Predators, Book One Micah Lasiter won't let age or physical wear and tear slow him down. Presented with the chance to be stronger than ever before, he doesn't hesitate to join the Predator Project-not that refusing is an option. Too bad nobody warned him about the possible side effects. Dr. Rebecca Southerby works with cats. Big cats. She's not sure why a scientific research organization wants a zoologist on staff but the great perks make it easy to overlook a few peculiarities. What's shocking is finding her one-night stand at the secret lab and discovering how much he's changed. Ensnared in a strange new reality, they'll have to work together to bring down the corrupt organization and untangle a web of secrets with the power to either bind them together-or kill them.
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Ellora's Cave Publishing, Incorporated
November 13, 2009
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Excerpt from Cat's Meow by Nicole Austin
"We hope to have a table for you in about thirty minutes, Mr. Lasiter."
The perky blonde hostess flashed a bright smile, taking a bit of the sting out of the message, and held out one of those pagers shaped like a drink coaster.
"You're welcome to wait in the lounge if you'd like to have a cocktail."
Micah took a cleansing breath and tried not to take out his frustration on the hostess, who was only doing her job. "Thanks, that sounds good."
He rubbed the stiff muscles in his neck and waited for his vision to adjust before glancing around the dimly lit, jam-packed bar for an empty seat. A long wait to have dinner alone topped off his horrendous day. He'd started with a vigorous predawn workout, followed by one hell of a tedious business meeting and a miserable cross-country flight.
I'm getting too old for this shit!
Thirty-five was hardly ancient, but he'd packed a lot of hard living into those years and had the physical scars to prove it.
A rather intoxicated man vacated a stool toward the end of the long bar and staggered from the room while muttering under his breath. Micah made a beeline for the open chair and sat down next to a tiny brunette, dropping his pager next to hers on the bar. "Mind if I join you?"
The woman studied him for a moment then grabbed his arm in a death grip. "Oh thank goodness, yes! Please." Big moss green eyes sparkled up at him and she sighed in relief. "How about you keep that drunk away and I'll pay for your dinner? I can't bear another moment of the idiot groping me."
A powerful surge of protectiveness came over him. His spine stiffened and Micah turned, intent on going after the fool. The instinct was ingrained from years in the military and working security, but he didn't view it as doing his duty. He'd always felt protective toward women.
"No! Don't go." She sat straighter, squared her shoulders and lifted her chin. Firm, determined and strong.
Micah's gaze trailed over her petite frame. Narrow shoulders, small breasts and waist, slightly flared hips. She had a delicate, angular face, pert nose. By far, her best features were those beautiful green eyes that missed nothing and her genuine smile. Not the classic definition of a beauty, he thought she was pretty. And there was a certain indefinable quality that drew his interest.
"You look respectable...and sober. I don't think he'll come back, but I'd feel better with you sitting here in case he does."
He swiveled to face her and extended a hand. "Micah Lasiter, barroom white knight at your service."
Her musical laughter sent a shiver of awareness zinging from one nerve ending to the next. She placed her hand within his for a surprisingly firm shake. The instant their skin touched his blood heated, surging through his veins and heading straight for his cock, which jerked to full attention behind his zipper.
What the fuck?
The sudden corporeal response threw him off balance. She wasn't anywhere close to his type--tall, blonde and easy. He didn't go for brainy, complicated women. Too much work. With her hair pulled back in a simple chignon and practical business attire, she appeared prim and proper--a lady.
Ladies never went for him.
"Rebecca Southerby, distressed traveler."
Micah felt dizzy as she turned the full power of that megawatt smile on him. Then he did the most confounding thing. He gave a slight bow, brushed his lips across her knuckles and breathed her in, intoxicated by her warm cinnamon-and-honey scent.
With obvious reluctance, she drew her hand away to trace the rim of her wineglass, gaze downcast, focused on the task. The shy response balanced out her bold strength and was damn sexy.
Signaling the bartender, he ordered a scotch. She enchanted him and Micah wasn't going to watch her slip through his fingers. Not before he investigated this bewildering attraction. He pretended to misunderstand her offer to pay for his meal and took control of the encounter. She was his...for the night. Or part of it anyway. "Would you like a refill while we wait for our table, Becca?"
His words had an immediate effect. Honest pleasure lit up her sweet, pixie face, transforming her from stuffy businesswoman into an exquisite beauty. Her eyes sparkled, her lips spread into a dazzling smile and an appealing pink blush spread across her cheeks. When was the last time he'd seen a woman blush? He couldn't remember.
She must see something in him too because she'd put her faith in him, asked for his protection. He sensed a fiery spirit at her core. Intrigued by the enigmatic woman, he was unable to resist the challenge she presented.
* * * * *
"You are a very cunning linguist."
Catching only part of what her unlikely savior said, Rebecca's gaze snapped from the pager, which had started flashing red lights and vibrating, to Micah. She studied his calm expression and shook her head.
He did not just say something about cunnilingus.
No, she had to be mistaken. Or perhaps it was a case of wishful thinking. "You're not so bad yourself."
He'd been a perfect gentleman for the short time they'd been talking, damn him. From the first moment he'd sat down her heart had beat faster. She wanted him, badly. Her ploy of being the timid damsel in distress had worked to keep him close, giving her a chance to be certain he was worth her attention.
Micah rose and extended a hand to help her down from the tall barstool then offered his arm as they walked to the dining room, where he held out the chair and seated her. His good manners impressed her, but he seemed to be holding back. The subtle flirting didn't tell her if he shared the strong, sexual pull exciting her.
She wanted him to feel it. To be turned-on. To want her as much as she wanted him.
Rebecca overlooked the fact that she had not invited him to join her for dinner. All she'd offered was to pay for his meal in exchange for protection from the touchy-feely drunk. At first, anyway. But once they had started talking, she found him to be fascinating and didn't want their time together to end. Not that soon. Not before she got to know him.
Yeah, and it's such a hardship looking at him too! She almost snorted.
There were no words to do him justice. Tall, fit and muscular, more than handsome, but not quite up to the Hollywood standards of gorgeous pretty boys. His long, dark blond hair tied behind his neck added to the severity of harsh features in a face full of character. There was stark menace in brown eyes that missed nothing, implacable resolve in the hard line of his jaw. While his sexy lips were very kissable, she felt certain they could turn vicious under the right conditions.
Beneath the fa�ade of cultivated charm lurked dark shadows he kept hidden from polite society. She sensed an affinity for action and risk. The suit he wore, tailored to his tall, powerful frame, felt wrong. He was no desk jockey.
She had grown up around military men and had no problem spotting one. It was easy to picture him in fatigues, heavily armed, making his way through a jungle. Strong, intense and aggressive. Rambo times ten. Or better yet, in a white billowy shirt, tight pants and boots, brandishing a sword.
"Now what's brought that naughty smile to your pretty lips? Thinking about me?"
Ah ha. There's the bad boy she'd sensed lurking. The kind of arrogant guy who went for shallow beauty and stayed far away from intelligent women like herself.
She decided to test the theory. "Just calculating quadratic equations in my head."
His robust laughter turned her insides to mush. "Need a calculator?"
A sense of humor and not afraid to use it. Nice. She intimidated most men, but Micah was proving to be a delightful exception to the rules. Perhaps there was more beneath the exterior than she'd thought.
Sure, he oozed charisma and sex appeal. Their waitress salivated over him and thrust her fake breasts in his face at every opportunity. Micah remained polite and ignored the blatant flirtation. In fact, she was impressed. Not once had his gaze wandered to the waitress's more than ample cleavage.
"Is there a boyfriend or husband waiting at home?"
For her? That would require having a life outside work. She shook her head.
"What's brought you to Asheville, business? Family?"
"A job interview."
"Really? What do you do?"
"I'm a zoologist. My studies are focused on Felidae--big cats." Her life was boring. She'd much rather talk about him. "What about you?"
"I'm in town for an art show."
Rebecca laughed then coughed, nearly choking on the sip of wine she'd just taken. She didn't buy his answer even before she caught the devilish sparkle in his eyes, belaying the serious expression.
"What, I don't look artsy to you?" He appeared offended.
A crack in the veneer? Interesting. Perhaps even men of steel require reassurance once in a while. "Somehow I can't imagine you having the patience for artistic pursuits."
Micah appeared relaxed as he took a sip of his drink then leaned back in the chair. He didn't fool her. The piercing intensity in his dark eyes told a different story. What she thought of him mattered a great deal to Micah.
"I can be very patient. Want to try me?"
The sexual implication in the simple statement sent tingles racing along her spine.
"How do you see me, Becca?"
His deep, sensual voice flowed over her, heating Rebecca's blood. Their conversation was rife with double entendres, a subtle and skillful mental seduction stimulating her intellect. But the way his hungry gaze devoured her brought new meaning to their playful banter.
The sexual tension that had built between them soared. His expression told her the time for teasing had ended. Awareness spread through her, awakening her body. Her breasts were swollen and heavy. Too bad she'd taken off her suit jacket earlier. Her taut, aching nipples had surely become visible through the thin silk blouse she wore, an indication of her arousal he couldn't miss.
Her head spun and she said the first thing that came to mind. "You're a swashbuckler--a pirate captain."
She wanted to recall the words as soon as they left her mouth. It had to be the wine loosening her tongue since Rebecca did not often imbibe. She had a strong aversion to feeling altered and losing control.
Emboldened when he didn't laugh, she went into vivid detail. "You're supremely confident, larger than life. You buck convention, living by your own rules and code of conduct. Freedom and being in command are your ultimate goals. You're brave, a mysterious renegade with an insatiable lust for life. A total scoundrel, pillaging and plundering women, stealing the hearts of those who are turned-on by the danger you represent."
He remained silent when she stopped speaking and Rebecca bit back a groan. You idiot. Now he'll make a hasty retreat.
Micah's unwavering gaze was disconcerting. He made her antsy, but she refused to turn away as he studied her for several long moments.
"Your tone and attitude give the impression you're afraid. That you dislike what I make you feel," Micah stated.
She narrowed her gaze, wondering how he'd come to such an outrageous conclusion. So what if she was leery of the unaccustomed arousal bombarding her. The man made her long for hot, sweaty sex and screaming orgasms. For all the good it would do him. She wasn't a one-night stand kind of woman.
He leaned over the small table, encroaching on her personal space until they were almost nose to nose. Getting way too close for her good intentions to remain intact. She wanted to thread her fingers through his thick hair and feel Micah's lips on hers.
"Your body is sending a very different message."
She figured the weighty, knowing stare was an attempt to intimidate. Her spine stiffened. She would not be the one to avert her eyes or pull back. Not going to happen even though she knew he was baiting her, waiting for a reaction.
"You want me."
Then again, why hold back? She hated games and preferred to make sure people knew where they stood with her. "You're right. I was wrong. You're no pirate. You're an arrogant ass!"
Tossing her napkin on the table, she started to rise. Micah's hand shot out, strong fingers encircled her wrist in a solid but loose grasp, shackling her.
"No, it's my turn and I'm not finished yet."
Oh, great. She couldn't wait to hear more. This should be hilarious. Hurtful words from the past raced through her mind. Uptight...prudish...cold.
She settled on the edge of the chair, ready to bolt. Micah didn't release her. His thumb stroked her inner wrist, slow and gentle, making her pulse race. His voice dropped to a low and provocative whisper.
"Nice speech. Too bad it's not how you really feel. Your body tells me you want me." Micah held her securely when she tried to pull away.
"Your eyelids are at half-mast and your pupils are dilated, looking up at me from under those thick lashes. Your cheeks have turned the most enticing shade of pink and are flushed with desire. Even now, your shoulders are pulled back but you're leaning in toward me and restlessly rubbing your legs together."
Rebecca made a conscious effort to still her movements, but she'd given too much away. Micah was right. The light touch of his fingers on her wrist wasn't anywhere near enough. She was desperate for more.
"You're breathing fast and shallow. A blind man wouldn't miss your beaded nipples lit up like headlights, aching to be touched. Those beautiful, pouty lips are parted. I'm sure you're not even aware of how often the tip of your tongue has slipped out to lick them."
Rebecca worried her bottom lip between her teeth and he sucked in a harsh breath. He read her as if she were an open book, laid bare for his examination.
"Damn, baby. That's so fucking sexy. You've got me so hard. I can't stop picturing your mouth stretched wide around my cock."
Their waitress rudely dropped the check folder near their joined hands. Dismissing Rebecca's presence, the girl addressed Micah in one last-ditch attempt to gain his attention. His gaze never wavered from Rebecca's.
"If you're sure there's nothing else you want, I'll take that to the cashier when you're ready."
He released Rebecca long enough to toss some money on the table then moved around to her chair and held out his hand.
"Are you ready?"
If she passed up a night in his arms, she'd spend the rest of her life kicking herself.
Rebecca tossed caution to the wind and seized the opportunity. One night of hot, reckless abandon before returning to her real life. For one night, she could set aside years of discipline and ironclad control. Give in and experience true passion.
She nodded. "Oh yes."
She was more than ready.