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Her Mates’ Embrace
Primal Attractions
by Rebecca Airies

Ellora’s Cave

eBook ISBN: 9781419941412

Hunted by vicious men, Cami’s hiding secrets from Santir males, Linc and Colm. She wants to fall into their arms and bed, but knows it’s impossible.

Linc and Colm work to earn Cami’s trust even as they hunger for her. Danger stalks her, but they’ll protect and claim their mate.

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Ellora’s Cave ‖ AReKindleNook

Chapter One

869 Neshan Calendar
“They won’t hurt you.”
Cami didn’t even glance over at Avan. She recognized the unspoken message, but was a little surprised he didn’t just come out and say it. They wouldn’t hurt her like Laed and Kynar had.
The auburn-haired man seemed to think that if he kept telling her that, it would make her believe it. Not going to happen. She didn’t doubt that Ardin Linc Arinin and Ardin Colm Tarvis were as honorable as men with the power to rule over others could be, but they were men with power. These two men had more power than most. Ardin ruled a group of Santir shapeshifters. Sometimes it was a small number of people, but from what she knew, Linc and Colm led a large group of Santir.
The sun streamed through a gap in the clouds above, giving a glimpse of the yellowish sky. Cami thought she was doing great in trusting them enough to stop Laed and Kynar. She couldn’t trust completely. For merely irritating them, she’d been beaten with their fists and a large leather strap. Before Laed and Kynar had finished, they’d cut her face and her leg to provide a visual warning to others who thought to defy them. Even coming to find these two Ardin hadn’t been easy.
Laed and Kynar had been the Ardin of Scali Thent, but not true Ardin with real magic. No one realized that until it was too late to stop the two men from taking control. They had ruled with cruelty and fear. No solid reason was needed to draw their fury. Cami was one of many victims of their vicious behavior. She didn’t know if she’d ever be able to trust anyone completely again.
“You’ll find safety at Tobai Thent.” Avan’s voice softened.
As if she’d believe that tale. She knew what Thent was supposed to be. Thent was often used to refer to a specific clan or group of Santir, but could also be used to indicate the buildings that made up the clan’s home. In the old stories, being part of a Thent meant safety and protection from enemies. Home, family and prosperity. What everyone wanted. Not in this case. Cami had been far safer alone and on the run than she’d ever been under Laed and Kynar’s rule.
“Cami, try to give them a chance,” Avan said with a little bit of annoyance.
She raised a brow, but kept walking. Avan didn’t seem to have any problem putting his faith in Linc and Colm. She remembered too much from Scali Thent to believe in Ardin without proof. Still, she trusted him. If she didn’t know Avan would be with them, she doubted she’d be here. Avan was a good man and had lived through Laed and Kynar’s reign at Scali Thent just as she had.
It took much too long to discover how Laed and Kynar acquired their magic. When she had realized a crystal gave the men power, she’d grabbed it and run. Not long after she’d left, she’d broken the crystal. She had wanted to make sure they could never use it again, but had succeeded in creating an entirely different situation. Magic escaped from the gem and had flowed into her. It wasn’t stable and it grew almost every day. She needed help managing her newfound power.
The energy from that crystal had done more than give her magic. Only a day later, she’d begun having dreams and visions. That was how she knew about Colm and Linc. At first, it had been visions of Avan with them and then a vision of them fighting Kynar. More scenes of Linc and Colm had followed. She’d learned things about them she was certain they never would have shared with her.
At first, she hadn’t realized why she was getting so much intimate information about two strangers. She knew about their love life at their Thent and their problems. Eventually, she’d realized they were connected to her. Admittedly, it had taken seeing herself with them in a few dreams to solidify the knowledge. With the sometimes erotic turn of the dreams, it didn’t take long to guess just how they were linked together. That connection to two powerful men terrified her.
She followed the visions to Linc and Colm only because Laed and Kynar wouldn’t stop hurting others. The opportunity to control the magic was simply a benefit. One she knew she needed. She anxiously waited to start learning to control the magic welling up inside her. Especially since it seemed to be growing more every day.
The magic building within her scared her. She didn’t know anything about using or even suppressing the power. The fight to keep it contained exhausted her. Fear of what the unrestrained energy would do to anyone near her if it was released kept her on edge. She didn’t know how long it would be until the power escaped her hold. It had happened once before. The magic had exploded out of her. Luckily, she’d been in the middle of the forest. No people had been affected, although the animals hadn’t fared so well.
She’d come across the animals after the wave of minor dizziness and weakness had faded. They’d been alive, but unconscious. She didn’t want to see what disaster would happen in a city, even a small one. Conflicting feelings kept her from approaching Colm and Linc about her fears, but she knew time was running short.
“Cami, don’t be stubborn. You hardly talk to them and you keep as much distance between you and them as possible. How are they supposed to help that way?” Avan’s voice was pitched low as they strolled down the street of yet another village.
Keeping a distance between her and them was the sane decision. She’d told them about the magic when she’d met up with them, but they didn’t seem to be in any rush to teach her to handle it. Maybe when they did, the dreams would stop or decrease. The magic and those strange vision dreams had to be connected somehow. She never had them before she broke that crystal.
The dreams. She didn’t mind the ones that gave her warning of danger so much. Sometimes, she didn’t understand what they meant until some event clicked into place. At least they served a purpose other than tormenting her. She could live without the dreams of Linc and Colm. She hated seeing them with other women even if she felt they were images from the past.
They didn’t want a mate. She heard it in those dreams almost every night. Knowing that, dreaming of them making love to her became even more of a torment. She knew it couldn’t come true. If it did, they’d only resent her. The two men were close as brothers, although she knew they weren’t related. If one of them was miserable, the other man would be unhappy as well.
“I’m not being stubborn.” She looked over at him and met his eyes briefly. It was caution, fear and experience, not simply a desire to do things her way.
Getting close to them only increased the pull of the mate bond. All of the herbal teas and lotions she used to mask her scent couldn’t change that, even if it did keep them from recognizing her as their mate. That didn’t stop the attraction and the connection from growing. Nothing except staying away from them would do that.
He raised an eyebrow in clear doubt. She looked back up the street. The houses and streets all seemed to look alike now. The travel-gates made moving to other worlds easy, but every planet had more than one gate and each led to different worlds. Sometimes, they had to travel overland to the gate that would lead them to the right place. Simply traveling with Colm and Linc’s men, they’d passed through five worlds. That was nothing compared to the number she’d gone through when she ran away from Scali Thent. She was tired and wanted a real bed for more than a night. At least, the journey would end soon. They were getting close to the world where Colm and Linc held their Thent, although they still had a little traveling to do.
“I know they haven’t even raised their voices to you. You need to talk with them if you’re ever going to trust them. You’ll see they’ll keep you safe. We’re making sure you’re seen. Laed and Kynar will be able to find you and Linc and Colm will catch them.” Avan leaned in close so that his voice would carry only to her.
“They were after Laed and Kynar before I joined you. My being here only makes it easier for them to do that.” She shook her head. The reassuring litany wasn’t going to work.
Although she didn’t know the full reason why, they were following her. Without a doubt, Laed and Kynar hated her. She’d suffered enough abuse at their hands to realize that. She took their crystal, but they couldn’t know that for certain.
They were coming. Knowledge of their pursuit thrummed through her. It wasn’t only the visions. She felt hunted and had almost since she’d left Scali Thent.
“Are you still afraid of them?” Avan’s hand clasped her arm and pulled her to the side of the street.
She stared at his green shirt for a moment before lifting her eyes to his. He wouldn’t have tried to stop her physically even days earlier. Her calm reaction to it surprised her a little. After the beating by Laed and Kynar, she hadn’t wanted to let anyone close, but slowly that was changing.
“Laed and Kynar? No.” She frowned, but not only over the question. She wasn’t so sure the change was a good one. Being aware kept her safe.
They were a threat to anyone weaker, but this time they faced men who knew real magic. She’d feared Laed and Kynar when she was under their power. After they’d beaten her, even the fear changed. She didn’t want to die, but she wanted to hurt them. She didn’t know what she’d feel when they found her again.
“No, Colm and Linc, the Ardin.” Avan glared at her as if she should have realized that was who he was talking about without clarification.
“If I thought I had reason to be scared of them, I wouldn’t be here. I’m cautious of them. They’re big and they have power. Men with power like wielding it and that’s not always the best thing for people near them. And I didn’t know you’d decided that your place was with them, because they’re definitely not my Ardin. I doubt I’ll ever stay under the rule of Ardin again. This is temporary and will only last until we manage to stop Laed and Kynar.” She slid a glance at him. She didn’t know how he could so easily follow their orders. He’d seen what had happened in the Thent, even if he hadn’t felt the worst of it.
“They won’t turn on you as Laed and Kynar did. You’re safe.” Avan’s voice remained low as he began guiding her down the street again.
“They won’t because I’m not giving them the chance. After everything, I can’t do Thent life on the long term. Just being around the people with us is enough to make me want to find somewhere I can be alone. And that’s not even taking into account the fact that I won’t ever be able to trust Ardin as most expect their people to do.” She stared at the people walking toward them. Cities and towns weren’t her favorite places either. Too many people and buildings crowding around her.
She’d spent too much time alone before she found them. Not that she regretted it. The time moving through forests and running in her animal form helped ground her when so much else was spinning out of control.
“That’s how you feel now, but when you’ve had some time to see that these men aren’t power-hungry and vicious, you’ll see that you can live with others. You have to give it a chance. You’ve been alone since you ran from those two. It’s going to take a little time for you to adjust to being near people again.” Avan smiled and patted her shoulder.
She glared at him and stepped away from what she knew was supposed to be a comforting gesture. “Do you seriously think that this is the first time that I’ve seen and experienced the betrayal of someone who was supposed to know and do what was best for everyone? It happened before, not as severely, but still essentially the same. People in power lose sight of the fact that others matter. I won’t put myself in that position again.”
“Those men, the false Ardin and the other, that’s not the way most men with power act. They’re extreme examples of how not to act.” Avan’s voice rose and he stopped, but hurried to catch up when she didn’t stop.
“Look, I don’t know why you’ve given them all your trust, but that’s you. I’ve got permanent scars as proof that those with power can’t be trusted.” She knew he couldn’t understand her problem. She couldn’t see how he gave them his loyalty and complete confidence so easily. “You’re not going be able to persuade me that I can count on them for anything more than help catching Laed and Kynar.”
“All right, we’ll talk about this some other time. Maybe after you’ve had a chance to learn more about them.” Avan’s hand lifted in a gesture of acceptance.
At that, her eyes narrowed. She had a feeling he’d been sent to discover just what her feelings were about life in a clan, living within a Thent and about Colm and Linc. It was beyond her why it was necessary. Of course, she didn’t trust them. The answer should be obvious to anyone who thought about what had happened. She’d been beaten badly for no reason other than Laed and Kynar were mean tamaurgi. She’d like to come up with a few words other than bastard, but couldn’t think of anything bad enough to really describe them.
“Shouldn’t we get what they asked us to get? The cloth?” She looked pointedly at the market ahead of them.
“We’re going. The cloth is for you, you know. They saw that you only have that small bag and wanted to make sure that you have extra clothes and all the comforts you need.” Avan edged closer to her as they walked into the market area.
“Let me guess. You’re supposed to guard me in case someone attacks while we’re here.” She slid a glance over at him.
“I’m supposed to make sure that you’re safe while you’re away from the main group because you’re more at ease with me. You won’t immediately try to move away if I have to get closer.” Avan shrugged.
She gave them credit for noticing that. She did trust Avan more and she knew he wouldn’t hurt her. He was one of the few males she felt completely comfortable being near for any length of time. She didn’t think that Linc and Colm would physically hurt her. The two men were a threat in an entirely different way. She didn’t like the speculation she’d seen in their eyes lately. She’d caught them staring a few times. By the expressions on their faces, it wasn’t because of her scar.
“We should probably get started with this, then. I don’t want to hold them up.” She looked at the stalls. There weren’t all that many. It shouldn’t take long to find some serviceable cloth and buy it.
“Hold them up? They’re not in a hurry. We’re staying the night here. They’re arranging for accommodations. Apparently, they stop here often enough to be friendly with the locals.” Avan stayed close to her as they strolled into the market. It wasn’t too crowded.
She walked past the stalls selling fruit and vegetables and one offering cooked pastries. There were a couple of stalls selling cloth, but she didn’t see anything suitable on the first table. Moving on to the second, she found a few bolts that would work. She particularly liked the vivid green, the yellow and a deep blue. When she began to take out the coins for the cloth, Avan stepped forward and handed the amount to the woman behind the wooden table.
“They gave it to me to pay for the cloth,” Avan said without her doing more than looking at him.
“I don’t need their help to provide for my needs. I’m capable of doing it on my own.” She straightened and glared at him.
“It wasn’t my decision. That’s something you’re going to have to argue about with them.” He held up his hands.
Oh, she would and she knew it probably would be an argument. They weren’t accustomed to people questioning them, especially for something such as this. But she wasn’t part of their Thent. They had no right to pay for what she would wear. She wasn’t their responsibility.
“Let’s go. I assume since you know so much that you know where we’re supposed to meet them.” Her anger built with every breath, and more frightening than that, the magic rose with the emotion. She tried to push the anger down and get control of her feelings. It didn’t work. Fear spiked through her. She couldn’t let the magic escape her control here. There were too many people who could be hurt.
“We’re supposed to meet them at the inn. You’ll have a room of your own. They assured me of that, just in case you were worried.” Avan urged her back down the same street they’d taken to get to the market.
“I take it from your remark that some people will be doubling up.” She drew in a deep breath and focused on calming her emotions.
“Yes, doubling and some sleeping in rooms in people’s homes.” Avan shrugged. “It’s just the way it’s done in these smaller towns if the group that comes through is too big for the inn. They’re willing as long as they’re paid.”
She didn’t reply. Calming down wasn’t working. The magic churned even without the emotion behind it. Nothing she did tamped it back down. This was bad. She didn’t know what she should do. Linc, Colm and their chatar were at the inn. A chatar served as their advisor, wise man and seer. She frowned as she thought about that man. The dark-haired chatar and his knowledge of her worried her. Before she’d met him, she’d suspected that all chatar were fakes as the one at Scali Thent had been. That fake hadn’t been wise at all and he definitely had no ability to see the future. Definitely not true of the chatar with Colm and Linc.
She couldn’t do anything about the chatar. She needed to stay focused on the main issue. The magic. If Colm and Linc helped, that would be great and no one would have anything to worry about today, but if not… She hesitated. This could be a disaster. If she went into the forest, as long as she was far enough away from the city, no one would be hurt.
“Is something wrong? If you need to talk with the Ardin, I’d suggest you do it now. They were talking about getting a few more supplies and that could take a while if they have to haggle.” Avan took her arm.
She didn’t have time to think, much less force the words past the panic boiling inside of her. Avan led her to a good-sized wooden building near the town’s east edge. Her heartbeat sounded loud in her ears. Her chest ached and she felt as if she couldn’t pull in enough air.
Indecision made the choice for her. She didn’t resist as he pulled her up the stairs onto a porch that ran along the front of the hotel. Dread filled her. Something bad was going to happen. Her heart raced and her mind seemed to lock. She couldn’t think of a way to make him understand that he had to let her go.
He’d chase after her if she just took off. She doubted he’d consider her power a problem. None of them had seemed too concerned since she’d told them about the magic inside of her and that it was building. If she didn’t find some way to suppress it, they were going to get a firsthand demonstration of why it was a problem.
“I can’t go in there, Avan. I need to calm down, maybe go for a long walk or run.” Her voice quivered with stress. She winced at the sign. She tried to get him to understand. “The magic—”
“They’ll teach you everything you need to know about your magic, you just need to be patient. They can’t teach while we’re traveling. And as long as Laed and Kynar are still out there, going for a run or walk with just one person isn’t a good idea.” Avan opened the thick wooden door and switched his hand to the small of her back before she could even think about making a run for it.
She found herself being urged into the inn. The main door opened into a dining and drinking area with a long, scarred dark-brown bar and several tables. She didn’t take a step more once the forward pressure had stopped. His attitude and insistence as well as the fact that there were at least ten other people in the short distance between her and the first table were making her feel trapped. She wanted out and she wanted to be away from everyone.
“Linc, Colm, Cami needs to talk with you.” Avan stepped forward.
Her mind automatically locked onto the fact that there was a clear path behind her. She didn’t get a chance to think about it too much before she noticed that both men were coming toward her. Unable to stop herself, she let her eyes wander as they approached.
Colm’s golden eyes fixed on her and his face set in aggressive lines. She’d never seen them soften and sometimes wondered if he looked as if a predator lurked ready to pounce even when he slept. His skin was a dark-brown and the trika, the spots along his jawline and ribs, only a little darker. Those markings identified him as Santir, a shapeshifter, and they were also sensitive to touch. Grabbing and pinching there could be very painful, but a caress… She shivered at the thought of the pleasure it could bring or that could be given. His long black hair hung in a straight fall to just below his shoulders. A cream-colored shirt stretched across his muscled chest drawing her eyes and many appreciative female stares, but not as many as his black leather pants.
Linc followed a little behind as they wove their way between the tables. His long golden hair was clubbed back with a leather thong, but she knew it reached more than halfway down his back. Glittering green eyes seemed to take in everything. Light golden skin stretched over his cheekbones. She let her gaze drift over the dark trika along his square jaw as she continued her perusal. He was a little shorter than Colm, but every bit as broad and muscled. His dark-blue shirt wasn’t as tight as Colm’s, but those leather pants emphasized every flex of his thighs.
Ogling them didn’t help lessen the magic, but she loved the view. It was as close as she could let herself get to them. Everything she knew about them and what they wanted only told her she’d be setting herself up for a lot of pain if she wasn’t careful.
“No, I don’t need to talk to them right now. I need some time alone.” She slanted a narrow-eyed look toward Avan. He was lucky she didn’t have something heavy in her hands.
“What’s wrong?” Linc stepped in front of her.
“Nothing’s wrong. I just want to go to my room if it’s ready.” The words came out from between clenched teeth. It gave obvious proof of the lie, but she couldn’t do this now and hold onto her control.
Colm laughed softly. “I think we do need to talk about something. I’m also sure that time alone isn’t going to make it go away.”
She took a deep breath to try to control the immediate surge of frustration. Her nerves stretched taut with the strain. She didn’t need her feelings ramping up the magic any more than they already were. “No, we don’t. I need some peace and quiet away from everyone else.”
“It’s not ready. None of them are. That gives us time to discover just what it is you don’t need to talk about.” Linc gently clasped her arm.
“Let me go. I’m tired of being led, herded and told where to go and what to do. I don’t want to talk right now.” She jerked at her arm, but she might as well have been trying to move a rock wall. His hand didn’t budge. Her heart began racing. Panic began to push away everything else, but the fear that she’d lose control right here.
“No, take a few breaths and calm down. We’re going to talk about whatever is bothering you, and don’t lie to us again. There is something bothering you.” Linc’s voice was smooth and utterly calm.
“Why won’t anyone listen to me?” Her voice rose and her throat felt tight. The magic was rising. She could feel it swelling, but didn’t know how to make them understand without blurting it out, which could be disastrous in such a public place. She tried, but she couldn’t push it back. “Please.”
“No, now we’re going to go sit down. You’re going to tell us what’s behind all of this argument.” Linc began leading her over to the tables.
“No!” She reached for his hands, intending to use her claws to get him to release her. She’d be even more surrounded, more trapped there.
Cami felt a snap of magic go through her as soon as she touched him. He flew back away from her. She stared, horrified, for only a moment before she spun and ran out of the room. She’d thrown him across the room with her magic and she hadn’t even intended to do it.
Gods, she was a menace to anyone around her. She ran through the streets toward the forest. The streets seemed to close in around her, making her feel caged and hunted. Her vision narrowed. A low roar sounded in her ears and her heart raced.
She hit the grassy field at the edge of town and kept going. Her pace didn’t slow until the sparse trees and bushes thickened and the light was partially blocked by the thick canopy of leaves of the surrounding trees. The sharp tang of the sap and leaves of the trees hit her first, calming her a little.
She looked around and saw the dark bark of a stand of manoga trees. The sweet scent of minsi drifted to her, but she couldn’t see any of the vines anywhere or a hint of their yellow and orange bell-shaped flowers. She drew in a deep breath and walked a little deeper into the forest. Stopping when she got to a stand of conical vetin trees, she dropped down to sit against one of the thick trunks.
The grass and leaf-covered ground was soft and cushioned her. The tree at her back felt solid. She put her hands over her face and simply breathed, letting the chitter of small animals and the feel of the slightly moist breeze ground her.
That had been a disaster. Doubts began to crowd her mind. She’d thought she could be around people safely as long as she had someone near to teach her control of the magic. It hadn’t been a priority for them. She hadn’t pressed them on it. Maybe she should have, but she wasn’t certain that it would have made a difference to what happened. She would have felt pressured. She doubted she would have learned enough to stop that slip.
She drew her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. Resting her chin on her knee, she closed her eyes and tried to think about what she should do next. She wanted to stop Laed and Kynar, but that wouldn’t happen if she was a danger to everyone who was with her. That was all too likely if she couldn’t somehow get control of the magic. Alternatively, she couldn’t simply let Laed and Kynar continue to hurt others and she was certain that they would.
Either way someone could get hurt. At least Linc, Colm and their men had been warned. Laed and Kynar’s potential victims wouldn’t have that advantage. On top of that, the men could take care of themselves. Laed and Kynar would go after the weakest targets they could find. The only question was would she be welcome to stay with them any longer?

Buy Now:
Ellora’s Cave ‖ AReKindleNook

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