Pride of Imar
Pride of Imar is also available as part of the three story print collection, StarQuest, available by direct order from Ellora's Cave.
| Winner of the 2003
Awarded by Parnormal~Grassroots
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"...Ms. Douglas has a gift for writing mystical stories and putting the right touch of love in her characters...This story is her third book in the Star Quest Series. This is one I would not miss!"
"...PRIDE OF IMAR is keeper heaven!...If you haven't read about Kate's Lions of Mirat, you are missing out on a hot thing. If you pass on POI, you should regret that you missed it."
Brenna Lyons, Paranormal List
"...Kate Douglas just gets better with each book in the Starquest series...Ms. Douglas brilliantly portrays the love, respect, and need of two people deeply in love with each other and proves that love really is the best medicine of all."
"...Kudos to Ms. Douglas for writing a story that is not only breath-stealing erotic and deeply passionate...but also filled with real-emotions that brought the characters alive...the stories she crafts that become instant "keepers" on my bookshelf and will always be recommended to everyone else!"
Reviewed by Kari Thomas
"...Ms. Douglas has a way with the written word that leaves me speechless. PRIDE OF IMAR is an erotic romance, but it's also a story of healing and love. Order your copy today."
"...PRIDE OF IMAR follows Night of the Cat in the Mirat-Earth series. Upping the intensity of character and plot, Ms. Douglas delivers an emotionally charged story that entertains and challenges."
Kelly Rae Cooper, reviewer Romantic Times Magazine 4 Stars
Read an Excerpt~~
The following material contains strong sexual content meant for mature readers. "PRIDE OF IMAR" has been rated NC-17, erotic, by two individual reviewers.
You look pensive, little one. Do you regret your decision to leave Mirat?
Sheyna of Pride Imar turned away from the view port at her brother's soft mental touch. His concern was obvious and very touching, but Garan had always known her better than anyone else.
Of course, there'd been very few on Mirat who had cared to know her at all.
No more of that! Sheyna pushed the self-pity aside. A new world awaited her. A new life. The past would remain where it belonged-on Mirat.
It's almost physical-the pull of our homeland. It calls to me now, as it never has before.
Garan growled deep in his throat and wrapped a powerful arm around her shoulders. He gave her a comforting squeeze. Are you worried what you'll find when we finally reach Earth?
She thought about that a moment before answering. It was not so simple a question.
I worry my promise of help might not be enough. What if my healer's instincts don't work on this new planet? What if Winn's instructions were incorrect and I harm the young rebels more than help them? Jenna said all of them were beyond her reach, that the damage to their minds appeared even greater than the injury to yours. What if their wounds are beyond my ability?
"Then you will know you tried, even if you fail," Garan replied aloud. "They can't ask for more, SheShe. You've made a grand and generous offer, to leave the world of your birth to help strangers. A very brave and courageous offer. My mate believes in you. I believe in you."
"You and I both realize what little holds me to Mirat." Sheyna leaned against Garan's strong shoulder. She practiced her smile even as she sighed. So much to learn about dealing with humans. To think a baring of teeth was a form of friendly greeting! "I guess it's up to me to believe in me, eh? I wish I had just half the courage you and Jenna seem to think I possess."
"You'll do well, my sister. I've always known you were much stronger than you ever admitted."
As an empath, Sheyna sensed better than most her brother's love for her, his pride that she should take such a risk for another species. It warmed her and reaffirmed her decision. Still, she wished for just an ounce of Garan's arrogance and courage. He believed himself stronger, better, braver-and so he was.
The door to the observation deck slid open. Sheyna turned quickly to see who intruded on this quiet moment with her littermate.
"There you are. I've been looking for the two of you." Jenna, Garan's human mate strolled onto the deck. "Can you see Earth yet? Is it visible?"
"Not yet, sister of mine." Sheyna held her hand out to the woman. Jenna was never an intrusion. She was, in fact, the truest friend Sheyna had known. "Are all humans as impatient as you?"
Garan laughed and wrapped his arms lightly around both females. "No, SheShe. They're worse."
Jenna took a teasing swing at him and Garan ducked.
"I know when I'm not wanted," he said, spinning nimbly out of the way when Jenna took another punch in his direction. "I'll leave you two ladies to discuss what's most important on this ship…me."
The door slid shut behind him on a gust of air. "Has he always been this insufferable?" Jenna smiled broadly, her expression giving away all the love she felt for Sheyna's brother.
Sheyna's claws remained carefully sheathed. It had not been easy, learning the difference between a snarl and a smile.
She carefully curled her lip in reply. "Worse. He's twelve years older than I. We have different mothers, but on Mirat, if a pair-bond is not involved, the offspring are claimed by the sire's family once they're mature enough to leave their mothers. I grew up with him as 'the older brother'."
At Jenna's snort, Sheyna flashed her a wry grin. "You've probably guessed, Gard is not big on pair-bonding."
Jenna rubbed Sheyna's shoulder sympathetically. "I'm amazed your sire could even find a female to mate with him!"
"Oh, I imagine he can be quite charming when he wants to be…much like his son."
Jenna's knowing grin brought an answering smile from Sheyna. It was growing easier all the time, this human expression. Some day she'd have to tell Jenna how difficult it had been for her to learn to read the human face.
"Garan had seventeen summers when I came to Pride Imar as a five year old kit. I was horribly shy and frightened of all the new faces. He was upset at being charged with my care and even more upset I wasn't male. He teased me unmercifully."
"But you love him now? It's obvious you two are very close. What changed?"
"Ah…our favorite non-pair-bonding un-father figure." Jenna grimaced, as if merely saying the man's name was painful.
"Exactly. Gard returned from his StarQuest when I was about ten and discovered I had been added to the pride. Not only was I female, I was the wrong race and genetically deformed, a throwback."
"You mean you're not the same species as Garan?" Jenna shook her head in confusion.
"Look at me." Sheyna spread her slender arms wide. Lithe and petite in comparison to other lionesses of Mirat, she knew her resemblance to Garan was based on her feline appearance as compared to human. To Jenna, she most likely appeared similar to her littermate, though she was nothing like him at all.
"Not species-races. I'm no taller than you…smaller than a full-blood lioness, my coat is pale and short, and my features more like pictures I've seen of your house cats! My mother neglected to tell Gard her complete genetic background. He knew she was of the panther group, a bit lower than the ruling class of Mirat, but still acceptable as a mate.
"Unfortunately, her genetic background has a number of ancestors of an even lower caste. I understand I take after my grandmother. Gard just automatically made his legal paternalistic claim to me without realizing what I really was."
Sheyna tried to disguise the bitterness in her voice. Her genetic history was certainly not Jenna's problem.
She practiced her smile once more on her human sister of the heart. It would have been so much easier to just show Jenna what she was struggling to explain. Garan insisted she use human talk when she communicated with humans, even though most Sensitives, like Jenna, heard Miratan mindspeak just fine.
"Once claimed for Pride Imar, I could not be returned to my mother's pride as a member of a much lower caste," she said, still searching for the correct words. "Along with my obvious deformity, I could never expect full rights as a member of Pride Imar. I was, and am to this day, an embarrassment to my sire."
Jenna lifted one dark eyebrow. Sheyna paused, struggling to recall the meaning of the raised brow. Finally she remembered-Jenna's expression meant question or confusion.
"You're not just being polite?" Now Sheyna was the one who felt confused.
This made no sense.
"Obviously not. Why are you considered deformed? You look perfectly normal to me. In fact, you look absolutely gorgeous, if you want the truth."
"Think of what I lack that my kinfolk flaunt so proudly." Sheyna turned her back to Jenna and bowed her head.
"I don't…oh my! You don't have a tail!" Jenna laughed as she circled Sheyna.
Stunned, Sheyna grabbed the back of a chair for support. To think Jenna hadn't even noticed! "Would you believe you are the first person I have ever met…" She took a deep breath, for the first time wondering how it might be, existing among a race of people who didn't care about her abnormality. "No, you're the only person I've known who hasn't made some critical or disparaging remark about me?"
Jenna shook her head in disgust. "This must be where Garan comes in."
Sheyna took a moment to answer. Her heart pounded. Blood rushed in her ears. Jenna didn't care…a tail, or lack of one, meant nothing to her. Something so essential to the people of Mirat went totally unnoticed by a human.
Sheyna forced herself back into the conversation. There was much for her to think about-later, when she could be alone. "Ah…Garan. He was terrible. His teasing went on for years, though I have to admit he was never cruel. Not like our father. It wasn't until Gard returned and publicly ridiculed me that Garan had a change of heart."
"Your brother's a big softie, you know."
"I know that now. When I was a kit barely five summers old, away from my mother for the first time, I thought he was wicked and mean. He changed in a heartbeat, the moment he saw how badly Gard treated me. From that day on he was my protector and I loved him with all my heart."
"At least you won't be teased about not having a tail on Earth." Jenna gave Sheyna a quick hug. "I honestly didn't notice."
Amazing…no tails, no problem. Sheyna curled her lip and realized it actually felt like a smile. She waved her hand lightly, practicing a dismissive gesture.
"What do you know about Malachi Franklin? I understand I'll be working with him. He's the local healer caring for the young rebels."
Jenna laughed. "He doesn't have a tail, either."
"I must admit, now I think of it, the idea of an entire bipedal race of intelligent beings without tails has its draw."
Jenna giggled at Sheyna's dry comment. "You're the first lioness of Mirat to actually come to Earth to stay. Did you realize that? Only the men of your planet have actually set foot on earth."
"Our men are the warriors. That's why only the males have been assigned to duty on Earth. I volunteered as a healer because there is nothing on Mirat to hold me. My mother has been dead for many years; my other littermates tolerate but do not love me. Garan has been my only champion. When he chose you as his mate, he chose your home world as well. This mission is…" Sheyna struggled for the right words. "It is important to me."
How could she explain her desire to aid the wounded, the innate knowledge that only she could accomplish such a feat, without sounding even more arrogant than her brother?
When in doubt, the truth usually worked. "I know the ones who are the living dead need me," she said. "It's something I've sensed from the beginning, from the moment you told me Garan wasn't the only one affected by that terrible machine."
"Then you've made the right choice to come." Jenna smiled and glanced over Sheyna's shoulder at the view port.
"Look!" Jenna pointed at the shimmering blue-green orb floating ahead of them in space. "It's beautiful. I didn't even see it when we left. All I saw was Garan and my own misery."
Sheyna studied the jewel-like planet hanging in the ebony depths of space and experienced a sense of homecoming. "I understand. The last time I saw Earth, I hated all it represented. Your world had wounded my brother, mortally, I believed. I came here to take him home, not understanding that home, for Garan, now existed wherever his mate resided."
Jenna grabbed her hand, circling her long fingers around Sheyna's broad paw. Sheyna glanced down at their linked hands, the smooth olive skin of Jenna's, the soft ivory colored fur of her own.
She kept her razor-sharp nails carefully sheathed.
Garan had cautioned her to believe in herself, to trust in her own strength. Holding that thought to her heart, she gazed once more at the shining world ahead.
It was indeed beautiful. It filled her with anticipation, with hope. More than beauty, she knew it held answers to questions she'd not known to ask, to a future she hadn't even dared imagine.
Taking a deep breath, Sheyna let her soul fly free.
My destiny. I know this world is my destiny.
"How's it hangin', Doc."
Malachi Franklin tucked a blanket around the silent young man in the hospital bed and turned gratefully at the softly drawled question from his closest friend. As usual, he bit back a grin. Thom Antoon was just the guy he needed right now-Malachi's polar opposite in personality, Thom always knew how to bring him out of whatever despair held him captive.
"Hangin' long but lonely, Thom. Gotta find me a woman." Standard answer. Same answer he always gave. It might be funny if it weren't so damned true.
Thom chuckled and shook his head. "Unfortunately, I'm all too sympathetic."
Tall, lanky, deceptively average, Thom did not look like the leader of a powerful rebellion. Even Lieutenant Garan, arrogant and egotistical as he was, openly admitted his admiration for the man's brilliant mind and logistical skills while managing to poke fun at his Southern drawl and country manners.
Garan. There'd been no word on his condition for the past month. Mal wondered if he'd ever see the big cat again. He hated to admit how much he'd missed him.
Thom paused by the nearest bed. "Any change?"
"There's no improvement, if that's what you mean. They're no better, no worse." Malachi checked the IVs on the seven young men in the ward, then quietly led the way out of the room. "It's so damned frustrating, Thom. I sense they're in there, that their minds are still intact somewhere. I just don't have a clue how to reach them."
"You might have help on the way."
Malachi swung around to face his friend, noticing his broad grin for the first time. "What kind of help?"
"Jenna and Garan are returning. He's been restored, Mal. It's hard to believe after the shape he was in, but the bastard's okay. Tim Riley just picked up a message from their ship. They should be here in a few hours."
"How? My God…" The sharp sting of tears surprised him. He was not a man who wept easily. "I never dreamed Jenna'd be successful, that she'd figure out how…" Malachi grabbed his handkerchief and wiped his face. His hands shook. "Damn, it's been a long month…not being able to help even one of these kids."
"It's probably been harder on you than anyone," Thom said, awkwardly patting Malachi on the shoulder. "The kids and Garan…I know how you feel about Garan, Mal." He laughed. "Never thought I'd see the day you'd be so shook up about him gettin' hurt."
Malachi grimaced. "Don't ever link with someone you enjoy baiting. Takes all the fun out of it."
"You didn't link with Garan, did you? I thought your meld was with Jenna."
"It was-about twenty minutes after she'd done a really comprehensive meld with Garan. His thoughts were so fresh in her mind it was like a damned party of three. Everywhere I went, essence of Garan."
He laughed, unwilling to admit aloud just how heavily Garan's mental destruction had weighed on him. Looking at the big cat through Jenna's adoring mind had shown Malachi a human side to Garan he'd never suspected.
"Well, it sounds like he's back to his old self. You know what that means." Thom slapped Malachi's shoulder and laughed. "The Lord of Arrogance has returned."
"He is insufferable. Thom, it also means…" Malachi glanced at the ward where seven young men survived a partial existence. Once more he grabbed his handkerchief out of his pocket. "I'd give anything to help these kids."
"We don't know how she did it, or if she's even the one who healed him. All Tim got is the message they're returning, Garan is healthy and irritating as ever and he's bringing a healer with him-a woman, Tim said."
"One of the exiles? Do you think she's the one who healed him?"
Thom shook his head. "I don't know. The message was brief. Tim was so excited to hear the lieutenant was okay he didn't get a lot of details. " Once again Thom squeezed Malachi's shoulder. "You okay?"
"Yeah. Sorry…it's just been a bit much, ya know?" Malachi straightened, struggling to regain his composure. "I know these boys, Thom. I've grown up with some of them, even baby-sat a couple when they were children, if that's not enough to make a guy feel old. It hurts like hell to see them this way."
"It won't happen to any more of our soldiers, if that's any consolation."
"I know." Malachi shoved his handkerchief back in his pocket. "Thank God for that…but who's going to help these poor souls?" He gestured toward the darkened room.
"Maybe Garan's healer?"
"Let's hope so."
* * * * *
Malachi didn't realize he was holding his breath until the large bay door of the Miratan ship whooshed open on a gust of air. "It's that silent arrival-gets me every time," he said, not really expecting Thom to answer. "You see that huge ship suddenly appear out of nowhere, absolutely soundless…"
"And you know it's just the minds of the crew controlling it, taking it through deep space with kinetic power alone," Thom added. "It is utterly amazin'."
The small group of Sensitives waiting to greet the ship cheered as Garan and Jenna appeared at the open bay door.
"Look-there's Garan. Quite a change from the limp carcass they hauled out of here." Malachi laughed. "I had no idea I'd miss the cocky bastard so much. It's good to see him healthy again and back where he belongs." He took a closer look. "He's lost weight."
Thom laughed. "Hey, Doc…don't necessarily blame the World Federation's new toy for that. From the smile on Jenna's face, I imagine he's been getting some pretty heavy aerobic workouts since his recovery."
"You're probably right. Lucky reprobate!" Grinning ruefully, Malachi raised his hand in greeting. "Hey Jenna! Garan!"
"Oh Mal, it's so good to see you!"
Jenna practically flew into his arms for a welcoming hug. Thom and Garan embraced as well, then Garan turned to shake hands with Malachi.
"It's good to have you back…I mean it." Malachi clapped him on the shoulder. Garan grunted in reply. He hid his jealousy well. Mal figured the big cat might never get over the healer's relationship with Jenna, but at least Garan appeared to have gotten used to it.
Mal fondly recalled the link he'd shared with Jenna. Because of that one, brief connection, he would carry a special bond with her to his grave. She had become an integral part of him during their very comprehensive meld…as had Garan.
Of course, Malachi had no intention of easing the jealous feline's mind. It was much too entertaining to let the big cat think Malachi felt something special for Jenna, something beyond the normal sense of family such a link created.
Poor Garan. Malachi grinned. Hard to believe a guy with Garan's attitude could feel insecure over a woman, especially one like Jenna. Her devotion to Garan was an open testimonial. It uplifted all who knew her.
A love that strong could never be breached.
No, Malachi realized if there was any jealousy, it was all his. Would he ever experience love such as theirs?
Suddenly Garan turned away and pulled a third person into the group.
As if all the air had been sucked from his world, Malachi forgot how to breathe.
How else to describe the feelings sweeping over him, the coil deep in his gut, the sudden racing of his heart?
Vaguely aware his mouth hung open, he made a conscious effort to shut it. He blinked, then blinked again to better focus on the newcomer.
To prove to himself she was real, not his wildest fantasy come to life.
The creature standing timidly between Jenna and Garan was something out of a wet dream, obviously feline but so breathtakingly beautiful, so overwhelmingly feminine compared to Garan's strong masculinity as to appear a separate species.
Tall and slender, fine-boned and fragile in comparison to the huge male, she was the color of old ivory. Her body was encased in a soft yellow skinsuit that molded every contour of her frame, from her slim hips and well-shaped legs to the slender column of her throat, down her long and willowy arms to end at tight cuffs around slim wrists.
Like Garan, her hands were a cross between a human hand and a cat's paw, the fingers blunt, the partially retracted claws dark as ebony. She clenched her fingers, a nervous gesture not lost on Malachi.
His own palms had begun to sweat the moment he saw her.
Well aware he'd been staring, Malachi raised his head and smiled at the newcomer. Definitely feline, every inch a woman. More catlike than lion-like, her small, pointed ears showing through the dark mane that swept back from her broad forehead. It flowed to her shoulders, a sleek chestnut counterpoint to the soft pelt covering her face and hands…and most likely the rest of her body.
He wasn't quite prepared to let his imagination wander that far afield.
She watched him every bit as closely. Her beautiful amber eyes held him with the strength of her unblinking appraisal.
Jenna's soft laughter penetrated Malachi's mind. Slowly, he turned away from the newcomer to focus on her introduction.
"…is Sheyna of Pride Imar, Garan's sister and a healer from Mirat who has trained under some of the best doctors their world has to offer. Malachi Franklin, our own healer, who I'm sure will be more than happy to show you around the clinic once we get you settled in."
Garan's sister. Shit.
Jenna grinned at him, her brown eyes twinkling. She knew. She must know, as powerful as her Talent was. Malachi glanced back at Sheyna, wishing his precognitive abilities hadn't chosen this moment to desert him entirely.
"Nice to meet you," he said, mentally kicking himself at his inane greeting.
Jenna bit her lips in an obvious attempt to control her laughter. "We need to take Sheyna, Mal. You can have her later."
I'd rather…suddenly he realized he was broadcasting. Clamping down on his thoughts, Malachi glared at Jenna. Sheyna slanted one more curious glance in his direction, nodded, then quietly followed her brother and Jenna across the compound.
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