By Lynn Crandall
FINN MONROE PULLED NISSA BELLO behind him, swiftly removing her from the group of young men gathering around her. Tension hardened his muscles. “Back off, jerks!” He made himself a wall between his friend and the four menacing guys staring him down. “Mind your own business.”
Students gathered to catch the warm afternoon rays of sun in early May dappled the university quad, all of them tightly focused on their own little space in the grass, so much so Finn and his predicament didn’t penetrate their attention. He didn’t budge from the spot under the sprawling limbs of an old oak tree near the Genetics and Complex Diseases building where he worked every day in his research lab. Most days with Nissa, a fellow researcher.
The largest guy in the group stepped closer. “She is our business. Get out of our way or we’ll remove you, and you won’t like our method.”
“Yeah, we’re warning you. Once.” Another hulk shook his finger in Finn’s face. “It’s your choice to go easy or go hard. Either way, this little stand of yours won’t matter. We’re taking the girl.”
“Finn,” Nissa whispered in his ear, “stop this. Just let me go.”
The trembling in her voice gave away her fear. His heart clenched at the same time bile burned in his gut. No way he was backing down. Yes, the four of them were built like athletes, but he was no slouch. In a physical fight against them, though, probably he had zero chance of winning.
His mind whirled with possibilities. Thoughts of what these overgrown students had in mind for Nissa twisted his lips. Size doesn’t matter. Not to him. Confidence in his ability to talk his way out of this filled him. He knew from an IQ perspective, he was on the high side and them, cumulatively, he’d bet not so much. “I can see you’re determined, but she doesn’t want to go with you.” He tried for nonchalant. “So we’re at an impasse. I’m not going to let you take Nissa anywhere, especially since she clearly doesn’t want to go. And in the United States, it’s her inalienable right to choose. You understand that word, don’t you. It means indisputable, undeniable. So you go on your way before I call the police and we’ll all just chalk up this little fiasco of yours to, oh, I don’t know. A case of brainless syndrome? Finn took hold of Nissa’s arm and made to walk around the group on his way into the building, not taking his glare off the men.
Instantly, two of the four muscled him back around the corner toward the side of the brick building and shoved him to the ground. Finn kicked his feet at the one holding him down and rolled his head from side to side in an attempt to avoid hits. The punches from the other guy hit soundly, one after another. Blood trickled in his eye, but for a split second, he caught a glimpse of the other two men marching Nissa farther down the side of the building.
From deep inside, he drew up all his strength and raised his head. Before the next hit came, he pulled up from the other man’s grip and slammed his forehead hard against the hitter’s.
While the man toppled back, Finn wrenched free from the second man’s hold and took a stumbling step toward Nissa. “Let her go,” he hollered.
Nissa looked over her shoulder at him. His breath caught at the sorrow in her lovely brown eyes. Realization dawned in his mind. She wasn’t afraid for herself, she was afraid for him.
If only he had the abilities of his brother Asher, the were-lynx. Asher could stop these thugs in their tracks with his nudging, his special mind control ability. But as the only member of his family not to express the were-lynx gene, Finn had no preternatural abilities or superior strength. Just his brains, and right now that wasn’t counting for much.
He stretched his stride to catch up with the men holding Nissa, his heart pumping with determination.
It wasn’t enough. Without breaking a sweat, the two chasing him caught up and slammed him against the stone wall. “Hold him still,” one demanded.
“What is wrong with you?” Finn yelled. He imagined the men were on some kind of drug to display such strength and wild tempers.
One man holding him still laughed. “There’s nothing wrong with us. We’re just better than you. The girl belongs to us, and we’re taking her. You should never have butt in.”
Finn could have sworn he heard a barely perceptual growl in the guy’s voice. A chill ran through him, suspecting this group of Neanderthals was like his brother—were-cats—but unlike his brother in that their brand of cat was vicious and violent. “I know what you are.” He tried to yank away from the hold. He held his breath as he nearly slipped free.
But another one of them pressed him down to the ground and held tighter. The man narrowed his eyes and grimaced. “You couldn’t possibly imagine who you’re up against here.”
“Oooh, I’m really scared.” Finn rolled his eyes. “Let me guess, you’re the boogey man? Well, that would explain your face.”
One of the men holding Nissa motioned one of the others. “Help him hold the girl.” He stared at Finn. “Keep him still,” he commanded while striding closer. He squatted to the ground beside him and shoved Finn’s shirtsleeve up above his elbow. “You’re such a smart guy? We’ll show you another world you’ve never imagined.”
Finn fought back the terror igniting in his gut. “You can’t do this?” he hollered.
“Just watch us. It’s not going to be so fun for you, but we’ll enjoy it.”
Finn knew, just knew what they were threatening to do to him. They were going to initiate in him something that would destroy him. He would no longer be the person he’d always been, the non-were-lynx member of his family. He’d always been proud to be different from his brothers Asher and Kendall and his sister Lara. He was proud to be simply human.
“Finn!” Nissa screamed, wild and hysterical. “Stop it, just stop it.” She pulled free of the other two men and raised her fists.
Finn startled, watching her first drive a punch into one man, then roundhouse kick the other. Wow! She’s got quite a punch. His brain was going fuzzy, he was certain. From the corner of his eye he saw one of the men shimmer as he’d seen his brother shimmer, shifting into a were-lynx.
The were-lynx growled low, then sank his fangs into Finn’s arm. The bite burned. Shock roared through him. This couldn’t be happening. He knew what being bitten meant and he wanted no part of it. He willed his body to reject the serum in the were-lynx saliva. A cloud of sensations and images exploded in his mind.
No one held him down any more, but he lay on the ground, still, removed from the reality he was caught in. Removed from the whooping Nissa was raining down on the four men, essentially taking them out of commission simultaneously.
He attempted to get to his feet, but the sounds of tree limbs blowing in the late spring breeze and people’s voices from around the quad blared in his brain. He rolled back and forth on the ground as everything possible slammed into his senses. He put his hands over his ears, trying to block the onslaught of sounds. Scents assaulted him, strong and demanding attention. He had to close his eyes to an overwhelming tsunami of images his vision was picking up.
“Finn. We’ve got to get out of here.” Nissa’s soothing voice tamped down the earnestness lacing her words. “Can you stand? I’ll help you.”
Her long brown hair fell forward, blocking her face and raising her fragrance to his nose. In one whiff, her melon and seawater scent filled his head and he was rendered speechless. How had he missed this intensely beautiful scent before? They’d been collaborating on a research study for six months and he’d never thought of Nissa in a romantic way. She was all about the work and that was something he’d respected. He didn’t have time for romantic diversions, not when his brother’s life depended on him finishing his work. He hadn’t told her that he had a personal stake in finding the cure for the newly discovered disease they were researching. Giving her too many details would have potentially revealed his secret; his brother was sick with the disease that was only affecting individuals carrying were-lynx genes.
She tugged on his arm. “Finn, did you hear me? We’ve got to leave. Now.”
With her help, he stood and leaned on her shoulders as they sped to his car parked behind the GCD. The overwhelming intensity of scents and sounds and sights thundering in his brain wouldn’t let up, but he slipped into the passenger seat of his late-model Elantra and handed his keys to Nissa. She sprinted around to the driver’s side and pulled out of the parking lot. She glanced at him, her eyes stern.
“Hang on, Finn. We have to get away before those morons wake up. We can’t go to my apartment and it’s probably not safe to go to yours.”
His head lolled back against the seat. Muscles clenched and unclenched independent of his will, and pain screaming from clear down to his bones tortured his body. His skin burned hot and his mouth changed in and out of different shapes. He had to get control of himself. He knew only one way to do that in this moment, and began gulping in breaths, trying to settle his mind at least with meditative deep breathing.
Slowly, the passing landscape settled into a soothing blur. With each full breath in and out he came closer to acclimating to this amazing yet terrifying state of heightened senses and transformation of his physical body.
“I know where we can go,” he strained to say, startled again by the gravel in his voice. He handed his cellphone to Nissa. “Punch Asher’s number and let him know we need to meet him at his house. He’s my brother. He’ll give you directions.” Resting his head against the seat again, his sense of smell gave him a new detail. He hadn’t, couldn’t have, noticed before this transformation that unique scent wafting around her. He wouldn’t say anything to her about the implication. It was her story to tell. But the scent and her kick-ass ability with the men told him with almost certainty. Nissa was a were-cat.
IT WAS HER DAMNED FEAR of “what if” that had put Finn in danger, and now the unthinkable had happened. He’d been bitten and was turning into a were-lynx. A specific kind of were-lynx, for that matter. A very volatile and vicious kind.
She’d never met Finn’s family, so the call to Asher sent her nerves firing. With the directions in her head, Nissa kept her hands steady on the steering wheel and her eyes on the road ahead, but with her peripheral vision, she kept track of Finn. Her heart clenched, wanting so very much to take it all back. The morning, the secrets she’d kept from him, and now the gut-wrenching change he was suffering.
A quick look at him sent shudders up and down her spine. She didn’t need to ask if he was all right. Clearly, he was in agony. His teeth clenched as everything in his body grew into its new form. Arbitrarily in different places, his muscles bulged then retreated to their original size. He moaned and doubled over in his seat. It tore at her heart. “I’m sorry, Finn.” She rested a hand on his arm and nearly flinched. His metabolism was shifting into high gear and his body temperature was rising as a result.
He turned glazed eyes on her. Remarkable golden glazed eyes on her. The eyes she’d been captivated by since the first day she’d walked into his research lab. The eyes she’d been trying to ignore ever since. She knew he was a human, so there’d been be no point in developing anything but a coworker and friend relationship.
“You didn’t do anything, Nissa. Those screwballs had no right to strong-arm you.”
He closed his eyes and gritted his teeth. Her mouth went dry and she didn’t attempt a response.
He was right about the bullying were-cats. But he didn’t know the whole truth, and when he did, he’d surely agree with her. She was responsible for his predicament. Predicament? That’s a mild word for the complete transformation he was going through. Her heart thudded heavily. She should have told him all about herself and her colony, despite colony laws that prohibited it. The funny thing was the rules didn’t scare her, the what ifs—what if he reported her to some authority at the university and she lost her grant, what if he was afraid of her? What if he rejected her? Those were the fears that had kept her silent.
At the lane Asher had directed her to, she turned in and followed it a ways to a small but cute house sitting on the edge of open fields and a grove of trees. Before she could turn off the car and help Finn out, a young man bearing a remarkable resemblance to Finn walked out the front door, followed by a young woman with long dark hair and a quick step.
She climbed out of the car. “You’re Asher?”
“Yes,” he nodded, and motioned to the young woman. “This is Kennedy.” Then his eyes widened and he sprinted to the passenger side of the vehicle.
“What happened?” Asher asked her en route.
Nissa hesitated and he didn’t wait on her for an answer. He pulled open the car door and quickly reached for Finn.
“Finn, can you hear me, bro?” His gentle voice had an edge. Asher lifted Finn up and, while eyeing her, carried him inside as Kennedy held open the door.
Nissa sucked in a deep breath and followed inside. She’d detected their scents: were-lynxes.
“Put him on the couch,” Kennedy said, arranging the throw pillows to make him comfortable. Finn’s muscles stiffened and for a second his eyes shot daggers.
“Holy Chicago!” he spit out. His hands gripped the couch and Nissa heard a crunch as a piece of the arm broke. Two cats with gleaming black fur cruised by Asher and Kennedy and lifted their noses to smell Finn.
Kennedy picked up one and ran her hand over the cat’s head. “I work at a cat rescue, Cats Alive. We’re fostering these two cats, sisters Gem and Grace, until the right adopters come along.”
Nissa nodded, reserved. Kennedy seemed nice, but it was too soon to tell for sure how far that niceness would extend after the truth came out.
Another agonized moan filled the room, drawing all eyes to Finn.
Nissa twisted her hands, helplessness and regret swirling in her chest. This waking nightmare was hard to explain without telling everything. Asher’s question still hung in the air like a dark cloud.
Kennedy and Asher stood silent over Finn for what felt like forever. Each one sniffed the air, obviously picking up scents.
They knew. Of course, they knew she was a were-lynx. And she knew they’d also easily ascertained that Finn was well on his way to becoming one, too.
Asher slanted his head. “So you’re a were-lynx. Who are you and why is my brother wasted?
She cleared her throat. “I can explain. I want to.” She exchanged glances with first Kennedy, then Asher. Their expressions offered no clues as to what they were thinking. “But I need to talk to Finn first. Explain everything. He deserves to know.” She dropped her gaze to Finn and his feverish eyes touched her soul. He was like that. Capable of piercing insights and gentle kindness, while also nanosecond impatience and impetuousness. At least that was the man she’d known for six months. What he would be as the were-lynx he was becoming was unknown.
Kennedy wrapped an arm around Asher’s waist and both continued to stare at her as if she hadn’t finished her sentence. Silence hung heavy between them. She had to say something.
“Finn and I ran into some young men who were trying to capture me.”
“Capture you?” Asher’s eyes flashed with unblinking concern.
“Yes. Finn fought them.” She swallowed a hard lump in her throat and set her gaze on Asher, then Kennedy, attempting to deduce the dimensions of their hostility. But when she landed on Finns eyes, he reached out a trembling hand and she didn’t hesitate to drop beside him and take it.
“The guys were were-lynxes, very confrontational and determined.” He let out a ragged breath and drew in a shallow one, wincing. “One of them bit me. I guess I’m going be more like you, bro.”
Asher spoke low, each word emphasized deliberately. “You’re becoming a were-lynx.”
Finn shoved up to a sitting position on the couch. “Can you fix this?”
Asher knitted his brow. “Fix it?
“Make it stop. Before it’s too late, Asher. I don’t want to be a were-cat. How could this happen? I’m human, not were.”
Her heart in her throat, Nissa sat beside Finn, quietly folding into herself. How will he take it when he learns she’s one, too? Apparently, the lynx gene was in his family but he hadn’t expressed it. He was fine with being a human. Did that mean her fear he’d reject her if he knew all about her would now come true?
It didn’t matter. She had to come clean and deal with his reaction. It was what was best for them both. But right now it was important to attend to Finn’s health.
Asher perched on the edge of an overstuffed chair. “I don’t know what to do, Finn. I can see you’re having a hard time of it. It wasn’t like that for me.”
Kennedy spoke up. “Maybe it’s different because of your age. Were-lynx genes express typically at eighteen. You’re twenty-two. And maybe transforming because of a bite is more like being poisoned than simply expressing a natural part of yourself.”
Finn covered his ears. “I’m hearing so much. So many sounds, scents, sights. My brain can’t process it all. And to top it all off, I’m starving.”
Nissa jumped to her feet and planted her fists on her hips. “Listen to me, Finn. Just me. You can do this. I get that you don’t want this, this change. Maybe there is help to stop the process or reverse it. But if not, it is not the worst thing in the world to be a were-lynx.” She twisted her lips, conscious of all eyes on her. “I mean, it’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
“What?” Finn looked confused.
“Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean to say that outloud.”
The quiet all around felt palpable. She pursed her lips and couldn’t help but soften her eyes on Finn. The revelation concomitant in her rant bloomed slowly in Finn as she watched. He lifted his nose a tiny bit, naturally using his new heightened sense of smell.
“You’re a were-cat.”
Dare she touch him? She wanted to. She’d been walling herself off to any possibility of closeness during the months they’d been working together. Now that her biggest secret was out, power and confidence filled her. She stepped closer and cupped his face in her hands. “Yes. I am.”
His pupils dilated. That was to be expected, she told herself, dropping her hands before he could rip them away. He slanted his head and stared at her. It didn’t have to matter whether he accepted her now that he knew her true identity, she argued with the butterflies in her gut. Not as long as they could still work together. “I…I…Arrgh!” He doubled over again, but this time he passed out.
“Check his pulse,” Asher commanded.
She put her fingers to his neck and closed her eyes. The steady pumping at her fingertips connected with her own heartbeat in a strangely intimate moment. She released her breath, relieved. “His pulse is rapid, but steady and strong.”
Asher shared a glance with Kennedy and she nodded. “I’m going to move him into the guest bedroom.” He lifted Finn without effort and carried him down the hall. “You can follow if you want, and stay until he wakes up.”
“Thank you, I’d like to stay with him.” She watched Asher lay him on the queen-sized bed, noticing his gentleness with his brother. Her estimation of him went up a notch just from that observation. Finn never moved or even groaned, his sleep was so deep.
“It might be a while. If you need something feel free to ask.” He shook his head. “I can’t imagine the dreams he’s going to have. They’re going to be doozies.”
STARING FACE TO FACE WITH A HISSING, growling lynx, Finn zeroed in on the lynx’s large fangs. It was too late to run from this beast and panic burst in his chest as if he’d been struck with a bat. Not the time to shrink from danger. He leaned forward and swiped at the animal. He jumped. Whoa! His fist had become a huge, fur-covered paw with large claws.
“What the heck?” He sat up abruptly and rubbed his eyes. He spread his hands out in front of his face.
“You were dreaming.” It was Nissa, sitting across the room in a rocking chair.
“What?” He strained to orient himself. He felt things he couldn’t explain.
“You’ve been sleeping. You must have been dreaming. Whatever you saw in your dream startled you awake.” The tone of her voice was another question. Why was she speaking in monotone?
He stretched long and hard. “Wow, that felt great!” Nissa smiled, a tight, pert smile. Then his memory cleared. Shock registered in his brain, remembering the fight, the bite, the subsequent agony, the implications of the bite. “How long have I been asleep?”
“About three hours. We got here about five o’clock. It’s now eight. How are you feeling? Are you hungry?”
He swung his legs over the side of the bed. A jolt of energy innervated all of his muscles, and he sat with that glorious aliveness. “Am I glowing?” Laughter burst from his belly. “I mean, that sounds silly. It’s just that I feel so energized.”
Nissa chuckled. The sound must have been the sound of bliss, and nothing like anything he’d heard before, not even from her. “I understand.” Her eyes darkened. “Do you remember what happened to you?”
Birdsong outside the window danced in his head like tiny bubbles. His heart expanded to include those words, of all things. Tiny bubbles? But it was true. “Yes. One of those guys that tried to take you away bit me. He was a were-cat.” Her gaze dropped. “I’m now a were-lynx and so are you.” In his present condition he could hardly be angry with her for keeping a secret. Maybe later, when the ball dropped and he had to adjust to an entirely different life.
“I’m sorry, Finn. I couldn’t tell you anything. It’s against my colony’s laws. I couldn’t risk exposure. I didn’t know you carried the were-lynx gene.”
“You would have told me if you’d had that detail?”
Nissa twisted in her chair. “I don’t know. There are other things you don’t know about my family, my colony. You didn’t need to know and I did need to work with you. I don’t know if I would have risked it.”
She rose and walked to the open bedroom window, staring outside. A breezed glided in and lifted her glossy dark hair away from her face. Her scent, all fresh and delicate wafted in the room. A smile in his heart made its way to his lips. The coworker, friend relationship they’d shared began to bloom into something more.
But there was more to learn. He couldn’t let his newfound enhanced senses sweep him away into lala land. Facts were what he needed. Facts to help him navigate his new life.
“You said there was more I don’t know about you. Is that something I also don’t need to know?”
“No. I need to tell you, everything.” She pivoted to face him, her face an image of composure shaded with sorrow. It gripped his heart. She carried a heavy burden, one he’d only vaguely been aware of until this moment.
He patted the bed. “Come sit and let’s talk, okay?”
“I’d like that.” Beside him she drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I belonged to a Eurasian colony based in Italy. Of course you don’t belong to a colony, you’ve been human, not were. No need for a colony.” A pink blush colored her cheeks. “Sorry, I’m rambling.”
He thought the blush was cute. And he was accustomed to her rambling. It had been something about her he’d enjoyed while working. Her brain worked on high speed and thoughts jumped from one thing to the next effortlessly. It was what made her agreat asset to his work. “No, go on.”
“I’ve lived all of my life in the United States. My parents moved here before I was born to get away from our colony.” Pain slashed across her face. It bothered him. “You may know this but were-cats are highly evolved individuals. We don’t do damage to others humans or animals, and we respect the environment. But my colony is just the opposite. The males dominate and treat the females like subjects. Both males and females consider themselves superior beings of all other beings on the planet. They kill with little regard.”
Finn rubbed his chin. “I believe you. I got a taste of that from those guys in the quad. They bristled with testosterone, in an angry and self-aggrandizing way.”
“I’m so sorry about that. If I’d told you everything maybe you would have cancelled my grant or maybe you would have fired me and sent me away.”
“Or maybe I wouldn’t have.” He pinned her gaze with his. “You don’t know everything about me either.”
Tears wetted her eyes. “I couldn’t risk it. I have to work with you, Finn. The disease we’re working on relates directly to my sister’s life.”
“The muscle wasting disease? You knew I’ve been trying to make a cure for the were-lynx strain?” Incredulity dropped like a rock in his gut.
Her eyes widened. “No. You said we were working on the human disease. My grant is for studying its effects on other life forms. You knew that.”
“Yes, but I didn’t realize your subject focus was were-lynxes. Our research has focused on the disease’s presentation in human and generic animal populations.”
“Right. We’ve made great strides in those areas. My next step is to use our findings to research the disease in lynxes. I have to find a cure for my sister. There is so little time. But other members of my colony have become ill from the disease form that has adapted to lynxes and is killing them, slowly. I don’t think it’s contagious. Not all members have gotten sick.”
He dropped his gaze to his bare feet. “I know. My brother Kendall has contracted it. He grows weaker every week. I’m working to save his life. I haven’t told Asher or Lara yet because Kendall asked me not to.”
“The disease’s jump to were-cat populations is unusual. I don’t know of any other cases than my sister and those in my colony. That is why those thugs came for me. They want to control the cure. They want me to go back to Italy to work on it so they can watch me and make sure I don’t release it to other colonies.”
The truth of their mutual goal reverberated through him. He wasn’t the same man that he had been this morning. He didn’t know what effects of his transformation would inhibit his ability to continue his work, but he did know he had to continue. And now that he and Nissa were truly on the same page he couldn’t let anything get in his way, not even his need to learn how to manage his new life.
Asher strolled in, eyeing him carefully. “You’re awake. How are you feeling, little brother? Ready for food, I imagine. That’s one of the plusses of being a were-cat. Your high metabolism means you can, have to, eat a lot.”
“I feel different. There’s no pain right now. Of course, I haven’t shimmered yet. That ought to be a trip.” Finn couldn’t conceal the sarcasm in his voice.
“I don’t know how it will happen. For a biological were it’s easy and painless. But we’ll work on that later.” Asher darted a glance at Nissa. “Did you bring him up to speed about everything?”
Nissa’s chin raised a notch, and Finn smiled to himself. She wasn’t afraid to stand up for what she believed. “I’ve told him almost everything.”
“Almost everything?” Asher slanted his head. “Did you save the best for last?”
She shook her head. “No.” She aimed her lovely brown eyes at Finn. “I’ve told you my colony is not nice. Not all of us are like that, but most are. That’s why we left them. Many of the members carry a gene mutation that in humans some people call the warrior gene. In were-lynxes, that particular gene works in much the same way as in humans. They express higher levels of aggression and are easily and quickly provoked to violence.”
The implications of Nissa’s words were thick, gooey molasses spreading slowly through his body, bogging him down. “So these guys, the one who bit me, what kind of were-lynxes are they?”
“There is no way to know for sure without a gene analysis—”
“I know, I know. You’re talking to a geneticist, but you could deduce by observation. What kind is what’s his name?”
“His name is Demonte. Demonte, Galen, Renzo and Taryn attacked us. Demonte bit you. I’ve known them since childhood. And they are bullies. To be bitten by any one of them probably would alter your DNA to express Demonte’s version of were-lynx.”
Warring responses to this news jumbled his brain. Phrases echoed inside him. This isn’t fair! How dare Demonte ruin my life, steal it away in one vicious bite! I won’t change. I can get a transfusion and nothing will happen to me. His heart raced, nearly pounding out of his chest. He couldn’t look at any of them, especially not Asher. He didn’t want to see pity or judgement in his brother’s eyes. There was nothing he could do, not really, to change his fate now. Not even a transfusion could reverse the changes made to his DNA. That was just wishful thinking.
Asher put his hand on Finn’s shoulder. “This is not a death sentence, Finn. We’ll figure it out.” He pulled Asher to his feet and wrapped a hug around him. “I’ll be here for you.”
Kennedy joined them in the hug and drew Nissa in. “We all will be with you. But the first thing to do is eat. I know you’re famished.”
“As insanely absurd as it is considering what I’m facing, you’re right. My stomach is eating itself.”
“ALL YOU HAVE TO DO is set an intention to shimmer into your were-lynx form. Let it happen. It’s not going to hurt.” Nissa had to push Finn. It was for his own good. Days had passed since his transformation. He needed to perfect his were-lynx ability, most significantly, his ability to shift his form.
In Asher and Kennedy’s living room, familiar and comfortable ambiance surrounded him. She and Asher had planned it this way, knowing it should facilitate his success at shifting.
“Watch me.” Asher stripped off his shirt and unzipped his jeans before Kennedy shrieked.
“You can’t go naked right here in front of Nissa.”
“Colony members do it all the time. She’s used to it.” He slanted a grin at her. “I’m not shy.”
Nissa chuckled. “Actually, I didn’t grow up in the colony. But I’m not shy either. I know you need to strip to shimmer or you’ll tear your clothes.”
“I set my intention. I shimm…”
Asher stood in his bobcat form, shaking his spotted furry body from head to the tip of his bobbed tail. He chuffed and trotted closer to Finn, nudging him with his large head.
“Sure, he makes it look easy. He’s been shimmering for years.” He tweaked Asher’s ears. “You have been shimmering for years,” he repeated.
Nissa troubled her lower lip. Finn’s frustration was understandable, but she sensed it was more than inexperience that bothered him. She hugged Asher. “You’re so beautiful. It’s so good to see one of my kind. It’s been so long.” Thoughts of Celeste, her sick sister, plucked at her heart. Finn needed to get on task creating a cure for the were-lynx mutated gene receptor muscle wasting disease, or what he and Nissa referred to as MGMW.
“You might as well shimmer back, Asher. It’s not helping me.” Finn scrubbed his fingers through his hair. Its tangled blond locks grabbed her gaze. She’d admired his handsome good lucks for months, but he’d been simply a coworker, a very sexy coworker. But watching him transform she’d seen a vulnerable, endearing part of him. She’d willing moved closer to him to help him through this hard period, and now she was hooked. He’d been someone to hide from. Someone to use to get what she wanted. The cure to save Celeste. But now that she’d seen his genuine passion for living his own way and his sorrow over losing it to become something else, she couldn’t lie to herself any more about her feelings. Yes, she needed him to create a cure. But more than that, she was not about to let him lose himself: Finn straight up and undaunted.
“Finn, it’s getting late. How about you take a break?” She nudged him with her shoulder. “Take a walk with me?”
Outside beyond Asher’s and Kennedy’s back yard, Finn ambled past the hedge into an open field. He stood about a head taller than her. His scent drifted to her and filled her head with its woodsy aroma. She looked up into his face. “It’s nice out.” She stopped before she added, here with you. He’d never made the slightest indication of interest in her.
They walked without speaking toward the burbling creek in the distance. Everything in her tuned to Finn. She didn’t need to look at him to know he was near, she could sense him. That was her special ability beyond heightened lynx abilities. But she could see him well—the expanse of his broad shoulders, his muscled chest and arms, his long, muscular legs—with her lynx vision in the dark anyway. A crescent May moon lit the grassy field in a subtle glow. As they entered the shadows cast by the trees in the grove, she stopped. She swallowed hard and faced Finn.
He shoved back a lock of his hair behind his ear. The gesture paused time, and she took in the angles of his face, his classically defined nose and lips. Framed by his sleek, almost too-long hair, he made her heart stutter. Say something.
“Umm…we need to talk.” Her breath froze as she anticipated a flippant remark from Finn.
But he stood still, looking at her with true interest and saying nothing.
She breathed in and out, reaching for the just-right words to help him cross the bridge. “I’m sorry for what’s happened to you.” He opened his mouth to speak but she pushed on. “I’ve known you as a brilliant scientist. A very alive man. A man devoted to his work and to living his life under his own terms. I’ve admired all those things in you.”
Wind whispered through the grove of trees, spreading moist scents of earth and water into the air. Finn stepped closer. Her heart sighed. But no, this could not be a romantic moment, even though everything in her but her feet moved toward him.
“I have to ask you to trust me. Can you do that? I’m going to be direct and forthright with you.”
He slanted his head and looked up. “Sounds ominous.” His gaze slipped slowly down to meet her eyes. “I’m not angry with you, Nissa. We both have kept secrets for months. We had reasonable reasons to do so. I just don’t like the consequences of your colony mate’s actions. I’m having a hard time adjusting. But yes, I can trust you. Tell me what’s on your mind.”
This was the Finn she’d known. A great problem solver and uniquely confident man. So that much had remained the same. “You’re still you. Becoming a were-lynx is startling, but it doesn’t mean you can’t continue to define your life and live a life that is true to your personality and ideals.”
She took his hands in hers, trembling at the electric charge of his touch. “I believe what’s holding you back, making the transition harder, is your reluctance to let go of your former life.”
Finn closed his eyes and arched his neck. He lifted his lids and hollered. “I like my life, my former life, as you called it. I can’t imagine turning into some kind of maniacal beast, like Demonte.” He spread his arms wide and dropped to his knees, sobbing. “I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Nissa knelt beside him, relief flooding through her. She knew this tough moment was what he needed. If he could acknowledge his loss and sit with it for however long it took to get through the wall of despair, “he’ll be all right.”
His head jerked to attention. “What did you say?”
She bit her lip. “I said you’re going to be all right. Sorry, sometimes I speak out loud when I don’t mean to. It’s a glitch in my brain.” She chuckled uneasily. “It’s true, though. You don’t know what to expect. Your life has been turned topsy turvy. But you’re facing the unknown, the loss, and the best parts of you can thrive and embrace the were-lynx in you. It’s going to be an exploration. Just like in the lab. You’ve already improved your ability to manage your new heightened senses.”
“Hmm… That part is coming along quickly.” Her brown eyes sparkled in the dark at him, making his heart lurch. “You’re really something, you know that?”
Nissa smiled, then quickly the smile disappeared. “Focus, Finn. Now, you’re going to shimmer.”
He chuckled. “Right.”
“I’m serious. You have to use your confidence. Set your intention, then expect it to happen.”
“OH WHAT THE HELL.” He stripped down to his boxers and stared into her soft expression. She believed in him. He could use that, as well. Finn pulled in full, deep breaths. His nostrils flared, allowing more of the fresh night air to fill his lungs. “I’m a were-lynx.” He let the statement swirl up from his feet, into his legs, and swept throughout his torso, limbs, and heart. A rush, like a brisk gust of wind, expanded his intention. It took hold and he settled into the transformation of his body as a natural movement.
His eyes flashed open as if ready to see anything and everything. His heart pounded robust beats. His blood raced through his body, filled with exhilaration and sense of power. He closed his eyes again and his entire body thrust aside his human side and swiftly and nearly without effort glided into a bobcat, just like Asher and Lara.
The bliss in his body crystalized, as he fully inhabited his new form. As he did, his breathing slowed, his heart thudded ponderously. He was strength and power.
Nissa lifted her hands to her lips, awe streaming out of her like bubbly champagne. “You did it. You did it, Finn. You’re magnificent.”
He didn’t know the etiquette among lynxes for touching. His body ached to brush her leg with his body. But probably Nissa should make the first move, and she hadn’t taken a step.
He pivoted on his back feet and sprinted out into the field, away from Nissa and the forest. Adrenaline pumped through him and he ran faster and faster. Before he knew it he’d put about a mile between them. He slowed his pace to turn and look at her. Laughter burbled in his belly and when he opened his mouth a loud yowl rolled out.
She stepped into the woods for a moment and when she walked back into the clearing she’d shimmered to her lynx form.
She’s an Iberian lynx. She’s so beautiful. He wanted to close the distance instantly, so he sprinted to her. The sound of wind in his ears, the musty scent of nature all around him, and the lovely sight of Nissa propelled him unrestrained.
Again, he closed the mile quickly and stepped up to her side. She stopped and chuffed. It echoed in the field and he chuffed in reply. They trotted side by side back in the direction of the grove. Immersion in nature and the delightful closeness of Nissa enlivened him as he’d never been.
Nissa stopped mid-strive, frozen to the spot. He pawed at her shoulder gently, but she remained still. His brain went to work, sorting through thoughts. She seemed drawn in to herself. Then he remembered. She was drawn in, using her ability to sense the presence of others.
In unison, they sniffed. A new scent had invaded their clearing. The breezes announced intruders by carrying the unfamiliar scent to Finn’s nose. Muffled sounds of feed pounding on ground told him to get moving or be prepared to meet the intruders.
Nissa chuffed again and motioned with her head toward Asher’s house, but then a menacing growl echoed around them. The four malevolent were-cats that had changed him emerged in human form from a group of bushes about one hundred yards away.
Demonte. The sight of the were-lynx elicited a growl low in Finn’s chest. Nissa nudged him again, but her touch hardly penetrated the instinct to eliminate the four lynxes approaching. Like a tight rubber band releasing, Finn tore off to meet the approaching were-lynxes. Driven by rage and desire to fight, he sped toward them even as the four shimmered into lynxes. Without hesitation, Finn used his back legs to thrust himself at Demonte, batting him mercilessly in the head with his front paws and encircling his upper body in a tight hold. Demonte broke from the hold and took defensive steps back away from Finn. It was the wrong move, because it only sent a sense of power through him, thrilled with the upper hand. He dove into Demonte’s body and grabbed his neck in his jaws. Demonte turned onto his back and lambasted Finn’s gut with his feet. Another one of them jumped on Finn, pulling him off Demonte and circling him with the other three were-lynxes.
He heard pounding footfalls rapidly approaching. He caught Nissa’s scent along with Asher’s and Kennedy’s and suspected they would prove a distraction for the others around him. As his opponents prepared for an attack, Finn ran to meet his fellow were-cats. The thrill of speed refueled him and he almost ran into Asher before skidding to a stop. Asher chuffed and nodded toward the approaching group. Without hesitation, Finn took the lead, kicking up clods of dirt and grass in his wake. Highly focused on his prey, he zoomed in on Demonte, expecting the others to tackle the Galen, Renzo, and Taryn. A quick glance over his shoulder told him otherwise.
Asher, Kennedy, and Nissa were fast, but they hadn’t kept up with him. Oh well, I’ll take on Demonte alone anyway. He narrowed his eyes on Demonte and took a challenge stance. “Yowl.” The sound of his own were-cat voice amazed him. He could do anything.
Demonte stared at him, growling but not moving.
Finn’s muscles twitched and bulged, eager to exact retribution. A hard hit from his left knocked the breath of him.
What? Didn’t see that coming.
He stood to wobbly feet, but before he could get control of himself another hard hit from his right sent him sprawling. Stunned, he watched as Asher leaped at Demonte, rolling and rolling with him on the ground. Kennedy rammed her head into another one of the remaining three and lifted him into the air, sending him sailing a few feet uncontrollably.
Finn’s breath stalled. Nissa released a loud, piercing yowl, over and over, rolling at the end into a growl. He jumped to his feet again, wanting to, needing to keep her safe. Without thought he dashed between the other were-lynx and Nissa, knocking him to the ground with a solid thwack!
But it wasn’t enough. Rage still rammed through his body, compelling him to continue hitting the lynx until he bloodied and rolled onto his back, whimpering.
Heaving with heavy breaths, he stopped. The fight was over. Asher stood over the group of were-lynxes eyeing them. They each stood and shimmered into men. Docile men standing still with glazed expressions.
Asher was nudging them, Finn realized. The fight was over and he hadn’t done enough damage to Demonte or any of the intruders. He growled, long and low.
Nissa chuffed, grabbing his attention. Her glittering eyes grabbed his brain and he nodded. Hell if knew for sure, but it seemed as though she was trying to tell him it was time to stop.
As a unit, they four men grabbed their clothes and slipped them on, then they headed toward Asher’s house like obedient slaves.
Finn took a cue from Nissa, who trotted into the woods to her clothes. He stopped a few feet away and dressed. Adrenaline kept him ramped up. He couldn’t sustain the level of anger without blowing apart. He gulped air, trying to calm himself. Oh, my god! This is what Nissa prepared me for—losing myself in the temper and desire to kill the were-lynx from her colony.
Inside the house, Asher called Casey, the leader of his colony of were-cats. Casey would handle the situation, Finn knew. That’s what colony leaders do. They command the members and the members comply. That was one reason he’d never liked the concept a colony. He’d worked hard over the years to build his life on his own terms, free of his family’s interference or any rules of a colony. Of course, he’d never been a were-cat up until now. Still, it remained his life to figure out and live as he chose. It just got more complicated, though. And if he were honest, he’d have to admit that he hardly recognized himself at this point.
Asher slapped him on the back, interrupting his reflection. “Boy, you are fast!”
“I noticed.” Finn could see something in Asher’s eyes he’d never seen there before. It looked a lot like pride.
“No, I mean you are beyond fast.” Asher shook his head. “All the were-cats in my colony are fast, but you, you blew them out of the water. It looked effortless, from what I could see.”
Finn frowned. “What do you mean, what you could see?”
“You blurred, Finn. It was amazing.”
He slanted his head but couldn’t suppress a grin. It felt good to learn that maybe he had an edge. “You mean I have an ability? Speed?”
“Let’s not call it speed,” Kennedy said. “Let’s call it what is. Blurring.”
Nissa laughed. “That sounds right to me, Finn. You can blur.”
SITTING AT HER KITCHEN TABLE in her condo, Nissa could see despite Finn’s assurances, he was having a hard time. Her heart reached out to him. They’d attempted to work in the lab earlier in the day, but they’d made little progress. Time was ticking off like a stopwatch, counting down the seconds and minutes until it would be too late for her sister or Finn’s brother. Despite that, she wanted to press a pause button on life and be by his side, support him as he searched for himself in an unfamiliar world.
His dark T-shirt accentuated his muscled chest and hard abs. Yes, he’d gotten sexier with his transformation. Physically, that is. She’d always found his wit and spirit and genius sexy as hell. She’d kept her professional and personal distance because of their differences. But now, there was no reason for reserve. They’d gone through the hell of his transformation as well as shared in the pain of potentially failing at creating a cure. They had a bond.
“Finn, you can stay for dinner, if you like.” She tried to capture his downcast gaze. “You can spend the night, too, if you like. There’s room in the guest bedroom.”
He raised his head, flashing his golden eyes at her with uncensored relief. “I would like that.” He reached his hand across the table and grasped hers. “I’m sorry about flaking out today. The lack of a cure frustrates me so much.”
His gritted teeth and low rumble in his chest signaled her to his most difficult challenge. Finding himself despite the compelling urge to turn into a vicious lynx. “I know it’s frustrating. There is so much at stake. But we’ll figure it out.” He tore away his gaze, avoiding her eyes. “I believe in you, Finn. In who you are and always will be. A man of high intelligence, integrity, and grit. You’re just also going to be a powerful were-bobcat.”
On his feet in a whisper, he reached her side in a nanosecond and pulled her to her feet. His eyes glistened down on her, full of something beautiful and sweet. He didn’t speak. He closed his eyes and drew down to her lips. Her heart racing, she waited for him to touch her, and when he did, she melted into his body, his kiss.
His lips burned her with his heat. Gently, he let his passion flow and devoured her mouth. It sent her heart pounding and her blood coursing briskly through her body. She responded with equal passion to his kiss, his delicious kiss.
Breathless when he pulled back, she smiled up at him. “That was very nice.”
She put her fingers to his lips to stop his apology. “Don’t say it.” She arched up to his lips, focusing on their sensuous shape.
He dipped his head to meet her half way, and warmth and affection rolled over her again, taking her under as if washed by a thundering ocean wave.
She drew away from the kiss and rested her head against his chest. The sound of his heart beating in his chest steadied her. Words pushed to be spoken, but she couldn’t let them escape her lips. Not yet. Finn needed time.
He whispered in her ear. “I think I’m falling for you, Nissa.”
Without looking up from his chest, she smiled.
FINN BRUSHED HIS HAIR out of his eyes and spat onto the ground of the sparring rink at the gym. The taste of blood on his lips and pained places in his body weren’t what was driving his anger, tensing his muscles. No, a little blood and a little pain were nothing. The fury building in his gut came from acknowledging that his brother was right.
“Put up your fists, Finn. This isn’t supposed to be a joke.” He saw his brother’s yellow eyes twinkle while he struggled to hide a smug grin.
“Shut up, Asher. I’m not laughing.” He raised his gloved fists in front of his face and took a fighting stance. He stood still, allowing a low growl to rumble in his throat. “Oooph!” Asher’s left jab to his stomach ended the growl with a gasp for air. “That’s cheating,” Finn managed to sputter.
Asher shoved his gloved hands onto his hips. “Cheating? What have I told you, Finn, over and over?”
“Lots of rules.”
“Rules?” Asher’s eyes flashed and a degree of satisfaction swelled in Finn’s chest. He’d gotten under his brother’s skin. “Following good techniques, not arbitrary rules, will keep you alive in combat. You must always be ready, never let down your guard. If you do for just one second, your opponent will take that moment to rip out your heart. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want that to happen.”
“Of course I don’t want to die or lose a fight. But I don’t need all this technique stuff. I’m a were-lynx. I have powers. I’m fast.”
Asher sighed and Finn gritted his teeth. He knew he was letting his brother down, but it didn’t matter. He had to be himself. He didn’t need any help from Asher. He’d had to do without his older brother’s support during his teen years when their parents had sent Asher away at eighteen. Asher had no idea how life was for him after he and Lara left.
“Yes. You have powers. You have all the heightened senses of a lynx. You’re agile, stealthy. Just as the rest of Casey’s colony members are. And you have superior motor skills and are so fast you can blur. But it’s not enough. You need to train and you need to be disciplined. I can see—”
Finn slammed his fist into Asher’s face. His brother barely flinched but at least he’d stopped his incessant preaching. “You must always be prepared, bro,” he mocked.
In a flash, Asher had a headlock on him. Finn gritted his teeth and shimmered. In his lynx form, he twisted in Asher’s grip and instantly leaped on his back, fiercely growling and spitting. Pride welled inside his chest. He’d bested his brother and he’d shifted without missing a beat, which was saying something because his were-bobcat skills were still new to him. Asher should be proud of him, too, but he didn’t look very pleased lying on his back staring up into Finn’s fangs.
A swift swipe of Asher’s arm was a two-by-four slamming against Finn’s body. He flew across the rink, but he righted himself to land on his feet. A quick shimmer and he stood naked, his workout shorts in pieces on the mat where he’d initially shimmered. “Can’t take a joke, huh?”
Asher stood and grabbed a towel from the rink’s rope and tossed it to him. “I don’t want to argue with you, Finn. I know you’re a powerful were-cat. But your abilities are new, untested. I don’t want something to happen to you. After all the years you weren’t in my life, I want you to stick around for a good, long while. Not get killed in battle.”
Finn sputtered. “There are no battles. The war with The Nexus Group is over, has been for two years.” He spread his arms wide. “Look around. The community has rebuilt and life is better than before Project Powering caused so much destruction. We’re safe.” He hung his head as the truth of his past and his present reverberated through him. He’d almost lost his cool and killed Demonte a few days ago. “I know I’m new at this life. Don’t you know how hard it is to realize every time I attempt a shimmer it might not work? Or that if I get upset I may spontaneously shimmer at in inappropriate time and alert the humans again of our presence? Or worse, that I may not be able to tame the beast inside me compelled to create chaos and death?”
Asher nodded. “I don’t know, Finn. It was different for me. I’m amazed you haven’t gone nuts, frankly. But you’re wrong about being safe. You of all people should know how fleeting safety is. Just days ago you became a were-lynx and now your life is in danger from the members of Nissa’s colony. Casey is negotiating with that colony to resolve the issue that she’s not returning to them and that we have four of their members. But it’s very fragile and they’re unreasonable. They’re hostile.”
Finn’s gut wrenched into tight knots. He knew, all right. He just didn’t want to think about it. “I can handle those cats.”
Asher glared. “Okay, let’s say you can. But you forget that human history tells us it is unwise for were-cats to let down our guard and sit back and relax. Anything different represents a threat to humans and they will respond with fear and violence. You need to be prepared with everything you have, not just expect to be stronger, faster, and more adept at controlling danger. It’s why the ancient rules forbid exposure of our true identities and why,” he leaped across the mat and made out to punch Finn, “we train.”
He feinted and avoided the hit. “Don’t press your luck. I’m twenty-two, you’re twenty-five, you old man. Anything you can do, I can do better.” The look on Asher’s face, his trademark half-grin, told him his brother wasn’t fazed.
“Oh, yeah?” Asher started dancing around him, shadow-boxing and laughing. “Let’s go another round and see if you stand behind your bravado … without shimmering.”
“Boys, boys.” Kennedy walked in from the locker room, grabbing Finn’s attention. He didn’t want to ogle his brother’s fiancé, but she was hard to ignore. Though slender and beautiful, beneath the attractive exterior was a powerful were-lynx. “Who’s winning?” she asked as Asher took advantage of the distraction to drive a jab into his chin. “Whoa, Finn, you left yourself wide open. Want me to show you some moves?”
Finn moaned. “You, too, Kennedy? It’s not enough that my brother bests me, his fiancé wants a go at me as well?”
Kennedy crossed her arms across her chest. “You think because I’m a woman I can’t win a sparring round? You silly were-bobcat.” She pursed her lips sweetly, but Finn heard a growl roll in her throat, and vivid images of her were-lynx power hammered his heart.
“I know better than that, Kennedy. Besides, I’m done for the day.” He held the towel close to his body, keenly aware of his nakedness under the towel and ducked under the ropes heading to the locker room for a quick shower and clothes.
Finn stood facing his reflection in the mirror and tried to see deep inside him where his bobcat self lurked. The face in the mirror was his face, nothing like his fur-covered other face. Golden eyes rimmed in brown did nothing to give him away, either. They looked back at him as though nothing had changed. He was still Finn, the youngest of his two brothers and sister.
But he was not the same. Not since that day he’d been bitten. That day seemed years ago. Working in the lab seemed ages ago. The thought heavied his heart. He’d been forced off track, but his brother’s life still depended on him. He grabbed his phone from the locker and called Kendall.
“Hi.” The weakness in his brother’s voice clenched his heart. “Sorry I haven’t been in touch in a few days. Something unexpected happened. How are your symptoms?”
Kendall cleared his throat. “Finn, whatever happens to me, I’m grateful for all you’ve done. I probably should start thinking about telling Mom and Dad and Lara.” His voice trailed off in a strained whisper.
“Kendall, I’m not going to let you die. You hang on. I need you, man.” His voice broke. He struggled to compose himself. “You rest. I’ll talk to you later.”
Finn slammed his fist into the wall, breaking off chunks of plaster and wood. He walked into the shower, appreciating every drop of water slushing over his body. The Finn he’d been was gone. He wasn’t ever going to be that guy again. It was a hard truth but he knew coming to grips with that was his only way forward. And forward he must go in order to achieve success in his lab and save his brother’s life.
STUDYING CELLS UNDER A MICROSCOPE, Nissa sensed before she heard and smelled Finn in the building. Knowing he was on his way sent shivers rolling through her body. His scent was fresh but all Finn, the were-cat.
“Hey,” he said, bursting into the room. “You beat me here.” He dropped his briefcase and stepped up to Nissa. The brush of his skin against her arm instantly warmed her. “How are you?”
“Better now.” His eyes glittered and he bent his head to kiss her. His lips gently brushed hers, then he opened his mouth and darted his tongue into meet hers.
Heaven, she thought.
He pulled back and sat on the stool beside her at a lab table. “I’ve been thinking about MGMW. We’ve isolated the mutated gene receptor.”
“Yeah, weeks ago. Did you find something new?” Hope dared to lift its head.
He nodded, thoughtful. “We also looked at a possible cause for the mutation and didn’t find anything definitive.”
“We analyzed DNA samples from subjects and couldn’t find anything irregular. What are you getting at?”
“We agree this disease, which is somewhat like polio, is not a natural mutation. Which means someone deliberately altered the receptor and induced the muscle wasting disease in were-cats only.”
“You’re just restating everything we already know.” Impatience put an edge to her words. “We’re sitting doing nothing and meanwhile Celeste is getting weaker every day.”
Finn rubbed his thumb across his chin. “Only some were-cats are succumbing to the disease. We rejected the theory that the mutation was created with a man-made chemical because all of our tests proved otherwise. But I think we should consider that again. We know from experience that The Nexus Group in the past formulated a drug to create warriors. That project was nixed. But you’ve said your colony members naturally carry a warrior gene.”
Finn’s face lit up. She couldn’t help but get caught up in his enthusiasm. “Just tell me, Finn. What have you discovered?”
“I am suggesting that we are dealing with a manmade product meant to trigger this disease in certain were-cats. Those who do not carry the warrior gene. Average cats. And we know the subjects have lived in different places across the planet. I don’t think the disease spreads from individual to individual, the subjects are widely dispersed.”
“You believe whoever created this product made it an aerosol. One they disperse in targeted areas.” Nissa’s words sped through here lips. “But why do this?”
The answer to their questions jumped from one thought to another in Finn’s brain, connecting the dots. “Your colony is trying to upset the balance between average were-cats with a product aimed at killing were-lynxes who are peaceful and reasonable.”
Her hands went to her mouth. “My gosh. We didn’t compare any warrior gene subjects with average subjects. We would have had to enlarge our subject focus and test for the warrior gene. We wouldn’t have thought of that without Finn’s run in with Demonte.” She shook her head. “My colony is out to become the dominant were-cats on the planet. Since most were-lynxes don’t carry the warrior gene, the disease is slowly spreading to the larger population as the chemical is released in different geographic areas.”
“If this hypothesis is true, we can use DNA samples from Demonte, Galen, Renzo, and Taryn to isolate a cure.”
Tears blurred Nissa’s vision. “Finn, this is the most promising thing I’ve seen in months. When can we start?”
FINN SLUMPED INTO NISSA’S COUCH and let his head drop against the back. He closed his eyes and breathed in her scent that was an elixir of beauty, heart, and soul. How could he have been so wrong? Wrong about his life, his purpose, his fate. And most of all, his revulsion for being a were-cat?
“What are you smiling about?” Nissa sat on the couch next to him and rested her head on his shoulder. He could hear her heart pounding, full of life, in her chest. Her soft breaths, steady and strong, pronounced for him the truth. He loved Nissa.
He opened his eyes and looked into hers. The dark brown pools swirled with emotion and pulled him closer, asking him to promise her what she deserved.
“I’m tired, Nissa. We’ve worked long, hard hours. But we’re very close to being able to aerosolize the cure. I suspect at this rate we’ll be able to administer it to Celeste and Kendall in about two days.”
She stretched up to place a soft kiss to his lips. “We’ve made a good team.”
He stroked her dark hair, luxuriating in its softness. “You saved my life.”
She sat up abruptly. “What? What are talking about?”
“I have spent so much of my life focusing like a laser on my career. I’ve had few friends, colleagues who shared my ambition, and that lifestyle was fitting for my goals. I knew from my teen years that I was lucky. I was not a were-cat. I was different from everyone else in my family and I loved that. I could live a normal life. I was the one who would make something grand of my life. That’s what I thought.” He shook his head, amazed at his misconceptions.
“You have lived a good life. I still don’t understand, Finn.”
“I fought the transformation. I grieved the destruction of life as I’d known it. I hated Demonte and what he’d done to me. But you helped me to embrace my true self. I didn’t know I’d been living a small life until I fully accepted my were-lynx side, and when I did, the world opened up in a remarkable way. So much bigger than I could ever have imagined. Because of that bite and your support, I’ve found myself, who I really am and want to be. And best of all, I’ve found you, my love.”
He stood and pulled her to her feet. “I love you, Nissa Bello. I want to get to know all about you. There are problems, I know. I’ll have to continue to learn how to manage my compulsion toward anger and violence. I will find a way to conquer it.”
Nissa cupped his face and he moaned with pleasure. “I love you, Finn Monroe. I was so sad for you when you were forced into the transformation. I didn’t want that for you because you didn’t want it. But for myself, I was happy the obstacles to getting close to you, without holding back, disappeared with your former life.”
Finn laughed heartily. “I adore you. Thank you, Nissa, for finding me.”
Books From The Author
DANCING WITH DETECTIVE DANGER
ALWAYS AND FOREVER LOVE
Author Website –
A short story loosely connected to the Fierce Hearts series’ were-lynx colony. Asher Monroe’s younger brother Finn has never had any trouble accepting his human identity despite Asher’s extraordinary were-lynx abilities and rich life with the colony. In fact, Finn loves his life as a research scientist and living on his own terms. But when a disease that is targeting were-lynxes brings a group of violent were-lynxes to town to threaten his research partner, Nissa Bello, his life is changed forever.