Jacqui Corleone is a fashion designer, a yoga-instructor and a concerned citizen who selflessly helps the police solve crimes. Oh, and he occasionally turns into a small wild cat. Probably due to a wizard's curse or an evil government plot to create super warriors.
Or, he's a cat cursed to turn into a human and only the bite of a sexy alpha lion will allow him to remain in his superior form of Cat.
Jacqui does not have a split personality, but sometimes his cat personality can get rather loud.
Loud? You're loud.
Jacqui Corleone is a cat shifter who doesn't know why or how he turns into a cat. He lives a solitary life in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. He's not afraid of intimacy (yes, he is) but sensibly refrains from potentially awkward entanglements. Unfortunately, the sexy new deputy sheriff just moved in across the street and Jacqui's vow not to get mixed up with island dudes is sorely challenged.
When the mysterious disappearance of three blue pots draws Jacqui to investigate, he prowls ever deeper into danger--and into the arms of Deputy Wyatt West (he wishes).
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Heat Level: 2
Romantic Content: 3
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: 26-35
Protagonist 2 Age: 26-35
Word Count: 20000
Setting: San Juan Island
Languages Available: English
Series Type: Continuous / Same Characters
Prowl, Chapter 1
Work, work, work.
Not that anything could make Jacqui a dull boy, but hours spent stooped over his sewing table had given him a kink in his neck along a strong urge to throw aside his needle and leap out the window.
Instead he sighed dramatically, pressed his palms against the edge of the heavy table and stretched his neck, tilting his head to one side and then the other. He arched his back, slouched, arched again. Not working.He stood, padded across the hardwood floor and slid open the glass door to his tiny balcony.READ MORE
He'd been working for hours and still had two jackets to finish. Zee was arriving the next day to pick up the new outfits Jacqui had created. Everything had to be perfect. And complete. Complete and perfect and amazing. Because Zee was a rising star, and when the rabble got a look at the Cat's Eye creations adorning Zee's nearly famous bod, Jacqui would have it made. That was the assumption, anyway. Orders would flood his inbox, gobs of money would flow into his bank account, and he could hire an assistant and stop working these dog-awful hours.
Or not. After all, what else would he do with his time if not toil?
Right now, he had a strong urge to prowl.
Now is not the time, Cat. Now is the time of toil.
He stepped out on his second-story balcony and took a deep breath of fresh, slightly salty air blowing in off the water. His studio apartment overlooked Friday Harbor, and at the cusp of sunset, both town and harbor were bathed in a pinkish glow, doing that twinkly and picturesque as all get-out thing that happened on lovely summer evenings like this.
No. The stitching had to be perfect. The lines exquisitely formed to Zee's angular shape, the drape immaculate. The last version hadn't been up to Jacqui's exacting standards. He'd pulled out a day's work in a pissy rage at himself, and now he was paying for it.
You'll be more efficient after a prowl. And Zee's seaplane won't arrive until midday.
Jacqui made the mistake of looking down, letting his gaze wander across the street, to where a moving van had recently been parked.
Jacqui had a new neighbor.
Back. To. Work.
Jacqui's new neighbor was Wyatt West, the new deputy sheriff in town. Yes, Jacqui had played around with the name in an endlessly juvenile fashion. Wild Wild West, with the broad shoulders, lean waist, and an ass to die for. Dark brown hair, amber eyes, and a crooked smile that made Jacqui's heart do a little squeezy thing, leaving him breathless. How wild was West, Jacqui couldn't help but wonder?
So they'd never spoken. Minor detail. Didn't matter. Until this weekend Wyatt West of the exceptionally hot body was a live aboard, a local brand of lunatic who lived on a sailboat surrounded by fucking water. Jacqui wasn't about to go sniffing around a mental case like that.
But now Wild Wyatt Hot Bod was Jacqui's across-the-street-two-condos-down neighbor and required closer inspection. Because all neighbors required inspection. Because curiosity.
"Wait for it. Anticipation makes it all the more sweet."
To hell with that. Do the change and let's check Wild West out.
The evening air was lovely. Birds twittered and chipped in their brainless yet enticing way in the blooming lilac and sea spray that lined the road in front of his apartment building.
A little rest and relaxation will do us good. Clear the old vision and invigorate the old work ethic.
Nothing old here.
Only feels old. Very, very old. Stiff. Dull. Oh, the aches and pains. Besides, everyone, including Wild West, will have their windows open. What better time to investigate the new neighbor?
"All the more reason to stay put," Jacqui said. He ran his hands through his hair. The spying really had to stop. There was no way to morally defend creeping around and peeping into strangers' windows—
Then Wyatt emerged from the fenced patio area behind his condo. He was shirtless. Oh, man, was he shirtless.
How nicely he fulfilled all of Jacqui's dirty fantasies about him. Muscular, sculpted, but not overdone. Not lumpy or bulgy. High-quality fabric would drape in a flattering way over the smooth, tanned skin, but the skin looked better without adornment. One of the few bodies Jacqui would admit that about. Still, Jacqui wanted to dress him. He'd only ever seen Wyatt in his uniform—hot in theory, but not so great fitting, and a little on the rumpled, square-cut side, probably bulk ordered from Uniforms Are Us in Dubuque, Iowa—and T-shirts and jeans.
The jeans were well worn, resting loose on those lean hips.
Shall we prowl then?
Jacqui didn't answer his cat self, a distinct personality who occupied half his mind and seemed to live perched on his shoulder like a little devil, ever prodding him into mischief. Instead he observed as Wyatt went to the back of his pickup, lifted out yet another large box, muscles flexing attractively, and walked away into his inner sanctum. He looked good in those old, bought-at-a-hardware-store jeans.
Jacqui turned and went back inside. He looked at the dismembered jacket spread out on the worktable. One sleeve, severed and forlorn, lay beside the main body. Zee was a rising star classical cellist who chose not to gender identify, and it was Jacqui's job to create a sharp and elegant jacket that could hide Zee's rather impressive breasts without creating a Zoot Suit effect. He'd almost achieved it. The drape of the lapel was nearly perfect. Nearly.
He shook out his hands and laced his fingers together at the back of his head. Leaning back to stretch his chest, he breathed deep and thought about doing some yoga moves.
The moon would be almost full when it reappeared. It had been dayssince he'd changed, and the itchy, clawing creep of his inner cat wasn't going to let him alone.
Until midnight then. At midnight, we turn into a furless pumpkin with work to do.
Jacqui dropped his hands, peeled off his shirt, and tossed it in the laundry basket. His jeans (three hundred bucks at a boutique in New York) followed, and soon he stood naked in the center of the room, doing his usual mental check.
Sliding door left open a crack—check. Key under the Buddha statue outside—check. Extra clothes hidden in the community tool shed—check. He only had to find himself stuck naked in public once to learn the lesson forever—always have extra clothes on hand and accessible. He kept clothes stashed all over the island, at friends' houses, in hidden nooks and crannies in town. Just in case. He didn't do it often, but he'd had to shift abruptly more than once, with no time to plan.
Most of the time, he could ease into it. He stood now with eyes closed and waited for the spirit of Cat to stretch and grow inside him. He visualized himself, his human form, his human eyes, then watched as his pupils narrowed and shifted from dots to ovals.
He and Cat shared the same eye color, an unusual blue-green that a few observant people had noted was rather uncanny. If only they could see what happened to them when Jacqui prepared to shift. Sometimes the cat eyes looking back at him were his own, sometimes they were golden. He always wondered if the golden eyes might belong to one of his parents. Whenever they appeared, he held his breath and waited for a message that never came.
Jacqui didn't know who or what his parents were. He'd been left, in the time-honored fashion, on the steps of Saint Mary's Catholic Church in Bumbleshanks, Nebraska when he was three years old. He had no idea how or why or what he was. For his entire life, he'd waited for one of his parents to return and declare him heir to the throne of Catatonia, sweep him up into the rebel conclave of cat people, enlist him in a secret team of super-cat warriors engineered by a mad scientist.
Every day of his life, he looked for the owner of the golden eyes, the cat person who would explain everything and finally let Jacqui know he was not alone.
Tonight, the cat eyes in his vision were his, blue-green, gleaming with mischief. His blond hair thickened, darkened, and spread as his outline stretched and warped.
He ran his hands over his nude body. The touching helped ground him. Sometimes he was afraid Cat would take over and he'd forget about being human. But the world was owned, run, designed, and dominated by humans, so it didn't pay to run wild for long.
Besides, opposable thumbs. The ability to dial up a pizza was grossly underrated.
He dropped to his hands and knees and began performing the yoga sequence of Cat-Cow. Belly dropped, udders swinging, then up into an angry cat arc. It wasn't necessary, but Jacqui found occupying his muscles like this lessened the jarring, torn-from-one-body-thrown-into-another effect of the change. Same with the visualization. He let out a deep breath and with it, let go of his shape.
Everything in the room became more pronounced. The red satin lining of Zee's jacket lost its color but deepened like a pool of spilled blood. The oak floorboards extended, a strip of sunlight reflecting off their waxy and endless surface. The birdsong swelled, the chatter almost intelligible. The aroma of honey-sweetened iced tea warming on the table mingled with the salt air wafting in from the harbor.
Jacqui kept up the yoga moves as his muscles contracted and his vision fractured, caught in a swirl of rainbows cast through several crystals hanging in the window. The furniture grew taller as he shrank. Every nerve burned, and all the air squeezed out of his lungs, and for a brief moment, he had no body. He was spirit. This was the frightening and exhilarating bit, and he never got used to it. Like jumping off a cliff every time. Like death.
Then suddenly he landed.
Ah. This is more like it.
He stretched to his full length, placing his paws way out in front of him, butt in the air, whiskers twitching, tail flicking. No aches or pains as Cat. Only wonderful agility, strength, and boundless energy.
To the tree!
He raced across the floor to the balcony, sprang to the wrought iron rail and then made the three-foot leap to the large madrone tree outside his apartment. The bronzed tree glowed in the light of the setting sun and it smelled like heaven, a piquant blend of warm wood and bird.
Jacqui scrambled into its branches and scanned the street below for threats and enticements. The little birds had scattered at his launch.
Lucky for them.
We don't kill birds.
After determining no loose dogs or grabby children roamed the hood, Jacqui scrambled down the trunk and sauntered nonchalantly toward the condos across the street. He lived on the side of a hill that sloped down toward the harbor, so the front of the condominiums faced the next street over. Fenced backyards opened onto the sidewalk on Jacqui's street. Wyatt West, in the middle of moving, had left his gate open.
Jacqui paused and peered around the corner. Like all the other condos in the line, this one had a postage stamp–sized concrete patio and long, narrow stretch of yard. The previous resident had let the yard return to nature. Dandelions, Queen Anne's Lace, some blackberry brambles, and an assortment of tall grasses battled for dominance.
The previous resident had also never been home, being a part-time islander, so all the neighborhood creatures and bugs liked to hang out there. It was chill. Jacqui spied a weed wacker and a sack of lawn seed leaning against the fence and guessed all that was about to change.
Boxes filled about half the patio, and a couch had been parked in the weeds.
Wait a minute. If Wild West lived on a boat, where the hell did all this shit come from? Why does he need a truck and a moving van?
Clearly, the boat episode was a temporary lapse of sanity. He had his stuff in storage somewhere. He's ready to return to the land of the sensible now.
Music thudded softly out of the open patio door. Classic rock. Seventies. Zeppelin. Robert Plant wailed about something or other. Jacqui flicked his ears. He preferred classical. And jazz. And when he drank too much, Prince, the Eurythmics, and an embarrassing selection of Eighties Hair Bands.
Annie Lennox had been his first fashion guru. At sixteen, he'd given himself a crew cut and died his hair neon red, only to be told by everyone that he looked like an anemic Bozo the clown. It was a defining moment.
So where was Wyatt? Jacqui cautiously stepped into the yard, pushing his way through the tall grass, enjoying the scrape of bristly dandelion leaves against his fur. He investigated the couch first. The faint odor of clove cigarettes clung to it. A hint of cologne. Wyatt didn't strike him as either a hipster smoker or a wearer of man perfume. The couch was upholstered in a rough woven fabric perfect for scratching, but Jacqui resisted. He didn't want to get run off yet. He'd only just arrived.
At last Wyatt appeared. He was still shirtless, but held one in his left hand, a bottle of beer in the other. He placed the beer on top of the stack of boxes and wiped his forehead with the T-shirt.
Ugh. And he would no doubt put it back on, sweat-sodden and wrinkled. Jacqui crouched down, peeping around the edge of the couch.
Wyatt shook out the shirt, appeared to think better of it, and tossed it on the box next to the beer. Then he stretched.
Oh, yes, he did stretch. He placed both hands behind his neck and leaned back, the smooth lines of his muscular chest clearly defined and gleaming with a sheen of sweat. A tiny bead made its way around his belly button and trickled toward the barely visible trail of dark hair poking out of his low-slung jeans.
His brown hair, brown eyes, and what looked like naturally tanned skin hinted at a southern European background, but for some reason Jacqui imagined him as Scottish. He'd look great on the cover of a romance novel wearing only a kilt and brandishing a broadsword, silky hair blowing in a highland wind.
Jacqui would be wearing something satiny and torn, but looking defiant. No barbarian lord was going to dominate Jacqui, who was on the run from an evil uncle who wanted to usurp the throne of Catatonia.
Jacqui only read shifter romances for research purposes. Not for prurient interests.
I give him a nine and a half. He loses half a point because he has no sense of style. His hair looks like he used that weed wacker on it. And the five o'clock shadow? That's so spot-on trendy. He needs our help badly.
Don't distract me from the sweat trickles. I want to lick them. I want to bite the back of his neck and make him mine.
This was such a bad idea.
Jacqui stared, mesmerized, as Wyatt leaned to one side and then the other. He could use some yoga, get a little more flexibility in those muscles. Jacqui would drop off his card.
No, he wouldn't. Jacqui had a rule. Lookee no touchee. He didn't date islanders. Too close. Too all up in his business. He couldn't risk the intimacy. Sex was sex, and he went to Seattle for that, where he had an understanding with a man who appreciated a Jacqui visitation but didn't seek anything further.
Ramon didn't want to come to his apartment, sleep in his bed, question his pantry full of tuna, or ask where he went in the middle of the night.
Shame, though. Wyatt looked delicious. He dropped his hands and put them on his hips. Then he ran a hand through his hair and looked around at the boxes and the couch, shaking his head.
"How did I ever accumulate so much crap?" he asked himself.
Get rid of the couch. It stinks and it's ugly. I know a great interior designer. I'll hook you up.
Wyatt walked up to the couch and Jacqui knew he should make a run for it. Or, he could play sweet and maybe get a scratch on the head. A belly rub?
Oh, there goes another sweat bead. Will it make it around the belly button, or dive into those mysterious depths?
A shrill, piercing bark caused all the fur on Jacqui's body to puff out like a bristle brush.
Demon spawnright behind us!
Survival instinct took over. He leapt onto the back of the couch, but that wasn't high enough. He needed to climb, and the tallest thing in leaping range was…Wyatt.
Wyatt jerked to the side in surprise and shouted, "What the fuck?"
Jacqui landed on a shoulder. He hunkered down around the back of Wyatt's neck and sank his claws in.
Only then did he look back at his would-be assassin.
Fucking Poms.Two ugly-as-sin, white-and-tan Pomeranians ran around Wyatt's yard yapping their heads off.
Jacqui hissed menacingly. The Poms were unimpressed.
Wyatt grabbed Jacqui's tail and his scruff and yanked in both directions, turning in circles. Jacqui's claws extended of their own accord.
"Get the fuck off me! What the hell?"
His vocabulary was limited. They could work on that, too.
A blonde woman in a lavender workout suit scuttled in through the gate with a tiny leash thingy dangling from her hand.
"Sorry, Wyatt! They saw a squirrel and broke loose again."
For like the hundred millionth time. Buy muzzle halters, you stupid, dog-loving twit.
"Make them stop!" Wyatt gasped as if in pain.
Oh, right, the claws. Jacqui tried to soften his grip, but he just couldn't. Not with big-eared death so close. So hyper and noisy.
"Oh, I see you've met Mr. Whiskers."
Lie! Lying liar! That is not my name! Although I must admit, I do have impressive whiskers.
"Is this your cat?" Wyatt asked, his voice now low and dangerous. And sexy. Yowza.
"No. I think he belongs to the old lady in the Victorian on the corner."
"So not someone I can go rant and curse at?"
"Not unless you want to give her a heart attack. Béyonce! Celine! Be quiet!"
The woman, a three-doors-down neighbor named Claire, made a halfhearted attempt to corral her dogs. They dodged her hand, intent on barking Jacqui off his perch and chasing him over the fence. Jacqui didn't budge.
"Would you help me extract this cat?" Wyatt asked, the note of tension in his voice growing tauter.
"He's a sweetheart, really," Claire said, making no move to come closer.
"She says as it tries to lacerate my jugular." Wyatt tugged on Jacqui's tail again. Painful, yet oddly arousing.
"Maybe if you stopped yanking on him and tried to calm him down?"
"Maybe if you got your fu—if you'd get your dogs under control."
"Poor thing is all scared. Bad dogs!" She got one of the beasts hooked up to the leash again. It sat at her feet and growled.
I'm not scared. I was startled. Now I seek only vengeance.
Wyatt stopped jerking and tugging. "Nice kitty," he said through clenched teeth.
Jacqui wanted to let go. He really did. This was not a good paw to start off their voyeuristic, one-sided relationship on. But Cat was having none of it. Cat wanted those Poms gone. He hissed to express his desires.
Claire finally caught the other slavering butt-licker and picked it up.
"I know you're busy right now, what with the move and all—"
"And a demon cat rending my flesh."
"Yes, well, but I actually came over to report a crime."
"Cats and dogs off-leash, attacking people?"
"What? No. Ha ha! You're so cute. No. A real crime. Grand theft."
Claire scratched the sack of fleas behind its ear. It growled. Jacqui growled. Wyatt growled. He had a nice growl.
"Call it in to the station so they can take an official report."
"Not that grand. Do you know Sandy Eckerman in the white house on Mayfair? No? Well, she has three large ceramic pots on her front stoop and they've been stolen. She grows her prize-winning geraniums in those pots, so I know she wouldn't have gotten rid of them herself."
"And why isn't Sandy reporting this?" Wyatt asked. He'd let go of Jacqui's tail and was now performing a heavy-handed stroking motion apparently intended to soothe. It worked, a little.
"She's off-island. I called her cell. She hasn't responded, but I just know the pots were stolen because they disappeared after she left."
"Uh, I'll make sure it gets looked into."
He was lying to get rid of her and her yapping hounds, but Claire didn't seem to realize that. Jacqui knew because he had a close-up view of the throbbing vein on Wyatt's temple and the little muscle at the side of his mouth that twitched when he said it.
"Good! I feel so much safer having a cop as a neighbor. Toodles! Make sure to put some hydrogen peroxide on those claw marks. Don't want to get Cat Scratch Fever."
Claire waved and sauntered off, dragging her leashed dog behind her, unconcerned by the Armageddon she'd unleashed.
With the dogs out of sight, Jacqui was able to coax Cat into loosening his grip. Slowly the claws retreated and a thin line of blood trickled down Wyatt's shoulder. It followed the line of his clavicle and around his well-defined—but not bulky—pecs.
So sorry. So very sorry.
Suddenly, Jacqui was airborne. Wyatt must have felt the claws release because he'd taken the opportunity to grab Jacqui by the scruff and hurl him straight across the yard. Luckily, Jacqui landed on the couch. He bounced right off the middle cushion, sprang over the back, and raced for the open gate unharmed.
"You'd better run, Satan spawn!" Wyatt yelled ungraciously after him.
Jacqui cleared the fence, then stopped to turn around and stare.
With his hand clasped to his neck, drama queen Wyatt stared back. "Go on!"
Sorry about the climbing and the puncturing and the blood, Jacqui said in the form of a yowl that in retrospect probably sounded more than a little feral.
Wyatt looked around, probably for something to throw, so Jacqui moved on.
That could have gone better. Now spying on Wyatt will be a riskier business.
Then we won't do it.
Oh, yes we will. Did you see that bod? Don't you want to see the rest of—oh, look, a freshly turned garden box.
Which reminded Jacqui. He'd be sad if the three big blue pots were truly gone. Sandy Eckerman obsessed over her geraniums and she always experimented with new soils, loosening and turning and amending. The three pots were one of Jacqui's favorite places to relieve himself, even though he knew it was wrong-headed and somewhat disgusting. But it wasn't his fault she bought the most expensive, irresistibly funky fertilizer known to man or cat. Besides, he was fairly sure he helped her geraniums grow.