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Wildthing

Wild Hearts in Atlants
e-special
Coming-Oct. 2, 2012

Wild Hearts in Atlants

Wild Thing -- A novella in the Warriors of Poseidon universe
Warriors of Poseidon -- Book 1.5 -- Berkley Sensation
May, 2007 -- ISBN: 0425225445

Contains the Alyssa Day novella:Wild Hearts in Atlantis.

Bastien's story, Wild Hearts in Atlantis! When a troubled shape-shifter captures Bastien's attention, will Poseidon allow her to capture Bastien's heart?

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excerpt

Chapter 1

Bastien surveyed the battlefield, jaw rhythmically clenching and unclenching. “Strategy is everything in war. Watch and learn, youngling.”

His opponent narrowed his eyes and studied the field. “Proceed at your own peril, warrior. Know that I will crush you into the ashes of ignominious defeat.”

“Oh, for the gods’ sake, will you two get on with it, already? I have dibs on the next game, and I have a feeling air hockey and I are going to be very good friends,” Denal said, from where he sprawled out on the long, low couch. “You’re going down to Loser Town, ladies, so just hurry it up, already.”

Bastien laughed. “Damn, Justice. Looks like your unparalleled rep as a kick ass warrior may be taking some heat, if little Denal can get away with calling you a lady.”

Lord Justice flipped his waist-length braid of blue hair back over his shoulder and sneered. “Seems like he called you a lady, too, in case you missed it."

Bastien served a lethal hit straight into Justice’s goal. “Hey, I’m golden. When you're nearly seven feet tall, these pitiful insults bounce right off. Atlantis has never seen a warrior the likes of me," he said, grinning.

Bastien threw his head back and drew in a lungful of pure, sea-filtered air and gazed out over the balcony railing at the glory of Atlantis. White marble buildings gleaming in the liquid gold of magic-created sunlight. Poseidon’s Temple the grandest of them all, proudly standing tall in the center with its gold-capped columns. The deep, unfathomable blue of the ocean currents gently gliding past the dome that covered them all.

“It’s good to be home,” he murmured, almost to himself. He was tired. Hells, they were all tired. The missions to the surface, never less than dangerous, had turned lethal lately. Poseidon’s Warriors had protected humanity for more than eleven thousand years, but always in the shadows, under the radar.

Incogfuckingnito, as Ven would say.

Bastien thought back to his training, and the words that were burned into his soul -- the creed of the Warriors of Poseidon:

All will wait. And watch. And protect.

And serve as first warning on the eve of humanity’s destruction.

Then, and only then, Atlantis will rise.

For we are the Warriors of Poseidon, and the mark of the Trident we bear serves as witness to our sacred duty to safeguard mankind.

“Even when they’re stupid enough to let vampires into their congress and shape-shifters into their media,” he growled.

Justice raised an eyebrow at him, but before he could make some crack about warriors who talked to themselves, the enormous wooden doors, inlaid with gold, silver, and copper-colored orichalcum, that led from the spacious balcony to the palace’s royal audience room swung slowly open. A warrior strode out to the balcony. Bastien tried not to laugh as Denal nearly fell off the couch in his haste to stand at attention.

“Lord Vengeance,” Denal snapped off, arms rigidly at his side.

Ven never broke stride. "At ease, dude. Seriously, Denal, we've gotta get you over this rookie thing before you drive us all nuts.”

Denal’s face hardened, and he appeared to age a century’s worth of days right before their eyes. “I think being murdered by vampires and then brought back to life as a result of our lady queen’s sacrifice is a legitimate entry to the title of seasoned warrior, my prince.”

Ven’s own face sobered. “And so it is, Denal.” Then he grinned again. “But if you call me ‘my prince’ again, I’m gonna kick your ass.”

Bastien figured it was a good time to change the subject. “Speaking of the wedding, when is that blessed event occurring, Ven?”

Ven turned to him, and Bastien realized anew the strain Ven had been under lately. The planes of Ven’s face were harsher and more severely drawn than they’d been just weeks before.

Before High Prince Conlan had met Lady Riley and the two of them killed the vampire goddess, Anubisa.

“When does Conlan wed Lady Riley? I’m looking forward to that celebration. Atlantis deserves to ring with joy, after these weeks of plotting out the upcoming war with the vampire-shape-shifter alliance.”

Ven glanced around the newly-renovated balcony, then shook his head and smiled. “I still can’t believe Riley talked Conlan into turning this space into a games room. We’ve even got foosball. I love that woman.”

Justice finally spoke. “Everyone does.” He walked over to a support column and leaned against it, the hilt of his ever-present sword rising above one shoulder. “You called it, naming her Lady Sunshine. She spreads light and happiness everywhere she goes,” he said, sarcasm drenching his words. “Even a few of the Elders serving on the Council actually smiled at her when she stopped by to mention that they should – oh, no big deal – just maybe change the way everything in Atlantis has been done for millennia.”

Bastien had heard enough. “Cut it out, Justice. Riley has the heart of a lion, and Poseidon himself named her as prince Conlan’s future wife and queen. Even now she carries Conlan’s son. So the sooner we have the wedding, the better for all of us.”

Justice narrowed his eyes. “The better for Conlan and Riley, at least. The rest of us? I’m not so sure.”

Ven sliced a hand through the air. “I don’t want to hear any more of that shit from you, Justice. As one of the Seven, Conlan trusts you to have his back. That includes battling political nightmares, not just bloodsuckers and shape-shifters.”

Justice bowed slightly and headed for the door, but Ven called him back. “Stay. It’s actually fortuitous I caught you three together, because I need to talk to you all.”

“What is it, Ven?” Bastien asked, immediately coming to full alert. He was the most senior of the Seven, and always the most alive when serving his liege. He never minded kicking a little vamp or shape-shifter ass, either.

“We’ve decided to begin forming our own alliances to try to catch up with the ten-year head start the vamps have on us. Barrabas had his nasty claws in every political intrigue in the country, in his role as Senator Barnes.”

Bastien barked out a laugh. “Yeah, and didn’t it warm your heart to see how he bought it?”

The four warriors all shuddered simultaneously. Evil three thousand year old vampire or not, there was something about watching a guy get his nuts ripped off that sent a cold chill snaking up your ‘nads. When Anubisa had pulled out Barrabas’s heart, it’d almost been a relief.

Ven recovered first. “Yeah. Well, here’s the deal. Conlan wants to name an official Atlantean liaison to the shape-shifters.”

“Makes sense. The furballs are big on protocol and hierarchy. The alphas of the various prides, streaks, packs and all the other groups are way less likely to go prickly if they’re dealing with somebody they perceive as having status,” Bastien said, nodding. “Justice is the perfect choice. Hell, with all that blue hair, he looks half-animal himself.”

Ven shot Bastien a look. “It’s not Justice, big guy. Conlan wants you to do it.”

Bastien’s jaw dropped open, then he caught himself and grinned, catching on. “Right. Very funny. Make the all-brawn, no-brains of the organization take on a political role. Sure. Hey, you almost had me, Ven. You’re good.”

But Ven wasn’t smiling. “You’re the only one in Atlantis who thinks your value is merely in your physical strength, Bastien. Seems to me Poseidon isn’t gonna let you get away with that much longer, but that’s between you and the sea god.”

Before Bastien could think of a reply, a cold wind swept through the warm, sunny space, then shimmered into shape. Speak of the devil.

Devil -- Poseidon’s high priest -- same difference.

Alaric invoked the fear of the sea god in anybody who dared cross his path. Not many did.

Alaric’s eerie green eyes glowed with power and then narrowed, as if he were thought-mining Bastien’s musings. But nobody these days had the ancient Atlantean power to sift the thoughts of another not soul-melded to him.

Alaric finally spoke, fiery gaze boring into Ven. “What the sea god wills is beyond your limited knowledge of such affairs. Perhaps you should perform your duty as the King’s Vengeance and leave the responsibilities of Poseidon’s Temple to me.”

Ven inclined his head. “As you say. I’m here to give Bastien his marching orders, since the Council called Conlan back into closed session.”

He turned back to Bastien, who was still reeling, trying to process. “You remember that hot ranger we met once in Miami? National Park Service chick? Smelled like shape-shifter?”

Bastien felt his insides shrivel up a little even as he nodded. “Kat Fiero? Yeah. Vague recollection.”

“Vague recollection, my ass,” Ven said, grinning. “It was the one time Mr. Even Keel got his smooth riled.”

Too late, Bastien realized he shouldn’t have come up with her name so fast, because now everybody else in the room was staring at him. Curious. Considering. Maybe, in Justice’s case, mocking.

At least he hadn’t said anything really stupid.

Like mentioning how the sunlight had kissed her tawny hair into spun gold.

Or how the strength in her tall, perfectly-shaped, curvy body had shot him into waking fantasies so explicit he’d had to leave the beachfront bar and walk directly into the ocean, fully clothed, in an attempt to cool down.

Mr. Even Keel. If only they knew. The calm amiability he’d fought so hard to present to the world after decades of battling the evil that stalked humankind had withered the rationality within him. If they knew how close he’d come to going berserker after discovering what the vampires had done to the babies in that orphanage in Romania.

After he’d been forced to clean up the mess.

Babies turned vampire were an abomination, but his soul would never recover from what he’d been forced to do. Three cycles of purification in the Temple had not been enough. Nothing would ever be enough to cleanse the stain on his soul. A woman like Kat deserved better than the monster he’d been forced into becoming.

“Yeah,” he repeated, voice raspy. “I remember her. Mostly how you were hitting on her and she blew you off,” he said, trying to turn the heat back on Ven.

Ven grinned. “Yeah, she blew me and my attempts at charm back on our collective asses. Point is, there’s a nest of shape-shifters in the Big Cypress National Preserve that’s gone rogue, in defiance of the big-shot Florida alpha’s edict that they ally with the vamps. We’re hoping we can get them on our side. The Big Cypress group is panthers, and the alpha is a truly bad-ass dude named Ethan.”

“And Kat?”

“She’s our in, we hope. From what we hear, she’s half human. Intel from Quinn.”

Bastien slowly nodded. Lady Riley’s sister was one of the leaders of the human rebellion against vamp and shape-shifter domination, and she tended to have extremely good information. “That would make sense. Kat seemed . . . different. I could smell the big cat, feel its power under her skin, but it wasn’t the same as your run of the mill furball.”

Justice whistled. “You felt her cat’s power under her skin? What else did you feel? Just how hot is this chick?”

Gut clenching, Bastien whirled to face Justice and whipped the hockey puck across the room at him. Justice jerked his head to the side, and Bastien watched in horror as the puck buried itself in the wall next to the warrior’s face.

“What in the nine hells was that?” Denal whooped, then strode over to pull the puck out of the wall.

It took him three tries.

Bastien felt his face flush hot with shame. A good warrior never lost control. His years of training had drummed that into his brain every bit as much as the arts of sword play and battle strategy.

What had come over him?

An image of the curve of Kat’s neck flashed into his mind.

Oh, damn.

He bowed to Justice. “My deepest apologies, Lord Justice. I don’t know . . . I --"

Justice cut him off, voice gone a deadly calm. “If you were anyone else, I’d kill you for that. You’ve saved my ass enough times to earn a free shot. But watch yourself in the future, Bastien.”

Alaric glided noiselessly across the room to stand in front of Bastien and stare up into his eyes. The fierce green glow in the priest’s eyes pierced heat across Bastien’s face, and he wondered if Poseidon would use Alaric to strike him down for endangering another of prince Conlan’s elite guard.

Wondered if any punishment the sea god had in his capricious mind could be any more dangerous than facing Kat again. In the nearly four hundred years of his existence, no female had affected him like that one. And she wasn’t even Atlantean.

She wasn’t even human.

She was forbidden.

The priest finally spoke. “Interesting. This mission will prove very . . . interesting. I may have to visit south Florida soon.”

And then Alaric shimmered back into mist and swept right off the balcony, leaving Bastien to face the warriors who were his closest friends -- and the mission he wasn’t anywhere near qualified to handle.

Oh, yeah. I’m golden.

Chapter 2

WILD THING Kat sat in her Jeep, shirt soaked through with sweat from the heat of south Florida in autumn, and wondered when a simple trip to the grocery store had turned into a test of courage. The thermometer at the bank had read eighty-five degrees, not all that unusual for this time of year, and the wild cat in her wanted to curl up in the sun on a rock somewhere.

Take a nap, maybe.

Take down a sheep or two.

“Yeah, right. Take a break from reality.”

The reality in which Kat Fiero, official National Park Service ranger and daughter to the former alpha of the Big Cypress panther coalition, had never once taken down a sheep. Or a goat. Or even a little bitty squirrel.

“Fake shape-shifter, useless excuse for a panther, worthless bitch,” she muttered. “Okay, that pretty much covers the range of happiness I’ll have to deal with if Fallon or her minions are in there, hanging out in the tuna fish aisle.”

She grabbed her wallet from her backpack and shoved it into her shorts pocket, then got out and slammed the door. Eyed the slut-red Jaguar with FALLON1 license plates, felt her lips curl back from her teeth.

The world is going to hell in a coffin, and I have time to worry about what these morons think of me why, exactly?

She thought back to the headlines she’d choked down with bitter coffee and overcooked eggs at Thelma’s grill. More bills passing Congress, more extra goodies tacked onto the 2006 Non-Human Species Protection Act, as if the poor humans were any danger to the vamps. Most of ‘em cowered in their homes at night, still unable to believe – even after a decade – that the things that went bump in the night were real.

Vampires and shape-shifters both.

Her dad hadn’t wanted any of it. “Upsets the natural order of things, Kat,” he’d said, again and again. “We’re meant to stay in the wild, remain true to our natures. Not play at being reporters and law enforcement and other civilized members of society.”

But he’d married a human, hadn’t he? And then he’d died, still trying to hide how disappointed he was in his only child. The daughter who’d never been able to shift. Not even once.

Now half the rangers she worked with -- and a good third of the local paranormal ops unit -- were shape-shifters. “Except me,” she muttered as she pushed open the door to the store and felt the wonderfully cool currents of air-conditioned air sweep out toward her. “I’m only half shape-shifter. I’m just a --"

“Freak!” The voice rang out with unsuppressed glee. “We were just talking about you, ranger freak show.”

Kat dropped her hand away from the butt of her service revolver, regretting yet again that bitchiness wasn’t grounds for shooting under National Park Service regs. “Fallon. Always a pleasure. Or, wait – never a pleasure, actually.”

She watched, eyes narrowed, as the petite – damn her – bane of her existence stalked up to her on the kind of five-inch heeled shoes Kat would never in her life wear. Then she allowed herself a little smugness because Fallon still had to look up at her. Being nearly six feet tall wasn’t always all bad.

Fallon ran a hand through her masses of black curls, arched her back, and acted like a feline in heat. Which she probably was.

Bitch.

The momentary pride Kat had taken in her height shriveled like her self-esteem, and she went back to feeling like a pudgy Amazon next to the delicate beauty. Somehow, she was sure Fallon knew it, too. Too tall, too strong, just too everything for the human males. And too wrong for the shifters. Kat would never be the belle of the ball; she was long since resigned to it. But she’d like, just once, to get an invitation to the damn dance. Just once find a man who wasn’t intimidated or disgusted by her. She wasn’t sure which was worse.

“Are you coming to the gathering tonight? Oh – wait. That’s right. You’re not really one of us. You’re probably not invited,” Fallon said, voice dangerously near a purr.

Kat wanted desperately to walk away. Wouldn’t give Fallon the satisfaction of seeing her cowardice. “I was invited. Just not interested,” she replied, putting all the bored indifference she could manage into her voice.

Fallon arched one eyebrow. “Really? And yet I would have thought your ranger instincts would have gone crazy over the mere idea of us forming an alliance with the Lord High Vampire of the southeast district. I’ve heard he and his blood pride have interesting tastes in entertainment.”

Kat had heard the reports. Humans tortured for days, used as playthings for the bastard’s sick, perverted pleasure. She clenched her hands into fists, barely realizing that her nails were cutting into her palms. “You’re lying,” she said flatly. “There’s no way Ethan would join forces with the vamps. Especially not Terminus’s bunch. The two of them nearly killed each other last year after Terminus played his games with three of Ethan’s youngest members.”

“Haven’t you heard? Terminus is dead. Some new gang in the northeast who’ve allied with those idiot rebels or something. Anyway, things change.” Fallon started to walk off, turned. “Not everything, apparently. Still not a real cat, are you? Tell me, how does it feel to work with wild panthers and realize you’ll never, ever be able to become one?”

Kat tightened her lips, knowing anything she said would only prolong the encounter.

Fallon laughed, and the sound of it scraped like shards of glass over an open wound. “Poor little freak Kat, with her pathetic human mother. And really, what were they thinking to name you Kat when you’ll never be one?”

As Fallon clacked away toward the door on her ridiculous heels, Kat tried to think up a blistering comeback. Unfortunately, the grief burning in her throat blocked the words from coming out, just as the human DNA swirling in her bloodstream blocked the panther from coming out.

Pathetic.

###

Ethan leaned against the wall nearest to the sealed chamber’s door and looked around, fighting every instinct in both of his dual natures in order to appear relaxed and nonchalant. His cat had gone feral beast inside him -- wanted to rip through his skin and attack the bloodsuckers in the room. Panthers didn’t care much for the smell of dead things that walked around.

But politics was a hunt better played by the human side of his existence. The vamp standing in the center of the room was a master gamesman and expected easy domination over Ethan.

Organos was in for a nasty surprise.

“So, the rumors are true,” Organos concluded. “The lost continent of Atlantis is evidently more than a fairytale for pathetic humans to tell their children. These warriors attacked and destroyed Barrabas and his blood pride, and it is said that Anubisa has gone into hiding.”

Ethan smiled, deliberately showing a lot of very sharp teeth. “Hiding? Or did the Atlanteans kill her, too?”

Organos hissed and his own fangs slid down into place. “You will speak of our goddess with respect, or this alliance will end before it begins. No human could ever defeat Anubisa. She plans strategy far beyond our understanding.”

Ethan raisd an eyebrow. “Really? She doesn’t share strategy with you, either? How exactly is this shape-shifter vamp alliance going to work if we don’t even know what’s going on?

“You will know what I know as soon as I know it. Surely you agree that our goal of complete human subjugation is worth a little uncertainty.”

Studying the vampire’s face was an exercise in futility. Organos gave nothing away with his expressionless features. He could have been made out of cold white marble.

Or else rigor mortis set in about, oh, two or three centuries again.

His cat shuddered inside him, registering a predator’s distaste for carrion. Ethan sent his thoughts inward, soothing and calming the beast. Soon. We’ll be out of here soon, and I’ll set you free to roam.

The cat snarled but subsided within him, a reminder of the constant need for control. The most powerful of the dual-natured stalked the precipice edging total conversion at all times. The danger of going wild was always present. There were too many who had never come back from animal form. Too many of his friends who had fallen prey to the damn humans and their illegal hunting.

When he’d seen the obscenity in Nelson’s shop, he’d roared out his anguish and vowed vengeance. Then he’d run outside, gotten as far away as he could before he puked his guts up.

That’s when he’d finally agreed to meet with Organos. After he’d seen his cousin – his closest boyhood friend – stuffed and mounted in a taxidermy shop.

The humans – and at least one black-hearted witch – were going to die.

Growling, he shook his head a little to try to rid himself of the image seared into his brain. He pinned Organos with his gaze. “Total subjugation. Yeah, they’ve gotta pay.”

The vampire glided closer, held out a thin, white-fleshed hand. “Partners?”

Ethan tried not to think about how Hank Fiero would be rolling in his grave at the idea. Tried not to think of Kat Fiero at all. Held out his own hand, repressing his cat’s violent revulsion. “Partners.”

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