|Caught in Heat by Miranda Stowe|
The four creeping toward the house from the rear hadn’t come calling to sing Christmas carols. Darkness lit their path, and the forest lining the property concealed their ill intent.
Secluded and vulnerable, the dwelling sat on the outer edges of a suburban quarter a good distance from its neighbors. The snow-thatched roof with smoke gracefully billowing from the chimney leant it a peaceful, comfortable look. With the woods surrounding it on two sides, leaving the immaculately manicured back yard tucked neatly into a thick alcove of trees, it permeated a snug, content atmosphere.
Breeching this unknown family’s sanctuary would be easy.
“Like stealing candy from a baby,” one of the four crooned, licking his chops.
The woman next to him rolled her eyes. “God. You’re so clichéd it’s boring.”
He ignored her, the hunger in his gaze targeted on the house; he probably hadn’t even realized he’d been lambasted. “Looks like the perfect little family nest. Makes me just want to mess it up.” He laughed, the sound resembling something more like a sick hyena than anything human.
Not that the four invaders were pure-blooded human.
“Let’s go,” the leader of the pack instructed, his voice low and authoritative.
When he stepped forward, the three around him followed, each footfall in sync. But as they reached the edge of the yard, a car pulled into the drive. Headlights scanned across the lawn, and together, the four paused, crouching down into the underbrush just under the beam of light.
They watched and waited as a dark sedan parked in front of the garage. The headlights died and the driver’s side door opened. The man who exited whistled softly under his breath. The scent of sex and KY wafted on the breeze away from him, making the clichéd one fidget, his eyes burning with a fevered glow.
Unable to control the anxious hunger raging through him, he rushed forward, ready to attack, but his leader held him back with a stay of his hand. “Not yet.”
Whining, the beta stopped even as his body twitched with an unearthly need to fillet.
The light in a window on the first floor came on. The human male who’d just unlocked and entered the back door paused, his hand halfway to the switch on the wall. He snapped his face up and swung around to see who had lighted the kitchen.
Slouched against an inner doorway that led to the rest of the house, a woman wearing a bathrobe, her dark hair pulled into a sloppy ponytail, glared at him. She held a glass full of amber liquid loosely in her hand, the drink sloshing toward the rim.
“So, who were you fucking tonight?” Her shrill tone made the four outside wince and shy away from the irritating pitch.
“Melissa.” The man’s sigh was exhausted, fed up. “Keep your voice down, will you? Do you want the kids to see you drunk? Again.”
Melissa sauntered into the kitchen, walking a crooked line. “I don’t know, Dan. Do you want them to see you stinking from another woman’s cunt? Again.”
Obviously not up for a confrontation, Dan made to move around her. “I’m not going to talk to you when you’re like this.”
But she dodged into his path, blocking him. “Talk like what? The truth? Who was it this time? Sarah? Rebecca? Janet?”
He threw his hands up. “You know what? As long as it’s not you, I don’t care who she is. My dick is satisfied.”
“Why, you lousy son of a bitch. I shoulda never married you.”
From that point on, the fight escalated. The four observers exchanged wry glances.
“Looks like we found trouble in paradise.”
“Yeah. I guess we get dinner and a movie.”
“I want the woman,” the quiet one said, speaking for the first time. “I always did like alcohol with my meal.” The woman seemed to be well pickled in her liquor.
As the marital fight picked up volume and the woman’s glass smacked against a wall, shattering, a light upstairs flickered on. The four predators darted their gazes upward to watch a teenage boy easing into a pink bedroom and starting toward the ruffled bed, where a small girl sat upright, huddled under the covers and clutching a teddy bear to her chest. When she saw the boy, she dropped the stuffed animal and opened her arms. He crawled onto the mattress and pulled her into his lap to hug her close.
“Did they wake you?” he asked into her hair.
“Uh huh,” she mumbled.
Kissing her temple, he asked, “Want me to read you a story?”
The female outside watching them hummed deep in her throat. “Look at that tender young thing.” She vibrated with anticipation. “I want the girl. Oh, I need her.”
The alpha’s smile was doting. “Of course you do, darling. And you’ll get her. Nothing but the finest veal for my love.”
“I’ll take the man,” Cliché reported, eyeing the unfaithful husband just as he lifted his arm to shield himself from his wife’s swinging palm. “From the smell of him, he’s had all three of Sarah, Rebecca and Janet tonight. Gotta appreciate a human that’ll season himself with that kind of fine, delicious flavoring. And, hey, there he goes again.”
Just as Melissa tried to slap Dan a second time, he caught her wrist and shoved her against the wall, pinning her in place. They spent a second glaring at each other until they merged into one, kissing violently and tearing at each other’s clothes. Within moments, he had her naked and spread out on the table with his feet braced against the floor and his pants around his knees. He shoved his cock into her and she arched her back off the tablecloth, crudely demanding more. He gave it, pounding into her with a fury. They grunted in unison with each slap of his body into hers, her breasts bouncing to the rhythm and his stomach muscles bunching tight as he rammed his hips back and forth.
Upstairs, their children read on, blissfully unaware.
Outside, Cliché began to jack-off, drool dribbling down his chin as he watched the adults fuck. “Oh, yeah. That bastard is dirtier than I am in the sack. He’s all mine.”
Sighing, the leader glanced up through the second-floor window at the young, gangly teenager who was pointing out a picture in the book as he read aloud. The alpha didn’t want the half-grown child. Too tough to chew, no challenge to kill. But the needs of his subordinates came first, so he’d settle for the one no one wanted. “Fine,” he muttered. “Let’s go.”
Appetites flaring, they rushed into the clearing, shifting forms as they ran. Once they were four-legged and furry, they split into two pairs, the leader and his mate leaping onto the roof of the screened back porch and the two beta males heading toward the rear door.
Following his mate to a window that led into the second floor hallway, the alpha hung back and covered her flank as she lifted a paw to the glass and cut through it with her claws. A human might’ve heard the barest of screeches, but to the alpha, it was an unbearable agony. His ears twitched and he growled low in his throat.
But his female was a fast worker. She cut through the windowpane and punched out a hole for them in seconds. Once she disappeared into the dark hallway, he followed. The pads of his paws landed lightly on the carpeted floor. He shifted back into human form. Since the boy would be an easy slay, he decided to play with his supper a little before dining.
He took the lead, strolling down the hall, his mate panting along beside him, still on all fours.
“…and the little pig said, ‘not by the hairs of my chinny-chin-chin’.” The boy’s clear voice grew louder as the alpha and his mate neared the doorway.
Pausing in the hall, the interlopers listened to the story. “The big bad wolf came to the house of sticks and pounded on the door. ‘Let me in,’ he growled. ‘Or I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down’.”
The alpha’s husky laugh caused both children to lift their faces as he toed open the door. “Know what I never understood about that story?” he said, swaggering into the room. “Why didn’t the goddamn wolf just kick down the fucking door and walk right on in?”
Panic radiated off the boy; the smell of his fear perfumed the air. He clutched the girl tight and covered her eyes with his hand so she couldn’t see any more of the naked man in her room. “Who’re you?” he demanded.
The alpha grinned. “Why, I’m the big bad wolf. Who d’you think?”
Taking this as her cue, his mate leapt through the doorway, hurdled his shoulder, and landed easily on the floor between him and the children. At the female’s snarl, the little girl screamed and clamped her arms and legs around the boy.
Eyes wide, the teen fumbled to scramble off the bed, taking the girl with him. Backing them into a corner, he pushed her behind him and protected her with his body.
The female wolf advanced.
“I suggest you get out of my lady’s way, boy,” the alpha drawled with a slow, lazy smile. “She has a hunger for little girl tonight and you’re not going to stop her.”
Darting his gaze from the wolf in front of him to the alpha still in human form standing in the middle of the floor, the boy flashed his own pathetic human teeth in a snarl. “Touch my sister and die.”
The passion in him almost impressed the alpha. But the kid didn’t stand a chance. So, he merely yawned and answered, “She accepts your terms. Except you die, not us.”
With that, the female leapt. The little girl screamed again as the teen lifted his arms to shield them. The alpha stood back and grinned. He loved to watch his mate in action. She was beautiful during a feeding.
Savage and untamed, and all his.
His body grew hard, and his cock lengthened as she took the boy’s arm in her teeth and flung the kid to the side as if he was a mere chew toy. Nothing turned him on like the sight of his mate in the middle of a bloodbath. Reaching down, he stroked himself, growing more excited as he watched.
His mate swished the base of her tail to the side, revealing the swollen, glistening lips of her vulva. She loved to be fucked during her feast; it made her more ravenous. And he loved to fuck her.
Screams and breaking furniture from the first floor rose to serenade them, arousing him to the point of action. He started forward to mount her as she gorged, beginning to shift forms, when the human boy flew forward and jumped onto the female wolf’s back. His cry of outrage stunned the alpha into a halt, his eyebrows lifting. Well, shit. The kid had some spunk in him after all. The boy wrapped his thin arms around the female’s neck and yanked her head back.
She came off the human girl with a roar, bucking and spinning in a circle to throw him. But the boy dug his knees into her fur and hung on.
Staying in human form a bit longer since it was easier to masturbate that way, the alpha jerked his hips into his fist. His mate fought harder, her frantic movements making his dick pulse with pleasure. God damn. The boy was actually giving her a challenge. Maybe he’d have more fun killing the kid than he’d first thought.
He opened his mouth to call out a warning to his mate, telling her not to slaughter the boy—he wanted that privilege for himself—when a loud pop filled the air. His female yelped, then staggered. The kid twisted her neck again. Another pop of snapping cartilage followed. This time, his mate slumped and fell to the floor with a thud. She didn’t move.
The alpha blinked. What the fuck?
His cock going limp, he rushed forward, landing on his knees by his female. Still, she didn’t stir. He shook her, but her life-force drained from her.
He lifted his head and narrowed his gaze on the teen who’d hobbled to the girl and was gathering up her blood-drenched body into his arms, her tender skin ripped open from throat to groin.
The little shit had just killed his woman.
“Hailey,” the boy sobbed, rocking his dead sister back and forth. “Hailey, wake up.” One of his arms bled profusely and hung limply at his side, but he clutched the little girl anyway and wept.
“You killed my mate,” the alpha roared.
White hot anger poured through his veins.
The boy lifted his head just in time to see the alpha flash from human into beast. Eyes flaring as he continued to clutch the girl, the kid jerked to his feet and stumbled in an effort to keep hold of his sister and escape at the same time.
In a mindless fury, the alpha leapt. He expected to kill the punk with one slice of his claw, but deceptively quick, the boy dropped the corpse and dodged out of his way at the last moment. The wolf grazed his cheek. It was enough to make the kid cry out and clutch his face, blood splattering the walls. But it wasn’t enough to kill or even permanently disable him. He skittered away, clambering with both arms and legs toward the door.
Snarling, the wolf dodged after him. Assuming the kid would keep fleeing, he pounded forward with full force. But the boy was full of surprises. Just as the wolf leapt, the kid spun around, a toy baton in his grasp. Unable to stop, the wolf’s momentum carried him forward until he impaled himself on the toy. Sharp pain sliced through his shoulder and took him down.
He landed on the boy. Too dazed to move, he blinked back the black spots dancing in his vision. The teen struggled under him. This was his chance to kill, but the kid grabbed the baton and cranked on it. His roar was a mixture of agony and fury, growing weaker until blackness consumed him.
He came to, alone in the room with the corpse of his mate and the little girl littered across the blood-stained pink carpet. The teen was nowhere in sight.
Godammit. Now he’d to have to find the boy.
Footsteps thundered up the stairs.
“We gotta go,” Cliché panted, his eyes wide and anxious as he skidded into the room. “The bitch called 911 before we could take her down.” His still stiff penis was lathered with blood, like maybe he’d been sticking it into a corpse, which, knowing him, he probably had.
“So?” the alpha said, easing to his feet. A couple stupid humans with badges didn’t intimidate him.
“What the hell?” The beta gaped at the fallen female. “What happened to her?” He spun around and caught sight of the alpha’s wound just as the alpha yanked the baton from his shoulder with a pained snarl. “What the fuck happened to you?”
“We have to find that boy,” he said, a growl rumbling in his throat.
“Can’t,” the quiet one said as he rushed through the doorway. Always a messy eater, he wiped at blood and chunks of skin smeared across his mouth, face, and the top portion of his chest. “A dozen cop cars just pulled into the drive. We have to go. Now.”
“I can handle a couple cops. That little shit killed my mate.”
“You might be able to stop a few humans, but you can’t stop their bullets. We’ll get the kid later.”
The alpha wanted to argue, but the front door crashed open and the sound of yelling and footsteps erupted on the first floor.
“We’ll get the kid later,” Cliché repeated, taking the alpha’s arm as if to help him walk.
He jerked away. “Come on,” the alpha snarled with a reluctant glance over his shoulder. “There’s an opening in the window in the hall. We can escape there.”
It went against his nature to run, to leave his mate behind. But his betas were right. He couldn’t take down a dozen men with loaded weapons. So, he tucked his tail between his legs and fled with the other two.
As soon as he reached the woods, however, he paused and glanced back, the lights from the emergency vehicles reflecting in his eyes. They’d probably throw his mate’s carcass out with the trash as if she was some kind of diseased wild animal. It was all that fucking kid’s fault.
If it was the last thing he did, he’d find that boy. He’d find that boy and kill him.
Fifteen Years Later
Branches slapped at Riley Bane as she darted between trees and vines. The forest floor, littered with all variety of foliage, ripe and flourishing from the summer heat, provided even more obstacles to dodge. Yet that did not slow her. Panic propelled her forward; her paws whispered on the ground as they raced over nature’s debris.
Twigs tangled in her fur. She’d have a hell of time combing them out once she stopped.
That didn’t slow her, either.
Her time ran short. The fever had come upon her quickly. She hadn’t realized it would happen this fast. But her body’s response to the change was prompt and potent. It urged her to turn around, return to her jamboree, and ease the boiling needs already sweltering inside her.
Her head, however, still contained a rational, functioning brain that refused to obey the laws of her kind. She would not give in to her body’s desires simply because her hormones demanded it was time.
Humans could control their baser instincts, and half of Riley remained very-much human, so she’d control this. She’d resist the draw thrumming through her bloodstream, growing more impatient with each step she raced.
She quickened her pace, all four feet eating up the ground. The night rushed past her in a dark blur. Only a crescent moon lighted her way, but in this form, she didn’t even need that much illumination. She saw better, moved faster, reacted instinctively when shifted into her animal. And tonight was all about speed and precision.
But a need unlike any she’d ever experienced before possessed her, pulsing through her cunt until she growled low in her throat. She struggled to concentrate. The sanctuary was purposely well-hidden. It was nearly impossible to locate when one was working on all four cylinders. With the roar rushing through her veins and muddling her thoughts, though, she’d require a miracle to find it.
She’d already stopped three times to massage her pussy to the point of release, but that only seemed to double the strength of her yearning when the fever returned. If she’d stayed home, she probably would’ve climaxed her way through a dozen males by now. And loved every second of it. The need to come again grew and expanded inside her; she just wanted to—
No! She would not let the fever consume her. She’d prevail. She’d find the sanctuary and—
The ground under her hind leg gave way. Riley twisted to compensate and pull herself free of the hole, but sharp teeth clamped around her ankle, biting all the way to the bone.
She howled. Her earsplitting yet scratchy cry that pierced the night could no doubt be heard by every predator within a five-mile radius. Not that she cared. The agony was brutal.
As her body went into distress, she shifted into her natural shape, and the hairy paw caught in the trap turned into a smooth, human female foot. Naked, drenched in sweat, and panting, she curled into the fetal position until she could focus past the pain.
She needed to free herself and escape as quickly as possible before every curious creature in the forest found her exposed and vulnerable. And ripe for the feasting. She tried to shift back into her animal, gritting her teeth and straining, but it was useless. The pain immobilized her.
The only good thing about remaining human was that she had fingers that worked.
She reached down in the dark, fumbling for a latch to release the spring. Moaning as each move dug the razors deeper into her ankle, she patted the cold metal trap until she found a hinge. Her fingers investigated the area. When she discovered a padlock preventing her from pulling the metal jaws apart, she whimpered, fear clogging her windpipe. This was no simple animal trap. It had been specifically designed to catch and keep prey with a functioning brain and working fingers.
Prey like her.
Someone was hunting shapeshifters. And they’d caught one.
* * * * *
Shaw Griffin jerked awake as the alarm sounded through the dim compound. He snatched his combat boots off the tabletop and pushed out of the old office chair, ignoring the sore muscles that shrieked at him for falling asleep at his desk again.
He didn’t pause to roll his thick shoulders for a nice, relaxing stretch. There was no time.
One of his traps had been sprung.
After slapping off the alarm, he grabbed his shotgun from the peg where it hung on the wall and strode toward the door as he opened the action to make sure it was still loaded. When he spied a shell resting where it should be, he slung the gun’s strap over his shoulder. Grabbing a spotlight on his way, he pulled open the door. He didn’t turn on the light but found the ladder’s railing by feel.
Grasping the sides, he hoisted himself up by his arms and began to climb. Twenty feet later, he reached the ceiling, where he grunted as he cranked on a lever and pressed open the round hatch before shoving it out of his way. After doing a chin-up to pull himself from the earth, he pushed through the hole, hefted his jean-clad ass onto the ground beside the opening and then swung his feet up after him. By the time he had the hatch replaced, he was already panting with exhaustion. Hot, moist marshy air pressed against his lungs, sucking away even more of his oxygen. Using the tail of his black t-shirt, he wiped at the sweat beaded on his brow.
All that work and he still had to hike through the thickest part of the woods to check the trap.
If he’d caught another opossum or raccoon, he was going to be good and pissed.
Unable to see shit in this darkness, he itched to turn on his light but resisted the urge. There was no reason to bring any more attention to himself than necessary. He already knew these motherfuckers would be able to smell and hear him coming a mile away.
Their fine-tuned animal senses put his pathetic human instincts to shame. Not that such a frightening fact was going to make him stop his pursuit. Clutching the darkened spotlight and patting the shotgun to reassure himself it was still there, he started his hike. Breathing evenly so his panting wouldn’t echo too far ahead of him, he paused every few steps to listen.
It took him ten minutes to reach the spot. Before approaching the clearing where he’d set the trap, he stopped and crouched into the underbrush. Waiting until the forest returned to its usual rustle from him disturbing its environment, he lifted his ear toward the direction of the trap.
Finally, he heard the faint sound of something struggling to break free. It wheezed in anxious exertion. It didn’t sound like a coon.
His lips spread. Maybe he’d caught one, after all.
Keeping alert, he waited another minute. When no other sound besides the thrashing at the trap reached his ears, he stood and vigilantly approached the area. One couldn’t be too cautious when dealing with shapeshifters. They were wily and dangerous and way too damn smart.
When he reached a place where he could see into the clearing and yet stay relatively hidden, he paused again, waiting for his vision to adjust to the small amount of moonlight splaying down on his trap.
The pale limbs and long dark hair took him by surprise, stealing his breath.
Oh, shit. He’d caught a human.
He’d expected a savage beast, saliva dripping from its fangs. Not a beautiful helpless woman, sobbing as she clawed at the trap. Seeing her reminded him too much of his sister, small and defenseless, right before that monster had torn out her throat with its teeth.
She’d needed a savior that night, just like this woman needed one tonight.
Shaw started forward. The woman cried out a very non-human sound, a hoarse scream like a cat on steroids. Her body shorted out, showing too-quick-to-distinguish-clearly blinking images of a four-legged animal in its place, before she became fully human again.
Jerking to a stop, he gawked.
Not a human.
He’d caught himself his first shifter.
A female shifter.
Mesmerized, he watched her a moment as she sobbed and fought the trap. Why did she remain in human form? Her animal fur would’ve provided better protection against the elements. Naked and exposed like she was, every insect and rabid beast could have a hay-day on her.
She stopped suddenly and turned her head as if hearing something, but she hadn’t turned in Shaw’s direction. Squinting to the west of him, she called, “Hello? Who’s there? Please help me. Please. I’m hurt.”
Shaw pulled back even further into the woods, watching and waiting to see who would step out of the trees and approach her.
Had she led another shifter here? Maybe he could wipe two monsters off the face of the earth tonight.
But instead of seeing a human or even a large wolf, a small four-legged animal appeared from behind some brush and entered the clearing. The woman gasped. Shaw blinked until he could make out the animal. A bobcat.
The woman whimpered and shied back, curling away from the wild animal. “Go away,” she said. “Shoo. Bad kitty.”
The bobcat didn’t slow its pace. Body crouched as it came forward, the creature purred low in its throat, its tongue swathing out to lick its mouth as if it could already taste her. As it made a type of greeting-hiss, the woman lifted her head to study it.
She eyed the animal, seemingly understanding its language. Sounding almost sick to her stomach, she moaned, “Oh, God. You gotta be kidding me. A bobcat?”
The bobcat started toward her, and instead of shying away from it, the woman uncurled herself, her body welcoming it. She even opened her legs as if inviting the animal to come sit between her thighs.
But in the sparse light, Shaw saw her turn her face away from the bobcat as she whimpered, “No. Please, God, no. Not a fucking bobcat.”
Not understanding the situation but having seen enough, he pumped the gun’s action to slide a round into the chamber. The crisp sound reverberated through the forest.
Jerking alert, the bobcat lifted its face, focusing its attention in Shaw’s direction. A split second later, it spun away and darted off, disappearing into the woods.
The female shapeshifter snapped her legs back together and drew her knees up to her chest with a sob. “Oh, thank God,” she gasped.
Shaw remained in his hiding spot and watched for her next move. Not that she moved much. With the exception of a couple body-seizing tremors as she wept, she didn’t budge.
After a minute, she finally wiped at her cheeks and called, “Hello?” Her voice was thin and reedy with pain. “I know you’re out there.” She tried to turn in his direction, but it must’ve jarred her ankle because she sucked in a breath and clutched the wound.
Something twitched inside him. His conscience? Guilt? Sympathy? Who knew, but he couldn’t just stand back and watch a woman suffer.
Wary, he eased a step forward into the clearing when it struck him. Wolves traveled in packs. It didn’t matter how long he’d been waiting and watching; she couldn’t be out here alone. Crouching, he spun around, clicking on his light and moving it over the trees. Widening his stance and lifting his gun, ready to fight, he braced for a beast to pounce at him.
“Where are the others?” he demanded.
She shook her head, tears tracking down her cheeks. “Others?”
“I know your kind. You don’t travel alone. Where…are…the others?”
When she didn’t answer, he pointed the shotgun at her.
“No!” she cried, jerking away from the muzzle. Her panting escalated. “You’re wrong. Please. I’m all alone. There are no others. Just me. Just a defenseless woman.”
He snorted. “You’re no woman. I saw you shift in and out of your animal shape. You’re a monster.”
Her back went stiff as if offended. “And you’re a shifter hunter, aren’t you? I’ve heard of your kind. You kill without thought or mercy.”
He didn’t answer, just kept the gun trained steadily on her heart, prepared for her to try anything.
Sniffing, she mopped at her tears. “Well, I may be a shifter, but I’m all human now. When in distress, we shift into our natural state. And my natural state is pure human. So, please don’t kill me. I’m not a monster. Just a woman. My name is Riley. Riley Bane.” Wet eyes pleading, she looked up at him. “What’s your name?”
She was trying to butter him up so he’d set her free. If he fell for her long, batting eyelashes and opened the trap, she’d probably turn on him and slash out his throat.
Again, he refused to speak. He’d never talked to a shifter before, never been this close to one. Well, except for that first time, and he didn’t want to think about that. Thinking about it only made him want to kill every goddamn monstrous beast out there. Didn’t matter if that beast looked like a small, helpless, hurt woman.
“Arms up,” he commanded. “Let me see your hands.”
She gaped. “Are you freaking kidding me?” Rolling onto her back, she spread her arms and legs wide to show him just how defenseless—and naked—she was. “Do I look like I have any weapons on me?”
Shaw forgot to breathe. Shapeshifter or not, the woman was magnificent. Firm and slender, her supple body appealed to him on all levels. Pale under his flashlight’s glow, her skin cupped perfectly rounded breasts. The dark nipples were puckered and beaded as if begging him to take a suck. Her stomach was flat, and her waist dipped in only to flare out again at her lush hips. The hair concealing her pussy was dark and neatly trimmed. Her thighs were slender but firm; they’d be able to clutch his hips tight as he rocked into her—
His mouth watered, his skin prickled with heat, and his dick surged to life. His entire focus narrowed on the sexy nude woman sprawled at his feet.