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Nickie is still learning to navigate the complexities of her new life. Now that she knows about mating she must deal with Brandon 's insistence that she's his mate, but Nickie knows it isn't true. What will she have to do to convince him? While Nickie deals with the changes in her life, Bill asks her to go to Seattle on pack business. But the trip won't be as easy as expected, can she survive what's headed her way?
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Also by Melissa Stevens
Dictionary of Terms
Also by Melissa Stevens
About the Author
Copyright © 2012 Melissa Stevens
All rights reserved.
Created with Vellum
Books and series from Melissa Stevens
The Kitsune Collection
(with Change, Fight, Hunt and Live in one volume)
City of Sin:
Released by Desire
Redeemed by Desire
Revealed by Desire
The Dragon Chronicles
(with Released by Desire, Redeemed by Desire and Revealed by Desire)
Diamond Bridal Agency:
For my parents, who taught me that you can do anything you set your mind to, you just have get up and do it.
And my grandparents, who were always supportive, and there if I needed them.
"Maybe I should back up a little." I trailed off, not sure where to start or how much to tell the woman sitting next to me. "The day we shifted him, at my parents’ place," I paused briefly and she nodded, her short blond hair moving as she silently encouraged me to continue. "After everyone left, he went back into the tack room and shifted again. When he came out, before I had a chance to say anything, he kissed me." I took a deep breath, using the time to choose my words carefully before continuing. "Not a 'thanks for giving me something I've wanted for years' kiss, a real kiss. It was like he'd been waiting for some sign from me that it was what I wanted and now he had it.
"I didn't see him for a couple of days after that, but that's not uncommon when we're both working. After work one evening he brought over dinner and confronted me about avoiding him. He said that I'm his potential mate and he suspects that he's mine, too. I had no clue what he was talking about. I'd never heard of such a thing. He explained some of it, but suggested I talk to you about it." I looked away, avoiding her face. "It's not that I don't believe him, or trust him to tell me the truth," I was talking to my friend Alexis. She wasn't only my friend but the pack's Harmonia, the Second Female in the pack, and the pack's only healer too. Harmonia was her rank, a position she'd won with skill and power. Being able to heal others was a talent. Theoretically any Kitsune could develop the talent to be a healer but in actuality it wasn't common. "but I want more. I want to know as much as I can."
"No, I understand," she said, her green eyes sympathetic. "it's entirely reasonable to want to know as much as possible, especially about something that can affect you so strongly. Are you sure that he's your potential mate?"
"Not entirely, but from what he's told me, it seems likely." I admitted. We were talking about Devon, a longtime friend whom I'd recently started dating after he and I had agreed to see where our mutual attraction took us. "I'm a lot more attracted to him than I've ever been before, to anyone, and if we spend more than a day or two without seeing each other, I miss him. I'm not sure if that's a mating thing or what, but it's new to me. I find myself wanting to touch him at every opportunity. Not always in blatant or sexual ways either; often it's just contact I'm after, to feel the warmth of his skin, the brush of his hair."
"It sounds like it could be mating instinct. Have you thought about what you want to do?"
"Dev said the only way to stop it, is to not see each other, at all. To cut off all contact," Alexis nodded, confirming the information, "neither of us wants to do that. So at least for now, we've agreed to see how things go. I guess you could say we're dating now, but that sounds so high school." I wrinkled my nose at the idea.
"You realize it's going to get worse, don't you?
"You'll experience stronger desire to touch, to be together. I'll be frank here, sex will relieve it some, but only temporarily."
"Is that all?"
"Well, every pair is different in some way. Hank became very protective of me, all but wrapped me in cotton balls to keep me safe, even when there was no call for it. I've seen couples who couldn't stand to touch anyone but each other. You never know what will develop, until it does."
"Does it ever stop?"
"Only if you totally separate, no contact at all. Even then, it takes time for the effects to fade. However, sealing the mating calms a lot of the symptoms. They're not gone, but they're manageable. But, you need to consider it carefully before you take the step to end it. Do you really want to have the draw between you, the way you want him, to be just gone?"
"No, not really." I smiled, thinking of Devon. I pictured him in my mind and my fingers curled with the ache to touch his skin.
"There you are." Alexis smiled in return, leaning back in her seat.
"He said something about gaining powers and sharing strengths?" I continued my questioning.
"That's right. Mated pairs often gain power, whether it merely strengthens the powers they already have, or they gain additional powers, varies. There's often a connection between the two mates. A connection that lets each of them know when something’s wrong with the other. I know instantly if Hank is seriously hurt, for example. Often mated pairs, especially powerful ones, are able to share energy, and sometimes talents. The Anikitos and Alekto of Hank's old pack could use each other's talents. Hank and I can't do that, and as far as I know, neither can Bill and Karen, but we can borrow each other's energy. If needed, he can use energy I send him, and vice versa. I rarely have occasion to use it, but once in a while, when I have several injured to heal, I do."
"How interesting." I was intrigued, the benefits of sealing a mating were definitely adding up. But as inviting as they were, it wasn't enough to compel me to rush into it just for the boost in powers.
Alexis and I visited a while longer, talking about mutual friends and local events and as I was getting ready to go, Alexis remembered something.
"Oh, yeah, I was supposed to tell you. Hank's invited his sister, Lauren, for a visit. She'll be here all next week. I'm working on something so you can have a chance to spend some time with her, so you can get a feel for whether or not you can shift her."
"That's great, just let me know the details."
"Will do, I'll try to schedule whatever I end up doing so that Devon can come, too."
"That would be great." I left looking forward to the evening I'd planned to spend with Devon.
It was still early afternoon when I got home. I had plenty of time to put together the dinner I'd planned as well as shower and dress before Devon would get off work. I absently climbed the stairs to my third floor apartment, stepping through the front door, I hung my purse on the inside doorknob and headed straight for the kitchen.
After washing my hands, I set about putting our meal together. I enjoy the process of cooking, the taking of individual ingredients and crafting them into something more. Once I had things to the final stages, the enchiladas ready to go into the oven, the salad ready to be served, I put it all into the fridge, and headed to take a shower. I dressed carefully for the evening, I wanted to look nice, but I'm not really one to spend a lot of time on my clothes or hair. I ended up wearing a cute little sun dress, full of bright colors that I knew picked up the reds in my hair and the green in my eyes. Since I didn't plan on going anywhere, I opted to remain barefoot. It was both more comfortable and, in my opinion, a little more sexy.
I'd just slid the enchiladas into the oven and was still closing the oven door, when I heard the knock on my door. Because I was expecting Devon anytime, I didn't bother to check the peep-hole or scent the air to be sure it was him before opening the door.
"Brandon, what are you doing here?" I stood in the doorway, not letting him in.
"I wanted to talk to you."
"You should have called." I had to look up slightly to meet his soft, golden brown eyes. His eyes looked sad, dejected, but I didn't let that sway me.
"You won't answer my calls." He was right. I still didn't know what to say to him. Things just couldn't be the same between us. We had grown up together, and been best friends since kindergarten, but I couldn't and wouldn't spend time with someone who thought they could control me. I don't care if it's by manipulation, or by violence as Brandon had tried when he slapped me.
I looked up into the round, dimpled face that was as familiar to me as my own. "I don't know what you want me to say, Brandon. You seem to think that I belong to you, and that when I disagree with you, you have the right to hit me. You're wrong and I won't put up with being treated like that, not by my friends, not by anyone."
"I said I was sorry."
"You did. And if I thought you were sorry about everything, then maybe I could accept it. But I don't. I hate that you think non-shifters and humans are inferior. I hate that you think I belong to you, and I don't think that you're saying you're sorry for hitting me has changed that one bit."
"But if you could just see..." It was the same thing he'd been claiming since shortly after my first shift.
I cut him off. "No, Brandon. We were friends for years. I don't understand how you could be the person I knew growing up, and believe what you do. You've hidden too much from me."
"But, you're my mate."
"I'm sorry you feel that way, Brandon, but it's not there for me. I don't feel drawn to you at all."
"You just don't understand."
"Yes, I do. I've been told about mating."
"But how do you know you don't feel this for me?"
"Brandon, I'm not discussing this with you. I have nothing more to say to you. Please, just go."
"Wait. You're dressed for a date." He tried to change the subject.
"Please leave, Brandon." I repeated.
"Who are you seeing?" I tried to close the door, blocking him and his questions outside, but he stuck his foot in the door.
"I'm not doing this, Brandon." I didn't release the door. I wasn't giving him an inch. I didn't let up the pressure on the door, afraid that if I did he would try to force his way inside.
"Tell me who you're seeing."
"Brandon, go home."
"It's him, isn't it. That unnatural Kindred, the non-shifter."
"I don't know anyone by that description. If you mean Devon, you should know he shifts now." I could see his face through the gap in the door and the surprise that he couldn't keep from showing at the news.
"Since when? And how?"
"I'm not going into that. But he shifts now, so you and your little group of elitists can leave him alone."
"We'll see about that." He pulled his foot out of the door, and it closed with a slam from my weight against it. I locked the door before looking out a nearby window. I wanted to make sure he was headed down the stairs. Leaning against the closed door, I sighed in relief that he hadn't turned violent again.
About fifteen minutes later, I heard another knock. I'd learned my lesson and this time I checked the peep hole before opening the door. I smiled as I opened the door, letting Devon inside.
"Who is it I smell here?" He asked, his shoulder length hair damp from a recent shower as it fell around his face.
"Brandon came by. He was here not twenty minutes ago."
The smile fell from his face, and concern filled his clear, gray eyes. "Are you okay?"
"A little shaken, but fine. I was expecting you, and didn't check to see who was at the door before I opened it. If I had known it was him, I wouldn't have opened the door."
"How bad was it?"
I recounted the whole episode, adding, "You're gonna have to tell your family soon, though. I didn't think about that when I told him you shift. I just wanted him to think twice before deciding you would be an easy target. But he'll take it back to his buddies and word will spread fast."
"Babe," He wrapped one arm around me, pulling me into a comforting hug. "I've never been an easy target, even before I shifted. The training I got in the military gives me an edge, because most don't expect it, and even those that do, rarely know how to counter it."
I rubbed my face into the crook of his neck, inhaling the clean smoky scent of his skin. I felt the slight tug of the shadow of his beard catching strands of my hair.
"That's good to know," I hugged him briefly before pulling away. "Enough about him. I'm not letting him ruin our evening."
"I can get on board with that." He smiled again. "What do you have in mind?"
"Well, dinner's in the oven. It has another half an hour or so, then I thought we'd curl up together on the couch and watch a film."
"Do you have a film in mind?"
"Nope. I thought I'd let you choose." I motioned toward the screen, indicating that he was free to look through the collection. "Would you like a beer while we wait for dinner?"
"That would be great." He made himself at home, picking up the remote and taking a seat on the couch. He pushed a few buttons and pulled up the list of available films, then started scrolling through the list.
I went into the kitchen and returned with a pair of drinks. I set one down on the table and opened the other, before handing it to Devon. I picked up the first and twisted it's top off as well. I dropped both lids in a small trash can I kept at the end of the couch, before sitting down beside him. I took a long drink and slid a little closer against his side.
"Find anything that interests you?"
"A little." He continued to flip through the list.
"How was your day?"
"Not bad. Nothing remarkable, just kept busy."
"That's good to hear."
"How about yours?"
"Pretty good. I spent the morning with Alexis. She confirmed what you said about mating, and answered a lot of my questions."
"That's good." He took a drink of his beer.
"Oh, Hank's sister will be here next week, and Alexis said she planned do something so I can meet her. She said she'd try to schedule it so you could come, too."
"That's nice of her, I like excuses to spend time with you." He leaned closer and dropped a kiss on my forehead.
I laughed. "I know you do. After I left there, I came home and got ready for this evening."
"Those enchiladas smell good."
"They'll be done soon."
"Do you want to wait till after we eat to start the film?"
"How about I fix us plates and we eat in here?"
"Sounds good to me."
I leaned closer to him, grabbing a fist full of his worn t-shirt and pulling him down toward me. "Do you really think that little peck is gonna cut it?" I tilted my head and pressed my lips to his. I opened my mouth, letting his tongue slip inside, to taste me while I did the same to him.
I relaxed against him, sinking into his kiss. I released my grip on his shirt, only to smooth my hand over the muscles of his chest, and wrap my arm around his waist, tugging him closer to my body. We lost track of time as we leisurely kissed, our hands roaming the upper halves of each other’s bodies, film and drinks forgotten.
The timer I'd set for dinner pulled us back to our senses. Though it was hard to pull away from him, I picked up my beer and made my way into the kitchen. I dished a couple of servings onto plates, grabbed silverware and napkins, and returned to the living room. I handed Devon a plate, sat my plate on the table beside the sofa, and retrieved my drink, before sitting down on the other end of the sofa.
"Why so far away?"
I laughed "Because I know you, if I sit any closer, we won't get to eat." I sent him a knowing smile.
He chuckled, acknowledging the truth. "You gonna stay over there all night?"
"Maybe..." I slipped a bite into my mouth.
"That's not gonna be any fun." He gave me a mischievous grin.
"Start the film, and we'll see what happens after we eat."
"Yes, Ma'am." He pretended to be chastised as he picked up the remote from the table on his end of the sofa, and started the film.
We ate in near silence as we watched cargo containers offloaded from ships onto trucks and a set of street racing cars used to hi-jack a truck, driving down the highway. We watched the story unfold in front of us, pausing it briefly to get more food and fresh drinks.
After we'd finished eating, and set our empty plates on the coffee table to be carried to the sink later, I slid across the couch. I moved all the way over to Devon's side, curling my legs to one side, I snuggled up against him. He wrapped one arm around my shoulders and we sat comfortably together, enjoying the film and each other's company.
Later, as the credits rolled up the screen, Devon got up. He flexed some obvious stiffness out of his injured leg while I watched with hungry eyes. He bent and picked up both plates from the table between us.
"You don't have to do that." I got up to follow him.
"You cooked, it's no big deal for me to pick up after we eat." He took them into the kitchen and rinsed them in the sink before loading them into the dishwasher. Instead of arguing, I started helping.
"Your leg's bothering you tonight, isn't it?" I covered the nearly cool pan of enchiladas and put it into the fridge.
"Some. It's stiff this evening."
"How about we finish here and you let me see if I can help."
You don't need to do that-" He started, but I interrupted.
"And you didn't need to clean up. I want to do it. I'd like to get my hands on you." I teased.
"All right, I concede," He smiled. "but I'm gonna need something other than these jeans to wear."
"You wearing underwear?"
"Yeah. Of course."
I grinned, I couldn't stop myself. "Boxers or briefs?"
He hesitated a second. "Does it matter?"
"Not really, but I had to ask. Either way, your underwear will do."
"If you say so."
"I say so. Now, finish up here and let's go." I walked out of the room, leaving him with just a few dishes left to load, as I headed for my bedroom.
I looked around quickly, making sure I hadn't left any stray panties laying around and ducked in to the bathroom where I pulled a bottle of baby oil out of the medicine cabinet.
"Nickie?" Devon called from the doorway, reluctant to enter my bedroom without an invitation.
"Come into the bedroom." I called, stepping back into the room.
He stepped through the open doorway, looking around. "You have a nice room, though it's not really what I expected."
"Let me guess? You expected pink and girlie?"
He ducked his head, and I saw the edge of a blush creep up his neck. "Yeah, kinda."
"Have I ever struck you as the pink and girlie kind?"
"No, not really. I guess, I just thought you kept it hidden."
"Oh, trust me, I keep some parts of me hidden but not like that, and definitely not all soft and pink."
"Hmm," He lifted his brows. "sounds like a challenge." He was intrigued.
"Not really, but hang around long enough, and you'll find out. Now strip down and stretch out face down on the bed." I smiled at the thought of him nearly naked on my bed. I set the baby oil on the night stand closest to me, and headed for the doorway. "I'll give you a minute of privacy."
"You don't have to go." He protested as he reached behind his head and pulled his tee shirt off in one swift move.
I stopped, watching the muscles in his abdomen flex, as he toed one shoe off and then the other. I didn't let myself move as he unbuttoned his jeans and started sliding them down his long legs. I was afraid that if I moved, I wouldn't be able to resist touching him. And though I was going to touch him anyway, that wouldn't be the right time.
His jeans slid down his legs, revealing a snug pair of boxer-briefs that hugged all the curves and bumps of his body, from waist to mid-thigh. He reached down and slipped off his socks, before he crawled onto the bed, working his way up until he could stretch out face down with his hands folded under his head, his face turned to one side. His feet hung off the edge of the bed, I noticed that if he'd moved up far enough to use the pillows, or push them aside, he would fit, barely.
With him settled I fought to control myself enough that I felt safe I wouldn't just jump him. I grabbed the bottle of baby oil and squirted some into one hand, before setting the bottle on the floor near the foot of the bed. I rubbed my hands together, coating them both with the oil, and started with his feet. I grabbed his left foot and massaged the muscles, digging my thumbs into the stiffest parts of them, loosening the tight sore muscles. I worked my way up his leg until I reached his calf, after working those muscles until they were soft and pliant, I switched legs, starting again with his foot and moving up. When I finished with his right calf I switched legs again, moving to his left thigh. I dug my fingers deep into the muscles that had been stressed while compensating for the weaker muscles in his right leg. Up until now, I'd worked without saying anything, concentrating on loosening the tight muscles, but as I moved to work the stiff and sore muscles in his injured thigh, I spoke again, hoping to distract him, at least a little, from what I knew was going to be a painful event.
"Have you thought about how you're gonna to tell your parents you shift now?" I started out gently, kneading his thigh carefully, relaxing it some and finding where the tensest spots were.
"Some," He said, not opening his eyes. "I'd like to tell them about us at the same time. It would be easier if you would go with me, if you don't mind."
"I don't mind," I dug my fingers deep into the tighter muscles in his leg. "I haven't seen your parents in years, I'd like to see them."
"I'll call Mom, find out when's a good time to go over there." He flinched, as I hit a particularly stiff muscle. "I'll warn you though, when she finds out, she'll start dreaming of grandkids again, and you'll be part of that."
I felt a smile form on my lips. I might not be ready for kids yet, but the thought of a tiny version of Devon, made my heart skip a beat.
"I'm not worried about it." I assured him, I picked up the bottle of baby oil, and moved closer to the head of the bed. After pouring a small pool of oil onto his back, I spread it out and started working on the stiff areas of his back. It may only have been his thigh that was injured, but compensating for those weakened muscles, put more strain on the rest of his body, leaving overworked muscles that he probably didn't even notice until I started kneading them. Once I finished with his back, and both legs, I sat back and admired the long lines of his body spread across my bed, wondering if I was ready to ask him to stay. Before I'd made up my mind he pushed himself on to his hands and knees and crawled off the side of the bed, careful not to get the oil still coating his skin on the bedding. He pulled on his jeans and slipped his t-shirt over his head before bending down to kiss me.
His lips played over mine, teasing and caressing my lips, coaxing my mouth open so he could sweep his tongue inside. I moaned softly, stretching up into the kiss, reluctant to let it end. Then he broke away.
"I'm gonna go call Mom," He said picking up his socks and shoes, "thanks for dinner tonight," he bent and kissed me again, lingering a moment. "and the massage."
"It's a good thing I have to get up in the morning, or I'd be tempted to stay."
"Mmm." I gave a non-committal sound, not inviting him to stay, but not telling him I wasn't quite ready for it yet either. I walked him to the door, kissing him again before he left, then closing and locking the door behind him, just in case Brandon decided to come back.
A few days later Devon knocked firmly on the unfamiliar door in front of us, and let his arm drop while he waited. He reached back and took my hand, weaving his fingers with mine. I think he was more nervous than I was. Before I could say anything, the door opened. A beautiful woman in her mid-fifties opened the door, a smile splitting her face. She was a couple inches shorter but probably weighed within a few pounds of me, her blond hair was carefully cut into a short, but attractive, style.
"Devon, I keep telling you, you don't need to knock." She swept us inside, hugging Devon before turning to me. "So nice to see you again, Nickie. " She hugged me too, and I smelled the sharp tang of her skin that reminded me of rosemary. "Devon's told me so much about you."
"I'm so glad to see you too, Mrs. Wilson."
"Please, call me Amber. Mrs. Wilson makes me think of my mother-in-law, may she rest in peace."
"If you say so," I smiled in return, extending the platter of cookies I held in one hand. "I brought these for you and Mr. Wilson."
"Oh, you didn't have to." She graciously took the offering. "Please, come in and sit down. Shawn, Devon's father, is in the back lighting the grill, but he'll be in soon." She led the way into the main room of the house. Amber took us to a seating area, Devon sat down on the sofa, pulling me to sit beside him.
"You said you had something to tell us, dear?" She prompted.
"Can we wait until Dad's here? I'd prefer to only to do this once."
"Of course, he shouldn't be long. Can I get you something to drink while we wait?"
"You don't have to wait on us, Mom. Just relax, I promise, it's nothing bad."
She seemed to soften and become friendlier before my eyes. Amber filled Devon in on what she'd heard from his brother and sister while we waited.
A few minutes later, an older man came into the room. I knew this had to be Devon's father. His blond hair was fading to silver, but his eyes were the same clear gray as the man seated beside me. It was like seeing a glimpse into the future, this is what Devon would look like in thirty years.
"Dad." Devon stood and moved to meet his father, he greeted him with a one-armed hug. "Do you remember Nickie? I used to hang out with her older sister, Payson, in school." He motioned to me. "Nickie, you remember my dad, Shawn Wilson."
I shook his hand., "Nice to meet you again, sir. It's been a long time."
"You're the girl the Anikitos is so protective of." Shawn said, it wasn't a question.
"That would be me." I smiled, not knowing what else to say.
He quickly dismissed me and turned back to Devon. "Something's different, your scent has changed."
"Sit down, Dad. I'll explain, but it's complicated." Shawn scowled briefly at Devon for telling him what to do, but did as directed.
Devon took a deep breath, and let it out in a big burst, before he started. "I guess this all starts with Nickie. You may not remember her, but I knew her in school. Her sister Payson used to spend some time here, along with the rest of the crowd I hung around with."
"Payson Daniels?" Amber asked. I nodded.
"Impossible." Shawn put in. "That girl was human."
"She still is." I said. "Payson, Raine, Shiloh and I, are all adopted, at different times, from different families, of course."
I watched his face as he thought about that, Devon continued. "Nickie didn't know about the Kindred, or that she was one of us, until she shifted unexpectedly a couple of months ago.
"We ran into each other while I was moving into my apartment, she already lived in the complex. She didn't know that I'm Kitsune until she caught my scent that day. She invited me up to eat, and we've become good friends since." He paused a moment, squeezing my hand gently where it lay between us on the couch.
"What does all of this have to do with your scent changing?" Shawn wanted to know.
"I'm getting there. I told you, it's complicated.
"When we met that day, Nickie was still discovering her talents. She'd already learned that she could call animal forms, but she was just starting to learn to control it. We didn't realize until later that she's also able to sense power, energy. It was that talent, along with her ability to call animals that lead to our discovery. You see, she kept insisting that she could feel my wolf, and she thought she could call it."
"That's not possible. You can't call someone's animal form until after they've shifted the first time."
"For most, that's true." I put in. "We believe that's because most people who can call animal forms, can only sense the animal form after that first shift; but it seems, with my particular combination of talents, I can sense it before someone has shifted."
"What are you telling us, son?"
"I'm telling you, that thanks to Nickie and our Harmonia, I can shift now."
Shawn was speechless, but Amber let out a high-pitched squeal much like that of a high school girl. When he could speak again, Devon's father wanted to know. "Was it really that simple, she could sense your wolf, and called it?"
"Simple?" I repeated. "No, not really. There was actually some kind of defect. Alexis called it 'almost genetic' and the process to get him to be able to shift took both of us. Neither of us could have done it alone."
He nodded again, not really understanding, but taking me at my word. "I assume the Anikitos knows?"
"He does, he was there when it happened."
Shawn stiffened. "The Anikitos was there to see our son finally shift, but we weren't." He sounded hurt though his face showed no emotion.
"That was my decision Dad. Not that he be there, but that as few people as possible know. What we were doing was experimental. As far as we know, no one has ever done this before. I didn't want to get your hopes up again, in case it didn't work."
Shawn seemed to understand, he nodded. "I guess I can respect that. When did all this happen?"
"A week ago. I wanted you two to be the first people I told, but between my job and yours, we haven't been able to get together sooner."
"Is this something you wanted, Devon?" Amber seemed suddenly concerned. "I thought you'd come to terms with not being able to shift. The Anikitos didn't pressure you into being their guinea pig did he?"
"Actually, Ma'am," I spoke up. "that's one of my stipulations. I won't even try to shift anyone who doesn't want it. No pressuring from pack, family or loved ones, is allowed. In fact, Bill didn't even speak to Devon about the whole thing, until Devon had made his decision." I saw their eyebrows rise sharply when I used Bill's first name.
"The Anikitos is Nickie's father's best friend. Nickie's known him all her life and has called him, and our Alekto both, by their given names for years. He doesn't want that to change.
"And as much as all this is to absorb, there's more." Devon continued.
"What else could be as wonderful or momentous as your being able to shift?" Amber asked, tears of happiness running unchecked down her face.
Devon took another deep breath, his hand gripped mine tighter where they sat out of sight on the couch between us, before he exhaled slowly. I knew he was bracing himself for the reaction he knew was coming.
"Nickie and I are potential mates." He quickly pulled his hand from mine and covered his still extremely sensitive ears as his mother all but screamed her delight. Shawn and I both winced at the piercing noise.
When she calmed down enough so we could speak again, my ears were ringing.
"Amber, Amber!" Shawn tried to get her attention. "Give it a rest, you're hurting him." He motioned to where Devon was still holding his ears, in case she started again.
"I'm sorry, dear." She apologized. "It's just so exciting,"
"Don't get too excited, there's no guarantee it'll work out, but we've agreed to see how things go."
"It's still wonderful news. I'd given up hope that you'd know the wonders of a mated bond." More tears spilled from her eyes, and ran down her face.
Devon took my hand again, this time he didn't bother to hide it between us. He ran his thumb back and forth over the back of my hand. I knew he was comforting himself, something about telling his parents had him unsettled. I moved my thumb over his skin too, offering both comfort and understanding with the small movement.
We stayed for dinner, I enjoyed getting to know his parents again. Once she calmed down, his mom wasn't bad, just easily excitable, and as I spent a little more time with his father, he seemed less abrupt. He cared, but he had a gruff manner. It was different than I was used to, but I could see how much he cared about Devon. By the end of the evening, I knew I would like his parents. I didn't know how they felt about me, but their feelings were less important to me than Devon's.
Friday evening, Devon and I were running a little late, but I'd warned Alexis that might be the case. Bypassing the street in front of the house, I directed Devon to pull his pick-up into the small parking lot at the back of the property. I led him through the gate leading into the yard where most of the group had already gathered.
"I didn't know there was a parking lot back here." He followed me through the gate.
"Alexis told me about it when I was helping her out in the clinic. It's mostly used by patients, but I thought it would be easier for tonight."
"It was." He agreed.
It looked like there were only two couples here. The men were standing near the large brick grill on one side of the patio, while the women were seated beside the large patio table. Their chairs were turned sideways so they could keep an eye on the children running wild through the large yard. Alexis called, out as we approached the porch.
"There you are! I'm so happy you could make it." She pulled me in to a hug as she greeted us. "Jan called, one of the kids is sick, so she and Will won't be able to make it." Barely taking the time to breathe she continued. "Lauren, this is Nickie and Devon. They both grew up around here, we went to the same school, though not at the same time." Alexis laughed. "Nickie, Devon, this is Hank's sister, Lauren. Her husband Aaron is at the grill with Hank, and these munchkins are Jenny and Andy." She motioned to the two kids, still running through the grass. "They're visiting from Houston, and it's their first time here,"
"It's nice to meet you." Devon said politely, shaking Lauren's hand. "If you don't mind, I think I'll go see what Hank and Aaron are up to?"
"Go ahead. I'll stay here and visit." I waved him off toward the other men.
"It's great to meet you, Lauren. How are you enjoying it out here?" I asked the smaller woman. She was several inches shorter than me, maybe 5'4", and very slender. She had long dark hair that she'd pulled back into a high pony tail that still hung below her shoulders. Her greenish hazel eyes were friendly, though never still. She met my look, but quickly looked away, keeping an eye on the kids. I kept a friendly smile on my face.
"It's a lot less humid here. It makes it seem not as hot as back home, though I know the temperature is actually pretty comparable." She smiled back.
"It'll get humid here during monsoon season, but then, it also tends to cloud over and rain, cooling us off most afternoons, so it's not so bad." We made small talk while we watched the kids chase each other around the yard. By the time Hank asked for the food to put on the grill, I was pretty sure I could shift Lauren, if she wanted to try. We ate and visited a while longer, when Lauren and Aaron went inside to lay the kids down for the night I knew it was a good time to speak to Hank. The four of us were sitting around the patio table, relaxing with a beer, while we watched the flames from the wood fire he'd built in the large brick grill for us.
"Was it enough?" He asked, before I figured out how to bring it up.
I nodded slowly, my eyes still on the flames in front of me, before I realized he might not be able to see me in the dark. "It was." I spoke up, "I can sense the wolf inside her, and I'm pretty sure I can call it. Assuming the reason she hasn't been able to shift is the same thing that kept Devon from shifting of course, Alexis and I should be able to do it, with little difficulty."
He was quiet for a moment, considering. "I'll talk to her about it, but I don't know if she'll want to. Aaron's not one of us, and children of non-shifting Kindred often don't shift. She may decide she's happy with the life she has."
I nodded. "That's fine, at least she'll know that the option's available. If one of her kids shifts later, she'll know it can be an option for her too."
"I'll be sure to mention that."
We hung around a while longer, catching up with each other before Devon and I called it a night. We thanked our hosts for the meal, and having us, and headed home.
Devon pulled his truck into the parking lot of our apartment complex and killed the engine. I twisted in the seat until I was facing him.
"How about you come up to my place and spend the night with me?" I asked.
"Are you sure?"
"I wouldn't ask if I wasn't."
"Okay. Why don't you go on up. I'll stop by my place and grab a couple things, and I’ll be right there."
"All right." I opened the door and slid out of the seat. I closed the truck door, leaving Devon to go to his apartment, while I headed up to mine. When I got to the bottom of the stairs leading to my apartment, I picked up Brandon's scent. I looked up and found him sitting on the steps, right below the landing in front of my door.
He'd already seen me, so I couldn't very well turn and walk away, at least not yet. He stood and started down the stairs. Not wanting to get trapped on the narrow walkway, I waited at the bottom.
"Why are you here Brandon?" I asked, my tone wasn't friendly.
"I wanted to talk to you. I waited for you to come home."
"You've been ordered to leave me alone." I wasn't going let him draw me into small talk.
"That's part of what I wanted to talk to you about. Where were you?"
"I went to dinner at Alexis and Hank's house."
"But you didn't go alone did you?"
"That's none of your business, Brandon." I said tiredly.
"Your car was here, but you weren't. You were out with him again, weren't you?" It was an accusation.
"Again, not your business."
"It is. I'll make you see that you're mine, just wait."
"I'm not going to stand here and debate this with you. I've told you no. I've told you I'm not interested in you. Yet you continue to harass me. Bill's told you to leave me alone, and yet here you stand, for the second time in as many weeks. I don't know how to make you understand." I saw Devon headed across the courtyard toward us. The way he moved told me he'd seen Brandon, and wasn't happy about it.
Hang back a sec, let me see if I can get rid of him before he sees you. I thought at Devon, I think if he sees you headed up to my place with an overnight bag it will make this a lot harder. Devon nodded slightly and stepped around a staircase, out of sight.
"I have to make you understand." Brandon said. "You're my mate."
"No Brandon, I'm not, and I've told you that. Just like I've told you to leave me alone. It's time for you to go. The next time I see you, I won't be calling Bill, I'll be calling the police."
"You can't do that."
"I can and will." I said with conviction. "What you're doing is harassment, and borderline stalking, and I won't put up with it any more than I'll put up with someone who hits me."
"The Anikitos won't let you involve the police."
I felt a smile spread across my face, and I knew it wasn't a friendly smile. "You've known me for years, haven't you figured out that no one lets me do anything?" My voice had dropped to that calm, quite tone that means I'm really angry.
"You'd risk defying the Anikitos, just to get me in trouble?"
"I'm not going to ask first, so it won't be defiance. I'm not doing anything to get you into trouble. Anything I do, will be to put an end to you harassing me, to get you to leave me alone."
"You hate me that much?"
"I want you to leave me alone that much." I looked him in the eye, waiting for him to realize how angry he'd made me. I saw it on his face the instant he realized he couldn't push me any further tonight. The stubborn determination faded, it was replaced by a caution that I'd rarely seen in him.
"All right, I'll go." He said, slowly moving around me so that I wasn't between him and his escape. "But I'll be back." He turned and walked away. I watched him go, waiting a few seconds after he'd gone out of sight before I took a deep breath and let it out slowly, draining the tension I'd held in my body with the air.
He's gone, you can come out now. I sent to Devon and I headed up the stairs, taking them two at a time in my hurry to get inside. Devon was up the stairs before I'd closed the door behind myself, he followed me inside.
"What did he want this time?"
"Same thing, me." I hung my bag on the inside door knob and collapsed onto the sofa. "Thanks for hiding until I could get rid of him, by the way." Devon set the small bag he'd picked up at his apartment on an end table.
"You're probably right, he wouldn't have left if he'd seen me. If he'd tried to hit you again, I don't think I would have been able to hold back."
"But he didn't, and you didn't have to beat the shit out of him. We all win." I kicked my shoes off and propped my feet up on the coffee table in front of me.
"Doesn't feel much like a win to me." Devon grumped.
"I know you wanted to pound on him. You have ever since he slapped me. I understand that. You know Bill's already had it done, but you want to get your two kicks in too. I don't blame you, I would too. But in the long run, it would only cause more problems. Wait until he gives you a reason, before you let go with the fists of fury routine."
Devon sighed. I had enough brothers that I understood his desire to protect me, I even appreciated it, but sometimes the testosterone overloaded good sense.
"Will you hand me my purse?" I pointed at the door where it hung. "I need to call Bill, and let him know what's just happened."
"No problem. You still want me to stay? I can go if you'd rather."
"Nah, this won't take long." I took the bag from him, and dug through it for a moment, searching for my PCD. "Why don't you get us a couple bottles of beer out of the fridge? We can find something to watch, or listen too for a bit before bed." I suggested, trying to distract him a little.
"All right." He agreed.
I quickly called Bill, and filled him in on what had happened, from the time I found Brandon on the steps, until he left. I didn't mention that I'd invited Devon to stay the night.
"You sure you're all right?" Bill asked, concerned.
"I'm fine. It was just talk, and I convinced him to leave." Devon came back and handed me a beer bottle, the lid still on, I twisted the top off, and handed it back to him. He took the open bottle and handed me a second, still lidded. I twisted the lid off and took a sip.
"I'll send someone over to watch, in case he comes back."
"There's no need, I'm sure he won't be back, at least not tonight. He's going to need some time to build up his nerve before he'll defy you again."
"You have a point there. Are you sure you'll be all right there alone tonight?"
"I'll be fine. Don't worry about me." I still didn't tell him Devon was staying the night. I wasn't hiding it, I just didn't feel the need to advertise.
"If you're sure."
"I am." I said confidently.
"All right. I need to decide what I'm going to do with him. He's defied me enough."
"I'm glad that’s your job, and not mine."
Bill just laughed. We said our goodbyes, and rang off.
I sat the small electronic device on the table beside the sofa, as I looked up at Devon. "Now you know how I felt, knowing I could handle the glass, but that I'd break it if I tried to open the bottle."
Devon nodded. "What did he say?"
"He wanted to send someone over, a guard, in case Brandon comes back, but I convinced him there was no need."
"Did you tell him I'm staying with you?"
"No." I took a long pull from the cold bottle. "I would have if he pushed, but I didn't want the whole world knowing, not just yet."
"We've already told my mother. She's going to tell anyone who will listen."
"That's not what I meant." I made an unhappy face. "There's a difference between telling people you’re dating, and that you're sleeping together. I guess it's like casual nudity. I'm just not used to advertising what I'm doing in my bedroom at any given time."
"Well, it's gonna be hard to keep it from the pack. We're already picking up each other's scents. You carry an undercurrent of my scent with you everywhere you go, and I carry yours."
"You mean people will be able to tell that we've slept together?"
"Well, maybe not for certain, if you've showered afterward, but the scent you carry will probably be stronger, it's part of the bonding. Not everyone will know, or even most people, but any shifter will be able to smell it, assuming of course, that they knew you, and your scent, before."
I tilted my head to one side, considering that. "So when I'm near Alexis or Karen it's not just them I smell, but a combination of them and their mates?"
Devon nodded. "Exactly."
I took a deep breath and let it out slowly, trying to relax. I took another drink of the beer still in my hand, and shook my head. "I'm just not going to think about it. If I don't think about it, it won't bother me." I looked up at where he was standing beside the sofa, one hip propped against the edge of the back. "Why in the hell are you still standing? Do I have to tell you to make yourself at home, every time you're here?" I knew I sounded cranky, that wasn't how I'd meant it, it was just how it came out.
Devon smiled. "I wasn't sure you wanted me to stay, so I didn't get comfortable."
"Pfft." I rolled my eyes. "Come over here, snuggle up to me. Turn on the screen, let's find something to watch. Something to distract us from boring things I don't want to think about."
He pushed away from the sofa and came around the coffee table to sit beside me on the seat, picking up the remote, before he leaned back. He turned on the screen and pulled up the menu to find something to watch. While he got comfortable I wiggled over, closing the gap between us on the couch. When I got close enough, without even looking, he lifted the arm closest to me and I snuggled in under it, letting him wrap his arm around me.
Devon chose a short comedy, we watched it together while we finished our drinks. Once the show was over, the local news came on and not caring to watch it, Devon muted the sound.
"What do you want to do now?"
"Hmm." I thought for a moment, shifting to sit more up-right beside him. "Lean over here and let me look at something." I said, pretending concern.
Devon leaned closer. "What?"
"This." I stretched up and pressed my lips against his, I teased his mouth open with mine until I could taste him. His arms tightened around me and his body twisted until he faced me on the sofa. He pulled me closer against his body, and I wrapped my arms around his neck, as I continued kissing him.
Devon's hand slid around my waist, slipping under my shirt and along my skin, making me moan slightly at the pleasant sensation. He continued sliding his hand along my skin, moving it up my body, bunching my shirt as he went. He stopped briefly when he reached my bra strap then deftly unhooked it. He continued to run his hands up and down the bare length of my back, enjoying the tactile sensation of his skin against mine.
I broke the kiss to run my lips down the side of his neck. I tugged his shirt up his back, until it was bunched under his arms and behind his head.
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