We, Mandy?” His voice was soft, but dangerous. “I don’t recall adding your name to the letterhead.” He missed his old receptionist, Lois, but she’d been unfaithful and left him for her grandchildren in South Carolina.
He’d hired Mandy with his mother’s idea of an appropriate wife in mind, but had realized she annoyed the fuck out of him before she’d completed her first day of work. Well, if what she did could be called work. She didn’t take messages and dropped most of the calls she tried to transfer, but she did take two-hour lunches most days.
Rachel had been another prospect, but she’d turned him down flat in favor of her dairy farmer husband. In his defense, he’d hit on her before their marriage. When she’d gotten pregnant, she’d become firmly off his menu. He didn’t do mothers or kids. The combination made his flesh crawl.
“And I certainly don’t recall inviting you to address me by my first name, which, by the way, isn’t Jack.”
Her face turned red with anger, and she lost the Marilyn Monroe drawl. “Excuse me? I’ve been working here almost…”
He held up a hand, cutting her off before she said anything that might make him fire her. He didn’t have time to find another receptionist, especially with Rachel on leave. He looked down at the stack of paper on his desk, finding her resume on top. Glancing at her name, he said, “Please show Ms. O’Malley in when she’s ready, and make sure there’s fresh coffee. She could probably use some after her mishap.”
Mandy sniffed and tilted her nose into the air. “Of course, Mr. McKenna. Whatever you say.”
***
Siobhan glared at herself in the mirror. Unless she could find a good dry cleaner, her beautiful suit was a lost cause. She tossed the stockings into the trash and cleaned up her knees as best she could, stopping the bleeding with several bandages from the first aid kit and wishing her skirt was long enough to cover them. God, she missed the monogrammed polos and black trousers of her old job.
The rain had washed away what little makeup she’d put on, leaving her freckled and blotchy. At least her hair looked decent. The rain had tamed the frizz, and if she could get the interview over with before it dried, she’d be happy with it. She’d managed to wash the mud and road grime off her hands and face, and the little polyester shell she’d worn under the suit had rinsed clean.
Nothing was dry, of course. She was uncomfortably sticky and the air conditioning chilled her damp skin, making her nipples pebble under the thin lace of her bra. If she got the job, she’d have to invest in some sweaters. The building was cold enough to hang meat.
With one last swipe at her skirt, she left the bathroom and made her way back to the receptionist, but she wasn’t at her desk. She sat down to wait in a plastic chair by the door, taking the time to go over her notes and straighten up her portfolio. Papers had come loose when she’d dropped her bag in the street, but nothing had gotten wet, thank God.
A photo of Andy slid free and she touched his sweet little face. He grinned widely, exposing his new teeth. He looked just like Susan when he smiled. She took out her tablet and opened the case. It didn’t appear damaged, and she set it aside without turning it on.
A door slammed and she stood, readying herself for her meeting. She’d spent the last few days drilling herself on all things McKenna that she could scare up on the library internet as Andy napped in his car seat at her feet. Unfortunately, the one thing she hadn’t been able to find was a picture of Jackson McKenna. Despite being one of the richest men in Ohio, there seemed to be no images of him anywhere.
The receptionist stormed into the entry, her eyes flashing angrily. Siobhan gathered her portfolio and blinked in surprise when the woman stomped up to her and waved a finger in her face.
“Why are you still here? Your interview has been canceled and won’t be rescheduled. You’re a mess and we can’t have someone like you in this office.”
“I beg your pardon?” What the fuck happened to small town manners? Even in Chicago, she’d never been treated so rudely. And she didn’t give a good goddamn how rich McKenna was. There was no excuse for such unprofessionalism.
“You heard me.” The woman gave her a nasty grin, and said, “Don’t let the door hit your fat ass on the way out.”
“Oh honey, you are out of your weight class.” She shoulder checked the woman, making her stumble backward, and strode toward the closed door bearing a brass plate with the name ‘Jackson McKenna’.
“Stop! You can’t go in there!”
“Watch me.” The door hadn’t been latched, and she pushed it the rest of the way open. She glared at the receptionist over her shoulder as she walked in, stopping only when she slammed into a hard, deliciously warm chest.
“I am so sorry…” Siobhan turned to face Mr. McKenna and her mouth fell open in shock as she stared into icy blue eyes. A grin twitched his perfect lips as he rasped a hand over his stubbled chin. “Oh, fuck me. I’m out of here.”

Posted in Books, Teasers

Fiery First Chapter Friday The Tiger Queen

Host’s Note: Please check out www.emilycarrington.com every Friday for Fiery First Chapter Fridays, where there may be giveaways but there will always be a good time.

Title: The Tiger Queen
Author: Raisa Greywood

Blurb
I’m the last of the Andreyev tigers. My species is extinct, except for me. Tigers used to be considered royalty. Atlanta is cold and dark now, and no safe haven remains in the once vibrant city. The devastating solar storms a hundred years ago saw to that. There is no prey and no chance for a mate in this poisoned world. Hunger and attrition have no respect for the shifter hierarchy, though. I am empress of a dying empire.
Aliens from a place called Ximera offer safe haven for humans. They want mates, too, and they offer fresh air and green space. It’s very tempting, and my tiger is hungry. My misgivings are put to rest when I go to the Exodus Authority and see the face of my mate. He is arresting. Not human, but his otherness is enticing. Even through a vid screen his fathomless brown eyes bore into my soul, and I want him. He is mine. And I don’t give a rat’s ass about who I have to eat to get him.
Chapter One
Atlanta, Georgia

Sendra closed her book and peered down at me, her brown eyes sharp. She adjusted the fussy lace collar buttoned to her chin and brushed a stray hair from her blue dress. “Did you enjoy the story?”
“Yes, but I still prefer Shakespeare.”
Chuckling, she patted my head. Her patronizing touch made me feel like a cub, as did my uncomfortable position on the floor at her feet.
“It’s important to explore literature, Miss Andreyev. You might find something else you enjoy just as much.” Her smile faded as she took the book and put it on the table next to her chair. “We have to talk.”
I stood and stretched, my back cracking. “What about?”
“I want you to go to the Exodus Authority.”
“I don’t need or want a mate.” I returned her teacup to the kitchen. It hadn’t held tea, of course. It was just filtered and boiled water, but she liked the tiny reminder of life before the storms.
“Have you considered cubs?”
“Why bother?” I left the cup in the sink and went to her bookshelf. “Do you want me to read? I can almost do Gulliver’s Travels.”
I refused to talk about cubs. That wasn’t an option for either of us. Sendra was too old, and I’d never found a male worth a mating bite. Though the few Ximerans I’d seen hadn’t been cruel or unappealing, I had no idea if one of them would make a good mate. Living on Earth wasn’t easy, but I had no idea what Ximera was like. The Ximerans promised a bountiful, healthy environment, but what if they lied? If things didn’t work out with my mate, would they let me stay? I couldn’t come back to Earth. Even if I found someone to take me home, I was slowly starving here.
”Pussy. There will be prey there.”
I ignored my tiger’s caustic comment as Sendra sighed and shook her head. “I’m going to ground. I want you to give a sample and –”
“No.” The book I’d chosen tumbled to the floor, my fingers unable to hold its weight. “I keep you safe here.”
Chuckling, she said, “I’m afraid not even the mighty tiger can protect someone from old age, Renata. My jackal and I have seen too much, and she’s very tired.”
“I said no.” I picked up the book and slammed it into place, making the bookcase shudder. “It’s a stupid idea. I won’t let you do that.”
“You can’t stop death.” She was silent for a moment, then added, “It comes for everyone, sooner or later.”
I shivered at her hollow whisper and replied, “Try me.”
She growled, the low rumble vibrating her thin frame. Without warning, she sprang at me and opened a gash on my face with her claws, leaving me bleeding. I covered the wound with my hand and stared at her in shock.
“Why are you doing this?”
“You are no longer welcome here, Miss Andreyev, and you’re too stubborn to do as you’re told. Leave now, and do as I’ve asked.” Blood dripped from her claws as she crouched and leapt for me again.
I dodged out of the way, upsetting her table and chair. She hissed, her teeth bared.
Tears welled in my eyes, and I backed away from her, shaking my head in denial. “I can’t leave like this.”
Fangs glistened between her thin lips. “I’m over a hundred years old, cub. I’m going to die, and I prefer to do it on my own. You’re going to leave this place and find a mate and have cubs. That is all I want from you.”
“But…” She snarled, and I ducked when she threw a book at my head. I held out both hands as I backed away. “Okay. I just…” I sniffed against the tears thickening behind my eyes. “I’ll miss you, Sendra.”
She didn’t answer and I left her den, my tears falling to mix with the blood on my face. I’d abandoned my best friend, and I couldn’t imagine my life without her. Without Sendra, there was nothing for me on Earth.
I sobbed, the breath tearing in my throat as I ran. A human darted across the street to avoid me, engaging my tiger’s prey drive, but he was too old and sick to provide any sport. I left him alone and kept running, not knowing or caring where I was going.
The cut on my cheek itched as it closed, but I didn’t bother to wipe the blood away. I wondered if Sendra had attacked me in the hope I’d ease her passing. One swipe of a claw across her throat would have done it. I just couldn’t. She would sneer and call me weak and too emotional, but she’d been my only friend for my entire adult life.
Everyone knew the story of Earth’s fall from grace. Seven years of solar storms knocked out our ecosystem almost a hundred years ago. Humans might have handled the resulting ice age, but the collapse of humanity was ultimately caused by such a simple thing. Bees. The honeybee that pollinated most food crops became extinct before the third year. It was humanity’s swan song.
Sendra told me tigers had been considered royalty back then and jackals weren’t considered at all. Before the storms, we wouldn’t have been friends. I’d never felt like royalty, though. The throne of the Andreyev tigers had long been crushed under the weight of poisoned destruction.
I tugged my jacket closer against the frigid breeze. Atlanta used to have hot summer weather, but the few people left in the city were lucky if daytime temperatures reached fifty in August. October would bring several feet of snow. The reek of poison and dying things filled the air and never cleared, even after the spring rains.
I slowed when I reached the carcass of my tree; one of the few bits of organic material left in old Atlanta. I always came to visit her when I was upset about something. I had no idea why I’d always thought of the tree as her. My bench was still there, a piece of stained marble with a chunk of concrete under one broken leg next to a broken statue of a man in a long robe. He had such a peaceful expression on his face, even though half his head was cracked away. The ruins of an old hospital surrounded the tree, its doors and windows long since scavenged, leaving gaping holes in the red brick.
I sat down and patted her lifeless trunk, leaning back to stare into skeletal branches. I tried to imagine what she must have looked like. I wanted to picture her with leaves, but I’d never seen a living plant except in Sendra’s books.
She would stand forever, dead, but a lasting testament to life on Earth. The empty hulks of concrete that had housed businesses and homes were the humans’ mark on the planet, but my tree was true evidence of life that existed beyond the machinations of humans. I closed my eyes, soaking in the peace of this sacred place and tried to remember how to pray.
“Pretty girl. We’ll have some fun and take that nice jacket she’s wearing.”
I heaved out a sigh and rolled my eyes. Though I couldn’t see the four men behind the south wall of the abandoned hospital, the fools thought they were far enough away that I wouldn’t hear them. I patted my tree one last time and left the dead garden, unwilling to foul my private space with a fight.
I had too much on my mind to make much sport of them, so I led them toward a quiet alley away from the clusters of occupied houses. They were either idiots or were new in town. Everyone in this neighborhood knew the only predator allowed in the city was me.
Their evil laughter followed me and I quickened my pace, wanting only to get the task over with and take care of the one thing Sendra had asked of me. The alley widened into a small courtyard, ending at a rusted chain-link fence blocked by abandoned cars on the other side. There was enough room to get behind them and cut off their escape. I could smell their excitement as they hurried toward me.
“Wait up, pretty!” The largest of the four shouted after me as I reached the fence. He was the only one who didn’t look on the brink of starvation, and it marked him as our first kill.
They spread out, thinking they had me trapped. The men wore heavy packs on their backs, bedrolls tied to them. Though I didn’t see a gun, I could smell the acrid scent of oil and metal. Knitted hoods covered their faces. My nose twitched at the stench of violence and hate emanating from them.
“Hey, little girl! Give us that jacket and maybe we won’t hurt you too badly! I’ll even give you a cut on the other side of your face so you’re sym… Sym something.” He grinned, showing blackened teeth as he pulled a worn knife from his pocket. The stupid thing wasn’t even four inches long. My claws were longer. Emboldened by the fence at my back, he moved closer, brandishing his poor weapon.
“I believe symmetrical is the word you’re too stupid to find.”
His face wrinkled into a vicious grimace of hate. “I’m gonna cut you good for that, bitch!”
I ignored him. I held my tiger back as I waited for them to get closer. We would end this threat to our home and distribute their belongings to the needy. There was an elderly couple a few blocks from our den who could use their warm clothes and whatever they carried.
The large one rushed me, his knife held high. I shook my head and allowed the tiger her freedom. We heard the humans’ curses as mist covered us. In the scant second during our shift, I could stare into her fathomless blue eyes, as she could into mine. It was the single moment we had no physical shape and knew each other as separate beings sharing a single body. Then fur popped and flowed, the sensation like ants on my skin. Bones ground against joint as they changed shape and moved, the sharp pain gone within seconds. The leader dropped his knife and took a single step backward. We wrinkled our muzzle into a snarl as we waited, enjoying the moment of shocked silence before the screams.
When our task was done, I pushed the tiger aside and returned to my human form, pulling on the clothes I’d left in a heap when I shifted. I didn’t bother rummaging through their packs as I stripped the bodies and rolled their clothes into a blanket I’d retrieved from one of the bedrolls. They had nothing I wanted, but my elderly neighbors might find something of value once the items were cleaned.
An old woman stood at the alley entrance, her threadbare coat pulled close around her frail body, the hood concealing her hair. I didn’t know her, but recognized her scent. She nodded once and turned to walk away.
“Wait!” I caught up to her and handed her the warm coat the gang leader had been wearing. My neighbors didn’t need so much. Tears filled her eyes, and she gave me a hard hug before hurrying away. I shivered at the sensation of being touched by a stranger as I continued toward my destination. It wasn’t unpleasant, but it was… odd. Humans never touched me willingly.
Sendra had wanted me to submit a blood sample to the Exodus Authority. Those had been her last words as she’d chased me from her den. Earth wasn’t much of a tourist destination these days, but men from a system called Ximera had been collecting human women for almost two years, using genetic tests to match potential mates.
I wasn’t interested in a mate. They left you alone when they died. Just like my father had done to my mother. Sendra had been right, though. I couldn’t survive here forever. Though humans managed to grow some food, hoarding heirloom seeds that were worth more than gold had once been, there was no prey, and no chance for a cub.
Would it be so bad to leave a dying planet? Sendra had been after me for months to go. I’d always refused, telling her she was more important than a mate, refusing to admit to myself that sheer age would take her long before I was ready to let her go. Without Sendra, there wasn’t anything stopping me.
“All right, you skinny old bitch. I’m going!” It had to have been my imagination, but I thought I heard her rusty laugh behind me as I made my way to the Exodus Authority.
I crossed the broken pavement leading to the stadium’s main entrance. A human guard let me through the makeshift barricade, and I stood in line behind several other women. I wondered how many would find mates in this Faustian bargain.
When it was my turn, a human nurse drew a blood sample and took my picture, then told me to come back in two days for my results. I wasn’t sure what I wanted the answer to be.
* * *
Darkandian Wormhole

“Does this thing never shut up?” I couldn’t disguise my irritation, and I slapped the comm to silence it. “Increase speed by three percent.”
My co-pilot muttered, but he was too obedient to question my orders. I should have been paying attention to the panel in front of me. Lights flashed and sirens blared as we approached the wormhole leading toward the dying planet that hosted my female. Yet I couldn’t. Her image was all I could see.
The picture submitted with the genetic match revealed a tall, angular woman with wide hips. The rest of her body was concealed by a black jacket. Her hair was gold with dark streaks, and she had blue eyes. She clutched her jacket close in the photo, but she was too thin, and I knew she hadn’t been eating properly. I frowned at the image and tapped the screen to enlarge it. Someone had struck her. My blood boiled at the healing cut on her cheek, and I hoped I would have enough time to track down whoever had marred her pretty face.
It was going to be fourteen Earth days before I could get to her, and it was unconscionable that a branded Ximeran Warlord should have to wait for anything he desired. But wait I must, because the laws of propulsion and gravity would not bow to my will. More’s the pity.
“Commander Rakon, communication from High Council on your comm link.”
I would give my battle commission to silence that damned Council, but I managed to smooth my scowl into a less threatening expression. When the screen loaded, I said, “What can I do for you today, Councilor?”
Councilor Harkon’s pudgy face filled the screen. His thick lips curled into a derisive smirk under muddy brown eyes, and the dome of his bald head gleamed.
“We hear you’re on your way to collect your specimen.”
Renata Andreyev was not a specimen, but I managed to dredge up a bland smile that hid my fury. “Yes, Councilor. It has been determined that she is my genetic mate.”
“Turn your ship around. The human Andreyev has been loaded into a transport and is en route. You are needed elsewhere.”
“I see. May I have the identification of this transport?”
“I don’t know it, and it doesn’t matter. Your specimen will arrive in approximately two Earth weeks as you intended. We require your presence in the seventeenth sector. The mission details should be loaded into your computer already.”
“Yes, Councilor Harkon.” I cut off the comm, ignoring his last few words.
Though every inch of my body wanted to keep going toward my mate, I did as I was ordered and turned my cruiser around toward sector seventeen. That sector was a perpetual thorn in my side, filled with bounty hunters, slavers, and the dregs of interstellar society. If they behaved themselves, we left them alone. No one could say they didn’t serve a purpose. Nearly everyone took advantage of delicacies only available from the smugglers. Wine and spirits, rare foods, and textiles all found their way through sector seventeen for distribution elsewhere.
I didn’t understand why the Council was intruding on my task, but it didn’t matter. I didn’t give a fuck about the black market, or about whoever I would have to kill in sector seventeen. In two weeks, pretty Renata with the white-gold-and-black-striped hair would be in my bed.
Would she like me? It wasn’t necessary to court a genetic mate, but she would have no idea about our ways. I wished my mother was still alive to help me with her, but she’d died of the same wasting disease that took most of our females. Damn Krenions. I wish there was one left so I could kill it, but I’d already killed the last of the pestilential species who had introduced the devastating plague a dozen cycles ago. And good riddance.
Pushing the thoughts away, I checked our location. I’d reach sector seventeen in a few days. That would give me plenty of time to scan my collection of old Earth vids. I loved Golden Girls. Earth females were almost indistinguishable from their Ximeran counterparts, and Blanche reminded me of my mother. Maybe I liked it because I hadn’t seen an aged female in… I couldn’t remember the last time.
The vids became popular when it was discovered that humans could be potential mates. We shared a similar physical appearance, though Ximerans tended to be larger. Humans also had a wide variety of skin and hair coloration, ranging from shimmery black to skin as pale as the blossoms of the orcan tree. Ximerans weren’t lucky enough to enjoy such diversity. Our scientists told us we shared a common ancestor with humans, though it had been many hundreds of thousands of cycles ago.
Most Ximerans watched those old vids to get some idea of Earth culture, along with assistance in learning English. Though humans had a vast number of languages, we’d chosen the one used for telecommunications and transport. Their lives seemed strange, but the vids were a hundred Earth years old. The Ximeran cycle was close enough to a year to make the difference negligible.
Things were different now. I’d seen what was left of Earth. The storms had destroyed nearly everything, and I was shocked anything had survived. Humans must have been a very resourceful species.
Nothing I watched helped me find something to woo the beauty on her way to me. I wondered if I was wasting my time. The vids were ancient and from a time when the planet had been healthy. I turned my attention to the planet’s literature. Unlike the vids, the books had short synopses, allowing me to search by keyword. Mates and joining produced nothing of note, so I tried love and marriage, terms I’d heard before in the humans’ lexicon.
That search produced more titles than I cared to manage, but one caught my eye because it was less than fifty thousand words and would take an hour to read. It had a picture of a couple locked in an embrace, the male’s arms wrapped tightly around his female as she gazed up at him.
When I finished, I closed out the book and chose another of the same type. If the first was to be believed, a male need only be rich and give a female pleasure until she fell gratefully into his arms. I met the first requirement, and was determined to meet the second.
From the two books, I learned the mistakes the males made that hurt or angered their females. Blackmail, confinement, harsh words, and humiliation. Those human males were a cocky bunch and lucky their mates were gentle creatures. None of that would have gone over with Ximeran females. A male would have come back missing parts — if he lived to come back at all.
* * *
Atlanta, Georgia

I was at the Exodus Authority an hour past dawn on the third day after I’d given my sample. I’d spent the last two days watching Sendra’s den in the misguided hope that she would come to her senses and forget her wish to die.
No one answered my knock. No one twitched a curtain or turned on a light. There was no scent or sound of movement. I cried as I walked away, knowing she was already gone. My tiger yowled in a vain attempt to get me to pay attention. In this world, emotion got you dead. I couldn’t afford to show my grief in public.
I hid in the remains of a building to give myself time to calm down. I sat there for hours, watching women walk in and out. I wanted to laugh at their hopeful expressions. One cried as she walked straight into the arms of a human man just a few feet away from my hiding spot.
If I didn’t have my tiger’s hearing, I’d have missed her soft whisper. “I didn’t give them my blood, Seth.”
“Lisa, you promised.” The man took her hand and pressed his lips to her gloved palm. “You promised you’d go if they found a match.”
She stopped walking and looked up into his face. She put her hands on his cheeks and tears streamed from her eyes. “I know. I just… I couldn’t. A life without you is no life at all. Whatever time we have left, I want to spend it with you.”
“Oh, honey.”
I smelled the man’s tears as he took his woman into his arms. My chest ached at what he’d been willing to sacrifice for her, and a sob choked me as it tried to escape my throat. I couldn’t fathom a love so deep. I watched them for a long time after they walked away.
When I couldn’t see them anymore, I shouldered my pack and walked toward the stadium. I didn’t know if I would find that kind of love on Ximera, but I knew I wouldn’t find it on Earth.
The human guard stepped in front of the barricade as I approached. “State your name and business, please.”
“Renata Andreyev. I’m here to find out the results of my blood test.”
The guard’s eyes brightened. “We’ve been waiting for you. Follow me, please.” He led me down a hall into a small room furnished with a metal table and two chairs.
“Have a seat, Miss Andreyev. The magistrate will be with you shortly.”
The door shut behind the guard with a metallic clang. I flinched at the noise. My tiger paced in my head, uncomfortable with the confinement.
Several minutes later, the door opened, revealing a human male followed by a tall figure. I thought it was male, but I wasn’t sure. Even my tiger was confused. We both loathed the creature on sight. It reeked of old blood and violence. My tiger wanted to kill it, and I couldn’t disagree. I soothed her with a single word.
“Soon,” I whispered. The single word calmed her, but she didn’t stand down.
The creature either didn’t notice my reaction, or it didn’t care. I had to force myself to listen to the human’s words.
“I am Magistrate Smith. I am responsible for administering the exchange program between Earth and Ximera. Blood tests have determined that you are the genetic mate of Warlord Rakon of Ximera 8.”
He placed a tablet on the table, bearing a single image of the male my blood told them would be my future mate. My tiger sniffed in derision, but I ignored her. Instead of an unknown alien male, I had a name and a face. And I liked what I saw.
Rakon was bulky with muscle under a skintight black uniform. Weapons were sheathed at his narrow hips, making him look dangerously competent. Unflinchingly, his dark brown eyes met the camera, stern, yet filled with excitement. Black hair fell past his shoulders in an inky trail, and my fingers itched to touch the dark strands.
I’d never seen a more visually appealing male. He stood next to a doorway with marks denoting his height. His head reached well past the two-meter mark. Thick eyebrows curved upwards at the ends, trailing into a point high on his temples. A stylized brand marked the tender skin under his left eye, swirling into an infinity symbol on his jaw. He obviously wasn’t human; he was too damned big for that. Aside from his size, his bone structure was almost catlike, with high cheekbones, square jaw, and tilted eyes. His nose was thin and aquiline, with a small bump in the middle as if it had been broken and poorly set.
“I accept.”
The tiger yowled at me, displeasure evident in every note. I didn’t care. I liked the look of this Rakon and couldn’t understand why she didn’t. He was gloriously male, and the most beautiful being I’d ever seen. I wanted to see him. Smell him. We had to wait until we could catch his scent before we refused him. “Will there be grass and fresh air?”
“Of course. Ximera 8 has a clean and healthy environment.” The human gave me a wide smile and pulled me into a brief hug. I flinched at the touch, reminding my tiger that the Magistrate meant no harm, though I didn’t understand why strangers were so determined to hug me now, when it had never happened before. “I wish you the best of luck, Miss Andreyev. When you’re ready to leave, Mr. Morris will escort you to your shuttle.”
“Thank you.” I shook his hand and turned to face the pale creature. It gave me a sneering smile and claws erupted from my fingertips. I balled my fists to hide them, but wanted nothing more than to remove its face from the front of its head. I soothed the tiger with images of taking half its skull for good measure.
Aggravated chuffing told me she wasn’t appeased. I told her we could kill Rakon and his transport crew if he wasn’t pleasing.
They allowed me an hour to pack, but I didn’t need it. I carried everything I cared about. The creature escorted me through the empty space in the center of the stadium and up a ramp into a waiting ship. I flinched when the ramp slid into the hull and the bulkhead doors slammed, cutting off any chance of escape. A cold hand touched my arm, and I jerked away. How could its hand be so icy through the thick leather of my jacket?
“Don’t touch,” I hissed.
The creature’s face rearranged itself into what I thought was a frown, but it nodded. “Fine, human. Follow me.”
It led me past several others of the same species. They were all pale, almost stick-thin, and all bore the stench of old blood. My nose wrinkled, and I had to stop myself from opening my mouth in the feral grimace Sendra had called a Flehmen Response. It was a weird name for a way to better taste scents. I didn’t want to taste this odor, though. My tiger and I both knew what it was.
We reached an open doorway revealing a miniscule chamber I assumed would be my quarters for the trip. There was a tiny bed that might not be long enough for me, a small metal table, one chair, and a vid screen. It was claustrophobic, but I wouldn’t have to be here for long. In two weeks, I would meet my potential mate.
I walked inside and turned around to thank the creature, but to my surprise and increasing trepidation, he chuckled. The sound burbled wetly in his throat, sickening me as he pressed a button on the wall. The door slid closed with a solid whump, and I tried to quell my rising panic. Maybe they didn’t want me wandering around while the ship escaped Earth’s atmosphere. Maybe they wanted to keep me safe. Maybe…
None of my thoughts helped. I hated being trapped. No cat likes a cage, and I was worse than most. I supposed I could shift, but the room was too small to contain me if I went furry. The chamber was barely two meters square and didn’t even have enough space for pacing. I sat down on the cot, grimacing at the hard surface. I hadn’t thought I’d be traveling in luxury, but this was ridiculous.
I inhaled a calming breath, only then noticing the air had a sweet tinge I’d never encountered. The scent was almost sickening and soon became overwhelming. I opened my mouth, but the odor crossing my sensitive palate made me gag and spit. When my eyes grew heavy, I knew the odor was a drug.
Why would the creatures want me unconscious? It didn’t make any sense. I tried to shift, damning the small space, but the tiger refused to come forth. Black stripes formed on my hands, but I couldn’t finish and collapsed to the hard floor.
I heard laughter as the cadaverous alien returned and tossed me over its shoulder. It carried me down a corridor, its heavy footfalls echoing against metal. When we stopped moving forward, the alien pushed me off its shoulder onto a hard surface. I tried to open my eyes, but nothing worked. It might have been for the best, though. Wherever I’d been taken was so brightly illuminated that it hurt my eyes through the closed lids.
It rolled me to my back and straightened my limbs, chattering in a guttural language I didn’t understand. I heard a slam as something dropped over my head, but I didn’t have enough muscle control to flinch. Even though I couldn’t see, I knew I’d been closed into something. Was it a cage, or a stasis unit? I’d never seen a stasis container, but I knew of their existence.
A stasis unit meant one of two things. The aliens wanted me safely out of the way and contained for the trip, or I was going farther than was convenient without one. I hoped it wasn’t the latter.
Fresh air blew across my face, and I sucked in a lungful of the untainted breeze as the temperature dropped rapidly. The air changed and became thick with the drug the alien had used on me earlier. Holding my breath for just a moment, I had enough presence of mind to thank whatever deity people prayed to that they hadn’t shackled me.
Someone was going to be very sorry when I came out of stasis.

Posted in Books, Teasers

Fiery First Chapter Friday Her Cyborg Champion

Host’s Note: Please check out Fiery First Chapter Fridays. Sometimes there will be giveaways, always there will be a good time.

Title: Her Cyborg Champion
Author: Anne Kane

Tag Line An intergalactic game of hide and seek, with a sexy human female as the prize.

Blurb: Zoe is five feet, six inches of green-eyed, red-haired militant activist. A deeply ingrained need to help those who can’t help themselves — human and otherwise — motivates her every move. She snuck into the Mailon research facility to investigate rumors of experiments being conducted on a rare and highly intelligent species of sentient mammals. Now she finds herself in need of help to rescue one very sick little battle rat.
Greyson is six and a half feet of ruggedly muscular cyborg with a penchant for violence. He loves to fight, and he fights to win. What he hates is being sent to the Mailon research facility on a petty errand. When he catches a glimpse of a former lover flitting around the facility like an impossibly sexy cat burglar, he is intrigued. What is the saucy little wench up to, and why is she stalking him through the corridors of the alien laboratory?

Chapter One

“I’m sure you will find our new process fascinating.”
Greyson tried not to let the ingratiating tone of the scientist’s voice get under his skin. How had he managed to land himself an assignment where he had to tolerate this ass-kissing lump of alien-bred flesh?
He was a warrior, a fighter. His place was with the Terras Five Outer Rim Defense Fleet, not wandering down the halls of some obscure research facility with a fake smile pasted on his face. When he returned to Terras Five he’d make damn sure his name never came up for one of these assignments again.
“Here we are.” The ass-kisser stopped in front of a gray metal door and motioned Greyson to proceed him into the room.
A split second before he moved, flash of color in the very edge of his peripheral vision caused Greyson to turn to the left, but whatever it was had disappeared before he could see it more clearly.
He walked through the doorway, replaying the movement on his neural net, slowing it to a tenth of the speed. The replay showed a female, most likely human, gliding silently across the open space between one corridor and the next, her attention on some object beyond his vision.
Now that was interesting. There was an intruder in the facility. Certainly didn’t do anything to impress him with their security. He replayed the snippet again, studying the female.
She didn’t look like the usual type of intruder, a burly thug intent on stealing assets or secrets and able to fight their way out of the facility if necessary. She was small and pale skinned with a mass of shining red hair flowing down her back. The angle of view made it impossible to see her face. The vid clip was short, and the female moved with a silent speed and grace that reminded him of a dancer. Something about her stirred his male instincts.
What in the stars would such a creature be doing skulking around a Mailon research facility?
“We’ve created a process that allows us to improve the response speed that the synapses use to transfer messages to the muscle tissue, and I’m sure your government would be happy to have exclusive access to the new technology.” The smile on the Mailon’s face could only be described as oily.
Greyson repressed a shudder. As a cyborg, he’d long ago learned to ignore emotional response but a gut reaction was different. In battle situations a gut reaction could mean the difference between survival and destruction. His gut was telling him not to trust the man in front of him.
Then again, this was hardly a battle situation, unless you considered it a battle to keep his attention focused on this creature’s inane chatter.
Smile pasted firmly in place, he silently retrieved a still image of the intruder, studying it on his neural overlay while the Mailon continued to prattle on about the supposed improvements his cohorts had made to neural net technology.
Even from behind, the female looked familiar. He deftly cross-referenced the picture with his database relay. Within a nanosecond he had his answer.
Zoe Calhoun, a sentient activist. She made the newsfeeds on a regular basis with her crusade to set galaxy wide laws banning the sale or ownership of sentient beings. The latest story had her raving about the ape-like population of a planet that had been found to be rich in several high value minerals. The apes were pressed into service to mine the ore, under conditions that could be best described as slave like. Activists such as Zoe were horrified, and had made such a media circus out of the practice that the mine owners were promising to revise their operating procedures and treat the primates as employees.
She was also the only female who’d ever enticed him to break the unspoken rules of the Cyborg race and have unprotected, potentially fertile sex outside of the cyborg breeding protocols. His only excuse was that he’d been young and stupid and much too idealistic.
He’d actually fancied himself in a state known on the human worlds as love at first sight. Sheer stupidity.
They’d spent two sweaty, magical, exhausting days exploring each other’s every nuance, every quirk, every secret guilty pleasure on a vacation planet just inside the outer rim of the galaxy. They’d had sex in every position, on every possible surface, in every possible place on that planet. It had been the most educational and most character-forming weekend of his life. On the third morning, he’d awoke to find himself alone, a note on the pillow all that was left of the supposed love of his life.
$Got to get back to work. It’s been fun.$
He’d felt so incredibly stupid. He’d meant absolutely nothing to her beyond a warm body to pleasure her for a day or two. He’d returned to Terras Five and took his assigned place in the military. For the last decade he’d done his duty with a dedicated ferociousness that had seen him rise steadily through the ranks until he now captained his own cruiser. The downside, an occasional assignment such as this one, served to remind him just how much he enjoyed a good firefight.
He hadn’t seen Zoe Calhoun since she’d deserted him a decade ago, other than random snippets on the galactic news network.
So what was she doing sneaking around the Mailon research facility? So far, he’d seen no signs of gorillas or monkeys, and he doubted she was there to further her love of science.
It wasn’t that he was under any illusions about Zoe, or that he had any residual feelings for the human female. He just loved a good puzzle.
“So what do you think of our setup? We have been told it’s the best-equipped research facility in the known universe.” The Mailon finally stopped talking for a few precious seconds.
“Nice.” It actually was impressive, if somewhat sterile. “Do you do all of the research on site, or are there other facilities as well?”
“Everything we need is right here.” The biped swept his arm in a wide arc. “If it’s not, then we bring it in. No sense in diluting our assets by spreading them all over the galaxy. Your people can rest assured that only the very best goes into the products we produce.”
Just then, Greyson caught another flash of color. This time, the female hesitated long enough for him to get a glimpse of a bare thigh before she scurried out of sight. A flicker of lust ignited deep in his gut as he remembered how it had felt to have those silky thighs wrapped around his.
Okay. That had been deliberate. What was Zoe up to?
“Do you ever have issues with security? People sneaking in and stealing ideas or prototypes?” He watched the Mailon’s face carefully. Of course they’d never admit it if security was an issue but there were always telltale signs if a person were lying. The shifting of eyes, a slight waver in the voice, a telltale tilt to the head.
“Never. Our security system is one of our own invention. It’s one of the best in the galaxy.”
Zoe reversed her direction, slinking back across the corridor as if to point out the falsity of the claim. She paused, staring straight at Greyson. A ghost of a smile graced her lips, and she winked at him before disappearing once more.
Greyson blinked. Seriously? She’d looked right at him and winked. Was the woman insane?
“Well?”
He switched his attention back to his tour guide. “Well what?”
“What do you think of our facility?”
$I think the security system isn’t nearly as good as you’d like it to be if there’s a redheaded activist waltzing up and down your corridors.$
“It’s interesting and the new tech definitely looks promising. I applaud your research team.” Time to wrap this up and get the hell away from the one female he’d never managed to forget. “I’ll report back to the Ruling Committee and they will let you know their decision.”
The Mailon gave him a quaintly formal half bow. The self-satisfied smile on his face said he had no doubts about what the Ruling Committee’s conclusion would be. “I will await their decision. If they have any more questions, I’d be happy to answer them.”
“I’ll be sure to let them know.”
The Mailon turned, leading the way back to the transit deck while managing to keep up a nonstop conversation. Or monologue. A conversation would have required Greyson to take part in the oratory, wouldn’t it?
The annoyingly sexy human female slunk gracefully out from behind a wall to Greyson’s left and touched his shoulder. When he turned toward her, she promptly disappeared down yet another side corridor.
He should say something to the Mailon, warn him that Zoe was waltzing around the facility unescorted and presumably without an invitation. An activist in a research facility couldn’t be anything other than bad news, especially an activist playing hide and seek in the labs.
Then again, the Mailon was annoying and despite his better judgment, Zoe’s presence intrigued him. What kind of game was she playing?
They reached the flight deck where Greyson’s sleek interplanetary shuttle awaited his return. He turned, grateful to be leaving this sterile hunk of rock. The last thing he needed at this point in his career was to get tangled up with a militant animal lover who seemed to think that rules didn’t apply to her. He was much too mature to be led around by his libido. “Thank you for the tour, and the information. Once the Ruling Committee has had time to study it, they will contact you.”
The Mailon bent from the waist in a formal bow. “We appreciate the chance to work with such a well-oiled society. None of the political red tape that the humans are so fond of. I look forward to hearing from your Committee. I leave you to your departure routines and wish you a safe journey.” He bowed again.
Greyson nodded, and turned to palm the security panel mounted beside the entrance to his shuttle. It pulsed for a nanosecond before settling into an exact match of his palm print.
Interesting. His print wasn’t the last one used on the pad. Someone had been tampering with his ship’s security.
The access panel slid open with a quiet swoosh and he stepped into the familiar vehicle without doing anything to alert the Mailons to the fact that he knew there had been an attempt to circumvent his security and enter his ship without his permission.
The door closed behind him and he strode to the command console, throwing his bulk into the seat and placing his hands on the control panels on either side.
The screen in front of him lit up and the ship’s avatar shimmered into view in the space above the console. “Welcome back, Captain Greyson. Shall I start the launch sequence for our return to Terras Five?”
“Not yet, Gemma. I’d like to run a diagnostic on the security system before we depart. I believe someone tried to enter the ship without my consent.”
He’d named the avatar Gemma because he’d modeled her image on the bioengineered females that tended the bar in his favorite recreation facility on the vacation planet just outside the outer rim energy field. He’d spent a pleasurable few sun cycles with one of them while on R and R and it amused him to have her image represent the highly complex avatar that controlled his ship’s systems. Unlike the default avatars that came standard with this model, Gemma looked and sounded like a sex robot.
“Of course, sir. Do you wish me to access information on the female who entered the ship during your absence?”
“Yeah. That would be good for a start.” Sometimes he failed to remember that the avatar was not actually sentient. It did not provide information he didn’t solicit, so it would not occur to it to tell him about a security breach unless he asked it to share that information.
The avatar disappeared and the screen refocused to show a picture of Zoe, a recent mug shot by the looks of it. “This female humanoid approached me shortly after you departed from the ship. Her palm did not match any of the preset prints to trigger my systems to allow access however she verbalized a factory override reset code in order to command me to open the access panel.”
Interesting. The timing indicated that she knew exactly who he was and what his schedule was like before she’d started playing peek a boo with him down in the labs.
“Once inside, she proceeded to the command console where she inserted extra lines of code into the command procedures before exiting the ship.”
The avatar disappeared and a segment of surveillance video lit up the screen, showing Zoe as she worked her way through the ship.
He straightened in is seat. “Gemma, replay that last segment, and slow it down to a frame by frame shot.”
“Affirmative.”
He studied the screen carefully, concentrating on exactly what Zoe was doing and trying to ignore his gut reaction. She appeared to be accessing the messaging system, then she turned and stared directly at the video camera. He’d missed that part in the initial run through. She spoke, but the video had no sound capability and the stop frame view made it impossible to read lips.
“Gemma, replay the last ten seconds again at half-speed. “
“Aye, Captain.”
Greyson focused on Zoe’s luscious red lips, vainly trying to ignore the thought of what they might feel like crushed beneath his own. Or wrapped around a certain male portion of his anatomy.
“Check this out.”
She knew she was being filmed and that he would be watching. The little minx had used his own security system to send him a message. He felt a grudging flicker of admiration for her brazen audacity.
Problem was, on his planet the females did not go running around breaking into research facilities and playing peek-a-boo with ex-lovers in the corridors. They waited in the palatial splendor of the conclave for their appointed mates to come to them.
“Gemma, access the most recent messages stored in the ship’s logs.”
“From all origins?”
“Yes. All of them.”
One thing about an avatar. No matter how human he made it look, it didn’t have feelings or emotions. He didn’t have to worry about how to speak to it. Gemma would do what he told her, when he told her. He had a feeling the same could not be said about a certain redheaded trespasser.
“Retrieving messages in reverse order of transcription.”
Greyson realized he was drumming his fingers on the edge of the command console like some untried warrior in training and forced himself to still. Something about that woman had him tensed as if waiting for the first move in a battle.
“Hey, Greyson, remember me? Zoe? It’s been a few years but we had a fling a decade or so ago. I know this is a lousy way to reconnect, but I need your help.”
Her voice, low and sexy, filled the bridge and Greyson’s body reacted predictably. It took more than a little effort to ignore the tightening in his loins.
“I found the female and she’s in bad shape. She needs medical attention ASAP. If I don’t get her out of here they will murder her to cover their own asses. Please. I’m going to try to get her out of the labs and down here to the landing bay. I’ve set the surveillance cameras to loop so security is blinded. What I need from you is passage off this hellhole of a planet. If your ship is still docked when I get back, I’ll assume you’re willing to help. Hell, you’d better be there when I get back. I don’t have a plan B this time. You’re my only hope, and I’m not leaving here without her.”
The sexy voice trailed off to silence.
Greyson sat back in his chair, eyeing the vid screen thoughtfully. Definitely the Zoe he remembered and definitely an activist, but he had no idea what female she was talking about. Based on her latest escapades, and the fact that primates made excellent research subjects, he assumed it was a gorilla or some similar creature.
Taking an injured gorilla on board his ship was not his idea of a good plan. An injured gorilla could do a lot of damage to the ship’s systems if it got out of control, and really, how did one control a pain-crazed gorilla? There were no containment crates on board nor did he have a brig. The shuttle wasn’t the type of ship that went out on missions where prisoners were likely to be taken. Maybe he could insist the creature be contained to one of the cargo bays. Yeah. That might would work.
He felt a rueful smile curve the corner of his mouth. Apparently he’d already decided to help Zoe and her mystery companion. Maybe the boredom of this mission was affecting his sanity, but he’d always had a soft spot for the underdog and he couldn’t help but admire a tiny slip of a human female who charged in to help where most, human and other, would look the other way.
A very delectable, irresistibly sensual human female. A decade had only added to her allure. She’d matured from the boisterous young idealist he’d fallen for so long ago. From her mane of flowing red hair to the way her hips swayed as she walked, everything about her aroused the predatory male in him. Centuries of a carefully mandated cyborg breeding program had failed to suppress that primal instinct.
On Terras Five, males were assigned partners who were selected for them based on genetic compatibility in order to assure the strongest, most intelligent offspring. Life-long mate bonds were rare.
Cyborgs weren’t genetically different from humans, they were actually offshoots of the same species. The humans who had elected to form the cyborg nation opted for a rigorously selective breeding program to give their children the best genetics possible. When the males were toddlers, they were implanted with cybernetic enhancements that fused to their skeletal and nervous systems, growing with the child until adulthood.
The females weren’t enhanced, as the scientists feared what those enhancements might do to their reproductive abilities. In reality, there was no genetic difference between a human and a cyborg female.
“We are cleared to launch when ready.” The ship’s avatar broke into his thoughts, and he pulled his attention back to the board in front of him. If he planned to help Zoe abscond with a creature that she’d plucked from under the noses of the Mailon researchers, he’d better be ready to leave on a moment’s notice.
Finishing the preflight checklist in record time, he ran his fingers over the navigation controls and selected his initial destination. No way was he heading directly for his home world with illicit cargo onboard.
There was a supply station in the Gliese system where everyone was welcome and no questions were asked. Yes, that would be the perfect place to go with the Zoe and her rescued… whatever it was. Once there he could point her in whatever direction she needed to go and get on with his own mission.
He was under no illusions about a romantic reunion. Her interest in him was purely practical. She needed an escape plan and he was it.
He felt a twinge of something unfamiliar at the thought of letting the human female continue her escapades. Inevitably, she would be captured by one of the groups she opposed and they were not nice people. They wouldn’t hesitate to hurt or possibly even kill her. After all, she’d exposed their unsavory business practices to the entire galaxy.
Still, she’d made her choices and he had no business interfering. He just happened to be in the right place to give her a hand with this particular exploit.
He heard the sound of the access door sliding open. The little redhead witch had his private access codes? He shook his head ruefully and tried to ignore the way his flight suit suddenly felt a size too small. Of course she did. She’d already been inside his ship to leave him that message.
“The human female is aboard, along with a small mammal of unknown type. The mammal appears to be in some type of medical distress.”
Thank you, Gemma. Prepare to launch ASAP.
“Initiating launch sequence.”
“Let’s get out of here!” Zoe burst onto the bridge, carrying what appeared to be a ball of white fluff about the size of a large feline. She threw herself into the empty chair at the navigations station and fastened the safety harness while still clutching the bundle of fur to her chest.
As if in answer to her command, the ship’s deck vibrated silently beneath their feet and the shuttle craft moved into the launch corridor. The vibrations ceased as the main engines came online. Nanoseconds later, they were hurtling out the launch portal and into the welcoming vacuum of space.
“Gemma, you have the com. Continue on course but alert me to any unusual activity.” He paused. “And let me know if anyone follows us from the research facility.”
“Aye, captain.”
Greyson turned to Zoe, determined not to show any emotion. “So. What exactly is that thing and what’s wrong with it?”

Posted in Books, Teasers

Hot Mess A Practical Guide to Getting Organized

Title: Hot Mess: A Practical Guide to Getting Organized
Author: Laurie Palau
Genre: Lifestyle

BLURB:
Most of us have too much stuff and not enough places to put it. Combine that with our hectic modern lives, and you’ve got a recipe for clutter catastrophe. Luckily, help is at hand. Hot Mess: A Practical Guide to Getting Organized can show you how to simplify your life—and get control of your stuff.

In this new guide to streamlining and organizing your belongings, your house, and your life, author and expert Laurie Palau gives you all the strategies you need to clear your clutter once and for all. This comprehensive book offers clever storage ideas and decorating tips, but more importantly, it shows you where your clutter comes from and how to change your approach. This makes it the definitive how-to for dropping all the dead weight that’s been keeping you stressed and anxious. Just follow the hacks, tips, and strategies Palau clearly outlines, and you’ll soon be sipping a vodka martini in your beautifully tidy living room.

Whether you’re naturally neat or a total chaos magnet, this informative and amusing guide takes an approach to organizing that’s as unique as you are. Let this witty little handbook be your new secret weapon in the war on disorder!

EXCERPT: When my older daughter first started school, she would get off the bus, have a snack, and immediately start her homework. That’s what I always did as a kid, and it made sense that she would follow in my footsteps. I never really gave it much thought until my younger daughter started school. She would come off the bus utterly exhausted. It was a struggle to get her to unpack her backpack, let alone start her homework. Some days she would actually fall asleep within minutes of walking in the door. Naturally, I wanted her to get her homework done, not just for her sake, but for mine. I fought with her to sit down and do it immediately. I never took into account she had ADHD and needed to decompress after sitting in school all day. Homework that should have taken 30 minutes was taking upward of two hours.

After months of battles and tears (hers, not mine – I preferred wine), I finally had my light bulb moment: I realized she goes into a valley in the afternoon. I never factored in her peak productivity time, only mine. I discovered that if I gave her time to chill out and relax for an hour first, she would come back more focused and less combative.

We all know when we are at our best, and when we are basically just going through the motions. Decluttering and organizing take both mental and physical strength, so being cognizant of your peak productivity time (and that of those around you) is an important part of the process.

Review by Emily: I am giving this book five (5) stars for a few reasons. First, I love how short and concise the chapters are. This gives me a great sense of accomplishment each time I finish a chapter, which is critical because I have a busy schedule. The second reason I gave Hot Mess five stars is because of the book’s overall organization. It’s very easy to follow even if I pick it up after a couple days of being away. Third, the author gives “true stories”, which are anecdotes that supplement the text. These are always timely and enjoyable. Lastly, I am giving this organizational tome a perfect score because all the tips are helpful. I hope you find this book as fun and timely as I did.

AUTHOR Bio and Links:

Laurie Palau is the founder of simply B organized, host of the weekly podcast, This ORGANIZED Life, and author of the book HOT MESS: A Practical Guide to Getting Organized available in paperback and kindle on amazon or Barnes & Noble.
She is a go-to Organizing Expert whose advice has been featured in The New York Times Parenting Section, Family Circle, and Home + Table Magazine. Laurie can also be seen sharing tips on the CBS Philadelphia’s Morning Show & WFMZ in Allentown, PA. Whether speaking or working with clients Laurie is authentic, relatable, inspiring, and highly entertaining.
When not organizing the world, Laurie can be found at home in Bucks County, PA with her husband Josh, 2 girls (Zoe and Logan) and 2 dogs (Jeter and Oliver). She loves coffee and Tito’s Vodka (not together), and in her spare time she is actively involved with The St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which raises money for Pediatric Cancer Research.

Visit www.simplyBorganized.com for a complete list of service offerings including free organizing checklists, links to her podcast, blog and social media.

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GIVEAWAY INFORMATION and RAFFLECOPTER CODE:

Laurie Palau will be awarding a FREE 30 minute phone consultation to help address specific organizing challenges to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.

Rafflecopter link: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/28e4345f2566
Enter to win a half hour phone consultation with the author – a Rafflecopter giveaway.

Posted in Books, Teasers

The Unseducible Earl

Quick update from the author: this novel is romance, medical drama, and Victorian England all rolled into one!

Title: The Unseducible Earl
Author: Sheri Humphreys
Genre: Historical Romance

BLURB:
When an earl who’s given up on love and has settled on an engagement to a darling of society falls for a Crimean War nurse, he must either forsake his love or embroil them all in scandal.

EXCERPT
For a moment, she froze in the doorway. The earl stood at the sideboard dishing up his breakfast. He couldn’t have had any more than a few hours sleep, but he looked as though he felt much more rested than she did.

The country gentleman’s garb he wore this morning suited him. With his mahogany hair combed and his jaw clean-shaven, he seemed younger. Was it possible his posture grew even straighter when she entered?

He greeted her and offered a plate. “You’ve plenty of time before you’ll need to leave for the train. I believe your trunk is being packed now?”

The way he spoke, he might have been assuring a guest he regarded fondly. She almost gave a rueful laugh, but accepted the china and turned to the sideboard, very aware of his tall frame beside her.

She forced her attention to the perfectly prepared selections of food. She wasn’t particularly hungry and took a small portion of egg. After adding a slice of fried bread and asking the footman for coffee, she settled at the table. “I saw Captain Merrick before coming down. There was no one packing when I left my room.”

His plate loaded with what appeared to be a bit of everything, Cheriton sat at the end of the table, in juxtaposition to her. He frowned. “You’ve seen Jamie this morning?”

“Yes, I have.” In unison they picked up their coffee and took long sips. Victoria held the warm bowl of the cup with her fingertips, enjoying the spreading warmth.

She’d probably never see Cheriton again, and she preferred to think of him as a devoted, if injudicious, brother. Failing that, remembering him as an attractive aristocrat would be acceptable. Unfortunately, his ardent defense of his brother had caused her to regard him as a man of determination and steadfastness.

She’d acceded to his demand that she leave, digested her outrage and sorrow, and then been left with an estimation of him that she didn’t understand or want. For some unexplained reason, and despite their discord yesterday, he affected her in ways other men did not.

He made all her senses heighten. Her heart and lungs worked harder, her skin heated, and her body yearned to draw close. He radiated confidence and strength and something intangible that unsettled her and made her aware of his masculine and her feminine differences. His face might be too intense for some, but she found it compelling.

AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Sheri Humphreys used to be an Emergency Room nurse, but today applies bandages, splints, and slings to the characters of her Victorian romance novels. She loves to ignore yardwork and housework and read—usually a book every one to three days. Having conjured stories in her mind her entire life, she wondered if she were normal. Then she began putting stories to paper and became a two-time Golden Heart® finalist. She lives with a Jack Russell mix rescue, Lucy, in a small town on the central California coast.

A Hero to Hold received a prized Kirkus Star and was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2016.

website: sherihumphreys.com
facebook: facebook.com/SheriHumphreysAuthor/
twitter: twitter.com/sheri_humphreys

Buy Link:
http://boroughspublishinggroup.com/authors/sheri-humphreys

Giveaway information:
Sheri will be awarding a copy of A Hero to Hold and $15 in Boroughs Bucks to 2 randomly drawn winners via rafflecopter during the tour.

Rafflecopter link: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/28e4345f2503