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by Joely Skye
Category: Erotica/Gay-Lesbian Erotica/Romance
Description: The only way to break free is to let go. In order to protect his shifter kin, FBI agent Trey Walters hides his ability from his employers. For him, a vacation means a whole midwinter month in the Canadian wilderness, free to live in his wolf skin. When he happens upon a rare lynx shifter, he's fascinated. And his protective instincts kick into overdrive. The young man needs to be shielded from werewolves and humans alike, whether he likes it or not. Jonah can hardly wrap his head around the fact that other shifters exist, much less endure the presence of a stranger in his lonely sanctuary. Blaming himself for his brother's death, he lives in self-imposed isolation. Trust? Forget it. Yet Trey's patience penetrates Jonah's fear, and it doesn't take long for him to fall like a rock for the wolf. Trey hadn't planned to embark on an intense, passionate affair, but he finds himself vowing to return after his next undercover mission is over. As months stretch into years, however, Jonah fears that Trey has broken faith with him--or is dead. There's only one way to find out. Leave the safety of his lair and venture into a dangerous, deadly world? Warning: violence, explicit sex.
eBook Publisher: Samhain Publishing, Ltd., 2010 2010
eBookwise Release Date: May 2010
51 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [297 KB]
Reading time: 187-263 min.
Trey was three days deep into the Canadian Shield--it was slow progress going uphill towards a major ridge in a snowstorm--when he recognized he was being tracked. The whiff of a predator too faint to identify. The muffled echo of something moving over the snow's surface.
He'd come here on a whim, investigating the odd report of a giant lynx in the area--though giant lynxes were long extinct. Didn't matter, this was his idea of vacation. He hadn't expected to discover much of anything. He certainly hadn't expected to be tracked by another animal, and this new development invigorated him.
The bone-deep weariness that had afflicted Trey these past weeks vanished. Easy as that it was gone. Instead he faced a challenge, one only his wolf had to deal with--identify his tracker. It had nothing to do with humans and their world, nothing to do with his work. Just the wilderness and his wolf and this snowstorm.
Trey decreased his speed, as if he were ailing in some fashion, as if he were weak. With a potential predator on his trail, such a strategy might flush him out. Predators were a curious bunch, by and large, and they liked to take advantage of weakness.
Usually, amended Trey hours later, when no predator had yet appeared. After half a day of this, Trey became impatient with his slow progress, given that his tracker continued to keep its distance. Perhaps it wasn't hungry, never mind that they were in the dead of winter. True, Trey wasn't hungry, but he'd feasted a number of times over the past few days and had been well nourished before he'd set out. This animal was unlikely to have the same advantage.
Possibly it wasn't a predator, but Trey was hard-pressed to imagine a deer or hare following him. Besides lacking basic brainpower, they were timid, fearful creatures that didn't like to bring a wolf's attention to themselves.
What if it's not just an animal? Unbidden, the thought grabbed hold, as did the idea of a shifter. Interest piqued, Trey decided to take a more proactive approach. Picking up speed, he veered left and began doubling back, going wide. It took some time but eventually he crossed tracks, not too old.
The fur on the back of his neck rose in anticipation. He observed incredibly large prints with no claw marks--classic lynx tracks except they were too big, even for their snowshoe paws. Cat shifters were rare and usually cougar in form. So what were the chances of a lynx shifter? Let alone a giant lynx.
Trey was fascinated and excited, as if he were about to discover a whole new continent. Still, it was important to think this through. Animal or werecat, the creature might be dangerous, vicious. A terrible shame if it was the latter, but a possibility he had to be prepared for as he followed its trail.
His tracking was slower than he liked. The snow was too soft, too deep, for his paws. He could have stayed human and used snowshoes so he didn't continually sink into the powdery snow. But human form meant more thinking than he chose to deal with on vacation.
The wind increased, and more than once he almost lost the trail as it got covered at times by blowing snow. The lynx was moving quickly now; its huge paws kept it mostly above the drifts. After a while, the hunt became exhausting and if Trey wasn't careful he'd get in trouble, so he paced himself and kept alert.
Farther on it became evident that the lynx had become aware of him. Its route turned convoluted as it backtracked a couple of times and used some tree-climbing as a diversion.
But this show of intelligence wasn't the only thing that had Trey's anticipation growing. As the area became sheltered by the huge rock face, he finally gained on the lynx and picked up its scent in the prints it left behind. And though he'd never before identified a lynx shifter, this one did not scan as pure animal.
Trey stopped and threw back his head to howl. Whether the shifter would recognize it as a greeting, he didn't know, but there was no harm in trying to say hello before they actually met up.
The sun's dim light faded and dusk was almost upon him before Trey reached the cover of the rock face and the snow no longer blew past him. He was close now, so he paused to gather the rest of his energy. His excitement at finding a new kind of shifter had to be balanced with some caution. Even if lynxes were known as shy creatures who hid more than they attacked.
The wolf had, of all things, turned the tables and was stalking him. Early in the day, Jonah had come upon it and enjoyed watching it, as he did much of the wildlife around him. To his mind, wolves were particularly beautiful creatures.
He hadn't wanted to get too close and rattle it--lone wolves had enough worries. But then its progress had slowed significantly in the late morning, and he'd wondered if it was injured. While he'd been worrying about its state of health and keeping an eye on it, the wolf had suddenly disappeared. So he'd shrugged off its injury and his losing its trail, and figured the wolf was fine after all. As Jonah headed home he slowly realized it was tracking him. Now this wolf was almost at his front door.
The about-face made Jonah feel strange. This switch was outside his experience. Wolves were smart, sure, but this was quite extraordinary. And truth was, apart from Eliza, wolves steered clear of him. He made them edgy, probably because they sensed he was not quite human, not quite beast.
So Jonah hurried home, went inside and shifted to human where he'd be better able to deal with any problematic wolf, or make friends if it was so inclined. Though he recognized this was wishful thinking more than a realistic possibility. Older wolves were suspicious creatures.
Jonah got dressed and, armed with a knife, waited outside the cave. Sure a wolf might attack a human, but only if it were rabid or mentally deranged, which was unlikely given this one's intelligence--he hadn't been able to give it the slip.
Jonah had once befriended a she-wolf pup with a broken leg and she'd become a pet. His one friend in recent times, Jonah thought rather grimly, but Eliza had abandoned him for a mate and the life of a wolf. Though she visited occasionally, usually in the summer, to show off her new pups.
Jonah blinked, shrugging off the memory as he became a little appalled at his eagerness to befriend this older male that was obviously healthy. Oh well. He was lonely. What was new about that?
He spent too much time alone so any encounter was welcome. Just accept that reality. As long as he was smart, it would be fine. He turned his knife blade up, touching its edge to bring the point home. Yeah, he wanted to greet the wolf, not kill it, but if killing somehow became a necessity, he knew what to do. He'd killed before.
He crouched in the doorway. At least the wind had faded here, and if he listened carefully, he could hear the creature approaching.
The snow was less deep, in this harbor against the elements. A clever place to make a den. Trey slowed right down and kept his ears open. Lynx were capable of moving silently, and Trey did not intend to be attacked without forewarning.
In the distance, he saw a small clearing, and he approached it cautiously. As he was about to reach its edge, a voice floated over the cold air, startling him.
"Hey, wolf." A rich tenor. Not old, but certainly not a boy's.
Trey went stock-still as a shiver thrilled through him. He'd anticipated a shifter, but somehow the reality of it was a shock. A giant-lynx shifter. Amazing.
His next thought followed swiftly--his employers could never, ever know. This was one more secret Trey intended to guard, because cat shifters were precious and rare, and this lynx shifter might be unique.
"I can hear you so you might as well come out. My hearing is quite good, as it happens."
The words were friendly, welcoming. The man-lynx was rational. Relief swept over Trey. He'd refused to think far ahead, past a potential attack, as he dreaded being forced to kill such a wonderful creature as this. He stepped forward a pace or two.
"You've been following me." The voice was clear, solid, clean. "That's okay, if we're going to be friends."
The lynx didn't yet recognize he was speaking to a fellow shifter. He thought Trey was an actual wolf. Which suggested he was inexperienced or uneducated.
Exactly how isolated was this lynx? Trey approached to find out.
A man crouched in a doorway to a...cave. Jesus, he lived in a cave. His body was loose, ready to move, but not aggressive in the least. Trey couldn't make out much beyond the layers of warm clothing, but the man seemed fairly large as he turned his gaze on Trey.
They stared at each other, assessing, the man frowning a little. His eyes--green--widened in his pale, well-shaven face. This one had not let himself go wild enough to grow a years-old beard, and he wore modern winter gear. Encouraging.
"I haven't been followed home before," he said softly. He cocked his head. "I'm not sure exactly what you seek here. I've got a knife and I'll use it to defend myself, but I really don't want to do that. You're a handsome fellow."
Well, it was good to know the shifter shared Trey's reluctance to attack. He realized that his own posture was aggressive. But this lynx was no werewolf who'd be looking to see if Trey was dominant or not, so Trey consciously relaxed his body. He stepped towards him, then stopped to utter a friendly greeting. It was a little annoying to act the wolf, but under the circumstances, necessary.
The lynx smiled and it was then, being closer and seeing that smile, that Trey realized how young he was. A strange disappointment ran through him, but he didn't stop to examine it because fast on its heels followed concern. One this young should not be on his own. It was hard on a shifter to balance human social needs and a cat's desire for solitude, and many couldn't handle their split personalities. Werewolves had an easier time integrating their two halves.
Trey peered, examining that face, assessing. Okay, this one was in his twenties, probably closer to twenty than thirty.
"Are you hungry?" The words broke Trey's train of thought and he sat, waited. He'd never been particularly vocal, but he allowed himself a brief guttural whine that the lynx took as a yes. "I'll bet. You've had a long day, following me like that." He frowned. "Though you sure don't look malnourished. I guess winter's been treating you well?"
Not really, but Trey didn't think he'd bother explaining how he was an FBI agent poised to infiltrate an unnamed agency full of assholes and murderers who would kill him if they ever found out he was a shifter. Even if he could speak, he wouldn't burden anyone with that information.
"Good." The lynx smiled again, a trusting expression that struck Trey as something like a gift. The young man patted his chest. "I'm Jonah, by the way." He looked beyond Trey. "And the storm is not going away yet. I think you'd better come in. Do I have to tempt you with food?" Jonah moved inward, holding open a makeshift door, so Trey pushed up from sitting and trotted past Jonah to go right inside.
He blinked. It was dark but spacious and it went deep. Not only that, there was a real, in a Home Depot sort of way, door inside. It led to a tiny house inside the cave. Into which Jonah disappeared, not inviting Trey this time.
Interesting. Trey wanted to see the house itself, not just this cave-like mudroom, but that could wait till Jonah was more at ease with him. Meanwhile, he took in all the smells, searching for the presence of any other creatures, human or not. He only identified the lynx shifter. Evidently Jonah lived alone and didn't have many visitors. Trey intended to ensure that Jonah didn't regret this one.
Jonah interrupted Trey's brief investigation of the mudroom by returning with a slab of raw deer meat. Not Trey's favorite meal, but it would do.
"What do you think?" Jonah sounded pleased with this gift of food. "It's been a while since I've had company." There was a wry note to his words, suggesting it was an understatement. Trey wondered just how lonely Jonah got. Older cat shifters sometimes gave up on humanity. But the younger ones still wanted to engage.
"Dig in. It's all yours." Jonah placed the platter of food halfway between Trey and himself, and Trey came forward. He hadn't realized he was hungry till he began eating. "Now, I have to make my meal, which takes a little more preparation since I prefer my stuff cooked. But we'll talk more later, okay?"
Jonah stepped into the little house again, shutting the door, and this time Trey didn't think he'd come out any time soon. Which was no good. Trey was absolutely fascinated by the young lynx. Even this house he lived in was fascinating. Who had built it for him, or had he made it himself? It was made of wood that no doubt kept the heat in and the beasts out.
Including Trey. But having made contact, Trey didn't intend to spend the night in this pseudo-porch, not quite inside, not outside. He wanted to listen to Jonah's young, earnest voice. His face had a raw-boned appeal, pale skin over high cheekbones, a wide mouth, big eyes. All softened by those freckles and that smile.
Jonah seemed sane, which suggested that he hadn't raised himself, that he'd been socialized. Certainly his English appeared perfectly normal.
The desire to shift grabbed hold of Trey. He wanted to shift and talk with the young man, find out his story, find out if he needed help. Not in the short term, as Jonah appeared quite self-sufficient. But how did he plan to manage long term on his own like this?
But it was not yet time for Trey to reveal himself. The wolf had gained some measure of Jonah's trust and Trey thought it wise to build on that before proceeding.
Interesting that Jonah still hadn't identified Trey as a fellow shifter. A lynx had an excellent sense of smell, almost as strong as a wolf's. Trey's best guess was that Jonah had not encountered a shifter before and therefore had no experience in recognizing one. Trey might appear to be a strange-smelling wolf.
There was a handle on the door to the inner sanctum, so after eating, Trey left his empty platter and walked to the entrance to the real house. He raised his paw and carefully pushed down on the metal lever. The latch gave way, releasing the door from its frame, and he shouldered the door so it swung inward. Barking once in greeting, he moved in slowly, only to stop and stare, amazed at the presence of bookshelves and other furniture--a bed, a bench, a rug. In the midst of this snowstorm, it seemed almost magical.
Someone had a real home here, out in the middle of nowhere. No electricity--the lighting came from the fire and lanterns--but this was a home. He stared, and Jonah stared back at him, mouth slightly open in consternation.
"Well, that was some trick, opening that door. Very clever." Crouching, Jonah had turned away from the fire on which he was cooking meat and potatoes. There wasn't alarm in his voice, but some wariness. "I actually thought you would stay outside. That's a thick coat of fur you have. Besides, you're letting in all the cold air."
Trey turned around and shouldered the door shut, then faced Jonah, sitting. Best not to move too much until the human became accustomed to his wolf's presence.
The look on Jonah's face was incredulous. "Exactly how much of what I'm saying do you understand?"
Trey felt like laughing and managed a wolfish grin. But he made a mental note to himself not to overdo it and unnerve the lynx. Let Jonah get used to his wolf for a day or two, then break the news to him that he wasn't the only shifter in his own house.