Authors: Stacey Espino
* * * *
“Was that one of your friends?”
Ben didn’t consider any of the new pack his friends yet. He had been perfectly happy with just the five in his pack. Although he could accept Callen as a second alpha, only because they had been best friends beforehand, the new wolves were another story entirely. What started out as putting up with them for the sake of peace just became a lot uglier. One of the newcomers wanted to stake a claim on Bella. Big mistake. Here he was trying to play the gentleman and take things slow when that fool presents himself buck naked to her, courting her like a savage animal. If he had sensed fear rather than lust coming from his mate, he would have ripped the older wolf a new one. The fact that she desired Draco at all put him at odds. Even if she didn’t realize they were mates, the bond should have kept her from being sexually attracted to other males. Something was wrong. Perhaps the bond wouldn’t solidify until he marked her, which had suddenly become his foremost goal.
“Um, yeah. He’s in our hunting party. But that guy’s a bit off his rocker. You should stay away from him.”
She didn’t look pleased with his answer. “About our situation... We have bigger problems than just being unprepared for meals. Our truck has two flats. Know anything about that?”
He shrugged. “No clue. But I did talk with my friends about dinner. It’s all set.” Once he forgot about Draco and focused on the woman in front of him, his guards lowered and desire welled up inside him. “You hungry?”
“Starving.” Her smile was so sweet, she seemed to light up the darkening forest. Any time now and the residual sunlight wouldn’t filter in through the trees. Then the wolves would come out to play. With so many newbies on their territory, he didn’t trust being out alone with Bella. He could take better care of her at the cabin where the alphas could lay down the law if things got out of hand. “And cold,” she added.
He took her plea as an invitation and wrapped his arm around her shoulders, tugging her to his side.
“Aren’t you freezing with no shirt on?” She laid a palm against his chest. The simple physical contact made his groin stir. “You’re hot. How is that possible?”
“A person can adapt to most things given time.” Would she accept his wolf once he revealed the truth? Hollywood did a knockout job of messing up the truth about werewolves and every paranormal bump in the night. This wasn’t
and his real identity would likely be met with fear. Normally, he could appreciate that, but not when he needed Bella to accept him, love him, and certainly not fear him.
“I used to feel at home in the forest, but that was a long time ago. Now I’m spoiled by modern conveniences.” She sounded disappointed in herself for her change. As a human, there was nothing to be ashamed of for embracing the modern world around her. He could even appreciate his rare ventures into the city—soft beds, food served to your table, a gaggle of women giving him bedroom eyes. Now, there was only one woman for him, and he had to work fast to win her over before Draco or some other wolf tried to move in on his territory.
“I’d love to spoil you,” he whispered. “If you’d give me the chance.”
She looked up at the forest canopy, no doubt her eyes only picking up shadows, then back at him. Ben’s sight was perfect at any time of night. “I hardly know you.” She reached up and laid gentle fingertips on his jaw. “Your eyes…”
He jerked away and began to move, holding Bella’s hand and keeping her close.
“Where we going?”
“My camp.” He continued to trudge through the underbrush in his bare feet. His skin may be thick, but in his human form, he’d much rather have his boots. When he took off to find her, he hadn’t been thinking straight and left them behind, only taking his jeans.
She came to a standstill, forcing him to stop. “What about my friends?”
“Draco will make sure they arrive unharmed.” That he could assure her. For some reason, the other wolf wanted to please Bella, too. Draco actually believed she was destined to be his, which was ridiculous.
“He’s going to find them in the dark, naked, with no weapons?”
* * * *
Trust would be good, but it had to be earned, not accepted blindly. Draco and Ben were so unlike the men she’d dated in the past. They were wild and rustic—hunting, surviving, and running around the forest in little or no clothing. Even the bloodthirsty animals obeyed, just as she felt compelled to submit to these two men.
How easy it would be to believe Ben really wanted her and fall for his charms. She could sure use a fairy tale in her life about now, but accepting Ben would mean rejecting Draco. As nuts as he seemed, she also felt the same pull between them as she did with Ben. She must be more repressed than she thought. Going years without the affections of a man was taking its toll on her. Maybe if she got laid, her mind would clear. Right now, she desperately wanted to believe his sweet words, even if they were bullshit. At least today she could feel like a princess.
She followed alongside Ben. If he wasn’t holding her hand and leading her, she’d never have made it out of the forest alive. He truly was a bushman, blindly navigating the dark tangle of underbrush with ease. His hand in hers was strong, rough, and so very warm. With her body chilled to the bone, she wanted to nestle against him, allow him to fend off the elements with his big muscled body.
Animals ran alongside them in the dark, cracking twigs and plowing through thickets. Their yips and snarls were blood curdling, making her press closer to Ben. Why weren’t the wolves attacking them? Why wasn’t Ben afraid? God, why did she get in that SUV back in the city?
“I’m scared,” she repeated. It seemed the forest would never let them out. It kept going on and on like a great black maze.
“I’ve got you. We’re almost there.” The confidence in his voice brought her a measure of relief. This would be the last time she ever went hiking. Her heart could only take so much stoppage in a lifetime.
When the distant flicker of firelight caught her eye, she nearly melted in relief. Ben had to support her weight and eventually resigned to scooping her up in his arms. She didn’t resist because her knees were weak and rubbery from the cold and hour-long hike. Being in his arms, as if she weighed a few pounds, made her feel feminine, protected. She cuddled against him, one arm secured around his neck. Damn, the guy even smelled good. A rich, musky cologne that she associated with a real man. It heated her body from the inside out.
After walking across a clearing, he set her down at the rear of a log cabin. A small fire burned in a fire pit to her right. There were no other people and no outdoor lighting, just the flicker of the flames cutting through the darkness, offering a small bubble of illumination.
“You have a cabin? I thought you guys were roughing it.” All she could think about now was food and warmth.
“It’s not mine. Well, it belongs to my friends and their wife. The rest of us camp outdoors.” He motioned for her to sit on a downed log. “I’ll be right back. I’m gonna get you a blanket and build the fire so I can make you something to eat. Give me two minutes.” Ben’s energy, even after the endless hike, was boundless. He jogged off to the front of the cabin and out of sight. Only after he was gone did she feel the wall of darkness begin to swallow her whole. Every sound became magnified as adrenaline flooded her bloodstream. Forget the stories of the dingo and the baby. She’d be dragged off by wolves if he didn’t hurry back.
“Cold?” The deep voice came directly from behind her, right at her ear. Bella toppled off her log onto her knees. “Sorry, did I scare you?” Draco offered his hand to help her up.
“I didn’t even hear you.” She noticed he wore a pair of worn blue jeans now. They hugged his muscular legs like a second skin, and she couldn’t help but appreciate his body, especially when she already knew what waited underneath. “Did you find my friends?”
“They were right behind me. They’re a bit slow, but no harm will come to them. I promise you that.” He scanned the area, testing the breeze with a deep inhale. When he decided to train his eyes on hers, she nearly gasped at the heat of his stare and the same glowing element to his eyes as Ben’s. He smiled wickedly, moving toward her. She moved back, feeling as if a predator stalked her, but Draco was sexier than sin and she couldn’t trust herself when he looked at her with such intensity.
“Ben’s in the cabin. He’ll be right back.” Did she need to be rescued? Or did she want him to dominate her, force her to the grass and fuck her with his big, hard cock? She shook her head. This was so unlike her. She had no time for intimacy back home. Her job required long, tiring hours. Sex was always the last thing on her mind. Now, it seemed all she could think about. Something feral hid beneath her fear and uncertainly, ready to break free on a moment’s notice.
“He’s not here right now, is he?” God, his voice was deep. The shadows and flames licking his skin in equal parts revealed such rugged masculinity. His chest was chiseled perfection. What would he feel like? “I know what you’re feeling, little one.”
“What would that be?” Replicating nonchalance when she was as horny as a cat in heat, her mouth dry, and pussy pulsing was no easy task.
“You need me as much as I need you.” He kept coming closer, and she continued to counter his movements. “If I slipped my hand into your panties, I bet you’d be soaked through.”
Her mouth fell open.
Nobody talked to her so boldly, so crudely. Then why did it heat her body wickedly?
“You don’t deny it.” He smirked, and then dragged his tongue across his lower lip. She followed the movement, imagining what it would feel like against her own lips, or along her moist folds.
“I–I don’t know you,” she stuttered, wanting him, but knowing this was wrong. Why did she desire this man, here, in the middle of nowhere? The wolves watched from where the light of the fire couldn’t reach. Was she confusing fear and lust?
“You must feel our connection. Our bond is driving me mad. All I can think about is fucking you, marking you.”
This time she audibly gasped at his audacity. But she didn’t refute him, needing him to be the aggressor to save her self-respect. If he didn’t make the moves, she’d be throwing herself at him, begging him to relieve the deep pulsing waves between her legs.
Draco had one chance to get her alone before Ben returned and clung to the human like cheap cologne. He knew Bella wanted him, not just because of the bond, but from genuine attraction. She raked her eyes up and down him appreciatively, wetting her lips and breathing heavily. The scent of her desire swirled around him, pulled him in, and brought out his beast. He fought the urge to take her. If she were a shifter, her erotic perfume would be the only signal he needed to take her forcibly. But, she was a delicate human, with odd customs when it came to sex and relationships, so he held back. If he had the knowledge Ben possessed, he’d already have ensured his victory with Bella. He needed and wanted to learn everything about her. How could he take proper care of her if he didn’t know traditions, her dreams, and desires?
“I can hear the wolves whining. Why aren’t you afraid of them?” Her voice was breathless, her eyes glazing over in lust. There was fear, too, which brought out his defensive instincts and endeared her fragility to him. Still, she reasoned that he couldn’t protect her, care for her. She didn’t know the half of it. In wolf form, Draco was large, black as night, and superior to the others in his pack. The shifters from the new collective were also abnormally large, but he’d still fight Ben for Bella if need be.
“Nothing will ever harm you, Bella. You’re safe with me. Close your eyes and relax, feel our connection.” He caressed her back over her thick shirt and up her neck to her jawline. When he reached her full lips, he dragged the pad of his thumb over the lush surface. She swallowed hard and looked him in the eyes.
“I’m not usually like this,” she stammered. “I don’t throw myself at strange men.”
“You don’t have to explain yourself. There’s nothing wrong with listening to your inner desires.” He pulled her against him, and her body didn’t stiffen, but melted against his hard frame. It pleased him. As she closed her eyes and rested her head against his chest, the moonlight caught the smooth, milky-white line of her neck. His eyes lolled back in his head as a fresh spike of erotic heat made his cock thicken and canines sharpen. It took all his resolve not to mark her right there and then. Shouldn’t he? If Ben had the chance, he’d take it, so why shouldn’t Draco?
He leaned down to her level and licked her pulse point, planting strategic kisses and nibbling her earlobes. She sighed and tilted her head to give him better access. “That feels so good.”
“I can do a lot of things to your body if you’d let me, little one.” He cupped her ass, tugging her closer, needing her pressed against him. She wiggled, spurring him on.
Draco heard a distant growl, waking him from his lust like a dip in the freezing watering hole out back. He twisted his head and shoulders, not willing to release his little human. She was his and no one else’s. He responded to Ben’s threat with a flash of fangs and a scowl that usually made smaller shifters cower in fear. Not Ben. He charged forward, deadly intent blazing in his eyes. Draco had no doubt there’d have been a fight if it weren’t for their alphas joining them out back.
“Ben!” Callen warned, stopping the other man dead in his tracks.
Ben spun around, enraged by the order. “You heard what I told you. You’ll have me stand back and watch while he tries to steal my mate?” The sincerity and strength of emotion in Ben’s voice made Draco wonder if it could actually be true. Was she destined to both of them? Was fate that cruel?
Bella squeezed his arms, vying for his attention. “This is weird, Draco. What the hell’s going on?”
“It’s okay. Ethan and Callen will set things straight.”
He hoped his new alphas wouldn’t side with Ben just because they had a history together.
“We’re all going to talk about this with level heads,” said Ethan, the voice of authority. No one questioned anything he said—except his mate, Ingrid. She sidled up next to him in the dark, frigid night. He didn’t look happy that she’d left the warmth and safety of their cabin, wrapping his arm around her and shifting her to stand between him and Callen as living shields.
Dozens of shifters stepped out of the inky blackness surrounding the fire, coming into plain sight. There would be a meeting, which was good. Draco would explain that Bella belonged to him and they couldn’t refute a mating call. His pack had many elders and would be able to talk some sense into his new, younger alphas.
“Where did all these men come from?” Bella twisted in his arms, looking to the left and right, but not pulling away from the safety of his embrace.
“Soon, Bella. Soon everything will be explained to you. I promise.”
Johan and Grant stoked the fire, adding wood and kindling until it roared to life, illuminating the area. Everyone gathered around, all the shifters wearing some level of clothing as per Ethan and Callen’s rules when in Ingrid’s presence. Draco led Bella to the edge of the cottage. Ingrid nodded once in understanding and led the girl into the cabin and out of earshot. Bella turned back and looked at him with pleading eyes, but he had to deal with the situation at hand. Ben didn’t move closer once Draco settled on an old log near the fire, but followed his every movement like a predator strategizing for the kill, his wild eyes dancing with firelight.
“Okay. Ben’s just informed us that he’s experienced the mating call from one of the humans camping in the woods.” Ethan paced the area with his hands clasped behind his back. The others all sat around the fire, hanging on every word.
“As have I,” Draco said.
Ethan sighed. “That’s just one of the problems with this insanity. Pack mates fighting over a female? I think you’ve both been out in the woods too long. If you’re both so sure she’s your mate, have you even considered she could be fated to both of you?”
Both Ethan and Callen were mated to a human female, so how was this situation any different? Just because neither he nor Ben was an alpha in the pack didn’t mean they weren’t entitled to mate. It was one of the gods-given rights gifted to every shifter. If they were lucky enough to find their mate in a lifetime, they seized the opportunity.
“What are the odds of fate leading one human here? For both of us?” asked Draco.
“It happened with our mate,” Ethan said. “But we’re here to discuss the two of you and that girl inside.”
One of the elders rose and spoke. “The gods can guide people to fulfill fate. The human’s arrival may have been destiny fulfilling itself.”
Callen joined in the discussion. “But we’re the first triad mating. It’s unheard of, but now it’s happening again only a few months later?”
The elder replied, “You’re all aware of the desperate situation with the shortage of female shifters. It’s only natural that with waning numbers of females, more than one male would be called to a female. In most cases these days, it’s a human.”
“So you’re saying she
belong to both of us?” asked Ben in disbelief. “We’re expected to share her?”
“If the bond is true, she’ll never be satisfied with just one of you. Until you both claim her, she’ll feel lost and confused. Do you wish for her to suffer?”
“Of course not!
.” Ben whirled around, kicking kindling debris into the fire.
Draco remained quiet, trying to come to grips with what this could mean for him and his future. He had no problem with Ben or his new pack mates, but to share a female, especially when the other male couldn’t stand the sight of him? Draco wanted to shift and run, run for miles and not stop until he was too tired to think. He’d lived a solitary life with his pack, deep in the northern BC forests. The only confrontation he had with humans were with the occasional loggers. Once he’d caught Bella’s scent, he’d known she was his mate. There were other females at her camp, but they did nothing for him. So, after a lifetime of wanting, and never expecting to fall in love and start a family, it was going to be pulled out from under him.
“You’re both alphas, yet you share. How do you do it?” asked Draco, speaking to his two leaders.
“We both love Ingrid, and she couldn’t choose between us,” started Callen.
“And you gave her a double marking, don’t forget that.” Ethan crossed his arms over his wide chest.
“Whatever. The point is, when you love a female, you’d do anything for her, even if that means sharing with another man.” Callen shrugged. “Plus, the sex is hot.”
A rare smile pulled at Ethan’s mouth, as if he fantasized about one of their many threesomes.
Draco noted Ben stealing glances at him, as if trying to gauge his reaction to the mess. Could it work between the three of them? Draco had nothing to offer but a blank expression, as he hadn’t decided one way or another about how he would proceed. Should he steal his woman away, leave the pack, and start new somewhere far away? The thought of separating from the only thing he’d ever known sent a cold shiver up his spine. It would be suicide. Shifters lived in packs for their own safety and to maintain a link to their heritage. Too many wolves either humanized themselves, forgetting who they were by moving to bustling cities, or turned feral, never shifting out of their fur. Living in a pack, especially with wise elders, grounded its members and gave them a sense of identity.
“How can we know for sure?” said Ben. He threw up his arms, volatile energy radiating from him in waves. Draco was impressed. The amount of self-control needed to stay in human form when under such emotional stress was a rarity.
“What if I asked you never to see her again? Would you listen to me?” asked Callen.
Ben and Callen had a special connection, a rare friendship, but Callen’s new alpha status should have ensured a “yes” from Ben. Only a shifter truly mated to a female would sacrifice being outcast by their pack for not following orders.
Draco could see what they were doing, and it scared him shitless. He’d risk being shunned to keep Bella, too. What did it all mean?