Halle Shifters - 1
Dana Marie Bell
To Mom, who was always there when I needed her, and sometimes when I didn’t.
We may not always agree, but it doesn’t matter. We’re family. That means you’re stuck with me, no matter how many times you tell people you’re my much younger adopted sister.
To Dad, who puts up with our crazy antics and sometimes eggs us on just to see the vein in Mom’s temple throb. How many times do we have to remind you that she knows where you sleep AND she cooks your food?
To Dusty, my necessity. Despite the fact that my Alienware laptop rocks, you will always have more geek cred than me. You’re the only man I know who’s actively working toward surrounding himself with monitors…and succeeding. I’ll know your master plan is complete when you finally hook up the automatic Mountain Dew/Snickers bar dispensers to your Uber Leet Gaming Chair with Built-In Massage.
Last but not least, to Molli, Jambrea, Sandie and the rest of the Samhain Café who begged me for a werebunny. This one’s for you.
“Goddamn it, Bunny. That was the last piece of bacon.”
This was starting out to be a really great day. Alexander “Bunny” Bunsun grinned and swallowed the crispy, greasy, salty bit of heaven. “Yes. Yes, it was.” And it had been delicious. The extra-special flavor came from the amused frustration in his cousin’s eyes.
Ryan sat back with a low growl. “And you ate all the cantaloupe.”
“Yes I did.” He sat back and rubbed his stomach. Damn, but the food here was good. He’d have to keep this place in mind the next time he traveled this way, especially if Chloe decided to make Pennsylvania her permanent home.
Ryan snagged the last grape with a warning glare, popping it into his mouth. “At least you left me something.”
“Quit your bitching. You got four eggs, all the sausage, six pancakes, all of the green melon thingies and an entire pot of coffee.”
“Green melon thingies?” Ryan chuckled, wiping his hands on his napkin before dropping it onto his empty plate.
Bunny rolled his eyes and signaled the waitress. He never could remember what they were, but they were always put in salads with the cantaloupe and made it taste funny.
The hell with it. Let Ryan laugh. Bunny wanted to pay his check and get back on the road. It wouldn’t take them more than a few more hours to get wherever the hell they were going, and he was determined to enjoy every moment of it, despite Ryan.
They paid the check and headed for their Harleys. He pulled on his jacket against the early fall weather. The cool had come early this year. It was late September, yet it felt like November.
He had to hope that whatever was wrong with Ryan’s little sister could be fixed fairly quickly. He’d had to skip his yoga for two days now, and he was feeling the lack.
Chloe Williams had moved to get her degree in veterinary medicine from the Halle branch of the University of Pennsylvania, and slowly but surely, the cheery little girl who’d gone off to find a home had lost some of her sparkle. She refused to discuss what was going on, only that she had some personal troubles that she didn’t feel comfortable talking about with her brother or her male cousins. Bunny figured that maybe there was a problem with the sheriff she’d been dating for a while. If that was it, he’d see to it that the man fixed it before more than a day or two passed. Either that or he’d fix the man who had caused her grief.
He blew out a frustrated breath. A part of him hated that he’d left home. He had a life to get back to. Hell, he wasn’t even sure why he’d come on this little trip at all.
There was this sweet little she-Bear who’d been giving him the eye recently. He’d been tempted to have a taste, but something, some nagging sense that something wasn’t right, had sent him on this trip with Ryan instead. It was weird. He’d never gotten the feeling that he needed to be out and moving quite like this before. It was almost a compulsion, and Bunny knew he’d regret it to his dying day if he didn’t follow it.
Bunny shook his head and strapped on his helmet, shaking off the feeling that he needed to go now. Whatever the hell was wrong with him, he had every intention of returning home and finding himself a nice, sweet fuck. The dreams he’d been having since they left home had him so goddamn horny, he’d considered jacking off, despite Ryan being in the next bed over. Bears had good hearing and Bunny didn’t feel like living with whatever humiliation Ryan would come up with if he heard that. So he’d held off, and now he was one cranky-ass Bear. It didn’t help that each of the dreams featured a woman who alternated between looking like a dark-haired angel and a kick-ass heroine from one of his manga/anime fantasies.
He was the only one in the family who had an obsession with the Japanese style of drawing and animation, but he couldn’t help himself. He’d been in love with it since the first time he read Sailor Moon and Tenchi Muyo! He had the whole Sailor Moon series on DVD, in the original Japanese (with English subtitles, of course).
His family just laughed and indulged him at Christmastime, and he ate it all up like a greedy child.
Unfortunately, no real woman could stand up to the fantasies he’d been having.
He shook off the desire to have something a little out of the ordinary. With any luck, the she-Bear would be waiting for him, preferably naked under a trench coat and sitting on his doorstep. Bunny gunned the motor and eased into traffic, whatever it was that was driving him appeased now that his wheels were turning.
This was starting out to be a truly shitty day.
Tabby limped out of the woods, her right rear paw dripping blood. How she’d managed to slit her pad open she had no idea. She was usually careful not to run in places where campers or kids tended to go, since the litter on the ground could be dangerous to Wolves. One broken bottle could result in severe bleeding, causing shifters serious problems if they couldn’t shift. She’d have to make sure she had a little chat with one of the local kitties. Maybe one of them could find out if some of the college kids had been running off into the woods for beer and sex. If so, she might have to request permission to move to different hunting grounds.
She was grateful the Pumas had granted her the right to run in their territory.
Hell, she was grateful to the Pumas, period. If it hadn’t been for Gabe Anderson, the Marshall’s Second and sheriff of the small town of Halle, Tabby would have been forced to move on again. It wasn’t every Pride that would allow a Wolf to live among them, even on the say-so of someone as high up in the Pride hierarchy as the Second, but Halle had turned out to be a lot more open to the idea than she’d ever thought possible. She was just grateful the rest of them had agreed to give her leave to stay on a trial basis.
Alpha, Beta, Marshall, Omega; those were the primary rulers of a Pride or Pack.
The Marshall’s Second fulfilled similar functions to the Beta did for the Alpha, but without the broad range of powers a Beta enjoyed. He was the right hand man of the Marshall, the one who enforced Pack or Pride law and helped see to the physical well being of its members. The Second, in many ways, had the ear of the Prides and Packs in ways the rest of the leaders didn’t, as he straddled the line between ordinary member and leader. Some Prides and Packs lumped the Second in with the rest of the leaders; such was the case in Halle, were Gabe had as much say as the Beta, Marshall and Omega. She never wanted to leave Halle.
The town was warm and inviting in a way her old Pack had never been. The Alpha of the Pumas, Dr. Max Cannon, was a hottie. His alpha female Emma, called a Curana by the Pumas, was a tough cookie with a heart of gold. She’d asked Gabe what Curana meant, and she’d been told it was an altered form of the word çuçuarana, the Portuguese word for cougar. The rest of the Pumas were, for the most part, really nice people. She felt at home here, something she hadn’t felt in a long time. She’d made friends and built a life for herself. She never wanted to go back to the Pack that had shoved her out so long ago.
But no matter how nice the Pride members were, they weren’t Wolves. They weren’t Pack, something she was reminded of every full moon since she’d been granted leave to stay.
She was still Outcast.
She made it to her car and changed into the clothes she’d left on the hood. The shift caused the cut to bleed even more freely until it closed, leaving a sore spot on the bottom of her foot she felt after she put her sneakers on. She dug her keys out of her pocket, eager to get back to her apartment and the caffeine her roommates would have waiting for her.
“Well. Look who it is.”
Tabby tensed at that hated voice, the one fly in the ointment of her happiness in Halle. He’d stayed downwind, or she would have noticed him approaching before now and moved a hell of a lot faster. “Gary.” She turned to find her nemesis and his two best friends standing naked behind her. They must have shifted and run from somewhere else. There was no other car here, and none of their clothes littered the ground.
She held back her Wolf’s growl with difficulty. She was terrified. This wasn’t the first time the other Wolves had confronted her, but this was the first time they’d managed to catch her alone. From the gleam in Gary’s eye, if she didn’t get away, she’d be in a world of hurt. “What do you want?”