There were exactly nine point seven miles between Jonathan’s house and the Redwood motel where Shepherd stayed. Going by his watch and the space he’d already covered, Shepherd imagined it would take him around five hours to walk that far. That was fine. Not only could he make it before the sun rose, which mattered to the people he needed to see, he also needed the time to think. If his feet gave out, he’d call for a ride. Until then, he needed the peace. Not to mention, he needed to save his money for more important things—like to not be homeless.
Six months ago, Shepherd had been promoted to floor supervisor at the Flowood steel mill. Then heavy tariffs on steel hit them hard. Shepherd’s entire line had been cut. Out of work and incapable of affording any type of life on unemployment, he’d accepted a job and a place to stay from his friend Raff. At the time, there’d already been a small part of him that knew it was a mistake. Turned out, it was so much bigger of a misstep than he could have dreamed. His life had never been great, but at least it had been his. Now, after a moment of stupid carelessness with a knife, not only was the world bigger than Shepherd ever dreamed, it seemed he was a wolf’s mate. Yeah, fuck that.
It wasn’t that Shepherd didn’t like Raff. In fact, he liked Raff a little too much. He was the only reason Shepherd ever came to this parish. God knew it was nowhere near where he’d been living the last twelve years. Who in their right mind drove two hours to a place in the middle of nowhere to go to a bar? Exactly one person—Shepherd. The only person who’d ever questioned his sanity over the drive was his brother, Landry. Shepherd always shrugged and said he liked the atmosphere. Shepherd snorted. He didn’t bother checking his surroundings to see if anyone heard. The trek to Jonathan’s was in the middle of no fucking where. Shepherd kicked at the dirt, uncaring if at forty-one he looked like a petulant child. Fuck life. All it had ever done for him was give him shit, low self-esteem, and some horrible coping methods. The brush nearby crackled. Shepherd froze and eyed the tree line. Nothing. His nerves calmed. Raff had once warned him about the animals that would hunt at night in these areas. Shepherd shrugged it off and went back to making his way toward Jonathan’s. He wasn’t worried. They could eat him. No loss.
His mind wandered back to the night everything changed six months ago. He’d been promoted. There was nowhere else he wanted to be other than Raff’s. His happiness had been too big. That was why he’d called his best friend Frankie and his baby brother, asking them to meet him at Raff’s. He’d known he couldn’t go alone. They’d been his shield from his feelings. Then, Raff and Dante had joined them. They’d pretended like they’d never met, protecting Shepherd’s secret like they knew how he felt without him speaking. Shepherd had been too drunk. They’d sat too close. Of course, then Frankie had gotten all weird and disappeared, making the situation worse. Landry had run into a friend and hammered the final nail in Shepherd’s coffin by abandoning him. He’d been alone with the pair.
Shepherd shook his head, trying to dislodge that night. It wouldn’t leave. Flashes of Dante’s emerald eyes, iridescent in the dark, slammed into Shepherd’s mind. Phantom whispers filled his ears. His dick stirred. Shepherd’s steps slowed until he stood on the shoulder of the road, staring at nothing. Seeing nothing but the images in his head. Visions of fangs piercing his skin and biting kisses. He couldn’t breathe. Each labored breath came out sounding like a shot. Hyperventilating looked like a real possibility. His body wouldn’t let that night go. It lived on his skin every second of the day.
Giving up, Shepherd dug out his phone and pulled up the app to hire a ride. He could still make the walk physically, but his mental state dissolved by the second. Shepherd hated himself too much to have this much time to think.
“Are you looking for me?”
In his surprise, Shepherd juggled his phone from hand to hand, doing his best to keep from dropping the device. God knew he couldn’t afford to replace it. His heart pounded as he managed to snag the phone right before it hit the ground. When he glanced up, his heart hit double time. A man who lit up the night with his golden skin and also sported black wings hovered over him. His eyes swirled gold. He couldn’t pass for human if he tried.
“Actually, I can,” the man said, proving he could hear Shepherd’s thoughts. “But my clothes fall off and sometimes my wings pop out for no reason or I have one green eye and one gold. It’s just a hot mess.” He shook his head. “I’ve given up fighting this form.”
Shepherd blinked. “Did you just read my mind?”
The man-bird nodded. “Be glad you have loud thoughts, or you’d still be walking all night. Fortunately for you, I could hear your brain raging at me all the way to my house. I’m Jonathan. You’re on your way to see me.”
“Oh.” Shepherd had never actually met Jonathan. He’d only heard people talk about him with awe. Being Raff’s fated mate came with a few perks; no one had hesitated to tell him where he could find Jonathan. Of course, no one had told him Jonathan might find him. “Actually, you were only half of my plan. I also hoped to see Dante.” From what he understood, Dante had accepted an invitation to stay with Jonathan after leaving Raff. Shepherd needed to speak his piece. First, he planned to beg for Jonathan’s help. Then he’d beg for Dante’s forgiveness, because that stupid accident with the knife had ruined the pair who’d given him the night of his dreams.
Jonathan scratched his chin and his eyes lost focus. “Nope. Dante still isn’t home. I just checked. You coming with me or walking?”
“With you, I suppose.” As the words left his lips, Shepherd questioned his sanity. All he had was the guy’s word that he was Jonathan. With a mental shrug, he reached for Jonathan’s outstretched hand. If he was being honest, he gave no fucks if he turned up dead in a ditch somewhere. At least then he wouldn’t have to come up with this week’s rent… and Dante and Raff could be together.
“You could always stay with me. I wouldn’t charge you rent,” Jonathan offered, reading his mind again. Before Shepherd could respond, the scenery changed, and he stood in the center of a gorgeous living area. The place was huge and obviously expensive. He tried looking in every direction without looking like he couldn’t stop checking out the place. “Being the king has some perks—like having the space to take in long-term guests.”
Shepherd wanted to be irritated over Jonathan’s mind invasion, but he was too full of every other emotion to spare a brain cell for one more. “As it should, I’m sure.” Being the king was probably a pain in the ass. After all, he was here to ask for help for something that probably meant nothing to Jonathan. If he had the nerve to do it, there were probably dozens of immortals lined up for help as well.
“We’re about to have dinner soon. Would you like to stay for that since I can see you don’t want to stay with me?”
Shepherd rubbed his forehead. He didn’t know how to deal with these people who constantly read his mind and could do all these things he couldn’t. It was exhausting. “It’s not that I don’t want to stay. I don’t know you or anyone, really. It would be awkward. I’d feel like an intruder.”
“Plus, you’re used to supporting yourself and not having a job is undermining your confidence.”
“Exactly,” Shepherd agreed. “I’d rather stay at the motel and keep my pride, even if I starve.”
Jonathan’s expression turned sad. “I know why you’re here. As much as I’d love to tell you what you want to hear, I don’t have the power to change my grandmother’s mind. She fated you to be with Raff for a reason. I know you don’t follow any particular faith, but just because you don’t believe in her doesn’t mean she doesn’t believe in you. Goddess Celeste can see everything you can’t. I can’t force you to trust her, but you should. This happened for a reason.”
In his heart, Shepherd had known no one would help him, especially someone from Raff’s circle. He swallowed down the bitterness the way he always did. “Thank you for seeing me. If you’ll point me toward the door, I’ll be out of your hair.”
“Eat and then I’ll take you home.”
Everything hurt. His chest. The backs of his eyes. All Shepherd wanted was to be free. “No.” He tried softening his harsh tone. “Thank you, though.”
“At least let me take you home.”
Shepherd turned his back on Jonathan. He headed for a door that looked like it led outside. Since Jonathan had no trouble reading Shepherd’s thoughts before now, Shepherd didn’t see the point in continuing to argue. When he pulled open the door and the night air washed over him, Shepherd nearly sighed in relief. The air still smelled like freedom, even though his life was no longer his own.
“Dante doesn’t blame you,” Jonathan called out, stopping him.
Shepherd didn’t look back. A heavy weight landed on his shoulders. He nearly buckled beneath the guilt. “I blame me,” he muttered under his breath as he pulled the door closed behind him. Fifty years Dante and Raff had been together before Shepherd had come along and wrecked them. There was no forgiveness for that. Shepherd followed the weaving driveway through the trees, assuming it led to the road. When he found it, he pulled out his phone and opened his GPS. Shepherd had no idea where he was headed, but neither did he know where he was. He turned left, heading north. That seemed as good as anything. Even though Shepherd realized he was headed back toward the motel, he wasn’t set on that destination. Maybe when he got there, he’d keep moving. There was nothing stopping him from walking and walking until he fell over in exhaustion. If no animals ate him, then he’d start again once he was rested. It wasn’t the smart choice, but it was a choice. He hadn’t been offered one of those in a while.
Shepherd barely made it twenty feet when a man popped out from the bushes. This time, it didn’t startle him as much as Jonathan had. It was possible life had finally beaten him down too much for him to care. Jonathan had been his last hope. Now there was nothing except a long-ass walk in his future. The man’s muscular arms were bare, but every other inch of him was covered by either his costume or elaborate makeup. He looked like one of the heavily painted voodoo priests that came out to play during the Day of the Dead celebrations. His face was white with black painted stitches around his lips. The man’s completely black eyes were circled with black, making them seem like empty sockets. He even carried a walking stick and wore a top hat. He smiled at obviously having Shepherd’s full attention.
“I sense you have a problem.”
Shepherd snorted. “Doesn’t everyone?”
He tried stepping around the stranger. Shepherd wasn’t in the mood to deal with weirdos.
The guy leapt into his path, blocking him. “Ah, but you, my good Shepherd, I can feel all the blue. You’re in luck. I’m just the being you need to make all your dreams come true.” He dragged the handle of his walking stick down the center of Shepherd’s chest as he made the claim. It was carved into an eerie-looking skull with red eyes.
The full impact of the man’s words hit him. Shepherd froze in his tracks and eyed the man. “How do you know my name?”
The creepy black smile stretched into something dark and sinister. A chill raced up Shepherd’s spine. “I know everything about you, Mr. LaTour. That is to be sure. You’ve been fated a mate you cannot escape. Luckily, I’m here to deal before it’s too late.”
Shepherd’s head spun from all the rhymes. “Who are you?”
The stranger bowed. “I appear when you come to a crossroads in life. You, my good man, may call me Stryph.”
Shepherd scrubbed at the back of his neck. He had all the alarms sounding, but he still couldn’t simply walk away. This oddball was the first person to stand still and talk to him since his life blew to shreds who wasn’t a part of Raff’s inner circle. “Are you speaking in rhymes because you can’t stop or because you’re a clown?”
The man transformed, becoming a sexy blond-haired man. He looked exactly like a warrior Viking. His eyes were still completely black, but he wasn’t as terrifying. “Would you rather I look this way? Does that make you feel better about me?”
“I don’t know,” Shepherd answered honestly. He’d been angry at life for so long, he no longer knew how he felt about anything. “You’ve stopped rhyming. That’s all I care about.”
Stryph smiled. It was blinding and scary at the same time. “Prose is important. Always remember that. Words and how they’re strung together matter. They can change the course of history or leave you shattered.” He planted his walking stick in the ground and did a small hop. Before Shepherd could growl his aggravation, Stryph winked. “Do you want me to take care of that little problem of you being mated to a wolf who doesn’t want you?”
The hair stood on the back of Shepherd’s neck. “I have so many questions.” Really, he did. Whoever Stryph was, he was obviously magical and well informed. “But I guess I should start with asking what you hope to gain in exchange for helping me?”
“I’m a demon.”
Shepherd blinked. “Well, that doesn’t sound good.”
One side of Stryph’s mouth lifted in a cocky smile. “I’ve already been more honest with you than anyone lately, have I not?”
He couldn’t argue that point.
When he didn’t respond, Stryph sighed. “A stab in the dark here—you don’t know much about demons.”
Shepherd scrubbed at his forehead. He had a headache that wouldn’t quit. “I suppose I heard a thing or two in church growing up. Since then, I haven’t taken much to religion. Too much hypocrisy, I suppose.”
Stryph leaned on his walking stick. “I shall begin at the beginning, then. When Satan fell, one-third of the angels were cast down alongside him. Those were the first of my kind. I am a descendant of angels, except I’m not very angelic. In fact, some would call me greedy. I like things. All the things. Messy emotions and a sloppy existence. Everything people miss by walking the line. But I can’t always have those things, because—as I said—I’m a demon. Only when I’m incorporeal and possessing another can I freely live the life I enjoy. Of course, I also like being me, so I wouldn’t need you for long. Just on occasion.”
“You want to possess me. That’s not terrifying at all,” Shepherd said dryly.
Stryph turned serious. “You realize I could just take you, right? A human is nothing to me, but I’d rather deal and have a willing mind merge with mine than listen to you scream.” Stryph turned wicked. His expression screamed sex. “I promise you wouldn’t regret anything. I’m not in the business of anything illegal, only carnal, and you were built for that.” Stryph dropped his gaze to Shepherd’s toes and openly inspected him before meeting his gaze again. “You see, it’s a win-win. I get to enjoy a short jaunt of debauchery, keeping you completely safe, of course. You get the life you’ve always wanted.” Stryph circled him. “What do you say, Mr. LaTour? Wouldn’t you like to enjoy some time with someone who wants you? Aren’t you tired of feeling like you’re not good enough? I see inside your heart.” Shepherd’s heart sped. Stryph peeled away his layers, exposing his deepest fears and pain to the light. “You can’t hide the hurt from me. I can see the way it slaughtered you when you realized you were good enough to fuck but not good enough to claim. Yet, you also don’t want to be the home wrecker—like the man who stole your wife. In fact, if your giant wolf and sexy vampire stayed together and chose to keep you, you’d be—”
“Shepherd. Run.” The shout cut off Stryph’s painful speech and brought Shepherd’s head around. Dante looked enraged as he sprinted toward Shepherd. Shepherd opened his mouth, intent on even he didn’t know what, defending Stryph possibly. But Stryph turned to smoke, freezing the words on Shepherd’s tongue. A gust of wind carried the demon away, leaving Shepherd alone with an enraged vampire.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Dante barked.
Shepherd’s throat unexpectedly swelled. That was a good question. He’d been wondering that same thing for as long as he could remember. What was so wrong with him that life continued kicking him at a constant? He never got to breathe or relax. It was always one horrible thing right after the other, stripping him away. Layer by layer, he was slowly disappearing. One day, there would be nothing left.
Dante’s gaze moved over his features. “Are you okay? Did he touch you?”
Shepherd took a breath, trying to control the pain. “I’m fine,” he lied, because he always did when asked that question. “He didn’t touch me. He just wanted to make a deal.”
“He just...” Dante seemed to flounder for a moment. “There is no just in making a deal with a demon. You’re talking about your life. Your soul.”
Shepherd shrugged. “Raff would be free, and you’d stop looking at me like you are right now. That’s probably a fair trade.”
Dante’s expression snapped closed. Shepherd spent a moment staring at the hard features that had burrowed under his skin and led to his ruin. The long, dark hair. Emerald eyes that captured the light. Then Dante opened his mouth and his sexy accent—like an old English pirate—punched Shepherd in the gut as always. “You were dealing away your most precious possessions for Raff and me?”
Shepherd shook his head. “It’s not for you if it’s because I can’t live with me.”
Dante’s eyes fell closed. When they reopened, Shepherd saw all the pain he caused staring out at him. All he felt was defeat. “Come on, poppet. I’ll take you home.”
“I don’t have a home.” Shepherd damn near choked on the words.
“As long as Raff lives, you’ll have a home.”
With one statement, the rage was back. This time, Shepherd kept it locked inside. Raff’s place was an unwelcoming place to lay his head, one Shepherd didn’t want. There was no sense in arguing. All these creatures could and would do as they pleased. Shepherd was nothing more than a helpless human, shifted around at their mercy. They’d turn their backs eventually, and Shepherd would break free again. Surely Stryph would find him again. Shepherd would deal. He had nothing to lose.
* * *
Outrage owned Dante. Shepherd had no clue what horrors he’d narrowly escaped. But it wasn’t Shepherd who would feel Dante’s wrath. Shepherd wasn’t to blame for any of this. Raff should be taking care of his mate. Dante had walked away, leaving the stupid wolf free to care for Shepherd without Dante standing in the way. His sacrifice had obviously been for nothing. More than that. Raff’s refusal to claim his mate was like spitting in the face of Dante’s sacrifice.
Dante took Shepherd’s hand. Even though Shepherd didn’t fight him, Dante felt his determination. He didn’t want to go back to Raff. That was too damn bad. They were mates, and they’d be fucking happy, because Dante had lost every goddamn thing so they could be.
In an instant, they were inside Raff’s cabin. Since Raff had spent the last fifty years with Dante, he didn’t normally look the least bit surprised to see Dante when he magically appeared out of nowhere. Today was no different. Dante’s rage wasn’t helped by the sight of Raff. His hairy barrel chest and deep cut abs were bare for Dante to eat alive with his gaze. In nothing but jeans that were unbuttoned at the waist, Raff held a cup of coffee in one hand and his phone in the other. Dante had obviously caught him on his way to the couch.
“Did you need something, babe?” Raff asked, as if this was a social call.
Dante rolled his tongue back in and took some breaths. Even half a century together hadn’t cooled his reaction to the sexy alpha. “No. I’m returning your wayward mate.”
Raff’s amber gaze slid Shepherd’s way. Shepherd stared in the other direction, visibly trying to hide the waves of pain rolling off him. “He isn’t wayward. I imagine he was doing exactly as he pleased when you found him—like the adult that he is.”
A small smile touched Shepherd’s lips. Dante felt the hum of satisfaction inside Raff over pleasing his mate. He wanted to die. This was hell for him and no one noticed they were slowly killing him.
“Whatever. You’re welcome. He’s home now.”
“I don’t live here,” Shepherd muttered while keeping his gaze averted. “I live at the Redwood Motel.”
“Nobody lives at a motel. It’s a motel, for fuck’s sake,” Dante barked, getting sick of the ungratefulness after saving Shepherd from a demon. He took another breath and focused on Raff. “May I speak to you alone?”
He didn’t miss the hope mixed with pain that crossed Raff’s features as he set his phone and coffee aside. With a nod, Raff headed for the bedroom. Dante followed. Shepherd still stood only feet away. Dante chose to ignore that fact for a moment as he focused on Raff.
“Why isn’t he living here?”
“I’m right here,” Shepherd said, sounding tired. “You could ask me. This isn’t my home. It’s yours. I don’t belong here. You do.”
Dante chose to continue ignoring Shepherd since he wasn’t over being pissed off about the situation he’d found the man in. “He should be here, Raff. You can’t keep him safe if you’re under different roofs.”
In a move obviously intended to enrage Dante, Raff raked Dante’s body with his gaze. Heat stroked him, weakening Dante’s knees. Damn. He missed his wolf. “Once again, Shepherd is a grown man. He’s not my child. If he wants to stay here, he’s welcome. If he doesn’t, I won’t chain him to a chair.”
“You don’t chain children either,” Dante said, getting sidetracked and hearing the horror in his voice before shaking it away. He knew Raff was trying to get under his skin. “I shouldn’t have to go looking for your mate because he’s out walking in the middle of the night,” Dante growled, getting back on topic.
“No one asked you to,” Shepherd called out, making things worse.
Dante snapped. “Do you know where I found him?” Dante yelled as he slammed the bedroom door, shutting Shepherd out of the conversation. “He was trying to bargain away his soul so we can be together.” Dante motioned between them, trying to impress the seriousness of the situation upon Raff. In the past fifty years, he’d been angry with Raff more times than he could count, but this was a whole new level of fury. They’d always known Raff would find his true mate one day. Dante had always known it would hurt. He’d never in a million years expected Raff to turn his back on his mate when it happened. This was one place they didn’t get a choice. Goddess Celeste made those decisions. Some of the air left his sails. The fight went out of him. “What are you doing, Raff? This guy is your mate. It’s your duty to keep him safe.”
The stubborn tilt to Raff’s jaw never wavered. “As I said, I can’t force him to accept me or stay here. That’s a sentiment I would think you’d understand. After all, this is your home too and you refuse to stay. We have a life together, Dante,” Raff said, his tone turning pained. “You just walked away from it.”
It was a knife to his heart every time he set eyes on Raff. This was the little slice of heaven they’d shared. Maybe in a hundred years, he’d feel different. But today, standing here in what used to be their bedroom, everything hurt. “Could you still love me, knowing I stood in the way of the life Goddess Celeste chose for you?”
Raff moved closer until they were chest to chest. “Yes. I would still love you no matter what. Even if I found out tomorrow that you’re some crazed serial killer, you’d still be the greatest love of my life. He doesn’t want me. I thought that you did. Stay.”
Dante swallowed past the pain and the desire to close the final inch between them. Missing Raff’s kiss was like a hot poker in his gut. “Maybe you’re okay with that scenario, but I wouldn’t like me if I stayed. And I can’t respect someone who’d allow their mate to bargain away everything they have, because you were being selfish. He doesn’t understand. This isn’t his world. Do you honestly think he doesn’t feel that you’re still trying to work things out with me? No wonder he doesn’t want to you. He doesn’t realize why your rejection cuts twice as deep as anything he’s ever experienced. Maybe you’re okay with that, but I’m not. I guess, until you’re ready to accept things, I’ll do my best to watch out for Shepherd.” Dante shook his head. Each passing moment, the pain increased. The choking sensation worsened. He headed for the door. “I never thought I’d see the day when you’d hurt me like this by leaving me the responsibility of the man who took my place.”
Raff tried reaching for him. Dante dissipated before their skin collided, reappearing at the door. He couldn’t take Raff touching him. It might be the thing that broke him.
Dante opened the door, incapable of enduring another second in their bedroom. The living room was empty. “Fuck me,” Dante growled. He concentrated on Shepherd’s location. He was in the backseat of an Uber and on his way back to Jonathan’s. No doubt he was looking for the demon. Goddamn it. Dante let Raff’s cabin fall away. He appeared in the backseat of the SUV with Shepherd. He didn’t look Shepherd’s way as he touched the driver’s shoulder. “You do not see us or hear us. We were never here. Just keep driving.”
A loud sigh filled the backseat. “Please go away, Dante. Just go back to Raff. Don’t think about me again, and I’ll make this right.”
Dante’s spine molded to the seat. He wanted to hate Shepherd. It was impossible. The man was just too damn nice and selfless. He was also a fool. “What kind of person do you think I am? Do you really think I could skip away and pretend you’re not living in hell with a demon while I go back to my life?”
Shepherd’s gaze slid Dante’s way. Fury blazed in his eyes. “What kind of person do you think I am? Do you think I can go back to Raff’s, warm the bed you shared with him, and forget I ruined your life? That’s not me. I can’t be that guy. That guy ruined my life years ago while I was off fighting for my country. I can’t be that person.” The rage filling every word Shepherd spoke hit Dante in the chest. In that moment, he realized Shepherd really meant it. He would trade himself for Dante’s happiness.
“Take a breath, Shepherd. Calm down.”
An ugly-sounding snort escaped Shepherd. “Has anyone ever calmed down in the history of being told to calm down? I’m pissed off, Dante. Your God isn’t mine. I don’t follow her rules.”
“People calm down when I tell them to,” Dante said, sounding petulant even to his ears as Shepherd ignored him and kept talking.
Shepherd poked himself in the chest. “I don’t have to do anything. This is my life. I’ve spent the whole of it miserable. So if I want to spend the rest of eternity that way, it’s my damn business. Not yours. Not Raff’s. Not your goddamn Goddess Ce—”
Dante kissed him. He didn’t know how else to make the venomous speech stop. For some reason he couldn’t explain, Shepherd was impervious to Dante’s mind control. He should’ve calmed the second Dante told him to do so. This was the only weapon Dante possessed—Shepherd’s desire for him. Dante put every ounce of skill he had into their kiss. He curled his tongue around Shepherd’s and stroked. The scent of Shepherd’s lust filled the car. His reasons for touching Shepherd slipped away. He shaped Shepherd’s erection through his jeans and massaged him. Shepherd’s hips left the seat, seeking more. Memories crowded his brain. Hurt made him want to turn a blind eye to the truth. In these moments, the moments when they touched, Dante couldn’t lie to himself. His feelings for Shepherd rose to the surface and choked him.
Dante pulled away and pressed his forehead to Shepherd’s. He held the man’s stare as he stroked him. “Do you ever think of that night?” Dante didn’t wait for Shepherd to answer. He could see inside Shepherd’s head. All the memories were there. “I wanted you every bit as much as you wanted us. Stop telling yourself you trespassed in our relationship. We invited you in. I am five hundred years old. Trust me. I’m old enough to know when I want someone.” He recaptured Shepherd’s lips before the man could find a new argument. Shepherd wouldn’t sell his life or soul on Dante’s watch. Maybe Raff could conveniently forget they’d been the ones to seduce Shepherd, but Dante couldn’t. This human was their responsibility. They’d dragged him into their world with their inability to deny themselves pleasure. Raff had thought of Shepherd as a friend once upon a time. Dante had thought him more than a friend. Shepherd wasn’t their enemy. This wasn’t his fault. Goddamn, he still tasted like unadulterated lust just as he had that night.
Dante’s fangs grew. Shepherd didn’t back down. If anything, he kissed Dante deeper, as if begging for Dante to do his worst. Dante’s dick leaked in his pants like Shepherd’s tongue stroked it. Every ounce of anger and bitterness fell away. Dante knew it would be back, but—for now—he reveled in the reprieve.
Riskel. Dante put out the mental call. He still needed to fix this.
Dante? What’s wrong?
Do you have room for a guest? A demon has caught my friend’s scent. He isn’t safe.
Of course. Dante had known he could count on Risk. With me staying with Jonathan until Tamil finishes his magic training or feels comfortable enough to leave, the house is empty. Make yourself at home. The place is completely warded against demons.
Dante never lost his focus on Shepherd. Thank you, my friend. As he closed his mind to all others, Dante slid Shepherd’s zipper down. His fingers encircled Shepherd’s cock, setting him free. He stroked as he kissed his way down Shepherd’s massive chest. Damn, the guy was built like a bull in every way. Dante wasn’t used to denying himself. He felt Shepherd’s slight reluctance now that they were no longer kissing. Dante dropped his head and licked away Shepherd’s pre-cum, killing all doubt. A moan filled the car. Dante took Shepherd down his throat. He didn’t need air the way a human did. Shepherd could fuck his throat all day. The way Shepherd held his hair and pumped against Dante’s mouth made Dante proud. Shepherd might be human, but he was strong. Dante loved strong men. He craved the rough treatment. When he felt someone’s touch even after they were gone, that was when Dante felt his most powerful. Shepherd didn’t disappoint. He used Dante, openly taking his pleasure. Shepherd moaned and thrust. He pulled Dante’s hair and beat at the back of his throat.
“Fuck. You’re amazing. Don’t stop.” Shepherd sucked in an audible breath. “I’ve thought about you doing this every night since we were together. You’re fucking perfect.”
With each word of praise, Dante tried harder to please Shepherd. He licked and sucked. When hot cum flooded Dante’s mouth, satisfaction roared through him. The instant he’d licked Shepherd dry, he straddled the man’s lap. He buried his face against Shepherd’s throat, smelling his blood. It called to him. He could hear Shepherd’s steady pulse.
Shepherd hugged him, drawing him closer. “It’s yours. Take it.”
Dante’s fangs sank into Shepherd’s vein before permission died on Shepherd’s lips. Shepherd’s hips lifted as if he tried burying himself in Dante’s ass as the first pull of blood left his body. Fuck. Dante wanted that, but he couldn’t, because that meant letting Raff go. A wave of sadness washed over Dante, reminding him of everything he’d lost. Shepherd’s tight hold turned into a caress, as if he felt Dante’s hurt.
“Let me give him back,” Shepherd begged, sounding every bit as hurt.
Shepherd didn’t understand. He couldn’t. Goddess Celeste’s decisions were absolute. It wasn’t possible to defy a god. Not even a demon could deal away fate.
Dante licked Shepherd’s throat, healing the puncture wounds. “Let me take you somewhere you can get away. You’ll have a free roof over your head and no one will be there, making you feel pressured to make any decisions. Just breathe for a little while.”
Shepherd’s pain overwhelmed Dante, forcing him to close his mind to Shepherd to save his sanity. “I have bills to pay. As much as I’d like to take some time away from reality, I need to be out searching for a way to support myself.”
Actually, he didn’t. Whether Shepherd accepted him or not, Raff was his mate. It was Raff’s job to take care of Shepherd. Dante knew Shepherd didn’t want to hear that right now, but he couldn’t back down. There was still a demon out there.
“Don’t worry over that.” He straightened Shepherd’s clothes and dissipated, taking Shepherd along for the ride. He landed on Risk’s front steps. The place was quiet. “This is my friend’s place. He’s currently away on business.”
Shepherd turned in a circle, eyeing their surroundings. Dante knew what he saw. Riskel’s property had once been a lucrative sugar plantation. The only realistic way in or out was by boat or immortal means. A person could walk through miles of forest to the nearest road, but no roads led to the plantation. It was in the middle of nowhere. That didn’t mean the place wasn’t amazing. In fact, the main house was so large Dante had never seen inside every room.
Dante nodded. “This place is the perfect spot to hide from your problems. Risk and his husband Tamil are staying with the king for a while, so it’ll be just you. I’ll bring you some food and whatnot. You don’t have to stay long, if you don’t want, but stay a few days, please, poppet?” Just long enough for the demon to get bored and move on. Long enough for Raff to worry and come for him. Just long enough for Dante to disappear and start over someplace new.
Shepherd headed for the door. “Should I just go in? Is it unlocked?”
Relief poured through Dante. “Yeah. This place is protected by powerful magic. It’s not possible for anyone to break in or sneak past the warding. You’ll be safe.”
Shepherd opened the door but didn’t immediately go inside. Instead, he stared at the horizon over Dante’s shoulder as if he couldn’t bring himself to look directly at Dante. Dante stole the chance to stare at Shepherd freely. His eyes were an amazing shade of green. He was such a beautiful man. Dante rubbed his chest. Shepherd made him feel things he couldn’t explain.
“You don’t have to stay. I can feel how much it’s hurting you to look at me.”
The breath entering Dante’s lungs stuttered. He wanted to lie and say it wasn’t true. It wasn’t like Shepherd meant for any of this to happen. “I’ll come by sometime early tomorrow evening with some supplies. Until then, you should get some sleep. You’re not used to keeping our hours.”
Shepherd nodded. He still didn’t look Dante’s way. Dante closed the distance between them and touched his lips to Shepherd’s. He could no more stop himself than he could stop Shepherd from being Raff’s mate. He held Shepherd’s bottom lip between his teeth as he let the surroundings disappear. Dante reappeared at the edge of the king’s property. As he made the trek up the winding driveway, Dante told himself he’d do better tomorrow. He’d drop some supplies off with Shepherd and then he’d leave. He could go anywhere in the world. Maybe he’d head to France or Sweden. There were tons of beautiful Swedish men. Right now, he didn’t want to look at anyone, especially himself. He was quickly losing his desire to keep going. Maybe he wouldn’t. No one said he had to.