"What the hell am I doing here?"
Aaron Coleman sighed, turning over on the mammoth bed to lie on his back. His whole life had been turned upside down in the last few weeks. So much so that he kept thinking it was all a dream.
He was afraid to go outside the room he was put in. He didn't know these people, despite the fact that they had saved him from what was possibly a fate worse than death. He just didn't know how to treat them now.
"What am I supposed to say? 'Hey Usama, sorry 'bout making your mate fight for me and all. Hope there's no hard feelings.' Right, I can see that going over real well."
He didn't even know where to begin sorting out the craziness around him. A month ago, he was on top of the world. About to make partner in his dad's company, Coleman Resources, a week away from a fantastic hiking trip in B.C., and so close to scoring with the cute coffee guy downstairs in the building.
Now where was he?
On a spaceship--a spaceship--after narrowly being turned into some fierce tiger-like cat man's bitch. If that wasn't enough to change his opinion regarding life, he didn't know what was. He had always been a cat person, but this was ridiculous.
At least things could be worse. There was another human on board. Although, if push came to shove, she would definitely be on their side. Apparently, little Rowan was sleeping with the leader of the men who'd saved him--Laithe--and his second in command, Fahd, as far as Aaron could determine.
Laithe Gatti ran this ship like a seasoned sailor. He knew every piece of equipment on board and had the respect and love of his crew. He had to admit, Laithe was something else. Towering over Aaron by more than a foot, he was entirely covered in silky smooth fur, head to toe. A thick, chocolate brown mane puffed out around his head, framing his feline features. He resembled one of the Barbary Lions Aaron had seen once on the Discovery Channel. Fascinating creatures. Laithe prowled around whatever space he was in, dominating the room, just like the lion he'd watched on television. Definite leadership material.
If there was one thing Aaron understood, it was leadership material. It was his business to know what made a leader, from behaviour to temperament to bearing. Companies came from all over to have Coleman Resources tell them how to run their businesses.
He sighed. "Looks like it's just not my year to take over the company. I need to get back home or Dad's gonna give the business to someone else." He lowered his voice. "Fred Coleman waits for no man. Leaders are made, son, not born," he grumbled, repeating one of the many lectures he'd gotten over the years.
Stretching in place, he considered the others on board. He still had trouble picturing Rowan with her mate. She was tiny, voluptuous, but still tiny. Her hair was a sleek russet bob, fluttering around her face, framing a lovely smile. Her body was curved in the most interesting ways, and Aaron definitely understood the appeal for most men. Just because he didn't want to sleep with her didn't mean he couldn't appreciate how attractive she was.
And then there was Fahd. The big, black bastard was definitely intimidating. He got the feeling Fahd didn't care for him much. Covered in a sleek, black pelt, he reminded Aaron of the type of man who would do anything to ensure his loved ones were safe. He was always with either Laithe or Rowan, protecting the two of them from any and all threats. He either thought Aaron was a threat or he really didn't care for him for other reasons, because the cat man had ignored him from their first meeting.
Fahd was one of the Pardus people, according to Catan. The small Lynx had spent a lot of time with Aaron recently, explaining their customs and identifying all the things he would need to know in order to live with them.
He liked Catan. He was smaller than Aaron, and the fur on his body was longer than the others, resembling the cats he saw more often in the Rocky Mountains. His buff-colored fur was an interesting contrast to the sleek forms of the others. His face was always open and trusting. He thought about what the man had told him when they first met. How the pride had taken him in after he had been abused, his family killed. At the time, Catan mentioned it to try and reassure him that not all the Felidae were horrible people.
It had definitely worked. He'd been sitting in his tent, listening to Catan explain the incidents that had brought them together. Up until that point, Aaron had been despairing over what had happened to him. But just sitting there, listening to Catan talk had somehow relaxed him. Made him realize that he would be able to survive whatever happened.
Catan was the perfect example of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. His life after his attack had been a textbook example of the five needs exerting themselves. First the physiological need for shelter and food, the safety need for security and protection, the social need for belonging and acceptance, the esteem need for self-respect and autonomy, and the self-actualization need for growth and self-fulfillment. Heck, he could take Catan to a few of his clients and show him as a test case for what life should be like.
Catan might prefer to sit back and let others tell him what to do, but underneath it all, he had a very calming presence. He just wanted the people around him to be happy. It was a nice trait to have. One he definitely didn't expect to find among all these barbaric men and women.
The Felidae were unlike anything he'd ever experienced before. Loosely arranged similar to the big cats on Earth, they seemed to value strength above all other things. Heck, that pretty much summed up what had brought him to Laithe and his men in the first place.
Apparently, the man who had taken him was one of the Tigris clan. All Aaron knew was the tall, imposing man had borne more than a passing resemblance to a really big Tony the Tiger. It was something he never expected to happen. Like some horrible nightmare, Tony jumped off the front of a cereal box to bring him to some alternate universe where cats walked and talked.
It was Planet of the Apes all over again. Make that Planet of the Cats.
He thought about the others he had met over such a short period of time. There were Asad and Usama, of course. Asad and Usama were Laithe's younger brothers. Asad the second child and Usama the baby of the family.
Apparently Asad was mated to the little Lynx, Catan. Aaron initially thought they were an odd match, considering that Catan had been abused by a man who bore a passing resemblance to Asad. The second Gatti brother and Catan's attacker had both been from the Leo clan, the ruling clan of the Felidae. But it had only taken watching them once for Aaron to realize they were perfectly suited together. Asad was so tender with Catan, caring for him and making sure that he was never uncomfortable. It was actually really nice to watch. Yet another thing he didn't expect to see among a race of people so different from the humans he was used to.
Usama was probably the other person he was closest to among everyone on board. He looked so different from his brothers. Laithe and Asad at least resembled each other, although Laithe was darker, and had a chocolate mane where Asad was the same shade all over. Where his brothers were a beautiful tawny gold, Usama was pure, blinding white. He had apparently been born with some kind of recessive gene, being born with a physical weakness that set him apart from the other people around him.
It had to be tough on him, having such an obvious weakness to a people who valued strength.
It was a good thing his own mate was so strong. Rajiv was something else. He was one of the Tigris, just like the man who had taken Aaron, but he seemed decent enough. He'd stepped up and saved Aaron, regardless of the fact that he didn't want to. He'd only done it for Usama, but Aaron didn't really give a shit what his reason was. Rajiv had saved his life. He certainly owed the man.
Aaron was trying his damnedest not to think about the other Gatti brother. Lev had avoided him for the most part since they met. He wasn't sure why, but it probably had something to do with the odd looks everyone else kept giving him. Well, everyone but the last man on board. Morgan Laren.
He didn't know why, but he got the feeling Morgan didn't like him. Not in the same way that Fahd didn't like him. No, Morgan wasn't trying to protect his loved ones from an outsider. Was he?
Morgan was so different from the other men on board. He was a Pardus, like Fahd. Though Fahd was completely black, Morgan was a rich, loamy gold. Black rosettes were interspersed like big giant paint splotches, splattered across his body. His fur was short, and looked like it would be so soft to touch. Not that he wanted to touch the man. No, he wasn't like Rowan. He couldn't be attracted to these creatures. There was no way. Was there?