Authors: Susan Laine
Rafe liked Kris’s curiosity, even though he had a hard time coming up with suitable answers for some of his questions. “No, honey, I’ve done a lot of different things over time. But I like being a cowboy. I love horses and the wide open plains and prairies, the Rockies, and the ranch. Even if I weren’t a lycan, I’d still probably be a cowboy—and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.” Rafe told the truth. The ranch was his life and would always be. He loved his family and friends, and he adored his pack.
So engrossed in reliving in his mind the life of his dreams, Rafe didn’t immediately notice how silent Kris had become. Blinking when he suddenly smelled the unease emanating from his mate, Rafe refocused his attention on Kris—and worried because Kris looked kind of sad but trying his best to hide it.
“I’m sorry, honey.” Rafe began to backpedal. “I didn’t mean that I would never—”
Frowning, Kris furiously shook his head. “No, no. I can tell you meant it. Don’t lie.” Biting his lower lip, avoiding eye contact, he muttered, “It’s better to know where you stand now than years down the line when we’ve both invested our hearts and—”
“No lifestyle is worth losing you,” Rafe interrupted emphatically, steadfast in his belief.
Kris paused for a moment. “I had trouble accepting the possibility that I might have to change my plans for the future because of you—and give up something I’ve wanted for a long time. It would hardly be fair of me to demand you to give up what you love when I’m not sure I could do the same.” When Kris looked up at Rafe, his smile was bittersweet. “I was just…. I thought about the fact that you’ve been a cowboy for two centuries now, and wondered if you might want to try something else…. It didn’t occur to me that you must’ve—obviously—done other things too. I’m still getting used to the fact that you have hundreds of years of experiences accumulated already—despite your youthful appearance.”
Rafe reflected upon what he was hearing. “Yeah, I understand, honey. I do. Before the Unveiling we could travel all over the country because the likelihood of a confrontation was smaller then. The Unseen world intended to remain as such—unseen—so there were strict rules and regulations about contact with others of our kind so that we wouldn’t betray our presence and existence to humans. So, yeah, I’ve tried my hand in a lot of different areas—”
“But after all those… tests and trials,” Kris clarified, “being a cowboy is where your heart lies. Here at the ranch with your family and pack.”
are my mate,” Rafe replied to what sounded like an accusation, unable to hold back the fierce growl. “You are family and pack too.”
“But we’re not alike,” Kris inserted. “I don’t want to be a cowboy or a rancher—”
“You don’t know that because you’ve never tried—”
“I’ve never tried being an airplane pilot either, but I know I don’t want to be one, or even try it.”
“There’s much to do on a ranch, and—”
“Son, give him time to figure it out on his own,” Daniel King interjected from between Rafe and Kris, placing his big calming hand on Rafe’s arm and squeezing gently. Turning to Kris, his pa smiled politely. “There is no pressure, Kris. Time, as I’m sure you understand, is something we have plenty of. Even if patience is lost on the young sometimes,” he added, glancing pointedly at Rafe, who couldn’t help but blush over his father’s intervention. Rafe wanted to work things out with his mate on his own, and he didn’t need or want his father’s help.
“Rafe mentioned you raise horses here,” Kris said, directing his polite inquiry at Daniel, in Rafe’s opinion probably to include the older man in the conversation or out of simple curiosity—and Rafe felt like punching a wall in frustration. He wanted his mate’s attention to be focused solely on him 100 percent.
“Horses and cattle,” Daniel replied casually. “My daughter, June, manages the ranch, while my boys handle the animals and the livestock. Rafe and Michael train the horses, and Gabe and Uri tend to the cattle.”
Tense, holding back his anger at losing control of the situation, Rafe watched and listened to his father and his mate engage in a conversation about tending a variety of animals, grooming them for the rodeo or merely for riding, and herding a hundred head of cattle. Just when Daniel was explaining how they were going into the business of training bucking bulls, Rafe heard a whisper from his right side.
“Hey, I just wanted to say that you have nothing to prove to me—even if I acted like a jerk and demanded it. I’m sorry.”
Puzzled at the offered olive branch, Rafe studied Isaiah’s features. He seemed—and smelled—sincere enough. “It’s all right. Kris told me you were just looking out for him. After all, that’s what brothers should do for each other—watch each other’s backs.”
“You know Kris is into you, right?” Isaiah said after a few bites of his steak and swallows of mashed potatoes.
His face heating up, Rafe nodded. What they had been doing upstairs in his bedroom had revealed that fact. “Sex is easy,” he confessed at last in a hushed tone. “Being with someone who doesn’t share your interests is not. Opposites may attract, but similarities form a more permanent foundation for a relationship. I’m a cowboy who lives on a ranch in the middle of nowhere, and he’s going to be a scholar who belongs in huge metropolises with intellectual challenges. I’m a lycan who wants to claim his mate, but Kris…. He has a whole life to lead—without me.” Sighing, with a lump the size of Wyoming lodged in his throat, Rafe blinked away a veil of tears. “As much as I want Kris in my life right now, and not later, he should have his chance to go out into the world and make a life for himself so that his dreams may come true. To build the life he’s always wanted—just like I knew I wanted to be a cowboy, and ride in the rodeo, and train horses, and, hell, even mucking stalls—”
“That’s crap.” Isaiah cut him off tersely, waving his hand dismissively. “What the two of you need is some one-on-one time to figure out what the hell either of you want separately
together, and not greater distance to mull over what you’ve lost before you’ve even had it.”
While Rafe was busy steaming, all of a sudden he realized Isaiah had spoken so loudly that the whole table full of people now sat in silence, watching them intently. Rafe saw Kris flash his blue eyes as strong as steel while staring at his brother.
“What?” Isaiah said defensively, spreading his arms. “I’m not saying anything either of you haven’t already thought of. Because—despite what I said before about lucrative opportunities, and fortunate businesses, and all that rot—the truth is, Rafe, you would be damn lucky to have Kris, and he’d be damn fortunate to have you. And no, I’m not talking about a material fortune here. Yeah, sure, there’s the whole business of a marital contract, and all that jazz, but ultimately this is all about the two of you. So, why don’t you kids go on off to play while we grown-ups have a chat, huh?”
Despite himself, Rafe was beginning to like the slugger, caught somewhere between wanting to punch the guy’s lights out and to thank him wholeheartedly with a huge hug. He decided on a compromise. “Thanks, Iz. I think we’ll do just that.” Turning to Kris, he asked, “Shall we?”
Already getting up from his seat, Rafe waited silently in place for Kris to decide his own actions for himself. Pretty soon Kris got up too, and without a word, followed Rafe out of the dining room toward the stairs and up to Rafe’s bedroom.
When the door closed behind them, Kris seemed to enter into fury mode, clenching his fists, shaking his head angrily, and mumbling something angrily incoherent. Rafe waited for a moment for the tirade to end but soon quit waiting when Kris didn’t seem to stop. “I’m beginning to warm up to your brother and see his appeal. Is he by any chance single?” Shock finally concluded Kris’s quiet self-absorbed ranting, and he stood in place, gawking at Rafe with his mouth hanging open. Rafe grinned wickedly and winked. “Just kidding, honey.”
Kris’s blue eyes flashed and narrowed. “He’s straight.”
“I couldn’t care less,” Rafe replied, standing on the verge of his self-control as he kept wondering about the sensory experience of his mate-to-be, how he would taste, smell, and feel like oozing sex from every pore, and what he would sound like and look like when he climaxed in his arms. Rafe was dying to find out.
And then he just couldn’t wait a single second longer, so he crossed the room from the door with an easy stride, took Kris in his arms, and dipped his head to kiss his mate deeply and thoroughly. Their tongues brushed softly and tentatively, sliding against each other lazily, and pushing closer smoothly and then withdrawing for quick breaths. As he covered Kris’s mouth with his own, tasting the peppered steak and the rich essence that was pure Kris, Rafe felt a heady high suffocating his brain until he felt like he was floating on air—first his brain, and then the rest of him. He’d never before felt such intensity of emotions and sensations mixed, and in his heart Rafe knew he never would again with anyone else.
. That was what kissing Rafe felt like to Kris. As if he’d never been kissed before—like it was the first time. It was the sweetest torment in the form of languid exploration, as if they had all the time in the world—and since his mate was immortal, it was kind of half true. Rafe’s questing tongue, his fastening lips, his nibbling teeth—all worked in unison to drive Kris crazy with want until he was clinging to Rafe’s shoulders, like a strangling vine, and pressing his body against the solid strength of his mate’s muscular form and his rigid cock. So smooth, so hot, so wet—Kris moaned into Rafe’s hungry mouth, and Rafe responded by wrapping his arms around him so tightly he was left breathless.
“Rafe…,” Kris murmured against the mouth devouring him. “I want you. I need you. I need to know what sex with you will be like. I have to know if it will overpower me.”
It wasn’t until Rafe froze and stiffened that Kris realized he’d spoken aloud. Drawing rapid breaths Rafe stepped back until he stood beyond touching distance, with a low gleam in his hazel eyes. It was pain; that, Kris had no trouble identifying. Cursing himself in his head, he took a hesitant step forward.
Rafe backed away, holding out a hand in a stop gesture. “I can’t be that for you. An experiment in self-control and—”
“No, I didn’t mean it like that,” Kris said vehemently. “It won’t be…. Damn it!” Spinning around on his heels so they weren’t facing each other, Kris felt so helpless and frustrated that he couldn’t think straight. From the very first kiss, Kris had figured out what he wanted with Rafe—and now it was all going to hell. He’d feared that he’d lose his sense of self with his mate’s pheromones turning him into a gelatinous, wanton love slave—but what had actually happened was that from the very first touch, Kris had felt
like himself, not less. Why couldn’t he convey those thoughts and feelings to Rafe? Why couldn’t he put all these thoughts into order and speak them so they’d come out right, and they’d both understand?
The sound of breaking glass and sharp yells from downstairs interrupted them.
Rafe jerked his head toward the noise, and before Kris even became aware of the noise, Rafe had already yanked the door open and run downstairs. Shaking himself out of his sex-numbed stupor, Kris followed the shouting and running.
The front door had been yanked wide open, and one of its windows had been shattered, and a chunk of rock lay amid the glass shards on the welcome mat. Outside the door stood the whole King family, Daniel King raising his hands to quiet the crowd, who were all talking at once over each other in a high-pitched, alarmed clamor.
“All right, folks,” he exclaimed sternly. “It’s all over now. Everybody back inside.”
Muttering their disapproval and fury, the grumbling group of people started lining up rank and file to return back into the house, followed by the ever-calm Daniel, who upon seeing Kris standing there, smiled reassuringly. “It’s nothing. Just a difference of opinion is all. Don’t worry about a thing.”
Through both the broken and unbroken windows, Kris could see two giant-sized men in black escorting a small, slender woman away who was shrieking like a banshee. Kris could make out only a few words, like
I’ll never leave you
. All that just confused him more, and he frowned watching the King family move into the living room and occupy the couches with long exasperated sighs and grunts.
“Who was that?” Kris asked just the first of many questions making a mess of his poor head, and while several heads turned in his direction, no one replied. Out of all the people filling the room, Kris only cared about one—who was as tight-lipped as the others. Rafe’s face had an expression that, if it had been a weather pattern, a storm would’ve been brewing right above them. It was then that Kris made his first deliberate act of face-to-face provocation. “Great, more secrets. Yeah, I can totally see a bright future for the two of us.” Filling his voice with every ounce of disdain and sarcasm he could muster—while simultaneously ripping his heart into shreds because it was so unlike him to behave so—Kris shrugged, as if he couldn’t care less, and looked away. An act of a lifetime, and he hated himself for doing it.
Kris didn’t need to see Rafe’s head popping up, or the fire set ablaze in his eyes, or the tension hardening his features and figure into a statue of wrath. He could feel the waves of emotion aimed at him through the air, and it made him shiver—more with nervousness than fear. For a brief moment, he wondered if he’d gone too far, and the prospect saddened him to no end. Before he’d met Rafe, it wouldn’t have mattered, but now that he had, Kris knew exactly what he stood to gain—and lose.
“She’s a wolfie,” Rafe said at long last, his gravelly tone barely more than a whisper, wrought with danger and threat. “Werewolf groupies who want to be our mates—but either don’t know how mating works, or don’t care. They’re willing to go to any lengths to become our mates, and they don’t take no for an answer. Your arrival escalated her paranoid delusions that you’d be a mate for one of us brothers, and she couldn’t handle it, becoming violent in her outburst.” Suddenly Rafe laughed bitterly. “Too bad she didn’t know that you’re no competition to her, considering how badly you’d want to be anything but my mate.”