“Scarred” by Theresa Hissong

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I wrote this story about four years ago.  I’ve debated on publishing it, but have decided to share it with you for FREE!  Out of everything I have ever written, this is my most favorite love story yet.  I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Scarred     

By Theresa Hissong

Copyright 2014 Theresa Hissong

Chapter 1

Family

Lexi

Standing smack dab in the middle of the forest behind my home, I finally dropped from exhaustion.  I’d completely run myself out.  Number one rule when running around as a jaguar; make sure no human is around to see you.  Once I determined that I was in fact alone, I closed my eyes and rested on a mound of dried leaves at the base of a huge pine tree.

It was mid-November in the wonderful state of Mississippi and although it was considered winter, the temperature outside were in the low sixties; perfect weather for getting out of the house and stretching my paws.

Okay, so it just wasn’t the need to stretch my paws.  I had to get away from my dad.  He was driving me crazy.  Who gives a flying flip that I was in no hurry to settle down and make a bunch of babies with whoever they had lined up for me?  Well, I do.  Dear old dad was about to pop a vein worrying about his only daughter continuing the line of the Sharpe blood.  Our latest argument was only a half hour ago, during dinner and in front of everyone.

My father, Andrew Sharpe, is the head honcho of the southeast shifters. I’m talking the King of not only jaguars, but the wolves, bears and cougars too.  He made the laws and everyone obeyed.  Screw up and he was the one to pull the trigger.  We lived by shifter laws, not those of the humans.

My name is Alexandra Sharpe, the only daughter and current hottest commodity in our community.  Every black jaguar from Memphis to Charleston and down to Miami was pining for my attention.  Why?  I’m twenty two and nearing my Prime.  Several times in the next five to ten years, I will be at my most fertile.  Ugh!  The thought makes me sick.  From what my mom says, it’s not safe for me when it happens.

Males from miles around will fight to the death to be my main squeeze.  If I haven’t mated, or married, by that time, my family will have to stand guard outside the home to ward off my possible suitors.  My brothers could get hurt, or worse, trying to protect me.

This is why I’m currently laying in a pile of rotting leaves just a few yards from the Coldwater River.  I needed time to think and shake off the anger of the constant argument with my family.  Of course, I’m not stupid enough to run too far from home, but I needed some space.

I’ve always loved the woods.  The tranquility of the cover of trees by the river is my favorite part.  Humidity in the summer never bothered me.  In fact, the summer brought with it, the cover of the underbrush with places to hide, to escape for just a little while.  Unlike the winter, when our forms could be seen from farther away, the summer months were the best times of our lives.  My brothers and I loved to splash around in the water and spend the afternoons laid out alongside the river.

Even before my first shift at twelve, I would run around trying to hide from my older brothers.  I’d use my small size in my favor.  Hiding was fun for me.  The boys would shift and try to sniff me out.  Whoever found me was required to give me a piggyback ride home.  I’d nestle myself between one of my brothers shoulder blades and wrap my tiny arms around their necks, laughing all the way home. Not many people can say that they had played hide and seek with a bunch of jaguars when they were children.

Now that I was settled, I stretched out my paws one at a time, kneading them into the soft soil in front of me.  I looked to the left, just as a tiny field mouse scurried around the tree and came to a dead stop.  Immediately I huffed, warning the critter to go run along.  I had no desire to eat the little guy; he wasn’t quite enough nutrition for me at the moment.  It was like eating one potato chip; not much fun there.

Off to the south, I heard a rustling sound and then a branch crack under the weight of something larger than a field mouse.  I turned my head and sniffed the air.  It was human and my oldest brother, Adam.  At twenty nine, he was the biggest and smartest of all of my brothers. Adam was six foot three and weighed just over two hundred pounds.  His black hair was short and cut to military precision. Like all of my brothers, Adam’s eyes sparkled crystal blue.  He was my shelter and my shoulder to cry on.  So, I wasn’t surprised to see him emerge from the underbrush with a flashlight and a change of clothes.

“It’s almost dark, Lexi.”  That was my nickname from as far back as I could remember.  “Dad wants us all back.  He’s expecting an escort from Miami in about an hour.  They have a jaguar from Cuba who wants permission to stay here in our territory.  The poor guy’s family was killed and he needs a place to stay.”

Of course, whenever there was someone seeking asylum in our territory, it was a family vote.   Daddy dearest never cared for my opinion on my own life, but when it came to the lives of others, he was all for my input.

I huffed and gave Adam a half snarl to voice my unconcern.  He squatted down next to me and started scratching behind my ears, “I know you don’t want to be there, but if we don’t show a united front, dad’s enemies could use that against us.  Come on now, baby girl, shift back.  I brought you clothes.”  He said with a smile that I could never resist.  Adam was the nurturing half my father never was.

To keep the peace, I closed my eyes and used my mind to picture myself as human.  The black fur tickled slightly as it slid back inside my skin.  The pain of my bones shifting was nothing to write home about, but as long as you didn’t fight it, the agony was only half of what it could be.  My mouth ached and I moaned as my canines repositioned themselves in my mouth.  When I opened my eyes, I was laying on my side completely naked next to my favorite sibling.

Nudity was nothing to us.  We had seen each other in our birthday suits so much that it never bothered anyone.  I lifted my head and rested it into Adam’s lap.  Now that the sun was setting, the temperatures were starting to drop.

“It’s cold,” I laughed.

“Here, get dressed and let’s get you home,” he sighed and then handed over my clothes; a pair of blue jeans, my pink bra and panty set and a black fleece pullover. He had my favorite pair of Nikes hanging off his two fingers.  God, I loved my brother.

“You know, I worry about you sometimes.  You can pick out my clothes better than I can.”  I shut up when he smacked the back of my head.

“Don’t even go there,” he growled.  “I’ve just paid attention to you more than the others.”

“Yeah, I know.” I muttered.  He and I both knew that he was more of a father to me than our own father ever was.  The King was always too busy with his duties when we were younger.  Now, we only see him at dinners and in passing.   Or, when he needed our united front on issues with shifters.

Enough with the teasing, Adam was right, we needed to get home.  Although he had seen me naked since the day I was brought into this world, Adam turned around while I quickly tugged on my pants.  All the while wishing I could find a way out of this hell I called my life.

It only took about twenty minutes to walk back to the house.  As soon as Adam and I came off the trail, we found mom walking out of the chicken house.  She had been collecting the day’s eggs.  My mother was beautiful at her young age of fifty five.  In fact, we looked so much alike, it was scary.  We had the same thick black hair; hers was short, whereas mine was long.  Our eyes shared the same golden brown hue that all female jags shared.  The shape of her pixie like face was like looking in a mirror at my own.  She was a little more slender than me, but she always told me that my hips were made for birthing babies.  (See why I hate my destiny?)  Although her lips were thin, mine were plump.  The only thing I could honestly claim I had inherited from my father.

“Alexandra,” my dear mother growled.  “How many times have I told you not to wander off on your own?”  I felt the hairs on my neck raising.  Adam grabbed the back of my arm before I could properly tell my mother to go fly a kite.

“She wasn’t that far away mom,” Adam smiled at her and like that, her tantrum was over.  Even she couldn’t resist his charm.

We turned around and walked toward the house.  My other brothers A.J., Andre, and Avery were in the back yard tossing a football.  They all stopped when I came into view.  The pity on their faces had me looking at the ground as I walked right past them.  I just couldn’t stand it when they all felt sorry for me.  I took off at a dead run, up the back steps, through the sliding glass door, around the island in the kitchen and up the stairs.  I busted through the door to my bedroom and landed face first in the dozens of pillows covering my bed.

Our home consisted of eight bedrooms, five bathrooms and it was the largest prison in the mid-south.  The longer I stayed here, the more claustrophobic I became.  I wanted out.

Like that was ever going to happen.

Adam stayed out back with my brothers and left me alone.  I stayed in the bed, hidden by my various pillows; each a little different.  I held onto the one that was my favorite from when I was a child.  It was stained and yellowed, but still smelled a little like Strawberry Shortcake.  The other one was newer and softer; it was a solid teal blue.  There were many that I loved to be around, like memories of days past.  Each one held a special place in my heart.

The knock on the door had my blood boiling. “Get out! Oh!” I looked up into four pairs of crystal blue eyes, my brothers.  A.J., who was born second, was at the head of the group.  Like all of us, A.J. had black hair, but his was the longest out of the boys, just to his massively wide shoulders.  The boy lifted weights so much that I swear his brain was somehow now in his arms.

Andre was third born and the prankster of the group.  He looked more like Adam, except he kept his hair completely shaved off.  Andre was the same height as my oldest brother, but skinny as a rail.  Don’t let that fool you; he could take down all three of them in a matter of seconds.

Avery was the fourth born.  He was the hot headed, short tempered one.  At six foot tall, Avery was the typical country boy.  Not cowboy, but country boy.  Short black curly hair poked out from under is bright red hat with an Ole Miss logo, which needed a serious washing.  He wore his tight denim jeans flawlessly as any girl in town would tell you.  Avery was a male whore.  I love him, but I must speak the truth.

Andre stepped ahead of the group, “Lexi, get up!”

“No!” I growled.

“Dad said we need to be in his office,” Adam demanded.

“Y’all do it.  I don’t want to.” I begged.  “Oh crap!”

Just as I looked up, four overgrown jaguars pounced on top of me.  All I could do was curl myself into a ball and hope for the best.  They took turns pawing at me and Avery got in a few tickles before I was surrendering.

“Okay!” I shouted.  “I’m coming!”

“Glad you see it our way, sis,” A.J. laughed and pulled me to my feet.

Aidan

The flight from Miami to Memphis was two hours and twenty four minutes.  My job today was to escort Raul Cortez, to meet with the King, Andrew Sharpe.  My father has been his right hand man in Florida since before I was born.  I’d met him and his wife back when I was a child, but other than that I don’t remember that much about them.

“Soda,” the perky twenty something flight attendant asked as she wheeled the cart down the aisle.  One wheel on the contraption wasn’t quite level and swiveled around in a circle as she pushed.

“No, thank you.” I said, not looking up from the Sky Mall magazine I was reading.  Raul was currently asleep beside me.  I was uncomfortable and ready for the plane to land.  At six foot four and two hundred and twenty pounds, guys like me didn’t fit all that well in airline seats.  Usually I flew first class, but with our rush to get my guest out of Miami, we had to settle for coach.

The pilot announced our decent into the Memphis area and I nudged Raul to wake him up.  He looked at me a little bleary eyed before he realized where he actually was.  While Raul waited at the baggage claim for our luggage, I stood at the rental car counter waiting for my turn in line.

It only took about half an hour before we were in the car and on our way south.  I plugged in the address to the King’s home in northern Mississippi and pulled out of the spot.

The little town we drove into was small and quaint.  Olive Branch was only a few miles south of the state line.  I noticed from the interstate that there was a huge Wal-Mart, a Ford dealership, a golf course and plenty of fast food restaurants.

We took an old county highway south of Olive Branch, deep into the country and drove for several miles.  Trees hung close to the road and an occasional old truck would pass us on the way.

The house was set back off the road; trees dotted the front yard that was a few acres in size.  The home backed up to some woods.  It was a two story mansion of a home, and it was stunning.

We parked and got out of the car.  Raul and I were greeted by four men who all looked alike.  Each one had strong features that told me they were the infamous Sharpe boys.  The largest of the group walked up and extended his hand.

“You must be Aidan Jackson.  Name’s Adam Sharpe, welcome.”  Adam was obviously the oldest.  He introduced himself to Raul before he introduced us to the other three behind him.  Avery, Andre, and A.J. were just as kind as Adam, I liked them immediately. The wind picked up and I caught the faint scent of Honeysuckle drifting in from the back yard.  I thought it was odd, because it was winter, and that didn’t grow this time of the year.  But something about that scent made my loins burn.

I followed the brothers up to the house.  The King, Andrew Sharpe and his wife, Sara Beth were waiting inside the foyer when we entered.  I noticed the scent was stronger inside the home and I wondered if the Queen used Honeysuckle scented oils, but the scent was so fresh and clean, that I dismissed my observation.  It was too pure to be made in a factory.

“Mr. Jackson,” he King said.  “Welcome.”

“Thank you for having us into your home,” I replied.  I watched as the boys all run upstairs and disappear down a long hallway.

“Why don’t you come into my office, Mr. Cortez, Mr. Jackson?  My son’s will be back down in a few minutes.”  Raul nodded and walked behind the King.  I followed a little slower.  Something about those stairs held my interest.  Like there was some treasure waiting for me behind a hidden door.  A treasure I’d been waiting a long time to cherish.

The King’s office was pristine.  Huge bookshelves lined the walls.  His desk was large and the chair behind it could have been considered a throne.  The chair was tall in the back and made of leather, brass studs the size of half dollars were lined up around the edges, like toy soldiers.

The brothers came into the room, and with them drifted in that scent I’d been trying to make out since I first encountered it outside.  The air stirred and I looked up to see where the source of the scent was coming from.

She came in with her eyes cast down, looking down at the floor.  When she eventually raised them and our eyes met, I melted.  I couldn’t help but stare.  She was stunningly beautiful.  Like an artist had made her with his own hands.  She was perfection.  Long black hair trailed down slightly covering her long neck.  She was small in my eyes, but when she stood next to Andre, I noticed she was only a few inches shorter.  Her pixie like face smiled and I saw just a blush of red heat up her face.

I tried my hardest not to gawk and stare at her, but I couldn’t help but notice her perfect shape.  Her breasts were enough to overfill my palms.  The skin on her arms looked like satin and the curve of her waist was inviting.  I groaned in my mind as my eyes trailed down to her hips.  They were the perfect size for holding tight against my body.  She was perfect.

Chapter 2

Heaven

Lexi

All the boys went ahead of me down the stairs.  I took them slowly trying to identify the scent that assaulted my nose.  The first one was obviously the cat from Cuba, because he smelled like spice, but the other one was refreshing, sweet like the sun.  I twitched my nose to get a better feel for his scent.  God, it was like heaven.  It caressed my body, like lying out on the beach, like eating a fresh coconut. Like…

I stepped into my father’s office and came face to face with the source of the scent.  He was gorgeous. Greek god’s had nothing on him.  The escort was tall, taller than Adam and built better than A.J.  His features were strong and fearless.  He had long sandy blond hair that caressed the top of his shoulders and his skin was tanned to perfection.  A strong jaw, with slight shading from stubble, framed his face.  His emerald green eyes and long dark lashes found mine and he smiled.  I almost collapsed.  My heart warmed at that smile.  Hell, my whole body wanted to melt like hot chocolate.  My sex pulsed when I took another breath and caught his sweet smell.  Indeed this was heaven.

Mine!

“Alexandra!” my father’s voiced boomed through the room.  I must have been staring for a long time.  When I looked around, my father and my brothers had this confused look on their faces.  They were staring at me like I was a stranger.

“Yes, sir,” I whispered, because I didn’t trust my voice.

“This is Raul Cortez, from Cuba.”  My father pointed to the refugee.  He turned to the gorgeous man standing by the bookcase and my mouth watered waiting to hear his name.

“This is Aidan Jackson.  He is Tyler Jackson’s son.”  Tyler Jackson was my father’s Second in Miami.  I had never met Aidan.  Believe me, I would have remembered.

A Second is like a deputy; one that had pledged himself to enforce the rules made by the King.

They were waiting on me to speak.  I cleared my throat but never took my eyes off of Aidan.  “Welcome to our home.  It’s is a pleasure to meet you.”  I shook hands with Raul first, but when I walked up to Aidan time seemed to slow.

He took my hand gently, as if I was a delicate flower.  He kissed the back of my knuckles.  “The pleasure is all mine, Ms. Sharpe.”  When he spoke, his voice was deep but soft.  I didn’t step back immediately.  We just stared at each other for another moment before I remembered we had an audience and moved back at my brother’s side.  Dad took his seat behind his large oak desk and Avery, A.J., and Andre crammed onto the couch by the door.  Adam and I remained standing.

Adam leaned in and whispered in my ear, “Are you okay?”

“Fine,” I barked.

“Alright, Mr. Cortez, I understand you would like to live in our territory and renounce your affiliation with the clan in Cuba.  Is this correct?”  My father was always one for detail.  He checked and rechecked all of his facts before making a decision.

“Yes sir,” he paused.  “I have nothing left.  My family’s clan was taken over by the new King and they killed them all.  I fled because they would have killed me too if I had not gotten out.”

“I’ll tell you what,” my father paused to rub his chin.  Dad and Avery looked just a like when he did this.  Dad’s still in exceptional shape for his age.  His hair is a little gray around the edges and his face shows the lines from the tough life he has led, but he is still very handsome.  “I need someone to drive for me.  Have you ever driven a delivery truck?”

“Yes sir.  I did in Cuba.”  Raul was almost bouncing on his toes from the excitement.  His dark brown eyes sparkled in his overly tan skin.  He was probably close to thirty years old, but he looked weathered, like he had worked outside his whole life.  He was thin, almost too thin and only a few inches taller than my five foot seven.

Dad turned toward his children looking for our approval.  Once we all nodded, he turned back to Raul.  “We will get you an apartment in town and get you set up to work in the states.  Then I will have Avery train you.”

My father owned many distribution companies in Memphis and the surrounding area.  He also owned most of the farmland in northern Mississippi.  He’s made millions living off the land.  If you worked for him, you were a shifter.  And if he offered you a job, you did your best every day that you were scheduled to work.  Andrew Sharpe was tough and everyone respected him for it.

I couldn’t help but watch Aidan still standing across the room from me.  He was watching my father, but occasionally would look over at me and smile.  Each time he did I wanted to melt.

Mine!

Oh God, not now.  Please not now!  I didn’t even know this guy.  He wasn’t on dad’s approved list of appropriate suitors.  My dating list of guys, so I could be mated off, sure did not include this guy.  Which my body kept screaming at me to take him!  There was no way in hell I was going to just walk up to him and ask him to mount me so we could make lots of babies to make my parents happy.  Not going to happen!

I was vaguely aware that someone was hauling me from the room, until I was pinched in the back of my arm.  “Ouch!”  I turned around and smacked Adam in the shoulder.   “What the hell was that for?”

“You were standing there staring at that escort like he was your last meal.  Are you okay?” he sounded worried.

“I’m fine,” I lied.  I wasn’t fine.  I think I was obsessed with that escort. Adam stood in front of me when I tried to peek around him and look for Aidan.

“Lexi, you are throwing off some serious heat.  Is it that guy?” he nodded over his shoulder.

When Adam said the word “heat”, something inside me clicked.  He was the one.  I sucked in a deep breath and turned for the stairs.  I needed distance from everyone for a few minutes.  Dad was wrapping up with Raul and I wouldn’t be needed anytime soon.

Once inside, I locked the door and sat down in the floor.  I wanted him.  My fucked up female hormones raged deep inside my belly and I knew that he was the one.  How could I bring a stranger into my bed, claiming that he could be the newest Prince in the Sharpe family?

Mom always told me that I would know when I finally met him.  This is why I have been paraded around males since I turned eighteen.  The lucky guy would hopefully stir my interest, making the mating much easier for the both of us.  My animal instincts would kick in and I would just know.  How embarrassing?  My brothers and my father were in the room when I was probably drooling all over myself.

Aidan was a stranger.  He could be a serial killer for all I knew.  Well, he was polite enough.  Maybe I should go downstairs and talk to him.  Ugh!  Maybe that wouldn’t be a good idea.  I’ve never had to start a conversation with a stranger.  My parents were always there to chaperone our visits.  Maybe this is what I’ve been looking for, a meeting on my terms, one that doesn’t involve my family’s involvement.

I forced myself up and out of the bed with nothing more than sheer determination.  My body ached to know more about our guest.  If I could just get past the heat I felt when I looked into his eyes.

Mom had made dinner for everyone, including our guest.  When I rounded the corner, I found her setting the table.  I grabbed a handful of silverware and walked behind her setting a fork and knife to each plate.  Our table set ten people and with our guest, it would be almost full tonight.

“Thank you dear,” she smiled.  “Could you grab the napkins for me?”  I walked into the kitchen and scooped up the napkins off the counter.  I returned to the attached dining room, handing them over to my mom.

My father was the first to enter, followed by Avery.  They plopped down in a chair and waited for the rest of the family to join us.  A.J. and Aiden followed Raul in from the living room and took a seat.  Adam and Andre took the chairs across from our guest, leaving an empty space next to Raul or Aidan for me to sit.

Mom and I placed the bowls of hot food in the center of the table, fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, black eyed peas, corn on the cob and a huge basket of sweet rolls.  The boys started grabbing before I got my hand out of the way.  My father cleared his throat reminding them to mind their manners in front of our guest.

I sat down next to Aidan and felt my heart flutter.  He handed me the basket of rolls, allowing me to take one before he chose one for himself.

“Thank you for dinner, Mrs. Sharpe,” he addressed my mother.  She beamed from the compliment.

Once everyone was served, the boys broke off into their own conversation with Raul; asking him about life in Cuba.  He told them about the poor conditions and although he was glad to be away from there, he still missed his home.

“So,” Aidan paused.  “You’re the only daughter?”

“Um, yes,” I blushed.  His voice was mesmerizing.  I watched as his eyes sparkled when he smiled at me.  “Unfortunately.”

“I bet your brothers are very protective,” he laughed at my expression.

“You have no idea,” I groaned.

Aidan reached for a second helping of mashed potatoes.  His right arm was stretched out almost right beside my face.  The cord of muscles on his tanned skin flexed perfectly.  I had to stifle a moan before someone heard me.

Needing to look elsewhere, I met the eyes of my overly protective brother Avery; not that they all weren’t protective, but he was the worst.  His eyes narrowed on Aidan and then flickered to me.  I gritted my teeth and creased my brow in a frown that told him to cut it out.  He looked back and forth between us a few times and then shrugged.  All was forgotten when someone passed the plate of chicken in front of him.

“Would you two care to join us for a run after dinner?” Andre asked our guest.

“I would love too,” Raul answered.

Aidan turned to me and whispered, “Will you be joining them?”

“No,” I blushed.  “I was planning on curling up with a movie tonight.  Go ahead.”  I pointed toward my brothers.  They all were eager to get out of the house and I could tell Aidan was all for it too.

“Sure,” he spoke up.

All of the boys excused themselves from the table and took their plates into the kitchen, setting them beside the sink.  Mom and I shooed them outside then got down to cleaning up.

Aidan

The night was cold.  I’m talking, to the bone, cold.  Maybe it was because I grew up in Miami where we hardly ever saw temperatures in the forties, like it was here tonight.  I followed the Sharpe brothers out the back door and across the yard to a huge tree.  There was a picnic table there just at the entrance to a trail.

I folded my clothes and placed them on the table.  I shivered as I started to shift.  The moment between human and animal is always an odd sensation.  Like a million tiny sparks rolling over my skin, I felt the familiar beginnings of my shift.

Once I was done, I looked back at the others.  Adam was almost my size, with the others not that much smaller than the oldest son’s weight.  Raul was the smallest of us all.  They were all black with hidden rosettes, while I remained the natural tawny yellow of an average Joe.

The Sharpe’s land was very large with plenty of places to run.  I followed Adam for a while.  He would take different trails as he ran.  Occasionally, I would hear the others growling at each other in a playful tone.

One of the boys, I think it was Andre, flashed around me at one point, using his speed to race up a tree.  He looked at me, and I saw the pleading in his eyes for me to ignore him.  The kid was trying to ambush one of the others.  Very quickly, I put some distance between us.  And sure enough when one of his brothers passed, he leaped out of the tree, landing on the other ones back.  They rolled down into a small valley, no more than twenty feet wide and ten feet deep, biting and growling all the way down.  At one point, I could have sworn I heard Avery laughing.  He almost sounded half hyena.

After leaving the brothers to their games, I walked around and found a spot that smelled like fresh Honeysuckle.  I nudged around in a pile of leaves at the base of a pine tree.  The scent was faded, but I imagined Lexi laying here peacefully in her jaguar form.  As I rooted my nose around more, recognizing her lovely scent, I noticed there was another fresher scent; one that wasn’t one of her brothers.  I wondered if she had come out here to meet the cat that I smelled around her scent.  Was she seeing someone on the sly?  Someone who she was forbidden by her family to see?

An odd sensation bubbled into my chest.  Hatred?  Jealousy?  I don’t know exactly, but whoever it was, the thought of them laying a hand on the Princess made me want to find that male and destroy him.

One thought crossed my mind and I took off at a dead run back to the house…She is mine!  I had to make sure she was okay.

Lexi

“It’s a shame about Mr. Cortez’s family,” my mother sighed.

“It is, but I’m glad daddy decided to help him out.”  I handed over a plate to place in the washer.  The sky was dark and the back yard was only lit up by the flood lights on the house and a small one on a pole, by the big oak tree.  There were five piles of clothes dropped in messy stacks at the head of the trail leading back into the woods, and one that was folded neatly on the bench.  Occasionally, we would hear the roar of the jaguars that were playing in the dark.

“Well,” she smiled.  “You father has a big heart.”  She reached for the glasses dumping the leftover ice cubes in the sink.

“Momma,” I turned to look at her.  “Why don’t you run like you use to?  I mean, I only see you and dad go out maybe twice a month.”

“Well,” she handed me a plate to scrub.  “You father is so busy and I surely don’t want to go out with your brothers.  Sometimes they can be a little rough.  Your father and I occasionally go out late at night, after everything has quieted down.”

“Oh, okay.  I just wondered.  And I don’t blame you for not wanting to go with the boys, they are wild.”  I laughed and handed her the last plate.

“I hope they are being safe with you.  They know better,” she scowled.

“You don’t need to worry mom,” I laughed.  “They’re careful with me.”

She started the dishwasher and wiped the countertops before heading back to her bedroom.  I stood there watching the yard, looking for signs of my brothers.  The itch to join them was overwhelming, but I didn’t want to spoil their fun.  I would run tomorrow morning, when I could do it on my own.  Or, maybe I would have Adam go with me.

I grabbed dad’s fleece blanket off the back of his chair and threw it on the couch.  I had at least a good hour to myself before the boys would be back.  The DVD’s were set up in alphabetical order; it only took me a second to find the best movie of all time, ever made.

I popped Interview with a Vampire in the player and lounged on the couch, soaking up two hours of Brad Pitt in all of his hotness.  Hopefully the boys would stay out longer so that I didn’t have to hear their stupid comments on my favorite actor.

Just about the time that Brad opened his eyes to see things through his vampire eyes, the back door opened and in came six loud men, all laughing and cutting up.

“Shit,” I groaned.  Immediately I sat up and folded the blanket.  Next I removed the DVD and placed it back onto the shelf.

I turned around and three, black haired idiots shook themselves, covering me in ice cold drops of rain that had coated the tops of their heads.  “Ugh!  Y’all act more like dogs than cats.”  I ran my hand over my face and slugged Andre in the side of the arm.

“Ouch,” he laughed, but pretended to be hurt.  “That one stung.”

After kicking Adam in the shin, I walked into the kitchen and used a dishrag to wipe off the remaining moisture.

“That was just mean,” Aidan muttered behind me.

I jumped and spun around, “You scared me.”  I laughed.

“I’m so sorry,” he smiled.  “I was just wondering if I could get a glass of tea.”

“Sure,” I smiled and then pointed to the cabinet that held the cups.  “Did you have fun?”

“Oh yeah,” he laughed, removing a glass from the cupboard.  He poured himself a glass and sat down at the breakfast bar.  “Your brothers are crazy.”

We were interrupted by my brother, Avery.  “Hey man, Raul’s done.  The shower is all yours.”  The look on his face said that he was using that excuse to get the stranger away from me.

Aidan drained his tea then rinsed out his glass, setting it in the sink.  He smiled at me as he walked by.  I caught his soft ocean scent as he left the kitchen.  My body responded instantly.  I felt my insides heat up, and my hands ached with the urge to touch him.  Moisture pooled between my legs and I had to clinch them together to keep from groaning.

I shook myself out of the daydream my mind was trying to form.  The urge to have him inside me burned through my veins.  To be the one to accept him into my body would have been like winning the lottery.  I closed my eyes and pictured my hands memorizing the muscles in his chest, his arms, his…

“Lexi,” my brother shouted from right beside me.

“What!” I snarled.  A curious look from Avery had me turning away before he could say anything.  Bed, I needed to just go to bed.

Aidan

      After my shower, I decided to go back downstairs and see if I could maybe strike up a conversation with Lexi again.  I don’t even know if she’s noticed me.  Hell, I shouldn’t even be barking up this tree.  I wasn’t royal material.  My father had told me before that the daughters of the ruling families were mated by arrangement.  The thought always made me sick and now it’s even worse.

I couldn’t see her accepting this.  Lexi Sharpe seemed like a strong minded female; one who wouldn’t accept a forced mating.  The thought of a male, who only took her for her status, mating with her, made my insides burn.

When I reached the top of the stairs, I heard all of them down in the living room.  They were talking about the race this weekend.  I caught her scent and looked to my right.  At the end of the hall there was a door, and it was closed.  The lights were off, but I could see the flickering of light under the door.  I imagined her lying on the bed with her black hair fanned out on a pillow and around her beautiful face.  I inhaled one more time and returned to my room for the night.

Chapter 3

Aggression

Lexi

When I force myself to go to bed early that usually meant I would be up before everyone else.  I rolled over and looked at the clock, then groaned when it said five a.m.  Hopefully, no one would be up this early.  Then I could shift and spend the day in the woods.  By the time they found me, Aidan would be on a plane back to Florida.

Wearing a pair of flannel pants and a tank top, I quietly left my room and headed for the stairs.  My bedroom was at the end of the hall, it was a second master suite.  Adam’s room was on the left and Avery’s on my right.  A.J.’s room shared a bathroom with Adam’s and Andre shared a bathroom with Avery.

Two guest rooms were on the other side of the stairs for our guest.  From the scent coming out of the first guest room, Raul must have crashed here last night.  There was no scent from the other room.  Aidan must have left.

I slipped down the stairs and heard my mother rummaging around in the kitchen.  She was arranging the coffee cups in the cupboard.  I rounded the corner and smelled him only a second before I saw him.  The sweet smell was more inviting than any pot of freshly brewed coffee ever made.

“Good Morning, dear,” my mom said in her perky morning voice.

“Good Morning,” I said politely.  This was not the way I wanted to start the morning.  I had bed head and was in my most ratty pajama pants and a hoodie.

“Good Morning, Alexandra.” Aidan smiled that brilliant smile at me and I almost melted.

“Good Morning, Aidan.”

The coffee was ready, so I grabbed my favorite mug (I love dolphins, sorry). I kept my back to him, because I was afraid I would end up staring and drooling again.  I looked at the little square pictures that framed the window over the sink.  Nothing about them held my attention.  Looking at them just kept my eyes off of Aidan.

“Aidan,” my mom spoke up to break the silence in the room.  “Since you are going to stay for a few days, is there anything I can get for you?”

I spun around and found my mom doting over him like it was one of her own.  She stood there, wiping a spot under his mug.  Wait a minute?  He’s staying?  For a few days!  Oh, great.

“No thank you.  I’ll be out of your hair as soon as I can.  Mr. Sharpe wanted me to hang out here so that if any of the Cuba clan started looking for Raul, the fact that I was gone for more than one day might throw them off.”

“How would that throw them off?”  I asked then mentally kicked myself.  I shouldn’t be talking to him.

“Well,” he paused to smile at me.  “If I had just flown into Memphis, then flown back last night or this morning, one of their spies may have seen that I came here.  If I was gone for a few days, they may miss me when I come home.  I’m not taking a direct flight back to Miami from Memphis.  When I leave here, I’m going to fly to Charlotte, then on to Miami.  Throw them off my trail.”

“That sounds too dangerous for you, Aidan.”  The thought kind of made me worried.  He was one of my father’s men.  The thought of one of them getting hurt depressed me terribly.

“I’ll be fine,” he assured me.

He stood up off the stool and walked over to the sink to put down his cup.  He was wearing a pair of blue cargo pants and a white t-shirt.  The sleeves hugged his sun-kissed arms perfectly.  When he reached into the sink to rinse the cup, his shoulders flexed in a way that had me grabbing the counter for support.  I quickly righted myself, but not before my mother noticed.

“Alexandra!  Are you alright?” my mother gasped as her hand shot out to grab me.

“Fine mom,” I blushed.  Aidan had spun around like he wanted to catch me or something.  I thought it was sweet.  “I’m going for a run.”

I walked around him and tried not to bump into his chest, but when I passed, I quietly inhaled his sweet scent.  My body roared to life and I just had to get the hell out of that kitchen.

“You don’t need to go by yourself,” my mother called after me.

“Not going far,” I yelled back.  I made it to the big oak tree at the head of the trail leading back into the seventy acres of land my family owned.  The boys had put a wooden picnic bench back here for us to put our clothes on, although they rarely did.  I quickly stripped and forced myself to shift as quickly as possible.  No doubt mom would be getting one of my brothers up to tag along.

Aidan

“Oh dear,” Ms. Sharpe worried.  “She’s not allowed to be out there on her own.”  She looked toward the stairs, like she was debating on waking up her brothers.

“I’ll go watch her,” I offered, standing up to put my mug in the sink.

“Would you?” she sighed, but only after I nodded.  “We don’t mind her running, but she can’t be out there alone.”

“Yes, ma’am, I’m not going to let anything happen to her.”  I didn’t wait long to run out the back door, shedding my clothes on the way.

Lexi’s mother’s words worried me.  For some reason, they didn’t want her in the woods alone.  Could there be a threat here?  Was she in danger?

I shifted quickly and headed down the trail.  My nose was to the ground, searching for her scent.  She took the first trail to the right.  I ran past the spot I had come across last night.  Both scents were still there, but if I hadn’t been looking for hers, I might have missed them, because they had faded during the night.

It was then that it hit me.  Lexi was unmated and probably around twenty two years old.  She was nearing her Prime, when males would fight to the death to be with her.  Without protection, those males would do anything to get inside her.  A growl rumbled in my chest as I pushed myself harder to find the missing Princess.

Lexi

I didn’t make it far before I heard the heavy beating of paws coming up from the south.  The wind was blowing from behind me, so I didn’t get a scent before I saw the huge jaguar coming my way.  I immediately growled and backed up, because I didn’t recognize this stranger.  The male cat in front of me was tawny yellow with a multitude of spots that enhanced his beauty.

The cat was huge, bigger than Adam; he had to weigh close to three hundred pounds.  This was the largest cat I had ever laid my eyes on.  Thankfully, the wind shifted a second before panic kicked in.  That sweet smell of Florida covered my face.  It was Aidan.  He must have told my mom he would go and watch me.  Great, another babysitter sent by mommy dearest.

He stopped a few feet in front of me and huffed.  I knew that sound.  It was the sound my brothers made when I disobeyed my mother.  Well, I’ll show him.  I threw my muzzle up in the air and turned my back heading north.  It must have looked funny because my sly one hundred and sixty pound cat self, just dismissed a king sized brute of an animal.  We tend to weight about thirty percent more as a jaguar than when we are human.

Aidan obviously did not like my attitude, because he immediately swatted my tail to get my attention.  I ignored him and kept walking.  My objective was to hit the river for a fresh fish for my breakfast.

He followed me without much sound.  The only reason I knew he was still there was from his scent.  I walked around until I found my favorite fishing hole.  The ground had been smoothed out from the many times I had entered the water and gotten back out.  There was no grass or trees in this spot, only a dirty square from where I would lay out.  The area was shaded by some larger trees that made a perimeter around my special spot.

I put my paw in the water and pulled it back when I found that it was a little cool to the touch.  Aidan snarled behind me.  I ignored him again.  I sat back on my haunches and waited for something to come by.  It wasn’t very long before a huge catfish drifted close to the bank.  I pounced on it before the thing even knew I was there.

Once I had my jaws around the flailing breakfast, I back out of the water slowly.  The cool water mixed with the cool air had me shivering a little. If it wasn’t for my fur, I may have just given myself hypothermia.  Aidan must have noticed because he came up and sat down next to me, blocking the north wind.  We weren’t exactly touching, but the heat coming off of his large body felt great.

As a thank you, I dropped the fish at my feet and place one paw on it to keep it still.  I huffed and pointed my nose at him, offering him the first bite.  He shook his head and nodded for me to go first.  Aidan was being a gentleman, letting me eat first.  I liked him even more.

We took turns tearing pieces of meat from the fish.  I would take a bite and then he would take an equal amount.  We worked like this until it was all gone.  The stickiness of the fish was stuck to my nose, so I reached into the river and wet my paw and used it to clean my face.  Aidan did the same.

I was tired from the snack and decided to lie down on my little pad.  I moved over so that he could rest as well.  Aidan refused and just sat there at attention, like he was my guard.  A crow flew onto a branch above his head, then shrieked and flew off before he became a snack.  I closed my eyes and let myself drift off for a few minutes.

I awoke to being nudged.  Aidan used his snout to tickle me under my arm.  I yelped at first, and then I stood up and nudged him back.  He huffed and turned his snout in the direction of the house.  He was telling me it was time to get back home.

We made it back around mid-morning.  Once we rounded the big oak tree, Aidan and I shifted then redressed.  Aidan gave me the same courtesy my brothers did whenever I shifted back to human.  He kept his body and face turned toward the house.

When we came out from behind the tree and started for the back of the house, A.J. was standing on the steps with his big massive arms crossed over his overly large chest.  He was in defense mode.  On the side of the house, Kevin and Mason, two of my father’s guards, were standing by their Explorer.  They had their sights set on Aidan.  I waved them off as they started to approach us.

“Are we in trouble?” Aidan whispered.

“They’re a little protective, but don’t worry.  I can handle them.” I grouched.  Damn them for being like this!

“Where have you been?” A.J. demanded.

“Go lift some weights, muscle boy,” I spat.  “I was just out for a run and mom sent Aidan along to babysit me, because y’all weren’t up.”

A.J.’s eyebrows shot up and he started to step forward off the porch.  Aidan folded his arms across his chest in a defiant manor.  I actually cracked a smile.  It wasn’t said, but I understood that Aidan just told my brother that he was perfectly capable of taking care of me.  I guess A.J. realized that too.  He turned around and walked back into the house without saying another word.

“Sorry about that,” I shrugged.  “A.J. can be a bit of a drama queen at times.”

“No, I understand.  He worries about you.”  Aidan stopped as I walked up the stairs, which put him on the ground and I was on the second step up, making us an equal height.  Those emerald green eyes bored right into mine, again.  The whole world shifted as I was held in place by the heaven in his eyes.

Mine!

I shook myself and turned for the door, but was pulled back when Aidan latched on to my wrist.  I spun around on him and momentarily got lost in his eyes, again.

“Thank you for sharing your breakfast with me,” he said.  The smile he gave me reached his eyes.

“You’re very welcome,” I whispered and walked into the house.

Aidan

Lexi turned and strode into the house.  I was momentarily frozen as I watched her backside swaying from side to side as she took the stairs one at a time.  My mind wanted to compare the movement of her hips to the feel off the waves against my board, but hers were more inviting, more irresistible.  I felt myself harden at the possibilities.

She was the King’s daughter, for Christ sakes!  I was nothing more than a commoner to her, a faceless body watching from afar.  She was forbidden to me.  I wasn’t royal material.

But forbidden fruit was the weakness to my desire.  I wanted to know her, for who she really was, not the product of her genes.  The fact that she offered food for me to eat first, proved that she wasn’t quite what I imagined.

“Hey, man.”  A.J. Sharpe said from behind me; shaking me out of my thoughts.

“Hey,” I said, trying not to look back at the house.  With my peripheral vision, I saw the guards coming forward to surround me, like prey.  They were just trying to bully me, but I’m not the type of man to back away.

“What the hell were you doing in the woods with my sister?” he growled.

“Your mother asked me to go watch over her after she ran out of the house this morning, on her own,” I admitted.  The last thing I wanted to do was to get defensive with him, on his territory, and with two other shifters at my back.  Not a good place to be in.

“Okay,” he calmed.  “Thank you for bringing her back safe.”  He seemed relieved, but still a little wary of me.  I offered my hand as a sign of respect.  He took it without hesitation.

A moment later, Adam came outside, holding two cups of coffee, handing me one.  “Mom asked me to bring this to you.”

I took his offering, “Thank you.”  I sat down on the step, not caring if he joined me.  Of course, Adam sat down, sipping his coffee, and not speaking right away.

The tree tops swayed with the early morning breeze.  All of the leaves were gone, leaving tiny fingers that looked like they were grabbing something just out of reach.  I sighed, thinking I knew how they felt.

“She’s our little sister,” Adam said suddenly.  He spoke like he was talking to no one, but I’m sure the directions of his thoughts were directed toward me.  “Our father wants to arrange her mating.  She’s miserable and he doesn’t care.  All of the guys my dad has brought here to meet her are all wrong.  They look at her with dollar signs in their eyes and lust on their brains.  We worry about her.  She seems sad all of the time.  I don’t want her to be forced into a mating.”

I turned toward him and said, “I wouldn’t want that either.  My dad told me about how the royal families practiced forced matings.  With all due respect, the thought of how that works, it makes me sick.”

Adam raised a brow at me and I worried I’d just made a big mistake, voicing my opinion against his father.  Until he shook his head and said, “You’re not the only one.”  Adam stood up and walked into the house.

From the conversation we’d just shared, I figured these boys were more than just protective of their sister; they were concerned for her wellbeing.  And with Adam confirming my suspicions, I knew it was no good for me to attempt to get to know her.  Royal affairs were not to be tampered with.  I just hoped that the male she did end up was at least somewhat decent.

No, that was wrong.  The thought of another male, mating her, releasing inside of her, marking her, made me see red.  I had to get her off my mind.  I opened the door to go inside.  The soft scent of Honeysuckle wrapped around me as I walked into the living room, and I groaned quietly to myself.  The boys were watching the flat screen.  I took the seat at the end of the leather sofa.  My mind refused to work right.  I made myself pay attention to the two men on the television.  Highlights from last night’s football game were plaster across the screen.  I sat there watching without really looking.

Lexi

After the longest and coldest shower ever taken by anyone, I made my way back to the living room, where my brothers, Kevin, Mason and Aidan were watching Sports Center.  The only one to acknowledge my presence was Aidan.  He looked up from the television for a brief second, smiled, and then resumed watching highlights from last night’s game.

“Where’s Raul?” I asked since he was nowhere to be seen.

“I took him into town and got him set up in an apartment,” Avery announced.  “A.J.’s going on Monday morning to get him started at the distribution center.”

I found mom in the kitchen preparing for tonight’s feast.  It was Saturday and our family dinner night.  She was steadily working on pealing ten pounds of potatoes while she had a dozen eggs boiling on the stove.

“Can I help?” I asked because I had nothing better to do.  She turned around and gave me a look of appreciation.  I reached over and pulled another peeler out of the drawer and scooped up a potato out of the bag.

We worked in quit for a while.  She never asked me about what I was feeling and I never even thought about talking to her.  Sometimes talking to her was like hitting a brick wall.  You got nowhere fast.

My mother, Sara Beth Sharpe was the only daughter of a cotton farmer from Arkansas.  Her marriage to my father was arranged.  They fell in love immediately and here we are.  She believes that this will work for me, but I refuse to accept her ways.  This is the problem with our relationship.  She wants me married, barefoot and pregnant.  I want something more.

Aidan

The second their father was out of hearing range, the boys all turned facing each other.  Adam was the first to speak.

“This is his second visit,” Adam scowled.

“You know what that means, right,” Avery asked the others.  Every one of them were sitting at the edge of their seats with hatred steaming up from their bodies.  I wondered if I should excuse myself and give them some privacy.

“John Carter has done something to her, but she refuses to tell me,” Adam admitted.  “The very mention of his name makes her nervous.”  My ears perked up at the information he was giving out.  The idea of this man possibly doing something to her, even if it was before we had met, made my blood boil.  Stay out of it!

“I saw them arguing one time, but she waved me off,” Kevin spoke up.

“You’re just now telling us this?” Andre growled.

“She waved me off,” he answered with a little growl of his own.  “That’s the signal that she is to give when she’s handling things.  Per your father, remember?”  Kevin dragged his hand through is blond locks, pulling a little at the roots.

“What did that asshole do?” A.J. demanded.

Kevin held up his hands, “I have no idea.”

“I’ve asked her also and she won’t tell me.  So I’m assuming it’s bad.”  Adam stood up and paced the floor.  The room was silent and I wondered if maybe I should gracefully leave the room.

“Well, we just need to keep him away from her,” Andre suggested.

“Done,” they said in unison as they bumped knuckles, sealing the deal.

My best and only option was to sit back and watch what happens from the comfort of my “guest” status.

Lexi

What more do I want?  I have no clue.  I’m twenty two for Christ’s sake.  I’m too young to know what I want.

Only now, my body seems to know what it wants.  Aidan.  He’s kind, gentle, and respectful.  Most males I know wouldn’t have thought twice about taking the first bite of that fish, or stood guard while I took a little catnap.  He’s warm.  His smile is addictive and his voice is soothing.  His skin reminds me of honey and his hair has been kissed by the sun.

“Alexandra,” my mother whispered.

“Ma’am,” I replied, out of habit.

“Um, are you okay?” she asked a little confused.

“I’m fine, mom.  Why?”

“You’re radiating heat young lady,” she scolded, but smiled to herself.

“Oh, sorry,” I blushed.  That’s the big giveaway.  When females are entranced by a male, they give off heat.  If you’re close enough, the female will feel like she’s a radiator.  I’ve seen it with my parents.  When dad gets back from traveling, or when he complements her on her cooking, mom emits this warmth that calls to dad.  It’s beautiful the love they have.  My brothers think it’s gross and that they are too old to be doing that kind of stuff.

“Is it this Aidan,” she whispered.

I flushed more and nodded my head slightly.  Mom made a sigh of approval.  I knew that would be all she would speak of it until I was ready to talk.  And I did want to talk to her, but not in the kitchen, where everyone could hear us.

“Sara Beth,” my father’s voice bellowed from the living room.  “This smells wonderful.”

Mom chuckled and resumed peeling potatoes.  The three roasting pans full of meat were just starting to smell up the kitchen.  My father could make out my mother’s cooking from a mile away.

“Thank you, honey,” she laughed.  As soon as my dad wrapped his arms around her, I felt the heat radiating off her body.  I immediately scooted down the counter to give them some room.

“Alright,” dad chuckled.  “We will finish this later.”  He kissed the top of her head and left the kitchen.  I looked up and mom was blushing.

“I hope I have something like you two have someday,” I muttered.

“Oh, Lexi,” I looked up because my mom never calls me by my nickname.  “I think you may have it sooner than you think.”

“Sure,” I grimaced.  With their arranged marriage vow they are bound to stick too, I was sure to find out soon enough.

We were interrupted when my dad came rushing back into the kitchen, “Oh, I hope we have enough for one more.  I invited John Carter over again for dinner.”

My mom and I froze in the middle of the kitchen.  She stared at me with wide eyes, looking to me for an answer.  John Carter was a problem.  He was on “the list” of possible mates for me.

“Um,” my mom was speechless.

“If you already invited him daddy, then we will have enough,” I cut in.

“Great,” dad sighed.  “I’m sorry for springing it on you at the last minute dear.”

“It’s okay, now go along.”  Mom shooed him from the kitchen because I knew she wanted to talk.  We heard the door to his office close and she turned toward me.

“You should have told your father no, Alexandra.”

“He was already invited and you know I can’t tell daddy no,” I shrugged.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to have John and Aidan in the same house,” she worried.  “This may be a disaster.”

“Mom, he doesn’t know how I feel.  You only figured it out because you are a female and I’m pretty sure you know exactly what my body is doing to me right now.  No one will ever know.  We can get through dinner and everything will be fine.  I hope.”  I reached over for the last potato.

“I don’t know,” she laughed.  It was shaky but it was a laugh. “Your father and one of my would-be gentlemen callers were once in the same room together.  It didn’t end well.”

“Oh, great!” I flung the peeled potato into the sink and covered my face with my hands.  “What do I do?”

“Well, I would suggest you stay around your brothers tonight.  Don’t sit close to either John or Aidan.”  Mom washed her hands and went to the refrigerator looking for more ingredients.  “If they see that you are showing more attention to one than the other, they may fight.”

“Great, I should just stay in my room then.”

Mom dropped a bag of onions on the counter and said, “You need to tell your brothers what’s going on so that they can watch over you.”

My mouth gaped open, “Oh my God!  No mom!  I can’t tell them.  That’s too embarrassing.”

“Tell them what?” Adam asked, coming into the kitchen at the absolute wrong time.

I shrunk down beside the cabinet, hoping the floor would just swallow me up and take me away, far away.

“Nothing Adam,” I growled.

Of course mom gave me the I-can’t-believe-you-would-keep-this-from-your-brothers look.  I jumped up and ran out of the room.  I slowed down as I passed the boys sitting on the couch.  Aidan acted like he was about to stand.  I shook my head and took off up the stairs, toward my room.  Mason stood up when I rounded the corner, but sat down quickly when my foot hit the first stair.  The guards are not allowed in my room, ever; unless I’m hurt.  Other than that, if they do, they’re dead; per my brothers.

My door immediately flew open and Adam was on my bed in a matter of seconds.  “What the hell is wrong with you?”  He pulled the pillows off my face and lay his head down so that we were face to face.

“Nothing, I just don’t want to talk about it,” I growled.

“Well, obviously mom seems to think you should tell us.  So, spit it out,” he demanded.

I sat up and looked at him.  Adam wouldn’t take no for an answer.  I pointed to the door and waited while he walked over to shut it.  Once he was back on the bed, I spilled.

“You remember last night when we were in daddy’s office?”  Adam nodded so I continued.  “When you felt the heat coming off of me?  That was because I was watching Aidan.  My body is telling me that he is the one I want.  I don’t know him, Adam and it scares me.  Daddy is having John Carter over tonight for dinner and mom thinks I should stay away from both of them.  She said I should keep my distance, because it might get a little hairy having them both in the same room.”

“Does dad know any of this?” Adam asked.

“Oh, God no.  Please don’t tell him, or the boys.  Please.”  I begged.  “Just hang out with me tonight.”

Adam reached over and pulled me into an awkward hug, “I’ve got your back little sis.  Don’t you worry one bit.”

“Thanks,” I sighed.  We sat up and looked at each other for a moment.  I shifted my eyes and looked down at the gold comforter on the bed.  I didn’t know what to do or even what to think.

“John’s going to be a problem.”  Adam had been quietly thinking and now he was going to say what I feared the most.  “Since this is a second invite to the house, he may think that dad has chosen him for you.”

“That’s not going to happen, Adam.”  I growled low in my throat.  Adam was the only one who knew I didn’t like John.  My father had no idea what a jerk John could be.

“I won’t let it happen either, Lexi.  I promise.”

“Okay.”

The doorbell rang sending chills up my spine.  I felt my skin crawl as I stood up and followed Adam.  As soon as we made it down the stairs, my father opened the door and invited John Carter into the house.  When our eyes met, he smiled and I gagged a little when I caught his woodsy almond scent.  Not that he was bad looking or anything, but he just made me sick.  He was a skinny, dark brown haired, and blue eyed daddy’s boy who liked to push people around.  He was a grown up bully.

“Alexandra,” he greeted me.

“John,” I muttered.  There was nothing more I could say so I walked into the kitchen.  On my way past the living room, Aidan and Avery were making their way into the entry.  Aidan caught my eyes which were a little wide from fright.  He looked toward the front door, then back at me.  It was clear on my face that the man that just entered the house was not my friend.

Unfortunately from the look on Aiden’s face, he knew it too.  Kevin and Mason’s eyes pinched with protectiveness.  I couldn’t stand being in this testosterone filled room, so I headed out, before they kicked each other asses just for fun.

After my escape, I found myself in the kitchen helping mom again.  She was setting up everything on the dining room table while I pulled glasses down from the cupboard.  My hands were so shaky that the glasses shuddered whenever they touched.

Out of nowhere, a hand reached up and grabbed two glasses from above my head, “Let me help you with those.”  I knew before he spoke, that it was Aidan.  I relaxed a little feeling his warmth behind me.  His sweet smell enveloped me and I almost sagged back into his chest.

“Thank you,” I smiled at him.  He returned the gesture and that’s when I fell into his stare.  My insides flared when his hand grazed my shoulder.  Aidan closed his eyes and breathed in deep.  He was memorizing my scent.  The action made me shiver.

“Are you cold?” he asked.

“I’m fine, thank you for asking,” I said politely.  He was just being a gentleman because I knew that I must be throwing off some major heat.  He didn’t say anything else as he placed the glasses on the breakfast bar.

“Would you like to go for a run with me after dinner?” he asked.  When I turned around he was standing so close that I actually bumped into his chest.  The moment we touched I flinched back, not because I was scared, but from the electric shock I felt from the top of my head all the way to my toes.  My heart raced and didn’t want to slow down.

“I would love too, Aidan.” I smiled up at him.  Before I could say more, I felt a presence enter the kitchen.  When I looked up, I saw John Carter standing in the doorway.  He looked very angry.

“Everything okay in here?” he snarled, glaring at Aidan.

“Sure,” I tried to make my voice sound light.  “Can I get you something John?”

“I was just looking for A.J.  Have you seen him?” John never took his eyes off of Aidan.  Aidan never backed away from John.  I hope my fears weren’t about to blow up in my face.  Thankfully, my mother came in just as John stepped forward.

“Mr. Carter, A.J. and the boys are in the living room.  Could you get them for dinner please?”  My mother pushed him out of the doorway and then turned around on us.  “I thought I told you to keep them separated.”

I flushed and turned to Aidan, “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” he shrugged.  Aidan slid closer to me then whispered in my ear, “I understand that your father wants you to court him, but he makes you uneasy.”

“How can you read me so well?” I chuckled.

Aidan grabbed a couple of glasses and winked at me before heading off to the dining room.

Aidan

From the moment he stepped into the house, I knew that John Carter was the scent I had found in the woods.  What bothered me the most was that the scent was stronger than Lexi’s.  It meant he was out lurking around in the woods after she had been there, like a stalker.

I watched her from the dining room table.  Lexi’s hands were shaking, she jumped at every noise, and anytime John would get close she would do her best to put distance between them.

At dinner, she ate silently, only answering if spoken too.  Occasionally we would make eye contact and she would smile, but it didn’t light up her beautiful amber eyes like it would any other time.

Hopefully after John left and we take our run, I will see the woman I’d come to know early today.

My heart burned for her.  She was beautiful, but I had to keep reminding myself over and over.  You’re not royal material.

Lexi

Dinner went over well.  I sat beside my father, who was at the head of the table, and Adam on my right.  Avery was on the other side of Adam and then John was next to him.  Mom was at the other head of the table; Mason on her left.  A.J. was next to mom and Aidan was next to him.  Andre was next to Aidan.  Kevin was across from me on an extra seat.  The table was so large that there was no problem with adding places.  This kept John and Aidan away from each other and me.  Due to the sitting arrangements, Aidan and I could still look at each other during dinner.

Once we were done, the boys cleaned the table while dad walked John toward the front of the house.  He was expected at his father’s home before nightfall and had to leave.  I didn’t even walk him to the door.

Mom was behind me in a flash, “You and Aidan should to go for that run now.”  She had this goofy smile on her face.  Something I had never seen before.

“Thanks mom,” I grabbed her up in a hug and rushed for the back door.  I winked at Adam on my way through the kitchen and tugged on Aidan’s arm on my way out.

I was still laughing when I hit the trail by the big oak tree.  Aidan wasn’t far behind me.  I sat down on the bench at starting taking off my shoes.

“Where are we going to run?” Aidan asked.

“Well, I’m not sure.  I just want to get out after being stuck in that damn house for most of the day.” Off went my socks.

Aidan turned around to give me privacy, but not before he removed his shirt.  Oh wow, I had to stare.  His back was flawless.  Each muscle was well defined and his skin looked soft.  I chewed on my lip while I watched him run his fingers through his hair.

“What are you staring at?” Aidan asked as he turned around, probably since I wasn’t making a sound.

“You,” I whispered.

He stepped up close enough to touch me.  Aidan seemed momentarily frozen as he stared into my eyes.  At the moment, I didn’t care; because I was too busy staring into his.

The heat flared in my belly and I watched as Aidan leaned in, placing one hand on the side of my face.  The moment our lips met, my insides swelled and ached to be touched more.  Instead of jumping him, I cupped the side of his face with one of my hands.

We broke the kiss while it would still be considered short and sweet.  There was no way that Aidan hadn’t felt the heat I was giving off.  He was just too close not to notice.

“I’m not royal material,” he whispered.  He thought he wasn’t good enough for me.  That he wasn’t worthy.  Little did he know; I thought he’s wonderful.

“I’m not either,” I admitted.  “Come on, let’s run.” I jumped up off the table, not caring if he saw me naked or not.  But being the gentleman he was, Aidan turned away quickly while I stripped down to nothing.

It didn’t take long for me to shift.  Once I was done, I snarled a little to get his attention.  I walked off a few feet up the trail while I waited on him to catch up.

A swat of my tail told me he was ready to go.  I took off at a dead run, hoping Aidan was up for a healthy game of catch.  He followed me through the trails that my brothers had made in the forest.  As fast as I ran, he was always behind me, never letting me out of his sight.

I turned right at the fork in the path that took us down by the river, but doubled back alongside a smaller and slightly less traveled trail.  Aidan wasn’t far behind.  We ran west as far as the trails would take us then turned north.  The night was cold and I knew this because with each pant, I could see the small cloud of breath rising from my snout.

A rabbit scurried out from under a pile of dead limbs and fallen pine needles.  I stopped and scratched my paws on the ground, deciding if I was hungry enough for desert.  Aidan blasted past me and snatched it up with one scoop.  One shake of his head and a clamp of his jaw killed the rabbit.  It lay limp between Aidan’s massive teeth.

He walked over and dropped his kill at my feet.  The gesture was one of respect.  Females eat first in the wild, and Aidan was offering it to me.  I tore a piece of meat from the rabbit’s breast; sinking down on my belly to enjoy my after dinner snack.  Aidan waited patiently while I devoured less than half of the meal.  When I pulled back to allow him to finish, he growled and used his nose to push me toward it, urging me to finish.  I returned his growled and shook my head, telling him I was done.  It wasn’t until then that he finished the rest of the rabbit.

Once we were done, I playfully swatted at his ears, hoping he wanted to play a little while longer.  He rebounded by swatting at my tail as I tried to walk away.

I took off at a dead run, heading east.  My objective was to make my way over to the river and turn back south toward the house.  The sun had already set for the day, but with my night vision I had no problem seeing John step out in front of me, in jaguar form.  There was no time to stop before I barreled right into him.

Chapter 4

Stitched

Lexi

The moment our bodies collided, John reached back and locked his jaw into my right shoulder.  He was going for my throat, but thankfully missed.  I yelped so loud, I would be surprised people in the next county couldn’t hear me.  Aidan immediately slammed into John’s shoulder knocking him off of me.  I tried to stand so that I could go after John myself, but the weight on my shoulder caused so much pain that my leg buckled and I fell onto my side.  The injury was bad enough that I lost my form and shifted back to human.

The blood oozing out of my shoulder was hot against my human flesh.  I reached up and felt nothing but severed skin and muscle.

Snarling broke out to my right; Aidan and John were locked together in a deadly twist of fur and teeth.  Aidan had John held on the ground; his teeth were currently holding onto the nape of my attacker’s neck.  Aidan’s front left paw slipped slightly and ended up in John’s face.  Of course, John took that opportunity to sink is teeth into Aidan’s forearm.  Aidan snarled and spun around just as John made a leap for me.

It happened all too fast.  John lunged for me with one paw outstretched in my direction.  Just as he made contact with my hip, Aidan tackled him from the side, sending me flying into a nearby bush.  Thankfully, I was not injured from the fall or from John’s claws.  The snarling continued.  I looked over and found Aidan standing between John and me.  He was guarding me until either John gave up or my brothers showed up.

“John!  Get the hell away from here!” I yelled.

John made a move to the left to try to get around my guard, but Aidan was quicker.  In fact, Aidan was almost twice the size of John.  I don’t know why John was so hell bent on trying to get through him, to me.  Aidan roared a warning and stepped forward to back John further away.

A roar echoed from the south and I knew that was my brothers.  They must have heard my own cry of pain.  If Aidan could just keep John at bay, my brothers would be here to help.  The snarling suddenly stopped and John turned too bound through the river to get to the other side.  When the second roar sounded from the south, the coward ran north back toward his father’s land.

Aidan nudged me with his snout and stretched out next to me.

“D…Don’t shift,” I was freezing.  Being naked in the forest bleeding will do that to a person.  “I’m too weak to walk back.  I’m going to have to climb on your back so you can take me home.”  He didn’t argue as he slid closer to me.  All I had to do was grab hold of the nape of his neck with my left hand and pull myself up onto his back.  That was very difficult to do since I was right handed.  It took a few tries before I was nestled on the center of Aidan’s back.  I dug my fingers into his fur and held on tight.  The dip between his huge shoulder blades made a perfect nest for me to lie in for the piggyback ride home.

He took off at a fast pace back toward the house.  I think he was afraid I might fall off if he ran, so he settled into a fast jog.

“I…I’m okay,” I chattered.  Aidan’s back rumbled; a mix between a low growl and a purr.  He was worried.  “God, you’re so warm.”  The heat from his body helped with the chills.  I snuggled deeper into the spot on his back, with my good arm wrapped around his neck.

Adam and A.J. met up with us not far from the house.  Immediately A.J. got defensive toward Aidan.  My brother’s hackles stood up on his back and he growled a warning toward my protector, most likely telling him to let me go.

“It wasn’t him!” I yelled to get his attention.  “It was John Carter.”  Adam looked toward the woods and huffed.  I knew he wanted to go after the creep, but it was already too late.

Avery came on foot and found us about half of a mile from the back yard.  “What the hell happened?”  He took me off of Aidan’s back and carried me the rest of the way home.  I was tired and I didn’t feel like talking.  Talking could wait for later.

Aidan

“We were running and John Carter stepped into the trail.  She didn’t see him in time and collided with him.  He was able to get a bite into her shoulder.  I knocked him off of her.  We fought, I was able to get him by the scruff of the neck, but he got my arm.”  The whole time I followed Avery back toward the house trying to keep my eyes on Lexi.  I grabbed my clothes and dressed as I ran behind them.  My bloody forearm was forgotten.

“Did you wound him anywhere else?” A.J. asked.

“No, he ran off when he heard you coming.  I guarded her, so that he couldn’t go around me and get to Lexi.” I admitted.

Adam came up behind me and placed his hand on my shoulder, “You did the right thing.”

Mrs. Sharpe let out a loud cry as we came inside the house.  She ran immediately to Avery’s side, checking on her daughters wounds.  Andre was on the phone with the local doctor, and suddenly we heard loud pounding coming from the back of the house.

Andrew sharp was a force to be reckoned with as he barged into the kitchen.  “Who the hell did this?” he bellowed, while looking at me.

“John Carter, sir,” I replied.  Then I was told to explain every detail of the encounter.  How he viciously mauled her shoulder and how she turned human and yelled out his name, confirming what I already knew, plus I told him about the scent in the woods the other night.  Her father was beyond irate.

“Thank you son,” he took my hand.  “We owe you.”

After her father went to the office, most likely to call John’s family, I made my way upstairs and found myself standing at the doorway into her room.

The room was large, almost like a master suite.  Her bed was centered underneath a window, in the middle of the room.  Everything was bright and…yellow.  And there were about a hundred throw pillows on the floor, like they had been shoved in a desperate rush.  She was on the bed and still not awake.  Lexi had lost a lot of blood while in the woods.  More blood ran out of her wound and onto a stack of towels her mother had placed there to sop up the mess.

All of the boys were gathered around Lexi, trying to wake her up.  No matter how bad they tried, she wouldn’t budge.

The doctor came in with a little black bag held tight in his hand.  Adam and the boys were pushed away so that he could work.  The little man was quite tall and had almost white hair.  He wore rimless glasses and spoke with a strong southern accent.

“Y’all need to go on and let me do my work,” he demanded.

We were met in the hallway, by her father.  His face was red and he stood there with clenched teeth.  It took him a minute to compose himself before he spoke.  “Everyone shift.  Check every square inch of this land.  I want John Carter brought here alive!”  He reached out and grabbed me by the wrist, “I want you to see the doctor too, son.”

“I’m fine,” I pointed to the now dried mess on my arm.  “I’m going with them.”

The King nodded and I left the room in a hurried rush.  The boys and I ran as fast as we could out the back door, throwing clothes off in the process, once shifted we stuck our nose to the ground and went hunting.

Lexi

I must have drifted off, because when I opened my eyes, I was back at the house and in my room.  Dr. Jones, our family doctor and resident white wolf shifter, was busy sewing up my shoulder.  “Hi Doc,” I smiled up at the man who was so large he could have been mistaken for a grizzly bear.  His skin was as white as his pelt and his eyes were a deep autumn brown.  His hands, though they were large, remained steady and calm as he worked to repair the damage.

“Alexandra,” he continued to sew.  “I’ve given you a local anesthesia for the pain.  This is going to take a while, he got you pretty bad.  Your dad is waiting outside; he wanted to talk to you.”

“I’m sure he does,” I muttered.  “Dad?”  I called out knowing he could hear me.  The door to my room opened quickly and my father came rushing in.  I jerked back when the needle punctured my skin.

“Baby girl,” he panted.  “Aidan said that John Carter did this to you.  Is it true?”

“Yes, daddy.  That asshat jumped me in the woods and went straight for my throat.”  I flinched again when the good doctor hit a spot that wasn’t quit numb enough.  “Where’s Aidan?”

“He’s outside with your brothers, searching for him.  When they get back I’m going to have them take turns watching the house tonight.”

“Do you think he’s going to come back?” I asked my dad who was currently pacing the floor at the foot of my bed.  The thought of John Carter anywhere near me, made me a little skittish.

“If he values his life, he won’t.  I’ve already called his father.  They will bring him to me once they find him.”  Under shifter law, John was now considered “Marked”.  This meant he would be destroyed once he was found.  It is considered treason to raise a hand to a member of shifter royalty.  My father would not go easy on him, considering he just attempted to murder the only Princess in the southeast.

“Ouch!” I grabbed the doctor’s wrist.  “Please knock me out if you have too.  It hurts.”

He reached in his bag and pulled out a syringe and bottle.  I didn’t quite care what he gave me as long as I was out for the remainder of the stitching.  He stuck me in my good arm.

“This will put you out for about an hour, while I finish,” Doc Jones said.

The medicine started working immediately, but I had to see Aidan and thank him.  “Daddy?”

“What is it pumpkin?”

“Tell Aidan, thank you,” I yawned.  I didn’t hear what my father said in reply because the drugs kicked in and I dozed off.

Aidan

We searched for a few hours and found nothing.

Adam and I ended up in Lexi’s room.  She was asleep on her left side, her hair was braided and she looked so fragile.  Her skin had lost some of her color and she looked like a porcelain doll.  The blood loss took a toll on her.  Doctor Jones gave her a transfusion and instructed us to keep her warm and medicated until she was healed, which should be in a day or two.

The door opened and the King came in quietly.  He stood at the end of the bed watching Lexi sleep.  He looked deep in thought and I didn’t want to disturb him.

“May I speak with you in private, Mr. Jackson?” he asked, pointing toward the hallway.

I took one last look at her and followed him to the door.  We made our way to the office.  The King took his seat behind the desk and I sat in the leather chair in front of him.

“May I call you Aidan?” he asked.

“Yes, sir,” I replied.

“Aidan, I want you to know, again, how much we appreciate everything you have done for our family.”

“I was only doing the right thing, sir.  Your daughter is an amazing woman.  I couldn’t live with myself if anything would have happened to her.” I leaned back in the chair, a little more relaxed now.  Mr. Sharpe organized a few papers on his desk before he continued.

“You understand our traditions, do you not?” he asked.

I swallowed hard.  What was he asking?  “Yes, sir.  I do understand.”  I didn’t know what else to say.

“I want to offer you a job, here with my company.  I’ve talked to your father and he said the decision was up to you.”

“That’s very kind of you sir,” I paused.  “Does this have something to do with Alexandra?”

“She’s different with you.  She’s more herself.  It’s nothing like she is with the others.”  He grabbed a pen and scribbled something on a scratch piece of paper.

“Wait, are you asking me to be one of her suitors?  Are you choosing me to court her?”  God, I was confused.  Was this man asking me to just drop everything on a whim and move to Memphis to date his daughter?  Hell the thought was great, I’d love to see her, but on her terms, not his.  You’re not royal material. The stupid thought kept going through my head.  Hell, I think the King thought I was royal material.

“I’ve tried everything possible to get her mated to someone.  Aidan, you must understand that this is proper etiquette; it’s been this way for hundreds of years.”

I leaned in further to get my point across, “I would love to work for you, but I will only court her, if she seems interested in me.  I would never force her to do anything she doesn’t want.”

The King leaned back in his seat and sighed, “From what her mother has told me, she may have already chosen you.”

Lexi

Later when I woke up, I found Adam and Aidan sitting in two high back chairs next to my bed.  I was cold and had the shakes, like I was running a fever.  Aidan was sitting closest to me watching my every move.

“Hey there champ,” he smiled. 

Adam, who must have been sleeping, jumped up and knelt down next to my bed, “How are you feeling?”

“Cold,” I cried.  “I hurt.”  That was about all I could choke out without crying out in pain.  Aidan grabbed a bottle on the night stand and took out two pink pills.  He knelt down next to Adam and offered them to me.  I opened my mouth and let him drop them in.  There was no way I could hold a glass, so he held my head up while I drank the water and swallowed my pills.

“Thank you,” I whispered.

“Anytime,” he smiled his beautiful smile.

“No, thank you for protecting me from him,” I gasped because talking strained my shoulder and pulled on the stitches holding it in place.

Aidan growled low in his chest.  His canines shifted slightly before he regained his composure, “If I see him again, he won’t be walking on four legs ever again.”

Adam placed a hand on his shoulder.  Knowing my brother, he didn’t want Aidan getting me upset until after I had healed.  But knowing Aidan was there to watch over me eased a lot of the pain.

“Can I get another blanket?” I asked to distract him from his thoughts of serious bodily harm to the creep.  Aidan jumped up and walked out into the hall.  I watched him as he rummaged through the hall closet.  He grabbed the first thick blanket he could find and brought it back into my room.

Adam stood up and excused himself, “I’m going to give you two a few minutes to talk.”  My big brother kissed my forehead and walked out of the bedroom, closing the door behind him.

Aidan draped an old quilt my grandmother had made over me.  That little bit of extra cover warmed me just enough that my teeth quit chattering.  “Why am I so cold?”

“Doc Jones said you are running a fever.  We’re taking turns watching over you tonight.”

“Thank you,” I yawned.

“I’m so sorry I didn’t get to you in time,” he hung his head.  I reached out with my good arm and tilted his chin up so I could see his face.

“You did fine.  I didn’t see him until it was too late.  Plus, I think you scared him off for good.”

Aidan took my hand in his and kissed the back of my knuckles, “Well, I’m not leaving.  Your father has asked me to stay.”

“Really?” I beamed.

“Yes, he has offered me a job here and I accepted.  Plus, I think he knows how we feel about each other.”  Oh there it was, daddy dearest looking at the overall picture.  But Aidan was right, there was something brewing between us.  It was obviously friendship.  Could it be something more?

“We don’t even know each other Aidan.” I sighed.  “He wants me to get mated soon and I’m just too stubborn to give him what he wants.”

“And I’m not royal material,” he reminded me.

“I’m not either,” I repeated my earlier reply.  “But I like you.  I enjoy your company.”

“How about we take it slow?” he smiled.  If I hadn’t of been in pain, I think I would have started that heating up thing again.

“Slow,” I asked, my brow dipped low in confusion.

“Would you Ms. Alexandra Sharpe please go out with me on a date?”  Aidan smiled that heavenly smile and I wanted to melt again.

“Yes, Mr. Aidan Jackson, I would be honored to be your date.”  I tried to laugh, but it turned into a yawn.

“Get some sleep, Lexi.  I’ll be here when you wake up.”

“Promise?” I asked, closing my eyes.

“Promise,” he laughed.

Aidan

The night was long.  Lexi fevered most of the night.  It broke my heart when she woke up; her face would be flushed and sweat broke out across her brow.  I tried to keep her comfortable, by wiping down her face with a cold rag, but with the pain in her shoulder, not much helped.  During the night she refused the pain medicines Doc Jones had left, but eventually the pain became too much.

As the hours progressed, I came to hate John Carter more than anyone I have ever disliked in my entire life.  The wound on her shoulder was mangled.  Her skin had been torn away, muscles cut from their natural setting.  In a few places you could see her bone.  How could someone be so savage?  He hadn’t planned on killing her, but he wanted to scar her.  Oh my God!  He wanted to mark her!  He wanted it to look like a mating mark!  Granted she would heal from this, but he’d attempted to shred her enough that if it did scar, it would look like his mark!  But what a fool he was.  That mark wouldn’t signify anything.

Not all of our injuries leave scars.  If the wound is deep and unrepaired, then it may scar.  Out of all of my injuries over the years, I think I only have one on the back of my shoulder.  When I was a teenager, my brother and I had gone out camping.  I’d fallen down, in human form, and gashed my shoulder on a boulder.  Because it took us a day to get back to the house, I now have a small crescent shaped scar there to remind me of my teenage stupidity.

Now, mating marks are different.  They will always scar.  I don’t know why, but something in our nature would make a true one stay visible.

Early this morning, I had called my father about the job offer here.  He was pleased that I had accepted.  With the economy in the current state that it was, my father’s boat business in Miami was about to fold.  With me leaving, he may be able to use my salary to hold on a little longer.

I would stay here and work for the King, but like I told him, I wouldn’t force Lexi into a mating.  She’s too delicate to do that too.  And I could care less about their traditions.  Those rules were made back when everyone was forced into marriage, even humans.  Lexi was her own person and can make her own decisions.

She slept in late this morning.  Her father had been at her bedside since early this morning.  Mrs. Sharpe had cooked a very large breakfast, eggs, bacon, sausage, and about a hundred biscuits.  We all ate in silence.  The atmosphere was tight.  All of the family worried about Lexi and finding John.

As much as I didn’t want to, I needed to get back to Miami and pack up my things.  I’d wait until Monday morning and then head back.  Raul was settled here and I’m very sure it’s safe for me to head back.  Now, I just needed to tell Lexi.

 

 Chapter 5

Friends

Lexi

Sunday morning came a little late for me.  It was almost lunchtime when I finally opened my eyes.  I had only woken up once in the early morning and Aidan had been there to give me some more medicine.

I was surprised to find my dad sitting next to the bed, watching over me.  Well, he wasn’t so much as watching over me as he was taking a little nap.  I didn’t want to wake him, but I needed a drink and a bathroom break.

“Daddy,” I whispered.  That was all it took.  His eyes popped open wide and looked around like he wasn’t quite sure where he was.  I had to laugh a little.

“Good morning, sunshine,” he laughed.  “How are you feeling?”

“Well, I’m thirsty and I have to pee,” I sighed, but looked at him with confused eyes.  My father had never held vigil at my bedside when I had been sick.  Why is he here now?

“I can help you with the first part, but I’ll have to get your mother for the second.  Do you think you can walk?”  He grabbed a water bottle from the side table and cracked it opened.  Someone had brought in straws so I wouldn’t have to strain my neck to drink.  For that, I was thankful.

“If you help me to the bathroom, I should be able to get it from there.”

My father pulled the covers back and did his best to get me out of the bed.  He was very gentle and kept demanding that I be carried to the bathroom.  “I can carry you.”

I kept my head down looking at the dark tan carpet that covered my room.  When I tried to look up, the stitches in my neck pulled against my tender flesh.  “No, daddy.  I’ve got it.  Just wait out here for me.  I’m a little dizzy, but otherwise good.”

It took longer than usual to do my morning
ritual, but I was able to do it and get my teeth brushed before heading back out toward my bed.  Of course, my father was waiting patiently outside my attached bathroom for me.

Once I got settled back in the bed, he perched himself on the side of my mattress.  I could tell he wanted to talk by the way he was stalling.

“What is it?” I asked skeptically.

“It’s about Aidan,” he paused.  He held up his hands in surrender when I furrowed my brow at him.  “It’s just a question.  He seems a little smitten with you.  Of course, he saved your life last night.  To me, that’s better than anything anyone has ever done for me.  I just want to know how you feel about him.”

“Wow dad, you’re actually asking my opinion on this?” I was stunned.

“Your mother chewed me up one side and down the other last night for not letting you make your own decisions about your future.  It’s hard for me to let you do this.  Our traditions state that we, as your parents, are to arrange our daughter’s mating, but I am willing to overlook that if you tell me that you have feelings for someone else.  This whole thing with John has me seeing your side for once.  I would have never forgiven myself if I had mated you to him and he would have hurt you.”  My father squeezed my hand.  I just sat there and stared at him.  He must be shaken up over what happened with John.  I’ve never heard such a speech come from my father’s mouth.

“I’ve only known Aidan for a few days, daddy.  I don’t think I can say for sure if he is the one I want to be with, but we have set a date; after I am healed, of course.”  My father’s eyes lit up and almost sparkled.  The thought of my dad approving turned my gut sour.  If I didn’t like Aidan so much, I might’ve just run away from him despite my father.  “And be nice to him, even if he’s not “the one”, Aidan is still my friend and I don’t want you running him off.”

“Alright, I’ll back off on you for now, but you must know it’s getting close to…” he blushed.

“I know daddy,” I blushed back.  He was talking about me being in my fertile time.  Ugh!  I didn’t want to have this conversation with my father.  “Can I get up and go downstairs?”

“Doc Jones wants you in the bed for the rest of today.  So, no,” he laughed as I struggled to sit up on my own.  “Your accelerated healing should kick in and you can have your stitches removed tomorrow.”

“Daddy, my arm is in a sling.  I can walk, just please let me get out of this bed for a little while.”  I used my good arm to push him away as I swung my legs over the side of the bed.

He didn’t argue and let me get up by myself.  I had to hold the footboard of the bed for a second until the swimming in my head would go away.  I refused to look like a damsel in distress around my brothers.  Although, they always treated me like one.  Last week, when I cut myself helping mom with dinner, they acted like I had severed a limb.  God only knows how they are going to react to seeing me up and out of the bed.

Andre met me halfway up the stairs, “What the hell are you doing out of bed?”

“I had to get up out of that bed.  I’m not going to get any better if I don’t move around,” I glared at my brother.  “Now go…PUT ME DOWN!”

Andre scooped me up into his arms and carried me the rest of the way downstairs.  My father was no help; he followed us down the stairs and disappeared in his office.  I kicked and screamed, but no one would come to my rescue.  I ended up on the leather love seat in front of the humongous flat screen that the boys insisted my father buy so they could watch NASCAR on Sunday’s.  Immediately, I was stuffed with a thousand pillows and the fleece blanket from the back of dad’s recliner.

“There, now you can rest,” Andre announced with pride.

“As soon as my arm is better, I’m going to belt you,” I laughed, then flinched.  That hurt!

“I want to see you try, little bit.” He laughed and walked off into the kitchen.

It was noon and the race was about to start.  I was going to be stuck here for the next three hours listening to them argue over who was the best driver.  From the sound of it, Andre was the only one in the kitchen, bugging mom about lunch.  If I moved very slowly, I may just make it back upstairs before he heard me.

I slid carefully off the couch.  The noise cut off suddenly in the kitchen and my heart dropped to my knees.  Mom laughed and I heard Andre say he was going out back to get the boys.  It was now or never.  The floor didn’t make a sound, because I stepped over that spot that squeaks which is right behind the couch.  After I passed the potted plant at the base of the stairs, I stepped quietly, taking two stairs at a time.

I didn’t look where I was going when I bolted up the stairs and ran right into Aidan; he was coming out of his room and caught me at the top of the landing.

“Whoa,” he laughed.  “Where are you off too in a hurry?”

“Andre,” I panted.  “Won’t let me get up and move around.  He was holding me hostage in the living room so I made an escape.”  Aidan looked exceptionally well.  He was fresh out of the shower.  The water that remained in his hair made it look darker than it actually was. He was wearing a pair of jeans and in his hand was a long sleeve t-shirt.  It was hard not to look, but he was shirtless.  I kept my eyes above shoulder level while we were standing there talking.  It was something I forced myself to do to keep from drooling.

“Have you had lunch yet?”

“No, I don’t want them to baby me.  I’m right handed,” I wiggled the fingers on my right hand that was still in the sling.  “And they will try to feed me.”

“C’mon,” he laughed.  “I’ll sit guard while you eat.  Or I could bring it to you, in your room…on a tray.”  Aidan winked then held his hand out for me to go down the stairs first.  He pulled on his shirt, and I had to look away from the ways his muscles shifted, making me blush.

We made our way into the kitchen where my mother had made homemade chicken noodle soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.  The boys were already eating at the dining room table when I came into view.  I held my left hand up, stopping them from coming to help, when they noticed I was making my own lunch.

Aidan never attempted to make my bowl or ask if I needed some help. Until I was ready to sit down, he grabbed the paper plate holding my sandwiches, while I toted my bowl to the table.

We sat in silence while I made a mess of trying to feed myself.  Eating with a spoon left handed is not the most proficient way of getting oneself fed.  Aidan sat next to me, keeping his huge body between my brothers and myself.  I had to laugh at the look on Avery’s face.  He was uncomfortable with me helping myself.  Aidan’s willingness to help, by not really helping, made my heart swell.

Eventually my brothers finished and took their dirty dishes to the kitchen, leaving Aidan and I alone.  “Thank you,” I whispered.

“For what?” he laughed.

“You know what,” I giggled.  He stood up and took his bowl to the kitchen, rinsed it off, and put it in the dishwasher.  Something my ungrateful brothers hardly ever did.  My mom will eat that up.

He returned with a determined look to his face, “You want to take a walk with me?”  I nodded.

I stood up and balanced my paper plate on top of the bowl.  After I tossed the plate in the trash and put my own bowl in the dishwasher, Aidan and I walked out the back door quietly.  He grabbed my winter coat off the hook by the door and hung it over my shoulders.

The wind was blowing from the north and the temperature was about ten degrees colder than it was the day before.  The trees in the back yard swayed as if they were dancing with the wind.  I’ve always loved the sounds of winter.  It was silent.

We walked around not talking.  Aidan liked things quiet, just like I do.  As we walked, I kicked a few dead leaves for the simple fact that I could.  Aidan picked up a stick and was steadily breaking little pieces off of the end.  Like pellet size pieces marked out our path.

“So,” Aidan cleared his throat.  “I’ve got to go back to Miami tomorrow.”

“Already,” I asked, a little stunned.  I thought he was staying.

“I’m going to get my things packed up and I need to see my family before I come back here.”  The stick pieces were done, so he picked up another one and resumed his little trail of path markers.  I looked behind us and smiled.  They were in a neat row, like laid down Dominos.  I followed the path with my eyes and watched as it snaked around here and there, not really making sense as to their origin.

“Are you sure you want to come and work for my dad?” I asked.  He seemed a little sad when talking about his family.

“Well, your father has offered me a job, making more than I’m currently earning in Florida.  I actually like it here.  My father’s business is struggling and having me off the payroll, may help him in the long run.”  Not many people would give up their job and essentially their family, to make life better for someone they hardly knew.  I hoped that whoever benefited from his leaving the company would be grateful that they still hold a job.

We continued to walk around the pond and through the backyard.  We avoided the woods, because it wasn’t safe.  John Carter was still on the run.  I stared longingly toward the trail that led back into my childhood playground.

“You’re not allowed to shift for another day or two,” Aidan laughed at my shocked expression.  “I see it all over your face.”

“I’m itching to go, but I know I can’t.  Plus, it’s just too dangerous to be out there, even with my brothers and you protecting me.”  I froze when Aidan intertwined his warm fingers with mine.  He stopped me from walking and turned our bodies so they were facing each other.

“Have your brothers ever taught you to fight?”  He finally asked.

“Oh, no,” I laughed.  “They would never allow me to be hurt, ever.”  Aidan scowled at me as he walked backwards, facing me.  I wanted to spin him around, because he might trip and fall.  His actions were simple, but the message was clear.  He trusted me not to let him run into a tree or trip over anything that might hurt him.

“Well, you need to learn how to defend yourself.  Your brothers won’t always be there to help you.”  He stopped, took my face in his hands and looked at me with determination in his eyes.  “When you’re all healed and I am back from Miami, I’m going to teach you how to fight.”

I felt the heat scalding my cheeks; it always did that when he looked into my eyes.  “They will kill you if you hurt me, you know that, right?”  Of course, I would hurt them if they laid a hand on him.  As long as I’m around, no one will hurt that beautiful face that was currently smiling down at me.

“I could never hurt you,” he scowled and then ran his thumbs along my cheekbones.  “I still think you should learn to defend yourself.”

“Okay, but we can’t tell the boys,” I conceded.  “I doubt I’ll be all that good, but I will try.”  My hand reached out for the side of his face.  He purred at my touch and I felt my body heat up.

“Deal,” he held out his hand offering to shake mine.  I used my left hand to awkwardly accept the deal.

Aidan

The moment we touched hands, I felt her body heat rapidly increase.  Lexi’s cheeks flushed slightly.  My groin tightened and I bit the inside of my cheek; hoping the pain would distract me from the growing length in my pants.

I shifted around where we were now facing the same way.  The icy cold air gusted suddenly, whipping our hair out behind us.  Lexi shivered.

“Alright, it’s too cold out here.  We need to head back inside.”  I pulled on her arm.  She reluctantly moved forward as I urged her to get moving.

Everyone was camped out in front of the television.  When we walked in, Jimmy Johnson was in the lead and had been that way since the race started sixty three laps ago.  Adam was smiling, A.J. looked like he didn’t care, Andre was reading a book, Clive Cussler’s The Spy, and Avery was cussing the flat screen like a dog.  Oh, excuse me…a bitch.  Obviously Jeff Gordon was his favorite driver, because he was wearing a t-shirt and baseball cap with a huge 24 written dead center, and he was drinking out of a matching mug.

“Avery,” Lexi laughed.  “I don’t see why you don’t give up.  He hasn’t won a championship since like what, 2001 or something.  He’s losing his touch.  You’ve got to admit that the man needs to retire.”

He didn’t do much more than growl at her.  It was funny how her mouth could cause so much trouble.  Of course, if her mouth was that good at causing trouble, I could think of a few things that would get her arrested.

You’re not royal material.

Yeah, I know that, but I am friend material.  I would always be her friend no matter where I live.  She would never have to worry with me, she could be herself.  No worry about forced matings, dating idiot men who didn’t respect her, or having to sneak out of the house just to run without a chaperone.

Lexi retired to her room while I packed up my bag.  I’d only brought a few pairs of jeans and five shirts with me.  I packed light.  My phone rang and the caller ID said it was Raul.

“Hello,” I answered.

“Aidan,” he paused.  “I know you’re heading back today.  I just wanted to thank you for all of your help.  Tell your father if he needs anything please don’t hesitate to call me.”

I folded the suitcase closed and zipped up the sides, holding the phone to my ear with my shoulder, “You’re welcome.  I’ll be back later this week.  The King offered me a job here.”

“Oh, that’s great for you, huh?”

“I hope it is,” I shrugged knowing he couldn’t see.  Let’s just hope that I could keep a friendship going with Lexi, although we both had a connection.  Whatever that connection was, I planned on finding out soon.  Still my mind wondered what it would be like to be the one she chose as her mate.

You’re not royal material!

With that thought, I told Raul I would call him in a few weeks and hung up.  I sat down on the bed in my guest room.  It was decorated with a few paintings and the furniture; a bed with a brown duvet cover, a cedar dresser and a chest of drawers and two nightstands, one on each side of the bed.  And a huge flat screen television.

I spent the rest of the night, lounged out across the bed, waiting to go home; waiting to come back.

Chapter 6

Threats

Lexi

Monday morning, I rode with A.J. to take Aidan to the airport in Memphis.  I hated to see him go, but I knew that Aidan would be back in a few days.  Our date was set for Saturday night, and I couldn’t wait.  Of course, he had spoken with my father and received permission to take me out.  Can you believe that we live in the twentieth century?  But Aidan was being a gentleman, just as he was raised.

I was stuck in the middle of the front seat of A.J.’s “man truck” while we drove up Highway 78 into town.  The airport was about thirty minutes from our house, but with traffic, it looked like we were going to have a few extra minutes left to be together.  We didn’t dare touch in front of my protective brother.  He would’ve flipped his lid.

“I’ll call you when I land,” Aidan whispered.  A.J. obviously heard because he cleared his throat.  I elbowed him in the side to shut him up.

We didn’t park at the airport.  A.J. pulled up to the departures lane and got out to retrieve Aidan’s bag from the bed of the truck.  When he knew my brother wouldn’t be looking, Aidan placed a quick kiss on my lips, where it seared my flesh.  “Be careful,” he whispered as he opened his door and exited the truck.  I scooted over in his vacant seat and smiled from the warmth left behind.

I watched him walk away as my brother got in behind the wheel.  Aidan looked over his shoulder and winked at me as we pulled away from the curb.  He waited outside until we were out of sight.

“He better treat you right,” A.J. said at one point.  We hadn’t talked much on the ride over to pick up Raul.  A.J. wasn’t stupid, he could see it.  He could tell that there was something going on between us.  But I wanted to reassure my brother, without saying too much.

“I enjoy his company.  Is that so bad?” I asked.

“No,” he smiled.  “He likes you.”

“Do you like him?” I asked.  A.J. laughed as he turned onto Lamar Avenue heading back toward Mississippi.

He ran his hand through is curly hair, minus the hat today.  “You’re different with him.  With what happened with John Carter, I think we all like him.”

“Good,” I sighed looking down at my folded hands.  “That’s good.”

“We’re going to find him, Lexi.” He scowled.  “That son of a…”

“I know!” I snapped.  “I don’t want to talk about it!”

“Okay,” he conceded.  His knuckles still white and he clamped down hard on the steering wheel.

We spent the rest of the drive listening to the radio.  I didn’t want to talk about John or Aidan.  Both topics were a little sore for me.

We picked up Raul around nine and drove him over to the Industrial Park in Olive Branch where he would get set up as a new employee at one of my dad’s warehouses.  This particular warehouse shipped produce to grocery stores and farmers markets in the tri-state area.

The three of us made our way into the human resources office and found my cousin, Saundra Sharpe.  She was twenty nine and already mated.  She was pregnant with her third child in five years.

“Hey Lexi,” she smiled up from her computer.  “Come to visit?”

“Yeah, I came with A.J. to get Raul set up for work.  How’s the baby?” I pointed toward the bulge in her cute little belly.  Saundra absolutely glowed in her pregnancies, this one was no exception.  Her reddish black hair shined along with her huge amber eyes.  Her face has rounded out in the past few months, but still looked amazing.

“He’s fine.  We just found out last week that it’s another boy,” she smiled, but it didn’t make it all the way to her eyes.  Saundra had hoped this one would be a girl.

“Don’t worry, you’ll get your little girl soon enough,” I laughed.

My cousin’s face became serious when she pointed to my shoulder, “Heard what happened.  You okay?”

“Oh, yeah.  It’s nothing.  I should be back to normal in a day or so.”  I shrugged the good shoulder.

“Any word on the elusive Mr. Carter?” she scowled.

“Nope,” I sighed.  “I hope he shows up soon, though.  It’s bad enough I’m kept under lock and key, this is just a million times worse.”  She nodded, understanding my life.  We’ve talked about it before.  At least she’s on my side.

The door behind me opened and in walked one of my dad’s farmers, Mr. Tuggle.  At six foot tall, my dad’s oldest workers sauntered into the office to hand Saundra a stack of paperwork.  I’ve always enjoyed his company.  When I was younger, he and his wife would sometimes babysit me and my brothers when my parents would go away on vacation.  Mr. and Mrs. Tuggle were black bears and the most loyal friends of the Sharpe family.  There was no mistaking them for anything else other than their born breed.  Mr. Tuggle’s skin was the same color as his bear fur.  His round face was weathered from years of working outside, but his chocolate brown eyes were soft and inviting.

“Alexandra,” he frowned, when looking at my bandaged up arm.  “Your father told me what happened.  My boys and I tracked that hellion through our farm.  We lost his scent about halfway through Marshall County.”

“Thank you for trying,” I smiled.  That old man had no business going after a jaguar, but here he was helping my family.

After handing off his paperwork, he came over, wrapped his arms around me and kissed the top of my head, “You need anything, you call me okay.”

“Yes, sir,” I smiled and gave him an awkward hug.

He left without saying another word.  I sat down and helped Saundra do some filing.  If I had to wait here all day and wonder when I would hear from Aidan again, then I needed to get my hands busy.

Aidan

Watching her drive away pulled on my heartstrings.  I’d waited until they were out of sight.  The loneliness was deafening.  Although the airport was a flutter of activity, I just couldn’t bring myself to care about my surroundings.  I never thought I’d miss the company of one person so much.  And it had only been 10 minutes.

The woman at the counter, a thirty something red head, was very helpful with my accommodations.  Well, upgrading me to first class was easier than I thought.  I took my ticket and made my way through security.  The little man standing there with the wand looked me over twice before he deemed that I wasn’t there to cause trouble.

As the plane took off, I looked out my window and noticed the Pyramid in the middle of this old southern city.  The thing looked out of place, like it had landed there by accident.  I compared it to my life.  Did I land here by accident?  Or, was it planned by some higher authority?

Lexi

Around noon, A.J. returned to the office.  “Are you ready to head home?  You’ve been out of bed too long.  I think you should get some rest.”

I rolled my eyes and watched Saundra laugh behind A.J.’s back.  I flipped her off when no one was watching.

“Sure,” I grimaced.  Bed sounded good about now, anyway.  I was a little sore, but otherwise feeling better.

We left the office and walked out the front door.  The wind was blowing hard from the north and the temperatures were finally feeling more like winter.  I shivered and pulled my jacket tighter over my chest.  When I heard the locks click open on my brothers black Dodge truck, I sprinted over and jumped inside the cab.

A goofy laugh crackled behind me and I glared at my brother.  He jumped in and started the truck.  It took a few minutes for the cab to warm up.  I put my hands up to the vents, hoping it would thaw them out.

The moment we made it into the county, I saw A.J. stiffen beside me.  A deep primal growl vibrated the entire frame of the truck.

“What’s wrong?” I gasped.

“Carter,” he spit.

“Where?” I panicked.  A turn of my head found John Carter’s red Ford truck behind us.  The hatred in his eyes pierced right into mine.  And he wasn’t alone.  He had another passenger I didn’t recognize.  The man in the passenger seat had dark hair, either a deep brown or black.  He wasn’t as scrawny as John.  In fact, from his pudgy statue, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was a bear.

A.J. had his phone flipped open and to his ear in record time; he was calling my father.  “Dad,” he growled.  “Carter is following us and he has a passenger.”

Dad’s voice came clear and extremely loud enough that I had no problem hearing his reply.

“Do not stop the truck.  You come straight home!  Do you understand?” he bellowed.  A.J. passed a slower vehicle.  The old lady driving actually rolled down her window and flipped us the bird.  John followed.  I couldn’t see the old woman now, but I bet she had a few expletives rolling off of her tongue at the moment.  I could think of a few myself.

“Yes, sir,” he growled…again.

“Avery and Andre are on their way to escort you home.  How is Alexandra?”

“She’s fine,” my brother snapped, but still looked over at me for reassurance.  I nodded and held on to the “Oh Shit” handle above my head.  My eyes confirmed what I feared; he was driving seventy miles an hour down the two lane road south of town.  I squeezed my eyes closed and prayed we’d make it home with all of our body parts attached.

A.J. closed his phone and dropped it into his lap.  “We’ll be home in a few minutes.  Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” I opened my eyes and looked out the back window.  John was still hot on our tails.  “I just wish I wasn’t crippled.  I’d tell you to stop the truck.”  The fact that he was back there had my blood boiling.  Aidan’s offer to teach me to fight was in the front of my mind.

“Hell no,” he growled and passed another car; this one was full of teenagers.  “That’s our job, Lexi.”  My brother looked at me like I had lost my damn mind.  Well, maybe I had, because I was fed up being taken care of.  It was time for me to learn to defend myself.

“I know,” I conceded.  “I’m just so mad, I could kill him myself.”

“I don’t doubt that,” he muttered.  “Look, there’s Avery and Andre.”  He pointed to the dark blue Avalanche coming toward us.

Before Avery could get him boxed in, John turned east heading toward the highway.  Avery followed, but John had a good lead on him.  A.J. continued on toward the house.

“What the hell!” I yelled at my brother.  “Turn around; we need to go get him!”

He shook his head, “Hell, no!  I’ve got to get you home.”

I wasn’t surprised to find my dad standing on the wraparound porch holding a sawed off shotgun.  He looked pissed.  A.J. pulled the truck up so that the passenger side was against the front porch steps.

I opened the door and made quick work of getting inside the house.  Daddy came in behind me.  His canines were long and thick.  His upper lip had swelled showing a partial shift of his face.

“Daddy,” I panted.  “He took off toward the highway, but Avery followed him.”

“Good,” he growled and his face shifted back to human.  “Go on and eat some lunch.  I doubt he’ll come to the house.”

“Yes, sir,” I muttered.  Dad and A.J. remained on the porch.  My father pulled out his cell phone and started dialing my other brother.  I didn’t stick around to hear what was going on.  They would fill me in later.

Mom was sitting at the breakfast bar drinking a glass of tea when I came around the corner.  She jumped up and pulled me into a death hug.

“Oh, baby girl.  You must be scared,” she cried.  Although I wasn’t hurt, she still gave me a once over; running her hands up and down my arms, visually checking for any signs of damage.  Other than the one I already had.

“No, momma, I’m alright,” I assured her.

My cell phone rang and I felt relief.  It must be Aidan.  The number came up as unknown on the caller I.D. and I assumed he must be calling from somewhere other than his cell phone.  Maybe he was stuck at the airport waiting on his ride and his cell phone died.

“Hello,” I answered on the second ring.

“I will get you!  You two-timing bitch!” John’s voice screamed into my ear.  My mother gasped and covered her mouth; obviously her cat hearing was still good.  I pointed to the phone and mouthed “John”.  Mom ran off toward the front door to get my dad and brother.

“How do you think so, asshole?” I yelled.

Dad and A.J. rushed into the kitchen.  My father held out his hand for the phone, but this was my conversation.  I turned my back, refusing my father’s request.

“You had the nerve to have a strange man in your home, looking at you like the whore you are!  When I get my hands on you, you will pay for allowing another male to touch you.”

“You don’t own me!” I growled.  Tears speared my eyes, but I bit the inside of my cheek to keep them from spilling over.  I wouldn’t let this asshole bring me to tears.

“I will,” he whispered.  Chills speared my back and the hairs on my neck stood on end.  All the yelling he did had no effect on me, but the moment he whispered, I felt dirty, like I couldn’t get clean from the filth of his words.

The line went dead.  I closed my phone and turned toward my father.  He’d heard what John said over the line.  I didn’t need to repeat anything.  My mother sat in the corner crying, my brother was standing in the doorway.  His features were the same as my fathers.

I tore out of the kitchen at a dead run, straight up the stairs and into my room in record time.  The tears started the second my body hit the bed.  It hurt like hell when I fell, face first into my mound of pillows, but I just didn’t care.  My arm protested from the pressure.  I rolled over on my back a growled when I heard a knock on the door.

“Go away!” I yelled.  It was then that I felt my own face shift.  My mouth ached as my canines thickened and slid down inside my mouth.  My fingers crumpled and my nails turned into deathly claws.  Just as I felt the bones in my arms begin to change, I cried out from the pain in my shoulder, but I didn’t care.  The hair behind my skin sprouted quickly.  My legs shifted into the powerful hind end of a cat.  My ears pricked as they elongated.  The moment they shifted, my hearing enhanced a hundred fold.  My clothes were now shredded cloth at my side.

A.J. opened the door and gasped when he found me.  I was a one hundred and sixty pound jaguar, who was resting comfortably on top of my bed.

“You weren’t supposed to shift,” he scolded.  “Your shoulder is bleeding.”  He pointed toward my torn shoulder.  He came closer, I tried to move away, but the weight on my shoulder caused my leg to buckle under me.  I felt the occasional trickle of blood through my thick fur.  I rested my head on the bed and put a paw up over my eyes; I didn’t want to see anyone right now.

“Dad,” my brother called over his shoulder.

My father came into the room and frowned when he saw me in my cat form.  He didn’t say anything, but came to sit down next to me on the bed.  He rubbed his hand down my back in a gentle way that had me purring uncontrollably.  I rolled over on my side and allowed him to scratch my sides and my belly.  I nuzzled the top of my head against his thigh.

My phone rang and I sat up on my haunches carefully, so that my leg wouldn’t fall out from under me again.  I growled and pointed my nose toward the phone.  I didn’t want to answer it if it was John.

A.J. scooped up the phone and answered it without looking at the screen, “Hello.” His growl was a low warning to whoever was on the other end.

With my enhanced hearing, I heard Aidan’s deep soothing voice on the other line.  “A.J.?”

“Hey, Aidan,” he smiled at me.

“Where’s Lexi?  Is everything alright?” God, his voice was so soothing.  Damn me for shifting.  I was still too upset to shift back now.  I kept hearing John’s voice in my head.

“Shift back, Alexandra,” my father whispered.  “So you can talk to him.”  I watched as my father grabbed my robe from the bathroom and set it down on the bed; he left the room to give me some privacy.

A.J. stepped out in the hallway, but I could still hear what he was telling Aidan.  He explained about us being followed toward the house.  I cringed as Aidan growl vibrated through the phone after A.J. told him about the phone call.  He was concerned about my shoulder and A.J. assured him that Doc Jones was on the way over to repair the damage I had done when I shifted.  Apparently my mother had called him.

It only took me a few minutes to shift back to human.  My face was tear-streaked and blood oozed from my arm.  Obviously shifting once made it bad; shifting twice made it worse.  I grabbed my robe and wrapped it around myself, letting the cotton soak up the blood from the wound.

A.J. came back into the room and handed me the phone.  He walked into my bathroom and returned with a hand towel, folded to resemble a brick and placed it against my shoulder.

“Aidan,” I whispered.

“Hey champ.”  I heard the tenderness in his voice and I melted.  I barely knew the guy, but something told me that we belonged together and from his concern, I think he felt it too.

“How was your flight?”  I asked, trying to make light of the situation.

“It was fine,” he paused.  “I heard what happened and what John said to you over the phone.”

I shivered as I remembered his words.  I will.  John Clark was a jerk from the moment I’d met him a few months back.  He seemed possessive from the time he walked in the door.  The way he looked at me then made my skin crawl, now his voice stuck in my head made it burn.

“Lexi?” Aidan interrupted my thoughts.

“I’m here,” I said, bringing myself back to the present.

“Is there anything I can do?” he asked.

“Hurry back,” I laughed, but it sounded weak.

“I’ll be there as soon as I can,” he paused.  “I should be in town sometime Friday night.”

“Good, because we have a date on Saturday and I’m holding you too it.”

“I wouldn’t miss it,” he chuckled.

We talked about absolutely nothing.  We laughed over nonsense.  He asked me about things I enjoyed and things I hated.

Aidan told me about his family.  He had three brothers and three sisters.  He was the middle child.  His oldest sister, Julie, was mated and expecting her fourth child.  His baby sister was twelve and had just gone through her first shift.  She was beside herself with joy.  Aidan’s dad had a hard time keeping her home.  His family home was on fifty acres west of Homestead and that allowed them to run freely without any complications.  Aidan owned a home in Sweetwater, where he lived alone.  We talked about the benefits of either selling the home or renting it out, now that he was moving to North Mississippi.  With my input, he decided to try renting it out for at least a year, or until the housing market picked up.

“Would you help me find a place there?  I have no idea where to look.”

“Sure,” I laughed.  “I’m assuming you want some land?”

“Yeah, I only need about ten acres.”

“Are you going to miss it there?  I’ve heard it is beautiful.”

“Not really,” he paused.  “I’ll miss the beach and my family, but I’m twenty four now and I need to get out on my own.  My dad’s company may fold in the next few years and I want to get out now.  He’s needed to lay off a few people.  I figure with me leaving, he can keep some of them on.  They have families to take care of and need the money.”

“That’s very kind of you,” I said.  My heart swelled at his tenderness.

“Thank you.”

We finished the call and I had to laugh because we had been on the phone for almost an hour when Dr. Jones showed up at the house.  The good doctor made quick work of patching me up again and I had to promise to stay home and rest for the next two days.

At least I had Aidan to talk to.

Aidan

Home was like walking into nothing.  I thought I’d be happy to come back here, but suddenly I felt like I was missing something, like I wasn’t whole.  I missed being up in Mississippi more than I thought I would.  It didn’t matter how many miles I was from her, the loneliness was the same.  I looked around the house; the only thing left for me here was my family.

I lived in a subdivision like every other human.  My families land is where I went to run, but now I have a chance to get some land for myself.  A place I could call home and run whenever I pleased.

A place I could run with Lexi.

I don’t know why that thought popped into my head; the one about Lexi needing a place to run.  Maybe it was because she needed a place she felt safe; a place where she could run without being hunted or stalked.  But I couldn’t think like that, I wasn’t royal material.  And she deserved a male who was.

You’re not royal material.  “Oh shut up,” I told myself.

John Carter was a problem.  When I called the house and talked to A.J., I felt my heart tumble when Lexi didn’t answer the phone.  But she was safe and sound, although she had shifted, due to her anger.

I don’t blame her for shifting, it happens, especially when emotions are high.  It’s hard to picture her angry and shifting on the fly like that.  To me, she still seemed innocent, but her will is strong.  And that’s what I like about her.

We could be friends, and nothing more.  Her father seemed interested in our “friendship”.  He didn’t warn me to stay away from her, but he didn’t welcome me onto his list of suitors for his daughter.  Hell, we come from different backgrounds; she’s a black jaguar and I’m a plain ole average cat.  There’s nothing special about me that would hold her attention.  She’s the Princess for Christ’s sakes; I’m the overgrown son of a boat manufacturer.

I sat down in my black leather recliner and turned on the news.  There was no other sound in my three bedroom house.  I loved this little place.  It was a bachelors dream.  Enough room for friends to stay after a heavy night of poker and beer and a pool to lounge out at pretty much year round were the two things I would miss the most.  My flat screen was going with me.

I felt that giving Lexi a project would help keep her mind off of John, but we’ll see.  I could almost read her like an open book, she wore her thoughts on her face were everyone could see them.  Her right eye would sparkle when she had the urge to run.  That same eye would crease slightly when she was angry.  I loved it when she was fed up with her brothers, then she would stand a little off centered with one hand on her hip.

I went to bed that night, thinking of the Princess and wishing Friday morning would come quickly.

Chapter 7

Waiting

Lexi

There was no reason to wake up today.  The sky outside my window had remained a dark gray once the sun had come up, only illuminating the landscape slightly enough to prove that the sun hadn’t burned out during the nighttime.  Rain pelted the house making an odd hum that echoed through my room.  I closed my eyes and hoped that the sound would lull me back to sleep.

My cell phone rang, bringing me back from my attempted slumber, “Huh,” I answered, because my face was half smashed into my favorite fluffy pillow.

“Good morning, Ms. Sharpe,” a scruff voice spoke through the line.  A scruff voice I would know anywhere.

“John?”

“Time to get up sleepyhead,” he drawled through the phone.  His tone was unfamiliar.  If he wasn’t always such a jerk, I would have thought he had taken his Prozac today.

“What do you want?” I snarled, sitting up at attention, and wincing from the pulling of the stitches.  My hair fell in my face and I quickly pushed it back.

“Not a morning person,” he asked.

“Not a John person is more like it,” I paused.  “I’ll ask you again.  What do you want?

“I see your beach bum has returned to Florida,” he snarled.  “I’m willing to forgive your misguided decision to disobey your father and tramp yourself out to the first willing male, and give you another chance.”

“Oh John,” I sighed heavily for his benefit.  “The only misguided one is you.  My father has put a bounty on your head.  If you turn yourself in, then I’m sure he may go easy on you and just shoot you in the head; get it over quickly.  Keep running and causing trouble and that will get you a good lashing before you are put down, like the dog you are.”  I surprised myself by keeping a properly well-mannered tone while talking to him.

The growl that came through the phone was more animal than human.  My plan worked, I struck a nerve.  He didn’t reply, but hung up with nothing more to say.

I grabbed the remote off of the night stand and flipped on the news.  The local weatherman on Channel 5, Dave Brown, was standing in front of a green screen, pointing to an electronic map, indicating a severe thunderstorm that was just making its way across the Mississippi River.  When the map pulled back, it revealed more yellow and red blotches, indicating a long day of storms.  It was normal, for this area, in the winter.  The temperatures would warm up and storms would come in, occasionally causing a tornado or two, out of season.

I always worried about my father and his employees during times like this, but because it was winter and my dad’s crops were bare, most of them would be working on other projects that didn’t have them out in the elements.

There was no time like now to let him know what had happened, so I scooped up my phone and placed a call, I dreaded making.

“Alexandra,” my father answered.

“Hey daddy,” I sighed.  “John Carter called me.”

“What did he say?”  My father’s voice dropped an octave and I could picture him standing there with his teeth mashed together waiting for my reply.

I told him everything and he shared my concern over the calmness John was showing over the phone.  My father told me that he could have calmed knowing that Aidan was out of the house.  We didn’t talk long, and I was told to tell my brother Adam what was going on, since he was staying home with us.

After my shower, I quickly dressed in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt.  By the time I got ready, that storm had advanced closer to the house.  The deep rumble of thunder off on the horizon made me sleepy, and I had to walk past the bed without looking at it.  It was very tempting to cave and crawl back in.

The smell of bacon and eggs hit me when I opened my bedroom door.  It was still early, and I’m sure Adam was in there making himself a hearty breakfast.  The house was quiet, except for my brother’s cooking and a small voice that sounded like an angel

singing, Christa.  My oldest brother’s mate and fiancé was here.

Christa was also a black jaguar, like my family.  She was raised in the gaming town of Tunica, Mississippi.  Her father owned a casino that employed most of the shifters in the area, who didn’t work for my dad.   Christa had long, straight black hair and yellow, doe like eyes.  Her youth showed in her features, for she was only a year older than me.  She was shorter than my five foot seven and one of the smallest jaguars I had ever met.  My brother teased her that she was the runt of the litter.  I thought he was being cruel, but Christa didn’t mind.  In fact, she agreed with him on just about everything.

I rounded the corner and found my favorite person sitting at the breakfast bar, watching Adam cook.  She laughed and scooped me up in a big hug.

“What are you doing here?”  I smiled.  No one told me she was coming.  I was ecstatic to have another female in the house.

“I’ve got to go to Nashville later today.  She’s going to stay here while I’m gone,” Adam announced from his spot behind the stove.

The three of us sat down and ate breakfast.  Christa and I made plans to watch movies and drown ourselves in popcorn and coke for the next few days while my brother was away.

I poked around on my plate, pushing the bacon; rearranging it until it fit perfectly next to my eggs.  The call from John had me confused.  Dad was probably right, since the threat was gone, John’s predatory instincts may have eased.  The thing that confused me was that it shouldn’t be a territorial thing.  Shifters in the southeast pack only get defensive against Aidan; he was from the same territory.  If John should be territorial against anyone, it should be Raul.  Raul was technically an intruder into our boundaries.

“Holy crap,” I gasped.

“What?” my brother and his mate said in unison.

“John’s anger is because of Raul, not Aidan,” I announced.

“I don’t understand,” Adam said.

“John’s territorial instincts are on high alert.  He blames Aidan and is taking it out on me.  He shouldn’t be like that toward Aidan, because he is from our boundaries, but Raul is from Cuba.  John’s using that misunderstanding against me.”  I looked over at my brother.  His face was still as he churned over my words.

“Doesn’t matter,” he said shaking his head.  “That’s no excuse for the way he’s treating you.”

“He called this morning and was calmer,” I held up my hands when Adam raised his brow at me.  “I know, that’s what I came down to tell you, and then I had this epiphany.”

“But that would make your epiphany invalid,” he sighed.  “Raul’s still here.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” I growled.

The storms continued to rage outside.  Occasionally, the television in the living room would beep and a storm warning would scroll across the screen.  I voiced my opinion a few times that Adam should wait to leave, but he assured me he would be okay.

Christa and I camped out in the living room around three o’clock.  Adam had left earlier, once my brother Andre came home to babysit the women.  We chose Underworld Evolution from the DVD collection.  (Sorry, I love vampire movies.)

Andre came around the corner, “Please tell me this is the Kate Beckinsale one!”

“Yes,” I sighed.  “You can stay as long as I don’t hear any panting coming from your end of the couch.”

“Promise,” he smiled.  Andre has always been my movie buddy, expect for chick flicks.  He refuses to watch anything that will make a female cry.

Dinner time was quiet.  Avery was out tramping the town or mudding with the boys, because the old fields were wet.  Adam was on his way to Nashville.  A.J. was working late and Aidan was in Miami.  That just left my parents, Christa, Andre and I.

The rain had started again about halfway through dinner and now the wind was blowing hard from the west.  Lightning crackled in the sky and lit up the windows in a flash.  Occasionally, the lights would flicker as if the power was ready for a break from the action.

Christa and I ended up sitting cross legged on my bed, in our pajamas, after the kitchen had been cleaned up.  “Alright,” she smiled.  “Adam told me about the escort that your dad hired.”

“Aidan,” I pretended to swoon.  Christa laughed and slapped my leg playfully.

“You seem a little starry eyed about him,” she reached for the remote to turn on the television.  Noise would help drown out our little conversation.

“I don’t know,” I blushed.

“Well, what’s he like?”

“Gorgeous,” I laughed.  “He’s huge!  Christa he is the largest jaguar I’ve ever seen.  But he’s kind and gentle.  Aidan’s calm and patient; nothing like the boys.”

“That’s got to be a nice change compared to your brothers,” she held up one hand.  “Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally in love with Adam, but when all of them get together, they act more like monkeys than cats.”

We both laughed at her analogy.  My phone rang, sobering us up.  It was Aidan.  Christa excused herself from the room, to give us some privacy.

“Hey champ,” he said.  “How are you doing?”

“Not bad, just a little bored.  How are you?”  I played with the fringe on one of my many throw pillows.  One piece was being stubborn and wouldn’t lay exactly right.  I tossed it aside so I could talk to him without any distractions.

“The movers were here today and packed up my house.  My things will go into storage, until I find a house there.”

We talked for almost half an hour.  He promised to call first thing in the morning, before he had to go visit his family.  Of course, I told him about the call from John.  He agreed with my observation, but still expressed his concern about John’s anger toward me.  “Your brother is right, Raul is still there.  If you’re right, then John was just pretending to be calm.”

“I don’t know anymore, Aiden.”

“It’ll all work out in the end,” he said reassuringly.  We talked for a few minutes more before he told me to get some sleep.

Yawning, I hung up the phone and closed my eyes, thinking about the ocean.

 

Aidan

I couldn’t get Lexi out of my head, and when she told me about her call from John, I wanted to tear something apart.  If her and her brother’s observations were correct, then I’m not the problem.  But that was still no excuse.

I tossed and turned on the air mattress I had laying in the floor.  My home was empty, just a shell.  The only thing remaining was a pillow, a blanket, the air mattress and a bag of clothes.  My last night in the house, then I was off to start a new life.

Lexi and I had talked a lot over the past few days.  She seemed at ease with me and I enjoyed our conversations more than I should.  There was a fire deep down inside her; a fire that has been dormant, just smoldering and waiting to get out.

I was going to teach her how to fight.  My sisters were mean as hell.  No one messed with them, ever.  I’ll miss my baby sister, but I know she’s in good hands.

I’d talked to her and told her to come and stay with me this summer.  Hannah had shifted this spring and she was excited now that she was like everyone else in the family.  I told her that if I found a nice place with a lot of land, she could run all day long if she wanted.  Her answer was to climb up me and hang onto my neck, kissing me all over my head.  God, I love my baby sister.

My parents were proud of me.  Dad and I had talked about the money he would save by not paying my salary.  He promised me that he would try to keep on some of the less fortunate employees.

I’d planned on getting up around three in the morning so I could get on the road early.  The last time I looked at the clock was right around ten p.m.  I slept dreamlessly.

Chapter 8

Prime

Aidan

The truck was loaded and I pulled out of town about thirty minutes later than I’d hope for.  I would get to see Lexi today, and I couldn’t wait.  It was way too early to call her now.  So, I was startled when my phone rang suddenly.  I didn’t recognize the number, but answered it anyway.

“Hello,” I asked.

“I just wanted to thank you,” the voice said.  “Your leaving town has made your little whore see who she was meant to be with.”

“You think so,” I laughed.  It was John Carter.  How did he get this number?

“You see, with you out of the picture, I can go and claim what is mine.  And I will enjoy every minute of it.”  The line went dead.  I growled and pushed the pedal down as fast as it could go.

I checked the clock and contemplated if I should call and wake up the King.  John’s threats should be taken seriously.  My phone flipped open and I was dialing before I knew what I was doing.

A groggy and pissed off King answered the phone, “This better be important.”

“Sir,” I swallowed hard.  “This is Aidan Jackson.  Please pardon my early call, but I must speak to you.  It’s urgent.”  I heard sheets ruffle and a door close.  I imagined him climbing out of bed and leaving the room so he wouldn’t wake up Mrs. Sharpe.

Another door closed and he cleared his throat, “Go ahead.”

I told him about the call and the exact words John Carter had said on the phone.  We both agreed not to tell Lexi at the moment.  He promised me that she would be in good hands today.  I told him I was already in the truck and on my way there.  Unfortunately, it would be after dark before I rolled into town.  The King told me to call, if John contacted me again.  I apologized again for waking him up at such an early hour.

“You did the right thing Aidan.  Please drive safe, I know Alexandra is ready to see you again.”

We hung up and I did my best to keep the truck under ninety miles an hour.  I was ready to be in Mississippi.

My life was “normal”.  I grew up like any other person.  My father worked hard for what he had, and taught us good work ethic from an early age.  I’d even had a savings account for the money I made from my paper route as a young boy.

As the miles, stretched, I ached for Lexi.  The more I thought about her; the more I wanted to know about her.  I look back on my life and I’ve accomplished so much in my short twenty four years.  But it’s been like watching reruns, the same routine over and over, day in and day out.  It’s time for me to take the next step.

Lexi

My eyes popped open at six a.m. Friday morning.  Aidan was coming home today; his new home.  I couldn’t have been happier.

My father’s longtime friend and real estate salesman, Eric Parker found three homes for Aidan to look at once he made it into town.  Of course, I was not allowed to leave the house to go look at them for him, because John Carter was still on the run.  Sometimes, I felt like running away.

John’s father, Charles Carter had come over to the house yesterday to have a meeting with my dad and brothers.  I had to tell Mr. Carter what had happened out in the woods on Saturday night and about the phone calls, he had made.  John’s father was ashamed of his youngest son’s behavior and vowed to turn him in as soon as he was found.

My stitches were removed on Thursday morning and I was feeling great.  My arm was healed with no scaring.  My father allowed me to shift, but I couldn’t run in the woods.  We used an old barn at the back of the property.  It held the ATV’s my brothers coveted most of all.

I went downstairs after a long hot shower and found Adam’s fiancé and mate, Christa Young.  She had been here since Tuesday to keep me company.  Adam was still in Nashville on business for my father.

“Morning, Lexi,” she smiled, she looked tired.

“Hey,” I bounced into the kitchen.  Nothing could bring me down today.  Not even a visit from John could spoil my mood.

“So,” she laughed.  “Aidan’s going to be back in town today?”

“Yep,” I smiled.

“Good, I’m glad he’s coming back.  I’ve never seen you so happy.”  Christa and I had talked a lot over the past few days.  We talked about things that I was uncomfortable with discussing with my mom.  I suspected mom knew what we were up too; late at night when we would be up laughing at each other, like a bunch of teenage girls.

“Thank you,” I smiled…again.  I couldn’t help it. I was just too happy.

Christa stood up to take her mug to the sink.  Her step faltered and she almost fell over.  I rushed up behind her and grabbed her by the elbow.  She was burning up.  Sweat broke out across her brow and her lips were swollen.

“Oh my God, Christa,” I panicked.  “Please don’t tell me…”

She raised her hand to stop me, “No, I just think I’m getting sick.  Can you help me to Adam’s room?  I feel a little dizzy. I just need to lie down.”

“Sure,” I wrapped her arm around my neck.  She weighed practically nothing.  It was easy getting her upstairs and into the bed.

I rushed back downstairs and got her some medicine and water.  When I returned, I found her facing the window; the back of her shirt was soaking wet.

“Do you want me to call Adam?” I begged.

“Maybe,” she paused.  “I don’t know.”  Her legs bunched up to her stomach as she groaned in pain.  Her face pinched with the spasms she was feeling vibrating through her body.

“Do you want me to get my mom?” I asked.

“Sure,” she muttered and then rambled.  “I’m just going to sleep.”

“I’ll be right back.”  She nodded and I bound out of the room, down the stairs and turned the corner past my father’s office.

My parent’s suite was at the end of the downstairs hallway.  The door was locked and because of the time I was betting they were still asleep.  I didn’t have time for being quiet.

“Mom!” I banged on the door.  “Get up, it’s Christa.  Something’s wrong!”

My father was the first one to open the door.  He was dressed in his lounge pants and a white t-shirt.  Mom was right behind him covered up with her robe.

“What’s wrong?” my father asked.

“She’s fevering,” I looked meaningfully at my mother.  Her eyes bulged and she pushed past my father.

“Andrew, you stay here.  Let me check on her before you call Adam.”  My mom’s determination was amazing.  She grabbed my arm and pulled me alongside her, “You need to help me.”

We ran upstairs and found Christa balled up in the center of the bed.  She had turned the ceiling fan on to cool down the room.  From the look on my mother’s face, my worst fears were confirmed.  Christa was starting her Prime, her fertile time.  And my brother was out of town.  This was not good, not good at all.

Mom knelt down beside Christa and moved her hair away from her face, “Christa dear. I’m here, were going to get Adam home.”

“Yes, ma’am,” she sighed. Her face relaxed for a moment, then twisted with the new round of pain she was feeling.

Mom turned around to give me instructions.  She barked them off like a drill sergeant, “Tell your father to get Adam home now.  For the next few hours, we need to have the boys outside the house.  After you tell your father, bring me wet wash clothes, she needs to cool down.”

Christa’s hormones would be at their peak over the next few hours and every unmated male jag within miles will be stalking the house looking for a way to get to her.  Until my brother gets here to, well, um…to ease her, she will be in danger.  Even my brothers will have to fight the urge to come to her.

Thankfully my father could help, because we’re going to need it.  There are about twenty unmated males in the immediate area.  A female in her Prime is considered game, whether she is mated or not.  Mated males wouldn’t look twice at her, though.   It’s something within our essential make-up.  Once mated, a male will only be affected by their mate’s Prime; no other female will call to them.

I bolted downstairs and told my father to get Adam home as soon as he could.  Even by car, it would take Adam three hours to get here.  I grabbed a handful of washcloths on the way back upstairs and took them into the Jack and Jill bathroom Adam shared with A.J.  After dousing the cloths in cold water, I took them to my mom.

Christa was now propped up on some pillows finishing the glass of water I had given her earlier.  She looked beautiful, despite the sweat on her brow.  Her body was flushed and her lips were swollen.  She smelled sweet, like ripened fruit.

“I’m sorry,” she cried.  “It came on so quickly.  I didn’t know what to look for.  It’s a lot different from what everyone had told me.”

“I know dear,” my mom sighed.  “We’re going to take care of you until Adam gets home.”

“Dad’s getting him home as soon as possible,” I said.

Christa’s phone blared to life on the bedside table, I scooped it up and to no one’s surprise it was Adam.

“Adam,” I answered, because Christa was currently writhing in pain on the sweat laden sheets.

“Is she okay?” he panted.

“Yes, mom and I are here with her.”

“Let me speak with her,” he begged.  At that moment, Christa was curled up in a ball, biting her lip so hard I thought she would pierce her skin.

“Um, she’s not really…”

Let me speak to her!” he growled.

I climbed up on the bed and rested the phone up to her ear.  She was throwing off so much heat that I began to sweat.  Christa knew it was him and tried her best to reach for the phone, but couldn’t.

“Adam,” she moaned.

“I’m coming baby.  I’m driving as fast as I can.”

“Don’t hurry, I’m f…” Her words cut off with a painful moan.

I took the phone away from her and walked out into the hall to speak with my brother.

“Lexi,” he cried.  “Please watch over her.”

“I am Adam.  Mom and I are with her and daddy and the boys are watching the house.”  I walked into my room, because Christa’s moans were getting louder and I didn’t want him to hear.  I looked out the window and saw my father standing out in the driveway with Avery.  Off to the west of our property, two male jags were pacing just inside the tree line.  My father saw them too and fired a warning shot in the air.  They turned and disappeared into the woods. “Please drive safe.”

“I will,” he paused.  “Is Aidan due today?”

“Crap,” I cringed.  “I’ll call him now.”

“Okay,” he sighed.  “I love you, sis.”

“Love you too.”

I tossed Christa’s phone on my bed and grabbed mine.  Aidan was still hours away, but I needed to tell him to stay away from the house.  Suddenly the tap-tap of rain started hitting the windows.  I shivered when I heard thunder rumbling somewhere close.

“Hey champ,” he answered calling me his favorite nickname.  “What’s up?”

“I hate to do this, but you can’t come here.”

“Okay,” he said stretching the syllables out.  “What’s going on?”

“Well,” I paused.  “Christa, Adam’s mate is here, and she’s going through her Prime.  Adam is in Nashville and on his way home.”

“Oh,” he laughed.  “Well, I guess it wouldn’t be a good idea for me to come to the house then.”  I heard AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” playing in the background.  How ironic?

“Thank you for being so understanding,” I smiled to myself; Aidan, always a gentleman.

“I’ll just get a room up by the highway,” he paused.  “But we’re still on for tomorrow?”

“Of course,” I beamed.

“I’ll call you as soon as I get settled tonight.”  And with that we hung up.  It was going to be a long day.

Adam made it home in record time, just over two hours.  I was lying in the bed, holding Christa when he burst through the door.  My brother’s mate sighed heavily when she felt his presence in the room.  It was like night and day as all of the tension evaporated from the room.

Adam’s face relaxed when he saw that she was safe and healthy.  I left the two of them to do what they needed to do.  It was neither embarrassing nor shameful what my brother and his mate were going through.  For our kind, it was natural.  We all knew it happened and we all respected females who were going through their Prime.

Although things were tense on the home front, my father took the family out to dinner to give them their privacy.  We didn’t go into Memphis very often, but tonight dad was feeling generous.  My brother’s and I took Avery’s 69 Camaro into downtown and parked at the Peabody, (Another one of the perks of having a father who was King of the shifters.  We had our own parking spot outside the hotel, which was across the street from the restaurant.)

The Rendezvous was packed tight with people, but we only had to wait half an hour for a table.  My brothers each put down three slabs of ribs and drank too much beer.

One of the cooks was a black bear and one of Mr. Tuggle’s son-in-laws.  He stopped by the table to shake hands with my father.  And like everyone else in the southeast, he too was on the lookout for John Carter.

“Have you seen or heard anything?” my father asked.

“No, sir, nothing yet,” he turned to smile at me.  “All the bears have been notified.  We won’t let anything happen to the Princess.”  He winked and I grimaced.  I didn’t like being called a Princess, although everyone knew that was technically my title.

“Thank you,” I replied.

The reason why I never liked the title it because that’s all I would be, a Princess.  My oldest brother, Adam was next in line to take over for my father when he passed away.  Why would it really matter to me anyway?   All I am is a repressed “Princess” trapped in a royal kingdom.  I feel like Cinderella.  Hell, I am Cinderella!  Oh well, this just sucks!

We left the restaurant around eight p.m.  I had to drive my brother’s car, because mom wouldn’t let them drive.  Of course I had planned for this.  My one true weakness is fast cars.

“Lexi,” Avery growled.  “Don’t wreck my car.”

“Oh, c’mon,” I laughed.  “Let’s see how fast I can get us home.”

“No!” all three of my brothers yelled as I peeled out of the hotel parking lot.

I laughed despite Avery’s pleading.  The sheer power made my skin tingle.  After a quick drive through downtown Memphis, I made it onto I-55 and headed south.  By the time I hit the Mississippi line, Avery was praying that we wouldn’t get pulled over.  I passed a Mustang and took two lanes over to exit at Church Road.  I thought Avery was going to have a heart attack.  Andre was laughing and A.J. seemed bored.

We made it back home in one piece.  Once outside the car, Avery snatched the keys from my hand and tried to swat my head.  I dodged him but landed a pinch on the back of his arm.

My phone rang and I pulled it out of my back pocket.  It was Aidan, he was in town.  Before I could get the thing open, Avery snuck up behind me and pulled it out of my hand.

“Damn it, Avery,” I yelled.  “Give it back!”

He ran around the car and tossed my precious phone to Andre who answered it, “Oh Aidan, I’m so glad you called.”  His girl voice sucked.

“Give me the damn phone!” I growled.

A.J. took it from Andre a second before my foot made contact with his most precious man parts.  Andre jumped back and leveled a stare at me.  I took the phone from A.J. and ran up the porch.

“Sorry about that,” I panted.  “Are you here?”

“Yes, I got a room at the Holiday Inn,” he paused.  “What are y’all doing?”

“Oh, Avery’s mad because I drive his Camaro better than he does,” I stuck my tongue out at my agitated brother as he passed by.

“How are things at home?  How’s Adam?”  I could hear the television in the background.  The voices changed every second.  I assumed he was channel surfing while lounging on the hotel bed.  I could imagine him lying there, with his ankles crossed, one arm thrown behind his head, his muscles flexing…I really need to stop this.

“I’m not sure, we just pulled up.”

“Do you want to go look at houses with me tomorrow?”

“I would love too.  What time are you going to pick me up?”

“How about ten?” he asked.

“Sure, I’ll be ready.”

“Okay, I’m going to crash.  I’ve had a long day.”

“Sleep well.”

When I walked inside, I found Adam coming down the stairs.  He was fresh out of the shower and had a huge grin on his face.  His neck was covered in bite marks from his mating with Christa.  He was wearing a pair of sweat pants and a long sleeve fleece pullover.

“Hey,” I blushed.  “How is she?”

“She’s better.  Thank you for watching over her.”

“You’re welcome,” I continued up the stairs.

I changed clothes and climbed in the bed.  It took me awhile to get tired.  The thought of going through what my sister-in-law just went through kept me tossing and turning.  The poor thing, she was miserable.  She said that her Prime was different than what she was told.  Would mine be different?  What if I wasn’t mated by the time I hit mine?  The thought of being in pain, aching for a man’s touch that would never happen, if I wasn’t mated, worried me senseless.

Would Aiden be the one?  Honestly, I couldn’t answer that.  I don’t know if I could drag him into my world of shifter royalty, let alone subject him to my brother’s over protectiveness.  It may not be fair to him.

 

Aidan

Disappointment speared my mind.  I’d had hoped to see her tonight.  I felt like a damn schoolboy waiting to see his crush for the first time after summer break, only to have a sick day on the first day of school.

There was nothing on the television.  I checked twice.  One more time around the few channels the hotel had, before I finally gave up and tossed the remote on the table.

The Sharpe home was only about five miles south of me, but I knew that Adam’s mate was in her Prime.  The urge to find that female was like a burning fire raging through my body.  I should have gotten another hotel.  I needed to get it off of my mind.

To waste the time, I pulled out my clothes for tomorrow; a pair of blue jeans and a Harley hoodie.  I set them out on the teal blue plaid chair that sat next to the dresser.

The bed was uncomfortable.  I seriously considered going out to the truck and getting the air mattress, but decided I was too tired to go back outside.

Tomorrow, I would finally see her.  Tomorrow, I would start my new life here with the King’s daughter who was quickly becoming my closest friend.

Chapter 9

Reunion

Lexi

The sun was shining when I opened my eyes.  Today was the day.  I sighed and reclosed my eyes, picturing Aidan as I had captured his face in my mind.  It was our first date.  In fact, we were going to be together all day today.  I couldn’t wait.

I rolled over and it took a second to sink in that it was a few minutes after nine.  “Shit!”  Aidan was going to be here in less than an hour.  I jumped up and flew to the shower.

The doorbell rang about the same time I was done getting dressed.  I had to slow myself down, so that I wouldn’t look so eager to see him.

As I departed the stairs, his unique scent washed over me, coconuts and sun.  Aidan must have been just as eager to see me, because he came around the corner and pulled me into his arms.  The moment we touched I melted into his chest.  I breathed in deep, memorizing his scent.  His chest was hard and muscular, but I fit perfectly.  It was like his chest was made for me.

“Hey champ,” he whispered.

I looked up into his eyes and I felt my body heat up.  My lower belly tightened and my hands tingled.  He rested his hand on my cheek.  I closed my eyes when he placed the softest kiss ever upon my lips.

“Hey,” I sighed.  “I’m so glad you’re here.”

“Me too,” he smiled.

My father interrupted us when he came into the front hallway, “Are you kids heading out?”

“Yes, sir,” Aidan said with total respect in his voice.  “What time do I need to have her home?”  I wanted to cringe when he was asked my father that, but I held it back.

“Anytime is fine with me,” he looked meaningfully at Aidan.  “Just call every so often and check in, so that we know she’s okay.”

“Yes, Mr. Sharpe.  She’ll be safe with me.” Aidan beamed and my father couldn’t deny the truth in his words.

We left after my brothers gave Aidan a good man to man talk about my safety and his, if he didn’t take care of me.

Aidan walked ahead to get the passenger door of his red Chevy truck.  It was an older one, but it had character.  Once inside, I had to laugh.  His whole truck smelled like him, like sunshine.  I could stay in here all day.

Aidan

God, she was beautiful sitting on the passenger side of my truck.  Her smile lit up the rather dreary day.  Lexi’s scent filled the cab.  I leaned over and kissed her gently on the cheek, just to watch them turn a slight pink on her porcelain skin.

“Alright, champ.  Which way do I go?” I asked, smiling over at her.  She could have told me to drive to Mars and I would have obliged.

“Make a right, then another right onto Bethel Road,” she instructed.

We rode in silence to the first property.  The silence was beautiful as long as she was with me.  My first day in town and I felt like I was at home.

You’re not royal material.

I flinched when those stupid words ran through my mind.  I didn’t really care anymore.  If my heart was going to be broken, then let it be crushed.  Anytime I had with Lexi was precious to me; I would deal with the rejection later.

Lexi

The first property we met the realtor at was a fifteen acre lot, with a single story four bedroom ranch style home on it.  The lot was wide and long, with woods covering almost ten acres.  There was a fully stocked pond and stables for horses.  The house needed a little work, but Aidan assured me he was good with a hammer.

“I like the land on this one,” he said as we pulled out of the long tree line driveway.  “It has a lot of privacy.”

“Me too,” I grinned.  All through the showing, Aidan asked my opinion on the house and what I thought needed to be improved.  His confidence in me had me beaming.

The next home was something less than desirable, but the land was marked down due to its “as is” status.  The lot was just over nineteen acres and was the same price as the first one we saw.  There was no need to go inside the house, it would have to be torn down and rebuilt.

“I’m not sure I will have that much time to work on this one,” he admitted.  “But it’s workable.  I could make it exactly the way I want it.”  The way he calculated things in his head made him look smarter, older.  I admired him for his willingness to give something this dilapidated a chance.

“The next one is only a few miles south of the Sharpe’s place,” the realtor, Eric Parker, announced.

“We’ll follow you there,” Aidan said.

Aidan followed Mr. Parker down Highway 305 and we made a left at the four-way stop at Byhalia Road.  We passed a few of the fields that my father owned on our way to the next house.

When we pulled in, I fell in love with it immediately.  There was a privacy gate at the end of the road; one that needs a remote or a code to open.  The trees hung over the driveway like a protective covering.  It was quiet and private.  The short road up to the hidden house suddenly opened up to a magnificent one story ranch style house that sat up on a hill.  It had a deep red brick exterior with white trim.  The land stretched out into rolling hills behind the home.  There was a refurbished barn that backed up to the woods.

We parked the truck by the garage and got out.  I must have looked like a kid in the world’s largest candy store, because I know my eyes were bulging wide.  Something about this land made me want to shed my clothes and run until I was exhausted.

“Wow,” I whispered.  “It’s beautiful.”

“Wait until you see the inside,” Eric announced.  “Now, Mr. Jackson, this is at the top of your pricing and it only has eight acres.  It is fully fenced and ready to move in.”

We waited patiently while he unlocked the front door for us to go inside.  The entry was small but quickly opened into the spacious living room.  To the left was a study and to the right a small den.  There were dark hardwood floors throughout and the kitchen would have made my mother cry.  It had granite countertops, gas stove and double ovens; a breakfast nook that would seat six perfectly.

The master suite was off the kitchen.  Large French doors opened to the back covered patio.  The master bathroom wrapped around a huge Jacuzzi tub big enough for three people.  His and her closets were on each side of a huge walk in shower.

The house was a split floor plan that held the three remaining bedrooms and one bathroom on the other side of the house.  The entry from the garage put you in the mud room/laundry room.  There was also a half bath between there and the kitchen.

We walked out onto the patio and looked out over a huge back yard.  The woods were inviting.  So much so, that I felt my legs burning with the need to run.

“What do you think?’ Aidan asked at one point.

“If you don’t buy it,” I laughed.  “I will.”

He turned to Eric and smiled, “Done!  Where do I sign?”

“What?” I gasped.  He was going to buy this house just on my word?  I was floored.

“I like it too,” he looked proudly looking out over the yard.

“Wonderful, Mr. Jackson,” Eric beamed.

They went back inside and made quick work of the offer on the house.  The home was empty, and if the owner agreed to his terms, Aiden could be moved in by Thanksgiving which was nine days away.

My cell phone rang and I looked to see who it was before I answered.  It was my father.

“Hello daddy.”

“Hey pumpkin,” he laughed.  “How’s the house hunting going?”

“Great, Aidan is putting in an offer on a house as we speak.”

“Where is it?”

“It’s on Byhalia Road about three miles from our house,” I smiled to myself.  “I can’t wait for you to see it.  I love it.”

“That’s great,” he paused.  “Everything okay, otherwise?”

“Sure, no problems,” I sighed.  This calling to check in was for the birds.

I hung up with my dad and walked back inside the house.  Aidan was smiling from ear to ear when I found him and Eric.

“Well, I guess we are all done,” Eric shook hands with Aidan.  “I’ll hopefully hear something by this time tomorrow.”

The afternoon had turned rather cold.  Rain was coming in from the west.  Whatever he had planned for today was hopefully going to be inside.  Of course, I didn’t care one way or the other, what we did.  As long as I had his company, we could have done nothing and I would have been happy.

Eric left us alone at the vacant house.  Aidan stood there silently beside me as I leaned up against his truck.  With him, I never felt the need to make up idle chit-chat.  Sometimes with him, silence meant more than any words could say.

I leaned my head back and watched as the clouds rolled by in the sky.  The ones above were huge white puffy ones, but the ones off in the distance were getting grayer by the minute.  “Looks like we’re in for some rain,” I finally said.

“How about a movie?” he asked.

“Whatever you have in mind is fine with me,” I laughed.

“C’mon,” he snapped.  I jumped at his tone of voice.  For a second, he scared me, but from the determination in his eyes, I knew he was up to something.

“What?” I shivered as the wind blew my hair around my face.

“First fighting lesson,” he winked.

“Here,” I gasped.

“Why not here?  There’s no one around.”  He started forward and grabbed hold of my wrist.  “What do you do if someone has you by the wrist?”

“I kick him in his man parts,” I angled my foot just right and Aidan automatically raised a knee to block any blow I might have administered to him.

“Let’s say you can’t get to his…man parts.”  He scooted his bottom half away, but still leaned in holding my wrist.

“Hell, I don’t know.  Looks like I’m stuck.  So, I guess I’ll be a victim.”  I tried to jerk my hands back but it didn’t work.  He held on tight.  “Aidan, I really don’t think this is a good idea.”

“Are you kidding me?  Lexi,” he frowned.  “This is something you need to know.  I can’t believe your brothers haven’t taught you to fight.”  He let go of my wrist and leaned back against his truck.  The wind blew his beautiful hair back out of his face and somehow it made his eyes even more brilliant.

“I’m a girl,” I said in a come-on-really sort of voice.  He narrowed his eyes at me and I held up my hands.  “Girls don’t fight.  That’s what I’ve been told all my life.”

“Do you want to know what I have told my sisters all of their lives?” he asked.

“What?”

“It doesn’t matter if you are male or female.  If someone wants to take you or beat you, are you going to let them?  Can you answer that, Lexi?”  The words coming from his mouth were stern. Almost like he preached them daily, almost like he had firsthand knowledge of them.

“Who did you lose, Aidan?” I whispered.  His face twisted in pain and I saw a flash of memories cross his eyes before he regained his warrior bravado.

“Don’t answer a question with a question,” he sighed when he saw that I wasn’t going to budge.  “My cousin, Sophia, was kidnapped one night coming home from a party.  It was an ex-boyfriend.  She was only sixteen.  She was found in the state park, beaten and raped.  They left her body right out in the open by a camping site.”

Ah, so that’s why he wanted me to learn to fight.  My problems with John brought back painful memories for him.  The more I thought about it, the more I could see where he was right.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered.

“Thank you,” he sighed, closing his eyes.

“No,” I announced.

“No, what,” he asked.

“No, I wouldn’t let anyone take me.  I guess I would fight.  Probably fight to the death if I had too.”   He reached over and wrapped his hands around my wrist.  He kept a firm hold, but there was no pain.

“I have no idea what you want me to do,” I admitted.

He removed his hands and changed places with mine, “Okay, we’ll trade for now.  Say you’re the bad guy and I’m the poor defenseless Princess with none of my brothers to protect me.”  His crooked smile splayed across his face and I was lost.  Until he did this flip and twist thing with his hands and now he was holding mine.

“How did you do that?” I gasped.  He moved lightning fast.  I never saw him do it.

“You need to roll your wrist to disengage your attackers hold on you,” he attached his hands to my wrist again.  “Now you try.”

I waited a few seconds to let him think I wasn’t going to do it.  When I felt his relax slightly, I repeated the maneuver on him.  Aidan’s eyes popped wide because he was now my prisoner.  “Ha!  I got you.”  I laughed because it was great.  I actually did it and I did it well.

“That’s perfect,” he squeezed my hands.  “Now I’m going to teach you something that will disable anyone, no matter their size.”

“Right,” I grimaced.  “What do you want me to do?  Poke their eyes out?”

“Close,” he sighed and held up both of his thumbs.  “If you can get your hands on your attackers face, you can dig your thumbs into the eye sockets and pull out the eye balls.”

“Ew,” I choked.  “Now, that’s just gross.”

“If you’re about to be assaulted, you’re going to want to incapacitate your attacker.”  He grabbed my hands and held them up to his face; placing my thumbs in the corner of his eyes.  “You push in, bend your thumbs, and pull outward.”

“Okay,” I grimaced.  “I understand.”

We worked on the wrist technique a few more times before it started to sprinkle.  Aidan opened the passenger door for me and waited until I climbed in.

On the way to the movie theater, we talked a little more about John.  I told him that I didn’t want to ruin our date by talking about him, but Aidan wanted answers.

“Why did you shift that night that he called?”

“I don’t know,” I lied.  I knew why and it was because of the way he spoke to me.  Shifting helped me cope with the anger and disgust.

“Yes, you do,” he growled.

“Because,” I paused, looking for the right way to say it.  “The way he talked to me made me feel less than…clean.  I shifted because it helped me cope with the anger.”

“What exactly did he say?  Your brother only gave me an abbreviated version.”  The rain was now coming down hard as he drove into Southaven, where the movie was playing.  I watched the wipers going back in forth in a hypnotizing motion.

“I really don’t want to tell you,” I stalled.

“Either you’re not telling me because you’re embarrassed or you won’t tell me because you’re afraid of how I will react.”

“Basically,” I paused.  “Both are good reasons.”

Aidan waited for me to say something else.  I knew he would hold his ground until I spilled.  He never looked at me, but just kept driving.  The rain continued to slowly wet the roads and the truck.  It was peaceful driving with all of the quiet, but I knew he was waiting on an answer.

“I told him that he didn’t own me and his reply was “I will”.  I stopped talking when I noticed Aidan’s hand grip the steering wheel a little too hard.  His knuckles had turned white.

“I’m glad you told me,” he spoke through grounded teeth.

“Now,” I sighed.  “Can we please quit talking about it?”

By this time, we were pulling into the Malco Theater.  I peeked up at the sign to see what was playing, “So, what do you want to see, a romance, comedy, or horror?”

“I think a comedy.  What about you?” he put the truck in park, then climbed out to meet me on the passenger side.

“I could use a good laugh right now,” I admitted.  With everything that was going on, maybe a good movie would take my mind off of things.

Aidan

When I would look at Lexi, I mean really look at her.  I couldn’t imagine why she wanted me.  But when I do look at her, I see who she really is; carefree and loving and kind.  Her status is what bothers her.  She’s never come right out and told me how she feels, but I can sense she is uneasy about what her parents are doing to her.  This arranged mating thing has her stressed.  She’s different at home.  At home she’s quiet and closed up.  The first thing I noticed about her was that she looked sad, but when we’re alone, that sadness washes away and I see the real Alexandra Sharpe.

And I would do anything in my power to keep the real Lexi happy.  Even if it was driving around town looking at houses and going to cheesy movies, just to get her out of that house.

I bought our tickets and walked inside the theater.  She asked if I would buy her a Coke and of course, I got her one, along with some popcorn.

During the movie, we laughed and nudged each other when the jokes were a little stupid.  At one point she wrapped her arm around mine and rested her head on my shoulder.  Her Honeysuckle scent assaulted me and I felt myself harden in response.  I placed the popcorn bucket in my lap to hide the erection of a lifetime.

Something about her scent and her warmth made me want to take her here in the theater, but I was a gentleman.  I wanted to kick myself for my behavior.  It wasn’t like me to react to a female like this.  But there was something special about the woman on my arm that I couldn’t resist.

Lexi

After the movie, which was one of the best movies I had seen in a while, Aidan and I drove across the street for dinner.  He called my father to give him an update on things.  “We’re heading over to Chili’s for dinner,” he answered when my dad asked about our plans.

The call was short, but my father’s demands were clear, “Keep an eye on my little girl.”

I rolled my eyes at that one, because I knew without a doubt, that Aidan could protect me from anything.  The man was huge and obviously knew how to fight.

Over dinner, we talked about more non-essential things, like our grades in school, our favorite ice cream flavor, and our best childhood friends.  Aidan talked about growing up in southern Florida.  He loved to surf, but lately he never had a chance to hit the waves.  His father’s boat manufacturing company ate up most of his free time.  The travel was killing him.  Sometimes he would go as far away as central Georgia looking for jobs.  Aidan did sales for his dad and now would be doing the same for my father’s company.

His phone rang halfway through dinner and he smiled at the caller I.D.  “It’s Eric.”  The realtor was calling with news on his house.  “Hello.”

With my hearing, I picked up most of the conversation.  “Mr. Jackson.  I have great news.  The owners accepted your offer and if we can get the paperwork drawn up quickly, you can move in on Friday.  They’re ready to get the house out of their hands.”

“That’s great, Mr. Parker.  Call me with a time to come in and I’ll be there.”  They ended the call and I noticed Aidan’s shoulders relax.  “Well, that’s a relief.”

I reached for my tea, but paused to ask, “When are you going to start working at the office?”

Aidan chewed his steak before answering, “On Monday.”

“Is there anything I can do to help you, while you’re at work?”  Anything to keep me busy during the day would be helpful.  My mom, Christa and I would be alone at the house during the day, plus one brother for protection.  I might be able to go over and paint for him.

“I don’t want you out on your own,” he whispered, keeping his voice low so that no one could hear him.  “It’s not safe right now.”

“True,” I paused.  “But if you get the keys Friday, then I could start painting for you before you got home.  You know, get a head start.”  I ignored his comment.

“Well, I need to get the paint first.  Do you want to do that later?  After dinner?” he smiled that wonderful smile again, and I would do anything he asked when that smile was involved.

“Sure, I’m not ready to go home yet.”

The waitress came and took our empty plates.  She was a petite blond haired nineteen year old human, who didn’t use her brain to notice that Aidan was with a date.   The tramp leaned her hip against the table, blocking him from my view.

“Can I get you any dessert,” she drawled.

My nostrils flared and I felt a growl rumbling out of my chest, before it was quickly cut off by a nudge to my foot.  Not only had Aidan heard it, but the bimbo too.  She dropped the check on the table and made quick work of getting out of my way.  I smiled.

“C’mon,” he laughed and pulled me from the booth.

We made it into the parking lot and to the passenger side of the truck before I captured his mouth with my own.  He parted his lips and I felt the soft, warm feel of his tongue dip inside my mouth.  One hand bunched up the back of my shirt and held it tight; the other, the side of my face.  I melted into him.

Mine!

The overwhelming urge to mark him as my own scorched through my veins.  My belly burned with desire, like a bonfire was raging in my abdomen.  His gentle hands and warm mouth envelope me.  I growled low and menacing when a human couple walked by.

Aidan broke the kiss off gently and rested his forehead against mine.  We were panting deeply, but he was the first one to speak.  “I would love to continue this, but you are throwing off some major heat, Lexi.  And I sense your marking instincts are trying to rear up and take me, but I don’t want you to do that as a reaction to another female eyeing me.”

“I’m sorry,” I backed away, blushing.  “Would you understand if I said it was an automatic reaction, I didn’t know I possessed?”

“Yes, the green eyed monster can be a pain in the ass sometimes,” he laughed.

His words were nonthreatening, but something behind his voice made me think he knew that all too well.  He reached around and opened the door, helping me inside the cab.  This time I sat in the middle seat, right next to him.  It was very cold out, now that the sun had set.  Aidan’s warm body slid in next to mine, and he draped his arm over the back of the seat, letting me settle into the crook of his arm.

Aidan

She was hot.  Lexi’s body burned with the heat of an aroused female.  Her scent was stronger than I’d ever noticed before.  Stopping her from jumping me in that parking lot was the hardest thing I have ever done.  My own mating instinct roared to life when I felt her body heat up.  In fact, I could still taste her arousal on my tongue.

Forcing myself to watch the road, I followed her directions back to town.  Traffic was heavy, but that just meant we had more time to talk.

“I want dark, Earthy colors in the house,” I said at one point.  I had to get my mind off of heat and mating and scents.

“Really?” she asked.  I noticed her nose twitch at my words.

I faked an appalled look, “I’m hurt.”

“No,” she gasped.  “I mean it’s your house.  You can paint it pink if you want.  I just didn’t see you as an “Earthy” kind of guy.”

I laughed and reached over to poke her in the side.  “I’m playing with you.  Well, I’m not hurt, but I do want some darker colors, like brown or green.”

She didn’t look convinced, “Why don’t you wait and see what colors they have before you go making some rash decisions?”

“Okay,” I smiled.  The rest of the drive we bantered back and forth about the meaning of colors.  It was silly conversation, but it made her smile.  And that was the best part of my day,

Lexi

After a trip to Lowe’s, Aidan and I arrived back at my house with about thirty paint swatches in hand.  He chose every Earth tone available, from forest green all the way to a deep dark chocolate.  Tomorrow we planned on narrowing the list down by at least half.

Christa was still resting from her Prime and Aidan agreed that he should stay at the hotel for one more night.  Dad had offered to let him stay with us until Aidan closed on his house.  But tonight, he would be back at the Holiday Inn.

Aidan made me wait in the truck until he checked for any sign of danger.  I watched him as he sniffed the air in all directions, looking for any trace of John Carter.  Only when he deemed it clear was I allowed out of the truck.

“I had a wonderful time,” I said as we came up on the porch.

“Me too,” he smiled and reached for my face.  This kiss was more than a simple stolen one, like we had shared last week, but it was still less than my attack on him in the parking lot.  His passion showed in his actions.

He pulled back.  I noticed how much effort he put into releasing me.  He kept his forehead rested against mine and whispered, “I’m not royal material.”

I growled, “I’m not either.  Aidan, you’re more royal material than anyone else I know.  So stop worrying and kiss me.”  He smiled right before he captured my mouth with his own.

His tongue felt like hot velvet on my lips, his huge hands caressed me as gentle as running water.  My body heated and I deepened the kiss.  Only a second later, I pulled away reluctantly.

“I need a cold shower,” I panted.

“Get some rest, champ.  Tomorrow we pick out paint.”  He kissed the top of my head and pushed me toward the door.  There was a faint look of uncertainty in his eyes.  I hated seeing him like that.  In my book, he was royal material; my royal material.

I spent the rest of the night remembering the best day of my life.  I think I may have just fallen head over heels for Aidan Jackson.  I just hoped that my parents approve, because Aidan was not on “the list”.

Chapter 10

Mating

Aidan

      My cell phone rang, it was ten a.m.  I answered it on the second ring, “Hey, champ.”

“Please come over,” she whispered.  “Everything is back to normal and these boys are driving me crazy.”  I heard one of them making kissing noises in the background.

“I’ll be over in a few.  Have those swatches ready for me.  I want to pick out paint.”  I laughed when she groaned.

“Now why did you want me to take them with me?” she asked.

“Because, if I’d taken them, I would have chosen colors that made the house look like a children’s museum.  You, on the other hand, will tell me if I’m making a stupid mistake.  Plus, it’s not very manly to ask one of your brothers to do it.”  I heard her tinkling laughter and I knew that all was forgotten about what was going on in the house behind her.

“Oh,” she gasped.  “Check out of that hotel and bring your things.  You’re staying in our guest room until you get the keys to the house.”

When we hung up, I did as I was told and packed my bags.  Once I double checked the room, looking for anything I might have missed, I made my way down to the front desk to turn in my key.  The young woman at the front desk handed me a receipt and wished me a good day.

I arrived at the Sharpe’s house right about lunch time.  Ms. Sharpe had made chili for everyone.  If a way to a man’s heart was through his stomach, then Ms. Sharpe should have a whole flock of them at her disposal.  Well, in fact, she did have five men who held that woman on a pedestal.

After lunch and for most of the afternoon we picked out paint colors, until I thought I’d go color blind from the exposure.  Finally I couldn’t take it much longer.

“Let’s go for a run,” I suggested.

“Oh,” she bit her bottom lip.  “I don’t know.”

Instead of arguing, I called out to her brothers.  Only Adam and Andre came around the corner.  I asked the oldest.  “You boys want to take a run with us?”

“Hell yes,” Andre said, pulling his shirt off right there in the kitchen.

I turned toward Lexi and smiled, “See problem solved.”  When she looked out the window at the woods and back to me, I said, “I won’t let anything happen to you.”  And that was the truth.

We all ran out the back door, shedding clothes as we went.  I waited with my face toward the woods.  Once she had shifted, Lexi used my signal of swatting my tail to tell me she was ready.

Adam took off first, Andre behind him, Lexi after that, and then I brought up the rear.  Sun occasionally found its way through small openings in the limbs.  A few very small meadows along the way were lit up as if the sun was a spotlight on them.

Lexi stopped alongside the river, and from what I’d seen of her, this were her spot.  A place to play, eat and relax.  She started to go in the water, but a low growl from me had her stepping back.  It was too cold for her to play in the river, even though the sun was shining, I worried she might get cold.

Lexi was a beautiful jaguar.  Her coat was silky and dark black, like her human hair.  The fur was so dark, that only a few hidden rosettes showed around her face.  Her eyes were large and feminine.  I could get lost for days in those eyes, whether they were human or not.

The sensations in my body flared and I walked over to her.  I rubbed my head along her neck and ears.  I needed to mark her, because she smelled like Honeysuckle and nothing else.  I wanted my scent all over her.  She didn’t protest when I ran my face down her side and walked around and ran it back up the other side.  I felt better knowing that she had my warning all over her.  It put me as ease.

I was shocked when she turned toward me and repeated everything I had just done.  She was putting her scent on me, before she turned a circle and plopped herself on the bare spot on the bank of the river.

Lexi had been watching the fish swim by.  I was watching our surroundings.  If John’s scent had been here before then he may know these woods better than he should.  Every movement in the woods made my skin prick.  I growled low when I heard the sound of heavy paws coming from behind us.

Adam came around the trail and found us just sitting beside the river.  He huffed once and tossed his head back toward the house.  It was time to go.

Dinner at the Sharpe’s house was always comforting.  They always made me feel like part of the family.  My mom had only done a family dinner on Sundays.  It was a tradition.  The Sharpe’s eat dinner together every night even when some of the boys are out for the night.  Mrs. Sharpe made huge meals and if they had missed it, there were plenty of leftovers in the refrigerator.  Saturday was their family night and everyone was expected to attend.

We hung out with the family for most of the evening.  Lexi and I escaped to her room and I taught her a few more self-defense moves.

I showed her how to use an attacker’s knees against him.  I showed her how to kick, at just the right angle, to knock them off their feet.  And the one thing she didn’t want to do, I forced her to learn to hit with her fist and use my chest as a target.  I could tell that she despised raising a hand to me, but I just laughed and told her that I was tough, I could take it.  After the fifth time, she ended up knocking the breath out of me for a few frightful minutes.  Our fight training was done quicker than I planned.

I sat on the floor, coughing and gasping for air.  She was right at my side, “Oh my God, Aidan.  I am so sorry.”

I held up a finger, letting her know that I needed a minute.  Once the air finally decided to pay my lungs a visit, I looked at her and smiled, “That’s my girl.”

“But…but I hurt you,” she looked shocked.

“That’s the whole point, Lexi.” I explained.  “That was perfect.”

After I assured her for the tenth time that I was okay, we parted ways.  We were both tired and needed to sleep.  I stole a kiss before I headed to my room.  Tomorrow, I started my new job.

Lexi

Yesterday was eventful.  Aidan and I sat at the dining room table for most of the afternoon picking colors for his house.  We spread the swatches out and eliminated the ones that we hated, and then picked the ones we liked.  I told him that it wasn’t my choice, but his alone.  He said that it needed a woman’s touch and he only trusted me to be completely honest with him.  I guess he thought I wouldn’t be mean and make his house look like something from Barney the Dinosaur.

Today was Aidan’s first day at work for my father.  He was back staying at the house with us, as of last night.  Christa was out of her Prime and resting.  I guess it takes a lot out of you, completely drains you until you are exhausted.  Of course, Adam was walking around like the king of the jungle.  We all knew what this meant.  Hopefully in the next few weeks we would get word that my brother was now going to be a father.  And I was going to be an aunt.  I couldn’t wait!

Adam was off a few days from work this week to stay with Christa, mom and myself while everyone was at work.  John Carter was still on the loose and I was grateful to have Adam here.

Aidan stopped by my room this morning on his way out the door.  We talked over a cup of coffee and he kissed me passionately before he left the house.  I missed him already.

I thought back to last night and it felt good knowing that I could wallop a mean punch.  My brother’s never allowed me to fight, or taught me how to defend myself.  Aidan’s confidence in me was uplifting.  My spirits were high, knowing that if I had too, I might be able to get away from the bad guy.

Christa was at the kitchen table eating a bowl of cereal when I came in.  Adam was hovering over her like the secret service does over the President.

“Adam,” she growled.  “Sit down.”  He took the chair next to her and turned his body where he could watch her every move.  “In the other room,” she pointed to the door.

“Good morning,” I interrupted.

“Hey Lexi,” she smiled.  She had to be pregnant.  Her skin glowed like it was made of fresh satin; her hair was a shiny fire red.  The dark highlights looked like the water at night as it made simple ripples.

Adam kissed her head and left the two of us alone.  She rolled her eyes at his back, but quickly changed that to a loving smile when he looked back over his shoulder to check on her again.

“Your brother is driving me crazy,” she whispered.

“Now you know how I feel,” I laughed when she nodded in agreement.  “Just wait until you tell him you’re pregnant.”

She reached over and squeezed my hand, “I already feel it.  I’m ninety-nine percent sure that I am.”

“I can tell.  You’re glowing.”  We laughed and I watched as she finished her bowl of cereal.

My phone rang and I scrambled to scoop it up off the counter.  “Hello,” I smiled.

“Hey champ,” Aidan laughed.  “How are you?”

I sat down on at the breakfast bar and took a sip of coffee, “Fine.  How’s work?”

“A.J.’s helping me get settled in.  Your father has been in and out of my office a few times today.  I’m going to spend the day with him tomorrow, meeting with clients.”  I heard his office phone buzz.  “Hold on.”

It was A.J. asking him if he wanted to get lunch together.  My heart swelled hearing my brother making an effort to welcome Aidan.

The thought of welcoming him home made my body burn.  He didn’t have to wear a suit, but the jeans and dress shirt combo my father insisted he wear, looked amazing on him.  Today he wore boots with his jeans and I melted as he walked out the door.  Mom and dad were going to take Adam and Christa out for dinner tonight.  At least half of the house would be empty when he got home.

“Lexi, are you there?”

“Yes,” I sighed.  Christa passed me on the way to the sink and tapped on my shoulder.  When I looked up, she smiled wickedly and fluttered her hand, telling me I was heating up.  I blushed and took a deep calming breath.  I really need to quit daydreaming about him.

“Alright, I need to go.  I’ll see you when I get back to the house tonight.”

“Okay,” I paused.  “Have a good day.”

Adam and Christa were camped out on the couch watching television when I came into the living room.  My brother had his big body draped around hers in his usual protective manner.  Christa looked miserable.

Mom was in her room, working on something.  She usually kept to herself during the mornings.  We never bothered her between breakfast and lunch.  That was her quiet time.

I made my way back up to my room and took a shower.  Since I was staying home, I threw on a pair of jeans and a red Ole Miss hoodie Avery had picked up for me while he was in Oxford a few weeks back.

I stripped my sheets and brought them downstairs.  The washer was free and I used that opportunity to catch up on my laundry.  The boys did theirs on the weekend, because they had to work on Monday.  I gave up trying to fight them about ten years ago.  Now my laundry day is Monday, mom’s is on Friday and the boys have to take turns on Saturday and Sunday; mom’s rule, not mine.

Just as I put a cap of detergent in the machine, I saw a flash of black dart through the woods just past the big oak tree.  “Adam!” I yelled.

He was at my side in a moment, “What did you see?”

“Black jaguar,” I panted.  “Over by the big oak tree.”

Just then, another flash passed by the chicken house and disappeared up into the trees.  Adam reached around behind the back door and grabbed daddy’s shotgun.  “The doors are locked up.  You and Christa go get mom and meet me back in the kitchen.  I need to have you close to me in case something happens.”

“Okay,” I gasped then ran into the living room and found Christa standing there frozen.  I pointed toward the kitchen, “Go in there with Adam.”

I rounded the corner and darted down the hall, stopping at my mom’s bedroom door.  I knocked hard twice, “Mom!”

She opened the door and from the look on my face she knew something was wrong.  Sara Beth Sharpe was calm as she grabbed my wrist with one hand and another shotgun inside the bedroom door with the other.

Once we were all in the kitchen, Adam called our father to let him know what was going on.  Mom was camped out the laundry room window, where she could see the chicken house and the big oak tree.  I stood at the kitchen window where the view continued from the tree over to the pond and ended at the garden.

“I see him,” my mom gasped.  “It’s John Carter.  I’d know him anywhere.”

“Dad,” my brother growled into the phone.  “We have company.”

Adam was too far away for me to hear what my dad was saying.  He listened for a moment while my father barked orders into his ear.  I looked over and watched as my mom checked her gun to see if it was loaded.  She must have been nervous, because daddy always kept the guns in the house loaded.  Her inspection was pointless.  Believe it or not, it was safer that way; especially in this household.

Christa was on guard at the front of the house.  That would be the least logical place for him to enter, because there were no trees seek shelter behind.  I paced in front of the window and mom looked determined to kill anything that got close to her house.  Adam handed me the shotgun he was holding.  My brothers may have never taught me hand to hand, but my mother taught me to shoot the wings off of a fly.

“Do you see him?” I asked aloud.

“No,” my mom announced.

“No,” Christa said from her post.

My phone rang.  I jumped from the tension of the moment.  Adam scooped up the phone and shook his head at me.  “If it’s him, I want to talk to him.”  Which was pointless, John was running around in the backyard as a jaguar.  I didn’t say anything else and let him answer the phone.  “Hello?  Hey Aidan, she’s right here.”

I grabbed the phone and traded places with my brother.  The last thing I needed was to be distracted while standing at the window; I could’ve missed something crucial.

“Lexi,” he growled.  “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” I paused.  “We’ve got it under control, for now.”

“Your father and I are on the way.”

“I don’t want you missing half of your first day,” I complained.

“Hey, I’m with the boss.  How much trouble can I get in?”  I laughed because he always found a way of taking my mind off of the bad things; even if it was just for a moment, a moment to stop and take a breath.  I welcomed it.

“Okay, okay,” I surrendered.  “See you when you get here.”

I hung up and tossed the phone on the counter.  Adam and I switched places.  From the window, I saw nothing for about ten minutes.  No sounds were made outside as we all sat and waited for something, anything.  The trees swayed gently in the breeze like a romantic dance dedicated to the meaning of love.  I shivered from the silence.

Suddenly, a black jaguar leaped from the cover of the woods and into the big oak tree.

“He’s in the tree,” I gasped.  Our eyes met and I knew he was staring right at me.  I stood my ground and kept my eyes locked with his.  His upper lip pealed back over his long yellow canines.  His body bunched up as if he was about to pounce.  The bastard had the gall to lick his big pink tongue across his teeth in anticipation.

Anger tingled up my spine and I felt my own face shift.  I didn’t even moan when I felt my teeth thicken.  John’s ears perked up and his head turned toward the front of the house.  I heard tires turning into the driveway and knew someone was coming.  Christa said something from her spot by the door, but I was too busy staying locked on John’s position to hear what she said.  In a flash, he bolted out of the tree and back into the woods, heading north.

When huge hands wrapped around my arms, I turned around and let out a feral snarl.  I quickly righted myself when I saw it was Aidan.  He pulled me into a tight hug and I melted into his chest.  My face shifted back to human almost instantly.

“He took off to the north,” I pointed toward the woods.

Then Aidan did something that shocked me to my core.  He leaned in a rubbed his face against my neck.  He was trying to mark me again, just as he did in the woods yesterday.  It was natural instinct for a male to rub his scent into his mate when he felt that their mate was threatened.  The scent would warn other males to stay away from me.  I should have been disgusted, but I was heated.  The urge to mate bubbled up in my system.

I grabbed his arm and pulled him behind me, and up the stairs.  Once my bedroom door was closed and locked, I immediately wrapped my body around him.  He parted my lips with his own.  His velvet tongue dipped inside my mouth softly.

My hands found the buttons on his shirt.  Once I had them undone, I moved my hands inside, so that I could touch him.  I growled from the tightness of his muscles.  The warmth from his body made the exotic scent of his richer.

He broke the kiss, “Not now, Lexi.”  I saw the pain in his eyes.  He didn’t want to stop, but felt the need to protest anyway.

“Why?” I panted.  “I want you.”  Man, I wanted him.  I wanted to feel him inside me, releasing into me.  I wanted his warm body hovering over me.

“I want you too, but now is not the time.  Your father and brother are downstairs holding shotguns.”   He gave me a shrug and half sided smile.

I stepped back to give us a little distance.  “I’m sorry.  The moment you nuzzled me,” I blushed.  “When you marked me, I couldn’t help it.”

He reached over and pulled me into his arms, “I should be the one to apologize.  That was an automatic response.  My body demanded I do it.  The thought of John being here, close to you; it brought out something in me and I couldn’t help it.  I’m sorry.”

I inhaled deep and memorized the exotic scent coming off of his skin again, “Don’t be sorry.”

After righting our clothes, we made our way back into the kitchen.  Dad was sitting on a barstool with Mom nestled against his chest he was rubbing his chin through her hair.  Adam was leaning on the wall, with his cheek buried in the crook of Christa’s neck.  I stifled a laugh because the other men were doing the same as Aidan had done to me.

“It looks as though we scared him off when we came home,” my dad said as we took a seat at the table.  Aidan pulled his chair up closer to mine.

“He must have thought you were home alone,” Christa said from the comfort of my brother’s arms.

“I think he was waiting for me to be clear of Lexi, since I was the only male here,” Adam announced, after he had emerged from his mates neck.

Aidan took my hand into his and nervously rubbed circles around the back of my knuckles.  His emerald green eyes were tainted with worry.

“Aidan,” my father said.  “I think you should stay home with Adam and the females today.  I have a few meetings this afternoon; we can get started early tomorrow.”

“Yes, sir.” Aidan agreed.

The idea that my father would be gone, with only Adam in the house was very tempting.  My body ached to be alone with Aidan.  My belly burned at the thought.

Aidan

 

“Can I speak with you in my office?” the King demanded, more than asked.  I nodded and followed him out of the kitchen.

I took a seat in the chair in front of the desk, my palms sweating slightly.  My mind tried to calculate what he wanted to talk to me about in private.  I watched as he took his seat behind the desk; his face was calm.

“How are things going with my daughter?” he asked.

“Oh,” I cleared my throat.  “Fine, I guess.  Why?”

The King leaned over, resting his elbows on the desk.  His eye drifted lower, like he was checking my neck, “Has she accepted you?”

The question confused me, but only for a second.  He was looking for a mating mark.  The whole situation shocked me.  I did not like the way her parents treated her, like she was some slave to be sold on the black market.

“With all due respect sir, Lexi is old enough to make that decision, when she is ready.  It’s not my choice to make.  I would never force her into anything.  Lexi is a dear friend to me, and I love her for who she is, not what she is.  If or when she decides to mate with someone, I’d hope that she does it on her own free will.  Honestly, I think the idea of an arranged mating scares her.”  I watched as the King turned over my words in his head.  The clock seemed to slow and I wondered if he was thinking of thirty ways to kill me in this office.

He stood up from the throne and I swallowed hard.  Suddenly the thrust out his hand; I took his with grace.  Was I sealing my fate?

“Aidan, I respect you for your cantor.  Anything you need while you’re here, don’t hesitate to ask.”  And like that, he walked out of the office.  I followed him, thanking God that I still had my head and my balls.

Lexi was waiting in the living room when we emerged from the office.  She gave me a what the hell look; I shook my head telling her it was nothing.  She relaxed into the sofa and resumed flipping channels.

I sat down next to her and felt at ease when she folded herself around my left side.  When she did this, she looked so small and fragile.  The thought of someone forcing her into anything caused my heart to break.

We watched nothing, as she flipped through channels.  Occasionally, her body would warm for no apparent reason.  Was she thinking about me?

The subtle talk in the office had brought my desire for her to the forefront of my mind.  The thought of being the one to service her in her Prime made my heart flutter.  To be the one she chose would have been the highest honor in my book.  I pictured myself taking her breast into my mouth suckling her, hearing her cry out my name as I covered her body with my own.

“Alright, kids,” her father said from behind us, causing my erection deflating immediately.  Lexi straightened herself and looked at her father.

“You leaving,” she asked.

“I’ve got to get back to work.  Aidan,” he looked meaningfully at me.  “We’ll finish up at the office tomorrow.”  He picked up his coat from his recliner, where it rested, and walked out the door.

Lexi stood up and pulled me to my feet.

Lexi

After my father had left, mom went back in her room. Aidan and I went up to my bedroom for some alone time.  We lounged on the bed for a while, just flipping channels, looking for something to watch.  I was uncomfortable and decided to change out of my jeans and into something a little better for lounging, a t-shirt and pajama pants.

“You look tired,” he admitted.  I crawled onto the bed and rested my head on his chest, one arm lay across his waist.  The quiet thrumming of his heartbeat against my ear was like listening to a classic lullaby.  While he watched reruns of Seinfeld, I closed my eyes and tried not to drift off the sleep.  Occasionally, he would rub his hand up and down my arm as if to warm it up simply with friction.

I used my thumb to trace circles across his side.  A few times I would hit a tickle spot and his foot would vibrate in response.  I chuckled softly to myself.

Aidan’s hand moved slowly from my shoulder, up the side of my neck and rested on my cheek.  I looked up, thinking he wanted to talk, but quickly realized he was wanting a little more, from the fire in his eyes.

I slid up, so that he could capture my mouth with his own.  The television continued to play and I heard the famous line of “No soup for you!”  Strong hands enveloped my hip, and I was rolled over onto my back, with Aidan following me.  He rested his body between my legs, his strong thighs pushing my legs apart.  The hand that was on my hip, traveled up, inside my shirt and bra until it rested on the outside of my breast.  When I didn’t protest, he slipped his hand under my shirt and found my nipple, taut and ready for him.  He moaned slightly into my mouth, “I’m not worthy of you.”

“Yes,” I moaned.  “Yes, you are.”

I memorized every muscle on his chest and then on his back.  Moving my hands back around front, I unbuttoned the already untucked shirt, removing it in one swift movement.  The shirt was thrown to the floor, forgotten as soon as it left my hands.

Aidan removed his hand from my breast.  I sighed from the absence of the weight of his hands.  He deepened the kiss as he slid one finger into the waistband of my pants, tugging them down slightly.  The anticipation was foreign to me, as I had never done this before.  My heartbeat picked up and my hands shook uncontrollably.

I wanted this.  My body demanded it.  The will to protect my virtue was gone, as I felt comfortable with what Aidan and I were about to do.  The ache in my lower belly hummed to life and I squeezed the back of his arm.

A hand moved down between my legs and I inhaled sharply from the softness of his touch as it slid down over my hip.  At no point did he allow his hands to leave my body.  He broke the kiss and leaned down to take my nipple into his mouth.  The sensation from his action made a warm wetness pool between my legs.  I arched my back inviting him inside.

The second he touched the swollen nub at my core, I felt myself heat up.  An oven on broil couldn’t have been hotter.  Sweat broke out across the back of my neck.

Aidan slid one finger inside me and froze.  He knew that I was a virgin from the first touch.  Green eyes looked into mine and he sighed, “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Does it matter?” I asked, in return.

He removed his hand and rested his forehead against mine, “No.”

“I want to be with you Aidan,” I sighed.  To prove my point, I dipped my hand inside his pants and found him hard and ready for me.  He was huge.  Would it even fit?

Aidan kissed me harder this time, more fierce.  When I used my tongue to lick the outside of his bottom lip, he growled low and pulled my pants completely off.  Next he removed the remainder of his cloths, tossing them somewhere on the floor, next to his shirt.  My shirt was next and then my bra, which was currently trapped between my breasts and my throat.

The warm weight of Aidan returned quickly.  The feel of his soft skin against my bare legs had me trembling.  He returned his mouth to the base of my neck, kissing a trail down past my breast, then my belly button, stopping just above the bone of my hip.  He used his hands to spread my legs wider.  When he dipped his head and lapped at the heated spot between my legs, my body exploded.

A thousand needles pricked my skin.  The world as I knew it turned into bright vibrate colors of blue, red, yellow, green, and orange.  I growled from the intensity of my release.  Aidan remained at my core, savoring my taste, nibbling at the swollen nub below my dark curls.  He guided in one finger, sheathing it inside my body.  Seconds before my release was over, he added one more for good measure.

Aidan waited until I was done before he brought himself up to hover over me.  It was now my choice whether to guide him inside my body, to make him my own.  He was asking me to mate him, without ever saying the words.  There was no hesitation as I took his massive length into my hand and guided him inside.

The sudden intrusion was painful at first.  “I don’t want to hurt you,” he whispered.  Aidan stopped and didn’t move as he waited for my body to adjust to him.  We kissed and remained still until we both felt my body relax, agreeing with him to continue.  The first few strokes were soft, only a minimal amount of pain.

“I’m okay,” I reassured him and wrapped my legs over his hips, urging him in deeper.  He didn’t argue and complied immediately.  Our bodies moved in an erotic dance.  His eyes never left mine.  Occasionally, he would move the hair away from my face.  The gesture was subtle and caring.

I felt my body tighten up as another explosion looming on the horizon.  Aidan’s body reacted to my need.  He increased his momentum and I felt my canines swell inside my head.  I looked up with shocked eyes and found Aidan’s also elongated.

The moment our bodies climaxed, we both struck.  My teeth found his neck at the same time; he found the spot just underneath my ear.  It was natural to take his blood, and he to take mine the first time, it was our nature.  We remained locked together until our bodies shuddered to a stop.  By the time we released our canines, our hearts were beating as one.

We were now mated…for life.

Chapter 11

False Alarms

Lexi

If Mother Nature hadn’t wanted us to be mates, then the urge to strike wouldn’t have been there.  It would have just been sex.

Aidan stayed between my legs, but propped himself up on his elbows, keeping his weight off of my body.  I captured his face in my hands and kissed him softly.  I felt him grow harder instantly against my inner thigh.

“I love you,” he confessed.

“I love you, too.”  There was no hesitation in my answer.

He rolled off of me and went into the bathroom, bringing back a wet cloth from the pantry.  Aidan wouldn’t allow me to clean myself, and when I got up from the bed, I could see why.  There was a small blush of color against my cream sheets.  Blood from our encounter glowed like a neon sign, the result of my loss.  But to me it was more proof of my gain.  I was sore between my legs, but one look at my mate and I felt myself heat up again instantly.

The sheets were striped and new ones added to the bed, before Aidan picked me up laid me down.  He slid in behind me and spooned himself up against my back.  “Did I hurt you?”

“Never,” I sighed.  The yawn that followed was involuntary.

Aidan

The moment we connected I felt my heart change.  My priorities changed drastically.  I was no longer a single unit in this world; I was now connected to her.  Our hearts beat to the same rhythm.  I was hers to command in any way she saw fit.  I was mated.

She fell asleep beside me in the bed.  Her face flushed from our mating.

I slid quietly out of the bed and picked up the stained sheets.  I saw the small red spot on them, and my heart broke.  I knew this would happen, but seeing it in real time, made me feel horrible.  But on the other hand, she accepted me.  She wasn’t forced and that was all that mattered.

The lower half of the house was quiet.  The television was turned off and Adam and Christa were nowhere to be seen.  My first stop was the laundry room.  When I rounded the corner, I almost bumped into her mother.

“Aidan,” she smiled.  “Can I get those for you?”

“Ah,” I blushed involuntary.  “No ma’am.  I can do it.”  She stepped aside so that I could get to the washing machine.  I stuffed the sheets in their quickly and turned the dial.  The rush of water filling the tub echoed in the small room.  After I added the detergent, I turned around.  Mrs. Sharpe stood there with a huge grin plaster on her face.

She reached up and touched the mating mark on my neck.  Suddenly she flung herself at me and cried, “Welcome to the family!”  I felt weird just standing there in the doorway with the little replica of Lexi clinging to my neck.  She wept for a few minutes before she righted herself.  “I’m sorry.  I’m just so happy.”

“We are too,” I admitted.  She grabbed my hand and pulled me into the kitchen, forcing me to sit down on the barstool.

“Where’s Alexandra?” she asked.

“Ah, she’s sleeping,” I blushed.

She poured me a cup of coffee and placed it on the bar.  It was getting close to dinner time, so I wasn’t shocked when she started prepping for tonight’s meal.  She never turned around when she spoke directly to me, but she started rambling.

“Please do not tell Alexandra, but I want a lot of grandbabies.”  She smiled over her shoulder as she pulled pieces of chicken out of the package, placing them on a tray.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” I chuckled.  “Can I help you with anything?”  Lexi would be asleep for a while.  I didn’t want to risk waking her by going back into her room.

“Sure,” she paused to think, tapping her finger against her chin.  “Grab a bag of peas out of the freezer and get those started for me.”

The freezer had a million packs of fresh peas and beans stored in gallon size bags, “Which ones do you want?”

“It doesn’t matter, just pick whichever ones you like,” she suggested.

I grabbed a pack of lima beans and took them over to the stove.  I dumped them into the pot and added water.  We worked until everything was done.

The back door opened revealing a tired and hungry looking King.  He scooped up his wife and kissed her hard, “Smells good, Sara Beth.”

“Thank you,” she blushed.  “We’re celebrating.”  I almost died from embarrassment.  She reached up and grabbed my chin, tilting my head so that Lexi’s father could get a better view of my mating mark.

His mood lightened and he shook my hand, “Where is she?”

“Sleeping, sir,” I told him.

“Well, don’t you go waking her up, but when she does tell her I said congratulations.”  He let go of my hand and patted my back as he walked by.

Before everything was placed on the table, Mrs. Sharpe loaded a plate and handed it to me.

“You go on up and check on her,” she demanded.  “Thank you for the help.”

“You’re welcome,” I said as I walked toward the stairs.  I finally felt like I belonged.  I didn’t think that would happen in a house for of royalty.  It hit me by the time I’d cleared the stairs.  I was royal material whether I liked it or not.

Lexi

 

I must have fallen asleep, because when I woke up, it was already dark.  And I was alone.  I sat up and looked around, noticing that the sheets had already been removed from the floor.  The heat kicked on and I listened to the quiet hum coming from the vent above my head.

The door opened slowly to reveal Aidan.  He was coming inside with a bed tray.  The smell of food assaulted me before he made it to the bed.

“Hey sleepyhead,” he smiled.

“What are you doing?’  I asked.

“You needed to rest.  I think I took too much blood from you,” he grimaced.  “I’m so sorry.”

The spot on my neck throbbed from the memory.  I reached up and touched the mark of our mating; it felt bruised and already scabbed over.  Once it was healed, the mark would scar, showing my mating mark.  Aidan would have one too, except his wouldn’t be all that visible.    Mine, on the other hand, will stand out screaming “look at me”.

“Don’t be sorry,” I blushed.  Aidan came to sit down beside me with the tray.  “Mmmm, that looks great.”  The plate held a huge portion of fried chicken, lima beans, and creamed corn with a side of corn bread.

“Let me see,” he pointed toward the mark.  I turned my head slightly so that he could inspect it.  The second he touched the wound, my body warmed and I shivered from the sharp tingle that branched out through my system.  He smiled and pushed the tray closer to me.

“I can’t eat all of this,” I admitted.  It was entirely too much for me to handle.

“You’re hungry.  I can sense it.”  I noticed how suddenly, Aidan had become just like my brother.  He hovered and worried just like Adam did with Christa.

When I attempted to share my food with him, he shook his head fiercely and scooted back away from the plate.  “You eat first, and I will take what is left.”  Animal behaviorist would have a field day with him.  He provided for his mate before himself.  It was very noble.

“Do my parents know?” I looked at the clock and noticed it was after six p.m.  Dad would be home now and all of the boys would be in the dining room having dinner with my parents.

“Yes,” he smiled.  “Your father said to tell you “Congratulation” when you woke up.”

Of course he did, his wish was finally fulfilled.  His only daughter was now mated.

After dinner, my brothers, Aidan and I took a run in the woods behind the house.  Once I had shifted, A.J and Avery went ahead of us, checking the trails for any sign of John.  While we waited, Aidan and I stood facing each other under the dim light that illuminated the picnic table by the big oak tree.  He rubbed his massive head against the side of my neck, my shoulders and down my side.  His scent was all over me again.  I returned the action only to have him purring in response as Andre and Adam waited patiently just inside the trail.

They came back and snarled, tossing their heads toward the woods.  It was clear.

A.J. and Andre played in the river, splashing around, spewing water over Adam as he perched himself along the bank.  Aidan and I walked the trails to the west, not straying too far from the clan.

The night had turned peaceful and cold.  Winter was working hard to settle into the mid-south.  There was a slight drizzle tonight that had me a little damp from being outside so long.

At some point, Aidan swatted my tail to get my attention.  He snarled and tilted his head back toward the house, it was time to go.

After we shifted back to human, the boys escorted me across the lawn and into the house as soon as possible.  My parents were in the kitchen waiting for us to arrive.  When I met my mother’s eyes, she burst into tears and pulled me into her arms.

“Oh, my baby girl,” she cried, wiping tears from her eyes.

“Momma, don’t,” I protested.

“I’m sorry dear, I can’t help it.”

“How,” my father asked.

“What do you mean?  How?” I blushed.  Please do not let me have to have an intimacy talk with my father.  That is where I draw the line.

My father ran his hands through the salt and pepper gray hair that covered his head, “I want to know how you did it.  I’ve been wondering what I had done wrong in not finding you a mate.  The one time I back off is when you wind up mated to someone I had never even considered for you.”  He wasn’t being mean or degrading, I think my father was just wondering what he did wrong.  I felt a little smug.  If he had only listened to me over the past few years, he wouldn’t be this confused.

Aidan

The shower felt good to my cold skin.  I hoped I could get use to this weather soon.  The cold drizzling rain somehow made its way through my thick fur and rested against my skin.  That’s why I cut our time short.  I didn’t want her getting sick.

I held her tight against my body, letting the water run over us.  She rested her head on my chest and let me wash her hair.

“What are you thinking about?” she whispered.

“I was thinking that I needed to get use to this cold weather.”  We both laughed.  I touched her chin so that she would look at me.  The moment our lips met, I felt myself harden in response and her body responded as well.  Suddenly, her body heated and I reacted.  I quickly rinsed her hair and then lifted her up, wrapping her legs around by waist.  She giggled as I pressed her back against the cold tile wall.

I lowered her slowly onto me; the heat from her body sheathing me.  I growled low in my chest from the sensation.  She was so tight around my sex.  Lexi wrapped her arms around my neck and captured my mouth with her own.

Our scents combined with the steam from the shower.  She felt so wonderful in my arms.  I felt her tighten around me and she called out my name with her release.  I followed not too far behind her.

Once our breathing slowed.  I kissed her gently and started the shower all over again.

Lexi

Just after midnight, I found myself in a half sleep, half-awake state of awareness.  My body ached slightly.  The heater in the house must be turned up a little higher, because I felt warmer than usual.  I used my feet to flip the covers off of my body.  The cooler air rushing in eased a little of the ache.

I must have drifted off because the next time I looked at the clock, only an hour had elapsed since the last time I looked.  Aidan was sleeping soundlessly with his back to me.

From the time we had gotten home from our outing, until we went to bed, Aidan was at my side, helping.  He wouldn’t let me lift a finger.  It was a miracle he let me dress myself for bed.  Christa was right, doting mates could be a pain in the ass.

My upper thighs protested when I tried to roll over.  I mentally shrugged because I didn’t remember overexerting myself today.  I paused at that thought and blushed in the darkness of my room.  Our love making in the shower could have been the cause.

The room was a little cooler now that I had changed positions in the bed.  The next time I looked at the clock it said the time was half past three.  This time when I woke up, I was sweating.  The front of my shirt was damp.

The second my feet hit the floor, Aidan shot up out of bed.  “What’s wrong?” he demanded.

“Fever, body hurts…getting medicine,” I groaned.  In a flash, he was at my side, pushing me back down onto the mattress.  He left me sitting there and walked into the bathroom.

Aidan returned with a thermometer and a bottle of Motrin.  I waited until the thing beeped before pulling it out of my mouth.  It said I was only one and a half degrees above normal.  I took the pills and returned to my spot in the bed.

I rolled over and moaned from the pain in my thighs and chest.  My fever came back just as the sun was coming over the horizon.  Aidan wasn’t in the bed when I woke up, he must be downstairs drinking coffee with my mom.

The Motrin was sitting on the counter as I walked into the bathroom.  I took three and used the restroom.  When I opened the door to come back out, the world started to tilt dangerously to my right, and then left.  I stumbled out of the doorway, hoping to make it to the bed.  I felt like hell.  I must be coming down with something.

One moment I was standing, the next I watched as the floor came up and almost smacked me in the face.  Huge strong hands held my body upright.  My ears were ringing to their own tune when I was returned to my bed.  I squeezed my thighs together and cried out from the pain.

Aidan squatted on the floor so that we were face to face.  The look in my eyes told me he was worried.  “What?” I asked.

“Are you going into your Prime,” he whispered.

That thought hadn’t crossed my mind.  “I don’t think so.  This feels like the flu,” which was odd, since I hadn’t been in contact with anyone who might have had the virus.

“I’m going to call Doctor Jones and have him come by.”  Aidan didn’t wait for an answer and flipped the phone open to call the overworked physician.

An hour later I was woken up by my mate, “Lexi.”  He nudged my shoulder trying to get my attention.  I noticed right away that the ache in my legs had eased and I was no longer sweating.  Maybe this was nothing.

Doc Jones was standing behind Aidan, the good doctor was holding his little black bag that he carried everywhere with him.  “Hi, doc.”

“I’m going to examine you,” he said.  Only after I nodded did he pull out his instruments and check my blood pressure, my eyes, ears and nose looking for any sign of a virus.  Another check of the thermometer, showed a normal temperature, but he dismissed that as evidence, due to my earlier consumption of the fever reducer.  His lips pursed as he sat back on his heels and thought about what he was seeing.  “Lexi, I’m going to do an internal exam.  Just to make sure you’re not in your Prime.”  I nodded again and rolled over on my back.

It wasn’t embarrassing to have both the doctor and Aidan in the room, because at the moment, I didn’t really care.  Doc Jones had been my doctor since the day I was born and Aidan was my mate.  I lost my dignity when I turned twelve.

The snap from his latex gloves announced that he was done.  I waited until he finished cleaning up before I asked him the million dollar question, “What is it?”

“You’re trying to start your Prime.  This one looks like a false alarm.  It’s perfectly normal to have these episodes for a few months before the actual event.  Until then, just take some Motrin to calm the fevers and aches.”  The doctor gathered his things and left the room.

Aidan was at my side, holding my hand when the next round of aches attacked my body.  This time, the need to mate, flared in my mind.  I craved it like stranded men craved water.

“What can I do?” he asked.  The concern on his face was hard to look at; he looked like he was the one in pain.

I reached up and brushed my thumb against the slight stubble on his chin.  “I’ll be okay.  Just let me sleep.”

When I woke up a few hours later, I felt normal.  I waited for the heat to flare up, or for the pain to attack my body, but nothing came.  For a moment, I was relieved that this had just been a false alarm.  Then I felt a pang of desire, thinking that maybe, just maybe, I might be ready to be a mom.  The thought startled me a little.  Could I be a mother in a year’s time?   Technically, the answer would be yes.  But I wasn’t sure if I was ready.

The door opened, bringing me back from my mind ramblings.  Of course it was Aidan.  “How are you feeling?”  That was the other million dollar question.

“I think it has past,” I shifted my feet to the floor.  “I need a shower.”  The night of sweating had my clothes feeling sticky against my skin.  Aidan came over and tried to lift me up to take me to the shower.  I shook my hand at him in protest.  I could do this myself.

By the time I finished with my shower, Aidan had already left my room.  He was downstairs with my mother and Christa.  Adam was at the refrigerator, pulling out the contents for a sandwich.  Something in the air around me felt wrong, different in a weird way.  Adam ignored me and my mother didn’t even acknowledge my presence.  The only thing that didn’t seem out of place was Christa; she was still her perky, glowing (and possibly pregnant) self.  Aidan met me halfway in the room and nuzzled his chin alongside my mating mark.  I looked up, half expecting Adam to growl at him or my mother to give us a threatening look, but that never happened.

My blood family acted like I wasn’t there.  The doting and stiff air of protectiveness was gone.  I felt like I could breathe; something I haven’t felt since I was a child.  Suddenly I realized what it was.  I was mated and my family ties had shifted.  It was now Aidan’s job to be the overprotective one.

Chapter 12

Holiday

Lexi

Thanksgiving morning started early.  I had to sneak very slowly out of the bed to keep from waking Aidan.  He looked amazing in his sleep.  His face was relaxed, eyes softly closed with his long lashes casting shadows across his tanned cheeks.  Those lips I craved were slightly parted as he breathed quietly through them.

I slipped carefully out of the room, pulling the door closed behind me soundlessly.  I smelled coffee immediately as I descended the stairs.  My father was in his chair reading the paper.  The black Friday ads were fanned out covering every inch of the coffee table.  Mom was making her shopping list.  I think it was an automatic thing with her, a ritual she couldn’t shake.  My brothers and I had graduated from the expensive plastic toys many years ago, but she still insisted on making a run to at least three or four stores at midnight.

I poured myself a cup of coffee and found Avery standing on the back patio.  I grabbed my coat off the hook by the door and walked out to join him.  He was staring into the woods, like he was counting trees, or something.

“Morning,” I leaned against his arm and rested my head on his shoulder.

I felt him sigh before he leaned over and kissed the top of my head, “Are you happy?”

“Um, yes.  Why?” I asked, confused by his tone.  It was too kind and calm.  Not the usual hot headed attitude that was his calling card.

“He didn’t force you into this, did he?” Avery turned to look into my eyes as if looking at them would tell if I dared to lie to him.

“No,” I blushed.  “It was our decision.  You know I would never just hop into bed with the first guy who made googlie-eyes at me.”  I felt the anger heat inside when my jackass for a brother raised a questionable brow at me.  “Really?  Do you think that highly of me?  Well, screw you Avery.”  My appetite for coffee dried up as I dumped it into the sink.

I turned and grabbed the handle for the door, swinging it wide.

Fed up with the thought of his less than brilliant observation, I barged out the back door, off the steps and headed toward the woods, pulling off clothes as I ran.  From the corner of my eye, I saw Avery, who was now standing on the side of the house, leaning against his car.  He stood up straight when he saw me starting to shift.  I wanted to get away from the house; away from my brother.

I landed on all fours, hair already sprouted.  My face shifted effortlessly.  I sat still for the short time it took for my bones to shift and my human nails to turn into claws.  That was my fastest shift ever.  And then I took off at a dead run.

Aidan

“Aidan!” someone yelled.  I sat straight up in the bed.  It wasn’t a someone, but all of Lexi’s brothers, standing over me.

“What!” I growled.

“Lexi, she’s gone,” Avery yelled.  “She took off into the woods.  Get up and help us find her.”

I was up and dressed in the first pair of jeans I could find.  “What the hell is going on?  Why did she take off?”

“Well talk about it later,” Avery muttered.  “Let’s find her first.”

I was out the door and shifted before I hit the big oak tree, shredding my jeans in the process.  I picked up her scent immediately and followed it as quickly as I could.  My heart was beating faster than a helicopter’s blade as I ran, worried about her.  John could be out here at any time.  I pushed myself to run faster.  I had to find her.

 

Lexi

I took the first trail to the left, refusing to care that the branches were slapping my face.  At the next fork, I took the trail to the right.  If I stayed on this one, it would take me to the river.  That was not my goal.  The river would be the first place my family would look.  Suddenly I didn’t want to be on the paths that weaved through the woods.  I wanted to hide, to put myself somewhere that I could cry.  Crying in the body of a cat was odd.  You felt your own pain, without the red face and wet cheeks of your tears.

I found a spot between two slightly mature trees that led down into a valley.  Dried leaved crunched under my paws as I crept slowly down the embankment.  I found a spot perfectly small enough for my body to rest.  With my back against the hill, I dropped on my belly and wept.

It could have been minutes, hours or days before the ache in my chest eased.  My brother’s harsh assessment of our mating no longer ran through my mind.  Now that reality set in, I knew I had done something wrong; something that would worry my jackass of a brother Avery, and my mate.  I had run off on my own and wandered away from the trails.

I heard the pounding of heavy paws all around me.  Two sets to the west, one set to the north and one set coming up on me fast.  I looked up and saw the huge tawny yellow cat, moving between the two trees marking my entrance to my hidden oasis.  It was Aidan, and boy did he look angry.

He growled low and deep, expressing his feelings.  He turned his head and roared loudly, announcing to the others that I had been found.  He took a few steps forward and leaned over me.  He nudged my head, my paws, and my sides, looking for any sign that I had been hurt.  I snarled once letting him know, I was fine.

His rough tongue tickled the back of my ear, when he used it to clean me.  He was nervously removing anything he thought might be damaging.  His concern was unnecessary.  I was fine.  A heavy paw smacked my butt, telling me to get up.  I shook my head, but rethought my actions when he nipped at the nape of my neck.  It wasn’t a request, but a demand that I get moving back toward the house.

Once we all shifted back, I felt Avery’s presence behind me and he was coming up fast, “Lexi.”  He reached for my arm.

I pulled back and snarled at him, “Don’t you fucking touch me!  Don’t you dare even try to talk to me right now!”  I marched through the kitchen, past my mother.  My father was standing in the middle of the dining room, looking out the window at my brothers.  The anger in his features, made mine look like nothing.

Aidan followed me back to the bedroom.  I waited until the door was closed before turning around on him, “Don’t you dare say anything to me…” My voice broke off when he dragged me into his arms and kissed me hard.  By the time he released me, I was panting.

“You scared me,” he growled.  “I woke up to your angry brothers, screaming at me that you had taken off and no one knew where you were!  What the hell were you thinking?”  At no time did he release me from his hold.  I wasn’t scared from the anger in his eyes.  He was worried.

But I was mad, “I was thinking that I needed to get away from Avery, who thought I was nothing but a whore!” I yelled.

Aidan growled and bolted from the room, fist clinching at his side.  I ran after him, but wasn’t quite fast enough.  When I rounded the corner into the kitchen, I saw a flash of fist, heard a crack, and watched as my brother slid across the kitchen floor.  My mother screamed and my father stood silently with his arms crossed over his chest.

“Aidan!” I screamed.

He ignored me and lifted my brother from the floor, “What did you say to her?”  The growl coming from my mate’s chest was so deep and low that it vibrated the decorative plates my mom had hanging on the wall.

Avery didn’t reply.  He just looked over Aidan’s shoulder and into my eyes.  “I’m sorry, Lexi.  I didn’t mean it.”

“Aidan,” I spoke softly.  “Put him down.”

Of course, I was ignored.  Aidan’s hold on my brother’s throat tightened and I watched as Avery’s face turned pink from the loss of air.  “You listen to me.  I don’t care if you are her flesh and blood.  If you ever speak to her again in that manner, I will kill you.  Do you understand?”

Avery nodded because his voice was currently being choked off by one massive hand that encircled his entire throat.  His nose was gushing blood, rolling down his chin and soaking into his shirt.  Suddenly, Aidan dropped my brother as fast as he had picked him up.  Avery fell to the floor in a heap and began coughing, sucking the much needed air back inside his lungs.

My arm was taken as I was pulled from the kitchen and upstairs to the bedroom.  The family photos on the way speed by in a rushed blur.  Once inside the bedroom, Aidan slammed the door; twisting the lock in the process.  His hands were on me, touching me.  My shirt was ripped at the seams and shredded; along with my pants, underwear and bra.  Before we made it to the bed, we were completely naked.

He didn’t wait until he entered me, all the way to the hilt.  I cried out from the intrusion.  Aidan was completely animal as he took me there on the bed.  He growled and pawed at me as he thrust himself to completion.  His urge to mark me, after defending my honor and for the stress I caused him, was overpowering.  The sheer determination of his movement excited me more than I thought it ever would.

The moment my release overtook my body, Aidan nuzzled the mating mark on my neck.  I exploded and cried out his name.  His own release echoed mine.

“I’m sorry,” he panted once his body shuddered for the last time.

“Don’t be,” I whispered, stroking my fingers down his back.  Aidan’s face was currently rubbing under my chin, over my chest and back over the mark on my neck.

“I need to go apologize to your father and mother,” he sighed.

“Okay,” I sighed.  “I’ll be down in a minute.”

I watched as he dressed into a new pair of jeans and a t-shirt.  He had annihilated his, once mine were nothing more that pieces of destroyed fabric on the ground.  Aidan left with his head held high.

Aidan

 

      I walked into the kitchen and found Lexi’s mother scrubbing up Avery’s blood off of the floor.  The King was standing by watching his wife work.

“I wanted to apologize for disrespecting your home,” I sighed.  “I will accept any punishment you see fit, sir.”  I bowed my head, waiting.

“You did the right thing,” the King admitted.  I looked up with shocked eyes.  “I should be the one to apologize to you.  My son has disrespected a member of his family and will be punished accordingly.”

I sighed and felt the heavy burden of guilt lift from my shoulders, but that didn’t mean that I didn’t feel bad about punching his son.  Andrew poured two mugs of coffee and handed one to me.  We took them to the table and sat down.  I sighed, “I’m still sorry that I punched him.”

“You know,” he laughed.  “One of Sara Beth’s brothers said something to her one time, and it was a lot less degrading than what Avery said to Alexandra.  I beat him so bad that he was out cold for almost an hour.  I thought I’d killed him.  So, I can relate to your anger.”

I smiled and took a sip of coffee; happy to know that the King was on my side.

Lexi

 

Thanksgiving was turning out to be a huge disaster.  I got myself up out of the bed, to get redressed so I could go down and try to salvage the rest of the day.  When I turned back to the bed, I noticed another small red spot staining the sheets.  I quickly stripped them from the bed and replaced them with some clean sheets of the same color.

After I cleaned up and made my way downstairs, I passed Aidan who was sitting at the table with my father.  Both of them were talking over a cup of coffee.  Avery was nowhere to be seen.

I dropped the sheets on the ground as I moved a load of towels from the washer to the dryer.  When I leaned down, huge hands scooped up the sheets.  Aidan smiled when I turned around,

“Hey champ,” he sighed and opened the lid on the washer.  “Your father and I talked.  Everything is…” his voice stopped.  I followed his eyes down, his arm, and too the lump of sheets he was holding.  The red spot was sitting on top.  The pain in his features tugged on my heart and I knew he hated himself for what he had done.

I removed them from his hands and smiled, “I’m okay.”  And I was.  There was no pain this time.  Our bodies fit together like corresponding puzzle pieces.

He wrapped his arms around me and nuzzled my neck, “The last thing I wanted to do was to hurt you, Lexi.”

“You didn’t, now let it go.” I demanded.  And he did.

All of the men were in the living room, camped out around the huge flat screen while mom and I slaved away in the kitchen.  The turkeys were in the oven, roasting to perfection.  Some of the side dishes were made and resting comfortably in the refrigerator.  Mom was at the stove pouring jars of canned green beans in a pot.  The cutting board was beside the stove, along with a mound of freshly peeled potatoes.

I methodically cut them into even little cubes, occasionally scraping them off of the board and into the pot.  The scratching sound that was made reminded me of when I was a child, sitting at the bar watching my mom work alone or with Adam to get Thanksgiving dinner on the table for us all to enjoy.  Now we have an added member to our family, Aidan.

“Ouch,” I gasped, when the knife, slick with potato juice, slipped and sliced into my thumb.  My mother was there instantly with a towel.  She wrapped it around my bleeding finger and applied pressure.  “I don’t know why I cut the potatoes; I always end up cutting myself.”

“Oh, dear.  It’s bad,” she gasped after she removed the towel and peaked inside.

“It’ll be fine, mom.” I scowled.  She was overacting.  I usually never needed stitches from my disagreements with the potatoes (As I like to call it.).

“Aidan,” she called over her shoulder.  I nudged her and shook my head no, but it was too late.

“Yes, ma’am,” he said as he entered the kitchen.  His eyes dropped from mine to the now soiled towel currently being held in place by my mother.  “What happened?”

“Me, potato, knife…it happens a lot,” I smiled; hopefully making light of the situation would keep everyone from panicking.

“There’s a first aid kit above the washing machine,” she pulled me over to the table.  Aidan left to retrieve the kit while I sat down on the chair.  My mom was trained to at least stitch up cuts, so that we wouldn’t have to call Doc Jones over so often.  Some weeks, when the boys were younger, he would’ve had to move in with us, just to keep them patched up.

Aidan returned with the box that looked like it had been through war.  The thing was scratched and dented; half of the Red Cross symbol was flaked off and one of the clasps had been broken about two years ago.

Mom emerged from the giant hospital-in-a-box with a syringe, a bottle of medicine, a needle, thread and scissors.  I looked away as she tore the paper and plastic lining away from the needle.  I don’t like looking at them when they are in action, sorry.  To me they are harmless while nestle comfortably in their little packages, but the moment they emerge, I’m done.

Aidan looked at me puzzled, “Afraid of a needle?”

I crossed my right arm over my chest and grumped, “No, I just don’t like to look at them.”

My mother chuckled softly and Aidan pulled up a chair to hold my other hand.  I jerked back when the needle pricked my skin.  She did it again and I growled.  Aidan squeezed my hand reassuringly.

My father came into the kitchen holding an empty coffee cup.  When he looked at the makeshift emergency ward set up at his kitchen table, he frowned, “Potatoes?”

“Is this a habit?” Aidan looked shocked.

“I don’t get along with them very well,” I admitted.

“Well, don’t blame the potato,” he laughed and then dodged my hand as it tried to punch him in the arm.

The back door opened and Avery came in holding his head low.   His nose was swollen and the crease under his left eye was a little red.  His eyes shifted toward the table and then widened when he noticed mom stitching me.  “What happened?”

“Potatoes,” my mom and I said in unison.  Then we laughed.  Avery laughed slightly and shook his head.  The moment he walked toward me, Aidan stood up, shielding my body with his own.  I reached up and touched his hand, hopefully calming him down.

“All done,” my mom announced, bandaging up my injured thumb.

“Lexi,” my brother started to say, but was cut off by a warning growl coming from my mate.

“Aidan, could you give us a minute?” I didn’t wait for him to reply.  I just pushed him toward the living room.

With my thumb all bandaged up, I waited until Aidan was out of sight before turning toward my brother.  The moment I did, he scooped me up in a huge hug, “Oh, Lexi.  I’m so sorry.  Will you forgive me?”

“Of course I will,” I poked him in the stomach.  “You really pissed me off.”

“I know.  It’s just…I feel like I’ve lost a part of me today.  You’re mated and I’ve spent my whole life looking after you.  And now, you have Aidan.  You don’t need me anymore.”  His cheeks flushed a little red and he gave me a half smile that didn’t reach his eyes.

“Oh, you big doof!  I’m still me.  I’m still going to need you.  Avery, I love you.  Just because I’m mated doesn’t mean you can’t still look after me.  Were you the one that got the boys to come and find me?”  I had wrapped my arms around his waist and rested my head on his chest.  I wanted my words to have meaning for him.

“Yeah,” he paused.  “You know, the look on Aidan’s face, when he came downstairs was scary.”

“Really?” I asked, pulling back to look at him.

Avery’s eyes bugged out and his voice deepened, “Really!  You shouldn’t have run away, Lexi.  Why didn’t you just punch me?”

“I don’t know, maybe it’s because I like you and I can’t bring myself to belting my brother.”  We laughed and walked through the kitchen on our way to the living room.  I smiled at Aidan and he stood up, walking toward Avery.  I tensed waiting to see if he would punch my brother again.  Instead, Aidan thrust his hand out; Avery took it into his.  They shook hands like two men making a deal of a lifetime.

“I’m sorry,” Avery admitted.

“I’m sorry too,” Aidan replied.

They sat down and watched the football game that was currently blaring through the surround sound speakers on the walls.  I heard the crowd roar at a touchdown as I walked back into the kitchen to help my mom.  We finished dinner in a hurry, before something else happened to ruin the day.

Chapter 13

Moving Day

Lexi

Eric was to meet us at the house in a few hours with the keys.  Aidan and I stopped by Lowe’s and picked up the paint we needed to get started on the house.  We left there after fighting through the day after Thanksgiving crowd and drove over to Burger King to pick up some sausage biscuits for our breakfast.  Well, some meant five for Aidan and one for me.

I ate mine and tossed the wrapper back in the bag on the floorboard of the truck.  When he handed me a second one, I shook my head and took a drink from the large coke we shared.  He narrowed his eyes at me and frowned, “You need to eat another one.”  He sat it in my lap.

“Just because you eat enough for five of me, doesn’t mean I can eat the same,” I laughed and dropped it back in the bag.

He growled and pulled it out of the bag, returning it to my lap, “I want my cub’s mother to be well fed.  My boys are going to be big eaters too.”

“Well, I’m full,” I protested and rubbed my belly for good measure.

Eat,” he growled.

No,” I hissed.

“Fine,” he conceded, but I saw the corner of his mouth raise in a half sided smile.  Aidan scooped up the food in my lap and after he unwrapped it; Aidan popped the whole damn thing in his mouth.

The morning had started out below freezing, a typical end of November day.  The air was crisp and made your lungs ached with each inhale. I watched the cars pass, wondering where each one was rushing too and finding deals for their Christmas presents.

We arrived at the new house; Eric was already there waiting patiently in his car.  We all met on the front steps and the realtor handed Aidan the keys.

“You can do the honors,” Eric smiled and then stepped back allowing Aidan room to get to the front door.

Aidan turned around and tossed the keys at me; I caught them in an awkward move and looked at him puzzled.

He leaned in a kissed the mating mark on the side of my neck, “This is your house too.  If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be here.”

I unlocked the doors, pushing them open wide, and walked inside my new home.  Aidan scooped me up into his arms and spun me around.  We kissed passionately for a moment before we remembered Eric was still there.

“I’m going to let you two get settled.  Call me if you need anything.”  We shook hands and then he was gone.  We were in our home, alone.  And it was cold.

Thankfully, I reminded Aidan to call and set up the utilities last week.  I walked over and turned the switch on the thermostat to heat.  The sound of the vents heating up hummed throughout the house.  The smell of burning dust tickled my nose.

“Ready to get painting?” I asked.

“It’s now or never.  My furniture will be here on Monday.  I say, let’s get this done and then we can have the weekend to run the property.”  I followed him back out to the truck to gather our supplies, an air mattress with pillows and blankets, and a coffee pot with two mugs.  We had a long day ahead of us.

Aidan

 

Lexi was adorable in her faded overalls.  Her hair was braided into two cute ponytails and a bandana around her head like a skull cap, protecting her hair from paint.  Her thumb was still bandaged, but she said it didn’t bother her that much.

We started in the kitchen.  She taped around the baseboards while I handled the trim around the ceiling.  Occasionally she would cuss at the tape when it didn’t want to cooperate.

“Why the hell won’t this stuff come off in one long strip?” she griped.

“Try pulling on it slower,” I suggested.

I heard the scratching of the tape as she slowly unwound it from the roll.  She laughed when the piece came off without tearing.  “You’re a genius!”

I smiled and winked at her, finishing up with my own roll.  She was only halfway done by the time I finished the trim, so I sat down on the floor and helped her.

The house was quiet, no radio and no television.  Sometimes I enjoyed just hearing nothing other than my own breathing, but today I enjoyed it even more.  The only sound was our synchronized breathing and the periodic scratching sound of the tape we were using.

We painted the kitchen quickly.  The living room, which I decided on a dark brown, was next.  That one took the longest.  By the time we were done, Lexi and I were covered head to toe in green and brown paint flecks.  She had a small smudge of brown on her cheek that she didn’t know about.  I didn’t tell her either, because I liked it there.

I ordered pizza for dinner and we sat cross legged on the kitchen floor, right where the table would go.

“I’m tired,” she yawned.

“Me too,” I admitted.  “You go ahead and shower while I air up our bed.”  She got up from the floor and leaned over to kiss me.  I growled when her shirt fell open enough just to show the swell of her breast.  I reached up and traced the outline of her lace bra.  Her body heated up for a moment.

She slapped my hand away and growled, “Behave.”  I watched as she walked into the bedroom.  I smiled.  A lot.

Tonight was the first night in our new home.  I couldn’t wait for tomorrow.

Chapter 14

Taken

Lexi

Aidan and I woke up late, but still managed to make breakfast at a decent hour.  He stood at the stove in nothing but a pair of dark plaid lounge pants.  His tanned muscular chest looked inviting as he watched me pouring a cup of coffee.

“Morning, champ,” he leaned over and kissed the top of my head.

“Morning,” I yawned.  We had a late night.  We painted the kitchen dark sea foam green, the living room dark chocolate, and today we were going to paint the bedroom crimson red, per my request.  His furniture would be here Monday, and he said that his bedroom furniture was all black.   I’ve always wanted a room of red and black.

We used his shower before camping out on the air mattress.  We were tired, but managed to break in the house on the first night.  The thought had my cheeks flaming hot from the memories.

“Why are you blushing?” he raised a brow at me.

“Just thinking about last night,” I smiled.

He pulled me over and wrapped one arm around my waist, the other still holding a spatula.  “I love you,” he sighed.  “I really do.”

“I love you, too.”  I moved away and sat down in the kitchen floor and stared out the window.  The yard was almost too inviting.  I wanted to ask if we could skip breakfast and head out for a run.

“What time do we need to be at your parent’s house tonight,” he asked.

“Oh, mom said between four and five,” I replied.  Saturday was family night and just because I moved out, was no excuse for missing it.

Movement in the woods, behind the barn, grabbed my attention and I shot to my feet.  “Look, deer.” I pointed out a mother and baby grazing around the edge of the woods.  My mouth watered at the possibility.  But it was winter; we only hunted big game during the human’s hunting season.  The last thing we wanted to do was disturb any environment with improper killing.

“Too bad the daddy isn’t around,” he winked at me.

“Maybe later?” I asked.  You better believe I pouted and batted my eyes at him.  I knew he couldn’t resist my charm.

“After breakfast,” he laughed.

“Good, let’s hurry up,” I grabbed a biscuit off his plate.

We made it outside late afternoon.  The air was cold so we didn’t take long to shift.  Aidan’s first order of business was to rub his tawny head around my neck, marking me as his.  If any other shifters were in the area, not only would they smell his warning on my human body, they would also smell it on my jaguar fur.  He licked my face as a sign of affection and swatted my rear end to get me moving.

We looked odd walking together through the woods behind his…our home. (I was still having a hard time believing it was mine too.)  I was only a third of his size.  He was one of the largest male jaguars in the world, according to my dad.  Aidan’s family came from strong bloodlines and he was proof of that.

There was a small creek that ran through his property.  It was a branch off of the Coldwater River that ran beside my families land.  There were hardly any fish in it, just small minnows and this spring, I’d bet an occasional bream, looking for a place to lay her eggs.  But the little creek was a natural watering hole for the deer that made their home in the area.

We reached the fence at the rear of his property and Aidan scratched the ground like a bull wanting to race back to the house.  Aidan got a head start on me, I growled in protest.  As I turned away from the fence line, I felt a sharp stinging in my back leg.  I knew it couldn’t have been a wasp or horse fly, we were at the end of November and it was too cold for those bugs to be around.

My leg felt weak and before I knew it, I was human and lying naked in the woods.  Aidan was nowhere to be seen.  Everything was suddenly quiet around me.  The trees were eerily still, like they held a secret I was just now getting privilege too.  It took me a few seconds to get my brain working again.

I knew immediately what had happened, I had been tranquilized.

“Aidan!” I yelled as loud as possible.  He heard me because the roar from the south was loud and rushed.  I heard heavy paws coming toward me, but it just wasn’t fast enough.

I looked up, just as John Carter jumped out of the tree and hit me with a right hook that Mike Tyson would have been proud of.  I jumped to my feet and when he swung again, I dodge it, just like Aidan had taught me.  I slid down and kick out my right foot, making contact just under John’s kneecap.  He staggered back two steps and rebounded.  John came up with his foot and kicked me in the ribs, knocking me onto my back.

“Lexi!” I heard Aidan running, now human, back in my direction.

Two men dressed in black, hopped the fence and grabbed me.  I was pulled over and my mouth was tapped shut, before I had a chance to call out to Aidan again.  Pain speared in my temple and my vision blurred as John landed a solid punch.  The last thing I remember was watching the tops of the trees fly by as I was carried away.

Aidan

 

I ran.  I ran faster than my human legs have ever moved.  When I rounded the corner she was gone.  The only thing I found that gave any indication that she was there, was a puddle of her blood.  He had taken her, and from the other scents, he wasn’t alone.

As I turned to run back to the house, I saw something odd.  I knelt down and found a dart; it was more like a needle with a red tuft at the end, for better flight.  I was wasting too much time.  I needed to get home.

I grabbed my clothes off the back porch, dressing as I dialed the number to the Sharpe house.  My father-in-law answered.  I didn’t wait for him to say “hello”.

“Andrew,” I panted.  “Lexi’s gone.  We were running in the woods.  He had two other people with him.  She was tranquilized.  Oh, God!  I couldn’t get to her in time.”

“Okay,” he was almost too calm.  I’m pretty sure he was going to mark me for death.  But he was calm.  “Which way did they go?”

“From the scent, they went northeast, toward the county line.”  By this time, I couldn’t help it, I was crying.  My mate was gone.  Those tears turned to anger and now that anger was rage.

“We’re on the way.  I want the boys to get the scent.  Just stay put, Aidan.  We’ll find her.”

I could hear the hustle of bodies and metal, which were probably guns, in the background.

“When we find him,” I choked out.  “He’s mine to destroy!”

“You have my word,” the King said.

Less than five minutes later, the Sharpe boys and their father pulled up.  All jumping out before their trucks came to a complete stop.  Immediately, Adam and Avery shifted and darted into the woods.  A.J. and Andre went out on foot, heavily armed.  Andrew approached me and did something unexpected.  He hugged me tight and growled, “We’re going to find her.”  And I knew he spoke the truth.

“Where do we start first?” I asked.

“Adam and Avery will get the scents, and then we will go from there.”  I took him inside the house and showed him the dart, which I had found next to a puddle of blood.

“Tranquilizer dart for sure,” he announced.  “You can get them all over the internet.  Do you know if she shifted back?”

“Yes, we were racing and I got a head start.  I heard her call out my name, and I went back for her.  She was gone by the time I got there.”  I sank to my knees, because I had no strength left in them.  She was gone.  I watched as Andrew stood by the back door, watching for any sign of the boys.  The fact that I wasn’t doing anything was driving me crazy.

“I can’t take it, I feel helpless.  I need to start searching for her,” I demanded.

“You will wait until we have more information.  The last thing you need to do is go off like a vigilante with no information.  It could get us exposed, or worse, get Alexandra killed.”  And like that, the King’s words were final.

“I’m sorry, sir.  I understand,” I conceded.

Movement in the woods caught my eyes, I growled once in response, but soon realized it was the boys coming back.  Adam and Avery shifted to give us a report.

“John’s scent was up in the trees, and the other two scents I recognized as well,” Avery paused.  “One was Jason Garrett.”

“Who else?” I demanded.

“He had another cougar with him.  It was Donovan Chambers.” Avery flinched when Lexi’s father growled low in his chest.

“Who are these people?” I demanded.

“Jason went to school with us.  He just returned from a four year stint as special ops with the Army.  Donovan is the son of one of my workers.”  Andrew was angry.  I was angry.  Lexi knew these men, and with an Army specialist being one of them, they may just torture her.

“How do you want us to proceed?” Adam asked.

“We start at the Chambers’ home and then we go over to Jason Garrett’s house.  His is farther away.  I’m hoping they took her to Jason’s house because that would be the quickest route.”

We followed Adam and Avery a few miles to the east of my house and made a left onto

Red Banks Road.  Donovan Chambers lived in an old brick home, just a few miles south of the highway.  We pulled in not caring how loud the trucks were going up the driveway.  Rocks clattered against the underbelly of the Avalanche we were in, dust flying up in the back.

We got out on foot, Andrew and I went to the front door.  The others spread out, looking for any scent of Lexi.  The King knocked on the door hard enough to splinter to wood.  An elderly lady opened the door.  Her eyes widened at the man standing on the porch.

“Mr. Sharpe,” the old lady gasped.  “How can I help you?”

“I need to know where your grandson is Marge?” the King demanded.

“I have no idea, sir.  He’s been out since early this morning.  Said he had to go into town to run a few errands.  Why?”  Marge held the door open and invited us in.

The house was decorated the way most elderly people lived.  Old furniture was scattered around the house and with it were hundreds of pictures of her family.  She had a cuckoo clock on the wall by the door.  I jumped when the thing went off saying it was straight up four o’clock.

I remained standing while the two of them took the couch.  The King grasped the old woman’s hands and sighed, “Marge, Alexandra has gone missing and Donovan’s scent is all over the place where she was attacked.  I need to know where he is.”

“Oh dear,” she gasped.  Her face was saddened.  Then a spark lit up her eyes and she told us what she knew.  “That boy has been hanging out with that Garrett boy ever since he got home from Afghanistan.  I’ve told him not to be around that boy, he’s not stable.”

“What do you mean, he’s not stable,” I demanded. My father-in-law held up one hand to calm me.  I quickly closed my mouth and lowered my head.

“From what I’ve heard, that boy was kicked out of the military because of an incident while he was overseas.  I guess he beat a suspect so badly, they couldn’t recognize him after it was over.”

Before I could ask more questions, the front door opened.  Adam looked wary.  He shook his head, telling us that she wasn’t there.  I immediately made my way back to the truck.

Andrew stayed inside and gave Marge instructions on what to do if her grandson returned. The sky had now turned dark.  The wind blew from the north and I pulled my jacket tighter around my body, shielding it from the bitter wind.

“She’s not here.  There’s no sign of her,” Adam said.

Chapter 15

Scarred

Lexi

Waking up after being beaten is one of the worst feelings I had ever experienced.  My left eye was completely swollen shut; the other was matted from the dirt and grime of being tossed around in the forest.  Wherever I was, it was cold, below freezing.  I didn’t experience the usual not-knowing-where-I-was feeling that you see in the movies or read in books.  I knew I had been beaten and taken somewhere cold and dirty.

It was dark, only a slight light coming from an odd square in the ceiling.  I shifted my eyes, to my jaguar form, so that I could use my enhanced vision to see where I was.  Once my vision cleared I realized I was in a basement, or a tornado shelter somewhere in the ground.  The immediate pain in my thighs had me looking down.  I gagged when I saw a stake nailed through each of them; holding me in place on a chair.  Even a full on shift wouldn’t help me escape from this, as I’m sure my captors already knew.  My hands were tied behind my back and a rope held my chest firmly in place against the chair.  I was wearing nothing.

“You’re awake,” the demon’s voice echoed through my chamber.

Go to hell,” I growled.

“The Princess has forgotten her manners, boys.”  John laughed as he came forward, and rested his cheek against mine.  He started rubbing back and forth; he was marking me.

I looked around him and found two of his cronies.  One I recognized being the passenger in the truck a few weeks ago, when he was chasing my brother and me.  The other one, I knew him from school.  Jason Garrett was the best quarterback my high school had ever seen.  He was a cougar shifter and mean as hell.  At six foot tall he weighed close to two hundred pounds and only had about an ounce of fat.  He trained in martial arts and had been special ops in the Army for four years before returning home a few months ago.

“Maybe we should teach her some,” Jason purred.  The look in his eye and the bulge in his pants confirmed that he wasn’t talking about teaching me how to hold a spoon.  He reached over and squeezed my hips so hard I thought they were going to shatter.  John pulled him away before he could move his hands further inside my thighs.

The blood loss and dehydration, mixed with the cold, kicked in and I began to shiver.  My teeth chattered uncontrollably.  “W…Why?” I stuttered.

“Why?” John screamed.  He backhanded me then grabbed my chin squeezing it tight so that I would look into his eyes.  “You were mine!  Your father had me all picked out, then you had to go whore yourself out to some stranger.  What, a jag from your own area wasn’t good enough?  I can smell him all over you; it makes me sick!”  The bastard had the nerve to rub himself all over my body again, marking me.

“I will never be yours.” I cried.  He backhanded me again.  The dark haired man I didn’t know urged John back to keep him from hitting me again.  John was pulled up some stairs and out a door that folded closed over the top.  The only thing I could see outside the door was a globe from a porch light.  That confirmed that I was in a tornado shelter.  The small amount of light that filtered in let me know that it was dark outside and it had been at least several hours since I was taken, maybe a little more.

I turned my head to spit the blood that had pooled in my mouth.  My tongue felt around my mouth and I found the source of the blood.   My teeth cut the inside of my cheek when the bastard backhanded me.  It felt mangled, almost like road rash.  I turned my head and spit again.  Refusing to cry, I twisted my hands to work the knots loose on the rope.  It didn’t work, they were too thick to undo.

I let my head sag forward so that I could rest.  My main objective -other than to get out- was to rest.  I needed all the energy I could muster up, if I had to fight them.  I knew I didn’t stand a chance, but I would rather die than to allow John to mate me against my will.  Although Aidan was now my mate, John could take that away from him, by forcing me into accepting him.  I’ve heard of it happening with other females.  Kidnappings in our world were common, especially with royal females, like me.  That was the main reason behind my brother’s worry over my safety.  John was whacked enough in the head that I didn’t doubt he would try a forced mating.  And I knew it was coming.

Aidan

 

Jason Garrett’s house was over in Marshall County off of Highway 309.  We pulled up and found an old Ford truck parked in the driveway.  All of the lights were off, except for the one on the front porch and a small lamp by the window looking into the living room.  Like before, Lexi’s brothers went off to search the land, looking for any sign of her.

Andrew and I knocked heavily on the door.  After a few minutes, the door opened to reveal a middle aged man, wearing jeans and no shirt.  He was tall and muscular.  The house reeked of stale cigarettes and beer.

“Andrew,” he gasped.  “What’s going on?”

The King pushed his way inside quietly, not waiting on an invitation.  “Where is your son?”  The depth of his voice startled me.  I imagined he was just as fed up as I was about getting no answers. But the more I watched the King, the more I realized it was a great effort for him not to rip someone to shreds at the moment.

“Jason?” he asked.  When Andrew nodded, the man continued.  “Well, he was going hunting with that Carter boy.  They said they’d be gone for a few days.”

“Where were they going hunting at?” Andrew growled.  The fact that he had told his father that he’d be gone a few days worried me.  Obviously with that time frame, they weren’t planning on killing her right away.  The thought put a lump in my throat.

“Jason’s got a place over in Union County, just west of New Albany,” he paused.  “Why are you looking for my boy?”

The King told him of the kidnapping.  Jason’s father, who I found out was named Charles, was beside himself with grief.  He explained the true reason for his separation from the military.  It seems that Jason had anger issues and used them a little too forceful on a prisoner; pretty much what Marge had told us earlier.

And just like before, the boys came in; there was no sign of Lexi here either.  We got directions to the next location and headed out.  Andrew called his bear shifter friends and asked them to meet us there.

Lexi

Faint light spilled down the stairs as the door was opened.  I cringed when I saw him coming down by himself.  John was alone, with no one there to hold him back from hurting me.  How fucking perfect.  I’d wondered if he was going to keep me here like a pet; one he doesn’t feed.  I bet fighting dogs were treated better.

“Hello beautiful,” he said politely, but I wasn’t fooled.  He stroked his finger down my jaw and over my collar bone, grazing his finger over my breast.  The roughness of his hands was foreign to me and the action made me sick.

Fuck you,” I growled.  He backhanded me just as I expected him to do.  I laughed through the pain.  John didn’t like my reaction.

He got down on his knees in front of me and ran his hand up the inside of my bloody thighs and he squeezed causing me to cry out in pain.  His other hand caressed the side of my face he had just assaulted.  I shivered from his touch and closed my eyes, just waiting for him to get it over with.  With my eyes closed, my sense of smell increased.  John scent was a mix of whiskey and cigarettes, overpowered by almonds.  I’d smelled it before when he was at the house.  After he would leave at night, I would always shower to get the smell off of me.  Now, I’m sure, anytime I come across that scent, if I lived, it will always remind me of him and this.

“I’m not going to touch you now.  I think I’ll just keep you till you go through your Prime.  Then we’ll play.”  He leaned in and pressed his cold lips to mine.  They were rough and the taste of whiskey burned into the cuts in my sensitive flesh.  My stomach rolled and I knew I needed to fight back.  I lunged forward and tried to bit his face.  I nipped his chin and laughed at the small drop of blood that formed there.  It wasn’t much, but it made me feel better knowing that I could hurt him.

His hand came at me so fast that I didn’t notice until it was over. He’d partially shifted and used his claws to slash the side of my face.  The pain was unbearable.  My blood curdling scream echoed throughout the shelter.  My face was torn from my eye all the way down to the corner of my lip, and warm blood poured down my neck, over my breast and pooled in my lap.

“Now, no man will ever want you,” he laughed wickedly.  “You’re going to be scarred for life.  Every time you look in the mirror, you will be reminded of me.”

There was nothing more I could do but cry.  John left the shelter, closing the door off so that I was in the dark.

Eventually, the blood loss and cold took over my body and I succumbed to sleep.  Hopefully death would arrive before John returned to take me as his.

Aidan

 

I knew she was here the moment I stepped out of the truck.  My heart raced knowing she was near.  There was a hushed calm to all of our actions.  The approach on the house was slow and guarded.  Not like when we rushed the other two homes.  We parked just up the road, out of view from the small wooden cabin.  The Tuggle’s met us shortly afterward.

We heard voices coming from inside.  The loudest one was John Carter’s.  When I tried to rush forward, strong arms held me back.  I looked over my shoulder and saw Lexi’s father standing there with one finger over his lips, telling me to keep quiet.

The urge to destroy those men were foremost in my mind.  I needed to kill them.

Suddenly, voices shouted from the back yard.  Time seemed to slow as I ran around the west side of the cabin; almost like a dream when you’re running and not getting anywhere.

When we came around, the bear shifters were there, tying up the three men.  John looked up just as my eyes zeroed in on him.  He gave me a meaningful look and licked his lips as if he was savoring her taste.

Adam was in their faces demanding to know where she was.  Every one of them laughed.

I growled and tried to lunge for John, and that’s when I heard it.

“Shh,” I yelled.  Everyone stilled.  Finally I heard the sweetest sound in the world, coming from below my feet.

Lexi

 

A pounding above my head woke me up from my deathly stupor.  Voices shouted loud and angry.  I could barely raise my head to listen, but I tried.  There was some sort of scuffle above and I wondered what was going on.  Was John fighting with my other captors?

More voices sounded and the first one I recognized was Adam’s, “Where is she?” I almost fainted from the relief.  They were here.

“Adam!” I yelled, but it sounded faint to my ears.

Suddenly everything got quiet and I knew they had heard something.  I tried again, “Adam!”

The door to the shelter opened slowly and light filtered down, spotlighting me.  I heard a gasp and several feet pounding down the stairs.  I looked up into the eyes of my four brothers.  I was rescued.

“Move!” Aidan roared.  “Let me through.”  Avery and A.J. made a barrier with their bodies to keep him from seeing me.  I caught a glimpse of his hair between my two brothers and I cried.  My tears burned as they rolled down through the wound on my face.

“Aidan,” Avery pushed him back.

Get him the hell out of here,” Adam yelled.  He hovered over me, shielding my beaten and bloody body from my mate.  The look I gave him was pleading.  I really didn’t care who was here, I just wanted out of this hole.

It took me a minute to understand why Adam was covering me with his body and not doing anything to get me loose.  Aidan would go feral if he saw me like this.

Mated males are known to have a hard time seeing their mates in pain.  It makes them wild, insane with anger.  Those who are in his path could be torn limb from limb.  If a male acted that way seeing their mate in pain, I could only imagine what Aidan will do when he sees my condition.

When they tried to block him from getting to me, Aidan growled and shoved them to the side.  His strength and determination was more than my brothers could handle.

Our eyes met and he threw his head back, roaring like the world had just ended.  Aidan’s face shifted slightly from the anger that was bubbling through his body.  His canines elongated from his gums and his tawny hair sprouted around his lip.  Once he stepped forward, his knees gave out and he fell down beside me.

“Lexi,” he cried.  He immediately rubbed his cheek against the right side of my neck.  I knew it was killing him to smell another male on me.  It was animal instinct to mark your mate, and although I was injured, Aidan couldn’t control his primal need to leave his scent on my skin.

“Aidan,” I sighed.  My head fell forward.  I was just too tired to fight anymore.  My will to live was gone.  “I’m tired.”

Thankfully, they found me and would take me home to be buried.  That’s all I could hope for.  The thought of dying here, alone, and in this shelter was now erased.  I wouldn’t die alone.

“Don’t you dare give up,” my mate roared.  “Stay with me.”

“We’re going to get you out of here?” Adam promised.  “Get Doc Jones to the house.”  He must have been talking to one of my other brothers.

“Lexi,” Aidan cried.  “Lexi, look at me!”

I tried to lift my head but it just wouldn’t comply and fell forward.  He touched my chin and I whimpered from the pain.  My hands were suddenly loosened behind my back and I used what strength I had left to wrap my arms around Aidan’s neck, settling myself into his warmth.  My chest was freed next and as I leaned forward to climb up on him, I was jolted back by the stakes that were still holding me down.  I cried out from the pain.

Adam and Aidan looked at each other and through complete determination used their strength to pull them free.  I screamed at the top of my lungs, and begged them to let me die.

Aidan scooped me up in his arms and rushed up the stairs to the awaiting truck.  I looked around his arm and saw my father along with the Tuggle bear clan.  My three captors were down on their knees, hands tied behind their back.  John’s head snapped up as I came into view.  A sarcastic grin plastered on his face, until my father noticed and hit him with a right hook.  Blood spewed from his mouth and nose.  The bastard just laughed.

When I whined from the pain, Aidan leaned down and kissed the top of my head.  He tucked my face into the crook of his neck. The exotic smell that filled my nose was like coming home.  His head rested on top of mine; shielding my eyes from something I most likely didn’t want to see.  My body started to convulse and my teeth clicked together uncontrollably.  “C…cold,” I cried.

“I know,” Aidan’s voice broke.  “You’re safe, love.  You’re safe.”

A blanket was wrapped around the both of us.  The immediate warmth slightly eased the convulsions.  The blanket made a cocoon around us.  I breathed in and tasted coconuts and sun on my tongue.  I smiled, the first time since I woke up with Aidan, whenever that was.

We were ushered into A.J.’s truck.  The moment I heard the familiar roar of the engine, I relaxed more.  My body was finally shutting down from the trauma.  Occasionally, I would cry out from the round of pain shooting through my legs.  They were obviously broken.  Aidan held me tight as I was draped across his lap on the ride home.  When I would protest against the pain, he would gently rock me, hoping that would help.  It didn’t matter, I was falling into a hole, I wasn’t sure I wanted out of.

“Tired,” I whispered, because talking took up too much energy.

“What?” my brother asked from behind the wheel.

“She’s going into shock, A.J.  You’ve got to hurry up.”  I heard the truck accelerate and the engine protest in response.  It growled back at my brother telling him to take it easy.

Warm hands stroked my forehead, the only part of me that wasn’t bruised or broken.  “We’re almost there.  Don’t go to sleep yet,” he demanded.  “You’ve got to see Doc Jones first.”

“Tired,” I whispered again, just before I drifted off into nothing.

Aidan

 

      “Lexi,” I roared her name so loudly the frame of the truck rumbled beneath me.  A.J. looked over and saw that she was no longer responsive.  But thankfully she was breathing.

It took almost thirty minutes before we made it to the house.  The doctor and her mother were waiting by the door.

We rushed her upstairs and into the bed.  The doctor pushed me away so that he could start working on my mate.  Her left eye was swollen shut.  Just below that eye were two gashes that trailed down to the corner of her mouth.  The cuts were deep and were put there by claws.  Blood soaked the side of her face and left a trail down her neck, over her left breast and covered most of her lap.  Her wrists were raw from the ropes that held her in place. Two small holes in the tops of her legs showed where the monsters had used wooden stakes, like the kind you use in a garden to hold up vegetables.  My knees finally gave out and I collapsed when I saw the bruises on the inside of her legs.

I threw back my head and roared.

“Get him out of here,” the doctor demanded.

“No,” I bellowed.  “She is my mate!  I will not leave her!”

Doc Jones turned toward me and said, “If you want to stay then you will calm yourself.  I can’t work on her with any distractions.”

I nodded and watched as he set up an IV to start her on some fluids.  He had a portable machine to record her vitals, like her heart rate and blood pressure.  The cuff on her arm would inflate every few minutes. Ms. Sharpe came forward with a bowl of warm water and several towels.  I cried knowing that when they cleaned off the dried blood, the injuries would be a million times worse.

Lexi

I was at that point of death where there was no line between reality and hallucinations.  The things I heard could have been real or just my mind playing tricks on me.

My mom’s voice was scratchy and broken.  “What can I do?”

“Help me,” a male voice said.  “After you get the I.V. in, I need you to hold pressure to the wound on her face, while I stitch up these small holes in her legs first.”

Pressure came down on my face and for a moment I panicked.  My eyes fluttered open and I briefly saw a ghostly figure, with dark hair, hovering over me.  I whimpered and tried to move away from it.  I felt a small hand soothing my arm, just as my mom had done when I was a child.  I stilled and let that tiny bit of touch, the only touch I could feel, relax me.  I drifted into the darkness again.

Aidan

When she cried out and began flailing around on the bed, I lunged for the doctor’s throat.  “What did you do to her?

He turned toward me and growled, “I’m trying to help her.  This is your last chance boy.  Don’t make me throw you out.  It will be worse on you not being in here.”

Hands grabbed hold of my arms and pulled me back.  I looked back into the eyes of her brothers, each one with red rimmed eyes.

Suddenly she stilled under the touch of her mother.  Like a child who had woken up from a nightmare.  She fell back into nothing.

“Hand me the needle,” he told her mother.

I watched as they stitched her face back together.  The doctor worked quietly and with a steady hand putting the pieces back in the appropriate place.  I couldn’t imagine the pain she had been in since the injury happened.

Once that was done, the doctor worked his way down her body, checking every inch of her skin for other injuries that may need to be sewn up.

“Aidan,” the doctor said.  His voice was off; almost too calm.

“Sir,” I replied automatically.

“I’ve got to do an internal exam, to see if she’s been violated.  You may want to leave now.”  I watched as he reached into the bag, bringing out items I’d never seen before, some of which I knew, long swabs and small tubes for placing tissue samples in.  Those were for testing something.  Her brothers released me and left the room.  I knew I should too, but I had to be there.

“I’m fine,” I whispered.  Whatever had been done to her, we could get past this.  It wasn’t her fault.  If I had just been there, if I’d just stayed beside her this wouldn’t have happened.

Lexi

 

The tugging on my face felt wrong, like I was a puppet on a string and the puppet master was ordering me to move my face in ways that were foreign to me.  One eye opened and the ghostly figure was back, and there were two new ones with it.  One looked more like an angel, with its long golden hair and the other one had white hair to match its ghostly features.

The angel leaned closer to me and spoke, “Lexi, love.  Can you hear me?”  The angel’s voice was like velvet and reminded me of Aidan’s.  I closed my eyes and sighed.  The darkness returned and I was too tired to fight it, even with the angel watching over me.

An intrusion between my legs, forced something in me to fight.  I wouldn’t allow him to take me, even on my deathbed.  I screamed and clawed and fought my way out of the darkness.  Hushed whispers echoed around me, telling me it was alright.  I refused to be taken.  It would kill Aidan if he found out after I had died.

Suddenly, I felt warm all over.  I embraced the warmth.  This was what I needed for my prison down in the hole.  My body fell numb and I thought this was it.  The paralysis before death was something that I had read about once before.  I let go of my hold on the voices around me and let myself be taken, finally by the need to just give up.

Aidan

She screamed and thrashed when the doctor tried to open her legs.  Her mother was on one side and I was on the other.  I cried along with her, telling her it would be okay.

Her eye, when it did try to open, looked vacant.  Like her spirit had been destroyed leaving nothing but an open shell.  Her head twisted from side to side in a soundless struggle.

I watched as the doctor preformed the exam; his face never revealing one diagnosis or another.  Whatever he was thinking, it never showed in his features.

“Well,” I asked.

“No,” he sighed.  “No sign of trauma inside, but the bruises on the inside of her thighs, indicates that she must have been fighting him.  Her legs are broken, from when they staked her to the chair.  Her hip bones may be fractured from the pressure of whoever held her down.  If they’d been broken, she wouldn’t be able to move her hips around like she’s been doing.”

“What do we do now?” I watched as he wrote out a prescription and handed it to Ms. Sharpe.

“You’ll need to go down to the pharmacy to get these filled; one is an antibiotic, the other is for pain pills when she wakes up.  I’ve given her a strong sedative.  It should work till morning.”

“Thank you,” I signed.

“Sara Beth, I’m going to leave this with you,” he held up a bottle of the sedative and a syringe.  He showed her the correct amount to administer and told us that until she is able to take the medicine by mouth, she would need to be injected.

Lexi

 

I heard the sound of footsteps and I wondered where they were coming from.  My eyes refused to open, to check my surroundings.  I knew I was home, because I could smell the vanilla scented cologne my mother wore and another exotic scent was all around me, on me…Aidan.  My ears worked better than any other sense I had at the moment.

My angel cried from somewhere close to me.  I wanted to reach out for him and tell him it would be okay.  “Is she going to be okay?”  I relaxed a little when I heard the angel speak.

“She’s sedated,” he white haired ghost said.  “Her vitals are unstable right now, and she’s lost a lot of blood.”

“I know what’s wrong,” the angel growled.  “I want to know if she’s going to be okay.”  I didn’t like the tone the angel was using with the ghost. It was too harsh, and not like my angel.

“It’s still too early to tell,” the ghost replied.  I heard my angel cry, louder this time.

My legs felt like limp noodles that were attached to my body.  Occasionally, it felt like my legs would be lifted in the air.  I used what strength I had to move them away from whoever had hold of them.  The jerking motion I was making had me crying out in pain.  I wondered where my ghost and angel were.  I didn’t hear them speak.  The warmth returned to my body.  I was so use to this that I didn’t fight it when darkness arrived.

Aidan

 

It was over.  Well, at least John Carter was over.  Death by lethal injection seemed too easy of an end for the monster that he was.  Of course, the others had looked away as I took my anger out on him before I was pulled away.  The rules said that anyone that had to be put down must be done in a humane way.  But the rules said nothing about bringing that person to the brink of death before he was put down.

I left the other two to Lexi’s brothers.

When I would try to clean her, Lexi would lash out.  Her arms would flail around while I tried to sooth her.  She would scream at the top of her lungs.  Her mother would give her a more of the sedative and I would watch as her face relaxed back into sleep.

I must have fallen asleep in the recliner that Adam and Andre had brought into the room, because I was suddenly jostled away by Lexi.  She was screaming at someone in her sleep.

Please!  No!  Please!” she screamed over and over.

We called Doc Jones around three in the morning.  He was there by five to check on her.  By now, the whole family was camped out in the room.

Lexi

“She’s stable,” the white haired ghost said, bringing me back from the dark.  “The nightmares are a normal part of her healing.  The mind will try to process what was done to her.”

“How long will this go on?” the dark haired ghost said softly.  I was glad to hear her voice again.  It was soothing to my ears.

“There’s no telling,” the white haired ghost said.  “She’ll wake up when she’s ready.”

There was silence for a while.  Only this annoying beeping sound kept the cloud I was on from being completely quiet.  One of my arms was cold.  It was annoying to have one half of my body cold and the other warm.

“Aidan,” the female ghost whispered.  “You need to eat son.”  I heard the name I would know anywhere.  My mate was somewhere close.

I tried to reach for him, but came up empty.  I whimpered and then I heard my own voice for the first time since I arrived in heaven.  It sounded rough, like my throat had been scrubbed with sandpaper.  “P…please.”  That was all I could get out.  I wanted him to hold me.

“I’ll eat when she wakes up,” my mate demanded.  He was closer now, I could smell him.  I relaxed and let sleep finally come over me.  I inhaled deeply, savoring his exotic scent right before I drifted away.

Aidan

I moved from the recliner to the bed.  She was reaching for me and that gave me hope.  Her arm with the I.V. in it was cold to the touch.  I covered her up and rested my head on the pillow next to hers.

Brushing the hair back from her forehead, I kissed the top of her head.  She moved slightly and I said a silent prayer, “Please God, don’t take her away from me.”

Lexi

 

“Lexi,” my angel sighed.  “I wish you would wake up.”  I heard a door open from somewhere far away and my angel chuckled softly.

“You need to eat,” the female ghost whispered.

“We’ll watch over her,” a new voice sounded from somewhere close by.  Was this a new angel sent to be at my side like the others?  Were they trying to send my angel away?

Warm hands touched my forehead and I tried to open my eyes to see who the new one was. Through the tiny slits in my eyes, I saw the blurry figures at my bedside.  The new ghost was dark haired like the female.  There were other ghost with this one and they all looked the same, only they were different heights, like stair steps.

“I’ll stay,” my angel protested.

“Here’s your food.  Now eat,” the female ghost ordered.  I felt better knowing that someone was taking care of my angel.  He needed nutrition and hanging out with me kept the angel from taking care of himself while I was too tired to do it.  Just as I drifted off, I heard the sound of silverware clanking together.

Aidan

 

I smiled for the first time in almost forty eight hours.  Lexi’s mother demanded that I eat, and when she demanded something, everyone listened, or you’d have to answer to the King.  I took a bite of food off of the plate on my lap.  The meatloaf was perfection, or it could be that I hadn’t eaten since the breakfast Lexi and I shared before she was taken.

“I’m going to call you Mamma Sharpe from now on,” I told her.  “Your food is better than my moms.”  It felt good to laugh, although it wasn’t perfect, it was still a laugh.

“That’s fine with me Aidan,” she said as she rubbed her petite hands across my shoulder.  “And you shouldn’t say that about your mother, it’s rude.”

I looked up and saw her smiling.  Lexi looked so much like her mother that when Mamma Sharpe smiled, I had to fight down the lump in my throat, to keep from crying.

The food gave me a renewed energy.  I told her I’d take the plate downstairs, because I needed to walk around.  If something happened, I’m sure she would call out for me.

No one was in the living room or kitchen when I took my plate to the sink.  I rinsed it and placed it in the washer.  I refilled my glass and headed back upstairs.

As I climbed the stairs, I heard her cry out.  I ran for her room.

Lexi

“Now, no man will ever want you.  You’re scarred for life.  Every time you look in the mirror, you will be reminded of me.”

      The hands of the monster remained as claws at his side.  His eyes were filled with hatred and lust; two emotions that shouldn’t exist at the same time.  Blood from my face dripped down his hands slowly, as if the liquid was now a part of him. 

      The monster reached for the scarred face he had mangled, smiling at his work.  His face lit up proudly at the damage he had caused.

      His now human hands slowly caressed the side of my neck, over my collar bone, and came to rest…

Screams erupted all around and I tried to sit up, wondering where they were coming from.  Until I realized the screams were coming from me.

“Alexandra,” my mom cried.  One moment I was alone, the next my mother was in the bed holding me tight.  My hand was bumped and I felt a sting pulsate up my arm.  I looked down and saw that I was connected to an I.V.; a bag of solution on a makeshift hook hanging from my headboard.  “Everything’s okay.  I’m here.  You’re home.  You’re safe.”  She spoke as if she was reassuring us both.

The door to my room opened showing one pissed off jaguar, Aidan.  He looked panicked, “What’s wrong?”  He was at my side in a flash.  He reminded me of the angel I had dreamed of, beautiful, strong, and protective.

“More nightmares,” my mom said without looking at him.  We were currently intertwined together.  For a moment, I wondered what she meant by more nightmares, like she was talking about me, but I only remember the one I’d just had.  How long had I been out?

I released her and attempted to crawl out of the bed to get to my mate.  I looked down when I couldn’t make my legs cooperate.  They were both in cast.  My bloody body had been cleaned up and I was wearing a thin cotton nightgown.

Aidan’s arms replaced my mothers.  She slipped quietly out of the room.  Aidan’s warmth was like coming home.  His chest was the perfect pillow for my body.

“Hey, champ,” he whispered.

“Don’t call me that,” I begged; my voice scratchy.

“Why not?” he asked.

“A champ, I am not.”  I relaxed back on the pillow and touched my cheek and found a bandage covering my left side, where John had mangled my face.  I shivered remembering his words as they’d been rolling in my head like a tape set to repeat.  My body ceased up and I couldn’t stop the tears from flowing.

“Don’t think about it,” he begged.  “Don’t give him the satisfaction of your memories.”  He pushed my hair back from my face, and I leaned into his palm.  His fresh exotic scent enveloped me.  This is why I love him; it was like he could read my thoughts.

“What happened?” I asked, not sure I wanted to know.

“Lexi,” he paused.  “I don’t think now is the time to discuss this.”

“I need to know,” I begged, looking up into his eyes.

“I put him down,” he growled.  “Your brothers and the Tuggle clan captured him and per your father’s orders, I, as your mate, was allowed to execute him.  Your brother’s took care of the other two.”

“Good,” I sighed.  “That’s good.  How long have I been out?”

“Almost two days,” he smiled.

“Okay,” I sighed then squeezed my eyes closed from the pain.  Aidan reached for pain killers and a bottle of water on my bedside table.  I took them willingly.  Popping two in my mouth and then drank some water.

“Did he?” I saw the meaning in his eyes, but couldn’t bring myself to talk about it.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” I snapped.  My mate’s face twisted in anger, not toward me, but toward John.  The look on Aidan’s face told me that I needed to say something. “He didn’t…no…, but close enough.”  My mate growled, deeply.  I watched as his fist clinched as they rested on the tops of his thighs.

“Doctor Jones said that you were not violated, but from the bruising on your thighs and hips,” his voice choked off with a groan.  “You need to talk to me about it.”

“I know, but not now,” I admitted. “Please tell me what the doctor said.  How bad am I?”

“Well, both of your femurs are broken, from the stakes.  You have burns on your wrist from struggling with the ropes, but they’re almost healed.  Your cheek bone is broken and your face has about fifty stitches in it to keep it together.  You have bruises covering most of your body and you’re dehydrated.”  He shifted me carefully so that he could look into my eyes, or eye, because the other one was swollen shut.

“What?” I asked.  I could tell that he had so many questions on his mind that he was sifting through the list one at a time looking for the appropriate one.

“What happened in the woods?”

“Before I had a chance to take off, I felt a stinging in my back leg,” I paused.  “Do we really need to talk about it?”

“Yes,” It wasn’t an answer, but a demand.

“I got weak and shifted back.  He was hiding in the trees.  I fought him, but this,” I pointed to my eye.  “It was from his right hook.  I kicked and punch just like you told me.  I think you were almost there, when the other two jumped the fence and grabbed me.  I think he hit me in the temple and that’s when I passed out.”

“I’m so sorry,” he cried.  “I ran as fast as I could, but they had you and I couldn’t get to you.”  His eyes were red rimmed and a few tears escaped.  I reached up and wiped them from his face.  He nuzzled the palm of my hand.

“Don’t be sorry,” I begged.  “You found me.  I thought I was going to die in there alone.”

He held me against his chest; I rubbed the good side of my face against his shirt, inhaling his exotic scent.  He held me for a few minutes before he spoke again.

“When I saw your face,” he swallowed.  “I thought you were dead already.”

“That bad huh?” I laughed, but I wondered if he thought any differently about me now, I wasn’t pretty anymore.

“You’re still as beautiful as the day I laid eyes on you.”  He kissed the top of my head and leaned back against the headboard.

“It’s going to scar, isn’t it?” I asked.  When he nodded, I told him what my kidnapper had said.  The fire in his eyes burned with hatred toward John Carter and even though he is gone.  I’m sure no matter how much I try I will always look in the mirror and remember him.

“Your healing should make most of it disappear, but Doc says that you may have a scar.  Whatever happens, we’ll get it fixed.  I promise.”

I didn’t reply to his promise.  There was nothing more to know.  “I’m tired.  Please stay with me.”

Aidan didn’t speak as he kicked off his shoes and slid carefully in the bed.  I draped my arm across his waist and slept like a baby.

Aidan

If I hadn’t of been holding her, I would have jumped up and shouted to the rooftops.  She was awake and talking.  Except now, she was back asleep.  I didn’t care.  I would have stayed like this forever if she asked.

When I brought her dinner that night, she had sat herself upright in the bed.  I frowned, “You should have waited on me.  I would’ve helped you.”

“I’ve got to move around by myself.  I don’t want you helping me.”  She folded her arms across her chest and the smile she gave me just proved how much better she was than this time yesterday.

“Doc says only liquid’s for now, but I brought you some crackers and toast.”  I placed the tray across her lap and took my spot on the right side of the bed.

“Thank you,” she smiled and then leaned over to kiss me softly on the lips.  She winced and pulled back, “Ouch.  I keep forgetting my lip is cut.”

Thunder rumbled somewhere off in the west.  We turned on the television and watched the news.  No severe weather was expected tonight, just a few stray storms.  I watched her eat in silence.  My stomach rumbled and she eyed me suspiciously, “You haven’t eaten?”

“I will when you’re fed.”  I pushed the broth closer to her; she grimaced but took it anyway.

The last thing I wanted to do was to hover over her.  She needed to know that I was here, but I wouldn’t coddle her.  Lexi didn’t like to be doted over, ever.  The news was almost over and they were giving the last weather report for the evening, before going over to the national news.

“I’m full,” she said, pushing the tray toward me.  I examined her plate and noticed she only ate three crackers, half a piece of toast, and only a third of her broth.

“Lexi,” I growled.  “You need to eat more.”  It worried me that she wasn’t eating; that she didn’t have an appetite.

“I said, I’m full,” she growled, then whispered in clipped tones.  “Take it away.  Go eat something.  I’m tired.”

The rain started as I watched her roll over uncomfortably on her side, stuffing a pillow between the cast on her legs.  She closed her eyes, but she wasn’t asleep.  Something was wrong; I could sense it, like a prickling in the back of my neck.

“What’s wrong?” I begged.  She wouldn’t look at me or even talk to me.  I decided to go downstairs to eat and give her some privacy.  Hopefully she would talk to me later.  “I’m going downstairs to eat.  I’ve got my phone; just call me if you need anything.”  I placed her cell within her reach on the night stand.

Downstairs, I walked into the dining room, after putting the tray on the counter, taking my seat next to Adam.  I didn’t speak much as I made my plate.  The others were all in various stages of discussion, none of them appealed to me.

“Aidan,” someone said from my left.  I raised my head and saw Adam looking at me.  He must have been the one to call my name.

The rain was coming down harder now.  I could hear it beating against the house, like it was trying to cover up something we shouldn’t be hearing.  The prickling started in my neck again and I rubbed it softly hoping to ease the feeling.

“Yeah,” I finally answered.

“What’s wrong,” he asked.  It was almost a whisper.

“I’m not sure,” I admitted.  I held a roll in both hands, looking at it like it may hold some answers as to what was going on with Lexi.  I picked away the layers wishing that it was Lexi’s mind I was allowed to rummage through piece by piece until I found answers.

“Is it Lexi,” Christa asked.  The look of concern on her face speared me.  Eyes of understanding stared back at me.  Her huge doe like eyes waited for my answer.

“She won’t talk to me,” I sighed.  “And she won’t eat.”  I nodded my head toward the tray of almost untouched food.

“Ah,” she nodded.  “Will you excuse me?” Christa stood up from the table, momentarily pausing to touch her mate’s shoulder.  Adam touched her hand briefly and sighed.

I watched her leave, confused by her actions.  Whatever she had planned I prayed it would bring back my favorite smile to Lexi’s face.

Lexi

The door opened slowly.  I wiped my eyes quickly, so that he would see me cry.  I couldn’t help it.  I felt like I was sinking fast.  The memories were too real, to close.  Every time I closed my eyes, I saw his face.  Every time I slept, I heard the monsters voice.  My stomach hurt so bad that food only made it worse.

“Lexi,” a soft voice spoke from across the room.

“Come in Christa,” I muttered from my pillows.  The mattress dipped and I looked over to see my sister-in-law behind me on the bed.  I rolled over and forced myself to sit upright in the bed.  She didn’t say anything before she wrapped her arms around me, hugging me tight.  I dropped my head onto her shoulder and I cried, harder than I have ever cried before.

Aidan

 

Christa had been upstairs for half an hour before she slowly came down the stairs, her face flushed like she’d been crying.  Adam was at her side immediately.

“What’s wrong,” he demanded.

She ignored him and turned toward me, “You need to go up there.  She’s waiting on you.”

I didn’t wait for a second invitation; I bounded up the stairs taking two at a time.  I stopped outside the door and took two calming breaths.  The door handle was cold against my palm as I opened it and walked inside.

Lexi was sitting up in the bed with a pile of tissues in her lap.  Her face was streaked with tears and when she looked up, she smiled.  The light hit her eye and it sparkled from the tears that still sat in there like a protective blanket.

“Hi,” she whispered and then patted the bed.

“Hey,” I said, sitting next to her in the bed.  Shaking hands reached out and took mine into them.  They stilled instantly.

“I’m sorry,” she sighed.  “I’m having a hard time keeping him out of my mind.  His face and voice haunts me.  I hear his words in my dreams. I’m afraid you won’t think I’m beautiful anymore. Aidan, I’m miserable.”  She lowered her head and started gathering up the tissues, leaning over the edge of her bed to drop them in the waste paper basket.

The urge to hold her was hard to resist, but I did.  Instead, I sat carefully at the foot of the bed.  I touched her toes that were exposed, she smiled, a little.

“You will always be beautiful to me.  Please don’t think about it.  I love you no matter what.”  I held her hand. She squeezed mine, it was weak, but at least he acknowledged me.

“I love you, too.”

“What can I do?” I asked.

“Make me forget,” she begged.  “Christa told me to tell you how I was feeling.  So, I’m telling you now; I want you to help me forget.”

“I can do that,” I smiled.  She needed to do something to keep her mind busy.  And I would do anything to help her.  “I’ll be right back.”

I was out the door and in the kitchen in a heartbeat.  Mamma Sharpe smiled when I made my request.  She took me to the hallway closet below the stairs and opened the door.  That’s where I found what I needed.

Back to the room with my findings, I opened the door and walked in.  Lexi looked at what I was carrying and started to laugh, “Board games?”  She could laugh all she wanted.  It was music to my ears.

Chapter 16

Recovery

Lexi

Thankfully we shifters have accelerated healing. The thought of being bed ridden for months with two broken legs, didn’t seem all that appealing to me.  Granted, my four days in bed with nothing more than a sponge bath had me climbing the walls.  It was early morning on Monday.  Doctor Carter was to be here soon to remove the casts and stitches.

My mate, Aidan was asleep next to me in the bed.  He hasn’t left my side, since I was brought home.  Yesterday was tough for me, but with Christa’s help, I was able to open up about my feelings and tell Aidan everything.  His board game therapy was actually fun.  Occasionally, I would tell him what I was thinking and he would just nod, not saying anything, unless I asked a question.

I reached over and touched his check, rubbing the prickly hairs that had grown in overnight.  His eyes popped open and when he focused in on my face, he smiled.  “Good morning,” he yawned.

“Hey,” I sighed.

“Can I get you anything?” he yawned.

“I’d love a bath in that big tub at our house.”  The thought had me tingling all over.  Aidan raised himself up on one elbow, holding his head with his hand.  The covers were low enough that I could see just below his belly button.  The tops of his hip bones barely visible had me reaching over to run my thumb along them and up the side of his ribs, he shivered from my touch.

“I promise you,” he smiled.  “As soon as we get home, I will put you in that tub and let you stay there all day.”

A knock sounded on the door.  Aidan dressed and answered it.  Doc Jones and my mother were there, waiting.  The doctor came into the room with a small handheld saw in one hand and his black bag in the other.

“Are you ready to get those casts off,” the good doctor asked.

“Yes, sir,” I smiled.  I removed the sheets and watched as he got set up.  He gave me a complete physical before he commenced in the sawing.  The stitches were next.  He tugged and snipped.  I growled at him a few times when they hurt.

“Can I please take her home today?”  Aidan begged.  Mr. and Mrs. Tuggle had been at the house during all of this.  Our close family friends had volunteered to stay at the house with the movers on Monday.  Mrs. Tuggle had gone back yesterday and at least got the kitchen in order while my brothers were taking over boxes.  Aidan told me that we would both feel better if we came home to at least a set up kitchen.  We agreed to send them a thank you present; we still haven’t decided what that will be yet.

“It all depends on if she can get up out of this bed and walk with no help,” Doc Jones announced.  He didn’t need to tell me twice.  As soon as my legs were free from the cast, I sat up and let them fall from the side of the bed.  I wiggled my toes into the carpet and smiled.  The moment I tried to stand, Aidan’s hands shot out to help.  The doctor slapped his hands away, “I told you she had to do it on her own.”

Aidan growled slightly from the doctors actions but I assured him I was fine, “Aidan, I have to do this on my own.”  He ducked his head and put his hands in his pockets to keep them from reaching out for me.  In fact, he got up out of the bed and stood by the dresser.

I stood up and flinched from the ache in my thighs.  My cotton nightgown fell down to cover me down to my knees. The bruises were all but gone; only a few left on my hip bones.  Those were the ones that bothered Aidan the most.  Stars filled my vision and I felt warm all over, as if I was about to pass out.  I swallowed hard and fought through the sensations.  My first step faltered, Aidan started for me, but the doctor steadied me, but didn’t tell me to get back in the bed.  The second step was easier and even steadier.  The third, fourth, and fifth ones were normal, and the last two steps put me right into the arms of my mate.

“Well, Alexandra.  You just proved me wrong.  Aidan, you can take her home as soon as you’re ready.”  The doctor turned to his bag and repacked his supplies.

“I’m so ready,” I laughed.  Aidan kissed the top of my head while he rubbed my shoulder, warming it slightly.

“You still need to take it easy.  I’m talking, no unpacking, no standing for long amounts of time, and no shifting at least for two more days.  I’ll come by on Friday morning to give you another physical.”  Doc Jones stood and my mother, who had been waiting by quietly, walked out the door.

“Are you ready,” he asked.  I nodded and sat back down on the bed.  Aidan brought me some clothes to change into.  He watched as I removed my pajama shirt and underwear.  The sadness in his eyes broke my heart.  Aidan reached over and traced the remaining bruises that painted my hip bones.  Faint outlines of John’s fingers rolled up over them in a pattern that he was having a vision of right this second.  I quickly turned around and pulled on my underwear and pants, next a bra and sweatshirt.

We said our goodbyes and made our way toward the house.  Our new home was only six minutes from my parents place.  By the time we made it to the four-way stop at Byhalia Road, I felt bad, achy almost, and maybe a little feverish.  I leaned my head on the window, enjoying the cold that seeped in through the glass.  My lower belly ached and I wonder if I had already overdone it.

We parked inside the garage and I stayed in my spot, too tired to move at the moment.  I got out and held on to the bed of the truck as I made my way around.  Aidan walked ahead to get the door.  It was cold in the garage, but for some reason I was sweating.  Knowing that I was heading straight to bed, I tugged on the hem of my sweatshirt and pealed it off, leaving me in my tank top and bra.  The cold that rushed my skin felt great.  I wanted to stay out here for a while.  I leaned my hip on the truck for support.

“Hey,” Aidan’s voice strained as he came rushing up.  “What’s wrong?”

“I’m hot,” I panted.  Aidan scooped me up into his arms and took me straight to the bed.  I was too tired to even look around at the furniture that had been added since I was there last.

“I think you need to sleep,” he worried.  “You’re still weak.”

A slight burning between my legs had me wondering what the hell was going on.  My belly ached and I curled over, moaning his name.  It didn’t matter which way I turned, the aching and burning only increased.  Aidan brought me a few Tylenol and a bottle of water.  After I took them, I rolled over and stared at the ceiling, hoping the pills would start working immediately.

I heard Aidan banging around in the kitchen.  He must be making lunch.  Smiling to myself, I pictured him coming in, bringing me a tray of food that he had made with his own hands.  The though warmed my body, differently from the fever I was experiencing.  Suddenly, I felt a warm wetness pool between my legs, and the aching and burning turned into a desperate need.  Closing my eyes, I growled low and deep in my throat.

When I looked up, I saw him standing in the doorway, eyes wide.  He breathed in testing the air and I heard him purr, “You smell wonderful.”

“Aidan,” I gasped.  “I need you.”

Recognition registered on his face and it took him saying one word to put everything into prospective, “Prime.”   He gasped and left the room.  I heard the locks on the garage door engage.  He returned seconds later.

“It hurts, Aidan.”  Between my legs and my Prime, I didn’t know if I could get through the next few hours.

“I…I can’t.  I don’t want to hurt you.” His voice sounded off.  When I looked at him, he was fighting the urge to mate.  It was killing him.  He needed to touch me, to take me.  But from what I had just been through, he thought this was the worst time ever.

Right now, I didn’t care what was going through his mind, I needed relief.  Now!  My hormones surged and I grabbed the collar on his shirt, pulling him down as close to my face as I could.  “Please Aidan, I need you.”

“I’ll call Doc Jones, and your brothers.  I’ll need to leave….I can’t.”  He backed slowly out of the room.

“If you call them,” I panted.  “I’ll kill you.”

He didn’t argue anymore.  The fan was turned on and his clothes were removed.  He climbed on the bed and carefully undressed me.  He brushed the hair back out of my face.  The cool air coming from the fan felt good.   He leaned in to kiss my swollen lips and smiled, “God, you taste so good.”

“Aidan,” I moaned.  I couldn’t hold a conversation right now.

He moved his hands slowly down my stomach and the moment he touched my core, he groaned, “You are so hot, and wet.” I couldn’t wait any longer.  Reaching down, I took his length into my hands and urged him toward me.

Suddenly, growling erupted outside the house.  Other males had sensed my Prime and were coming to investigate.  Aidan roared loudly, warning the others to turn away.

I guided him inside, we both moaned from the sensation.  Aidan buried his face in my neck and nibbled at the mating mark under my ear.  “Lexi, I’m sorry.  I…I can’t go slowly.  I’ve got this urge to take you hard.”  I heard his teeth clash together.  He was fighting an animal instinct to mate, because of my condition. He moved slowly at first, buy as his passion built, Aidan began to slow even more.  I needed to reassure him it was okay

“It’s okay,” I whispered into his ear as I nibbled on his neck.  Suddenly, his hands were all over me, touching, feeling, and holding me passionately.  I wrapped my weak legs around his hips, hooking my feet together; hoping it would keep them in place.

He moved with more force this time, taking himself deep, over and over again and I felt him bumping my womb.  The pain and burning was erased and the only thing left behind was the pure pleasure of our mating.  Although he held me as gently as he could, I couldn’t get him close enough to me.  My nails dug into his back, but he never complained.  Strong arms wrapped around the back of my shoulders, holding me tighter.

When the first climax came, I bit down on his shoulder, feeling his warm blood enter my mouth.  He growled from the satisfaction.  This was normal and part of who we are.  We’re not humans, we’re part animal.  Animal rituals would have never been accepted into the human world.  But I was still shocked at my actions and immediately licked his wounds.

“No baby, it’s fine.”  He raised his head and captured my lips with such force that I exploded again, taking him with me.  He growled deep, sweat broke out on his face as he watched as I came.  When our bodies finally stilled, I let my weakened knees fall out in an odd position on the bed.

Aidan quickly got up and went to the bathroom.  I heard the water turn on and smiled to myself.  I was finally going to get that bath.  He came back into the bedroom, still wearing nothing and walked to the window.  He pulled the blinds aside and looked outside.  I heard his growl low in his throat before he grabbed his jeans off the floor.  Once he had them on, I watched him reach behind the door and retrieve a shotgun.  The door off the bedroom was opened and he walked outside.  Two warning shots later and he came back through the door.  There must have been a few cats still hanging around outside, stalking the house.

“Do you want to call my brothers,” I mumbled.

“Right now, I need to take care of you.  Then I will call them,” he said, scooping me up from the bed.

The tub was perfect size.  He stepped inside, with me in his arms.  I was surprised at his strength, holding me while sitting down and then shifting my weight effortlessly so that I was leaned back against his chest.  He used the washcloth to cover me in white, sudsy foam.

My skin was sensitive, but Aidan was gentle while he cleaned every inch of my body.  At one point I think I drifted off.  The warm rush of water over my head was something I had missed over the past week.  He squeezed a palm full of shampoo onto my head, working it in to every strand and washed it away, careful not to get it into my eyes. He repeated with the conditioner, rinsing it out.

Once we were done, he wrapped me in a towel and set me down on a chaise he had in the corner of the room while he changed the sheets on the bed.  I heard him opening the drawers looking for something.  I looked up as he took out a pair of pajamas that belonged to me.  The thought of them against my heated skin made my head swim.

“No,” I whispered.

“Do you want something else?” I looked confused.

“I’m too hot and my skin is sore.  Just take me to bed, please,” I begged.

Aidan returned the clothes to the drawer.  He walked over and lifted me from the chair; his face was plastered with the biggest smile I had ever seen.  “You’re so beautiful.”

“That’s my Prime talking, you’re enchanted by my magical charm.” I laughed.

He placed, my now dry body, into the bed.  The clean sheets felt soft and smooth against my naked body.  I rested my head on the mound of pillows at my back.  I smiled, “Thank you.”

He nodded and turned away; the newest mark flashing like a beacon on the top of his shoulder.  I winced remembering the overwhelming urge to bite him during sex.  The way he held me and cared for me was mesmerizing.  The way he held back so that he wouldn’t hurt me was noble.  A flush of warmth burned my cheeks.  I had to close my eyes to keep from watching him.  It didn’t take long before I was asleep, in my new home.

Aidan

 

“Hello,” Adam answered his phone.

“Hey,” I blushed silently to myself.  “I need some of you over at the house.”

“Why?” I heard the meaning in his voice.  He thought something was wrong.

“Lexi’s going through her Prime.  It just happened.”  I looked into the bedroom, she was sleeping quietly.  My heart swelled at finally seeing her in my bed.  God, her smell still filled the air.  Her perfume lofted throughout the house.  Honeysuckle.

“Avery and I will be there in a few minutes.”

I hung up and went into the kitchen.  It was cold outside and Lexi needed something high in calories   I pulled out everything I needed for a huge pot of chili.  Hopefully she would eat something more today than she did yesterday.

Once the chili was started, I set up the flat screen in the living room and pulled the couch over in front of it.  The boys may be here for a while; I wanted them to feel at home, because, now they are my family too.

There was a soft knock on the front door and I was thankful they didn’t use the doorbell.  I opened the door welcoming them inside.  I shivered from the blast of wind that came in behind them.

“Where’s Lexi,” Avery asked.  They removed their coats and placed them on a box that was still packed up in the living room.

“She’s in the bed, asleep,” I said.  “Come on in.  I haven’t seen any more males around for about fifteen minutes, but that doesn’t mean anything.  Are y’all hungry?”

“Always,” Avery laughed.  I ushered them into the living room.  Adam walked over to the bedroom door and watched her sleep for a few minutes.  I didn’t bother him.  He loved her and had spent his whole life taking care of her.  I think he was grateful that I called him first.

After he was done, Adam pulled the door closed and made himself a bowl of chili.  I had a few longnecks in the fridge, thanks to Mrs. Tuggle.  Adam grabbed two out and took his bowl into the living room.  It killed me to eat before her, but I did.  Once we were done, I made her a heaping bowl out of what was left, and took it into our bedroom.

Lexi

 

Cold hands rested on my face, waking me up from a dream about the ocean.  When I opened my eyes, I found Aidan sitting next to me, on the bed.  He was patting my face, checking me for a fever.

“You’re fevering again,” he said.

“I feel fine,” I protested.  He reached behind him and grabbed a bowl from a tray of food that was resting at the foot of the bed.

“You need to eat,” he urged, pushing the bowl into my hands.  He had made chili while I was asleep.  “Adam and Avery are here.  I made chili, you’re lucky to have a bowl for yourself.  Do they always eat this much?”

“Yes, pretty much.”  I took a bite and my heart melted.  Damn, my mate can cook!

He left the room and I heard the boys laughing and talking to Aidan.  I turned on the flat screen that was already anchored to the wall, with cable.  Damn, just like a man; the television and cable get hooked up first.  Laughing at his priorities, I flipped the channels until I suddenly felt tired, like someone pulled the plug on my energy.  I dropped my head over my bowl and closed my eyes, for just a second.

Scratching on the door leading out onto the patio startled me upright. “Aidan,” I called out.  My gut tightened and I felt the familiar burn in my lower belly.  My desire was rising again and from the sounds of it, the jaguar outside was coming over for a visit.

The second the bedroom door opened, I looked up into the eyes of a hungry cat.  Aidan inhaled and called out over his shoulder, “Adam, Avery outside.”  I heard the sound of guns being checked and the back door opening then closing just as fast.  My brother’s voice was deep and muffled coming from outside.  A gun went off and I jumped.

“What’s going on?  Talk to me, Lexi.”  Aidan was now standing there shirtless.  He sank to his knees next to me in the bed.

I turned to him with confused eyes.  My body felt weird, different somehow.  The burning was the same, but the desire was at the forefront this time.  God, I wanted him.  I needed to feel Aidan deep inside me, pumping to his release.  The skin on his body was inviting, as well as the exotic scent he eliminated into the room.  His marking scent was all over him, the sheets and me.

I pounced on him like he was the first meal I had seen in a month, and there was no fee to consume.  My lips found his and I growled from the taste of him.

Using one hand, I managed to remove his pants and toss them onto the floor.  Wetness had already pooled between my legs before I threw one leg over his waist.  We both cried out when I took him into my body with one fast movement.  My hands splayed out on his chest and I threw my head back from the relief I felt in my womb.

Aidan fit me perfectly.  I could feel every part of him rocking inside of me.  He reached up and twisted both of my tight red nipples between his soft fingers and I exploded.  A rainbow of colors filled my vision as I increased my rhythm; his name rolling off my tongue like a prayer to the Gods.  He lifted his lower body, allowing me to grind down harder against him.  I felt his hips digging into the inner part of my thighs, telling me he was in all the way to the hilt.  Just as I thought my release was done, Aidan placed his thumb in the nest of curls between my legs, rubbing at the swollen nub at my core.  And this time we came as one.

The moment my body relaxed, I collapsed onto his chest.  He held me close to him until the heat from my body evaporated, leaving only a sudden chill.  My teeth chattered and my body convulsed.  It was like someone had locked me in a freezer set to the coldest temperature.  “I…I’m c…cold.”

“It’s over,” he sighed.

I was picked up by strong arms and carried into the shower.  Aidan held my body upright outside the stall and leaned in to turn on the water.  After a few seconds, he tested the water on his hands and took me inside.  The heat from the water sliding down my body felt good.  I opened my eyes and noticed the dial was set to the hottest temperature available.

I must have drifted off, because when I opened my eyes, I was in the bed covered up with a few blankets.  Aidan was curled up beside me.  He was glowing.

“Hey,” I whispered.

“Hey champ,” he smiled.

“I’m still cold,” I shivered.  He pulled up another blanket over me.

“I know, love.”

The sky was now officially dark.  Night had set on a very long day.  The weakness in my body took over and I closed my eyes.

Chapter 17

News

Lexi

Friday morning came a little early.  I was still weak from going through my Prime and from the trauma my body had been through.  Aidan was constantly worried about my wellbeing.  Yesterday, I agreed with whatever he told me.  A few times I had to have him actually carry me to the bathroom.  But today would be different.

At least that was my thought until I tried to stand up.  With my feet planted solidly on the floor, I raised myself slowly from the bed.  My head spun and sweat broke out all over my body. “Whoa,” I sighed.

“What are you doing?” Aidan demanded from the door to our room.

“I was trying to keep a little bit of my dignity by taking myself to the bathroom,” I frowned.  Strong hands lifted me up and walked me out of the bedroom to the attached bathroom.  Aidan set me down just outside the door to the toilet area.

“See dignity intact,” he pointed for me to make the two steps into the room.

“This doesn’t count,” I scowled up at him.  The door was closed in my face.

“Are you still hurting?”  His voice was muffled from the other side of the door.  I finished my business and opened the door.  The lights blaring from the ceiling burned my eyes and I had to squint to see where I was going.  My skin still prickled, like I was suffering from a mild sunburn.  The only comfort I could find was the soft sheets against my naked body.

“My insides are fine, but my eyes sting and my skin feels burnt,” I admitted.

“Well, Doc Jones is at your folk’s house checking on Christa and he said that he’d be here in a few hours to give you your physical.”

“Okay,” I said while he walked into the bedroom.  We passed the flat screen and I noticed that the weather man was calling for a few inches of snow for the weekend.  All my life I would get excited when they would talk of snow, and I would always be disappointed when none would come.  We rarely got snow this early in the year.  In this part of the south, we were lucky to see a dusting once a year and that was normally around February or March, not the end of November.  It would take a miracle to happen before we saw any of the white stuff.

I was back in the bed, propped up on a bunch of pillows.  Aidan brought me a cup of hot coffee and today’s newspaper.  He sat on his side of the bed reading with just the light spilling out from the lamp on the bedside table.

The coffee was fresh and made just the way I liked it, three Splendia’s and a little creamer.  My lips hurt every time I placed my favorite dolphin cup to my mouth.  This was the one thing I insisted Aidan pack for me to bring here.  Three dolphins chased each other around the cup in an endless circle of waves, neither one ever catching up to the other.  The cup was faded, chipped and stained, but it was my cup.  Something I was given by my brother Adam on my thirteenth birthday.

I placed the empty cup on the coaster Aidan had left there.  Because I had been bed ridden the past couple of days, I always had something there to drink to keep me hydrated.  Aidan was a caregiver, not just a bodyguard, like my brothers.

My life was simple.  All the years that my parents worried were now over.  I had found a mate and had gone through my prime with no problems.  The arguments were done, the chaperoned dates were over and the threat to my royal status was behind me.  I was normal for once in my life.  Like all other female shifters, I had a life, a home, and a mate, nothing else. It was everything I had hoped for and more because it was mine and mine alone.  Aidan would be with me forever and I knew that I wanted no other.

We were not married by human laws, but I’m sure that will be the next step.  Our anniversary will always be the day we mated, even though the marriage certificate at city hall will show differently.

The doorbell rang cutting into the silence of the house.  I grabbed my robe and tied it tight around my body.  Aidan was up in a flash heading toward the front door.

Doc Jones came in and saw me sitting up, “Alexandra, you’re looking exceptionally well.  You need to keep him.”  The good doctor pointed over his shoulder and laughed.

“Hey Doc,” I grinned.  He sat on the edge of the bed and set his infamous black bag on the other side of my leg.

“Alright, let’s get down to business,” he opened the case and retrieved a stethoscope.  I did the breathing in and out thing.  Doc looked pleased.  All of the other routine things were done, temperature, blood pressure, and I had to use Aidan’s scales to get a weight for him to jot down.  My total weight loss after the kidnapping was six pounds, but I had gained two pounds since he saw me last.

“Can I shift now,” I asked with pleading eyes.

“Maybe tomorrow, you’re still weak from your ordeal.  Which is odd, you shouldn’t be so tired still.”  He began packing up, but stopped when Aidan told him my reason for being weak.

“She’s still weak because she went into her Prime day before yesterday,” he announced proudly.

The doctor sighed and turned around to smile at me, “Well, that explains why you’re not completely healed.  How did it go?”

I looked at my doctor appalled, “Doc!  I’ve known you since I was a baby.  I’m not telling you that!”

He laughed and shook his head, “I’m sorry.  Let me rephrase that.  How did you’re injuries handle the Prime?”

“Oh,” I blushed.  “It was fine.”

“Well, I’ll tell you what,” he paused to tap his finger on his cheek.  He was calculating something in his head.  “Why don’t you take a pregnancy test for me now and see what it says.”  Before I could tell him that I doubted I was pregnant, he reached deep down into the bottom of his bag and brought out an EPT test.  “I had an extra one. I was at your house today.”

I knew the test wasn’t for mom, so he must’ve been there for Christa.  “Is she pregnant?”

“Ah, I can’t tell you.  You need to ask her,” he shrugged, but smiled and I knew the answer.  I was going to be an aunt!  “Now, run along.”

“Okay,” I agreed just to humor him and Aidan, who was standing in the corner doe eyed.

Our bodies react differently than a human’s.  If I was pregnant, a human pregnancy test would tell immediately if it was positive.  Our hormones run stronger and therefore our pregnancies are quicker to detect.

“Take the test and leave it on the counter for ten minutes, then I will do an internal exam, while I’m here.”

I took the little stick into the bathroom, with Aidan’s help.  My legs still didn’t want to cooperate.  When finished, neither one of us looked at it as we walked outside.

Aidan sat on the bed while I was up in invisible stirrups.  Doc Jones made little noises to himself while he was wrist deep in my privates.  (At least, that’s what it felt like to me.)

He got up and took his used gloves into the bathroom, tossing them into the trash.  He came out holding the stick.  Doc turned it around to show us the result.  There in the window was the brightest pink plus sign I’d ever seen.  Aidan gasped and I laughed out loud.  It was positive, we were pregnant.

Aidan picked me up out of the bed and spun me around.  When he finally put me down, I jumped back up and wrapped my legs around his waist and kissed him deeply.  He broke the kiss off and turned to the doctor, “Can she still shift?”

“For now yes, but no more shifting after the fifth month.  I’ll send over a bottle of vitamins and come by for a check-up in a month.”  The doctor left the room and let himself out of the house.

I hugged my mate tight and kissed the mating mark on his neck.  When I looked out the window behind him I gasped, “Oh my God!  It’s snowing!”

Epilogue

8 ½ months later

“I’m freaking huge!” I yelled at my mate.  He had just come home from work, wrapping his arms around my Butterball turkey of a stomach and told me how beautiful I was.

“How’s Christa and the baby?” he asked, obviously changing the subject.

My mom and I had spent most of the day up at my parents place with my sister-in-law and my new two day old baby nephew, Hunter Liam Sharpe.  My father deemed it a good “strong” name for a Sharpe.  The bundle of joy reminded me of his father, Adam.  The little guy had a dark head of hair, pouty lips like me and the strength of his father.  I fell in love with him instantly.  “He’s a little fighter.  They’re going to have one strong little cub on their hands.”

We decided not to find out what we were having.  Most likely we were having a boy, or as I liked to nickname him “Little Prize Fighter”.  Even though the baby inside me had nowhere to go other than out, he still seemed to find a way to do summersaults in the middle of the night.

“What do you want me to make for dinner?” Aidan asked at one point.  Thank God my mother had been busy cooking to help settle her nerves today, because I was sent home with a full meal in a box.

“Momma sent a bunch of things she made today,” I laughed.  “You know how she gets when she’s nervous.”

“Oh, yes.  I know,” he smiled, digging into the cardboard box I used to tote everything into the house.  “Mamma Sharpe’s a good cook.”

“Yes, she is,” I announced proudly.

“You want me to make you a plate, or did you already eat?” he asked.

“I’m not really that hungry,” I yawned.  “Actually, I’m tired and my feet are killing me.  I think I’ll just go lay down.”  When Aidan went to follow me, I held up my hand in protest.  He backed away and resumed his survey of food waiting for him.

Aidan has been overly protective and nurturing since we found out about the pregnancy.  He refused to let me go without a meal; always making me scarf down twice as much as I was used too.  Aidan took the meaning of “eating for two” to extremes.

Shifting was a sore subject for us, for the first few months.  Doc Jones told me I was fine to shift up until the fifth month.  Well, everything was all well and good, until one day in my third month; I slipped trying to get back to the house when it had started raining.  I only pulled my hamstring, but you would have thought I had been hit by a truck or something.  Aidan’s refused to let me shift since.  My body burns some days, begging to be turned loose.  Today was one of those days that I longed to be out in the woods.  I imagined that being on all fours would ease the aching in my back.

I ended up in the bed laying on my right side, with my back to the door.  This was the only position I was comfortable in lately.  The way the baby was positioned, my back would ache and burn late in the day, after I had been up and moving around.  Tonight was another one of those nights, but the burning was worse.

The news came on and I listened to the reports of the day.  The weatherman said that the heat index would be in the hundreds tomorrow and told everyone to stay indoors during the hottest part of the day.  For me, every day was the hottest part of the day.  Pregnancy seemed to make my internal thermometer stay at the boiling point.

The mattress dipped and I felt Aidan slip in behind me.  His waist rested against my rear end and he pressed his chest up against my back.  We would lie like this for a few hours in the evening after he would come home from work.  Aidan would rub circles on my engorged belly, teasing our child inside.  He enjoyed the playful kicks the baby would return to his pawing, me not so much.

“Do you feel any better?” he asked at one point.

“No, my lower back’s burning again,” I admitted.

“I know, love.  Only a few more days,” he reassured me as best as he could.  I know he was trying to ease my misery.  It wasn’t a few days left though; it was more like nine more days.

I jerked and laughed when my little prize fighter kicked just below my ribs.  I imagined he was calling to Aidan, begging for more attention.  My mate rubbed the spot and chuckled, “I know little one.  Daddy’s here.”

I loved to hear him talk like that.  Aidan was everything my father had never been.  He was involved with everything concerning the baby.  He was here for every appointment, every ultrasound, and he worried about every little thing.  And don’t get me started on the nursery.  I think he had it painted and completed before I was out of my first trimester.

Closing my eyes, I used this time to take a little nap, before my nightly beatings began.  Here lately I had been up and down so much during the night, I don’t even remember what it’s like to get a whole night’s sleep.  I guess that’s my body’s way of gearing up for all of the middle of the night feedings that were to come.

I drifted off for a while, but woke up suddenly.  My hand went to my stomach as I felt an odd tightening around my waist and over the top of my womb.  My back burned simultaneously.  Aidan noticed the change in my features, “Did he get you in the ribs again?”

“No, just my back,” I groaned.  Aidan rubbed circles on the spot I showed him.  That seemed to ease my discomfort a little.  When I could no longer continue lying down in the bed, I went to stand up.  Walking sometimes calmed the burning.  This was beginning to get annoying.  “I’m going to walk around.”

Aidan stayed in the bed while I got a glass of water.  I made a few trips around the living room then came back into the bed.  No matter where I was, the ache in my sides and back never would ease up.

I rested my head on the pillows, “I’m going to try to take another nap.”

Aidan covered up my bare legs and stayed quiet while I closed my eyes.  Just as I got comfortable I felt a gush of warmth, soaking the inside of my thighs.  For a second I thought I had lost control over my bladder.  When the next round of tightness squeezed the top of my belly, I knew.  “Aidan,” I whispered.

“Huh,” he replied.

“My water just broke,” I groaned and removed the covers.  And sure enough, the bed was soaking wet from my waist down.  In a matter of seconds, he was at my side with a handful of towels and the phone was pressed to his ear.

“D…doc,” he spoke, stuttering to the doctor.  “Lexi’s water just broke.  What do I do?”  After that there were a bunch of “Okay’s” and “Yes, sir’s”.  Eventually he hung up and looked at me with panic in his eyes.

“Doc Jones is on the way,” he paused and then turned white as a ghost.  “We’re going to have a baby!”  He had to sit down on the edge of the bed.

I guess because my water broke, the contractions felt the needed to become stronger and quicker.  I grabbed a fist full of his shirt and pulled him toward me, “Don’t you dare pass out!  I need you right now!”  He nodded and I watched as the color returned to his face.  It was then that I let myself express the pain I was feeling.  I growled with each contraction.  Aidan looked panicked, not knowing what to do.

“What can I do?” he begged.

“Please lay down behind me,” I cried.  “The way you’ve been doing.”

He climbed in, spooning me from behind.  Our left hands intertwined as we stayed like that for a good half an hour before the doctor showed up.

“Alexandra,” he said.  “How’re you feeling?”

“Doc Jones,” I growled.  “You really don’t want to ask me that right now.”

He sat next to me and chuckled, “Yes, she’s in labor alright.”  He put on a pair of gloves, letting each one snap at his wrist.  “Lexi, I’m going to check to see how far you’ve dilated now.”  I nodded and rolled over on my back.  Not the most comfortable position to be in.

When he was done trying to find the end of the rainbow in my woman parts, Doc Jones smiled down at me and said, “You’re only at two centimeters.  We’ve got a way to go.”

You mean to tell me, I’m not even close!”  There must be some mistake.  Shouldn’t this be over soon?  Christa only labored for about five hours.  I was working on close to maybe two hours (If I started the clock when Aidan arrived home), and I was only dilated to a two.  I did a little calculation in my head, maybe eight more hours of this.  I leaned back into Aidan’s arms and cried softly too myself.

It was midnight and I was exhausted.  We were six hours in and still no sign of the baby.  The pain is not something one can describe.  I was having one of those, you-got-to-feel-it-to-believe-it kind of experiences.

Aidan hadn’t left my side for very long.  My mother was here and so were my brothers.  They’d only come in a few times to check on me, and were now in the living room watching Sports Center.  The doctor was in the kitchen having a glass of tea with my mom.  It was just me and Aidan alone in the room.

“Lexi,” he whispered.

“Hmm,” I answered.  A contraction that would have been considered an earthquake caused me to not be able to talk for a few minutes.

“What can I do?” he begged.

“Keep doing what you’re doing, please.  It helps with the back pains.”  I reached back and rubbed my hand up and down his thigh, giving him a little comfort.

“Lexi,” a soft voice spoke from the door.  I knew it was my mom, but I couldn’t open my eyes to confirm it.

“Momma,” I spoke through gritted teeth.  She came over and sat down.

“Baby, you need to get up and walk around some more.  It should help.”  Anything that helped was good.  I’d sprout wings and fly to the moon right now, if it helped get this alien out of me.

While Aidan helped me up, mom retrieved my robe from behind the bathroom door.  I slipped it on and walked out into the kitchen.  I made it to the kitchen table before I had to stop.  Aidan held me upright.  I guess the look on my face had him thinking I might just keel over.

When I walked into the living room, I found my dad pacing the floor.  A.J. was flipping channels.  Avery and Andre were playing Rummy.  Andre was winning.

“Hey, pumpkin,” my father said.

“Daddy,” I whispered.  I tried to walk over to him, but was stopped by a contraction, right in front of the television.  I heard someone sigh.  I turned toward all of them and let loose.  “So help me, if you do that again I will fucking kill you!

They all lowered their heads.  It was wise that they didn’t talk back.  When I turned toward my father, he was trying his best not to laugh.  I glared at him.  Right now, I didn’t care that he was the King of the Shifters.  He was male and a target.

I made five trips around the house.  From the kitchen, I walked through the living room, just to piss off my brothers.  Then I went into the foyer, through the living room and finally back into the kitchen.

“Okay,” I panted.  “I need to go lay down.”

“Come on, love.” Aidan said from behind me.

We got into the bed and just lay there for a while, waiting on the baby.  I looked at the clock and it was one in the morning.  I groaned in defeat.  This baby was just going to stay in there until he went to college.

Suddenly, the urge to push was hard to ignore.  I squeezed Aidan’s hand and cried, “Get the doctor.  I think I need to push.  Hurry.”

Aidan was out of the bed and back with the doctor before the contraction passed.  When Doc Jones lifted the sheet, I watched Aidan’s face.  The doctor had a good poker face; you could never tell what he was thinking, but with Aidan, it was flashing big like a neon sign.  The baby was coming.  Finally!

Almost an hour later, I cried as the doctor yelled out loud for everyone in the house to hear, “It’s a girl!”  My little fighter was a girl.  A girl!  My Annabelle Marie Jackson was the little prize fighter!  She was beautiful.  Her hair was black like mine and slightly curly like her fathers.  She had my amber eyes and her grandfather’s pouty lips.  She was perfect.

Aidan held me tight as he wept while kissing the mating mark on my neck.

The End!

About Author Theresa Hissong

International Best Selling Author of Erotic & Paranormal Romance. Lover of badass music and tattoos. I speak my mind and know how to shoot a gun. I write sexy books about fictional rockstars!
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2 Responses to “Scarred” by Theresa Hissong

  1. Debra L Stevens says:

    Loved it!!!! I think you should publish it. I don’t know how to explain it. Its super interesting. Every book I have read of yours is so detailed and I just can’t put it down.

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