Authors: Susan Laine
“I… I, uh, didn’t know that…,” Kris muttered, feeling ashamed. “Looks like we got off on the wrong foot, don’t you think?”
“Yeah, I reckon you’re right,” the guy said, and warmth had crept back into his voice.
“What can I ask about you?” Kris thought that was as good a place as any to start again.
More chuckling, amused and light this time. “Ask away, and I’ll tell you what I can. Deal?”
“Sure.” Kris grinned, and for the first time, this situation seemed to be going his way, as if it wasn’t as insurmountable and detrimental as he’d expected. “What can I call you?”
A short pause, before he said quietly, as if fearing someone else might overhear them, “Rafe.”
Kris said the name a couple of times in his head, imagining what it would be like to utter that name while making love. Blushing a little, he murmured, “Nice name. Is it short for something?”
“Rafael,” the guy replied briefly, not explaining further.
“Like the archangel?”
“Yeah,” he said, amused. “The healing one. I suppose that is why I asked if you were hurt.” Kris frowned, confused. “The blood of a lycan has restorative properties, and since you’re my mate, you would be healed almost instantly.” The facts dawned on Kris, and he realized there were definite medical advantages to this—if one overlooked the increased strength and speed, and not to mention the obvious immortality. Those things were the main reasons lycans were in danger today since the Great Unveiling. Everyone wanted to live forever, young and beautiful and strong—and lycans were a first-class ticket to getting there fast. No wonder he was reluctant to tell anything about himself and had been advised to keep his personal information to himself.
“I’m okay,” Kris said, starting from the easiest. “I was tested because of my mom. She was in a bicycle accident, and she broke her leg. There was a huge gash, and it bled a lot. I have the same blood type, so I donated some. I’m usually pretty healthy. I haven’t been sick in years.” Kris had learned from an Internet search that, according to the law, medical test results confirming mates of beings of the Unseen world could not be disclosed unless the subject was over eighteen. At the age of twenty, Kris was a few weeks away from graduating from North Seattle Community College, so he didn’t fall in the underage category anymore. Still, the law protected him from mating until he was twenty-one.
But that was where the protection of the law ended. Since the Great Unveiling, many creatures had come out in public and had also become extremely political, fighting for equal rights for mythical beings
humans by claiming prior existence and such. Legal and political headway was made toward that goal, and nowadays, courtesy of the law, accurate medical information about humans was provided to aid in the “honorable goal of uniting star-crossed lovers,” as the advertisement campaigns stated.
In effect, the law said Kris had no legal recourse to contest his information being given out to the Mythical Realm Network since he was no longer a minor. At least only pertinent medical information could be disclosed to MRN, mainly for the confirmation or refutation of a human’s status as mythical mate. Personal permission didn’t enter into the verification process at any stage, not since the authorities had gotten involved.
And all that didn’t include those myth-fans who’d volunteered to give everything to MRN: their information, their time, sometimes even all their assets.
Yep, Kris had spent a lot of time perusing the Internet lately.
Rafe spoke suddenly, and Kris was startled out of his pondering.
“Is she all right?” Rafe asked, and the concern for Kris’s mom was evident in his tone.
“She’s still in the hospital overnight. She’s been there most of the week. But we get to bring her home tomorrow, me and Dad.” Kris worried about the difficulties his mom would have to face at home with her leg in a cast and unable to move about on her own. As a registered nurse at the Seattle Children’s Hospital in Laurelhurst, Claire Ellis was the most active woman Kris had ever known—and stubborn to boot.
“I could help.”
“I could have some of my blood sent over. It would heal her right up.”
Kris shivered at this rather sweet and startlingly caring man willing to do this for him when he’d been nothing but unkind to him so far. “I, uh….” Damn, Kris couldn’t take it any longer. “Look, I’m sure you’re a great guy and all, but, uh….”
“But…?” Rafe encouraged softly.
Kris made a special effort to be diplomatic. “But the thing is I have plans for the future. Once I finish college, I’m getting a bachelor’s degree in mythology.”
“Theoretical or practical mythology?”
Kris stifled a hysterical laugh. “The old kind. What is now called theoretical.” That had been one of the countless changes resulting from the Great Unveiling. Mythology was now either theoretical or practical/applied. Ridiculous. He huffed indignantly, as though the matter concerned him personally—and funnily it did now. “Didn’t you know that about me? I thought you had extensive files on me.”
Rafe laughed amusedly. “The NFL provided only what is available on public record. We’re not the government, after all.”
Kris found that he really liked the honest and natural burst of energetic laughter from Rafe. From his mate. “Why can’t you tell me your full name?” He knew the answer but wanted to hear it anyway.
“Legal advice. You could find me if you knew my name. Google me or something. Despite the Great Unveiling, not all of us of the Unseen world are out in public. Sure, there are public figures, but I’m not one of them. Neither are any members of my family.”
. Kris hadn’t even thought of that. He had this image in his head about lone wolves hiding in the shadows, lurking and skulking and hunting. Even if the wolf happened to be a man too. Nonetheless, in this day and age when spying on others seemed to be an international pastime, the need for privacy was overwhelming—especially since most of the variety of creatures of the formerly Unseen world had qualities, gifts, abilities, and powers to be exploited. Kris could understand Rafe’s position, since everyone in the world seemed to be doing their very best to get the inside scoop about everyone else—and then huffing with unrighteous indignation if they themselves ended up as the object of such intrusions into their personal affairs.
Yeah, a joke on others is never so funny when turned around
, Kris thought laconically.
“You, uh, you have a large family?”
Rafe chuckled, and the affection came through loud and clear. “Yeah. My father and mother are the pack alphas, and my elder brothers are the betas. I have a whole line of uncles, and aunts, and cousins, and second cousins, and all that. All of us together form the pack, and we live on the ranch grounds, and—oh, I didn’t mean to say that.”
As Rafe fell silent, like coming to a dead stop, Kris realized Rafe had misspoken and revealed something he shouldn’t have.
Rafe lives on a ranch
. “You have nothing to fear from me, Rafe.” Kris set out to assure him, barely observing that he’d used his mate’s name for the first time—and it had come out so naturally and effortlessly that it had to mean something. Shrugging off the uncomfortable notion of what that something elusive was, he continued as if he’d said nothing strange. “Even if you and I don’t get together or anything, I’m not going to betray your secret to the world. I’m not like that.”
A soft sound—a sob?—came through faintly and gave Kris heart palpitations. “I know that, Kris. You seem like a fine person to me. A nice guy. I had a good feeling about you all along.”
His blood thrumming in his ears, Kris felt his cock hardening under the covers of his bed at the honest assessment of his character coming from his mate. He had to shift his position in his bed, and in a purely reflex motion, his hand slipped under the waistband of his boxer briefs to grab tightly at the base of his dick to hold back his heightening arousal. Oh God, that felt so good. Kris sighed.
“Are you in bed?” Rafe asked.
Kris stammered, “W-what…?” He yanked his hand away so fast his nails scraped the sensitive skin of his cock, and he winced at the sting of pain.
“I can hear sheets rustling,” Rafe said, and Kris could’ve sworn he sounded amused.
Coughing, embarrassed—and a little furious at getting caught, literally, with his dick hanging out—he said, “Well, I don’t know if you’ve noticed the time, but it’s past twelve at night. So, where else would I be?”
Rafe laughed low and sexy. “Now hang on there. No need to be embarrassed, Kris. I’m in bed too. It’s even later over here.” Kris had a troubling thought that this call was turning into something naughty that he, to be honest, had never done before. It was slightly unsettling—and a whole lot arousing. Maybe it was Rafe’s natural drawl and husky tone that gave Kris goose bumps all over, but suddenly he had no other desire than to hear Rafe moan his name as they were both coming.
To get himself under control—and buy some much-needed time to do so—Kris asked, “And, uh, where is that exactly?”
Rafe laughed again, sweetly. “Nice try, honey.”
Kris thought he might actually cream himself right then and there. The way Rafe used the endearment made his heart skip a beat and his cock twitch hot and hungry. “Will it…. I mean is this how it’s going to feel if we meet?”
“What do you mean?” Rafe’s tone grew serious, and the raspy tone changed back to the boyish, slightly high-pitched voice.
Kris chose his words carefully. “If you and I met, you know, personally and face to face, would I be immediately and instantly smitten?”
“Smitten?” Rafe sounded amused by his choice of term but replied quickly, “As my mate, you would be physically attracted and sexually drawn to me, yes. My pheromones would excite you to the point of… uh… a physical reaction.”
“You mean I’d get a hard-on right on the spot?” Kris felt his cheeks burn.
“It’s not like you would sport an erection all the time with me,” Rafe clarified. “But yes, in a way you would feel perpetually horny around me—as I would be with you. That is how mating works. Feeling good, better than ever before or since, is normal.” For a moment, Rafe hesitated, and when he spoke again, his voice was uncertain. “Never having had a mate, obviously, I don’t exactly know how it would feel or how well either of us would control our emotions or reactions. This is as new to me as it is for you.”
“Your parents never shared any details with you?” This possibility surprised Kris, as he had assumed his mate—Rafe—would have all the answers to all the questions he could ever think of.
Well, guess not
“Generalities only,” Rafe replied, and Kris assumed the guy was shrugging. “There are some commonalities between all matings, but there are differences too, because we’re all different. Our feelings are unique, just like our relationship and our interactions will be. Uh, I mean would be.”
Kris thought about this. In advance, he’d known very few specifics. After all, it had only been nine years since the Great Unveiling had taken place. The world was still reeling and coming to terms with the reality of the true nature of the world and all the consequences that came with it. Specific knowledge of werewolf mating wasn’t exactly available for everybody on Google, and a lot of the stuff that was available was either inaccurate or speculative. Kris had been under the illusion that every lycanthrope would feel the same with their respective mate—which was apparently the wrong conclusion.
“Is that one of the reasons you refuse to meet with me?”
Kris heard the tremor of uncertainty in Rafe’s voice and could sympathize. After he’d waited two centuries to meet his mate, Kris had rejected him before they’d even had a chance to exchange greetings. He had to be honest. “Yes.” Hesitating for a second, Kris found the courage to continue. “I’m worried that if we meet, I won’t be able to control myself. That I’ll feel something so overpowering and overwhelming that I’ll forget myself and get lost in a heated frenzy. That I’ll feel something that won’t be real but is just a physical response to your stimulus. We can’t build a life together just on the off chance that the sex might be awesome. Right…?”
“I understand,” Rafe said, his tone strong and empathetic. “I don’t know how much you know about our first actual meeting and how it would take place. But we wouldn’t be alone. Our families would be there with us. And legal counsel.”
“How efficient and business-y,” Kris muttered curtly, surprising even himself at how angry he sounded. A heavy, loaded silence greeted him through the phone, and with a shudder Kris thought that maybe Rafe had finally had enough of him and hung up on him. What surprised him the most was the fact that he didn’t want Rafe to disappear from the line—or Kris’s life. “Are you still there…?”
A chuckle without much humor to back it up reached him. “I thought that was my line, honey.”
Kris had to get this conversation back on track to something diplomatic, and polite—and to information gathering without overextending his welcome. “Do you know what I look like?”
“I have seen a picture,” Rafe answered, and he sounded assured and confident and excitingly manly again. Kris liked the warmth of his voice, and the natural drawl wasn’t bad either. “From your high school yearbook.”
“Oh God, not the last one, please…,” Kris moaned, embarrassed. Two years ago, he’d been in his flashy gay mode as he’d made the transition from high school to college. Remembering clearly the photo-shoot day, Kris had an awkward recollection of images where he stood grinning like an idiot just out of a lunatic asylum with his black jeans, black T-shirt, and steel jewelry all over his then rail-thin body in what he nowadays thought of as his Goth punk phase—not to mention metaphorically flipping a finger to his high school and all its drama on his way out.
Rafe chuckled low. “What’s wrong with it? I thought you looked very nice.” Laughing a little louder now, he added humorously, “Although you do wear a lot of… black.”
His cheeks coloring to beet red, Kris cleared his throat. “Look, I’m over and done with the whole Goth chapter of my life, and I rarely wear all black anymore. And I’ve beefed up some since I started playing college football.” Hesitating briefly, he added, a bit to rattle Rafe’s chain, “I’m more akin to Adam Lambert nowadays, appearance-wise.”