Authors: Viola Grace
Tags: #Paranormal, Science Fiction Erotic Romance, Shapeshifter
“Badge Ryan, this is Ona. She is the grandmother of one of the betas and has the dubious honour of working as my cook since no one trusts me to fend for myself.” Ozwin grinned.
Ona blushed and bobbed a quick curtsy. “It is good to be looking after someone who will eat my cooking. With all my boys mated, there is no one to need my care anymore.”
Lee got to her feet and walked to face the woman. She extended her hand in formal greeting, and Ona nervously took it. “Thank you for your hospitality. It may be the Alpha’s house, but it takes a woman to make it a home.”
Ona blushed again, pleased and smiling. “Well, now, have a seat, Badge Ryan. Breakfast is on the way.”
“Call me Lee.”
“Alpha Lee. Please be seated.”
Lee quirked her lips at Ona’s insistence on an honorific. Inclining her head, she returned to her seat.
As soon as Ona was back behind the swinging door, Ozwin leaned forward. “She likes you. I don’t think I have ever seen her take to a woman in my house with that enthusiasm.”
“It must be my height.” Lee snorted.
He looked at her with a focus that made her uncomfortable. “No, I don’t think that is it.”
Lee’s stomach rumbled alarmingly, breaking the staring contest.
Ona bustled in with a huge tray and set a plate down in front of Ozwin and another in front of Lee. Cutlery, teacups and tea all came in on the second relay.
“Thank you, Ona. It looks…like a good start to the day.” The mountain of food in front of her made her blink, but Ozwin grinned and started in on his meal. Apparently, this was the size of breakfast that the men of the Keymin enjoyed.
Sighing and taking up her implements, Lee ploughed through her breakfast.
Ozwin finished his meal and sat back with his cup of exceptionally strong tea. “I cannot believe that you are still going.”
“She made this for me, and I find that I am still rather hungry.” The fifth sausage disappeared between her teeth as her knife worked on the bread to parcel it into edible pieces.
“Who does your cooking in the colony?”
“I get ration packs from the Alliance. Four a day. I pop them in a heater and just eat.” She finished the last crumb off her plate and gave a delicate burp before reaching for her cup.
“I am both impressed and afraid. A woman with an appetite like yours will be hard to satisfy.”
She choked slightly as she tried not to spit tea on her plate. “I beg your pardon?”
He leaned back and grinned at her, his icy eyes alive with speculation. “Food, Badge Ryan, I was talking about food.”
Her blush started beneath her neckline and surged up to the crown of her hair. Even her ears were hot. She pressed her hands to her ears and paused. “What the hell?”
“Keymin have pointed ears. Your species does not. I also have never seen a female blush that bright in years.”
She muttered, “Pale skin shows it better.”
“Your kind doesn’t tan?”
“I turn red, peel and darken one shade. It is why I chose the night shift.” She twisted her lips and shifted into a smile as an eager Ona reappeared. “Everything was wonderful. Thank you, Ona.”
The woman beamed as she bustled about, refreshing the tea and collecting the plates.
Ozwin leaned forward and set his cup down. “Well, Badge Ryan, I believe that you should see the physician again and get a status update, and after that, we will find you some shoes.”
“Call me Lee.”
“Why do you shorten your name? Leeahan is a lovely name?”
“Lee is pronounceable in every language I have come across. It is simply a matter of being called by my name no matter where I am. A little bit of personal arrogance.” She shrugged.
“Well then, Lee. Shall we be going?”
She slugged down the bracing tea and nodded. “Ready when you are.”
He got to his feet, and together, they left his home, and she saw the settlement of the Keymin for the first time.
It was bustling, active and all the adults visible were definitely beyond the age of the men she had seen the night before.
“Where did you stash your bachelors?” she had to ask.
“They are out turning the soil in preparation for the winter season. They will lay down manure and compost, working it into the soil.”
She caught on immediately. “And the scent blocks their receptors to the women’s scent.”
He smiled, “Very good. We have to adapt our lifestyles to living free, and it has been difficult for some of us. Being able to hunt in packs has been a relief, but the hunts cannot be embarked on with the bachelors. We have to find other ways to keep them busy.”
“I suppose it is either the fields or having them chop wood.”
“We have cleared enough land already. What forests remain, we need for a wind break and hunting grounds.”
It was understandable. Lee winced as her feet found and enjoyed every pebble in the courtyard. “Ow. Ow. Ow.”
He looked over at her and finally realized that her feet were unshod. “Come on. I will carry you.”
“Only if it doesn’t—” The last was said on a yelp as he swung her into his arms.
“Despite your length, you weigh almost nothing.” He strode past his people at a good speed, ignoring their morning greetings.
“Thanks for that.” She knew that she was denser than most females. It was a side effect of the increased gravity of Decallock that she appeared larger but had less density than the locals.
The doctor pronounced her fit, healthy and fully Keymin. The nanites had rewritten her while she slept.
“Alpha Ozwin, where is my communications equipment?”
He smiled innocently. “In storage. Why?”
“I need to keep my dispatcher informed of my status so she can advise the colony council.”
Dr. Nalura smiled, “I have a unit here. You can send a message to the badge offices from here.”
Shrugging, Lee took a seat at the unit and keyed in the code for the dispatch office.
“Badge dispatch, how can I direct your call?”
“Anadora, don’t you ever sleep?” It was rhetorical, Anadora’s species never slept. They had a life span of ten years but spent eight of them as adults. Anadora was five.
“Oh, Badge Ryan. I am so relieve to hear from you. How have you been?”
Lee rubbed the back of her neck. “I have been transformed into a Keymin.”
“Long story short, my people are malleable. A little exposure can shift our basic makeup. I am a Keymin, so you can alert the council and let me know what I am supposed to do next. I will still be here for a few days, making sure that I am stable, but if I need to find a new job, now is the time to find out.”
A low, long whistle came through the com unit. “Understood, take care. Talk to you tomorrow?”
The call disconnected, and Lee turned in her chair. “How long was I out?”
Ozwin and Nalura looked at each other for a moment before the Doctor answered. “You have been out for two days. We kept your dispatcher informed as to your progress, but she held back on any final comments until she could speak to you again.”
Lee patted her stomach under the gown. “Well, that explains my appetite. Now, what can I do about the sensitive skin and the intense heat in my limbs?”
Nalura winced. “Heat? Is it starting low in your belly and moving outward?”
Lee analyzed her body quickly. “Belly, breasts and neck are the worst areas. What is going on there?”
Ozwin’s gaze went from interested to hot. “That is fascinating.”
“Alpha! She will have to stay with the women.”
Ozwin looked like he was going to argue, but he nodded. “It is understandable, and it is protocol.”
“What is?” Lee rubbed at the back of her neck again, lifting her hair out of the way.
Dr. Nalura smiled. “You are going into season in Keymin fashion. If you are around any unattached males, you will begin to trigger their more competitive instincts and that leads to bloodshed. We want to avoid that.”
Ozwin scowled. “She can remain with me. I can protect her against all comers.”
“And what about protecting her against yourself? I have seen the way you looked at her when I examined her progress, and there is a fine line of self-control there.”
“I can control myself.” He looked offended.
Lee was watching their interchange with amusement.
“I know you can control yourself, but can you control her when the heat grows to its peak? She is strong, she is tall and she knows how to knock a man on his ass. Who says she won’t take what she needs while she has you down there?”
Ozwin crossed his arms over his chest and gave Lee a narrow-eyed gaze that took in her tight dress and every curve under it. “I think I will manage.”
Dr. Nalura let out a deep sigh. “Yes, Alpha. Well, she has a clean bill of health, and she can go where she wills.”
“She will go where I will, and for now, I wish her to remain with me.”
“I will go where I will, and for now, I wish to get some footwear.” Her hackles were up again as they always seemed to be when he gave her an order.
Lee fought with the idea of having hackles and her changing physiology, but on top of everything that she had been through since joining the Terran Volunteers, it seemed another piece of weirdness that she had to absorb into her life.
She had always been able to boss folks around at any job she was at. They looked to her for guidance like sheep to a shepherd. That ability to control crowds had extended to her when she was in the waiting room of the Volunteer Centre, where a riot had broken out and folks had tried to push their way into the facility in an effort to be chosen. Lee had stood up, controlled the situation and earned her way into the Alliance with a few quiet sentences.
Being told what to do had always brought her ire up, and now that she was a Keymin, it was no exception.
Ozwin grinned every time she snapped at him, and that irritated her even more, which filled his eyes with delight.
When he didn’t speak, she asked the doctor, “Where can I find a pair of shoes that fit?”
Nalura grinned and she winked. “Out the doors, turn left, four doors down on the right. Haz will fit you with a pair of boots that should fit.”
Lee was on her feet and out the door in seconds. Her dress fluttered around her legs as she sprinted out of the medical centre and down the street following the doctor’s directions.
She skidded into the shop and braced herself in the doorway. The dark-eyed male working on a pair of boots looked up in shock. “Hello? Can I help you?”
Lee looked at the breadth of his shoulders, the long cascade of his hair and the dreamy dark eyes that were staring at her in shock. “Are you Haz?”
He swallowed nervously. “I am.”
She swayed in and took a seat on a nearby stool. “I am looking to get some footwear. Apparently, I am not the standard Keymin size. Can you help me?”
Amazed at what her body was doing, Lee watched herself lift the skirt to her knees as she kicked her feet slowly.
Haz swallowed and a bead of sweat worked its way down his forehead. “I believe I can help you, Alpha.”
She chuckled and was shocked at the sensual tone that crept into her laughter. Teasing a man was not part of her repertoire, but now, it seemed to come naturally.
Haz cupped her heel gently and measured her foot. He swallowed heavily, and his hand trailed up her ankle, working up her calf.
“Stop there, Haz. You really don’t want to continue with that hand.” Ozwin’s voice was a low growl.
Haz jerked back as if stung. “I am sorry, Alpha. I was just…”
“She is hard to resist, isn’t she?” Ozwin walked up behind her and pressed his hands to her shoulders.
“I wasn’t doing anything…well, not on purpose.” She shrugged, unrepentant. Having his hands on her was sending a new set of sensations through her.
Haz quickly busied himself in the back of the shop.
Ozwin pressed himself to her back and whispered in her ear. “You are a Keymin female now, and that means that you are entering a receptive phase. Your scent is intoxicating and none of the males will be able to refuse you. You have to be careful.”
She shivered as he spoke in time to his hands caressing her bare biceps. “Receptive?”
Her low throaty tone drew a harsh breath from Ozwin. “Yes. Whether your mind is on board or not, your body wants a mate, is demanding a mate. You will not go anywhere in this colony without me from now on.”
She snarled at the command in his tone, and his hand slid into her hair, arching her neck back, exposing it to his mouth.
He set his teeth on her skin, his canines shifting into points.
She felt his breath on her neck, the flick of his tongue and the implicit threat in the contact. Lee didn’t care.
She snarled low in her throat, stiffened her fingers and jabbed them into his abdomen. He released her with a jerk, and she pushed out of his grip, crouching low and letting her displeasure reach her eyes.
Lee could smell the blood from her throat, but she ignored it. He was going to get more than a mouthful if he came at her again.
To her shock, she felt her teeth elongate, and she bared them in defiance.
“Lee, you don’t know what you are doing.”
She snarled and lunged at him, grinning inwardly as he stepped out of her way, and she made it out the door. Sprinting on her feet suddenly grew easier, and her body kept its balance by leaning her forward. Her hands turned to claws and got into the act as she picked up speed.
A howl in the distance told her that Ozwin was in pursuit, but she didn’t care. She was heading for the gates of the Keymin settlement.
The gates swung shut, and she picked up speed, trying to make it through the opening. The clang as they locked made her snarl in disgust as she struck the gates with her feet, turned in the air and raced back toward the clinic.
The dark hulk of Ozwin’s shifted form was waiting for her. She moved left and he countered her, moved right and he blocked her again.
Howling in frustration, she attacked him head on. His claw lashed out, knocked her down and then pressed against her neck. Her blood roared in her ears, a struggling pulse that slowed as he increased his pressure. Lee gasped, looked into his cold eyes and let the grey mist claim her.