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Excerpt from That Familiar Touch

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sp;  Soosha stared wide-eyed at the white stone city before her. The brightness of the buildings almost hurt her eyes.
     People bustled back and forth, some on the backs of strange animals. She felt sorry for the animals; they should not have to bear such a burden. It did not seem right to her.
     And some of the people did not seem very friendly.
     On her planet everyone was greeted with a happy smile. Here, several people– and they did look much like her in form–sneered at her as if they thought themselves somehow better.
     An agitated group of men walked by, carrying scrolls. By the way they flailed them about, the men seemed to be discussing whatever was in the tightly rolled documents. They paid little attention to where they were going; they noticed only each other and the documents they were waving in their hands. Soosha thought they would surely tumble over one another at any moment.
     Which could prove very entertaining.
     Her eyes gleamed in anticipation.
     But the men somehow made it through the causeway, turning the corner in a flurry of jabbing elbows.
     Disappointed, Soosha turned away.
     Across the roadway, a woman and two children were bringing food to a man who had been tied up and forced to stand in the sun.
     Soosha had never seen anything like that before.
     “He will learn his lesson now!” An old woman muttered behind her.
     “How can he learn his lesson if he is tied up to roast in the sun?” Soosha asked her, earnestly.
     The woman clicked her tongue and gave her a sour face for an answer. “ Impertinent commoner!” she sneered, then moved on.
     What had the man done to be treated so? Soosha’s brow furrowed. The sight deeply upset her.
     She scanned the city square. A large fountain bubbled in the center. Off to the right several men in similar dress milled about, looking for something to do. They were not knights but they had the look of fighting men.
     In another area, a man was kicking his mount repeatedly until the beast let out a wail of pain. The dejected animal could not defend itself against the viscous onslaught.
     This is terrible!
     Without thinking Soosha ran over to help the poor beast.
     “You there, girl, get away! What do you think you are doing?”
     “You are hurting her! Why do you whip her so?” she cried out.
     “Are you mad? Get back to your master!” The man brought the tip of his lash smartly down on her shoulder.
     Soosha gasped. More in shock than in pain.
     “I said get back!” The lash stung her again.
     Outrage overcame all else; she flung back her hood and hissed angrily.
     The man instantly reared back in fright. “What the–?”
     Then his eyes widened wildly in conjecture. His startled expression immediately turned to one of greed.
     Ah, Soosha, look what you have done now. This does not look so good for you. She waited to see what the man would do, hoping he wouldn’t–
     He called out to the group of men dressed in uniforms who were standing around the central fountain. “Guards! Seize her! She has stolen my ring!”
     The guards smiles died on their faces as one by one they turned to stare at her.
     Time froze as it sunk into their collective minds what the man had said. Now they had something to do.
     As one, the previously bored guards began running towards her. Several seemed to be brandishing some kind of weapon.
     Soosha blinked for a fraction of a second before coming to an important conclusion: Run!
     Realizing she might have made in a mistake in choosing this particular world to explore, she sprinted through the square, then dashed into a marketplace where several stalls had been set up for traders.
     Not stopping to think, she careened past a rapid blur of clothing items, a table displaying glinting weapons, baskets of fresh baked goods (they smelled enticing but she had no idea what they were and was not about to stop to find out); she was in full run. . . until she sideswiped a stall piled high with boxes of strange, black fruits. The jarring action caused the stall tenting to warble. A pole, which hadn’t been securely tied, came loose; it crashed into a tray sending the tray and its contents skyward.
     Large, round fruits started rolling everywhere.
     Two of them bounced onto the baked goods table, flattening half of the merchant’s items in one stampeding pass.
     He let out a yell of outrage.
     At his scream, a beast, similar to the one she had been trying to help, stomped a fat, round paw down (despite everyone screaming for him not to) right on to one of the runaway fruits.
     A tremendous stink filled the air.
     A huge groan from the bystanders overtook the clacking noise of the rushing guards and the din of the marketplace gone wild.
     Everyone began running then– simply to get away from that horrific smell!
     Why would they even sell something like THAT? Soosha wondered as she continued to dash in and around stalls, dodging her pursuers.
     She was starting to enjoy herself in the chase. Soosha, like others of her kind, loved to be chased. Even more than that, she loved not getting caught!
     Unless she decided it might be fun to be caught.
     Except. . . it might not be good to be chased in this way- Her pursuers might not have her sense of humor.
     “Stop, thief!” Her false accuser was still in hot pursuit. His jowls slapped against his red neck as he chugged after her. She swore the flabby pouches grew with each foot fall.
     Soosha had no doubt that when she hissed at him, he began to wonder if she could possibly be a female from the highly sought after and endlessly talked about race of shapeshifters.
     Just the idea of that had sent him after her.
     She had not raised her eyes to him, so he could not know for certain. If she could elude him, he might convince himself that his speculation was merely a maddened thought on an overly warm afternoon.
     As she had that idea, two of the guards that had split off to come at her from opposing directions, rushed her from either side. Soosha grinned.
     Surely, they have got to be jesting; such a tactic would fetch nothing but air!
     She laughed as she agilely leaped over several boxes and ran fleetly across the top of a tarp over a merchant’s stall. This foolish pursuit could actually become enjoyable!
     Swinging down, she plopped onto a cage of some cawing winged beasts. They seemed to be cheering her on.
     With one swipe, she kicked out at the latch, releasing the squawking, fussing prisoners, who took up the challenge like miniature feathered knights by leaping directly into the path of everything coming headlong towards them and her.
     It was a beautiful sight to behold!
     And she would have gotten away too–
     If a strong hand hadn’t suddenly shot out of nowhere and clasped her wrist to yank her smartly into an alleyway.
     Before she had a chance to recoup, a voice as silky as the fabric of her jatal-riaz murmured low in her ear. “Do you have any idea what the penalty is for stealing from a highborn?”
     Soosha tried to catch her breath as she looked up into the face of her decisive captor.
     She confronted masculine features of perfect angles and hardened edges. Golden, serious eyes framed by thick, ebony lashes; and firm lips, tilted with sensual secrets that begged to be bitten into release.
     At such a tempting masculine display, Soosha’s own lips parted in unconscious response.
     The man’s hair fell far below his shoulders; the strands were twisted from scalp to ends into long, handsome locks that were woven-bound throughout by black leather laces. Beaded coils hung at the ends.
     His hair color matched his eyes. . . and yet, its true tone was difficult to tell in the weave of his hair. She suspected the strong sun of lightening some of the strands; for the golden color shaded from dark to light.
     He was beautiful.
     And since she came from a race that produced males of staggering beauty, that was saying much.

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