Authors: Willa Okati
Tags: #Erotic Romance Fiction
A Totally Bound Publication
©Copyright Willa Okati
Cover Art by Posh Gosh ©Copyright June 2014
Edited by Rebecca Douglas
Totally Bound Publishing
This is a work of fiction. All characters, places and events are from the author’s imagination and should not be confused with fact. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, events or places is purely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any material form, whether by printing, photocopying, scanning or otherwise without the written permission of the publisher, Totally Bound Publishing.
Applications should be addressed in the first instance, in writing, to Totally Bound Publishing. Unauthorised or restricted acts in relation to this publication may result in civil proceedings and/or criminal prosecution.
The author and illustrator have asserted their respective rights under the Copyright Designs and Patents Acts 1988 (as amended) to be identified as the author of this book and illustrator of the artwork.
Published in 2014 by Totally Bound Publishing,
Newland House, The Point, Weaver Road, Lincoln, LN6 3QN
This book contains sexually explicit content which is only suitable for mature readers. This story has a
Book two in the Soulmarked series
Lovers and best friends, the unmarked Nick and Barrett risked everything to present themselves as a bonded pair. They thought they were safe, but things are changing…
Nick and Barrett aren’t soulmates. Lovers for years, they’ve rolled the dice and taken a gamble on presenting themselves as a bonded pair. They knew the risks, but think they’re safe. They’re well over the age when soulmarks usually appear, and none of their friends or family are any the wiser.
Until now. After exposure to the incendiary reunion between his friend Ivan and Ivan’s soulmate Robbie, Nick’s soulmark has begun to emerge.
And Barrett’s hasn’t.
Faced with a devil’s choice, Nick and Barrett are forced to confront the real possibility of being driven apart—unless they can fight the animal urge to find their mates. Do they have what it takes to stand in defiance of double jeopardy, all for the sake of love?
For J.L. Langley and Kimberly Starrett, with thanks (again!)
The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of the following wordmark mentioned in this work of fiction:
Google: Google, Inc.
“Which way do we go?”
“What? Oh. Left here. Sorry.” Nick shook his head, trying to clear the tangle of cobwebs from his thoughts. He’d had a head like a rainy winter morning for hours now. Not a usual thing for him, and he couldn’t say he cared too much for it. “I’m so used to this route I forget it isn’t second nature for everyone else.”
“To say the least.” Abram’s amusement at Nick’s expense, indulgent at worst, didn’t chafe. Abram probably got away with more than anyone rightfully should by virtue of being a friendly giant. He certainly managed to poke his nose into almost everywhere it didn’t belong without worrying he’d get called out for it. “How long has it been since you and Barrett moved out here?”
“Coming up on almost a year, I think?”
“I think, he says.” Abram clicked his tongue in mock disapproval. “As if he doesn’t know by heart.”
Nick laughed. “Beats the old apartment, though, doesn’t it?” He watched Abram squint through the windshield at the gradual change from low-slung ranch-style homes to old-school farmhouses, both those growing older gracefully and those that most definitely weren’t. “Even with dial-up Internet.”
“God. Better you than me. Don’t think I could do it.” Abram tapped the steering wheel almost idly. “You’re a million miles away. Something on your mind?”
Nick shrugged with one shoulder. He rested his arm on the truck’s cab window and idly surveyed the ever more rural scenery gliding past. “Hell of a weekend, that’s all. Can you blame me?”
“That I cannot,” Abram said. He whistled soft and low and tugged his earlobe with its obsidian widower’s bead, as if for luck. “Never thought I’d live to see the day when Ivan and Robbie would mend their fences. Good for them, but there’s likely many a betting man who lost money in that pool.”
Right. The crux of the problem.
Nick frowned. “And there I was, not knowing there was a pool at all. Or a reason for a pool.”
“Is that what’s been eating you? It was Ivan’s business. If you hadn’t figured it out on your own, it wasn’t my story to tell.”
“Not exactly,” Nick said. He’d tried for hours to find the right way to put it, and he’d had no luck yet. “I haven’t known Ivan as long as you. And I’m glad as can be he’s patched things up with his soulmate, don’t get me wrong. It’s just…”
“Not the way life’s supposed to work?”
“Unexpected, I was going to say.”
“Six of one, half a dozen of the other,” Abram said with a philosophical shrug. “Save me from starry-eyed young’uns in love.”
“No blame, no shame.” Nick stretched out his legs. Abram had a roomier truck cab than most to accommodate the man’s long legs, but no one could ride for three hours straight without starting to dream about solid ground off-road. “Barrett’s going to murder me in cold blood when he finds out what he missed.”
“Not likely. Cut one of you, and the other bleeds.” Abram cocked his head. “Why was he not along this weekend, again?”
“Parent-teacher conferences. Couldn’t get out of them.” The rubber band on Nick’s braid broke with a muted pop and snap as it bounced off the window. “Damn it! Knew that was going to happen,” he said through a tangle of hair. Thicker, curlier and heavier than a new fleece, it took more than elastic to restrain the mess. He’d have cut it, but anything longer than a buzz left him looking like a startled dandelion. “You didn’t get snapped, did you?”
Abram patted his shaved head with a dash of admittedly deserved smugness. “I’ll live. Thought you had a leather tie thing?”
“So many questions,” Nick chided, not seriously. He didn’t mind letting the man have his fun. Most of the time. “Lost it somewhere. Probably in the stands.”
“Lost your hair tie and your wrist cuff and your illusions. Not one of your best weekends on record.”
The amusement ebbed out of Nick. He resisted—just—the urge to clamp his hand over his too-long, all-encompassing left sleeve and chafe the wrist beneath. Abram wouldn’t have taken it amiss. Soulmarks were private and kept protected.
As far as Nick could tell, no one knew he and Barrett’s wrists were still bare. That neither of them had any mate’s soulmark, much less a matching set.
But that didn’t mean Nick wanted to tempt fate. “I’ve still got what matters,” he said, clipped. “Good enough.”
Abram raised his hands in a gesture of surrender. “I wasn’t saying otherwise.”
Nick eyed Abram, suspicious but not sure how to put the question. Maybe better to let it pass. He cleared his throat. “A pool, did you say?” He didn’t work with Abram or Ivan at the police station, but given his job as a paramedic for a relatively small area, their paths crossed plenty. “Big pool?”
Abram’s grin reappeared. “It’s been going for years.”
“And you’re going to tell everyone about it, aren’t you?”
“I am what I am.”
The houses they passed were even more familiar now, and the relief of
made Nick shift restlessly in his seat. Nearly there. Nearly back to Barrett. “An old troublemaker, that’s what you are.”
“And good at it, too. Not half as good as Callum was.” Abram chuckled. “He’d have come up with some elaborate scheme for the reveal. Something subtle. I’ll have to settle for ‘cash or check will do’.”
Nick snorted. “Because you won.”
“No one else held out any hope after they’d passed the seven year mark.”
They wouldn’t have, would they? Nick’s restlessness lost its edge. He sized up the dark, sturdy bulk of the man beside him, amused. “Such a softie.”
“I’m a softie
a troublemaker? Ambitious of me.” Abram tilted his head in thought. “I would rather describe myself as experienced. I’ve seen it all, or enough to know they were still crazy for each other. Especially once I saw them together again.”
Nick shivered at the memory. “Felt like I was going to get sunburned, just watching.”
“That’s the soulbond for you, especially in crisis. Whether it’s right or wrong or a hundred percent insane, it wants what it wants. Though you know that. I remember what it was like coming back to Callum after a few days away. Am I right?”
“Hmm? Oh. Definitely, yeah.” Nick’s face prickled with heat he pretended not to notice, and he refused to check to see if Abram had noticed. Ivan’s ship coming in had made him paranoid. He tucked his sleeve into his fist and curled the edges of the flannel under his fingertips. “It’s the low, roundish cottage up here to the right. Do you want to come in for a coffee?”
“Want to, yes. Will I? No.” Abram eased the truck to the side of the road rather than pulling into the drive. “Better get back to the city. I don’t want to get lost out here after dark.”
“It’s suburbia, not the Amazon rainforest.”
“You say potato…”
“Add that to the list. Troublemaker, softie and hopeless city boy.” Nick unbuckled his seatbelt. He could just see Barrett in the gathering dim of dusk, working in the yard.
Look at you.
Barrett hadn’t noticed the truck pulling up, but that wasn’t surprising. Let Barrett get deeply enough involved in a project and he wouldn’t notice a tornado lifting the roof from over his head. Such an absentminded professor. Gorgeous, too, and in Nick’s opinion even more so with the slim, gold-framed spectacles he’d finally accepted he needed after he’d turned thirty.
“Ain’t young love grand,” Abram said with a nearly audible grin. He dug behind the truck seats and fished out Nick’s overnight bag, tossing it to him as Nick hopped out of the cab. “See you Monday, if you don’t get into too much trouble first.”
“Never count your chickens.”
Nick waved a casual goodbye and watched the man drive away. Abram was up to something for sure, although he had no idea what. Barrett might be able to figure it out. He had a gift for that sort of thing. He’d ask, but…first… Nick breathed in the scents and relished the familiar quiet, domesticated noises of the neighborhood.
Much, much better. Home at last. Seriously, though, had Barrett not seen him coming yet?