Mates Since Birth (Half-breed Shifter Series) (6 page)

BOOK: Mates Since Birth (Half-breed Shifter Series)
7.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

He lowered his face in shame even as he shook his head. “I couldn’t tell her. She loved those Griffin cubs. If she knew he’d…” He closed his eyes and let out a bitter laugh. “Hell, she probably would’ve been ecstatic, even reassured, to think you were going to end up with him.” He snorted. “Humans have no idea of the intensity that goes into a mating bond.”

Ari frowned. “But
mated to Mom. Are you saying what you feel for her is stronger than what she feels for you simply because you’re a bonded shifter and she’s a simple human?”

He frowned, looking insulted by the mere idea. “Of course not. But your mother is a special case. When I bit and bonded to her, she couldn’t return the favor, yet that didn’t seem to matter. We love stronger than any pair of mates I know.”

With a sigh, Ari patted his knee. “Then she should understand the intensity of shifter bond perfectly.”

Brow furrowed, Knox debated her answer a moment before his shoulders slumped in defeat. “Shit,” he mumbled. “She’s never going to forgive me for not telling her about this, is she?”

Ari smiled softly. “I’ve never known her not to forgive you for anything, Dad. But if I were her, I’d probably stay pissed for quite a while. She seems to care for…for…” she couldn’t say
name aloud, so she adlibbed, “…these Griffins very much.”

“She did,” he agreed sadly. “Before you and I came into her life, they were her entire world.” Lifting his face, he cringed. “Are you pissed at me too, then?”

Ari shrugged. “For what? Separating me from my mate, knowing it would deplete a part of my soul—my very life source—to be far away from him?” She made a face. “Actually, no, I’m not that mad. I don’t remember him at all or how vivacious I must’ve felt around him, so I had no idea what I left behind. As for what you just did…I appreciate your protective concern. But I’m an adult now, Dad. I’ll take care of this situation myself. Don’t touch him again.”

The mere idea of anyone trying to hurt Dane made her want to break out into her fur and start snapping necks with her big-bad wolf teeth.

Knox didn’t answer as he watched her with an unreadable expression. But when he gave a single nod, she decided their problems were resolved. Sending him a smile, she pushed to her feet. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I guess I have a mate to tend to.”

Knox scowled but didn’t respond to that. “Ari?” he murmured when she turned from him. When she paused and glanced back, his eyes crinkled with worry. “Did…did being apart from him really…deplete your life source?”

She smiled softly. “Yesterday, I would’ve said no, I don’t feel as if anything has been depleted. But now that he’s here, close…” She swallowed, unable to lie. “I’ve never felt so alive, Daddy. I already feel compelled to get closer to him, so when he leaves, I’ll probably follow if for no other reason but to feel this animated.”

He closed his eyes and nodded. “Then…I’m sorry for that, at least.
I never meant to take anything from you.”

Realizing he wouldn’t apologize for anything else, Ari followed the smell of fresh blood back to her old childhood bedroom and to the source of her energy jolt. Her mate.

* * * *

“This used to be Ari’s room,” Jaycee said as she instructed Dane to lay belly-first on the full-sized bed.

His nostrils flared as he settled down onto the soft mattress, inhaling scents he’d long since ingested into his brain. The scent of his mate.

“I can tell,” he murmured, and flicked a finger toward the wall shelf where a menagerie of stuffed animals sat. “I remember buying her that jaguar.”

She’d always loved petting him when he was in his cat form, stroking his fur for hours. Dane hated being treated like an animal, but with Ari, it wasn’t so bad. Felt nice, actually. He had lounged with her and purred, relishing the swipe of her gentle fingers through his mane.

There’d been nothing sexual about it, but her loving ministrations had endeared her to him in ways he’d never felt toward another human or shifter. He remembered buying the stuffed jag for her to pet for those times they couldn’t be together.

When he bought it, he had no idea they’d be separated for twenty years.

Jaycee chuckled as she seated herself by his hip and carefully began to tug the blanket off his shoulders and down his back to bare his wound. “Did
buy that old thing? I couldn’t remember where it came from, but I do remember after we moved here, she used to carry it around everywhere. I can’t tell you how many times I had to sew its tail back on.”

“Are you talking about my stuffed animals again?” Ari’s voice rose from the doorway in a teasing scold. “I swear, Mother, if I didn’t have such a healthy self-esteem you’d reduce me to timid jitters with all your tales about what I used to do with that stuffed cat.”

Dane jerked his face around to look at her. Back in Locks Hollow, he’d never produced one inappropriate thought concerning Ari, not even when puberty hit. She’d been like a beloved little sister to him. But all these years later, halfway across the country, and with so much time between them, every thought was loaded with sex. She was so sensuous, beautiful, feminine.


He shuddered with longing at the same moment Jaycee pressed two fingers to his wound. She cooed in sympathy and snapped her hand back, probably assuming his tremble came from pain instead of desire. “Oh, you poor thing. This looks nasty. Ari, get my medical kit from the bathroom, will you?”

When his mate disappeared from the doorway, he almost whimpered with want, needing her to return to his presence. He felt so much better with her near. More alive, more settled, more content.

More aroused.

Beside him, Jaycee pushed to her feet and followed her daughter out the door, calling to him over her shoulder, “I’m going to get a wet cloth to clean you up. Be right back.”

Left alone in the room, Dane closed his eyes and soaked in Ari’s lingering essence. His wounds would be fine after a while; all shifters healed fast. If he wanted to be a big boy, he’d heft his ass up and take himself off. But the cat in him so loved to be fussed over and pampered. Stroked and caressed.

Besides, he liked to be surrounded by Ari’s things. Dangerous as that might prove, her scent was too intoxicating to abandon. A balm that banished everything bad.

He winced, reminding himself that was not why was he was here. He would not fall into the rut of needing to be with her all the time. Never again. And with all the sexual heat brewing between them added on top of all those old feelings of compassion, the need would only be a millions times stronger if he let her back into his life this time around.

No. He couldn’t do it.

“You wanted to tell me…what?”

He sucked in a breath and lobbed his head on her pillow toward the voice.

“Ari,” he rasped. She stepped into the room, hugging Jaycee’s old medical kit to her breasts, a kit even he remembered. Her black hair swept over her shoulders as she approached him, her gaze straying to his exposed naked back.

He grew hard—or rather harder—watching the interest in her gaze. But shit, it didn’t matter if she wanted him as much as he wanted her. He was never going to sink his dick into the delectable Ari Roland—
—precious cunt. Not if he wanted his freedom.

The injustice of it made him gnash his teeth.

She sat next to him, right where her mother had settled herself a second ago. But he hadn’t been aware of every follicle in Jaycee’s being the way he was aware of Ari’s heat and smell. And arousal.

“Before my father pummeled you, you told me you weren’t done talking to me,” she reminded him. “So what else did you need to say?”

He stared up at her a moment, craning his neck to keep eye contact before he murmured, “I won’t hold you.”

She frowned. “What?”

Closing his eyes on a soft sigh, he let his face drop back to her pillow. “That’s what I came to tell you. Despite the bond, I won’t hold you to it. What I did in my innocent youth wasn’t fair…for either of us. I didn’t even know what I was doing, really. I just knew you were hungry and marking you was the only way I could honestly supply you with any kind of sustenance. I had no idea it would bind us as it did. So, I’m here to break it. And grant us some freedom, grant

Idly, she caught of dribble of blood slipping down the crack in his spine with her index finger and wiped it away. “I’m not stupid, Dane. I know you can’t just
a bond. It’s not like getting a divorce. There is no release, no freedom.”

He shook his head, and tried not to think about how nice her touch felt. “That’s shifter talk. And we’re half human; we don’t have to follow every inclination our animals make.”

When more blood welled from his wound and dribbled down the crack, she frowned at it. He knew the sight of his bleeding bothered her—no doubt due to their bond—when she changed only her face into her wolf and leaned over him, licking the cut, cleansing him, the shifter formula in her saliva helping him heal faster.

Dane should’ve thanked her for her consideration, but the act reminded him too much of what he’d done for her for when she was newly born, cleaning her in his jaguar form. Plus, the feel of her tongue on his flesh—even her wolf’s tongue—drove him mad, made him want to forget what he was doing here in the first place. It made him want to roll onto his back, sling her thigh over his hip so she was straddling him and push up into her, ripping past her red panties and breaching heaven.

He closed his eyes. “Don’t.”

She pulled away, already apologizing. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to disgust you.”

Eyes snapping open, he gaped up at her in shock. Disgust? Was she insane? His shaft was still gouging out a hole in her mattress because her action had turned him on so intensely. And he couldn’t determine whether it was her physical caress or the emotion behind that caress that made his blood pound with overripe excitement.

Tucking a piece of inky hair behind her ear in a self-conscious gesture, she shrugged and folded her arms over her chest as if chilled. “So that’s your grand plan, then? Just ignore the urge to be with each other and move on with our own lives?” She snorted and glanced away. “Honey, you didn’t have to come halfway across the country to tell me that; you could’ve just stayed away.”

He rolled his eyes as he pushed into a sitting position. “No, that is
my big plan. Jesus. If you’d stop making fun of me and gave me a chance to explain, I’d tell you how it’s done.” As if forgetting he was about to reveal his big plan, he went off onto a tangent. “I
you’d grow up to be a stubborn-headed female. As soon as you learned to talk, you were always demanding your way.
Pick me up, Dane. Swing me higher, Dane. Tie my shoelaces, Dane

He swayed toward her as his nostrils flared and his lashes fluttered. “And I never could deny you anything. Every time you looked at me with those big blue eyes, I just wanted to give you more.”

She must’ve forgotten to mask her scent. Or maybe she meant to drive him mad. Lust rolled off her in waves. His body tensed as he hungered for her, his abdomen knotting with excruciating pangs.

Licking her lips, she foraged her gaze down his chest to his lap where his arousal jutted toward her, hard and thick. She studied his ready flesh a moment before lifting her eyes and staring at him with proposition. “Then I guess it wouldn’t be at all out of character all for me to demand…kiss me, Dane.”

Denying her was more than he was capable of accomplishing. Forgetting about all that glorious freedom he so coveted, he leaned toward her, ready to capture his first taste of paradise.


Chapter Four



They had never kissed before, but Ari felt as if she already knew how he’d taste. When his mouth descended, she tipped her face up to meet his lips.

“Okay, I think I have enough rags to sop up all the—” As her mother blew into the room, carrying a tin pan full of water and soaked cloths, Ari jerked guiltily away from her mate, noticing he did the same.

Positive his
blushing expression matched her own, Ari tried to ignore him as she focused on her mother.

—blood,” Jaycee finished lamely after she jolted to a startled halt and glanced meaningfully from her daughter to Dane and back again. “Well. Let’s see what we have here. Dane...” She motioned toward his back.

He had scrambled to cover himself the moment she entered, but now he twisted to show her his spine as he slowly lowered the blanket off his shoulder.

Instead of easing in closer to inspect him, Jaycee jerked her face back, then grimaced, thrusting the pan of warm water toward Ari, making suds splash over the side and spray the carpet.

Ari barely managed to catch it. “Wha—”

“Ugh, I can’t stand the sight of blood. Ari…” Jaycee pushed a needle and thread at her daughter next. “Could you…please?”

Frowning in confusion, Ari set the water aside and took the needle. Then she and Dane watched her mother hurry from the room as if she were about to lose her lunch. Ari shook her head. She’d never known her mom to be squeamish over a little cut a day in her life.

BOOK: Mates Since Birth (Half-breed Shifter Series)
7.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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