As an orphan, Chip had never really had a home or even much to call his own. After being adopted, he’d hoped he’d found acceptance. Unfortunately, a year later, he shifted into his bobcat for the first time and his new parents had thought him possessed. Forced to run, Chip lived mostly as an animal for decades. Having grown up alone in foster care, it hadn’t been much different and he hadn’t thought it too bad…until the day he’d been captured and tortured by scientists. Rescued by Kontra and his gang, Chip finally sees the light at the end of the long, lonely tunnel of his life. Scarred, malnourished, and suffering from panic attacks, Chip struggles to get his body and mind back under control. When the gang visits a pride of lion shifters, Chip meets Grimes, who claims they are mates. Can he manage to get past his hang-ups and grab onto the happiness Grimes offers him?
Panic flooded Chip and he could think of only one thing…getting away from all those people. He knew it was irrational—hell, this was his pack—but he couldn’t seem to help himself. Between the confusion from his response to Grimes—namely wanting to cuddle up to the huge man—and having his buddies converge had just been too much.
Chip’s paws pounded the ground, digging in, propelling him forward. He ran hard, weaving between trees. Still recovering from years of abuse in captivity, he found himself tiring quickly. Slowly, rational thought returned, and Chip slowed.
Peering around, Chip took in the large trees. They weren’t the pines of his old mountain home. Still, the gentle breeze that caressed his heated flesh felt nice. Chip took a minute just to sit and enjoy, closing his eyes and tilting his head back.
A scent tickled his senses. Instantly recognizing Grimes’ earthy feline scent, Chip snapped his eyelids back open. Ten feet in front of him sat a large, dark-maned lion. The shifter’s dark eyes peered steadily at him, and Chip found himself pinned.
Ever so slowly, Grimes rose and prowled toward him. Chip tensed, uncertain. Grimes rumbled softly, the sound deep in his throat. To Chip, it didn’t sound threatening, but he knew the lion was larger and far more dominant. Chip knew, even if he’d been at full health, if Grimes wanted to hurt him, he could. Only Grimes’ scent, coupled with his admission that they might be mates, kept Chip from attempting to flee again.
Chip mewled and hunkered down, trying to figure out protocol. He hadn’t been with a pack very long, and Caleb had admitted that their hierarchy was pretty informal. Memories of running with Kontra and Diego popped into his head. Chip had watched, Diego—an ex-alpha wolf shifter—bow his head in submission to the bear. Chip wondered how cats did that. He rolled to his back and showed the bigger cat his throat, attempting to express submission.
Grimes whined. Then, instead of wrapping his jaws around Chip as he’d seen Kontra do to Diego, Grimes nuzzled his throat. Next, he swiped his big tongue over Chip’s furred cheek. Settling next to him, Grimes placed one big paw on Chip’s shoulder and started grooming his head.
Reveling in the other cat’s touch, Chip remained still. After a minute, he couldn’t help but purr with appreciation. Between the male dousing him in his scent and the tender affection, he felt his blood heat. He’d never been aroused in cat form before, but he felt his cock thicken, sliding from his sheath.
Evidently, Grimes scented it, too, for he stepped away. At first, Chip worried he’d offended the other shifter, but then the big cat shuddered. His skin rippled as his fur receded and his body reshaped. Soon, a human Grimes knelt before him.
Grimes reached out and threaded his fingers through Chip’s fur, massaging behind his ears. Running his fingers up Chip’s ears, he even tugged lightly on the slight tufts at their tips. Chip would have been offended at the petting, except he couldn’t seem to get enough of the man’s touch.
It felt so nice to be touched like that, almost reverently, as if he mattered.
“You’re a beautiful cat, Chip,” Grimes crooned. “But, I’d like to talk to you. Will you shift for me, my pretty?”
Chip hesitated. He’d never been naked with another for any length of time. Before and after shifting didn’t really count, since it was only for a few seconds. He’d never considered himself vain, but…his time with the scientists hadn’t been kind to his body.
Sighing, Chip rolled to his belly. May as well get this over with. It wasn’t like he could hide in animal form forever. If Grimes really was his mate, he’d eventually see his scars. If having a pretty mate were a deal breaker, it’d be better to discover that now.
Chip initiated his shift. He shivered as his limbs cracked, his tendons popped, and his skin rippled. It didn’t take long for Chip to regain his human form. Staring at the ground, his legs tucked under him, he tried to gather enough courage to glance up at the other man.
Grimes’ hissed breath didn’t surprise Chip. He knew what his back looked like. He’d been too malnourished to heal properly and ended up with quite the criss-cross of scarring along his back from several beatings with a whip. There’d been a guard at one of the facilities who’d been especially fond of that form of discipline.
What he didn’t expect was the light caress of Grimes’ calloused fingertips along the skin of his back. He shivered and bowed his head, waiting for the man to say something. Grimes worked his way up Chip’s back, gently tracing line after line, before he finally reached Chip’s neck. Resting one hand flat over Chip’s bony shoulders, Grimes finally leaned close and murmured, “I can’t imagine what you’ve been through, my pretty, but I hope you’ll allow me to help you heal.”