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El-ian lounged against the tree trunk as he watched his clan cavort on the damp grass. By morning, the area would be flattened from their presence. Visitors to Balboa Park would attribute the blight to lovers on a tryst, or indigents camping out. More likely, they wouldn't notice at all. Too many times, humans turned a blind eye to the natural world surrounding them.
This place wasn't the ideal location for El-ian's people, but considering the growing threat from mountain lions in the nearby regional and state parks, Balboa Park was better than nothing at all. The cat in them needed the chance to breathe free and run, to have lots of wide-open space. El-ian looked up. Tonight's full moon made it an especially rewarding experience, more or less. They were always on their guard against discovery, and the presence of one interloper watching nearby set everyone's nerves on edge.
Trina Tate. Not one of his favorite people, though she was good-looking enough. He sighed. This was the third night in a row she'd followed them, yet she always kept her distance, watching. None of the clan questioned El-ian as to her presence. They trusted him to monitor her actions. If it had been anyone else spying on them, El-ian would have found them another remote place to explore their baser nature.
If he'd been pressed to explain his actions, El-ian wouldn't have had a good answer. Even he wasn't sure if Trina was friend or foe. Why he let her continue to watch ... He didn't have a ready answer. Every time she was near, he inhaled her scent, yet he didn't know why her smell haunted his dreams and waking hours.
He shook his head on a low growl, trying to get her out of his thoughts, andshifted his focus to the clan. The twelve black jaguars were in a playful mood tonight, acting more like cubs than centuries-old shape-shifters. Golden eyes pierced the dark. The full moon always brought out their youthful exuberance.
A seldom-seen smile crossed El-ian's face as he watched the cats tumble over each other in play. Tensions had been high within the group these last six months. It was time to bond again, to mend their grief, and, perhaps, to find some direction. Even at a distance, El-ian could sense their joy and the thread of sexual tension weaving through them. He wondered if Trina felt it. If it made her pussy drip with want. His barbed cock hardened with anticipation. He'd take one of them tonight, as was his right. Duty and survival required him to assert his dominance, but that would be all the mating was for him--cementing his position as alpha. Maybe he'd even take Trina. That would teach her not to spy.
A light breeze ruffled his fur. El-ian lifted his nose to catch the tang of salt from the nearby ocean. A whiff of charred earth hit him instead, overriding all the others. It was a sudden, stark reminder of the recent wildfires that had taken more precious members of his rapidly dwindling clan--females they desperately needed to continue their line. The loss struck another blow at the heart of who they were, or rather, what they had once been.
El-ian pulled in another breath, hoping the ocean breeze would push to the forefront and remove the taint of destruction he knew all too well. At that point, even Trina's scent would be a welcome diversion. Instead, he sneezed.
Joaquin trotted his way at the sound. Sleek muscles rippled beneath his black coat, boasting of the strength pouring through the large male. El-ian's equal, his friend, and, on occasion, his rival.
"Come, join us."
"Soon." El-ian stared into the night and away from him.
His gaze settled on Trina. She'd edged closer, a pale shadow in the bushes. This was the first time she'd dared to venture so close. She stood no more than fifty feet away.
And gloriously nude.
Her skin glowed with an inner light that beckoned El-ian with an intensity that was all too familiar. Long black hair drifted down her back, framing her body. She had curves a goddess would crave, heavy breasts that begged for a man's mouth or a cock thrusting between them. Her light brown nipples were hard, although he presumed it was more because she'd been toying with them than because of the cool air. They puckered under El-ian's watchful gaze. Or perhaps a combination of both.
Her arousal was thick, calling to him on a level no male would--or could--refuse. From what he knew of the woman, she denied few men. She'd even propositioned him once--an offer he'd ignored without hesitation, but with a great deal of effort. Few nights had passed since then without the fantasy of having Trina beneath him.
"Come. You know you'll enjoy it. You need a little play." Joaquin leaped forward, batting at El-ian's ears. El-ian ducked the blow and flicked his tail in annoyance.
"I said, soon."
Joaquin stretched out beside him. "You haven't been the same since we returned from the Yucatán six months ago."
El-ian swiveled his gaze to Joaquin. "Neither have you."
A subtle growl rumbled in Joaquin's throat. He didn't like the reminder any more than El-ian did. They'd spent centuries focused on a common goal--finding and destroying the skinwalkers who'd fed on the souls of others. Once that mission was accomplished, their tight-knit group had become fractured; not so much physically, but emotionally. The wildfire deaths shortly after their return to the States couldn't have come at a worse time. Not that there was ever a good time for death. But on the heels of their greatest battle and the clan members they'd lost as a result, it was hard not to view more deaths as a sign that they hovered on the edge of extinction. El-ian swore he could feel age wearing him down, in human and in jaguar form.
Joaquin's eyes narrowed. "Have a care, my friend."
"You'd be doing good to remember that."
The tip of Joaquin's long, black tail snapped. "I share my mate with you, Wyatt."
The use of his human name reeked of challenge. El-ian was the only one of their group to continue using his ancient name when they shifted. Leave it to Joaquin to call attention to that now, a not-so-subtle reminder that El-ian was part of the old order, a command structure rapidly disintegrating.
He was half tempted to battle it out and let Joaquin win. Joaquin could take the alpha role and see how well he liked the weight of responsibility. El-ian's heart had grown weary of the task, and his soul ... Well, his soul pined for something that could never be.
"You share nothing. I take what is my right." El-ian leaped to his feet and hovered over the other male.
Joaquin matched his stance, teeth bared in a silent snarl. El-ian wasn't silent or subtle in his response. His warning growl alerted their group to action. The cats froze as a whole, turning to watch the battle between the alpha and beta male. From the periphery of his vision, El-ian saw Trina take a step back.
Fight me, El-ian silently begged. Take the lead. Then he could also banish the constant reminder of his perpetual solitude.
He and Joaquin stared at each other, their molten gazes locked, white fangs gleaming. Joaquin slowly edged away, not out of fear, but El-ian doubted it was out of respect. He turned his back on El-ian, lifted his tail high as if to say "fuck you," then stalked toward his mate.
Carmen crouched, muscles tensed to run away. Joaquin was too quick. In one leap, he overcame her and clenched his teeth into the scruff of her sleek neck to hold her in place. Carmen might acquiesce in jaguar form, if it pleased her, but once they shifted back, El-ian had no doubt she'd retaliate. The longtime couple had been at odds since her rescue from the wildfires that took both her sisters and the child she carried. The rift between the couple grew wider every day and threatened to drag the clan down into the chasm with them.
Joaquin shot a fiery glance at El-ian and thrust his cock into Carmen, daring his leader to take her.
El-ian refused to let the challenge go this time. They were going to fight it out once and for all. He risked a loud rrawow guaranteed to raise a human's hackles and alarm anyone stupid enough to be out in Balboa Park at midnight. They'd probably pee themselves, thinking one of the big cats had escaped from the San Diego Zoo.
Joaquin snarled back, thrusting faster into the female beneath him.
"Enjoy it," El-ian told him. "I'm having her for the rest of the night."
"You'll have to kill me to take her." Joaquin slammed his body into hers.
"So be it."
Slow, measured steps carried him toward the couple. Blades of grass caved under his paws. The others moved out, forming an arena for the battle. Halfway to his goal, the scent of Trina's arousal cut through the air.
All heads turned her way. El-ian saw Carmen take advantage of the distraction and try to roll away from Joaquin. He nailed her in place with one heavy paw on her back. Carmen hissed at him. His extended claws most likely ensured she stayed where he wanted her.
El-ian ignored the domestic power play and studied the woman standing nearby, near the closest crop of trees and bushes. She could do with a hard fucking, among other things. So could he, for that matter.
He understood why she was drawn to them and could even sympathize with her confusion. Seeing her here ... knowing she'd briefly shared a connection to the woman he'd once loved, tripled his want of her almost more than he could bear. But she wasn't Ka-ra and the sooner she accepted that, the better off she'd be. The better off he'd be, too. It was time to make her realize there was no place for her among the clan. And he was in the perfect mood to intimidate her into leaving.
He spun around and grabbed the first jaguar he could reach--the youngest male. Dean settled before him without hesitation. In a group that now contained only two females, members mated whenever and with whomever they could.
El-ian snarled at the intruder and plunged his barbed penis into the willing male's ass. Dean arched into the fucking, his head rolling back as muted squalls signaled his pleasure. El-ian wished he could feel the same way. His focus was locked on Trina, wanting her, imagining her on all fours while he pounded into her. Dominating her, letting her know he would not be led around by the dick, like her other conquests.
Trina pulled her plump lower lip between her teeth. Her wide brown eyes shimmered, looking more like blue-black pools that begged to be plundered. An illusion, or the promise of what could be? El-ian snarled and pounded into the cat beneath him.
He heard the catch in Trina's breath, carried on the breeze. Watched as her fingers drifted down her torso on a straight path to her pussy. Saw the moisture gleaming on her thighs, enhanced by moonglow. Hell, he didn't need to see, he could smell it. The scent assaulted his brain, overriding everything else, imprinting its signature there for all time. El-ian snorted. Like he needed a reminder. She'd haunted his nights from the moment they'd met.
Her wanton disregard for her safety fired El-ian's anger. She should be running for her life, not...
Fingers dove into her pussy. Her scent flooded the copse of trees where she stood and dispersed among the clan. Jaguars paired up, excited by her pheromones, except for the odd man left without a body to mate with. El-ian yanked from Dean and let Barry have him. He turned toward Trina.
He'd drive Trina Tate from their midst, one way or the other.