Peter had decided he’d start his search for Ted at the last place Peter had seen him, Bayou End.
But when he pulled up and parked, he realized the name had changed. Now the sign read BAYOU’S END BED AND BREAKFAST. Despite the small change, it felt a little like coming home, the same way it used to feel when he’d come home from college, to his mom’s cooking and his father’s open arms. He figured he’d never feel that way again, and now, here he was, feeling something so similar it made him ache.
There was just something about this place. He’d felt it the first time, something in the heavy air hanging thick and damp like the moss from the oak trees. The surrounding swamp had called to him, and he’d loved the few times he’d been able to get out and walk around during the workshop. Of course, he’d never been truly free to explore the swamp, but he’d gotten used to denying those needs.
Ever since he’d seen the sign for St. Jerome and turned off the I-10, he’d grown more and more excited. By the time he turned onto the black top road leading to the B & B, he’d just about been bouncing in his seat.
He’d really enjoyed the workshop and the quaint old house on the edge of the bayou the first time he’d been here. The trunk of his car still held his artist supplies, and the itch to paint this house was almost too much to resist.
He had to find Ted first. Find out if the man would give him a break and let him hang around long enough to get back on his feet. Then he could find a job, earn some money, and decide if this was truly home.
St. Jerome was a small town, and Peter knew as well as anyone small towns could be narrow-minded. Especially about gays. And in predominately Catholic south Louisiana, it was a given he might not be welcomed with open arms. He was prepared to stay on the down low if he had to, but he’d really liked the idea of living somewhere he didn’t have to hide who he was or at least some of what he was. He didn’t really think St. Jerome was that place, just a sort of in-between place.
He got out of the car and took a deep breath. The scent of long ages hit him, and he exhaled, reveling in the familiar smell of the trees, water, and debris. He’d missed this, and it filled his chest to hurting.
He shook it off and took the stairs two at a time, pushed through the door, and approached the desk. A few people sat in the living room and parlor, but Marie, the elderly caretaker and owner, was nowhere to be seen.
Peter rang the little bell on the desk and clutched the countertop to keep from racing around searching for her.
Marie came out of the back room. “Well, I know you! Peter Graham, isn’t it?” She grinned at him as she stuck out her hand for him to shake.
“Yes, ma’am! From the artist’s workshop a few months ago.” He shook and then let her hand go.
“Well, what brings you back here? Do I have a reservation for you?” She looked down at her old-fashioned ledger, flipped a few pages back and forth, and frowned.
“No. I’m looking for someone. I understand he’s living here now. Well, not here
, but in St. Jerome.”
She gazed at him, head tilted like a little gray-headed bird. “Who might that be?”
“Ted Canedo. He gave me his card, but the phone number is no good, and I need to speak to him.”
“About that bruised face of yours, I’ll bet.” She frowned and shook her head. “Are you all right, son? It looks painful.”
“It’s not too bad. It’s getting better.” He didn’t answer her other question but let it drop.
“I’ll bet you could use some ice for that.” She gave him a sad smile and turned to go to the kitchen.
“Thanks! That would be nice.” Peter sighed and leaned against the counter. He wasn’t getting answers, but Marie’s thoughtfulness showed the kindness within her, and right now he could use some kindness.
A few moments later, she returned with some crushed ice wrapped in a towel and gave it to him.
He pressed it to his eye, winced, then exhaled as the pain lessened. “Much better. Now, do you know if Ted ever came back?”
“Yes, he did. He’s made quite an impact here in St. Jerome.” She winked at him. “I’ll let him tell you about it, though. In the meantime, he’s living with Scott Dupree, the sheriff.”
“The sheriff!” Peter didn’t even try to keep the surprise from his voice or face. “So it was true. I’d talked to someone he knew in New Orleans, and he’d said Ted had fallen for some lawman, but I thought it had to be a mistake.”
“Sure did--no mistake.”
“That’s sort of odd, isn’t it? I mean St. Jerome isn’t San Francisco.”
“Nope, it isn’t, but it doesn’t mean we don’t understand love.” She smiled at him the way his mother used to smile at him when she’d reprimanded him over something.
“You wouldn’t happen to have his phone number, would you?” It was wishful thinking but couldn’t hurt to ask.
“No, cher. But I’ll bet if you swing by the sheriff’s station, they can help you.”
“Thanks, I will. And thanks for the compress.” He tried to give it back to Marie, but she waved him down.
“You keep it. Good luck.” She watched as he left.
Peter went back to his car, not as happy as when he got out but nowhere near as downhearted as when he’d left New Orleans. The trail would lead him straight to Ted; he just had to follow it. It was kind of exciting and reminded him of hunting in the woods with his dad, uncle, and cousins, following the trails and signs of rabbits and deer.
Once he was back on the blacktop, he headed into St. Jerome proper and searched for the sheriff’s station. He vaguely remembered passing it somewhere on the main street during one of their excursions to paint.
Main Street in St. Jerome looked like a lot of small town main streets. Stores ranging from hardware to greeting cards, a diner, and even a pizza place, lined the drag, all of them with angled parking spaces out front of the older buildings.
He found it on the left, pulled into a spot on the other side of the street, and parked. Peter got out, waited for traffic to clear, then crossed over to the station. Up the steps and through the door, and he found himself in the waiting area of a large office.
The place smelled of burned coffee, pine-scented cleaner, and something familiar he couldn’t put his finger on.
On the other side of a half wall, a woman sat at a metal desk, probably the receptionist. She looked up at him and asked, “What can I do for you, sir?” Her voice sounded perfectly normal, but she stared at the mark on his face. “Do you want to report a crime?”
She beckoned to an officer sitting at a desk toward the back of the room. The man stood and came forward. “Can you help this young man, Frank?”
The deputy gave Peter the once-over. “When did this happen?”
“No, I don’t want to report a crime.” Peter shook his head and took a step back. “I wanted to speak to Ted Canedo.” He glanced around the place. Half a dozen desks in four neat rows stood to one side, and a door with SHERIFF SCOTT DUPREE stenciled on it stood open behind the secretary’s desk. At the rear of the room were four jail cells.
Frank’s eyes narrowed. “Ted, huh? What’s he got to do with this? Was he involved? When did it happen?” His hand moved to his gun butt, the man’s posture tense and threatening.
Peter pressed his lips together. How did this get so turned around?
“No, it’s got nothing to do with Ted. I’m just looking for him, that’s all.”
“Just looking for him? Does he know you? What’s this about?”
Peter looked to the woman for help, but she just stared at him as if he had turned into the legendary rugarou the swamps around St. Jerome were famous for. This wasn’t getting him any closer to finding Ted.
“Yes, I know
him. Look, I just need his phone number. I just want to talk to him.” His voice wavered as his frustration level shot off the charts, and he backed away. The flight response kicked in, and all he knew was to get the hell out of there.
Before Peter could bolt, Frank stepped through a gap in the waist-high barrier wall and up to him. “Are you a stalker? Are you following Ted from New Orleans? Are you gay
?” As if that were the worst of the accusations. The deputy grabbed Peter by the arm and hauled him up on his toes.
Fear coursed through Peter like an electric current. He whimpered, certain the man would start shaking him any minute, and the thought of being manhandled, beaten again, brought tears to his eyes.
The officer just pulled him farther into the room, through the half door, and toward the small jail cells against the back wall.
“Please stop,” Peter pleaded as he struggled in the viselike grip.
* * * * *
Billy trotted back up the steps, a little disappointed no call had come over the radio for him to handle. Back to the grind of the stack of paperwork. Going through the door to the station, he groaned as he thought about the reports he still had waiting.
He froze as he took in the situation in the squad room.
Frank, scowling, had a young man by the arm and was practically shaking him, and the guy’s badly bruised face twisted in fear. Terri stood to the side, wringing her hands, clearly torn about what to do.
Billy stared at the young man, and something inside him shifted as his body went into arousal. His wolf growled low in warning to Frank’s wolf, and before Billy could think, he barked out, “Let him go. Now.”
Frank looked up and released the man as if he were on fire.
“What’s going on?” Billy swallowed, a little stunned by his body’s reaction to the young guy. In one glance, Billy took him in--shorter than Billy and thinner, with longish wavy blond hair, blue eyes, tanned skin. He’d be gorgeous if he wasn’t so beaten up.
“This guy is looking for Ted.” Frank pointed at him. “I asked him if Ted had anything to do with those bruises, but he wouldn’t answer me.” He gave the guy a glare. “I think he’s stalking Ted.”
Billy moved forward, putting himself between Frank and the stranger, as if protecting him. “I’m Acting Sheriff Deputy Billy Trosclair. What’s your name?” He talked soft, trying to settle the younger man down. He held his hands out from his side in a nonthreatening gesture. From the scared look in this guy’s liquid blue eyes and the purple and green bruises on his face, he needed some serious soothing.
“I’m Peter Graham. I’m a friend of Ted’s. I’ve been looking for him, that’s all.” He rubbed his arm where Frank had gripped him. Billy saw Peter struggle to remain pulled together as he gazed into Billy’s eyes.
“Ted has gone to New Orleans for an art show. He won’t be back until next week.” No reason not to tell him, as far as Billy saw it.
Peter’s shoulders slumped like a puppet cut from its strings. “I missed him? I can’t believe it. I was just in
New Orleans.” His defeat-filled voice pulled at Billy.
“Sorry.” Billy drew closer, unable to keep his distance, stopping short of intruding on Peter’s personal space. The younger man had pulled Billy to him like iron to a magnet. “Can we talk about this in my office?” He pointed the way. More than anything, he wanted Peter to himself and away from Frank, which was odd because Billy had never seen Frank as any type of threat.
“Sure, I guess.” Peter nodded and followed Billy. Once inside his office, Billy shut the door. The closed room filled with Peter’s scent, and Billy’s wolf howled in recognition.
. Billy’s wolf surged, and he grabbed Peter by the front of his shirt and pushed him against the wall. His entire body pressed against the man’s as he inhaled the delicious aroma. Peter gasped, his eyes wide and mouth open, as Billy buried his face in Peter’s neck, but he didn’t struggle to get away.
Peter whimpered, and Billy’s cock stiffened. He inhaled again, burning the scent of the stranger into his wolf’s brain, then licked a line from the dent below Peter’s Adam’s apple to his ear as Peter shivered.
Peter’s dick responded, and he pushed it into Billy, twisting his head up and away, giving Billy more access to his throat. Peter moaned as Billy laved him again, then bit his earlobe.
“Fuck, what the hell?” Billy muttered, not sure what was happening, only that his wolf had taken over. If he didn’t get control, he’d change right here in his office.
Peter melted into Billy as they rubbed against each other. Billy grabbed Peter’s hands and brought them over his head, capturing him against the wall as Billy nipped along Peter’s jawline.
Billy switched his hold to one hand, and with the other he deftly unbuttoned half of Peter’s shirt. He slid his hand in and touched heaven--warm flesh and a nipple ring. Oh fuck
. Looping his fingertip through it, he gave it a tug.
Peter whimpered and writhed against the wall like the sweet little sub Billy sensed he might be. Fuck, Billy wanted to take him right now, and he knew if he told Peter to get on his knees and suck him off, he’d do it. Knew if he leaned Peter over his desk, Peter would drop his jeans and let Billy hammer him home.
Knew if he kept tugging on that ring, he could order Peter to come and he would.
Billy shook his head to clear away the thick haze of arousal and stepped back, releasing Peter. His wolf howled and growled, pissed as hell at being denied.
“Oh God, I’m sorry.” Billy ran his hands through his hair. He’d never done anything like that before, ever. But Peter...Peter...oh shit. Billy reached for his chair and fell into it.
Peter leaned against the wall, panting, with his cock a long lump in his jeans.
“What just happened?” he asked, turning a baby blue gaze on Billy and melting Billy all over again.
“You’re a wolf,” Billy answered.
Peter inhaled and froze. How the hell did he know? He looked around the room, refusing to meet Billy’s eyes.
“Hey, it’s all right, it’s okay,” Billy crooned, settling Peter’s wolf with his voice. Peter sighed and stared down at his shoes in submission. Billy stood and took Peter’s chin in his hand and raised his head up. “You’re safe, understand?”
Billy knew. And he understood. Billy was a wolf also. A gay wolf? Peter didn’t trust his voice to speak without cracking. He hadn’t met another wolf since his pack had thrown him out, sent him into exile for being gay, and he’d never met a gay wolf.
And oh, fuck me now, what a wolf
! Billy had utterly dominated Peter, and hadn’t that been heaven. The older were had given Peter just what he’d wanted and how he’d wanted it for so long. How the hell did he know?
“Yes, I understand.” Peter rubbed his chin into Billy’s hand.
“Good. Did I hurt you?” Billy dropped his hand away.
“No. No, it felt...fucking amazing.” He ran his hand over his fading erection and licked his lips. He wanted more of that. More of Billy.
Billy blushed, then looked at the computer screen. “Look, I just couldn’t hold my wolf back. He wants you.”
“He’s got me.” Peter stepped forward, then knelt at Billy’s feet. He ran his hand over Billy’s thigh and let his fingers graze Billy’s still-hard erection. “Whatever he wants.”
Billy frowned and grabbed Peter’s hand to stop him. “Wait. Look, I can’t do this.”
Right. Peter hung his head. Rejected again and this time by the perfect man for him, a gay werewolf who turned him inside out. Typical. God, he was such a loser.
Peter rocked back on his heels and stood, then went over to the chair on the other side of the desk and sat down.
Billy clasped his hands and leaned forward. As much as he might want to let Peter do all those things, this was the sheriff’s office and he was on duty. First things first.
He had to know who this guy was to Ted, why he was here, and most important of all, who the hell had beaten him. “Peter Graham, right? First, you should know Scott Dupree is a werewolf also, and alpha of our pack. Ted and Scott are a mated couple now. They live together here in St. Jerome, and if you came here to do anything about that, you’re going to be in trouble. The pack’s taken Ted into their hearts.”
“That’s great! For Ted and Scott, I mean.” Peter didn’t look that happy. “I came because I met Ted here during the artist workshop. He gave me his card, in case I ever got into trouble.” Peter picked at the rip on his jeans.
“Looks like trouble found you, for sure.” Billy gave Peter a smile. “Want to talk about it? Ted isn’t here, but I’d like to help you.”
“I’m not sure you can.” Peter shook his head.
Peter looked at Billy, licked his lips and nodded. “Okay. I left here that week three months ago with the teacher, Darcy Wentworth. We sort of hit it off.” He swallowed. “Everything was fine, until this week.”
“Did he beat you?” Billy leaned forward, his fingers turning white as he gripped them together. The urge to find whoever had hurt Peter rose in him like a wave, and it shocked Billy as he struggled for control. He moved his head and cracked his neck to work loose the growing tension.
“No. Not him.” Peter looked down at the floor. “Anyway, I left. I didn’t have anyplace to go, but I had Ted’s card, so I figured I’d call him.”
“And the number was no good?”
“Right. So I asked around in New Orleans, and a guy told me he was here, so I came looking for him. Now, I’ve missed him.” The desolate look on Peter’s face just tore a hole in Billy’s heart. The guy needed something, that’s for sure. Billy wasn’t sure what it was, but he wanted to give it to him.
“What exactly did you want Ted to do?” Billy asked.
“I need a place to crash. A job. To paint.” Peter shrugged. “I can’t go home. I used most of my savings to go to the workshop, and Darcy’s paid my way for the last few months. I don’t have much money left.” He bit his lip and ran his hand through his hair, pushing it off his forehead.
“Jobs are hard to come by, you know.”
“I know.” Peter sat up. “But I’ll do anything. Clean, bus dishes, wait tables, anything.”
In his mind, Billy ran through the list of jobs he knew about around town. The list was small, but there were a few. Not many, but a few. None of them high paying. “Do you have a degree?”
“No. I have two years at LSU, but I had to drop out. My dad wouldn’t pay the tuition once I came out.” He chewed on his thumb, worrying the nail.
Billy leaned forward, reached out, and took Peter’s hand to still it. “You’re an artist?” Peter looked up and met Billy’s gaze.
“Yes,” he whispered as he pulled his hand from Billy’s touch. “I paint.”
Billy retracted his hand, almost in physical pain from the separation. He wanted to shake his head, clear his mind, and get a grip on himself. This wasn’t like him.
“Now, I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
Billy leaned back in the chair to put distance between them, because if he didn’t, he was afraid he’d climb over the desk, take Peter and...
“I have an extra bedroom at my place. You can crash there until Ted comes back.” Billy knew it was a bad idea the moment the words came out of his mouth, but it was out and that was that.
Peter smiled and his brows rose. “Really? You don’t even know me.” Despite the bruises, it was the most hopeful and handsome Peter had looked since Billy first set eyes on him.
“If you get out of line, I think I can handle you.” Billy patted his weapon and grinned.
Peter’s smile dissolved into a thin-lipped frown. The whites of his eyes showed all around, and he leaned back in his chair, his hands pushing against the arms for leverage.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything. I wouldn’t hurt you.” Billy tried to convince Peter. “I was joking, that’s all.” He didn’t know what had happened to Peter, but someone had hurt him. Badly. Not just physically but emotionally.
And that pissed Billy off. Made him want to shift and hunt down the bastard who did this to such a beautiful young man.
Peter relaxed but still clung to the chair. “I’m sorry. Just jumpy, I guess.”
“It’s understandable. My bad. I shouldn’t have said that.” Billy came around the desk and knelt next to Peter’s chair, getting on the same level with him. “It won’t happen again, okay?”
Peter looked away.
Billy took Peter’s chin in his hand and turned him to face him. “I will never hurt you.” Their gazes locked. Peter’s danced all over Billy’s face, from eyes to mouth to forehead and back to his mouth.
Billy couldn’t take his gaze off Peter’s torn, swollen lips. He knew they would be perfect once they’d healed. Perfect and so kissable.
“I think I believe you,” Peter whispered.
“Good. Give me a few minutes to handle some things here, and I’ll take you to my place and get you settled. Okay?” Billy gave Peter’s hand a squeeze.
“Sure. That’s great.” Peter smiled, and dawn broke in Billy’s heart. Damn, the boy was sweet. He’d be impossible to resist once he was healthy. Good thing Ted would be back at the end of the week to take Peter off Billy’s hands.
Billy stood and went out to talk to Terri. “I’m going to take Mr. Graham someplace to stay until Ted returns. I’ll be back in about an hour.”
She looked at Billy, then at Peter. “Okay. Is this place, oh, I don’t know, your
place?” One of her eyebrows arched as she gave him a look usually reserved for mothers of children trying to pull one over on them.
Billy sighed. “Yes. I figure it’s safe. And it’s free. He doesn’t have any money.” He didn’t think he needed to tell her Peter was a were. That was Peter’s secret to tell, when and if he wanted.
“Safe for you? Maybe.” She glanced at Peter. “For him?” She frowned at Billy and lowered her voice. “The boy’s in trouble; he’s got it written all over his face, if you pardon the pun. I don’t want to see you or him get hurt. Looks like he’s had enough of that.” Billy knew she was right. Peter wasn’t anyone to treat like, well, he was disposable. No one deserved that.
Billy nodded. “Got it.” He held up his hands. “He’s safe with me. I promise.”
“But are you safe with him?” She rolled her gaze to the ceiling and turned back to her work. Billy motioned for Peter to come along and then led the way to his car.
Good question. Billy wasn’t sure the answer was yes.