Authors: Charlotte Rose
“I don’t know. That’s why I’m asking you.”
“You changed her. You went ahead and mated her without even the proper ritual ceremony. And I doubt she asked to be changed. What were you two thinkin’?”
Armand went pale. “What do you mean, we mated her?”
Serafine nodded down at Narcisse. “You bit her, didn’t you? Both of you. While you were fornicatin’?”
“How—how did you know?” Nelson asked.
“Because unless we got some long-lost kin, she wasn’t a gator when she met you.” Serafine rubbed her eyes. “I can’t believe I didn’t get here in time. I rushed off as soon as I felt your matin’ energy, but I guess I was too far away. Hell, most of the time, when you find your mates, I need to help ya turn back. The change is so powerful and sudden, even good shifters struggle with it.”
“So what makes us so special?” Armand asked.
“It’s the power of matin’ heat. When Oscar and Xavier met Adele, I was there pretty quick. But you were farther away, and since it took me longer to get out there, that gave her pheromones time to work their magic on you.”
Nelson raised his eyebrows. “What do you mean?”
“I mean that with her there drivin’ your bodies crazy, you changed back so you could mate with her, because I didn’t get there in time.”
Narcisse was beginning to feel ignored. She emitted a short bellow in hopes of getting their attention.
“Oh, I’m sorry, child,” Serafine said. She closed her eyes, muttered an incantation, and suddenly, Narcisse began to return to human form. She immediately reached for her clothes and hurried to put them on.
“Don’t worry. With a little bit of trainin’, you’ll be able to control those shifts. You won’t have to worry about them happenin’ randomly like that.” Serafine rubbed her eyes again. “You’re one of us now. And you’re bound to those two for life.”
“What?” Narcisse shrieked. “I don’t—I must be hallucinating. Those drinks I had in the Quarter—they must have been drugged or something. This is not real. It’s all a dream. A vision.”
She glanced at Nelson and noticed he was staring at her with an odd look on her face. Quickly switching her gaze over to Armand, she noticed a similar shocked expression.
“Is something wrong?” she asked.
“It’s just—it’s just that damn. Your eyes…” Nelson trailed off.
“What about my eyes?”
“They’re green,” Armand said. “Green, with flecks of gold.”
“Which means what, exactly?”
“An alligator shifter.”
Narcisse was done. “Look, I have friends back in the French Quarter who are probably wondering where I’ve gone. In a few days, I have to go back to my job and regular life in Houston. Plus, I think my parents might be a little concerned if I just disappeared into the swamps without so much as a phone call. So if you could please do me a favor and figure out how to make me a regular human again, I’d really appreciate it.”
Serafine shook her head. “I’m afraid I can’t. Changing and mating are both permanent. Which is why a woman has to decide in advance whether or not she wants to be changed. But these two went ahead and jumped the gun.”
“Wait, wait, wait,” Nelson snapped. “This isn’t our fault. How were we supposed to know that bitin’ her would turn her? How were we supposed to know we were claimin’ a mate?”
Armand jumped in. “Yeah, it’s not like anyone ever told us that. All the stuff about the matin’ ritual is kept a complete secret until the very last second. It ain’t our fault that we got caught up in the moment. If we’d known better, we wouldn’t have done it.”
Serafine chuckled. “She’s your mate. It’s biological destiny. She’s the only woman in the world who is a perfect fit, who will help create the strongest children—”
“Wait, wait, wait,” Narcisse interrupted. “I just found out that I’m an alligator shifter and that I’m apparently mated for life. We are
about to bring up the subject of children. I don’t even know if I want this. I want to go back to my friends in the Quarter. I want to go back to my regular life.”
Serafine’s expression turned somber. “I’m sorry, child, but that’s impossible. You can go back to New Orleans for a bit, but the power of the shift means you can’t spend too much time away from the congregation. The curse will always bring you back, whether you want it or not. Goin’ home to Houston ain’t an option.”
“Are you telling me that I can’t go back to my regular life because these two bit me?”
“Hey, you begged us to bite you,” Nelson argued.
Narcisse hung her head. “You have a point. But I wouldn’t have done that if I knew we’d be mated for life. Look, you seem nice and all, but I try not to get eternally bound to people I’ve known for all of ten seconds.”
“Well, that’s the way it is,” Serafine said. “My suggestion is that the two of you take her back to New Orleans so she can meet up with her friends and gather her things, then bring her out to the houseboats and get her settled.”
Narcisse felt her stomach lock up with anxiety. “You’re serious. I have to just give up my entire life and move in with them? I don’t get to spend time with my family ever again? There’s no way out?”
Serafine sighed. “There is, but it ain’t easy.”
“It’s not easy?”
“No. We’d have to do a banishment spell.”
“That doesn’t sound so bad.”
“Banishment is only supposed to happen in extreme circumstances,” Armand said. “Like if someone betrays the congregation.”
“I think three people accidentally mating is a pretty extreme situation.”
“You gotta understand,” Serafine said. “When the banishment spell happens, the whole congregation hurts. Armand and Nelson here will feel it the worst, but it’ll resonate with everyone.”
“Even if they don’t know me? Even if I’m not really part of the group yet?”
Serafine nodded. “Afraid so.”
Armand took her hand. “Look, I don’t want you to be miserable. I know it’ll hurt if you decide to get banished, but I also don’t want you to be unhappy. Would you—would you be willing to extend your vacation just for a little while? Come to the congregation with us. See if you like it. And if not, you can undergo the banishment spell.”
“Even though it will hurt you?”
“I’d rather have pain on my own than ruin your life.”
Nelson nodded. “That’s a great idea. You don’t have to live with us or nothin’. You can stay with someone else. But just give it a shot, and if you hate it, you can be banished. No hard feelings. Like Armand said, I’d rather hurt myself a little bit than make you miserable.”
Narcisse sucked in her breath. Part of her couldn’t believe this was happening. But part of her couldn’t imagine leaving and going back to her regular life, at least not right away. Logically, she knew that even pondering joining Nelson and Armand was ludicrous. But she couldn’t deny that another part of her just wanted to see what happened. Her life had been a string of boredom and frustration lately. This would certainly be a change of pace, even if it was only temporary.
“Well, I guess…I guess I could give it a shot. I’ve been wanting an adventure anyway. It seems like the universe decided to grant my wish. I’m not sure how I’m going to explain this to my friends, but I guess I can come up with something. Okay, yes, I’ll come back with you. But if it doesn’t work, I want to be banished.”
Armand nodded. “You have my word.”
“You have mine, too,” Nelson said.
“Okay, then. I’ll do it. But we should head back to the city now, so that I can get my stuff, and so my friends aren’t worrying about me.”
Serafine smiled. “Thank you for giving ’em a chance. Go on, now, and do what you need to do. The rest of the congregation will be happy to meet you tonight.”
Serafine climbed back into her boat and drove off. Narcisse eyed Armand and Nelson up and down, suddenly feeling nervous about her decision. The day was fading into night, and Narcisse wondered how on earth she was going to locate her friends in the crowds. But standing on the dock wondering if she’d made the right choice wasn’t going to resolve the issue any faster.
“Well, I guess you two had better find your pants and then take me back to the city.”
They piled into the boat, and Nelson began to steer it back toward New Orleans. Once he got the boat moving at a good speed, he looked over at Narcisse. He was surprised to realize that she actually looked nervous. Her look of self-confident arousal was long gone, as was the smile she’d flashed when she agreed to come back with them to test out life on the bayou. Both expressions had been replaced with complete uncertainty.
“You okay?” he asked.
“It’s been a strange day, to say the least. Granted, the sex was amazing, but the whole becoming a gator thing? And being mated to two people I barely know? No offense. The two of you seem great, but—”
“None taken,” Armand said with a chuckle. “You’re damn fine, but I know I would have preferred to get mated under different circumstances.”
“I–I’m sorry we ruined your trip,” Nelson said. “I’m sorry that we let our hormones take control, and now your entire life is kinda complicated.”
Narcisse sighed. “As nervous as I am about actually joining the two of you on the bayou, I can’t deny that I’m excited. My head tells me I’m crazy, but my heart is thrilled. Even if this doesn’t end up working out, I’m excited.”
“I’m glad,” Armand said. “What made you decide to give it a shot?”
“My heart was begging me to go, and I couldn’t ignore it. This feels like the adventure I’ve been waiting for. My life in Houston isn’t going anywhere. My job makes me miserable, for one thing. My relationship with my parents is frustrating. They love me, and I love them, but they’re really traditional, and are frustrated that I haven’t already fulfilled their wish for a son-in-law and grandchildren. And as much as I worry about what I’m going to tell my friends when we get back to the hotel, this trip with them has made me realize that maybe they weren’t the best people to be hanging out with after all.”
Armand raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”
“Oh, they’re not horrible people or anything. I just mean the enforced closeness of a vacation hasn’t done especially well for us. When you share a hotel room and have to deal with each other’s shenanigans, then you start to see parts of your friends that you never noticed before, even if you’ve known them for a few years.”
Armand nodded. “That happens. I’m glad we could give you a break from all that, at least. I just hope you like it enough to want to stay.”
Narcisse sighed. “It’s not that I don’t. I mean, I wouldn’t be giving this a shot if I really didn’t want to see what happened. I could have asked Serafine to banish me on the spot. But I can’t deny that things will get really complicated if things do work out between the three of us. I mean, my parents want me to get married and have kids, but I don’t think me being with two guys is quite what they had in mind. Not to mention I think they’d have a pretty tough time wrapping their heads around the concept of alligator shifters, too.” Narcisse sighed and stared out at the bayou darkness. “But I guess I’ll just have to cross that bridge when I come to it.”
Nelson took her hand. “
cross that bridge when we come to it. Because if you decide you do want to stick around, it won’t just be your problem. It will be our problem.”
Narcisse gave him a small smile. “You’re sweet.”
“I’m serious,” Nelson said. “We wouldn’t expect you to handle that on your own.”
“Definitely not,” Armand said. “If you want to stay our mate for life, we’re gonna help and support you through everything. We’re gonna take care of you.”