Wishes & Dreams, book #5
Date Published: 03-01-2022
Orphaned at a young age, Tamera Austen knows nothing about her family. Certainly nothing about the strange impulses she can’t control, and make her fear for her sanity. Moving to the Hudson Valley to make a fresh start, she is quickly assimilated into the close community there. But her new friends have their own secrets.
Kester Kazakis recognizes the newcomer as a fellow shapeshifter, but strangely, she doesn’t seem to be aware of shapeshifters. As he struggles to find a way to introduce her to their world, he is increasingly aware that she is the only one for him.
When Tamera’s long-lost uncle appears on the scene, his sinister air has the community rallying around Tamera. But he’s not so easily dissuaded from his mission: To keep the caracal shifter line pure.
Coveted Mate by Allie McCormack
©2022 by Allie McCormack
Scene – The First Change
Kester came awake fast, every sense on alert. His cat was edgy, pushing at him. Kitt wanted out. It took a moment to register where he was. Tamera's room. The nightmare. He could feel her by his side, radiating warmth despite the fact that somehow the blanket had fallen away. Groping for the blanket carefully so as to not wake her, he froze as his fingers encountered... fur.
Cautiously he leaned up on one elbow. His enhanced shifter senses allowed him to see through the murky dark and as his vision adjusted, he saw stretched out beside him, asleep in an attitude of blissful abandon, a large feline, perhaps a little larger than his own Kitt,
Inside, he could feel his cat nature stir, the animal rumbling with content. That was good. Kitt was sensing the other animal's emotional state and reflecting that. He found he was smiling, pleased that his presence had given Tamera enough of a sense of safety that she'd let down her guard, even inadvertently, thus allowing her cat to come forward.
Ooh-kay. Now what to do? YiaYia was a few hundred miles away, and he wasn't about to call his sister over. On the other hand, Kitt was purring; obviously his cat felt no danger. He sat up, and reaching to the side turned on the small bedside lamp. He turned his attention back to Tamera, studying her. Her coat was short, a thick, rich looking pelt and she had long legs with wide, splayed paws, relaxed now in sleep. She appeared very much like a miniature cougar except for the reddish tan color to her coat and long black tufts off the tips of her ears. He didn't recognize the breed, but whatever Tamera was, she was not a domestic cat. This was some kind of wild animal.
Not without trepidation, Kester slid his hand lightly along her back, feeling the thickness of her fur.
"Tamera," he called in a soft voice, too soft to waken a human but knowing even fast asleep, her cat would hear and waken. "Wake up now, Tamera."
The eyelids parted, and slanted blue eyes gazed out at him, blinking sleepily. He saw the moment she became aware, the widening of her eyes. The ears swept back, an involuntary response, and she leaped up from the mattress. Unaccustomed to the new form, her legs scrambled for purchase, and she tumbled off the bed, sprawling in a heap on the floor. He winced as sharp claws scrabbled on the smoothly polished wooden floor, but she was only pulling her legs beneath her, crouching where she had landed.
Her stare stayed on his face, a good sign, Kester thought. There was more bewilderment in those wide eyes than fear, so he slid off the bed, approaching slowly. He crouched on his heels, extending one hand tentatively.
"You did it," he told her, unable to suppress the grin splitting his face. "You did it all by yourself. And you're gorgeous, girl."
The blue eyes blinked again, and he ventured to shuffle a little closer, extending one hand. She permitted him to lay his hand on her neck, and his fingers slid into the fur, scratching a little behind her ear. Her head tilted, leaning into his fingers, and Kester relaxed chuckling.
"You are one gorgeous cat. Yep," he nodded as she turned her head back toward him. "Don't know what kind you are, though. You want to see yourself?"
Her jaws opened, and an odd trilling sound emerged. He laughed, and rose to his feet. "Hang on." Looking around, he saw her cell phone laying on the dresser. He picked it up and turned the screen on. Finding the camera app, he turned to look at her.
"Okay, this is going to be your very first ever photograph," he told her. "You've gotta look your best."
He came over and rolled her gently to her side. "Here, now pull in your front paws under your shoulder... that's right. Now, raise your head and look toward me. Perfect. That's the classic cat lounge, no matter what species."
He stood back, raising the camera. "You want to prick your ears up. You can't see them, but they're amazing. Here." He held up his left hand, snapping his fingers. "Yeah, there they go."
He took a couple of shots in quick succession, then lowered the camera, coming to sit on the floor beside her.
"This is you."
He held out the camera for her to look. She stared for a long moment, then bobbed her head forward, her nose butting at the phone, then looking at him. That wasn't hard to interpret.
"Okay, we'll google you." He looked at her assessingly, then tapped at the screen. "Let's see... medium to small wild cat, long legs, huge tufted ears. Well, hello, hello."
He looked at the screen intently, clicking over to Wiki. "Yep, here you are. A caracal. Looks like you're a wild cat that's native to Africa, Middle East and India."
A feline snort had him grinning. He looked back at the phone.
"It seems caracals are pretty popular. It says here they're mostly nocturnal... that could be why you Changed in the night, maybe. Also they don't make much noise, aside from purring when happy, growling and hissing when not." He set the phone on the end of the bed. "Hey, how about if I Change too. Kitt can help you more, with how to navigate with your body. We'll get you up and walking, and since we can communicate via telepathy in our animal forms, you can ask questions."
Her head dipped once, and he grinned. "Well, you got 'yes' down."
A growl rumbled in her throat, and the slanted eyes widened again in apparent surprise. Kester laughed, rising to his feet. "Okay, one Maine Coon incoming!
He reached for his cat, and Kitt sprang forward, eager to be out to investigate the newcomer. The air around him zinged, like the crackle of electricity, and then he was on four paws, padding forward to sniff noses with Tamera. Her ears were high, rotated forward in curiosity, and he sat down, curling his plumy tail about his forepaws.
We can talk this way. He sent the words through the mental path.
The large ears twitched, the tufted tips quivering. Try it. He urged. Form a thought, then say it, but instead of saying it with your lips, say it in your mind.
The words came, whispering, tentative. Like this?
Inside he smiled, and his tongue came out to rasp across her cheek. Good. Now strengthen your tone. It will become easier with time, and eventually will become as natural as talking is between humans.
Can I talk to you anywhere?
We're limited by distance. It's generally considered to be a range of a mile or so. Katerina told me she reached across several miles to contact Jacinth when she'd been attacked by a dog, but either that was the exigency of her situation, or perhaps because it was a Djinn she had a connection to, although she tells me Jacinth isn't in general telepathic.
Now. He butted her head with his. Let's get you up and walking. I want you to stand up.
Her expressive ears lowered a little. I'm comfortable here.
He sent her an impression of his amusement. I'm sure you are. You'll be comfortable standing up and walking, too, with some practice. Come on, up with you.
She rose unsteadily, but her paws went every which-way and she wound up sprawled on the floor again. Kester sternly suppressed his amusement.
Try sitting first. Raise up on your front paws, straighten the legs, then get your hindquarters beneath you. There you go, that's right.
He padded over to where she stood, nuzzling her in approval.
This is harder than I thought. I feel like I'm going to fall right over.
You're doing fine. Now push up with the hind legs, and stand.
She obeyed, and lifted herself to stand on all fours, her long legs splayed awkwardly, her head lowered as she strove for balance.
I don't think I can walk. I don't know what leg to move first.
This time he let her sense his amusement. Your cat knows. You have to get out of her way, let her come forward. Like the telepathy, at first it takes a conscious effort, but it will become natural once you get the hang of it.
She took an incautious step forward and staggered, her claws scrabbling on the floor as she fought to stay upright. He leaned his massive frame against hers, steadying her, and she stood, her sides heaving as she panted for breath. He waited until she seemed to be standing easily before he moved away.
You're still trying to intentionally move your legs, it doesn't work like that. Your cat comes forward and the movement is instinctive to her. A thought came to him, and he grinned to himself. Let's try this.
His paw shot out, claws sheathed, but buffeting her across the head. He leaped back as her ears swept back, laying flat against her skull, and her muzzle wrinkled, jaws parted as she hissed a warning just before she sprang. Anticipating her move, he angled his haunches and sprang lightly onto the bed and stood looking down at her.
See? There ya go.
Her head tilted as she peered at him, her tail lashing back and forth. Her ears swiveled forward, and her paws tapped an excited beat on the floor. I did it!
You did. He watched as she prowled about the room, snuffling at the table and chair legs, and bumping her nose against the glass of the balcony door. She snorted, and turned easily, with the natural grace of the feline, exploring the room with her new senses.
Things smell weird.
He sent her a mental laugh. They will. You'll get used to it.
He lowered himself to the mattress, reclining gracefully on the edge of the bed where he could watch her. She padded over, raising her head to snuffle at him, and they rubbed muzzles.
Okay this is pretty cool, she admitted. Her slanted gaze surveyed the bed. I wonder if I could manage to jump up there.
You'll never know til you try. He added a warning as she crouched, shifting her weight back onto her hindquarters. From the little I had a chance to read, caracals are built for jumping into the air. They can catch birds on the wing. Don't give it too much effort or you'll overshoot the bed.
Got it. She adjusted the depth of her stance. Her tail lashed once, and she sprang up to the bed beside him. Without apparent effort, she lay prone, her paws stretched before her.
So how does an African wild cat get to be in America? She lay her head on her paws, angled a little toward him. Behind her, only the very tip of her tail moved, swaying lazily to and fro.
I don't know. How did any of us get to be shifters for that matter? There's all kinds of theories. You'll learn them all, he warned her, his muzzle wrinkling. YiaYia, as Warden, will likely find an Elder to tutor you, not only in the laws but also our history, the different shifter species, the territories and Wardens and Councils on the various continents, that sort of thing. Things we all learned growing up.
He was alert for signs of agitation as Tamera digested this. He wasn't sure how he would be able to deal with her if her cat became upset. They were about the same height, although he had more mass, heavily muscled and furred. It was unlikely that she could hurt him, if he had to subdue her, but he didn't want to hurt her. Her whiskers trembled a little, and the furred tail did lash back and forth a little, but there was surprisingly little other evidence of agitation.
You doing okay? He prompted, butting her with his head.
Her reply was instant. Yes. I'm just amazed. I never thought such a thing was even possible! She lifted her head to peer at her front paws. These are huge! And the claws are sharp, too. I think I might have scratched the floor, I didn't mean to.
Be glad they're retractable. Just think how awkward if you were a cheetah.
Those slanted eyes widened, then blinked at him. Cheetah's can't retract their claws? I didn't know that.
They can semi-retract them, not all the way.
Wow. Tamera suddenly flopped over onto her side to lay prone, her long hind legs stretching almost to the end of the mattress. A rough purr rumbled in her chest. I feel so lazy. I want to just lay here and do a whole lot of nothing.
Kester chuckled. Welcome to feline life. You might not want to Change if you're on a tight deadline or have an appointment or something. Your cat may well decide it's not worth it to bother herself with.
Tamera's sides heaved as she chuffed in amusement. I could get used to this. Too bad you can't bottle it and sell it as stress management.
About the Author
Allie McCormack is a disabled U.S. military veteran, now pursuing her life-long dream of being a writer. Allie has traveled quite a bit and lived many places all over the U.S., as well as a year in Cairo, Egypt as an exchange student, and a year in Saudi Arabia under contract to a hospital in Riyadh. Allie now lives in wine country in beautiful southern California with her family and two rescue cats.
Allie says: "A writer is who and what I am... a romance writer. I write what I know, and what I know is romance. Dozens of story lines and literally hundreds of characters live and breathe within the not-so-narrow confines of my imagination, and it is my joy and privilege to bring them to life, to share them with others by writing their stories."