The Pack or the Panther

 

 

PROLOGUE

 

 

THE MALE’S fat cock stretched out in his suit pants. Yes, good. That dancer did it for him every time. Sipping his scotch, he ignored the panting, screaming, lusting crowd, both male and female, around him, and focused on the boy—the creature—on the stage. He danced like something otherworldly. Like he was an angel and the rest of the room was packed with mere animals. Of course, the boy was the sexiest angel alive—all silk and sinew. And some of the rest were literally animals—like him.

He wet his lips and waggled his fingers at the pretty blonde waitress.

“Yes, sir.” She looked scared. Good. Nothing made him hotter than fear. Except that boy.

He opened his palm and extended the five hundred-dollar bills to her. He nodded toward the stage. “For Anthony Moreau.”

Her eyes widened. “Sir, he doesn’t come to the table, uh, or….” Her face flushed a pretty pink. Like a well-beaten ass.

He smiled. “I know all about him. Just see he gets this and knows it’s from me.”

“Yes, sir.”

He’d lied, of course. He barely knew anything about the boy, despite a lot of well-placed investigative money. Not where he lived. Not who he really was. “And when you’ve delivered it, why don’t you come back here and have a drink with me?”

What fun watching panic flit across her face. She couldn’t say no. He was too powerful. Too rich. He smiled. Too dangerous.

She gazed out of wide blue eyes. “I’d love to, sir.” But she swallowed hard.

“Good.” He flicked his fingers in dismissal and she left, carrying the money. But she’d come back. Oh yes, and shortly after that he’d be holding her bound arms as he shoved his fat, throbbing cock into her ass and listened to her scream—and thought about the dancer.

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

 

“I’M DOING what?” Cole Harker stared at his father. The man had lost his frigging werewolf mind.

Landon Harker leaned forward in his easy chair. Shit. Cole wanted to turn the huge recliner over on his head.

His father pointed a finger at him. “You’re twenty-four and you haven’t found a mate. This treaty protects all of us. The Marketo wolves don’t just border our lands; they share business interests, as you damned well know. We’re a small and independent pack, which makes us fortunate but also vulnerable. And Eliazer is ruthless. I don’t have to tell you what he can do to us. You’re alphanta. I’m asking you to do this for me and for the pack.”

Cole shook his head. Words. He needed words. He never could find them when he needed them most. His wolf wanted to take over and rip up the drapes. He gritted his teeth. “I can’t marry Analiese Marketo.”

Landon lunged forward so his booted feet hit the floor. “Why the hell not?”

Take a deep breath and try not to bash your own father’s head. “You. Know. Why.”

His father waved a hand. “It’s not a problem.”

Cole clenched his fists. He could feel his eyes bulging. “It’s not a problem that I’m gay?”

“Give it a break, son. There’s no such thing as a gay werewolf.”

His mouth fell open. “Bullshit! You know that’s not true. It’s just a myth werewolves want to believe. It’s time we grew up.”

Landon shrugged. “Why do you think you’re gay?”

Cole walked a step toward his father. “I like men. I want to stick my cock in men’s asses. How much gayer do I need to be to convince you?”

“You’ve had plenty of girlfriends.”

God! “I was trying to be who you and the pack wanted. I didn’t like it.”

His father stood to his full six foot three, but he was still two inches shorter than Cole. Landon stared up. “Well, the females certainly did. I heard all kinds of great shit about what a terrific lover you are.”

Cole sighed. “Hell, compared to most of those idiot males, all I had to be was nice to be Casanova in the females’ eyes. Those guys have cock for brains. They don’t care where they stick it.”

Landon chuckled. “Yep. I remember those days before I met your mother.”

Cole fell into the chair on the other side of his father’s study. “Your reminiscences are charming, but this is my life you’re messing with.”

His father’s face sobered, and he took the chair opposite Cole. “Yes, it is your life. I want you to be alpha after me, Cole. You’re smart, strong, honest, and not afraid of much. And you have skills like no other werewolf in either pack. You’re alphanta. The next generation leader. The pack needs that. But the gay thing is an issue. If I could just name you my successor I would, but alphas are chosen, not born. Our wolves are not likely to choose a gay alpha. But this treaty and your marriage to the Marketo girl will seal the deal. You’ll be the linchpin in the fortunes of the whole northwest pack alliance.”

“It’s a stupid fraud.” He threw the pillow from the chair at the floor.

“No, it’s not. Since you and that female aren’t mates, you have to marry in the courts. Make it legal. Then we do the blood ceremony. After that, you can both have dalliances of your own. No one will care. The alliance is what counts. It will save us all from Eliazer. Besides, it’s a great match of packs. We’re comparable in strength and values. Think of this like the marriages of European royalty back in the day. Nobody married for love. It was all for politics. And nobody does politics like a werewolf.”

A growl rumbled past Cole’s lips. “I don’t do politics.”

“Learn.”

Cole’s jaw hurt from gritting his teeth. “You married for love.”

Landon smiled. “Yes, my mate came early and there was no denying it. I might have wished for a few more years of wild oats, but that’s not what the powers had in store for me.”

His throat felt tight. “What if I want to feel the same way?”

His father looked at him directly. His expression was hard but the deep-blue eyes were soft. “It’s better this way. If you were to mate a man, a lot of the pack would never accept it. You’d never be alpha.”

Cole stared down at his hands. “Maybe that would be better.”

“You don’t mean that.”

Probably not. He sighed. He could feel the ground slipping out from under his feet. “I’m no great leader. Hell, I can’t even talk in groups.”

“You lead when it counts, Cole. The pack needs you, the alliance needs you, and you know you need the pack. It’s a part of you.”

Trapped. What a crappy situation. He wanted the alliance as much as his father did, and his father knew it. That was the problem. Uniting the packs in marriage was a dream come true. With marriage he’d be a part of the Marketo pack, almost as much as if he’d been born in it. And the alliance would make Pack Harker strong enough to fend off the threat. But shit! He had to spend his life with a female to make it happen.

He got up, and his father stood beside him and put a hand on his shoulder. “The betrothal party is tomorrow night.”

He shook off the hand. “Don’t I even get time to think about it?”

“We can’t wait on this. Merced Marketo said yes, and I want blood and ink on the page before the full moon. He’s canny, but he can be mercurial. Who knows how the girl feels, and she has him wound around her paw. We need this done. Eliazer Pack gets stronger every day. Do you want to give up a third of your territory to those crooks? Or more? Do you want gangsters for neighbors?”

Shit. “No, sir.”

“Make your peace.”

He clenched his fists. “But if the girl doesn’t want me either?”

Landon waved a hand. “It’s done.” Cole was dismissed.

 

 

SHIT! HIS skin burned and tingles of acid pain flicked over his body. Ow. Ow. Never shift when pissed. Cardinal rule of wolfiness.

Cole picked himself up off the grass and stumbled toward the hedge where he’d left his clothes an hour earlier. If someone caught him out here stark naked, he’d have some serious explaining to do.

He didn’t want to tell his father he’d been shifting near home. Most wolves could only shift at the full moon. They all piled into semis and headed for the backwoods of New Hampshire for the pack runs. Around here they were just humans with high body heat.

He kicked the dirt. Sometimes he couldn’t stand being a human, and, since his pure alpha blood let him shift whenever he chose, he could sink into his animal brain and run. Like when he considered spending his fucking life with a female partner. Of course, he’d never really gotten a chance to be gay. Just some back-alley hookups with random humans. No male werewolf admitted to liking guys if he could help it. At least Cole had declared his orientation out loud, even if his pack pretended he hadn’t. Him and Lindsey. The oddballs.

He grabbed his jeans and pulled them on commando. Niceties like underwear often went missing in the wardrobe of a werewolf. He pulled the long-sleeved T-shirt over his head, then sat on the ground to lace up his sneakers.

What would become of him? He hated werewolf politics. Yes, he was a lawyer like his father and knew every angle of the rights and laws governing their holdings and businesses. But all the political screwing around made him nauseous.

He got up and walked across the grass toward the club. Maybe Lindsey would be there. At least he’d understand how Cole felt.

He pushed open the door to the Way Station, the “unofficial” werewolf club. Noise—voices, music, billiard balls clacking. He looked around at the crowd. There were a few humans. They had no idea they were sitting next to supernaturals at the big bar. A werewolf owned the Way Station, and the wolves felt comfortable being together.

Pack was pack.

Lindsey stood up at a table halfway across the room and waved. His best friend. By inheritance, Lindsey was a very rich man. The thought made Cole smile. Not many people knew that the leading families of New England harbored a few secret wolves.

Cole waved back and started scooting through the tables, but this was the hard part. The part he hated. The crowd.

A hand grasped his shoulder. “Hey, Cole.”

Cole nodded at the big male. “Hi, John.”

A couple more people hailed him, and one slapped his butt.

He smiled and nodded as he walked by groups from the pack, but he could feel himself blushing. He got jumpy in front of too many people. That’s why he didn’t litigate. He just sat with his books and papers in an office and made shit happen.

A human looked up at him. The man’s eyes widened and he looked away real fast. Crap. Talk about wanting to fade into the woodwork. He’d spent his whole life being stared at because he didn’t track as human. Even in this group of big wolf males, he stood out. Not that he was huge at six feet five and two hundred twenty-five pounds. Sure, he was one of the bigger males, but mostly it was his hair and eyes that made him weird.

Officially his hair was light brown, but shine a little light on it and the color became wolfy silver, thick and shiny around his face. He wore it long because cutting it was a pain; it grew so fast. And then there were his eyes. He had to wear glasses when he was out at night so his eyes didn’t shine in the headlights. Indoors, they just looked strange. Intense, people called it. Strangers glanced at him and looked scared. No wonder he was so tongue-tied. Being a freak did that to you.

He finally got through the crush and pulled out a chair beside Lindsey.

Linds looked up and smiled. That handsome, refined, almost-human face, so different from Cole’s, crinkled in affection.

Cole nodded at the other two wolves sitting at the table. Alf Cotswale and Jim Joyner. Good guys. Not gay like him and Linds, though. Alf and Jim kind of knew that Cole and Lindsey liked guys, but they didn’t talk about it.

“I need a drink.” Cole sat heavily.

Lindsey waved the waitress over. She was pack, so she came quickly. “What’ll you have, Cole?”

“Beer. Two would be good.”

“Right away.”

Linds put a hand on his arm. “You don’t look good, darling. What’s up?”

Should he tell? Landon hadn’t said to keep it secret. “I’m getting married.”

Lindsey had a martini glass to his lips. The contents splashed across his hand as he sputtered. “What the fuck do you mean?”

Cole took a deep breath. Even saying it out loud gave it more reality than he wanted to deal with. “Landon promised I’d marry Marketo’s daughter as part of the pack alliance.”

Alf sat forward. “Cool. That’s fantastic. It’ll be amazing for the pack.”

Cole took a breath. That was the way most of the wolves would feel. It was true. The alliance would make them strong—virtually unassailable even by the Eliazers.

Lindsey slammed his glass on the table and surrendered more vodka to the wooden surface. “Shit! They can’t do this to you.”

At least Linds understood. “He already has. The betrothal party is tomorrow night.”

“Holy fucking crap.”

Jim leaned in. “Have you met her? Is she pretty?”

Linds gave him a look of pure disdain. “What difference does it make? She could be Angelina Jolie and Cole wouldn’t care.” He flipped some money on the table as the waitress served the beers.

Alf looked down at his drink, and Jim grabbed a swallow and stared off into the room. Their response to Lindsey might as well have been “la la la.” His father was so right. In their minds, there was no such thing as a gay werewolf. They’d seen Cole with females and that was enough for them. Lindsey tested their disbelief because he was pretty flamboyant, but the whole pack just considered him eccentric. After all, he wasn’t just rich; he was part human, a relative rarity. That was bound to make anybody a little weird.

Lindsey leaned in. “What can I do?”

Cole shook his head. “Nothing I can think of.”

He lowered his voice. “We could run off together. Remember how we said we’d end up together if we didn’t find our mates?” He grinned.

Cole ruffled Lindsey’s bright-blond hair. “You’re my friend. I’d never wreck your life like that. We may be different from the others, but we’re pack animals, buddy. Besides, you’ll find your mate. I know you will.” He chugged half of one of the beers.

“Unlikely.” Lindsey knocked back the rest of the martini. “It seems to me your having all that pure alpha blood ought to have some advantages. All I ever see you make are sacrifices.” He laid a hand on Cole’s arm and squeezed. “And I can’t even come to your charade party tomorrow. I have to travel for the family.” Lindsey handled marketing for a number of his family’s companies.

“Damn. I sure would like you there for moral support.”

“Sorry, darling. I hate the idea of seeing you led to the slaughter in the name of some wolfy mystique, but you know I’d be there for you if I could and—” His mouth fell open and he closed it slowly. “Holy fucking shit. Who, or maybe I should say what, is that?”

Cole turned toward the door as Alf and Jim looked up. Alf shrugged. “Those are Marketo wolves.”

Lindsey grinned. “That ain’t like no Marketo wolf I ever saw.”

Cole faced the entrance to the club. Three big males and—oh my God. Standing in the middle of the protective circle was a creature, a male. A wolf? Like Lindsey said, not like any he’d seen. This male was maybe six feet tall—the height of a short wolf. But wolves were muscular. This creature was sinuous, lean, and graceful even standing still. He had long legs, narrow hips, and a slim chest, though his shoulders were wide. The black jeans and pale-green leather jacket he wore accentuated the long V of his body.

But most amazing was his face. “Exotic” barely described him. Fair skin set off black shining hair that fell below his shoulders, although the section around his face seemed shorter, like a frame. The hair caressed his high cheekbones, slim cheeks, and lips too large for his narrow jaw. And his eyes? Even from halfway across the room, Cole knew they were weird. Like his own but maybe more so.

What the hell was this guy? Cole wanted to smell him. Heat flashed up his spine in waves, and he shifted in his chair. Shit, he wanted to fuck him.

Lindsey laughed low. “I think you like that.”

“What is it?”

“No idea. But whatever it is, it must be precious the way those big Marketos are guarding it.”

One of the Marketo wolves speared Cole with his gaze, and Cole turned back to the table. “I wonder if this has something to do with the betrothal.”

Lindsey laughed. “What? You think the guy is a priest?”

Jim frowned. “You want me to try and find out something?”

Cole shook his head. “No. It doesn’t matter. The creature doesn’t look dangerous.” That was a lie. The guy might be very dangerous to Cole’s libido.

He drank the rest of his beers and tried to think about something else.

Lindsey leaned over. “I think I’m done for tonight. If you’re ready, I’ll walk you out. We could make a pass by the Marketo table.” He grinned, his dimples flashing.

“Okay. I’m game.” Cole glanced back to where the Marketo wolves sat with their unusual treasure. “But their table’s not exactly on the way to the front door.”

“Ah, I have a plan, my dear. We have to pee and, like true girlfriends, we have to go together. Coming out of the men’s room to the entrance will lead us right past the pretty creature.”

Cole grinned. “Excellent plan.”

Cole said good-bye to Alf and Jim and followed Lindsey to the men’s room. He did a quick stop at the urinal, washed, and waited for his friend to fish hand lotion from his pocket and use it. Cole held his nose. “The smell of that stuff may cover up their scents.”

“Not likely, darling. You can smell a tadpole at the bottom of a river.”

That was true. Another gift of his pure alpha werewolf genes.

“Of course, to my inferior nose, this stuff smells divine.” Linds waved the lotion toward Cole, who jumped back against the sink. “My human DNA may make me a poor wolf, but it does have its pleasantries.” He grinned and put the lotion back in his pocket. “Though I would love to be able to shift anytime I wanted instead of waiting for the moon.”

“Yeah, well, it’s a mixed blessing.” Cole pushed away from the sink. “Let’s go see what this thing is.”

Lindsey led the way out of the men’s room. They threaded through the tables, and just as they got to the Marketos, Lindsey oh-so-casually stopped to greet a woman at an adjoining table. “Darling Clarisse, how are you doing? How’s the family?”

Cole stopped behind Lindsey, who was madly air kissing. Trying for long-suffering, he leaned against an empty table.

He breathed deeply. What?

Another deep breath. Holy shit. No. It couldn’t be.

Again. He sorted the strains of scent coming from the table. Powerful wolf smells. Those males must be top Marketo enforcers. But under that smell. Potent, acrid.

Wow.

“Well, kiss-kiss, darling. So good to see you.” Lindsey hugged the woman and headed toward the door.

Cole followed to the entrance. How could it be? He glanced over his shoulder and froze as eyes met his—golden eyes that gleamed like someone was holding a light on them. A yank on his arm pulled him away and into the cool night air.

Lindsey turned him around on the porch. “I thought I’d lost you for a minute there, darling. What, pray tell, did you learn?”

Cole leaned against the pillar in front of the club. “It’s hard to believe. I must be wrong.”

“What? Tell me.”

“He’s got wolf all right.”

“He sure doesn’t look it.”

“That’s because he’s not all wolf.”

“Oh, so what kind of human produces a creature that looks like that?”

Cole shook his head. “No human at all.”

“But you said he’s only part wolf.”

“Right.” Cole stared at Lindsey. “I think he’s at least half panther.”

Lindsey’s blue eyes widened. “Holy shit.”

“Yeah. And they say dogs and cats can’t live together.” He could joke, but this was one hell of a mystery.

Linds shook his head. “Seriously, I’ve always been told that shifters can mate but they don’t produce offspring.”

“Yep. That’s what I’ve been told too.”

“So how did this guy happen? I mean, if you’re right, and that nose is seldom wrong.”

“I don’t know. It’s pretty amazing to think about….” He sniffed the air. What the hell? Tingling in his spine usually meant danger. Was there danger here? He turned slowly and glanced across the street. If he hadn’t been an alphanta werewolf, he never would have seen the two men ducked down low in the nondescript gray car parked on the other side of the road from the club. He inhaled deeply. Humans.

Lindsey stepped closer. “What’s wrong?”

“Humans with guns.” He stared directly at the car. He wasn’t wearing his glasses, and he knew the streetlights might give his eyes an eerie glare. Good. Scare those assholes.

“Shall I go in and get the Marketo enforcers?”

“No. Not yet.”

The car engine started and the gray coupe moved slowly down the road. A hundred yards away, the headlights finally came on.

Lindsey sounded a little breathless. He didn’t fight a lot in the rarified air of Connecticut society. “What do you suppose that was about?”

“No idea. But I don’t like the weapons.”

“Maybe they’re just crazy human gun fanatics.”

Cole stared down the road. “Maybe.”

Maybe not.

 

 

Wolf in Gucci Loafers

 

 

Prologue

 

 

THE MAN pressed his body against the brick and licked his lips as the click of high heels on the sidewalk got closer. Oh yeah, man. Pretty one. Fun. Show the bitch she’s not all that. He peeked out. The blonde stared at her cell phone as she got closer to the alley where he hid. A quick glance. An old woman farther down the sidewalk, two men coming out of a bar across the street, arm in arm. Fucking fags. He should take them out when he finished with the bitch. He clutched the knife in his left hand.

Closer. Closer. She stepped past the building into the opening to the alley. He lunged out with his right arm, grabbed her around the head and across the mouth, and pulled her off her stupid high heels. Her forward momentum drove him back a couple of feet but he didn’t lose balance. He slammed her body against the brick and pressed the tip of the knife against her throat. Her eyes widened above his hand. Yeah, be scared, bitch. “Keep your mouth closed or I’ll cut you good.”

He slowly took his right hand away from her mouth. “Quiet, you got it?” He pressed the knife tip harder.

She nodded frantically.

He reached down and fumbled with her short skirt. “You want it, right, bitch? Walking around asking for it.”

She started to whimper real quietly. Yeah, my favorite sound.

He grabbed some kind of lacy thing and ripped—

Shit! He flew off his feet when an arm like steel closed around his throat. A knife pressed into his neck. A voice, all quivery like some kind of fucking senior citizen, whispered in his ear, “So you like to play with knives, sonny?”

The knifepoint pressed and he felt blood dripping down his neck. “Damn. Stop, stop!”

The stupid bitch blonde just stood against the wall shaking her hands like helicopters. “Oh my God, oh my God.”

The weird voice behind him said, “Don’t be afraid anymore. Call the police and tell them what happened. Tell them they can find the man who attacked you in this alley. Can you do that, dearie?”

The stupid bitch just stared. Had to get this asshole off him. He tried to move, and the knife pressed so close to his windpipe, one half inch and he was gone. Shit!

“You must say you’ll testify against him. We have to get him off the streets. Do you understand, dearie?”

The bimbo nodded.

“Call them right now. Tell them the alley is between Federal and Grand. Tell them he’ll be here.”

The dumb bitch waved her hands like big drama. “Wh-where should I go?”

“Do you know where the police station is? Two blocks from here?”

Damn. Scare this bitch. “I’ll see you die if you—” He spun so fast his neck snapped hard. Holy shit. The old woman staring at him must be eighty. Gray hair, wrinkles, but really tall. “Who the—” A noise came out of her throat like some animal. An animal about to eat him! His heart beat so hard he knew he’d die. “What the fuck are you?”

She smiled and bared yellow teeth. “Your undoing, sonny.”

He hardly saw the fist before everything went black.

 

 

Chapter One

 

 

LINDSEY STALKED his attacker, his nostrils flaring at the smell of fear. Thrust to the arm with the epée, high outside parry by his attacker, riposte. He leaped back, parry, and thrust. Lunge and thrust, feint, lunge again, parry, thrust. On the run! Attack, attack!

“Lindsey! Lindsey! Okay, stop, I give. You win. The student has bested the teacher.” From his position flat against the wall, Rolf laughed and held up his hands.

Lindsey took a deep breath and shook his head to clear the buzz that pulsed through him whenever he faced violence—or sex. Great heavens, this was not the way to keep one’s fencing teacher happy. “God, darling, I’m so sorry.” He pulled off his mask. “I do get carried away, don’t I?”

Big, blond, athletic Rolf pushed himself away from the wall, dropped his epée in the rack, grabbed a bottled water from the case, and flopped on one of the Nelson benches that lined the side of the home gym. He twisted the cap and drank, wiping sweat from his forehead with his other hand. “I swear you crack me up. I don’t know a more mild-mannered human than you. You’re a world-class fencer, I’ll give you that, but where does that vicious streak come in? Sometimes I’m not sure I’m safe.” He laughed again, but it sounded a little strained.

Lindsey fanned himself with his lavender neck scarf. Rolf might sweat, but Lindsey only glowed. “It must be all my suppressed hostility at lack of gay civil rights, darling.” He didn’t mention predatory instincts that went with his genes.

Rolf leaned against the wall. “I’m sure that’s a serious problem for the son of the fourth wealthiest family on the eastern seaboard. Has someone refused your polo ponies access to the community feed trough?” He smirked.

Lindsey narrowed his eyes, and Rolf had the good sense to pale. Lindsey cocked his head. “You wouldn’t know.”

Rolf sat up straight. “Sorry. My mouth ran away with me. I don’t know, and I apologize. I’m sure being gay is tough no matter what your circumstances.”

Lindsey took a breath and fluttered the scarf. Off the hook this time. “Ta, darling. Think nothing of it.”

“Besides, you’ve got nothing on our grandma vigilante. Have you heard about her?” He sipped his water.

Lindsey glanced at his manicured nails. “Something, I think.”

“It’s all over the news. Some woman walks into the police station and says they’ll find this asshole rapist in this alley and some grandma saved her. The cops go where she says, and here’s this guy they’ve been trying to nail for months, trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey. The woman who I guess he planned to rape says the person who caught this guy was an old lady. Go figure.”

Lindsey fluttered the scarf. “What is the world coming to when a self-respecting villain can’t ply his trade without interference from senior citizens?”

Rolf stared at him for a second, realized he must be joking, and started to laugh, then sobered. “Seriously, between grandma the rapist catcher and the kidnapping, this town feels pretty comic-book weird lately.”

“Lindsey.” His mother’s voice came from behind him.

He turned. “Hello, Mother. You arrived just in time to save Rolf’s life.” He crossed to the door of the huge indoor gym and kissed her pretty, pink cheek.

“Are you torturing Rolf again?”

Rolf stood and tossed the empty water bottle. “Yes, ma’am, he is. But I’m going to tuck my tail between my legs and leave.”

Interesting analogy.

His mother peered around Lindsey at the fencing teacher. “Don’t let me run you off, Rolf. I just need Lindsey to start dressing. He has a hot date.”

Lindsey rolled his eyes. “We’ll see how hot it is, but I do have a date.” He glanced at the Patek Philippe on his wrist. “Really, Mother, even I don’t need three hours to dress for an engagement.”

She looked him up and down. “Since when?”

Rolf laughed. “I’ll see myself out. Have a great date, Lindsey.”

“Thank you, darling. Sorry about the assault.”

Rolf kept laughing and walked out the gym door, which had a pathway that led to the circular drive and the parking lot. The separate entrance, one of three, kept sweaty people out of his mother’s entry hall. It also gave Lindsey an exit on those occasions when he preferred to keep his activities private—aka often.

He racked the epée and came back to his mother. “Okay, love; tell me all about this perfect match you’ve set up for me.” They walked down the hall with its long, Turkish runners.

“You know the Westerbergs, darling. Bruce has come home with his Harvard MBA to take his rightful place in the family business.”

“So how old does that make him?”

“Twenty-three, I think. Just a little younger than you. He graduated at the normal time, not with your superhuman impatience.”

He’d just wanted out of school. One more full moon might have killed him. They got to his suite of rooms, and she stopped. “I so want to see you settled and happy.”

“I know.”

“I know Ga-Ga and Pop-Pop would love it if you were married before they die.”

He crossed his arms. “Okay, reduce the drama, dear. Pop-Pop will be shagging corporate takeovers when I’m old and gray, and Ga-Ga will still head the best-dressed list.”

“Life is uncertain. Look at your father.”

He gazed at her steadily. “Which father do you mean exactly?”

“Lindsey!” She stared at her very chic shoes. “You know full well I mean your father father. The person whose name you bear.”

He kissed her forehead. “Very well. I guess uncertainty is appropriate in either case.”

She crossed her arms tightly. “And with all these horrible kidnappings, I like to know you’re in safe places with nice people.”

“Actually, one of the victims was at home, so I’m not sure the locations are that important.”

Her eyes got huge. “Dear God, who would do such a thing? And the finest families.”

Who indeed, but he didn’t want to scare her. “Point taken. I’ll stay very safe, and I’ll give Bruce Westerberg every chance to sweep me off my feet and solidify my uncertain future.”

That prompted a smile. “You rascal.”

“Always. Now let me get to my bubble bath.”

He watched her walk away in her linen skirt, voile sweater, and second-best pearls. Hard to believe that genteel woman ever threw caution to the winds and drowned herself in one wild night of passion. The night that had produced him. No one knew he was a bastard except him and his mother. He’d been forced to ask her about his father because he was desperate, though he’d never told her why. Finally she’d confessed and saved his sanity. Maybe his life.

He sighed, went into his sitting room, and closed the door behind him. The soft greens and mauve accents always soothed him. He padded across the velvety Chinese rug with its huge abstract flower of pink and green against a background of dove gray.

Inside the enormous closet, he dumped his fencing costume.

Whoops. A couple of curls of his gray wig stuck out from the clothing storage bag at the back of his closet. Damn, he needed to be more careful. The maids weren’t looking for clues, but they weren’t blind either. Now that Granny was famous, he needed to increase his security. He unzipped the bag, pushed in the wig, pulled the old suits to the front to cover the other clothing, and zipped it back up. Better.

Naked, he walked through the side door that led to his bathroom, where the jetted tub dominated the room. Yes, it was so gauche, but it felt so good, especially when his cock needed some serious attention. Like when he didn’t have a boyfriend. As usual.

He started the water and dropped in two bath bombs that smelled like jasmine. With a quick turn, he stared in the mirror. His perpetually slender body reflected back at him. No matter how strong he got, it never seemed to show. Oh yes, his muscles popped out here and there. A lovely twelve-pack, if he did say so himself. But so odd that he wasn’t bulkier. Oh well, he worked with what he had.

With a twist of the leather tie, he unbound his hair and fluffed it out like a golden curtain that reached almost to his shoulders. Damned good thing he’d showed up blond. His so-called father had been blond, which added to everyone’s belief that Lindsey was really the scion of the Vanessen clan.

He’d believed it too, until that terrible, amazing day when everything changed. Adolescents coped with lots of crap. Brain expansion, hormone overload, growth spurts. But waking up covered in fur wasn’t a subject in his prep school health class.

Sighing, he dropped his hairbrush in the drawer.

He would have run screaming to his mother—if he’d been able to scream. By the time he changed back, some piece of his brain had figured out that this new quirk in his development would not go over well at the country club. So he had hidden it. Still did.

Moving over to the tub, he settled his long body in the hot water. Oh yes.

God, he hated lying to his mother. About so many things. She desperately wanted him to settle down and be happy, but it wasn’t going to happen with Bruce Westerberg or anyone else.

He laid his head back and draped a forearm across his eyes. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t picture the scene. Him gazing into the eyes of a man he loved and saying, “Honey, I’m a werewolf.”

The phone rang. Nobody had this number except friends. He glanced and smiled. Speaking of werewolves. “Hello, darling.”

Cole Harker’s soft, slightly hesitant voice barely went with the huge, superwolf that he was. “Hey, buddy. What’s up?”

“I’m reclining in a bubble bath.”

“How decadent. Are you coming to the Way Station when you get out of hot water?”

“I’m never out of hot water, darling. No, actually I have a date.”

“That sounds promising. Anyone I know?”

“A blind date with the son of family friends brokered by my mother.”

“A human?” A slight edge in his voice.

Lindsey sighed. “Yes, of course, darling. What werewolf would date me?”

“Hey, don’t give up hope. I got married.”

“There’s only one Paris.”

Cole laughed. “Is that a nice way of saying there’s only one weirdo gay half-panther exotic dancer around for a werewolf to marry?”

“Of course not. I mean there’s only one incredibly sexy, totally supportive shifter available who happens to be gay.” He chuckled. “And all that other stuff too.”

“Go easy on the human, buddy. Don’t have any dates on the full moon.” He laughed, but it was no joke.

“I’m careful, Cole.”

“I know you are. Hell, you spend more time around humans than any of us. You’re a credit to the pack in every way.”

Lindsey popped some bubbles. “Yes, but no one wants their son to marry me.”

“God, I’m sorry Lindsey. They’re changing. At least they don’t believe there’s no such thing as a gay werewolf anymore.”

“They make an exception for you and Paris. They just think I’m human, so I don’t count.” He stared down at his too-slim-for-a-werewolf body.

“They love you.”

He blew out his breath. “Like their maiden aunt. But it doesn’t get my cock sucked, so I need to get out of this water and get dressed.”

“Let me know how it goes.”

That meant Reassure me that you didn’t go biting the humans, that you didn’t violate the pack law that says no human can know about the existence of the wolves. “Sure.”

“Hey, it’s going to be fun, dammit.”

Lindsey laughed. “Right. Talk soon, darling.” He clicked off and returned the phone to the side table.

He stood, stepped out of the tub, and grabbed a towel from the heated rack.

He loved Cole like his own brother, but he didn’t tell him everything.

Thanks to their recent war against Eliazer and his thugs, Cole had discovered Lindsey had a few more dangerous talents than he’d suspected. Mostly, that he was good with a gun. But one important bit of data remained missing from Cole’s bio on Lindsey. Despite the fact that he was a pretty crappy werewolf, thanks to his human blood, Lindsey had this violent streak. It only came out when he was threatened or very excited sexually. If a guy really turned him on, it was bye-bye Mr. Nice Guy.

He shivered and wrapped the towel tighter. He could kill somebody. Plus, if the pack found out he threatened their anonymity with his wolfy hard-ons, who knew what they’d do to him?

He opened the drawer and ran the brush through his hair. Pretty enough.

This Westerberg would be just one more tepid human. Or at least, he better be.

 

 

LINDSEY SAT back in the lounge chair and sipped his martini. Nice. But not too nice.

He smiled at the handsome guy across from him at the cramped cocktail table. Tall, dressed in a blue blazer and tan trousers, with sleek dark hair and chiseled features, Bruce Westerberg qualified as “straight gay.” No one would get a clue—except maybe for the cosmopolitan he was drinking.

Bruce took a swallow of the pink drink. “Shall we get some dinner?”

“Ah, so I’ve passed the invisible blind date test.” Lindsey twirled his olive.

That got a grin. “Why wouldn’t you? You’re gorgeous.”

“Thank you, kind sir. You’re not so bad yourself.” He leveled his gaze. “I just thought you might find me a little too”—he smoothed his lavender ascot—“too.”

Bruce glanced down and then back to Lindsey’s face. “Actually, I like that you are who you are. Besides, I’ve heard you’re a killer in business, so I expect you have hidden depths.”

Interesting observation and right answer. “Killer, huh? Just be glad you’re not a rabbit.” He laughed and waved at the waiter. The man hurried over. “Mr. Westerberg and I will be having dinner. Can you put this on our bill, please, John?”

“Of course, Mr. Vanessen.”

Lindsey got up with Bruce beside him and left some bills on the table for the cocktail waiter. The country club was a comfortable venue for a first date, but he would have liked a gay bar better. Two men couldn’t dance here, or do much of anything else, for that matter, and Bruce seemed like a safe choice for “something else.”

He threaded between the tables, waving and shaking hands with people he knew. A couple of times he introduced Bruce.

James Lownstein, a former captain of industry, now retired, put a hand on his arm. “Lindsey, have you heard that Elmer Dalton’s son was kidnapped?”

Lindsey covered James’s hand with his own. “Yes, I know. It’s shocking. I’m so sorry to hear it. What do the police say?”

“I’ve only heard bits, but they think the kidnappers will bring the boy back if the Daltons pay. That’s what happened to the last victim. He got dropped off after the money was collected. It just makes me so damned mad. These criminals are victimizing all of us.”

“I agree, James. I do hope the police catch them soon.” He pressed a hand to his chest. Someone should sure as hell catch them.

He walked out of the cocktail lounge with Bruce and into the dining room.

“Good evening, Mr. Vanessen.” Peter, the very proper maître d’, stepped forward.

“Hello, Peter. Table for two, please.”

“This way, gentlemen.” He led them to a table in the corner next to the window. A candle flickered in the center of the white tablecloth, but otherwise the lighting was subdued. Outside, moonlight shone through the dense pines.

“Peter, you’re a romantic.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Lindsey laughed, pulled out Bruce’s chair, and let Peter help him into his own. Peter stepped back. “You’ll be wanting the sommelier, sir?”

“Do you like wine, Bruce?”

Bruce nodded.

“Yes, please, Peter.”

The maître d’ left. Bruce put his napkin on his lap and stared at it.

Lindsey cocked his head. “Is something wrong?”

“It’s the kidnappings. The whole topic is so upsetting.”

“Do you know any of the victims or their families?”

“No, but it feels so close to home. People like us.”

Not quite like Lindsey, but the point was made. “Yes. I wish we knew more about the progress of the investigation.”

Bruce’s eyes widened. “You do? I’d think you’d want to be as far from that awful situation as possible. My God, you could be next. Or me.”

Not bloody likely in his case. He’d bite them. “Yes, yes, of course. It’s horrible and terrifying. I simply meant it would be good to know they’d caught the people responsible.”

“So true.”

The sommelier arrived at that moment. Lindsey waved away the wine list. “Just bring us a good pinot, and tell the bartender we’re in need of another martini and cosmopolitan. Thanks so much.” When the man walked away, Lindsey smiled at Bruce. “I think we could use a bit more liquid courage, don’t you, darling?”

“Definitely.” Bruce finally sat back and sighed. “I feel like I’ve been rather protected at school, and now with these crimes, I got pushed in the deep end of life.”

The waiter brought their drinks. Lindsey raised his glass. “To being a champion swimmer.”

Bruce picked up his drink. “You are a charmer, you know?” They toasted. Bruce sipped. “How does your family feel about you being gay?”

Lindsey shrugged. “I’ve been very lucky. They’ve always accepted me. But then, they guessed I was gay somewhere around my third birthday, so it was no big surprise.” He carefully crossed his legs to show off his purple suede Gucci loafers to best advantage. “What about you?”

“I’m not quite so lucky. My father accepts it because he must, but he wishes I’d wake up tomorrow with a passionate desire for girls.”

“I think people who love us believe our lives would be easier if we were straight. They don’t mean it as a condemnation of who we are.”

“Maybe.” He didn’t look convinced.

“Ta, darling, if your father is reticent about your orientation, what did he think about you coming out with the likes of me? All puns intended.”

Bruce grinned. Nice dimples. “Hell, if I’ve got to be gay, it might as well be with the most eligible gay bachelor in the US.”

Lindsey fluttered his fingers. “You exaggerate. Only the second most eligible.” How he wished it was true.

The waiter came and Lindsey stared at the menu. Something lovely like a nice sole fit his personal style to a T. Sadly, wolves liked meat, and Lindsey was no exception. “The filet, please. Very rare.”

Bruce ordered the salmon, and they chatted their way through dinner. Lindsey quietly sucked the blood out of his meat and stared at Bruce as the guy shared his experiences in grad school.

Animated, funny, very attractive. What was missing? Sad to say, danger. Sex. Bruce had all the appeal of a Jehovah’s Witness standing on his doorstep. In other words, perfect.

They both declined dessert, blaming their boyish figures. Actually, Lindsey hated sweets and burned off calories like a wild animal. But still, the excuse fit his image.

Lindsey waggled a hand at their waiter. “Carlo, will you just put it on my tab, please, with 25 percent for you?”

“Thank you so much, Mr. Vanessen.”

“Excellent service, as always.”

Bruce put a hand on Lindsey’s arm. “Please, let me pay at least half of it.”

“Actually, the company pays all my club bills, so I won’t even see the impact on my food budget.” He laughed.

“Oh, I don’t want to put you in an awkward position. Can’t I pay for it?”

“Ta, darling. Ours is just a little private company with no shareholders to answer to, so no worries.”

“A little private billion-dollar company?”

“Four, actually. But we’re the smallest of the Vanessen enterprises.” He grinned. “Sorry, I’m just being a showoff because I’m proud of our company. Next time, I’ll take you to some steamy gay bar and pay the tab myself. Then you can thank me. For everything.”

The dimples flashed. “I like the sound of that. I’m so pleased there will be a next time.” He smiled again and fluttered his lashes a little. “But I hope this time doesn’t have to end.”

Oh really? Lindsey stared at the handsome and slightly boring man. No boiling blood or throbbing cock. Good. “Would you like to come to my place for, uh, drinks?”

Bruce smiled. “Drinks sound wonderful.”

Lindsey nodded. “I’m driving a Tesla sedan. I parked it myself.”

“I used the valet.”

Lindsey motioned to the maître d’. “Peter, will you arrange for Mr. Westerberg’s car right away, please?”

“Yes, sir. Immediately.”

Lindsey looked at Bruce. “I’ll pull in to the portico and you can follow me.”

Bruce covered Lindsey’s hand with his. “I think having drinks with you will be very exciting.”

As long as it wasn’t too exciting. “I must tell you, I won’t be able to ask you to stay. I have an early morning. Does that suit?”

“Perfectly. I’m still at my parents’ home for another week, and I’m not sure they’re ready for me to stay out all night, what with the kidnappings and everything.” He glanced at his watch. “But it’s still early, so we have lots of time.”

Lindsey didn’t need lots of time. He stood and Bruce followed.

They both collected coats from the checkroom. Early spring in Connecticut was wildly unpredictable in the weather department, and the night was downright chilly. They walked out the front entrance of the stately club. Old Connecticut society had started this club over a hundred years before and maintained its genteel exclusivity to the present.

Bruce wrapped his coat tighter and shivered. Hmm. Invitation? Lindsey, who pushed six foot two, circled Bruce’s shoulders with his arm. He was small for a werewolf but tall by human standards, so it made for a good snuggle position. Bruce took full advantage and rested his head on Lindsey’s shoulder. A couple of passing businessmen glanced up but, while the club was traditional, Connecticut politics and standards tended toward the liberal. Plus, Lindsey didn’t apologize for much.

A cold breeze blew. What? Lindsey raised his head and sniffed.

Bruce looked up. “Something the matter?”

“No, not at all.” He ran his hand rapidly up and down Bruce’s arm to try and warm him, but he looked over Bruce’s head. Where was that delicious smell coming from?

While a lot of his werewolf senses were muted, his ability to smell wasn’t too bad. Still, the scent usually had to be powerfully sensory. This smell was like—what? Sex. Musky, sweet, and delicious. He controlled the growl rumbling in his chest—barely. “Your car will be here any second. Let me run and grab the Tesla so I can pull around front.”

“Who-who will keep me warm?”

Lindsey glanced around. No one else was on the front porch for the moment, since the valet had run for Bruce’s car. He leaned over and planted a hot kiss on Bruce. His cock got frisky, but not from Bruce’s mouth. That awe-inspiring smell still seeped into Lindsey’s nose and dove straight for his testicles.

At first Bruce startled, but in one second he moaned and started climbing Lindsey like he would a tree. Maybe a bit more enthusiasm than was called for. Lindsey pulled back, and Bruce’s eyes opened slowly. Lindsey winked. “That should keep you warm for a few minutes.”

Bruce sighed. “Oh my. Sorry. I got a little carried away.”

“Darling, you can carry me away anytime.” He motioned toward the parking lot. “I’ll drive around.”

Lindsey bounded off the grand porch and down the steps to the gravel drive. He glanced around. Didn’t want to be obvious, but he had to know the source of that smell.

He followed his nose past the first row of cars, the second. Wait. There. In the third row of parked cars, three men stood talking under the streetlamp. Two were “suits” of the first order. Gray single-breasted, striped ties, short-cropped hair. But they were background noise. Holy blessed Hades. The other man reeked of danger of the very best kind. Tall—probably taller than Lindsey, with shoulders that strained the black leather jacket he wore. Tight, denim-encased, hard leg muscles. What would those feel like wrapped around his butt? The human’s hair looked like six different colors, all curls, and the mane had been restrained at his neck with some kind of band, but riots of tendrils escaped.

Lindsey’s hands were shaking and his cock danced a tango. A rumbling growl filled his chest. Dear God, he needed to get away. This was the very type of man he should avoid at all costs.

He walked toward the Tesla, but his feet dragged. They so wanted to run across the parking lot and let his body dive on that sex-drenched human. Fuck him into the gravel and then what—eat him? In Lindsey’s case, he feared that might mean more than a blow job.

He opened the door of the sedan. Prickles tingled up his neck. Slowly he turned and looked back. The man in the black leather jacket stared straight at him. That was one unreadable expression. Lindsey couldn’t look away. What color are those eyes?

One side of the man’s mouth cocked in the barest hint of a smile. Oh God, the smell. Like cinnamon and lust. Lindsey’s nostrils flared and quivered.

The human on the man’s left leaned into him, and Mr. Delicious’s eyes flicked to the guy, back to Lindsey for a second, then he shifted his attention and said something to his companion. Lindsey let out his breath.

Who was this man? He shouldn’t find out. He wouldn’t. With a slam, he closed the car door and started it quietly.

He drove the Tesla through the portico, and Bruce’s black Mercedes pulled up behind him.

On the short drive home, his penis bounced. Confused appendage. Yes, it was happy to be about to have sex with anyone. Hell, it had been weeks. At twenty-four, Lindsey wasn’t about to become a monk. But he kept smelling that scent from the black-leather guy. It seemed to have stuck on the inside of his nostrils, and every nerve ending tingled.

He pulled through the gates at his home and Bruce followed. Lindsey waved a hand for Bruce to park in the guest area off the circular drive while he drove on to the garage. Even for sex, he wouldn’t leave his baby out all night.

He parked, walked in through the house to the front door, and opened it for Bruce.

Bruce still wrapped his coat tightly. “Wow. What a great place.”

“I’ve been to your house once. It’s very lovely as well.” If a touch stuffy.

Bruce stared up at the contemporary paintings in the entry. “Not like this.”

“Come on up. I have some champagne, if that suits?”

“Down to the ground, as they say.”

Bruce followed Lindsey up the grand staircase to his suite of rooms. Bruce whispered, “Your parents don’t mind that I’m here?”

“What? Oh no, dear, I’m twenty-four. They like me to live at home, but the key word is live. They’re quite happy for me to have a life.”

Bruce frowned. “Wish I could say the same.”

Lindsey opened the door and directed Bruce into the sitting room/bedroom combination. “You suggested that you’re leaving the nest soon.”

“Yes, I’m looking for a place.”

“Good. Then you’ll feel more at ease.”

Bruce stood in the middle of the room and turned. “Wow. This is beautiful.”

“Not too feminine for your taste?”

He grinned. “I probably wouldn’t pick it for me, but it suits you.”

The maids had already pulled the drapes over the two-story, floor-to-ceiling windows. Good. “I’ll get us drinks as promised.” Lindsey walked into the butler’s pantry off the sitting room, pulled out a bottle of champagne, and popped the cork.

Bruce’s voice came from the other room. “I don’t mind having drinks—too.” He laughed. “Mind if I explore?”

“No, go right ahead.” Good thing he’d hidden his wig and dress. He pulled down two flutes and filled each with champagne, then carried them back to the sitting room just as Bruce yelled, “Holy crap, is this your closet?” He came out through the closet door.

Lindsey chuckled and handed him the champagne. “What else would it be?”

“New York Fashion Week?”

“I do enjoy my styles, darling.” He sipped.

“I better up my fashion game.”

“No need. I drive only myself to sartorial splendor.”

“Well, you do succeed.”

“Come sit.” He walked to the long, comfortable couch in front of the fireplace. He cozied into the corner and Bruce sat beside him. Lindsey clinked their glasses. “To—”

“Us.”

“Yes.” He smiled. Sadly, “us” was an underused word in his vocabulary.

Bruce leaned on Lindsey’s shoulder and sipped champagne. “So, uh, do you have supplies?”

“My, my, we are eager.”

He shrugged and grinned. “Yeah. Sorry, don’t mean to be pushy or rush the romance.”

Lindsey took the glass from Bruce’s hand and set both flutes on the coffee table. “Darling, you can’t be too pushy for me.”

He grabbed Bruce’s face in his hand and closed his mouth over the man’s slim lips. Bruce tasted like cranberry, alcohol, and some kind of breath mint. Good that he wanted to hurry. How long until Lindsey could bury his cock? He pushed his tongue in farther and did a strong fucking motion with it.

Bruce yanked his head back, gazed into Lindsey’s eyes, and gave out a long, slow moan. “Let’s fuck.”

“Good by me. The bed’s right there.” He pointed to the other side of the huge room, where his king-size sat in an alcove that could be closed or open. Now it was open, with white sheets glistening and the bedspread folded on a bench at the foot.

Bruce jumped up with his erection tenting his suit trousers. He sprang across the floor, tossing his suit coat on a chair as he went. Lindsey did appreciate enthusiasm.

The guy had his shoes, shirt, and pants off by the time Lindsey got to the bed. Not a bad body at all. He smiled. “Crew?”

“Yeah. Can you tell?”

“Very nice shoulders and back.”

Bruce preened a little. “Thank you.”

Lindsey removed his jacket, slowly untied his ascot and dropped it with a flourish on the chair, then unbuttoned his shirt and pulled it off. Drool, human.

“Wow. Polo sure agrees with you. How the hell did you get that six-pack?”

“Karate.”

His eyes widened. “I guess I better be careful.”

“Never fear, darling.” He made short work of his socks and shoes, unfastened his belt and pulled down the zipper on his trousers, then dropped them to the floor. With one thumb, he hooked his lavender boxer briefs and pulled them just enough for Bruce to see the tip of his cock. “I only attack upon request.”

Werewolves had big cocks. Fact of life. No matter how slim Lindsey stayed, his cock occupied more room than his size suggested. A lot more.

Bruce’s eyes had made it to saucer proportions. “Jesus.”

Lindsey nodded. “Yes, and I hate to tell you dear, but I like to top.”

Bruce swallowed hard. “That’s okay. I’m a bit of a size queen. If you’ve got lots of lube, that is?”

Lindsey waggled his cock as he stepped out of the pants and briefs pooled around his feet. He walked to the bedside table, opened the drawer, and removed a bottle of lube. “Large economy size.”

It took some fingerfucking to get Bruce ready, but finally Lindsey had the man on all fours and his cock poised. The condom was just for show, but show it was. Extra large. “You ready?”

“Hell yes.”

Lindsey pushed.

“Ow.”

“Breathe out, darling.”

Bruce did, and the big cock slipped past the ring of muscle. Okay, it felt good. Good enough to make him come. Not good enough to make him freak.

“Oh man, baby, that is so good. Wow, you are huge. Fuck me. Fuck me.”

Lindsey did, pumping like crazy. It didn’t matter where his cock was. It felt good. Not like it would if he was inside that guy from the parking lot. Holy God, what would that be like? Hot, boiling. That guy would bite and spit if Lindsey tried to shove his cock in him. Yeah, he’d have to hold him down and fuck his brains out before he gave in. Lindsey’s chest rumbled and his hips hammered and hammered.

Bruce pushed back but looked over his shoulder at Lindsey. “What did you say?”

Damn, take a deep breath. “Nothing. I just hum when I’m happy.”

He laughed. “Sounded like a growl, you sexy beast. Fuck me, Lindsey. Fuck me!”

Lindsey pounded like a jackhammer, reached around to crank the man’s cock, and forced himself not to think of gorgeous animals in black leather and tight denim.