Change of Heart [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Mary Calmes
eBook Category: Erotica/Gay-Lesbian Erotica
eBook Description: As a young gay man--and a werepanther--all Jin Rayne yearns for is a normal life. Having fled his past, he wants nothing more than to start over, but Jin's old life doesn't want to let him go. When his travels bring him to a new city, he crosses paths with the leader of the local were-tribe. Logan Church is a shock and an enigma, and Jin fears that Logan is both the mate he fears and the love of his life. Jin doesn't want to go back to the old ways, and mating would irrevocably tie him to them. But Jin is the mate Logan needs at his side to help him lead his tribe, and he won't give Jin up so easily. It will take time and trust for Jin to discover the joy in belonging to Logan and how to love without restraint.
eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, Published: 2009, 2009
Fictionwise Release Date: December 2009
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259 Reader Ratings:
The story draws you in from the first scene and never releases its hold until the final sentence. 5 of 5 nymphs Scandalous Minx @ Literary Nymphs
I usually didn't notice girls, so it was not surprising that Crane saw her first. Once he pointed her out, and I noticed the men trailing behind her, I agreed that it was much too late for her to be out alone. The decision quickly made, we followed the woman and the four men down the empty, windswept street. Her furtive glances over her shoulder let us know she was aware that she had company behind her, stalking her. When she sped up, so did they, and from where we were, slipping in and out of the shadows, it all played out over the course of one block, from walk to jog to run. And maybe everything was fine. Maybe she was a master at Tae Kwon Do, or maybe she knew the guys walking behind her and it was a game, some weird kinky sex thing that they had going on that my best friend and I were not privy to. The fact remained that she was out, seemingly alone, at two in the morning in a very bad part of town.
"Can I just go by myself?" I asked even though I already knew the answer. "It would be so much faster."
Crane shook his head before he darted away from me. Having known the man since we were kids, I knew better than to try and apply logic to the situation. With his whole affinity for damsels in distress, there was no chance that he would let me go alone. All I could do was stay beside him, matching his stride as we ran.
"I wonder what she's doing out here," Crane mused, quickening his pace.
She was clearly demented. Two in the morning in a bad part of town all alone, the girl obviously had a death wish that I hoped she didn't drag Crane and me into. But whatever happened, the time to turn back had passed the minute we saw she was in danger.
Taking a quick detour into an alley, we quickly stripped out of our clothes, dropping jackets, sweaters, jeans, shoes, and socks into a pile in a doorway. We both had to shed all our clothes so we could shift and be scary. The fact of the matter was that the two of us would have inspired fear in no one. At five-eleven, I was not big. I was built like a swimmer, with long, sinewy muscles over a lean frame. My friend Crane Adams, at six-one and just over two hundred pounds, was more imposing than me with his heavily muscled body, but he would not have frightened anyone either.
But everything changed once we shifted. Once we became panthers, we became the stuff of nightmares, and I went from being smaller and weaker than my friend to stronger and faster in seconds. In my panther form, I was much scarier than any other I had met.
The scream reached me, and I listened a second to make sure I knew where I was going before I took off running. It was like being shot from a gun, the burst of speed before my vision changed and my focus lowered. I went from being blind in the dark to having perfect sight in a heartbeat. My change always happened that fast. It would take Crane longer to catch up to me, his own metamorphosis coming at the cost of minutes, not seconds. I had been told many times that my transition was like watching a wave roll forward and then back to reveal a beast where a man had been. I had asked many fellow shape-shifters over the years what it felt like when they changed and heard a great many descriptions. Some spoke of rippling power sliding over their skin, heat that infused limbs, while others said it was like an adrenaline rush or a euphoric high. I had never experienced even a moment of that kind of exhilaration because my body discarded one shape for another too quickly for my brain to register. One moment I was a man, and the next I was a panther. The change was so seamless that it could not be tracked with the eye. I could have done really well in a magic show in Vegas.
Bolting across the street and down a side alley, I emerged in time to see the woman running across an empty lot with the four men behind her. I flew after her, darting toward the chain-link fence that surrounded the property, clearing the six feet easily and landing on the other side without even a temporary loss of momentum. It was like I had arrived onstage, and I waited for the response.
I expected screaming, gasps and horror, panic and fear. I got nothing. Everyone froze. Even the girl stopped running and stilled. Nobody moved, but nobody fainted. When had seeing a black panther materialize out of the night in the middle of downtown Reno ceased to be scary?
"What the fuck is this?" one of the men snickered, gesturing at me. "I thought you were alone."
No one was scared, and worse, they knew what I was; they were not mistaking me for an animal. I felt the knowledge in the pit of my stomach like a rock. Discovery was bad for those in another's territory without permission. I lowered my head for the coming fight.
"You think I would be out without a chaperone at this time of night?" the girl breathed out, challenging them, walking backwards, away from the men, toward me. "You better back off; this is only one of my bodyguards."
Only at that moment did they look hesitant. Nothing else scared them except the possibility that I was the vanguard of her tribe. They all moved back, darting looks back and forth before they suddenly turned and ran. I was exhilarated for the second before I heard them calling for the others, their growls carrying in the night.
"Oh God," she whimpered, stepping back, her hand clutching at my fur before she suddenly released me and started tearing at her clothes, stripping as fast as she could. Her eyes were huge, wild, and she was looking back across the lot as well as checking me, making sure I wasn't going to attack her. I would have shifted and told her she had nothing to worry about; being gay, I had no interest in anything outside of protecting her, but I wanted her to change as fast as she could, and I needed her to focus, not divide her energy.
As I suspected, her shifting took several minutes. Muscle and bone reformed as her body twisted and convulsed. I could tell that it hurt, her transformation, and my guess was that she hated it. I did too, for altogether different reasons. I heard the pad of paws in snow and was relieved to see Crane racing toward me. She huddled against my side, but the reassuring bump of my nose soothed her. When Crane stopped, frozen, in front of me, she slowly peeked around my side to get a look at him.
I saw him shudder, and had I been human, I would have yelled at both of them. They were having a tender moment when we should have been running. But between waiting through her change and not wanting to leave without him, the time for flight had passed. It was too late; there were cats pouring over the chain-link fence to come and attack the three of us. We had to stand and fight instead of running for safety. Feeling a bump on my shoulder, I turned and saw Crane staring at me, waiting for what I would do. The female panther was holding out for me as well, her desire for my protection overwhelming her instinctive urge to run. They were both scared, and when I bolted forward, they followed right behind me.
Huge, razor-sharp claws came at my face, but I easily avoided the attack. Every cat I had ever met moved in slow motion in comparison to me, so I was able to veer out of the way without even being touched. The body that leaped at me I knocked aside with my lowered head, more bull than panther. I saw gleaming fangs and batted the face away, running over the fallen animal under me. I plowed through the pack, only vaguely aware of anything but getting my charges out of there. There were six or seven of them in all, huge male panthers all trying to prevent our escape, but they came at me one at a time instead of working together to stop us. One at a time, my odds were better, and the glimmer of hope grew as both the female and Crane followed me precisely, intuitively knowing that we could not be separated.
Another of the panthers charged forward, and I leaped over him, landing briefly on his back before pushing back off. He crumpled under me, and the force of my jump sent him tumbling. As I turned to run, the female was suddenly grabbed and pulled away. I whirled around to face her attacker, who stood, frozen, over her, staring at me. His teeth were bared; his lips drawn back over long, sharp, dagger-like fangs and blackened gums. He could easily dip his head and inflict damage to her, so, hoping to intimidate him, I lifted myself up, lengthened my neck, and took in a deep breath, letting the growl gather in my throat. I knew what I looked like, as though I myself were a fragment of the night. As a black panther, I was different from the golden cat standing before me, and he had probably not seen one like me before. I was rare, more so than he could imagine. When his scent changed, I was relieved. I could smell the fear.
I watched in amazement as he froze and was still as only an animal can be. When I dropped my head, my body bristling, he took the slightest step back. Pressing my advantage, I lifted my head and snarled loudly. He shuddered. My show of speed and strength had frightened him into waiting for what I was going to do next, made him apprehensive. When he took another step back, his teeth out of range of the female, I leaped forward, landing directly over her, and stood there, letting them all see me. My stance said that she was mine and that I had claimed her. If the leader wanted her, he would need to challenge for her, and that fight would be one-on-one. I knew the odds were in my favor in that instance.
When the leader of the pack did nothing, I was surprised. His hesitancy led me to believe that he would sink to the ground before me, roll to his back and bare his throat. By the code we all lived by, he needed to make his show of submission, so I was stunned when he turned and ran, the others following.
Left alone in the now-silent lot with the female, confused by their retreat, I was startled for a second by her movement under me. She rose with great effort, running her head up under my chin. When I gently enclosed her nape in my jaws, I heard her deep purr of contentment before she trembled.
Lifting slowly and gently, I had her on her feet and used my body to brace her. When the male panther had grabbed her, he had thrown her down hard, so she leaned heavily on me as we began to walk. Crane stood beside her on the other side, and we braced her up between us. Seconds later, I heard the others and finally understood the real cause of the retreat. The lead male had known the cavalry was coming and, not knowing how much time he had left, he had decided to run. I wasn't as scary as I thought.
The female's call was short, a brief cry to let her tribe know where she was and that she was well. I tensed and felt her teeth gently close on my shoulder to hold me there. Turning, I rubbed my chin over the top of her head before I nudged her, shifting her off-balance and away from me. I leaped away before she could regain her hold. She took a step forward, but I was already beyond her reach. They were close now, her tribe, her family, and she was safe. I growled at Crane, and after seconds of indecision, he bolted after me. I twisted around and ran back the way I had come. I heard her calling in short, loud bursts, the sound no longer of pain but of loss. I ran on, feeling my friend beside me, clearing the fence for the second time that night, across the road in a blur. Our clothes were where we had left them, and we were changed minutes later, having pulled and yanked on things now cold and damp.
"Why are we running?" he asked me, visibly confused.
"How can you ask that?" I snapped at him. "We have no idea whose territory we're in, and we just got in a fight with God knows who. We need to get the hell outta here and back home fast."
"We saved that girl."
"Yeah, but who did we save?"
He had no idea why I was worried. The fact that we had just had an encounter with a tribe of panthers, and that sooner or later they were going to come looking for us, was not a concern for him. It had been the right thing to do, saving the girl, so he was certain that everything would work out. But I was a realist. I was worried about repercussions like who would come knocking on our door. The grateful tribe of the female panther we had saved? Or the very pissed-off tribe that we had driven off? Either way, it was bad. I did not want to be involved, and, more importantly, I didn't want to be called before the semel, the leader, of their tribe or my own.
"What's really going on?"
He knew me, knew I was worried for a reason; he just had no idea what it was.
I ran a hand through my hair. "Let's just go home, alright?"
"You're bein' all weird," he commented, but he followed me when I started walking back in the direction of downtown.
I was going to make a comment when he was suddenly illuminated by headlights. As it turned out, the opportunity to slip away into the night was not going to be an option.
The huge Lincoln Navigator rolled to a stop in front of us, and three men got out. That left the driver behind the wheel and two others that I could see in the back seat. The girl was nowhere to be seen, and I wondered where she was. I slipped in front of Crane, and when he tried to move, I snapped at him.
"For crissakes, Jin, I'm the muscle, not you."
I ignored him as the three men closed in on us.
"Did you two just save a girl?"
He couldn't tell if we were panthers or not, which instantly gave me hope. The man was an underling; he had no station. He was a khatyu, a fighter, and nothing more.
"Yes, we did," I told him, offering him my hand palm up in a submissive posture of greeting.
He nodded, gave me a quick smile, and I saw the wave of relief wash over the group. They all relaxed, and I saw the respect on their faces.
"She is the sister of our semel and has been taken home to safety," he breathed out, taking my hand with one of his before covering both our hands with his other. "We are in your debt."
"Then you'll forgive us being here without permission?"
"Of course," he said, like I was ridiculous for even asking.
"I told you," Crane muttered under his breath, bumping me with his shoulder.
"There's nothing to forgive," the man assured me, "and you can use my name, Andrian Basargin, as your shield whenever you're in our territory in the future."
"Thank you." I smiled wide, meaning it. "I'm Jin Rayne, and this is my friend, Crane Adams."
"Name your tribe," he ordered gently.
"Pakhet," I told him.
"Really?" His eyes lit up. "That's wonderful. I thought maybe you guys were from somewhere else, like visiting from wherever."
"Nope, we live right here in Reno."
"So then are you going to the mating feast in three months?"
"I'm going," Crane assured him, "but Jin's not much for that kinda stuff."
I had my reasons.
"I still can't believe it." Andrian smiled wide. "A covenant bond between our two tribes, how amazing is that? I mean, we'll basically be one big tribe."
The tribe to which Andrian and his friends belonged was Mafdet. The semel of that tribe was Logan Church. In two weeks, he was going to officially take Simone Danvers, the sister of our semel, Christophe Danvers, as his mate. In making her his mate, or yareah, as the "wives" of semels were called, he and Christophe would be making a covenant bond between their two tribes. It was a really big deal; everyone had been invited to the three-day celebration, which included hunting, drinking, and food and was basically just one giant party that I was sure people would be talking about for years. I would not be caught dead there.
"I'm looking forward to checking out the hunting lands on top of your mountain," Crane told Andrian. "Other panthers from your tribe that I've met say it's beautiful."
"It is." He smiled at Crane. "At the feast, I'll show you."
"You know, uniting two tribes, that's a great thing he's doing." I said sincerely.
"Yep." He smiled, and I saw how pleased he was. "The man's brilliant, and that was why we were all so worried."
"Whaddya mean?" Crane asked him.
"Well, we want Logan to have a son. We wanna know that our semel's bloodline will continue, so we were all waiting around for him to take a mate. But then he didn't, and more and more time's passing and he's like thirty-two already and nothing."
"Thirty-two is still really young," Crane assured him.
"Yeah, but c'mon, most of us are mated by twenty."
Crane shrugged. "True enough."
"Yeah, so we were all gettin' a little worried, ya know, and then all of a sudden at our last gathering, he announces his mate, and it's Christophe's sister. So not only will we get an heir, but we get a tribal union out of the mating, as well. It's like winning the goddamn lottery."
My friend chuckled. "You guys wanna grab somethin' to eat with us? That's what we were doin' out here to begin with."
I could have killed him for suggesting we spend any more time with Andrian and his friends, but he missed the company of other panthers, and so his natural inclination had kicked in before his brain. He didn't even notice me glaring at him, as excited as he was. When he suggested a really good late-night burger place he knew, everyone was on board.
After calling the driver out of the car, there were introductions all around, and we decided to walk the two blocks to the diner. It soon became apparent that the others could not detect my presence at all. The realization that I was safe calmed me, and as usual, the minute I relaxed, the others felt it, completely at ease in my presence, each jockeying for position beside me as we walked. All my life, it had happened, and maybe it was the same with all reahs, but I had never met another one to ask. When I glanced over at Crane, he just rolled his eyes.
"So," Andrian said, sliding an arm around my neck, drawing me closer to him. I doubted he even knew what he was doing. It was simply the pull of a reah on a regular cat. "How long have you two been members of Christophe's tribe?"
"Six or seven months," I exhaled.
"Christophe's been away." He squinted at me, inhaling deeply. "Did he accept you and Crane, or did his sylvan?"
"Both his sylvan and sheseru were too busy to even meet with us." I smiled at him. "We were accepted by Christophe's yareah, Therese."
His mouth fell open. "Are you kidding?"
"Nope," Crane told him, laughing softly as the others joined him. "We've never even met the man; we wouldn't know him if we passed him on the street."
"That is fucked up," one of Andrian's friends said. "Our semel... he knows every person in our tribe, swear to God."
"Which is why you think he's great," I told him. "A leader that truly cares about his people is hard to beat."
"I agree," Andrian said, letting me go as we all filed into the diner.
Crane waved at the waitress, who told him to take his regular seat. I got a smile and a wave from her as well. At the table, Crane slid in beside me before anyone else could, and Andrian took the seat across.
"So lemme get this straight," Andrian smiled at me. "If Logan tells Christophe to commend two members of his tribe for saving his sister and gives him your names, he wouldn't even know who you guys were."
"Nope," Crane assured him before he explained that the mushroom burger and the Amarillo fire burger were the best things they served. The consensus was to trust him. No one even looked at a menu; they just ordered one or the other and drinks.
"Where were you guys before you got here?" Andrian asked a while later between bites.
"I was in Miami," Crane lied seamlessly, having told it so many times, "and Jin's been traveling for a while. We both work at Fusion; it's that nightclub on the strip."
"I've been there," one of the guys said. "It's a nice place. You've got that cool Bossa Nova lounge upstairs."
"Yep," Crane grinned, "that's it."
"What do you guys do there?"
"Jin bartends in the club, and I bartend upstairs in the lounge you like so much."
"I bet you make a shit load of tips." Andrian couldn't stop smiling at me.
"I do alright."
"What our boss would really like," Crane arched an eyebrow for my benefit, "is for Jin to take over the night manager spot at his restaurant in King's Beach so he could run the club. I could work up there too, and everybody would be happy."
"What's stopping you from taking the job?" Andrian asked me.
I looked deep into his eyes until he got it.
"Oh, shit, King's Beach is our territory--you needed permission from Logan to come and go."
"Yep, can't be on your land without safe conduct."
"Well, shit, consider it done, Jin. I mean, you and Crane are heroes as far as I'm concerned, and Logan won't even care that you're there. I'll run it by our sheseru, but I really don't think it'll be any problem. Tell your boss you and Crane will take the job."
I nodded. It was a nice surprise for the evening. "Thanks."
"No, thank you, guys. It could've been a real bad night all the way around without you stepping in. Anything we can do to repay you, please just ask."
"Well, this'll do it." Crane smiled at him.
"Well, great." Andrian nodded, genuinely pleased as his eyes locked on mine.
It was four in the morning by the time we were dropped off in front of our apartment. I felt exhilarated as the car drove away. I had extracted a promise from Andrian not to let Delphine know anything about us, just to let her know that he had seen us when, and if, she asked. She would ask, he promised me with a smile, but he agreed to my stipulation. Alone on the street, I smiled at Crane, arching an eyebrow for him.
"You lucky piece of shit," he groused, trailing after me toward the three flights of stairs that we had to take to our place.
"You know what," he snorted. "You dodge more fuckin' bullets than anybody I know."
"What are you talking about?"
"What am I... oh, I dunno, you get lucky and Christophe Danvers's yareah just so happens to come into our club one night with all those other women, ladies night out or whatever, and you end up convincing her to let us into her tribe without having to appear before her semel."
I stopped on the stairs, turning to look down at him. "She enjoyed it. She didn't even know she could admit members into the tribe until I told her."
"Yeah, I know," he said, shoving by me to take the lead as we climbed the flights up. "And once you got her all pumped up about the idea, and you went all charming and seductive on her, she couldn't resist. I didn't know gay men could turn women into putty."
"She's a panther first, woman second, so I----"
"She's a woman first and you played her."
"I nudged her a little."
He groaned loudly, which made me smile as we reached our door. "I just hope that doesn't come back to bite you in the ass."
"And by me you mean you, of course," I clarified as I unlocked it and walked into the dark two bedroom apartment.
"That's right." He yawned as I turned on the lights, and he collapsed onto the couch. "It's all about me."
"Well, I think we're good," I called out, walking around the back of the couch through the door to my bedroom. "I'll tell Ray tomorrow that I'll take the job managing the restaurant, and we can move to King's Beach and not be around to bump into Christophe Danvers."
"And Logan Church won't bug us because Andrian will tell him that we're members of Christophe's tribe," he called back, making sure his voice reached me.
I shed my jacket and sweater and came back out in only my jeans, T-shirt, and socks. "So see, it's perfect. I don't have to meet any semels, and you can hang out with panthers like you've been wanting to since I got thrown out of our tribe and you followed me."
"What was I supposed to do? Let my best friend leave forever without a forwarding address?"
I sighed deeply. "You would have been sheseru someday if you stayed."
"Fuck that," he yawned loudly. "It's more fun to see what kind of bullshit you're gonna get yourself into with all your plotting and scheming."
"You're hilarious. I'm goin' to bed."
"Wait." His voice stopped me before I closed the door.
He turned around on the couch to look at me. "You never miss it?"
"I don't know what we're talking about."
"A tribe, asshole; you never miss being part of a real tribe?"
"No," I lied flatly, and even knowing me for as long as he had, I knew he couldn't tell I was lying. Of course I wanted to belong to a tribe. I wanted it just as badly as he did, but since it was never going to happen, longing for the day when I would be accepted was futile.
We were silent for several minutes before he suddenly cleared his throat.
"You know, it's too bad that Logan Church is giving in and taking a yareah to be his mate." He was changing the subject to some neutral topic that meant nothing to either of us like he always did. "If I was a semel, I'd never do that. If I was a semel, I would wait forever for my reah. Who wants a fake mate?"
"Somebody you choose isn't a fake," I corrected him, leaning against the doorframe. "Millions of people do it every day."
"I guess, but still, a semel is supposed to mate with a reah. That's how it's supposed to be. Settling for anything less goes against the nature of a semel."
"But if a semel never finds his reah, then he's supposed to do what? Just live without a mate, live and die without a family of his own?"
"I'm just saying--I would wait for my reah."
I nodded. "Sure you would."
"Okay," I indulged him.
"Why are you being a dick?"
"It's just that anybody can say what they would do if they were a semel." I sighed. "And I'll bet you that every semel said the same thing before they took over leading a tribe."
"You're so cynical."
"I'm a realist. When you have responsibilities to no one but yourself, it's easy to say what you would and wouldn't do, but when your tribe is looking at you and waiting for an heir like Andrian was saying earlier about Logan Church... I mean, when your bloodline needs to be secured, no one can be strong under that kind of pressure."
He squinted at me. "So you're saying no semel can afford to wait for his reah."
"Realistically, no, they're too rare. The chances of finding one are too small."
"And yet," he said with a flourish, "there you stand."
I flipped him off.
"Oh, c'mon, Jin, all this talk about reahs and here you are, the rarest of all panthers, the one and only male reah in existence."
"I don't count."
"You count, idiot; you're a reah."
"I'm not a real reah; I'm not a girl."
"Who says a reah can only be female?"
"Oh, I don't know... everyone," I said, sounding bitter even to myself.
"Well, everyone's wrong--you're a guy and you're a reah----a real one, and that's not up for debate. You exist, so you're real."
"Let's not have some weird, long, existential debate, all right? I know you're a reah just like I know you're the only male one ever... period... end of story."
"But you don't know that. Not really."
"Oh, I don't know that?" He scoffed. "I'm thinking I know that, 'cause see, in all the traveling we've done over the past two years after we left college, neither one of us has ever seen or even heard of another reah, let alone a male one. I mean, a female reah is like one in a million... a male reah... gimme a fuckin' break. You're it, man."
"I'm just saying... you don't ever want to tell anybody else but me?"
"My father knows," I reminded him, "and our old tribe, and our old semel who tried to kill me. I'm thinking enough people know already."
He turned back around and slouched down onto the couch. I couldn't see his face anymore.
"You can go back, you know. They'd take you back, Crane."
"Fuck you. Go to bed. I don't wanna talk anymore."
I respected his decision because we were both beyond reason at that point. We both needed sleep, so I closed my door and fell into bed. I was so tired I didn't even dream.