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By CRYSTAL JORDAN
Copyright © 2008
All right reserved.
Chapter One The snow tigress was in heat.
His nostrils flared. He could smell her desire from across the ballroom. Her scent called to him, tempting him to cast off the veneer of civility and take her in any way he could.
Mahlia Najla Mohan.
Longing warred with sadness at the thought of her. Of their lost child. Pain exploded in his chest, choking him. No. He would not think of that. He could not. The agony would drive him to his knees.
"Amir Varad." His manservant's voice pulled him back to the present. Varad pasted a charming smile on his face, appearing the besotted male who would soon have his mate begging him for the surcease only he could grant her. And possibly conceiving an heir to the Vesperi throne. A new heir.
"Welcome back, brother." Taymullah's hand clapped on his shoulder.
Varad quirked a brow at the shorter man. And he was a man; the boy he'd left behind six months ago had grown into someone Varad hardly recognized. The last half turn had been a difficult time for all of his family.
Taymullah's face settled into serious lines as he turned to look over at his brother's mate, Mahlia. "You have a great deal of work before you, Varad."
Varad swallowed, his gaze tracking her movement. Mating on Vesperi was a complicated affair, only lasting from a woman's heat cycle to the next. Because Varad was here, no one would touch his woman. Had he not returned in time, it would have been a different tale. However, she could always choose to mate away from him. His gut clenched. No. Mahlia was his. Had been his since the moment he'd looked into her ice-blue eyes, so rare among his people. His treasure. She would have no other for as long as they both lived. Whatever tragedy they shared could not destroy the depth of emotion that had always pulled them together.
Gods, he was tired. Six months on a spacecraft for the trade run was more than he cared for, but he doubted the werebears on the planet Alysius would trade with anyone except him personally. Lord Kesuk was not a man to trust.
A genuine smile tugged at Varad's lips as he thought of the Arctic Bear clan leader. He wondered how the enormous man had fared after Varad had encouraged the tiny human woman to return to the werebear's caves. The man hadn't stood a chance. Lady Jain would have seen to it. Varad's grin widened. Mahlia would like Jain immensely.
And Kesuk would try to kill him when Varad returned next Turn, no matter how happy the werebear lord was with his lady. It would be an interesting fight. Varad flicked a barely visible piece of lint from his sleeve as he wondered who might be the winner. A tiger versus a bear. Yes, interesting.
He shook his head, marveling again that a spaceship could have drifted among the stars since before the Earthan sun had died. Two unaltered humans, Lady Jain and a young scientist, Sera, had survived a crash landing on the werebear planet. Humans were extinct now, having had no way to survive the harsh environments of the four colonized planets. Only gene-splicing with different animal species had made it possible for humans to survive at all.
He wondered how the two women would fare. Lady Jain had her new Bear clan to contend with, but Sera had insisted on journeying to Aquatilis, the planet that maintained the greatest level of technology from old Earth. He suspected her choice had more to do with her fascination for a certain merman ambassador than her need for machines.
"Amir, your guests await you." Varad's valet bared his teeth a bit at the word guests. Varad chuckled as he descended the curving staircase from the wide balcony. Unlike Taymullah, one of the few who had supported Varad's expeditions, his manservant disapproved of the trade relations with Alysius.
"Well, we shouldn't disappoint our valued visitors." A warning was in Varad's tone. He was the king here, the Amir, and his wishes would be obeyed by all. If he bore the responsibility of leadership, he demanded the respect that came with the position.
"Yes, my Amir." His servant bowed and backed away.
Trade had always been maintained between Vesperi and the Harenan weredragons, but many had thought Varad mad when he set out to find the other two planets. It had been a risk, he admitted. But what was life without risk? None could deny that the new flood of goods from the werebears and merpeople were good for all four planets. No matter how much his doubters might like to protest. He tried to cover his laugh in a discreet cough.
He sobered abruptly, the grin falling away from his face. Many of his people agreed that trading with the seemingly barbaric werebears was a mistake. They were a rough people, but he'd grown to respect them, especially Lord Kesuk. He sighed, the weight of his responsibilities riding heavily on his shoulders. He shrugged as if to shift the burden, but nothing could ease his troubles.
A sweet laugh rippled across the ballroom, and he wasn't the only one who turned to smile at the source. Mahlia. Another challenge to face. Whether it pleased either of them or not, he would soon have her.
The room gleamed with white marble and wildly colored swaths of fabric-all the ostentation a feline could need. He worked his way across the vast ballroom to her side, nodding to his guests, noting the flashing scales of the Harenan weredragons, the imposing bulk of the first Alysian werebear ambassador, the violently colored hair of the Aquatilian merpeople. An interplanetary gathering, just as he had hoped. Excellent. When he reached Mahlia, she was entertaining a merman and the werebear ambassador with a story about her inability to master the waltz as a child.
"Amira Mahlia." Varad's hand stroked down the length of her bare arm, tracing the tan stripes on her creamy skin with a fingertip. He savored the feel of her, enjoying the way her servant had gathered her long cream-and-bronze-striped hair on her head, leaving her shoulders bared in a laced black corset. One of her legs was exposed by the filmy deep-blue skirt slit to her waist. His cock hardened, the need to have her fisting his gut. A deep breath dragged her scent to him yet again. Only because he was so focused on her did he hear the soft catch in her breath before she turned icy blue eyes on him. The natural black lining that surrounded all weretiger eyes made hers stunning.
"Amir Varad." She attempted to curtsy before him, but he quickly squeezed her elbow to keep her upright. Even after a Turn, she was not accustomed to her role in society. Or perhaps she was still uncomfortable with him. It mattered not. His mate would not bow to him. She was his equal-the only true partner he had in his world. He inclined his head to her, and after the briefest of pauses, she followed suit.
"Your Amira was just telling us an amusing story, Amir." The sub-bass rumble of the werebear split the silence; a white smile flashed in his dark face. The hammered metal circlet welded around his massive bicep, a mark of his standing among the Bear clans, glinted in the light from the glowlight chandeliers.
"Yes, the Aquatilians wish you all felicity in your return." The merman's nasal tone and sophisticated speech demonstrated the difference between the merman's culture and that of the werebear. Only Mahlia could have charmed the two into maintaining a peaceful conversation for more than a few minutes.
"Welcome home, Amir." He turned to see Katryn, his mate's closest friend, approaching their group. Her dark hair rippled to her hips, and her golden skin was set off in a stunning white gown reminiscent of an ancient Grecian toga. The weredragon was beautiful, but the first thing one noticed about her was the purple scaling that crept from her wrists to her biceps.
Still, no other woman had ever called to him as Mahlia had. Anticipation tensed his muscles. Soon. Soon he would have her. Would have her legs about him as they rode each other, her slick heat tight on his thrusting cock. He bit back a groan and then traced a finger down the lacings of her corset. Her breath panted as her scent increased, surrounding him, commanding him.
The hunt would begin soon.
The hunt would begin soon.
Heat spun through Mahlia's body, a force she could not control. Need made her hands tremble and her legs shake. She turned desperate eyes to Katryn, but her friend just shrugged. Mahlia closed her eyes. No. No one could save her from this. She could not even save herself. Sweat beaded on her upper lip. When she breathed, it was only to pull in Varad's scent. Desire slammed into her, dampening her pussy.
The endless, relentless need of her breeding time tightened her core until she bit back a scream. Her breath panted between her lips. She didn't want this. She did not want another child. Ever. Losing her young was more than she could bear.
Her physiology did not care what she wanted.
Varad's hand splayed across her back, easing up over the naked skin of her shoulders. She didn't look at him, but she knew he craved her. The heat rose, tearing into her with the fierce claws of the tiger within her. A low snarl pulled from her throat; her fangs bared as her head tilted back against her mate's shoulder. His gaze clashed with hers, the slitted pupils in his golden eyes expanding wide, his nostrils flaring.
He could smell her need. His fingers moved to spread over her lower belly, pressing her backside to the rigid line of his cock. It burned through the thin material of their clothing. They locked together in that moment, the animals buried just beneath the surface rising to strip them of anything but the instinct to breed.
Her control spun away, and it began. A tiger scream ripped from her, and she jerked away from Varad. The whole ballroom turned to look at her, most of the tigers' lips curving into knowing smiles. She was beyond caring, beyond embarrassment, beyond anything but the driving need to have her mate buried deep inside her. Her eyes darted to the nearest exit. Yes. There. Run. Make him catch her.
She leaped forward, her legs burning as she pushed herself to get a head start on Varad. His roar sounded behind her, the crowd parting to allow them through. She slid through the arched doorway, the rich tapestries lining the walls blurring into a rainbow of deep color as she sped past. His pounding footsteps echoed behind her, gaining on her. Where could she go? She needed to go faster. Faster.
The dune-racers. She could get away on one of them. Where was the corridor that led to the dune-racer bay? Lust clouded her thoughts, made her want to run without a plan. Straight and fast and long until she was caught. The end of this game was inevitable. She knew it, but she could prolong the anticipation. Adrenaline pumped through her system; the freedom of the hunt made her laugh. She broke left, rushing headlong toward the open racer bay.
Hearing the sucking pop of bones reforming behind her told her that Varad had changed into a tiger. One glance over her shoulder confirmed it. The auburn-and-black-striped hair spread down from Varad's head to cover his body. Claws bit into the white marble floor as his paws hit the ground. The hard, possessive golden eyes locked on her as the graceful cat's muscles bunched and flowed, racing after her. Her womb contracted, juice pooling between her thighs. She hissed, facing ahead once more, pushing herself to greater speed. Faster. Faster. Don't stop.
She'd made it to the bay. Now she needed a dune-racer. There, the blue glow of exhaust rolled from one of the racers. Her boot heels rang against the hard floor, and her legs burned, but she couldn't stop-he was getting closer, almost upon her. Sweat poured down her face, slipping down her chest and beading between her breasts. The corset bit into her flesh as she sobbed for air, and her breasts almost spilled from the top with each deep breath she dragged into her lungs.
Flinging herself at the racer, the slit in her skirt allowed her to swing a leg over the side. Her hands grasped the handlebars, and she twisted the left grip to accelerate. The bottom dropped out of her stomach as the racer shot straight up into the air and then roared forward, heading right for the open bay doors. Varad's cat shriek of frustration echoed through the immense bay, drowning out even the racer's engine. She was almost free of the palace proper. The doors came closer and closer with every nanosecond.
Metal rang as a huge tiger's weight slammed down on top of a large hovercraft, his paws stretched forward in a leap. Her breath caught as she watched Varad change in midair back to his human form. He was nude, the golden sinew of his muscles rippling as the fur retracted to reveal the subtle stripes on his skin. She screamed as he flipped neatly behind her onto the racer. It dipped under the added poundage, and she fought to control the machine so they didn't crash.
The Dead Sea curved to her right, a wide swath of underground water and the lifeblood of Vesperi. Excitement spun through her as the amazing speed of the racer shot them out and across the open white sand dunes. The wind whipped at her hair, ripping it from its bindings to wave behind her.
"Mahlia." His smooth, cultured voice was a guttural growl in her ear, and a lightning flash of pleasure zinged to her pussy.
One of Varad's hands slid against her scalp, making goose-flesh erupt down her arms. She could feel the sharp points of his claws on her skin. He was almost feral. She had pushed him that far. Just the thought made her sex clench. His lips pressed to her shoulder, tongue laving the flesh. Then he bit her. Hard.
She sucked in a shocked breath and shoved her hips back to rub against his thick cock. All that separated her from him was the thin film of her garments; the bulbous crest of his dick teased her. Liquid heat rolled over her in waves. The claws of his other hand raked up her thigh, and he fisted his fingers in her skirt to rip it away, letting it spin off into the wind. She gasped at the slight pain and the coolness on her naked flesh. His hands fitted to her waist, shoving her up to lean over the handlebars of the dune-racer. The machine wavered as she overcorrected. Gods, she couldn't crash them, couldn't die without knowing the feel of him pounding within her once more.
The blunt tip of his cock brushed against the lips of her pussy as he slid beneath her raised hips. Then he forced her down to the base of his shaft in one brutal thrust. She screamed as her inner muscles stretched and convulsed around his dick. She wanted more, harder, faster. Her hands clamped on the racer's handles, fighting to hold on to her sanity as pleasure slammed into her.
"Yes, Varad. Please." She breathed the words, doubting he could hear her over the racer's engine and the wind. He set a hard, driving rhythm, hammering into her wet pussy. Her cat senses could smell the musk of their combined sexes over the rush of wind. Her heart pounded loudly as exhilaration twisted inside her.
I always please you, Mahlia.
His telepathic words stroked over her mind just as his hands jerked hard on the lacings of her corset, pulling it down until her breasts sprang free of the restraint. Cold wind puckered the tips, and she arched as his hands rose to cup them, his fingers grinding her nipples, pinching them, pulling them hard. Her body bowed under the harsh lash of pleasure. She wanted it hard, fast, and rough. The heat inside her built, screaming for all he could give her.
More. More. More.
Yes. His voice dropped to a silken purr in her mind, the calm before a dangerous storm.
His fingers dropped to wrap tightly in the corset laces; he used the leverage to pull her against him as he shoved his thick cock deeper into her. Her clit rode the cold metal of the racer as his hot flesh slammed into her from behind. She wanted to close her eyes and revel in the sensations exploding through her, but she had to focus on controlling their skimming flight over the dunes. The dangerous thrill of it made the sex better for her, made her want him more, made the pleasure writhe like an untamed thing through her.
Varad, I'm going to-
Come for me. Be wild for me.
He roared as he ground against her pussy, his fingers jerking her down. Harder and harder. Faster and faster until he froze behind her, shuddering as his seed spurted inside her.
She threw her head back and screamed out her orgasm, her tiger's roar resonating against the dunes. (Continues...)
Excerpted from CARNAL DESIRES by CRYSTAL JORDAN Copyright © 2008 by Crystal Jordan. Excerpted by permission.
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