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Today’s steamy excerpt is from Julie Cox’s fix-up Chasing Tail, about the life of Fox Pass, a small Arkansas town where most of the residents are different sorts of shapeshifters. This is from the second story in the collection, Channeling Chiron:
Adrienne’s Coffee Shop was a converted trailer that sat off a feeder road to Highway 65. More people sat on the porch than came inside on nice days, and of those who came inside, the majority sat on the high stools and hunched over their coffee like exhausted gargoyles. The counters and tables were harvest gold; the seats were slick red vinyl, and most were cracked, showing the yellow foam and white stuffing inside.
Leo and his brand-new mare were the only people sitting in a booth that day. Neither ordered anything to eat, and they attracted a few curious glances, but no one in Adrienne’s cared enough to do more than glance and perhaps wonder to themselves. Leo ordered coffee. Nell had water, which was making a sizable ring of perspiration on the table. She kept nervously wiping the ring away, crumpling the half-damp napkin and adding it to an ever-growing pile of damp napkins.
Leo pressed the conversation neither of them wanted to have. “I have to admit to ignorance,” he said. “I know in theory about the laws and attitudes of the other horses, but I’ve never, in twenty-odd years of being a shifter, been a part of a herd. I realize that in this case practical experience trumps book knowledge, so I ask that you be open with me, so that we may avoid miscommunications in this… very delicate situation.”
Nell nodded. “Why weren’t you ever in a herd?”
“I have responsibilities that are not conducive to herd life. I cannot afford to have my judgment affected by the magic that inevitably goes along with the social life of horses.”
Her hand edged toward his. “So… you do feel it.”
“Of course I do,” he murmured.
“You hide it well.”
“I feel like it’s written all over me.”
Her face softened. “You know, I can’t imagine what it’s like, to be your age and feel this for the first time. Most of us go through it so much younger. Not that I’m calling you old,” she said quickly.
Leo waved it off. “I know I’m a lot older than you or your… previous stallion. Carry on.”
“Well maybe not, I’m thirty-four.”
“Which makes me twelve years your senior. Hm. Anyway. Yes, it’s certainly been an interesting couple of hours, dealing with magic that would like very much to have its way with me.” He paused. “That was poorly phrased.”
“Actually that’s a pretty apt description. A lot of stallions don’t try at all to fight it.”
“Reason number thirty-two not to have anything to do with other horses.”
Nell nodded. “So you’re like the Chiron of the horse shapeshifter world. Kinda cool.”
Leo’s face broke into a wide grin, pleased with both the comparison and her knowledge of the reference. “Thank you!” His horse-magic gave a happy buck, and he fought the urge to move to her side of the table and nuzzle her neck. He reminded himself to act human, and the urge passed. Sort of.
“So,” she said. “You’re my new stallion. And the rest of the mares’.”
“How many are there?”
“Eleven? Son of a bitch!”
She nodded. “Don’t worry, none of the rest of them are up here, it’s just me.”
“God! Tell them to stay where they are! The last thing I need is feeling like this around eleven of you!”
Nell cleared her throat. “All right then. We’ll start with me.”
Leo fumbled for words, his brow furrowed. “Look… I know what horse law says, but the situation is untenable. I don’t want or need a herd, and you and your fellow mares don’t want a stallion like me. Why you don’t just go home, you all go back to your normal lives, and join a herd or take on a stallion or whatever you want at your leisure?”
Nell had a dark, worried look. “That would be ideal,” she said, “but… it’s complicated.”
Leo sat back in the booth and gestured for her to explain.
“You see, there’s a hierarchy in Austin. There are always stallions looking to add to their herd, increase their holdings or their influence. The delicate political balance is what keeps them all from killing each other. We would be assets to be won.”
Leo nodded slowly. “And you don’t know who might be in the running, or what they might do.” She nodded. Leo lowered his head into his hands. “My God, we really are as bad as the wolves.”
“Not really–at least most fights aren’t fatal.”
When Leo looked up he looked angry. “Whatever happened to freedom, to women’s liberation, feminism? Whatever the hell happened to basic human dignity?”
“We’re not human,” Nell observed.
“We’re not animals either! This objectification and control–it’s unconscionable.” He dropped his voice, realizing that he really needed to watch what he said in a voice louder than a whisper.
“I don’t see you at the rallies.”
Leo was quiet. “I didn’t know how bad it was. Like I said, I’ve not been around other horses. Are there really rallies?”
Nell smiled, and there was something hard and determined in her expression. “There will be.”
Leo nodded. “Let me know when and where and I will be there.”
“You seem very suddenly passionate about a cause you were willing to ignore before,” Nell said, wiping at the ring of water again.
“I am involved in this one now, and have been called upon to take part in it. There is too much injustice in the world to try to fight it all at once. My energies have, until now, been engaged elsewhere, with other injustices.”
“All right, I can see your point.” She hesitated, and put out her hand. “We’ll look for another solution. But until we do, can I ask you to let the situation stand as it is? The mares in Austin need someone to claim them, or they could get hurt. I could, too. Will you do that much for us? Until we can find a safe harbor?”
Leo stared at her hand, and then put his hand in hers. His skin broke into prickly goosebumps.
“Tell me you can stand this for a little while,” she said softly.
Leo dropped his eyes to his coffee, oily and black. Touching her, the magic amplified, screaming in his head, seeping into his bones like the vibrations of a bass line, low and loud and thick. It was like warming up after having been core-deep cold for far too long. It felt good enough to almost hurt. If it kept up to this extent, it would surely affect his judgment. No wonder other horses seemed to act so strange, if they had this undercurrent of magic directing them, pulling their reins.
But Leo had never been broken in, and didn’t intend to start now. “I do feel it,” he said, “but I will make my decisions on the basis of reason and morality, not on the urgings of magic.”
Nell nodded. “Good.”
He broke away and stood up. “Do you need a place to stay?” he asked, breathing a little hard while his head cleared.
She nodded again. “Yes. I think I’ve about worn out my welcome at my cousin’s.” She smiled. “And… I’d like to get to know my new stallion, even if he’s not permanent.”
Leo couldn’t help but smile back. “All right then. Just follow me.”
“Happily,” she said, and it took him a few minutes to realize that she meant that flirtingly and was checking out his backside. It made him happier than it had any right to.
* * * *
If certain people could be described as an open book, Leo’s house was an open compendium to the closed book that was Leo. His home was on the outskirts of town at the end of a gravel road, nestled among evergreens and heavily overgrown blackberry shrubs. It was an older home, and it announced as much with its Craftsman-style architecture, all tapered pillars and stonework, with a deep front porch and heavily weathered timbers. Inside it looked more like a very comfortable library than a home, with bookshelves in some capacity against almost every wall. It was small, but it was cozy, with dark wood around and stone or wood floors below. The kitchen had been constructed with someone other than a bachelor in mind, and Nell instantly began cooing over it.
“You may have free rein in there,” Leo said. “Knock yourself out.” She looked pleased.
There were three bedrooms, but one was entirely filled with books, and the other sported only a twin-sized bed. It was also lined with books. Nell finally gave in and posed the question. “What’s with all the books?”
Leo half-smiled. “I’m the librarian not only for Arkansas but for the entire southeastern United States. Part of my job is custody of the records and works of our magical brethren.” He gestured to the master bathroom, just visible through the master bedroom, and possibly the only room in the house that was not lined with books. “Make yourself at home. I’m going to go take a shower, and then a very long nap.”
He did so, and awoke a couple of hours later feeling almost as tired as he did before. Nell had settled in, having found some food and a book to read. He liked the feel of her in the house. He wondered if that were a good thing, or if it might ultimately be a great deal of trouble.
* * * *
Twelve mares, Leo turned around and around in his mind. Twelve people to look out for, to be responsible for. The enormity of the task weighed heavily on his mind. Over the next couple of weeks two realizations grew in his mind. The first was that the magic he had felt initially upon meeting Nell was strengthening, stretching out its tendrils toward the eleven strangers in Austin, like a seedling growing into a tangle of briers. It interfered with his work and distracted him, and his friends could see it. The second realization was that he liked it.
Nell did, too, to all appearances. They had settled into an easy routine; he got up first, made breakfast, she cleaned up, they both went to work–Leo to his office or to the actual library, Nell to her job as a nanny. Evenings were mostly spent reading or talking, and the more they talked, the more they had to say. At first they sat on opposite ends of the couch, fidgeting, their respective horse-magics metaphysically stamping hooves and snorting. Then, as they grew more comfortable with each other, hands started mingling, knees accidentally touched then stayed touching intentionally, and in a short span of time whoever was on the couch first would find themselves snuggled upon by the other.
One night as they reclined, curled around each other, Nell picked up one of Leo’s hands and compared it to hers. His hands were large, ink-stained and calloused in just a few peculiar spots from holding a pen.
“You do a lot of hand writing,” she said.
“I do. Though I have embraced the Way of the Internet, most of our kind prefer a more formal and primitive manner of communication. And I don’t dare put some information into a computer. Even an unnetworked one–I’ve seen some magic-users do phenomenal things with computer magic.”
Nell laughed. “I’ve never heard of such a thing.”
“You don’t work for the judicial system of the magical world.”
She nodded. “Fair enough.” She dropped his hand, and it rested on Nell’s soft stomach. Leo pulled her a little closer against him and breathed in the smell of her hair. His magic murmured mare to itself and stirred, sending ripples of pleasurable sensation from his chest down to his groin. He thrummed a little noise against her shoulder, and she shivered.
“You’re going to have to be careful, making noises like that.”
“You sounded very much like a stallion right then.”
“Well I’m not a gelding, am I?”
Nell turned to face him. She looked him up and down, slowly and deliberately. She said, “You intentionally keep yourself walled off.”
Leo blinked. “Out of self-defense. We said this was only temporary.” He tucked a lock of hair out of her face. “But my body and my magic betray me around you. I work at cross-purposes, meditatively finding my center so I can work, so I can be sure my judgment isn’t clouded, so I can let go of you when the time comes… and then I’m around you, and I gravitate toward you like marbles on a soft bed. Before I’m even thinking about it–” He pulled her down to him as he reclined lower on the couch. “–I find myself wanting you. And I don’t know if it’s the magic or if it’s me.”
Nell breathed a little faster and moved her legs to straddle him. “It’s both,” she said. “You can’t tease out the magic from who you are. It’s one and the same.”
Leo’s eyes fluttered closed, and his arms folded around her waist. “This is dangerous,” he said. “I can’t imagine what it’s like with more than one mare around.”
Nell bit her lip. “A lot of stallions can’t handle it very well,” she admitted. She traced lazy circles across his chest. “And… there’s a lot of group sex.”
Leo raised his eyebrows. “Oh, really?”
“You’re not the only one feeling this, you know,” she said, and ground her hips against him.
Leo groaned and raised his hips to meet her. “God, you’re so unfair. We haven’t even kissed yet.”
She smiled over him. “Is that a prerequisite?”
He smiled back. “It is, actually. I tend to work from the top down.”
“Mmm, tell me more.” She bent lower, just above him.
“You see,” he said, tapping her nose with his finger, “this is exactly what I’m talking about. Dangerous. Being not in control of myself. I’m an old man. I’m accustomed to being in control of what I do. Set in my ways and all that.”
Nell took his hand and moved it back to her hip. “Maybe you’ll enjoy being a little out of control.”
“But when the rest of your herd–”
“When the rest of our herd comes up here, I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Nell shrugged. “Maybe… we can find another stallion to protect them. There are good ones out there. I’ve heard some names. Maybe… it could be just me and you. Our own tiny herd.”
Leo chuckled. “A monogamous relationship between horses? I’ve never heard of such a thing.”
“Oh good grief, Leo, will you shut up and kiss me before I explode?”
So he did, and the magic that insisted they were herd, insisted that he was her stallion, sang through them like a soprano, raising goosebumps along their skin, coaxing small noises of pleading pleasure from each of them.
“Oh God, you have soft lips,” Leo murmured.
“I could just kiss you all night,” she said.
“I can think of other things to do.”
“So can I.”
Her hands were up his shirt, and she made a small noise of surprise against his mouth as she felt him up. “Damn, when do you get a chance to work out with all your library stuff?”
He smiled and flicked his tongue against hers. “In case you’ve forgotten, I’m a horse. I spend plenty of time running, whenever I can. A draft horse, even.”
She thumbed one of his nipples, prompting him to bite his lower lip and shiver. “A draft horse, hm? That reminds me, I’ve never actually seen you as a horse. What do you look like?”
“Um, a big dapple gray, about eighteen hands tall, massive feet, truly massive. I used to be darker, probably going to be white eventually… much like in human form.” He gestured with his eyes to his hair, black curls gone salt and pepper.
She laced a hand through his hair. “I like your hair. The gray looks… I don’t know, just interesting. It suits you.”
“I thought maybe someone your age wouldn’t find it so attractive.”
She shrugged. “Well, you know… experience has its advantages.”
He nodded. “That it does. I look forward to demonstrating.”
Nell stopped his mouth with a deep kiss, showing with rocking movements how very much she agreed with him. She stripped his shirt off of him and gave a shaky breath of pleasure looking over his body.
His voice shook as he said, “God, I like you looking at me like that.”
“Like what?” she prompted with a smile.
“Like… visual flattery.”
She laughed. “Oh you gorgeous man, let me flatter you.” She stood up and pulled on his arm.
“I’m taking you to bed with me.”
He balked. “Are you sure this is a good idea? I mean, it might just amplify the magic that’s already making us a little nuts, and I did accidentally kill your last stallion, just so none of us forget about that, and you’ve been through some rough–”
Nell put a finger to his lips. “Leo,” she said, “the best thing you can possibly do for me right now is demonstrate just how much experience you have under that belt.” She tugged briefly at the top of his pants, and he shut his mouth. He searched her eyes and gestured toward the master bedroom.
“If you insist–”
“–then I aim to be of service.”
He kissed her and backed toward the bed, stopping when the backs of his knees hit the mattress. He edged backward onto the bed, and she followed. He slid his fingers around her waist and found the edge of her T-shirt; he wordlessly pulled it up and over her head, discarding it on the floor. He traced his fingers down her chest to her brown and gray lace bra and lowered his lips to her shoulder. He kissed his way down to her breasts and pulled the bra down, sucking and nipping her nipples. She tangled her fingers in his hair and made small noises of approval. He ran his hands back behind her and unhooked the bra, and it joined her shirt on the floor.
She pressed against him, kissed his throat. She rolled her hips against his, showing that what she wanted was lower. He cradled her against his chest and laid her back on the bed; she smiled and wrapped her legs around him, eager to have him rubbing against her. He slid down her body to her jeans and slowly undid the button, then the zipper, then pulled the jeans down her legs to her bare feet.
And then he stood up. “I’ll be right back,” he said with a coy smile.
“What? Hey, you get back here!”
“You’ll be all right. Just give some thought about what, exactly, you’d like to do this evening.”
“Aaaaah, don’t you dare!”
Leo left the room and Nell flopped back on the bed, growling. He was gone for several minutes. She heard the microwave beep. When he came back in, he had a cup of tea.
“You went for tea?”
“Trust me,” he said. He sat it down on the side table. He pulled the quilt and the sheet back and motioned for her to join him under the covers.
“Wait,” she said, “you’re wearing too many clothes.” She sat up and came over to the side of the bed. She lowered her head to his stomach and undid his jeans with her teeth.
“Wow,” Leo said.
“C’mon, sexy, take ’em off!”
“As my mare commands,” he said, and stripped off the jeans. He did, however, keep the black boxers on. “For the time being,” he said with a wink.
Once under the blankets with her, entangling limbs, he took a big swallow of tea and slid down to her waist. He pulled the little gray and brown panties off of her, and kissed back up her thigh. She eased her legs apart to give him as much room as he needed, praising whatever gods she could think of that her stallion would do this of his own volition. Then she realized the point of the tea. His tongue was fiercely warm, and heat flooded through her, coaxing her to shudder and writhe. He found her clit easily and worked it with heat and pressure and flickering speed. She was already wet, and was quickly more so. She moaned, lifted her hips, and asked for more, more. She came easily the first time, crying out and gripping handfuls of sheet, then a handful of his hair as he took another swallow of tea and set to work upon her again. He didn’t let her have hardly a moment of downtime.
“God, you taste good,” Leo said as he came up for breath several minutes later.
Nell grabbed him by the jaw and said, “You better get to fucking me, or I’m going to go mad.”
Leo smiled and settled his weight over her. She pulled at his boxers, and he let her take them off of him. She ran her hands over his ass and pulled him against her, rubbing his cock against her. His shoulders shuddered.
“I’d better wear a condom,” he managed to say.
She nodded, and he attended to that. Once that was done, he lay down next to her, holding up a hand to have a moment to speak. “I want to know,” he said, “exactly what you want, what you like. I am not psychic. If you want to tie or be tied, if you like pain or not at all thank you very much, I need to know that. I can’t be as good a lover as I could be if you don’t communicate with me.”
She grinned. “How is it no one’s snatched you up and tied you in a bedroom somewhere?” she asked.
“I keep a lockpick with me at all times.”
“Oh? And where is it now?”
“You don’t want to know.”
She laughed. “All right then. I don’t like to be tied or even held down.”
He nodded. “Good to know.”
“I do think I’d like to be on top.” She grinned. “I could ride you.”
Leo rolled onto his back. “Then by all means, welcome aboard.”
Nell moved on top of him and helped guide his cock to her pussy. She looked down at him as she sank onto him, each of them shivering in the gravity of the moment. The horse-magic that bound them went nearly mad, and they cried out in the pleasure of it, the sheer mind-fogging immensity of energy between them. She began to rock on top of him, and he thrust in rhythm with her, in and out, up and down, working to pleasure themselves and each other. All thoughts of technique and intent were forgotten in their single-minded need to chase the intense pleasure of magic and sex combined.
Their eyes met, and they changed positions without having to discuss. She moved to the side, on all fours, and he went up on his knees behind her. He rubbed against her only a moment, finding the perfect angle for entrance, and then he was inside her again, and she rocked back and forth against him, each thrusting as hard and as fast as they could. It seemed to go on and on, building interminably higher, unbearably strong, before crashing through them as one, leaving them screaming as they came.
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