BLAISE walked into the dining room for breakfast and found his mother, his brother, Taylor, and Taylor’s mate, Aspen, already there, eating. Blaise took a seat on the opposite side of the table from Taylor and Aspen, then filled a plate with fluffy scrambled eggs, bacon, and a couple of slices of toast.
“Good thing I told Taylor to leave you some,” Aspen said as she motioned to Blaise’s filled plate with her fork. “Plus, it’s a good thing you came down when you did. Taylor was about to eat your share.”
“Then I guess I have you to thank for getting something to eat this morning.” Blaise smiled at Aspen, then winked. “Are you sure you’re mated to the right brother?”
Taylor let out a low cat growl. “Blaise, it was funny the first few times you asked Aspen that, but now it’s getting on my nerves.”
Blaise laughed. “I know. That’s why I do it.”
“God, you can be a pain in the ass.”
“Now, boys,” their mother said with a smile. “No bickering at the table. Aspen and I would like to enjoy our food without listening to the two of you go at each other, even if it’s only in fun.”
Blaise chewed, then swallowed a big mouthful of eggs. “I promise to behave. Since it’s Saturday, and Taylor doesn’t have to go to work at the family corporation, what are the plans for the day?”
“Tonight Aspen’s parents are coming over for dinner so I expect you to be here,” his mother said.
Unlike Blaise and the rest of his family, who were cougar shifters, Aspen was human. She was also the first to be a mate to one of their kind. Taylor and Aspen had only been mated a couple of months, and this was the first time her parents were coming over to their daughter’s new home.
Even though as a rule cougar shifters made sure to keep their existence unknown from humans and werewolves, it’d been decided that Aspen’s parents could be told the truth about them. Blaise’s father, who was the head of their family group, had grudgingly agreed to it after his mate wouldn’t take no for an answer. It wasn’t the first time his mother had gotten her way on a major decision.
“Will Dad be coming down to eat with us?” Blaise asked.
His mother shook her head, a look of worry flitting across her face. “No. He’s too weak to even manage that. In some ways it’s better that he stays in our room.”
His father was very ill, which shouldn’t have been possible. Cougar shifters didn’t get sick—ever. His dad had become ill eight months before and had been wasting away, getting sicker, with each month that passed. His cousin, Caleb, who was a doctor, couldn’t do anything to make Blaise’s father better, no matter what he tried.
Even though it wasn’t spoken about much, everyone was worried his dad would eventually die from this mysterious illness. If he did, that would make Taylor the new head of their family group.
Blaise nodded. “Yeah, I can see that.”
His father had made it no secret that he wasn’t exactly pleased that Taylor, his firstborn and heir, had a human for a mate. Most of the older members of their family group thought humans were beneath them. The idea that one had been accepted into their ranks had outraged more than a few. Even though his father didn’t exactly approve, he’d stood up for Taylor, but that didn’t mean he’d go out of his way to be nice to Aspen’s parents.
“It is better,” Taylor said. “If Dad made any rude comments, I’d have to put him in his place. It wouldn’t make for a nice evening.”
Blaise chuckled to himself. Taylor no longer put up with any bullshit from their father. After being banished from their family group for four years over an incident with a werewolf that had revealed Taylor as a cougar shifter, his brother had come back a stronger man who thought for himself. Taylor hated all the archaic laws just as much as Blaise did. Whenever Taylor became the head of their family group, there would be a lot of changes happening that the older members would hate.
“I’ll make sure I come back in plenty of time for supper,” Blaise said.
“I thought you wanted to make plans with Taylor and Aspen?” his mom replied.
“Since they weren’t very forthcoming with any, I’m figuring they’d rather spend the day together without me being the third wheel. In that case, I’m going to do a little hunting.”
“Hunting?” His mother gave him a questioning look.
Taylor shook his head. “He means he’s going to harass some poor human women until he can convince one of them to go out with him.”
Their mom smiled. “Oh, good. I must say I like the idea of having another human female for a daughter.” She gave Aspen a smile. “I’m rather fond of the one I have now.”
“Don’t encourage him, Mom,” Taylor said. “Human women everywhere will thank you if you didn’t.” Aspen chuckled at her mate’s remark.
Blaise gave his brother an exaggerated scowl, playing the part of being insulted when that was the furthest thing from the truth. He’d missed having Taylor around to swap mock insults with and loved every minute of it now that he could.
“That hurt, brother mine,” Blaise said.
“You’ll get over it.”
Their mother cleared her throat. “Before this goes any further, Blaise, are you going to visit your father before you go out?”
He nodded. “I planned on it. I figured I’d wait until Caleb is close to done examining him. I want to hear the results.”
“Caleb should be here in a half hour or so.” His mother emptied her coffee mug, then pushed back her chair. “I’ll go keep your father company until your cousin gets here.” She stood and walked out of the room.
“Now that it’s only the three of us,” Taylor said to Blaise, “as for tonight, you’d better behave.”
“Moi not behave? I’m always on good behavior.” He snickered at the look Taylor sent him that said he didn’t agree with that at all.
Aspen chuckled. “What my mate is trying to say is, no shifting to cat form while my parents are here. They’re not used to being around cougar shifters as I am now.” She stopped Blaise before he could say anything. “Don’t deny there’s a chance you’d do just that. I’ve lost count of how many times you’ve surprised me in that form.”
Blaise gave Aspen an innocent look. “I only did it so you wouldn’t jump every time you see one of us shift.”
“Sneaking up behind me late at night in a dark hallway didn’t help with that at all, and you know it.”
“So I got a little inventive.” He’d stopped doing that once Taylor surprised Blaise by sneaking up on him and jumping his ass while in cougar form as well.
“Just try to act normal. Okay?” Aspen asked.
Taylor let out a bark of laughter. “Now you’re asking for something that’s impossible.”
Blaise ignored his brother’s comment, not hurt by it in the least, and finished the last of the food on his plate. He poured himself a cup of coffee, then stood and looked at Aspen. “I’ll be good. I promise. Now I’m going up to my room with my coffee until Caleb gets here.”
He left and headed upstairs. At the upper level, Blaise heard his mother’s voice coming from the master bedroom. With his sensitive hearing, he listened as she told her mate what she planned to have served for dinner that evening, and how she hoped to become close friends with Aspen’s parents.
That was his mother. She had the biggest heart. It helped her, considering the kind of mate she had. Even though his father loved her, there were times when he could get a little highhanded. His mother was more than capable of putting his father in his place. The only time she’d lost to him was when he’d banished Taylor. To this day she hadn’t let her mate live that one down.
Blaise sat in his room for forty-five minutes before he went to see his father. He’d heard Caleb arrive as scheduled and figured he had to be just about finished with his examination.
He tapped on the closed double bedroom doors before he opened one and stepped just inside. Caleb put his stethoscope into his bag, then waved Blaise closer.
“I’m finished,” his cousin said. “I’ve only to give him his shot.”
His father struggled to push himself up higher on the pillows that were propped at his back. “Wait until after Blaise and I have had a chance to talk. Whatever is in that needle leaves me tired and even weaker.”
Caleb nodded. “I have a little time to spare before I’m scheduled to arrive to see my next patient, but I’ll stay here to make sure Blaise doesn’t tire you out too much.”
“I have no problem with that. Besides being my doctor, you’re also my nephew. I enjoy your company.”
Blaise waited until Caleb had moved out of the way to stand near the end of the bed before Blaise sat in the chair across from his father. Caleb was the son of Blaise’s father’s younger brother. His uncle had disappeared, leaving mate and son behind, when Caleb had been quite young. No one spoke of it much, and nothing had ever really been said as to why his uncle had left. His aunt hadn’t taken the separation from her mate very well and had ended up taking her own life a year later. Caleb had been raised by an aunt in his mother’s family group.
“How are you feeling today, Father?”
His dad shook his head. “Not much better than I was yesterday. Caleb says he’s mixed a new concoction that should hopefully change that.”
Blaise looked at his cousin to see him nod in agreement. He had no idea what was in the needles Caleb used. He’d explained it once, using scientific terms, and it’d gone straight over Blaise’s head.
“Let’s hope this is the one that will cure you. I’m going out for a while, but I’ll be back for dinner.”
His father snorted. “I’m sure your mother made sure you would be. I still can’t understand why she had to invite those people over here. They’re human.”
The words “they’re human” was said in a way that conveyed how distasteful his father found the idea of the visit. Blaise couldn’t understand why his father couldn’t get over the fact that his oldest had become mated to a human, and that she now was a member of their family group. It wasn’t as if Aspen would be leaving.
“I guess she wants to be friendlier with her new daughter’s family,” Blaise said. “I don’t have any problem with them being around.”
“Taylor is starting to rub off on you. You never used to think that way.”
Actually, Blaise had. He’d just never voiced his opinion about humans around his father until Taylor had returned and become mated to Aspen. Blaise would be more than happy to have a human as his own.
From there they talked about mundane things until his father appeared to be tiring. Caleb stepped forward even before Blaise had a chance to say he would bring this visit to a close.
Blaise stood, then shifted out of the way for his cousin. Caleb pushed the sleeve up on his patient’s pajama shirt, then injected whatever was in the syringe into his upper arm. Blaise couldn’t help but notice how thin his father had become. Too thin. Once he was finished, Caleb straightened, then placed the cap on the end of the needle before putting it inside his bag.
It only took a matter of seconds before Blaise’s father started coughing. He’d been prone to coughing fits, but usually he didn’t have one right after Caleb injected him. His dad’s face turned red as the racking cough made it hard for him to get a breath. Caleb didn’t seem overly concerned by it, but that wasn’t the case with Blaise, especially when his father pulled his hand away from his mouth and there was blood in his palm.
Blaise’s gaze shot to Caleb’s face. “What the hell is that? He’s worse than before you gave him that shot.”
His cousin shook his head. “This has to be another manifestation of the illness.”
“Don’t you think that’s pretty sudden?”
His father’s coughing fit finally subsided and he settled back into the pillows. His eyes closed and he appeared to fall asleep. Blaise didn’t like how pale he was or how labored his breathing. Blaise’s gut clenched as Caleb wiped some blood away from Blaise’s dad’s lips with a tissue.
Becoming all professional doctor, Caleb said, “Sometimes a patient has to get worse before he gets better. I’ll continue with this new serum I’ve come up with and monitor your father. If in a couple of days he doesn’t show any sign of improvement, I’ll switch back to the old one until I can mix up something new.”
Blaise hated the fact his father had to be used as a guinea pig, but there was no other way. It wasn’t as if they could take him to a hospital. Being a cougar shifter, if the regular doctors took blood, the results would come back showing the differences in their chemical makeup. Plus, his dad’s illness being the one and only case in their kind, this was all new territory for Caleb.
Still worried over his father, Blaise said a quick goodbye to Caleb before leaving the room. He continued downstairs and then out the front door. He wasn’t going to be the one to tell his mother about this new symptom. Caleb could do that.
Blaise drove to downtown Anchorage with no set destination in mind at first. He pushed thoughts of his father’s condition to the back of his mind. He was on a hunt for the human female who could potentially be his mate.
He lifted his hand and stroked the gold cougar-head pendant he wore around his neck from a gold chain. All male cougar shifters were given one once they reached adolescence. It had a bit of magic embedded inside. To know a female was meant to be his mate, the male’s cougar’s ruby eyes would glow. It wasn’t something that happened with a first meeting, or even the first time the couple had sex. It sometimes took months before the eyes revealed the truth. Once it happened, it was the female’s decision to accept the necklace as hers, which would create the mating bond, joining the mated pair’s souls.
If the female didn’t take the necklace after the eyes glowed, the male ended up walking a fine line. He’d be unable to eat or sleep, basically only able to think about having sex with his newfound mate to hopefully tie her emotionally closer with each bout of lovemaking. His condition would be caused by an increase in testosterone.
Blaise hoped he’d never get to that point once he found his mate, though the chances were good it could happen if she turned out to be human. She wouldn’t have grown up knowing what a male’s pedant meant to her, or that she was to claim it, and him, as her own. He was more than willing to take that chance. If it happened, it happened, and he’d deal with it when the time came.
Since it was too early to do the bar scene, Blaise decided the next best place to meet women was where they liked to go shopping—a mall. With that decision made, he headed for the Anchorage 5th Avenue Mall, which was right in the city’s downtown core.
Once he arrived at his destination, Blaise parked his sports car in the parking garage and then headed into the mall. It being a Saturday, it was more than a little busy. He didn’t mind. It meant there would be a better chance to meet potential women to ask out. Now he just had to determine where he wanted to begin his hunt.
Blaise just starting walking, going with the flow of people, hoping his gaze found a likely target. Much to his chagrin, going by those around him, a lot of the females were mothers with young kids, senior citizens, or teenagers. Not exactly what he was looking for.
His steps slowed once a women’s lingerie store came into view. Now that was a place that could have a lot of potential. The only thing holding him back was whether or not he’d be considered a sicko for trying to pick up a woman there. Then again, when had anything like that ever stopped him?
He headed straight for the store and walked right inside. A quick look around and Blaise found he was the only male present. He noticed there was a small section of the store that was dedicated to men’s underwear and sleepwear. He couldn’t see a lot of guys actually deciding to come to a place like that to shop for those kinds of things for themselves. Unless the store thought the women would buy the items for their boyfriends or husbands.
Blaise walked farther into the world of women’s intimates and spotted a raven-haired beauty standing in front of a display of panties. He’d always found himself attracted to women with dark hair since cougar shifters ranged from blond to light brown.
His prey chosen, Blaise stepped out of the middle of the walkway to observe her before he made his move. She wasn’t far enough away for him not to be able to see the color of her eyes with his keen eyesight. They were a gorgeous blue, almost the color of sapphires. She flipped her long hair over her shoulder, appearing not that impressed with what she looked at.
She lifted her head and her gaze settled on him where he stood a short distance away. She put down the pair of panties she’d been looking at, then walked around the table before heading in his direction. Blaise stayed where he was to see what she’d do. He was more than willing to let her approach him first.