Excerpts

Excerpt from Vampire Territory 1: Drinking Partners

“You have the prettiest eyes.” The human woman brushed one raven lock away from Lucas Thane’s temple before she raked her fingers through the shorter hairs at the back of his head. She gazed up at him as he leaned over her in bed. “They’re so dark they look midnight blue.

Lucas barely listened to her words. The girl was a golden-haired beauty with bountiful curves and milky skin. She’d come to his bed a willing—no, eager—donor. Now she lay naked on top of his covers, served up like a fresh delicacy. At the moment he was more hungry than lustful, though the two appetites were never far apart for a vampire.

Instead of reaching for one of the pale-pink nipples she had exposed, he ran his fingertips over the top swell of her left breast. “Right now these eyes see how delicious you look.”

Would she taste as good? He ran his lips over the pulse point in her neck. She trembled beneath him, and he could tell she was nervous despite her bravado. Some vampires enjoyed a hard shot of adrenaline in the blood. It had the same effect as a human drinking several cups of espresso. Lucas had never enjoyed the bitter flavor, though, and preferred those he fed from to be relaxed. Or aroused. Best to take the first sip quickly and ease her past her fears.

Opening his mouth, he felt his fangs slip through his gums until they formed twin erect points. His mouth watered, and he drew a deep breath to inhale her personal scent. The faint, familiar odor that hit his nose had him silently cursing. Damn. He was powerful enough he could go several nights without drinking blood, but denying himself wasn’t a comfortable experience. And it looked like he was in for some discomfort.

He curled his lip in frustration, which no doubt made him look like the monster she thought he was. “You would have made a fine actress. Such a shame your life is about to be cut short.”

A spark of fear flashed beneath the woman’s sultry facade, but she proved his point by turning her reaction to good effect. “What? They s-said you’d only take a little. P-please don’t drain me dry.”

He heard her pulse quicken until the cadence vibrated in his ears. The sound of her tight swallow was even louder.

Lucas wondered if his smile was as sad as it felt. “A single vampire couldn’t possibly drink you to the point of death. That’s a myth. Several vampires feasting together, on the other hand…” He turned his head toward his closed bedroom door. “Guards.”

He didn’t have to shout the word. He was master here, and his personal guards were never far away. The door opened almost instantly. His second in command and oldest friend was the first to walk inside, though Carmine and Ugo, the guards on duty, were right on his heels.

Zander wore an exasperated look as he took in the scene. “Another one?”

“Yes. The Human Rebellion is tireless.” Lucas stood and addressed the girl. “I don’t have to kill you. Your fellow humans already did that when they injected poison into your veins.”

She stared at him for a moment before she let her mask fall. The hate that contorted her face stole whatever beauty she possessed. “It’s worth it to kill you bloodsucking scum!”

Lucas suppressed a wince at her shrill pitch. He’d expected the verbal attack, but what she did next took him by surprise. With her nails, she ripped shallow furrows along the inside of her forearm—not enough to do real damage but sufficient to draw blood. Then she launched herself out of the bed and attempted to force-feed him by smearing her blood across his mouth. He supposed she thought the smell would be irresistible. Even if he had been tempted to lick his lips, there wasn’t enough tainted blood there to harm him.

His guards caught her and dragged her, still naked, toward the door. He heard Carmine tell her, “Easy now,” and the man’s pity was obvious in his voice. Either of his guards could have broken her bones with a flex of their fingers, but they kept their grips firm without hurting her. She continued to shout epithets at Lucas, which he ignored as he turned to his friend.

“Take her to Natalia to be examined.” Natalia was their resident scientist and a vampiress loyal to him. “Perhaps we can learn something more about the Rebel poison before the girl dies.”

Zander nodded to the guards holding the human.

Although rage infused the woman with incredible strength, she was no match for vampires. He watched his men haul her away, and then all was quiet.

The dark sapphire in his signet ring—the symbol of his authority as the master vampire here—winked back at him in the mirror. It was the same color as his irises, which the girl had admired. If she was foolish enough to believe he could drink a human dry single-handedly, she’d probably be shocked to learn he had no difficulty casting a reflection.

His second in command crossed his arms and glared at him with steel-gray eyes. “This has to stop. You can’t fight a battle on every front. A lot of good it will do you to master this city, only to die of blood poisoning from some human suicide donor. What is this? The third attempt?”

“Fourth.” Lucas shrugged, knowing it would rile his friend.

“Such a waste.” Lucas ducked into the bathroom to wipe the contaminated blood from his face.

He returned to find Zander still in his bedroom.

He’d known Zander for several decades now. The man was a natural-born vampire who’d left Ivana’s protection to follow Lucas. They’d survived many battles together, and they knew exactly how to irritate each other.

Zander’s pupils contracted into tiny points, even though the electric lights in the room were dimmed low. “This is serious. You’re the first turned vampire to ever become a master, the ruler of the Mid-Atlantic Territory. The Rebels are out to kill us all, and they’ve got plenty of sympathizers here thanks to the last master’s reign of terror. Don’t underestimate the humans.”

“Believe me, I won’t.”

Unlike his friend, Lucas knew what it was like to be human. He’d lost his mother when he was ten. She’d been murdered by a gang of rogue vampires who’d broken into their manor house in the darkest hours of the night. Lucas and his father would have joined her fate if not for Ivana, a vampiress with a sharp mind and an even sharper sword. She hadn’t been the master of her own territory then, but she’d put down the rogues. Ivana had saved their lives not just that time, but later too. She’d offered her protection while they’d dealt with their grief, and she’d brought them to the New World with her. Once she’d taken over the Northeastern Territory, she’d turned his father and taken him as her groom. When Lucas was grown and disease had threatened his life, the pair had converted him together.

So Lucas had a unique perspective. He’d seen both the worst and the best of vampires. He understood the fear and hate that festered among the humans of the Rebellion, though he wished they’d stop trying to kill him.

“You need a drinking partner,” Zander said, finally getting to the point. “It’s time to find a companion you can trust to meet your needs.”

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Excerpt from Vampire Territory 2: Just My Type

Although he was old and powerful enough to get up while the sun was still out, Eryx wasn’t what you’d call an early riser. He liked to wait until the rest of the household was awake and moving. That way he could listen for any discordant notes—any sign of trouble. The evening following the attack, he heard the usual murmur of voices and the mixed tread of boots and shoes on each floor. There was more commotion downstairs near the front of the house, but the noises were consistent with men working on window repair. If Melody or Cierra had lured humans out here this quickly to fix the damage—after dark, no less—they must have offered a substantial bribe.

Having gauged the rhythm and mood of the household, Eryx finally climbed out of bed. He cleaned up and dressed in his customary black, which was not only his favorite color but excellent camouflage for a soldier at night. Of course, that was the reason it was his favorite color. The matching dual-pistol shoulder holster was a natural extension of his wardrobe. It tucked his guns beneath his arms about elbow height and gave him double the shooting power since he was ambidextrous.

These twin beauties were Dracula 98s—the model 1998 machine pistol, 9mm. Ironically, the Romanian factory that had manufactured them also armed the human infantry to combat the vampire problem in that part of the world. Eryx could have attached spare magazines beneath the muzzles as forward grips, but he didn’t see the point. He couldn’t have holstered them that way, and if you couldn’t take down your enemy with forty goddamn rounds, you deserved to die.

For a quieter kill, he had his dagger, which slid smoothly into his leg holster. He liked to have both his blade and his bullets handy even inside the house. It was a habit that had served him well on multiple occasions, including last night.

Fully dressed, Eryx grabbed his cell phone on the way out. He needed to get tonight’s patrol schedule from Victor, but first he went looking for a trembling blonde. Melody was usually downstairs in her office at this time of night, busy scouring the world through her computer. He figured he’d head that way first, but he didn’t even make it to the top landing.

Melody’s sweet laughter reached him from farther along the upstairs hall. His feet carried him toward the sound before his brain even gave the command. He gritted his teeth when he stopped in front of Wess Gage’s closed bedroom door.

“I’m sure it wasn’t that bad,” Melody said in response to whatever the human had told her.

“It was worse!” Wess insisted.

Melody laughed again.

Eryx leaned closer to listen.

“I’m curious.” Melody’s tone turned somber. “It didn’t really hit me during all the craziness last night, but you said you grew up in the Human Rebellion. What did you mean? I assumed you joined when you lost your sister to vampires.”

“Our father is a captain with the Rebellion,” Wess told her. “Alex and I were both raised with the Rebel agenda and trained in combat and weaponry since we could walk. To be honest, Alex was always better at it than I was. I mostly went through the motions to appease our dad.

“Then my sister was sent on that last mission. She helped people who needed to escape Gyula Tavarius for one reason or another. Alex worked as a coyote, smuggling humans across the border to the vampire-free states. After her last run, she didn’t return.”

“I’m sorry,” Melody said.

“Apparently one of the humans she was transporting betrayed her. We didn’t know she’d been turned. Everyone assumed the vampires had killed her. Suddenly every horrible thing my father and his friends had told me about bloodsuckers was true, not just talk. They’d murdered my sister, and I wanted revenge. I guess you could say that’s when I really joined the Rebellion. Dad didn’t want to risk me at first, but he knew he couldn’t stop me. I started with small missions and worked my way up. When we learned three master vampires would be gathered in one place, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to launch a major strike. Imagine my surprise when I discovered one of the master vampires was my big sister.”

“It had to be a shock.” Melody sounded sympathetic.

Eryx was suspicious. He had no problem with killing vampires who terrorized innocent people, but the Rebels weren’t exactly discriminating. They were fanatics out to torch anything with fangs. Could Wess Gage really overcome a lifetime of brainwashing simply because his kin had turned vampire? Or was he looking for another chance to strike?

Lately the Human Rebellion had been recruiting gullible young men and women to act as suicide donors. The volunteers poisoned their blood with some kind of coagulant cocktail and then offered their necks to the nearest hungry vampires. The poison was not only lethal to bloodsuckers, but also to the humans carrying it—hence the name suicide donors.

Eryx had to wonder how much Wess, as the son of a Rebel captain, had been involved in the manufacture and distribution of the poison.

“Did you know about the suicide donors?” Melody’s thoughts must have traveled the same path as his.

“No!” Wess sounded genuinely horrified, though he could have been faking it. “I heard about the plan to use poison, but I was never part of it. I certainly didn’t know the stuff killed the donors.”

“And your father?”

He hesitated. “Dad changed after we lost Alex.”

The quiet scuff of a shoe on carpet made Eryx turn his head. Only vampire hearing could have picked up on the sound, but he knew the noise had been deliberate.

“What are you doing?” Victor asked.

Eryx didn’t care if he was caught eavesdropping—or intelligence gathering, as he saw it.

“Wess’s father is a captain in the Human Rebellion. Did you know that?”

Victor frowned. “No. Alex didn’t give me the details, but then we’ve had our hands full.” He appeared to consider this new fact. “It could prove to be an advantage. Alex must know Rebel strategy and how they think, and she may be able to influence her brother and father.”

“Or her brother could turn on her,” Eryx pointed out. “And her father could come gunning for us.”

“They can try.” Victor sounded like he was itching for another fight. “I don’t think Wess Gage is likely to betray Alex, but people are unpredictable when emotions run high. Their father is the greater threat.”

He wasn’t sure about that. The elder Gage wasn’t the one cozying up to Alex’s personal assistant right now.

Speaking of which, Eryx was suddenly aware of the silence on the other side of the door. Where a steady murmur had filled the background while he’d spoken to Victor, there was now nothing. He reached for the doorknob, but it was jerked out of reach before he could grasp it. A feminine body collided with his and bounced back a step.

The contact lasted all of a second, yet every inch of Melody left an impression on him. Blood rushed to his cock when he saw her blush. The rosy tinge to her cheeks was a special enticement to a vampire, as were her pink lips, which were parted to reveal the tips of two dainty fangs.

“Mel, wait!” Wess called.

The human appeared behind her, and Eryx could hear the man’s heavy breathing and the rapid beat of his heart.

In a flash, it wasn’t lust that inflamed him, but rage. “What did you do, human?”

Wess shook his head. “I didn’t do—”

“He didn’t do anything.” Melody finished the sentence for him. Her voice was strong despite the quiver he saw running through her. “Leave him alone.”

Her protectiveness of the human made Eryx angrier. Before he could demand answers, she slipped past him and headed for the stairs. He took a step to follow her, but a hand on his arm detained him.

“You should stop and think,” Victor warned him. He let go and turned his attention to Wess. “And you should go back in your room and close the door.”

Under different circumstances, Eryx might have admired Wess’s refusal to be cowed. It took balls to stand up to a pair of vampires, especially when one of them wanted to rip your head off. The human then proved he was smart as well as brave by heeding Victor’s advice.

“I don’t care whose brother he is. He’d better watch himself.” Eryx glared at the closed door. “He probably had his hands all over her.”

“Only if she wanted them there,” Victor said. “You forget she’s a vampire. She could have broken every bone in his body if he stepped out of line.”

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Excerpt from Vampire Territory 3: After Hours

Brasen had his Browning Hi Power drawn as he strode deeper into the murky underground beneath Charlotte, North Carolina. So far he and the other vampires with him hadn’t seen any sign of Taspar Tong’s men, but he knew the enemy was burrowed somewhere within the three-thousand-odd miles of storm drains and tunnels. Taspar was like a rat. The ancient vampire traveled wherever the hell he wanted and made himself at home in other people’s territories. Right now, Taspar and his army were an infestation in the Mid-Atlantic Territory, which belonged to Brasen’s master, Lucas Thane.

Brasen had started out as a foot soldier for Lucas when the man had called for recruits. Those born with fangs generally thought of those who were turned—the Nouveau vampire—as lower-class servants. Now that Lucas was not only master of his own territory but married to Alexandra Gage, the Southern master, turned vampires were finally getting more respect. Having proven his loyalty and abilities in battle, Brasen had become one of Lucas’s most trusted guards.

Although this usually meant he stuck close to Lucas, sometimes he liked to take the fight to the enemy. Taspar had already attacked his master’s house twice. Brasen wasn’t going to wait for the threat to reach their doorstep a third time.

Beside him, Jaide froze and cocked her head as if she had heard something farther down the tunnel. He caught the faint scent of roses from her chestnut hair and took in the lovely curve of her cheek and jaw in profile. The vampiress already had her pistol drawn, and her expression was one of intense concentration. He’d gone still the moment she had, and so had the men who followed them. The water level was up to Brasen’s ankles and flowed hard enough to tug at his boots. Because of this constant trickle—as well as the road noise from above and the way everything echoed down here—it was hard to pick up a footstep or other sound, let alone determine where the noise originated. The only advantage was that Taspar’s men wouldn’t be able to hear them, either.

Brasen peered through the darkness for any hint of movement. He was glad he had a vampire’s enhanced vision. Light spilled through grates and manhole covers from the streets above, but these bright patches were few and far between. When nothing stirred, Jaide started forward again. He noticed she didn’t relax, and neither did he.

This place could easily turn into a death trap. Some passages had no light at all, and it was clear this labyrinth had been built in stages at different times. There were square sections and round ones, parts made of concrete, and others constructed from stone and masonry. Some of the oldest areas were shafts left over from when gold mining had been popular. Adding to the noise distortion were side tunnels that split off the main pathways like branches of a river. These offered plenty of places to hide and made searching down here ten times more difficult.

The ironic part was that humans had originally used some of these tunnels to avoid vampires while moving around after dark. Newspaper companies and other businesses with early starts had found them especially useful, as well as high-priced couriers who made deliveries when no one else dared venture out. Of course, that had changed the moment the first bloodsucker found his way down here. Now there could be hundreds of Taspar’s men lurking somewhere in the dark—all of them armed to the fangs.

That’s why Brasen had his pistol in hand and a long dagger holstered against his thigh. The two men he’d chosen to come with him, Faust and Orrick, looked equally prepared for trouble, and he knew he could count on them to guard his back. Faust had fought beside him during the takeover of the Mid-Atlantic Territory, and Orrick had once saved him from drinking from a suicide donor—a human who had laced her blood with a drug that could kill a vampire. He would trust either of them with his life.

Brasen was still getting to know the Southern master’s people, so he didn’t have quite as much faith in them. Graham was a big vampire with ginger-colored hair and pale eyes, and the man could handle his weapons. He’d joined them down here because he had been a surveyor and mapmaker before he was turned. While the storm-drain system had been charted by the humans, it was easy to get lost down here. Graham kept them oriented so they could search the tunnels systematically.

Somewhere aboveground, Alex’s personal assistant, Melody—a young vampiress known to everyone as Mel—was helping mark access points as part of their masters’ plan to seal off the tunnel system. Mel had been the first to alert them to the security risk of these underground corridors, and she knew the terrain from personal experience. If they could bar up all means of egress, then maybe they could turn Taspar’s lair into a dungeon.

Brasen glanced at Jaide again. She was one of Alex’s guards and the only female warrior in the house besides the Southern master herself. He wasn’t sure how he felt about having her with them. She dressed like a man in black pants, boots, and a T-shirt, and her only accessories were her shoulder holster and the short sword strapped to her back. Muscle definition stood out beneath the honeyed skin of her arms, and she was almost as tall as he was.

She certainly carried herself like a warrior, but there was no disguising her beauty. Despite Brasen’s attempts to ignore her appeal, he was hyperaware of Jaide. He wondered what her hair would look like freed from its tight braid, and he wanted to run his fingers through it to find out if it was as thick and silky as it appeared. Her coral-pink lips, with the bottom slightly plumper than the top, were an enticement, and once or twice he’d sworn he saw a spark of sexual interest in her hazel eyes.

Unfortunately, there were good reasons to fight the attraction. For starters, they lived in the same household. Any tension or issues between them would affect everyone, and they were highly placed among their masters’ guards. There had to be respect, which ruled out a quick tumble or anything casual. Many vampires were chauvinists, and he didn’t doubt that Jaide had to work twice as hard to make it as a soldier. He didn’t want to jeopardize her position with the other men. If he decided to pursue her, he would be signing on for a serious courtship.

A splash to Brasen’s left made him corral his wandering thoughts. He pivoted to face the possible menace. His trigger finger tensed when a small bit of motion caught his attention, but then he spotted a large rat scurrying in the opposite direction. Too bad it wasn’t the two-legged vermin they were looking for. He eased up and made eye contact with Jaide, who gave him a crooked smile to indicate this was probably what she’d heard earlier.

They all knew better than to speak. Despite the cover of the water, they didn’t dare give away their position in case Taspar or one of his soldiers was nearby. Instead, Brasen shot Graham a questioning look and followed the man’s hand signal for them to take the next right.

Brasen moved forward and noticed that Jaide matched his steps beside him. Graham followed next, while Faust and Orrick fell back to guard their rears. Everyone remained focused until they reached the end of the corridor. They took a final turn that eventually brought them back to the main tunnel where they had started.

Breathing a little easier, Brasen stowed his pistol and leaped up to grab the edge of the storm drain that led to the street. He pushed the grating out of the way and hauled himself out into the fresh night air. Looking at the brick buildings and lights up here, it was hard to believe there was a whole other world below.

He remained perched along the gutter and held the metal grate out of the way as he offered his hand to pull out the next person. A warm tingle shot up his arm as soon as Jaide’s palm hit his, but he fought not to betray his reaction. He hoisted her up. She was all grace and athleticism as she slipped through the opening and got to her feet. Graham had a much tighter fit when he came out, followed by Faust and Orrick. Brasen dropped the grate and immediately scanned the street.

Not far from here was a blood bar called the Hornet’s Nest, which until recently had bustled with activity. Humans looking for a thrill had visited the place after dark and had volunteered to feed the local vampires. Security had guaranteed their safety, and cheap alcohol had assured a steady stream of business.

That had all stopped a couple of weeks ago after it was discovered that Taspar and his men were using the blood bar to meet their nutritional needs. There had been a nasty shootout that had scared the human patrons, and Taspar had gotten away and escaped into the underground passages. Now this whole area was nearly dead after dark, which was a slap in Lucas’s face. The Mid-Atlantic master had worked hard to enforce human rights laws among their kind so that the citizens felt safe to do business and move around after sunset. This was a nasty setback.

“Well, that was a waste of time,” Orrick announced. “It will take us forever to search all those passageways.”

“We’re immortal, remember?” Faust teased him. “We’ve got time.”

Jaide wore a small smile, though she was clearly frustrated too. “Alex is hoping to coordinate with her brother and his new police force. Wess is trying to convince the city and county governments to help us bar up the outside access points to these tunnels as a matter of public safety. The humans can work on that during the day and speed things along.”

Brasen noticed she spoke matter-of-factly and not with a great deal of optimism. Wess Gage—like his sister before she’d been turned—had been part of the Human Rebellion. The Rebels had started out with the mission to protect humans against bloodsuckers, but they’d become as bloodthirsty as those they hunted. Now they aimed to destroy anything with fangs, whether the vampire in question was a threat or not. They were responsible for the suicide donors and had also developed poison darts filled with lethal coagulants that could take down a vampire. What the Rebels didn’t know was that Natalia, a scientist and vampiress who worked for Lucas, had recently discovered an antidote.

“I don’t trust Wess a hundred percent,” Orrick announced. “He started out as our enemy.”

“Yeah, but he’s changed his view of vampires since discovering his sister is one,” Jaide said. “He even stuck up for Alex against their father.”

Everett Gage, who was a captain in the Rebel Army, hadn’t handled his daughter’s immortal state very well. Rather than negotiate a truce with Alex, Everett was now more determined than ever to wipe out their kind.

Brasen wasn’t the trusting sort, but he agreed Wess had earned the benefit of the doubt. The human had, in essence, defected from the Human Rebellion to start a new group. His goal was to create a joint human and vampire police force to eradicate the real monsters like Taspar Tong. Of course, people didn’t get over their fears and prejudices overnight, and it would take time to reach the level of cooperation Wess and his sister envisioned. If the humans could help catch Taspar, though, then Brasen was all for it. Wess already had Taspar’s second in command, Ion Petrescu, in custody. Hopefully the vampire would spill something useful soon.

“In the meantime,” Brasen said, “we’ve got motion-activated cameras along the main tunnel closest to the blood bar. Taspar is arrogant enough that he might come back to his old haunt, at which point I’ll organize a welcoming party for him.”

His companions voiced their agreement with this plan as they headed back to the SUV they’d arrived in. Brasen walked around to the driver’s side and got in.

“I’ve got shotgun,” Jaide immediately announced.

The other vampires grumbled.

“Why should you get shotgun?” Orrick complained.

She looked him square in the eye, though Brasen noticed she kept her body language nonaggressive. “Because I called it first. Besides, I have long legs.”

Faust snorted. “Yeah. Anyone ever tell you you’re built like an Amazon?”

“Nope,” she said drily. “Never heard that one.”

Graham chuckled as he climbed into the backseat. He was by far the most easygoing vampire Brasen had ever met, though he’d seen what the big guy could do in a fight. The other two men got in, but they weren’t nearly as gracious about it.

“Careful, Faust,” Orrick said. “For all you know, she might beone of the original Amazons.”

Jaide glanced at him from the passenger seat as Brasen started the engine and pulled out. “I’m not that old, thank you very much.”

“So how old are you?” Orrick asked.

“Old enough.” She was doing that half grin again, which made Brasen wonder if she ever fully smiled. “Don’t you know not to ask a woman that? You never ask a woman’s age or her weight.”

“Yeah, but we don’t think of you as a woman,” Faust retorted.

Brasen shook his head. Were they blind? Jaide was all woman, with long hair a man could spread across his pillow and enough curves to tantalize his wandering hands.

“That’s because I have bigger balls than you,” she shot back.

They laughed.

It was the kind of trash talk the guards often exchanged, which showed they thought of her as one of the guys. Brasen knew his life would be easier if he regarded her the same way, but he couldn’t.

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Excerpt from Vampire Territory 4: Sucker Punch

About an hour later, the vampires he was waiting for arrived. There was an immediate spike in tension among the humans in the unit. However, Angel, Derrick, and Gunnar, who had worked with the vampires before, offered their fanged teammates a friendly greeting. Full trust would take time to build, and everyone was still getting to know one another.

It didn’t help that the stockiest of Alex’s guards looked every inch the killing machine he was. The man was built like a heavyweight champion. Thick strands of dark-bronze hair fell across his forehead and brought attention to his gray-blue eyes. His Roman nose and rough features suited him, though his full mouth was a surprise—a touch of the sensual in an otherwise no-nonsense face.

“I’m Istvan.” The guy made the introduction starkly and offered a firm handshake.

Wess accepted and was glad when he didn’t get his fingers mashed. Apparently Istvan had nice manners.

Natalia was equally blunt in her own way. “Hello. I understand you requested me.”

“Yes, I did.” He looked her over.

The scientist was dressed in dark-gray slacks and a blue collared shirt with sleeves that ended right below her elbows. She had her mousy brown hair pulled back into a tight bun—not a strand out of place or a single bang to get in her eyes. That couldn’t be an easy trick since he could see her hair was naturally curly. While her eyebrows were on the fuller side, her lips were a tad thin, at least when she compressed them into a serious line like she was doing now. All that was missing to complete her image was a white lab coat. He wondered what it would take to ruffle a woman like her.

“Thanks for coming,” he said. “I’d like to discuss some things in private with you, but first let me get everyone settled.”

Wess turned to look for Angel and Gunnar and discovered Faust had already made his way over to the pair. The vampire said something that made Angel laugh.

“Is he flirting on the job?”

“It would appear so,” Natalia said, straight-faced. “Faust can be a smooth talker when he wants to be, and given his nickname, he probably thinks it’s funny to make a deal with an Angel. Do you have rules against fraternizing within the unit?”

“Not yet. Do you think that would do any good?”

“Not likely,” Istvan answered. “The vampires in our house do not refrain, but it has not become a problem. Those who pair up gain the advantage of having a drinking partner.”

For a vampire, a drinking partner was either a human he made his permanent lover and donor or another vampire with whom he regularly exchanged blood. Since the Human Rebellion had started tainting the blood supply, Wess could see why such a relationship would be an advantage. The only alternative was for a vampire to drink bagged blood, since it went through a rigorous screening process. Those vampires who shared blood occasionally had to augment their diet with the bagged stuff, but at least the arrangement cut down on their trips to the fridge.

“I’ll leave it alone for now, but only if no one complains.” Wess called Gunnar over to him. “Istvan, you go with Gunnar to the gym. We’ve only had time to throw down a few mats, so the space is crude, but it will do the trick. I want the two of you to work out a training program—a way to integrate human and vampire tactics and fighting styles. We need to operate as a cohesive unit instead of winging it every time we face a threat. Think you can do that?”

“Of course.” Istvan sounded confident.

Although Gunnar looked a little wary of the vampire, he voiced his agreement. “Come with me. I’ll show you around.”

The two walked off, leaving Wess alone with Natalia.

“I have a private office,” he told her. “This way.”

He led her into what had once been the old mill office and offered her a seat across from his desk. The furniture was beat-up but durable and made him feel like he was starring in an old private-eye movie.

“I wasn’t sure if Lucas would be willing to spare you,” he admitted. “I guess you’re not in the middle of some big project right now.”

“I’m always working,” she informed him. “As a vampiress, I just happen to have more time than some.”

Wess blinked at her for a moment. He never would have guessed that Natalia had a sense of humor, not even the droll one her last sentence implied.

“Well, I’m glad you can spare some of that time. While I wasn’t involved with the Rebel scientists, I got used to being a part of an organization that had them at its disposal. They were constantly researching new weapons and means of defense. You seem to do the same for Lucas.”

“When necessary.” Her tone let him know she wasn’t about to share the details of what she did for her master.

Her discretion only bolstered his conviction that she was the one he needed.

He met her gaze, taking note for the first time of how richly brown her irises were. “I’m hoping you’ll give the CRU a hand with research and development. For starters, I’d like to know more about whatever acid you tossed at Taspar’s soldier during the battle in Charlotte.”

The bloodsucker had been rushing right at him and Natalia when the vampiress had thrown something in the man’s face. Whatever she’d used on the guy, he’d hit the ground screaming and had clutched at his eyes until blood stained his fingers.

“Vitriol attacks are hardly new,” she informed him, “and even medieval alchemists played around with acid.”

He refused to be derailed by the history lesson. “That might be true, but I remember you saying that whatever you used was experimental. You said you wanted to see how it worked.”

Her lips parted—a subtle show of surprise that drew his attention to her mouth. He didn’t know why he’d thought her lips were thin. They plumped into a dainty bow when she relaxed them.

“You have a good memory.” Her opinion of him obviously improved. “To answer your question, I used sulfuric acid as the primary ingredient. It is hygroscopic and has strong dehydrating properties in addition to its corrosiveness. The acid destroys living tissue on contact through hydrolysis in a manner not dissimilar from the human digestion of food. Then dehydration causes secondary burns to add to the damage. It’s what you might call a one-two punch. The resulting thermal burns can—” She stopped and cocked her head. “Why are you smiling at me?”

“Maybe I like the way you talk,” he teased her.

Those lips of hers curved up at the corners. “Are you referring to my vocabulary or the way I describe flesh-eating chemicals?”

“Mostly your vocabulary,” he said with a chuckle. “Although I get the feeling you have a macabre sense of humor.”

“Many vampires do.”

Wess shouldn’t have forgotten for a second that he was talking to a vampire, but he had. Hanging out with so many people with fangs must be wearing off on him. At least now he saw them as just that: people.

He laced his fingers behind his head and settled back in his chair. “Why don’t you take it down a notch and only give me the broad strokes? I get that sulfuric acid can melt a man’s face, but wouldn’t a vampire heal too quickly for it to be effective?”

“We heal from bullet wounds too,” she pointed out. “That doesn’t mean they don’t hurt or slow us down. The acid not only decomposes skin, fat, and flesh but can even dissolve cartilage and bone. Used against a vampire, its initial capacity to blind is its primary effectiveness. Damage to the nose and mouth and inhalation of the acid vapors can also restrict breathing. While a vampire won’t suffocate to death, we do need oxygen for our brains and muscles to function properly. The dehydration caused by sulfuric acid may also slow a vampire’s natural ability to heal. What I used was experimental because I added a strong topical anticoagulant similar to heparin. An anticoagulant is—”

“Something that keeps a person’s blood from clotting,” he said. “So you hoped to burn the bloodsucker and bleed him out at the same time.”

“Not bleed him out, per se, but keep him from healing as fast. You wouldn’t want his eyesight clearing before you could take his head, now, would you?”

“Good point.”

“I basically borrowed the idea from human bombers,” she said. “Historically, most began building homemade bombs to fight against vampires, at least until they strayed from that purpose and started using the weapons on their fellow humans. It makes you wonder which group is more vicious. Many such bombers mixed rat poison with their shrapnel in order to cause their targets to bleed out from their wounds. I wasn’t sure how effective the added anticoagulant might be in the case of the acid, but it made sense to impede the accelerated healing ability that we vampires are blessed with.”

Wess had already seen her weapon work, so he only had one question. “Can you make more of that acid brew? Enough to arm my unit?”

“Not a good idea,” she told him flatly.

The unexpected response made him frown. “Why?”

“Your people are as apt to hurt themselves as they are the enemy.” She held up a hand when he would have protested. “I’m not insulting their skills, only pointing out that humans are more fragile than we are. We’re talking about a highly dangerous and corrosive substance. To be safe, they would need to wear protective gear and have a neutralizing agent on hand. Even then, it would be hazardous. Bad aim, a burst of wind, or a vampire with fast reflexes could cause the acid to splash back on the person wielding it. It’s too risky.”

“Yeah, and a bullet can ricochet back at you or hit an unintended target,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we’re going to stop carrying guns.”

“It’s not the same. A stiff breeze isn’t going to shove your bullet back through your face after you fire it.”

He saw her point, but he still thought the chemical weapon was worth pursuing. “What about if you put the acid in aerosol form so that we could use it like pepper spray?”

“I’d tell you to use the pepper spray instead,” she said smartly. “Vampires are no more immune to it than humans are. In fact, with our enhanced senses, we should find it even more irritating. It’s the same principle behind our using tear gas on the underground tunnels in our attempt to flush out Taspar’s men.”

“We all know how that worked out.” Wess wasn’t sure why he said it, except he wanted to see if he could get Natalia riled.

Her dainty nostrils flared ever so slightly, but her tone remained calm. “The tear gas did as predicted. Taspar’s men didn’t. If his army had been present in the underground storm drains at the time we gassed them, I assure you they would not have enjoyed the experience.”

“I guess we’ll never know.” He taunted her with a small grin before he continued. “Say we did use pepper spray. As you pointed out, we wouldn’t want the bloodsucker’s eyesight clearing before we could behead him. What’s to keep him from using that superfast healing and then coming after us?”

“I thought you said you weren’t going to stop carrying a gun,” she retorted. “Shoot the vampire attacking you, and try to watch where you aim.”

Wess was torn between aggravation and amusement. The woman had a smart mouth on her, among other body parts. He was surprised by how excited he was by the verbal sparring—a feeling akin to sexual arousal humming beneath his skin. The realization was as disturbing as it was intriguing.

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Excerpt from Vampire Territory 5: Another Round

Maribeth moaned and parted her legs wider for Zander’s attention. Her vampire lover was already working one finger in and out of her wet pussy, and he added a second finger and pumped her harder. With his free hand, he was stroking his cock.

Usually his silver eyes darkened with pleasure when they made love, but right now he had them closed as he fed from her breast. Although his fangs stung where they pierced her, each strong pull of his mouth was nearly orgasmic. She tangled her fingers in his blond hair and tried to ignore the yearning for a second mouth on her other breast.

Zander’s hum made her nipple vibrate, and she could tell he was chasing his own climax. While his fingers felt good, she preferred to have his long, hard shaft inside her.

“Please,” she begged.

He misunderstood her plea. Instead of mounting her, he sped up the thrusting of his fingers and rubbed her clit with the pad of his thumb. Combined with his drinking from her, that was all it took to tip her over the edge. She cried out as she climaxed.

Her sheath contracted, and Zander didn’t stop working her until the last pulse of her orgasm had faded. Then he withdrew his fangs and barked out a shout as he ejaculated against the sheets. He didn’t stop stroking himself until he came up dry.

Maribeth lay limp and waited to see what he would do next. He removed his fingers from her, but he made no move to take her in his arms. Until a few months ago, he had always cuddled her after lovemaking, even if it was only for a minute or two before he had to leave. Now he gave her a quick kiss on the cheek and got out of bed. The distance between them made her heart ache.

She stared at Zander’s naked backside as he headed for the adjoining bathroom. His muscles shifted beneath his pale skin from his strong shoulders to his calves, and there was no disguising the power in his body. Good genes, he liked to say. It had been a joke between them—not that he joked around anymore.

Unlike the Nouveau vampire in the house, Zander had been born with fangs. Aside from one of the guards, he was the only born vampire in residence. Even their masters, Lucas Thane and Alexandra Gage, had been turned. Most born vampires were arrogant and treated their turned counterparts like low-class servants, but Zander supported Lucas as his second in command. That was why they were living here in this mansion, smack dab along the border between Lucas’s and Alex’s territories in the Metrolina area of the Carolinas.

Maribeth knew that born vampires only came from other born vampires. Those who had been turned were infertile, and vampires and humans were incompatible. At least she didn’t have to worry about birth control now that her and Zander’s human lover was gone, but she didn’t think that was much of a silver lining.

A few months ago, Drew had betrayed them all and left her and Zander with a shattered relationship. Zander was bisexual, and Drew had claimed to be too, though she now wondered if he’d really been gay. They had always been a threesome, each of them fulfilling a different need of the other. She and Drew had served as Zander’s lovers, blood donors, and daytime helpers, and she had loved both men. She had thought they’d loved her in return.

Andrew Johnson had fooled her as thoroughly as everyone else. The truth was he had been sent by the Human Rebellion—a group of humans who wanted to kill all vampires—on a mission to get close to Lucas. Drew had used her and Zander, all the while turning over information to those who wanted to hurt them. And when the Rebels hadn’t given Drew what he wanted? He’d cut a deal with an even worse enemy, a born vampire named Taspar Tong.

Taspar wanted to take over Lucas’s territory. He also wanted to bring the humans to their knees, including the people living in the vampire-free states to the west. To do that, he hired mercenaries, murdered women and children, and turned men into bloodsuckers against their wills to recruit them into his army. Taspar was a monster, yet Drew had run away to join him.

“What were you thinking?” Maribeth whispered the question to the empty room.

She closed her eyes as she remembered the last message Drew had left them. He’d made a video recording of himself, his boyish face framed by the camera. His flat nose, sharp cheekbones, and thick eyebrows had all been the same, as had his tousled auburn hair. Yet he had looked like a stranger. The provocative curve to his pink lips, which she had always adored, had turned cruel, and there had been a nasty gleam in his brown eyes. He had left the video as much to torment Zander as to offer an explanation.

“I was never getting out,” Drew had said. “Not until I was either dead or turned. And if I became a vampire, then where would I be? Playing the whore for eternity? Second to the second in command? No thanks. When I was approached and asked to play double agent with Taspar’s men, I saw it as my best option. I was given co-ownership of the Hornet’s Nest as a sign of good faith so that I’d have a little nest egg for my future. And my future is going to be very long. Taspar has agreed to turn me and make sure I’m plenty strong. As you’re watching this, it’s probably already done. After he takes over Lucas’s territory, he’s going to make me master of the vampire-free states. I’ll rule over all those Rebels who wrote me off, and I’ll no longer take orders from anyone. So thanks, Zander. I couldn’t have done any of this without you.”

Drew had always had an edge to him, but she hadn’t realized until then that he could be so malicious. While his taunts had been aimed at Zander, she wondered which of them he’d hurt worse. The man she had loved and lived with hadn’t even bothered to address her. He hadn’t mentioned her at all. The message couldn’t have been clearer that she’d meant nothing to him.

Maribeth wiped away the tear that escaped the corner of her eye and forced herself to get up. She went to join Zander in the shower, but he was already climbing out, so she cleaned up alone.

Once she had washed and dried off, she took time to blow-dry her long brown hair and moisturize her skin. She liked to look pretty, for herself as well as Zander, and a little eyeliner and lipstick made her features pop. Jeans and a lime-green sweater warded off the chill and hugged her slim figure in a way she knew showed off her assets. She completed her outfit with shoes and a few choice pieces of jewelry that had been gifts from her vampire lover. The warriors in the house had their armor and ammunition, and she had hers.

Since her and Zander’s bedroom was on the main floor, she didn’t have to take any stairs on her way to the living room and kitchen. As she walked through the house, she found most of the residents awake and ready to get to work for the night. Melody, Alex’s personal assistant, liked to leave her office door open unless her fierce sweetie, Eryx, was in there with her. Maribeth could see the fair-haired vampiress already sitting behind her computer, scouring the news for reports of vampire attacks. Then Brasen and Jaide came down the stairs together, both armed for guard duty. Maribeth was pleased to see Jaide was wearing the lip gloss she had given her, and it looked like Brasen had a smudge of it on his mouth.

Although she had noticed before, it suddenly struck Maribeth how many couples there were in the house. Even Natalia, who worked as Lucas’s resident scientist, had found someone. Alex’s human brother, Wess, had almost died trying to stop Taspar Tong’s men. The brainy vampiress had turned him to save his life, and now the pair lived in her basement bedroom. The two seemed very happy together, as did all the couples in the house.

So why can’t Zander and I be happy as a pair? Maribeth asked herself that question as she walked into the kitchen, but she was distracted when she saw who was in there. As luck would have it, one of the more interesting duos in the house was leaning against the counter and drinking breakfast together.

“Hello,” Graham said as soon as he saw her.

He straightened and gave her his usual warm smile, and she greeted him back. Nico wasn’t as friendly, but he offered her a small salute with his glass.

She liked to think of the two guards as fire and ice, both in personality and in looks. Graham’s dark blond hair had a strong hint of ginger—a bold color that contrasted with his pale blue eyes. His hair was cut a few inches long and parted so that a single thick strand fell across his forehead. His square face balanced out his wide shoulders and the brawn of his biceps. Hands down, Graham was the largest male in the house, but he fit the stereotype of a gentle giant, at least when he wasn’t in a fight.

Nico was the opposite. He wore his hair in a spiky buzz cut, and she would have called the color white, except that conjured up images of little old ladies with perms. His hair was arctic blond, and his gray eyes were equally cold. His cheeks and chin were roughly hewn, but his straight nose and the fine curve of his lips kept him from looking like a brute. He didn’t seem to care if he made people uncomfortable and tended to toss his dagger end over end when he was restless.

She hadn’t quite figured out the pair of them. They drank together, sparred together, and patrolled together, and the bond between them was clear. What she couldn’t tell was whether or not they had a romantic relationship.

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Excerpt from Vampire Territory 6: Last Call

Victor spun, narrowly avoiding a blow to his spine that could easily have crippled him. He then used the momentum to deliver a backhand, but all he caught was the whip of his opponent’s ponytail against his knuckles as she ducked.

“You’re getting predictable.” His foul mood made his tone rougher than usual.

The vampiress who faced him didn’t even blink. Alexandra Gage was the master of the Southern Territory—his master—which meant she was tough and fast and cunning enough to take whatever he dished out. As her chief enforcer, it was Victor’s job to help her keep her lethal edge.

“Sometimes the old tricks are the best tricks,” Alex retorted.

Faster than he could blink, she moved behind him again. He turned to deflect another hit and saw too late that it wasn’t her fist he needed to worry about. With a sweep of her leg, she knocked his feet out from under him, laying him out on the dojo mat. She followed up with a foot stomp that only missed his head because he rolled away quickly enough.

He didn’t stay down for long. With a quick flip, he was back on his feet and looking for an opening.

“What’s the matter?” she taunted him. “You didn’t predict that?”

He growled and bared his fangs, though he didn’t let her goad him into an impulsive move.

“You’re surly tonight,” she remarked.

“Try frustrated.”

Taspar Tong—the vampire he hated above all others—had finally come to the New World and had declared war on this household. The bastard’s aim was to take over the Mid-Atlantic Territory, which was currently ruled by Alex’s husband, Lucas Thane. After that, Taspar had his sights set on the vampire-free states to the west.

Twice now, Victor had gotten close enough to engage the Eastern vampire in combat. Both times, the coward had managed to slip away. Now Taspar was hiding, and for months, none of the bloodsuckers they’d interrogated had been able to tell them anything. Add some sexual frustration to the mix, and Victor was spoiling for a fight.

Alex slipped under his guard and delivered a rapid series of punches to his face and ribs. He deflected most of them and got in a few licks of his own before she danced back.

“Is the job getting to you?” she asked. “I knew being my chief enforcer would keep you busy, but I didn’t think it would be this bad.”

Victor grunted. “It’s not the job.”

He had served as a general in his human life and was used to command. The first time he’d met Alex, he’d planned to challenge her for leadership of the Southern Territory. He had even eliminated the competition in order to take a shot at her. There was no telling how that battle might have ended, because she’d offered him the chief enforcer position instead.

“You sold me on the job when you promised I could avoid the political crap you master vampires have to deal with.”

“It’s one of the perks,” Alex said.

She cracked him in the jaw before he saw her move. He had to rely on his own quick reflexes to grab her arm as she followed through, and then he kicked her across the stomach hard enough to lift her off her feet an inch or two. Although he heard her breath slam out of her lungs, she didn’t remain stunned for long. She used the split-second opening to tangle her leg with his and brought him to the ground. He rolled to pin her, but she was swift enough to escape him. They both sprang up and began circling again.

“I’ll give you another promise,” she said. “We will nail Taspar Tong.”

“I know.” He would make sure of it.

“We might not have gotten anything out of his lackeys, but Drew’s body gave us some clues.”

Andrew Johnson, known to the household as Drew—or more recently, as bastard, prick, and several other disparaging names—had been a traitor twice over. While he had been living with them, he had secretly been working for the Human Rebellion, a group whose sole mission was to terminate all vampires. When Drew had decided his fellow Rebels weren’t giving him what he wanted, he had then double-crossed them and had become Taspar’s accomplice. He had even convinced the Eastern vampire to turn him and had become more dangerous than ever as a bloodsucker. Victor had been part of the fight that had ultimately killed Drew, but it was Alex who had been clever enough to check the traitor’s pockets. She had come up with a wallet, keys, and a cell phone.

“You already used Drew’s phone to lure out a few of Taspar’s stupider bloodsuckers,” Alex reminded him. “Mel and Cierra are working hard to track down what the keys go to.”

Victor had grown to respect Melody, who worked as Alex’s personal assistant. As for Cierra, Lucas’s chamberlain, the image of green eyes flashed through his mind. In his fantasies, she gazed up at him from his bed, and her light-brown hair was spread across his pillow.

His gut tightened, and he nearly took a fist to the face. This was exactly why he’d fought his feelings for Cierra for so long. She was a distraction he couldn’t afford—not when Taspar Tong was so close. And since he had kissed her a couple of weeks ago and finally tasted her lips, his hyperawareness of her had only grown stronger. That kiss had been a tactical error—a moment of weakness he shouldn’t have allowed himself. He’d recognized the danger, yet he had been the one to initiate it before he’d come to his senses and pushed her away. Since then, the tension between him and Cierra was palpable.

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Excerpt from Children of Nanook 1: Mating Season

It was that time of year again. The snow was already thick on the ground, and Koll’s village prepared to hole up for the brutal winter. Highlighted by the frosty glow of the moon and stars, the gently rolling land around him was bathed in bluish white from horizon to horizon. To the north, the mountains stretched skyward while the sparse trees stood like naked skeletons. It was easy to get lost in the endless haze, but Koll kept his sled hound, Greyfell, on a steady homeward course.

He also kept a careful lookout. There were many predators on the arctic planet of Jensen. The terrain was rife with giant wolverines, spear-toothed cats, and enormous frost bears that prowled the ice floes. Some said Jensen was the last true wilderness left in the universe, which was what had attracted the immigrants who’d settled on this planet generations ago. Untamed nature was both beautiful and deadly, and this time of year could be especially dangerous as food grew scarce. Winter was the season of endings. And beginnings.

Koll blew out a loud sigh and watched his breath fog and disappear in front of his face. Although he should have known better, he’d thought to make a new beginning for himself this year. This was the season when the single men of the allied villages went courting. More precisely, it was a time for those looking to settle down to hunt for a possible wife.

When a man found a female he wanted, he offered her a ribbon bearing his family color—in Koll’s case, a damn unfortunate color. If the woman accepted, she wore it in her hair as a warning to other males and moved in with him for the winter. Come spring, if the pair decided they suited, they married and used the breeding season to start their family. If they were unhappy, then they simply parted ways, free to try with someone else next year.

Koll had seen this mating dance before. Seen it but had never experienced it. No female had ever accepted his ribbon, not from any of the villages nearby. He blamed his size.

From an early age, Koll had grown fast and hadn’t stopped until he’d towered over his peers. His childhood awkwardness had been a source of amusement to the village kids, and they’d excluded him from most of their games. Puberty had only added bulk to his tall frame, turning him into a muscled giant.

He wasn’t a gentle one, though. Koll knew how to be gentle and never looked for trouble, but he was not an easy man. Having learned to control his strength, he was now a seasoned warrior. Usually he did battle with the elements and the beasts that prowled these lands, but the men on the other side of the mountains had been known to raid his village during lean times.

As a mature male, his size and strength should have been an asset, proof that he could protect and provide for a female. Instead, he frightened most women with his large body, dark looks, and gruff manner. As for those females who weren’t put off…well, men didn’t hold a monopoly on lechery. Unfortunately, the women who were attracted to his size, or at least the size of one body part in particular, never seemed interested in more than a night or two.

Koll wanted more. He wasn’t the quitting kind—stubborn, his mother would have said—which was why he hadn’t given up hope. That’s how he found himself here in the dead of night, trekking endlessly through the snow on his way back from the distant village of Idona. Year after year, he ventured farther and farther abroad in the hope of finding a wife. He’d even lined his sled basket with furs to keep her warm and comfortable for the ride back to his home. But his sled was empty of occupants because he’d failed. Again.

“None of them would have suited me anyway,” he groused, trying not to wince at the memory of his recent rejections.

His sled hound twitched an ear in response. Fully in travel mode, Greyfell focused dead ahead and kept his pace steady. Then he did something Koll knew better than to ignore. With an audible breath, Greyfell broke stride to smell the air. His head popped up, his lungs inflated, and his ears swiveled forward as he scanned the terrain.

Koll threw the brake before unsheathing the knife at his belt. He went as still as his hound, letting his gaze slide over his surroundings. The muffled crunch of snow caught his ear just before Greyfell released a soft whine.

Ready for an attack, Koll spun to face the threat and froze in shock. The source of the commotion was closer than he’d expected—close enough that he knew he’d be dead were this a hungry frost bear sneaking up on him. Fortunately, it wasn’t a beast he faced. There, limned by moonlight, stood the most breathtaking woman he’d ever seen.

Her hair was so white it was nearly transparent as it drifted down to curl beneath her cheekbones. Those cheeks were rosy from the cold—a pretty contrast to skin almost as pale as the snowflakes. His first impression was that she was an albino. Then he saw her eyes. They weren’t colorless or gray or even the pale blue of a clear winter sky. Instead, they were rich brown, full of depth and life. They were also pleading.

“Please.” Her full lips delivered the word before she swayed forward. She would have collapsed if his reflexes hadn’t made him fast enough to catch her.

Mindful of the blade in his hand, Koll wrapped his arm around her waist to hold her up. He received the second shock of the evening when he realized she was tall enough he could tuck her head under his chin. Even through the fur coats they both wore, he felt her full breasts pressing on either side of his sternum instead of landing somewhere near his navel. His groin heated before he got his mind working.

“Please,” she murmured again.

“Are you hurt?” His voice came out even more like a growl than usual.

Trying not to jostle her, he pulled her to the side of the sled. Her head lolled back on the furs as he laid her in the basket and leaned back to look at her. He kept his knife out.

“Answer me, woman. Are you injured?”

“No.” Her eyelashes fluttered as she fought to stay conscious. “Please help. They’re stalking me. Can’t run…can’t run any farther.”

Koll was already studying the frozen landscape, searching for danger. At the front of the sled, Greyfell continued to whine and shift his feet, but he wasn’t peering into the darkness anymore. The canine watched the woman closely. Greyfell hadn’t been around many females, and her sudden appearance was obviously making the sled hound nervous.

“Hey, calm down.” Koll used his command voice to snap Greyfell out of it. Then he returned his attention to the woman. “How many? What kind of beasts?”

Each predator on this world had different hunting techniques and vulnerabilities. He wanted to know what he was up against.

Her lashes drifted closed again, but she answered. “Men. Traveling on two feet.”

Anger flared in Koll’s gut. Predators were chasing her all right, but these hunted for sport. An attractive female like her made for appealing prey. The bastards must have caught the poor woman outside the safety of her village. She was geared up in warm clothes and snowshoes, and he was relieved to see her garb was still intact and in place. So far, she’d escaped assault. She was worn out, though—obviously at the end of her strength.

“How many?” he repeated.

No answer. He could still see her breath, but she’d finally succumbed to exhaustion.

Koll didn’t waste time. He had no doubt he could take out several attackers, but he didn’t know how large a gang was after her. There was no sense taking chances. Every protective instinct he had demanded he get her to safety as quickly as possible.

After popping off her snowshoes, he got her tucked securely under the furs before climbing on behind her and pulling up the brake. With a low grunt of sound, he signaled Greyfell to run, and the hound immediately obeyed. They shot forward, heading homeward once more. Koll stayed alert for danger, only stealing occasional glances at the beautiful woman in his sled.

The extra weight slowed their travel. It was closer to dawn than dusk when they finally reached his house. Koll carried the woman inside and laid her on his bed before stripping off his gear and seeing to Greyfell. The hound’s head reached Koll’s chest, giving him a clear view of the animal’s large black tongue as he panted. He took off Greyfell’s protective boots and rubbed him down with a towel before settling the hound in the kennel attached to the house.

Then Koll built a fire before returning his attention to his new guest. When he’d planned to bring a woman here, this wasn’t quite what he’d had in mind. She was still sound asleep and probably would be for hours. He needed to get her out of those wet clothes, a thought that aroused him and made him feel awkward at the same time.

After what she’d been through, he wanted to tell her that he meant no harm. As much as she stirred his body, her vulnerability moved him and made him want to comfort her. He should have told her she was safe. He should have promised his help immediately when she’d asked. At the time, he’d been so focused on assessing the threat he hadn’t thought to offer her reassurance. Hadn’t he learned that females needed gentle words?

“Stupid lout,” Koll grumbled to himself.

He wasn’t good with words, but he could have said something. No need for poetry.

Lifting one of the extra fur blankets from the foot of the bed, he held it in front of him like a shield as he walked toward the woman. The firelight bathed her like sunrise and brought a rosier hue to her skin. Very carefully, he laid the blanket over her lap, though she was still covered by her leather pants. He propped her up with one arm while he used the other to peel off her wet coat and toss it aside.

One down. That was the easiest part.

Her sweater beneath was damp and clung to her skin. She was not a scrawny creature; she was heavy-boned and lushly curved. Not fat—she was built of surprisingly hard muscle for a woman—but she certainly wasn’t dainty. Sturdy was the word that came to mind.

Pulling the blanket higher, Koll covered her chest with it while he wrestled off her top. He groaned when he brushed his callused hand over the bare skin of her back. She was so damn soft. Soft and smooth and delectable.

His erection punched his fly so hard he winced. With a death grip on the blanket, he kept the covering in place, though what he really wanted was to let it drop. He ground his teeth in determination and protected her modesty as he lowered her torso back onto the bed. Stepping back from temptation, he moved to her feet.

Koll had never paid much attention to a woman’s feet before, yet he found himself captivated when he bared hers. They were beautifully shaped, arched in the right place, and just as smooth and pale as the rest of her. And they were big. Although they weren’t absurdly so, her feet were definitely very large for a female. He must be going mad, because that turned him on even more.

Unable to stop himself, he slid the blanket up her long, endless legs. Of course, they probably only seemed lengthy because she was so tall. He was pretty sure she was proportioned longer in the torso, but that didn’t matter. There was just so much of her to explore, and every part had fresh heat racing to his cock.

By the time he had the blanket to her waist, his hands shook. He fumbled with the fastening of her pants and felt as if he were gasping for air as he dragged the leather down along with her underwear. At the last possible moment, the blanket hooked on her belt and slipped down to conceal her privates. It stopped at the top of her thighs while he slid the material the rest of the way down her legs and off her toes.

Koll was sweating with the effort it took not to reverse course and slide his palms over her naked calves and thighs. His gaze was fixed on the shadow between her legs—a glimpse of paradise denied him by the outcropping of blanket barely blocking his view. One flick of his finger and he could take a peek. Just a peek to see if her hair there was as white as that on her head.

He hadn’t realized he’d moved until he was already gripping the bottom hem of the blanket. With a surge of self-disgust, Koll broke from his lustful trance. What was he thinking? Instead of pushing the blanket higher, he yanked it down to cover her to her ankles.

He pulled too hard. The top edge jerked low, revealing the perfect swell of her breasts and half of one delicate pink nipple. A spurt of precum instantly moistened his fly.

Koll released a ripe curse and stumbled back until he hit the wall. He tried to regain control but couldn’t tear his gaze away from her. It had been too long, and despite all logic, he’d convinced himself he might succeed in bringing a woman home with him tonight. Never mind that this woman hadn’t come here to winter with him. Never mind that he didn’t know anything about her. He would never lay a finger on her while she was helpless like this, but—

With a growl, he stood up and tore open his fly. His dick sprang out and drooled in anticipation, ready to pounce on her. Already proportionate to the rest of his body, his cock was as long and hard as Koll had ever seen it. Experienced females enjoyed his girth, while others found it one more aspect of him to fear. He wondered fleetingly whether this woman could handle him before he wrangled control of his erection with one broad hand.

“Yes!” The word broke from him on a groan before he could bite it back.

Usually he wasn’t a talkative lover, but tonight he was too tightly coiled. Mesmerized by the nipple that remained so coyly half hidden, he stroked his cock with long, tight pulls. The veins along his shaft stood out, probably mirrored by those in his neck as his heart pounded so hard he felt his pulse in his temples. Jerking off had never felt so good.

His thighs quivered as his imagination took over. He could see himself pulling the blanket free of her, exposing those mouthwatering breasts and the unending banquet of her delicate skin. Koll quickened his pace as he pictured his hands stroking up the insides of her thighs, pushing her roughly open, and placing the head of his cock right there at the opening of her den. She’d be wet, crushingly tight, and oh-so hot as he shoved into her. Her tight ring of muscle would massage him as he thrust, taking him right up to the base of his cock. He’d glisten with her juices and hear the quiet suck and squelch as he worked into her. That beautiful nipple would pucker between his lips while he licked it. There’d be no holding back. He’d stroke and pound and claim her sweet body until—

“Ah!”

Koll’s balls drew up a split second before cum flooded over his abdomen and hand. His cock sent up surge after surge of wet pleasure, burning him more hotly than the nearby fire. Grunting through the contractions, he lifted his gaze from her milky breast to her lovely face. Another hard spurt of cum shot from his dick like a geyser.

By the time the tide receded, he shook all over and had to rely on the wall behind him for support. He was so sensitive that he moaned at the feel of his fingers releasing his spent cock. The sensation was enough to keep him from going completely limp, which wasn’t unusual. He’d always been an extremely demanding lover, requiring more than one round to be completely satisfied.

Only when his cum cooled did shame hit him. Here he was, masturbating over an unconscious woman—one who was scared and alone and helpless. He was no untried boy unable to control himself. Where was his self-discipline? His self-respect?

Koll cleaned himself and tucked his cock back in his pants before approaching her. With a careful tug, he shifted the blanket to cover her all the way to her neck and then walked away. It looked as if he’d be sleeping on the floor for what was left of the night.

He already knew what he had to do. Tomorrow morning, he’d go to the trading post to talk to the other villagers and see if anyone knew this woman and where she might have come from. A female with such lovely, unusual looks would certainly be missed and likely reclaimed in no time. If she’d been his, he never would have let her out of his sight.

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Excerpt from Children of Nanook 2: In Season

Gilby let out a big sigh and stared down at his drink. “I’m telling you, Koll. Women sure know how to tear a man’s ego to shreds. I was sure Nessa would give in this year. Last time I asked her to winter with me, she said she’d think about it. Ha! Now she says she was only trying to be nice. I don’t see how it’s nice to tell a guy you wouldn’t sleep with him if he were the last male on the entire planet. That’s just cruel.”

He sat sulking at a beat-up table in the village tavern. Seated across from him—practically taking up the whole table with his huge size—was his best friend.

Koll returned a grunt.

“You said it,” Gilby told him. “There are plenty of ways to let a man down easy. Women can be vicious. Don’t get me wrong; I love females with their soft skin and all those lovely curves, but they’ve got claws. Sharp, sharp claws.”

“You’ll find someone.” His friend sounded confident.

He supposed Koll had a good reason to be optimistic. The two of them were opposites, yet so much the same. While Gilby was a talker, his friend was quiet and gruff. Gilby was one of the shortest men in the village—okay, the shortest—while Koll was the biggest and tallest. They were at polar extremes, but that was what gave them so much in common. Neither of them quite fit in. On the arctic planet of Jensen, communities were intimate places where everybody knew everyone else, and almost all the villagers were the same. All except him and Koll.

But Koll had a wife now. He’d found Shila, who was a Child of Nanook—a shape-shifter who could take the form of one of the fierce frost bears that hunted the ice floes. Shila had wintered with Koll, and after they’d overcome some trouble with a couple of males of her kind, she’d gone on to marry him. They’d recently had their first child, little Esben.

That was the natural progression of things. A man found a woman he wanted and invited her to move in and winter with him. She wore a ribbon bearing his family color in her hair to show she was taken, and if everything worked out, the pair married in the spring and started a family. Of course, if they drove each other mad during the winter, they were free to part ways and try again with someone else the next year.

Gilby took a big swallow of his drink and felt the alcohol burn its way down to his belly. He’d only wintered with a woman once, and that had been long ago. It hadn’t ended well.

“I was too young,” he admitted. “I see that now. Vinga and I were barely more than children when we wintered together. I had too much stamina for her. There’s only so much mating you can do in a single season before you begin to chafe.”

Koll snorted.

“I need a special kind of woman. Maybe I should look to the Children of Nanook like you did.”

“I didn’t look for Shila,” his friend pointed out. “She fell into my arms. And you’re uncomfortable around her when she’s in bear form.”

“I’ve gotten used to it.” For the most part. It was still a bit disturbing to see a woman change into an enormous predator with long fangs, white fur, and claws like daggers. “You found Shila on your way back from another village. The point is you got out there. You hunted for a woman, and you were rewarded. I’m telling you I’d be happy if a big, beautiful bear woman fell into my arms. Of course, there is my size to consider.”

Gilby usually didn’t let his height, or lack of it, get him down. Although he was a head shorter than the average villager and half Koll’s size, he was every bit the warrior his friend was. He was strong and cunning enough to support a female. The problem was overcoming the initial impression. When Shila first met him, she’d called him a runt. Her people were so big that she assumed he had to be stunted or, worse, a juvenile who wasn’t done growing. Yet another woman who had been hard on his ego, though she hadn’t meant to offend him.

“Maybe I can use my size as an advantage.” He liked to look on the positive side of things. “Women find small men nonthreatening.”

“Only those who don’t know you,” Koll retorted.

“Exactly! That’s what I need to find. This winter, I’m going to track down a woman who has never met me, and I’m going to convince her to wear my ribbon. Then I’m going to take her to bed and show her I’m man enough to keep her.” He killed his drink and plunked the empty cup down on the table.

Gilby pushed to his feet, ready to march out into the wilderness of Jensen to find himself a woman. He’d had just enough to drink to make him brash but not tipsy, and he was determined to hop on his sled and scour the villages far and wide.

Koll rose when he did, dwarfing him as they headed for the tavern door. Gilby was halfway across the room when someone barged in from the outside. Snow swirled and eddied over the threshold before the newcomer shut the door again. Gilby expected to see one of his neighbors, but when the cloud of cold air cleared, he saw a stranger standing there. A very female stranger.

He couldn’t have been more staggered if a slavering wolverine had strolled into the tavern. As he watched, the woman gave the bearskin rug at her feet a considering look before she wiped her boots. He tracked the movement and then let his gaze float up from her toes to take in the rest of her. Her leather pants and gray fur coat couldn’t disguise her wide hips, the feminine curve of her waist, or the rounded peaks of her breasts. When he got to the thick hood that covered her head, she pushed it back to reveal her face.

Gilby’s heart stuttered. Her skin was as white and flawless as fresh snow, and her brown irises were so pale they were almost gold. He wanted to loosen her hair from its shoulder-length braid and run his fingers through it to feel if it was as thick as it looked. Even with her hair bound, he noticed its coloring was unusual. It was nearly all white except for a thick band of amber that ran from her forehead all the way to the tail of her braid.

When he was done staring at her face, he reversed the course of his perusal to admire her plump breasts, long torso, and nipped-in waist. She had a sturdy build—the kind that could hold up to long nights of good loving. Whoever she was, she was tall for a woman, though not enough to scare him away. He was pretty sure he could fit the width of a snowshoe between the top of her head and the doorframe above her. Her bosom, currently covered by her fur coat, was the perfect height for him to rest his chin on top of her cleavage.

Gilby caught himself holding his breath and released it in a rush. She’d done the impossible and struck him speechless, but his faculties slowly returned to him. He summed up her effect on him in three words.

“I’m in love.”

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Excerpt from “Breeding Season” (a Children of Nanook short story)

Desna studied the male shifter next to her as she climbed toward higher ground. Karpok was in frost bear form as he strode beside her, his muscles flexing seductively beneath his white fur with every stride. He synchronized his steps with hers, matching her movements until she was sure even their hearts beat to the same rhythm. Although she could tell by his scent that he was aroused, he let her set the pace and didn’t rush her. A casual observer might have mistaken him for relaxed.

He wasn’t. Desna could see his brown eyes shifting back and forth as he swept his gaze over the terrain. He was always protective of her, but he was more alert than ever since this was the breeding season. Animal passions ran high at this time of year.

Except for the muffled crunch of snow beneath Karpok’s feet, he was absolutely silent—a predator who had mastered the art of stealth. Frost bears were fierce, magnificent creatures, which was why the father of their people had chosen to merge his spirit with the animal. Since then, his descendants, the Children of Nanook, had been able to shift between forms. They could change from men and women to the ferocious white bears and then back again as they chose.

Karpok was one of the strongest shifters Desna had ever known. Even though she transformed into a sizeable bear herself, he dwarfed her. He was double her weight and taller than some of the clawless villagers who lived beyond the mountains. Like her, he had large feet to help him tread across the ice, and his sharp claws gave him better traction. Even his thick fur couldn’t disguise the sheer power in his stocky legs. He smelled of male and power, of sea salt and ice and endless skies.

She drew a deep breath and reveled in his scent. The air that filled her lungs was crisp and cold, although spring stalked the land now. All the way up the mountain, boulders of mottled gray and black jutted up through the pristine snow, and even the sea ice behind her was breaking up. There were large stretches of cold, clear water between the floating islands of white, and she had been forced to swim more than once before she had at last reached the shore.

Now that Desna was on firm ground, she felt like she was in danger of melting. Hot lust flooded her body, incited by the nearness of her mate. Her body was primed to accept him, to welcome his large cock as he drove it into her. Although she had lost count of how many times Karpok had taken her, she still couldn’t get enough of him.

When he released a low growl beside her, the vibrations tickled her fur and shot straight to her sex. The mating drive had muddled her mind, so it took her a moment to realize why he was riled. Her nose identified the interloper before she spotted him.

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Excerpt from Children of Nanook 3: Pleasure Season

“Another winter alone,” Sorena announced.

Her breath formed a white cloud in front of her face as it clashed with the frigid air, and she listened to the rhythmic crunch of the snow beneath her boots. Winter had come early this year, and it was already bitingly cold. She pulled the hood of her fur coat farther forward and wondered if there was anywhere in all of planet Jensen that was warm right now.

“It would be warm in an attractive man’s bed,” she couldn’t help but point out.

This was the mating season in the allied villages—a season of courtship and pleasure for unattached men and women. If a male saw a woman who interested him, he would offer her a ribbon in his family color. Assuming the female found him acceptable, she would wear the ribbon in her hair to let everyone know she was unavailable. The couple would then live together throughout the winter to see if they suited each other. Those who enjoyed a good mating season would invariably marry and start a family.

“Ribbonless again,” Sorena griped.

She had gotten into the habit of talking to herself and knew it would only get worse as the long, cold months progressed. Her mother, who lived in the next village over from Idona, worried that men would hear her and think she wasn’t right in the head.

“I don’t think that’s the problem, though. Agnetha prattles on endlessly and is always forgetting things, yet she has been married for years.”

The truth was Sorena wasn’t sure why none of the men in the village wanted her as a wife. She was neither shy nor outgoing, tall nor short, skinny nor voluptuous. Her hands were a bit rough from hard work, but she wasn’t scarred. Her eyes and hair were both medium brown, and she had a clear complexion.

She sighed. Maybe that was the problem. The best she could say for herself was she was average and nondescript. In other words, forgettable. In all the years since she’d become an adult, she’d only spent one mating season with a man.

“What a mistake that was.”

The fellow had been from her mother’s village and had taken her to stay with him at his house. Three weeks in, Sorena had discovered he’d only chosen her because the female he really wanted had refused him. He had done it to make the other woman jealous. The worst part was it had worked. The pair had lived together the following season and had married soon afterward.

“And all that happened right in front of my mother too.”

That had been a miserable winter. By comparison, Sorena supposed this season wouldn’t be so bad. She was self-sufficient and certainly could hold a conversation with herself.

“I even know some pretty good jokes,” she said as she walked around to the back of her house.

She wanted to gather some of the venison she had hidden in the snow. It would take a while to thaw, and she needed more food for tomorrow. She drew up short when, instead of the snow bank she expected, she nearly came nose to nose with one of the largest male frost bears she’d ever seen.

His white fur made him blend perfectly with the landscape, and those broad paws let him move with stealth. She certainly hadn’t heard him coming, or she would have stayed inside and armed herself with a spear. Had the scent of the meat drawn him here? She always tried to be careful, but frost bears had incredible noses. They also had impressive fangs and sharp claws, which worried her far more at the moment.

This bear was tall and bulky with muscle. Her head barely reached his shoulder. Sharp brown eyes studied her, and she heard him draw a deep breath. Was he sniffing her? Sizing her up for a meal?

That’s when she noticed the blood staining his ribs. He was injured. A wounded animal could be even more dangerous, although maybe she’d get lucky and his injury would slow him down enough for her to escape.

“Except my luck doesn’t seem that good,” she whispered.

Sorena knew better than to run, because that would only arouse the bear’s hunting instincts. She also avoided staring the animal directly in the eyes. Since he wasn’t making any noises and hadn’t lowered his head as if to charge, she decided to take a chance. Very slowly, she stepped back.

The frost bear moved forward at the same time, maintaining the distance between them. She froze, and as soon as she stopped, he did too. Several seconds passed in which they seemed to size each other up. When she dared another step, he again matched her. Then suddenly she was blinded by a flash of light.

It took a second for the afterimage to fade, but when it did, the bear was gone. In his place was a pale-skinned man on his hands and knees. A very naked man.

“I mean no harm,” he said.

His voice was raspy, and those were the only words he got out before he landed face-first in the snow.

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Excerpt from Alien Sex 101: Xindra and Quinn

Quinn was thirty-six years old, and he was about to make love to a woman for the first time in his life. The thought made him laugh as he settled their luggage in the honeymoon suite. Over the years, he’d had a lot of one-night stands, quick lays, and weekend flings here in Trilanta, the largest city on the space-hub planet of the same name. But he’d never cared enough about those women to call it lovemaking. Xindra was different.

She was more than just a good time, and she wasn’t even from New Earth like he was. His beautiful Allurian was everything he’d never realized he wanted or needed until she stole his heart. And as of two hours ago, she was his wife. They were now officially Mr. and Mrs. Phlyx-Nigel.

Quinn kept waiting for panic to kick in—the commitment phobia that had kept him a bachelor for so long—but it didn’t surface. Instead he felt the sinuous warmth of lust and anticipation roll through his veins. Because Xindra was special and because he’d wanted to make sure she believed that right down to her soul, he’d waited for their wedding night to make her his. Now he felt like he’d been through months of hellish foreplay. He was ready to explode.

“Finally, I’ve got you all to myself.” Xindra purred as she wrapped her arms around him.

Her head only came as high as his chin, but Quinn knew his wife’s trim body held incredible strength. He felt her breasts squash against his chest as he pulled her closer and luxuriated in their firmness. She had to feel how firm certain parts of him were growing as well. Looking into her lavender eyes, he felt love flood him until it overwhelmed and then mingled with his lust.

“You are so incredibly beautiful.” In all his life, he’d never delivered a line so sincerely, so without thought.

Her answering smile undid him until he couldn’t remember his own name. She lifted onto her toes as he dove for her mouth. They joined somewhere in the middle. The hard aggression of his lips met the soft pillow of hers. Then they were slanting and shifting while their tongues wrestled. By the time they broke for air, his pulse pounded in his temples and groin. He was fully erect, and the sight of her flushed cheeks made everything jerk tighter inside him.

Clearly reveling in her power, Xindra flashed her white teeth and backed out of reach with a teasing glint in her eyes. She slipped out of her shoes and started a slow, sensuous dance as she reached for the closure seal on her dress. Quinn was mesmerized by the erotic curve of her waist, the flare of her hips, and the gentle rocking motion of her tight backside. She watched him over her shoulder as she opened the dress all the way to her tailbone, but he caught only the barest glimpse of pale skin beneath her long, curly locks. Her hair was such a dark purple it was nearly black. It glimmered like strands of royal satin as she turned to face him.

“Well, husband, do you plan to consummate this marriage fully dressed, or would you like to join me?” She slipped out of one sleeve and then the other until the bodice of her dress clung by a thread to her tightly furled nipples.

Quinn laughed aloud from the sheer joy of being with her. He was going to remember this night for the rest of his life.

“Impatient?” he teased her, already opening his shirt. “Your relatives did have a few ribald suggestions for me at the reception.” The bawdy Allurians had managed to make him blush, which wasn’t easy.

“Maybe we should explore some of those suggestions,” she replied, but she was distracted now.

He discarded his shirt and watched with pleasure as she licked her lips. Then she dropped her dress to the floor, making his mouth water. She was stark naked underneath.

“The support is built in,” she explained.

He was too busy trying not to lose it to respond. His belt hit the floor with a thud at the same time that he slipped out of his shoes. Good balance was the only thing keeping him standing as he tore off his socks and dropped his pants, although the pole between his legs could have propped him up at that point. Quinn had never felt so hard or desperate in his life. Which was precisely why he left his underwear on. If she handled him bare right now, he’d never last long enough to get inside her.

With a growl, he shot forward and swung her into his arms. She giggled into his mouth as he kissed her and then squealed in delight when he threw back the covers and tumbled them both onto the bed.

“You’re so beautiful,” he chanted over and over. “You don’t know what you’re doing to me.”

Even the floral scent of her hair stroked him from the inside out. She was a banquet, and he was ravenous. He sifted his hands through her locks, feeling each purple curl caress his fingertips and twine around his knuckles and wrists. Shifting his mouth from her swollen lips, he kissed her dainty nose, her thick eyelashes, and the feminine curve of her ear. The hot spot over her pulse point was next while he swept his hands from her shoulders to her fingertips.

Her nipples pouted for attention. She gasped and moaned when he attacked one and then the other with his mouth, sucking and licking and nipping while he tweaked the other one with his fingers. The dip between her breasts was fascinating too. It carried her natural scent and the first drops of perspiration. After kissing a trail down to her belly button, he penetrated the indentation with the tip of his tongue and buried his face in her gently rounded tummy.

Quinn cupped her breasts with hungry palms and gave them one more squeeze before all his attention centered on the treasure between her legs. He cocked an eyebrow in surprise as he explored new territory. Unlike New Earthling women, she wasn’t curly and coarse down below. Instead, she had very short, perfectly straight hairs that formed a pelt over her mons. When he ran his fingers through this novel down, he discovered it was as fine and soft as cat’s fur and just as thick. He felt her shiver.

“A natural purple,” he mused, which made her chuckle.

The humored sound turned into a groan when he parted her folds for a deep kiss.

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Excerpt from Alien Sex 102: Mera and Trett

Trett watched as Xindra and Quinn—the instructors for the adult Alien Sex Ed class he was taking—gave a live demonstration of intercourse between an Allurian female and a New Earthling male. As a mixed couple, the pair was a good example of an interracial relationship that worked, and Trilanta was the perfect location. Situated as it was on a travel-hub planet of the same name, the city was full of different aliens. Even the small group of students who gathered here one night a week was diverse, consisting of a four-armed Brachoi, a fierce Nimanian, and several other races.

As Trett watched, Quinn changed position on the padded table at the front of the room so that he was now taking Xindra from behind. A nearby medical scanner projected an internal view of their coupling on the overhead screen.

“I thought it was painful for males to take an Allurian from behind,” Trett pointed out.

They had learned that in class the previous week. Allurian females had ridges and small, hard projections inside their sheaths that could apparently be quite painful to encounter at the wrong angle.

He was surprised when Quinn managed to answer without stopping his thrusts.

“For Allurian males it is,” the man explained between grunts. “Maybe because of the way their corona is built. For me…ah, gods…the pressure just feels unbelievably good.”

The groan Quinn released let everyone know exactly how good it felt. Both instructors were in great physical shape, probably because they worked at the same gym that currently housed their classroom. What’s more, they were beautiful together. The couple displayed the full range from gentle, cooperative lovemaking to primal sex, and they did it all with love and affection shining from every pore of their bodies. It was one of the most precious, intimate things Trett had ever witnessed. And it was everything he wanted for himself.

At thirty-two, Trett was at the age when most men—at least men like him—started thinking about settling down. He had a nice home and a steady income. Now he wanted the only thing he was really missing. Love.

Although it was too soon for that level of connection, at least now he had a serious girlfriend—something he couldn’t have said until a week ago. He’d met her in the doorway of this very classroom. She wasn’t one of the other students, and she wasn’t like anyone he’d ever seen before. No, Mera was friends with the instructors, and she was such a rare beauty he’d been instantly hooked. One glance at her, and he’d known he had to talk to her.

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Excerpt from Alien Sex 103: Katra and Krux

Katra had originally signed up for this course as a lark. She was bored, and this was something interesting to do. At least, that’s what she’d told herself, but she was beginning to realize she was really here in search of something. Despite the hard, realistic view she held of the world, she still secretly hoped to find a solution to her own sexual problem. Not really her problem, but that of her inadequate partners.

Of course, if she was being completely honest with herself, she had to acknowledge that sex wasn’t the only issue on board. Relationships in general were. She’d recognized that when one of her classmates, Trett, had modeled with his Oquaran girlfriend. As Katra had listened to Mera talk about her bad experiences with alien males and her relief at finding a suitable partner, Katra had felt the first glimmer of longing she’d experienced in a long time. That’s what she really wanted. She wanted a partner who could match her both inside and outside the bedroom. Katra was forty-one years old, and she’d never had that.

“All right, everyone,” Quinn concluded. “If there aren’t any more questions, we’ll call it a night. See you next week.”

Everyone stood, and several people started for the door. Katra saw Zeo sidle up to young, timid Pixie and watched the girl dart a quick glance at him through her eyelashes and blush. Almost everybody here had figured out that the intense Nimanian male was walking the New Earthling home after every class. It was also clear the girl was attracted to him, although she was skittish. Katra worried for her. Pixie seemed far too fragile and innocent for a man like Zeo.

Benni wasn’t here tonight, but Whitt, who paid on a class-by-class basis, had returned. He planned to join the regular after-class crowd—Spri, Krux, her, and occasionally Glynn—at the sports bar around the block. Since their first week as students, they’d fallen into this routine, and it was something Katra secretly looked forward to. It would have been a perfect way to relax if only she could have ditched Krux. That man set her teeth on edge.

“Katra’Ruma,” Xindra said before she could exit. The lovely Allurian drew closer. “Are you all set for next week? We’ve confirmed the arrangement with the guys. You’ll be with Whitt, Glynn, and Varion.”

Katra turned to look for Varion and caught a last glimpse of his backside as he left. She didn’t know the shape-shifting Multan well—he’d only joined their class since Trett had left an open seat—but he seemed nice enough. He was also easy on the eyes in all the colors and physical alterations she’d seen him adopt. As far as she was concerned, that was all that mattered for this. She sincerely doubted any of the three males, or even the combination of them, would bring her much pleasure.

“That’s fine.” She returned a dismissive wave of her hand. “I look forward to some martial arts training in trade.”

Xindra was a martial arts instructor, and her husband worked as a personal trainer most of the year. They’d offered free lessons as compensation to all the models.

“I do too.” Xindra’s smile appeared genuine. “You’re already fierce, and something tells me you’ll learn fast.”

Tickled by the compliment, Katra thanked the woman and left. Perhaps she could learn a move that would allow her to drop Krux on his arrogant ass. That would be fun.

“Speak of the devil,” she muttered, stealing another culture’s saying.

When she reached the outer doors to the large gym that housed their classroom, she found him lounging against the front with all his arms crossed. He must have been out in the sun lately because she swore his light cherry skin was even redder than usual. She expected to see the others congregated nearby, but they were nowhere in sight.

“Ready?” he demanded as she came out. “The others went on ahead.”

Katra sniffed. “You needn’t have waited. I think I can find my way down the street by myself.”

His burnt-sienna eyes, fringed with thick black lashes, studied her with an amused twinkle. “And miss your sunny disposition? I don’t think I could bear it. Besides, a woman shouldn’t walk alone after dark. Trilanta’s streets can be dangerous.”

Walking past him, she headed down the street, knowing he’d fall in beside her. With his longer gait, he managed it in two steps.

“So you intend to protect me?” Her haughty tone conveyed just what she thought about that. “How high-handed of you. Whatever made you think I can’t take care of myself?”

He shot her a conceited grin. “You’ll like having me take care of you. I’m a handy guy.”

Katra barely managed to turn her laugh into an inelegant snort. She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of knowing he’d amused her.

“Har-har,” she retorted. “Where do you get that razor-sharp wit? It’s positively stupefying.”

“Come back to my place tonight. You’ll enjoy more than my wit.”

It wasn’t the first time he’d propositioned her. In fact, he’d done it every week since they’d met, despite the fact that she always turned him down.

She released a deliberate sigh. “Don’t you learn?”

“I’m a fast learner. Give me a chance, and I’ll quickly discover what makes a woman like you go wild. You won’t be so prickly after a night of good loving.”

His arrogance knew no bounds.

“Oh, please. I doubt you could satisfy me.” Sadly, she meant it.

Unfortunately, he took this as a challenge. His voice, already so masculine, dropped to a deeper rumble. “Dozens of women would tell you differently.”

“That’s because you sleep with virgins. The poor girls don’t know any better.”

They reached the entrance to the sports bar.

“I’ve only initiated seven virgins,” he growled, betraying the first hint of temper in his voice.

Katra always managed to tease it out of him eventually, although he still held the door for her. He just yanked it open with a bit more force than necessary.

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Excerpt from Alien Sex 104: Whitt and Spri

Sitting with the rest of the students at his weekly Sex Ed class, Whitt watched as four-armed Krux brought Katra’Ruma to climax at the front of the room. The medical scanner displayed an internal view of the pair on the overhead screen, so he could actually see the Duosien woman coming. Krux didn’t stop there either. A moment later, the Brachoi got her off a second time. After reaching his own orgasm, the smug guy then turned toward the class.

“That, ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “is how it’s done.”

Several students laughed, but Whitt stifled a groan. There was nothing like being outperformed to shrivel a man’s pride. His reaction wasn’t really about Krux, though.

Whitt was off his game and half out of his mind, and it was all because of an ethereal beauty with platinum hair and diamond eyes. Gods, Spri had him tied in knots. She was one of his classmates, which was how they’d met. They’d been dating for nearly seven weeks now, but he still couldn’t tell exactly where he stood with her. Most of the time she treated him like he was a buddy. When he walked her home at night, though, she kissed him at the door, and he sure didn’t feel like just a friend then.

That woman could kiss! Her lips were soft shell-pink, and her teeth were white and straight. She certainly wasn’t shy about using her tongue, and she made out the way other people painted or composed a song—with passion, dedication, and an aim to please. He had never come so close to blowing his top from such a simple caress, and he desperately wanted more. Which was the problem.

Spri didn’t do casual sex. That was something she’d made very clear the first time he’d asked her out, and she’d never wavered. She claimed it was a Litting thing, which made it hard to relate since his race, Allurians, were far less prudish. Intellectually, Whitt could respect Spri’s choice, and he didn’t want to be the insensitive jerk who pushed for more. Physically, he figured principles be damned, because they’d be great together.

Anyway, define casual. They’d been seeing each other for almost two months now, getting together at least three or four times a week. Didn’t that count as serious? Or was she talking wedding plans kind of serious? Considering he was only in his mid-twenties, he wasn’t certain he was ready for that.

Besides, he was pretty sure he’d screwed up, and he somehow doubted she’d be receptive even if he did do the whole commitment thing. Last week, he’d been feeling confused and horny, and he’d thought maybe he’d make her jealous. So, he’d slept with Katra’Ruma for the class on Duosien sexuality—only in an educational and jealousy-inspiring capacity—and everything had gone wrong. He’d been so jazzed after so many weeks of celibacy that he’d shot his wad without making a decent showing. To add insult to injury, it was the lamest orgasm he’d ever had. No offense to Katra’Ruma—she was a hot older woman who had everything going—but the entire time, he’d kept wishing he’d been inside Spri instead.

After that sexual failure, Whitt had gone out to some little dumpling restaurant to meet everyone after class. That’s when he’d discovered his Litting girlfriend wasn’t jealous. She pitied him!

“That’s part of why I don’t believe in casual sex,” she’d announced. “Too many bad matches, too easy to be disappointed. Anything that intimate should be treated as at least a personal commitment, if not a sacred bond.”

Somehow that had made him feel like he was cheap and a failure, two states of being he had little experience with. Too humiliated to stay and play nice, he’d excused himself and gone home.

And now it was right in his face again. Whitt hadn’t failed to satisfy his partner because Duosien females were impossible to please. No, he just hadn’t had Krux’s control and expertise. That seriously stung. At a decade and a half younger than the Brachoi, he should have been able to outlast and outperform the older male no matter who else was on his mind. He was in the prime of his life, for gods’ sakes.

Now Spri would have yet another reason to turn him away at the door. She probably thought he didn’t know his way around his own body, let alone a woman’s. He’d have to pull out all his charm to convince her to give him a chance.

And she’d better give him a chance soon. Last week was poor relief for the state she had him running around in. Whitt’s cock stood at an angle of continuous semi-arousal that made him feel like he was in a three-legged race. If Spri didn’t let him into her bedroom soon, he’d wind up with a water bill through the roof, carpal tunnel, or balls as blue as his navy hair. The male body wasn’t meant to stay in this kind of suspended animation.

Spri called for him on her way toward the door. “Whitt, you coming?”

In just three strokes if she let him have her. Wait, no, that was exactly what he wasn’t going to do. If…no, when he got her in his bed, he’d go all night if he had to, but he’d hear her cry of pleasure before he was done.

“Whitt? We’re hitting the raw bar two blocks around the corner. Are you joining us?” Her smile made his chest feel tight. “I think Krux and Katra’Ruma are heading straight home.”

Trying to play it cool, Whitt returned a casual shrug. “Sure. Let’s go.”

They left with their classmates, Benni and Varion. It didn’t look like Glynn was joining them, and Pixie and Zeo always wandered off to do their own thing. Taking a chance, Whitt slipped his arm around Spri as they stepped outside and headed down the street in search of food. To his pleasant surprise, she tucked her hand in his back pocket. Forget semi-arousal. With her hand on his butt, his cock was pointing the way.

“That was so beautiful tonight.” Spri released a dreamy sigh. “The way Katra’Ruma and Krux were always snapping at each other, I didn’t expect to see them so in love. Now I think maybe they’re too passionate to do things the easy way.”

“Mmm.” Their classmates weren’t the only ones doing things the—eh-hem—hard way.

“Earlier, he said such lovely things to her too,” she continued. “About how he thought she was too good for him, but she was his only true love. It must have taken a lot of courage for Krux to bare himself like that.”

“Yeah, not every man has an extra mini-penis,” Varion joked.

Benni elbowed him, but her voice was tight with restrained laughter. “She means baring his soul.”

Varion didn’t look the least bit contrite. Shifting his features, he paled his skin until it was nearly translucent and blackened his hair.

Whitt had noticed the Multan liked to change his appearance a lot around the ladies. Show-off.

Reaching the door to the raw bar, they pushed inside and were lucky enough to snag four seats at the far end. It looked like the specialty tonight was New Earthling raw oysters. Whitt had never eaten them before, but he vaguely remembered hearing something about them.

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Excerpt from Alien Sex 105: Benni and Varion

Still grinding to the pumping beat of the music, Benni gazed across the club’s crowded dance floor and licked her lips. Her eyes cruised up and down the sexy hunk who had just arrived. The flashing lights and holo-projections made his ivory skin look almost translucent, like fine porcelain. As an orange-haired Flexian, Benni was pretty pale herself, but where her skin was peppered with multicolored freckles, his was spotless. His hair was jet black and spiked with gel, and his dark eyebrows balanced his laser-cut cheekbones and wide nose. Beneath those brows, his almond-shaped eyes—a rich emerald green—searched the gyrating mass of dancers until they locked on her.

Although she’d never seen him wear this face before, she knew him instantly. After all, they were lovers. They were also students in an adult Sex Ed course that covered anatomy, cultural practices, and relationships between the different alien races. There were a lot of races to learn about here in Trilanta—a city located on the travel-hub planet of the same name. As a Multan, Varion belonged to one of the more interesting ones. He could change his skin tone and other superficial features at will, but there was no hiding his six-foot-plus, hefty frame. He was a big man in every way, though not soft. Every inch of him was bulked with muscle, even if he sometimes chose to conceal the telltale ripples of definition.

Tonight, he looked like a street fighter, fully ripped and advertising it with a sleeveless shirt and black jeans. His gaze never left hers as he stalked closer. Gone was any trace of laugh lines or a playful smile. This man had only one thing on his mind.

“Hey there, gorgeous,” he said in a rich baritone.

The sound of his voice vibrated through her more than the bass beat of the song.

She pretended not to recognize him. “Hey yourself, stranger. You want to dance with me?”

“I could watch you move your body all night,” he told her, “but I had something more strenuous in mind.”

Benni lowered her eyelashes coyly. “I don’t know. Strenuous sounds like work. I’m here to have fun.”

“What if I promise you a good time?”

“How good?” she challenged him.

“Enough to make your toes curl.”

Her skin turned feverish, and she felt a warm gush between her legs. Still, it never paid to play it too easy.

“That good, huh?” She danced close enough to rub herself against one of his thighs. “Maybe you’re just bragging.”

His lips twitched. “I can prove it.”

“Promises, promises.”

Clutching her hips, he pulled her against his body. Benni could feel the hard ridge of his erection behind his fly, as well as the flex of his muscles as he walked backward. She stayed with him step for step. It wasn’t quite a dance—his body remained too tightly coiled for that—but their movements were so perfectly synchronized it made little difference. When they reached the edge of the dance floor, he took her hand and led her down the short, dark hallway in back.

There was a line outside the women’s bathroom, but that didn’t stop them. With a quick tug, he pulled her into the men’s room and headed for the nearest stall. The only other guy in there was occupied with his back to them and didn’t even notice their entry.

An instant later, they were out of sight anyway. Varion’s green gaze zeroed in on her the moment he locked the stall door behind them. The narrow space was filled to capacity with his beefy frame, but that only made Benni more aware of him—his heat, his musky scent, and the way he looked at her as if he’d eat her alive. Neither of them wanted any distance right now.

He didn’t waste time. Varion crowded her back against the side of the stall. In a single motion, he pulled her stretch top down to pop her bare breasts free and dove for her nipple. He latched on with his lips and grazed her with his teeth in an aggressive attack that had her writhing. Although she knew she was small-busted, Benni felt like she swelled two cup-sizes bigger under his mouth.

Cool air hit the tops of her thighs, and she gasped when she felt him fist his hands in her skirt. Within seconds, he had the material bunched over her hips, her skimpy underwear all that separated her butt from the wall behind her. He sawed his blunt finger back and forth over the moist, cloth-covered slit between her legs while he kept his other hand busy opening his fly.

As soon as he popped the seal, his dusky erection leapt out of his pants, as tall and bulky as the rest of him. The tip was already coated in precum.

“Time to curl those toes,” he warned her.

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Excerpt from Alien Sex 106: Pixie and Zeo

As Pixie left her Sex Ed class, she couldn’t get over the demonstration she’d witnessed tonight. The instructors, Xindra and Quinn, covered a different alien race every week, touching on the diverse mix of people who lived in Trilanta—a city on the bustling planet of the same name. Tonight’s topic had been Multan and Flexian sexuality, and her classmates, Varion and Benni, had modeled. Although she had known Multans could morph their outward appearance, she couldn’t get over how fast Varion had changed his looks, taking on the guise of different men. And she’d certainly had no idea Benni could contort her body the way she had. The Flexian woman had ridden Varion at the same time that she’d put her mouth on his—

Weirded out, Pixie shook her head to clear the image. Was that what men wanted in bed? Women who could get into all those poses and knew how to do kinky stuff with their tongues?

She glanced at the silent male keeping pace at her side and blushed. Her classmate, Zeo, had started walking her home the second week of class, and it had become a sort of ritual ever since. At first, he’d scared her. His roughly hewn features and closely cropped dark hair made him look tough, almost predatory, and his brown eyes fixed on her so intently she squirmed. Although she was average height for a New Earthling, his compact, muscular frame made her feel petite. In reality, he was only a couple inches taller than she was, but his upper arms were as big around as her thighs.

Amazingly, since he’d started escorting her home, she’d slowly gotten used to his presence. Oh, he still made her nervous, but she felt safe with him. She’d only recently graduated and moved out of her dorm room, and at night Trilanta could be as intimidating as it was beautiful. With Zeo around, though, nobody was going to mess with her on the street. They wouldn’t dare.

So her nerves had nothing to do with fear for her safety. He was just so male. Zeo made her very aware of herself as a woman, and she wasn’t sure how to handle the feeling.

At least it helped that he was a quiet man. Zeo had spent the first couple of walks with her not uttering a word until she’d finally gotten up the courage to talk to him. When she had, he’d responded in that low, gravelly voice of his that secretly made her body heat up inside.

Seven weeks ago, he’d begun brushing up against her and even holding her hand. Then the next week, he’d stopped when they’d gotten to the front of her building and had turned her into his arms. Her heart had pounded so hard she’d thought it would leap right out of her chest, fueled by equal parts fear and excitement. He’d stroked his strong hands over her back, giving her shivers, and angled his head toward her. She’d expected a good night kiss. Instead, he’d buried his nose behind her ear and drawn a deep, audible breath. Then he’d nuzzled her cheek and the corner of her mouth before walking away.

In the weeks that followed, that caress had matured into little nibbles, then a closed-mouth kiss, and finally Pixie’s first real kiss. The taste of him had flooded her body and made her yearn for things she’d rarely let herself think about. For such a large, intimidating man, he’d been remarkably gentle with her, and his lips had felt so soft and tender. It had been everything she’d ever dreamed a romantic kiss could be.

At class, Zeo was always pushing her—to explore, to be bolder, and to shed her shyness. He had her doing things she’d never thought she could. Pixie soon discovered he was the same way whenever they reached her home, except there weren’t any witnesses there. Last week, he’d…

Oh, she was still so embarrassed when she thought about what he’d done. Embarrassed and turned on. They’d just gotten through a tame lecture about Litting anatomy with her classmate, Spri, as the model. There hadn’t been a sex demonstration because—as Pixie had learned—the Litting race regarded making love as a sacred act, one that was tantamount to marriage vows. Compared to some of their other classes, the lesson on Littings had been uneventful, yet Pixie had felt keyed up after she’d left.

Instead of falling comfortably into their usual walk, she’d felt awkward with Zeo the whole way home. His body heat had almost scalded her where his shoulder brushed hers, affecting her more powerfully with every touch. After only a few blocks, she’d been ashamed of how slick she’d grown between her legs. Every step had made her leak more moisture until her nether lips had slid back and forth against each other. At last, they’d reached her apartment.

Braced for his usual parting kiss, she’d gasped in shock when Zeo had instead pulled her into the shadows of her building’s entrance and pressed her against the wall. His mouth had descended on hers with nearly brutal force, so aggressive she’d realized how much he’d been holding back with her before. Rather than frightening her, though, his strength and hunger had inflamed her own cravings. She’d always been timid—an overprotected scaredy-cat—but despite her inexperience, she’d kissed him back with equal enthusiasm.

She hadn’t even stopped when he’d shifted his leg between hers, although she’d squeaked when he’d pushed up so that her slit rode his thigh. His ravaging mouth had silenced her objections while the pressure on her groin had sent her senses scattering. When a tiny shockwave of pleasure had raced through her sex, she’d clung to his shoulders and moaned. It wasn’t until he’d cupped her breast through her shirt that her sanity had returned. Yanking back from the kiss, she would have banged her head on the wall if his hand hadn’t suddenly been there to cushion it.

“I can’t do this,” she’d stuttered, shaking.

“You can.” That gruff voice of his had been adamant. “Trust your instincts. Let your body do what’s natural.”

Panic had nearly set in when he’d hooked her leg over his hip and stepped fully between her thighs. His erection had felt huge, even through his well-worn jeans, and it had docked against her like a space freighter in its slip. If she hadn’t already seen and felt penises in their Sex Ed class, she might have fainted.

Before she’d had a chance to shy away, Zeo had shifted his hips, rubbing that hard bulge along the seam of her pants between her legs. The friction had made her whimper, especially when he’d ground over her aching clit. Always pushing her that little bit more, he’d kissed her again and continued the motion in a humping rhythm that grew faster and faster while he fondled her sensitized breast.

Within seconds, Pixie had unconsciously started thrusting her hips back at him while an alien sensation had wound tightly through her lower belly.

She’d gasped for air. “Zeo, I feel…I think I’m going to—”

“Yes.” He’d grunted against her lips.

That one word of praise, accompanied by the hot look in his piercing eyes, had been her undoing. Her first orgasm—for that’s what it must have been—had crashed through her, making her shatter from the inside out. Consuming, mindless pleasure had overwhelmed her. She’d arched her back and seconds later heard Zeo’s beastly growl as he’d bucked against her.

Pixie had been left shaking, unable to stand without the support of the wall behind her and the solid strength of his arms holding her up. When he’d stepped back, she’d glanced down to see a damp spot staining the front of his pants. The sight had made her moan. She’d done that to him. Her—shy, boring little Pixie. It should have embarrassed her, but instead she’d felt powerful.

He’d scooped her up in his arms and cradled her close, and instead of protesting, she’d let him into her apartment. The last thing she remembered was him tucking her into bed and kissing her forehead. Her apartment had been empty the next morning, but her kitchen had been stocked with tons of fresh vegetables and prime cuts of meat. Zeo had obviously gone grocery shopping for her, but why? What did it mean when a man bought you steaks? Considering how primal his race seemed to be, she wondered if this was the Nimanian equivalent of buying a woman flowers and jewelry. She just wished she had more experience with these sorts of things.

Now here she was again, feeling anxious yet strangely excited as he walked beside her with effortless stealth and rippling muscles. Would he do the same thing to her tonight, or would he push for more? She still hadn’t decided if she was ready to try more, but she sure wished she knew what his expectations were. As afraid as she was that he’d want too much from her, Pixie was equally terrified of disappointing him.

“Wh-what did you think of tonight’s class?” She couldn’t take the silence anymore, and they were only a couple of blocks away from her home.

Zeo turned his head to look at her with that unnerving focus he had. “It was a good mating for the Multan and Flexian. They both came very hard.”

Pixie didn’t need to see the fiery blush crawling up her neck to feel its searing heat. As usual, his blunt speaking about sex left her discomfited and, if she admitted it to herself, strangely titillated. Nothing ever seemed to embarrass him, and she felt sure he’d always give her a direct, honest answer.

“All the guys seemed pretty impressed by Benni,” she added.

She’d seen the captivated look on their faces—on Zeo’s face—and it made her wonder. Was that what he’d want from a lover?

He didn’t disagree. “Everyone was rapt. I have never seen such a coupling.”

“Yeah.” Unable to meet his stare anymore, she looked at the ground in front of her feet.

So maybe those kinky moves were what he wanted—something Pixie could never give him.

The touch of his fingers in her hair made her glance up at him again.

“I would not enjoy such a mating,” he said.

Her heart fluttered wildly for a second. “You wouldn’t?”

He shook his head. “Sex is the greatest physical pleasure in the universe. A complicated mounting position can only be distracting.” Still holding on to a lock of her hair, he rubbed the strands between his fingertips. “When I take you, Pixie, I will arrange your body so that all you know is the thrust of my cock inside you. You will not be distracted.”

Blood didn’t just rush to her face this time. It flared all over her body, causing her nipples to tighten even as she made a strangled sound in the back of her throat.

“I never said I’d…I haven’t agreed.” Her hands fluttered helplessly in the air between them. “You can’t just…we’re not going to…”

The urge to bolt was strong, and she glanced around everywhere but at him. He was assuming she’d agree to sleep with him, but she hadn’t decided yet. This was all too new. Zeo was the first man to even kiss her, the first to tempt her. No one else had ever been an issue because men didn’t fall for quiet, unassuming Pixie.

Although she knew she was pretty with her blonde hair and clear skin, she also recognized she wasn’t a stunner. She wore clothes for comfort not fashion, trimmed her nails short, and almost never wore makeup. Most of the time, she kept her head down, so she couldn’t pull off a come-hither look if she tried, let alone lure a male with flirtatious banter. Men didn’t lust after her. They went for confident women like her classmate, Katra’Ruma, or fun girls like Benni. Nobody had ever wanted her before.

“Shhh.” He rubbed her back. “Easy, kitten.”

“You assume a lot,” she finally managed to get out.

One of his rare smiles curved the corners of his lips. “Your body tells me a lot. Arousal coats you like perfume.”

With a quick step, he crossed in front of her and stopped so abruptly she nearly collided with him. Her breasts wound up only an inch from the wall of his chest—less than an inch every time she drew a deep breath. Looking around, she realized they were in front of her building. He had her so flustered she’d nearly walked right past it.

His hot breath hit her ear as he leaned closer. “Listen to your body. Let me show you what it can do.”

He buried his face in her neck and drew a deep breath. The touch of his lips against her pulse point made her shiver as much as his words did. She was pretty sure he was asking her to invite him up.

“I’m not sure,” she admitted. “I’ve never—”

He ran one broad hand up the length of her spine. “I know you’re a virgin. I will not breach you with my cock. Our mating will come later. Tonight, we play.” He flicked his tongue out to moisten her skin, maybe to taste her. “Nimanian men play with their females.”

Although her heart was beating frantically, Pixie didn’t balk like she thought she would. If he’d been any other guy, she might have thought he was just saying whatever it took to get upstairs, but she trusted Zeo. If he said he wouldn’t…well…breach her, then he wouldn’t. Despite how nervous he sometimes made her, she trusted him with her body.

“Just play?” She gulped. “Nothing more?”

Was she really going to do this? Some other woman must have hijacked her body, because this definitely wasn’t her.

“You have my word,” he whispered.

Quaking like a frightened bunny rabbit, she nodded and fumbled for her keycard.

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Excerpt from Alien Sex 107: Huv and Lexy

“That was fun,” Huv said, delivering the understatement of the century. “I haven’t come that hard in ages, and the audience sort of added an extra kick.”

Actually, only part of that kick was from performing in public. The other part, however…well, Huv wasn’t quite ready to think about his reaction to having his cock handled by another male—one of the Sex Ed students. That was a first for him, and frankly he was a little weirded out by it. He tried to play it cool, though. At thirty-six, it was a little late to switch teams, so he had to have simply been caught up in the thrill of the forbidden.

“You’re a good partner.” Deina—the New Earthling he’d made love to in front of the class—delivered the compliment with a casual smile.

Huv thanked her and followed her back to the locker rooms to get dressed.

His cousin, Xindra, and her new husband, Quinn, worked here at the gym year-round. They’d reserved one of the classrooms for their evening course, an Alien Sex Ed class that focused on interracial relations. It was a way to make some extra money during the slack season here in Trilanta—a big city on the travel-center planet with the same name. The couple had turned to him when they’d needed a model for their first class, and Huv had been happy to help.

Cleaned and dressed, he headed out to the street and decided he wasn’t ready to go home yet, in more ways than one. He’d caught a space flight from Alluria to attend Xindra’s wedding here and had chosen to linger. Another of his cousins had been kind enough to put him up at his place. Huv didn’t want to think about returning to his home planet yet, and he didn’t want to turn in for the night.

At loose ends, he strolled aimlessly until he wound up in a lounge several blocks over. The atmosphere inside was inviting, even if the whole theme was clichéd. A holographic man played a soothing, jazzy number on an Ibration piano, and the lights were dimmed to set a mellow mood. Huv ordered a drink and took a seat at one of the low tables near the bar.

With tourist traffic down for the season, business must be hurting. The lounge looked relatively empty. A couple whispered to each other in the corner, a small party huddled by the far wall, and he thought he’d seen a single guy at another table. That spot was empty now.

“Mind if I join you?” someone said behind him. “I hate to drink alone.”

The voice was as smooth as Allurian brandy. And it was unmistakably masculine.

Turning toward the source, Huv found himself facing the man from the other table. A figure from a romantic painting stared back at him. The guy was probably in his mid-thirties, but his skin was smooth and flawless. Gray-blue eyes gazed from beneath arched brows, and his fine features were framed by a stylish mane of loose golden curls that fell just below his nape. This fellow could have walked right off the screen of a fashion vid.

Huv had the strangest urge to stand, as if remaining seated in front of this beautiful man was rude. Then the stranger smiled—a curve of full lips, a brilliant flash of white teeth—and Huv was thankful he had the table as cover. For the first time in his life, he felt his groin grow ominously tight in response to another male. His unease over tonight, over his reaction at class, rushed back with a vengeance.

“Uh…”

His mind went blank. Gods, what was wrong with him? The guy just wanted to kick back and have a drink with him, and Huv’s chemistry chose this moment to go haywire. It must have been some kind of aftereffect from his exhibition earlier. It had to be.

Huv cleared his throat and tried to act normally. “Sure, why not? Have a seat.”

“I’m Lexy.” The man offered his hand as he sat down.

Lexy had long, tapered fingers like an artist, but his grip was strong and sure. Huv experienced an unwelcome tingle of awareness as he returned the handshake.

“I’m Huv.” Under the table, he rubbed his palm on his pant leg to dispel the sensation. “Nice to meet you.”

“Have you ever been here before?” Lexy asked.

“No, I sort of wandered in.”

“Me too.” Lexy leaned back in a way that made his shirt pull tight over his broad chest and flat stomach. “It was a long day at work, and I needed to unwind. Is that what you’re doing?”

“Not quite.” What the hell, Huv thought. Maybe if he shocked the guy, it would help level the playing field. “I just finished doing a sex demo my cousin set up.”

Rather than appearing shocked, Lexy looked intrigued. “You’re a porn star?”

Huv choked on the swallow he’d taken and sputtered out a laugh. Discomfort turned to humor as he realized how ridiculous he was being.

“No, nothing like that. My cousin, Xindra, has started an interracial Sex Ed course. She wanted to work in some live demonstrations to spice up the anatomy lessons. I agreed to help her out.”

“Interesting.” Lexy sounded thoughtful. “Actually, that’s a wonderful idea. I work as a sex therapist, so I’ve seen how much damage a bad experience can inflict. If this course can help educate people and open up communication, then your cousin is doing something worthwhile.”

Huv hadn’t thought of it that way. “You’re a sex therapist? How did you get into that business?”

Lexy shrugged. “I started out studying psychology in college. After I watched several friends and family members struggle with their relationships, I focused on sexuality and intimate relations in particular. I realized how important that facet of our lives is. After all, aside from money, sex is the biggest issue for couples.”

“Are there many men in your field?” Huv had never met anyone in Lexy’s profession before, but he figured there’d be more women therapists dealing with female patients.

“More than you might think,” Lexy answered. “Besides, I’m Cedecian. I have the benefit of a unique perspective.”

Cedecian? The race sounded vaguely familiar to Huv, but he didn’t quite follow. Maybe they were empathic or something?

“Back home on Alluria, we don’t have nearly the same diversity as you do here.” Huv took another sip of his drink. “For the most part, Allurians marry other Allurians and produce little baby Allurians. That’s what my younger brother and the rest of the family have all done. I came here to Trilanta for Xindra’s wedding. She’s the first to marry an outsider—a New Earthling fellow.”

“How did the family take that?” Lexy asked.

Huv chuckled. “We Allurians like any excuse to host a big family celebration and share dirty limericks. Nobody cared whom she married as long as he had the requisite parts.”

Lexy’s slow grin warmed Huv, but he was glad to discover it didn’t excite him the way it had at first.

“That’s good. Not all families are so understanding.” Lexy cradled his drink between his hands. “So it sounds like most of your relatives are settling down. You said your younger brother is married?”

“Yeah. He and his wife are expecting a baby now. A little girl.” Huv stared at his glass.

Lexy softened his tone. “I’d say congratulations, but you don’t sound happy about it.”

“It’s not that.” Huv frowned as he tried to figure out how to explain. “I’m very happy for him, and I look forward to being an uncle. It’s more a matter of feeling left out, I guess. Like I said, Allurians are big on family, and it’s not always easy for those of us who haven’t settled down yet. A wedding off-planet was a good excuse to get away for a while.”

“Different life stages, different timing.” Lexy summed up the problem perfectly. “I take it you’re not married.”

“No. You?”

“Not yet.” Lexy sounded matter-of-fact. “Most of the people in my family marry later in life, and I tend to overanalyze my relationships as soon as they get serious. Hazard of my profession, I guess.”

“It’s a big universe,” Huv pointed out. “It’s not easy to find the right person in it.”

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Excerpt from Alien Sex 108: Glynn and Deina

“I’d like to have a baby with you.” Glynn delivered this announcement with his usual directness. Then he waited to see how Deina would react.

He’d met Deina almost three months ago at the Sex Ed class he was taking. Each week, the instructors, Quinn and Xindra, covered different alien races from the multitude that passed through Trilanta every year. The planet—and especially the city—was a major travel center. Unlike most sexual education courses, this one was very hands-on and included live demonstrations. Deina had been the New Earthling model for the first class and had partnered with an Allurian man named Huv. From the start, Glynn had watched her with a sense of longing he hadn’t felt in a long time.

As a Semhym male, he had a complex reproductive system. He had never ejaculated and rarely even came during sex, which made the act less appealing than it should have been. Until he met a female with just the right chemistry to complement his, Glynn had no hope of spending his seed. So far, the only time he’d felt the warmth of semen on his shaft was when he’d modeled for one of the classes. He had partnered a student named Katra’Ruma after two other men had already climaxed inside her. The ejaculate hadn’t been his. He hadn’t even come close to orgasm, but the sensation had made him wonder what a wet climax would feel like.

All in all, modeling that night had been ill-advised. He’d acted rashly—something he rarely did. And it had all been because of Deina. They’d been dating for about a month at that point, but she’d refused to see him exclusively. She was all fun and good times and freedom, whereas most people considered him dour and boring. When Glynn had seen her out on the town on the arm of another man, he’d been furious and yes, jealous. Resentment toward his race’s sexual complications had also driven him, leading him to volunteer for an intercourse demonstration he’d had no hope of enjoying. Katra’Ruma—a Duosien with her own sexual problems—hadn’t come either, and the two of them had shared a sad sort of understanding.

He had a feeling it would be different with Deina. There was something about the tall, willowy New Earthling that attracted him. Intelligence, strength, and laughter glimmered in her sharp hazel eyes, and the effect of her body on his was undeniable. Even her thick waves of blonde hair seemed to beg for his touch. Which was why he had high hopes that she’d finally be the one to help him not just orgasm but ejaculate.

Until now, Glynn had been biding his time, afraid of rushing things. If he was right and she was his chemical match, then she’d likely get pregnant within the first few rounds of intercourse. When they did spend, Semhym males were incredibly fertile, enough so that they often thwarted even the most advanced contraceptives. He knew he was mature and established enough to support a wife and child should that happen, but he wasn’t certain he could make Deina happy.

He liked her very much, and against all odds, she appeared to like him. Most women, however, wanted more than strong liking and a stable home. At least, independent women like Deina did. Glynn couldn’t risk more without knowing for sure if she was the one for him. He was the type of man who stuck by his commitments. If he married her and she wasn’t a match for his libido, he’d spend the rest of his life without the possibility of having a family. If he came at all, he’d only come dry. Could he take that chance without testing their chemistry first?

Glynn wasn’t a man who liked to take risks. He was also an honest man. Although he employed subtlety and subterfuge in business when the situation called for it, he made it a habit to be forthright in his personal life. Hence a direct and clear statement of his desires, so Deina would know exactly where he stood.

Sitting across from her at the cleared dinner table, he waited for her response. From past experience, he should have known her reaction wouldn’t be anything he expected.

“Why do you want a baby with me?” she asked.

He blinked slowly as his mind turned that over. How much should he tell her? “I have many reasons.”

She arched one eyebrow in lazy amusement. “Name them.”

“You know I find you very attractive. You’re bold, smart, and I enjoy your company. I think you’d be a good match for me.” He frowned. “I know I’m not always the most exciting individual, but I’m steady, reliable, and I’ll never let you down. If you become pregnant, I’ll marry you immediately and make sure you and our child have everything you need or want. I’ll do everything in my power to make you happy.”

“So what you really want is to marry me?”

“Yes.” The word popped off his tongue before he could clarify it. “That is, I want to marry and start a family.”

Although Deina wore a smile, the expression didn’t give anything away. Glynn couldn’t tell if she was happy or amused, humoring him or seriously considering the offer. The uncertainty disturbed him, as did the realization that he was nervous. His palms were sweaty, and his pulse tripped at an uncomfortable rate. Of course, he was talking about something potentially life changing, so he supposed a bit of anxiety was in order.

“Are you asking me to marry you, Glynn?” Deina asked the question directly this time.

Once again, he decided to be honest. “I may, but I’d like to see if we’re sexually compatible before I commit. I want to be sure there’s a possibility of children.”

This time she threw back her head and laughed—a full, throaty sound he’d grown to adore. She always put her whole heart into her joy, letting it out for all to hear. Her eyes twinkled when she looked at him.

“So what you really want is to get laid, huh? Why didn’t you say so?”

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Excerpt from “Alien Sex Life”

Apax stepped into her body and tugged on her hair enough to tilt back her head. She welcomed his kiss but refused to submit to him, nipping his lip in return and tangling her tongue with his. He made a sound somewhere between a growl and a purr and pulled her against him. When he finally released her mouth, it was to nibble on her earlobe and suck on her neck. Heat blossomed under her skin, and he chuckled.

“I plan to keep you bright scarlet for days,” he said. “You can’t hide your desire.”

“Neither can you.” She slipped a hand between them to massage his hard cock.

The lust in his eyes was positively feral. Since the weather was warm, she had worn a sleeveless blouse, jeans, and sandals. Now even these light garments were too much. She was already creaming and ready to burn up from the way he looked at her. Fortunately, she didn’t stay dressed for long.

Within seconds, Apax had tugged her shirt off her shoulders and let it drop to the floor. She toed off her shoes, and he pulled her pants and underwear down so she could step out of them. As soon as he straightened, she tugged his T-shirt over his head with one set of hands and undid his fly with the other. He ripped off his boots so he could shuck his pants and then hurried to remove her bra to expose her breasts. She moaned in delight when he palmed her butt and pulled her in tight to his naked body. They tumbled onto the bed, which only had a blanket thrown over it.

How did a man with two hands manage to touch her everywhere at once?

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Excerpt from “Alien Sex Therapy”

He smiled and continued to work. A few minutes later, he had everything done and carried two plates to the table. She blamed the steam for her warm cheeks, but it was really his nearness that affected her. When she took her first bite, she felt the heat spread down her throat and through her belly.

“Too much spice?” he asked.

Cai shook her head. “I can handle it.”

“I’m sure you can.” His lips curled up in a smile as he sipped his wine.

The way he looked at her made her feel out of breath, which wasn’t unusual around him. She wove her fingers with his when he reached across the table to hold her left hand. The brush of his thumb back and forth over her skin made her tremble.

He was watching her closely enough to notice. “You’re so responsive.”

“I just turned female,” she told him. “My skin is softer and more sensitive, and it takes a while to adjust.”

She bit back a moan when he used a second hand to stroke her arm from her wrist to her inner elbow. His touch was light, yet his fingers seemed to trail fire behind them. The crotch of her panties turned damp, and she shifted in her chair.

“I think it’s amazing what your body can do,” he said. “I don’t think the shift is the only reason you’re susceptible, though. When was the last time you made love?”

Cai would have pulled her hand away, but he held on tight. “That’s personal.”

“I have personal reasons for wanting to know,” he retorted. “How long?”

Though the truth was embarrassing and far too revealing, she didn’t lie. “About six months.”

“Since I moved in.” There was something more to his smile than simple lust.

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Excerpt from Unmasked

Kira glanced at the man her clients wanted her to interrogate. Her first impression was that he was tall and muscular, but he wasn’t really much bigger than average. Although undoubtedly strong, he had a leanness and grace to his body that kept him from looking too severe. He was dressed casually in blue jeans and a T-shirt, but his feet were bare. Apparently he’d been picked up right out of his home.

As always, her clients had followed her instructions to the letter and kept him bound and blindfolded. A guard stood to either side of him, and each held one of his arms as they forced him to walk to the large bed that occupied most of the room. She had designed this particular chamber herself—a masterpiece of black and red that matched her flowing robes and the canopy above the bed.

“Make sure he’s secure,” she told the guards.

She watched them bind her new captive to the mattress. Then she turned toward the two men in suits who were paying for her services.

“You already know my fee, gentlemen. I trust you’ve wired the money to my account.”

They each lifted an eyebrow in unison, and the redhead with the beard opened a small computer. Leaning closer, she glanced at the bank number on the screen and nodded. A nice, plump sum was now ready and waiting for her.

“His name is Dixon Hazard,” the second man explained. In her experience, he always got right to the point. “He’s a political activist who likes to stick his nose where it doesn’t belong. Recently he and his friends got a hold of some files that could jeopardize the careers of several high-ranking government officials. We need those files back. Time is of the essence.”

“So you want me to find out where he’s hidden the files?” she asked.

To her surprise, they shook their heads.

“We already know his accomplices have them. A man named Elliot Faulk appears to be in charge, but we’ve been unable to locate him. All you have to do is find out where Mr. Hazard’s friends are hiding, and we’ll take care of the rest.”

The narrow satin mask she wore shifted slightly when she smiled, and she knew her teeth looked very white against her rich, crimson lipstick.

“Of course, gentlemen,” she said. “Did you check his medical records? I assume there are no pesky heart troubles or anything I need to worry about?”

Her new captive looked like he was in perfect condition, but verifying good health was a stipulation she made with all her clients. She was an interrogator, not a murderess. The last thing she needed was for the man she was questioning to die of a heart attack because of the strain.

“He’s in excellent health,” the redhead assured her. “No diseases or other issues.”

“Good. I’ll start right away.”

They each gave her a single nod before retreating through the door. With the prisoner now tied spread-eagle to the bed, the guards hurried to follow their employers. The restraints holding the man down had been custom-made to her specifications, so Kira had no concerns about him getting away. He was all hers now, and she was happy to be left alone with him.

“Hello, Mr. Hazard.” As she moved toward the captive, she fell into her role as Dominique with an ease that came from years of practice. “I’m so glad you could join me.”

When she reached the foot of the bed, she put her hand on the man’s ankle and slid it all the way up to his thigh. He tensed beneath her wandering palm, but he didn’t protest. Kira was pleased to find her new prisoner in such good shape. He couldn’t have been older than his early thirties, and his muscles felt toned beneath his denim jeans and smooth, tanned skin. His hair was short and dark blond, and from what she could see of his features, he appeared very handsome. She pulled off his blindfold to find a pair of light brown eyes staring back at her.

*

Blinking to bring the room into focus, Hazard gazed uncertainly at the woman in front of him. She appeared to be in her late twenties, and her features were fair and delicate. Even with the mask concealing her face from the top of her cheekbones to the upper arch of her eyebrows, he could tell her eyes were pale blue, and her lips were lush and full beneath her small nose. Giving her the once-over, he noticed her figure was trim but still curvy enough to make her look soft and feminine. He was more than a little surprised.

“You’re not what I expected,” he blurted out. This couldn’t possibly be the woman his captors had been talking about.

After he’d been caught, Hazard had heard enough to gather that he was being taken to some kind of sadistic female torturer—a cliché from the old spy movies. Although this woman looked dangerous and seductive with her long ebony hair and black-and-red robe, there was something in her eyes that belied the image. He couldn’t believe she planned to hurt him.

“Who are you?” He tested his bonds with a hard pull, but the snug bands didn’t budge. “What’s your name?”

She appeared amused. “I have many names,” she answered far too sweetly. “I often go by Dominique, if that suits you.”

“And if it doesn’t?” He was still trying to assess the situation.

The corners of her mouth twitched. “Then you may call me the boss.”

Despite himself, Hazard laughed. Dominique was tall and sexy and had all the right moves, but she was hardly tough enough to hold the title of “boss.” He just couldn’t figure out what kind of game she was playing.

“Do you know where to find your friend Elliot Faulk?” she asked as she climbed onto the bed.

She knelt so close that her thigh brushed against the side of his leg, and the casual contact sent a spark of awareness through him. Her body was warm, and he could make out a faint, flowery scent coming off her skin.

Caught between wariness and amusement, he returned an honest nod. “As a matter of fact, I do.”

That made her smile. “Care to tell me where he is?”

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Excerpt from Tribal Shift

“Kalya, my catling.” Rasik’s voice in her ear was so husky the endearment sounded like a purr.

Kalya clenched her fists and silently cursed him.

He stood behind her on the veranda, his body heat buffeting her back with the same scorching intensity as the sun beating down on the savannah beyond the woods. Whereas the sun’s heat made her muscles relax, Rasik’s warmth caused her skin to prickle with awareness.

Thanks to her shifter senses, it wasn’t easy to sneak up on her, especially in her home. The fact that he’d managed to do so—yet again—was impressive, though she wouldn’t let the arrogant man know she thought so.

In the years she’d known Rasik, her relationship with him had developed from friendship to harmless flirtation. Their banter had remained light even after her father had grown to trust him and his people enough to allow them access to her family’s territory. It wasn’t until her slipup a few months ago that Rasik’s attentions had grown far more serious.

“I am neither a cat, nor am I yours,” she snarled.

She heard him inhale, taking in her scent above her pulse point. “I intend to make you mine. Why do you resist me?”

Kalya closed her eyes and sighed. In frustration—yes, that was it. Any other emotion was unacceptable. He had to be the most stubborn, infuriating male on three continents. On the entire planet of A’ata!

“That’s not going to happen, Rasik. I’ve told you this many times. We are notthe same type of shifter. Stick to your own kind.”

Everyone in Tribe Gahiji, from Rasik’s older brother and ruler, Taj, down to the lowliest member, shifted into the same animal. They took the form of the speedy caracal—those pointy-eared felines that hunted the woods and grasslands. She was something different.

Rasik didn’t say anything, but his continued nearness proved he didn’t believe her.

She released an irritated hiss as she turned to face him and realized she should have stayed silent. Caracals hissed when annoyed, too. Rasik no doubt regarded that particular sound as proof she really was a cat.

Kalya also should have kept her back to him, because now she had an eyeful of the gorgeous, irksome male. He was only a bit taller than she was—enough that she had to angle her face up as if she were waiting to be kissed. His gaze dipped to her lips before he returned a devastating grin. He had sharp canines even in human form, and his straight teeth looked dazzling against his golden skin.

There was great variation in coloring among shifters, though some part of their human form usually mimicked their animal. Those who changed into the caracal had skin of gold, red, black, or white, and their hair took on colors in the same range. Rasik’s hair was midnight black, with only a hint of reddish undertone. Because she’d been careful never to meet him in animal form, Kalya hadn’t seen Rasik on four paws. She suspected he was one of the larger males, likely weighing over forty pounds as a cat. Even as a man, he had lean muscles, angular features, and slanted eyes so pale green they were almost gray.

“Am I to believe my ears or my eyes?” he asked. He continued to smile at her, clearly enjoying the verbal sparring. “I saw you run through the tall grass on four legs, and I’ve never seen a more beautiful caracal. Such deep reddish fur. Black lines like kohl along your nose and eyes, and white patches to accent your lovely features. Your ear tufts were so sexy I wanted to run my fingers over them. I don’t blame your adoptive father for keeping your animal form secret. Every unmated male in my tribe would be after you if they knew.”

Kalya gritted her teeth until she was sure she’d pulverize them. Yes, every male in his tribe would pursue her if they knew. But Rasik hadn’t grasped the full truth. Evren, leader of Tribe Fahari, was not her adoptive sire. He and his mate, Nadira, were her biological parents. It had been far safer for them to tell the neighboring tribes that Kalya and all the members of Tribe Fahari were unrelated by blood—a motley assortment of shifters unified under Evren’s authority. That way, if outsiders noticed more than one type of shifter running around, they wouldn’t think anything of it.

“Your eyes deceived you.” Kalya faced Rasik squarely and refused to back down from his intense stare. “You watched me walk into the bushes to remove my clothing, no doubt hoping to catch a peek of me naked. Then you saw another tribe member run out as a caracal.”

“If not you, then who?”

“That’s none of your concern.” She wouldn’t have him pestering her cousins because he thought they were cats.

Rasik crossed his arms, which drew attention to his muscles. “I don’t believe you.”

“Did you actually see the transformation?” She’d already figured out that he hadn’t, though he’d witnessed far more than she’d intended.

He narrowed his eyes. “No.”

“And this feline you saw, did it smell like me? Did you catch my scent?” She prayed to Janak above that he hadn’t. Though her scent altered with each shift, her underlying fragrance—her personal essence—remained the same.

The first glimmer of doubt entered his gaze. Shifters tended to trust their noses more than their eyes or ears. “The caracal was downwind of me, but—”

“What about my coloring?” Kalya lifted a lock of her shoulder-length hair, one of dozens of different colors on top of her head. Her thick tresses included sienna, orange, gold, brown, and every imaginable shade in between. “Do I look like the women of your tribe?”

He crossed his arms and drew his lips into a tight line. “I know what I saw,” he insisted, but he no longer sounded so sure.

“You saw wrong. I’m not like you, Rasik. I never will be.” She spoke the truth, never mind the pang it gave her.

He opened his mouth, no doubt to argue further, but he was interrupted when Kalya’s brother strode from the woods to step up onto the veranda. The shade of the overhang slanted across Dhiraj’s bare chest before he finished covering himself with his tunic. He’d obviously just shifted and must not have noticed Rasik standing there in the shadows. They were all getting sloppy.

The moment Dhiraj spotted their guest, he froze. “You again.”

Rasik inclined his head. “Hello, Dhiraj. I guess I enjoy Evren’s hospitality too much to stay away.”

Kalya’s brother was a year younger than she was and usually acted as the peacemaker of the tribe, but he made no secret he resented Rasik’s presence. Although he had nothing against the other male personally, he knew the danger of having an outsider hang around their home. He was also territorial enough the intrusion chafed on an instinctive level.

“Is that what brings you here so often? Our father’s hospitality?” Dhiraj’s tone held a wealth of skepticism, and he glanced pointedly at the two of them.

Kalya realized she still stood close to Rasik. Although a sensible part of her warned her to put space between them, she stayed where she was. She told herself it was because she was more dominant than her brother and refused to move for him.

Dhiraj tried to stare their guest down, but the outcome was predictable. Her brother put on a good show, but he was the first to look away.

He switched his gaze to her. “You know spending this much time with him isn’t a good idea. Not for you and not for this tribe. You should come roaming with me.”

“You’re going?” Kalya stepped away from Rasik, closer to her brother, whose irises held the same mosaic of colors as hers. “Father approved?”

“I talked to him last night. I leave tomorrow. Will you join me?” His stern expression finally relaxed into a smile. “We had fun traveling together last time, didn’t we?”

“Yes, we did.” She grinned back at him, remembering their adventures several years ago. Then she recalled the result. “Dhiraj, I’ve already searched the three continents for a mate. I doubt I’ll find anyone new this year.”

“You went searching for a mate?” Rasik’s outburst reminded them he was standing right there.

“That’s not your concern,” she snapped. “Shouldn’t you go home? I’m sure there are plenty of females elsewhere who would welcome your attention.”

“Ah, so you admit I’m attractive.” He looked smug.

Kalya growled, this time with canine gruffness. The sound had his eyebrows slanting in confusion.

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Excerpt from Husbandry

All my life, I’d been told I took after my Grandma Filomena. My parents recognized the resemblance from the start, which was why they’d named me Fila. Although my grandmother had been a prim and proper lady for most of her life, she’d hidden a very progressive, very wild woman underneath. After my grandfather died, she’d taken several young lovers, with whom she’d been quite…active. I remembered the last thing she told me before she passed.

“Every woman should have two husbands,” she’d announced. “One for romance and one to be a good father and provider.

I’d laughed at the time. Little did I realize how true that statement would prove to be.

Had Grandma lived long enough to see the creation of Genetic Harmony Inc., I had a feeling she would have gone husband shopping too. Instead, I—her namesake—had wound up there, although in the end I hadn’t walked away with two husbands. I’d walked away with three.

Personally, I blamed inflation.

Despite my attempts to live a proper life and blend in with my conservative family, I must have inherited Grandma Filomena’s wild streak. Genetic Harmony had obviously dug up that streak and factored it into the equation. The laws sanctioning polygamy among consenting adults had made the marriage legal.

That didn’t mean I was entirely comfortable with the arrangement. Or that I’d told my relatives. Even my neighbors didn’t know I had three spouses. You might wonder how that was possible, but it was easier than you might think. They simply hadn’t seen more than one husband at a time. That was all it took when your three husbands looked exactly alike.

Courtesy of Genetic Harmony Inc., Chuck, Charles, and Chad were physically gorgeous and genetically identical. They sported the same curly hair, green eyes, and square jaw. Their full lips dipped and curved alike and had the same firm, delectable texture. They were all a full head taller than I was and had bone structure only a master sculptor could dream up. It had been love at first sight. Now they were bound to me by three matching wedding bands.

For all that their DNA didn’t differ, though, they were still individuals. As I walked into Charles’s office downtown, I knew I’d never mistake him for either of the others. His hair was professionally styled in a short, businesslike cut, and he’d recently decided to grow a goatee. Although he kept his facial hair well trimmed, I thought the goatee revealed a peek at the bad boy beneath the businessman.

He wore a nice suit and tie and an aura of authority. Since he’d only worked at this company for a little over half a year—almost his whole existence—he was just a lower-level executive, but he was already maneuvering his way up the corporate ladder. Courtesy of hitting the gym and playing golf with clients and the higher-ups, he was leaner and better muscled than Chuck. He only wore shirts that buttoned, never casual tees, and his whole demeanor was more aggressive, starting with the bold stare he gave me with his emerald eyes.

That look made my blood flow more hotly through my veins.

“What’s the point of owning a home office if you’re rarely home to use it?” I handed him the files and tilted my head for a kiss to soften the reprimand.

As usual, he took charge of the caress, turning the kiss into something far sultrier than a simple hello. He lifted a hand to grasp my nape and tugged my bottom lip out of his way to get to what he wanted. Then he thrust his tongue into my mouth and just took.

The earthy flavor of his favorite drink, espresso, instantly flooded my taste buds along with a delicious zest that was uniquely him. Charles liked to play with the edges of my teeth, no doubt flirting with danger. In return, I teased him with threatening nips. His goatee looked so soft, but his facial hair was as firm and unyielding as the rest of him. It scratched my chin and tickled my upper lip as he claimed my mouth.

His cologne had a rich, beguiling scent that did things to me. It made me want to purr deep in my throat and rub my body all over his like a cat. My thighs quivered, and a trickle of moisture spilled out to moisten my panties.

He didn’t release me until he was good and ready, and he made sure I knew it.

I cleared my throat and scrambled to regain my wits. “And you wonder why I want you around more? You could have more of that if you didn’t work so hard.”

Charles had the nerve to laugh. He dropped the files next to his computer and crossed his arms as he leaned against the edge of his desk. “I like my work, Fila. I’ll like it even better with a corner office and a better salary, which I won’t get if I don’t put in the hours.”

Yes, I knew his ambition. His second week on the job he’d announced he wanted to make VP one day. If I hadn’t known the will of iron behind his aspirations, I might have laughed. I knew Charles could achieve anything he set his mind to, but at what cost?

“I’m proud of you,” I said. “I just don’t want you to burn yourself out.”

“You worry too much.” His expression softened, and he uncrossed his arms to stroke my cheek with one finger. “I was made for this. The sooner I get a promotion, the sooner we can pay off the house and start that family Chuck is so eager for. He’s already talking about safety gates and how to set up a nursery.”

“What?” I hadn’t realized how anxious my husband was for children. “We all talked about this. We agreed to wait.”

Charles shrugged. “Chuck iswaiting. He’s just impatient. Of the three of us, he must have gotten all the paternal instinct. I want children because you do, but I don’t care if it’s tomorrow or ten years from now.”

“Still, I don’t want him to be unhappy.” I had no intention of changing my mind on the timing, but I’d have to talk with Chuck.

“Like I said, you worry too much.” Charles didn’t sound the least bit concerned. “Once Chuck starts to pick up outside contracts, he won’t have as much time to think about it. The work will do him good. And speaking of work, how did today go? Is that jackass in the legal department still giving you a hard time?”

I noted the abrupt change in topic, but I went along with it. Since Charles had a genuine interest in office politics, I also gave him more than the pat answer I’d offered Chuck.

“Actually, Steve has been very quiet lately.” I returned a smug grin, though I knew it was petty of me. “The rumor around the water cooler is he might get fired at the end of the week. I’m not the only one whose toes he’s stepped on.”

“Serves him right,” Charles said.

“You sound so mercenary.” Not that I didn’t agree.

“I don’t like anyone messing with my woman.”

Yourwoman?” The independent part of me was appalled, but the spill of hot cream between my legs belied my outrage. His possessiveness turned me on.

One look at Charles’s face and I knew I’d just challenged him. He straightened away from his desk in slow motion and stalked me with a smooth, predatory gait. Hunger burned in the gaze he had locked on me. I took an instinctive step back, though I had no desire to flee.

Charles kept coming, backing me up until there was nowhere else to go. He closed the office door in time to trap me against it. Once more, that wicked cologne of his wreathed through my brain, making me sway. I licked my lips, and he dipped his head to snare my mouth and trace the same route with his tongue.

He then brushed kisses across my cheek and nuzzled the hair behind my ear. “Yes, Fila.” His breath washed over my skin with every word. “You’re mywoman. Mywife.”

The click of him turning the door lock made me whimper. I didn’t mean for the sound to escape, but I was helpless when he stood this close. He smelled and looked so good, and I knew he’d feel even better.

“I’m yours,” I admitted. “But only as much as you’re mine.”

He sometimes forgot I was his match too.

“That sounds like an equitable arrangement.” He tried to play it cool, but his voice had lowered to an octave it only hit when he was really aroused. “You said something about me taking more time with you. Have I been neglecting my wife? Why don’t I take a break now and claim what’s mine?”

My lips parted, and I began to pant. Each breath pushed my breasts out so the tips rubbed his chest on either side of his dark silver tie. I was pretty sure the door behind me was the only thing holding me upright.

His lips grazed my cheek as he stepped back. He returned to his desk and sat in his chair behind it.

“Take off your clothes,” he ordered.

“Excuse me?” I felt a fiery blush blaze across my face.

Charles’s expression might have been carved in granite save for the lust I saw burning in his gaze. “I won’t repeat myself, Fila.”

“But…”

I looked around his small office, everywhere but at his too-intense stare. My gaze landed on the window. It wasn’t a large opening, but it looked across the street at several other office buildings, and it didn’t have any blinds.

“The window.” I pointed to it, though it was the only one in the room. “Someone might see.”

He returned a casual shrug. “I doubt it, but let them see. Your naked body is a work of art, Fila. You should be on exhibit.”

Had anyone else said this to me, I would have gone ballistic. Like so many other things, though, Charles got away with it. He made me so hot I couldn’t think straight, and my heart pounded with equal parts fear and excitement.

My hands shook as I reached back to unzip my dress. Because of the spaghetti straps, I hadn’t worn a bra. I was instantly bared as I let the top fall to my waist. My nipples were pebbled so hard they ached, and they rose and fell hypnotically as my breasts heaved. There didn’t seem to be enough oxygen.

“Drop the dress to the floor,” he commanded. “I want to see all of you.”

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Excerpt from Switching Positions

Dalera tipped back her chair and crossed her feet on top of her desk as she studied the reports she’d downloaded. Although she could have displayed the files on the flat screen on her desk, she preferred the comfort and mobility of her sleek handheld computer tablet. As part of the upper management for the Intergalactic Trading Company here on Pandora II, she was responsible for making sure all the imports got to their destinations safely and all the exports shipped out on time. It was almost the end of the workday, so she just had to finish up.

She narrowed her eyes as she scrolled through the fuel and repair costs for one of their larger cargo ships. Although she had warned the captain not to use inferior fuel, the idiot hadn’t listened. The wear and tear on the main engines negated any savings and inflicted more long-term problems. In fact, they were losing a good nine point—

There was a knock on her office door, and her secretary poked his head in. “Ms. Adorea?”

At five feet eleven, Leon wasn’t a particularly small man, but he looked like an adolescent. His curly brown hair and hazel eyes gave him an open, wholesome expression that was sorely at odds with his choice of garb. While he made sure to dress within the bounds of professional decency, he still showed off as much chest and biceps as possible. Dalera had once run into him after work at one of the local bars, and he’d been wearing a tight black outfit—leather pants, open vest, and a bit of mascara to set off his long lashes. She wasn’t sure if it was her imagination, but ever since then, she’d had the distinct impression he was flirting with her.

“Yes, Leon?” she said.

He smiled and batted those eyelashes now. “There’s a Mr. Tyler to see you. He doesn’t have an appointment, but he says it will only take a minute.”

Dalera licked her lips as she yanked her feet off the desk. Radek Tyler was one of the off-world men who had toured the trading company several months back. He was some kind of foreign diplomat—she had trouble keeping track of their titles. She’d gone out to lunch with him and his associates and had gotten to talk to him for a while. In their brief time together, they’d made some serious eye contact.

Clearing her throat, she tried to get her racing heart under control. “Please show him in.”

Leon disappeared for a moment before opening the door for her visitor. Although she tried to brace herself for the impact Radek had on her, he still took her breath away as he entered the room. At well over six feet tall, he had a body that was a symphony of sculpted muscle. Unlike most of the guys she knew, he wore his fine brunet hair short, and he had the deepest brown eyes she’d ever seen. The man was built for sex and made more than her mouth water.

“Mr. Tyler.” Her voice didn’t sound like her own, but at least it came out steady. She came around her desk to greet him.

The sight of him made her hot beneath her business suit, especially after some of the naughty fantasies she’d had about him. Just the other night, she’d dreamed of stripping him naked and riding him on her desk. She quickly yanked her gaze up when she realized it was drifting downward.

“It’s so nice to see you again,” she said, shaking his hand.

“You too, Ms. Adorea.” Even his voice was strong and deep. “I’m sorry to drop by without an appointment, but I wanted to catch you.”

Dalera could feel herself grinning like a lovesick teenager. “What can I do for you? You haven’t been having any problems with my company, I hope.”

Even she hated the way she said “my company,” but that was how she’d been trained. She didn’t own any part of the company, but the president wanted everyone to feel like one big corporate family. Yeah right.

“No, not at all,” he assured her. “I was actually hoping you could help me. I’m currently overseeing a contract with…”

Her gaze drifted over him again, and she couldn’t help but fantasize. What did Radek look like under those conservative pants? She was pretty sure he didn’t have a penile implant. Men who did usually wore something tighter. Judging by what she could see of his bulge, though, he was a good-sized man. Although she’d never been one to want anything above average—all she needed was a handful—she was still curious.

Off-worlders were such sensual creatures, and they acted as dominantly as the women here on Pandora II. What would it be like to be with one of them and have them make all the advances? What would sex with one of them be like? In general, off-world men were taller and broader than the local males. She’d love to see what they could do with those bodies in a bedroom.

Dalera could picture herself unzipping Radek’s fly slowly, slipping her fingers inside the warm opening to tease him until he grew hard. Then she’d open his shirt and let his pants fall to the floor. He’d be ready for her, already straining, but she’d take her time with him and kiss him thoroughly. She knew his lips would feel warm and soft, and he’d embrace her passionately as she took him in her arms. Then he’d throw her over her desk and do things no other man had ever dared. He’d—

“Dalera, are you listening?” Radek asked.

“Yes, of course.” She scrambled to remember what he’d just said. “I’d be happy to look at those figures for you. One of the currency conversions probably got inputted incorrectly.”

He seemed satisfied with that answer, but she wanted to kick herself. It had been nearly three months since she’d broken up with Airion—okay, since he’d cleaned out her bank account and left her because she wouldn’t commit—and she hadn’t gotten any action since then. By Goddess, didn’t she deserve a little fun? Her attraction to Radek was undeniable, and now she was finally free to act on it. She just had to get up the courage.

Unfortunately, that was easier said than done. Here on Pandora II, women were expected to take the lead, including in romantic situations. If she wanted to hook up with him, it was up to her to make a move. Despite all she had going for her—great job, nice house, good looks—she still feared rejection as much as the next gal, and Radek was an even greater unknown. Although she was pretty successful with the opposite sex, she had never tried to pick up an off-worlder before.

“Thanks,” he told her, already transferring the file to her unit. “I know I’m creating extra work, but I promise I’ll make it up to you.”

“No problem. Why don’t you swing by Friday? That will give me enough time to look this over.”

“Will do,” he said. “I appreciate the help.” He let himself out of her office.

She watched his backside in appreciation until he disappeared onto the turbo lift.

Leon appeared in her doorway. “Ms. Adorea? Will that be all?”

Dalera shook herself out of her lust-induced daze and got her mind back on business. “Yes. Thank you, Leon. Just give me a minute to finish up here.”

She quickly sent the files she needed to her home unit and locked up before she followed him out. Although Leon was a very efficient secretary, he was a bit of a klutz, always dropping things in front of her. This time he managed to fumble his keycard as they got on the lift, and he was lucky his tight pants didn’t split at the seam when he bent to pick it up.

Downstairs, she secretly hoped to spot Radek still in the building, but there was no one in sight. As usual, she went home alone.

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One response to “Excerpts

  1. Pingback: How to Find Great Books in a Glutted Market | Allie Ritch, author

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