by BRK

 It’s 1999, and Glenn, until now kept from his heritage, uncovers what it means to be a Sheridan. Fortunately, he has his closest friend, Eamon, at his side.

Added: Nov 2021 Updated: 15 Apr 2023 48,450 words 15,621 views 5.0 stars (20 votes) Parts of this story were commissioned via Patreon Story Commission.

Contents (10 parts, 2 new)
Part 1 It’s 1999, and Glenn, until now kept from his heritage, uncovers what it means to be a Sheridan. Fortunately, he has his closest friend, Eamon, at his side. (added: 13 Nov 2021)Part 2 Glenn finds he is already starting to change as he approaches his last swim meet of the semester. (added: 15 Jan 2022)Part 3 On the way up to the Mountain, Eamon sets Glenn a challenge involving a couple of cute strangers. (added: 12 Mar 2022)Part 4 Glenn arrives in Stark, where he struggles with his connection the mountain and starts meeting some of the locals. (added: 18 Jun 2022)Part 5 At the dry goods store, Glenn revels in his upgraded sense of smell and meets a woman who seems friendly, though neither the townies nor Eamon seem to like her being around. (added: 3 Sep 2022)Part 6 Glenn visits the secret-keeper, which leads to a very intimate and unexpected encounter with another of his own kind. (added: 12 Nov 2022)Part 7 Glenn’s trials begin, designed to strengthen him in a hurry for his imminent first shift—and Eamon isn’t going to make it easy on him. (added: 17 Dec 2022)Part 8 Talk spreads of the new Sheridan in town as Glenn continues his ordeal, choosing finally to confront the unknown shifter stalking him from a distance each night. (added: 25 Feb 2023)Part 9 Ares and Phoebus learn the truth about why they and Glenn are changing. Guided to his father’s human form by Pharaoh, Glenn realizes the ordeal has done its work and he’s ready to accept the change. (added: 15 Apr 2023)Part 10
Author’s Note

This story is a prequel to “Love/Shift”, exploring the transformation of Maxfield’s father, Glenn, as a young man. Though the tales are closely related I’ll endeavor to make “Mountainheart” stand on its own and readable independently of “Love/Shift” (and its sequel, “Finding Owen”).


Glenn Sheridan Davison hauled himself slowly out of the 50-meter, ten-lane UNH pool, knowing everyone was watching as his hard, hairless, essentially perfect body emerged inch by glistening inch from the sloshing azure water, droplets of glinting moisture trickling over all the sculpted contours of his beautifully defined muscles and gently tanned skin. Glenn knew the effect he had on people. Smooth, tautly-muscled, and slyly handsome, he not only looked like a centerfold in an upmarket horny-gals’ magazine, he’d actually been one (Essential, just a few months back in the September 1998 issue—and hadn’t that made coming back for his sophomore year interesting). He relished the desire he ignited in women and men alike no matter where he was. Swim meets, classes, restaurants, dorm hallways—everywhere he went, eyes followed him, and Glenn did not mind at all.

A few random cheers went up from the little knots of girls—and a few boys—watching the practice from the bleachers as he climbed to his feet and straightened to his full 6-foot-3, knowing the round, heavy bulge of his red Speedos (subtly impressive but not obscene) was exciting a few appreciative stares and whispers along with his tight washboard abs, firm square pecs, long swim-honed limbs, and piercing honey-brown eyes. He grinned cockily and glanced over to meet the gaze of one spectator in particular near the end of the first row, his best friend Eamon Conroy, casually showing off his rounded biceps with a run of his fingers through his lank, dark-brown hair just to complete the picture. Eamon responded in kind by ostentatiously pretending to adjust a massive erection in the snug black track pants he always wore. If ever a man could pull off a sarcastic boner, it was Eamon, Glenn thought.

Glenn snorted a laugh and quickly turned away, padding off to talk to his coach near the exit to the locker rooms instead. He might be straight, but Eamon did funny things to him, and he knew from experience not to let himself get too caught up in the huge forestry major’s dark, smoldering eyes or his powerful, hairy physique that seemed to strain whatever he was wearing—especially when Glenn himself had on nothing but a pair of skimpy, and very stretchable, swim togs. Anyway, the last meet of the spring was coming up, and Glenn knew better than to slide into overconfidence. The team was counting on him, and that was a responsibility he did not take lightly.

Half an hour later, coached and showered, he met up with Eamon in the athletic center’s main lobby. He was decked out in his favorite broken-in, butt-hugging jeans, chunky brown boots, a loose, crisp, extra-bright white tee, and bright blue windbreaker, and, Eamon, most of the way through a firm, juicy-looking apple, paused in his people-watching to give Glenn a very thorough once-over. Glenn tried not to preen, even as he took his own opportunity to drink in the big guy’s reassuringly solid stillness.

“Hey,” Eamon greeted him as he approached, his rich bass a perfect match for his dark, stubbly good looks, bulky muscles, and the jet-black body hair covering every inch of him from his collarbones to his toe-knuckles. His heavy, long-sleeved black and gray baseball tee not only failed to restrain the proliferation of hair at his collar and wrists but seemed to be visibly pushed out by the industrial-strength follicles blanketing his ponderous pecs and thick-set arms, just as they did the rest of him. Eamon’s hairiness was so legendary, Glenn had actually introduced himself to his two-years-ahead down-the-hall dormmate and future best bud at breakfast one morning a year and a half back just to see if the five-o’clock shadow he’d noticed Eamon sporting at noon most days would start coming out from the big man’s clean-shaven face in the course of his inhaling two servings of cafeteria pancakes, an entire fruit plate, and an extra-large bowl of Apple Jacks. (It had.)

Eamon got the usual jokes, too. One of his senior buddies razzed him about supposedly never being around during full moons, thereby proving Eamon was a secret werewolf, but Eamon would only scoff and say any wolves he met would turn tail and flee into the woods, whimpering in terror. That always got a laugh. Glenn could kind of see it happening that way, too.

“Nice form today,” Eamon told him, still looking him over.

Glenn smirked and wiggled his eyebrows (known among his admirers for their lushness and mobility). “Nice form every day,” he corrected.

“Douche,” Eamon said quietly, though he was smiling as he stood up. He kept standing up, and up, until he was dwarfing Glenn in height as well as width and general bigness. Glenn felt a familiar tingling in his balls as he looked up into those strange coal-black eyes and breathed in Eamon’s musk. Something in Glenn wanted to tease and subjugate this man, and the more time they spent together, the more amenable he was to giving it a shot. The admiring looks his friend gave him and his attentive behavior, including routine attendance at practices as well as meets whenever his schedule allowed, suggested to Glenn that Eamon might just be as hung up on him as he was on Eamon. Though Eamon being fearlessly and openly bisexual—who was going to beat him up?—probably simplified things for the larger man.

They started walking together through the lobby and out onto the sunlit campus, unconsciously keeping step despite Eamon’s longer legs. “Still coming to commencement, centerfold boy?” Eamon asked, tossing his apple core in a garbage bin as they passed.

“Wouldn’t miss it,” Glenn said, nudging Eamon’s granite shoulder with his own. He very much wanted to see Eamon at one of the parties afterwards, proud, liberated from college, and drunk off his ass. “Any idea yet what you’re doing afterward?”

Eamon said nothing, which was more or less what Glenn had expected. His friend had been reticent all spring about his post-graduation plans and had ignored various job prospects, despite stellar grades and enthusiastic professors. Glenn had picked up a few hints that his family was pressuring him to return home and take up a role in the family lumber business, but Eamon never talked about his kin or where he came from. All Glenn knew was that they were both originally from the same general area, the sparsely populated mountain forests up north; but seeing as how Glenn’s aunt and uncle had raised him down south in Manchester and had angrily refused to ever talk about Glenn’s parents or family history “up in the wilds” he was, basically, exactly as in the dark about his own origins as he was about Eamon’s.

He could sure picture his friend up in the mighty climbing woods of the White Mountains, though, probably shirtless and building himself even bigger over months in the wild, until he was heaving boulders aside and pulling down small trees with his bare hands. It was obvious he’d be almost literally in his element up there, and Glenn often wondered what made him reluctant to go back.

For that matter, Glenn kind of liked the thought of roaming the mountains shirtless himself, breathing in the clean mountain air and doing his morning push-ups with such nature-inspired zeal and ferocity he’d end up strong enough to pull down a tree or two himself. Ridiculous, sure, but, at the same time, oddly appealing…

But none of that was happening, and he felt a compulsion to sort things out for his friend. They turned onto the path leading to their dorm, one of the newer ones on the campus expansion. They could hit the mailroom on the way. His aunt liked to send him cookies and miscellaneous baked goods in large quantities, and Eamon, whose tight 36-inch waist was, unlike Glenn’s, apparently rock-solid and un-budgeable no matter how much he ate, was more than happy to help him take care of these whenever they appeared. “Well,” he continued, glancing up at Eamon, “if you want to hang out in Manch with us, you know you’re welcome.”

Eamon did not respond. “You can… always work with me at the Sears,” Glenn went on, filling the silence. “Uncle Bram’d give you a job in receiving like a shot the second he got a look at you.”

“Thanks,” Eamon said tersely, though without anger. Glenn didn’t blame him for his lack of enthusiasm; he guessed Eamon wasn’t any more excited about hauling boxes at Sears, Roebuck than he was about cashiering there. For him, at least, it would be just a summer job before he headed back to UNH in the fall—without Eamon. That thought bugged him. A lot. More than he had realized it would. And what would his friend be doing then? And where would he be doing it?

That bugged him, too, that Eamon’s future was so uncertain. He wanted to see Eamon secure and happy, and set for the future. Preferably somewhere close to wherever Glenn was. That would be… nice.

Ideal, actually. That would be fucking ideal.

There was indeed a package waiting for him at the mail center: a small box covered in old-fashioned plain brown paper. When they got back to Glenn’s dorm room and he took a closer look at it, though, he saw it wasn’t from Aunt Meg after all. “Sorry, bud, no cookies for you,” he said as Eamon followed him in, not quite having to duck under the jamb. As proof of his statement Glenn gestured with the package, which definitely weighed less than a consignment of baked goods, but more than an empty box. Something was in it, though he had no idea what other than that it wasn’t goodies from his aunt.

Eamon dropped into Glenn’s roommate’s desk chair anyway, eyeing the package hopefully. Glenn’s roomie had a double major and a serious girlfriend and was literally never home, so he and Eamon spent most of their time hanging out here rather than in Eamon’s cramped little single at the end of the hall.

“Could still be food,” the big man said optimistically. “Who’s it from?”

Glenn read the neatly-written return address on the airbill aloud, frowning as he did so. “Elijah Paxton, Esq., Paxton Law Office, Stark, New Hampshire…” Neither the name nor the town meant anything to Glenn, but when he looked up at Eamon he saw that his friend had stilled and was eyeing him almost suspiciously.

“Why are you getting mail from Stark?” Eamon asked after a slow moment. His tone was dark, as if he suspected some kind of betrayal.

Glenn held his gaze, confused. “I don’t know, dude,” he said cautiously.

Eamon’s eyes narrowed. “Your middle name is Sheridan,” he said. “You… are you a Sheridan?”

Glenn didn’t answer. He’d ended up with his uncle’s name, but he knew it was his aunt he was related to. And her maiden name was, in fact, Sheridan—a detail to which he’d never had reason to ascribe the slightest importance until this moment. He still had no idea what “a Sheridan” meant to Eamon, other that it connected with Eamon’s “back home”—which was now revealed, apparently, to be a town somewhere upstate that Glenn had never heard of. Although… his uncle had mentioned Stark once, in an angry phone conversation he hadn’t been meant to overhear about Glenn growing up “normal” away from “those influences”, but at the time he’d thought Stark was a last name. Glenn had always tacitly assumed he was being kept away from super-gay relatives—or maybe-super-homophobic ones—but now he wasn’t so sure.

Eamon was angry now. “You never told me you were from the Mountain,” he persisted accusingly, and it was clear that there was one particular Mountain that was meant. “You never told me you were mountain folk!”

“Whoa, whoa,” Glenn said gently, moving closer and sitting on the side of his bed, directly opposite his friend. He still had the box in his hand, but his eyes were on Eamon. He would have sworn he could smell the man’s conflicted distress—an odd notion that filled him with a flush of very inappropriate arousal, which he ruthlessly suppressed. He met Eamon’s heated gaze, mentally willing his friend to cycle down. Glenn was consumed with curiosity to know just why his giant buddy was so upset, but the overriding need was to calm Eamon down and reassure him of their friendship.

“Dude, I don’t know anything about a Mountain, or mountain folk, or whatever the hell is in this,” he told him, exhibiting the package again, keeping his voice smooth and steady as he kept hold of Eamon’s gaze. If beauty was ever good for something, he thought, let it be as good as music for soothing the savage breast.

Eamon watched him and made a visible effort to compose himself, though he still seemed wary and on edge. “Trust me,” Glenn insisted, “you know as much about my past as I do.”

Which was true enough. He was not usually very exercised about that fact, but now that his mysterious backstory was inserting itself between him and Eamon he had room in the back of his head for a bit of resentment toward his aunt and uncle… and whomever else he might be related to that had played a part in keeping him in the dark about something that mattered to him and Eamon.

Eamon’s eyes dropped to the package. Glenn looked down, then wordlessly got up and grabbed the scissors from his desk drawer before sitting down again opposite Eamon. It took some doing, as the scissors were old and scarred, but he soon had the brown paper off, revealing the box within: a two-inch-tall, one-foot-square repurposed corrugated shipping box for Gardner’s Patented Fruit Chaw, of all things. On one flap was a scuffed and slightly yellowed label hand-addressed to someplace called Wentworth’s Dry Goods, also in Stark.

He snorted. Chaw? Dry goods? “I think this was sent to me from the past,” he joked as he aimed one of the blunted points of his scissors at the clear tape sealing the box closed.

“Things don’t change much there,” Eamon muttered, still staring at the box. Glenn eyed him briefly but asked no questions.

Inside the shallow box were three items. The first was an official-looking white envelope bearing a typed address—his, care of the college—with a pre-printed return address in the top-left corner in raised, dark-blue ink matching the address on the exterior shipping label, the lawyer’s name on the first line gussied up in a fine, pretentious script. Under that missive was another envelope, this one pale lavender and squarer, like it came from a lady’s stationery set. Glenn’s name and address was written on the front in green ink, in a hand so smooth and assured it was like calligraphy. Below both of these items in the box was a sealed 11 x 5 manila envelope containing something long, thick, and hefty.

Glenn opened the letter from the lawyer first. He hesitated only briefly before reading it aloud. The necessity of Eamon’s trust in that moment was something he didn’t question.

“Dear Mr. Davison,” he read. “I regret to be the one to have to inform you that your paternal grandfather, Mr. James Maxfield Sheridan—” He sensed Eamon’s slight start at this name, but didn’t look up and continued, “—has unfortunately suffered an untimely death.” Hmph, he thought. He’d finally had a grandfather, for two seconds. He wondered if he should be having a more intense reaction to his previously anonymous ancestor suddenly having turned up dead.

“His demise,” he continued reading, “occurred at the hands of a hunter illegally pursuing bear as game on Mill Mountain, a protected reserve under both state and federal law.”

At Eamon’s low, almost inaudible growl he looked up. Eamon met his gaze, and they stared at each other for a beat. “You know who that is?” he asked unnecessarily, remembering his friend’s reaction to the name of his grandfather. “James Maxfield Sheridan?”

Eamon didn’t bother answering. Instead he countered, “Does it say what happened to the hunter?”

Glenn looked back down at the letter and scanned ahead. “Found mauled on the main mountain road an hour later,” he summarized. Eamon grunted in approval, and after another glance at his friend over the top of the page he continued reading with the next paragraph.

“As the whereabouts of your father and the presumptive heir, Mr. Michael James Sheridan, are unknown at this time—” Glenn paused, stuck on the surprising word “unknown” for a moment, then resumed reading. “—this leaves you, as sole legal descendant, in the role of default executor and usus possessor of James Sheridan’s property, real and otherwise, full possession of which to be resolved in the event of Michael Sheridan being either found or declared legally dead. I should be happy to consult with you on the latter question should you wish to explore it further.”

“I’ll bet,” Eamon muttered unexpectedly. “Fucking town folk.”

Glenn decided to ask about the various ‘folk’ and what Eamon thought about them later. “Owing to the legal implications of the above-described inheritance and responsibilities,” he read, “it is imperative that you come personally to Stark to take formal possession of the Sheridan land and dwellings, as well as incidental material of a nature that renders it unsuitable for shipping. I look forward to meeting you and apprising you of the details of your inheritance and responsibilities at your earliest possible convenience. Yours sincerely, Elijah Paxton, Esq., with enclosures.”

“Huh,” Eamon said. When Glenn looked at him, he added sourly, “It’s good land. Up-mountain. You should probably go and make sure the wrong people don’t get their claws on it.”

“The wrong people,” Glenn repeated dubiously, not liking the phrase. “You mean, ‘town folk’?”

“Pfft,” Eamon scoffed. “They wouldn’t last a week up-mountain.”

Glenn decided he was too in the dark just now to navigate all of Eamon’s coded vitriol, so he set aside the letter from the lawyer and opened the lavender envelope. Inside was a letter on elegant matching stationery, handwritten in the same green-hued ink and graceful script as had been used for the address. Aside from the letter, the envelope also contained a large color snapshot of a man standing in front of a well-built mountain cabin. The man was tall, shirtless, and powerfully built, maybe bigger than Eamon and just as hairy. He was also startlingly handsome, the gray at the temples of his shoulder-length chestnut hair almost the only sign he was maybe a generation older than the thirty-something Glenn would have assumed him to be at first glance. The faceless grandfather was faceless no more, he thought. Near James Sheridan’s feet in the photo sat a stern-looking brown and black German shepherd, glaring comically at the camera as though he were daring the photographer to snap more photos of him.

He set the picture aside with a smile and turned back to the letter, again reading it aloud for Eamon’s benefit.

“Dearest Glenn,” it said. “You don’t know me at all, of course, but I was a close friend of your grandpappy’s, and your pappy’s too. I’d say I hope you grew up well, but I have no doubt that with their blood in you, you turned out to be a fine and beautiful specimen of a man.”

He glanced at Eamon, twitching his famously expressive eyebrows. “What do you think? Is she right?”

Eamon raised one of his own dark, finger-thick brows. “Just read the letter,” Eamon groused, but the edges of his lips were quirking, so Glenn called it a win.

“I’ll save my condolences for when we meet in person,” he read, “which I hope is soon—it’s vital we meet before the next full moon in three weeks.” That seemed weird, and he sensed Eamon still again at the mention of the coming full moon. He went on: “I’m sending you your grandpappy’s knife, since that’s the one thing you’ll need that won’t wait. Keep it on you always. I’ve bullied that old blowhard, Elijah, into sending it along with his letter and mine, in the hopes that you will be prepared when the time comes. You’ll understand. He’d better have done so, too, or he’ll answer to me. You may hear something about a preparation ritual when you get here, but it’s vital you speak to me first.”

Weirder and weirder. Rituals? “Prepared when the time comes”? He was starting to doubt the woman’s sanity.

There wasn’t much left to the letter. “I’ll tell you the rest when you get here,” it read. The rest? She hadn’t told him anything. “See you soon! Safe travels!” the letter finished. “Love, Virginia.”

“Virginia!” Eamon exclaimed, sounding surprised. “Virginia Clement?”

Glenn turned over the cryptically nutty letter and the envelope, then shrugged. “Just says Virginia.” When Eamon said nothing else he set them aside as well and retrieved the third item from the box. Now that he knew what it was, he could tell that the heavy manila envelope contained a knife, and not the kind you buttered English muffins with.

He tore open the end carefully and reached in to withdraw a wood-gripped fixed-blade hunting knife in a black leather sheath. Settling the envelope aside Glenn pulled off the sheath in wonder, revealing a wide, gleaming steel blade that had to be a good seven inches in length from crossbar to tip. The top third or so of the unedged side dipped inward in a shallow but elegant clip point. “‘Now that’s a knoife’,” Glenn drawled, clasping the grip firmly as he turned the blade this way and that, watching it catch the light.

Eamon’s brows drew together. “Huh?”

Glenn was about to explain when suddenly he felt his heart tighten and expand at the same time. Fire poured through all his veins, forcing a hard gasp of shock out of him. His muscles and skin seemed to shiver and itch as if he were being flooded with an unknown force. His body seized, his grip on the knife so hard now his fingertips were turning white.

Eamon was out of his chair and grasping his arms tightly, trying to catch his stare. “Glenn! Glenn, listen to me,” he said. “It’s okay. Just breathe slowly and let it flow through you.”

Glenn still felt like blazing heat was tearing though him—arms, chest, eyeballs, everywhere. His eyes flicked to the knife—but it wasn’t the knife, because the fire was coming from him.

“Look at me,” Eamon coached, his deep, soothing voice breaking through Glenn’s panic. Glenn locked onto those coal-black eyes and felt himself calming. “Breathe, Glenn. Breathe.” Glenn forced himself to breathe slowly, in and out, Eamon breathing with him. Though the heat did not abate his panic fell away, replaced, weirdly, with arousal as intense as the panic had been. He kept breathing, trying to ignore his flushed skin and growing erection.

They breathed together for another minute, Eamon still gripping him firmly, while Glenn held the knife tightly. “That’s it,” Eamon soothed. Glenn’s eyes must have been asking what the fuck had just happened, because Eamon reluctantly explained. “This is you. Your true self coming out. You are mountain folk after all,” he said, sounding a little awed and strangely relieved, given his earlier agitation.

Glenn stared at him, not understanding. “Your animal nature was bound, using your grandfather’s knife as the talisman,” Eamon said. “Now that you have touched the knife, it will be unleashed totally at the next full moon.” He looked Glenn over worriedly. “You are not ready,” he added, as if Glenn had been measured and come up woefully short. He was suddenly acutely conscious again of their difference in size. Compared to a big hairy giant like Eamon, it was not difficult to imagine not measuring up.

Glenn was starting to feel overwhelmed. He’d had a hyperventilation attack once as a kid, and he was afraid he might be on the verge of another. “Ready for what?” he asked, a little hysterically. “What do you mean, ‘animal nature’? What the hell are ‘mountain folk’?”

Eamon, still gripping him reassuringly by the arms, held his gaze for a long moment. “Glenn,” he said, “you are a were-creature. Your nature is half bear, half man. Someday you will have to choose, and embrace the animal.” He drew in a breath, his lips twisting crookedly. “It is what the Sheridans of the Mountain are and have always been. The Sheridans… and the Conroys.”

Glenn, still feeling bathed in fire of all kinds, still hand the wit to understand his meaning. “You—?” he asked. Eamon nodded, and suddenly Glenn let out a long breath. He didn’t understand what was happening to him, but the fact that he had Eamon to go through it with made the rest of it almost not matter.

He grinned, and Eamon grinned too, stoking Glenn’s sudden desire, though the big man’s expression was still one of concern. “You will have to become stronger, much stronger. Strong enough to survive the transition,” he said. “I will help,” he added, and Glenn knew it was no casual offer of assistance. When Eamon promised something like that it was a vow he would do anything to fulfill. A vow to what, though? Become stronger, before the full moon? Three weeks. How did he become stronger in three weeks? Glenn remembered the ritual Virginia had mentioned in her letter, and gulped.

But he would have to ask later, because right now his body was increasingly, unbearably consumed with lust, and his long, heavy, much-speculated-about cock was surging recklessly in his underwearless jeans, spitting hot precum on his bare thigh underneath.

He licked his lips, holding Eamon’s gaze, drinking in his scent, his allure. He could almost feel the brush of that stubble on his own smooth, hairless skin, the firmness of those hair-covered muscles under his appreciative tongue.

“This ‘animal nature’,” Glenn said, panting slightly. “Does it mean I’m suddenly going to be horny as fuck all the time?” His eyes fell to Eamon’s dark red lips. “The way I am right now?”

Eamon’s eyes somehow seemed to get even darker. “Yes,” the bigger man agreed in his deepest voice, right before their mouths finally crashed together in a searing, heart-shattering kiss.

Glenn was immeasurably grateful this was the last swim meet of the season. Ever since that afternoon he’d held the knife it was like his libido had ramped up fivefold from before. He was acutely conscious of the latent sensuality of those around him everywhere he went—classes, the dining hall, the movies, everywhere. Even his semester-end final exams this last week had been torture. He’d sat there in the lecture hall for his poli-sci course with a raging erection fighting for his attention, intensely aware of the movements of a hundred shoulders and backs under a hundred shirts and the shifting of every set of legs and butts as people scribbled frantically in their blue books all around him. He swore he could actually smell the physicality and allure of every man and woman in the room. He had no idea what he’d even written in his essays, though he was pretty sure he’d attributed sexual motives for just about everything covered in the course from the reforms of Kleisthenes to Franklin’s drafting of the Treaty of Paris.

That was bad enough, but two squads of lanky, wet, extremely fit swim-heads in skimpy Speedos? By the time his team had trounced their opponents from St. Cecil’s College and they were all padding back to their respective locker rooms even his usual go-to boner defuser, Madeleine Albright posing in a one-piece, was starting to fail him. As they hurried out of the pool area to the showers beyond he had room in his mind to be amazed that the usual rush of victory and the exhilaration of a cheering crowd and his own laughing, waving, back-slapping teammates was, incredibly, being rudely pushed aside by the mesmerizing metronome of Ashton Smith’s hard, round, undulating ass, hugged tightly in blue swim togs, directly in front of him as they hustled town the narrow, tiled corridor into the adjacent facilities.

And that wasn’t taking into account his best friend Eamon being out there in the crowd, watching Glenn with burning eyes, his passion always banked and ready. They’d made out helplessly a few times since that afternoon, but hadn’t done anything more, yet, and Glenn had been almost glad of his hectic semester-end schedule. It almost hurt how much he wanted to see Eamon naked and find out if he really wanted him. The idea made him quiver and his body stir. If he actually looked over right now toward the stands and saw that bearded lumberjack face there was no way he could stop the hard-on that was banging on his door right now, begging to be let out.

He couldn’t shower, he realized. Not when he was like this. If he took off his own Speedos right now it would be like pulling the cord on a fucking life raft. Getting squeaky clean and washing the chlorine off was a post-meet ritual he was loath to leave aside, but unleashing his inner sex-animal in the home-team locker room would be a… problematic end to a winning season.

Once they were in the locker room he went straight to his locker, trying not to look at anything, ignoring the rowdy celebratory play around him. He felt like he was halfway to a fugue state, his mind racing like a Lamborghini, his blood hot and torrential. He stared into the tall, narrow space, increasingly anxious as he fought off the flood of young, giddy, peak-potency masculinity all around him.

He wouldn’t even take off his Speedo. Too risky. He would just put on his street clothes over his togs and just walk out. No steamy, naked shower, no after-party at Remigio’s with the maleness building around him until his cock was so hard he could drill his own holes in the keg. He still didn’t know what to think of Eamon’s confession/explanation that they were both werecreatures, some complex amalgam of bear and man, but he could feel something in him, something raw and primal, aching to break free and rampage through this entire locker room, fucking every single beautiful man-ass in sight…

He swallowed hard and reached for his jeans, which were hanging from a beltloop on one of the hooks inside the locker. His gaze glanced off the knife he now wore with him everywhere attached to his belt via the built-in belt slots in the sturdy leather sheath. Thinking about the knife right now made him remember that sudden inner breakthrough of power and potency he’d experienced the moment he’d grasped the hilt. Even now that same feeling, unquenched and always burning, threatened to blaze again like a sun.

Someday you will have to choose, and embrace the animal…

“You were a real beast out there, Davison!” someone said, very close.

Glenn started, the words hitting uncomfortably close to his own inner thoughts. The speaker was a male presence immediately to his left; with some trepidation he turned his head to see Bobby Conway standing right next to him. Glenn gulped. He must have been rooted there spacing at his locker for longer than he’d realized, because Bobby was already wet from the shower, smelling of soap and radiating soft, steam-soaked heat from the hot spray he’d just been under. He was also completely, unselfconsciously naked, not a towel or Speedo in sight, showing off acres of tight, defined muscle under smooth, creamy, peanut-butter-colored skin. He was fringed along his sternum and around his heavy cock with black, wiry hair, and Glenn wanted to get close to it and huff, deep and long.

He forced himself to meet Bobby’s gaze. “A… beast?” he repeated, unable to form any thoughts under than don’t get hard… don’t get hard…

Bobby’s eyes were alight. “Yeah, man, you were killing it out there! Didn’t you see your numbers?” he said. “Total beast mode, dude!” He smirked and added, “No wonder your pec-hair’s coming out. You forget to shave your chest, cover boy?”

To Glenn’s amazement Bobby lifted his hand and started brushing the crook of his index finger over the gently curved swell of Glenn’s much-admired pecs, riffling the thin, brown hairs there—hairs that Glenn had never had before today. He stared down, following the stroking of Bobby’s finger in wonder. Naturally hairless from his ears to his belly button since early puberty had struck him at age nine, Glenn had always joked that his follicle-free torso was a sign from the gods that he was destined to be a champion swimmer, the next Mark Spitz or Matt Biondi. Now, all that was like it had never been. He could feel the movement of every hair as Bobby brushed over them. He was no Eamon yet—next to Eamon he was still as hairless as shaved balloon—but the hair he saw, though thin and new and far from dense, was spread over his pecs like a lawn that had been carefully seeded from sidewalk to flowerbed. It felt like virility, nascent and promising.

The animal fire surged in him as he looked up at Bobby. The other boy had been watching his own slow caress just like Glenn had, but he lifted his chin in perfect sync with Glenn, meeting his gaze, as if their bodies, or their volition, were somehow connected. Bobby’s hand dropped, and they stood before each other, inches apart, naked and mostly naked, aware of nothing but skin and muscle and heat. A minute, irrepressible sun seemed to rage inside Glenn, and he wasn’t sure its radiance wouldn’t leak out of him through every pore, setting the whole place ablaze. He couldn’t control anything. The potency saturated him, overcoming all of what he was.

Bobby stared into his eyes as if he could no longer look away. Glenn felt Bobby’s lust kindling inside him, and sensed without looking down the tentative swelling of Bobby’s thick, uncut member and the tautening of his loose-hanging balls.

Glenn felt himself staring even harder into Bobby’s deep, brown, infatuated eyes. Kiss me, he thought.

Bobby’s eyes dropped to Glenn’s mouth. As Glenn watched, the tip of Bobby’s tongue emerged, wet and pink, sliding along the intoxicating, wine-red surface of Bobby’s lips.

Bobby’s face moved irresistibly toward his.

“Hey! Conway! Davison! You guys coming or what?” someone yelled.

Glenn caught his breath, momentarily misprocessing the question in his current sexual haze. He watched as Bobby blinked like he was surfacing from a trance.

All of a sudden the sounds and smells of the locker room crashed over him like the Red Sea drowning the pharaoh’s armies. Bobby was still looking at him, but now he was just a normal, grinning teammate again—though Glenn could sense somehow that the lust Glenn had sparked in him had not yet dissipated, if it ever would.

“Yeah, get dressed, fools!” someone else called out. “There’s beer to be drunk and buxom fans to flirt with!”

Glenn was glad of the chance to look away from Bobby to see two of the guys, Hayes and Ramos, hanging back from the rest of the team, which was already in street clothes and piling out of the locker room, gabbling and exuberant. They were looking at Glenn and Bobby expectantly.

Glenn offered them a weak smile. “I’ll catch you guys up!” he said cheerily. As if, he thought. A confined space full of rowdy, hormonal athletes and their excited admirers, heady brew rapidly loosening their inhibitions? No fucking way was he getting anywhere near that, star of the meet or not.

Hayes and Ramos smiled and saluted. “Last one there buys the first round!” Ramos shouted over his shoulder as they left.

Glenn turned back to Bobby just in time to see his naked butt disappearing behind the end of the lockers. He stared after him, feeling, all of a sudden, weirdly alone and alien.

He turned back to his locker and reached in again for his jeans, confused and unnerved. Whatever that was that I did to him, he thought angrily, I am never doing that again, not ever. He only hoped his dick was as strong-willed as he was.

Eamon was nowhere to be found in the athletic center lobby, but his friend’s absence was explained as Glenn headed out to the building into the twilit parking lot. There, leaning against the passenger side of the sporty used-but-near-cherry blue-metallic second-gen Toyota MR2 that Glenn had barely managed to scrape together his modeling fees to obtain, was a large, shadowy figure that easily dwarfed the car, like Paul Bunyan reclining against Mount Rushmore. Glenn approached with a shiver of awe trickling up his spine, glad the dark-enshrouded figure was his friend. What would it be like to be the bad side of a brute like that? He gripped the shoulder strap of his gym-bag tightly.

“I don’t know how you talk me into getting into this matchbox,” Eamon growled playfully as he walked up. “It’s like a clown car that only fits one clown.”

Smiling brilliantly at him, Glenn diverted himself at the last minute toward the driver’s-side door. He was still feeling the heat of whatever had happened in the locker room. If he stood in front of Eamon now, there might be some increasingly X-rated footage rolling up on the athletic center’s security monitors before too long. Instead he put the car between them, winking at Eamon over the smooth, well-polished roof. “I just like seeing your knees pressed up against the glove box,” he said truthfully as he retrieved his keys from his pocket. “It’s kind of a turn-on.” Honestly, he might even have picked out his sexy blue “Mister 2” as much for how hot Eamon would look packed into the passenger seat as for its augmentation of Glenn’s own classically photogenic allure—at this point he wasn’t quite certain.

Eamon eyed him steadily. Glenn could tell he still wasn’t used to his friend flirting with him and meaning it, as he had been since that fateful package had arrived; but he definitely didn’t mind. “Yeah, well, when we go up to the Mountain tomorrow we’re taking my truck,” he said.

Glenn froze in the act of unlocking his door and looked up at Eamon in surprise. “Tomorrow?” he said, though the idea of them going up together felt just as unexpected. Eamon had promised to help, sure, but the truth was that Glenn had been so focused on facing the unknowns of his metaphorical journey, one that felt unique and singular to him, that he hadn’t thought much on literally getting up the mountain, or what he would do when he got there. A one-man path into the hidden forest of his own future, his own self, lay before him, and it was hard to imagine his bear of a friend crashing through the trees beside him.

Eamon was still regarding him seriously. “We agreed to stay as long as the meet,” he said patiently. “You were committed, and that’s fine. But that also means there’s only two and a half weeks now until the full moon, and you—are—not—ready.”

“How can I be ‘ready’ in two and a half weeks, though?” Glenn protested. “You said I’m not strong enough. Physical training doesn’t work that fast!”

“Get in the car.”

“No!” Glenn said, feeling truculent and out of his depth. “Seriously, E! How the fuck am I going to be ‘ready’ in that amount of time?”

Eamon looked around slowly, then bent forward and spoke in a low voice that carried only as far as where Glenn stood on the other side of the Toyota. “Our power—our spirit—comes from the Mountain,” he said. “We are one with the Mountain, and it with us. Being there while you train matters. And,” Eamon added, leaning forward still further, a strange light in his coal-black eyes, “there are other things you will need to do to gain your strength. Things that will have much greater potency with the Mountain beneath you.”

Glenn shivered again, this time all over. Just that word, “beneath”, hit him hard, and the implications he let himself hear in Eamon’s words slid through him like a double shot of whisky on an empty stomach. He felt violent desire sparking anew throughout his being, in his skin and his flesh and his very bones. His cock heated and swelled against the Speedos he still wore under his jeans.

Suddenly it felt wrong to be wearing clothes. The olive polo he wore, the one that went so well with his lush brown hair and honey-colored eyes, suddenly seemed to chafe. “I have chest hair now,” he confessed, a little breathlessly.

The interest in Eamon’s eyes was unmistakable. He waited.

“I kind of want to show it off,” he went on recklessly. He let his eyes drop to the black tee shirt barely containing Eamon’s bulkily muscled, thickly-pelted torso. “In fact, I may make a rule for our trip that we’re not allowed to wear shirts. Ever.”

Eamon smiled a buccaneer’s smile, predatory and leering. “Good,” he said. “Start now.”

Without thinking Glenn immediately grabbed the back of his shirt just under his nape and hauled it off his proudly-honed swimmer’s physique in a single fluid motion, like a curator whipping the dust-tarp off a classical statue of Apollo or Antinoös. He stood before Eamon, the car still between them, suppressing an urge to openly pant as he clutched the wadded-up shirt in his fist, watching and waiting.

Eamon’s smile widened, but only slightly. Then he brought up his two meaty paws and grasped the collar of his tee shirt on either side of his Adam’s apple. Glenn sucked in a ragged breath, anticipating with an inner thrill what he suddenly knew was coming next.

With one powerful, effortless-looking heave, Eamon ripped open his shirt straight down his front from neck to hem, exposing the thick-haired darkness of his heavy pecs and flat, stone-hard belly. The sound of the fabric being rent seemed to fill and reverberate through the mostly empty parking lot, as if, for that one moment, Eamon tearing open his shirt was the only sound in the universe. Glenn found he was rigidly, painfully hard in his Speedos, and he actually had to reach into his jeans and adjust himself with his free hand. The action did not go unnoticed, and Eamon’s leering smile quirked to one side.

Slowly and deliberately, Eamon divested his mighty shoulders and heavy arms of the shredded remains of his unfortunate black tee. To Glenn it was almost as though he were performing a solemn ritual, foreswearing the covering of his ponderous chest forever more. When his movements were complete he faced Glenn, rags in hand and still as stone, naked and imposing from the waist up, the heat of his presence eerily palpable across the insignificant car’s breadth separating them.

“That’s your first rule, then,” Eamon said in a low, rough voice. “No shirts.” His stare bore into Glenn as he added, “Got any more?” Glenn wasn’t sure if it was a challenge or an invitation.

Glenn could barely breathe. “I’ll let you know,” he answered, a little dazedly.

They had to go, or fuck. Or both. Glenn opened the car door, barely aware of what he was doing. He tossed his bag and shirt into the back before climbing in and reaching over the unlock the passenger side door. Silently, Eamon got into the car, and Glenn started the engine and pulled out of the parking lot, each of them more aware of the other than ever. As they purred around the ring road to the other side of campus where the dorms were Glenn was certain that some kind of threshold had been passed. His old life was slipping away, unrecoverable and increasingly arcane, and he still had no idea what lay ahead—though he sure hoped it involved relief for his overpowering lust in the arms of a burly, ultra-masculine were-brother.

They walked past the door to Eamon’s small single without pause. The dorm was still and silent, most of the students having already left for the summer, giving it a strange, post-Chernobyl sort of vibe. He half expected to turn a corner and see the roving flashlights from trios of intrepid, heavily-tattooed YouTube urbexers warily exploring the forgotten hulk of Caparasso Hall.

They got to Glenn’s door, Eamon’s presence like a six-foot-six space heater behind him. He swore his anus could feel the proximity of Eamon’s never-seen, often-imagined cock a bare hand’s-breadth away in the dim, quiet hallway. His eyes caught on a note from his roommate tacked to the bulletin board built into all the dorm’s room doors, wishing him luck at the meet and a good summer, and thanking him for always picking up his socks.

Glenn’s stomach fluttered. Definitely nothing to get in the way of what was about to happen now, he thought. He fished out his keys and almost dropped them before managing to unlock his door. He pushed it open and walked into the darkened room, Eamon right behind him. He didn’t flip on the lights, the faint, faraway luminance of the parking lot’s street lights below giving the room a graphic novel, silver-on-charcoal kind of feel.

“Come on in,” he said stupidly, like he was a realtor showing the place. He kept his back to Eamon, not sure he could face him. He was quivering with want, and when Eamon put his heavy mitts on his bare shoulders he felt as though he might burst apart.

“We don’t have to—” Eamon said, bending to murmur in his ear.

“Stop,” Glenn interrupted him. He grasped Eamon’s left hand convulsively with his right across his chest, squeezing it hard enough it should have been painful. To anyone but Eamon, it might have been. “You have no idea how much I want this.”

“That’s your animal talking,” Eamon warned him. “You have to understand your animal’s needs so you know what you’re embracing when—”

“Stop!” Glenn said again, pushing Eamon’s hand off him and whipping around to face him. “I want this,” he said hotly. “I want it. Me. My animal might be dousing me with extra-strength Mountain Viagra, but I—” He poked Eamon’s furry chest, his index finger sinking into the forest of dark hair the second knuckle, his eyes on Eamon’s the whole time. “—want—” He poked again, harder, not shifting Eamon so much as a millimeter. “—this.”

Eamon curled his lips back and bared his teeth, and an electric thrill ran through Glenn as he saw how they had changed, becoming sharper, heavier, more dangerous. He lifted the flat of his hand to Glenn’s perfectly sculpted, newly hair-dusted chest, placed it directly over Glenn’s sternum, and shoved—hard.

Glenn had a half-second of terror when he thought he might have made a horrible mistake. But Eamon hadn’t pushed him randomly. He was standing in front of one of the beds when it happened—his absent roommate’s, not that it mattered apart from the fact that it was stripped and bare. Like I’m about to be, Glenn thought feverishly as he hit the mattress. No sooner had he thought this than Eamon was grabbing his boots and wrenching them off like they offended him, hurling them aside to smack against who knows what where they handed. Knowing what was next he hurriedly undid his belt and fly just in time for Eamon to literally yank his jeans off and throw them into the obliteration of the darkened room beyond the only place in Creation that mattered, this bed and its soon-to-be union of two men consumed with a lust, and more than lust, more intense than any ordinary man could feel.

Glenn sidled back in the bed, his erection feeling huge as it thumped against its inadequate nylon/elastane constraints. Eamon climbed on after him, stalking him, and Glenn felt a sudden, massive swell of his inner animal fire. He bared his own teeth, challenging the older, more experienced man. A feral smile spread across Eamon’s bearded face. “You think you’re ready for me, cub?” he growled.

“I am so ready,” Glenn shot back. The fire was spreading through him, like he was being set ablaze from within, combustion coursing down every nerve and inflaming him flesh and soul. His skin itched, and his face felt like something was pulling on it.

Eamon was looming directly over him, his smile wry, his eyes literally glowing now, he saw—a dusky incandescent violet around a center of fathomless onyx. “Adorable,” Eamon said, his voice deeper than ever before. “The cub thinks he can turn.” He bent closer, his breath gusting across Glenn’s lower face. “Oh, I’ll get you there,” he promised. “I am going to feed your beast. Grow it until it’s so strong nothing can hold it back. And then will come that magnificent day when I tear open your cage and release you to the wild. But you’re going to need a lot of work before that can happen.”

“What are you going to do to me?” Glenn said. He made it sound like a challenge—a dare. Maybe it was. Glenn was more turned on than he had ever been in his life, but more than that he was absolutely certain that he was driving this transformation, not Eamon. “Tell me,” he commanded. “How are you going to feed my beast?”

Eamon sat up, towering over the paler figure he sat astride on the narrow bed. The silverly half light made his figure seem a purer darkness than anything around wherever he was covered by his pelt of heavy, black hair. Glenn thought that he was going to do something to make his words literal, like, maybe, snap his Speedos apart so that his boner sprang up into the open air, ready to be engulfed as it so desperately wanted to be. But Eamon didn’t reach for Glenn’s swim thong or his aching, seeping hard-on at all. Instead, he calmly unzipped his own fly.

Glenn watched, riveted, as the zip when down, slowly, audibly. He was holding his breath—maybe they both were. Eamon reached well into his fly and, with some difficultly, managed to haul out into the open what had to be the most massive pipe of a cock Glenn had ever seen.

Glenn gasped. It was huge—round and heavy, as thick as Glenn’s wrist, veiny, odorous, and just big, like it was designed to shove as far into a man as it was possible for any cock to shove and not do damage, and then maybe a few inches more than that. And it was leaking—not clear precum but what looked like actual, white cum, like when he was this aroused Eamon was already cumming long before he reached the explosive, monstrous eruption that constituted climax for him.

Glenn stared at it and understood. That was what would feed and grow and ready his beast—the cum of another beast. He bet that when he was on the Mountain, close to the source of his being, the beast-spunk would be that much more potent. The more of it he took into him, the more of an animal he himself would become.

Glenn grinned. He was going to be the biggest, baddest beast that Mountain had ever seen. He looked Eamon right in his glowing, hungry eyes. “Give it to me,” he commanded.

Before his racing heart had thumped again Eamon had done exactly that, shoving his massive dick deep into Glenn’s mouth and forcing it down his throat. He should have choked—he’d never sucked any cock, let alone a tool as gargantuan as Eamon’s—but his throat was ready. Somehow, he was ready. He took it, and it was bliss.

Eamon stared down at him, fixated and hot with pleasure. Very deliberately, Glenn moved his tongue and lips, stimulating the shift of Eamon’s enormous tool, keeping his eyes trained on Eamon’s. Eamon made a tiny noise, and suddenly he was cumming spectacularly, a gusher that that seemed to be releasing pints of hot, thick spend directly into Glenn’s throat. He felt it shoot down his body, smacking hard into his stomach and accumulating there as its potency spread through him like uncontrolled wildfires. Already close from the moment Eamon climbed onto the bed after him, Glenn careened madly over the edge and came just as hard in his inadequate Speedos, not only wetting his hip and legs with his spurts but actually pushing through the fabric of his togs.

Eamon pulled out of him, his size and hardness completely unchanged. He was breathing hard, watching Glenn closely.

Glenn grinned fiercely up at him. “More,” he rasped. “Give me more.”

Eamon bared his teeth and growled in answer, more than happy to comply.

Glenn tapped against the door armrest of Eamon’s truck, trying to ignore the hardon threatening to tear through his battered old “traveling jeans” and the way his muscles were subtly tingling all over, like his body was planning an uprising or a big, blow-out surprise party and was having trouble keeping it a secret. His new crop of short, downy chest hair felt ever so slightly itchy, too, though he’d pretty much decided that was mostly psychosomatic, like the new hair was gently flicking his fine nerve ends just to get his attention. Though still sparse it ranged over every inch of his previously hairless pecs, promising the full Thomas Magnum when it was all grown in; but having it in this thin, pliant, fledgling form was exciting all by itself, like having the chance to watch—to experience—the creation of life a thousand times over in minuscule.

His fingers twitched to brush over the burgeoning follicles in all different ways. The backs of his fingers gliding over the curve of his chest, feeling the novelty of all this soft new hair against the firmness of his powerful and widely admired swimmer’s pecs. Fingertips sliding along the cleavage of his sternum, a trace of nail for extra tactile stimulation. A full-palm grope over the thick mean of a chest that no longer belonged to the sleek, smooth pinup boy he was too used to identifying as.

And all that was just the beginning. Right now there was only a scanty swath covering the landscape of his chest from his collarbones to the curved overhang of his swimmer’s pecs, but he could sense, almost subliminally, other stretches of flesh eager to flourish with new growth in exactly the same way. For sure he’d have a dark path soon leading down the narrow aisle between his famous abs and plunging straight into his groin, merging with the smallish patch of public hair he’d kept closely cropped from the day he’d put on his first Speedo. His forearms, the curves of his delts, even his shins and the tops of his feet wanted to get in on the action, too. He thought he could almost feel his lush, chestnut-brown head hair thickening and proliferating as the rushing air from the open window whiffed playfully through it. His once-almost-nonexistent beard told him it was slowly and steadily spreading and filling in under the skin of his cheeks and jaws, building up its density and a ceaseless need to grow. It was hair all over, a full-body manliness upgrade—and that was without the prospect of “turning,” letting loose his animal and going full, feral beast.

Glenn swallowed. The implications of him being a shifter—that he could transform into a powerful, raging creature of the wild—were something he was still processing. His first rational instinct had been denial, but all that died the moment he’d gripped the knife and felt the presence of that animal spirit within him, an inextricable, living part of him, never to be denied. He had heard Eamon’s words about shifters and the mountain and his heritage as true and felt the kinship between them. And from that instant he had been flooded with power—physical power, emotional power, sexual power, all of it twined together like throbbing conduits of raw, concentrated universal energy pulsing through him, injecting his muscles, strengthening his heart, tingling his skin, pouring into his cock and balls and inundating him with ardent, unrelenting need so potent it actually seeped out of him like a drowned barrel of illicitly dumped toxic waste, infecting anyone who came to close, filling their eyes with lust and waking their deepest desires—and their dicks, too.

That was the part that had taken him totally by surprise. He could deal with being a shifter, because the idea of a shifter was a thing. He thought he knew at least the general parameters of what to expect; and anyway the presence of his animal inside him, once released from its bindings by the spelled knife, felt utterly natural. The leaking libido thing, though—what the fuck was that? He was so horny all the time now he could barely control his own constant, unrelenting, all-consuming need to kiss, to fuck, to get off, to release his spend and his euphoria in beautiful bursts of exploding pleasure. How could he resist the temptation to draw hot guys to him, to pull them close with his inner power and steadily intensifying masculinity? Even now, the thought pestered him that he should have let Bobby kiss him, that he would have enjoyed the deep-tongued make-out that had been seconds away in the locker room. All Glenn had done was prime him to feel something he would totally have been grateful to have experienced…

Glenn shivered, watching the wooded countryside fly past them through the open passenger-seat window, still vibrant and thriving despite the world-muting effect of the ominously dark sky above. These feelings and needs would be even more intense once he was on the mountain, Eamon had said. Probably a lot more, like, “this is nothing” levels of difference between what he was feeling now and what he’d experience when he was on that mountain, standing on his family’s land, the magnificent, undying source of everything that was happening to him and all his ancestors churning away in the deep, rocky earth under his boots.

It sounded now like… too much. Way too much. For the first time, Glenn asked himself whether he really wanted this after all.

Eamon was a mountain all by himself, but Glenn was just a pretty-boy swim star. Hadn’t Eamon had said more than once that Glenn wasn’t ready, that he wasn’t strong enough? And all at once Glenn believed him. Becoming a full shifter and embracing your core being as an animal under the first full moon on the mountain was clearly a rough and difficult transition, and Eamon’s concern and quiet urgency made him wonder if he was worried about Glenn because even Eamon had had trouble with it. Would he be able to do it? What would happen if he didn’t? Would he die? Endure endless agony? What was he setting himself up for?

And—fuck. Did he even want to be this other Glenn, this heir and scion of the storied Sheridan clan, whose being was bound to his animal and to this peculiar, commanding mountain he only knew from the stories of others and the low, constant, wordless tugging of his own guts? It was like he’d gotten two new destinies, neither of which he was prepared for.

Eamon had apparently noticed his shiver. “You cold?” he asked over the road noise and the pre-storm wind gusting through the open windows. “I… think I’ve got an old tee shirt in the back, if you want.”

Glenn’s lips curved at the teasing. “Rule one,” he repeated, eyes still on the passing scenery. “No shirts.”

He could hear the smile in Eamon’s voice as he answered, “Just checking, cub.”

“I’m not your ‘cub’,” Glenn said, still smiling. It was probably the third time today he’d said it, and probably not the last, but Eamon seemed committed. Glenn had a feeling his buddy probably knew he cherished the pet name—and the reminders of their hot sex the night before.

His dick surged. Almost unwillingly he looked over at Eamon, having to stop himself from audibly taking in a breath. His whole body reacted at the sight of him, flushing with heat and an id-driven need to incite Eamon’s arousal and the deeply gratifying affectionate, amused dominance he’d shown him the previous night after the meet. He looked absolutely at home in the driver’s seat of his blue ‘89 Dakota four-by-four, a big guy in a big truck, his rule-number-one-enforced shirtlessness exposing every inch of his torso’s thick, near-black pelt and massive, bones-of-the-earth muscles that made him look like he could park this truck and lift it over his head if necessary.

But Glenn’s eyes slid right over those protruding, boulder pecs, straight down the fuzzy, flat belly, to fixate on the abnormally large, tightly-packed bulge in the crotch of Eamon’s dark, sturdy jeans.

He stared, imagining the pants gone and Eamon’s improbably massive, unyielding cock jutting straight up from his groin like a thick, granite pillar erected by some ancient civilization, only of flesh, not stone, spilling its bottomless supply of hot seed from its wide, tongue-loving slit.

“Hey, um, are you thirsty?” he heard himself say, the imagined towering erection overlaying the bulging junk of Eamon’s package in his mind. “Because I am. Thirsty, I mean. So fucking thirsty.”

He felt rather than saw his friend’s glance to see where Glenn was staring. Eamon snorted. “You like what you got a taste of last night?”

“It was like, I dunno,” Glenn said distractedly. “The best drinking fountain ever.” It was slightly alarming how he could so easily picture that monumental dick, standing up between his legs as he drove, pouring loose Eamon’s flood of pre-orgasm seed. And Glenn wanted to fill his mouth with it, drink it down its release, guzzle it like a frat boy with a beer bong with his bro chanting encouragement for him to chug it all.

A tiny part of his brain wondered curiously at his sudden need for cocksucking. Was it an innate drive to supply himself with the mountain-potency Eamon’s cum built up on him? Or did just really love sucking hard, leaky cock? Glenn didn’t care—he really didn’t. He just knew what he wanted, and it was Eamon’s huge, rigid, cum-spurting prick in his mouth and ass.

Eamon snorted another laugh. “You’ll get your chance, slurp-boy,” he teased. Glenn quickly went to undo his seat belt, but Eamon stopped him, playfully pushing him back against the seat. “Not while I’m driving, asshole,” he growled, though he still sounded amused—and, maybe, aroused as well. Eamon had always been close but closed off with him in certain ways, understandably in retrospect, and Glenn was enjoying these glimpses into his inner feelings and hidden desires. Especially where they involved him.

With an effort, Glenn finally pulled his eyes up to Eamon’s face. He looked intense but relaxed, at home in Glenn’s company as always despite the change in their relationship from secret shifter and normal guy to were-sage and were-padawan. “I’m that good, huh? I’m so fine at blowing you that you think you’ll wreck the truck if I make you cum again?”

“Don’t get cocky,” Eamon said, amused, and Glenn preened, feeling confirmed in the quality his still-nascent cocksuckery. They drove like this for a bit, Glenn watching Eamon with a steady, intense gaze and a smirk that was, despite the admonition, ever so impressed with himself, while Eamon watched the road, equally smug at his own ability to hold Glenn’s uber-lusty attentions, before Glenn noticed they were pulling into the gravel parking area of what looked like a backwoods convenience store. The lot was empty apart from themselves and a forest-green Jeep Cherokee with muddy tires, a lot of gear in the back, and a faded Clinton-Gore ‘92 sticker on the rear bumper. Beyond the little store the forest looked tall and dangerous under the lowering, rain-feathered sky.

Glenn blinked and drew in a breath, feeling a little like he was surfacing from the intimate world only the two of them shared as awareness of the imminence of people and public spaces took hold of him. Eamon turned off the truck, leaving them surrounded by the background noise of gusting winds whiffling through the trees, and looked over at him. When Glenn didn’t make a move to get out of the truck, he asked, “What?”

Glenn cocked an eyebrow at him. “‘Slurp-boy’? Really?”

Eamon laughed. It was a rare sight, and it made Glenn’s heart flip a little. “Just acknowledging your talents, cub,” he said with a wink as he undid his seat belt and opened the door. “C’mon, let’s show the nice people your hot, hairy chest.”

Glenn grinned, watching as Eamon shut the truck door and headed into the shop before he moved to get out himself, hurrying toward the building as the first cold, fat drops of the coming storm spattered on his shoulders. Being in a cabin alone with Eamon on a mountain somewhere was starting to look like a really solid plan.

Inside, the store was disappointingly ordinary compared to its middle-of-nowhere, last-stop-before-the-carnage vibe: just a large, clean space with a few rows of shoulder-high shelves full of necessities and impulse buys basking under bright fluorescents, like they’d stopped into the Rexall’s in Manchester and not wandered into the gatekeeper scene in the first reel of a horror movie.

As soon as they were inside the rain started pattering on the gravel and cars outside, increasing rapidly to a loud background drumming that filled the shop like a white-noise generator. The wind pulled the glass door out of his hand, whipping it shut with a loud bang and drawing the attention of the other occupants of the store. To their left behind the counter lounged a pony-tailed, world-weary teenager; on the other side of the store two tall, good-looking thirtysomething guys, a bearded redhead and a mustachioed strawberry blond, were browsing in the automotive section, heads drawn close in conversation over their possible selections.

The clerk was noodling on a Game Boy, but she glanced up briefly to appraise the two shirtless men who’d just entered her store. She favored Eamon with a wary look before deciding he probably wasn’t there to fuck up the place. She then gave Glenn a curious once-over before shaking her head slightly and going back to tossing pokéballs, or whatever she was playing. Glenn smiled. He knew that look: that was the “too pretty, probably a jerk” look. He got that look a lot, and he’d had a fair amount of fun over the years convincing girls like her that he was not the preening, thin-skinned, thick-skulled asshole they’d thought he’d be.

The guys looked their way as well after the door slam announced their presence, the redhead lingering a few extra seconds over Glenn’s chiseled, just-starting-to-get-fuzzy torso before turning back to their consultation. Interesting. Glenn was used to getting ogled by men and women alike, but ever since his animal had been unleashed it was like he was more aggressively attractive—especially to men. Eamon noticed too, and turned to smile down at Glenn.

“Go flirt with those two,” he said.

Glenn’s first thought was that Eamon just wanted to watch him snag the attention of other guys, a bit of softcore porn to kill time while the storm played itself out. But the crafty look Eamon was giving him made him second-guess that idea. “Why?” he asked suspiciously.

Eamon bent down so he could lower his voice. “I want to see how strong your pull is,” he said.

His pull. Did he mean—? His mind flashed back to what had happened with Bobby in the locker room. He knew that Eamon hadn’t been there, hadn’t seen that happen, so how did he know? Unless—“This is a thing that happens, isn’t it?” he asked slowly. “With guys like me, who are—”

“Approaching their first shift,” Eamon finished. “With you, though it seems… strong. Too strong, maybe.”

Too strong? What did that mean?

“I want to see it in action,” Eamon went on. With a quirk of his lips he added, “Maybe a few times.”

Glenn barked a laugh. “So that’s the plan for our trip north? Stop in every town along the way and pick up any stray dudes we find?” He sensed the clerk look up in surprise in his peripheral vision and belatedly realized he’d spoken that last part with a little more volume than he’d intended. He turned his back on her a bit more, chagrined.

Eamon was unconcerned. If anything it seemed like he was enjoying Glenn feeling put on the spot. “Scientific method,” he said, dimpling under his beard. “Gotta collect data.”

The data. Glenn was almost physically aware of the male bodies of the two guys despite the distance separating them, as though his infectious, uncontainable libido were already seeking a connection with them even from across the room. It was too easy to imagine them falling for him instantly… succumbing to his allure, pulling off their clothes right there in front of the motor oil… kneeling down in front of his hard, desperate, cock—

Maybe not the best idea. He cleared his throat, feeling hot. “You know what, maybe you go collect data,” he suggested.

Eamon looked pointedly down at his own mountainous, pelted physique. “I’m a little too scary for most guys,” he said, wiggling his dark brows. “And I’m not the cub here.”

Glenn narrowed his eyes at him. “You’re not scary,” he scoffed, his mouth curving up on one side in a lopsided smirk.

“I can be scary,” Eamon assured him with a fond smile. Grabbing Glenn’s shoulders, he turned him and gave him a little nudge between the shoulder blades. “Now go!”

Glenn turned himself back around to face him. “How are we measuring this, then? Do I have to get a kiss, or—”

Eamon glancing toward the men judiciously. “Two kisses.”

“Uh huh,” Glenn said. “And what do I get out of it? What’s my prize?”

Eamon eyed him consideringly. He was definitely enjoying this. “If you succeed,” he said, his voice deepening even further to a low, sexy growl that gave Glenn actual goosebumps, “I may… let you top me.”

Glenn gaped up at him, stunned, then let himself be turned around again and pushed down the aisle in the direction of his unsuspecting quarry.

“My boyfriend over there said he’d let me top him if I got a kiss from you guys,” Glenn said. “You game?”

The two men browsing the store’s tiny automotive section looked up at him in shock. Probably not a lot of talk of man-kissing in these parts, he reckoned, though the Clinton bumper sticker was a good sign. Now that he had a closer look he saw the two men looked a lot alike: firm jaws, rosy lips, bumpy noses, long lashes. They had the same fine-pored, peach-tinted skin, too, and their jade-green eyes somehow seemed exactly alike, though Glenn couldn’t have said how. The main differences were the redhead’s well-trimmed beard (an interesting contrast to the much thicker and untamable facial hair Eamon sported) and the blond’s rather ‘70s mustache; the faint spray of freckles across the nose and upper cheeks of the redhead; and the shorter hair and oblong, rimless glasses on the blond. He was just an inch or two taller than the ginger (who was Glenn’s height, more or less), and, if Glenn had to guess, maybe a couple of years younger. They were both wearing solid-color pocket tees, black for the redhead and brown for the blond, and snug jeans, in both cases suggesting decent and similarly proportioned bodies underneath with just the hint, from their fitness and stance, that they could handle themselves if necessary.

Glenn hmphed inwardly, looking between them thoughtfully. Unless he was very wrong these two were brothers, which from their perspective probably made his opening salvo even more… unexpected. He glanced over at Eamon, but he seemed to be busying himself discussing the various kinds of jerky on display by the register with the prematurely jaded clerk. He was on his own.

Glenn looked back at the brothers. Every cell in his body was heating up, aroused and urging him to create mutual fireworks with these two handsome, older hunks. He wanted to step closer, erasing the distance between them, ensuring their susceptibility to his inhuman, animal charms. Glenn forced all that down. He’d told himself he wouldn’t use his fathomless, overflowing inner potency sex-mesmerize anymore, and he was trying to keep to that. Sure, maybe little tendrils of his heat and lust were creeping out of him—he couldn’t keep it all in, that was like putting your hands over a grate to stop seeping gas getting in the room. But he would do his damnedest to persuade, not command.

The redhead, for his part, was trying to maintain polite eye contact, but his eyes kept drifting south down Glenn’s firm, carved pecs and cut abs as if of their own accord. The blond, meanwhile, was eyeing at him uncertainly, like a man used to being a few steps ahead and unexpectedly finding himself without any idea what was going on. “He wants us to kiss—each other?” he asked with a frown.

Glenn grinned. “Naw,” he said, sliding almost automatically into the relaxed star-athlete sexyvibe he’d perfected ages ago. “Just me.” He kept his eyes bright and his smile wide and friendly while stuffing his hands in his back pockets, a posture girls usually found disarming. He hoped it worked on guys, too. “Quick and painless, right?” he added slyly. “Not too much of a hardship.” He winked subliminally at the redheaded older brother, who responded with a wisp of a smile.

The blond was giving him a level look. “Look—” he began.

“Glenn,” he offered with another high-wattage smile.

“Glenn,” the blond repeated. “You seem nice, but—”

“I am nice,” he said, and he saw, or felt, his words hit the two men with the force of truth. The blond’s mouth was still a hard line, but his shoulders relaxed a little, and Glenn’s stomach fluttered. Shit, he thought, that was dosed a little too strongly. Suddenly he realized the real reason Eamon was having him do this: he very much needed to practice controlling his overpowered, amp-on-11 sexual potency—and the time to start doing it was now, before he got to the mountain and it got ten times worse.

Given this new perspective, the interaction with these two guys took on new importance. He focused, reining himself in. He tried to concentrate on just being a regular, fun guy, if one that was exceptionally hot, and built like an Olympic athlete genetically bred for maximum sex appeal.

The blond seemed to struggle with what to say next, and for a moment the only sound was the drumming of the rain and the buzz of the fluorescents, while Glenn wondered about their dynamic. Was the younger brother always the spokesman for the pair of them? Or just when hot colleges guys hit on them? “Thanks for the offer,” he said finally, “but—”

“Do you know anything about motor oil?” the redhead cut in, looking like he wanted to prolong the encounter.

Glenn smiled at him. The blond sighed softly. “A bit,” Glenn said truthfully. “That your Jeep out front?”

“It’s borrowed,” the redhead, shrugging. “So I’m not sure what it needs. I’m Ares, by the way. And this is my brother Fee.”

Glenn felt his eyes widen. He turned to the blond with a grin. “Short for… Phoebus?” he asked. The blond hung his head, and Glenn laughed. “Don’t tell me,” he said, looking between them, “your parents were either classics professors, or die-hard pagans.”

“Both,” the brothers said in unison. Fee was looking up again, and there was amusement in his green eyes along with the expected exasperation. “One of each,” Ares added happily.

“Nice,” Glenn said. “So, what, you borrowed the Jeep for a trip up in the wilds?” He caught himself using Uncle Bram’s disdainful phrase and decided he was okay using it. “The wilds” had new meaning for him now.

Ares nodded. “We both carved out some time off, finally, and we figured getting away from the city and pitching a tent on a mountain somewhere for a couple weeks was exactly what we needed.”

“We’re tax lawyers,” Fee said, unwillingly drawn into the conversation. He still looked at Glenn as if he were a species of animal he wasn’t sure how to deal with. If only you knew, he thought.

“Wilcox and Wilcox,” Ares agreed, eyes twinkling.

Glenn grinned. “Yeah?” he said, unable to ignore the innuendo built into their last name. Ares matched his grin, like he enjoyed the childish jokes his own name inspired just as much as Glenn did.

“Stop,” Fee groaned. “Seriously, are you both five years old?”

Glenn looked him right in the eyes. “I’m 21, Fee,” he said. “All legal and everything.”

Fee met his stare, and Glenn saw he’d made headway with the younger brother after all. Meet him toe to toe, and you’ve got his interest, he thought. “You know,” he said, glancing back at Ares, “I just happen to be heading back up north to my grandpa’s property up Mill Mountain. Near Stark?” He looked between them. “I guarantee it’s the perfect place to, as you say, pitch a tent.”

Ares quirked a smile, exchanging a look with Fee. Glenn didn’t have any experience with siblings of his own, but he knew devotion when he saw it. Hard-nosed and skeptical Fee might be, but he would do anything for his big brother. “I’ve heard of Mill Mountain,” Fee said unexpectedly, still looking at Ares though he seemed to be speaking to Glenn. “It is beautiful up there. Majestic, somehow.”

“It is,” Glenn agreed, from gut feeling if not experience. The brothers looked at him, decided. Wild. This was not the result any of them would have expected. “And in case you’re wondering,” he continued breezily, “your fee for two weeks camping on my land is—”

“Let me guess,” Ares said with a chuckle. “One kiss each?”

Glenn gave him his most winning smile. He side-eyed Fee. “You won’t beat that price, Sunshine,” he said.

“Don’t call me—” Fee began tiredly, like he’d heard all the joke nicknames and was done with each and every one of them.

Ares cut him off. “Sold!” he said, and before Glenn knew it his lips were on Glenn’s. Glenn wasn’t sure if the guy was gay, curious, or just naturally open to Glenn’s seeping tendrils of sex-potency, but he sure didn’t seem to mind kissing a good-looking guy. He even parted his lips for Glenn, though he pulled back, red-cheeked and grinning, before their tongues could interact. Interesting, Glenn thought, fighting down his body’s fevered demand to seek more. Instead he turned to Fee with a shit-eating grin.

Fee was giving him a flinty look, though Glenn was sure he could feel a grudging connection between them starting to form as well. “On the cheek,” the blond said, his expression stern and uncompromising, though with a telltale glint in those jade-green eyes.

“I guess that’ll do, this time,” Glenn said, with exaggerated concession. Hands still in his back pockets, he leaned forward and ostentatiously presented his right cheek. Fee bent and gave it a peck, and Glenn was surprised to feel the warmth of his lips and the way it sent a little thrill up his back.

He leaned back. “Transaction complete,” he said. As he said this he remembered that the kisses had sealed another deal for him, and he had to fight down a sudden swell to near-orgasm as the thought of Eamon’s body under him, his tight hole opening reluctantly for Glenn’s long, insatiable cock—

He realized Fee was asking him something. “Hmm?” he said.

Fee had retrieved a notebook and pencil from somewhere and was ready to take notes. “I was just saying,” he said primly, “we need your info. Name, contact info, directions, all that.”

Glenn nodded. “I’ll get that for you. And my name’s—” He took a deep breath. If he was doing this, really doing this, not just laying claim to his ancestral land but inviting guests onto the mountain with him, then he might as well do it properly and take up the mantle that had been waiting for him all this time. He smiled at the brothers. “Glenn,” he said. “Glenn Sheridan.”

A form loomed over him where he lay in the sunlit meadow, the shape silhouetted by a bright morning sun behind him that seemed to lovingly burnish every curve and swell, from round traps and heavy biceps to a narrow waist and long, powerful thighs. The hair was dark brown, a shade lighter than his own, loose and lively as the light summer wind toyed with its strands. As the man shifted toward and Glenn’s eyes adjusted, he took in more and more of the magnificent, natural physique. Legs meant for pelting tirelessly through the forest. Arms built to pull down trees and shove boulders aside. A cock, hard and massive, that would fill any man with infinite pleasure and endless, white-hot cum. He was a beast, at one with the power and potency of the mountain, and yet he was also every inch a man.

Glenn drank his fill, eyes taking in every detail. The heavy pecs were covered in dense, lightly curled hair—as was most of his body—but the face was bare, no beard obscuring his brilliant smile, as though the man had shaved himself purposely for this moment. Honey-brown eyes bored into his. Glenn realized he was as hard as he had ever been. He swallowed, consumed with need, and then the moment shifted and the impossible cock was in him, taking up every inch of his insides. His body and mind were drowning in too much sensation. He was going to be lost.

The figure bent close, his heat taking Glenn from without even as his cock filled him from within. His smile and loving gaze steadied Glenn. The man thrust, kissing him gently at the same time, and Glenn’s heart broke at the sweetness of it. Glenn kissed him back hungrily, feeling transformed by the lovemaking and wanting more, and the figure obliged, driving deeper and kissing him with even greater passion, and all at once they both cumming with tremendous force, their orgasm endless and infinitely intense, changing him, growing him, binding them.

Glenn breathed out, a long, cleansing gust, and opened his eyes. He was alone in the meadow, the sun shining fondly down at him, but the man was still with him. Glenn smiled, and then, spontaneously and without explanation, he was cumming again, and again—

Glenn started awake, heart pounding. He was in Eamon’s pickup, rain drumming all around them. Guiltily he checked his pants, but though his big hard-on was there, present and accounted for, there was no lake of cum staining his jeans—a fact for which he was profoundly grateful.

“You okay there, cub?” Eamon asked, not looking over at him. He sounded amused, as though he knew or guessed what kind of dream Glenn had been having.

Glenn brushed his hand over his chest, still not used to the developing hairiness there. He felt—bulky. Was he bigger? He couldn’t be bigger, could he? His cock flexed at the idea, and Glenn couldn’t escape the sense of bulkiness there, too.

“I’m fine.” His anus twitched, remembering the dream. The man’s lovemaking had felt real, intimate and loving in a way his play with Eamon, though incredibly intense and pleasurable, so far had not been. Would he and Eamon find that, together? It was daunting to think that fucking his boyfriend might never bring him the bliss he’d had in that meadow, the mere artifact of a brief and passing dream.

They made good time to Stark. The truck pulled past the weathered, hand-crafted sign welcoming them to the secluded mountainside village (population 378, according to the little placard underneath—could a town be that small?) just past noon, a little under three and a half hours of Eamon’s careful driving after setting out, and that was with the rain slowing them down and the stop to “recruit” the Deity Brothers partway up back at the rustic old Reddy-Shop of the Damned. Glenn couldn’t help thinking it should take longer for your old life to fall away like a hiking companion dropping suddenly into a crevasse, never to be seen again.

No sooner had Eamon parked in front of the town’s meagre array of sturdy, old-fashioned storefronts than Glenn was out of the truck, slamming the door behind him and taking a few steps out into the hard, chilly rain. He’d felt the distant echoes all the way back in Durham, had hints of it on the drive up, but now… now it was real, a physical presence in his mind or body or soul or essence. The closer they’d gotten, the more he’d felt it, and here, in this place, it was with him fully, like an unbreakable, iron connection that his arrival had snapped firmly into place. This land—the land under his boots, the land rising in peaks and ridges behind him, unseen but unmistakable through the curtains of rain and mist—this was him. He was this land, and the land was him. Power surged through him—power that was lust, and awareness, and unknown ability. His animal stirred, conscious and alert, a real, discernable being inside him for the first time.

The constant cold rain battered his bare skin in a steady tattoo, but he barely noticed, his heart in his throat and his mind frazzled. For all that his arrival here felt like coming home, like missing pieces slotting into place, he was, at the same time, consumed with the anxiety of the unknown. His old self was washing away, and knowing it had been a lie, that this was where he belonged, only went so far in helping him understand who he was now, or who he would be. No family existed to guide him through this—all the Sheridans were dead or missing. He must find his own path, and these were woods and skies he did not know.

A broad, strong hand landed on his shoulder. He didn’t jump or react. He wanted to say something to Eamon, something pathetic and tragic like, “Who am I?” Just thinking the question made the impulse fade and die. He knew the pat answers Eamon would give. He was Glenn Sheridan, shifter, mountain folk, lover, friend. The problem was he had no idea what any of those meant—any but the last, at least.

Still, it gave him boxes to fill. It was a technique he’d used before to solve things that didn’t make sense to him, like voting, or organic chemistry. He pictured them in his head, four corrugated white banker’s boxes in a little row, labeled in marker in his own neat, narrow lettering: Sheridan. Shifter. Mountain folk. Lover. He just had to fill them.

Eamon’s hand squeezed, his grip light but firm. He couldn’t quite understand, Glenn knew, having grown up here knowing who he was and what this place meant; but coming back he must feel it. He knew some of what Glenn was dealing with, the rush of connection with the mountain.

Glenn turned his head and smiled up at the bigger man, the rain spattering his face as he did so. Eamon’s expression was intent, his coal-black eyes glinting even in the occluded light of the summer storm. Glenn deliberately let his gaze drop to Eamon’s succulent, bearded lips, and a ghost of a smile emerged, making Glenn’s pulse quicken just a bit. Indulgently, Eamon bent and covered Glenn’s mouth with his own. Almost instantly heat coursed through him, as if Eamon’s primal appeal held sway even over the icy rain pattering their skin and soaking their jeans, and his cock—never fully soft these days, especially around Eamon—roared to full and aching rigidity against the sodden denim. At the same time he felt a sudden slab of hardness pressing against his left buttcheek, telling him Eamon was just as affected by their kiss as he was. He tried to forget about the dream, but it loitered still on his edge of his consciousness, like a lover waiting for the moment to return to him.

The Wilcox brothers drove up a few moments later, pulling into the next spot over in front of one of the larger of the main street storefronts. Their borrowed green Jeep looked a little out of place amidst the various workhorse pickup trucks, Broncos, and 4Runners arrayed at right angles to the town’s main drag. Glenn and Eamon broke the kiss and looked their way, grinning at the brothers’ bemused expressions visible through the driver’s side window.

The redhead, Ares, cranked the window down and grinned back at them. “I take it umbrellas are against the law up here?” he teased over the patter of the rain. Phoebus, in the passenger seat, sported a more concerned expression, though whether he feared Glenn and Eamon might be exposing themselves to pneumonia or revealing their insanity by standing around in the rain making out, Glenn wasn’t sure.

“Damn right they are,” Eamon agreed. He seemed to be reveling in the inclement weather, as though any expression of the raw, physical world was natural to him. If there were no humans at all, Glenn thought, Eamon would be just fine. Well, they were halfway there—an isolated town, halfway up a mountain amidst the sprawling, primeval wilderness, the world of cities and airplanes and internet chat rooms lost and forgotten beyond a distant, sundering veil. He wondered if anyone here had ever heard of “The Macarena.” Probably not, the lucky bastards.

Fee leaned toward them, his ‘70s ‘stache curved downward. “We stopping here for food, or…?” he asked, nodding toward the more dominant of the stores in front of them. Glenn looked up to see a large weather-beaten sign mounted over the covered porch that read “Wentworth’s Dry Goods”, as if the 130 miles of their drive had covered the same number of years backwards in time as well. He huffed. Eamon had said something about things not changing much up here, and it sure looked like he hadn’t been kidding. The rain added to the eerie effect, draining the color from the world around him, as though Glenn and the others had driven into an eerie, monochrome world decidedly apart from the Kodachrome realities of 1999.

He flicked his gaze up and down the street, to either side of the “Dry Goods” store. To the north, up-mountain, there were a few more storefronts—most notably, a largish drinking establishment set a little apart from the others called Maureen’s Tavern (where, according to a lit-up but still muted blue neon sign, one might head in to purchase a cold, frosty Michelob if one so desired). A young-looking dog, a German shepherd from the ears and coloring, sheltered under the tavern’s overhang; though curled up and seemingly relaxed it watched the four newcomers with sentry-like alertness. No humans were visible anywhere, perhaps unsurprising given the rain, but it gave the place a strangely unpopulated feel; like the buildings were all part of a movie set and that were he to investigate he’d discover they were all just façades, with nothing behind them. A little past the tavern the shops ended abruptly, the main street empty for a ways. An abandoned brick mill bulked in the gloom some ways down; past that loomed nothing but the shadowy shapes of a vast, dark, misty forest.

The other way, to the right of the throwback dry goods store, he saw what looked like a very local, non-chain bank, and a squat, quaint-looking two-story post-office. A few more shops, and then an absolutely standard clapboard church stood quietly in the raid, requisite white steeple and all. Beyond that were a few (relatively) stately homes; more modest dwellings filled the side-streets beyond, parallel to the main road, until the skulking, half-shrouded forest took over the horizon barely a quarter-mile back. It was a picture-postcard scene in its own way: small-town New England at its most mundane. And yet to Glenn all of the human dwellings seemed to have an oddly dual nature, as though they belonged there but they also weren’t truly a part of the raw, intense connectedness Glenn felt to the land and to the mountain. Was that what Eamon had meant when he’d talked about “mountain folk” and “town folk”? Was he really something different and apart from the human-types living and working in these ordinary homes and buildings? He suppressed another shiver. The boxes, he coached himself. Just remember the boxes.

Eamon glanced up at hand-painted Wentworth’s marquee as if taking his bearings in the wild by the presence of a landmark tree or an idiosyncratically-shaped boulder. “We’ll get some supplies here, sure,” he told the brothers. “You can head in there if you want, see if there’s anything you’re lacking before we head up to Sheridan Hollow.” He pointed his bristly chin down the road to the right. “Glenn and I have to go to the post office first, but we’ll meet you back here.”

Glenn looked up at Eamon, the oddity of having a geographic place-name linked to his mysterious family of origin quickly crowded out of his head by the unexpected mention of errands at the post office. “We do?” he asked. He noticed from the corner of his eye that the Wilcoxes were watching them avidly, as if they were a live Netflix series the brothers had gotten hooked on.

“Yep. Have to see the lawyer, remember? He’s the postmaster, and his shingle’s hung there, too.”

Glenn grunted. He peered through the rain toward the forlorn, squat shape of the post office. It had a second story with a short bank of square, dark windows, so maybe the law offices were up there. Something prodded at his memory. There was someone else they had to see as well…

Suddenly he looked down at himself, belatedly remembering his half-dressed and waterlogged state. “Uh, E? Maybe we should, like, change into dry clothes first?” he suggested pointedly.

“Naw,” Eamon rumbled. Glenn waited for him to explain, but Eamon was seldom moved to say more than what he judged necessary. Perhaps this Elijah Paxton, Esq., didn’t give a hoot about his clients’ presentation and attire, though that struck Glenn as a bit odd for a lawyer, “backwoods” or otherwise. Or maybe to Eamon’s mind Mr. Paxton didn’t rate the trouble of changing into clean, dry clothes. That was more likely, given the scorn Eamon had exhibited toward town folk in general and Paxton in particular the night the package had come. Not to mention that he and Eamon would just end up getting drenched in the rain again soon enough.

Okay then, he thought. This should be interesting.

As if to punctuate his fuck-the-world attitude, Eamon bent and gave Glenn another very thorough kiss before wrapping an arm around him and steering him toward the sidewalk. “Okay, see you in a few,” Glenn said quickly, as he was propelled past the goggle-eyed brothers. He chided himself that he really needed to get Eamon to stop treating him like a kid—or, more accurately, a “cub”—but he also knew he’d probably have to earn it. Maybe that kind of alpha-male assertiveness was part of the “training.” At the moment all he could think about was the fact that the giddy, visceral transformation he’d been experiencing on a physical and metaphysical level, the feral legacy and inheritance of his bear-shifter ancestors, was about to gain the force of law.

Neither of them noticed as the dog lounging in front of the tavern uncurled itself, stood, yawned, and began trotting silently down the sidewalk behind them, ears peaked and eyes fixed on the two shifters as they made their way toward the humble post office and the law practice above.

For some reason Glenn had pictured Elijah Paxton’s small-town law practice as a one-man operation, so it was a bit of a surprise to find a round-faced, twenty-something bottle blonde in a not-unflattering sleeveless puce double-knit acting as Elijah’s gatekeeper.

Glenn took her in with interest. She was operating from behind an L-shaped desk in a wide, well-lit, filing-cabinet-lined antechamber situated in the center position on the upper floor, between the lawyer’s inner sanctum to the left and what looked like a seldom-used, shadowy conference room to the right, like it was her own personal lair. Her long, brassy hair clearly involved a great deal of maintenance, and by the standards of his collegiate gal-friends both her scarlet lip-gloss and her fruity perfume were just a bit beyond the pale. The faux-mahogany desk was pristine, sporting only a blank desk blotter; an old-fashioned desk phone with the clear-buttons along the bottom to switch between lines; a large white mug (filled with water, not coffee, it seemed); a pencil can full of identical, custom-printed ballpoints; and a green-shaded banker’s lamp. A standard-issue office Compaq office PC was parked to her left, the monitor filling endlessly with colorful 3D pipes. Behind her, a wide, square window showed the wet iron-gray sky outside—which, coincidentally, more or less matched the dark industrial carpet under their boots.

As if in deliberate evocation of every bored-secretary trope ever she was actually filing her matching scarlet nails when they entered, her legs crossed to show off navy-tinted nylons under a black skirt. A cursive, gold-plated pendant forming the word “May” rested on a necklace atop the sweater just above her cleavage—her name, Glenn guessed, unless she just liked the month.

As soon as the two wet, half-naked shifters bundled into her domain she froze in mid-manicure and looked up, eyes wide and nostrils flared. Glenn watched her, intrigued. Could she sense something about them, just from smell? Could anyone? You’ve got otherness stuck on the brain, he told himself sternly. Eamon’s so hairy he probably just smells like wet dog.

But the secretary was ignoring Eamon entirely. Instead she proceeded to give Glenn a slow, salacious once-over, like he was new meat come to town just to provide her with visual enjoyment. Her red-lined lips curved in predatory appraisal as she raked her eyes downward, lingering at Glenn’s crotch. Too late, Glenn remembered that not only was he shirtless, his close-fitting, rain-soaked jeans were very likely spotlighting the long, not-much-softened hardon he’d sprung the moment Eamon had touched him by the truck. He was used to showing off his assets, but not quite so crassly. Covering his boner with his hands now would be pointless, so without really thinking about it Glenn did what he always did whenever he was on the back foot: he used his masculine allure to instinctively take charge of the situation.

Shifting his shoulders in a way he knew showed off both his delts and his pecs to the best possible effect—that photo shoot last year had been very educational—Glenn stepped forward, dominating her field of vision, and offered her his most heartbreaking smile. Placing his hands on the edge of her desk, he leaned subtly toward her, giving her all his attention and focus. “Hi,” he said, letting his voice roughen ever so slightly, twisting his smile as he did so just enough to make it a bit crooked, in that way most guys and gals found impossibly endearing. “I’m Glenn.”

May’s hand flew to her chest, her cheeks coloring, and she started audibly panting. “Um—um—” she stammered, her eyes momentarily glassy as she gaped up at him.

Reflexively, Glenn took a step back, staring at her in alarm. Shit, he thought. Did she just—? Did I just—?

Behind him, Eamon snickered.

“Shit,” Glenn said aloud, his own cheeks warming in embarrassment. He gave the secretary a weak smile. “Sorry.”

“It’s—okay—” May squeaked. She was still breathing a little heavily. Quickly she snatched up the mug and took a long drink of whatever was in it, while Glenn fidgeted awkwardly in front of her.

Setting the mug down, she brushed her hair back and made an effort to compose herself, scotting closer to the desk and folding her hands on top of it. “C-can I help you gentlemen?” she asked. Her eye contact was firm, if a bit jittery.

“Yeah, I, uh,” Glenn tried. He gulped and started over. “My name’s Glenn Sheridan? I need to see—”

“Oh!” May interrupted him, her penciled eyebrows lifting. “Of—of course.” She picked up the phone and pressed one of the bottom buttons. “Elijah? Glenn Sheridan is here.” She paused, glancing up at Glenn as the lawyer responded. His voice was audible, if unintelligible, over the earpiece; either he was speaking loudly, or Glenn’s hearing had improved a notch or two.

“Got it,” she said when he was done. She replaced the phone and gave Glenn a shaky smile. “He’ll be right out.”

Glenn was biting his lip, fighting an urge to make things better by being even more charming. Fuck, he could literally feel Eamon’s amusement from behind him. He was never going to live this down, not ever. He kept his eyes on the secretary, trying to rein in his… potency. “Thanks,” he said meekly.

Now that she was past the shock May’s look was shifting, becoming appreciative on an entirely new level—like he’d graduated from casual boy toy to some kind of super-male Adonis in her mind. “No problem,” she said, her tone redolent with silky invitation.

Glenn wanted to take another step back, not liking the hungry look kindling in those pretty, dark blue eyes. Instead he held his ground and hung fire, waiting for the lawyer to rescue them, while behind him his unhelpful jerk of a boyfriend ate up his discomposure like popcorn. Bastard.

Elijah Paxton, patriarch, postmaster, and town lawyer from a long line of same, turned out to be a stooped, painfully introverted fifty-something in a simple blue suit and tie and a pair of old-fashioned brogued captoe dress shoes. He was taller than Glenn but still no match for Eamon, with a trim form, a thick shock of white hair, and a tendency to ask himself rhetorical questions under his breath. Like his secretary he ignored Eamon completely as he invited Glenn back into his office, though whether from distaste or Eamon’s lack of relevance to the proceedings Glenn couldn’t be sure. Eamon kept back, letting Glenn handle the dealings with the old man.

There was a set of ornate, red-upholstered chairs opposite the massive, stained-walnut desk, like the kind you might find in an investment bank or a gentleman’s club, but Glenn’s impulse was not to take them or get too comfortable in the presence of this man with unknown motives and whose trust his more experienced lover obviously did not have. He stood, squarely in front of the desk, and waited.

Once behind the formidable monstrosity, the meeting began. Throughout their business Elijah made a practice of keeping his eyes on the neat stacks of bulldogged documents he was shifting around, addressing Glenn but not looking at him, though once or twice he caught the old man’s gaze skittering up the taut ridges of his belly and up as far as his lightly-furred pecs before collapsing back to his papers. At first his talk was mostly self-directed comments about the papers he needed to make sure he had, though he did catch a muttered “What harm would a shirt do?” in the midst of all the talk.

None of the documents were explained to him, which was both irritating and rather a relief. Only a few actually needed his signature; these required May to be brought in as witness, despite the presence of Eamon lurking in the corner (and he made no move to volunteer in any event). The main instrument was the one by which, as promised in the lawyer’s original missive, Glenn agreed to take usus possession of the Sheridan property, real and otherwise, pending the resolution of the status of the missing heir-presumptive, Michael.

Glenn’s pen hovered over the signature line, hesitating. “Still no word on my…. father?” he asked, looking up from where he was stooped over the document on his side of the great desk. It seemed weird and oddly foreboding to refer to this unknown stranger, Michael Sheridan, as his actual dad, even in what should have been the relatively arid context of a legal transfer of ownership.

Elijah frowned but said nothing. Glenn flicked a look up at May, who looked sympathetic. “No?” Glenn prodded. “No idea where he is or what happened to him?”

“No,” the lawyer said firmly. His face stayed resolutely down, as though dealing with folks eye to eye was something he’d never gotten the hang of or seen any need for, but Glenn couldn’t help thinking there were a slate of words that were not being said. What did Paxton know that he wasn’t saying? Glenn surprised himself by briefly considering the use of his orgasm powers on the man just to get him to talk, but quickly packed the idea away with an inward shudder. That would be so wrong, in so many ways.

It occurred to Glenn that Eamon, too, might know more about his biological father than he was saying… which was nothing. Glancing over his shoulder at him to gauge his reaction to the conversation, he saw his giant boyfriend was scowling in unwitting imitation of the lawyer, his gaze fixed on the rain-ragged storm clouds visible through the double windows to their right. Glenn frowned, recalling now how sharply Eamon had said that name the first time it had come up between them. “Are you a Sheridan?” he’d demanded, suspicious and wary. At the time Glenn had figured the guy was just hurt that Glenn might have been concealing his shifter heritage from his closest friend; but now he wasn’t so sure that was all it had been. The name Sheridan meant something to Eamon. There was a history there Glenn didn’t know. At the very least the Conroys and Sheridans were separate clans, with their own traditions and shifter lore. Maybe it was live and let live, but maybe there was more to it than that.

Fuck. One more thing to find out and drop in the box marked “Sheridan”, then.

He turned back to the paper, feeling slightly ill from all the secrets. Glumly he skimmed through the text one more time. He sighed. He wasn’t screwing his biodad by signing this, at least as far as he could tell. If Michael Sheridan returned, everything reverted to him as true successor, should he accept the inheritance. Seeing no reason not to he dutifully scrawled “Glenn Sheridan” where indicated. He paused at the end, almost adding the “Davison”; but Glenn Davison was the boy his narrow-minded, possibly racist uncle (or speciesist? what were you if you hated shifters?) had raised to be ignorant of who he was. That boy was gone now, and already Glenn felt like he barely remembered him.

He passed the paper back to Elijah, who added his own scratchy signature before turning it to his secretary. She signed as well, writing “May Selena Abbott” in a thin, bouncy cursive.

A few more documents involved specific bequests and trusteeships. These were written in suspiciously opaque language, but as these had the same stipulation preserving his biological father’s rights should he turn up alive he signed these as well, all at once supremely ready to be done with this double-dealing and begin his training in the forest, surrounded by the reassuring simplicity of nature and the potent, symbiotic resonance of the mountain. Once the others appended their John Hancocks to final documents, May took all the signed papers to make copies while Elijah busied himself with stacking up the remaining bundles of clipped-together papers. These, still unexplained, were slid into a brown accordion folder (“But will he ever read them?” Elijah asked himself acidly as he worked, not quite under his breath), and the copies of the signed documents May brought back were added in on top. The old lawyer then slipped the attached elastic band over the accordion file, all prepared for handover; but instead of passing it to Glenn he placed it carefully in the middle of his now-empty desk, halfway across the expanse between them. Glenn frowned at it, puzzled. What, were they going to arm-wrestle for it?

The mystery was resolved when Elijah bent to open a low, cavernous desk drawer and pulled out a sturdy but well-worn russet-brown shoe box, which he set squarely atop the accordion file. On the lid of the box, in a thick, bold hand that was obviously not the lawyer’s (of May’s), someone had written “James Maxfield Sheridan—Effects”. Ah.

He wondered what was in there. Maybe it was important records not meant for Outsiders. Or it could contain more powerful talismans like the knife he now always kept by him. Or maybe it was just keychains and old receipts, like his grandad Davison’s house had been stuffed to the rafters with when he’d died.

Elijah sat back and steepled his fingers, eyes on the little monument he had created. He said nothing. May hovered nearby, looking uncertain. She, likewise, said nothing.

“Okay then,” Glenn said, resisting an urge to clap his hands together. “Uh, thank you for your assistance, Mr. Paxton, it’s been much appreciated.” A sixth sense told him that if he held out his hand to shake Paxton would likely ignore it, so he just scooped up the accordion file and the box. He lingered a second. “I guess I’ll check with you if I have any questions,” he said.

Elijah didn’t respond. It was almost as though the man thought he now sat in an empty room, or had been transformed into a waxwork the moment his task of handling the Sheridan inheritance was done, like a creature from a forgotten Goosebumps episode. Glenn looked at May, but now that the business was done that feral look was stealing swiftly back into her eyes, the one that said Glenn was a piece of meat for her to feast on. Glenn turned and left as quickly as he could with Eamon close behind him, the man’s palpable, profound annoyance back to being tempered with warm amusement that was very much at Glenn’s expense.

They tumbled down the steep stairs and through the post office lobby, heading for the glass doors that would take them back out into the warm, muggy afternoon. He’d shifted the box and file to a position under his right arm, though he’d been careful to avoid rotating or overturning the old shoebox, not sure what was inside. “Seriously, what was that all about?” Glenn said, as they emerged onto the sidewalk. The rain had trailed off to a drizzle, though the sky was still dark and ominous.

“He’s like that,” Eamon said, terse and closed.

“I’ll bet,” Glenn said. He was about turn back towards Wentworth’s where they’d be meeting up with the Deity Brothers, when he was arrested by the sight of a large dog sitting pertly in front of him, directly in his path. It was the German shepherd he’d spotted in front of the tavern, Glenn realized with a grin. As before he was watching them officiously, as though they might step out of line at any moment.

Glenn’s mood lifted instantly. He loved dogs, and not having one of his own was one of the many regrets of his childhood. “Hello,” he said cheerily, addressing the animal. “And who’s this?”

“I don’t know this one,” Eamon said, as though he had been the one asked. His tone was dark, as though the dog belonged to a secret masked brotherhood of questionable purpose.

Glenn smirked and knelt down a foot or so from the animal, setting his burdens to one side so he could interact directly with the dog. He was definitely a purebred shepherd, maybe three years old by the look of him, strong and healthy, with rich tawny fur marked with black on the back, face, ears, and the tip of his tail. The dog regarded him coolly, never taking his eyes off him, his tail not shifting an inch from where it curled around his haunches. He had no collar, but he was well-groomed and was obviously possessed of impeccable manners.

“Hello there, puppy,” Glenn said again, unable to hold back his excitement. “I’m Glenn. What’s your name?”

Nothing about the dog moved or twitched a millimeter, and yet Glenn was almost certain the animal was slightly peeved at being addressed as “puppy.” His stare grew even more icy. “Oh, you’re in charge around here, I can tell,” he cooed. “What’s your name then? Is it Chief? Mayor?”

The dog continued to watch him stonily, which Glenn found hilarious, though he kept his face equally straight. “No, that’s not grand enough,” he agreed. “King, then? Rex?”

The dog didn’t react. “We have work to do,” Eamon growled impatiently.

Glenn ignored the reminder of their looming full-moon deadline, less than two and a half weeks away, and tried thinking of other names of autocratic disposition. “Let’s see. Basil?” He could swear the dog grimaced imperceptibly. “Not Basil, then. Imperator? Czar? Pharaoh?” At this last the dog lifted his chin a fraction of an inch, and Glenn laughed in triumph. “Aha! There it is!” He extended his hand toward the dog, knuckles out. “What do you say, Pharaoh? Want to be friends?”

The dog eyed him imperiously. Glenn waited patiently, and after a moment the dog moved his muzzle forward and gave the back of Glenn’s hand a careful sniff. Then, to Glenn’s utter delight, Pharaoh let out his tongue and bestowed a brief, dignified lick.

Glenn pounced, hugging the dog with ferocious glee and scratching its head with gusto. The poor canine struggled, acting supremely offended. “You’re not getting out of it that easy, pup!” Glenn giggled, using both hands to scritch the dog hard from stem to stern. Pharaoh huffed and stopped resisting. Instead, he stood, muzzle high, and endured the indignity with stoic resignation.

At last Glenn fell back on his own haunches, still chuckling. The dog was giving him a leery side-eye. “All right, all right,” Glenn conceded, standing abruptly and giving the dog’s head one last ruffle. “I’ll stop teasing.” He leaned to grab his bundles and straightened, his heart immensely lighter for the encounter with the dog despite the trials ahead. He turned to Eamon. “Ready?”

His boyfriend’s look was inscrutable, but he said nothing, only nodding with his chin in the direction of the dry goods store. Glenn grinned and sauntered off to meet their friends, Eamon and Pharaoh following close behind him.

Glenn trotted up the wide, wooden steps to the Dry Goods store, Eamon’s stolid booted footfalls on the treads behind him filling the air like the clomping of a Clydesdale across an old-fashioned covered bridge. Pharaoh’s steps were completely silent—not even a scratch of nails across hard wood could be heard. Not having grown up around dogs, he wasn’t sure if this level of stealth was to be expected. He had a sudden urge to go hunting, something he had never done before, if only to watch the pup in action. What would he hunt in these woods, though? The first thing he’d learned about the grandfather he hadn’t known he had, the man whose meager effects were contained in the shoebox presently pressing against his forearm, was that he’d been felled by a poacher. A real pang of loss hit him just then, catching him by surprise. James Maxfield Sheridan had been more of an idea to him, an avatar of the heritage he’d passed on Glenn, but in that moment his heart ached for the chance to sit by a cookfire and be regaled with stories of his long life and all the strange things he’d seen and experienced.

Setting these thoughts aside, Glenn pushed open the glass door to the store, shop bells overhead celebrating his arrival. Instantly his weirdly acute sense of smell took in a hundred aromas, like a crowd pressing in on him. He marveled at being able to discern and identify them—anything he’d ever smelled before, he could now identify as if he were being asked to name the colors in a kaleidoscope. Tobacco, peppermint, and coffee hit him first, and more slipped in behind. Wild rice—yes, he knew that smell. Motor oil. Spices. The scent of new-baked breads, some simple and pure, some accented with the shaded scent of poppy seeds or melded with the rounded allure of garlic, making his stomach rumble just a tad. Nuts in barrels—cashews, peanuts, walnuts. Dried beans, their aromas earthy and low in the palate. A bit of leather, maybe denim? Later he found they did indeed have a small clothing section with some tee shirts, jeans, flannels, and boots, but for now it was something to guess at, and mark for later exploration.

More smells. The ink and thin, pulpy stock of fresh newspapers, stacked in a pile nearby. Warm wiring from the beverage and dairy coolers humming contentedly in the back. There was dried meat somewhere, too, though he already knew there was a butcher’s across the road to supply the real thing to those who didn’t hunt their own. He sniffed experimentally. Jerky? He consulted his animal, half-expecting it to perk up at the idea of prey-flesh nearby, but the beast was profoundly uninterested. Probably turns his muzzle up at anything that’s not raw and bloody, he thought. Either that, or he’s a vegetarian. He smiled at the thought.

Belatedly his other senses reasserted themselves and he realized he was just standing there, holding the shop door open like an idiot as he let himself get momentarily overwhelmed with all the smells. Eamon stomped past him without a glance, wet, hairy, and grouchy. Was his gruff mood just from being around town folk, or had Glenn done something to annoy him? His scent was strong, overpowering the odors of the shop for a moment as he passed, but familiar and, to Glenn, most alluring. Pharaoh sauntered in with him, tail still and poised in a neutral drape as though he were unconcerned about anything around him, a subtle scent that was nonetheless very distinct catching Glenn’s nose as he went. Glenn hesitated as he watched him pass, concerned he might be breaking the rules on his first day in town by letting a dog into the shop. Then he remembered the pup’s imperious attitude and grinned. Hey, if Pharaoh was in charge around here, like he seemed to think, who was Glenn to worry about shooing him out of anywhere he wanted to go?

He let go of the door and stepped into the shop, the bells tinkling again as the door closed itself behind him. He drew in a breath through his nose as moved down the nearest row, trying to catch more of the shop’s wares, but catching Eamon’s and Pharaoh’s scent had seemingly changed the bandwidth, like he’d flipped a dial from “people food” to “living beings” on his olfactory apparatus with a single, decisive ka-chunk. Instead, now he was aware of all of the humans (and Pharaoh) roaming the aisles of the expansive store, his brain already working tentatively to map their locations and movements like he’d been experiencing the world this way all his life and hadn’t known it.

It was so strange to him and so unlike the sense of smell he was accustomed to it was almost he’d acquired a new ability, to be ranked more with his recently-gained talent for inducing arousal (to the point of orgasm!) and slowly accreting chest hair and his sex-dream-nudged muscle growth than with his more mundane human faculties. Sure, he’d been aware of the chlorine scent of his teammates in the locker room. And he’d always known Eamon was around just from the smell of him, even before. That was… that had been normal, right? He had been normal, before. Then he’d grasped his grandpappy’s knife, and everything he hadn’t known about himself had busted free like demons from the gates of hell.

Once more, he felt the box and accordion file under his arm. What other tricky talismans and life-changing secrets had dear old insta-grandad bequeathed him? He itched to get himself somewhere private and start going through the shoe box, looking for clues to himself. Another part of him, anxious and afraid, was telling him to ditch the box and the papers and the knife and Eamon and just run, to get away from all this. He shook his head at his own fear. No way it wasn’t too late for that. But more important was the fact that he really did want to know. He wanted to understand everything—the sense of belonging, his animal, the dreams, the slow, undeniable transformation of his body from smooth centerfold boytoy to… well, from the looks of his grandfather in that photo, to something decidedly more “Sheridan.” He wanted to know. He would free every secret and tear aside every veil, and no one, not even Eamon, could stop him.

He took another slow, calming breath and tried to sort through and isolate the scent-images he was perceiving. Some of those present in the store, like Eamon, smelled of the outdoors and the damp of the afternoon shower that seemed to have temporarily cleared the main drag outside. There were two such scents close together, somewhere near the nuts he thought: clean-smelling, only slightly damp, and faintly familiar. Those, he was pretty sure, had to be his new friends Ares and Fee. A scent by the counter seemed young, male, and slightly dank, maybe a bit sweaty from spending a long time in the warmth of the store. Glenn looked around and picked out the likely culprit in this case: a young man close to his age, slim and reedy with light brown skin, dark, close-cropped hair, and a concerned expression. He stood behind the counter manning the register, tensely watching something going on in the store that Glenn couldn’t see. Glenn noted that the man’s plain blue short-sleeve button-down was lightly pitted, reassuringly corroborating what his nose was telling him.

Whatever had the young clerk frowning was out of Glenn’s eyeline, so he returned to his amazing aroma-power. There was a woman close by, with a mountain-smell not unlike Eamon’s but perceptibly different in a way that seemed significant. Near her was a man who smelled of dust and sour milk, an another who reminded Glenn of dried apples. All three figures were agitated, and Glenn couldn’t help thinking that some kind of confrontation was gathering between them, getting worse by the moment.

He looked around for Eamon but didn’t see him. Without any conscious decision, he started gravitating toward where he sensed the three individuals might be.

He crept down the nearest aisle toward the back of the store, trying to refine his fix on the three scents. He heard voices as he moved. “I can stay in town if I want to, Noah,” a female voice was saying, low and flat with anger. “You boys don’t have a say.”

“Lots of folks think they can stay where they don’t fit,” a rough baritone replied, reasonable to the point of patronizing. “It don’t take ’em long to realize their mistake, most of the time.”

Glenn rounded the far endcap and peered down the next aisle. A raven-haired woman stood in the middle of the aisle, half-full shopping basket in hand. She was flanked picturesquely by brightly colored canisters of oatmeal on one side and tinned tomatoes on the other, as though she were posing for Warhol or a painted ad spread in a 1950s issue of Life magazine. Glenn appreciated her beauty, more intense than he was used to from the girls he was used to fending off. All of her features were strong and feminine: her face was heart-shaped like a barn owl’s; her narrow nose was faintly freckled across the upper bridge; her eyes ice-blue, like a cold frost. Despite her loose blue flannel it was obvious she was powerfully built: though the two pale men she was facing off against had a good few inches on her, especially the gangly, crisply-dressed twenty-something with messy brown hair standing in the center of the aisle, feet apart and shoulders tense, Glenn had no doubts she could take them both in a fair fight.

It might come to that, he realized. Glenn saw with alarm that the man facing off against the raven-haired woman seemed to be contemplating real violence toward her, not just angry words. His shorter, more placid companion slouched against the shelves to one side, observing. He was a bit older, in his thirties maybe and already jowly and a bit soft in the belly, though his sharp eyes gave the impression of a steel core he could call on if he needed. These were trained on the woman; none of them had noticed Glenn yet. He crept closer.

“I’ve made the choice,” the woman said defiantly. “I belong here.”

The taller one sneered. “You Rigbys are mountain folk, whatever you tell yourselves,” he said, confirming that he had been the one speaking. “You should be up there where you belong, Tess. Like your pappy—he knows better than to show his face around here, ‘choice’ or no ‘choice’!”

Glenn tilted his head, regarding the woman curiously. Mountain folk, the townie asshole had said. So there was a third clan, it seemed. He wondered why Eamon hadn’t mentioned them. Not that he’d been all that forthright about his own heritage, for that matter. He needed better sources of information. That bit about a choice resonated with something Eamon had mentioned that first night, too. Hadn’t he said something about how Glenn would have to choose to be his animal, or something like that? But if this woman saw herself as belonging in town, did that mean she, and maybe her town-shy pappy as well, had made a different choice?

What choice would Glenn have to face, exactly? It would help to know more than he did, before the time came when he had to face it. Knowing when that was would also be kinda useful.

“You always were hateful, Noah Paxton,” the woman said icily. Huh, Paxton—that figured, Glenn thought. He slipped his bundles onto a providentially empty shelf under the juice boxes and advanced closer.

The woman continued eyeing the two men fearlessly as she set down her basket on the sealed wooden floor, ostentatiously moving into a fight-ready stance. “I’ll defend my rights if I have to,” she said.

If she was going for intimidation, buff girl against unimpressive boy, it didn’t work. Instead Noah snorted, and his watchful buddy straightened, moving to stand next to his friend as if they were well practiced in ganging up on others. “Pshaw,” Noah said. “You gonna face off against the whole town alone, little lady?”

“Not alone,” Glenn said.

Noah whipped around to stare at Glenn, taking him in at a glance. His features quickly contorted in disgust, obviously guessing his true nature from his build, his shirtlessness, and general willingness to ally with the woman he was so sure didn’t belong. “Who the Sam Hill are you?” he demanded.

Glenn drilled his stare into the man, letting his mouth twist into a deadly smile with just a hint of teeth. “My name is Sheridan,” he said.

Even as he said this, Glenn sensed that Pharaoh had appeared at his side. He was sitting alertly on his haunches, though whether he was there as ally or impartial authority Glenn wasn’t sure. He ignored the dog and kept his eyes on the two men.

Noah’s eyes narrowed. He glanced down at Pharaoh and back up. Glenn brought to mind that photo he’d been sent, the one with his hulking grandfather and the older dog sitting regally next to him. Maybe meeting Pharaoh had been more than a chance encounter after all, he thought.

The name also got a reaction from the others as well. Noah’s companion creased his brow, possibly considering the implications of a new Sheridan on the scene. The woman, Tess, was giving him a considering look, but what she thought of him Glenn couldn’t tell.

Glenn stepped closer, and the two bullies seemed to realize all at once that they were being hemmed in on both sides by powerful, antagonized were-creatures. The other man tapped Noah’s arm with the back of his hand, suggesting a swift departure. Noah, however, couldn’t resist a few final jabs.

“I’ll leave you with your boyfriend, then,” he spat at Tess. To Glenn he added, “You belong up the mountain too, Sheridan. You remember that.”

Glenn twisted his smile into something even more feral. “Oh, I’ll remember,” he growled. “I’ll remember everything you said… Paxton.”

Noah’s wiser friend nudged him again, and they pushed their way past Tess toward the front. Tess stood aside quickly as if to avoid being touched by the two men, and they stomped down the aisle and out of the store, the shop bells merrily signaling their departure.

As they left, Glenn saw with surprise that Eamon and the Wilcox brothers had been lingering at the far end of the aisle, watching the whole thing, shopping baskets hanging at their sides. Unsurprisingly Ares and Fee were agape, eating up the drama—they might as well have been sharing a bag of popcorn—but Eamon’s expression was flat and unreadable.

Glenn turned his attention to Tess, who was now eyeing him thoughtfully. Like the two town folk assholes he was taller than she was, though up close it was clear that she was indeed densely muscled under her baggy clothes—enough so that he wouldn’t like his chances in, say, an arm-wrestling challenge, or a one-on-one tug-of-war. He wondered what kind of swimmer she was.

“So,” she said, looking him over, “I have a boyfriend now, do I?”

Being well versed in the art of being alluringly unavailable (girls deserved to know what they were missing out on, after all), almost out of habit Glenn offered her his best shy smile while giving the back of his neck a scratch. “I, uh, have a boyfriend already, I’m afraid,” he said. At least that was a new excuse, he thought. And also true, this time.

Tess huffed a laugh. “Aha!” she said easily, picking up her shopping. Giving up his posing, Glenn stepped back and retrieved his box and accordion file from the shelf where he’d left them before rejoining her. She seemed affably amused by him, which he kind of liked. “I figured a guy like you must be taken. You’re James’s grandson? You have his eyes. Like sweet honey.”

He decided not to comment on the sweet-honey-eyes thing. “That’s right. I’m Glenn,” he said as he returned to where she was standing. “I don’t know a lot of people—” He started to say “in town,” but with all the coded mountain/town vitriol he changed it to, “—around here yet. This is Pharaoh, by the way,” he added, nodding down at the dog, who’d remained impressively motionless throughout the altercation. “He was my first new friend in Stark.”

Tess beamed down at the shepherd. The pup, for his part, eyed her with what Glenn could only think of as a respectful hauteur. “We’ve met a few times, I think,” she said. “I didn’t know he was called Pharaoh, though.”

Glenn smiled. “It’s new,” he said, as they started down the aisle toward the front. They got in line behind the others at the counter where Eamon was already being checked out by the slim, silent cashier. When the big lug made no move to introduce himself, Glenn said awkwardly, “Uh, this is—or maybe you know—?”

Eamon glanced at her, still with that flat, steely look he’d had before. “Conroy,” Tess said, coolly but without any of the malice she’d had for the two townsmen. The slim clerk, meanwhile, was all eyes down and wary, like he didn’t want to be the one to set off any powder kegs.

Eamon just nodded and turned to continue piling his purchases on the counter. The last of these, Glenn noticed in mild surprise, was a case of bottled ale—a local brew he didn’t recognize. Neither of them drank much beer normally, so he felt justified in wondering what the longnecks were for. Maybe sitting around the fire getting sloshed was part of the “ritual” he’d be facing. It’d be easier to deal with if he could imagine it as some sort of bro-ish frat initiation, telling bawdy stories and drinking on command, but Glenn doubted he would be that lucky.

“And this is Ares and Phoebus,” Glenn went on, indicating the brothers, who were staring at her as though she’d just stepped out of a TV show and into their living room. Standing next to Eamon they looked like another species of humanity, despite being fit and quite sexy in not-all-hot-guys-have-redline-testosterone kind of way. “They’re on a camping expedition up to Sheridan Hollow,” Glenn added by way of explanation. He liked saying the name “Sheridan Hollow,” it turned out. And it was his now, at least until his wayward dad turned up, alive or otherwise.

Tess raised her eyebrows at the boys. “Not a lot of… visitors make it up there. You’re in for an interesting trip,” she said coyly, shaking the ginger brother’s hand. “I’m Tess.”

“Ares,” he responded eagerly. “And yeah, I’m starting to get that idea.”

She turned to Fee and shook his hand, too. “Phoebus,” he said, his jade eyes turning flinty now that he was face to face with a mistreated woman. “I’m sorry about your… difficulties. If you need legal advice while we’re here—”

“We’re tax lawyers,” Ares broke in with a glance at his brother, “but we’d be happy to help.”

“Thanks, I appreciate it,” Tess said, and it sounded like she meant it.

There was a momentary lull as the clerk silently rang up the last of Eamon’s purchases, piling everything into two thick paper sacks. Glenn remembered there was someone else he had to see. “Say, do you know someone named Virginia Clement?” he asked Tess. “I was supposed to meet up with her when I got to town.”

Tess brightened—Glenn knowing this woman seemed to be another point in his favor. “I’m actually staying with Ginny until I get my own place,” she said. “I can take you there, if you like.”

Eamon turned abruptly from the counter, hefting both sacks in one meaty hand as though they were full of nothing but featherdown and angels’ dreams, while the clerk started in on the handful of odds and ends the brothers had picked out.

“I’m going to the butcher’s,” Eamon barked, fixing Glenn with a meaningful glare. “You do what you need to, but remember why we’re here.”

Glenn remembered Eamon’s repeated words—”you are not ready”—and the full moon creeping toward them, less than three weeks away and closing. The larger man’s coal-black eyes seemed to be saying more—maybe “don’t trust anyone,” or something similarly prickly—but he didn’t say anything further aloud. Glenn nodded to acknowledge the reminder, and Eamon turned and flung open the door, setting the bells jangling in protest.

“There’s a butcher’s shop?” Ares said, excited, as though such things were only known in legend and folklore. To his brother he added, “I want to see that!”

Fee glanced between his brother and the hairy, looming shape of Eamon exiting the shop. “Sure you don’t want to come with us?” he asked Glenn. He tried to make it sound off-handed, but his green eyes seemed to latch onto Glenn. To his surprise they dropped to Glenn’s lips before jumping guiltily up again.

Interesting, Glenn thought. He’s regretting not getting that little taste of me while he had the chance. Ares was more obvious about it—there was frank desire in the way he was looking at Glenn. The brothers stood close, fit, long-lashed, and rosy-lipped, as if challenging any thought of dealing with them separately. Fine by me, Glenn thought with an inner smirk. He moved slightly closer. Unable to resist playing with them he turned on his sex-charm, just a tad, like a low flame on a gas stove. “Oh, you’ll get me back soon enough,” he purred.

Fee’s cheeks colored slightly, dropping his chin a bit so that his rimless glasses catching the overhead lights. Ares grinned. “Cool,” he said. He paid cash for their purchases, collected his change, and turned back to Fee. “C’mon, bro,” he said. He winked at Glenn and headed out. Fee followed, giving Glenn a last, uncertain look over his shoulder before departing.

Tess, though obviously entertained by Glenn’s antics, made no comment on them as she unloaded her basket on the counter. Mostly it was vegetables and pasta, he noticed. She pulled out a loaf of fresh oat bread, then the silo of quick oats that had no doubt sent her into the aisle of doom. “I’ll just get all this, and then we’ll head over to Ginny’s, okay?” she said.

Glenn caught the clerk’s eye as he glanced up from his work. He was actually very cute up close, especially now that his expression had eased. His skin was very smooth, like river rocks or fine-sanded cedar, and he seemed… attentive. Certainly he was well positioned, job-wise and temperamentally, to be aware of things, and his demeanor was steady and guarded but not closed. Glenn made a mental note to catch up with him later and sound him out as an ally—without Eamon. His presence in town seemed provocative to all parties. It was funny. He thought he’d be leaning heavily on Eamon once he got here, with his boyfriend being the local and himself the outsider returned to a land that knew him not, but the more time he spent here the more he felt the pull of standing on his own.

“Sure,” he said to Tess with a smile. To himself he added, Let’s go see the secret-keeper.

Virginia Clement lived in a perfectly ordinary house. It wasn’t the stately home of a town grandee, like he’d half-expected, or the compressed museum of bygone Americana curated by his meticulous maiden aunt Hazel (on the Davison side), crammed full of black-lacquered knickknacks and shiny gewgaws the collection of which served no Earthly purpose Glenn could ever figure out. He’d spent more than a few dolorous afternoons letting himself sink into the strangeness of that junk-packed mausoleum while Hazel sat in the living room knitting afghans by the truckload and the grandfather clock ticked into the stultifying stillness, perversely fascinated by the shelves of miniature Model T milk delivery trucks, the glass-fronted cabinet packed with Laurel and Hardy salt and pepper shakers (of highly variable accuracy in likeness) and bovine-themed butter dishes, the one bathroom wall slathered with cutesy pee-themed admonishments illustrated by Victorian-style depictions of gleefully urinating boy-tykes and perplexed little girls in bonnets and frilly dresses. Aunt Hazel had always taken her own path, and somewhere along the way, he’d guessed, it had wandered deeper and deeper into her own personal forest.

No, the two-story colonial Tess had brought him to, a block back from Laramie’s butcher shop and a few streets down, was simple and friendly in architecture, furniture, and decor. Homey, Glenn thought, as he followed Tess through the house to a breezy screened-in sun-porch in the back, Pharaoh dawdling silently at his heels. The woman in the lemon-yellow paisley-patterned dress Tess introduced as “Ginny” was congenial, too, in her own way. She was plain-faced, sturdily built, and of an indeterminate age: though her pulled-back hair was iron-gray and her face was lightly lined around the eyes and mouth, at first glance Glenn couldn’t tell if she was closer to thirty-five or seventy. When she rose from her lounge to greet him she also revealed herself to be, somewhat surprisingly, uncommonly tall—almost Glenn’s height, in fact, a phenomenon he’d rarely encountered among the women he’d known in high school and college (who, if anything, seemed to be getting smaller). He actually felt his eyebrows lift of their own accord as she straightened to face him, and though he quickly pushed them down again, the twinkle in her light-brown eyes warned him she didn’t miss much.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, ma’am,” Glenn said falteringly, shifting the box of his grandfather’s effects and the thick file of legal papers he was carrying under his left arm to shake her hand. He was feeling weirdly self-conscious, about just about everything—his status as a stranger-slash-prodigal-slash-outsider in Stark, his suddenly inexplicable shirtlessness, his having intruded into this woman’s home with a bunch of junk under his arm and a dog he’d just met, and five more things he couldn’t quite put his finger on but felt vaguely queasy about on top of all that. She might have a calm demeanor and a genial smile, as Glenn had quickly observed, but there was no mistaking the utter formidableness of this woman. Inwardly he felt stripped and bared, and not in a good way. He also felt perfectly safe—which was odd, seeing as the two reactions didn’t quite mesh. He wasn’t sure which one to trust.

“Call me Ginny,” she said as she released his grip. It was a simple request, but also, he felt sure, an inviolable imperative.

She tilted her head down to the dog, who’d seated himself on his haunches to Glenn’s left and a little apart from him, as though to deny they were there together. “This, uh, is Pharaoh,” Glenn said, mostly to see what her reaction would be.

“I know who he is,” Ginny said. She held the dog’s gaze for a moment longer, Pharaoh returning it what felt like wariness in his usual regal expression. Glenn had never wanted to know what a dog was thinking more than he did in that moment. Then the woman’s steely gaze flicked back onto him, and Glenn instantly forgot all about stuck-up dogs, shapeshifter boyfriends, bi-curious tax lawyers, and pretty much everything else in existence.

“Tess, dear,” Ginny said, not taking her eyes off on Glenn, “I was thinking about the fresh tortellini tonight. With the pesto, and maybe a nice green salad. Does that sound good?”

He glanced over at Tess, willing her not to abandon him. She was giving Ginny a crafty smile. “I’ll go get it started,” she agreed, and with a wink at Glenn she was gone. Glenn looked back at Ginny nervously.

“You should stay,” she told him, her offer once again sounding more like a command. “You’re not allergic, are you?”


She leaned her head forward very slightly. “The pesto,” she explained. “So many people are these days. Pine nuts, you know.”

“Oh. Uh, no. I’m… I’m good. Pesto’s good. Thank you.”

“Good, good. I see you received your grandfather’s knife,” she added.

There seemed to be more than one meaning to that received. Knife, too, for that matter. It wasn’t just a knife. “Yes. Thank you for making sure it was sent.” He swallowed.

She eyed him closely for a few loud-seeming beats. Returning her stare, Glenn wondered what she was seeing, and how far beyond the visual her perceptions went. Suddenly he felt his inner animal stir. Glenn sucked in a breath, scared and excited both that it might somehow awaken fully right here and now under her penetrating gaze. “You have… embraced your heritage,” she said slowly at last. “Mostly. That much I can tell. You’re conflicted, though. What is it that troubles you, Glenn Sheridan?”

Glenn found himself unable to hold back. “The knife,” he admitted. “It triggered—something. My awareness, sure, but…” He shifted his shoulders uneasily, his thoughts returning to his inner beast, another self within him, dormant but alert. “Eamon, and… your letter… you all make it sound like everything’s riding on the next couple of weeks. On the—the full moon.” He felt weird saying that last part. It occurred to him that all the talk about what he was had been between him and Eamon, and that had made it a little not-real, as though it were a waking dream he shared with his best friend. He hadn’t said the words “full moon,” or “shapeshifter,” or “werebear”—not to anyone but Eamon, and not often with him. Even in his head he’d been using the “mountain folk” euphemism to shy away from the sheer supernaturalness of what he had become. Well, not become—what he had always been, though he’d been in a process of constant low-key transformation since he’d first gripped the knife. And it wasn’t just his physical form, not if what had happened in the locker room or with the godling brothers was any indication. “Eamon, too,” he said. “It’s like I have to become…” He trailed off, still not quite ready to say the words.

Ginny watched him for a moment. Glenn could tell the older woman understood what he meant, but all she said was, “Sit.”

Glenn looked behind him and saw that there was another cushioned deck chair behind him, facing the one Ginny had been sitting in when he’d arrived. He sat, moving the accordion file and shoebox to his lap. Ginny did likewise, leaning forward with her lands in her lap. “Is there a coin in the box?” she asked abruptly.

Glenn blinked. He started to say he didn’t know, not having opened the box yet, but he could predict what the next turn of the conversation would be: she would tell him to open the damned box. Glenn went ahead and did so. There weren’t a lot of things inside, James Sheridan having lived a simple enough life up the mountain. A worn leather wallet; an analog wristwatch with a remarkably unscuffed crystal; a keyring with half a dozen variously-sized keys; and various other odds and ends. There was a thick gold wedding band, which surprised him slightly. A small paper envelope had a handful of coins, including, unexpectedly, a fat 1971 Eisenhower silver dollar in worn but decent condition. Glenn held it up, more to gawk at it than for any other reason, but Ginny nodded.

“That’s what I need,” she said, sounding pleased. “Press it to your chest, boy.”

Glenn glanced over at her doubtfully. Her expression was stern, and he wasn’t quite ready to find out what dire consequences happened to those who gainsaid her. He looked down at his chest, moving the coin toward it. His pecs had actually developed enough over his years of swimming, and even a little extra the past few days, that there was no way he’d be able to lay the large coin flat against his sternum. He felt both proud and awkward about this, unsure what to do next.

“On the left, over your heart,” Ginny coached when he hesitated, her stern tone suggesting she thought she should not have needed to say so. Glenn did as he was told, placing it against the skin of his left pectoral near the sternum. The coin felt preternaturally cold against his skin, like it had been stored in a dry ice freezer and not a battered shoebox shoved out of sight in a hack lawyer’s desk drawer.

He sensed movement to his left and looked curiously over to Pharaoh. He’d stood and moved closer, his eyes fixed alertly on the coin, his tail as still as the rest of him. That was weird, Glenn thought. Not that Pharaoh wasn’t weird in general.

When he looked back up at Ginny, his breath caught. Her eyes seemed to have picked up a faint glow, barely perceptible in the daylight, and she seeming to be looking through him at something that wasn’t there rather than at him. As he was thinking this her dress started riffling lightly, and Glenn knew it wasn’t the damp afternoon breeze filtering through the screens that was moving it. Gooseflesh prickled up his arms. Something was around them, between them—some kind of subtle, strange energy that seemed… universal, somehow, as though it belonged to a space below or pervading the reality he knew. There was something about it, too, something familiar, like he’d encountered this energy before without quite knowing it.

“Ginny—?” he asked weakly, unsure what was happening. Then the older woman snapped her eyes shut, so suddenly it was like a door slamming closed—and then the whole world was gone, leaving nothing but empty, quivering black.

The forest resolved out of the blackness, blooming tall and world-filling around him, inundating his senses with vibrant colors, sounds, smells. He turned in a circle, his boots shifting on the leaf-strewn soil. Trees surrounded him, fir and spruce and hemlock. A loamy air filled his nostrils as bird and insects sang for miles around. A playful breeze tickled his newly-grown chest hair as though performing a sly ritual of greeting for the visitor from beyond.

Glenn smiled. He knew this place, though he had never been here. This was up mountain, far from town, deep in the loving bosom of rock and forest and spirits he could not name. Sheridan lands. Home.

Though he’d been sitting when Ginny had cast her spell he was standing here, shirtless in his jeans and boots. There was no sign of the coin, or the shoebox and files he’d had on his lap. Hair tickled his shoulders as he turned to look all around him—had it grown again? He felt strong, too, as though the energy of the Mountain were coursing through his very muscles and blood. His animal was awake, keen and intent on its surroundings, though Glenn could sense its awareness that the time for it to take control of their form was not yet come. The bear was ready—it was Glenn who was not prepared.

Footsteps shuffled through the undergrowth behind him, and Glenn spun around to see a similarly shirtless man approaching him through the trees—a beautiful man, the most attractive man Glenn had ever seen in all his years of being surrounded by sleekly muscled swim-team hotties. The man was young-looking, maybe thirty at most, and classically built like Glenn himself, long-limbed and hard-bodied, with cascading brown hair and bright, honey-brown eyes. His muscles were considerably thicker, Glenn saw, yet still exquisitely sculpted, as though he’d been engineered to be the strongest, sexiest god-on-earth who’d ever lived. He was hairier than Glenn, too, a lot hairier, though when it came to both bulk and hirsuteness Eamon still had had him beat. That didn’t matter to Glenn. If anything, the palpable, ball-churning, pulse-quickening perfection of this man coming toward him outclassed literally anyone one else, bigger or smaller.

Glenn’s blood heated. His heavy cock had already started swelling. This man was mansex personified, his very beauty seeming to seep under Glenn’s skin, triggering receptors he hadn’t known he had.

Glenn knew who this was. He was master if these woods, at home in them—the audible footfalls Glenn had heard could only have been deliberate. He recognized the beaming, bearded face from the photo he’d been sent. He felt the man’s power deep inside him, and somehow he knew the other man could feel him, too, just as strongly.

He was before him now, inches away, those smiling honey boring into his. His head seemed to flood through Glenn, riling up his senses and hardening his dick to a state of full-blown, massive erection. The other man smiled wide at Glenn, his soft brown beard spreading around his grin. “What, no hug for your grandpappy?” said James Sheridan affectionately.

Glenn grinned back at him, instantly throwing his arms around the older man, reveling in the press of their cheeks and naked chests. When warm, strong arms surrounded him in turn, squeezing him close, Glenn shivered and mashed himself closer into James’s embrace, pushing his hardon against the other man’s hip. He was shocked and thrilled when James shifted and his own stiff erection, like everything else about him bigger and even harder than Glenn’s pushed against him on the other side. A giddy wave of heat flooded through him. Instinctively he pulled back enough to find James’s mouth, covering it greedily with his own. James kissed him back just as passionately, taking control after a moment and turning the kiss slow and sensual. Their hands started moving, enjoying their partner’s broad backs and finding each other’s hard, round muscle-butts. A warm connection wound between them, fine lines curling and proliferating like roots or capillaries of the firming bond between their hearts, spreading through each of their lust-excited bodies.

Glenn realized he was about to cum in his pants and broke free suddenly, leaning back in the embrace enough to stare, panting hard, into his grandfather’s eyes. He grinned nervously. “Was that okay?” he asked. Not that there was no way he would have ever taken it back—and anyway the connection told him James had loved it as much as he had.

James’s eyes glinted in amusement. “What do you think?” he asked, before leaning in for another kiss. This one was soft and sweet, though lingering, and had the effect of calming them both—mostly. Their big cocks were still stiff as pipes and mashed hard against each other, and now that he wasn’t about to cum Glenn yearned for an eternity of that mutual press. As they gently made out he memorized the hardness and shape of James’s tool where it impressed itself against him. He wanted that feeling never to go away.

What would it feel like inside me?

The thought almost drove him to orgasm again, and he forced his climax down only with considerable effort. Eamon fucking him was something that he’d had to psych himself up for, but James plowing his tight ass with that hard, loving tool…

He broke the kiss again, breathing hard and feeling hot and bothered and saturated with sex energy, their damp foreheads resting against each other. James smiled knowingly at him. “Look around you,” he said softly.

Glenn glanced over James’s bulging shoulder and saw that their environment had changed. Before they had been in the heart of the forest, the sounds and smells of a warm summer’s day all around them on the sloping ground. (Was it that day? The sum was high and there was no sign of the clouds and rain that had greeted them on their arrival in Stark. The past, then, when James Sheridan was younger? Or some timeless never-never land?) Now, though, they were in the midst of a wide, grassy clearing, and not far away, on shoulder of a small rise, stood a well-made, one-story mountain cabin.

He and James separated, with (it must be said) mutual reluctance, but as they walked toward it James took his hand. He could feel they were both still erect, but he ignored this for the moment as he marveled at the rustic homestead. It looked as though it might have been there for ages and would persist for countless more, withstanding any nor’easter or blizzard New England could throw at it. The main structure was hand-crafted from tightly-fitted, carefully mortared boles of mighty oak, a testament to the brute strength and mountain ingenuity of men like the one holding him in his arms, and only the windows and the shingled roof whispered of a more modern world beyond this sprawling, open-air sanctum. The front and sides were fitted with a smart-looking pine deck and Adirondack chairs perfect for watching the sun set behind the towering trees lining the clearing. Smoke trickled from a dark-bricked chimney, and as Glenn followed its tendrils upwards he spotted a curious hawk coursing high overhead through the pristine azure sky. He could still feel the press of James’s huge, hard erection against his hip, as though it were a part of him now. He found it oddly reassuring and kind of funny.

“You like it?” James asked, squeezing his hand in his callused grip.

Glenn tied to speak but failed. A feeling of being where he belonged welled up in him, so strong it threatened to close his throat. “There aren’t any words,” he managed at last.

“It’s yours now,” James said quietly.

Glenn glanced over at him. “Because you’re dead,” he said.

James returned his gaze steadily. “Because I’m dead,” he agreed. They looked back up at the cabin. “Shot by a poacher,” James added angrily. “Never thought I’d go that way.”

Glenn kept his eyes on the building. “What about my dad?” he asked after a moment. He’d never lost track of the fact that his status as new Sheridan patriarch owed as much to his father, Michael, being missing as it did to his grandfather’s sudden murder.

James only hesitated a second before answering. “I wish I could tell you,” he said.

Glenn looked sharply over at this thirtyish vision of his grandpappy, his brows drawing together. James kept his eyes on the cabin. That, Glenn thought, was a deliberately ambiguous statement if he’d ever heard one. Before he could frame a question to call him on it, though, a familiar-looking dog came trotting nonchalantly around the corner of the cabin, heading straight for them. It sat on its haunches directly in front of James, its stillness and hauteur unmistakable.

“Hey there, buddy,” James said, letting go of Glenn’s hand to crouch in front of the Shepherd, rubbing its head and neck enthusiastically. The dog bore this with a quiet dignity Glenn already knew only too well.

“Pharaoh?” Glenn said incredulously. The dog spared him a brief glance before returning his attention to James.

“Is that what you call him?” James said, looking up with him in amusement. “I never gave mine a name.”

Glenn’s mind spun. “But—wait, this isn’t your dog?”

James gave Pharaoh one last skritch behind the ears and straightened, facing Glenn. “This one’s yours,” he said. The dog huffed loudly, no doubt objecting to the implications of the possessive. “And before you ask, he’s not just a vision, like you are. He’s really here.”

Glenn blinked at him. “I’m a vision?” he repeated stupidly.

James smiled. “I know, it’s weird,” he said. “You’ll find out more in time, but the short version is that this is another place, and that’s where I am now. You can’t come here for real, but you can visit, like a phantasm. A very solid phantasm,” he added with a quirk of his lips that made Glenn’s cock throb in his jeans. “Guardian-dogs, on the other hand—well, they can all sorts of places.”

Glenn considered the dog thoughtfully. It was still pretending he wasn’t there, and Glenn was certain this was out of a desire to school Glenn into appropriate humility in his presence. “Guardian-dog, huh?” he said. “That might explain a few things.” He glanced over at James. “I take it they have a special relationship with… our kind? ‘Mountain folk’?”

James smiled. “I see you’ve encountered the feud,” he said. “Well, one of the feuds. Mountain folk and town folk. But yes, the guardian-dogs have always kept the Mountain safe for folks like us.”

Glenn nodded, then faced his grandpappy squarely, pretending with limited success his hard-on wasn’t throbbing with excitement, demanding more than hugs and a bit of making out. “Why am I here?” he asked.

James gripped Glenn’s shoulder, and the pleasure of his firm touch rippled through him hard. “There’s a training ritual you must undertake,” he said. “Now.”

Glenn swallowed. “Is it something we all do?” he asked.

James shook his head. “Your powers, your animal, they were suppressed for too long. Most of your life.” He drew a breath. “Now that the bindings are released, you are free to change. You will change, at the next full moon. The first change is always traumatic, but in your case…” He didn’t finish the sentence.

“I’m not ready,” Glenn said. “Not just mentally—I’m not ready physically.”

James nodded. He shifted his hand, letting it slide up Glenn’s neck to cup his cheek. “So there’s this ritual. Maybe ‘ordeal’ is a better word.” Glenn’s eyes narrowed—he didn’t like the sound of that. “It’s not all bad,” James added with a grin when he saw Glenn’s face. “It requires ingestion of… a certain fluid, in quantity. You’ll like that.”

“A ‘certain fluid’? You mean cum, grandpappy?” Glenn teased. James winked. Then Glenn added hopefully, “Can it be yours?”

“Unfortunately I’m rather dead at the moment,” James said. “There’s a lot I can do in this form—” He drew his thumb across Glenn’s kiss-bruised lips, and Glenn suppressed a moan of pleasure at the caress. “—but filling you with spunk isn’t one of them, much as I’d like it to be.”

“Too bad,” Glenn said, and meant it. “So, the cum will have to come from—?”

“Your friend Eamon Conroy,” James answered with a sigh. “I’ll do the work of getting you through the ordeal, and young Conroy will have to handle what I can’t. But listen, son,” he added urgently. “The Conroys are not like us. They don’t see the Choice the way we do. Always remember, you choose how to be what you are.”

Glenn was about to ask him for clarification on this. He’d already heard about the Choice from Eamon, and it was clear he had definite thoughts on the matter. It was comforting to know the situation was more nuanced, but he would need more guidance. But just then Pharaoh barked, just once, then stilled again. They both looked at him, then back at each other. “Time for you to go, son,” James said with a shrug.

Glenn nodded—something like this had to be temporary, even if he didn’t want to go. “Will I see you again?” he added, trying not to sound pathetic.

“Fuck yeah,” James said with unexpected vehemence, and Glenn laughed. “It’s my job as your grandpappy to turn you into a proper Sheridan,” he said, moving closer so that first his handsome, bearded face, then his honey-brown eyes were all Glenn saw. “And that’s exactly what I mean to do.” Then he drew Glenn into a deep, loving kiss that seemed to last forever, even as all his other senses faded into oblivion.

The cabin looked… the same. Exactly the same.

Glenn took a few steps from Eamon’s dark-blue four-by-four, now a bit dusty from the climb up the unpaved switchbacks of Mill Mountain’s upper reaches, and stood staring at the vista before him. What with the pesto and collecting the others and the actual drive up the mountain, it had taken long enough to get up here that the sun was already dipping close to the tree-lined horizon, the mostly-overcast sky now glimmering brightly with the reflected yellows and oranges of approaching evening. A light breeze wafted his lengthening dark-brown hair over his nape, tickling the elegant curves of his smooth, swim-honed traps, but he barely noticed as he took in the very abode his dead grandpappy had showed him.

For a moment there, on Virginia’s sun-porch, Glenn had escaped his reality and entered an otherscape where James lived on, young and hale again and, to Glenn’s mind, irresistibly beautiful; and now he was here. And in both of those places was this cabin, like a hub around which all the universes turned.

Until this moment he’d been reluctant to commit to what had ensued after he’d taken that silver dollar (now in his pocket, its magic seemingly spent) and pressed it to his chest being anything but random delirium; but this cinched it. He’d never been here, had never visited Sheridan Hollow or seen the cabin and the lands his old man had left him. Yet there was no questioning that he knew this field, this forest, this home. Everything matched: the mighty oak timbers felled, smoothed, and mortared into a dwelling so imposing and durable, so earthbound and unshakable, it might just last as long as the mountain itself; the wide, stained and sealed pine-wood porch that wrapped around the structure, sturdy and inviting, dark-red Adirondack chairs waiting patiently for their master’s ass to sidle into them at the end of a long day; the snug-shingled roof in its neat rows and the wide, crystal-clear windows. Pharaoh was here, too, nosing around in the lush grasses of the field beyond the house as though he’d finally deigned to be a dog for a bit, while no one was looking. Though they were turning to shadow as the afternoon waned, the towering, close-hewed spruces and firs beyond were otherwise the same, marking the sharply-defined edges of the broad, oval clearing in which the Sheridan cabin was set. Perhaps most telling, the deep sense of belonging he had felt in the otherwhere version of this scene was just as strong here.

Only one thing was missing that he could see: there had been a thin trail of wispy smoke winding up from the squat, flat-sided brick chimney on James’s side of the phenomenal divide. Instinctively Glenn cast his gaze skyward anyway, as he had in the otherworld. Here, beyond the treetop fringe, the gray, color-splotched dome of the dying, rain-muted afternoon replaced the vivid blue expanse of his vision, and at first he was marginally reassured. Then his eyes caught the dark angles of a hawk coursing high overhead, left to right against the shadowing sky—not the same hawk, surely?—and he shivered, feeling the way he thought you were supposed to feel when someone walked over your grave.

Was this place real? When the eerie elsewhere you see in a supernaturally-induced illusion, a place where dead men prophesy and ravish with equal aplomb, conforms exactly with what stands in front of you log for log and stone for stone, how do you know what’s true and what’s not?

“Nice, eh?” Eamon said gruffly, his dark tone turning the innocuous remark acidly sardonic. He slammed the driver’s side door of his pickup shut, a little too forcefully. Glenn glanced briefly over at his friend, frowning, then returned his stare to the cabin.

“It’s like a dream,” he said faintly.

Behind him he heard the Wilcoxes pull up in their borrowed Jeep and cut the engine, but Glenn didn’t turn around. “That was some trip,” he heard Ares say brightly into the calm quiet of the forest clearing as the doors clacked shut. “I’ve never driven mountain roads like that before!”

You weren’t the one driving,” Fee tossed back in that half-annoyed, half-playful way the brothers had. He felt them covering the distance between them, as though he were aware of everything around him in way no human could be. He smelled them, too, like he had in the store, and though their scents were similar already he was starting to be able distinguish them: Ares’s spoor was clear and buoyant, like a happy mountain stream, while Fee’s was fresh but earthy and a bit more intense, like a loamy field under a bright sun. Both were aroused, he realized with slight surprise, as though just being around Glenn did something to them on some basic and primal level. Glenn was turned on, too. Suddenly he wanted to try fucking them together, right now, just to experience their complementary personalities in the throes of passion. His own dick, heftier than ever and never completely soft these days, lengthened and swelled in his jeans, stiffening with its eagerness to act on the idea, and he blew out a breath of exasperation at his increasingly insatiable libido even as the first heat of intense arousal washed intoxicatingly through him.

He flicked his gaze up to the sky again. The hawk was a speck now, searching for prey farther down the other side of the mountain. He wondered what it was like up there, soaring over a fisheye view of tiny trees, the rushing wind through your feathers, keeping aloft through the sheer power of your chest and arms. Unexpectedly it occurred to him that he didn’t know where the penumbra of animal folk began and ended. If he and Eamon were from a long line of humans who prowled the forests as massive, sex-loving bears, what else around here might know a dual life as both human and beast? Hawks? Why not, he thought. Wolves? Had to be werewolves if there were werebears, for sure. Deer? Could be. Racoons? He smiled to himself, imagining the wiry, shirtless human form of a wereracoon. A slim guy in a bandit mask, rummaging through other people’s refrigerators, washing a stolen apple in the kitchen sink before gnawing it to nothing in a few deft bites.

Of course he was being silly; the connections wouldn’t be that obvious. After all, he, Glenn, didn’t much resemble an actual, real life bear, though this was probably thanks to growing up with his animal nature completely constrained by that spell he’d apparently been under his whole life. Grandpappy James was closer. Eamon sure seemed as ursine as a man could be. For that matter, Glenn himself was getting brawnier and hairier and generally more solid by increments, seemingly with every breath of mountain air he took in—not that he was unaware of the fact that the real x-factor was the serious quantities of Eamon-cum he’d taken into himself since that knife had unleashed his true nature, and a whole lot else besides.

He wondered how Sheridans past had handled the whole cum-absorption thing when they weren’t as pressed for time as Eamon and he were. Maybe it was more effective in small doses over a longer time. Mixed with food, maybe. A bit of werebear jizz slipped secretly into a young man’s favorite meal, or a nightly beer in front of the sunset. He grinned—spunk-infused beer appealed to his mischievous side. Maybe someday he’d get a chance to try it out on some future Sheridan heading into his first transition. Assuming he survived his own, of course.

Ares had come up and was now wrapping an arm intimately around Glenn’s waist from the right, as through the two of them had been comfortably mucking around for weeks and this was just their latest excursion together. As he looked over at the man Glenn noted with approval how the bearded redhead had seemingly picked up on the unspoken rule about shirts and discarded his pocket tee in the Jeep, exposing a fit chest fuzzy with cherry-cola-red curls of hair and a flat, tight belly only a few hundred situps away from showing the terraced six-pack delineation Glenn had been so proud of achieving on his own abdominal expanse. Ares looked back at him, jade-green eyes level with his and bright with the excitement of trying out this wilderness-and-hot-guys thing. Actually he seemed almost to be challenging Glenn, as though he were thinking, “Well, stud? You seduced us, so are you going to leave us hanging, or what?” Glenn was quite pleased by this and ready to respond in kind, his inner rake eager to be set free.

Glenn felt the taller, younger sibling, Fee, take up a mirroring position on the other side, similarly displaying his fit torso to the New Hampshire wilds. After a moment’s hesitation his arm, too, wrapped around Glenn’s torso from the other side, just above his brother’s. Glenn kept his gaze on Ares, gauging his reactions. He leaned in for a kiss. Ares responded eagerly for a second or two, then reined himself in, playing it cool, and Glenn smiled as he pulled back, meeting that glittering gaze again and admiring the unbounded anticipation he saw there. Then he turned slowly and met Fee’s eyes on the other side. They were the same solid, bright jade-stone green behind those rimless specs, framed as they were by dusky blond eyebrows instead of ginger (with that matching, ridiculous pornstache below); and though these eyes were more guarded than his brother’s, as Glenn had expected, there was also a kindred excitement there that Fee, he guessed, still wasn’t sure what to do with.

Glenn moved in for the same kiss he’d given Ares, and Fee, having had the behavior modeled for him, tilted down and met his lips with gratifyingly palpable desire. He even opened for Glenn, letting their warm, strong tongues brush with tantalizing briefness before Glenn pulled back with a fond smile. Fee’s green eyes smoldered now, his hunger exposed, and Glenn realized he might have misjudged which brother would be the more passionate in bed.

They were all fully hard now, and if Glenn had wanted to they could easily have fallen to the wet and springy summer grass and started fucking right there and then. Instead he turned back to regard his ancestral mountain home, sliding his arms around the two brother’s backs as though they’d just forged some kind of commitment to enjoy each other’s company from this point onward. His two companions reluctantly tore their eyes off him and followed his stare, taking in the majestic, hard-hewn cabin. The clearing was quiet, with only the distant creaking of the trees providing any sound as the mild, damp breeze, still heady with dissipated rain, gamboled playfully over their shirtless forms and slid its tendrils under the gaps in their waistbands like an extra-friendly poltergeist.

“It’s bigger than I thought it’d be,” Ares said after a moment.

Glenn held back a snicker. He’d been in too many locker rooms not to think that’s what he said, but he didn’t say it aloud.

“Big enough for four, at least,” Fee observed, as if he’d been assuming the place would be smaller, a mere shack perched on a wild mountainside. Then he turned to Glenn and added, “Or should we pitch our tent out here in the grass?”

Glenn wanted to laugh. It was an honest offer, he knew, but there was a hint of worry in those gem-green eyes. Fee might not have been ready for all this, but being separated from Glenn was not what he wanted.

“No need for that, it’ll only be the three of you,” Eamon broke in suddenly, startling Glenn—guiltily he realized he’d practically forgotten his boyfriend was there, caught up as he had been in his musings about the cabin and the brothers’ reactions to their arrival here. He looked over to see Eamon had silently hauled most of their gear out of the truck and was piling it all at the base of the steps up to the porch, as if that was as far as he went.

He stalked toward them now, and Glenn and the brothers broke apart uneasily. He watched Eamon approach with a strange uncertainty. At school, in that first rush of liberation and understanding, Glenn had felt almost obsessed with Eamon. Feelings of lust and love had drowned him over and over again, in his presence and in sweaty, cum-soaked reveries in his dormitory bed. Something had happened, though, once they’d gotten to Stark. Away from the mountain they’d been two of a kind—expatriate werecreatures alone among the oblivious humans, driven by passions humans couldn’t understand. Eamon had been his only link to who he was, and his massive cock his only entrée into the world of masculine intimacy. Now, here, Glenn was already changing. He had taken his name, his place, and his land. He had communed with his handsome grandpappy, now reverted to youth and a magnificent kisser. He had a heritage distinct from Eamon’s—hostile to it, even—a heritage he was eager to become a part of, and to live up to.

As Eamon closed in on them, massive, angry as the bear he was, the very definition of extreme masculinity in evert particular and dimension, Glenn decided he was certain of only two things: he was not done loving Eamon, not yet—and he was not done with being fucked by him, either.

Making sense of Eamon’s reactions—the brooding, the anger, the eschewing of the cabin proper—was just as confusing, he thought. Was this jealousy over the little kiss threesome they’d just been enjoying? He didn’t believe so. He could still sense Eamon’s confidence that the bond between him and Glenn was nothing like the casual play he was engaging in with the visiting tax attorneys. Anyway, Eamon had been moody before. Now that they were up here, Eamon was different, too. The human veneer that hid his animal was wearing away, minute by minute.

Something about this place in particular had him on edge, though. He remembered his grandpappy’s words—The Conroys are not like us. Was this a Conroy/Sheridan thing? But if Eamon was uncomfortable being on Sheridan lands, why had he come up here in the first place?

Eamon was looming over him now, ignoring the brothers standing awkwardly to either side. His bulky, black-pelted pecs dominated Glenn’s vision for a second, and when he looked up he met flinty, coal-dark eyes. “Find me in one hour,” the larger man growled, thrusting his finger at Glenn’s naked, barely-furred chest.

Glenn was thrown off by this strange command. “Where?” It wasn’t like there was a mall or a Dairy Queen nearby, or any of the other places guys met up back in Manchester.

Eamon’s pointing hand reconfigured, so that he was jerking his thumb over his shoulder. Glenn looked past him—east, he thought, going by how the indicated direction was on the opposite side of the clearing from where the sun was starting to slide behind the treetops. He frowned. There was nothing to be seen that way but the forest rapidly falling into night. A forest Glenn didn’t know, however subconsciously familiar it seemed. And Glenn might not know it, but Eamon did—of that he was certain.

He turned back to Eamon, eyes narrowed. “How?” he demanded shortly.

“You tell me,” Eamon said.

Glenn drew in a breath and caught Eamon’s distinctive smell. Of course. There was something else, too, something niggling at the edges of his perceptions. Instinct told him that for him—maybe for all who possessed animals within them, he wasn’t sure—there was more to finding things in the woods than tracking their scents. There were things he could do he hadn’t even imagined yet.

Glenn didn’t answer, only nodded. Eamon studied him for a tense moment, then he moved closer, all but overwhelming Glenn with size and scent. “Your ordeal begins now,” he said menacingly, and Glenn’s heart fluttered. Eamon didn’t wait for a response. “One week. Seven nights. Days, do whatever. Fuck your friends here, chop wood, visit the town and let Virginia Clement spout mystical nonsense at you. Don’t care.” Eamon’s eyes somehow seemed to get even darker, and Glenn thrilled with nervous fear. “For the next seven days,” he growled, “you do what you want otherwise—but sunset to sunrise your ass is mine.”

Then, without another word he turned and marched off toward the tall, sprawling mountain forest, already silhouetting against the charcoal sky. Glenn watched him go, his skin hot and his cock rock-hard, uncertain exactly what he was in for but more than willing to find out. He couldn’t help but wonder, though, just how intense these next few nights would have to be, if they were truly to prepare him for the bone-wrenching transformation hurtling toward him at the next full moon.

Glenn clambered blearily up the steps of the cabin, barely able to make out the smooth, gently stained planks even in the clear yellow light of the new-sprung dawn. His lucidity crashed against him and fell back like storm-hurled waves bashing themselves on some rocky cape, and he stumbled, falling to slap scuffed palms against the porch.

He could almost see himself, as if from some shifting, objective position, naked and half sprawled on the steps of his ancestral mountain home like a drunkard returning home the worse for wear, only dirty and abraded and… strangely large…

Wincing, with a last effort he pulled himself to his feet and crossed the porch to the solid oaken cabin door. He slumped against it with a thud, and when it opened he lost his fight with gravity and fell inward like a six-foot sack of cement.

Strong hands caught him, and for a moment handsome, upside-down faces swam in his vision. One was ginger with a nicely trimmed beard, the other blond with a dumb mustache. Nice faces, though. He was sure he knew them from somewhere. His raging arousal responded fiercely to their presence, his cock stiff and painfully massive against his rippling, mud-smeared belly.

He fought to regain control over his mind. Being at the cabin helped—it felt like he was home, safe. A sudden pang of urgency crept over him. “Is it the full moon yet? How long was I gone?” he heard himself rasp.

The upside-down faces exchanged a glance. “Just the night,” the blond answered him. He looked concerned. “Are you okay, Glenn?”

He didn’t answer immediately, and then he felt himself being picked up at both ends and carried to a huge bed. He tried to make sense of his thoughts. Just the night, the blond one had said. Was that possible? It felt like… it was hard to tell. Weeks. A month. More than that. Was that what had happened?

The blond had asked him something, Phoebus, he remembered. Fee. Reserved exterior, secret passion. They were on the bed with him, curled up to either side, and now that he was better able to focus he took in not only their attractive faces but their shirtless upper bodies, which were nicely proportioned and just athletically developed enough to suggest regular gym sessions before the suits went on and the computers were fired up and the professional day began in earnest.

He smiled at Fee. “Hot,” he said.

The blond brows drew together. “You’re hot?” he said.

Glenn felt the back of a hand against his forehead. “He’s not running a fever,” the other one said. Ares. Eager cutie.

Glenn shook his head, looking between his benefactors. “You’re hot,” he clarified.

The brothers exchanged looks again. “We’re hot?” Ares parroted. The hand that had been on his forehead now slid down his face, encountering the rough beard he’d grown overnight. “Glenn, you’re—” The hand became a warm, splayed palm skating slowly over his pecs, which, now that they were being touched, seemed thicker and denser than they should have been, and furrier, too—thick with chest hair to a level he’d never had or seen on anyone by Eamon.

More hands joined the first—all the hands, stroking and feeling up his arms and shoulders and abs and neck and cheeks and sliding through his too-long hair, all while shying delicately away from the big, quivering pole at the center of his being.

“You’re huge,” Fee finished, awestruck, as he helped his brother caress Glenn’s not-so-subtly augmented form.

“And it’s only day one,” Ares added in a mutter, as though only to himself.

The touches seemed to be reviving him. His consciousness clarified in strength and potency—though his arousal, already high, did the same, and was fast approaching the unendurable. He sat up on his elbows, facing them. His eyes felt like they might be blazing with need. Energy surged through him again, as if from some fathomless supply. His animal stirred, circling within him, urging Glenn to feed their lust, now, while his body was theirs to command once more.

“What happened out there?” Fee asked. He sounded like a man who witnessed a miracle with his own eyes and still needed to know how it worked.

Glenn smiled at them, watching them pet and stroke his amped-up physique, making little shivers run through him. Now that he was seeing more clearly, he could confirm that he was, as Fee had said, huge. Everything about him, legs, feet, chest, body, hair, balls, cock… it was all leveled up top to bottom, one or two sizes more than he had been when he’d left. Was it really the night before?

He remembered only shreds. Eamon had been out in the deep, night-black woods, impossible to see in his black-pelted bear form unless he was looking right at you and you saw the glint of his eyes, even while there was a lingering twilight.

Fuck, had Eamon really shifted to bear form, or had he dreamed all of it?

He’d had to track Eamon, he knew that, an untrained city boy hunting a crafty, irritable and fast-moving black bear through the wild and sloping mountain forest for ages upon ages. He got so he knew Eamon’s bear-scent better than he knew the smells he had once known best, like the room-temperature butter his aunt kept on the table or the Ivory soap they’d used that dried his skin. Untested abilities surfaced, tentative and uncertain. His vision sharpened, and in unexpected ways. By night’s end he could see along a scent trail somehow, if he concentrated, though he could only make it work for a few seconds at a time.

There was something else, something about his command of strength and energy channeled through his inner animal. Through this he had access to truly inhuman stamina. He’d run and run and run, tireless at first—only for his control to slip, and then he’d trip and collapse in a heap and lay there like a dead thing until he hear a roar and he forced himself to his feet and tried again. Every time he’d tapped into that inner potency it had flooded through him like there was a throttle he needed to find before he overdosed on power. It had raged through him, suffusing his muscles, sparking his follicles, brightening his vision, stretching and expanding him as he ran and hunted through the endless night.

He heard that roar, more than once, a bear that was not Eamon. He felt it with him, and saw it too, several times: a huge brown bear, majestic and dominant, who watched him and ran with him sometimes through the trees. He was heartened not to be alone, though the creature never came close or appeared in any other form. Once he saw another bear as well, far in the distance, as big as the brown bear but russet and aloof, barely visible even to his augmented night-vision. Glenn had wondered about the strange animal and its presence on the fringes of Glenn’s surreal vision quest, but then the hunt would turn and Eamon’s scent would fill him with a desperate need to hunt, and the red bear would drop from his thoughts as if its had been a mere idea on the edge on thought.

Then after a long chase the bear-Eamon pounced, in a tiny clearing near a babbling mountain creek, and suddenly Glenn was aware of how human he himself was, enhanced or not. Only it wasn’t bear-Eamon now, it was Eamon in his human form, or mostly. His eyes were still feral, and his nails were claws; but his dick was Eamon’s huge fencepost of a cock, and it homed in on Glenn’s ass as Eamon twisted him around and flattened him against the loam and dead leaves, his copious precum slicking his whole asscrack, preparing Glenn for the onslaught to come.

Eamon fucked Glenn, filling him full with impossible amounts of boiling-hot cum, then tore off again, a black bear once more vanishing into the night. The cycle repeated. Glenn thought he’d caught—or been caught by—his quarry six or eight times over what had honestly seemed like untold days or weeks, ass-fucking him full of cum or, once or twice, face-fucking him for sheer variety. It might have been the delirium, but he was sure he’d felt Eamon’s cum seeping through every part of him and working inside him like an active catalyst: strengthening the bonds connecting him to his animal, making them more conscious of each other. At the same time it reknit his muscles and sinews, making more durable some of the uncontrolled gains he’d flooded his body with just from not knowing how to properly channel his power.

Once, as the brown bear had run with him a few paces away on his left, Glenn had felt it, just for a moment: a union between himself and his animal, and for the briefest of heartbeats it was bear-Glenn that was running through the woods. Then the moment had slipped from his fingers like smoke, and he was human again, his animal frustrated and angry, and as completely beyond Glenn’s ability to feel or commune with as if he’d never been freed from his bear-binding curse in the first place.

Looking back on the whole thing now he was overcome with chagrin. He felt like a newbie, like he’d joined the swim team without even knowing the breast stroke, or how to kick off the sides of the pool at the end of a lap. He needed to do better. He had to train harder. He knew how to do that. It was just—there was so little time, and if last night had shown him anything it was that he didn’t know fuck-all about being “mountain-folk.” He didn’t know fuck-all (and this one hurt a bit, after all his cockiness in town the day before) about being a Sheridan. Not yet.

He couldn’t explain any of this to these sweet young men—not while he could barely make sense of it himself. He opened his mouth as if to speak, then smiled and shook his head. He hoped they understood. Maybe he’d tell them, but he couldn’t now—especially since he needed to make love to these men, right the fuck this minute. The whole night he himself had never cum, and his whole, sized-up body was quivering with need, like he was saturated to the point of endurance with a desperate lust that demanded slaking.

He could tell Ares got it. Fee licked his lips. Both their cocks were hard, Glenn could smell it—but Fee said, “Are you… hungry?” Perhaps seeing the light in Glenn’s eyes he added hastily, “Do you need food?”

Glenn shook his head, his feral smile widening.

Ares was grinning, too. “Do you want to wash up first?” he suggested.

Glenn shook his head again. “Not allowed until the week’s over,” he said. He wasn’t sure how he knew that, but it was unquestionably one of the rules, like nudity, and seeking communion with his animal, and taking as much Eamon-cum as possible while he kept all his spunk in and never blew his load—not until the sun rose and the training was done, at least for a few hours.

Fee blew out a breath. At last, Glenn felt the hands shift from his pecs and abs and arms to his cock. It was massive, though he wasn’t sure how much of that was permanent. Certainly there was plenty of shaft for four hands to caress and stroke. Well, three hands, anyway—Ares had not forgotten to include Glenn’s swollen, orange-sized balls in his attentions. “Then,” suggested the younger brother, sliding a palm under the long shaft, “can we help you with this? I don’t think you’ll be able to sleep until this monster has been… taken care of.”

Glenn was feeling fully charged and bristling with energy. Sleep felt like just about the only thing he was incapable of in that moment. He held Ares’s gaze, then Fee’s. “Please,” he said, his voice both a plea and a command.

The brothers grinned, looking relieved. Ares looked at Fee, who carefully removed his glasses and set them on the night stand. Then, as one, the brothers fell upon his cock, sliding their mouths along the enormous, palm-wide shaft with a loud slurp, and Glenn opened his mouth and howled.

The brothers laughed around his cock and redoubled their efforts, starting over at the bottom where they engaged in licking and mouthing around the base of his shaft in a way that promised a tortuously slow journey to brain-melting, galaxy-destroying orgasm. Well, they’d get theirs, Glenn thought happily.

Awash in pleasure, Glenn happened to glance over toward the door of the cabin, which one of the brothers had apparently thought to close after bringing him in. There, leaning against the cabin wall near the iron coat hooks, was the spectral, half-naked, and very impressively aroused figure of his hunky, de-aged grandfather, James. Glenn smirked at the horny bastard and tilted his chin toward the door. James winked and then sifted slowly backwards through the wall, leaving him to his pleasure—though Glenn knew that while he was here, by day or night, James Sheridan would never be far away.

Noah Paxton, at 27 a newly, if belatedly, minted attorney-at-law and proud heir to the Paxton family sinecure of lawyery and postmastery in Stark and all the surrounding wilderness, dropped onto the barstool with practiced ease, leaning his elbows on the sturdy bartop like a man who’d gladly spend several decades contributing to its wear and tear. “You’ll never guess who I saw in town today, Jesse, old man,” he told the glass-wiping bartender without preamble, as though eager to share deliciously dark news. “A new Sheridan.”

His thirty-something, solidly-built friend behind the bar paused in his wiping and frowned, but it was the brawny old woman behind the newspaper at the end of the bar who responded, lowering her copy of the Coös County Democrat partway and peering over it at Noah through slightly oversized glasses. “Here?” she asked, sounding alarmed. “In town?”

Jesse filled the pint glass he’d been cleaning with Harpoon IPA from the tap and thunked it down in front of Noah without asking. “Relax, Mother, I’m sure he didn’t have his teeth bared,” he said sourly.

“But he was here in town?” Jesse’s mother persisted, her penetrating gaze still fixed on Noah.

“Right in the store, as bold as you please,” Noah confirmed, turning toward her partway. “No shirt, no manners, just like a Sheridan. Busted right into my conversation with that Tess Rigby like he was laying claim to her or something.”

Jesse leaned against the back counter behind the bar and folded his arms, regarding his headstrong friend coolly. He could imagine how that “conversation” might have gone. Ever since Tess and her brother Trey had chosen to live among the townsfolk, Noah and his likeminded buddy Josh Abbott had been making their path rough for them. Jesse didn’t believe mixing town folk and mountain folk was a good idea, but there wasn’t much benefit he could see to stoking the tensions between them like Noah seemed bent on doing.

Maureen snorted, laying down her paper completely. “Ain’t no Sheridan ever looked at a girl that I know of,” she said. “They’ve been gay as toucans since the dawn of time. Remember Emory Sheridan, who ran off to join the Green Mountain Boys afore the War and came back with one on each arm? They say you could hear the fucking in Sheridan Hollow clear down to Manchester.”

Jesse rolled his eyes at his mother’s tale—she never met an anecdote she couldn’t improve on, and the older the better to support her own peculiar world-building—but he kept his focus on Noah. “Who is he, though?” he asked. “Not Michael.” No, Noah wouldn’t have said “a new Sheridan” if Michael had returned. Jesse felt a brief pang at the thought of Michael, but pushed it aside as Noah responded.

“Even better,” Noah said. “I asked Pop, an’ he said it was Michael’s son. Glenn something. Been living away with relatives until now, never even heard of the Mountain.”

“He musta been called back on account of James passing,” Maureen said shrewdly.

Noah nodded. “That’s what Pop said,” he told her. “Took possession of the Hollow and a box o’ all James’s bric-a-brac and whatnot. Had young Conroy with him, too, up from university,” he added to Jesse with a sneer.

“That beast?” Maureen snorted. “Thought we’d seen the last of him.”

Jesse glanced at his mother in surprise. He didn’t know much about Eamon Conroy, other than that he and his dwindling clan were as “mountain folk” as they came, coming into town seldom and living as close to nature as possible. The unexpected news one of them had gone to the city to study forestry had set tongues wagging for weeks. To Jesse it seemed likely that Eamon’s studies were all about the Conroys and the mountain, which meant that Eamon was always coming back, his mother’s wishful thinking aside. He had sometimes wondered how university might have changed the young man, though. Had it softened him? Made him more cosmopolitan? Jesse had guessed not. Heck, Noah and Josh had managed to come back from law school and medical school, respectively, even more narrow-minded and insular than ever. He reckoned Eamon was even more reaffirmed in his world-view after his temporary sojourn among the world-destroying city folk than they’d been.

Besides, Jesse was pretty sure every Conroy male in history had been pathologically intent on defining themselves as the anti-Sheridans, refusing any option that meant straddling the animal and human worlds like the Sheridans tended to do, and the glimpses and stories he’d caught onto about young Eamon sure hadn’t seemed to suggest a significantly different path.

Jesse sighed. “Everyone in this town is stuck,” he said aloud, without really meaning to. His mother gave him a sharp look, and he guiltily busied himself grabbing his rag and wiping down the bartop. “He still in town, then?” he asked Noah diffidently as he worked.

“Who? Sheridan?” Noah responded. He narrowed his eyes slightly. “Why?”

Before Jesse could answer, the curly-haired, noticeably doughy young man who’d entered while they were speaking dropped noisily onto the stool next to Noah and let out a sigh of relief. “He left up the mountain,” Josh Abbott informed them, setting his fishing tackle onto the floor next to him, “and he done took his mountain with him!” He chortled happily at his own joke, not caring that he was the only one.

Jesse set the rag aside and went about deftly pulling another beer for Josh and setting it in front of him. Maureen lifted her paper up again with a rustle. “Good riddance,” she muttered from behind it.

“That Sheridan’s halfway to being a mountain himself,” Noah groused, taking a gulp of his own brew. “Both of ’em strutting around town like they invented hairy chests and all. Bristlin’ like a quill pig. We got chest hair too, ya know!”

“That’s right!” Josh agreed amiably. They lifted their beer glasses and clinked. “To hairy chests!”

Jesse leaned back against the rear counter again and squinted at his two younger friends, lips quirking, but he said nothing. The two twenty-something “professionals” were okay enough to look at, but Jesse knew they weren’t exactly candidates for a Hairy He-Men of the White Mountains calendar or anything. Noah Paxton was certainly not unattractive head to toe in a lanky, sinewy way—but if Noah had more than five chest hairs, then Jesse was Tom Selleck. Besides, any attractiveness Noah might have had was probably offset by his personality. As for Joshua Abbott, the comeliness of physique he had possessed as a wiry teenage Atari obsessive and general cut-up had set about progressively softening while he was away at med school, and that train only seemed to be picking up steam now that he was settled in as the town physician. At least Jesse knew what a sit-up was, he thought morosely to himself.

This young Sheridan, though. If only he had gotten to see that hard, thick, furry chest they were going on about, fully on display as the gods of the mountain folk intended…

Jesse’s heart twisted again. No, he needed to stay well away from this Sheridan, and all Sheridans. An image of Michael came to him unbidden, back when they were both 18 and full of spunk, running through the snowy woods with no one to see them… Michael half-naked as always, like he didn’t even feel the cold, his gorgeous honey-brown eyes catching the mountain light… Jesse pelting snowballs at his chest, just to see the dusty flakes stick in his bountiful, dark-brown chest hair before slowly melting from his natural heat, leaving him glistening and oh so desirable…

He grimaced, dropping his eyes and staring hard at the scarred floor at his feet as he folded his arms tightly over himself. No one knew about that wintery week with Michael, before he’d spooked himself into thinking his friends suspected him and abruptly broken it off. After that he’d never so much as spoken to Michael again—nor James either after Michael was gone, beyond a terse “What’ll you have?” the few times a year the old man’d stopped in the stone tavern to share a round with his buddy Bennett Franklin from the store, or that witch Virginia Clement, or one of his handful of other townie pals. He needed to steer clear of Glenn Sheridan, too. Not one soul knew about him and Glenn’s dad, and he would take that secret to his fucking grave.

He looked up to see Noah watching him. Had he missed something Noah had said? Safe bet it was something incendiary about the mountain folk. He sighed in exasperation and took Noah’s empty glass to refill. “Best leave well enough alone,” he said, pulling the ale and setting it back down in front of him.

Noah watched the bubbles gently sifting through the amber liquid toward the thin head of foam, pondering Jesse’s advice. “If things were ‘well enough,’” he mused, “we wouldn’t be in this mess.” He lifted the glass and took a long swig.

“Damn straight,” Maureen muttered distractedly from behind her paper, turning a page. Josh chuckled, but Jesse shook his head.

Stuck, he thought. We are all fucking stuck.

Ares stepped into the lamplit cabin naked and soaking wet from using the external shower pump behind the house, his peach skin slightly flushed from the sun-warmed water. He closed the door, mostly shutting out the midnight cacophony of the forest, then grabbed the towel he’d left on one of the hooks behind the door and started drying his lengthening red hair with vigor. “I’m so glad we’re here during the summer,” he said as he worked. He caught sight of his brother Phoebus standing stock-still in the middle of the room, looking weirdly lost, and froze. He had his white boardies on and his short-sleeve blue-and-white retro-Cuban-style shirt was half-buttoned, like he’d become stymied by the act of dressing himself. “Fee?” he asked, pulling the towel down around his neck and looking his brother over with concern. “What’s up?”

“My shirt,” Fee said distantly. He had the open plackets in both hands, near the buttons just under the sternum, but seemed momentarily baffled about what to do with them.

Half amused and half worried, Ares padded closer, conscious of the stray droplets of water rolling off his bare ass and sliding down his long uncut dick as he did so. “Your shirt…?” he prompted.

Fee looked up at met his gaze, those jade eyes skewering him in that way they’d been doing lately. He spoke in a soft voice, almost a whisper. “It’s… too small.”

Ares didn’t respond immediately, only holding his gaze. Fee seemed to take this as disbelief. “Here, look,” Fee said. He started buttoning the shirt up again. Sure enough, the buttons were straining across his chest, the placket puckering between the fastenings like he’d packed their kid sister’s shirt instead of the one he wore every chance he got wherever professional garb was not required—even here, apparently where their host was in the midst of a weeklong naked wilderness ordeal and where no attire at all on their part would be, to put it mildly, more than acceptable.

“It’s a large,” Fee was saying anxiously. “It should be loose on me. It fit last week. It’s my favorite shirt. Ares—”

“Shhh,” Ares soothed, flattening his palms over his brother’s chest, and Fee subsided with a cute, nervous hum in the back of his throat, dropping his hands limply to his sides. He was glad of their similar heights, with Fee having just barely an inch on him: every once in a while Fee needed for him to look him in the eyes and for them just to… connect. He didn’t think Glenn had seen this particular side of Fee yet; but then, their cocky, increasingly massive centerfold-hot lover had a gift for insight and seemed to understand them a little too well sometimes.

Ares let one hand loosen the buttons Fee had just fastened, using the other to stroke calmly along Fee’s curving pectoral. He was getting hard, he realized, his dick starting its slow, swelling swing toward the stiff and horizontal. He should have stroked off in the shower, but at the time it had seemed selfish. Now it just made him look like a horndog.

He kept his eyes and attention on his brother. Ares had felt himself and his brother incrementally getting bigger, stronger, and appreciably thicker-dicked since arriving on the mountain—since, he suspected, the two of them had started partaking of Glenn’s thick, salty gushers of sperm in industrial quantities. It was the main reason he was using up all the water in the tank every time he showered, and that was mostly just from appreciation, not actual wanking. His brother was neither blind nor an idiot. “You already knew something was happening,” he said with certainty. “We both did.”

Fee swallowed. Heat seemed to radiate from him suddenly, though his creamy Wilcox skin didn’t seem to pink significantly. Was he imagining that warmth, or was he somehow sensing something beyond what the eyes could see? He felt himself leaning into the field of Fee’s warmth, almost imperceptibly.

“I thought it was a little… fantasy,” Fee said. To Ares’s delight Fee’s eyes dropped to his lips as he said the last word, just for a second. Ares’s big, flat hard-on flexed upwards, tapping lightly against the inseam of Fee’s board shorts.

“Not so little,” Ares smirked, as his palms continued teasingly appreciating Fee’s swollen pecs. Fee swallowed again.

Ares waited for the touch of Fee’s hands on his bare torso, but it didn’t come. Ares realized they’d reached one of Those moments—the ones where Fee stopped going with the flow and letting his more extroverted brother get him into things and abruptly put on the brakes, forcing an opportunity to make up his own mind. Ares didn’t step back, but he stilled his roving hands and refrained from humping his raging erection between Fee’s long, mass-accruing things.

“If you’re not okay with all this,” he said seriously, “we can go.”

Unexpectedly, Fee’s lips twitched. “It’s tough to think straight with your stiffie rubbing my taint,” he said.

Half a dozen smug responses occurred to Ares, but he discarded them and stayed (reasonably) serious. He knew they needed to settle this now, one way or the other. “Fee—”

Fee breathed out through his nose. “Glenn needs us.”

“This isn’t about Glenn,” Ares reminded him. “If you’re not okay with all this—”

Fee was suddenly done with the moment of introspection. The touch of Fee’s warm hands on his naked flanks finally came, and Ares shivered with pleasure. “I’m okay with all this,” he affirmed solemnly in a deep, sexy purr.

Fee’s eyes were glinting now, but his touch still seemed tentative. Ares had to be sure. “Are you okay with…” He slid his hands slowly apart across Fee’s thickened pecs again. “…this?”

He saw the smile in those sexy jade-green eyes a split second before Fee leaned in for the kiss, pulling their hips together so Ares could feel the massive, steel-hard erection Fee was sporting in his boardies. Ares shuddered, his growing body on fire with need, and Fee’s hesitant touch became a passionate embrace even as his tongue insistently demanded admission past Ares’s lips. Ares eagerly opened for him, moaning into their kiss as their larger-than-before dicks shoved impatiently against Fee’s unwelcome attire.

Ares giggled and pulled back from the kiss, looking at Fee in wonder. “Fee,” he said, his voice growly, “your shirt is too small.”

“So hot, right?” Fee rasped, his dick shoving hard against Ares’s hip.

“So hot,” Ares agreed.

“Could be on you if you were wearing a shirt.”

“Why would I be wearing a shirt? Why would either of us—?”

Ares didn’t even get to finish the thought before Fee reached down and yanked the shirt open the rest of the way by brute force, sending buttons flying. A couple of them pinged onto Ares’s tight abs. “Holy shit!” Ares exclaimed.

“So I can do that, I guess,” Fee said with a feral grin. Together they pulled the remains of the shirt off him, exposing, in place of the toned tax-lawyer physique they were used to, a starter fitness-model body including a heaving, significantly heavier chest, wide, sweet shoulders, and the promising outlines of more abs than either of them had ever expected to have—not to mention the rampaging pipe of cock shoving angrily up out of those stupid board shorts.

“Get those off,” Ares said. “I need you to fuck me.”

Fee paced a step closer. “I need you to fuck me.”

Ares shook his head, staring at Fee’s amazing body and immutable, leveled-up prick. “Me first, Sunshine,” he said, deliberately egging Fee on with the nickname.

Fee licked his kiss-bruised lips. “Whatever you say, Warhammer,” he teased back. Ares giggled. Fee stalked closer still, Ares warming with anticipation. “I’m a patient guy,” Fee added, just before he attacked his brother with mouth, hands, and cock, to the brother’s very expressive pleasure.

Glenn waited until the fourth night before he sprang his trap.

He’d known he and Eamon were not alone in the woods as they pursued their frenzied, cum-intensive cat-and-mouse through increasingly remote folds and turns of the night-shrouded forest, rock, water, and dirt. His increasingly acute senses revealed a world of life and scrutiny to him, both the eyes of living beasts and trails that led through time and space to den and aerie. He saw owls watching him and Eamon chasing each other in predatory fascination, scrutinizing their fuck-play for any startled prey that might be sent fleeing directly into their ruthless clutches. Twice he’d spotted lone deer—a buck here, a doe there—looking on with cool interest from starlit fields, unconcerned by the presence of man or werebear. Even the thick and mighty trees and the stones themselves seemed aware of him, as though the mountain were itself an ancient, complex creature slowly weaving Glenn into its living, infinite matrix.

He was conscious, too, of a shadow-presence parallel to his own, chasing through the trees with him—not beside him but always close, a counter to Eamon’s rougher tutelage. Eamon’s energy was feral and unconfined, so attuned to the power and might of his ferocious, black-pelted bear form it amazed Glenn that Eamon ever allowed himself to be seen as human, oversized or not. Now his entire being was focused on breaking Glenn—or, more accurately, the Glenn who saw himself as merely human. Eamon was hell-bent on forcing him past the limits of his puny humanity though a raw, escalating, nightlong submergence in the unrelenting chaos of being wild, and the pounding, soaring exhilaration of hunting, of being hunted, and fucking hard under the moon and the fiery stars. Multiple times a night their chase gave way suddenly to a scrapping and wrestling that quickly degraded into the two of them pounding their half-beast bodies together in a mindless, brutal passion beyond anything Glenn had known, until his very being was blazingly sated with the roaring deluge of thick, scalding Eamon-cum released inside him, every time changing and transforming him as Eamon climaxed endlessly into his ass.

Glenn barely noticed his own prodigious spray thickly coating his increasingly hairy chest and abs in jet after jet as he stared up at his fuckpartner, Eamon’s hot breath panting hard onto Glenn’s dirty face from between the sharp, flesh-tearing teeth of his half-transformed friend. Then, with a last hot huff, Eamon would break free of him and growl-shift fully into his enormous bear form, then pound mutely off into the darkened woods, leaving Glenn to revel in the lush ache of their fucking and the strangely similar, deliciously infused soreness of muscle and bone and still-hard cock as Eamon’s cum pushed changes and growth through his body and being.

Eamon was the fury and wave of the ordeal, opening up Glenn’s body, but the shadow-presence unlocked his hidden mind and senses, exposing Glenn night by night and run by run to the untold universe of thought and perception that was the true essence of being a shifter. Through his connection to James’s phantasm he felt saw the pathways that twisted their way out of this world and into places where only were-creatures and guardians could go. By tracing James’s trail he crept his way into moments he had not known, following the thread of James’s movements backwards into the past to see him tracking Glenn, then, earlier than that, finding Glenn’s scent, then, still earlier, his step-through into this reality from his cozy deathworld and his easy-as-a-wink transformation into the powerful, handsome brown bear. Then he’d spend the night keeping pace with the still-human Glenn, just out of sight in the near-lightless mountain forest.

With James’s help, and the infusion of life and power that came from running and chasing and fucking, he knew his connection with his animal was opening up. The creature was still a mystery to him, but he could feel its excitement and yearning to run with him, to share a life side by side with him, and as the sweaty, dirty, jizzy ordeal consumed his world, leaving his past as a pretty-boy college stud far behind, Glenn thought he could see no better fate than a life bonded and shared with the bear that was nothing other than the other half of his spirit—the animus, the wild force that was the complement and the most essential component of his being.

It was a connection too strong for Glenn to handle yet, though he was packing on strength of mind and body at an alarming rate. Unless something terrible happened, Glenn’s early fears that he would not be ready in time were ebbing steadily away with each nightfall and sunrise—thanks in part to the moon-and-storm guidance of his two amusingly incompatible mentors.

He also had a third companion, uninvited but increasingly not unexpected.

Not Pharaoh. The guardian dog had peeked in on Glenn’s trials a few times—or at least, Glenn had only spotted the pup once or twice a night, stiffly scrutinizing his progress from some boulder or rise as Glenn ran past, only to be gone when he looked back. No, his third companion was another bear, russet-tinged and smaller than Eamon or even James, though still more massive than a true, ordinary bear. He’d glimpsed him several times a night, always from afar, as though he were both reticent and wanted to be seen.

Just as mystifying was the way James and Eamon both failed to acknowledge the other were-creature, to the point of completely ignoring him. Did the others not see him? Was he unreal, in a way even beyond the solid-phantasm presence of his recently deceased grandpappy? Was a hallucinatory extension of the opening of Glenn’s mind and powers? Did he represent the awakening of his animal and the growing synergy between them? Or were James and Eamon telling him to block out everything but the mission and deadline before him, by ignoring everything but him?

Glenn didn’t know what to think. All he knew was as the third bear kept showing up on the periphery, night after night, Glenn’s building curiosity became so intense it was almost akin to an imperative. Perhaps this faint-hearted observer was a duly appointed representative from some other clan of bear-shifters, or perhaps there was some stranger explanation; but after days of the interloper being a reddish-brown anomaly in his routine of running, exploring, and orgasming, Glenn had got to the point where couldn’t stand not knowing.

Fortunately, Glenn had discerned a kind of pattern. His two guides were always on different vectors from him with respect to each other. If Eamon was far ahead, Glenn pelting through the forest sensing and tracing the huge black bear’s trail, James would be running some ways off to his side, present in Glenn’s mind despite being hidden by the trees and his grandfather’s skill. If he and Eamon were racing in tandem, each trying to force the other into attack, he felt James with him ahead or behind, the power of his animal and mind coaxing out his own.

What Glenn started noticing was that the fleeting glimpses of the third bear tended to be somewhere along a third vector, away from the other two. If Eamon and James were to his left and right, the stranger would be ahead; if one of his mentors was ahead and the other keeping pace with him through the trees to the left, a glance to the right might find the interloper there, a single frame of russet fur amid the racing b-roll of blurred, night-silvered trees.

This allowed Glenn to formulate a rough plan, and the moment the circumstances were in his favor, deep into the fourth night of the ordeal, he acted on it. He was sweating all over and full of energy as he wove tirelessly up-mountain along a spindly, winding creek bed, a dozen orgasms’ worth of cum stuck in the flourishing silky-brown body hair coating his massive, heaving chest and brick-like abs. Eamon was giving him his head, chasing him but well back enough that the pounce, when it came, would be truly terrifying—but for now, that meant Glenn could choose his direction. He felt in his mind for James, who was galloping along some ways off to his left. He did not look right. Not yet.

He knew these lands well now. Some of that was from direct experience, what with the mountain having been the arena and playground for his ordeal these last few days. He must have dashed up this steep, twisty creek bed three times already, at various times of night; that bend up there by the towering beech was where Eamon had drilled him hard for the third time back on the first night, before Glenn had fully understood what was going to be happening to him out here in the living wilderness.

But even more than that, he knew these lands in the same way he’d known the cabin when he first saw it, in his inaugural vision back at Ginny’s, on the last day of his old life. His identity and memories, his strength and potential, had deepened beyond the simple constraints of one man’s limited life and being. He knew this mountain because he and the Sheridans were this mountain, in a way that transcended time and tense and human perception.

In a sudden, jerking swerve, Glenn veered sharply right and then ran on, streaking like a bullet—directly at the shocked-looking russet bear watching him from the deep in predawn shadows.

The bear did not vanish as a ghost or phantasm might. It did not face him and hold its ground. Instead it turned and bolted, lumbering on a straight line away from Glenn faster than any true bear could run, crashing through the sturdy young pine trees in his way like they were made of balsa.

All at once the trees ended, and Glenn emerged into the open. Before him, maybe twenty yards away, the bear crouched at bay near the edge of a jagged cliff. Behind him, a deep, night-dark ravine fell an unguessable distance. The bear watched him, anxious and wary.

Glenn stalked cautiously toward the bear, taking his time. He was aching and sore with exertion that made his previous training as a swimmer look like a boulevard promenade, but he barely felt it. His rational brain knew this was suicidal—approaching a fucking bear in the wild was right up there with spitting on mobsters and taunting the IRS—but that didn’t matter, either. Glenn was done. He was riding high on ridiculous amounts of adrenaline, normality deprivation, and super-powerful shifter spunk, and he was dealing with this, now.

From the moment Glenn had touched the dagger, unbinding his shifter nature, Glenn had been building up a powerful new sensory ability. He was increasingly aware of the emotions of those around him, even using his will to affect and direct them. The ordeal had heightened these abilities a hundredfold. He was confident that his ability to perceive beyond what eyes, ears, a nose could tell him had surpassed expectations, possibly carrying him past even what a fully mature and experienced shifter like Eamon could achieve. He now tried reaching out his consciousness to the bear, hoping to connect with him. The response he got stunned him. The feelings and needs that flooded through him as he made contact were so jumbled and alien he could not fully understand them. There was a prodigious animal spirit there, there was no doubt about that; but the perfect yin and yang of human and animal that was so constant in James was warped and submerged. He could feel emotions—powerful emotions—but without a human context he could not make sense of them.

“Glenn,” called out a voice from behind him—James. He did not turn, but using his senses he could feel and, in a way, see James standing behind him at the treeline, naked and powerfully human. “Glenn, be careful,” this eternally young version of his grandfather cautioned. “He’s not… like us.”

“He is, though,” Glenn said as he held the strange bear’s watchful gaze, loud enough for James to hear. James said nothing. His grandfather knew they were both right, and so did Glenn.

He padded closer, his toughened bare feet barely feeling the small jagged rocks and rough stone promontory amid the fallen sticks and needles. To the bear, he said calmly, “Who are you? Who were you?” He was already sure—but he wasn’t asking for himself.

Just then there was a huge commotion from the other side of the forest behind him. He glanced to his left and saw to his alarm that Eamon, naked and wild-looking in his massive human form, was pelting toward the cornered bear, shouting as he ran, “Don’t you touch him!

“No!” Glenn shouted. Before he knew it he was running too, faster than Eamon despite the other man’s greater size. He pounced on Eamon mere feet from the cowering bear, sending both of them tumbling over the stones until Glenn stopped them very close to the edge, flattening Eamon’s powerful shoulders to the ground in what was now a well-practiced maneuver. “Stop!” he commanded, enraged, an authority in his voice he had not known he had. He bared his teeth at Eamon in warning, knowing they were fearsome and sharp.

Eamon glared powerlessly up at him, his breath heaving under Glenn, and despite the seriousness of the moment Glenn felt himself stiffening with the sense of power he felt over the larger man. “Stop,” he said again, more calmly this time, though his voice was still inhumanly low and rough. “I can sense it. He won’t hurt me.”

“You don’t know that,” Eamon objected fiercely. “He’s an animal.”

Glenn stared at him. Eamon’s stink filled his nostrils along with his own, threatening to muddle his thoughts. He shook his head. Eamon’s animal was as close to the surface as a shifter’s could be. His human form seemed a grudging concession to necessity. Since returning to the mountain he was increasingly unable to even tolerate “town folk” and other nonshifters. Even Ares and Fee had been tools to him, a means of helping to unlock Glenn’s animal sexuality; Glenn couldn’t think of any time Eamon had spoken directly to them, or even looked at them for more than a glance. Until this moment Glenn would have said Eamon was his animal. And yet—Eamon was repulsed by this bear-man whose bear was nearly all that was left of him. For Eamon to be making a distinction not only between himself and James, but between them and the strange bear behind him—a distinction James seemed to agree with—could only mean that Glenn had potentially misunderstood something truly fundamental about the paths that lay before him. Glenn had experienced many extremes of the animus and the id over the last four nights, but there had been nothing like the alarmed disquiet he felt now.

Hiding his uncertainty from Eamon, he kept his face fierce and hard as bent closer and whispered, “Don’t tell me what I can and can’t sense.” Then he stood abruptly and turned his back on Eamon, advancing boldly toward the bear. The large beast now hovered as close to the lip as it dared, its eyes flicking between Eamon and Glenn. Its thoughts were a tumbling riot of emotions and fears that Glenn felt he almost had to physically wade through as he closed he distance between them. Look at me, Glenn thought. Only me. Only Glenn.

Then they were face to face, eye to eye. He placed his hand on the flat of the bear’s head and willed them both to be calm, but the bear fought him, its animal psyche wild even as it stilled itself physically before Glenn.

Glenn closed his eyes. Who were you? he repeated. Let me track you. Show me your trail.

He heard the bear’s husky breaths, slow and even now. He blocked out everything else—the forest, and James, and Eamon behind him—and let the mountain twist around under the whirling stars as he traced the long trail of the bear’s wandering life.

This tracking was a trial in itself. Glenn’s experience seeing along a trail so far had been immediate and visceral, nothing like this. But his animal was impossibly strong, and after a moment he felt the mature power of the bear tentatively twining with his own. Together they slid around and back, following an intricate and endless line, until—

Crisp cold and deep snow. Two young men in the prime of life, one heavily yet gracefully muscled with russet-brown hair tumbling off his head and covering his shirtless torso, the other darker haired, trim and lanky, both laughing as they cavorted in the drifts and snowy fields far from prying eyes. The bigger man shoved the other boy into the snow, only for him to leap up instantly and pounce on the other with grin, sending them both tumbling to the ground. They rolled around in the freezing white fluff a bit, laughing in simple delight. Then they were kissing, sliding their mouths passionately together like it was a new thing they’d just invented. They broke apart, the darker-haired boy eyeing the other’s handsome, bearded, beaming face in wonder. “I didn’t know—” he breathed.

A blink, and time shifted forward. Glenn found himself in the clearing where his cabin lay. It was the same as ever, as it was in James’s day and as it was now in his own, and would be again someday in his own son’s time. The russet-haired man stood alone and naked in the soft, cold rain, his hands pressed against the side of the building like he meant to push it over, his Herculean frame betraying just how capable he was of doing exactly that if he wished. But there was no destructive rage emanating from his mighty form, only desolate sadness.

Glenn stepped forward, and with a shift of unreality he was instantly beside the other man. He placed a hand on the stone slab of his shoulder, feeling the patter of the freezing rain on both their skins.

“Dad,” he said.

Michael Sheridan turned to him. He was breathtaking, his face a work of art and his body crafted as if to express the epitome of strength and masculinity. To Glenn it made his utter bleakness of aspect all the more heart-wrenching, though there was pride in the elder Sheridan’s eyes as he recognized his son.

Glenn smiled softly, and Michael turned fully to him. Their arms wrapped firmly around each other. The rain quickened, falling hard and fast around them, but it did not matter.

This moment was not real. Glenn could steal this moment out of time, but he could only sense and perceive, not twist the threads of the universe. Nothing he could do now would change Michael’s fate or the trace of his life until their meeting on the cliff’s edge. The past was fixed—but the present was always the present, alive with possibility.

They held each other close as the rain slowly crescendoed. The clearing turned and the moment became another moment, and another. Glenn felt Michael’s animal need surface, and he pressed their powerful bodies tighter together. A moment passed, and they were kissing now, rough and merciless.

Then it was a different moment, and the sun was high and they were running through the woods, now as men, now as bears, Glenn fully shifted and relishing the seemingly infinite vitality of his bear form.

Then it was another moment again, only it was back at the cabin on the rainy afternoon where he and Michael had first touched, though days, or seconds, seemed to have passed. They were supine in the wet spongey grass well away from the cabin, naked and in desperate need. Michael was under him, at first on his back, then a blink later on his hands and knees, the cold rain cleansing them both as Glenn slid his now-gigantic dick along Michael’s crease. His dick was water-wet… (beat) slick… (beat) throbbing recklessly inside Michael’s vise-tight, hot, virginal ass.

Glenn grabbed Michael’s flanks hard below the impressive flare of his lats. This was not like the violent, intense fucking he and Eamon had been engaged in throughout the ordeal, nor even the gentle, sweet pleasurings of Ares and Fee when he tumbled home, huge and exhausted. He pushed in further, and Michael moaned in a way Glenn felt in his heart. This was connection, pure and primal. This was lovemaking that made two men one.

He cried out, his animal close to him as he rode his father, and Michael’s swell of pleasure expanded through them both. This connection was feeding on the time differential, on the innate bond between them, on the imperative of the Sheridan line. It was as though a white light of raw ecstasy shone between them. Then they came, the two men roaring their pleasure—

Collapsed in the grass, cold rain falling hard, panting in afterglow with Michael in his brawny arms. The white light still glimmered brightly between them, inextinguishable in the wet of the storm. Was it real? Glenn wondered. An idea? A portent?

“You must take it with you,” Michael said softly, speaking for the first time. His voice was a pleasant tenor, but he spoke haltingly, as though he were at least partly the bear of Glenn’s own time, his words stunted by too many years without his humanity.

Glenn stared into the mesmerizing honey-brown eyes so like his own. They looked up at him now, clear and calm and relaxed, though maybe Michael could only be so in this bubble outside of time. Glenn wanted to ask what the light was—no, what he wanted to ask was everything that had led Michael to that moment on the cliff—but he only nodded. The white light sank into him, nestling into his chest like it was a part of him, but even before that was done he was being twisting away from the languorous Michael in his arms, his consciousness drifting rapidly back around the twisting line of time connecting that moment with this, until—

He was on the cliff’s edge, holding bear-Michael’s head in both hands as he stared into his father’s eyes. He could feel the human Michael inside the beast, or the echo of him, at least. Glenn had known with utter certainty that there would be some shred of Michael left—there had had to be, for him to be drawn to Glenn and need to share his ordeal with him as a father must. But Michael’s human spirit was so weak as to be all but dissipated. It was Michael’s animal who had kept them both alive, as his human slipped fiber by fiber from the human realm.

Glenn held the bear’s gaze. Almost he felt the cold storm around him, though the summer-night sky was clear and the pink glimmer of dawn was fighting night’s inky indigo along the hills and trees to the east. He tried to be stern, though he was feeling too many feels to be the fire-eyed imperator who had stopped Eamon with a word. “No more fucking off,” he told bear-Michael, squeezing his bony head a little tighter. His voice had a little tremble in it, though, almost as if he really were being drowned in freezing rain. “You hear? I – need – you.” He hardened his gaze, desperate to make sure the broken shifter understood. “Got it?” he hissed.

The bear stared back at him. After a long moment he lowered his head and lifted it in a simple nod. A kind of sad elation broke out inside him, and he grinned and kissed bear-Michael’s flat, furry forehead, then gave the big bear a skritch behind the ears. “Okay, then,” he said.

He glanced again at the clear signs of dawn, then turned, intending to announce to Eamon and James that he, at least, was done for the night. But they were alone—both his mentors had vanished. Glenn sighed and looked back over his shoulder at the bear. “Want to see the cabin?” he asked. The bear said nothing, but when Glenn gave him a wave and tired “C’mon” and started heading across the rocky space toward the mighty forest and the long path home, the bear straightened and padded silently along behind him.

Tessa Rigby watched her mother fit the tray of oven-baked trout into the sprawling Sunday spread filling the sturdy oaken table at her parents’ spacious cabin up the mountain, trying to guess her mood. After thirty years in the woods with the kind of man who’d been labeled an unpopular curmudgeon even as a broody teenager, Sophie had developed a redoubtable patience and a placid happy-housewife mask few could see past. Still, Tessa was pretty sure she knew the signs. Sophie had brown eyes, big and slightly bulging and as unlike the flat, cold blue peepers of a Rigby as could be, and tonight there was a certain wry alertness in them—a sure sign, Tessa reckoned, that the comical, grumbling Vesuvius that was her father was fixing to blow.

“Dig in, everyone,” Sophie instructed them cheerily, smoothing out her old-fashioned poplin dress and taking a seat to the right of her husband, Thaddeus, who occupied the head of the table like the petty, unshaven monarch of a long-forgotten alpine realm. She smiled sweetly at first Tessa, who’d taken the seat at the foot of the table furthest from her dad, and then across from her at Tessa’s older brother Trey, still in his sheriff’s deputy uniform for some reason, and his unflappable pharmacist wife Willa. Behind Willa, gurgling happily in a high chair, was their perky one-year-old, Van. “Thank you so much for coming up, dears,” Sophie said.

Thaddeus said nothing, but he slapped the wooden spoonfuls of whipped potato onto his plate a bit more forcefully than was perhaps necessary. Spatters of potato landed on the tray of fish and Thaddeus’s sweating glass of iced tea, earning a reproving look from Sophie that apparently went unnoticed.

Tessa shook her head. Her dad made out like she and Trey had moved to town solely to disrespect him, when the truth was no one wanted to be a normal townie and free of the mountain and their animal past more than Thaddeus Ephraim Rigby. Of course, they could never truly be town folk, not while turds like Noah Paxton insisted on sneeringly lumping the Rigbys in with the Sheridans and Conroys and the other shifter clans who didn’t deserve to live among “decent folk.” Thaddeus knew this and brooded on it, grumbling over his whisky in the dark of night like the sourpuss coot he was slowly becoming. At least Tessa, unlike her father, held fast to a stolid optimism that with a bit of perseverance she and Trey would outlast the stuck-in-the-past prejudices of people like Noah, and that her nephew Van might get to live a life untroubled by such division. “Haven’t missed a Sunday dinner yet,” she told her mom.

Sophie selected one of the fish from the platter, her husband having already taken his (now half-buried under a messy white pile of potato), and moved it to her plate, dribbling a few lines of yellow hollandaise sauce over it from a small gravy boat. “So, what’s new in town these days?” she asked conversationally as Tessa retrieved her own fish from the tray and added a healthy layer of sauce.

“Tess has a boyfriend,” Trey singsonged, his lips twisted in a vicious smirk.

Tessa jerked the gravy boat in mid-pour, landing a trickle of yolk-colored sauce on the pristine tablecloth next to her plate before she pulled herself up short. Thaddeus, finally done with the potatoes, stilled in the act of shoving his fork into the large trout in front of him but did not look up.

Tessa set down the sauce with as thunk and turned angrily on her brother. “Asshole!” she hissed.

“Language…” Willa said calmly. Trey’s wife had come from a family that didn’t swear much, and her mission to get the Rigbys to curb their cussing before Van could start picking the bad habit for a new generation had been meeting with only limited success.

Tessa gave her an apologetic look and turned to her mother. “He’s lying,” she assured her. She reached for the big bowl of buttery whipped potato, hoping that was the end of it.

Trey, still grinning maliciously, went on as if she hadn’t spoken. “And you’ll never guess who it us,” he reported, as his wife plated fish for both of them, then accepted the little gravy boat of sauce from Tessa. “The new Sheridan!”

Thaddeus’s fork clattered to the plate and he looked up sharply, his frost-blue eyes piercing first Trey, then Tessa for the first time that night. Tessa turned on her brother. “Brat!” she barked.

“Oh, I’ve heard about the Sheridans!” Willa put in. “They’re very… strong.” She winked at Tessa. “Nice going, sis!”

Tessa eyed her townie sister-in-law, not sure whether it was fair to be annoyed with her or not. Willa was a townie, but not from one of the families that kept the lore. If Willa had been read in on the big secret that the Rigbys were lapsed bear shifters who always consciously chose at the time of emergence to reject their animal sides and live solely as humans, she would also know that dating a Sheridan—members of a clan whose belief in a balance between bear and human had, so the legends went, enticed more than one Rigby over the years to explore their forbidden animal sides—was the worst possible behavior a Rigby could contemplate. Even dating a humanity-repressing Conroy would be better, given how unlikely it was their brutish ways would appeal at all to folks like them.

On the other hand, maybe Trey hadn’t filled Willa in on everything yet, and Willa was just reacting to the hairy, muscular allure of the uniformly handsome and charismatic Sheridans. Having met Glenn Sheridan and felt his manly pull firsthand, Tessa could… relate.

She must have blushed a little at the remark and the memory of the meeting the gallant young looker, because when she glanced up at her father, his gaze was narrowed and dubious. Even Sophie looked uncertain. “It’s not true!” Tessa repeated, looking between her parents.

“Is it?” Thaddeus pressed suspiciously. Probably, and not unreasonably, he assumed Trey wouldn’t tease his sister without some basis. “There’s no Sheridan?”

Tessa could feel her brother’s glee without looking as he dug unto his meal. Mom might as well have served popcorn, she thought. “There is a Sheridan,” she admitted through gritted teeth. And he is indeed very, very attractive, she added to herself, remembering the exposed, muscular chest, deliciously sculpted arms, and obvious endowment of the man, not to mention the dreamily-handsome face with the sharp, chiseled jaw and those seductive honey-brown eyes. “But I’m not—”

“I forbid you to see him,” Thaddeus pronounced coldly.

Sophie tsked. “Thaddeus Rigby, don’t be a fool,” she said. To Tessa she asked, “Which Sheridan is it?”

“Michael’s son, from down Manchester way,” Trey answered confidently, before Tessa could say anything. She looked at him, wondering how he knew any of this. He must have heard about the encounter in the store and done some digging. “Name’s Glenn. Just came back to take the Hollow now James is dead.”

Tessa winced at the mention of James Sheridan’s passing. Thaddeus had taken the fact that he’d died in bear form, shot by a poacher, as utter vindication of the repudiation of their animal forms the Rigbys had been practicing for nigh on two hundred years.

Sure enough, Thaddeus was nodding at Trey, as though his son had proven his point for him. He looked at Tessa, his unruly eyebrows bristling. “I don’t care how good-looking he is,” he said, as though Tessa had spoken that part aloud—or maybe he was simply reflecting a universal truth about the mystical, irresistible masculine allure the Sheridans seemed to possess. “No child of mine—”

Tessa tensed. This was ridiculous. Whether she was actually dating the Sheridan scion was no longer relevant. “You can’t tell me who I can and cannot date,” she said.

Her father’s cold blue eyes were positively icy. “I won’t have a child of mine mixing with mountain folk—especially a Sheridan!” he insisted.

Tessa gaped. “Daddy, do you hear yourself? We’re mountain folk!”

Thaddeus bared his teeth in fury. “You take that back,” he said.

Willa looked confused. “What does it matter whether someone lives on the mountain or in town?” she asked her husband quietly, though of course the whole table could hear.

Well, that answered that question, Tessa thought. Sophie gave her son a surprised eyebrow. Trey sighed. “Dad’s just being a jerk,” he said. “Mountain folk… it isn’t about where you live exactly. It’s—”

“It’s a curse!” Thaddeus cut in vehemently, actually slamming a fist on the table and making the dishes rattle. “And those Sheridans see it as a damned blessing!” He turned to Tessa again. “They’re trouble, and I won’t have—”

“Enough!” Tessa said, rising to her feet. She leaned on the table and stared her father down. “You’re wrong, Daddy, but even if you weren’t I’m 18 now and well past the age where I’m willing to accept my father shouting at me for people I haven’t even done!”

Thaddeus seethed, and Trey snickered. Tessa sputtered but kept her chin high. “Things I haven’t done, I mean,” she amended. Damn her wayward mind!

She hardened her resolve, giving her father a hard look. “Tessa Marie,” Sophie said reprovingly, guessing what was coming next.

“Mom, I’m sorry,” she said. Things were getting out of hand, and when her father was in this mood he was prone to act recklessly. Glenn wasn’t from around here. He needed to be warned before her easily triggered father did something recklessly stupid, like showing up in Sheridan Hollow with a shotgun and a bad attitude. “I’ll be back,” she said, “when I’m not being treated like I’m still in pigtails.”

As good a parting line as any. Time to go. She smiled contritely at Willa. “Sorry about this, and, uh, good luck.” Willa’s brows furrowed. She had some interesting revelations about her husband, and probably her burbling son, ahead of her. “As for you,” she said to Trey, “you’ll get yours.” She punched him hard in the arm.

“Ow!” he said, then grinned as he rubbed his bicep. “Give Sheridan a big kiss for me!” he taunted.

“Give it to him yourself,” he growled. She grabbed her purse from a side table and walked out of the cabin into the noisy forest night, closing the door firmly behind her.

She stood on the stoop a moment, collecting her thoughts. Even without being on speaking terms with her dormant inner animal she could sense her fellow shifters raving through the forest, halfway around the mountain, the same way she could feel the two more repressed spirits inside the cabin behind her, with a third, her nephew, showing the faintest flicker. She stared out into the dark, creaking woods, feeling with her untrained senses. Maybe one of the shifters she detected out there was the Sheridan boy exploring his growing connection to the mountain, reveling in the power of his beast and the mastery and control of his human side.

She sighed and started tromping down the stairs to Ginny’s pickup, which she’d borrowed for the trip up the mountain. There were times when she agreed with her old man on one particular point: maybe, just maybe, things might have been easier if she hadn’t been born a Rigby.

Ares heard Glenn’s warm baritone voice at a distance sifting through the open cabin windows along with the growing dawn, carried by a pleasant morning breeze that drifted playfully over his round, exposed buttcheeks like a brother-lover’s soft caress. Always the light sleeper, Ares lifted his head enough to confirm that Glenn wasn’t in the cabin. He found this odd, considering how spent (and paradoxically horny) he’d been coming home from his overnight “ordeal” the previous three nights, ready for bed in every sense. Behind him Phoebus, as usual more resistant to waking than his more fiery, redheaded kid brother, snored softly.

He got up, amused by his persistent morning wood. How can I possibly have any erections left after last night? he thought with a smirk, the pleasant soreness of his ass reminding him of the two deep-dickings he’d gotten last night, one fast and one molasses slow—though he’d made to to give as good as he’d got. He found his jeans crumpled by the side of the big bed and pulled them on, covering his long legs and most of his hard-on. His saw boots were by the door, lying akimbo as if carelessly tossed aside. He padded over to them, adjusting his stubborn stiffie en route, and stomped into them, not bothering with socks, before heading out into the crisp early-summer morning to find their young host.

He got halfway down the steps before he saw who, or what, Glenn was with. He froze in alarm, a thrill of cold fear speeding through his veins.

Glenn turned and beamed tiredly up at him. He looked even more dirty, scratched, and scraped than he had the previous day. With bathing being mysteriously forbidden for the duration of this ritualized naked forest-gallivanting, it was almost as though the intense experiences of the last few days were physically accumulating on his skin and flesh as much as in his mind. And that wasn’t all that was accumulating, Ares added to himself. Glenn looked even more densely packed with well-shaped brawn than the last time he’d seen him, like he was a beast-flower slowly blooming. Even his lush brown hair was longer. His half-week beard was more impressive than Ares could accomplish in a month. The fecundity of fine brown body hair might have been a bit thicker and denser, too, though it was difficult to tell seeing as much of it was matted with sweat and cum.

“Ares! Good morning,” the beast-in-training said. With a crooked smile, Glenn gestured to the massive, shoulder-high bear standing motionless next to him. “I’d, uh, like you to meet someone.”

Ares hesitated. He trusted Glenn implicitly—just seeing him warmed his heart and made his newly enlarged erection twitch and jump—but, still, this was… this was a bear. An enormous bear, much larger than actual bears were supposed to be, as far as he knew. Sure, it was just standing there. Its jaws weren’t covered in blood or ichor or anything, and Glenn seemed totally relaxed, not at all worried it would rear up and eat him like a man-sized taquito. But still—bear. He thought about calling into the cabin and waking Phoebus, but he wasn’t sure his brother would believe there was a bear out here, standing calmly next to Glenn like a very large labrador, even if he saw it with his own eyes. Ares was having a bit of trouble with that himself.

Glenn just smiled patiently at him. The bear watched him with a kind of mild, ursine detachment, as if the affairs of humans were not his department.

Ares shrugged.

He came down the steps the rest of the way, the stomp of his boots against the planks almost the only sound in the clearing apart from some distant birdsong. He approached the unlikely pair, thought about stopping just beyond claw-range, then decided it didn’t matter—he was already in the death zone, if there was one. He moved in the rest of the way, close enough to stroke Glenn’s powerful arm and give him a quick kiss.

“Morning,” he said, feeling his hard-on swell at the proximity to this intoxicatingly hot man, his unwashed musk only adding to his powerful undertow. “Glad you’re safe.”

Glenn’s honey-brown eyes glinted in the early morning light. “Worried about me?” he teased.

Ares shrugged slightly but said, “Nah.” Remembering Glenn had said he wanted to introduce him to “someone,” that someone evidently being the bear, he nodded toward the creature and added diffidently, “Who’s this?”

Glenn smiled self-consciously. “Right. Ares Wilcox, I’d like you to meet my father, Michael Sheridan.”

The bear gazed steadily at him. Ares thought the beast looked almost amused at being introduced in such a way, as though they were at a cocktail party where naked he-men and oversized bears rubbed shoulders with tax lawyers and other such mundane types. He could almost imagine them all dressed up in tuxes, the bear included, attending galas and appearing on the Manchester society pages. “Uh, how do you do,” he said, resisting the urge to offer his hand to shake. “You, er, must be very proud.”

The bear snorted, though whether in agreement or disdain at his remark Ares didn’t know. The massive reddish-brown brute stared at him flatly for another long, uncomfortable moment, then turned and wordlessly lumbered off.

Ares watched him go. Weirdly, he seemed to be inspecting the grounds, nosing around the back of the cabin before slowly trundling toward the outbuildings. Next to him they looked small and vulnerable, as though he might push them over with a stray brush of his massive shoulders.

Ares turned to Glenn, feeling a little dazed. “Well, that explains a few things,” he said, pointedly looking his hirsute man-beast of a host up and down.

Glenn laughed in surprise. “Not in the way you’re thinking,” he chuckled. “Your brother up?”

“I’m up,” Phoebus yawned sleepily from the porch. He, too, was wearing only jeans and boots. His massive, Glenn-enlarged erection was even more obvious than Ares’s was, the pinkish head peeking shamelessly past the waistband near his hip, though it was his lanky, unfamiliarly hardened gymnast’s physique that caught Ares’s attention at the moment. He wasn’t too attuned to his own changes, but his once-scrawny brother looked a good fifteen pounds heavier than when they’d first met Glenn and Eamon, back at that fateful pit stop. It was mere days ago, and yet… everything had changed, was changing, a little more each day. It was Glenn’s change, Glenn’s becoming, but somehow Ares and Phoebus had been drawn into it, subjected to a taste of the fire burning through this young, irresistible mountain-man.

Ares licked his lips, eyes still on his brother’s thick pecs and his newborn rippling abs, like a new, alternate version of his lanky, mundane brother was emerging from under his smooth, alabaster skin. What might they look like by the end of this little excursion? He hoped they had enough in savings to cover the entirely new wardrobe they’d need. And enough hours in the day for all the fucking they’d be doing.

Phoebus was frowning the direction of the generator building, his blond brows bunched together. “Uh, Glenn, dude, there’s a—” he started, but Ares cut him off.

“We know,” Ares deadpanned. “It’s his dad.”

Ares checked over his shoulder and found that the dog had returned, and the two creatures were eyeing each other. The critters around here sure were strange.

He turned back to check in on his brother. Like Ares, Phoebus’s response to the unexpected news that the oversized ursus was Glenn’s dad was to give the naked, hairy man before him a serious once-over. “You know, I could almost believe it.”

Glenn laughed again. “You guys hungry? I could eat a—well, not a bear,” he added with a cheeky grin. He tossed an arm around Ares’s bare shoulder, engulfing him with his scent, and steered them the two of them toward the cabin steps. “C’mon,” he said. “I’ll catch you both up on things before I help you guys out with those steel poles you’re carrying around. I got a lot of cum left to spend before I crash, and you two are getting all of it!”

Ares’s anus twitched in excitement as they marched up the steps, his whole body tingling as he imagined Glenn’s blunt club of a cock pushing into him again and flooding him and his brother with muscle-growing, cock-expanding superspunk. Suddenly, even the very necessary explanation for how Glenn’s dad could possibly be a huge, russet-furred, oddly polite if slightly taciturn forest-dwelling carnivore seemed a smidge less important than the prospect of being filled completely with Glenn’s amazing tool as it shoved deeper and deeper into his body and soul, ready to spray his insides with hot, sticky cum.

Glenn was running through the trees, but it was daylight now in place of the dark overnights of his ordeal, the sunlit summer air warm and thick with the redolence of forest and loam and ancient stone. Insects buzzed, swerving past him as he ran. Random leaves waved gently in a slow-swirling breeze.

Glenn didn’t remember coming here, or why he was running all out, his now-trained bare feet deftly finding their footing amid rocks and roots without his having to even look. Was this a dream? He smelled and felt the abnormally powerful, binate souls of shifters all around him, not just bears but others too—wolves, deer, even a hawk high in the brilliant azure sky, concealed from his mundane vision by the leafy, light-soaked canopy but not from his increasingly acute “mountain folk” senses. Regular animals abounded as well in the trees and earth and waters: deer and bobcat, foxes and fishers, raccoons and beavers, snakes and salamanders, ducks and hawks and frogs, butterflies and dragonflies. He could even feel the mundane humans in town, and the couple waiting for him in his cabin, perhaps curled up with him as he slept and dreamed.

There was no sign of Eamon, nor was his dead grandfather shadowing and chaperoning his tutelage from the opposing shadows. He ran tirelessly and eternally through a teeming world of shifters, animals, and humans, of trees so intensely alive you could taste their energy and venerability, of stone that firmly connected him to the dawn of his kind and far beyond, and after a life of family and swim teams and locker rooms tons of eager friends and bleachers packed with cheering crowds the aloneness of his new being hit him hard.

No, not alone. Singular. He, the naked, running werebear pup, was a swirling grain in a microuniverse of beings whose extraordinary life force spilled steadily and copiously from them like the precum portending Glenn’s massive orgasms—only they did so all the time, their essence seeping from them as they ran and lived and fucked, leaving a complex web of misty, intertwined, unbroken trails through a spacetime he’d already discovered shifters like him could navigate as easily as a path through the woods. So many trails, so many worldshaping lives, and yet even as he observed them a painful knot in his chest reminded him that none of these kindred souls was truly like him. He was the only him, the only Glenn. The only living Sheridan. He was myriad, and he was alone.

The creeping sense of responsibility for the Sheridan line that he’d assumed with such callow, cocksure defiance in his encounters with the townsfolk now stole fully into him without warning, altering his being as though infusing cold and solid stone into all his cells.

He set his jaw and ran, feeling grimly universe-aware as never before.

Time shifted. The sun had moved and was now high and a bit behind him. Early afternoon. The heat had grown, and the forest was still and tense as he pelted through it. He was on a different part of the mountain, a bit higher up. The terrain was steeper, though he still had no trouble finding his footing. The trees were more coniferous here, the scent of their needles strong in the air. Sweat dappled his dirty chest and shoulders and itched in his five-day beard.

He was used to being on his own, now, so he was slightly surprised when a companion appeared, weaving through the trees just a bit ahead of him and to the right, as though he’d been leading the way the whole time. Glenn grinned. He didn’t spare any breath for a hello to his haughty young guardian dog, but he knew Pharaoh wouldn’t care about that one way or the other anyway. The shepherd’s tail was high and still, and his muzzle remained pointed firmly ahead as he loped between the narrow, rough-barked boles of the towering firs and pines, never once looking back to connect with the werebear keeping pace to his rear.

Pharaoh seemed alert, looking for a sign. Suddenly he veered left, taking a sharp turn into some brush between two massive, fragrant pines, Glenn, not headed anywhere in particular himself, followed him on impulse.

As soon as they passed between the two trees the light and air changed, and Glenn was on a low rocky prominence overlooking a wide, glorious meadow brimming with daisies and sunlight. He stood a moment on the smooth rock admiring its vibrant beauty, hands on his bare hips, and Pharaoh sat himself next to him as though doing likewise, his warmth and huffs seeming slightly more real than the glimmering landscape before him.

Glenn knew this place. He’d seen this meadow before, though he’d only passed through it at night, the growing, near-full moon looming ominously overhead. The sense that Pharaoh was an outsider here but he was not chafed at him. Was this a dream? Maybe he was dreaming, but the place was not so much a dream as it was an echo, an elseworld that overlaid his own reality, like the cabin where he’d got to meet a young version of his grandfather in the flesh, if only in a sort of metaphysical sense, or the memory in which he’d met his heartbroken father.

At first Glenn thought he was alone, but as he watched the meadow and its daisies lolling in the slightest of summer breezes, he spotted a tanned, broad-shouldered man some ways off, wandering through the thick flowers with only his longish, dark brown hair and muscular back visible. He was real here, too, in a way that was different from the passes-between-universes dog or the dreamspirit Glenn himself was. This man, Glenn knew, was real here and only here. Instantly the connection between them was impossibly strong, and Glenn drew in a sharp breath, overcome with a need to close the distance between them, to touch, to kiss, to fuck.

The figure stopped, and the approval and pride that flooded from him through their connection felt like an enveloping wave crashing over him. Glenn tangled, full of anticipation and a lust unlike any he’d experienced before.

Pharaoh huffed, maybe to get his attention, maybe in prudish commentary on the carnal intensity of the bonds between werebears. Glenn turned to him and smiled. Pharaoh stood and grave him a flat look that only made Glenn’s grin wider. He knelt and ruffled Pharaoh’s scalp, which the dog endured stoically, his tail wagging infinitesimally.

“I can take it from here, bud,” he said. His stomach quivered at the thought of what was about to happen, but he ignored it. He knew what Eamon would say: it was early. The ordeal wasn’t over yet. He wasn’t ready.

Glenn was done listening to Eamon. He smiled at Pharaoh. “Go on then,” he said. “Go find the boys and cuddle with them for a while.”

Pharaoh snorted, as if to say he’d do no such thing. He allowed Glenn to scritch behind his ears a moment or two longer, then turned abruptly and trotted off, dropping down from the rocks and disappearing through a gap in some bushes that verged the edge of the forest.

Glenn stood and looked back out over the sunny meadow. The figure was still far off, maybe a hundred yards, though to Glenn he could not have felt closer. He was facing Glenn now, a small smile accenting his handsome, bearded, sun-browned face. To his astonishment Glenn felt himself having to push back tears, such was the intensity of emotion on seeing the figure standing here, now, waiting for him. He let out a breath, steadying himself.

“I’m ready, father,” he said, swallowing hard. He felt aware of every inch and secret corner of his extraordinary body, and the spirit that shared it with him. His animal had been bound and his body constrained, but no longer. “I’m ready,” he said again.

The living human spirit of his father, all but sundered from his animal but solidly alive in this altworld that Pharaoh had guided him to, watched him for a moment, his powerful body still amid the wafting daisies. Even from so far away, Glenn could feel the fierce love in his honey-brown eyes. “Show me,” he said, his calm, low voice carrying across the field as if he had whispered in Glenn’s ear.

Glenn drew in a long breath. This was it. He remembered all the times he had stood on the edges of pools, on diving boards, hearing the murmur of the crowds, feeling the delicious pressure to perform, to excel. This was like that, and yet—this was unique, a moment he would experience only once ever in all his long life, though it was, at the same time, a moment he shared with all Sheridans, past and future, fathers and sons.

He closed his eyes, letting his consciousness take in all of his being. Then, opening himself to the world, he let his animal fully and completely free.

Strength and vigor flooded through him as if pouring from a waterfall. He felt himself literally expand physically even as his animal senses opened fully for the first time, revealing how limited and incomplete his uncanny abilities had been as a man. Blood, muscle, teeth, and fur exploded from him, accreting and enveloping him until the world bent and he was become a glorious monster, a massive brown bear half again the size of any ordinary ursine beast. The transformation itself was a rush—almost as thrilling as the brawn and near-limitless power of his animal. He leapt from the rocks with a roar, charging through the daisies toward the heat sink of potency that was his father’s human form.

Michael Sheridan watched him with glinting eyes, motionless as a statue. Glenn barreled toward him, eating up the distance and reveling in the exertion. He wanted to run like this, as a bear. The euphoria of charging through the forest, wind rushing through his fur as the sun and the moon beat down upon him called to him. He yearned to splash through rivers, bound up the mountainside, run through the deep greens of gullies and the airy expanses of the endless wood. After so long a time repressed, the joy of finally and utterly experiencing his full bear form was more of an emotional impact than he could deal with.

Still Michael watched. From their connection he knew his father felt what Glenn was feeling, but no concern for his son’s unbalanced state rippled through the bond. Maybe what Glenn was experiencing was more or less normal, the difference being a matter of degree; or it might simply be that Michael had faith that his son possessed the sheer strength of will necessary to handle the untamed and unnerving power of the Sheridan animal spirit.

At a distance of twenty feet or so from his father Glenn veered right, sketching a large circle around the figure through the flowers of the meadow. He slowed as he revolved around the man, taking stock of him from all perspectives. As a bear, Glenn was impressive, more so even than his father’s own russet-brown bear form back in the real world. His brown fur, the same color as his human hair, was dense and rampant, his bear-muscles thick and menacing, his teeth sharp and dangerous. He was the epitome of ursine strength and splendor, a beautiful bear-shaped demigod from the pantheon of a people who stood in awe and terror of their gods.

As Glenn was to their animal form, so Michael was to men. As he rounded the figure, each circuit a bit slower and a bit closer, he took in every inch of skin and every vibration of strength that emanated from him. His muscles were formed as if from bronze or even the very magma of the earth, shaped and packed until they could not be made more dense or exquisite in proportion and elegance, then left to cool to a solidity and strength impossible for mere mortals to achieve. Heavy, bulging shoulders looked as though they might move sequoias or bear the weight of the earth, half-hidden by long, luxurious hair that would would make Gilgamesh and Enkidu envious. Herculean arms piled with hard-cut sinew, capable of a ferocious embrace or the crushing of a marble column. Thick sun-browned legs freighted with strength and grace that looked capable of racing to the moon or leaping into the treetops. A mighty, hair-covered chest that looked unshiftable and altogether provocative. Hard-carved abs called out to his touch. Two thunderous glutes, hard and round and made to be parted by stiff, impossibly large cocks…

Glenn felt the overpowering arousal course through him. He needed to act. He felt the desire coming from Michael, as powerful as his own—no, more powerful, more urgent. They had to fuck. A simple truth slowed him to a growling walk.

Everything in him cried out to embrace the awesomeness of his bear form. Glenn knew this was irrational, his id wallowing in the unbridled pleasures and thrilling potency he was experiencing. He knew that rationally he needed both: id and ego, bear and man. His ideal existence were for his animal and his human to walk together.

Reason was not his strong suit right now. But there was one thing he could not do as a bear, one thing he urgently needed; and, with a shrewdness that was half instinctive and half intellect, he cravenly used that urgent need to help force his overwhelmed and unprepared mind to embrace a larger choice.

He stilled, standing before the compelling beauty of his father. They held each other’s gaze, each feeling the other’s irresistible pull.

Glenn pounced. And when he pounced, he pounced as a man, felling his smiling father into the flowers and onto the soft earth of the meadow beneath him.

“Fucking tease,” Glenn said. He was panting, overwhelmed with the aftereffects of the transformation. He felt like his skin was so hot it should he singing his father’s larger, cooler form. Blood pounded through him, filling his enormous cock and and bringing it in seconds to full and rigid hardness against Michael’s chiseled abdomen. Glenn rutted against the hard eight-pack, baring his teeth. He was so full of need and so saturated with unreleased cum, he felt as though he was still not quite fully human.

He grinned. A sex-beast—he could deal with that.

Michael stared up at him with a hint of wonder in those familiar honey eyes. He stroked Glenn’s powerful shoulders and arms as if assessing their shape and strength, sending shivers of fire through all of Glenn’s receptors. “You’re bigger than I was at your age,” he said.

Glenn’s grin turned feral. His powerful cock was the size of a normal man’s forearm, and his slid it a few times more against the cobblestones of Michael’s abs. “Oh yeah?” he said.

Michael’s eyes darkened. His hips shifted under Glenn slightly, and a second hard, throbbing tube, even thicker than Glenn’s and just as slick, slid between them, pushing into Glenn’s belly. “Definitely,” Michael breathed. His smile was crooked now. What kind of troublemaker had he been, once?

Glenn could not hold back any longer. All of the countless Sheridan trysts that had taken place and would take place in this idyllic meadow filled him, swirling through his mind and compounding his need. He felt Michael’s inaugural fucking of James, the first of many. James with his father, and before that, and before that. He even felt an echo of his own encounter with his future son, a man as impressive and admirable as any Sheridan had yet been. All of these, as far as Glenn could tell, were bouts of intensive, mutually devoted lovemaking—the culmination of years of building, intertwined affection and a young adult’s slow introduction to the strange and heady world of those whose spirits shared their souls with powerful animal counterparts. Glenn and Michael had had neither of these things. They had only just met—indeed were only just now meeting man to man, rather than as man to bear or man to memory.

Glenn attacked Michael’s sweet, bearded lips, seeking the preamble to fucking they both needed. And yet, as they kissed with true animal passion, Michael stroking Glenn’s broad, tapered back, their cocks grinding impatiently against each other, he felt their connection deepen, layering on the understanding and meshing of two grown men that made physical, emotional love possible. It seemed to come from inside Glenn—from the light he’d taken into himself when he’d met the memory echo of his father. It needed to grow, to be nurtured, so that it would wax and blaze a true union between them.

Glenn broke the kiss, pushing himself up on his arms. Michael’s eyes were blazing.

“I want to fuck you,” Glenn rasped. The whole meadow seemed to fill with his words, slipping low between the flower stalks. “I want… I want to be in you.” He stared down at Michael, his new feelings making him unsure. It wasn’t the fucking itself that made him hesitate. His cock was producing so much precum he didn’t need lube, and there was no question Michael’s powerful body could take him, despite Michael never having had a man inside him before. He knew they would soon both release with a cascade of pleasure that would make a hundred men cum, were they there with them in the vast altverse clearing. But to enter his father, he knew, would be to grow their connection, to make their emotional interaction as intimate as any Sheridan’s had ever been.

Michael said nothing. He held Glenn’s gaze and nodded once, in one gesture acceding to fucking, to lovemaking, to everything.

At first they did it back to chest, Michael under him, his strong body presenting his perfect ass and virginal hole to Glenn’s almost ungovernable need. Glenn tried to be gentle as he pushed in, despite feeling like he was trying to rein in a team of wild horses; but Michael growled at him not to hold back, and before long he succumbed to his own reckless need to push every inch of inhuman length and girth into his father’s tight, furnace-hot channel. He felt Michael’s blazing pleasure overlaid on his own, the synergy making him feel like Michael was fucking him too, driving deeper and deeper into his transformed body. Then he was at the root, all the way in, and holding himself there felt like merging. His skin was on fire, sweat slicking Michael’s back and his own arms and torso, but the warm summer breeze slipping around and between them felt like the world’s cool caress.

“Okay?” he asked, when there were no more millimeters left to shove.

“Make love to me,” Michael commanded, panting hard below him.

A beat passed. Glenn closed his eyes. His impulse was to pound his father’s ass, ruining him for any other cock, but that was not what this was. Using his strength to hold himself up by one arm, he used the other to wrap himself around Michael’s brawny, stone-hard torso. Then, slowly, he began to pull in and out, letting his father feel his massive length and size, reveling in the eye-crossing pleasure of Michael squeezing his huge cock from within.

Time shifted, and Michael was on his back now, gazing up in rapture at his son. Perhaps they had fucked for hours, or days. The light was between them now and within them, making their bodies glow with translucent power.

Glenn saw in Michael’s eyes that they had built up enough pleasure that neither could bear much more. It was time. He grinned. “You ready, pops?” he growled.

“Do it,” Michael said, eyes alight with the inner fire they shared. “Make us cum.”

Glenn knew that there was more to this moment than orgasm. It was a completion of the bond, something that would last far beyond this place and this moment. His father would be with him forever—especially here.

He began to ride Michael’s ass, fast and rough, pulling out as far as he could and driving in deep. Each time, a surge of pleasure ripped through them, stronger than the one before. By the fourth stroke Glenn could not hold back.

“I’m going to—” Michael yelled.

“Yes!!” Glenn cried—

Tessa Rigby stood in the middle of Witson Meadow, near the Upper Creek not far from Sheridan Hollow, bemused to be standing in daisies. She’d meant to head straight to the cabin and tell her new friend Glenn to be on the lookout for her grumpy and not-always-stable dad. But something had brought her here, and now she stood willingly in the middle of a field under a bright summer sky, feeling as though she were on the verge of something she couldn’t quite see.

A wind whipped through the meadow, tossing the heads of the daisies. There was something prodigious on that breeze, carrying hints and presentiments of moments that belonged to other times. She saw passing glimpses of things. Glenn Sheridan, as a man and as a bear. Old Man Sheridan, the one who’d died, alive again, first old, then young. Another man she didn’t know, from his handsome face and musculature a Sheridan as well. Michael, she thought, the name seeming to come from the wind more than any prior knowledge of her own. Eamon Conroy, given over to his beast, lurking darkly on the fringes and ready to cause trouble.

The air in the meadow was tense and crackling now. Something was imminent. The wind whipped around her, and she saw new things. A son. Baby, boy, and man. Hers, but the product of the love of others: the son somehow of Glenn and Michael, their seed combining to make a Sheridan stronger and more beautiful than any before, a leader and a good man who helped town folk and mountain folk alike, helping to heal wounds that had festered for half a hundred years. Did she want that? Would she share her gift and body with this new life, if only for a while?

Perhaps to her own surprise, Tessa did not hesitate. Bringing a child into the Rigby clan, the way it was now, seemed like a poor fate. A new Sheridan, though, born of love? Learning from his father the ways a human could journey through life with his animal beside him, ways that had been denied her and her brother as brutally as they had been poor Eamon Conroy, if in opposite ways? This was her chance to be one with the timeless mountain, to join with its story in a way no Rigby had for generations, and help the fractious communities around her. The instinct to do so was not only powerful but deeply reassuring, and in her present chronic state of anxiety the decision almost made itself.

She closed her eyes and let the wind whip around her in a frenzy. Then it seemed the wind became a deluge of phantom semen that rushed through her, filling her every vessel and cell; and with this came an orgasm of her own that made her cry out in shocked surprise. She lost herself for a while, the bliss swirling through her, until finally she realized she was sitting in her borrowed truck on the dirt-packed forest road, the summer afternoon calm around her, her hand resting on her flat belly.

Tessa smiled, slightly bemused at the strange, instantaneous twist she’d accepted into her life. It felt like a dream; but she was mountain folk enough to know that around here dreams were often very real, one way or another.

She started up the truck and set it moving, up Road J toward the Hollow. It looked like there might be an extra bit of news for her to share with one Glenn Sheridan.

Eamon Conroy prowled the forest as a great black bear, his rage simmering like a sea of fire within him. He had felt Glenn Sheridan’s decision to split away from him, abandoning the ordeal and choosing to transform for his father—and in the goddamned Sheridan fucking meadow, at that. And now there would be another one, because the Sheridans weren’t content to keep to their own ways—they had to corrupt the other mountain folk, too.

The Conroys were dwindling while the Sheridans thrived. It was all wrong. Humans were toxic—their kind seemed devoted by nature to destroying the environment, not fostering. His time among them, forced to pretend to be one of them, had only confirmed this essential fact. The mountain needed animals to protect it and help it thrive. It was their role, the reason for their existence. For a shifter clan to embrace a dual existence—man and animal—was nothing short of a betrayal.

Eamon came to the fast-flowing mountain creek and bent to share a look with his beary reflection in the clear, rushing water. There was still time, he assured himself. Eamon had been swayed by his long-simmering lust for the cocky swim-star turned mountain beast, but he forced those feelings behind him.

Glenn could only make his final choice in the moment of his first true becoming—his first transformation under the compulsion of the full moon. Eamon had until then to ensure that Glenn chose the mountain over his sexy, cum-spattered forebears. Now that the ordeal was abandoned, Eamon would do what he had to do to ensure Glenn’s choice was the right one.


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