Authors: Susan Laine
Rafe shook his head, as if confused why he had to keep explaining this over and over again. “Honey—uh, Kris. Let me lay your worries to rest once and for all. I will never force you into a relationship with me, and I will take you, my mate, any way and to any extent you are willing to give me. However far you want to take this, I’ll accept it. All I want is to share your company because you are my mate. Yes, if I can’t ever be intimate with you, it will mean I’ll be lonely and that I’ll miss you, not being able to be with you to consummate what I feel or what you might feel. But sex isn’t everything.”
Kris nodded but once more insisted, so that they’d be on the same page, “No, sex isn’t—but love is. What if I can never give you that? My heart.”
Rafe chuckled ruefully. “Well, that’s where the perk of being an immortal comes in, I guess. I can wait.” Winking and grinning suddenly, with an intentional levity to ease the tension of the situation and the pressures of the topic, Rafe continued. “We’ll run out of time before I reach the limits of my patience, though. So have no fear, honey.”
Kris suspected that in fact the truth lay somewhere in between these two presented extremes but gave in to Rafe’s mood-lifter and gave a hearty chuckle. “Good to know.” Already willing to give the guy not just a break but actually his growing affection, Kris observed quietly that his fears had been lifted and his anxieties soothed by this cowboy with his boyish drawl and wickedly open smile. Yes, Kris could absolutely get used to Rafe as his friend, lover, and partner—his mate.
their talk, while walking back from the stables to the big house, Rafe studied his mate sauntering beside him, keeping up with Rafe’s pace but looking around with a mixture of eager curiosity and nervous agitation. It was the conflicting personality traits that confounded Rafe so. There was inner strength in the young man, far beyond his years, but his anxious reactions betrayed the confusion within his head.
Rafe could sympathize. It was a new situation for both of them—and while Rafe had the advantage of having readied himself for the scenario for over a hundred years, it was still all new and unexpected. All the preparations in the world couldn’t have ensured that his first meeting with his mate would go smoothly and they’d fall head over heels in love at first sight.
Yes, Rafe had kind of hoped for it, the instantaneous reaction, but it had not turned out so. Kris was his own man, with his own mind and plans, and Rafe might not be included in them.
That thought saddened him, but he forced himself to accept the possibility and deal with it the best he could. Whatever will be will be, as both his ma and Doris Day would’ve said. Yes, Rafe and Kris were perfect for each other—once they got past the awkward beginning—but that didn’t necessarily mean they would fit perfectly into each other’s lives. It was clear to Rafe from everything he’d learned about Kris that the guy had designs for his own future, and staying on the ranch would make it next to impossible to execute them.
And that prospect of being the reason that his mate had to deny a part of himself also saddened Rafe. He didn’t want to be an obstacle on Kris’s desired path in life but the desired company along the way. Being a lycan, however, and being tied to pack land certainly put a damper on things and interfered with the option of being with Kris on
terms wherever he wanted.
As they walked quietly side by side toward the house, Rafe wondered if Kris, with his passion for the outside world, would—or could—ever get used to living with Rafe on this small patch of land in the middle of nowhere. Feeling the blues sink him down to depressing depths, Rafe shook his head and made an effort to raise his own spirits. Like pieces of a puzzle, he and Kris would fit together, yes, but the solution would just take some time to figure out, piece by piece.
Fortunately, time was something Rafe had plenty to offer.
rooms at the King main house were luxurious to the point of lavish.
Kris was glad they hadn’t expected that he’d spend his nights in Rafe’s bed. He surmised that would’ve been a stretch for everyone concerned. They had arrived at the King household just after three in the afternoon, so even after their tour earlier, they now had plenty of time until dinner at seven to make themselves at home by unpacking and having an inquisitive peek at their surroundings.
The guest rooms were situated at the back of the house in the east wing with a view to the pine-and-spruce-filled woods rising high on a rocky hill. Kris had taken the corner room at the very end of the hallway—farthest from the King family’s rooms—while Isaiah had commandeered the room next to his, and their parents had been offered the biggest guest room, with its queen-size bed, at the other end of the hallway.
After unpacking his backpack, which hadn’t taken more than five minutes, Kris sat on the edge of the single bed with its light brown coverlet with Native American inscriptions embroidered on it—by hand, from the looks of it. The room had a faint scent of jasmine flowers lingering, but otherwise it had the same sterile feel to it as the rest of the house, despite the warm tones of fabrics and furniture.
“Hey.” Isaiah startled Kris by poking his head in from the doorway. “You wanna go take a look around?”
Kris shook his head. “Nah. Another time, yeah?”
Not letting the matter drop so easily, Isaiah came into the room and sat beside Kris on the bed. “Listen, I know I may have handled the whole… Rafe thing badly earlier. Sorry.” Sounding regretful was not one of Isaiah’s customary presentations, and Kris gave this rare occurrence his full attention. “I’m sure he’s an okay guy. But this whole weirdness…. I mean, arranged marriages, for Christ’s sake. Did I just suddenly die and end up reincarnated in India?”
At that, Kris had to laugh, and upon his doing so, his anxiety fell away as the almost hysterical laughter made him flop back on to the bed. “You’re a regular riot, Iz.”
Isaiah grinned devilishly. “Nope. I’m an extraordinary and exotic kind of riot. Nothing regular about me—except my bowel movements.”
“Oh, yuck!” Kris laughed and shoved his brother hard in the arm. “That’s disgusting, you filthy pervert!”
“You little shit! I’ll show you what’s what!” Isaiah lunged at his younger brother, kind of poking and part tickling. Kris was near choking with laughter to the extent that his lungs hurt with the exertion, but he retaliated his brother’s onslaught with fervor.
A polite cough came from the doorway, and both brothers turned to look at the source of the sound—and found Rafe standing there, leaning on the doorframe, with a shy smile on his lips and a twinkle in his hazel eyes. “Ma’s come back from her shopping spree at the grocery store, so I was wondering, would you two like to meet her?”
Elbowing Isaiah’s flank to move off, Kris got up so fast his head was spinning. “Sure, we’d both love to.”
With Rafe taking the lead, the three of them walked down the hall toward the stairs to the first floor. “My older sister, June, she’s the ranch manager,” Rafe explained shortly. “You’ll meet her at dinner. My younger sister, April, however, is not here right now. Yes, she’s pack, like everyone belonging to the King family, but she’s the liaison between our pack and all our allied packs around the country.”
“So, your sisters are… wolves too?” Kris inquired, puzzled at the thought of female werewolves. Sure, he knew female wolves existed, but he was bewildered at the pure logistics of it. For a man, behaving like an animal was sort of socially acceptable—well, kind of expected anyway—but how did women fare with their wolfish qualities? How did they deal with the change into an animal and all the instincts that came with it?
Rafe nodded, glancing appreciatively at Kris, whose face flushed. “Yes, and one could say it’s easier for them than for men because women already have a monthly cycle, so they understand it and get used to the nocturnal shift easier. Women also control their emotional and instinctive responses better than men. In essence, women make better wolves than men.”
“You always shift at full moon, then?” Kris’s arm brushed against Rafe’s arm as they reached the top of the stairs and started their slow descent side by side, and a flush of heat swirled in his stomach.
Rafe shook his head. “No, not anymore. Younger wolves, yes, they do shift during the three nights of the full moon, but older wolves have already learned control at an early age. Being part of a pack helps; it’s like having an emotional and physical support group. It’s not easy out there for lone wolves anymore. Not since the Great Unveiling, that’s for darn sure.” Kris knew the growling man was thinking about all the obsessive bigots and paranoid crazies who hunted creatures of the formerly Unseen world for money or out of hate or for the numerous benefits they could reap from powerful mythical beings—delivered either as a whole or in pieces.
“You mentioned allied packs,” Isaiah interjected, keeping his tone conversational and calm, and Kris wasn’t sure if he did it to direct the small talk away from the unsettling topic or because he was actually curious. “So, there are packs out there that… aren’t on friendly terms with you and your pack?”
Rafe gave Isaiah an unreadable look. “No one is friends with everyone.”
“Don’t think I’m asking this just to rattle your chain, buddy,” Isaiah countered tersely. “My only concern is Kris. I want to know if he’s going to end up in danger if he mates with you and becomes a member of your pack.”
Rafe stopped at the foot of the stairs, with a chilly expression on his face but a burning intensity in his hazel eyes. “You really think I don’t care about Kris’s safety?”
“He’s not your flesh and blood like he is mine,” Isaiah returned fiercely, standing nose to nose with Rafe, who was clearly holding onto his self-restraint by a thread.
“He’s my mate—not yours!” Rafe growled, fisting his hands at his sides, ready to pounce on Isaiah within a moment’s notice, and Kris kept opening his mouth to try to intervene but without much success. The two men were at odds, and neither one was about to back down.
“Not yet he isn’t,” Isaiah yelled back. “Unless you mean to force him to submit—”
Moving so fast his movements were only a blur in Kris’s eyes, Rafe grabbed Isaiah’s shirt lapels and lifted him off the floor as though he weighed no more than a feather. “You will take that back, or I will rip your throat out, so help me God…,” he snarled so low his words were barely intelligible. His grimace was accentuated by the sudden flash of fangs, and for the first time, Kris felt actual physical fear.
All of a sudden, Rafe’s nose twitched, and he turned to face Kris with a look of abject horror, shame and regret coloring his cheeks and filling his eyes with tears. “No…. No, I’m not an animal…. Kris, I would never harm you….” His voice shattered at the end, and he dropped Isaiah on his feet, taking a few steps back as if wanting to distance himself from the beastly sight he’d made of himself. Clearly Rafe was unaccustomed to the wild outbursts of his animal side, and Kris had an unpleasant feeling that none of this would have happened if he weren’t Rafe’s mate… if the man hadn’t already formed such a strong bond with Kris, seeing the two of them belonging together.
“Rafe, is everything all right?” Daniel King’s cool low voice greeted them from the living room, and his eyes showed his suspicion and deep concern.
Blinking the rush of tears away as fast as he could, Rafe licked his lips, swiping his nose with his left hand, and spun around on his heels, running up the stairs so quickly there was just a breeze where he’d stood a second earlier.
Kris faced Isaiah, mad as hell. “Are you happy now, Iz? Don’t you think we could’ve discussed all this like civilized people? Damn it!”
Running toward the stairs to find his suffering mate, Kris kept going over and over the conversation in his head, and he knew he should’ve put a stop to it sooner. Kris didn’t have a habit of taking shit from anybody, but this whole situation made him uncertain and fearful, and because of that, his brother had felt it was his right to question everything Rafe thought, said, did, and stood for. If it had been Kris, he would’ve given Isaiah a piece of his mind. But Rafe was already worried Kris would leave him, so he didn’t fight back at all—not until the inflamed situation had escalated to a point that a violent confrontation was inevitable.
This mess was Kris’s fault. He’d let things go too far by just standing on the sidelines and waiting for his family to come to his rescue—when he wasn’t even sure he required or needed protection in the first place. As much as he loved Isaiah, Kris was to blame here, and he had to set things right. Rafe hadn’t done anything wrong, and he certainly didn’t deserve to be treated like a piece of trash—or a severe life-threatening disease. Having done everything by the book, and then some, Rafe had been an exemplary suitor who’d welcomed Kris with open arms—and open heart.
Yes, for better or for worse, Rafe was Kris’s mate.
Kris had no trouble finding Rafe’s room at the top of the stairs when sad country blues welcomed him through the door. Knocking gently, Kris spoke in a whisper—knowing his wolf mate would hear him just fine if he wanted to listen. “Rafe? I’m sorry for Iz. He can be a bit of a clunkhead sometimes. All the sensibility of a brick through a window. And I didn’t fare much better myself. Can I please come in?”
Unable to hear anything through the door or the music, holding his breath, Kris waited for any kind of response. After a minute or so, the door cracked open a sliver. Rafe stood away so Kris couldn’t see his face, but he held the door open so Kris could come in, and he did.
Lit by the fading sun, the large rectangular room had floor-to-ceiling windows, white furniture, and a large queen-size bed dominating the room. The walls were lined with white bookshelves filled to capacity as well as oil paintings and watercolors of horses, wilderness, and wolves. Sparse with its decorations and modest with its natural color scheme, the bedroom still maintained an air of Rafe, as if it were an oasis of cool serenity amid a roaring blaze of the protruding outside world. Still, aside from Rafe’s natural scent, the room had no lingering smells, and for the first time, Kris figured it must’ve been designed on purpose so as to avoid overloading the olfactory senses of the resident lycans.