Authors: Zenina Masters
Tags: #Shapeshifter, #Erotic Romance, #Paranormal
Rejected by her family, Molly only has one place to go to find a mate and he is hunting her at the Crossroads.
Molly has lived as a king vulture amongst condors. Her family considers her animal a profound disappointment and has ignored her until she finally decides that she has a right to a life and she wants it.
When she is at the Crossroads, she notices the man sent to reclaim her, and while she knows he is in charge of her clan, she isn’t quite sure what he is.
After they acknowledge mutual attraction, they spend a night together and have to work on the consequences when they shift for their first big flight together.
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2014 Zenina Masters
Cover art by Carmen Waters
All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, is forbidden without the written permission of the publisher.
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Shifting Crossroads Book 18
Molly finished the last round of sandwiches and trimmed off the crusts. With expert moves, she set up five tea trays with a selection of filled sandwiches and pastries, all handmade at the Wexler Teahouse.
Molly grinned and brought out the trays to the waiting tables where her sister had already filled all the teapots. One table at a time was dealt tea for two, and when the towers of flavour had been delivered, she returned to the kitchen and tidied up.
Celeste came in with a smile and a loving stroke over her pregnant belly. “Are you ready for family-gathering night?”
Molly didn’t even bother looking at her glowing sister. “I am ready. Antonia is closing up tonight, so I will be there on time for once.”
She scrubbed at the baking pans and set them aside to dry.
“You could look at me when I am talking to you, Molly.”
“You are not talking
me, you are talking
me. There is a difference. I will be there on time and I won’t come early. Mom will have plenty of time to hide the fact that she had a dinner party for another avian family and didn’t invite me. Again.”
Molly glanced at Celeste, and her pretty sister actually flinched. “How long have you known?”
“Since I came home early after a mandatory movie night when I was eighteen. I respected her decision and hid in a tree until the guests left and my scheduled arrival time had come. You were wearing blue and Sissy was wearing a rose floral party dress.”
Molly finished cleaning up the kitchen while Celeste leaned against the wall.
“We didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.”
Molly grimaced. “Yes, mother did. More to the point, she is trying to protect the world at large from learning that one of her children is different.”
It was as close to a full discussion as they could have with a human in the next room.
Celeste whispered, “Can you blame her? We are rare enough without one of our family being different.”
“Celeste, what if your child isn’t all that you expected? Will you do what mom did or will you actually have some common sense?”
Celeste clutched her belly and left the kitchen for the back door.
Molly didn’t like to upset her sister, but she had reached a critical decision point. She would tell her family tonight.
Molly smoothed the lines of her dress as she waited in the darkness. For a bird who preferred daylight, she had to spend a lot of time lurking in the shadows.
When the last car was gone, she got out of her car and crossed through the trees to the house. She was strong; she was determined. She could do this.
The rest of the family was in the living room having drinks while the evening help was clearing the dining room.
“Hello, everyone, what did I miss?”
Celeste looked uncomfortable and moved closer to her husband.
Robert put his arm around her and drew her close.
Maryellen Wexler looked at her and sighed. “What do you mean?”
“I saw the gathering as they left, Mother. I am very tired of pretending that you aren’t hiding me.”
Edgar Wexler put his arm around his wife. “Don’t speak to your mother that way.”
Molly looked at her father and nodded. “Right. I thought so. Well, you don’t have to worry. Tomorrow, I go to the Crossroads and I will be out of your hair. I know what you think of my beast, and though we are all part of the same bird family, I understand the shame that you have experienced by my presence.”
She saw Robert nod slightly.
Sissy was sitting near the fireplace holding her drink in both hands. There was an engagement ring on her finger.
“Right. Enough. I will send you a note when I find out where I will be living. I don’t actually expect a reply.” She turned on her heel and left her family home, looking once at her old bedroom.
She shook off the sadness and headed for her car. She had a bag to pack and some plants to water. If one door closed, another door opened, and she had just slammed the hell out of the first one.
“Do you have the family donations?” The transporter smiled hopefully.
“They weren’t donations so much as shed feathers, but yeah, here they are.” Molly held out the offerings. Her parents’ feathers were huge and dark next to her rose-tinted white wing feather.
“Right. So, vulture feathers?” He looked at the donations cautiously.
“Condor, but part of the vulture family. I am just plain old king vulture.”
“Oh. Okay. Let me write that down.” He swallowed nervously and flicked a glance toward her.
She couldn’t understand his flap until she glanced down and saw that her top two buttons had come undone. The sapphire-blue lace of her bra was peeking out. She sat back and did one button up again.
Her transporter blushed and busied his gaze with the paperwork.
She registered a means of payment for the services and objects she would be needing at the Crossroads. A manicure was definitely in order.
“And you want space at one of the bed and breakfasts?”
“Yes, please. This is a new start, so I had better plan for how I want it to go. I will start it comfortable and taken care of, even if I have to pay.”
He blinked. “That is a very grim view of your future.”
“My parents won’t help me find a mate because I am a different breed of vulture than they are. The Mayan worship of my kind doesn’t matter; a history of respect in the wild doesn’t matter. My kind eat first at every carcass. That doesn’t matter.”
His earlier interest faded rapidly. “Vulture. Right. Well, we are all set. The transport window will be here in three hours. You have time to get a coffee downstairs if you like.”
She nodded. “Yes, just be here when I come back. Three hours?”
“Be here in two and a half.”
Molly nodded, picked up her purse and left her bag in the transporter’s office. She trotted downstairs and got a latte, sitting on a comfortable chair in the corner and watching the clock.
She was sure that this was the right thing to do.
When she was eight, her family had gathered around, her younger sisters watching with wide eyes because their turn would come soon enough. They had stood out in the backyard and Molly’s first change had washed through her. She had moved the blanket off her body with her head and stepped out, flapping to gain the first of the roosting posts.
The shock and horror in her parents’ eyes had seared her, and she had shifted back to human as quickly as she could. She begged her parents to make her like them, but the die was cast, she was similar but different. She had broken the family history for breeding true, and to her surprise, her parents blamed her for it.
The rest of her life consisted of being hidden from the other condor families as well as the other avian. She had asked her parents to find her a mate when she was a teen, but they told her it wasn’t done in today’s day and age. When Celeste wanted a mate, she had one in four months. Sissy had bagged one in two.
Oddly enough, she had not been invited to any of the dinners where her sisters met their matches. The hurt had grown until it was all that she could think of whenever she saw her family, their name or the teahouse.
They could have asked her to go at any time, but she was useful and you never discarded something useful.
With her time up, she grabbed her purse and headed back to the transporter office. It was time to seek out her own destiny, even if she had to go three districts from her own to find a transporter who would do it.
He was ready for her, so she grabbed her bag and stepped into the circle on his floor. There was a flash, and she was on her way to the Crossroads, the first step in a new life.
Damon Suel finished his report for the Shifter Council, and he rubbed his face.
His sister poked her head around the corner. “Are you ready for the party?”
He snorted. “No, and damned no. Why does Aunt Lea insist on them?”
“Because she is trying to get you into a courtship. She wants you to have children and sooner is better than later.”
“I am occupied with council business.”
“And that business will still be there when you finish meeting the young ladies she has rounded up for you tonight. Come on. Be a pal.” Deane grinned.
“Fine, but I am not promising anything.”
She straightened his shirt and handed him his jacket. “I don’t look for promises; I just hope you will try.”
He grimaced and followed her downstairs to meet the families gathered for introduction to him. Being the Avian Councillor, he was always in demand at events, and now that his aunt had put him on the marriage market, he was trapped.
Damon needed to find a way out of the endless rounds of courtship and polite chatter. If only there was a way to skip all the ritual and just find the woman for him…
His phone buzzed in his pocket and he excused himself from the conversation with the young woman looking up at him with worshipful blue eyes.
With a nod to his sister, he escaped upstairs to his office and checked his phone. There was a number from the coast, and it was apparently a matter of urgency.
He picked up the phone and went to work.
An hour later, he had the details he needed. A woman had run away from her family and gone to the Crossroads without authorization. Her family wanted her back before she met someone and made a foolish choice. Damon understood. Family was everything and they wanted their daughter safe.
Damon had a transporter coming to his home and he would be sent to the Crossroads in a matter of an hour or so. He really should tell his aunt so she could rearrange his appointments for the following few days.
Damon went to his room and started packing.
Deane came in and raised a brow. “Are we planning on jumping out a window?”
“No. We have to go to the Crossroads to retrieve a runaway. A transporter will be here within the hour. I am going and I will be there as long as it takes.”
Aunt Lea came in and nodded. “Good. I don’t care how you find a mate; just start looking. I will postpone your appointments.”
“Thanks, Auntie.” He beamed.
She sighed and shook her head. “You are incorrigible, Councillor Suel.”
“I do try. Now, please pass on my regrets to the flock of available women you have assembled. Duty calls.” He knew he was being too cheerful and that he would pay for it later, but he didn’t care.