Alchemist by Isabella Jordan

Alchemist by Isabella Jordan

Alchemist

Leopard Tails, Book 1

by Isabella Jordan

Changeling Press

Ebook ISBN: 01653-00513

[ Shifter Romantic Suspense, MF ]

Katrina ran after Joey saved her from werewolves, but he’s determined to find her and make her his.

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Chapter One


“Are you hungry?”

Katrina Wilson’s heart leapt into her throat at the deep voice that came from behind her. She knew better than to stand gawking outside restaurants with her stomach growling. Yeah, okay, she was starving. She’d maxed out all three of her credit cards and would have to give up her hotel room at the end of the week. After that, she didn’t know what she’d do. Would she end up hooking? That was probably what the guy behind her thought she was doing anyway.

A story quickly came to her.

“I’m waiting for my husband.” Katrina was deliberately curt. She didn’t owe anyone an explanation anyway, but that didn’t stop her from turning around to face him.

The man was so tall she had to look up and the face she saw almost made her heart stop in her chest.

It was him. Joey.

“Well, your husband must be one heartless bastard, Katrina.” His voice was soft and a smile played about his sexy lips. “His wife is out on the streets wearing a black wig, starving, and staring into the windows of restaurants.”

“I’m n-not working the streets if that’s what you think.”

“I know.”

“Why do you think I’m starving?”

He stood in the shadows, his dark eyes moving over her. “It’s in your eyes, Katrina.”

Well, there was no point in playing, was there? She was starving and there wasn’t a bastard husband. The serious set of his expression told her that he knew that already.

“Why are you here?”

“I’ve been looking for you for weeks,” he said simply.

Katrina’s heart was slamming in her chest. Memories of the only night she’d spent time with this guy had adrenaline surging through her. Back when she’d had a job, she and her co-worker, Patsy, had been heading to a convention in Portland. It had seemed silly to be wary of stopping for gas in a town called Hell and she’d joked with Patsy about that.

They had stopped there and that night, to her great horror, she’d watched a pack of werewolves tear her friend apart. Werewolves. Until she’d seen it with her own eyes, she would have laughed at anyone who tried to tell her that werewolves were real outside of a movie theatre. Well, they were and she’d seen them kill. It had been gruesome.

It probably would have been better if they’d killed her that night too, but instead they’d held her hostage. She’d had one small bit of luck. One of the older werewolves among them had watched out for her, keeping them from pimping her out the way they had the other women they’d kidnapped. The werewolves were evil but clever. They ran the small town using their raunchy little nightclub and the women they held captive to make money for them. Worse, they often killed the johns that came to their club looking for quick, dirty sex. They’d let the women tire them out, then they’d break in, kill the guy and take his money and his vehicle.

That’s what they’d planned for Joey that Halloween night. Old Ben, the one who’d helped her, had been sick that night and Mark, their leader, decided it was time for her to put out. Joey had paid to have sex with her and Mark had told her when she was done, that the werewolves were coming for him. It had seemed like a living nightmare.

Yet nothing had turned out quite the way she had expected. Katrina had steeled herself for a totally humiliating and degrading experience because the maniacal leader of the wolf pack was forcing her to sleep with a man for money. Only Joey hadn’t been what she’d expected. He’d been clean, mostly sober. And honestly, he was the most beautiful man she’d ever laid eyes on. None of that hurt.

To her shame she’d enjoyed every moment of her time in his arms. She’d experienced heights of pleasure with him that night that she’d only read about in romance novels. She hadn’t expected to actually feel all of the naughty and wonderful things he’d made her feel. Even now when she went to bed she’d think about her time with him when she masturbated. It helped her forget the hunger and sleep.

Now here he was again.

“Why have you been looking for me?” Katrina asked him.

“Because I haven’t been able to get you out of my head since that night.”

A thrill of excitement raced through her at his frank words. So he remembered that night too. The beginnings of desire, even out here on this cold April night, had her insides fluttering.

Oh, yeah. The craving and desire was still there. She wanted him and she couldn’t deny that. As she stared up into his handsome face, the longing that welled up within her was overwhelming.

He was gorgeous…

But he was a beast inside. She couldn’t forget that.

After they’d made love that night, the werewolves had stormed into the room just as they’d promised. She’d tried to warn Joey so he would get out of there. Her warning had come too late and she’d known the greatest terror in that moment. She’d been sure she’d watch the werewolves tear Joey apart just as they had Patsy.

Instead, she’d watched him change into an enormous black cat — into a monster just like them. He’d fought them off easily before changing back into the man she’d slept with and getting them out of Hell on his motorcycle.

He’d found them another hotel where they could stop and rest. Once he’d fallen into deep sleep late the next morning, she’d slipped away without a clue as to what she would do or where she would go.

And she was still struggling to make it each day. The werewolves knew her identity. Taking her purse with her ID and her checkbook had been one of the first things they’d done. She’d had her three credit cards in the pocket of her jeans from dinner with Patsy that fateful evening and she’d managed to keep those hidden from the werewolves. Now she’d reached the limits of them.

She couldn’t go home and take the chance of endangering her parents and friends who probably believed she was dead. That meant that she now had no job or place to stay. She was out of money. The future was bleak.

Cupping her elbow, Joey steered her toward the door of the small Italian restaurant.

“Let’s have something to eat. We’ll talk.”

Katrina wanted to tell him they weren’t going to have anything together but she was so damned hungry. The crackers and croutons she’d taken from the salad bar downtown hadn’t been much to live on for the last two days.

Following him into the restaurant, she welcomed the warmth of the cheery little dining room. A hostess seated them at a small, wooden table in the corner with a slightly frayed red tablecloth and sturdy, wooden chairs. She shrugged out of her coat and hung it on the back of her chair before taking a seat across from Joey.

The waitress arrived and Katrina found herself too choked up to speak. Scared as she was, she so damned grateful for his kindness and the prospect of food that she felt like crying in relief. It was the first moment of comfort, as nervous as she was to see him again, that she’d had since before she’d been kidnapped by the werewolves.

Joey’s dark eyes moved over her and the concern she read in his face made tears sting the backs of her eyes. He ordered for them both while she sat there fighting the urge to cry.

“Katrina.”

She jumped when his warm hand closed over hers. She didn’t pull away from him. It summed up her feelings at the moment, really. He scared her and reminded her of that horrible time that had ended her life as she’d known it. At the same time, her body craved him and his kindness was a balm to her battered soul.

“I’m glad I found you.” His warm eyes were the color of dark chocolate, gazing into hers. “I missed you that morning.”

She didn’t miss the slight sarcasm in his tone. He meant when she’d left him in the hotel room they’d found after they left Hell. Swallowing back her tears and anxieties to the best of her ability, Katrina nodded.

“Were you really that surprised I ran away, Joey?” Smiling up at the waitress who brought them water in tall plastic glasses, she waited for the woman to leave straws and walk away before she continued. “Think about it. Look at the circumstances when we met.”

He squeezed her hand lightly. “I knew you weren’t a prostitute, Katrina. I told you that.”

“That’s more than I knew about you.”

Joey flinched, but didn’t withdraw his hand as she half expected him to. To her surprise, she felt a pang of guilt. He was trying to help her and he had no reason to.

Or did he want something?

“Why are you here?” Katrina asked him again.

Joey’s expression darkened. “I’m here for you, Katrina. I don’t know how else I can communicate that.”

Taking a long drink of her water, Katrina thought over her response carefully. While he was being nice to her, helping her, she had no idea what his true agenda was. Ted Bundy was very charming too, from what she’d read. Once he’d gained the trust of the women who became his victims, he’d butchered them.

Yet Ted Bundy had only been a man with a sick mind. This guy could change into a big frickin’ cat. He’d taken out three werewolves last Halloween. He was more deadly than a hundred serial killers. “Yes, but what do you want with me?”

Again, she caught a flash of pain in his expression. This time it faded quickly and his expression became a mask of pure calm. He folded his hands on the table before him. Outwardly he looked like someone engaged in nothing more than a casual conversation.

Katrina sensed the outer calm was deceptive. She felt something else, something intense and determined that coiled tightly inside him. Her heart’s pace picked up while she waited to see what he’d say.

She knew that she could potentially be in a lot of danger. Granted, she was in a public place with him. Yet if the shit hit the fan, she was in big trouble and she knew it. The police were looking for her now too. They wouldn’t help her.

“Katrina, what’s going on in that pretty head? I wish you could see how nervous you look.”

“Nervous as a long tailed cat in a room full of rockers?”

“Cute.” A corner of his mouth curved up into a smile. “What’s going on, Katrina? What are you so afraid of? I hope it’s not me that you’re running from. If that’s the case, I’ll go and you won’t have to worry about me again.”

Now what did she do? She could tell him it was him she was hiding from and end this right now. If he was telling the truth. Maybe he meant to harm her regardless. In that case, she was screwed anyway because she had no chance against him, whatever he was. She knew that.

She could tell him the truth. Trust him. She’d done it once and he’d helped her out of Hell that dark, Halloween night when he didn’t have to. He could have just escaped alone.

“You first,” Katrina told him. “You tell me exactly what you want from me and I’ll tell you my side of things since the last time we saw one another.”

Joey nodded, his gaze dropping to the table before him briefly before returning to search her face.

“I’ve told you already. I can’t get that night with you out of my mind. I still have the taste of you in my mouth.”

The gnawing hunger in the pit of her stomach gave way for the first time in weeks to a different kind of hunger. One that had the walls of her cunt clenching, ensnaring her in a web of growing desire.

“I’ve decided that I want you for my m… girlfriend.”

Okay, that shocked her just enough to make her pause. “What? You’ve decided? I don’t get a vote?”

“I’d like to have you for my lover. One day maybe more.” Joey changed his words but the intent behind them was clearly the same. The determined set of his features, the way his sexy lips were pressed together. He meant business. “I want a relationship with you.”

“Joey, people don’t just decide they’re going to have a relationship with someone they met under the circumstances we met under, then buy them dinner and try to cultivate a relationship,” Katrina pointed out. “After what happened to us, it’s not just a simple decision, Joey.”

That threw him off a little. He didn’t have a snappy comeback for that.

“You started to say something else,” Katrina pointed out. “Something that starts with an M.”

Joey’s demeanor was unapologetic. “I was going to say mate. Among my kind they mean the same thing, mate, lover.”

Mate? It was a term used to describe the animal world.

Yet he was an animal, wasn’t he? At least part of him.

“What are you anyway?”

Bitterness crept into his eyes at that and he released her hand. “Someone’s science project. Half man, half leopard. But it’s something we’ve found a way to control.”

“We?”

“I’m not the only one, Katrina. There are more like me, both manmade and those born out in the world.”

Science projects? Manmade monsters? Jesus, what was he saying?

“What do you mean control?”

“We can stop the transformation from man to… we’re working on finding a way to make that permanent and just live as men.”

When she didn’t say anything — she didn’t know what to say — he went on. “Remember the werewolves in Hell? They may have been evil fuckers but they had the right idea, Katrina. They stayed together and they worked together. And that’s what we’ve done. We’ve found a place of our own. We’ll look after each other and we’ll face our challenges together.”

“What’s your town called?” she had to ask.

“Purgatory.” Joey chuckled at what must have been a look of disbelief on her face. “I’m joking. The town is called Madden. It was there long before us but the population is low and the people who live there are mostly older folks. It’s a great place.”

The waitress delivered their food and Katrina could barely wait for her to leave the table before pouncing on the steaming plate of spaghetti like someone completely lacking in manners. Joey just sat watching her eat and she was too damned hungry to care.

“It would be a great place to start a new life, Katrina. I get the feeling that’s what you need right now.”

Once she’d swallowed the food that had filled her mouth when he said that, she stopped to meet his gaze. “And be your mate, right?”

“Why not? Where else do you have to go, Katrina? The werewolves are looking for you, right?”

Katrina nodded. It was worse than that.

A couple of the werewolves had caught up with her in Kansas City. She’d barely escaped them that night, darting into a cab and having the driver take her to the police station. She’d been too scared at the time to do anything but tell them the truth and when she had, they had immediately sent her for psychiatric evaluation.

In the hospital that night, she’d finally felt safe. Her safety had been an illusion. The werewolves had followed her to the hospital, killed the kind nurse who’d taken care of her and cleaned her wounds. Katrina didn’t see what happened, she only heard the woman’s screams in the hallway as she made her way out the window of the hospital room. The woman’s gentle face still lingered on the edges of her dreams during the few stolen moments when she actually slept. How many times had she berated herself for not going back and trying to save the nurse?

Katrina had hidden on the hospital grounds for days after that, terrified. Remarkably the wolves had left her alone. When she ventured closer to the hospital in those terrible days, she’d been curious to see what the forensics experts made of the werewolf DNA she was certain they would find at the scene.

She’d lingered outside the hospital administrator’s office, but heard no mention of strange DNA. Instead, she’d been horrified to learn that the authorities were looking for her. They believed she’d killed the nurse and she was considered unstable, dangerous.

Her. Prior to this, the wildest thing she’d ever done was get a tattoo of a butterfly on her ankle.

Where else did she have to go, indeed?

Joey allowed her to finish the huge plate of pasta, watching her. He motioned the waitress back and asked for another basket of bread since she’d finished off the first one single-handedly.

“We’ve been on the run, Katrina. Just like you. We understand.” He took a sip from the glass of water before him, his movements graceful and easy. “You’d fit in well.”

“Except that I’m not like you,” she pointed out.

“There are other humans among us,” he explained.

“Mates?”

Joey nodded. “And friends, family members.”

“I still don’t understand exactly what you are.”

“I’ll tell you everything you want to know, as much of it as I know, anyway. The rest we can learn together.”

He had an answer for everything.

“We can protect you,” he said meaningfully.

Katrina dabbed at the corners of her mouth with a napkin. “What happens when you get tired of me?”

Joey leaned toward her. The wild smell of him, and the easy way her body remembered his scent, captured her senses. Pulses of heat raced through her blood and she began to tremble from the myriad of emotions and anxieties that were having a go at her. Lust wasn’t the least of them.

“Growing tired of you, Katrina, hardly seems possible. I only spent a few moments with you, inside you, and that memory is as embedded in my blood as the leopard is.”

The juices began to build within the heating flesh at the top of her thighs. Her nipples beaded hard and now that her hunger for food was sated, her hunger for him, both physical and psychological, demanded satisfaction.

“Want to sleep on it?” Joey asked.

The invitation in his eyes was clear and she doubted it was sleep he really had in mind. For that matter, neither did she.

“Sure,” she told him.

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