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The Love of an Undiscovered Species

Pine Crest is at deaths door and seeking comfort when Max Avery comes looking for her. She discovers that there is far more to him than she ever imagined. Max is a shifter and Pines soul mate, but she is hesitant to become like him. As the days pass, she becomes weaker until life leaves her no choice. Five shifters bite her, infusing her with their life-saving saliva, but the initial change leaves her deathly ill. Alex Reed is Maxs best friend, and circumstances propel him into their lives and their bed. Pine is caught between the love of the two men as the sickness passes and she grows stronger. She is drawn into their world as she embraces life as a shifter. As the three build their new life together, Pine has only one regret. She is forced to hide her life and her newfound youth from her daughter Megan. Genre: Mnage a Trois/Quatre, Paranormal, Shape-shifter Length: 30,598 words

THE LOVE OF AN UNDISCOVERED SPECIES

Kat Barrett

MENAGE AMOUR

Siren Publishing, Inc. www.SirenPublishing.com

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A SIREN PUBLISHING BOOK IMPRINT: Mnage Amour

THE LOVE OF AN UNDISCOVERED SPECIES Copyright 2013 by Kat Barrett E-book ISBN: 978-1-62242-737-6 First E-book Publication: April 2013 Cover design by Christine Kirchoff All cover art and logo copyright 2013 by Siren Publishing, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: This literary work may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including electronic or photographic reproduction, in whole or in part, without express written permission. All characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.

PUBLISHER Siren Publishing, Inc. www.SirenPublishing.com

Letter to Readers
Dear Readers, If you have purchased this copy of The Love of an Undiscovered Species by Kat Barrett from BookStrand.com or its official distributors, thank you. Also, thank you for not sharing your copy of this book.

Regarding E-book Piracy This book is copyrighted intellectual property. No other individual or group has resale rights, auction rights, membership rights, sharing rights, or any kind of rights to sell or to give away a copy of this book. The author and the publisher work very hard to bring our paying readers high-quality reading entertainment. This is Kat Barretts livelihood. Its fair and simple. Please respect Ms. Barretts right to earn a living from her work. Amanda Hilton, Publisher www.SirenPublishing.com www.BookStrand.com

DEDICATION
I wish to thank my good friends Sandra and Dawn, who support and encourage me to continue writing. I have to admit though, that I love to write and see what happens as the story progresses. No, I never know in advance and usually when I think I know, it takes a turn and goes elsewhere. Thanks also have to go out to my husband, who finds other things to do as I sit at the computer typing. To you, my fans, I enjoy your feedback and without you, I would be writing for only my own amusement. Thank you.

THE LOVE OF AN UNDISCOVERED SPECIES


KAT BARRETT
Copyright 2013

Chapter 1
Pine walked into the bar and sat at the counter. She avoided the tables, because she had been approached on a few occasions by a couple looking for a mnage. She was not looking for a threesome, but rather an individual encounter that would end before the sun bridged the horizon. The bar was known as a cougar hangout, and although Pine fit the age bracket, she didnt have the physical or emotional attributes of most of the female patrons. She was not a widow looking for love. She was not a divorce searching for a new husband. Pine had been married and never longed to do it again. He walked through the door as she was sipping at her second drink. Most of the single men in the bar had already made a play for her and been shot down, but this one was interesting. He wasnt particularly well dressed, jeans and a black T-shirt. His hair was long and slightly rumpled, but the light-brown strands were clean and highlighted by the sun, or maybe by peroxide, it was hard to tell on occasion. He stopped, glancing around, and Pine had the feeling he was searching for someone. Pine snorted, returning to her drink as she mumbled, Too bad, a night with him would have been interesting. She glanced at her watch, nine on the nose. The time she used to go to bed so she could get up for work in the morning. That had ended

The Love of an Undiscovered Species

six months before when she had passed out in the middle of teaching a self-help seminar. Pine was educated in all forms of homeopathic life. She had made a nice living counseling others and teaching classes on the subject. That was before she had been diagnosed with inoperable cancer in her brain and lungs. It was before she had refused traditional treatment, which might have extended her future while it destroyed the quality of her life. Martin had been adamant that she give up the quack medicine and go to a real doctor. Pine had refused. Martin had left her and filed for a divorce a week later. Pine had a suspicion that he was afraid of what medical bills she might rack up and leave him with. In the end, she had left him with nothing, except his gambling debt. A hand lightly touched her shoulder, and Pine turned her head. Can I buy you a drink? asked the man who had come in moments before. You can buy me a club soda with lime in it. He grinned, looking at her drink. Is that what you always drink? Mostly. Odd. I was under the impression that most women came here to get drunk and get laid. Odd, she retorted. Most of the women I have spoken to are looking for love. They are looking in the wrong place. May I? he asked, gesturing to the stool next to her. Pine shrugged, smiling at the playfulness in his large, green, expressive eyes. There was something extremely unusual about him, a wisdom or maybe a knowledge that wasnt usually found in men perusing pick-up bars. Do I know you from somewhere? Ive been to a few of your seminars. I found them refreshing. Now you have me at a disadvantage. You know who I am. She examined him closer, tilting her head in memory. Max Avery. You were at my last seminar. We spoke briefly before I had to go on stage. I was actually hoping to see you again, but

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Yes, I was. I have been trying to get in touch with you ever since. I have called your number, and it keeps telling me that you are temporarily unavailable. The message keeps referring me to one of two other noted homeopaths in the area. Do you ever check your messages? Pine shook her head wearily. Rarely. I try to stay away from things that are depressing. Listening to someone cry on the phone about how they need to see me is depressing. Why did you drop out of sight? I have my reasons. How did you know I was here? He chuckled guiltily. I umm, should lie and say I didnt. Im a rotten liar. I got tired of doing things the right way and gave up. I tapped into your phone line so I could monitor your calls. I know you have been taking cabs and have my phone set up to notify me when you called for one. It was simple to get the destination, and here I am. She laughed. Are you a stalking hacker or just looking for love in the wrong place? Max rolled his eyes guiltily. Im neither. Id say hacker elite. If you have the technical knowledge to tap my phone and know that I always take a cab, dont you know why? He avoided her interrogating gaze, wrinkling his nose and running his tongue between his bottom teeth and his lip. Then Max nodded slowly. I was trying to be discreet. I was trying to get an endorphin rush from some guy who would get dressed and get the hell out without prying into my life. She spun the chair and walked away from him. If she had met him ten years ago, before Martin, Max would have been exactly what she adored. He had boyish good looks and an extremely well-accented body. In the current situation, she was not interested in having someone in her life that had boyfriend potential. There would be no more serious relationships in her potentially short future. Pine hurried out the door of the bar, flipping open her phone. In the morning she would see to

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getting a number that couldnt be so easily traced. Pine! Max bellowed as he strode after her. Stop! he commanded, grabbing her by the shoulder. Get your hands off of me! You are going to die, Pine. Im well aware of that. There isnt much you can do about it, is there? she asked sarcastically as she spun on him. What kind of fucked-up individual are you? You hack into my personal life, follow me to a bar, and expect that I will be overjoyed. Am I supposed to be impressed, honored, what? The bouncer hurried around the corner staring at them. Is everything okay, Pine? The sadness radiating in Maxs eyes touched her, and she sighed. Im fine, Henry. Thank you. Anytime, Pine. Yell if you need me. I will. Henry gave Max a warning look and headed back inside. Personal friend? asked Max. Yes. He was a friend of my ex-husband. Its part of the reason I come here. He chuckled. I think it more likely because you are the most beautiful woman in the bar. You look twenty years younger than any of them. Pine shrugged, knowing that it was the truth. Her long, sandybrown hair and unnaturally dark-blue eyes accented a face that had remained almost untouched by time. Even at fifty-one, she didnt have any deep wrinkles or gray hairs. Her skin was radiant and unmarred by dark patches or age blotches. She had never been beauty-queen beautiful, but attractive in an understated way. Her lifestyle hadnt stopped the cancer, but it had helped her appearance hold its own against her age and her disease. Thank you. I guess if you went to all this trouble, I should hear you out. What do you want?

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I want to spend some time with you. Have sex with you if you want. He grinned. I am really good in bed if you are honestly looking for an endorphin rush. I want to talk to you and pick your brain. Im not asking for a commitment. No strings. It would be nice if you wouldnt throw me out, but Ill leave if you want. Just give me a chance, please? How old are you? He seemed to consider the question and then shrugged. Twentyseven. She rolled her eyes, shaking her head in disbelief. You have to be kidding me. Youre half my age. Not quite. I dont get it. Max sighed heavily as if an explanation was going to be physically painful. Get what? My fiance dragged me to one your seminars last year. I havent been able to get you out of my mind since. Do you believe in eternal connections? As in what? Reincarnation, love at first sight because of past lives? Yes. Eternal connections between people, in this case you and me. His voice cracked slightly, and Max cleared his throat. I knew it the minute I saw you. I know it as a truth more real than anything in my life. He spun away from her. Shit. I had no intention of telling you that, yet! You make me crazy! Max shook his head and walked away, leaving Pine standing with her mouth open. She watched him get in his car. As he drove out of sight, she was overcome with a sensation of loss so great it overwhelmed her. Her eyes filled with tears, and Pine sat down on one of the huge rocks that accented the parking lot. Alone in the darkness with the echo of the music from within wafting on the breeze, Pine sat sobbing into her palms. She had no idea why his exit had left her so despondent, but Pine knew that she had to find him.

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**** Her cab pulled up in front a house. Thatll be twenty-seven fifty. Pine frowned. I dont live here. This is the address I was given. If you need to go somewhere else, you should have told the dispatcher. I have another pick up scheduled, and I really want to go home. My shift is over. He glared at her through the divider, and Pine glared back. Im not getting out here. I have no problem paying you, but this is not my house. Someone knocked on the window of the cab and gave the driver two twenties. Max leaned down and smiled at Pine as he opened the door for her. Ill give you a ride. Otherwise you can sit on the stoop and call for another cab. I really wanted to talk to you. He offered her his hand and helped her out. Pine stared at him, chuckling softly. You rerouted my cab? Yeah. Why didnt you just come back? I was gonna, but Tonight didnt go how I wanted. I was mad at myself, and I felt like an ass. Max shrugged, pursing his lips and sucking air through his teeth to make a buzzing sound. Im better with computers than people on occasion. Yeah, no shit. He led her to the front porch and stopped, staring at her bloodshot eyes. Are you okay? No. Tonight didnt go as I intended, either. By now I should be in the shower, throbbing from climax and washing spittle off my breasts. Instead Im standing here trying to figure out if you slipped something in my drink. I didnt, Max said as small bursts of humorous laughter escaped his throat despite his obvious desire to restrain them. Im sorry, he managed to say with a shrug before he openly began to laugh. Pine

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had no idea why he found her words humorous, but the sound of his laughter carried its own amusement. She watched him, first giggling slightly and then sitting beside him as she was drawn into his hilarity. They were both gasping for air with tears leaking from their eyes before they were able to get the emotion under control. Pine shook her head, staring at him. What is so funny? It was just the blunt way you said that. I dont ever remember leaving drool on a womans breasts. All I could think of was a man crossed with a Saint Bernard. She slapped his shoulder, the image making her laugh again. That is not funny. She snorted, even though she was laughing. Although, a few of the men I dated before my husband might have had that particular genetic anomaly. He inhaled deeply, trying to ward off another round of giggles. Why? She shrugged. Nice body, cute face. No brains. Max rolled his eyes. Is that what you were looking for tonight? Wouldnt a dildo have been safer? he asked before considering the question. You didnt want safer, did you? I no longer have hope for a miracle. I live with a future that despite all my training and knowledge will have one of two ends. My brain will reach critical mass, bringing on seizures and eventually sending me into a vegetative state until I die. Option two is that my lungs collapse and I will feel as if Im drowning until the lack of oxygen finally kills me. If anyone discovers me before I die, either scenario will leave me in a hospital bed. I dont want that. If I commit suicide, I lose the life insurance that I have paid all these years for. I get more if its an accident. You would rather have your daughter see you murdered than give up her life insurance? Pine lowered her gaze and shrugged. Im gonna die anyway. Max was silent, looking at her with a seriousness that she hadnt imagined him capable of. Wanna come in? I promise I wont drool

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on you. She gave a short, cropped laugh at the comment. I guess. Max stood, offering her a hand and then pulling her to her feet. He drew her into his arms, kissing her with a passion so filled with desire that Pine felt as if she were going to faint. She pushed him back, staring at him as she panted for air. Max simply smiled and opened the front door, offering his hand. Pine accepted.

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Chapter 2
Max smiled as he led her up a slightly narrow staircase. Pine tried to look through the railing, but the first floor was too dark for her to see anything. She wondered suddenly if he lived with someone else or maybe even his parents. Max stopped, flipping on a light to reveal a small kitchen with a table in the center. Can I get you something to drink? No thank you. Are you going to turn formal on me? She flipped back her bangs and shrugged. I dont know. What do you mean? I have found that some people begin to use formal speech as a way to deal with uncomfortable situations. Oh. Im oddly not uncomfortable, and I rarely use formal speech. Are you uncomfortable? No. He stepped closer to her, removing her light jacket and laying it on the chair. Pine had an overwhelming urge to grab him by the hair and kiss him. She restrained herself, wondering what he would do next. Max did exactly what she had been thinking. His fingers twined in her hair, and he put his lips to hers. The kiss began softly, gently, and then his tongue slid into her mouth. She met the embrace with vehemence, her mouth crushed against his as he lifted her into his arms. Pine was stunned by the passion flaring in her own body. Her cunt was throbbing with need, the sensation demanding but not unwelcome. She had been very lonely since the doctor had announced her death sentence. The reaction she was having to Max was far beyond anything she had ever felt. Her need to be with him

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was stronger, and she longed for the feel of his naked body against hers. Max laid her down on a bed in a dimly lit room and then stood. He had Pines complete attention as he slowly tugged his shirt up over his head. The light from the kitchen left the front of his body in shadows, accenting him as if he was a spectacular ethereal presence. He held out his hand, and she took it, sitting up. Max dragged her blouse off and then put his palm to her chest, playfully pushing her back onto the mattress. He unzipped her jeans and slid them off with her underwear in a single perfect motion. Pine pushed herself onto her elbows, her head tilted in expectation. Max flexed his hips, swinging them seductively, and then stood motionless before her. Pine took it as an invitation and sat up, unzipping his pants and tugging them off. He had nothing underneath, and he stood in all his glory before her. His cock was partially erect, and Pine was impressed. Nice, she whispered seductively as her eyes roamed over his body. He was absolutely gorgeous, his chest and abdomen muscled. He had a light coating of hair over his upper body, but not enough to be irritating to her sensitive skin. It appeared silky, and she ran her fingers over it. Wow, you hair is really soft. So I have been told. Ill explain that later. The comment seemed odd, but Pine didnt care as she put her hands to his hips and pulled him toward herself. He lifted her by her sides, sliding her up onto the bed as he crawled over her. Max dropped lightly onto her, his mouth finding hers again. Pine slid her fingers into his hair, the feel of it almost overly soft against her palms. Max pulled back slightly, looking directly into her eyes. I want you so badly. I have since the first time I saw you. A smile touched her lips as she let her fingers trail down the muscular lines of his chest. I want you, also. Make love to me, Max. I plan to. He slipped downward, his mouth to her breast as he kissed the skin in a circular pattern, slowly moving into the center. When he sucked her nipple into his mouth, Pine moaned softly. A

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rolling shimmer of sensation seemed to flow from his mouth down into the innermost parts of her cunt. The muscles flexed and released, the tingle of orgasm growing steadily as he licked and nipped his way downward. He stopped at the swell of her mound, looking up at her with enticing eyes. Do you want my tongue or my dick? If you are going to give me an option, Ill take both. Happy to oblige. Max pushed her lower lips open, flawlessly hitting her clit as he began to lap at her with the precise amount of pressure. His touch was glorious. His fingers slowly sinking into her overly wet flesh. Her cunt instantly snatched at his hand as he stroked the inner walls, his tongue playing music on her clit. She didnt want to climax this way, and she was far too close to doing so. Stop. You are killing me. I presume that is a good thing by the sound of your moans and whimpers. Pine giggled. Yes, its good. Get up here and fuck me, please. Max slithered up her body, urging her thighs up his sides as his now-hardened dick teased her opening with short, probing thrusts. Pine slapped his shoulders, the urge to have him inside so strong she was going to scream. The warmth of his cock filled her slowly and firmly, invading the throbbing muscles. Pines hips collided with his as her entire lower body rose from the bed. The reaction was unexpected and dramatic, her muscles clamping around him. With a single hard thrust of his dick, Pine gasped for air, screeching as the climax hit. She was thrashing against him, the feeling so wondrous that her mind seemed to drift in the swell of her pulsing pussy. Max gritted his teeth, a gurgle of sound flowing from his throat as he kissed her face. He inhaled quickly, and then chuckled softly as he rolled to his back and pulled her onto his body. Pine leaned her head into his. Oh shit. What did you do to me? That was fantastic.

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I agree. I knew it would be. Maybe it will last a little longer the next time. I guess we were both a little overheated. Something like that. Ready for round two? She felt the swell of his cock as he rubbed it against her thigh. Didnt you come? Yes, but that doesnt mean we have to stop. Pine frowned as he sat up slightly and ran his hands up her sides. Shift your ass over. It wont last forever with no attention. Pulling her legs up to his sides, Pine leaned back. She lifted her ass slightly and was stunned by the stiffness of his cock as he filled her pussy with it. As long as she was being given the opportunity for another try, she also intended to make it last. Rocking her hips, Pine rotated her upper body in a slow, wide circle. The shifting of their joined flesh was heavenly, the slow rise of inner tingles building as she moved. Max sat up, stopping her motion as he snatched her nipple with his teeth. Pine kissed his head, her hands flowing over his hair and then down to his shoulders. The feel of his muscular body was delicious, a treat she had been denied later in life. His body was harder, his touch more enticing than any of the men who she had briefly dated since her divorce. Of course, none of them had gotten past a good-night kiss. Pine chuckled softly at the realization. Whats funny? Im sorry. I was temporarily distracted by the knowledge that your movements are not tainted by drunkenness. What a perverse thought. I hope thats a good thing. A very good thing. Max was massaging the skin of her shoulders in a deep and luxurious way. Everything about him felt amazingly good, his arms brushing against hers as she kept her actions subdued, enjoying the friction of skin against skin. Her eyes fluttered closed, and when she opened them, Max was gazing at her. His expression was so intense and serene that she smiled. What?

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He appeared on the verge of another confession, but only shook his head. Youre amazing. My thoughts exactly. Well about you. You have no idea how glad I am to hear that. What are you not telling me? Nothing bad. Sliding his palms down to her ass, Max controlled her. He slid her forward and back, lifting her slightly and then refilling her pussy with his hot cock. The tremors in her cunt quickened, gaining intensity. Max was obviously taking cues from her reactions, and he leaned back onto his elbows, thrusting upward to meet her as she rocked over him. Pine was tossed into the inferno of climax and suddenly feared that she would be burned alive. **** Max opened his eyes at first light. He had never required much sleep, and he was surprised that he had slept away most of the night. Pine was lying beside him, her mouth slightly open as she snored softly. She was far sicker than he had originally imagined, and he regretted not pursing her sooner. He was not usually one to drag his heels, but Pine was different than the women he was used to. She was a strong spirit, independent, and extremely intelligent. He had loved her lectures, although his lifestyle had been crafted long before he had heard her speak. His body had specific requirements and always protested when he ate something that wasnt acceptable. He had tasted junk food on a few occasions, but it had made him feel funny. There was a balance to nature, and he respected that balance. Pine moaned and rolled away from him, tugging the blanket up around her neck. She was enticing, and to have her sleeping beside him was a long-dreamt-of fantasy. They had the potential to be the perfect pair. A man and woman who would truly be together until death did them part. It was not a vow of words, but rather a joining of souls.

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Max pushed himself from the bed, wondering again of the best way to explain things to Pine. He needed to lay it on the table, tell her the complete truth, but he feared that his words would send her running for the hills.

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Chapter 3
Pine opened her eyes to the smell of cooking bacon. She searched the room for her clothing, but only found a robe draped across a chair. The bedroom was split in half, the other side of the space acting as a living area with a comfortable-looking sofa and two armchairs centered by an ancient-looking footed cherrywood table. The hardwood floor had only a few throw rugs that appeared to have been hand woven. She slipped into the robe, wandered into the kitchen, and slid into a chair. Max gave her a smile. Morning. Hungry? Oddly, Im starving. Was your endorphin rush pleasurable? Extremely, she replied with a sweet smile brought about by the memories of the night before. Am I thinking incorrectly, or were you still hard when I passed out? I was still hard. Nothing a bit of time or some cold water wouldnt fix, he replied with a chagrinned expression that made Pine laugh. I read somewhere about that particular condition, but have never experienced it before. I dont know what you read, but I can keep my dick hard for a very long time. Obviously, it is not affected by climax, either. Thats what I read. He held up an organic coffee pod, and she nodded thankfully. When I was younger it used to make me insane. I dont care what anyone says, teenage girls dont have the stamina or maybe its just that they arent used to sex that can last all night. As I got older, I

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mostly learned to control it, but it still has a mind of its own on occasion. Have you ever told your doctor? I dont have one. As in you dont have one in particular or you have never had one? He put her coffee on the table and dished out half of a huge omelet into a plate. Nothing toxic, I eat all organic, and the meat is free range, naturally cured, no sulfites. Do you want juice? Milk for my coffee. He took out a half gallon and poured some in her cup, drinking his own black. Pine bit into the omelet and moaned. This is delicious. Im also a good cook. Been doing it for a long time. The furniture in the other room looks antique. Is it? The craftsmanship is amazing. It has been passed down. I think it has character. Max knew that the moment he answered her, the truth would begin to unfold. He would have to explain quickly and make her believe his words. She needed to be with him. To answer your question, I have never been to a doctor. A midwife signed my birth certificate. Thats as close as I ever got to a doctor. Pine frowned. Your parents never took you to the doctor for your shots or to a dentist? Max shook his head. No. My birth mother had a car accident and died right after I was born. My father flipped out and killed himself a week later. The midwife who assisted my birth lied and said that she was my mother. I lived with her and her husband as my parents. They both died two years ago. They left me this house and everything in it. She felt her mouth hanging open in astonishment, but couldnt seem to get control of her bottom lip to close it. How did you go to school without the documents? she asked, remembering the paperwork she had submitted for her daughter years before.

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My fathers friend was a doctor. He never actually had me for a patient. He forged my paperwork. Why would he do that? He took a bite of his omelet, chewing it slowly. He was putting off the inevitable and needed to grit his teeth and try to make her understand. Max took a swig of his coffee. I fear that no matter how I try to explain this, it is going to be like last night at the bar. Let me ask you a question. How long do you think you have to live? I dont know. I feel okay for the most part. I have occasional attacks where it is hard to breathe or my mind seems to be slipping. I get bad headaches but nothing else. Max sighed. If you took a high powered stethoscope and listened to your lungs, you might hear what I heard last night while we were making love. I dont know about the tumor in your brain, but your lungs are struggling to work properly. He looked down at the table, needing to avert his gaze. Im not human. I have never been sick, and I never will be. Pine sighed as she stared at him. Of course he wasnt human. Why would I think that a human man could be so nice, so cute, and so good in bed? I have longed to find the lacking elements of sex and I find them with a lunatic. Okay, so what are you? Do tell. Max glanced up at her, pursing his lips in irritation. I didnt expect you to believe me, but spare me the sarcasm. Im a changeling, a shifter. We have many names. I am not human or animal, but a combination. I can be either at will. I mostly stay as a human, but not always. I enjoy shifting and running in the woods or just having a fur coat on a cold night. Even better, hes a delusional lunatic. Okay, so you are telling me that you are a werewolf? Different beast. Shifters dont live as long, but we are not limited by what we can become. And you are telling me this why? I didnt ask for admissions of insanity or life stories.

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Max nodded, and Pine couldnt help but think that his thoughtful, intelligent expression didnt relay the sickness in his brain. I know you didnt. Im telling you because I can change you and the cancer will die. Somewhere in your history one of your ancestors was like me. It is why I was so drawn to you. If the tales of our kind hold true, then you and I have always met up and been together during our lives. You carry the blood, but are never born a shifter as I was. As my parents and adoptive parents were. She stifled her urge to laugh. So Im a shifter half-breed? Interesting. I need to get out of here. Pine finished off her coffee. Could you tell me where you put my clothing, or do I have to call a cab in a bathrobe? I put it on the shelf in the bathroom. I thought you might want to take a shower. A cheeky smile flashed on her face. I dont think so. Where is my phone? Its downstairs in your coat hanging on the banister. Do you want me to get it? You might as well finish your omelet. Im not holding you here if you want to leave, but I hate wasting food. Max got up and disappeared around the corner. Pine stuck another forkful of food in her mouth, savoring the flavors of the slightly sweet maple-cured bacon and the perfectly sauted vegetables. The chunky pieces of mushroom, green summer squash, and sweet purple onions were perfectly accented with a bit of sea salt. Max returned, handing Pine her coat. Wanna have sex again before you leave? Im game. Pine stared at him in complete dismay. You tell me that youre a shape-shifter and then ask if I want to stay for sex? Why not? If Im nuts, maybe I will do you a favor and kill you. If Im not, we have sex and you go home. Either way, its a win-win. He did have a point. It didnt really matter if he was nuts because sex with him had been incredible. He was exactly what she was looking for. Max the ultimate dream. She would die in the arms of a

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beautiful man after an amazing climax. Okay, but you have let me come before you kill me. He chuckled, the sound humorless. Im not going to kill you. I was kidding. Pine shrugged. I wasnt. A grunt of irritation was followed by his offered palm. Pine found herself being led into his bedroom. To stay with him was insanity in itself, but she had no desire to resist his offer. There was something about him that was extremely compelling, and Pine suddenly realized that even if he didnt kill her, she wasnt going to call for a cab.

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Chapter 4
Pine rolled onto her back, seeing that she was alone. Max had again proven himself an amazing lover. His disturbed mind did not affect his sexual ability. She grinned at the thought, pain flashing through her skull as a brilliant reminder of her own sickness. She squeezed her eyes shut, massaging her temples as tiny ripples of a seizure threatened. Her breathing became an uneven pant, the agony in her head mixing with the quivering of her muscles. **** Max glared out the window, willing a car to pull up outside. He could almost feel Pine lying in the bed above him. His brain was shimmering with a sense of impending doom, a dark shadow that had begun to creep over him as he lay in bed watching her sleep. Something bad was about to happen, and he paced to the bottom of the stairs, listening. Pine was waking, and he returned to the window, glancing outside. The sense that she was in trouble flared louder, a warning speaker blaring in his brain. Max threw the front door open and left it. **** In a distance place, Pine heard heavy footsteps on the wooden stairs, and Max raced into the room, leaping into bed beside her. He dragged her into his arms, holding her tightly with his legs around her

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waist as he rubbed her shoulders. I called Leo. He will be over in a few. Whos Leo? she asked in a slow voice as she tried to control the tremors in her neck. A friend. A shifter with a medical degree. I know you dont like meds, but he is bringing something over for the seizure and for the pain if you want it. How? I felt it. All your muscles started to tighten, and you were moaning softly in your sleep. My senses are more attuned than yours. Just like a dog who can sense the onset of a seizure. An older man ran into the room, and she had to assume it was Leo as he pulled back the blanket and drove a needle into her leg. Pine scowled at him, and he smiled. Sorry. I cant let you die just yet. You need to believe the boy and let us help you. Do you want something for the pain? The overwound feeling of her muscles seemed to loosen, the uncontrollable shivering slacking off. Max continued to rub her shoulders and neck, his touch comforting. The pain in her head eased just as suddenly, drowning down to a faint drumbeat between her ears. Her eyes were locked on Leo. Are you trying to tell me that youre one of them? What am I saying? Shifters dont exist any more than werewolves or vampires do. Dont be so sure of that. They are still discovering new species of animals. We are just a species that prefers not to be discovered. How did you get through medical school? The same way anyone else does. With the exception that my personal medical reports are all faked. Each generation takes care of the next. Has he had the brains to at least show you? Show me what? Leo scowled at Max and proceeded to strip off his clothing. Pine watched in dismay as Max chuckled in her ear. Unable to take her eyes off Leo, she stared openly as he dropped to the floor, changing

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into a small bear. Leo climbed onto the bed and curled up in her lap like a large black puppy. Pine wasnt sure if she should push him off, pet him, or run screaming from the room. Max was still behind her and had his legs twined around her, preventing her from moving. She turned her head to look at him in fascinated horror. How did he do that? Where the hell did he get a bear cub from? Its not a parlor trick. He didnt get a bear. He became a bear. Normally, he shifts into a grizzly, but he obviously didnt want to scare the shit out of you. Go ahead. Pet him. I know youre dying to. She reached out, running her fingers through the silky fur. Leo wiggled and then rose, hopping to the floor as he shifted back into a man. Pine had been holding onto a hope that Leo was simply hiding at the bottom of the bed as he released the bear cub. He had changed back right in front of her, and there was no denying what the truth was. Leo walked over and picked up his clothing, dressing silently as he stared at her. I have to go. Call if you need me, Max. I will. Thanks. Pine, consider his offer. It is your only hope. Im not going to say the process will be pleasant, but neither is the alternative. Is there anything in your medical history I should know? Like what? Any implants or metal in your body? I saw the scar on your leg. I had a knee replacement three years ago. That will have to go. Without a further word, Leo turned and walked out. Pine shifted in Maxs arms so she could look at his face. He had been telling her the truth, and her entire perspective on life had just been skewed. It was unimaginable that shifters actually existed, but she had just seen it for herself. She heard Leos words again and asked, What the hell did he mean by that? If we change you, your body will reject any foreign matter. Your knee will get massively infected as your blood tries to destroy it, and

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it could kill you. It is better and safer to simply remove it beforehand. Pine clearly remembered the hell she had gone through after the surgery. It had been weeks of seemingly unending pain as she pushed to make the joint work properly. Now Leo was proposing that he simply slice her open and remove the hardware that had been installed. You cant remove a knee replacement. How the hell is he going to remove the metal joint from the bone? Not including the fact that I would be crippled. Max stroked back her hair. Leo knows how to do it, and no, you wont be crippled. It will make the change more difficult, but over a period of days, your body will recreate the missing joint. Ill be here with you. It didnt seem possible to do such a thing, but shifters werent possible, either. If Max was a shifter, he needed to prove it. I want to see it. See what? See you shift, whatever you call it. Leo had done the obvious. He had shown Pine the truth. It was a stupid oversight for Max not to do it himself, but he hadnt wanted to freak her out. Shift works. He slid out from behind her and then hopped onto the bed, dropping his robe to the floor. Name your animal, preferably not something under thirty pounds. If I allow my brain size to become too small, I revert to an instinctual state. Pine shrugged. Umm, all I can think of is iguana. She glanced at the painting on the wall and replied, A wolf. I love that painting. The wolves look so real and devoted to one another. His smile melted as his face morphed outward, his head flattening as his jaw extending into a snout. He dropped over her, his legs and arms extending, thinning as hair flowed from his pores. Max arched his back, flexing his spine as his neck lengthened, his body thickening slightly. Within the few terrified breaths that Pine

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managed to inhale, Max was standing over her, his vibrant green eyes the only thing to connect him to a man. Max had feared that turning into a creature with such a bad reputation had been a mistake. The expression on her face was tinged with terror, yet she was obviously amazed and maybe a bit intrigued. Max licked her skin, making her squirm beneath him. He lay on her, his nose nestled between the swell of her breast. Can you still talk? He shifted his head from side to side, his eyes never leaving hers. Pine was terrified, exhilarated, her breathing unstable as she reached up and touched his face, running her fingers through the fur on his neck. He was soft, the thickness of the hair startling as she dug into the skin beneath. Max purred at the touch, a low rumbling growl of approval escaping his throat. She was pinned beneath him, his body warm and heavy upon her. You can understand me, right? He nodded and then licked her again, his sandy tongue thrilling her senses. This is wrong. I will not have sex with you as a wolf or any other beast. Change back! she demanded. Max ignored her, rising slightly to hold her down with his front paws to her shoulders. Pine was unsure of how much of the mind still belonged to Max, other than he understood her. In his current state, would he react as a man or a wolf if she tried to push him off? Would he give in or unexpectedly attack her as her friends Doberman had once done? He shifted his back paws, clawing her slightly as he wedged her thighs apart with his legs. Fear flooded Pines mind, a sudden, irrational terror of being torn apart as the wolf fucked her. It was a thought she couldnt shake from her mind as her breathing became more irregular, and she squeezed her eyes shut against reality. Pine felt him breach her flesh. Please dont, she whispered before taking note that his body was furless, his muscular thighs rubbed against her legs. Maxs cock was hard and hot as he kissed her lips, stroking back her hair. For such an intelligent woman, your sexual ideas are

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prehistoric. If you are going to become a shifter, you might want to at least consider having sex with us both as animals. It does keep things interesting. I dont want to die, she whispered in sudden realization. The pain in her expression filled his heart with guilt. What just happened? I was teasing you. Nothing more. I would have no problem making love to you as a wolf, but Tears dripped from her cheeks as she looked at him. I had a vision of you fucking me as you tore me to shreds. I was dying in agony and my death was suddenly so real. I dont want to die. Her nostrils flared, her mouth contorting as she began to sob. Max slid his arms behind her back, rolling her to lie upon his chest. You are not going to die. We are going to change you and kill the cancer. I want you to spend this reality with me and die with me on a faraway day so we can be the same age. He rocked her in his arms, his desires temporarily squelched by her tears. It was a long while before she leaned up and looked at him. Max wiped the wetness from her cheeks. Explain the dying thing. I will be your primary creator. My saliva will take precedence over the others. As it flows through your blood it will change the cell structure of it to be more like mine, and as such, we will be life mates. We are not immortal. Our lifespan is usually two or maybe three hundred years. My real father killed himself because he couldnt bear to be apart from my mother. Dying together is also a way to ensure that we are relatively the same age in the next life. It is hard to find a mate who is years younger or older than you. I had pretty much given up hope of ever finding you. My body is twenty-seven, but I was born close to ninety years ago. The older we get, the slower we physically age. The idea that he was actually forty years older than her seemed impossible. Pine changed the subject. What happened with your fiance?

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She saw an ad for one of your seminars and kept bugging me to go see the revered homeopath, Mrs. Pine Crest. She said it would be good to explore alternatives for the children she wanted to have. I reluctantly agreed. We were sitting in an aisle seat, and when you walked past me, all time stopped. I smelled you as if your body was infused with flowers and the sticky sweetness of fresh honey. I instantly knew who you were, and when I realized that you were on the stage speaking, I was shocked. I watched you with rapt attention, every movement and every gesture sinking into my mind. I wanted to walk up onto the stage and wrap my arms around you. I wanted to kiss you and hold you. I went to every one of your classes that I could. I always made sure I had an aisle seat, and over time I noticed an odor glowing as you passed. It was sour and wrong, tainting your sweetness. When you passed out six months later, I knew that you were sick and possibly dying. I suppose I wasnt assertive enough when I tried to talk to you. Other than that single brief encounter, I was never able to get close enough without making it into an issue. After you disappeared, I knew that I had to find you. He smiled wistfully. I turned to my fiance, Sarah, that first day when the seminar was over and realized that I no longer loved her. Whatever feelings I had only hours before were gone, evaporated as if they never existed. I didnt want to hurt her. Our wedding was only weeks away, but I couldnt marry her. I couldnt stand to be near her. Even kissing her was impossible. What had been a sweet exchange of emotion suddenly left me cold and with a taste of rotten meat in my mouth. A week later, I called the wedding off. She was hysterical, sobbing, beating at my chest with her fists. I didnt have an explanation to give her. I just told her that I couldnt go through with it. I havent seen or spoken to her since. I occasionally run into one of her friends who informs me of what a shit I was. Pine tried to imagine how the other woman felt. To have her fianc dump her without a reason would be horrible. He had been a shit, but for a good reason. Ouch. Did she know what you are?

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No. I never told her. Once a month or so, I would go camping with the guys. She was okay with it, and it was an outlet to allow me to shift and run with nature. In retrospect, I was avoiding thinking about the future. I would have eventually left her to hide that I wasnt aging as she was. There would have been no way to explain why I never get sick or even catch a common cold. It was a bad move on my part, but I enjoy the company of a woman, and after my parents died, I felt alone. Pine leaned up on her elbows, stroking his cheeks. I know that feeling. At the moment, I feel veryI dont know. The words comfortable and safe come to mind, but a few moments ago you scared the hell out of me. Your imagination scared the hell out of you. You knew I was in the wolf and I would never tear you apart. I wasnt sure how much of your conscious mind was there. All of it. As I said, providing that I retain my relative size, my brain doesnt change. I still think as a human, but it is combined with the instincts of an animal. Even now, I have the instincts of an animal. It doesnt matter what shape Im in. You will find that our kind is very intelligent with unusually high IQs. As an animal has an inbred will to thrive and survive, we, as a species, make it a habit to continually learn and grow mentally. I use my mind to fix computers and as such, use computers to constantly upgrade my knowledge. How many of you are there? In this area, about twenty. We are friends and tend to form into packs that meet occasionally. Outside of our area, Im not sure. There is no hierarchy that keeps track or anything. If I run into a stranger, it triggers a physical response. I can smell the wildness in their blood, kind of like smelling a wet dog. We tend to avoid those of alternate packs. If we choose to move from our area, we can apply for preacceptance to another pack. The Internet has made that immensely easier.

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She smiled at his humored expression. Do shifters have children? Occasionally. The couples usually move into a remote area where no one is around to question the pregnancy. Our gestation period is only six months. Our children tend to be impulsive, and they are usually kept away from public places until they are three or four and can understand that they cant change in front of regular humans. Our life spans are so long that it really doesnt require us to multiply all that often. Having a True Blood scenario where we go public and hope we are accepted is unlikely. That requires us to keep our population small. Not including the fact that shifter children are super intelligent brats. There is also a slim chance that two shifters can have a human child with ineffectual genes like yours. What does ineffectual genes imply? They tend to produce adverse diseases in a human. In your case, they probably made your cancer progress, despite your healthy living habits. Pine had always felt cheated by the fact that she lived the ultimate in a natural, chemical-free life. She ate only the best, most nutritious food in the optimal combinations. She took natural supplements to offset whatever nutrients she was missing each day, and she had still gotten cancer. It had seemed very unfair, but with this newfound knowledge, she understood better. But my parents werent shifters. I would have known. Probably not your parents, but one of your ancestors was. Is there anyone in your history that has disappeared? Pine vaguely remembered hearing about her grandmother who she was supposed to resemble. Yeah. My grandmother, Ester. She took her horse to the store one day and never came back. The assumption was that the horse might have thrown her and she died on the side of the road. She lived in a very secluded area that had many ravines with dense underbrush. My mother always said that I looked like Ester. They almost named me Ester.

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Why did they name you Pine? My parents used to secretly meet in a hideaway on my grandparents property. It was a circular area of grass lined with dense pines. There was only one entrance and an inner layer of bushes shielded it. It was where I was accidentally conceived, she replied with a chuckle. Ah. Where did Max come from? Maximus was my blood fathers name. My parents named me after him. I changed it to Max when I changed identities fifteen years ago. Huh? Because we dont age or, more aptly, age so slowly, we have to occasionally move and shift our identities. My parents neighbors might question why the boy next door never aged as their own children did. When I was younger, we lived in a country setting, so it was okay. I went to school as Maximus, and I was supposed to have a growth problem. After elementary school, I supposedly went to live with my stepfather. I was enrolled into high school years later as Michael, which enabled me to get my diploma. At that point my body had grown to the size of an eighteen-year-old. I went to college for four years and graduated looking about nineteen or twenty. I was actually in my late thirties. A friend fixed my school, birth, and physical records to match my desired age. I kept changing my identity and continued my education, business school, followed by computer training. I can do websites, graphics, pretty much anything computer related. I was forty-seven and looked maybe twenty-two when I finally got tired of school and gave up. I traveled for a while and then went back to stay with my parents. They were reaching the end of their lifespan and needed my help. They lived in this big, sprawling house that became too much to handle. Fifteen years ago we sold it and moved here. My mother died, and a month later my father joined her. I set up the first floor as a computer repair shop and live up here.

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I dont really need the money, but it gives me something to do. I am the one who is called upon now to recreate records and identities. I handle the entire Connecticut area plus parts of Maine and Massachusetts. Most requests are made via a private, highly secured connection. Pine was overwhelmed with a slowly creeping exhaustion like the subtle freezing of a small pond. She tried to fight it, wanting to talk more with Max, but she laid her head down on his chest and was gone. She had a vague memory of him slipping from beneath her, but sleep was a demanding master. **** Max sat for a long time, watching her sleep. Their discussion had gone far better than he expected, and he was overjoyed that she seemed to accept the truth so quickly. She believed what he was and what he would be able to do for her. In every sense of the word, Pine was an amazing woman. She would soon be his mate, his lifetime companion who would live by his side in harmony. He would have the eternal that he had been so desperately seeking. To spend hundreds of years alone, feeling incomplete and searching for his soul mate was unimaginable. He had feared that it was to be his destiny when he had asked Sarah to marry him. Now Pine was sleeping in his bed. She was sick and growing weaker by the minute, but as long as he was by her side, she would be fine. **** Max shook her, and she sat up with a start. Hey, sleepy head, want to go get some dinner? I know a great organic restaurant. Dinner? I dont remember eating lunch.

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Probably because you didnt. I tried to wake you, but I couldnt get you up. Do you want to get up now? She nodded sleepily. Can I take a shower? Of course. Do you need help? Pine smiled, seeing through the innocence of his question. Only if you get me a snack first. With a cordial nod of his head, he walked into the kitchen and came back with a maple and apple snack bar. Pine devoured it quickly and then screeched as he swept her off the bed and carried her into the bathroom. He lowered her to the floor, regulating the water and flipping on the shower before offering her a hand in. Are you always so gentlemanly? I have been known to be. It is in direct contrast to my wild side. Pine leaned back into the flow of the water, the heat feeling heavenly. I should really go home after dinner. Why? I have no clean clothing. I have a life at home. What life? She opened her mouth to reply and then realized that in reality, she didnt have one. Her life had become nothing more than hanging around the house, drinking herbal mixes and doing yoga. Her daughter lived with her, but she had a job and a full social life, so she was rarely home. Do you already know how inconsequential my life has become? I only know what I could glean via the Internet. She nodded and then shrugged. What will happen if Im changed? It might be better if you dont know the actual process beforehand. I will tell you that it takes five of us. It is a natural protection mechanism that makes it impossible for us to change someone by accident. She crunched up one side of her face in a dramatic grimace, groaning slightly. The images that flashed in her mind were

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grotesque, movie scenes involving vampires or vicious dog attacks. Pine tried to make light of the flashing scenes in her brain, but it didnt quite work. That means either I get to drink five peoples blood or I will be bitten five times. Doesnt that sound like fun? Cut out my artificial knee while five shifters are chewing on me. Do I at least get anesthesia first? It really wasnt funny, yet Max couldnt help but laugh at her overactive imagination. He feared that it would be her worst enemy. I wouldnt have put it quite that way. As I said, it is actually our saliva that attacks your blood. Once it changes the makeup of the blood flowing in your veins, then it alters your entire cell structure. Do you honestly think it wise to anesthetize you? Swallowing hard, she repressed a growing sense of nausea. Probably not. It would be impossible to monitor how I was reacting to the process if I was unconscious. I cant imagine that I wont pass out, though. Didnt I just say it would be better if you didnt know? Your face has the sudden coloration of milk. My stomach has the sudden sensation of puking. Tell me it wont live up to my imagination. She had just spoken his earlier concern. Ive only seen it done once before. The changeling was a man in his late twenties. I cant say that I stuck around long enough to ask him how unpleasant it had been. Where is he now? Max turned his eyes from her, grabbing a bottle of organic shampoo. He squirted some into his palm. The terror in her eyes was evident, and Max shrugged. Turn around. Ill wash your hair. What happened? Turn around. She did as he asked, the sudden soft quality of his fingers flexing against her scalp soothing. The woman who made the request did so on the terms that he was her eternal mate. She lied. She realized what

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a mistake it was about a month later. They got into a fight over money. He shifted and tried to kill her. A created shifter is never as strong as a born one, but they can still do a lot of damage. In the end, he died and she suffered for a while before her body was strong enough to totally heal itself. What if Im not the right one? I know you are. What do you know? She smiled against all the unsettling feelings welling in her mind. To think about who he was or what he meant to her overriding all other emotions. Max urged her to take a step back so her head was out of the water flow before he smeared conditioner into her hair. Well? The only way I can describe it is to say that you have become everything. To even consider that I only just met you is unbelievable. The thought of dying now terrifies me because it would mean not being with you. Pine turned to face him. I have felt love before, true all-consuming love that makes you feel like you are walking on clouds. This is more than that, something that words cant describe. She swiped at the fluid oozing down her forehead, but continued to stare into his eyes. Max simply nodded. It is eternal, something beyond words. I would give all for you, anything to be with you. This will not fade like mere human love. It is a oneness that has lasted through death, through time. Will it change after you have changed me? Probably. It will become more. The idea of feeling anything more for him than she already did was unsettling. She was already deeply in love with him. Her heart had already committed her to the change, and she could only hope it would save her life. There was no other option. If she didnt stay with him, she would die. The entire concept was absurd, but the night before she had been sure that shifters didnt exist. Yet Max was a shifter. Will it overshadow my love for my daughter?

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Probably. But she is your blood. It will overshadow friendships that you now have. As you stop ageing, you wont be able to retain friendships, anyway. We will become your friends. I will be your best friend as you will be mine. I dont have many friends. I was too busy helping people and teaching people. Once that stopped, I realized that I didnt have much else. I have let my friendships fade. My marriage couldnt withstand the test of adversity. My daughter is a wonderful woman, but she is aloof and mechanical. She doesnt argue with me about my choice to reject traditional treatment. She also doesnt want to see me sick, so she doesnt look. Even when she is home, I can see her avoiding my appearance as if not seeing me ill helps her deny the cancer. Will I look different? You wont be sick anymore. That in itself is going to be difficult to explain. Actually, it is probably a good thing that you dont have a doctor following your decline. It will make it easier to explain away the sickness. Leo can do the tests and have you declared as fit as a fiddle. Your daughter is another story. How is she going to react to you moving in with me? Am I? she asked with a cheeky grin. His answer was resolute. Yes! Not only because I want you here, but also the change can do some nasty things to you before its complete. Your knee will have to be reconstructed. Then there is the fact that you are riddled with cancer. All those alien cells will have to be removed, destroyed, and replaced before you can be truly healthy. Shifter blood will do those things. An involuntary shiver ran through her. I thought you werent going to tell me. If you were a normal woman, I wouldnt have. You, however, will figure it out and let your imagination run wild with it. In further thought, I knew that you needed to know. Anything else? I can only think of one thing.

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What is that? When. Can I have a little time to just enjoy life with you before you turn it into a living hell? I would really like that. He grabbed a bottle of body wash, wiggling his eyebrows. Still interested, or have I totally ruined your mood? Try me.

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Chapter 5
Three weeks later Pine had signed her house over to her daughter, Megan. A week later Megan had tried to have her mother declared legally incompetent. Leo had joined forces with a shifter who had a psychiatric degree and the areas attorney. They handled everything quickly and without bothering Max or Pine about it. She was stunned when five days later, Max handed her a court document that overruled Megans unsubstantiated opinion. She and her daughter had met face-to-face three days after the court ruling and the ensuing, somewhat irate discussion was still strong in Pines mind. She didnt blame Megan for her anger. If anything she understood. Megans critical analysis of the entire situation was valid. Pine had brain cancer. She had moved in with a complete stranger. To make matters worse, he was a twenty-sevenyear-old computer geek. Megan had refused to meet Max, and had only spoken to him briefly on the phone. Max had said that the separation would work to their advantage, but Pine felt horrible to have put her daughter in such a stressful situation. It was, unfortunately, a necessary evil, unless she cared to fight with Megan each and every day about checking herself into the hospital. Megan had suddenly come to terms with just how sick her mother was. Pine loved her daughter, but as Max had mentioned, how could she possibly explain to Megan that she was suddenly cured? Megan was not stupid. Pine also had to consider what would happen if the change altered her appearance. There would be no rational way to explain that, even if she could convince Megan that a miracle had happened and her

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cancer was gone. It seemed that any way she analyzed it, there were too many variables. Pine might soon be faced with the unimaginable future in which Megan could not be a part of it. The seizures were growing worse, the pain in her skull waking her from even the deepest sleep. She was still resisting due to an irrational fear of the unknown. Leo had begun sleeping on the sofa, recommending every day that Pine go through with the changing. He had an unnerving habit of shifting in his sleep, and on more than one occasion she had woken to find a grizzly bear holding an oxygen mask over her face. Maxs best friend, Alex Reed, had also been stopping over during the day. He would sit for hours, keeping her and Max company. Alex was a good cook and he would often make their meals when Max preferred to stay with Pine. Pine found Alex interesting and intelligent. Alex was starkly different in appearance from Max and the contrast between the two men was striking. Even with the weakening state of her body, her mind often wandered to daydreams involving not only Max, but also his friend. She dreamed that they were her protectors, her salvation, and to be the center of their lives would be magnificent. Max, however, was the one who deserved her devotion. He was her diligent sidekick, never leaving the house unless she felt up to going with him. He preferred that she come downstairs and be with him while he was working. Even when she didnt, he had a sense for when she needed him and seemed to appear at her side out of thin air. His only irritating request was that she always sleep in the nude, even though their sex life had been put on hold by the cancer. Max explained that it was not a question of sexuality, but rather one of necessity. If anything happened and they needed to act quickly, it was easier if they didnt have to stop and strip her. He also made note that whenever she shifted she would have to take her clothing off beforehand. She might as well get used to being naked. The final

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comment was accented with a smile so bright that she wanted only to please him. Max didnt push her to make a decision, but she could see it in his eyes on occasion. His green orbs relayed not only worry, but a need for her become one with him. **** Max sat, watching Pine sleep. He had been fighting an uneasy feeling all day that she was near death. Her eyes were ringed in black, her face appearing slightly sunken. When she smiled, there was no joy in the expression. He could tell that the pain was becoming unbearable. During the day her breathing was slightly labored, but tonight, she was wheezing badly. He had called Leo, and his friend was asleep in the chair nearby. He had tried to get Pine to say yes earlier in the evening, but she was still hesitant. He understood her resistance. The concept of having her knee removed from the bone made even him shiver. Having five people bite her to inject their saliva into her bloodstream wasnt a pleasant thought, either. Max had a feeling that it was actually a simple matter that Pine was resisting giving up her past. She was afraid of what the future would bring in a world that was totally alien to her. He had shifted on a few occasions to try to convince her of how wonderful it was. Max feared that she was still holding on to some hope that life would save her. A miracle would befall her and she would wake up healthy and whole. It amazed him that she would bear so much pain to avoid the inevitable. The pain of the change was going to be nothing in comparison to what she had already endured. He stroked back her hair, her skin sweaty and clammy. Her breathing was raspier than it had been the night earlier. Max leaned forward and kissed her on the nose. I wont be far, Pine. I have a few things that need taking care of. I love you so much.

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Chapter 6
The lake was warm and inviting, brilliantly green trees marking the full onset of summers heat. She dove into the water, brisk, but refreshing as she swam outward, ever farther into the blueness. She turned, glancing back at the shore but could no longer see it. The cabin was gone, the wooded forest no longer existing in her line of vision. Pine twirled in the water, desperately searching for some indication of the shoreline that she should be able to see no matter how far she had gone. She was alone at the lake house, a journey into the serenity that she was so desperately seeking. But now serenity was gone, replace by terror as she began to swim. Her arms reached deep into the water, her legs kicking to propel her forward. It seemed that eternity passed until she stopped again, spinning in slow circles, but seeing nothing. She was exhausted, pushed passed her capabilities until her arms and legs ached. Her body was cramping, her stomach tied in small knots that were quickly becoming agony. Her toes curled painfully toward the soles of her feet, her shoulder twitching involuntarily. Pine lost the ability to tread water, her body slowly sinking beneath the surface. She tilted her head back, trying to keep the sunlight in view. It slowly faded, darkness taking her down until she had was no longer able to hold her breath. Water rolled over her gaping lips, flooding down her throat like a waterfall of death. What little air was left in her lungs bubbled against the influx of fluid. Pine! Max howled at her. Wake up! Open your eyes. She gagged on the tube that now filled her throat. Leo was forcing air into her lungs, his face pale as he watched her. She lifted her hand

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to grasp the tube, but Max stopped her. Leave it. Your lungs are filling up with fluid. Its time, Pine. You cant wait any longer. Tears formed in her eyes as she looked at him and gestured for a pen. He retrieved it with a notepad from the side table, holding it so she could write on it. What if I die? You are going to die if you wont let us change you. I wont let you die. Ive already called the five. Leo will be here, but as a bystander. You have to agree. You have to set your mind to this. You have to truly want this. If you give up, your body will give up also. Do you? Pine coughed against the tube, the plastic strangling her even if it was helping her to breathe. She reached up, stoking his cheek and then wrote, I love you. Im afraid. I know. Dont be. We both know this is going to be miserable, but it is also temporary. It will end, and you will heal. You wont be sick anymore. You will be strong and healthy. He chuckled. Just think, you can turn into a Saint Bernard and drool on my dick. The effort of laughing made her gasp for air. She saw Leo scowling in her side vision and almost began to laugh again. She wrote, Personal joke. Pine turned her attention back to Max and then wrote, Yes! Do It. **** Alex arrived first, a slight smile on his thin face. Pine noted again how tall and strikingly elegant Alex was as he strode to the bedside and knelt down. Alex stroked her cheek as if he was about to kiss her. Why did you wait so long? You look like shit, beautiful one. She was surprised to see a smile on Maxs lips and wondered why he was not commenting on Alexs intimate gesture. Alex had always been pleasant and helpful, but he had never made any kind of physical

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gesture toward her before. Alex leaned back on his heels. I really hate you, Max. I know. But youre here. Of course I am. I wouldnt pass up this honor. I didnt think you would. Maybe. Pine frowned at him and wrote, Maybe what? He leaned and whispered in her ear, Alex wants me to share you on occasion. He adores you almost as much as I do. I know you find him attractive. I can smell it when he is here. Pine had an urge to protest, but it was not only difficult to do on paper but useless. She did find Alex attractive, his light, neon-blue eyes in direct contrast to a head of thick black hair. His skin was always tanned because he spent most of his spare time with his dogs. He often spoke of their walks or playing out in the yard with them. Alex liked to turn into a basenji, his preferred breed, and be one with them. Pine suddenly wondered if he had ever had sex with his dogs and stifled an urge to laugh. Both men looked suspiciously at her and she turned the paper to Alex and wrote the question. He immediately began to laugh. What would make you ask that now? I dont know. Lack of air in my brain? Max snatched the paper from her hand and chuckled. No, he doesnt. He prefers women. If you can become a dog, then it is even better. A flash of pain made her shutter, and both men grasped a hand, holding it tightly. Leo looked in on her. Is she okay? Pain in your head? asked Max. Pine nodded and held up her thumb to indicate that she was okay. Leo returned to the kitchen. A middle-aged woman, thin with strawberry-red hair strolled in, her stride oddly catlike. She stopped at the bottom of the bed, examining Pine. Pine, this is Missy, said Max.

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Pine gently moved her hand from Alexs grasp and waved with her fingertips. Missy gave her a brief smile. Why didnt you just wait until she was dead, Max? I see you are in a good mood. This wasnt my choice. It was hers. Whatever! Missy slinked across the room and slid onto the sofa, curling her feet beneath her. Pine frowned, and Alex rolled his eyes, whispering, Ignore her. Shes flighty, but her blood is strong. So is my hearing, Alex. At least I am not drooling over another mans changeling. Fuck you, Missy. You will never again have the honor, Alex. Max leaned and whispered directly in her ear, Ill explain this later. She nodded and noted a panther stride into the room. It leapt up onto the bed, walking over her and standing eye to eye with her. It licked her face, the tongue making a line directly between her eyes. Good morning, Greg. Where is Helena? Helena strode in, a leash wrapped in her fist. She wore a long, slightly sheer T-shirt draped over a black leather bodysuit with overthe-knee black, leather, spiked boots. Damn it, Greg. You could have waited for me to get changed. Pine threw her head back, slamming her eyes shut as she fought an overwhelming urge to bellow with laughter. The entire image was far too visual for her already stressed mind. Max howled for Leo, who raced into the room and stopped short. Greg, get off her. Greg is not the problem, stated Max. She is going to choke to death laughing. Do you think its safe to take the tube out? Leo came over, nudging Alex out of the way and pushing Greg off the bed. He listened to Pines lungs. Without warning, he removed the tube from her throat, leaving her coughing. You should be okay for a

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little while. If you need the oxygen, use it. Leo returned to the kitchen. Does Leo hate me? she asked in a hoarse, strained voice, her forehead creasing with exasperation. No. He is just a bit gruff on occasion. I think he is mad because you waited so long. Greg hopped into a chair, trying to get comfortable and then changing his mind. He shifted into a man, his auburn hair curled around a distinctly chiseled face. His nose was thin, his cheekbones high, accenting a full mouth with lips that looked stained by black cherry juice. His eyes were piercing, green, but darker than Maxs. Morning, brother. She is a tasty treat. Helena stormed over, slapping him across the thighs with the leash. Greg grabbed the end of it, tugging her into his lap and kissing her. I do not disrespect you, my eternal. I was just stating the truth. Max groaned. My brother the tactful. Pine, Greg is the son of my alter parents. He is sixty years older than me and was well established in the real estate business before I was even born. He and Helena live in Florida, but I have to think that after I called him last night, he is now squatting in the empty house behind us. Either that or he just jogged from the hotel as a panther. I actually own the house behind you, brother. We were informed of your situation and thought that you might need some help. This house is too small for the four of us. Or is it five? Alex? I am getting a ton of shit, groaned Alex. Leo chuckled, walking into the room, looking as if he had just stepped out of a horror movie. He wore a long, white apron covering his naked body and carried a tray of shimmering steel surgical instruments. He set the tray on a small table at the end of the bed and glanced around the room. I dont care if any of you approve. Pine has an artificial knee that needs to be removed. I have already witnessed her unusually strong will and desire to live, so I plan to do a nerve block at the base of her spine. She has suffered enough already,

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due to her own stubbornness. Shall we begin? He turned his head to look directly at Pine. This will not block all the pain, but it should help. It could also make you slightly sicker, but I dont think it will really matter. Max, can you roll her on her side? Alex, please keep her attention for a moment. She noted a silent exchange between Max and Alex before Max rolled her to her side. Alex grinned wickedly at her and then grabbed her cheeks, taking her into a lusty kiss. She felt him shifting, warm soft fur sprouting on his palms. His mouth began to morph, and he pulled away from her, his jaw elongating into a red snout with a distinct white stripe flowing up between his eyes into his slightly wrinkled forehead. Leo stuck a needle into the lower portion of her spine, and Max bit her ear, whispering, I love you. Grit your teeth and know this is temporary. His claws dug into her shoulder as his hand began to change. Greg walked up beside Alex, giving her a nod of his panther head before he turned and headed around the bottom of the bed. Missy appeared as an oversized housecat, her fur striped with orange and black. She put her paws up on the side of the bed. Leo rolled her gently to her back. Are you ready? Yes, she replied in a soft tone tinged with terror. Helena was standing beside Greg in the form of what she thought was a wolverine, although Pine had never seen one in person. Max licked her ear, black and white fur covering his low-set badger body. The image made Pine smile. A badger had always been one of her favorite animals, although Max was quite a bit larger than a normal badger. Leos voice was commanding. Begin. Max nudged her head to the side, his teeth slicing into her throat. It was torture to know that he was causing her pain, but it was necessary. From this moment forward, she would begin to get better. In a short time, the cancer would be gone and Pine would forever be his. Alex sunk his fangs into her wrist, and then Greg had her other arm, biting into it as Helena and Missy both bit into her sides. Pine

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gasped, the pain overwhelming as the five released her and began to lick at the wounds with their acrid tongues. Small fragments of pain seeped through the nerve block, radiating up her thigh and into her hip. Her stomach rolled, bile rising into her throat. Max spoke, Pine, stay with me. Are you going to vomit? I dont know, she mumbled, swallowing back the bitter liquid that was welling into her throat. Alex shoved a small trash basket in front of her, as Max slid behind her, forcing her into a sitting position. She hadnt realized that Leo had strapped her leg to the bed until she saw the cloth bindings on her ankle and thigh. Max put his hand over her eyes, but it was too late to block the sight of her missing knee. Pine gagged, the sour remains of her late dinner ending up in the trashcan. She gasped for air, the sickness coming again and then again in rapid repetition until her body was aching and empty. She laid her head back wearily on Max, panting for air. Alex slid the oxygen mask over her face as Max stroked her hair. Thanks, Helena, he said as he laid a cool cloth over her face, kissing the top of her head. Call if you need us. She leaned and kissed Pine on the cheek. That goes for you, also. You are family now. Our cell numbers are on the table. Thanks, she said in a voice that sounded oddly weak and mousy. We mean it, said Greg as he lifted her hand and kissed it. Get some sleep. Thank you, Missy, said Max. She didnt reply, but Pine had the feeling the woman had just left. Leo gently touched her good foot. I have placed a custom-made bone spacer in your leg. It will dissolve as your blood rebuilds the bone. Keep the brace on it, and do not walk on it for any reason. I will be by to check on you tomorrow. Your blood will dissolve the stitches as your knee heals. I have appointments this afternoon. Call if you think there is a real problem, Max.

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I will. Leo seemed to hesitate and then walked around to her side, kissing her on the cheek. I have witnessed seven of these in my lifetime. You are the first one who didnt scream. I am impressed. You will be fine. As Max said, remember this part is temporary and the change will succeed. Leo squeezed her hand and then, collecting his things, walked out. Do you want me to hang? asked Alex. She felt Max shake his head. I might need you later, but for now I want to be alone with her. I want her to go to sleep for a while. I hope you dont mind. He smiled. Not at all. I have yet to find my eternal, and I dont begrudge you finding yours. I just hope she will agree to let me share her once in a while. What are the odds that we are meant to have the same eternal? Im not sleeping yet, Alex. He chuckled. I know. That was an offhand question. Ill think about it. He lifted the wrist he had torn into moments before and licked it. Max curled her tightly into his arms. Its done. I put myself through hell for the last six weeks because of that? It was agonizing at first, but then the pain went away. Looking at my knee with the bone missing was completely nauseating, but she lifted her arms, looking at the slightly pink discoloration on her wrists. They healed me by licking it, didnt they? Yes. Alex pulled the blanket back over them, taking care to avoid placing it on her knee. Good night. He threw them a kiss and left. She snuggled back into Maxs chest, his body feeling warm and inviting. How long do we have to wait until we can play again? It feels like forever. His reply was sad. Well see. Max kissed the back of her head. Pine knew the stark facts of what the change would entail, but he had

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hesitated to give her the details. Some of the information he had read indicated that it would be many miserable days before they would make love again. He silently hoped that things would be better for her than it had been for others with major illnesses, but it was a slight hope at best. The shifters who had written the information in the guidance manual had no reason to exaggerate things. They had simply written the truth as it had happened as a warning to others. He feared that in many of the instances, the more gruesome and torturous side effects might be a part of Pines future. He had to keep reminding her that it would not last forever. It would end, and she would heal. That was the light at the end of the tunnel, and he would walk that path with her no matter what happened in the days ahead.

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Chapter 7
The room was dark when she opened her eyes. Her leg was screaming with pain, the muscles searing with bolts of agony. Her stomach was cramped. Vomit gagged her as she tried to call out. Max held the bucket in front of her, rocking her with his body. She was overwhelmed with a bout of sickness so severe that Pine feared she was going to faint and suffocate. Her breathing was rapid, her lungs burning as if they had been set to flame. Max held her until her stomach calmed and then slid from behind her. He pulled back the blanket, pitching it to the floor. He released the tethers from her leg, lifting her with her good leg under his arms so he could support the stiff cloth and metal brace with his hands. Pine shivered in his arms, struggling to breathe as she curled into his chest. He was silent as he carried her into the bathroom, sitting her down on the edge of the tub. He slid the magazine rack over and pulled the towel off the bar, draping it over the wood so he could rest her leg on it. Are you going to pass out on me? I dontthink so, she replied, taking a breath between the words. Her breathing was raspy, and Max nodded, hurrying back into the bedroom and returning with the canister of oxygen. He slipped the mask over her head and turned it on. Pine couldnt stop her head from bobbing with each inhalation of air. Try to slow your breathing down. Youre hyperventilating. Pine nodded, making a conscious effort to breathe more slowly. Max turned on the water, shifting her lower body so he could wash her with the shower massage. Pine began to cry, a feeling of humiliation seeping through the pain. Max shut the water off, drying

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her with a towel and sitting down beside her. Whats wrong? Are you in that much pain? She nodded and then shook her head no. Max wiped a tear from her cheek. Is it your leg? It hurts. It is more the humiliation of all this. Can you help me to the toilet? He nodded and helped her to shift. Max went and got a pillow to put under her leg and then folded the towel for her to put her head on. I cant give you anything for your leg. Im sorry. Its okay. She smacked her lips. Could you get me some ice water? Max nodded, and moments later he returned with a plastic cup of water. Will you be okay for a few minutes? I want to go change the bed. Im sorry. He knelt before her. Do not say that. There is nothing to be sorry for. I love you, Pine. I love you, too. Then dont apologize. There is no need. He stroked her cheek and kissed her on the forehead before heading back into the bedroom. Pine had contracted the flu earlier in the year. She had never imagined how quickly she could become ill or how completely horrible she would feel until it finally faded. This was worse. Her entire body ached, her leg throbbing as spasms shivered beneath her skin. When she had originally had the surgery, at least she had been given pain pills to help. There were no pills now, only the reality of lifetime of misery condensed into a single unending moment. Within moments she felt as if someone had taken a sledgehammer to her skull, her brain feeling as if it were expanding to crack the bone into pieces. Her whimpers of pain brought Max running to her. He knelt down, lifting her face to look into her eyes. She folded into him,

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her tortured sobs driving him to near insanity before she finally blacked out. Max had tried to keep a positive outlook about her changing. Now that reality was upon them, he knew that it was going to be worse than he ever imagined. **** Someone was adjusting the brace, and she moaned in pain. Hey, kiddo. Your knee is doing great. The bones feel centered and are progressing nicely. How are you feeling? asked Leo. I would be better if I could see. What? asked Max in a voice too tinged with fear for her liking. I cant see. Everything is black. Please tell me this is normal. Max didnt reply, the room going silent for what seemed like an eternity before Leo spoke. You are going to have to give her more, Max. Her organs are metabolizing the enzymes too quickly with all the inner repairs, and her body is shutting down. Damn it! snapped Max. Pine. Im gonna have to bite you again. Not a quick bite like yesterday, but multiple bites where I really force my saliva into your bloodstream. She reached out for the sound of his voice, and he took her hand, leaning into her palm. Pine smiled. What choice do I have? He leaned, kissing her greedily and then shifting. She could feel the fur forming between her fingers, the softness of it amazing. Leo. My arm hurts. He touched the inner crease of her arm, and she jumped. You are dehydrated. I put in an IV, a vitamin and mineral mixture in purified water, but you are not tolerating it. Your arm is swelling from it. He put pressure on the skin and withdrew the needle. Do you think you can drink something? I can try.

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Leo held a glass to her lips, helping her to sit up. The liquid was cool and heavily spiked with flavors. She got it down, but her stomach protested slightly. Pine swallowed hard. What the hell is in that? Pineapple to help with the swelling. Ginger for your stomach and a mix of green vitamins and minerals. Are you going to vomit? Not yet. Max nuzzled her face with his nose, making her squirm. Leo chuckled. He really needs to do this to keep your eyes from becoming irreparably damaged. Pine had a feeling there was far more to it than either man was saying, but she nodded. Go ahead, Max. Leo wrapped his hands around her thigh, and Max sunk his teeth into her throat. He held her for a few moments, warmth leaking around his mouth and rolling down her skin. Pine wasnt sure if it was blood or saliva, but the pain he was causing was brutal. He released her, licking her skin and then biting into her wrist. She expected to feel the bones cracking, but he was extremely gentle, only piercing the skin and veins. It was a battle of will for her not to pull away, not to thrash against the agony he was inducing. This time was different, the bite leaving behind a burning sensation that was creeping through her body with each beat of her heart. The fire in her veins overwhelmed her. When Max sliced into her other wrist, Pine barely noticed. Her vision returned, her body shuddering and convulsing with tremors. Leo held her leg tightly to the bed, staring at her in sympathy. Im sorry, Pine. This wont last long. Max shifted back into a man, lying on top of her and putting his hands to her cheeks. Hes right. It wont last long. Your body is using the enzymes I just gave you. Why does it hurt so much? she asked in a panting voice. I feel like my veins are on fire. She ground her teeth, tears dripping from the corners of her eyes as she struggled to breathe. Oxygen. It wont help. He turned his head to look at Leo.

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Pine, we hesitate to do this unless its absolutely necessary. The first time you are bitten, the enzymes flow into your bloodstream and change your cell structure. For the most part it is not something that the changeling even notices because its a gradual process that happens over a few days. You are different. The enzymes were forced to focus on the cancer and on recreating your knee. It altered the cell restructuring, and because of that, some of your organs were beginning to shut down. The only way to keep you alive was to have Max add more enzymes to your blood. Unfortunately, this additional enzyme works more quickly, supercharging the process. Instead of becoming one with your blood and gradually invading your muscles, bones and organs, the enzyme is attacking them in its pure form, healing what has been damaged as it runs rampant through your bloodstream. Sick! Max reached for the trash bucket, but it was too late. He flipped to the side, pushing her upward to keep her from drowning in her own fluid. She began to sob, dropping back to the bed. I dont want to do this anymore. Her voice was a pitiful whine to her own ears. Max stroked her cheek. Is it easing up? A little. I feel and smell disgusting. He chuckled. I know. But you can see again. A shiver caused her to arch her back, and Max gently straddled her, watching her for further signs of a seizure. He had read that it was possible, and the idea was mortifying because they could no longer give her the medication to stop it. Leo was watching her like a hawk, his hands still tightly encasing her leg. Talk to me, Pine. Muscle spasm. Oh, that hurt. I have to go again. How is that possible? I havent eaten anything. What you are expelling is not food. Its the cancer and whatever sickness was in your body. How is your head? I have a headache. Its not as bad as last night. How long is this gonna last?

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Leo shrugged, the compassion in his eyes making her want to cry again. It depends on your body. It depends on how much damage there was to begin with. At some point, you may need more, but I hope not. You have to let us know if anything unusual happens. Max turned to him. I cant give her more. It would kill her. I was speaking of Alex or your brother. You know what to look out for. He released her leg. I think the worst of it is over. I have to get back to my practice. Dont hesitate to call me, Max. I wont. He slid from her chest. My stomach is still queasy. Do you have any ginger beer? As a matter of fact, I do. He grabbed the bag and headed into the kitchen, returning with a brown bottle. Pine sat up slightly, taking a tentative sip. It tasted good, overpowering the rancid flavor on her tongue. She drank a bit more and quickly handed the bottle to Max, grabbing for the trashcan. He sat beside her, stroking back her hair. How do you know so much about this? she asked. There is actually a manual. At some point, someone thought to write down what happens. The book was copied, and pretty much every shifter physician has one. Notes have been added over the years to say what can happen in different circumstances. It was how Leo knew to remove your kneecap. He gave me the manual to read after your first meeting. Maybe you should have let me read it. I could have. You were already so hesitant to do the change. I was worried that you might give up the idea completely. Would it have changed anything? Reading it wouldnt have stopped you from dying. Once you are healed, we have a lifetime to forget about these few days. Im sorry. Are you mad at me for not being more specific? Pine considered the question. Tell me this is going to stop. Tell me the pain is going to go away. Tell me that Im not going to continue getting sick. I keep wondering what is going to happen next. Do you know?

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I can only give you variables. Each person is different. This could end tomorrow or last for a week or so. The only certainty is that it will end. You will get better. What if you have to bite me again? I cant. It would have to be someone else. Okay, so tell me why someone else might have to bite me again. There is a chance you could have an allergic reaction to the amount of enzymes in your body. The only way to counteract it is to have one of the original five bite you again. It will also form a closer bond to whoever it is because their enzymes will be stronger than the other three. It was not something that he really wanted to do. To share her on such an intimate level with another man was an irritating concept. Max supposed if it had to be someone, he preferred Alex. Alex already adored Pine, and he was never the jealous type. Alex was such an incredible friend and Max knew that he would accept him as part of his and Pines life if the need arose. It might happen anyway, but the bond would be assured if Alex bit her again. Pine lowered her gaze from him. I didnt want to imagine the worst, but this is worse than I could have imagined. I keep trying to remind myself that the option was death, but death would have been a better option than what I felt earlier. I know it only lasted a few minutes, but it seemed like hours. To make matters worse, Ive turned into a sniveling little wimp. He took her hand, kissing her knuckles. Why do you think I sent Alex away? I dont know, why? Because, I figured you would fall apart eventually. Im honestly surprised that it took this long. Yeah, like I didnt fall apart last night. Max grunted, shaking his head. Give yourself a break, Pine. The cancerous section of your brain was being recreated, and you were awake to feel it. I cant even imagine how much that must have hurt.

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She took the bottle from his hand and drank a few more sips. She was skeptical if it was going to stay down, but she was determined to try. When she set the bottle on the bedside table, Max smiled. Well? I dont know yet. Why dont you try to get some sleep? Im gonna make myself something to eat, before I fall on my face. She chuckled softly at his chagrinned expression. I love you, Max. I know. I love you, too. Max grinned and leaned, giving her a kiss and swiping back her hair. It was a gentle gesture, filled with softness. His green eyes were ringed with darkness that came from worry and lack of sleep, and Pine made a commitment to herself to stop complaining and get through whatever happened. With that thought in mind, she closed her eyes and drifted away.

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Chapter 8
The sunrise greeted her with another round of sickness. When it finally came to end, Pine was left so weakened that she couldnt lift her head. She slouched with it resting against the cool porcelain of the sink Do you think you could support yourself long enough for me to wash you off in the shower? I think it would help. Pine tried to nod, but her neck was strained, and her head only quivered. I think so. He lifted her, shifting her cautiously to the edge of the tub and then holding her until he thought it was safe to used one hand to slide the magazine rack over. Here, you can lean into this. She did as he suggested, jumping as the water burned her tormented skin. Hopefully thats the last of it, he said in a reassuring tone as he lifted her into his arms. It wasnt until he laid her in the bed that Pine saw the worry in his eyes. His eyes were so expressive. Whats wrong? Today did a number on you. Do you think you can keep something down? Maybe. My stomach is not turning for the first time in two days. Im kind of afraid to try to eat anything. Ill try this. Picking up the half-empty bottle of ginger beer, Pine took a tentative sip, waiting for a few minutes before she took some more. Her stomach didnt react, the feeling of nausea not rearing its ugly head. She took another drink and smiled. Not sick. Good. Wanna try some soup? Okay.

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Pine watched as he headed into the kitchen and then sat up, pushing down the quilt. Her body was gaunt, the skin clinging to her ribs before it sunk into the concave of her stomach. Her leg was almost skeletal, the brace on her other leg feeling extremely loose. She turned and took a small mirror from the bedside table and stared at her face. Her eyes were black and sunken, her cheekbones jutting out beneath skin as pale as death. Max stuck his head around the corner and then groaned, striding into the room and taking the mirror from her. She didnt need to stare at the reality of what the change was doing to her. Do you want a cup of tea? I look like a skeleton with skin. I know. Why do you think I am trying to get you to eat something? The obvious question suddenly appeared on her lips. Am I going to die? No. Well, if you cant keep food down, eventually, but that is not going to happen. He took the mirror with him, returning to the kitchen and then coming back with a tray. He set it on the bedside table and sat down across from her in the chair. Pine looked at the bowls of obviously homemade soup, the meat and vegetables cut into miniscule pieces. There were breadsticks and what appeared to be quinoa pudding. Who cooked? Missy. Is it poisoned? Max chuckled. No. She actually owns an organic restaurant downtown. She left a brief note stuck to the fridge with the soup. She is sorry for being so ornery or catty, as she calls it. She and Alex had a thing going for a while. It was over, but when she saw how Alex was with you, she overreacted. The food is her way of apologizing. Pine took a spoonful of soup, aggravated that her hand was shaking so badly. It hit her mouth with a burst of flavors. The soup wasnt heavily spiced, but she tasted everything individually. Max

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was watching her intently and laughed. I have been told that we taste things more accurately than normal people. Do we? She licked her lips, smacking her mouth. This is weird. Normally, I would just taste good soup. The predominant flavor would be chicken, and if I bit into a carrot or potato, I would taste it. I tasted everything in that single spoonful. Chicken, carrots, potatoes, onion, parsley, sea salt, and celery. I knew each thing individually. Wow. Take a spoonful of pudding. She dished some out and put it in her mouth, having the same reaction. This is so good. I even know what spices she used. You would taste the poison, wouldnt you? Yes, we would. Pine grinned and went back to the soup. Her stomach was not protesting, and she intended to enjoy every glorious bite. Max watched her with a humorous grin on his face, and the meal was enjoyed in silence. Once the plates were empty, he brought the tray back into the kitchen. Do you think you could handle sitting downstairs in the recliner for a while? I would like to finish up a computer upgrade that I was working on. Yeah, it would be nice to get out of this bed. He handed her a long sleep shirt and then wrapped her in the blanket, carrying her downstairs. Pine drifted in and out of sleep while he worked, watching the meticulous way he tested each component before installing it. Max was loading the software when she groaned, swallowing hard against the food in her throat. Sick? he asked, handing her the trashcan. She nodded and he carried her into the bathroom. He put his hands to her head, stepping into her so her forehead was resting against his bare stomach. She could feel the weariness in his body, a physical sensation of exhaustion and frustration. Pine put her arms around him, her hands locked behind his back. Im so

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focused on myself that I didnt realize I was putting you through hell. He slid down to kneel before her. Youre not. I justI dont know. I was hoping that it wouldnt be this bad. I feel helpless. Can we go talk in the other room? He nodded, dropping his head onto hers for a moment before he stood and lifted her. He got her settled into the chair and then sat beside her, taking her hands in his own. Max. You have been my rock. You have been here every moment of the last two days. I am helpless, not you. You are amazing. I dont feel so amazing when I stand watching you vomit. I would give anything to take your place and have you be whole again. I know it will happen. I can only imagine how bad this must be for you. I have never even had an upset stomach. I have. If you remember correctly, two days ago I was also having seizures. The pain in my head was unbearable at times, and to not be able to breathe is a terrifying experience. I wouldnt want you in my place, because I dont know if I would be a good substitute in yours. You would be amazing if the situations were reversed. I know it. The phone rang, and they both jumped, laughing at their stupidity. He reached over and clicked the phone on speaker. Your dime. I have no idea what that means, but I want to speak with my mother. It means that I havent used a pay phone in years. They used to cost a dime, he replied, looking at Pine and shrugging. She nodded. Im right here, Megan. Whats wrong? Whats wrong? her daughter repeated angrily. I havent seen or spoken to you in two weeks. You dont answer your phone, and you sound horrible.

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Pine glared at the phone. I have the flu. I havent felt like talking on the phone, and I still resent the fact that you tried to have me declared incompetent, or have you forgotten? Megan hesitated, silence on the line. Pine sighed. I will have to plug my phone in. It went dead a while back, and I never bothered. Theres nothing stopping you from calling on the house phone. I didnt honestly want to speak to whats his name. Her daughter had a stubborn streak like her father. A tiny part of Pines brain was hanging on to an illusion that once everything was done, she and her daughter could continue on with a normal family relationship. Megan certainly couldnt see her now, though. Megan would be horrified by the sight. His name is Max, and you know that. You dont even know him, Megan. I dont want to get to know him. It bugs me out that he is five years younger than me. I cant change that and wouldnt if I could. I love Max. Why cant you understand that and give him a chance? Megan sidestepped the question completely. Martin wants to talk to you. He is contesting that you gave me the house. Let him contest it. The house was mine before we got married, and it was mine to give after the divorce. The court said so. Her voice softened. I wish you would come home. I miss you. I miss you, too, Megan. But Im not coming home. She couldnt possibly go home until her body healed completely. Even then, she wanted to stay with Max. She had to make Megan understand. Im happy. Really happy. I want you both to be a part of my life. I love you, but youre asking me to make an impossible choice. It shouldnt be impossible. Im your daughter. I should come before some guy you just met. I didnt just meet him. We have been together for over a month. Maybe this would be a good time to go look for a boyfriend. What? So he can take my mind off of you? Im worried about you. I want to see you.

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Ill call you when Im feeling better. Megans voice went dark. Are you listening, Max? Do you screen all of my mothers calls? I dont believe she has the flu. I think there is something else going on there, and I intend to get to the bottom of it. I have no idea what you are insinuating, Megan. Why would I screen her calls? So you are listening? We are downstairs in my work area, and the phone is on speaker. Your mother is sitting right next to me. Why, so you can keep an eye on her? Do you have a problem with letting her out of your sight? Pine chuckled. Are you kidding, Megan? Is that what you think? Max is not holding me prisoner. I can do as I please. I just dont feel well enough to do anything right now. She inhaled deeply, leaning her head back as she gritted her teeth. Max handed her the trashcan, clicking the phone off speaker. Pine panted against the rising sense of nausea, the color draining from her skin. When the front door opened, she almost screamed. Alex took one look at her and hurried over. My god, what happened? Max put his hand over the receiver, gesturing for Alex to shut up. Megan, your mothers sick. I gotta go. Shell call you tomorrow. He set the phone down as he waited for a signal from Pine. She waved her hand. Its passing. Alex was staring at her, the mortified expression on his face a testament to how bad she looked. Max punched him in the thigh. Knock it off. Ow. Knock what off? The expression on your face. She doesnt need a reminder that the last two days have been hell. I can see that. I was referring to her arm. Its as red as a beet and looks all puffy.

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Max frowned, pushing himself from the chair and walking around her. Alex was right and Max pulled the T-shirt up, looking at her other arm and then her stomach. Shit! Pine leaned her head back, sighing. Its happening, isnt it? Max nodded and then slapped Alex on the back. You get your wish, old buddy. From this day forth, you will be her second man. What? Long story. Feel like carrying her upstairs? Im too tired at the moment. **** Max explained what was happening as they got Pine settled into bed. She lay, mentally preparing herself for what was ahead, refusing to ask Max for any details. Hopefully the aftereffects of Alexs enzymes in her blood wouldnt make things worse, although she couldnt image how it possibly could. Are you going to call Leo? No. I know what needs to be done. Max lay next to her, curling her into his body. Pine had a feeling that he really didnt want Alex to be that big of a part of her life and examined him. Alex really was striking, his face somewhat thin and angular, his nose slightly wider than Maxs. He grinned. Finding me interesting? I was wondering what part in our lives you would want to play. Max hugged her tighter, but she wasnt sure if it was because he appreciated the question or he hadnt wanted her to ask. Alex dropped into the chair, flipping his feet up onto the bed. As you swell up before my eyes might not be the best time to answer this, but I will. I would obviously like a place in your bed on occasion. I know Max will have no problem with sharing you if you are game. I would like to go running with the two of you. I am not looking for a full-time commitment, and I wont leave my dogs if I cant find a

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sitter for them. Do we have to work out the details right this moment? No. I was just wondering. In reality, the idea was thrilling. She had always wondered what it would be like with two men. It was a fantasy that she had never intended to partake in, but Alex was adorable, and she really liked him. She was deeply in love with Max, but what she felt for Alex was more than friendship. Pine could honestly see herself loving them both. She rolled slightly to look at Max. Are you cool with this? He nodded, smiling thinly. You are starting to look like a bulbous beet. I dont see where we have much choice. Alex didnt move. You could always ask your brother or Helena. Im asking you. Alex stood, stripping off his clothing as Max tugged off Pines Tshirt. He stared at her in disbelief. Max, give me a clue as to where the hell to bite her. I dont want to accidentally break something. Max shrugged. The only place that isnt swollen and has meat left on it is her thigh. At least the vein is evident. Pine rolled her eyes. What about my neck, Max? Thats where you always start. No. Its tradition that only the eternal bites the changeling on the neck. Alex appeared overly pleased as he shifted into a dog and hopped up at the bottom of the bed, sliding between her legs. He nuzzled her crotch with the top of his head as he licked her uppermost thigh and slowly sank his teeth into her. Pine was stunned by the sensation of arousal that accompanied the pain. Alex sucked heavily on the wound and then released her. He instantly shifted back into a man, licking her again before leaning his head on her mound. Damn you taste good. That was almost nice, huh? Max slapped him in the back of the head. For a man who is so well educated, you can be a real dog on occasion.

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Pine and Alex both stared at him. Alex got up, dropping naked into the chair and grabbing his pants. He flipped open is cell phone and then said, Hey, Jess, are you busy tonight? Oh great, would you mind staying with the munchkins? He listened and then said, Thanks. Yeah, that friend I told you about. His girlfriend has had a real tough time with the treatment, and he really needs to get some sleep. Ill be home tomorrow sometime. He listened again and, nodding, hung up the phone. He dropped his phone onto his clothing and sat back. We need to get some food into you, Pine. Pine cringed. I dont know if I am brave enough to try to eat anything right now. Its easier to handle the sickness if I dont have a stomach full of food. Max chuckled. What makes you think that you are going to get sick again? Are you feeling sick? No. But he just bit me. Oh. If I had known you were stressing about this, I would have explained better. My enzymes made you really sick because they were killing the cancer so quickly. Most of the cancer should have been expelled by now. Alex only bit you to slow things down and counteract the reaction you were having. Usually a reaction like that only happens because the enzymes are still too strong, but have nothing left to do. If anything, his saliva will make you feel better. Hes right. We need to try to get some food into you. So why were you and Leo talking as if it was a really bad thing? It is not a bad physical reaction, but a bad mental one that worries us. He hesitated, obviously trying to choose the right words to explain. You and I are eternal. We are connected by a mental and emotional bond. We are now also connected by a physical bond. I will always have a sense of where you are and what you are doing. I will feel your happiness and sadness as if it was my own, and you will feel me. Its the reason that the eternal always bites the throat. It is the central place between the heart and mind. The enzymes of the other four usually mingle and becomes a dormant part of you. You are

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connected to them, but in a lesser degree than the way you are connected to me. When Alex just bit you, he strengthened that bond between the two of you. I think I can deal with that. Can you? Alex has been my best friend since we were little. I have no problem sharing my eternal with him. Well, as long as he doesnt make a pain in the ass out of himself, he added, throwing a challenging look at Alex. Me? he protested, pointing to his chest. Make a pain in the ass out of myself? Never! Lets go make the lady something to eat. Pine watched the two men walk into the kitchen. The contrast between them was so striking, Max with his lighter hair and highly muscled body. Alexs hair was so black it had a bluish tint and his body was so much thinner than Max. To share her life with two such amazing men would be a dream beyond her fantasies. One of her former clients had mentioned the wonders of dual sex and Pine was suddenly very curious about the experience. **** Pine was devouring the last of a huge steak. It has been two days since Alex had bitten her and she was feeling amazing. Her body was still overly thin, and she had the occasional hurried visit to the bathroom, but it was no longer combined with vomiting or headaches. Alex was currently in dog form, standing beside her on the bed, harassing her for bites of her steak. Max was repairing a laptop, but he was also watching them and laughing at Alexs antics. The doorbell rang, and he sighed, throwing on his robe and heading down the stairs. The other shifters in the area had gotten word that Pine was doing better and everyone seemed to be stopping by to meet her. Where is my mother! wafted up the stairs. Pine groaned. I never turned my phone back on.

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Alex hopped down, shifting, throwing her a bathrobe, and then taking his clothing into the bathroom. Max came in with Megan on his heels. She stopped short in the doorway as Max dropped down beside Pine. She groaned, knowing that she only looked slightly better than she had when she had spoken to Megan before. It was a blessing that she had the blanket to hide her leg, but there was no hiding the gauntness of her face. Megan stared at her in stunned disbelief. Mother, you look horrible. Im calling an ambulance. You are not calling anyone. I have a doctor, and he says that I am doing fantastic. I finally got rid of that damn flu, and Im eating like a horse. Right, Max? She turned a smile on him. Yes, you are. Although, horses dont eat steak. Pine giggled at his comment and looked back at Megan. She needed to convince her daughter that her appearance was no big deal. Im fine. See. No chains. Im not locked in a closet or anything. I just forgot to plug my phone back in. Sorry. You said that you were going to call me. Alex strolled out of the bathroom, tucking in his blue satin shirt. I have got to go sell some hot stocks. Do you need anything? Pine looked at him and then turned her eyes to Max for a moment. As a matter of fact, I know exactly what Im in the mood for. She removed the pad from the drawer and wrote, beeswax candles (for ambiance), vanilla body oil, some really good candy, a jar of creamy nut butter, condoms. Max chuckled and took the list, crossing off condoms. We dont need those. Okay. She handed the list to Alex, and he read it quickly, laughing. Interesting list. Why the nut butter? Pine smiled. I have a taste for it. It seems like forever. Max put his arm around her, kissing her. I agree.

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Megan stared at them, her eyes wide, her mouth falling open. Mother! She pulled herself away from the allure of the two men and shrugged. Megan! What? What has happened to you? Pine knew that Megan was far more straitlaced than she had been at her age. Her daughter didnt even know that Pine had been dating after her divorce. She had always been discreet. Max and Alex had both tried to convince Pine that she needed to cut ties with her daughter. The idea was breaking Pines heart, but the future was too uncertain to completely dismiss the idea. Her reply came out far cockier than she had intended. I have died and been reborn with a greater appreciation for life. Do you know that when Max asked me if I wanted to call any of my friends, I realized that I didnt have anyone to call? I have spent my entire life teaching and helping others. When I got sick and needed help, I found myself alone. Martin left me. You were rarely home. There was no one else. Then I met Max, and he was everything. He got me a doctor who helped me. He was here for me when I was sick. He held me when I was in so much pain that all I wanted was to die. I lay in his arms crying, unable to breathe, lightning bolts of agony flashing in my skull, and not once did he turn away from me. He watched me sleeping, not sleeping himself. He didnt leave me for a day and half, not even to make himself something to eat. Max is here, and now that I am feeling better, I want to repay the kindness he has shown me. I want to be the kind of woman that he deserves who loves him unconditionally. He needs a woman who stands at his side and defends him. Im sorry if you dont like that idea, Megan, but that is the truth. You are my daughter, and I will always love you. If you force me to make a choice, I cant. I leave the choice up to you if you want to be a part of my life or not. I raised you the best I could. I cared for you and took care of your needs. Alone. You were almost twenty before I even allowed myself to date, because I didnt want to hurt you by bringing men into your

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life. Then I met Martin, and when he asked me to marry him, it seemed like a good choice. Of course, ten years ago I didnt realize that he had a gambling problem. I submerged myself in my work and that was okay. Now I have met someone special and it is my time to enjoy my life, however I damn well please, with a man I have fallen deeply in love with. Megan glared at Max. I have no idea what you did to my mother. I dont like this shit one bit. She is sick, and you are preying on that like a damn vulture. What did she do, change her will and make you beneficiary? Max sighed, shaking his head sadly. With everything your mother just said, is that all that matters to you? Her cocky expression wilted, and she turned, storming down the stairs. Pine started to rise, and Max grabbed her. Let her go. Let her stew for a while and then call her if you want. Once you are completely better, she is going to see how young you look. I think you lost about twenty years along with the cancer. Frowning, Pine rose from the bed and grabbed her cane, walking into the bathroom. She stared at her face in the mirror, seeing exactly what Max had indicated. Although her face was still slightly gaunt, her skin was glowing, her lips, cheeks, and chin slightly fuller as if the hands of time had turned back. Her eyebrows and upper lids seemed to have withdrawn, taking away the slight droop of aging and making her eyes look younger and more radiant. Even the small wrinkles that had started over her top lip and at the corners of her eyes were gone. Max slid his arms around her. Thank you for what you said. Thank you for saving my life. You have only one task left to complete. She turned to face him, leaning back against the sink. What, having a mnage trois with you and Alex? Max laughed. No. You need to shift. Can I with my leg?

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Leo said it would be okay. Just dont turn into a cheetah and try to go for a sprint. Her smile was tentative. I dont know what to become. When Alex and I were younger, my parents used to take us to the zoo or the pet store. We used to observe the different animals, learning them intimately. Did they have a short snout or a long one, were their legs thin and agile or thick and powerful? Did they have a short tail or a long one? We took notice of their fur and how it grew on different parts of their bodies. Did they have paws or fingerlike digits that could be used for grasping? We were taught to notice everything. Put every detail to mind. Because of that I can become most anything. Those are the things you have yet to learn. For now, choose an animal that you are knowledgeable about. Pine considered his words, suddenly realizing how uneducated she was in the needed knowledge. Most animals I have only seen on television or in books. I never had a dog or cat. My mother was allergic to their fur. Megans father had a basenji when I met him, so I know about Alexs dogs. I dont know any animal intimately. Dont look so mortified. I can teach you. Once you are walking better, we can go to the zoo. Okay. What if I try and cant do it? Then you shift back. Its not like you will get stuck that way or anything. I think I could do a wolf. Does it count that the only real one I have seen is you? That could work. Try it. Concentrate on changing into what you want. Think about your nose getting longer, your head flattening as your ears extend upward. Feel the fur sprouting and growing through the pores of your skin. Think about your legs and arms thinning and becoming equalized. His voice faded out, and Pine gasped, the images he was feeding to her mind becoming reality. She dropped to all fours, staring down her long snout at her black nose. Pine sniffed, the scents in the room stronger as her eyes gained a clarity that she

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didnt have as a human. She really needed to find a scrub brush and clean the tile floor. Fur, soft and luxurious, was flowing over her flesh, covering her, protecting her. Her first few steps were wobbly and uncertain, silly laughter filling her mind as she tried to walk out into the bedroom. Her back leg complained, and she limped on it, taking the direct pressure of the joint. Her feet perceived the hardwood floor differently, the surface slippery and warm against her pads. Max ran his hand down her back, and she arched into him, moaning with delight. The skin seemed more sensitive and more receptive to touch. Pine, go look in the full-length mirror. You are beautiful. She walked cautiously across the room and waited for him to close the door. Her reflection was stunning. She was a silky wolf with honey fur and white streaks on her face. The only connection to the woman she had seen moments before was her overly dark-blue eyes. Pine turned slowly, flipping her head to the side so she could see her entire body. She hadnt considered having a tail and didnt have one. Her concentration shifted to growing the flesh, the long appendage sprouting by her command until she sported a thick, fluffy tail. She wagged it, shaking her entire back in the process. Max chuckled. Wagging a tail takes a bit of practice. Now change back. She wanted to ask him how, but only a growl escaped her lips. She turned her eyes to him, and Max closed his own, speaking directly into her mind. Its hard for me to speak telepathically when I am in human form. But that is how we communicate. Just concentrate on the woman you saw in the mirror. Her body was shifting back, her legs elongating as her snout and ears became more compact. Her skull stretched outward, her body morphing as she lost the sleek shape of the wolf. Pine pushed herself upward and then turned to Max. That was fantastic. I loved it. When can we go running? Let your knee finish healing. You have to learn to walk before you can run.

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Laughing, she nodded. It felt so strange to have to keep track of what four feet were doing rather than two. Did I look that obviously clumsy? A little at first. I want to go to the zoo. When can we go? He chuckled at her exuberance. You have no idea how wonderful it is to see you like this. Like what? Happy, laughing, bright, and bubbly. I knew it would come, but to see it is extraordinary. I am happy. I think this is the happiest I have ever been. I no longer feel as if I am searching for something that I can never find. Ive found it.

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Chapter 9
Two weeks passed by quickly. Max had taken her to the zoo and introduced her to a shifter named Fred. Fred was a high-ranking zookeeper and had managed to sneak her into quite a few of the less dangerous cages so she could feel the animals. Her favorite had been the koala, its fur as soft as she had imagined. She had even been allowed to pet a lioness while the animal was still asleep after having minor dental surgery. Her only regret was Megan. Her daughter was ignoring her phone calls, and Pine had gone as far as trying to call her ex-husband, Martin. It had done little good. Megan had convinced her stepfather that Pine had lost her mind to the cancer. Pine was slowly coming to terms with the fact that it was going to be extremely hard to explain away why she now looked younger than her daughter. The change had also left subtle alterations behind. Her hair was lighter, her hips and thighs narrower, even though she was closer to a normal weight. With each passing day, Pine was slowly coming to terms with the fact that she had traded her death for a life without her past. Unless she could figure out a way to age herself, contact with Megan was impossible. Her grief was muted by life. Max and Alex kept her extremely busy. She had shifted into something different each day, spending hours as a large koala, a panther, and a lioness. After one trip to the zoo, she had considered turning into an elephant, but was afraid that she might fall through the floor. Every one of the shifters in the area had stopped over to meet her and had changed into some kind of animal that they knew well so she

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could broaden her knowledge base. Her and Max had gone out to dinner with Greg and Helena before they returned to their home in Florida with a promise to come back soon. Other than her grief over her daughter, Pine was surprised by how well the pieces of her life had fallen into place. Once the sickness had stopped, she felt extremely stupid for delaying the inevitable. Alex was lying against her back in the bed. He softly caressed her shoulder, his fingers bearing slightly into her skin. Everything okay? She turned her head to smile at him and sneezed instead. I think I inhaled too much fur while I was sleeping. I wish I could get the hang of remaining as an animal when my body is at rest. I keep changing back. Max morphed back into a man, his warm fur fading from her side. You will. Give it time. If everything else fails, we wait until winter and go sleep outside. The fur will stay. I promise. She giggled and sat up slightly to give him a kiss. I know. Alex lightly tapped the back of her head. What about me? He gets a kiss. I get a sneeze. Is that retribution for having a normal dick? Of course not, she replied amidst her laughter. Your dick works perfectly well. Have I complained? No. As a matter of fact, now that you mention it, it is working too well. Oh. Max leaned over her. Not until she gets some food in her stomach. Alex rolled his eyes dramatically. I have to sit here with my dick hard while she eats? Pine started to giggle, and Max glared at her. Dont even think it. That is not a nutritional breakfast. Stay put. Ill get you a bowl of oatmeal. Max hopped from the bed, and she heard him fill the kettle with water.

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What made you giggle? asked Alex. Dick, eats. Make the connection, silly. Alex groaned and rolled from the bed, heading into the bathroom. Pine sat up slightly, puffing up the pillows and piling them behind her back. She had never imagined how wonderful it would be to be attended to like a princess, and she was sure that it would eventually get boring. For the time being, she was completely enjoying the attention that her men were showering upon her. Max walked back into the bedroom with a tray containing three bowls and three cups of coffee. He set it at her feet. Where is the pest? He is not a pest. Hes in the bathroom. Max sat down, grinning to prove that he was joking. Actually, he really isnt a pest. Are you okay with this? I mean with last night and all? Pine couldnt restrain her smile. Yeah. I enjoyed it the last time he stayed, and I really enjoyed last night. I had a feeling that you would love it once you got past the idea of sleeping with two men. Im surprised you never tried it before. I never did. I only became a slut once I realized that I was dying. I had Megan just out of high school. I was in love with him and the rubber broke. I then found out that he wasnt in love with me. As I said to her, I didnt date after that. I dont know how to explain it. I was a virgin until I met Megans father. Then I married Martin and sex was okay, but I kept thinking that there had to be more to it. Once I realized that my life was going to be over, I wanted to see if I could find out what I had been missing. It was always a challenge to see if I could leave with the cutest guy in the bar. It gave me a warped sense of superiority. For the most part, I would give them a kiss good night, get in my car, and drive home alone. I dated a few of them, but the relationships were short lived. How deranged is that? Alex slid in beside her. It wasnt deranged. It was the animal in you. Animals are not sluts. They are always looking for the best mate.

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The fittest female never settles for a male that isnt her equal. It just took you a while to find out that your mate wasnt a human. If I remember correctly from the nature shows, the female rejects an inferior males attention. She doesnt fuck him. True, but in human kind, a mans physical virtues are prized more than hunting ability. If a female was only willing to be with a man who was a perfect specimen, then half the men on earth wouldnt ever get laid. Of course, most male creatures dont lay around and drink beer while watching football. Hence they dont have beer bellies and high cholesterol, interjected Max. Pine nibbled on her oatmeal and then took a sip of her coffee. Good point. Of course that goes both ways. Females dont lie around watching soap operas and eating potato chips, either. If half of the people I lectured actually took what I said and applied it to their lives, their physicians would go broke. Of course, they then pass their bad habits on to their children. I had a mother bring her son to me for advice because her pediatrician couldnt figure out why the child was constantly sick. He was seven years old. I had her get me a copy of the tests that had been run on the child. I then had her keep a diary for one week of everything her son ate and did. I knew the mother was into healthy eating. What I didnt know was that she was divorced. She worked a lot of hours, and her son spent the weekdays with his father. She had him keep the food diary Monday through Friday morning. Then the truth of the boys problems came out. Daddy would get him up for school and feed him a waffle loaded with artificial syrup for breakfast. He would pack him a lunch filled with bad carbs, sugar, and bad fats. His after-school snack and dinner werent any better. During the week he got no fruits, no vegetables or anything particularly healthy. He also spent most of his time with his father watching television. She stopped and frowned. Why am I telling you this?

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I believe that we were rationalizing why you are not a slut, replied Alex. Pine backhanded him in the stomach. That was rude. You turned down having sex with me to eat oatmeal. That was rude. She blatantly ignored him, turning to Max. Im full. Want to fuck? Im all yours. Pine purposefully shifted closer to him, her back to Alex as she ran her palm over Maxs face and into his hair. She could feel Alexs eyes boring into her back as she leaned to Maxs lips, enticing him into a lusty kiss. He crushed her with his lips, his need relayed through the soft strokes of his tongue against hers. Pine adored the way that Max kissed her, the act always filled with emotion. She lingered in the embrace for a short while and then he urged her over his body, her breasts stroking the muscles of his abdomen as she slowly slid downward. She kissed his skin, enjoying the hard feel of the muscle beneath. It was a visual way to further torment Alex, as she licked and nipped at Maxs nipples. Her tongue flowed down the line between his ribs to his stomach and then she leaned back, giving him a seductive smile. Max chuckled at her expression, obviously wanting what she was offering. Pine slipped her lips over his cock, encasing his dick before she began to move her head up and down to completely arouse him. In her peripheral vision she saw Alex rise from the bed. Max put a hand to his arm, shaking his head. Max made an odd hand gesture, and then Alex stood. Pine didnt really want him to leave, but his comment had been insulting and he needed to suffer for it. She would wait a few minutes until he got dressed and then stop him. Pine screeched in surprise as Alex grabbed her by the hips and lifted her off the bed. A moment later, Max was up and standing before her. He urged her legs around his waist, filling her with his cock. Alex was behind her, the warm, taut feel of his chest tight

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against her back. They had her pinned between them, Max grinning wickedly as continued to thrust into her. Alex was kissing her neck, one hand on her ass cheek to help support her. Being incased in their warmth as she was suspended between them was completely different than lying on the bed. They both had full access to her body, and she had only to trust them not to drop her. Alex spread the muscles of her anus with his fingers, the area still oily from the night before. She turned her head to look at him, her eyes heavily lidded with lust. Alex smiled and then his tongue rolling over her lips before he parted them with it. His kiss was equally enticing, the gesture slightly rougher, his tongue more demanding. Pine moaned softly, as he leaned back and asked, Still mad at me? Umm, let me think about it. Better still, make me forget about it. Alex chuckled and slowly slid his dick into her. Her body protested mildly, but the feeling of being stuffed and helpless between them was magnificent. Her cunt was throbbing, each thrust of their hips filling and releasing her in perfect synchronicity. Max slowed his movement, allowing Alex to fill her as he withdrew. The slight lag changed the pace between them as Pine drove her fingers into Maxs shoulders. You two are going to kill me. Not our intent, replied Max. Feel good? Indescribable. I know what it feels like on my side. Alex? he asked, gazing over her shoulder. Alex purred softly, releasing a slow, heavy breath of air. I like being on your side because she is so incredibly wet. The back does have its advantages, though. He leaned and nipped her neck. Im going to be crushed alive when you come. Then prepare yourself because that will be shortly. Max picked up the pace. Pine instantly began to pant, inhaling so hard that he feared she would not be able to exhale. She drove her fingers into his skin, a guttural cry escaping her lips. Pine was

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trapped, her mouth open, unable to move as both men filled her completely and then stopped. The muscles in her pussy and her anus clammed around them and then froze, the sensation of climax rolling through her entire body. Pine was shivering as they both stepped forward, encasing her in hot flesh so she was unable to move. She tried to wiggle to release the tension in her flesh, but the sensation didnt ebb or fade. Pine feared that she was going to lose her mind as she thrashed her head and then dropped her forehead onto Maxs shoulder. A moment later they both wiggled their hips, shifting within her. Maxs hand tightened on one cheek as Alex clamped onto the other. They had somehow synced their climax, and both dicks pulsed and throbbed within her. Pine leaned back, her body suddenly flashing back to life. Her cunt clamped and released around them both, the sensation of lightning flashing in her overwhelmed cunt until she went slack between them, unable to catch her breath. Alex moved back, and Max took complete control of her body as he sat back on the bed. He lifted her chin with his fingertips and kissed her softly. Are you okay? Shit and youre still hard. Of course, but if you cant handle any more, I completely understand. That was sensational. She giggled at his chagrinned expression. Uh. I have never felt anything like that before. My muscles stalled midway through climax and then holy shit. Alex sat down beside them, pushing back a strand of her hair. I presume that holy shit was a good thing? Nodding slowly, Pine smiled and stroked back a stray piece of his hair. Yes. That was very different than last night. How did you and Max climax at exactly the same time? We discussed it last night when you were sleeping, replied Max. We werent sure if it would work, but it obviously did. We both have very good control over our bodies. I guess.

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Max stroked her cheek, his forehead furrowing in sudden worry. Are you okay? Yeah. Im perfect. That just wiped me out. Wheres my coffee? Alex leaned to the table and grabbed her cup, handing it to her. Pine took a good-size swig and then handed it back to him. Max laid back, drawing her down to his chest. Go back to sleep. We have nothing pressing to do today. Alex dropped down beside them. I hate to have sex and run, but I should get going. I need to take the munchkins out. Jess is busy today. Whats the deal with you and Jess? asked Pine. No deal. She is my neighbor, and Im not her type. Wrong sex and all. Is she a shifter? No. Just a very nice woman who adores my dogs. She and her brother share the house, so time at my house means that she has some peace and quiet. Pine chuckled. You call time with your little red brats peace? I think theyre adorable, but they are not mellow. Good point. Okay, it gives her time alone away from her brother. He leaned forward and gave her a quick kiss. Thank you both. For what? asked Max. For letting me be a part of your lives. The pest needs to go home now. He rolled off the bed and headed into the bathroom. Max was softly stroking Pines hair, and she was enjoying not only the feel of his hand, but the occasional twitch of his dick. She leaned her head back, gazing at him. Max pursed his lips and whispered, Why do I get the feeling that you are not as tired as youre acting? She replied with a wiggle of her eyebrows, and Max chuckled. My little devil.

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**** Alex heard the conversation and laughed. He had known about Maxs condition for years, and it really didnt bother him that his good friend could keep an erection for hours. What he had discovered during his eighty years of life was that he had an exceptional recovery rate and had long ago mastered the art of sex. It was an honor that Pine was trying to spare his feelings, but he should really stop harassing her about it and tell her the truth. He enjoyed watching her with Max even when he wasnt involved. He didnt really want to go home, and he knew that Max was kidding about him being a pest, but he wanted to give them space. Alex hoped that as time passed, they could work out a more withstanding relationship, but there was no hurry. All that mattered was that for the present, he was a part of their lives. To have his best friend and a woman that he truly adored share their relationship with him was incredible. Pine was an amazing woman who had the ability to make him feel special even if she could never love him. He reconsidered the thought. Maybe she could love him. It would probably be a milder love than she felt for Max, but he had no doubt that she was capable of the emotion. Time would tell how their relationship would progress, but to share her was far better than denying his feelings and desires.

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Chapter 10
Pine sat silently in the front seat of the Jeep. Max and Alex had absolutely refused to tell her where they were going, and she was enjoying the breeze blowing across her face. The sun was incredibly warm, her senses more attuned to the things around her. Smells were more distinct and tastes more perceptive. Max pulled off the road, and Pine read the overhead sign aloud, Shady Acres Horseback Riding. Why are we going horseback riding? Max chuckled. Were not. My uncle Randy owns the place. He has twenty-five acres. All private land. I called, and he said to come up. He pulled up by the barn and parked the Jeep. Max slid out and opened the door for Pine, waiting as she and then Alex got out. Randy strode over, pulling her into a bear hug. You look amazing. Thank you, Randy. Well! Well what? You wanted to run as a wolf with your men. Shift and show me your stuff. She turned to Max and Alex, grinning broadly. Really? This is your surprise? Max nodded, and her smile contagious. It is what you wanted to do. Leo gave the okay after he checked the strength in your leg yesterday. Lets run. She flipped her hair and without the forethought that she had required three weeks before, stripped off her clothing and shifted.

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Max changed into his usual gray-furred body and then Alex into a large, lean, almost completely black wolf. The telepathy that they used for communication took over their minds, and Max spoke, Go! Run! There are no horses out today. The woods are ours. Youre alpha. You lead. Alex chuckled in her mind. Who are you kidding? Between the three of us, you are alpha. The alpha is never brazen about their position. Max took off at a slow run, allowing her to get a feel for the new sensation. Pine reveled in the motion, the scents of the trees and dirt assaulting her senses. She could occasionally smell the horses, their feces making her crinkle her nose even if she didnt see the brown remains nearby. She spotted a squirrel scrambling away from them, its small, furry body racing up a tree. It had a slight odor of its own, but there were so many new things demanding her attention that the creature was soon forgotten. They were running full speed, her legs in perfect harmony with the flex of her body. The wind whipping across her fur was glorious, her feet almost floating as they sprang over obstacles in their path. She wasnt paying attention and barely missed running directly into the jagged branches of a pine tree, leaping to the side at the last moment to save herself injury. Alex was behind her, and he called out to Max for them to slow down a bit and he did. Pine took a place beside him, and he slowed to a walk, turning his head to look at her. Are you enjoying yourself? Immensely. He felt the shift in her emotions and turned to follow her gaze. Shit! Max snapped as he used his body to push her aside. Pine lost her footing, crashing to the ground as Max dropped to his stomach. The deafening sound of a gunshot pierced her brain, making her ears ring. Pine stared in horror as Max whimpered, the top half of his ear exploding into tuffs of fur in the air. He snarled, shaking his head in pain as he leapt to his feet.

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Follow me! Max howled as he bolted into the trees, Pine and Alex on his heels. The forest passed around them, an odd rumbling growing stronger as they ran. In the distance was the whine of an ATV, the hunter in hot pursuit. Listen to me. I am going to yell jump, and the two of you are going to jump. Propel your bodies off the edge of the cliff and shift as you head toward the water. We have to be in human form when we break the surface because that moron is going to catch up to us fast. Can you do that, Pine? I think so, she replied in a breathless, panicked voice. Max continued to run, getting slightly ahead of them. He yelled, Jump. And then he disappeared over the side of the cliff. Pine used her back legs to push off, seeing that she had to clear a stretch of land to hit the water. She shifted, her front legs extended to protect her head as she collided with the surface of the lake. She knew that Alex had been right behind her, and she came to the surface searching for him and Max. Alex was beside her, but Max was further away. She swam frantically to him, touching the bloody side of his head. He took half your ear off. Max leaned his head back in the water, washing away the blood. Pine pushed his hair away, seeing that his ear had already been replaced with fresh, pink skin. Poacher. This is private land and he has no right to hunt here. Pine heard the bike come to a screeching halt. The owner shut the engine down, his body appearing at the edge of the drop off. He stared down at them. Hey, what are you kids doing up here? That is my question, asked Max. My uncle owns this land, and he invited us to go swimming. What were you shooting at? I heard gun fire. Damn wolves. They come onto my property and kill my cattle. If you want to shoot them on your property, then fine. This is not your property. So unless you plan to shoot us, get off my uncles land. The boundaries are clearly marked. Please respect that.

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Youre a snotty little shit. I will talk to your uncle about that tomorrow. Max glared at him, his nostrils flaring with anger. Pine grabbed his hand, holding it tightly. Alex swam closer, putting himself between her and the man with the gun. The man grumbled, Fucking clueless tree huggers. You aint worth my trouble. He started his bike and spun it, spraying a barrage of loose rocks into the air as he took off into the woods. Pine released a relieved breath. Shit! How to ruin a great run, grumbled Alex. He didnt ruin anything. He could have, but I am not going to let him. Other than almost getting shot, this has been perfect. I loved running. I loved leaping off the side of the mountain and shifting in midair to crash into the water as a human. Pine started to laugh, her voice filled with delight. I love this! Look around. The waterfall is beautiful. The lake is cool. The water feels glorious around my overheated body. For a moment in time we were free, running as wild animals in the wilderness. I was a wild wolf with human knowledge. I want to do this whenever we can. Please. The rush is amazing. Max pulled her into his body, Alex swimming up behind her to kiss her neck. Hey, Max. Can one woman have two eternals? I have never read about it. Why? The more I am with her, the more I want to be with her. If she is alpha and you dont mind, is it okay? We have shared everything since childhood. She likes being shared, so as long as things remain reasonable, I dont mind. I love you, Alex, but I dont want you in my bed every night, and to sleep without her for even a single night would be torture. He gave Alex a chagrined smile and then added, I also know how you feel about her. As long as you honor my desires to spend time alone with Pine, then having you as an integral part of our lives would be cool. We could always buy a bigger house so you and your dogs have your own space.

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Pine grinned broadly. Why dont we buy a large plot of land and build a house to our specifications? I havent drawn in years, but Im sure I can still manage to make up a sketch. We could invite the others to visit and run with us. I can set up a hothouse and grow my own vegetables and herbs. I could plant a grove of nut and fruit trees. Ive always wanted to do that. Maybe I could even start up a small Internet business where people can get products they can trust to be pure and organic. Please? she added with a bubbly smile that Max found impossible to resist. Anything you desire. I will call Greg when we get home. Actually, its a great idea. We wouldnt have to make arrangements to have a safe place to run whenever we cared to do so. The house can be completely private, without being inaccessible. His voice softened, and he ran his tongue along the inside of his bottom lip. You know, if we buy a big enough piece of land, we could build small outer houses and rent them out as a private shifter vacation spot. It would mean clearly marking or fencing our perimeters, but it could work. It would be great for those who are city-bound and looking for a private place to go without having to give up the conveniences of human life. Alex chuckled. That is a fabulous idea. When I was with Missy, we wanted to spend a few days alone in animal form. We ended up going camping and spent a ton of time and money on camping gear. We took off for a day, and when we came back, our car had been broken into. I thought you said that shifters from different areas didnt get along, commented Pine. We avoid each other, but in a situation like that, our property would be neutral ground. Everyone would know that other shifters were in the area and would respect the others privacy. We would never attack one another or anything. That would be suicide for our race. Then it sounds like a great idea. We are agreed. Lets do it.

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Max nodded, glancing at Alex. If we live in the same house, then she has two of us to keep an eye on her. This lady has a nose for trouble. I do not. Trouble has a nose for me. Max drew her into a robust kiss, and Alex crushed her between them. He nibbled on her ear, and Pine tilted her head against her shoulder. Stop, that tickles. She had grown to love Alex, but he often pushed her buttons to aggravate her. It was a different kind of relationship than what she shared with Max. She and Alex tended to do things to harass each other, the teasing comments or gestures always playful. Max could be playful when he felt like it, but he was often more serious and sedate. In reality, they were a perfect match because what one man lacked, the other made up for. Max leaned back and examined her. Everything okay? Your kiss was slightly distracted. Everything is perfect. Make love to me. Should I swim my ass to shore, or is that a mutual request? asked Alex. Pine questioned Max with her eyes and he smiled. I believe it was a mutual request. We have turned our eternal into a nympho. Pine and Alex both stared at him and Max grinned. I said that I have never read about it. I didnt say that it couldnt happen. Face it, the two of you are in love and I think it is kind of cute. I know that she loves me unquestioningly, so why not share that love with you, Alex? She stroked his cheek. Will I ever see a day when I am not amazed by you, my sweet, Max? I hope not. Now spin your ass around and tell Alex that you love him also. He gave her a quick kiss on the lips and then spun her body with his hands to her shoulders. Pine grinned at Alex. I suppose that he is right. I do love you.

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I know. I love you, too. I can honestly see myself spending eternity with you and Max. Me, too. He put his palms gently to her cheeks and kissed her, his lips soft against hers. Max had his hands to her waist, keeping her balanced in the water. He slipped them down to her thighs, urging them upward around Alexs hips. Alex slowly massaged her skin as he worked downward until he was holding her body tightly against his own. Max kissed her throat and then whispered in her ear. Want me to get lost? Pine shook her head as she felt the questioning prod of his cock against her ass. She knew that his suggestion had been a matter of courtesy rather than one of true desire, and she desired them both. Maxs lips trailed a soft path down her shoulder as Alex lifted her slightly and filled her with his dick. The water shifting between their skin was a cool caress to offset the heat of her growing need. Max parted her ass cheeks with his finger, softening her muscles before he slipped into her tight anus. The two men were treading water, the pump of their legs moving their bodies effortlessly inside her. Pine wrapped one hand around Alexs neck and leaned back into Max, her hand grasping his ass. It was an odd sensation to have no control, the two men keeping her trapped between their bodies. It was also something that Pine had come to adore, the overly stuffed tightness of two hard cocks moving within her. She could feel the heat of the sun upon her head, the shift of their bodies against her wet skin. It was glorious, overwhelming and as her pussy began to pulse with ever growing flashes of heat, Pine knew that she could remain this way forever.

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Epilogue
Pine gently patted the soil around her newest peach tree. It was a graft from her small orchard, and she loved to walk among the variety of species, smelling the fragrant spring flowers that were blooming. Bees from the two hives that Alex now kept were buzzing in the flowers, soaking in the nectar that would fill their hives with honey. She watched one for a moment as it walked within a tiny pink flower. It was oblivious to her presence, and when it was finished, it moved its wings. The bee flew in search of another place to land and did so in a nearby tree, unwittingly pollinating her crops. They were really amazing to watch, their tiny wings beating so quickly that they became a blur. She hadnt ever been stung, even when the flowers were heavy with busy workers. Of course, she never bothered them, and when they flew near her, she just ignored them. Festa bounded up to her and stopped short, sitting at her feet. Pine smiled. Whats up, girl? Did Alex send you to get me? Festa wagged her tiny curled tail diligently and then turned, sprinting back toward the house. Pine chuckled and took a final look around before she walked from the oversized cage. Her plants were kept under safe lock and key to protect them from the area deer. The six-foot fence didnt stop the local birds from visiting, but her berry bushes were further encased in fine netting. Pine shut the gate and then dropped to the ground, her form morphing into a cheetah. It was her fastest configuration, and she would often run as such, streaking through the semidense forest that separated the house from her crops. Everything was on camera view, and there was an alarm set at night to notify them of anyone entering her garden. All visitors were told in

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advance to stay clear of the areas that were marked as private, and so far, the ten couples that had vacationed in one of the two outlying houses had honored that request. The third house was almost finished, and all three houses were booked for the next six months. The demand for a private range to spend a week or two living as one desired was a hot commodity. Once their guests checked in, they were rarely seen until they later checked out. The only indication that the houses had occupants was the cars parked out front. Alex was now an equal part in their three way relationship. He had searched the available information to confirm if one woman could have two eternals, but never found anything. It didnt matter to Pine or Max if they were the first to experience such an event. Alex was in love with her, and she was in love with him, and that was all that mattered. She slid to a stop outside the wide French doors and turned back into a human. Her arms and legs were humming with the exertion of running, but it had been a long time since pain had invaded her body. Pine had become as Max was. She never got sick and rarely felt anything but wonderful and healthy. A side effect that she hadnt been warned of was that she also never got her period. It had stopped after the change, and if what she read was accurate, she would only get it once every five years or so. It was natures way of making sure that shifters didnt breed accidentally. If she wanted a child, her period would designate a two-week block of time when she could become pregnant. Otherwise it was not a problem. One thought led to another, and as she walked in the door, Pine was hit by a glimmer of grief. It had been two years since she talked to Megan. After their initial run-in at the house, she had avoided her daughter for a few weeks. Pine had played with different types of makeup and had then decided to lie and say that she had a facelift to look younger for Max. Megan had been appalled, but when Pine had showed up for lunch two weeks later, Megan was stunned.

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Oh, my god, Mother. What have you done? I already told you. I had a facelift. It looks amazing, doesnt it? You look more like my little sister than my mother. How much did that little magic trick cost? Fourteen thousand. Did I mention that Max has money? Actually, thats what I what I wanted to tell you. We are going in as partners with his friend Alex. We are buying thirty acres in Delaware. We are going to have a house built, and I can have the organic farm I have always wanted. We are heading up there next week and probably wont be back for a while. We want to be there to oversee the construction. Maybe you can come down once in a while? she asked hopefully, fearing that she already knew the answer. Megan was glaring at her in fury, but she wasnt sure if it was due to the facelift or that Pine was moving out of state. I presume that I shouldnt bother to send you an invitation to my wedding? You are getting married? When? To who? In three months. I dont suppose you remember Devon? Pine considered it and then shook her head. Did I ever meet him? Actually, yes. I found this out after we had been dating for three months. He stopped over the house one day and saw your picture on the wall and asked if your name was Pine. I said yes, and he snapped his mouth shut like an alligator with a rabbit in his teeth. I finally got him to admit that his friend had picked you up at a bar about six months ago. You fucked him and threw him out. I have since found out that my mother was a hot item with a thing for one-night stands. What a wonderful thing to discover. Its funny, but I thought you were a saint until the truth came out. Pine grimaced. What do you want me to say? I was never a saint. I dated a few men that I met at the bar, and yes, had sex with them. I didnt have one-night stands and if any of Devons friends said that I did, they were lying.

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He said that you were going to deny it. Why lie to me? Why should I lie to you? In all honesty, it is none of your business who I did or didnt sleep with. Im a grown woman. Megan rolled her eyes, her jaw flexing as if she had a cramp in it. Pine recognized the gesture. It was something Megan often did when she was on the verge of throwing an angry fit. I only had a few months of good time left. I felt cheated by life. I was lonely, and I wanted something to make that feeling go away. Yes, I led quite a few of them on because they made me feel desired and special, even it was an illusion. Her voice gained an octave as she suddenly came to terms with the truth. Martin walked out on me and left me to deal with the cancer alone. I no longer had my job, because its impossible to promote the value of good living when you are dying of a crappy disease like cancer. No one wants to know that the holistic medicine they have put their faith in has failed that badly. It failed me. My life failed me. I went after the cutest, youngest men because it was my way to be a bad girl in the shadow of a life spent thriving to be good. I didnt sleep with most of them. I let them walk me to my car or take me to breakfast and then I drove away. Her composure failed completely. If you want the honest truth, I always parked in the darkest, most desolate place in the lot. I was hoping that one of them would turn out to be a psycho and slit my throat. Max saved my life in more ways than you can imagine. Pine swiped at the tears running down her cheeks and focused back on Megan. Her daughters face was ashen as she finished off her glass of juice and rose from the table, walking wordlessly away. Pine tried to go after her, but Megan refused to speak. She went to her car, slammed the door in Pines face, and drove away. Pine hadnt spoken to her since. Max gently touched her arm. Are you okay? Pine shook her head, clearing the memory from her brain. She felt the moisture on her cheeks and gave him a sad smile. I was just remembering that last day with Megan.

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Do you want to go back and try to find her? What good would it do? She changed her phone number to an unlisted one. She sold the house, and I cant get anyone to tell me where she lives. Martin hangs up the phone in my face. I suppose that I could hire a private detective, but it would be a waste of money. Megan doesnt want to see me or talk to me. I was hoping that she would call after I sent the birthday card to Martin for her. He at least said that he gave it to her before he hung up on me. I know. Any way you look at it, Pine, you wouldnt be a part of her future. Death doesnt allow for family reunions among the living. What would you have done if things had been different? What happens in ten years when you havent aged? Plastic surgery can only do so much. You dont exactly have the body of a fifty-three-year-old woman. You have become pure muscle since we moved here. Most people think you are about twenty-two or twenty-three. It isnt only Megan you would have to deal with. Its her husband and his family. What happens when we show up for Christmas dinner year after year and everyone else has changed, but us? Pine shrugged, knowing that he was right. I know that you love her, but you have to let her go. Her husband is a scientist into geneticist. If he got a sample of your DNA, he could expose our entire race. As Leo told you years ago, we are undiscovered, and we want to stay that way. We have committed our lives to giving others safety and security. We give others like ourselves a safe place where they dont have to worry about exposing who they really are. Are you honestly willing to risk revealing us? Are you going to betray our entire shifter kind just to see your daughter again? No, Pine whispered softly. He was right. Megan could never come to her house because it would present a risk for their guests. From what Pine had read on the Internet, Megans husband was brilliant. If he became suspicious about Pines and Maxs continued youthfulness, it could be dangerous. It wouldnt take more than a

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strand of hair to find out that she was no longer human. I know whats at stake. I just miss her sometimes. I keep remembering that last day. I wish I hadnt become so angry and truthful. She was looking at me as if I just shattered her world, and I made it worse. Max held out his hand, and Pine stepped into him, molding herself to his body. There was no more comforting place in the world than being wrapped in Maxs muscular arms. Alex rubbed his soft, furry body across the back of her legs and then stepped away before returning to human form. His pack ran into the room, slowing for a moment to give him a baleful look. He was no longer a part of their fun, and they continued onward, turning the open living room into a racetrack. The game was jokingly called the Basenji 500, but the dogs didnt understand the correlation. It didnt matter as they skidded around the back of the couch, racing each other to see who would emerge victorious on the other end. Alex chuckled. They are in full running mode. Our newest guests just pulled into the driveway. We should go out and meet them. Pine sighed and peeled herself from Maxs grasp. Alex touched a tear on her cheek. Everything okay? We were just discussing her daughter, replied Max. Oh, anything new? Pine shook her head. Nothing. Just an old woman who has a broken string linking her to her past. We could always have a baby when your time comes. It would be the perfect environment to raise a child in, suggested Alex. I have a few years to think about it. At the moment, I need to focus my attention on my two eternals. I think the two of you need to take me out to dinner, and then we can go run the woods as lions. Maybe I will even let you have sex with me. It isnt really bestiality if Im one of the beasts. Max playfully slapped her across the ass. I love you so much. I just hate it when you make such a lusty statement when I cant do anything about it. We have guests to greet. Lets go. He wrapped his

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arm around her waist. Alex took up a place on her opposite side, his arm around her shoulder. They purposely bumped hips as they meandered outside to welcome the newest pair of shifters to visit Ranch Undiscovered.

THE END
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Kat Barrett lives in her small home with her husband of many years. She spends much of her time in artistic pursuits, writing or doing artwork. She is grateful for her family, friends, and her fans, and wishes to thank them all for their support.

For all titles by Kat Barrett, please visit www.bookstrand.com/kat-barrett

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