Authors: Ann Gimpel
Underground Heat Book 1
Published by Liquid Silver Books, imprint of Atlantic Bridge Publishing, 10509 Sedgegrass Dr, Indianapolis, Indiana 46235. Copyright © Published 2013, Ann Gimpel. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.
Manufactured in the United States of America
Liquid Silver Books
This is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents and dialogues in this book are of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is completely coincidental.
Once respected members of society, shifters are running for their lives. In a futuristic world where resources are scarce, Kate uses her human form to work as a sex surrogate. Furious at what looks a lot like genocide for her people, she joins the shifter underground.
Devon’s been a cop for a long time. He has shifter blood, but not enough to change into anything; at least not until the police department insists on a series of infusions to make him better at tracking shifters so they can be imprisoned—or killed.
Devon’s latest assignment is Kate. From the moment he sees her, he can’t get her out of his mind. The line between hunter and hunted thins, blurs, and finally disappears. Kate and Devon defy the odds. Will their passion save them or doom them forever?
Kate Roman sauntered down Telegraph Avenue, the sounds of the constant Berkeley traffic loud in her ears. The city had banned hovercraft when air quality got so bad people needed masks to venture outside. The air still made the back of her throat burn, but at least her eyes didn’t tear up.
She pushed her dark glasses up her nose and wrapped a colorful scarf more tightly around her hair. Someone was following her. She’d caught a whiff of something … unusual … with her feline senses half a dozen blocks back. Her perceptions weren’t as sharp in her human form, but they gave her a definite edge. Who was back there? Try as she might, she couldn’t identify its scent. She didn’t want to stop and turn around. So long as her pursuer thought himself invisible, he—or she, or it—wouldn’t do anything rash. She hoped.
Her heart beat a little faster. No cause for alarm. Not yet, anyway. She worked as a sex surrogate, and there had been hundreds of clients over the past several years. Her hair was unmistakable with its bright red tone and warm, golden streaks. Clients sometimes trailed after her. Too shy to approach directly, yet drawn to her because of the best—sometimes the only—sex they’d had in their lives, they just liked to be close. Even though they had no idea she was a shifter—that played into the equation too. Humans were attracted to her animal energy.
Shy clients were one thing. The other options were scarier. Humans had made a big push to get rid of shifters. Because killing them outright would have engendered a great hue and cry from personal rights groups, they’d been imprisoned in droves. Conditions were deplorable; many of her kin had died. Others were so ill, they might as well be dead. Apparently the personal rights groups weren’t into visiting prisons to check on things. Disgust twisted Kate’s features into an annoyed scowl.
Appalled by what was looking a lot like the beginnings of genocide, she’d joined the shifter underground, a group masterminding escapes for those like her. Of course, the escapes were only the first step. Once out, shifters almost always needed medical care. They had to be hidden until their magic was strong enough for them to shield themselves. Many opted for dramatic plastic surgery to obliterate any trace of who they’d been when captured.
Kate blew out a tense breath. She had three post-surgical shifters concealed in the basement of her home in the Berkeley Hills. A wolf, a mountain lion—like her—and a bear were sequestered behind a hidden wall panel. She hadn’t expected them to stay quite so long and her pantry was almost bare. She glanced at her wrist computer and clicked a few keys.
flashed on the screen, followed by the numerals one and zero. Shit. If it were only her, ten coupons wouldn’t buy much more than a day’s worth of food. She needed to put in an emergency call to the underground once she got to her office and no one could hear her. They had code words for everything, but still…
Kate tilted her head back. Her nose twitched. Whoever was behind her was closer. Not much, but a little.
Should I turn around?
She glanced at the cross street. Another half block and she’d be at her office. Someone jostled her shoulder. She pulled back, wary of a trap. Kate strengthened the illusion which softened her lengthened incisors and muted the sharp angle of her cheekbones and jaw.
“Sorry,” a man muttered and pushed past her.
She stared after him and reached out with a dribble of shifter magic.
She exhaled sharply. Just a human. Definitely not who’d been following her. Garden-variety cops had genetically-altered enhanced abilities. They smelled different. Trackers, elite police squads targeting shifters, had their own unique scent. She pressed her tongue against her teeth, thinking. What she smelled behind her was … different. Did that mean it wasn’t a cop—or a Tracker?
Not necessarily. He could be using one of their tricks to mask his spoor.
Her throat tightened. She tried to swallow, but her mouth was dry.
Enough excitement for one morning
. Kate lengthened her stride, loped across the street, taking advantage of an amber light, and took the steps to her office in a renovated Victorian two at a time. She ran her palm over the keypad. The electronics hummed and the door clicked open. She ducked inside, shut the door, and reset the lock.
Annoyance tinged with fear made her stomach roil. Against her better judgment, she turned and peered through a frosted glass side panel next to the thick, carved oak door. Eyes narrowed, she used her feline vision to take a good, hard look at who was walking down the sidewalk. After a couple minutes of nothing, she chided herself for being paranoid.
Kate was about to turn away and get ready for her first client when a man caught her attention. Boy, did he catch her attention. He was tall, maybe six-foot four, with broad shoulders and slender hips. He wore form-fitting jeans, a snug knitted dark blue top, and a brown leather vest. Well-muscled arms and thighs jumped out at her. Kate’s eyes went to his crotch.
Wow. If he looked like that soft, he’d have a hell of an erection
. Waist-length black hair swirled around him. Dark eyes, set in Native American bone structure, looked right at her building. It was as if he sensed her looking at him.
What was he? Unfortunately, she couldn’t identify much. Wood and glass absorbed most of her magic. Kate moved away from the window. Heat poured through her. Her nipples pebbled into hard points. Whoever was out there was the most sexually-charged man she’d ever come across. Was he the one who’d been following her?
She snorted. Part of her hoped he’d been tracking her—she itched to jump his bones. In spite of being turned-on, she felt edgy. He could be a member of the elite Tracker hit squads targeting shifters. Her underground organization had received intel the enemy was using more sophisticated strategies to trap them.
If they start using sex, we’re done for.
Her lips curled into a wry grin. Shifters loved sex. It was a weakness from their animal sides.
“No, it’s a strength,”
the mountain cat which lived inside her commented snidely.
“Hold on, sweetie. You’ll get your fix soon enough.”
“I don’t want human sex,”
her cat complained.
“Find a shifter for us.”
“Enough of this. I have to get ready for my first client.”
Her cat grumbled. Kate smiled indulgently. She’d dreamed her bond animal like all shifters did when they hit puberty. The animal had picked her, but she’d sealed the deal by accepting it. The cat was a part of her, but its own entity as well. That included having opinions which sometimes diverged from hers.
She consulted her wrist computer. Not much time to spare. Kate walked through her spacious office. Furnished with late nineteenth century antiques to match the building’s architecture, it was a homey place with overstuffed floral couches and chairs and golden oak tables. A small computer desk allowed clients to enter their own personal data—or as much of it as they were comfortable divulging. Unlike the world’s oldest profession, men actually needed a doctor’s referral to see her. Kate liked it that way. She’d never had problems with any of her clients. The doctors screened them for diseases before sending them, which was another plus, though not exactly necessary. Virtually all the men who came through her door were virgins.
A lush bedroom with a four-poster bed and an inventive assortment of toys was behind the front office. Off to one side was a marble inlaid bathroom with a sunken tub with Jacuzzi jets. Mirrors lined the walls; the gleaming gold fixtures and green-veined marble glowed invitingly. Water was good for loosening up nervous clients. Her first task was getting them used to being naked.
She ducked into her private quarters—a small room off the bedroom—dropped her bag in a corner, and stripped off her street clothes and shoes. Pants were a no-no in her business. She needed skirts in case a client got hard and she needed to move fast. Most of the men who visited her had erectile issues. Either they came too fast, or they couldn’t get erections at all.
She pulled a teal jersey top out of a drawer and tugged it over her head. The soft folds of the fabric molded to her body. No bra. Looking at the curves of her breasts was good for clients. She traced the outline of a nipple through the silky fabric. It stiffened instantly. A vision of the man in the street slammed against her. Her nether regions flooded. Kate grinned. She felt sorry for her first client. She’d probably attack him before he even got his clothes off.
She stepped into a black skirt with an elastic waist and grabbed a hairbrush. Red-gold curls cascaded nearly to her waist. A smattering of shiny lip gloss and she walked into the bathroom to check her appearance. Perfect. She looked about twenty-five. Good for when she needed to play the innocent in seduction charades. She blew a kiss at the glass. Not bad for a three-hundred-year-old shifter.
Three hundred six,
her inner voice corrected. Kate laughed. She wasn’t exactly immortal, but she’d live for hundreds more years before her face betrayed any sign of age.
The front bell chimed. Hector was right on time. Bare feet pattering over the thick, Oriental carpet in her front office, Kate strode to the door and peered through the safety viewer. She rolled her eyes. He’d brought her flowers. She waved her palm over the electronically controlled lock; the latch clicked.
“Hi, gorgeous.” Hector stepped inside and waited for her to lock up before handing her a bouquet of expensive-looking hothouse blossoms. She laid them on a side table. They’d keep for an hour out of water.
“Hi there yourself, handsome.” Kate smiled at him. She liked Hector. At forty-five, he’d decided it was time to find a wife. Problem was, he’d spent his entire life locked away behind a computer screen and had no idea how to even say good morning to a woman, let alone ask for a date. All his sexual experiences had been with his hand until he’d tried to hire a hooker and failed miserably. He’d come while she was unzipping his pants and hadn’t been able to get hard again.
He shook light brown hair back from a high brow. His hazel eyes shone with pleasure. He wasn’t bad looking, but he needed to get outside. His skin was pasty white and his body soft. She’d suggested he join a gym and walk at least half an hour out-of-doors every day. She wondered if he’d taken her up on either suggestion.
His hand snaked out and curved around one of her breasts. She glanced between his legs, pleased to see the swell of an erection. Good. He wouldn’t make her work very hard today. Kate cocked her head to one side and pressed her breast into his hand. “Business first. That will be five hundred credits.”
His eyes widened. “You’re giving me a break today.”
“Not really.” Her hand cupped his hard-on. “Looks like you won’t need much from me.”
Color stained his fair cheeks. “Funny thing. It got hard when I was on the bus. Just thinking about you…” His voice trailed off.
“That’s the way it’s supposed to work. Pay up, so we can get those clothes off you.”
He went to the computer, bent over, brought up his account, and transferred money into hers. The printer whirred. She grabbed the piece of paper, tore off one end, signed it, and handed it to him.
He came around behind her. His hands closed over her breasts and he nibbled her neck. She leaned against him for a moment, then led him to the bedroom and closed the door. One of the best things about being a surrogate was she trained her clients to do exactly what she liked, while cautioning them that part of lovemaking was communication. What she liked might not work for a different woman.