Animal AttractionBy: Patricia Rosemoor
A Kindred Souls Romance
Bleating and squawking and roaring filled the air. Two of every mammal and bird and reptile as far as the eye could see fought the savage winds. More rumbling from the heavens and then ragged lightning strikes surrounded us with an eerie blue glow as the skies opened and water flooded the land. The animals cried out and raced to the belly of a boat as big as a small city.
Fear was a fever and all were infected, including me. I ran with the animals and soon found myself on board in the midst of a panicked four-legged herd. I turned to see dozens of men who scaled the other side of the ark scramble into the midst of the terrified animals. They stalked the animal predators—carnivores like wolf and hawk and cobra.
One of the men locked gazes with me, his eyes a molten copper. Then his gaze lit on a black panther, and he began to change into something formless and frightening. I could see right through him. His shadow floated over the panther, then morphed again. What looked like tentacles drove down through the sides of the animal. The big cat threw back its head and screamed in terror as the shadow disappeared inside it. The panther now emanated pure aggression. As if sensing my interest, it turned toward me, head tilted as it considered me with molten copper eyes…
Nuala Lazare awoke from the nightmare she’d had since childhood. She was safe in her own bed. She lived in a shell of magic Pop had created for them—beautiful quarters—none of which was real. Ironic that he’d named their casino boat The Ark after the one in her ongoing nightmare. Pop had told her the scary dream was a genetic memory, that the men boarding the ark were Nephilim, sons of fallen angels and human women who corrupted humanity. The flood had been sent to eradicate their kind, but some of them found a way to survive by becoming shapeshifters—Kindred with powers far beyond human. And the black panther had been the first in the Lazare shapeshifting line.
It might be before dawn, but Nuala wasn’t going to sleep any time soon, so she left her bed and got dressed.
The effects of the disturbing dream lingered, putting her on edge. She knew where she came from and what she was. She simply wasn’t sure where she wanted to end up or what she wanted to be.
If she left The Ark… how did she leave everyone she loved?
She’d always been the one to keep a level of peace in the Lazare family, even with her emotionally distant mother, Beatrix. Nuala was usually able to use logic with Pop to keep him reasonable when anger fired him, and she was always able to keep her brothers in line when no one else could. What would become of them without her?
Leaving her quarters and calling for the elevator, she thought about it. There were good and bad Kindred… just like there were good and bad humans. They made mistakes just like humans. But the thing that made them different was the predilection for corruption. Thanks to being descended from the Nephilim, that was part of their very nature. She fought to stay grounded, to make her own choices rather than simply follow instinct, but most Kindred took advantage of humans, and Pop took advantage of everyone. Even so, she couldn’t love her father more.
The elevator arrived and she took it up to the casino, cloaked and available to human gamblers by invitation only. Despite the hour, the floor was busy. And noisy. She passed two waitresses in leopard sarongs who stood near the craps table gossiping.
I think this one’s prime material for the high-roller room.
Give humans enough of what they really want and they would all be candidates.
That would please the boss.
The exchange was strictly in the workers’ thoughts, but Nuala gave them a warning look and indicated they should get to work.
The slot machines made an irritating music of their own that she tried to ignore as she made her way to the habitat. Kindred who didn’t work the casino floor or in the offices worked here in their animal form. Big cats, wolves, bears, hawks, alligators, and other predators of all kinds were on display for their human guests. Once a night, a caretaker released prey into the habitats. Even well fed, the carnivores couldn’t resist the instinct to chase and kill. Humans couldn’t resist the urge to watch.
Sighing, Nuala stepped closer to the windowed wall and watched Clarke, a hawk, wheel over Lily, a honey badger and Dodger a red fox—Kindred she’d grown up with displaying their baser instincts. She hated it, but she’d never been able to convince her father he was wrong in using them this way. Pop needed corrupted humans who would feed his ambition to run the city… then the country… and maybe more.