Lowly Deckhand Third Class Zara Thomas finds she's been transported to a beautiful alien planet. Her only companion is a huge but friendly dog. When she wakes the next morning, she finds a naked man where the dog had been. The dog is friendlier, but the man is very talented in bed.
Dog-shifter Rasim has escaped the planet of his birth in a stolen spaceship. He's searching for the mythic land of shifters, simply called Home. This woman could be his mate, but first he has to convince her that she can be like him and the two of them can have a future together.
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She laughed and sang some more. A few lines from a song that played in the break room from time to time. She'd never heard her own voice do it before, and she sounded pretty good. Maybe if she'd studied as a kid, she could have made something of herself.
As she finished, another voice answered, and Zara froze where she was standing. Not a person singing but an animal. A low note, starting as a growl and then rising. None of the stories about this place included animals. Certainly nothing big enough to make a sound like that. Either the captain had missed the local fauna, or she'd landed on the wrong planet. That last wouldn't be funny at all.
She stood where she was and glanced around. Other than the grasses moving in the breeze, nothing moved. The sound she'd heard didn't repeat itself, either. Could it have been answering her singing? She tried again, more softly this time, and waited. Sure enough, the voice sounded again, this time more like a bark than a growl. She definitely had a visitor. Maybe she'd talk to it. It wouldn't understand, but it might show itself.
"I know you're there," she said. Nothing.
"I'm not afraid of you." That wasn't strictly true. She didn't know what she'd be facing if it appeared.
Still silence. She could stand here talking to herself or she could get on with the business at hand -- finding some water and, with any luck, some sort of protection in case the night got cold.
She took a few more steps, and the answer to her latest came. A few yips. Oh, this was really cute. Whatever it was, it wanted to play a game of ignoring her until she gave up and then reminding her it was still there. She put her hands on her hips and turned in the general direction from which the yips had come. "Show yourself or leave me the hell alone."
Just under one of the distant trees, the brush rustled, and a form appeared. Half as large as a bear but canine in appearance. The creature had shaggy brown fur and ears that stood at attention. Though much of it was indistinct, the eyes came through in an unusual golden color. They seemed to hold an intelligence behind them, if you could truly tell that sort of thing by eyes. No, even a wisdom, as if the creature were much older than it appeared. It made no further move toward her but sniffed the air. Then it tipped its head back and let out a howl, showing off impressive teeth as it did. This was not an animal to be messed with.
"Thanks." She held up her hands as if to ward it off. "But I think I'll go on by myself, if you don't mind."
It watched her, cocking its head as if trying to make sense of her words. Again, something about it -- maybe its posture -- told her it understood or was trying to. That inside that shaggy head was a brain the equal of hers. Really creepy.
She turned slowly, not showing the animal her back. She'd keep it in her peripheral vision. The captain's new wife had started classes on battle for the women of the crew, and Zara had taken a few. They might help her defend herself against the creature, but she had no weapon to compare to its teeth.
As she walked along, it disappeared into the brush again, but more rustling kept up with her. Still at a distance but not letting her get any farther away. Clearly, she'd have to find some way to make a fire before nightfall. She wouldn't want to have to face that animal in the dark.
* * *
So, Rasim didn't occupy this place -- whatever it was -- on his own, after all. A female. Probably a Normal. The few utterances he'd made ought to have scared her off. He could have acted more menacing, but her uniform and her scent suggested she wasn't from his planet, Sonder. The Normal here obviously didn't frighten as easily as the ones at home.
What to do? He could leave her. She probably had no sense of smell that would allow her to track him as he could her. He could approach her, but she might have some kind of weapon hidden on her person. She could never overpower him physically, but she might have other ways of harming him. Or killing him. No, for now, he'd keep her within his sight, or if not that, his superior senses of hearing or smell could allow him to find her.
She was a small thing, although muscular. The tight uniform gave that away. It hinted at firm breasts and a plush rump. She walked with an air of command, although she cast a glance out of the corners of her eyes every once in a while to determine if he was still there. She'd soon find out he wasn't going anywhere.
Nothing else this interesting had happened since he'd somehow been transported from the ship he'd stolen to escape Sonder to this place. Like nothing else he'd seen. Beauty everywhere and fruits that tasted like meat and had satisfied his carnivore's belly.
The sound of the woman's voice would not leave his head. One time she'd opened her mouth, something low and sweet had come out. It had reverberated through him, even seeming to massage his shoulders. Another time it had seemed more like the sound of songbirds celebrating the returning sun. And when she'd stood, hands on hips, and stared him down, he'd almost laughed at her bravado. He could have easily overcome her in a few bounds and ripped her throat open -- something the Normals accused his kind of doing, when their own pets were more likely the killers.
Yes, a fascinating creature, all in all. He'd follow but keep his distance... for now. When night fell and he'd had his fill of the native fruit, he'd decide if and how to approach her. She was headed in the general direction of the stream he'd found. If she had any sense at all, she'd stay near a source of water. He'd no doubt find her there, but if he didn't, his sense of smell would track her down...