Authors: Zenina Masters
Tags: #Erotic Romance, #Fantasy, #Fey, #Magic, #Paranormal, #Shapeshifter
With terrible timing, Sable arrives at the Crossroads as the link to earth is cut and the steady attentions of a patient tiger help bring her back to reality.
Rushed to a Crossroads transport far before her scheduled time, Sable finds herself in the portal as it collapses from an unseen force. Her soul is bleeding out, her body is weak and the Crossroads is untethered from earth so no help is coming.
When she shifts to her feline form and back, something goes wrong and part of her gets stuck. A handsome man helps her back to the Open Heart, and he offers her patient companionship as she gets the first treatment for recovery.
Warren has been waiting for days, but when he sees the cheetah streaking through the meadow, he kicks himself. He had shut his senses down to the point he couldn’t recognize his mate when she passed out in his arms. It was not a mistake he would make twice.
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2014 Zenina Masters
Cover art by Carmen Waters
All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, is forbidden without the written permission of the publisher.
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Shifting Crossroads Book 23
Sable Musgrave sat at the table with her family and enjoyed the companionship of her parents, grandparents and siblings.
Her nephew paused the conversation by piping up, “Aunty Sable, when are you getting married?”
All forks and knives paused as the air got heavy.
“I don’t know, Dean. I haven’t found anyone yet that I could marry.”
He frowned. “You should marry someone tall, ‘cause you are tall.”
“And he should have a pool and maybe an airplane.”
Sable winked at him. “Come to me with your list after dinner and I will see what I think is suitable for my search.”
The gathering laughed and everyone resumed eating.
Dean didn’t know that Sable’s childhood sweetheart had died when he was seventeen and her family had refused to let her go looking for another. He just knew that he wanted an uncle with a pool. Kids were fairly direct in those matters.
Sable was almost sure that her broken heart had healed. After a decade, she was more than willing to take it for a test run outside of her protective family and friend circle.
She was willing to jump and see where she landed.
After dinner, she was sitting with Dean, and he was carefully writing out his wish list as only a six year old could. When the list was finished, she kissed him on the head and gave him a hug. “Thanks, buddy, I will use this list.”
He beamed and went to hop onto his father’s lap.
Sable carefully folded the letter into eighths and tucked it into her pocket. She headed to the kitchen to help clear up after dinner, and her mother was with her three sisters-in-law. “Can I help?”
Dione smiled, “You can put the pots away. I always mix them up.”
Sable grinned and carried out her task while the other women talked about their husbands and how to best manipulate them. Sable poured herself some coffee and sat at the table. She took a deep breath. “Mom. I am going to the Crossroads.”
The dish that her mother was holding slipped and Tammy caught it. “What?”
“You heard me.”
Her sisters-in-law were quiet. They knew what she knew. No one in their circle would have her. Brendan’s family was large and well connected. They would not allow her to find a mate. In their minds, she was Brendan’s mate and no amount of logic was going to change that. If she wanted to try at a relationship, she had to leave home, leave her friends and their society in search of a new life. A life with someone she could love.
Her mother turned and sat next to her, taking her hand with one hot and foamy from the dishwater. “When?”
“I have had the consultation and am going tomorrow.”
Evanna smiled at her. “Good. Did you get Khris to sign?”
That surprised Sable. “Uh, yeah. I met with him last week. I picked up hair from the bushes for yours and Father’s donations.”
Her coalition leader had indeed signed the release for her to go to the Crossroads. He had also mentioned that if he wasn’t Brendan’s uncle, he would have pursued her himself. Related to one and related to all. That was the motto of the cheetahs. If she had never been engaged to Brendan, it would not have been an issue, but the engagement was a legal contract and that made her kin to all of Brendan’s family.
Dating in the cheetah community was complicated.
Her mother grinned and her sisters-in-law sighed with relief.
Sable exhaled and sat back. “So, now for the hard part. Who tells Dad?”
Suddenly, the clean dishes were back in the sink and Sable was on her own. She got to her feet and headed into the living room, meeting her father’s gaze and jerking her head toward the study.
She entered it before him, and she took a seat in one of the leather wingback chairs near the fireplace.
“So, fuzzy, what is your trouble? Is it Dean? His father already offered to have a talk with him.” Arthur Musgrave settled in the chair, his lean body still fit in his sixth decade.
“No, he is great and gave me plenty of good advice.”
She inhaled and leaned forward with her elbows on her knees. “I wanted to tell you that I am going to the Crossroads.”
He sat for a moment. “Does Khris know?”
“Does your mother know?”
“Who did you tell first?”
“Khris then Mom.”
He smiled weakly. “You did that in the right order at least. Are you sure about this? Brendan—”
“Is gone. He got drunk and crashed his car too young, but I don’t need to be relegated to a life alone because he had bad judgement.”
Her father sighed, an echo of her own. “What about Brendan’s family?”
“If I marry outside the coalition, then it ceases to be an issue. If I find a match in another species, they will have no call at all to complain.”
He made a face. “Are you sure that this is what you want to do?”
“If it was one of my brothers, you would have mailed them there with a condom in their wallet and two hundred bucks.”
He cocked his head. “You are my little girl. This is a big step. No matter the outcome, your actions are creating a rift between you and your community.”
“And yet you are neglecting what I can gain.”
Her father smiled. “Good. I haven’t seen optimism in you for quite some time. Do you need anything from me?”
“No. I have already gotten what I needed. My final appointment with the transporter is tomorrow.”
She smiled when her father got to his feet.
“Then give me a hug, fuzzy, and get a good night’s sleep. We wish you to do nothing but find the man that is right for you.”
Sable grinned as the hug got tighter and tighter until she squeaked. “All right. I feel the love, Dad.”
He sighed and let her go. “I want you to come home the moment that you feel it isn’t right for you. I will get Khris to put a caveat in the contract.”
Sable didn’t roll her eyes at the doubt that her father had. He didn’t want her to find someone. That much was clear. He hated change and this would be a big one.
“I am going to tell the guys. Did you want to sit here for a minute?”
Her father nodded. “I need to process this.”
Sable went out and made the general announcement. Her sisters-in-law forced their husbands into enthusiasm, and when Sable left, Dean came up to her.
“I am happy you are looking for someone, Aunty. Don’t lose the list.”
She hugged him and ruffled his hair. “I will keep it with me the whole time. I promise. I don’t know if he will be everything on the list, but I will look very closely.”
Dean was satisfied with that. “Good luck, Aunty.”
Between her mother and her nephew, she had enough good wishes to see her to her appointment.
In the car, she checked her phone and the flashing of a message got her attention.
“Sable, this is Timothy. I don’t know what is going on, but the Crossroads is shifting. It is coming much faster than I anticipated. If you don’t get here by midnight, we will have to wait until the next pass.”
She sent him a text and put the car in gear.
I am on my way.
She had two hours for a forty-five minute drive. A ten-minute stop for her bag and she would be on her way to the Crossroads, or at least the transporter.
When she arrived, he was flustered. He quickly processed her, sent the communications ahead and arranged the portal that he would send her through.
“Predators have a harder time. You might want to kneel.”
She knelt on the icon on the floor and light sprouted around her.
“The link is here. Here we go.”
The flare under her knees crawled upward, and the light eventually embraced her completely. With her bag on her back, she held onto her awareness of self as she was sent from one world into another.
She was jerked, yanked and tugged through the portal, finally ending on her knees on a mat over wood.
A woman was at her side. “Oh my dear, we didn’t think you were going to make it. The moment you came through, we lost the connection.”
Warily, Sable brought her head up. “What?”
“We have temporarily lost our connection to the world. I am sure they are working on it as we speak.”
The woman with the pale hair grimaced. “You took the words right out of my mouth.”
* * * *
The elf lord Wormith faced the representatives from the shifters, the mage council and the transport guild master specifically. Dira Montrose was at the table, and she looked most unhappy.
“Who dares to disconnect the Crossroads?” Dira was furious. Jets of fire came out her nose.
Wormith swallowed. “I represent the fey, and we are insisting upon an equal facility for our people to mate in a realm of magic.”
Dira blinked. “What?”
“We are at a point of extinction. No more children are being born to those who mix pure magic with pure magic. No children at all. We need to be able to mix our bloodlines with those of the shifters and—”
Dira lifted her hands. “Wait. The Crossroads is a place where the link is done by beasts finding their mates. Although many elves are beasts, this would hamper a shifter’s ability to find a correct match. What am I talking about? This is asinine. Put the Crossroads back and we will forget this lapse in judgement ever happened.”
Wormith settled in and shook his head. “Never. I am not giving up on this. The Crossroads will float untethered through the ether and I will not give you the charm to recall it. We have hidden it well.”
He had to be brave. He was sitting in a room where almost everyone wanted to kill him and he had to open talks for the expansion and inclusion of the fey into the Crossroads. The survival of his species depended on it.
Being seasick was not something that she normally experienced, but Sable’s vision was spinning and her stomach followed along.
Hands helped her up and a cup of water was pressed into her hands. “Drink up. We nearly lost you.”
She swallowed carefully and absorbed what the voice said. “What?”
“Never mind. We are going to get you to your room and you are going to rest. We will be having a meeting in the bar, and someone will come to give you a briefing afterward.”
Sable blinked and cleared her eyes. “If you can just prop me up in a corner, I would like to be there for the briefing. I prefer to be kept in the loop.”
The dark-haired man and pale-haired woman nodded. “Come on, we will help you.”
Sable thought she was supposed to sign something upon arrival, but she kept her comments to herself, knowing she wouldn’t make any sense.
Her greeters slipped under each arm and helped her up, walking her out of the wood-paneled building and into the graveled street, meeting up with a flow of other men and women who were all approaching a building with the word Crossed Star hanging on a placard above the wide doorway.