The Followers Book One
Paranormal Romance, Suspense (308 pages)
Available in eBook and print
Reviews on Goodreads
She’s trapped in another woman’s body…and the other woman isn’t human.
Nicole Abramson gains more than razor-sharp claws and a taste for raw meat. With a latent telekinetic talent, she’s a weapon to be used in a millennia-long war, but will she serve or resist? Fighting for her life, Nicole rails against the thief who stole her ordinary and safe life, even as she seeks comfort from the woman’s intended mate, the gorgeous Sander Evans.
Although drawn to her outspokenness, Sander keeps Nicole at bay while he defends his clan. Werelions and humans don’t mix, yet he can’t deny the passion igniting between them, particularly with her body in heat. But as the danger around them amplifies, they’ll need more than courage and strength to fight for their newfound attraction—and their lives.
ANCIENT HEAT won Second Place in the Beacon Contest, sponsored by First Coast Romance Writers!
Stretching, Nicole slid her hand across smooth, slippery satin sheets. Odd. She never slept on her stomach. Her eyes flew open. She didn’t own satin sheets.
The approaching footsteps gave her little warning.
“Marsi, you can’t sleep all day,” a man chided in a deep voice she didn’t recognize.
Acute stress tends to trigger fight or flight. Neither response was possible unless hyperventilating was considered a form of fighting and bumping into the headboard was a form of fleeing. Clutching the sheet to her chest, she rolled over, and her gaze zeroed in on a man in his late twenties or early thirties. Two words came to mind: blond and built.
He tilted his head. His sandy-blond hair, burnished with highlights, draped across his face as if he’d just prepped for a fashion shoot. Tight T-shirt and fitted jeans outlined incredible male perfection. On any normal day, he’d make her thighs clench.
But who was he?
Her focus darted around the room—tall chest of drawers, Victorian-style chair, heavy drapes—before returning to the man, who regarded her with a quizzical arch of his eyebrows.
“New game of yours?” he asked with a playful smile.
Yes, if by game, he meant waking up in a stranger’s bedroom with no memory of how she’d gotten there. She zipped through possible explanations. Went home with the guy after too many drinks at a bar? Nope, she’d stayed home and binge-watched Netflix. Rescued by a good Samaritan after an accident? Eh, that only happened in the movies. Captured by a Greek god to be his sex slave? Sadly, probably not.
Fantasy man’s smile faded to a confused frown as he sat on the bed.
Heart racing, she closed her eyes, counted to three, and tentatively reopened them. Still there. And this close, she couldn’t ignore his vibrant blue eyes, lush lashes, or the slight crook in his nose that gave his otherwise perfect face a touch of rugged masculinity. Not to mention the killer cheekbones.
“Marsi, what’s going on with you?”
His hand brushed her bare thigh, and she froze. Hot or not, this man might be a serial killer. “I’m not Marsi,” she finally eked out. “I don’t know who that is.”
Patting the bedside table for her glasses, she reminded herself to breathe. In and out. Where were her glasses? Damn it. No glasses and no purse, which meant no phone.
The man watched her, brow furrowed. “What are you doing?”
“Searching for my glasses…”
“You don’t wear glasses.”
Whoever Marsi was, obviously she didn’t wear glasses, but Nicole did. She touched her face from force of habit, then peered into the distance, her vision sharp and clear. What the hell?
“Listen.” She held up a hand, trying to squelch the panic bubbling in her throat. “I don’t know who you are or how I got here, but I’m not who you think I am.”
Nicole stared at her outstretched arm, slender and bronze, not ivory and freckled. Her panic erupted in a shriek, and she leapt from the bed. She swept her gaze down her body. Gone was the plumpness that had plagued her since high school. Her hips were now narrow, her thighs lean, the lacy cami and boy shorts definitely not her choice of nightwear.
She sucked in a deep breath, fighting the nausea clouding her thoughts. Swaying on unsteady legs, she fought for composure, then bent over and clutched her stomach.
“Marseille, what’s wrong? Are you sick?”
“This is not my body!” she screamed. She raised her head and glared at him. “What’s happened to me?”
“I have no idea what’s happened to you, but you need to calm down.”
Nicole wiped a hand across her mouth. She wasn’t insane. She was a sensible person, a rational person. A scientist. There had to be a logical explanation. At the moment, though, fear bullied logic, and she squirmed like a jackrabbit in the shadow of a hawk.
Confusion etched the man’s face. And worry. Maybe even apprehension. Why? She was the one who’d fallen into a maddening dark abyss. He had no reason to fear her. Well, other than she had just screamed at him.
Considering his sizable frame blocked the lone exit, she had no choice but to rely on her wits. Trembling, her heart still racing, she lowered her voice to a normal decibel level. “Who are you?”
He rubbed his forehead. “You really don’t know who you are?”
“Oh, I know who I am. What I don’t know is who she is.” Nicole jerked her thumb.
He stared over her shoulder. “Who?”
“This woman!” She frantically gestured to herself.
His frown merely deepened.
Bloody hell. She backed up, taking a moment to scan the bedroom, and spied a closet door. Even Alice in Wonderland needed clothes. With one last glance at the Adonis, she stepped into the closet. Yikes. A room in and of itself. She snatched a delicate silk robe off a hook and wrapped it around her body, wishing it had at least four yards more fabric.
A vanity mirror adorned the top of a dresser at the back of the closet. She leaned forward, peering at the black eyes staring back at her, and then raised a hand to her face. No. Not her face, someone else’s. Someone with beautiful amber skin, slender high-arched brows, and full lips. She grabbed a handful of long black hair, shiny and thick.
This woman was gorgeous. Nicole lowered her hand with a sigh. What she’d give for beauty like this, but it wasn’t hers to have.
Model man followed her to the closet door, but encroached no further. “Your name is Marseille Renaud. You’re my intended.”
“Intended what?” She tore her gaze from the mirror.
Nicole’s mouth popped open. Oh God. “Mate? As in wife?”
“No, not exactly.”
He gave an impatient shake of his head. “No, it isn’t like that.”
She grunted. Not her fault she didn’t understand his relationship status. “Look, bud, I’m not your mate, intended or otherwise. I’m Nicole Abramson, got it? I’m a lab technologist for a pharmaceutical firm. And I have a boyfriend…well, sort of.” She bit back a pang of disappointment. Her on-and-off relationship with Jeff had definitely been on the off side lately.
After returning to the bedroom, she sat on the edge of the bed and struggled to hold back a raucous laugh at the absurdity of the situation. In her last conversation with Jeff, he’d pointed out how staid her life was. Damn, this passed staid by miles.
“Marseille, you’ve lived with me for two months now. How can you not remember?” The man knelt before her and wrapped his large hands around hers. This time she didn’t flinch, even when his lips gently grazed her forearm.
“I’m not Marseille,” she insisted wearily, too numb to argue anymore. “Even though, for some unbelievably insane reason, I apparently look like her.”
Lines of tension creased the corners of the man’s eyes, but what more could she say? Nothing made sense. She was a copycat woman in a stranger’s house. She rubbed her forehead. How was this even possible? And where was the real Marseille?
“Wait…” Nicole said, putting words to her thoughts. “If I’m here, is Marseille at my house? Does she look like me?”
The back of her neck prickled. People couldn’t change bodies. That was too horrible and creepy, like a bad episode of Outer Limits.
And why would a beautiful woman want to trade with her?
“Something must have affected your memory,” the man murmured, caressing the back of her hand in the most distracting way. Marseille’s mate-to-be clearly didn’t believe she was anyone other than his intended. He brought her hand to his lips, and his breath was warm where he kissed her fingers. “Perhaps an infected prey.”
Oh, hell no. She could not have heard him correctly. “Excuse me. Did you say ‘infected prey’?”
“The deer you killed last weekend was acting strange. Possibly suffering from chronic wasting disease, but you were gorging on it before I had a chance to—”
She yanked her hand from his, her stomach lurching. “What? Get away from me!”
Jumping to her feet, she grabbed the bedsheet, wanting something, anything, between them. The sheet ripped, and she stared at the shreds of satin now slipping through her fingers. Long, deadly claws extended from her fingertips.
Oh God. Oh God. Oh God.
Blood rushed through her ears. Heart pounding, she didn’t move a muscle until the claws retracted, disappearing beneath a set of sheaths. Perfectly manicured fingernails once again adorned the tips of her fingers.
“Marseille isn’t human?” Nicole asked weakly.
“No, we are not human.” A cryptic quirk played across his lips as he rose to his feet.
Every fiber of her being told her to run, scream, jump out the window. But instead, she simply stood there as short tawny fur erupted over his golden skin, his eyes took on a yellow cast, his well-defined cheekbones lengthened, and prominent canines flashed when his lips parted.
His ears, now rounded like a lion’s, were near the top of his head. Lethal feline claws extended from his fingers, but his body hadn’t changed, at least not in any way she could discern. He was still more human than animal.
For some inexplicable reason, she took a step toward him, mesmerized by his beauty and some unknown, untamed power.
Then the leonine traits vanished, and he shook his hair out of his eyes.
He met her gaze, earnest. “Now do you remember who you are?”
With a shake of her head, she gulped, the spell broken, positive she’d remember being able to turn into a cat woman. Not an ability one would forget. She fought for an explanation to help make sense of what she had witnessed, but her addled brain could only come up with werewolf. Half man, half beast. Not exactly a comforting comparison.
He placed his hands on her shoulders. “You’re Marseille Renaud from Quebec. Your parents are from France. You don’t remember your own life?”
Nicole exhaled forcefully. “I am not Marseille Renaud. Anyway, who names their kid Marseille?”
He laughed, and she couldn’t help noticing his off-kilter smile. Sexily off-kilter. The sort of smile that made her knees weak. She groaned inside. Completely inappropriate given the circumstances, but at least it kept her mind from worrying whether he’d take a bite out of her.
“You were named after the city.” His expression sobered, and his gaze grew intent. “Marsi, we chose each other. Of all the potentials I met, you were my favorite. You joined me here and now work in the art gallery downtown.”
“Potentials? What are… Never mind. Do you have a phone?”
Except who would she call? Her parents would flip out if she even tried to explain the situation, and her dear Asperger’s brother never answered his phone. Plus, he didn’t even live in Wisconsin. Then again, were they even in Wisconsin?
“Name is Sander Evans, by the way.” He pulled a cell phone from his jeans pocket, handed it to her, and smiled again; shy, or perhaps placating, as if concerned she might go off the deep end at any moment. A more than valid concern.
She accepted the phone and tapped in Jeff’s number. After several rings, he answered with an unintelligible grunt.
“Jeff,” she began, then realized he wouldn’t recognize her voice. “Jeff, this is Nicole Abramson. I know I don’t sound like me, but you need to believe it’s me.”
“Who is this?” His voice was gruffer than usual. “My girlfriend’s right here. Is this a prank?”
Nicole closed her eyes for a moment. No explanation would sound sane. “Jeff, I know this sounds crazy, but somehow, I ended up in another woman’s body. Don’t ask me how. But I’m standing here and believe me, it’s true.”
When he didn’t respond, she pressed on. “Please, Jeffrey, ask the woman with you for details only your girlfriend would know. Ask her about your brother Dave and his run-in with the cops, or the trip we took to Mexico. I’m Nicole, not her.”
Met with silence, Nicole chewed on a thumbnail. “Hey, Jeff, are you still there?”
“I am Nicole Abramson,” said a woman on the phone. “There’s no reason for you to call this number again.”
Nicole’s heart skipped a beat. She never realized her own voice could sound so cold. “No. I am Nicole Abramson. Is this Marseille?”
The woman coughed but didn’t reply. In the background, Jeff asked who the nut job was on the phone.
“What about your mate?” Nicole demanded. “Don’t you care how he feels right now?”
She glanced at Sander pacing the room, rubbing the back of his neck. He grabbed the phone from Nicole and spoke rapidly in French, then paused. Nicole overheard Marseille respond in English. The woman was smart.
Lips pressed thin, he snapped the cell phone shut. “Intended mate,” he corrected as he strode to the bedroom door. “Wait here.”
Dazed, she sank onto the bed, her only hope that none of this was real. Maybe she was lying in a hospital bed, deep in a coma, and this was some twisted, coma-induced dream. Yes, yes. A coma would be good.
She stared at the bedroom door, an ache settling in her chest.
Because that would be a helluva lot better than being trapped in another woman’s body—a woman who wasn’t even human.