Authors: Viola Grace
Tags: #Paranormal, Science Fiction Erotic Romance, Shapeshifter
“That is very nice, but what are you…oh.” The discolouration faded rapidly under his lapping tongue. “How did you do that?”
His mouth quirked up at one corner as he lifted her other wrist to his lips, she was left wondering as his tongue made the rounds on her skin.
When he finished, her skin was as clear and unblemished as it had been before the first cuff had snapped into place.
With her unclasped, he rolled to one side and held her against him, pressing his face against the wealth of her pale hair.
Lee curled against him and inhaled their combined scents. She let the rhythm of his breathing relax her, and as she drifted off, she could have sworn she heard him say, “Mine.”
Lee was alone and uncuffed in Ozwin’s bed. A light knock on the door preceded the entrance of Ona.
“I have a fresh gown, and Haz delivered some boots for you. Come along, Alpha Lee. There is a public dinner in the courtyard, and we need to get you presentable.” Ona grinned and didn’t even bat an eye at Lee’s tangle with the sheets.
The older woman took her by the hand and tugged her free of the bedding.
Lee was embarrassed, but she let herself be bullied into a shower, followed by a brusque towelling.
Ona sat her down on a stool and brushed her hair for her.
“Where is Ozwin?”
Ona smiled, “He has to attend to the business of the settlement, including discipline of the bachelors for their exercise the other day.”
After her hair was wrangled into a loose twist and pinned in place, Ona came toward her with a deep blue gown. The woman dropped it over her head and helped her tug it into place.
“We don’t have anything in your size, so we had to improvise. The ruffles at the bottom make up the length I think. Oh, here are your boots.”
Black thigh-high boots slid up and under the gown. “This is a good fit.”
Ona snickered, “It is some of Haz’s fastest and best work. Whatever he saw in his workshop scared and delighted him.”
The boots had flat soles for running and balance. They were still elegant and graceful but practical.
“I like them.” She pivoted on the balls of her feet and laughed. “It is weird. Even a few days without shoes and I was in withdrawal.”
“They are invisible under the gown. Lovely. Is the dress too tight?”
Lee looked in a wardrobe mirror and snickered. It was similar to a prom dress in dark royal blue. Sleeveless with a ruffle on the right shoulder, tight to mid-thigh, the ruffles took over and frothed to the ground.
“Is this acceptable?” She turned from side to side.
“I am sure that Alpha Ozwin will be suitably impressed. He has been by all of your actions so far.” Ona chuckled. “Now come, we will have some tea and wait until sundown is complete.”
Lee trailed along as Ona led the way down to the dining area and took the seat that Ona pulled out for her.
When the tea tray was between them, Ona grinned at her. “So, how do you like my grandson?”
Lee paused. “What?”
“Ozwin. He is one of six surviving grandsons, and being able to act as his housekeeper is very restful.”
“I thought he said you were the grandmother of one of his betas.”
“I am. His cousin, Morask. He didn’t want to tell you that I was his grandmother. He wasn’t sure how your society deals with relatives at close quarters.”
Lee was blushing at the destruction that Ona had witnessed in the bedroom. “Don’t you want to retire, do nothing?”
Ona chuckled. “The Keymin cannot do
. We need to keep active or our thwarted instincts drive us mad. It was designed into us, and as long as we occupy our bodies, our minds stay sane.”
Lee sipped at her tea and asked, “So, how did the Keymin come to be?”
Ona snorted, “You didn’t look us up?”
“There were limited records available to the badges. We were given more physical information on the Keymin than historical. I needed to know what I would face if I was against them in a fight. Whether it was a bar fight or an incursion, we had to be ready to face what your people would throw at us.”
“You are Keymin now. Our people are your people. You have the same thoughts, instincts, passions as any Keymin woman.”
Lee blinked and did a personal inventory. The heat was still inside her, the vibrating tension of her muscles was constant and her sense of smell was so greatly enhanced that she could pick apart the different herbs in the tea with a light sniff.
Whatever was left of her Terran sensibilities was the only thing holding her back from running out into the population, finding Ozwin and tossing him to the ground for another ride.
Ona patted her hand. “Don’t worry about the heat. Every woman goes through it.”
Lee was confused. “I thought that once Ozwin and I…it was over.”
The older woman laughed. “Days. It takes days to wear off. With the hormonal surge, if it simply ceased, you would go into shock. It will never be as strong as it was this morning, but it will remain for days.”
“How can you stand it?”
Ona laughed, “It only happens twice a year, and it is both before and after harvest. It keeps us busy and the men exhausted. It is when the next generation comes into their own.”
“Because they have to do everything around the settlement.”
“Something like that.”
“How did the Keymin become what they are now?” Lee sat back and sipped at her tea.
Ona grinned, “I wondered when you would ask that. The Keym were an agrarian species. Our ancestors were living their lives happily when the Sixiv dropped a nanites bomb in the middle of the weather centre of the planet. The tiny machines travelled on the wind and infected the entire planet within three years. No one knew precisely what had happened to them until the first harvest or planting season hit their village.
“The panic of the Keym was all encompassing, and the Sixiv swept in and calmed them, offering help in exchange for services. Every year, they took more and more of the population until Keym was empty. Our men and women fought wars for the Sixiv, held populations in thrall and finally gained the attention of the Alliance. When the Alliance freed our people, they offered us a place here, and we took it.
“I was on the first landing craft here with my mate Orian. Our first son was born three days later. It was a hard first year, working the fields and creating a settlement, but we flourished here on Decallock and have grown into a solid community.”
Lee heard Ozwin’s footsteps outside the door before it opened.
“Thank you, Ona. This has been most informative.”
When Ozwin came through the doorway, Lee’s heart sped up.
“Are you ready to meet your new people?” his voice was slow and amused.
“No, but I had better get out there, because the thoughts in my head need a bit of privacy to work my nerves up.” Her mouth said what was in her head, but she wanted to sink through the floor at Ozwin’s smile.
She got to her feet, thanked Ona for the tea and headed for the door. As she passed Ozwin, he wrapped an arm around her waist, so together, they met the gathered folk who were watching the door of the Alphas’ home with keen attention.
The moment that they were framed in the entryway, a cheer rose up.
“Why are they cheering?” She asked it in a low whisper.
He started walking her down the short flight of steps to the courtyard filled with tables and Keymin. “Because there is rarely a second Alpha in a generation, and we have never had one in female form before.”
“Oh, so I am a freak.”
“And my mate. Therefore, your new people want to get to know you.” They walked past smiling folk who were staring at her with rapt attention.
Lee was glad Ona had taken the time with her hair. Since she was being paraded past strangers, it was nice that she looked her best.
Their table was sitting on a raised platform, so everyone could see them. “That’s festive.”
“It comforts them by making us visible.”
There was a story behind his words, but she didn’t have time to ask it. They were up on the platform and took their seats at the table.
“They will bring platters of food, but you don’t need to take everything, just put your fork in the dish and they are free to walk on.” Ozwin was referring to the line of women and men carrying dishes of food and approaching their table.
“They have to offer food to the Alpha first at these events, and since we now have two, they need to offer it twice.” He sat back and waited for the first carrier to arrive.
The next half hour was a blur of smiling faces, food Lee could not identify and the urge to be polite causing her to overload her plate.
Ozwin was laughing at her. “You are never going to eat all that.”
She took a deep breath and raised the first baked-meat stick to her mouth. “I know, but I am going to take a bite out of everything and work from there.”
He grinned, “An admirable method of dealing with the new.”
She blushed, “I didn’t mean you.”
“I know, but the marks you left on me have given me a one-track mind.”
She paused with the sausage halfway to her mouth and quickly put it on her plate, mincing it into small bite-sized pieces. It was a method that she engaged in with all of her food. Not one suggestive eating technique was engaged in for the rest of the meal.
The crowd of folk smiled when they looked toward her. “Why are they so happy to see me?”
Ozwin finished his meal and sighed, “They are seeing you as a sign of evolution. If even the Terran badge of the Decallock colony can be turned Keymin, we have a chance to survive.”
Lee sat back and stared at the remains on her plate. A peculiar idea came to her, and she leaned forward, concentrated and called the beast.
Three swipes of her jaws and the plate was clear. The crowd was staring at her in shock, so she relaxed and returned to her chair.
Ozwin’s hackles were up. She could see the rise at the back of his neck.
“What is the problem? I finished my food.”
He frowned, “You weren’t upset, enraged or anything?”
She shook her head. “No. Just wanted to finish my meal, and it seemed the only way to do it.”
He blinked. “Kiss me.”
Not understanding the significance, she leaned forward, caressed his cheek and kissed him softly and sweetly. His fangs were out, but her kiss continued until she felt him unclench his jaw.
A relaxed sigh came out of the crowd, and Lee clued in. “They thought I was mad?”
“Most of our kind can’t control the shift in the first few months of the change. They were preparing for a rampage.”
She blinked and leaned back in her chair. “That is interesting. What would you have done if I had gone insane?”
“I would have had to subdue you and neither of us would have enjoyed that.” There was a dark undertone to his voice.
An image in her mind formed of a snow white creature being pressed to the ground by a larger beast in silky black. Based on his motions and hers, they were coupling in front of the assembled.
“Oh no. We are not doing that.”
Her cheeks were scarlet, but Ozwin gripped the back of her head and pulled her to him for a kiss. “Not in shifted form and not in public.”
Her eyes were wide as she stared at him. The realization came that the image in her mind had not come from her own thoughts. “You…”
“Eventually, you will be able to do it as well, but the mind is the last thing to take on the change.”
He pressed his lips to hers again, and a cheer went up from those assembled. Lee trembled as she finally realized that things were not going to be nearly as simple as she had imagined.
After the meal, wine was brought out, and Ozwin turned to her, “Perhaps you would like to introduce yourself to the young women in season.”
It didn’t take Lee more than two seconds to identify the women in question. They sat downwind from the bachelors but close to the Alphas’ table.
Why she had imagined that there were more was beyond her. The nine young women looked nervous as she approached. A matron was sitting near them, and the woman nodded her greeting.
“Hello, ladies. How are you this evening?”
Several of the young women looked down, but one smiled timidly. “We are well, Alpha. How are you enjoying your time in the settlement?”
Lee grinned, “It has had its challenges. Apparently, the hardest thing is finding clothing that fits me.”
The young woman inclined her head. “I am handy with a needle and thread. If you wish for something to be taken in or embroidered, I would be honoured to help.”
“I may take you up on that, but taking things in is not the current issue. Apparently, I am taller than most ladies of the Keymin.”
Laughter rippled through them, and with that one sentence, their nervousness went out the window.
A cup of wine was pressed into her hand, and Lee was introduced to her maiden collection. They were locked away for two weeks in the fall and two in the spring every year until they found their mate or he grabbed them. The settlement sheltered them until they turned twenty-three, and after that, they were on their own.
“Did the bachelors come after you?”
The embroiderer, whose name was Ceeki, smiled. “No. They didn’t even try. Alpha Ozwin was speaking with the matron, and when they broke free, they didn’t dare to come and oppose him. They simply overwhelmed the gate and ran for it.”
“Was anyone injured?”
“The two gate guards on duty suffered claw damage as well as broken ribs.” Ceeki frowned. “There was a lot of yelling, and then Alpha Ozwin roared.”
Matron Halio grinned, “I think you know what happened next. Did you really hold off two dozen bachelors until Alpha Ozwin could get there?”
Lee blushed, “Well, sort of. The first dozen or so left when I ordered them to. After that, it becomes a bit of a blur.”
“Alpha Ozwin says you were holding your own.” Ceeki was looking at her with worship in her gaze.
“He is too generous. Four of them were holding me when he arrived, the slash to my ribs had already occurred.” Lee believed in honesty, and she didn’t want anyone to think she could take that many on her own before she had changed. Now, those young men would have ended up ass over teakettle, but that was her secret. It was always good to catch your opponent by surprise when you could.