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Tabitha needs four dominant Highlanders to protect her.
In 1876, something seems to have gone awry, because four strong Highland hunters get bonded with the same cat at the annual Highland Fling. Then they discover the cat is actually a lovely young woman called Tabitha, who is cursed to transform into a Scottish Wildcat on a monthly basis. And she finds out the four men are wolf-shifters.
The men are instantly drawn to their beautiful, spirited new bride, and are eager to mate with her and claim her as their own. But their match belies a deep problem with the spirits that watch over the village. When stranger things begin to happen around them, threatening everyone in the village, can they find a way to solve the odd goings-on with the spirit world?
This is not a serial, but a series of standalones. HEA guaranteed.
Publisher’s Note: This light-hearted Scottish historical romance is a wolf shifter reverse harem. There are elements of ménage, power exchange, paranormal with a little mad science, and steamy sensual scenes. If any of these offend you, please do not purchase.
Glenash Village, Scotland, 1876
“You’re fretting too much, lassie,” Granny Etta said gently.
“I dinnae want tae go,” Tabitha complained.
Tabitha knew the rest of the village was excited about it being the night of the dance, but she wanted to be anywhere else. However, her elderly grandmother had insisted. She would. The old woman didn’t know about Tabitha’s problem. Finding two husbands at the Highland Fling was the last thing on Tabitha’s mind.
“I just want to see ye settled, Tabby,” the old lady said as they walked towards the big fire where the villagers were congregating. “Look how happy all last year's folk are.”
Tabitha glanced up and spotted what her grandmother was pointing at. Fiona Magellan was arm-in-arm with Martin and William, while Graham carried their twins, one in each arm. Nobody really questioned who the father was; as far as anyone in the village was concerned, all three men were the fathers of each baby. The same was true of the rest of the babies in the village. Most were conceived by two men, which was far more conventional. It was tradition.
Tabitha’s eyes fell on Lucy, who had married two years earlier. The fathers, Hugh and Steen, were with her, and their daughter Mary. The swell of Lucy’s belly beneath her tartan dress made it clear that Mary would have a brother or sister soon.
All the little families seemed so peaceful.
A pang of longing surged through Tabitha's stomach, but she quickly pushed it aside. Marriage wasn't for her. Not with her horrific monthly curse.
She looked away. Granny Etta had melded into a big group of older women.
“O' course, it's a wee bit tricky tae get the right wool up here,” an old lady was saying. The others all nodded as though this were a real and pressing problem that everyone needed to pay heed to. Tabitha moved away from them, then caught sight of four men she'd only glimpsed from a distance before. Everyone knew them, though. The men were as inseparable as brothers, although they weren't related as far as Tabitha knew. She adjusted her white choker, made out of some cheap imitation silk that her grandmother had found at a market, then she straightened her shoulders and headed toward the men.
She was three steps away from them when she was hit with a sharp stomach pain. No. Not here. Digging her fingernails into her wrist, she forced her body to not bend double as she desperately tried to look casual, changing her course to get to the safety of the trees.
Behind a shrub, she hissed through her teeth as the agonizing cramps hit. The world got a lot larger and she knew she had taken her animal form; a Scottish wildcat.
She took a moment to sit on the ground behind the shrub and lick her paws, trying to calm her nerves. What should she do? She was out in public and she'd shifted! The moon must have been powerful, tonight. Usually, she was good at suppressing the urge, even during the full moon. If the other villagers of Glenash discovered what she was, she knew they would harm her.
Out in the distance, the music began to play, signalling that the dance had begun. Taking a deep breath, she tried to make a plan. Her grandmother would be looking for her, soon, and she couldn't get her clothes out of sight because the silly dress she'd been wearing had too many skirts for her to drag in her mouth. She sighed from the bottom of her paws. This shift was the worst timing imaginable.
Frazer caught sight of Tabitha and watched her begin to walk over to where he stood with Kivan, Innis and Campbell. Then, she abruptly turned and headed for the forest. Weird. He had hoped to talk to her, even briefly, before the music started. The first beats of the drum called out. Frazer came to the dance every year, and he knew it was time to watch this year's pairings dancing together.
He loved that the village had a special ritual to ensure that each woman got two husbands. Life was cheap and death was easy to find in Glenash. The highlands were not a hospitable landscape for anyone, especially in winter, so in the summer, the men and women paired up, and while marriage was always for life in Glenash, everyone hoped the summer unions would last more than one season.
“Hie! Frazer!” Innis called.
“What is it?”
“I got more ringey! Ye need tae try it!” Innis held out a hip flask and Frazer thought for a second before taking it. Apple ringey was a spirit, and it was named after the ringing sound people heard the morning after drinking it. Deciding he had nothing important to do tomorrow, Frazer seized the metal flask and took a deep draught. He swallowed and the liquor instantly warmed his chest.
“Aye, good juice, that,” Frazer remarked, passing the flask back. Before Innis took it, however, Kivan reached over and plucked it out of Frazer's hands.
“Here's tae another year! Cheers!”
Kivan drank and Frazer, Innis and Campbell all declared, “Cheers, big ears!” then they snorted with laughter. Beneath it, though, Frazer was pensive. The Circle Dance was like Hogmanay; aside from the marriages, it was a celebration that everyone present had survived for another year. That, of course, reminded him of all those people who were no longer here.
Frazer's heart still ached when he thought about his family.
Once the drum was pounding and the fife played its tune, after a few minutes nobody really talked. People either danced or stood aside.
He snatched the ringey from Campbell before he had any, and Frazer drank some more.
“Oi! That wasn't fair!” Campbell punched Frazer in the arm then retrieved the ringey. The lad was getting stronger by the minute, Frazer decided, as he tried not to rub his sore arm.
The music got louder, and the four men did a raucous ring-a-roses, holding hands as they sang the only song that came to them:
“Oh, the lass is a bonnie wee wildcat,
The lass has two big amber eyes,
Oh, the lass is all furry and spotty,
Oh, bring back the lassie; I've tried!”
As they sang the drinking song together, swaying and occasionally stepping with the music when they lost their balance, which was often, Frazer saw a cat dart out of the woods. It ran straight through the men's dancing huddle, and when he sniffed the air, he realised it was a female. Ordinarily, the scent of female cats didn't interest him, but this one was unusual.
His thoughts vanished as the cat seemed to pause in the midst of the four men. The beat of the drum was the only thing he heard. Campbell grabbed Frazer's arm and Kivan had a hand around Innis' waist, then they danced around the cat.
After a few minutes, a very strange thing happened. Frazer felt his heart being wrapped up… or something. It felt tight but comforted at the same time. So many strands all twining around him. If Frazer didn't know better, he would swear the four men's souls seemed to be intertwining with the cat's spirit! However the spirit world had decided upon this match, Frazer did not know, but he was entertained by the idea of having a cat amongst four big wolves. Their pack wasn't well-known for taking pets. He hoped they weren’t well-known for anything at all. He tried to ensure their presence near the village was a secret.
But he had to admit, the kitty did smell good, somehow. What was it about that cat?
The beat changed to something darker, and Frazer frowned as he stepped around the cat once again. Why would four wolves need a pet? The spirit world surely had better matches to make than this! He caught Kivan's eye and they shared the joke for a moment.
Worse still, when the dance was over, the cat wandered over to a discarded cup of ringey and lapped it up. Then, it disappeared into the wilderness and Frazer sighed. The marriages made at the Circle Dance between humans must go differently to this. Perhaps the spirit world got confused by men who turned into wolves.
“Apparently we lost our pet cat already.”
Innis chortled. “We dinnae need one, anyway.”
“I dinnae ken about that; it might have brightened up the place,” Campbell said.
“Ye are daft sometimes, Campbell,” Innis teased. Kivan snorted.
They continued dancing for a few more minutes, then all of them suddenly felt very tired, so they staggered home.
In the morning, Kivan opened the main door to the house he shared with his three wolf-brothers, and he swore loudly. There was a woman laid on the wooden steps. When he reached down and brushed the hair from her face, he realised it was Tabitha, from the village.
“Tabby? Tabitha? Are you well?” he asked.
“Ughhhh make the ringing stop!”
“Ring—oh. You drank something last night. Aye?”
“Aye. An' it feels so bad! Maybe it was because I was a cat…” she trailed off and closed her eyes.
Kivan chuckled. “That sounds like you drank far more than I did. Here, I'll bring ye into the sitting room so ye can rest on something cozy instead of oot in the open.”
“I like open. It's where the mice are. Mices. Meeses. Misses… Heh, I wonder who married whom last night.”
He listened to her talking as he carried her into the house. Her voice was pleasant.
“I didn'ae see anyone,” Kivan remarked, placing her down on an overstuffed, large armchair. “I wonder if that could be possible; a Circle Dance with no matches. D'ye want a glass o' water?”
“Oh, yes, please! I'm parched!”
He went off to the kitchen to fetch it. The lass had a way about her, and he wondered whether he might find some reason for her to stay awhile.
When he returned with the glass, she had fallen asleep. He watched her shoulders rise and fall, then placed the glass down and went in search of a blanket.
Tabitha dreamed that she'd fallen asleep outside a stone cottage near the woods, and that a tall, handsome highlander had found her. He was one of Frazer’s friends, she was certain of it. He had scooped her up and carried her indoors. The best part was she hadn't been afraid of sharing her secret with him. It was usually a heart-rending terror that struck her silent whenever anyone mentioned cats, but in this dream, she had not only been able to say 'cat' but also to tell him she was one.
Then, she'd dreamed about something else entirely.
She awoke and wondered where she was. The room she was in had blue wallpaper and she liked the sweet floral pattern of the curtains. She was lying on a big armchair, with her legs dangling off one arm of it, and her head resting against the other. There were occasional tables and three other armchairs, and she thought it looked like the sort of house an old lady might have.
Perhaps this was the home of one of her grandmother’s friends. She sat up, but her head pounded and her eyes swam, so she flopped back down again and closed her eyes, just as the sitting room door opened and someone walked in.
“Hey, lassie, did I hear ye stirring?”
Her eyes snapped open again and she stared at the face twelve inches from hers. It was the man from her dream. She took several shallow breaths as she tried to remain calm. Perhaps she didn’t really tell him she was a cat.
“Lass? Is anything the matter?”
“Who, what, where, when, why… and did I?” she blurted.
“Let me see… who is a question I can answer. I’m Kivan. I live here with my pack… of friends. Pack of friends. Frazer, Innis and Campbell. When is also one I ken… it’s half past nine in the morning and it’s the twenty-second of June. Where we are is my house, as I said. It’s in the woods near Glenash Village. In the Highlands. Of Scotland. Which is technically part of Britain but we dinnae like tae think aboot that.”
“I ken all that ye daft wully; I’m from the village!” she exclaimed with a small giggle. “I wasnae born yesterday.”
“No. Ye were drunk yesterday. Am I correct?”
She quivered under the look he gave her with his knowledgeable grey eyes.
“So anyway, you’ve no’ answered my other queries. What happened, why am I here, and did I?”
“Ye’re here because I found ye asleep outside the front door,” he said. Her blood chilled. That had really happened? “I dinnae ken how ye got into the forest. Ye were babbling something aboot being a cat and I brought ye in here because I thought the ringey had confused ye a bit.”
She flushed red as she realised she had told him her secret, but it was swiftly followed by strong relief, because he obviously hadn’t believed her. When she thought about it, claiming to be a cat was fairly unbelievable.
“And I dinnae understand your last question. “Did I?” Did ye what?”
She wavered as his eyes met hers, and she wanted to disappear.
“Well, lass, I’m waiting.”
“Did I marry anyone?”
“I dinnae think so.”
She narrowed her eyes. “Can ye be a wee bit more certain?”
Kivan stared off into the distance, knitting his brows, then turned back to her. “No. Ye disappeared into the forest as the music began. Frazer was staring at ye like a lovesick puppy.”
Her heart leapt. She would have loved to speak to Frazer, but she was surprised the man had even noticed her. Of course, it had to be the one night she spontaneously shifted and had to make a quick getaway before the village saw her.
“Can I get you anything?” Kivan asked. She stared at him with slightly out of focus eyes. He was motionless as he knelt beside her, but he seemed to burst into her line of sight, and she gasped. He. Was. Very. Handsome.
His long hair was a beautiful brown, thick, with streaks of gold running through the strands. It tumbled past his shoulders in waves. He was tall and wore his kilt exceedingly well.
“Here,” he seemed as taken by her as she was with him. She wasn’t sure why. “I got ye some water. Drink. It’ll help.”
She took the glass from the table and gulped it down gratefully.
“You should remain here until you feel well,” he told her. “It’s quite a walk tae the village and I should hate for ye tae catch cold.”
In summer? Nobody caught cold in summer. Tabitha wondered if she ought to point that out, but his invitation for her to remain here seemed to be coming from something deeper than a concern about sickness.
“Thank you,” she said again. “But… my grandmother will be worried about me, especially if I didnae go home last night. Can ye let someone ken that I’m safe and sound?”
“I’ll take care of it. Now, get some rest and dinnae fret about the fact ye never married anyone last night. Frazer, Campbell, Innis and me all married the same cat so you’re doing better than us.”
She emitted a strangled squeak and stared at him in horror. “You married a…” She tried to calm her thoughts before she gave herself away. After all, it might not have been her. “What did this cat look like?”
“I think it was wild. Its fur was sorta the colour of your hair, actually, but with black stripes. We all thought it was a lovely kitty.”
“What happened to it?” If they still had the cat somewhere, then it was a complete coincidence that she’d run between them in the circle, and that she’d now awoken in their home.
“I dinnae ken. It ran off into the woods. I’d like tae find it again. Maybe ye saw it while ye was in there?”
She stared at him with wide eyes. She needed him to go away so she could panic all by herself.
“No, I didnae see it,” she replied, going with the literal truth that she hadn’t seen herself at all that night, except in her bedroom mirror as she was getting ready.
“Well, anyway, ye look like ye’re three sheets in the wind. Have a rest. Call me if ye need anything. I’ll probably be in the kitchen.”
“Very well.” She watched him leave as her heart did somersaults. She had shifted into a cat and married four men… how was that possible? The spirit world didn’t match four people together. And to do it to a cat? She shook her head.
Wasn’t there some loophole, a way for this to all go away? There was a time limit, and if they didn’t consummate together within that time then she would go back to being alone. Safe. And then nobody would ever find out that she was a cat.
She had to stay away from these men. Tabitha decided to get right on with that as soon as her head stopped pounding and her stomach stopped trying to lead her astray.