Authors: Susan Laine
There was a curious silence on the line. “Who?”
. Kris grimaced. That translated to a lengthy educational period not just on popular culture but about himself as well. In passing, Kris wondered just how far out in the sticks Rafe actually lived, and why he didn’t have a firm knowledge of the current way of the world and its most famous stars and notable trends. Although, in Rafe’s defense, he probably had other priorities—like being a wolf and all.
“Well, google him,” he suggested with a wicked grin. “Just try not to be too shocked, okay?”
Without seeing him, Kris could’ve sworn Rafe was shaking his head, bemused, as he replied, “I’ll be sure to do that, honey.”
Damn, Kris really liked Rafe calling him that, and realized in a flash how quickly he could grow accustomed to Rafe’s gentle, sexy banter and smart, arousing quips. His dick twitched again, its interest piqued. “So….” Kris made a keen effort to calm himself. “When can you tell me your full name?”
“When you formally agree to meet me and sign a nondisclosure agreement provided by the NFL so that no matter what happens between us—whether we are mated or not—there will be serious legal ramifications if you reveal my identity to anyone. It’s standard procedure, I gather, or so my pa tells me.”
Kris could’ve sworn Rafe sounded a little annoyed by this need for legal formalities, and it made him feel better for some reason. It made Kris feel like perhaps he wasn’t alone in the awareness of the strangeness of this situation. “Your father, uh…. Your mother is his… mate…?”
“Yeah, they are true mates,” Rafe replied, and Kris heard the pride and the love there, as real as words written down. “He was born a werewolf, but she was a human. Pa convinced her to marry him almost on the spot. When they mated, he offered to bite her to make her a lycan, and she agreed because she loved him so much. The transformation doesn’t happen with every bite, you understand. There’s a ritual involved. Anyway, they love each other to bits. I guess that’s why I have three brothers and two sisters.”
siblings? God!” Kris barely managed to survive one brother.
Rafe laughed, giving Kris’s groin a flash of heat. “They’re great. I’m lucky.”
A companionable silence fell between them, and Kris found he liked this pleasant restful moment between them. But his curiosity won in the end. “So, Rafe… what do
“Specific measurements?” Rafe chuckled, and Kris’s blush deepened. “I’m six-four—”
“Jesus, you’re a giant!” Kris exclaimed, comparing his mental image of Rafe with his own height of five-ten, and realizing his head would barely reach the guy’s shoulders.
“Thanks… I think,” Rafe replied with adorable modesty. “I weigh about two fifteen—”
“You’re in great shape, then,” Kris interjected dreamily as he imagined this stranger in front of him—and the picture was beginning to form and take a definite shape of masculine perfection, bulk of muscles and broad shoulders, wide chest and tall figure tapered down to the waist and hips. It was a very nice picture too—sex on a stick.
“I ride a lot,” Rafe explained, then apparently thought better of it. “I mean I ride horses—not men.”
Kris burst out laughing. “Good one. You… uh, never ride men…?”
As if he was standing right in front of him, Kris could see Rafe grinning. “Maybe.” There was a pause, and Kris couldn’t wait to hear more as he wanted to see what his mate looked like through his mind’s eye. “The way my ma colorfully puts it, my hair is auburn, my eyes are hazel, and my skin is pretty tanned since I mainly work outdoors. If it were me doing the describing, I’d just say I’m brown in every respect. Is that enough of a description for you, honey?” The gentle teasing in Rafe’s voice made Kris’s heart skip a beat. “I see it must be, because your heart rate sped up.”
Kris swallowed hard. “Y-you can hear that…?”
“I am a lycan. I have excellent hearing.” Rafe ended his declaration with a low, seductive chuckle that made Kris’s cock jump in excitement.
Please, God, don’t let him hear that
. “So, Kris… do you think you might want to meet me at some point? Have I made a good impression?”
All the notions and ideas and knowledge of this situation flashed in a flurry cavalcade of arousing images before his eyes, and Kris felt the answer instinctively. His reason swooped in to confirm what his heart already knew. “Yes.”
Holding his breath anxiously, Kris listened to the silence that filled the line, like a loud booming sound, deafening in its implications. “All right, then,” Rafe said at last, sounding breathless, as though he’d just run a mile a minute, and his voice rose as he apparently was very giddy. “I’ll make the preparations for your arrival here and speak to the NFL rep—”
“Wait, what?” Kris was flabbergasted for a second. “What do you mean? Make preparations for my arrival?”
Rafe sounded surprised and confused as he said, “I thought you knew and understood my situation. Lycans are territorial, just like wolves. We have our pack lands, hunting grounds, and traveling routes. We rarely leave pack land, and never alone. Arranging for you to come here will be easier and far less hassle than me coming to you.”
For an indeterminate time, Kris seemed to forget how to breathe. Things were suddenly moving at an alarming rate, speeding past the speed limit in fact. He’d assumed they would meet on neutral ground somewhere with a lot of people nearby so he couldn’t make a fool of himself and launch into Rafe’s arms before saying hello. Where the chance that he could suppress his growing infatuation and attraction with his mate would be higher than meeting on Rafe’s terms in a place where he’d have the home-field advantage.
Now that small comfort zone was apparently stripped from him—and he wasn’t sure he could do that and confront his mate-to-be on Rafe’s terms instead of his own.
“How did your kind find mates before, being so territorial and all?”
Rafe paused, and Kris had a feeling the man understood he was stalling for time. “Well, modern technology has aided in tracking down mates—”
“Tracking?” Kris interjected, feeling more than a little like a wolf’s supper instead of a lifelong mate. “You make it sound more like hunting instead of courting.”
“Yes, mating and hunting have symbolic and metaphorical similarities—especially among our kind,” Rafe confirmed, and from Kris’s point of view it sounded like Rafe had no specific emotional opinion about the matter, and he was just verifying facts like a good little student. To Kris it felt coldhearted, but he also realized he didn’t know enough to pass judgment.
Kris could tell, however, that Rafe was holding something back. As he followed his train of thought to the end, he figured out what was not being said—and an unpleasant chill cooled his emerging feelings for this man on the other end of the line. “If we got together, I’d have to leave home and come live with you on your pack land. Isn’t that right?” He didn’t even bother hiding the sharp iciness of his tone this time.
The silence meeting his words said it all, and Kris closed his eyes tightly to hold back tears and a scream and all the other violent eruptions simmering beneath the surface.
“D-do you regret agreeing to meet with me?” Rafe’s tone had dropped to an all-time low, and frightened tremors were evident in his voice.
. Kris said nothing, unable to trust the stability of his own voice, feeling bad for Rafe, who was clearly suffering in his loveless loneliness, and then feeling bad for himself for letting their talk come this far—too far to stop the imminent train wreck ahead. The catastrophe of his life loomed ahead, and Kris started to panic, as if the walls were closing in on him as he was slowly stripped of his freedom and choices.
“Do you… maybe… need some time… to think about this?”
If only Kris could be sure the two of them could meet without being overwhelmed by the natural bond between them. If only he could make sure he’d still be able to hold his heart back from getting too involved instead of wearing his heart on his sleeve. If only he could count on his rational brain to reason his way out of any impending emotional jam that would surely follow their encounter. If only he could have some confidence that the passing of time and the distance of space between them would be enough to erase whatever emotional disaster awaited him if he found that he just couldn’t make the kind of all-out commitment Rafe seemed to be expecting of him.
“Listen…,” Kris started, wording his statement cautiously. “I graduate from college in a few weeks. How about I talk to you then, okay? Give you my decision at the start of the summer vacation, yeah?”
It was quiet on the Western front, apparently, Kris thought warily, waiting to hear any sound indicating Rafe was still there. “Oh, all right, then…,” he murmured finally, and the pain echoing in his hushed voice almost did Kris in right then and there. “I, uh… I’ll wait for your call.” Kris was trying to come up with something to say—anything, really—when Rafe added so quietly that Kris almost couldn’t make it out, “I… I’ll miss you, Kris.” While Kris was busy holding back a sob by biting his lower lip till it bled, Rafe continued with more power in his voice. “I hope to hear from you soon. I wish you all the best on your big day. Good luck. And good night, honey.”
Because he didn’t hear a click, Kris knew Rafe was waiting for his acknowledgement in return. Hurriedly, he huffed, “Yeah, yeah. We’ll talk soon, I promise. Good night… Rafe.” Unable to stand the tension one second longer, he pushed the Disconnect button on his cell, and the call ended abruptly as he snapped shut the lid.
Attempting to calm his breathing and slow his rapid heartbeat, Kris closed his eyes tiredly. That call had taken so much energy out of him he felt weary to the bone. Yes, in terms of time intervals, the call hadn’t lasted long—but in all the ways that mattered, that one line of communication had turned his world, his reality, and his future inside out and upside down. Still busy reeling from the experience, Kris had a sudden realization that his life would never be the same again, regardless of how this would play out. Either he’d meet Rafe and live with him—happily ever after, or unhappily, whichever happened first—or he wouldn’t meet Rafe, and live the rest of his life with the certain, blinding knowledge that he’d turned his back on his soul mate.
Sighing deeply and hating feeling so weak, Kris wiped his tear-soaked cheeks with the palms of his hands.
A single phone call had changed his life forever.
and spruce trees swayed in the night breeze, and no windows needed to be open for Rafe to know the smell of sweet tree resin, fresh dust, damp moss, and trails of various day and night animals. All those familiar scents were imprinted into his sense memory. Clinging to his cell phone, his knuckles white, Rafe felt like sobbing but finally controlled the urge, taking a few calming breaths.
Placing the cell phone on the desk, Rafe made his silent way to the corner of his bedroom where the floor-to-ceiling windows came together. Kneeling on the soft, dark pillow, Rafe steadied himself before his shrine to the Progenitor of the Lycan breed. To Rafe, the nook was really an altar of meditation, peace and quiet—his special center of serenity within the household. Lycans may have been wild, passionate, and on occasion savage beings, but they were the one class of creatures from the Unseen world who’d had to learn how to control their instincts, emotions, and reactions early on in their trek into the Common Earth, so lycans as a whole were far less animalistic than the myths portrayed them to be.
Rafe meditated a lot. He found the ritual soothing, and he always slept more soundly after a session. Right now he needed all the support this reassuring custom held for him. Lighting the relaxing lavender incense and the candles, filling the room slowly with aromatic scents and smoke familiar to his wolf’s olfactory senses, Rafe went over the conversation he’d had with his mate. He wasn’t stupid and realized that it could definitely have gone better.
Unlike his brothers who had indulged themselves in worldly pleasures and sensual delights while waiting and searching for their prospective mates, Rafe had mostly abstained from both relationships and sex. He wasn’t a virgin by any standards, but socially and emotionally, he was less experienced than his brothers. And his talk with Kris had reminded him of that unpleasant, awkward fact, especially when things had started to go awry and Rafe had just kept on proceeding to the yet-to-be-a-relationship wreck ahead.
Shaking his head, Rafe was frustrated to analyze all the possible mistakes he’d made. Going over it all just depressed him further and distracted him from his meditations. Focusing on his breathing pattern and steadying his heartbeat, Rafe crossed his legs into the lotus position and began the low hum that vibrated from his belly, through his lungs to his throat, and out of his closed mouth. The tension in his muscles eased, the nervousness choking him relaxed, and the knot in his stomach began to untie.
As his mind cleared away the emotional clutter, Rafe knew what he was going to do. It was a bit selfish but a bit selfless too, and most importantly, it might lure Kris into talking with him again. Yes, Rafe wanted his mate by his side now—but that would have to wait through the getting to know each other phase, even though they’d gotten off on the wrong foot.
Yes, somehow Rafe had handled it all badly. He wasn’t sure exactly what he’d done wrong, but he wanted to make it right. And what he had in mind would go a long way to show Kris that Rafe was not only his mate but perfect for him in every way.
Finishing his exercise, Rafe blew out the candle, watching the thin wavy line of smoke rise up toward the ceiling. And for the first time since ending the call, he felt tranquil and composed again—and he smiled softly into the smoke-scented darkness.
you’re curious, and I know you’re angry,” Dad said coolly, “but in case you want to meet this… Rafe…, I’ll personally guarantee and make sure you won’t turn into a Stepford wife. If you so much as lean precariously in that direction and suffer a sudden personality shift, I’ll be right there to smack you silly. Father’s promise, son.”