They Call Me Death Re-released!

My very first published book, They Call Me Death, was a success for me in many ways. I had readers who loved it, and readers who hated it. Personally, I really enjoyed writing it and I was proud of my first book, however, I recognized early on that it had it’s issues. Samhain Publishing was awesome enough to allow me to fix the issues I found and re-release my shifter story. It’s still the same story at its heart, but some major plot holes have been filled and hopefully it makes more sense. Here’s a preview of some new content:

“I mentioned the Camarilla, the faction that forced this change upon the world. Most
of the Elders who opposed them are still in hiding and may never come out in your lifetime.
The war was fought mostly amongst humans who suddenly became shiſters. Who had no
idea it was inside them all along.”
“Okay, now you really need to explain the war to me. What the fuck really happened?”
He frowned and pushed his coat aside to lean on his knees. He shook his head as if
having an internal debate, and for a moment, I thought he wouldn’t answer.
“It started out innocently,” he said. “Fiſty years before the war we had reached an
agreement, to reveal ourselves to your kind, though not publicly. The world was heading
toward ecological disaster and we believed the time was right. In fact, it felt like destiny.
What better symbol for how your fates and that of the land are connected than us? You don’t
have to be a spiritual person to appreciate the symbolism. But there is more to it than that,
though at that time, we kept this to ourselves.
“A delegation of shiſters from each of the major nations met with the heads of the
countries in the U.N. at least once a year. Sometimes we would aid them in humanitarian
efforts or environmental issues. We did not have numbers, you see, but we did have resources,
more than you could imagine and built over centuries.
“But we were also prepared for the fact that they would never treat us as equals, and
we guarded our secrets fiercely. Some nations grew frustrated, and we were accused of not
sharing everything we knew of our kind. Aſter one such meeting, two of our members
were kidnapped. We later found them in a Chinese laboratory…in pieces. Soon aſter, other
countries did the same. Including yours.

Buy the new ebook here!

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A Springtime Beginning

Jane sighed and looked out the window to the woods surrounding the house. Spring was coming and wildflowers were beginning to bloom. As a girl she used to love this time of year, but growing up had affected much of her life. War between the species had changed many of her views, and now the tenuous peace had changed it yet again. Two years ago she had been optimistic, certain the humans and shifters had learned to live together in relative peace. Now…she didn’t know what to think.
Crimes against humans were on the rise in every border city along the wall. Shifters were allegedly disappearing at an alarming rate from The Federal Nation of Therianthropes, only to be found dead in The Combined Human States. It was a frightening time for everyone and no one knew how to make it better. For her own safety, Bjorn had insisted she remain in his cabin any time he couldn’t go out with her. She had left her job working for the Human Council for Environmental Rejuvenation at his request just two months ago. Unfortunately she was regretting that decision more and more each day. Was this really what she wanted? To be locked in his home, only allowed out when he could protect her from his people and hers?
A sound at the back door pulled her from her musings and she turned from the window to watch Bjorn walk in. He was just as breathtaking as the first time she had seem him two years ago on her computer screen. A tall muscular physique, from the loose auburn ponytail down a strong torso to his thick thighs, every inch of him perfect in her eyes. He was amazingly gentle for a bear-shifter and always a gentleman. He would never keep her against her will.
They had worked well together, helping to build community centers at each major checkpoint along the wall. For a full year those centers had thrived and relations between the species had seemed almost perfect. Then the unthinkable happened. President Theron’s daughter had been kidnapped and found in the Animal Menagerie, forced to dance in one of their infamous cages. She’d been released quickly after being spotted by a human who recognized her, but the damage had been done.
Bjorn had wasted no time packing Jane up and bringing her to his home in FNT. She had no family, no close friends, no one she was concerned about leaving behind. It had sounded good at the time. But with each day her restlessness grew and she was beginning to wonder how much longer she could remain in her gilded cage. Despite everything he had done for and given her, Jane still felt trapped.

Bjorn removed his gloves and set them on the kitchen table, stealing glances at Jane from the corner of his eye. Her restlessness was nearly tangible and the animal buried within him growled. He held it back from her human ears with effort, afraid of scaring her. He’d been walking on eggshells for months. He could admit now that showing up at her house in the dead of night, insisting she pack the essentials and leave with him, might not have been the best idea. But mobs of humans had begun to form and take their fears and frustrations out on anyone they deemed a threat. Jane had never kept their relationship a secret and he feared for her safety.
She was so beautiful, with dark brown hair in a wave of loose curls to the middle of her back. At six-foot she was tall for a human woman, and her shapely hips cradled him perfectly. She had always welcomed him into her bed but the past couple of weeks she had seemed distracted. The light in her eyes was dimming and he had no idea what to do about it. Her safety came before everything, even his own. He just wished she understood and accepted that.
He washed his soil covered hands in the kitchen sink and inhaled her scent deeply as she approached. Her small hands ran over his back, up to his shoulders and back down again. He was tense with fear and uncertainty. Would today be the day she demanded to return home to CHS? 


“How is the garden?” she asked.
Her husky voice sent a shaft of desire through him. He swallowed it down and dried his hands before turning to face her.

“Good. We will have carrots and tomatoes soon.”

She smiled but it didn’t reach her eyes and without thought he cradled her face between his large palms, forcing her gaze to meet his.

“All will be better eventually, my beloved. I know it’s hard now…adjusting. But this can’t last forever.”

She sighed and closed her eyes before leaning into him. He held her close, careful not to grip her frail human body too tightly. The honeysuckle scent of her hair filled his lungs and he inhaled deeply with a smile. She had joked about using honey to perfume her body because of his bear nature. Licking the real thing off her skin was one of his favorite treats.

“I don’t think I can stay here any longer, Bjorn.”

Her whispered words may have been lost on human ears, but he heard her loud and clear. Shouting in his ear couldn’t have been any more painful than the words he’d been dreading for weeks. She was ready to leave him. He tightened his hold for only a moment before releasing her and stepping away. She remained where she stood.

“Pack your things and I will return you to CHS but not to your house. Every one of your neighbors knows what I am and of our relationship. You will be safer in a city.”

With a glance he registered the shock on her face.

“You’ll take me back?” she asked.

He nodded before heading to their bedroom. “You are not a prisoner here, beloved. I only wish for your happiness.”

Shock left Jane immobile as Bjorn disappeared into their bedroom without another word. Home. He was taking her home. So, why did panic suddenly fill her at the thought? She shook her head and followed him, deciding she was just anxious to return to all she knew and loved.
Bjorn was packing his own bag when she walked in and it disheartened her to see how little he was taking.
Of course, he can’t stay in CHS. He would be killed.
The thought froze her in her tracks and she studied him more closely. Usually strong, proud shoulders were stooped as he hunched over the open bag on their bed. His brow was wrinkled. In concentration? His strong jaw was clenched and eyes that normally tracked her across every room remained lowered. This wasn’t what he wanted but he was willing to do this for her. Always for her.
Tears stung the back of her throat as she remained in the doorways watching him. Part of her wanted to remain by his side, here in the home he had made with his own hands. He had seemed so nervous the first time she had walked through the door, as if concerned she wouldn’t like it. Truth was, she loved it. Every part of it was so like him, it made her feel cherished and safe. Just like he did.
Another part of her knew staying here day in and day out simply wasn’t an option. She had no purpose other than to be Bjorn’s woman. Though that fulfilled some of her needs, it left others withering. She feared she would one day resent him and lose the love she held so precariously in her heart. She had never even said those three small words, guarding them closely for fear they would slip away into nothingness. As if taking her lead he hadn’t either, but he always called her his beloved and treated her as the most important thing in his life. With a heavy heart Jane finally stepped fully into the room and packed her things.

They were packed and he had closed the house up as he normally did before a long absence. Everything was as ready as possible. Jane sat in the front passenger seat of the military vehicle Bjorn had been given shortly after agreeing to work for his Alpha. If he didn’t finish up quickly, they would be driving through the night. He didn’t really care one way or the other. He had packed for only three days. Two to get her to a safe place and one to spend saying his goodbyes. It wasn’t enough. A lifetime wasn’t nearly enough. But arguing would be futile when he knew staying here was slowly leaching the life from her.
He rounded the house one last time, checking the windows and ensuring all was as it should be for his absence. The sight of his garden gave him pause. It had been her idea to plant more vegetables. Now the sight of them would forever be tainted by memories of them working the ground side-by-side. An irrational urge to rip out the soil nearly overwhelmed him and he closed his eyes against the onslaught.
No. It is better this way. She can live a normal life among her people.
He took a deep breath and released it slowly, along with the fear, frustration and pain her leaving had embedded in his soul. Her well-being was his main concern above all else. Including his own.
As he left the garden behind the stillness in the woods around him finally registered. He froze for a heartbeat, sniffing the air, before running to the front of the house. A glance showed Jane was still safely locked in his vehicle, but two other trucks were parked behind him. He could still get out, as there was no actual driveway in the woods around his house. But as soon as the doors on the other two vehicles opened he realized there was no need.

“Alpha,” Bjorn said to the man slowly approaching him.

Sandulf gave a short nod but his face remained serious. The men who had arrived with him, all wolves like their Alpha, stayed by their vehicles but kept their gazes locked on the pair. Bjorn knew a single misstep from him would have the pack on him quicker than thought in defense of Sandulf.

“Bjorn,” Sandulf said, bringing his attention back to the man before him. “I didn’t realize you were heading out today.

That was debatable. Sandulf had a psychic link to every shifter in FNT unlike any other pack leader in the world. It was one of his many unusual strengths.

“Yes, sir. I return my mate to her home.”

One brow quirked up at that announcement and Sandulf looked over his shoulder to Bjorn’s truck. Jane’s face paled at the attention but she didn’t lower her gaze. Pride swelled in Bjorn at her courage. He knew strong shifter men who wouldn’t dare hold the Alpha’s gaze.

“You return your mate to her home?” Sandulf asked. He made a show of looking at Bjorn’s house and the surrounding woods. “Isn’t that what this is?”

Bjorn sighed and ran a hand through his hair, suddenly more tired than he’d been in a long time.

“She does not feel this is true. She is…unhappy here.”

The admission was torn out of him, much like he felt his heart would be in three days’ time. He swallowed hard, trying to banish his pain.

“She is too idle? You must give her children, Bjorn. Cubs will keep her too busy to remember CHS.”

Heat filled his face at the reminder of the only true argument he had ever had with Jane. She had refused his offer of marriage and blanched at the mention of children. He’d never brought it up again.

“She doesn’t wish to bear my cubs. She isn’t ready to be my mate.”

Sandulf looked over his shoulder again. Jane still watched them. After a few minutes of silence the Alpha finally faced Bjorn again.

“I have a solution. Bring your mate inside so we can talk.”

***** 


Bjorn stood very still as Sandulf and his men drove away, disappearing quickly beneath the trees. There were only three defined paths to Bjorn’s house and Sandulf knew them well. A soft sound alerted him to Jane’s approach. With her scent permeating everything in his home, it wasn’t always easy to know exactly where she was without seeing her.

“Bjorn?”

Her unsteady voice revealed her nervousness and uncertainty. He swallowed hard before turning to face her. Once again his Alpha had stepped in to save his life. No…his soul. All it had taken was the offer of a job to keep Jane busy. A job with the express purpose of aiding shifters in maintaining what peace they held. She had needed a purpose, he knew, but knowing he wasn’t enough hurt deeply.

“Yes?” he replied.

She crossed the living room until she stood two feet away, watching him warily. He hadn’t reacted with the joy she had shown when Sandulf had made the offer. Perhaps that confused her? After all, keeping her here had always been his wish.

“Is something wrong?” she asked.

He shook his head and ran a hand through his hair, trying to think of something to say. He had already brought their bags back inside. She had unpacked her things and put them back into the spaces he had made for them two months ago. But his bag still sat by the front door as if he was considering a trip alone.

“I thought…” she began. He waited, knowing he should explain. “I thought you would be happy.”

He frowned and closed the distance, pulling her into his arms.

“I am happy to keep you here with me. Here in this home I made for both if us,” he said quietly.

She pulled back and looked into his eyes with questions in hers. “Then why don’t you seem happy?”

There was any number of things he could say. Pretty lies he could spin that might not be full lies at all. But he had always been completely honest with her about everything. After two years together, being untruthful in any way felt wrong, like an acrid taste on his tongue. He simply couldn’t do it.

“Why am I not reason enough for you, beloved? Why won’t you marry me? Have my children?”

True surprise crossed her beautiful face before her brows drew down and she bit her lip. Perhaps she was preparing to tell her own lies now.

“That’s not it at all, Bjorn. I swear. I want to be with you.”

He waited but she didn’t seem to know what else to say. After nearly a minute he simply nodded and turned away. She said nothing else as he stepped into the kitchen to prepare dinner.

Even without shifter senses, Jane knew Bjorn was in pain. It was nothing physical. Nothing she could put a bandage over. But still she knew the power to ease it was fully in her power. Could she do it? Could she finally pledge herself to this man who had already given her so much of himself? He was always honest, always faithful. She never feared he would hurt her in any way. So, what in the hell was her problem?
It had taken all of her willpower to sit through their nearly silent dinner and actually eat. He was a naturally quiet man, but tonight it was almost tangible. Like a thick, smothering smog between them, the silence stretched on until he finally stood and cleared the table. She helped him with the dishes and he thanked her, but nothing else. The idea that she may have caused irreparable damage to their relationship scared the hell out of her. How was she going to fix this? She had to fix this.
He took a shower as she prepared for bed, and by the time he left the bathroom she was already tucked in.

“I’m going to walk the perimeter of the house. I’ll return soon,” he said.

She bolted upright as he walked out of their bedroom, not quite believing he was leaving the house until she heard the front door close. He never left her alone inside after dark unless there was some kind of emergency. True fear flooded her and she fought down the ensuing panic. He just wanted to take a walk in the woods. That wasn’t unusual, just the timing. Surely it didn’t mean anything.
Three nights later, when he walked out again, she had had enough. They had barely spoken the past two days and he hadn’t even tried to make love to her. She missed his touch. She missed the man she had fallen in love with. Like a jolt realization hit her. She had no doubt he loved her. It was in every touch, every smile, every thoughtful gesture. But what about him? Did he realize he was her world?

“No,” she whispered aloud.

How could he? Not only had she never told him, she had betrayed his love by actually wanting to leave. She was such a fool.
She rolled over in their bed to face the door just as she had every night. Waiting impatiently for him to walk in, and fearing a night when he didn’t. Plans of how to prove her love for him ran through her mind. After tonight he would never doubt again.

Bjorn walked slowly to his front door, following the path lit by the full moon filtering through the canopy. He absently rubbed at the pain in his chest but knew it was nothing physical. How long could he go on like this? How long would he keep pretending he had a mate in the woman who reluctantly shared his bed? After the meeting with Sandulf he had hoped things would change, but the truth had hit him like a ton of bricks. She was only staying because of the job. She was a loyal, caring woman who would always do whatever she could for the betterment of interspecies relations. He loved that about her, but he didn’t know if it was enough.
 In his mind’s eye the years stretch long ahead of him. Years of just the two of them in his home hidden in the woods. No children’s laughter to brighten their days. No love from her to fill his heart. Could he do it? Always her well-being came first. It was an unquestioned instinct bred into his bones. But could he truly keep her happy when he was filled with sorrow?
He stepped onto the porch and took a deep breath before opening the front door. She would already be asleep, or pretending to be. It no longer mattered to him. Each night when he slipped into bed her back was turned. He had made no move to hold or touch her.
The first thing he noticed, as he closed the door and looked around, was the fire burning in the fireplace. Had she gotten cold? He frowned at the thought. It was cool outside but not overly so, and his house was warm. He stepped over to check the fire and noticed the pallet of blankets spread out before it. There were two pillows there as well.
Is she planning on sleeping here? Or telling me I must?
Neither prospect pleased him. He might not hold her as they slept anymore, but he still wanted her in his bed…with him.
He was frowning down at the make-shift bed, hands on hips as he considered what it meant, when she walked in. He didn’t realize she was there at first, not until she touched him. He startled and turned to face her, nearly jumping again when he saw her nakedness.

“I know it’s not really cold enough for a fire, but I though it set the mood,” she said softly.

Deft fingers began unbuttoning his plaid shirt and had it halfway off before he thought to stop her. He gently grasped her wrists and held them against his chest.

“What is this?” he asked.

“I want to touch you,” she said.

He let her pull her hands free and finish. Once his plaid shirt and the t-shirt beneath were gone, she went down to her knees and unlaced his boots. He raised each foot to let her remove his boots and socks. When she unbuckled his belt and opened his jeans he nearly stopped her again. It had been four days since he’d made love to her and his body was tense with wanting. They already knew each other well. When she stripped off his jeans and briefs in one swift tug, she didn’t seem at all surprised by the erection facing her.

“I’ve missed touching you,” she said.

He closed his eyes and growled low in his throat as she pressed her moist tongue to his skin. It had been so long since she’d held him in her mouth, he knew he wouldn’t last long through the bliss.

Min kärlek, easy now. It is too good almost.”

His accent had thickened at her ministrations until he worried she wouldn’t understand him, but she smiled and ran her tongue over his shaft again.

“Let me play,” she said.

He growled again but made no move to stop her as she cupped his scrotum in one soft palm and gripped the base of his cock with the other. She did play then, using fingers and tongue. She licked and suckled until he knew he wouldn’t last another second.

“Enough, beloved.”

He eased her head away with a gentle hand and went down on his knees before her. The firelight gave her skin a soft glow, radiant and ethereal.

“You are so lovely, min kärlek. My love.”

She smiled and it lit up the room as if the sun was shining through every window. He eased her to her back and kissed her softly. Her moans filled the room as his hands roamed her body. Breasts and stomach, thighs and mons, all felt the pressure of his fingertips at play. He sat up to see her writhing beneath him and was ready to explode right then. She was more than prepared for his entry. He eased her thighs open with his hands, rubbing his palms up and down her slick skin. She moaned again and opened her arms.

“Now, Bjorn. Now, please.”

Though it took every ounce of willpower within him, he pulled back and looked over his shoulder, intending to rush to their bedroom for the one thing she seemed to have forgotten.

“No.” She grabbed him by the waist to keep him from rising.

“The herbs, my love. You’ve forgotten the herbs.”

Condoms were not something he could easily obtain when they left the city. So he had a potion he could ingest shortly before sex to ensure his seed wouldn’t create new life. It wasn’t guaranteed anymore than traditional human methods, but so far it had worked.

“No, my love,” she said. “Not this time.”

He froze and stared down at her as comprehension came slowly. First she had used the word love. Then she said they wouldn’t use the potion this time? His pulse jumped at the thought and he leaned over her, elbows on either side of her head so they were a breath apart.

“No?” he asked, feeling as if it was the most important question of his life.

“No,” she replied with a smile.

She ran a finger over his brow, down his jaw line to his lips. He kissed her fingertip and fought down the sting of tears.

“I love you, Bjorn Berendsen, and hurting you has been the biggest mistake of my life. Please…forgive me?”

Emotion welled up, choking him until he couldn’t voice a reply. He kissed her with all the love he had to give instead and she met him full force.

“I love you, I love you…” she whispered between kisses.

“I’ll never tire of hearing that,” he finally said.

He made love to her slowly, savoring every thrust, every moan and cry from her lips. Knowing she could carry his child by morning filled him with so much satisfaction it was a wonder he lasted long enough for her to climax first. She hugged him tightly between her thighs as he filled her with his seed, and whispered his love to her over and over.

“I know. I love you too,” she said.

For the first time he truly believed it and drifted to sleep with her in his arms, both dreaming of their new beginning.

Update

I know it’s been quite a while since you’ve heard from me. Fear not, rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated. Those of you who lost that bet should be ashamed of yourselves. Those who won will be remembered.This brief update is simply to reaffirm the rules set forth in FNT from the signing of the treaty.

  • Yes, there are now community centers at each major checkpoint along the wall. No these are not places to pick up humans for sex and/or food.
  • Engaging in sexual acts in public, whether with humans or shifters, is illegal…still.
  • Harming humans or coercing them to run from you is illegal…still.
  • The Animal Menagerie has its own set of rules which are posted on each entrance and clearly stated in English. If you don’t read English, don’t enter The Animal Menagerie.

That is all that comes to mind at this time but more will be added as the rules are broken. Just remember, I take each infraction seriously and personally. If you have issues with any of them, feel free to speak to me at your earliest convenience.

A Teddy Bear for Christmas

This post was originally published on the Samhellions blog on December 18, 2010.

To my readers, for those of you who have read my first paranormal release, They
Call Me Death, you will be familiar with Bjorn Berendsen. He is a character that has
stayed with me over the past year, wanting to know when his story will be told. A
Teddy Bear for Christmas isn’t his entire tale, but it is a taste of what’s to come.
Hopefully it will whet your appetite for more.

A Teddy Bear for Christmas
Copyright 2010, Missy Jane
This is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places and incidents are products
of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are no construed to be
real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or
organizations is entirely incidental.
All rights are reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any
manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief excerpts
or quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

A Teddy Bear for Christmas

Bjorn Berendsen probably wasn’t the smartest, strongest or most handsome man in the room, but damn! The way he filled out his designer suit had Jane’s mouth watering and her knees quivering in anticipation of his touch. Just a handshake. That’s all she was guaranteed from him in this setting but she would take what she could get. Too bad no one had thought to hang mistletoe in the conference room. She quietly snorted a laugh at that thought. Rumor had it the shifters didn’t even celebrate Christmas anymore. Their differences didn’t matter at all to her. Never in her life had she thought she could fall for a man she barely knew, but there was just something about him.

After three months of emails, phone calls and web conferences, finally meeting Bjorn face-to-face was mere minutes away. She’d seen his picture and knew all the pertinent facts her company had compiled into a neat manila folder marked with his strong name. But none of that could’ve prepared her for his masculine presence. In the flesh, Bjorn was the epitome of all she’d imagined a male bear shape-shifter to be. His deep voice rumbled and his lips quirked into the hint of a smile. Jealousy shot though her as Maxine, Jane’s boss, threw her head back and laughed. The throaty purr brought other male attention Maxine’s way and Jane cringed. Next to that blonde beauty Jane was as plain as a brown paper bag.

She looked over Bjorn’s muscular physique, from his shoulder-length auburn ponytail down a strong torso to his thick thighs. She envied the slacks that encased his perfection so intimately and couldn’t help a sigh of defeat. Maxine’s pixie-like physique was definitely better suited to such a fine male specimen than Plain Jane ever could be.She’d long ago grown used to being the least feminine woman in the room. Regardless of what he might think of her as a woman, Jane still had a job to do as lead on this project. Maxine would oversee this first face-to-face meeting and then disappear into the background. Jane would have to see Bjorn every day until it was done. She was known for her professionalism and tenacity on difficult projects. It was time to prove both. After a deep, calming breath she shoved her insecurities aside and waited to meet the man whose deep voice had haunted her dreams for months.

*****

Bjorn noticed her the moment she’d entered the meeting room and it had taken all of his control to remain where he stood. She was exquisite, much better than their few video conferences had revealed . Dark brown hair fell in loose curls over her shoulders to the middle of her back. Her navy blue business suit accentuated her form, feminine but not at all fragile, strong enough for a shifter’s attention. He only wished she wore a skirt rather than slacks so he could admire those long legs. She was tall for a human woman, perhaps six-foot. He would barely have to bend to meet her luscious lips. His gaze dropped to her shapely hips and a primitive growl of approval formed in his chest. He fought the urge, concerned he might frighten the human woman at his side who was trying so hard to keep his attention. She didn’t hold a candle to the beauty across the room, but since she was head of the Human Council for Environmental Rejuvenation, he was forced to speak to her for the moment.

“Ms. Smyth—”

“Maxine, please. I insist you call me Maxine, or even Max as all of my closest friends call me.”

She laughed as if it was a grand joke, pulling the room’s attention her way. Bjorn forced a smile and cleared his throat. He didn’t like overly flirtatious human females. With every word out of her mouth she seemed to inch closer until he wondered if she planned to jump on top of him soon. In contrast, the brunette stood in an empty corner, head down and hands clasped in front of her. She waited patiently as a dozen conversations fluttered around the room. Bjorn wanted to grab her and carry her away from this meeting, away from this building and into the woods where he made his home. He wasn’t comfortable in a suit, especially in a high-rise surrounded by humans. However, he was here at his Alpha’s bidding and it was a miracle the humans had allowed him into their country at all. Sandulf would not be happy if Bjorn messed this up.

“Maxine, the Alpha sends his apologies at not being able to attend this auspicious event. He hopes you will forgive his absence and allow me to speak on his behalf. Speaking to me will be as if you are speaking to him and I have his full authority.”

She blushed and waved a hand in front of her face. “Oh, you’re so proper and formal. There’s really no need for an apology, Bjorn. Any member of Sandulf’s cabinet is more than welcome here.”

Bjorn bristled at her use of the Alpha’s given name more than his own. He’d spoken to her half a dozen times by phone and twice that by email, but never in person. As far as he knew she’d never met Sandulf either. It was a distinct show of disrespect to address him so familiarly, but as a human she wouldn’t know that. He
took a deep breath and glanced at the brunette to calm his emotions. She was looking at him and their gazes locked. His heart pounded in double-time as he admired the flush filling her oval face. Maxine laughed again and stepped into his line of sight, blocking the brunette and annoying him. Without thought he frowned down at her and she took a step back.

“Oh, uh…I see Jane has arrived. She’s the project manager. Have you met
her in person yet?”

“No.”

“Well, let’s take care of that.”

Bjorn fought for control as he silently followed Maxine across the room. The urge to shove her and everyone else out of the way was great, but he controlled it and hoped the intense desire clawing at him wasn’t visible in his gaze. Jane looked like a deer caught in headlights once she realized they were headed her way, but her spine straightened and her chin lifted. Bjorn admired her courage after the fear he’d originally glimpsed.

“Jane, there you are. This is Mr. Berendsen from the Shifter Council, the man in charge of this little project.”

Jane’s eyebrows went up and Bjorn stifled a laugh. This project was many things, but little definitely wasn’t one of them. Over the next two years the people in this room would be working on a series of buildings at all of the major checkpoints along the wall that separated the Combined Human States from the Federal Nation of Therianthropes. They would be crossing points where both species could meet in neutral territory. They would also serve as community centers for the general public. It was a massive undertaking already two years in the making, though Bjorn had just come on board a few months back. The humans were pushing to open the first one on Christmas Eve.

Jane stepped forward and extended one elegant hand. Bjorn took it into his much larger palm and turned it, raising it to his mouth for a simple kiss. He kept it light and quick to keep Jane from possible embarrassment. Though he’d instantly known he wanted her, many human women scoffed at the idea of being with a shifter. He had to tread carefully until discovering how she felt. She gasped and blushed again, but didn’t pull her hand away. He took that as a good sign.

“It is my greatest pleasure to finally see you in the flesh, Jane.”

Maxine huffed and crossed her arms but he barely noticed. Nearly all of his attention was on the beauty before him and what her reaction would be. A tentative smile graced her perfect mouth and he breathed easier. She bit her bottom lip and glanced down at where he still clasped her hand.

“Thank you, Bjorn. It’s a pleasure to meet you too.”

Hearing his name on her lips had lust spiking through him. He smiled back and stepped closer to her before releasing her hand. As he’d suspected, she barely had to tilt her head to look him in the eye. Maxine, realizing she’d been forgotten, simply turned and walked away.

“You didn’t answer my last email,” he said quietly.

Confusion lit her face for a moment before she shook her head. “I’m sorry. I was certain I’d responded to all of them before this morning’s meeting.”

He tsked and looked around to be sure they had privacy. No one seemed to be paying any attention to them as Maxine had already engaged another man in conversation.

“I’m not referring to a work email, Jane. The one I sent you last night was of a more…personal nature.”

She blushed again and he considered how lovely her pale skin appeared in that shade of pink. Her whispered reply created added intimacy between them and tightened his body to full awareness.

“But you just wanted my picture. I knew we would meet today.”

He chuckled and couldn’t resist running a finger down one of her well pressed lapels.

“All suited up for this very proper business meeting. You know that’s not what I asked for.”

Amazingly she blushed harder. “Bjorn—”

“Everyone ready? Please have a seat.”

Maxine’s voice broke through the thin veil of seduction Bjorn was weaving and irritated him, but he had a job to do. Unfortunately, the lovely Jane Ridding wasn’t his main concern. He sighed and motioned toward the conference table. She stepped past him and he settled a hand at the small of her back. She looked up at him in surprise before immediately turning her gaze back to Maxine. Bjorn didn’t give a damn. He planned to make Jane his and the sooner everyone knew that the better.

*****

Jane sighed in relief as she left the conference room. The meeting was finally over. Seven hours, with only a thirty-minute break for lunch, and they had finally settled some major disputes between Sandulf and the human president. Now that the papers had been signed, more work could begin. Construction on the first building had begun a few months back when Bjorn stepped in for the shifters. It was scheduled to open in two weeks, on Christmas Eve, with a huge celebration. She couldn’t wait. Bjorn had hinted at staying in CHS until after the holidays, with a not so subtle request to spend his free time with her. Tingles shot up her spine at the thought.

The meeting had been sheer torture as she’d been sitting beside his overwhelming presence the entire time. At first it had been hard to concentrate when she thought about his request. A picture of her at play. She hadn’t replied because she was afraid of how he would take it. Could she handle a man like Bjorn? Today had proven she could sit through seven agonizing hours of arousal just from his masculine scent. Even without a shifter’s enhanced sense of smell, he made her mouth water.

She had left him in the conference room talking to one of the engineers. The hot promise in his gaze nearly had her running, but she’d been sure to say goodbye rather than slip out unnoticed. She paused and let out a short laugh. As if that were possible. He’d kept her well within his sights all day, going so far as to wait outside the ladies’ room for her after lunch. The only one who had seemed to notice was Maxine but Jane didn’t care. She certainly couldn’t deny that his attention was welcome.

The elevator dinged and the door slid open for her entry just as warmth covered her back. The hair on the her nape stood on end as a hot breath whispered across one ear.

“You weren’t going to just leave me, were you?”

Bjorn’s deep voice made her shiver. She paused in the act of stepping onto the elevator to turn and answer him, but he gently nudged her forward.

“Bjorn, I—”

“Come on, my beauty.”

He corralled her into the elevator with his larger body. She turned to face him as he pressed a button and the door slid closed. Then his full attention was aimed at her and Jane’s breath caught in her throat. She nervously licked her lips and his gaze focused on the slight movement. He leaned in until she was pressed against the wall. She never thought to refuse him as he covered her mouth with his. An involuntary moan escaped as his tongue slid over hers in a sensual duel. She wrapped her arms around his neck and slid the fingers of one hand into his thick hair. He grunted as his ponytail loosened but held tighter when she attempted to pull back.

“I’m sorry,” she mumbled.

He kissed her rather than respond until the elevator dinged again. She froze but he stepped out of her arms, straightened her jacket and turned to stand sedately at her side. The door slid open.

“Jane, how are you?”

She pasted on a smile to cover her nervousness and nodded at the two men from the Research and Development department.

“Ned, Bill, good to see you. This is Bjorn Berendsen. We’re working on the shifter project together.”

Both men shook Bjorn’s hands before moving to the opposite wall. The elevator was average size, but the human men were able to keep a few feet of open space between them and Bjorn. Jane hid a smile and wondered if they’d even realized they were doing it.

It took no time to reach the ground floor and exit the elevator. Bjorn immediately grasped her elbow and walked to the exit if was the most normal thing in the world. Her pulse sped up at his touch, but she continued to smile and nod at passersby as if she was in complete control. Her house was near the outskirts of the border city of Liberty, Oklahoma. With the roads still being rebuilt, she normally stayed at a hotel during the workweek rather than trying to drive back and forth every day. The streets were nicely paved downtown but once you left city limits they were still in ruins. She had once mentioned this to Bjorn but didn’t know if he
remembered.

“Where are you staying tonight?” she asked.

They stopped on the sidewalk and he pulled her to him. There was a definite chill in the air but being so close to him warmed her. He ran his hands up and down her arms, over her thin sweater. She’d forgotten her jacket in her dash to leave the conference room.

“I’d like to stay with you,” he said quietly.

Her head jerked up and she looked at him in shock before looking around to be sure no one else had heard him.

“Bjorn…we barely know each other.”

He frowned and ran the backs of his fingers down her cheek. “Shifters see things differently than humans, Jane. I want you and I’m not afraid to say it. I’ve known this since the first time your image graced my computer screen. Getting to know little bits and pieces of you has only reaffirmed that knowledge. If you don’t feel the same I will leave you alone, but I suspect that you do.”

Confusion warred with her desire. She did want him and couldn’t think of a good reason not to act on it. As far as her job went, there were no set rules about this type of situation. Working with shifters was not the norm and Bjorn wasn’t employed by the human government like her. He worked directly for the Alpha of
FNT. Basically he was a diplomat.

“Bjorn, I don’t know what to say.”

He leaned closer until he was only a breath away. “Say what you feel. I’ll never ask for more.”

The sound of a throat clearing close by shattered their moment and she pulled back to look past Bjorn’s shoulder. Of all the people she didn’t want to see right then, or ever again, Flint topped the list. She tensed and Bjorn reacted, spinning to face the unknown while keeping her securely behind him. Flint stepped
back when he saw the look on the larger man’s face, but he didn’t leave as she had hoped.

“Uh, Jane? How you doing?”

A low growl rumbled in Bjorn’s chest and Jane threw her arms around his waist. The last thing she wanted was for him to attack Flint out on a public street. He would be shot dead before she could even get word to his Alpha.

“Bjorn, this is Flint. Flint, Bjorn. Now, what do you want? This isn’t exactly your neck of the woods.”

Bjorn chuckled and even seemed to relax a bit at her comment. Perhaps he’d thought she was expecting Flint to show up? Nothing could be further from the truth. She had ended things over six months ago with the lying, cheating asshole. The sooner he disappeared, the better.

“Uh, I was wondering if we could talk. Just you and me.”

Jane rolled her eyes, though neither man could see it. “No, thank you.”

Flint sputtered and Bjorn turned to face her again as if that was the end of it. He cupped her face in his large palms and kissed her.

“Ready to go?” he asked.

She smiled and nodded just as Flint stepped closer.

“Hey! What the fuck, man? I’m trying to talk to my girl.”

As if that wasn’t stupid enough he went one step further and grabbed Bjorn’s shoulder. Jane gasped and tightened her grip but it was like trying to hold a mountain. He gently pushed her away and spun back to face the stupidest human male on earth. Jane heard Flint sputter again and could barely make out him moving back, but it was too late. Bjorn growled again, this time loud enough for the whole street to hear, and closed the distance with one large step.

“Your girl? You think to call the woman with me, yours?”

“Uh…I…uh…”

“Human, you are sorely mistaken.”

*****

An hour later, Bjorn released a pent up breath as they finally stepped into the hotel room. It had been years since he’d felt such intense anger well up so quickly. If the human patrol hadn’t shown up when it did he might have seriously harmed that idiot, Flint. What kind of name was that anyway? He sighed as Jane’s delectable derriere preceded him into the lavish suite. She was angry and rightly so. He usually had better control, but being near her had shot that all to hell. Now he needed to apologize and hope he hadn’t ruined their evening.
She stopped at the wet bar and put her purse down before turning to face him. Her neutral expression gave no hint of her mood. He stopped a few feet away and slipped his hands into his pockets to keep from grabbing her.

“I’m sorry,” he said simply. One elegant eyebrow shot up and she looked honestly surprised by his apology. He decided to continue. “I didn’t mean to lose control like that with your…friend. I’m sorry if I upset you by acting like an animal.”

She frowned and closed the distance, raising her chin to stare directly into his eyes.

“First of all, Flint is not my friend. It’s been months since he was my anything and I just want to forget he even exists. Second, I didn’t see it as a loss of control and it didn’t upset me.” She slipped her arms around his neck and pressed her body into his. He held his breath. “And third, you are part animal, Bjorn. I know
and accept that and all it entails. If anger makes you growl I can live with that.”

He couldn’t help the feral grin her words evoked, but she didn’t even flinch. “That’s not all that makes me growl.”

“Oh? Are you willing to tell me what else does?”

He chuckled and turned to pull her into the bedroom. “Perhaps you can discover that for yourself before tonight is over.”

She giggled as he led her to the side of the bed. “Perhaps. You know, I’ve always wanted a life-sized teddy bear to share my bed with.”

He kicked off his shoes and placed his hands on her waist, lifting her effortlessly to the bed. She let her shoes fall to the floor to join his.

“Did you now? Well then I’ll have to be sure to share your bed often so you don’t feel the need to replace me.”

He straightened and unbuttoned his shirt. She leaned back on her elbows and watched as he quickly removed his clothes. Once he stood completely naked before her, he began to undress her at a much slower pace.

“What happened?” she asked breathlessly. “You seemed to be in a hurry to get naked.”

“I was in a hurry to get my clothing out of the way. But, you I want to unwrap slowly. I prefer to savor my treats.”

He proved his point with kisses and nips at each inch of exposed flesh. By the time he had her completely naked, she was writhing and panting beneath him. His animal instincts warred with his human conscience. He fought to go slow and not frighten or hurt her in any way.

“Bjorn…please…make love to me.”

He looked into her eyes and his heart melted. So much trust and caring reflected back his own feelings. She may not love him. They simply hadn’t had enough to time to establish that yet, but he was hopeful about their future.

“Don’t worry, precious, I plan to make love to you many times tonight and perhaps again in the morning.”
She laughed and shook her head. “Just remember I’m only human. I don’t have your stamina.”

He smiled and looked over her gloriously naked body, a light sheen of sweat making her appear to glow in the lamplight.

“Only human,” he chuckled. “I find absolutely no fault in that.”

She smiled back as he leaned in to kiss her senseless and make good on his promise.

*****

Jane held the package carefully as she tried to decide on how to open it. Bjorn laughed and shook his head.
“If you like the paper that much, I’ll buy more.”

“Patience, Mr. Berendsen. I’m getting there.”

He just grinned and watched as she found the edge of the tape and peeled back a flap of paper. It took no time to get to her Christmas present. She laughed out loud and pulled it from the box.

“Oh, Bjorn, I love it!”

She held the black teddy bear against her chest and leaned in to kiss him. He allowed the kiss and then turned the bear so she could see the bag around its neck.

“This is so you’ll never have to sleep alone, even if I’m away. But in here is something else.”

Her smile faded but despite her trepidation she opened the velvet bag. Her relief was instant when her fingers didn’t find the familiar round shape she wasn’t quite ready for. Someday soon maybe, but not after only two weeks. Here it was Christmas Eve and she was with the man, no…the shifter of her dreams. With a slow exhale she lifted a flawless diamond bracelet from the velvet pouch.

“Oh, Bjorn! It’s absolutely beautiful.”

He kissed her before taking it from her hand to put on her wrist. “Not nearly as beautiful as you are. Maybe in a few months you’ll have a matching ensemble.” Before the butterflies could settle in her stomach, he leaned in
and kissed away her protests. “But for now, let’s just enjoy tonight.”

She smiled in agreement and let him slip her arm through his. After one final kiss, he led her to the festivities. Tonight was a historic event for humans and shifters alike. Jane wanted to laugh at the irony. It very well could be a historic event for her love life as well.

The Best First Day of School

Fleur watched the children streaming through the door into her classroom and couldn’t keep the smile from her face. She loved the first day of school and the excitement the young ones brought in with them as they prepared for a new year of learning. First graders were the easiest in her opinion. They were asserting their independence and no longer afraid of being away from home all day, but still eager for new experiences. This was her fifth year and she no longer felt the fear of ruining their small fragile minds.
            After a deep calming breath, she waded through the small group and began steering her new charges towards their assigned tables. It was such a different experience from seven years ago, back when she’d taught human children, before the species war and the building of the wall that kept the humans in the south and the shape shifters in the north. Back then her biggest concern was keeping the larger boys separated and ensuring they didn’t bully everyone else. Now, she had to be wary of which species sat at each table, ensuring their natural instincts wouldn’t be teased.
            Only four boys and two girls had arrived and she quickly seated them according to their animal halves. Three birds and three canines, not too bad. There would be one feline in the class, but being a girl would hopefully keep her from acting overly aggressive at this age. She was assigned as far away from the birds as possible. More kids streamed in and Fleur sat them quickly, preparing to start the day. Soon, only the little feline’s seat was empty. Her name was Kit. Fleur smiled at that and walked to her desk as the bell finally rang.
            “Good morning class, my name is Ms. Moreau. Can everyone say Good morning, Ms. Moreau?”
            She smiled encouragingly at the shining faces and clapped her hands together when they repeated her greeting. Her day was off to a good start and the children appeared to be a well behaved group. An hour later, Fleur was passing out the electronic tablets common in every classroom when she spied movement at the door. She turned and froze, unable to hide her shock as Philip Warner strode in, a weeping little girl on his shoulder. His gaze roamed the room for a moment before settling on Fleur and he stopped walking to simply stare. They stayed that way, staring at each other in surprise and wonder until a hiccup and sniffling voice broke the trance.
            “I-I don’t wanna, d-daddy. I-I don’t wanna go to school.”
            Philip placed a large hand on his daughter’s back and rubbed a soothing circle as he turned to whisper into her ear. As soon as their eye contact was broken, Fleur felt able to move again and finished passing out the tablets. She knew this was her last student, the little feline child named Kit. Never in a million years would she have guessed Kit’s father would be her long lost friend, Philip. Fleur swallowed down the lump in her throat and walked slowly toward where Philip was trying to pry Kit from his shoulder. The girl had her little legs and arms wrapped tightly around her daddy and didn’t seem inclined to let go anytime soon.
            “Good morning. My name is Ms. Moreau. You must be Kit. We’ve all been looking forward to meeting you.”
            The little girl stopped whimpering and raised her head to peek at Fleur. Brilliant emerald green eyes, just like her father’s, flashed from beneath her dark blond bangs for a moment before she once again buried her face in Philip’s neck. He smiled warmly and gave Fleur a shrug.
            “She was so excited about the first day of school yesterday. Her resistance this morning kind of came as a surprise and it took a while to get out of the house. Sorry we’re late.”
            Fleur steeled herself before turning her full attention to the man who’d been in too many of her dreams to count. Philip had been one of her best friends before the war. After all hell broke loose, he’d gone south to help his parents get to safety and Fleur hadn’t heard from him since. Relief nearly overwhelmed her at the evidence that he was alive and well. His dark brown hair was shorter than she remembered, but his tall muscular build was the same. They’d both been into sports in high school and college, one of the many things they’d had in common.
            “No problem, I understand. The first day of school can be kind of scary.”
            Philip grinned and took a step closer, leaning down a bit as he lowered his voice.
            “Goddess, Fleur, I can’t believe it’s really you. If we didn’t have an audience I’d have you in my arms right now. I’ve missed you so much.”
            His whispered entreaty was said with so much emotion, Fleur felt tears burn the back of her throat. Philip had always been like that, never afraid to say exactly how he felt. He wasn’t a coward, hiding feelings out of fear they wouldn’t be returned. Not telling Philip how much she’d loved him was the biggest mistake of Fleur’s life, and now that they’d found each other again she wished she could correct it. Unfortunately, he appeared to have a family now and Fleur would be his daughter’s teacher. She had to remain as professional as possible.
            “I’m so happy to see you too, Philip. It does my heart good to know you’re all right. What about your parents? You got to them safely?”
            He nodded as Kit once again raised her head. This time she loosened her grip enough to turn and face Fleur, her curiosity apparently winning out.
            “You know mawmaw and pawpaw?”
            Fleur smiled at the little angelic face and nodded, reaching over to wipe a single tear from her cheek.
            “Yes, I do, Kit. Your daddy and I were friends when we were in school.”
            Those magic words were all it took to loosen the death grip Kit had on Philip. As soon as he felt her let go he gently placed her on her feet and straightened her dress. Fleur wasted no time showing them to Kit’s place at her table and the little girl took her seat without further fuss. Philip smiled proudly and stepped back toward the door. Fleur longed to keep him there by whatever means necessary but knew that wasn’t possible. He waved her over before leaving.
            “Do you get to leave when school lets out?”
            Fleur bit her lip and thought it over while glancing down at his left hand. No wedding band didn’t really mean anything, but it still gave her hope.
            “I’ll have to finish up a few things but it shouldn’t take more than half an hour.”
            He grinned and it made her heart speed up. She’d missed his dimpled face so much, she felt like crying again.
            “Great. Can Kit and I wait for you, and then maybe go somewhere to catch up?”
            “Sure. That would be wonderful.”
            He opened his mouth again, but then closed it and took a step back. Fleur knew his reluctance to leave was because of Kit, but it made her breathless anyway. She could hardly wait for this day, that she’d looked forward to all summer, to come to an end.
            ***
            Philip parked his car and took a calming breath to keep from jumping out and running into the school. Fleur was in there. Beautiful, amazing, Fleur, with her light brown eyes and curly black hair. He’d been dreaming of her heart-shaped face for years, praying she’d survived the war and found safety. Leaving her behind to go to his parent had been one of the hardest things he’d ever done, but she’d had her own family to attend to when the battle lines were drawn. His only consolation was that she was far enough north from where the worst battles were taking place not to be involved in the fighting. He’d had to get through that chaos, smuggling his parents and a few others past the human military to safety.
            That’s when he’d met Kit’s mother, Kristy. She’d been all alone and he’d kept her safe, the situation creating an instant bond between strangers. He’d never truly loved her and she probably hadn’t loved him, but when she’d become pregnant he’d done his duty and married her quickly. It was a bad time for both humans and shifters. The war destroyed civilization in most places and all the amenities they’d taken for granted. Childbirth was no longer an easy process and Kristy simply wasn’t strong enough to endure in their roughened conditions. She’d slipped away moments after meeting her daughter for the first and last time.
            A lone tear escaped as Philip fought the guilt that always came with Kristy’s memory. He knew in his mind he’d done all he could for her, but his heart bled for the mother his daughter would never know. Luckily, his parents had survived and helped him raise his precious child. Without their support he would’ve been completely lost. Swallowing down the last of those thoughts he stepped from the car and headed into the school, ready to find the two most important females in his life.
            A bell rang as Philip waited by the front office with a few other anxious parents. The animal inside him bristled at being so close to those he’d consider prey when in his other form. However, he’d long ago learned to control his baser instincts and simply smiled kindly at the gazelle shifter standing beside him. Children of all shapes, sizes and species streamed out of classrooms and down the hall toward them. He stood back and relaxed against a wall until the stream turned into a trickle. Passing a few stragglers, he walked through the empty hallways to Fleur’s classroom and stepped inside. She was at her desk stacking the electronic notebooks while Kit straightened the chairs.
            “Well, how was the first day of school?”
            “Daddy!”
            Kit ran to him and jumped into his arms and he hugged her tightly. Few things brought joy to his life anymore, but Kit was definitely the most important. He looked up at Fleur, who stood from her desk and picked up her purse before walking toward them.
            “Hello, Philip. Kit is a wonderful helper. We got everything done quickly so you don’t have to wait on me.”
            “Perfect.” He flashed her a grin before walking out of the class with Kit in his arms.
            They decided to have an early supper and Philip followed Fleur to a nearby diner. Kit behaved amazingly well as they caught up on the years since the war and learned all about their new lives. Philip was an engineer employed by the Alpha of their country, The Federal Nation of Therianthropes. He was one of many trying to reconstruct the roads and highways destroyed during the war. Fleur seemed fascinated by his job and he proudly told her all about it before steering the conversation back to her. Philip was thrilled to learn she’d never married and currently lived alone. The lion inside of him wanted to roar in triumph at the knowledge that she could soon be his.
            “Daddy, I want ice cream.”
            Philip smiled down at his daughter and signaled to the waitress.
            “Vanilla with chocolate syrup?” he asked.
            “Oh yes, please.”
            Fleur chuckled and Philip grinned at her. She would soon learn he loved to spoil his females. The waitress arrived and he ordered ice cream for all of them, waving away Fleur’s halfhearted protests.
            “Do you need to head home right away?”
            Fleur looked up from her dessert with a questioning gaze. She seemed to think it over for a moment before shaking her head.
            “No, why?”
            “I’m dropping Kit off at my parents for the evening. Would you like to ride with us? We can finish catching up and come back for your car later.”
            “Um, sure. That’s fine.”
            Kit giggled, but kept eating her ice cream. Philip winked at her, hoping she liked Fleur as much as it appeared after only one day. They left the diner and dropped Kit off with her grandparents. They’d been overjoyed to see Fleur, remembering her fondly and grateful she was well. Philip had to pry her away from his mother with promises of dinner together the next night.
            “I hope you don’t mind having dinner with my parents tomorrow.”
            Fleur flashed him a smile before looking out the window as he drove toward his house a few streets away. He hadn’t told her where they were going, but she went along without question. Her obvious trust warmed him to his soul and he knew he’d found the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with.
            “Not at all. I’ve missed them too. I’m just so glad all of you survived…everything.”
            “I’m happier than you can imagine knowing you’re safe and well, Fleur. I’ve missed you so damn much. It’s like a piece of me has been missing.”
            He kept his eyes on the road through his confession, but from the corner of his vision saw her turn toward him. He glanced over and saw tears streaming down her face, immediately alarming his animal. He pulled into his driveway and yanked off his seat-belt, turning toward her in concern.
            “What’s wrong, sweetheart? What is it?”
            She smiled through her tears and took off her seat-belt, crawling over the console and into his lap.
            “I’ve missed you so much, Philip. As soon as things settled down I started looking for you, but never had any luck. I feared the worst.”
            He held her tightly against his chest and kissed her temple, reveling in the feel of her in his arms. His lion purred in satisfaction and he felt her answering call in his mind.
            I’m so sorry, baby. I’ve been looking for you too. I had no idea you were so close.
            Fleur sniffled and rubbed her face against his chest, a soft purr escaping her throat.
            “Kit told me about her mom. I’m so sorry, Philip.”
            He sighed and ran a hand through her hair.
            “We were friends but not much more. It wouldn’t have lasted. I’m sorry she’s gone because Kit will never know her. But my parents have helped me a lot, so she’s never wanted for anything.”
            “I’m glad. She’s an amazing little girl.”
            “Thank you. She has a big heart and can read people very well. I can tell she already likes you a lot.”
            Fleur looked up at him with hope in her eyes.
            “Really?”
            “Yes, sweetheart. And thank the goddess for that. It’ll make it easier when I tell her you’re moving in.”
            Her jaw dropped and she sat up straighter.
            “Philip! I haven’t agreed to that.”
            He pulled her tightly against his chest again and kissed her hard on the lips. She melted against him without hesitation, calming his lion with her surrender.
            “I need you back in my life. Forever this time. Please don’t make me live without you again.”
            More tears filled Fleur’s eyes as she nodded and placed soft kisses all over his face and neck. He hugged her tightly and breathed out a sigh of relief.
            “I love you so much, Philip. I don’t think I could live without you again either.”
            “I love you too, sweetheart. We’ll work everything out, you’ll see. Kit is a wonderful little girl with a great capacity to love. She’ll welcome you in with open arms.”
            Fleur sniffled a bit as her gaze sobered.
            “I hope so. I’ve always wanted a little girl.”
            “Now you’ll have one, and soon we’ll get started on trying for a son.”
            Her eyes glazed and her breath hitched.
            “How soon, Philip?”
            He chuckled and opened his door.
            “As soon as I can get us out of this car and into the house.”
            “Oh good, I don’t want to wait.”
            “Me either, sweetheart. Me either.”
            “This has been the best first day of school ever.”
            Philip roared out a laugh as he carried her to his front door. He couldn’t help but agree, and just prayed Kit would feel the same way when she learned her new teacher would soon be her new mommy.

Down the Rabbit Hole and into FNT

The following snippet was originally posted on vvb32 reads blog for October Trix-n-Treatz:

Bjorn removed the last of the leaves from his front porch and straightened with a sigh. He loved fall but the multitude of trees surrounding his house made almost too much work for a lone man to conquer. He looked around, gaze unfocused, on the woods around him and spied movement from the corner of his eye.

A deep inhalation told him a human had invaded his territory, but how had that happened without his notice? As a bear shifter, Bjorn’s senses were heightened well above the average man. He should’ve smelled the human from miles away, not right before it was upon him. He stayed still, blending into the shadows on his porch. The human came closer and he was shocked to see it was a young woman.

Pale yellow hair fell in soft ringlets to her shoulders, which were encased in a light blue cashmere sweater. Beneath it, white ruffles peeked out around her neck, hiding what he determined would be soft, creamy skin. She wore jeans on her long legs and tennis shoes encased her small feet. Her bright blue eyes were searching, darting back and forth across the forest floor as if searching for a clear path.

He almost laughed. She would find no clear path anywhere around his cabin. He’d constructed the wooden and stone structure to blend within the thickest part of the forest. Every time he left his home, he took a slightly different path, ensuring his heavy stride wouldn’t create a clearly marked route to the untrained eye. Security was his specialty and his expertise was most evident in and around his home.

The human woman hadn’t noticed his cabin yet, but she was close enough to set off one of his early warning signals. He’d refrained from setting actual traps, but the series of signals alerted him to intruders before any could reach his door.

Bjorn left the porch to intercept her from triggering one of his creations, which would be a pain in the neck to reset. He made no attempt to mask the sound of his footfalls and the crunching of dry leaves soon had her head perking up, alarm flashing in her eyes.

Her gaze fell on him and light pink lips opened in an “O” of surprise. He jerked his attention away from those lips, knowing this human woman was much too young for the likes of him. Since she appeared to be lost, he would lead her to the closest road and send her in the right direction. Nothing more, nothing less.

***

Alice watched the man walk towards her and froze in terror. She’d never seen a man so large and intimidating. Long, wavy, auburn hair rested on his broad shoulders. His face was clean shaven and intelligence shone in his dark brown eyes.

He was dressed in a white t-shirt covered by a flannel long sleeved shirt and well-worn jeans. She considered turning and running away but that wouldn’t do her any good. She was hopelessly lost in what seemed like endless woods. If this man couldn’t or wouldn’t help her… Well, she didn’t want to think about that.

“Hello there,” he called out, and she couldn’t help a shiver at his deep, gravelly voice. “Are you lost?”

She sighed a breath of relief and nodded. “Why yes, sir. I most certainly am.”

He raised a brow in apparent surprise and stopped walking toward her. A few feet still separated them but not enough to disguise his impressive height. He looked her over and slipped his hands into his pockets.

“Very lost by the sound of your British accent. Are you visiting someone here in FNT?”

It was Alice’s turn for surprise and confusion. “FNT? What is that?”

He remained silent for a moment as if assessing her question. She had the distinct impression he didn’t believe her ignorance.

“FNT is the Federal Nation of Therianthropes. It’s the country you’re standing in on the North American Continent. Where did you think you were?”

Alice fought the inherent panic that tried to claim her good sense.

Just breathe, Alice. There must be an explanation for this curious turn of events.

“Well you see, sir, I became lost in the woods near my home and slipped on a patch of mud. That brought me crashing down a slope and into a rather large hole in the ground. I couldn’t climb back out, but it appeared to be a tunnel so I walked along until finding an opening and came out not far from here.”

The man took a step closer and sniffed the air in a rather curious way. Alice briefly wondered if she smelled from her exertions and thought it rude of him to notice. He said nothing about her scent but looked her over again.

“Where is this home of yours?”

“Westminster, in England.”

His eyes widened in surprise. “England? Uh, you’re definitely far from home Miss…”

“Liddell. My name is Alice Liddell.”

Amusement crossed his face as he reached out one large hand.

“Nice to meet you, Alice. I’m Bjorn Berensen.”

She shook his hand briefly. “Mr. Berensen, do you find my name amusing?”

“Why yes, Alice, actually I do.”

“Why?”

“It’s the name of a very popular storybook character. She fell down a rabbit hole and found herself far from home in a strange land. Much like you did.”

“I assure you that was no rabbit hole I fell into. Why, if there were rabbits that size in England they would take over the land.”

Bjorn laughed. “And what if there was such a thing as a rabbit as large as a man? Or for that matter, what if every animal you can think of could shift shape into a human whenever it felt like it?”

Alice thought it over, wondering why he was asking such a strange question.

“Well, that would be quite impossible, sir.”

“But if it were possible, what would you think? Would you try to get to know one?”

She laughed. “There’s no use trying, one can’t believe impossible things.”

Bjorn broke into laughter and shook his head. “Oh I don’t know. Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

The echo of those words rang in Alice’s head as she had the distinct feeling of déjà vu. She opened her mouth to respond when he held up a hand to stop her.

“It’s fine, little Alice. We’ll get you back home. Do you think you can lead me to the tunnel you emerged from?”

“Perhaps.”

“Good. I’ll grab some rope and maybe a grappling hook. Let’s see if we can’t get you back out the other side. Wait here while I go get them from my house.”

She watched him walk away, only slightly concerned that he might not return. Her curiosity kept her obediently in place as she considered his words and wondered, what is a grappling hook?

~end

Prequel to They Call Me Death

The World of Shifters

The year is 2025. Natural resources are on the verge of running out. Animals are becoming extinct at a rapid pace on every continent. Civil wars are the reality in many countries all over the globe. Paper is nearly non-existent and humans rely on technology for nearly every aspect of their daily lives. Education is on the back burner as people go into survival mode and military law is inevitable.

In the United States, the president and cabinet are kept behind locked doors to prevent assassination, speaking to the people through weekly televised updates. Global relations are at a standstill as each country tries to prevent self-annihilation. Humans are dying out, killing each other at an alarming rate. Religious fanatics believe the end is near. Apocalyptic prophesies abound and there is little hope for future generations.

Amidst the chaos there is a hidden species, biding their time, hiding in plain sight until they simply can’t remain hidden any longer. The violence calls out to their primitive instincts as the fight for survival becomes harder each day. They are shape shifters. Part human, part animal, their DNA is a delicate mix created by Mother Nature to survive all obstacles. They’ve walked on two legs as humans for centuries, but the time has come to reveal their true nature.

It happens slowly at first. They reveal themselves to government agencies in the hopes of preventing bloodshed on either side. Some are successful while others fail miserably, and the public remains oblivious. The shifters don’t want to remain hidden, however no one can agree on the best course of action. After years of failed talks, kidnappings and brutal experiments, the shifters decide to take action.

May 3, 2025, on television screens across the world, shape shifters make themselves known in the most brutal way possible. The internet explodes with questions and live video. Humans run frightened in the streets to escape the various species of animals appearing where they were never meant to roam. The civil wars continue but the battle lines have changed. Human enemies fight side by side to keep the animals at bay.

August 4, 2028, a treaty is signed in what was once the United States of America. Both sides begin construction to strengthen the impromptu wall hastily erected by the humans at the beginning of the war. Within two years it’s complete enough to man with soldiers, and in the end will span the entire width of North America. From sea to shining sea, a fifteen foot high, eight foot thick, steel and brick barrier keeps the two new countries separate. Other continents soon follow suit.

The northern half of North America becomes The Federal Nation of Therianthropes. In the south the humans create the Combined Human States. CHS is made up of all of the states from the west coast to the east coast south of Colorado, including most of California, and all of Latin America. The rest of the former U.S. and all of Canada belong to the shifters. Both countries have their own government, their own constitution and their own armed forces.

The rules are simple. If you’re a human you don’t go into FNT without a permit or a sponsor. Some humans go north for business, some out of curiosity, others for adventure. However, if you’re a shifter you don’t enter CHS period. There are no permits, no sponsors, no exceptions.

The Calm Before the Storm

Alexia Williams sat up to greet the day as sunlight streamed in through her open curtains. Sunday was always her favorite day of the week. She’d proclaimed it family day immediately after her son, Michael, was born. Her world revolved around him and he liked that just fine. She looked over at the sleeping form of her husband, Hank, and smiled. After two years of marriage she still couldn’t believe her luck. They’d been friends for a year and roommates for five before he’d finally popped the question. She planned to wake up beside him for the rest of her life.

A slight sound prompted her to rise and walk into the next room. Michael clapped his little hands together as soon as he spotted her and she laughed.
    “Good morning, munchkin.”
    “Mama!”
She laughed and picked her eleven month old up with ease. Within minutes he was cleaned-up, dressed and ready to start a new day. They woke Hank with kisses until he tumbled both of them to the bed. Laughter rang through the large master bedroom in a house filled with love and hope for the future.

That afternoon, Alexia visited her closest neighbor and friend, Kitty. They exchanged recipes in a long held Sunday ritual as their children played at their feet. The men were outside discussing lawn equipment while the women enjoyed the air-conditioning. It was a typical Spring afternoon. Nothing appeared different about Kitty or her husband, Leander. Nothing in their demeanor warned Alexia of things to come. Months later, she would look back on that last peaceful Sunday afternoon and wonder why they hadn’t told her then that they were animals.

***

Sandulf Theodereiks looked his long-time friend, Andor Olavson, in the eye and sighed from the depths of his soul. The time for action had come and his most trusted advisor was dead set against it.

“What would you have me do, Andor? We’ve been over this many times.”

Andor pushed his long, gold-streaked hair from his face and paced away from his Alpha. He’s always done what Sandulf advised, usually without question. When he did disagree it was with a well thought out argument based on fact. His emotions didn’t normally control his actions, but tonight’s offensive was stressful for everyone.
“I would remain as I am, Alpha. It’s bad enough my wife refuses to accept my animal. The humans I work with will never understand.”

“Which is why this must be done. Do you really wish to remain hidden for another century? What of your daughter? Should Emily be forced to hide?”

“There must be another way. This all or nothing—”

“Is what we’ve been driven to. My brother’s death will not be for nothing, fugol. The humans drew the line in the sand with his death. Now we will cross it and destroy those who would treat us as nothing but lab experiments.”

“What of the innocent lives that will be lost?”

Sandulf ran a hand down his face in an uncharacteristic show of fatigue. Being the oldest and strongest wolf shifter on the continent gave him power over the others, but he was not immortal. The sudden death of his twin brother had been a blow he hadn’t expected. Ranulf had been in talks with the American government for a peaceful unveiling of the shifters to the human public. Every other country was in the midst of the same talks. However, Ranulf had been betrayed and before Sandulf could get to him Ranulf was killed, the psychic link they’d shared for centuries severed. That had been the final straw. The Humans wanted shifters to remain hidden, remain the stuff of nightmares and legends. Sandulf wanted a better future for his people where they would no longer have to hide away half of themselves. This was the only answer.

“Every precaution has been taken. In war there are always casualties, and despite Ranulf’s best efforts this will be war. You know it has already begun. There is no stopping this now.”

Andor sighed again and dropped his head into his hands. “I know, Alpha.”

Sandulf watched his friend with a weary heart. Shifters learned early on to accept both halves of themselves, otherwise the whole would not be healthy. Andor had never shown signs of being uncertain until his human wife, Lillian, refused to accept his animal nature. She was a spoiled, selfish woman. She’d given Andor a daughter after many arguments and seemed to treat the child well enough. However, once Andor had revealed the Golden eagle hidden within him, she’d lost her mind.

“The hour grows late, Andor. You must take your place with the others and ensure all goes as planned in your sector. You are one of a very few I trust so far north of me. I will await your report.”

Andor raised his head and nodded, his expression one of weary resignation. Without another word he stripped to the skin and changed. Within the blink of an eye a Golden Eagle sat at Sandulf’s feet. To a human it would look like any other, but Sandulf’s psychic abilities gave him a link to every shifter under his command and he easily saw the difference in the bird before him. He stepped to the closest window and opened it wide. Andor took flight without hesitation and was gone.

Like waves in the ocean it began slowly. Shifters strategically placed within television stations all over the world changed first. It was televised live so there would be no doubt or confusion about the reality of a human becoming an animal. The humans reacted in predictable fashion, violently acting out to what they didn’t understand. Sandulf telepathically gave the shifters permission to defend themselves by any means necessary and the blood began to flow.

***

In a small New Mexico town, the Williams family watched the nightly newscast in horror. Michael began to wail, Hank and Alexia stood riveted. Neither of them realizing how much their lives were about to change.

***

With one last thought to his ten year old daughter, far south from his Canadian post, Andor turned to address the hundreds of shifters gathered before him. Tonight the humans would learn shifters were more than fairy tales and lab experiments. Tonight the shifters would earn their freedom…or die trying.

Alexia’s First Battle

Alexia’s first instinct was to run down the long driveway leading from her ranch house, through the gate and into the next to get to Kitty. Her friend was always so calm under stress. When the world stopped making sense, Kitty would know what to do. Hank had yelled for her as she ran out the door, but she was confident he’d follow along with Michael. Their neighborhood remained still and quiet. She’d always loved living in a small town in southern New Mexico. Now it might be the only thing that kept her family safe.

Kitty stood on her darkened porch. Lights shining from the windows behind her created a familiar silhouette. Alexia couldn’t make out her face in the gloom, but sensed Kitty was watching her run up the gravel driveway. Voices sounded from within the open doorway and Alexia wondered if they had seen the newscast also. Leander wasn’t prone to show emotion over most things, but Alexia guessed he’d be as ready to grab a rifle as Hank had been. She slowed as she neared the porch steps.

“K-Kitty. Did you…watch the news? Did you…see?” she panted as she stopped to catch her breath.
She stood at the bottom of the steps one hand on the railing as she raised a foot to ascend. She lifted her head to look into Kitty’s face and froze. A sense of foreboding snaked up her spine as she took in Kitty’s neutral expression. Her friend didn’t look shocked or wary. She looked resigned.

“Hey, Alexia. Yeah I saw it. Leander, Todd and Bernard are in the living room talking about all of the changes that are coming. What do you think about people who can shift shape like that?”

Alexia swallowed hard and fought the urge to turn and run back home. She heard Hank walking up the drive and prayed he’d grabbed his rifle.

“I’ve never really thought about it, Kitty. But they’re not exactly people are they? I mean, that cougar killed someone on live television. People don’t do that.”

Kitty frowned and the voices inside the house abruptly stopped. In the next heartbeat Leander stepped out onto the porch. Hank’s warm presence behind Alexia made her feel better until Michael giggled at the sight of their neighbors. Leander nodded to Alexia and Hank but his expression remained blank. Kitty was still frowning and Alexia felt sweat pooling at the base of her spine. Kitty turned to face her husband.
“Honey, they don’t think shifters are people. What do you think?”

Leander sighed and shook his head, laying a hand on Kitty’s shoulder. “Kitty, we discussed this. We should have explained a long time ago—”

“Explained what exactly?” Hank asked.

Alexia moved a step back away from the porch and Kitty’s attention snapped back to her.    

“Now don’t go running off, Alexia. We’re friends, right? There’s a lot we need to talk about.”

Alexia and Hank stood in shock as Leander and Kitty stepped off the porch and told them they were shifters too. Alexia had never once guessed her friends were any more than they seemed. As Leander spoke, Todd and Bernard, other neighbors, walked out of the house to explain how they too could shift shape. Over half the residents of Magdalena, New Mexico were shape shifters. The small town was perfectly situated against a national forest to accommodate the fox, black bear, mountain lions and other animals that shared their bodies.

Alexia wanted to run away in horror. Hank shook his head in denial as he held his son in one arm and his rifle in the other. Much later, Alexia wouldn’t be able to say who began the argument, but within moments the men were yelling viciously. She was able to pull Michael from Hank’s arms just before Leander attacked him, but then Kitty was in her face yelling. Todd and Bernard shifted and Alexia nearly passed out. In a haze of confusion and terror she watched her husband die beneath the jaws of a mountain lion.   

Something within Alexia’s controlled, rational mind snapped and she slapped Kitty across the face. Kitty instantly shifted and swiped Alexia’s legs out from under her. Rolling on the ground in pain, her only thought was to protect her son. She covered him with her body as the cougar’s claws shredded the back of her dress. Blood, warm and thick filled her mouth as she fought her rising nausea and tried to crawl away. Hank’s voice had finally silenced and she refused to look for him.

A coughing roar echoed in the night and Alexia knew Kitty stalked her like the wounded prey she’d become. Michael had stopped screaming but his tired whimpers were almost worse. A few feet away Alexia spied a pile of freshly cut firewood with a gleaming axe lying beside one large piece. With a last burst of energy she jumped up and ran for it.

Kitty roared again and leapt, knocking Alexia off her feet. She twisted enough to take the brunt of the fall, but Michael was knocked from her grasp.

“No!”

She screamed in horror as she saw the cougar going for his small body and grabbed what part of him she could. Kitty reached for him at the same time and clamped her jaws on his shirt. A tug of war ensued, Alexia frantically trying to remove the shirt caught in Kitty’s teeth, but the cougar was just too strong. With a final tug Michael was ripped from her arms and flung toward Leander, an even larger mountain lion.

Kitty leapt on top of Alexia before she could rise to follow her son. Her next moments were spent trying to live in order to save him. She ignored the sounds Leander made, ignored the silence after Michael stopped crying, ignored the soul-deep pain that told her he was gone. With a reserve of strength she didn’t know she had, she kicked Kitty off of her and rolled against the wood pile. In one fluid movement she grabbed the axe and raised it as she continued to roll. Kitty never knew what hit her as she leapt into Alexia’s swing. The axe caught Kitty in the chest, breaking through skin and bone to stop the heart of stone Alexia had never guessed was hidden within.   

Leander was harder to kill. He hesitated as Alexia ran at him with an axe over her head and an insane scream ringing from her lungs. The other two shifters had disappeared into the night but she barely noted their absence. She had nothing left to lose. Her family was dead and the world had gone mad. She might very well die covered in blood from a creature she’d never dreamed could exist, but she would certainly take some of them with her into hell.

The Wall

Sandulf surveyed the battlefield before him with vision blurred by sweat and blood. The worst was finally over. Three years had passed as mere moments in time, like most events in his long life. At five-hundred and twenty-seven years he’d seen more than enough death to numb him to the experience. Even when it came by his own hands. Movement from the corner of his eye had him turning to face one of his most trusted wolves. Connor was covered in gore as well, all but his hands. They’d been scrubbed clean, as pristine as the white sheets of paper they held. He looked up at Sandulf as he neared and grinned with amusement.

“They use one of the most precious resources to call a truce, Alpha. I wonder what the humans would think of your library.”

Sandulf understood his amusement but didn’t share it. He was bone tired and wanted nothing more than to sign the treaty and stop the blood shed. His wolf had gotten his fill of the hunt within the first year. Sandulf honestly hadn’t expected the humans to take so long in devising a treaty.

“Have you read it?” he asked.

Connor was one of the most intelligent men under his command. Sandulf trusted him with his life as well as every aspect of it.

“Yes, sir. Frederick Jamison drafted it with the full support of the remaining members of Congress. It’s what you expected to happen once they started building the wall.”

“They wish to keep it? That line gives us the advantage.”

“Yes, sir. It’s to be expanded to stretch from coast to coast. We get everything to the north and they remain in the south.”

“Hmm. Texas and California?”

 “Texas is theirs. California ours.”

Sandulf rubbed his chin with one dirty hand and paced away. All around them shifters began the grim task of checking the dead. With so many bodies, a burn pile was the only way to keep the chance of disease from spreading. They would ensure there were no live ones left before tossing them into the fire.

With a thought, Sandulf prompted Connor to read the hastily prepared Jamison Treaty. It was amazingly simple and to the point. Nothing like the documents American congressmen were known for writing. It lined out very firm borders but as Connor stated, the shifters had the advantage. Sandulf listened intently to each term and mentally picked at them, searching for flaws or tricks. He trusted very few shifters and no humans after his brother’s death. He turned back to face Connor.

“Sounds fairly cut and dry. What is your opinion?”

Connor shrugged even as he appeared to think it over. “I’ve read it three times now. I see nothing that might come back to bite us in the ass. Perhaps Andor should read it before you sign?”

Sandulf stilled as he mentally searched for his trusted advisor. The Golden Eagle was soaring low in the sky over a residence set back among the trees. His emotions hit Sandulf like a punch to the gut but the Alpha showed no sign of his distress.

“No. He isn’t near and is dealing with something personal at the moment. I don’t suppose you have an ink pen?” Connor chuckled and shook his head. Sandulf glanced around at their surroundings then down at his tattered clothes. “Well. Let us show we are animals after all.”

He lifted his right hand and instantly formed a wolf’s paw, then bent to dip it in a puddle of blood near his feet. Connor held the last page of the treaty out, supporting the underside with his palm as Sandulf stamped his paw print beside the President’s signature. Once that was done, he extended one sharp claw and dipped it in the blood, then added his signature as well.

 “That should leave little doubt as to who signed it,” Connor said.

Sandulf smiled at the amusement in his voice. “Indeed.”

***

Andor stood naked in the middle of what used to be his living room. Blood splattered on the walls told of a fierce battle, though he doubted the young residents had put up much of a fight. His house had become an orphanage. He’d convinced himself Emily would be safest here, away from him and the battles he fought in the name of his Alpha. He didn’t know why Lillian had left her or where his selfish ex-wife had gone, but there was little doubt his young daughter was out there somewhere in the world on her own. He glanced again at the hastily scrawled message on the wall near the fireplace.

“Daddy, where are you?”
Emily’s scent permeated the brick and mortar. She’d been standing there, searching for him. She was smart enough to know he had hidden passages built into the house, but he’d never shown her how to get to his underground lair. Lillian had forbidden it and like an idiot he’d listened to her.

“Oh, Emily. Where are you, sweetheart?”

***

Alexia lifted another brick and fit it into the space in front of her. Sweat dripped into her eyes, but she simply wiped it away and kept going. Her back ached, her shoulders screamed in pain and fatigue had become a constant companion. Stopping was not an option. She had one last row to add before this part of the wall would be ready for the next layer. As soon as her small part in building the barrier that would keep the animals out of her lands was done, she planned to walk the few miles into Georgetown. The new city was only a few months old, but growing by the day. She would make a new life there. It wouldn’t be much, but so long as there was breath in her body it would go to keeping shifters out of human lands.

A shout from above told her she needed to hurry as the sound of a crane nearing grew louder. Sheets of steel would go over the brick to reinforce the wall. It was a massive undertaking, but with so many humans flocking to this part of the newly formed country security was essential. From what she’d heard, soldiers would walk the length of the wall night and day, ensuring shifters didn’t attempt to cross over. Their leader had signed the treaty in blood and the President had taken it as a threat. The peace was precarious at best and no one really expected it to last. How long would the animals be content to remain separated from their prey? How long before the humans decided they wanted their turn at being predator?
    

Learning to Live

Alexia walked up the cement steps quickly, eager to start her shift on the wall. Dawn was a whisper on the horizon and the weak morning light had her squinting to make out the soldier headed her way. After a couple of steps she recognized Lance’s arrogant swagger. He’d hit on her again the day before and she’d nearly decked him. Her angry response had made him laugh and pissed her off more.

“Morning, Lex. Ready to start shooting shifters?”

Alexia rolled her eyes and moved to step around him but Lance grabbed her arm. She froze, looked down at his large hand and then back up with a scowl. “Let go.”

He released her but then shook his finger inches from her face.
“Now, don’t go getting all pissy on me, girl. Save it for the animals. Just wanted to let you know about the Red Zone. It’s been pretty active tonight and there was some kind of trouble, but the shifters took care of it. It should be okay by this afternoon. Just watch yourself. There’s still a crowd down there right now.”

She took a step back to calm the urge to bit his finger off. “I’m not an idiot. I read all of the alerts first thing.”

He grinned and nodded indulgently. “Okay, okay. I’d just hate to see that luscious behind kicked around all day.”

The urge to shoot him nearly overwhelmed her, but Alexia settled for flipping him off and walking away. His deep, masculine laughter followed her down the wall.

***

Andor shook his head in disgust and paced away from the two male shifters he’d known for decades. They were angry, and rightly so. Who was he to question Mother Nature and all that she’d accomplished? It didn’t matter that years had passed since he was a party to a transgression against nature, against the very fabric of his being. He’d once sworn he would follow Sandulf into the fires of hell himself and during the war he nearly had. His two companions were still angry over incidents best left in the past, but he needed their help one more time. How was he going to earn their forgiveness?

He turned back to face them and they abruptly stopped their nearly silent conversation. Andor had been so wrapped up in his own thoughts he hadn’t even considered eavesdropping.

“I knew of your misgivings with Theodore Castor, as did Sandulf. But you knew what was at stake. Or more appropriately, who. We had to save her at any cost or risk losing our Alpha to madness. As it is, I don’t know that he has fully recovered. Fighting helped him, but for how long is anyone’s guess.”

“And now you want us to help protect the humans?” one asked angrily.

Andor sighed and ran a hand down his face. “No. I’ve already explained it isn’t for them.”

The men looked at each other, possibly holding a telepathic conversation. Andor tried to wait patiently but felt the seconds slipping away. The urge to find Emily was insistent and imperative to his peace of mind. Shifters were dying mysteriously and spectacularly. He wasn’t certain who was behind the mutilated bodies they had recovered but the two men before him and unparalleled tracking abilities. They could help him discover the truth.

The human scientist, Theodore Castor, had been a friend to the shifters. Sandulf had trusted him with what he prized most and Castor failed him miserably. The shifters were still paying for that mistake. Word spread fast among the telepathic species. Sandulf had quickly taken down the few rebellions that sprang up after that incident, but Andor continued to encounter attitude when he least expected it.

He’d been at Sandulf’s side when Castor started his experiments. He’d voiced his concerns to the Alpha and backed down when they were ignored. Perhaps Andor could have done more to stop the chain of events that led to Castor building a massive laboratory so close to shifter lands, where he could easily acquire his favorite test subjects. He hadn’t. And now they were paying the price.

After a heated discussion, aloud for Andor’s benefit, the two men denied his request for help. They acknowledged Sandulf as their Alpha, but until he ordered them to help track for Andor they wouldn’t do a damn thing to aid him.

Andor walked away resigned to go it alone. The missing shifters had to be found. Castor needed to be exposed for the blood-thirsty, not-quite human, madman he was. And Andor desperately needed to find Emily so he could hold her in his arms and know she was alive and well. So far only one shifter was willing to help him, an old FBI colleague from his days before the war. Janet was the best research assistant he’d ever had and would be invaluable in helping him map out the little information he’d found.

He left the area to fly back home to the lonely apartment he used in Circe. Landing on the roof, he had a good view of the wall, clearly visible in the early morning light. Human soldiers walked back and forth, machine guns in hand as if they could lift them quickly enough to make a difference. Andor wanted to laugh at the picture they made. As if a wall could really keep the shifters out. It was a testament to Sandulf’s power that the war had ended at all. Once the tang of human blood touched the lips of many shifter species, the animal took over and instinct kicked in. Only Sandulf’s influence called them back to themselves, putting the human side back in control.

A soldier caught Andor’s eye and pulled him from his musings. Smaller than the others, her size wasn’t the only obvious difference. A sword swung from one hip as she paced back and forth. Excitement and anticipation sped Andor’s pulse. The shifters might not be willing to help him in his quest, but a lone human could be the key to getting him what he needed. And he had just the right human woman in mind.

***

Lance twisted and turned, fighting to fall asleep as he had been since dropping into bed over an hour ago. The single image in his mind wouldn’t let him rest and he knew in his heart something was seriously wrong.
    “Emily,” he whispered.
One chance encounter what felt like ages ago, and those big, golden eyes wouldn’t leave his mind. Thinking of her constantly had begun to be a nuisance, but he couldn’t banish her from his thoughts. Even without a single word between them he’d felt an instant connection. If only he had stopped her from running out of the library and talked to her. He’d learned her name from the librarian, but nothing else. Now he craved more.