Colton Martinez is a seahorse shifter and lives a comfortable life at World of Aquatica, a shifter owned and operated marine park. When a number of others find their Fate-given mates, he doesn’t give finding his own much thought—until he scents the most alluring aroma in a big, handsome human named Waylon Davison. Discovering his mate has a boyfriend doesn’t deter Colton. Instead, he lifts Waylon’s wallet and, with the help of friends, plans his strategy for wooing the man. After learning his human is disturbingly cowed by his boyfriend, Colton realizes Waylon has more to overcome than the shock of discovering that shifters exist. Even if Colton can convince Waylon to dump his jerk of a boyfriend, can he convince his human that entering a pairing with a man chosen by Fate isn’t a new prison?
In seahorse form, Colton slipped inside the man-made coral reef. He wrapped his prehensile tail around a hidden lever and used his minuscule weight to tug it down. A panel immediately opened beneath him.
Colton sank into the passageway. As soon as his tiny body tripped the sensor—which was damn near immediately—the panel above him slid closed. In the next instant, a water cycle began, and the current flushed him along the tube and into an underground pool. His small body swirled around while Colton found his bearings.
As soon as Colton recognized the sea-green tiles on the walls, he began to shift. His small body expanded. His bones and muscles popped and cracked as they rearranged under the surface of his skin. After so many years, he easily held his breath as his gills disappeared and his lungs formed.
Quickly getting control of his newly formed limbs, Colton kicked his legs and swished his arms. His head broke the surface. He sucked in a lungful of air.
Colton glanced around the underground pool area, taking in the space. The steps were just off to his left, so he started in that direction. He carefully maneuvered around other shifters, not wanting to disturb them as they went through their change.
He wasn’t the only one coming off his shift, after all.
Almost ten years before, Colton had found his tiny seahorse trapped by the tentacle of a giant squid. To his shock, the beast hadn’t eaten him. Instead, it had brought him to the surface just above the coral reef along the waters of Miami, and he’d shifted.
Then the dominant male had demanded that Colton shift, too.
While shocking, it had been the best thing to ever happen to Colton. After all, the huge shifter had offered him a way out of his piss-ant life as a street thief. The big, green-eyed male—who he’d learned was named William Roush—had offered him a home and a purpose.
World of Aquatica.
The place was a massive marine park. What humans didn’t know, however, was that the facility was run by shifters who shared their spirits with aquatic and semi-aquatic animals. While some of the exhibits contained regular beasts, just about all of the larger, more exotic beasts—from dolphins to sharks to whales—were actually shifters.
It made putting on shows and offering exotic adventures much safer…and much more lucrative.
As a seahorse shifter, Colton didn’t partake in all that. He hung out in a massive aquarium for several hours for a few days a week. The rest of his time was spent on what he was really good at—working on vehicles. As he strode up the pool’s steps, he thought about the rest of his day.
Colton needed to fix a rock chip in one fellow shifter’s windshield. That would only take a few minutes. The brake job on the—
“Oh, excuse me.”
Pulled from his thoughts, Colton smiled and nodded at the woman who’d nearly slipped and bumped into him on the steps. He gripped her upper arm. “You okay, Sasha?” he asked, making certain she had her balance.
Rolling her eyes, Sasha nodded and pulled away. “Yep. You’re not the only one lost in thought.” She quickly hustled on her way.
Colton’s gaze didn’t even stray to her naked butt as he followed her into the unisex locker room. As a fellow shifter—Sasha shared her spirit with a sea turtle—nudity was a common thing amongst them all. Without giving it a second thought, Colton strode past a pair of naked men discussing the rest of their afternoon and stopped at his locker.
He opened the door and grabbed a towel. As he quickly dried himself, he recalled the last vehicle service job he had planned for that afternoon. He needed to get beneath the hood of the car owned by Beta William’s mate—Captain John Casinov—and figure out what was causing his dashboard electrical items to go on the fritz. Sometimes the man would lose his horn, other times his radio, and more often than not, his air conditioner. The dash lights flashing off gave him a place to start, and he—
The rumbling of Colton’s stomach caught his attention, and he snickered.
Definitely food first, though.
Shifting left Colton hungry on the best day. His body expended a lot of calories when it changed from a human form to a tiny seahorse…or vice versa. Since Colton had only grabbed a bagel for breakfast—he’d hit the snooze button one too many times because the prior evening he’d gotten sucked into a technical journal—he felt damn near starving.
Colton headed to Mini Barrier Reef Cantina, a nice restaurant in the marine park. His mouth watered for a big bowl of their steamer clams. After eating all the clams, he anticipated sopping up the delicious white wine sauce they came in with hunks of buttered bread.
His stomach rumbled again, and Colton picked up his pace.
When Colton arrived at the restaurant, he greeted Thane, who stood behind the podium. The man was usually a waiter, so he had to ask, “What are you doing up here?”
“Natalie wasn’t feeling well, so she asked me to cover her shift,” Thane replied, a bright smile on the blond’s face. Colton noticed it didn’t quite meet his green eyes as it usually did, betraying his concern as easily as his scent did.
Colton patted Thane on the shoulder. “I hope it’s nothing serious.”
“Me, too,” Thane replied. “I’m gonna take some soup to her after this shift to check on her.” He quickly shifted gears, asking, “Table for one? Or are we expecting others?”
“Just me,” Colton told him, patting his belly. “Need a quick lunch before heading to the shop.”
Thane nodded as he grabbed a menu, then led the way through the restaurant. Placing the menu on a small table with two chairs, he offered, “Kayne will be here in a moment.”