Levi Travis waved goodbye to his sister Jenny and her husband Mark. It’d been good to see them as well as the rest of his large extended family. Once a year there was a reunion held on the Travis ranch. It wasn’t really a ranch, though, that’s just what everyone called it. They had some horses, but the land itself was mostly raw and unblemished.
The thousand-acre spread, nestled between the mountains in Northwest Colorado, was about the only place a group the size of Levi’s family could get together. It wasn’t like they could have a beach party. The thick forest, full of aspens, pines and firs was the perfect place for the snow leopard shifters to run and hunt, although summer was a bit warm. It was better than having the reunion in winter, when tempers could be very touchy. Like snow leopards mated from January through March, so too did the shifter versions of the feline, although they weren’t bound to their hormones. They were just…hornier, and the females were more demanding and the males more possessive.
The result was a bunch of grouchy, snarly people and when they shifted? Well, Levi had never seen it, but he’d heard Grandma Marybeth talk about the one time the family had got together in February years back. Apparently there’d been a lot of feline sexing going on, which was something Levi never, ever wanted to think about in regards to his family. It was just best to avoid any potential early mating cycles when the group all got together.
“I am so glad the reunion’s over with,” his brother Oscar muttered.
Levi glanced at him, not surprised when he saw Oscar scowling. Oscar tended to scowl a lot.
“Please. It’s good to see everyone, all sixty-two of them or however many there are now, but geez, it’s also good to see them all leave.”
Levi snorted even though he did agree with Oscar somewhat. “You know you had fun wrestling with the cousins.”
Oscar shook his head. “Yeah, right. I’m just a wild and crazy wrestling fanatic.” He held up his right hand, wiggling the two fingers he’d caught in a trap years ago. The middle one had been cut off at the top joint, and the other nearly had, too. “And these are my secret weapons. Makes my foes scream in horror every time I threaten to poke them.”
“Cut it out, Oz,” Levi scolded, glaring at his younger brother. It wasn’t like his fingers were atrociously mangled. In fact, the difference in his finger lengths was hardly noticeable in Levi’s opinion. Besides, he seriously doubted many people looked at Oscar’s hand once they actually saw him. Oscar was stunningly attractive in an androgynous way Levi had rarely seen, and always envied.
With blond hair and pale blue eyes, Oscar was delicate and fair, whereas Levi was tall and bulky, his hair a dark auburn mess and his eyes a muted greenish-gray. Oscar was—there was no other way Levi could think to describe it—beautiful. Maybe years ago, right after the trap accident, there’d been a few rough years when even Levi and the rest of the family had to force themselves not to look at Oscar’s fingers, but that was because they all remembered the blood and screams, the snap of the trap as it took off Oscar’s fingertips.
But they all got over it. Even Oscar, he’d thought, but maybe not. There been a period of time when Oscar had been younger, and the occasional kid at school had been a jerk but as far as Levi knew, that’d stopped when Oscar had ignored it. Hadn’t it? Levi had to wonder, because Oscar sure didn’t seem as over the trap incident as Levi had believed him to be.
“You make yourself sound like some kind of monster and you’re not—as long as you get your caffeine,” Levi teased, although an un-caffeinated Oscar was not pleasant to be around. Then again, Levi wasn’t all that brilliant or friendly without a cup of coffee or two himself every morning.
Oscar huffed as if he didn’t believe a word Levi said, but the pink flush spreading over Oscar’s cheeks told Levi his brother had at least heard him.
Levi glanced back in the direction of their cabins. “Do you want help cleaning your place up?”
Besides the main house, a sprawling ranch-style that had five bedrooms, there were five smaller cabins scattered over the property, one for each of the siblings.
Well, Jenny’s was vacant now since she’d gotten married, although there’d been talk of adding onto hers should she and Mark decide to move back. As usual, though, during the week of the family reunion, they had all shared their cabins with whichever family members had wanted to crash at the cabins. There’d been several of his male cousins camped out on Levi’s floor. It had been fun but exhausting—and messy. He might just need a backhoe to clean his place up.
“Nope. I didn’t have very many people staying at my place. Some of the younger kids.” Oscar smiled then, looking happier than Levi had seen him in a while. “I bet they didn’t make near the mess the guys made at your cabin.”
“No shit,” Levi grumbled. “I think there’s enough beer cans to start my own recycling center. And don’t even get me started on the bathroom.” He shuddered, not entirely faking it. His bathroom was a damn nightmare, it was so dirty. Some of his cousins were slobs to the extreme. Next year they could sleep outside, because they sure weren’t housebroken, at least not to Levi’s standards.
Oscar raised an eyebrow.
Levi could see what he was thinking and moved to head it off before Oscar could offer. “Nope, my fault for not making the morons clean up after themselves. I’ll handle it after I have a run.”
“Do you want some company?” Oscar asked. “I was going to go read for a while, but if you want, I could come.”
“Nah, its fine. After all the togetherness this past week, I could probably use a little time alone.” Despite the fact that snow leopards—the non-shifting kind—were solitary creatures, Levi’s family was close, often going out together to hunt or just to run. There was another reason Levi declined, too. “Besides, I know you don’t particularly enjoy shifting.”
Oscar made a rude noise, not quite a word but if it had been, Levi was sure it would have been worse than the F-word. “It hurts! I know if I did it more, maybe all my ligaments and bones and crap would get used to it or something, but—” Oscar glared at his damaged hand. “Do I really need to shift? What’s the point in me turning into a snow leopard? I don’t have to do it.”
Levi silently disagreed. He believed their leopards needed to be released, or…or something would happen, he didn’t know what and didn’t care to find out. Still, Oscar would shift if Levi nagged enough, which he would do in a day or two. He understood Oscar’s aversion to being in his leopard form, considering the steel trap had hurt him when he’d been a curious cub. He just believed Oscar needed to get past the trauma caused from the incident—but not right this instant. “It still hurts when you’re used to it, Oz, but it’s not unbearable. And it feels really, really good to let go and just run, let the leopard have my mind, sort of.”
“You do that, then,” Oscar said. He didn’t say anything else, just stood beside Levi as the sun began setting. Levi felt strangely edgy, unsatisfied as if his skin itched from head to toe. It was a weird sensation and one he’d not encountered before. The Aspens and pines called to him, promising relief in their shade, in the soil beneath his paws.
Levi shook off his melancholy thoughts and grinned at Oscar. “I’m in a weird mood anyway. Would you let everyone know I’m going out?”
“Sure.” Oscar eyed him for a few more seconds. “Be safe.” He turned and loped up the pebble path to the house.
Levi sighed and rubbed the back of his neck, observing the pink and orange colors fading in the sky as the sun began to sink further behind a mountain in the distance.
If he was honest with himself, he thought he might be feeling a little envious of some of his cousins. He’d listened as they talked about boyfriends and girlfriends, even casual fuck buddies, but it was the ones who had somebody special, or somebody potentially special, that Levi was jealous of. A petty emotion he wasn’t proud of, but he wanted such happiness for himself.
Maybe if I got out more, went to the bigger cities… Holton was the nearest town, and calling it a town was charitable. There was a solitary blinking yellow light and a diner that looked decrepit but served the best Mexican food ever. A couple of gas stations, the bare makings of a town, really, and not much more. There wasn’t even a school. The few kids in Holton were either bussed or driven to the next closest town, Blankenship, where they joined other kids gathered from tiny towns in the county. Still, it wasn’t bad. The people of Holton were generally good-hearted and friendly. It was just lonely for a gay man in this area.
I need to stop this fricking pity party right now. Levi crossed over to a pouch tied to a pine. He stripped then stuffed his clothes in the bag before dropping to his knees. The sun began its final farewell for the day. Levi pressed his palms to the cooling earth, giving himself up to the change. Shifting wasn’t instantaneous or painless, but the freedom he had in his feline form was worth any price.
His groan morphed into a mewl as bones popped and muscles rearranged themselves. His jaw ached, his entire skull throbbed then the pain vanished like a bubble bursting. Euphoria replaced the agony and Levi chuffled, the comforting sound tickling his nose when he exhaled. He arched his back and twitched his tail, then growled playfully and bounded off into the woods.
He easily picked out the trail he wanted to take despite the darkness made even more so by the heavy foliage. In minutes he was deep in the forest following a promising scent for dinner. The rabbit was fast, but not fast enough, and Levi pounced, making the kill as quick and as painless as possible.
Once his stomach was full and his paws licked clean, he lolled on the ground for a while, soaking in the peace he always found here. If he wasn’t quite as at peace as usual, he was still okay. Levi knew he wasn’t an asshole. He was happy for his cousins, and maybe, if he was lucky, he’d find his own special man. Of course, the man would have to be really special—special enough not to look at Levi and judge him by his appearance as so many others did.
Levi was big at six-one and a little over two hundred pounds, and he had rough-hewn features. He’d been told a couple of times his height and build along with his looks made him appear more masculine than the average guy. Looks and all the rest were deceptive, though. None of it meant he was some big dumb brute who wanted to shove down smaller men and fuck them until they screamed.
On the contrary, Levi kind of wanted to be the shoved guy, wanted a little tussle and battle before having another man’s strength hold him down. It wasn’t that he wanted violence, not force or rape or anything like that. It was a muddle in his mind at times, but what he wanted was someone strong enough to overpower him, but gentle enough not to do so if Levi didn’t want to be overpowered. He thought he’d like it, but considering he’d always topped except for one disastrous attempt at bottoming years ago, Levi suspected his fantasy would be better remaining just a fantasy.
Still, even in his leopard form, the thought of being taken was arousing. He imagined a strong body on top of his, a thick cock rutting into him, his faceless, nameless mystery man holding him and shoving Levi against the ground every time he thrust. Levi mewled and clenched the muscles around the pulsing center beneath his tail. God, but he was randy tonight! If he didn’t know better, he’d think he was in heat, something that definitely didn’t happen to the males of their species. They were receptive to their females, if they were straight, of course, but—well, he didn’t know what was wrong with him tonight. He was off-kilter.
Of course, it probably had a lot more to do with his right hand being his best buddy for the past year. Levi rolled onto his belly. He contemplated shifting again just to beat off and relieve the pressure in his balls, but he was enjoying his leopard. And besides, anticipation was at times a very good thing. It might even make his climax, when he finally did beat off, one of those rare, brain-meltingly explosive ones. Once he’d decided to abstain from pleasure for a while longer, he let the streams of moonlight filtering through the leafy branches bathe him and lull him into a light doze. It was contrary to his nature, at least as a snow leopard, but the night breeze was cool, and he was relaxed, so Levi went with it, wrapping his tail around his body and tucking his head between his paws.