Released September 26, 2010 from MLR Press
The wrath of a woman scorned is bad, but a witch’s wrath is hell on earth. No one knows this better than the six men of Shifting Sands Ranch. When the owner’s witch of a wife flees the ranch, she takes with her one of the cowboys and leaves behind a curse that dooms the remaining inhabitants to a life that is anything but normal. Now, every month when the moon comes full, each man takes on the form of an animal.
Witches, shifters and ancient curses, such is life on the Shifting Sands.
Daniel’s watched the other men who live on his ranch find their lifemates one by one. He’s watched them all fall prey to the curse of the Shifting Sands. His curse. His fault. When it’s suggested that maybe the curse will break once all the men of the Sands find their mates, Daniel — as the only one left — knows that it’s time to acknowledge what he’s known all along.
Russell’s been in love with Daniel as long as he can remember. So why did he run off with Daniel’s wife? She’s a witch, that’s why! Of course, now that it’s happened, how can he explain himself and hope to be believed?
©2010 Jet Mykles, all rights reserved
Daniel parked on the street not far from the main entrance of the small apartment complex. Although he knew the address well, he’d never been there before. Never been to Barston. But Russell was nearby. He could feel it.
Shutting off the truck, Daniel remained seated for a few moments, staring at his hands, waiting for the claws and the iridescent green and blue scales to retreat. Being so far away from the Sands was more unsettling than he’d thought. The farther he drove from his home base, the more the beast wanted to come out. He’d finally allowed the claws and the scales to remain, that little bit seeming to satisfy the dragon for a little while. But he was having a devil of a time keeping his eyes human. His sight kept slipping into that strange shape-sensory sight of the beast rather than normal vision. Not the easiest to drive with since the beast wasn’t great at seeing electrical stuff, like traffic lights.
“Damn!” it wasn’t working. The black claws and shining scales were still there although the shape of his hands remained mostly human. A weird afterimage to his sight told him that his eyes were half gone. Was this because he was so far from the Sands or was it because he was near Russell? Did it have anything to do with a nagging feeling that he had to get out of the truck now?
No help for it. Carefully tugging the cuffs of his flannel shirt as far over his hands as possible, he grabbed his hat and got out of the truck. Luckily, it was a dark night so he might be able to go undetected, at least to Russell’s apartment. He’d have to tackle the problem of what to do in the morning, when and if that trouble came.
Something was wrong. The feeling only increased. A definite pull guided him down the street away from the front door of the apartment complex. He shoved his hat onto his head and scowled at the door. That was where he wanted to go. But there was no denying the beast’s instincts when they were like this and the beast wanted to go down the street. Daniel jumped from the truck, hoping he’d parked in a parking zone, barely remembering to push the button on the key fob that’d lock the door. He forced himself to walk, although at a fast clip, toward the source of anxiety.
He heard them before he got to the corner of an alley between two buildings. An animal growl sank into his skin, shifting his vision completely to shapes and pushing his own anger to the surface. He curled his talons into palms that’d developed the thickly calloused pads of the beast. A curl of smoke drifted from his nostrils as he rounded the corner.
Four men. One on the ground to the side, clutching his arm and crying out. He smelled of blood. One standing a few paces away, staring at the remaining two, who were locked together. Russell was one of the two. He stood out as a shining orange-gold beacon despite the fact Daniel’s beast had never seen him firsthand. He was wrapped around the other, bigger man, teeth sunk into the meat of the man’s neck, one malformed hand gripping the man’s chest. Claws dug into the man’s skin. Daniel knew a partial shift when he saw one, having coaxed his men through a few of them over the past two years.
Instinct kicked in. “Russell!” he barked, putting a little of the dragon’s musical tone in his voice. It often worked to stun others.
Russell startled, lifting his head. Daniel saw the blood in his mouth as violet fluid running down the orange contours that made up his face. His victim sagged in his grip but Russell barely noticed him, turning toward the sound of Daniel’s voice.
Daniel strode purposely toward the men. The one on the ground scrambled to his feet, leaning up against the wall. He was a mixture of reds and blues through to violets to Daniel, strangely detailed enough that Daniel knew he was gaping in shock. The unharmed man turned to face Daniel, his shapes made up of murky reds and ugly greens, but his angry scowl drained from his face at whatever he saw. Daniel grimaced, wondering if his beard was all white yet, and how many scales shone on his skin. He knew his eyes had to be shining gold if he was seeing in emotional shapes. Had the horns sprouted from his head yet?
Daniel dismissed them all, including the injured man in Russell’s grasp. He concentrated on Russell, seeing the tiger on the verge of bursting forth. That answered the question about the twelfth animal easily enough. “Russell, let him go.”
The younger man’s lip curled up in a snarl. It was far enough from the full moon that the fever shouldn’t take him this hard, but who knew what Russell was suffering with such an extended absence from the Sands?
“Russell!” Daniel put all the command that he knew in his voice. “Do as I say.”
Russell’s grip faltered, allowing the injured man to drop from his grasp. His mouth fell open, the shape of his fangs clear in the opening. “Daniel?”
“It’s me, Russell.”
“What the fuck is going on?” the only uninjured man demanded. He stepped toward Daniel, the stink of fear belying his bravado. “Who the hell are you?”
Daniel grabbed the wrist of the hand that shot out in what might have been a good right hook. Although the man’s arm was larger than his, it stopped dead. Angry, Daniel let the man have the full brunt of his gaze, his claws just biting into the other man’s skin. “Get. Out. Of. Here.” He enunciated properly, letting the beast’s angry growl seep from his lips.
All of the man’s courage drained from the face before him and the pungent stink of fresh urine overlay the old urine smell of the alley. “W-what the fuck are you?”
“Nothing you’ll want to remember tomorrow.” Daniel shoved the man’s arm away. “Take your friends and go.”
Disregarding the men, he turned his head back to face Russell, who hadn’t moved. They stared at each other, frozen, as the three men scrambled from the alley. Russell leaned heavily against the stucco wall, knees bent, panting. Daniel’s strange vision showed him a superimposition of the tiger barely below the surface of Russell’s skin. How long had he been like that, so close to changing?
“We have to go,” Daniel said softly, once he heard the other men’s truck speed down the street.
Russell didn’t move except for breathing, and the wet tongue that slowly snaked out to lap at his lower lip.
Daniel tracked the progress of that wet muscle, trying to ignore what the sight did to fill his cock. He took a step toward the younger man, holding out his hand.
Russell’s gaze snapped down, widened. “Daniel?” No doubt he saw the scales and the claws. How much showed on Daniel’s face?
The beast demanded that he pounce, that he change so he could wrap his serpentine body around Russell to get the most skin-to-scale contact possible. But the human in him prevailed. He needed to take this slow or else he’d literally have an out-of-control tiger on his hands. Daniel spread both hands, palms toward Russell. He could take the cat, if necessary, but he’d much rather not. “It’s me, Russell.” He took another step. “Trust your instincts.”
A fine tremor shook Russell’s body. The claws he still sported dug shallow furrows in the bricks at his back. His own beast’s fine instincts spilled scales down his shoulders, neck, back and arms a split second before Russell launched from the wall at Daniel. Instinct again had Daniel catching him rather than using his own claws to slice open his belly. The smaller man slammed into him, arms snaking around him. Daniel did some arm-wrapping of his own, angling his head to meet Russell mouth-to-mouth just as tiger claws shredded the back of his shirt and scraped over the scales that covered his back.