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Authors: Sheryl Nantus

Battle Scars

BOOK: Battle Scars
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Battle Scars
By Sheryl Nantus

Book four of Blood of the Pride

P.I. Rebecca Desjardin is surprised when two seemingly unrelated missing-teen cases land in her lap on the same day. Her cat-shifter instincts tell her there’s more to the story, and when she uncovers a bitter feud between the two families, she suspects Romeo and Juliet runaways. She turns to her lover, Brandon Hanover, a man who knows the underground better than most.

Brandon is determined to help the woman he loves outwit ruthless enforcers and bring two missing kids to safety, but when a woman from his past resurfaces he finds himself caught between two worlds once again.

As the claws come out and the war between the shifter families turns deadly, the two will have to stand together or fall separately—and even that might not be enough to save them.

Look for
Blood of the Pride, Claws Bared
and
Family Pride,
available now!

76,000 words

Dear Reader,

It’s possible I say this every year, but I love October. To
me, this is the month that signals the start of a season of hot apple cider,
evenings by the fire, and curling up on the sofa with a good book, dressed
warmly in sweatpants and a comfy shirt and snuggled under my favorite fuzzy
blanket. We at Carina Press can’t provide most of those things, but we can
provide the good books, and this month we have more than a few good books!

In
Running Back
, the highly
anticipated sequel to Allison Parr’s new-adult contemporary romance
Rush Me
, Natalie Sullivan is on the verge of a
breakthrough most archaeology grad students only dream of: discovering a lost
city. Her research points to a farm in Ireland, but to excavate she needs
permission from the new owner:
the
Michael O’Connor,
popular NFL running back.

If you’re like me, there are certain tropes in romance that
you fall for every time. One of mine is the main theme of Christi Barth’s newest
book,
Friends to Lovers.
(Gee, can you guess what it
is?) Daphne struggles with revealing her longtime lust for Gib, sparking it all
off with a midnight kiss on New Year’s Eve—only Gib doesn’t know it’s Daphne
he’s kissed! Also in the contemporary romance category is
First and Again
by Jana Richards, which has a special place in my
heart because this emotional story takes place in my home state of North
Dakota.

For months, this Red Cross head nurse has been aiding Allied
soldiers caught behind enemy lines, helping them flee into the neutral
Netherlands. It’s only a matter of time until she’s caught in
Aiding the Enemy
, a historical romance by Julie Rowe.
If you’re a fan of
Downton Abbey
, be sure to check
out the rest of Julie’s historical romances.

We have two mysteries for readers to solve this month.
British crime author Shirley Wells returns to the sleepy northern town of
Dawson’s Clough with her popular Dylan Scott Mystery series in the next book,
Deadly Shadows.
And in Julie Anne Lindsey’s
Murder by the Seaside
, counseling is murder, but
it’s never been this much fun.

Erotic romance author Christine d’Abo brings us the story of
Alice’s obsession with a brooding lawyer at her firm, which takes Alice on a
journey of self-discovery through the rabbit hole and into the world of BDSM in
Club Wonderland.
Also this month, the
Love Letters
ladies, Ginny Glass, Christina Thacher,
Emily Cale and Maggie Wells, round up five sizzling-hot stories to finish off
their sexy stampede through the alphabet with
Love Letters
Volume 6:
Cowboy’s Command.

Edgar Mason is losing Agamemnon Frost despite everything
they’ve been through—the passion, the torture, the heat. Frost’s fiancée
Theodora is back, and Mason can feel his lover gravitating toward her. Every day
he sees them together, it tears at his heart. Don’t miss
Agamemnon Frost and the Crown of Towers
, the conclusion to Kim
Knox’s male/male historical science fiction trilogy.

Because October is the perfect month for the paranormal, we
have a wide selection of fantasy, urban fantasy and paranormal to share with
you. In Jeffe Kennedy’s fantasy romance,
Rogue’s
Possession
, neuroscientist Gwynn’s adventures in Faerie continue in
the long-awaited sequel to
Rogue’s Pawn.
And in the
sequel to
Soul Sucker
, a powerful magic user is
stealing people’s faces in San Francisco, and empath Ella Walsh and shifter
Vadim Morosov have been called in to investigate in
Death
Bringer
by Kate Pearce. Also returning with another book in her Blood
of the Pride series is Sheryl Nantus, with her paranormal romance
Battle Scars.

Combining futuristic fiction, fantasy and urban fantasy,
Trancehack
by Sonya Clark is a compelling
cross-genre romance. In a dystopian future where magic is out in the open and
witches are segregated, a high-profile murder case brings together a police
detective and a witch with unusual powers that combine magic and technology. But
dangerous secrets, a political cover-up, and the law itself stand between them.
Don’t miss this exciting new world of witchpunk!

Carina Press is pleased to introduce three debut authors this
October. Science fiction erotic romance author Renae Jones gives us a
Taste of Passion
when lust strikes hard for Fedni, an
empath who can taste emotion, but her off-worlder neighbor is horrified by the
caste system that the former courtesan holds dear.

Two urban fantasy authors debut with us this month. In
Kathleen Collins’s
Realm Walker
, a realm walker
hunts a demon intent on destroying both her and the mate who left her seven
years ago. Also debuting in urban fantasy is Joshua Roots with his book
Undead Chaos.
When warlock Marcus Shifter performs a
simple zombie beheading, he soon finds that the accidental framing of an
innocent necromancer, falling in lust, and burning down a bar are just the
beginning of his troubles.

Regardless of whether you’re discovering these books in
October or in the middle of summer, any time is the perfect time for reading,
and I hope you enjoy all these titles as much as we’ve enjoyed working on
them.

We love to hear from readers, and you can email us your
thoughts, comments and questions to
[email protected]
.
You can also interact with Carina Press staff and authors on our blog, Twitter
stream and Facebook fan page.

Happy reading!

~Angela James
Executive Editor, Carina Press

www.carinapress.com
www.twitter.com/carinapress
www.facebook.com/carinapress

Dedication

To my husband, who has always believed in me even when I didn’t; AD, who keeps pushing me to do my best, and Jazz... still missed and loved. There may be others but you’ll always hold a special place in our hearts.

Acknowledgments

My thanks to Angela James and the amazing staff at Carina Press—from the faboo art department to the fantastic author support crew who keep this crazy machine from running off the rails!

Chapter One

I’d always thought I’d appreciate the sight of a near-naked man scampering around my house in a pair of boxer shorts.

Until now.

I cleared my throat as Jake Middleston glared at me, his back to the kitchen. He had about ten years on me, with skin that had been left out in the sun too long. The jean jacket he wore over a dingy gray T-shirt was ripped along the arms—honest injuries and not for fashion. His short-cropped black hair was turning gray in spots, scattered over the scalp.

His nostrils flared and he frowned.

He could smell Brandon Hanover, my lover and new roommate, as Bran snuck into the kitchen.

He let out something akin to a huff.

Jake was old-school Felis. Tolerated humans when necessary, and even then under duress. He and his kin believed in the doctrine of each to their own and being in the same house as a human was tough, much less knowing said human was mated to me, a fellow Felis. I could see the words on his lips itching to break out, a good old-fashioned racist rant at me for being so involved with human society that I’d consider one of them as my beloved.

I had a snappy retort ready to go, curses included. My home, my rules.

But he was also a client and I had to stay polite in the face of old-fashioned prejudice. I’d done it before for other clients, slimy adulterers who wanted an easy way out of their marriage and itchy-fingered businessmen looking for criminals in their midst who stole paperclips and pencils.

If you had asked me six months ago if I’d have my fellow cat shifters as clients I would have laughed in your face. Being outcast for two decades has that effect on me.

But recent events had brought me back into the family and scored me one hot human mate, so I was prepared to deal with family as possible clients. And keep my mouth shut.

Besides, I needed the cash.

“You said you needed my help,” I prompted, trying to draw his attention away from Bran. I couldn’t see him but I could smell him, fresh from our bed upstairs.

He hadn’t showered yet, making his natural male smell more intense, almost to the point of overpowering—let’s just say that we enjoy waking each other up multiple times before we actually get up. I’d managed to get into the shower before my arranged meeting with Middleston but he’d refused, showing his stubborn streak and annoyance at me having anything to do in the morning other than stay in bed.

Bran knew we Felis had an enhanced sense of smell. And I knew he knew my new client would have it, as well.

The older man rubbed the palms of his hands on his jeans, likely in an attempt to ignore the musky scent drifting across the room. “I have a daughter, Lisa. She’s almost eighteen and thinks she knows it all.” He gave me a knowing smile. “As you can guess we disagree on a few things.”

I nodded. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted Bran tiptoeing toward the stairs cradling a huge bowl of tortilla chips and a bottle of salsa.

He knew I hated crumbs in bed.

He knew I couldn’t say anything without making a scene.

I kept my attention on Middleston. It kept me from considering disembowelment.

“She...” He cleared his throat. “She ran away a few days ago. I figured she was just mad at me again, the usual stuff. You know how kids are these days, they get told ‘no’ once and they fly off the handle.” He glanced to one side, a flush coming over his face. “Since her mom passed away a few years ago we haven’t been as close as I’d have liked. She’s my youngest, a ‘happy surprise’ as my wife put it. Other two are married and gone off to different Prides, so it’s just the two of us.” He swallowed hard and drew a deep breath, steadying himself. “Her mom, she raised all of them right, three daughters I love to death. But Lisa and I, we’ve just sort of been, well, disconnected since Jamie died. I don’t do all that great with kits to start with, and little girls, well—”

“Why did you wait so long to come to me?”

He glanced toward the front door. “I called the local cops and they told me to give her a few days, let her think it over. Said most runaways change their minds as soon as they get off the bus down in the city, turn around and come right back.” He cleared his throat again. “I wanted to give her that chance, to come home without any questions.”

“But she didn’t.”

“She’s down here in Toronto. I know it ’cause she never stopped talking ’bout coming to the city, making her fortune here. She left me a note saying she loved me but she had to strike out on her own and all that. I’ve heard things, bad things about young women who come to the city.” He let out a staggered sigh. “I don’t want her to be one of those statistics.”

I waited.

He spread his hands. “I don’t know nothing about this city, Miss Desjardin. I’ve been here a handful of times, once to see that
Phantom
thing ’cause Jamie had me buy her tickets for her birthday and a few more times for business. All I know is our town and our Pride. Lisa, she did school trips and all that. It’s what made her think of coming here. If I were twenty years younger, even ten, I’d be on her trail. But this, this is beyond my ken. I can’t hunt in this city like you can. This is your territory.” He bit down on his lower lip before continuing. “I want my daughter back and I think you’re my best chance.”

“When’s her birthday?”

He cleared his throat. “In three days.”

“You understand when she turns eighteen she’s recognized as an adult by the authorities.” I tried not to look toward the stairs. “I can’t promise I’ll find her by then.”

Jake nodded. “I know it’s not a lot of time but I want to talk to her one last time. If she wants to go her own way I’ll accept that but I don’t want us to go our own ways angry at each other. I owe her mother that much.” He tucked his chin into his chest. “I just want the chance. Three days, three weeks. Find her and tell her I want to talk, that’s all.”

“I’ll do my best to find her and inform her of your wishes.” I’d learned early in the private investigator game to not make promises I couldn’t keep.

“Do you—” He paused and I could see him fighting to find the right words. “Do you find a lot of lost kids?”

I wasn’t going to lie, not to family. “I don’t get a lot of these types of cases. Usually the parents call me in a panic because their darling didn’t come home last night and I find the kids a few hours later cowering at a shelter or at the bus station, ready to go home. The glamorous life of a runaway isn’t what most kids are prepared for.”

“Lisa’s a smart kit. Took her kill within the hour on her first hunt.” His chest puffed out. “She’s a tough little girl. She’s a survivor.”

“We’ll see how it goes. As I said, I can’t promise anything but I’ll give you my best.”

He sat back in the wooden chair and studied me. “Heard you was good and honest.” His tone shifted more toward approval than resignation. At least I wouldn’t be fighting with Daddy during this job.

I smiled. “I try. Do you have a recent picture?”

“Figured you’d be asking for one.” Middleston withdrew a wallet-sized picture from an inside jacket pocket and put it on the desk. The young redhead grinned out at me with youthful optimism. Petite and posing by a fence, Lisa looked like a thousand other young girls on the verge of adulthood.

My hand hovered over it. I paused, wrestling with my conscience. “Forgive me for asking, but why aren’t you going through other...resources?”

I didn’t want to say it out loud but I knew there were Felis inside the police department along with almost every other area of life—we tended to get around. A single phone call from any Board member and everyone from beat cops up to detectives and beyond would be looking for Lisa Middleston both on and off-duty, backed up by the law since she was still a minor for three more days. I’d seen the system at work and it was frighteningly effective in finding lost or missing children.

I might be throwing away a job but I had to ask why he wasn’t using the network.

Middleston stared at the floor. “Don’t want people to be knowing our private business. People start talking, start taking things the wrong way.”

“Ah,” I replied, seeing the light. He wanted to keep his daughter’s disappearance as low-key as possible. The gossip mill would be running overtime if he called the Board and asked for an all-points bulletin to be put out on Lisa. By coming to me, Jake was keeping clear of officially calling a hunt—I was family and I was able to access more resources than he could alone but I was also outcast and the news wouldn’t get around about his daughter’s indiscretions. His family wouldn’t lose face and he wouldn’t be bringing in an outsider.

This flexibility was what had brought me back into the family in the first place a few months ago. A blessing and a curse to be part of two worlds and yet not really fully in either.

As if to remind me, my left arm itched, specifically the still-healing skin just below my shoulder courtesy of a stray bullet slamming into me just over a month ago. It’d been a nasty gouge and I’d laughed when the doctors had suggested a referral to a plastic surgeon.

They hadn’t seen the old scars on my back, courtesy of my family.

Middleston pulled his wallet from his pocket. The worn leather was bulging with cash, the stress of folding it over splitting the ancient hide at the center. I hoped he wasn’t planning to stay in Toronto too long—flashing a wad like that, he was begging to be mugged.

I wasn’t worried about Jake.

I was worried about the mugger.

He pulled out five one-hundred dollar bills. “I assume this’ll be enough to start.”

I tried to look nonplussed at the generous amount. “Let me draw up the contract and I’ll be with you in a minute.” I reached for the bottom desk drawer where I kept the standard forms.

One edge of his mouth twitched downward.

“Or,” I said, “We can just shake hands.”

He was old-school, where a handshake was as good if not better than legal documents.

Not to mention it kept the paper trail invisible. No paperwork, no rumors.

No chance for anyone to connect us.

“Let me know if you need more money.” Middleston got to his feet. “How much detail do you need to get started? You already got her picture.”

My pencil hovered over the blank yellow legal pad. “Let’s start with the basics. Weight, height, eye color.” I pointed the pink eraser at the photo. “That’s great, but just in case she decides to change her hair color or something.”

The older man worked through the list with ease as if he’d been practicing.

I wasn’t so sure he hadn’t been.

“Is there anyone she was seeing? Some boyfriend, past or present, she might be hanging out with?”

The answering scowl was all I needed.

“No one of note,” Jake snarled. “There was a fellow but I told him to shove off.”

“His name?”

He shook his head. “No. I’m not giving you that. You go talk to him you’ll start this whole thing up again and I told her she’s done and over with him.” His lips rolled around as if he wanted to spit and couldn’t. “No one of note, like I said.”

I winced inside. If this was a case of Lisa running off with her boyfriend then this whole thing could get nasty really fast.

“I just want to talk to her,” Jake repeated before I could ask anything else.

He slumped in the chair, the flash of anger gone. All that was left was an old man at the point of tears.

Jake looked at me with weary, bloodshot eyes. “If she’s going to go her own way I want to say goodbye in a right way, like a father should.”

I weighed his words, working both sides of the equation.

“I’ll find her and tell her you want to talk to her.” I jabbed my index finger in the air. “But I won’t let you hurt her.”

Jake leaned back as if I’d slapped him. “I wouldn’t hurt Lisa. She’s all I have now.”

My internal judge told me he was telling the truth. There was also the chance she’d run away with a punk and could be looking for a way out of a destructive relationship. I had no way of knowing the truth.

Other than finding Lisa and asking her.

The small voice reminded me that if I didn’t take the case Jake Middleston might end up stomping around Toronto looking for her alone and headed for a world of trouble. If he ended up in a street fight it could go badly, with his Felis-enhanced senses giving him the upper hand and someone suffering, either human or Felis.

I couldn’t let that happen.

I grumbled inside about a damned conscience that loved to weigh in on my business choices but never showed up when I was pigging out on chocolate donuts to the point of nausea.

“I’ll find her and make sure she’s safe. And tell her you want to talk to her.” It was a compromise but one I could live with.

“Thank you.” He got to his feet and stretched out his hand. “Thank you.”

His grip was hard and strong, a typical Felis test of strength.

I made it through without any broken fingers. “I’ll call when I have something.”

Jake gave me his cell phone number and headed for the front door, walking through my living room. Jazz trilled from where she lay on the couch, rolling onto her back and exposing her tummy for a rub. She looked at him with sad, dark eyes as if she didn’t have enough loving and a bowl full of kibble waiting for her in the kitchen.

He stopped for a second to rub the white cat’s belly, chuckling as she pawed the air. A few mumbled somethings and he moved on to go outside.

I stayed at my desk and listened to him step through the front yard and onto the sidewalk, his work boots pounding the pavement. A minute later a radio blared incoherent country music and an engine roared before dying down to a low hum. The sound lessened and disappeared as I envisioned the pickup truck pulling away and heading down the street.

I picked up my cell phone and tapped in Jess Hammersmythe’s number.

It wasn’t that I didn’t trust Jake Middleston, but I’d developed a simple mantra over the years of being a private investigator and hearing very different stories from both sides of a divorce case or insurance claim.

Trust but verify.

If there was a missing girl from my old Pride she’d know about it. And as one of the Board members she’d know if there was more to this than just a teenager running off with her true love of the week who, presumably, was another Felis. There was nothing illegal about it but it’d be a note of concern for the Board, who kept a close eye on all of the family—you didn’t simply disappear into the crowd. A runaway wasn’t enough to call out the troops but there was no way Lisa Middleston was going to stay underground for long.

BOOK: Battle Scars
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