Ashlei looked between the pup and the cub, dangling from the sheriff’s outstretched arms, trying to surmise which of the two was more injured. Other than a few cuts, both boys looked more tousled than wounded, and both would definitely live to “scrap” another day, if their mothers didn’t kill them first for the state of their school clothes.
“Now what have I told you two about fighting?” She fixed each of them with a stern look.
“He started it,” Cliff, the smaller of the two boys, accused. His eyes still blazed with anger while his chest heaved harshly from the abrupt interruption of this latest altercation.
While Ashlei was inclined to believe the little bear shifter, who had always proven to be more trustworthy of the pair, she maintained her impartial position.
“Regardless of who started it, let’s consider it finished right here and right now, or I’ll have you both at my clinic after school for the next week scrubbing the grout out of the bathroom tiles with your toothbrushes.”
Both boys cringed but didn’t dare make another sound.
“Thanks, Sheriff. I think these young men have been detained long enough,” she said to their captor and newly acquired town sheriff.
“If you’re sure, Doc Ashlei, because I have two holding cells ready for a few incorrigible types.” His exaggerated inflections made him sound as if he’d stepped right out of an old Western film.
She hid her smile. “No, I don’t think that will be necessary.”
“All right. I’ll let them go this time, but only because you think it’s best.”
Ashlei knew that his words were meant for the young boys, but that didn’t stop her stomach from doing a little flip at his gentled tone. No sooner were the youngsters released than they were gathering up their discarded backpacks and racing off in the direction of their respective homes.
“Kids,” she started while trying to stamp down the hope that the sheriff would stay long enough to engage her in a bit of small talk.
“Yeah.” He scratched the back of his head absently seconds before that ready-to-bolt look took hold. “Well enjoy the rest of your day, Doc.”
And like that Ashlei was left standing in front of her office staring after Haven’s newest resident like a lovesick cub once again. She opened her mouth to call him back, but no words formed. Instead she let herself do a little harmless ogling, like she’d done countless times before. Being granted the view of his swaggering retreat as he made his way back to the sheriff’s office was almost enough to squelch the disappointment at yet another missed opportunity. Almost. She sighed heavily and soaked in his frame. Boy she liked watching him whether he was coming or going. Of course her preference would have been to have him doing more of the former than the latter. It was a frightening and wonderful revelation at the same time.
She cocked her head to one side, aware that she openly gawked, yet grateful that no one was present to witness her less-than-ladylike perusal. The man was handsome in a bad-boy sort of way. No. Boy was definitely an inaccurate description. He was all man. It wasn’t that he was overly rugged, which was what she was accustomed to in Haven. There was something else. It was an East Coast cockiness she recognized from her undergraduate years at NYU, coupled with an edge that radiated both confidence and defiance. Of course there was also a healthy dose of shifter sex appeal oozing from his every movement, which definitely upped his sexiness quotient. The icing on the cake was that everything about him was natural, as if the god of all things manly had decided to pay special homage to him without giving thought to the effect he would have on the female population.
Physically, a woman wouldn’t be disappointed waking up to that face or body every morning. He stood somewhere around six feet four inches, which she considered perfect for her own five feet nine height. She’d peg his ancestry to be eastern European, from his darker hair coloring, slightly pale complexion, distinct cheekbones, and high-bridged nose. Whatever his exact origins, the gene pool had come together perfectly in his creation. One thing was for certain, Seth Riddick was one tall drink of water she wouldn’t mind quenching her thirst with.
She felt like a teenager with a crush whenever the man was around, and it’d seemed that way since the moment he arrived in the town in his dusty jeep. She had it bad. Having cataloged everything about him, she could pick him out in a crowd of a hundred. A tested fact. His brown, sparsely salted hair was always a dead giveaway. He’d grown it out since coming to Haven, and now the wavy mane was just long enough to have a gentle breeze shift it in disarray, which was typically how he wore it. His skin was pale in comparison to most, not quite an alabaster tone but without the slightest hint of him basking in the sun’s rays. Odd, since he spent more time outside than in the confines of his office. But she digressed; now where had she left off in her appreciation of the sheriff? Oh yes, his mouth. She’d had plenty of sleepless nights thinking about all the ways she could enjoy his full lips. Yet even with all the other things he had going for him physically, it was his whiskey-colored eyes that made her heart stutter in her chest. A few times she thought she’d caught those eyes admiring her in a more carnal appreciation. Of course she shook the crazy thoughts off. As if the fact that he headed for the hills whenever there was a hint they might be alone wasn’t telling enough, he rarely said more than a couple of sentences to her. Sadly the evidence was incontrovertible. The sheriff didn’t share her romantic sentiments.
Case in point, she thought, watching his long-legged stride eat up the distance to his office. Seth had made another one of his quick exits, stage left, rather than hold an actual conversation with her. If she hadn’t grown up in Haven, his response to her might just give her a complex. Oh well, maybe it was all for the best. There was no harm in a little adult crushing. Ashlei contented herself with admiring the way his jeans hugged the firm curve of his ass. The only indication that Seth was the town’s sheriff was the gun holster that hung low on his waist and the badge affixed to it. He’d adopted the casual dress already in place and wore it very well. His nondescript, police-issue, navy-colored tee molded him in all the right places and provided an outline of a sinewy back she wouldn’t mind sinking her nails into. Preferably as he made his home between her spread thighs and pumped into her.
“Real subtle, sis.” The mocking voice spoke into her ear, but Ashlei disguised her surprise at her sister’s sudden appearance.
She whirled on her with a frown. “You know I hate it when you sneak up on me like that.”
“Who was sneaking?” Reigna shrugged and followed her older sibling by ten years inside her colorful reception area. The younger but taller Preen sister flopped into one of the oversize chairs used for the waiting comfort of Ashlei’s larger clients. Reigna’s nearly six-foot, 190-pound frame looked tiny in the seat.
“So you still lusting after that hound?”
“Mind your own business, Rei.”
“Oh hell nah!”
Ashlei didn’t bother sparing her sister a look, mainly because she didn’t want to see the expression that accompanied the sudden outburst.
“No need to be so loud; we’re the only ones here.”
want him.” It was an accusation.
Ashlei shrugged. There was no point in denying it. “I’m attracted to him. I thought that was already established.”
“That’s more than attraction I’m smelling on you.”
“Well maybe you should keep that damned nose to yourself.”
“Can’t help it, especially when my prudish sister has practically gone into heat over a wolf. A wolf, Ash?”
“Don’t start, Reigna.”
“I’m just making an observation. Not that I can understand why you would even waste your time giving that fleabag a second thought. The smell alone would keep me away. Sure he’s handsome, but...a wolf.” She wrinkled her nose for added emphasis.
“You know it’s talk like that which keeps our community divided.”
Reigna started a low hum of “We are the World” under her breath, ignoring the evil look her older sibling shot at her.
Ashlei resisted the urge to look out her office window just one last time.
“Since when have you exclusively dated felines?”
“Uh-uh, this isn’t about me. You’ve never shown the slightest interest in any shifter, and you start now with a wolf.”
Her sister was only partially correct. She had
found other shifter males attractive. It wasn’t like she hadn’t been a teenage girl in a town where they abounded. Fortunately, Ashlei had learned to suppress her romantic yearnings early on since the male population didn’t regard her in that
fashion. Over the years she’d become quite adept at appearing to be impartial to the men of the town until eventually she just stopped paying any attention to them that
way. Thank God for her college years away, or she just might be the only almost thirty-year-old virgin in the entire state. Years of resigning herself to a life of celibacy so long as she remained in Haven evaporated when the new sheriff showed up and sent her mind and body into a tailspin. Was this a fluke, a result of a too-long celibacy?
“So, you gonna push up on him or just keep up the stalker tactics?”
“Mind your own business.”
“Don’t have any at the moment. Besides, I think you have that look in your eyes Will told me about.”
“What look would that be?”
“The one you’d give Mama and Daddy behind their backs whenever they didn’t approve of something you were doing but you were going to do it anyway no matter the consequences.”
“First off, our brother needs to stop filling your head with things about our childhood, because he really doesn’t want me to go there, and secondly, little sister, this is definitely different.”
Reigna crossed arms over her chest. “Really? How so?”
“I’m a grown-ass woman now, and I don’t have to sneak around to do what I want anymore.”
“Poor sheriff.” Reigna let out a low chuckle.
“You do know, Rei, what I do in my private life is none of your business.”
Black brows rose into too-long bangs. “Oh so now you suddenly have a private life?”
This was going nowhere fast.
“Did you drop by for a particular reason, or just to be a pain in my ass again today?” She’d closed the office early that afternoon when her last patient canceled. Her sister had beelined for the front door soon after, and Ashlei hadn’t expected to see her sister again until the next morning since the younger woman worked as her receptionist/medical assistant.
“Seeing as that’s about the only thing you’re going to get in your ass, you should be grateful.”
“Fine. Mom wants to make sure that you don’t back out of dinner tonight.”
“And she sent you to make sure I come, instead of just calling?”
Her sister’s brilliant smile was answer enough.
Something was up. “If I don’t?”
“She said I should spend the night here with you and bring you up to speed on the latest news of our favorite reality show.”
Their mother definitely had a sadistically cruel streak in her. Spending a night alone with a chattering nineteen-year-old was an evening Ashlei could gladly miss out on, especially if she had to hear even one sentence about some full-of-itself reality show. Talk about double torture.
“Nuh-uh, girl. She said I had to personally escort you.”
This was serious.
There were a million and one reasons Ashlei could come up with to back out of the “invitation” but knew her mother wouldn’t take no for an answer, especially not since she was sending her enforcer.
“Let me just run upstairs and catch a shower.”
“I’m in no hurry. By the way, you should know that the parentals invited Thad.”
Ashlei paused on the stairs leading up to the two-bedroom apartment above her clinic.
“If I’m lyin’, I’m dyin’.”
Ashlei groaned as she trudged the remaining way into her small living room. Her parents were like a dog with a bone trying to get her and that quiet feline together. To them, Thad would make the perfect complement for their nonshifting daughter. While none of her family had said it aloud, she knew they thought his unusually mild-mannered demeanor would be safe for her. It didn’t take a genius to figure out they believed she couldn’t handle the more demanding nature and sexual appetites of a normal shifter. She also knew that they secretly hoped mating her with a pureblood would lessen the likelihood of her passing on whatever genetic defect she possessed to their future grandchildren. As far as Ashlei was concerned, they needn’t worry about that, because she didn’t ever plan on mating, much less having kids.
* * * * *
Seth looked up in time to see the two sisters leaving Doc Ashlei’s office and wondered where the unlikely pair was off to on a Friday night in the small town. Not that there were many options.
He caught himself before he completely spilled out of his chair in an effort to watch them walk toward the edge of town. Actually there was only one person in the duo that remotely sparked his curiosity: the town’s resident doctor and only nonshifter within fifty miles. He pushed away from his desk to stand by the large window, keeping a steady gaze on the dark-skinned woman who had piqued his interest from the moment he stepped into the sleepy town.
The day of his swearing in had been a huge event for Haven, whose residents had been interested in meeting their new big-city sheriff. Although Seth was sure he’d met most of the inhabitants at least once since his arrival the previous morning, the town of roughly four thousand constituents had all seemed to turn out for the county fair-style event. He had been just about to launch into his brief acceptance speech when a commotion had caught everyone’s attention.
“Now there’s something you don’t see every day,” he’d muttered, staring at the sienna-colored woman barreling down Main Street toward them as if the hounds of hell were after her. Seth frowned in confusion at her pursuers. Not exactly dangerous creatures, more like hyperactive, although possibly demonic, youth in animal form.
“You’ll get use to it,” the former sheriff had informed him.
The woman had glanced over her shoulder, then kicked it up a notch as she’d noticed the mass of yipping fur balls gaining on her.
“She’s fast,” the shifter next to him had commented.
“Yeah, but two legs is no match for four. Why doesn’t she just shift?”
The former sheriff, a coyote shifter, had sighed heavily. “She can’t.”
“What?” Surely he’d heard wrong.
Why in God’s name would the town be allowing a human female to be chased down by a pack of prepubescent children? The immediate thought that slammed to the forefront of his mind set his blood to boil.
“Don’t tell me you guys give them regular
human prey to practice on?”
“Are you mad? She’s --”
At that moment Seth effectively tuned the smaller man out and leaped from the stage, prepared to fight off the entire town if necessary to save the female. There were definitely going to be some changes implemented, starting with banning the public and private maulings of regular humans.
Suddenly the woman stumbled to a stop and turned to face her would-be attackers like a sacrificial lamb.
She huffed several times in an effort to catch her breath.
“Okay, okay I give!”
The laughter mingled in with her declaration threw him off, but Seth didn’t stop until he was standing between her and the swarming petting zoo.
He scowled at the group of youth who skidded to a stop in front of him. The ones who couldn’t slow their momentum plowed into the body in front of them, causing a traffic jam of fur balls.
“No,” he barked, his voice sounding more animal than human.
A light tapping on his shoulder had him turning his rage on the person who thought it wise to interrupt.
“Hiya, Sheriff. I’m Doc Ashlei. Sorry I didn’t get a chance to meet you yesterday, but Peter and his wife were having their first cub, and you know how hard it is to calm a nervous bear.” She ended her long-winded introduction with a smile that made his heart clutch in his chest.
“You’re the doctor?” He stared into her heart-shaped face for several silent moments.
“Yup, that would be me. Doctor Ashlei Preen, PhD, MD, and resident little-league track coach.”
She nodded. “Those are my stars behind you.”
Her dark brown eyes twinkled with pride. Delicate fingers tucked a lock of black hair, which had escaped from Ashlei’s neat ponytail, behind her ear.
“You’re not a shifter.” He hadn’t meant for it to sound like an accusation, but apparently that’s how it came across to her, and everyone else, if the collective gasps were any indication. The laughter in her eyes died in that moment, and Seth wanted to smack himself for being the cause of its demise. While her outward appearance seemed calm, he was certain he’d lit a fuse within her and not in a good way.
“For your information, I’m a nonshifting shifter,” she explained rather calmly.
His expression must have bespoke his confusion.
“Born to shifters but lack the ability to shift myself. Weird I know, but here I am. Guess one of my ancestors must have really pissed off a witch to make me like I am. Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a group of little people waiting for treats. Reigna, bring me my bag.”
It was amazing how she completed her explanation without stopping to take a breath.
He watched as another brown-skinned woman pushed her way through the crowd, carrying a black leather bag. If looks could kill, he would have been dead on the spot from the way the younger woman cut him down with her eyes.
His focus switched back to the doctor and her troop. She controlled the excitable band, still in animal form, like a skilled conductor. Each of the cubs and pups lined up in an obedient formation without so much as a twitch of a whisker and waited patiently for her to place a large wrapped candy treat between their teeth before loping off.
“Nice try, Beau; you know you’re allergic to chocolate,” she admonished a particularly small wolf who reached out of turn for a chocolate bar.
“I do have something else just as good,” she said to the shaggy pup, who whined pitifully. Ashlei dug in her bag and pulled out the longest stick of colorfully wrapped gum Seth had ever seen. The little wolf gave an excited yip before taking the treat and trotting off after the other children, careful not to trip over the gum’s jutting limb as it dragged.
“You know Doc Morgan is cursing you right now,” the woman at her side said.
Doctor Morgan, he’d learned, was a puma shifter and the only dentist in two counties, which meant he worked on shifters and regular
humans alike between his two practices.
“He’ll get over it.” She stood to her full height, rolled her shoulders, and stretched in a graceful motion that reminded Seth of a feline. He admired the generous curve of her hips, the slender indentation of her waist, and powerful back.
Very nice indeed.
“Sorry to interrupt your day, Sheriff,” she said, turning on him suddenly. He wasn’t prepared to have her smiling at him again, and like an idiot he stared down at her in dumbfounded silence. It was definitely a first; never in his life had Seth Riddick found himself at a loss for words with any woman, especially one as attractive as the town’s sexy little doctor.
“All righty then, have a good day,” she said after a pregnant pause, then moved to melt into the crowd, leaving him staring after her.
Unfortunately that first interaction seemed to set the tone for all their subsequent encounters. Now, whenever she spoke directly to him, he counted himself lucky if he could formulate more than a few coherently strung together words. If he’d managed to be successful at that task, he’d pat himself on the back and leave on the high note instead of hanging around like a lackwit.
Seth’s thoughts shifted back to the present as Ashlei disappeared from view. Disappointment flooded him even as his cock continued to thicken in unnecessary expectancy. It wasn’t the first time his body had developed a mind of its own where she was concerned. He was just grateful that the little sheriff’s office came equipped with a fully functioning bathroom. He’d become particularly acquainted with the shower and its temporary curative properties from what he’d dubbed as Ashlei-itis
. He defined it as the complete and utter distraction caused by Haven’s sexy doctor, which inevitably resulted in an uncontrollable erection, the likes of which he hadn’t encountered since puberty. The name for his problem came to him one evening while he lay awake with a raging hard-on that took two lengthy masturbations to slack. The nighttime was always the worst. He’d definitely have to find a way to get beyond his affliction. To date he’d been unable to come up with any answers that didn’t end with Ashlei beneath him -- or on top. Either way, so long as he could bury himself deep inside her. His erection strained inside his briefs as he imagined her coating him with her moist heat while she came hard around him.
Was she a screamer? He certainly hoped so, because he would have her shouting his name often.
Whoa there, Riddick, you’re getting a little ahead of yourself.
The nagging voice of reason intruded on his fantasy. You don’t even know if you’re her type. You just might be a tad out of your league with this one
He snorted at that thought.
Laugh all you want, you cocky son of a bitch, but you can’t even hold it together long enough to have a conversation with the woman.
It had him on that point.
Glad I could be of assistance. Now hit the shower before that overzealous deputy walks in here on his off day again and wonders if the thing in your pants is for him
Nia K. Foxx