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by Kris Norris
Category: Erotica/Menage Erotica/Dark Fantasy
Description: July's Thunder Moon is holding true to its name. But will the rash of lightning reveal more than just the landscape? Veterinarian and bobcat shifter, Tayen Locke, has devoted her life to saving animals, but a rise in poaching has spurred her down another path. She's been spending her free time in her animal form, searching the nearby forest for illegal traps. She's well aware of the risks--she just never thought she'd end up snared by her potential mates. Rangers Quinn Harrington and Rogan James know exactly what they want?they just don't know how to convince Tayen it's her. Ever since they moved to town two years ago, they've had their sights set on the sexy vet, who for the last six months has turned down every offer they've made. Though they know she's interested, they're losing hope she'll ever change her mind. But an unexpected storm changes the nature of the game. It seems Tayen's been keeping a secret, and now that the cat's out of the bag, literally, there's no where left for Tayen to run--except straight into their arms.
eBook Publisher: Resplendence Publishing, LLC, 2011 June
eBookwise Release Date: January 2012
7 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [124 KB]
Reading time: 76-107 min.
Tayen Locke moved along the overgrown trail, darting through the rambling underbrush as she headed for a small knoll on the other side of the forest. A lone eagle cried out in the growing dusk, its noble call echoing through the trees, only to be cut short when thunder rolled across the sky. She paused, glancing at the dark clouds sweeping across the landscape and billowing up the hills. Lightning flashed in the distance, painting the horizon in harsh relief as the silhouettes of the majestic pines flickered in the light. She sniffed the air, noting the heady smell of summer rain amidst the usual evergreen spice and earthy moss. It wouldn't be long before the first drops pelted the ground, leaving a patchwork of dark spots along the parched earth.
Tayen picked up speed, loping through a small clearing and up the adjoining ridge. It'd been an impulsive decision to shift into her animal form and run through the forest, but one she didn't regret. The unexpected storm gave her a small window of opportunity to scour the area for poacher traps in relative safety, while the hunters hid from the intense weather. She growled at the thought. While trapping and hunting legally were one thing, doing so off-season and with illegal traps was about as low as it got. And these poachers seemed to thrive on the most gruesome devices available.
She trotted to a stop, staring at the dense forest before her. This had become her personal war zone--the boundary between crown land and the national animal reserve. Deadly snares and metal foot traps hid along the narrow corridor, hoping to snag game before they reached the safety of the park. But not today.
Tayen eased forward, sniffing the ground for the telltale scent of the bait markers. A multitude of aromas infused her senses, each one as unique as the contours of a snowflake, and it only took a moment to get a bead on the first trap. She padded forward, her paws stirring up small dust devils as the wind whipped through the trees, splattering the ground with the first drops of rain. Thunder clapped overhead and lightning forked in a nearby thicket, but nothing drew her attention away from the small box hidden at the base of a tree. Her lips curled back in a growl as she stopped in front of the trap, the metal edges barely discernible in the nest of leaves and moss. A low hiss rumbled from her chest as she batted one paw, knocking a rock into the mix. The hinges released and the sides clamped shut, catching only air in its grip. More thunder swallowed the shrill echo as the trap clattered to a halt inside the wooden box, its prongs no longer a threat to any unsuspecting animal.
Growling with satisfaction, she continued along the route, springing holds and snares as she went. She'd managed to dispatch nearly a dozen illegal traps before she paused at the trunk of a large tree. The fur along her nape tingled with awareness, and she knew she'd stumbled upon something much larger. She inched closer, finally spying a length of rope hanging from the tree, the end buried beneath a cover of leaves and fern. More fur prickled to life and she backed away, turning toward the tree before leaping at the first branch. She landed silently on the rough bark, her claws leaving small indentations as she stalked along the thick wood, her gaze settled on the knot of rope halfway along the length. She'd hoped to simply chew through the fibers, but once she got a closer look at it, she realized the rope was too heavily braided.
She shook her head and slowly morphed into her human form, nearly slipping off the branch as her body weight readjusted and her balance shifted. She reacted, locking her thighs around the branch as her hands gripped at the rope. A tumbling feeling rolled through her stomach, and she laughed at the absurdity of the situation.
"If only bobcats had opposable thumbs."
Another giggle bubbled free as she tugged at the strands, slowly dragging the loose end through the knot. Just a couple more loops and the hidden net would be useless. She continued working, listening to the wind rustle through the trees as rain splashed against her skin. The warm water felt strangely cool, her thick fur no longer a barrier to the elements. Even the scents of the forest seemed slightly diluted, more of a mixture of aromas than individual fragrances. It was like being caught between two worlds, but not fully in either. Retaining traits in each state meant she often felt out of place, which was probably the reason she was sabotaging traps during a thunderstorm instead of curling up with someone special.
Another laugh threatened, but the harsh reality of the statement crushed the sound before it escaped. She was about to turn thirty, and yet her hunt for a mate was at a standstill. Not that she hadn't dated, she had--if she could call a series of first dates dating--but her heart just wasn't in it.
Maybe it's because you've already given your heart away...to two men!
She sneered at the tiny voice in her head that refused to allow even a day to go by without reminding her that she'd found her mate, or should she say mates. At least, she thought the sudden fluttering of her pulse and the trembling feeling inside her whenever they were around suggested they could be her potential mates. She just didn't know how to take the next step, to let them in. It wasn't as if she didn't know them. Hell, they'd been hired as rangers over two years ago and had spent the last several months asking her out. But going out for coffee was a far cry from settling down in a menage relationship. And though she'd heard they had a reputation for sharing in the past, a quick tumble in the sheets didn't equate to being mates, and if her instincts were right, she'd only get one shot at finding forever.
Tayen cursed under her breath as the rope fell from her hands. She glanced around the forest then stared down at her naked form. Who was she kidding? She knew damn well the reason she'd refuted their interest all this time was because she didn't know how to explain...this. Hell, she didn't half understand it, herself. And somehow getting intimate with a man before telling him what she was didn't seem right. But it wasn't something she could tell just anyone. It required trust, compassion...
"It requires a bloody miracle."
She huffed as more rain soaked her skin, cooling some of the rage swirling inside her. Either way, it was a problem that would soon resolve itself. The boys would lose interest and move on, and she'd be left...wondering.
The subtle sound of voices drifted along the wind, the words muffled by more thunder. She turned to look up the path and caught a glimpse of movement at the edge of the clearing. Instinct kicked in and she jumped off the branch, shifting in mid-air before landing with a dull thud on the pile of leaves. Dust and debris kicked up around her face, twitching her whiskers now trembling in the breeze. She crouched low, ready to pounce, when two men halted beside a large boulder twenty feet away. Her fur stood up along the ridge of her back as she stared at the two faces that had haunted her dreams for longer than she cared to admit.
Common sense told her to run, but as usual, that sense faded in the presence of these guys. Whenever they were around, she felt tongue-tied, as if she was trapped on a ledge with no way down but to jump.
Quinn stared at her, one hand palmed on his tranq gun, the other raised slightly in the air. He must have mistaken her indecision for fear. He nudged Rogan with his raised hand, nodding toward her. "I think we're a bit too close for her comfort, buddy. Best we back up a bit and let her run off on her own."
Rogan held his ground for a moment, his eyes boring straight into hers. "Shame she's not tame. Look at those markings. There must be several shades of brown in her coat. And the way those stripes fade into spots along her back...I bet her fur is downy soft."
Quinn chuckled as he took a step back, tugging Rogan with him. "Okay, now I know it's been too long since we went out on a date. You're starting to fall for the wildlife."
Rogan scoffed as he retreated a few paces. "You know I didn't mean it like that. It's just not that often we get to see a bobcat that hasn't met an unfortunate end. I've forgotten how beautiful they are."
"Lovely. But if we don't back up and give this kitty a path out, it might not end the way you want."
Tayen listened to their conversation, Quinn's words finally hitting home. What the hell was she thinking? She'd never allowed any human to get this close when she was shifted. Yet, here she was, moments away from prancing over and rubbing against their legs like a bloody house cat. She rose from her crouch, taking a cautious step away from the men. The tension in Quinn's body seemed to abate ever so slightly, and she sighed inside. If he was this relieved to see her go, she could only imagine his reaction if she ever shared her secret. And she knew she'd never be able to begin a relationship with the truth hidden away. Pain flared in her heart and she took off running, the gathering storm following her through the forest.