She should have turned and bolted before the fog cleared, or at least after she got a good look at the transformed Raynor. But she couldn’t move an inch. He was magnificent, as physically attractive in his own way as his human counterpart. Thick black hair covered his massive body. He was a beautiful male animal, in the truest sense.
Briana’s wandering eyes went there
, to his male organ, which she’d avoided visual contact with earlier. While she stared, it rose slowly, pushing aside the hair hiding its large size. Her breath came in short pants and she swiped at her mouth. She was shocked when she glanced down at her hand. Spittle shone on the back of it. She was drooling!
She stumbled back a step. “What’s happening to me?” she shouted, strangely unafraid of the beast facing her.
A thick, guttural, barely human voice came from the wolfman. “You are my mate. Come to me.” It waved a furry hand at her.
Briana didn’t know if she was dreaming or going insane, but the fact that she did want to step into his embrace and wrap her legs around his hairy body shocked her to the core. This attraction terrified her, unlike his physical appearance, which she should have been frightened of, but wasn’t. Real or not, she couldn’t deal with this horror in any form.
Finally, Briana broke from her paralysis. Running swiftly past the beast, she entered another tunnel that shot into the dark. Unknown territory. She didn’t know why she hadn’t run back the way she’d come in, but something pulled at her to continue in this new direction.
She ran for a full minute or so before she heard his voice calling to her. It sounded fully human; he must have metamorphosed back into the handsome Raynor.
Putting an extra spurt of energy into her run, Briana almost stumbled when she screeched to a halt upon entering another rocky room. This one was large, but strangely, several large comfortable-looking couches lined one wall, and three heavily upholstered throne-like chairs faced the couches.
Turning, she quickly surveyed the room, surprised to see an arched opening, its foot-wide facing carved with strange etchings. The elegant markings looked like writing. What lay beyond the arch was just as surprising. The sight of trees and low-growing bushes met her eyes. For a second, she was completely disoriented, then realized this must be some type of interior garden. Maybe, there’d be a place she could hide from the man/beast. His voice echoed; he seemed but mere feet away. Without hesitation Briana ran into the courtyard.
* * * *
“Briana.” He called her name over and over, to no avail. Raynor stepped into each of the tunnels which connected to the room. Her scent was in none of them. Lifting his head higher, he followed the scent of faint perfume to the edge of the portal.
He stared into a scene of ancient times. Heavy, jungle growth overran the area he could survey, and a six-foot-tall dinosaur ran by on strong, swift back legs. “No,” he whispered aloud. “You cannot have gone there.” She would not survive in such a world, alone and unaware of her powers.
Turning quickly, he headed for the central passage, going through its tortuous path in record time.
The large inner sanctum was pleasant; its many pieces of heavily padded couches and chairs, plus several lush carpets underfoot, made it a welcome abode.
And a comfortable dwelling for the elders, who guarded the cave and the time portal.
“You are distressed, my son. Did your mate not come?” Bhaskar, the eldest and wisest of the three shapeshifters, spoke. His tall, slender form was swathed in a guardians’ ceremonial robe; his flowing white hair stark against the black material.
“Yes, but she ran into the portal.”
“What?” Chao asked with alarm, his heavy Mediterranean accent evident even in that one spoken word.
“Explain,” Gorna, the female elder encouraged kindly.
Raynor paced, his agitation too forceful to contain at a standstill. “She acted peculiar when she arrived. In fact,” he eyed each in turn, “she acted like she didn’t know what she was…nor did she have any idea who I was.”
“This is very unusual.”
“Stranger still,” he looked Bhaskar in the eye. “She freaked out when I changed.”
“Freaked out?” Gorna turned to Bhaskar, her waist-length ice-blue locks fanning out around her as she moved.
“Was terrified,” he answered. Turning to Raynor, he said, “Gorna doesn’t get out much. I’m afraid the language of younger people confuses her.”
Raynor bowed to Gorna. “I apologize.”
“Father,” he addressed Bhaskar with the fullest, most respectful title, one reserved for the wisest of elders. “Do you know why my mate would be so terrified of seeing my werewolf form?” He paused for a heartbeat. “I suspected she might have bumped her head, but I’m not sure.”
“We must read her scent,” Chao stated, getting up swiftly for one so old; the others followed just as spryly.
It didn’t take long for them to gather in front of the portal, but it took much longer for the elders to sniff the air repeatedly and whisper in argumentative tones.
“We smell no injury, my son.”
Raynor stared with surprise at the leader. “Then what is wrong with her?”
“We sense an uninitiated.” Bhaskar paused, confusion in his red-brown eyes. “Also, she was never imprinted on us.”
“What?” He stumbled over his words. “How can that be, Father?” He knew as well as the elders, shapeshifters came into their first shifting around the time of puberty. And imprinting—all shifters were brought to the elders for this ceremony within two years after their birth.
“Remember your first shifting, Raynor? It is not only a natural part of our being, the young must be guided by an experienced shifter.”
“What are you saying?”
The three glanced at each other, then back to him. “Many years ago, there was a young couple who left their clan…they’ve never been heard from since. The elders’ council picked up their essence through the years, but we’ve not sensed them in fifteen years.”
“I did not know this was possible.”
“Oh, very possible.” Gorna chuckled. “But very unwise. To be alone without support of the clan members amongst so many humans…”
She did not need to finish her sentence. All shapeshifter children were brought up to believe in the unity of the clan. It was central to their survival.
“How—why would they do this?” he asked. Why would any shapeshifters leave their clan and endanger themselves or any children to the humans?
Bhaskar shrugged. “Who knows for sure? Perhaps they were rebels.”
“Or maybe they didn’t wish to be shifters,” Raynor stated. He was horrified at such a thought. His parents had been enthusiastic teachers of their ways; it was hard to imagine shifters who did not wish to share their rich heritage with their children.
“Where did you hear this?” The leader’s expression was concern exemplified.
“Rumors have a way of making the rounds.” He shook his head. “All this time, Fathers, I thought it simply another myth about our people.” His voice was hesitant when he asked, “You think she is the daughter of this couple?” If this were true, how sad for poor Briana. To never have known the love and caring of the clan, the history of the Reeshon, and to never experience the thrill of shifting—it was unfair that she had missed all these wondrous practices and knowledge.
“Yes,” Bhaskar nodded. “The entrance to the cave would not have opened, as well you know, if she were not a shifter. She would not even have seen it.”
“Then how?” Raynor was truly puzzled over his mate, a shifter who was not truly a shifter, not yet at least.
Gorna picked up the thread of the conversation, “Her parents either died before teaching her to shift, or they chose not to teach her.” Her sharp blue eyes became slightly sad. “Certainly, her parents never brought her for the imprinting.”
He looked perturbed. “What would this do to her—failing to shift and denying her nature?”
Bhaskar’s face was solemn. “She would be a restless spirit, never feeling as if she truly belonged anywhere. She would find no human male to her liking for long. And she would hear her mate’s call as only a distant song, not a deep yearning she could not resist.”
Raynor nodded in instant understanding. He’d often wondered over the past few years why it had taken so long for his mate to respond. When he’d discerned her presence nearby at last, he’d come to the Cave of Immortality to await her arrival.
“I must go after her.”