Early evening heat surrounded Gray Mason as he stepped out of his Ford truck after pulling over to the side of the road. The sign in front of him welcomed him to Coyote Bluff, Texas, located in the panhandle of the large state, a place he had never visited before. But recent signs had narrowed down the location of Prince of felines to a couple of possibilities—one of them being the canyons surrounding the town.
After he’d spoken to the Alpha Council and the Pack Alpha for the west Texas area, arrangements had been made for Gray to investigate in Coyote Bluff. He’d been hearing rumors about the town that accepted any and all shifters since he’d begun to investigate the kidnapping. It would make since for whoever had taken the Prince to hide out in an area that was so remote.
Excitement rippled through his body at the thought of the search finally going somewhere after three very long months. While the idea of an entire town full of shifters unsettled him a bit, he would do everything in his power to finally end his journey and make his way home.
He surveyed the area directly around him, seeking anyone who might be a threat. Sensing no one near, he took out his cell phone and called his Alpha.
“Hey, Gray, I was starting to wonder if I’d hear from you today,” Tyler greeted him.
Gray had to smile. Tyler would worry whether Gray called in or not, but Gray liked knowing that someone would at least notice if he went missing.
“Yeah, sorry about that, boss,” Gray answered and leaned against his tailgate. “Crappy reception down here.”
“Just be careful. I contacted the sheriff there to let him know you would be stopping by in a day or so. He seems like an okay guy, but remember we don’t have any ties there,” Tyler warned.
“So he’s not family?” Gray enquired, asking his Alpha in this way if the man was a wolf shifter.
“I don’t think so. The town is supposed to be full of other shifters, but I just can’t tell over the phone.”
Gray grunted. It wasn’t that he didn’t like the others—he just hadn’t met many. Most of his dealings were with the felines and those experiences had not been good.
“I’ll check into the hotel tonight, get a run in and see what I can nose out before I meet with him tomorrow,” Gray informed the other man.
“Just be careful. There is no wolf Pack there, but that doesn’t mean that there are no wolves. You don’t want to trespass against them before you know who you are dealing with. Especially without back-up.”
“No problem. I’ll stay away from any marked spots.”
“Then call me tomorrow and get some rest,” Tyler ordered.
“Will do.” Gray hung up, still grinning. He had been away from his Pack for so long he was started to feel the loneliness more and more each day. While some wolf shifters had no problem going rogue, the true, deep comfort he found with his Pack mates had started to fade and it made him edgy. And an agitated wolf was never a good thing. He needed his family. He needed to get home soon.
Normally, he only shifted a few nights a month to let his animal out. The longer he was away from family, the more agitated both he and the wolf became. Running late at night seemed to be the only way he could calm himself, and even that didn’t work like it had.
“Coyote Bluff,” he mumbled under his breath as he climbed back into his truck. “Out of all the animals who in the world would pick a coyote to name a town after?” Gray didn’t know any coyote shifters, although he was aware they existed. Rumor had it that coyote shifters were more than a little crazy. If he had time maybe he’d be able to dig into the history of the place. Gray loved learning about different communities and their unique quirks.
He pulled back onto the main road and followed directions on signs until he found what he’d been looking for. The hotel had the appearance of an old cabin from the pioneer days. He parked in front of the door and got out, pleasantly surprised to see that while it might seem old, it was a sturdy building. The railings spreading from the entrance to both sides were composed of thick pieces of wood with delicate carvings.
A closer look revealed that the carvings were of several different animals. The detail—each species practically came to life—was simply amazing. There seemed to be more to this town than he’d first thought. That boded well for his purpose here.
He hefted his bag over his shoulder and pushed open the large oak door. The spacious entrance seemed to invite him in and Gray found himself smiling.
What greeted him first was the scent of fresh cooking. He’d been living out of convenience stores and on fast food for so long that his mouth watered as he thought about a hot, home-cooked meal. His stomach rumbled in agreement.
“I guess that means the first order of business will be getting you something to eat,” a tall, slender woman said, coming to his side, laughing.
Gray grinned at the pretty middle-aged woman. “Didn’t realize I was so hungry until I smelt whatever that delicious food is.”
The woman laughed again, throwing her head back. “Oh no, Claude does all the cooking around here. But I will tell him you said that. I’m guessing you’re Mr. Mason?” she asked and guided him to the small, neat reception desk he hadn’t noticed. “I’m Dorothy. Claude and I own this place, so if you need anything, you just give me a holler.”
“Yes, ma’am. Gray Mason here to check in and hopefully check out dinner.”
“Oh, I am going to like you, Mr. Gray Mason,” she told him, patting his hand. “Just sign this registration form. We will charge your credit card when you check out. The dining room is open from five in the morning to eight at night. But if you want anything when it’s not open, you just let me know and I’ll show you around the kitchen. It’s open to all our guests. We get a lot of business in the dining room from the town folk, so don’t you worry about what time you eat. We’ve got plenty to feed everyone.”
Gray nodded and signed the paper she’d given him. The heavy welcome card he slid back across the counter to Dorothy reminded him of the old paper his grandparents had enjoyed. The pleasant memory brought him a touch of his past. What an unexpected gem he’d found in this odd town. “If all your food smells like this, I don’t see myself eating anywhere else,” he said. He had a feeling the meals there would also remind him of a time he’d never get back.
“There are places to grab food in town, also. We have a café, a coffee shop, a bakery, the pizza joint and even a steak house on the other side of town heading out. All good food, although no one cooks like my Claude.”
“Now, Dorothy, I think you may be a little biased.” Gray turned as a heavyset man joined them. He smiled and seemed friendly, but it was the power behind his eyes that told Gray much about him.
This was a shifter. Not wolf or feline, but something just as powerful. Gray stiffened and faced the man directly. He had hoped to avoid any display of dominance.
The smile fell from the other man’s lips as he held out his hand. “Claude Gentry.”
“Gray Mason, and Dorothy is correct. It smells amazing,” Gray told Claude as they shook. While his wolf might have been straining to get out, Gray was professional enough to control his instincts. Being a detective in a very human world had tested him enough.
As soon as the words left his lips, he felt the change in the other man. Instead of a mood to match the cautious handshake, the man returned to his joyful self. “Well, thank you, son. Let Dorothy get you checked in so we can feed you,” he told Gray with a friendly slap on his back.
Gray looked back to the woman in time to see her send Claude a worried glance before smiling at him once more. Gray breathed in deeply, trying to place any familiar scents. The woman was human, although she smelled like Claude. But he just couldn’t place the other man. The scent was more fresh air and fields than the wild and woodsy scent of wolves.
He couldn’t come right out and ask without sounding rude, so he just pushed it to the back of his mind as he accepted his room key and listened to the directions to his room.
Passing through the cabin—he no longer thought of it as a hotel—he appreciated the beauty and comfort of the décor and feel. He liked the little place already.
His room was located on the second floor, which suited him fine. He wasn’t usually picky but being in a strange place surrounded by so many different scents had him on edge. Being on the third or fourth floor would have put him farther away from escape.
Later, maybe after my run, I’ll calculate how many exits will get me to safety if need be.
When he reached his room, Gray took a minute to breath in the scents around his door. He didn’t catch that any other shifters had passed by recently. Dorothy’s pleasant aroma was all he found. Relaxing a little more, Gray put the key in the lock before pushing open his door. It amused him that the cabin didn’t use the key cards most hotels had switched over to.
Stepping inside the space that would be his home for the near future, he nodded in approval. Clean and comfortable. There might not have been a lot of furniture—just a large bed, a couple of night stands, desk with chair and a long dresser—but it would suit his needs.
Instead of unpacking, Gray wanted to get back down to the dining room. He’d really grown hungry and it had been a long drive.
He dropped his bag onto the bottom of the bed then spun around to stroll right back out of the door.
Gray reached the bottom of the stairs and found Dorothy standing there, apparently waiting for him.
“I didn’t think it would take you long to head back down here, so I had Claude start making you a plate,” she said.
“I appreciate it, ma’am.”
“Now.” She waved her hand. “None of that. We’re family here. You just call me Dorothy.”
“Only if you call me Gray.”
“It will be my pleasure,” she said. Dorothy threaded her arm through his, urging him to the entrance of the dining hall.
There were already several couples eating who checked him out when Dorothy escorted him in. A few glanced up but only smiled before returning to their meals. Gray was taken back by the easy acceptance from other shifters.
He’d really underestimated Coyote Bluff.
“Now, you sit here by the window. As the sun sets, you’ll have a great view of our wonderful town,” Dorothy told him when they’d reached the spot she wanted him to take.
“Sounds perfect.” Gray pulled out the chair and sat before Dorothy could do it for him.
“Now what do you prefer to drink?”
“An ice tea would be perfect.”
“Sweet or unsweet?”
Gray laughed. “In Texas? I’m going to go with the sweet tea.”
Beaming, she patted his shoulder. “Good man.”
She was off in a flash, surprising him. Dorothy moved quickly, almost as if she floated.
Movement in the corner of his eye caught his attention and he leaned forward, trying to see what it was. A small animal darted between two cars, but he couldn’t tell what it had been.
“Here you go, Gray.” Dorothy set down his glass then a plate full of barbecue ribs, potato salad, green beans with bacon and cornbread.
“Oh, my God!” He bent forward, breathing deeply. He hadn’t even ordered, but Dorothy had brought him exactly what he’d been craving.
“Enjoy!” Dorothy told him before leaving him to his overflowing plate.
Gray dug in, concentrating on filling his stomach with the best food he’d ever tasted. If anyone was watching, they’d probably think he hadn’t eaten in months and Gray wouldn’t have blamed them. He barely took the time to swallow. It was so fucking good.
Dorothy stopped by once to refill his tea while looking pleased with his progress.
It wasn’t until he lifted his head that he noticed most of the other patrons had finished and left. The sun wasn’t completely down, but it was most definitely dusk.
“You ate every bit,” Dorothy commented with pride. “That will make Claude very happy.”
“You must tell him that I enjoyed every bite. Best food I’ve eaten in years.”
“I’ll do that.” She set down a bottle of domestic beer. “Now why don’t you take this and sit out on the porch. Take in the sights and relax.”
Gray stood and kissed her cheek, letting impulse take him over. He wasn’t naturally a touchy-feely kind of guy, but the moment seemed to call for it.
“You’ll fit in her perfectly.” She patted his face and, if he wasn’t mistaken, her eyes were damp. “Just perfectly.”
Gray nodded, feeling embarrassed by his actions, before picking up his beer. He high-tailed it out of the dining room toward the side entrance where he’d spotted some nice-looking wooden seating.
Despite the name, Coyote Bluff was a gorgeous town. He always felt better being surrounded by the woods and forests of home, but the canyons that surrounded him now had their own charm. He couldn’t wait until later when he would be able to change forms and run.
But for now, as he waited for the evening to pass, he dropped down into one of the many chairs on the porch and kicked back. The restlessness that he had felt since before he’d arrived calmed and peace settled deep inside him until his eyes started to droop and he let himself drift.
It was the light sound of footsteps that kicked his instincts into gear and had him popping his lids back open. Just off to the side at the porch steps stood a little boy, about five or six, staring at him.
Gray dropped his feet onto the deck and nodded in the kid’s direction.
Taking that as an invitation, the little boy scrambled up the steps to hover over him. “I’m Julian, I live next door, my aunt said I could come over and get some cookies from Claude, he makes really good cookies and he always saves me some.”
The words flew so fast and with such a heavy southern accent that Gray actually had to think about what had been said. Once he put it all together, he grinned. His Alpha had a young daughter, so he’d had some dealings with small children. “I haven’t had the cookies yet, but I hope you’ll save me one.”
The boy started to nod immediately. “I will. I promise.”
Before Gray could respond, the boy scrunched up his face and sniffed. He knew the child was scenting him and, while it would have been rude from an adult, he had a feeling the young boy he had just met didn’t worry about things like that. Discreetly, he breathed in the boy’s scent as well.
He was shocked to smell cat.
“You smell funny!” Julian told him, leaning closer.
Gray couldn’t hold in a laugh at the boy’s exclamation and puzzled face. Once he quieted down, he knew that no matter what species Julian was, the kid was all right. “I don’t think I smell that bad. I took a shower earlier,” he teased.
This caused Julian to shake his head so quickly he almost fell over. “No, you don’t smell bad—just funny.”
So he hadn’t smelled another wolf before. That was interesting.
“Well, I’m a wolf, so maybe that’s it,” Gray offered.
And found himself with a lap full of kid.
“You’re a wolf!” Julian squealed. “A wolf! That is so cool! I always wanted to meet a wolf. Daddy says that when I’m bigger I’ll be able to meet everyone, but right now it’s not safe.”
Gray took in the boy’s pout and pleading eyes and patted his back reassuringly. “You should listen to your dad—he seems like a smart guy. And right now it may not be safe, but hopefully when you’re bigger it will be.”
“But you’re a good wolf, right? You won’t eat me or anything?”
Gray forced back another chuckle. “No, I promise I won’t eat you.”
The child relaxed in his lap. “That’s cool then. What’s your name? Did you tell me already? I don’t remember you telling me, but sometimes I don’t listen too well.”
“I think I might have forgotten to tell you. My name is Gray.”
“Gray?” Julian chewed on his lip. “I like that. Is it because in your other form you’re gray?”
It was a good question and kind of made Gray proud of the boy, which surprised him because the child was still a complete stranger. A feline. Oh well, he could puzzle over that later. Right now he was enjoying his new friend.
“Actually, I’m not gray at all as a wolf.”
“Huh?” Julian thought about that.
“Well, little man? What are you?” Gray finally asked.
“Oh!” Julian jumped down so fast he almost toppled them both. But then he balled his hands on his hips and stuck his chest out. “I’m a bobcat!”
“Really?” Gray wouldn’t have guessed that. Maybe that was why Julian’s scent was a little different from the other felines he’d encountered. He had never met a bobcat before. Lions and one tiger, but Julian was his first bobcat, so Gray told him that.
“Really!” The kid squealed again. “That’s so totally awesome!”
“Julian Jameson Williams!”
The boy and Gray both started as a woman rushed up the steps.
“I am so sorry, mister. I didn’t know he was out here pestering you. He was supposed to run into the kitchen and be right back,” she hurriedly told him, pulling Julian to her side.
Gray stood almost knocked back by the woman’s beauty. She was probably in her early thirties, with bright green eyes and reddish blonde hair. She was quite a bit shorter than him and with her curvy body and ample breasts, he was embarrassed to find himself getting hard.
She stood in front of him in nothing fancier than old jeans and a tank top and he wanted to pounce on her. He took a step back just to be safe. It had been so long since he’d been that attracted to anyone.
“It’s fine, really. I enjoyed visiting with Julian,” he told her.
She smiled then, relaxing just a touch, and it took his breath away. The fact that the female had the scent of a cat didn’t seem to bother his body or his wolf, who scratched to get out and play.
“Aunt Beth! Gray is a good wolf! He promised not to eat me,” Julian told his aunt with all the innocence that could only come from one so small.
“Oh my! He didn’t!” she exclaimed, hand going to her mouth.
Gray chuckled to show her he wasn’t offended. “Yes, I did promise that and I always keep my promises, buddy.”
Julian grinned back and finally the woman laughed.
“You’ll have to excuse us. We haven’t dealt with…with your…kind much,” she stumbled, trying to explain.
Gray waved her off. “I understand. This is new for me, too. Julian is my first bobcat.”
“Aunt Beth is a bobcat, too!” Julian added helpfully.
Gray had figured that but was glad to have it confirmed to him. That way he could get his head around the fact that, while she might be the sweetest-looking thing, she was still a cat and therefore still suspect.
“I thought I heard voices out here,” Claude said, joining them on the porch. He carried a small plastic bag with him. “Beth called over to send Julian back, but I hadn’t seen him. I take it you both have met our new guest?”
“Yes, Claude! And he’s a wolf. But a nice wolf. He won’t eat me.”
Claude glanced over at Gray, who just nodded. Okay, it had been funny at first, but now he was starting to worry about all the wolf talk. He hoped it wasn’t the same around town or he would never be able to get anything useful from the residents.
And he needed to find something there. They needed a lead.
Claude handed over the bag and Julian immediately dug in.
“Just one for now,” Beth admonished.
Julian took one out then peered up at his aunt. “One for each hand?”
Beth shook her head before laughing. “No.”
“Okay.” Julian turned to him and held out the plastic sack. “One for me and one for my new friend.”
Gray was touched. “That’s very kind of you. Thank you, Julian.” He selected the smallest treat so that Julian would get his fill later.
“You’re welcome!” Julian exclaimed.
“We’d better get going.” Beth tugged on Julian’s arm.
“Bye, Mr. Wolf!”
“Good night, Julian.” He dipped his head. “Ma’am.”
“Night,” Beth said quietly before her and Julian walked back down the stairs.
Gray watched for only a few seconds, aware that Claude was still by his side.
“He’s a cute kid,” Gray said.
Claude chuckled. “Julian’s a handful and it takes all of us to keep that boy out of trouble, but he is also a gentle soul. I’m sorry if he disturbed you.”
“He didn’t,” Gray assured the older man. “I enjoyed our visit.”
“Good.” Claude straightened his shoulders. “You were also very kind to Dorothy. I appreciate it.”
Why do these people keep thanking me for being a decent person? What kind of wolf shifter have they met before? “Dorothy made me feel welcome and the meal was fantastic. I’ve been away from home a long time and this is the first time I’ve smiled and laughed in months. Everyone has been welcoming. I’m the appreciative one.”
Claude gave him a firm nod before he slipped back inside.
Okay, things might not be as perfect in Coyote Bluff as he’d started to think. Which was a bit of a comfort since he was almost ready to claim them all to be some sort of pod people.
Gray retook his seat and kicked his feet back up onto the rail. He could barely see the porch of the house next door. Somewhere inside, Julian was probably eating his cookies with Beth. Gray wished he could’ve joined him. And didn’t that bear some serious thinking?
Beth led Julian up the stairs to the second floor and his room, still thinking about the wolf shifter. It’d scared her to death when she had spotted her nephew right in front of the man. Every protective instinct she had in her had wanted to jump in front of the boy until the threat was gone.
Instead, she had been stunned at how open and friendly he had been. Not to mention handsome. Even as she’d crossed the yard, desire had battled her fear. But she couldn’t afford to think like that. While her community might be built on tolerance of human and inter-species relationships, she was still a cat and he a wolf. Sometimes it wasn’t meant to be, and, attracted or not, this was one of those times.
Well, maybe she could still think about those gorgeous eyes that had practically set her on fire. His built body and height hadn’t hurt, either. No one has to know, do they? If he had been a cat, or any other species, she would have thought he’d make the perfect mate.
She sighed inwardly as Julian went on and on about the wolf next door. She would have to warn her brother that Julian was completely taken with the stranger. When Julian’s naturally curious nature came out and he got this way, only time would divert his attention.
Together, the two of them followed Julian’s nightly ritual of brushing teeth and getting ready for bed. Once her nephew was tucked in, she kissed his forehead. “Daddy will be home soon and in to check on you,” she told him.
“Cool! I’ll tell him all about my new friend!”
She smiled down at him, although she had every intention of beating him to it. That way, at least her brother would be a little more prepared than she had been.
Back downstairs, she made herself a glass of iced sweet tea and went to sit on the front porch swing. Her body still hummed happily after the encounter with the wolf shifter and, although she couldn’t act on it, she thought she might as well enjoy it while she could.
Few wolves ever ventured into Coyote Bluff. Wolves tended to keep with their Packs and in their territory. The ones that had come by usually didn’t last long. They were too dominating to leave things alone around the place, and while the people might be tolerant of one another, they were also protective. Their ways worked for them. And no one was going to let a rogue wolf come in and take over. A few had tried, but they were almost always quickly run out of town.
With the exception of one wolf, none had ever stayed. Mark was a special case, though. The wolf was so tormented and afraid that he jumped at his own shadow. Even after a year of living in town, the wolf had hardly ever left his house and, as far as she knew, had never shifted. She wasn’t completely sure what had happened to him and she never pressed. They had become friends, but she knew she was one of only a few. Julian had never met Mark.
The story about the feline Prince being taken had reached them when it happened. The town wasn’t into the politics of the felines and others, but given the number of felines in town, they’d been asked to keep an eye out for anything suspicious. The rumor of the wolves helping search for him seemed to be true, if the reason for Gray’s visit was really an attempt to assist with the rescue.
The sheriff, Joe, had told them that some of the searchers might be coming down, but Beth hadn’t really thought any other shifter species would care about the Prince. Half of her own species didn’t care. Cats were solitary creatures and while they did have a royal line that governed the big laws, most felines lived their own lives and didn’t get involved in one another’s business. It wasn’t that way here in Coyote Bluff, though. The closeness of the community was what she appreciated about her home. She could live close to her family and wasn’t expected to fend for herself. Very un-cat-like.
Her brother, Dawson, and Julian were the only close family members she had. Their parents had left them right after they had become adults. The oldest sibling—her and Dawson’s brother, Casey—had joined the military and they hadn’t seen him since. That had been twenty years ago. Luckily Dawson also felt the same way about having family close by, or she would be alone.
The headlights from her brother’s patrol car bathed her in a spotlight as he parked. She scooted over on the swing as he stomped the dust off his boots then took a seat next to her.
“It’s a nice night. I thought the heat would never break,” he greeted.
It had been unusually hot for May. Already hitting the hundreds and summer wasn’t even upon them yet.
She handed over her tea to share and nudged his shoulder. “Julian made a new friend.”
Relaxing back into the wood swing, Dawson chuckled. “What is it this time? A fish in the pond or maybe a rat from the barn?”
Julian forever made friends with anything that moved. Shifter or regular animal, it didn’t matter.
“Wolf shifter,” she said quietly.
Dawson stiffened and paused, seeming to think about his words before he spoke.
“So he made it to town? Joe wasn’t sure what day, but had thought within three.”
She nodded. “Came in tonight. I didn’t know he had arrived yet and Julian wanted some of Claude’s cookies.”
“And instead found a wolf?” Dawson guessed.
“Yep. When he didn’t come right back, I went looking for him and found him on the porch of the inn.”
Dawson inhaled—his way of getting himself to keep calm. She should probably stop teasing him, but what were sisters for?
“Damn it, Beth.” His patience was finally up. “Do I need to kick a wolf’s ass or not?”
Giggling, she slapped her brother’s leg. “Nah, he promised not to eat Julian.”
Dawson groaned. “Please tell me he didn’t use those exact words.”
“Oh, he sure did.”
“Damn it,” he groused. “I never would have said that if I’d known Julian would take it so literally.”
She snorted, unable to hold back her amusement. “Well, Gray seemed pretty cool about it, if that helps.”
Shaking his head, he stood. “If he’s here for more than a few days, I can only imagine what else will be said. But I guess I’ll find out tomorrow. Joe wants me to show Gray some of the trails. We don’t think anyone has been past the barriers into the unused parts of the canyon, but really it’s too big to know for sure. The park rangers are covering the public entrances.”
“Is that why he’s here? He thinks someone might be hiding in the canyon?” Usually her brother kept work to himself, but if he was willing to talk, she wanted to know. She had the same curious nature as her nephew.
“It’s nothing to worry about,” Dawson told her, switching back to ‘big brother’. “If anyone is here, we’ll find them for sure. It’s been a long hot day. I’m going to work out before I shower.”
“Okay. Now that it’s cooled down, I might go for a run.”
“Just be careful. Especially with a strange wolf in town.”
“I promise not to be eaten by the big bad wolf, either,” she teased.
Dawson rolled his eyes but went into the house without saying anything further. It was a good thing, because once she caught her own words, she blushed, thinking about one way she wouldn’t mind being eaten by the wolf.
She sighed and set her tea down on the table. A run was a good idea. She could burn off some energy and hopefully not be up all night thinking about the sexy man next door.
Trails to the canyon area were all over town. It gave the residents easy access to let their animal sides loose. The public access to the canyon was on the other side of the area, with hundreds of acres in between. Even if they were spotted as animals, no one would be the wiser. And she could smell the humans before they would ever see her. Plus, the park rangers kept all bridges and roads to their area closed off. It helped that most of the rangers were shifters or related to one somehow.
That was how the community worked. They watched out for one another. Humans had the police. The shifters only had each other.
It was a short ten-minute walk to the clearing where she could shift. She climbed up and into the cave she and Dawson used, quickly shedding her clothes before becoming a bobcat.
She stretched, enjoying the pull on her muscles. Even though it had been less than a week since she’d shifted, it felt as though it had been much longer. She rubbed against the walls of the cave, giving in to the instinct to mark her territory. There were no other bobcats in the community other than her brother—and when he finally shifted, her nephew—but it still felt good to her cat to follow tradition.
Since she didn’t actually like to run, but was more of a climber, she decided to head up to the top of the canyon so she could lie around under the moon. There was a small creek close by, too.
She started up, leaping and jumping as much as she could. Her curious nephew always asked how she felt when she got to shift, and as hard as she tried, she could never find the right words. It felt freeing, as if she was finally completely herself.
The thick foliage covered her as she stalked around, wishing for a playmate to pounce on. Sometimes her brother would come with her, but most of the time she was alone. Even other cats in town preferred to be by themselves. Her cat seemed to be missing that part of its personality.
A low tree branch offered her more fun as she climbed and chewed on it. As she started to scratch, she heard the yowl of a lone wolf not too far from where she was playing.
Planning on just getting a look at the wolf, she leaped from the branch and prowled toward the sound. It was less than five minutes before she caught a woodsy scent ahead of her. Crouching, she started crawling forward.
There, at the creek she had planned on visiting, stood a fully grown wolf. Her senses told her it was also a shifter, but she would have guessed that even without them since she knew how rare that type of wolf was. The red wolves were an endangered species, reported to total less than one hundred in America.
Looking at the animal, she was awed.
She squatted low to the ground to keep her hiding place as he dipped his head to drink from the clear water. What a beautiful creature, she mused as he stretched his neck back and howled again. Even though she was a cat, she still felt the loneliness that call conveyed. An answering rumble gathered in her throat and she had to hold herself back.
In the wild they were natural enemies. Even while human, she had never met a wolf who hadn’t thought he was better than her.
With a heavy sigh, she laid her head down on the ground. She must have been louder than she’d thought, because his head snapped in her direction. She remained downwind so she knew he hadn’t picked up her scent.
She tried to make herself as small as possible, belatedly realizing that spying on a wolf she didn’t know wasn’t the brightest idea she’d ever had.
To his credit, he didn’t charge her. Instead, he tilted his head to the side and lowered himself much the same way she had.
She watched as he slowly crawled closer to her. When their gazes met, he stopped.
The same pull she had felt earlier returned and her muscles bunched as she waited.
He started toward her again, just as slowly and carefully, and she also scooted closer. They had started several yards away, but all too soon—and yet not soon enough—they were in the open with just a few feet separating them.
The wolf rolled to his side and pawed the ground. If she could have, she would have laughed. Instead the sound that came out of her was more of a small purr.
The wolf’s ears perked up before he did it again.
So, as he’d asked, she moved to rest next to him. They didn’t touch—just breathed in each other and shared the night. Side by side they stayed as the stars over them twinkled and the canyon sounds sang for them.
It was nice—peaceful, even—and she relaxed enough to close her eyes.
A whisper of a hot breath passed over her as the wolf bumped her chin with his head. She nuzzled into him without thinking.
The zing of awareness that shot through her body shocked her. He must have felt something too, because he jerked before nudging her again.
If they were in human form, she had no doubt they would be kissing. But as animals…
She jerked away. Damn it, she was a bobcat. There was no way she could have these feelings for a wolf. As carefully as she could, she inched away from him. He flopped back onto his stomach, watching her.
As he moved toward her, she swiped at him with her claws still sheathed. She didn’t want to hurt him, but she had to get away.
What in the world had she been thinking? They hadn’t just been playing—they were flirting, practically making out.
Once she had enough room to flee, she turned and took off. She didn’t even glance behind her. Didn’t dare. She just ran.
She scrambled down the canyon cliffs, not slowing until she got to her cave. Just as she reached her spot, she heard the heart-breaking sound of that howl.
Doesn’t matter, she told herself. We’re from two different worlds.