A flash of red.
His chest in pain.
Jake woke up in the carriage coughing and choking. He put his hand over his mouth to cough and pulled it back to see. As usual, there were crimson dots all over his hand where blood had splattered. He felt cold and heavy but he also felt like he was being scrutinized. He turned over a little and jumped when he found the metallic blue eyes of the jaguar-shifter he had just purchased staring at him intently.
“What are you doing?” he asked, feeling weak.
“You sounded funny in your sleep.” She answered with a blink. “Are you alright?”
“I’m fine… Are we in Gregory yet?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know what it looks like.”
Jake moaned and sat up, feeling the urge to cough again but trying to hold it back. His father hated when he coughed so loudly and so he tried to practice coughing quietly into his hand so he wouldn’t get that degrading stare that his father would give him. He looked out the window and so nothing but green hills rolling by and so he knocked on the top of the carriage and it stopped.
The footman drive came down from the seat and then opened the door, his long bangs falling over his face from under the top hat he was wearing.
“Milord?” he asked.
“How far are we from Gregory?”
“We have only been traveling for half a day, sir. We still have two and a half day’s ride until we reach the hometown.”
“Is there a possibility that we could stop somewhere for food? I’m starving.”
“There are many inns along the road but there are few who will let us bring a shifter.” He said, his golden eyes darting to look at the jaguar-shifter who was still staring at Jake.
“Well, I need one that does.” He coughed again, holding his chest as he covered his mouth with his other hand. “Do you have water with you?”
“Yes. I’ll get you some…”
The footman left the carriage and Jake moaned, looking at his hand again. There were splashes of blood instead of tiny splatters and he sighed. He looked over at the shifter and narrowed his eyes at her.
“Why do you keep staring at me?”
“You are hurt.” She said softly. “Why do you cough blood?”
“I’ve been like this for a while…”
The footman came back with his water skin and let Jake drink from it. He guzzled the water down and sighed again, handing it back.
“Thank you, Shade.”
“You’re welcome, Master Jake. Will that be all?”
“I think I’m alright for now.”
“Are you sure?” Shade asked, looking at Jake with a knowing look in his eyes.
“Yes, I’m fine.”
Shade nodded and closed the carriage door. The carriage started moving again and Jake laid back down to sleep when he saw that, again, the jaguar-shifter was staring at him.
“Please stop staring at me. It’s making me very uncomfortable.”
She moved closer to him, her bound hands making it a little difficult to crawl but she managed it and instead of stopping, she intensified her stare over the seat of the carriage.
“You do not feel well.” She stated matter-of-factly.
She sniffed at him and blinked slowly. She never said another word and Jake just decided that he was going to have to live with her staring problem. He stared right back at her, into her incredible metallic blue eyes and was asleep again within moments.
“Wake up… Master Jake, wake up.”
Jake opened his eyes and blinked at the golden eyes of his driver.
“Where are we?” Jake asked.
“At an inn. They allow shifters here so I figured it would be best to stop now. I’m getting a little tired myself and my butt hurts.”
Jake smiled at his driver’s humor. He looked over at the shifter and found her sitting patiently on the floor, her bound wrists in front of her and her legs crossed. He turned away because she was completely naked, that realization just hitting him.
“Shade, when did she get naked?” he asked, sitting up and adjusting his coats.
“She was in her anthropomorphic form when you bought her so that she would be easily identified as a jaguar-shifter. She’s just in her humanish state now and so things get moved around.” He said with a little chuckle.
“Please find her some clothes.”
“Right away, sir.” Shade said, helping his master up and out of the carriage. “I’ll deliver her to the kennel-“
“She is to stay with me.”
“I’ll not have her be sullied and sniffed by every male shifter in the kennel. Especially if they have a feline area and they let them sometimes run free. No, she needs to stay with me.”
“I’ll have to convince the desk clerk.”
“Here.” Jake pulled out some money from his pocket. “Bribe them.”
Shade made a face but nodded, tipping his hat and heading out.
Jake turned back to the shifter and held his hand out to her.
“Come on, let’s find you some clothes…”
“Should I turn back? I didn’t mean to offend.” She said softly.
As tiny as her voice was, there wasn’t a submissive tone in what she said. It was full of power and authority. Jake wondered if maybe that caretaker had been right about her.
“It would be best for you until we found some clothes. It’s indecent to walk about naked like that.”
“It’s not naked to me.” She said, standing up and walking to him.
She jumped down gracefully without taking Jake’s hand and stared at him intensely.
“Do I have to wear clothing?”
She gave a growl but shifted into her anthropomorphic form and swished her tail in agitation.
“Thank you.” He started coughing again as they made their way inside.
The look from the crowd of people that Jake was getting was pretty unnerving but he was going to stand his ground. If this shifter got sullied because of his negligence then his father would disown him. He was already having problems with him anyway.
“Master Jake.” Shade said, waving them over.
They walked to Shade.
“The innkeeper said as long as she stays in the room until we leave then we can keep her here. I found some clothes but I don’t know how you will get the top on her without uncuffing her.”
“I’ll figure it out. Get us something brought up to eat. I’m tired and I’m sure you are as well.”
Shade nodded and Jake led the way up the stairs.
“Listen to me very carefully- I wish you would just tell me your name. I’m tired of calling you Shifter all the time.”
“It wouldn’t make a difference.”
Jake just rolled his eyes, coughing into his hand.
“Anyway, you have to do what I tell you and exactly that. Do you understand?” She nodded. “I’m going to unshackle you just so I can get this shirt on you. If you try to escape I will not hesitate to tell the owner of this establishment to kill you. Got it?”
The shifter glared at him and moved her mouth to the side.
“Sir, if I wanted to escape, I don’t need to be released from these binds to do so.”
Jake lifted an eyebrow at that and just unlocked the shackles she was sporting. He quickly threw a shirt over her head and she wriggled her arms into the armholes. He then put them back on her and helped her get some undergarments on.
“Now you can changed into a human if you wish.”
He watched as the furry parts melted away and revealed the toned and very beautiful light mocha colored skin. She shook out her pitch black curls that reached to her shoulders and Jake knew he had found the perfect shifter for his father. She was more beautiful than others he had seen (though Jake’s sister’s shifter wasn’t too bad looking) and if his father didn’t accept her, he wouldn’t mind having her.
He would have mistaken her for a human if only her long black tail and ears hadn’t remained, along with her pointed pupils and slightly pointed teeth.
“Remember your place and that you should sleep on the floor.” He said as he got on the bed, coughing horribly. He groaned and fell onto the pillow. “God… That hurts…”
“You are not well.” The shifter said once more, crawling to him. “You are in pain.”
“Don’t worry about me. I’m of no concern to you.”
The shifter blinked at him with that look of nonbelieving as Jake shuddered and wiped his mouth. He hated being this way and he hated that a shifter was the one who cared about him the most.
Before the food got there, he had fallen fast asleep and so the shifter ate in silence.