Authors: J.H. Croix
Catamount Lion Shifters, Book 1
By J. H. Croix
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2015 J.H. Croix
All rights reserved.
ISBN 13: 9781530006342
This book may not be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in whole or in part by any means, including graphic, electronic, or mechanical without the express written consent of the publisher with the exception of brief quotations included in critical articles and reviews.
To the man of my dreams…who steals my heart every day.
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Centuries ago in the northern Appalachian Mountains, mountain lions fled deeper and deeper into the mountains, seeking safety from the rapid encroachment of humanity into their vast territory. Mountain lions developed the power to shift from human to mountain lion and back again, saving their species as they hid in plain sight. The majestic wild cats became creatures of myth. Reported sightings were treated as wildly speculative rumors. Impossible. Until one evening on a busy highway, a car struck an animal in the dark. The first confirmed sighting of a mountain lion in the East in close to seventy-five years. The wild cat was dead, its unbelievable existence snuffed out by a car. This mountain lion wasn’t just any mountain lion. Though its autopsy would only reveal it was, in fact, a mountain lion and that the lion had improbably traveled over 1,500 miles from South Dakota, the longest known journey for such a creature. In Catamount, Maine, shifters lived amongst the world, having successfully protected their very existence for centuries. Until one of their own died an improbable death, and they learned of a threat facing their kind.
Dane Ashworth pushed through the swinging door of Roxanne’s Country Store and found himself in a small crowd. Roxanne’s was practically the center of the universe as far as Catamount, Maine was concerned. This morning, Roxanne, the owner, had the news on rather than her usual fare of talk shows. Dane looked up at the screen and saw the body of a dead mountain lion lying on the side of a highway—a majestic animal killed by a careless driver. His heart stuttered, and fear washed through him, confusion swirling in his thoughts. The reporter announced this was the first confirmed sighting of a mountain lion in New England since nineteen thirty-eight when a mountain lion was trapped in Maine. Eastern mountain lions had been declared extinct.
In Catamount, the hidden truth walked among everyone else—mountain lions had evolved to shift into human form centuries ago. The news switched to the autopsy scene with a veterinarian medical examiner. The examiner reported the cat in question had been tagged with a tracking device. Scientists were puzzled and stunned by its results. The cat had traversed from the mid-west to the east in North America, traveling roughly fifteen hundred miles to Connecticut—twice as far as any previous known distance for a mountain lion.
It was only then Dane recognized the mountain lion was Callen, his sister’s mate. Callen bore a distinctive scar on his neck. It was visible when the camera scanned over his body, lifeless on the stainless steel table. Dane closed his eyes, grief flashing through him. His sister would be devastated. Callen came from a long line of shifters and was considered one of the dominant male shifters in this area. In his human form, he traveled frequently and had recently traveled to South Dakota and Montana on multiple excursions to try to confirm if the rumors of shifters in that area were true.
How and why he was traveling in his mountain lion form through Connecticut was as much of a mystery as his death by car on a highway. Dane glanced around, finally catching the eye of Jake, a good friend. With a nod of his head, Dane walked back outside and Jake followed.
“What the hell is going on?” Dane asked flatly.
“I just walked in myself. Have you seen Shana? You’d better find her before she walks in here and sees his body on television like that,” Jake replied.
Dane nodded sharply. “I’ll go find her in a minute. What is everyone saying?”
“Everyone’s freaking out. Why was he on foot, why was he in cat form, how come he didn’t shift, what does Shana know? On and on. Everyone wants to know when and why Callen was tagged and tracked.”
Dane tugged his phone out of his pocket. “I want some answers and soon. But first I have to find Shana.”
Dane spent the next few hours frantically looking for Shana. She was nowhere to be found. She should have been on duty at the hospital today. She was a nurse there while Dane was an emergency room doctor. They had been raised together by their mother who came from a long line of healers within the shifter lineage. He and Shana had inherited their desire and ability to heal from her. They were among a number of shifters who worked at the hospital.
After checking the hospital, Shana’s house and driving around town to see if he could find her, Dane stopped by her friend Phoebe’s house.
Phoebe opened the door, her dark brown eyes wide with fear and worry. Phoebe was full human, a distant cousin to a shifter family. She was like a sister to him and fiercely protective of her shifter family and friends. Her dark hair was piled in a messy bun.
Before he could get a word out, Phoebe grabbed his arm and tugged him inside.
“I’ve been looking all over for Shana. I finally came home thinking maybe she stopped by. Have you seen her?” she asked.
The knot in Dane’s stomach tightened. “You and me both. I was hoping you might know where she is. Have you heard the news?”
Phoebe nodded, tears filling her eyes. “Callen died on that highway in Connecticut. I think Shana must have heard the news on the way in to work. You have to find her, Dane!”
He nodded. “I know. Has she mentioned anything to you about Callen the last few weeks?”
“Just that she was worried about him because he was trying to confirm if there were shifters out West. She was afraid he might reveal himself somewhere unsafe and get killed. That’s all she’s mentioned out of the ordinary.”
Dane sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “Dammit, what the hell was going on with Callen? It makes no sense that he didn’t shift back. I have a bad feeling about this. How the hell did he end up tagged?”
Phoebe stared back at him, fear flickering in her eyes. She gestured weakly, palms up in question, as she shook her head. Dane glanced at his watch. “I’m headed into the mountains. I’m guessing Shana took off to one of her hiding spots. Do you have to work tonight?”
Phoebe shook her head, and he continued. “Do you mind sitting tight? If I miss her out there, she’ll probably come here when she gets back to town.”
“No problem. I’ll be here all night. Can you call me if you find her?”
“You got it.”
Dane took off, calling Jake on the way to update him. He parked at one of the trailheads that intersected with the Appalachian Trail and started off on a solitary hike. It was late afternoon, and he needed to find a place to shift soon. He’d cover ground much faster in mountain lion form. He scrambled up a steep portion of the trail and cut off into the deep brush. In a flash, he shifted, his clothes falling, fur unfurling in a wave with a final twist when his body shifted fluidly into cat form. He moved swiftly and quietly, avoiding areas close to the heavily traveled Appalachian Trail. Unbeknownst to humans, the Appalachian Trail formed centuries ago as mountain lions stayed deep in the mountainous terrain and pushed north while humans sprawled forth into their territory. The trail ended in Maine beyond Catamount on Mount Katahdin—the area where the first litter of shifters was born. The litter’s mother had moved slightly south when winter fell, just outside of Catamount, which at the time had been a nameless settlement in the late seventeenth century. The town was now mid-sized and bustling. Yet it lay close to the wilderness where mountain lions could shift and experience the freedom and solitude they craved.
Dane was running quietly along a ridge when he heard voices. He froze in place and backed up. Mountain lions were believed extinct in the East. Rumors abounded on alleged sightings, most true. Yet shifters tried to limit their exposure, preferring to keep the idea of mountain lions as ancient myth and long-gone from the forests of the east. It was safer that way. Callen’s tragic death illuminated the dangers they faced. Though Dane wouldn’t face that particular danger deep in the Maine woods, hunters were always a threat even though the species was protected.
He watched while a small group of hikers walked by. Quiet fell and then a lone woman emerged on the trail. He was positioned on a steep hill, hidden amongst the trees. He could see her clearly. She was so beautiful it took his breath away. She had honey blonde hair falling in loose waves around her shoulders. Her build was strong and curvaceous. A tank top pulled tightly across her breasts and jean shorts rode up her thighs. He was so drawn to her he had to force himself to be still. The task was made much more difficult in his cat form. As a cat, he was driven by instinct and primal urges. And whoever this woman was, she called to every cell in his body. He made himself wait longer than necessary after she passed by, so he could manage the strength of pull he felt for her.
The light faded and a storm rolled in. Dane had yet to find Shana when he was forced to find shelter from the storm himself. As he approached one of his preferred caves, he saw a human form limping along the faint trail leading to the cave and stumble inside. He thought it was the woman he saw earlier. She looked hurt. He stopped in his tracks. His concern for her ran so deep it was visceral. He slipped under the boughs of a balsam tree and waited.
When it was almost dark, he shifted back into human form. Before heading to the cave, he quickly checked for one of the small packs he kept hidden among rocks nearby. Such packs were well hidden and scattered for miles in these woods for shifters to have quick access to clothing and human supplies if they needed to shift into human form unexpectedly. He dressed, slung the pack over his shoulder and walked to the cave. The woman was asleep on the ground. She was inside a sleeping bag, but shivering visibly. Dane approached her slowly, touching her on the shoulder. Her eyes flew open. In the faded light, her soft green eyes shone through, filled with fear.
Dane held his hands up. “Hey, it’s okay. I got caught in the storm too. Looks like we had the same idea. Are you okay?”
His pulse had skyrocketed the moment she opened her eyes and he got a good look at her face. He could look into her eyes all day—mossy, forest green and lush. Her mouth was full and sensual. Those eyes and her honey brown hair brought to mind a warm summer day.
She pushed herself up to a seated position, a grimace flashing across her face.
“Are you hurt?” His protective instincts ran high. A side effect of developing the capacity to shift was that mountain lions with this ability were intensely protective of those they cared about. The solitary behavior of mountain lions in the wild was curbed out of self-preservation. To save each other and the species, they had to develop the capacity to watch after each other. This woman, whoever she was, was so compelling, Dane only wanted to wrap her in his arms and keep her safe. Along with a few other things, but that wasn’t his focus now since she looked close to hypothermia and injured.
She stared at him and seemed to conclude he meant her no harm. “I slipped on some wet rocks. I sprained my ankle and scraped my leg pretty bad. I can’t believe I fell. I’m almost to the end of the trail. I made it all the way from Georgia without getting hurt.”
Dane forced himself to focus, pulled his backpack off and reached inside for the small medical kit he kept in every pack he stashed. “I’m Dane Ashworth, by the way.”
“I’m Chloe, Chloe Silver,” she replied quietly.
“So how long have you been on the trail?” he asked as he pulled out antiseptic, ointment and bandages.