The Man Within

Breeds Book 2

He had protected her as a child, filled all her teenaged fantasies, and as a woman, he stole her heart. Only to break it.

Now, fifteen months later, the news has released. The man she loves is one of the genetically altered Feline Breeds who have shocked the world with their presence. He’s also her mate. The mark on her neck attests to that. The fire that rages in her heart and in her body further proves it. But he hadn’t wanted her then; does he really want her now?

Deceit and treachery, born in the past, now haunt the present as Taber and Roni fight to make sense of a sudden bonding. The mating of heart, body and soul as the man and the beast within merge; both battling the forces raging against the union and dominance over the woman he claimed.

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Prologue

June

Sandy Hook,KY

“Roni, dammit, what kind of trouble did you manage to get yourself into this time?”

Roni Andrews tried to suppress her grin as she heard Taber’s voice echoing through the corridor of the cells housed in the county jail. She sat back on the uncomfortable bunk, trying for nonchalance. No way in hell would she give him the chance to see just how much he could intimidate her. And boy could he intimidate.

Well over six feet tall, his body corded with powerful muscles, his expression often savage, remote, he could set her heart to pounding in both fear and arousal. The fear she could handle. It was the arousal she often had problems with. It had first hit her right after she turned sixteen. It had intensified several months ago after her twenty-second birthday. There were nights she burned for him, and it terrified her. She welcomed the sensation of cool stone at her back, easing a bit of the stifling heat that surrounded her. The heat that built inside her as well. The air conditioner had broken down that night and the cells had been stifling. Thankfully, old Mort, the jailer, had opened the windows rather than let her suffer. The hard smack of Taber’s boots on the stone floor caused her to wince. He only walked like that when he was pissed. She carefully pasted an expression of bored amusement on her face. Wouldn’t do for him to know she was really scared to damned death of him when he got pissed. Not that Taber would hurt her. Instinctively she knew he would never lay a hand on her. But there was something about him when he got mad. Something primal, predatory. He wasn’t a man she wanted to risk pissing off too often. Unfortunately, trouble just seemed to find her and more often than not Taber was left to bail her out of it, one way or the other. She was terrified that one day he would get tired of being her knight in shining armor and write her off entirely. Within seconds he was standing at the cell door, his hands braced on his lean hips, a frown etched on his proud, sun-darkened face. Damn, he made her want to start rubbing against him, like a cat. He was tall and muscular, his shoulders broad, his chest powerful and tapering to a flat, corded abdomen that tempted her to touch.

Long powerful legs were encased in snug denim and there was no way in hell she was going to let her gaze drift to…oh hell. That bulge between his thighs just looked too good to be true. Hastily she jerked her gaze back to his face.

His eyes were narrowed on her now, the jade-green color brilliant and snapping with fury. She swallowed tightly. He was none too pleased with her this morning.

“I didn’t do a damned thing,” she snapped back, allowing all the awakening senses he managed to flip into overdrive to fuel her own anger. “I was just standing there, Taber. Honest. That sheriff has lost his mind.”

She fought to hide her amusement. Of course, he knew she was lying. He always knew when she was lying.

“I should let you rot here.” She loved that growling thing he did when he was pissed. His voice would lower and just vibrate…like a cat. She had a fondness for cats. She rolled her eyes, though the muscles in her lower stomach quivered in reaction. She could literally feel her breasts swelling, her nipples peaking at the sound, and she knew he hadn’t missed the reaction. Instantly his expression shut down. No anger, no ire. Like a damned robot. Everything in his face seemed to tighten, to chill, causing her to shiver in reaction. She hated it when he did that, hated when he hid from her any response he might have to her.

“Are you rescuing me here or what?” she snapped, hurt by his retreat. “It’s damned hot in here, Taber, and getting hotter.” In more ways than one.

He sighed then, shaking his head as though being in trouble was no more than he had expected of her that early in the morning. At least it wasn’t that bland, I-don’t-know-you look that she so despised.

“I ought to paddle your ass.” He stepped aside as the jailer, well into his fifties and grinning at her knowingly, unlocked the cell door.

Roni didn’t fight the shiver that worked over her body at the dark sound of his voice. He could spank her any day she thought. As long as he touched her. Maybe he would kiss it and make the hurt all better later? Her own thoughts had her suppressing her smile as well as a shuddering response.

“Spank me, daddy,” she drawled softly as she rose from the cot and strolled over to the opening door. He snorted in disgust. “Your father obviously neglected discipline while he was here or else you wouldn’t tempt me this far.”

Roni scooted past him and walked over to where the sheriff had thrown her pack by old Mort’s desk the night before. She kept her back to Taber, bending at the waist to pick it up, feeling his gaze on her backside like a caress.

As she rose, she slung the strap over her arm and turned back to him with a bright smile. “I’m ready whenever you are. Think Sherra would let me stay with her for a while? That old house is getting boring this summer.”

To be honest, it was getting terrifying. She didn’t know who was playing the little pranks on her lately, but she was going to find out. She might be wrong a time or two about who the culprits were, like she was last night, but she would figure it out eventually.

The hard look he shot her assured her that even that small lie hadn’t escaped his notice. He knew damned well she wouldn’t be asking to stay with his sister unless she was scared to death. She considered asking him to let her stay at his place. But she knew her weakness for him and she was terrified of begging him to touch her. The quiet isolation and intimacy of his home would only shatter the control she fought so hard for, though. She didn’t want to beg for his touch. Didn’t want to risk the heartbreak when he rejected her.

This reaction to him was getting out of hand, she admitted. She blamed it on her lack of social skills, her fear of dating over the years. You never knew when a guy really wanted to go out with you or when he was trying to find a way to get back at your father. Unfortunately, she paid often anyway for the myriad crimes, both petty and felonious, that her father,Reginald, committed.

“Sherra’s out of town this week.” He gripped her arm firmly as she made to pass by him again. “How long has it been since you’ve eaten, anyway?”

She knew she had lost weight over the past month. Fear and worry had a way of affecting the appetite on the best of days.

“Why, yesterday.” She tried to pull this lie off, though by the tightening of his fingers on her upper arm she had a feeling she had failed. “Come on, Taber. You bailed me out like a good boy, now I’ll just go home and twiddle my fingers a few days until you get over your mad. Do I still have a job?” She glanced back at him as that thought hit her. She needed that job.

“You should be back in school, not working in a greasy garage,” he snapped as he led her outside to his pickup. “When is your father due back?”

“Hell if I know,” she sighed, biting back her regret at the thought of college. It wasn’t that she hadn’t wanted to go, dammit. But she needed to eat, too. The two weren’t coming together very well. “He took off last week. Left a note that he’d call. I haven’t seen him since.”

Not that she really cared if she didn’t see him anytime soon. Even when he was home she was alone. Unless he needed money and she didn’t have any to give. Then things really got interesting. He jerked the truck door open without releasing her arm. She looked up at him, swallowing tightly at the look in his eyes. They were darker than normal, glittering with some emotion that made heat sweep through her body, made her thighs tingle, her vagina clench. For once, he was watching her like something more than a pesky little child.

“What happened last night?” Uh oh. He was using that tone that brooked no refusal. The one that made her heart speed up in her chest, the blood to pump hard and heavy through her veins. She shrugged carelessly. “Some boys playing pranks, most likely. You know how they are.”

He was silent for long moments. “What. Happened.” There was that freaking rumble again. She shivered beneath it.

“Someone tried to break into the house, okay?” She tried to jerk away but there was no getting free of

him. “I chased them as far as the main road before I could shoot. Then I shot. Unfortunately, either old Reverend Gregory is into breaking or entering, or I was shooting at the wrong car. I still haven’t figured out how they got away from me.”

She hadn’t been shooting to kill. Just to kind of maim a little. Fortunately the Reverend seemed to have a sense of humor and only demanded a night in jail to teach her a lesson. It wasn’t her first night there. She doubted it would be her last.

“Shoot?” Damn. He was really mad now. “Why didn’t you just call me, Roni? What the hell are you doing with a gun?” His voice had steadily lowered rather than risen. That was never a good sign.

“I know how to use it.” She twisted out of his hold, but was more than aware of the fact that he had let her go only because he made the decision, not her. “Dammit, Taber, I’m tired of those bastards trying to torment me. Every timeReginald leaves they pull the same crap on me.”

They were terrifying her. The phone calls Taber didn’t know about. She could never reveal the brief, horrifyingly descriptive notes, either. She paled to think about them. They were graphic, explicit, terrifying.

“In the truck.” She had never heard that tone before. Danger resonated around her and the shiver that washed over her had nothing to do with arousal and everything to do with flat dread. She did as he ordered, though she watched him carefully. The door slammed behind her and Taber proceeded to stalk—yeah stalk, there was no other word for it—around the front of the vehicle and to the driver’s side.

“What did he do this time?” She assumed he meant her father. She shrugged carefully. “I don’t know. He came in late last week, threw some clothes in a bag, told me to stay with friends and left.”

“And you’re still at the house why?” he snarled. Man, he was an animal when he was pissed, she thought worriedly. That deep voice was driving her insane, though.

“Where am I going to stay?” Her laughter was self-mocking. It wasn’t as though she had a lot of choices. “I called Sherra, but she wasn’t answering. I called you a time or two, but you weren’t around either. That left the gun and me. The gun is always there.”

She didn’t like the look he was giving her. Furious and…hungry. He looked like he was looking for a meal and considered her fair game all of a sudden. He shook his head, amazement flashing in his eyes.

“You have got to be insane,” he finally sighed. “Certifiably insane. Goddamn, Roni, why didn’t you leave a message?”

“How many do you want me to leave?” she yelled back at him. She hadn’t slept in a week; she was hungry and sick of being frightened. “I called three days straight, Taber, and left messages. Why don’t you check the damned machine? Better yet, go do that growling thing at the damned people who haven’t fixed cell phone reception in this county yet. Even your cell wasn’t picking up and by then I was tired of begging you to help me.” Which wasn’t unusual in the small, mountainous area they lived in. He stilled, his hands clenching on the steering wheel. “There were no messages.” Dangerous, rumbling,

he was only growing more furious by the moment.

“Then one of your brothers erased them,” she told him, just as angry. “I left the messages, Taber. I’m surprised you came this morning. When the sheriff said he had to leave a message…”

“There was no message.” His voice lowered further. “The sheriff met me at the garage when I came in this morning.”

She snorted. “Well there you go. Did he tell you he left a message last night?”

“No. But I’ll be asking him about it.” From the tone of his voice he’d be getting answers, too. Her gaze flickered away from him as he stared at her intently. His eyes were so dark, intense. The look reminded her that she was female, and made her ache for things that often left her blushing when she thought about them. He had rarely looked at her like that. Having him do so now threw her completely off balance.