A shapeshifter and a wizard slugging it out, an alien world and a hell-horse…
Jockey Camryn O’Sullivan is an alcoholic on a downward spiral after the death of her husband. When aliens kidnap her, she’s both terrified and reluctantly fascinated by Ryman Coppersmith. She’s positive the weird attraction to her abductor is an anomaly. Something to ignore. She’ll train the aliens’ horse and they’ll return her home. Simple. There’s no need for sex or a stubborn male kitty-cat to replace the precious memories of her husband.
Murder. Betrayal. Banishment.
Feline shapeshifter Ry has experienced treachery of the worst kind. When his foster brother—the man who betrayed him—proposes a wager on a hell-horse race, the lure to clear his name is irresistible.
Camryn’s arrival triggers a jump in his already overactive sex drive. It’s a struggle to keep his hands off his beautiful captive. Something in his mysterious feline background compels him to chase her and the passion firing between them soars out of control. Ry doesn't understand the mechanics of their attraction but knows he can’t afford to lose Camryn…despite his promise to return her home.
Camryn woke to the sensation of the floor shuddering. Her head vibrated in time. Damn whiskey kicked like a mule. A groan escaped, the sound barely registering. Her eyes flickered, the glare intense. A jagged slice of pain cut across her temples. Everything ached, even her eyes. She stopped trying to open them and her world stopped spinning. Cautiously, she catalogued her body for aches and pains.
Her mouth felt like a dusty paddock during the middle of a severe drought. And her tongue—heck, that felt too thick and furry to fit inside her mouth. She moved her arms, or attempted to, but they stuck fast against her sides. Her heart thudded, an erratic beat of fear. Her brother. He’d told her—told her yesterday she had to stop drinking. If she didn't…
What had he done?
She struggled, hyperventilating in fear. He wouldn't. He couldn't.
For her own good, he’d said. Yeah, easy for him. He had a wife, a child. They were a family. A unit. She had nothing to live for. Not now.
Camryn forced her eyes open, her heart drumming like the thunder of horses’ hooves during a race. Her gaze lit on a large black shape on the floor. Camryn carefully closed her eyes and moved her head in a cautious shake, wincing at the sharp throb. When she opened her eyes again, the object came into focus. A large black cat lay on the floor near her. It stared at her with its green eyes. Its mouth lay open and sharp white teeth glittered in the bright light. Camryn swallowed. A dream. No, a nightmare. She wasn't awake.
Maybe Max was right—she’d started drinking too much alcohol.
The cat stood, stretched just like her mother’s used to, extending front legs and sticking its butt in the air. Then it prowled toward her, black tail swishing from side-to-side. A panicked whimper escaped Camryn. She wanted to flee but couldn't move.
Not her arms or legs.
The cat stalked closer until she felt the creature’s hot breath through the denim of her old jeans where her brother’s heavy coat had fallen away. The cat let out a sharp, fierce grunt, raising the hairs on her arms into a distinct prickle. Camryn whimpered, the cry weak and thready. The cat moved closer still. It opened its huge maw, globules of saliva clearly visible. Oh heck. This was no dream. It intended to eat her. Camryn struggled fiercely, a ripple of pure terror pouring from her parched throat.
The thud of running feet sounded and two people burst into the room. Camryn’s eyes widened and she screamed again. And again. The black leopard bit her on the leg, the sharp pain silencing her scream abruptly.
They stared at each other before weird jabbers commenced, sounding like Chinese mixed with lots of clicks and guttural sounds too rapid for her to even start to understand.
Camryn whimpered when they approached and halted by the leopard. Fear, stark and real, pummeled her. She let out another cry when they moved closer in a collective step.
People. A loose term. Real loose.
One appeared female and had bright electric blue hair and…and pointy ears. Her flashing eyes and rigid jaw brought a warrior to mind. The tight-fitting trousers and brown tunic top, plus the huge number of weapons strapped on her slender yet muscular body confirmed the impression. The other was the palest person she’d ever seen. Everything about him seemed white. Totally colorless. Apart from his eyes. They were the palest violet and focused intently on her. While she gaped at the male—at least the bulge at his groin suggested the masculine gender—he changed color. Streaks of black swirled through the white, mixing to a slate gray. The black kept appearing in long ribbons across the part of his chest she could see until his skin and hair gleamed deep ebony. His eyes remained the same eerie violet.
Camryn’s gaze traveled to the black leopard. It sat on its haunches between the warrior and the creepy-changing man. Changing Man carried a satchel in his hand. After snapping several clicks at the other beings, he pulled a glass jar from the bag. He opened it and tipped the contents onto the palm of his black hand. He frowned at them, white ribbons of color suddenly swirling across his chest. His head dipped in a satisfied nod, and the things on his hand wriggled like fat scarlet caterpillars.
She moaned softly. God, this wasn't a nightmare. These weren't the orderlies at the clinic where Max had threatened to send her. They were aliens. Aliens. Her heart pounded, leaping against her breast. Camryn started to struggle. Not even a warning snarl from the leopard stopped her fear escalating into outright panic. With another grunt and three rapid clicks, the warrior approached her. She grasped Camryn’s head and held her still. Changing Man picked up one bright red caterpillar between gray fingers and shoved it in her ear.
Sharp pain. Intense. Worse than even the most evil hangover. The caterpillar crawled down her ear canal.
She heard the crunching sounds when it attached itself somewhere inside. Her head rang, agony slicing across her temples. She moaned, her strength sapped and no contest for the warrior’s superior power. The warrior held Camryn’s head, suddenly forcing it in the opposite direction, baring her other ear for the same abuse. Anguished tears slipped down her face. She sobbed, but that didn’t stop Changing Man from forcing a caterpillar in her other ear. Camryn felt every slither when it crawled inside. The pain felt just as intense, the crunching sound deafening while the caterpillar ate into her head.
“Gabriel,” she whispered, realizing she’d landed in hell. Gabriel wouldn't be here. Only she had sinned enough to gain entrance to hell.
“Stop crying,” the warrior woman snapped, her blue hair flying around her head in a halo. “Can you understand us now?”
She could, but nausea tiptoed through her stomach. Camryn’s entire body shuddered with the depths of her misery. She’d heard hell was fiery hot, but ice enclosed her heart, her body. Nothing had changed. She still missed Gabriel.
The woman bent, tipped Camryn’s head back and struck her face with the palm of her hand. Camryn jerked back, stopping her crying mid-sob.
“Stop cryin’ and hold still while I take the seat harness off you.”
“Keep still, child,” Changing Man soothed. “We intend you no harm.”
Something in his calm violet eyes told her he spoke the truth. Maybe they didn't intend to cut her up for experiments. Camryn cast a quick glance at the leopard and her anxiety ramped up again. The feline looked as if it would devour her in a few bites, gobble her up until nothing remained.
“And him?” she croaked, heart fluttering like the starter’s flag in a stiff breeze.
“Ry, back up and leave the woman alone. Shift.” The changing man didn't seem frightened of the kitty at all.
Camryn held still while the warrior released the restraints holding her in place. Her attention remained on the black leopard. She didn't like the way it stared at her. The leopard curled its top lip and twitched its whiskers. Then, as she watched, the leopard started to blur. The warrior pulled the harness away. Camryn blinked, her spine slamming against the back of the chair. Tension seeped through her, finding an outlet in clawed hands, gripping the edge of her chair. Under her horrified gaze, the leopard transformed to a man wearing tight black trousers and knee-length black boots. Tall and muscular with a wild mass of black hair falling down to his shoulders. A green gaze pinned her in place, studying her just as intently as she examined him. Her heart did a crazy flip, slowing and suddenly galloping into a frenzied beat. For the first time since she’d met Gabriel, she looked at a man in a sexual way, even if fear tinged the curiosity.
The muscles in his chest rippled when he moved, the skin the color of burnished copper. A tattoo of a cat decorated one biceps, so real Camryn wondered if it might spring to life in the same swift manner the leopard had transformed to a man. The man’s trousers clung to his long, muscular legs and slim hips. The bulge in his groin proclaimed his maleness without a shred of doubt.
“You’ve got clothes on,” she blurted. Mortified color spread to her face when she realized what she’d said. In all the books she’d read about shapeshifters they’d ended up naked after their change. When he’d morphed, his lower half remained covered.
“I could always take them off,” he said in a husky voice.
They stared at each other, the moment so intense Camryn forgot they weren't alone. Spellbound, she studied his very masculine body, his musculature and his heavily fringed green eyes. She blinked when he stepped closer, and again when he squatted in front of her to cup her cheek with one calloused hand.
“You’re female.” His sigh sounded like a purr, and it dragged every receptor on her body to high alert. Her breasts pulled tight, the hard points dragging across the cotton cups of her bra with every rapid breath. In breathless anticipation, she waited for his next move even as part of her rebelled at the unwanted feelings coursing through her body. This wasn't right. These people had kidnapped her. She shouldn't—she refused—they’d given her something, made her react to this man, this animal.
Camryn sprang to her feet and squeezed past him, fear lending her speed and agility. She leapt for the open doorway and ran down a short passage before coming to an abrupt halt. Whoa. Whoa! This was not happening.
“Where am I?” Camryn stared in stupefied horror at the vast blackness in front of her. A man—at least she thought it was a man because he seemed relatively normal with his black ponytail—flew the spacecraft. He’d turned on hearing her question and stared with something akin to shock.
“We’re orbiting Earth, waiting to meet up with the Indefatigable,” the man said.
“It’s a woman,” the warrior said in disgust. “You kidnapped the wrong one.”
“No crap.” The pilot’s bushy eyebrows squeezed together in a scowl when he looked over his shoulder again. “No, we kidnapped a man. He wore the same coat as the man in our depictions.”
Camryn said nothing, backing away from the fierce man. They’d kidnapped her because she’d taken her brother’s coat to ward off the cold? Her head throbbed and her ears felt tender. At least the caterpillars had ceased their wriggling. She hated to think what they were doing inside her head.
“We seemed to have kidnapped a woman masquerading as a man.” The warrior glared at the pilot. “You stuffed up.”
“We had a depiction of the man in that coat.” The pilot pointed at her.
Camryn studied the view through the huge port, thoughts bouncing through her mind. The pilot had taken both hands off the controls. She couldn't see any traffic but surely he should watch for obstacles?
Tears welled in her eyes. A raging thirst made her swallow but nothing encouraged saliva. God, she needed a drink. Bad. She stepped back and bumped into a muscular and warm naked chest.
“Turn around,” Changing Man said. “We’ll take her back and find the right man this time. The real horse trainer.”
Belatedly it occurred to Camryn they were talking about Max. “No!” she cried. “No, you can’t take Max. He has a wife and a child. They need him.” Her heart pounded anew. They couldn't take Max. God, she was such a screw up. No one would miss her.
“Take me instead. I’ll do anything. Anything at all.” Without Gabriel, she was nothing. It didn't matter what they did to her. She didn't have a life to wreck while Max…Max had everything to live for. His family. His business. The success starting to come his way. Owners demanded his training skills while they ran in their haste to escape her. “Take me,” she repeated.
“Our goal is to win,” the warrior said, her words directed to the half-naked man. “Captain, that’s the whole point.”
A hand grasped her shoulder. “You’re right. Yep, turn back.”
“No, wait,” Changing Man raised his right hand in a stop gesture. His violet eyes seemed to drill into hers.
She trembled under the close attention because it felt as if he stared into her soul. “What if this is fate? I read the night skies while I waited for your return. They spoke of change and opportunity.”
The warrior snorted. “Which could mean anything. Things are always changing.”
“True,” Cat Man said, although he didn't sound as disbelieving as the warrior.
“We’ll have to take her back and get the right one,” the warrior persisted.
It had become crowded in the front of the ship, and Camryn realized she had nowhere left to run. “Leave my brother alone.” Unfortunately, her order emerged in a scared, girly voice. A fine tremor slid through her body.
“Let’s be sensible about this,” Changing Man said. “Return to the rear of the tender and let us discuss what can be done.”
Camryn saw Cat Man’s quick nod of assent.
“Send Jannike a message. Tell her we have a delay. Return to the same landing space,” he said.
The pilot nodded and flipped several buttons, taking Cat Man’s orders in his stride. Camryn frowned. If Cat Man was in charge she didn't rate her chance of survival. His expression bore such hunger and the color of his eyes darkened each time he stared at her. The speculation, the sheer lust in his gaze made nerves shriek. Camryn backed away slowly. She bumped into the changing man and the warrior and at once felt marginally safer.
Changing Man reached for her with his pearly-gray hand. He clasped her forearm in a gentle manner. “This way, my dear.”
Camryn couldn't help it. Visions of Red Riding Hood rushed to mind. Wrong fairy tale but the principle remained the same. Sharp teeth were better for eating red meat. They intended to kidnap her brother. God, she couldn't let them. She turned to Cat Man, took a deep breath. “Please, you can’t take my brother. You can’t.”
“Child, we need him,” Changing Man said. “He has expertise we require.”
“What expertise?” There must be a way to save Max from the aliens.
“We require a horse trainer,” Cat Man said. Once again he’d moved close, and she hadn't noticed until their bodies touched.
She flinched at the electrical surge that zapped the length of her body and edged away with a soft gasp. Camryn forced herself to concentrate. “I can train horses.”
“You?” the warrior asked with a sneer.
“Yes,” Camryn said, resisting the urge to shuffle her feet. Cat Man had stepped into her space again, leaving her nowhere to move. “I’m a jockey. I ride horses for a living, and I know how to train them. Take me with you. I can do it. Leave my brother with his family. Please.”
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