Finding finn, p.3
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       Finding Finn, p.3

           Lynn Crandall
 
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her fingertips connected with her own heartbeat in a strangely intimate moment. She released her breath, relieved. “His pulse is rapid, but steady and strong.”

  Asher shared a glance with Kennedy and she nodded. “I’m going to move him into the guest bedroom.” He lifted Finn without effort and carried him down the hall. “You can follow if you want, and stay until he wakes up.”

  “Thank you, I’d like to stay with him.” She watched Asher lay him on the queen-sized bed, noticing his gentleness with his brother. Her estimation of him went up a notch just from that observation. Finn never moved or even groaned, his sleep was so deep.

  “It might be a while. If you need something feel free to ask.” He shook his head. “I can’t imagine the dreams he’s going to have. They’re going to be doozies.”

  STARING FACE TO FACE WITH A HISSING, growling lynx, Finn zeroed in on the lynx’s large fangs. It was too late to run from this beast and panic burst in his chest as if he’d been struck with a bat. Not the time to shrink from danger. He leaned forward and swiped at the animal. He jumped. Whoa! His fist had become a huge, fur-covered paw with large claws.

  “What the heck?” He sat up abruptly and rubbed his eyes. He spread his hands out in front of his face.

  “You were dreaming.” It was Nissa, sitting across the room in a rocking chair.

  “What?” He strained to orient himself. He felt things he couldn’t explain.

  “You’ve been sleeping. You must have been dreaming. Whatever you saw in your dream startled you awake.” The tone of her voice was another question. Why was she speaking in monotone?

  He stretched long and hard. “Wow, that felt great!” Nissa smiled, a tight, pert smile. Then his memory cleared. Shock registered in his brain, remembering the fight, the bite, the subsequent agony, the implications of the bite. “How long have I been asleep?”

  “About three hours. We got here about five o’clock. It’s now eight. How are you feeling? Are you hungry?”

  He swung his legs over the side of the bed. A jolt of energy innervated all of his muscles, and he sat with that glorious aliveness. “Am I glowing?” Laughter burst from his belly. “I mean, that sounds silly. It’s just that I feel so energized.”

  Nissa chuckled. The sound must have been the sound of bliss, and nothing like anything he’d heard before, not even from her. “I understand.” Her eyes darkened. “Do you remember what happened to you?”

  Birdsong outside the window danced in his head like tiny bubbles. His heart expanded to include those words, of all things. Tiny bubbles? But it was true. “Yes. One of those guys that tried to take you away bit me. He was a were-cat.” Her gaze dropped. “I’m now a were-lynx and so are you.” In his present condition he could hardly be angry with her for keeping a secret. Maybe later, when the ball dropped and he had to adjust to an entirely different life.

  “I’m sorry, Finn. I couldn’t tell you anything. It’s against my colony’s laws. I couldn’t risk exposure. I didn’t know you carried the were-lynx gene.”

  “You would have told me if you’d had that detail?”

  Nissa twisted in her chair. “I don’t know. There are other things you don’t know about my family, my colony. You didn’t need to know and I did need to work with you. I don’t know if I would have risked it.”

  She rose and walked to the open bedroom window, staring outside. A breezed glided in and lifted her glossy dark hair away from her face. Her scent, all fresh and delicate wafted in the room. A smile in his heart made its way to his lips. The coworker, friend relationship they’d shared began to bloom into something more.

  But there was more to learn. He couldn’t let his newfound enhanced senses sweep him away into lala land. Facts were what he needed. Facts to help him navigate his new life.

  “You said there was more I don’t know about you. Is that something I also don’t need to know?”

  “No. I need to tell you, everything.” She pivoted to face him, her face an image of composure shaded with sorrow. It gripped his heart. She carried a heavy burden, one he’d only vaguely been aware of until this moment.

  He patted the bed. “Come sit and let’s talk, okay?”

  “I’d like that.” Beside him she drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I belonged to a Eurasian colony based in Italy. Of course you don’t belong to a colony, you’ve been human, not were. No need for a colony.” A pink blush colored her cheeks. “Sorry, I’m rambling.”

  He thought the blush was cute. And he was accustomed to her rambling. It had been something about her he’d enjoyed while working. Her brain worked on high speed and thoughts jumped from one thing to the next effortlessly. It was what made her agreat asset to his work. “No, go on.”

  “I’ve lived all of my life in the United States. My parents moved here before I was born to get away from our colony.” Pain slashed across her face. It bothered him. “You may know this but were-cats are highly evolved individuals. We don’t do damage to others humans or animals, and we respect the environment. But my colony is just the opposite. The males dominate and treat the females like subjects. Both males and females consider themselves superior beings of all other beings on the planet. They kill with little regard.”

  Finn rubbed his chin. “I believe you. I got a taste of that from those guys in the quad. They bristled with testosterone, in an angry and self-aggrandizing way.”

  “I’m so sorry about that. If I’d told you everything maybe you would have cancelled my grant or maybe you would have fired me and sent me away.”

  “Or maybe I wouldn’t have.” He pinned her gaze with his. “You don’t know everything about me either.”

  Tears wetted her eyes. “I couldn’t risk it. I have to work with you, Finn. The disease we’re working on relates directly to my sister’s life.”

  “The muscle wasting disease? You knew I’ve been trying to make a cure for the were-lynx strain?” Incredulity dropped like a rock in his gut.

  Her eyes widened. “No. You said we were working on the human disease. My grant is for studying its effects on other life forms. You knew that.”

  “Yes, but I didn’t realize your subject focus was were-lynxes. Our research has focused on the disease’s presentation in human and generic animal populations.”

  “Right. We’ve made great strides in those areas. My next step is to use our findings to research the disease in lynxes. I have to find a cure for my sister. There is so little time. But other members of my colony have become ill from the disease form that has adapted to lynxes and is killing them, slowly. I don’t think it’s contagious. Not all members have gotten sick.”

  He dropped his gaze to his bare feet. “I know. My brother Kendall has contracted it. He grows weaker every week. I’m working to save his life. I haven’t told Asher or Lara yet because Kendall asked me not to.”

  “The disease’s jump to were-cat populations is unusual. I don’t know of any other cases than my sister and those in my colony. That is why those thugs came for me. They want to control the cure. They want me to go back to Italy to work on it so they can watch me and make sure I don’t release it to other colonies.”

  The truth of their mutual goal reverberated through him. He wasn’t the same man that he had been this morning. He didn’t know what effects of his transformation would inhibit his ability to continue his work, but he did know he had to continue. And now that he and Nissa were truly on the same page he couldn’t let anything get in his way, not even his need to learn how to manage his new life.

  Asher strolled in, eyeing him carefully. “You’re awake. How are you feeling, little brother? Ready for food, I imagine. That’s one of the plusses of being a were-cat. Your high metabolism means you can, have to, eat a lot.”

  “I feel different. There’s no pain right now. Of course, I haven’t shimmered yet. That ought to be a trip.” Finn couldn’t conceal the sarcasm in his voice.

  “I don’t know how it will happen. For a biological were it’s easy and painless. But w
e’ll work on that later.” Asher darted a glance at Nissa. “Did you bring him up to speed about everything?”

  Nissa’s chin raised a notch, and Finn smiled to himself. She wasn’t afraid to stand up for what she believed. “I’ve told him almost everything.”

  “Almost everything?” Asher slanted his head. “Did you save the best for last?”

  She shook her head. “No.” She aimed her lovely brown eyes at Finn. “I’ve told you my colony is not nice. Not all of us are like that, but most are. That’s why we left them. Many of the members carry a gene mutation that in humans some people call the warrior gene. In were-lynxes, that particular gene works in much the same way as in humans. They express higher levels of aggression and are easily and quickly provoked to violence.”

  The implications of Nissa’s words were thick, gooey molasses spreading slowly through his body, bogging him down. “So these guys, the one who bit me, what kind of were-lynxes are they?”

  “There is no way to know for sure without a gene analysis—”

  “I know, I know. You’re talking to a geneticist, but you could deduce by observation. What kind is what’s his name?”

  “His name is Demonte. Demonte, Galen, Renzo and Taryn attacked us. Demonte bit you. I’ve known them since childhood. And they are bullies. To be bitten by any one of them probably would alter your DNA to express Demonte’s version of were-lynx.”

  Warring responses to this news jumbled his brain. Phrases echoed inside him. This isn’t fair! How dare Demonte ruin my life, steal it away in one vicious bite! I won’t change. I can get a transfusion and nothing will happen to me. His heart raced, nearly pounding out of his chest. He couldn’t look at any of them, especially not Asher. He didn’t want to see pity or judgement in his brother’s eyes. There was nothing he could do, not really, to change his fate now. Not even a transfusion could reverse the changes made to his DNA. That was just wishful thinking.

  Asher put his hand on Finn’s shoulder. “This is not a death sentence, Finn. We’ll figure it out.” He pulled Asher to his feet and wrapped a hug around him. “I’ll be here for you.”

  Kennedy joined them in the hug and drew Nissa in. “We all will be with you. But the first thing to do is eat. I know you’re famished.”

  “As insanely absurd as it is considering what I’m facing, you’re right. My stomach is eating itself.”

  “ALL YOU HAVE TO DO is set an intention to shimmer into your were-lynx form. Let it happen. It’s not going to hurt.” Nissa had to push Finn. It was for his own good. Days had passed since his transformation. He needed to perfect his were-lynx ability, most significantly, his ability to shift his form.

  In Asher and Kennedy’s living room, familiar and comfortable ambiance surrounded him. She and Asher had planned it this way, knowing it should facilitate his success at shifting.

  “Watch me.” Asher stripped off his shirt and unzipped his jeans before Kennedy shrieked.

  “You can’t go naked right here in front of Nissa.”

  “Colony members do it all the time. She’s used to it.” He slanted a grin at her. “I’m not shy.”

  Nissa chuckled. “Actually, I didn’t grow up in the colony. But I’m not shy either. I know you need to strip to shimmer or you’ll tear your clothes.”

  “I set my intention. I shimm…”

  Asher stood in his bobcat form, shaking his spotted furry body from head to the tip of his bobbed tail. He chuffed and trotted closer to Finn, nudging him with his large head.

  “Sure, he makes it look easy. He’s been shimmering for years.” He tweaked Asher’s ears. “You have been shimmering for years,” he repeated.

  Nissa troubled her lower lip. Finn’s frustration was understandable, but she sensed it was more than inexperience that bothered him. She hugged Asher. “You’re so beautiful. It’s so good to see one of my kind. It’s been so long.” Thoughts of Celeste, her sick sister, plucked at her heart. Finn needed to get on task creating a cure for the were-lynx mutated gene receptor muscle wasting disease, or what he and Nissa referred to as MGMW.

  “You might as well shimmer back, Asher. It’s not helping me.” Finn scrubbed his fingers through his hair. Its tangled blond locks grabbed her gaze. She’d admired his handsome good lucks for months, but he’d been simply a coworker, a very sexy coworker. But watching him transform she’d seen a vulnerable, endearing part of him. She’d willing moved closer to him to help him through this hard period, and now she was hooked. He’d been someone to hide from. Someone to use to get what she wanted. The cure to save Celeste. But now that she’d seen his genuine passion for living his own way and his sorrow over losing it to become something else, she couldn’t lie to herself any more about her feelings. Yes, she needed him to create a cure. But more than that, she was not about to let him lose himself: Finn straight up and undaunted.

  “Finn, it’s getting late. How about you take a break?” She nudged him with her shoulder. “Take a walk with me?”

  Outside beyond Asher’s and Kennedy’s back yard, Finn ambled past the hedge into an open field. He stood about a head taller than her. His scent drifted to her and filled her head with its woodsy aroma. She looked up into his face. “It’s nice out.” She stopped before she added, here with you. He’d never made the slightest indication of interest in her.

  They walked without speaking toward the burbling creek in the distance. Everything in her tuned to Finn. She didn’t need to look at him to know he was near, she could sense him. That was her special ability beyond heightened lynx abilities. But she could see him well—the expanse of his broad shoulders, his muscled chest and arms, his long, muscular legs—with her lynx vision in the dark anyway. A crescent May moon lit the grassy field in a subtle glow. As they entered the shadows cast by the trees in the grove, she stopped. She swallowed hard and faced Finn.

  He shoved back a lock of his hair behind his ear. The gesture paused time, and she took in the angles of his face, his classically defined nose and lips. Framed by his sleek, almost too-long hair, he made her heart stutter. Say something.

  “Umm…we need to talk.” Her breath froze as she anticipated a flippant remark from Finn.

  But he stood still, looking at her with true interest and saying nothing.

  She breathed in and out, reaching for the just-right words to help him cross the bridge. “I’m sorry for what’s happened to you.” He opened his mouth to speak but she pushed on. “I’ve known you as a brilliant scientist. A very alive man. A man devoted to his work and to living his life under his own terms. I’ve admired all those things in you.”

  Wind whispered through the grove of trees, spreading moist scents of earth and water into the air. Finn stepped closer. Her heart sighed. But no, this could not be a romantic moment, even though everything in her but her feet moved toward him.

  “I have to ask you to trust me. Can you do that? I’m going to be direct and forthright with you.”

  He slanted his head and looked up. “Sounds ominous.” His gaze slipped slowly down to meet her eyes. “I’m not angry with you, Nissa. We both have kept secrets for months. We had reasonable reasons to do so. I just don’t like the consequences of your colony mate’s actions. I’m having a hard time adjusting. But yes, I can trust you. Tell me what’s on your mind.”

  This was the Finn she’d known. A great problem solver and uniquely confident man. So that much had remained the same. “You’re still you. Becoming a were-lynx is startling, but it doesn’t mean you can’t continue to define your life and live a life that is true to your personality and ideals.”

  She took his hands in hers, trembling at the electric charge of his touch. “I believe what’s holding you back, making the transition harder, is your reluctance to let go of your former life.”

  Finn closed his eyes and arched his neck. He lifted his lids and hollered. “I like my life, my former life, as you called it. I can’t imagine turning into some kind of maniacal beast, like Demonte.” He spread his arms wide and dropped
to his knees, sobbing. “I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

  Nissa knelt beside him, relief flooding through her. She knew this tough moment was what he needed. If he could acknowledge his loss and sit with it for however long it took to get through the wall of despair, “he’ll be all right.”

  His head jerked to attention. “What did you say?”

  She bit her lip. “I said you’re going to be all right. Sorry, sometimes I speak out loud when I don’t mean to. It’s a glitch in my brain.” She chuckled uneasily. “It’s true, though. You don’t know what to expect. Your life has been turned topsy turvy. But you’re facing the unknown, the loss, and the best parts of you can thrive and embrace the were-lynx in you. It’s going to be an exploration. Just like in the lab. You’ve already improved your ability to manage your new heightened senses.”

  “Hmm… That part is coming along quickly.” Her brown eyes sparkled in the dark at him, making his heart lurch. “You’re really something, you know that?”

  Nissa smiled, then quickly the smile disappeared. “Focus, Finn. Now, you’re going to shimmer.”

  He chuckled. “Right.”

  “I’m serious. You have to use your confidence. Set your intention, then expect it to happen.”

  “OH WHAT THE HELL.” He stripped down to his boxers and stared into her soft expression. She believed in him. He could use that, as well. Finn pulled in full, deep breaths. His nostrils flared, allowing more of the fresh night air to fill his lungs. “I’m a were-lynx.” He let the statement swirl up from his feet, into his legs, and swept throughout his torso, limbs, and heart. A rush, like a brisk gust of wind, expanded his intention. It took hold and he settled into the transformation of his body as a natural movement.

  His eyes flashed open as if ready to see anything and everything. His heart pounded robust beats. His blood raced through his body, filled with exhilaration and sense of power. He closed his eyes again and his entire body thrust aside his human side and swiftly and nearly without effort glided into a bobcat, just like Asher and Lara.

  The bliss in his body crystalized, as he fully inhabited his new form. As he did, his breathing slowed, his heart thudded ponderously. He was strength and power.

  Nissa lifted her hands to her lips, awe streaming out of her like bubbly champagne. “You did it. You did it, Finn. You’re magnificent.”

  He didn’t know the etiquette among lynxes for touching. His body ached to brush her leg with his body. But probably Nissa should make the first move, and she hadn’t taken a step.

  He pivoted on his back feet and sprinted out into the field, away from Nissa and the forest. Adrenaline pumped through him and he ran faster and faster. Before he knew it he’d put about a mile between them. He slowed
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