Authors: Ava Frost
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #Paranormal, #Vampires, #Werewolves & Shifters, #Angels, #Demons & Devils, #Ghosts, #Psychics, #Witches & Wizards
This book contains sexually explicit scenes and adult language that may be considered offensive to some readers.
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By: Ava Frost
Copyright ©2016 by Ava Frost
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© Copyright 2016 by Ava Frost. All rights reserved.
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There he was again... Standing across the street, trying not to look at me. And I was doing the same thing, of course. Pretending like I didn't notice him, as I strolled along with my friends. They were all laughing and happy, oblivious to all the melodrama going on from one side of the street to the other.
It was kind of funny, honestly. I mean, not funny, but... Well, the way our town was divided down the center, it was almost literal. You could go from one block to the next and find yourself traversing from panther territory into tiger territory, and when that happened you'd best be on your guard. It wasn't quite as though our two sides were openly hostile toward one another, you could go from one area to the next relatively safely, or about as safe as anywhere. You didn't have to worry about getting murdered simply by setting foot out the front door- if that was the case, you can bet that we wouldn't have been occupying the same hometown, putting ourselves in such close proximity to one another and subjecting ourselves to the temptation.
But that wasn't to say that our sides didn't mutually hate one another with something of a burning passion... I'm not sure what it was, really, just common civility perhaps, that kept us from being at one another's throats. I think deep down we knew, overall, that trying to get along in spite of our differences was in everyone's best interests. For the sake of the children among us and everyone around us (we weren't the only population living in this tiny little town, you see. Humans with no shifting abilities whatsoever walked among us, presumably oblivious to the secret truth of otherworldly creatures living and hunting among them. But that's beside the point.)
I've always been a bit hazy as to how things between the panthers and the tigers got to the point where they eventually did. I'm not sure that many of us knew, really, why such animosity came to be. We just knew that it was as much a part of our respective cultures as anything, and so the hatred passed on from generation to generation, keeping us at odds with one another, and leaving us forever on our toes.
Despite the thin, barely intact peace we somehow managed to cling to for dear life, skirmishes inevitably erupted between our two factions. There were so many violent episodes over the years that I'd lost track. Territorial disputes, insults to pride- hell, sometimes one catshifter might just look at the other the wrong way in passing, and it would result in a bloody, tooth and nail fight until someone more sensible came along and busted them up.
God only knows how the humans remained oblivious to our presence among them, when we spent so much of our time bloodying up their sidewalks and making their otherwise pleasant small town something of a living hell.
I, personally, had never fully been able to comprehend the enmity between my people, the panthers, and our supposed enemies, the tigers. I'd always just sort of accepted it for what it was, one of those inevitable things about life that makes no sense but that must be kept in line with all the same.
But God, had it worn me down over time.
One of the most explicit guidelines for tiger-panther interactions was that co-species mating was strictly forbidden, and anyone caught violating such guidelines would find themselves promptly exiled- or worse...
Maybe, if it had been possible for me to live my life in complete isolation from the tiger shifters, it wouldn't have been a problem for me to stay clear of them. But as things stood, the size of our small town resulted in children from both sides going to school together, occupying the same space.
And this was where things were allowed to brew and to fester in a way they might otherwise not have done.
The animosity that existed between the adults of our tribes was exhibited far less subtly between the children. They picked on one another according to their bloodline, got bullied, and more than a few times fights had erupted on the playground featuring several members of either side at a time. Again, how the hell the human teachers overseeing us came to overlook the plain truth of the matter was beyond me, though I suppose that's largely beside the point.
Not only did I do my best to avoid such skirmishes with the tiger shifters and try to avoid thinking of them in such a negative light, but in spite of myself, and all the lessons I'd been taught over the years to hate and reject them, I found myself, sometime around my junior year, swooning with desire for one of the boys in my class.
His name was Vincent.
He wasn't like all the other boys, whether tiger or panther or even just plain old human. When several of the tougher, meaner tiger shifters got together to pick on someone different or more vulnerable than themselves, Vincent would remain neutral and aloof from the conflict, staying out of it, and being on his way instead of cheering for either side like any other bystander might have.
One time, he'd even saved me from being the subject of a rather unpleasant scene myself... I'd found myself, surrounded by three imposing tiger shifters with menace in their eyes, their hatred for me clear, their fangs bared, and their taunts and insults clearly designed to get me to pick a fight with them. I hadn't even done anything to offend them, so far as I knew- I was just a lonely teenage girl, the type who could never hurt a fly, and I had no interest in getting into it with anyone, specifically not with three dumbass tiger shifters who seemed capable of tearing me to shreds.
Despite his general policy of remaining neutral in conflict, Vincent had been the one to intervene on my behalf that day. He didn't make it seem like he genuinely cared about me, but more like I wasn't worth the bother on behalf of his people.
“Hey, come on guys. This pipsqueak didn't do anything. She's not even worth the trouble she would cause if the principle caught us fighting again.”
Still panting, looking at me with murder in their eyes, the thugs had nonetheless relented in the end. They gave me a last look, promising me that they had it in them should the mood strike them, but that today was my lucky day thanks to their comrade's good sense. I breathed a sigh of relief when they'd turned and began to disappear down the hall, but I couldn't quite decide whether I should feel offended at Vincent for calling me a pipsqueak and “not being worth the trouble.”
My answer came in the reassuring look he gave me, gazing into my eyes, giving me a slight grin that was both sad and promising. What made it sad was how quickly it disappeared promptly afterwards... He couldn't, of course, be caught flirting with a panther shifter, especially given he'd just gone so far out on a limb to keep my butt out of harm's way. It would give him away like a sore thumb if he cozied up any more to me than he already had.
A bit downtrodden, he followed in the wake of the other shifters, trying to put me out of his thoughts, I could tell, and I tried to do the same. But at this point, it was just no use... I found myself thinking about that boy all the time.
Our paths crossed several times over the course of the next couple years. We gave one another several tense looks, several loving smiles, and wished so much that it could go beyond that. Eventually, it even got around to some slight small talk- just the occasional sentence of pleasantries here and there, and always when our friends and classmates were out of earshot.
But none of it ever went anywhere.
The years had gone by since then. I’m nineteen now; he, by my calculation, is twenty. Though time had passed, the feelings we secretly harbored for one another had yet to relent, and I, for my part, had found myself so preoccupied with thoughts of him that I'd had trouble sleeping. Eventually, however, we devised a plan, a way for the two of us to escape the oppression of our star crossed society and give into our passions, even if such a surrender could by no means take place during the plain light of day.
Now, as I passed him, our eyes met yet again. I couldn't help but flash him a smile, white and dazzling and toothy, almost shameless in its enthusiasm for him. He smiled back at me from across the road- a bit more subtly, perhaps, for the sake of his macho companions. But God, was he ravishing to behold. It was a scorching hot day, and he, like many of his friends with him, was walking around without a shirt on. His tan skin looked absolutely sumptuous in the intense afternoon light. His skin was slippery with sweat, and it rolled down the intense muscles of his pecs, the rungs of his six-pack abdominals, and down into the deeply cut lines of his Adonis muscles. A pair of tight jeans hugged his ass in a way that made it look absolutely delectable, and a series of black stripe tattoos ran down along his torso, like the stripes he wore whenever in his more animalistic state as a tiger. Finally, there was his beautiful face; the jet black hair, the penetrating eyes gazing over at me, and the slight upturn of the corners of his mouth that made my chest flutter with arousal.
I forced myself, as much as it pained me, to look away, to keep going with the pack of fellow panther shifters as though I'd not even been tempted to branch off and run into his arms.
I had to assume, unhappily, that he did the same. But the two of us would be together much closer in short enough order.
That night at dinner, I sat with my parents and younger sister, listening as my father went on a monstrous tirade against tiger shifters, listing the most recent compilation of wrongs they'd committed, and basking in the sight of my mother's wholehearted agreement with him. I had to just sit there across from him, clutching my silverware fiercely, trying not to lose my temper with his bigotry.
Eventually, the subject turned back around to me, catching me off guard- luckily, being part cat, I managed to land on my feet, though it was admittedly a bit of a close call.
“Tiffany, have you been going out at night or something?” my mother asked, and I felt stunned that I'd been noticed in my absence around two or three o'clock in the morning.
“Oh... Yeah... I, um, I just haven't been sleeping too great... Going for walks shifted relaxes me somehow... I don't really know why...”
“You're connecting to your more natural state,” said my father knowingly, seeming, thankfully, to approve of my answer. I hurried to agree with him.
“Yeah... Yeah, that might be it,” I said, smiling, although I knew the real answer was one he would approve of far less.
“Just be careful,” warned my mother, and I sort of rolled my eyes at her.
“I am, ma...”
“No, she's right...” said Dad, taking a bite of his steak, “You go too far in the wrong direction, you might just find yourself getting pounced by one of those damn tiger shifters across town.”
It was very hard for me, just then, to avoid giggling at his words. If he'd known what I was really doing at night, I had the feeling that the double entendre would be a hell of a lot less amusing to him than it was to me.
Still, though, I was going to have to be a lot more careful now, now that I knew my secret had been at least partially found out by my parents.