Shifting Bonds, Book One
Veterinarian Jayda Kynslan recently moved to Montana. The mountains hold many secrets but none as mysterious as hers. She's just discovered she's a polymorphic shifter--wolf, cougar, human. Jayda's not sure who she is--or what her heart and body need.
Recently promised to Cole Takoda, the head of the wolf council, Jayda wants to believe their bond will fulfill her every need. But there's no denying her cougar growls for a mate of its own. Leader of the cougar council, Zane Brodan has no desire to get involved in a romantic relationship. Tangling with a shifter already promised to another is a bad idea--except when it's a luscious polymorphic shifter doing the tempting.
Cole believes Jayda is his lifemate. Zane can't resist her seductions. It seems someone wants to ruin all their plans. As the temperature and body count rise, so does Jayda's need to possess both men--wolf and cougar--and her needs refuse to be denied.
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November 13, 2009
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Excerpt from Bonded by Need by Nina Pierce
She raced through the shadows, her claws digging deep in the damp forest floor. Lush ferns of summer slapped at her muzzle but didn't slow her speed. The scent of rabbit rode on the night air laced with the honeyed aroma of silky lupine. Jayda Kynslan tamped down the urge to hunt. Time had become her enemy. Her attention needed to stay focused on more important quarry.
Breaking through the tree line, she stepped onto the edge of the field. The Montana mountain breeze ruffled through her thick pelt of black and Jayda wanted to throw her head back and let instinct loose. But a wolf howl would only give away her position and this night was about secrecy and speed. The protective darkness would soon give way to a blue wash of light. The full moon peeked over the treetops, its face a crimson fire. A blood moon. A superstitious person would read death in its orange glow. Jayda only saw her chance at stealth slipping away. Soon it would sit high in the sky and smile down upon the earth, stealing away the shadows.
Three full moons had passed since that fateful night when Cole Takoda, leader of the wolf shifter council, had held her tight and shown her the magic that was shifting. That night, pain and anger had filled her even as her body had sought equilibrium in its first shift into animal form. Since then, muscle, bone and tissue had learned to morph without agony. The only pain now was the ache in her heart knowing she would never regain the decades her body had held tight to its furtive gift. Allowing herself the freedom to shift had released her from the pent-up frustration that had manifested itself in years of nightmares.
There was no time to mourn the loss.
With caution, Jayda left the darkened secrecy of the forest and ventured into the tall river grass. The song of the wind soughing through the ponderosa pines was joined by the steady rush of the river just ahead of her. Though its banks overflowed with the swell of the recent rains, the current here at the foot of Coppertip Mountain had slowed to a lazy pace. Intent on swimming its expanse, this would be her first venture into the water as a wolf. The thought both thrilled and terrified. Perhaps she hadn't chosen the best route, but she hoped it would deliver her to her destination ahead of her foe.
The soft carpet of bitterroot beneath her pads swallowed her approach. Scanning the riverbank, Jayda glimpsed a shadow shift just below a rocky outcropping on the other side, not thirty feet from her. Dropping to her belly, she let the grass close around her. Jayda had no intention of being found.
Her ears shot forward and her nose scented the air. Keen eyes focused on the lithe figure materializing at the water's edge. A cougar--female by the scent.
Jayda watched in fascination as the animal padded to the river's edge, crouched and drank greedily. The moon had risen. Its orange hue now washed to an alabaster glow that danced in shimmering facets along the rolling water. As the cat's tongue shot in and out of her mouth, her sides heaved like bellows, working much harder than seemed necessary. Perhaps the cougar had just finished a long run through the summer night.
The cougar lifted her head momentarily and scented the air. She was beautiful. Even in the moonlight, Jayda could see the unusual black fur around her nose. Though cougars had their own markings, this one's uncharacteristically wide line of black fur running up the bridge of her nose to spread and separate over her eyes made this female even more unique, and Jayda was too spellbound by her beauty to move away.
A quiet mewling followed the cougar and two kits bounded out of the shadows. They rolled and tumbled over each other with pitiful growls that barely rose over the sound of rushing water. Jayda couldn't take her eyes off them.
Their mother drank greedily as if there weren't enough water in the river to slake her thirst. Tiring of each other, the kits pounced on her swishing tail. She swung it out of their path only to have them follow and bat at it again. But nothing slowed her tongue as it dipped again and again into the cool liquid.
Something deep within Jayda stirred. She'd barely learned what it meant to be a wolf shifter. Acknowledging that a cougar also slept within her was just too overwhelming. Being a polymorphic shifter was unknown to everyone, especially Cole.
In the past three months, Jayda had learned about shifting. With Cole's help she'd come to understand and celebrate her wolf persona. As head of the wolf shifter council, Cole couldn't ignore the cougar shifter population who shared Coppertip Mountain, but it had become painfully obvious her lover had an aversion to the big cats. That knowledge had made it difficult for Jayda to acknowledge the third of her that currently rumbled.
They both understood it existed within her. Cole admitted he'd seen evidence of her cougar appear when she was lost in their lovemaking. A hint of a cat tail, the roll of a rounded muzzle, the brush of black fur that wasn't wolf, all would shift and sway over her body as she reached orgasm. That had lasted only a month or so until she'd learned how to control the shift. Despite its appearances, Cole believed her cougar was dormant and wouldn't ever completely surface. He believed she'd chosen her wolf form when she'd first shifted at the blue moon months ago.
She wasn't so sure.
Jayda wanted nothing more in this world than to find someone who could love and understand all of her. Loving Cole was right. She just didn't know if it was enough. Both of them ignored her cougar, thinking that perhaps not recognizing it, the animal would never require anything more. From the hollow feeling in her chest, Jayda had come to believe that might not be the case.
The kits growled at each other again and Jayda's empty womb constricted. The whole scene was becoming a sensory overload for her. She closed her eyes and brought herself back in harmony with the world around her.
Clouds skittered over the moon and the wind shifted, carrying her scent upstream. The female cougar stood, eyes and ears alert. Wanting to avoid a potential fight, Jayda slinked deeper into the grass. A wolf howled on the ridge behind her. The cougar turned, gathered her kits and retreated back into the shadows.
Now she was caught. Crossing the river here could bring her in direct contact with the cougar. Chasing a female with kits would inevitably lead to a confrontation and that was best avoided. But staying here, bathed in the soft glow of the moon, wasn't a viable option either. Surely the wolf on the ridge would catch her scent. There would be no escape from a pack of lusty males.
Instinct took over and Jayda ran headlong through the grass. Running east, she followed the river, hoping to find another narrow channel to cross. Once on the other side, reaching the rock ledge above the lake would be a straight shot through the thick woods. Safety would be hers. The grass opened up to a sandy beach where the water rolled at a lazy pace. Even she should be able to swim the short distance to the other side.
Without care for her safety, Jayda plunged into the icy waters. The sandy bottom melted away and she was left suspended in the frigid waters. Kicking with her back feet and paddling with her front paws, Jayda tried to stay afloat. But swimming as a wolf proved to be more difficult than she'd imagined. The current that appeared sluggish and without strength, now surged, grabbing and pulling her into its icy depths, covering her nose and eyes, filling her mouth. She swallowed great gulps of water before popping up briefly and being sucked under again.
Stupid. Jayda struggled to turn and find the shore, but the rush of the river disoriented her. The water pummeled her, twisting her in all directions until she no longer knew which direction to find land.
Her wolf legs paddled at a feverish pace. Jayda tried to shift, thinking she could fight the rush of water in human form, but her body wouldn't respond. Her heart pounded against her ribs, lungs burning without air. Exhaustion quivered over her muscles. As the river pulled her under again, giving in to the strength of the current seemed like such an easy decision. Through the silvery film of the surface Jayda saw the rippling wink of the moon, the only witness to her demise.
No. This night would not end with her death.
With one last Herculean effort of kicking, her head broke the surface, and Jayda yelped, her mouth filling with more water and choking her. She managed another strangled cry. Could he hear her?
Her body slammed into a rock and pain seared through her ribs. Jayda had no idea how long she could continue to fight. Rolling away from the boulder, her body twisted and turned in the current, pulling her into its depths again.
When a muzzle came up under her belly, she knew immediately he had found her. He pushed at her body, and when Jayda's head broke the surface, she gulped in the sweet night air, filling her lungs, waiting for the water to envelope her once again. But it didn't. Her feet paddled furiously and she tried desperately not to kick him. But her limbs seemed to have a mind of their own. Her back claws raked his skull and Jayda prayed she wouldn't drown them both.
The large wolf abandoned that idea and came up beside her. His muscular body pressed to hers, lifting her from the moving water. His powerful shoulder muscles bunched as he swam, redirecting her flailing body toward the shore. Briefly, Jayda slipped below the surface. His muzzle came up under hers, lifting her nose from the water. She churned her paws at twice the speed of his more effective pulls. Her breath whistled with her efforts.
When her paws bumped a rock, Jayda wanted to weep with relief. The marshy grass of the shore swayed placidly in the gentle breeze. It had never looked sweeter. Not until all four feet found purchase on the sandy bottom did the wolf beside her relax. She dragged herself to the grass and lay whimpering. The soft fronds cushioned her belly and Jayda took a moment to enjoy the sturdy feel of the earth beneath her.
Her lungs screamed in agony as Jayda worked to fill them. Relaxing, she willed her body to shift. Muscles rippled and bones warped. Her wolf gave way to her human form. Fur receded, leaving the damp satin of her skin. As her muzzle shortened and she became fully human, she rolled on her back, trying to find him.
The wolf strode over to her, fury sparking in his narrowed eyes. Anger rippled over his lips curled back in a snarl. Moonlight flashed off hungry fangs just above her face. Though he was breathing was labored, his chest heaving with the effort, he managed a low growl that rumbled through Jayda's heart. Fear and relief warred inside her, rendering her unable to apologize.
With ease borne of years of shifting, the wolf before her rippled and shuddered until it too became human. The man towered over her, his fists planted firmly on his narrow hips. The wild mane of dark hair framed the scowl on his face and stuck to his wide shoulders. She couldn't stop her eyes from traveling down his furred chest and lower still over his flat belly to his sex. A primal need pulled at her womb. Even angry, this man, her lover, was a powerful aphrodisiac.
The lump in her throat became an acute throb of lust that nearly swallowed her voice. "Cole, I'm--"
Without warning he pulled her to her feet, wrapped his arms around her and covered her mouth with a fierce kiss. His tongue swept her lips and she opened for him, tasting the familiar flavor. The heat of him exploded in her mouth. His hands wound into her damp hair as he changed the angle and deepened the kiss until she was breathless from the assault.
Cole pulled from her, his gaze raking her face. "Christ, Jayda, what the hell were you thinking?" His hands cupped her face, his thumbs skimming her jaw.
She read the anger in the deep lines of his face, but it was fear riding on his words.
"I couldn't find you. All that black fur in the river," he said, pulling her tight to him again, his heart thumping loudly against her cheek. "Don't do that again. Winning isn't that important."
She laughed. He was right of course. Their little race through the woods had nearly turned deadly because of her competitive streak. She had only wanted to beat him to the ridge, not nearly drown them both. "I assumed swimming as an animal was instinctual." Jayda looked up at him, his features softening.
"Only one thing's instinctual, Jayda," he whispered.
Cole's mouth came down on hers again and she relaxed against him. He lowered them to the grass, his heated skin molded to her from shoulder to hip. He slid his leg up hers, his knee parting her thighs, sending a frission of desire straight up her core. His erection, trapped between their bodies, communicated his own need. This is how their night runs always ended.