Wild Hunters, Book 1
It might not be Carnegie Hall but the acoustics still rocked. Kayley sang with gusto as her voice resonated off the bathroom walls, the thunder of the shower spray providing a dramatic backdrop. Soap ran in rivulets over her newest tattoo, playing hide and seek with the ink. Falling silent, she admired the twist of roses climbing her wrist in delicate strands. From afar it looked like an old-fashioned gothic bracelet, but up close you could make out the individual stems and tiny, deep red roses. It matched her style, and in the past it would have matched her dark mood. These days her emotions tended to be a little brighter, a little less despairing. Thanks to copious therapy and years of medication.
As she peered at the tattoo, the memory of her dream from the night before snuck up on her again, firing up synapses and sending flashes of arousal skittering through her. The sensation of getting turned on was still so new it caught her off guard.
Four years on antidepressants may have saved her life, but they’d done a number on her libido. Since finally being able to stop the medication two months ago, her sex drive had kicked in again. Night after torturous night, disturbingly vivid, erotic dreams tormented her. They always featured the same two men and they always left her wide-awake, aroused as hell, but unable to come. Not even when using the new, state of the art, vibrator she’d ordered online.
As hot water beat down on the back of her neck, she leaned her forehead against the cool tiles and let last night’s dream wash over her again. The image of the two men burned bright behind her closed lids, both tall, both handsome, one blond and one dark. They’d taken one another in a fevered sixty-nine while she watched, aching with desire. She never got to touch, to taste, only to watch. As with all other encounters with her dream men, she remained a perpetual voyeur, always on the edge. It scared her. It elated her. Why the same men? Over and over and over again.
Tentatively, she trailed a hand down her stomach, ignoring the jagged scar that began there, until she found her already slick folds. A moment’s hesitation gave way to pure need as, with a breathy sigh, she slipped a finger inside and let her thumb trail over her sensitive clit. A shiver tore through her, despite the steamy warmth of the shower room.
All she yearned for was a moment of pure release, the sweet oblivion as she flew and soared, riding a wave of bliss, her worries and cares forgotten. Yet again it eluded her, stretching her aching need to almost unbearable levels.
The water ran cold as with a soft moan she pulled her hand free and tried to ignore the tears stinging her eyes. Perhaps she wanted it too much? Put too much pressure on herself and should back off?
Kayley stepped out of the shower and dried herself off, frustration and nerves making her movements brisk. In a few hours, her cousin would be expecting her for the weekend. It would be the first time she’d seen any of her family in four years, and the excitement couldn’t quite calm her growing anxiety at the thought of why Will would visit out of the blue.
She’d missed a couple of calls from him the day before, only to find his cell off when trying to call back. She’d checked her e-mails in the evening and seen a brief message from Will telling her he was coming to visit. He wrote that they needed to talk. He’d be renting a place with some friends up the coast. Talk about mysterious!
With a sigh, she stepped out of the steamy bathroom and walked down the hallway to the bedroom.
The morning sun streamed in through the window as she dressed, the bright rays bouncing off her latest series of paintings, currently adorning her walls but soon to be put up for sale. Distracted from her worries, she looked them over with an ever-critical eye. Kayley’s work mostly consisted of landscapes of her native Alaska and many of the pieces featured wolves, a creature she’d been fascinated with since childhood. One of the paintings snagged her attention. It featured a lone, silver wolf bathed in moonlight, its startling blue eyes reaching out from the canvas. For some reason, she came back to the drawing over and over again.
“Looking good.” Her roommate’s voice startled her. Adam lounged against her bedroom door, watching her. Kayley gave him a smile as she sat at her dresser and twisted her neck side to side, working out the kinks.
Adam used to pass by her apartment and would often stop to talk as she painted on the stoop. Despite her past, Kayley felt safe with Adam from day one. She’d learned he worked as a tattoo artist and counted himself a major art freak, too. They’d gradually become solid friends. She’d ended up working with him, and eventually they’d moved in together, sharing the rent.
“Looking good, feeling worried.” She tried to smile, her muscles tight. “I’ve been a nervous wreck since Will’s e-mail. It’s pretty weird. I mean, he says he wants to talk but then why bring that bunch of roughnecks he works with?”
“Sweetheart,” Adam laughed, “you don’t know they’re roughnecks.” He made quotation marks with his fingers. “You’ve never met them.”
“A bunch of bounty hunters? I imagine they are kind of rough, but the point is, why bring them? What if it’s to do with Dane?”
Her throat closed, making it hard to breathe. Kayley’s biggest fear had always been her ex-boyfriend, Dane, finding her, coming after her, finishing the job he’d started four years ago when he’d almost killed her.
“I think it’s going to be good news, whatever it is. If you were in any sort of danger, Will would have told you straight out in his e-mail.”
“I still don’t get why he brought his colleagues if he wants to have a serious talk with me?” Kayley knew her voice grew petulant, but her anxiety at meeting Will’s friends wouldn’t abate. Since the attack, she didn’t do well with strangers and the idea of spending a weekend with people who hunted down criminals for a living scared the crap out of her.
Adam came to stand by her and placed warm hands on her shoulders. “Babe, what’s to fear? They are his friends. If Will likes them, they’ll be cool. They might be hot, too. Hot, sexy bounty hunters! I’m jealous, wish I’d gotten an invite.”
“They could be as hot as the surface of the sun and it wouldn’t do me any good. Bits don’t work properly, remember?” Anxiety made her bitchy.
“Ah, that’ll work itself out. You’ll be fine, trust me. Antidepressants are known to affect your libido. My friend Johnny couldn’t come for the whole two years he was on Prozac. Straight up. Now he’s fucking like a bunny rabbit. Rampant!”
“Wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the damned dreams night after night.”
“Dreams?” Adam let go of her shoulders and moved to sit on her bed, long legs crossed under him, his dark brows raised.
Kayley sighed. She might as well spill. He wouldn’t give up now she’d blurted it out. “I’ve been having really intense dreams since I came off the meds. They started when I tapered the dose but unlike all the other side effects of coming off they’ve gotten worse since I stopped completely.” She bit her lip and looked down at the floor. So far she’d kept her nocturnal visitors to herself. With a deep breath, she spilled her guts.
“Every night I dream about two men having sex. It’s odd because it’s always the same two guys. One’s blond and one’s dark, a walking cliché right? Last night they gave one another blowjobs.”
“And you’re complaining because?” Adam asked with a smirk. “I’d pay good money to have night time adventures where gorgeous men entertain me.”
“It’s like torture, Adam. I wake up all sexed up from these incredible dreams with these two…sex gods, putting on the show of a lifetime and…nothing, nada. I still can’t come and yes, I’ve watched one of your porn films, and yes, I bought a vibrator. Nothing works. Plus, dreaming about the same men every night creeps me out.”
She didn’t add how she worried her inability to orgasm was about far more than medication withdrawal. Deep down, Kayley feared men now, saw them as dangerous, her few male friends and relatives the rare exception. She’d not been remotely interested in a relationship for the last four years and couldn’t see things changing anytime soon. She also viewed her own body as flawed, her scars a reminder of the battle to survive. Sensuality was hard to come by in those circumstances.
“Give it time, gorgeous.” Adam shot her a blinding grin. “You’ve not been off the antidepressants very long and your body needs some time to get back to normal. It’ll come back, trust me on this. God wouldn’t have given you such a hot bod if he didn’t intend for you to get some joy from it.” He paused then and pursed his lips. “Your dream always featuring the same two men though…that is a tad strange, maybe—”
The buzz of her cell jolted Kayley out of the conversation, and she pulled it free of her purse with a frown. Will’s picture lit up the screen. With trembling fingers, she pressed send and picked up the call.
“Has he found me?” She didn’t bother with the pleasantries.
“What? No.” Her cousin’s familiar voice rang out loudly, and she knew Adam would be able to hear. “I’ve got news. Huge news. It’s why I’m here, why I asked you to come over tonight. I thought you deserved to be told in person, but you’re in no danger. Don’t you think I’d have told you straight away if you were?” His words echoed Adam’s from moments ago, and guilt at not trusting her cousin flared in her gut.
“God, I can’t wait to see you, Kiki.” Will’s use of the familiar childhood name soothed her jangled nerves. “This place is incredible. I put the second best room aside for you. Sean nabbed the best for him and Luke, and you can’t argue with the bosses.”
“Sorry?” She thought she’d misheard. She’d read from Will’s e-mails that Luke was the guy in charge, and Sean a member of the team, along with Will and two others, Julie and Taylor.
“Sean and Luke are a couple, and Sean grabbed the best room before I could put dibs on it for you,” he chuckled. “Listen, I know you’re nervous about meeting everybody but you’ll love them, I swear. Julie can’t wait to meet you. She says it will be lovely to have some female company for a change and you’ll like Sean, he’s so laid back and easy going.”
Her nerves relaxed another notch at the warmth in Will’s voice as he spoke of his friends.
“Bring some beach clothes, we’ve got a pool, and a Jacuzzi, and the beach is at the end of the garden, but…if you’re really not comfortable coming over here, I’ll come to you. I can be there in a couple of hours.”
“No.” Her mind made up, she stood, pushing the stool away from the dresser. “I’ll come to you. I’ve packed a weekend bag and if I do find myself getting anxious, I can always go to my room, right? Have some breathing space?”
“Of course you can.” Will understood her anxiety and its source all too well.
“I’ll be there in a couple of hours. I really can’t wait to see you.” She ended the call and looked over to Adam, her hands slick on the phone as she dropped it back onto the dresser.
“Finish gussying yourself up and get over there.” He pressed a kiss to her forehead as he stood. “I’ll make you a cuppa while you finish your makeup.”
She smiled at his use of the Britishism. Her father had been English and she’d used certain British turns of phrase all her life, despite losing him at the age of twelve, and now Adam had picked them up, too.
“Or I could just pour you a shot of vodka?” he added.
“God, no. Tea will be fine. If I start drinking now, I won’t want to stop.”
He gave a mock salute and sauntered out of the room.
Stomach churning with equal measures of nerves and excitement, Kayley turned to her mirror to finish getting ready.
* * * *
Sean Wallace stood on the decking, looking out at the perfect blue ocean where white tipped waves crested and crashed onto the shore. As he closed his eyes and turned his face up to the warmth of the sun a tingle started deep in his spine. His mate had returned.
He turned with a smile as the front door opened and voices echoed in the large living space. Julie’s rapid-fire words drifted to him through the open patio doors only to be picked up by the wind and scattered out to sea. He didn’t move to go inside. He waited for Luke to come to him, loving the way his partner would always seek him out before doing anything else. His need to see Sean would be strong.
Sean and Will had spent the morning unpacking and exploring the huge family home the group rented. Luke had taken Julie and Taylor to meet the leader of the local shifter pack, a common courtesy when wolf shifters traveled into new territory. Sean found himself left behind as the designated babysitter for their newest member, Will. He suspected Luke had also left him behind to avoid any other shifters touching Sean. His mate could be as possessive as hell. He let the rest of the pack touch Sean, but if anyone outside the pack even so much as slapped Sean on the back, Luke would get a hard look in his eyes that meant trouble.
Not that Sean minded. He loved Luke’s possessive side. Their life was near perfect.
“Hey.” Luke’s deep voice sent another shiver skittering up Sean’s back. “Miss me?”
“Always.” Sean turned and buried his face in Luke’s neck. As he inhaled deeply, he heard Luke do the same.
Soft lips nuzzled at him, moving down until they found the mating mark he’d placed on him when they’d bonded. Luke’s tongue laved over the spot, dragging a low moan out of Sean. It always hit him deep in his belly when Luke paid attention to the sensitive area.
“How did it go?” he murmured as Luke continued his ministrations.
“Crappy. The guy was a pain in the ass,” Luke said with a quirk of his lips. “I mean literally. Dude had this big old set of stone thrones like something out of a movie, and he offered me the one next to him. My ass went numb about twenty minutes in.”
Sean waggled his eyebrows. “Maybe I’ll have to massage it later, bring it back to life.”
“Ass CPR?” Luke snorted. “Sounds…interesting.” His striking gray eyes darkened as his face grew serious. “How’s our new addition?”
“He’s okay, kind of jittery. He’s worrying about his cousin and how she’ll take the news about that piece of shit she used to go with. I think he’s also terrified she’ll somehow find out what he’s become.”
Sean studied Luke and hated the guilt in his eyes over what he’d done. “You know if you hadn’t turned him, Will would have died, right? You saved his life.”
A vision of Luke crouched over Will as he lay bleeding out from a gunshot wound flashed into Sean’s mind. He recalled the split second when Luke decided to turn Will instead of letting him die; a risky decision because turning an unmated human into a shifter posed many dangers.
“It’s my fault for bringing a human onto a job in the first place. But our pack is so tight, I didn’t like the idea of introducing a new member just to do odd bits of investigating here and there,” he sighed. “Now we’ve got one anyway.”
Luke scrubbed a hand over his stubble with a scritch-scratch sound. He looked tired, the skin on his face paler than his tanned body.
“Did you sleep at all last night?”
“Some…I dreamed again.” Luke’s voice lowered as he reached behind with one long arm to pull the patio door closed.
“What do you think it means?” Sean’s stomach flipped. He knew Luke meant he’d dreamed of their other mate, a female the alpha had sensed for many years. Sean could sense her too once they’d bonded. “Why would you be dreaming about her so much recently, after so long without anything? At the very least I think we can take it as a good sign. Right?”
Luke hitched one shoulder in a cautious shrug. “Who knows what my so-called gift is telling me.”
“It is a gift, Luke.” It irritated Sean how easily Luke dismissed his Shaman heritage and the foresight it gave him. Most shifters would kill for the extra power.
“It’s unpredictable at best for a supposed gift.” Luke turned an annoyed glare on Sean; they were on familiar but touchy ground and Sean knew pushing it might lead to an argument, so he bit off his words and turned his gaze back to the sea.
The door behind them clicked open, and Will stepped onto the balcony. “I spoke with Kayley a little while ago. She’ll be here soon.” He paused and bounced on the balls of his feet, tapping his fingers on the edge of the railing. “She gets kind of nervous in new social situations, you know, because of Dane. What he did…it’s left her with anxiety, and she doesn’t like getting crowded. If you guys don’t mind, when she gets here I’d like to talk to her alone.”
“We’ll say hi, then get out of your way.” Luke gave a relaxed smile.
Sean admired how he used his calm energy to try and soothe the excitable young man in front of them.
“Thanks, man.” Will bounced some more. “I’m going to make some coffee.” He turned abruptly and headed back into the cool condo, Sean and Luke on his tail.
Sean watched the young shifter rattle around the kitchen, thinking the last thing he needed was caffeine. Will continued to bounce as he set things out on the counter. Once he’d poured the coffee he added two sugars and some creamer, before stirring it exactly four times, as always.
He turned to them and his face fell. “The thing is, I want to see her. I couldn’t afford to before, and she wouldn’t leave Miami, but I’m scared. What if I…change…in front of her?”
“Try to stay as calm as possible, and if you do get emotional, make some excuse, go to your room, and lock the door. It’s not as if it occurs out the blue, we always get the warning rush,” Sean said with a glance at Luke, who nodded his agreement.
“I guess. I can’t control it like you guys, though, and I’m not the same person she knew.” Will turned to face Sean. “It’s fine keeping it from everyone else, but we’ve never had secrets. And even if I could tell her, I wouldn’t know where to begin. The main thing is to tell her about Dane’s murder. That alone is enough to shock her into next Sunday.”
When he’d made his coffee, Will paced up and down, taking sips and jabbing a hand through his hair. Luke reached out and touched Will briefly on his arm, and Sean saw the exact moment his alpha’s touch soothed the young shifter. Will stopped bobbing on his feet and took a slow, deep breath.
The door chime rang out making Will jump in response. He all but dropped the coffee mug on the counter and flashed them both an excited look, eyes bright, before he ran to the door and flung it open.
Will stepped out into the sun, his arms wide, and Sean heard his voice and that of a female, but switched off to give them privacy.
After a few moments of muffled conversation, Will and a dark-haired young woman stepped into the cool, air-conditioned living space. She resembled Will from what Sean could see, with the same lean build and dark hair. He’d bet she possessed the same blue eyes, too. They hugged as soon as they were over the doorstep, laughing and lurching around in a tangle of limbs. As Sean continued to watch them, the oddest sensation crept over him.
His skin began to tingle. Seconds later the tingle morphed into odd warmth, which quickly turned into burning pain. He patted at the skin of one arm, starting to worry, when an odd, low noise, almost a growl, made him whip his head around. Luke stared at the young woman, a fierce, hungry expression etched on his face.
Sean looked from his mate to the female and back again. His heart sped up as his instincts screamed a message he couldn’t quite decipher.
“Guys, this is Kayley.” Will pulled his cousin into the room; her small hand gripped his tight as she neared them, and Sean smelled her fear.
“Hi, Kayley, I’m Sean. Pleased to meet you.” He forced down the uncomfortable bodily sensations still assaulting him and took her hand. He bit back a gasp as lightning sharp pain hit where their skin met. She pulled her hand away, as if she experienced it too. Her skin paled to a sickly shade.
Kayley didn’t speak. Her deep blue gaze flickered from Sean to Luke and back again, over and over, as her breathing became rapid and shallow. Something about the whole situation was incredibly off.
Luke moved forward, commanding Sean’s attention, and the expression on his mate’s face stunned him. He appeared one step away from taking Kayley to the floor and ravishing her. Luke never noticed other males or females; his whole world narrowed down to Sean. Well, Sean and his dreams of their other mate…oh God! Sean clapped a hand over his mouth. The jigsaw of information began to fit together and the picture shocked him to the core. Mate. She’s our mate?
Another low rumble from Luke kicked his brain into gear, and Sean moved nearer to the alpha. He forced himself to give Kayley another friendly smile, trying to divert her attention from Luke, who positively vibrated with need next to him. Her fear unfurled in the space between them, a living thing, sharp and acrid, and he needed to get Luke out of there before she turned tail and ran.
He cleared his throat and started to speak. “We’ll get out of your hair, Will, and let you two catch up for a while. Later we’ll all get properly acquainted, I hope.” He gave one more smile and moved toward the stairs, dragging Luke with him.
The alpha still hadn’t spoken, but he followed Sean up the stairs obediently enough. Once they reached the bedroom, Luke yanked away from Sean’s grasp and pushed the bedroom door open with enough force to nearly break it.
Sean’s heart stuttered. Luke never pulled away from him. No matter how serious their arguments, he always relished Sean’s touch.
God, but he was riled up to hell! Sean followed Luke into the bathroom where his mate splashed water on his face, over and over. When Luke lifted his head, he met Sean’s gaze in the mirror. An odd sliver of gold created a halo of sunlight around the stormy gray of troubled eyes. The hint of Luke’s wolf had Sean taking a step back. Luke never lost control of his wolf.
“Luke?” He reached out. “What is it?” He knew, damn it he knew, but he needed to hear Luke say it before he could even remotely allow the possibility in.
Luke’s big body visibly shook as he turned to face Sean. “It’s her. Kayley…Will’s cousin…it’s her.”
“Are you sure?” Sean argued despite himself. It wasn’t merely Luke’s reaction. He’d sensed it too, hadn’t he? The odd tingle and burn, the zap when they touched. “Will’s cousin? I mean—she’s human, Luke. Does that sound like our long lost mate? Shifters and humans, it doesn’t happen often.”
“I don’t care what she is. Kayley is our mate.” Luke’s expression darkened further, but at least his eyes were fully gray once more. “It’s her, Sean. I felt her—here.” He slammed a hand over his heart.
“Luke, look at me.” Sean paused until Luke focused on him, panic rearing in his chest at the fucked up situation. It seemed such an odd coincidence. But Luke’s visions were never wrong, and he’d been seeing her in his dreams for years. No way would he fail to recognize her in the flesh. “We could be wrong, must be wrong. Something’s so off about all this.”
“We might be wrong, I suppose.” Luke prowled toward him. “But if so, how do you explain the fact that she’s been dreaming about us for months now.”
“What?” Sean’s mouth dropped open.
“When she looked at me, I could see everything running through her mind as clear as if she’d printed it out on a sheet for me. She’s freaking out down there because for the last few months she’s dreamed about us, repeatedly.”
“Fuck!” Sean struggled to get the air into his lungs as he processed Luke’s words.
“So is she gifted, too? Do you and she share the ability?” Sean didn’t like the idea. An emotion he’d not expected reared its ugly head, and jealousy pricked at his skin.
He’d known Luke believed himself destined to have two mates because of his dreams and visions. He’d been told about them before he’d bonded with the alpha. He’d gone into this eyes wide open and could hardly back down now. At the time, he’d wanted Luke so badly he’d have accepted fifty others to have him. Alphas could take more than one mate, and even in modern shifter society, some still did, despite many frowning upon the practice.
At first, Sean accepted the idea because of his need for Luke, but once they were bonded, Sean began to share snatches of Luke’s visions. Images and dreams of a young, dark-haired woman came to him, but he never saw her clearly, or felt her as strongly as Luke did. To Sean she’d been nothing more than an echo, an idea, a vague reality. Now she stood in their home, her presence as solid and real as the carpet he walked on.
Sean had truly believed they were meant to be three, and that he’d be fine with it, but now doubts surfaced. And fear. Fear he might be sidelined if the female possessed the same gifts Luke did.
Luke said, “No. She doesn’t share my ability. Or at least, if she does she isn’t aware of it and can’t direct it. She couldn’t read us down there, or pick up on our emotions. She’s completely unguarded, in a way someone with any knowledge would never be. But somehow, for reasons I cannot explain, she’s spent the last few months dreaming about us.” He flushed then, his skin reddening under his tan. “Her dreams have been of us—the two of us—fucking.”
Sean’s dick filled at Luke’s words. On some primal level, his body responded to the idea of her watching them, despite the other emotions swirling around within him.
He tried to think clearly. “Let’s say we proceed from the standpoint of her being our mate. You can’t say anything. Not yet. We’ve already acted pretty damn strange, and she’s an anxious young woman who Will says has been through hell. So we’ve got to go back down there and put on an Oscar-worthy performance of normality. She can’t know what we are, and she can’t know what she means to us. At least not yet, it’s too soon. Hell, she doesn’t even know what her cousin is.”
A low, impatient growl forced its way out of Luke’s chest. “She’s ours.”
“No, not yet she isn’t.” Sean’s fingers rubbed a soothing pattern on Luke’s forearm. “Remember how you were with me? I’d sworn off alpha males for life after my first experience being mated, but you dragged me in. You gentled me Luke, like a fucking horse whisperer or something. You understood how scared I was, and you slowly reeled me in until I begged you to claim me. She’s like me.” Sean moved his hand up to trail his thumb over Luke’s jaw, needing to touch his mate anywhere and everywhere. “She’s been so badly hurt. Will and I talked some today, and he told me how seriously injured Dane left her. Think about how deeply affected she must have been by it. She ran the length of the country, left her home and family, and never went back. You go in all hot and heavy, you’ll scare her off. Maybe forever. You can take it slow. I’m the proof.”
Luke breathed out in a rush. “Slow.” He spoke as if he tested the word, tasted it.
Sean studied his mate as he struggled with his alpha nature. “I know how hard this is for you because it’s going to be hard for me. My mating link with you means I’ve yearned for her as well. But if we go in guns blazing, we lose her for good. Please, give it a little time.”
“I’ll try. Tonight, I’ll be the perfect gentleman.”
Sean wondered if Luke would be able to hold it together.