******Brian whistled as he entered the house. Never in his life had he been this happy. Not only had he found his mate, she was seriously considering allowing him to turn her. Things continued to go well at work and he’d managed to replenish his savings and then some. “I need to get that mate of mine another gift. Something special. Lord knows she surprises me often enough.”
He smiled and inhaled. Her scent lingered, along with the fading aroma of the morning’s lovemaking session. Nulli had been happier lately. Probably had to do with the fact that Rachel had come home from the hospital.
The young girl's parents tried multiple ways to reward Nulli for her actions, but she refused, saying, “I’m glad I was able to help. It was the right thing to do.”
“My mate, the hero. I really will need to get her a damned cape.” After pulling off his shirt, he took the stairs two at a time. He changed into a pair of shorts and fastened his collar around his neck. “Now I’m home. Let the weekend begin.”
A familiar jingle broke the silence, his cell phone, but it wasn’t Nulli’s ringtone. “Hello?”
“Brian! Killian here. Are you home, dressed, and not fucking your mate six ways to Sunday?”
Killian? “Yeah, I’m dressed. Why the hell do you want to know what I’m doing with my mate?”
“Because we’re about to make the turn into your neighborhood.” Melody said something, Killian growled. “I’m about to, mate. Listen, Terry came by spouting a bunch of crazy bullshit. Since I had to come for a meeting and I’m not leaving Melody home alone without me, I dragged that crazy human up here with us. Need to talk to you.”
“What the fuck? No!” All he could see was Nulli running into the woods. There was no way in hell he wanted a repeat performance of that day. Killian, Melody, and Terry? All at the house together? I promised her there’d be no more of this shit. Fuck, Killian, why are you pulling this crap?
“We won’t be long. Terry the bonehead’s got something to say to you both, Melody wants to meet your mate, and I’ve got a couple of business ideas I’d like to bounce off of you.” A shout from the bear’s mate indicated that all clothes would remain on for the duration of their stay.
Brian stared at the ceiling, heart racing, his blood saturated with a mixture of rage and trepidation. Why did this shit always have to happen when everything was normal? “If you upset her, I swear to God.” He hadn’t growled his words in anger in a long time. She isn’t going to like this. Hell, I don’t like this.
“We’re not here to piss in your pool, cat, but we’re here already.”
Brian hung up and dialed Nulli immediately. “Kitten?”
“Hey, what’s wrong? You sound angry.”
“We’ve got a problem and I don’t know how to deal with it. I mean, I know how I want to deal with it, but that’s illegal in all fifty states and most civilized nations.”
“Slow down, take a breath, and tell me what’s up.”
“My fucked up past, is what’s up. Fate loves to wait until things are going so damn good then kick me right in the nuts.” He paced the room, ignoring the doorbell. “We have guests, Nulli, and I don’t know what to do with them.”
“Guests? I’m not dressed for guests.” She let out a sigh and sucked her teeth. “Who are these party crashers anyway?”
“I didn’t invite them. I swear on a stack of bibles as tall as the fucking Empire State Building.” He banged his head on the doorframe. “Killian, Melody, and Terry are here. It’s a fucking circus. Or a zoo. Or a really bad B-Movie.”
“Are you serious? What the actual fuck, Brian?”
“Melody wants to meet you. Killian has some business deal he wants to talk about. I don’t know what’s swimming around in Terry’s brain. They’re here already. That’s them ringing the bell that I’m ignoring.”
“Meet me? The way Terry wanted to meet me? Hello Twilight Zone.” She breathed deep. She was eerily silent for a few moments before a very calm, very stoic voice filtered through the phone. “That is our house, Brian. I do not want some Animal Planet shit going on when I get there.”
“Please say you know I won’t do that,” Brian whispered. “I would never betray you that way, Nulli. I swear.”
“I trust you, but I don’t know anything about these people except that they like to fuck. I’ll see you in a little while.”
Brian tossed the phone onto the sofa and pounded the door frame with his fist. Getting his temper under control, he pulled on his shirt, stormed to the front door, and yanked it open with a growl. “You will come in. You will sit down. There will not be the slightest hint that you’re up to something or I swear I will make a rug out of your hide, bear.”
“We’re not looking for any trouble, Brian.” Melody stepped forward, shooting a glare at Killian and Terry. “I’d love to meet your mate, and Terry wants to apologize to you both for being an idiot.”
“Fine. Nulli will be home soon.” He stood aside and motioned for them to enter. Though he closed the door with more force than necessary, he played the polite host and offered them drinks before joining them in the living room. Brian sat in a chair away from the others, sipping a glass of water. He and Killian discussed the bear’s business offers until Nulli’s car pulled into the drive. He jumped up from the chair to greet her at the door. When she walked in, his jaw dropped.
Her short dress clung to her figure, accenting every delectable curve. She turned around and he growled. A cut-out revealed her smooth back from waist to the back of her neck. He yanked off his shirt and thrust it at her. “I don’t want that bear drooling over you.”
Nulli shook her head and refused the offered top. She stepped into the living room, high heels clicking against the hardwood floor. “Hello.” The calm hadn't left her voice, and he wasn’t sure what she would say or do next. “I’m Nulli, and Brian is mine. Understood?”
“Perfectly, Ms Nulli.” Melody stood and offered her hand. “Since I’m sure my mate is being his usual Neanderthal self, I’ll do the introductions. I’m Melody Kleptner, mated to the behemoth drooling in the corner. Terry used to be my boneheaded boss before he lost his freaking mind. And I cannot even begin to fathom how awkward this is for you.”
“I’d like to say nice to meet you all, but that’s still to be determined. Isn’t that right, Terry?” Nulli continued into the room and marched straight over to Killian, whose eyes nearly bulged out of his head as she approached. She leaned forward, grabbed a handful of his shirt, and yanked him close. “Listen to me, bear. I don’t know what you’re used to, but you’re in our house with our rules. Step out of line here and I’ll snatch those balls of yours clean off.” She released him and walked away without looking back. “Now. To what do we owe this visit.” Her smile was wide and genuine. Either his mate had multiple personalities, or she was close to snapping. Regardless, the shock and awe on Killian’s face was priceless.
“Hell yeah, Brian! She’s fucking awesome. Keep her or I’ll kick your ass, cat!” Killian chuckled, saluting them both with his drink. “As for why we’re here, I dragged that shit-for-brains human here to apologize, as well as offer my own. I should have made sure he understood things a bit better.”
“So you’re taking responsibility for my would-be producer’s urge to sleep with Brian and me?” She laughed and sat down in one of the available chairs. “I think he can own his own bullshit, Killian.”
“I allowed a human to know about shifters without explaining things to him first. That makes the problem partially mine.” Killian pulled Melody onto his lap, but kept his hands outside of her clothing. “I’m a horny old bear. I know it. Hell, I fucking love it. Sex is great and I don’t mind playing with others if my mate agrees, but I never expected the fool to think that was how all shifters were. So, yeah, that makes it partly my fault.”
Brian stared at the shirt in his hands, then at everyone in his living room. He kept pinching himself in hopes that this nightmare would end. He had to be trapped on a particularly insidious level of hell. What had he done to earn this? Shaking his head, he pulled the shirt on and dragged a chair from the kitchen to sit beside his mate.
“You can’t take all the blame, Killian.” Terry spoke up for the first time, running a hand through his graying hair. “I should have asked instead of assumed. Hell, they both could have had my job for that suggestion. The network might want to air a program for guys to ogle at curvy women, but they’d can my ass in a heartbeat if they thought that’s what I was doing to prospective clients.”
Nulli crossed one leg over the other and rested her hands in her lap. “Speaking of which, please stop sending me emails. There is not enough money in the world to make me do what you’re suggesting.”
“What exactly are you suggesting, Terry?” Brian gripped the arms of his chair, his claws extending from his fingers to press against the padded upholstery.
Nulli placed a hand on his wrist and whispered in his ear. “He’s been trying to convince me to reconsider the fitness show. The network’s willing to offer more money if I’ll agree to do it. Seems like the last few people didn’t test as well.” She shrugged and gave him a little squeeze. “Remember what I said about the scratching post?”
Brian growled one last time but retracted his claws. He turned his hand over to capture hers, bringing it to his lips for a kiss. Inhaling her floral earthy scent kept him from leaping from the chair and ripping a few reminders into Terry’s skin. “I’m sure that will stop now. Won’t it, Terry?”
“It’s part of my job, you know that. They really want her to host this show. She’d be perfect. We could put any pretty face in front of the camera, but Nulli has this presence that keeps the audience engaged. I’ve seen her classes, even the gym members rave about her.”
“They would have had a chance had they cared more about her skill than her tits.” Brian placed Nulli’s hand on his collar, seeking an anchor. “She’s said no, Terry. Tell the network it’s final or I will.”
“Will you excuse us for a minute?” Nulli stood and pulled Brian with her. She led him into the kitchen where she closed the door behind them and moved toward the patio. “Are you going to be okay?” She cupped his face and searched his eyes. “I don’t want you bursting a vessel.”
“He doesn’t fucking get it! You’ve got more talent in your little finger than that damn network’s ever seen and they want to exploit you and make you some kind of walking T&A bimbo.” He growled, pacing the room. “And you put up with this shit all the time?”
She pulled him back to her and wrapped her arms around his neck. “Breathe, kitty. I’m not going to be their walking, bouncing bimbo.” She pulled him down far enough to place a kiss on his lips. “I’ll bounce for you though. Now come on. Try to calm down before you shift and maul everyone.”
“I’ll try, mate. For you. Though I think some of them could use a good mauling.” He nuzzled her neck and inhaled her scent until his growls quieted. “Let’s see how fast we can kick them out. This dress is playing hell with my possessive instincts.”
“Do you like it? I wanted to surprise you. It’s Friday and we haven’t been out for awhile. I was going to treat you to dinner, maybe take a walk in the park afterward.” She stepped away from him and held up one foot, displaying her high heeled shoe. “Got these to go with it. They make this clicky sound your cat might like. I even got new--actually, never mind that part right now.”
“Definitely kicking them out soon.” He trailed his fingers down her arm then brought her hand to his lips. “I’ll behave. Mistress.” Winking, he placed her hand on his arm and escorted her back inside.
He guided her back to her chair, then reclaimed his place at her side. “Terry. You’re not a bad sort, but you are perhaps a bit too loyal to the network. The answer is no. Any further communication from you on the subject of this show will be considered harassment. I can provide that in a legal document if necessary.” He kissed Nulli’s hand. “I don’t want it to come to that, but I will if I have to.”
Nulli turned toward him, eyes wide and brows raised. She leaned in, and spoke as close to his ear as possible. “Lawyer kitty is fucking hot.”
Killian snickered, Terry looked confused, Melody smiled. Oh, his kitten was pushing it. Damn the presence of these people.
They wanted to talk, all he wanted was to hand Nulli his leash. “Hold that thought, mate.” He stared at Killian. “Anything else or can this Festival of Awkward end now?”
Melody leaned forward and waved. “Mind if I chat with you a little bit?” Her gaze was locked on Nulli, and Brian wasn’t quite sure how to read her intent.
“All right.” For the second time, Nulli headed for the kitchen, this time, without him in tow. The ladies’ voices were easy to hear, and he listened in for anything that might upset his mate.
Melody was the first to speak. “We were so excited when Brian told us about you. He’s a great guy who deserves his share of happiness. When he showed us your picture, I think I squealed. Those photo’s don’t do you justice, and that’s saying a lot. You looked amazing in those shots. And happy.”
“Thanks. This is really weird, Melody.” Nulli’s voice dropped an octave and he almost ran in to pull her into his arms.
Melody continued. “Yeah, I can imagine. Sorry about that. I really did just want to talk, though. You’re the only other human I know who has a shifter mate. I’ve just had my first change, so I definitely remember being in your place. It can be overwhelming at times. These guys can be really intense with their feelings, you know?” Her tone seemed to be a mixture of happiness and exasperation.
“That’s what I like, actually. Brian puts it all out there. No games, no hide and seek. I know where his heart is. Sharing that with him is special. Sharing my life with him is amazing.” Nulli’s words were spoken in that light breathy voice he adored.
He didn’t need to see her face to know she was smiling, and pride and joy puffed out his chest. I love that woman.
The loud snap of Killian’s fingers pulled his attention away from the conversation in the kitchen and onto the bear across from him. “Hey, leave the women to their talk and tell me how things are going. We haven’t heard from you since you showed up at our door looking like a lost kitten. I mean, your mate, holy shit, she’s like a wild fire! Takes a lotta guts to stare down a bear. I didn’t smell an ounce of fear on her either.”
“That’s because she could kick your ass without working up a sweat. You didn’t smell fear because she’s not scared of you. As for us, well, things were great until you guys showed up unannounced. She knows about our night together, thanks to this guy.” He tilted his head in Terry’s direction. “Other than that, we’re good. She’s been asking questions about the turning.”
“No shit?” Killian leaned forward and slapped his knee. “Do it now!”
“It’s not that simple. There are things to consider.” Brian shifted in his chair. He’d love to turn Nulli, but the vegetarian thing and the potential changes in her hadn’t been worked out. Turning her was the one thing he could give her that represented a large part of himself. He wouldn’t fuck that up. “I have to make sure I get answers for her. I need to make sure she’ll be safe.”
“You haven’t turned her?” Terry’s face went red. “I thought you’d changed her. I figured she’d be like Killian too. You know, always ready for--never mind.”
“We’ve been over this nimrod. Shifters are more than just their animals, they’re also a lot like humans. Not everyone wants the same things.” Killian shook his head. “‘Sides, Nulli probably does have a high drive, but she only has eyes for the cat. Let it go, old man. You’re not getting into her panties and neither am I. Fucking stingy bobcat.”
Brian growled and his claws reappeared. “Stop. Talking. About. My. Mate’s. Goddamn. Panties.”
“For fuck’s sake, sheath the claws. No one’s making a move on her.” Killian took a drink and rolled his eyes.
Terry turned his glass in his hands and stared at the red wine inside. “I’m not trying to start trouble, but I don’t understand. You were a very willing participant that night. Hell, you even wanted another go the next day. Now you act like you don’t want any part of us. What happened?”
“She happened.” He hooked a thumb toward the kitchen door. “The four of us had some fun, yeah, but it didn’t mean anything. I was a stray then with a different outlook on things. What I have with Nulli fulfills every need I have. Every single one. That night with you guys can’t hold a candle to anything she and I share. I’m not settling or denying myself to be with her if that’s what you’re asking.”
“She get you that collar?” Killian set his drink down on a coaster.
“Yeah.” Brian fingered the braided leather and smiled.
“Hell yeah, man!” The big bear pumped his fist. “It looks great on you. She sounds like a keeper, for sure.”
“Collars are important?” Terry looked back and forth between the two of them.
“To me, yes. To Killian, probably not so much.” Brian shook his head. “Get it through your thick skull that shifters are as different as humans. I like what I like, just like you like what you like. Ignore the bear, he likes everything.” He and Killian shared a laugh, the first since that decadent night that seemed like ages ago.
Terry leaned back in his chair and sipped his wine with a frown. “I’ve been a total ass, haven’t I?”
Killian grunted. “Bingo.”
“Pretty much.” Brian pressed his spine into the back of the chair and exhaled. “You left a shit ton of hell in this house, Terry. If you had cost me my mate...”
Terry held his head in his hands. “All that stuff I said about her. Jesus, no wonder you were ready to take my head off.”
“What the hell did you say?” Killian’s claws extended and he bared his teeth. “Did you put her down?”
Terry looked up with pleading eyes. “No! It was even worse. I was being complimentary. You know, letting Brian know how open I was to--”
“To fucking my mate.” Brian couldn’t contain his growls. Terry had some nerve coming into his house with that shit.
Killian’s claws retracted, but he didn’t lose his menacing expression. “You have got to be the biggest idiot ever.”
“I didn’t know. Brian, let me try to make this up to you both. I can keep inquiring about changing the format of the show, or even pitching a different one altogether.” At Brian’s growl, Terry continued. “Or, I can see about using you for any upcoming projects. Would you be open to that at least?”
Brian folded his arms over his chest. “Depends on the show. I’m not planning on traveling around so much anymore. I want to stay close to my mate. If it’s close to home, I’d check it out.”
“You got a real weird way of saying sorry, Terry.” Killian narrowed one eye and curled his top lip back. “If I were you, and thank God I’m not, I’d be figuring out how to make Brian’s mate smile and say the words you need to hear to keep your throat intact. Words like, I forgive you or I accept your apology. If you pissed Melody off like that, you’d be missing a limb.”
At the mention of Melody’s name, Brian returned to listening on the ladies’ conversation.
“Well, the good thing is it takes a while for the whole change thing to really ‘take’ so you don’t have to worry about sudden decisions then regrets.” Melody had lowered her voice as if sharing a secret, making it harder for even the bobcat’s keen hearing to decipher. “Four bites over the span of a month, and then it’s out of your hands. I can’t say I’ve noticed any real difference so far, though I have roared at Killian once or twice. Damn man doesn’t know when to stop!”
“You roared?” Nulli sounded shocked. “You actually roared?”
“Oh yeah. I’m trying to take a roast out of the oven, right? So, I get the door open and lean over to pull out the rack so I don’t burn the shit out of my hands, and what does that crazy bear do? BAM! Walks up and slips it in. I swear that man is horny 24/7. I roared and stabbed him with the meat fork until he let me get the roast onto the counter, at least.”
“Whoa.” This time, his mate lowered her voice, almost whispering her words. “He’s like that all the time? Is that why you don’t mind sharing him? I’d imagine that kind of drive has to wear on you after a few years.”
“I don’t mind sharing because, well, I just don’t mind. I’ve been in a few open relationships and a few poly relationships before my bear. It’s just how I’m wired, I guess you could say, and why I’m the right one for that crazy bear.” The chairs creaked and glasses clinked against the table top. “Kind of like how Brian has that shiny new collar. He’s wired a lot differently from Killian, but I think that suits you just fine.”
“He’s wired differently now, I guess. But he was like you guys for awhile.” Nulli’s tone lowered and he felt the sting of that night with Terry all over again. She didn’t sound angry. She sounded disappointed, and that was even worse.
Killian caught Terry’s attention and they stepped outside for a few moments. Brian wanted to play the proper host, but he refused to miss Melody’s answer. The door muffled the men’s voices, but it didn’t sound like they were going to start fighting. Yet.
“No, I don’t think so. Not really. I mean, he enjoyed his freedom, yeah, but he was never really like Killian and me. We will probably have folks breeze in and out of our lives, and yes our beds, until we’re old and grey, but Brian--” Melody’s voice trailed off and he heard the rapping of fingernails drumming a rhythm on the table. “I’m going out on a limb here, but in all the time he was with the show, he was never that wild, you know? He’d have his partners, but he always only ever had one. I think that night was a moment of insanity for him. Something to put in his scrapbook to remember, but not necessarily something he’d want to repeat.”
“I keep pictures in my scrapbook.” Nulli laughed, and Brian exhaled a breath of relief. “All this shifter stuff is new for me. I have shifter friends, dated a few, never slept with them, and never did anything like what you guys have. I don’t know how the change will affect me. Everyone’s different. I’m worried I might.” She paused. “No offense, I don’t want to turn into you or Killian.”
Melody giggled. “Trust me, the world couldn’t handle another Killian Lancashire. That much testosterone would shift the earth from its axis and throw us all hurtling into the sun. I can’t speak of anything but my experiences, but turning into a shifter didn’t change me, it just made me a bit more intense. For the first few weeks, I got angry quicker but also calmed quicker. I was a bit more frustrated with simple stuff. Like PMS from hell. Thankfully, it settled pretty quick. I only get bearish when I want to or when someone really pisses me off. Usually... it’s Killian.”
“That’s just great. I don’t get really bad PMS. I get cravings and migraines. If he turns me, I’ll eat everything in the house and make him turn out all the lights while I swallow a bottle of pain relievers.” Nulli sighed and made a slight clicking sound with her tongue. “That’s going to suck.”
“You never know. It might cure the migraines. From what Killian’s told me, the physical side of it effects everyone differently, though he’s never heard of anyone going from a normal, sane person to a psycho unless they were already dancing along that edge.”
“Well, there are a few other things for me to think about, but I appreciate the insight. I can’t imagine roaring at Brian. That’s pretty funny.”
“Shifter or not, Nulli, he’s still a man. You will have plenty of reasons to roar at him.”
Nulli’s laughter brought a smile to his lips. “There’s only one thing Brian pesters me incessantly about. Food. He's all about making sure I eat enough, or giving him time to eat. If my first reaction would be to roar at him for that, It’ll take some getting used to. But I am curious about something else. The first time you changed into a bear, did it hurt? Were you afraid?”
“Roaring for any reason takes some getting used to. Trust me. As for the change? It didn’t really hurt. I mean, it felt odd. I busted my face a few times tripping over my own paws until I got used to being on four legs. But scared? No. Killian was with me the whole time, talked me through it. He comes across as a bit of a caveman, but he’s really very sweet when it counts.”
“Sweet. Right. He has a unique way of showing that when he meets a woman. If he’d looked at me like that at the gym, I’d have asked him to go a few rounds with me in my MMA class.” That was his mate. Confident, sassy, and strong.
“He would have had a blast. He’d probably still enjoy you kicking his ass. He’s sweet, but sometimes strange. I really worry about him sometimes.”
“I’m starting to think the joy of getting your ass kicked is a male shifter thing. I swear I’ll never understand it.”
“They’re so much stronger than humans. Faster too, usually. I think they enjoy the novelty of having a human that can compete on their level. Or, they just like seeing boobs in tight shirts. I really don’t know which.”
“Well, I don’t have as much going on in that department as you do. I wonder if it even matters to those crazy guys? I’ve started meeting shifters at the gym. They look at my chest and then my mark. I get eye contact from then on.”
“Oh yes, you’ve picked up on that, huh? Everyone likes to feel included and you’ve shown that you’re okay with them on a whole different level from just colleagues and drinking buddies. You’ll run into a few who think you’re ‘less’ than they are because you’re still human, but they’re just like any elitist pompous ass. Ignore them because they’re not worth your time."
“Honey, I’m a woman with brown skin. I’m always going to be less than to someone.”
Melody’s voice took on a sad timbre. “I really wish that wasn’t the case.”
Brian had heard enough, and entered the kitchen before pulling his mate into his arms. “Do you know how much I love you? Everything about you is perfect, never forget that.”
Nulli hugged him back and nuzzled into his neck. “What brought this on, kitty? Were you listening to us?”
“A little. You’re not less than anyone, kitten.”
She chuckled into his neck and shook her head. “Easy, tiger. You don’t have to try to save me from the world. There are some things that are inescapable. Idiots, traffic, taxes, my love for you.” Two quick kisses to his jugular were enough to make his heart race, but his mate took a step back. “I’m going to go change into something more comfortable. Maybe we should order some food.”
“Oh, Killian and I will take care of the bill.” Melody smiled.
“Really?” Nulli looked up at him and winked. “In that case, order all the broccoli they have!” Another quick kiss and she disappeared out of the kitchen and headed up the stairs.
“She seems nice. I like her.” Melody turned in her chair, twisting until she faced him. “You really love her, don’t you?”
“Yeah. Scares the shit out of me too.” Brian stared out into the living room, torn between following his mate and minding his host duties. This time, being a good host won out and he pulled out a chair and joined Melody at the table.
“I’m happy for you, but why does loving her scare you?”
“We’ve been through a few things. There was a time not too long ago when I thought I’d lost her. I mean really lost her. I realized I didn’t want to walk this world without her. I’ve never felt anything like this before. I breathe her in every day and I’ve never felt so, alive. She grounds me and drives me crazy all at the same time. I want to scream her name to the world and tell everyone that perfect woman is mine, but I also want to curl into a ball around her and hide her away where no one can see her, because she’s mine. See what I mean? Crazy.”
“Wow, Brian. I’ve never heard you talk like this. But I have to say, being mated looks good on you. I’m happy for you.”
“Thank you. When I’m not terrified I’ll fuck things up, I’m thrilled.” He pulled a flyer from a drawer and tossed it to her. “Hope you like Chinese. Nulli’s crazy about it.”
Melody checked off items for her and Killian, then took the menu out to Terry for his choices. Brian dialed their favorite delivery place and started giving the order. He didn’t need the menu for his and his mate’s preferences. They each had their favorites from the local restaurant. When Melody passed him the menu, his jaw dropped at the number of items checked off. Their order was huge.
“Do you two hibernate as well?” Brian slid his phone into his pocket.
“No, but something has to fuel that fucking machine named Killian. That man can put away some groceries!”
“I suppose so.” He led the way back into the living room where the two men waited. “Nulli’s changing and will be down in a bit. The food will be here in about an hour or so.”
Nulli descended the stairs a few minutes later, dressed in a pair of shorts, flip flops, and one of her stretchy T-Shirts. God, does she have to make every article of clothing look sexy? She’d let her hair down, and once again he found himself wishing he could eject their visitors.
“Hey. Are we all set for dinner?”
“Yep. I think they’re sending two cars. One will have Killian’s order, the other will have everyone else’s.” Brian tugged her onto the sofa beside him and laced their fingers together.
“Fuck you, cat.” Killian flipped him off with a laugh. “It takes a lot of food to be this sexy.”
“Seriously, Killian?” Melody rolled her eyes, punching her mate on the shoulder. “The bullshit is getting deep and their furniture is too nice to be messed up like that.”
Killian rolled his eyes. “Speaking of bullshit.” He glared at Terry, but didn’t speak.
“Yeah. That definitely sounds like my cue, huh?” The older man fidgeted in his chair. “Nulli. I really want to apologize for everything I’ve said. It was so far out of line that it’s not even funny. I could blame it on a lot of things, but I’m not going to try to make excuses. I fucked up. I’m sorry.”
“I still won’t change my mind about the show, but I’ll accept your apology. If I catch you watching me in the gym again, I’ll kick your ass.” She chuckled, Brian, not so much.
“Watching you at the gym? When the hell did this happen?”
Terry lifted his hands. “It was research, I swear! I wanted to get feedback from the people who took her class. I watched her teach, watched them while she instructed. I needed to give more info to the network and that’s part of the reason why they are willing to offer more money for her contract.”
“Were willing, Terry.” Brian growled. “They were willing to offer her more, but now they’re going to leave her the fuck alone. Isn’t that right?”
“Yes, right. That’s correct. After our last talk, I tried to get them to budge on certain things, but they want a show for one of their other channels that’s more appealing to the male eye.” Terry sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “When I told them she didn’t want to do a peep show like that, that was when they increased the offer. I won’t tell you what they said, then, but it wasn’t flattering.”
“Wasn’t flattering? Your network is badmouthing me now? Because I don’t want to be some--I shouldn’t be surprised, should I? I don’t have any experience with television, but I’ve seen enough of it to know where this is going.” Nulli looked at Melody and shook her head. “What did I tell you?” She tried to stand, but Brian held on. “I need some water, kitty.”
“Okay. Just come back?” He kissed her hand and sighed when she left the room. “The network can fuck off. We don’t need their shit messing up our lives. If they want some bimbo to bounce a lot on the screen, then I’m sure there are plenty of ‘actresses’ out there eager to play the role.”
Killian growled and sat forward a little. “Terry, is this why they hired Melody?”
“I wasn’t in that loop, but it wouldn’t surprise me. I do know they specifically searched for a female. Her rather impressive assets didn’t hurt, I’m sure.” Terry stood and paced. “I was just happy that they got someone with real qualifications and not some training at a zoo or something as part of a community service plea. Networks have learned that the viewing public wants very little in their television shows - a bit of sex, a bit of drama, and a good fight will pretty much keep the worst show on the air and popular.”
Killian’s growls deepened and his fangs dropped. Lecherous or no, he figured the big bear didn’t appreciate having his mate exploited any more than Brian did. It seemed sharing for him meant going about it on his terms, not some network executive’s.
Nulli returned and sat in his lap. “You actually like working for those people, Terry?”
“It’s a job.” He shrugged. “There’s not much call for a scientist whose skills lean toward discovering things that may or may not exist. I haven’t been in a lab in so long that I’m obsolete. At least this way, I’ve got a steady paycheck.”
“Yeah, but it’s kind of like working in collections or telemarketing. You feel dirty when you get paid.” Brian nuzzled into Nulli’s hair. “That’s why I’m glad I found work here. I can tell the network to take a hike when the ghost show comes a-calling.”
“Yeah, that’d be great.” Terry flopped into his seat and rested his chin in his hand. “I mean, the only thing I’ve been offered outside the studio is with some crazy lab out in Nevada. I think they’re full of shit, to be honest.”
“Really?” Brian eased Nulli from his lap when the doorbell rang. Melody joined him with her credit card in hand. “Why do you say that?”
He took the bags into the kitchen and set the containers onto the counter. The others joined them and conversation halted as they grabbed plates, forks or chopsticks, and drinks. Once they had settled in at the table, Brian brought up the lab again.
“Oh, you know, the usual stuff that comes out of these pop-up labs.” Terry dove into into his container of noodles and chicken, wielding a pair of chopsticks with precision. “We’ve got real specimens for you to study. We just want you to break them down to the cellular level to tell us how they are what they are and if we can replicate that in a lab. It’s all a bunch of science fiction crap. Usually, what they have is some poor fool with a birth defect. Pathetic, really.”
“Depends on the lab, Terry.” Nulli took a drink from her glass of water. “I’ve worked in labs before. There can be serious scientific study or there can be junk science. What’s the name of this company?”
“Hold on, I think I still have the damn business card.” He pulled out his wallet and thumbed through a stack. He tossed one onto the table. “Here it is. PSI Technologies. They even sound like one of those fly-by-night diploma mills you see wanting to teach you how to be a vet tech.”
“That’s weird.” Nulli put her chopsticks down and sat back in her chair. “There was this lady at the gym. I think she said something about working at a place like that, if not the same place. I don’t remember the name exactly, but it sounds familiar.” She frowned and shook her head as if to dismiss the thought. “She was really interested in my marks. Asked me if I’d had my first shift, even tried to touch the bruise.”
“She did what?!” Both Brian and Killian growled in unison.
“What did this female look like, kitten?” Brian’s claws tapped on the tabletop. “She needs to be taught a lesson in manners.”
“She was shorter than me. Brown hair, chin length, straight. A little heavier than me, brown eyes. She told me about how she remembered her first shift, and said she was happy I was finally mated. I’d never met her before, never saw her in my classes, but she's in the gym every now and then. I didn’t answer any of her questions. Figured her turning made her crazy or something. She seemed weird. No other shifter had asked me about my marks like that before. Maybe she’s new to this too.”
“She’s not new. She’s full of shit, is what she is.” Killian drummed his fingers on the table, his claws clicking against the polished surface. “A shifter would have known you’ve not fully mated. Your scent changes from human to a blend of you and your animal. A shifter would also know not to ask about someone’s first shift. That’s like walking up to a stranger and asking how their first time having sex was like.” He caught Brian’s eye and nodded. His fangs glinted in the light. Like the rest of him, they were huge and carried more than a hint of the power of his animal. “I want to meet her. I have the urge for a workout.”
Nulli looked at Killian, then to Melody and Terry before turning her gaze to him. “Is something wrong with this woman then? If she’s not a shifter, why would she say she was? Why would she ask me that stuff? She said something about having me do a demo for a company function, but I had to leave to start the next class before we finished talking.”
“Remember when I told you how dangerous it was for shifters in a human world?” Brian ran his hand up her arm and over her shoulders. He needed to touch her. So many scenarios, all of them bad, popped into his head. He rose from his chair to pace behind his mate. If this woman was a danger, she would have to be dealt with. “I can’t say for certain until I meet her, but if she works for one of these organizations then it’s not a demo she’s looking for. It’s a new specimen for her lab.”