Touch Not The Ungloved Cat
By Carolan Ivey
"They'll fight to the death for their freedom; they epitomize what it takes to be truly free."
“How’s that, Mikhail? Neck feeling better?”
MacKenzee Kirkwall parted the opening of the richly colored Indian silk fabric that formed the tent that surrounded her massage table, and ushered her latest client out into the harsh lights and bustle of Ballroom No. 2.
Too bad she’d had to move her booth out of the relatively quiet corner of The Count’s Ballroom, but the varying scents drifting into her space from the Deathly Buzzings Marital Aids booth had proven too much for both her clients and for her.
Massaging the kinks out of a werewolf’s lower extremities wasn’t easy when her client went rigid every time someone next door opened up the tester vial of Full Moon Massage Oil.
Not to mention the havoc wreaked on her own concentration by the sex toys impregnated with catnip essential oil. Roger Ing had tried to accommodate her, sealing all the offending items in plastic bags, but the damage was done. One of them had had to go.
Mikhail Voskov rotated his neck and shoulders with a sigh of relief. “Much better, Ms. Kirkwall.”
“Remember to alternate sides of the neck when you feed. I know you’re a lefty, but you need to change it up.”
“Of course,” the vampire nodded as he pulled on his leather jacket. “Allow me to express my gratitude. Would you join me for dinner later?”
Zee pasted an expression of regret on her face. “Er, no. I have plans.” Luckily, this was true. “Rain check?”
Voskov sighed. “Alas, I fly out at midnight.”
Literally, she thought. “Another time.”
He bowed cordially. “Until then.” A soft pop, and Voskov was flying in bat form above the chattering crowd that perused the wares offered for sale at the ParaPleasures Expo.
He was her last scheduled client of the day. But instead of relaxing, her body hummed with adrenaline.
Time to put aside her cover as proprietress of Magic Touch Massage and get down to her real job.
She moved to her display table, intending to pack away her brochures and business cards.
“I have a delivery for you, Ms. Kirkwall.”
Zee looked up at the sound of the husky, feline purr. Amanda Bast, Dunvegas’ hostess and right (and left) arm of the seldom-seen Mr. Fritz, held out a tiny package between her gold-tipped fingernails. She was a vision of perfection in a matching gold lamé suit that left very little to the imagination. Though standing perfectly still, the woman somehow managed to give the impression of slow, sinuous motion. A fact very few nearby hot-blooded – and a few cold-blooded – males missed.
Feeling a little dowdy in her own purple scrubs, Zee reached out and accepted the package gingerly, just avoiding getting stabbed by Amanda’s lethal looking claws.
“There’s a note attached.”
“Yes, I can see that.”
Amanda’s tip-tilted eyes glowed. “It could be an invitation.”
“Ah, yes, maybe.”
Amanda leaned over the table, generous breasts nearly falling out of her top, and ran a single finger along Zee’s wrist. “If it is, I hope you’ll consider inviting me along, too.”
Do I have “eat me” written on my forehead or something?
Zee was running out of time. She caught Amanda’s wrist and stroked the back of the woman’s hand with the sensitive pads of her fingers. Underneath her polished, cool exterior, Amanda Bast was a seething mass of cat in heat. Zee leaned in close to her ear.
“If it is, I’ll pass it on to you for your own enjoyment. I have other plans tonight.”
Amanda withdrew, eyes still sparkling as her professional persona dropped in place like a theatrical curtain. “Do,” she murmured, one corner of her mouth turning up. She moved away with a smooth, sensual walk that looked slow but covered a lot of ground. Three steps and she was already answering her cell phone, putting out some demanding high roller’s fire. Every pair of male eyes in the area tracked her until she disappeared through a set of double doors, which were guarded by two frowning, sunglasses-clad gargoyles.
Zee took the chance to slip inside her tent unnoticed, letting the flaps fall closed behind her.
She turned the tiny, square package over in her hand. It was about the size of a condom packet. With one fingernail she lifted the edge of the folded note taped to the blood-red wrapping.
I hope you will accept this token as my apology for any inconvenience.
“Aw.” She smiled and tucked it into the pouch around her neck. Whatever it was she didn’t need to be opening it here. Especially if it was catnip scented.
Within seconds she’d stripped bare, skin reacting instantly to the chill, damp air of the subterranean ballroom. It was kept that way to keep the odors of various preternatural food samples to a minimum. Dragon kibble tended to get stenchy after a few hours outside the freezer case.
Her sensitive nose caught a trace of a familiar scent, there and gone in an instant. She froze in place, arms instinctively crossed over her goose-bumped breasts.
William? No, couldn’t be. There was no way her rival in high-end thievery could have tracked her here. Thanks to a well-timed tip—and the tipster’s heavily paid-for silence—she was days ahead of him.
She had the stone in her possession, pried from the fireplace hearth of Mr. Fritz’s office itself. The object had come out of its niche easily, as if it had just been placed there and the mortar hadn’t quite dried. She shrugged off the nagging sense of uneasiness at how simple it had been to get past Mr. Fritz’s massive security system.
Within an hour, she’d be several million dollars richer. Rich enough she’d never have to steal for a living, ever again. Rich enough to disappear for good.
Yet just the memory of William’s scent, his whisky-gold eyes, inexplicably made her insides go liquid, made her want to lean against the massage table and arch her spine, to slip her fingers between her legs and tease herself.
She hunched a shoulder in annoyance. Nonsense. William MacGillivray was her rival and the bane of her existence.
She chalked it up to going several months without while she’d tracked the stone’s unusually rapid path through the labyrinth of the black market. The thing certainly had all the characteristics of a hot potato.
She had no idea why a six-inch cube of Scottish granite should be so valuable. It was one of many gleaned from ruins around the world to add authentic touches to the Dunvegas casino and resort. She only knew someone was willing to pay a large fortune to get it back. And that was all she needed to know.
Right now, all she had to do was pick it up from its hiding place, meet her buyer, and she’d be out of here one rich werecat.
She closed her eyes, tilted back her head, and willed the shift to begin. It never happened without at least a little bit of pain, easily bitten back as bones melted and reformed, skin changed texture and developed a thick, black-and-grey striped coat.
The shift complete, Zee smiled to herself and headed for the flaps of the tent, confident no one would notice her passage.
With a muffled poof, the package she carried in the pouch around her neck exploded, shooting grey-green dust into her face.
Catnip, her rapidly fuzzing mind observed. And not just ordinary catnip, this stuff was on steroids.
Coughing, every one of her senses rioting from the overdose, she lurched through the tent opening.
Straight into a live-trap cage.
Panic screamed down her nerve endings as the spring-loaded door snapped shut and someone shoved her, cage and all, into an oversized rolling suitcase in one seamless motion. The cage was too small for her to shift back, not that she could have done it in her herb-crazed state.
She could do nothing but fling herself against the sides of the cage and yowl.
* * *
William MacGillivray, his face shielded deep within the hood of his cloak, grimaced and picked up his pace as he headed for the double doors. He’d expected Zee wouldn’t go quietly, but her ear-splitting screeches were drawing far too much attention.
He threw back his hood and offered a rueful grin to several scowling faces turned in their direction, including a suit who sported dark glasses, an earpiece, and a PMS armband.
Security. Great. That’s all I need.
“She’s overdue for her shots,” he shouted over the noise emanating from the bouncing suitcase. “The lass is none too happy about it.”
The faces relaxed into smiles and chuckles. PMS boy lifted a lip and turned away to continue scanning the crowd for shoplifters.
William gestured politely to the gargoyles, who muttered at him as he lugged Zee through the double doors.
The instant the doors clicked shut behind him, a blur of gold fabric swooped in and latched itself to his free arm. He risked letting go of the suitcase handle long enough to reach into his pocket for three onyx casino chips, each emblazoned with a 24kt., white-gold “D”.
“Here you are, my dear. You certainly went above and beyond tonight. I couldn’t have managed without your help.”
“You can keep your money,” Amanda breathed. “It was no trouble at all. I am, of course, willing to accept your…thanks…in any other manner you find pleasurable.”
She hooked her claws into the folds of his cloak, pulled him close, and attacked his mouth with open lips. The grinding of her pelvis against his brought his cock to instant attention.
He allowed himself a few seconds to savor the taste of aroused female, regretting that at least at this time, he couldn’t indulge in what she offered.
For he could detect on his tongue the fact that Amanda Bast was not of his kind. He tasted a trace of clan blood, but only a trace. She wouldn’t be fitting into his plans—or his bed—until Choosing season was over.
Amanda pulled away, licking her lips as disappointment dawned on her face. She tasted it, too. She could take no part in what he had to do.
“It’s that time, isn’t it?”
“I’m sorry, Amanda.”
She stepped back and shrugged a slender shoulder, clearly trying and almost succeeding to pretend it didn’t matter. “You wouldn’t happen to have a half brother anywhere?”
The suitcase lurched and Zee fell disturbingly quiet. She needed the antidote and needed it now. He renewed his grip on the handle, fumbling with his other hand inside his cloak.
“As a matter of fact…yes, here it is.” He pulled out a key card and handed it to her. “Owen’s a distant relative. I’m sure he would enjoy your company, as he’s ah, a bit restless himself this time of year. He’s in Hangar Nine.”
He was warmed to see the sensual curve return to her full mouth as she tucked the card into her décolleté.
“I owe you, William.”
He tucked the chips between her breasts and winked at her. “Think nothing of it. He’s my pilot, though, and we’re leaving in about two hours. Be gentle with him?”
* * *
“Here you go, love. Sixty seconds, and you’ll be good as new.”
William capped the vial of imbine oil and arranged Zee’s limp form comfortably on a cushion in the far corner of a steel cage, which sat a safe distance from any and all possible weapons in his fire- and lantern-lit chamber. He risked a few seconds to lift her eyelids to examine her pupils. Dilated, but shrinking rapidly as the aromatic antidote took effect.
“Bugger,” he muttered, launching himself backward and slamming the door just milliseconds before a fully shifted Zee hit it. The force of her charge scooted the heavy steel structure several inches across the floor.
Holy shite. He kept backing up, because her arm shot between the bars, missing his throat by inches. Her rich scent assaulted his nose, and he fought the wildness that swelled his cock.
“Bastard!” she snarled. “I thought I smelled you. What the hell is this?”
Her glorious body vibrated with rage, every inch of her firm, bare skin flushed. Her black hair waved in a wild cloud around her face. Her gaze zinged rapidly to all sides of the cage, and an entirely different expression took over. Panic. He knew that feeling well.
“Let me the fuck out of here,” she said, low and hoarse. “Now.”
“Not until you’ve had a chance to calm down, love—”
“Don’t call me that.”
“—and I’ve had a chance to explain.”
“This is for the Lisbon job, isn’t it? I beat you to that amphora fair and square.”
He bit back a retort and forced himself to say, “That you did.”
His admission did nothing to calm her, and she began pacing the cage, whacking the flats of her hands against the bars, testing the steel for any weakness.
“William.” Her tone went strangely flat. “I have to get out of here.”
She paced in ever decreasing circles until she ended up frozen in place in the center.
He cautiously approached the cage, eyes narrowing as he watched her breasts rise and fall, rise and fall. Then stop.
“You have to breathe, love.”
After an agonizing few seconds, her chest heaved.
William inhaled, belatedly realizing he’d been holding his breath as well. “It’s a natural reaction. It will pass.”
She wrapped her arms around her smooth, flat belly and turned her light silver eyes on him. “What would you know about my reactions to anything?”
“Because you and I…we are the same kind.”
Eyebrows slammed together. “We are nothing alike. I would have sensed it.”
“No. You wouldn’t. You were raised outside the enclave and never taught the finer skills.”
Suddenly she was at the bars of the cage, lifting her arms to grab a handhold high above her head.
“I’ll show you skills. Just let me out.”
Her nipples were tight little buds, and he couldn’t keep his hungry gaze from caressing them. Her warm scent washed over him. Sweet mother of Camma, she was ready. He wasn’t sure if he’d be able to get her back to the enclave without mating with her.
When he made no move to comply, she shoved away from the bars and continued pacing. She kept herself side-on to him, which put her high breasts and curvy butt on display. If she was looking to distract him, it was working.
He swallowed hard. Blood pounded painfully in his groin. To distract himself he busied his fingers taking off his cloak. Big mistake. Her gaze swept down to the front of his pants and she purred at his reaction. He kept talking, because it helped him to remember to breathe.
“Our ancestral home in Scotland. You, along with your entire litter, was stolen from us not long after you were born.”
“ ‘Us’? Who’s ‘us’?”
“Clan Cugar. Our families have hidden in the Highlands for thousands of years. It’s time for all of us to come home.”
A strange expression chased across her face. Hope? He couldn’t be sure; it was gone too quickly.
“Home. There’s a concept. Funny, you people never seemed terribly interested in bringing me ‘home’ before. Why now?”
He risked moving closer to the cage, resting his hands on a crossbar. Her eyes followed the movement and her pink tongue darted out to lick her lips.
Concentrate, you fool.
“Once a Cugar is separated from the clan, our wild, loner nature takes over and it’s near impossible to bring anyone back. Our numbers, particularly our females, are dwindling. These past months we have been gathering what’s left of our clan for the Choosing. You are the most feral of the lost ones, so you were left for last.”
“Ah.” She padded closer to him, completely unconcerned about her nudity. In fact, she seemed to be enjoying it – and its affect on him. Only a tell-tale ripple along her jaw line and the sheen of moisture on her skin betrayed her distress. “So that’s why my last few jobs have been so easy. You’ve been busy herding cats.”
She was only inches away now, her silvery eyes fixed on him. He stared at her lush lips, tightened his fingers on the bar to keep from reaching for her. He must wait for the Choosing. She might not be for him. With so few pureblood females left, there was a very real possibility that none of them would be for him.
The thought of another male plunging his cock inside her body, marking her satiny skin… His knuckles whitened on the bar and sweat broke out on his forehead. Not even his years of disciplined training could prevent it.
“No. Not a herd. Just one. One’s—”
She reached for him first, slipping her hands through the bars and closing them over his cock, pumping him hard through his pants.
“—enough,” he groaned. He let go of the cage and cradled her breasts in his hands, thumbing the tips and reveling fiercely in the sounds she made.
“And the stone?” Her face loomed maddeningly close, so close her breath poured hot over his lips. “That was a plant, wasn’t it?
“No, it’s not. But I let you have it first because it was the only way I could get you in one place long enough to…shite.”
She caught the head of his cock between her thumbs and toyed with it.
With a low growl he reached around her as far as the cage would allow and pressed her closer. The cold metal dug into her flesh, and she shuddered in reaction but kept up her assault and reached for his lower lip with her tongue.
A single tiny taste of her, and he knew he would be lost. He shut his eyes to try one last time to regain control.
By the time he realized his mistake, she had his cock gripped in one hand, and his own belt buckle knife pressed to his throat with the other. He was trapped on the outside of the cage, suspended between heaven and hell.
“Would you like to hear where my ‘home’ was for the first three years of my life, William?”
He managed a ghost of a smile. “I’m not going anywhere, lass.”
Her chest pumped air in and out. “A cage. In a zoo.”
His smile fled and he stared at her face, now twisted with fury.
“When they tried to use me in their breeding program—”
William closed his eyes and hissed.
“—I went crazy and learned damned quick that I could shift. The zookeeper learned, too. He learned, after they scraped his balls off the floor of my cage, there wouldn’t be a next generation in his family. Now, if you’re planning on having your own litter someday, get. Me. The fuck. Out of here.”
He ground his teeth. “The key is in my left front pocket.”
Quick as light, the knife left his throat and sliced soundlessly through fabric.
“Easy down there, love.”
“Easy is the one thing we never were, love.”
She planted one hand on his chest and sent him into the nearest wall.
He bounced right back, but she had already skinned out of the cage. He snagged her around the waist in mid-air as she leaped for the window, never mind the stained-glass panes weren’t designed to open and they were 70 stories up.
His momentum carried them both into the far wall, where he had to use every skill he possessed to pin her, spread-eagled, to the cold stones. The damp chamber air chilled his back where her nails had ripped his shirt to shreds and left stinging scratches behind.
The only part of her not under his control was her mouth. She opened it, and he braced himself for the barrage of curses.
Instead, she extended her fangs and sank them into his shoulder.
* * *
She expected him to roar with pain, to release her instantly as her teeth ripped through black fabric and pierced flesh.
Instead, he went perfectly still.
His warm blood flowed into her mouth. Something that felt like electricity shot through her, and she forgot about everything except the heat of his hard body against hers, the press of his cock between her legs. She released him and gasped, the back of her head bumping the wall as she licked his taste from her lips. Oddly, hot tears formed in her eyes.
“Oh, lass,” he groaned, accent rolling thick off his tongue. “Ye shouldna ha’ done that.”
He released her hands and raked his fingers into her tangled hair, pulling it off her face. His own russet queue had come loose, and his eyes burned into hers. His face hardened with an emotion she had never seen before. On anyone.
“William,” she gasped. “What’s happening?” Of their own volition, her hands gathered handfuls of what was left of his shirt, began slowly tearing it the rest of the way off his body.
He made no move to stop her.
He buried his face in her neck, and she felt his lips moving erotically just under her ear.
“Ye ha’ Chosen, lass.”
He pushed away from her and took one step away, letting the shreds of his shirt fall to the floor. The tears that had filled her eyes spilled over.
William was giving her her freedom.
A sob exploded from her chest, bringing with them words from a place inside her so long buried, she’d forgotten it was there. “You should have come for me sooner.”
And he was on her, flattening her against the wall again as he ducked his head and took the tips of her aching breasts into his mouth, one, then the other.
She extended her claws and made quick work of his pants. Her breath desperate in her chest, she worked herself upward and wrapped her legs around his waist.
He dug his fingers into her ass and in one long thrust, he plunged into her to the hilt. She screamed, reaching up to wrap her fingers around an iron gaslight fixture over her head. She hung on, tilting her hips as he worked his cock in and out. Each thrust accompanied by a growl she felt vibrating all through her core.
Her clit found a sweet spot and she rode it higher and higher, her belly tightening with anticipation of the explosion she could feel running her down.
But just as she felt the first ripples begin, he abruptly pulled out of her, spun her around and bent her at the waist.
“Damn you!” she moaned.
“Brace your hands on the wall.” His voice rasped with need.
He guided her hips to tilt back, and she bit her lip, willingly parting her legs.
“William,” she pleaded on a near-soundless whisper, her body shaking for the completion she knew in her very blood only he could give.
And he gave it. His powerful thighs pressed against the back of her legs. He curved his sweat-sheened body over her back as his cock nudged her opening.
“Now it’s my turn to Choose.” The timbre of his voice rumbled down her spine.
“Y—aaahhhh!” Her acceptance dissolved into a cry as he thrust into her, swept her hair aside, and bit down on the back of her neck. Not breaking the skin, just holding her still as he flexed his body to drive deep inside her.
He filled her, stretched her, broke her. Incoherent sounds emerged from her clenched teeth as she tilted her hips to take him deeper. But when he reached around to touch her clit, she found her voice.
His name became her chant, cried out over and over as her pleasure took to a place of joy she’d never before known.
* * *
William lay Zee’s limp form on the bed and tucked the blankets around her. She curled onto her side, stuck one arm out and snagged his hand.
He bent and kissed her ear. “Be right back, love.”
On the way to the fireplace to throw another block of peat on, he scooped up his mobile and punched a number on speed dial.
William rolled his eyes at his cousin’s mocking tone. “Plans have changed. Sleep in as long as you want. The Council will just have to wait.”
William grinned at the throaty feminine giggle he heard in the background a split second before Owen disconnected.
He moved back to the bed and slid under the covers behind Zee, gathering her close. She sighed and turned into his arms.
“When are we going home?” Her husky, satisfied-woman voice washed over the sore place on his shoulder where she’d bitten it. Nearly healed, the spot would be forever tender, forever treasured. He stroked her hair.
“Tomorrow, love. Rest now. We have all the time in the world.”
Zee turned and propped her elbows on his chest, resting her chin on her hands. Her silvery eyes studied him for a long moment, gradually turning from sleepy to mischievous. “So, you were saying about my lack of finer skills?” Her pupils slitted and her lip curled in a dangerous smile.
Then her head disappeared under the covers and headed south.
William grinned, but shifted warily. “Just watch the teeth, love. Watch the—”
Her mouth closed over him. His back arched involuntarily in almost violent pleasure as his mate went beyond simple Choosing and took him on a ride that claimed him as hers alone.
With every touch, every stroke, every lick, it was she who captured him, bound him.
William gave himself over to it. Grabbed the ironwork headboard with both hands.
And held on for dear life.