Authors: Zenina Masters
Tags: #Fantasy, #Shapeshifters, #Paranormal, #erotic romance
“They didn’t deal well with my transformation. I became a visitor in my own home, and the moment that I could leave, I did. Pierce took me in when I left high school, and he paid for my pilot’s training.”
Athon was on the alert. “Who is Pierce?”
“My Herd Master. Pierce Anders. He took me in and gave me a place to stay.” She smiled sadly, “He even volunteered to be my mate when my time came, but it turned out that wasn’t necessary.”
Athon bristled. “He offered to what?”
“Mate me. He has other females, of course, but if a female goes into heat and she can’t find a mate, she can turn to him. He offered me the opportunity.”
“The opportunity to bear his child?” Outrage was in every line of his body.
“Of course. If I don’t take a mate at least once, I will go nuts. Isn’t it the same for wolves?”
“Yes, but they don’t all go to the Alpha for it. His wife would kill him.” There was anger in his features.
“I turned him down. I would rather take chances on finding a male to be mine alone rather than being one in a line. If Pierce had his own female, the extra females would go to his Beta or the highest-ranking free male.” His grip on her hand was making her fingers creak. “Ease up, Athon. Whatever you are thinking, it never happened.”
“You were not a virgin, so how…”
“Oh. Humans aren’t nearly as fussy as shifters are when it comes to having sex with a woman with dark hair and eyes. I learned dyeing my hair before I left school, but one shift and I had to start over. Whatever it is that lets us shift, it takes all my pigment with it.”
Their meals came, and he surrendered her hand to allow her to carve up her steak with a grin of delight.
He sighed and attacked his own meal. “You have no idea how happy I am that you are not vegetarian.”
She shrugged. “It shocked my family, but I embraced the circle of life that provides omnivores with meat and dorks with designer salads.” He chuckled. “You have been to Seattle then?” She laughed, and they settled into light conversation as they ate. It was just like a first date provided that you always banged your date for hours before the salads arrived.
They left the restaurant after a dessert good enough to bring a tear to her eye.
Sharing a meal had mellowed her. She leaned against him and laughed softly when he commented on how agreeable she was being.
Venny was about to reply when a voice called out.
They turned as one and saw the same three toughs that had stalked her that morning, or perhaps it was the day before. Time felt different here.
“What does that loner have that we do not?” She looked at the three men and kept a grip on Athon’s waist. She smiled. “That’s easy. Me.” At her side, Athon shuddered, and his head shifted to his wolf’s and his hands grew claws while the rest of him remained dressed in his tailored shirt and belted slacks.
The young men stared and whimpered, crouching and retreating in silence.
“Huh. I wonder if I can do that. Mind you, my rack would probably break my neck.” She looked at Athon and stroked the side of his muzzle.
He shook his head and returned to his more striking appearance. “I like your rack.” Athon skidded his hand up to rest just under the swell of her breast.
She chuckled. “Subtle.”
They walked back to the Open Heart, and Dira was waiting for them. “Well, as you have formalized your union, may I suggest that you take your romantic activities elsewhere?” Venny was hurt. “Why?”
“The Crossroads are for people to meet. Having a female in heat already attached to a male is not conducive to a calm atmosphere.” Dira smiled. “I am not kicking you out, but there will be more confrontations if you continue to wander around.” Athon squeezed Venny’s side. “We will be out within the hour. Thank you for the head’s up.” Venezia scowled and went to pack her bags. To her shock, they were packed for her and sitting on her bed. Bemused, she double checked and found that everything was neatly arranged in the bags and a small tin box filled with cookies and a note that said,
May your life bloom and shift with you. You
deserve for everyone to see the blazing beauty within.
The note took the sting out of being evicted from the B&B.
She wondered where she should go now. To tag along to Athon’s home was presumptuous and going back to Pierce’s home was out of the question.
Venny was still debating where to go when Athon filled her doorway. “Are you ready, Venezia?”
She looked at him and let a bit of her hesitation fade. “I think so. Where are we going?”
He smiled. “First, we will register with your Herd Master, and then, we will head to my home. Do you have an apartment or something to dispose of?”
She bit her lip and shook her head. “No. I have been staying with Pierce in between flights. When I am flying, I either get a hotel room or camp.” He took her bags and slipped them over his shoulder. “Good. It will be less awkward for you then.”
Following him as he hauled her worldly possessions with him, she felt lost. She was about to be cut off from every bit of comfort she could obtain from her own kind. Mating with a predator was a final stroke that even Pierce could not smooth over.
* * * *
Athon looked down at Venezia as she stood at his side. Her pale features showed her tension as they registered their union with the guardians at the meditation centre.
A surge of possessiveness ripped through him as Venny signed her name next to his on the registry document. With a flourish, she linked herself to him formally in the eyes of all shifters.
Tony witnessed it, marking the page with his fingers turned to claws and dipped in ink. His raven’s claws doubled as a pen while he recorded the date, time and location of the cross-species union.
Three copies were created and each was witnessed. The Crossroads copy was taken by Teal, rolled up and she reached behind her neck to pull a short, downy swan feather out, which she used to seal the scroll. As she held it, the downy feather changed into a seal of glowing onyx.
“And so, you are mated by the regulations of the shifters’ council. You will have to confirm it in the human world, but soul to soul, you are bound for life.” Tony announced and clapped Athon on the shoulder.
He might have just been a bird, but Athon suspected that Teal and Tony were the apex of their species, just as Venezia was of hers. “Thank you. I will arrange it as soon as we can get a moment in front of a justice of the peace.” Venny looked up at him with concern in her glowing red eyes. “Really? I wanted a big wedding.”
He was astonished and stared down at her for a moment before she cracked a grin. “Sucker.” Watching the amused delight on her face as he scowled down at her was almost worth the heart failure she had just caused.
Teal and Tony sent them back to the human world in a flash of light, and then, it was time to explain a few facts to Venny’s ex-Herd Master.
hey appeared in Pierce’s backyard in a flash of light. Athon kept his arm around her, but she still stumbled when she saw Pierce coming out of his home with a thunderous scowl on his face.
“Venny, I have been trying to call you!” He came toward her with an angry stride.
Athon put himself between her and her Herd Master. “Take care with how you address my mate.”
“Your mate?” Pierce stopped in his tracks.
Venezia moved and looked around Athon. He seemed physically larger than he had been just a few moments earlier. “Yes, Pierce. I am his mate.” Pierce stood and shock was rippling over his features.
“Why were you trying to get a hold of me?”
“Kevin recanting his bonding with your cousin. He is free to be your mate.” Pierce scowled.
Venny gripped the scroll she was holding and extended her hand to him. “Here. The official registration of our union.”
She moved to stand next to Athon, but he kept himself half a step forward. She elbowed him in the ribs. “This is the Herd Master. Chill.” Growling, he backed up and stood even with her. “I don’t like him yelling at you.”
“I have to perform a ritual. Wait here.” Venny walked forward and bowed, taking Pierce’s hand and pressing it to her forehead. “Herd Master, I have chosen my mate. Athon Wells is an independent wolf, and he will stand next to me throughout my life.”
Pierce lifted her to stand with his fingers under her chin.
Venny looked up into his amber eyes and smiled. She handed him the mating certificate with a smile. “Be happy for me.”
“I wanted you in the herd, but if this is the way it is, then I will wish you happiness. I am just shocked that you were able to find a mate so fast.” Pierce smiled sadly.
Athon pulled her out of Pierce’s grip. “Why would you doubt her able to attract a mate, Herd Master?”
Pierce met Athon’s gaze over her head, and she wondered what was passing between them.
“No reason. Venny is a stunning woman. Her colouration should not have been a deciding factor when it came to mating, but it is a matter of tradition, not physical capability.”
“Her colouration is a great attraction, but the woman within is irresistible.” Athon’s hands wrapped around her waist and shoulders.
She grunted softly as she was pulled back against his body. He was making a point in front of Pierce, and it seemed to be acceptable to the Herd Master.
“Would you like to come in for coffee or tea?” Pierce smiled.
Venny chuckled. “No, but if you could get Kevin to stop calling me, that would be great.” Pierce frowned. “He is calling you?”
“Five messages. I haven’t listened to them, but usually, he just sends texts.” Athon whispered. “Play them for him.” She grimaced and stomped to her bags, fishing out her phone and setting it to speaker. The first two messages were from Pierce who simply said, “Call me when you get this.”
“—Venny, I don’t know what you were thinking telling Pierce that I lied to him. You know I was never comfortable with our arrangement. You have to fix this.”
“—Venny, why haven’t you called me? I need you to tell Pierce to let me back in the herd. You have to tell him that it was your idea. You know we would have made a horrible couple.”
“—What did you say to Tasia? Did you tell her I was sterile? How dare you, bitch! I will get even with your chalky skin if it is the last thing I do.” Pierce nodded. “Tasia mentioned that he seemed too assured that their union wouldn’t result in a child. She took a semen sample, and he has had a vasectomy. He didn’t tell anyone.” Venny grimaced, that was the worst thing to do to a woman in heat. Without a child, she would continue to ratchet in frequent cycles of heat until she started losing her mind.
“—Venny, babe. I am so sorry for those previous calls. I want you to know that I am here for you. You can come to me, and I will take you on as mate.”
“—Venny, I want you to call me. I need you. I will be your mate without condition. Come back or give me a call.”
When her phone announced that it was the end of the messages, Venny purged them. “Well, I can thank Tasia for saving me from a living nightmare.”
She looked up at Athon and smiled, “And delivering me into the hands of a dream.” He leaned down and she leaned up, kissing each other softly.
Pierce looked thoughtful. “I didn’t think that a predator would be a good match for one of our kind, but I now realise that with Venny, it couldn’t be anything but.”
“I am glad you are gaining understanding, Herd Master.”
Pierce grinned. “I am not as slow as I look.” Athon chuckled. “We need to cross the country. I am going to take my mate’s piloting skills out for a test.”
The Herd Master was amazed. “You are going to trust Venny to fly you?”
Venny shot her hand out and punched Pierce in the shoulder. “Nice.”
“The transporter has offered you a few transports, gratis. She will help you cross to see your families and return you to Athon’s home.” Venny lifted her phone, checked previous calls and summoned Krisia for a trip across the country.
Athon smiled. “Seattle first. I will introduce you to my family, and we can stay in my apartment until we can get a plane for you.” She cuddled up next to him. “We are buying me a plane?”
He sighed and hugged her. “I will benefit from it as well. You can take me to the empty places on the tundra where no humans dare to tread.”
She stroked his jaw, felling the stubble under her hand. “That sounds like fun, and there is no one I would rather be in the empty places with than you.”
When she looked into his grey eyes, she could see that he had a plan. She was more than willing to allow him to carry out whatever devilish plot he had concocted.
She trusted him, and it was not simply because of her herd-like nature. She genuinely wanted him to lead her, because she was sure that she would end up in far more fascinating places with him at the helm.
Pierce had a phone in his hand, and he was speaking quietly. A moment later, a gateway opened and Krisia walked through it.
She grinned and rubbed her hands together.
“Congratulations, you two. Now, where can I send you?”
Athon grinned and gave her details of where he lived, Krisia concentrated and opened a separate gateway.
It struck Venny that they were leaving now. She quickly hugged Pierce and then returned to Athon’s side. He lifted their bags and inclined his head to the transporter.
Venny waved at her. “Thanks for your help, Krisia.”
Kris grinned. “You are welcome, now I expect to be invited to the general ceremony.” Athon ushered Venny through the gateway. He replied. “Of course. We are definitely keeping your number, just in case.”
Krisia laughed, and they passed through the portal, stepping into a living room that had the feel of being unoccupied.
Venny looked around as Athon walked surely down the hall, sliding open a panel that exposed a bedroom where he brought their luggage.
She shifted from foot to foot and walked to the drapes along one wall. She opened the window and gasped at the view of the water and the mountains all in one. “Oh wow.” Athon walked toward her with his shoes off and his shirt open. “Do you like the view?” She nodded. “For a land-bound view, it is lovely. Give me the endless spans of the tundra any day.”