Authors: Zenina Masters
Tags: #Shapeshifter, #Erotic Romance, #Paranormal
A bear with an ultimatum meets an eagle ready to nest. Let the fur and feathers fly.
After her cousin’s success, Fred wants to meet her own match and live happily ever after. A trip to the Crossroads shows her some options, but she is drawn to the man with the golden gaze.
Hektor is an eagle whose solo days are wearing on him. He wants a mate, and if it is of another species, so be it. He will earn his match, even if she breaks bones in the process.
Join a bear and an eagle as they struggle with the practicalities of being incompatible as animals but inseparable everywhere else.
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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 © 2013 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 Six
Winifred Northrup carefully smoked her bees before checking on queen development. Still no full chamber, but they were starting the build.
She lowered the brood box back into position and stacked the honey supers back in place. The elegance of the hive was something she envied. If she were the queen, her dating problems would be over. Sure, she would be the bride of the fastest male with the most stamina, but as a bear shifter with few prospects, it wasn’t such a bad idea.
Fred returned to the shed and removed her beekeeping nets and suit. It was a safety precaution. The bees didn’t really like bears, and she didn’t like them, but they gave her honey and kept her fruit pollenated, so they enacted an uneasy truce.
She slipped out the door furthest away from the hives so as not to tempt fate, heading back to her home via the lush fruit fields of her business.
Steffi waved at her. “We are ready for the party.”
Steffi was a beaver shifter, and her attention to duty was something that made her a valuable employee when Fred had to involve herself with Shifter Council business. She was the representative for her family and her species, so it was important that she be free to drop everything at a moment’s notice. Stefani Lorring was the perfect person to direct the Northrup U-Pick when Fred wasn’t home.
Steffi had been married to her childhood sweetheart since high school, and she valued the chance to work near her home. Charles enjoyed having his wife close at hand as well. The Lorring Construction Company had been in operation for four decades, and whenever he had a chance, he spent the afternoon with his sweetheart. It kept them both happy, and Fred was just glad to be a part of it.
The grey hair hadn’t changed Steffi much in the last decade. “What is on the menu for the evening?”
“Blueberries, blackberries and raspberries. I am saving the elderberry copse for another event.”
Fred smirked. “Your granddaughter is coming into her first shift, isn’t she?”
Steffi gave her an innocent look. “She might be. That poplar grove around the elderberries is perfect for beaver shifts.”
“It certainly is. I am thinking that might have been what you had in mind when you planted them.” Fred laughed. They walked together to the house, and Steffi gave her the breakdown of current supplies, the different areas and which events were booked for the next few weeks.
Northrup U-Pick catered to the human public as well as shifters. The humans got the strawberries and a select ten acres of berry bushes, and the shifters got the rest. A first-shift party was made sweeter by having the newly shifted animal able to eat from nature. Most omnivore species in the area made their reservations for their event the moment that the change began to make itself obvious. Usually, it took six weeks to six months from the first moments into full shift. Every time they hosted a shift, Fred got all weepy, remembering her first time.
She stared out at the fields beyond the deck where she was sitting with her friend and employee, and she thought of all the parties still to come.
“So, do you think its fine, Fred?” Steffi was asking.
Her friend poured the tea and slid her cup over. “What were you thinking about?”
“Cubs. I have seen so many men and women here with their families, and now, even my cousin has managed to find a mate. If Buzz can do it, so can I.”
Steffi sipped at her tea. “You are thinking about the Crossroads?”
Fred closed her eyes and put her hand over them. “Yes. It is so embarrassing. I always thought that I wouldn’t have a problem catching a man.”
Steffi snorted. “Your problem is that you practice catch and release. You need to find a man who won’t just let you dismiss him.”
Fred huffed. “I need a guy who isn’t gutless.”
“You need a guy who doesn’t know your family. They are a scary bunch of bears.”
It was true. Even for bears, the men and women in her family were large and ferocious. She was the most even-tempered of the lot and that wasn’t saying much.
“I think I am going to have to make a call.” She fished her cell phone out of her pocket.
A few numbers later and she had the person she wanted to talk to. “Trevor. I need some help.”
“Sure, babe. What do you need?”
“A consult for transport to the Crossroads.”
“Sweet; you are going to do it?”
“I am going to try, but I need you to send me there. Buzz speaks highly of you, so let’s knock this thing out.”
“I can come by this afternoon. I know you have a ritual space, so it comes down to having the window.”
“I think Ezzy’s friend Kris can help with that, but I want you to do the send through.”
She could hear the grin on his face. “I would be honoured. I will bring the preliminary stuff to you today. You need to decide where you want to stay and a previous option is back on the availability list as long as you don’t mind djinn.”
“Wherever you recommend is good enough for me. Let me know what the transport schedule is.”
“Will do. I am gathering the documents right now. Can I come over tonight?”
“Sure. Come through the front though, there is a party scheduled.”
“Thanks for the warning. See you later.”
She disconnected the call and chuckled. “Well, that was that. My mother is going to kick my butt.”
Steffi snickered, “I thought Verna wanted you to get married.”
“She does and have little cubs and live next door. I have no idea if I will end up with a guy with a territory of his own or not. I don’t even know what species he will be.”
Steffi winced. “Oh, right. The rules of the Crossroads. All species are equal walking the roads.”
“Yup, and all species have to uphold the union when the couple returns.” That part made Fred more nervous than anything else in the entire procedure. If she picked a man that didn’t get along with her family, she had no idea what she would have to do. Choosing between a mate and a family was never a good thing.
“Don’t borrow trouble, Fred.”
“How did you know what I was thinking?”
“I have known you for years. That face is your
looking into the future and seeing trouble
face. Don’t worry about it. Buzz came home with Ezzy and that worked out great.”
“Yeah, but Ezzy is great. I might pick an asshole.”
Steffi howled with laughter. “Honey, you wouldn’t let a man who wasn’t right anywhere near your home and family. You will pick a good one, I can tell.”
“How can you tell?” She grumbled.
“Because no one in your family would pick someone they didn’t want to make a life with. The fact that you haven’t picked one of the dozens that your family has paraded past you in the last decade shows that you are going to be choosy in your selection process. I have faith in you.”
Fred sighed and refilled both teacups. “Thanks, Steffi. Are you good to run the place for a few weeks if necessary?”
“I stand by ready to assist. Nina has been waiting for a chance to help out. She drools at the thought of your fields.”
Fred laughed. “She is welcome to frolic all she likes, you can even have the grandkids over for a picking party if you like. My berry farm is your berry farm.”
“What about the bees?”
“Devlin will take care of them. I was just checking for queen cases today.” She grinned. “Just keep the party away from the hives. It is all that I ask.”
“I will keep them away. I promise.” Steffi crossed her heart and held her hand in the air.
“Then, I suppose I am out of excuses. Tonight, I will make arrangements for the Crossroads.” There, it was out. She had said it out loud and there was no taking it back. The universe had heard her, and it was going to do what it chose to. She only hoped it was kind.
* * * *
Hektor paused and tilted his head. It was time. If he wanted a life, a family, a home, he needed to make his way to the Crossroads.
He stepped out of his cabin and looked over the glacier. With a quick shift, he took to the skies for one final trip around his sanctuary. If he could find a woman who suited his temperament, he would give everything he had accumulated to make himself acceptable to her. Lone eagles may be great on tattoos, but in reality, it sucked.
When he had surveyed his territory with heavy beats of his wings, he returned to his cabin. He had a call to make and bags to pack.
Trevor sat across from her and went over the options. She chose the Open Heart Bed and Breakfast. Management may be new, but it was where Buzz and Ezzy had first joined together and that was good enough for Fred.
“Excellent. Now, I just need the family samples.” He smiled happily.
Fred pulled out a vial with hair samples from her, her mother and her father. She had gotten the vial from her mother last Christmas, just in case.
Trevor chuckled. “Wonderful. Are you ready to leave?”
She blinked. “What? Now?”
“Yup. The window will be here in two hours. Are you ready?”
Fred wrinkled her nose. “I will be. Have some coffee and a muffin. I will be right back after I make a few calls.”
She called her mother and her new cousin, Ezzy. Ezzy was delighted. “You won’t regret it.”
“I hope not. It is all happening so fast.” Fred grumbled.
“Sometimes that is best, like a band aid. Keep me posted, and I will keep Buzz from coming to get you back.”
Fred blinked. “He wouldn’t dare.”
“He would. You are his favourite cousin.”
Fred snorted. “I am his only cousin.”
“So, my statement stands.” Ezzy laughed. “Did you want me to call Kris?”
“Nope. I have it covered. My friend Trevor is a transporter. I leave in two hours.”
“What did your mother say?”
“Oh, thank the first fur!” Fred laughed.
Ezzy giggled. “My mom was surprisingly delighted when I brought a bear home.”
“Of course she was. Buzz is a great catch. I mean, aside from his nickname.”
“Well, he’s a honey hunter. I should know, but it wasn’t something I shared with my mother.” Laughter rippled through the phone.
Fred snickered. “Well, his first girlfriend gave him the name and it stuck.”
“I know. I have met her. She was surprisingly polite and genuinely happy to meet me. It was weird.”
“You know the bear shifter community, once you are in, you are in.”
“Remember that when you bring your man home. Take as long as it takes and pick a good one.”
Fred smiled into the phone. “That’s the plan; say hi to Buzz for me.”
“I will. Good luck, Fred.”
They hung up in tandem, and Fred looked around. Her bag was packed, but she would need to pick up some fancier gear in the Crossroads. Nothing she had was particularly alluring.
With her carry-on bag packed, she returned to her kitchen where Trevor was waiting. He had a phone in one hand and a small charm in the other.
“Are you ready, Fred?”
“Wonderful. I just got clearance for an immediate transport.”
“Well, the two chattiest people I know are spreading the word. Steffi will call my mom if she needs backup here, and the staff is on high alert for any shenanigans. It is as good as I can make it without being here.” She lifted her bag. “Where do you want to do this?”
“Your private garden. It is in the correct location for the portal.”
“Good. Let’s get going before I lose my mind or my lunch.”
He gave her the charm linked to her accounts that would let her buy what she needed, and once they were in her Elizabethan garden, a light formed next to him. “Enjoy your trip, and may you find what you seek.”
Trevor widened his hands with a quick move, and the light expanded.
Fred took a deep breath and walked into the light.
* * * *
A woman with dark hair and a friendly face greeted her. “Welcome to the Crossroads, Fred. We just got your information, so excuse my informality. I am Teal.”
“Thanks for the friendly greeting, Teal. This is coming as a bit of surprise for me. It was a sudden decision.”
Teal snickered and gestured toward a set of smooth wooden doors. “We had better get you tucked in. We have another drop coming in within minutes.”
Fred looked around and saw the male waiting in the shadows.
He waved slightly. “Good evening, Fred.”
“That’s Tony. He’s my mate.” Teal placed an arm at the base of her spine and prodded her out of the arrival site. “That was what we call the Meditation Centre. You can go there any time to get away from the males and to concentrate on what you are truly looking for.”
“Your mate? I wasn’t aware that there were any bonded couples here.”
Teal lifted her wrist, where a silvery band twisted around. “Any of the married staff wear something like this, both male and female. It reduces confusion.”
“And it is more visible than a simple ring. Does it shift with you?”
“It does. After the first few days, I didn’t even feel it.” Teal shrugged. “Now, on to the tour. Over there is the Café, next to it is the General Store, and the restaurant if you prefer more formal dining.”
“Nice. What is that building going up next to the General Store?”
“Oh, a groomer. Well, a mani-pedi parlour, but the men won’t go if we call it that, so it is titled groomers, and it probably will expand into hairstyles eventually.”
“Why do you need those services?”
“They relax the women, and frankly, some of the guys could use some tidying up.” Teal smirked.
Fred looked down at her fingernails and nodded. “I can see how that would be a good thing.”
“Work with your hands?”
Teal sighed. “I miss having a garden, well a real garden. Here, I am stuck with the ornamental garden and not much else.”
They walked past the businesses, and a few folks waved at Teal, while several men stared at Fred.
“It is a little sudden, but everyone knows why you are here and you know why they are here. The Crossroads takes away the mystery and half the dance.”
Teal walked her down one of the roads toward the bar. “This is the Crossed Star Bar.”
“Where Buzz met Ezzy.” She smiled at the familiar reference.”
“Exactly. Both the owner and bartender are mated, but they are excellent guys.” Teal grinned.
“How are their mates?”
“Lee is our medic, and Ivy and Chuck are writing a book.”
“It’s a romance, and they work on role playing from time to time. Just smile and look away if a woman runs by in space armour.” Teal laughed. “It takes some getting used to, but we are an eclectic bunch.”
Fred grinned. “So, where is this bed and breakfast?”
“This way. Now, Teebie is new to the Crossroads, and she isn’t quite one of the Shifters but she is definitely supernatural. She is taking over for Dira while Dira and Mak make a place for themselves in the outside world.”
“Dira is the dragon, right? Buzz mentioned that she had more power in her than he had ever seen before.”
“Yes, she and a unicorn are very happily settling into a life together. From what I hear, Dira is even posing in ads for Mak’s family’s company.” Teal grinned. “It is just as well, Dira enjoyed preening whenever she could.”
The row of Victorian homes was neat and tidy. Each one had an immaculate front yard and the backyard was concealed by a variety of fencing and stone walls. The Bright Heart was the first, but Teal kept walking. The Open Heart had blooming roses out front and a well-manicured pathway.
“You will like Teebie. She has an excellent sense of style.”
“And she’s blue.”
“That I am. Welcome to the Open Heart,” said the woman on the porch, and she smiled warmly at them as they approached.
Fred blinked. Blue was the correct description for her. The cheerful woman had black hair pinned up in elaborate coils that draped down until they touched her shoulders. Her skin had the texture of silk and the sheen of a sapphire.
“Thank you for your welcome. I am—”
“Fred. Welcome, really. You are my first guest.” Teebie extended her hand.
Fred shook the woman’s hand and relaxed when her grip was even and warm. There was no strange feeling of magic, but the power Teebie radiated was definitely tangible.
“Please, Fred, come inside. Teal, would you care for some muffins?” Teebie’s amber eyes twinkled.
“Dira’s recipe?” Teal had a desperate tone.
Fred blinked at the eagerness in the woman’s voice.
“Of course. She provides me with her recipes in nice doses. She doesn’t want me to over-stimulate myself.” Teebie opened the door, and the smell of baked goods wafted out.
Fred grinned. “Mm. Blueberries.”
“Yeah, she didn’t want to part with the recipe, but it was the best way to lure new clients in with a djinn at the helm.” Teebie passed through the entry hall and into a dining room with a tea set; a platter of muffins was standing by.
Fred gave in to her instincts and took a seat at the table while Teebie poured cups of tea for her guests.
Teal put up her hand. “We have another arrival coming in. Thanks, but can I just steal a muffin?”
“Of course. Take one for Tony as well.”
Teal took two and chuckled. “Let’s see if his makes it to the centre.”
Fred smiled and waved farewell as her escort left. Alone with the djinn, she smiled. “How long have you been here?”
“A month. Several of the shifters who have come into the Crossroads have been less than enthusiastic about having one of my kind here. I am just happy to have somewhere to be busy.”
Fred smiled and took a muffin. “Well, Dira did a wonderful job with my cousin and his wife, so I consider this place lucky.”
“Dira is my great-something aunt. Since she is making her way in the normal world for a while, she asked me to keep this place running. My magic is similar enough to hers that housekeeping is done in a manner that she would find acceptable. Everything is done as she would have done it.”
Fred almost moaned at the freshness of the berries in the muffin. “This fruit is incredible.”
“My aunt has her own berry plots in the back, warded against interference of any local shifters. You know how some folks get around berries.”
Fred grinned. “Yes, I know; it is how I make my living.”
“Really?” Teebie was delighted.
“Yeah, I own a U-Pick that caters not only to humans, but also to transformation parties for local shifters. There is nothing like being in an abundance of food when that first time comes.”
Teebie sat back and smiled softly. “Sometimes I wish I was able to hang around with humans, but as you can see…” She extended her arm. “It wasn’t in the cards.”
“How is it that you are a djinn with your aunt as a shifter?” Fred eased another heavenly blueberry muffin onto her plate.
“My great-great-great grandmother was Dira’s sister and a griffin. She defended her home to the death, and Aunty Dira stepped in to take care of her children.”
“Where did the djinn enter your mix?”
“With Dira’s sister, Denyali. Denyali’s husband was a djinn. He disappeared around the time that she died. He might have been killed, or he might have returned home when his mate died, no one knows, but his family took in his children after Dira brought them back to the area. She kept herself firmly in their lives until this day, I am the only blue one in the current generation of my family, and I have darkened dramatically in the last few months.”
“Magic shift. No one knows what causes it, but sometimes, a djinn evolves as they age. It doesn’t always happen, but it kept me from being able to hide myself in plain sight.” She turned her hand from side to side. “I can’t hide this with a glamour anymore. Hence, my jumping at the chance to run the Open Heart.”
“So, you are hoping to get more business?”
“Well, I want it running at full capacity for the sake of my aunt’s reputation.”
Fred nodded. “Fair enough. Well, I am happy to be your first.”
Teebie grinned. “And my second will be here within the hour. Do you want me to show you to your room?”
“Can I come back down and have more muffins?”
“Of course. Come with me.” Teebie took her bag and snapped her fingers. A key with a bear-paw icon shot into her hand from a spot behind the desk.
“You use magic freely?”
“No sense pretending I am anything other than what I am.” Teebie grinned and headed up the stairs, carrying Fred’s bag easily with one hand.
She opened the third door on the left, and Fred smiled at the matching paw icon on the wall next to the lock. With a bow, Teebie handed her the key. “It will unlock by proximity, so don’t worry about getting tipsy and opening the door. If you get locked out for any reason, just call for me.”
“Okay, so what do you recommend that I do first?”
“Change into something pretty and comfortable and have dinner if you haven’t already. Then, once you are properly attired and your belly is full, you should head over to the Crossed Star. The men will take it from there if they don’t follow you around from the Café.”
Fred’s stomach jittered, and she dragged in a stabilizing breath. “Well, clothing first. What do I do if I find something to wear?”
“Just tell them to send your regular clothing here. I will bring everything to your room after I do a load of laundry.”
Fred nodded, checked her charm and made sure that it was secure on her wrist.
“Take your time, don’t let yourself be rushed into anything and, most of all, enjoy yourself.” Teebie grinned.
A knock at the door brought her head up. “Duty calls, but don’t hesitate to call out if you need anything. I will hear you if you speak my name.”
With a flash, Teebie was gone and Fred heard her voice from a distance away. A masculine voice responded to the djinn’s light tone, and Fred took another deep breath. She left her bag, closed her door and headed down the stairs to go in search of her destiny.