Twin Flames by Cassandra L. Shaw - Read Online
Twin Flames
0% of Twin Flames completed

About

Summary

fter a long and bitter world-war for pure human supremacy, humans and two sub-species the Eli and Crea reside on Earth in an uneasy harmony. One morning on a jog, Bliss Jacobs finds a murdered fellow Eli. She scents the killer on the body, but other evidence is washed away by a savage storm, leaving Bliss as the sole witness and the target of an assassin—and forcing her back into the world of the man who shattered her heart.
Published: Black Opal Books on
ISBN: 9781626942981
List price: $2.99
Availability for Twin Flames: Katoom ~ Book 1
With a 30 day free trial you can read online for free
  1. This book can be read on up to 6 mobile devices.

Reviews

Book Preview

Twin Flames - Cassandra L. Shaw

You've reached the end of this preview. Sign up to read more!
Page 1 of 1

She’s in grave danger, but she doesn’t want his protection...

After a long and bitter world-war for pure human supremacy, humans and two sub-species the Eli and Crea reside on Earth in an uneasy harmony. One morning on a jog, Bliss Jacobs finds a murdered fellow Eli. She scents the killer on the body, but other evidence is washed away by a savage storm, leaving Bliss as the sole witness and the target of an assassin--and forcing her back into the world of the man who shattered her heart.

He believes she is his destined mate, but he knows there are no second chances...

Kaid Sinclair is chasing more than his best friend’s murderer. He wants Bliss in his bed and in his life, but after their relationship went south several years ago, he knows he has to tread carefully. So how can he keep her safe, while still proving to her that they are destined to be mates, and he doesn’t just want to control her? All he wants is for her to be safe--but with a killer who sees her as Kaid bait, Kaid may have to choose...his life or hers?

KUDOS FOR TWIN FLAMES

In Twin Flames, Katoom, Book 1 by Cassandra L. Shaw, Bliss Jacobs is an Eli--a shifter, of sorts, who can turn into a metal beast--one of two species of aliens, who have taken refuge on Earth. Like the Crea, the other alien species, Elis are super strong, super fast, and have preternatural abilities. They also have enemies--humans who don’t want them on Earth and want to harvest their bodies for the metal--and each other, since Creas and Elis don’t exactly get along. So when someone starts killing off the Eli, they naturally suspect the Crea. Bliss discovers the first body while out for her morning run. This means she has to notify her nemesis, Kaid Sinclair, leader of the Eli Clan and the man who once broke her heart. This is a steamy romance, so there is plenty of sexual tension, plus some very hot love scenes. The story is fast-paced, hard-hitting, with plenty of plot twists and turns to hold your interest--if the sex doesn’t do it. ~ Taylor Jones, Reviewer

Twin Flame ~ Katoom by Cassandra Shaw revolves around Bliss Jacobs and Kaid Sinclair. Both are Eli, a clan of aliens--who along with another subspecies of humans, the Crea--took refuge on Earth hundreds of years ago. Now they live on a reservation type setup, with the Eli and the Crea holding neighboring lands. Both subspecies are distrustful of the other, even though they share a common enemy, humans who want to keep Earth purely for humans. When Bliss finds the mutilated body of Kaid’s best friend down by the railroad tracks, the suspects are many and varied. But regardless of who the killer is, the discovery of the body brings Kaid, the man who once broke Bliss’s heart, back into her life again. Something she is determined to avoid. I was very impressed with Twin Flames ~ Katoom. For a debut author, Shaw shows a rare talent for world building and character development. Add in the hot sex scenes and edge-of-your-seat tension, and you have a real winner. ~ Regan Murphy, Reviewer

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

An author rarely works entirely alone.

Thank you, Marie Dry, my critique partner for most of my writing career. Our almost daily email conversations help to keep me focused as we both work toward our goals and career dreams. I can’t wait till the day we actually meet in person.

To Elsa Holland, Sara, and the other ladies from our tiny writing group the Writers not Waiters--our monthly meetings, your encouragement, and our laughter means a great deal to me.

And to my family, Scott, Shalana, and Coltan--all I can say is, I love you all.

TWIN FLAMES

BOOK ONE OF THE KATOOM SERIES

CASSANDRA L. SHAW

A Black Opal Books Publication

Copyright © 2015 by Cassandra L. Shaw

Cover Design by Marya Heiman

All cover art copyright © 2015

All Rights Reserved

EBOOK ISBN: 978-1-626942-98-1

EXCERPT

Her life was so confusing--not to mention, downright dangerous...

Kaid reached over and stroked his hand down her cheek. Last night was fantastic, Bliss. We’ve got far more than friend potential. We’re mate potential.

Her eyes popped so wide they hurt. It took a moment of blinking to run that sentence through her mind a few times. To test if she’d really just heard him say those words.

Throat tight, she squeaked like a mouse in a trap. "Mate potential. Then indignation hit and swelled her pride. Are you poking fun at me? Yesterday afternoon, I was a traitor. Two days before, the accomplice in Gene’s murder. Now I’m mate potential? Shit, Kaid, I thought I needed therapy, but I guess I’ll give you the therapist’s number instead."

He threw his head back, laughed, then sobered. I was wrong. I know that and I already said I had to apologize. Just found myself mid-apology a little busy fighting off a crazed naked woman, then making incredible love to that woman. What the fu--

Her door flew open. Cold air hit. Something twisted into her hair and yanked. She threw her hands back and clawed. She flew backward through cold air and, with a jolt, hit the ground, hard. Gravel bit into her legs and back, slashed her flesh. She screamed. Something had her. Some rabid animal had her.

Her silver raced to the surface, her nails sprouted into metal claws. The grip on her hair tightened. A tug, and her attacker dragged her backward, ripping her dress, letting the driveway’s gravel score into her freshly bared skin.

She dug her heels deep into pebbles to stop whatever had her, gain some ground, and fight. She lashed out a hand, dug her claws into something and heard a harsh intake of breath. Another painful jerk of her hair twisted her body.

One heel snapped, twisting her ankle and tipping her to the side. A boot? Fuck, a man had her. Her attacker fell onto a knee behind her, pulling her hair with agonizing force. If he didn’t let go soon, he’d be holding her scalp.

Chapter 1

Train Tracks

The assassin grunted, dropped the body, and then watched it roll and sprawl on its back. Empty eyes stared at the dark and cold Montana spring night sky. The assassin laughed.

He’d killed him.

He scratched at the chemical reactive burning inside his robotic chest. Hissed at the scald of the toxins pulsing in his neck and right arm veins. Silver and the metals that only resided in Eli--a race of humans who, along with the Crea, had taken refuge on Earth five hundred years ago when their own planet Ecreal died--merged with the contaminants in his body with caustic results.

At his veins, the silver he should see as a fine bright line, pulsed dull bronze--aged, corroded, diseased. The toxins tasted of rusted steel and burned his mucus membranes.

He kicked the body. Fucker.

Retribution was sweet, even if it had taken him fourteen years. He’d removed the male’s clothes so the trains and wildlife could more easily eliminate his father’s killer. No remains, no ritual burial. Sinclair deserved no such honor.

Here the body would be hacked into easy to eat pieces for the animals to feast on and, since nobody ever came near these tracks, Sinclair’s remains would never be found.

***

Bliss skidded to a halt on the clearing’s spring grass, tipped her face to the sky, and gulped air. Clouds, in an oppressive charcoal blanket, smothered most of dawn’s light. She grimaced. Ah damn, a storm. No wonder it’d been so gloomy in the forest. Time to cut her run short and take the train tracks home.

To add speed, Bliss edged out her Eli genetics. Many times the speed of an Earth human, she dashed through a wind whipped meadow. At the train embankment, she lunged up the steep gravel siding to the top then adjusted her stride so each step fell on a recycled cement and plastic cemeplas sleeper. A flash of blue light, a clash of thunder’s deepest bass exploded, vibrating the surrounding air. Eek, come on legs, go faster. She rounded Death Bend. What the hey?

Bliss stumbled over the dismembered body of a dead man. A scream ripping free, she spun and fell to her knees. Eli metal thundered in her veins, silver bloomed on her skin and swirled in her eyes.

Gene--oh my fates, Gene cut into slices as if laid out in macabre banquet portions.

At three hundred miles an hour, freight trains with six carbide wheels per axle tore along this trio of tracks. Crusted blood and the starkness of bones exposed by the severing suggested multiple trains travelling on differing tracks had sliced through his corpse in gruesome precision.

Bile seared the back of her throat as her metals formed a light exoskeleton over her human skin. Bliss flung herself sideways and vomited down the embankment.

She forced down her remaining stomach contents, calmed her Eli, and did what she didn’t want to do--turned back.

A neon blue flash highlighted the gore. She jumped as the clap of thunder thickened into a rue of pine and ions. With their blood ten percent liquid metal, lightning liked to strike Eli and Crea dumb enough to remain exposed. Being fried wasn’t high on her list of ways to die. She had to get home, out of the storm, and phone the sheriff.

She looked at Gene’s body. God, this was...dang--she couldn’t think of a word bad enough. Death Bend was so sharp, animals didn’t always have time to jump to safety. But an Eli with his enhanced senses--it made no sense.

Near the decapitated head she noted a sweet scent. Great now she’d have to see what that scent was. Feeling as if someone had wedged a shoe in her throat, she peeled her lips back, braced herself for what she was about to do to, leaned forward, and sniffed near the decapitated head.

Bourbon fumes wrinkled her nose. She turned into the cold wind to cleanse her nostrils of booze and death. Crap cakes. Had he come for a run, fallen, and been too drunk to get up? Fallen and knocked himself out then the train came? Drunk or not, why was he out here? His lodge on Eli Clan reserve was on the other side of Katoom, an easy twenty miles from this bend.

She blinked back more tears. What happened?

Yeah, she didn’t expect an answer.

She went to close the dead eyes, so unlike the laughing ones she remembered, and stopped an inch from contact. Oops, she better not contaminate him with her scent. Peter, the sheriff, would give birth to a bear if she touched the body before he’d processed the scene and gone through all the correct procedures.

Katoom’s small population was a mix of Earth humans and the alien Eli and Crea. This Subspecies cohabitation was rare. Even in large cities, the species tended to live in separate suburbs but, usually, the Eli and Crea preferred to live on large tracts of land.

All regions of coexistence were constantly scrutinized by the ever vigilant feds, the sensation hungry media, and the alien haters who wanted the return to old world wars and Subspecies genocide. They prayed for infractions and spied on all alien clans.

To keep focus on Katoom minimal, Peter crossed his T’s with precision to all laws. She hadn’t taken her personal link on her run so she had to wait till she was home to contact him.

She ran her palms along her cooling thighs and stared at the body. She went to stand to head home. Hang on. She half crouched and peered closer at Gene’s neck. Two inches above where his head had been severed from the rest of him, a jagged cut gaped and a large portion of flesh hung, joined to the whole by a thread of pale bloodless skin. She glanced at the other body pieces, and her chest ratcheted from tense to tenser.

The torso slices had been cut with almost laser precision. No torn flesh. No ragged edges. No chunks cleaved from the whole.

But the throat had been hacked and didn’t come near to separating that section of neck in two.

She gusted out a horrified gasp, dry heaved, flung her hand to her mouth, and kept it there. She would not vomit on Gene. She peered closer and saw a windpipe and carotid artery. She flicked her gaze to the gravel to calm herself. That was odd. Gene was big, six-feet-seven tall, and two-eighty pounds of muscle. Yet, she couldn’t see much blood and barely any metal dust. Not much blood at all. Even little rabbits bled more than these few trickles.

Where the hell could all his blood have gone?

She rocked back onto her heels. A squall whipped her hip length hair around her body. Heart ricocheting around her chest like a well hit racquetball, she shot to her feet.

Shit, shit, shit. Gene hadn’t died here.

She swallowed hard and surveyed the surrounding tree line, flinched when a dark shadow moved, when the light shifted with the clouds.

Someone sliced his throat, bled him out, then moved and dumped his body.

Her metal rose so high, she tasted its metallic sourness on her tongue. She had to scent the murderer, to know who did this. She dropped to her knees again. Head close to the ragged wound, she inhaled deeply. From deep within Gene’s massacred throat, the faintest waft of a foreign scent bit at the back of her throat.

The killer? Of course, it’s the killer, stupid. What other scent would be inside Gene’s flesh? But why was it so weak? It hadn’t rained to wash it away.

She shook her head, took another draw of air, rolled the aromatic molecules of the alien scent over her tongue and scent receptors, and sifted through the data of stored scents in her brain.

Please don’t be someone I know, please. No buzzing and no internal recognition. No one she knew, thank the gods. But now she’d be able to identify the scent’s owner if they came near. Forensics would use a scent collector to gather the killer’s scent then load it into the national database and seek a match.

She turned, ran for home, and prayed a killer didn’t watch or know she’d scented him.

***

Five miles later, she rushed into her house and slammed the front door shut. Shaking as if she’d stayed out naked in a snowstorm, she tore the rusty bolt out of hibernation and jammed it into the painted over slot. Fear iced her blood as she ran to call Katoom’s sheriff.

But damn. With the laws of the Interspecies Treaties, he’d have to call Katoom’s Eli Clan leader and sheriff, Kaid Sinclair. He and his men would have to be involved in any investigation, meaning she’d have to talk to Kaid and deal with other Eli’s.

And that sucked pickled lemons.

Over the video link she told Peter what she found.

Call Kaid Sinclair to meet us.

Her mouth dropped open so far Peter would have been able to count her teeth. "Why do I have to call Kaid?" For fourteen years she’d made avoiding Kaid an art form she’d win prizes in.

It’s the law, you know that.

Right. Freaking laws. Ten years ago, in 2046, seventy years after the great species wars ended, the world governments demanded all Leaders be assessed as law enforcers. Since then, all crimes committed by or to Clan members had to be reported to them.

Great idea, important for the individual species overall safety, and today--it bloody sucked.

"You could call and get him to meet you at the base of Death Bend." Pretty, please.

Sorry. Morning train’s due in twenty. I need it stopped. See you in fifteen. The video link went dark blue.

She stuck out her tongue and stamped her foot. Stupid sucky laws.

She was so horrified she had to say, End phone activation link, three times before the call dropped. She cleared her throat and gathered every ounce of brave she possessed. Phone activation. Connect to Kaid Sinclair of Katoom Eli Clan, Montana. Connect to conceited ass.

Three buzzes, four--seven. A small smile played at the edge of her lips. Ah, what a shame. Oh well, she’d tried. Girl can’t do more than that. Peter would do what he needed for Gene.

What? a grumpy, sleep-heavy, sexy voice slurred over the connection. Sweet hell, it’s barely light. This better be good. A groan. Fuck, my head.

Noises like rustling sheets and blankets came over the connection. His voice echoed. Damn, he had her on speaker. Knowing Kaid, he’d have some simple-minded female in his bed. This wasn’t some bimbo’s business.

Kaid, pick up the handset for a private talk. This is Bliss Jacobs.

Bliss?

If Gene’s remains didn’t still haunt her, she’d have smiled at the shock in his voice. She never went near Kaid. She only went to his auto workshop when she knew he wasn’t there.

Hot thing, you can hear my morning growl anytime.

Geez. Seven in the morning and the man was still a total slimeball. Are you alone?

Yes. Come right-- Over the line, she heard the susurration of shifting fabric. Fuck. You’re truck’s not broken down at the side of the road? There’s been a few anti-Subspecies tourists around in the last few days. You stay in your cab and keep it locked, and tell me where you are. I’ll come straight away.

His concern surprised her. His normal response to her was a rude sexual innuendo, or to shove his hands into his trouser pockets and stare at her as if she needed dissecting.

No, I’m at home.

She heard him blow out a heavy breath. Good. You’re safe.

She figured he’d need to see her face to realize what she said was serious. Kaid, umm, this is important. Put me on video.

He cursed. The squeak of wood warned her he’d stood from his bed.

Oh, oops. Video. She’d bet her house he slept naked. Make sure you’re wearing pants.

Killjoy. If you don’t get a preview, how do you know what you’re missing?

Bliss let out an exasperated sigh. She didn’t need visions of him naked to tease her nights.

Fine. Give me a sec. He started muttering, Pants, where are my fucking pants?

Kaid’s face appeared on screen. Lean hard features softened by sleep, golden hair spiked and falling at all sorts of angles. A permanent reminder of his fight for Leader, a thin pale scar ran from his hairline, skated the corner of his left eye, and continued to his chin.

Piercing apple-green-and-silver-shot eyes fringed in black lashes, latched onto and held hers for a tense breathtaking three seconds. Man had the prettiest eyes she’d ever seen on a male--of any species. That was saying a lot, considering the beauty of some of the Crea. She broke the eye contact and focused on his jaw.

Don’t you look fresh and beautiful so early? What’s up, truck won’t start and you want my personal service? He slid his left eye closed in a wink.

Crap cakes, she’d dodged more than just his dominance and Clan laws when he’d shattered her heart by becoming what he always sworn to hate--a Clan Leader. Sure as she owned her hand, Kaid had a sex addiction. She’d never have survived the heartbreak of him playing around.

I sold the truck. Now tell your penis to shut up and listen. Bliss drew in a quick breath. Something terrible has happened. She hated having to deliver this news. Gene had been his best friend since the two of them shared the same taste in diaper designs, and Bliss knew the agony of losing someone you loved. Kaid. She swallowed. Gene’s dead. I found him this morning on the train tracks near my house. I’m sorry, Kaid. I know what he meant to you.

Confusion and horror then incredible sadness washed over his face. His cheeks paled, leached of all color until his scar blended into his skin tone. Iris silver swirled, then the metal started to bloom on his skin.

I’m sorry, Kaid. I have the sheriff on his way to my house with his team. He wants you to join them as soon as possible. And Kaid-- She dropped her voice, softening the blow but somehow emphasizing the horror she felt. --I think Gene was murdered.

Red bloomed hot and fast in Kaid’s chalk cheeks, the silver dust shone polished chrome bright. All soft invitation and sadness erased, his face tensed into harsh lines. Eyes squinted until they formed narrow, glacial, slits. His upper lip lifted, showing his top teeth. What the fuck did you do?

Judging by the look, if she’d been there in person, her neck would now be feeling the steel of Eli claws digging into her throat. Bliss couldn’t quite suppress the trickle of fear that slipped down her spine, nor could she stop the telltale silver rising and swirling in her eyes. The metal of her blood tinted the surface of her skin, showing her anger as it did all high emotions.

What did she do? I didn’t do anything. I found him this morning on my run. A living nightmare.

Gene’s been chasing your skirt. If you or some male of yours harmed Gene to stop him from trying to Mate-Dance with you, I’ll kill you or him, and it’ll be slow. The metal dust ebbed and rose, showing his erratic emotions.

Bliss swallowed. She’d heard stories of Kaid’s vengeance. Even if half were true, she’d die screaming, but being bullied wasn’t in her DNA. Use your brains. Man’s three times my size and could have snapped my spine with one hand. Now shut up and get your twisted brain cells here. The sheriff’s expecting you.

Bliss, too uptight to speak monotone to end the connection, ran her thumb over the disconnect soft touch button of the house link. She’d seen old movie halos where they used links they could slam down into a cradle. What she wouldn’t give for one of those right now. Instead, she smashed her fist onto her counter top.

Once, she thought she loved Kaid Sinclair, thought he’d been her true mate. A true mate didn’t change personalities overnight, turn into what he’d avowed to hate, and forsake the girl he swore he loved, for power. Everything Kaid did and said was either a lie, a power grab, rude, and...well, damn it all, he just pissed her off.

Chapter 2

Dead Friends

In Bliss’s driveway, Kaid pushed his new truck’s door down to air lock. He stared at her 1950s timber home that looked as if it had been posted straight out of a picture halo. Compressed gas whooshed as two of his Clan Soldiers, Rooster and Lucus, Gene’s brother, closed their doors.

Lucus’s grief and fury weighted the air as oppressively as the nearby storm clouds. Kaid probably shouldn’t have brought Lucus, but the male insisted. And he was Gene’s blood and metal. If Bliss correctly identified the evidence at the scene, then Gene had been murdered.

And that was fucking bullshit. They lived in Katoom, a tiny backwater where everyone knew when someone else farted. And the area was pretty much a crime-free zone. He and Zane, the Crea Leader, had cleaned out the drugs and other illegal underdealing’s in the area.

No one in Eli or Crea Clan was involved in illegal activities--so no reason to kill. All Clan and the region’s humans were watched carefully by Clan spies, and they kept a close eye on the few humans who came to the area to cause havoc. There were three around Katoom doing some hunting at the moment. Hunting of wildlife and hunting subs to harass. These types of full humans hated Eli and Crea and often wanted them to be held in locked down reserves like animals in a zoo or eliminated by another world war.

Kaid turned to Lucus. I doubt humans took down Gene. Drunk or not, he could have outrun or outfought even eight humans. This will be a Mate-Dance issue. We’ll have to hide that from the humans and feds, or we won’t get our chance for retribution.

Lucus growled. Gene chased Bliss for two years, then suddenly some ass-wipe male who thought he owned Bliss takes Gene out? Fuck that. We find that murdering speck of slug crap, I claim blood rights to kill the murderer. For murder one.

Kaid smiled at the cold surety in his soldier’s voice. I’ll help.

Retribution would be sweet and slow.

Movement in one of the house’s window caught his eye. He’d never seen Bliss’s house close up. Not that many years ago he’d viewed it from the forest edge where’ he’d sit and watch for a glimpse of her. But he was never near enough to see house details or for her or the dog she used to have to see or scent him and bust his stalking ass.

Rooster nodded at the house. I’ve never been here, have you?

Uninvited Clan aren’t permitted. Part of the agreement I made with Bliss fourteen years ago.

The day after Kaid fought for and claimed Leader, and the day after her father died from Mule overdose.

Her fifty acres, her territory. Except for Gene, she’s kept her Eli unwelcome mat out.

Today that status-quo would change.

She hadn’t killed Gene, but an admirer or boyfriend? That was a different beast entirely. Eli and Crea often chased off rivals, beat them bloody, occasionally killed.

He’d get the bastard’s name from Bliss then force her back to Clan land for her safety while he eliminated the killer.

A male capable of murdering a rival might be so obsessed he could cause the woman he loved harm. Cause Bliss harm, and that was an unconscionable idea Kaid would make sure never occurred.

Time to sniff the bastard out, literally.

Kaid flared his nostrils and inhaled. A mixture of scents rolled over his olfactory chemoreceptors. Gene’s scent, like all his Clan, triggered his Leader response of protection and kindred warmth. He ran his hand over his jaw and chewed his bottom lip. Odd.

Gene’s scent is not very strong. His essence should be stronger if he paid a visit to Bliss within the last week. And odder, I can’t scent any other male of any species. The oncoming storm lashed the trees two miles away. It hadn’t yet hit these acres so nothing would have diluted odors. If Gene didn’t come here sniffing Bliss’s skirt, why was he on the tracks?

Run off the booze? Rooster said.

For over twenty miles? Before he visited Bliss, did Gene go for a run to fight off the bourbon?

Lucus’s voice was sad and soft. Probably. Gene wouldn’t have considered it good form to front at a female’s house pissed.

Fuck, no other male scent makes no sense.

He drew in more air and Bliss’s scent hit him the way it always did. A succubus on his psyche, it wrapped around and stroked him and his Eli with a sensual caress. Torture to his soul since she hated him.

He and his beast had always considered the elusive Bliss his mate. The she is mine tendency scrambled his metals at the smallest sight or scent of her. And here he was drowning in it. Oh hell, he had to enter her house. There’d be no hiding his desire for her. He’d be a silver fucking beacon in a minute.

Still, today she’d put his metal down to his grief. Shit, there went the metal, pulse, swirl, fucking swirl.

Kaid moved his head, motioning his soldiers forward. Calm, cool, in control, Kaid would convince her to out her male and, until a resolution was found--resolution meaning the murderer was dead--also coerce her into staying with Kaid.

Go around to the sides and back of the house. Check if Gene or some other male used another entrance last night. I left Gene eight-tenths tanked inside Clan’s gates. Frigged if I know how he managed to run the twenty-two or so miles. I know I couldn’t have, barely made onto my mattress. On reflection, he might have managed if Bliss offered her sweet little curves as the end prize.

Silver coating his skin, advertising his anger, heartbreak, and confusion, Lucus nodded at Bliss’s house. You think she’s doing the Mate-Dance with someone from another Clan?

Humph. Kaid grunted Must be.

He clenched his jaw. Her obvious Kaid hate was the reason he’d let Gene chase her for mate. If Kaid had ever considered he had the remotest chance to claim Bliss for a mate, he’d never have allowed Gene or any other male near her. The jealousy he’d endured while Gene chased her along with her refusal to acknowledge Kaid as more than bug guts on a windshield had long formed an emotional whirlpool that made him act like a rebuffed school boy every time he saw her.

In the end, it was obvious why she hated him--he was a total jerk.

Let’s do this. Kaid strode toward the soft-yellow-and-white painted house. He took the three stairs in one step. Once on the veranda, he sniffed the air. Time, days or more, had passed and softened the scent, but Gene’s whispered to him in layers, indicating regular visits.

He blinked at the burn in his eyes. He kept praying to wake, to discover he’d received no nightmare wake-up call. That right now, Gene lay in bed, alive, with a pounding hangover.

The door swung open, and his heart jolted. Framed in the white doorjamb stood the vision of tiny loveliness that was Bliss. Large upward slanted eyes of vivid silver-shot-green-and-blue were highlighted in a face of soft angles, pointed chin, cheeky dimples when she smiled.

She didn’t today. He ran his hungry gaze over her. Tiny for an Eli female at five-feet-two, her full firm breasts rose and fell with each breath she took, and her running pants hugged her tiny waist and rounded hips. A body belonging in porn magazines.