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Authors: Mel Teshco

Scratch

BOOK: Scratch
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Scratch

Mel
Teshco

 

Alexia is determined to honor her father’s memory by proving
shape-shifting big cats exist. But she never prepared herself to face Blake,
the beyond-handsome man who just might be the link to the proof she needs.
Their attraction is instant and undeniable, but before they have an opportunity
to act on the chemistry simmering between them, danger closes in.

Running for their lives from those determined to exterminate
Blake and all those like him, Alexia and Blake are forced to rely on each other.
Between dodging bullets and lying low, Alexia and Blake explore more than the
mystery of his heritage. Every passionate encounter and mind-blowing orgasm
escalates their relationship, turning lust and attraction into something far
more valuable. As the danger closes in, Alexia is going to have to choose
what’s more important to her, honoring the father she adored or protecting the
man she loves.

 

A
Romantica®
paranormal erotic romance
from Ellora’s Cave

 

Scratch
Mel Teshco

 

Dedication

 

To my incredible critique partner, Alissa Callen, I couldn’t
have done these rewrites without you. And to my very clever editor, thanks for
making this story shine.

 

Chapter One

 

Alexia Leigh watched the last of the dark-suited mourners
drift away from her father’s graveside, her eyes dry and a chill icing up her
insides. She’d cried herself empty these last five days. Cried long and bitter
tears until there were no more tears to give. Until the once vibrant spark of
life within had sputtered and died, leaving her cold. Empty.

Her only solace was that her mum and dad were together now,
bound for eternity in their own piece of heaven. Just what her father had
always wanted.

A snow-white rose clasped to her chest, she pressed a kiss
to its velvet-soft petals, the scent stirring up a memory of her late mother’s
perfume. With unsteady hands, she placed the rose onto her father’s smooth
granite headstone. “Rest and be at peace,” she whispered. “I
will
prove
the critics wrong.”

Her father had been so jubilant when he’d found real,
tangible proof that shape-shifters—at least, big-cat shape-shifters—really did
exist. He’d told no one about his findings except Alexia, who’d been his
assistant even when she’d been too young to earn more than pocket money.

Of course they’d kept the information top secret. They’d
wanted to first decipher the writing in the leather-bound journal that had been
found beside the big cat bones whose skull and skeleton showed decidedly human
characteristics. The old-world language inside the journal had matched none of
the data found anywhere else on the planet.

The ancient book had been the key to her father’s success.
Not that it’d mattered in the end. Thomas Leigh had been Australia’s leading
archeologist and held in high regard…until someone had broken into his
townhouse and leaked word of his research notes. The cemetery was empty of all
but its headstones by the time she slung a leather-clad leg over her Ducati
motorcycle and fired it to life. It was only as she was about to pull on her
helmet that it became apparent she’d been mistaken.

She wasn’t alone.

Liz Hemlock, flame-haired bitch and piranha reporter,
approached her with narrowed eyes and the clack-clack of high-heels. The
reporter’s most acclaimed articles had featured Alexia’s father’s downfall. And
his subsequent suicide.

Alexia’s gut churned, fury and grief reawakened as she
twisted on her motorcycle to face the other woman. “What do you want from me
now? Isn’t my father’s death enough for you?”

The other woman’s stride didn’t falter, though her face
flushed a little. Probably more from heat than anxiety. Liz dragged a notebook
from her jacket pocket, her red-lacquered fingernails sharper than talons. “I’m
sorry for your loss, Ms. Leigh, but I’m doing my job with the same degree of
passion you do your own.” Her green eyes flashed. “My readers only want the
truth.”

Alexia took in slow, steadying breaths, pushing back
emotions she’d thought had been cried out with her tears. No matter how much it
hurt to hear, she needed to know how far the other woman had been willing to go
to obtain her stories. “Does that include
breaking and entering
to get
your readers what they want?”

Liz averted her gaze for perhaps a second, while the faint
flush of earlier became twin flags of red. “I don’t know what you’re talking
about.”

Alexia closed her eyes as the full realization of the
reporter’s deception hit her front and center. It
had
been Liz who’d
leaked the information. How the hell did the woman live with herself?

She’d been so damn distracted by her father’s downward
spiral from glory, she hadn’t had the time to draw breath, let alone dwell too
much on the perpetrator or his or her motives.

She blinked back a red haze. Her voice cracked. “Why?”

Liz pressed a hand to her belly, as though the conversation
upset her.

Oh, you’ve got to be fucking kidding me.

Alexia’s world had been turned upside down when she’d found
her father’s inert body slumped over his desk, but it was a waste of time even
trying to express her loss. No sacrifice would be too great for Liz to get a
breaking story and rave reviews.

The Ducati’s engine thrummed in the thick silence, before
the redhead finally shrugged. “Cryptozoology is gaining attention in Australia,
with more sightings and hard evidence of panthers and other big cats.” She
tipped her head to the side. “Your father was the top of his field. He was my
best choice for finding the facts.”


Stealing
the facts,” Alexia said bitterly, before
she pulled on her helmet and clipped together its chinstrap.

Thank god she’d hidden the journal, which her father had
found beside bones at the entrance of a cave guarding ancient Dreamtime
aboriginal drawings. Apparently the images inside the cave had depicted
half-human, half-panther beings. The ancient transcript above the drawings had
taken her father much less time to translate.

Illawatti.

The reporter’s voice rose in volume. “You call it stealing.
I call it sharing of information.”

“Stay the fuck away from me.” With an unforgiving glare at
the other woman, Alexia gave the Ducati a rev and whipped the sleek motorcycle
around with a roar. Ignoring Liz’s aggrieved shout to stop, she headed away
from the outer suburbs of Newcastle. Away from her grief. Her pain.

Destination, Sydney. And to the one name her father had
deciphered from a list of five in the journal.

* * * * *

Some four hours later she parked the bike opposite yet
another decrepit apartment block. Flickering streetlights fizzed and hissed in
the twilight, attempting to chase away the shadows of the dank, poor
outer-suburb of Sydney, but succeeding only in fraying her already stretched
nerves.

Blake Powell had not been an easy man to find, despite the
embellishments from ex-neighbors and acquaintances of his amazing good looks
and wealth.

So, what was he doing in this dive?

It hadn’t taken her long to discover that he’d started to
move around a lot in the last few months, never staying in one place for too
long. If she didn’t know better, she’d think he was a man on the run.

Except, even if Blake
was
a descendent from a name on
the list, it didn’t mean he knew anything more than she did. It didn’t mean he
was suddenly a wanted man because of his name’s association with her father’s
research.

Nothing added up and nothing made sense. But unless she
wanted to use a linguistics expert and risk blowing every single piece of
research out of the water, Blake was the only name deciphered from the list,
and therefore her only lead. Her one glimmer of hope.

Her hands clenched and her chest went tight. She only hoped
the critics were proud of the damage they’d wrought on her father, a brilliant
and ethical man who’d done nothing but spoken the truth. In her heart she knew
the criticisms had killed something inside him long before he’d taken his last
breath. Still, she’d never once thought things had gotten so bad he’d take his
own life and leave her to face the world alone.

She bit hard into her bottom lip. Grief was doing her head
in and not allowing her to see things straight. Maybe a week from now…a month,
she’d reason things through, if such a thing was even possible.

She took a steadying breath, refocusing once again as she
checked the latest address she’d scrawled on the inside of her hand. She
climbed concrete steps, the heels of her booted feet then clacking along a
narrow, railed corridor that ran the length of the block of tiny apartments.

If the journal really was as old as she suspected, was Blake
even connected? It was a common enough name. She sighed. Maybe she was doing
nothing more than chasing her own tail.

Guns N’ Roses blared from inside nondescript Apartment 14.
She took a deep, calming breath as adrenaline surged within. What if she really
had
found an ancestor to the name in the journal? She raised a fist and
hammered on the flimsy, peeling wooden door.

The music shut down. A baby wailed a few apartments down, a
small dog yapped into life inside another. Heavy footsteps approached from the
other side of the door.

“Yes?”

One word. One deep, masculine, primal intonation.

Her pulse jerked in response, her nipples tightening beneath
her black leather jacket and burgundy singlet. She swallowed hard. If this was
what he could do to a woman with one monosyllable behind a closed door, she
could only imagine what he could do with a whole sentence, and up close and
personal.

She cursed under her breath. She’d clearly been too long
without a man, someone to ease the heavy ache of her breasts, the deep throb
between her thighs. Just as well she wanted nothing more from him than answers.

Hesitating for a beat, she asked, “Mr. Powell?”

She closed her eyes at his long, drawn out silence. Through
the thin door his heavy sigh was audible before he said wearily, “Who wants to
know?”

Impatience drummed a loud tattoo behind her skull. Damn it.
A migraine was all she needed.

“I’m here on behalf of my father. He is,” she swallowed back
a wave of bitter loss and grief, “
was
an archaeologist. You may have
heard of him? Professor Thomas Leigh.” At the thick, almost suffocating silence
that followed she continued more loudly, “He believed in the existence of
human-panther shape-shifters—”

She gasped as the door flung open and she was jerked
unceremoniously inside.

“Enough already,” Blake growled.

She hissed out a breath at the current of electricity
sizzling through her arm’s every nerve ending, at the cheek of him dragging her
inside. She tugged free, and looked up…and up.

Beneath scruffy dark-blue jeans and a white t-shirt the man
was a mountain of fluid muscle and sinew, repressed energy that vibrated with
emotion and patently raw sex appeal.

“Are you mad?” she asked through gritted teeth, all too
aware of her moistening pussy and tingling breasts as she stared at the man who
pushed every one of her buttons and then some. “All I wanted was a civilized
discussion, not to be dragged inside as if I’m nothing more than…than a cave
woman!”

He slammed the door shut behind her and pushed home a large
bolt. When he peeled off his dark sunglasses—ludicrous inside the near dark
room lit only by a naked bulb—she took an involuntary step back. His eyes were
an unnatural gold-yellow. Beautiful, but deadly. A gaze that was way too
compelling for her peace of mind.

She sucked in some oxygen, forcing a calm she didn’t feel.
Damn it all to hell, he really was sinfully delicious, with more vague hints of
darkness beneath his honey-warm skin that tantalized and teased even as it
repelled.

“I know who you are,” he said.

She searched his stare with a frown. “You do?”

“Yes.” He blew out a heavy breath before tunneling a hand
through his thick, dark hair that was an inch away from scruffy. “I’m sorry.”

“Wh…what?”

“About your father.”

“Why?” Her voice rose an octave as repressed emotions
churned within. “Because like everyone else you think the world is better off
without another crackpot and his loony beliefs?”

“No. I’m sorry because he was a great man who thought above
and beyond the restrictions of science.”

Hostility fled her body, leaving her oddly drained and a
little disorientated. How long had it been since someone had said something
good about her father? Too long, clearly, for her to appreciate even a scrap of
praise. Snide remarks and innuendos had become part and parcel of their life
from the moment the news had been leaked about her father’s amazing discovery.

“You look about ready to collapse.”

Somehow his silky rich voice stroked her senses, hummed
along the nerve endings behind her eyeballs and soothed away her stress to
revert it into another tension entirely. A tension she didn’t even want to
contemplate. If only her nipples would quit standing up like soldiers.

“Please. Take a seat,” he murmured with a glint in his eyes.

She managed the couple of steps needed before all but
flopping into a ripped, vinyl two-seater lounge.

Classy, Alexia, real classy.

Except she wasn’t there to impress anyone, least of all the
one man who just might provide the answers she needed, the one man who was also
about the hottest male she’d seen since…forever. She crossed her arms over her
breasts, then swung one leg over the other in an attempt to ease the throb in
her pussy.

What was wrong with her? Her father lay cold in his grave
and already she was giving into carnal needs? She cleared her suddenly raw
throat. “You knew my dad?”

“No, not personally. But I read all his articles. He was
ahead of his time. A gifted and principled man.”

And look where that had got him. Mocked and ridiculed until
he’d been stripped of all his dignity, his beliefs. His life.

A wedge of hair dropped over her eyes from her scraped back
ponytail. She pushed the dark-blonde length behind one ear. “Then you know why
I’m here?”

He moved into the tiny kitchen, where a half-empty bottle of
scotch resided on the counter. He poured them each a glass and she tried not to
notice the way his t-shirt stretched taut across his shoulders, the way his
jeans clung to his firm ass. He handed her the drink and she took it
gratefully, gulping the scotch down as though it was a tonic for all the ills
in the world.

He smiled and took a mouthful before nodding. “I gather
since your father uncovered the bones, he also found the journal and deciphered
the names on the list?”

So he knew about the journal and the names in it? Her heart
rate accelerated, even as she conceded carefully, “Only yours.” Her father’s
long held view of honesty being the best policy had burrowed deep into her
psyche, despite its obvious pitfalls. “What else do you know?” she asked.

BOOK: Scratch
11.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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