Authors: Cyndi Friberg Friberg
Therian Heat, Book Three
Though Devon comes from a line of cougar-shifters, her own animal nature has not yet been defined. The mysterious “backers” have captured her, intent on using her untapped Therian abilities for unknown ends. She escapes from their prison, but not from the emotional scars left by their abuse.
Ian, an ancient Therian raptor, offers protection and encouragement. Devon has always wanted Ian, always felt a connection deeper than friendship. But Ian insists he’s too old and jaded to make Devon an honorable mate. If she hopes to feel whole again, she must regain control over her emotions and desires. And she
At first Ian resists Devon’s attempts at seduction. She needs a shoulder to cry on, not a demanding lover, and Ian is never satisfied until his partners surrender unconditionally. But Devon stirs primal instincts and awakens ravenous longings he has suppressed for centuries. He wants her, but he fears the darkness inside him will destroy her.
Light seeped in under Devon’s eyelids and pain branched across her brain. She groaned, rolling to her side as she buried her face in a pillow. Unwanted scents crept into her nose, drawing her back to reality. Stale cigarette smoke, sweat and
, each discovery was less desirable than the last.
How long had she been unconscious? She tuned out her surroundings as she sifted through the cobwebs obscuring her memory. She’d been kidnapped twenty-eight days ago and confined in a facility that was part prison, part laboratory. Though she hadn’t been beaten, she’d been given drugs with horrendous side effects and subjected to all manner of testing despite her very loud objections.
But where was she now and why had the Italian sedated her? He’d burst into her cell like some liberating hero then shoved a needle into her neck before she mustered the strength to struggle. She blew out a frustrated breath then slid her hand out until she found the edge of the metal bunk. For half a second she’d imagined she was back in her own bed, safe with her family and friends.
She slowly lifted her head and peered through the strands of her hair. This room was different, less high-tech holding cell and more actual cage. Every time she thought her situation couldn’t get any worse, the gods conspired to prove her wrong.
“You are finally awake.
.” She recognized the Italian’s voice, though she still didn’t know his name. He tried to be warm and amicable, but his Latin charm was wasted on her. She wasn’t fooled by his dark good looks or practiced smile. There was no power on earth that could make her trust him. He was one of the “backers”, the shadow council that supervised and controlled the amoral project which had taken her captive.
“Where am I?” She swung her legs over the side of the bunk and sat. “Why was it necessary to move me?” Flipping her hair out of her eyes, she paused for a better look at her surroundings. Two walls were nothing but metal bars. There was a toilet and sink, but nothing resembling privacy. A thin pad stretched across the metal bunk and a folded blanket had been provided for warmth. Neither appeared particularly clean.
Had her family finally located her prison? Was that what motivated the sudden change? Hope sputtered out nearly before it flared. It was more likely her family still thought she was hiding, still punishing them for offering her up as a sacrifice to the rebel cause.
“Your previous accommodations were more comfortable, I agree.” The Italian slipped his hand into the pocket of his dress pants, managing to look debonair despite the dismal surroundings. “Unfortunately, your people felt it necessary to destroy the mountain complex.”
By “her people” he meant Therians, shapeshifters able to take on the physical form of their respective animal natures. She had been born into a powerful cougar clan, but her animal nature had yet to be defined. “Go ‘my people’. It’s only unfortunate that you weren’t there when they attacked.” So her family was aware of the backers’ project, but did they realize she was one of the test subjects?
He smiled and folded his arms over his chest. “Always so feisty. Your spirit is what keeps me fascinated with you.”
She cringed. Her spirit was what had given these bastards access to her. The fight with her brother seemed so foolish now. No rebellion, however noble, was worth the degradations she’d endured for the past twenty-eight days.
The Therian nation was on the brink of civil war and her brother, Kyle, was right in the middle of the conflict. His beliefs and values were very different from their father’s, so when their father died and Kyle took power, half the feline clans expected him to maintain the status quo while the other half were ready for him to make radical changes.
Taking advantage of the escalating conflict, Lokesh, a powerful jaguar alpha well-known for his support of the ancient ways, had offered to switch sides if Kyle allowed him to mate with her. She’d waited for Kyle to inform Lokesh that she was a modern woman who refused to bow to the antiquated customs outlined in the Charter. Instead Kyle looked at her with pleading eyes and asked her to consider the union. She’d stormed off in a fit of rage, never dreaming she’d just provided an opportunity to the humans who’d been watching her for days.
If it were within her power to suppress her feisty spirit, she would have done so years ago. Instead she’d fought her handlers every time they entered her cell and sabotaged test results at every opportunity. “We both know I live to entertain you.” Her sarcasm only widened his smile. “Is this your private petting zoo? Are you hiding me from your partners?”
His smile vanished and his dark eyes gleamed as tension hardened his expression. “You needn’t worry about my partners. I am in control of you now. That’s all you need to know.” The outer room was little more than a long, narrow corridor. She couldn’t see what lay beyond her enclosure, but the corridor continued on so it was likely there were other cells.
“Is that so?” If she could provoke him into opening her cage, it might give her an opportunity to escape. Even latent as she was, a Therian was stronger and faster than a human. This complex was definitely older and it seemed smaller than where they’d kept her before. If he was foolish enough to attempt to control her himself, it could be her only advantage. “Did you bring me here so you can play with your pet in private, or do you just like to watch?”
His lips curved but didn’t part and his gaze swept the length of her body. “My colleagues were convinced the gene therapy you underwent would make you more malleable. Obviously they were wrong. The increase in your sex drive, however, offers all sorts of possibilities.”
“And you’re just the man to explore those possibilities?” She strolled toward the bars separating them, intentionally swinging her hips.
He laughed, but the sound was cold and mocking. “My tastes might be considered avant-garde by some, but I’ve never been tempted by
.” He paused, allowing the word to resonate. “You are lovely, as many wild animals are, but you are an animal.”
She scoffed then glanced away. “And humans are not animals?”
“I can appreciate the beauty of a panther without wanting to rut with it. Your animal nature has yet to be determined, but you are still very much a…creature.”
“Glad to hear it. So why am I here?”
The Italian moved back from the bars and motioned to someone Devon couldn’t see. “I brought you a present.” Two uniformed guards walked into view, an unconscious man supported between them. The Italian pulled a pistol from the back of his pants and pointed it at Devon as one of the guards opened her cage. “Behave.”
“I paid for single occupancy.” She slammed her foot against the bottom rail of the door and glared at the Italian.
“Back off.” He pulled the slide back then let it spring forward with a menacing snap. “Now.”
He wouldn’t shoot her. She was too valuable. But he might let the guards have some fun with her. The backers had done so before. Of course she’d been so crazy with drug-induced lust at the time she hadn’t really minded. Shame, hot and persistent, branded her a liar. The situation might have been beyond her control, but the memories tormented her still.
One of the guards shoved against the bars, easily sliding her bare foot across the concrete floor. She pivoted to the side as they maneuvered their bundle into the cell then she darted out and sprinted down the corridor.
There were a total of four cells, though the other three were empty. Her feet slapped the floor with painful speed, but she didn’t let it slow her down. It was highly doubtful she’d make it out of the building, but a window or perimeter door would give her some idea of her new location. She flew around a corner and found a metal door that appeared to lead outside. She shoved it open and a shrill alarm blared, echoing throughout the building.
The Italian caught her around the waist and dragged her back inside. She only caught a glimpse of rolling hills and miles and miles of nothing before her captor spun her around and shoved her against the wall.
“There is nowhere to run,
. We’re ten miles from the nearest paved road and fifty miles from anything resembling civilization.” Her only reply was a forceful shove. He rocked back then righted his stance and pressed the gun to the underside of her throat. “The others believe you’re more trouble than you’re worth. If you convince me they’re right, I’ll put a bullet in your brain.”
A shiver dropped down her spine as she looked into his cold dark eyes. For the first time since she’d met him, she believed him capable of murder. “If I can’t be trained, why keep me around?”
His dark brows arched and he leaned in, pressing his lower body against hers. “Are you really so anxious to die?” he whispered into her ear.
“If I’m nothing but an animal, why is your dick hard?” she whispered in return. Fury flashed through his expression and she cursed her wayward tongue. She had to learn to think before she spoke!
He grabbed her by the hair and dragged her back the way they’d come, not speaking until bars separated them again. “The male has been injected with the gen three formula, which means he’ll awaken with one thing on his mind.” His smirk was cruel and unrepentant. “Fight him if you must, but you might want to give in before he turns completely feral. Once he shifts, he’ll be more interested in ripping out your throat than enjoying your firm, young body. Gen three makes males extremely aggressive.”
Her breathing sped and her cellmate’s scent suddenly reached her nose. “He’s a wolf! Are you crazy? I will not breed with a wolf!”
“If you don’t let him fuck you, you’ll die. It’s as simple as that. Sex will allow him to maintain control of his animal. We want to see how mating affects—” His phone rang, interrupting his explanation. After glancing at the display to see who was calling, he raised the phone to his ear. “
Devon concentrated on the muffled voice coming through his cell phone but she couldn’t decipher the words.
“Are you sure it’s Osric? I’m not making the trip unless you’re positive—” The voice cut in, sounding impatient and angry. “Fine. I’m on my way.”
Osric? Osric was the traitorous tiger-shifter smack-dab in the middle of this mess. His relentless support of the antiquated customs outlined in the Charter had put him at odds with many in the Therian nation. The rebels were working hard to modernize the laws, yet Osric resisted change every step of the way.
His primary motivation was obviously greed, so Devon hadn’t been surprised to learn that he’d sold out his own people to these soulless human scientists. Had the backers finally tired of his double-dealing, or had his clan given him what he so richly deserved and left what remained for the backers to find?
The Italian slipped the phone back into his pocket and looked at her. “I need to leave for a few hours. The guards will be here to ensure your safety.”
“Yeah, right.” If the backers had found Osric’s body there would be no reason for the Italian to leave.
“If you cooperate, they have permission to move him to another cell. But they will only protect you if you are cooperating.”
“We are at war with the wolves!” She gripped the bars with both hands, determined not to beg. Fear and frustration tightened her chest until each breath was a painful effort. She could not go through this again. Her psyche couldn’t take it. “Please,” the word slipped out despite her pride, “don’t do this.”
He hesitated for a moment, his expression unreadable. “Don’t fight him and it will be over quickly. It always is at that age.”
At what age? She glanced at the wolf but all she could see was a long, lean body and the back of his head. If the wolf had any control at all, he could fight the urges for a while. But she knew firsthand how rapidly instinct took over. And it wasn’t just the thought of having sex with a wolf, though that was horrifying enough. If he got her pregnant, they would both be outcasts, unwelcome by either cat or wolf.
“You don’t understand what you’re doing. This is not allowed.”
He squared his shoulders and took a deep breath. “You brought this on yourself. If you’d have been more reasonable, my partners would have been more indulgent. This is the last stop, Devon. If I can’t produce results you will be retired from the program.” He spun on the ball of his foot and strode down the hall. One of the guards took up a position beside the cell while the other followed the Italian from the room.
This couldn’t be happening. She clenched the bars until her fingers ached, staring off into nothingness. Mindless lust. All she had to do was stop fighting against the images and her mind was flooded with memories and echoes of sensation. Overwhelmed by carnal impulses, she’d had no control over her body or her mind. She’d been so damn helpless thanks to the mysterious formula. And now they expected her to close her eyes and let it happen again. If she had to endure the degradation one more time, her soul would shrivel up and die.
Intentionally releasing her hold on the bars, she slowly turned around. There had to be something she could do. She looked around, desperate for something with which to bind the wolf or at least slow him down.
There was nothing.
He groaned, rolling to his back as he scrubbed his hands over his face. His brown hair was streaked with gold, a common occurrence with Therian wolves. Then he pressed his palms against his temples and muttered, “What the hell… Where am I?”