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There’s always a price to pay…
For Haseya, that price means a life of celibacy. A Navajo Skinwalker Witch, her gift of healing forbids her from loving a man intent on pain and destruction.
For Zayn, the price means a life of anger and loneliness. A Djinn, he is torn by the need to seek vengeance.
Zayn will do anything to protect Haseya. When hostile aliens searching for shifters arrive in Magic, New Mexico, he is willing to unleash any force to save the woman he loves and the town under siege that needs him—but will the price of protecting those he loves drive a wedge between him and the beautiful witch he is destined to love forever?
A green-tinged glow emanated from the far side of the rock-strewn hill. Zayn moved towards it, catlike, quiet, but curious. Flying was an option, but tracking was second nature and Zayn liked hunting. The act of stalking while wrapped in darkness, placing his paws with silence and purpose, fed his nature in a way that quick and easy never would.
Kids camping in the desert were Zayn’s favorites. The rush of their fear and the shrieks of the women were a feast. Zayn liked terror. He loved discomfort. Scaring the piss out of humans made his whole night.
Close, he paused, belly fur touching the dust, sniffing the air. Scents filtered and sorted in his mind. He knew everyone in Magic, New Mexico. Zayn’s ear flicked at the familiar wolf scent, tinged with a new smell. He prepared to pounce. Crouched, Zayn skirted a pile of rocks, edging towards the glow.
Pain sliced through his head, blinding him, the green fading to black.
“What have you done?” hissed Moku. “Interaction is forbidden.”
“It crept up and appeared predatory,” replied Andok. “Per protocol, my weapon is on stun, not kill. We’ll finish our observation mission and depart before it awakens. The energies in this place differ from other places on this planet, Moku. It will please Slodoon to learn this. Our last observation found a minimal trace of the Smoke Ones. The Solids were the vast majority of the population on the planet’s surface.”
“Transitions happen,” Moku said, turning from the inert body of the mountain lion. “This planet is young. Let’s finish and lift off. It will be light soon. We will transmit and receive new orders from Slodoon.”
“He’s out cold!” Jonah’s brown eyes twinkled from his furry face as he touched the big cat. His twin brother, Joseph poked Zayn with a paw, then settled on his haunches. The boys were werevamp cubs from nearby Magic, New Mexico, an unusual haven for those gifted with unexpected abilities. Everyone from Magic was special, many powerful, but to the boys, they were just neighbors. While playing with the moon tonight, the boys tempted fate by tracking Zayn, a powerful Djinn not known for his social skills. A chance to irritate Zayn was a good trade on the times he was a jerk. The Djinn had zero use for nine-year-old boys.
“Who do you think zapped him?” Joseph asked.
“I dunno, but alien for sure. Frost might know. He’s an alien.”
“Duh, bro. He and I ended up stuck on the ice planet for months! Frost and Aunt Lacey won’t be home from the Glacian homeworld for a week. Should we move Zayn?”
“Let’s go grab the bike and put him in our magic egg basket. We can carry his big furry butt back to his house in that.”
Joseph loped south, with Jonah nipping at his heels. The young werewolves tumbled, squealing and rolling together in a mess of toothy grins and tails before leaping back to resume the chase, their howls filling the night.
From the air, nothing assembled into a woman, who squatted next to Zayn’s limp body. Knowledgeable hands ran across his ribs, and fingertips examined the gash and knot on his head. A sigh left her lips, and she raised the big cat into the air as Zayn’s head rolled and his eyes slit open. A soft growl cut to silence. She and the cat became smoke, then nothing at all.
“B-b-b-but Theo! We swear Zayn was right here. He headed towards the green glow. We could see the two aliens on the other side of this big rock pile.” Jonah’s discomfort was clear.
“It’s true,” Joseph picked up the story. “Zayn stalked them as a mountain lion, one of them zapped his head, and he dropped!”
Jonah and Joseph squirmed under Theo’s gaze. Theo was the law in Magic. He had an alien ancestor, but it was so far back he didn’t know the story; Theo was also half-dragon which proved useful in keeping the peace. When anything unusual happened in their town, Theo handled it. In Magic, lots of unusual things happened, but Theo handled the non-normal unusual. He was mid-thirties, 6’4”, with huge shoulders and a broad chest, ice-blue eyes that hearkened to that outer world ancestor, and his dark curling hair fell over his collar. His skin was bronzed from the New Mexico sun. Theo looked, every inch, like an intimidating person in a town that didn’t intimidate. At all.
Jonah and Joseph traded looks. Under the moon last night they’d played, perhaps a little longer than they should have. By the time they’d come back, found Zayn missing and sounded the alarm, the sun was rising, and they were boys once more, their typical daytime appearance.
The lawman dropped to a knee, looking at the dirt near the rocky base of the hill. The sand held the impression of the big cat’s body. The question was, where was the cat? Theo picked out the wolf prints of the twins and a few small human ones. Those were half the size of Zayn’s big feet. Since Zayn was a Djinn, he could have come to, shape-shifted and flown away, but that didn’t explain the extra prints. As improbable as it looked, someone had been here and moved Zayn with no trail. That meant magic. Magic wasn’t anything new to Theo, but this magic didn’t look much like his Magic folks, which might create problems.
“Green glow?” Theo asked, rising and gazing at the boys.
“We saw them leave, as soon as one of them blasted Zayn,” Jonah said, his white hat shining in the morning sun. “Tall and thin, each had a scanner or machine that was making the glow, and one knocked out Zayn by shooting a gun at him.”
“They took off from yonder,” Joseph added, pointing north. “We checked on Zayn after they left.”
Theo nodded, walking around the big rock pile to the other side, looking for disturbed fauna or rocks. Imprints a few hundred yards away showed him where they’d landed.
“Boys,” he said, fixing them in an icy stare. “Head home. Let folks know to keep an eye out for unusual visitors or happenings.”
Relieved they weren’t in trouble, Jonah and Joseph jumped on their bike and pedaled, their feet a blur of motion, into the air.
“Where the hell are you, Zayn?” Theo muttered. “And who in the outer worlds visited last night?”
Haseya tended her fire, stirring the steeping herbs. The steam rose, and she sniffed.
“Almost ready,” she murmured, glancing at the big cat sprawled comatose in the corner of her hut, who was beginning to stir.
Haseya stepped into a twirl, transforming from a woman, to smoke, then into another big cat. She sat across the fire from her visitor, solid black eyes watchful as the fire popped, sending sparks to feed the night.
The fire warmed Zayn’s feet, his body returning to this side of alert.
“Holy crap!” he snarled, realizing there was a big cat staring at him. “What the?” He blinked at his own paws. “I’m a cat? Wait a minute, this isn’t right. Huh. I can’t remember why, though. Rrrrowwl, my head. Who am I?”
“Something hurt you. I am prepared to heal you,” the other cat said. Stunned, Zayn realized he could understand the strange string of growls, purrs, and ear and tail movements that made up this language.
“Heal me how?” Zayn’s tail snapped, confused.
“You will need to drink the broth I prepared.”
“Who are you?”
“I am Haseya, the Healer.”
Her dark eyes flicked to him and then away, a sign of respect, and Zayn found this relaxing.
Haseya lifted the handle of the pot with her teeth and rose, her walk silent as she came around the fire to place the pot next to him. She turned, and he realized she was beautiful, fluid, sinewy, and elegant.
“Drink that,” she said, resuming her place by the fire and curling her tail over her front paws.
Zayn lapped up the broth, its scent filling him for the moment. Its effect on him was immediate. The pounding in his head ceased and his eyes cleared, filling with her beauty. Her scent covered him and his blood flowed quick and intentional. He wanted her. When her heat came, he would have her.