Authors: Zenina Masters
Tags: #erotic Romance, #Paranormal, #Shapeshifter
Tiff doesn’t want a mate, she wants to hide in the woods, but a peacock in need appeals to her and she agrees to help him regain something lost.
Tiffany has lived with a traumatic past and a family that puts her squarely in charge. She is ordered to the Crossroads and decides that if she has to leave home, she will have a holiday. Alone in the forest, she spends her time running in her fox form and enjoying the wilderness.
She sees a peacock in horrible shape. His feathers are dull and his shoulders are stooped. Tiff sees the trauma in him that matches her own and she offers to help him get part of himself back.
Davus was one of the harvested shifters being held by the lions. He was healed in body but the pain of a year in a cage went far beyond skin deep. Tiffany sees his pain and doesn’t dismiss it or pity him. She offers to help him regain the mind-body connection, and he takes her up on it.
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2014 Zenina Masters
Cover art by Carmen Waters
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Shifting Crossroads Book 13
Tiffany sprinted through the woods, the baying of the damned neighbour’s dog on her heels once again.
Tiff snickered to herself as she ran under a log and shifted to her human form on the other side. She had left her dress hanging from the tree and with the ease of long practice, she shimmied into it.
Her panties were pulled on under the sundress, then she faced the dog as it rounded the oak and jerked to a halt. She looked at it and yipped.
The hound cocked its head and then turned to trot home. He kept pausing to look back at her, and she perched on the fallen log swinging her legs.
When he was out of her range, she swung back to her feet. Tiff was late for a meeting with her grandmother.
Annette Grayson was not a patient woman, which was probably why Tiff liked to mess with her. When a family’s matriarch was bossy enough to control all the funds coming in and out, Tiff enjoyed the petty moments that she could sneak in. She had been signing the checks for the family for the last five years but the tradition of obedience anchored her to her relatives in a way nothing else could.
The wide-open grounds gave an excellent view of the house. Tiff could see her grandmother sitting on the patio under the wide umbrella, tapping her fingers on her cane. She concentrated on walking toward her gran with a businesslike gait.
The moment her feet hit the cobblestone patio, she was treated to, “You are late.”
Sighing, Tiff approached her grandmother and kissed her cheek. “You are looking well, Gran.”
“I always look well. It is my blessing.” It was snapped out with harsh tones. “Aidan is getting married.”
Tiff raised her eyebrows and sat down, pouring her grandmother a cup of tea before serving herself.
“That is good news. I was always wondering if Aidan was going to bat for the other team.” She added sugar and lemon to her tea and sat back.
“He can’t get married.” Her grandmother grimaced.
“Because you are his elder by one year and you are still single. As the oldest female of your line, you have to get mated first. It’s tradition.”
Tiff sighed and put her cup down on the saucer. “I am not getting a mate.”
“You are if your brother is going to have a chance at a family, and you know he wants a family.”
“That is hitting below the belt, Gran.”
“I am aware of that. At this point, I am going to use what weapons I have to get you to do your duty to the family. You come from a strong line of women. You need to continue that bloodline.”
Tiff pinched the bridge of her nose. “Gran, I really don’t want to have a family. I want to run around and live off the lawn or the land.”
“You want to skip around in rags and tease the neighbour’s hounds. That is no way to live.”
Tiff picked up the teacup again. “It is a fine way to live. I have reinvested enough to enable me to maintain this house if you ever pass on.”
Her grandmother sipped her tea. “That is a disrespectful way to talk to your elder.”
Tiff smiled pleasantly. “Well, you are all about planning for the future. I just wanted you to know that I had a plan.”
“You are right. I am all about planning. You are going to the Crossroads whether you like it or not, and you are not coming back without a mate.” Her gran nodded with finality.
Tiff looked at the steel in her grandmother’s eyes. “Oh, hell.”
It seemed she was going to the Crossroads.
* * * *
Davus faced his father and shook his head. “I won’t do it.”
“Son, with the damage you suffered at the hands of those lions, no female in our circles will have you. You have to be practical about this.” Daniel Fergus clapped his son on the shoulder.
“I am completely healed, the damage is fixed.”
“But you wear the scars and everyone knows it. You still don’t sleep, Davus. Your feathers are dull and your eyes don’t sparkle. You are damaged and a female will only pick the healthiest of males with which to breed the next generation. Appearance is everything, Davus.”
Davus wanted to scream his frustration. He was ready to get married and have a family, but no peahen would have him.
“What are my options, Dad?”
“You know what I am going to say, but I am saying it anyway. The Crossroads. You are going to have to find a woman of another species to mate with. They won’t be as fussy as a peahen would be. You will still have a solid chance at a mate. You are attractive, wealthy and well spoken, most women will find those solid starts to a relationship.”
Davus blinked. “Fine. When do I go?” He reached under his shirt, generated a feather and pulled. He couldn’t feel it anymore. Scar tissue marred his human form and his peacock form was indeed not the brilliant thing it had been. He would find a woman who could stand the wreck that he had become and hope that he could make her happy.
“I will make the arrangements, Davus. I am sorry that it has come to this.”
Davus nodded and looked toward the house where his mother and two sisters were watching from the window. They had known about this and been afraid to tell him. It seemed par for the course.
“Call me when the arrangements have been made. I will be out here contemplating how my life has spun out of my control.”
His father patted him on the shoulder again and left him, carrying the feather that Davus had removed.
Davus groaned and walked along the edge of the woods while rubbing the back of his neck. The scars on his neck had faded as well, but he could still feel that jagged collar.
One night, a year ago, he had been enjoying a party at a wild peahen’s home when he had ingested a drink and he woke up in a human-sized cage.
He had been encouraged to shift at gunpoint and the moment he was in his bird form, the collar had gone on. Shortly after, his tail feathers had been removed to complete spells for mages and other shifters. After the year of captivity, he had had nothing on his back but scars, and when he was released from the restraint collar, those scars followed him into his human form.
Human mages and healers had patched him up and enabled him to generate his tail feathers once again. His mind had not healed from the confinement as well as was hoped. He could still make choices for the family’s fashion firm, but he was no longer considered one of them. They had searched for him for over a year and had thought he was dead. Their shock when he returned in his messed-up state was hard to deal with. He suspected that it would have been easier for them if he had not returned.
Now, he was facing life with a woman who wasn’t his own species. Her culture and community would be different from his own, and he couldn’t tell yet if that would be a boon or a curse. Time would have to tell.
The Crossroads would help him through the final stages of his adjustment or he would go nuts when no woman would have him. Either way, something was going to happen and he only had to step through the dimensional portal to get him there.
How hard could stepping through a gateway to meet a woman of another species and convince her to take him home possibly be?
Tiff stepped out of the light portal and smiled at the woman who greeted her. “Hello.”
“Close enough. You are Teal?”
“I am. Please step aside. We are expecting another arrival and we don’t want an incident.”
Tiff stepped to the area that Teal indicated and a bright light flared before it dimmed, leaving a tall man with black hair and fascinating eyes. He was elegant but subdued, as if trying not to be noticed. Tiff knew that look. She had seen dogs with that look after they had been abused.
A dark-haired man stepped out of the shadows. “Davus. Welcome to the Crossroads. Let me give you a tour.”
Tiff watched the man known as Davus swept out of the landing gateway and into the afternoon sun.
Teal sighed. “Whew. Well, that was a tight one. I apologize. You two were so close that the transporters were nearly side by side during the transport. With the gate…never mind. Welcome to the Crossroads.”
Tiff snickered. “Thank you.”
“I will give you a tour and you can settle in.” Teal smiled and waved her arm toward the open door. She gave the tour in an unhurried way. Apparently, the rush in the office was not a normal activity.
They took a tour of the bar, met the owners of the local café, the restaurant and the nail salon. The final point of the tour was the hostel.
“Ms. Grayson, I am aware of your family situation, so if you wanted to shift to a B and B, that would be easy to arrange.”
Tiff smirked, “No, I like being this near the forest. My family sent me here and there is no way to get me back. I intend to spend every day running through the forest and enjoying myself. No family, no phones, no obligations.”
Teal laughed. “You have no intention of finding a mate?”
“If I stumble over one, perhaps, but I am not actively looking.” She pushed away the reminder that her brother was hanging on her coming home with a mate. She would deal with that when she had to. “I will give myself a few weeks.”
Teal showed her in to the small-predator quarters. “The hostels are gender locked, so if you do try and hook up with someone, stay away from this street or one of you is going to learn how to fly.”
“Are there pools and ponds and things?” Tiff was eager to explore.
“And plenty of couples looking for a place to consummate their new arrangements, so keep an eye out and be discrete. If you cause any trouble, you will be ejected, with or without a mate.” Teal was stern.
Tiff laughed. “You have dealt with a few vixens then?”
“Thirty or forty. Your sense of amusement comes out most when you are in your four-footed form.”
“I am guilty of that. As long as there are no hounds around to torment, I should be able to control myself.” Tiff waggled her eyebrows.
Teal waved her off. “Go. Frolic. Enjoy yourself. I will be in touch if you need to reel it in.”
Tiff saluted her with a snappy flourish. “Thank you, Teal. I think I will like it here.”
Teal shook her head and walked out of the small-predator quarters, muttering about vixens and heat.
Humming to herself, Tiff picked a room and a locker. Once that was taken care of, she headed out into the woods and carefully removed her clothing, folding it and putting it safely in a tree.
With a cry of joy, she jumped forward and shifted before she hit the ground. The rest of her afternoon was spent running and exploring.
She found a rock in a meadow and curled into a ball; she covered her nose with her tail and took a nap.
* * * *
Davus smiled at yet another woman who wanted to run her hands over him. “I am very flattered, Missy, but I think it is a little soon for you to have your hand down my pants.”