Deep within the primeval forests of southern England, a race of beautiful, savage shape-shifters lives hidden from the everyday world. Bound together by ancient bloodlines and a ruthless code of secrecy that punishes traitors with death, the Ikati send their leader Leander on a mission to capture one raised outside the tribe before she can expose their secret. When Leander tracks the unsuspecting outsider to Southern California, the hardened warrior is prepared for a fight—but not for the effect the sensual young beauty has on his heart.
Jenna spent her childhood in hiding, on the run from someone—or something—her parents refused to discuss. She trusts no one, not since her father’s mysterious disappearance, not since her mother’s sudden death, and definitely not since she began exhibiting strange, superhuman abilities. When handsome, enigmatic Leander appears, promising answers to the mysteries that shroud her past, she knows she shouldn’t trust him either. But their connection is undeniable, and as powerful as the enemy hell-bent on destroying every one of their kind…
Jenna remembered very clearly the last time she saw her father alive.
It was a few days before her tenth birthday and raining very hard. The water sliced like needles down from the sullen, slate gray sky. This would have been unusual for the month of June in most places, but at that time her family was living on Kauai, one of the smaller of the Hawaiian islands. It rained almost every day in that green and lovely tropical paradise.
They’d been there a few weeks, no more. Boxes were still half-unpacked in the living room. Her mother never really bothered with completely unpacking all their belongings. They’d be packing them up soon enough again, she knew.
The smell of green vegetation, blooming plumeria, and wet, loamy earth soaked through everything in their small home. Her mother had left all the lights burning to ward off the gloom of a tropical summer storm, but her father had gone around the house in silence, turning off the bulbs one by one, stealthy and taut and ever unfathomable.
It was one of the things Jenna remembered most vividly about him. The way he always preferred to move in the dark, like some nocturnal creature of the forest on the hunt for dinner.
She’d been watching him again from her favorite hiding place, the tiny space under the stairs she’d turned into a warm burrow with pillows and blankets and her love-worn teddy bear. One of Teddy’s eyes was missing, the other a jaunty speck of black against plush caramel cheeks.
Her mother said she was too old to keep carrying him around, but Jenna couldn’t bear to part with him. Teddy and the clothes on her back were the only solid proof that she had a past.
Her father caught her watching, as he always did. Even when he didn’t call her out on it she sensed he knew her eyes were on him. But this time he called her name, motioned with his hand for her to crawl out from under the stairs.
She kept Teddy in her arms as she went over to him and climbed onto his lap in the rocking chair, watching the rain slide down the window panes like silvery tears. Through the glass she saw trees and grass and flowers smeared into muted plots of color as the patter of rain increased.
“Jenna,” he murmured into her hair. He held her tight in his arms and rocked back and forth, slowly kicking off the wood floor with one strong, bare foot. “Do you know who loves you?”
She was too young then to hear the tremor in his voice, so she smiled and wound her arms around his neck, nuzzling down into the warm space between his shoulder and neck, feeling happy and warm and oh so safe. He’d built a fire in the small fireplace in the living room; it crackled and sparked and threw off lovely waves of wood-scented heat.
“You do, Daddy,” she answered, the same answer every time.
“And do you know why Daddy loves you?” He tipped his head back to gaze down on her with those sparkling green eyes, his handsome face almost fuzzy that close.
She loved seeing him like this, unfocused and blurred in her half-lidded gaze. He seemed more real somehow. The detail of his eyelashes, the dark stubble on his chin, the pure white of his teeth as he smiled all served to make him less of a mystery, more…hers.
The mysterious, ragged scar on his jaw was still fading as it healed, four thin, ugly slashes of red going slowly to white, marring the perfection of his burnished, golden skin. He’d come home with it the day before they moved here.
“No,” she said, already knowing the answer but wanting to hear it again.
“Because you are a princess,” he whispered into her ear, stroking her back and hugging her even tighter. “Golden blonde and beautiful, strong and brave and worth any sacrifice. My princess who will one day be a queen.”
But something bothered her about this answer, something she hadn’t thought of before.
“What’s a sacrifice, Daddy?” she asked, wrinkling her brow to look up at him. He only smiled and kissed her forehead, rocked her back and forth until she fell asleep, warm and safe and happy against the hard expanse of his chest.
When she awoke the next morning she was in her bed, tucked in with Teddy under the threadbare patchwork quilt, and he was gone.
Since that night, every time it rained Jenna thought of her father and had to swallow the flame of agony that rose in her throat.
It wasn’t raining now, as she sat calmly in the lobby bar of the Four Seasons next to an enormous display of aubergine calla lilies and scented jasmine that loomed somewhat ominously over her table. It was blazing hot and so dry her eyes were sticky, but she was thinking of her father just the same.
She was thinking of her father because she had seen his face in Leander’s mind.
The first time Leander touched her last night—that light pressure on her arm as he’d explained in his low, attractive voice how he ordered the Latour in memory of his parents—she’d felt a singular tremor course over her skin. The same current of heated electricity that she’d felt so deeply in the store—and again when he met her eyes in the restaurant—passed from his fingertips.
But she was still in denial. She’d dismissed it as nerves.
The next time, it was heat and static and a sudden blur of smeared color that swam before her eyes as his hand rested on hers over the stem of the wineglass. Her heartbeat surged as she tried to concentrate on it, to make the colors coalesce into something coherent.
Jenna forgot all that when the sound of the earth rending a mile below their feet hit her ears minutes before the shaking even began. Then she could only concentrate on standing upright as the vertigo hit with the first shockwaves of pressure, as the acrid smell of heated, fissuring bedrock stung her nose.
But once Leander picked her up in his arms and ran with her through the restaurant to the back patio, she remembered. As her hand rested against his chest, she’d felt the beating of his heart, felt the heat of his skin under her palm, and the smeared blurs of color came again. But this time they cleared into visions of things she’d never seen before.
Memories, though not her own.
So many things at once. So many people and places and a crush of sensation and strange power and throbbing desire but always this:
An elegant manor house, set back on wide, sweeping green lawns, vast and mysterious inside with columns of alabaster and huge gilt-framed paintings of unsmiling people and priceless antiques scattered throughout. A dark forest, dense undergrowth, ancient trees so tall the tops were lost in shrouds of mist with moss draped over the low-hanging boughs, swinging in a night breeze, ethereal. Fangs and claws and muscled sleek bodies, creatures on four legs undulating silently over the forest floor, creatures that growled and roared and disappeared into smoke when they heard an unknown noise.
A wild, faraway land of lush green vales that led to the ancient forest, a surging river with water so clear you saw the mirror flash of trout far below against its rocky bed, a low range of smoke-purple mountains darkening the far horizon. A land filled with people so beautiful they didn’t seem real.
People who all looked just like her father.
After the earth stilled, after Leander called the authorities, when he came striding back through the unstrung chaos of the restaurant like some ancient god of war—lean and muscled, body hammered like a blade, face glorious and beautiful and terrifying all at once—he kneeled down in front of her and grasped her arms in his hands.
“Everything is going to be all right,” he said, velvet smooth and calm. In spite of his reassuring tone, his expression was hard and severe like a winter-cold beast, his ferocious green eyes stared out of that chiseled face like the eyes of a wild, starving wolf.
But she knew it wouldn’t be all right. Because now his palms were burning hot on her bare skin and she saw his memories and his thoughts and his fantasies all at once, flashing before her eyes in a panoramic and terrifying display of movement and color and light, as if she were seeing a three-dimensional movie, as if she were somehow inside his mind, at the point of origin.
Jenna had to run away to stop the onslaught of visions. She thought she might never stop running.
But stop she had. And now she was here, waiting for him in the elegant, bustling lobby bar of his hotel.
Her calm suddenly vanished, her heart began to hammer in her chest, her mouth went dry, and her face blazed with heat as Leander came into view around the corner of the room.
He brushed past the artfully arranged potted palms as if in slow motion, moving with grace and stealth, exuding a current of raw power and danger, turning heads as he came. His eyes met hers across the empty space between them and she clenched her hands into fists in her lap to keep them from shaking.
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