Wild Ones (Collection)
by Zoey Daniels
eBook ISBN: 06966-02243
A pair of shapeshifting wolves have adopted Lainey’s new farm on the agri-moon Leman as their home. Though wild, winning their favor is considered lucky. They have a sense of sexuality that other women would pay anything to taste. And they’ve chosen her. Lainey’s not crying wolf. She’s crying “God, yes, harder!”
This collection contains the previously released novellas Prowl, Wild Horses, Purr, and Who? in the Wild Ones series.
Lainey closed her eyes and lifted her face toward the sun. Had any sun on any world ever felt so fine? She thought not. Leman’s sun caressed her skin as gently as an accomplished lover, but it was no weakling. Its rays burnished the world brown, carried forward over fields of gold in heated breaths of wind that reminded her of hot kisses traced down her body.
A fine world to live in. She’d like it here.
“It hits us all that way at first,” Rosemary remarked. Lainey could hear the smile in her voice. “Don’t ever get used to it. Then it’ll lose most of its charm.”
Lainey let her eyes drift open and let out a soft breath of satiated desires. She gazed across the gold and brown of the fields and unpaved roads, the green tops of trees already afire with the reds and golds of autumn. It was only natural to take her hat off and rest it not over her heart, but her hip, as a woman of her professional background might in a sign of respect.
“I don’t ever plan to take this for granted,” she said. She wished she could strip naked in the sensual warmth of this world and stretch herself out in the grass to let it saturate her through and through.
Rosemary chuckled; she had an infectious laugh and she was around the same age as Lainey. They’d probably led the same kinds of lives before they came here, to the world no man wanted and every woman dreamed of. Any woman with any sense, that was.
“Good,” Rosemary said. “Let me check once more to be sure…” Proprietress of the small mercantile that was the only place one could buy supplies without traveling a few hundred kilometers in any direction — not that that bothered Lainey — she indicated they should get back to business by removing the stylus she’d tucked behind her ear and pointing it at her digital slate.
Lainey knew as well as Rosemary what she’d need and wouldn’t need and that she hadn’t forgotten a single thing on that list, but no harm in letting the woman do her job. She stood by with her hat at her hip, half-daydreaming through the double-check. “I have gold, not credits,” she reminded Rosemary.
“Good. Gold spends; credits are almost worthless out here.” Rosemary patted the side of the wagon. “Right, then. I’ll go total up your bill.”
Politeness, that. Lainey watched Rosemary retreat inside the mercantile and approved of it. She’d have the bill already totted up on her tablet, of course, but it would have been bad manners indeed to stand by and watch a lady retrieve her money from its hiding place. Even if she likely already knew where that’d be after packing the sturdy farm wagon with everything from seeds to vegetable growth supplements to pitchforks and a tin washtub big enough for Lainey to stretch out in.
Homesteading on a new frontier or not, Lainey was stubborn enough and fond enough of her few creature comforts that she’d no plans to give up any time soon.
Though Lainey liked Rosemary just fine, she was glad enough to have the peace and quiet back to herself for a moment. She extended her arms wide, as if she’d embrace the heat from the sun, and let the golden light wash down over her, better than rain.
A slight scuffing sound broke the silence that’d fallen. Not much of a noise, but Lainey’s ears were sharp and some training lasted throughout a lifetime. She could tell even without looking that whoever had come visiting wasn’t Rosemary, nor any of the other women settlers she had a nodding acquaintance with.
No, this was a Man. Lainey could smell the musk, wilder than most of the polished rich boys she’d dealt with once as mistress and madam in turn, before selling off all that hubris and heading out here to make her way, by her choice.
Not just a man, Lainey’s senses told her. A strong man, one who walked with the confidence of a fellow who had no fear of anything, but who stopped far enough away to show her he meant no harm. And — she cocked her head, intrigued — another man, not far behind him.
She wasn’t afraid of them; they’d given her no reason. Lainey let her eyes drift open and got her first look at this pair from between the sweeping curtain of her eyelashes.
Oh my. Lainey’s skin heated from more than the baking warmth of the planet. These were a fine pair to look at, weren’t they? One tall and rangy, dark hair clinging to his forehead, cheeks and nape; the other slighter and fairer and springier of step. Both had smiles broad and white enough to rival the sun and the moons, and stood close enough to reach out and touch if she wanted. Teasing her, just a little, by being that close and no closer.
There were no men this far West, not that Lainey knew of. Some fishermen still lived along the coastlines, but not one man who’d come inland to ranch or farm had managed to stay. Bully boys, most of those, or so she’d heard, and it seemed like the land had taken objection to them. Might be a story made up to scare folks, might not be, but for whatever reason, the men had left these prime ranch lands. Left them for women fool enough to try to tame them. And try they had. Leman liked women. Liked them fine. Her sun and moons were kind to the ladies, and they treated her as best as they could in return.
But one look at this pair and Lainey knew down in her gut that while this planet might be kind to the female strangers who’d colonized her… it loved these men without rhyme or reason. They were the sun and moons, somehow.
Lainey couldn’t help smiling at that pair. Five seconds’ worth of acquaintance or not, they brought it out in her. “Now if you aren’t a treat,” she said. “Something I can help you with?”
The men glanced at one another, communicating silently in the way long-time friends sometimes developed. A quirk of the eyebrow and the tilt of a wicked grin spoke volumes.
Laughing, the taller jostled the smaller aside. He had a strange laugh, one that made Lainey sit up and take notice. Something between a rumble and a ruff, ruff, ruff. Not unpleasant to hear, Lord no. Quite the contrary. Gave her a pleasant sensation of warmth in her belly not unlike the sun on her skin. It belonged here, same as they did even if they weren’t supposed to.
Curiouser and curiouser.
“Need help?” the taller asked, gesturing toward Lainey’s loaded wagon. “I Asher. No. I… am, yes, I am Asher. He is Russ. You have long road back to cabin. We help you.”
Lainey’s eyebrows lifted, despite her years of training. Not supposed to be here and didn’t speak the language? Call her intrigued, yes ma’am.
And… they knew where she lived. Lainey figured she ought to be more alarmed about that, but so help her, she couldn’t be. She didn’t believe these two would hurt her, but if they tried? She had a rifle in the wagon, and she knew how to use it.
The taller took one half-step closer, his shorter companion jostling him in play as he followed. “Help with more than this,” the tall man murmured. He reached to touch her face, taking clear care not to startle her but not about to be denied. His fingertips were rough, as tough as paw pads, but his touch was gentle. Almost worshipful.
Lainey’s lips parted. So help her if she didn’t want to promise them anything for the pleasure of their company. It made her laugh. The shoe was on the other foot now, wasn’t it? Good thing for her she liked the fit of it just fine.
She glanced over her shoulder, glad to see Rosemary in the doorway. Damn; better get that gold out.
The strange, enticing men stood patiently, as if they’d nothing better to do — no, nothing they cared more to do, or could enjoy more — than wait and see what she’d do.
“Probably not a good idea,” she said, but followed that right up with, “Not right now, at least.”
The smaller man cocked his head. “Later?”
Lainey hid her smile. “Maybe. You come find me, and we’ll see what we’ll see.”
The men exchanged glances. They didn’t bother hiding their amused expressions. Half little boy, half very grown man, all playful and enjoying themselves in a way that drew equal pleasure out of anyone they wanted to draw into their games.
They liked her all the better for not giving in easy. Lainey liked this unlikely pair all the more for giving her something to pique her mind as well as moisten her thighs.
“Tonight,” Asher said. He pressed his finger to his lips and winked at her.
Lainey would have said more to him, or maybe lifted her hat to them as they went wherever they planned to go, but at that moment her ears pricked to the sound of Rosemary emerging from the mercantile with a bill of sale in hand.
She glanced back a second later, wondering what Rosemary would make of them. Turned out she didn’t need to. Whoever those men had been, they were gone as if they’d never been there at all.
Lainey settled the cowboy hat, already nicely worn in, atop her head. The brim shaded her eyes and hid her expression, all the better to let her consider this new set of circumstances in as much privacy as could be had.
There were other old wives’ tales she’d heard before boarding the ship for Leman. One of them — the first of them — she’d heard from an old client who’d come back from less than a year here pale and shaken, half the man he’d been. Not that he’d been too much of a man to start with, though he’d had kingly opinions of himself.
Not after he got back from Leman, he didn’t. Lainey could see him in her boudoir now, thin as a rail and tense with nerves and barely restrained anger. “That place ain’t natural,” he’d insisted. “Not fit for anyone except fools.”
She’d knelt by his feet, as the job demanded; besides, he was paying her well enough to indulge his whims. “Go on.” The sound of this world had tickled her sense of whimsy.
“Nothing to go on about,” he’d snapped.
Liar, liar. Lainey had known he’d gone out to Leman with a full herd of cattle and careless of the expense, still a rich man, and left it all there to come back to his home planet with barely enough credits to keep him in whiskey and women.
“Do what you’re paid for,” he’d barked at her, still snot-nosed proud, like he hadn’t been chased off a world that was supposed to be easy pickings.
Lainey never had cared to sit still and take what was handed to her. She raised her chin stubbornly before she did as the client commanded. “It was just the men that Leman didn’t care for? The ranchers? Women were all right?”
“When are women all right? Weak, all of you.” He’d rubbed his face. “I don’t know, whore. I guess. Didn’t any of them see what the men saw.”
“Which was what?”
“Weren’t you listening? Bah. Wolves, woman. Crazy wolves that didn’t act like wolves, dogging our heels. Couldn’t rest, couldn’t work, couldn’t grow or harvest. Couldn’t go nowhere without them darting out to nip at us or howling under our windows at night.”
Lainey hmm’d and said nothing.
Her client hadn’t liked the turn of this conversation; stung his pride something fierce. “Why? You got a mind to go out there?”
Lainey had shaken her head and said nothing. She’d hidden her smile, too. Bad for business.
But inside, she’d been busy thinking…
And she’d figured, well, we’ll see who’s weak, won’t we?
* * *
Lainey dusted her hands off on her hips and slipped her small pouch of gold coins from a hidden compartment in the wagon, all ready to present to Rosemary when the woman came back out. Didn’t take her long once she heard the jingle of Lainey’s cash, but she came clearing her throat in a mannerly way to make sure Lainey knew she was coming.
A good woman. Lainey hadn’t had a friend in ages. Might be she’d come across one now. Time would tell.
“Fifteen gold,” Rosemary told her, holding out the bill of sale. A pittance on sophisticated planets; a fortune here.
Lainey had saved every coin she could over the years, and light-fingered away a few more when clients pissed her off. Fifteen gold wouldn’t break her. Nothing could.
But that didn’t mean she was immovable, nor hard as stone, feeling nothing. She still had a sense of humor, and she appreciated other things that did.
Other things… other folks…
She glanced at the overgrown wheat fields, cut just far enough back to leave the unpaved trail out of town clear, and thought she heard rustling amongst the dry stalks.
Wolves, her client had said. Now, the sound of an animal in the weeds might just have been Rosemary’s dog chasing a rabbit. Somehow, Lainey didn’t think so.
And, after a sideways look at Rosemary, Lainey knew Rosemary didn’t think so either.
Rosemary took the gold Lainey offered her and dropped the coins down into her boot for safekeeping. She didn’t so much look at Lainey as she returned her sideways glance with a nod to show she knew they heard and understood one another, woman to woman.
Lainey propped her hip on the wagon and waited.
Rosemary laughed quietly. “I don’t expect I have to tell you not to be afraid,” she said. “And you needn’t be. If they’ve spotted you, and they like you, then you’ve got a blessing to count.”
“That so?” Lainey reserved judgment. Mostly. Though it was hard to keep a straight face when she saw a wolf poke its muzzle through the weeds, panting and giving her a wolf’s grin.
Rosemary laughed louder. No fool, her. “I left coyness far behind,” she informed Lainey. “So did you. Plain, that’s the only way to be. I can’t tell you what they are. No one that I know of can. All I can say is they chased off the settlers who would have raped this world to dust, and they’re kindly to us who’d like to make it grow strong. If they like you, then celebrate it.”
Lainey could hear the wolves in the weeds, playing like puppies. “I might do at that,” she said, very solemnly, winking at Rosemary.
Rosemary got what she meant right away. “No one likes it when the game’s too easily won,” she murmured. “Then again, I expect you know how to play.”
“I do.” Lainey’s own laugh came naturally, if low and soft; she always had had a husky voice for a woman. She settled her hat on her head and gave her horse’s flank a pat. She wasn’t nervous around these wolves. That told her more than anything. “We’ll see what we’ll see. Ready, set, and go.”
The dance had begun; might as well start the music. About time, too. Because if they could play, then so could she…