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Shadow (New Species #9)

By:Laurann Dohner

Shadow (New Species #9)
New Species series
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Prologue
Freedom
She wouldn’t be called Mud any longer. Beauty. She silently repeated the new name the woman had given her, determined to remember to answer to Beauty instead of Mud. That distraction helped her battle the confusion and deep shock she had suffered after being led out of her cage by the woman named Jessie. The chains were gone and she’d overheard her rescuers say her guards had been killed during the fight to free her.
Beauty would have stumbled but a firm arm around her waist helped steady her as they walked through the well-lit house. Jessie swore she was taking her somewhere safe, to others like her who had been locked away. The concept of such a thing seemed completely unreal. It had to be a lie, some kind of mean game of cruelty. Beauty glanced around and spotted the blood on the floor, which she could smell. Evidence that her guards were really dead.
A sense of hope filled her that the redheaded woman might be telling the truth. She would be free from Master. The promise of being able to see sunlight again seemed impossible. She only had dim memories of the rare times she’d been allowed outside.
Stars dotted the sky and a partial moon hung to her right. Fresh, wonderful air filled her lungs, and joy struck. I’m outside! She nearly tripped on her own feet, her body weak from lack of food, but the woman hugged her tighter to her side. A big man called Trey kept silently at their side, but she refused to look at his face. She could feel his glances but she tried to hide her fear. He hadn’t tried to touch her.
A large black thing with wheels waited close to the door. She balked a little but Jessie kept urging her forward. “That’s what will take us from here and then we’re going to do something really exciting. We’re going to fly in the sky to get you some medical help and you’re going to meet your family. They are going to be so happy to see you.”
“You won’t leave me?” Beauty was terrified the woman would abandon her to the group of men.
“No, honey. I’m going to hold your hand the entire time.” Jessie smiled. “I’m not going to let anything happen to you.”
The seat was soft and comfortable in the big box. Beauty wasn’t sure about the belt that Jessie tightened around her body but she didn’t fight. It was supposed to be for her safety and she was just happy not to be shoved into the back, inside the hole with no light. That’s how they’d moved her to the house.
“I’ll sit right next to you and Trey here is going to drive us. He’s a very nice person.” Jessie checked the belt, leaned over to push Beauty’s hair behind her ear and smiled again. “He’s a good friend of mine and you can trust him too.” 
She met Jessie’s gaze and her really bright, red hair shone in the lights from the big house. Her features were nice, pleasant. A sense of peace filled Beauty. She trusted this woman. She wasn’t sure why but she did.
“Everything is going to be fine, Beauty. I—” Jessie jerked once violently where she stood and her mouth opened. The sheer pain reflecting on her face sent terror through Beauty. She screamed, not sure what else to do. Jessie’s blue eyes widened before she suddenly threw her body into the vehicle. The impact knocked Beauty over on the seat.
“Sniper!” Trey shouted the warning.
“I’ve got you,” Jessie promised, her arms hugging Beauty tightly until she jerked again, her tense body becoming limp.
Beauty shrieked, too gripped with fright to do anything else. Jessie wasn’t moving. The smell of blood pierced her panic but she knew it wasn’t her own.
The box they were in shook, swayed, and the door closed. Another one opened above her head and hands dug between her body and Jessie’s. The weight gently eased and she halted her screams. She opened her eyes and watched as another man dragged Jessie off her body. They disappeared to the ground but another big man suddenly launched through the opening. He slammed the door and climbed over the seat in front, hunching down.
“The glass will protect us,” he panted, out of breath. “It’s going to be okay, Beauty.” He withdrew a weapon. “I’m Shane. Nothing is going to hurt you. Just stay down.”
The door in the front opened suddenly and another man leaned in. “The sniper is from the east. He can’t nail this side. Hand her over.” The one who spoke was older than the rest but not as wrinkled as Master. He was the one who’d dragged Jessie off her body.
“She’s safer here,” Shane argued. “I’ve got her, Tim. Take care of Jessie. How bad is she?”
“Bad. Trey is assessing her.” The door closed as the older man disappeared.
That left Beauty alone with Shane. Her terrified gaze met his where he crouched in the front seat.
“Stay down,” he ordered again softly.
Soft dings sounded and he cursed, suddenly climbing over the seat into the back with her. She shrieked when he grabbed the other side of the seat behind her, hanging his upper body over the top of hers. Only inches separated them and she felt trapped. She gasped in air to scream again but he released the seat to clamp a big hand over her mouth. It silenced her and her heart felt as if it would explode as his face drew closer.
“Damn it,” he rasped. “Don’t look at me that way.” He threw a leg over the seat to climb closer. “I’m not attacking. I’m trying to protect you. I want my body between you and a bullet. You need to stop screaming, okay? I’m afraid the sniper can hear it and he’s not going to stop firing until you’re dead. Can you be quiet?”
She fought the panic and nodded. The hand eased away from her mouth. She stared at him with fear as his big body crowded her. He got on the seat with her and a heavy thigh wedged between her leg and the seat. He wiggled an arm under her too and braced his body to hold his weight to avoid crushing her down.
“I’m just using my body to cover yours,” he assured her. “That’s all. I’m not sure what kind of rounds the sniper has but it’s better to be safe than sorry. All he’s managed to do so far is blow out the side mirrors and the tires. By now he has to realize he’s not breaching the SUV and could be reloading with armor-piercing ones. I’d rather a bullet strike me than you.”Surprise made her study his eyes. She didn’t see cruelty inside them—they were really kind. Her fear eased somewhat, allowing her to breathe normally, and his scent filled her nose with each breath. He smelled clean and nice, even pleasant. The warmth of his big body seeped through his clothing and some of the coldness that gripped her faded.
“They’ll find the sniper and take him out. It’s going to be fine.” He looked away from her to peer over her head through the glass. “Tim? Is Jessie breathing? Is she alive?”
She realized he spoke to someone else and had to have one of those ear listening devices that Jessie had shown her. He closed his eyes and hung his head, until his lips almost brushed hers. It made Beauty tense. He softly cursed.
“Understood. Thank God she’s breathing but that’s bad. Fuck. How did this happen? The victim is secure. Traumatized as hell though. I’m on top of her to keep her down but she’s not hit.”
His eyes opened and he stared intently into her eyes. He adjusted his upper weight to rest on his elbows and one big hand touched the side of her face. She allowed him to turn it a little as his thumb brushed her cheek gently.
“It’s okay, honey. Easy. You look so terrified but you’re safe with me. Does your face hurt? You’ve got a little cut. I think Jessie nailed you with her fingernail when she landed on top of you.”
She wasn’t aware of the injury but it didn’t surprise her. Everything had happened so fast and she knew she was too stunned to register it all. His thumb paused and she turned her head enough to meet his gaze again. He looked at her with an expression she’d never seen before and it was kind of nice.
“I’d never hurt you. I’m nothing like the assholes who kept you in captivity. Do you know what my job is? I find ones like you and take them home. You are going to be happy from now on. No more chains, cages or pain.” His voice deepened. “I would die for you.”
Warmth spread further than just her skin. It seemed to radiate inside her chest at his words. He meant them and for some incredible reason she believed him. All her fear faded and she curled her hands to grip his strange-textured shirt.
“Easy, Beauty,” he rasped. “Don’t scratch me up. I’m your friend.”
“I—” She closed her mouth, worried he’d get angry if she spoke without permission.
“You what? Talk to me.”
No rage darkened his features or flashed in his compelling stare. It encouraged her to speak again. “You want me to be nice to you?”
“Yes.” He smiled. “We’re friends.” He grew serious. “I’ll kill anyone who comes after you. I’m here and you’re totally safe with me. The team has secured the immediate area. They will find that sniper and take him out. No one is going to get close to us.” 
He wants to protect me. He’ll kill others if they try to hurt me. The astonishment that flooded her made thinking difficult. His clean, wonderful scent was really nice, his body scary big and bulky, but she didn’t fear him. He was careful not to crush her under him, had touched her with gentle brushes of his skin against hers. He’d be a kind master.

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