Authors: Laurann Dohner
Book 9 in the New Species series. While each New Species book is a standalone, the greatest enjoyment will come from reading them in series order.
Beauty resents being labeled Gift Species. Everyone is way too overprotective, males aren’t even allowed to speak to her and so far, true freedom eludes her. Then a big, sexy Species officer mistakes her for the enemy and takes her down—literally.
Shadow is dumbfounded. He has a Gift pinned beneath him—a big no-no. But Beauty is fascinated and wants to know Shadow a
better. She’s full of newly discovered, unrequited passion and he’s just what she needs to satisfy her curiosity.
For Shadow, sex means pain and loathing. For Beauty, enslavement and ridicule. Two lonely souls who have never known a loving touch, together in a cabin in the woods. Every caress, every discovery brings them closer to a life they never thought possible…beyond even their wildest dreams.
As always, a special thanks to Mr. Laurann. He’s an endless source of help in so many ways—wrangling kids to give me time to write, understanding the many hours I put into each book. And he’s the man who always has my back. He’s…
I want to thank everyone who reads this series. I began it a long time ago when I just had a dream of becoming published and an imagination when my spare time allowed. Thank you for seeing why I love New Species and how they could become an obsession for me. I hope to bring you many, many more stories about the males and females of the NSO.
Another special thanks to Ellora’s Cave and the entire staff that works very hard, but especially to Jaid Black and Patty Marks. They believed in me enough to publish this series. You guys all ROCK!
Kele Moon is the BEST critique partner ever. She’s always there to bounce ideas off and she’s become my best friend.
Last but not least, my editor, Pamela Campbell. She keeps me grounded and has taught me so much over the past few years. Every edit is a learning experience that helps me become a better author.
She wouldn’t be called Mud any longer.
She silently repeated the new name the woman had given her, determined to remember to answer to Beauty instead of Mud. That distraction helped her battle the confusion and deep shock she had suffered after being led out of her cage by the woman named Jessie. The chains were gone and she’d overheard her rescuers say her guards had been killed during the fight to free her.
Beauty would have stumbled but a firm arm around her waist helped steady her as they walked through the well-lit house. Jessie swore she was taking her somewhere safe, to others like her who had been locked away. The concept of such a thing seemed completely unreal. It had to be a lie, some kind of mean game of cruelty. Beauty glanced around and spotted the blood on the floor, which she could smell. Evidence that her guards were really dead.
A sense of hope filled her that the redheaded woman might be telling the truth. She would be free from Master. The promise of being able to see sunlight again seemed impossible. She only had dim memories of the rare times she’d been allowed outside.
Stars dotted the sky and a partial moon hung to her right. Fresh, wonderful air filled her lungs, and joy struck.
She nearly tripped on her own feet, her body weak from lack of food, but the woman hugged her tighter to her side. A big man called Trey kept silently at their side, but she refused to look at his face. She could feel his glances but she tried to hide her fear. He hadn’t tried to touch her.
A large black thing with wheels waited close to the door. She balked a little but Jessie kept urging her forward. “That’s what will take us from here and then we’re going to do something really exciting. We’re going to fly in the sky to get you some medical help and you’re going to meet your family. They are going to be so happy to see you.”
“You won’t leave me?” Beauty was terrified the woman would abandon her to the group of men.
“No, honey. I’m going to hold your hand the entire time.” Jessie smiled. “I’m not going to let anything happen to you.”
The seat was soft and comfortable in the big box. Beauty wasn’t sure about the belt that Jessie tightened around her body but she didn’t fight. It was supposed to be for her safety and she was just happy not to be shoved into the back, inside the hole with no light. That’s how they’d moved her to the house.
“I’ll sit right next to you and Trey here is going to drive us. He’s a very nice person.” Jessie checked the belt, leaned over to push Beauty’s hair behind her ear and smiled again. “He’s a good friend of mine and you can trust him too.”
She met Jessie’s gaze and her really bright, red hair shone in the lights from the big house. Her features were nice, pleasant. A sense of peace filled Beauty. She trusted this woman. She wasn’t sure why but she did.
“Everything is going to be fine, Beauty. I—” Jessie jerked once violently where she stood and her mouth opened. The sheer pain reflecting on her face sent terror through Beauty. She screamed, not sure what else to do. Jessie’s blue eyes widened before she suddenly threw her body into the vehicle. The impact knocked Beauty over on the seat.
“Sniper!” Trey shouted the warning.
“I’ve got you,” Jessie promised, her arms hugging Beauty tightly until she jerked again, her tense body becoming limp.
Beauty shrieked, too gripped with fright to do anything else. Jessie wasn’t moving. The smell of blood pierced her panic but she knew it wasn’t her own.
The box they were in shook, swayed, and the door closed. Another one opened above her head and hands dug between her body and Jessie’s. The weight gently eased and she halted her screams. She opened her eyes and watched as another man dragged Jessie off her body. They disappeared to the ground but another big man suddenly launched through the opening. He slammed the door and climbed over the seat in front, hunching down.
“The glass will protect us,” he panted, out of breath. “It’s going to be okay, Beauty.” He withdrew a weapon. “I’m Shane. Nothing is going to hurt you. Just stay down.”
The door in the front opened suddenly and another man leaned in. “The sniper is from the east. He can’t nail this side. Hand her over.” The one who spoke was older than the rest but not as wrinkled as Master. He was the one who’d dragged Jessie off her body.
“She’s safer here,” Shane argued. “I’ve got her, Tim. Take care of Jessie. How bad is she?”
“Bad. Trey is assessing her.” The door closed as the older man disappeared.
That left Beauty alone with Shane. Her terrified gaze met his where he crouched in the front seat.
“Stay down,” he ordered again softly.
Soft dings sounded and he cursed, suddenly climbing over the seat into the back with her. She shrieked when he grabbed the other side of the seat behind her, hanging his upper body over the top of hers. Only inches separated them and she felt trapped. She gasped in air to scream again but he released the seat to clamp a big hand over her mouth. It silenced her and her heart felt as if it would explode as his face drew closer.
“Damn it,” he rasped. “Don’t look at me that way.” He threw a leg over the seat to climb closer. “I’m not attacking. I’m trying to protect you. I want my body between you and a bullet. You need to stop screaming, okay? I’m afraid the sniper can hear it and he’s not going to stop firing until you’re dead. Can you be quiet?”
She fought the panic and nodded. The hand eased away from her mouth. She stared at him with fear as his big body crowded her. He got on the seat with her and a heavy thigh wedged between her leg and the seat. He wiggled an arm under her too and braced his body to hold his weight to avoid crushing her down.
“I’m just using my body to cover yours,” he assured her. “That’s all. I’m not sure what kind of rounds the sniper has but it’s better to be safe than sorry. All he’s managed to do so far is blow out the side mirrors and the tires. By now he has to realize he’s not breaching the SUV and could be reloading with armor-piercing ones. I’d rather a bullet strike me than you.”
Surprise made her study his eyes. She didn’t see cruelty inside them—they were really kind. Her fear eased somewhat, allowing her to breathe normally, and his scent filled her nose with each breath. He smelled clean and nice, even pleasant. The warmth of his big body seeped through his clothing and some of the coldness that gripped her faded.
“They’ll find the sniper and take him out. It’s going to be fine.” He looked away from her to peer over her head through the glass. “Tim? Is Jessie breathing? Is she alive?”
She realized he spoke to someone else and had to have one of those ear listening devices that Jessie had shown her. He closed his eyes and hung his head, until his lips almost brushed hers. It made Beauty tense. He softly cursed.
“Understood. Thank God she’s breathing but that’s bad. Fuck. How did this happen? The victim is secure. Traumatized as hell though. I’m on top of her to keep her down but she’s not hit.”
His eyes opened and he stared intently into her eyes. He adjusted his upper weight to rest on his elbows and one big hand touched the side of her face. She allowed him to turn it a little as his thumb brushed her cheek gently.
“It’s okay, honey. Easy. You look so terrified but you’re safe with me. Does your face hurt? You’ve got a little cut. I think Jessie nailed you with her fingernail when she landed on top of you.”
She wasn’t aware of the injury but it didn’t surprise her. Everything had happened so fast and she knew she was too stunned to register it all. His thumb paused and she turned her head enough to meet his gaze again. He looked at her with an expression she’d never seen before and it was kind of nice.
“I’d never hurt you. I’m nothing like the assholes who kept you in captivity. Do you know what my job is? I find ones like you and take them home. You are going to be happy from now on. No more chains, cages or pain.” His voice deepened. “I would die for you.”
Warmth spread further than just her skin. It seemed to radiate inside her chest at his words. He meant them and for some incredible reason she believed him. All her fear faded and she curled her hands to grip his strange-textured shirt.
“Easy, Beauty,” he rasped. “Don’t scratch me up. I’m your friend.”
“I—” She closed her mouth, worried he’d get angry if she spoke without permission.
“You what? Talk to me.”
No rage darkened his features or flashed in his compelling stare. It encouraged her to speak again. “You want me to be nice to you?”
“Yes.” He smiled. “We’re friends.” He grew serious. “I’ll kill anyone who comes after you. I’m here and you’re totally safe with me. The team has secured the immediate area. They will find that sniper and take him out. No one is going to get close to us.”
He wants to protect me. He’ll kill others if they try to hurt me.
The astonishment that flooded her made thinking difficult. His clean, wonderful scent was really nice, his body scary big and bulky, but she didn’t fear him. He was careful not to crush her under him, had touched her with gentle brushes of his skin against hers. He’d be a kind master.
He lifted his head, peered around again and shifted some of his weight before he glanced down. “I’m going to take off my vest and put it between your head and the door. The sniper could change locations to avoid detection longer.”
She said nothing as he tore at the covering on his chest. It made loud noises as one of his hands ripped at the thing and he shrugged out of it. He placed it against the door above her head. Her gaze fixed on his shirt and she saw buttons running down the front of it. His chest was wide and his arms looked really thick. She’d thought they might only appear so because of the thing he’d just removed.
He touched his ear. “How is Jessie doing?” He paused. “Good. How far out is the other team?” He paused again. “We’re fine in here. Just find that son of a bitch.” He tapped his ear again and his arm dropped along the edge of the seat to brace his upper body on both forearms. He met her gaze.
“They haven’t found the sniper yet but teams are moving in and a helicopter is nearby for air support. It shouldn’t be too much longer. How are you doing, Beauty? We’re friends, right? You know I’m not going to hurt you, don’t you? Just stay calm for me.”
She swallowed her fear and asked again, “You want me to be nice to you?”
“That would be great.” He smiled at her.
He had an attractive face and no “mean” lines marred his tan skin. She never wanted to go back to Master. He was coldhearted and punished her for any offense. Shane promised not to hurt her and she believed him. She took a deep breath, knowing anything had to be better than going back to her old life. At least Shane gave her hope of a future without misery. He didn’t even mind when she spoke without permission. He didn’t slap her and that was enough to convince her he was a much better man.
“I’ll be nice to you.”
“Good. We’re friends, Beauty. Just relax, okay? You’re totally safe with me.”
Her hands shook as she touched his chest. This material was softer and she could feel the warmth of his body. Beneath the thin shirt, firm muscle met her fingertips. She wanted to stay with him. It couldn’t be worse than what she’d survived in the past. Nothing ever could be.
She waited to see how he’d react but he didn’t do anything. It confused her. She said she’d be nice to him but he only watched her silently with his mesmerizing eyes. They really were pretty and she liked the way he stared at her. It was almost as if he were waiting for her to do something.
I can do this. He must want me to start.
She swallowed, wished she were clean, and hoped she didn’t look as bad as she feared. Her hands moved, slid on his shirt, and one gripped the thick curve of his shoulder while her other one ran down his stomach. He gasped in air and jerked his upper body away from hers enough to give her room. She used the space to rub the front of his pants.
“Fuck!” His eyes widened as he gaped at her. “What are you doing?”
“You’ve got my dick.” His voice shook. “I thought we were playing nice. That’s going to hurt but I’m not going to fight you, damn it. You’re a woman. Please don’t do what I think you are. I’m your friend.”
Confusion gripped her until she realized he thought she was going to attack him. He thought her touching him was a threat to cause him pain. She gently massaged her hand over him to show him she was being nice. She’d said she would be.
He stared at her, his gaze still wide, and he gasped again. She knew she did it right when his man-part grew hard against her hand.
“Stop,” he rasped.
Her hand froze. “Do you want my mouth there instead? I said I’d be nice to you.”
He twisted his hips away from her palm. “No! Shit! I didn’t mean ‘nice’ that way. Oh hell.” He shifted his hips lower down her body until the front of his pants were out of her reach. “I…son of a bitch. I didn’t mean I wanted sex from you. I just meant…shit!”
She’d displeased him, made him not want her, and had done something wrong. Terror filled her that he wouldn’t protect her from Master anymore. She fisted his shirt with both hands.
“Please give me another chance. I can do better. I’ll do anything you want. Just tell me what to do. I’ll do it.”