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Iona smelled him long before she saw him—Eric Warden, the alpha Feline who ran the local Shiftertown, who’d decided to make half Shifter Iona Duncan’s life hell.
She loped down the desert canyon, rock grating on her paws. The Nevada night was warm though it was early winter, the sky a riot of stars, the glow of the city far behind. Out here, Iona could be what she was meant to be—a wildcat, a Feline Shifter, running free.
For some reason, Eric wanted to end that.
Catch me if you can, Feline.
Last night, after her half sister’s bridal shower, Iona had stayed out until dawn with Nicole and about twenty friends—all human. They’d gone to a human bar, no Shifters allowed, thank God. They’d liberated the bar of plenty of margaritas before limping home in the light of early morning. Iona had snatched a couple hours of sleep before she’d dragged herself to work.
The frenzy of the night out followed by the hangover of the day triggered Iona’s need to shift. After work, Iona had driven her red pickup out to her favorite spot in the middle of the desert, off-roading half an hour to get there. She’d barely shed her clothes before her wildcat had taken over.
And now Eric was following her.
He pounded behind her, a powerhouse Shifter, his wildcat more snow leopard than anything else. Sleek, strong, cunning. Feline Shifters were a mixture of all wildcats—lion, leopard, jaguar, cheetah, tiger, and others—but most Shifters tended toward a certain type.
Iona was mostly panther, with black fur to match the hair she had while human. Her panther was long-legged, sure-footed, and a good jumper. This was her territory, and she laughed with glee as she left Eric far behind.
She dodged across a dry wash, kicking up dust, and scrambled into the rocky crevices on the other side. She knew by scent how far she was from Area 51, a place guarded by men with SUVs and rifles. Shifters could escape detection if they wanted to, but heading the other direction, east and a little north of here, was safer. Iona hopped from one sandstone ledge to the next, her paws scrabbling a little in the gravel.
She loved this. The joy of being in wild country nearly impossible for humans to reach was heady. This is what I’m meant to be.
Damned if Eric didn’t follow right after her, faster than she’d thought he would. Iona crested the ridge at the top of the canyon and kept going.
She ran along a ledge and dropped down the other side of the ridge. Before she got to the bottom, she slunk into a shallow cave she knew was there from previous exploration. Anyone watching from the top would see only that she’d vanished.
Eric wouldn’t need to see her to find her though. He’d scent her, but why make it easy for him?
Ever since Eric had spotted her in Coolers last spring, one of the few clubs that allowed in Shifters, he’d tracked her. Stalked her, Iona corrected.
Damned stubborn, hotter-than-hell Shifter with the green eyes—he followed her when she went out at night, sometimes showing up at her house or coming after her on her runs. She’d spot him here and there throughout the day, when she went to work or ran errands or drove out to a building site. Protecting her, Eric said. Driving her insane, was more like it.
The fact that Iona was half-Shifter was a deep, dark secret her mother and half sister had kept for thirty-two years. Eric’s interest in her was dangerous, could expose her as Shifter, and once that happened, her happy life would be over.
But Eric’s scent had triggered something in Iona from the moment he’d sat down next to her in the club’s dark corner and told her he knew what Iona was. He’d smelled of sweat and the night, and a musk that had made everything in her alert and aware.
His scent was stronger now, overlaid with that of his wildcat. He was coming.
Iona flattened herself into the black shadows at the back of the cave, but Eric was at the entrance, his leopard filling the opening. She faced him, ears flat against her head, her fur rising on her neck.
Eric didn’t move. Dominants didn’t need to show teeth or make any noise to tell another Shifter who was in charge. You knew.
He was far larger and more powerful than a natural snow leopard, his pelt creamy white and branded with a black jagged pattern. His eyes, fixed on her, were jade green.
Iona’s wildcat was more slender than Eric’s but no smaller, though it would be an interesting contest to see whether she matched him in strength. The biggest difference between them, though, was that Eric wore a silver and black Collar, and Iona did not.
Eric rose on his hind legs until his head nearly touched the roof of the cave. At the same time, his fur and cat limbs flowed into human bones and flesh. In a few seconds, a man stood in the leopard’s place, a tall, muscular, naked male who made Iona’s heart pound.
His face was hard and square, his chocolate brown hair cut short. A black tattoo swirled around his large shoulder and trailed down his arm in a jagged line. The tattoo wasn’t magical—Shifters didn’t need tatts. Eric just liked it.
His green eyes saw everything. There was no escaping that gaze once it fixed on you, even across a packed dance floor in a Las Vegas club. Iona still remembered the burn of his stare across the room; Eric, the first person in Iona’s life outside her family who’d looked at her and recognized her as Shifter.
Even through her worry and anger, Iona had to concede that Eric was delectable. He put to shame all the guys who’d tried last night to get her to dance with them.
What was between Eric’s legs put them to shame too. The man was hung.
“You can’t keep this up,” Eric said. His voice, deep and fine, with the barest touch of Scots, had lately started invading her dreams.
Iona gave him a snarl to let him know he didn’t worry her. Which was bullshit. He could take her in a heartbeat and both of them knew it.
Eric took one step forward. She crouched, waiting, letting him take another step, and another.
Once he’d cleared the entrance to the cave, Iona leapt up and sprang past him. His leopard she couldn’t outrun, but she could outrun him in her animal form while he remained human. She barreled out of the cave and onto the rocks…
And found two hundred pounds of leopard on top of her, pinning her to the ledge.
How the hell did he shift that fast? Shifting took a while for Iona, and it could be painful. Eric flowed into his wildcat so smoothly it made her sick.
His growl became bad tempered as Iona struggled. His ears went flat, and he locked his teeth around her throat.