The jaguar rose to his haunches and leaned against the hundred-year-old oak. He was the color of midnight and more lethal than any other predator found in these woods. Curved claws dug into the bark as leg muscles popped and pulled, lengthening to appear human. His spine cracked, widened, and elongated, allowing the man to stand straight and tall.
Fur rippled, disappearing into the pores from which it had come, leaving lightly tanned skin in its wake. The tucked-in waist of a large cat stretched into the ripped abs of a well-toned man. Shoulders widened, forward-bending joints swelled and broke, becoming back-bending elbows. Fingers pushed from paws, reshaping into human hands, while sharpened claws remained embedded in the base of the tree.
Small pointed ears slid into place at the side of his head. Teeth shrank and the muzzle retracted and separated, becoming a human nose and mouth. Last to change were his eyes; oblong slits became dark pupils surrounded by a sea of green and white.
Bastian shivered, the transformation from cat to human leaving him shaky. Thick foliage sheltered him for the few minutes he needed to calm and re-dress in the clothes left for him by his fellow enforcer.
Public nudity was the biggest problem--no, strike that--the second biggest problem with shapeshifting anywhere other than pride land. Humans coming across a full-grown jaguar in the north woods of Minnesota topped the list.
Yet, here Bastian stood, breaking his own rules, senses on overdrive, sweaty from the chase and the quick change back to human form. All because of one young were-cat.
Flashing lights directed him to the casino entrance. The beeps, whirls and jangles of one-armed bandits scraped against his already frayed nerves.
“Bast, you in the door yet?” Gunner sounded like he was standing right next to him thanks to the tiny bud resting in Bastian's ear canal.
“I’m here, but the next person to get in my way gets eaten.”
“Umm, make sure she’s plump and sassy. You can take one end and I’ll take the other. It can be our reward for taking down this pot-smoking asswipe.”
“Heh heh.” Leave it to Gun to pull him back from his nasty mood.
Leading a pride of shapeshifting jaguars was a lonely job. Good friends helped quell the loneliness as did keeping busy. An occasional threesome helped fill the time as well, but a mate would be even better. Problem was, he had yet to meet his.
“How the fuck did this kid make it all the way to the casino with buckshot lining his hindquarters, Gunner?”
“Yeah, well, looks like Ganja Boy’s just ran out; northwest corner, closest to the hotel--stumbling out of the head.”
“I see him, but you’re still closest. Think you can make the capture without him going ballistic?” The static reply emanated from Bastian's earbud.
“That sounds suspiciously like a challenge, my friend. Watch and learn, grasshopper, watch and learn.”
Bastian edged his way forward through the throng of people. Gentle nudges helped clear the way. The closer he got to his prey, the faster Dope-head seemed to move, as if he knew he wasn’t alone.
“Shit.” The boy’s quick glance back said it all.
For someone shot in the ass, Bastian's prey moved with surprising speed. While most injuries could heal during a shift, there was always residual tenderness. Apparently not much of a problem for this guy.
Bastian took off after the runner, pushing through the crowds. Choruses of “hey” and “asshole” sounded around him. He would not lose this kid. The grief he’d get from the other enforcers if he did was more than he could take.
Not giving two squats about the people he was running down, Ganja Boy barreled forward into the casino lounge. Overturned tables slid onto the dance floor, knocking over several cars in the human train.
Arms and legs flailed as Bastian's prey neglected to take into consideration the consequences of knocking over twenty or more people. The drunken, sweaty, human-smelling dancers kicked and punched at the rude boy who ruined their fun.
It amused Bastian to watch the little dumb shit get his ass kicked by a bunch of humans, but it was in his best interest to get the stoned were-cat up and out of a public venue before he lost control.
Human stench choked Bastian as he pulled them, one after another, off his prey. For as spring fresh as they tried to make themselves smell, humans failed miserably at the task.
The smell of marijuana drifted up to him. Yeah, his prey was still down there. Shit, and apparently still carrying. Real Mensa material here. Rather than ditching the proof and claiming stupidity, he hung on to it and ran. Did he figure he’d toke up again when he got away?
Bastian reached into the mess of bodies and pulled the boy out. The rest of the enforcers slid into the bar behind him, waiting to take custody of the youth.
“Check his pockets when you take him out of here.” He handed the boy over. “Should have flushed it, son.”
Young cats like the boy were typical in the pride. Jonesing on testosterone and adrenaline, they needed an outlet for the excess energy. Drug use made things worse. Now, as pride leader, Bastian had to devise a suitable punishment. This was definitely the worst part of his job.
“Gun, I’ll...” The smell of sunshine and sex rolled him. Sounds dimmed and lights flashed brighter. His stomach hit the floor with his body soon to follow if he didn’t do something quickly.
“Bast, you okay? You’re looking pale, dude.”
“Yeah.” No, he wasn’t all right. His freaking knees were weak. “Uh, Gun, I’ll need you to smooth things over with the casino manager, ‘kay?” At least one body part didn’t share the absurd weakness of his knees--he was half-hard from the delicious smell of a woman made only for him.
“Sure, no sweat, I’ll play nice to the casino manager. You sure you’re okay?”
“Yes.” His response came with a bit more gravel than he’d hoped, but all he could focus on was the smell and getting the other male far away from what was his.
“Solid. I’m out.” Thankfully, the enforcer had paid enough attention to his leader to know when it was time to go. They couldn’t afford to have a go at it here in a public venue.
There was another cat in the pile and she belonged to him. Hell, he’d found his mate at the bottom of a mass of smelly humans, in a noisy casino and miles from pride land? Amazing.
In a flurry of action, he dug into the remaining humans piled before him, moving them and their scents away from the smell of his woman.
“Please. Get. Off. Me.” The husky voice finished the job started by her scent. His cock stretched to full length and swelled fiercely against the zipper of his jeans. If he weren’t careful, he’d be a eunuch before he was a mate. Not a happy thought.
Auburn hair, tangled from the recent struggle, came into view as the last human in the pile fell away. Olive green eyes sparkled as he offered her his hand. A shockwave of sexual heat raged from his balls to his head. She wasn’t classically beautiful, but her pinchable cheeks and real womanly curves spoke of her earthiness. This was the kind of woman able to take a man of his size and cushion him in her femininity; wrap him in her scent and take his breath away only to give it back with her kiss.
“Thank you.” The tips of her fingers barely touched his, but the spark shot clear to his toes and out the top of his head.
Sunshine, sex and human scents flooded his system. The closer he pulled her to him, the greater the smell. The sunshine warmed him. The sex thrilled him, but the human chilled him. Where did the human smell come from? Could she be...?
“May I have my hand back?”
“No.” Nope, she was his mate. The human smell must have rubbed off on her as she lay beneath the crush of bodies. A snarl rumbled out of him. All those humans touching her brought his cat close to the surface. He pulled her closer, scanning the area for other males, growling under his breath. Warning everyone not to touch her unless they had a death wish.
“Excuse me?” Her struggle made him aware of how tightly he’d been holding her and how exquisite she felt in his arms. Smooth skin, fair enough to flush a deep red from the spankings he would definitely be giving her. Or so he hoped.
“Have sex with me.” The smell of sex blossomed around him. She was interested. Damn, she was something with her eyes now almost black and lips pouty.
“Come home with me,” he whispered next to her ear. “And let me fuck you.”
Marina Jamison stood mesmerized by the beautiful sea-green eyes she was sure were looking into her very soul.
Wait. Did she really say okay to a night of sex with a stranger? Oh geez, could she be a bigger slut? Yeah, probably.
She recognized the incredible creature in front of her. He was 6’3” of sinfully delicious, shapeshifting, one-night stand material. Even better, he was a full-blown alpha male to boot. He was exactly what she was looking for.
“Um, what’s your name and where do you live exactly?” Good try at civility, but you still sound slutty.
“Bastian LaRue and I live about twenty miles west of here on forty acres of the prettiest land you’ve ever seen.” He moved in closer, leaning his solid chest towards her and whispered, “It’s out of the way--private. Perfect for playing. You still game?”
Her head nodded of its own volition. She’d heard rumors about what went on in the woods encompassed by pride land. In hushed tones the female shifters spoke of marathon sex and multiple orgasms, whips and chains; even whispers of multiple partners was news, as sought after as the newest Prada bag. The thought of pleasure, taken to such an intense level, had her on edge.
She’d also heard whispered allegations of the viciousness with which the pride leader dealt with problems. Once, an abusive male had disappeared after a visit from the pride leader. There were no goodbyes, no raging at the pride and its leader, just gone, as if he’d never existed. What might he do to a half-breed who dipped her toes in the full-blood pool?
And yet she moved on with him, striving to find a sense of calm as they found the exit. His hand settled on her lower back, firm in its direction. His gait spoke of authority, leadership, a definite alpha.
“Which way?” The demand in his voice sent electric currents skittering though her veins. She glanced his way, meeting eyes, which promised her the thrill of a lifetime.
“T--th--erhm--over here.” Calm turned into anticipatory shakes as they drew closer to her car. Her mouthy inner critic split itself in two--a devil and an angel rode her with the pros and cons of hopping in the sack with any stranger, but more so about sleeping with one who was also a full-blooded shapeshifter.
Bastian LaRue was the type of man who’d filled her dreams. Spotting the elusive creature in a crowd was surprisingly easy. While they looked human at first glance, they were not. Taller and brawnier than the average human, they moved with more grace and stealth than their human counterparts did. Shifters were more.
“Keys?” He held out his hand.
This man was more--to the infinity. From behind the open halves of his silk shirt, a hard body enticed her with strength and safety. Mid-length black hair called to her fingers, taunting them to grip the perfect hanks while vivid green eyes promised long hours of sexual satisfaction. However, his musky male scent drew her the most. It rolled over her like a lover’s touch, gentle and knowing, but designed to leave her breathless. He would star heavily in future fantasies. Oh yeah, me-time was getting a completely new face.
She gave him her keys, but nevertheless hesitated.
“Are you going to get in?” His voice, low and growling, drew a wet heat from her core.
“I don’t know,” she whispered. “I’ve never done this before.” Nor, as a half-breed, had she ever been given the opportunity to have sex with a full-blood. Shoot, her unusual family unit guaranteed that she’d never be welcomed into a pride. Now, here she was soon to engage in illicit acts with one of the finest specimens of shifter she’d ever seen.
Things were looking up.
Bastian stepped closer, and her back warmed from the heat pulsing off him. Long fingers brushed the sides of her breasts, drawing the nipples to rigid points. “There’s a first time for everything.”
Oh yes, there was. Tonight she would climb into her car and willingly go wherever he wanted to take her. She’d allow herself to revel in the pure passion of sex with a full-blooded shifter, setting aside what would come next. Tomorrow was soon enough to find a nice, boring human and live a nice, boring life.
This was her chance to find out if there was more to sex than the lackluster orgasms found with human partners. For years she’d wondered if there more to it than the grunts and groans, the ooh babies and the repetitive pounding which never seemed to get her close to the elusive orgasm.
Fine hair at the back of her neck stood on end as he moved closer. Shivers raced to her toes as he nuzzled the side of her neck and breathed deeply. His rumble tingled at the base of her neck and vibrated along her spine until it reached the already aching flesh between her thighs. From the erotically charged sound, she knew the growl was no mere request--it was a summons.
A summons she could not pass up.