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Lynx On The Loose

By:Georgette St. Clair

Chapter One

Timber Valley, Colorado (don’t try to find it; it’s not on any human map, and the shifter inhabitants like it that way)

The fall air was cool and crisp, and the carpet of leaves on the forest floor made a satisfying crunching sound underneath lynx shifter Isadora Mosswood’s feet. She dodged behind a lodgepole pine and peered out at the patrol car racing down the narrow rural road towards her house. She’d already gotten the warning phone call from a friend of hers who was a dispatcher at the sheriff’s office.

“Dash is on his way to your house, and he’s pissed,” her friend Sarah had warned her.

“Lousy coppers. You’ll never take me alive,” Isadora smirked to herself. The driver of the patrol car, Sgt. Dashiel Battle, was looking for her because he suspected that she was the person who’d drawn an unflattering picture of Mayor Darius Harden on the side of the town hall building.

Maybe she had. Maybe she hadn’t. Maybe Mayor Harden and his snooty wife shouldn’t keep shooting disapproving looks at Isadora every time she strolled past them in downtown Timber Valley. Sure, Isadora had tattoos and a nose stud, and hair colors that did not naturally occur in nature. So? It was the 21st century.

Dash generally found a way to track Isadora down, sooner or later, but he’d never managed to bust her in the act or make a single charge stick – not yet, anyway.

Isadora let out a low feline hiss at the thought of Dash and his disapproval of her. He was a big, handsome wolf shifter, a Beta but a pretty macho one, and she knew that a lot of the female shifters in Timber Valley simpered when he strolled by.

As for her, he wasn’t her type at all. She’d told friends of hers that, time and time again, when they had the nerve to suggest that she was baiting him on purpose. She was all about living on the edge and defying authority - and Dash was Mr. Authority. He’d been known to write tickets for jaywalking. The fact that Isadora liked to keep the locals on their toes with the occasional harmless prank utterly set him on edge.

He wasn’t even her type looks-wise. He was big, burly and rugged looking, true, but he didn’t have tattoos or a pierced ear or long hair. She’d always gone for the bad boy type. Sure, those relationships never lasted long, but that was kind of the point, wasn’t it? Her parents had made it clear ages ago that nobody would ever want to marry a woman as unladylike and uncouth as Isadora, and her response to that had always been “And thank God for that.”

Dash, now, he struck her as the marrying type. Maybe if he got married he’d stop chasing her around town and trying to slap handcuffs on her for the most trivial of offenses. Yes, it would be great if he got married. Then she’d never have to look at his stupid, handsome face again, with its disapproving glower and…

Damn it, why was she wasting her time thinking about the uptight jerk? She had better things to do with her time.

She turned and started strolling towards town. The small house that she rented was a couple of miles outside of the town center and it was a perfect day for a leisurely walk in the woods.

Her cell phone trilled in the pocket of her jeans, and she grabbed it. It was the distinctive ring tone of her friend Karen, a fellow lynx shifter. Karen had met the love of her life, Dash’s cousin Ty Battle, and they’d moved to North Dakota recently. Karen was expecting their first cub, which should be interesting. Wolf or lynx? Or both? How cute would that be?

“Hello, almost-mom,” she said. “How’s life without alcohol or coffee?”

Karen was being a super responsible mom to be. She’d sworn off coffee and alcohol for as long as she was pregnant and then for as long as she was nursing. Isadora shuddered at the thought.

“Don’t forget no sushi, or raw cookie dough, or nail polish,” Karen continued. “That part of it sucks.”

“Nail polish?” Isadora echoed, glancing down at her nails which were painted black and adorned with little white skull decals.

“It has dangerous chemicals in it,” Karen said virtuously. “I read it on the internet.”

“Huh. Well, if it’s on the internet of course it’s true. Personally, I think that this pregnancy has driven you a little crazy, and not the fun Isadora Mosswood kind of crazy.”

“Would that be the kind of crazy that has you requiring the services of a lawyer on a regular basis?” Karen asked, sounding impatient.

“Meh. Think how boring life would be around here if it weren’t for me. In fact, if Isadora Mosswood didn’t exist, they’d have to invent me.”

“Right. So what have you done this time?” Karen was, in fact, an attorney. She handled typical shifter legal issues that didn’t fall under the purview of the Council of Elders who oversaw wolf affairs, or the Council Pride, who oversaw feline affairs. She dealt with contract law, and minor crimes, such as those committed – allegedly – by Isadora.

“Hmm. Let me think carefully before I answer that question,” Isadora said, as she kept strolling towards town. “Are you just checking in, or have I been accused of something specific?”

“Sheriff Barnabas Connors just called me here in freaking North Dakota and asked me to have you report to the sheriff’s station immediately. Said he’d been trying to call you and you never answered.”

“Of course I didn’t answer. He’s a douchenozzle. I miss Steele. I’d have answered if he called. I mean, I’d probably have told him to go have unnatural relations with himself, but I would have answered.”

Steele Battle had been the previous sheriff of Timber Valley. Unfortunately, he had violated the ultimate taboo – he’d fallen in love with a human. Then he’d mated with her. Then it turned out she was one of the few humans who could get pregnant with a shifter’s baby. The Council of Elders, who ruled over the affairs of all wolf shifters, had banished Steele from shifter territory. He’d moved with the human and their baby to her home town in Montana, the only town in the country where the humans knew about wolf shifters.

“I liked Steele too, but there’s a new sheriff in town now, and unlike Steele, he has no sense of humor.” Karen’s tone had taken on an edge. “So, Isadora, you know that we’ve got lawyer client privilege when you talk to me. Tell me – what did you do?”

“Somebody rendered an artistic impression of Mayor Harden on the side of town hall. A very realistic and lifelike impression, I might add. Except that in the impression, Mayor Harden’s head was shaped like a penis. It’s a metaphor.”

Isadora could hear Karen letting out an angry hiss that turned into a growl. She imagined Karen right then, fur rippling over her face, fangs descending.

“You’re going to give me gray fur! Damn it. All right, I’m going to call the sheriff’s office and tell them that you’ve been eager to do some volunteer work lately, to give back to the community. I will tell them that without admitting guilt, you are offering to paint over the offending drawing. Today. And you’ll pay for the paint. Quit stressing me out, woman, I have a younger brother and sister who fulfill that function quite well, thank you.”

“Fine,” Isadora sighed. “I’ll be there in about half an hour.”

“One of these days, they’re going to catch you in the act, and you will spend a very boring month or two staring at the walls of a small jail cell. I’m running out of favors I can call in.” Karen’s tone was a mixture of peevish and worried.

“Duly noted.” Isadora picked up the pace. Damn it, now she had to waste her afternoon painting over a perfectly good piece of public art. She wanted to get this over with.

As she trotted through the woods, her phone trilled again. She glanced at the screen.

It was a text message from the shifter she only knew as WarriorDemon1.

“Still planning to stop by next week?” the text asked.

“Yes, thanks for helping me out. I’ll give you more specific details when I’m ready to head out. See you then,” she texted back. She had never met WarriorDemon1, but he was part of a network of what were known in the shifter world as Hobos. Those were shifters like her who didn’t declare any allegiance to any pride or pack. They had codes and symbols just like the humans Hobos did. They even had internet sites where they met up and chatted.

When shifters like her travelled around the country, away from their home towns, they frequently stayed with the Hobos in their encampments, rather than checking in with the local packs or prides. It was the kindred spirit of the disenfranchised.

She tucked her phone back in her pocket, and paused to think. If she was going to be painting, she wanted to change her clothes; she was wearing brand new Doc Martens, and her favorite skull T-shirt.

With a sigh, she turned and headed back towards her house. It was a small log cabin style home with one bedroom and one bathroom, which was plenty for her.

She had grown up in a town called Crystal Falls, but after Karen left town, she’d moved to Timber Valley and enjoyed bedeviling the local tight-asses there. It wasn’t all bad; there was a night club in town and several bars, and she had an active social life when she wasn’t travelling.

When she came to the clearing where her house sat among the towering pines, she paused. Dash’s patrol car was parked there, and he wasn’t alone.