Mates Since Birth (Half-breed Shifter Series) (2 page)

BOOK: Mates Since Birth (Half-breed Shifter Series)
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But no noise rolled down the hall, not even Jaycee’s screams. He picked Ari up and paced the floor with her, jiggling her to keep her happy. But she could feel his tension and fear, and grew upset.

He wasn’t sure how long he could honestly comfort her. What if Jaycee didn’t get better? What if she died?

Ari began to cry in earnest.

He panicked.

If his nanny died, who would take care of her baby?
His Ari
. He needed to look after her safety himself. He needed to ensure she stayed healthy. Alive.

Instinctively, he knew what to do.

Laying Ari back on the changing table, he rolled her tiny body onto its side, facing her away from him, and lowered her blanket just enough to expose her nape. After placing a brief kiss to the tender spot, he sank his teeth into her flesh, his jaguar canines growing just enough to impale.

Initially, she jerked and whined, but as he poured strength and life into her, she settled and relaxed, then cooed. When he retracted the fangs and licked the bite closed, she let out a little sigh and closed her eyes as if ready for a peaceful nap. Dane gathered her back into his arms, not fully comprehending what he’d done, simply knowing he’d fixed her for the time being.

Vaguely, he understood he’d bonded her life force to his. But that was okay with him; he already knew she was his. Physically biting her merely seemed like a symbolic act at this point. He didn’t regret it at all; it would ensure she wouldn’t immediately starve to death.

Ari slumbered against him, her cheek resting alongside his heartbeat as the two organs thumped in sync with each other. He watched her as he sat quiet in the nursery’s rocking chair, soaking in every feature of her delicate, newborn face. He felt calmer now that he’d taken measures to protect her. With his own energy now swirling inside her, she had a better chance of survival.

He’d just kissed her temple when Knox appeared in the doorway. “Where’s the baby?” he asked in a quiet, hushed voice. “Jaycee wants to see her.”

“Jaycee’s awake?” Dane asked, springing to his feet and waking Ari in the process. “Is she okay?”

Ari’s father nodded. “She’s weak, but I think she’ll be fine. Give me the baby.”

Dane resisted the urge to grip Ari tighter. A full-blood wolf shifter, Knox Roland was one scary male. Like Darth Vader, he could probably cut off Dane’s air supply by just looking at him.

Three-fourths human, Dane’s blood was so diluted, he knew he would never stand a chance against a full shape-shifter like Knox. Plus, Knox was Ari’s father. He couldn’t begrudge Ari her father, so he regretfully held the infant out, trying not to feel bereft when Knox scooped her up and paused a moment to stare in awe at her face.

“She’s so perfect,” he whispered, sounding stunned.

Of course she was perfect, Dane wanted to give the indignant mutter. How could his Ari be anything other than perfect? He bristled when Knox leaned down to nuzzle his nose against her cheek. He wasn’t sure why he wanted to be the only male to touch her, but even her own father’s attention chafed him raw, an abrasive irritation.

Knox barely grazed her delicate skin, however, before he paused and yanked back with a growl. His nose twitching, he slowly pinned an accusing stare on Dane.

“My God,” he whispered, sounding horrified. “What have you done, cub?”

Dane blinked, startled the wolf shifter had been able to smell the bond…but even more startled Knox did not look pleased by it.

“I-I-I protected her,” he said, feeling suddenly unsure of his actions.

Shouldn’t Knox be happy he’d taken measures to keep Ari safe? He knew a blood relative couldn’t bond with her; why wasn’t Knox pleased Dane had stepped in to help?

“You didn’t
protect
her,” Knox boomed, looking angry enough to slaughter Dane. “You just bonded with her. Do you even
know
what that means? You made her your mate.”

Dane blinked. He had?

Oh, well. His mother and father were mates. Knox and Jaycee were mates. Since he already knew Ari would always be his, he didn’t mind if she was his mate. And just because his mom and dad liked to kiss a lot and Knox and Jaycee were constantly hugging each other, didn’t mean he and Ari had to do anything gross like that. They would be the awesome kind of mates.

He shrugged, nonplussed by Knox’s explanation. “Okay.”

Knox fumed, his face growing red. “No,” he shouted, making Ari whimper. “It’s
not
okay. She’s much too young.
You’re
much too young. This is unnatural. It goes against everything a mate should be. You just doomed her…and yourself.”

“But how?” Dane asked. He hadn’t doomed her; he’d protected her, helped her.

Hadn’t he?

“When you hit puberty and she’s still just a little girl, trust me, kid, you’ll know exactly how. Because I’ll be damned before I let you claim her before she’s of age.”

With that, he tucked Ari close and marched out of the room, fury vibrating out his every pore.

 

Chapter One

 

 

Twenty-five years later

Ari Fallow loved cats. Too bad cats hated dogs and she was about as canine as a wolf shifter could get. Shoving an irritating shock of dark hair out of her face, she once again held her hands up toward the lowest branch of the oak tree in her front yard, straining on tiptoes to reach the stuck kitten.

The feline laid its ears back flat and hissed at her, inching away on its precarious ledge.

“Oh, come on,” she muttered. “I don’t smell that much like a dog, do I?”

Damn it, she did.

With a frustrated rumble, Ari glared. If anything, her growl alarmed the tabby even more. Her new pet mewled out a pitiful yowl as it leapt up onto an even higher branch.

“Fine,” Ari muttered, setting her hands on her hips. “Be that way. You can sit up there and rot for all I care.” But she really did care. She wanted the stupid animal to at least
like
her.

Spinning away to huff toward the house, she paused only to pick up her purse and bag of groceries she’d spilled onto her front lawn the moment she’d spotted Whiskers trembling in the tree.

It was one thing to come home from work to find your cat stuck in a tree; it was another to be unable to win said cat’s love and affection. This had to be the twentieth kitten she’d picked up from the pound too; the nineteen before had run off, wanting to get as far away from her wolfy self as feasibly possible.

Clutching her possessions tight to her aching chest, she unlocked her front door and marched through the house, determined to forget about Whiskers,
and
his lack of adoration. Except, ugh, she craved a connection with the idiotic kitten.

“Frickin’ cat.”

With another growl, she fetched a chair from her dining room table after dumping her armful onto the couch, and hurried back outside.

Setting the chair at the base of the tree, she stepped up and instantly realized she probably should’ve taken off her heels beforehand. She promptly wobbled and the seat threatened to spill her onto her ass. But determination kept her on her perch. She wasn’t going to step down until she got herself a handful of fur. It’d take half a second to snatch the mouser and hop back to the ground.

But as soon as she barely brushed the kitten’s coat with her fingertips, it yelped as if she were trying to slaughter the pathetic thing and leapt up onto yet another branch above it.

“Give me a freaking break here, Whiskers.” She stretched higher, the chair wobbling again. Realizing they were all about to tumble over, she let out a squawk of alarm and grabbed the lowest branch, wrapping her arms around the abrasive bark and clinging for dear life as the chair fell into its side, leaving a good three feet of space between her dangling high heels and the grass below.

As she hung suspended above the earth, she cursed her inner animals. If only wolves and deer could climb. One glance down told her that her human side couldn’t climb either.

Great. Now she was stuck in the tree right alongside her ungrateful pet.

Not about to let a thing like that bother her, she pulled herself up higher onto the branch, hooking it under her armpits, and grasped the limb above with a free hand, stretching for the kitten. “Here, kitty, kitty, kitty.”

The kitten didn’t respond except to spit out a wary hiss, but
someone
certainly did.

From directly under her, a dry voice intoned, “You called?”

Ari nearly fell out of the tree. She gasped, wrapping both arms back around the branch, and jerked her attention down. The man lounging by her free-hanging legs made her mouth fall open. Good God, who the hell was
he
? And where had he come from?

Wearing a three-piece Versace suit and dark shades that fashionably molded to his face, he grinned up at her with a mouthful of glistening white, predator teeth that made her gulp.

He was shifter as well. She opened her nostrils to drag in his scent—but he masked his smell for some reason, which explained why he’d been able to approach without her noticing. She was, however, able to detect a hint of feline on him. Jaguar, she concluded. No wonder why he’d answered her kitty call.

Yum. Her hormones shuddered. She’d always been fascinated by those jungle cat shifters. It’s why she’d been obsessed about trying to keep and obtain a pet kitten. The feline species held a strange fascination for her.

The dark-headed male below looked up—almost as if he were checking out the weather up her skirt and not at all focusing on her face—and the corner of his delectable mouth quirked. It made Ari’s skin heat.

She swallowed, remembering she’d put on a silky red thong before slipping into her prim business skirt this morning. It always felt exciting and daring to wear slinky stuff under her staid work outfit.

Her cleft went moist and tingly as she realized this mysterious, hunky stranger could see something another male hadn’t seen on her in way too long. Sucking in a breath, she masked her own musky aroma—which quickly gathered endorphins—and delicately cleared her throat.

Lips still twitching with amusement as if he knew exactly why she’d cloaked her smell, the stranger said, “Need a hand?”

Her face heating, she looked back up at the cat. “Yes, please. I would appreciate that very much.”

“Sure.” He hummed deep in his throat. “Just tell me
where
you’d like my hands and I’ll get right to it.”

She gasped and jerked her gaze down to scowl at him. “Excuse me?”

Grin spreading, he murmured, “I’m sorry, but it’s hard to tell what needs my attention more; the lady in the tree, or those poor panties. Honestly, honey, letting such fine silk grow so wet could ruin them.”

Sputtering, Ari gaped until she could ask, “Who the hell
are
you?”

His face remained unreadable as he lofted a dark eyebrow above his shades. “Don’t you know?”

He opened up just a little then, barely enough to let a hint of his unique scent reach her. Nostrils flaring, she dragged in the spicy, male bouquet, and her nipples instantly beaded. His distinct odor seemed familiar and yet foreign, but totally thrilling. She wanted more. Both her animals wanted more.

Embarrassed by her own reaction and pissed he was studying her face so intently, obviously reading every nuance of her body’s response, she scowled. “Of course I don’t know you. If I knew, would I ask?”

He chuckled, the sexy sound shooting through her, turning her silky, ruined thong to mush.

Strong male fingers latched around her waist and he lowered her to the ground. She stayed facing away from him for a second after settling onto unsteady stilettoes. Once she smoothed her annoyingly long black bangs out of her face, she turned. “Thank y—”

The rest of her gratitude strangled in her throat. Only inches before her, the stranger drew in a taut breath. He sounded particularly winded when he answered, “You’re welcome.”

Struggling against the urge to wrap her arms around his neck and molest him senseless, Ari opened her mouth to respond, but she had no idea what to say. Her lungs had grown so heavy and tight. Breathing suddenly felt foreign, as if this were her first attempt at taking in oxygen.

It was animal attraction; her wolf strained inside her, attempting to sniff out his inner beast. She’d never experienced the sensation before. Even her minor doe form perked up its head as if it had just gone into heat, bucking out its hind legs inside her chest. Reining in the two animals grew harder as the male in front of her continued to ooze sex in a suit.

Above them, the kitten meowed piteously. Ari jerked back a step, though she could still breathe in the remnants of that intoxicating aroma. Both she and the jaguar man glanced up.

“Don’t you start with me,” she muttered to Whiskers, the wolf in her grumbling through. “I
tried
to help you.”

Her rescuer cleared his throat, the husky sound sending another piercing shot to her cleft. “Would you like me to get your pussy?”

BOOK: Mates Since Birth (Half-breed Shifter Series)
6.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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