Cursing never helped.
And yet, some filthy words escaped Savannah Landry’s mouth as the tire iron she was using slipped and scraped across her knuckles for the fourth time. She very much wanted to toss the blasted thing across the street, but, her son would be getting out of school in a little over an hour and she needed to change the flat tire on the front of her ancient sedan.
She could afford to get a new car, but she loved Patrice, her nickname for the battered sedan. It would take more than a flat tire, some alarming sounds, and a few stains on the car seats to get her to change it. Besides, as a mother of an eight-year-old, stains and dirt were bound to happen. Patrice had a few more good years in her.
“Fuggin, stupid piece of crap,” she hissed, as she strained to turn the lug nut on her flat tire.
She dropped the tire iron, wincing as it hit her driveway with an angry twang. She took a few seconds to rest her arm. The sound of a heavy truck got louder, and curiosity had her peeking over her shoulder. A big U-Haul rounded the corner, pulling into the yard of the house next door.
She lifted the iron and turned back to the tire, unwilling to be caught staring. The doors opened and closed with a loud slam and curiosity got the better of her. She turned her head for a quick peek. A tall woman jumped from the cab of the truck, her long curly hair hanging down her back in a ponytail. She was a curvaceous woman. Her rounded face was beautiful, with thick brows arched over large eyes and full lips.
Savannah took a look at her own reflection in the car door. The image, though obscured by dust, gave her a clear picture of a frazzled woman. She blew out a breath at her makeup-less face. Her mahogany skin was clear and smooth, thank God. Her large dark eyes were her favorite feature, the long thick lashes courtesy of her father. She ran a finger down her rounded nose, and pursed her full lips. She considered herself pretty on most days, so she shrugged off her temporary doubt in her appearance and went back to the tire.
“Christ all mighty!” She ground out as she bore down on the tire iron trying to make the lug nut budge.
Someone chuckled over her shoulder. She turned and sucked in a breath at the wide chest at her eye level. A black t-shirt, hugging the muscles across his chest and arms, hung loose over a pair of jeans covering his squatting legs. Thick legs, long legs.
Good lord the man’s body was incredible.
He cleared his throat and she finally made her way up to his eyes. Dark, nearly black eyes watched her with an interested hooded gaze. He tilted his head and a hint of gold glinted in his eyes before disappearing. She almost dropped the iron in shock as her nerve endings came alive.
It was her only thought as her eyes perused every inch of his face. His brown skin was clear, only marred by a dusting of his incoming beard. He smiled and her eyes widened as perfect teeth peeked between his thick lips.
Shock had her mute. She’d never been struck by instant attraction to anyone, let alone a stranger. She mentally shook herself.
“Would you like some help?” His deep voice set off every nerve ending in her body.
“I, yes, yes please. I’m having a hard time loosening the nuts.” Her cheeks burned as she held out the tire iron to him and worked to get her reaction under control.
“I’m Derrick Lincoln, my best friend, Theo is moving in next to you.”
Savannah did a mental fist pump that the beautiful woman was not attached to him in a romantic capacity, but pasted on a polite smile. There was no call in mauling the man on their first meeting. “I’m Savannah.”
His gaze raked her kneeling figure and she was really glad she’d worn a padded tank under her flannel shirt. It was, thankfully, not yet sticking to her despite the heat of the afternoon. Her jean shorts were frayed at the hem, and probably showed a lot more leg than was polite. She slid out of his way to let him get close to the tire. He gave her a little smile and fit the tire iron onto the lug nut. She lost herself watching the way his shoulders flexed as he worked. He’d nearly finished loosening the lug nuts, so she rolled the spare tire closer and sat on it while he finished the last one.
“It’s a good thing you have a full-sized spare,” he commented as he twisted the tire iron.
“Yeah, my ex-husband was adamant about it. Now that we don’t live together, he’s afraid I’d ride on a donut until it literally fell off.”
He laughed and spared her a glance. “Would you?”
She shrugged. “It’s likely I would’ve eventually remembered to buy a new tire.”
“So, you’re not married?”
“That’s what you got from that story? Not that I could possibly be a flaky airhead, but that I’m single?” She joked.
“A flaky airhead wouldn’t know how to change their own tire, for one.” He pulled off the old tire and rolled it to the side.
She got off the spare and slid it to him.
“For two, you look like you’d be worth any possible aggravation.” He stared at her a moment until she lowered her gaze.
Certainly not because she wanted to, it was compulsion. Which meant only one thing… She slowly inhaled, and caught the scent of hot days, and the woodsy fragrance of a sun baked forest. He wasn’t human. She moved closer, the wild smell of fur and cat drifted to her. She’d recognize that scent anywhere.
He was a shifter.
She didn’t know how to process that just yet.
First, she needed a drink of water, a fan, something to cool the heat flushing her body. “So, you’re helping your best friend move?”
“Yes, he and his wife and kids.”
She smiled, her interest peaked. She turned and spied a handsome man lifting the truck gate, two young boys trailing behind him chattering. “Oh, they look the same age as my son.”
She was excited. Jamie would finally have kids in the neighborhood to play with. Most of their neighbors were retirees, or new families. There weren’t any kids over the age of two on their street. She would definitely make it a point to go over and introduce themselves to the new neighbors.
“You have a son?”
She didn’t detect any disappointment in his tone. “Yes, an eight-year-old, I’m headed to pick him up from school.”
“All done, then, in time to get you on your way.” He stood, brushing his hands along his thighs.
Of course her eyes followed every stroke. He cleared his throat and she hastily lifted her gaze. Gold flickered in his pupils, and his teeth gripped his bottom lip as he smiled and offered her his hand. She grabbed it and stood, stepping back as she realized how much taller than her he was. It was a delightful surprise. At five ten, there weren’t a lot of men taller than her. Well, none outside of the men her grandfather had been trying to set her up with.
She held out her hand and he engulfed it with his own. The touch of his roughened palm sent a jolt through her and she stepped closer. Sensations she hadn’t felt in years tingled across her skin and brought a sigh to her lips.
She cleared her throat, hoping to disguise the sudden longing. “Thank you so much for your help. It would’ve taken me forever.”
“You’re very welcome.” His eyes pulled her in.
She held onto his hand, not wanting him to go. Her phone beeped several times, breaking their trance. “That’s my alarm. I have to go get my son.”
“You need an alarm?” Amusement danced in his eyes.
“Flaky, remember.” She shook the phone at him. “Thank you again.” She jumped in the car and waved as she cranked it.
Patrice purred as she put her in gear and backed out of the driveway. Despite what her ex-husband thought of her, and it had been one of their issues, she was not flaky. She took her son’s safety very seriously. Though her car’s age and outer appearance suggested otherwise, she did not play about the maintenance on it. She was as picky with her mechanic as she was about her hairdresser. The two were the most important women in her life outside of her family.
Carlos sighed. His animal was restless, which didn’t come as a surprise. It had been growing more so for months now. Jersey had become more stifling with each day. He sat at his desk and watched the traffic go past his office window, wiggling the tie at his throat loose, and closing his eyes to soothe his panther. Yes, Jersey was becoming confining with the local alpha distrusting and starting to resent Carlos and his budding prowl being on his land.
It wasn’t his fault rogue panthers flocked to him. According to Derrick, his second in command, his animal called to those who needed a place to belong. He blew out a frustrated breath. His panther’s power was causing a problem with the local alphas from New York, all the way to Connecticut. He probably had another six months before either of the Alphas called him in to challenge them. They didn’t realize Carlos wasn’t any happier in their territory than they were to have him there.
But, he’d made a promise to his stepfather to step into the CEO position of their family’s multi-million dollar security company once he retired and he was a man of his word. Already, using his government contracts he’d expanded the company, pushing them from million dollar profits into billions. He’d moved them from a smaller city in New Jersey to New York City to keep up with the expansion. He kept his small prowl outside of Union City, but commuted to the city to work. He hadn’t made it in their current location a whole year before rogue panthers started showing up at the apartment building he and Derrick owned and the Manhattan office.
He’d talked to his stepfather, Daniel, months ago about the local alphas’ concerns and together they’d come up with a solution he prayed would work. Through some of Daniel’s contacts, contacts most humans would be too scared to cultivate, Daniel had heard of a prowl on the west coast of Florida that was quietly searching for a strong alpha. It would be a win-win for them both. It appealed to his stepfather in that it would expand their business south, and for Carlos, it would get him out of the area.
From the moment he’d heard about it, his cat perked up, interested. He’d done his research and sent his sister and his prowl’s liaison down to Tampa to start negotiations. He wondered after he and Daniel had talked about it, if relocating to Florida was the right move. His mother had barely escaped the state with her life, and the lives of her children, it was risky for him to go back.
But, his cat wouldn’t rest.
Something about the place compelled him, pulled to him, so he would follow instincts he’d honed his entire life and make the move. His mother was obviously worried, but he wasn’t, not quite yet.
His phone rang and he wondered if it was his sister checking in. He looked at the caller ID and saw the name Beta.
“How is it?” Not one for small talk, he skipped the greetings.
Derrick laughed. “Hello to you, Carlos.”
“You’re so easy to rile.”
“Only you push my buttons, Beta. Everyone else knows better.” Carlos sighed and leaned back in his leather desk chair.
Derrick sighed. “Too true.” He paused a moment. “The land welcomed us, Carlos.”
Relief loosened the tension in his shoulders. “Is it ours?”
“It feels like home.” Derrick told him, his tone reverent. “How long should I stay?”
“Theo’s good at what he does. He’s our liaison for a reason. He should be fine alone down there. I say a week to help him and Laura settle, then I need you back here to prep for us to leave. I’d be surprised if the alphas gave me that long.”
Derrick cursed. “How many times do we have to tell them we don’t want their shitty territories?”
“Well, with Theo not here to smooth over ruffled feathers, I want to be out of here sooner rather than later.”
“Your brother-in-law is good at his job. By next week you’ll get your call with the Felix here, and we’ll be moving down in a month, two at the latest.”
“Why are you always so confident?”
“Come on now, it’s me.”
“Cocky bastard.” Carlos muttered.
“Speaking of cocky, your sister has a beautiful neighbor.”
“Focus on the task at hand please.” Carlos shook his head.
Derrick paused a moment. “Normally I wouldn’t ignore an edict by you, but there’s something about her.”
“That’s not what you’re there for.” Carlos growled, irritated.
“Yes, I know, Felix. But she’s calling my cat.”
The use of his title let him know how serious Derrick was. Carlos sucked in a harsh breath. “You’ve met your mate?”
A momentary stab of jealousy, of loss, struck him, but he squelched it. He knew the games he and Derrick played wouldn’t last forever.
“She feels like ours.”
“Yours and your cat’s?” Carlos clarified.
“No, mine… and yours.”
Carlos’ eyes widened, and his heart started a rapid drum beat. Hope and fear churned in his stomach. His panther’s attention was raised, the cat spiking his power. He took a deep breath to push down on the energy. Could it really be true? Besides having a woman to share and protect between them, to have a Tribond was a powerful, but rare thing.
“Are you sure?” He whispered, unable to keep the longing from his voice.
“Remember when we first met and I told you I saw my future with you. I’m that sure.” His Beta’s promise and strength of resolve traveled across the phone line.
Carlos clenched the phone. “Make sure security for Laura, Theo and the kids is in place and then bring your ass back to Jersey to help keep the tristate prowls off our back. The faster we can leave here, the better for all.”
He hung up on his Beta and turned his chair to face the downtown landscape. A mate, not just a mate, but a Tribond. It was almost too much to wish for. He couldn’t be sure until his animal scented the woman. His cat rumbled, pacing under his skin, anxious. It was almost as if the panther knew what was waiting for them in Florida. He really needed those negotiations to work. He would first establish territory for his new prowl, and then he’d see about this mate business.