I’m surrounded by werewolves.
Sitting alone at a picnic table, Jamie weighed the importance of such a strange thought. Some might believe this to be an occasion for alarm, but Jamie felt none—well, to be honest, almost none. He let his gaze wander over the assembled company until he found the one person present who should come with warning signs attached. Jed Matranga. Relieved to see the man across the yard and engrossed in conversation with others, Jamie chose to ignore him in favor of turning his attention to his sons.
Rio was at the age where childhood and maturity were like partners on a seesaw. Depending on the circumstances and his mood, either one could take the lead and rule his behavior. Currently, childhood reigned supreme, giving him the freedom to roll around on the ground while wrestling with his five-year-old adopted brother, Jack.
Four other children of varying ages had joined in the fun, and all the youngsters shrieked and giggled with delight at having Jack’s big brother at their mercy. Their obvious enjoyment made Jamie smile, but worry still troubled his thoughts.
Seeing Rio so happy relieved some of Jamie’s sorrow over what had happened to his son. Still, nightmares plagued Jamie and held sway at the most unexpected moments: whenever he let his guard down, whenever he dwelled too much on the bitter past. Even now, those insidious visions dimmed the reality of the scene before him. Stifling darkness replaced the bright sunshine and green grass, and childish voices raised in glee became pitiful pleas from a boy who was forced to endure things no child should ever face.
Sickened by imagined scenes so readily conjured, Jamie tensed, his hands shaking with suppressed fury. Taking a deep breath, he forced himself to see his boys as they were now: joyful, carefree, and safe. Doing so brought with it a measure of calm, and he courted these idyllic impressions, letting the normality of the situation soothe him.
With a hand for the most part now steady, he raised the glass in front of him and took a sip of clear, cold water. It eased the tightness in his throat and lessened his disquiet another degree. In truth, he might never know the exact details of what his bitch of an ex-wife had done to his son, but Jamie’s imagination was ruthless in its construction of those tormenting scenarios. The guilt following in their wake was sometimes sickening. Glancing down at the half-full plate of food resting on the table before him, he pushed it away. His appetite was gone, a common occurrence he’d come to accept.
Jamie sighed and rubbed the furrow between his brows before again focusing his gaze toward Rio and Jack. With his attention and thoughts firmly riveted on his sons, he belatedly noticed the approach of the one person at this gathering who gave him reason to doubt the wisdom of having stayed. Jed plopped himself down on the bench next to Jamie and assaulted him with one of the most dangerous, charismatic smiles Jamie had ever had received. The man’s mere presence stirred an edgy restlessness within him, and Jamie’s stomach reacted. The feeling was not entirely unpleasant, but one more like the thrilling swirl of weightlessness experienced when a fast elevator begins its descent.
Saying nothing, Jamie endured the man’s prolonged scrutiny.
“Considering what a beautiful day it is, why the melancholy expression? Everything all right?” Jed’s deep blue eyes shone with affable sincerity.
Jamie tamped down the impulse to snap out an irritable reply. He disliked the way the man looked at him…or so he tried convincing himself. “Everything’s fine. Just tired, I guess.”
“Traveling can do that to you. It might help if you have more to eat.” Jed gave Jamie’s plate a significant glance. “If there’s something else you’d rather have, I’d be happy to get it for you.”
“No, but thanks. I’m not very hungry. It’s a shame Rio and Mick don’t have a dog I could feed this to. At least then it wouldn’t go to waste.”
“Sorry, no dog. There’re plenty of wolves around, but we don’t usually eat scraps.”
The deadpan way Jed delivered his line, the twinkle in his eyes, and the air of anticipation around him after having done so, had Jamie struggling against a wayward twitch of his lips. Though the remark wasn’t particularly funny, Jed’s obvious desire to amuse was so amusing in itself Jamie couldn’t keep his smile at bay, nor the small, rusty chuckle bubbling up from deep within. “Is that so?” he asked.
Christ, how long had it been since he’d last found anything the least bit funny?
Jed’s grin was immediate, his delight evident. “There now. Feels good to laugh, doesn’t it? Much better than worrying about things long over and done with.”
Jed’s perceptive remark made him consider the man in a new light. It seemed there was more to Jed than good looks and a muscular body any gym rat would envy. Glancing at said body made Jamie remember the sensations he’d been assailed by at their first meeting not one hour earlier. The instant attraction, shocking in its intensity, the momentary breathlessness—Jamie’s toes had even curled. All of these had caused the beginnings of a hard-on from a stress-defeated cock that hadn’t shown the least bit of interest in raising its head in months. It was a damned strange reaction for someone who’d never been sexually aroused by another man. Needless to say, it tripped internal alarms left and right.
Squelching those memories, Jamie said, “What makes you so sure I was worrying?”
“Your expression. Your emotions are easy to read when you think no one’s watching.”
“But you were? Watching me?”
The thought was arresting, and the physical responses this man evoked, seductive. “Why?”
“Do you really need me to spell it out?”
Staring into Jed’s eyes made heat ripple over Jamie’s skin and settle in his groin. Curiosity warred with caution until common sense kicked in. Warned by the strength of Jed’s candid gaze, Jamie knew the man wouldn’t hesitate to respond in a way he might not like, and having Jed’s answer seemed like a very bad idea.
Jed’s smile was complacent. “So, is this your first trip to our neck of the woods?”
“My third. The first two were to look for a suitable property to buy. Jack and I are moving here.”
“That’s good news. I look forward to having you. Nearby, that is.”
Jamie couldn’t stop the reaction Jed’s lethal taunt set in motion. His cock was on its way to hard. “You’re an evil bastard, but then you know that, don’t you?”
Jed’s gaze traveled to Jamie’s lap and back to meet his eyes. “What? Apparently you like the fine art of innuendo.”
“It’s an unfair weapon when practiced by a master on someone who hasn’t had sex since I can’t remember when.”
The smirk on Jed’s lips was irritating. Jamie was sure it called for a swift kick. Or better yet, a kiss. A kiss?
Where the hell had such a notion come from? Giving it quick consideration, Jamie was not as opposed to the idea as he thought he would be. The thought of kissing Jed only served to ratchet Jamie’s arousal another degree, something which both puzzled and perturbed him.
“Master? Hmm, I like the sound of that. As for sex, well, the bathroom’s probably free. I’d be happy to give you a new starting place for your memories.”
The mere suggestion—daring and illicit—put the finishing touches on Jamie’s erection. While the sensation was pleasant, it was also damned unsettling.
I’m not gay.
His inner self voiced the denial, but the throb of his dick mocked him. Frustrated and confused, Jamie said, “Are you always so outspoken?”
“When it’s warranted.”
“What made you think I wouldn’t be offended? Maybe I’m homophobic.”
“You’re not. It’s obvious you have no reservations about Rio and Mick.”
“Why would I? Mick saved my son’s life, and it’s plain to see how much they love each other. To be anything other than grateful would be sheer idiocy, but that doesn’t mean I’m ready to bend over for you or any other man.” Stunned by the acid vehemence of his response, Jamie took a calming breath. There was no reason to be upset by some harmless flirtation. Was there?
“I wouldn’t want you to bend over for such an unspecific reason. When it happens, I want it to be for the pure pleasure of having sex. For heat and sweat and kisses that make your knees weak and your cock hard. For pleasure that builds in your belly until you feel you’ll explode, and when you do, for the soaring sense of sheer bliss that for a split second becomes your entire world. Pleasure that shatters you, then melts the pieces back together in a way that relaxes every muscle in your body and makes it impossible for the least little bit of tension or worry to settle anywhere. Doesn’t that sound like a better reason than gratitude?”
Jed’s words, spoken in a voice both soft and husky, evoked memories of past encounters with women; most especially Rio’s mother. Exploring hands, warm skin tingling with pleasure, lips touching, tongues tasting and teasing. Two people, joined, giving and taking until the need for more was sated by a burst of intense, mind-blowing pleasure.
What Jed offered would be the same, but in place of a yielding, curvy body there would be a firm and masculine form. The face Jamie would touch, instead of having cheeks both smooth and supple, would be stubbly and rough.
Most importantly, those intimate female places—soft, wet, and welcoming, would be replaced by those more blatant, aggressive, and decidedly male: balls heavy with semen and a hard cock needing a place to discharge their load to reach the pinnacle of orgasm.
It was a disturbing and surreal shift to deal with. Jamie was trapped between the longed-for wonder of what Jed so vividly described and the shock of being aroused by the thought of having sex with him. Closing his eyes, Jamie said nothing in favor of regulating breaths having sped to an alarming degree.
“Jamie? You still with me?”
“Shut up.” Shaken by his reaction to Jed’s words, Jamie attempted to disguise the truth with sarcasm. “I’m trying not to laugh at how practiced you are at weaving fairy tales of lust. Your temptation skills are amazing. You must have a string of conquests to show for it.”
Jed leaned in close. “Believe it or not, I’ve never said anything remotely that honest to anyone before now. For some reason, with you I feel compelled. Everything I’ve offered is just for you, and it doesn’t have to be a tapestry of dreams. Just say the word and it’s yours.”
A wisp of heated breath caressed his ear, and a shiver slid down Jamie’s spine. The warmth of Jed’s body was a palpable thing. Enveloping the invisible barrier of ice Jamie had erected around himself, it covered him. Blending, merging, melting. Heart racing, he opened his mouth to reply.
“Dad, how you makin’ out?” Setting down a plate laden with food, Rio dropped down on the bench across from Jamie. The carnal bubble holding Jamie and Jed within its sphere burst.
Jamie’s eyes sprang open. Directing what he hoped was a natural look in Rio’s direction, he attempted to gather his composure. It was an exercise impeded by the brush of Jed’s thigh against his. He mustered a smile. “I’m fine. Quite a plateful you have there. I know you said you were starving, but wow.”
“Werewolf metabolism. Makes you eat more. Speaking of which, you should finish what’s on your
plate. You look thinner than I remember. Maybe if Jed would stop bothering you, you could concentrate on your food.” The stare Rio directed at Jed was less than friendly.
For Jamie, seeing Rio be anything but polite was troubling. “He’s not bothering me, and being rude was uncalled for. I think you owe Jed an apology.”
Rio’s expression, at first rebellious, wavered to contrite. “Sorry, I just…worry about you.”
Touched by his son’s concern, but also rather annoyed as well by Rio’s attempt to parent him, Jamie settled for a noncommittal comment. “What is it they say? You can never be too thin or too rich?”
“Hmm. Never take advice from skinny billionaires. They’re too wrapped up in their money to enjoy life,” Jed said. “Too much of anything can be harmful. Life requires balance.”
“That’s quite the philosophical remark.”
“There’s more to me than good looks.”