Authors: Lynn Crandall
Copyright © 2015 by Lynn Crandall.
All rights reserved.
This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher; exceptions are made for brief excerpts used in published reviews.
an imprint of F+W Media, Inc.
10151 Carver Road, Suite 200
Blue Ash, OH 45242. U.S.A.
ISBN 10: 1-4405-8946-1
ISBN 13: 978-1-4405-8946-1
eISBN 10: 1-4405-8947-X
eISBN 13: 978-1-4405-8947-8
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, corporations, institutions, organizations, events, or locales in this novel are either the product of the author's imagination or, if real, used fictitiously. The resemblance of any character to actual persons (living or dead) is entirely coincidental.
Cover art © iStockphoto.com/weareadventurers.
Thank you to my family and friends for your wonderful support. Thank you also to the sources who shared their expertise and their experiences: Michelle Di Concilio, Lynne McLewin, Carol Scott, and Jacob Walker. Much gratitude to my editor, Jess Verdi, Julie Sturgeon, and all others who helped in making this book the best it could be.
Asia Blue sat across from her date, Gavin Strong, watching his lips and trying to understand what he was saying. She slanted her head, centering her focus.
“How are your scallops? My steak is great. I didn’t know about this restaurant.” He twisted his head to take in the dining room. “The atmosphere is very artsy.” He flashed her a beautiful smile. The kind a male model would produce.
Struggling to make sense of the words in her brain, she smiled back. “The scallops are delicious.” Inside she frowned. The sentence she gave him sounded more like something a young teen would say. What she wanted to say was, “Did you know the owners are artists? Much of the décor is their artwork. They have a patent on the beer tower, which they constructed from recycled materials.”
But she couldn’t concentrate. So many other words and phrases and thoughts, ones that were not her own, were piling up in her mind, confusing her.
This steak is not done.
With all this traffic, I’m going to be late for the meeting.
The waiter is cute.
On top of the thoughts coming from the room and out on the street, every thought in Gavin’s brain was spilling out for her to pick up. As a were-lynx, Asia had heightened senses of smell, sight, and hearing. She was very strong and fast. She’d also been able to read animal minds since she turned eighteen, which was the age her were-lynx genes expressed. At first she’d noticed impressions popping into her mind from animals. She’d quickly learned to shut down the link and only got impressions when she’d opened to a connection and asked for it. While open, animals could receive emotions from her, too, she’d learned by observation. Their thoughts carried feelings and were given to her in images, not words. Telepathy came easy to her and she enjoyed having access to the minds of animals. But she’d never tried to make a connection with her fellow colony cats. She didn’t want them to feel invaded, so had promised years ago never to attempt to read their thoughts. Her skill had proved helpful a number of times and it made her feel good.
Up until two days ago. Then suddenly she could read human minds. And not with much elegance. Fortunately, the problem, her expanded telepathy, had only involved humans.
Look at those stellar boobs,
Too bad the neckline on her dress isn’t lower.
Asia shook her head to clear the competing thoughts and focused on shutting down the inflow of thoughts, just as she had been trying to do for two days. It wasn’t working. Human brains were so full of chatter, unlike animals, and so complex. It was challenging to listen to his verbal conversation about the weather and his day at work when she knew he was thinking
A chuckle escaped her lips, startling him into a big-eyed stare. She didn’t like the scrutiny, but at least his eyes were beautiful.
“Something funny?” he asked. “Do I have food in my teeth?”
“No. No food in your teeth. Sorry. There’s nothing funny. I think the wine is getting to me, that’s all.” Really, how could she be honest? She liked him—his thoughts were crude, yes, but, after all, he was a man. In a weird way his thoughts were also flattering. But there was little doubt that if she told him she could read his mind, he would be out of her life so fast he’d create a wake.
Gavin leaned back in his chair, relaxing, and wiped at the corners of his mouth with his white linen napkin. “Well that’s a relief.” He reached across the table and laid his hand on hers. “I’m having a really nice time, Asia.”
“I know. I mean, I am, too.” This wasn’t going very well. Men in general did not make her nervous. But with the recent changes in her telepathy skills, Asia hadn’t realized how out of control she would feel with Gavin. They’d been dating for a couple of weeks. She’d thought the worst situation to deal with would be their identities—his human and hers were-lynx.
Gavin wasn’t the first human she’d dated. Typically, though, the dating process hadn’t achieved what she’d hoped for: a normal life with a normal man. She’d never had normal, and it was something she really longed for.
Maybe her lack of success was simply her lack of skills in forming any kind of relationship at all.
Thanks for that, Mom. At least you gave me something, though it barely counts.
The daughter of an alcoholic and drug abuser, Asia had always been the caretaker. That life was anything but normal. And as a member of a colony of were-cats who had become crime fighters, any chance at normal seemed out of reach.
Asia shook her head again. Gavin was still talking. Between her thoughts, his thoughts, his spoken words, and a swarming buzz of thoughts from other people filling the room, the conditions in her mind were making her dizzy.
“Asia, did you hear me?” Gavin slanted his head when she didn’t respond. She was trying. She reached inside to find his last sentence, but nothing jumped out of the minefield that was her brain. “I asked you if you’d like to order dessert.” He dropped his gaze to the menu in his hands. “This flourless chocolate cake sounds interesting.”
He was not only beautiful, he was a chocolate lover. How could she be blowing this? “Umm … ” The words, “No thank you, I’m full” sat on the tip of her tongue, when she heard his thoughts.
I hope she will come to my apartment tonight. It’s been two weeks.
Spontaneous apprehension paused her breathing. Would it be fair to use his thoughts to her advantage? She could simply suggest they spend the night together. It’s what she wanted, right? The idea froze her breath in her chest.
So many things to consider with this evolving telepathy
. Different answers to the simple dessert question flitted around like moths in her brain.
The waiter walked up to their table. “Are you ordering dessert? Would you like coffee?”
Please order more. I need a good tip tonight.
The waiter’s words in her head were the last straw. Ordering dessert would only prolong this fiasco.
Finally, she gave up and just settled for the easiest exit. “No, I’m not feeling well, in fact.”
“Okay, honey.” The waiter quickly headed away.
“Gavin, I would appreciate it if you could take me home.”
“Oh, of course.” He shot her a sympathetic expression, then asked for the bill.
Minutes later, out on the street, Gavin grabbed her hand as they walked to the car. His skin was warm and inviting. Wistful thoughts of spending the evening with him over after-dinner coffee in her apartment darted in her mind. “I’m sorry to have to end the evening so early.” Her gaze dropped to the sidewalk, noting each strike of her heels against the pavement, focusing on closing her mind to Gavin’s thoughts.
“It’s okay, Asia. I understand. We’ll try again another night when you’re feeling better.”
Two weeks and yet another opportunity lost to get to know her better.
Her gut clenched at his thoughts. He wasn’t okay. “Yes, I would like that.”
He opened the car door and she slipped into the front seat and let her head drop back against the headrest as he shut the door. He walked around to the driver’s side and slid in behind the wheel. Acutely aware of his eyes on her, Asia kept her eyes closed, not to concentrate but to avoid conversation.
He turned the key in the ignition and pulled into the street.
He’d just called her beautiful
The trouble was he hadn’t really told her. She felt like a voyeur, a peeping Tom peering through the window of his thoughts. If only she could hear more streets sounds, road noise, turn on the radio to tune out his thoughts.
She dared a glance at him in the darkness of the night. His profile, lit up by passing headlights, sent shivers through her body. He was the beautiful one, the kind-hearted one. She was the broken one, the deceitful one. He didn’t know who she truly was. She pursed her lips and shoved down the familiar feelings of being a slug, the product of an alcoholic mother, just as she always did.
Gavin turned and smiled. “We’re here.” He pulled the car into the parking lot at her apartment complex, and twisted to face her.
Those lips need kissing.
He traced her lips with his finger and drew close.
Her body stiffened. She’d so enjoy a kiss from Gavin, but not after hearing his thoughts. It was like reading subtitles about what was happening on the screen but missing the action. It was crazy making. She jerked her head back as he leaned in. “We better not kiss. I’m not feeling well, remember?”
Asia’s breath seized in her chest as she heard a faint sigh escape his lips. “Oh, right.”
He came around to her side of the vehicle, opened the door, and offered a hand to help her out. Adrenaline shimmied through her, ignited by his touch. She wasn’t acting like it, but she liked him. He was her opportunity to build a normal life, one with a non-paranormal man who had a job, a nice, normal personality, and of course, a nice smile. She loved her fellow colony were-lynxes, those led by Casey Mitchell. But a change would do her good. No drama, no life-threatening events, no other were-lynxes. With a human, she could walk into that normal life.
Gavin draped his arm around her shoulders and walked to the front door with her. “I had a wonderful time tonight, Asia.” He dropped a kiss to her cheek. His scent of spicy cologne and warm skin wafted to her. If only her head were on straight, their evening could end differently.
“I did, too. Thank you for the dinner.”
“You’re welcome.” His eyes grew distant. “Next time we’ll have to try the dessert.”
Inside, her muscles dropped as relief washed through her. He wanted a next time. She let a soft chuckle slip through her lips. “I’d like that.”
“You know, you’re very beautiful.” He touched a lock of her shoulder-length, dark hair and twisted it between two fingers.
“Thank you. That’s nice to hear again.” Instantly she knew what she’d done. Spontaneously she sucked her breath back in a big gulp.