This week I’m giving my readers a holiday present, a sneak peek at my upcoming paranormal romance, BEAUTY’S BEAST. This is an April 2013 release from Harlequin Nocturne and the final book in The Tracker series. Enjoy!
In this excerpt the heroine, Samantha Proud, is pursued by Nagi, the villain, who is the Ruler of Ghosts and has escaped by calling the Thunderbirds to carry her to safety. As this scene begins, Samantha, a Grizzly skinwalker, has been deposited in an unfamiliar woods. She transforms her animal skin into the uniform of a Forest Ranger when she hears a sound…
The crack of a branch brought her about. Nagi?
Someone or something was here. She inhaled, finding the new scent of another creature but she could not identify it: sweet, like the rich soil and the autumn leaves. This was not the scent of any animal she knew. But it certainly was alive. She could hear it breathing.
Samantha weighed her options—attack or run.
She crouched, preparing to change and charge. There were few creatures who would face a charging grizzly, especially one who was frightened and without her family for the first time since birth.
What was hiding behind that massive trunk? A Toe Tagger? Her father’s warning bounced up in her mind. If you see a Toe Tagger, run.
Something stepped into tall ferns. She hesitated as she realized it was a man, a hauntingly beautiful man with fine silvery-blonde hair that swept the shoulders of his charcoal grey wool sports jacket. His slacks and fitted cashmere sweater were also gray, but more the color of a mourning dove. An odd choice of attire for a hike in the woods. He dressed like a walking shadow.
Samantha sagged with relief at finding a man, rather than one of her dreaded enemies. Was he human? The light played tricks because his aura seemed only a gray shadow which wasn’t right. No living thing had a gray aura. It was too bright to clearly see in any case. The late afternoon sun sent golden light down to the forest floor in bright wide beams.
She needed to find Bess before she ran into one of Nagi’s hated spawn.
The man stepped closer. His features were similar enough to her own to make her believe he was of the First Nation. But his pale skin tone and that hair, it did not fit. The texture, the color was all wrong. She stepped closer, drawn by his ethereal beauty and her own curiosity. He glanced back, as if considering retreat.
“Hello,” she called.
He frowned, his dark brow sweeping down over his ice blue eyes. She’d never seen eyes that color. They reminded her of the blue of glacial ice and when he fixed them on her she felt a little charge of excitement buzz inside her. He moved with a grace and power that brought a trickle of fear to her belly. Her instinct told her he wasn’t human. His scent told her he wasn’t a Skinwalker. Niyanoka? She tried again to see his aura, looking for the distinctive golden cap that marked her mother’s people and failed once more.
She stepped back and he crossed the eight-feet between them, the flat heels of his boots sinking into the soft earth. She inhaled his scent searching for what he really was and the sweetness of him made her want to move closer. She held herself back.
“Where did you come from?” he asked, his voice a rich, velvety bass that rumbled through her belly, making her insides quiver.
He stood with a relaxed confidence she found unnerving. His eyes swept her body, making her skin tingle and her muscles tense. Was he friend or foe? She could not tell. She only knew he was not Nagi.
“I’m doing some work in the forest.” She tapped the patch on her left sleeve.
The man’s eyes narrowed. “Rangers in California have yellow patches and they carry side arms. So, I’ll ask you again, where do you come from, little Skinwalker?”
Her arms dropped to her sides and a shiver of panic when through her. He had her at a disadvantage for he knew what she was.
What was he that he could so easily spot her? Niyanoka, she decided. Must be. Those born of the race of the Children of Spirit, could see auras and easily recognized Skinwalkers from their brown aura visible in all but the brightest of light.
He knew what she was and she did not know what he was. It put her at a disadvantage.
Her parents said she must find Bess Suncatcher. Did her father really have friends so old and so true that they would welcome such trouble on their doorstep? Samantha did not think so.
“What are you doing in my woods, little one?” he asked, stepping closer.
She shook now. The fear, the journey and the unknown were all swirling inside her to form a perfect storm.
He moved forward. She stepped back. Changing shape before a human broke one of the two rules by which the Skinwalkers lived. First, protect The Balance, the finely spun web of the natural world, from all threats. Second, do not let the humans know what you are except to save your life.
He wasn’t exactly threatening her. But somehow he was. His stare unnerved her. Why did her breathing accelerate at his approach until she grew dizzy again?
“That’s a Canadian uniform. Why would you think you were in Canada?” His questions were casual, as if he did not expect an answer, but preferred to puzzle out his own. His eyes narrowed and dark lashes descended over pale eyes. “Unless.” He glanced at the skies, putting it together. “The storm.” His gaze shot back to her. “So it’s true, then. The Thunderbirds do carry you. But why here?” He stared up at the sky. “They couldn’t have meant for me to find you. There’s been a mistake.”
She retreated another step, thinking that she had to agree with him, but instead she repeated what her father had said,
“The Thunderbirds don’t make mistakes,” she said and then recalled what else her father had said. They know the fates of us all. If it is not safe, then they will bring her somewhere else.
She stared up at this stranger. They had brought her to him.
He flicked his gaze back to her and she felt her throat go dry.
“Ah, it speaks. Well then. Now we are getting somewhere.”
Was it his presence or his looks that made her so anxious? He wasn’t human or he wouldn’t know of the Thunderbirds, unless he was a shaman. He didn’t look like a holy man. More like a hunter.
“I’m Alon,” he said, pressing an open hand over his heart and inclining his head. His feathery hair brushed his cheeks.
She stared at his long pale fingers, cushioned now in the gray fabric of his sweater and thick muscles of his chest. Her ears tingled at the rush of blood pouring through her.
“Samantha,” she managed.
His smile revealed dazzling white teeth but failed to have the desired effect. The baring of his teeth only made him look more dangerous. White teeth and that strong, square jaw. She briefly considered the possibility that he might be a Toe Taggers, but she had seen Nagi’s children as they attacked her father. They were terrible to behold. While Alon looked more like a statue carved by a master’s hand, almost too perfect to be real.
His eyes twinkled now, the menace vanishing as he seemed to transform again into someone she could trust. He moved closer and she held her ground. Something about the way he looked at her now seemed so reassuring, but she held on to her distrust.
He reached, offering his open hand. She stared, wanting to take it. She had to struggle not to. What power was this? She tucked her hands behind her, pressing them to the rough bark, preparing to push off and run if need be.
“Go on,” he urged, tempting her with the rich timber of his deep voice.
She did. Her hand slid over his, palms pressing one to the other. His skin was cool. An instant later a flash of energy surged from the point of contact, lifted the tiny hairs on her forearm and caused her skin to tingle. His eyes locked on hers and she saw the first glimmer of uncertainty there. Was he as surprised as she?
Her mouth dropped open in a little O as a buzzing started in her ears as the unfamiliar energy lifted the hairs on her neck before it cascaded down her spine. She shivered.
He frowned and tightened the grip on her hand. “Cold?”
She shook her head. Afraid, delighted, anxious as a polar bear stranded on an ice drift.
He tugged, exerting a slow, insistent pressure that she was strong enough to resist, but somehow did not wish to. He lifted his opposite hand and crooked one finger using his knuckle to stroke her cheek. Her body hummed in response, her skin flushing in a way she had not experienced but instantly recognized as sexual.
His index finger then settled beneath her jaw, lifting her chin until she gazed up into those mesmerizing eyes. Her heartbeat drummed in her ears.
“So if the Great Birds did not send you to me, then who?”
His sweet breath fanned her face and she drew in the fragrance of him.
He moved no closer. The beating of sexual desire was so strong in her that it almost drowned out the buzz of danger. But not quite. She heard it, felt it and shook off the dreamy lethargy.
Samantha pressed both hands against his chest to hold him back. He paused his descent and gave her a quizzical look.
“How do you know what I am?” she asked.
His half smile showed a lazy quality. Her mouth dropped open to stare as her heart continued to slam into her ribs like a handball batted against a cement wall.
“Do you know how animals can sense earthquakes?”
She had that same ability herself. She nodded.
“And how sharks can sense the vibrations of an injured fish from miles away?”
She nodded again.
“And how a spider knows the instant a fly lands in his web?”
She did not like the way this conversation was going at all and fear now gripped her middle in a fist so tight she could scarcely breathe.
“I can sense you, little shifter, feel you with every pore and every tiny hair on my skin. I can feel the emotions pouring through you like flood water and I can feel the worth of your soul, because that is what I do.”
What the hell was he?
BEAUTY’S BEAST can be pre-ordered and releases in April 2013 from Harlequin Nocturne.