Neko, Book 1
by Ana Raine
Ebook ISBN: 07047-02270
[ Shifter Romance, MM ]
Prince Adrian has secretly lusted after Collin for years, but a demon and a Neko becoming lovers is not only unheard of, such a relationship is banned. With a rebel army threatening to overthrow Prince Adrian and the royal council, Collin has to choose sides. But neither choice guarantees him a place next to Prince Adrian’s side.
[Tweet “Read #excerpt of Clock Strikes by @AuthorAnaRaine #shifter #gay #romance”]
His blue-black hair would feel like silk against my skin. He would sit in front of me, his back perfectly straight, because princes don’t slouch. His hands, cool and big, would touch the sides of my face, pulling me closer so I could give him pleasure. And heaven knows I wanted to give him all the pleasure my Neko body could handle.
His hands would travel down his flat, tight abdomen to his pants. He would loosen his clothing and reveal his large, erect cock. I would lean forward and swallow him down my throat, hoping to hear his gasp of erotic pleasure.
My own body would be ready for him when he’d had enough of my mouth. I would look at him through my long dark lashes and the curtain of my blonde hair and give him my sweetest smile. The one I’d been practicing just for him. And I would finally say…
I blinked, the sunlight glaring down into my eyes. I felt the soft grass mixed with flowers underneath my bare arms. I could feel my face flush, and I wanted to hide, but instead I looked up at the person who had called my name.
Rolland, my older brother by four years, was staring down at me. He was frowning, but I could see he wanted to laugh. His hair, blonde like mine, fell just above his chin and he reached up to tug on a strand sticking to his brown, fur-covered cat’s ear. “You were dreaming again.”
“I’m a Neko. I sleep fourteen hours a day,” I said simply, sitting up so I could better hide my erection.
Rolland plopped down next to me and wrapped his arms around his knees. “Who do you dream about?”
Although Rolland was only twenty-nine, he was one of the oldest Nekos still living on Aloria. Unable to take the confinements of our beautiful prison, most Nekos had already settled for a demon master and left for the human world.
“No one,” I murmured. At least… no one I would ever have.
“Hmm. Doesn’t look like no one.” He pointed at the tent in my pants.
I blushed and punched him in the arm. “Hey, shut up.”
He held his hands up in defense and lowered his voice. “No one stays here forever, Collin. Eventually, all of us will choose to go to the Neko kingdom forever, or become a pet to a demon. You should tell that special girl you love her while there is still time.”
“I don’t like girls, Rolland.”
He looked embarrassed. “Oh, yeah, right.”
I was silent. There was no way I could tell him who I wanted. He would think I’d gone crazy and then he would probably feel bad for me. “What do pets do, anyway?”
Rolland looked at me. “Why do you want to know?”
I had to be careful. “Just curious.”
“Whatever their master wants.”
“Is that why you’re still here?”
“Me?” Rolland ruffled my hair, and then pinched my cat ear before standing up. “I’m not going anywhere until you do.”
He was going to be waiting a while. I took his waiting hand and then followed him down the dirt path back home. We lived on an island surrounded by a sort of energy field that prevented humans from detecting us. I’d heard the kinder demons who came to Aloria frequently say that it was in our best interest humans not find us.
Sure, I knew it was a strange concept for humans to imagine half cat, half human hybrids, but I was living proof we existed.
The real reason for our invisible wall of protection, the one whispered amongst the bolder Nekos, was that the demons would never let us go. They had conquered us some four hundred years ago, and clearly we weren’t fighting anymore.
The futility of it all just made me want to chuck myself into the ocean. I wondered how long I could swim before making it to the force field. And then what would happen? Maybe the energy field was all just a lie.
Our cottages were tailored to each family so after our parents and our sister left, Rolland and I had lived alone. Neither one of us had children or a Neko mate, so our house would probably be given to another, larger family if we chose to go to the Neko kingdom, which was really just another island without any hope of escape.
I pushed open our door and went to the kitchen to get a glass of water. Sometimes, I wanted to go to join the rest of our family on the Neko homeland, but I couldn’t leave the dark-haired prince from my dreams.
“Earth to Collin,” Rolland said humorlessly. “You’re spilling water everywhere.”
“Oh, jeez. Sorry.”
“Really, what is the matter with you?”
I just shook my head. I couldn’t explain it.
Rolland took my glass and filled it himself before handing it back to me. “Go to bed before you fall over.”
Maybe something was wrong with me. I’d met my prince ten years ago, but this was the first time my dreams had been possessed by him. I felt like I was becoming an obsessive demon. I was heading back to my rooms when Rolland called my name.
“Yes?” I asked.
“Don’t forget. There are demons coming tomorrow to see if any of us wants to be their pet.”
I was confused. “More? Ten demons have come by in the past week alone.”
Rolland frowned as he opened a cupboard and took out some bread. “Yeah, but the Annual Reaping Ball is approaching.”
I stopped moving. “When?”
He took a bite of bread. “I don’t know. A week maybe?”
The Annual Reaping Ball was a socially elaborate gathering of demons where they danced and ate human souls.
“If you want to become a pet this year, you might try now.”
I scoffed. “Why would I want to be their pet?”
Rolland shrugged. “You don’t have to become their pet immediately. Until you accept their collar or ring or whatever they give you, you’re free to choose any demon.”
“You mean, they’re free to coerce me?”
Rolland finished his piece of bread. “I wouldn’t want to stay here forever. And the other choice… is also empty.”
“Good night.” I shut my door securely behind me and undressed before flopping down onto my bed. If he thought I wanted to be here forever, he was crazy. But I needed to hold out for my prince, just a little longer if possible.
The Annual Reaping Ball would give me a chance to see him. But even though Rolland said the choice was mine, I was at the mercy of the demons coming tomorrow. If he wasn’t interested in me, I was screwed.
Tomorrow they’d come and all of the hopeful Nekos would congregate in the meeting hall so the demons could scrutinize and select the perfect Neko. I was small in stature and my eyes were so large, they ached when it was too bright outside. Most demons went for the more exotic Nekos with black ears and tail, or stripes or spots. I had plain, light brown ears and only the tip of my tail was white.
My cock still ached from the dream about my prince. I slid my hand down my stomach and dipped into my pants. My cock was hot to the touch and I had to repress a moan when I wrapped my hand around my thick shaft. God, I wanted my prince so badly.
His lips were probably cool to the touch, just like his aloof words. But I would get him to moan for me. I thought about kneeling on his bed and wondered what it would look like. There were probably heavy fur blankets covering the expansive bed and several pillows so he could position me anyway he wanted.
I let out a soft gasp and sat up so I could move my hand faster over my erection. I was close. I lifted my throat, imagining his white teeth clamping down on my sensitive skin and marking me. I shudder violently as my orgasm erupted. I took gasping breaths but I still couldn’t get the sensual image of him marking me out of my mind.
That was the first time I’d actually thought he might mark me. And that was a dangerous thought. The royal demons would never allow a Neko to be marked by a demon with the intention of becoming a demon’s mate. I sighed and stood up to go to the bathroom and clean myself up. I was being foolish even dreaming such a thing.
* * *
The sunlight was streaming into my window, but daylight wasn’t a good indicator of when to wake up. Usually, I slept ten hours in the morning and another four in the afternoon, but when I checked my clock, I realized I’d only slept for eight hours.
“What is with all the noise?” I complained, chucking a pillow at the window as though the fluffy fabric would be enough to muffle the sound. “Rolland?” I called as I rolled out of bed and half crawled to my door.
He was already awake and dressed and sitting at the table with a bowl of milk. “Yes?”
“Why is there so much noise outside?”
“I think a group of young female Nekos just passed by.” He took a spoonful of milk and stared at me. “The demons coming are very impressive.”
“Who?” I yawned as I plopped down at the table.
Rolland raised his eyebrow.
“What? Are they like really evil or something?”
“No.” Rolland stared at his bowl as the noise outside our window picked up again. I caught a glimpse of three female Nekos with interlocked arms running down the path.
“Prince Adrian and his cousin, Porter.”
My breath hitched. Wanting the Prince as badly as I did was dangerous. I looked away in an attempt to hide my interest. My brother wasn’t a fool. He probably already knew how I felt.
“I don’t think Prince Adrian is looking. He is simply accompanying his cousin.”
“Then why are so many Nekos going to the hall?” I rubbed my eyes, trying to get my cheeks to a normal color.
“Don’t go, Collin,” Rolland advised.
How could I not? I’d spent most of the night thinking about how to make myself presentable in order to be chosen so I could attend the Annual Reaping Ball and find the Prince. But he was here, and if the rumors were true, Porter and Prince Adrian often spent time together. If I were lucky, I would get plenty of time to seduce Prince Adrian into making me his pet.
His pet… The word resonated deeply in my chest. I would only be a pet. Never a lover.
If I kept repeating those words, I might make it out alive. “I have to,” I told Rolland before I jumped up from the table and raced to the bathroom. I ran a comb through my long blonde hair, being mindful of my ears, and then brushed my teeth so roughly my gums bled.
“Bye, Rolland. See you later,” I said as I left the house, still in the process of buttoning my pants.
My heart was racing as I ran down the dirt road to the looming meeting hall. The hall was where the food was kept and every Saturday, Nekos would go there to select what they wanted. Here, our every move was dictated by demons. If only I could get to the human world…
I slowed down as I neared the hall, smoothing my hair over my cat ears, and then running my hand over my tail so I could catch any loose hairs. The meeting hall was crowded, way more than usual. Peering over chairs and tables, I tried to spot Prince Adrian, but there were just too many Nekos.
Kela, a female Neko a little younger than me, spotted me and threaded through the crowd to where I was standing by an open window. “There sure are a lot of us here today,” she said hesitantly. She had curly blonde hair ending at her shoulders, which complimented her dark ears and tail. She was wearing a loose dress with a bow around her waist and a plunging neckline. She kept pinching the skin at the nape of her neck.
“Yeah.” Normally, I liked Kela, but today, I could only feel jealousy.
Prince Adrian had been coming to Aloria, the Neko island, since I was fourteen, but he’d never taken a pet. Which meant I had no idea which gender he preferred. I chewed at my lower lip and watched as the Nekos filed in to the room, filling the chairs. The meeting hall was really just a large room with separate smaller rooms in the back. During important meetings the chairs were lined up in straight lines. During the market, the tables were scattered into aisles so food could be presented.
I’d only been to one gathering where demons came to inspect Nekos and it had been a long time ago. I wasn’t sure what to expect.
“I didn’t know you had any interest in being a pet,” Kela said nervously as she pressed her back against the wall.
“Because you and Rolland…” she blushed. “Well, I just thought you two would always stay together.”
We weren’t lovers, but when she said it like that, it sure sounded like we were. I diverted the conversation back to her. “You like the Prince?”
“Doesn’t everyone?” she said with a small, sad smile.
Kela was one of the most beautiful Nekos I knew and if she were that worried, I might as well leave now. I curled my hands into fists at my side because the door at the front of the meeting hall had opened and through the door came Prince Adrian.
Even though I was far from him, I could see his dark blue-black hair curling at the bottom. He was wearing a tight v-necked sweater, exposing the pale flesh at his throat. I stood for another moment before he blinked ever so slowly, long lashes hitting his cheeks. I couldn’t take it anymore.
“Where are you going?” Kela asked as I pushed past her.
I didn’t answer, just kept walking out the door. There was a small garden complete with fountain behind the meeting hall. I shoved my hands into my pockets and headed to the fountain, desperate for some cool water to splash on my burning cheeks.
I was an absolute idiot. Prince Adrian had been in the same room as me, but instead of me approaching him, I’d run away. What was wrong with me?
Rolland was right. I shouldn’t have come. Maybe I should give up on Prince Adrian altogether and then we could join our parents. Maybe that’s what Rolland was waiting for.
The meeting hall was silent, which made sense considering we had all been told pets were supposed to be quiet and obedient. The water from the fountain felt good as I dipped my hands in and rubbed my arms.
Sitting down on a nearby bench, I waited for all the noise in the meeting hall to start up again. That would signal a Neko had been chosen and everything would go back to normal. From where I was sitting, at least, I’d be able to glimpse Prince Adrian again.
“Hello.” The voice was cool and dark, sending shivers up my spine.
I’d never seen Porter, but I imagined the lanky, gorgeous demon standing in front of me was he. He had the same blue-black hair and startling purple eyes.
He blinked, clearly impressed by my manners. Rolland had taught me well. Behave around a demon or you might not live another day.
“My name is Porter. I am Prince Adrian’s cousin.” He sat down next to me, unzipping his dark coat to the middle of his chest. He had his hands on his chest, long pale fingers intertwined. His cheekbones were high, but not like Prince Adrian’s. The Prince’s facial features were unlike anything I’d ever seen, like how I imagined carved ice would look.
“My name is Collin, sir.”
He blinked into the sunlight.
I knew demons tended to avoid sun so before he could speak, I asked, “Would you like me to retrieve an umbrella for you?”
Porter shook his head. “No, I won’t be out here long.”
I didn’t know what to say in response, so I stared at the fountain in front of me. I desperately wanted to ask where Prince Adrian was, but I held my tongue.
“You are very beautiful.” He commented on my features as though he was talking about the weather.
“Thank you, sir.” Beautiful? This guy was crazy.
“You look young. How old are you?”
“Still a baby.” He paused and surveyed the garden. “There are many demons who are unkind to their pets.”
I waited uncomfortably.
“I want a pet to take to the Annual Reaping Ball,” Porter declared as he turned to face me. He raised a cold hand to my cheek and then outlined my mouth with the tips of his fingers. “After the ball, if I think my rented pet is beyond adequate, I’d offer them a lifetime of protection, prestige and power at my side.”
It dawned on me that he wanted me to be his pet. “I’m not interested in those things. Sir.”
“No?” He removed his hand. “There are a good number of human and Neko pets alike who enjoy their prestige at the side of a royal demon.”
I only wanted to satisfy and be satisfied by Prince Adrian. Accidentally, I almost revealed my secret but stopped myself. If I accepted Porter’s offer, I was going to be on a test run. I’d be able to attend the Annual Reaping Ball where Prince Adrian was sure to be. It was the opportunity I’d been waiting for.
“I’m not interested in prestige. But I’d like to accept your offer if it is still available, sir.”
He gave me a big smile, exposing his sharp, creamy white teeth. “Excellent. If that is the case, you must stop calling me sir. I would much rather prefer Porter-sama.”
“Sama…” I tried out the word.
“It’s a sign of respect. My cousin and I borrowed that word from the Japanese.”
Cousin? Adrian-sama. I felt goose bumps crawl up my arms.
“I will come back for you tomorrow morning. Meet me here. Do not be late.”
“Yes, Porter-sama.” I thought I would choke on the word because it didn’t sound right. I started to ask for a more specific time but the back door had opened and Prince Adrian came out. He was alone, but the chatter inside of the meeting hall was growing in volume and I was pretty sure some Nekos were going to come after him.
Prince Adrian didn’t walk, he glided, as if the ground wasn’t good enough for him. I watched in a trance as his slender yet muscular frame worked his way to where I was sitting with Porter. When Porter stood up, I did too, clasping my hands behind my back. I was shivering in anticipation.
I tried to will my erection to go down, but it wouldn’t. At least I was wearing loose pants.
“Hello, Collin.” Prince Adrian had a dark sensual voice. He was easily six foot eight, standing over me by a whole foot. I looked up but was too nervous to look at his eyes and instead looked at his chiseled jaw line.
“Hello Prince Adrian-sama.” I tried out the word Porter had told me to use.
Prince Adrian gave me a small smile. My eyes traveled to Prince Adrian’s hands. I had to resist the urge to grab his hand and press his pale skin to my lips.
“You made a good choice,” Prince Adrian told Porter.
The dismissive nature with which Prince Adrian spoke about me infuriated me, but also turned me on. I’d heard demons were insatiable in bed and I didn’t think Prince Adrian would be an exception.
“Yes.” Porter reached out and took hold of my chin, raising my face firmly so I had no choice but to look at him. “He has exceptional blue eyes.”
I had the usual Neko eyes, large and round with a vertical black line for a pupil. After Porter had eyed me, he gently maneuvered my face so I had to look at Prince Adrian. His dark purple eyes bore into mine, making my knees feel weak beneath my body.
“Yes, very exceptional.” His voice was darker than usual and he gave Porter a look that made me cringe. Was I not acceptable?
Porter released me. “Tomorrow. At nine.”
I managed to keep standing until they were out of sight and then I crumpled into a heap on the grass. Porter didn’t disgust me by any means, but next to Prince Adrian, he simply couldn’t compare. My jaw ached where Porter had touched me and suddenly, a realization came into my head.
Porter had said this was a temporary thing to be decided after the Annual Reaping Ball. But what if I were expected to have sex with him? I wasn’t ignorant about pets’ duties to their demons. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do that with Porter.
“Why are you lying on the ground?” Kela’s voice was sweet. She knelt next to me and stroked my hair. “Hmm?”
“Just thinking about, you know, life.”
She laughed. “I didn’t get selected.”
I jumped at the opportunity. “Who did Prince Adrian select?”
“No one. But he had this face, like he was looking for someone.”
Clearly not me because he would’ve said something to Porter had that been the case. I felt more defeated than before. “I have to go home and pack.”
Kela gasped and covered her mouth with her hands. “He chose you?”
I wished. “Porter did.”
“Ah. I’ll miss you.”
“It’s just until after the Annual Reaping Ball. Then he’ll tell me if he wants me permanently.”
“Lucky son of a duck,” Kela said softly. “Of course he’ll want to keep you.”
“Because you’re amazing.”
“Thanks.” I pulled myself to my feet and then offered a hand to help her to hers as well.
She smiled sheepishly and then wrapped her arms around my neck. I gave her a light squeeze back and then headed home. My mind was racing. What was I going to tell Rolland? I’d been so caught up in my attempt to get Prince Adrian, I hadn’t even thought of my brother. He was going to hate me.
Walking very slowly, I managed to kill almost an hour before my house appeared and I had no choice. Rolland had moved to the couch and was thumbing through some books. I knew he’d read them all before, but selections were slim.
I broke the ice. “I’ll have to get you some more books.”
“You’d have to go to the human world to keep such a promise,” Rolland said without looking at me.
I sat down in the chair to the side of the couch and clasped my hands between my knees. “I accepted Porter’s offer.”
Rolland’s book slipped out of his hands and landed on our carpeted floor with a loud thump. His lips were moving but he seemed incapable of speech. “Porter?” Rolland said his name like he was the Prince.
“Yes.” I said softly. “He wants me for the Annual Reaping Ball and then he’d said he’d decide whether or not to keep me.”
“And what do you want?”
I stared at the fireplace. “To be free.” The truth was much more complicated. I would give up everything I ever had and live the rest of my life on my knees if it meant I’d be with Prince Adrian permanently.
Rolland cleared his throat. “Think about this carefully, Collin. Are you sure this is what you want? I know you want to leave, but you don’t love Porter.”
I just stared at him.
“Your dreams give away more than you realize,” Rolland said quietly.
“I need to do this.”
Rolland nodded and stood up. “I’ll be back later tonight.”
“Where are you going?”
“Just out for a walk. Don’t come after me.”
“But Rolland, I leave tomorrow…”
“That was a choice you made. Not me,” Rolland said sternly before he left the house.
Rolland and I had never fought, which was why his absence made my heart ache. I could’ve guessed he wouldn’t take this news lightly, but really, what did he expect? He’d never talked about the future, so I wasn’t sure what he wanted for himself, or for me. Maybe Kela was right and Rolland had been expecting us to go to the Neko kingdom together.
I just couldn’t give in that easily.
I spent the rest of the night packing and then started making a farewell dinner. Rolland dragged himself into the house when I just finishing the roasted chicken.
His eyes were red like he’d been crying, but he didn’t say anything. I didn’t want to ruin our last moments together. I set the chicken on the table. “It’s only for a week or so,” I said, hoping to cheer him up.
“You seem convinced he won’t want you.”
I shrugged. “Probably not, Rolly.”
He smiled at his old nickname and dug into the chicken.
“You know…” I started as I shoved a huge piece of chicken into my mouth. “I have no idea what pets are supposed to do.”
Rolland stared at me and then laughed. “Easy. Whatever they say.”
We laughed, because it was the truth, and the truth was terrifying.
[Tweet “Read #excerpt of Clock Strikes by @AuthorAnaRaine #shifter #gay #romance”]