Maddy is a random. She is a tiger born to a community of prairie dogs who can only encourage her, love her and ask her to stand guard when they hit the burrow. She works with family, lives with family, and when she is asked if she would consider joining the Crossroads to mate with a fey, she asks family for advice.
Suran has been in exile, content to live out his days at the side of the fey king. When he is ordered to consider a shifter as a mate, he hesitates, but an order from the king and the promise of a mate by the seers convinces him that he should stiffen his resolve.
Maddy decides that she is willing to take a chance and that decision almost costs her her life, sanity and body, all before she arrives.
Maddy brushed at the smooth silver gown that she was wearing for her first shift. Her mom and sisters had worn it when they did their first transformation, and now, it was Madeline’s turn.
Her family gathered around her and walked her to the edge of the burrow. They were an insular community, but they had to be. It wasn’t just their human nature at risk, their second lives as prairie dogs were susceptible to disease and illness.
Maddy watched the moon rise, the guards that the burrow had on duty were visible against the hills that surrounded the lands of the colony. She was safe here. No stray human would get a look at her.
Her mother smiled. “It’s time. Can you feel it?”
Maddy nodded and slipped her robe off her shoulders. She had trained for this. She pulled her inner beast around her and wore it on her skin for the first time in her life. It hurt as she was stretched and pulled; her skin rippled and she was soon sitting on her haunches and looking at her family.
The horror in their eyes made her look at her hands, and she heard a whining roar from her throat. Stripes. Orange fur with black stripes. She looked at her mother, eye to eye, and the shock was apparent.
Her cousins shifted quickly and made for the safety of the burrow.
It was to their credit that her mother, father, sisters and brother all stayed with her, smoothing their hands over her fur and keeping her calm until she gathered enough energy to transform back to human.
When she was back in her skin, her sister Adeline put the gown around her and tied it at the waist.
Maddy caught her breath on a sob. “I am not a prairie dog.”
Her mother shook her head and stroked her hair. “No, darling, you aren’t. You are much grander, and we appreciate that you are different.”
Maddy put her hand on her forehead. “I will never fit in the burrow.”
Her brother snorted. “I certainly hope not. You will make an excellent guard, though. You look scary as hell.”
Maddy looked around and listened to the beast in her mind. She wanted to run, she wanted to hunt and she wanted to hide. This was the worst sixteenth birthday in the history of the colony. She didn’t even get cake.
* * * *
Maddy watched over the burrows as her people gathered underground for spring celebrations. The moon was high, and her perch in the trees gave her an excellent view of the flat expanse of the meadow that concealed the party.
Her tail lashed slowly back and forth as she watched the edges of the meadow for any incursion by animal or shifter. Being the sole guard for the gatherings suited her fine. Maddy could never fit in the burrows below, but she could keep her family and friends safe. That was what their community was all about. They worked toward survival.
She kept her senses alert until her people emerged from the burrow and headed for their homes.
She shuddered as she fought her instinct to hunt down the small creatures and wrap her teeth around them. It was an urge that she hadn’t dared confess to her family in the decade since her change, but she desperately wanted to hunt them down.