Caged Desire by Sydney Somers
Taking her chances, she gripped the bars and pulled hard. The cage was heavy, but without too much trouble—and without the bird making a move for her fingers—she dragged it free of the crate. With every step around the cage, her curiosity grew, her eyes never straying from the creature that turned its head to follow her.
Was this some late April Fool’s present? Seeing as Kyle had once sent her a snake as a joke, she wouldn’t put it past him. He could be sitting in some South American bar right now, laughing his ass off as he pictured her reaction to his gift.
Inside the cage the eagle—which was her best guess—inched down the horizontal bar, its talons curling tighter. She wouldn’t have thought birds this large existed anymore. Obviously rare. Which made it all the more strange Kyle sent it to her in the first place.
The creature’s golden eyes surveyed her carefully, as though it sized her up the same way she assessed a potential threat.
“You’re certainly beautiful, aren’t you?” Eve whispered.
The eagle squawked at her.
Still puzzled, Eve moved until she was just shy of touching the bars. She could quickly back away if need be, but she couldn’t stop from getting as close a look at the large bird as she could.
How long had it been in transport? Had anyone fed it? A few small skeletons littered the cage floor, but told her nothing about how old they might be. She didn’t want to give much thought to what a bird this size would eat. Somehow she doubted field mice would come close to putting a dent in this creature’s appetite.
At the thought of food, her own hunger pulsed fiercely inside her. First, she’d try to get in touch with Kyle then she could hunt. There was a blood supply here, but she preferred to keep that for the rare nights she couldn’t tear herself away from her latest book.
With one more curious look at the eagle, she turned towards the kitchen. Kyle might not be anywhere near a tower capable of carrying a cell call, but she had to try. As she punched in the numbers on her cordless phone, she found herself moving back to the foyer.
The eagle followed her movements, but didn’t appear nervous. Maybe he was used to seeing people.
As expected Kyle didn’t pick up. Eve gave the feathered animal another once-over, still unable to figure out what Kyle had been thinking, and then crossed to the front door. Once she took care of the thunderous need surfacing within her, she’d decide what to do about the eagle.
Logan watched the woman dim the lights before letting herself out the front door. The sound of it closing echoed in the front hall.
Who was she? She had looked surprised to see the contents of the crate he’d been shipped in. Did she know the man who had found him in the rotting hole Dominic and the rest of his clan had banished him to more than fifty years ago?
Overhearing the present date after he was found a few days ago shocked him. At the beginning of his imprisonment he kept track of the days, but eventually that became harder to handle than simply not knowing.
An invisible fist clawed his insides at the thought of how they had locked him away because of a prophecy, one he was more certain than ever involved Dominic, not Logan. But upon discovering the contents of the encrypted scroll, Dominic had no doubt feared he himself would be banished and had taken steps to ensure that didn’t happen.
And so Logan spent the last half a century buried in some abandoned temple in South America, barely surviving on the occasional creature unfortunate enough to get within striking distance. Immortal or not, he still needed to feed to live and only in eagle form could he manage that. He was far stronger that the average mortal but he’d been unable to free himself from the cage with only his hands.
But then someone had stumbled along and found the temple. Logan hadn’t cared who the man was that arranged to have him shipped back to the U.S. He had bided his time, waiting for the most opportune moment to try to get free of the cage. One way or another he’d find a way out, familiarize himself with the changes fifty years had brought about, and then he would track down his brother.
Logan wasn’t sure how much time had passed before the front door opened and the woman again stood in front of his prison, studying him. The smell of blood teased his senses and he shifted in place, the animal within reacting to the scent. He looked her over, but saw no sign of injury.
Like before, Logan found his attention drawn to her extraordinary blue eyes.
She wasn’t mortal.
The realization spun through him, unexpected, but intriguing. He had wondered when she opened the crate with far more ease and speed than he would have expected. Still, it left him speculating on whether or not her immortality had anything to do with how he wound up with her.
Logan tilted his head to the side, watching the woman brush a few red curls that fell from their clip over her shoulder. He was glad to be in eagle form. As a man the sight of her, the soft, warm scent that was distinctly feminine, would have been damn painful to bear after being far from the opposite sex for so long.
The woman inched closer. She tried not to show she feared him. Not that he blamed her. His talons could easily tear through her flesh.
Her eyes widened when he hopped off the bar and moved towards the bars. She stayed rooted in place, her lush lips parted, her expression curious before a frown brought two sculpted brows together.
What he wouldn’t give to know what was going through her head.
Firebird by Jaycee Clark
Reen wiped the blood out of her eye and limped up the stone steps. She really hated this job sometimes. Her black boots rarely felt this heavy. The doors at the top of the steps opened into the grand foyer. The mansion looked like any other in Europe, except it was still a functioning castle. Not merely a museum for retirees and backpackers to tour through, this castle had a purpose. It wasn’t just any castle, this one was special—a defense like castles of old.
It was headquarters for the Hunters.
The Hunters tracked supernaturals that had become problematic. In this day and age of decadence, where the supernaturals were both worshipped and ignored by mortals, they often became bored. No longer was the world their playground. Now sciences wanted them for research, men and women alike wanted them for the simple fact of novelty and other supernaturals felt merely displaced. Displaced. She snorted. Supernaturals with identity crises led rise to the new super shrinks—a new breed of psychiatrists. Whether or not she agreed with therapy for the confused supers, was irrelevant.
Cyzarine knew some people needed such help. Her? She’d rather eat her leather boots. Vamps, weres, the fae, all were trying to figure out how they fit into the new order of the world quickly outstripping itself of humanity.
Powers shifting and vying for attention left vacuums for greed, corruption and crime.
That’s where the Hunters came into play. The supernaturals still needed balances, checks and in most cases, retribution.
She was a Hunter. Though more specifically, she didn’t just hunt the criminals, as many Hunters did, she eliminated the problems.
She was an assassin.
She was no different than many of her kind before her—a firebird could destroy. She merely cashed in on her genetic legend.
Petrov, the guard, nodded to her as she passed him, her trench coat hiding the weapons she used.
She shoved through the waiting area, completely ignoring Valerie at the outer desk in front of Erik’s office.
The doors were shut, but she also ignored the unspoken rule to wait until invited into the inner sanctum of her boss. Opening it, she saw someone stood in the shadows in the corner, smelled the spice of his cologne, gave him a quick glance, and then ignored him as well. She had only one man in her sights.
“Reen.” He looked at her from behind his desk with a raised brow. “I’m busy.”
“You call me in off a job, have your boys pick me up and expect me to wait prettily?” She shook her head and walked to the desk, tossing down the amulet she was supposed to have retrieved, which of course, she had. “Target is taken care of.”
Erik was a vampire, ancient, as the office rumors went. She knew for a fact the whispers weren’t just rumors. Though she’d never actually come out and asked the man how old he was. Some things were better left alone.
He looked at it for a moment, then turned completely from the window behind his desk to pick up the dull necklace. The stone glimmered faintly as if whispering secrets, and the gold beckoned to be polished.
Cyzarine merely waited. Erik brushed the stone and then the chain with his thumb. He was dressed as he always was. Black. Black shirt, black pants, black shoes. She often gave him a hard time. Every chance she got, she gifted him some bright tie, scarf or pair of gloves. He’d yet to wear any of them. Not that she cared either way, right now she was pissed.
“I should shove that up your ass,” she said, again wiping the blood from her eye. She pressed her fingers to the wound in her scalp still trickling blood over her forehead and down her ear.
His gaze narrowed on her. “I should lock you in the infirmary.”
She blew out a breath and strode to the windows, looking out on the cold winter landscape. She hated the winter. Hated the snow, and here in Grubsretep there was plenty.
“I’ll be fine.”
Someone cleared their throat and she was reminded of the other person in the room. Without looking at him, she turned from the window and strode towards the door, saying over her shoulder, “I get one day off, then you can give me my next assignment.”
“Actually, I can’t do that.”
She stopped halfway to the door.
“Reen, sit down.”
Her eyes narrowed on his and for the first time, since storming in, she took a deep breath and tried to read the situation.
Erik was calm, but then he generally always was. He was however, frowning, the lines around his mouth and across his forehead deeper than normal.
Something warned her she might not like what was coming.
“I want to introduce you to someone.” He motioned to the other occupant of the room.
Reen waited as the man stepped from the shadows. He was tall, taller than she, but then many were as she was average in height. Where her hair was black, his was blond, almost white. Her eyes had a golden hue to them that many had often commented on. Including Erik.
This man, with his pale hair, had dark, almost black eyes. She had no idea if the color was dark brown or dark blue, they were just extremely dark. His body was long, not lean, but not overly muscular, reminding her of a runner. He had muscles, she could see them through the tight pale blue shirt he wore.
His face was altogether different. One might expect with his coloring and build that he’d have a refined face, one of beauty, of the classical statues she’d seen in Greece and Rome on her journeys there. But his jaw was too square, his brow too deep, making his eyes appear even darker. His nose was ridged, giving him a birdlike appearance almost. Bird, she almost snorted. He sure as hell wasn’t a sparrow.
He merely raised a brow. Or she assumed he did, as his brows were as pale as his hair.
He offered a hand. “Saker.”
Saker. It meant falcon. Falcon. A cold, hard twist rolled inside her. She took a deep breath and merely looked at the long-fingered hand, the sinews of the wrist, noted the scars on the back, across the knuckles.
Without taking it, she looked back up to his face and said, “Reen.”
The man arched a brow and lowered his hand. “We worked a case together a few months back.”
“Did we?” She didn’t remember him, or didn’t think she did.
He smiled slowly. “Yeah, we did.”
She tilted her head. “Did we get the bad guy?”
“Yes, we did.” His gaze stayed locked on hers.
A tingle of awareness swirled down her spine. She frowned.
Erik cleared his throat. “Now that the introductions are out of the way.”
She glanced at Erik and shook her pounding head. “Luv, what have you cooked up now?”
He glared at her. Erik rarely glared at anyone. Reen wondered what she’d done to aggravate him. Then again, she normally did very little.
Without another word, Reen sat in the chair. Her head hurt, her arm throbbed where one of the target’s guards had caught her with a knife toss.
She rolled her shoulder, leaned her head back and closed her eyes. Still applying pressure to the wound on the side of her scalp—thanks to the target and his sword—she merely said, “Get on with it, Erik. You obviously worry I won’t like it or you’d have already spit it out, then.”
She could sense it, hostility in the air. And it wasn’t hers.
Still she didn’t open her eyes. Instead, she shoved the pain away and thought of light. Light a pale pink, tinged in blue. Light soothed her, the colors of twilight calmed her more than anything.
With her eyes closed she could smell Saker even more, outdoors and…something dark. Saker. Now that she thought about it, maybe she did remember him. He was with the undercover team. Or was he? She had heard about him. Saker and Company did freelance work. Mercenary. He was some sort of bird shifter—falcons.
She had no use for falcons. Anger swirled through her, but she pushed it aside. Falcons—in her opinion—were very unreliable.
Erik cleared his throat again. “We’ve got a problem,” he said finally.
“Usually do,” she muttered.
He sighed. She knew the sound of Erik’s sighs. The way so much emotion could be in one little sound. Anger, frustration, resignation. His was currently a mixture of all three.
“Luv, just spit it out.”
“Would you stop calling him that?” the other man asked.
She slowly opened her eyes to see Saker looking at her from across the small sitting area. He did not sit. He was leaning against the chair, his arms crossed. His voice was even timbred, deeper than she would have thought.
“Why?” she asked.
He opened his mouth, then snapped it shut, and turned a look onto Erik. If she hadn’t been watching, she would have missed it. But Saker’s eyes turned from black to a dark green glow.
She glanced to Erik, whose eyes hadn’t changed. As always he was calm, or appeared so.
“Look, we might have worked together before. But you obviously didn’t leave an impression on me. I don’t know who you are, but I do know that Erik and I go way back. I can call him luv, Erik or dickhead if I so choose, none of which you have any say in. And I really need to get going if that’s all.”
What the hell was going on?
“Sit down,” Saker said, not looking at her.
She walked to him and poked him in the chest until he looked at her, her own power, so recently used, still close to the surface. She felt the heat tingle along her fingers. “I don’t know who you think you are, Saker, but—”
Those glowing green eyes swung back to her and stilled.
King of Prey by Mandy M. Roth
Rayna Vogel walked carefully along the narrow path. The waterfalls around her continued to draw her attention and it was only a matter of time before she either killed herself trying to see their beauty or got the picture she desperately wanted. Hopefully, the second of the scenarios prevailed.
Her boot slid on the loose gravel and Rayna lost her footing. Her heart felt as if it leapt to her throat and blocked the scream wanting to come. A strong hand caught hold of her, plucking her from the air with an ease and strength normal men didn’t seem to possess. As she stared into a set of unnaturally golden eyes, she couldn’t help but smile. A nervous giggle sounded from her and her cheeks heated out of embarrassment.
“Careful, I would very much like you to remain in one piece,” Kabril said, his voice so deep and so sexy that Rayna had to bite back a sigh. She still had yet to place his accent. It wasn’t thick but it did tinge his voice ever so. She’d often tried to get exactly where he was from out of him but Kabril liked his secrets and she didn’t mind letting him have them.
He set her on her feet and visually inspected her. “Are you hurt?”
“Just my pride.” She tipped a bit, losing her balance and seized hold of his forearm. The man didn’t seem to have an ounce of fat on him. She squeezed and visions of having Kabril’s powerful body above her, sliding in and out of her filled Rayna’s head.
She couldn’t tear her gaze from his square face and piercing eyes. When she’d first met Dr. Kabril Kingston he’d seemed a bit on the cold side, almost regal in his mannerisms. He also seemed prone to odd displays of chauvinistic behavior, all of which his assistant explained away as being part of Kabril’s unusual sense of humor. Now that Rayna knew Kabril, she realized he was one of the warmest men she’d ever met. Not to mention gifted. He’d managed to get Henry up and flying in no time at all. He definitely had a magik touch. He had a way about him, one that made her feel safe and cared for.
He glanced over the edge. “I am dangerously close to making you wear a safety harness, Rayna. You, unfortunately,” he puffed out a long breath, “do not have wings.”
“There is a better than average chance I’d wring my neck with the harness so it’s best you not.”
Laughing, he held her close to him. “I have no doubt you would. You are so very different than most women I know.”
“Hey, is that a knock on how clumsy I am?” She grinned, enjoying his teasing more than she should. His warm hands seemed to push heat through her body as he held her close. Rayna shifted awkwardly in an attempt to stop the moisture Kabril was more than capable of producing between her legs. One glance from him and Rayna’s body reacted.
“No. Not clumsy. More like absentminded,” he whispered, the bass in his voice moving over her, causing her to sigh.
She drew a deep breath in, savoring a mix of lavender, sage and cedar—the scent of Kabril. It took everything in her not to touch him in a way she shouldn’t. Not to stroke his massive chest. Lusting after a man she considered a friend was wrong. They’d never actually set friendship boundaries though. Still, it was wrong. She’d been closer to Kabril in the last few months than she ever had been with anyone else.
“I’m not absentminded. Am I?”
“Rayna, you dropped this,” Sachin said as he joined them. He held the lens cap to her camera in one hand and a rather large smile upon his handsome face. The man never moved far from Kabril’s side. At first, she’d assumed they were brothers. They even argued as siblings would. She had little doubt Kabril was the older of two. Sachin also tended to goad Kabril whenever possible, as a younger brother often would. She’d been shocked to learn they were not related but rather close friends.
Chuckling, Kabril touched her cheek lightly. “No, Rayna. You are not absentminded in the least.”
She gave him a fake snarl and pushed past him, mindful of the steep ledge. “And you’re not the least bit arrogant. Are we going back to camp or are you two going to start exchanging weird looks when you don’t think I’m watching you?”
No sooner did the words come out her mouth then Kabril and Sachin did exactly that. They glanced at one another. Sachin’s expression was one of amusement. Kabril’s held something else. Something Rayna couldn’t pinpoint. It was too cute not to comment.
“See, that’s exactly what you do to me. You always make me feel like I’m missing out on an inside joke. It makes me crazy.” Lunging forward, she ruffled Kabril’s chin-length black hair. His smile warmed her heart. “There. That’s more like it. I hate it when you look like the weight of the world is on your shoulders. You dragged me down here because you wanted to document your studies. As much as I’m loving this vacation, I like to see you happy more.”
Kabril caught her hand and drew it to his lips. He took her by surprise, planting a kiss on the back of her hand tenderly. Before Rayna could remark, Kabril had drawn her into his arms. A slow, racy smile moved over his face. “Hello.”
She swallowed hard. Her pussy responded with a spasm and she had to focus on something, anything other than Kabril or risk begging him to fuck her against the rocky wall. “We should get back to camp. It’ll be getting dark soon and I still want to take a bath.”
Kabril perked up. “A bath?” He exchanged another long look with Sachin and nodded. “By all means, camp it is then.”
“You are so weird,” she said, laughing softly as she fell in line behind him. Rayna’s gaze landed upon his luscious ass and she closed her eyes. If gawking at the waterfalls didn’t get her killed, Kabril’s tight butt just might.
Kiss Me Deadly by Shannon Stacey
Twice more she tried moving around the room, but each time she neared the front door, the raven chased her back. Bridget was beginning to feel uneasy. The consistency of its actions and the eerie way it looked at her gave her the impression it was actually intelligent. She wasn’t up to dealing with a bird capable of critical thinking.
It was definitely time for a Plan B. For the first time she wished she hadn’t hidden herself so far away from civilization. The only people she could really call for help would be the police or fire departments—assuming anybody was available. It was after midnight. It would take somebody at least a half-hour to reach the cabin, and the long, winding dirt path that passed as her driveway could be treacherous in the dark, especially now in the spring. She wasn’t going to ask that of anybody just because she had a bird in her house.
Another option was retreat. She could return to her bedroom, close the door and deal with the problem in the morning. But Bridget knew herself well enough to know she’d never go to sleep with a raven loose in the house. She’d be listening for it, waiting for the rustle of wings. Wondering if it would damage anything. It had to go now.
“Look, buddy,” she said quietly. “I want to go back to bed. You need to go fly around outside and do whatever it is birds like you do at this time of night. So I’m going to open that door and you’re going to fly through it, okay?”
Hey, talking to it had worked getting it out of the bedroom. Now, though, it only stared at her without so much as twitching. Hoping they’d come to some kind of understanding, Bridget started once again for the door. The raven reneged on the deal, however, and took flight, once again trying to drive her back.
This time she was ready for it. Holding the two corners of one end of the pillow, she swung it like a plank, knocking the damn bird clear across the room. She felt a spasm of guilt—but it wouldn’t let her open the door, dammit—as it tumbled through the air.
Then things got a little crazy. Bridget’s vision blurred and a split second later a very large, very naked man bounced off her pine paneling and hit the floor with a thud.
Oh shit. That did not just happen. There was no such as thing as…whatever the hell that was. Like a werewolf, only a bird. A werebird?
He lifted his head and blinked at her with those same dark eyes.
Ohshitohshitohshit. What the hell was going on? She had to be dreaming. But on the off chance she wasn’t, Bridget dropped the pillow and ran for the door.
“No,” the man called in a husky, cracking voice. “Do not…open the…door.”
Yeah, sure buddy. Like she was going to listen to a naked man who’d just been a bird flying around her house. Bridget turned the knob and yanked open the door.
The shadows of the cabin’s deep porch erupted in a whirlwind of black wings and hoarse raven calls. Oh my God. There had to be hundreds of them. Her mind blanked, instinct took over and she slammed the door closed. Just in time, judging by the thuds against the heavy wood.
What the hell is going on here?
She’d landed in a horror novel. Shit like this did not happen. Bridget whirled, relieved to find the naked man still on the floor. God, he was tall. And writhing in pain, clutching his head. She thought about conking him a good one with a frying pan, knocking him unconscious long enough to tie him up, but then she heard a sound that made her blood run cold.
Tap. Tap. Tap. Hard beaks on glass.
Seize the Hunter by Michelle M. Pillow
Rurik bit the inside of his lip, his gut clenched as he watched Ari lift the Chalice to her lips. Even from across the hall he could see that her eyes hadn’t changed in their blue intensity. She saw him, he had no doubt, but she didn’t smile, didn’t show that she recognized him.
Part of him wanted to watch her, the beauty of her face, the soft curves of her body as she moved beneath the clinging material. The years had been kind to her, maybe too kind for they’d made her a gorgeous woman. He’d heard people speak of her beauty, but in his mind she was always the young girl, awkward and without power. He’d been attracted to her then, but now, now she was a woman and attraction didn’t even begin to cover what he felt.
The two women kissed his neck, but he didn’t feel them, not really. Their hands were on his thighs, but in his mind he only wanted one person and neither of them was she. His hands trembled, and he longed to wipe the makeup from her face, longed to run his fingers through her loosened hair.
Ari drew the Chalice down from her mouth, her eyes wide as she looked down. The Chalice dropped from her hand and he felt a strange tingling in his stomach, an almost nauseous sensation. Jealousy? Regret? Anger? A shiver worked over his spine and he couldn’t move.
“You’re cold as ice.” The blonde pulled away from him. “Commander, what is it?”
“He’s freezing,” the dark haired temptress added.
“Commander?” Ivor and Lleu said simultaneously.
Rurik opened his mouth to say he was fine, but a rush of air hit him, filling his lungs and knocking the breath from him, followed by a blinding light. He couldn’t see a thing as the noises of the hall disappeared into the pounding sound of warriors’ feet running over a battlefield seconds before they took to flight.
Then, suddenly, darkness replaced the light, a heavy, disorienting contrast. Soft cushioning pressed into his hands and knees and he realized he was bent over on a soft mattress. Something warm was by his leg and he reached over blindly to feel what it was.
“It’s done,” a woman whispered. There was relief in her tone. “I can’t believe it’s finally done.”
His fingers ran over a leg, buried within a gown. It didn’t take long to ascertain it belonged to the woman.
Nae, not just a woman. It belonged to…
“Ari?” he whispered.
Rurik drew his hand away as if burnt. Jerking back, he spread his wings slightly. They bumped an invisible boundary. He reached for it, feeling the air like a thick wall encircling them and keeping him trapped with the princess.
“Yea,” Ari said. Her tone had deepened into an almost sultry, vixen’s tone.
“Princess Ari?” he said, more to himself than to her.
“Yea, are you well, Lord?” she asked. “Did the transition take you by surprise? What is your name? Who has the Chalice chosen for me?”