Welcome Birthday Guest ZA Maxfield!

I decided I wanted to spend my fictional birthday with Charlie Cochet’s Thirds. She knows how much I adore the series. I hope I have done Justice (ha-ha) to your boys, Charlie. Any mistakes in spelling and any liberties taken with canon are mine.

Just my luck–my new publisher had a last-minute glitch on someone else’s release, so my editor had to work late. And we had plans. She was going to show me around New York City, buy me dinner, maybe even get me into a show for my birthday since it was my first time on the East Coast.

Now, I guessed I was gonna spend a night on the town alone. No bother, really. I’d always enjoyed sightseeing, and I’d already cabbed around to get the lay of the land. I knew 42nd Street was where I’d find a Broadway show, and how to locate my hotel near Times Square, and where to find Central Park. I’d be fine.

It wasn’t dark yet, so I took off walking. Being from California, I had no clue how to walk in New York. Everyone charged where they were going. Cars darted around corners whether there was pedestrian traffic or not. Horns honked.

Despite the Human Police Force, which seemed to be on the streets in ominous numbers, I saw no less than six drug deals, two drunk-and-disorderlies, and a fist fight. Which was all very exciting, because that kind of thing was what I lived for.

The name’s ZAM. I write police procedurals. Gritty, realistic stuff.

The stuff you don’t read in the dark.

Getting out on the mean streets, watching law enforcement do their job, is where I get most of my ideas… But that much energy, noise, that much hustle, can be draining. Especially for an old introvert like me.

So, when I saw a group of plain clothes law enforcement heading into a bar I followed, hoping for some juicy ideas to flow. Some tidbits, I might use in my next book.

That’s what led me to Bar Dekatria, Sloan Brodie, and Dexter J. Daley, who I’ll remember forever as the one that got away.

The dude tending bar was extra nice. He poured heavy and had a smile like the lights on a new Mercedes. Old eyes though. He’d seen a thing or two. Hadn’t we all? Since the vaccine, and the virus, and the way our world cracked wide open and two interdependent species found themselves in a pitched battle for survival.

Some only wanted dominance. They could go to hell as far as I was concerned. In my life, and in my books, humans and therians were equals, and they worked toward a better future together.

Because of that, I didn’t know if I’d be welcome in that bar, but no one paid me any mind. Maybe it was because of the laid-back, casual atmosphere. Maybe it was the mix of humans and therians. But when the bartender poured me my third shot, and I let it slip it was my birthday, the guy next to me got so excited I thought he was going to helicopter off the bar stool and fly away.

“It’s your birthday? Really?” he asked. “Have you already had your pre-birthday birthday party?”

“My what?”

“What about the cupcakes.” His smile was sunshine. His blue eyes gave me shivers. They say only takes a moment to fall in love, and in that moment, I did. Hard. “Did you bring cupcakes? Because when it’s your birthday, we all bring cupcakes to share with the crowd. That’s totally a thing.”

“You’re supposed to bring cupcakes to your own birthday?”

“Well, I don’t.” He waved long-fingered, clever hands. “Normally, I’m on the cupcake receiving end no matter whose birthday it is. That’s a thing too. Totally a thing.”

“I see.” I spread my hands out, empty. “Er… No. I’m visiting from out of town and I was supposed to meet up with a friend, but she had to work. I thought I’d stop in here. See if I could soak up the vibe.”

“That’s almost the saddest thing I’ve ever heard.” He looked aghast. “Didn’t they know it was your birthday? Tell your friend she’s going to have to really bring her A-game to make it up to you. One time, my husband Sloane—”

“Talking about me again?” A massive Jaguar Therian had joined us. He nuzzled my new friend’s neck, at the same time destroying any chance I had at happiness going forward.

“Oh, you’re married.” Disappointment, like a fat dagger, pierced my heart.

“Yeah. This is my husband, Sloane Daley. Don’t mind his ominous glare. I can make him purr.”

“I’ll bet you can.”

“Hi.” Sloane held his hand out.

“ZAM,” I said. “It’s an acronym.

“I see you’ve already met Dex.”

“It’s her birthday, Sloane. And she’s alone.” Dex frowned. “Which is totally against the Dexter J. Daley code of birthday fun: Article Six, Section III, which states, no one celebrates birthdays alone. We have to make this right. Wait here.”

Dex darted into the crowd behind Sloane until I couldn’t see him anymore.

I lifted my brows in question. Sloane shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine.”

Seconds later, the stage lit up.

Sloane’s lips twitched. “Oh, here we go.”

“What?” I asked.

At center stage, Dexter picked up the microphone, “We have a new friend, ZAM visiting our fair city, alone, on her birthday.”

People oh-noed, and awwwed…

They actually did that. For me. I guessed they would get on board anything Sloane’s adorable husband did or said. Especially when he started shaking his booty.

“Oh, holy cow.” I nearly swallowed my tongue.

“He has that effect on people,” Sloane said dryly. “I try to remember how helpless he is without coffee, and everything falls back into place.”

“If you say so.” But I knew. I’d met the one, and I would never be the same again.

It would be me and the lonely street with only the printed word for company…

The instantly recognizable guitar riff that begins, “Birthday,” by the Beatles, played. And Dexter J. Daley sang. Just for me.

zam

Amazon

Sarcastic cop Theo Hsu returns home to Hawai‘i after realizing he wants more from his life, and also, less. He hopes to reconnect with his past and make amends with his mother, who remarried a cool, distant man, leaving Theo unsure where he stands.

It doesn’t take him long to figure out where he wants to stand, though: right next to his childhood best friend, tattooed detective Koa Palapiti. Theo would like to upgrade their relationship, but Koa is putting out some seriously mixed signals. It’s a mystery Theo can’t let go, but just as they start to connect, kidnapping, murder, and a deadly game with international stakes get in the way. Koa wants to keep Theo out of it, and if it comes to a choice between him and Koa’s partner, Freddie Ortiz, Theo doesn’t like his chances.

But even if Koa wants to push him out of the investigation, and his life, Theo still has a few tricks up his sleeve. It’ll take all his special gifts, ingenuity, risk-taking, family ties—and even some kinky undercover work—to save the day… and the man he never should’ve let get away.

Welcome to Day 15!

Unexpected Alpha 200x300

Grab your copy today! 

Chapter One

If Stanley Brown had known what kind of day it would turn out to be, he would’ve stayed in bed. No two ways about it. In bed with the door locked, the curtains drawn, and maybe a giant boulder in front of the entrance to his apartment building, like the ones in cartoons.

He definitely wouldn’t have gone running in the park.

Idiot.

But how was he to know something he did on an almost nightly basis would turn disastrous?

Not a lot of people visited the park at night. Technically, it closed at dusk, but Stanley considered the opening times posted as more of a guideline rather than a hard fast rule, and had discovered many fellow joggers with the same opinion. Except tonight none of his other running rebel friends were around to keep him company. Shrugging off the slight shiver tickling down his spine, Stanley continued on his routine path. He had no reason to find that night any scarier than other nights. In fact, the full moon brightened up the park far better than the pathetic glow from the dim streetlights a block away.

Hitting his stride, Stanley followed the familiar curved gravel path. The apartment key he kept on a chain around his neck and under his shirt. The small bit of metal tapped a calming rhythm against his chest with each step. A dog growled behind him. Damn, some moron had let his pet off leash again. He hated dog owners who thought the idea of a good time was to take their barely tamed animal to the park and let them run free. Those kinds of people tended to be mindless idiots who never worried about their beasts mauling some poor kid playing in the grassy field as long as Fido didn’t have to be oppressed by the leash laws.

Still running, Stanley reached into his jacket pocket and wrapped his fingers around the container of pepper spray he kept tucked inside. He might like to run amongst the trees, but this city boy never traveled without some sort of protection. He blamed the owners, not the mutts for their misbehavior, sadly it was the animals that got sprayed. Dousing the owners would’ve been much more satisfying.

The growling became louder. Maybe running away from the snarling dog had unleashed the animal’s hunting instinct. Well fuck, he wasn’t going to stop now.

Fumbling to pull the canister out, it caught on the inside mesh of his jacket pocket. A loud howl filled the air, closer this time. Before he could react, thick claws stabbed into Stanley’s back like sharp razors easily slicing through his thin nylon clothing.

Screaming, he fell face first onto the ground. Fear accelerated his heartbeat, hammering a staccato rhythm against his chest. He rolled over, still trying to pull the pepper spray out of his pocket. Stanley kicked at the creature, then pushed off with his feet and rolled away from his attacker. The dog, wolf, thing turned toward him, saliva dripping from its long snout.

What the hell is that? A feral dog? A runaway lab animal?

If he believed in monster movies, this would’ve been the perfect set up. His thoughts jabbering away in his mind, Stanley continued to yank at the pepper spray. Finally, the canister pulled free. With shaking hands, he lined up the nozzle and pointed it at the shaggy, snarling creature.

“Take that, you fucker!” Stanley stumbled to his feet and sprayed the large animal. If he found the beast’s owner, he’d sue the bastard for terrifying the crap out of him. Before he could douse the beast a second time, it jumped at Stanley and scratched the hell out of his arm. Unprepared for a second attack, Stanley tumbled to the ground. He let out a gurgling cry as the beast lunged and clamped onto Stanley’s throat with its massive teeth. Like a set of Ginsu knives, the beast’s sharp canines ripped through Stanley’s flesh. His vision dimmed from lack of blood as it splashed a warm river across his throat. He gritted his teeth and clenched his fists, not daring to buck off the beast gnawing at his throat. Thoughts of his parents’ sorrow when they heard of his death renewed Stanley’s fading determination.

Flinging out his hand, Stanley scrabbled to grab hold of anything. A piece of branch filled his palm, the wood scraping his flesh. Desperate for any bit of help, Stanley clutched the small branch. With his last surge of strength, he brought the stake up between them and stabbed the beast through its chest. Blood coated Stanley’s arm, its sticky essence soaking his shirt in a hot, crimson river. He turned his head when the first flow tried to get into his mouth. Spitting out the acrid taste spilling across his tongue, he still couldn’t quite clear his mouth of the flavor.

The beast released its grip and howled. Stanley’s ears rang from the bellowing sound of the monster’s death cry. After a few extra digs of its claws, the creature collapsed on top of him. The animal’s crushing weight pressed Stanley into the earth until his vision sparkled and oxygen became a rare commodity.

Panting, Stanley shoved. The creature toppled over, landing beside him with a heavy thud. Stanley gulped in air, but with blood still spurting from his neck, the world spun around. Curious, Stanley turned his head. He’d fallen on the top of a small rise. With steadily fading vision, Stanley watched a small red stream flow out of his body. When had it turned so cold on such a balmy night? He never discovered the answer before the world faded away.

 

* * * *

 

Whispers woke him. Not because the voices were saying anything profound, but because the noise trickled into his mind just loud enough to be irritating.

Blinking, he winced at the bright light blasting his eyes like visual pollution.

“Shhh, he’s waking up,” a female voice said.

Stanley frowned. His mother was the only female he’d trusted near him while he slept, and that wasn’t her voice. Questions spun in his mind only to vanish beneath the pounding, aching, piercing pain crashing through his brain like the sea against a cliff wall, wearing down his barriers. He yearned for a drink to wash away the desert dryness of his throat.

“Water,” Stanley gasped. His voice sounded raspy to his ears, like a pack-a-day smoker on a nicotine bender.

He opened his eyes, but the world hid beneath a foggy haze.

“I’ll go get you some water, be right back.” The strange blurry female patted him on the shoulder. He heard the sound of her footsteps scampering off.

Closing his eyes again, Stanley sank back into the darkness, ready to return to the comforting unconsciousness of moments before.

“You can only hide for so long.” A luxurious voice filled his ears, deep and luscious like everything rich and wonderful in the universe. Stanley wanted to wrap himself in the speaker’s essence and wallow in the sound.

Weird.

Opening his eyes, he braved the brightness and blur to get a look at the man with such an intriguing voice. Unlike before, this time everything came to him in sharp focus and brilliant color. Stanley’s avid gaze swept the tousled black hair and dark gray eyes of the man sitting beside him.

“Damn, you’re gorgeous.”

Shit, had he said that out loud? His brain to mouth filter must be missing after his attack. Still he wouldn’t take back the truth. Stanley wanted to sink his fingers into the man’s thick locks and absorb the flavor of his mouth. His fingers tingled with the urge to touch, and his cock hardened, eager to fulfill Stanley’s fantasies.

The stranger’s nostrils flared as if he could smell Stanley’s desire. A strange noise emitted from Stanley’s throat, almost like a puppy whine.

What the fuck was that?

A small smile tilted the beautiful man’s lush lips. He cupped Stanley’s cheek. “You’re a sweet thing, aren’t you?”

He’d be this man’s sweet thing, any time.

A long sigh slid out of Stanley, as if the dark-haired man had eased the knot of tension twisted up inside of him.

“I’ve got his water.” The female returned and pulled Stanley’s attention from his new friend.

A pretty blonde in tight denim and a cropped blue shirt stepped forward. Stanley’s temper flared when she walked closer to the handsome man.

He sat up, snatched the water, and growled. “Mine.”

Growled.

“What the fuck is wrong with me?” he asked. His emotions spun out of control like an unbalanced clothes dryer, wobbling and shaking. Hands trembling, he barely lifted the water to his lips without spilling. The stranger wrapped his warm masculine fingers around Stanley’s, soothing his nerves and helping him sip his water. “Thank you.”

He set the water on the table.

The stranger’s smile heated Stanley’s soul as if the dark-haired man had a direct connection to the sun. The stranger climbed onto the bed in front of Stanley. He wiggled until Stanley rested his head against the stranger’s chest. Stanley looked down at the soft white cotton covering his own chest. He didn’t recognize the T-shirt. Lifting the blankets, he found his lower half encased in a pair of soft gray sweats.

“You were attacked. We had to toss out your clothing,” the stranger explained.

Despite not knowing the man, Stanley snuggled in close, resting his head on the stranger’s shoulder. His bedmate smelled so fucking good. A low vibration rumbled through Stanley’s chest. He’d interrogate later. Content, he absorbed the warmth against his cheek. Questions poked and prodded at him, but he pushed them away, unwilling to mar the pleasure of snuggling next to the gorgeous man.

“Want some more water?”

“Maybe later.” Plastered in the delicious man’s arms, Stanley calmed.

“We should get you something to eat,” the woman said, reminding Stanley she remained in the room.

“Sandy, why don’t you go find him some food? He’s feeling territorial.”

The girl smirked. “He’s only territorial over you.”

“That’s because he’s mine!” Stanley shouted. Shocked, he curled into himself. “I’m sorry. I don’t know why I said that.”

He’d always had an even temper. Shouting at people who helped him was completely out of character.

Sliding away from the man, Stanley frantically scanned the room. His thoughts were all jumbled, and he didn’t like the girl standing so close to the bed. Her proximity triggered Stanley’s temper.

“I’m Fen, and this is my cousin Sandy,” the gray-eyed man said. He watched Stanley as if worried he might attack at any moment. Hell, the way Stanley’s nerves jumbled about, he might. He felt more feral than the wild cat that used to live in the fields by his grandfather’s farm. Some days he still missed the old curmudgeon.

“Fen’s kind of an unusual name.” Stanley eyed the handsome man.

“It’s short for Fenris.”

“Parents into mythology?”

People named their kids weird-ass things, as if they were completely unaware that a living, breathing being would be labeled forever with whatever crap name they chose in their inebriated state.

Fen tilted his head like a puppy listening to a sound far away. “Something like that.”

Glancing around the room didn’t bring up any memories. The soft bed, the beige walls, the people—nothing rang any bells.

Had he gone on a bender? Did he have sex with Fen? Not that he minded, but Stanley wished he could remember. He didn’t usually drink too much and forget what he did the night before, but there was a first time for everything. Stanley took mental stock of his body. Nothing hurt, maybe he’d dreamed the entire dog thing. Why did he end up here? Had he been in a different type of accident?

“Where am I?”

“You’re a few miles away from the park where you were attacked,” Sandy replied, picking up the water glass. “I’ll leave Fen to give you the details while I get you something to eat.” Sandy gave her cousin a cheeky grin before all but skipping out of the room.

As soon as she was gone, Stanley turned to face the sexy god of his dreams. Fen’s clingy top outlined his wide shoulders, corded muscles, and six-pack abs in lust-inspiring detail. The tiny spark of attraction hovering about while Sandy had talked heated into an inferno. Stanley licked his lips. It would be a crime to leave without enjoying the man before him. From Fen’s expression, he wasn’t totally immune to Stanley’s charm. He’d worry about his pesky memory later. Right then, he had more important things, or rather a man, to do.

“Let me know if I need to stop,” Stanley warned right before he pounced.

Fen went down beneath Stanley’s body with a soft grunt. Growling, Stanley lapped at Fen’s lips until he opened up and allowed Stanley access. A low groan came from Fen as Stanley kissed and sucked at his mouth. Stanley had had more than one date come from his kisses alone. He reached down and cupped Fen’s erection through his denims, Fen’s hard cock was perfection in his hand. He knew Fen’s erection would feel even better sliding down Stanley’s throat.

“You don’t mind if I suck you, do you?” Not giving him a chance to reply, Stanley slid down on the bed, ripped open the snap then yanked down the zipper. Stanley growled over the long thick outline of Fen’s erection stretching out his underwear.

“Lift up,” he ordered.

Fen raised his hips, allowing Stanley to pull off Fen’s pants and underwear in one sweep.

Stanley threw the offending clothing onto the floor. He had better things to do than fold Fen’s pants. His mouth salivating, Stanley deep-throated Fen, showing his new lover his considerable skill. It had been a long time since Stanley was a virgin, and he’d learned a lot in the intervening years with willing practice subjects. He’d always hoped one day to find the perfect guy to appreciate his dedication research.

“Oh my fucking God!” Fen shouted.

Stanley swallowed and sucked until Fen gripped his hair in two fists and started fucking Stan’s mouth. Finally. He thought he’d have to draw the man a detailed map. He loved having his sex partner’s take control. Relaxing his throat, Stanley let Fen have his way.

It didn’t take long before Fen let out a guttural, inhuman sound and sprayed his seed down Stan’s throat. He moaned, knowing the vibration would drive Fen insane.

“Oh, yeah, baby, take it all. Take everything,” Fen muttered, his voice a low guttural growl.

Stanley kept up the pressure until Fen softened in his mouth, then he let Fen’s sensitized cock slide from between his lips. Stanley crawled back up on the bed to lie down.

Fen rolled Stanley over and roughly pulled off Stanley’s clothing. “I want to see, too.”

Laughing, Stanley allowed his clothes to be stripped away. After Fen finished, instead of taking advantage of Stanley’s newly bared body, he slid back onto the bed and cuddled Stanley in his arms.

“Get some rest,” Fen grumbled.

He should’ve been angry. Any other guy who didn’t reciprocate or at least offer him a hand job after Stan sucked them off would be shown the door. But Fen smelled too good and his warm body lulled Stanley’s eyes to close. He couldn’t get bitchy when he’d found perfect contentment. Not to mention he’d probably need a ride home.

“Mine,” he whispered because the word echoed in his head with a glow of rightness. Something inside him stirred and rumbled his agreement. Weird.

Stanley fell asleep in Fen’s arms to the slide of Fen stroking his fingers over Stanley’s hair. He woke to Sandy and Fen arguing.

“You can’t just keep him like a lost pet!” Sandy yelled.

“I’m keeping him. He’s our alpha,” Fen snapped, his tone sharper than Stan had heard before.

“He’s like a puppy dog!” Sandy argued.

Fen growled. “He said I was his.”

“We should send him back where we found him.”

“He’s mine!” Fen snarled, sounding more animalistic than human. “Besides, we can’t just let him loose. He needs to be taught.”

“Whatever,” Sandy snapped.

Stan wanted to keep his eyes open, but exhaustion pulled him down into the blackness of sleep. Tomorrow he’d worry about the strange man who smelled like spun sugar and moonlight, and the bitchy, angry woman.

Welcome Birthday Guest Paulina Woods!

A PARTY FOR THE CREATOR

 

Four years ago I decided to listen to the voices in my head and share their story with the world. It wasn’t easy and I struggled to actually get the words down on paper while staying true to each character. I actually had a few of the characters demand I allow them to walk their own path. So I was not really that surprised when my birthday came around and a few of them decided to throw me a party. I was surprised when the King of the Gargoyles showed up and he got a little drunk. Ok maybe not a little as Michael and Jarrod had to help him back to the palace afterwards. But of all the guest I think I was happiest to see the five pups all grown up and well adjusted after the crap they had been through. Unlike hatchlings the pups were allowed to mingle with the guest and stole the heart of everyone. I can already sense the pack they will become and can’t wait to see it.

Ryan and Gregory showed up with Natalia and she was radiant. When I asked what had her glowing so much she informed me she was pregnant! I couldn’t stop smiling just knowing there’s going to be more hatchlings in the world. Well their offspring will be a mixture of gargoyle, witch, and shifter. So maybe baby coyotes with wings?

Milcah was her usual self and stayed close to her mate, Jarrod, until she had a few drinks. Than I never knew she could dance like she did. We had to get her off the table a few times and Jarrod was not too amused. Well actually he carried her to their rooms before returning to apologize. I’m thinking in the morning she will have a hard time looking at anyone. If only her best friend Mary could see her now.

In all I had a really exciting birthday and can’t wait to get some stories from the other characters in my head on paper. If you haven’t read my Witches Amulet series you can find them and any of my other work on my website. I’m always willing to talk to fellow readers so drop me an email or a facebook message and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

GIVEAWAY

A signed copy of Beauty’s Beast to US participants and an ecopy to all others.

 

 

Welcome to Day 14!

This is easily one of my favorite in the Moon Pack series. What’s not to love about a sexy goofy tiger with his wolf mate! -Sheri

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Chapter One

“So how long have you been in love with my best friend?”

Dare Moon dropped the bottle of alcohol he’d been twirling. Luckily, the expensive top shelf vodka landed on the anti-fatigue mat. The spongy rubber prevented it from shattering on the cement floor.

“What are you talking about?” he gasped, trying to still his pounding heart. “I’m going to tell Silver to cut back your alcohol limit.” He refused to admit to any attraction. Especially when the man he was interested in showed no sign of returning his affection.

Anthony Carrow gave a graceful shrug as he sipped his fruity alcoholic drink. “Silver’s not overly concerned about my alcohol limits. I don’t drink all that much.” He blinked his stunning amber eyes at Dare. “Now about Steven. If you’re not in love with him, why do you stare at him as if you want to pounce and take him down like a squeaky mouse?”

Sighing, Dare gazed across the room where the dark-haired wolf trolled for someone to take home—someone not him. “Nothing’s going on with Steven, and looking is as far as I’ll ever get. He’s made it clear he doesn’t want a tiger.”

Fuck if that didn’t break his heart. He couldn’t change the fact he was a weretiger, even if he wanted to, any more than he could help pining for the handsome werewolf.

Anthony looked unimpressed by Dare’s heartache. “As much as I love him, Steven’s an idiot. In the past three months, none of those pieces of ass he picked up touched a fraction of his heart. He’s only determined to have a wolf mate because his adopted parents are human and he wants to belong to a pack.”

Dare blinked back tears, dipping his head so the empathetic alpha mate wouldn’t notice. “I can’t give him a pack, weretigers only meet to mate.”

“Shit, Dare. I can give him a pack if he wants a pack. What he needs is a soul mate, and it’s my job, or so Silver keeps telling me, to watch out for the pack’s best interests. Well the pack’s best interest is for its fabulous bartender to be happy.”

Small bolts of lightning flashed in the beautiful blond’s eyes—a sign of a storm of the worst sort, an Anthony storm. Shit. It took a lot to upset the sweet-natured alpha mate, but he was an unstoppable force when crossed. Dare looked nervously at the wall of bottles. He hoped he wouldn’t have to explain to Silver what happened to them.

Before he could say anything else, Anthony slid off the bar stool and marched across the busy dance floor. With a talent that was mystically the alpha mate’s, he made a straight line to his friend while everyone moved out of his path in a smooth natural style as if they were never even there.

Standing on his tiptoes, Dare watched the smaller man approach his friend. He briefly got a glimpse of Anthony pulling something out of his pocket, but by then, it was too late.

 

Fury followed Anthony’s every step. How could Steven not see what was right in front of him? Every weekend, Steven came to the club and picked up a different wolf. Every Monday, he mourned to Anthony about how that wolf ‘wasn’t the one’ and yet here was this sweet-tempered man with sable hair and stunning green eyes Steven completely ignored. Well, no more, he was done with this.

“Steven,” Anthony shouted over the crowd.

The familiar dark-haired head turned toward him, away from the were-twink he was currently talking to. What Steven thought he’d have in common with a skinny submissive who was growing something on his chin that should’ve been allowed to die with dignity, Anthony didn’t know. The kid was at least ten years too young and thirty IQ points too stupid.

“What?” Steven asked.

“I’ve got something for you.”

Steven looked Anthony up and down, searching for his present. “What?”

Anthony slipped the envelope out of his pocket. With deft fingers, he popped open the flap and dumped the contents into his hand.

“This.” Taking a deep breath, Anthony blew the entire handful of green powder onto Steven’s blue silk top and brown leather pants.

“Shit.” Steven tried to brush the stuff off, but it clung like mad to the silk just like Anthony had planned when he recommended the shirt earlier. “What the fuck did you do?”

He glared at Anthony, his blue eyes bristling with ire.

“Enjoy your night.” Giving his friend a wide grin, Anthony turned on one booted heel and sauntered off, letting the crowds swallow him up.

 

Steven watched his best friend ditch him after ruining his outfit.

What the hell?

Members of the Moon Pack might be fooled into considering his best friend sweet, but Steven knew the ruthless manipulator that lived behind that innocent smile. If Anthony thought something was good for you, it was best to sit back and take it like a man or run like hell.

“Shit, man. What does the alpha mate have against you?” The twink looked at him with suspicious eyes as if Steven were marked for death and he didn’t want to get involved.

A loud roar snapped his attention to the bar. Dare, the cute bartender with pretty green eyes, looked ready to shift. Steven searched the area, wondering who could’ve upset the even-tempered man. He usually kept away from the sexy weretiger because he was incredibly attracted to the man and Steven wanted a wolf shifter. Still, something drew him to Dare like a piece of sticky gum to a new shoe. The connection between them was stronger than any he’d felt for the many men he bed each month.

Steven searched the room for whomever was giving the sexy man a hard time, ready to take the bastard out. He might not want Dare for himself, but he wasn’t going to let some asshole bother him.

Then the smell hit him. Catnip. That little bastard had doused him in catnip powder. He was coated in the stuff.

Shit!

He barely had the time to curse before his back hit the floor as four hundred pounds of white Siberian tiger knocked him over. Luckily, the tiger splayed over him with only his front paws on Steven’s chest. Once he was down, a soft chuffing noise blew his hair away from his face.

Looking into those amazing green eyes, Steven realized the sweet bartender had given himself completely over to his beast.

Damn it to hell.

Anthony was so going to pay for this, but he’d have to be crafty so Silver didn’t rip him apart.

“Hello, Dare,” he said, keeping his tone calm and soothing, hoping he could reach the man hiding inside the big beast. “Remember me? Steven? We’re buddies.” Not a complete truth. He tried to avoid the cute kid because he was so fucking tempting. He wanted a wolf mate not a tiger, no matter how gorgeous, kind, and sexy.

He was so screwed.

A long tongue swiped up one side of his neck, leaving a streak of scraped skin behind.

“Ouch,” Steven complained. Despite his predicament, Steven didn’t feel a smidgen of fear.

He got another amused chuff for his comment.

“Dare, get off of Steven. There’s a good kitty. Remember, you like me. Eating me would be bad.” He hoped like hell the cat understood him. The feral tiger didn’t give him much hope. In the corner of his eye, he saw Ben approaching the white tiger with slow, careful movements. Sweat beaded his forehead as the young man continued walking toward them.

Dare growled and crouched over Steven, like an animal protecting its kill.

“Back off, Ben,” Steven hissed. “He’s not going to hurt me.” He knew deep in his bones the bartender wouldn’t harm a hair on his head. Two pairs of hands reached out and yanked Ben out of the way as Dillon and Thomas pulled their mate to safety. He knew the younger man would get a good scolding when he got back to his apartment. His mates took Ben’s security very seriously.

Confident the young were was protected, Steven turned his attention back to the tiger pinning him down. Another tongue lick bathed the other side of his neck, sending a shiver of pain through his body.

The tiger’s tongue hung out of his mouth in a dopey expression.

“Listen, pal. Anthony has a weird sense of humor. He didn’t mean anything by this,” Steven said.

Mine.

The words floated into his mind, words not his.

“No. I want a wolf,” he protested. An objection that sounded weak even to his ears. At night, alone, he dreamed of the sexy weretiger, but he refused to admit it. He could still find a wolf despite what his instincts screamed about the weretiger.

Tough.

“What do you mean tough?”

Steven was afraid he knew exactly what the weretiger meant. Dare had decided to keep Steven. He couldn’t do that. Could he?

Dare moved to the side and clamped his large mouth around Steven’s arm. With a gentle hold, at odds with his mouthful of sharp teeth, the tiger dragged him backward across the dance floor, toward the elevators. Their audience moved out of the way. Not one of them offered to help Steven out. Most of them looked amused.

Fuckers.

The damn cat was taking him to his den, and no one was going to do a damn thing about it. He knew a lot of it was because they knew Anthony doused him in catnip, and no one was going to interfere with Silver’s mate without an engraved invitation from the alpha.

Digging in his heels, Steven tried to slow their trek across the floor. Unfortunately, at this angle, he was literally in no position to stop the large cat. He couldn’t get enough traction to slow their progress, and he didn’t want to do enough that the big cat thought he needed a better hold and actually sank his teeth further into Steven.

“Third floor?” Anthony’s voice, smooth and clear, floated above him as if they were discussing the weather.

“You fucker. You get me out of this,” Steven spluttered, looking up at his former best friend.

“Why would I want to do that?” Anthony asked.

Steven felt the bump against his back as they went from hallway to elevator. He watched Anthony push a button before stepping back out into the club and leaving him at the big cat’s mercy.

“Have a good night, you two.” His last view was of Anthony waving goodbye as the doors closed.

If there were a chance he would survive it, he’d beat the hell out of his best friend the first opportunity he got.

With a sigh, Steven relaxed beneath Dare. Anthony might be a little shit sometimes, but he wouldn’t leave his best friend in real danger.

“So what are you going to do with me now? Take me to your lair?” He got another painful lick for his teasing. “If you’re going to lick me, I’d prefer it in human form.”

Didn’t that thought make him harder than marble.

Another chuff had him looking up at the enormous beast. Damn, Dare was beautiful no matter what form he took. Months of frustration evaporated as he stroked the soft fur.

“If you let me up, I’ll follow you docile as a lamb.”

The cat cocked his head to one side as if he were considering Steven’s offer.

“Promise.” He blinked, trying to look innocent, but right then the elevator bell dinged and the doors opened. Large jaws gripped his right leather boot and dragged him down the hall.

“Shit. I just bought those boots.” Rug burn was going to be a bitch tomorrow.

The tiger stopped right outside apartment 341, dropping Steven’s foot. Dare reared up on his back paws and scratched at a panel by the door.

As soon as he was released, Steven stood up and was face to face with the huge animal. The tiger flattened his ears.

“I’m just standing, honest.” He wasn’t stupid enough to think he could outrun a big cat.

The panel popped open, revealing a computer screen. One giant paw pressed against the screen. A few flashes and the words reading appeared before there was a click and the apartment door opened.

“Clever. I could use something like that at my house.” All he had was an extra big dog door, but if he was going to be entertaining giant cats in the future, he’d make a few modifications.

Where did that thought come from?

Dare led the way inside. Steven followed, closing the door behind him. His nerves swirled through his stomach as if they were butterflies in a tornado-like frenzy.

Dare sat in the middle of the living room, looking at him with a tilted head like a dog seeking approval. Steven dutifully looked around and was surprised at the rich colors and tasteful collection of blown glass decorating the room.

The bartender had sophisticated tastes.

Now the question was how to get the man of his jerk-off dreams to shift back. Most werekin needed a trigger to shift from their animal form. The moon, a powerful emotion, or certain drugs all worked, depending on the person and what they desired. Catnip obviously served as a trigger for Dare to shift. Maybe the sight of him without clothes would do the reverse.

Watching the big animal for signs of distress or anger, Steven slowly unbuttoned his shirt, then slipped it off his shoulders and let it slide to the floor. The cat sat on his haunches, licking his chops. Hoping this meant he liked the show and not planning on how to eat him for dinner, Steven pulled off his boots and socks.

“Now I’m going to take the rest of my clothes off. Don’t bite anything, Steven ordered.”

He got another agreeing chuff, or maybe the beast was laughing at him. Deciding to focus on the man inside the cat, Steven made his movements as smooth and slinky as possible, hoping to entice the younger man back to his other form. He knew he had nothing like the bartender’s sexy kitty grace, but he wasn’t chopped liver either. Though if he had some, that might trigger a shift too.

Focused on sliding off his tight leather pants in the sexiest manner possible, Steven was startled when a callused finger slid up his arm.

“Fuck, you’re the sexiest thing ever,” Dare said, his voice rough from his change.

Steven barely finished removing his pants when warm hands gripped and yanked him against acres of hot naked bartender.

Steven’s mouth was taken in a kiss so carnal he went from nothing to full arousal in the blink of a tiger’s eye. Who knew cats were so fucking hot? Coherent thought burned away from the passionate flames flaring high with the contact of skin against skin.

Memories of every encounter before melted beneath the searing heat of the weretiger’s touch. Never again would he consider the fast couplings of other wolves an acceptable substitution.

Steven knew that once he succumbed to Dare, things would never be the same.

Fuck.

He wrenched free. “Just a minute.”

Dare lunged. Steven tripped over his boots and went down.

A warm naked body slid on top of him, holding him to the plush carpet.

“Got you.” Dare’s eyes glowed bright green, telling Steven the other man wasn’t quite completely in charge of his cat, and he’d be damned if the thought of being prey didn’t make him hard enough to ache.

He reached up to stroke the werecat’s hair only to have his hands pinned beside his head on the carpet. For as many times as he’d imagined being in Dare’s arms, it was always with him being the aggressor. He was used to being the man in charge, the one who called all the shots.

Dare rubbed noses with him before sliding his cheek against Steven’s right cheek then his left in an affectionate cat gesture. The slight rasp of a five o’clock shadow sent shivers down Steven’s spine, everything in his body seized. His toes curled from the sensation. If he were a cat shifter, he would’ve purred.

“Fuck.” He almost came from that nuzzle alone. There was no way he was going to last much longer. “This first one’s going to be fast.”

“As long as it’s only the first.” The bartender’s voice, deep and rough, slid down Steven’s spine in an auditory caress. Dare flashed Steven a playful smile then gripped both of their cocks together in one large hand, tugging and rubbing until Steven forgot how to speak, how to form words and that there was even a language that didn’t completely consist of moans, whimpers, and satisfied sighs.

The room blurred before his eyes as he came so hard he poured out his soul into the tiger shifter’s hand. Dare soon followed with a shout of his own before collapsing on top of Steven.

Dare’s weight pressed him into the plush carpet, and for the first time, Steven didn’t mind the weight or the stickiness. Usually right after sex, Steven ushered his wolf partner to the door and called Anthony to gripe about the lack of emotional connection. Instead, he snuggled Dare closer, content to lie without breathing, because fuck, Dare was heavy.

“Shit, Steven,” Dare said, moving off of him. “I didn’t mean to crush you.”

“No worries, babe.” Steven slid his fingers through Dare’s amazing sable hair. It was soft and tumbled down to the base of the younger man’s neck. “Why isn’t your hair white?” His mind floated after the best orgasm in his life, fixating on little details. Most shifters reflected their coloring when they shifted. Orange tigers had auburn hair, it was curious to him that Dare didn’t have white.

The weretiger shrugged. “Just one of those odd magic things. Want a shower?”

Steven nodded. “I’d love one. Did you want me to head out afterward or do you want to get a bite to eat?”

Dare walked ahead of him, heading to where Steven assumed the bathroom was located. At Steven’s words, the weretiger’s head snapped around, and he found himself facing one pissed off cat shifter. He could tell his lover barely held onto his human form. The tiger’s eyes could light up the room with their glow.

“Go?” he growled.

Steven held up his hands in a placating gesture. “I was just checking. I didn’t want to impose.”

Dare rolled his shoulders, as if trying to shove the tiger back under his skin. His big body shook with the effort. After a few minutes, he was able to speak. “Sorry, my tiger wants you to stay pretty bad. If you don’t mind spending the night, I’d appreciate it.”

“Of course. I’d be happy to.” He hoped he sounded more nonchalant than he felt.

Steven never stayed the night. He must’ve succeeded in sounding sincere because he could almost see the tension leave Dare.

They walked down a pretty green painted hall that reminded Steven of a lush forest and into the prettiest bathroom he’d ever seen. It wasn’t rich and masculine like the rest of the place. It was actually pretty. A pedestal sink in pale blue with an old claw foot tub with flowers painted on the sides dominated the room.

He saw Dare blush at his surprised stare. “It was like this when I moved in. I thought it was nice.”

“It is,” he assured his lover. “It is.” When Dare turned to start up the shower, he let his smile out. The kid was so sweet he could eat him up with a spoon.

His cock took interest in that idea.

“The water’s ready.” Dare pulled two towels from a beautifully carved wooden cabinet in the corner. He slipped into the bath, leaving the shower curtain open for Steven to join him.

Without hesitation, Steven followed that fine ass inside. “I guess I’ll have to thank Anthony, instead of kicking his butt,” he mused as he watched the handsome man get mouth-wateringly wet.

Dare laughed. “You couldn’t kick Anthony anyway and still make it out of the bar alive.”

Steven laughed. “True. I slapped Anthony on the back one day and Silver almost ripped off my arm.”

A low growl came from Dare, his eyes glowing again. “He better not harm you.”

“Shhh. No, babe. I’m fine.” He ran soothing circles around Dare’s shoulders, cradling him close so he could reach his back. The two men were near to the same height, making it easy for Steven to cuddle Dare close and give him gentle kisses. “Easy, babe. I’m good.”

Is this what Anthony had to deal with on a daily basis? For a moment, Steven had a smidgen of sympathy for his friend.

Dare shook his head. “Shit, I’m sorry. I don’t know why I’m so touchy today. Maybe that catnip hasn’t completely worn off. Usually, it just makes me a little loopy. Having it on you has made me into a possessive jerk.”

Even as he said those words, he snuggled closer. The pair of them stood in the heated stream of water as if trying to wash away their worries.

Steven pushed aside his own concerns to reassure the trembling bartender. “Come on, babe, let’s finish washing and go back to bed.” He was a little worried at how comfortable those words sounded, like they’d been long-time lovers. Shaking his head, he gave into the inevitable. The beautiful weretiger was his, and he would have to learn to adapt.

This time, it was affection and not passion that had them rinsing each other off. With smiles and gentle touches, they dried and headed toward the bedroom.

 

Dare woke up warm, sated, and wrapped in the arms of his dream man. Sighing, he nuzzled in closer, wishing for the first time he was the kind of cat that could purr.

“Morning, kitty.” A large warm hand stroked his head, causing an involuntary sigh to pour from Dare’s mouth.

“Morning, wolf man.” He tilted his mouth for his morning kiss.

“I have morning breath,” Steven warned.

“Two morning breaths cancel each other out.” Dare latched onto Steven’s lips like a drowning man grabbing a life preserver. If this was the only encounter they were ever going to have, he needed to take advantage of it. He didn’t bother hoping the wolf saw this as a step toward their future. If the man hadn’t wanted him before, he wasn’t going to change his mind now. However, Dare planned to enjoy their time together now, even if it was short.

Two hard pricks rubbed together, leaking copiously.

“Oh, like that, babe.” Steven’s hands gripped Dare’s ass, pulling him tighter against him. “Oh, yeah. Just like that.”

It didn’t take long before one cry followed another as the two men gave over to passion in each other’s arms.

“Mmm.” Dare licked a path up Steven’s neck before worrying a mark into his skin, a mark that would show high above any collar.

“Marking me, baby?” Steven asked, his eyes sparkling with amusement.

Dare jerked back. “Oh god. I didn’t mean to.” Well, consciously. Subconsciously, he was apparently all about marking the man lying beside him. Scent, bites, anything to leave a sign the sexy wolf was taken.

Steven laughed. “That’s all right. I’m not ashamed of having sex with you.”

Having sex.

Dare averted his head as he blinked back the sudden watering of his eyes. “I’d better brush my teeth and get dressed. I have to get to work.” He stumbled out of bed and headed for the bathroom door. He didn’t want the man in his bed to know that while Dare was making love Steven was having another bout of meaningless sex.

“Did I do something wrong?” Steven called out.

Dare shook his head, not slowing his stride. “I-I just need to go.”

“You work nights,” he heard Steven sliding out of bed to follow.

He resisted the temptation to look. “Not the rest of this week. I’m working with Dillon and Parker to look for those mutant werewolves.”

“What do you mean you’re working with those two? You’re a bartender, not an investigator,” Steven growled.

Dare finally turned around, glaring at the intense blue-eyed man before him. “I’m also a four hundred pound tiger. I’m good in a fight. If they find those other wolves, I can keep them safe.”

“And who’s going to keep you safe?” Steven asked.

Dare rolled his eyes. “I’ll be fine.”

Walking away from Steven before he said anything he’d regret, he headed for the bathroom.

 

Steven watched the fine ass of his lover walk away from him, Dare’s back was straight and his shoulders stiff with anger.

Shit.

It didn’t look like he could say anything right today. First, something he’d said had hurt Dare’s feelings; now, the cat was angry with him for being concerned. He could feel Dare’s emotions as if they were his own, and the entire experience unsettled him.

Damn, who knew werecats were so high maintenance?

Steven entered the bathroom cautiously, uncertain of his reception. Dare was standing at the sink brushing his teeth, his beautiful body tantalizing in the morning light. Well, this was something they could agree on.

They both wanted the other’s touch.

Steven moved behind Dare and wrapped his arms around the stiff figure. “I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings, baby. I just don’t like the thought of you going against bad guys. Hell, last time Anthony got shot, and he’s damn near indestructible.”

“I’m sorry you don’t think I can protect myself,” Dare said, his tone unbending.

“No. No, babe.” He stroked Dare’s chest until the younger man melted against him like the boneless kitty he was. Steven cradled Dare close. “I just don’t want you to get hurt. Why don’t I come along and help? I’m a trained investigator.” Steven had a computer investigation business where he researched information on people for companies and individuals alike.

Dare shook his head. “Silver wanted to keep this to pack only.”

Steven jerked away like he’d been struck. “You’re not pack,” he pointed out.

“I might not be a wolf, but I’m a member of the pack. Anthony declared me pack last full moon.”

Jealousy bit deep. Anthony, who didn’t have any wolf heritage, and Dare, who was a fucking tiger, could belong to the wolf pack, but Steven was left out in the cold.

“I’m sorry I’m not good enough to join your little club.”

Dare’s eyes widened. “I didn’t mean it like that! You just have to petition. I’m sure Silver would take you if he knew you were interested, but it’s been a while and you haven’t said anything, so I guess we all assumed you didn’t want to belong to the Moon pack. You’re Anthony’s friend and a shifter, I’m sure he would make you pack if you asked.”

Steven bit his lip. He hadn’t talked to Silver about joining because he kept hoping he would mate into the pack like Dillon and Ben. He’d even tried dating wolves in other packs, but he kept coming back to this one. It wasn’t just that his oldest friend helped run it. He felt a pull to the Moon pack. Now he wondered if he’d just been fooling himself, and it wasn’t the pack, but Dare, that was the pull. Could a wolf really mate with a tiger permanently?

The pair finished their shower in thoughtful silence.

Dare loaned Steven some clothes. Steven didn’t say anything to the younger man, but he got a secret pleasure from wearing Dare’s clothes. He knew any wolf near him would smell the tiger’s scent covering him from shirt to socks. He felt giddy inside, like an adolescent girl with her boyfriend’s letterman jacket.

He shared none of that with the weretiger as he followed Dare out of the apartment and into the elevator.

“It looks different on my feet,” he teased enjoying the flush that colored Dare’s cheeks.

“Sorry about that.”

Steven shrugged. “I’ll talk to Anthony. That little stunt was his fault.”

Dare smiled. “Yeah, but I liked how it ended so don’t be too hard on him.”

Leaning over to place a kiss on those lush lips, Steven had to agree. “I’ll take it easy on the little shit because I really enjoyed last night.” He gave the cat another kiss before breaking apart when the elevator doors opened.

In the early afternoon, the bar was mostly empty.

Dare turned to Steven. “I’ll catch up with you later. I told Dillon and Parker I would meet them at Parker’s house.”

Steven growled. “You’re not going alone to meet an unmated were at his house.”

“What’s your problem?” The confusion on Dare’s face told him the tiger shifter had no idea Steven was making a claim. Parker was one of the few werekin who had a house of his own instead of staying with the pack. He’d inherited the house from his mother and refused to part with it or live with the others. Rumor had it he got special dispensation from Silver and had to take extra training to prove he could protect himself.

There was no way in hell Steven was going to let his mate go into that bachelor den alone.

Mate?

Fuck.

Staggering under the weight of his new knowledge, Steven stabbed a finger in the direction of an empty table. “Wait for me there.” He got a pissed off expression from his kitty, but Dare did what he asked.

Good. It would help their relationship for Dare to realize who was in charge at the beginning.

Without another look, he headed for Silver’s office. Knocking, he waited for the bid to enter before he opened the door.

Silver’s large office contained an enormous desk, a small conference table, and lots of seating for impromptu meetings with staff and pack members.

When Silver looked up, he received a half smile. The happiest expression the alpha ever gave outside the sphere of Anthony.

“Anthony’s at his office downtown,” Silver pointed out.

“I didn’t come to see Anthony. I came to see you,” Steven said.

“Oh.” Silver shrugged. “If it’s about the catnip incident, I already talked to Anthony about that.”

Steven laughed. “And I’m sure he was properly repentant and begged forgiveness on his knees.”

A blush covered the cheeks of the tough alpha. “He did something on his knees that made me forget my name, but I did try to scold him.”

Shaking his head, Steven let the alpha off the hook. “That’s okay. It doesn’t do any good to lecture Anthony; I know from past experience. Besides, he did me a good turn.”

“You and Dare?” Silver’s raised eyebrows caused a wave of trepidation in Steven’s chest.

“What? You don’t think we’ll make good mates?”

“Shit. You just cost me a diamond ring. I told Anthony there’s no way you’d go for a cat.” Silver sighed in mock disappointment. The twinkle in his silver eyes gave him away.

Steven shook his head sadly. “You should know better than to bet against Anthony.”

A sheepish smile crossed the alpha’s face. “Yeah, but this was one bet I was hoping to lose. Sometimes he wears turtlenecks where no one can see his collar. I need to have him wear something even a standard human can understand. Marking him with my scent doesn’t do any good if humans can’t smell it.”

Steven had to hold onto the desk as he laughed so hard tears filled his eyes. “Poor you. Mating with a beautiful man is such hard work.”

“You know it. It’s not easy staying one step ahead of my man, but he’s worth every bit. Want to see his ring?” Silver’s eyes lit up with anticipation like a kid wanting to show off the present he got for Christmas.

It was sweet how the large man doted on Anthony. In that ‘too much sugar your teeth will rot’ kind of way.

“Sure,” he said. After all, if he wanted to get on the alpha’s good side, he didn’t want to piss him off at this juncture. If it took admiring his best friend’s new bauble, it would be well worth it.

Silver pulled a desk drawer open and handed over a black leather ring box. Opening the jewelry box, Steven caught his breath. He wasn’t a man given to jewelry, but he knew his friend would adore this. Inside the box lay a heavy gold man’s ring with a giant square amber stone with two rows of pavé diamonds circling the band. Steven bet if the ring was held up to Anthony’s face, it would exactly match his friend’s eyes.

“I’ve never seen a yellow diamond before,” Steven said.

Silver smiled. “They’re very rare, just like Anthony.”

Would puking ruin his chances? Who knew the huge alpha had a big squishy inside? He wisely refrained from commenting. “It’s beautiful. I’m sure he’ll love it.” Really, he just couldn’t resist. “You know you could just pee a circle around him. The werekin will know that you’re marking him and the humans will be disgusted enough to leave him alone.”

Laughing, Silver shook his head. “Somehow I don’t think Anthony would appreciate the sentiment.”

Steven smiled at the image of Anthony that sprang into his mind. It was best Silver didn’t follow his advice because he didn’t want to think about what his best friend would do in retaliation.

Silver frowned at the ring a moment before sliding it back inside his desk. “He’d better like it. I had to contract with weremoles to get a rate I didn’t have to sell the building for.”

“You know Anthony would love you even if you didn’t give him a ring.” Steven didn’t want Silver to fall into the same trap many men did when trying to keep a beautiful lover. As much as Anthony loved gifts, he wouldn’t care if his lover couldn’t afford them. Steven was confident his friend loved Silver with or without the trinkets.

“I know,” Silver sighed. “But I want his parents to know I can take care of him. That father of his didn’t seem convinced we were fated to be mates. At least the ring will let everyone know my man is loved and appreciated and to back the hell off.” The alpha gave a self-conscious shrug. “Enough about me. What did you come here for?”

Steven took a deep breath. “I’d like to join the pack.”

Shrewd eyes examined him. “Why now? You’ve never shown interest in the pack before. Unless there’s more to the story I heard about a big cat dragging you out of the bar last night.”

“Dare is my mate.” Steven rushed the words out like a run-on sentence. A ball of fear lodged in his throat as he admitted the truth out loud. It was almost painful giving up on the dream of a wolf mate, but he wouldn’t give up his weretiger for anyone.

“Are you sure? If he was really your mate, I would’ve thought you’d know earlier,” Silver regarded Steven with his piercing eyes.

Steven blushed with shame. “I kind of did. I just wanted him to be a wolf.”

“Ah. Well, I can’t say I don’t understand. My life would be a lot easier if Anthony was a wolf, less interesting but easier. Does Dare know you avoided him all this time because he’s a tiger? Has he agreed to be your mate?”

“He’ll agree,” Steven said, a low growl rolling across his words. “He had better agree, but that’s not why I came here. I want to help you find the mutant pack.”

Silver stood up. “I’ll give you temporary membership to assist the others. We can use all the help we can get. However, until Dare accepts you fully, I can’t admit you as a full pack member unless you want to enter as an unaffiliated wolf.”

“What’s that?” His werewolf lore wasn’t the best, and he was still finding gaps in his knowledge when dealing with werewolves who grew up in a pack.

“It would mean you joined without any affiliation except the bonds of friendship. Your connection with Anthony is enough to have you join as a lone wolf,” Silver explained.

Steven shook his head. “I’ll wait until Dare accepts me. If I join as lone, he might think that means I don’t want him, and I already did enough damage.”

“Then welcome as a temporary member.” Silver held out his hand.

Steven accepted the alpha’s handshake and tilted his head to acknowledge his pack submission.

“You’re going to have to do that for Anthony also, you know,” Silver teased.

Steven let go of his new alpha’s hand. “Shit.”

Turning, he stomped out the door.

Dare was sitting where he left him, sipping a cola out of a clear glass. A few members of the club sat with him, chattering about something or other; Steven didn’t pay attention. What he did notice was they were all sitting too fucking close to his man.

“Come on, babe. I’ll take you to Parker’s.”

Dare gave the other men a nod, and after dropping his glass off at the bar, let Steven lead him outside.

Welcome Birthday Guest Tara Lain!

The Mad Tara’s Champagne Party

Happy Birthday, Amber! Thank you for inviting me to share my thoughts on the Birthday Party I’d throw for myself. I actually asked my honey what he thought I’d want. He summed it up. Champagne, cheese, and presents! Yep. Champagne is my drug of choice, I’ll eat cheese before most any other food, and I love the suspense and festivity of surprises.

So I imagine something just shy of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Every place setting has a different variation on a champagne drink – a Kir Royale, a French 75, a Mimosa, a Bellini, etc. – and a special cheese snack with veggies or fruit or crackers or something. All the guests enjoy the goodies at each place setting then – move down!

The guests, of course, are most important. Since Amber asked for fictional guests only, a lot of mine would be men. It would be hard not to invite all my heroes but if I have to choose I’d probably err on the side of sparkling conversation.

That means, of course, I’d invite Shaz Phillips from Knight of Ocean Avenue. He’s not only bright and witty, but he’s deeply familiar with Biblical scripture and loves discussing spiritual topics. I’d love to see Shaz meet Jory Keyes, Mary Calmes’ hero from the Matter of Time series. Jory doesn’t know a stranger and would keep the party going. I’d also invite Snake Erasmo from High Balls. Snake’s unlikely combination of interests would enliven any party. Then, of course, there’s Paris Marketo, the snarky panther shifter from The Pack or the Panther. Maybe if I spoke sweetly, he’d dance for us – on his pole! I’d invite Dr. Llewellyn Lewis from the Case of the Sexy Shakespearean since he’s such a fascinating scholar and delver into mysteries, but he probably wouldn’t come. Too shy. And I think I’d have to invite all the heroes of my new 2019 series, Superordinary Society, to the party – Jazz, Dash, BeBop, Carla, Khadija and Fatima. They’re too young to drink, so we’ll need some sparkling cider.

Rats! I can’t really cut down the guest list – it goes on and on. It’s going to have to be a VERY big table, but that’s okay, because I’d like all my readers to come too.

To thank people for coming to celebrate Amber’s birthday, I’ll give one winner their choice of any ebook from my Dreamspinner titles (which is all but a very few books). You can pick one you think might include a great birthday party guest!

Bk 1 - Knight of Ocean Avenue 400x600

Amazon | Dreamspinner

How can you be twenty-five and not know you’re gay? Billy Ballew runs from that question. A high school dropout, barely able to read until he taught himself, Billy’s life is driven by his need to help support his parents as a construction worker, put his sisters through college, coach his Little League team, and not think about being a three-time loser in the engagement department. Being terrified of taking tests keeps Billy from getting the contractor’s license he so desires, and fear of his mother’s judgment blinds Billy to what could make him truly happy.

Then, in preparation for his sister’s big wedding, Billy meets Shaz—Chase Phillips—a rising-star celebrity stylist who defines the word gay. To Shaz, Billy embodies everything he’s ever wanted—stalwart, honest, brave—but even if Billy turns out to be gay, he could never endure the censure he’d get for being with a queen like Shaz. How can two men with so little in common find a way to be together? Can the Stylist of the Year end up with the Knight of Ocean Avenue?

Welcome to Day 13!

house.jpg

I’ve always loved the character of older architecture. The history in old homes has a life of its own which led me to the creation of Hidden Magic.

Hidden Magic 400

You can get a copy of your own here

Blurb:

Chapter One

William Stamson never thought he’d fall in love with a lady.

After being a gay man for the first twenty-five years of his life, he met a tattered painted lady with three broken windows and a gap-toothed fence, and fell illogically, irrevocably in love.

“I’ll take the house,” he told the realtor who stood patiently waiting for him to finish examining the front of the mansion.

“B-but you haven’t seen the inside. The house needs a lot of work,” she sputtered. “There are several in much better shape if you like this neighborhood.”

He watched her wrestling between wanting an easy sale and her moral obligation not to sell a decrepit house to a client. He wondered if her reluctance stemmed from the magic pulsing through the property like a beating drum, pounding out a complicated rhythm. Hearing the underlying music wasn’t a common ability. Most days Will wished he were one of those talentless people. Although he could hear the power thrumming through the air and tingling the tips of his fingers, his strange immunity kept him from using any of the tantalizing magic. He wasn’t surprised no one could live in the house. The mansion all but seethed with energy, an uncomfortable experience for magic wielders, while giving non-magical people the eerie sensation of a haunted house. Electricity crackled in the air, arcs of energy dancing around him. The house’s magic reached out to him and invisible fingers ruffled his hair, like a human petting a favored child.

Closing his eyes, he opened his senses to the entity.

A soft gasp, a pleased hum, and then the pounding rhythm smoothed to a quiet whisper. A hush filled the air like the silence after a tornado, or maybe the eye of a storm.

Acceptance.

The sensation sank into his bones, warm and loving like a mother’s hug. Well, maybe other people’s mothers. His didn’t give actual hugs. Physical contact might wrinkle her designer clothes.

“Are you sure you want to put in an offer?” The realtor’s anxious voice broke up the moment, the magic dissolving. Her tone wavered between hope and desperation. For the first time he noticed the worn cuffs on her green suit and the faded color of the shirt tucked underneath.

“Yes,” Will insisted. Despite the building’s odd power, the place screamed home. Besides, writing scary detective stories could only be easier living in a spooky mansion. He smiled when he thought about his relatives’ future reactions.

Will was the dreamer, the only exception in a family known for controlling powerful people across the globe. As a result of his carefree approach to life, everyone thought he needed someone to take care of him. Not a relation on either side of his family had forgotten to leave him a small inheritance when they died.

In Will’s family ‘small’ was a minimum of two million dollars. His great-uncle Frederick had been particularly generous, even as he’d addressed Will as his ‘idiot nephew’. Will had willingly overlooked the condemnation for the cool one hundred million his uncle had left in his account.

However, as much as he loved them, if he didn’t move out of town soon, he was going to go to jail for fratri-patri-matricide. Will longed to settle down with the Mr Average of his dreams. None of the doctors, stockbrokers or lawyers paraded in front of him by his hopeful mother and calculating father met his needs. After fucking them, they really served no purpose.

He knew his behavior made him a slut. But hell, he didn’t golf, and after humiliating his snobbish dates by comparing stock portfolios, there wasn’t anything left to talk about. His dates all ended with him cutting them loose and ignoring them when they called.

After having gone through most of the successful gay men in Seattle, Will had decided maybe he should try something different. Besides, the zombies were starting to creep him out. All cities had at least a few necromancers that could raise the undead but Seattle was starting to get more than its share. Will needed to leave before someone got the bright idea to drain his blood as a form of zombie pest control.

As a void—a person who could nullify magic—Will’s blood was the essential ingredient in unbinding spells that raised the undead. A few times lately, the hairs on his arms had stood on end from the sensation of something with a strong magical presence watching him. Another reason he’d searched for a new place to live. He needed to lure whatever was following him away from his family.

The search for a new location brought him to this small town east of Seattle. Unable to find a man, Will planned to settle down with an old painted lady needing a fortune in upgrades.

Luckily, he had a fortune.

“This house has been on the market for a while.” She quickly consulted her notes as if they would reveal the secret to Will’s desire to purchase the old mansion.

He gave her his pants-dropping smile, more than a little surprised when his charm worked and her cheeks turned an interesting shade of pink. “Then they should be happy to receive an offer. Let’s go back to your office and get the paperwork going.” He could feel vibes of anticipation coming from the house as if the building had sat waiting for him to save it from ruin.

Poor house.

“What’s the asking price?”

She mentioned a ridiculous amount, considering the condition of the house, but he figured the place must have sentimental value to someone, and this one time he didn’t feel the need to bargain. He wanted the house.

“I’ll take it.”

“There might be some delay. I’m not sure a bank will approve such a large amount for the place.” She gave the house a dubious look.

“No problem. I plan to pay cash.”

“Oh.” She looked surprisingly flustered. “Then let’s draw up the paperwork.”

 

* * * *

 

A week later, Will happily drank hot coffee in his freezing kitchen. Apparently the heater had died several years ago and no one had had the funds or interest in fixing it. He wasn’t much of a breakfast person, aside from the occasional cold cereal, but he would definitely go into town for a hot lunch. He needed to have the stove looked over professionally before he’d willingly trust the appliance with his favorite teakettle. Small-town diners were the perfect place to find out the latest gossip and help him discover whose second cousin twice removed had a son good at fixing stuff.

 

* * * *

 

The diner was everything he’d ever seen in the movies.

Old movies.

From the cracked retro fifties booths, to the ageing waitress with frizzy hair and attitude, the place appeared as if it were something out of a film.

The waitress gave him a slow once-over like she didn’t know what to make of him. He didn’t know why. He wore a plain pair of jeans and a red polo. He’d even left his handcrafted Italian leather shoes at home and wore his plain white Nikes.

He was the epitome of ordinary.

“Have a seat anywhere,” the waitress told him. As Will passed her, he caught the faint scent of cigarettes and chewing gum. She was a walking cliché and Will barely held in the laughter. He held onto his composure by a thread, hoping she didn’t snap a bubble at him. He didn’t want her to think he found her anything but delightful.

Will settled comfortably on a carefully duct-taped vinyl bench seat and accepted the faded menu. The table was the kind of molded plastic some inventor on crack must have thought resembled real wood.

Scanning the menu, he was almost certain it exceeded the abilities of any one cook. Eight pages long, the extensive volume listed everything from a thick steak to poached eggs. He couldn’t even imagine the cost of keeping so many ingredients on hand.

“Have you decided, hon?” the waitress asked. She pulled a cheap ballpoint pen out from behind her ear and a pad of paper from her apron pocket. Pinning him with a surprisingly clear gaze, she waited for his order as if he were going to reveal the secrets to the universe in six easy steps.

“I’ll have a burger, medium rare.”

Even an inept cook could make a decent burger.

She nodded, quietly applauding his choice as waiters sometimes did. “Potato salad or fries?”

“Are they thin or thick?”

“Steak fries.” Her tone implied disapproval of anything less.

Will reflectively nodded along with her like one of those bobble-headed dolls before he caught himself. “I’ll have those with ranch dressing.”

“Anything to drink? We make a nice milkshake.”

He shook his head. “Too heavy. I’ll have to jog at least ten miles to burn off the burger calories.”

The waitress looked him over again. “I don’t think you have anything to worry about, hon.”

“Not if I jog,” Will agreed. Although he had a reputation in his family for laziness, he took care of his body with weights and running regularly. “I’ll take a diet soda.”

As she scribbled down his order, Will wondered if her mother had had a premonition at her birth. Why else would you look at your newborn infant and think I’ll name her Hazel?

As the waitress turned away, Will grabbed her wrist.

“Sorry,” he said, letting go at her surprised look. “Could you tell me who’s good at fixing things around here?” Every town had one. A Mr Fix-it who could drive by your house and tell you your water heater was set too high and your air conditioner would die next month.

“What kinds of things?” Her suspicious gaze made him sigh.

Thinking over the condition of his house, Will flashed a self-conscious smile. “Someone who’s good with plumbing, flooring, painting, drywall, roofing…that sort of thing.”

“Good lord, what house did you buy?”

“The painted lady on Mulberry Street.” Another reason he’d bought the house. Who could resist living on Mulberry Street? And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street had been his favorite Dr Seuss book as a child.

“You bought that!” The waitress’s voice scraped like rough sandpaper across his senses.

“Yes,” Will admitted.

“You are either the richest man I ever met, or the dumbest.”

He couldn’t help laughing. “I’m probably a mixture of the two.”

A considering look entered Hazel’s eyes. “Let me put in your order and I’ll be right back,” she said before hurrying off as quickly as her orthopedic sneakers could carry her.

Not five minutes later she returned, sliding into the seat across from him.

“I have a nephew who has a knack for fixing things,” Hazel stated in a low, confidential tone. “He’s been laid off, but he worked for a homebuilder before the housing crash. I know he’d do a good job for you.” She twisted her fingers together as she spoke. “If you could hire him to help around your house and let him rent one of your rooms, I’d be mighty grateful. His landlord just sold the place he was renting, and I live in a one-bedroom apartment.”

Will thought about the situation for a moment. Having another person in the enormous house would be comforting. “Is he likely to kill me in my sleep and steal my china set?”

Hazel laughed—a low, smoke-roughened sound. “No. He’s a good boy, but he’s big and some people find him scary.” She frowned for a moment, looking concerned. “That isn’t a problem for you, is it, mister?”

“Call me Will,” he said with a smile. “I’m sure everything will work out fine.” Will found the situation touching. With an aunt this sweet, how bad could the guy be? “Tell your nephew he can come see me. I’ll give him a few jobs around the house and see how things work out. What’s his name?” If the guy turned out to be a creep, Will could call a few of his cousins and have the jerk evicted.

“Cassius, but everyone calls him Cash.”

Of course they do.

“Order up,” the cook called from the pass-through window.

Hazel got to her feet. “Thank you, Will. I’ll tell Cash to come see you. When is a good time?”

“Whenever,” Will said, shrugging. “As long as it’s after noon.” He didn’t do mornings.

“Thanks. The burger is on me.”

He would’ve objected, but he could see her pride was on the line after she had all but begged a total stranger to hire her nephew.

“Thank you, Hazel.”

She gave him a nicotine-stained smile, even more charming for the faded dimples and the sparkle in her eyes.

Moments later she put a burger in front of him, and Will found a new respect for the little diner. After polishing off the entire thing, including the steak fries, he tossed a twenty on the table for her tip and waddled to the register.

Hazel looked up from counting the cash drawer. “What did you think?”

“I think your cook is a genius. That was the best damn burger I ever ate,” he said honestly.

Will wasn’t exaggerating either. The man was magic in the kitchen.

“Good. I’ll send Cash by your house later today.”

“Thanks, Hazel,” Will said, flashing her a smile. With a nod, he left the restaurant.

Welcome Birthday Guest Julia Talbot!

Hey y’all!

I’m Julia Talbot, and I’m here to celebrate Amber Kell’s birthday!

So, what sort of birthday party would I love to have? Hmm. I was never big on birthday parties, just because as a kid and a teenager, they were so… political. Who do you invite? The whole class? Just your good friends?

So I would want to do like a Vegas trip. Maybe a cruise.

I would take the crew from the Dead and Breakfast Inn, I think. I love the idea of a paranormal vacation. I would nap with Tanner, the werebear, and bounce around to all the historical sites with Carter, the were cougar. I would tell stories with Fallon, the vampire writer. Tanner and Ed, the were raven, would also share cake with me. As long as I wasn’t on the menu, I would be tickled to death.

In real life, take me out for Italian food, feed me German chocolate cake, and give me a card. I’m old fashioned, and I love paper cards…

Hugs all around, and happy Birthday, Amber!

XXOO

Julia Talbot

http://www.juliatalbot.com

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Amazon | Dreamspinner

Giveaway: Fangs and Catnip, D&B book one, paperback for US, ebook for workldwide