Copyright 2015 KD Jones
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Connor sat in the waiting room of the local hospital. He had been born here; so had Samantha and all his childhood friends. Even his parents had been born in this hospital. It was a small town and a small community. But today it was about to get a little bit bigger, with the addition of its newest little citizen.
“What’s taking so damn long?” Alpha Ric growled as he paced back and forth.
“It takes a while sometimes. The baby will come when he or she is ready,” Roxanne reassured the alpha.
Connor looked over at the gorgeous blond werewolf. Roxanne Jaspers, practically a werewolf princess, had come to Strange Lake Falls originally to mate with Alpha Ric. However, Ric had fallen for Connor’s mother, Mary, instead. Ric and his mom invited Roxanne to remain at the pack house for as long as she wanted. He knew that his mother must have liked Roxanne to make that offer. Most everyone he knew liked Roxanne.
She was kind and caring. She never treated Connor like he was less of a man just because he was human. But the problem was, she was a full blood werewolf and expected to mate another werewolf to keep the bloodlines pure. That pretty much left Connor without a leg to stand on as far as pursuing her. Not that he had time for that anyway. He was about to return to his postgraduate internship abroad in South America.
The cry of a baby was suddenly heard and the entire waiting room of vampires, werewolves, and humans stopped talking. They all looked toward the door as soft footsteps approached. His best friend Samantha stepped through the door and looked at everyone.
She was smiling ear to ear. “I have a baby brother.”
Whoops and hollers exploded throughout the room. Connor got up and walked over to Sam to give her a hug. “Congrats, Sam. You’re going to be a great big sister.”
It was a miracle, truly. Sam’s mother Jackie and her husband Adrian were vampires. They had just given birth to the first natural born vampire in centuries. He stepped back so she could hug the others in the room.
His mom Mary appeared a few minutes later, smiling. She didn’t get far before Ric had her in his arms. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine, honey. The baby is so beautiful, Ric.” She had tears of joy in her eyes.
Connor watched as Ric kissed his mom’s head gently. “We can try again, Mary.”
Mary nodded with tears in her eyes. “I think I want to.”
Connor looked away from this intimate moment. His mother had miscarried a few months ago. That was why Connor had come back to Strange Lake Falls, to spend time with her and help her heal. The doctors thought that since she had been turned into a werewolf only recently, her body was still going through an adjustment stage. She had lost the baby early on in the pregnancy and had suffered depression for a little while. But now, she seemed to finally be on the mend emotionally. He was grateful that his mom had found someone as good to her as Ric was.
“When can I see my grandchild?” Vampire Mistress Lila asked anxiously. She was Adrian’s maker and it was because of her that Adrian and those he sired would be able to conceive when they found their true mate. She was about as impatient as any grandmother Connor had ever met, despite her youthful appearance.
Sam laughed. “Give them another hour to clean up. Then I’ll take you guys to the nursery.” She turned to Connor. “I hate that you’re leaving tomorrow. I feel like I haven’t spent any time with you at all, with me being in school.”
Connor hugged her again. “I know, but I need to finish up my work so that I can apply it to my master’s degree and eventually my doctorate.”
“Make sure you don’t wait so long before you come back to visit us again.”
“I won’t,” he promised, but he had no idea how difficult it would be to keep that promise. Fate had other plans in store for him.
Eighteen months later, deep in the rainforests of South America
The heat was simply unbearable at times. Connor took off his shirt and used it to wipe the sweat from his face. He had been traveling for two days straight without sleep. If he had still been human, he would have passed out from exhaustion by now. But he was no longer a human; he was a shifter changed against his will, much like his best friend Samantha had been. Except she was a wolf shifter and he was a . . . panther.
He pulled the tie from his hair and readjusted it. His hair grew so fast, every time he cut it, it grew right back within days. That was just one of many changes he had to learn to get used to. Fourteen months ago, his life had changed and would never be the same again. Connor remembered that fateful day, one he would never forget.
Connor was walking ahead of his group through the scrub. He was closer to the river and could see an opening through the trees. He heard a sound, like someone gurgling.
He saw a man lying on his side on the ground naked and not moving.
“Hello, are you okay?” Connor pushed his way through the shrubbery. He jogged over to the man, who wasn’t responding.
He knelt down and reached out to turn the man over on his back so he could search for injuries. The moment Connor’s hand touched the man on the ground, the man turned, revealing a frighteningly distorted face. Connor jumped back a little at the gruesome image of black fur sprouting from the man’s snarling face. He was a shifter, Connor belatedly realized, partially shifted into what looked like some sort of large cat, maybe a panther.
“Hey, it’s okay. I know about shifters. My name is Connor. Can I help you?”
The shifter looked at Connor with dark, hungry eyes. Then he lurched forward, going for Connor’s throat. Connor threw his arm up and blocked. The half-changed panther bit his arm, then went again for his throat, fortunately only managing a shallow bite. One of Connor’s co-workers fired his gun but missed. The shifter completed his transformation into full panther form and ran off into the forest, leaving Connor to try to explain.
He had been taken back to the campsite, where the paramedics worked to stop the flow of blood, but from the amount that he seemed to be losing, they didn’t believe he would make it through the night. They didn’t understand that he was starting to go through the change. His companions, realizing they could not get real help to him in time, made him as comfortable as possible in a tent and waited for him to pass away.
Everyone was shocked the next morning when he stumbled out of the tent instead. The chopper that had been called to pick up his dead body instead took him to the nearest hospital for treatment. They kept him for only two days, at which point he had made a complete recovery. They declared him a miracle. But Connor felt like he had been cursed.
He leaped over a log that was in his way without a thought. If he shifted he could cover more ground, but he wanted to keep his human form. It had taken months for him to get control of his shifting and abilities. He had no one to help him, like Ric had helped Samantha when she was changed into a wolf.
Connor had done what he was used to doing as a human, he sought the answers in books and over the internet. Most of the information he found was worthless. He lucked out finding a shaman that gave him more insight to the panther clans. He kept his time in the towns to a minimum.
He worried that he would put the humans around him in danger, so he had gone off on his own for a while to get control of his abilities. He liked that he could see perfectly in the dark. The sounds and smells of the jungle were much stronger, thicker, suffocating sometimes. But none of his abilities were as hard to adjust to as the shifting.
At first, he had shifted without control, day or night, whether he was sleeping or awake. It was confusing and at the beginning it hurt like hell. Then one day it just became natural to him, like breathing. Now, he barely had to think about it before he shifted to his black panther form.
He frowned at the river up ahead. He needed to go across, but how wide was it? He looked around, found the tallest tree, and leaped onto it. His nails had lengthened with barely a thought into partial claws to grip the tree trunk. He quickly climbed to the top of the tree, giving him a clear view of the river and the surrounding area. He sighed with relief. The river narrowed about twenty feet further along, down to a width he would be able to cross easily. He climbed back down, landing easily on all fours before standing straight.
He used to think Samantha, who had been turned into a werewolf by a date gone badly a few years ago, had the coolest abilities. He admitted to being a little bit jealous over it. Being a panther wasn’t so bad if he overlooked the occasional hunting of forest creatures and waking up in the remains.
But that wasn’t what bothered him the most about being a panther. No, the real problem was that he had been turned by a psychotic murdering maniac werepanther. Now Connor worried he would one day become the same.
The insane panther shifter liked to leave his calling card in the form of a trail of dead bodies wherever he went. The authorities couldn’t find him because he would shift and disappear into the forest for days, weeks, months, even years at a time. Connor was the only one able to track him. Connor remembered his first real encounter with the crazy panther after his transformation.
Connor was hot and wanted nothing more than to find cool relief in the nearby river. But he picked up a scent that he had come to recognize as belonging to the shifter who changed him. The shifter was close. Connor followed the scent until he came to a small hut. He sensed only one living person inside. He entered the hut cautiously, not sure what to expect. It certainly wasn’t the calm man sitting at the table with a cup of coffee in his hand.
“It’s Connor, isn’t it?” the shifter asked.
“Yes, you attacked and bit me a few months ago.”
He could feel the man’s eyes on him, looking him over. He nodded his head slightly, like he had come to a decision. “I’m glad you survived. I need you to help me.”
Connor glared at the man. “I wouldn’t help you if you were the last person on the planet.”
The shifter chuckled. “Come now, that’s no way to speak to your leader. We haven’t been formally introduced. My name is Morris Baynard, but I go by Mors. You, Connor, can be my second in command.”
Connor frowned not quite following what Mors was saying. “Second in command of what?”
“Our new clan. I have been trying to find appropriate members to join us, but my efforts have fallen short.”
Connor took that to mean that he had been trying to turn others and none of them survived. Which was why he had been finding so many dead bodies. “I won’t be a part of your sick plan. You’re going to pay for all the lives you have taken.”
Connor then tried to take Mors out, but Mors was able to get away by shifting to his panther. At that time, Connor had yet to perfect the shift. He had since spent almost a whole year searching for Mors, following the trail of chaos and destruction. He knew he wasn’t actually responsible for Mors, but as far as he knew, he was the only other panther shifter in South America, so he felt duty bound to take the rogue shifter down.
He paused by the river to dunk his head in the water. He sat staring at the image: himself, but not himself. He was different now. He had more hard, lean muscles, his eyes were a brighter blue, and his dark, shiny hair hung low on his shoulders. He could move stealthily through the forest without making a sound, and if he needed to he could pounce hard and fast, just as fast a wolf, if not faster. He wondered if Roxanne would like the way he looked now.
It wasn’t the first time he had thought about the female wolf shifter. She invaded his dreams and he found himself thinking of her frequently during the day as well. She was older than him, obviously, but looked about his age, not to mention incredibly sexy. She had long blond hair and pale blue eyes, combined with a body that just wouldn’t quit. He had wanted her the first time he laid eyes on her, but she had had her sights set on Alpha Ric. Not that that had turned out the way she had hoped.
Before Mors, Connor had fantasized about returning home and mating Roxanne, having her change him into a werewolf. But it was only a fantasy, one that would never happen now. He was a panther and had to find a way to accept that. Keeping his distance from his family helped, but at the same time it left him extremely lonely.
Most panthers were solitary creatures, preferring to live and hunt on their own. The human in him still ached to return home and be with his family.
Something caught his attention. He lifted his head and scented the air. He could detect blood, human blood. Something turned in the pit of his stomach. This had to mean Mors was near. The stench of blood always did.
He shifted to his panther because the animal was much better at tracking and hunting, especially if there was a blood trail. It was one of the perks to being a shifter. He had gotten lucky three months into his change, when he met an old shaman that knew something of panther shifters. He told Connor they had started to slowly die out and the remaining clan had moved away.
He had asked the shaman why didn’t they find mates and change others. The shaman didn’t know for sure except that only the male panther shifters had the ability to turn a human to panther, but a human woman could only be turned if she was a true mate. Since they were so few in number, there was no way to turn enough to sustain their population, and then they still didn’t have enough women. So they moved away. All except for one lone exiled shifter, who had killed his mate and turned loco.
He heard a woman scream into the night and put on a burst of speed. He found himself at the edge of a clearing in his cat form. He halted as he looked out in horror. Mors was on top of a naked woman. He had his teeth in her neck and Connor could tell that he had forced himself on her. He felt sick to his stomach. He shifted to his human form.
“Let her go, Mors!”
Mors released the woman’s neck and rose up to his feet. He was partially shifted. It was the freakiest thing Connor had ever seen. From the waist up, he was furry with claws and an elongated muzzle. But from the waist down, he was naked human.
“Come, Connor, we will share a mate between us. Help me turn her.”
He was disgusted. “What have you done, Mors? This is crazy. You can’t turn a human woman unless she is a true mate.”
Mors shook his head, more human now, but there was still blood on his teeth. “I don’t believe that old tale. It’s just what the elders wanted people to think to keep us in line.”
Connor looked down at the poor woman and saw her gurgling. She was choking on her own blood. “Let me help her.” He knew a little bit about first aid but he wasn’t sure he could save her. He might be able to save her from suffering anymore. He had to try.
“Stay back. If the woman doesn’t transition then she doesn’t deserve to live.” Mors blocked him from getting to the woman and shifted to panther.
Connor knew he couldn’t fight a panther while still human, so he too shifted. Mors launched himself at Connor and his panther jumped to the side, trying to avoid being hit. He didn’t come out unscathed. Mors’ long claws had scored Conner along the side.
Connor hissed at him before biting at Mor’s paws. He was hoping to cripple the other cat and slow him down, but Mors had more years on Connor. He anticipated the move and jumped out of the way.
The two large cats circled one another. They made swipes at one another but neither gave in. Finally Mors paused and looked over at the woman. He shifted back to human. “Damn it, she wasn’t worthy.”
Connor shifted to human form and raced over to the woman. He checked for a pulse. There was none. She was dead.
Fury raged within him as he turned back to face the culprit. But Mors had vanished once again. Connor would have to bury the woman and start tracking her killer once again.
This was the way it had been now for so long, he couldn’t remember anything else at times. He would follow Mors’ trail of blood and death, but he was always too late to save anyone. He had pretty much come to the resignation that he would never be able to stop Mors. He worried about what would happen to him. Would he turn out crazy like Mors one day? Would he ever see his friends and family again? What if he hurt someone he cared about?
He made the decision to go home and say his goodbyes. Then he would return to South America, search for Mors, and end him once and for all. After that, Connor planned to sequester himself, keep away from all others. It would be lonely, but he couldn’t take the chance that he would turn out like Mors. He
wanted to end up like that.