Authors: Zenina Masters
Tags: #Adult, #Erotic Romance, #Fey, #Magic, #Paranormal, #Shapeshifter
Recovery is slow, but with doors to her past closing, Juno finds herself running to her forest fey. Running for home.
Juno is rescue from the clutches of a fey who has tortured and maimed her. Her rescuer is a fey who has been partnered with her brother for the last two years.
When she looks into his eyes, she doesn’t see pity, and the music he makes carries her to another world.
Once she is deemed recovered, she is offered a job in the Crossroads, and she takes it.
There is nothing else to be done; when Derix learns that the fox he wants has moved to the Crossroads, he follows.
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Running for Home
Copyright © 2016 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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Running for Home
Shifting Crossroads Book Thirty-six
“Hello, Treasure. Do you have any sweet words for me today?” Lord Falkir stroked her cheek.
Juno Meklin stood completely still; her half-shifted human-fox was silent. She was wearing a purple gown with a deep vee where her neckline should have been. It was split to the waist with a wide, gem-studded belt holding it in place. She was dressed for the party, and he was going to show her off to the perverts who still believed in keeping shifters as pets.
The crowd was small that night, and it hurt her to see other shifters in similar circumstances. Some were in beast form, others in human form, but Falkir considered her his prize. He had managed to lock her in her half-form, and it was a rare sight.
She walked behind him at the party. She wasn’t there to serve; she was there to be seen. Three months had passed since she had been captured, and suicide was beginning to feel like the better option.
As Juno walked through the crowd, she was petted, stroked and groped in equal measure. Her tail was pulled more times than she could count, and it was one particularly insistent suitor that cornered her.
He stroked the sides of her neck and smiled at her. “Hello, Treasure was it?”
She blinked slowly.
He was lean but had a tough sort of exterior. She could smell the scent of cordite on him, as well as the tang of metal. He didn’t smell like any of the other fey at the party.
His colouring was remarkably human but with a strange autumn touch. His eyes were dark hazel with a small ring of rich orange, and his hair was a dozen shades of brown.
His skin was a rich tan with the scent of the forest clinging to him. If he wasn’t a fucking fey, she might even speak to him, but he was, so she wouldn’t.
Juno felt him nuzzle the side of her neck, just above the collar. She growled, and he pulled back.
“Treasure, come here!” Falkir summoned her, and she eased away from her conversational partner.
Her feet made no noise on the marble floor, but then, not having nails anymore made her remarkably quiet.
She glided to Lord Falkir’s side, and she had to stand still for another pawing.
“Leebron, be warned, she might be declawed, but she can still bite.”
Apparently, Falkir was attuned to the sound of her growl.
She kept her hands folded so that the exposed knuckles and scars wouldn’t show, but her teeth were all her own.
Juno remained at his side throughout the evening, and her lids and ears were beginning to droop when the thunderclap of power ran through the room.
The doors flew open, and members of the shifter guild came in, confining the fey and soothing the shifters.
Juno stood in the centre of the space while chaos reigned. The man made of autumn came to her, and he was now wearing a vest with the shifter council logo.
“I am sorry I had to get so close, miss, but I have been working undercover for several months.”
She stepped back and put her hands up to fend him off when he reached for her.
He looked at her hands, and he snarled softly. “Bastard.”
He examined the collar on her throat and was about to remove it when a mage called out, “No. Derix. Leave it. She needs to be in a safe environment before she is released. She will need help shifting back to human after an extended period in that form.”
“Can you tell me how long you have been stuck like this?”
She growled, but it was just her clearing her throat. “Three months. I have been here for three months.”
He looked surprised at her ability to articulate. “What happened to your hands?”
“They took my claws first thing. I had to learn to walk all over again.”
He took her by the elbow and steered her toward the medics.
“Does it hurt?”
“Yes. All motion is painful.”
The medics were mages, and the woman smiled softly. “You can go, Xelik. I have her now.”
Juno turned and inclined her head. “Thank you, Xelik.”
“It was my honour, lady.”
It felt so good to say. “My name is Juno.”
The mage took her aside, and she was led to the transport point and, from there, she was sent to a healing centre.
Each stage in the journey, she was coddled and protected. Soft-voiced humans were handling her carefully.
The comfortable room was slowly crowded with folk who were going to help her get the collar off. She could see the forest through the window, and her heart ached.
“Okay, Juno. My name is Frieda, and this is my husband, Norm. We are going to get your collar off, and we want you to focus on your human form. We will then be able to help you with the amputations.”
“Just tell me what I need to do.”
Frieda smiled. “Relax and let us do our work while we heal you. It won’t be comfortable, but it will be worth the effort.”
“I will hold still. I cannot guarantee I will relax.”
Juno sat still and breathed shallow breaths as they opened the lock and unbuckled the collar. If she had been able to, she would have chewed her body off to get out of the collar, but that option had been denied her.
She heard the hiss of Norm’s breath as he pulled the blades out from under the surface of her neck.
She wanted to be a fox, she wanted it so badly, but she pulled her human skin around her and let the fur fade.
The mages surrounded her, each taking a limb. This explained the others that she hadn’t been introduced to.
They covered her mutilated fingers and toes while another mage wrapped his hands around her neck.
Juno sat while her body was assaulted by the magic. She felt heat in her extremities, and then, the pain kicked in.
She was tense, covered in sweat and ready to bolt an hour later when the mages finally finished their work.
Juno lifted her right hand up and turned it, staring at her nails. She whispered, “Can you get me some bolt cutters?”
Frieda blinked and wiped sweat from her forehead. “Why?”
“I can’t go to fox with this belt on. The bastard had it enchanted so he would never lose access to my body. The clothing was just tucked under it.”
Norm got to his feet. “I will see what I can find.”
She nodded, and Frieda and the others helped her to her feet. Walking took some getting used to with toes again.
When Norm came back, he wasn’t alone. Juno jumped when the forest-coloured elf came in with him.
Frieda soothed her. “He is on our side.”
“I know. We have met. I just wasn’t expecting to see him here.”
Xelik inclined his head. “I was not expecting to be here, but I was asked to do a deposition on how I found you. When Norm came to the office looking for the cutters, I offered my assistance in case the belt didn’t cooperate. Falkir may be an ass, but he is excellent at binding enchantments.”
Norm put the cutter on the belt, and he squeezed. The bolt cutter shattered.
Juno tried not to see her freedom breaking in that moment. The memory of the same style of cutter taking away her claws was something she could deal with. It was her past, and her beast didn’t set much store by the past. The belt was a dark future, and breaking it was a chance to become herself again.
Xelik knelt in front of her, and he asked, “May I touch it?”
She stiffened at his touch but held still as he ran his fingers along the metalwork. He inhaled sharply, and the belt came loose.
The room erupted into chaos as Juno shifted into her fox and bolted for the window. A ball of light struck the glass a moment before she did, and the barrier fell away.
Grass under her paws, her tail streaking behind her, she ran for the woods and the safety of the trees.
* * * *
Derix clicked the belt closed. “Well, that turned out well.”
Frieda stared out the window. “But, she needs therapy and to be interviewed as to what happened. They can’t finalize the charges if they don’t know the details.”
Derix stated flatly, “Falkir already told me the details. If she needs time on her own, she is right to take it. He was not... kind.”
He looked down at the bloodstained collar and the dress that should be burned for what it was witness to.
“My partner is one of her kind. He has said that she will hide until she is confident. If we have to speak to her before then, we will simply have to go in after her.”
He inclined his head, took the belt, dress and collar with him and left the room.
The jewelled belt was locked up, and the clothing and collar were marked as evidence.
He carried the collection outside and transported himself back to the Shifter Council Headquarters, checking in the objects before walking down to holding.
Falkir was sitting smugly in his cell, radiating confidence.
With deliberate motions, Derix slipped into the cell and closed it behind him.
When he turned to face the other fey, Falkir’s face had fallen. There were no words spoken between them as Derix beat Falkir into a groaning heap.
It wasn’t for Juno. Derix attacked for his own sense of outrage that Falkir would use that much magic for torturing another living being.
When he left the holding cells, he nodded to the guard that had admitted him.
Roy sat back with his feet up, shaking his head. “It was a rough arrest.”
“Very. When the fey pick him up, send them to me if they have any questions.”
Derix flexed his hands and rubbed his knuckles, getting most of the blood off as he walked back to the cooperative offices. He needed to get changed, finish his reports and let Apollo know what had happened to his sister. Apollo hadn’t been in on the raid for a reason. Now, Derix had to explain where Juno had disappeared to.
It was probably his best and worst day at work all in one.
Juno nosed the leaves in her burrow around until she was comfortable, and she rested. She was in a happy, warm doze for a while when the music started again.
He was here. He came often and played his flute in the forest. He serenaded the trees, and she couldn’t resist listening as well.
She crept toward him, leaving the safety of her den and moving through the leaf litter. The music soared, and she crept toward the fey intruder in her territory.
“Juno, your family needs to speak with you. I have brought you clothing, and I will leave it here.”
He reached behind him and pulled some folded fabric around, laying it on the log that he perched on.
As she waited in the shadows, he remained where he was, picking up his silvery flute again and raising it to his lips.
Using the music as her cover, she crept toward him and sniffed at the clothing. It was hers. She carefully dragged it off the fallen tree and pulled it into the shadows.
Her human form hadn’t been necessary until now, but if her family were waiting, she would put it on.