AVAILABLE FROM CHAMPAGNE BOOKS, September, 2013
Nicholas Lyons, chief physician to the Lyons clan of feline shapeshifters, had mourned the loss of his lifemate until a rogue shapeshifter reports having seen her at an exotic animal sale. Marie, the bride-to-be of his best friend, Anthony Lyons, promises to help find her after their wedding. Nick begins the difficult search through the dark world of exotic animal trafficking accompanied by Marie who is no stranger to the dark side, her mate Anthony, and the imperious Lady Bat, the clan’s matriarch.
Eve, whose first memories are of recovering from an injury at an isolated animal refuge, lived through a succession of owners in a world filled with cages and cruelty. When she recognizes Marie as her own kind at an exotic animal sale, she begins to have flashes of a different life – a life in which she was something other than feline.
Can Nick rescue Eve, return her to the safety of the clan, then accept what she has become? Can Eve overcome her fear and embrace the family that she’d lost so many years before? Or will they both become victims of others’ greed and malice?
FINDING EVE, Book 2 of the Lyons’ Tales
CONTAINS ADULT LANGUAGE
The glaring lights blinded Eve as she paced the length of her cage. Back and forth, four steps each way then turn and back again. This wasn’t the first time she’d been exhibited prior to an auction. Before the night was done, she would have a new cage. A new master. A new hell.
The driving beat of the heavy metal music assaulted her senses. Servers walked among the guests, carrying trays heavy with food and drinks. Her stomach growled at the scent of the meaty tidbits but there would be nothing for her this evening. The masters starved them all before a sale. The hunger and rage of the merchandise charged the atmosphere upping the bidding, increasing the master’s profit.
Tension built as the buyers argued the merits of the occupants of the cages ranged along the walls of the courtyard. She could feel those men – the greed, the lust. The women who hung on their arms, craving their attention, were owned like her. Dying inside, some high on the drugs that helped hide the fear and despair but the signs were there. She could sense anyone, if they were close enough.
From across the room, a woman walked toward her surrounded by a wall that defied her best attempts to breach. Curious. The servers nodded at her orders and moved quickly about their business. The woman smiled at the guests, then deftly avoided their unwanted attentions. She didn’t belong here. She wasn’t like the others.
Then she moved closer. Eve inhaled her scent. Good. Familiar? Maybe. She still couldn’t sense her but her mask slipped and disgust was written across the woman’s face. But the mask shifted back into place as the master approached holding a drink and sucking on a nasty-smelling cigar.
“You’ve outdone yourself, Marie. Our mutual associates said you were the best in the business but this is beyond anything I expected. I’m the envy of all the buyers.” He slid his arm around her waist. “They think you’re my mistress.”
And the bastard hadn’t told them any different. Eve inhaled deeply and savored the fragrance of the trees and shrubs that decorated the courtyard. For once, she agreed with the master. Marie had turned a vacant home with a dilapidated courtyard into a pagan temple surrounded by a forest glen. So different from the cramped quarters and stale air that she’d become used to. Trafficking depended on secrecy and those trafficked must remain hidden from prying eyes.
“Thank you, Mr. Rivera. What they believe is unimportant, as long as you’re satisfied with the service. This was not at all what I expected. I don’t often cater events away from the Maxwell.”
That she would likely never do it again went unsaid.
“So what if it’s not one of those boring, stuffy parties you throw in those fancy hotel ballrooms of yours. I was assured of your discretion. The money’s good, better than you’d make in a week at the hotel. Admit it, honey, you were glad to get away from that mausoleum.”
The wall around Marie crumbled a bit. Eve felt the woman’s disdain, tasted her fury and the master had no clue.
“I’m surprised you could get a short-term lease for this event, especially in Carroll County. It’s a beautiful area, but isolated and known to be clannish.”
“A realtor with a year-old listing with a foreclosure pending? Enough cash under the table can buy just about anything.” The master eyed Marie. He was a handsome Latino who took pride in speaking and dressing well. He made easy conquests of women that he used, then cast aside. And he wanted Marie. She was his type – fair, tall and slender with a mass of silky, white-blond hair. Marie would be in trouble if he decided to pursue her and there was nothing Eve could do. She hissed her frustration, attracting the woman’s attention.
Marie strolled over to her. She liked the woman’s scent. Clean, maybe with a hint of the forest about her. Eve wanted her to move closer.
“She’s beautiful—all golden. I’ve never seen anything like her. A shame that she’s caged.”
Scowling at the interruption, the master joined Marie beside her cage. Much too close. Eve glared at him but he ignored her as he always did. “She is unique, but of little value. Can’t breed her—never found a male of her species, whatever it is. Can’t fight her. She won’t engage the others. It’s uncanny how they won’t fight her.” He leaned close to Marie. “I like fighters.”
Marie reached a hand towards her. She would like for Marie to touch her. Sometimes she vaguely remembered when touching was a good thing. Not now, though. But just this once, maybe.
The man grabbed Marie’s wrist. “Be careful. She’s dangerous. Not a fighter, like I said, but she has a hell of a bite.”
The man caressed Marie’s arm, then slid his hand up to her shoulder. “My business demands that I entertain often.” He nodded toward the buyers milling about the courtyard. “Look at them. You and your people treat these freaks like kings. They’re salivating to spend their money. Maybe I could interest you in a more long-term arrangement with me.”
Marie slipped out of his grasp and stepped beyond his reach. “The Maxwell is a family business, Mr. Rivera. After my mother died, I couldn’t consider leaving my father to run the hotel alone, especially since I’ve managed the event planning department for several years.”
Marie moved closer and laid her hand on the master’s, then dug her nails deep into his palm. “But I appreciate the offer.”
The master grimaced with the pain but there was pleasure also. Strange. He fumbled in his pocket and pulled out a card. “If you change your mind, honey, call me and we can come to an arrangement satisfactory to us both. I can promise it will be worth your while. I appreciate women with special tastes and skills.”
Maria sent the master an enigmatic smile, then nodded toward her cage. “Do you mind if I visit with her for a bit?”
The master shrugged his shoulders. “Suit yourself. The bidding’s about to begin.” He turned to walk away. “Try not to lose a hand.”
Marie grabbed snacks off a tray as a server passed by. “You look hungry, my beauty.” She held out a chunk of meat.
Eve accepted the offering and chewed slowly, savoring the treat. So different from the scraps and half-spoiled slop that was her usual fare. Marie continued feeding her until the hunger no longer gnawed. She occasionally caught glimpses of her new friend’s feelings. Mostly anger, no fear. Marie wasn’t afraid of the master but she should be. Everyone feared the master. Marie’s servers were nervous and fearful. None of them could hide their feelings like their employer.
“I wish I could take you home with me but there’s no way I can afford you.” Marie leaned close and touched Eve’s forehead through the cage’s bars. “I’m calling the police on these pigs as soon as I’m out of here. I’ll see that they take good care of you—all of you.”
The master and the buyers would be cleared out long before help arrived. There would be no rescue but she would remember her time with Marie. She would treasure these memories wherever the sale landed her.
She leaned against the cage and reveled in Marie’s soft caresses. Almost like they were kin. Where did that thought come from? She didn’t have any family. At least, not that she remembered. But she didn’t remember much before Ben. She’d been hurt, hurt bad, but Ben had taken good care of her. There was the Time Before, even before Ben, that she glimpsed in dreams. She’d been happy then and played in the sunshine and danced and sang. Why could she not be free like Marie?
Eve lunged away from her friend, then threw herself against the cage’s chain link gate. It held. She stood on her two back legs and used her front paws to push against the gate. An attendant ran towards her waving an electric prod. She retreated to the rear of her cage and roared her rage. The others took up her challenge. She poised, teeth bared, ready to attack.
Marie shoved the man aside and approached her. “What’s the fuss, my beauty?”
Her rage washed away and her body relaxed as Marie surrounded her with calming, peaceful thoughts. She laid down on the floor, exhausted. Her belly was full and it was time for a nap. She would probably awaken with her new master who would be kind to her. No matter, she would remember tonight.
The bastard Rivera rushed up to the poor cat’s cage. “What the fuck is going on?”
“Nothing, Mr. Rivera.” Marie laid a hand on his chest. “She ate a few snacks, roared a bit, then settled down for a nap. Is there a problem?”
Rivera looked at the attendant who shrugged a shoulder and returned to his post.
She sent a discreet hand signal to the servers who descended on the guests plying them with offers of food and drink with a vengeance. The incident was over, except for Rivera.
“She’s never lashed out like that. What the fuck did you do, Marie?”
Marie gouged her nails into the pervert’s chest and held on. Distracted by the intensity of the painful pleasure, he froze.
“Nothing, Mr. Rivera. She is fine. The party is spectacular and you’re going to make a shit load of money.”
“Fuck it, Marie! Tell me how you calmed her down, then I’ll start the damned auction.”
Would he never let it go? She relaxed her hold on him, shoved him away, then patted his chest. “I’m told I have a way with cats.”