Home > Shifters in the Night (Mystic Bayou #5)

Shifters in the Night (Mystic Bayou #5)
Author: Molly Harper

 

1

 

 

LIA

 

 

Sometimes, a girl just needed to stretch her legs. Whether it was a good idea to do that stretching at night, in a swamp, alone … well, that remained to be seen.

But it just felt so good for Lia Doe to change into her other form and bound through the trees. After hours riding through an area of Louisiana called The Devil’s Armpit, she positively relished the sensation of leaves caressing her other skin like a lover. It was so calm here and quiet. And while she tried to avoid vanity, in general, even she had to admire the way the moon reflected over her hide.

Who could blame her, when she found a clear expanse of water, for changing into her human form and flinging herself headlong into the Mystic Bayou? Well, anyone with a working knowledge of horror movies, but that was beside the point.

She’d been warned by her coworkers at New Ground Construction about the natural and supernatural dangers of swimming in the bayou at night – bugs, snakes, gators and gator shifters. And then there was her natural reluctance to run in an area where she wasn’t sure of the local hunting habits. But she just hadn’t been able to resist, particularly when she caught the scent of cleaner waters far from town – clear, saltier waters, which shouldn’t have even registered for her land-bound nature – she was drawn to it like she was fighting through smoke to get to pristine air. She’d spent most of her formative years running in city parks, near ponds that were absolutely filthy with floating garbage and all manner of debris from humans who didn’t respect the tiny bit of wild space in their midst. This little corner of the swamp was so free of those irritants. She just wanted to luxuriate in it.

She paused under the water to appreciate how good it felt. She bobbled to the surface and turned to face the moon. Her tawny hair floated around her like a cloud and she sighed, fanning her fingers out. She’d temporarily lived in a lot of places; Denver, Anchorage, Tupelo, Pensacola, anywhere New Ground was building affordable apartment complexes for supernatural residents. This was the first time in a long time that she felt drawn to commune with nature like this. Being so comfortable in this place already gave her hope that she might be comfortable here.

She heard a splash behind her and froze like, well, a deer in headlights.

She turned, unsure of whether she was about to be eaten by a monster of legend or just a plain hungry reptile. She was not prepared to see a man’s head just above the water, staring at her with dark eyes so wide with shock she was afraid he might have had a heart attack.

While Lia was incredibly relieved to see him move – and to see that he did indeed have a body attached to his head, because an independent floating head in a swamp would be very off-putting – she instinctively dove away when he moved towards her. There were all sorts of fairy tales about hinds – magical deer shifters – being spied on while minding their own business and those stories rarely ended happily.

She trusted her ability to read others enough not to panic entirely. This man wasn’t hostile or lustful, just curious with this stunned wonder that Lia couldn’t help but find a little flattering.

Maybe that was why she let him swim closer. Or maybe it was the long lines of his arms as he stroked across the water … connected to a muscled torso that impressed even her. She watched, transfixed as he drew nearer. His cheekbones were raised and sharp and his lips drew back into an unsure smile over even sharper teeth. He disappeared under the surface and for a few agonizing seconds, the parts of her brain that responded as prey rang with alarm. His pale face rose, just in front of her, but still under the water, and his long, thin-fingered hand rose into the air, almost touching her jaw.

She could hear his voice in her head as he peered up at her, muffled as though he was speaking through the water.

“Are you real?” he whispered inside her head in a gravelly rasp.

His face broke through the water and his fingertips had barely brushed her cheek before her arm reared back. She didn’t even feel her hand ball into a fist before she smashed it into his nose. He yelped and the strident, injured noise broke her out of her stupor. He clutched his hand to his nose and she dashed away as fast as she could – sure that he was swimming at her heels. She used every bit of strength in her legs to launch out of the water, landing on four hooves.

She didn’t stop running until she reached the town limits.

 

 

2

 

 

JON

 

 

Jon Carmody considered himself a sensible, sea-bound Scot. He was not a man who was easily rattled. But on this particular morning, he was rattled, shaken, stirred and wrung out.

He told himself it was sitting outside the town’s grocery store for the first time in … he wasn’t even sure how long. He’d been paying local kids to do his shopping for decades, ever since the “incident” with an irritable kraken that had left him reluctant to venture outside of his house or his workshop. He occasionally drove out of the parish to pick up parts or deliver a repaired boat, but he kept to himself, didn’t stop for meals or anything unnecessary outside of Mystic Bayou. Then again, he didn’t really stop for anything necessary inside of Mystic Bayou, which was why his brother was pushing him to do his own shopping.

On top of his “errand stress,” Jon’d had an off morning all around. He’d had two calls from clients cancelling jobs because they couldn’t wait for Jon to get to their boats. He supposed he understood. He was the only boat repair business in six surrounding parishes and, over the years, he’d mastered working on any sort of maritime engine his customers could throw at him – unless they wanted to drive a while to get help. So he had a waitlist of nearly two months, which he understood was a long time to wait when your business depended on a boat.

The cancellations had been happening more and more recently, since a new mechanic had been hired on at Buster Boone’s boat-slash-jet ski dealership and started taking on small engine repairs. That was part of being a growing town, Jon supposed, more competition. And while he could consider it another sign that Mystic Bayou’s growth was a bad thing, he knew he’d gotten too comfortable being the only game in town.

So, Jon told himself it was previously unknown professional stress that had him in a funk. It certainly had nothing to do with his encounter with that strange, lovely woman he’d found – naked – just outside of his house the night before. The memory of her face hadn’t left him; he was unable to sleep or concentrate or even drink his coffee that morning. She’d barely had any effect on him at all.

This is good. Get all of these stupid things out now, he told himself. Say them in your head, so you don’t say them in front of Will later.

Mockery always seemed to hurt more when it was peppered with his brother’s five-dollar words.

To be honest, he wasn’t entirely sure the woman had been real. It seemed like she’d been conjured from a moon-mad dream, one of the more desperate ones he’d had when he’d been recovering from the kraken’s venom. Jon had just been minding his business, taking his evening swim to wrap up his day, and suddenly, there was an unnaturally beautiful doe standing at the edge of the water. He thought at first that he was hallucinating or that maybe he was finally witnessing one of the bayou’s ghost stories come to life. Or maybe he’d let those pork chops get a little too close to the expiration date before he grilled them for dinner.

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