Aya’s back hit the wall with enough force to shake snow from the roof. It fell in a waterfall behind the male in front of her, a brief shield that gave them a flash of privacy as his mouth descended on hers. She shuddered from the fumbling clash of their lips and his taste as it flooded her senses, drawing all of her focus to him and bringing every nerve to life within her. She moaned into his mouth as he found his stride and his kiss turned passionate and demanding.
Her body heated, fire sweeping through her as she desperately tangled her fingers in his hair and clung to him, riding the storm of the new feelings and sensations as they bombarded her.
He groaned, the sound a sweet hit of pleasure that her body responded to against her will, arching into his. A solid wall of muscle and power greeted her, pressed against her and made her only quake for more.
His hands clamped down on her, one grasping her right hip and the other burrowing beneath her fall of silvery hair to grip the nape of her neck, holding her in place against him. She shuddered again, a fierce hot shiver that he responded to by angling his head and deepening the kiss, leaving no part of her untouched.
The voice of reason surfaced at the back of her mind, telling her that she shouldn’t be doing this, but she shoved it aside, ignoring it as she began to kiss him back, attempting to match his fervent passion.
She bravely met his tongue with hers and fought back, earning a husky growl as her reward. His grip on her tightened and she flinched as his fingertips pressed in with bruising force.
Desire instantly turned to panic. The heat of passion became a cold prickling down her spine. Her chest tightened, lungs seizing as she fought his hold but he refused to let her go.
Screams rose around her, the terrified shrieks of young and old alike, and she shoved at the male’s chest, battering him and trying to break free of his hold. The man said something and only gripped her harder, his voice no longer matching the deep one that had teased her ears just moments before. She opened her eyes and stared into his cold dark eyes, seeing a different male before her. A mortal male. Fear crashed over her as the scent of blood assaulted her and the white world she loved so dearly was painted red beyond him.
Aya twisted her hands free and shoved hard at his chest, sending him stumbling backwards and slipping on the icy ground. She broke right, skidding herself as her boots fought for purchase. Ahead of her, two more men in black fatigues dragged an unconscious male member of her pride across the snowy square in the centre of her village. A woman with blonde hair spilling from underneath her black skullcap followed them.
Her green eyes swung towards Aya and narrowed.
She said something and pointed towards her.
Aya’s heart leaped into her throat as she heard the man behind her getting to his feet and dodged right again, heading between the two small wooden framed buildings, clutching the pale grey stone bases that supported the black beams and plaster walls, keeping the delicate structure off the permanent snow, for support as she did her best to run. The scent of blood grew stronger and hot tears spilled down her cheeks as she ran towards the source of the smell. She had to help them.
A male twisted into her path when she reached the wider street at the end of the alley, his agonised wail cutting short as he fell to the snow. He landed face down in the white powder and she skidded to a halt beside him.
“We have to move.” She grabbed his arm and tried to pull him up, determined to help him flee the battle that had erupted in their peaceful home.
Her eyes darted around, heart pounding as she scoured her mountain village for more mortals, fearing they would catch her and the male if they didn’t move quickly. They had to escape. Her gaze shot right, towards the edge of the village and a path that would take them up the dangerous rocky peaks in the distance there. If she could gather as many of her kin as she could and guide them there, they could shift and escape the mortals.
“Come on.” She tugged at the male.
He didn’t respond so she manoeuvred him onto his back so she could grasp him by his arms and drag him to safety.
Her blood chilled and she snatched her hands back.
Dull lifeless eyes stared up at her, his pale skin splashed with crimson that soaked the ground where he had been laying.
Aya stared back at him, her skin prickling and her mind going blank.
She slowly shook her head, refusing to believe what she was seeing. It wasn’t possible.
She lifted her chin and looked in the opposite direction to the mountain path, her gaze sweeping over the madness unfolding there, struggling to make sense of what was happening. Black shadows moved everywhere, attacking her kin.
Killing her kin.
Aya’s lips flattened and then peeled back off her short fangs, all thoughts of running leaving her as she took in the pandemonium that had erupted in her peaceful home. She growled and shoved off, leaping over the dead male and heading for the second square ahead of her, where several females were attempting to fend off another group of shadowy figures. She tore at her clothes, stripping off the layers as she sprinted hard. One of the females went down as she attempted to protect a young boy. Aya snarled and her claws grew at the same time as her fangs.
She roared as she reached the end of the alley between the small houses and leaped high into the air. Pain shot through her bones as they transformed and silvery thick fur swept over her body. She came free of her clothes at the apex of her jump and growled through her teeth as she began to descend, heading straight for two males.
The click and slide of metal on metal stole her focus and she snapped her head up, her eyes settling on the third man in the clearing.
He raised his rifle and took aim.
Aya shot up in bed, her rapid breathing and the frantic beat of her heart the only sound in the dark room. Sweat trickled down her spine and between her bare breasts as she fought for air, her wide eyes locked across the room on the wooden chest of drawers and wardrobe that lined the pale blue wall. A cool breeze caressed her left side, washing in from the small gap at the bottom of the sash window there, carrying the calming scent of the night. She breathed deep of it, struggling to settle her pounding pulse and her emotions. Her fingers tightened in the cream covers pooled in her lap, twisting them into her grip as everything crashed over her, a thousand memories she would rather not possess.
Ones she had buried deep and finally forgotten as she moved on with her life.
Until that male had walked into the club last night.
The return of her nightmares was his fault.
She hadn’t seen another snow leopard in over a decade and she had never wanted to see one again.
She had been happy living without the reminder of what she was, because now it was only a cold and dark reminder of what had happened to her. It took her back to that day when her life had been turned into a waking nightmare, everyone she had loved stripped from her as she had fought to save them all.
Aya bent forwards and ploughed her fingers through her damp black hair, pulling the jaw-length strands back. She clutched the sides of her head and tried to focus on her breathing as memories surged to the surface again. Her throat closed and her heart thundered against her ribs, a sickening rhythm that echoed in her ears together with distant screams and pleas for mercy.
She shook her head in an attempt to dislodge those memories and growled.
She wanted to forget again.
She needed to immerse herself in the tangled fae and mortal world, losing herself in it and surrounding herself with people, or she would only sink deeper into her memories, her instincts forcing her to seek out the familiar faces of her past so she would no longer feel alone. She needed to escape that past, and that meant returning to the club. It had become her sanctuary over the past few years, a place she returned to nightly to talk with the people she knew there, fulfilling the deep need to be part of a group that had been formed in her decades at the bustling pride village where she had grown up. Now, she sought crowds whenever she woke, escaping the emptiness of her apartment, hurling herself into the fray and dancing or drinking the night away.
It was a risk, because she knew the male might be there too.
A flash of silver shot across the darkness of her closed eyes. It drifted back and split, forming into two piercing orbs and a messy tuft atop them. The male. She had felt the intensity of his gaze the moment he had entered. It had sent an electric shiver through her, a bolt of awareness that had shattered everything around her, leaving only him behind. She shivered again beneath the covers, her heart beating harder for a different reason as heat swept through her as it had last night when his gaze had drifted over her, taking her in from head to toe.
He shimmered into being in her mind and she snapped her eyes open, breaking the illusion.
Aya shoved the covers off her bare legs, shifted them over the right edge of the double mattress and rose from the bed. She stretched, moaning as she arched her back. There was nothing quite as enjoyable as a good stretch when she woke up.
She lowered her arms and checked the clock on her bedside table. The numbers cast a green hue across her small bedroom, providing the only light. It was already growing late. She had managed to sleep through the day before her nightmare had begun.
Hopefully tomorrow she could do the same again without the nightmare.
She padded across the narrow span of wooden floor to the bathroom opposite her and flicked on the light, flinching as the white tiles reflected the brightness and seemingly magnified it, hurting her sensitive eyes.
Aya gave them a moment to adjust before opening them again. Her reflection in the mirror above the grey vanity greeted her. Or possibly mocked. She looked awful. Her silver-gold eyes were bloodshot, last night’s make-up smeared like black ash all around them, emphasising how tired they looked. She tugged her fingers through her messy black hair, trying to smooth the wild short strands that stuck out in all directions at jaw level. Silver threaded her hair, turning her stomach. She would need to dye it again soon. She hadn’t been able to face herself with her natural hair colour since starting her new life. It was a reminder of her past, another thorn that only tore at her and left her bleeding inside.
She had loved her silver hair once, back when life had been carefree and simple, and she had lived at the pride village.
Back when she’d had a pride.
She turned her cheek to the gaunt female in the mirror and headed towards the double shower cubicle that took up the entire right side of the room. A shower would help clear her head and set her back on track.
Aya slid the door open and stepped into the cubicle. The water was cold as she lifted the lever to start the flow, but soon warmed to her preferred temperature. She turned beneath the spray, closed her eyes and sighed as the hot water pounded down on her back. The effect was immediate, easing her muscles and washing away her bad memories. She focused on showering, using the routine to empty her mind. Once she had rinsed the conditioner out of her hair, she switched off the water, slid the door open again and grabbed a towel from the rack.
Her mind drifted as she dried off, thoughts of who would be at the club tonight keeping her occupied. She shut out any about the male and scrubbed the towel across her hair. Satisfied that she wouldn’t leave a trail of water across the pale floor tiles, she stepped out of the shower and moved to the next step of her routine.
When her hair was tamed, the fine black strands styled to lay flat on top but flick outwards and upwards at the ends in a cute way, she applied her standard black make-up around her eyes, a dash of lip-gloss, and a quick spray of perfume.
Aya padded out into the bedroom, grabbed her white strapless bra from the floor where she had tossed it last night before falling into bed, and put it on. She followed it with a matching pair of knickers from her chest of drawers at the foot of the bed and then sidestepped to her wardrobe and pulled the doors open.
She grabbed a pair of black ones from the pile at the bottom of the wardrobe and tugged them on. They were tighter than she remembered. She growled as she wriggled into them, muttering beneath her breath about cutting back on the sweet treats whenever she visited a coffee shop or hit the grocery store.
She had always been average, not a woman blessed with a stick-thin figure and never one to want to look that way either, but she was holding a little more winter padding than normal. Back at the pride, she had gotten away with indulging in her love of food, needing the fuel to keep her warm. Old habits died the hardest. She never had managed to shake her constant craving for food, even in the warmer weather of London.
Her silvery gaze roamed over the hangers filled with a range of camisoles, t-shirts and long-sleeved tops. The weather was cooler now, but she found herself picking a silver halter-top with a plunging neckline, one she hadn’t worn in months.
It had nothing to do with the male.
She just wanted to feel good about herself tonight and dressing to impress would certainly boost her mood. She wasn’t planning to catch his eye if he was there again tonight, definitely wasn’t interested in sending any signals to him. She planned to avoid him and catch the eye of another male.
Any other male.
Hell, maybe she would flirt with a few of them.
The attention from them would definitely make her feel fabulous.
She might even do more than flirt.
It had been a long time since she had been with a male, and she needed a little physical contact, a little craziness to blow off some steam. It might even change her outlook for the better, making her forget her worries and see some good in the world again.
Aya pulled the silver top on, tugging the triangular cups beneath her breasts and smoothing the material over her stomach. It barely reached the belt of her jeans and it would flash her belly if she raised her arms above her head, but she didn’t care.
Tonight was about feeling good and forgetting, not about worrying what others made of her figure. Their opinion didn’t matter. She was happy as she was and she refused to change herself to suit anyone’s tastes.
This was her life and she was going to live it.