Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Excerpt_ Wings of Love m/m, PG-13+

Wings of Love by Deirdre O'Dare

Blurb: Special Border Patrol agent Alex, who can shape shift into a raven, is used to working alone. He honors his Scots ancestry and has never met another shifter except for kinfolk back in Scotland. When he’s required to accept a partner, he normally manages to get rid of them quickly by being so distant, remote and downright weird they cannot deal with him. But the latest one, Native American Manuel, poses a whole new range of challenges.

Manuel Ortiz is a member of the Tohono O’Odham tribe who works for the Border Patrol to support his ailing elderly parents. He has a secret he’s never dared to dare to share: he can shape shift into a Red Tailed Hawk. When his superiors team him with cold, cynical Alex, he’s not sure why until he learns Alex has a similar curse—or gift.

Together they begin to form an uneasy bond. Confronting an evil and completely alien drug cartel boss, they have to cooperate to survive and in doing so learn the synergy of partnership. They discover flying together can open a whole new world for them both and riding on the wings of love can be magical indeed.


Pinal County, Arizona
Early fall

When he paused on the crest of a long ridge, Alex Macalister used the cover of a cluster of ragged creosote bushes and other desert vegetation to mask his silhouette. The sunset glow and a crescent moon riding low in the sky cast a faint shadow that stretched out on the rugged ground before him. He knelt, steadied his heartbeat and breath, and then sent his senses questing in every direction. If a snake slithered, an insect crawled, or a dusk-hunting fox or coyote crept within a mile of him, he would know. Strangely, he sensed nothing. Such silence was not normal. It was not good.
Alex hunted alone. He preferred it that way. The distance and chill in his pale grey eyes kept most people at arm's length if not even farther away. In his three years with the U.S. Border Patrol, he'd proved his skills valuable enough he could now almost write his own rules. As a special agent in the very unofficial Paranormal Operations Unit, he surveyed the Arizona and New Mexico border with Mexico, often on foot as well as alone. Not assigned to any district, he reported directly to the southwest sector commander, going through none of the intermediate officers.
The border knew many threats: drug runners, smugglers of diverse contraband, undocumented immigrants and a variety of foreign nationals seeking to slip into the United States for a variety of unpleasant activities. Now one could add to the list--entities existing outside the realm of normal earthbound human life.
This fact was not, as yet, common knowledge, never discussed in any official communications, and classified at the highest level of security. Still, that made it no less real--as real and serious as death and taxes. This growing new threat had become the venue of a small group of handpicked agents like Alex and the team of Liam Malone and Rhys Davis, men who possessed their own special powers to utilize against the dangerous new invaders.
::Shift!:: The silent command shrieked in Alex's mind.
He did not question the order or its source. In the duration of a heartbeat, he shut his eyes, curled in upon himself and shimmered. A second or two later he launched into the air, clad in black feathers subtly darker than the evening sky. At the same instant, a shot rang out. He heard the bullet scream past beneath him, about midline on his human form had he still been on the ground.
Close, too shaggin' close.
Casting his raptor-enhanced vision downward and ahead of where he had stopped, Alex detected movement on another ridge, almost a mile away. Soaring in that direction, he soon saw a man huddled under a mesquite just below the ridgeline. Dressed in flat charcoal grey, the stranger held a scoped rifle, one Alex identified as a powerful and accurate sniper weapon.
A raven could not smile, but the man within the bird did as he realized what a close call he'd managed to evade. Where did the warning come from? He might never know. Sometimes he thought such alerts came from an ancestor or a local spirit, sometimes a deity of his Celtic forbearers from the dim past. Other times he had no idea of the identity of the unseen, unknown friend who warned him in time to evade danger. So far, it--or they--had always saved him. Perhaps someday his luck would run out. The thought held no dread, no threat. When summoned, he would go--wherever.
A tawny brown, ivory and grey streak sliced across his flight path, mere feet ahead of him. Then the other bird wheeled to fly under him, stealing his air for a few wing beats. After that, the second hunter soared away. Alex identified a red-tailed hawk, apparently out flying late. This hour of deepening twilight was more commonly the realm of owls. His own raven form was also out of its normal pattern, but for now, it was his safest guise.
He slowed his powerful wings to drift lower, as close as he dared go to the shooter, still crouched under the stunted tree. Even Alex's superb vision could not form a clear picture of the man's visage. He suspected the shooter wore camouflage face paint or a thin veil to disrupt his appearance.
Then as the wind shifted, Alex caught a whiff of the other man's scent. He filed that away for future reference. Varied diets and many other factors acted together to give each human a distinct odor. While few other people could detect the differences, many animals could. In this form, Alex's heightened senses were as keen as those of any wild creature. He wheeled in the sky and flew on past, over the ridge and into a valley beyond, coming slowly to the ground where he could change back to his normal form.
Although his raven self had many uses, for most of his work, his human shape served best. He tried to keep his shifting ability a secret. Few even of his fellow special agents knew of it. His commander did, along with another man they'd tried unsuccessfully to partner him with and perhaps one or two others. Even that was too many because who knew what some of the new breed of crossers could extract from an innocent or careless mind? Special agents were trained to resist pressure and even torture, but everyone could be broken in time, in some way.
He changed back, becoming once more a man dressed in flat black, with no obvious weapons and not a lot in the way of gear. He had caches of food and water, even weapons, at critical spots and, if he had to, he could shift and fly to them in an hour or two. Traveling light was as much his habit as traveling alone.
* * * *
Manuel Ortega halted to rest on a point just south of Baboquivari Peak, where the white men's telescopes had displaced the old gods of his people. He had mixed feelings about that. Although he recognized the importance of looking beyond the protective cocoon of the earth and her atmosphere, he still thought another peak could have done the job as well and left the mountain spirits in peace in their sacred spot.
He loved high places. If he could, he'd spend most of his time in places like this, with the greater part of his people's ancestral home spread out beneath him. The Tohono O'odham was an ancient and honorable tribe, deeply rooted in the harsh desert lands. They had wrested their livelihood from the earth's seldom seen bounty there for countless generations. Many of them bore Hispanic names, heritage of a long association with the people of Mexico beginning with the conquistadores who had explored this land centuries ago.
Manuel welcomed a day off from his duties as an officer in the U.S. Border Patrol. The job paid well and let him care for his aging parents, but there were times he was not happy with his work. The job trapped him with too many people, too many tense, angry and bitter emotional currents and sometimes required him to perform tasks he felt were so wrong he almost rebelled against his orders. He spent his free days as far away from the pressures and stifling atmosphere of work as he could, usually in the mountains.
The sun dropped to perch on the jagged edge of the distant ranges to the west, mountains bordering the Colorado River. The sight reminded him he needed to start for home. Fortunately, he had an easier way to get there than a twenty-mile hike over the rugged terrain that fell away beneath him. Tucking his head down, he shut his eyes and felt his essence slip into another form. Then he spread strong, bronze-feathered wings and launched into the air.
He'd been about twelve the first time he discovered he could shift form. Always adventurous and inclined to explore alone, that day he'd climbed into a canyon in a new area of the desert mountains and discovered a hidden ruin of the ancient ones. It took him half a day to scramble up the steep and unstable hillside to reach the spot. He'd slipped in through a narrow doorway in the rough stone wall that blocked the front of a cave under a ledge. Inside, he found only a few beads and shards of pottery. It was really not very exciting, but he'd sensed himself in a secret, sacred place, one where perhaps nobody had been for centuries. That fact alone thrilled him.
Crawling back out, he started to pick his way down. Rocks rolled suddenly. He slipped and began to tumble down the hill. Directly below him lurked one vertical drop of about fifty feet. He'd climbed around it on his way up, but it looked now like he was going to fall right over the edge. Panic hit for a moment followed by a strange calm. Shutting his eyes and wishing desperately that he could fly, something unexpected had happened. All at once he was flying!
He would hold that memory forever. Finally safe back on level ground, he'd been scared shitless at first that he wouldn't be able to change back, but he managed to do it. After a few more times, the process became smooth and close to effortless. He just thought himself in the familiar winged form and changed. It was that easy. He had no notion how and why, only knew it worked.
As far as he could tell, no one shared his secret. He certainly hadn't dared tell anyone, not even his grandfather, who was a medicine man. Although the Tohono O'odham did not have the same superstitious fears about "skin walkers" or shape-shifting witches as did the Navajo and Apache, Manuel still doubted the tribe could accept his gift. They might deem him wicked and unnatural, even bad enough to exile him from their homeland. Such punishment would be unbearable. To the people of the desert, family and tribe were the essence of one's identity and a necessity for survival.
Soaring lower over the foothills, he caught sight of two men, gradually approaching each other across some of the foothill ridges. They both wore dark clothes, but only one carried a rifle. The rifle bearer crossed through a saddle and settled himself under a twisted tree. His actions piqued Manuel's curiosity. What was he planning to do?
Then the other man crested the long hill to the northwest of the first man's hiding place and stopped, partly concealed in a stand of scrubby creosote and burro weed. Down in the lower east-facing slopes, twilight had already come, although Manuel still flew in the last rays of sunlight, some two thousand feet over the lower terrain.
He was not sure why or how he knew, but all at once, he sensed the man with the rifle was aiming at the other man. How could he possibly warn the second man quickly enough to move? Or could he distract the shooter? What should he do? Perhaps he subconsciously screamed a telepathic warning in that last tense instant. Still, he almost missed a wing beat when the second man suddenly shifted, transforming into a raven and flying clear of the bullet that sped his way.
Manuel then could not resist flying close to the other bird, but he knew no way to let the raven know the red-tailed hawk passing him was also a shape shifter. He could hardly believe there were really two of them. Had he seen true or was it all an illusion? He had no way to tell. After circling the raven, he angled away and continued toward home, dropping to the ground to shift back to his normal form before he got too close to the village where he lived.
Even as he settled in his bed for the night, the excitement of the strange encounter spun through his mind. At twenty-eight, he was an oddity among his people to be unmarried still. Something in him had shied away from such a close connection with anyone, a level of intimacy, which in time might reveal his secret and make him a pariah. How could he wish such a thing on an unsuspecting woman if he married? What about their children?
Now untold possibilities opened before him. What if there were others like him? If not many at least some who had this peculiar gift? What if he could find and join their community? His parents would not be around forever and once they were gone, he would be very alone. Hope and fear warred within him as he struggled to fall asleep.

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