Wild ThingJ. Kenner
About the book
The Trouble with Demons (a five book anthology Sneak Peek)
Excerpt from Tainted
Excerpt from Bitch Slap
Excerpt from Wicked Grind
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Also by Julie Kenner
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by J. Kenner
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I absolutely love writing in paranormal worlds, and when I got the rights back to this sexy, fun shifter romance novella, I knew that I wanted to put it out there again.
The story was originally published in 2004 in the Essence of Midnight anthology, under the name Julie Kenner. And while I’ve kept the core of the original story, I’ve done a few minor updates, while retaining the “classic Kenner” feel!
I hope you enjoy!
About the book
Part panther, part human, Luc Agassou lives a cursed life. Only his true mate can save him, but Luc has given up the hope of ever finding her. And so he stays hidden in the shadows, locking himself away from those he might harm.
Caitlyn Raine has spent her life fighting her own personal demons. Now a detective, she’s made it her mission to track down and lock away the human monsters that roam the dark streets of New Orleans.
From the moment he sees her, Luc knows that Cate is the the one. But in order to save him, Cate will have to give in to her own primal urges and leap into the dark … trusting that their love will save them both.
Originally published as “Wild Thing” in the Essence of Midnight anthology by Harlequin Books S.A.
Copyright © 2004, 2017 by Julie Kenner
Cover design by Covers by Rogenna
Published by Martini & Olive Books
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination and are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or establishments is solely coincidental.
Caitlyn Raine leaned forward, her hands clutching the edge of the concrete bench as she gazed into the cage, mesmerized by the great cat's regal beauty. Muscles rippled under the midnight-black coat as the beast stalked behind the fencing, its copper-colored eyes never leaving her own.
This section of the Audubon Zoo had been her favorite place to escape since she'd moved to New Orleans nineteen months ago. How many times had she come here, walking alone through the famous Garden District to get to this solitary spot?
The zoo provided a peace she couldn't find in her job or in herself. The cages and habitats, specifically designed for each unique species, provided an ordered respite from a world that never quite made sense.
A world where Cate never quite fit in.
She'd spent her whole life stalking demons, the kind on the street and the kind that lived inside her.
Night after night she hit the streets, hunting down the killers and the rapists and the vandals. And day after day she testified in court. The stalwart detective. No need to get emotional. Why bother? As soon as one monster was off the street, another would pop up to take his place.
And still she kept fighting, determined to vanquish the monsters that roamed the world as well as the voices in her head.
You’re a bad girl, Caitlyn. A cursed girl.
She was five, cowering in a corner of the kitchen, her skinny legs drawn up to her chest a she peered up at her mother’s glowering face.
You should never have been born, you evil thing. I should have let them cut you right out of me.
She closed her eyes, wincing at the memory, amazed that the voice could persist even after the woman was gone. The day Cate had graduated from high school, her mother had walked away, taking her anger and her superstitions with her, and leaving seventeen-year-old Cate to fend for herself.
It hurt, yes. But it was also a relief. The woman herself was gone.
But the voice in her head remained, and so Cate came here to the zoo to try to silence it. Hour after hour she'd lose herself in the sweet pleasure of doing nothing but watching the great cats move about. Their lives were her escape, and she was grateful for it. But it was the one called Midnight that she loved the most. More aloof than his counterparts, and certainly more violent, the cat had been relegated to private quarters—a smaller habitat off the main panther area. And for months, Cate had kept silent vigil, watching the cat, feeling absurdly, pathetically, as if there was a bond between them.
Today, she'd once again succumbed to the urge to come here, ignoring Adam's offer to buy her a beer and his protest that it wasn't right to spend her birthday alone. She sighed. He was probably right. She probably should have accepted her partner's offer, but she just couldn't handle company or the false camaraderie. Not now. Not when she was alone and turning thirty.
With a tug, she hefted her backpack into her lap, then pulled out a small package wrapped in gold paper. It was from Madam Romana, the proprietor of the Rampart Voodoo Shop, one of the few in the Quarter that was supposed to be authentic. Cate had no idea if that was true or not, but she’d met Alma Romana the first day Cate had arrived in New Orleans, and the older woman had taken an instant liking to her.
“You have a spark,” she’d said, as she used a mortar and pestle to crush gemstones on the combination check-out stand and work desk that served as the focal point of her tiny shop. She had long gray hair that hung in a braid down her back and eyes so brown they were almost black. Eyes that seemed to see too much, and yet her smile wiped away all trepidation.
“A spark?” Cate had repeated. “What does that mean?”
“I supposed we’ll have to find out, won’t we?”
They’d never talked of it again, but Cate had developed the habit of browsing the shop whenever she was in the area, picking out knickknacks to decorate her new, Louisiana abode.
Most days, Alma let her browse on her own. Today, Alma had come out from behind the counter and pressed a small package into Cate’s hands, insisting that was a birthday gift, and absolutely refusing to tell Cate how she knew it was her birthday in the first place.
Now, Cate twisted the package, examining its sides and corners, and imagining that it held something fabulous. Alma’s store was filled with wonderful things, after all. Maybe it was something exotic. Something festive.
Yes, festive would be good. Because maybe Adam did have a point. Maybe it was a bit pathetic to be all alone on her thirtieth birthday.
"But I’m not really alone," she said, looking once again toward the panther. "I've got you."
The cat stopped stalking and cocked his head, those copper eyes peering at her over the wide, flat nose. Cate shivered, overwhelmed by the sense that the beast had understood her. Which, of course, was nuts.
She licked her lips. "I hope i
t's okay if I spend my birthday with you."
A few more seconds passed, and the cat's gaze never wavered. Then he blinked—a gesture Cate took as acquiescence—and resumed pacing the habitat. Cate scowled, shaking her head at her own foolishness as she turned her attention from the cat back to the package in her lap.
She found an untaped section of the thick gold paper and slipped her pinkie nail—the only one she hadn't bitten off—underneath, edging it along until the tape peeled up. Slowly, she urged the tape away, careful not to let any of the gold color catch on the adhesive. The box was small, but Alma had used a lot of tape. It took almost ten minutes, but finally Cate managed to remove the wrapping paper intact.
She folded it into a square and tucked it into her purse before turning to the box.
Her unwrapping ritual was grueling and probably a little silly, but Cate had never had many presents growing up, and she’d learned to cherish those she did receive.
And not just the gift inside. No, what Cate loved most was the anticipation. The way her breath would catch and her heart would seem to stutter as she peeled back layer after layer of colored paper and tape to get to the goody buried deep inside.
With a present, you always knew the digging was worth it. With people, you simply couldn't be that sure.
Now that the paper was off, she lifted the cardboard lid slowly, revealing an understated wooden box with tarnished hinges. The wood was polished to a high sheen, but other than that, the box was wholly unremarkable. Even so, there was something wonderful about it, as if beneath that simple lid lay the treasures of the universe.
Ever so carefully, she plucked the box free. The wood seemed warm in her hands, and for just a moment she closed her eyes, pretending that this was the crowning gift of a fabulous birthday party and she was seated at the head of an ornately laid table, thirty or forty of her closest friends raising their flutes in a champagne toast to her, her parents sitting tall and proud at the head of the table.
"Utter nonsense," she whispered, her eyes straying toward the cat. The panther blinked, but didn't reply.
Cate scowled, knowing she was being ridiculous, both in talking to the cat and in fantasizing about large, unwieldy parties. She didn't like crowds. She didn't need parents or a cadre of friends. She was doing just fine.
She swiped the edge of her thumb under her eye, warding off the tears she simply wouldn't shed. Hell, maybe she should have taken Adam up on his offer.
But no. It wasn't a casual drink or polite conversation she wanted. True, Adam might fix her up with one of his friends, but if she wanted to get laid she'd have to arrange it herself. In that regard, at least, New Orleans was the perfect city, and she knew how to work it.
She was a bad girl, after all. Wasn’t that just what her mother had always said? Bad blood, bad girl?
And wasn't that what bad girls did? Had wild, hot, sex with gorgeous men who never called again? Men who, no matter how much she secretly wanted them to, never bought flowers or candy or told her she was special. Why would they? She was who she was, and no man could save her any more than she could save herself.
A tear slid down her cheek, and she roughly brushed it away. "It's only a birthday," she said, her soft whisper directed toward the panther.
The great cat stared back, then settled himself on the cool stone, his regal head resting on crossed paws.
"Time to see what I've got here," Cate told it. At midday in the summer heat, the zoo was almost empty, so no one would hear her talking foolishly to a cat. As she lifted the lid on the box, though, all thoughts of idiocy left her head, replaced with an intense sense of wonder.
There, nestled in the velvet-lined interior of the box, lay the most beautiful glass perfume bottle Cate had ever seen. The product of fine artistry, the bottle evoked an erotic sensuality, warm silver intricately intertwined through cut, cool crystal. "Oh," she whispered, the word little more than a sigh, as she lifted the bottle out.
Obviously an antique, the bottle was more solid than it looked, and despite its almost ephemeral beauty, she didn't worry that she would break it by handling it. This bottle had seen the world, and she let her imagination fly as she pictured it decorating the dressing tables of royalty, holding specially commissioned perfumes or scented oils for a king's mistress. Because surely a bottle such as this had witnessed both passion and intrigue.
This was no casual gift, and Cate was baffled that Alma—a woman she barely knew—would give her such an extravagant present. Although the bottle was empty, Cate couldn't resist the urge to tug at the stopper but it was stuck fast. Not that it really mattered. The bottle was bone dry, and probably had been for some time. And it wasn't as if she'd ever take the time to fill it with her favorite fragrance. That was hardly her style. Though she was happy to add the beautiful bottle to her dressing table.
She held it up to take a closer look at the fine crystal. The facets caught the light, breaking it into a rainbow of color. And when she shifted the angle, sparks seemed to leap from the bottle into the humid Louisiana air.
In front of her, the cat raised itself, then stood rigid. Its nose twitching and its eyes near-slits.
"What is it," she whispered. "What's wrong?"
The cat didn't answer. And Cate realized that she'd actually expected it would. Absurd.
Instead, it began pacing, more frenetic than before. It circled the habitat, faster and faster, as if searching for a heretofore unnoticed exit.
Still holding the bottle, she stood, then moved to the fence. The cat stopped, turning to face her. Their eyes met, and she lost herself in the deep color of the beast's irises. She stood, mesmerized, as seconds turned to minutes, minutes to hours, hours to eternity. She'd been drawn in, and now the panther was filling her head, overwhelming her senses. She was the panther. Stalking. Caged. Anguished.
Gasping, Cate jumped back, the spell broken. She glanced at her watch—barely a minute had passed. Had she drifted off into her own daydreams? Or had the panther called to her, reaching out to meet her mind?
Once again, she had to wonder at her far-fetched imagination today. A mind meld with a panther? Because, yeah, that was so much more likely than the reality that she’d simply drifted off because she was overtired and sleeping so poorly recently.
That was it, of course. A reasonable, rational explanation. And Cate clung tightly to it.
But at the same time, she couldn't shake the overwhelming sense of foreboding. The sense that she was being stalked.
That there were demons in the dark, and they knew her name.
"Do you know?" she whispered to the panther.
"Do you know what's happening?"
And then, drifting on a wind that was surely born of imagination, Cate heard the whispered reply—I know, Caitlyn. I know that you are mine....
She was the one.
A wild euphoria swept through Luc Agassou as he watched the dark-haired woman flee down the path, her backpack slung over one shoulder and a wooden box clutched to her breast. He'd watched her for almost two years now, safe inside his feline prison, suspecting but not certain that she was the one. His mate. The one woman in all the world who could help him control his curse.
She'd first appeared nineteen months ago, as he was beginning the second year of his self-imposed sentence. He'd noticed her sitting on the bench in a torrential rain, a yellow slicker and rain hat her only protection from the elements. For the first few months after his confinement, he'd examined each female visitor with an intensity born of desperation. Was it her? Or her? Or perhaps that lush blonde over there?
But disappointment after disappointment had hardened his heart, and he'd quit looking, telling himself that if she came, he would certainly notice. And if she didn't ... well, then one such as he deserved this dark and solitary confinement.
When this woman had sat on the bench, he'd noticed. That had been his first clue. The fact that he couldn't take his eyes
off her had been the second.
Her eyes had caught his attention first. A deep blue, like the purest sapphire, and so full of pain and untapped passion that he thought his heart would break. He wanted to free her—to loosen whatever bonds were holding her back. To let her run wild—and then to tame her all over again.
He imagined running his fingers over every inch of her bare skin, and the muscles in his sleek, feline body tightened with a wild, primal need as his mind’s eye saw the way she arched toward his touch, her breath coming in small gasps as he slowly explored her secrets.
He'd almost summoned the change right then, that first moment he’d seen her, so desperate was he to take his human form again. But he couldn't risk it. If he took this woman—if he mated with her—and she wasn't the one...
He'd trembled at the possibility of succumbing to the change while she was still in his bed. Could he, in the madness that took him as he changed into feline form, prevent himself from mauling that perfect specimen of female flesh? He didn't think so. He was a killer, a beast. That was, after all, why he'd confined himself to this private hell, a majestic black panther who lived only to entertain the masses that wandered the paths of the Audubon Zoo.
Like all the unknown others of his family, Luc went through life in the body of a man but with the soul of a panther. And at times, the panther fought to get out.
When the curse came, it was hard and brutal, attacking both body and mind so that Luc lost all control. He would lose minutes, sometimes hours, and when his senses returned, he'd find himself in feline form, often hungry and on the prowl.