A Former SEAL Panther Shifter and a Tough, Curvy BBW in Search of Answers
First Installment of the Hit Series
Curvy Tara Morland has always known there was something different about her, but she never knew why. Then one day, the panther took over her mind and transformed her body, and her world was forever broken.
Former SEAL and panther shifter Chay “Beane” Bane has made a career of rescuing other shifters in difficult situations, secreting them in his vast compound far from the prying eyes of the government. But when rescues her from a military facility, he isn’t prepared for what he finds. Tara is twenty-four years old, older than any natural-born panther shifter should be.
But to find answers, Tara will have to learn to control the beast within herself. And Chay must grapple with discovering what he thought he’d never have.
If you love to read Shifter Romance, Out of the Darkness: Taken by the Panther is the book for you. The characters have real flaws, real strengths and real passion. V.M. Black writes stories with characters that stay with you even after you are done with the book. I can’t wait for the next book in this series.
Ms. Black has a wonderful and unique spin on shifter romance, and I love it. It was not the everyday read… There is something in here for everyone.
This was an excellent first book and while it is a cliffhanger, it is so original and has such a great storyline, it is well worth the wait. Many questions to be answered and discoveries to be made in the next book Can’t wait!!
“Miss Morland,” the professor called, looking down at his seating chart. “Miss Morland,” he repeated, “you seem to be having quite the lively conversation. It must be about the topic at hand, so please explain to the class the significance of the Glorious Revolution on British Parliamentary history.”
Tara jerked her eyes to the front, processing what Dr. Butros had just said. The chairs of the lecture hall rose up in ranks around him so that Tara, at the top of the hall, was treated to a view of his shiny scalp through his thinning hair as he bent over the roster.
She’d done her reading the night before, but this morning, it was like nothing had stuck to her brain. She cleared her throat, looking at Sylvie, as if the answer were written on her friend’s forehead. But all she could remember were the words she’d just said.
I feel kind of funny. Like something’s not right.
Sylvie had replied, Do you think you need to go to the health center?
And Tara had said, No, I just feel kind of funny. Like something’s not right. Or maybe…like it is, or it’s going to be and it isn’t yet .…
And then the professor’s voice had cut through their whispered conversation, stridently calling her name as he asked a question about the Glorious Revolution.
“Please stand up, Miss Morland,” Dr. Butros said. “Class rules, yes?”
Slowly, Tara stood, feeling every eye in the lecture hall on her and hating the crazy professor and his crazy rules. What kind of college course had a seating chart, anyway? She looked down the tiers of seats, all the other students’ faces turned up to look at her. She opened her mouth.
“The Glorious Revolution.”
She stopped. She’d just been telling Sylvie how she felt. Kind of funny, she’d said. Yes, that’s exactly what she’d said. Not sick, exactly, but like she was looking at the world through a water glass or maybe through someone else’s eyes. Now her own voice sounded strange to her, hollow and distant. And the other students just stared, a girl tittering down near the front.
“The Glor-i-ous Re-vo-lu-tion,” she said again. The words slurred and tangled.
“Yes, Miss Morland, the Glorious Revolution,” the professor said impatiently. “Now, Miss Morland, if you please.”
Dr. Butros seemed suddenly very far away and very close all at once. A student dropped a pencil near her, and the clatter sounded like a gunshot.
“The Revolution,” she said. Her head was swimming, and she raised her hands to her cheeks as her face flushed hot, then cold. Her hands didn’t feel right. Under her skin, they didn’t feel like they belonged to her. The bones—they were changing, even under her fingertips as her muscles slid across them. She felt them growing broad and heavy, and she jerked her hands away and hunched her shoulders—no, her shoulders weren’t hunching, they were moving forward as her chest deepened. She held out her hands and watched her fingers shrink back toward her palms as hair, thick and black, sprouted from the backs of her hands.
From somewhere, she heard shouts and a high-pitched keening noise that she realized was coming from her own throat. She realized then that it wasn’t hair growing from her skin, it was fur, and her hips shifted under her weight, dropping her forward onto her hands. She tried to reach out for Sylvie for help, but her friend was screaming, screaming, and the hand that Tara extended ended in claws, and the sound coming from her mouth was a hideous yowl as her throat stretched and changed. Her clothes were so tight she thought her bones would break—and then they were gone, torn, falling from her sleek black body in shreds.
All around, people were running, scrambling up and down the tiers of desks and pouring toward the exits. Tara wanted to escape, too, escape this terrible thing that was happening to her. She gave a mighty push with her back legs, and she felt her new claws catch against the carpet. She flung herself down the tiers of the lecture hall, toward Dr. Butros, who stood motionless with one hand on his laptop and his eyes bulging out. He was in charge—he could help, some lingering part of Tara’s brain thought. He had to help. That was his job.
But he smelled like fear, like fear and sweat and the animal smell that was meat, and as she flew toward him, her thoughts became garbled in the assault of his scents.
She was bounding over the tables now, down toward the front of the hall. She had no attention for the screaming students, not even when one of her leaps clipped one of them and slammed his body too hard against his desk.
“Help me!” she cried, but from her throat came only a hideous yowl. “Help me!”
She was at the front of the hall now, Dr. Butros still frozen mere feet away. Tara grabbed for him.
“What’s happening to me?”
But her scrabbling hands were now unsheathed claws, and she slashed him across the chest, tearing down through fat and muscle so that his sudden screams joined with hers. The beast in her mind jumped forward at her terror, taking control, the bright coppery smell of blood and meat driving her mad. All she wanted was that terrible noise to stop, for the bright blood of her prey to stop flowing.
Her jaws snapped shut once with a crunch of cartilage. Then she was running, running around the room with her own screams echoing against the empty walls, the human lost, and the beast seeing only a cave she could not escape.
The smell of people, hundreds of people who had just left the room drove a spike of fear into her brain. Danger, danger, was her thought—a thought not of words but of terror.
But there was no way out. She jumped and ran among the tables, sending up plumes of blue-lined papers, heavy textbooks pinwheeling to the floor. She ran until her legs failed her, and then she slumped, stunned, to the floor just as the doors burst open and a flood of men came in.
“Fire!” one of them shouted, and the small part of her brain that was still Tara tried to make her move, make her call out for mercy, but the cat’s body was spent, and it was all she could do to lift her head as the dart slammed into her side, looking down at the bright orange streamer with a kind of astonishment even as darkness slid over her eyes.
“I’m telling you, I didn’t hear anything about a prisoner transfer,” the man said, squinting at Chay Bane’s badge and giving him and his three team members a suspicious, raking look.
Chay gave the man a too-toothy grin. He knew he didn’t look like a Fed—not like a Company man, certainly, and not even like the Homeland Security agent he was now impersonating. His hair, in tight twists, fell nearly to his shoulders, and the upper part was held back from his face with a black tie. Most govvies took a dim view of that kind of individuality, but he knew the man couldn’t fault his suit—coal black, with tie to match over a crisp white shirt and perfectly polished wingtip shoes.
“Check again, Kevin,” he said, taking note of the man’s name badge.
Without taking his eyes from Chay, the man raised his phone to his ear. “This is Beecham,” he said. “I’ve got a William Smith here with three guys saying that the prisoner’s being transferred.”
There was a pause, and Chay’s smiled widened. Will Smith. It was such a common name, one that no one would dare even joke about even though the comparison practically begged to be made. It was one of his most common aliases when he played a man in black—of whatever stripe. It distracted people, made them uncomfortable as they kept thinking about it, especially since Chay’s favorite trick was to travel with Agosti, a grizzled older man with pale skin and dark hair that he wore slicked to his head. Outdoors, they often wore rectangular sunglasses to make the comparison even more irresistible.
Being ridiculous in just the right way was a powerful tool to make him seem more legitimate. Because, really, who would take the name Will Smith while pretending to be a Fed?
Kevin’s eyes glazed over slightly as he listened to the response at the other end of the line. “Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Okay, that’s news to me. If you’re sure it’s all in order— Right. Right. Of course not. Thanks.”
He hung up. “Well, Mr. Smith, it looks like word just hadn’t gotten to us yet,” he said, looking suddenly like he wanted to be anywhere else. “The Director sent a note personally, so I don’t know what the hang-up was, but I’m very sorry.”
“Oh, no,” Chay said easily. “I’ll tell her that you’re all very keen here, on mark. Check up on everything, just like you should.”
“Right,” Kevin agreed, looking almost comically relieved.
“So we’ll be taking charge of the prisoner right now.”
“Um,” Kevin said. “Do you have the facilities? I mean, she’s still sedated.”
“Dr. Banner here will take care of that,” Chay said, nodding over his shoulder to the elf Torrhanin. The elf blinked his large eyes at Kevin Beecham, who looked even more nonplussed.
“Right,” Kevin said again. He surveyed Chay’s team one more time, then gave a quick nod. “Come right this way.”
With Kevin Beecham in his pocket, all bureaucratic resistance melted away, and Chay and his three team members breezed through a series of security doors, collecting more paper-pushers and doctors along the way.
Chay looked up at one of the video cameras in the corner of the hall outside the holding cell and smiled. God bless the digital age. He’d already introduced a script into the system that was preventing the saving of the streamed video feed without disrupting the viewing of it live. And he knew what the descriptions of him would turn into, with the name William Smith planted firmly in Kevin’s mind. They didn’t have a prayer of proving his involvement—even though there were many who would instantly know that he was the plan’s mastermind.
After a word from Kevin, the guards unlocked the solid metal door and swung it open, stepping back quickly. Chay’s team moved as planned, the bear shifters Agosti and Liam Mansfield stationing themselves outside the door just in case things went pear-shaped while Chay and Torrhanin went inside.
Chay’s stomach lurched at the sight of the girl in the bed.
Damn, damn, frakking damn.
This would be way more than a standard rescue operation. The girl—woman, really—wasn’t a child at all, not even a typical college student. She was solidly in her mid-twenties, strikingly pretty, with her honey-highlighted brown curls spilling across her pillow even though her olive skin was unnaturally colorless under sedation. And she had all the curves of a woman under the stark white sheet.
Far too old for a natural first shift. Too old to risk a medically induced shift, too, if the people in charge of the program had any sense—though there was no legitimate program that Chay knew of that took any women at all.
“All right,” he said to Torrhanin. “Wake her up.”
Torrhanin nodded and crossed to the IV stand, and with a couple of taps, the occasional whir coming from it stopped. He reached for the girl’s hand, which lay neatly on top of the crisp white sheet, and took it in his own to slide out the IV. She looked so peaceful, lying there, but Chay didn’t miss the red line of blood under her fingernails.
The elven doctor turned her arm to expose her elbow and produced a syringe and bottle from the black bag he carried, measuring out the proper sedation antagonist and injecting it straight into her vein.
It had been bad, the reports had said. Arterial spray splattering the front desks. Six kids wounded—one in critical condition—and the professor dead on the scene. Government psychologists were working overtime trying to convince the kids they’d all suffered from mass hysteria, coaching them with stories of confusion and the strangeness of the attack, of the panther that had slipped inside somehow, unseen, until it burst out behind Tara Morland and killed her and their professor.
No matter how many hallucinogens they fed those kids, Chay doubted that many of them would buy the story. The media had, though, and that was what Homeland Security really cared about. A couple hundred kids who believed in shifters was one thing. The nation believing—that was quite something else.
Another panther, Chay thought as the young woman’s eyes began to flutter and Torrhanin worked quickly to remove her feeding tube and catheter. That was another big clue that she wasn’t some kind of late-shifting genetic sport. As far as he knew, panthers like him were exclusively the product of government research—and, of course, the natural-born shifter children of the first generation.
But Tara wasn’t in the registry that he kept, and though there was always a chance that her mother hadn’t been entirely honest about the source of her pregnancy, one look at her age made that possibility even more remote. The panther project had begun little more than twenty years ago, and the oldest natural-born panther shifter that he knew about had just turned eighteen.
“Who did this to you, bae girl?” Chay whispered, so softly that the Feds just inside the door couldn’t hear.
Her eyelids opened slowly to reveal bright green eyes whose gaze went straight through him. And at that moment, he knew he’d do anything in his power to save her.
Anything at all.