Read an Excerpt
What She Wants
By LUCINDA BETTS
APHRODISIA BOOKSCopyright © 2009 Lucinda Betts
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLaughter and chatter filled the night, but Dr. Ann Fallon stood silently, the muscles in her neck as taut as a bowstring. She needed this job.
Speckled in silvery lights, geneticists from across the country drank champagne and ate canapés in the moonlit courtyard. The spring breeze caught the banner welcoming the conference to San Diego's Hotel del Coronado, making the gold letters ripple.
If she landed the professorship, her life would improve a lot-but most importantly, her family would be safe. They could savor the sweet taste of freedom again.
She scanned the crowd, looking for gray hair and stooped shoulders. If she could find Dr. Stoller, charm him like she'd never charmed anyone, convince him she'd be the best biologist Harvard ever hired ...
She walked toward the white-linened table covered in Camembert cheese and succulent blackberries. Lush strawberries and thin slices of Edam gleamed in the lantern light. Snippets of dialogue floated over her like flower petals at a wedding.
She allowed the conversations to register. Did anyone mention Dr. Carl Stoller? Two men argued about statistics at the far end of the patio. With hearing no human could match, she listened to an announcement of tenure from behind the open bar, and one womantold another something about panda SNPs by the waterfall. But was anyone talking about search committees? Was anyone gossiping about whom Harvard would hire?
And as she picked up a heavy china hotel plate, she watched her fingers tremble-because her dearest wishes might come true this weekend. Trying not to rely on hope, she ignored the melons and kiwi. She put several succulent blackberries on her plate instead. Turning away from the table, she picked a berry from her plate, anticipating its sweetness.
Before she could eat it, though, a half-forgotten scent assaulted her; if someone had come up and slapped her, the effect would have been the same. She froze, shock and horror icing her veins.
How could that scent be here? How could the predator have found her now, after fifteen years?
Despite her denial, the brooding fragrance inexorably swirled over her palate. Italian bergamot and jacaranda twined around cedar and a twist of vetiver root. It held something else, too, something unnatural. Its magic could ruin her, destroy her. With the slightest crook in his finger, the predator could command her body-and she would love every second of it. Then she would die.
The fragrance cast its thrall even now, even as she inhaled her second breath of it-but refusal made her choke. This couldn't be happening. Not here. Not now! She'd worked too hard.
The black scent relentlessly permeated her blood. Its magic crept across her skin like a spider's feet. The brooding feeling slithered over her nipples and made them hard as sure as her lover's tongue would have. It snaked between her thighs, over her wrists, behind her ears.
She couldn't deny the fact. A predator watched her. It watched her as its dark fragrance assaulted her, took her hostage for its own needs. The predator expected her to drop her plate and find his arms, his bed, his hands.
She exhaled and straightened her shoulders. She didn't have to lay down and accept this. She was no longer the weak girl child she'd been all those years ago.
Slowly, she put the berry back on the plate. Her eyes scanned the crowd as she choked back rage. How had he found her?
Again that preternatural lust heated her blood, and she turned, her ears focused. Was he there by the waterfall? She should run away, but she started toward it, inhaling the sophisticated perfume and the magic it masked. She had to see his face. She needed to see his hands. She wouldn't imagine them on her stomach, on her breasts. She wouldn't imagine his fingers around her neck, his cock between her thighs. If she could just get behind the person in front of her-
The sharp squeal of microphone feedback filled the courtyard, and the excited crowd thickened. The waterfall-and the predator behind it-might be on another planet for as much as she could reach it now. A news camera with a CBS emblem on the side panned toward the speaker, and Ann shrank back. Her kind always shrank from cameras.
"Welcome, everyone!" A woman's cheerful voice echoed through the mike. "Welcome to the twenty-third annual meeting of the American Genetics Society."
A smattering of applause filled the courtyard, but Ann stood silently holding her plate as she searched the faces behind the speaker. The AGS president droned, but Ann heard none of her speech. Where was the predator?
That dark sensation danced over her skin again, teasing her wrists and breasts-and someone moved near the waterfall, shifting most of his body behind the rushing water. Her nose caught the faintest whiff of bergamot. Where had he gone?
Catching a glimpse of dark hair, Ann stepped to her left, trying to see him better. He-
Cold fingers touched the back of her shoulder.
She jumped and barely managed to swallow a yelp as she stepped back. She couldn't let a predator take her here, not in front of her peers-not in front of the people from Harvard.
"Hello, Ann." The soft tone didn't intrude on the woman behind the microphone, but Ann's heart leaped.
And then she exhaled with relief. He was not a predator.
"Hello, Dr. Stoller." Harvard. She hoped her smile didn't look as weak as it felt. How long would the crush of bodies between her and the waterfall protect her from the predator's perfume?
"I trust you had an uneventful trip." He held out his hand, speckled with gray hairs. His lightweight tweed jacket did little to hide his stooped shoulders, but his smile was warm. "I startled you. My apologies."
"No." Embarrassment made her nervous. She needed to impress this man. More than anything she needed to impress him. "I just-" She waved her hands, wondering how to finish the sentence, but he saved her the indignity.
"Don't worry." His genteel laugh eased her tension. "A lot of people are jumpy when they make Harvard's short list."
She gave a self-deprecating laugh, pushing her fear to the back of her mind. "I'm in good company, then." She smiled, feeling like a fraud. At the height of his career, this man had discovered that only the exon portion of a gene coded for proteins, and she'd just shaken hands with him. "Was your trip comfortable?" she asked.
"It was pouring in Cambridge when I left. The Old Yard was terribly flooded."
Ann swallowed, wondering what it must be like to be so familiar with Harvard and its surroundings. What would it be like to offer her family the protection of Harvard's name-and money?
"And you may call me Carl, if you please," he said. "No need for this doctor business, not anymore."
"Thank you, Carl." What did he mean, not anymore? Had they decided on her? She cleared her throat, trying not to count unhatched chickens. "So, are you giving a presentation this trip?" she asked. "Or do you have a poster in one of the sessions?"
"Neither." He shook his graying head and gave her a small smile. His blue eyes were bright and young in defiance of his posture. "I've stepped back from research these days, left it for you younger scientists." He tapped his forehead. "Keeping all the proteins straight isn't as easy as it once was."
"I doubt that very much," Ann said. "I'm sure you've forgotten more than what these experts know."
"You're being kind." He shook his head with a rueful expression, his hairy eyebrows high. "I'm here to watch presentations this year. Two people in particular have my attention."
Ann smiled with what she hoped looked like confidence. She understood him perfectly. He was going to watch her and her competition, then decide who to hire. Perhaps the safety of her family remained within her reach-if she could avoid the predator. "Well, I hope you see something you like."
"I'm certain I will." He plucked a tiny pastry from a passing waiter and ate it with a satisfied expression. "Exquisite," he said. Then he wiped his fingers on the napkin and met her eyes. "I'll be at your talk with my colleague from the West Coast, and my money's on you to outshine the competition."
She had picked a berry off her plate, and she put it down now. "That is the nicest compliment I've received in a long time."
"You deserve it. Your work is remarkable." Carl smiled. "At my age, I've learned it's nice to have admirers."
"Yes," she agreed. "It is."
"And do you have any with you? Admirers, that is."
He wasn't hitting on her; he was trying to determine if she had an attachment. All else being equal, universities preferred to hire someone single, someone who'd never take time off for marriage or child care.
"No," she lied. For once she felt glad her lover insisted on secrecy. She'd always suspected he'd exaggerated the need to appear single, but now ... "I'm here alone." She handed her plate to a passing waiter, the blackberries untasted.
Stoller nodded, his expression too closed to read. "That's a shame," he said. "I understand the party at the end of the meeting is quite grand. Almost like a wedding reception. It's much more entertaining to attend with a friend."
"Perhaps you'll save me a dance then."
"I was hoping for more than a dance." His blue eyes met hers. "Would you accompany me?"
"I'd find that very enjoyable. I look forward-" But fear choked her words to a stop. That perfume. The predator had found her-and stared even as she nodded good night to Stoller. "I look forward to it," she managed to say as she savored the fragrance against her will.
Across the spanning patio space, she saw dark pupils gleaming, bringing to mind hot, hot mouths and hungry caresses. The tall man, his hair black as a Percheron's coat, radiated power ... and danger. He made her think of a stallion scenting a mare, his nostrils dilated.
"Are you well?" Dr. Stoller asked, looking in the direction of her gaze.
Ann couldn't answer.
A tiny woman with a pixie haircut stood next to the dark-haired man, a calm look in her eye. With a slow nod, the man curled his broad fingers around the woman's neck, her hip resting familiarly against his thigh.
"I'm fine." She dragged her eyes back to Dr. Stoller, trying to make her words true.
"Then I hope to see you at Dr. Reinhart's talk," Stoller said, with a careful wink. "We'll certainly be there, listening carefully."
Ann nodded. Even through her distraction she realized Carl was naming her competition. The dark-haired man turned more fully toward her, wrapping his long fingers around the neck of the tiny woman, and Ann knew she needed to leave. Now. The longer she bathed in this brooding scent, the harder it would be to disentangle herself.
She wanted to push the tiny woman with the auburn hair into the waterfall and take her place, placing the predator's fingers around her neck and begging him to squeeze. As it was, she barely resisted the temptation to throw herself into his arms.
"Thank you," she said, her voice weak. Maybe she could ask Dr. Stoller to escort her to the lobby? "Dr. Stoller-"
"Please." He held up his hand. "Call me Carl. Now if you'll excuse me, I see someone with whom I must speak."
"Thank you, Carl," she said, knowing she couldn't ask him to take her to the lobby now. "Good night."
He walked away, leaving her alone in the crowd.
She exhaled, trying to find some core of strength. She needed to run, get to her hotel room, away from the being who would ruin her life-but she couldn't move.
In a swirl of subtle fragrances, lust pulled her eyes toward her enemy. It woke a craving in her, a craving too dark to bear. Her sisters had gone so willingly to their deaths, strangled by predators' hands. And now the predator's hand reached across the auburn-haired woman's throat, and desire coiled in Ann's belly.
He could close his powerful fingers around her tiny neck and snuff the life from her. He could claim her last breath, that final whispered gasp, for his own. He could free her soul into the balmy night.
The beauty of his power spun its spell, leaving Ann's wrists longing for his lips, leaving her tongue hungry for his.
Ann could so easily be in the tiny woman's shoes. The unnatural scent floating between them made her crave the attention the other woman received-even if it meant Ann's own death. A predator always killed his prey, eventually.
This predator didn't kill now, though. His fingertips purposefully traced the line of the tiny woman's collarbone, his eyes still locked on Ann's. His sexuality was so blatant-so dangerous-that her heart pounded. She could almost imagine him as the alpha stallion pawing the ground, shaking the earth beneath his hooves with his lust.
And the fragrance made her want to submit to his will, his strength.
She exhaled, anger winning the war against fear and lust-at least temporarily. If he thought she was some filly, some weak thing with whom to trifle, he was wrong. He could no more crush her neck in his palm than he could sprout wings and fly.
She could protect herself. She might not have the strength to fight, but she could run. Ann turned and walked through the door, her eyes on the elevator.
What was that? Pain tore through her head, leaving her stunned. Leaning against the wall, she pushed her temples to try to counteract the searing pressure.
Anemone, honey. I need you.
Mom? She must be imagining this. She hadn't heard from any family member in fifteen years. Mom?
I'm here. You have to listen to me. The predator has found you. You must stop him. The pressure in her skull lifted as her brain relearned the mindlink of her childhood.
Oh, Mom, I love you. In a haze of pain and shock, she remembered to breathe. After so many years isolated and alone, she wanted to put her head in her mother's lap and savor her company. Where are you?
I can't tell you, and I love you, too, but you need to listen to me. Are you listening?
Do you know where the predator is? Right this minute?
Yes! He's behind me. How did you-
Hide! her mother said. Ann glanced around the crowded lobby and spied a darkened hall. Not looking behind her, she walked toward it. It led to a series of conference rooms. She tried the first glass-paned door. It was open.
Okay. Using her animal vision, she walked through the darkened room until she found a chair. I'm alone.
Keep alert. I don't want you near the predator until you've heard me.
I don't want to be near the predator at all. I barely escaped just now. I wanted to-
That's why I'm reaching out to you, but first you have to promise you won't try to find me.
What are you talking about?
How can I do that?
Ann paused, not wanting to lie, but also not wanting to give up on her mother if she were in trouble.
Promise me, her mother insisted.
Ann pushed her selfish needs aside. What else could she do? I promise.
Thank you. Ann heard the softness in her mother's voice, remembered the gentleness in it as she'd read her poems and sung to her. In that moment, she would have done anything to feel her mother's arms wrapped around her, to feel like she belonged someplace.
Now listen to me. Her mom's voice sounded intense now, no hint of lullaby. I don't have a lot of time. The predators. I know how they seduce us-and you can stop it.
You're the only one who can do it. With your resistance, we can save all our kind.
You have to go back to him. You have to get near him, search his pockets, his car, his hotel room.
I've discovered their secret.
They're just humans. They created a pheromone, genetically modified it from something. And they've bottled it in two small vials. Silver. They're passing them among themselves. You have to find them.
Pheromones? That's how they ... seduce us? Shock poured through her. She'd always thought the predators were supernatural. They don't have magic?
Excerpted from What She Wants by LUCINDA BETTS Copyright © 2009 by Lucinda Betts. Excerpted by permission.
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