Authors: Cheryl Brooks
Tags: #Romance Speculative Fiction
Copyright © 2013 by Cheryl Brooks
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Cover design by Anne Cain
Cover image © Stryjek/Dreamstime
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For my friends, my family, and my readers.
You give me joy each and every day.
Every woman in the galaxy wants to tame him.
Sara couldn’t say she hadn’t been warned. After all, Jerden
Zetithian, and though she’d expected his waist-length hair and stunning physique, when he came cantering up on her missing stallion—no bridle, no saddle, no
—with a black leopard bounding alongside, her breath caught in her throat. Ordinarily his good looks wouldn’t have mattered to a woman like Sara, but the picture they presented was nothing short of spectacular. Even so, skuzzy Cylopean or Zetithian hunk, Jerden had her horse, and Sara wanted him back.
She’d heard the rumors that Jerden was dangerous, insane, and lived like a hermit in the wilderness. But although her good friend and neighbor Bonnie Dackelov had assured her those rumors were completely unfounded, he
look the part, especially with that huge cat shadowing his every move.
Closing her eyes, she gave herself a mental kick for going to his place alone. Bonnie was cute and kind, and Jerden already knew her. She could’ve easily convinced him to part with Danuban, simply by being her pretty little self. Sara was out of her league.
Still, she did have the law on her side and documentation to prove she was the stallion’s owner, giving her a bona fide excuse to finally meet her newest and nearest neighbor without being introduced as a potential love interest. She was there to get a horse that, as part of the carefully overseen equine importation program on the recently colonized planet of Terra Minor, was a very valuable animal.
Black as night, standing sixteen hands high with a long, flowing mane and tail and a high, arched neck, Danuban had a bloodline that could be traced back over a thousand years, and the Andalusian breed itself dated back to Earth’s fourteenth-century Spain. Moving with an elegance few other breeds could match, he looked like something straight out of a romantic fairy tale.
Unfortunately, horses were the only things about those old tales that interested Sara. She had no use for romance and had stopped trying to be charming long ago. It never worked for her. Even as a teen, any time she made the attempt, the boy in question stared at her almost as though another guy had displayed interest—and the only time a male classmate
shown interest had backfired on her in a way she still didn’t care to think about, nor had she ever shared that experience with anyone.
She’d heard all about this Jerden—how he used to sell himself in a brothel on Rhylos for a thousand credits per session—and had avoided Bonnie’s attempts to introduce her to him. She had no desire to meet yet another man who wouldn’t give a damn if he ever saw her again.
A man would have to be awfully good at what he did to charge that much for an hour’s…
. Sara didn’t even want think about how much she would have to pay him to look at her twice. She knew there was nothing feminine about her—with the possible exception of an affectionate heart. Unfortunately, only animals seemed to appreciate that quality.
Though Andalusians were characteristically docile and gentle, the long voyage from Earth had left Danuban wild and unmanageable, and he’d broken away from his handlers in Nimbaza before his tracking implant could be placed. Impossible to track, where he’d run off to was a mystery until Bonnie, whose farm lay to the north of Sara’s land, reported that Jerden had acquired another stray.
Which was apparently something else he was good at. She’d heard about the leopard that followed him everywhere, as well as the pack of dogs and domestic cats he’d managed to accumulate in the short time he’d been living on Terra Minor. According to Bonnie, the murder of a woman on Rhylos had affected him so strongly that he’d become a recluse. But though he might have been avoiding people, animals seemed to be welcome, which might explain why Danuban had wound up on his land.
At least he hadn’t ended up on Nathan Wolmack’s ranch. Nate had a decent herd of horses and was one of only two men who’d ever sought her company, but, like the first one, he gave Sara the creeps. Thankfully, his land was even farther north than Bonnie’s, or Sara would have had more visits from him, though she did have to pass by his place on the way to Nimbaza. Rumor had it that he was trying to buy the spread to the east of hers, and Sara prayed that the deal would fall through. The last thing she needed was Nate showing up whenever the spirit moved him.
She’d had no such problems with Jerden, though there were plenty of women in the district who would’ve loved to have a problem like that, and for that matter, quite a few who wouldn’t mind if Nate came sniffing around. Sara would’ve preferred to avoid dealing with either man, but in this instance, she had no choice.
Having parked her dusty speeder in front of Jerden’s rustic lakeshore home, she stood waiting by the porch, taking in the scenery. A picturesque lake stretched out behind the house, mirroring the snowcapped mountains that loomed above it. Open grassland lay to the north, ending where Sara’s fences began. Surrounded by a grove of tall conifers, the ranch-style house was built of logs, with two steps up to a wide veranda where at least six dogs and as many cats lay sleeping, both on and under the chairs that were scattered about. All appeared to be healthy and well-fed, in addition to being surprisingly well-groomed. Two of the dogs got up to greet her with panting smiles and wagging tails, but the rest didn’t bother. The cats didn’t even wake up.
Sara had been confident that her experience with horses would make a difference in Danuban’s unruly behavior, but she couldn’t help envying the way Jerden rode without benefit of bridle or whip. The stallion seemed to do his bidding without question, and he sat on the Andalusian’s broad back as if he’d been born there. With horse whisperers scattered throughout human history, it should have come as no surprise that members of some alien species—such as the Mordrials, some of whom could communicate with animals through telepathic means—might possess the same abilities. Nevertheless, a tingle tightened the back of Sara’s neck as she watched him ride.
But Jerden Morokovitz was a Zetithian, not a Mordrial. The only things his kind were noted for were the occasional prescient vision, their attractive feline characteristics, and, if the reports were correct, sexual abilities that were second to none.
Not that Sara would have been a good judge of anyone’s sexual prowess. Bonnie, on the other hand, was married to Lynx, who was not only Zetithian, but a former harem slave. She could have enlightened Sara, but the fact that Zetith and nearly all of its people had been destroyed at the instigation of one insanely jealous and very powerful man was proof enough. Zetithian males were irresistible, particularly to human women, which was what Sara feared far more than the leopard by Jerden’s side. She had no desire to develop an interest in another man only to be ridiculed or ignored—or even abused.
Determined to keep this meeting friendly, Sara waved at Jerden as he approached. When he dismounted with a catlike grace that many a rider would envy, she saw that her eyes hadn’t been deceiving her. He wasn’t wearing
Not even a ring or a watch. She reminded herself that her visit was unannounced and that this was
land. She couldn’t fault him for his nudity, but his total lack of modesty surprised her. He made no attempt to cover himself, though Sara was at a loss to explain how he would have accomplished this. She doubted he could have done it successfully even if he’d used both hands.
Danuban trotted off, his black coat gleaming in the sun, but the leopard never left Jerden’s side. Jerden didn’t say a word, walking steadily forward until he stood directly in front of her. Close, but not
close—though Sara did have to look up to meet his eyes, which was unusual for a woman of her height. The gaze from his dark, feline orbs was so intense Sara felt her resolve crumbling. She stiffened her spine, refusing to be intimidated.
“Hello, Mr. Morokovitz. I’m Sara Shield, one of your neighbors. I own the land bordering yours to the north.” Forcing herself to smile, she held out a hand in greeting. “Thought it was time we met.”
He remained impassive for a long moment, giving her time to study him. Beneath eyebrows that swept upward at the outer tip, rather than down, his vertical pupils emanated a golden glow that was clearly visible even in broad daylight. A firm jaw, straight nose, and cleft chin marked him as a very handsome man, but his feline fangs added a touch of the exotic, perhaps even a whisper of danger. In typical Zetithian fashion, his ears curved upward to a point, and shining hair hung to his waist in ebony spirals. Deeply tanned skin covered a lean, muscular frame, and his genitals rivaled Danuban’s.
Sara had seen other Zetithians, but this one, like her stallion, was the epitome of his breed. He was flawless, charismatic, and alive with vibrant health. Suddenly, that thousand-credit stud fee didn’t seem quite so exorbitant.
Ignoring her outstretched hand, he nodded toward Danuban, who was grazing nearby. “That’s your horse, isn’t it?”
Apparently he wasn’t one to beat around the bush. Neither was she. “Yes, he is. And I want him back.”
“Take him.” Without another word, he turned and stepped up onto the porch. The leopard followed close behind, giving her a sidelong glance that seemed almost smug.
Sara stood gaping as the front door closed behind them. Somehow she hadn’t thought it would be quite that easy.
Danuban wouldn’t let her near him. And he didn’t dance sideways or act coy, either. No, he threw up his magnificent head and took off at a gallop, aiming for the foothills of the mountains on the far side of the lake. Shaking her head, she climbed back into her speeder and headed for home.
Well… at least I know where he is.
Once inside the house, Jerden breathed a sigh of relief. Before he’d realized why she was there, he’d come very close to ordering her off his land, which wasn’t the best way to treat a neighbor, and a close one at that.
Plopping down in his favorite chair, he leaned back, staring up at the ceiling while his eyes burned with unshed tears. As he rode up to the house, for the one brief moment when he realized that a woman had come calling, his old habits had attempted to surface. His old
habits. But then the vision of Audrey’s crumpled body and lifeless eyes slammed the door shut as firmly as ever.
He focused on the horse instead. He would miss him, but since horses weren’t native to Terra Minor, it was apparent that the stallion
to belong to someone, and sooner or later, the owner would come in search of him. The question was, how had she known he was there?
She could have been visiting all of the neighboring homesteads in the hope that she might spot him, but it was more likely that one of Bonnie and Lynx’s children had seen him out riding. After their parents’ first visit, the kids had been sneaking over to his place fairly often. They’d never spoken with him openly, but he heard their laughter.
The eldest girl, Shaulla—Bonnie’s daughter by a previous liaison with a Vessonian—was also part Treslanti and could blend in with her surroundings, disappearing at will. She could easily have seen the horse and then told her parents about it. After that, it would only be a matter of time before this Sara Shield paid him a visit.
Still, he wished he could have kept the stallion a little longer. Riding him through the foothills of the mountains had forced Jerden to look outside himself, allowing him to view the world through new eyes. Now, even that respite would be taken from him.
Jerden had found the beautiful stallion drinking from the lake when he’d come down from the mountains several weeks before. Exhaustion was one of the few ways Jerden had found to help him cope with his loss, and he’d taken to hiking up the mountainsides, often running until his muscles screamed in protest. Nothing kept his despair at bay for long, though, and being around other people made it worse. He saw Audrey’s face on nearly every woman he met, no matter what planet she hailed from. And in other women’s faces, he saw her murderer’s eyes, the insane electric blue eyes of the Davordian woman who had killed Audrey in order to take her job as “fluffer” at the Zetithian Palace.
After Audrey’s death, Jerden had sold his share of the Palace to Onca, who was now the sole owner—their other partner, Tarq, having married not long before. Onca hadn’t found any new partners, so he was going it alone, but hinted that he might be retiring soon. Looking back, Jerden had to wonder what the hell they were thinking to prostitute themselves in that manner. Jealousy had already destroyed their world. Whatever made them think it couldn’t happen again?
Cria must’ve sensed his despair, for she leaned against his leg, purring as she nudged his hand with her broad head. The leopard seemed to enjoy when Jerden purred back, but for him to purr required some degree of contentment, and, at the moment, he felt none. The other requirement for purring was sexual desire, something that had eluded him ever since Audrey’s death.
Sara apparently hadn’t felt it, either. He’d have scented her desire if she had. A neutral female scent was rare, though he
picked up something faintly floral.
She’d even met his gaze directly, not allowing her eyes to roam over his naked body, which was also odd. Women normally couldn’t keep from staring at him, whether he was dressed or not. She hadn’t even seemed embarrassed by his nudity. Bonnie had mentioned that Sara had never married. However, now that he’d finally met Sara, he wondered why Bonnie had seen fit to tell him that.
It didn’t matter. Sara would take the horse back to her farm, and he’d probably never see her or the stallion again. Jerden couldn’t explain why this thought made him feel suddenly bereft. Was it the loss of the horse, or did it have something to do with