CHAPTER ONE


A shadow passed overhead momentarily blotting out the warm sun. Lynn Regis shivered as something primal inside of her urged her to run. She ducked instead, then planted her feet on the craggy rocks and tilted her head, squinting against the sunlight. Like debris caught in a whirlpool, two enormous raptors circled above her on a sea of blue, dropping lower and lower until she could see the white ‘V’ of their feathers clearly beneath their wings. Relief flooded her and tears of joy misted her vision.

Her condors were alive—and safe. After a day and a half of hiking in the Grand Canyon, searching the skies, she’d finally found them.

Even from this distance the birds looked huge. Throwbacks from another age when man lived in caves and feared anything larger than himself. The raise and release program had gone better than expected. Her pair of condors looked to have bonded, which meant her job here was almost done.

Lynn watched them climb, using thermal updrafts. One soared toward what looked to be a small cave in the ridge of the cliff and disappeared. At least she thought it was a cave, but from this distance it could very well be an indented ledge, since condors could roost in relatively small spaces, despite their large size.

The only way Lynn could be sure the spot they’d picked would be safe for any future hatchlings was to climb up there and check it out. She stared at the side of the canyon wall, craning her neck to see the top of the ridge. From this depth and angle, she couldn’t immediately spot it.

She glanced at her watch, then checked the angle of the sun. There was no way she’d start the climb in the afternoon. It would take her hours just to reach a spot safe enough to ascend. Hours that would eat the last remaining rays of sunlight. Shadows already clamored along the burnt orange and beige canyon walls and it was barely past two. Soon Lynn wouldn’t be able to see her hand in front of her face, much less two black raptors.

The terrain in the canyon’s belly was dangerous in the daylight. At night it could be lethal. Several people had disappeared in the Grand Canyon National Park never to be seen again. So many so, that there was actually a book detailing their deaths and disappearances. Fascinating reading, but hardly comforting when she was trekking on her own.

Lynn pulled her backpack off and dropped it onto the rocks. She had enough provisions to last for several days, along with a sturdy tent, small cook stove, solar lanterns and a sleeping bag. She could afford to wait until the morning to find a safe place to climb. The condors weren’t going anywhere. Not tonight anyway.

She stared at the bird’s nine-foot wingspan and grinned as it followed its mate into their new roost. With the help of conservationists and ornithologists like her, this proud species of raptor just might have a chance at survival. Lynn took out her journal and noted the location of the small cave in the distance, then prepared for the coming darkness.

An hour later, she’d erected the tent and set up camp. A land of extremes, the desert could be scorching hot in the daytime and freezing at night, depending on the time of year and the location. If a person wasn’t prepared, they could easily die of exposure and dehydration.

Sweat dripped from Lynn’s forehead and ran along her jaw. She gazed longingly at the Colorado River flowing thirty feet away. She hadn’t thought to bring a swimsuit, since she had not anticipated it taking so long to find the condors.

The idea of submerging herself in the greenish-brown waters nearly had her salivating. It might not be ideal, but at least it would be cool. And would certainly do until tomorrow, when she’d reach her favorite campsite in the heart of wild country.

Lynn flicked her gaze up river and didn’t immediately spot any rafters floating down. It was late and they should’ve all set up camp by now, but there could always be stragglers. She bit her lower lip. Could she risk stripping down long enough to wash the sweat off?

She glanced down at her dust-covered clothes. Lynn wasn’t ashamed of her body. Far from it. So what if it didn’t exactly conform to what was considered ideal beauty these days. How many women could truly say their bodies did? Confidence aside, that didn’t mean Lynn wanted strangers stumbling upon her naked size sixteen backside, when she bent over to wet her hair. She did have a modicum of modesty after all.

Despite reservations, she walked forward and trailed her fingers through the current. Ribbons of cool water feathered in their wake. Lynn checked one last time to ensure her privacy, then quickly stripped out of her hiking clothes and plunged into river before she could change her mind.

She yelped as the brisk flow licked over her ample curves, crinkling her nipples and stroking her generous thighs. God, it felt so good.  She could stay here for hours, floating in the shallows. Lynn closed her eyes and quietly bobbed on the surface, letting the sun kiss her upturned face.

A breeze whipped through the Canyon, sending a chill through her, making her teeth chatter. Maybe the water was colder than she’d initially thought. Gooseflesh rose on her skin. With it came an unexpected surge of awareness.

Lynn sat up and looked around, suddenly painfully aware of her nudity and isolation. There wasn’t another human in sight. So why was her heart racing?

She shook off the feeling of being watched and ducked her head below the surface. Lynn knew she was alone. She’d checked twice. It was only paranoia…or perhaps wishful thinking on her part. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to share your life with someone, she told herself. Of course, the chances of them wandering into the Canyon to say, ‘Here I am’ were pretty slim to none. Stuff like that only happened in books and movies, never in real life. And certainly never to her.

Lynn held her breath for as long as she could, watching bubbles float to the surface, then came up sputtering. Her long brown hair clung to her back and lovingly curled around her large breasts, accentuating her pale skin.

The feeling of being watched had dissipated somewhat, but hadn’t completely gone away. As much as she wanted to stay in the water, Lynn couldn’t ignore her instincts any longer. She rose, paying no heed to the sensual caress of rivulets trickling over her bare flesh.

Lynn resisted the urge to brush the droplets away. She was afraid if she touched herself at that moment it would only make the ache inside her worse, since it had been months since she’d had a lover.

How many times had she promised to work less and make more of an effort to date? Too many to count.

“This time I really mean it,” she muttered, knowing that in all likelihood the promise would fall by the wayside much like her New Year’s resolutions to lose weight. It wasn’t like she had time to worry about such things now anyhow. Lynn had come here to do a job. The sooner she focused on finishing it, the better.

She waited a few more seconds, allowing the air to dry her, since she didn’t have a towel. The gentle juniper-scented breeze brushed through her wet hair, causing her skin to prickle. Lynn spread her arms and slowly turned in a circle, soaking in the sunshine.

The feeling of being watched returned.

Lynn’s body tensed. She opened her eyes, half expecting to see someone standing in front of her. The sensation of being observed was stronger this time, sweeping over her skin, leaving scorch marks behind.

Definitely male...

Her gaze darted up and down the river, but she still couldn’t spot anyone. In the Grand Canyon, that didn’t really mean anything. Someone could be watching her with binoculars from up on the ridge. Talk about an unfair advantage. Lynn rushed forward and dove into her tent to get dressed.

* * * * *

Talon stared out the bridge viewport at the blue-green planet below. The ship would continue to orbit Earth, while teams of Phantom Warriors were dispatched to the surface to find mates. Nerves tightened his stomach, twisting his gut into a Zaronian stew. Soon it would be his turn to venture onto the planet.

Already several Phantom Warriors had returned empty-handed. Talon forced his mind away from the possibility that he, too would return mateless and focused instead on having a successful hunt like Bacchus and Kegar.

Those two warriors had already returned to Zaron with their new mates in tow. The men had received a hero’s welcome for bringing hope to the Phantom people. Although hesitant, the women had done their best to settle into Phantom society. Their acclimation and acceptance had been helped by the fact that both warriors had successfully passed their genetics onto the women.

Even the most cynical of the Phantoms had been unable to deny the truth of Bacchus’ and Kegar’s claims, when their mates had shifted form into their respective clans.

Seeing the women change had given the other Phantom Warriors hope for their future. Talon took that newfound hope and turned it into determination the likes of which he’d never experienced before. He wasn’t about to blow his allotted three days on Earth and come back alone. If his commanding officers could find mates in a matter of days, then so could he.

He glanced at the map of the world and his two hearts sank. Though smaller than Zaron, Earth was still substantial in size. Talon had no idea where to begin his hunt for a mate.

Being part of the Wing Clan meant he’d need a lot of space to roam. He needed to test the thermals in the alien atmosphere before narrowing down his hunting grounds. Talon didn’t want people in the cities spotting him, when in his other form. At least not at first. That meant he had to go somewhere remote. But where?

He pressed a button on the bridge and the map of the planet grew larger and more detailed. It may take several trips to cover it all. Perhaps he was being a little overoptimistic about finding his mate the first time around. It might take several trips to the planet to succeed.

No! He shook his head. He couldn’t think that way. He would find a mate. And not just any mate. Talon was determined to find his truemate. He might be desperate, but he wasn’t so desperate that he’d attach himself to just any female. He was looking for something different, someonedifferent.

He scanned the map, staring at the illuminated sections that indicated dense populations. There were so many places that had been conquered on this planet, leaving very few wild spaces untouched.

Talon pressed another button and the heavily populated areas disappeared. That elimination should help narrow his search some, but not enough. He glared at the map. He needed a place where he wouldn’t readily stand out. Talon walked to a console and hit a separate screen. With a few deft strokes, he brought up the list he’d been searching for.

There were several species of raptor on Earth. None near his size in his other form, but a few like the Wandering Albatross and the Andean Condor were close enough…if viewed from far away. Despite their low numbers, Talon chose to go with the condor, since they were closer in coloring to his other form. He hit a few more buttons and the locations of these giant birds appeared. There weren’t nearly as many as there should be, but several held the remoteness he needed.

Now all he had to do was choose.

Such a simple task for something that posed such great personal risk. Not that Talon feared for his safety. He was a Phantom Warrior after all, but he couldn’t exactly convince a woman to mate with him if she was terrified of him. He sent out probes to take images of the areas. It would only take a few seconds to receive the information he needed.

When the first images appeared, Talon quickly ruled out the California locations. The state was far too heavily populated for his needs. He moved onto the pictures of Baja, which seemed promising, before finally settling on the Vermilion Cliffs in Arizona. The vast expanse called to something deep inside of him. The cliffs were located near a place known as the Grand Canyon.

Intrigued, Talon pressed a point on the map and the probe zoomed in, sending back even more images. His breath caught in his lungs as the craggy geography came into view.

The area was beautiful. Perfect for soaring on thermals and testing the atmosphere. He touched the map again and it took him into the depths of the canyon down to the swirling water below. He scanned the canyon for condors and found two, making lazy circles above a pale object on the ground.

Perhaps they’d spotted their next meal? Seemed likely since condors were expert scavengers. He wondered what had the birds so fascinated.

Talon hit another button and the probe zoomed in on the image. That’s when he saw her. Naked. Wet. And mouthwateringly lush. Rising like a goddess from the abyss. Every muscle in his body shot to attention.  Talon’s breathing deepened as he gazed at her long brown hair and full figure. He couldn’t seem to swallow as his flight suit suddenly constricted, choking off his air supply.

The skin on Talon’s neck and shoulders tightened as the changethreatened to overpower him. It was a good thing he couldn’t smell her or he’d probably end up embarrassing himself in front of the other warriors, wandering the nearby corridors.

They’d never let him live a slip up like that down. Only a child couldn’t control the change and he was far from being a child. Talon glanced around to make sure he was alone. It had been years since a woman had forced a change upon his body. So long in fact, that he couldn’t recall the last time—if ever it had occurred.


He reached out and touched the viewer screen, stroking a finger down the woman’s tempting image. Talon watched her pale nipples pucker and firm, as if she’d truly felt his touch. Was it a sign from the Goddess?

His gaze traveled longingly over her luscious curves. The hair between her thighs matched the color on her head. He wondered if they’d be of equal softness. His mouth watered at the thought of tasting her, running his tongue along her moist seam.

Talon couldn’t stop himself from touching her image again. The woman glanced around and shivered, then rushed forward into some kind of dwelling. He jerked as hundreds of years of instincts urged him to take chase.

“Mine,” he growled.

The flap of the dwelling closed behind her, concealing her gorgeous form. Disappointment flooded him, along with a stronger, more dominant emotion. The woman might be able to hide for now, but she wouldn’t be able to hide from him for long. Talon marked the spot on the map, then shut down the image, his purpose clear.

He now knew exactly where he needed to go and what he was looking for. He’d find her with or without the map. Once Talon did, there would be no place she could run where he wouldn’t follow. His cock hardened at the thought. It was only a matter of time before he claimed what was rightfully his.

Someone cleared their throat behind him. “Commander?”

Talon stiffened at the sound of the deep voice and slowly turned. He hid his embarrassment behind a mask of open hostility. Given his raging emotions, it was easy enough to do. He’d been so wrapped up in the woman that Talon hadn’t heard the young warrior approach.

“How long have you been standing there, Arctos?” he asked, his voice deadly still. Talon didn’t care that the question gave away the fact that he’d let his guard down. He was operating on pure instinct now.

The junior officer flushed, then lowered his head, sending silvery white hair into his face. His flight suit barely contained his broad shoulders and massive bulk. “Not long,” he murmured.

The lie hung between them, adding mass to the silence. The urge to gouge out the young warrior’s eyes with his talons was strong. If he didn’t know for a fact that Arctos was from the Tooth Clan, Talon would’ve acted upon those urges. But Arctos was, which meant that the man could shift into a creature that bore both the characteristics of a bear and a wolf, becoming much more than the nightmarish creation human legend spoke of. Of course, he’d probably stick with his bear form, when he hunted for a mate.

Talon glanced at Arctos’ hands. Deadly claws had already sprung from his fingertips. It wasn’t so much a direct challenge as an indication that Arctos had difficulty controlling his emotions. Talon was pretty sure he could take the young recruit in combat, but it wouldn’t be an easy victory or a painless one.

The last thing he wanted was to appear bloodied and tattered when he presented himself to his potential mate. It was for that reason, and that reason only, that Talon dismissed Arctos’ imprudence.

“I suggest you retract your claws…unless you plan to use them. Now what is it?” Talon barked. “You know I’m scheduled to depart shortly. I don’t have time to settle another dispute.”

If that were why he was here, then Arctos would make the third warrior today to present a case of misconduct. Mating always brought out the aggressive side of Phantom Warriors. Talon had broken up more fights since they’d arrived on Earth than he had in the entire previous year on Zaron.

As time passed, the aggression only got worse. If it continued at this rate, there’d be no choice, but to send some of the men back. Talon didn’t want to be the one who gave that order or chose who got to stay and who had to go.

Sensing the danger, Arctos dropped into a quick bow. “Forgive me for the intrusion. I come with news that I am to accompany you on your journey to the planet. My name was chosen.”

Talon stilled. He wasn’t prepared to take a traveling companion. If anything, that would make his hunt for a mate more difficult. Phantom Warriors were territorial by nature. If they remained in the same area around an available female, blood would spill. Deaths, though rare, were known to happen.

“I think there’s been a mistake,” Talon said quietly.

Arctos’ red gaze met his. “No mistake, sir. Orders have come down from Commander Bacchus.”

“I cannot allow you near the female that I have chosen to…investigate.” Talon’s muscles tensed as his body prepared for battle.

Arctos’ lips twitched. “I believe you misunderstand me. I am to travel with you down to the Earth’s surface. From there, I will head north to a place called Alaska. I believe one of the women said it was a state. Whatever that means. I have located the land mass on the map.” He pressed a button on the console and a snowy image popped onto the screen.

“I see,” Talon said.

“It is too warm for me to exist comfortably in anything above fifty degrees,” Arctos added quickly.

Talon kept his expression blank. He knew the young officer had told him the latter to reassure him. What Arctos didn’t know was that Talon didn’t needreassurance. He would fight any man to the death, be they Phantom Warrior, Atlantean, or human, until he could discern whether this woman would turn out to be his match in every way. Deep down in his gut, Talon knew she was already. He’d seen how her body reacted and he hadn’t even touched her yet.

He let a fraction of his power rise to the surface until he felt his eyes glow, too. The skin along Talon’s shoulders, neck and back began to burn as his wings pushed to be released.

Arctos took a step back, his claws lengthening as he did so. “I meant no disrespect, Commander.”

Talon took a deep soothing breath and forced his muscles to relax. If he attacked an underling, then he was no better than the rest of his squabbling men. His jaw clenched and his body shook as he fought for control. “I will see you in the departure bay,” he gritted out between clenched teeth. “Dismissed.”

Arctos nodded, but didn’t turn around to leave. Instead, he backed out of the room.

Smart warrior,Talon thought. He shook off the last of his power, forcing it once more inside his body. The appearance of the female was already messing with his rigid self-control. What would it be like when he finally stood before her? A shiver of anticipation trickled along his spine and Talon grinned in anticipation. He couldn’t wait to find out.





                                                                                   CHAPTER TWO


Lynn woke to the sound of splashing coming from the nearby river. She poked her head out of her tent and spotted three rafts going by filled to the brim with sunburned tourists. The people waved and raised their beers in salute. She glanced at her watch. It was barely past six thirty in the morning. Talk about a ‘Breakfast of Champions’. Lynn gave them a half smile, then slipped back inside her tent. She needed coffee…bad.

It didn’t take her long to dress. Lynn hurried into her shorts and slipped on her windbreaker. The sun hadn’t touched the bottom of the canyon yet, so the air still held a faint chill. Okay, more than faint. It was downright nippy. She primed her small cook stove, then poured some water from her canteen into a pan to boil. The smell of fresh brewed coffee filled the air a few minutes later.

While she sipped at her first cup, Lynn scanned the sky for her condor pair, but didn’t immediately spot them. They were probably out hunting for breakfast. Her stomach growled, reminding her that she needed something to eat, too. She dug into her backpack and pulled out a couple of energy bars. They would do until lunch.

Lynn devoured them while she savored the hot smoky taste of coffee. She watched the sun’s long red fingers slowly creep along the rock. If she were going to make it to the condor-nesting site, she’d have to start now. She sighed, not looking forward to packing up camp and the hike ahead.

Talon watched the woman from the canyon’s rim. She looked tiny from this distance, but he could tell that she was preparing to leave. Fear spiked through him. It was quickly followed by determination. She would not get away so easily. At least not until he’d gotten the answer to the question he’d come all this way for.

The warm air caressed his face, sending his dark hair into his eyes. Talon reached inside a pouch for a tie to secure it, then glanced around to ensure he was alone. Reptilian creatures scurried nearby. A few hawks circled lazily overhead. He caught the soft footfalls and musky scent of a large predator cat, but no sign of any other humans.

Satisfied, Talon took off running and leapt into the air, shifting as he did so. It was time to hunt his prey.

* * * * *

Lynn had been hiking for over three hours and didn’t seem to be any closer to the bonded pair. They had looked so much closer yesterday when she’d first spotted them. She’d set up camp at her favorite spot. Her tent looked like a small red speck next to the glistening aqua blue water from this distance.

She stared up at the canyon wall calculating how much farther she had to go before her hike turned into a full on climb. Lynn had brought the right harnesses and enough rope, but despite her love of all things winged, she wasn’t much for heights.

In fact, being up high without more than a safety harness scared her silly. But Lynn had learned to conquer her fears. Okay, maybe not conquer, but she’d certainly gotten to the point where she no longer froze and that was saying a lot given where she’d started. Soon it wouldn’t matter. Fieldwork would be a thing of the past.

The next generation of researchers preferred to track the birds by computer program. It allowed them to follow their progress without disturbing the birds’ nesting sites. At the ripe old age of thirty-two, Lynn, with her boots on the ground approach, was as close as she cared to get to being deemed obsolete.

A dark shadow passed overhead, pulling her out of her maudlin thoughts. Lynn shaded her eyes and saw one of the condors soar by not even twenty feet away. The bird circled back, riding the thermals to check to see if she was a predator. She’d needed proof before, but this confirmed her suspicions. The birds were definitely roosting together. Now all she needed to know was had they mated and managed to lay any eggs yet?

Lynn looked at the cliff face. There was only one way to find out. She pulled out her climbing shoes and helmet, then stepped into her safety harness. She slipped the strap holding her spring-loaded cams, nuts, and quickdraws over her head before grabbing her dynamic and static ropes, then started the long climb.

It took four hours to reach the nesting site. Drenched in sweat and exhausted, Lynn took off her sunglasses and peered into the large nest and spotted one lone egg. It wasn’t much, but at least it was a start. Would’ve been better if it were two, but success was success, especially when it came to bringing a creature back from the verge of extinction.

Lynn made sure not to touch anything on or around the nest as she took out her smartphone to document the find. She had just taken her last picture when a dark shadow blotted out the sun.

She twisted around in her harness in time to see a large bird streak across the sky. Scratch large. Make that humongous bird. She’d assumed by the cast of its shadow it had flown right over her head, but it had been at least thirty feet above her. Lynn squinted, trying to get a better look at the massive raptor, but it was gone as quickly as it had appeared. She’d never seen a birdfly so fast.

Lynn glanced back at the small—by comparison—egg. Her stomach twisted. She didn’t like the idea of another predator so close to her mated pair. Especially since she hadn’t been able to identify the species yet. She scanned the sky, searching for the large bird, but it was as if it had disappeared in mid-air. Which of course was impossible.

She knew better than anyone that there weren’t raptors biggerthan the ones she’d released in the Canyon—at least not in the area. And she was darn sure that a Wandering Albatross hadn’t gotten lost this far inland. She pinched the bridge of her nose, then put her sunglasses back on. Maybe she’d been in the sun too long. It had probably just been the mama condor checking to make sure that her nest was undisturbed.

Yeah, that had to be it.

Lynn made a few more notes before beginning her descent. It would be almost dark by the time she hiked back to camp. She knew she’d have to be extra careful if she didn’t want to end up as another statistic.

Talon’s heart swelled as he soared out of sight and faded into the clear sky. The woman was even more beautiful in person than she’d appeared in the viewer. He knew it wasn’t smart to get so close, but he’d been unable to resist the temptation of her clinging to the cliff face.

Though he still didn’t understand why she’d been perched so high up, dangling by a thread. As far as he could tell, humans didn’t have wings. One sharp tug and she could have plunged to her death. The thought chilled him. He wouldn’t have allowed that. Couldn’t have. Even if it meant exposing what he was before it was time.

 He recalled her upturned face and warmth blossomed inside him. Her dark lashes had accentuated her wide green eyes and fully kissable lips. She’d tied her long hair back, but Talon had been able to detect its shine despite her attempts to conceal it beneath a helmet. He wondered if her hair would be as soft as Zaronian silk when it flowed over his chest. He shivered in anticipation of fisting the long locks in his hands as he rode her lush body.

The woman wasn’t small like Queen Rachel of Zaron, but then again, Talon never cared for tiny women. He wanted a woman he could hold onto, one who cradled him against her rounded body. One who was sturdy enough to care for their young, yet soft to the touch. He wanted a woman whose breasts spilled out of his hands, whose nipples were the size of flower blossoms.

Talon’s mouth watered at the thought and he licked his lips in anticipation. He could almost taste her sweetness and he hadn’t even touched her yet. He sighed. It had been next to impossible to find one such as she on Zaron, where the women tended to be overly tall and built like warriors.

He had nothing against warrior women. He respected their strength and had lain with his fair share, but that didn’t change the fact that he just wanted to come back to his dwelling and be embraced by a soft plushness that only came from someone with ample curves. He glanced down at the ridges of muscle packing his frame. His body would be hard enough for them both.

Talon was smart enough to never confuse softness with weakness. Any mate of his would never be weak. Could never be weak. His demands were too great. He was not a selfish lover. Far from it. But he was aggressive. Aggressive enough to know that he wanted a partnership, not a simpering female who could not care for herself.

That said, Talon knew he wouldn’t mind having someone to care for. He wanted someone to call his own. Someone to want him as much as he yearned for them.

From what he’d seen of the woman, she was more than capable of taking care of herself. After all, she’d come into this wilderness without an escort and had managed to climb halfway up the cliff face on her own.

As far as he could tell, the only thing missing were her wings. If things went as he planned, she wouldn’t be missing those for long. Talon grinned and began to formulate how to meet his destiny.

* * * * *

Lynn was shivering by the time her tent came into view. She couldn’t believe how low the temperature had dropped since the sun disappeared. Most people made the mistake of thinking that only the heat could kill you, but exposure to the cold would do just as good a job.

She glanced up ahead at the lone tent pitched by the placid pool of water. All she wanted to do was climb inside and burrow into her sleeping bag, but Lynn knew she needed to hydrate and get something to eat or she’d end up cramping during the night.

Despite strict camping rules forbidding fires below the rim, Lynn dug a hole and built a small blaze using driftwood. Warmth exploded in her limbs relaxing her tired muscles for the first time that day. She heated some water, then tucked into a package of instant chicken and rice. Reconstituted food had never tasted so good.

It took thirty minutes for her fingers to stop aching from the climb. She flexed them, then picked up her notepad. She wanted to make sure she had everything down while it was still fresh in her mind. She switched into scientific mode and began to write.

Lynn prided herself on her meticulousness and observations skills, when it came to charting the condors’ progress. She’d spent thirty minutes replaying the moment the unidentified raptor soared over her head, but no matter how many times she envisioned it, Lynn couldn’t recall the white spot that should’ve been there had it been one of her tagged birds.

So if the raptor wasn’t a condor, then what was it?

She ran through her mental Rolodex of all the large birds on the planet, but none seemed to fit. “Maybe if I draw it,” she murmured.

Lynn made a quick sketch of the bird on the paper, then examined her work. If she had to guess, she would say the wingspan had been at least fifteen feet across and the body over six feet long, but how was that possible?

She shook her head. It wasn’t.

Her mind circled back to her original thought. Maybe she hadbeen suffering from heat exhaustion. She’d kept hydrated during the climb, but she’d still been dripping by the time she’d reached the nest. Being overheated was known to cause hallucinations.

Lynn was pretty sure she hadn’t imagined the bird. As a scientist, she’d never had that good of an imagination. But she conceded that she might have imaginedits size. After all, the only creature known to have that kind of wingspan was extinct.

Hey everyone, I saw a dinosaur today. It flew over my head.There was no way she was putting that into any report. As one of the few female ornithologists, it was hard enough to get respect from her peers. She wasn’t about to give them a reason to discount her further.

Lynn polished off her dinner and made a couple more notes, before calling it a night. Tomorrow she’d take another look to see if she could spot the bird and photograph it. She didn’t have a lot of time to look, since she’d only prepped for staying a week and it would take at least two days to hike back out of the canyon. If she hoped to succeed, then she’d need to get an early start.

Talon stared down at the soft glow of the woman’s fire. He dared not get closer for fear his mating instincts would take over. The last thing he wanted to do was shift accidentally and scare her senseless.

He inhaled and looked up at the stars. Somewhere up there, the Phantom Warrior ship circled, cloaked against the primitive radar systems Earth employed. Talon thought about his fellow warriors, waiting for their chance to find their mates.

Many would succeed and many more would fail. He would not be among the failures. His future lay on the canyon floor tucked inside the primitive dwelling. Like those waiting warriors, his days were limited.

He slowly dragged his gaze away. She would be his. There was no other option. Tomorrow Talon would make his move.




                                                                                    CHAPTER THREE


Talon woke to the screech of a hawk as it swooped down to catch a field mouse. He watched life play out before his eyes, reveling in the raptor’s speed and agility. He stood, stretching his muscles from a night spent on the hard earth. It was a very good thing he could regulate his body temperature or he’d have froze to death last night.

He rolled his stiff shoulders and glanced up at the sky once more. He so wanted to take to the thermals and glide over the canyon, but Talon resisted the temptation. Today was the day he’d finally get to meet the woman. Unfortunately, that meant approaching her in hishumanform.

Talon reached into his small sack that contained his meager supplies. He hadn’t intended to stay in the canyon for long. Just long enough to meet the woman and mate. He took out the rations.

Despite their small size, they carried enough nutrients to satisfy his hunger. He popped them in his mouth and grimaced. Too bad they tasted like dirt. He brought out a flask of water to wash the vile food down, then slid it back into his pouch.

It would take at least thirty minutes to reach the woman walking. Less if he flew. But Talon wouldn’t. He couldn’t risk the chance of her spotting him again in bird form. Not yet anyway. He’d scouted the area. Knew the route he needed to take. With any luck he’d reach her campsite before she rose.

Talon tossed the pouch over his shoulder and began his hike. Anticipation rode him hard, making him pick up the pace, despite his determination to approach cautiously. He inhaled as he neared the tempting pool of water, catching the scent of hiswoman for the first time.

His eyes flashed red as need savaged him. He stepped carefully around the water’s edge. He didn’t want to send rocks into the liquid and give his position away. It was important that she didn’t know he was here until just the right moment.

Talon wasn’t altogether sure what that moment would be, but he had no doubt he’d recognize it when it arrived.

The skin on his back began to itch as the beast fought to get out. Talon forced it back in and crouched near the ground, waiting. It wouldn’t be long now. The sun was racing toward the canyon floor. The animals had already started to make their presence known.

The woman’s scent grew stronger as he made his way to a small outcropping of brush. It wasn’t thick enough to conceal him, but then again, he didn’t need such things to hide in plain sight. He was a Phantom Warrior after all, a being capable of bending light to disappear and shifting his molecules until he could pass through solid objects.

He heard shuffling inside the structure and knew it wouldn’t be long now. Talon quickly stripped out of his flight suit and slipped into the lipid pool. The cool water rippled around him as he sank low, leaving only his eyes and nose peeking out.

The woman stepped out of her tent and slowly stretched. She stared longingly at the water, unable to see his faded form. She bit her lip and looked around, then slowly began to strip her clothing off.

Talon couldn’t seem to catch his breath as second after second revealed more pale skin. He had no idea how she’d react once she realized he was in her territory. If she were a warrior, it would be easy to determine. But she wasn’t. She was a luscious gift that the Goddess herself had delivered into his hands and he wasn’t about to refuse her.

It seemed to take an eternity for the woman to finish stripping. By the time she had, Talon’s body bore more resemblance to the canyon wall than it did a man. He closed his eyes and prayed to the Goddess for strength.

The woman dipped her toe into the water, then whipped it back out and sucked in an audible breath. For a moment, Talon feared she’d change her mind, but then suddenly she grinned and raced into pool.

He waited until she broke the surface and pushed her hair out of her face, then he slowly rose like a leviathan from the watery depths.

Lynn nearly swallowed her tongue, as she watched the man surface from the aqua blue water like the god Neptune surveying his kingdom. Droplets clung lovingly to his bare muscled chest, glistening in the sunlight as the water settled around his trim waist. She’d never seen perfection like this up close.

Heat blossomed inside her and her body came alive in an instant, swelling and moistening in equal parts. He moved closer, causing those magnificent muscles to ripple and flex. Lynn’s heart stuttered in her chest. Was she imagining him, too? She closed her eyes and quickly opened them again. Nope, he was still there.

The man swept his dark hair back with a casual brush of his hand, exposing a face that could only have been summoned from some woman’s darkest fantasy. Lynn made a mental note to find her and thank her, whoever she was.

Speechless and more than a little in awe, it took Lynn a moment to stop gaping and remember why his being here was a bad thing. She looked down and yelped, then plunged into the water to cover her nudity. The cool waves lapped at her swollen breasts, causing her to gasp.

“What are you doing here?” she snapped, ignoring the need threatening to overwhelm her.

One dark brow rose. “I could ask you the same thing,” he said in a voice made for late nights, cool sheets, and sinful secrets.

“This is…” She broke off. What could she say? This is my favorite spot and you’re not allowed.Just because not many people came here didn’t make it a private area. It was a public park after all. Lynn frowned. “How long have you been here?” she asked instead. Was it too much to hope that he’d just arrived and she hadn’t put on a striptease in front of him?

Despite her ingrained modesty, the idea of stripping in front of him didn’t seem totally unappealing. In fact, something about him brought out a daring side that had somehow stayed dormant until now. Just her luck.

Lips that were made for kissing canted at her question. “Long enough to enjoy the stunning view,” he said, eyeing her as if she were standing before him naked, not concealed by the water.

Lynn ducked down even further. “You need to leave,” she said.

He grinned then, flashing stark white teeth. “I was here first,” he said, then looked around at the large pool. “Besides, I think the spot is big enough for the both of us. Don’t you?”

She couldn’t fault his reasoning, but this was her spot, darn it.  She didn’t want to share, even if that meant sharing the spot with a man who was too gorgeous to truly exist on this planet. Heck, in this universe. Maybe he really was a god. “Are you an actor or model or something?”

It would be just her luck that she’d get stuck naked with a male model, when she had more than a passing acquaintance with cellulite. Well if that’s what he turned out to be, Lynn felt obligated to downgrade his ‘god’ status.

He laughed. The rich infectious sound rolled over her, and then burrowed deep. “Is that your way of telling me that you find my appearance pleasing?” he asked, practically preening under her regard.

She winced when she realized that she’d unwittingly fed his already healthy ego. Despite his false modesty, Lynn had no doubt he was used to being ogled or at least stared at all the time. She, on the other hand, wasn’t. “Do you mind turning around?” She twirled her finger in a circle for emphasis.

His gaze sharpened. “Why?” he asked.

“Because I’m not exactly dressed for company,” she said in exasperation.

Something feral flashed in his unusual colored eyes. The blue appeared to be ringed with red, which was odd...and quite possibly a trick of the light. Lynn scrubbed the water out of her face and looked again. The color didn’t change, if anything it seemed brighter.

“I don’t mind.” He took a step closer and all thoughts about eye color fled from her brain.

Lynn frowned. “You may not, but I do,” she said, crossing her arms over her large breasts.

The man shrugged casually, then said, “From what I saw, you have nothing to be ashamed of.” He all but purred his response.

Lynn’s body flushed with warmth and she blinked. Was he flirting with her? Men that looked like him neverflirted with her. Her first thought was to dismiss him outright, but what if hewasreally flirting with her? Would that be so bad?

She’d never been the type of woman who went for casual connections. Up until this moment, that hadn’t been much of a concern, since men weren’t exactly beating down her door. Sure, she’d taken care of her ‘needs’ when they’d cropped up, but she didn’t jump into anything lightly. It just wasn’t in her nature. She preferred to analyze, deduct, then once all the data was in—act.

Look where that’s gotten you?The pesky voice in her head whispered.

Maybe it was time to shake things up. Lynn stared at the man. He’d moved closer while she’d been contemplating what to do. Could she act without thoroughly examining the situation? More importantly shouldshe?

“Don’t come any closer.” She held out her hand. The man stopped instantly.

“I will not harm you, I swear it.” Gone was all the flirty humor that had been there before. He seemed genuinely hurt that the thought of harm had even crossed her mind.

Something inside Lynn melted. Maybe he wasn’t quite as secure and egotistical as she’d first imagined.

“You never answered my question,” she said.

He visibly relaxed, causing the muscles in his abdomen to ripple enticingly. “What question was that?”

“What are you doing here?” she asked.

He tilted his head. “I wanted to spend time at my favorite spot in the canyon.” He spread his arms wide, giving her an eyeful of his extraordinary biceps. “This is it.”

Lynn swallowed hard. She watched a lone drop of water snake between his pecs and slowly make a beeline down the slight indent that bisected his perfect stomach. It disappeared into his nearly invisible navel. Lynn had the sudden urge to dip her tongue inside and taste that drop. Would it be salty like his skin or would it taste like the man?

“Okay.” Not the brightest response, but it was all she could manage as lust soaked her brain.

The man took a step closer and held out his hand. “My name is Talon,” he said.

She’d have to rise a little to take it. Did she dare? She hesitated.

A musky aroma washed over her. Lynn wrinkled her nose as the wild scent teased her nostrils, daring her to inhale. She did. A second later, heat swept through her like a flaming tsunami. Lynn closed her eyes on a moan and inhaled again, deeper this time, taking the enticing smell as far into her lungs as she could get it, then swayed.

“Are you all right?” Talon asked, watching her closely.

Lynn’s gaze flicked to him and she gave him another quick once over. The need that had been simmering below the surface shot to the forefront, nearly buckling her knees. This would probably be her last time in the field. She had no idea when or if she’d ever get back to this spot. Why not make her last time here memorable?

The scientific part of her brain was screaming at her to stop, figure out what was happening. The woman in her quickly gagged that logical voice and shoved it into a dark recess of her mind. She wanted this man. And he miraculously appeared to want her, too. They were both consenting adults. As long as they kept things simple, they could both walk away satisfied.

Lynn kept one hand pressed against her chest in a poor attempt to cover herself. She reached out with the other and took Talon’s outstretched hand. A slight tremor ran through his body on contact and his nostrils flared.

An unexpected thrill shot through her. She’d never really turned men’s heads or made them lose control. What would it feel like to have that kind of power over a man like Talon? Lynn shivered as his large hand enveloped hers. His grip was firm, but not crushing, like he considered her something precious.

Wow, what a concept!

For someone standing in cool water, his skin was unbelievably hot, like he was generating a fire from the inside out. Lynn knew exactly how that felt, since she was pretty sure without the water that she’d spontaneously combust if they got any closer.

“Nice to meet you.” She paused. “Talon? Is that a family name?” Before he could respond, she added, “Saddled with something like that, it must’ve been a challenge growing up.”

He shook his head and a few strands of dark hair fell into his face. He brushed them back casually. She watched the muscles in his arm flex. “Not so much,” he said, with a sly smile. “I’ve always been very good at taking care of myself…and anyone else under my care.”

Lynn blew out a breath. She just bet he was. Her body swayed toward him subconsciously, seeking that delicious fragrance that seemed to cling to his skin. “My name is Lynn. Lynn Regis.” And I want to jump your bones.

Talon grinned as if he’d read her thoughts. “The pleasure is all mine, Lynn Regis.” Her name rolled off his tongue in a savoring of syllables.

She blushed. “Um, I really need to get dressed. Do you mind?” Lynn turned to leave, but his next words stopped her.

“Sure you want to go back?” The musky fragrance came again. This time stronger, body slamming the last of her resistance. “I was hoping we could go for a quick swim together,” he said, a little too innocently.

Lynn glanced over her shoulder. There was nothing innocent about the look Talon gave her. His gaze scorched every inch of her exposed skin, drinking her in, devouring her without laying a finger on her. Lynn’s heart thudded hard against her ribs. Now she knew what Eve felt like when that wily snake offered her that apple.

“Unless you’re…chicken,” he added, all but daring her to act.


© 2023 by Jordan Summers