Carroll Golden and his five brothers were the first of their kind. Born leopards, they were blessed with the magic of being the first leopard shifters. Morgan, their mother by proxy, raised them to blend in with humans and to be good men. Blessed with immortality, they all lived together on Morgan’s Leap, a sanctuary for all nature.
Hanna March worked for the FDA. She had always wanted to visit Morgan’s Leap, but it was closed to the public, so when she was given the opportunity to inspect their orchard on some bogus complaint, she jumped at the chance. The place was beyond anything she ever expected, and Morgan was the perfect host. But when someone took a pot shot at Morgan from the field, a huge leopard came out of nowhere and took them both down. Hanna, hitting her head on the way to the ground, was down for the count.
Carroll shifted back to human as soon as the women were out of danger, but finding out the pretty FDA agent was his mate took Carroll by surprise, and boy was she going to be mad when she woke up.
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Morgan made herself into a tight ball as she hid herself in the tall grasses in the field. She knew the men chasing her would find her soon enough, but for now, she was going to make them work for it. Closing her eyes, trying her best to calm her breathing, she did the only thing she could to not think about what was going on around her. Morgan counted to fifty in all the languages she knew. She had awakened out here. All she remembered was having dinner in the kitchen with the staff and then waking out in the middle of the moonless night. She did not remember going to bed or putting on the nightgown she had on now. Nor did she remember waking when brought out here in the cool night. Soon after waking, she heard the voices of the men, six she thought she’d counted, saying the first one that found her could have her. At fourteen, Morgan knew exactly what that meant. They were going to rape her, then more than likely kill her. Her parents would be looking for her. She would admit, only to herself, that they’d not be too upset about her being gone. Morgan had a habit of getting up in the middle of the night to see to one creature or another. So it might be days before anyone— The hot breath of air on her forehead had her whimper just a little. Lifting her head without opening her eyes, she felt it once again. It was hot but not sour-smelling. Opening her eyes, she looked right into the golden eyes of a leopard. Their noses touched. They were so close. The lick to her face scared her. While she’d seen the wild animals around the compound where she lived, she’d never been this close to one so dangerous. The farmers would kill them when they would take down a cow or something they raised, but no one could have prepared her for their beauty being this close.
The big cat put her paw on her head and pushed it back down, so it rested on the dirt. When she started to lift it again, the cat pushed her down again. Understanding that she was to stay where she was, Morgan closed her eyes. If she was going to be eaten, she was glad the cat was sparing her from knowing when it was coming. The sound, soft as a coin dropping onto the dusty ground, was all she heard before the large cat screamed. There was gunfire too. Something frighteningly close stirred up some of the dirt she was hiding on. The screaming of men was next. It wasn’t long before it was quiet, and she knew on some level that the cat had killed the men. The paw to her head again had her lifting it up to see if she was next. The cat had been hurt. Blood was pouring from her shoulder at an alarming rate. Sitting up, unmindful of whether it was safe to do so, Morgan tore at her nightgown to staunch the blood as she spoke to the leopard. “I think you saved me.” The cat just let her poke around at her wound, soon lying down when she asked her to do so. “The bullet needs to come out. If it doesn’t, I’m afraid you’ll get sick and die from it. I wish I had my knife here. But I think I can see it enough to get it out with my fingers. I won’t do any more than I have to. All right?”
Morgan worked for fifteen minutes in getting the bullet out. The cat never hurt her. Never tried to get away from her as she worked. Sweat poured off Morgan’s forehead as she finally got it free. When she was finished, she showed it to the cat. “See? Someone got a shot in. I promise you, I’ll make sure you’re all right. Do you have a lair? Someplace you can rest?” The cat stood up, and that was when she noticed she’d had kittens recently. “Oh no. Where are they? You left your den to come to save me? Come on. I’ll help you back.” It wasn’t far, only about a hundred yards from where the cat had come to her. It occurred to her that the cat was more than likely saving her kittens from being found when she killed the men, but Morgan was ever so grateful she’d spared her. Helping the cat into the den, she saw that she had three of the pudgiest little kittens she’d ever seen. “They’re beautiful. Oh, look at them. You are a good momma, Golden Eyes. They’re very fat. I’ll stay with you until you need to eat again. Then I’ll hunt for you.” The cat didn’t seem to mind when Morgan picked one of the kittens up, so she touched each of them in turn. “You’re very lucky those men didn’t find you too. But I guess you knew that.” She stayed with the family overnight. There wasn’t any way she’d be able to make her way back home in the darkness, so it was fine with her to be in the cave for the night. The kittens woke hungry a couple of times in the night. Instead of having Golden go to them, Morgan carried them back and forth to their mother. She seemed to be all right with her helping that way.
When the sun was coming up, Morgan not only made sure the family had water, but she also scavenged as much as she could from the horses the men had come out here on. Hardtack was in abundance, but she was also able to get herself some much-needed flint, as well as some blankets. Taking it to the cave, she put the kittens on one of the blankets and then sat down to watch them fall over each other until they had their spot picked out. It was calming to watch them, she thought. They were just too little to do much more than be roly-poly little kittens. Giving the hardtack to Golden, she made her way to her home. It was further than she’d thought it might have been, and she didn’t arrive there until the sun was nearly down. Going into the house by way of climbing up the back stairs, she heard her parents speaking from their balcony. Sliding out onto her own, she stood deep in the shadows to listen to what they might be saying. Her mother was standing at the railing, her father deeper in the room. “I cannot believe she’s gone.” Morgan started forward, wanting to assure her mother she hadn’t been hurt at all. “This was a brilliant idea you had, Malcomb. To have it look as if she’d been kidnapped, then killed. I have never wanted anything more than that child dead.” Her heart hurt. Her mind didn’t know how this was really what her mother was saying. They weren’t close, but she never thought she’d want her dead. But when her dad came out to the balcony too, she watched the two of them as they stood there in an embrace.
“Well, it wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be to get some men gathered up to take her. As you said, it’s a good thing now that she’s gone. When they find her body, it will be blamed on anything but me.” Mother said it wouldn’t be her fault either. “No. No one will bother with blaming you, my dear. For all they know, you’ve committed suicide because your daughter is gone.” It took her less time than it apparently did her mother to understand what her father was saying. As soon as he nearly pushed her mother over the railing, intending, she was sure, to make it look as if she had fallen to her death by her own hand, Mother grabbed her father’s coat. The two of them hung there for what seemed like forever. Would they both fall? Would they be able to save one another? She didn’t care. So when her mother’s weight took them both over the edge, Morgan stood there for several minutes, thinking about what had just befallen her family. Looking over the edge of her own balcony, she saw them there, tightly embraced as if in a lover’s hug and dead. Blood spread out beneath their heads as if a bucket of it had been poured over the two of them. Making her way to the kitchen area, she staggered twice in her grief. Not that they were dead—no, it was that they had planned her demise in such a cold way. Lincoln was there, the butler of the house when she entered. He took one look at her and sat her in the chair she’d spent more time in than the ones in the formal dining room. Lincoln, she knew, would be her family from now on. “Child, what is it?” She must have been a mess. Or looked on edge. The slap to her cheek stung enough that she was brought out of whatever thoughts she’d been having.
“What’s happened? Your parents, they told the household you’d been kidnapped. Are you hurt?” She told him everything, not leaving out anything, including the cat that had saved her. Also, leaving no doubt to the older man that her parents had planned for her to be killed this night. Lincoln sat down across from her after making her a cup of tea that was mostly bourbon. “You are mistress of the house now. Tomorrow we will find their bodies whilst you are still abed. You will say you were out with the creatures of the field. They will believe that well enough. That is where you are most of the time.” She asked him about the cats. “’ Tis your decision. However, if you were to bring them here, none of the rest of the staff will mind. It is you we stayed for all these years, and not your parents.” “I’ll need help bringing them here.” He said he’d go with her. “They’re far. Much further than I had thought. But I wish them to be safe, Lincoln. She saved my life, and I will do the same for her and her family.” “You have a good heart, child—a very good one. We shall leave now and take lanterns with us. A basket too so we might carry the little beasts.” She asked him if he didn’t want them here. “Nay, I want what you want. We all do. Tomorrow after your parents are found, we’ll be as we should have been. A good home and a safe one. Mark my words on that. I will talk to you, as we go about now that you are mistress of the house, what men will do to get to you.
They’ll want you, but you’re too stubborn to be a good wife to anyone seeking your hand. It might be well that there are cats here to protect you. You have become a very wealthy woman.” As they were making their way to the cave, she wondered if he knew how safe the house would be with leopards in it. Once the kittens grew up, they’d be as big as she was now. Smiling, she thought perhaps she wasn’t all that upset about her parents being dead. They’d been treating her as if she were dead for as long as she could remember. Golden seemed happy to see her. She licked her face and brushed her with her large paws. As Lincoln gathered up the kittens, she helped Golden outside to do her business. It took a great deal out of her, and Morgan had to carry her back into the cave. Once they were all loaded up in the buggy, she sat down with Golden to tell her what had happened. “So I’m motherless except for you. I know you’re a cat, and I’m only a human, but I think we can get along. When the men start to come—and according to Lincoln, they will—I’ll need you to protect me too. I shan’t ever marry. Not only that, but I’m also going to make it my life’s work to make sure animals such as yourself are as safe as I can make them.” Arriving home well after the sun had settled in the sky again, she made sure the mother and kittens were safe in her parents’ big bed. There was a fire in the fireplace for them should the night turn too cold. Morgan also made sure the mother had plenty to eat, having given her one of the steaks her father would treat himself to daily, while she had whatever else he had with his meal. Sleep didn’t take its time capturing her, luring her to a night’s rest. It hit her right between the eyes and had her nearly sick with exhaustion. As she closed her eyes, sleeping in her own bed as if nothing had happened, she knew she’d keep her promises to not just Lincoln and the other staff but to herself as well. The animals here would need her, and she was going to make sure they were as safe as they could be while she was still living. ~*~ Four years later Morgan watched the man as he ran out of her home.
How he’d gotten in was beyond her, but now that he was gone with a little less of his fancy clothing, she sat down on the front veranda and waited for the cats to come to her. Over the last month or so, men had been showing up at the oddest times to tell her she must marry them. They would all come around sooner rather than later. All of her leopards, as well as a plethora of other such creatures, would come to make sure she’d not been harmed or taken away from them. None of the animals would be harmed here, and daily another one or two would come limping into the compound and be welcomed. Golden came to sit at her feet, and she smiled at her when she looked at her. “He had it coming. We both know that. The pompous ass thought if he could tear at my clothing, I’d allow him to marry me so I’d be happy. He said I’d need someone like him to watch over my money and keep me from dying an old spinster.
Apparently, women aren’t meant to think beyond having a man around. I’m much happier without him, I think. What did he think I’d been doing here all alone since my parents died? Waiting on someone to rescue me? Not likely.” Morgan slid to the floor and put Golden’s head on her lap. Running her hand down the length of the cat, she could feel her newest litter wiggling around. “I am worried about you, mistress cat. You’re heavier this time with your brood. Not to mention, I know the wound you suffered for me so long ago bothers you more daily. The babes you brought here that night, they have gone on to have their own children. I cannot believe so much time has passed since that night.” She thought of something and put her forehead to Golden’s. “I just realized you’re a grandmother. Congratulations.” “That would make you an aunt in her eyes.” Morgan reached for her gun, something she’d been carrying since that night, and found it gone. “You cannot kill me, mistress, but I would prefer that you not harm me either. I have come to speak with you about the good works you are doing here. The one you call Golden, she has asked me to come to speak to you about a great many things. In addition, I have some things I need to ask of you.” “Who are you?” The beautiful woman asked if she could tell her in a moment. “So long as you know that whatever it is you’re hawking, I want no part of. We’re doing very well here on our own.” “You are doing better than well, I think. The ground is fertile here, thanks to your way of doing things.
Not all humans would leave an animal to rot on their land without doing something with it.” Morgan told her that other animals took care of it. “They have indeed. Even the things the larger breeds cannot eat or use, the smaller creatures come to salvage what they can. You have a good system here. A system that will not be popular for a great many years.” “I don’t want to have to go into town.” The woman nodded, her smile something she thought more than beautiful. “You said you came here because of Golden. She is a cat. How is it possible that she would call to you?” “Let me start at the beginning, please. The night your parents died, the night you came to help Golden, it was thought that you should have died along with them. Sometimes, with humans, the apple does not fall far from the tree. But you are nothing like them, are you, sweet child? You were not only different from them, but a kinder, gentler person than any of us have ever seen before. We have all been watching you these last years.” Morgan asked her who they were. “Ah, that brings me to your first question. I am Tellus, the terrestrial being that cares for and is wholly a part of the earth. The earth and the land that you have here. Not from my doing but your own, this land is rich beyond anything man has ever seen before.” Morgan didn’t speak, letting all the woman told her to settle into her mind. She’d been alone for most of her life now and had learned not to prattle on when there was no one to talk back to her. Petting Golden, she was glad to hear her purring. The rumbling of her throat was soothing to her for some reason.
“Mother Earth. I’ve read about you. You’re Roman.” She said that was correct. “All right. So you’re here because I have good land. However, I still don’t know why you took time out of your…what I’m sure is a busy day to tell me that.” “You are a jewel among all the stars in the sky, Morgan.” Confused at the words and their meaning, Morgan continued to pet her cat. “We, the other earth creatures, have been watching what you were doing here since that night. We’ve not once had to intervene in helping you care for the animals, all that you protect here. You have lifted a great burden from all of us. Even creatures you may not yet be aware of have found a home here among the others and have been safe from harm. One such creature sits there on your leg. His name is Button.” Morgan looked down at her leg and saw the tiny creature standing there. She put out her free hand, and when he hopped upon it, she brought him closer to her face. Yes, he was a little man, just like the men that had been coming around except for his size. Then while she was watching him closely, he spread out his wings and fluttered above her palm for several seconds before settling down again. “Faerie.” He bowed before her. “I have read of such creatures as this one. They are thought to be a myth. Such as you are, Lady Earth. I have either hit my head, or I’m being visited by creatures as magical as the sun coming up and then resting in the other sky.” “You are seeing magic, my child.” Nodding, she laid her hand back on her leg. Button didn’t sit on her leg again but stayed on her palm. “He wishes to be with you.
To help you in the coming years. For as much as I’d like to say your life will be filled with only riches, we both know it is never that way.” “Nay, it is not. The banker says I owe him great funds for a loan my parents took out before they died. Also, I have a man who is trying his best to catch me unawares, so he might rape me to take my lands. I don’t think he means to keep me around much longer than it takes for me to say, ‘I do.’ They only want what I have.” Tellus said she could help her with those things. “Thank you, my lady. But I’m sure you have enough to do now with the earth as large as it is.” “I do. But helping you is not something I take lightly, my child. We, all the creatures in charge of the parts of the earth you now own, are happy to help you. And in doing so, they will get the help they need as well.” Morgan asked her what they wanted her to do. “You will do it, will you not? Even not knowing what it is we ask of you.” “I will help the earth for as much as it gives back to us here. And that, as you know, is a great deal. We are self-sufficient here. Water is ours to use as we see fit. There is a roof over our heads when necessary. The fields, as you have pointed out, are rich and give us back so much more than we can eat. I share what I cannot have put up or preserved.” Tellus told her she knew that as well. “If you need me to do more, I will do it to the best of my ability.” “Thank you.” Tellus looked at her, then at Golden as she continued. “Golden will stay with you until the kittens are born. Her children will be the first of many creatures that will take on this new magic we wish you to help with.”
“She’s going to die.” Tellus nodded but didn’t look at her. “I thought when I’ve seen her around this time, she wouldn’t make it for long after. You do know she’s the only friend I have besides the people that work here? I’ve thought about, for long hours, how I will make it without her counsel. Without her snuggling up to me when I need it. I don’t know that I want to. But I must, for the others.” “Yes, you will,” Tellus told her of the magic that would be given to her. About the babes Golden would have, and how they would go on to be great men, to help her in ways that Tellus and the others hadn’t thought of yet. “The magic they will get will help them to be a part of the world of men. To breach such places that even now frighten us a little. We will need you to help them blend into such places. To walk, talk, and act like real men. The abilities we will give them will make them a prize should anyone find out. So it is important they do not give themselves away while men. Do you understand?” “Yes. I’m to be their teacher.” Tellus told her that she would also be their mother. “I have questions now, but I know I will have so many more when the time comes. I will teach them everything I can. Give them whatever step up they’ll need so long as I live. I promise you they will be the best of men. Not like the ones that come here sniffing out an easy way to my home.” “You will not die either, Morgan.
You will be around for their children to come into the world, as well as all the shifters that are to be born.” Morgan asked her about the men coming around. “They will not come around again should you wish it. Button will have an army of faeries that will come to your aid in that and anything else you might need them for. Do not be fearful of using them either. Rightly so, they are excited to serve one such as yourself. You have been titled with the name Queen of Shifters.” “You don’t have to do that, my lady. I said I would help you.” Tellus laughed, and it made Morgan smile. “I will do as asked. The rest I will accept as part of my duties, but I don’t see myself using it overly much.” “I foresee you using the magic given to you much more than you think you will.” Tellus laughed again, bringing yet another smile to Morgan’s face. “I will also give you a list of things you will need to invest in. They will fund you better than a bank will, and you will remain self-reliant at the same time. Also, the bank has been taken care of. He will no longer bother you about funds he thinks you owe him.” “Thank you for that.” Morgan looked down at her friend and ally in all this. “What will become of me when you no longer have a use for me, my lady?” “There will always be a use for you, child. A creature such as you will forever bond with the earth and make everything around you a better place. I have such faith in you.” Morgan told her she could only do her best. “And that, my child, is all I could ask for.” The two of them talked throughout the morning and into the evening. Ending up in the living room where there was a fire roaring in the hearth, they were served their tea there, as well as juice. She was told she’d need to be drinking a great deal more of the elixir. And that the fresher it was, the better it would be for her after using magic.
At some point, Tellus took her hand into hers and gave her the magic she’d need. The power of it washed over her in waves. So much so that for several minutes she had to sit still in her seat and wait for it to settle out. Not only did she receive the magic, but the knowledge of how to use it. Also, things she’d been told she must invest in. Things that Tellus told her would be worth a great deal in the future. After Tellus left her to rest, she was told, Morgan sat in the yard at the back of her house. Lincoln came to sit with her a spell, telling her there were faeries in the kitchen now that would make sure the household was safe. Also, he said, he’d been given magic as well. “It is to keep the house in order. To build out, when you need it, my lady.” She said she’d been told she’d need to have a larger house. “I find that hard to believe, but I will do what it takes to have you safe.” “I now have more land as well. Tellus told me there are now five thousand acres here that will be used for the animals in need. No one will be able to enter the land if they wish to harm anything that calls this place home. What am I do to with all this knowledge and wealth, Lincoln?
I know I’m to teach the next generation of cats born to Golden, but how much do you think they’ll need from me? What am I to do when they go out and have their own leap? I shall be an old woman with only you to keep me company.” He asked her if he was immortal as well. “You are. But I was told if at any time you wish to die, I could take it from you. No harm will come to you with it either.” “I think I shall stay with you, my lady. I think we will need each other in the coming years, don’t you think?” She said she needed him every day. “You are so kind to me, Morgan, that I wonder at times why your parents wanted you dead.” “They were in love with themselves.” She knew that to be true as soon as she said it. Looking at the older man, she smiled at him. “You and I will do the best we can and hope it’s right. Someday, I think we’ll look back on this and wonder what all the fuss was about. Don’t you?” “I think I will hold my thoughts on that until such time as it comes to an end.” He laughed a little. “Do you believe it will come to an end, my lady?” “No. I don’t. I don’t have any idea why, but I think we’re going to be having something new and strange happening as a daily routine.” She stood up when he did. “Let us begin this new phase of our life, Lincoln, and hope we make it work better than the thoughts in my head are making it. All right?” “Whatever you wish, my lady. We will do well together, I believe.” She hoped so. It seemed like a great deal was depending on her doing just that, making it work for the safety of all involved. She only hoped she knew enough and was strong enough to make it work for all of them.