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Author:
Series: Haven #1
Genre(s): ,
Released: February 20, 2015

Book Description

What happens at Haven…doesn’t always stay there.

Life couldn’t get much better for fun-loving housecat shifter Katie O’Meghan. She’s left her alley cat upbringing behind to become an activities coordinator at the luxurious Haven Resort, an exclusive island retreat for shapeshifters. Not even in her wildest fantasies did she imagine landing such a prestigious job and she would never do anything to risk losing it.

Arnaud Simpson hasn’t taken a vacation in two years and he doesn’t intend to start now. Work is what kept him going after his mate’s death, and it’s the only thing that helps him forget he’ll spend the rest of his life alone. Eagles mate for life, after all.

When Arnaud’s job brings him to Haven, Katie’s zest for life — not to mention her luscious curves — tempt him in ways he never thought possible. But even if he could mate again, would a free spirit like Katie ever want to settle down with a conservative corporate attorney like him? It hardly matters because the most important rule at Haven is the one rule that would keep them apart.

To Screech Their Own is the first in a series of standalone shapeshifter romances set at the mysterious Haven Resort. NOTE: It was originally published in the On the Growl anthology.

A review from...

...Gwen Knight

This was my first Marina Maddix book, but it won't be my last. The author's humor had me snickering under my breath throughout the entire novella, from naming her inner tabby 'Katie-Kat' to the eagle who enjoys strutting his stuff. Haven itself is a unique take on the shifter world that I adored (and secretly wished I'd been clever enough to come up with, lol). Marina brings this resort to life from eyres high in the trees to friggin' scratching posts for the cats! Mr. Roarke has me rather intrigued. At first I thought he was one of the tropical birds flying around, but he seems t0o alpha for that. Guess I'll just have to keep reading the books to find out. What a shame... 😉

Read the First Three Chapters

CHAPTER 1

“You see, Ms. Davids, fraternization with our guests is strictly forbidden. It is one of the mostly strictly enforced rules here at Haven Resort. There are many, to be sure, and new employees are allowed some latitude until they settle in. Except for that one rule, which is Rule #1. No fraternization with guests.”

Haven was the most popular resort in the shifter world, attracting all manner of species from every walk of life. From werewolves to were-tit mice, they all wanted to vacation at the exclusive retreat. Not that exclusive equaled expensive. In fact, the rates were on a sliding scale so even a struggling waitress could, conceivably, afford to visit.

The exclusivity came from an enormous waiting list that was rumored to be five years long. Only the resort’s owner, Mr. Roarke, knew for sure, because he handled all reservations. There was a lengthy application to fill out, and the common opinion was that he’d designed a special computer program with algorithms that sorted all applications in order of desirability. Some claimed he pushed less-desirable guests lower on the list in favor of more interesting visitors, but no one ever dared question his methods.

Not ever.

Besides, whatever he was doing, it worked. Haven was always full to capacity and every single guest left with a smile on their face.

“Haven has a reputation to maintain, and that can only be achieved through strict adherence to my rules. You will learn them and you will live by them. Is that clear?”

Mr. Roarke dropped a stern look at the young woman he was escorting around the grounds — well, a small portion of them, anyway — and her head bobbed furiously in understanding.

Don’t fuck the guests. Got it.

Haven was spread across an entire South Pacific island. According to the official map of the property, there were dozens of different sectors, each uniquely themed, along with hundreds of miles of hiking trails and roads. Even Mr. Roarke claimed to have not seen every corner of it. Lush vegetation threatened to overrun every inch of land if it wasn’t rigorously maintained, and as they toured the central building of the resort, gardeners were hard at work with machetes and Weedwackers.

Mr. Roarke was a classically handsome man, with sapphire eyes and dark brown hair that was greying at the temples. His tall, lean frame allowed his tan linen slacks and brightly patterned Hawaiian shirt to drape on him as if he were a model. A tour of his closet would show row after row of such shirts, some silk, some cotton, all gaudy.

“Your duties as an Activities Coordinator will include creating and implementing programs for guests, as well as staff, that will enhance their stay at Haven. All suggestions will be presented to your immediate supervisor, the Activities Director, whom you will meet shortly.”

The Activities Department at Haven was second to none. With world-class programs that included everything from yoga to mountain climbing, aerobics to themed costume balls, Haven offered something for everyone. Job opportunities rarely opened at the resort, and ones in the Activities Department were especially coveted, mainly because it seemed like so much fun.

Blue-crowned lorikeets and orange-breasted honeyeaters fluttered and flitted through the trees as Mr. Roarke pointed out the eternal pool. “It’s quite a lovely thing to sit in the cool, clean water and to look out across the ocean as if you’re sitting in it.” He sounded almost wistful.

“But please take note of the rules regarding its use.” He pointed  at a big sign attached to the gate leading into the pool area. It included all the normal pool rules — no unattended kids, no running, no food and so on — plus a whole catalog of odd ones, such as Sexual Relations in the Pool Are Not Allowed and Furred Shifters May Not Shift Whilst in the Pool and No Marking of Territory in the Pool Area. Gross.

“Mr. Roarke, may I ask a question that’s none of my business,” asked the new employee, Miss Davids. She was a petite young woman, brimming with energy and ideas.

He cast a sidelong glance at her. “You may ask, but you may not receive an answer.”

“Fair enough. I was just curious what happened to my predecessor. I mean, I can’t imagine giving up a job like this willingly. It’s heaven here.”

Mr. Roarke nodded approvingly of her enthusiasm. It was one of the reasons he hired her in the first place. And while she didn’t precisely have the right to know the details, perhaps the story would serve as a lesson on how to behave at Haven.

 

“As you’ll come to discover, Ms. Davids, I am a very understanding employer. I value each employee and work very hard to match the person with the job. I also put a tremendous amount of faith in my staff, and when one betrays that trust…well, hard decisions must be made. In this particular situation, I was forced to do something I find particularly distasteful. I had to fire someone.”

CHAPTER 2

Faster, KatieKat! Panic rose in Katie O’Meghan’s throat as she urged her kitty to run faster than her short little legs had ever moved before. She didn’t need to look behind her to know the panther was hot on her trail and gaining fast. The sound of its big paws tearing up the ground grew louder and louder until it was thundering around Katie.

Swerving in and out of the island’s lush undergrowth, she hoped to shake the big cat but the bitch stuck to her like white on rice — or black on tabby, as the case may be. If she and her kitty didn’t find a way to escape, they were going to become the cranky cat’s lunch, and she’d be damned if she would give her supervisor the satisfaction.

A whoosh of air ruffled across her fur a split second before she felt the sting of razor sharp claws grazing her flank. That was going to smart later but she had too much adrenaline pumping through her veins to feel much of anything — except fear. She felt plenty of that.

Katie didn’t miss a step from the swat but the panther lost at least one full stride in its failed attempt to snack on her. It was just enough time for Katie to hightail it toward one of Haven’s many scratching posts.

The resort had dozens in varying sizes scattered across the island — small ones for housecats such as herself, bigger ones for the likes of lynx and cougars, and gigantic poles for tigers and bears. This one happened to be for the big boys. It was her only chance.

She was a streak of grey and brown as her housecat’s tubby body hurtled toward the post, her claws ready to dig in the instant they touched wood. Behind her, a shriek of anger nearly blew out her eardrums, but she set all her attention on the log that was moving quickly toward her face.

Pleasepleaseplease, she thought, praying her kitty wouldn’t miss it. But KatieKat’s aim was true and, less than a heartbeat after latching on, she was scurrying up the pole as fast as her little feet would take her.

Her housecat’s small size meant the panther could gain quickly on land, but she could haul ass up that pole before the enraged beast could so much as take a breath. Another shriek of fury rent the air, but this one was far below her.

Then the pole shook under the weight of the panther. Katie chanced a quick look down to see a very angry black face snarling up at her. Hooking its hind claws into the pole, the big cat launched itself a full body-length upward, eating up the distance between them quicker than Katie imagined possible. The entire pole vibrated and swayed as the bitch climbed after her.

Why…? She shut down the question before it even began. There would be time enough later — if she didn’t become kitty tartar — to figure out what she’d done to piss off her supervisor, Miss Prodo, so badly that the crabby old bag was hunting her down like so much prey. Right now she needed to focus on survival.

Unfortunately, things didn’t look too promising.

Only when her kitty finally dug her claws into the flat top of the pole and dragged herself up did Katie realize her folly. Now what?

Shitknockers.

With each of the panther’s leaps up the pole, her perch on the very top nearly jerked out from under her. She held on for dear life but didn’t quite know why. If she stayed put, the panther would sink its teeth into her at any moment. Jumping to the ground was out of the question because the fall would kill her. Or worse, injure her just enough that she would be awake when the panther sunk its teeth into her.

One more shake and shudder of the pole, and a pair of glowing yellow eyes peered over the top of the pole, glaring at Katie. Her kitty backed away as far as she could manage, but it didn’t really matter. The panther’s forepaws were wrapped around the pole, hugging it, which made its claws just inches from her furry ass.

“Hissssssss!” It wasn’t very eloquent but it was all she could think to say. More to the point, it was all she could say, at the moment.

The panther answered with a rumbling growl that almost sounded like laughter. Drool dripped from its enormous fangs as it grinned at her over the top of the pole. Katie wanted to smack the grin right off that hate-filled face and her kitty thought that was a brilliant idea. Her needle-sharp claws drew blood on the panther’s nose.

The growl of amusement turned to one of fury. From her angle, Katie could just make out the cat’s shoulders, and when she saw them tensing and bunching up, she knew the end was near. Miss Prodo was getting ready for the final strike.

Katie squinched her eyes shut and waited, taking the moment before their demise to give a little spiritual shout-out to Mr. Roarke for taking a chance on hiring her. If it hadn’t been for him, she’d still be throwing pay-per-cup keggers for high schoolers. No matter how things had turned out, she owed him everything, and she’d be grateful for the rest of her life.

Which was going to last, oh, about three more seconds.

Her brain nearly split in two when the panther shrieked into her face, drowning out all other sounds. Her kitty mewled in terror. A familiar gust of air hit her a split second before needle sharp claws tore into her flesh. As her small body flew through the air, darkness washed over her and she welcomed it.

CHAPTER 3

When Katie came to, her first thought was that she’d died and gone to heaven. The room she was in was large and airy, decorated in neutral colors. She was lying on a cushy cream couch with a matching chenille throw covering her naked body…barely. Light streamed through a bank of windows that circled the entire circular room, giving her a 360-degree view of startlingly blue sky.

When she tried to sit up and felt a jolt of pain in her shoulder and another on her ass, she realized she wasn’t dead after all. Joy shot through her at being alive. She loved being alive. Being alive was the best.thing.ever!

Ignoring the pain, she grinned and tried to prop herself up on her elbow but the throw slipped down to her waist, revealing her bare breasts. Oops! She snatched it up to cover herself, pulling it away from her bare butt and the big white gauze bandage taped there. A hint of red stained the middle of it. She felt another bandage on her shoulder.

What the…? Where was she and who had tended to her wounds? The last thing she remembered was scurrying to the top of that big scratching post.

Wrapping the throw around her voluptuous body wasn’t easy — it was small and she…wasn’t. Because she was more focused on being healthy than skinny, she didn’t normally worry about her body size, except when she was trying to cover her naughty bits with an oversized baby blanket. But she somehow managed to wrangle it around most of her exposed flesh, tucking it in bath towel-style.

Now that she was in a sitting position, she could just make out the top of a tropical forest outside the windows. Where the heck was she?

“Miss O’Meghan,” said a deep voice from behind her. “How are you feeling?”

Katie knew that voice, and shivers ran up her spine in response. It belonged to Arnaud Simpson, a lawyer Mr. Roarke had brought in for some special assignment a month earlier. All the female staffers — and guests, for that matter — swooned over the eagle shifter’s rugged good looks…when they saw him, that is. He was notoriously reclusive, rarely leaving his suite in The Eyrie.

That was obviously where she was — in his room. She’d never been to The Eyrie section of Haven. The suites were built into trees that were much too high for mere housecats to scale, and the canopy too thick to penetrate even if you managed to make the climb. The only way to reach The Eyrie suites was to fly — or take the private elevator that was restricted to those with a special key card.

It suddenly dawned on Katie that Mr. Simpson must have been the one to patch up her body…her naked body. Her very bare skin flushed pink at the thought. As much as she might have wanted his hot gaze running up and down her flesh, it would have been nice if she’d been awake for it.

Not that she would ever succumb to such a tempting fantasy. Mr. Simpson was a guest — well, a quasi-guest — and employee-guest relations were strictly forbidden. Employees had to abide by an endless stream of confusing and seemingly random rules handed down by Mr. Roarke, but that one was drilled into them from Day One. It was the one unforgivable sin that would earn you instant dismissal.

Don’t fuck the guests.

A cup of soothing chamomile tea was thrust into her hands as Mr. Simpson crouched in front of her to gaze into her eyes. As his light brown eyes shifted from looking into one of her eyes to the other, they flashed a brilliant gold that left her speechless.

Not an easy thing to do. Katie was normally a Chatty Cathy. Of course, normally she wasn’t in a state of shock after almost being eaten by an enraged panther. And normally she wasn’t gazing into the most gorgeous pair of eyeballs she’d ever seen. And normally she wasn’t nearly nude in front of one of the most eligible bachelors who had ever graced Haven’s grounds.

“Doesn’t look like you have a concussion,” he said, a worried look flashing across his chiseled features. “Can you speak?”

“Wha…what happened?”

Relief washed over his face and he smiled.

Uh oh. She was in serious trouble. That smile…

“I saved your hide, that’s what happened,” he explained, settling his tall, lean frame into the cream armchair across from her and taking a sip of tea. Even under his starched white button-down and tailored slacks, she could see his pecs bulging and thighs rippling. What she wouldn’t give to see him as naked as he’d seen her.

“I was out exercising my eagle when I spotted you running for your life. I’ve never seen a housecat outrun a panther, by the way. Very impressive.”

She ducked her head to sip from her mug, trying to hide the blush rising up her cheeks from his praise — and her thoughts. He had a very disarming effect on her and she needed to shake it off. Now.

“I wouldn’t normally get involved in coworker disputes but that cat looked like she was out for blood. Didn’t seem like a fair fight to me. A poor little tabby up against a panther?”

“Hey, KatieKat got her a good one,” she protested, her hackles raised that he thought she was so helpless.

A smirk twitched at his lips. “KatieKat?”

Good lord, would she ever stop blushing?! “That’s what I call my inner housecat. KatieKat. And she’s a bit of a bad-ass, as you saw.”

Holding one hand up, he nodded. “My apologies. So I did.”

Somewhat mollified, she peered up at him over the rim of the cup. “Then what? I don’t remember anything after that nose swat.”

“I’d been circling overhead as she chased you but when I saw she meant business, I had to step in. Or fly in, to be precise. Honestly, I didn’t think I was going to get to you in time. After you — excuse me, KatieKat — bloodied her nose, she reared back to bat you off the post. I simply swooped in and flew off with you.”

That explained the sensation of flying, as well as the injury to her shoulder. She rolled it back to gauge the damage and winced.

Mr. Simpson’s face grew tight. “I’m sorry about that. My bird got a little over-excited by the whole thing, and I’m afraid his talons drew blood. I disinfected your wounds and dressed them, as I’m sure you noticed. None were very deep, so you should be as good as new in short order.”

For as far back as she could remember, she’d had to fend for herself. No one ever came to her defense, and she’d been in some pretty tight spots before. Never quite this tight, though. It warmed her from the inside out that he’d risked his own life to save hers, some strange alley cat that meant less than nothing to him.

“Please don’t apologize, Mr. Simpson. You saved my life and I’ll be forever grateful.”

He locked gazes with her and, just for a moment, she thought — and hoped — he was going to ask, “How grateful?”

She imagined crawling into his lap, letting her tiny chenille covering skim its way down her curves until it was a silky puddle beneath her. “This much,” she would murmur as she sifted one hand through that mane of blond hair and pulled one of his hands up to cup her breast.

She swallowed hard at the vision and reminded herself of the resort’s number one rule: Don’t fuck the guests.

* * *

“Call me Arnaud,” he finally mumbled.

He’d almost asked, “How grateful?” The words were on his lips but he caught himself in the nick of time. What had gotten into him? He not only knew better than to fraternize with the staff — she could lose her job, if caught — he knew nothing could come of it even if he did. But there was something about Katie, besides her obvious and abundant charms, that called to him.

The moment he stepped foot off the boat that brought him to this island paradise, he spotted her in the distance leading some kind of yoga class. He couldn’t hear anything but, thanks to his eagle eyes and her very tight yoga clothes, he could make out every luscious curve of her body. Her light brown hair was tied up in a ponytail and her pretty face glowed with joy. Had anyone ever lived who was so purely happy? She was glorious and he could scarcely take his eyes off her.

Then she assumed the Downward-Facing Dog pose and he nearly passed out from blood loss.

From that point on, Arnaud had avoided Katie as much as possible. The last thing he needed was the distraction of a pretty girl, especially when he could never be with her in any kind of meaningful way. Once you experience that deep connection with your fated mate, anything less seems pointless.

It had taken two long years to get over his mate’s death, but he’d finally reached the acceptance stage and had resigned himself to spending the rest of his life alone. Eagles are notoriously monogamous, often after the death of a mate, and eagle shifters follow suit.

So once again, he buried himself in work. He hid away in his suite in The Eyrie, working day and night on the contracts and legal documents Mr. Roarke had brought him here to examine and update.

Yet, every time he went down to the main resort, he found himself in the same room as the vivacious tabby shifter. She was so perky and full of life that it was impossible to tear his gaze away from her. They could have been the only two people in the room, as far as he was concerned.

But all the silly activities she tried to get him to join… They were pointless, a total waste of his valuable time. Granted, Mr. Roarke had insisted Arnaud take full advantage of everything the resort had to offer, including the activities, but fun and frivolity were no longer a part of his life. They hadn’t been for a long time now, and he saw no reason to change that. Work was the only thing that mattered, the only thing that kept him sane.

And now here she was, sitting in his suite, barely covered by that stupid little lap blanket. Not that it made a difference, considering she’d shifted back to her human form while she lay unconscious on his couch.

He’d prayed she would stay in cat form because he didn’t know if he could handle seeing her nude, but as soon as he saw her injuries, any lewd thoughts he might have had were replaced by concern for her well-being. All he could think of was tending to her wounds.

But now she was awake and looking mighty tempting sitting there across from him. Even his eagle gave a throaty warble in response, something it hadn’t done since Ann’s passing.

“And you already know you can call me Katie,” she chirped, tugging at the lap blanket so it would better cover her.

“Oh God, let me get you a robe!” he burst out, leaping up and running to a large, freestanding armoire. He tugged a fluffy cotton robe out for her to cover herself.

As she shrugged into it, a glimpse of flesh peeked out, sending blood rushing to long-ignored parts of him. Sweat broke out on his upper lip as he tried to think unsexy thoughts. But all he could bring to mind was images of her naked and supine under him. No good could come of that so he tried to get the conversation back on track.

“So, um,” he stammered, trying to avoid looking at her but failing miserably. “Why was that panther so angry?”

A furrow crinkled her brow and he regretted asking the question. He didn’t like seeing her frown. Not at all. It made him want to claw out the eyes of the beast who made the happiest person on the planet be…not happy.

“I don’t really know, to be honest,” she said, strolling to the suite’s window-wall. It was a spectacular view. The scenery was nice, too, if he could ever manage to drag his gaze away from her.

“I was in the Activities Office, looking for some liability release forms, when she came in and screamed at me to get out of her office.”

“The forms are kept in her office?”

“No. I mean, yes. I mean…” Katie laughed and smiled back at him, nearly stopping his heart. “She doesn’t have her own office, just a desk in the Activities Office. The forms are in a cabinet behind her desk, so maybe that’s what she was talking about. I honestly have no idea.”

“Odd,” he said, not knowing what else to say.

She shrugged, wincing in pain from her shoulder injury. “Not really. She’s had it in for me since the day I went over her head to suggest yoga classes to Mr. Roarke. I tried talking to her about it but she dismissed me out of hand. I guess it wasn’t too diplomatic of me, but I just knew they’d be popular.”

“And are they?” He couldn’t stop the memory of her bent over at the waist from popping into his head.

“Extremely!” Color infused her cheeks as she excitedly told him all about the program Mr. Roarke had approved — against the objections of Miss Prodo.

“I could see how that would irritate her, but enough for her to want to kill you? Because, I have to tell you, Katie, she looked ready to bite your head off…literally.”

Gnawing on her lower lip, she frowned again. Then a mischievous gleam sparkled in her fetching green eyes. “The only other thing I can think is that the skinny bitch is jealous of my lady humps.”

She wiggled her round rump at him, no doubt joking around and completely unaware that he could stare at that caboose all day long. He licked his lips and tried not to stare.

He failed.

Giggling, she trotted back over to the couch and plopped down on it. “Nice place, Arnaud. I can see why you would never want to leave it. But seriously, how many times have I told you that you need to get out more, if only for your health. You’re under too much stress and you need to learn how to control it before it eats you up from the inside out.”

She leaned in close to him, her scent filling his senses, confusing and confounding him.

“Tell you what,” she murmured, tugging that full lower lip between her teeth again, but this time in a decidedly sexy manner. “I’m going to mark you down for my 6 a.m. yoga class. That way you can get yourself centered before work, and it’s still early enough that not even you can complain about wasting the day away with frivolity.”

She winked as she put air quotes around ‘frivolity’, and he found himself nodding mutely. All he could think about was pushing her back on that couch and having a little frivolity with her.

“Great!” She jumped up and grabbed his hand with both of hers, pumping it up and down. “It’s a deal, and I know an honest and ethical man such as yourself would never go back on a deal. Now, could use your key card to let me in the elevator? I should get back to work and see if my supervisor still wants to kill me.”

He was a robot as he led her to the express elevator that would take her to the ground, not fully understanding what had just happened. Did he just agree to go to yoga? As the doors opened for her, she raised herself on her tiptoes and planted a kiss on his cheek before darting into the car.

“See you at six,” she grinned as the doors closed, leaving him standing there like the idiot he was.

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