JAMIE THREW back another shot and set the glass on the bar. It was days like this that made him wish to hell his metabolism wasn’t so damned fast. Thanks to his wolf, there wasn’t much he could do. His body processed alcohol almost as fast as he could drink it.
It didn’t help that he’d been feeling out of sorts the whole day. After his last final, he’d loaded the rest of his things from his dorm room into his car. All through it, he’d felt just… off. He couldn’t wait until he got back out to pack lands and Tanner and Finley’s house. They both insisted he take one of the spare rooms when he wasn’t on campus.
He hadn’t wanted to at first. He wasn’t sure he wanted to sit around and watch Tanner and Finley be loving and physical. It wasn’t so much that he still had feelings for Finley. He didn’t, thank the gods. It was more of a different sort of jealousy. Now that he’d seen what it was to have a mate, he wanted one of his own—badly.
Tanner and Finley had tried to set him up with their friend the pack doctor, Miles. While Jamie could admit Miles was most definitely hot, with his long red hair and lean physique, Miles wasn’t his destined mate. And they got along well enough, but he didn’t even feel the interest with Miles he had with Finley. Luckily for both of them, Miles felt the same. They’d been able to occasionally fuck and be good friends, but that’s as far as it had gone.
Thankfully, Tanner and Finley weren’t as bad as he’d expected. They kept most of their physical stuff to their bedroom, with the occasional touch and kiss in front of him. So going back there for holidays and breaks wasn’t as bad as he’d been afraid it would be.
And now he wanted nothing more than to get on the road and make the hour-and-a-half-in-traffic trip back. His wolf had been prodding him for a while, and he needed to shift and run, let him loose.
Jamie tried to think of the last time he’d shifted outside of the full moon. When he realized he wasn’t sure, it made sense that he was so antsy. He was rather surprised he hadn’t started chasing the mailman down the street or chewing on his roommate’s slippers. Their kind had an unfortunate tendency to display horribly doglike behaviors—in human form—when they didn’t shift often enough. The worst of the side effects included full-blown attention deficit issues. Considering he was at the tail end of his junior year in college and squeaking through finals, Jamie counted himself lucky he’d managed to keep from any of that.
The prodding was undoubtedly the reason he was feeling out of sorts. His wolf prowled just under the surface, and he wondered if he shouldn’t just tell his friends good-bye and head home.
“Come on, man! You’re being a lightweight tonight,” his roommate, Dwayne, said, shoving another shot at him. “You usually drink all of us under the table.”
“I gotta drive home, dude,” Jamie said. He wasn’t about to explain that it didn’t matter how many shots he had, he could sober up in no time and still drive.
“You can crash on my couch,” Troy offered.
Jamie turned to his other friend and shook his head. “Naw, it’s okay. I guess I can do a couple more.” He picked up another glass and lifted it to his lips, then stopped when he realized the fine hairs on the back of his hand weren’t quite so fine. He blinked, confused, since his vision was still normal.
Right then, the colors faded to grays. Jamie downed the shot quickly and closed his eyes, pretending to struggle to swallow the liquor, trying to fight his wolf back into its place.
Not yet. Just a little longer.
When he opened his eyes, the color was back, but his wolf was even closer to the surface. He glanced at his watch—a digital with the moon phases on it, just in case—but the full moon was still more than two days away. The date didn’t seem to matter, though. Jamie was losing the fight against his wolf, and he needed to get out of there—fast.
“Dude, you okay?” Troy asked, peering at him.
Dwayne was grinning from the other side. “I think he finally had one too many.”
Jamie jumped on the excuse. “Uh, yeah. Something with that last shot. Need some air. Sorry.” With that, he hurried out to the street and took a deep breath. Unfortunately, Forbes Avenue in the heart of Oakland—Pittsburgh’s college district—wasn’t the best place for fresh air. All he got for his trouble was two lungs full of exhaust and a burning nose. He knew better—he’d been fighting the stench of city for most of the last two years—and he cursed himself for doing it anyway.
Shaking his head at himself, he darted past the Dunkin’ Donuts and the door to The O, then around the corner, looking for a quick place to hide. His vision turned gray again, and he struggled to hold his wolf back at least until he could get hidden. He ducked into the alley just beyond the building and let out a breath.
Before he could think of how to handle this, his wolf broke through, and Jamie found himself forced through the shift. His gums itched as his teeth dropped, his claws extended, and fur erupted over his skin. His bones and muscles realigned, and seconds later, he landed on four paws.
He shook himself hard and gave himself just a moment to savor being in his fur again. But this was not the place for him to be in wolf form. He was too far away from Schenley Park, or any other park, for that matter. Never mind the fact that wolves didn’t wander around in city parks. They weren’t even truly native to this region, much less would they be found in a park completely surrounded by city.
He prodded his wolf, trying to nudge him back so he could take his human form again. However, his wolf refused to relinquish control. Jamie struggled, trying to internally reason with his wolf—if he could go back to human, he could get home to the forest and shift for a while. His wolf wouldn’t listen. He was getting truly worried now, when his human side couldn’t pull the lupine side back.
No matter what he did, he couldn’t seem to get control. Huffing, Jamie sat and considered his options, though there were very few. He could keep trying to shift, but he suspected that would be an exercise in futility. He could try to get to his car… except there was no way he could get the door open, even if he could get down the street and through the garage unseen.
He turned to his clothes and nosed through the pile of denim scraps that used to be his jeans. He managed to pull his phone out with his mouth, but the screen wouldn’t recognize the touch of his paw. Not that he knew what he’d do anyway. Call Finley, maybe. But that obviously wasn’t an option.
He looked toward the street but knew that was a bad idea, no matter how much he wanted to get away. Until he was human again, he didn’t dare risk venturing out of the alley. That left the other direction.
Jamie looked down at his clothes, then left them to explore the short distance to the back wall. He found milk crates, a huge trash compactor, the currently raised bottom of a fire escape, a couple of recycling bins, and not much else. A door that presumably led into the kitchen of The O sat in the wall to his right. At the end of the alley, it turned in an L-shape into a tiny parking lot Jamie hadn’t known was there.
It was dark enough no one should be able to see him, so he figured his best bet at this point was find a spot in the corner and wait. Hopefully, after some rest and time in his fur, his wolf would let go and he could get back into his human skin.
He nosed open one of the recycling bins first. It took a couple of trips, but he got his clothes, shoes, watch, phone, and wallet into the bin. Even if they ended up in a dump somewhere, he didn’t want them just lying out on the ground where someone could steal them. Once he was human again, he could fish them out, but until then at least they were out of sight.
He found a quiet spot under the fire escape and behind the door to settle in. With a sigh, he lay down and rested his head on his paws to wait.
HE HADN’T intended to fall asleep. When Jamie woke and it was light outside, he panicked. Especially when he realized he was still in his fur.
Why am I still in wolf form?
Turning inward, he nudged his wolf, but that side of him still wasn’t ready to let go. Jamie realized he was even closer to the full moon, and he might just be stuck like this until it was over. Shit. That could be three days, maybe more! He thought back to what his watch had said the night before. Two more days. That meant the full moon would have started affecting him the next night, anyway. Yeah, there was no way he was getting back to human form for at least four days now, since they usually ran for two days around the moon. Shit.
Huffing, Jamie considered what to do. Annoyingly, his bladder decided to make itself known right then, so he sniffed around until he found a place he liked and relieved himself. When he realized what he’d done—just how doglike he’d behaved—he rolled his eyes at himself and went back to where he’d slept.
Since he wasn’t going to be able to shift back, he tried to figure out what he was going to do next. He certainly couldn’t stay there, though, not for another three or four days. He’d need food, for one thing, and he wasn’t about to dig through The O’s garbage for scraps.
He crept to the end of the alley and peered out. It was apparently still early enough that some of Oakland was still asleep. Of course, since it was Saturday and summer, that wasn’t a huge surprise.
He looked up Bouquet Street toward Fifth Avenue, then down the other direction. He wasn’t too far from Schenley Park—maybe a mile, tops. If nothing else, he might be able to hunt squirrels and stay out of sight until he could shift back.
Except he’d have to cross Forbes Avenue, get past the law library, at least two more Pitt buildings, and dodge Phipps Conservatory before he could reasonably have any room to move. He huffed and sat again, torn. What the hell was he going to do?
As he tried to think it through, the very last vehicle he needed to see turned down Bouquet Street from Fifth. Jamie may not have been able to tell the gold from the white, but he could very clearly read “Animal Care & Control” on the side of the van. He eased back slowly, hoping not to draw attention to himself with quick movements.
He started to breathe a sigh of relief when the van passed the alley, but that was cut short when it slowed and pulled over. Shit. Shit, shit, shit.
Jamie was not about to let them capture him. He was all too aware of what the shelters liked to do. The first thing they’d do to him would be to stick him with a bunch of needles—which he was not a fan of. The second thing would be to cut off his balls, and Jamie liked them exactly where they were, thank you very much.
He looked back up the street, then down toward the van, which now had an open door. Turning toward the alley, he knew there wasn’t anywhere back there to hide. Could he get through the parking lot? Then where to?
He looked back, but the animal control officer was now out of the van and headed toward him with a long pole with a loop on one end. Jamie had never seen those in person, but he knew what they were for. He turned around and darted down the alley and into the tiny parking lot, then peeked back to wait for the officer to follow. When the man was in the alley, Jamie ran to the other end of the parking lot and down Euler Way back toward Bouquet Street.
At this point he had to make a run for the park. It was his only hope for losing the animal control officer. He got back to the street and looked down the alley to see the man turning into the parking lot. Jamie didn’t wait any longer and ran for the corner.
Of course, the light was red, and there was way too much traffic on Forbes Avenue to cross against it, even at this hour of the day. He turned to look up the street, and the officer was just coming back out of the alley.
Jamie struggled to hold on to his fear. He had to get out of there. He could not get caught. He looked down Forbes, watching for traffic to clear, when the most amazing smell hit his nose. Grass, leather, and something just clean.
He turned toward it to see a man step out of the Dunkin’ Donuts two doors down. Jamie couldn’t get a real gauge of height or anything from his level, but the man had dark hair and eyes, and wore jeans and a plain dark T-shirt. He looked at Jamie and met his gaze. Jamie felt something tug him toward the man, something linking them. When it sank in what he was seeing, feeling, and smelling, he was absolutely floored.
This man was his mate.
Jamie blinked at the man briefly. He sniffed again, but his senses weren’t lying. It was most definitely his mate, and his mate was human! He’d never heard of a human destined mate before, though he supposed it was possible.
Now was exactly not the time to meet this man or figure it out. Jamie again cursed being stuck in wolf form. He looked between his mate and the animal control officer and made a decision. He hoped to all the gods he could think of that the fates gave him a mate who was a quick thinker.
He ran up to the man, plopped his butt down, and barked.
His mate stopped and looked down at him, blinking. “Uh, hello.”
Jamie barked again, then looked over his shoulder at the animal control officer who’d turned the corner. He looked back at his mate and whined.
“Hey! Hey! Get back here!” the officer called, waving his pole.
Jamie darted around his mate, peeking around the man’s legs, and whimpered again.
His mate looked down at him, then up at the officer, who’d finally caught up to them.
“Is that your dog, sir?”
His mate peered at him briefly, and Jamie gave his most pathetic, puppyish look. His mate smirked, but looked up at the officer. “Yes, he is. Is there a problem?”
“Well, for one thing, he’s not wearing a collar or tags and isn’t leashed. And he was running around in the alley back there,” he said, pointing over his shoulder with a thumb.
His mate looked down at him and shook his head. “I thought I told you to stay by the door outside the shop?”
Jamie let his ears and tail droop. He whined quietly in pretend apology.
“And where did your collar go? Did you take it off again?”
He was going to owe this man big time. He whined another apology.
His mate shook his head and looked up. “I’m sorry, Officer.”
The officer had a book out and was already writing something. “I’ll leave you with a warning and tag fine, but make sure you get him leashed right away. Name?”
Jamie’s mate sent a look at him that made Jamie feel really bad. He was costing his mate money. He dropped his head. “Chad Sutton,” he said.
My mate’s name! Despite feeling bad for what he was putting Chad through, he thrilled in the knowledge.
The officer looked up, then back to his book. “Address?”
Chad sighed and sent a glare down at Jamie. “Forty forty-one Bigelow Boulevard, 15213.”
The officer scribbled a couple more things, then ripped the ticket off his book and held it out. Chad took it, looked down at it, then folded it and stuffed it into his pocket. “Uh, I’ll need to go get another collar and leash for him, since he seems to have lost his. Again.”
The officer nodded. “If you run into any more officers, show them the ticket. But that’s only good for today,” he warned.
“Thanks,” Chad said, and they watched the officer walk away. When he’d crossed Bouquet Street, Chad looked down at Jamie. “Now, what the hell am I supposed to do with you?”
Jamie had no clue. He considered just running away. If his mate was here today, there was a good chance he could come back when he was human and find Chad again. Especially since he now knew his mate’s name, where he lived, and what he smelled like. He looked across Forbes, toward the law library and beyond it to the street leading to the park.
“Oh no. You’re not sticking me with a ticket, then taking off.” He sighed and shook his head. “And if you’re a regular domestic dog, my name is mud.”
Jamie tilted his head at that. His mate knew he wasn’t a dog? He knew his blond fur made him atypical when it came to wolves, and he thought it would help him pass for a malamute or something. Was it his eyes? They were darker, more black than most dogs. Even so, those were minor things.
“Where do you belong?” Chad asked, as if Jamie could actually answer. “Not around here, do you?”
Jamie sighed and hung his head. He had no idea what to do. He most certainly did not want to cause Chad problems—more problems, especially since Chad was his mate—but he couldn’t exactly go home.
“Well, we can’t stand here all day. For now, you come with me. I’ll have to get a cab, since my car isn’t here, and they won’t let you on the bus.” He shook his head again and pulled out a phone.
Jamie sat as Chad dialed, wondering if maybe he could somehow get in touch with Finley through this man. If so, maybe he could get some help. He didn’t know how, but at this point, his mate was still his best bet.
“Come on. We’ll go sit on the wall while we wait,” Chad said, looking up Forbes. When the light changed, he stepped out between two cars, and Jamie followed him across the street.
He wondered at the fact that Chad seemed to assume Jamie understood enough to simply follow. Maybe he’d shown too much intelligence? He didn’t know how to repress that, though, so he didn’t try.
Chad took a seat on the low wall in front of the Pitt law library and looked down at him.
Jamie tried to look cute, wagging his tail. He rested his head on Chad’s knee and looked up with his best puppy eyes.
“There’s no need to try to look cute now. I got you out of animal control, and I’m not about to call them back—unless you turn into a hellhound or something, which I doubt. I noticed you haven’t been neutered yet, so maybe you don’t have an owner.”
Jamie couldn’t keep himself from whining pitifully.
“Yeah, right. I don’t blame you. I wouldn’t want my balls cut off either. Do you belong to anyone?”
How could Jamie answer that? Not that Chad really expected an answer. And in truth, there was only one answer he could give. If he belonged to anyone, it was to the man in front of him.
Chad didn’t say anything more, simply sipped the cup of coffee he’d brought from the donut shop. Jamie hadn’t noticed it in the mess with animal control. It smelled good, and Jamie was reminded he hadn’t had a sip of it yet—and after working for Starbucks back in Oregon, he’d gotten used to drinking coffee pretty much every day.
When Chad started petting him, Jamie was afraid he’d end up with a wolfy hard-on. It felt really good, especially when Chad scratched him behind the ear. To his complete mortification, his back leg started thumping.
What the fuck? Get a grip! You’re a wolf, not a dog!
Chad chuckled and went back to petting him. “Your fur is so soft. What are you? At least part wolf, or my observation skills are for shit.”
Jamie didn’t make any noise either way. He didn’t have a clue how he was going to eventually tell Chad what he was. Did Chad know shifters existed? His scent didn’t give anything away, and Jamie found himself frustrated by the enigma. But he seemed to accept awfully easily that Jamie was at least part wolf.
A few moments later, the cab pulled up to the curb and Chad crossed over to it. Jamie heard the driver as soon as the door was open. “I’m not taking a dog that big.”
Chad looked down at Jamie. “You’re not going to tear anything up, are you?”
“I’m not worried about that,” the cabbie grumbled before Jamie could do anything. “He’ll shit or piss on my seat.”
Chad raised an eyebrow, still looking at Jamie. “You won’t, will you?”
Jamie shook his head, letting Chad interpret that however he would.
“See?” Chad said to the driver.
The driver rolled his eyes. “Nice trick. If he pees on the seat, you’re paying for it.”
“He won’t,” Chad said with a confidence Jamie wondered about as he slid into the cab. Jamie jumped up next to him and rested his head on Chad’s leg after Chad closed the door. Chad’s hand landed on Jamie’s neck.
Chad looked down at Jamie and smirked. “Uh… I need a pet store. What about the PetSmart in ’Sliberty?”
The driver shrugged. “All right.” He put the car in gear and pulled out onto Forbes Avenue.
“So help me, if you pee on this seat,” Chad muttered to him, “I’ll let them cut your balls off.”
Jamie whined and put his paws over his face.