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Shapeshifting is a powerful metaphor for eroticism, and in Circlet Press’s new ebook, Like a Moonrise, that metaphor is made central to these erotic coming-of-age fantasies.
Like a Moonrise is an anthology of six stories featuring original shapeshifters with a coming of age theme.The stories in this anthology explain what the werefox, werepony, and others face as they discover their own changes and the urges and instincts that come with it. Circlet Press moves beyond the now-common realm of vampires and werewolves to explore the sexual lives of different were-creatures with these stories.
Contributors include Kyell Gold, winner of the Best Gay Fantasy Novel of 2009, Lambda Literary Award winner Rakelle Valencia, MeiLin Miranda, who brings us the backstory of one of the shapeshifter charac- ters in her Scryer’s Gulch web serial, along with Marie Carlson, Catt Kingsgrave, and Aoife Bright.
Table of Contents:
Fears-Moon-Woman by MeiLin Miranda
The Moon, Reversed by Catt Kingsgrave
Cycles by Marie Carlson
On the Run by Kyell Gold
Werewhat by Rakelle Valencia
The Winter Prince by Aoife Bright
Hot excerpt from The Moon, Reversed, by Catt Kingsgrave
Leontius Senecus Saturnus stood in the soft dungeon and watched his prisoner sleep.
It had been a hard hunt, and a long one; Leontius’ slaves had been almost as frightened by their quarry as by their master. Had he not been among them when they brought the beast to bay just after moonset, Leontius might have lost far more than one horse and a little blood.
He glanced away from the cell at the high dungeon window, and winced. His shoulder had responded well to a healing charm, but it was still sore, and if he pulled away the sticky collar of his robes, he could just see the bite scar over his Sigilus.
Leontius turned to examine the wound in the long bronze mirror hung beside the scourging post. Two dozen ruddy pearls now glared against his spell-etched skin, where a day ago had rested the symbol of his share in the Witch King of Albion’s power. An hour ago it had been a deep, bloody ring–a gory wound that crushed the eagle, split the laurel, and halved the fasciae when he turned his neck just so. Leontius bore a little worry that Albionicus might have noticed the disruption in his spell-web of loyal mages, might heed the rustle enough to realize that the Scion of Saturnus was to blame for it, might turn his eye from the upstart Cadeyra and her mad rebellion, and release his frustration at the unruly Celts and their Battle Queen upon a more convenient annoyance.
He stroked a careful finger along the ring of bruise, and shivered. Yes, he would have to see a proper healer about the shoulder, and soon.
Still, the triumph of the morning’s hunt remained intact, for the tooth marks were fading away while Leontius watched, but his captive, disarmed and unconscious, was going precisely nowhere.
Cian Nechtanus slept, curled into a corner of his cell where the watery sunlight did not pierce the shadows. His hair gleamed with far more silver than a man so young had any right to, and the gloom could not disguise the bruised exhaustion haunting that face, even in sleep. Apparently the life of a rebel and a bandit was not one of comfort. Or perhaps it was the wolf curse that had left such marks upon the Celt Leontius remembered his father setting free as a boy. A slave who turned monster during the full moon was hardly worth keeping, after all, and Ricimer Saturnus had been too fond of the boy’s mother to kill him outright. Had he known what a thorn in the Empire’s side the little beast would become, though, Leontius liked to believe his father would have drowned the pup with his own hands.
Still, now the witchwolf was caught, Leontius could not resist a smirk as he examined his old slave through the bars. A canny creature, whether on feet or in fur, Nechtanus’ pelt carried a bounty nearly as large as the damned Cadeyra he followed. But no matter how bold the wolf’s raids, nor how great the mage or army ranged against him, not one of the King’s Magi had been able to come near the man. Luck, madness, or the strange, wild magic of the Celts always managed to intervene, and Nechtanus never failed to make the most of it.
Leontius had not told his peers among the Magi of his plan to try hunting the witchwolf in the pre-dawn gloom of the full moon’s turning. Perhaps for that very reason, he had succeeded where no other had managed it. He almost regretted that his plans could not include parading his captive before the seething eyes of the Mages’ court; now it was too late for any of them to either block his success or to claim it as theirs. Still, even without the garnish of a public gloat, the hunt had been well worth the trouble. The bitten Sigilus on Leontius’ left shoulder gave a doubtful throb, and he idly rubbed his thumb over the barely-there swelling.
He’s a creature of instinct, Leontius assured himself quietly as the memory of wild yellow eyes surged up to rattle his satisfaction. Nechtanus’ face, so calm in slumber now, had twisted into a beastly snarl in the pre-dawn gloom as the naked man charged through the circle of spears, roaring like the wolf he had been mere hours before. He never thought I’d remember his escapes to the keeping caves as a boy. Understandable that he’d panic when we cut off his escape, and him unarmed, without his serpent or staff. No doubt his mind was still more than half animal, for all his flesh had returned to a man’s.
He stroked the bruise once again, took a deep breath, and then tugged his collar straight. Even a Druid cannot curse with his teeth–this bite meant nothing. Means nothing.
A rustle behind him, and Leontius spun on his heel. But it was only Nechtanus stirring in his sleep, brow knit as though barely aware of his audience. He stretched a little, then settled again, far too relaxed, Leontius thought, for a beast in a cage, too peaceful for a bandit unarmed and naked in the stronghold of his enemy. Liquid in languor, and somehow elegant despite the battle scars and blue-inked swirls that raked so brightly across his pale skin. Leontius traced the lines with his eyes, fascinated despite himself. He was a man used to perfection in all things–a robe stained was as likely to be discarded as cleaned, a lover marred was a lover forgotten. So what was it about this hard-used man, this son of a slave, that made Leontius’ eyes linger?
He rolled his shoulder again, feeling the throb–not pain, exactly–answer with an echo much lower down. Perhaps it was the elegant helplessness of the man. Such frantic, violent resistance to capture, only to settle into it now–and not only settle in, but to somehow…expand to fill it with his presence… with his–
Eyes. Open, gleaming like lanterns in the dark. Leontius’ whole skin tightened, from lips to bollocks, and though he managed not to show his reaction outwardly, it was several seconds before his heartbeat slowed. By which time, the captive had blinked, changing the angle of his head just enough to douse that eerie glow and resume once more the seeming of a naked man lounging on a thin pallet against the wall.
“I know you.” The voice was low, perhaps a little ragged, but otherwise unruffled. “Old Saturnus’ son, the younger one. Leontius,” he said, then again, lower, as though trying the fit of the name on his tongue, “Leontius. What do you want from me?”
“Nothing which is yours to give, I’m sure,” Leontius found his voice at last, so relieved to hear it come out with precisely the level of smooth contempt he’d intended, that he elected to overlook the uninvited use of his familiar name.
Nechtanus blinked and raised up to his elbows, but made no other move to collect himself. “Then why am I here?”
“You find your accommodations lacking?” Leontius drawled, “You’d prefer an oubliette, or perhaps a questioning cell within easy reach of the rack and brazen bull?” The equipment in the soft dungeon was intended for torment of a very different sort, which tended toward rather less permanent damage. Most of the time.
“That would be more like the Leontius I remember, yes.” And there was wariness in those amber eyes, but somehow the man’s body reflected none of it. How could he sprawl so and still somehow display nothing? Was it an animal’s ignorance of its own nudity at work here, or did the wretch somehow not feel the weight of Leontius’ eyes on his skin?
“I could torture you, yes,” Leontius answered, running a flogger’s studded falls through his fingers, “However, any information I might wring from you would come too late to turn any tide, and breaking you into pieces would rather ruin you for the use I actually had in mind.”
Nechtanus raised a curious eyebrow, and Leontius saw no point in dissembling. “I know a lost cause when I see one, wolf. The King’s Magi are a shattered force; we are as like to fight each other as your howling rebels. King Albionicus’ mind has crumbled under the weight of his crown; he offers us no real protection now. A fool could tell it’s only a matter of time before your vicious little Cadeyra chases him down and pries him out of his fortress. Then once his skull is swinging from her chariot, and the Magi are groveling at her feet to beg for scraps… well.” He smiled, shrugged with one shoulder. “You are here, Cian Nechtanus, as a token, not a source of information or entertainment. You are a bargaining chip which I intend to reveal when the time is right. Damaging you would merely lessen your eventual worth.”
Nechtanus sat up at last, exposing white, lean chest, roseate nipples–one flanked by long stripes of scar–a swirling confusion of ink and scar beneath the dusting of hair that wandered down the planes of his belly toward….”And just what do you think this life of mine is worth, Leontius?” The smirk in his voice dragged Leontius’ eyes back up to the witchwolf’s face at once.
“Personally, not much.” He did not blush at being caught–Saturnus men never blushed. “However, you are valuable to your allies–the Cadeyra in particular, seems quite possessive of you. I expect you to win me nothing less than my freedom, once all the shouting is over.”
One eyebrow rose. “Freedom?”
Leontius scowled. “You find that amusing?”
“From a magus who willingly accepted Alaunus Albionicus’s brand, I find it hysterical,” Nechtanus replied, leaning against the wall and dropping his feet to the floor. His cock rolled into one creased thigh and lay there, as heavy and smug as the wolf’s own voice. “You don’t want freedom, Leontius, you never have. Power, yes, wealth, fame, as much as you could get, but freedom?” He shook his head. “Your father wanted that. Your brother too, before his suicide, but not you–you want something else entirely.”
The knowing voice scraped down his back, coiled like a bad meal in Leontius’ stomach, and for a moment, he was almost relieved at the flash of anger. Just the distraction his dignity required. “Oh, and you suppose you know what that is, do you?”
But the wolf’s smile only deepened, grew fangs a little. And the curl in Leontius’ stomach sank lower in direct response to that gleam. “Oh yes,” Nechtanus replied, “I know exactly what that is.”
Leontius let a curl of his lip convey the depth of his disbelief. Nechtanus made no explanation though, and his predatory smile did not waver. The throbbing in Leontius’ shoulder made him less than patient, and so it was he who broke the silence at last. “Well then, let me hear what you think you know.”
And at that, Nechtanus stood up. Uncoiled in a single, long slide. The patterned ink and scars glided like shadows over a body sculpted with want and war and grief, but somehow the damage seemed regal in that too-small cell–worn with unconscious pride, like the tiger’s bars, the griffin’s cockade, or the stallion’s mane. As much a mark of strength, those flaws, as the lengthening member that swung between Nechtanus’ legs as he approached the bars with measured strides. Leontius did not step back. The man was unarmed, his next transformation a month away, his allies scattered wide across Albion to hunt the war to its bloody end. Leontius did not step back.
“No,” said Cian Nechtanus, and curled both hands around the bars of his cage, “I don’t think I will tell you, Leontius. But open that door and bring my staff back to me, and I just might show you.”
Leontius scoffed. “We may be losing this war, Nechtanus, but I assure you it is not through that sort of idiocy. I like you just where you are, and armed with nothing more than…” he glanced down at the man’s cock, which was already more than half hard for some reason Leontius couldn’t fathom, then back up to his face. Nechtanus’ eyes were closed, his mouth opened, his tongue curled out just so much over his teeth as he drew in the air. His nose wrinkled, and that was close enough to a smile to make Leontius’ neck burn.
“Good day, Nechtanus,” he snapped, turning on his heel and stalking across the dungeon.
The dry whisper of a laugh followed him, and a gentle call halted him on the threshold. “Call me Cian.”
“What?” he glared over his shoulder.
“I want you to call me Cian. When you come back again. Don’t forget.” And then he turned away, just as if Leontius weren’t standing there–as if Leontius hadn’t once owned his wretched hide; had not captured him in the hills only that morning; did not now command the keys to the cage that imprisoned him…as if Leontius did not particularly concern him at all.
It took all his willpower not to rise to that bait, though later, sated after dinner and fortified with excellent wine from Gaul, Leontius could not for the life of him explain why that should have troubled him.
* * * *
“What in Orcus’ name have you done to me?”
The wolf lifted his head, unhurried, blinked twice, and then sat up. “Leontius. Rather late for a visit, isn’t it?” His sleepy gaze took in Leontius’ haphazard robe with no tunic beneath it, his rumpled hair and bare feet, “Having trouble sleeping?”
Leontius clutched his robes tighter, grinding his teeth as silk dragged across the sticky head of his cock–so hard it was sore, so desperate it wept in threads down his naked thighs. “I am not ‘visiting,’ you dog,” he snarled, snatching one of the more vicious flagellae from its wall hook, “I want to know what you’ve done! This curse, or whatever it is–you’re to take it off at once. I have stayed my hand from you, offered you no injury and no insult, and I will not stand for–”
Nechtanus–Cian–tipped his chin into the air, took another of those open-mouthed sniffs, this one loud and long, so that Leontius could hear the air scraping over his soft palate. The wolf was smelling Octavia on him, Leontius realized as Cian’s cock gave a lurch of interest, smelling the sweat and sex and anger and need on him. Another twitch, and a darkening flush spread over that cock as the wolf shivered. Then his eyes blazed open, knowing and smug and damn him!
“Is she very angry with you?”
Livid! Leontius thought, Insulted, and hurt, and DAMN YOU! but aloud, he said nothing, merely seethed as the captive rolled to his feet and padded to the bars.
“You’re confused,” Cian said after a moment, “Understandable. But you’ll get used to it.”
“I will not get–” Leontius seized the bars, snarling in Cian’s face. “You will undo whatever it is you’ve done, or by Jove I swear I will–”
“You won’t,” came the level reply, curling like a hand around Leontius’ bollocks, “You can’t, for the same reason you couldn’t spend before, with your wife. Tell her I’m sorry, please, but there’s no changing things at this point.” Cian trailed one hand down the bar, and grazed his palm lightly over Leontius’ bloodless knuckles. “You’re mine now,” he said, “not hers, not Albionicus’s. Mine. And your pleasure won’t come from anyone else.”
“You–!” Leontius snatched his hands away, fumbled the flagellus through the bars and jabbed the end at Nec–Cian’s–throat. His blood boiled, and his breath knotted under that weighty yellow gaze. “Yours, am I?” he snarled, and with his other hand, cast a spell meant to twist the wolf’s every muscle, every sinew into a rictus of maddening pain.
Except that what came out of his mouth sounded much more like the spell to release the lock, which confirmed things with an unhesitant ‘snick.’ The barred door gave a creak, swung ajar. Cian gave him a nod and an approving smile.
“Thank you, Leontius,” said the yellow-eyed Celt, pulling the door wide. “Don’t run.”
Heart in his mouth, Leontius whirled for the door.
He didn’t get three strides before eleven stone of naked Celt bowled him over from behind. Leontius shouted as the flagellus jolted from his grip and skittered across the floor. Before he could stretch after it, Leontius found his wrist snared, his arm dragged up behind and pinned between his shoulders. He grunted as Cian clambered astride his hips like he was a mountain pony, grinding Leontius’ still-hard cock into the floor even as his own heated member pressed down like a brand through the bunched-up silk robe. The crush on his tormented cock was blinding. And yet…
And yet somehow it made his bollocks tighten, made him arch back his head, rock up his hips and bear into that steely pressure, frotting the tight-pressed creases of his robe in desperation, and managing–only just managing not to whimper. He flexed his fingers, but couldn’t pull free of Cian’s grip–dug against the floor with his toes, but couldn’t dislodge that solid, anchoring weight. In fact, what purchase he could find served only to shove his arse up against Cian’s cock as he untied Leontius’ belt and pulled it free.
“No–” Leontius gasped as the emerald silk pooled across the back of his neck, then kissed his jaw as it slithered to the floor, “You can’t mean to–”
Cian interrupted with a pleased sort of growl deep in his chest, then he rocked forward, low and hard against Leontius’ back as he gathered a handful of his hair. He didn’t pull, didn’t tear or twist, just held it in an inexorable grip that whispered I could, if I chose; if you provoked me.
And that unspoken understanding dragged a groan from deep under Leontius’ belly as Cian’s lips grazed his ear.
“I told you,” he growled, “not to run.” The ragged stubble of three days without shaving snagged the silk, and a moment later, Leontius felt the fabric catch more firmly in the predator’s teeth. Cian growled in his throat as he dragged the cloth down Leontius’ shoulders, exposing his sweat-cold skin. Leontius made a sound he’d never imagined hearing out of his own throat. It burned, that sound, hot as a furious blush across his face even as it sparked a yearning ache in his trapped cock.
“I have to chase you when you run,” Cian went on, fingers gentling, massaging against Leontius’ scalp as he rocked into the crease of his arse with endless rolling surges. The rough chin burned against Leontius’ Sigilus like a brand, made him gasp and roll his head to expose more–neck, jaw, throat. “And once I catch you, I have to…”
He’s going to–!
And Cian bit down hard.
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