“GOOD evening, Mr. Ellis. I’m Mr. Basil Denham from the NFL.”
“Thanks, but even though my boy is pretty damn good on his feet, we’re not interested in football to that extent,” Dad said apologetically since he hated being impolite. Kris could hear his dad’s low tone clearly from his seat on the couch in the living room, even with the TV blaring. It was nice of his dad to say that about him, and he grinned at the overheard compliment. The following chuckle from Dad indicated to Kris that his father was indeed well aware that there was zero chance recruiters from football teams would come by to pick up college football players from their doorstep—no matter how promising the candidate. Clearly whatever charity or missionary work this NFL person represented, Dad was trying to get rid of him in the kindest possible way, by making light fun of him.
“Uh, no… I’m not from the National Football League. I’m from the other NFL, the National Fellowship of Lycanthropes. Do you know it by any chance? I understand if you haven’t heard of us. We’re new, like so many other organizations to pop up since the Great Unveiling.”
Kris shivered in fear, frozen in place, and waited for the next blow to land—squarely on his chin—and knock him out cold. Yet, his anxiety was simultaneously overshadowed by fury at being on the receiving end of Fate’s blows. He’d heard the urban legends and horror stories of creatures claiming their mates against their will, by whatever means necessary. That represented a very real threat of having his family’s life torn apart, and the prospect pissed Kris off as much as it terrified him.
Sure, the man could be here collecting funds for their organization. But… since he knew their name, Kris doubted it was a likely option.
So, this man could only be here for one of two things—either for Kris or his mom. They’d both been hospitalized recently. Regardless, both options sucked royally.
Secretly, Kris prayed to God it was for him. If this odious man had come for his mom, he feared he might die right here, on their eight-year-old ragged leather couch in their house in the Echo Lake suburbs of Seattle, Washington. How mundane and dull and horribly uncool that would be, Kris thought miserably, but refocused on the conversation at the door as if his life depended on it—and it might.
“How can I help you, sir?” Dad said, and this time his less than polite tone conveyed all the angst and frustration and worry Kris was feeling too.
The NFL representative made a small conciliatory sound, and Kris could imagine his exaggerated courteous smile without actually needing to see him. “I do apologize if I have disrupted your evening at this late hour, Mr. Ellis. I am looking for, uh…. Excuse me for a moment,” he added, and the sound of rustling paper reached Kris on the couch. He was afraid to move closer to the door, not wanting to see the face of the man who apparently was going to rip apart their lives, like cloth being torn to tatters. “Ah, yes,” he exclaimed at long last, happily, apparently having found the right paper. “Kristopher Ellis…?”
It’s me. Kris sprang up from the couch, holding his breath, and saw his dad looking past the doorframe directly at him. And his face said all there was to say. I’m sorry, and You don’t have to do this, and I can kick this guy’s ass if you want me to. All those fatherly things that should’ve made Kris feel better and safer—but didn’t.
I am a mate of someone from the Unseen world. I have a mate. A lycan. Wolf-man—or wolf-woman. Kris stood in place, like a statue of insecurity and pent-up rage. Then anger rose in his gut, like bile, as if this incident in the form of a sucker punch had released it from its dormancy. Being coerced into a situation by outside forces was one thing, but to be forced into submission by one’s own instincts, overriding his reason… that was something else. Pretty soon Kris would be his own worst enemy when his common sense was brought to its knees before the overpowering instinct to bond with his mate.
No. Freaking. Way.
Making his rushed way to the front door, he stepped to his dad’s side, glaring at the man with strikingly blue eyes his first boyfriend had called the color of forget-me-nots. Understandably, comparing a guy’s eyes to flowers was equal to calling him cute—which outside of bed was really the wrong thing to say, and probably even then too.
A bureaucratic-looking man in his late forties, balding, and with round glasses that had gone out of style over a hundred years ago, saw him and gave a gleeful smile. “Mr. Kristopher Ellis? I’m Basil Denham from the NFL—”
“I heard,” Kris interjected, barely holding back his fury at this intrusion into their private lives. Not that that sort of thing was particularly unheard of since the Great Unveiling, but still. This was their home. “You’re not welcome here. Good-bye.” The man was about to argue this point when Kris slammed the door shut in his face, wanting to smash his fist right through the wood at the obnoxious man just for emphasis. Having done a little boxing, he had a pretty mean right hook too, but punching a hole in the door would just aggravate his mom to the point of strangling him, and hurt his own hand in the process, so he thought better of it.
Dad placed his huge construction-worker hand on Kris’s slender but athletic shoulder and squeezed tenderly. “I’m less than happy about your lack of manners, son, but I am so very proud of you for sticking to your guns.” He added a tousle to Kris’s trendy mess of hair, which was so black it shined blue. At times Dad treated Kris like a kid. And even though Kris usually fought the habit, this time he relished it.
His dad’s touch equaled comfort, and Kris’s world was stable again.
But in his heart he knew it couldn’t last. The unveiled outside world had found its way into their sanctum, their home and hearth, and there was nowhere to go from here but down to the dark unknown. The only consolation Kris had at this point was that at least it wasn’t his mom who was going to be thrown to the wolves—or, to be accurate, werewolves.
“IT’S an arranged marriage and nothing more,” Kris argued. “Certainly nothing better. As a civilization we’ve gone back a hundred years or more since the Unveiling.”
Standing at the threshold of his home—again—Kris was staring down at Mr. Denham from the NFL, who’d developed an annoying habit of appearing on their doorstep every other day for about a week now. Adjusting his glasses dangling on the bridge of his nose, Mr. Denham smiled reassuringly. “I understand how upsetting this must be for you, Mr. Ellis. But it is far less dramatic than—”
“Than what exactly?” Kris held back his emotions, fighting the instinct to shout. “We are talking about me being the predestined mate of some person—a wolf—I’ve never even heard of. And just because some clinical tests say so, I’m just supposed to pack up my whole life and succumb to this prospect of becoming the unwilling sex slave for some stranger for all eternity.”
Mr. Denham was holding on to his composure very well, considering. “Your strength of conviction is an admirable trait, but you’re exaggerating, Kristopher, and I—”
Though Kris didn’t fail to notice Mr. Denham had taken stock of his most defining characteristic, he wasn’t about to give him an inch. Not even a pinky to the devil. “You will call me Mr. Ellis.” As Mr. Denham sighed patiently and repeated his surname in a formal manner, Kris continued as calmly as he could muster, “Is it a man or a woman?” Kris had to know at least that before this went any further.
Coughing uncomfortably, Denham stammered, “The NFL has been informed of your sexual preference—”
“It’s an orientation, not a preference! And just answer the damn question!”
Denham blinked, as if unaccustomed to discourtesy—which surprised Kris, since he was certain that the man must’ve been an unwelcome sight in most households. If people had wanted to get tested for possible mating with the numerous creatures of the formerly Unseen world, they’d already be in the system, and this personal approach would’ve been unnecessary. “Very well, Mr. Ellis. It is a man. This should be good news for you, considering your sexual orientation.”
It was a relief, Kris had to admit.
But in the end, it changed very little. The fact of the matter was he didn’t want to end up mated to some guy—a wolf, no less—he didn’t know, had never met, and would probably hate just for forcing him into this hopeless situation. Kris had plans for the future—and they didn’t include getting hitched to a wolf just because a few crummy blood tests confirmed they were physically bonded.
“If I could just suggest getting to know him first—” Mr. Denham started again, but Kris stopped him with a raised hand.
“Not interested. Try to get that through your thick skull.”
Slamming the door in Mr. Denham’s face had zero effect on his persistence, but Kris took mild pleasure in doing so anyway. At least it would take a day or so before he reemerged from beneath whatever rock he’d crawled under. Kris had googled enough to know that this man wasn’t a lycan himself—obviously, since he was bald—but that wasn’t surprising, since most of the organizations concerning the creatures of the formerly Unseen world tended to hire humans as their formal representatives. And apparently they didn’t have trouble finding people to do just that.
Yeah, even mythical monsters have their groupies, Kris pondered drily. Too bad for them—and one of them in particular—Kris wasn’t one of them.