Tammy Shasta had experienced fear plenty of times in her twenty-eight years of life but this made all those other times pale in comparison. She’d known her job might be dangerous. Everything these days held a bit of risk. Driving on the highway could be perilous, someone crossing a street could be struck by a car, and even cleaning windows could be hazardous. After all, someone, somewhere, had accidentally broken a window, ended up badly cut, and had bled to death while on the job. Shit happens. It had become her motto in life. She’d just never believed her job would really be treacherous. Not really. What really bad thing could happen, serving food and drinks? She had mentally gone over the list. She could slip and fall or get burned if she spilled hot food. The worst case scenario she’d ever thought up was perhaps being shot at if she ever catered a party for the mob but the chances of them ending up living in a small town in Northern California were slim to none. Yet…here she faced the kind of terror she never thought she’d experience in real life. Not in a million years had she seen this kind of situation coming, even with her wild imagination working overtime. She stood frozen, no matter how loudly she inwardly screamed at her body to turn and run for her life.
Nope. Not happening for me. Her body refused to respond. All her bestlaid plans of being tough, prepared for anything, had fled with her courage. She wasn’t superhero tough. She mimicked a lawn statue instead or a mime locked in horror. Her mouth hung open but the scream wasn’t forthcoming. She couldn’t even muster a whimper. Nothing. Her heart beat so rapidly she wondered if it could take flight right out of her chest and still no sound passed her lips.
She couldn’t even breathe and she really needed air. Maybe sucking some in would promote a scream but…no. This sucks! She’d always heard that someone’s life passed before their eyes when they knew they were about to die. She wasn’t seeing images of her past flashing through her mind. Nope. Her wide-eyed gaze remained fixed on the huge man-beast who growled at her. He was a man but not quite since no regular guy had sharp teeth or could scare her nearly to death with that horrible sound that rumbled from deep within his throat, mimicking a vicious animal. He appeared both beautiful and ferocious at the same time. If a guy pumped up on steroids he’d resemble the massive man who terrified her. He had to be about six-and-a-half-feet tall.
His arms were extremely muscular and his wide chest reminded her of a mountain. His skin had tanned to a golden tone but it was his hair that made him beautiful. It was the color of an autumn leaf—reddish-orange with thick strands of blond streaks running through it. It hung shoulder-length and parted slightly to the side of his face. One really scary part about him had to be his face because he almost looked human but not quite. His eyes were the color of melted gold and they were shaped like a cat’s, only with super-long eyelashes. His nose flared wide and flatter than anyone she’d ever seen. His cheekbones were prominent and dominated his face but they complemented his strong, square chin. That brought her attention to his really full, nearly pouty lips, and at the moment, they were parted, revealing some extremely white, pointed teeth. Again, not the kind of teeth normal people had.
“Back up, Tammy.” It was her boss, Ted Armstrong, who yelled at her. “Don’t make any sudden movements and come toward me. Do it now.” Back up? He expects me to move? She realized she had started breathing again when her lungs stopped hurting from lack of oxygen. She had the urge to turn her head and glance at Ted to give him an are-you-kidding-me look but she couldn’t. She also couldn’t force her terrified gaze away the huge man-beast slowly stalking closer, glaring at her with those large, oddly beautiful catlike eyes. His face was scary-angry and he growled at her again. “Damn it, Tammy. Back up slowly right now.
Just look down at the ground and come to me. You can do it.” She wished that were true but her body still refused to listen as she silently screamed at it to follow orders. Nothing moved but her chest as her heart hammered and air passed between her parted lips. She blinked, which was progress, but that was it. “Valiant!” another man called out loudly. “Calm down and back away from the female. She isn’t challenging you. She’s just scared shitless.” The new voice had a strong, deep pitch and he sounded angry.
The man-beast growled again when he took another step closer to Tammy. She wanted to run but her legs seemed rooted to the ground. She tried to tear her gaze from the golden eyes staring back at her but just couldn’t break the connection. Everyone had heard about the New Species. Anyone would have to never have read a newspaper or owned a television not to know they were humans who’d been secretly experimented on by Mercile Industries. The pharmaceutical company had funded secret testing facility for decades for some messed up research supposedly done to find cures for diseases. The story had broken when countless numbers of survivors from those testing facilities had been freed. Shit, she thought. This is obviously a New Species. She knew they’d titled themselves that, those surviving men and women who had been physically altered with animal DNA inside those places.
The man-beast stalking closer was obviously one and they’d really done a number on him since he sure didn’t appear normal in any way. Tammy had never seen anything similar to him before and didn’t want to ever see it again. He looked like a man…but not. That made her wonder just how much of his animalistic traits ruled him. “Someone get a tranquilizer gun.” It was a woman and she sounded scared. “Now. Move it.” “Valiant?” It was the man again with the deep voice. “Listen to me, man.
She didn’t mean to trespass into your territory. She got lost when someone screwed up the maps and it led her here. You know Justice is having a party and he hired caterers. She is just a terrified female who came here to serve food. It’s not a challenge. She can’t look away from you or leave because she’s frozen with fear. Calm down and just back off. She can leave once you do.” Justice North was the appointed leader of the New Species Organization. He’d bought up the closed-down old resort and all the land around it for his people to live on and turned it into a New Species enclave called Reservation.
He was also their spokesperson who did all the television interviews. He’d hired Ted’s catering service to host their first party at Reservation and that’s how Tammy had ended up in the wrong place. She swallowed, grateful her mind still worked and knew all that information. She could at least follow the conversation that her life might depend on. It seemed to her that this would be her last job for Ted otherwise. Hell, it might be my last day doing anything ever again. “Do you hear me, Valiant? Do you know how pissed Justice is going to be if you maul someone he hired? We’re supposed to be throwing this dinner to make the people living in town feel comfortable with us being here. It’s going to really set everyone off if you attack one of them.” The man with the deep voice sighed. “Let me come get her.
Is that all right, man? Can I come into your yard to take her away?” “No,” the man-beast snarled. He threw back his head and an earsplitting roar shattered the wooded area. Tammy moved finally but it just wasn’t in the direction she wanted to go, which would have been toward her work van and closer to the help that had arrived to try to save her on the other side of the gate she’d walked through. Her knees collapsed under her. She hit the grass but didn’t totally fall flat. She remained kneeling. He had to be a lion or tiger of some sort. She recognized the sound he’d made. He had a pretty distinctive roar. She studied his coloring, his wide nose, and finally those sharp teeth.
Shit. He’s definitely some kind of big-cat mix. She guessed lion. She stared up at him and wondered if her bladder would let loose from sheer terror. It wouldn’t surprise her in the least. It wasn’t as if her day could get any worse. “Remain calm,” the deep-voiced man demanded. “I won’t come in. Talk to me, Valiant. Otherwise someone is going to tranquilize your ass and I know how upset that’s going to make you.
” Man-beast had a name. It wasn’t human either, or normal, but Tammy let it sink in that it was his. What kind of name is Valiant? She knew it meant courageous, something she lacked at that moment. She wished furiously that she wasn’t really there, wasn’t staring up at her worst, never-thought-up nightmare. Valiant jerked his focus off Tammy finally to glare at someone behind her and to the left. “Do not shoot at me.” The threatening tone in his voice was loud and clear. There was a deep sigh. “Let the female go. What’s your deal anyway? Did she say something before she passed through the gate? She didn’t know this is your house and not the clubhouse.
She was given the wrong map. It looks to me as if all she did was get out of the van and walk toward your front door before you reached her. Did she piss you off?” “She is here, Tiger. That is enough.” Valiant growled. “And it was an accident.” Tiger tried to be logical. “Someone on our end screwed up and it was our mistake. We didn’t realize what had happened until she showed up. She was the first one to arrive after the guy who runs the catering service.
This is Ted Armstrong. He’s been here a few times before and he realized the map was wrong when he glanced at it. We contacted the gate immediately but they informed me that her van had gone through already. Now here we all are. Come on, Valiant, you’ve terrified her enough. What did Justice say about trying to fit in? Remember that talk? God knows, I do. It’s not polite to scare the living shit out of humans.” “He won’t really maul her, will he?” Ted sounded a little high strung. That was saying a lot because her boss always remained cool under pressure. “I mean, Jesus! Was that a joke?” Tiger softly cursed.
“I’m sure I was kidding.” His tone didn’t sound convincing at all to Tammy. “So what do you say, Valiant? She can calm down a little and leave if you’ll just back off. Would you reconsider allowing me to come get her? It would only take a second. I’ll just rush in there, grab her, and leap right out.” Valiant growled again and his gaze returned to Tammy. She swallowed. She blinked. She breathed regularly again. She took note of all those functions that were under her control but her limbs were still unresponsive.
The man-beast paused about six feet from her but she appreciated that he had stopped advancing to just stare at her. That’s progress, right? God, I hope so. She moved her mouth and it actually opened. She attempted to apologize for trespassing but nothing came out. Damn it. She had always thought she’d be different under stress. She’d always been a natural-born smartass who had a comeback for everything. She’d gained a reputation for being mouthy no matter how afraid she was, under any circumstances. Obviously, I was wrong, she conceded. When she’d dreamed up worst-case scenarios, none had covered man-beasts with sharp teeth or cat-eyes who roared.
“Stay back,” Valiant threatened. He inhaled slowly, his gaze still locked on Tammy. He took another step toward her. “Valiant!” Tiger, the man with the deep voice, shouted. “Stop now. Don’t get any closer. Damn it, don’t do this.” Valiant snapped his head sideways to glare at someone at whom he flashed sharp teeth and snarled menacingly. He sounded downright evil before he focused back on Tammy. “Go get her,” Ted demanded.
“You’re almost as big as him. Save her.” Tiger uttered a foul word. “I can’t. He’d kill me in a heartbeat. He’s one of the meanest sons of bitches we have on Reservation. It’s why he’s out here and why Justice bought this place. There are a few of our kind who aren’t exactly people friendly. It will make things worse if I go inside there because he’ll be able to kill two people instead of just one.” “Shoot him,” a woman whispered softly, but her voice carried.
“Can’t,” a male explained. “They haven’t gotten any tranquilizer guns to us yet.” “Use the guns in your holsters,” the woman ordered, louder. “Don’t allow him to kill her. My God! Can you imagine what this would do to public relations?” “No one is shooting him,” Tiger ground out. “Valiant?” He paused. “Tell me why you’re so angry with the female. She’s a little thing. Is that it? Are you fighting your instincts because you’re seeing her as prey? Think hard, Valiant. This is an innocent human female.
She didn’t mean any insult to you or to invade your space. Talk to me, damn it. Just tell me what is going on inside your head.” Valiant turned his head, tearing his intense gaze away from Tammy once again. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. They snapped open. He glared at someone behind Tammy’s left shoulder. “I’m not going to kill her.” “Thank God,” Ted said and groaned. “You just wanted to scare her?” The relief was evident in Tiger’s voice.
“Well, you did a good job. Can she go now?” Valiant’s exotic gaze fixed back on Tammy as he inhaled again. He made a low, rumbling sound. He looked away from her to glare at Tiger. “No. She stays. You go.” “You know we can’t do that,” Tiger explained calmly. “What is it, man? What’s the problem?” Valiant growled again. He moved another step and then another toward Tammy.
She stopped breathing. Those cat-eyes of his were back on her. He suddenly crouched on all fours, sniffed at her again, and made a sound she hadn’t heard before. It wasn’t a growl exactly, more of a gruff purr, but scary. He settled on his hands and knees in front of her. “Oh shit,” Tiger cursed. “Valiant? Don’t do it, man.” Valiant jerked his head up to shoot another threatening glare in Tiger’s direction. He was close enough for her to notice that he smelled of the outdoors and something masculine that was really nice. She took a breath and kept breathing since he wasn’t looking at her.
She lowered her gaze, taking him in, and decided he was big even crouched before her. He wore jeans and a T-shirt but no shoes. The guy had huge hands and feet. He inched closer to her until she could have touched him if she’d just moved her hand out toward him a few inches but she didn’t, still frozen on her knees. “What’s he doing now?” Ted sounded panicked again. “Don’t ask,” Tiger ground out. “Valiant, come on, man. What are you doing? You know better if you’re thinking what I suspect you are. She’s a little human thing and you don’t want to attempt this.” Valiant blinked.
“She’s in heat.” “Oh fucking hell,” Tiger cursed. Valiant growled. “Son of a bitch!” Tiger cursed louder. “Ted, I told you to make sure none of your women were ovulating. We went over this, damn it. No wonder he’s acting crazy.” “How was I supposed to know?” Ted sputtered. “Do you know how many sexual harassment lawsuits I could be hit with if I asked women who worked for me if it’s a certain time of the month? Come on. And how in the hell would anyone know anyway, Tiger? How?” Tiger cursed again.
“We’d know, Ted. I told you we can smell them half a mile away and I told you some of our men would react badly to it. I’m upwind from her but he’s not. If he says she’s ovulating—and trust me, she is—it’s a problem. No wonder he’s acting this way.” The man paused. “Who was on duty when they let her in?” “Smiley.” A male voice spoke softly. “He’s primate and his sense of smell isn’t as keen. He obviously missed her scent.
” “What does it mean if she is ovulating? Is that why he wants to kill her?” It was the woman speaking. “Is it like a shark going nuts if they smell blood?” Tiger was silent for a few long seconds. “She’s not bleeding. As a woman you should know the difference between menstruation and ovulation. She’s ovulating. He doesn’t want to kill her. He wants to breed with her.” “Thank God.” The woman actually laughed. “I thought he would turn her into a chew toy and tear her to pieces.
” “Marcy!” Ted yelled. “How can you laugh about this? It’s not funny. We’re all relieved he isn’t planning on killing her but did you hear what Tiger implied? We have to get her out of there.” “Is she married?” Tiger asked. “No.” Ted hesitated. “Now wait a minute. Don’t look relieved as if something is going to happen between them. Get her out of there.” Tammy stared at the New Specie’s profile.
He didn’t want to end her life. He wanted to breed with her. She was still in shock. She let her gaze take in the huge man-beast from head to knee and shivered. She’d been horrible with math in high school but she knew enough to do the mathematics of this one. The guy seemed to be nearly two of her in sheer size and there was no way a physical relationship would be possible between them. And besides that— What in the hell am I thinking? She wanted to scream for help again but nothing came out of her mouth. I’m screwed! NO! Don’t say that. Find a new saying. I’m in deep shit.
Yeah. That’s better. Don’t even think anything about screwed or screwing, considering. “I can’t,” Tiger explained. “He’ll protect her if one of us tries to get close to them. Think of a really mean animal protecting his favorite toy. Well, that’s about what we have here.” Tiger remained silent for a full minute. No one spoke. He finally must have decided on a new approach when he began to speak again.
“Valiant? I can find someone willing to take her place. You have to let her go. She’s not Species, she’s human, and you’d break her. Look how little she is. She’s puny, a real runt of a female, and you know you don’t want her. I realize she smells pretty good to you and hell, I noticed right off the bat that she’s attractive, but again, she’s human. We had some sodas together a few weeks back and discussed how frail they are. We don’t do them, remember? Just back away from her and I’ll call our females. One of them would be more than happy to come out here to take her place if you’re in the mood to get frisky. Sound good, man? Work with me here.
” “Mine,” Valiant growled. “Fuck.” Tiger groaned. “Where is that tranquilizer gun? We’re going to need it fast.” “I’m coming, Tammy,” Ted shouted. “Don’t,” Tiger yelled. “He’ll tear you apart.” “Well, do something,” Ted demanded. “I won’t stand here just watching her be raped by that…that…person.” Valiant turned his head.
His face was a foot from Tammy’s. She stared into his eyes. At close range they were amazingly beautiful. She saw swirls of color inside them that resembled spun, melted gold. His eyelashes were very thick, reddish orange, and long. On his hands and knees, he stood face level with Tammy, kneeling on the grass. His mouth was closed, his sharp teeth hidden, as he inhaled again. A soft sound came from his throat, a deep purr. He blinked at her while inching closer.