“BROOOM-BROOOM…. MOMMY, if I’m a wolf like Daddy, why can’t I change into a wolf?”
Lena Winston looked up from her mixing bowl and smiled at her four-year-old son.
Chay had a toy car in each hand, his wide brown eyes staring up at her expectantly.
“Because you haven’t reached puberty yet, Chay.” She went back to stirring the chocolate cake batter.
Chay made “brooom-brooom” noises again, and the toy cars clicked against the floor. “Mommy, what’s pooberty?”
Oops. Maybe she should have worded that differently. Lena turned, grinning at him. Chayton was the most inquisitive child she’d ever known. Of course he would ask that. “Umm, it means when you are older. A teenager.”
His little forehead wrinkled. He sat quietly for several seconds, then cocked his dark head. “Mommy, when am I going to be a teenager?”
She set the mixed batter on the counter and dug out a pan from under it. “In about eleven years, when you’re fifteen or so.”
“But thirteen and fourteen comes before fifteen, and they say teen too. Won’t I be a teenager when I’m thirteen and fourteen?”
Lena shook her head and poured the cake mix into the pan. “Chay, you are too smart for your own good. Yes, you will be a teenager then too.” She held out the mixing bowl and spoon toward him. “Do you want to lick the bowl?”
“Yes, yes, yes.” Chay dropped his cars, jumped to his feet, and bounced on his toes. “Yay, I get to lick the bowl. I get to lick the bowl.” He danced in place.
“Sit on the floor, and I’ll give it to you.”
Chay sat so fast he practically rebounded when he hit the linoleum. Their dog, Roscoe, ambled into the kitchen, licked the boy across the cheek, and flopped down beside him.
Lena set the bowl between Chay’s outspread legs and handed him the spoon. “Try not to make a mess. I’m going to start on dinner while the cake is in the oven.”
Chay took the big plastic spoon and shoved the whole end of it into his small mouth. Cake mix oozed from the corners of his lips and spread across his nose and cheeks.
Deciding that keeping him clean was a lost cause, Lena put the cake in the oven and proceeded to the pantry. She brought the spuds to the sink and began rinsing them, when she heard slurping or… licking sounds? Without even turning around, she knew what was going on. “Chayton Montgomery Winston. What have I told you about sharing your food with the dog?”
“But, Mommy, Roscoe likes to lick the bowl too.”
He sighed. “Oh, all right. No more, Roscoe. Mommy says I can’t.”
Lena heard the dog’s toenails click on the linoleum as he left. She shook her head. Chay thought absolutely nothing of letting the dog lick his spoon and then putting it back into his own mouth. Yuck.
Lena turned the faucet off and dug through the drawer to find her potato peeler. “Yes, Chay?”
“How did you know Daddy was your mate if you aren’t a wolf? Daddy says that wolves know their mates when they meet them.”
“That’s true, but the wolf’s mate also knows. We feel it too.” She started peeling potatoes. “Wolves don’t pick their mates, sweetie. God picks them. But when mates meet for the first time, they know it. It’s like destiny tapping you on the shoulder.” Lena smiled, thinking about her husband, Joseph.
“Who is destiny? Does she know everyone’s mate?”
Oh, brother. With a giggle, Lena tossed one spud into the pan and got another. “Destiny isn’t a person. Destiny means what is supposed to happen. Like God’s plan for us.”
“Oh. Okay. Mommy, my mate will have hair like the sun and eyes like the sky. He will be like a prince.”
“She. And it’s a princess, honey, not prince,” Lena corrected automatically. Then what he said about hair and eyes sank in. She felt like someone sucker punched her. She took a deep breath and reminded herself that he was a child and didn’t know any better. “No, Chay. Your mate will be one of our people, not a white woman. She will have long beautiful black hair, brown eyes, and lovely tanned skin. She may not be Apache, like I’m not—I’m Lakota—but she’ll be one of us.”
The spoon scraped the sides of the bowl a few more times. “But you said we don’t pick our mates. God does. How do you know that my mate won’t have hair like sunshine and eyes like the sky?”
Lena rolled her eyes and heaved a sigh. “Because God wouldn’t do that to us, Chay.” She finished the last potato, turned toward the refrigerator, and stopped dead in her tracks. “Chayton Montgomery Winston. What did I say about sharing with the animals?”
Chay’s eyes sparkled up at her. He glanced at the family cat, which had cake batter all over her whiskers, then back to his mother. “You said not to share with Roscoe, Mommy. You didn’t say anything about Fluffy.”
Chay finished the stitch on Bitsy, Mrs. Preston’s cat, then looked up at his receptionist. “Yes, Cheryl?”
“The game warden is here. He brought a wolf in, and he wants to speak to you. He says it’s urgent.”
What in the world did Frank Red Hawk want? He normally dropped off the wounded animals and left. “Okay, I’ll be right there.” He smiled over at his veterinary assistant, Tina. “Can you finish up here?”
Tina’s brown eyes twinkled over her surgical mask. “Sure thing, boss.”
Chay chuckled at her exuberance and stepped aside. Tina loved her job. She’d have done the entire surgery by herself if he’d let her.
He washed up and went into the reception area.
The game warden paced on the other side of the counter, worrying his bottom lip.
Crap. Something must be really wrong. Chay walked around the counter.
Frank practically ran to him. He grabbed Chay’s shoulders and leaned in, whispering so only Chay could hear. “Chay, I brought you a wolf. One of your assistants put it in a room. But I need to talk to you.” He raised his eyebrow meaningfully and looked around. When his gaze landed on Cheryl, he cleared his throat. “Can we go into your office?”
“Sure. Right this way.” Chay led Frank into his office and shut the door. He crossed to his desk and propped his butt against the front of the big mahogany surface. “What happened, Frank?”
“The wolf is one of us, Chay. I was out this morning, looking into a call about poachers. I found several shell casings before I heard a whine. There was a wolf lying in the shallow ravine just north of the pack’s marked territory. So I ran back and got my tranq gun. I shot it before I realized it was a werewolf. But the thing is, Chay, the wolf isn’t pack. The wolf is white. I mean, the fur… it has white fur and is really small… maybe a teenager.” Frank frowned and rubbed his chin. “Really strong for a teenager, though.”
Chay pinched his bottom lip between his thumb and index finger. “Why didn’t the poachers take the wolf?”
Frank shrugged. “I don’t know. Probably got scared off would be my guess.”
“What condition is it in now?”
“It has a head wound but doesn’t appear too serious. I didn’t see a bullet. It looks like a nick. You know how bad they bleed, but it doesn’t look to have gone very deep. I’m pretty sure it didn’t penetrate the skull, but I suspect there’s enough blood loss to make it difficult to shift back.”
Chay nodded. That made sense. It could also be disorientation, though. Changing to human form would heal the wounds, but a blow to the head would cause confusion, and one needed focus in order to shift back.
Frank leaned on the black leather chair in front of Chay’s desk, gripping the upholstery so tight his knuckles turned white. “I’m going straight to the rez police from here. Afterwards I’ll go report it to John Carter.”
Chay nodded. John Carter was their pack leader. He had to be told of such things. “Yeah, you do that. I don’t like the sound of this. We damned sure don’t need poachers on pack land. The fact that last night was the full moon makes it even more disturbing.”
“Yeah, that was my reaction too.”
“All right. I better go check on my new patient.” Chay pushed away from his desk and offered his hand to the warden.
Frank shook it. “Thanks a lot, Doc. Let me know how our little patient fares.”
“Will do, Frank.” Chay opened the door and showed Frank out. He stopped at the reception counter. “Cheryl, where is the wolf the warden brought in?”
“Exam room four, Dr. Winston. Tommy put a muzzle on it, but it’s pretty out of it, so I doubt it needed it.”
“Good. I’m going to check it out.”
Chay turned around. “Yes?”
“Bob McIntyre called and wants you to go out to the rez and check on his new mare. He thinks she might be pregnant.”
He nodded and checked his watch. It was almost noon. Today was his short day, so he’d get off at twelve thirty. He glanced at the empty reception area and back at Cheryl. “Do we have any appointments?”
She looked down at the open book in front of her. “No. We’re done unless someone else comes in.”
“Okay. Go ahead and flip the Closed sign and call Bob. Tell him I’ll be out on my way home.”
Chay left the reception area. He had a wolf to check on.
Tina stepped out of the surgery room as he rounded the corner. “Hey, Chay, Bitsy’s in recovery.”
Chay gave her a high five. “Good deal, Tina. You can leave for the day. But first, will you go give Mrs. Preston a call and tell her that Bitsy is fine and she can pick her up tomorrow morning?”
“You got it, Chay. See you tomorrow.” Tina winked and jogged off toward the reception area.
“Oh, wait, Tina.”
She spun around so quickly, her dark ponytail swung into her eyes. She blinked and brushed her hair back. “Yes?”
“Don’t forget you have the five o’clock and midnight shift tonight to come check on the animals.”
“Gotcha. You coming back up here tonight?”
“Yeah, I’ll swing back by at three thirty and eight, since we had three surgeries today. But Tommy will come back and stay all night.”
“Coolio. Later, Chay.”
“Later, Tina.” He grinned at her retreating back and continued down the hall to exam room four.
His teeth stung his gums, and his canines extended. What the heck? The closer he got to the room, the more bizarre his body reacted. He got a euphoric feeling, like flutters in his stomach but not quite. It wasn’t nerves, more like butterflies rushing to life. His eyes blurred as he reached for the doorknob. He blinked, seeing in black-and-white—his wolf vision. He stood there for a few moments, ignoring the anxious, exultant feeling, and contemplated the strange reactions. He hadn’t lost control of his wolf instincts since he was a young wolf.
Then it hit him. My mate is on the other side of this door.
How was this possible? He’d never heard of a female werewolf. It was a genetic trait that exhibited in males. Women could carry and pass on the werewolf gene, but they did not become wolves. Could his mate have been turned as the result of an attack? Was that even possible? Werewolf attacks were very rare. He’d never heard of a woman being changed, but just because he didn’t know about it, didn’t make it impossible.
He closed his eyes, resting his head against the cool wood of the door. His heart pounded in anticipation. At thirty years of age, he was more than ready for this. He’d figure out how it was possible that she was a wolf after he met her. Right now, excitement bubbled up inside him. He’d finally found his mate.
Taking several deep breaths, he willed his body under control. Not that it would bother his mate if she were awake, but if one of his staff came in, he’d terrify the crap out of them. After a few seconds of deep concentration, his teeth receded. He opened his eyes, and they were once again human. Unwilling to wait any longer, he pushed open the door.
The small white wolf was wrapped in a dark blue blanket, lying on the exam table, with her back toward the door. The clotted blood was obscenely garish on the pale fur. The coat not matted with blood had a golden cast to it, and Chay would be willing to bet that pale fur turned into platinum blond locks in human form.
Somehow he’d always known his mate would not be Native American, as his mother had assured him she would be. He’d always been partial to blond hair, even though his mom didn’t believe in mixing races. Mom was going to flip her lid when he brought his mate to meet them. Chay grinned. Oh well. She had absolutely no say in this. A wolf didn’t pick his mate; he was born to her. It was destiny or God’s will or whatever. It just was. Fortunately his dad wasn’t a prejudiced man.
The dark straps of a muzzle stood out against the light fur, drawing Chay’s gaze. He groaned at the indignity and stepped up to the exam table. Quickly he unfastened the contraption and tossed it to the floor. He felt the carotid artery with his fingers, searching for a pulse. It was faster than it would be in human form, slower than an alert wolf, but not slow enough to indicate extreme distress.
He ran his hands through the pale fur, enjoying the softness as he searched out the head wound. Frank was right, it didn’t appear too bad, but Chay needed to clean it to make certain. He turned to the cabinet behind him and got out the gauze and antiseptic he needed to tend to the wound. After determining it was only a nick, he bandaged it.
Chay didn’t need to bother with an antibiotic or a tetanus shot. Werewolves didn’t get infections or viruses. His kind had an extremely efficient immune system. After shifting back to human form, the head wound would heal completely. In normal cases, it would have already healed, but his mate’s blood loss slowed his healing.
Chay leaned forward and buried his nose in his mate’s neck for a few seconds.
The scent was spicy and… woodsy? It was sort of musky. That was strange; most women had a sweet floral smell to them. The odd scent was actually very nice. Intoxicating. His cock twitched, making him groan. He stood and told himself to behave. He needed to finish taking care of his mate. There’d be time enough later for other exploration.
He stepped back, smiling like an idiot. “Okay, Little Bit, let’s get rid of this.” Chay grabbed the edge of the blanket and began gently removing it. “Gotta make sure there are no other injuries.” He finally got the blanket untangled and tossed it off the still body.
He studied his mate’s form, starting at her head. Smiling at all the platinum fur, he gazed farther down the slim frame. “I bet your eyes are—”
He gasped and stumbled backward. His hand flew to his mouth. No, that couldn’t be right. He was seeing things—things that shouldn’t be there. Chay blinked and looked again. No, it was there. It had to be some sort of mistake. His body, his senses, they must be confused. This wasn’t his mate. It couldn’t be….
Chay closed his eyes and took a deep breath. It couldn’t be, but it was. He couldn’t deny what he felt. This was his mate, but how? It didn’t make sense. Apparently, he’d been right to begin with. Females were not wolves, and his mate wasn’t a female.
HIS BRAIN hurt.
Chay had gone through every possible scenario he could think of, trying to come up with another valid excuse for his body’s reaction to the white wolf. None of them made as much sense as the mate hypothesis. Even more puzzling than his response was the fact that he wasn’t as disturbed as he expected. There was something really appealing about the little wolf. That more than anything supported his feeling that this was truly his mate. He’d never found men that appealing before. He’d looked at other men, sure, but everyone did. Didn’t they? A beautiful person was a beautiful person… right?
When everyone else had left for the day, he’d closed up shop, changed out of his scrubs, and even gone and warmed up his truck. The day was a little cool for early fall, and he did not want his mate to be cold. And after all that, he still had a hard-on. Oh well. His jeans concealed it enough, and his coat reached midthigh.
Chay packed his bag to take out to Bob McIntyre’s place and loaded his mate in the back seat of his quad cab. He tucked the blanket around the small body and pulled the seat belt over him. After giving the pale fur one last gentle caress, he closed the door and climbed behind the wheel. Once he got on the road, he picked up his cell to give his old man a call, then transferred the call to hands-free.
Joe Winston answered on the second ring. “Hey, son. Whatcha doing?”
“I really wish you wouldn’t do that. It’s creepy.”
“What?” His father’s voice was laced with amusement.
“Starting our conversation before you even say hello.”
Joe laughed. “But that’s what the caller ID is for. So I know who’s calling before I answer it, but if it’s that important to you… hello?”
Chay chuckled. They’d had this conversation a dozen times. “Hi, Dad. What are you doing?”
“Watching TV. What are you up to?”
“Going out to Bob McIntyre’s place. He thinks his new mare is expecting.”
“Ah. Are you still coming over Wednesday night for dinner?”
“Yeah, probably.” The question was, would it be just him or would he be taking his mate to dinner too? Chay winced at the thought.
“Your mother will be disappointed if you cancel.” His father’s tone made it clear he would be too.
Chay grinned. It was nice to be loved, but sometimes being an only child put a lot of pressure on him. He adjusted the rearview mirror and checked on his… the wolf. “Listen, Dad, I have kind of a serious question for you.”
“How do you know when you’ve found your mate?”
“Come on, Dad, just answer the question.”
Joe sighed. “Chay, you’ll find your mate. You aren’t that old. I didn’t meet your mother until I was thirty-two.”
Thank goodness his dad didn’t read more into the question. He wasn’t ready to tell his parents, not yet. Sadly, he suspected the fact his mate was white was going to be the least of his worries when his parents found out.
“When you do find your mate, son, you will feel it.”
Yeah, he’d already figured that much out. “But how do you feel it?”
“It’s like an intense longing… sort of. Kind of like an adrenaline high at first. Your body will respond before you even realize it’s your mate. I don’t really know how to describe it, son. You’ll know.”
Chay sighed. That’s what he thought. And his dad was right; he did know. It was…. “Dad, has anyone ever gotten confused? And think they found their mate but they didn’t?”
“None that I’m familiar with. It’s not something you can mistake or confuse with anything else. It’s an instinctual sort of reaction.”
He gave a quick peek at the mirror and saw pale fur in the back seat. “I wanted to make sure it’s not something I can miss by accident.”
“You’ll know, son.”
“All right. Thanks, Dad.” Chay took a deep breath, willing himself to relax. He couldn’t help it if nobody liked the idea. It’s not like he chose his mate. This was a good thing, not a bad thing. Why did he feel like it was such a huge obstacle?
“You have got to be the only man alive who has wanted a mate since he was four. Son, you’ll find her, I promise.”
Him, not her, Chay corrected mentally. He pinched the bridge of his nose. Lord, why did this have to be difficult? There were too many variables. What if his mate woke up and wanted nothing to do with him? Or what if he was a teenager like Frank thought? Chay didn’t think so, but his mate was awfully small. How would his parents react? “Listen, Dad, I’m almost to the McIntyre place. I’ll talk to you later.”
“All right, son. Good luck and let us know about Wednesday.”
“Yeah, I’ll do that. Bye, Dad.” Chay pushed End on his phone as he pulled into Bob’s drive. He started to turn off the truck, but he didn’t know how long he’d be. Would it get too cold? Chay rolled his eyes at his own idiocy. How cold did he get in fur? Not very. He cut the ignition, unfastened his seat belt, and turned sideways, resting his arm on the seat back and his chin on his arm. With his other hand, he reached back and stroked the wolf’s shoulder. “What am I going to do with you, Little Bit?”
His mate was still out of it. The wolf hadn’t moved from where Chay had put him. He looked very sweet and peaceful… innocent. He was a handsome wolf. Actually, he was more pretty than handsome. Not that he was feminine exactly, but his size wasn’t all that masculine. In human form, the top of his head would probably only come to Chay’s chin. Chay ran his fingers across the snout and over the closed eyes. He’d be willing to bet those eyes were a pale sky blue.
He should’ve called Frank to come get this Little Bit as soon as he’d patched him up, and he could’ve pretended like nothing was different. Even still, he should send the man on his way when he woke. But Chay knew he wouldn’t. He had no earthly idea what to do with a male mate, but it didn’t stop him from wanting to keep him.
A knock on the window startled Chay out of his thoughts. He rolled the window down to provide air for his mate, even though this would be a quick stop, opened the door, and grabbed his bag off the front floorboard. “Hey, Bob.”
“I see you’re taking work home.” Bob tipped his salt-and-peppered head toward the back seat.
Chay glanced at his mate and smiled. “Yep. He’s headed home with me. Bandaged him up right before I headed out. Hopefully he’s going to wake up sometime tonight.” After shutting the truck door, he clapped Bob on the shoulder and started walking away from the truck. “Let’s go see this pretty lady and find out if she’s gonna be a mama.”