Nulli and I had too much fun writing this. There was laughter. There was a lisping shifter. There were almost tears at one point. But damn, it's fun :) We hope you enjoy this latest chapter of the many trials, tribulations, and adventures in the life of Brian and Nulli.
Brian walked into the house with a smile on his face, and a chest swelled with pride. Not only did the expo land him a job at the conference center, he managed to get a side gig installing security cameras. His first day at the job went well. The only thing missing to complete his day of awesome was his mate.
He checked the time and pursed his lips. “She should be here by now.” Her late arrival gave him time to do a few things around the house, including getting dinner started. After most of the light work was out of the way, he pulled his shirt over his head and headed upstairs for a quick shower.
He’d intended to check for any messages on the answering machine in the bedroom. That was until he spied a folded piece of paper with his name written in Nulli’s handwriting. He lifted the sheet, and inhaled deep. A low rumble started in his chest. “She rubbed it against her neck. God I love that woman.” He took a few more breaths. Her smile, her voice, her touch, the memories of her seemed to attach themselves to her aroma.
He blew out a breath to calm his racing heart. The idea of her alone was enough to excite him. He unfolded the white sheet and started reading.
You made it through your first day at the new job! I wanted to celebrate, so I got you a little something. Look under the bed. It’s something for work and play. We both know how much cats love to play, don’t we? See you in a little while! Nulli
“Something for work and play?” He dropped to his knees and looked under his side of the bed. Just behind the dust ruffle was a square, cardboard box. He pulled it out, sat down on the bed, and opened it.
Tucked inside was a black, braided leather belt. He lifted it from the container, running his fingers over the supple animal skin. The stitching was precise, the weight spoke of quality, but upon further inspection, he noticed something a little different from regular belts.
His lips spread into a smile, his fangs dropped, and his claws extended. It’s a leash! She’d managed to get him a leash that looked so much like a belt, no one would ever know. Unlike the collar, he could wear this in public without people giving him strange looks or choosing another contract over his. It connected him to his mate and her exquisite control over him; control he willingly offered. Eager to see how it looked, he hooked the end to his collar and moved to stand in front of the mirror.
The braids of both items matched along with the metal findings. He released the long belt, and let it hang, adjusting to the feel of its weight dangling from his neck. “Why is she so freaking perfect?” He wasn’t sure if he wanted to hug her close when she got back, or rip her clothes off and take her on the floor. “Why not both?” He shrugged and removed the leash before making his way to the bathroom for his shower.
After bathing, he put on a pair of shorts and checked on dinner, just in time to hear Nulli’s car in the driveway. He jogged into the living room and opened the door for her, ready to make good on his earlier plans.
Except there was a problem. His mate’s beautiful face was marred by a scowl. “Did something happen? You okay?”
She kissed him on the cheek as she walked in and he took her bag. “That network of yours is on some bullshit.” She sat down on the sofa and placed her fingers on her forehead. “I am not going to become some kind of porn star for a bunch of--”
“What the fuck? Who wants you to be a porn star?” He couldn’t sit down. Not after she dropped that bombshell.
She sighed and closed her eyes. “I agreed to do some test shoots with the producer. I told you about that, right?”
“Well, during one of the workouts, I took my shirt off because it was drenched. That seemed to appeal to the males aged 20 - 50 demographic. Now they want me to wear a bunch of skimpy clothes and workout in crazy locations. I’m not going to turn myself into the T&A for some jerks to jack off to.”
“No, you’re not,” he growled, pacing the room. His claws bit into his palms. “That’s not what they told me they wanted. It’s a freakin’ G-rated network, for fuck’s sake! They said they wanted a regular fitness show, something to-- You know, never mind. Fuck it, do you have the name of the producer? I’ll get in touch with him and see what the hell is going on.”
“Here.” She passed him her phone with the contact info displayed.
“Terry? I worked with him on that monster show they’re replacing. What the hell is he thinking?”
“I don’t know, but the network seems pretty set on making me do this. Apparently my look tests well with this new target audience. What the hell does that even mean? I don’t have a look if they want me wearing those outfits. No one works out in that crap.”
“They must be looking to switch something else over and pull the fitness show onto one of their sister networks. Still, they’ve got cobwebs for brains if they think that’s going to happen. May I use this?” He gestured with the phone, hitting the button when she nodded. As it rang, he continued pacing around the room with a low growl rumbling through his chest. Why did shit like this always have to happen when things got good? “Hey, Terry, it’s Brian. When you get this, give me a call at this number. I have a few questions for you. Thanks!” He ended the call and passed her the phone. “Left him a voice mail. Hopefully he’ll get back to us soon.”
“I don’t think it matters, really. If they want me prancing around like some kind of--I don’t know what, they can count me out. I work hard at what I do. I’m not here to be exploited.” She let her head fall back on the sofa and let out a long sigh. “You don’t have to check on this. I can tell them to go to hell in the morning.”
Brian walked over and took her hands. “Terry and I have a bit of history. Nothing major, just a mutually enjoyable encounter one night after a game of cards. He might give me the dirt on this that no one is supposed to know.”
“Mutually enjoyable encounter? Is he like an ex or something?”
“Um, not really.” He felt the heat flood his cheeks, but refused to drop her gaze. He had been a stray on the prowl before meeting her. That all ended the day her scent called to his cat. “It was a pretty wild night after the network pulled the plug on the show. A bottle of wine, a game of strip poker... but the next morning, it was awkward. He’d never played with another guy before.”
“Okay, that’s probably more than I wanted to know about the guy who’s supposed to be my producer.” She shook her head, but she didn’t look angry. “I just wanted to know if there were feelings there, or some kind of unresolved relationship. If it was just some one night fling, so be it.”
“Oh, sorry. I lost my filter again, didn’t I? No relationship, no feelings - unresolved or otherwise - and nothing to worry about, I promise.” He tentatively sniffed the air, relieved that her scent equaled her calm body language. Breathing a sigh of relief, he pulled her to her feet and into his arms. “Can we think about something else for now? Like dinner or your latest surprise? I found your note.”
She pulled back to look at him. Her eyebrows lifted, a small smile spread her lips. “Did you like it? It’s not too heavy is it? Is it comfortable?”
“It’s as perfect as you are, mate. Thank you.” He stole a quick kiss, nibbling her bottom lip. “I can’t wear the collar because people are weird about that sort of thing, but the belt connects me to you in ways no one else would understand.” Brian led her towards the dining room and held her chair. “If my lady will wait right here, dinner will be served shortly.”
Brian spent the next morning dusting and doing the laundry in between reviewing contracts and work orders. He only had to leave twice to meet with clients or work a short shift at the conference center. He used that time to have the dryer and the dishwasher running, and to pick up a few things for dinner. They had decided on a casual meal - grilled steaks for the men, and a salad from hell for his mate. She had taught him how to prepare some of the things she liked, but he still struggled with most of it. Predator-species shifters were not vegetarian as a rule.
His belt fit him perfectly, and he wore it with pride. He liked it a little snug, so that each time he moved or twisted, it pinched him. It reminded him of sharp nails on his ear, of the sting of a freshly braided flogger, of the bite of the clamps, and the jingle of the bells. It reminded him of her. He loved it.
He lit the charcoal briquettes when he heard her car in the drive. Terry was due to arrive in about an hour. That gave them plenty of time to burn down to a beautiful crimson color. He ducked inside to greet his mate with a hug and a kiss.
“Was today better?”
“Today was fine. I taught five classes and rescheduled a few things. I figured I might take some time off. What do you think about that, kitty?”
“I think that’s the best thing I’ve heard all day.” He purred as he cupped her cheek. Leaning down, he teased her lips with his tongue without letting the kiss deepen. When she grabbed his hair and pulled him closer, he gave in with a groan. “My day just got much better, mate. Now, unless you want Terry to find us in a rather embarrassing predicament, I should probably grab the meat from the fridge. Or stick my head in the freezer to cool down.”
“Which head?” She winked and bit his lip. “Killjoy.”
“Damn, kitten. Are you sure we can’t reschedule this?”
“You called him over, remember?” She shrugged and walked into the living room. After pausing at the sofa, her shoulder. “Probably could have done it right here, don’t you think?” She leaned over the back, resting her chest on the cushions and shaking her ass in the air. “How long do you think it would take without the cock ring?”
He stalked across the room, focused on his sensual, alluring mate. The spandex shorts hugged her ass like a second skin and called for his touch. He had to answer that call. His fingers trailed down her hips then back up her thighs, spreading her legs. Placing his feet between hers, he held them open as he slid his hands up to the waistband.
“I think we have plenty of time, mate,” he whispered. He eased the tight shorts to her knees and caressed her smooth skin. He kissed his way down her spine to one toned ass cheek. He nipped it gently, then soothed the bite with a purring lick. “You have the most beautiful ass.” He nibbled his way to her other cheek and nuzzled it. “It is a thing of beauty that should be stroked, savored, and worshiped.”
“Oh really? How about you put that leash on and show me how much you want to worship it.”
“Yes, Mistress!” Giving her ass a final nip, Brian rushed into the bedroom for the collar. He yanked his t-shirt over his head, secured the collar, and snapped the leash in place in record time. He returned to find his mate, not over the sofa as he had left her, but fully dressed and on the phone. Dammit.
“No, don’t turn there. You want to make the second left after the stop sign. You’ll see a few streets that end in cul-de-sacs. We’re in the next set of properties. Right. Keep straight.”
Scowling, Brian tossed the leash over his shoulder and stomped to the kitchen for the steaks. He should have expected Terry to be early. As a former military man, Terry retained the habit of arriving at least fifteen minutes before any appointment to avoid losing it. While his punctuality was appreciated most of the time, Brian’s aching dick really wasn’t keen on it today.
He scoured the carbon from the grill with more force than was necessary in an effort to work off some of his pent-up frustration. No man should have to walk away from such an ass unsatisfied. There should be a law. It was so firm, so round, so delectably perfect, and naked! He couldn’t ignore that fact. Now it was gone until he could get answers from Terry and kick him out of the house. He was not a happy kitty.
When tires crunched on the drive, he slapped the steaks onto the grill with a growl. Taking a long drink from a bottle of water, he promised himself he wouldn’t punch the man for being early. It took the entire bottle before he was convinced he was telling the truth. With a sigh, he wiped his hands on a towel and joined Nulli in the foyer to greet their cock-blocking guest.
“Terry! Always early. You’d show up at your own funeral before you were dead, wouldn’t you?” Brian shook the older man’s hand and motioned him inside.
“You know how it is. Spend too many years having it beat into your head that you’ve got to be early or lose your spot, and you just absorb it. It’s great with interviews, but not so much with newly mated couples, huh?” Terry winked then held out his hand to Nulli. “Nice to see you again, Nulli. If I had known you were attached this old stray, I would have asked you to bring him along with you.”
“Oh? Okay? I guess he could get paid to workout with me.” She looked past the older man and wrinkled her eyebrows. The action was small, but he caught her meaning. She had no idea what Terry meant. Maybe even had questions.
“Not sure what I could have done.” Brian caught her eye and shrugged. He had no clue what the man was talking about either. Placing his hand on the small of Nulli’s back, he guided her and Terry into the living room. As his friend sat, Nulli went into the kitchen to grab the drinks. “Though I suppose I could work a camera as long as some of the show’s requirements changed.”
“Oh?” Terry accepted a beer with a smile. “I see you remembered my brand, thanks. Now, back to the show. What’s wrong with the requirements? You have a fine mate, Brian. I’d think you’d want to show her off.”
“Wait a minute.” Nulli’s eyes narrowed as she stared Terry down, and she placed a balled fist on her hip. Brian had seen that posture before. Shit was about to get real.
“What did I say?” Terry looked from Brian to Nulli, a frown furrowing his brow. “You are a very beautiful woman, Nulli. Brian is a lucky cat.”
“I’m a person, Terry, not some trophy for a bunch of college guys to jerk off to.” She sniffed. “I need to flip the steaks. Be right back.”
“Did I say something wrong?” Terry watched her storm onto the patio and yank the lid of the grill open. “I didn’t mean anything by it. She’s lovely. She’s fit. She’s got great presence in front of the camera, and her charisma is off the charts. When she took off her shirt, I think most of the test audience popped a boner through their jeans. Tight abs and a great set of tits.”
“That is my mate you’re talking about.” Brian gripped the arms of the chair to keep from ripping the man’s throat out. How dare they ogle Nulli like a damned piece of meat? “You don’t get to talk about anything but how well she leads her class. And if I hear another word about anyone ‘popping a boner’ because of her, I will personally shred you into confetti. Do you understand?”
Nulli returned and took her seat. “Your steak is almost done.” She turned to their guest. “How do you like yours, Terry?”
“Cubed,” Brian growled between elongated fangs. “And shoved up his ass if he talks about you like that again.”
Nulli blinked before moving her gaze between the two of them. “What’s going on?”
“I don’t know.” Terry set his bottle onto a coaster and ran his fingers through his greying hair. “I told him how your test went, how popular you were with the test audience, and he got all growly with me. I don’t get it. I figured we’d share a laugh and perhaps celebrate with some wine and a game of cards.”
“Why would we celebrate? Your network wants to turn me into a--wait, wine and cards?” Nulli’s hands pressed into the sofa. “Why do you think we’ll have wine and cards?”
“Well...” Terry started.
Brian groaned and buried his head in his hands. He frowned, looking from one to the other.
“Okay, can we clue in the human here? I’m confused as hell. The last time I was around shifters, the only time in fact, the network had just shut down our show and we were holing up in a hotel getting ready to fly home. Brian, our myth debunker Melody, and her new mate, a bear shifter named Killian, came over to kill time while we waited. We played cards - strip poker. It was, well, the only way I can describe it is an orgy. I just assumed...” His voice trailed off, and he shrugged.
“There were four of you?” Nulli’s eyes widened and her body appeared to vibrate. “And you came here thinking we’d all sleep together?”
“It was before we met, Nulli.” Brian peered up at her through his fingers, wishing the floor would open up and swallow him whole. “Killian and Melody are a very open and adventurous couple. I was a stray. It was just a night of--”
She held up her hand and shook her head. “Terry, I’m sorry you came all this way, but I’m going to have to cut this visit short. I won’t be doing the show.” She rose from the couch and extended an arm toward the front door. Her stern expression and rigid posture were almost enough to make Brian want to leave with his former producer. She walked Terry to the door, and seemed to ignore the man’s request for her to think over her decision. Apparently, the network was willing to throw a lot of money her way, a detail that seemed lost as she stared at Terry with a deadpan expression.
As soon as the door closed, she walked past Brian and out to the patio. He watched her pull the steaks from the grill, put them on a plate, and tighten her running shoes. “I’ll be back later.”
“Nulli, wait!” Heart pounding, he rushed out the door to catch her. “Please. Can’t we talk about this?”
“Talk about what, Brian? I understood that you were on the prowl or whatever you want to call it before we met. But this?” She stared at him, eyes welling with tears. “How can I ever be enough for you? Three people at once? All I have is me. There’s nowhere to go from here.”
“You are more than I will ever need. I swear to you, I don’t want nights of meaningless sex with people I don’t care about. I want you. I want to hear you call me kitty in that way that makes my fur stand on end. I want to wear your collar and your leash and give you everything I am because I know you will protect it and cherish it even as you drive me crazy. I want to lay in your lap as my cat and have you scratch my ears and rub my belly until I purr so hard I fall onto the floor. You are my mate. You are all I will ever need.”
She shook her head and turned away from him. “I can’t know what it’s like to be a shifter. You can’t know what it’s like to find out that no matter what you do, you’ll never be able to stop wondering if you are competing with an experience you can’t duplicate. An experience you don’t want to try. I can’t even--” Her shoulders shook and she breathed deep. “I can’t do this. Damn it, I shouldn’t even be thinking about trying to do this.” She took a step forward, then another, each one faster than the last. “Please don’t chase me.”
“Nulli?” He whispered, tears flowing unchecked down his cheeks. “Oh God.” He crumpled to his knees, watching her figure grow smaller and smaller, watching her walk... no, run away from him. Tilting back his head, he released a roar of pure anguish. One night of abandoned hedonism had just cost him everything he had ever wanted.
With effort, he pulled himself to his feet. Though his instincts screamed at him to just cut his losses, pack, and go, he refused to run again. He’d done that once, and it had only made things worse. He had to convince her that he didn’t need anything but her. She was his mate. He had to believe they could work through this.
The leash slid from his shoulder to strike the grill with a metallic tink. He grabbed the end and caressed the supple leather. The belt fed into his hopes that all would be okay. She hadn’t asked for it back. She hadn’t asked for the collar back, either. As he looped it to hang down his back, he took comfort in those facts. He needed something to bolster his flagging spirits.
Grabbing the steaks from the patio table, he turned towards the house. His appetite was gone; it fled the moment his mate turned away from him. Perhaps it would return when-if she did. He paused at the door to wipe his eyes. The screech of tires and shattering glass reached his ears, the sounds piercing the quiet from beyond the trees. Time stood still as he imagined all sorts of horrors. The moment a high-pitched, agonizing scream rent the air, the plate slipped from numb fingers onto the concrete patio.
This isn’t happening! He ran toward the voice, heart racing and breaking with every beat. They could work through a disagreement, but he couldn’t actually lose her. Tears flew back toward his ears as he picked up speed. She has to be all right. Please, not my mate, not my...