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eBook by Kim Dare
eBook Category: Erotica/Gay-Lesbian Erotica/Romance
eBook Description: Raised among humans, Ori Jones only discovered he was an avian shifter six months ago. Unable to complete a full shift until he reaches his avian maturity, he still can't be sure of his exact species. But with species comes rank, and rank is everything to the avians. When a partial shift allows the elders to announce that they believe Ori to be a rather ugly little duckling, he drops straight to the bottom rung of their hierarchy. Life isn't easy for Ori until he comes to the attention of a high ranking hawk shifter. Then the only question is, is Ori really a duck--and what will his new master think when the truth eventually comes out?
eBook Publisher: Resplendence Publishing, LLC, Published: 2010
Fictionwise Release Date: October 2010
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229 Reader Ratings:
Instinct took over. Ori Jones dropped to his knees, taking cover behind the waist high partition separating the edge of the dining area from the adjacent corridor. A plate smashed against the wall behind him--just where his head would have been, if his reactions had been slower.
His grip on his tray of dirty plates faltered as he hunched over them in an effort to stay low and out of range. They slid forward. Scrabbling at the china, Ori desperately tried to catch a dozen fragile pieces of crockery.
Two hands were never going to be enough. The dishes escaped him, spilling leftover food and wine onto the floor as they tumbled out of his grasp. Ori made a last ditch attempt to catch a wine glass. Success! His fingers wrapped tight around the delicate stem, as the rest plummeted toward the dark oak floorboards.
As the clatter peaked, then faded away, Ori's attention flickered from one piece of expensive china to another, from one lead crystal glass to the next. Each item stared back at him, miraculously unscathed.
"What the hell...?" Highly polished black shoes stopped at the edge of the debris.
"I'm sorry, sir. I'll clean it up immediately." Ori rushed out, and he quickly began to pick up the mess of scattered utensils and move them out of the other man's way.
Clearing one side of the hallway first, he made a path through the wreckage for the higher ranking man and politely waited for him to pass.
The shoes didn't move. Ori sprung back into action, working even more frantically as he realized the shifter had no intention of taking another step until every scrap vanished from his sight.
Keeping his eyes on the floor, Ori didn't dare waste precious time glancing up at the other man--not when he knew every second that passed probably added another lash to the whipping his clumsiness must have already earned him.
Just a few more steps, and he would have reached the safety of the full height section of wall the other man still stood behind and he would have been out of range--at least until the next time he'd gone back into the dining room to clear another table. It was too late to wish he'd walked quicker now.
The last shard of the plate that had smashed against the wall behind him, placed on the tray next to the surviving dishes, Ori set it to one side of the corridor and knelt behind it, waiting for the other shifter to finally step past him. The shoes remained exactly where they were. Ori risked a glance up about as far as the other man's knees.
A hand appeared alongside the neatly tailored trousers. Ori's eyes went to the tattoo on the inside of the other man's wrist.
Ori knew he still had a lot to learn about the marks that distinguished each species of avian from the others, but the harsh black lines that decorated the other man's skin were impossible to mistake. Ori mentally scrolled through every curse word he knew, then made up a few new ones for good measure.
The stranger's hand stayed exactly where it was until Ori reached up and offered his wrist up in return, stopping just short of shaking the other man's hand while his fingers were still smeared with food cleaned from the floor.
His un-marked wrist only looked more bare when held next to one already signaling the other man's species.
Ori looked up further, to a pair of startling amber eyes.
"There's a reason you're not marked?"
"They're waiting until they're sure what I am, sir," Ori blurted out.
The hawk looked at Ori's wrist again. "The elder's best guess?"
"A rather ugly little duckling, sir."
It was an exact quote. It was also four words longer than his answer needed to be. Such things mattered when speaking to a man who's species endowed him with a rank as high as a hawk's--Ori had learnt that the hard way. He dropped his gaze and waited for the worst.
"Is there a name you're certain of?"
The question was so unexpected, it took Ori a moment to find an answer. "Ori Jones, sir."
"Up on your feet, Ori."
Picking up the tray, Ori rose to his feet without considering anything but the hawk's order.
Ori dropped heavily to the floor as laughter echoed out of the dining room. His tray spilled out of his hands once more. The plates weren't destined to survive two spectacular demonstrations of his clumsiness in such quick succession. Fragments of shattering chinaware skidded along the floorboards, colliding with the hawk's shoes and Ori's bare skin.
He looked up just in time to see the older man step forward and into view of the crowd of crows who'd been drinking in the dining room for most of the day.
"All of you--over here. Now!"
Ori started collecting up the fragments of smashed crockery, his hands shaking as he imagined the look that would flash in the chef's eyes when he saw the mess he'd made of the nest's fine dining service.
Shadows fell across his skin as the crows crossed the room at the hawk's command.
"Clean that up."
Ori kept his head down, his eyes on his task. "Yes, sir."
Ori looked up. "Sir?"
"You heard me. On your feet."
All Ori could do was stare up at him in horror. "I can--"
"You'll do as you're told. Stand up."
Ori's body obeyed the other man, without consulting his brain. Some sort of mental process clicked into operation when he was half way to his feet. "I could--"
The hawk didn't seem impressed. He pointed to an area of clear floor, just outside the fallout from the tray. "Take care that you step over the glass."
Ori gave in. Keeping his gaze lowered, not daring to look toward the crows, he took up position where he'd been commanded.
"You expect us to--" one of the crows began.
"I expect you to do what you're told, too," the older man snapped, as if a crow was no different from a duckling in his eyes.
Ori swallowed rapidly. Perhaps to a man with his rank, the rungs at the bottom end of the social ladder were very close together, but Ori was well aware that the crows all knew the difference between their station in the nest and his. And he was just as sure that the entire flock would be quick to remind him just how far above him they stood, as soon the hawk stepped out of sight.
The dark haired young men's glares skittered over his skin as they stooped to collect the broken pieces of crockery and pile them onto the tray.
"And the rest," the hawk commanded.
Ori looked up. The last plate the crows had pitched at him hadn't been empty. Food streaked across the wall in a vivid mess of browns and greens.
The hawk caught his eye.
"I'll fetch--" Ori began.
"They can find whatever they need. Just tell them where."
"There's a storeroom behind the kitchens, sir."
A nod from the hawk dismissed one of the crows in that direction.
Ori closed his eyes for a moment. His toes clenched against the floorboards as he fought against a sudden and almost over whelming urge to run. He wasn't even sure if he wanted to race away from the crows or the hawk. The crows were going to give him hell, but the hawk was...
The moment the duckling opened his eyes, his gaze went to the older man. He was far larger than either him or the crows, tall and broad across the shoulders. His well-tailored shirt did nothing to hide the muscles beneath the fabric. The dark material only succeeded in making the other man look more dominant, more aristocratic.
It was only supposed to be a glance, but Ori found himself incapable of looking away. He'd seen another hawk at the nest a few months before, but he had been a much older man whose hair had faded to gray as his back had bent with age.
He'd never seen a hawk like this one. The man was glorious, all strength and certainty.
Ori was still helplessly staring at the larger man when the crows finished their task. The hawk nodded to the tray, finally dismissing him from the corridor. Ori stepped forward, making his way between the crows.
The flock's eyes followed him, sending a shiver racing along his spine. The tiny pair of shorts he'd been provided with when he started serving at the nest had never felt smaller.
He scurried back into the heat and chaos of the kitchens as quickly as possible. A few of the other servants cast glances at him as he strode past them to his station at the farthest end of the room. Word traveled very quickly through the nest. They would all know what had happened. And no doubt, they knew just as well as he did what would happen next.
Ori took a deep breath as he stared down at the tray full of broken dishes. The crows might not have dared to disobey a hawk, but the hawk would leave at some point, then...
He let the breath out as a sigh. Perhaps if he'd already been a fully fledged shifter, he might have had a chance. As it was, he knew full well that he didn't really exist in the eyes of any of the elders who ran the nest. No one would step in and stop whatever the crows had planned for him.
While his mind rushed in circles, Ori's body automatically resumed the duties that had occupied his time for the last six months. The broken pieces of crockery were soon disposed of, then he was back in his usual place, standing before the huge Belfast sinks and working his way through all the trays of dirty dishes that had been brought back to the kitchens intact.
Each second dragged out until time seemed to stand still around him. His heart raced faster and faster. The duckling's hands shook with nerves, making him clumsier than ever. It was almost a relief then the atmosphere in the kitchen changed and he knew his wait was over.
Still facing the sinks, Ori heard the other servants scurrying out of the room, leaving their duties without a word. Even the chef's domineering presence faded from the kitchens as he temporarily relinquished his domain to the flock of crows. Ori stayed very still, his eyes closed tight, knowing the order didn't apply to him.
Footsteps sounded on the uneven flagstone floor as the flock made its way across the huge kitchen. A rough hand grabbed Ori's arm, spinning him around to face his tormentors. All the crows who'd been in the dining room were there, fanned out around him, blocking any chance of escape.
Ori's stomach clenched, tying itself in knots around his nerves as his hands formed into fists at his sides.
"Did you really think you'd get away with that?" Jermaine, the somewhat unofficial leader of the ragged flock, demanded.
Ori stayed silent.
The back of the crow's hand slammed into his cheek, sending Ori stumbling toward the edge of the counter top. Pain flared through Ori's skin. His head spun with the blow. He fumbled at the edge of the granite in the vain hope that holding onto it could somehow make the world stop weaving in front of his eyes before the next blow landed.
"I asked you a question," Jermaine spat out. "Did you really think you'd carry tales back to the hawk and not pay for it?"
"No, sir," Ori whispered.
Another crow grabbed his arm and spun him around again. Before he could get his balance, the man's other hand had grabbed his left arm, too. He dragged Ori forward to stand in front of him, his arms wrenched back, leaving him exposed and helpless.
Ori risked another brief glance up from the floor. The crows were all looking around the kitchen. Suddenly it was impossible to see the objects that surrounded him as a simple collection of cooking utensils. It was a room full of sharp blades and scalding liquids.
The duckling's eyes flickered around the room, to knives and ranges, boiling saucepans and a dozen other things that would hurt like hell when thrown in his direction.
Survival instinct tried to take over. He pulled at the crow's hold on him. The other man's grip tightened painfully around his arms. Part of Ori knew he was stronger than the other man, but as the crow's fingers dug into his skin, another even more powerful instinct took over and Ori felt something inside himself yield to the higher ranking man's wishes. He fell still within the crow's grip.
"Apologize," Jermaine demanded.
"I'm sorry, sir."
A light came into the crow's eyes, and some of Ori's panic eased. He'd become almost used to the flock's casual sadism over time. Being made to jump through painful hoops for the crows' amusement wasn't new. Getting screwed by them wasn't such an unusual occurrence either. The idea that the situation might be survivable in spite of the crows' fury began to take hold in the duckling's mind.
"Again," Jermaine demanded. "Look me in the eye when you say it,"
Ori lifted his gaze, but the words died on his tongue as he looked past the crows and realized they were no longer alone in the kitchen.
Please, not in front of him.