Coming-November 6, 2012
Shifter -- A novella in the Warriors of Poseidon universe
Warriors of Poseidon -- Book 2.5 -- Berkley Sensation
March, 2008 -- ISBN: 0425220354
Contains the Alyssa Day novella: Shifter's Lady.
WHEN IT COMES TO SHAPESHIFTING PARANORMAL ROMANCE, WHO CAN RESIST...
New York Times bestselling author Angela Knight, USA Today bestselling author Lora Leigh, and national bestselling authors Alyssa Day and Virginia Kantra?
Whether transforming under a blue moon or prowling the streets, the shifters come alive to fulfill the wildest of fantasies in this seductive anthology by four masters of paranormal romance.
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Big Cypress National Preserve, west of Miami, Florida, Midnight
Moonlight silvered down through the branches of the cypress trees, shadowing the gnarled limbs and trunks into the menacing forms of ogres from a child’s nightmare. But the blood tracing geometric patterns in the dirt was no specter of childish terror, but the very real damage from a vicious attack.
Swearing viciously under his breath, Ethan circled the fallen panther—the sixth one attacked in two weeks--all the while scanning the chill winter dark for a glimpse of the unnatural predator who’d attacked it. He’d heard the animal’s screams of pain while patrolling more than a mile away and had immediately broken into a full-on run, but the attacker had disappeared into the winter night.
At least for this panther he’d been in time. This cat was still alive.
As the wounded panther—a good-sized male--lifted its head to snarl, Ethan drew his lips back from his teeth and preempted the cat’s defiance with a warning growl of his own.
“Sorry, my friend, I know you’re hurting,” he said, pitching his voice to the low rumble of an alpha male asserting its dominance over a pack member. “But if you won’t let me get close enough to help you, we’re going to have to go the tranq dart routine.”
Lifting his head, he scented the air again, memorizing the rank odor that had assailed his nostrils as he approached the clearing. His shape-shifter senses were preternaturally sharp, but even in his human shape, Ethan could track a scent trail. This one was distinct from any of his own pride, but it was somehow oddly familiar.
The cat on the ground snarled again, weaker this time. The gouges clawed out of its side and belly glistened a deep crimson-stained black in the moonlight.
Ethan took one last, long look around and dropped down into a crouch next to the animal. “It looks like the bastard who did this to you is gone. So let’s get you to someone who can help.”
The panther bared its teeth in one final act of defiance before Ethan grasped the sides of its face in his hands and stared into its eyes. He sent a mental touch into the cat’s mind, simultaneously muting the pain the animal was suffering and delivering a simple message: Pride-brother. Alpha. Help you.
As he lifted the heavy body into his arms, careful not to jostle the cat more than necessary, he uttered a grim promise. “I’ll get him for you, friend. Believe me, he’ll pay.”
Atlantis, the next morning
Marie stood on the emerald-hued grass and stared, nearly transfixed, at the white marble temple inlaid with jade, sapphires, and amethyst, memorizing it anew though she’d lived and worked within it for more than three centuries of days. She wanted to burn its image into her very being, in the event—the almost impossible event, she reminded herself—that she were never to see it again.
Her temple. Her sacred responsibility.
The one she was abandoning.
Her breath quickened, and an obstruction the size of one of her favorite sea-sapphires lodged in her throat. “Erin, I--"
Beside her, Erin sighed and shook her head, her blond curls shimmering in the magically created sunlight that replaced the rays of a sun that had never dared venture so far beneath the sea. Erin put her hands on her hips in that peculiarly human gesture that both she and Prince Conlan’s beloved, Riley, favored when they were frustrated.
Humans. Marie marveled anew at the idea that she had two human friends, when no human before Riley had set foot in Atlantis for more than eleven thousand years.
“Not again, Marie,” Erin said firmly, tapping her foot in mock impatience. “We are not going over my duties in the temple one more time. As First Maiden of the Nereids for more than three hundred years, don’t you think it’s time you had a vacation?”
“But Lord Justice--"
Erin sobered, the playfulness fading from her face. “No one wants to find him more than Ven and I do, Marie. You know that Conlan and Ven and all the warriors have done nothing else but search for Justice since he . . . since he . . .”
Erin’s voice trailed off, as she visibly fought for control. “He sacrificed himself to that monster to protect me. To protect Ven and me. We will never give up.”
Marie hugged the shorter woman, offering up yet another silent prayer that Lord Justice yet lived. After admitting to the shocking truth that he was half brother to Prince Conlan and his brother, the Lord Vengeance, Lord Justice had offered himself to the vampire goddess Anubisa in exchange for his brother’s life. Marie had heard the tale of it many times, but still could not comprehend the courage it must have required to voluntarily submit to the goddess of all Chaos.
Especially knowing of Conlan’s seven years of torture at her hands.
Erin took a deep breath and stepped away from Marie’s hug. “But life goes on. It always goes on. Women still come to the temple for help with their pregnancies and childbirth, and even though I am no temple-trained midwife, the gems give me the healing power to help them.”
Marie smiled at the understatement. “You are our gem singer, Erin. You sing the healing power of the stones to our women and babies. You healed Riley and the unborn heir to the throne of Atlantis. Do not discount your Gift.”
“I don’t discount it, or I never would have agreed to this. The responsibility for the unborn children of Atlantis is an enormous one, far too much for a single witch,” Erin replied. “Or at least it would be if you hadn’t trained me yourself, surrounded me with your very knowledgeable temple acolytes, and watched as I used my Gift to sing healing and peace to women in labor.”
Marie’s desire to visit her brother, Bastien, and meet his new love, Katherine, pulled at her, but still she was torn. “I feel as though I were abandoning my duties at a time when all Atlantis must work together.”
Erin’s blue eyes softened with sympathy. “I know. But you deserve this time, Marie. And your brother and Justice were very close, weren’t they?”
Marie’s lips curved into a smile. “Yes, always. Thick as jellyfish, those two.”
“We say ‘thick as thieves’,” Erin said, laughing. “Although I must admit that thick as jellyfish makes more sense.”
Marie studied the witch who had captured Lord Vengeance’s heart and restored the glory of the Temple of the Nereids through her gemsong. Abruptly, she nodded. “Yes. You are correct. Bastien will be nearly insane with rage and worry for Lord Justice, and even more so from the frustration that he could not immediately join the search. I must go to him.”
Almost as if on cue, an icy wind swept between and around them and resolved itself into the shimmering form of Poseidon’s high priest, Alaric. He wore his customary black clothing, and the fire in his green eyes burned starkly in his drawn face. “Are you ready for the journey, Lady Marie?” he asked, his voice raspy as if little used in recent days.
“I am,” she replied, inclining her head to the priest. He carried such a weight of bitter anguish with him, but it was not the pain of injury or illness. She sensed it was an emotional suffering, but would never presume to impose upon his privacy by asking, no matter the whispers that had circulated about Alaric and Quinn, the sister of the prince’s beloved.
If Alaric ever chose to share his anguish, she would listen. It was her role in life, and she had been content with it. To watch, to listen, to heal as best she could. Such a life was not without its rewards. She glanced at the temple one last time and smiled, then lifted her small travel bag from the grass at her feet and nodded again. “Please call the portal, if you would.”
Alaric merely stared down at her for a long moment, before he spoke. “Know that I am against this journey, my lady. We face more danger Above than we have for millennia, so now seems to be a ridiculously foolhardy time for you to venture from the safety of Atlantis.”
Marie answered him with the respect due a warrior priest who had fought with and healed her brother and the rest of the Seven countless times, even though she’d thought this discussion finally put to rest when he’d agreed to call the portal for her. “As always, your opinon and advice are valuable. But I am not without defenses, as First Maiden. The goddess will not abandon me should danger threaten.”
When he looked as though he would interrupt her, she held up a hand to touch his arm. “I know, Alaric. I know. But he is my brother, and he has need of me, though he would never admit to it. I must go.”
He tightened his lips and she saw the muscles in his jaw clench, but he said no more, merely lifted his hands in the air, closed his eyes, and called the magic. The magic of a high priest who was more powerful than any ever before anointed by Poseidon was truly mesmerizing to behold. The portal, sometimes capricious in how and when it responded, would never dare to disobey Alaric. On his command, the shimmering oval appeared first as a tiny gleam of light, no larger than the palm of her hand, then widened and expanded into an ovoid sphere sparkling with the effervescent colors of a thousand gemstones.
She’d seen it before, of course. She’d watched her brother and his fellow warriors, those elite who formed the Seven and protected High Prince Conlan, travel through the portal nearly many as times over the centuries as there were gemstones in the Temple. But the sight never failed to amaze her, and today even more so.
Today she was finally the one who would travel through the portal.
There were no farewells remaining to be said. No final instructions to be dispensed. She was simply ready, and so she smiled her thanks to Alaric and Erin and stepped into the portal. Into her new adventure.
Even as the magic surrounded her, Marie wondered at the chill that swept over her skin. The swirling winds of the transference whipped the murmured words from her lips as she spoke them. “Am I excited? Or simply afraid?”