branded by fire

july 2009
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"As her legion of fans can attest, Singh has a rare talent for impressive worldbuilding, intricate plotting and riveting characterization. The Mercy/Riley relationship is intense and fraught with divided loyalties in this red-hot thriller. Singh delivers excellence every single time! "
~ Romantic Times (Top Pick)

"I loved Riley and Mercy..I recommend Branded by Fire as a rich, satisfying, very sexy and romantic read!" ~ Allison (winner of Branded By Fire ARC)

"I don't think there is a single paranormal series as well-planned, well-written, and downright fantabulous as Ms. Singh's Psy-Changeling series."
~ All About Romance

"BRANDED BY FIRE is the best Psy/Changeling romance to date, packing in everything I love about PNR today: hot, emotionally fulfilling romance, suspenseful action and a great world built to support it all in."
~ Lurv A La Mode

"As I read this book I marveled at how Nalini Singh is able to achieve such balance in her books. She manages to create new and emotional stories for the characters that pepper the Psy/Changeling series and do it against the backdrop of the overall conflict that is happening in the world she has created. I wrote that the previous entry in the series was the most emotional, but I found BRANDED BY FIRE to be its equal...Nalini Singh has written another superb entry in what is easily my favorite paranormal series in romance. "
~ Kati for Romance Novel TV (Review life June 26th)

"BRANDED BY FIRE will leave you raw and breathless! Riley and Mercy have a combustible chemistry that makes this story fly by way too fast...BRANDED BY FIRE has all the hallmarks of fierce storytelling and grand romance. Nalini Singh pulls out all the stops in this terrific and volatile addition to her series. Have mercy on your readers Ms. Singh, and give us more of this fantastic world. BRANDED BY FIRE is an emotional masterpiece."
~ Romance Junkies

"BRANDED BY FIRE is the perfect blend of romance, series and urban fiction...Ms. Singh still has a strong emphasis put on the relationship building of the main characters...Just the right amount of both – world and relationship building, plus hot sex, suspense and revisiting of other char[ac]ters make this book a joy to read.  Do not stop, go directly past Go and get this book!"
~ Sarah for The Romance Readers Connection

"...a super entry in a great series. The world of Singh seems genuine as the sentinels, their mates, and their enemies come across as real."
~ Genre Go Round Reviews

"BRANDED BY FIRE is another crackerjack instalment in the entertaining and highly imaginative Psy/Changling series. Singh deftly alternates between Mercy and Riley’s emotionally rich and red hot love story and sprinkling new twists into the fascinating Psy mythology..."
~ Bookloons

"Mercy & Riley have a delightful chemistry and a searingly hot attraction."
~ Errant Dreams Reviews

"Once more, Nalini Singh proves why she is an auto- buy author for me...All I can say is WOW! This series is just like potato chips - you can't stop at one!  I cannot recommend it highly enough."
~ ParaNormal Romance

 

branded by fire

Hailed by Christine Feehan as “a major new talent,” New York Times bestselling author Nalini Singh now brings together two fierce changelings in her most explosive story yet.

Though DarkRiver sentinel Mercy is feeling the pressure to mate, she savagely resists when Riley Kincaid, a lieutenant from the SnowDancer pack, tries to possess her. The problem is not simply that he pushes her buttons; the problem is that he’s a wolf, she’s a cat, and they’re both used to being on top.

But when a brilliant changeling researcher is kidnapped from DarkRiver territory, Mercy and Riley must work together to track the young man—before his shadowy captors decide he’s no longer useful. Along the way, the two dominants may find that submitting to one another uncovers not just a deadly conspiracy, but a passion so raw that it’ll leave them both branded by fire…

Excerpt

Unedited Advance Excerpt

NB: This excerpt begins a few paragraphs into Chapter 1, so as not to spoil the events of Hostage to Pleasure for those of you who haven’t yet read Dorian’ story. (It’s night and Mercy is deep in the quiet of DarkRiver’s forested territory as this excerpt opens.)

…As a DarkRiver sentinel, she should’ve been considering their defense strategy, working out possible scenarios. Instead, she was going so insane with need she couldn’t think of anything but the fever in her body, the hunger in her throat, the clawing want in every cell, every breath. Intimate touch was as necessary to her predator’s soul as the forest she called home, but things might not have been so bad if she hadn’t also been trying to cope with the impact of a conversation she’d had with the pack healer, Tamsyn, a few days ago.

Mercy was the one who’d said it. “There’s a strong possibility I’ll remain unmated.”

“You don’t know that,” Tammy had begun, frown lines on her brow. “You could mee—”

“It’s not that. I might not be able to be with anyone. You know that happens.”

Tammy had bent her head in a reluctant nod. “The chances are higher with dominant females than males. It’s an inability to give in...to surrender. Even to your mate.”

And that was the hell of it, Mercy thought. She might want a mate with everything in her, but if he appeared, and he was the strong, take-no-shit partner she knew she needed, she might refuse to acknowledge him on the level necessary for a true mating bond. Oh, the mating urge would probably overpower her into taking him for a lover, perhaps more...but if the leopard in her didn’t truly accept his right to her, then she might go roaming for months at a time, coming back to him only when she could no longer fight the need.

It was a special kind of torture reserved for those female leopards who got strangled up at the mere idea of giving a male any kind of control over them. And put it any way you would, unless her mate turned out to be a weak submissive—and she’d never be attracted to someone like that, so that was a no-brainer—he was going to try to dominate her.

“I don’t need a mate,” she muttered, staring up at the bright circle of the early autumn  moon. “But can’t you send me a nice, sexy, strong male to dance with? Pretty please?” She hadn’t had a lover for close to eight months now and it was starting to hurt on every level. “He doesn’t even have to be smart, just good between the sheets.” Good enough to unsnap the tension in her body, allow her to function again.

Because sex wasn’t simply about pleasure for a cat like her—it was about affection, about trust, about everything good. “Though right this second, I’d take plain old hot sex.”

That was when Riley walked out of the shadows. “Got an itch, kitty?”

Snapping to her feet, she narrowed her eyes, knowing he had to have deliberately stayed downwind in order to sneak up on her.  “Spying?”

“When you’re talking loud enough to wake the dead?”

She swore she could feel steam coming out her ears. Everyone thought Riley was quiet, practical, grounded. Only she knew he had a mean streak that delighted in annoying her as much as possible. “What do you want?” It was a growl from the heart of the leopard and woman both.

“I was invited to the ceremony.” A slow smile that taunted her to retaliate. “Pretty hard to miss you burning up the place. And I’m not talking about your hair.” His eyes lingered on the long red strands stroking over her breasts.

Mercy didn’t get embarrassed easily, but her cheeks flamed now. Because if Riley knew she was in heat—like a freaking wild cat—what the fuck!—then so did the rest of her own pack. “So what, you followed me hoping I’d lower my standards and sleep with a wolf?” She intentionally made “wolf” sound about as appetizing as “reptile.”

Riley’s jaw tightened under a shadow of stubble a shade darker than the deep chestnut of his hair. “You want to claw at me, kitty-cat? Come on.”

Her hands clenched. She really wasn’t this much of a bitch. But goddamn Riley had a way of lighting her fuse. “Sorry, I don’t beat defenseless puppies.”

He laughed. He actually laughed. She hissed at him. “What’s so funny?”

“We both know who’s the dominant here...and you’re not it.”

That did it. She was a sentinel. So what if he’d been a lieutenant longer? That didn’t change the fact that she occupied the same place in DarkRiver that he did in SnowDancer. The wolf had crossed a very defined line—and since she couldn’t have sex, she’d settle for violence.

Feeling more than a little feral, she pounced.

Riley was ready for her. He took the kick on the thigh without flinching, but stopped her punch with a single hand. She was already shifting, sliding into the next position, ready to take advantage of any vulnerability. He blocked every one of her moves, but made none of his own.

“Fight!” she yelled. She needed a good, sweaty workout—it would take some of the edge off the gut-wrenching fury of her need. Her booted foot connected with his ribs.

She heard a grunt and grinned. “Not so fast are we, wolfie?”

“I was trying,” he said, blocking her next set of blows with his arms, “not to hurt you.”

“I’m not a frickin’ princess,” she muttered, aiming for the most vulnerable part of a man’s body—yeah, yeah it wasn’t fair. But Riley had asked for it. Oh, man had he asked for it. “‘Kitty this, Kincaid.”

“Damn it, Mercy!” He grabbed the foot that had been about to connect with his crotch and flipped her. Effortlessly. Gasping as she realized exactly how much he’d been holding back, she twisted in mid-air and came to an easy landing on her feet.

“I’ll give you one thing,” he said, crouching opposite her as they circled each other. “You know how to move…kitty.”

Adrenaline shot through her, a hot, liquid fire. “Better than a jumped-up sheepdog anyway.” She kept her tone even, but she was sweating under the slinky black tee she’d changed into for the dancing, her heart beating at a rapid pace. “Claws out,” she said and that was the only warning she gave as she went for him.

She didn’t even see it coming. One moment she was about to slash his face—okay, so she would’ve just scratched him, it wasn’t like this was a fight to the death—and the next, she was flat on her back with her wrists slammed to the earth, gripped in one strong fist. “Ooomph.” All the air rushed out of her as Riley’s lower body crushed hers to the ground. The bastard was heavy, pure muscle over solid bone.

“Yield.” His nose was almost touching hers.

“You wish.” She smirked into chocolate-dark eyes. “Come closer.”

“So you can bite me?” A flash of teeth. “First you yield. Then I’ll come closer.”

“Not on your life.” If she yielded, she’d be acknowledging his dominance, at least for tonight.

“Then I guess I’ve have to make you.”

“Try it.” Smiling, she went for his throat and almost had him, when—using a move that was all sorts of illegal—he flipped her again so her front pressed into the leaf-laden ground, her wrists still locked in his iron grip and pinned above her head. “Cheater.”

“So says the woman who tried to kick my balls into my throat,” he pointed out, even as he licked the salt off  the skin of her neck in a lazy and highly provocative move.

“I’m going to kill you.” It was more hiss than sound.

He bit her.

In the soft, sensitive place between neck and shoulder.

She felt her entire body shiver from the inside out at the blatant show of dominance. “Stop it.” It came out husky, nothing like the rejection she wanted it to be.

He took his mouth from her. “I’ve pinned you.”

“That’s wolf shit. I’m a cat.”

“You’re still trapped under me.” He nuzzled at her throat. “And you smell all hot and wet and ready.” His voice was dropping, going wolf on her.

And the heat between her thighs was turning into a pulsing drumbeat. Her stomach twisted in a vicious wave of need. God she was hungry, so sensually hungry. And Riley had taken her, his hold unbreakable. At that moment, the leopard didn’t care that he wasn’t a cat. It just cared that he was strong, sexy and aroused.

She found herself raising her body against him without realizing it, her bottom rubbing, enticing, inviting. “You tell anyone, I’ll carve out your heart.”

“Talking’s not what I’m interested in right now.” Releasing her hands, he let her twist onto her back…only to push apart her thighs and settle his erection snugly against her. It was all she could do not to moan out loud.

He raised himself up on his arms, looking down with eyes gone wolf—the black pupils circled by a ring of amber that echoed through the rich brown of the irises to turn his gaze nightglow. “How rough?” His sexuality was a primal force crashing against her skin.

“Hard.” She wanted to be marked up, used until she was wrung out and comatose from pleasure. And she wanted to do the same to him. Fisting a hand in that thick, silky hair she itched to feel against her breasts, she pulled down his head and kissed him, snarling in the back of her throat.

He gripped that throat with one hand, squeezing lightly. “Behave.”

She bit him this time.

A full growl poured into her mouth as stick-in-the-mud Riley Kincaid gave in to his wolf and showed her exactly why he was SnowDancer's most senior lieutenant. Her tee was in shreds before she could blink, her bra gone the instant after that. His hand squeezed the rounded curves of her bared flesh and when he tore his lips from hers to move down, she knew she was going to feel teeth.

What she didn’t know was that Riley would suck on her nipple like it was his favorite treat before he sank those strong teeth into her delicate flesh. Her back arched up off the forest floor and she gripped the slick heat of his shoulders. Where had his own shirt gone? She didn’t care. All she knew was that she had gorgeous male flesh under her hands and oh it felt good.

Ignoring his growl, she tugged up his head from her breast and bit at his lip again. For a wolf, Riley had a beautiful mouth. She’d been wanting to take a nip out of it for months. So she did. Then she slid her lips along his jaw and over the cords of his neck. Salt and man and wolf.

Wolf. Enemy.

Her cat snarled again.

But the snarl was buried in pure heat. He tasted good.

When he wound his hand in her waist-length hair and dragged her head back for another kiss, she didn’t protest. It was as wild as the first, wet and deep and coated with the promise of raw sexual pleasure, no holds barred. “Now,” she ordered as they broke apart, her body close to vibrating with ever-tightening need.

“No.” He slid down her body and suddenly her dress pants and panties were gone. She felt the kiss of claws against the insides of her thighs and knew it had been on purpose. No pain, not even a real touch. Just a hint.

Just enough to remind her cat that he could take her.

More than enough to shove her arousal into the stratosphere.

“Goddamn wolf.” A choked out imprecation.

Spreading her thighs with strong, callused hands, he put his mouth on her. She screamed. Riley was apparently in no mood to go slow and easy. He licked at her in hard, firm strokes, sucked then nipped. The orgasm tore through her so ferociously that she knew her muscles would protest tomorrow.

He continued using that mouth, those teeth on her until she could feel her body tightening again after a ridiculously short interval. But she wanted more than another burst of pleasure. Grabbing his shoulders, she pulled him up, knowing she wouldn’t have been able to do it if he hadn’t cooperated. It would’ve been annoying…in any other situation. “Do it, wolf.”

A hand in her hair, wrenching back her head. “What’s my name?”

She scratched trails down his back. He didn’t even wince. “My name, kitty. Say my name.”

“Mr. Mud Stick, Muddie for short,” she said, even as she rubbed herself against the hard thrust of his denim-covered erection, the roughness of the fabric an exquisite sensation. She would’ve liked naked skin even more, but he wasn’t budging.

“Say it, or no cock for you today.”

Her mouth fell open. “Fuck you.”

“You’ll be doing that shortly.” He kissed her again, a tangling of tongue and teeth and untamed male power. “Now”—he thrust against her, letting her feel the heavy, dark heat that she could have—“what’s my fucking name?”

It was tempting to continue to snarl at him, but her skin was slick with sweat and he was big and wild and delicious over her. And she wanted him in her. Now. “Men and their egos,” she muttered, just to piss him off a little. “Now do it, Riley. Or I’ll find someone else.”

He held her head where it was for another long second before lowering his face to hers, those amber eyes telling her exactly who was in charge inside him at that moment. “What did you say?” Quiet, quiet words.

She clawed his back again. This time, the wolf growled at her and the next few minutes passed in a fury of torn clothing and ravaging kisses, cries of pleasure intermingled with moans. And suddenly he was naked above her. Strong, hot, beautiful. She rose up against him, feeling her eyes go leopard as he put one hand on her thigh to hold her down and nudged at her with the aroused length of him.

She went to reach down, but he growled at her. Normally she’d have growled back, but he was making her feel so-damn-good. So she wrapped her other leg around him and thrust her hands into his hair, rocking her body upward. “I want you in me.”

He began to push in. She sucked in a breath. The man was hard as rock and thick enough to make her muscles stretch to the edge of pain. She shuddered. “More.”

He took her at her word, thrusting into her with a slow, intensely erotic focus that had her inner muscles starting to spasm in ecstasy even before he was fully inside. Then he was and she’d never felt so taken in her life. But he gave her only a few seconds to get used to him before his lips took hers once again, even as his body slammed in and out of her with a power her leopard gloried in—wolf or not, this man was worth dancing with.

She moved with him, kissing him back, running her hands over his body and nipping at him just because. He kept her pinned to the earth as he took her, as if he knew just how damn much she needed a good, hard ride. When she orgasmed, it was with a sharp cry, a lush clenching around the thick heat of him and a burst of starlight behind her eyes.

Lights that continued to flicker even after she came back down to earth. Riley was still hot and aroused in her, moving with unapologetically powerful thrusts that pushed her to another peak in moments. She bit his neck in the wolf way this time, and it finally pushed him over the edge with her.

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