Main A Cold Winter's Night

A Cold Winter's Night

Can Clarke convince his mate to accept him, or will he lose him before he has the chance?


The falling snow was the first hint that Marco Gomez’ weekend away with friends might not turn out how he expected. The bear coming into their campsite was the next. The third was the man who came to their rescue. A man who would change the course of Marco’s life.
When Clarke Sterling heard the bear, he wasn’t concerned. He was in the woods after all. The whimpers of fright however weren’t expected. Saving three men from the bear infuriated him–they had signs posted to prevent this from occurring–until he caught the scent of his mate.
Staring into the eyes of his saviour Marco felt an undeniable attraction, one he was more than happy to explore until he Clarke told him exactly who Marco was to him. Marco knew all about shifters and mates and wanted nothing to do with it. He had his future planned and it didn’t involve a mate.
But the separation haunted him. A long distance relationship developed until the scientist found Marco. Reacting in fear and anger Marco ended their relationship leaving Clarke shattered at the loss of his mate.
Could they bridge the gap between them and could Clarke keep his mate safe now the scientists knew about him?

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Contents





Title

Copyright

Dedication

Come and join me!

A Cold Winter's Night

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Epilogue

Further Reading

Mate of Mine

Take a Chance

Broken Promises

Thank You

About Megs

Books by Megs

Contact Information





A Cold Winter’s Night





By





Megs Pritchard





Book 3 in the Salutem Series





A Cold Winter’s Night



A Salutem Novel Book 3

Copyright © 2019 Megs Pritchard www.megspritchardauthor.com Edited by Rebecca J Cartee Cover design by JC Clarke at The Graphics Shed All rights reserved. This book is licensed to the original purchaser only.

No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods. It is illegal and a violation of international copyright law, subject to prosecution and upon conviction, fines and/or imprisonment. Any eBook format cannot legally be loaned or given to others. For permission requests, write to the publisher.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblances to the actual person, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.





WARNING


This book contains explicit M/M sexual scenes and strong language.





Dedication





To everyone is Meg’s Minions.

Thank you for being part of this journey.





Come and join me!





Thanks for your support and if you want more information or sneak peeks, join my Facebook group and sign up for my newsletter.





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A Cold Winter’s Night





The snow falling was the first hint that Marco Gomez’ wee; kend away with friends might not turn out how he expected. The bear coming into their campsite was the next. The third was the man who came to their rescue. A man who would change the course of Marco’s life.





When Clarke Sterling heard the bear, he wasn’t concerned. He was in the woods after all. The whimpers of fright however weren’t expected. Saving three men from the bear infuriated him—they had signs posted to prevent this from occurring—until he caught the scent of his mate.





Staring into the eyes of his saviour Marco felt an undeniable attraction, one he was more than happy to explore until he Clarke told him exactly who Marco was to him. Marco knew all about shifters and mates and wanted nothing to do with it. He had his future planned and it didn’t involve a mate.





But the separation haunted him. A long distance relationship developed until the scientist found Marco. Reacting in fear and anger Marco ended their relationship leaving Clarke shattered at the loss of his mate.





Could they bridge the gap between then and could Clarke keep his mate safe now the scientists knew about him?





Chapter One





“I can’t believe it’s snowing. It’s weeks before it’s officially winter,” Marco grumbled as he hammered the tent peg into the solid ground. “Why can’t we just book into a motel or something?”

“We planned this trip months ago. I wanted to go camping, so I could be at one with nature, be out in the fresh air, feel the breeze on my face, not stay in some soulless motel room.”

Marco rolled his eyes while Nash chuckled. Trust Tap to be all romantic about it. Well, he was a poet. “Come on then. Let’s get this set up and get the fire going. We’re gonna need it tonight.”

Just as Marco finished talking, the first snowflakes fell, and he glared at Tap who grinned happily. Doing a fist pump, he danced on the spot. “Awesome!”

“No, it isn’t.” Now it was Nash’s turn to grumble.

“We’ll finish the tent,” Marco said to Nash. “You get the fire started.”

Nash nodded and disappeared into the trees in search of wood to burn. Marco turned his attention back to the tent, and it wasn’t before long he and Tap had it up. They grabbed their rucksacks, quickly making their beds. Marco was glad he’d packed the camp bed to keep him off the cold, hard ground; it would be very unforgiving in this weather. Finally, once they were all set up, they went back outside to help Nash get the fire started.

The snow continued to fall, and Marco looked around at the place they had chosen to set up camp. They had put the tent under the trees so at least they had some cover from the snow, and Nash had the sense to do the same with the fire. At least the falling snow wouldn’t put it out too soon.

Marco rummaged around until he found the camp stove and with the help of several sturdy branches, set it over the fire. Beans on the stove, with bacon and sausages in the frying pan and a pot of water for coffee. Nash came out with the last piece of their hearty meal—the bread—and they all stood near the fire, hands outstretched trying to stay warm while waiting for the food to cook.

“Glad I made it bigger than usual,” Nash muttered as he turned around to warm his back.

“Motel.”

“Marco! No, I want to be outdoors. I spend all day stuck inside working, and this is what I need. Don’t tell me you like being inside.” Tap glared at Marco.

Sighing, he shook his head. “No. You’re right. I just could have done without the snow.”

“I like it.” Nash smiled at them. “It has a Christmassy feel to it.”

“It is the beginning of December.” Marco suddenly laughed. “Who in their right mind goes camping in December?”

The other two chuckled, nodding in agreement. Still, Tap had been right. It was nice being outside, breathing in smog free air. He lived in the city, with all the hustle and bustle that went with it, but some days when he looked out of his apartment window, he could see the pollution in the air, and he wondered if it was worth it. That’s what made these weekends away more important.

He was the opposite of his parents and siblings. They loved the city and everything that went with city life. Not that he’d spoken to them in the last few years. Even now, with the snow falling and the ground hard beneath his feet, he loved this.

They had plans to go hiking tomorrow and would no doubt dare each other to go swimming in the lake they’d seen on the way here. Just thinking about it had Marco’s balls trying to crawl back into his body. It would be fucking freezing at this time of year!

Once they’d cooked the food, they sat close to the fire eating and drinking their coffee. The snow continued to fall, and soon the ground around them was a brilliant white. It hung from the branches too, and Marco sighed, feeling the last link to city life fade away.

“I wish we could come out here more often,” Tap whispered. “I hate the city.”

“Me too,” Nash agreed.

Marco hummed his agreement. That was why the three were still good friends after all these years. They’d met in high school and had become close friends, sharing a love for the great outdoors. The fact all three were gay also helped. They’d been there for each other during high school when the bullying started.

Nash was training to become a doctor and still had years of training ahead of him, but it was his passion, so these weekends away helped him to decompress from his heavy workload.

Tap, the poet, worked in a cubicle, doing shitty menial jobs he hated. After graduating high school, Tap cared for his mom who had died a year later. With no other family, he’d fallen into the booze to cope, and it was only Marco and Nash who’d been able to drag him out of the hole he fallen into.

He’d been sober for four years now, but they all knew temptation was one bottle away. It was a lifelong commitment, and they were there for Tap, every step of the way.

As for Marco, he’d earned a business degree in the hopes of one day starting his own company, but so far, he’d had no luck. It would help if he knew what he wanted to do, but so far nothing had appealed to him, and he was stuck in a cubicle doing a job he hated. He just knew he wanted to do it at some point.

Once they finished eating and cleaning up, they sat talking about what they’d been up to, who they’d dated. All three were single, had done the club scene, and now wanted to settle down with that special someone. Marco considered himself too old to be hitting the clubs now. He was only twenty-four, but he’d had enough. Maybe he’d just had enough of the direction his life had taken him.

When the temperature dropped farther, they finally called it a night and went to bed, but it wasn’t long before Marco heard a rustling sound outside. He nudged Nash, who was in the middle, awake and pointed outside.

Nash frowned then sucked in a breath. He bit his lips before whispering, “Bear?”

Marco’s eyes widened. Fuck, not a bear. He crawled out of his sleeping bag and reached for the bear horn he’d brought. Just as his fingers touched it, the bear growled. It was right outside.

He heard Tap whimper, and they all looked at each other. He inched forward, and they heard the growl again. Closer this time. Too close.

Marco swallowed hard and tried to stay quiet, but he could hear his own ragged breathing. He stared, wide eyed at the other two, seeing the same look of fear on their faces when the bear growled again.

“Shit.”

❊❊❊

Clarke Sterling laughed and shook his head. “Your parents are fuckers.”

Wolff nodded, his breath white in the cold air. “Yeah, they are.”

“Wolff.” Clarke laughed again. “Is that why you grew your hair out?”

“Fuck, yeah. Imagine calling your wolf shifter son Wolff? Now, I have the hair to match. Mom hates it too. Tells me every time I see her to cut it off. Payback’s a bitch.”

Clarke grinned. “Yeah, it is.”

Wolff cleared his throat and said, “So, the labs?”

Clarke growled in anger. “Fuckers.”

Nodding in agreement, Wolff asked, “What’s happening?”

Deacon had kept a lid on the information given out. Until they found who was betraying them, only a few were trusted. Brian, Clarke’s brother and council member, had made him aware of the situation. How could someone sell them out? It was hard enough for them as it was and now someone was betraying them.

Clarke shrugged. “I don’t know much. Probably no more than you. They seem to be keeping the details to a few shifters.”

“Someone has to be telling them about us. No way they could know about us; we are too careful. If I get my hands on whoever it is, I’ll kill them. Slowly and painfully.”

“Agree with you there. I’m wondering if it’s more than one.” He watched Wolff as he spoke and saw the look of shock that was quickly replaced with anger.

“Slowly and very painfully for whoever is involved. We need to stick together, not sell our own species out. Too many have been taken already. Too many have died.”

Clarke inhaled Wolff’s scent. All he could scent was the truth and a shit ton of anger. He didn’t think it was Wolff, but he’d given Brian his word he wouldn’t tell anyone, and he would keep it. Too many lives depended on finding out who was responsible, and if he inadvertently told that person…

“We need to hunt them down.”

“Tear them apart. Teach them a lesson they’ll never forget.” Wolff sighed. “We need to find all their labs, so we can put a stop to this.”

“The locations of a few of the labs are known.”

“We have eyes on those, don’t we? We should—”

Wolff froze, and they both turned toward the growl. “Bear,” Clarke muttered.

Wolff shrugged and walked on then stopped when the growl sounded again. They glanced at each other before turning toward the direction the noise had come from.

Then they heard it. A whimper followed by another growl.

“Fuck. Humans.”

Both men quickened their pace and headed toward the sounds, stepping carefully, not making any unnecessary noise. They needed to find out what was happening before they went in. The last thing they needed was to cause the bear to react and hurt someone, themselves included.

Once they reached the area, they both squatted, staring at the scene in front of them. A tent sat under the trees with a smoldering fire in front of it. Clarke saw the frying pan and pointed at it.

“Probably smelled the food cooking.”

Wolff nodded. “Drew the bear toward them.”

The bear moved closer to the tent, growling again, and they heard another whimper from inside. Clarke glanced at Wolff who sighed.

“Wanna save the silly humans?” he asked, a grin slashing his face.

Clarke shrugged. “Be the most excitement I’ve had in a while.”

Wolff chuckled. “You should come by Morefield. You’ll have fun there.”

“I might just do that,” Clarke said, a little distracted.

What was that aroma lingering in the air? He couldn’t quite place it, but it called to him, a tantalizing scent he desperately wanted to inhale and take deep into his lungs.

Wolff stood and quickly stripped then seamlessly changed into his wolf form. He looked at Clarke, and he nodded in return.

“Let’s go chase the big bad bear away from the scared little humans.”

Wolff chuffed, and Clarke grinned. Yeah, let’s chase it away so I can take another sniff of that amazing scent…

Wolff padded in front of him, and once they stepped into the clearing, the bear swung its head toward them and growled.

“Shoo.” Clarke flapped his hand at the bear, and Wolff chuffed again. “What?”

The bear growled loudly and pushed up onto its back paws, towering over them. Clarke heard the cry of alarm from inside the tent and shook his head. First, the weather was shit and second, the signs clearly said they had wildlife in the area and to take the necessary precautions

The bear dropped down on all fours and ran toward them. “Oh, shit!”

Clarke shouted and dived out of the way as Wolff growled and ran around the back of the bear to nip at his legs. Neither of them wanted to hurt the animal; it was doing what came naturally, but they couldn’t have the humans hurt either.

Clarke moved quickly, avoiding the rushing bear, and Wolff nipped at it again. The bear swung around, going after Wolff. Clarke groaned. He would have to shift too. The bear wasn’t giving up.

As Wolff distracted it, Clarke stripped, wincing as the cold hit his naked flesh. “They’d better fucking appreciate this,” he grumbled. It felt like his balls were trying to excavate a route to his chest.

His shift flowed over him, and he roared as he shook his mane out. The bear’s head swung in his direction, and Wolff took the opportunity to bite its front leg. The bear roared in pain, and Clarke nipped its back legs, hoping it would lumber off.

They worked in tandem, one attacking from the rear then the other attacking from the front until the bear got the message and left the area, growling loudly in displeasure. Clarke shifted and dressed as quickly as possible, as Wolff padded off to where he’d stashed his clothes so he could shift.

Clarke shivered and shoved his hands in his gloves. Damn, he wanted to be at home, not jumping in place, trying to warm up.





Chapter Two





Marco heard the sounds of fighting outside and shrank to the back of the tent along with Nash and Tap. The growls and roars—of what sounded like a fucking lion—from outside scared the shit out of him and going by the looks on Nash and Taps’ faces, they felt the same too.

What he wouldn’t give to be anywhere but here. That B and B sounded more amazing with every passing second.

Another roar and growl came from outside, and Marco contemplated cutting a hole in the back of the tent so they could crawl away. Marco wasn’t going to end up as dog food for whatever the fuck was out there.

He glanced at Tap and Nash, seeing the same looks of fear on their faces. Marco nodded toward the back of the tent and gingerly reached around to find his pocket knife. Another roar sounded, and he froze with his hand outstretched. He swallowed hard and stared at the front of the tent.

“It’s clear. You can come out now.”

Again, Marco looked at the other two men in the tent with him, and when Nash raised his eyebrows and pointed at the front of the tent, Marco glared at him.

“Why me?”

“Why not?” Nash muttered.

“Yeah, you should go.” Tap nodded in agreement.

“I’m not being the fucking sacrificial lamb!” Marco hissed.

“I don’t care which one of you comes out.”

They all looked at the front again, and with a sigh, Marco unzipped the tent and crawled out. He stood, brushing his thermals off, studiously ignoring the man in front of him.

Clearing his throat, he muttered, “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” came the deep voiced reply.

Marco stood up straight and stared at perfection. The man in front of him was stunning. He stumbled forward when Tap tripped into him and glared at him. Nash crawled out, and Marco caught the second Nash’s eyes landed on their savior.

“Oh,” Nash whispered, his eyes going wide.

Marco had the insane urge to jump in front of the man who’d saved them and scream “mine”. Shocked, he furrowed his brow at his own reaction. He wasn’t one for jealousy, but damn did he feel it get its claws into him in that moment.

Tall and broad with gray hair and deep brown eyes, he had this aura around him that had Marco panting in need. He didn’t appear old enough to have gray hair, but Marco had to admit it looked stunning on him. Damn, he wanted to strip the man naked and do wicked things to his body.

The man looked at him and smiled. Stepping closer, he held out his hand. “Clarke.”

Nash pushed past Marco. “Nash. Thank you so much for helping us.”

Marco rolled his eyes and caught the amused look on Tap’s face. Tap shook his head, and Marco grinned. Typical Nash.

“I’m Tap and thanks.” The man nodded and then looked over at Marco.

Their eyes met and held far longer this time, and Marco felt like the air had been sucked out of his lungs the longer their eyes held. Who was this man, and why did he have this effect on him?

He stepped back and turned away so he could rearrange his erection. He shivered in the frigid air and the man, Clarke, said, “I think you should all get some thicker clothes on. It’s cold tonight.”

Marco virtually dived back into the tent, along with the others, and grabbed his clothes. Dressing quickly, he saw Nash staring outside the tent.

“Could you make it any more obvious, Nash?” Marco whispered. “You’re practically undressing him with your eyes.”

“I wouldn’t mind undressing him. You’ve got eyes, Marco. He’s fucking hot!”

“I have and he is, but he also just saved our lives.”

“Shut up you two. Get dressed and get back out there. He can probably hear everything we’re saying in here.” Tap pulled his jeans up. “It’s too fucking cold to be doing this shit.”

Marco grumbled under his breath and rushed to finish dressing. It was fucking cold, and his balls were trying to crawl back inside his body.

Shivering, Marco tugged his coat on and crawled out behind Nash who was smiling at their savior. Marco rolled his eyes, watching Nash flirt with Clarke.

Tap came out after them and jumped up and down before tucking his hands in his armpits. “Shit, it’s cold.”

“It is,” Clarke smiled, but Marco noticed he didn’t appear as affected by the cold as they were.

He wasn’t shivering, and he didn’t have the layers on they did. He stood smiling at Nash and his painful attempts to flirt. No wonder he didn’t get laid.

“Right, you need to break camp and pack up your stuff. There’s and B and B in town, Sleep Tight. You can spend the night there.”

“We came here to camp, not spend the night in some motel.”

Clarke stared at Tap then nodded. “Well, hopefully that bear won’t come back.”

Tap’s mouth opened then closed again, like a fish out of water. “Sleep Tight, you said.”

“Yeah. They’ll have rooms for you.”

Marco watched Clarke’s nostrils widen as he inhaled and then glanced at them, his eyes meeting his. Clarke furrowed his brow. Clarke had this air about him, one he’d seen before, and Marco had his suspicions about Clarke and what he was.

He’d met a shifter back in college, and they’d become friends. He’d kept his secret. Was this Clarke the same as Robin? He would have to ask him to find out and that meant revealing what he knew about shifters.

He knew how secretive they were and understood the reasons they had to protect themselves. After the mess the vampire council had made, the damage they had done to the image of all things paranormal, there was little chance shifters would come out now. Why put yourself under that level of scrutiny?

He heard branches snap and sucked in a breath.

“Don’t worry. That’ll be Wolff coming back. He was making sure the bear had left the area.”

“Wolff?” Nash asked.

“Yeah. Inside joke with his family.”

Inside joke? Wolff? Marco rubbed his jaw. Maybe he was closer to the truth than he’d thought.

❊❊❊

Clarke watched the three men, trying to figure out who was giving off that incredible scent. The scent that claimed him as Clarke’s mate. He stared intently at each man in front of him, ignoring the one trying to flirt. He knew he wasn’t Clarke’s mate.

When he reached the Latino—Marco, was it? That was the name he’d overheard—he inhaled again and noticed Marco watching him with a frown on his face.

“Inside joke?”

Clarke stared at the man who had asked the question and discreetly inhaled. Him. The scent was coming from him. He stepped closer, needing to smell him again and confirm what he already knew.

At that moment, Wolff stepped into the clearing and crossed his arms over his chest. “Do any of you read the fucking signs we post?”

“Come on, time to break camp and get goin’.”

Clarke stepped away, and Wolff stood next to him. The three men didn’t move until Clarke growled, spurring them into action.

Wolff arched an eyebrow at him. “Who has you hot under the collar?”

Shifter senses. “The Latino. Think he’s my mate.”

Wolff grinned. “That’s great.”

“Not sure. Need to get closer to be certain.”

“Well, you have your opportunity. Let’s go and help.” Wolff grinned, and Clarke returned it.

“Yeah, let’s.”

Clarke stared at the man he thought was his mate, seeing the interest he showed. He stepped closer, discretely inhaling his scent once more. Yes, it was definitely him; he could smell the faint trace of his arousal.

Clarke smiled at him, and Marco shyly smiled in response. Stepping closer again, he said, “You need to pack your things, and then we can go.”

“To this Sleep Tight?”

“Yeah, it’s a nice place. You’ll get a good night’s sleep there.”

Marco bit his lip and nodded. “I’m sure I will.”

“Go and pack your things then we can sort the tent out.”

Clarke stepped back and watched Marco enter the tent with one last glance in his direction. Wolff pulled him farther back and nodded toward the tent.

“Well?”

“He is. Marco’s his name.”

“Congrats, man. You found him.” Wolff grinned at him, and Clarke nudged him.

“You’re next.”

Wolff nodded and glanced back at the tent. “Sooner than you think. Pretty sure the one called Tap is mine.”

Clarke’s eyes widened. “Really?”

“Yeah. I’ll try and get some time alone with him.”

“I’m sure we can sort something out. Me and you meeting our mates at the same time. How cool is that?”

Wolff grinned. “I’m over the moon, Clarke. I’ve waited for years to find my mate, and at last he’s finally here.”

Clarke grinned back at him, rubbing his hands together. “Me too. Now, the hard part: how to explain the whole shifter, mate shit to them.”

Wolff groaned and rubbed the back of his neck. “Shit, hadn’t thought of that. Do you do it slowly or just tell them outright?”

“Guess we’ll have to get to know them a bit first and go from there?”

“Let’s get them packed up, and then they can follow us to the B and B. We’ll get them checked in and see if we can get them to exchange numbers.”

Clarke rocked on the soles of his feet. “Yeah, sounds like a plan.”

Clarke stood and watched the three men drag their backpacks out and then helped them to dismantle their tent. He watched Wolff stand close to Tap and discreetly inhale. Wolff glanced his way and gave him a slight nod. Looked like both of them had finally found their mates.

“Come on. We’ll walk you back to your car. Did you come separately or in one car?”

“We came in our own cars,” Marco answered.

Clarke grinned. “I’ll jump in with you, and Wolff can go with Tap.”

“What about your cars?”

Clarke waved the question away. “Nah. We’ll be fine.” He could always change form and run to his car, not that Marco needed to know that.

“Yeah. Clarke’s right. We’ll be okay.” Wolff bent and picked up the tent and shrugged it over his shoulder. “Let’s get going. I can feel the temperature dropping.”

Wolff led the way with Tap close behind. Clarke could hear Wolff talking to him, trying to get to know his mate. He watched the glances Tap sent Wolff’s way and smiled. Tap was definitely feeling something for the wolf.

He let Nash go in the middle, followed by Marco, and he had the pleasure of watching his mate walk in front of him. He bit his lip as he watched the man’s ass move. God, how he wanted to reach out and caress the meaty globes tempting him with every step.

It took around twenty minutes to make it back to where the three men had parked their cars, and Clarke waved to Wolff as he got into Tap’s vehicle. Nash got into his, and Clarke followed Marco to his.

“So, we’re heading to this Sleep Tight?”

“Yeah, I’ll direct you. It’s about fifteen, maybe twenty minutes from here.”

“And they’ll have rooms for us.”

Clarke nodded. “Already been taken care of.”

While the three men had been packing their belongings, Clarke had sent a text to Mrs. Chitwood, explaining the situation. “Mrs. Chitwood, who owns the place, is getting the rooms ready now.”

“Oh, okay.” Marco frowned.

“Are you okay with that?”

“What?” Marco blinked at him. “Yeah, sure. It’s just been a strange night is all.”

“It has. I haven’t seen a bear for a few years. They’re usually farther north.”

“We were just lucky, I guess.”

Clarke grinned and watched Marco’s hands as they gripped the steering wheel. He licked his lips and looked up, catching Marco’s glance in his direction.

Clarke stared at him, and it wasn’t long before Marco glanced at him again. Their eyes held for a brief second before Marco exhaled shakily and stared out of the windshield.

“I can show you around Salutem tomorrow, if you’re free?”

Marco swallowed. “I’m not sure what we’re doing. We’re supposed to be roughing it in the wild.”

“There is plenty of wilderness around here. I can show you some of it, if you like?”

Marco didn’t respond, and Clarke sat back in his seat, watching his mate drive. Once they hit Salutem, he directed Marco to the B and B. Mrs. Chitwood was waiting for them as they arrived and quickly ushered them in out of the cold.

“You must be Marco.”

Marco smiled and nodded. “Thanks for putting us up on short notice.”

“Don’t be silly. I’m just glad I had the room.”

The others came in, and as Mrs. Chitwood led them off to their rooms, Clarke jotted his number down and handed it to Marco. “Call me tomorrow.”

Marco took the slip of paper and stared at Clarke before nodding.

Clarke watched him leave and turned to Wolff who was grinning. “Well?” he asked.

“Meeting him tomorrow too.”

“Nice. So, shall we run back to the cars?”

Wolff groaned and nodded. Both stripped quickly, stuffing their clothes behind the front desk before starting the long run back. Not that it bothered Clarke. He had his thoughts of Marco to keep him occupied.





Chapter Three





Clarke sipped his coffee, careful not to burn his mouth. He sighed and glanced at his watch. Marco would be arriving soon.

When he’d texted to ask Clarke to meet him for a drink, Clarke had been elated. Marco felt their connection too, the pull between them. He wanted to get to know his mate and find out everything he could about him.

He’d been up early that morning, working on the family farm. It was winter and that meant checking on the livestock, namely the calves born that spring that had yet to go to market. After he’d seen to the calves and distributed the hay, he’d gone back to the barn to see to his horse, Dante.

As with any farm, there were always more chores to attend to, but once he’d seen the text from Marco, Clarke had changed his plans, showering and driving into town to meet him. Now he sat in Sam’s Coffee Shop, anxiously waiting for his mate to arrive.

Clarke’s leg bounced, and he rubbed his hands on his jeans. Blowing out a breath, he stared at the shop door, impatiently waiting for Marco to arrive.

He’d had a text from Wolff earlier that morning, letting him know Tap had been in contact with him. Clarke was genuinely happy for the wolf shifter. He knew how long some of their kind waited for their mates, and it wasn’t always guaranteed that they’d ever find them. Some simply settled, marrying and having a family rather than wait.

It all came down to luck, a chance meeting that led to a shifter finding the one person meant for him or her.

Clarke would be the first of his siblings to have found his mate. Not that he had told any of them yet. Clarke wanted to get to know Marco before introducing him to his life. It wasn’t like he could just tell him the truth. He needed to get to know him, get him to trust him before he could reveal the truth about what he was.

The door opened, and Marco stepped in. Clarke waved at him and saw Marco smile in response. Damn, his mate was gorgeous. Dark hair and eyes, his skin naturally tanned. Clarke wanted to feel that skin under his hands, touch it with his lips and tongue.

He took several shaky breaths. All the shifters in the shop would be able to scent his growing arousal, and Clarke wanted to keep things quiet for now. Reining his lust in, he stood when Marco approached.

“Hi, Marco. Want a coffee?”

“Yeah, that’d be great, thanks. Filter please. No milk or sugar.”

“Straight up black?” Clarke raised an eyebrow. He had milk and sugar.

“Yeah, black.” Marco grinned. “Don’t want anything diluting my coffee, man.”

“Do you want a cake or anything to go with it?”

“Nah, I’m good. Mrs. Chitwood makes a mean breakfast.”

“Man, my breakfast was hours ago.”

“Really? What do you do?”

“I work on the family farm. Let me get your drink, and I’ll tell you all about it.”

Clarke got in line, and when it was his turn, Sam glanced over at Marco and muttered, “Who is he?”

Clarke grinned and leaned forward, whispering, “My mate, Marco. I met him last night. He doesn’t know anything yet so keep it quiet and don’t mention it to my family. I want to spend some time getting to know him first.”

“Congrats, Clarke.” Sam smiled.

“Wolff met his too.”

Sam’s eyebrows shot up. “Really? Last night?”

“Yeah. Marco and two of his friends decided to go camping in the woods over by Crooked Tree Creek.”

“Don’t these people read the signs? We must have a hundred posted, warning about the dangers of the local wildlife.” Sam shook his head. “Good thing for you that your two didn’t pay attention this time.”

“I know. A bear got close to their tent. Almost got inside.”

“Silly humans. We have those signs out for a reason.” Sam shrugged. “Well, they’ve definitely learned their lesson. So, what can I get you?”

“Black filter, please.”

Sam nodded and quickly made the drink then passed it to Clarke. “Congrats, Clarke.” He said again.

“Your turn soon, Sam.”

“Better had be. I’m not getting any younger.”

Clarke looked Sam up and down then smirked. Sam was one fit shifter. “You look great, as always.”

Sam rolled his eyes. “Go. Your mate is watching.”

Clarke picked up Marco’s drink and walked over to Marco, putting the drink in front of him and sitting opposite. He sighed and closed his eyes, feeling the events of the previous night and the early start catching up with him.

“You look tired.”

Clarke nodded. “Late night and an early start. We have cows on the farm, so I had to do early morning checks. Then it was feeding time and making sure they had access to water now the temp is dropping.”

“You deal with cows?”

“We have a large herd. Around two hundred or so. We are a cattle farm, so our livestock will ultimately head to auction or slaughter. We’ll keep some for the following year to breed.”

“I’m a vegetarian.”

Clarke stared at Marco, eyes wide. “You’re a veggie?”

“No, but it was funny seeing that look on your face.”

Clarke gave Marco a mock glare. “Thanks for that.”

Marco leaned closer and whispered, “So, what are you?”

Clarke had just taken a sip of his coffee when Marco asked the question, and he choked as it went down the wrong way. “What?”

Marco sat back in his seat and whispered the question again. Clarke heard a chuckle behind him and glared over his shoulder at Sam who grinned and leaned on the counter watching him with Marco.

Ignoring Sam, Clarke turned to face his mate and asked, “What am I?”

“Yeah. I know about shifters.”

Clarke swallowed. Well, that was one secret he didn’t have to reveal. Just what did his mate know?

❊❊❊

Marco smiled to himself as he watched Clarke absorb what he’d just said. He knew about shifters. Had done so for a few years and their existence didn’t faze him at all. Vampires existed, so why not shifters?

Once it appeared Clarke got over his shock, he asked, “What exactly do you know?”

Marco leaned forward, resting his forearms on the table. “My first year in college, my roommate came in one night injured. Turns out he’d been running in his wolf form and got tangled in some wire. He’d come back to our room so he could sleep in his shifted form. He hadn’t expected me to be there, but he needed time to heal, and that was how I found out.” Marco sat back and stared at Clarke. “You have that same…vibe or aura he did.”

“Okay.”

Marco waited for Clarke to add to his comment but when he remained silent, he asked, “What are you? Are there different types of wolves?”

Clarke coughed and pursed his lips. “Cat.”

Marco’s eyebrows shot up. Clarke was a cat shifter? He’d assumed he was another wolf like his friend was. “Wow. I wasn’t expecting that.”

“Yeah, me either.” Clarke glanced over his shoulder.

Marco glanced at the man behind the counter who was watching them. He looked around the coffee shop, now realizing how quiet it had become. “Are there others?”

“Salutem is primarily a cat shifter town, and Morefield Village is where the wolf shifters live.”

Marco’s mouth fell open, and he stared in shock at Clarke. Salutem was a shifter town, and there was more than one type of shifter? Clarke had said cat. Did that mean there was more than one type of cat shifter?

Did that mean everyone in the coffee shop was a shifter and could hear their conversation?

Ignoring the fact others could be listening in, he asked, “What type of cat shifter are you?”

Clarke stared at the cup in his hand, licked his lips then nodded. “Lion. I come from a family of lion shifters.”

“I always wondered if there were others. Like other wolf shifters or other animal shifters.”

Marco watched Clarke and saw the glances Clarke was sending his way. The man—or shifter—was hot. Marco had been drawn to him immediately when they met the night before. Tall and broad, with gray hair that looked natural on him and deep brown eyes that captivated Marco.

“Why tell me?”

Clarke looked surprised at Marco’s question. “Why hide it? You know about us. You can sense our differences.”

“True, but…You could have denied it.”

Clarke nodded. “I could have, but I want to be honest with you.”

“Why?” Marco leaned forward again, staring intently at Clarke.

Clarke met his eyes, a small smile appearing on his face, and whispered, “You’re my mate.”

Marco tilted his head, furrowing his brow. Mate? “What’s a mate?”

Clarke frowned and looked away. “Someone who is meant for a shifter. You’re mine, so you’re the perfect fit for me.”

“I’m perfect for you?” Marco chuckled, shaking his head. What a crock of shit!

He wanted a relationship, but a mate? No, he didn’t believe it. “Yeah, you are. I knew as soon as I caught your scent.”

“So, it’s a scent thing? I smelled good, so you think I’m this mate thing to you?”

Clarke frowned again and stared at the table for several seconds before saying, “No, it’s more than that. It’s hard to put into words. It’s like a pull, a connection that draws you to the other person. The scent is something unique only to the shifter who is your mate. Your scent wouldn’t affect any other shifter the way it does me. It’s like a…a spiritual connection?” Clarke scratched his head. “I’m not doing a good job here, am I?”

“Let me get this straight. I’m your mate, so I’m perfect for you. You knew I was your mate, because you felt something, and I smelled good. Anything else to add?”

“Don’t you feel it?” Clarke shook his head, his brow furrowing. “The connection we have? Can’t you feel the pull between us?”

“I find you attractive. I mean, who wouldn’t? Look at you.” Marco waved his hand in Clarke’s direction. The man was seriously hot. Who wouldn’t be attracted to him? “Do I want to have sex with you? Of course I do, but I don’t feel this thing you do. I think you need to get laid more often, Clarke.”

Clarke sat back in his seat, his head shaking slowly. “How can you not feel it?”

“I’m human?” Marco shrugged. He did feel something, but he couldn’t put a name to it. He didn’t know what this mate thing was; it just seemed so far-fetched, and he couldn’t simply trust the word of someone he’d met only hours ago. He needed more than Clarke’s word.

“What do I need to do to prove it to you?”

“We only just met, Clarke. I don’t know you at all. You’re simply the man who helped me and my friends last night when you chased the wild bear away.” That was when another thought crossed his mind. “It was a wild bear, right?”

Clarke nodded. “It was; that’s why we have the signs posted everywhere.” Marco stood, and Clarke looked up in surprise. “Where are you going?”

Marco furrowed his brow. “Home.”

“What? Why? Stay and we can get to know each other more?”

“And then what? What could we possibly do other than fuck?”

“We would be mates,” Clarke whispered the words, and for a second, Marco felt his chest tighten in response to the distress he could see on Clarke’s face.

He shook his head. “I don’t know you, and I’m only here for another day. I have a job, a life. I’m not what you think I am.” He stepped away from the table and walked out of the coffee shop.

The last thing he’d expected from his rescuer was to hear he was his one and only. Yeah, time to go home. This vacation hadn’t turned out as Marco had intended at all; it was over. He wasn’t staying any longer. Mate? Meant for one person only? It was too much for Marco.





Chapter Four





Clarke threw the bale of hay off the truck and jumped down, landing on the hard ground. He kicked it hard, grunting when the bale split, and the hay scattered across the ground. The herd approached slowly, no doubt sensing his agitation, his anger, wanting no part of it.

He sighed and moved back toward the truck so he could distribute the other bales he had on it. They shouldn’t go without food because he was angry and hurt his mate wanted nothing to do with him. Sure, Marco wouldn’t mind a quick fuck, but that was it. That was what Clarke had gleaned from their conversation.

He’d sat at the table for another ten minutes before Sam had sat down opposite him and spoke.

“Give him time. It’s a lot to take in, especially after the bear incident last night.”

“I know, but he’s only here on vacation. Like a weekend away or something. He’ll be gone in a day or two.”

“He has your number. When he leaves, he’ll feel the need to be close to you. It’ll pull at him. He’ll come back. He won’t have a choice about it. Right now, he’s confused, and from what I’ve seen, he’s a little stubborn.”

Clarke snorted. “A little?”

Sam chuckled. “Just a little.” He lifted his hand and held his thumb and finger an inch apart. “He’s just what you need, my friend.”

Clarke nodded. “He is…but the question is will he ever be mine?”

“Give him time and let him draw his own conclusions. He feels it, regardless of what he said to you.”

Clarke snorted again. “We’ll see.”

“It’s not like you to give up. Remember when I said no?”

“You’ve always said no.”

“Because I didn’t want to ruin our friendship, and imagine how it would feel for your mate to meet an ex-partner.”

Clarke closed his eyes and took a deep breath in, letting the memories of the day before fade away. The cold air was biting, stinging his cheeks, as he went to check the water troughs, making sure they hadn’t frozen over.

The temperature had dropped once again over night, and they’d all gotten up early to check on the livestock. The horses were fine in the barn, and now Clarke was out with his brother, Brian, and his father, Eric, checking on the herd.

He would rather have ridden out here on Dante, but he needed to get out of here as soon as possible so had taken the truck. He leaned on the tailgate and closed his eyes when he heard Brian approaching. He hadn’t been his usual chatty self, so he knew his brother was going to ask him if he was okay.

“You seem quiet today.”

Clarke rubbed his face then turned around and leaned back against the tailgate. “I met my mate. One of the men I helped the other night. Marco.”

“That’s great, isn’t it?”

Clarke pursed his lips. “He’s leaving.”

Brian arched an eyebrow. “Did you tell him?”

Clarke nodded. “Not that it did any good. He knows about shifters; he has met one of us before, but he wasn’t interested in being my mate. He has a job, a life, and he made it clear that I’m not part of that.”

“You need to give him time to adjust. He knows about shifters, which is good because you don’t have to deal with telling him. It’s the mate aspect he needs to wrap his head around; it is a lot for a human to deal with. But there’s no doubt he’ll feel the connection to you.”

“Oh, he felt it all right. Said he had no problems having sex with me.”

Brian winced. “He thinks it’s just attraction. He doesn’t fully understand the depth of the connection you share, not yet anyway.”

“That’s about it.” Clarke sighed and closed his eyes. “What do I do?” he whispered.

“Let him go for now. Give him what he wants. He’ll come back. He won’t have any choice in it. You’ve seen each other; you’ve told him the truth. Whether or not he believes you, his body will draw him here, to you.”

“It feels like this weight pressing on my chest.” Clarke rubbed the area. “It’s like I can’t breathe properly. I barely slept last night. I couldn’t stop thinking about him.” Clarke swallowed then added in a small voice, “It hurts.”

Brian punched him on the arm. “That should help.”

“What the fuck was that for?” Clarke asked, glaring at his brother.

“To take your mind off Marco.” Brian grinned. “You can thank me later.”

“How about I thank you now?”

“That’s enough, boys.”

“He punched me for no reason!” Clarke protested.

“There was a reason. I was taking your mind of your mate.”

Eric smiled, his face lighting up in happiness. “Mate? Clarke? You’ve found your mate?”

“And been dumped by him.” Clarke folded his arms over his chest. “He’s leaving, if he hasn’t already left.”

“He knows who he is to you?”

“Yeah, Dad, he knows all about us. Had a roomie at college who was a wolf shifter. He isn’t bothered by that. It’s the mate aspect he can’t handle.”

“Told him to let his mate go. He’ll be back, eventually,” Brian added.

“Bri’s right. Let him go, but make sure he knows you’re here for him. Give him the time he needs.”

“I know, I know.” Clarke rubbed his chest again, feeling it tighten. Why couldn’t this have gone easily? Why couldn’t Marco have accepted him?

“Some people need time to adjust to our world, Clarke. Your mate is one of them. Let him go for now. He’ll return.”

“You’re sure, Dad?” he asked in a small voice.

“I am. He’ll come back, and congratulations for finding him.”

Clarke smiled. He had found his mate. “Thanks, Dad.”

“Right! Now, this work won’t get done by itself, so stop mooning over your mate and get back to it.”

Clarke laughed and nodded. “Yes, sir.”

The three of them worked together for the rest of the morning, and by lunch time, Clarke was ready to eat, but he also knew that at the moment his mate was more than likely leaving Salutem. He could only hope that Marco found his way back to him.

❊❊❊

Marco put his backpack into his car and slammed the trunk shut. He turned and sat on it, watching the other two pack up.

Tap was smiling as he got into his car and waved as he drove away, but not in the direction of home. Tap was going to spend the night with Wolff, who Marco assumed was his mate. Where Marco was leaving the whole mate thing behind, Tap was embracing it with open arms.

Neither had mentioned anything to Nash, but it seemed Nash felt something because he wanted to come back and even mentioned moving to Salutem. Maybe he was someone’s mate too.

It would appear that only Marco wanted to leave and never come back. Nash beeped his horn as he drove away, and Marco pushed off the trunk and got into his car. Starting the engine, he pulled away and left Salutem behind.

While he drove away from Salutem, his mind wouldn’t stop thinking about the place and the shifter who claimed to be his mate. In fact, the farther he moved away from the town, the more he felt like he was leaving something behind, something precious. He didn’t want a mate. It hadn’t been long since he finished college; he wanted to do things and go places. He wanted to see the world and explore different cultures.

As he drove along the highway, he could feel his grip tighten on the steering wheel, and he concentrated on trying to relax. His heart was beating rapidly in his chest, and his stomach lurched.

“For fuck sake!”

He didn’t want to feel this way, didn’t want this fucked up connection to someone he didn’t know. Much as he wanted to, he couldn’t deny what Clarke had told him. He could feel the weird connection they appeared to share.

When he got home, he would have a shower and maybe a can or two of beer. Sleeping in his own bed in his own apartment, surrounded by his belongings would help to sever whatever the fuck it was between him and Clarke.

By the time he managed to get home, the journey had taken almost twice as long as it should have. That was because he had to stop several times just so he could get out and shake off the feelings crawling over him.

He grabbed his bag and locked his car before taking the elevator up to his floor. Once he was in his apartment, he dropped his bag and slumped to the floor.

Pulling his cell phone out, he called the one person who would be able to answer his questions.

“Robin, it’s Marco.”

“Hey, Marco. How ya doin’?”

“Not great, man. To be honest, I feel like shit. Look, I need to ask you something, because you’re a shifter. What the fuck are mates?”

“How do you know about mates?”

“I met a cat shifter. He said I was his.”

“That’s amazing! Congrats, Marco, you lucky fucker.”

“I left him.” Marco shook his head when he heard Robin’s gasp. “What is a mate?”

“You feel the connection to him right, the need to go back to him? Probably annoys you too?” Robin sighed. “A mate is that one person who is perfect for us. Your mate will do anything he can to make you happy, to keep you safe. A mate to a shifter is the most important person in their life, the other half of themselves. A mate will never cheat.”

“A mate is that important?” Marco asked quietly. Clarke had done a piss-poor job of describing it to him.

“All shifters want to find their mate. You’re lucky, Marco. You really are.”

Marco heard the sadness in Robin’s voice. “You’ll find yours.”

“I’m the only shifter in this area. My parents are dead, Marco. There’s no one else.”

“There’s a village near where he lives. A wolf village. It’s called Morefield.”

“What is he? Your mate?”

“He’s a lion shifter. I never knew they existed, Robin. I thought it was just you wolves.”

“I’ve heard of others but never met any. Morefield, you said.”

“Yes, Clarke lives in Salutem. I think it’s a shifter place too.”

“You think?”

“I kinda left. I was so freaked out, Robin. College wasn’t that long ago, and you know the plans I’ve made.”

“You can still do those with Clarke.”

“He’s a farmer so I don’t think he could leave. He’s part of the town, and I’m not. That’s not the life for me. Sure, I like being able to get out of the city, but this is my home.”

“You always said you preferred being surrounded by nature, and now you have the chance to do that. You can still work there just as easily as you can here.”

“I don’t know…”

“Sleep on it. It’s a huge adjustment. Call me tomorrow, Marco.”

Robin hung up, and Marco stumbled to his bed. He crawled across it and curled up into a ball, his body shivering. This was ridiculous. He barely knew the man. Why was he reacting like this? Maybe this mate thing worked differently for different people.

He shivered violently and swore. Kicking his sneakers off, he moved under the covers and pulled them up. He closed his eyes when he felt them itch. Why did he want to cry? It was stupid to be feeling this way over someone he barely knew. Someone he’d just met.

He wanted to live his life first not be tied down. Maybe in a few years he’d be ready to settle down. He couldn’t stay too long in one place anyway, not with his family. They’d try to recruit him into the family business—drugs.

That was their thing, not his; he was smarter than that. He had an education, and he wanted to stay as far away from that as possible. He hadn’t spoken to his parents in years, and he wanted to keep it that way. When they got caught—and they would—he wanted to be miles away.

He closed his eyes and prayed for sleep. He wanted these feelings to go away. He wanted to wake up tomorrow and be able to move on and not think about Clarke. He wasn’t ready, no matter what his body was telling him. No matter what the bond wanted.





Chapter Five





Clarke gripped the phone in his hand and said goodbye before hanging up. He squeezed his eyes tightly shut, feeling the prickle of tears, his throat aching as he tried to hold them at bay. He swallowed and dropped his head, his shoulders slumping. Marco had left. He’d actually done it. He’d walked away without saying another word to him.

“Clarke?”

Clarke turned to face Brian. “He left.”

Brian stepped closer and gripped his shoulders. “You knew he would. It isn’t over. He needs time to adjust, that’s all. This is just the start, Clarke. One day you’ll look back at this moment, and it will be a distant memory. You’ll have your mate by your side, I know it.”

Clarke inhaled shakily and nodded his head. He gave Brian a closed lipped smile. “Thanks. I never thought he’d actually do it. I know he said he didn’t want a mate, but I thought that was a knee-jerk reaction to what I’d told him. I don’t know…”

“Take an hour off.”

“Nah, I’m—”

Brian rolled his eyes. “You’re not. I can only imagine how you feel right now. Take an hour, get your shit together, then come back. I want to check the horses tonight. Temp’s gonna drop again.”

Clarke nodded. “Okay, and thanks.”

“Go. Relax, work your way through this then come back.”

Clarke walked back into the house and went straight to his room. Well, he thought of it as a room, but in reality, he had a small apartment within the family home. They all had their own space. When his parents had bought the farm, the house had been falling apart. They’d renovated and sectioned parts of the second floor off so they could be made into apartments later as their family grew.

Clarke shut the door and sat on his sofa, letting his head fall back. He eyed his bed in the next room and sighed wearily. Not yet, he had too much to do before he could go to bed. Too much on his mind to sleep anyway. And now that Marco had gone, sleep seemed impossible.

He’d been left behind without a single thought. Well, he assumed he had. Marco had been ignoring him since he’d walked away from Sam’s Coffee Shop. No response to Clarke’s calls or texts. Maybe he should take the hint and leave Marco alone.

Except, Marco was his. His to protect, to care for, and to love. Who could walk away from the one person meant just for them?

He pulled his cell phone out of his jeans and brought up Marco’s number. Biting his lip, he sent him one last text.

I know you don’t want a mate, but can you keep in touch with me? Let me know you’re okay and how life is treating you? I won’t ask you for more than that. Take care. Clarke.

He dropped the phone on the sofa beside him and closed his eyes. He could feel the tiredness in his limbs, and he wanted to sleep, but something was missing and that something was Marco. Sighing, he opened his eyes and stared up at the ceiling.

Marco. Marco. Marco. Always on his mind.

Standing, he stripped off as he walked into his bathroom. Turning the shower on, he waited for the water to heat and then stood under the spray, closing his eyes and lifting his face up toward the spray. The heat felt fantastic against his cold skin, and he stood there letting the warm water relax his body.

What was he going to do? “Fuck, Clarke. You need to stop thinking about him.”

That didn’t stop his hand trailing down his chest and gripping his hard dick. He moaned at the touch and stroked it slowly. It wouldn’t take much to get him off. He’d been ready to explode since he caught that first hint of Marco’s unique scent, the aroma tantalizing him.

Clarke bit his lip, moaning again. His balls tightened after only a few strokes, and he shuddered as his dick hardened farther in his hand. He grunted, his body jerking as he came, come spurting over his fist and onto the shower wall.

Slamming a hand on the wall to keep himself upright, Clarke panted as the last few spurts hit the shower floor. He dropped his head, watching the water wash it away, and suddenly he yawned. Maybe he should get an hour of sleep.

He’d barely slept the night before, his mind a jumbled mess, and when he managed a few minutes of sleep, Marco had been front and center.

Getting out of the shower, Clarke dried and got dressed. He needed a distraction, and there was a lot of work that had to be done on the farm. He didn’t need an hour. He needed to stay busy. One of the fences in the south field needed repairing; he could do that before night fell and the temperature dropped too much.

He left his room, and on his way out he grabbed his tool bag, he jumped into the truck and drove over to the section of fence that needed repair. His cell lit up, and he saw Brian’s name on the screen. Yeah, he was pretty sure Brian had seen him leave.

Picking it up, he answered Brian. “I need to stay distracted so I’m gonna fix the fence.”

“Yeah, I figured that. Be careful. The temps really dropping. Dad and I are moving the herd closer so it’s a good job you are on it; we needed that fence fixed.”

“Shouldn’t take me too long, then I’ll head back to help.”

“Okay. Stay safe.”

“Will do.”

He reached the damaged area in the fence and stopped the truck, staring at it. Getting out of the truck, he walked over to survey the damage and furrowed his brow. The top panel of the fence had been knocked out. With his enhanced eyesight, he could see a boot impression on the board.

“What the hell?”

Grabbing his phone, he called Brian back. “Someone damaged the fence on purpose. I can see the boot mark on it.”

“What? I’m on my way. Takes pictures, so it’s recorded. Regardless of how the damage occurred, we have to fix it.”

Clarke hung up and grabbed his tool bag, dropping it by the damaged fence. He spent several minutes photographing the area, and by the time he’d finished, he could hear the other truck heading his way.

They stood and stared at the fence. “No one from around here would do this.” Brian squatted by a damaged area and ran his hand along the fractured wood. “We need to let Indy know.” Standing, he shook his head. “Let’s do this.”

❊❊❊

Marco sat at his cubicle staring at the pile of papers in front of him. It was a struggle to get through each day, and it felt like he’d been sitting at his desk for a year, yet today was Wednesday. Clarke. He was the reason why Marco felt the way he did.

A part of him was missing. Now that he’d had the chance to sit down and go over everything with a clear head, he knew he’d overreacted. He’d felt trapped by the whole mate thing. He wanted to live his life, to carry on as before, but he couldn’t do that knowing he was condemning Clarke to live a lonely life without him in it.

Maybe they could reach some compromise. He had a business degree. He should be able to use that to help the farm or one of the businesses in Salutem surely?

Shit, was he really considering moving there? It was too soon, far too soon to have those kinds of thoughts. Especially with a man—no, a shifter he didn’t know. He had a name and a place and that was it.

The words on the page in front of him blurred, and he blinked his eyes, forcing them to focus on the job at hand. He hated his job in admin. He wanted to be running his own business, but he needed some money behind him first. Only trouble was, once he’d paid all his bills, he had very little left over.

Sighing, he leaned back in his chair and stared at the gray walls in front of him that separated his cubicle from the others. They were all the same. Some had put pictures up to give it a more personal feel, but it was still a gray box.

This time and place weren’t where Marco had envisioned his life going. He looked at the pile of paper on the desk and then at the computer. He needed to get his work done or his boss would drag him over the coals.

Wednesday, and he was already behind. His life plain old sucked.

His phone beeped, and he scanned the area before picking it up and reading the message Tap had sent him.

Hey! I’m back.

You stayed at Morefield?

Yeah. Had a great time once I got used to it all.

Used to it all. No doubt he meant the shifter thing. Did you stay with Wolff?

I did. I’m going back at the weekend to stay with him.

That good?

We messed around. That’s all.

Marco’s eyebrows shot up. Tap only messed around? Now, that wasn’t like him at all. Tap liked sex and rarely turned down the chance to have it. So, he only messed around with Wolff. Maybe he knew more and was waiting to decide.

Marco could do the same with Clarke. He could see him, get to know him, and then decide. Finding him attractive was not the problem. The guy was a walking wet dream as far as Marco was concerned. He wanted to strip him naked and lick every sexy inch of the shifter’s body.

Just messed around? Not like you.

He’s different. You wouldn’t understand. You left.

I had to leave. I have a job here!

Me too, but some things are more important. I’m not gonna argue. Talk later.

Marco threw his phone on his desk in frustration. He wouldn’t understand? He knew exactly what Clarke wanted, and Marco wasn’t ready. He was young, and he wasn’t ready to be stuck with one man for the rest of his life.

Sighing, he rubbed his head as it pulsed in pain. Clarke was always on his mind. Maybe they could meet up and talk. Maybe mess around like Tap had done with Wolff. They didn’t have to do this mating thing.

Picking his phone back up, he stared at Clarke’s last message. I know you don’t want a mate, but can you keep in touch with me? Let me know you’re okay and how life is treating you? I won’t ask you for more than that. Take care. Clarke.

He rubbed his thumb over the screen as he re-read it. They could meet up this weekend and talk away from Salutem and the shifters. Just two men getting to know each other with no pressure attached. Marco snorted. No pressure, right?

Hi, Clarke, it’s Marco. I was wondering if you’re free this weekend to meet up and talk. I think we have a lot to say to each other.

He stared at the message and put his phone down without sending it. Was he making a mistake to send it, or was it a mistake not to send it?

He watched the screen on his phone go dark, and he still hadn’t decided. He had questions, and only Clarke could answer them. But Marco was also afraid to hear the answers. Rock and a hard place.

He had to make a choice. He needed to man up about the situation and do what he needed to.

Grabbing his phone, he sent the message and put the phone back on his desk. He drummed his fingers on it, waiting for Clarke to respond. After waiting several minutes, Marco sighed and attempted to get some work done. His to-do pile wasn’t getting any smaller, and sitting there waiting wasn’t going to help.

Around thirty minutes later, his phone beeped, and he grabbed it, unlocking it and reading the message.

Hi, Marco. I would love to come and visit you. How does Friday sound?

Marco sighed in relief when he read the message. Friday sounds great. I finish work at six, so I can meet you after that.

Where?

Marco bit his lip. He didn’t want Clarke coming to his apartment and getting the wrong idea, but he didn’t want him traveling all the way to see him and then leave him to stay in some motel or drive back home late.

Sighing, he texted him back. You can stay at mine. We can go out for a meal and you can crash on my sofa.

There. Clarke would know he had a place to stay, but they weren’t having sex. The only question was how long could Marco stay away when he knew the sexiest man he’d laid eyes on was on his couch?





Chapter Six





It was awkward. That was the only word Marco could use to describe the situation when Clarke had arrived at his apartment. He’d shown Clarke around then walked with him to the small Thai place down the street from where Marco lived.

They made small talk; it felt stilted to Marco. It was the usual questions. How are you? What have you been up to? How was work? How was the family? Friends? It showed Marco how little they actually knew about each other. Hopefully, this meal would help them change that.

If he was indeed Clarke’s mate, and he’d have no other, then Marco owed it to both of them to get to know Clarke. Clarke came with a family, well really a whole town attached. Marco had a family he didn’t see because he didn’t want to be part of the family business.

Yeah, he was ashamed to say his family bought and sold drugs, and he wanted nothing to do with any of it or them. They’d left him alone so far, but it wouldn’t be long before they were knocking on his door and dragging him in. It didn’t matter what he wanted. He was a Sanchez, and the Sanchezes were drug dealers.

He sat opposite Clarke and licked his lips. He loved Clarke’s hair. Gray with silver and intense deep brown eyes that seemed to stare straight into Marco’s soul. Now, sitting with Clarke, Marco felt drawn to him, and it wasn’t just sexual.

He wanted sex with Clarke. Absolutely. He wanted to fuck the big guy, feel him clench around his dick. He coughed and glanced at the menu he held in his hand.

“Marco.” Clarke growled his name in a low voice. “I can smell you.”

Marco felt heat flood his cheeks and refused to look up. “Sorry,” he mumbled.

“Don’t be. I like it. You smell…edible.”

Marco swallowed and finally looked up into Clarke’s intense eyes. “Edible?”

“Yeah.” Clarke shook the menu in his hand and asked, “What do you recommend?”

“I like chicken pad Thai.”

Clarke nodded. “I’ll get that then. Never had Thai before. Maybe we should have one in Salutem.”

“Why Salutem? It’s strange name.”

“I suppose it is for some, but it means safety, and for us it is. It’s mainly a shifter town. Different type of cat shifters and humans who know about us. We have a few vampires living with us now. They were rescued, used to be former blood slaves along with hundreds, if not thousands of humans.”

Marco nodded. “I remember hearing about it on the news.”

“Jacques has done of a lot to repair the damage. It’s a good place to live. We have a great sense of community and are surrounded by nature, which is a real bonus.”

“Is that why you’re a farmer?”

“My whole family is involved. I love farming. I love being outside with the herd, sitting on a horse, or just strolling across the land.”

“You said beef, yeah.”

Clarke nodded. “We’re an organic farm too. Don’t want to pump our animals full of drugs. If one has to have antibiotics, we can’t label the meat as organic. We have to follow strict guidelines on how to manage and keep the livestock healthy. We don’t use growth hormones, and we have to raise them on nutritious, healthy grass for at least a third of their life.”

“I didn’t realize there was that much involved.”

“As a shifter, we don’t like to have drugs in our food. We can taste it. Some of my friends can smell food and know what ingredients have been used.” Clarke shrugged. “I’m not one of them, but I want my animals to be healthy and drug free.”

They paused in their conversation as they ordered. Once they had, Marco asked, “So you only raise cows?”

“We have a few hens for their eggs, and we have horses too, but we’re mainly a beef farm.”

“A lot of early mornings then.”

Clarke smiled. “Oh yeah. Some mornings I’d rather stay in bed, especially when I can hear the rain pelting against the windows, but I love my job. I love working with my family and helping my community.”

“I work in a box.” Marco wiped at the condensation on his glass of water with his finger. How different their lives were? Clarke had a job he loved, whereas Marco…was stuck.

“You went to college though; isn’t there something you’d rather be doing?”

“Yes, I have a business degree. Want to run my own company, be my own man, but so far, I’ve gotten nowhere. I need money to get set up and that means working, but once I’ve paid for everything…”

“Leaves nothing left.”

“Yeah.”

“That’s tough.” Clarke gave him a small smile. “Are you any good with websites?”

“Yeah.” Marco furrowed his brow. “Why do you ask?”

“We need to update ours. I think we’ve had it maybe six years.”

“And you haven’t updated it at all?” Marco shook his head. “What about traffic?”

Clarke stared blankly at him. “What?”

Marco rolled his eyes. Clarke needed his help, and at least he’d be able to put some of his skills to use. “Traffic is how many people visit your website. Doesn’t someone in Salutem do this?”

“I don’t know. I did the site and just left it.”

“I’ll take a look and see what I can do.”

Their food arrived, and Marco simply sat and stared as Clarke ate his. He moaned with every forkful, and several times, Marco had to adjust his straining erection. Watching Clarke eat, the way his lips slid down the fork had Marco wishing it was his dick instead. At one point, Clarke stopped eating, and Marco saw him inhale and his eyes widen.

“Can we get this to go?”

Marco nodded. “Yeah, we can.”

“We’re not far from yours?”

“Yes. No biting though.”

Clarke swallowed but nodded. “I can live with that, for now.”

Marco somehow paid for their meal, and they both quickly left. As they approached Marco’s apartment complex, he pulled at Clarke’s arm and stopped him. “Just to be clear, I want sex, but I’m not ready to mate.”

“What about other men?”

“There will be no one else. I want some time to get used to this, to us. I know how important mates are to you.”

“You won’t find another man one night when you’re feeling lonely?”

“No, I won’t. You’ll have to trust me.” Marco winced. “I know I haven’t given you a reason to trust me, but I need you to believe me.”

“Do you feel like I do?” Clarke grabbed his arm. “Do you feel that heavy weight in your chest?”

“I do. I’ve missed you, but I don’t understand how or why. I barely know you.”

“It’s confusing for you; I know that.” Clarke smiled then leaned forward and kissed him. “I’ll give you all the time you need.”

Marco grinned. “Wanna go in?”

Clarke looked him up and down. “Oh, yeah.”

❊❊❊

They stumbled into the apartment, and somehow Clarke managed to shut the door behind him. He finally had his mate in his arms, and he loved the way he felt. He knew Marco would fit perfectly, and he also knew he would struggle not to bite him, but he had given his word, so he would try.

Marco’s tongue tangled with his own, and he moaned into their kiss. His hands tugged at Marco’s jacket, trying to pull it off. Marco stepped back and let his jacket fall to the floor quickly followed by his shirt. Clarke growled low and deep when he saw Marco’s chest. The dark hair across his pecs and the hard nipples begging to be touched and licked.

Clarke bent and sucked one into his mouth, feeling Marco jerk as he flicked it with his tongue. His hand tangled in Clarke’s hair, holding him to his chest. Clarke’s hands slid over his abs and tugged at Marco’s belt until he had it undone then he opened his jeans and pushed a hand in.

“Oh, shit, Clarke.”

Clarke’s thumb slid over the damp head of Marco’s dick, and he lifted his head to stare into Marco’s eyes as he raised his hand to his mouth and licked his thumb clean. Marco whimpered and licked his lips. Clarke pulled Marco’s jeans down as Marco kicked his shoes off.

Once he was naked, Clarke stepped back and simply stared. The man was perfect for him. “Fuck, Marco.”

Marco gripped his dick and stroked it slowly, biting his lip as he stared back. “Want some of this?”

“Fuck, yeah.”

Clarke dropped to his knees and licked across the head, moaning as Marco’s taste burst over his tongue. He sucked the head in, his tongue finding all the good spots and causing Marco to moan above him.

Marco held his dick out in front of him, and Clarke licked and sucked the head until he gently pushed Marco’s hand aside and took over. He pumped the turgid flesh as he took more of Marco’s dick into his mouth and down his throat.

He hummed as more of Marco’s taste flooded his mouth, and he swallowed, not wanting to miss a drop. He tasted divine, and Clarke wanted more.

As he sucked on Marco’s dick, he shrugged his own jacket off, followed by his shirt. He immediately felt Marco’s hands slide over his shoulders, gripping them tight as he sucked harder on his dick.

“Clarke,” Marco whimpered. “Harder. Suck my dick harder.”

Clarke did, swallowing until his face was buried in Marco’s trimmed pubes. Marco cried out, his body shuddering. Clarke pulled back up, keeping his lips tight around Marco’s dick then slowly sank back down and swallowed again.

He rested his hand on Marco’s thigh, feeling the tension in the muscles and the small shivers that worked through his body every time Clarke sucked and swallowed. He reached down and ran his fingers over Marco’s balls, feeling how tight they were.

He pulled back and stood. “Take me to your bedroom.”

Marco blinked up at him. “Huh?”

Clarke grinned, loving the blissed-out look on Marco’s face and knowing he was the one to put it there. “You. Bedroom. Now.”

Marco slowly nodded. “Okay.”

Clarke held Marco’s hand and pulled him away from the wall. “Show me.”

Marco nodded again and took several wobbly steps until he seemed to find his senses, and with a saucy wink over his shoulder, pulled Clarke toward his bedroom.

Clarke grinned again, watching Marco’s ass move as he walked. Plump mounds of heaven and Clarke wanted to feel them in his hands, kiss and bite them. Damn, he wanted to mark Marco all over so everyone would know he belonged to Clarke.

When they reached the bedroom, Clarke dropped Marco’s hand and finished stripping. He heard Marco’s groan and made a point of showing his body off. He worked hard on the farm, and his body reflected that. Broad and tall, with muscles made from hard work alone, Clarke was proud of his body and had no problem showing it off for his mate.

Marco stepped in close and ran his hands up Clarke’s arms to link them behind his head. “Kiss me.”

Clarke lowered his head and slid his lips over Marco’s then thrust his tongue into Marco’s warm wet haven. Marco hands tangled in his hair, pulling on the strands as their kiss deepened. Clarke pulled him close until there was no distance between them, and they both moaned when their naked bodies touched.

Clarke slowly moved them closer to Marco’s bed until the back of Marco’s legs hit it. Marco crawled backward on it as Clarke leaned over him, and when Marco spread his legs, Clarke lay in between them.

When their hard dicks touched, both moaned again. Clarke moved over Marco, rubbing against him as their tongues danced. He loved the taste of his mate, the way he smelled, the way he moved.

“Lube,” Clarke asked between kisses.

Marco pointed to the bedside cabinet. “Top drawer.”

Clarke reached over and opened the drawer, finding the lube. He grabbed it and leaned back over Marco, kissing him again as he opened the tube. He poured some on his fingers and dropped the lube onto the bed as he rubbed it between his fingers, spreading it.

He reached down between Marco’s legs and rubbed his fingers over his hole, feeling it push out against them.

“Don’t go slow, Clarke. I like to feel it.”

Clarke groaned and pushed two fingers in, feeling Marco clamp down around them. “Tight,” he mumbled.

“Been a while, but I want to feel you stretch me wide.”

“Shit, Marco. Don’t go saying things like that, or it’ll be over before it starts.”

Clarke slid his fingers in and out of Marco’s ass, feeling it loosen around them. He pushed a third one in and fucked him with them, trying to work quickly.

“I’m good, Clarke. Fuck me now.”

Clarke sat up and grabbed the lube, pouring some over his straining erection and stroking it. He wiped some more over Marco’s ass then leaned over him and lined the head of his dick up with Marco’s wrinkled hole.

“Now, Clarke. Don’t make me wait.”





Chapter Seven





Marco groaned when he felt the head of Clarke’s dick push into his hole. It stung, but he loved the burn. He held on tight, his hands gripping Clarke’s biceps in a fierce hold. He lifted his legs and wrapped them around Clarke’s waist, tilting his hips up to meet Clarke’s slow slide into his body.

His head arched back, his eyes fluttering closed as bliss rolled through his body. Clarke’s fantastic dick touched him everywhere, and he whimpered at the sensations it created sliding in and out of his ass.

“Clarke,” he whimpered, his voice catching.

The connection between them was intense, almost overwhelming him, and he began to understand the whole mate thing between them. Sex had never been like this with any other man before, and he knew he would be back for more, and they’d barely started.

Clarke licked up and down his neck, and Marco froze. “I won’t, but the urge is there,” Clarke whispered against his skin.

Marco pulled Clarke’s head up and kissed him. He thrust his tongue into Clarke’s mouth, loving the sounds of Clarke’s moans. Clarke moved faster, the thrusts into Marco’s ass becoming harder.

Marco cried out with every push into his body, clenching around Clarke’s dick. Clarke groaned, the kisses becoming harder and more dominating. Marco let him take over, completely gave himself over to Clarke’s touch, and he didn’t disappoint. He leaned back and pushed Marco’s legs over his arms then hammered his ass.

Every thrust hit his hot spot and had Marco crying out in ecstasy. Sweat covered his body, and he screwed his eyes shut as his balls tightened. He went to grab his dick, but Clarke knocked his hand away.

“Don’t. You don’t need to touch yourself.”

Marco whimpered, and Clarke changed the angle and hammered his prostate. Macro screamed, and suddenly come exploded from his dick, covering his abs and chest. Some even hit his cheek.

Clarke groaned above him and thrust into Marco’s ass, holding still then pulling out an inch or two before pushing in again. Marco opened his eyes and watched the look of pleasure on Clarke’s face. Clarke shuddered above him, then he slowly lowered until he lay on top of Marco.

Marco slid his hands into Clarke’s hair and lay with him as they both panted. Marco’s heart raced in his chest, and he swallowed hard. For a second, he’d wanted Clarke to bite him.

Clarke lifted his head and kissed along his neck, up over his cheek, and finally on his lips. “Hey.”

Marco smiled and opened his eyes. “Hey.”

Clarke returned his smile then suddenly yawned. “Sorry.”

“You were up early on the farm today.”

Clarke nodded. “A little.”

“Let’s get cleaned up and then we can go to sleep.”

Clarke leaned down and kissed him again. “In a minute?”

Marco moaned, his body responding to Clarke’s touch. “Yeah. In a minute.”

❊❊❊

They got very little sleep, and when it was some ridiculous time in the morning, Clarke’s alarm went off, and he got up. He tried to be quiet, but Marco woke anyway and watched him dress, admiring his amazing body. Working on the farm had done wonderful things for him, and Marco had felt that body all night long.

“You need to go?” he asked, his voice croaky. He didn’t need to ask, but he wanted to hear Clarke’s voice before he left.

“Yeah, I do. I wanted to stay longer, but they need me. Dad hurt his arm. He’ll be okay in a few days, but I don’t want him to do too much, and knowing Dad, he’ll be out there trying to do stuff he shouldn’t. Stubborn fool.” Clarke smiled.

“No, it’s fine.” Marco smiled back at him. He didn’t like it when he couldn’t do jobs either, so he understood. “I get it.”

“Can I come back next weekend?”

Marco smiled. “Every weekend, if you want.” Marco would love to have Clarke come to visit every weekend if they had more nights like the one they’d just shared.

“I do.” In a quieter voice, he said, “I really do.”

Clarke walked over to the bed, sat on the edge, and leaned over Marco. He kissed him gently and smiled down at him. “I’ll see you Friday.”

Marco went to get up, but Clarke shook his head. “Stay in bed and go back to sleep. Dream of me.” Clarke kissed him again and then left the bedroom. Marco strained to hear every sound he made, and when he heard the front door close behind Clarke, he closed his eyes.

Even though he’d just left. Marco missed him already. He rolled over and pushed his face into Clarke’s pillow and inhaled deeply. He could smell Clarke on it and remembered the passion they’d shared. It had been hot and heavy, and Marco knew he’d feel Clarke for a couple of days. He was certain Clarke would feel him too. Neither of them had been gentle, both needing to feel the connection for a few days.

Marco smiled as he remembered the look on Clarke’s face as he rode Marco’s dick. Marco’s hands clenched like they had on Clarke’s strong thighs. The man was perfect for him, and he only had to wait a week to see him again. A week to feel him again.

Sighing, Marco closed his eyes. It was going to be a long, long week.

❊❊❊

Clarke yawned and stretched, trying to get his tired body moving. Brian slapped him on the back as he walked by, chuckling quietly.

“Too fucked out to work?”

Clarke wrinkled his nose. “Eww. Like I’m gonna talk to you about that.”

Brian tapped the side of his nose and then winked, causing Clarke to roll his eyes. “I can smell, you know.”

“I knew I should have showered.”

“I’m glad you’re getting along.” Brian narrowed his eyes. “Not mated though.”

“No, he wants to get to know me and learn about shifters. I need to be patient.”

Brian arched his eyebrows. “You? Patient?”

“Yeah, I know.” Clarke smiled.

“Does Mom know? You know when you left yesterday, she couldn’t stop talking about one of her babies having a mate.”

Clarke rolled his eyes again. “Mom needs to stop.”

“She’s Mom. She just wants the best for us.” Brian glanced at the house and then at Clarke. “Go and talk to her. Tell her the situation. Maybe she won’t be in your face about it.”

Sighing, Clarke nodded and ambled back to the house. When he walked in the back door and through the utility room, he stopped and smiled as Bethany sang along with the radio.

“I know you’re there,” she sang as she glanced over at him.

“Mom.” Clarke walked over to her and kissed her cheek.

She sniffed and frowned at him. “Sex, but no mating.”

Clarke felt his face go hot and rubbed his hands over it. “Please, Mom.”

“So, you’re good enough to fuck, but not mate?”

“Mom! Stop. He wants to get to know me first, and you have to understand that he doesn’t know about us. He only knows what one lone shifter told him when he was in college. This is all new to him, and I think he’s a little scared too.”

Bethany snorted and sat at the kitchen table, pointing to the chair next to her. Sighing, Clarke sat next to her and waited for her to speak.

“He’s your mate, and you’ve had sex. I understand the need to be intimate with your mate.” Clarke closed his eyes. He did not want to be talking about this with his mom or even thinking about his parents having sex. What kid wants to torture themselves with that? “But, how long can you keep doing it, before your lion takes over and mates him?”

“As long as I need to. He’s hesitant, Mom, and you need to remember that he left here and didn’t want to see me again. The fact that he called me and asked me to visit tells me he a lot. He misses me. He can feel our bond. I just need to give him time.”

“And plenty of head,” Bethany muttered.

“Oh my god, Mom!”

“Clarke, I’ve heard you plenty of times.”

“That doesn’t mean I want to talk to you about it. What is it with shifters that they think they can talk freely about their sex lives?”

“Some do keep quiet, but most of us realize that sex is natural and is in fact healthy for us. When it’s between mates, it cements the bonds, draws you closer to one another and makes you feel like the most loved person in the world. Having sex with your mate is a beautiful, if sweaty, experience.”

“Thanks, Mom. No really, thanks.”

Sighing, Bethany stood and walked over to the coffee machine, pouring two cups. Handing one to Clarke, she ran a finger under his eye. “You look tired, hun.”

“I am, but I’m happy too.”

“Go to bed and get a couple of hours in. Will you be seeing him again?”

“Next Friday.” Clarke grinned. “Can’t wait.”

“Okay. Do what you feel is right. I’ll support you.”

“Thanks, Mom.”

Clarke stood and bent down, hugging his mom. “Go take a shower and go to bed.” Bethany smiled.

Chuckling, Clarke left the kitchen and went up the stairs to his rooms. Once inside, he slumped on his sofa and closed his eyes, reliving the night before. The way Marco had felt underneath him, the way his dick had fit him perfectly when Clarke was riding him.

His mate was everything he had ever wanted and so much more. The more he got to know Marco, the more Clarke knew he would struggle to walk away. It was a heavy price to pay to give his mate what he needed, and he could only hope that one day Marco would let him complete their mating and they could love together.

His phone beeped, and he pulled it free, smiling when he read the comment.

Couldn’t sleep. Could smell you in bed.

I wish I was there to keep you warm.

Me too. How’s the farm?

Busy. Hard work but Mom’s given me an hour to get some sleep. After she lectured me.

Why? What did you do?

Nothing. It’s about us. My parents are mates. They met one day and mated the next. Still together forty years later. She expects the same. I talked to her, and she understands.

I don’t want to cause any problems.

What we do is up to us to decide. They just need to keep their noses out.

Are you sure?

Marco, I’m willing to wait. You’re worth it.

Are you sure?

Yeah, I’m sure. Looking forward to Friday. Can’t wait to see you again.

Me too. Go and get some sleep. Don’t want you to injure yourself.

Clarke chuckled. Speak later.

Enjoy your rest, Clarke.

Smiling, Clarke stood and walked into his bedroom. Fuck having a shower. He’d go to sleep with his mate’s scent on his skin. The best way to sleep.





Chapter Eight





A month had passed and today was Friday, but instead of going to the city to stay with Marco, Clarke’s mate was coming to him.

He sat on the swing on the porch, staring at the road that led to their farm. He tapped his foot on the porch and checked his phone for the time. Again. Like he’d done five minutes before and five minutes before that.

Sighing, he closed his eyes and leaned his head back on the swing. Not long now and he’d have his mate in his arms again. Going almost a week between seeing his mate was hard and was wearing Clarke down. He didn’t know how much longer he could do it for.

The need to complete their mating was clawing at him, and he struggled to hold back his baser needs. He was a lion shifter, and he had its instincts and needs, and he needed his mate. He missed him. Missed his scent on his skin, the touch of his body. He missed listening to him breathe when he was asleep.

He just missed him, but he would be here soon, and Clarke would feel complete again. That was part of the problem too. Every time he left, he felt like he was leaving a part of himself behind, like he had a hole in his chest that was only filled again when he was with Marco.

He was positive Marco felt the same way. It took longer and longer to leave. One more kiss, one more touch, one more soft and loving look between them. The way their fingers held on right until the moment Clarke turned and walked away.

He hated walking away. Detested the way he felt as he drove home. Every mile felt like a thousand until he wanted to turn around and go back and never leave.

He lifted his head when he heard the sound of a car approaching and grinned when Marco’s car came into view. Standing, he walked to the edge of the porch and watched Marco drive the rest of the way to the farmhouse.

When he finally pulled up, they stared at each other through the windshield, and then Clarke jogged over to the driver’s door and waited as Marco climbed out.

“Hey,” he whispered.

Marco grinned. “Hey.”

Clarke leaned closer and lowered his head, sliding his lips across Marco’s. Marco opened, and Clarke’s tongue delved in. He pulled Marco closer and tilted his head to deepen the kiss. He hadn’t touched his mate in a week, hadn’t held him in his arms, or smelled his unique heavenly scent.

Marco whimpered, and Clarke’s hold on him tightened. He pushed Marco back up against the car and pushed his leg in between his and rubbed it against Marco’s straining erection.

A cough behind them had Clarke pulling back and giving Marco a rueful smile. He wiped Marco’s wet lips with his thumb and whispered, “We’ll finish this later.”

Clarke took Marco’s hand and pulled him over to where his parents stood along with his brother.

“Marco, these are my parents, Eric and Bethany, and my brother, Brian. My sisters aren’t here at the moment.”

Marco nodded. “Hi, I’m Marco.”

“Come on in. I have a pot of coffee brewing, and I made some lemon drizzle cake earlier.”

Marco smiled. “I like cake.”

“I know. Clarke told me.” Bethany put her arm through Marco’s. “Clarke, can you get Marco’s bag, please?”

Clarke grinned at the panicked look Marco threw his way as Bethany dragged him inside. He grabbed Marco’s bag from his car, and then he entered the kitchen to find Marco sitting at the table with a cup of coffee and a slice of cake.

He could hear Bethany talking about the farm and Marco asking questions. Over the course of the past month, Clarke had talked about farm life as much as possible, along with life in a town with a strong sense of community.

He talked about the area and the different types of shifters, but also the rescued animals they had living in the surrounding forest. Being shifters, they felt close to the nature and all that lived in it, and when they heard about abused animals, big and small, they would help out in any way they could.

Marco had loved hearing about his life and had told him some of his own stories, especially the family business that he wanted none of. Not that Clarke could blame him. He much preferred that Marco enjoyed working on the right side of the law.

He sat next to his mate-to-be and put his arm over Marco’s shoulders and listened to his family include Marco.

“So, what do you know about shifters?” Bethany asked.

“Is this about the mate thing?” Marco answered carefully, his shoulders tensing, the scent of his discomfort in the air.

“Actually, no. I meant about the issues we’re facing.”

Marco’s body relaxed. “Clarke mentioned a little about the labs.”

Clarke sat up straight. Marco didn’t need to know everything. He’d just walked through the door! “Mom—”

Bethany raised a hand, cutting Clarke off. “He needs to know. He’s your mate, or he will be when he’s ready.”

“I know some.” Marco interrupted them. “That they’re taking your kind and experimenting, aren’t they?”

“They are. We have patrols in operation now, and we are actively looking for the people responsible.”

“I could be targeted?” Marco stared at the cup in his hands, and Clarke squeezed his shoulder. “If I mate with Clarke and they find out, they might come after me?”

“Thanks, Mom.”

Marco turned and put a finger on Clarke’s lips. “I know this already. When you told me what’s been happening, I figured I could be at risk too. I’m still here though, aren’t I? Life is full of risks.”

“You said you have a business degree. Fancy having a look at my website? I have no idea what I’m doing,” Eric asked. “And neither do any of my cubs.”

Clarke rolled his eyes but gave Eric a smile. He sat and watched Eric lead Marco from the kitchen and then looked up at Bethany when she patted his shoulder.

“I like him. Don’t fuck it up.”

She walked out, leaving Clarke to stare at her with a smile on his face. His mom was the best.

❊❊❊

Marco stood in the barn, watching Clarke tend to the horses. Clarke was talking as he worked, explaining to Marco what he was doing, which he appreciated. Being here, it was easy to understand why people wanted to live away from city life. It was peaceful, the air seemed cleaner, and Marco felt the stress he always seemed to carry around disappear.

“You grew up here?”

“I did. I love it here, and we’re close to town. I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”

“Is everyone a shifter?”

“Most are.” Clarke nodded as he brushed Dante’s coat. “Over there,”—Clarke pointed to the east— “is where the wolves live. They have a small village there. They help us with patrols.”

“Why? Do the scientists go after them too? Are they experimenting on all shifters?”

“It looks that way. Indigo, our Mayor, well his sister was captured by the scientists. They had her for about ten months in total. They’re a very close family, and it was hard watching them suffer.” Clarke straightened and ran his hand over Dante’s back. “We can scent emotions. Even though they put a brave face on, I could always smell their suffering underneath. The fear, the pain. It was hard for all of us because we couldn’t do anything to help them.”

“You do patrols like everyone else?” Marco stepped closer and ran his hand down Dante’s nose.

“Yeah, we all do. Some of the vampires that live here also take part in the patrols, and Cyan, Indy’s brother, is a member of the new vampire council. Jacques has vamps, humans, and shifters on it.”

“Knowledge from all,” Marco murmured as he continued to stroke Dante.

“Exactly. Jacques suffered the same as the other blood slaves.”

“So, these scientists…”

“Yeah, we don’t know much about them. How long have they known about us? When they found out about us? When did they start capturing us and hurting us?” Marco saw Clarke’s hands clench, and he reached over and touched his arm. Clarke gave him a small smile. “It’s hard to know my kind is being held, that they are hurting, and all alone.”

“You’ll find them all.” Marco didn’t know what else to say. He’d never experienced what Clarke and his kind were going through. What did you say to something like that?

Clarke turned and kissed him then they left the stall, making sure it was closed behind them. “Thank you. We can only follow the information, what little we have.”

“I can help.” Marco furrowed his brow. “Once I’ve sorted the website out,” he added ruefully.

“That website.” Clarke grinned.

“It’s ancient. I need to rebuild it from the ground up.”

Clarke kissed him again, and Marco moaned, opening his mouth to let Clarke’s tongue in. He loved kissing this man, loved the way he made him feel when they were together. Every single time he left, Marco felt like more of him was leaving too.

How much longer could he hold out for when everything in him was telling him this was where he belonged?

Clarke pulled him closer, and Marco fitted their bodies together. He moaned again when he felt Clarke’s hard dick and rubbed against him, needing some friction on his own. Clarke’s hand moved down his back and grabbed his ass, pulling Marco even closer.

Even though it was cold outside, Marco didn’t feel it. Clarke could make him hot with a simple look, and right now, Clarke had him burning with need. He felt Clarke push him, and he stepped back until his back hit the wall behind him.

Marco lifted his leg and wrapped it around Clarke’s thigh, rubbing his dick on Clarke’s leg. His hands tightened on Clarke’s arms as he humped his leg. Both of Clarke’s hands slid down to the back of Marco’s thighs, and he lifted Marco up.

He wrapped his legs around Clarke’s waist and groaned when Clarke licked down his neck and gently bit his throat.

“Fuck, Clarke,” Marco gasped.

“Yeah, let’s.”

“Inside, boys.”

Marco buried his face in Clarke’s neck when he heard Eric. Clarke slowly dropped him back to the ground, and he stayed behind him as Clarke turned to Eric.

“Hey, Dad.”

Eric tucked his lips in and shoved his hands in his coat pockets. “Hey? It’s a little too cold for that out here, and you’ll scare the horses. You have jobs to finish, Clarke, and you, Marco, are needed inside. The website’s not doing anything.”

“What do you mean?”

“It doesn’t change pages.”

Clarke sighed and held his hand out to Marco. Marco took it and smiled at Eric. “I’m coming.”

Eric snorted, and as he walked away, Marco heard, “Not yet.”

Clarke clearly heard him, because he shouted, “Dad!” Eric chuckled but didn’t turn around. “Cock blocked by my own dad.”

Marco laughed. “It was funny.”

“Says the man who was hiding behind me.”

Marco pointed to his chest. “Me?”

“Yes, you. Don’t think I didn’t notice, but I’ll get you back. Later.” Clarke grinned and pulled Marco toward the farmhouse.

“Later? How much later are we talking?” Marco was hard and horny right now. He didn’t want to wait too much longer.

“We both have jobs to do, so after we’ve eaten, we can have a nice soak in the bath.”

“Oh, okay.”

Clarke’s bathroom was simply amazing. A shower with multiple heads and a separate bath, big enough for both of them to share. The perfect way to end the day, and then he got to share a bed with Clarke.

He was leaving tomorrow, so he had to make the most of today. He bit his lip, following Clarke into the farmhouse. How much longer could he keep walking away? How much longer before he begged Clarke to mate them?





Chapter Nine





Marco would never admit it to anyone that he loved soaking in a bubble bath, but he could think of very few things that he enjoyed more, and it appeared Clarke had found out about his secret love. The fact that Clarke loved them just as much was almost as good as the bubble bath itself.

Marco scooped up a handful of bubbles and blew them at the man lounging at the other end of the tub. Clarke chuckled and shook his head, but a smile stayed on his face. It was a look Marco wanted to keep on Clarke’s face for as long as possible.

“Can you pass me that bottle of body wash, and I’ll wash your feet. You’ve been on them all day.”

Clarke’s eyebrow arched as if he wasn’t sure he had heard Marco correctly, and he didn’t move.

Marco pointed to the one he had seen when he’d stepped in the bath. “The dark blue one, Clarke.”

Clarke reached to the small shelf behind him and grabbed the dark blue bottle Marco had asked for. He stopped for a moment to look at the label, chuckled, and then passed it to Marco.

Marco grinned. “Thanks.”

Grabbing a washcloth, he poured some out and rubbed the washcloth together, making it nice and foamy. He lifted one of Clarke’s feet and balanced it on his stomach. He watched Clarke’s eyes roll back as he scrubbed the washcloth over the heel of his foot, smiling at the small moan he heard.

“Do you like that?”

“Yeah, I do. Never had someone do it before.”

Marco’s smile turned into a grin when Clarke groaned again, the sound making his dick harden. Marco was always in a state of arousal around Clarke, his cock unable to decide whether to stay semi-hard or harden up in anticipation. Clarke just did it for him. He was the only man who could have Marco’s body light up.

Marco watched Clarke’s entire body go taut as he rubbed his thumb between the man’s toes. He tilted his head and watched Clarke’s mouth fall open as his fingers moved between his toes. What would happen if he…?

Marco sucked Clarke’s big toe into his mouth, swirling his tongue around it, making sure to touch every part. Clarke’s hands slapped the edge of the tub as his entire body arched up into the air. The longest, sexiest groan Marco had ever heard in his life came out of Clarke’s mouth. Marco just sat and stared with his mouth falling open. His mate liked having his toes played with, and Marco’s cock was as hard as it had ever been, throbbing in his hand as he stroked it slowly.

“Clarke,” he whispered.

“Do that again.”

The moment Clarke settled back down, Marco sucked the man’s toe back into his mouth. He sucked and licked and even bit Clarke’s toes, his eyes widening with Clarke’s responses. He loved having his toes played with.

Every time Clarke arched into the air, the head of his dick poked up through the bubbles covering the surface of the water until, suddenly, Clarke froze and shouted. Ropes of come shot out of his cock before falling with soft splash back into the water.

It was the most glorious and arousing sight Marco had ever seen.

Marco continued to suck Clarke’s toes for a few more minutes, watching as the man slumped back against the tub, panting lightly. Finally, Marco lowered Clarke’s foot, but continued to rub the arch of his foot, then the ball of the foot, working his fingers into the flesh and then between Clarke’s toes.

“Do you like that?” he asked again, not really needing Clarke to answer. The fact that Clarke had come completely untouched spoke volumes.

“Yeah,” Clarke panted. “That was…” He lifted his head to meet Marco’s eyes, slowly shaking it from side to side and licked his lips. “I don’t know what that was.”

Marco grinned. Knowing he could bring Clarke such intense pleasure brought him a sense of satisfaction that he had never felt before. And he also felt proud that he was the one to discover Clarke’s liked his toes to be touched. No one else had touched Clarke like this before. Marco was the first. He was the only.

“We’ll have to do that again,” Marco said as he lowered Clarke’s foot back into the water and grabbed the edges of the tub to push himself up so he stood in the bath.

Clarke’s breath stuttered in his throat, but delight danced in his eyes. His happy look was tinged with a hint of disbelief. “I didn’t even know I could come like that.”

Marco’s throat tightened as he stared at Clarke, something passing between them that was more than lust, more than the passion they both shared. Marco couldn’t deny his emotions any longer. He was falling in love with Clarke, and he couldn’t be happier about that even if he was a little scared too.

Marco kneeled between Clarke’s legs and pushed them up. Clarke held out his arms, and Marco settled into them, sighing when he felt them wrap around him. This was the best place, in Clarke’s arms.

Clarke’s hand pushed between their bodies and wrapped around his hard length. Marco hadn’t come and just having Clarke touch him there made him buck and moan. He sat up and held on to the edge of the tub as Clarke’s fingers stroked his length.

“Tighter, Clarke. Just a little bit more.” Marco’s eyes nearly rolled back in his head as Clarke gripped him in a firm hold and continued to stroke him, twisting when he reached the head. “Oh yeah, just like that.”

When Clarke’s hand tightened even more, Marco’s hips jerked. He didn’t want to come just yet or this way. He wanted to come as he fucked Clarke, feel his dick encased in Clarke’s hot heat.

“Roll over onto your knees and rest against the back of the tub.”

Clarke grinned and did as Marco asked. “Gonna fuck me, Marco?”

“Yeah, I am.”

❊❊❊

Clarke leaned over the edge of the tub and looked over his shoulder at Marco, a grin on his face. “Can’t wait to feel you.”

Marco bit his lip but then smiled as he ran a hand over Clarke’s plump ass. “I love your ass.”

Clarke moaned, his eyes closing as Marco palmed his ass cheeks and squeezed them. Marco pushed the cheeks together then spread them apart and blew on his puckered flesh. Clarke moaned again when Marco’s finger trailed over his hole.

“I love seeing you like this.” Marco’s fingers stroked over Clarke’s wrinkled flesh, and he hissed in pleasure. He trembled, pleasure rushing through him. He liked nothing more than a man playing with him.

“So perfect,” Marco muttered as he slid his thumbs over the puckered hole, groaning when the tight entrance clenched and then relaxed as if begging for Marco’s touch or for something to fill it.

Marco reached over and grabbed the waterproof lube off the side of the tub where Clarke kept it. Turned out they both liked to jack off in the tub. He poured some on his fingers, rubbing them together, and then dribbled some between Clarke’s ass cheeks before putting the bottle back on the side.

Clarke shuddered and shot forward when Marco stroked his fingers down the crack of his ass again. Water splashed over the edge of the tub, and Clarke muttered, “Shit.”

Marco smiled. “It’s okay. It’s just a little water. We’ll clean it up later, after we’ve had our fun.” Marco’s smile widened when Clarke nodded. “Grab the edge of the tub.” Marco kept his hand on Clarke’s hip as he repeated his move, stroking his fingers down between Clarke’s ass cheeks.

Clarke jerked a little but pushed back and angled his ass up, begging without words, for more. Marco rubbed his fingers up and down the small crease, pressing the tips of his fingers against Clarke’s taut entrance every