Today it’s my pleasure to feature Underground Heat by Ann Gimpel.
Dream Shadow Press
Release Date: 1/25/16
Genre: Paranormal Romance Boxed Set featuring shifters
Shifters keep their friends close and their enemies closer in a shadowy world where the line between hunter and hunted thins, blurs, and finally shatters.
Underground Heat is an action adventure, paranormal romance boxed set containing three full-length books. It’s the entire Underground Heat Series.
Once respected members of society, shifters are running for their lives. Devon’s been a cop for a long time. He has shifter blood, but not enough to change into anything. His latest assignment is Kate. From the moment he sees her, he can’t get her out of his mind. But she’s the enemy he’s sworn to eradicate. As he tracks her, the line between hunter and hunted explodes into fiery attraction. If their passion doesn’t save them, it’ll doom them forever.
Max leads a dangerous double life in a futuristic California that’s almost out of resources. If Audrey could finesse it, she’d go to work helping the shifter underground. The only sticking point is Max. She’s been in love with him forever. If she joins the underground, she believes she’ll never see him again—but that’s because she has no idea he’s the head of it. After a second attempt on his life, Max faces critical choices. He can’t believe Audrey’s behind the assassination attempts, but everything points her way. Will he follow his head or his heart?
Head of the shifter underground’s security force, Johannes has his hands full. He’s the most compelling man Daria’s ever met, but he’s also stubborn and arrogant. Her cat thinks he’s their mate, but if Daria had her way, she’d run hard the other way. Just her bad luck, a series of lethal attacks keep her square in his gunsights. Johannes is desperately attracted to Daria, but anything beyond sex isn’t part of his life plan. He has his reasons. They’ve served him well, and he’s not changing them now.
Excerpt from Roman’s Gold
Kate Roman sauntered down Telegraph Avenue, the sounds of the constant Berkeley traffic loud in her ears. The city had banned hovercraft when air quality got so bad people needed masks to venture outside. The air still made the back of her throat burn, but at least her eyes didn’t tear up.
She pushed her dark glasses up her nose and wrapped a colorful scarf more tightly around her hair. Someone was following her. She’d caught a whiff of something unusual with her feline senses half a dozen blocks back. Her perceptions weren’t as sharp in her human form, but they gave her a definite edge. Who was back there? Try as she might, she couldn’t identify their scent. She didn’t want to stop and turn around. So long as her pursuer thought himself invisible, he—or she, or it—wouldn’t do anything rash.
Her heart beat a little faster. No cause for alarm. Not yet, anyway. She worked as a sex surrogate, and there had been hundreds of clients over the past several years. Her hair was unmistakable with its bright red tone and warm, golden streaks. Clients sometimes trailed after her. Too shy to approach directly, yet drawn to her because of the best—sometimes the only—sex they’d had in their lives, they just liked to be close. Even though they had no idea she was a shifter, it played into the equation too. Humans were attracted to her animal energy.
Shy clients were one thing. The other options were scarier. Humans had made a big push to get rid of shifters. Because killing them outright would’ve engendered a great hue and cry from personal rights groups, they’d been imprisoned in droves. Conditions were so deplorable, many of her kin had died. Others were desperately ill. Apparently the personal rights groups weren’t into visiting prisons to check on things. Disgust twisted Kate’s features into an annoyed scowl.
Appalled by what was looking a lot like the beginning of genocide, she’d joined the shifter underground, a group masterminding escapes for those like her. Of course, the escapes were only the first step. Once out, shifters almost always needed medical care. They had to be hidden until their magic recovered enough to shield themselves. Many opted for dramatic plastic surgery to obliterate any trace of who they’d been when captured.
Kate blew out a tense breath. She had three post-surgical shifters concealed in the basement of her home in the Berkeley Hills. A coyote, a mountain lion—like her—and a bear were sequestered behind a hidden wall panel. She hadn’t expected them to stay quite so long, and her pantry was almost bare. She glanced at her wrist computer and clicked a few keys. Ration Coupons flashed on the screen, followed by the numerals one and zero.
Even if the food was only for her, ten coupons wouldn’t buy much more than a day’s worth, and her account wouldn’t be replenished for another four days at the beginning of the next month. No way around it. She needed to put in an emergency call to the underground, once she got to her office where no one could hear. They had code words for everything, but still…
Kate tilted her head back. Her nose twitched. Whoever was behind her was closer. Not much, but a little. Should she turn around? She glanced at the cross street. Another half block and she’d be at her office. Someone jostled her shoulder. She pulled back, wary of a trap. Kate strengthened the illusion that softened her lengthened incisors and muted the sharp angle of her cheekbones and jaw.
“Sorry,” a man muttered and pushed past.
She stared after him and reached out with a dribble of shifter magic, exhaling sharply.
Just a human. Damn! Definitely not who’d been following her.
Garden-variety cops had genetically-altered enhanced abilities. They smelled different. Trackers, elite police squads targeting shifters, had their own unique scent. She pressed her tongue against her teeth, thinking. What she smelled behind her was different from either of those. Did that mean it wasn’t a cop—or a Tracker?
Not necessarily. He could be using one of their tricks to mask his spoor. Her throat tightened. She tried to swallow, but her mouth was too dry.
Enough excitement for one morning.
Kate lengthened her stride, loped across the street, taking advantage of an amber light, and took the steps to her office in a renovated Victorian two at a time. She ran her palm over the keypad. The electronics hummed, and the door clicked open. Safely inside, she shut the door and reset the lock.
Annoyance tinged with fear made her stomach roil. Against her better judgment, she turned and peered through a frosted glass side panel next to the thick, carved oak door. Eyes narrowed, she used her feline vision to take a good, hard look at who was walking down the sidewalk. After a couple minutes of nothing, she chided herself for being paranoid.
Kate was about to turn away and get ready for her first client when a man caught her attention. Boy, did he catch her attention. He was tall, maybe six feet four, with broad shoulders and slender hips. Form-fitting jeans, a knitted dark blue top, and a brown leather vest showcased his body as if they’d been made just for him. Well-muscled arms and thighs rippled beneath his snug clothing. Maybe because of her work as a surrogate, Kate focused her gaze on his crotch.
If he looked like that soft, he’d have a hell of an erection. Waist-length black hair swirled around him. Dark eyes, set in Native American bone structure, stared right at her building, almost as if he sensed her looking at him.
What was he? Human, but not. Unfortunately, she couldn’t identify much. Wood and glass absorbed most of her magic. Kate moved away from the window. Heat poured through her. Her nipples pebbled into hard points. Whoever was out there was the most sexually-charged man she’d ever come across. Was he the one who’d been following her?
She snorted. Part of her hoped he’d been tracking her—she itched to jump his bones. In spite of being aroused, she felt edgy. He could be a member of the elite Tracker hit squads targeting shifters. Her underground organization had received intel the enemy was using more sophisticated strategies to trap them.
If they start using sex, we’re done for.
Her lips curled into a wry grin. Shifters loved sex. It was a weakness from their animal sides.
“No, it’s a strength,” the mountain cat who lived inside her commented smugly.
“Hold on, sweetie. You’ll get your fix soon enough.”
“I don’t want human sex,” her cat complained. “Find a shifter for us.”
“Enough of this. I have to get ready for my first client.”
Her cat grumbled.
Kate smiled indulgently. She’d dreamed her bond animal like all shifters did when they hit puberty. The animal had picked her, but she’d sealed the deal by accepting it. The cat was a part of her, but its own entity as well. That included having opinions that sometimes diverged from hers.
She consulted her wrist computer. Not much time to spare. Kate walked through her spacious office. Furnished with late nineteenth century antiques to match the building’s architecture, it was a homey place with overstuffed floral couches and chairs and golden oak tables. A small computer desk allowed clients to enter their personal data—or as much of it as they were comfortable divulging. Unlike the world’s oldest profession, men actually needed a doctor’s referral to see her. Kate liked it that way. She’d never had problems with any of her clients. The doctors screened them for diseases before sending them, which was another plus, though not exactly necessary. Virtually all the men who came through her door were virgins, and she was immune to human ailments.
A lush bedroom with a four-poster bed and an inventive assortment of toys sat behind the front office. Off to one side was a marble-inlaid bathroom featuring a sunken tub big enough for two, with Jacuzzi jets. Mirrors lined the walls. The gleaming gold fixtures and green-veined marble glowed invitingly. Water was good for loosening up nervous clients. Her first task was getting them used to being naked.
She ducked into her private quarters—a small room off the bedroom—dropped her bag in a corner, and stripped off her street clothes and shoes. Pants were a no-no in her business. She needed skirts with nothing under them, in case a client got hard, and she needed to move fast. Most of the men who visited her had erectile issues. Either they came too fast, or they couldn’t get hard at all.
She pulled a teal jersey top out of a drawer and tugged it over her head. The soft folds of the fabric molded to her body. No bra. Looking at the curves of her breasts was good for clients. She traced the outline of a nipple through the silky fabric. It stiffened instantly. A vision of the man in the street slammed against her, and her nether regions flooded.
Kate grinned. She felt sorry for her first client. She’d probably attack him before he even got his clothes off.
She stepped into a black skirt with an elastic waist and grabbed a hairbrush. Red-gold curls cascaded nearly to her waist. A smattering of shiny lip gloss and she walked into the bathroom to check her appearance. Perfect. She looked about twenty-five. Good for when she needed to play the innocent in seduction charades. She blew a kiss at the glass. Not bad for a three-hundred-year-old shifter.
Three hundred six, her inner voice corrected. Kate laughed. She wasn’t exactly immortal, but she’d live for hundreds more years before her face betrayed any sign of age.
The front bell chimed. Hector was right on time. Bare feet pattering over the thick, Oriental carpet in her front office, Kate strode to the door and peered through the safety viewer. She rolled her eyes. He’d brought flowers. She waved her palm over the electronically controlled lock, and the latch clicked open.
“Hi, gorgeous.” Hector stepped inside and waited for her to lock up before handing her a bouquet of expensive-looking hothouse blossoms. She laid them on a side table. They’d keep for an hour out of water.
“Why, thank you. They’re lovely. Hi there yourself, handsome.” Kate smiled at him. She liked Hector. At forty-five, he’d decided it was time to find a wife. Problem was, he’d spent his entire life locked behind a computer screen and had no idea how to even say good morning to a woman, let alone ask for a date. All his sexual experiences had been with his hand until he tried to hire a hooker and failed miserably. He’d come while she was unzipping his pants and hadn’t been able to get hard again.
He shook light brown hair back from a high brow. His hazel eyes shone with pleasure. He wasn’t bad looking, but he needed to get outside. His skin was pasty white and his body soft. She’d suggested he join a gym and walk at least half an hour out-of-doors every day. She wondered if he’d taken her up on either suggestion.
His hand snaked out and curved around one of her breasts. She glanced between his legs, pleased to see the swell of an erection. Good. He wouldn’t make her work very hard today. Kate cocked her head to one side and pressed her breast into his hand. “Business first. That will be five hundred credits.”
His eyes widened. “You’re giving me a break today.”
“Not really.” She cupped his hard-on. “Looks like you won’t need much from me.”
Color stained his fair cheeks. “Funny thing. It got hard when I was on the bus. Just thinking about you…” His voice trailed off.
“That’s the way it’s supposed to work. Pay up, so we can get those clothes off you.”
He went to the computer, bent over, brought up his account, and transferred money into hers. The printer whirred. She grabbed the piece of paper, tore off one end, signed it, and handed it to him.
He came around behind her, closed his hands over her breasts, and nibbled her neck. “Mmm, you always smell so good.”
She leaned against him for a moment, then led him into the bedroom and closed the door. One of the best things about being a surrogate was she trained her clients to do exactly what she liked, while cautioning them that part of lovemaking was communication. What she liked might not work for a different woman.
She turned toward him. His shirt and sports coat lay on a chair and he’d stepped out of leather loafers. His fingers were busy with the fastenings of his slacks.
“Pretty good progress,” she said, flashing him a warm smile. “First time you came here, it took me most of the session to get your shirt off.”
He shrugged. His pants pooled around his ankles. He stepped out of them and shoved his boxers down his hips. Kate felt her eyes widen. He was more than ready. Not just hard, but a drop of semen glistened in the center of his glans.
“Do you want to undress me?” she asked.
He closed the distance between them, put his arms around her, and kissed her. She kissed him back, aware of her own arousal. Hector didn’t have much to do with that. But he’d give her something to think about other than the wonderfully seductive stranger she’d seen through her window. She pressed her breasts against him and thrust her hips against his hard-on.
Hector broke their kiss. He slid his fingers under her top and tugged it gently over her head. His gaze locked on her breasts before he took them in his hands. He twirled her nipples just the way she’d shown him. He’d been surprised when she told him women could come just from that.
She curved a hand around his erection. It bucked in her hand. He hadn’t had problems with premature ejaculation the last few visits, but he seemed more excited today. “Do you need to be inside me?”
His breath came fast. “Could I? All I’ve thought about is—” His cock jumped in her hand again. Fluid leaked from it. She rubbed it around the velvety top with a gentle fingertip.
Kate backed toward the bed. “How do you want me?”
His gaze sought hers. “Could you be on top? I’ve done like you said, you know, playing with myself and fantasizing.”
“Sure.” She waited for him to lie down. Kate got a condom out of the night table drawer, opened the wrapper, and rolled it onto him. She straddled him and lowered herself onto his shaft. He groaned. She took care to keep her hips still. “Tell me when it’s okay to move. Open your eyes. Look at me. Think about breathing. You can control this.”
The line of his jaw clenched, and then softened. He cupped her pussy in an outstretched hand. Tentative at first, he rubbed her clit when she pushed into his hand. Her muscles closed around his cock. He rubbed harder. She laid a hand over his to show him the rhythm she needed.
“Is it okay if I make you come this way?”
“More than okay.” With her fingers atop his to guide him, he rubbed harder and faster over her sensitive tissue. She knew she was moving around his erection, but hoped he had enough to think about besides coming that he’d be able to control himself. “I’m going to take my hand away. Now you do the same thing.”
“Um-hum.” She felt a familiar tightness, tried to hold back so she could savor things, but it was too late. She came, shoving her pussy against his hand. A vision of the gorgeous man she’d seen in the street danced behind her closed lids.
Deep in her mind, the cat purred, “Yesssss. Find that one for us.”
Kate shushed it.
Hector had learned well. He kept moving his fingers until her hips quieted. “Wow. That was amazing,” he crowed. “I got to watch you come. Your nipples got really hard, and you’re all rosy.”
“And you didn’t come yourself. Even better.” She laughed. “Is it okay if I move now?”
“Will I be able to make you come again?” She heard a hint of masculine pride in the question.
He held out his arms. “I want to feel your breasts against me.”
She lowered her torso until it touched his. “Very good. Asking for what you want is important. Women aren’t mind readers. Put your hands on my hips. Move me the way you want to be fucked.”
“What about you?”
“I had a turn. Besides, you can always touch me or lick me.”
“You haven’t taught me about licking.” His voice had a catch in it.
“Well, if we don’t get there today, there’s always next time.”
He gripped her hips. She let him control the movement, pleased it took him several minutes to come. Once his cock was through spasming inside her, she moved off his body and went to get a warm, wet cloth from the bathroom. By the time she returned, he had the condom off. She held out her hand. “I’ll take it. Here.” She handed him the cloth, dropped the condom into a waste can, and slid into a robe.
A disappointed look washed across his face. “Is our time up?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“How many more visits do I have?”
“Not sure. Just a minute, I’ll look.” Kate padded into the outer office and clicked a few keys on the desktop computer. She was also buying a little time. Clients frequently got too attached, which was why she never told them up front how many visits had been authorized. Sometimes, even if they had several more sessions, she’d hedge, call their MD, and cut them off.
The truth was, Hector didn’t really need her anymore. Seven visits had cured both his impotence and his problems with premature ejaculation.
“Good thing you asked.” She breezed back into the bedroom, smiling brightly. “We’ve run through your sessions.” He looked so crestfallen, she went to the bed, sat on the edge, and took his hands in hers. “Hector. You got what you needed here. You can make love with anyone now. You don’t need me anymore.”
“But I thought—I mean, I hoped…” Color crept up his chest to his neck and face.
“Aw, honey. Everyone falls in love with me. It’s natural. I’m the first woman you had sex with.” She patted his hand. “I guarantee you I won’t be the last. Try asking that cute brunette you told me about out for coffee.”
“Can I come back if I get into problems?”
“Sure. I’ll square it with your doctor.”
“Really?” He smiled. Hector was decidedly handsome when he did that.
“Really.” She touched a finger to his chin. “You’re quite the hunk when you smile. Remember to do it more often.”
He dressed quickly, and she ushered him out the door. “Thanks again for the flowers. And best of luck, not that you’ll need any. You’ll make some woman very happy.”
She closed the door, locked it, and looked at the time. She needed to call the underground about groceries, change the bed, and take a shower. It would be tight, but she was pretty sure she could work everything in before Todd showed up in half an hour.
Kate glanced at the calendar in her wrist computer. Good. Only two clients today. Worries about her three houseguests ate at her. It was better when she was home. The shifters in her basement were vulnerable by themselves.
About the Author
I'm basically a mountaineer at heart. I remember many hours at my desk where my body may have been stuck inside four walls, but my soul was planning yet one more trip to the backcountry.
Around the turn of the last century (that would be 2000, not 1900!), I finagled a move to the Eastern Sierra, a mecca for those in love with the mountains. Stories always ran around in my head on backcountry trips, sometimes as a hedge against abject terror when challenging conditions made me fear for my life, sometimes for company.
Eventually, the inevitable happened. I returned from a trip and sat down at the computer. Three months later, a five hundred page novel emerged. It wasn’t very good, but it was a beginning. I learned a lot between writing that novel and its sequel, and I've been writing ever since.
In addition to turning out books, I enjoy wilderness photography. A standing joke is that over ten percent of my pack weight is camera gear, which means my very tolerant husband has to carry the food -- and everything else too.
@AnnGimpel (for Twitter)