Last time, we left Nulli and Brian in a Sea of Awkward. Their unexpected and somewhat unwanted guests - Killian, Melody, and Terry - were discussing an organization dedicated to the intense and intrusive study of shifters (usually by way of dissection and other forms of fun). We pick up where that chapter left off with some excitement, some fun, and some serious talk. We hope you enjoy!
Brian placed his hands on Nulli’s shoulders, his claws resting against her skin. His fangs pressed against his lip as he watched the horror dawn on his mate’s lovely face. If this woman worked for a shifter experiment lab, he needed to rearrange his schedule. He was about to get really fit.
“Brian, if this is really happening, if these people try to take me to some place to do what Terry is suggesting...” Nulli shook her head. “You have to leave town. All of you.”
“Horseshit.” Killian growled. “I haven’t let some pansy-ass human scare me away yet, and I’m not about to do it now. Besides, someone’s gotta keep you two out of trouble.”
”Killian, you don’t understand. Science can be used in a lot of ways. They could have drugs that knock you out before you could even blink. It wouldn’t take much with those sensitive noses of yours.” Nulli turned her gaze back to Brian and stared him down with pleading eyes. “Please. You have good reasons for not wanting to be near a lab.”
“I have even better reasons to be here.” Brian stroked her hair and placed a kiss to her temple. “I will not leave you. That is not negotiable. If she is part of one of these labs, we will dissuade her in one way or another. Terry? I think we may need your help.”
“Anything, Brian. I owe you big time.”
“I want you to go to this interview. Scope them out. See if they talk.” His lip curled into a snarl. “I doubt they will discuss much at first, but some of these people are amazingly stupid for being so smart.” The older man nodded and plugged the contact information into his phone.
“This is crazy.” Nulli held onto his wrists and leaned her head forward. “If these people think I’m a shifter and they try their tests, they’ll find out I’m not. Do you know what’ll happen then? They’ll come looking for the shifter who bit me. They’d come for you, Brian. And if you’re here,” she glanced at Killian and Melody. “They’ll take you too. It’s too risky for you all to stay here.”
“I don’t want to scare you. I like you. You’re sassy and bendy and collared that cat, there, which shows you have taste.” Killian leaned forward, his piercing green eyes locking on Nulli’s. “But if they’ve seen his bite, they won’t just stop looking for him if he skips town. They’ll keep you, hold you, persuade you to contact him. They could even try to force a turn, or worse. They have no morals, Nulli. They will do whatever it takes to get their hands on one more shifter.”
Nulli lowered her gaze to the table and took a deep breath. “They’re looking for him too? Even now?”
“Possibly.” Brian pulled her chair away from the table, scooped her out of it, and sat with her on his lap. She held him tight, as if he’d slip through her fingers if she didn’t get a good grip.
“Why not call the police?” Melody looked from Killian to Brian. “I mean, if these people just snatch folks off the street, surely someone reports it as a missing person? If they go across state lines, isn’t that something the FBI handles?”
“You have the right idea, but there’s just one major catch in all of that.” Killian growled. Brian echoed him. “Some of these labs are government funded. All you would accomplish is letting them know that they have one more person to neutralize.”
“You mean to tell me that my tax dollars are going to pay for some secret lab to torture shifters?” Melody’s voice dropped to a growl. “That’s bullshit!”
“All in the name of science and public safety.” Brian rubbed Nulli’s back, placing small kisses along her hair. “And if they manage to create the ultimate soldier, well, that’s just a bonus.”
Nulli went rigid in his arms. She stared past him, out through the glass patio doors. “If they tried to take me, I wouldn’t make it easy, but I’d have to be what they were looking for if we were going to slow them down.” Her focus seemed to be locked on something just beyond the trees.
He glanced over his shoulder, but couldn’t see what she did. “What do you mean, be what they are looking for?”
Her eyes finally met his. They’d narrowed slightly, and her expression was hard. “You need to turn me.”
“We can discuss it later, kitten.” He knew by her look that she was going to be stubborn about this. He didn’t want to have a fight in front of guests, even if they were uninvited. “For now, we need to focus on this woman so that if you do decide to turn, you do it for the right reasons.”
“This is the right reason. If something happens, if they take you from work, or from our home, how could I find you? I can’t track you like this, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit around hoping they send an email.”
“This is neither the time nor the place to discuss this, mate,” Brian growled. “There are better reasons to change than fear. I will not have you look back later and feel coerced. Or regrets.”
“As much as I’d love to see you change, admittedly because you’d get naked first, I have to agree with the cat.” Killian tapped his claws on the table, drawing the couple’s attention. “If you turn for the wrong reasons, it could affect you later. I’ve heard that some go crazy from the regret. I don’t think you want that.”
“Let me contact this person and see what I can find out.” Terry spoke up, glancing at the growling shifters. “The more we know, the more we can plan.”
“Exactly. I’ll do a trace on the number, too.” Killian offered. “If it’s government, they’ll be pretty well hidden. Independent operations aren’t as crafty.”
“Meanwhile, I’ll attend your classes so you can point her out to me.”
Nulli slammed her fist on the table and stood. “You are not listening to me. Don’t sit here and growl at me about regrets and what’s good for me. You both know good and well that if someone had the ability to take away your mate, you’d drink acid if you thought it would help you get them back. The only regret I’d have is if I hadn’t done everything I could. If I wasn’t open to the turning, I’d never have asked the questions I did. I’m an adult. I don’t need you speaking for me.” She stepped away from the table and walked toward the patio. “Why can’t you understand this?”
Melody burst out laughing. She stood from the table and applauded. “Bravo! These guys think they have to take care of the little woman so much, they forget that this isn’t the 1500s anymore. Sometimes the little woman can kick some serious ass, too.”
“It’s only natural to want to protect our mate,” Killian defended.
“Yeah, but...” Brian ran his hand through his hair and sighed. “The downside of this is that Nulli can kick my ass. Yes, as a human. She could probably kick yours too, Killian. She doesn’t need my protection, which fucks with my head almost as much as worrying about this damn lab.”
“News flash cavemen.” Nulli turned around and pointed at Brian. “He is my mate. So why are you surprised that I want to protect him as much as he wants to protect me?”
“Because.” Killian spluttered. “Well, because you’re... um...”
“I wouldn't advise you to say what I think you’re thinking.” Brian smirked. “She will kick your ass, then.”
“Oh, I think he should.” Melody prodded her bear with one sharp claw. “Go ahead, or are you a scaredy-bear?”
“I’m not scared of nothing! It’s just, she’s small and bendy and, okay, yes. She’s female! Men are supposed to be the protectors. That’s just how it is.” The bear ended his rant on a sullen pout.
Brian smothered his laughter behind his hand.
“Oh really?” Nulli raised both eyebrows. “Will you step outside with me for a minute, Killian? I’d like to discuss something with you. It’ll be quick, I promise.” She didn’t look back as she opened the door and walked outside.
“Don’t kill him, kitten. I kinda like the big guy.” Brian called out amidst his chuckles. He and Terry urged the bear onto the patio. Terry had no doubt seen enough of Nulli’s classes to know what to expect.
Melody followed at a leisurely pace. “This should be good.”
Nulli stood across from the big man with a calm posture. “Raise your guard, male.”
“My guard?” Killian looked from the human in front of him to the eager faces of the other three. “Against what?”
She didn’t answer. Instead, she delivered a roundhouse kick so fast, Brian would have missed it if he had blinked. “Against the, female. Now raise your guard, or do you need help?”
“Hell yeah! Bendy and fast.” He brought up his hands in a boxer’s stance. “Bring it on, sweet cheeks.”
“Sweet cheeks?” Nulli dropped low and thrust out one leg as she turned in a quick circle. A circle that swept Killian’s legs out from under him in a graceful sweep. She rolled next to him and pulled his arm into a lock that made the bear wince. He lifted his free arm to push her off balance, but she yanked his limb until a small pop pierced the air.
She wasn’t done with him. She released her hold, stood, and watched as he got to his feet. As soon as he looked ready, she moved in again, dodging his advance and jumping up to grab him in a sleeper hold. “So, male. What’s a woman supposed to do when the men who should be protecting her are trying to hurt her? Threaten her? Attack her? Assault her? Do we cry? Call for help? Wait and hope for another man to save us? Let it happen? Or do we choke the shit out of their ass?”
“Okay, okay! I get it.” Killian reached and grabbed for her, but couldn’t dislodge her from his back. “Get the hell off me! Brian, come get your mate.”
“What’s wrong, Killian?” He leaned against the sliding door and grinned. “Did the little woman kick the big bad bear’s ass?”
“She totally did! Nulli, you’re my hero!” Melody giggled, clapping from inside the house.
“Listen, cat, you can’t keep this kind of woman all to yourself. C’mon. She’s hot, sexy, bendy, and fights like a demon! If it wasn’t for my Melody, I’d be in love.”
Brian peeled Nulli off the bear and cradled her close. “Stay away from my mate, bear. She gets enough assholes hitting on her that won’t take no for an answer, she doesn't need to get it from you too. Keep it up, and I’ll let her finish the job of smearing you all over our patio.”
“What do you mean?” Killian shook his head as if to clear it. “All that stuff she said, that shit actually happens? Melody, that crap doesn’t happen to you, too, does it?” At her nod, he growled. “That’s a truckload of horseshit, right there.”
Nulli extended her legs and stood. “So now that we’ve evolved a little here, can we get back to talking about this like adults?”
“That, my beautiful mate, was amazing.” Brian led everyone into the living room and brought drinks to those who wanted them. “Now, back to the problem at hand. Nulli, I do understand your concerns, truly I do. But, we still don’t have the answer to your question. I don’t feel right moving forward without that information.”
“Would I be stronger, faster, or otherwise enhanced?”
“Yes, of course you would. But is that really worth the potential of having to give up such a major part of what makes you, you?” Brian knelt before her and took her hands in his. “You’ve proven you can defeat a shifter. Let us, all of us, investigate a bit more before we discuss life-changing decisions. That’s all I’m asking.”
She rolled her shoulders and smoothed her expression. “Okay, but I’m not going to risk losing my kitty. That’s life-changing too, Brian.”
“You’re stuck with me, Nulli. I’m not going anywhere without you.” He kissed her hands with a gentle purr, nuzzling against her palms.
“Goddamn it! I so can’t wait to turn the tables on you with that.” A small sigh escaped her lips and she leaned back into the chair.
“Me, either. I hope you can take some time off because I can’t wait to try out all the ways you purr.” He winked and settled on the floor at her feet, running his hands along her legs.
“Oh, stop it, you two.” Killian grumbled good-naturedly. “If I can’t get in on that purring, I really don’t want to hear about it.”
“Okay then. Is everyone coming to work with me tomorrow or what?”
“Not me!” Melody chuckled. “I’m allergic to gyms. Now that I’m finally out of the boonies, I’m going shopping. I’m also going to look up an old friend of mine. He’s retired but worked for the government for years. I’ll see if I can’t scare some info out of him.”
“I’ll pass as well.” Terry saluted with his glass. “Watching you was enough to exhaust me. I’ll call this person and see what I can set up. Hopefully, I’ll learn more than they want me to. It can’t be too much to ask that they’re overly chatty, can it?”
“If they’re as talkative as the woman I met, you’re all set.” Nulli ran her fingers through Brian’s hair. She didn’t look down, it was as if it touching him in that way was a reflex.
"I’ll be there.” Killian set his empty glass on the table and smiled at them. “I want to sniff this woman out. Sometimes the unique scents of a lab clings to the skin. That’ll help us know if she’s just clueless or one of the butchers.”
“And you know I’ll be there, mate.” Brian leaned into her hand, a soft purr rumbling his throat. “I’ve been meaning to return, anyway. Oh, what about your friends? The wolves? How often do they go to that gym? You should probably give them a heads-up.”
“I can give them a call now.” She got to her feet. “I’ll be upstairs. If you all have left before I’m done, have a safe trip.”
“Yes. I think it’s time for you all to go home.” Brian got up and escorted everyone to the front door. “Her first class is at eight tomorrow morning. She’ll be there for three hours straight.”
Killian’s jaw dropped. “Three hours? Damned stingy cat.” He muttered several other curses and complaints as he walked out.
“I’m glad I got the chance to meet her, Brian. Have a good night.” Melody smiled and held onto her mate’s arm.
Terry hesitated and scratched the back of his head. “I’ll let you know if I find out anything.” He paused and looked Brian in the eye. “I’m really sorry about the last time I was here.”
Brian nodded and closed the door when the older man left. “Not how I expected my night to progress, but it could have been worse.” He dashed up the stairs in time to hear the last half of Nulli’s conversation with one of her friends. Unsurprisingly, the wolf on the phone was upset and ready for blood.
“I know, Elaina. I will, I promise. Talk to you later.” Nulli ended the call and fell backward onto the mattress. When Brian laid down next to her, she opened her hand. He took it and interlaced their fingers. “I don’t want to change out of fear, Brian. I have questions and it makes me nervous to think that I could become someone else. I don’t--”
“It’s a big risk to take if you’re not sure, kitten. I want you to be safe.”
“I take a big risk every time I’m with you, don’t you know that?” She turned onto her side and placed her free hand on his chest. The light scent of her vanilla lotion tickled his nose, standing out above her natural aroma.
“What do you mean?”
“Every time I let you near my throat is a risk. Instinct is a powerful thing. I put all of my trust in you that when those fangs of yours drop, and you bite into my skin, you won’t bite too deep, or too close to the wrong vessel. I have to trust that you won’t lose complete control. I put my life in your hands every single day.” She lifted her fingers and traced along his jaw. “I risk this, and I’ve never been happier. I’d face the turn, not because I’m afraid, but because it will create something between us even deeper than what we share now. You could literally make me into family.” Her lips spread into a small grin, her eyes softened, and her voice lowered. “You wouldn’t be alone in your experiences, and I would be able to connect to you in a whole new way.”
Her hand traveled higher until her fingers tangled in his hair. Gentle strokes prefaced her next words while her movements soothed him. “I didn’t ask those questions about the turning lightly. I’m not that kind of woman. I’m not changing my life so that I can become a super soldier. I’m willing to change it so that I can become your equal, so that we can walk this path together in all ways, and because I love you more than I fear the potential risk.”
“You are my equal, Nulli. When I look at you, I don’t see a human who’s weaker or slower. I see a glorious beauty full of strength, intelligence, and power. I see a woman willing to look beyond my faults and accept me. I see my mate.” He closed his eyes and purred at her gentle caresses. As his fingers trailed down her side and along her hip, he focused on this moment. The feel of her, the smell of her, and knew he would do anything to keep this exquisite woman by his side. “In some ways, I guess I understand. The first time I met another shifter who wasn’t family was when I was in college. He was a lion - arrogant, proud, full of his own self importance - but he taught me a lot. And don’t give me that look, I’m talking about being a shifter.”
He turned to kiss one of her stroking hands. “I learned how to be careful with my bites, how to hide amongst humans, about the groups that want to catch us. It was a lot to take in. I also learned how isolated my family was, how alone. I fear losing you because I don’t want to go back to that. I would gladly turn myself over to one of those labs if that meant they would leave you alone.”
“I don’t think you’d be alone, Brian. You have one of those personalities that draws people. It doesn’t hurt that you’re freaking gorgeous either.” Her soft laughter filled the space between their faces and brought warmth to her expression. “I just want you to realize I’m not being impulsive. I’ve thought about this, and now that this lab stuff is more real, it gives me a reason to think about it even more. But if you ever turn yourself over to a lab, you’ll have hell to pay with me.”
He chuckled, planting a kiss on the tip of her nose. “I think I’m more scared of you than the lab, mate. I’d feel better if I had an answer for you on being vegetarian. I think it should work, at least while you’re in your human form. As a cat, your instincts might get the better of you from time to time. Will you be able to deal with that?”
“If I have any control over it, I’ll try. I don’t know what that’s going to be like. You said it’s harder to tamp down those instincts when you’re a bobcat, but it’s not impossible. Guess I’d have to cross that bridge when I come to it.”
“It’s something to think about. Also, the turning isn’t immediate. It spans a month, so at any time you change your mind, you can back out and the cycle starts over again. The fates, Powers-That-Be, God, whatever you want to call it didn’t want to risk forced turns, I guess.”
“Yeah. I guess not.” She frowned and lowered a hand to his bite marks. “Killian mentioned that, the forced turning. I’d have to be there for a long time for it to work.” Her lowered gaze spoke volumes. Her mind was working, and he didn’t like her focusing on this particular topic.
“Talk to me, Nulli. This is too important to hide your thoughts. What has your mind working ninety to nothing?” He captured her hand and kissed the tip of each finger. “It takes more than a little nibble to force you to turn. I can’t even imagine the results if it was successful. The mental instability alone would be horrendous.”
“That’s what I was thinking. If they wanted to change me, it would mean someone biting me against my will, forcing their blood--” She shook her head and closed her eyes. “I’d have to be with another shifter? Would they--could they make them do that? Would instinct compel them to do what it takes to survive?”
“We bite during sex for many reasons but not because we have to. We bite because we want to lay claim to our mates. We bite because we know your adrenaline is pumping and endorphins are high so it won’t hurt as much. When we bite to mate, we do it then because of the other reasons, plus love and a desire to be closer to our mates in all ways possible.” He pulled her closer and started a low purr to calm her fears. “They wouldn’t have to force the shifter to rape you in order to change you, but any who is helping willingly might feel it was their right. I won’t allow that to happen, I swear it.”
“Their right?” She pushed at his chest and tried to sit up. “I think I need to go for a run or something.”
“Oh no you don’t.” He rolled her under him and pinned her arms above her head. “If you want to take out your frustrations, do it here. I don’t want to sit here and wait for another screech of tires.”
“What I said to Killian applies to me too. It won’t matter how strong I am if they use some kind of drug on me. I have to be lucid to defend myself. If this woman has seen me in my other classes, these people know that.” She took a deep breath and looked up at him. “All this, the idea of this, the existence of these labs and their possibilities, it’s driving me crazy. Someone has to do something about these places.”
“We are.” Brian released her hands and rested his weight on his elbows. He combed his fingers through her hair, heart aching at the worry in her eyes and on her face. “I don’t know much about them, but nonhumans aren’t unprotected. There’s a group that investigates these things, works to eradicate them. Unfortunately, it’s like playing a global game of whack-a-mole. The minute you destroy one, another takes it place. It’s a good day when it’s not two or three.”
“A group? I’ll have to ask my girlfriends about this, see if they know anything. Maybe they’re recruiting.”
“Maybe they are. You’d be great. Nulli - the kick-ass bobcat superspy!” He nuzzled her neck, placing light kisses along the bite’s bruise. “This will heal a little quicker once you’ve turned, too. Not instantly, of course, but our metabolism is faster. Means you’ll also have to eat more to keep up your strength.” He nibbled up her neck and to her ear. “For all sorts of reasons.”
“Eat more. How much more?”
“A pretty good bit more.” He bit her ear, then purred when she squirmed beneath him. “You don’t eat enough to keep a bird alive, mate. You’ll definitely need more protein.”
“I don’t--” She gasped and gripped his arms. “I don’t think I like the sound of that, kitty.”
“Too bad.” He chuckled wickedly, easing her shirt up. “It takes a lot of energy to shift. You already use a shit-ton at the gym. So, you’ll have to step it up on the eating side of things. Don’t worry.” He nipped the swell of her breast then lapped at the reddened flesh. “I’ll make sure you eat enough.”
“I eat enough.” She lifted his shirt, exposing his chest before pulling him close. “Unless you’re planning on increasing my consumption of you, I think my diet is just fine.”
Brian rose to his knees and tossed his shirt onto a chair. He resumed his lazy exploration of her body, though his purrs increased in volume. “That sounds like an excellent plan, my sweet mate. I haven’t dined on you in some time. Perhaps I should remedy that?”
“Perhaps.” She rolled away from him and stood. “After my shower.” A quick wink, and she disappeared into the bathroom. The static thrum of the showerhead sounded a few moments later.
Brian stared at the door with a growl. As he imagined his mate beneath the cascading water, her body slick with soap, he shucked off his clothes and followed after her. He stepped into the steamy spray and pulled her body against his. “How about during?”
Nulli gripped a bottle of body wash. At his suggestion, the plastic container hit the porcelain tiles of the shower. “Oops. I dropped the soap.”
“Why, yes you did. Let me get that for you.” He purred as he placed her hands on the tiled wall. “Keep them there, Nulli.” His hands slid along her arms to palm her breasts beneath the spray. He teased the hard points of her nipples with his fingers, rolling them, tugging them, giving them gentle pinches until they throbbed. Licking and nipping his way down the nape of her neck, he followed the graceful slope of her spine with his fingers. When his knees landed on the tile, his hands drifted down her stomach to rest on her hips. “Oh dear. I seem to have become distracted.”
He spread her legs as far as the shower walls allowed. God, she was gorgeous! He turned, gazing up at her from the floor. He grabbed the body wash and squirted some into his palm. Soaping up his hands, he held her left foot, placing a kiss to her ankle before rubbing the soap into her skin. His lips moved along her calf to the back of her knee, licking, kissing and nibbling, followed by his slick palms. Rising to his knees, he kissed his way up her thigh until his cheek rubbed her damp curls. He lathered the rest of her leg up to her hip, his fingers brushing against her mound.
Then he pulled away, only to start again with her right foot. Brian slowly worshipped his mate’s body, pouring his love into every kiss, every touch. He was so hard he could pound a nail into a tree but she was more than worth the torment of waiting. When bubbles covered her right leg, he turned her so the water washed the soap away.
“Do you know how cats get clean, Nulli?” He lapped along the seam of her thigh, purring with anticipation. “They bathe often, but not with soap. They use their tongues.” Groaning, he slid his tongue between her folds and lapped at her nectar.
Her moans fueled him, but her words nearly ended his efforts. “Don’t they do things to make it easier?” She lifted one leg, raising it high to the side of her body with her toes pointed. His mate, his flexible goddess of a woman, held her leg in mid air, with her knee just below her shoulder. “Helps to reach the small spaces, right?”
“Damn, woman, you’re going to kill me.” He smoothed his hand along her elevated thigh, drinking in the sight of her so open, so trusting. His heart swelled. Gripping her butt with his hands, he teased her with light, gentle touches of his tongue. He nipped her clit, purred, nuzzled, and teased, but all in short bursts. He was a cat, and she was his favorite toy.
“How do you expect a man to retain his sanity in such a situation, Nulli?” He sucked one flushed fold into his mouth with a purr. “So much beauty is hard to resist.” He curled his tongue around her clit and purred, watching her with an attentive gaze. As much as he loved watching her come, he wasn’t quite finished playing yet.
As her body flushed and began to shake, he pulled away, but braced her against the wall to help her balance. He kissed her thighs as she drew away from the edge of orgasm. Once she calmed a little, he resumed his play. He lapped slowly then eased his rough tongue inside her. He thrust and purred and held her tight.
Her words replayed in his head. She’d told him how she trusted him, how she willingly gave over her control with him. As he tasted all she had to give, all that she’d offered to him became clearer than ever. She never hesitated, was never afraid to share all of herself and as her lifted leg trembled, her openness touched him on a new level.
Brian kissed his way up her body, lavishing attention on her breasts as he pulled her onto his cock. She rested her extended leg on his shoulder while he held her close, not moving, just relishing the warmth and feel of her. “Tonight is the moon’s third quarter.” He pressed her against the wall of the shower, using his body to block the water from striking her face. He pulled out slowly then sank back into her heat with a growl. “Begin our mating tonight? I promise you, I will do everything I can to make sure you won't regret it.”
“Do you mean it?” Her muscles clenched around him, tightening like a boa constrictor.
“God, yes.” Another slow thrust, another purr that vibrated through his body. He laid his forehead against hers and gazed into her eyes. “I love and adore you and will only ever want you for as long as there is breath in my body. Would you do me the honor of starting our mating tonight, Nulli?”
“W-What do I do?” She bit her bottom lip and rocked her hips to meet his languid strokes.
“First, you relax and enjoy as I worship every inch of your beautiful body. I think you accomplished that pretty well. Good for you, mate.” He smiled, showing the tips of his fangs as he treated her to more leisurely thrusts. “Then, you wrap those gorgeous legs around my waist.” He lifted her leg from the floor, guiding it over his hip. “Oh yes, very nice. Now I can feel you so much better.” He pulled out until just the tip of his head rested at her entrance, then eased back until her body rested flush against his own. “Last, just before we both come, I’ll cut my chest here,” he traced his fingers over his heart, “with a claw. When you feel my bite, take in some of my blood. It doesn’t have to be much, but you do have to drink enough to start the change.”
She nodded. Her erratic breaths pressed her breasts into his chest while water cascaded down over his shoulders and onto her soft skin. She leaned in, taking his mouth in a heated kiss before teasing his lips. “I love you, Brian Arcady.”
“God, how I love you, my fierce kitten.” Gripping her ass, his thrusts grew faster as he watched her face. He was awed by this magnificent woman. He was humbled by her love. He was overjoyed by her acceptance. Love? That didn’t even brush the surface of what he felt for his mate. Growling, he cushioned her with his arms, and lost himself in her.
When he felt her body grip his, felt his orgasm screaming to be free, he freed a hand and opened a shallow cut on his chest. “Mark me as yours, kitten.” His thrusts became ragged and uneven as the pleasure built. He eyed his bite mark with a proprietary growl. “And I will mark you as mine!” Sinking his fangs into her tender skin, he shuddered as he released into his mate.
She cried out when his teeth pierced her, before jerking through her climax. Would she go through with it? Did she truly understand all this entailed?
When her head fell forward, uncertainty took hold of him, locking his muscles for the brief moments she remained unmoving. Had she changed her mind?
The warm wetness of her tongue at his cut made him swell within her yet again. She lapped at him with slow flicks, while whispering words of affection into his skin.
He was grateful for the shower. The cooling water soothed him as he held her tight. She’d done it! She had taken that first step towards a full mating. His heart couldn’t contain his happiness; it leaked from his eyes as his shoulders shook.
This was forever. He would marry her in the human way if that was her wish, but this bond was greater than anything granted by a piece of paper and a court of law. He stroked her skin to convince himself it was all real and not just a dream of something he could never have. She was here, in his arms, and she was his.
Tilting back his head, he roared. He smiled into her eyes, laughter bubbling up in his chest. Those sad, lonely years as a stray melted away, washed away by her love and acceptance. Her lips were stained red with his blood. He’d never seen her look so incredibly sexy, so completely and absolutely beautiful. His purrs echoed in the small shower as he scattered kisses across her face and shoulders, anywhere his lips could reach, interspersed with words of love and adoration.
He captured her lips for a slow, searing kiss, taking his time to explore her mouth and taste every inch. He lapped a drop of blood from her chin with a grin. “You don’t know how happy you’ve just made me, Nulli. To know that here, now, we begin a family. Our family. That one day, we will choose to add another to that family.” He brushed her toned stomach with his fingers, and drew in a shaky breath. “I never thought I’d find a mate, never thought finding one would feel like this. Now, I will move mountains to make sure you are as happy as you’ve just made me.”
“I’ll never forget this day.” Her easy smile faded and she held onto his shoulders. “I don’t feel so good, Brian.”
Frowning, he eased from her body and shut off the shower. He wrapped her in a towel, scooped her into his arms, and carried her to the bed. “What can I do? Oh God, tell me I didn’t do this? Was that it? Did something go wrong?”
“No. I don’t think so.” She huddled under the covers. “I think this is what happens when a vegetarian drinks blood.” Even though her brows were furrowed, a small grin spread her lips. “It’s so worth it, Brian.”
“Are you sure?” He lay beside her, smoothing her hair from her face. He chewed on his lip as she clutched the blankets. “Maybe... what if it’s something else? What if my blood is actually hurting you? We can’t risk this, Nulli. I won’t be the reason I might lose you.”
“It’s not you. This happened when someone gave me vegetable soup made with chicken broth once. I got cramps, then nausea. I felt better after I threw up, but I don’t think I can do that this time. I just need to ride it out.” She pulled an arm from under the covers and cupped his face. “Breathe, Brian. I’m not going anywhere.”
He held her hand against his cheek, closing his eyes to stem fresh tears. Was this some sort of punishment for his decadent lifestyle? How could he ask her to do this again next week if it was going to make her so ill? His heart sank. He couldn’t. He wouldn’t. The Fates were cruel to dangle such happiness before him only to snatch it away. “Can I get you something? A glass of water? A book?”
“Since I know we’ll be doing this again, I’ll take something beforehand so my stomach won’t get so angry. For now, I think I’ll take an antacid. That should help.”
Brian placed a kiss to her palm, then went in search of the medicine. He handed her the tablet, kissed her forehead, and offered to get her some water, toast, or fruit--anything to help settle her stomach. Guilt twisted his belly into knots. He had done this to his mate.
“I know that look. Stop freaking out, kitty. I’ll be fine. I beat up one of your friends tonight. Do you really think a crampy tummy is going to do me in?”
“What happens if you’re a cat and chase something? A squirrel will affect you far more than the few drops of my blood did. I’m worried about you, Nulli. I didn’t realize our mating would hurt you like this. It kills me to think I’ve made you sick, regardless of why.”
“I’m pretty sure I had more than a few drops, Brian.” Her eyelids shut tight before she rolled onto her side. “I will be fine. Good gracious, what will you do when I’m in labor?”
He sat on the edge of the bed abruptly. Labor? Oh sweet baby Jesus! “You’ll have one of those operation thingies, right, a Cesarean? Where they just take the baby without it really hurting you?”
“Oh yes, because cutting a five inch hole into my belly and pulling out a person doesn’t hurt at all. Just a scratch.”
“They use drugs, don’t they?! Good Lord, woman, what kind of barbaric hospital do you go to?”
“Yes, they’ll use drugs while they’re cutting, but after that, it’s over the counter pain pills. There will be pain involved Brian.” She looked at him out of the corners of her eyes. “But just like now, it’s worth it in the end.”
“I don’t know if I can do it, kitten.” He licked his lips, wondering if he was as pale as he felt. His skin felt clammy and cold. His hands shook. “What if I attack the doctor? I don’t know if I can know you’re in pain and not try to do something. We-we don’t have to have kids, you know. We could adopt. Or get a puppy. Haven’t you ever wanted a puppy? Maybe even a goldfish. They’re nice and soothing, I’m told. I promise not to eat it when I’m a cat. I swear.”
“Don’t make me slap you, kitty. You sliced open your chest to give me your blood without hesitation. You knew that would hurt, but you did it anyway. Why would you do that? Why would you do it three more times?”
“That’s different. This is you. My mate. I don’t want you to hurt. Ever.”
“You’re my mate, Brian. You’re mutilating yourself. Maybe we should do a transfusion, or have a donor shifter take the wound instead.”
“It’s just a scratch. It’ll heal before next week. This is... this is huge!”
“It’s not right. I don’t want you to feel any pain EVER.” She sat up and winced. “I’m not going to do this if it means you have to get hurt. I’m going to the Himalayas. I need to repent and ponder the error of my selfish ways. Don’t write, I need to be punished.” She rolled her eyes and sucked her teeth. “Is this ridiculous enough for you, or do you plan to continue?”
He eased her back onto the bed and cuddled her from behind. “I’m being a panicky ass, aren’t I?” He kissed her shoulder and sighed. “I don’t like knowing you’re in pain, but... I’ll deal with it when the time comes. Maybe not well, but I’ll deal with it.” Nuzzling into her hair, he chuckled softly. “Does this mean I can eat the goldfish?”
“We’re not getting a goldfish. I do not want to install security cameras to make sure you’re not storing living snacks in the house.”
“You are a cold, cruel woman, but I love you anyway.” He eased the towel from around her and settled her on the bed. “Did you want anything else before I tuck you in and read you a story?”
“No. I’m pretty well set now. What story are you going to read? Is it one of mine?”
“Only if we can act out the good parts.” Brian draped the towel over the rack in the bathroom and flipped the lights off before crawling back into bed. He grabbed his e-reader and pulled her close. “Let’s see what’s on the menu tonight?”
“Whatever it is, read the French translation!”
“Mais oui, ma cherie.”