Panther Shield by C.D. Gorri

One

“Elena, we’ve been through this,” Egros turned to her, his eyes changing from blue to green to silver as his anger flared.

“I know, Eg, but there has to be something else you can give me to stop my stupid heat cycle!”

“You’re just delaying the inevitable. You are a Panther Shifter, big cats go into heat once they reach adulthood. As you continue to deny yours, it will only get stronger and more frequent every time it comes upon you,” he added.

The male Witch closed the alchemy book he’d been reading and slammed it on his desk. He’d been working with Jessenia, Furio’s mate and a kitchen Witch, as well as Holley, another talented Witch mated to their group Alpha, on finding a way to stop the symptoms of Elena’s heat cycle. But so far, nothing. The results of their inquiries and experiments were not good.

It always amazed her the rest of the supernatural world hadn’t banded together, but most ignored the plights of their females. Pregnancy rates were notoriously low for supernaturals and there was no rush to deny what little chance they had at reproducing.

Regardless of how unfair it was to the females involved. Elena growled angrily. She was no one’s fucking handmaiden. And she would not be forced to copulate and reproduce. It was barbaric!

Holley had concocted a potion made of several wild herbs she’d found growing near the Keep, and so far, so good, but the effects were wearing off at an alarming rate. Instead of her heat hitting her once a quarter, it was more like every month for the past year. Looked like Egos’ grim predictions were right.

Fury flooded her system, threatening to force a shift, but Elena was in control. Always. She reined in her inner kitty, pushed the snarling she-Cat back, and counted to three before meeting Egros’ curious stare.

This simply was not fair. She was a warrior, a fierce Panther Shifter, a true Guardian of Chaos. They were neck deep in this war with the Loyalists, and she did not have time for this shit. Elena had been training for this her entire life.

Hadn’t she left her father and her home before she’d turned eighteen for this reason? To protect the world of magic at all costs. She was not cut out to be a mother. Hell, she didn’t even have a prospect, much less a mate. Regardless of what tradition dictated, she wasn’t getting knocked up by some stranger simply to preserve the species. Fuck that.

Elena had too much self-respect to be a damn incubator. If and when she had a cub, it would be on her terms. Not some biological imperative. Anger coursed through her, and she kicked at something on the floor, sending the box of whatever flying across the room.

“Hey! Those are my files, thank you very much,” grumbled Egros.

“Sorry. Ugh,” she moaned and sat down on a stool while he checked the data log on his computer.

While she waited, memories of her own mother crowded her brain. She recalled the sweet way she used to brush Elena’s pale blonde hair and tie the laces on her patent leather shoes. Elena had loved her strong, fierce mother, especially all the attention the female gave to her only daughter.

As a child, she had been ultrafeminine. Pink was her favorite color. She’d played dolls and pretended to be a mother with her own brood of beautiful babies. It was something she’d envisioned from a very young age, being a mother and having a mate, a family of her own.

The sudden violent death of her mother had put a stop to that kind of innocent daydreaming. Elena’s warm and once happy home had instantly turned into a training dojo, and her once carefree father had become her brutally honest instructor.

It was a difficult change for a teenage girl, but she’d learned to cope. More than that. Elena had excelled at combat. She had a real feel for it and had spent years training, perfecting the skill set coveted by organizations such as the Guardians.

She’d been approached by the usual normal agencies, CIA, FBI, and a few black ops mercenary groups. But Elena was not interested in the petty wars of humankind.

She was a Shifter, and her place was serving the supernatural world. Kingston Baldric, the Alpha of their group of Guardians, had offered her the job, and she’d never looked back.

Where else could she use all of her power, speed, and the fierceness of her Panther to get the job accomplished? The Guardians of Chaos were more than her employers, they were her family. But this business with her heat was getting in the way.

What started out as a way for her father to work out his grief and protect his daughter had turned into a way of life for the she-Cat. Elena had truly learned to love the deadly beauty and grace that accompanied her many mixed martial arts trainings.

She was an expert with several black belts in varying degrees, having studied combat with masters the world over. Neela, the late wife of their leader and Alpha, Kingston Baldric, was one of her mentors.

It had been difficult for Elena to accept Holley as his mate, but after she’d learned the circumstances of his first mating to Neela, the Panther Shifter understood and respected her Alpha even more. The complicated relationship he’d endured with the she-Dragon bespoke of a man of real honor and worth.

Holley was lucky to have him. Hell, he was lucky to have her, too. In fact, it seemed as if more and more of their group of Guardians were finding their mates these days. Pregnancies were running rampant too, with Holley nearly ready to give birth and Fergie announcing her own coming pups just the other day.

Elena was overjoyed for them, and yet, she felt sadness and grief, some guilt as well. She knew nothing like that would never happen for her. The Fates had not aligned to grant her a mate. Besides, she knew she was far from ready for cubs of her own.

Imagine finding her own Fated mate? Ha! That was only a dream for someone like her. Which is why the whole thing with her heat cycle was especially cruel.

Shifter males preferred human females, or even Witches, as they were nearly human. Shifter females, rare and precious, were typically coddled by whatever Pack, Clan, or Pride they belonged too. Elena had been none of those things.

Panthers were lone creatures, existing in smallish family groups, but no real Prides. She had no affiliations with any other group than the Guardians. Just the fact she’d chosen to hone her warrior’s skills instead of finding someone suitable to impregnate her was enough to tell all males for miles and miles exactly where her priorities laid.

It was not with a potential mate or family. It was with the Guardians. She had no one else, and that was okay with her.

Keep telling yourself that.

Shut up!

Elena snarled at the snarky bitch inside her head. Her inner kitty was getting rather nasty lately. The beast was antsy and restless. Just other ways to say horny, she scoffed derisively. Then Elena clutched her stomach as a wave of pain almost sent her crashing to the floor.

“Elena!” Egros rushed over and took her hand, but she pushed him aside, not wanting his touch.

In fact, her Panther hissed and growled. She was not having any of that Witch. He was a friend, but nothing more. Not now or ever.

“I’ll be fine.”

“You’re not fine. Your heat is coming back already!”

“So, what? I’m supposed to stop being a Guardian, now? I’m just supposed to stay home barefoot and pregnant cause fucking biology? Bull shit,” she snarled.

“Here. Try this, but I warn you it will not stop it,” Egros said, ignoring her bad temper. He handed her a vial.

“This is the last of Holley’s potion, but at the rate you are metabolizing the herbs, it will wear off within a few hours.”

“Thanks,” she growled. Tossing back the bitter tasting shot of potion with a hiss of displeasure.

“I could always, you know, help.”

Egros’ voice was so low she almost missed it, but Elena was a Shifter with supernaturally enhanced hearing. The fact she could sense his lust made her beast growl angrily. The she-Cat would not have him. She wouldn’t even think about letting him touch her.

Odd. Her reaction was so strong, but Elena thought about his offer, or at least pretended to. She shook her head. For a while now, she’d suspected the male Witch of having some sort of crush on her. But the cold hard truth of it was Elena did not reciprocate his feelings.to

“No,” she replied, and shook her head. “That would not be wise, Egros, and you know it.”

“I know, El. But I mean, you need me, and I am here. I can’t bear to think of you in pain---”

“No. I will be fine.”

Elena walked out of the new potions room the Keep had magically whipped up for the now three resident witches and turned down the ever changing hallway. She shook her head, mindful of her destination, and walked until she stood before her door.

“Shit,” she whispered, and walked into her sitting room.

Each Guardian had their own suite of rooms in the Keep, and hers was perhaps the largest aside from Kingston’s, simply because she had been there the longest after Storm. Elena had been a Guardian almost fifty years now.

Shifters aged differently than normals, sometimes hardly if at all. Guardians were granted longevity in return for their dedication and service to all species, and, of course, magic itself. In all that time, she had eluded her heat cycle successfully. She closed her eyes and sunk down on the plush purple couch. The color was dark, almost black, and fabulously soft.

Despite being a rough and tumble warrior, Elena had to admit she liked her creature comforts. Sure, there was also a barre against one wall that she used for stretches and to strengthen her core and tonality. An old wing chun wooden dummy occupied one corner, and a ten-foot cat scratching post the other.

She really had to replace that thing, she thought with a frown. Her inner kitty sure did love keeping her claws nice and sharp. Elena rolled her shoulders and closed her eyes.

She only had precious few hours until the potion wore off, then her feline would be yowling and prowling for a male to sate her biological imperative to mate. Not to find her actual mate. Just mate. As in fuck.

Sigh.

Feeling all sorts of gnarly, she stood up and tore off her clothing, opting for a quick shift and stretch in the warm rays of sunshine filtering through the enormous oval skylight before she had to do what needed to be done.

Elena welcomed the magic that transformed her nearly six feet of powerful woman to a sleek black Panther nearly triple her human weight. She didn’t know how the Keep did it since the outside resembled a medieval castle, but she was grateful all the same.

Her inner kitty simply loved the sunshine. The idea of what she was about to do was both intriguing and somewhat nerve racking. She’d never been the type of woman who indulged in one night stands.

But she couldn’t fight what was essentially her biological makeup. Elena was an unmated feline Shifter of the age to bear cubs, and her Panther was fully aware of that.

Kitty cat wanted a cub, whether she’d found her mate or not was irrelevant. And if she couldn’t have that, she damn sure wanted to practice making one.

Fuck me.Elena thought, whipping her sleek tail back and forth while stretching in the sunshine.

Yes, please. Her feline pushed back at her.

Looked like she was going to need a few minutes with Fergie, Holley, and Jessenia before she went out. The three females were mated to Elena’s fellow Guardians and were as close to gal pals as she’d ever had.

They were pretty damn awesome. And Elena needed some advice. But first, she could take a little fortifying catnap, couldn’t she?

Prrrrr.