*BOOK BLITZ* – Valkyrie by Kitty Thomas

Valkyrie by: Kitty Thomas

Dark-ish Standalone/Norse Gods 

Tropes: enemies-to-lovers, forced proximity, fated mates, strong heroine, growly alpha male, shifters, berserkers, witches, dark elements

Blurb

ODIN:

On the day I met the witch, she prophesied my death.

She said it was fate and couldn’t be changed.

I’ve gathered my warriors. I’ve laid my traps. I’ve moved my pieces across the board.

She is the piece that unlocks everything, I know she is.

And she’s wrong. Everything can be changed.

FREYJA:

A powerful god seeks to destroy my people unless I go live with him.

“You don’t have to marry him. You don’t even have to sleep with him. He just needs a witch.”

I’ve been told this multiple times, but I don’t trust this man.

He’s keeping something very important from me… and he’s such a charmer.

I may allow him into my bed, but I can never let him into my heart.

NOTE: This is a standalone. 

TEASER

Valkyrie (c) Copyright 2022 by Kitty Thomas. All rights reserved. Excerpt used with permission of the author.

“I want to talk about the mark,” I say, skimming right past all of that. If he thinks he can distract me or pacify me with ice cream and cherries like a small child, he’s crazy.

“We don’t need to talk about it. It doesn’t concern you,” Odin says.

My spoon makes a loud clanking sound against the bowl. “Excuse me, but a glowing magical handprint on my throat one hundred percent does concern me.”

“No it doesn’t. You don’t have to worry about it. It’ll go away on its own.”

“I thought you said it couldn’t be undone and that it’s beyond you,” I say, mocking his overly serious tone of only moments ago.

“It can’t be undone and it is beyond me. I have no control over that mark, but I do know it will fade on its own as long as no further steps are taken.”

“But what does it mean? And steps for what?” He’s not going to slither off the hook that easily.

“I have control of the berserker. You don’t have to worry.”

“The berserker? Is that the name of that thing I saw you shift into?”

He levels me with a hard, serious look. “You haven’t met the berserker.”

“Oh Odin, teach me to be scary like you,” I singsong.

“Little girl, you have no idea the fire you play with.”

“I am fire.”

He considers me for a moment and nods. “I think that’s a fair description. You’re also a valkyrie. And it’s clear you didn’t know that before today.”

“What’s a valkyrie? Or does that not concern me, either?”

He just stares at me for a long time. Only this time it’s not lust, it’s a power move. I bet all his little underlings look away. I bet he thinks I’m about to look away. I don’t. I just hold his gaze.

“Can you tell me the rules? Is blinking allowed or do I lose if I blink?”

“You are the most infuriating…”

“I don’t have to be here. You could have chosen to leave the Vanir alone. I don’t even know why I’m here. What do you need me for, Odin? Besides the obvious.”

The one thing I’ve been able to ascertain that he wants from me is the same thing every man wants from me, and Odin hasn’t disguised his desire to have me in his bed.

He leans closer, speaking each word slowly, clearly, and precisely as if I need this all spelled out again. “You signed a contract… with your blood… and if you think I’m letting you out of it or that you can annoy me to death…”

“I may have to stay in Asgard with you, but I don’t have to stay at this table. And since dinner is over and you seem to have no intention of telling me anything worth hearing, I’ll take my leave.”

I stand and turn to go, but his hand wraps around my wrist, stopping me. Just this simple touch sends a harsh bolt of desire spiraling through me.

His voice is low and calm when he speaks. “The mark is a partial mating claim. My berserker thinks you’re his fated mate.”

I whirl back around at this news. “I’m sorry… what? Oh, no, absolutely not… I am not going to be mated to… that thing… or to you for that matter.”

“That’s right. You’re not. I have control of the berserker. I don’t know how long it will take for the mark to fade but it will fade if the mating remains incomplete. I’ve never marked anyone, but with most berserkers it’s two or three weeks.”

I realize he’s still holding my wrist, his thumb softly stroking the back of my hand.

“Why does the berserker think I’m his mate?”

“Because you’re a valkyrie.”

“I’m not going to ask you again what a valkyrie is.” I’m tired of his childish games.

He sighs. “Valkyries work for me. They collect the bravest fallen warriors in the human world for an army I’m building.”

“The army the Vanir fought?”

“There were a few berserkers in that fight, but no, it’s a different army, for a different purpose.”

He’s still stroking the back of my hand. I’m not even sure if he realizes he’s doing it. But I can think of nothing else.

“I don’t work for you,” I say.

“Oh really? You signed a contract… in blood…”

He seems prepared to pull this speech out at my every protest. “I meant, in my capacity as a valkyrie… I don’t exist to serve you.” I don’t even know that I believe his valkyrie line. And it does sound like a line, probably just more of his seduction tactics.

He chuckles. “I’ve never met a valkyrie that was also a goddess. Maybe you’re supposed to lead the valkyries, the way I command the berserkers.”

“I think you should let go of me, now,” I say, holding his gaze.

He jerks his hand away as if burned. His shocked expression tells me he didn’t even realize he was stroking me like that for so long.

“Sure, you’ve got control of the berserker. No need to worry.”

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AUTHOR BIO

KITTY THOMAS writes dark stories that play with power and have unconventional HEAs. She began publishing in early 2010 with her bestselling COMFORT FOOD and is considered one of the original authors of the dark romance subgenre.

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*BOOK BLITZ* – In the Shadow of a Hoax, by Maci Aurora (Fareview Fairytales #2), includes excerpt.

Publication date: January 24th, 2023
Genres: Adult, Fantasy, Romance

Synopsis

In the Kingdom of Kaloma, a woman is forced to rely on a man to “keep her” and is forbidden from maintaining anything of her own. It’s the law.

In the remote village of Sevens, at the northernmost point of the kingdom, there lives a family with four daughters and a son, toiling day in and day out together, hopeful a treaty with the boarding kingdom of Jast might change things.

When one daughter—at risk of being imprisoned for fighting back—hides away in the Whitling Woods. She stumbles upon a dying man and despite the risk to herself, chooses to save him. Only who he is has the power to change everything…

Tarley Fareview, idealistic and stubborn, does what she can to support herself in spite of an unjust Kaloma law. When she fights back after being attacked, she flees into the woods disguised as a boy. While in hiding, she discovers a dying man and must decide if she risks her life to save him. Unable to walk away, Tarley chooses to intervene and works to save the stranger, only little does she know that by doing so she’ll also risk the heart she promised herself she’d never give to anyone.

When the Crown Prince of Jast, Lachlan Nikolas—forced by the king to attend treaty negotiations with the kingdom of Kaloma in disguise—is attacked, his horse bolts, and they both careen over a cliff, falling to their deaths in a raging river below. Only, miracle of miracles, Lachlan doesn’t perish, and instead is given a second chance at life, but at a price. When he wakes, he’s not only been stripped of his clothes but also his identity. Saved by a strange woman—in a terrible disguise because she looks nothing like a boy—Lachlan must learn very quickly how to survive in a world where he isn’t a prince anymore and with zero skills other than his entitlement and his charm. Unsure who to trust, Lachlan must reinvent himself, learn how to survive, open his heart to discover the truth about worthiness, and discover what it means to sacrifice one’s self for true love.

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Excerpt

It was nearing sunrise on the fifth day. The twilight teasing the flap of the tent. The birds were only beginning to sing, and though the music of the birds waking and the river beyond were usually her salve to get her moving, her eyes were so heavy, and her body weighted with exhaustion. Her mind and senses lulled toward sleep by the sound of Ollie’s clear breathing and the song of the birds, so she shut her eyes.

Just for a moment, she told herself. Ollie’s safe. I’ll rest. Just for a moment, she thought and slipped into the rest of the darkness.

“Tarley?”

She stretched her body, uncurling it, and basking in the gloriousness of warmth and rest. Her hand dropped against something unforgiving, her head pressed against a wall. She moaned, disoriented, and grabbed hold of the mound under her quilt trying to figure out what had crawled into bed with her.

“I’ve always enjoyed a good fondling, but I prefer it being reciprocal.”

Tarley’s eyes snapped open at the foreign sound—a man’s voice with just the hint of an accent with which she wasn’t familiar. Skin. That’s what her eyes focused on. Lots of it. An arm. A shoulder. A scruffy jaw in need of a shave as she raised her gaze. Full lips arched with a smile, the bottom slightly fuller though the pronounced arches of the upper. He was grinning, and his eyes—a myriad of colors—were darkened with a ring of deep green at the edges.

Realizing she was flush against him, holding him, Tarley jerked back, scrambling to the opposite side of the ten, only there wasn’t enough room to maneuver. She regretted the quick movement, her body protesting with aches and pains of not enough sleep.

“Ollie. I–” She couldn’t meet his gaze.

“You were asleep.”

Her cheeks heated realizing she’d been holding him in her sleep. Holding onto him the night she’d been trying to save him flashed in her mind reminding her she’d held him before. To save him, she snapped at her inner self.

Her eyes danced across the quilt until she found the bravery to meet his gaze.

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AUTHOR BIO & LINKS

Romance author.

Lover of stories.

Maci Aurora has been writing stories since she was a child. When she was eleven, she fell in love with reading Sunfire Historical Romances about girls who made a difference in their lives and still fell in love. In high school, a friend introduced her to Lavyrle Spencer and Judith McNaught, and from there, her writing journey was cemented in telling stories about love. Having already published many novels (all of which are threaded with romance as upper YA and New Adult titles) under the pen name, CL Walters, Maci Aurora wanted to write stories that offered the same attention to story and characters but with additional steam.

Maci writes in Hawaiʻi where she lives with her husband, their children, and their fur-babies.

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*REVIEW* – Broken Limits (The Limit Book 3), by Marissa Farrar and S. R. Jones

#RomanticSuspense #ReverseHarem #WhyChoose #DarkRomance

Blurb

It’s all fun and games…until someone gets hurt.

It was meant to be a game. A way of surviving and gaining some money, but somewhere along the line emotions got involved, and I lost all perspective.

They did too. No matter what they might like to pretend, those four troubled men got as swept up in the dangerous allure as I did. They pushed me to my limits and beyond, but I pushed them, too.
One of them couldn’t take it though, and our pact fell apart.

I ran. I ran fast and far but instead of running to safety, I raced straight into the arms of danger.
Who will save me now?

Are they missing me? Do my broken, messed up men think about me as much as I think about them?
My new captor thinks he holds all the cards, but my time on the island has taught me how to play his depraved games, and I will fight with all I have.

My Review

Action packed and emotionally intense conclusion – 5 stars!

Following on from the absolute doozy of an ending in the previous book, I was itching to find out what was in store for Honor and her men. I was not disappointed – Broken Limits is an action-packed and emotionally intense read which kept me on the edge of my seat. To gain maximum enjoyment from the read however, I recommend reading the previous books first.

In this, the final instalment in the trilogy, Honor finds herself held captive. She hopes that her men will realise she is missing and that they are able to rescue her before her old nemesis manages to enact whatever nefarious plan he has in mind for her. Throughout the series I have enjoyed how Honor’s character has grown in strength and it is this strength that is put to the test during the shocking events that play out.

I have also enjoyed the emotional journeys Honor’s men, Asher, Brody, Wilder and Rafferty, have gone on as they come to realise just what Honor means to them. In this book I just loved how they step up to the challenge of her disappearance, whilst grappling with a gamut of emotions and soul searching, including guilt, fear, and anxiety.

The plot is suspenseful and fast-paced, with scenes of violence, non-consent and references to abuse and I was itching for a HEA. It also contains a number of twists, as Honor’s past and that of her men converge before it reaches its satisfying conclusion.

Highly recommended for fans of the genre.

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*REVIEW* – RENT GIRL: A DARK MAFIA/CARTEL INTERRACIAL CAPTIVITY ROMANCE, BY NENIA CAMPBELL

#darkromance #interracial #mafiaromance #suspense #captiveromance

Blurb

(He was the one thing she couldn’t run from.)

Beatrice Arsenault has spent the last ten years running. She’s changed her looks and changed her name and lives her life off the books or under the table, constantly looking over her shoulder for the one person she knows is looking back.

(She’s the one thing he could never leave.)

Dominic Xiang is a name that strikes fear into the hearts of hardened criminals. He runs an empire of vice and blood, which he rules with an iron fist. But when he met Beatrice ten years ago, he had just enough of a heart left to break.

(If they don’t bury the past, they’ll bury each other.)

Now he’s found her again, and she’s dancing on the edge of his knife. Whether it cuts her ties or ends her life is all up to him . . .

My Review

Dark, intense and more than a little crazy! 5 stars

Rent Girl by Nenia Campbell is an unapologetic dark read containing Dominic Xiang, a hot but crazy villain with few if ANY redeeming qualities, and Beatrice Arsenault, a troubled heroine whom he sets his sights on. He is the LAST person she needs to be with but unfortunately for her, as soon as he notices her there is no escape. The phrase you can run but you can’t hide certainly came to mind when I read this book!

I love the dark romance genre which allows the writer and reader to delve deep into the psyche of bad men such as Dominic. His world is not a pretty one and this book contains scenes of violence, murder and abuse, not to mention morally questionable behaviour towards the heroine. Although I was shocked at some scenes and at times felt that Beatrice would be better off without Dominic, the author slowly but surely turned it round and as the story progressed my dark heart started cheering this complex couple on. I was SO immersed in the interplay between the couple and the wider characters and plot that I read it in little more than a day.

The book has two timelines, one after the couple first meet and the other ten years later when Beatrice’s luck runs out and Dominic, intent on revenge, finds her once again. Dual timelines do not always work for me, but I found it done really well here and it helped illustrate how the dynamics between the couple changed over time and how they grew as characters.

Beatrice finds herself held captive and consumed by Dominic for much of the read and is revolted by his world. The author does an excellent job of showing us just how deep this revulsion goes. I loved how despite being powerless she stood up to him as much as she could. I enjoyed her character growth and Dominic’s realisation that perhaps she means more to him than he thought.

Just how far will Dominic go when it comes to punishing Beatrice for her deceit? Has he ANY capacity for forgiveness, love, or redemption? Will Beatrice ever be more than the rent girl/whore she sees herself? Can she love a monster? What will happen to her once he grows tired of her, especially given how he deals with his enemies and those who get in his way… These questions and more buzzed around my head during the read.

I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough as the book approached its finale, and I was a quivering mess as various chickens came home to roost for the couple. I loved the ending. It was just perfect.

Recommended for fans of the genre.

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ARC REVIEW – Her Wicked Scot (The Highland Warrior Chronicles Book 4), Christina Phillips

#HistoricalRomance #EnemiestoLovers #HighlandRomance #MarriageofConvenience

Blurb

A warrior rumored to have no heart. An ice princess, who has vowed never to love again. A forced marriage that could break them both…

Sent into Pictland to discover the identity of a desperate assassin, Ewan MacKinnon fights his fascination with the aloof princess, Briana. Although he wants nothing more than to take her into his arms, he won’t taint her with the curse that has blighted him all his life.

After her first disastrous marriage, Briana is determined to dedicate her life in service to Pictland and her beloved goddess. But her goddess is elusive, sending only visions of a splintered future–a future that is tied irrevocably to the one man she fears could shatter her heart forever. The enemy of her people, Scots warrior Ewan MacKinnon.

Coerced into a marriage of convenience, Briana and Ewan battle both duty and desire as political intrigue tightens its noose around them. But with the assassin edging ever closer they must forsake the shackles of their past and risk their fragile love for a chance of surviving an ultimate betrayal.

My Review

Delicious Enemies to Lovers Historical Romance with a hint of magic! 5 stars

Christina Phillips weaves a delicious enemies-to-lovers romance full of passion, political powerplay and danger in Her Wicked Scot, number 4 in her Highland Warrior Chronicles.

Highland warrior Ewan MacKinnon and Pictish princess Brianna are unexpectedly thrown together by the political machinations of their time. Scarred by past events in their lives they both have their own internal battles to overcome before they have any chance of their union leading to a HEA. I loved how their relationship unfolds and also how the author portrays the danger swirling around them, a danger that Brianna, touched by the goddess, perceives in visions, visions which she struggles to comprehend but which tie her to Ewan, the enemy of her people. The path to their future is not an easy one.

I enjoyed the undeniable attraction the couple have for each other, illustrated in their words and actions, not to mention the passionate scenes they enjoy together. I particularly loved how protective Ewan is of Brianna and how she, although mistrustful, slowly places her faith in him. The way the author portrays their growing feelings for each other is both realistic and moving. Yet trust is fragile as events and the actions of others test them at critical moments in the story.

Just who is the real Ewan MacKinnon? Can Brianna trust him or will he betray her and her heart? As for Ewan, can he protect Brianna from danger, even if he feels the greatest danger is himself? Just what is the meaning of the goddess’ visions?

I was glued to my Kindle throughout as the story unfolded, enjoying reading about how Brianna and Ewan grew both as individuals and as a couple, against the wider political issues at play. The book can certainly be read as a standalone, as each book in the series feature a different couple, but I feel the reader will gain more from reading the series in order. I am very much looking forward to future books in the series.

Please note, a copy of the book was given to me by the author and I am voluntarily leaving an honest review.

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*REVIEW* – The Last Dominant, Eris Adderly

#scifithriller #scifiromance #powerexchange

Adult/18+ read

I am a member of a lot of different Facebook groups and this author came highly recommended by a fellow reader. I can’t for the life of me remember which of the many groups her recommendation was in, but if by any chance you are that person and you just happen to be reading this post THANK YOU SO MUCH! I absolutely LOVED this book and have now found a new author I can add to my list of ‘must reads’  – her backlist looks amazing too!

Blurb

“I can have whatever I want. I own you.”

Qillian Wehr is the last of his kind. A bloodline of unspeakable power.
To the Imbrian government, he is a weapon. A last resort in their age-old war with Rhyolus.
His leaders want insurance. They want an heir.
 They need a genetic match.
 And now, they’ve found her.

Exotic. Stunning. Lethal.
 Rushkah Ekhayl would murder Qillian in his sleep if she got the chance. She’s Rhyolusian. She is his enemy.

The Last Dominant is a scorching enemies-to-lovers romance where a taste of treason unlocks desires of submission and control. For mature readers only.

Publisher’s Note: This steamy sci-fi thriller contains elements of power exchange.

My Review – Super-hot and emotionally charged read!

This is a super-hot enemies to lovers sci-fi romance, containing a solid plot and sizzling scenes of power exchange and I found it to be a fabulous read. The powerful Imbrian Qillian is coveted as a valuable weapon in his people’s war with their enemies. He is tasked by his political masters to effectively breed Rushkah, a genetically compatible captive Rhyolusian, to ensure another of his ilk, and the evolving relationship between them is full of passion as the couple navigate their predicament.

Qillian and Rushkah are both dominants at heart, which makes for a fascinating read, full of conflict as the pair try and assert control over one another. Despite his strength and undeniable power, Qillian is just as much a pawn as Rushkah, and I found it fascinating how he deals with the situation. What starts off as mutual hate, distrust and loathing slowly transforms into mutual respect and more as the couple are closeted together by order of the Imbrian leaders who have their own methods of compulsion… 

The way these two characters rub each other up the wrong way is just so entertaining – Qillian is at heart a grumpy archivist, used to his own company and is frustrated by the very presence and actions of Rushkah, who seeks to get under his skin and defy him at every turn.  I could not put this book down as I was so invested in what this couple were going through and what would happen if and when the bloodline had been secured. The read contains some violence, as a number of powerful Imbrians view Rushkah and her people as little more than animals. 

This page-turning read is recommended for sci-fi readers who like engaging characters, great worldbuilding and intense and smoking hot lovemaking scenes.

Reviewed by Tina Williams

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*Book Blitz* – Force of Nature by Skye Warren & Amelia Wilde 

About

Carter Morelli survived a violent childhood and dangerous missions. After he emergency lands the small aircraft, he faces something even worse: having someone depend on him. Geologis June Porter wants to study rocks. She didn’t plan to be stranded on a deserted island.

They aren’t alone on the island. A man hides among the broad leaves. He’s almost feral, this man. But he provides them shelter and food.

There are secrets in his hidden cabin. Desire, too.

Carter doesn’t want to care about the bookish, beautiful June.

But he doesn’t like this strange man’s interest in her, either.

Simmering chemistry wars with the need for survival.

Will they be found before they give into temptation?

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Cover Reveal! The Deadly Reckonings, by Rebecca and Victoria Heap

@beccaboowriter #fantasy #shapeshifterseries #shifterromance #alphamale #epicfantasy #epicfantasyromance #fantasyadventure

The Deadly Reckonings is the first book in an all-new epic adventure fantasy series called The Tribes of Feralis.

If you like animalistic worlds, daring heroes, fierce heroines, edge-of-your-seat adventure, heartbreaking romance, and enough twists and turns to leave you wondering what on earth (or not on earth…on Feralis!) just happened, this is the series for you.

Blurb

An animalistic world. A forbidden passion. A brutal contest.

The old Alpha’s time is coming to an end, and the Deadly Reckonings are swiftly approaching. The victor of these brutal trials will become the new Alpha and rule over the four allied tribes of Feralis.

Devlin, a young man with the animal aspect of a golden lion, dreams of shaping a better world and taking control from the power-hungry clutches of the cruel and dominating Reptilia.

Riva, a princess of the exiled Skylarian tribe, is doomed to be bound to her father’s preferred suitor.

Their worlds collide and Devlin’s animal immediately recognises her for what she is –  his true mate.

But their tribes are enemies. They should never have met. Their love is forbidden.

Follow Devlin as he faces the Deadly Reckonings, testing his nature and limits against other competitors, merciless monsters, perilous terrain, and his own desperate hopes.

Can he be victorious and claim the status of Alpha? Can he dare to reach for a woman who does not belong to him?

Or will a mortal foe, a misfit sister, and even fate itself stand in his way?

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We are twin sisters and we come from Bolton, a friendly town in Lancashire, UK. We would love to tell you about all the unusual jobs we have had and the wacky adventures we had on our way to becoming authors, since that is what other authors seem to do in these bios. Unfortunately, we are somewhat lacking in that respect. However, our birth was very eventful as neither our mother nor the midwives attending realised that she was having twins until just after Rebecca was born! Our aim is to make our writing as surprising and marvellous as that!

We have always loved escaping into the limitless worlds of the written word and remember first writing stories to each to other as very young children in old exercise books. We self-published our first books, thrilling suspense duology, Dark Betrayal and Dark Secrets. We are thrilled to be with Odyssey Books for our latest labour of love, epic, romantic fantasy trilogy, The Tribes of Feralis.

If you come to read about the animalistic world we have created, you may gather that we are “cat people”. We grew up with a lovely little tabby who was an intrinsic part of our childhood. Now Rebecca has a socially awkward but loving female cat called Maisie and Victoria has two beautiful, big, ever-hungry male cats called Bert and Ernie!

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Extract:

Devlin considered her. She sounded sane enough, even though he had to strain to catch her meaning and had the disturbing feeling she was laughing at him. Her comment drew his gaze to her garment. Still wet, it clung to the delicate curves of her body, which he couldn’t help but admire. This time, when his eyes came back to rest on hers, he caught a blush rise up into her cheeks, contrasting starkly with her milk-pale skin.  The effect was ingénue and radiant and Devlin was taken off guard for a second time. The features he’d prematurely considered bizarre and disturbing, he was led to concede, were, in their own way, astonishingly beautiful.

She shivered, whether from cold or his intense regard He couldn’t be sure. She dropped her hand. He suddenly realised how thoughtless he’d been. Here she was dripping wet and clearly chilled, and all he’d done was gawp at her like a mindless idiot! The problem was, he didn’t even have a cloak to offer her, as all his clothes were as wet as hers.

“You’re cold,” he said. “Do you have anything dry to wear?”

Her eyes widened in surprise with these, the first of his words to her. She perhaps found his accent as odd as hers was to him. She shook her head.

He laughed. “Funny that,” he said, looking down at himself. “Neither have I!”

She began to laugh along with him. This made him feel good. When they stopped, he couldn’t stop himself from staring at her again. She nervously turned her head away, looking toward the forest, as if considering flight after all. He frowned. What sort of woman was she and where had she come from?

“You’re not from around here, are you?” he asked. She shook her head again.

Devlin still thought she might be some kind of madwoman, but she was clearly in need of a meal as well as a change of clothes, seeing how skinny she was. Perhaps she had taken his fishing rod with a view to fishing for herself.  But why was no one protecting her or looking after her? One thing was certain: he couldn’t leave her out here alone. She was far too young and defenceless.

“Why don’t I take you to my home, so we can both change out of these wet things and have something warm to eat? Gone are my chances of catching a fish for breakfast, but we have some oatmeal and my sister should have something that will fit you.”

She shook her head in alarm and backed away from him.

Her reaction to his offer confused him, but then what had he expected? She wasn’t exactly normal by any stretch.

“It’s very kind of you,” she said slowly, recognising the need to do so, given their disparate ways of speaking, “but I’m fine. I’ll just be on my way.”

“And where might that be? Where do you live?” When she didn’t respond, he pressed: “Have you run away from home?” This seemed to him the only logical explanation for her silence and solitary state.

She bit her lip and lowered her head, which he interpreted as an affirmation.

“You can’t stay out here on your own, you know. It’s dangerous.”

Her head came up at that and she challenged, “I’ve made it on my own this far.”

He raised an eyebrow. “And how far is that?”

“Farther than you’ll ever know.” She began to walk away from him.

He followed, continuing to harangue her, exasperated by her reluctance to accept help and shelter. All his protective instincts were suddenly kicking in. Even his cat seemed oddly agitated and anxious to assist her.

“How are you going to eat? I’ve got the fishing tackle, remember. How do you think you’re going to survive?”

She turned to him. “Are you offering to give me your fishing device back?”

He growled in frustration at her then, and his face briefly assumed its cat-like form.

Stunned, she stumbled back, her eyes large with fright. “I don’t need your help!” she shouted. “Leave me alone!” She turned and ran, clearly keen to put as much distance between them as possible.

Surely, she must have witnessed a man in his animal form before? Or had she? He had no idea of her background or where she was from. He must have given her a good scare. He thought about letting her go. But he was too concerned by her stubborn refusal to acknowledge the perils of her situation. She reminded him of someone; she reminded him of his sister. Kyra didn’t listen to him either and could be as hard-headed as a rock about accepting she was female and needed nurturing. The thought of his little sister, who thought she was so self-sufficient but still needed him in so many ways, persuaded him to persevere. He just needed to adopt a different strategy.

Easily catching up to her, ignoring the little gasps of distress she emitted when she realised he was back, he ran alongside her and said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you like that.”

She did not respond but just carried on running, turning her head to cast accusing glances at him, eyes still wide with alarm.

“Please,” he persisted. “Please don’t run away. You have nothing to fear from me, I promise.”

He kept with her, smiling at her whenever she glanced his way until she must have realised that she would achieve nothing but exhaustion by continuing. She finally stopped running, frustration seeming to have superseded fear, and glared at him.

“Why do you keep following me?” she demanded. He smiled at her again.

“Look, as I’ve already tried to tell you, you’re not safe on your own around here. Who knows what monsters you might bump into?”

She must have caught his teasing as he saw her lips twitch a little at his words. “No, who knows?” she repeated. “Mad, persistent cat men for one!”

Devlin laughed. The girl smiled tentatively back at him. He was surprised by the surge of joy from his cat. It seemed even his cat wanted to please her. He much preferred this smiling girl to the frightened one.

“Come back with me, even if only for the fishing rod, if you still want the stupid thing. You need it more than I do and I can easily make another one.”

This was not exactly true, as he had spent some time sourcing the right type of wood and cord, taking pride in his efforts and resourcefulness, as he gradually improved upon its strength and pliability.

He offered his hand, replicating her own gesture from earlier. She looked down at it warily. Then she looked up into his face. He could see her eyes roving over his features, as if checking for signs of the cat he had unwisely exposed earlier. He felt the blood rush to his face at her scrutiny. By the Creator, surely he wasn’t blushing now?

She must have seen something she approved of as she slipped her hand into his. His cat purred in appreciation. The warmth from her grip seemed to spread like some kind of contagious burn all over his body. They walked back to the lakeside, Devlin feeling strangely lightheaded.

When they got there, Devlin reluctantly released her hand and went to retrieve his rod and line. He came back toward her, holding it out to her. It was then that he realised she was crying. Why was she crying? Perhaps her emotions were as cockeyed as his own. Whatever the cause, his heart flipped on him and, before he could stop himself, he’d dropped the rod and pulled her into his arms.

She stiffened in surprise but then slowly settled against him, like a small, nervous animal.

Devlin stroked her long, damp tresses in a gesture of comfort and, as she nestled her head against his chest, he felt her release a pent-up breath, half sob, half sigh. Devlin experienced an unexpected rush of hot satisfaction as her body warmed against him and their hearts slowed in time to each other’s beat.

When she pushed away from him, he loosened his grip but, in doing so, felt the oddest sensation from within. His animal, already curiously roused and usually so placid in peaceful moments, protested strongly. When she lifted her head away from his chest, the proximity of her fascinating face and compelling scent overwhelmed him. He wasn’t sure if it was he or the cat who governed his next move. His mouth was covering hers before she could make a sound in objection.

As he deepened the kiss and she submitted, Devlin felt himself losing control. The taste of her was like nothing he had ever known, leaving his human essence weak with gluttony and his cat crazed.

He tore himself away from her, feeling slightly unhinged. His cat had attempted to dominate him, in a way that he hadn’t experienced since his turning. He shook with the shock of it. How close had he come to allowing his primitive nature to possess him? He realised that he didn’t even know this girl’s name.

He stepped away from her as if she was on fire and, maybe for him, she was. Her hair was certainly the colour of flames, he thought, as he watched some stray dry strands dance and then settle back around her alluring face. Perhaps he should have taken heed of the warning. Red in nature always meant stay away.

“Who are you?” he whispered.

She answered shakily. “My name is Riva. What did you just do to me?”

Devlin almost laughed. What had he done to her? What had she done to him? “It’s called a kiss,” he said. “It was just a kiss,” he repeated, as if to convince himself, as well as her, of that fact.

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