A World at War…
Shape-shifting Lemurian warriors battle against a deadly enemy in the dark of night. The prize—Earth’s most precious resource—water, and the fate of humankind.
A reckless leader…
Panthera leader Demir is stuck in a coma after taking a mysterious liquid-filled dart intended for another. Trapped in his own body, memories of his reckless, violent past and his lost mate, Eleanor, haunt his mind. When Aramie, his second in command, takes control of the Pride, she makes a decision which results in devastating consequences. After Demir wakes from his coma, he must impose punishment despite his unbidden desire to claim Aramie as his mate.
A female warrior…
Aramie honed her battle skills defending herself from males hell-bent on making her a mated female, the one thing she vowed never to become. Her hidden feelings for Demir drive her to find a cure for his coma, but her quest results in a painful sacrifice and grief propels her into a solo mission for revenge. After he finds her, they face the enemy together. Now she must decide—submit to him as his mate, or lose him forever.
After finishing a rewarding career in finance and accounting, it was time for Rosalie Redd to put away the spreadsheets and take out the word processor. She writes Fantasy/Science Fiction Romance inspired by classics from the science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres layered with a good, hot dose of romance.
She lives in Oregon, where rain is just another excuse to keep writing. When not at her computer, you can find her at Jazzercise, waterfall collecting in the Pacific Northwest, or relaxing with her husband and their pesky cat, Snookums.
Deep in the Cascade Mountains of the Pacific Northwest
Demir was a hostage in his own body. Immovable, invisible bonds bound him tight. Unable to open his eyes, constant darkness engulfed him, an eerie reminder of how much he relied on his vision. His sense of hearing and smell sharpened, heightened, compensated for his lack of sight and only increased the knot of frustration in his gut. He concentrated on his fingers, willing them to move, but they remained motionless. The smooth, cool satin sheets caused goosebumps to form on his skin, sending a mental shiver along his nerves. His supine body didn’t flinch.
He’d been this way for several weeks, ever since the enemy’s dart had penetrated his hide, poisoning him with some kind of mysterious liquid. How much longer could he stay like this and survive? The muscles in his arms and legs screamed to move, to flex, to exert the strength his body once contained.
The familiar scent of his leather jacket hanging on a hook near his bed stirred his senses. Heated sunstones lined the cave ceiling and walls, yet even the warmth couldn’t bring him any solace.
Tick, tick, tick.
The clock on his bedside table magnified into the tolling of a bell. He wanted to grab the thing and smash it against the rock walls. The vision of the shattered timepiece and its bits scattered across the stone floor made him smile inside.
In his current state, he couldn’t even mark his territory. How wrong was that? As a shape-shifting Lemurian Panthera, that was torture.
The underground Keep was as much a prison to him as his own body. He longed to be free, to search out Ram and his Gossum minions, to rid the earth of the foul beasts. The battle between the Lemurians and the Gossum had gone on for millennia. His Goddess, Alora, had placed the Panthera and the other Lemurians here to win the war to ensure Earth remained a free planet. If they failed, Earth would be enslaved, and the humans would be forced to give up their most precious resource—water.
The echo of footsteps eased through the crack under his door. He had visitors. As the door opened, a cool breeze wafted into the room, caressing the skin on his arms. A squeaking wheel in need of some oil pierced his sensitive eardrums, grating across his nerves. Fresh and clean, the scent of soap could only mean one thing—a bath.
Quick footsteps entered. The door clicked shut.
“Good evening, Demir.” Bet’s cheerful voice reverberated around the chamber. “I brought Til with me. It’s time for your bath.”
Demir mentally stiffened, although his body remained still. The last thing he wanted was another bath. Grrrrrrr. The growl echoed in his mind, but no further.
A thin film of sweat broke over his skin. The Keep’s Jixies were back and despite their best intentions, a bath would be another lesson in humiliation. He didn’t need to go through that again. Helplessness was the worst kind of torture.
“Til, thank you for coming with me today. I can’t move him on my own.” Bet’s melodic voice only increased Demir’s anxiety, and a bead of perspiration raced over his brow, pooling along the edge of his ear.
“No problem.” Til’s words were clipped.
The table rolled closer to Demir. The wheel squeaked and water sloshed as if over the lip of a bucket. Demir strained against the bonds, and he tried to open his eyes.
“Are you sure you’re up for this?” Bet asked.
Silence stretched out for several seconds. “Yeah, I’m fine. I just…I don’t know.” Til sighed.
“What is it?” Bet’s soothing, encouraging response rolled over him.
“It’s just—do you think he can hear us? Does he know what’s going on?”
Of course he did, he heard every damn word, felt every touch. His anger boiled beneath his skin, hot and fevered. His need to break free threatened to drive him mad.
Bet shuffled across the floor, away from Demir, the sound of her soft leather shoes imprinted on his brain. “I don’t know. Gaetan told me that he hasn’t responded to any form of treatment. It’s as if he’s—”
“No, don’t say it.”
“Oh, sweetie, if you aren’t up for this, I can get someone else.”
“You’re King Noeh’s chambermaid. Why do you do this?”
“Demir saved Noeh’s life. It’s the least I can do for this honorable male.”
He winced. Honorable was the last thing he was. He’d had a lot of time to think about why he’d taken that dart for Noeh. During a battle in the middle of a small clearing, Ram had aimed the dart straight at the Stiyaha king. Noeh hadn’t appeared to hear the click as their enemy fired the gun. In his Panthera form, Demir had jumped in front of the projectile’s path. His impulsive choice had changed everything. If he could raise a sarcastic eyebrow, he would.
Instead of getting rid of his rival, and taking his place as king of the Stiyaha and the Jixies, he’d saved Noeh’s miserable life and ended up in a coma. That had worked out great, hadn’t it? The only good to come from the deed was some clarity. Whatever was in that dart had paralyzed his body, but purified his mind. I have much to atone for.
“All right, Bet. If you can do this, so can I.”
Blankets lifted off his body, and the cool air swirled over his exposed skin. The only garment he wore was a pair of loose briefs tied at his hips, courtesy of the Jixie tailors.
“Oh, my,” Til purred.
“Your cheeks are red,” Bet said.
“I can’t help it. Look at those muscles. I didn’t realize Panthera were so…firm. I guess I expected a thinner build.”
“Okay, enough ogling, let’s do this before the water gets cold.”
Gentle hands lifted his head and placed a towel on his pillow. Water dripped into the bucket, as if someone wrung out a rag. A warm, wet cloth started at his brow and circled around his face and ears. The sensation should’ve felt good, but instead, a scream built in his throat. He didn’t like others touching him.
Tepid water from another rag dripped over his feet. They tag-teamed him, and he dreaded where they would meet.
“What does Gaetan think will happen to him?”
Bet didn’t respond right away, and a chill ran down Demir’s arms. He ached to know, yet, part of him didn’t want to hear her answer.
“He’s been like this for almost a month. If he doesn’t come out of it soon, Gaetan thinks he’ll get weaker and—” Bet stopped washing Demir’s chest and a stream of water ran down his side.
“Bet, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have asked. Please don’t cry.”
Bet’s crying? Over me? He’d been nothing but rude to her. A wave of guilt raced down his spine.
Bet sniffled. “I’m ok, thank you. I just can’t imagine what would’ve happened to Noeh if… The Gossum are brutal creatures. I despise their evil, hairless hides.”
“Uh, Bet? What now?” Til’s voice wavered.
A lukewarm washrag lay draped over the top of Demir’s thigh. He pushed against his invisible shackles, desperation making him want to turn into his panther form and lash out. As much as he tried, his body remained still, lifeless.
“Let’s turn him over and untie the string. We’ll wash his backside first.”
The rags disappeared from his thighs and stomach. Footsteps converged on his right and small, strong hands pushed under his back and legs. Against his will, he rolled onto his left side.
Soft fingers tugged at his shorts. The string holding the two sides together fell away, revealing his buttocks to the two female Jixies. He tensed, waiting for the reaction he knew would come.
A quick intake of breath.
Skin slapping, as if a hand had covered a mouth.
“C’mon. Let’s be quick. Don’t keep this warrior waiting,” Bet said.
“The…scars. There’s so many.”
“Til. Help me wash him.” Bet’s tone turned harsh.
Demir’s face burned. The disfigurement was a constant reminder of his failure. Bet and the females who washed him were among the few who had ever seen the tracks. Not even his once-beloved Eleanor knew of the lines that marred his body and soul. The female Jixies’ reactions brought back the embarrassment and pain as if he’d earned those scars yesterday.
Lukewarm water rubbed against his rough and mottled skin. The rag’s torture made him scream inside. His mind fogged. The pet frog he’d had as a child surfaced in his thoughts. He’d captured the small creature by the bank of a stream one night. The frog had lived for several days, until his constant touching killed it as surely as the lack of water. A new appreciation for what he’d put his little pet through raced across his mind.
When they were done, they rolled him onto his back. As if he needed any more humiliation, they washed his groin. He endured the cleaning as best he could. What choice did he have? Soft hands retied the string at his hip, covering his maleness and giving him a modicum of privacy.
“He looks so peaceful. I wonder how he got those scars,” Til asked.
“I doubt we’ll ever know,” Bet replied.
“Should we trim his beard?”
“Aramie likes to shave his face and clip his goatee. We’ll leave that for her.”
A pleasant warmth spread through his body. Aramie, his second in command, had spent quite a bit of time by his side, taking care of him. Her constant chatter had helped ease the loneliness.
When Til spoke, her words were soft, quiet. “Really? Isn’t that interesting.”
Silence filled the room.
Bet cleared her throat.
“What? I was just admiring. He’s a handsome male in a rugged sort of way.”
“That’s enough. Time to go. Now. We’ll come back later and change his sheets.”
Smooth fingers pulled the sheet up and tucked the soft material around his shoulders. The towel was removed from beneath his head. Now that the bath was done, his racing heart slowed back to its normal pace.
Water sloshed and a squeaky wheel crossed near the foot of his bed. Clothing rustled and soft footsteps padded toward the exit. As the door opened, a cool breeze blew across his face. He relished how it tingled his skin. A desire to go with them rose to the forefront of his mind, but he couldn’t and that burned deep in his gut. The door closed behind them, and he was left alone with only his tortured thoughts to keep him company.