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Richypoo, That’s Not a Bong: Chosen Book 13 by J. D. Light (1)


Chapter One

He was doing it again. I could feel his yellow eyes as he watched me putting the final touches on the monochromatic zombie Reid had asked me to help with.

I hadn't seen the man in human form since I woke up from my impromptu nap after laying eyes on Thompsyn's obvious baby belly. To be fair, I had many a shock that day and learning of the existence of a pregnant man had been the feather that tipped the scales…and me right off the couch onto the floor on my face.

When my eyes opened, the dark haired man who'd insulted the pregnant man had been kneeling beside me, worry evident in the crease between his brows. Until that moment in my life, I'd never been attracted to another man. Ever. I was secure enough in my heterosexuality to admit when a man was attractive if asked, but I'd never looked at their mouth and though how kissable it looked.

And it was that thought as I watched his lips move, his hand on my shoulder gently rubbing that had me yelling, "Oh fuck." And scrambling backwards until I ran into the couch.

It had just been too many shocks in a day for my poor brain to handle. As soon as I once again slid to the floor against the sturdy arm of the couch, I'd passed out. Kind of embarrassing, honestly. I didn't pass out when a man shifted into a bear and decimated another man, but once showed a dude with a baby bump and a gorgeous man who perked the interest of my dick and I couldn't stay conscious.

So, I'd been stalked for three days by a panther I knew was Payne Brooks without even asking.

The branch above my head shook and pretty, yellow leaves tumbled down around me, one falling into the wet paint of the zombie's cheek. I picked the leaf free, shrugging when it looked like it might have helped with the gore on the undead's face.

"I hope you aren't trying to be sneaky," I mumbled, holding my mouth in awkward positions to get the drooping eye just the way I wanted. "Because stakeouts aren't going to be your thing if you guys do decide to go the PI route."

"Stakeouts have never been my thing. His voice was a shock to me and I jumped spinning to look up into the tree. He was crouched down on a branch. I could see his face and shoulders and one leg, but thankfully the leaves were covering the rest of his naked form.

That's a good thing you idiot, don't be so fucking disappointed.

Just the idea that he was hovering above me completely nude was enough to spark an interest I shouldn't be having.

I turned quickly, raising the paintbrush…and completely unable to figure out what I needed to work on next.

Closing my eyes, I took a deep breath, forcing myself to relax. This guy had already seen me freak out at the sight of him once. I really didn't need him thinking I was scared of him. Even though I totally was.

"You mean in the FBI?" I lifted the brush again, moving to work on the dark blood dripping down the chin. "What was your thing?"

"Diversion. Distraction. Destruction."

"I bet," I said under my breath, remembering too late that shifters had excellent hearing. He didn't comment, so I cleared my throat. "So, you want to tell me why you're stalking me?"

More rustling over my head had me reaching my hands out to protect the plywood zombie as much as possible, while I heard the unmistakable thump of someone hitting the ground.

Don't turn around, Richmond. Don't you dare do it.

"Stalking is a strong word. I'm a cat. Curiosity comes with the fur and nine lives." I felt the moment he was standing directly behind me.

It was like the air stood still around us and I could feel the weight of his presence against my back and shoulders. I swallowed hard, putting the paintbrush down for a few moments so I could strategically smear bruises under the eyes and cheekbones.

"What do you want to know? I'm a pretty open book most of the time." I still didn't turn to look at him, terrified I was going to like what I saw.

I wasn't homophobic by any means. I actually adored the men around this leap that seemed to be completely comfortable in their sexuality. I was just confused with my sudden interest in men.

Well, not men. One man. Payne.

To be fair, he was a gorgeous man. Dark hair and beard, and beautifully bronzed skin, which made his nearly gold eyes startling. His body was thick and hard and definitely powerful. And I thought about him far too often and in far too intimate a setting for a straight man.

But none of that mattered because I was leaving in a day and I didn't have time to deal with the sudden awakening of my homosexuality. Not to mention it had to be a fluke. As soon as I go away from him, I'd feel much better and I'd be able to put this whole thing off to lack of sleep. Easily done since I hadn't gotten more than a couple hours at a time since I started suspecting one of my clients of trying to kill off his husband for insurance money.

"You leave tomorrow?" His deep voice made my skin tingle nicely and I felt the heat from his breath graze subtly against the back of my neck.

Geez. He really was standing close. I took a deep breath, clearing my throat and trying to look the damn zombie over to see if I was done. "I do. Flynn decided I seem like a trustworthy guy. So, he's pretty sure I'm not going to run off and tell the world about shifters."

"Tennessee? Do you have family there or could you relocate?" He stepped up beside me, but I refused to look in his direction. I would stand there all fucking day and look at the very finished zombie before I would glance over and run the risk of liking what I saw in the naked man.

"Uh. What?"

"Could you relocate? Could you move?"

Okay. That was what I thought he'd said. What a weird fucking question. I blinked, forgetting for a second that I wasn't going to look at him. I glanced over, confirming that I'd been right in assuming he was completely naked and quickly looked away.

Damn! It didn't matter that it had only been a glance. It was a sight I wouldn't forget for the rest of my life. In profile, with his hands on his hips and his head tipped to the side like he was trying to figure something out about the Dr. Frankenstein's monster.

He was fucking built. Bulging pecs and biceps, strong shoulders, trim waist, firm, rounded asscheeks and long, thick legs of pure muscle. But that wasn't all that was permanently burned into my mind. He was also sporting a semi, and I'd be damned if the thing wasn't healthy and somehow pretty as fuck.

I felt him glance over at me, and I realized he was waiting for an answer, but it still took some time to figure out what he'd asked.

I blinked, clearing my throat. "Well, my mom, dad and sister live in a small town just outside Crossville, but I guess if necessary, I could move," I said, frowning. "Why do you ask?"

"Just curious who you have waiting for you back in Tennessee." He turned to face me and I forced myself to keep my eyes on what I was doing. "Do I scare you, Richmond?"

"Uh." I squeaked, immediately coughing. "Scare me?"

"Yeah," he said slowly, and I wanted so badly to look over and see his eyes. "The first time I met you, you screamed in my face––"

Yes. I recalled that. Not my finest moment.

"I thought you might be more comfortable with my panther since it doesn't seem to bother you when bears and tigers come strolling through the house, but you still seemed a little leery––"

It hadn't been of the panther. It had been the man I knew was inside the panther. The one who was constantly in my thoughts for some inexplicable reason.

He continued. "Now you won't even look at me. So I was just wondering if there was something specific about me that made you nervous or scared or what."

"Uh." I laughed nervously, knowing his observation was spot on, but not sure what to say to reassure him. Hell, why was I even trying to reassure him? I should have just let him assume I was an asshole. "It's not scared, really. Just not in my comfort zone."

"But only around me," he said. A statement, not a question. "You seem fine around the others."

There was really no way to explain it to the man without coming out and telling him that I was uncomfortable with the fact that I was attracted to him. "Uh, I'm honestly not sure what to say to you right now. I don't want you to think that I don't like you. I don't even know you, but it is specifically you that makes me nervous."

"Is it the way I look?" I had all of his attention then. I could feel it tingle over the skin of my face and neck as he studied me, probably analyzing my reaction. "I don't think it's my size. You seem fine around all the other big guys. Even Harley and Thompsyn and they are just fucking giants."

"Uh…it's not your size." I licked my lips glancing at him out of the corner of my eye. "But the way you look definitely plays into it."

"Is it my hair, scar?"

His scar? I don't remember a scar.

Sighing, I turned to face him, using every ounce of willpower I had not to look below his chin. I scanned his face for the scar, only finding a small one bisecting his eyebrow. It definitely didn't make him less appealing. Unfortunately. "It's nothing like that, okay." Damn! His eyes are so pretty. "It's not––"

He frowned, frustration clear on his face. And maybe a bit of hurt.

Shit. I was going to have to tell him. For some stupid reason, the idea of hurting this complete stranger's feelings was unbearable. I'd rather share with him something I didn't understand myself than see any pain on his handsome features.

"Are you gay?" I asked, holding my breath for the answer. Not really sure what I wanted it to be.

He shrugged his massive shoulders, drawing my attention to the corded muscle there. "Bi."

Taking a deep breath, I met his eyes again. "I'm not. I'm not homophobic or anything like that. But I've always just been…straight."

Or as straight as a man who wasn't really interested in much of anything could be. The truth was, I'd never really been passionate about anything. Not women, not men, not my job, not…anything.

I hadn't had a bad life. Far from it. I'd just never really found something I wanted with my whole body and my whole soul. I'd simply been going through the motions of life. Always doing what I thought was the right thing, but not really being too invested in the outcome.

I hated to admit it, but before I'd met these people, I hadn't even really been too concerned one way or another what happened to Reid. I'd simply followed the hit-man because it was the morally correct thing to do.

Of course, now that I'd met the man, I really liked him. And when I went back to my life in Tennessee, I'd probably even keep in contact. Maybe.

"Okay," Payne said. And this time there was definitely hurt on his face.

I opened my mouth to continue, ready to explain how I was attracted to him and that bothered me because I'd never been attracted to men before, and how I was struggling to understand what was going on…but he didn't give me the chance. Without another word, he spun away from me and started walking toward the trees.

His powerful back and ass muscles rolled under his bronzed skin and I couldn't pull my eyes away if somebody yelled duck and cover.

When he shifted and took off through the trees, I couldn't deny the pain that suddenly coursed through my body. Something told me I'd just made the biggest mistake of my life by letting him take off.

***

By three o'clock in the morning, nobody had seen him and even Sloan didn't know where he might have taken off to. I was pacing the hall between his room and mine, not wanting to just set up camp in front of his door like a crazy person, but wanting to catch him if he showed up.

I'd already put off leaving the next day, telling everyone I didn't want to miss the little one's Halloween party, but the truth was as I sat there worried more and more that I'd messed something big up with Payne, I realized I didn't want to leave. Not these people, not the kids and their Halloween party, not the strangely accepting, tiny town of Purdy and especially not the gorgeous man with the pretty brown eyes and the blunt disposition.

Payne had asked me if I could relocate, and the more I thought about it, the better it sounded. I liked Tennessee, but I'd never really felt like it was home. Never felt like it was imperative that I stay. I just did it like I did everything, out of habit or because it was morally right.

But I had a feeling Purdy wouldn't be any more of a home to me if I didn't make things right with Payne. I wasn't sure what that entailed. All I knew was that I had to do something. I couldn't leave or stay with the fact that I'd hurt Payne and would probably never see him again hanging over my head.

Growling in frustration, I spun at my door to make the next pass and froze. Payne was standing at the top of the stairs, wearing nothing but a pair of sweats, his gorgeous, perfect body pulling my eyes and directing them to follow every divot to the next.

"Shouldn't you be sleeping? You have a flight in a couple hours." He didn't move from his spot.

Just like with everything that had to do with the man, I wasn't sure how to proceed. Should I move closer? Should I stay where I was? What the fuck was I even going to say to him?

Why the hell is he so fucking sexy?

"I'm not leaving yet," I whispered, tentatively stepping forward. "I cancelled my flight."

His eyebrows shot up and then he moved forward too, meeting me half way. "Is everything okay?" He lifted his hands, reaching forward like he was going to put them on my arms, but he stopped himself letting them fall to his sides.

He was worried about me.

Shaking my head quickly, I licked my lips. "No, no. I'm fine. Everything is…well, not everything." Growling at my own ineptitude. Why couldn't I just fucking spit it out? "Look, I'm sorry. When I told you I was straight, it was so that you would understand why being attracted to you is freaking me out a little. I just don't know––"

Payne held a hand in the air, stopping me. "Okay," he said quietly, a small smile on his face.

"Okay?" That was it? Okay?

When he smiled like that, there was a dimple in his right cheek. It sat about a quarter inch above his dark reddish-brown beard and I wanted to stick my finger in it.

The fuck is wrong with me?! That was a fucking weird thing to think.

"So, you're attracted to me?"

Oh shit! Had I really said that?

I blinked at him, trying to think of something to say. I still had nothing after a long moment of staring.

Chapter Two

After hours of feeling nothing but pain, hearing my mate blurt out that he was attracted to me was…my stomach flipped with happiness and I had to clench my fists at my sides to keep from reaching for him and pulling him into my arms.

He's not ready for that, Payne. He hadn't even wanted to admit he was attracted to me. I could see it on his face he realized what he'd admitted.

As he stood there, scrambling for an answer, I decided to have mercy on him. Just once.

"So, what made you decide to stay?"

I saw his shoulders relax. "Honestly? A lot of reasons. I'd never really considered living anywhere other than Tennessee. Not because I am just in love with it or anything, but it just never occurred to me. But when you asked me about it earlier, I realized I could just up and leave and it really wouldn't change much about my life."

"I didn't mean to make you question your life." And I hadn't. I'd only asked because I needed to know if I was going to have to move to Tennessee. I could do what I did from anywhere.

"No, it's not like that. I didn't have like a existential crisis or anything." He waved his hand in the air, shaking his head. "I like it here. I like the people." He blushed, and dropped his head and I realized he was including me in there. "I don't have that back home."

Sighing, he shrugged. "I have my mom and sister, but since my dad died about three years ago, my mom has been running around with all of her retired friends and my sister is married and they travel a lot. They've got their own lives.

"I got kicked off the Crossville police force when I caught my captain selling evidence to closed cases online. For some fucking reason, everyone ended up mad at me and within the first thirty minutes of the new captain's ass hitting that chair behind that desk, I was walking out of the building for the last time."

Sadly, that was a fairly familiar story. Most police officers were good, but there were some that seemed to let the power go to their head. "Did your old captain go to jail?"

"Yeah. That's why everyone was pissed." He made a face of utter disbelief. "Isn't that fucking stupid? Like what was I supposed to do? Let the guy keep doing what he was doing? That's the type of shit that leads to other shit. You give someone an inch, they take a fucking mile." He shook his head, sighing. "But they all thought I was lying or something, I guess. I thought they knew me, but not one of them stood behind me. I don't know. I kinda lost all my friends when that went down."

It was honestly the first time I'd heard my mate raise his voice. He was normally so calm I was tempted to check for a pulse. My panther often wanted to poke at him. Get him riled. See if we could make him growl.

My dick jerked, my brain going to all the places it shouldn't be going with my skittish mate. I dropped my hands in front of my pants, linking them in a way I knew made me look stupid, but it was better than making him run back to his room in fear of my erection.

"It was your moral obligation. That seems really important to you." I cringed, thinking about all the less than legal things that had to happen in a shifter world in order for us to fly under the radar. "Does the fact that Sloan killed that man and the others getting rid of the body bother you?"

For a moment, I saw fire dance in my mate's pretty brown eyes. "No. That guy took money to kill an innocent person. I don't feel any moral obligation to him at all."

I tried to keep my smile minimal. It was another man's life we were talking about, but I couldn't help but be pleased how well he was adapting to shifter life. Most humans would have been horrified. Possibly would have seen us all as monsters. "So, you're staying in Purdy."

"Yeah." He paused, frowning. "I'll need to find a place to live, but Flynn said I can stay here as long as I like. I don't want to overstay my welcome, though. So, I'll probably start looking today or tomorrow." He groaned exhaustedly. "I'll probably also need to go get my stuff packed."

An idea came to me. A chance to get my mate alone. A chance to fan the flame of our pull toward each other. A way to get him to give in to his attraction. "You have a vehicle in Crossville?"

He blinked, clearing away the dazed look that had started to take over his face as he no doubt went over all the things he was going to have to do to move from one state to another. "Yeah, a truck, why?"

"Why don't we fly to Crossville, pack your shit and drive back?" There you go, just slip that we in there. "We can have someone here looking for a place for you." For both of us, but I wasn't going to tell him that just yet.

His eyes widened. "You want to go with me?" So, he hadn't missed the we.

I smiled, trying to go for innocent, but I was pretty sure my face didn't have that function. "Yeah."

"Someone you barely know," he said dryly, one eyebrow raised like he was waiting for the bullshit to start. "And you want to fly to a different state with me and then spend thirteen to fourteen hours in a vehicle with me."

That did sound ludicrous. And if it were anyone in the world besides my mate, I'd never have suggested it. I shrugged. "Let's be friends?"

Slowly, the corner of his mouth lifted into a smile. "You want to be my road trip friend?"

"Did you say road-head friend?"

His eyebrows lifted in surprised, but he chuckled softly, shaking his head. "It would be nice to have someone go with me, but why would you? Don't you think if my friendship were worth the trouble, I'd have more friends?"

I shrugged, thinking about all the people I knew around the leap. Nearly all of them had been alone before they happened into Purdy. And I was growing fond of them fairly quickly. Seemed like a pretty common thing around there. "There are a lot of people in this world who don't have a bunch of friends or even any at all. There are a lot of people who prefer it that way. It doesn't mean you aren't a likable person."

He seemed to think about it for a long moment his eyes continuously scanning my face, like he was looking for something. When his gaze settled on my mouth, his tongue snaked out to brush over his lips and I watched his throat work around a swallow. "Friends?"

No fucking way I could just be friends with this man. Not in a million years. Everything about him made me want to throw him down and fuck him and scoop him up and love him all in the same breath. A man could go crazy thinking of all the ways to make love to Richmond Pratt while simultaneously slaying his dragons.

"Friends." For now. I smiled, hoping he couldn't read the triumph in my eyes.

***

"Want to join the Mile High Club?" I asked out of the side of my mouth. It was mostly to make him laugh or reach over and punch me in the shoulder again. Like he had when I'd suggested he put his head in my lap and take a nap when he yawned. I may have possibly suggested he lie face down because it would be the best way for him to keep from getting a crick in his neck.

He smirked, shaking his head and keeping his eyes on the safety precautions manual. "You keep making jokes, but am I seriously someone you'd even be interested in? I'm not really like…I don't know, Marlow, or Rory. And I'm not big like the shifters either. I'm just kind of…average."

I raised my eyebrows, trying not to smirk. "First, there is nothing average about you. You're fucking gorgeous." He blew an amused breath through his nose and shook his head. "Second, look at Pierce and Ridley. Pierce is pretty average in size, and Ridley is super tall."

"And pregnant. Don't forget pregnant."

I laughed, thinking about the redhead and his definitely pregnant belly. The man might not look quite ready to pop, but there was no denying the guy was carrying a cub anymore. "That he is. But they don't fall into the small twinks category or in with the big guys. Do you think their men care?"

"Hell no." Richmond made a face that fell somewhere on the scale between completely disgusted and slightly amused. "Even with Ridley waddling around I feel like somebody should be following Flynn around with a spray bottle."

"See?" I leaned in to bump his shoulder with mine, blinking in surprise when a drink I didn't order popped up directly in front of my face. "Oh!" I said, following the arm extending it to me up to the flight attendant that had been by asking if we needed anything at least three times in the last fifteen minutes. "Thank you," I said as politely as I could considering she was really starting to annoy the fuck out of me.

"Sure." She smiled in what I thought might have been her attempt at being seductive as she handed me a napkin. Poor girl didn't realize all her charms were wasted on me since I'd found my mate. She might as well be broccoli for all the attention she was going to get from me.

"Did she just slip you her number?" I couldn’t decipher my mate's tone or expression, but I felt like it wasn't happiness.

I glanced down at the napkin, seeing the bubbly writing I hadn't noticed when she handed it to me. When I read the words, I cringed, hating that I'd asked my mate the same question moments earlier, because it meant I was on the same page as the annoying flight attendant. "Uh, kinda."

I handed the napkin over, watching the way my mate's eyebrows raised and then lowered and creased in the center when he read the invitation for club membership. "Does this happen to you a lot?" he asked on a growl, his hand clamping around the napkin, before visibly trying to take control of his emotions.

He gently sat it down on my tray, patting it for good measure. I could tell by his breathing that he was still irritated, and I bit my cheek to keep from smiling. That looked a lot like jealousy to me.

Unable to keep from touching him anymore, I lifted the armrest between our seats and threw my arm around his shoulders, pulling him into my side and pressing my nose against his temple. I breathed him in, groaning at the rightness of his smell, wishing I could rub it all over me.

He stiffened, his breath catching. "What are you doing?" he squeaked out.  His hand fell to my thigh, and he squeezed as I moved lower to nuzzle against his ear, loving the shudder that moved along his body.

"Letting her know I'm not interested." And that was a big fat lie, but I refused to feel bad about it. I actually had no idea if she'd even been watching us. All I knew was once I stuck out my tongue and licked a slow stripe along the shell of his ear, there was no going back. I'd gotten a taste of him, and I wasn't ever going to be able to live with out tasting him at least once a day from there on out.

His hand spasmed on my leg, and I rolled my hips, wishing he'd let his hot palm slide a little higher. He groaned, letting his head fall back against the seat. "I don't think this is how friends are supposed to act."

"Sure it is." I latched on to his wrist, sliding his hand higher on my leg while tugging on the bottom of his ear with my teeth. "You help a friend out when they have an unwanted admirer."

"Unwanted huh?" he asked, panting. He glanced down at the front of my pants, sliding his pinky higher until it grazed my sack through my jeans.

I groaned, forgetting for a minute that we were on a fucking plane, and that he was still new to wanting a man. I released his wrist, reaching over to cup his package. He gasped, pressing his long, hard cock against my palm, moaning.

There was a clearing of a throat, and when I blinked the focus back into my eyes, I could see the little old lady across the isle from us watching with amusement.

Oops! I eased my hand away from my mate's dick, waving slightly at her. She waggled her eyebrows back, turning to face forward and pulling out her book, smirking the whole time.

I looked over at my mate, whose dazed eyes floated over to my face before blinking. The realization was almost comical to watch as it came slowly onto his face. First he opened his mouth, but didn't say anything before he glanced down at his own hand, which he'd wedged the last two fingers of in between my thigh and my balls. Then his head slowly panned up to my face before jerking back down, like he needed to confirm that he was groping me.

His eyes widened and he jerked his hand free, glancing at me again to see if I'd notice. Oh, I'd definitely noticed. I was seconds from coming in my pants, even with my dick being pinched by the denim.

"Shit!" he said, jumping straight up and smacking his head on the low hanging baggage storage. "Son of a bitch," he growled, rubbing his head. When he looked back at me, he licked his lips, seeming to struggle with the task of being remotely normal. "I need to go to the restroom."

When he reached down, tugging at the waist of his jeans and wiggling, I smirked, watching him cringe. Looked like I wasn't the only one with an uncomfortable problem.

I thought about following him when he scampered toward the back of the plane in the direction of the bathroom, but I decided to let him go. He'd already come so far. I could wait to have him in my bed. I could give him patience. I was just going to have to refrain from doing or saying anything to make the guy feel anymore awkward than he already did.

That strategy lasted up until he eased back into the seat next to me, smelling of freshly spilled seed. His seed. I groaned, leaning closer to take a deeper breath and smiling when he swatted me away.

"Feel better?" I asked, my voice going deep with lust.

He groaned out a small laugh, dropping his head into his hand. "Fuck you," he said, a self-deprecating smile on his handsome face when he tilted his head slightly to look at me.

I smirked, leaning down to put our faces close. "I thought you'd never ask."

"Wait," he said, an eyebrow raising. "You'd let me fuck you?" He was whispering, probably remembering the little kid in the seat behind ours. Funny how he'd forgotten her presence when he was cussing like a sailor earlier.

And thank God nobody could see between the seats. I was scared to admit even to myself that I don't know that I would have been aware enough to stop if the people behind us could see everything.

"You haven't been around many gay men have you?" I asked dryly, liking the blush that stole over his face.

"It's not because I don't like them!" he said quickly, eyes wide.

"Sh." I chuckled, leaning my head back against the seat. "I know. I didn't mean it like that. I'm not offended. I'm just saying. Just because I'm a big guy, doesn't mean I always want to top."

There was a long pause while I let him process the information. "Do you like to…bottom?" His voice was soft and his eyes dropped before moving back to mine.

I growled, leaning in close to whisper directly in his ear. "I fucking love it."

***

"Why do I even have this shit?" my mate growled, and I just barely ducked in time to avoid getting brained by what looked like a boot for a broken leg.

Had he been injured?

Walking into his apartment had been a revelation, and was getting more and more entertaining as we boxed or tossed the clutter in the living room and small bedroom. I'd come to the conclusion Richmond was a slob.

"What about the lease on this place?" I asked after throwing an entire basket of socks without mates into the dump pile. "Should you try to get out of it?"

"Nah. I'm paid up through December." He frowned at a cigar box before peeking tentatively inside. He frowned, blinked and then cringed before dropping the lid back into place and walking it over to the dump pile, holding it out in front of himself like it was a bomb about to go off. "I hate to lose the money, but I still have some saved up. Now that the idea of starting this new chapter in my life is in my head, I can't think of anything else."

"Then let's get rid of––" I froze, picking up the clear plastic cylinder. "What do we have here?" I smirked as I dangled it in the air, trying to rectify in my mind the Richypoo I knew to the one who owned something you'd have to enter a special kind of store to own.

"Oh, that's a bong! Damn, I forgot that was here." He frowned walking over and taking it from me. Glancing around repeatedly, he finally grabbed the walking boot he'd thrown at my head and slipped the device inside. "I'm glad I didn't leave that behind for the landlord."

"Richmond," I said dryly as he took the boot and wrapped it in an old blanket before sticking it in the bottom of a plastic bag and scooping up a couple armloads of junk from the dump pile, packing it in on top. He paused, looking back and forth at the cigar box and the bag a couple of times before picking the thing up and putting it in the bag.

"Hmm?" He tied the bag, and for a moment I wondered how far he'd go with this? Was he going to put the bag inside the trunk of a car and drive it off into the ocean?

"That's not a bong." I said, wondering if I should be cringing or laughing. "Have you tried to smoke pot out of that thing?" And was it used or brand new when he did?

The look he gave me. Like I was the stupidest fuck he'd ever met in his life. "Of course not, Payne. I don't smoke pot."

I closed my eyes, begging for patience. "Then why do you have it? Since you obviously think it's a bong, why would you need it?"

"I confiscated it from a couple of teenagers a few months ago." He shrugged, strolling over to another stack of boxes in the corner. "I didn't know what to do with it at the time since I obviously don't have a good relationship with the police right now, even in Knoxville. I knew I couldn't just walk in the front door of the police station with it, so I hid it and forgot about it."

I closed my eyes, desperately trying not to laugh. If he'd walked up to the police station with that thing, they probably wouldn't have arrested him, but they'd definitely be laughing their asses off.

"Richypoo, that's not a bong." He was really going to have to stop looking at me like I was the reason people set other people on fire. "That's a penis pump."

His mouth opened in an O as his eyes widened and I couldn't help it anymore. I lost it.

"Well, that's disgusting," he mumbled, holding his hands out in front of him and speed walking to the bathroom.

I followed. If it wasn't his, I definitely didn't want someone else's dick skin on my hands.

As we toweled our hands dry, me chuckling when I thought about the look on his face and him cringing just as much, there was a knock on the door. I looked at him and he frowned toward the living room.

"Who is that?" I asked, wondering if he was expecting someone.

"I don't know." He sat the towel down and walked through the bathroom door and into the hallway leading to the living room. "I told my mom and sister we'd stop on the drive back to get dinner with them, so it couldn't be them." His voice was low and he was moving carefully across the floor like he didn't want his steps to register.

"Could it be a client?" I asked, easing up behind him, my voice barely more than a whisper.

"I don't think so, I didn't list my address. I always meet them somewhere public."

Smart. You never knew what you were dealing with while working as a PI. I mean, clearly. His last client was using him to get information on his estranged husband so he could send a hitman to kill the guy and collect life insurance. You didn't want people like that knowing where you lived.

When we reached the door, the smell of shifter brought a tingle to my nose. Whoever was on the other side was a tiger shifter. And also needed a fucking shower.

Richmond leaned forward, glancing through the peephole. When he leaned back, there was a confused look on his face, but he opened the door. "Rolland?" he asked, letting the guy in like it was a common occurrence. "What are you doing here?"

"I thought I heard moving around in here, so I figured you were back." The man looked over at me, his eyes cold and glaring. "Aren't you going to introduce me to your friend."

"Uh, this is Payne." Richmond's voice sounded hesitant, suspicious. And when I glanced at him, his expression looked pinched, his eyes narrowed at the man who'd never stopped glaring at me since he walked in the apartment. "Payne, this is my downstairs neighbor Rolland."

"You're a tiger?" I asked the man, meeting his eyes. Letting him know I wasn't going to back down. When the man's eyes widened and he cut them toward my mate, I could read the question on his face. "Yes, he knows about shifters."

 

Chapter Three

"You're a shifter?" I asked, wondering how many people I knew and communicated with on a daily basis were shifters. "A tiger?"

"I am. What are you doing with the panther?"

There it was again. A contempt I didn't understand. I'd seen shifters get along with other shifters at the leap. I knew they didn't all just naturally hate each other. So the fact that he had immediately disliked Payne told me a lot about his character. A character I hadn't really been fond of before then anyway.

"I met him while I was away on a case." I said calmly, cutting a glance over to Payne, who was steadily staring back at Rolland, letting the man know he wouldn't be intimidated.

Damn! Why is that so hot?

Rolland finally looked away, taking in the condition of the room. "Are you moving?" He looked disappointed. Almost angry.

When he took a step in my direction, Payne eased up beside me, gripping my hip tightly.

"Yeah, I think I'm going to head west," I said vaguely. The guy had always made me uncomfortable. Always staring a little too long, finding any and every excuse to show up unannounced. I'd never really cared for him.

"Where to?" His eyes came around to mine, staring too intently for a casual question.

Payne squeezed my neck, but I didn't need that warning to know telling him where I was going to be was a bad idea. "I was thinking maybe Oregon."

"But isn't your family in Tennessee?" His eyes continued to bore into mine. "Crossville, right?"

Cold dread settled in my stomach, and I latched onto the hand at my hip, squeezing. "How did you know my family was from Crossville?"

His eyes flashed with panic before he frowned. "Uh, I guess you told me."

"Hmm." I said dryly, eyes cold as they met his. "That doesn't sound like me."

He tried to shrug like he didn't see my sudden hostility, but there was tension in his shoulders and he took a step back toward the door. "Well, I was just stopping in to make sure you weren't being robbed. Have a safe trip."

When the door shut, we crept toward it again, both somehow knowing to be quiet as I peeked through the peephole, and Payne tipped his head like he was trying to listen, but with his phone tilted just enough I couldn't make out what was on the screen besides a text, all I could tell was that he was frantically texting someone.

"He's agitated about you moving," Payne said, his voice barely a whisper next to my ear.

I shivered, the sensation reminding me of our flight.

"I know," I said after clearing my throat. "And I don't like the fact that he knows where my family lives." I needed to step away from him, but I liked the way his warmth felt directly behind me too much. "I've never felt all that comfortable around that guy. And I don't share any of that information with anyone around here, so I never would have told him about Crossville. Hell, I even told anyone who asked where I was from that I came from a small town up north."

"Social media?"

It seemed his mind was going to all the places mine had. He'd said he was more into distraction than investigation, but it sounded like he'd done it at least a little.

"No. Unless he looked up one of my old accounts." I sighed. "I deleted everything once I left Crossville, but you know none of that stuff is actually gone. Just harder to find."

"Yeah." Payne glared at the door like it held answers. "But why would he be so intent on looking. You're just a neighbor to him."

Shaking my head, I shrugged. I'd been wondering the same thing. "I'm sure it's nothing. But I don't think I can leave my mom and sister vulnerable."

I glanced through the peephole again. He sniffed the air, turning his head slightly toward the door, and I knew he knew we were there. Locking his screen quickly, he dropped his phone into his pocket and moved down the hallway toward the stairs, stopping to glance over his shoulder before he continued on and I could no longer see him.

"Yeah. I'm not going to argue that," Payne murmured as I pulled my head back, turning to see his face.  He narrowed his eyes like he was running over everything again. "How do you think they'd feel about shifters and moving to Purdy?"

I shook my head, and let it drop back to sigh at the ceiling, but it landed on Payne's shoulder, just as his chest moved up against my back. "There is no way my mom is leaving her life behind. Maybe I shouldn't go."

"How about this," he said, pressing his mouth close to my temple. "I get ahold of some people, see if I can't get someone to watch out for your mom and sister for a few weeks to make sure nobody is going to do anything crazy, we stay the night in Crossville tonight and then you start your new life in Purdy in a couple of days? Trust me, I know the best of the best."

Taking a deep breath I nodded, wanting to stay in his arms, but knowing I was once again pushing the friend boundary, and I wasn't sure if I was quite ready yet. The man was really getting under my skin. "Okay. Yeah."

***

The drive to Crossville was pretty uneventful. Well, if you counted the fact that I nearly ran my truck off the road when I'd let my eyes wander over to the dangerously handsome man sitting in my passenger seat, occasionally texting someone and smiling.

Who the fuck was he texting anyway? Had he finally given up on me and my shit and decided to move on? A man shouldn't look so fucking happy when he was texting someone unless they were important to them.

"Who do you keep texting?" Shit! I hadn't meant to ask that. And I definitely hadn't meant for it to come out so snippy. I sounded like a jealous lover.

I guessed I was half that.

"Sloan," he said easily, chuckling when he read the most recent.

Sloan was mated, so I didn't think they could possibly be flirting, but that didn't stop me from being irrationally jealous.

"What about? You seem to be enjoying yourself over there. Maybe you should share." There I went again, being snippy.

Payne glanced sideways at me, raising an eyebrow. Clearly, he'd clued in on my tone. "Reid is ignoring him again because he and Harper are flying kites. He's pouting about it and I'm making fun of him."

He smirked when I glanced at him again out of the corner of my eye, feeling far more relieved than I had the right to.

"You think it's funny that the man is being ignored by his mate?"

He chuckled and I didn't dare look back over. Especially since his voice sounded a bit closer. "I do when I know for a fact that Reid does it all the time just to get him riled so he'll throw him down on the bed and fuck him stupid."

I swallowed. He'd said that far too seductively and far too close to my face.

"Why, Richypoo? Were you getting jealous again?" He twisted slightly in his seat, giving me more of his attention. He reached across the console, gripping my upper thigh and squeezing. Not enough to hurt, but still firm. "Were you wondering if I was moving on?"

I slammed on my breaks, throwing on a blinker when I realized I'd nearly missed my turn, and Payne chuckled, sliding his hand even further up my thigh.

"I'm not so easily distracted from what I want, Richmond. I'll wait for you to come around for as long as it takes." His voice was low and sexy and I shuddered, my body on fire.

As I put my blinker on again, slowly turning that time around, I eased to a stop just in front of my childhood home, refusing to ponder why it was the first time I'd done it in a compromising situation.

I was breathing heavy and as hard as steel when I put the truck in park and shut the engine off. I couldn't go into my mother's house with a hard-on. It felt fucking wrong.

The door flew open and my sister came running out, her loose golden-brown hair trailing like a ribbon dancer behind her as she squealed.

Moving quickly, I jumped from the truck, rounding the hood and catching her as she flung herself at me. I laughed, happy to finally get to see her. She'd been traveling with her husband over Fourth of July, so she'd missed our annual cookout. So, the last time I'd seen her had been nearly a year before at Thanksgiving.

I heard the truck door close behind me and I turned to see Payne, leaning against it, a smirk on his handsome face. He caught Hell's attention too.

"Hi!" she said perkily, releasing me and walking over to him. "You must be Payne. Thanks for helping my brother move. Even if I do think it's really sudden." She sent me a pursed mouth look that told me she'd be questioning the hell out of me later.

"Hell, this is Payne. Payne, this is Hell." I chuckled when my sister glared at me. "And yes, the nickname is apt."

"Your mom is apt," she mumbled turning back to give Payne every bit of her attention. "I'm Helena." She took Payne's hand, shaking it.

"Your momma jokes don't work when she's your momma too, asshole."

She ignored me, looking Payne up and down. "Damn, bro. Your friend here is hot."

Payne chuckled and I scowled. "Would Ducky like hearing you say that?"

"Stop calling him that," she growled, spinning quickly and nailing me right in the pec with one of her tiny little fists. "He's just a nice guy."

I'd started calling her husband, Boyd Ducky when he came to meet mom and me the first time. He'd been nervous as hell and had said yep, yep, yep about a dozen times, reminding me of the cute little big-mouth on Land Before Time. He didn't seem to get it and he never asked why or told me to stop. My sister on the other hand looked ready to kill me every time I did.

"I know he's a nice guy and I'm glad." I pursed my lips talking out the side. "You don't really deserve a nice guy considering what a witch you are."

I laughed and ran when she spun and charged at me like a rampaging bull. "Your mom's a witch!"

"Helena!" the witch in question yelled from the porch. "You're twenty-three years old. Act like it."

"Me?!" She squealed, stopping to glare at our mother. "He's twenty-five! Why didn't you get on to him?"

"Boys mature slower." She batted her eyes and the two women in my life snickered, thinking they were funny. "Do I get a hug, Andrew?"

"Andrew?" Payne asked, sounding confused. I groaned, hugging my mother and kissing her on the cheek.

"Richmond Andrew Pratt," Hell said, sounding smug. "Mom hates the name Richmond because our dad named him after his favorite uncle, but my mom couldn't stand the old bastard because he was a male chauvinist who regularly tried to grab her ass."

My sister snickered and I flipped her off. "Come on, Payne. We'll grab our bags in a little bit. I need to eat."

And I did. I was suddenly starving. Which was actually really common when I went to my mom's. It was like my stomach new I was where the food was.

"Oh, guess who's back in town," Hell yells from behind me not giving me time to actually guess before she told. "Quinn! He moved back a couple months ago, but we didn't know until like yesterday. We ran into him in the grocery store."

While Crossville was sizable enough to miss seeing someone for a couple months, Quinn's house was literally just around the corner from my mom's house. He had to drive by every time he went anywhere. The fact that my mom or my sister and her many trips a week to my mom's when she wasn't traveling didn't notice, made me worry that maybe they really did need looking after.

"Really?" I asked, casting a look in Payne's direction, wondering if he was thinking the same thing I was. Maybe I should stay. "What's he doing back in town?"

Quinn had been my best friend growing up. We'd spent almost every afternoon after school together. Even after he'd been pulled out to homeschool. We'd had to go our separate ways for college, but we'd stayed in touch through social media until I'd had to delete everything because of all the harassment. But by then, we'd only really talked on birthdays, always planning to make trips to see each other that never panned out.

Pulling Payne aside, because I felt I should probably warn him just in case we ran into the guy, I whispered. "So, the reason I wasn't too blown away by the existence of shifters was because when I was about twelve, I could have sworn I saw my best friend Quinn turn into a gorilla."

He glanced over at my sister and mother as they bickered over something. "Did you ever talk to him about it?"

His mouth was distracting me. It was just so close. And his lips looked soft, like a pillow for mine.

"No," I whispered back, swallowing. "I didn't want to sound crazy, just in case I was…you know, crazy. I never mentioned it. And neither did he."

"He's a good guy?" He was watching my mouth too and when I nodded, he swayed toward me, catching himself and blinking just before he pressed our lips together.

He pulled back and when I cleared my throat and turned to look at my mother and sister, I found them both watching us with matching smirks. If it weren't my mom, I'd flip them both off.

***

I groaned quietly when my mom entered the kitchen behind me. I knew she'd been lying in wait for her chance to attack. I'd just hoped to avoid her long enough to get on the road.

"You know." She said immediately, not even bothering to pretend. "One of your dad's best friend's was gay."

I tried not to laugh, running my tongue over my teeth. "Uncle Johnny, I know." I narrowed my eyes, somehow keeping from smiling. "What are you trying to say?"

"He wouldn't have cared if you found love with another man," she said softly, looking the epitome of an understanding mother and it made me smile softly. "And neither would I."

I sighed, stepping forward and hugging her, resting my cheek on the top of her head. "I know. That's not actually what is holding me back." I rolled my eyes chuckling. "Really, not much is holding me back anymore. I'm just used to…not feeling. Feeling this much is strange."

"Oh baby. Run with it." She pulled back to look at me, her eyes shining. "That man looks at you like the prize you are. And I don't know who you think your fooling with those doe eyes either."

Not her. And not my nosey sister. "But what if he doesn't like me once he's got me?" I swallowed around the thickness in my throat and frowned. "The way I'm starting to feel seems dangerous. I've never been at risk for a broken heart before."

"I was the same as you when I met your daddy." She reached up, petting my face, and I knew she was seeing my father there, because she constantly told me I looked just like him. "I was an independent woman. I didn't need anyone. Until I met the one person I wasn't sure I could walk away from. I fought it and fought it. But that man wore me down. I've never been so scared in my life."

"Well, I haven't been putting up much of a fight," I grumbled, making her smile. "I told myself he was coming on this trip as a friend, but here I am, telling my mom about my feelings for the guy."

"Hey!" my sister said, slapping the frame of the kitchen's entry way and making me jump. Quinn's here."

My eyes widened and I smiled, more than a little excited to see my old friend. I dropped a kiss to my mom's forehead, thanking her for being so amazing and walked into the living room. Quinn was standing in the doorway, curiously, but not aggressively eyeing Payne.

But Payne was looking at me, a soft smile on his face. I wondered at that for a moment…until I realized he'd probably been able to hear every word I'd spoken to my mother while we were in the kitchen.

I huffed out a laugh, rolling my eyes. Figures.

When I turned back to my long lost friend, I blinked, realizing just how much he'd changed as I got closer. "Holy shit, man! You're as big as a fucking building." I hugged him hard, glad to see the one friend I'd always known I could count on if I needed him.

We may have lost touch, but if I'd hunted him down at any point over the last seven years, he'd have dropped everything to help me out.

"Growth spurt." He said, pulling back to look at me. "You look like your dad, man."

I laughed, shaking my head. "That's what my mom says all the time." I turned to include Payne in the conversation, only to find him staring pretty hard at where Quinn's hands were holding my shoulders.

Oh. I guess it goes both ways, doesn't it, Payne? I smirked, raising my eyebrows at him when he finally lifted his eyes to mine.

"Hi." My friend let go of me, extending a hand in Payne's direction. "I'm Quinn."

"Payne," he grumbled back shaking the man's hand.

"What brings you back?" I asked Quinn, sliding closer to Payne, being pulled in his direction like always.

Quinn smiled softly, shrugging his giant shoulders. "Were finally selling the place."

"No intention of coming back and staying long term, huh?" My sister asked coming up behind me. She threw a thumb in my direction. "I guess that's a trend these days." She ignored my eye-roll, walking over to the end table by the couch, grabbing her phone and plopping not-so-gracefully on the end.

Quinn tilted his head, glancing back and forth between Payne and me, like he was looking for something meaningful there. "You moving?"

"Yeah." I nodded. "Going to Nebraska."

Again, Quinn glanced at Payne and then back at me. "Like Purdy?"

My head snapped back and I blinked hard. "Uh, yeah. How did you know about Purdy?"

Quinn raised his eyebrows at Payne pointing at me subtly and I immediately knew what he was asking.

I chuckled. "Yes. I know."

Nodding, he smiled. "Good. My dad got an email about a week ago. Some news travels really fast." He looked over at the couch and my eyes followed, along with Payne's, noting that my sister was far too intrigued by whatever was going on in her phone to listen to us. "But Purdy's probably a good place for you. Safer. From everything I've heard, shifters be losing their minds to get ahold of a chosen."

I frowned, glancing at toward my sister again and then back at Quinn. "What's that have to do with me moving."

Quinn's eyebrows shot up and his eyes did that widening thing, like he was saying you know with his eyes and face. But I didn't know, so I just frowned harder and glanced at Payne who looked just as confused as I did.

"Uh." Quinn blinked, glancing down at my feet and then back up at my face. "Because of your birthmark."

"My birthmark?" Sure, it was a strange mark. Looked almost like somebody had tried to brand me, but my mom always assured me that nobody did and that I was definitely born with it. But none of that enlightened me to what the hell Quinn was trying to say. "What about it?"

"Oh shit!" Payne said, turning his whole body in my direction and looking at me with wide, almost amazed eyes. "Where is your birthmark, Richmond?"

"The bottom of my foot, why?" If I didn't know better, I would have sworn for just a second that Payne was actually going to fall to his knees and grab my foot. He didn't, but he was still looking at the thing like it needed its own place on a thrown or something. "What's going on?"

"You've never seen Marlow's birthmark? The one on his wrist?" he asked, finally looking up to meet my eyes. "You didn't wonder why Thompsyn and Ridley could get pregnant?"

"Yeeesss," I said slowly, not sure why this conversation and the look on his face was suddenly making me feel nervous. "I know they're chosen. And no, I don't think I've seen Marlow's birthmark."

"Not surprising," Payne said, a giant smile on his face. "He's always wearing sweaters or some kind of jacket these days when he's working the truck."

I waited, wondering if anyone was going to elaborate further, but when nobody did, I sighed, guessing. "So, are you saying the mark on my foot would match Marlow's? Is that the correct assumption I'm coming to?"

"I think it might, yes," Payne whispered, his beautiful, gold eyes meeting mine.

"And that means…" But I knew.

"Yeah."

Taking a deep breath, I swallowed. "And I thought suddenly wanting to suck dick was a shock," I said on a strangled whisper.

Payne's eyes widened, and he chuckled softly, grabbing my arm and drawing me even closer. "It's news to me."

I rolled my eyes, letting myself be pulled against his body. "Shut up. No, it's not."

"I thought we were just friends." He wrapped his arms around my waist, ensuring that our entire fronts were plastered together as he looked down into my eyes.

Tilting my head back, I slid my arms up and around his neck, drawing his head down toward mine. "Tell that to the flight attendant," I whispered close to his mouth, my heart thrumming while my body lit up.

Quinn cleared his throat, fist hovering close to his mouth like he was about to cough, but it didn't hide the smile. "So, are you guys mates?"

"No, we––" I glanced at Payne and blushed. And then I did a double take. "Why do you look guilty?"

Payne licked his lips and swallowed before looking me in the eyes and answering Quinn's question. "Yes, we're mates."

"Well, that explains a lot," I whispered back, not wanting to take my eyes off of him.

"I knew you were freaking out a little about being attracted to me," he said quickly, tightening his arms around my waist. He cringed and glanced toward the couch, probably trying to make sure my sister wasn't listening in to our conversation. He brought his eyes back to mine, pleading with me to understand with his expressions. "So I figured I'd wait until you seemed ready. That was actually just now, though by the look on your face, maybe it wasn't. I'm so sorry, Richmond. I was going to tell you."

I didn't know what my face was telling him, but I didn't want him to think I was mad. I held up a hand. "No, that makes sense. You were absolutely right to wait. I was struggling. Not necessarily with the thought of being gay or even being with another man. More like the feelings that…I guess that's because we're mates."

I swallowed, letting my eyes roam all over his face. Knowing I was his mate was a bit of a relief. It explained why I was suddenly so attracted to him when I'd never really thought about men like that before. But I hadn't really learned enough about mates to know what it all meant. It was just always nice to see them interact with each other. Did being mates mean the feelings I felt weren't real?

Keeping one arm clamped around me like he was expecting me to take off at any minute, Payne reached up and brushed the hair away from my face. "Are you okay?"

"Does it make this fake?" I asked, leaning into his hand. "Like we don't have a choice?"

"No!" Payne and Quinn said quickly at the same time.

"No, Rich." Quinn stepped up next to Payne's shoulder so I could look at him while still being held close to my mate. "Nothing like that. A soulmate is your perfect match. You're both made perfect for each other."

"Like fate?" I glanced back at Payne, needing to see his face. "I don't know if I believe in fate. I don't like the thought of my decisions being someone else's."

"No." Payne shook his head, smiling softly. "Think of it this way. Everything you've done in life has led you to this point. Your decisions were your own, but has there ever been a time when something happened and it changed the course of a moment and you noticed? Like someone sneezed in an elevator, so instead of walking closer to them, you walked a bit around them and in the process you knocked over a vase which crashed to the floor sending pieces of porcelain all over the place, so then you had to clean it up and you were late on the road and then as your driving you see a wreck that just happened and you think, that could have been me!"

I ran my tongue over my teeth, trying not to laugh at my mate. "Did that happen to you?"

"Maybe."

"Yes," I said, sighing. "Stuff like that happens to me sometimes."

"Well, I don't know if you believe in God, or whoever or whatever, but I believe when you were made, God or whoever or whatever decided you were perfect for me. Or that you would be. So he steered you into my path." He leaned forward, pressing his forehead to mine. "A shifter knows their mate by their smell. Not because it has some kind of magic it to it, but because it is the best thing we've ever smelled and it turns us on, because we are so attracted to it. Because it is the perfect scent that belongs to the perfect person for us."

I frowned, needing to be clear. "So, we have a choice?"

"Well, yeah," Quinn said, sounding baffled. "But why wouldn't you want to be with the person who's absolutely perfect for you? The person who will do anything for you and never cheat?"

I cleared my throat, looking to the side. "Because I've never really cared about anyone before. I'm kinda scared."

"Well," my friend said, sounding wistful. "If you ever wanted to care for someone, your mate would be a good place to start. That's practically guaranteed to last forever."

 

Chapter Four

I took a deep breath and opened the door, knowing I needed to face Payne, but not sure what to say or do. It had been fairly easy with Quinn, my mom and my sister around as buffers, but this would be the first time we were alone since I'd learn our significance to each other.

"Hi," I said in a slightly strained voice, nervousness making my vocal chords tight.

"Hi." He was leaned back against the headboard, on top of the covers in nothing but a pair of boxers. He looked me over, his brow creasing in the center. "You okay?"

"I'm sorry about the room." I glanced around, noticing that my mother had stacked a few boxes in each corner. Maybe I got that habit from her. "I didn't know she changed the house so much."

Payne shrugged, smiling. "You know I would prefer to sleep in the same room as you. I'm kinda glad she turned your old room into a craft room."

I smiled, rolling my eyes. Payne looked gorgeous lounging like that. I almost expected there to be letters that popped up in front of him that spelled out an expensive cologne or something. He was just so fucking sexy.

He'd taken a shower after me earlier, and his hair was still damp. Those fucking boxers did nothing to hide the plum, semi hardness of his thick cock. And with the way he was leaned back against the headboard, his abs and pecs were on display, looking like a trail for my tongue and mouth.

Licking my lips, I grabbed the hem of my shirt, wondering just how far this perfect-for-him thing went. Was he going to like seeing me as much as I liked looking at him? I whipped the shirt over my head, biting my lip when I watched his eyes run over my body.

I wasn't sure if I was ready for anything major, but I loved seeing the heated way he catalogued every inch of my torso. When I too was stripped down to nothing but my boxers, I climbed in the bed and turned on my side to face him while he slid down and did the same.

"You're so fucking sexy, Richypoo," he said with a smile, reaching out and running his thumb over my bottom lip.

"Thank you," I whispered, blushing slightly. "So, what all is involved with mates?"

He shifted closer, leaving mere inches between us. "Pretty much the same thing as a marriage. The bond is obviously stronger because it becomes biological once we mate."

I swallowed, knowing the answer, well mostly, before I even asked, but wanting to hear it. "How do we mate?" I whispered, my body tingling into awareness.

He cleared his throat, moving his hips slightly on the bed. "In order for me to bond with you and extend your life span, I'd have to fuck you and bite you. But after that, if you wanted to strictly top, I'd be okay with that. I can bottom. Or we don't even have to have penetrative sex, if you're uncomfortable."

"Fuck me? And bite me?" Instinctively, I reached up and rubbed the spot between my neck and shoulder where I knew he'd leave the mark, the skin already feeling warm.

He reached out, running his finger over the same spot, making me shiver. "I am not going to pressure you, Richmond. When we finally do this, we're doing it right. And we're doing it because you honestly can't stand it another moment if one of us doesn't fuck the other. Okay?"

"Oh, I definitely want to," I whispered, my already hard dick pulsing in my sleep pants. "I’m just not sure how I'm going to react." I looked into his eyes, begging for understanding. "I hate not knowing this part of myself. This new, feels-everything person whose body is on fire constantly. I've never been so drawn to anyone or anything in my life."

"Listen. I'm going to be here no matter what," he said, a crease popping up between his eyebrows, his face serious. "I'm not leaving. Even if you got me so fucking hot and I was seconds from entering your gorgeous body, I would stop. And most of all, I wouldn't hate you for stopping me. Only you know what you are comfortable with."

"Can I kiss you?" I whispered, my eyes dropping to his mouth. "I only got to see you a split second before I passed out the second time that first night. But I've been dying to taste your mouth since that day with the zombie."

He closed his eyes, groaning softly. "Don't let this go too far for you, Richmond. Only what you're ready for." His eyes opened again and he leaned forward, putting his lips close enough to mine for me to just barely feel the soft skin. "Do you understand me?"

"Yes." I whispered, letting my eyes slide closed as he pulled me hard against his chest and pressed his mouth fully to mine.

The kiss started out sweet and controlled. He brushed his mouth to mine and then just rested his lips against my own. I moaned, loving the heat pouring off of him and the way it felt seeping into me. When I was afraid he wasn't going to go any further, he parted his lips, prompting me to do the same and then he swept his tongue inside, sliding it along mine.

He growled about the time his flavor registered and I groaned, needing more, wanting to explore every inch of my mouth. The kiss turned fevered as we both tried to taste every inch of the inside of the other's mouth.

He pressed me onto my back, rolling on top of me and sliding a leg between mine. It caused his dick to dig into my hip and mine to be pinned between us in the most amazing way. I broke the kiss on a gasp as I threw my head back at the amazing sensation my hips bucking against him caused on my throbbing cock.

I'd never felt anything like it in my life. Nothing had ever been so exciting, felt so right.

Payne pulled back, his eyes blown as he let them roam all over me. "Look at you," he whispered, running his fingers through the thin, dark swirls of hair on my chest.

"I'm not smooth, and I have freckles everywhere. I don't look like th––"

He covered my mouth with his and the rest of what I was saying was lost as his tongue swept inside, the tip curling against the center of mine and pressing against it, painting a slow, sensual slide along the crease down the middle.

"Fuck you taste amazing," he whispered brushing our lips together over and over. "I can't wait to taste your cock."

"Fuck, that sounds amazing."

He pulled back, eyes wide with hope as he looked at me and I nearly laughed. He wants to suck my dick! Like really, really wants too!

I looked into his hopeful yellow-gold eyes and smiled, reaching up to cup the side of his head. "Do it," I whispered, glancing at his kiss swollen lips. "Suck my dick, Payne."

He groaned like I'd reached down and stroked his cock. Which was something I was surprised to find myself wanting to do. "I'm going to make you feel so good, baby."

I wanted to tell him he already was, but he leaned forward, putting his open mouth against the side of my neck and painting a long stripe along my sensitive skin with his warm tongue. I moaned instead, bucking my hips, reaching for the pressure of his body again, but coming up short since he had pulled back so he could move down my torso with his mouth.

When he tilted his head sideways and nipped at the skin between the outer swell of my pec and the dip of my armpit, I pressed into his mouth, not realizing there was an erogenous zone there but unable to deny the fact that it set my body on fire.

He kissed down my side and then across to my bellybutton, nipping at the skin next to it lightly before dipping his tongue inside. I knew my dick was poking up over the top of my underwear, because I could feel his hot breath against the sensitive head and moaned at just how close he was to having me in his mouth.

Standing my dick up, away from my stomach, he opened his mouth and took the head inside, rolling his tongue and massaging it.

"Fuck," I gasped out, whining when he did it again.

He smiled around me, meting my eyes as he slowly slid the rest of the way down my length, stopping when he hit the back of his throat and then swallowing and sinking all the way down.

His throat worked around my tip and I let out a yell as pleasure zinged along my spine. I was already about to blow and he hadn't even done anything but put me in his mouth. "I'm about to go, Payne. Oh shit! I'm about to go."

Pulling off until I almost came out of his mouth completely, he pressed back down, bobbing on my dick about three more times before my balls tightening as they released my load into his warm wet mouth.

I felt his body shudder between my legs and he groaned around my dick as he continued to bob as every last drop of cum was rang from my body.

When I was too sensitive, I pressed against his shoulder, forcing him to release my spent cock. He sat up on his knees smiling down at my limp body as my eyes ran over his, getting caught on the cum coating the tip of his dick and running slowly down his abs, some slinging to the dark hairs of his belly.

"Holy shit!" I said, realizing he'd already finished without anything on his dick. "That's a real thing?" I sat up, without thinking, pressing the palm of my hand against the seed on his lower belly and smeared it, fascinated by the texture and the way his body felt beneath my hand. "That's so fucking hot."

"It's a mate thing," he panted cupping my face in his hands and staring down into my eyes while I continued to draw run my fingers through the mess he'd made on his skin. "I'll always enjoy your taste."

"And I don't have to do shit!" I chuckled, leaning forward to press a kiss against his sternum, tempted to move further down and taste his seed, but not sure if I was ready. "You're going to regret telling me that. I'm about to become the most lazy, spoiled mate in the world."

He laughed, shoving me to my back and crawling up my body, stopping to suck marks on my hip, above my belly button and in the hollow of my collarbone. "I have a million other things I want to do to your body, Richmond."

My dick began to fill, and I groaned. "How can I be getting hard again? You just sucked my balls inside out."

"That's also a mate thing," he said smugly, pressing his chest down into mine. "We're perfect for each other, remember? Your body is perfect for me and mine for you. We'll always crave each other."

"Hmm. I guess that means I've probably been gay or at least bi always. I've never really thought about looking at men like that before. Honestly, I never really looked at women like that too much either. Is it possible I've just been dead inside my whole life?" I smiled, but my own words stung.

I just couldn't help but feel like I'd somehow protected myself too much. And why? From a psychological standpoint, I'd never had any reason to hide myself behind a wall. Unless you counted middle school. But I was far from the only kid bullied.

I blinked up at the ceiling, trying to remember if there had been any significant instances that would have made me retreat behind my brick fortress of loneliness, but all I could come up with was the hundreds of times I'd just been ignored.

Thankfully, I'd always had Quinn when I'd come back home. But his mom hadn't let him go to school with the rest of us after he turned eleven. At the time, she'd said he had an illness that made it to where he couldn't be around a lot of people, but as a shifter-educated adult, I thought maybe she had been afraid his hormones would freak and he'd go all gorilla on someone.

"Are you going to freak out?" Payne asked, eying me suspiciously.

"Dude, I found out I can get pregnant today," I said, reminding him and myself that realizing I really liked fooling around with another man was hardly the most traumatizing news I'd received all day. "I'm pretty sure I'll be fine. Plus I've already accepted the fact that I'm a dick man now. At this point I'm just working up to letting you fuck me."

"Most people use their fingers," Payne said dryly, his face blank. At my confused eyebrows he smirked. "Working up to letting me fuck you."

Oh. He thinks he's funny.

"This isn't going to work out." I tried to roll over and get up, but Payne snagged me by my hips and jerked me back against his body, spooning me and letting his rock hard dick rest between my asscheeks as I giggled and then gasped.

He pressed his mouth to my ear, probably knowing that was one of my areas and using it to make me melt. "I guess I'll have to convince you."

I groaned when he slid his dick between my cheeks, the head catching slightly on my hole. I was surprised at how amazing the velvet tip felt on the soft skin surrounding the puckered entrance. Who knew I was so sensitive there?

Payne's phone rang, making him growl, and I found myself both relieved and disappointed when he rolled away to reach over and grab it off the nightstand on his side of the bed.

I hadn't ever considered how good it would feel to have something against my asshole like that. I'd honestly never even considered touching myself there when I jacked off. I usually, and sadly, always went for the quickest easiest route to orgasm, almost feeling like I needed to get it over.

Except since I'd met Payne. Lately, I couldn't keep my mind from running to him every single time I touched myself. And every orgasm with his name falling from my lips had felt like a revelation. I'd literally been doing it wrong my whole life.

"Damn. Okay. Thanks Quinn," Payne said into the phone, getting my attention.

I rolled toward him, eyes narrowed as I glared at him. "You gave Quinn your number?"

A slow smile slid onto his face, and I knew he was enjoying my latest show of jealousy more than was reasonable.

"I asked him to help me keep an eye out for weirdness, Richmond." He grabbed me, jerking me against him, his front to mine, as I pouted. I fucking pouted! "It's fucking sexy that you don't want to share me with anyone else."

I bit my lip to keep from smiling. "What did he want?"

"To tell me there is an old olive green truck parked about a block down the road." His hand slid down my back to palm my ass, massaging the globe before firmly, but slowly pulling me forward so that our dicks lined up, side by side.

I groaned. It felt so good, it took me a whole thirty seconds to register the information.

"Wait!" I said, suddenly gripping his shoulder hard. "Rolland's cousin has an old green truck. The front bumper is missing."

Blinking at me, clearly just as dazed as I was, Payne frowned. "What?" After a moment, his eyebrows shot up and he leaned forward to peck a kiss to my lips before rolling onto his back and reaching for the phone while still keeping his body mostly pressed to mine.

"Quinn," he said into the phone when my childhood friend picked up. "Is the front bumper on that truck missing?" There was a pause where I could hear Quinn's voice, but not make out what he said. "Shit. That's him. I'll be there in a minute." He hung up the phone and started to pull away, but I latched on, throwing a leg over his hip.

"What?" I asked indignantly, not wanting him to leave. "Where are you going?"

"To get Rolland." But he didn't make another move to pull away.

"I don't think I want you to."

He placed his hand on my thigh, massaging the muscle there. "As intriguing as this is…and fuck you have nice thighs. I bet you could squeeze the shit out of me with these things," he growled, and I couldn't stop myself from rolling my hips forward, pressing my dick against his.

"Wait," he growled, burying his face in my neck. "That's dirty, Richmond," he said against my throat, nipping at the skin. "I have to go. He clearly knows where your mom lives. I have to do something about him now."

"I don't know if I can handle all this danger bullshit," I grumbled as he pulled away, stepping down onto the floor.

He leaned forward pressing a quick peck to my mouth. "Well, if you let me go, it will be over soon and then I can come back here and we can pick up where we left off."

I leaned up, grabbing both sides of his face. "Be careful, Payne. This is the reason I'm so pissed that I care about you."

"I know Richypoo. I'll be careful."

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