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Between States Book 3: A More Perfect Union
by J.M. Snyder
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Book 3 in the Between States trilogy
Once a Yankee soldier, Brance Brenneman has left the War Between the States behind and gone into hiding with his lover, former Confederate Caleb Chilson. Deserters intent on keeping to themselves, they find a nice, sparse acre of land where they can finally settle down. Life falls into domesticated routine for both the brooding Yank and the excitable Rebel. Together they struggle to create a more perfect union forged of love and their shared shapeshifting secret.
But the discovery of another bobcat encroaching on their territory brings out the possessive alley cat in Caleb, eager to defend his home and his mate. Will the newcomer destroy what they've worked so hard to attain? Or is there room enough for the three of them deep in the wilderness of Pennsylvania?
The snow stopped falling by the time they left the shop, but gray clouds still scudded the sky and Brance could feel the moon on the rise. Tossing his haversack into the back of their cart, he untied the horses from the hitching post as Caleb brushed the fresh snow off the jump seat. “What do you think about that girl missing?” he asked, climbing into the seat. The rifle once again lay across his lap.
With a shrug, Brance vaulted up beside him. “You know we’re the only bobcats in those woods.”
Caleb cleared his throat and glanced down at his hands, unusually quiet. Brance frowned. “You’ve seen others?” When Caleb shrugged, he asked, “What haven’t you told me?”
“I haven’t seen anything,” Caleb said, choosing his words carefully. With a dark look at the dusty window of the general store, he added, “Let’s head on home. It’s getting late.”
Brance sat with the reins in his hands, impassive, unmoving. Waiting.
Caleb sighed and covered his lover’s hands with one of his own. “Brance, please. It was last month, okay? When I chased after that doe, remember? She led me down a short ravine and when I came up the other side, I smelled another’s scent. I didn’t see any cats, I didn’t hear any ... it was an old scrape, nothing I thought worth bothering about.”
For another long moment, Brance stared at Caleb. His lover seemed to wilt under his gaze, drawing his neck into the collar of his thin jacket, hunkering down, waiting for admonishment. Several emotions flickered through Brance -- anger, betrayal, concern -- but he held them in check with a grip as firm as that which held the reins in his hands. When he finally spoke, his voice was low, soft. “Caleb,” he said.
His lover flinched at the sound of his own name. “I’m sorry,” he murmured. “I should’ve said something, I know. I just didn’t think it’d be a problem.”
How could another cat’s territory so close to their own not be a problem? With a flick of the reins, Brance set the cart in motion, buying himself a moment to think. If there were bobcats in the woods they called home, then Brance suspected sooner or later, they’d have to fight for the land. He didn’t relish the thought of going up against younger, wily felines, either in the flesh or in the fur. As a human, he had an aversion to killing any living creature; he had never been the perfect soldier, and even hunting for food bothered him, which was why he left it to Caleb. His lover was much better at it than he. And as a bobcat, he wasn’t the sleek specimen found in the wild. He had an old war wound on one leg that slowed him down, his bones ached in the cold weather, and he’d rather mate and eat and sleep than anything else. If their territory lay so close to that of another male’s, there would be trouble before long.
He could feel Caleb’s sour mood simmering beside him. The same thoughts hopefully gnawed at Caleb’s mind, worrying him. What happened when this other bobcat decided to expand his territory and breeched theirs? How would they protect their small home from such a creature? Their crops, their horses, themselves?
As Brance steered the cart out of town, Caleb tried to assuage their fears. “I don’t think we have to worry about it, really. That ravine’s half a day’s hike from our place. We’ve marked the land all around it, and I scratched fresh marks in the trees before I left. There were no other paw prints out there, nothing but the scrape, and it was so old anyway. I mean, she must’ve laid it down weeks before I came by there.”
“She?” Brance gave him a sharp look. “It was female scent?” At Caleb’s nod, he pressed, “Are you sure?”
Caleb nodded again. “Oh, yeah.” A wild look crept into his eyes and he grinned. “The man in me wasn’t interested, but the bobcat got randy. Whoo, boy. It turned me on something fierce, I’m telling you. I gave up on that doe and raced back to you, ready to fuck. Don’t tell me you don’t remember.”
With a chuckle, Brance joked, “You’re always ready.”
The town was behind them now, their cart alone as it followed the path in the snow they had tamped down earlier. Caleb turned to set the rifle in the cart behind him, then eased an arm around Brance’s back. Scooting closer, he leaned against his lover, one hand angling into the pocket of Brance’s jacket for warmth, the other easing over Brance’s stomach with a ticklish touch. Caleb rested his head on Brance’s shoulder; puckering his lips, he pressed them to the tender spot behind his lover’s ear. As his fingers massaged Brance’s belly through his shirt, he murmured, “I’m ready now.”
With a hard shake of the reins to spur the horses on, Brance murmured, “Why am I not surprised?”
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