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CAPTURED & SEDUCED
House of the Cat 1
A Note for Readers
As a ten-year-old I entered a story contest run by New Zealand Farmer magazine. Entrants had to write an essay of where they’d like to spend their upcoming summer holidays. I wrote about holidaying on Mars, a place the organizers didn’t have in mind when they decided on the contest. I know this since they changed the wording of the same contest in their sister magazine. However, they liked my essay enough to award me second place.
My point? Science-fiction, particularly if it is combined with romance, was an early love for me, and I’m thrilled to reissue Captured & Seduced (formerly known as House of the Cat). For some time, readers have asked me to write more books set in this world, and I’m happy to report that Claimed & Seduced and Seized & Seduced are now available.
If you enjoy Captured & Seduced, I hope you’ll join my readers’ group. The perks? Well, firstly, you’ll receive two free books—one contemporary and the other a paranormal romance. You’ll get previews of new stories and see my covers first. I’m a big reader, and I like to recommend the books I’ve enjoyed plus there are contests, and going forward, there will be access to short stories and ARCs. So, what are you waiting for? Join my readers’ group today.
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.
Table of Contents
Note for Readers
Excerpt – Claimed & Seduced
About Shelley Munro
Other Works by Shelley Munro
“I don’t care if Camryn’s your sister. She’s an alcoholic, and I swear she’s overdoing the prescription drugs as well. I don’t trust her near our son.”
“She loves Luke,” Max said.
“Last time Camryn baby-sat, she let Luke wander onto the racetrack. She was blind drunk.”
Her sister-in-law’s angry words brought Camryn O’Sullivan to an abrupt stop. She wavered on unsteady legs, not wasted but experiencing a buzz and blissful ignorance of the true state of her life. She smothered a giggle, slapping her hand over her quivering lips. Okay, she’d had drinks. Lots of drinks in pretty colors. Teeny umbrellas to match.
“What do you want me to do? I can’t throw her out. She’s my twin sister. She doesn’t have anyone else.”
A hit! Camryn screwed her eyes shut, protecting herself against the onslaught of pain. No, she didn’t want to think about Gabriel, about being alone. How much it hurt. Max couldn’t make her leave. He wouldn’t.
She had nowhere else to go.
“Max, it’s almost two years since Gabriel’s death. Camryn’s not improving. She needs help. More than we can give her.”
Silence fell, but Ellen’s words throbbed like the harping notes of a badly played violin. They hurt her head and brought forth a wave of indignation. She didn’t need help. She needed Gabriel, dammit. Only her husband’s presence would belay the paralyzing guilt she carried with her every day.
A rough masculine sigh sounded. “Love, you’re right. Camryn needs help, but she doesn’t see it. Until she realizes, all we can do is be here for her. She has to want change.”
“Fine, and meantime Camryn drags us down with her. I found her smoking inside the stables this afternoon. She reeked of alcohol. Other people have noticed. She won jockey of the year two years running, but have you noticed she’s not getting the rides she was a year ago? Camryn has real aptitude with horses, the gift you both have, and she’s throwing it away.”
A direct hit. Ellen’s words sliced with precision, ripping open wounds barely scabbed. The agony hit instantaneously, ferocious and heart-stopping. Silent tears ran down Camryn’s face, and she staggered against the door. Invisible bands clamped around her ribs. Camryn gasped hoarsely, the last of the drunken buzz bleeding away as she attempted to breathe. She wanted to rock away the pain, the guilt that came from knowing Gabriel would never return.
The wind caught the door, slamming it shut and the murmur of voices from the kitchen stopped abruptly.
No, not here. She couldn’t fall apart here. Camryn fumbled with the handle, increasingly desperate when footsteps neared.
“Camryn? Is that you?” Her twin brother’s baritone sounded in the passage not far from where she teetered.
Camryn finally managed to coordinate brain and hands. The door opened. She stumbled into the winter air. The bite of the wind brought a shiver, an increase to her misery. Whiskey. She needed a drink. And maybe one of those little yellow pills the nice doctor had prescribed to help her sleep. Anything to escape the horrid truth. She hadn’t meant to leave Luke alone. She loved her nephew. He raced about, so fast on his feet, and the sleepless nights had taken their toll. She’d fallen asleep in Gabriel’s favorite chair.
Luke loved horses. No surprise since his father bred and trained racehorses. She and Max had lived and breathed horses since they were Luke’s age. Camryn lurched along the muddy track leading to the cottage at the rear of the main house.
Really, she didn’t need help. If Gabriel returned things would improve. She could kick the alcohol any time she wanted. A few pills to lift her mood. Camryn didn’t need them either. She needed Gabriel.
Camryn burst into her cottage, tracking mud across the tile floor. She staggered through the cluttered kitchen and into the dining room where she’d instructed her brother and his workers to place Gabriel’s chair. Camryn slumped into the big, masculine chair and pressed her nose against the cool leather. The faint scent of lavender soap and whiskey filled her senses, and a surge of tears blurred her vision. The chair didn’t smell of Gabriel anymore.
It smelled of her.
Camryn crawled onto the chair properly, ignoring the muddy boots on her feet. She curled into a tight ball, her thin shoulders shaking with the force of her sobs. The cruel truth hit then. Gabriel wouldn’t be coming home. He would never come home. Gabriel was dead, and it was all her fault.
* * * * *
“This plan will work.” Yep pulled on his jacket and fastened it securely against the cold. “I feel it in ma bones.”
Kaya smirked at her crewmate, her chin-length blue hair swinging against high cheekbones. She tugged Yep’s ponytail. “Your bones are sometimes wrong. My research is, however, correct.”
Ryman Coppersmith, captain of the Indefatigable, ignored them both. He’d already made his decision. He intended to win the hell-horse race on Ornum or at least beat his brother Talor and win their private bet. By the time the race ended, Ry hoped he’d be on the way to clearing his name of murder charges. Talor knew the identity of the murderer, but for some reason had never spoken out, preferring to see Ry exiled instead. Ry scowled. He wanted to go home. He wanted to stride through the streets without fear of capture. He wanted to embrace his sisters and visit his mother’s grave.
It was time.
After research on Kaya’s part, they’d found the stud farm easily enough. They landed the tender in an empty paddock and emerged to the bite of an icy-cool wind and full darkness.
Ry sniffed the air before striding in the direction of the stud farm. Trees. Grass. Mud. Animals. Every breath he took contained a new scent. The needs of the cat jumped to the fore and a low rumble eased from him.
“Go ahead,” he muttered to his crew. “I will shift.”
He knew he sounded curt, but the urgent need to run thrummed through him, even greater than his desire for a woman, and that was bad enough. Blood surged to his cock, the sharp sensation painful and frustrating. No available woman and he refused to use any of his crew.
Kaya and Yep melted into the darkness while Mogens, who attracted attention because of his changeable skin color, stayed with the tender. Nanu and Jannike presently orbited Earth in the Indefatigable, hopefully remaining undetected.
After a deep inhalation, Ry ripped off his jacket and shirt and let the feline claim him. Trews and boots melted into his body, replaced by black fur. His bones lengthened and shifted, tendons and muscles reforming to the cat. His color vision faded, his surroundings turning to shades of black and white. Ry dropped to all fours and padded across the moist grass, long tail swishing.
As always, a sense of aggravation followed him. Ry knew nothing of his feline background, had never met another of his species. In one pain-filled evening, when he’d thought he might die, he’d turned into a black feline without warning. He’d yowled his panic so loud his shipmates had come running. Ry grinned at the memory. He’d scared them half to death. Although funny now, his unexpected shift into a powerful black cat had been bloody terrifying.
For all of them.
With help from Mogens, the man who’d become their seer and part of the crew, Ry had finally transformed back, bearing a new cat tattoo on his biceps as a souvenir and his shirt in tatters. Weirdly, his trews had survived the transformation. Talk about a learning experience. And he was still learning the foibles of his species. The not knowing scared him. It made him wonder if there had been something else inside the bag they’d found with him as a baby. As a child he’d asked, but his foster father had told him the bag contained clothes.
The low voices and footsteps of his crew were clearly audible. Ry twitched his nose and prowled after them, annoyed with their casual approach. A sharp feline bark reminded them to reduce the noise. Ry broke into a lope, savoring the play of muscles long confined in humanoid form. The wind ruffled his fur while mud splashed his legs and belly.
When he neared the center of the farm where the owners lived, white post and rail fences carved the land into paddocks. Ry leaped over the nearest, his heart pumping with the physical exertion. An animal snorted, springing into action and galloping from the spot where Ry had frozen in place.
A horse. The Earth counterpart of a hell-horse.
Ry crept along the fence line not wanting to alarm more animals or attract attention. Once clear, he sped up, muscles moving powerfully, every sense alert. Ry caught the rustle of a small creature in a hedgerow, the tentative neighs of two horses at the far end of a paddock. The chill wind continued to ruffle his fur, the heavy moisture in the air indicating impending rain. Great. Ry hated to get wet. His pace increased to a gallop as he followed the track running between the paddocks.
Ahead, light bled from behind screened windows. According to the information Yep and Kaya had uncovered, the trainer lived with his wife and child. Ry regretted any anguish the trainer’s departure would cause and had penned a note, explaining the situation to his family. Hopefully the Earthlings could decipher the universal language. Ry slipped into the shadows and stalked closer, every sense alert for danger.
A cough over to his left grabbed his attention. Ry stilled, whiskers twitching. The sharp tang of sweat and unwashed body caught the back of his throat. The cough sounded again. A figure staggered from a dim-lit porch and wove to the rails of the nearest paddock. Ry’s tension eased. The trainer. He recognized the coat the man wore since it appeared in the photo Yep and Kaya had found during their research on the flight to Earth. A lucky break.
Ry padded closer, placing himself near enough to watch without giving away his presence. He needed to wait for the crew to move into position for the snatch to go smoothly. The man appeared short, about Kaya’s height, but solid. His reek said he didn’t care much for personal hygiene. His stench didn’t bother the horses. Two plodded over to him and one nuzzled his shoulder. The man smoothed his hand over the glossy neck. The other horse nickered. The man stroked it and the creatures moved away. Soft footsteps dragged his attention from the man.
Yep indicated the man with a jerk of his head. “He waits for us to extract him and take him on the adventure of his life.”
Ry stared, unable to see much despite his superior eyesight. The man wore a cover over his head, obscuring his features from sight. Ry’s nose twitched at the objectionable odor coming from the man, the air thick with liquor fumes.
Yep seemed to sense Ry’s doubts and sought to reassure. “The man’s a champion trainer,” he whispered. “Nanu and I attended the races two cycles ago. This man trained five of the twelve winners. Several place getters. Man’s natural with the four-legged creatures. Hell-horses should respond to him in the way same.”
And if they didn’t? Grata, he hated this planet. The cold seeped right to his bones and the promised rain arrived in a slow drizzle. Ry quaked, attempting to shake off the water without audible noise. Didn’t work. Miserable, he shivered, ears flicking while irritation built.
“Aw, frag it,” Yep swore. “He’s moving.”
The man intended to seek shelter. Maybe he wasn’t as far-gone as Ry suspected.
Yep slipped after him. Ry followed with a grumbling sigh, watching the staggering figure with disfavor while he twitched his whiskers. The ground sucked at his paws, the slippery footing making their mission difficult.
The crew moved in, silent signals passing between them until they stood in position. Yep and Kaya converged from opposite sides, springing and disabling the man in well-practiced synchronicity. Kaya pulled the special cloth impregnated with a potion the seer had made from her pocket and pressed it to his nose. The man went limp, and Yep slung the bulky figure over his shoulder before striding in the direction of the tender. Kaya darted up to the shelter and shoved Ry’s note under the door before joining Yep.
Ry followed, loping along the muddy track. In a burst of speed, he passed his crew, trying to outrun the returning desire for a woman. It came out of nowhere, unbidden.
Unwanted, the need gripped him with such powerful intensity he stopped in his tracks. Damn, he’d thought he’d manage for a few more weeks.
Ry tried to ignore the craving writhing through his veins. The out-of-control sensation had intensified during the past few months, affecting his sleep. The constant desire for a woman made his temper uncertain, although so far he’d managed to hold things together. Ry knew his need was escalating to dangerous levels. His attempts to manage what he presumed were feline traits and part of his heritage brought a bark of ironic laughter.
The seer saw his turmoil. The others would realize the tenuous hold he had over his feline too if he didn’t do something fast. Of course he’d continue with the search for his people, but meantime he’d have to break down and find a woman to travel with them during their voyage to take the edge off his sexual needs. Hopefully the woman’s presence would slow the downward spiral into the mysterious world of the feline.
The world he didn’t understand because he didn’t know where he came from or who he was.
Ry raced to the tender and shifted smoothly. His naked chest gleamed with moisture and rivulets of mud, his heart thudded hard and erratic. Inside, Ry ignored his shirt and jacket, preferring to sanitize back on the Indy before he redressed.
“Everything okay?” Mogens asked.
“Yeah.” Ry wanted to lash out at the seer’s scrutiny, tired of the constant analysis. He growled, a vicious snarl of impatience. Ry wanted to laugh at Mogens’ undignified scramble to put distance between them but didn’t have it in him. “The crew won’t be long. Mission accomplished.”
The tension inside ratcheted sharply upward. Ry gritted his teeth, wanting to hit someone. Silently, he calculated the length of the flight to the planet Ornum and how quickly he could find a woman. The idea of sinking into the warmth of a female, of licking her fragrant skin and losing himself in the plain rawness of sex brought an uncontrollable surge of arousal. His cock drew painfully tight, and Ry wheezed through the throbbing ache. He wished he knew what ailed him, why the feline refused to settle even with the suppressant Mogens had made for him.
Footsteps thudded on the tender ramp. Kaya and Yep clattered inside with Yep still carrying the man over his shoulder. He dumped him on the nearest chair and strapped him in for safety. The unconscious human slumped forward, face hidden by the head covering. A noxious smell still emanated from him, the stench compounded in the confined quarters of the tender.
“All aboard.” Mogens sealed the entrance. A throaty roar indicated Yep had started up the thrusters, and secs later, they lifted off.
Ry slumped onto his chair and closed his eyes, battling with the compulsion to grab Kaya, who sat next to him. He took a deep breath. A mistake since he almost drowned in her feminine pheromones. He tipped back his head and growled, the catlike yowl full of fury. Kaya’s eyes widened and she jumped to her feet, staring at Ry with something akin to horror.
“Good girl, watch the man for me,” Mogens said, pretending nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. “I’ll sit there. I want to have a word with Ry.”
Ry stirred uneasily. He’d never done that before. Gripping the edges of his chair, he fought for control, despite the air laden with Kaya’s scent. If anything, her surge of terror and adrenaline intensified the desire filling his body with savage need. Kaya shifted her weight, drawing his attention. Rich female musk filled every inhalation, along with the stink of the horse trainer. His gaze slid from the slumped figure back to Kaya. An intense shiver racked his body, and Ry closed his eyes, struggling to remain seated. The loss of one sense served to intensify the others, and he hurriedly opened his eyes again.
“Seer, do you have more of the slumber drug?” Ry had to force the words out, past jutting canines. They emerged in a growled hiss, almost unintelligible. He tried again. “Slumber drug.” The words were little more than a feral snarl.
Luckily the seer seemed to understand. “I have more.” He frowned, a ribbon of black swirling across his bare arms and face. It combined with the white of his skin to darken his complexion.
Good, Ry thought, panting heavily. His chest rose and fell rapidly, the shallow breaths still dragging in too much in the way of sensory input. Mogens knew, as he’d feared, sensed his desperation.
Heat, so intense it seared his body, brought a torturous shudder. He had to rid himself of the inferno inside. Phrull, he needed the release of sex.
Ry blinked, sweat pouring down his face. The dampness plastered his black hair to his head until it hung in wet tendrils.
“Dose me. Now. Don’t want to hurt.” A high-pitched growl erupted, echoing in the tender. He gripped the edges of the seat he sat on even though his fingers had bled to claws. “Kaya.” Grata, never forgive himself if he hurt one of his crew. They were his friends. Family. They knew his secrets, were loyal to him, to each other. Ry snarled, trembling on the cusp of a shift to feline. “Mogens,” he gritted out.
“I’m not sure how it will react—”
“Do it.” An order.
Mogens stood and strode to his satchel. He rummaged through and drew out another of the impregnated cloths they’d used to subdue the human. The seer returned, his face dark black with worry as he glanced at Ry with compassion. “Are you sure?”
The pity made Ry spit with fury. The solid walls of the tender rattled with his bark of anger. In lieu of a reply, Ry reached up and grabbed the cloth. He pressed it to his nose, gagging at the herbal reek. His instinctive reaction was to remove the pad, but Mogens grasped his hand and held it in place. Gradually the world blurred. His arms and legs refused to support his body. Ry slumped over, his world turning black.
* * * * *
Camryn woke to the sensation of the floor shuddering. Her head vibrated in time. Damn whiskey kicked like a mule. A moan escaped, the sound tiny and insignificant. Her eyes flickered, the glare of light intense. A jagged slice of pain cut across her temples. Everything ached, even her eyes. She stopped trying to open them and her world ceased 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 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 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. She whimpered, the cry weak and thready. The cat moved nearer still. It opened its huge maw, globules of saliva 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 moaned when they approached and halted by the leopard. Fear, stark and real, pummeled her body, her mind. She cried out as 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 whined 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 keened, her strength sapped and no contest for the warrior’s superior power. The warrior held Camryn’s head, 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 inside her 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 the animal 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 armrests. 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 at 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 callused 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. 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 seem 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 her 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.
Camryn flinched at the electrical surge that zapped the length of her body and edged away with a soft gasp. She 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 personal 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.”
Ry listened to her impassioned words and wanted to follow her suggestion. Giving in to temptation, he stroked his hand across her cheek. He detested her scent but her skin felt soft, like the finest, expensive fabrics they’d seized from one of his brother’s shipments. He wanted to unwrap the female, toss her in the sanitizer then rub his scent all over her. Mark her as his. The urge thundered through him. His fingers slid across her jawbone, down her neck until he felt the jump of her pulse beneath his fingertips. She was a tiny thing, smaller than Kaya he saw now, with brown or black hair slightly shorter than his. He wasn’t entirely sure because it hung in damp, oily clumps around her head. Her eyes were golden brown while her lips…her lips were full and sensual and enticed him to explore at closer quarters. He traced her bottom lip with the pad of his thumb, savoring her quick, ragged intake of air.
“Captain. Ry!” Kaya grasped his arm and shook it, her nails digging into his biceps like talons.
He growled under his breath and she released him, stepping away, head lowered in submission.
“You weren’t listening.” Apology coated her voice but she negated it when she lifted her head to glare. “Have you taken your medicine?”
“When did you take the last vial?” Mogens asked.
“Before I left the tender.” Ry forced himself to release the woman, full of resentment at their accusations. He’d taken the medicine. It wasn’t his fault the fraggin’ stuff didn’t work. “How many horses have you trained?” He’d disliked the idea of stealing the man from his family. It hadn’t seemed right, even if they needed his help.
“I started training horses when I was fourteen years of age, before I became an apprentice jockey.”
The woman refused to look at him. Her reluctance pricked his temper, and he growled. Gasping, she backed away until her body touched the curved wall of the tender. He countered, stepping near enough to smell the layer of enticing femininity beneath the stench of her clothes and alcohol-laden breath. His nostrils flared while his cock reared, thrusting painfully against the placket of his trews.
“Captain. Concentrate,” Mogens ordered.
“Get me more medicine.”
“I didn’t bring any with me. I have more on the Indy.”
Ry closed his eyes, attempting to center his mind and push all thoughts of the woman away. It worked until he heard her swallow. His lids opened to see her pink tongue swipe across her lips. They glistened and made him yearn for a taste. A rumble of pure desire rattled his throat, emerging as a barking cough. He didn’t want to spend time with a woman who feared him, yet the idea of sending her away disturbed him more.
“If you are lying about your ability, your brother will suffer.” He forced strength and a hint of brutality into the announcement.
This race and beating his brother was too important. He wanted his name cleared. They had to do the best they could in the limited time.
“I am a good trainer. I can do the job. You won’t be sorry.” Her expression appeared open and without deceit. She meant her words. “I’ll train your horse and when I’m finished, return me to Earth.”
Ry wasn’t so sure.
“Captain, step away from the woman. Let her breathe,” Mogens said, tugging at his shoulder. His behavior had agitated the seer because the male’s color flickered toward black, the black, white and gray moving in crazy swirls over his skin. The rapid change made Ry dizzy. “Captain.”
Ry allowed the seer to pull him away from the woman.
“What’s the verdict?” Yep waited for his decision.
It appeared as if they all waited for his assessment. Gut instinct gnawed him again, telling Ry he needed to best his brother and settle the dispute between them for once and all. Ry knew his brother hated him and would do anything to destroy him. He was surprised Talor had even suggested the bet and wasn’t about to lose the opportunity to clear his name. The Earth woman could help him gain an edge.
Ry inhaled, his furtive gaze heading once more for the woman. He took half a step forward before he stayed the move. Damn, he was doing it again. The woman called to him on so many levels. Ry prowled across the tender, placing as much distance between them as possible. He flung himself into the chair beside Yep and stared moodily at the woman.
Temptation. Trouble. She presented both.
He sighed. “Set course for rendezvous with the Indefatigable.”
Ry hoped like hell he wasn’t making a huge mistake taking the woman with them.
“It went well?” Jannike met them in the transport bay. “Captain?”
Ry didn’t answer, brushing past his second-in-command, desperate to escape the woman. This shouldn’t be happening. He’d humped himself to exhaustion on Ibrox after learning of his mother’s death, and since then he’d taken Mogens’ medicine and grabbed every opportunity to bed women during reprovisioning stops.
Aware of his shaky control, he stormed down the corridor, heading for his quarters. Privacy. He wasn’t sure what he’d do when he arrived there—more medicine for a start, to bolster his tenuous willpower.
Ry thumped the control to close the door of his cabin and leaned against the rigid surface. Every sense screamed, colors and scents more vivid than they’d ever been before. He stomped to his bunk and sat on the edge to tug off both boots and trews. Naked, he prowled to the sanitizer, desperate to rid himself of the woman’s scent, the feel of her silky skin. Ry turned slowly inside the sanitizer. Using the calming exercises the seer had taught him, he attempted to center his mind, let his tension seep away.
Ten mins later, fully dressed, he strode to the bridge, but before he arrived, the woman halted him in his tracks. In shock, he stared at her. Attraction had simmered in him before, but now…now he saw her true magnificence. One of his crew, probably Kaya, had given her clean clothes and shoved her through the sanitizer. Her dark hair glowed with cleanliness, the color reminding him of a blackbird’s wing. Long and smooth it hung down to her shoulders in a dark wave. And her scent. It called him.
With two giant steps, Ry closed the space separating them. He stared down at the human woman, drawing her clean scent deep into his lungs. Unbidden, his hand moved to cup her cheek, and without another thought he dipped his head to press their lips together.
Instantaneous reaction thrummed in his body, nerve endings exploding with the emotions bombarding his mind. The feline pulsed against his skin, battling him for control.
The words whispered through his mind, and he drew her against his chest, holding her more securely and taking the kiss deeper. He nibbled her bottom lip, gave her a quick nip when she was slow to respond, and when she opened her mouth in an O of surprise, he slipped his tongue inside.
Sweet. So sweet.
Need and desire pummeled him. He wanted more. So much more. A vision of him thrusting into her wet pussy gripped him, drove him to run his hands down her back, to explore her curves.
The woman groaned but didn’t protest or push him away, and some of his tension lifted. Ry relaxed, fiercely glad of her willingness. He didn’t think he could stop, not with ease.
Their tongues stroked together and soon needy cries came from the woman. She gripped his shoulders and rubbed her breasts against his chest, each of her touches like a remote control on his cock. Ry let his hands slip down her spine to her butt, his breaths hoarse, his knees weak.
He’d never felt this way before. True, the feline became bad-tempered and unpredictable when he neglected feeding his voracious appetite, but this…this…something different again.
The compulsion he’d labored under since first sighting the woman strengthened, bolstered by her touch and scent. She rubbed against him, seeming to suffer the same throb of urgency. Ry gripped her buttocks and easily lifted her, sliding his erection along the notch between her thighs. Exquisite pleasure roared through him as he smelled her arousal, felt her heat. He shuddered, desperately wanting to touch naked skin, to thrust into her hot pussy.
The woman leapt in fright, jamming their bodies closer together. Ry glared over her shoulder at the seer even as he savored the sharp jolt of pleasure soaring to his cock. “What do you want?”
“Unhand the woman, Captain. You can’t use her and discard her like the other women,” Mogens chided. “We need her.”
Ry’s hands stilled on her back. The warmth of her skin radiated through the coarse linen of her shirt. She was his. His hands moved down to cup her bottom again.
“Captain.” The infinite patience in Mogens’ voice finally penetrated the crazed sexual haze gripping him. “Captain, we arrive at Ornum on the morrow. We need a plan of attack.” His words also implied Ry could have women tomorrow—as many as he wanted.
Every part of Ry protested when he set the woman on her feet, but he peeled his hands from her shapely ass. He dragged in a breath and watched through narrowed eyes while Mogens led the woman away. Mogens never looked back.
The woman did.
Her brown eyes were wide, full of shock, and he knew exactly how she felt. He’d never experienced such a high or been so driven to claim a woman. His cock throbbed in acknowledgment of the fact. Ry sauntered after them, his gaze fastened on the feminine sway of hips. She wasn’t a big woman like Jannike or a warrior like Kaya. Petite, she came up to his chest. Her skin appeared pale and her whole look was one of fragility. Ry recalled the stench on her breath when they’d first found her. She hadn’t tasted bad when they’d kissed. No, he’d tasted a hint of one of Mogens’ potions. He watched her throw another glance over her shoulder, alarm slamming him when he saw her flash of fear. A rumble of protest vibrated deep in his throat. The woman hadn’t acted frightened before.
He knew her mouth intimately, had felt her body tremble against his but had no idea of the woman’s name.
Uncomfortable with the direction of his thoughts, Ry stalked in the rear, never shifting his focus from Mogens and the woman. At the age of eighteen, when he’d taken the first steps from law-abiding citizen to thief, he’d decided to avoid romantic entanglements. The life of an outlaw was not conducive to family life. He wasn’t partner material because in a society that took pride in tracing their families back generations, he knew nothing, had no official birth papers. Not an attractive proposition for any woman or her family. Even his fiancée Meghan had turned away, preferring Talor instead, meeting him on the sly.
He’d decided to embrace all women instead of one before he’d unexpectedly turned feline. Now his sexual appetites worked better with a variety of women and large numbers. Ry snorted. No female wanted to stand aside while her partner satiated his needs with other women.
Another glance at the woman brought a snarl. The echo bounced back in mockery. They’d reach Ornum soon. He’d take care of things then continue with their cartage and salvage as usual. That had to work. The woman wasn’t his and could never be his. He’d promised to return her to Earth. Yeah, hands off while he concentrated on kicking Talor’s butt. The need to clear his name was a surefire way of keeping his fascination with the woman at bay.
Camryn let Changing Man lead her away. Her limbs trembled so much she wobbled. Nothing about this seemed real. She’d stepped beyond alcohol-induced dreams and straight into nightmare territory. It was the only explanation for the way she’d let Cat Man paw her. If Changing Man hadn’t come along…
Her breath hissed out and alarm took over. The backs of her eyes stung, burning with unshed tears. Gabriel. She hadn’t thought of him once while Cat Man had kissed her. Not once. A tear slipped free and she dashed it away with the back of her right hand. She couldn’t do this. She couldn’t spend time with a man who…who…
Kissed her as if there were no other available women. Kissed her as if she meant everything.
Her mind shied from the truth—how much she’d enjoyed his touch, encouraged him even. It couldn’t happen again. It wouldn’t. She’d train the horses for the aliens and follow their instructions, giving them no reason to steal Max from his family. At least she could give her brother and sister-in-law that.
The headache returned with vengeance, pinching at her temples. With a trembling hand, she pressed her fingers against her scalp to massage lightly. The inside of her mouth felt like the compacted dust and dirt of a dry racetrack while her mind screamed for the sweet oblivion only possible with a sip or two of alcohol. God, she wanted a drink in the worst possible way. Her head continued to thud, woolly and thick, while her limbs trembled in a noticeable way. Embarrassment seeped into her cheeks as she tucked a quaking hand under the tunic top the warrior woman had given her to wear.
Max had pointed out her tendency to shake and shudder during his lecture on drinking. Exhibit two or three. She couldn’t quite remember. There’d been a few items. An endless litany. Oh yeah. A snigger broke out, drawing the alien’s attention. Loss of memory and unreliability had scored at number six on Max’s list. Just went to prove she couldn’t be as bad as Max made out if she could remember his stupid list of misdemeanors.
“What is your name, child?” The changing man glimmered an attractive white-gray, reminding Camryn of a lustrous pearl.
“My name is Mogens Vere.” The changing man halted and gazed deep into her eyes. “Gabriel says it’s not your fault.”
“What?” A distinct wobble threaded through her voice and shock lashed her body, robbing her mind of humor.
“He was here. He’s gone now.”
She gaped at Mogens, watched his face bleed from pretty pearl to alarming black. The alien played a cruel trick. Gabriel was beyond reach. Horror built inside until she could contain the pressure no more. It exploded in a scream. Loud. So loud it hurt her head, her ears, set the red caterpillars squirming.
Crazy. Max had missed crazy off his list.
Changing Man’s mouth worked, but she couldn’t hear his words because her terrified screams drowned out everything. Then hands grasped her from behind, pulling her back against a hard chest. Camryn’s scream cut off midway, the throbbing silence almost worse than the high-pitched terror. With a sob, she dragged in a deep breath, struggling for air, battling to control her panic.
How had the changing man known about Gabriel? Had he read her mind? He’d said… Camryn recoiled from the thought.
Arms tightened around her. “What is it? What’s wrong?” His seductive voice sent renewed fear through Camryn. She didn’t want this, didn’t want his touch. She did not.
Camryn struggled fiercely, stomping on his instep with her heavy boots, the only item of apparel that belonged to her. The rest she’d borrowed from the warrior even if they swamped her smaller frame. “Let me go.”
The man released her, stepping back when Mogens nodded. Once free, Camryn scrambled away, scuttling like a gangly newborn foal. With wary eyes she waited for the slightest indication they’d jump her. Running footsteps from behind had her whirling about. “Don’t come near me,” she shrieked. “Stay away.”
“Hold.” The terse order from Cat Man stopped the aliens. Once his crew froze, he turned his attention on her. Those green chatoyant eyes saw too much. They tempted, made her want to touch. Spooked at the wanton desire swamping her, Camryn retreated when he prowled nearer. “Easy,” he crooned. “No one will hurt you.”
Camryn’s heart thudded. The throb inside her skull marked time. Wrong. Nothing easy about this situation. “He said Gabriel was here.” She thrust out a trembling finger and pointed at Mogens. “It’s a lie. A horrible lie.” Changing Man must have read her thoughts to learn of Gabriel’s importance to her. “He delved inside my mind…and…and plucked out Gabriel’s name. He trespassed on private thoughts.”
“I did not.” Mogens blazed pure black, violet eyes flashing like beacons in his obsidian face. “I do not read minds.” He glanced at Cat Man and his top lip curled. “Others might steal thoughts but not me.” Mogens folded his arms across his chest, the action reminding Camryn of a full stop. Changing Man seemed highly insulted at her accusation and quivered with indignation.
“Can we discuss our plan for catching the hell-horse?” the other woman crewmember asked with a trace of impatience. She strode to the control center of the ship. Camryn supposed it was the bridge.
Hell-horse? Catching the hell-horse?
Changing Man stalked past her, following the rest of the crew and leaving her with Cat Man. She pulled up a scowl and aimed it at him. “What did she mean our plan? Isn’t it in a yard, ready for me to start breaking in?” And what the hell is a hell-horse?
“My name is Ryman. My crew calls me Ry or Captain, not Cat Man.”
He slipped his arm around her waist, moving so quickly she didn’t have a chance to sidestep and ushered her through the wide doorway to join the others. His muscles flexed against her lower back, the inherent strength of him bringing a tendril of fear. Changing Man mightn’t have read her mind but this man had.
“Damn,” he cursed softly. “I didn’t mean to frighten you. Usually I can block, but you’re broadcasting so loudly it’s hard to ignore your thoughts. Once our meeting is over, go to Mogens and ask him to teach you to block thoughts. He’s taught my crew. You’ve met Kaya already. That’s Jannike, my second-in-command. Yep over there is our pilot. That’s his brother Nanu. Nanu is our engineer, and you know Mogens. This is our hell-horse trainer Camryn.”
Camryn swallowed and concentrated on the introductions instead of Ry and the heat emanating from his impressive body. The minute Cat Man touched her all the panic faded. He soothed her ragged edges with his touch. Oh she still craved a drink—badly—but he drove away other concerns. She peeked at him from between lowered lashes, unsure of how to react. Plain weird. He obviously had other rinky-dinky superpowers and did more than read minds and transform to a cat. She shot him a suspicious glance, acknowledging the depth of her unease.
“We will not hurt you.” The cat man’s green eyes locked on her, magnetic and compelling. With an uneven breath, she ripped her gaze away to stare at her boots.
Take one day at a time