Authors: Becca Jameson
The best part about two shifters doing this summer work was the ease of traveling. They could cover more distance in a shorter time in wolf form, rather than hiking carefully through the dense flora to ensure they didn’t step on anything endangered.
In wolf form, their noses led the way, enabling them to run fast without upsetting the foliage.
The breeze felt good against Jaden’s fur as he jumped over a beautiful yellow-flowering plant. The sun was hot, and he would be sweltering later in human clothes, but for now, he smiled inside at the peace he felt.
He glanced over his shoulder. He could sense his mates behind him, but he still needed to see them, watch them run, enjoy their presence. His heart thumped hard. He needed to tell them how he felt. Soon. He needed to find the will and the way and the words to express himself.
Liam communicated after a few miles.
“Let’s stop up here on the right, don’t you think? We’re pretty far out now.”
Jaden glanced at Emma, remembering her healing paw.
She wasn’t limping. That was a good sign. It had been six days. For a wolf, that was average. She should still feel a twinge of pain now and then, but the leg would be sturdy.
When he came to a stop in a small clearing, he shifted quickly. He turned to watch Liam, marveling as he always did at the fluid motion of Liam’s lithe body as he assumed his human form.
Emma flopped down on the grass, panting. She set her head on her front paws, making him grin. “Tired, honey?” He spoke out loud. She just looked at him. Did she narrow her wolf eyes at his teasing?
Jaden tugged his lightweight hiking pants, boots, and T-shirt from his pack.
Emma raised her head as he donned his clothes.
He grinned at her. “I figure if you have to be commando, I can too.” He held up a spare T-shirt. “I brought you a shirt. Whenever you want to shift…”
She just stared at him.
“I’m not going to spend the day lying in the woods naked, Jade. Get over it.”
“Okay, but you might want to join us for human lunch in a bit…” He chuckled as he watched Liam lean over and stroke Emma’s fur.
Liam was dressed the same as Jaden by now. “I don’t know, Jade. I might enjoy watching her chase a squirrel or two,” he teased.
Next came notebooks and pencils, and the men began cataloguing the area. The work was hot, but Jaden didn’t grow bored examining plants he’d never seen up close and personal. It humbled him to know that some nearly extinct flowers would cease to exist soon and no one would ever get to witness their miracles again.
“You okay, Emma?” Jaden asked without turning around.
“Hungry.” She’d spoken out loud, making Jaden twirl to see her. There she sat on the towel he’d brought her, wearing his huge T-shirt that covered way too much of her body. Her brow was furrowed, and she grumbled words he couldn’t identify.
Liam by his side, Jaden returned to the clearing they’d strayed away from over the last hour or so.
Emma had lunch spread out before her. “I still don’t see why you find it necessary to lug me around with you. It’s hot out here, and I’m doing nothing.”
Jaden sat on the grass next to her and grabbed a sandwich. “If we left you in the cabin, would you still be there when we returned?”
She looked up at him and opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out.
“Good. At least you haven’t decided to lie to us.” His gut clenched. He should be pissed at her. They’d just mated last night, and the woman was a flight risk. He knew it deep in his heart, and the ache was burning.
Liam picked up a bottle of water. “Emma, I don’t know what to do differently. The three of us are so perfect together. Can you not see that?”
She nodded. “Of course I can. But that doesn’t change the fact that people are tracking me. I don’t want to end up dead, and if anything happened to either one of you because of me, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. Can you not see
?” she retorted.
“Separating from us and heading out on your own isn’t the answer, honey.” Jaden reached for her hand and squeezed it. He marveled at the contrast of her tiny fingers wrapped in his huge palm. “We’re mated now. This isn’t something you can just break. And we’d both gladly give our lives for you.”
When she grimaced and tried to yank her hand away, he shook his head. “Not that I expect it to come to that, but you’re perfectly safe here. We’re isolated. No human is going to find you out in this wooded area for the summer. Relax. Enjoy yourself. We’ll put feelers out and figure out what to do about poachers after we get back to Knoxville. Okay?”
“I can’t just sit here all summer doing nothing. I’d go nuts. And you’re totally supporting me. I don’t even have a job. Nothing. No money. No prospects. Hell, I don’t even have clothes.” She plucked at the borrowed T-shirt, drawing Jaden’s gaze to her chest.
Liam climbed to his knees and leaned into her space. He took her chin in his hand and met her eye to eye. Jaden could imagine what he was about to say. “Are you kidding? Do you think either of us gives a hoot about your lack of a job or money?” He sat back, fury drawing lines across his face. Liam tended to act first and think later.
“Liam—” Jaden began, hoping to quell some of his anger. But Liam cut him off.
“No.” He shook his head and stood to pace the small area. He pointed a finger at Emma. “You’re ours, Emma. We claimed you last night, as you did us. Do you not understand how devastating it would be to find you gone? And how hurtful it is to know you’re planning to run from us the first chance you get? Like we mean nothing to you. I hate that I can’t turn my back on my own mate because she’s too stubborn to let me care for her.” He huffed off, walking away from the grassy area until Jaden could only see the back of his head among the brush.
When Jaden turned his gaze back to Emma, she had tears in her eyes. One slipped free and trickled down her cheek, but she did nothing to brush it away. She had pulled her knees up under the large shirt and held them against her chest, rocking forward and backward.
“He’s…” Jaden didn’t know how to finish that sentence.
Emma glanced up. “He’s right. But that doesn’t change anything. I hear your side. I get what you’re thinking. But you have to understand my perspective. I don’t want to risk your lives.” Her voice rose. “I’m a danger to you. I know we’ve only known each other a few days, but it’s the very fact that we’re mated that makes me want to leave even more.”
“And that same connection is what makes you want to stay,” Jaden finished. He did understand, but it didn’t make things easier. All they could do was hope that if they kept Emma by their sides for days on end she would grow too attached to leave them.
Emma watched her men work all afternoon. The heat was stifling. She scooted her towel under a branch to get some shade, but even the air wouldn’t cooperate and send her a small breeze. Jaden and Liam worked within yards of each other and commented on everything they saw. They were passionate about their finds.
Emma had never thought for a second about plant life or the fact that some varieties were endangered. Apparently this area was rich with several species of interesting flowers and even what she would have considered weeds.
As she grew bored, she listened to her men. Perhaps she could contribute to this family unit. She could roll up her sleeves as well as they could and catalogue plants—if she had shoes…and pants. With three of them working, they’d be finished that much quicker each day, and then they could…
What the hell are you thinking, Emma?
She smiled. Maybe she could stay a short while. It was true no one was likely to find her out here in the woods. A human could walk within yards of the cabin and not even notice it.
She would need a few articles of clothing though. And she truly didn’t want to risk purchasing anything for fear it would raise eyebrows. She might be unrealistically cautious, but she’d been on the run for long enough to know not to take any chances.
“You’re thinking hard.” Liam had approached, and she’d not even noticed. He sat beside her and toyed with the grass between his knees. “Sorry about earlier.”
She set a hand on his knee and squeezed. “You have every right to be upset. I just need you to see things from my perspective. I’m endangering your lives, and although it seems to you that I don’t care about you if I could leave you, the opposite is actually true. It’s because of how much it would hurt me to lose you that I can’t stay.”
He didn’t speak.
Emma took a deep breath. In a soft voice even she could barely hear, she said, “At least I would know you were alive somewhere, even if I weren’t with you. It would hurt less than thinking I’d inadvertently caused your deaths.”
Liam wrapped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her tight. “We’ll figure this out. I promise.” He kissed the top of her head, warming her already hot body.
“I want to help you guys,” she muttered.
“I can spot a pretty flower too,” she teased. “Couldn’t I take notes and at least join in the work, as long as I’m here following you around like a naked lost puppy?”
He grinned and tipped her head up as Jaden’s shadow covered them.
“Did someone say naked? I like naked.” Jaden knelt before the two of them. “We have to go into town tomorrow. Do some laundry, pick up some supplies. We’ll get you more clothes. Unless you enjoy lounging around in our T-shirts. That doesn’t make me sad.”
Liam turned to Jaden. “She needs shoes and pants. She’s convinced she should help us out with the cataloguing.”
“We can do that. And go to lunch.” Jaden lit up.
Emma bit her lip. Lunch? Could she go to a restaurant in public and risk someone seeing her?
Jaden must have seen her uncertainty. “There’s a SuperMart two towns over. We’ll go there. No one will notice if we buy you some clothes in a huge store. We can drop the laundry off, find a quiet diner for lunch, and pick the clothes back up on our way out of town. No one will see you.”
She wasn’t sure the idea was sound. It seemed perfectly logical put that way, but she knew she’d be looking over her shoulder everywhere she went.
I can do this. Give this a few days. Maybe a week. I need the rest.
It was tiring being on the run all the time.
“So, it’s done. Let’s go back and fix dinner.” Liam stood, pulling Emma up with him.
Minutes later, they’d packed away their towel, notebooks, and clothes and shifted. The run was freeing. Emma always felt the safest in wolf form. Humans were usually leery of wolves and preferred to shy away from them rather than approach. Usually. That was the key word.
After dinner and a round of cool showers, all three of them plopped down on the narrow bed exhausted. They’d stayed up late last night and worked hard all day. Well, except Emma. She had no idea why she was so tired. She’d been convalescing for days now. When would she feel rested?
When people stop chasing you down to kill you
. In other words, never.
“How are we all going to sleep in this queen-size bed all summer?” Jaden questioned.
Liam leaned up on one elbow on her other side and faced them both. “I don’t know, I kinda like it.” He ran a hand up her stomach and settled his palm on her abdomen.
The air in the cabin was cool now that they had the window unit on high and they’d all showered. She shivered beneath the warmth of his huge hand splayed from the bottom of her breasts to her crotch. Without panties, she was forever feeling naked.
Liam kissed her cheek and nuzzled her neck. “I’m not sure we would take up more space even if the bed were bigger. I, for one, prefer contact with both of you.”
“Good point,” Jaden added. With a twinkle in his eye, he lifted Emma’s hand to his lips and kissed each knuckle.
What’s he up to?
In a leisurely motion, as though he did this every day, he lifted her arm over her head, nodding at Liam, who did the same on his side.
Emma flinched, but both men held tight to her wrists, pulling them together stretched to the rungs of the bedframe.
Before she could react, something soft clasped over each wrist simultaneously with a snap that resounded loudly in the room.
Handcuffs? What the…?
She twisted her face to stare at Jaden, her tongue stuck in her dry mouth.
He grinned and lowered himself onto his side next to her. “I’m so tired, Emma. I need sleep. Liam is too. This way we’ll sleep soundly, knowing you will still be here in the morning.”
She opened her lips and gulped air. “Seriously?”
“Uh-huh.” Jaden nodded. He trailed a finger down her arm until goose bumps rose on her entire body when he reached her armpit.
“You must be kidding. I…I don’t do bondage.”
“You do now,” he stated flatly.
Liam rested his hand on her stomach again. “It’s not like we’re going to whip you. We just want to know where you are during the night. However…”
“However, what?” she blurted out before she could stop herself.
Jaden chuckled. “If we’d known how aroused you would get with a simple pair of handcuffs, we might have done this earlier with entirely different motives.”
aroused by this,” she growled.
“Really?” Jaden lifted an eyebrow. Without warning, he placed his knee between her legs, forcing them open, and dragged two fingers through her open sex. He lifted them to her face. “Really?” he repeated.
Emma moaned. Damn her body and its own agenda. Damn their stupid wolf senses that gave both men the upper hand with regard to her sexual arousal.
She gripped Jaden’s knee with her legs, as though she could close them off and mask her scent.
Instead, Liam pushed his thigh in next to Jaden’s, opening her up farther.
Each man caressed one of her thighs as they stared down at her. Their grins slowly turned into serious glares of arousal.
Emma squirmed. The shirt she wore rose up to expose her sex. “I thought you said you were tired.” She glared at Jaden.