Nagavanshi by Ophelia Oz
from Wild Shifters anthology
erotic paranormal snake shifter
Release Date: 01/09/2014
Cover Art by Winterheart Design
Tanith is married to her work, and when a research opportunity means moving to rural India, she doesn’t think twice. There’s not much room for romance in her busy life, but when her dedication to her job makes her take dangerous risks, will she take a chance on turning passion into love?
“Are you settling in all right?” Manasa Nagri asked casually as she held the snake’s gaping mouth firmly to the specimen jar.
“I think so. I’m not getting lost in the hallways anymore,” Tanith Sage replied as she prepped some more jars to milk the collection of venomous reptiles housed in the herpetological lab.
Manasa laughed, a quiet yet joyful sound that reminded Tanith of silver bells. The woman was tiny, and Tanith suspected half of her weight could be attributed to Manasa’s thick, glossy tresses, currently bound out of the way in a braid that hung down her back nearly to her knees. Tanith thought of her own red curls, barely tamed into a tight bun, and sighed as she pushed some escaped tendrils behind her ears.
“I know it’s your ancestral home, and you’re used to it, but seriously, Manasa, you live in a palace.” Manasa laughed again at the assertion, which Tanith had made nearly every day of the two weeks she had been at the estate located in a remote part of India.
Tanith was only half joking; the main building was built of carved stone and housed luxuriously-appointed rooms filled with treasures, many of them ancient. The grounds that surrounded the palace were equally lavish, with cool ponds that reflected the lush greenery of the gardens, woven through with walking paths, and sprinkled with niches where one might stop and take in the beauty.
Beyond the manicured gardens sat the wildlife preserve that was the heart of the foundation. A pocket of wilderness where the local fauna and flora could thrive unhindered by poachers or encroachment by development spurred by the economic boom the country was experiencing.
“It’s our family legacy and Sesha’s duty to preserve it.” Manasa’s voice grew weighty with a mix of pride and responsibility. Sesha was Manasa’s cousin and only living relative. Because of this, they were even closer than the usual close-knit family ties of Indians could account, and she considered him a brother more than a cousin.
Sesha was also head of the foundation and spent most of his time traveling, raising funds and awareness of the importance of the Nagri Foundation’s conservation and research efforts. That research was why Tanith found herself on the opposite side of the world from her home, sleeping in a bedroom fit for a queen.
She was a molecular biologist and a herpetologist, focusing on finding potential medical applications of snake venom, and the foundation had awarded her a grant and a position in one of the leading herpetological labs in the world.
Tanith paused in affixing labels to the jars to smile at her friend and colleague. Manasa had been instrumental in Tanith’s securing this prized assignment. They had met at grad school in the United States and had teamed up for a research project exploring the ways snake bites and snake venom were used for healing purposes in folk medicine.
Their relationship grew from colleagues to friends. Manasa had extracted a promise from Tanith when she returned to India to head her lab that Tanith would visit someday and hopefully stay on. When funds had become available to research cancer treatment applications of venom, Tanith was the natural choice.
Manasa was focused on the reptile she held in her steady hands, and Tanith watched her as she thought about the dizzying changes in her life. The previous two weeks had been a whirlwind of securing documents, travel, setting up a new lab, hiring and training lab assistants, and trying to learn the layout of her new home. Any downtime she spent with Manasa out in the field so her colleague could acquaint her with the local species of snakes and other creatures she might encounter.
Add to that her hours of research trying to locate documentation of a species of snake she had never before encountered though was sure she had seen briefly in the preserve, but which Manasa had insisted was just her imagination.
They had argued good-naturedly about that on a couple of occasions, and Tanith had finally dropped the subject, though she still kept an eye open for the strange snake just in case. Tanith collapsed into bed nearly every night, too tired to even enjoy a soak in the bath that was nearly large enough to swim laps in.
Manasa carefully disengaged the snake she was holding from the specimen jar once the venom stopped dripping from its fangs. She then lovingly released it back into its terrarium, where it slithered into its hiding place in a hollow length of log.
Meanwhile, Tanith labeled the specimen jar with an identifying code, sealed it, and stored it in the refrigerated area along with the other venom samples. When she turned back to Manasa, she found the woman studying her.
“Tanith, I believe you could use a break. I have just the idea. There’s a ceremony on the grounds I think you’ll enjoy, a custom of the people who live in the area.”
Even as Manasa said it, Tanith felt weariness settle over her. She enjoyed getting acquainted with the local culture, but between the welcoming ceremonies, dinners, and other happenings, Tanith was beginning to feel some culture shock. She thought longingly of the library she had stumbled upon, silent and deserted and stuffed full of books ranging from delicate ancient religious texts to the latest international best sellers.
Tanith’s disappointment must have showed on her face, because Manasa gave her a reassuring smile and a friendly pat on the shoulder. “Don’t worry! This is very low key. Very peaceful. I look forward to it every year.”
Tanith sighed and gave her a resigned smile as they left the lab. Manasa was very good at getting her way, and though Tanith was tired and looking forward to some down-time, she trusted her friend’s judgment. Manasa had yet to steer her wrong in any of their adventures to date.