Brink of Passion
He’d do anything to protect his mate.
The last thing Laurie expects when she bumps into Max at the shifter convention is finding her mate. Certainly not that her mate can shift into a leopard. Wolves and leopards mix about as well as water and oil. Or should she say, dogs and cats. Mating him means leaving her family, her town, and the only home she’s ever known. But the possibility of a happily ever after is worth the risk, right?
Max couldn’t be happier with his brazen, feisty wolf, but returning home isn’t the welcoming affair he’d expected. In his absence, his brother has been attacked within the leap complex. Something must to be seriously wrong. Could someone be using his loved ones to get to him? When his worst fears prove true, his protective instinct goes into overdrive. Will keeping Laurie mean putting her in danger?
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“Are you hungry?” he asked.
She shook her head.
“Drinks then?” Although he’d phrased it as a question, he had no intention of letting her refuse. Now that he’d found her, there was no way he’d let her go. He couldn’t. The beast inside him wouldn’t stand for it.
Taking her arm, he steered her toward the front of the hotel. Sure, he could have taken her to the hotel bar. It would have been faster, and more convenient. But the bar was no doubt packed full of shifters, and he wanted more privacy than that. He didn’t need a bunch of strangers, who would no doubt sense what was happening, staring and whispering while they were getting to know each other. Earlier, he’d seen a pub around the corner from the hotel that seemed promising. He pointed toward the hotel entrance as they walked and she nodded before moving ahead of him to maneuver through the crowd.
His fingers still tingled from touching her skin, and every nerve in his body thrummed with awareness. His gaze strayed downward to the swing of her hips as she walked, and he bit his lip to hold in a groan. No doubt the two of them together would burn up the sheets once he got her into his bed.
Soon. They both knew they’d end up there. Why deny themselves the pleasure?
She hesitated a moment, looking over her shoulder, as they walked out of the hotel, making him wonder if she were in fact with a man. If so, he admired her loyalty, even if it was no longer relevant. The poor shmuck would have to find someone else. He grabbed her hand, almost groaning at the pleasure merely touching her gave him, and led her down the street.
She had to feel the connection between them. The inexplicable pull toward each other. He’d never felt so certain of anything before in his life. Suddenly he understood the possessiveness other men displayed toward their mates. A part of him had always sneered at men who found their mates and ignored everything else. The ones who became so enamored that they professed undying devotion to someone they barely knew. He’d always thought those men weak-willed, or somehow kidding themselves. But now he knew differently.
No, he wasn’t in love with Laurie—he didn’t even know her—but he was completely and utterly captivated by everything about her. Love would grow. What they had between them was more intense and consuming than that.
As they walked down the street, more men stared at her, some shifters in town for the convention, but plenty of full humans as well. Annoyance grew at every eye he caught looking at her with interest. Laurie appeared either oblivious to the attention, or used to it. The thought of the latter irritated him further. Was she looked at so often that she’d become immune to it? Even women’s eyes were drawn to her.
When they got to the pub, Max pulled Laurie away from everyone else and into a secluded circular booth. Away from prying eyes. He scooted into the booth until they were seated together in the back.
Her scent drove him wild, and he couldn’t resist rubbing the tip of her hair between his fingers. Her eyes tracked his movements, her mouth opening as if she wanted to protest, but after a moment, she closed it. Pleasure filled him. Before the end of the night, Laurie would be his.
The smile vanished from his face as a waiter came to take their orders. The man’s eyes were riveted on his mate. A low growl rumbled in his throat.
Pure male satisfaction filled him when the waiter’s eyes widened in fear. He left so fast after taking their drink orders, Max was surprised he didn’t leave skid marks.
“Are you always this friendly, or do I bring out the best in you?” Sarcasm dripped from the words. He’d admit it, watching other men ogle his mate was awakening his beast.
“Doesn’t it bother you?” Because it sure as hell was bothering him.
“The growling? Nah, I have three brothers, so your ultra alpha-ness doesn’t scare me.”
Alpha-ness? Was that even a word?
“Not me. You. Doesn’t it bother you to have so many people making eyes at you?”
“Making eyes? What are you, eighty?” She laughed and the sound swept through him, punched through his frustration and brought a steady burn of lust in his gut. Low, with a hint of roughness that sent chills down his spine.
Desire burned in the back of his throat and pooled in his belly until thoughts of Laurie took over his entire being. With another growl, this time one of pure need, Max leaned forward and nipped the top of Laurie’s ear. Her laughter ceased, breath catching on a quickly indrawn gasp. Fingers dug into his thigh, right above his knee, until he released her ear, soothing it with a small lick before pulling back.
“I’m being serious.”
Her eyes stared at him in confusion, lust still clouding their depths. He’d be lying if he said the sight of her desire didn’t fill him with pride and no small amount of excitement for the night ahead.
After a minute, she shook her head. He could almost see her scattering droplets of bewilderment just as a dog shakes off water after a bath. The image broke through the tension from frustration and lust. He could be patient, because tonight would be the start of forever.
“I’m not sure what you’re talking about.”
She didn’t know. He could see it in her face. She wasn’t trying to be cute, or pretend innocence. She really didn’t see the way everyone stared at her. Somehow, that only made her more attractive.
Unable to resist, he tangled his fingers with hers and leaned his other arm along the back of the booth so that he could play with her hair. Then he began to get to know her in earnest.
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