"Steamy and intricate, a real page turner!"
Reviewed by Vicky Gilpin
Posted March 14, 2011
Ariana and Kouger had been connected through a mating bond,
even though he, as leader of the Ferals, and she, as queen
of the Ilinas, were mis-matched. Despite being chastised by
both of their peoples, they knew their love was true.
However, in the midst of a battle, the Ilinas are
destroyed, Ariana supposedly with them, and Kouger is left
to his destroyed soul and devastated mating bond. Over a
century later, when he discovers Ariana is still alive, he
cannot withstand the feelings of betrayal: she has been
transformed into a dark, soul-less creature, but she is the
only one with the power to help his few remaining Feral
Warriors. Now, Kouger has to overcome his anger and try to
discover who Ariana really was...and who she has become.
In this fast-paced tale, all is not as it seems; no one is
perfect, and even the closest allies may make mistakes in
their desire to help. In the case of Ariana and Kouger,
mistakes can be deadly, not only for them, but also for
For a thousand years she has haunted himâ€”Ariana, queen of
the Ilinas, a beauty of mist and light. His love, his life
mate... Kougar believed her lost to him forever until the
truth of her stunning betrayal left him bitter and hungry
for revenge. Now she alone holds the power to save two
trapped and desperate Feral Warriors.
Ariana, caught in a deadly battle of her own, is neither
the soulless creature Kougar believes her to be, nor the
savior he seeks. And when darkness threatens to annihilate
both races, the greatest danger of all becomes the
glorious love Kougar and Ariana once shared. A love that
must never rise again. A love that has never died.
ExcerptKougar prowled on four paws through the streets of Harpers
Ferry, West Virginia, sliding in and out of the night
shadows of the nineteenth-century buildings that rose
against the moonlit sky on steps as silent as the pre-
civil war human dead that filled the cemetery on the hill.
Heâ€™d wandered this town alone since the battle four days
ago -- a battle between the Ferals and Mage and three
wraith Daemons the Mage had managed to release.
The Ferals had won, of course, but the victory had been
devastatingly hollow. Two Ferals, Hawke and Tighe, had
disappeared into the Magesâ€™ spinning vortex, a spirit trap
that would separate men from animals, killing both in a
matter of days. Seven, now. Thatâ€™s all they had left
unless the Ferals saved them.
And there was only one way to do that.
One person alone had ever been able to breach a Daemon
spirit trap and come out alive. A woman who could turn to
mist at will. The Queen of the Ilinas.
Kougar growled low in his catâ€™s throat, hatred burning
through his mind.
Only one woman could save his Feral brothers and their
Ariana, his soulless bitch of a mate.
Heâ€™d thought she was dead. For a thousand years, heâ€™d
grieved for her until twenty-one years ago when heâ€™d
learned the truth -- that Ariana and her race had faked
their extinction after being infected by dark spirit. The
knowledge had slain him until heâ€™d remembered that the
woman heâ€™d once loved was long gone, lost to the dark
spirit that had consumed her soul.
His beloved Ariana would never have betrayed him like that.
When heâ€™d learned she was still alive, heâ€™d refused to
seek her out. The last thing heâ€™d wished to see were
soulless eyes peering out of his belovedâ€™s face. But four
days ago, everything changed with Hawke and Tigheâ€™s
capture. He had to find her, to force her to breach the
spirit trap and free them.
The problem was, he couldnâ€™t reach her.
On catâ€™s feet, he darted between two narrow brick
buildings and ran up the night hill, frustration beating a
harsh rhythm in his blood. The sound of the two rivers
that flanked Harpers Ferry carried on the air, broken by
the rumble of a train approaching in the distance. The
sounds began to escalate suddenly until even the chirping
of the insects turned to screeching in his ears.
Goddess, his senses were screwed up. Arianaâ€™s severing of
that supposedly permanent mating bond had damaged him,
leaving him half-alive, his emotions frozen, his senses
all but dead for a millennium. Until five days ago when,
trapped by Daemon and Mage, heâ€™d come close to dying. In
the darkness, Melisande had appeared with her usual scowl
and, for a reason he couldnâ€™t fathom, reconnected the
mating bond between himself and Ariana. Apparently, his
wife still needed him alive.
With the bond reconnected, sensation had returned in a
manic, freak-show kind of way, color blazing a hundred
times too bright, then throbbing and pulsing like it was
about to explode, before flickering back to gray.
Fortunately, the kaleidoscope had died down, most of his
senses finally returning to what had once been normal.
Except for his hearing.
And his emotions.
He passed through the old Harper Cemetery and headed for
the Jefferson Rock where he always ended up at some point
during the night, frustration and anger burning a hole in
his gut. He was starting to feel...too much. The wind in
his face. The rocks beneath his paws. And a fury hot
enough to rip someoneâ€¦anyoneâ€¦limb from limb. No, not
anyone. Her. Ariana. Or at least the soulless bitch who
wore Arianaâ€™s face.
Their newly-reconnected mating bond was jury-rigged at
best, a dull, mangled reflection of the crystalline cord
that had once bound them. But it was there. And it gave
him his one chance of finding Ariana and saving his
friends. As her mate, heâ€™d only ever been able to sense
her presence if she was nearby...or in the Crystal Realm,
where the Ilinas had been living their extinction. Only a
mate of an Ilina could travel to the Crystal Realm without
an Ilina escort. And then, only if his mate was already
For four days, heâ€™d waited for her to return home to that
castle in the clouds so he could catch her.
For four days, heâ€™d waited in vain while Hawke and Tigheâ€™s
lives slowly slipped away.
Kougar leaped onto the Jefferson Rock -- a small tourist
landmark upon which the human, Thomas Jefferson, had
supposedly proclaimed the sight worthy of a trip across
the Atlantic. Kougar couldnâ€™t fault the sentiment as he
stretched out atop the bit of shale in his catâ€™s body. The
breeze slid through his whiskers as he perused the
dramatic, moonlit convergence of the Shenandoah and
Potomac rivers far below.
Four days ago, at the end of the battle, heâ€™d told Lyon,
his chief, that heâ€™d return in ten days. Only that. Not
where he was going, not who he intended to find. No one
could know the Ilinas were still alive. Melisande had
taken it upon herself to kill anyone who threatened their
secret, who knew of their existence. Except, apparently,
Not that the Ferals were likely to be bested by mist
warriors, but they were already dealing with more than
enough -- the death of Foxx, the loss of Hawke and Tighe,
the theft of the Daemon Blade, and the Magesâ€™ newly
acquired dark power and goal to destroy the Ferals and
release the Daemon plague back into the world.
The last thing the Ferals needed were ambushing mist
warriors added to that list. No, heâ€™d return to Feral
House only after Ariana had freed Hawke and Tighe. And she
would, dammit. Heâ€™d see to it.
Failure was not an option.
If only sheâ€™d return to the Crystal Realm!
Something fluttered briefly in his chest at the site of
the decrepit mating bond, and he stilled, his catâ€™s pulse
lifting, then kicking up to mach five.
Got her. Finally, Ariana had returned to the Crystal Realm.
Kougar sent his newly-keen senses into the woods in every
direction, then certain he was alone, leaped off the rock
and shifted into his human form. Through the battle-
damaged shirt he still wore from four days before, he
reached for the gold cougar-head armband that circled his
As his fingers closed around the cool metal, he stilled,
slammed by the realization he was about to see Ariana for
the first time in a thousand years.
Taking a deep, unsteady breath, he closed his eyes and
concentrated on the mating bond, whispering the ancient
words of connection. As the words left his lips, he felt a
familiar spin of dizziness, a momentary sensation of
weightlessness, then solid flooring beneath his feet.
Smooth flooring, not ground.
While his vision cleared, the scent of pine hit his nose,
slamming him with a rush of memories. He blinked,
gooseflesh rising on his arms as he found himself standing
in the archway of the Grand Corridor of Arianaâ€™s palace in
the Crystal Realm. The wide expanse of emerald floor
stretched out before him, framed by walls of crystal
twenty feet high, rising to a ceiling painted with murals
of women indulging in a multitude of delights, carnal and
otherwise. Along the walls torches flickered, setting the
crystal aflame with an inner fire.
Heâ€™d once thought this hall the most beautiful in
existence. It was a sight he hadnâ€™t seen in a thousand
years and standing here had his heart thrumming in his
How many times in those first few days after he thought
Ariana dead had he tried to get here, to reach her while
heâ€™d prayed over and over that she was somehow,
miraculously, still alive? How many times had he visited
this place in his dreams, dreams in which Ariana still
lived? Dreams in which heâ€™d stood beside her, in which
heâ€™d saved her.
How many times?
But sheâ€™d lost the battle before heâ€™d known there was a
battle to fight and he hadnâ€™t been here when sheâ€™d needed
him. Maybe if he had been, he could have helped her
vanquish the darkness and return to him before it consumed
her soul. Now it was far, far too late. Given enough time,
dark spirit always consumed the soul.
Slowly, he started down the corridor, memories attacking
him from every direction. Making love to Ariana in her
chamber. Making love to her in the garden. Making love to
her beneath the waterfall. Goddess, heâ€™d never been able
to get enough of her, nor her of him. Even though the
Ilinas had disapproved of his marriage to their queen, his
Ariana had loved him. For two short years, theyâ€™d been
He stilled as a familiar warmth bloomed within the
misshapen excuse for a mating bond.
At the feel of her nearness, his heart began to beat a
hard, erratic rhythm. At the certainty he was about to see
her again. And the certainty that it was going to hurt
Hatred for the woman sheâ€™d become, for the evil thing
whoâ€™d destroyed his mate, crouched, snarling inside him as
he strode toward her chambers. The cool, crystalline air
parted before him as if seeking to escape the menace that
radiated from his pores.
â€śAriana!â€ť He shouted her name, his voice deep as a roar.
There was no sense in stealth, not with the mating bond
reconnected. Just as he felt her, he knew Ariana had known
the moment heâ€™d arrived.
Melisande drifted out of the nearest passage, mist-like,
her blond braid hanging over one shoulder, her sword
drawn. With an expression hard as flint she blocked his
path. â€śYouâ€™re not welcome here.â€ť
Kougar lifted a brow at the petite mist-warrior. â€śYou
reconnected the mating bond. Had you forgotten that meant
you couldnâ€™t keep me out?â€ť
â€śNo, but Iâ€™d hoped you had.â€ť
He was about to barrel through her when a woman stepped
into the passage behind her, flesh and blood, a woman as
familiar to him as the beat of his own heart. His feet
stopped without his awareness. His heart seized for the
space of three beats, then took off like a flock of birds
in a wild flight.
In so many ways, she looked as she always had, her skin
luminous, her rich brown hair falling in soft waves to her
shoulders, framing a face of delicate beauty and
indomitable strength. She stood in that achingly familiar
way, with her back straight, her chin raised almost in
challenge, her arms loose at her sides as if ready for
â€śThe queen will not see you, Kougar,â€ť Melisande snapped.
â€śShe already has.â€ť Emotions careened inside him â€” the
passionate, tender love. The searing pain of losing her.
His heart contracted, squeezed by an agony he could barely
endure. Deep inside him, his cat gave a joyous yowl. His
soul sang at this proof that Ariana lived, at this miracle
that the woman heâ€™d loved more than life, that heâ€™d
mourned for a thousand years, once more stood before him.
But she wasnâ€™t his Ariana, was she? The woman before him
was a stranger. For a moment, just a moment, he thought he
glimpsed emotion in her once-beloved face. A mix of joy
and agony that mirrored his own. But he blinked and it was
gone, and he knew heâ€™d been mistaken.
Now that he looked at her clearly, he saw that her lush
mouth was pursed and hard. Her brows dipped in the middle
over cold eyes the brown of a wild cherry tree instead of
the blazingly-bright Ilina blue theyâ€™d once been.
Her gaze locked on him now with a piercing sharpness sheâ€™d
always possessed. Both queen and warrior, sheâ€™d been fire
and sword, able to slay any opposition with a single look.
But those sharp eyes had once softened for him, melting
with love and heat. Not any more. Now she stared at him
with a strangerâ€™s cold reserve.
His mind reeled at the sight of her, his heart an erratic
thrum in his chest. He longed for that lack of feeling
heâ€™d lived with for a millennium, that insulating numbness
heâ€™d felt for so long. Instead, his heart split asunder
all over again.
She wasnâ€™t dressed as Melisande, in the ancient mist-
warrior garb of tunic and pants. Nor was she garbed in one
of the jewel-toned gowns sheâ€™d often preferred. Instead,
she wore blue scrubs that fit her slender form, and white
shoes, as if she played at being a doctor or nurse. At
For a moment, her dress confounded him until the reason
clicked sickly into place in the pit of his stomach.
Darkness always fed on pain and fear. Where better to find
pain in this day and age than in a human hospital? She was
nothing but a parasite feeding off the misery of others.
Was that why she hid the unnatural brightness of her eyes
behind brown contacts? Because she spent so much time
trolling the human world?
Despite the plain clothing, despite the dark circles
beneath her eyes and the contacts hiding their true color,
she was still achingly beautiful. Even if that beauty was
truly only skin deep.
â€śLeave us, Melisande,â€ť Ariana ordered quietly.
Melisande glanced over her shoulder. â€śArianaâ€¦â€ť
â€śYou knew it would come to this, Mel, when you reconnected
us. You knew, sooner or later, heâ€™d find me.â€ť
â€śHeâ€™s known you lived for twenty-one years.â€ť
â€śI said, leave us,â€ť Ariana snapped at her second-in-
On a huff of displeasure, Melisande disappeared.
Ariana remained where she was, as if rooted. Staring at
him. Again, he thought he saw emotion dart across her eyes
and sensed she was struggling for control. As if she were
as thrown by this meeting as he was.
Even from here he could smell her, that unique scent that
had always reminded him of lilies of the valley. The scent
tumbled him back in time to long, glorious nights lost in
the pleasures of her body. He clenched his fists against
the needs warring inside him. Part of him longed to haul
her into his arms and feel her against him one more time.
A stronger part wanted to rip her soulless heart out. And
the unstable emotions careening inside him made one or the
other an all-too-likely possibility.
With a low growl in his throat, he fought for control.
Heâ€™d come for one thing and one thing only. To save his
friends. But now that he stood within reach of the woman
heâ€™d thought dead for a millennium, he found himself
wanting more. And needing answers.
â€śWhy, you soulless bitch.â€ť The question came out as a
snarl. â€śWhy sever the mating bond? Why make the world
think you were gone? Why make me think you were gone?â€ť
A shadow passed over her face, her mouth tightening as if
in pain, though he knew that to be a lie. The soulless
felt no pain but the physical.
She swallowed visibly, her expression hardening to
granite. â€śI severed the bond because I could. Once I
embraced the dark spirit, I had no need of you, Feral. No
desire to touch you or be touched by you again. And I
still donâ€™t. The Ariana you knew no longer exists. And I
have no interest in you."
Even though her words didnâ€™t surprise him, her cold
dismissal turned like a blade in his gut, igniting his
His hands fisted until the blood began to throb in his
palms. â€śWhy did Melisande reconnect the mating bond?â€ť
She looked away. â€śA perverse bit of mischief. Go away,
Kougar. Thereâ€™s nothing for you here.â€ť
As her gaze returned to his, brown contacts blocking any
glimpse into her thoughts, he struggled to hold onto his
thinning control. And felt it slipping through his
fingers -- fingers about to erupt in claws.
Ariana flushed hot, then cold, as she stared at Kougar, at
her mate, at the man sheâ€™d loved for a thousand years.
Sheâ€™d forgotten how tall he was, how broad his shoulders,
how muscular his arms, as he stood before her now in a
white collared shirt and black pants, clothes torn and
bloodied as if heâ€™d been fighting. Sheâ€™d forgotten how his
presence filled a room, how it filled the entire castle
until she could hardly breathe through the need to be in
his arms, to feel his body sliding against hers, sliding
He couldnâ€™t know.
Never had she struggled so hard to control her emotions,
to hide what was in her heart and head. Never had doing so
caused her so much pain as it did now as Kougar stared at
her with eyes as pale as ice filled not with tenderness,
but with pain, and a growing fury. Not with love, but
hatred. A hatred she must fan.
Her stomach clenched and churned. What she was doing was
cruel beyond measure. But she had no choice. Her cruelty
just might keep Kougar alive.
Soulless, soulless, soulless.
The chant pounded in her head as she focused on keeping
her expression closed and hard even as emotions clawed at
her in a wild battle -- longing and fear. A storm of
devastating love and aching grief that had lived within
her for an eternity.
Inside, her heart trembled, on the edge of an emotional
meltdown. She narrowed her eyes, dropping her lids to mere
slits, trying to hide the sheen of disastrous tears even
as she fought back the emotion, fought for control.
Goddess, she loved him. Sheâ€™d never stopped loving him,
even when sheâ€™d hated herself for it, for the destruction
that love had wrought. So many dead. So much grief.
But the danger wasnâ€™t past. And Melisande knew it, dammit.
In reconnecting the mating bond, sheâ€™d intentionally
placed Kougar in deadly peril. The only thing saving him
was the miserable, mangled state of the bond.
And she must keep it that way.
Kougar took a threatening step toward her. Within the
flaying hatred in his eyes she saw flashes of a pain that
nearly drove her to her knees.
â€śWhy are you here, Kougar? Why now, if youâ€™ve known I was
alive for over twenty years?â€ť
â€śYouâ€™re going to free two of my friends from a Daemon
Oh, sweet goddess. She couldnâ€™t help him.
Struggling for control, she yanked the icy mask tighter
over her features. â€śNo. Iâ€™m not. I donâ€™t give a damn about
your Ferals.â€ť Which was partly true. Most of his men had
been as opposed to their mating as her maidens had been.
Only Horse and the Wind had ever been friendly to her. But
whoever the two were who were lost, they were Kougarâ€™s
men. If she could, she would absolutely save them. For him.
But she couldnâ€™t help him. And she couldnâ€™t keep up this
pretense much longer! She had to get him to leave.
Lifting her chin, she gave him her haughtiest, coldest
look. â€śGo, Kougar, and donâ€™t come back. Youâ€™re not welcome
In a flash, his anger ignited. Sheâ€™d pushed him too far.
A chill of fear skipped down her spine as his eyes turned
the pale gold of a cougarâ€™s, as fangs dropped from his
mouth. One moment he was standing still, the next he
lunged, grabbing her around the throat with a wickedly
clawed hand. Fiery pain exploded as his claws pierced the
sides of her neck, as warm blood ran down into her scrubs.
As he slammed her back against the wall.
Too late, she fought him, her instincts off, her gut-deep
belief heâ€™d never really hurt her causing her to move too
slowly when it suddenly became obvious he would.
â€śYou bitch.â€ť The words were a growl in his throat, his
furious face mere inches from her own as his hot breath
wafted over her chilling flesh.
She began to tremble from a combination of shock and the
knowledge that without her unique Ilina weapons, she was
virtually helpless against his far superior strength. If
he chose to rip out her throat, she couldnâ€™t stop him.
That alone wouldnâ€™t kill her. Ilinas, like all immortals,
healed almost any wound within minutes. Only if he took
her heart would she die. But if she died, so too would her
maidens. Her life force would dissipate, spreading to the
other Ilinas. And with it, the poison sheâ€™d protected them
against for a thousand years.
As badly as she wanted to protect him from the truth, her
first responsibility must be to her maidens.
â€śKougar.â€ť Her voice gurgled with the blood in her ruptured
He flinched, his gaze dropping to her neck, to where the
blood ran in rivulets, soaking her top. Almost as quickly
as heâ€™d attacked, his claws and fangs retracted, but he
didnâ€™t pull away. His large hand remained closed around
her throat as her pulse beat against his palm.
His gaze locked on hers and held as her wounds healed, as
the pain in her throat died a quick death. And still he
watched her, those pale eyes probing, digging too deep.
She tried to look away and couldnâ€™t, her parched heart
drinking in the sight of the man sheâ€™d longed for, that
sheâ€™d missed, and loved, for a thousand years.
In so many ways, he hadnâ€™t changed. His hair was much
shorter than heâ€™d worn it in those days, his beard trimmed
to encompass only his mouth and chin. But heâ€™d always
exuded a powerful pull on her physically, nearly
overwhelming in its intensity and that hadnâ€™t changed. For
a thousand years sheâ€™d blamed herself for giving in to her
feelings for him. But standing within the heat of his
body, enveloped by his raw, masculine scent, snared by the
power of his eyes, she remembered all over again how
impossible heâ€™d been to resist.
But she must resist him now. His life absolutely depended
He released her neck, but continued to crowd her, forcing
her to meet his glittering diamond-hard gaze. â€śYouâ€™re
going into that spirit trap, Ariana. Youâ€™re going to get
She swallowed the words of regret. The soulless regretted
nothing and he must believe her soulless. â€śNo. Iâ€™m not.â€ť
He growled low in his throat, the sound of an animal, his
hand tightening around her throat. â€śSeventeen Ferals died
in one of those traps six hundred years ago.â€ť
Seventeen. Her mind reeled.
â€śHorse died. You could have saved him. You could have
saved all of them.â€ť
Sweet goddess, Horse had been one of his oldest and
closest friends. What must it have done to him to have
lost so many in a single blow?
â€śNow the Ferals number only nine, or will once the new fox
comes forth. The Mage have acquired dark power and are
coming too damn close to freeing the Daemons. We cannot
lose two more.â€ť
Her heart ached, her fingers clenching at her sides as she
fought to hide the sorrow fisting in her chest and present
a callous front.
She swallowed, clearing the blood and emotion from her
throat, layering her voice with ice. â€śI couldnâ€™t have
helped them, Kougar, even if Iâ€™d known. Even if Iâ€™d wanted
to. And I canâ€™t help the ones in there now. Youâ€™re
mistaken if you believe I can breach a spirit trap.â€ť
Only by turning to mist could she possibly get into the
trap and out again. And if she did, her maidens would die.
She could see Kougarâ€™s anger mounting. She could feel the
pulse of it battering her through the mating bond. â€śThe
Ilina queens possess that ability, Ariana. You know it as
well as I.â€ť
â€śQueens of old, perhaps, but not me.â€ť She needed to get
away from him. Even if she hadnâ€™t seen him in centuries,
she knew this man. No one had ever lived who was more
With his friends in trouble, there was no way heâ€™d simply
turn his back on her and leave. No way. Heâ€™d hound her and
threaten her, demanding she help him until he finally
broke through her facade and discovered the truth.
That she still loved him. That sheâ€™d always loved him.
A truth that would, quite literally, kill him.
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