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Teaser Thursday- Lost Soul

As promised in Monday’s post about safer sex practices in fiction. Warning: Explicit adult content.

Joel gasped and let go of Lanny’s hair as Lanny slid his mouth up and down the shaft. Joel’s cock pulsed against his lips and tongue, and Lanny knew he was close. He stroked himself with one hand, holding back from coming but needing some kind of touch. His arousal was so heightened he knew he would go insane if he didn’t touch himself.

Of course, his own touch wasn’t what he wanted. He wanted, needed, Joel’s touch, but that would wait.

“Stop!” Joel gasped.

Lanny considered ignoring the instruction, but he knew damn well that if Joel came now, the fun would be over. Joel would never allow Lanny to fuck him if he soul-ripped him first. Reluctantly, he pulled back and stood, smiling smugly at the man who stood in front of him breathing like a marathon runner.

Joel touched his lips to Lanny’s and pulled him toward the bed. “I need you.”

“I know.” Lanny smiled and pushed the other man forward onto the mattress. Joel growled low in his throat and positioned himself on his hands and knees, proving Lanny’s assumption that the guy would be a bottom. “The soul rip—”

“When one of us comes, it starts. I’m careful. It will be just like before.” Joel took a couple deep breaths. “Please, no more talking. I want you to come first, but I’m too fucking close to hold back for long.”

“Well, you’re going to have to, because I’m not going to just slam into your ass.” Lanny glanced around. Even with a bonfire raging inside him, he was too smart to be stupid. “Lube? Condoms?”

“Magic. No diseases, and magic works better than lube. Trust me.”

“How do you convince other people to do without condoms?”

“I use them if I’m asked.” He looked over his shoulder at Lanny. “Don’t ask. I promise you, we don’t need either. I want to feel you inside me.”

Lanny caressed Joel’s ass. He wasn’t about to argue. He had no reason to doubt what Joel said, and he wasn’t exactly against the idea of fucking him bareback, even though he’d never done it with any other guy. Then again, none of the other guys he’d fucked had been sorcerers.

He was too turned on to think about it anymore. “I’ll take your word for it. Back up.”

Teaser Thursday- Tempeh for Two

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“Kyle, stop wallowing,” I snapped.

Glen and Kendra stared at me. I sounded harsh as hell, and they probably thought I was being a complete asshole. I didn’t disagree, but it was the only thing that Kyle might actually hear.

“You saved my fucking life.” I leaned across the island and tried to look Kyle in the eye. The tension returned to his body. Anger, this time.

Knock this off, I said, choosing this time to speak through the mate bond so I wouldn’t piss off Kendra and Glen. I know it’s hard. You hate what you had to do. That’s good. It means you don’t do it lightly. But you had to. This wasn’t a time you could have made a different choice. No matter what you did, someone would have died in that room.

Fuck you, he said.

Later. It’ll get some of your aggression out.

He looked up, startled, and barked out something that might have been a laugh. Kendra did a double take. Glen again didn’t react other than to say, “Laughing isn’t a bad thing.”

“Private joke.” Kyle sat up a little straighter and finished his water. “Kendra, can I have more, please?”

“Sure.” Looking confused, she took the glass to the fridge’s water dispenser.

“I can’t promise I won’t wallow again,” Kyle said.

“I know.” I rested my hand on the island, and he took it. “We’ll get through it. But remember why you did this. Not why the wolf did. Why Kyle Slidell, the human side, took someone’s life to save his own. And mine.”

He nodded. “I had no choice.”

“That’s right.” I squeezed his hand. “I love you, Kyle. I would say I forgive you, but you didn’t do anything you need forgiveness for. Do you understand?”

“I love you too.” He let out a long breath. “I should lie down. I didn’t think I’d be able to, but now I feel like I’m going to fall over. I don’t want to be all the way upstairs, though.”

“We’ll set you up in one of the guest rooms down here if you want.” I glanced at Kendra, who nodded.

“Yeah, that would be good.” Kyle broke off a piece of the muffin and swallowed it without chewing. “I need to stay down here. This isn’t over. You think it is. You think you’ve taken care of him and come up with a plausible story for what happened. It’ll work for the human world. Not for ours. There are consequences.”

He spoke the way he did whenever random information came to him. As if he were reciting something he’d known forever while having no idea where it came from.

I hated hearing him speak that way, because it meant he was right. Somehow, someone would know what he’d done to Andrew, and they wouldn’t let it rest. And it made perfect sense. Whoever had been controlling Andrew would have felt the bond break. And whatever that wolf knew, the Anax knew.

“Go rest for now,” I said. “We’ll worry about what happens next when it happens. I won’t leave you if I can help it. I won’t let them hurt you.”

He gave me a faint smile. “You’re always saving my ass. The same way you did when I took off after Mikey that time. I don’t think you can get me out of this one, Tobias. Zane didn’t want to punish me for shifting in front of humans, so it didn’t take much for him to decide to let me live. The A—this guy wants us both dead, and he’s going to take the opportunity.”

“Shut up and go rest.” I spoke more roughly than I intended this time. I refused to accept the possibility of my mate dying for what he’d done. If he’d killed Andrew in cold blood, I would have taken Kyle’s life myself, but he hadn’t.

The Anax wouldn’t see it that way. He would find some reason to believe, and make others believe, Kyle had killed for the sake of killing. Kyle was right. The Anax wanted me dead, and the easiest way to do that would be to murder Kyle.

Teaser Thursday- Try the Tofu

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Finally, after some unknown amount of time, the visualization did its job. My pack was safe. I could handle whatever might come to us. Kyle and Jon would accompany me to Pennsylvania, though Jon and his mate Mariko wouldn’t be happy about it. Kyle wasn’t the cause of our problems, and because he existed, I might be able to solve them. He gave me focus and strength and sanity, and I was fortunate to have him in my life.

I opened my eyes and breathed deeply. The smell of spaghetti sauce filled my nose. However long I’d sat there, it had been long enough for Kyle to finish supper.

As I recognized that, Kyle walked into the room carrying two plates, with a bottle of grated cheese balanced carefully on top of one of them. “I didn’t want to move your stuff on the table, so I figured we could eat in here.” He handed one of the plates, the one with the cheese, to me. “Better?”

“Yeah. Thanks for giving me some space.” I sprinkled some cheese on my spaghetti as he sat beside me. “Vegan cheese?”

“No, so I’m not having any. Vegan-friendly sauce, though.” He left a little gap between us and gave me an uncertain look. “Have things really gotten that bad since I moved here? I thought I made your life better.”

“Don’t get all insecure on me.” That was the last thing I needed. He was strong, at least as strong as I was. If he started questioning things, I wasn’t certain how I would cope with it. “More bad things have happened since you moved here than before, but you do make my life better, Kyle. I wouldn’t have been able to cope with everything if you weren’t here. You know that.”

“I’m not being insecure. Those were some pretty loud, pissed-off thoughts you sent my way before you meditated.” He shrugged. “I’m sorry if I’ve had anything to do with things getting worse. But I’m glad to be here for you.”

“You don’t have anything to be sorry for.” I sighed. Sometimes I wished our mate bond wasn’t so strong. On the other hand, it could work to my benefit. I sent my love and desire for him along it, hoping it would counter what he’d picked up earlier.

He smiled. “You don’t have to do that, Tobias. I know how you feel about me. I also know how you feel about your pack and our safety, and I compromise that sometimes. Which is another reason it’s good that Zane told you to bring me to Pennsylvania. If there’s trouble, it’ll follow me there and the rest of the pack will be safe.”

“No, that isn’t why.” This conversation was not going the way I’d hoped. No matter what questions had been in my mind, I didn’t want Kyle to question whether he’d brought problems to my pack or me. “You’re going with me so if there’s trouble, I’ll know you’re safe, idiot. I care about my pack, and I would die to protect them if I had to. I love you, and I would kill for you.”

“I hope it never comes to that,” he said quietly. “Killing people sucks.”

“Yeah.” He knew that all too well. Art had died at Kyle’s hand—well, teeth—and Kyle hadn’t fully recovered from that. It had been his first shift since awakening from his initial change, and it had been his first kill. He hadn’t even hunted yet at that point, because the full moon had still been a couple of weeks away.

That hadn’t stopped him from being ready to kill Saul the last time we’d gone to Pennsylvania. Or from challenging Polly and threatening to kill Roderic when they’d kidnapped Mikey Damone. My Kyle had a bloodthirsty streak in him, in complete opposition to his usual pacifistic, vegan tendencies, and it scared him.

It scared me sometimes too. I knew how it felt to want to kill and to let that desire have control.

Teaser Thursday- Veggie Burgers to Go

This was a scene I wrote for the novel Veggie Burgers to Go before I wrote the actual novel.

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A really random idea came to me, and I blurted it out before I could stop myself. “What if we had a child?”

“Werewolves have some magic, but not that much,” he said in a teasing tone.

I swatted his leg. “I’m serious. We could adopt, maybe. Or even have a surrogate mother.” One of my former lover Jerry’s friends had done that with his partner. They’d become the parents of a baby girl carried by one of the partner’s cousins.

“Kyle.” Tobias took my hand and brought it to his cheek. “I love you, and if we had children it would be wonderful. But you may have noticed that there are no children in the pack?”

“Yeah.” The fact hadn’t really registered on me until now. In our pack, we had only the eleven adults. I wasn’t very familiar with any other packs, but I didn’t recall seeing any kids hanging around during the times I’d visited City Pack territory.

“Female shifters can’t bear children.” Tobias lay beside me, still holding my hand against his face. “They can become pregnant. If anything, I think shifters are more fertile than regular humans. But the fetus can’t survive the shifting.” He paused and swallowed hard. “Except once, that I know of. One of the women in my first pack became pregnant and managed to carry the child almost to term.”

He shuddered, which gave me a pretty big clue that things hadn’t been quite right with that baby. “What happened?”

“The baby—it looked like it had been crushed. I don’t know how else to describe it.” He closed his eyes, then shook his head and opened them again. “Everything was shaped wrong. It couldn’t even suck, because its mouth wasn’t formed correctly. The doctors told Sheila and her mate that even if the baby survived, it would never have any kind of life. For a few days, they kept it on IV feedings, then Sheila and her mate decided to end the feedings. They didn’t want their child to suffer. It died the day the IV came out.”

I didn’t even want to think about what the child might have looked like. The revulsion on Tobias’s face was enough for me. The way he’d told his story irked me, though. “Was the baby a boy or girl?”

“Boy. Why?”

“You kept saying ‘it.’ Whatever the child looked like, and whether he survived or not, he was still a living being.” I didn’t know why Tobias’s use of “it” bothered me so much. Referring to a baby with a pronoun generally reserved for things just seemed wrong.

“You’re right,” he said quietly. “He. They named him Joshua. Joshua only lived four days. He was born four weeks early. That’s the only case I know where a shifter’s baby has survived long enough to be born at all. Usually pregnant females miscarry during or immediately after their first shift.”

“That’s awful.” It explained why there didn’t seem to be any children among the packs. I could only imagine how hard it was for the women to know they would never have children. “I didn’t mean we should use a werewolf as a surrogate. I meant a human woman.”

“You don’t understand.” He looked into my eyes, and his brown eyes were wet. “There are no shifter babies. Males have impregnated human females before, and the babies have lived and grown up. They’re always human. I don’t know why. I guess whatever causes us to be shifters isn’t carried in the genes.”

“We could raise a human child,” I argued.

He shook his head. “It wouldn’t be safe, Kyle. Remember what I told you when we first got together?”

I remembered all too well. He’d tried to talk me out of becoming his lover because other packs might see it as a sign of weakness on his part, and because they might harm me to get to him.

The same thing they might do if we had a child.

“We could keep him or her safe somehow. Have guards or something.” I had no idea why it had suddenly become so important to me to have a child with Tobias, but something inside me wanted it so desperately I was almost in tears.

“And what if one of the pack accidentally attacked him or her in shifted form?” Tobias said. “God, Kyle, what if you or I did? There’s no way to keep a child safe among a pack of werewolves. The males who have children either leave the pack to stay with the children’s mothers, or leave the mothers to stay with the pack. The kids don’t live with the pack. Ever.”

I pulled my hand free of his and turned away from him. Kids had never been high on my priority list. I’d even laughed at Jerry’s friends when they’d had their daughter. I tolerated children, but I hadn’t been a big fan of them.

Now, after spending the day playing with my nieces and nephew, I wanted a child. I wanted to build a family with the man I loved. The impulse made no sense to me at all, but I desperately wanted it.

And it would never happen.

Teaser Thursday- Chance Met

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They walked away. Despite the cold, Crawford stood there watching them walk up the street alongside Burger King. He could have walked with them. Bremen Street was the next one, and though his apartment was further down the street, it still would have been a reasonable route for him to take. But he didn’t want to push his luck.

He’d already learned more about Trey than he’d expected. The guy was gay, given that Mikey had mentioned Trey having a boyfriend in the past. He knew about and accepted his son’s abilities but was cautious about letting others find out. It might have been solely because he was worried about the general public’s reaction, or there might have been another reason. The fear in Mikey’s eyes when he’d realized he’d given himself away implied the latter. If anyone had tried to hurt the boy because of something he couldn’t help, Crawford would—

Do absolutely nothing, because whatever had happened was probably over. And he couldn’t be the knight in psychic armor for the little boy, anyway. It was Trey’s responsibility to protect his son. Crawford would help as much as the pair would allow, but it wasn’t up to him to do it all.

He shivered. Thinking about Trey and Mikey had distracted him from the cold temporarily, but now the wind cut through his jacket. He was an idiot for just standing here. It was time to go home. To his empty apartment, where he would spend the rest of the evening watching TV and surfing online until he was tired enough to go to bed. Yeah, my life is fascinating.

He’d gone through the same routine for years now, with occasional breaks to assist Joel with evening workshops and seminars and to spend time with the few people he’d allowed into his life. Something which hadn’t happened for far too long.

He headed home, walking fast to try to warm up. His life had become one enormous rut, consisting of work and distractions and very few people. He kept telling himself he needed to change that, but he’d become so stuck he hadn’t even tried.

Now things were improving. All because a little boy had wanted hot chocolate.

He stuck his hand in his pocket to touch his phone. He had Trey’s number. Trey wanted to see him again. The mention of a dinner without Mikey had sounded a whole lot like Trey was asking him on a date, something Crawford had no objection to at all.

He would take things slowly. It wouldn’t help anything if he became too excited about the idea of having a friend. Or a boyfriend, as the case may be. He wasn’t quite sure what Trey had in mind, and it would make sense to let Trey have the lead on how things developed between them. Trey had his son to consider, and he probably wouldn’t want to get into anything too fast. But if he was able to spend any time with the other man at all, Crawford would be happy.

Teaser Thursday- Tempeh for Two

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“Tobias,” Kyle said softly. “I can hear your mind racing. Please tell me what’s going on.”

I took another breath and decided I might as well blurt it out. “I killed someone.”

Kyle gasped and tensed. For a second I was afraid he would pull away from me, but he didn’t. “Now?” he asked.

“Yeah.” I wished I’d kept my mouth shut, but it was too late now. “Someone was here. I don’t know exactly what woke me, but as soon as I was awake, I knew someone was in the house.”

“You kept me asleep.” His tone was perfectly bland, but it still sounded like an accusation.

It put me even more on the defensive. “Yeah, I did. I couldn’t risk anything happening to you. I didn’t know who was here or why, and if you’d woken up, you would have wanted to go with me.”

“Duh. I don’t want anything to happen to you, either.” He cuffed my shoulder. “Go on. I’m listening, and I promise I won’t interrupt again.”

“You didn’t interrupt this time.” I’d stopped talking because I couldn’t quite bring myself to admit what had really happened. “I went downstairs and sensed that whoever was here had gone outside. So I went out.”

I paused again. This time, Kyle didn’t speak.

“There was a wolf in the woods near the back door,” I said. “I don’t know who he was. No one I’ve met. He didn’t smell like any of the region’s packs.” I shuddered, and Kyle tightened his arm on me, still not speaking. I took a deep breath. “He smelled like sickness and death, and he had a compulsion on him I couldn’t break.”

“The Anax.” Kyle spoke the title like a curse. “He sent this wolf after you.”

“I think so. I can’t prove it.” I wouldn’t be able to prove anything. The Anax was more careful than that. “I tried to compel him to shift back to human, but I couldn’t break whatever had already been set on him. He attacked while I was still in human form, and I shifted. He wasn’t strong enough to kill me once I was wolf.”

“You wouldn’t have killed him if you could have helped it,” Kyle said. “You hate what you did. I feel it. But the only other thing you could have done was let him kill you.”

“He was sick,” I said. “I don’t know what he had. He can’t have been changed very long ago, or he would have fought off whatever the illness was. But it had gone too far, and he was dying and in pain.”

“If he’d been changed willingly, it might have killed off the disease,” Kyle said.

“Even if he hadn’t been willing, with enough time, his system probably would have fought it off,” I said. “But he was sent here almost immediately after his change. I don’t know how long he was unconscious, but it wasn’t long enough.”

“It takes time to recover from the first shift, but if the Anax was controlling him, he might have forced this guy to wake up before he was ready.” Kyle snuggled against me, and the full-body contact helped bring me down from the darkness spiraling inside me, even though he was still tense. “You did what you had to do, Tobias. No one blames you, except you.”

“I’m not blaming myself.” I was to an extent, and Kyle knew it. He wouldn’t have been able to miss the guilt.

More than myself, I blamed the Anax. I couldn’t know for certain that he’d been the one to send this wolf, but no one else would have gone to such lengths to try to kill me. And no one else had the power, as far as I knew, to lay a compulsion so strong I wouldn’t be able to break it.

Teaser Thursday- Try the Tofu

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“Why are you being such an ass about this?” Kyle straightened up and walked over to the table. He leaned over me, but I stared at the computer monitor and pretended not to notice. “Tobias, I don’t want you there alone, okay? Last time scared the fuck out of me. I might have lost you. I’m not letting it happen again.”

“You think I want to risk you?” Now I looked up at him. My anger was too strong not to. “You think I didn’t almost lose it last time when I didn’t know how badly you were hurt and no one would frigging tell me anything?”

He took a step back and folded his arms. “You were shot. All I had to deal with was a psycho ex-alpha with a death wish. I should have killed him.”

“He’s dead now.” Saul had invaded my pack’s territory only two months earlier. He hadn’t lost his alpha powers when the rank had been stripped from him, and he could make people forget they’d seen him. He had stalked a young wolf from another pack who had been sent to me by the Anax, the ruler of all werewolves in the United States. My new wolf had killed Saul after he’d taken her from her apartment.

I was glad he’d died. He’d also turned two of my wolves against the pack, causing them to kidnap a six-year-old boy who had moved with his father into our territory. The father had been attacked and changed into one of us while trying to rescue his son. My two wolves were dead too, killed for revealing themselves to a human, and Kyle had almost faced death for the same reason. All because of Saul.

I hadn’t protected my pack well enough, and I refused to let my guard down again. That was why I wouldn’t allow Kyle to accompany me to Pennsylvania for the semi-annual regional alpha conference at the home of Zane Wolfskin, our region’s Arkhon, or regional leader. Losing my pack members hurt like hell and drove home the fact that I wasn’t really cut out to be an alpha, even though I’d run the Boston North Pack for over thirty years, since shortly before my eighteenth birthday.

Losing Kyle would have killed me.

“You’re right,” he said. “Saul’s dead. Melia’s dead. Art’s dead. Everybody’s dead, Tobias. For a change, we might be able to have a relaxing time together. Celebrate being with each other the way we didn’t get to do in September because of goddamn Saul.”

“I’m not declaring you as my mate again.” That had been one victory in September. I was the first male alpha in history, as far as anyone knew, to declare a male mate in front of the Arkhon and entire region. The other victory had been the recognition of Boston North Pack as its own entity. Until then, we’d officially been considered part of City Pack, though almost everyone had known the truth.

“I bet Justin’s bringing Tareth,” he muttered.

I shook my head. “Her doctor said she can travel, but Justin won’t allow it. He won’t risk her and the baby, especially after what happened in September.” The City Pack Alpha, who had been instated after Chal’s death, was even more protective of his human mate than I was of Kyle.

“So who—”

My phone rang, the generic ringtone mercifully cutting him off, and I grabbed it. It probably wasn’t pack business or anything important, but I needed a break from Kyle’s arguments. “Tobias Rogan.”

“Leave your mate at home.”

My heart sped up. I was already on a mild adrenaline rush from fighting with Kyle. This call amped it up. It was a threat. I didn’t need to hear any more than I had to determine that.

The question was who would threaten my mate? The voice was disguised somehow, though not by anything particularly advanced. It sounded like one of those microphones marketed to kids. But it was enough that I couldn’t even tell whether the speaker was male or female, let alone take a stab at identifying the voice.

“Who is this?” I demanded.

“Leave your mate at home,” the voice said again. “If you bring him, he won’t be going home.”

“Who the fuck is this?”

My voice cracked. The first sign I was losing it, and one I wished I’d kept a better handle on, but the voice was threatening Kyle. My mate. My life.

Teaser Thursday- Veggie Burgers to Go

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Tobias scowled at the floor. “I should have known better.”

“Stop it.” He’d said that far too many times. If he kept it up, I might start to believe he honestly regretted my being with him here. Which would be a short jump to assuming he regretted being with me at all.

Of course, I knew he didn’t mean that. Saul’s diatribe had hit everyone hard. My gut hadn’t stopped aching yet. Suzannah had called the guy a homophobe, and he definitely wasn’t the first of that ilk I’d encountered. I just hadn’t expected the complete, black-holish hatred.

“I’m the only alpha in North America with a male mate,” Tobias muttered. “For all I know, I’m the only one in the world. Alphas are supposed to have mates. That doesn’t mean the rest of the shifter world is ready for a homosexual alpha.”

“Will you shut up?” Actually, I was glad for his rant. He wasn’t holding everything in the way he so often did. I didn’t really want him to stop talking, despite the pain that accompanied his words. What hurt him, hurt me, and I was already hurting enough from my own reaction to Saul’s bullshit. I only told him to shut up because I was afraid if he realized I wanted him to talk, he would stop. He was like that sometimes.

“I thought they’d be ready,” he went on. “Zane accepts us. So does Chal. When the Arkhon and one of the most powerful alphas in the region are accepting, is it that unreasonable to think the others might be?”

“No.” If telling him to stop talking about it didn’t work, maybe agreeing with him would.

He stood. “I have to go. I need to meet with Zane about this. He isn’t going to let Saul get away with attacking us in the meeting. I need to make sure the consequences fit the action.”

“You need to sit back down.” He was too upset to face anyone else. The tension in his body told me he was holding onto his temper by a thin thread. I was damned if I would let him just walk away.

Besides, according to our host this was our honeymoon. We’d been too tired the night before to take advantage of our accommodations. Now I was far from tired.

And Tobias could use the distraction.

If I managed to persuade him to stay in the room long enough to distract him. He walked toward the door as if he hadn’t even heard me tell him to sit. Knowing him, he hadn’t. One-track mind, that was my Tobias.

I jumped in front of him. “I said sit.”

“I’m not a dog,” he growled. “Move out of my way, Kyle.”

“You’re not a dog,” I agreed. “You’re one hell of a pissed-off wolf, and you’re going to stay here with your mate and forget about nimrodistic jackwads who think they’re better because they fuck a pussy instead of an ass.”

That didn’t even get a smile out of him, which told me just how pissed off he really was. “Move.”

I folded my arms and braced myself. If he wanted to move me physically, he’d be able to. If he kept trying to use compulsion on me the way he just had, he’d be out of luck. His anger fueled the compulsion enough that it actually tugged at me, but I was still abundantly able to ignore him. “I don’t think so.”

Teaser Thursday- Beta Block

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A warm chill ran through Brianna and her lower body tightened. She smiled, aware she was blushing. “I wouldn’t mind staying. But we’ll have all night, right? And they say anticipation makes it better.”

“They do say that.” He leaned forward and stopped. “May I kiss you?”

“You don’t have to ask.” She touched her lips to his but didn’t let the kiss linger. “We’ll have plenty of time later.”

“All the time we need.” He looked into her eyes with so much love she caught her breath. “Actually, I’m glad we’re going out. I want to show you off. Are you ready? It’s pretty warm, so that jacket should be enough for you.”

“I always thought Boston was cold in the winter.” She turned to lock her apartment door. “Is it usually like this?”

“It’s usually freezing in January. Must be global warming.” He took her hand again. “Ready? We’re taking the T across the harbor, and we’ll walk around from there unless you get tired.”

“I’m a werewolf. You think I’d be tired?” she teased. “I think you’re the one who’d better watch out about getting tired between walking and what we’re planning for later.”

“Going to wear me out, huh?” He winked. “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

“Sure.” She looked away. Did I go too far? She couldn’t tell from his tone, and she didn’t dare to ask.

“I’m glad you’re comfortable enough with me to tease me,” he said. “And it’s definitely making me anticipate what’s coming later. I love you, Brianna. You don’t ever have to worry about what I think of you, okay? Not ever.”

“I love you too.” She turned to find him smiling at her even more broadly than before. “I’m kind of messed up. You already know that. It’s going to take me time to become used to a man who actually thinks it’s a good thing when I flirt with him and want him.”

“Any man who doesn’t think that is an idiot,” he said firmly. “You aren’t messed up. People treated you like shit and tried to break you, and from where I stand, you didn’t let them. If you have things you want to work on, we can work on them, or I can help you find someone to work with you. Suzannah, maybe, or there are a couple of my packmates who work as counselors who wouldn’t mind talking to you. But you aren’t messed up. Think good things about yourself, please.”

“I need help,” she said. She wasn’t going to give herself a free pass. Whether he called it being messed up or something else, she had problems, and she didn’t want him to have any illusions about her.

“We all need help sometimes,” he said. “I see a psychologist at work at least twice a month to deal with the things I see every day, and I talk to the counselors in my pack about what happened in Pennsylvania. There’s nothing wrong with needing help. Asking for it is a sign of strength, not weakness, no matter what you might have been told before.”

“You keep reading my mind.” She was somewhat relieved by it. She didn’t have to argue with him if he heard her thinking the argument.

“Mate bond.” He squeezed her hand gently. “If you’re done trying to convince me something’s horribly wrong with you, I’d like to take you out now.”

She laughed and shook her head. “I guess I failed. Okay, let’s go.”

Teaser Thursday- The Alpha’s Bride

AlphasBride 200

Over the next few days, some of the other women in the pack approached Tareth to talk about the baby and the upcoming wedding. Tareth was bemused by the attention. While most of these women had been friendly to her, none had made an effort to actually be her friend until now. They seemed fascinated by her pregnancy and her upcoming wedding to Justin, which wasn’t even planned yet. Tareth had mentioned it to Justin at one point, and he’d asked to put off the topic until after Christmas.

Christmas morning, Tareth woke to find that Justin had already left the bed. She was a little disappointed. She’d hoped he would let her unwrap him before they started on their presents. “Maybe later,” she said out loud to herself as she got out of bed.

The smells of bacon and hot chocolate filtered down the hall from the kitchen when she left the bedroom. She followed them to find Justin standing at the stove, frying eggs and the bacon she’d smelled. He wore only the boxer briefs he’d slept in, and Tareth’s mouth watered from the sight of her mate more than the smell of the food.

Her stomach rolled, reminding her that eating early in the morning hadn’t been a good idea lately anyway.

“Thanks for cooking.” She smiled when Justin looked at her. “I don’t know if I can eat right now.”

“I can probably eat enough for both of us, but isn’t it bad for the baby if you skip meals?” He paused. “That’s why you haven’t been eating breakfast. Morning sickness?”

“Yeah. Though weirdly, sometimes hot chocolate helps.” She sat at the table beside a cup filled with the beverage. Her stomach rolled again. “Maybe not this time. I do eat enough, Justin. I just can’t eat until about ten or eleven in the morning. That’s when the nausea starts to let up. I think for most women, morning sickness goes away after the first trimester, which means I should be almost done with it.”

“You can ask the doctor.” He turned back to the stove. “You called the doctor, right?”

“On Thursday. My primary care wants to see me first, and then there’s an OB-GYN in the same practice who’ll see me. Not till after New Year’s Day, though.”

“That’ll be soon enough.” He put some eggs and bacon on a plate he’d set on the counter and turned toward her. “I’ll eat over here if the smell bothers you. I need to eat something before we open our presents.”

Tareth nodded. “I can wait. I think. I have to admit I’m a little excited, though. There’s this big box under the tree with my name on it. I noticed it last night. I want to find out what that is.”

“There are three other presents with your name on them, and the big box has to be the last one you open.” Justin put a piece of bacon in his mouth. Tareth’s stomach churned again, and she ran into the bathroom.

A few minutes later, cursing her stomach but satisfied that the worst was over for the day, she brushed her teeth before returning to the kitchen. Justin had finished his meal and was sitting at the table with a cup of coffee in front of him. He stood when she entered the room. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah. That’s been happening every day. Sadly, I’m used to it.” She returned to her seat and took a cautious sip of now-lukewarm hot chocolate. “Are we ready for presents?”

“I am. I can’t wait to see the look on your face.” He grinned and reached for her hand. “Come with me.”

She took his hand and let him help her up. “Are you one of my presents?”

He laughed. “Later.”