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Just Wait by Missy Welsh (1)

Just Wait

They should’ve eloped. Screw their families, their friends, the press, and anybody else who had a problem with being left out of the wedding. To hell with how much notice the campaign was getting ever since they announced they were marrying before the election. Just damn all of it.

They should’ve eloped.

Nathaniel Day stood still just inside the ballroom and tried to breathe. It was like every other thing was going wrong, and he was losing his mind trying to decide how to fix it all. Even with the wedding planner, everybody looked to him to make all these last-minute decisions. This was nothing like what he did with fundraising. He was just so— Everything was— Gah! He’d always let Reeve handle—

No. No thinking about him.

The day before his wedding was not the time to think of exes who’d left him. Er, the only ex who’d ever left him. Like that. It wasn’t like he had a line of men who’d lived with him for over a year only to disappear into the night, never to be seen again. Just Reeve Ridley.

Little bastard.

No, this was Nate’s moment in the spotlight to show everyone who’d known him last year that life moved on, love grew anew, and happiness was out there.

Or whatever happy horse shit was printed on the wedding programs.

He needed Sean. He needed to tell Sean that someone else had to figure out what to do about a fire at the florist and a missing caterer. Because Nate couldn’t do it. Could not. He just wanted to show up at the altar at the appointed time, say the things, and then fly to Aruba.

Nate spun away from the ballroom, rubbing his forehead, and could’ve sworn the slight man now adjusting the curtains had whipped around when Nate turned. He’d been getting that feeling a lot lately. Like he was being watched. Probably from all the hotel staff doting on him. Ignoring the feeling, Nate walked away and got out his cell phone.

Where are you? He sent the text to Sean before stopping in a beam of sunlight. How long had it been since he’d been outside? Maybe that was part of his problem. He always got a little squirrely when he’d been inside for too long.

A text popped up on his phone. Hello Mr. Day this is Mr. Montgomery’s assistant Heidi. He’s in a meeting now but I can let him know you contacted him. Have a great day!

Gritting his teeth, Nate almost smacked out a reply. Almost. It wasn’t worth it. Never was. Despite having known fricking Heidi for as long as he’d known Sean, the woman always acted like they’d never met before. The fact she took over Sean’s phone whenever he was “in a meeting” drove Nate nuts—what if he’d sexted his groom-to-be, huh?—but protesting would only have Sean sitting him down to have The Talk again.

Nate knew Sean was doing something great, something important. It wasn’t every day that an out gay man got the kind of support Sean was getting in a run for political office in Ohio. Nate was fully on board with the fact that meant a long weekend was all the time they could take for a honeymoon and that Sean might sometimes have to put Nate second after his career. He got that.

But, dammit, not now!

Looking around, Nate found a door bathed in sunlight and shoved it open, walked out, and let the door slam shut behind him. The space was a small courtyard lush with flora, birds chirping, and the gurgle of a birdbath fountain. It was peaceful. Nate went over and sat down on a stone bench.

A few deep breaths later, he felt better. He wasn’t sure what it was about being outdoors, but it didn’t even have to be sunny for him to mellow once he was surrounded by nature. He’d grown up in the city, but maybe he had a country boy’s soul.

Giving up impromptu trips out into a state park or national forest would be difficult. Since everything was pointing to a phenomenal election win in a few months, he would be moving into the governor’s mansion before the year was over. The place was a grand old Jacobethan structure and it did have gardens aplenty, but Nate was already worried it would quickly feel like a prison.

Was he really cut out to be a governor’s husband?

Hosting events and fundraising wasn’t new to him since he’d worked for several nonprofits over the course of his career—which was how he’d met Sean, at a gala for the Children’s Hospital. But sometimes it felt like Sean had hired him instead of proposed marriage to him. Nate loved Sean, but…

And this was another reason spending more time with his husband-to-be would help him immensely. He knew he was getting cold feet and had no doubt Sean could easily remind him why they were together and why they were doing all this. Left on his own? He didn’t want to, but he was fast imagining sprinting away from the hotel and not looking back.

A noise behind him startled Nate into looking over his shoulder. The door clicked shut. Had someone looked in on him? Probably. He was under near constant surveillance by Sean’s security detail, so it wouldn’t surprise him if one of them had looked in to make sure they had a location on him.

He was startled anew and worse when something touched his knee. Whipping around and flinching, Nate gasped in shock. “Reeve?”

The man kneeling in front of him was thinner, almost gaunt, but Nate would recognize those deep blue eyes anywhere—he’d seen them often enough in his dreams after Reeve left. And here the man was again, all five-foot-seven of his little blond self just right there at Nate’s feet.

“You little fucker,” Nate snarled and swiped Reeve’s hand off his knee. “You have some nerve showing up again after a year and a half and right before I get married.”

Nate stood up and headed toward the door. He’d call security and have Reeve thrown out. Tell them to rough him up a bit maybe. Even—

“Please, baby, just wait.”

No.” Nate turned around and pointed at Reeve still down there on his knees. “You don’t get to call me pet names anymore. You lost that right when you walked out on me.”

“I didn’t leave you by choice.”

Nate almost didn’t hear him. “What?”

Reeve stood up. Slowly. Painfully. He wore the uniform of a hotel employee and it was huge on him, but his face… His eyes were sunken, his cheekbones far too prominent, his golden hair limp and thin. He’d always been in top physical condition, something he’d prided himself on as an FBI agent. He’d had a body easily able to keep up with bad guys on the run, and Nate had spent hours worshipping every inch of him. This version looked…

“God, Reeve… Are you— Are you sick?” He couldn’t say the C-word, but it was right there in his mind, his first thought.

“I am.” Reeve swallowed, his throat bobbing more visibly than it used to. “It’s not what you might think, but it’s pretty bad. When I was diagnosed, they kept me in quarantine. Locked me up.” His face flushed. “I am so sorry, Nate.”

He took a step closer. “Wait. I don’t understand. Who locked you up?”

“The Bureau.”

Nate squinted at him. “The FBI locked you up because you got sick? That doesn’t make any sense. Why would they do that?”

“Because of what I have.”

“And that is…”

Reeve looked away, his fingers worrying the hem of his shirt.

“I swear to god, if you lie to me right now—”

“Werewolfism.”

Nate blinked a few times, trying to process that. But what the hell was there to process? There was no such thing as werewolves. Nate’s anger spiked again and he turned for the door.

“Nate, please, just wait.”

“Fuck you.”

Nate jerked back when Reeve was suddenly pressed up against the door, blocking it. “So you’re so sick you look like death, but you move like lightning?” Nate loomed close. “Get out of my way, or I will fucking toss your little ass across the room.”

A small smile tilted up the corners of Reeve’s mouth, but his eyes filled with tears. “I’ve missed you so much.”

He wouldn’t let himself be moved by those baby blues. “Get out of my way. Now.”

“No, Nate, I can’t. You need to wait. To listen. I’m dying without you.”

Nate rubbed a hand over his face and tried to breathe normally. He didn’t want to beat up a sick man—delusional, high, or actually ill—and he didn’t really want to beat up Reeve no matter how mad he was at his former lover.

But this was insane.

“Reeve, unless I’m the only one who can donate an organ, I don’t have a way to cure you.”

“I don’t need a kidney or anything like that.”

“Yeah? Then what do you need?”

“You to love me again.”

“Oh, come on.” Nate threw up his arms and turned away. “Jesus, Reeve, this isn’t some kind of reunion and I’m not going to run away with you.”

Reeve stepped in front of Nate again and blinked, making his tears fall. He looked desperate and broken, and Nate almost went to him, fought back the need to hold him.

“I need you, Nate,” he whispered. “I won’t survive without you.”

The stark need in his voice clutched at Nate’s heart. They had a lot of history together and, despite everything, Nate did still care. Probably more than he should.

“Reeve, are you working with a sponsor or psychiatrist? Can I call them for you?”

Reeve’s laugh was harsh and brief. “There’s a team of people working on me. Half of them are probably swarming the place right now. I think they put a tracking chip in me somewhere.” He scratched at his neck.

For a moment, Nate was afraid. Something had snapped in Reeve’s mind and he was fixated on Nate being what would heal him. Nate swallowed hard and backed up, trying to make his movements casual while he edged toward the door. What the hell was he supposed to do here? Would Reeve hurt him if Nate didn’t do what he wanted?

“No, baby,” Reeve said, “please don’t be afraid of me.” He walked over and rested his hands on Nate’s chest like he used to do. “I would never hurt you. Not you. Getting to you has been my entire focus since I found out what happened.”

Nate took a deep breath. He couldn’t let himself be drawn into Reeve’s delusions. “Listen, I’ll help you any way I—”

Right then a helicopter was suddenly hovering above the courtyard. The downdraft whipped up dead leaves to zip around them like tiny missiles. It was loud and confusing, but Nate could recognize the fact Reeve glared upwards and bared his teeth like an angry dog.

When people in black gear with guns started rappelling from the helicopter, Nate backed up even though he didn’t actually know what to do. He wanted to run and— “Oh!” he hollered as Reeve grabbed his arm and hauled him to the door back into the hotel. For as slight as Reeve was now, he had a hell of a grip and wasn’t letting Nate go anywhere Reeve didn’t want him to go. Nate either had to follow or maybe lose his arm.

But when they went through the door and into the hallway, more people in tactical gear were there. And pointing their terrifying, black guns at Reeve and Nate.

No, just at Reeve.

“What the hell is going on?” Nate demanded. “Who are—”

He stopped because something was happening to Reeve. It was like he was having a seizure or some kind of strange fit that made him shake all over…and growl. What kind of a person growled like that?

One of the people surrounding them shot Reeve. In his neck. With a dart.

Reeve screamed, but it wasn’t a normal scream. It was high-pitched and…catlike? This was all so surreal and confusing and— When Reeve dropped, Nate didn’t think about it, he just lunged to catch him before he hit the floor. Cradling Reeve in his arms put a lump in Nate’s throat; he’d held Reeve like this once when he’d had the flu and been adorably miserable.

But this time, Reeve was making a terribly frightened noise, shaking in Nate’s arms, and looking up at him with an expression that apologized and begged at the same time. “It’s okay,” Nate said. “Don’t worry, you’ll be just fine.”

Except he wasn’t so sure either of them would be okay.

The man who’d shot Reeve hunkered down beside them. He took off his helmet and lifted the mask he wore, revealing himself. “I told you we needed to know if you’d imprinted on someone,” the man said to Reeve. “This is why, Ridley. You could’ve prevented all of this.”

Reeve growled just before he went limp in Nate’s arms.

“Who the hell are you people?”

Blond and blue-eyed, but in a rugged way where Reeve was pretty, the man gave Nate a patient smile and said, “We’re a special branch of the FBI tasked with supporting those like Agent Ridley.”

“Supporting him? You shot him.”

“I neutralized a dangerous situation.” He stood up and waved another man over, but spoke to Nate. “Why don’t we head to a secure location? We can talk more freely there.”

Nate considered that. He wanted answers, but did he really want to go anywhere with someone who shot people with tranquilizers?

“I strongly suggest you come with us, Mr. Day.”

Well, that cinched it. Nate stood, easily lifting Reeve, and nodded. Whoever these guys were, they knew who he was and probably a lot more than just that. It wasn’t like he could run away either, so he didn’t really have a choice but to follow them. He looked down at Reeve’s unconscious face. What have you gotten me into, you little bastard?

Whoever these guys were, they were thorough; the whole way out of the hotel was clear by the time Nate walked through. No one he could signal for help. No one who might question what was going on. Not even the security guys from Sean’s own team were anywhere in sight to raise the alarm. In less than five minutes, Nate was in a huge black SUV. Reeve lay in the back like cargo.

Nate couldn’t get his knee to stop bouncing and kept looking over his shoulder to check on Reeve. Part of Nate wanted to believe that they were fine, these guys were here to help, and everything would be okay. But part of him couldn’t help memorizing the route they took, calculating how he might be able to grab Reeve, and where he could hide them.

If he thought his nerves were shot before…

When they finally stopped, it was, of course, outside a nondescript building with not one sign anywhere in sight. And then they drove into an underground parking area. Nate gulped a few times as the reality settled in that there was no way he was going to get away, with or without Reeve’s unconscious ass.

They wouldn’t let him carry Reeve as they piled out of the cars, something Nate was not comfortable with at all. “Really, it’s no trouble,” he said. “He’s light and—”

“Mr. Day,” the guy who was clearly in charge said, “just let them handle Mr. Ridley.”

And they handled him right into a goddamned wire dog crate on wheels.

“Are you kidding me?” Nate tried to stop them, open the door, but they kept him away. “You can’t put him in a fucking cage!”

“It’s for his safety as much as ours.”

“How?” Nate demanded as the men holding him back let him go.

“Let’s go inside, Mr. Day. We—”

“Stop using my name like that! It’s freaking me out!”

He held up his hands. “Let’s go inside where it’s more comfortable and definitely more secure.”

More secure like they wouldn’t tell him anything if it wasn’t inside a soundproof room? Dammit. Nate nodded and gestured for someone to lead the way. He fell in behind two guys, one of whom pushed Reeve in his wheeled cage.

Nate didn’t bother to look around. There wasn’t anything to look at. The walls were either light gray or white cinder block and any doors had ambiguous labels like A203. No one else walked the halls. No sounds came from behind any of the closed doors. There was a smell, though, like hospital-grade disinfectant.

They came to a door marked A414-F, and the guy pushing Reeve’s cage went inside with him. The unmasked agent went in with one other guy, and Nate followed them in. Instantly, he wished he hadn’t.

Three light gray walls and one wall with a seamless floor-to-ceiling mirror. There was a drain in the center of the floor and a cage covered the light fixture on the plain white ceiling high over his head.

This was an interrogation room.

“We’ll get you a chair in a minute here, Nate.”

He waved that off and went to stand beside Reeve, whose cage was parked over the drain. Was that significant? Nate tried to keep taking deep breaths, to not let his nerves get the better of him. He leaned a hip against the cage and held his hands in front of himself.

“I owe you an introduction,” the main guy said. “I’m Agent Kendrick.”

He held out his hand to shake, and Nate was tempted to ignore it. He didn’t, though.

“I’d really appreciate it,” Nate said, “if you could explain everything now.”

But that was when Reeve coughed. “Nate?”

Squatting down, Nate reached in and managed to rest a couple fingers on the back of Reeve’s hand. “Hey. How’re you feeling? You okay?”

Reeve lunged at the bars, rattling the cage and making Nate startle so badly he landed on his butt. “Nate, oh my god. Get out of here. Don’t let them lock you in.”

“Dammit, Ridley,” Kendrick barked. “Nothing is going to happen to him.”

“Bullshit,” Reeve said as Nate got back on his feet. “I’m in a goddamned cage right now!”

“Because you were seconds from shifting in a public place.” Kendrick bent, getting as in Reeve’s face as possible. “You don’t have control yet and your emotions are all over the place. What if you hurt Nate?”

Reeve stopped looking angry and instead fixed Nate with an apologetic stare. “I’m so sorry, Nate. So sorry for all of this.”

“You should’ve told me about him,” Kendrick said. “We could’ve avoided—”

“And what would you have done if I’d told you about Nate?”

“Brought him in and—”

“Exactly! Why the hell—”

Brought him in, and reunited the two of you, so you wouldn’t go through the debilitating withdrawal of being without your mate.”

That had Reeve quieting, and Nate perking up. He was Reeve’s mate?

Kendrick sighed. “I know your office wasn’t the most accepting, so you weren’t out and didn’t tell anyone you were living with a man. But we don’t care who you love, alright?” He touched both hands to his chest. “Who are we to judge anyone for anything?”

Reeve glared. “You’re gay?”

“Am I— No, that’s not what I meant.” Kendrick squinted at him, staring. Finally, he rolled his eyes and sighed. “Months ago, remember when I told you I got this job because I’m an expert? I realize now that I should’ve clarified myself, but back then I figured you could tell I’m no longer human.”

Nate sighed as he stayed sitting on the cold concrete floor and watched this insane drama continue to unfold. Was it possible Reeve was delusional? Was this some kind of therapy that fed into his delusions, made him feel like he could trust his therapists, before they worked on helping him see the truth? Nate had never heard of such a thing, but maybe it was real.

Reeve shook his head at Kendrick. “You don’t smell like me and the others.”

“That’s because I’m not a cat. I shift into a wolf.”

Nate had to interrupt. “Hold on here, Kendrick. You think he’s a cat but you’re a dog?”

“We don’t think it, Nate. We are shifters. We—”

Nate laughed incredulously. “Come on. Look, if this is some kind of therapy, fine. But he said he was a werewolf earlier, and now you’re saying he’s some kind of cat. You’re getting your stories crossed.”

Kendrick’s blue gaze snapped to Reeve accusingly. “If he told you he was a werewolf, that’s incorrect.” He looked back at Nate in all patience again. “However, if he told you his condition is called werewolfism, that is the current terminology.”

Nate laughed again. But no one else did. “You can’t be serious.”

“Shift, Agent Ridley.”

“Let me out.”

“Are you in full control of your mind after you shift?”

It was clear to Nate that Reeve’s answer was no, given the glare he sent up at Kendrick. But then Reeve started undressing inside the cage, and Nate was torn between watching and not. He’d always adored Reeve’s compact and beautifully toned body. While he’d teased Reeve about being pocket-sized, Nate had loved Reeve’s natural tendency to dominate in bed. Watching him get naked now, after a year of missing him, was the first time Nate remembered Sean.

Nate looked away and rubbed at his eyes. He hadn’t given one thought to contacting Sean to let him know what was going on, where he was, or who he was with. Reeve had wiped Sean right out of his mind. Nate got out his phone, expecting to see missed calls and texts, but there was nothing. He sometimes didn’t notice notifications when his phone was on vibrate, but he hadn’t missed anything now. Was it good or bad that Sean wasn’t missing him?

A grunt from Reeve had Nate looking over. Staring. “R-Reeve?” he whispered.

He shifted. Right there in front of Nate, Reeve went from being a naked white guy to being a cougar. A goddamned cougar! Just a swoop of muscle and bones undulating under his skin and then he was covered in fur and looking at Nate with big, golden eyes.

Breathing hard, feeling sick and faint, Nate looked up at Kendrick for… Guidance? Shared hysteria? He wasn’t sure, but Kendrick just looked back at him and said, “Aim for the drain, if you’re going to vomit.”

Nate swallowed convulsively and stood up. Oh, nope, bad idea. He went back down onto his knees, his ass, and covered his mouth. They’d been serious. The whole time, everything they said, was totally serious. Reeve was a cat. A cougar. A werecougar? Holy fucking shit.

“Nate, if you wouldn’t mind, could you reach toward Agent Ridley?”

He looked away from the cat in the cage. “What?”

“He’s calmer than normal, so I’m inclined to let him out. But only if he has a positive reaction to you getting closer to him.”

Nate stared at Kendrick. Stared at the cat. “What?”

Kendrick crouched down in front of him. “He’s still Reeve,” he said quietly. “I know this is overwhelming, but he’s still the man you knew even now.”

Gulping some more, Nate managed to nod. If he hadn’t seen it happen, he would’ve accused them of some kind of magician’s trick of swapping the man for the cat while Nate wasn’t looking. But he’d seen it happen. Reeve was the cat. So Nate scooted closer and reached for him. “R-Reeve?” he said breathlessly. “Do you recognize me?”

Nate’s fingertips touched a bar, and the big cat turned his head to rub on them. Nate touched him, felt surprisingly soft fur, and a horrible realization hit him. Just socked him in the gut and punched a sob out of him. He covered his mouth, sickened by the truth.

“You didn’t leave me,” he managed to say through the sudden flood of tears. “Oh god, Reeve, you didn’t leave me.”

Because he hadn’t. At all. Reeve had gotten bitten or whatever, turned into this cat, and been afraid his fellow agents would do something to Nate, so he’d kept his mouth shut about them. He’d had it all wrong—maybe—but he’d done it to protect Nate from all this.

Still crying and gasping from the intensity of it, Nate saw Reeve shift back, and Kendrick let him out of the cage. Naked, Reeve scrambled over to Nate saying a litany of apologies, manhandled his way onto Nate’s lap. He held him tightly. “I’m sorry, baby. I’m so sorry.”

“No, I’m sorry.” Nate squeezed Reeve. “I cheated on you.”

Reeve pulled back, and Nate let him go. But Reeve held Nate’s face in his hands. “Don’t do that. You didn’t know what happened. You did what you should’ve done under normal circumstances.”

“But this wasn’t normal.” Nate threw his arms open, encompassing the room and every crazy damn thing in it.

Reeve pulled Nate’s arms back in, held his hands, and kissed his knuckles. “You didn’t know. And it’s my fault for not trusting them.” He shook his head. “I was so confused and angry in the beginning. Then I was angry and scared and stupid.”

The door thudded, and they both looked over. No one else was in the room with them anymore.

Reeve settled more fully onto Nate’s lap, straddling his thighs and pressing into him. A shiver went through Nate at having this man in his arms again, no betrayal, and completely naked. Nate wiped at his face and sniffed. Was it inappropriate to want to kiss Reeve? Touch him everywhere? He should talk to Sean first, right?

“What’re you thinking?” Reeve whispered and combed Nate’s hair back.

Nate shivered and had to take a deep breath. His heartbeat picked up and he slid his hands around behind Reeve to hold on while he pressed his face into Reeve’s neck.

“Talk to me, baby.” Reeve wrapped his arms around Nate’s shoulders. “It’s okay.”

“I don’t know what to do,” Nate whispered. “I’m supposed to get married tomorrow, Reeve.”

He sighed. “You know what I want. But if you’ve moved on and—”

“I haven’t,” Nate said, his voice dipping down with his guilt. “All I want right now is you. I’ve barely given Sean one single thought since you showed up.” He kissed Reeve’s neck and breathed in the scent of him.

Reeve ran his fingers up through the hair on the back of Nate’s head. He massaged him, and it was like they were back in their home, in their bed. Nate nuzzled Reeve’s neck, kissed him again.

“You keep doing that,” Reeve said with a growl to his voice, “and I won’t think about Sean either as I take you. As I make you mine again.”

Nate moaned. “I don’t think I ever stopped being yours.”

Reeve fisted Nate’s hair, tugged his head sideways, but Nate put his hand on Reeve’s chest top halt him.

“I have to call off the wedding first.” Nate gulped, his guilt spiking. “I’ve already let you down—”

“You haven’t.”

“—and I can’t do that same thing to someone else.”

Reeve sighed and sat back, letting him go. He nodded. “Okay. Call him.”

Nate tsked at him. “I can’t end everything over the phone, Reeve.”

“I just got you back.”

He cupped Reeve’s face in his hands. “And after I do this, you’ll have me forever.”

Reeve stared into his eyes, and Nate felt the tremble that passed through him.

“I swear, Reeve,” he whispered, “I will come back to you. No one can stop that.”

With a sigh, Reeve closed his eyes and relaxed his head into Nate’s hands. Nate kissed his forehead, lingered there. He didn’t want to leave, but he had to make things right with Sean—as painful as those things might be—before he could have Reeve back for good.

Right then, the door opened a crack. Kendrick stuck his head in like he wasn’t sure what he’d see and there were some things he didn’t want to. Nate shot a guilty glance at the two-way mirror, hoping no one had been in there watching or listening to them this whole time.

“We’re decent,” Reeve called out.

Kendrick came inside, now dressed in a dark gray suit. “Can I interest the two of you in more comfortable accommodations while we finish our discussion?”

“Actually,” Nate said, “if there isn’t anything you specifically need me for right now, I need to go call off my wedding. Could I get a ride back to the hotel?”

Kendrick shot a glance at Reeve before saying, “Of course.”

“Then I’ll come back here,” Nate assured them both, “for whatever comes next in the life of a big cat special agent and his very special mate.”

Reeve snorted, and Kendrick grinned before they all filed out the door.

Since Nate needed to do this alone, Reeve stayed behind with Kendrick for a calm and thorough discussion about what his life would be like now. Nate walked away with a few backward glances, feeling mostly confident everything between the two of them would be alright.

The part he wasn’t sure about was what awaited him at the hotel.

A woman in a gray pantsuit drove Nate to the hotel in a black sedan. He had to wonder if this team of agents had commandeered some location or if Reeve really had been this close all along. Would they stay in town? Or would Reeve need to stretch his kitty legs in a forest? And what assignments would an agent who could shift into an animal receive? Nate almost wished he’d stuck around to get answers to these questions, but he couldn’t put off talking to Sean.

At the hotel, no one stopped him from going right up to the penthouse. Even the usual guard who always stood opposite the elevator doors wasn’t there. Maybe Sean wasn’t in? Nate paused in the living area and checked his phone to see if he’d forgotten about an event of some type. There wasn’t, but that didn’t mean Sean hadn’t gotten called away to do something or meet with someone. Deciding to pack while he waited for Sean to return, Nate headed for the master suite.

That’s when he heard the telltale sound of damp flesh smacking together and throaty, male moans. Apparently, he was about to find out why no one had missed him all afternoon.

And there was Sean, bent over the end of the bed with one of his security guards—Joe? Jonah? Something like that—going to town and pounding Sean’s ass. They were sweaty and grunting, Sean letting loose one desperate moan after another, and what’s-his-name twisting one of Sean’s arms behind his back. By the sound of him, Sean was moments from coming.

A few things clicked into place for Nate as he watched. The first was that this might explain Sean’s reluctance to ever get a little rough with Nate. It was entirely possible they were into the same thing, neither willing to be the dominant top the other needed. The second thing Nate realized was that this wasn’t their first time doing this together because what’s-his-name knew just how to take Sean to the edge and back him off of it again. And when Heidi, Sean’s annoying assistant, came out of the bathroom in a towel, fresh from a shower, Nate realized he hadn’t had a clue about anything at all.

Sean came all over the end of the bed, the dude pounding his ass pulled out and came all over the back of Sean’s thighs, and Heidi stood there looking horrified at Nate.

“Sean,” Nate said, “the wedding’s off and I’m leaving you.”

Sean startled so badly he nearly fell on his ass. “Shit. Nate, wait.”

Ignoring all of them, Nate went to the closet and got out his suitcases.

Behind him, Sean said, “You’re not even going to listen? This is your fault.”

Nate paused in gathering clothes from the dresser. “My fault?”

“You were stifling me.” Sean stood up straight, a mutinous look on his flushed and sweaty face. “This is who I am and you wouldn’t let me be me.”

“And at what point in our relationship did you tell me that you’re into whatever this is?”

Nate turned away and kept packing because… Yeah, he didn’t care about Sean’s answer. He didn’t care at all, really. If this was the real Sean, then Nate hadn’t known him at all. Nate had fallen for a ghost or a fantasy and this reality was unrecognizable. Had he willfully ignored signs? Had he glommed onto Sean in desperation after Reeve disappeared?

Oh, shit. Nate chose to fall for a man who’s ambitions made it impossible for him to disappear. Sean never would have vanished like Reeve had. Nate felt guilt seep into him, but Sean wasn’t done talking and his next words took Nate’s guilt away as fast as it had come on.

“Nate, I’m a bisexual man with specific needs, and you ignored all of that.”

Nate rolled his eyes at that lie. “You told me you were gay and that we could work out our preferences in bed together.” He zipped his suitcases closed and got his tuxedo from the closet. “You’ve never mentioned women or group activities.”

While what’s-his-name wiped off and Heidi edged back into the bathroom, Sean opened his mouth to keep arguing. But Nate was done. “We’re over. Goodbye, Sean.” Heading for the door, Nate threw over his shoulder, “I’ll still vote for you.”

Sean had plenty to say on that, but Nate wasn’t listening. A little part of him did feel like maybe he hadn’t been paying attention, but if Sean had been doing this sort of thing the whole time… Shaking his head, Nate got in the elevator and headed down. If Sean had wanted Nate to understand him, Sean could’ve made a bigger effort to be heard. Nate wasn’t a mind reader.

In the lobby, Nate stepped off the elevator to find Reeve and Kendrick—and several other suited agents—standing there waiting.

“I was coming back,” Nate said as he walked over to a barefooted Reeve. At least he had on jeans and a t-shirt instead of the stolen hotel uniform or nothing at all.

Kendrick was glaring, arms crossed, and Reeve looked very twitchy.

“I’m sorry,” Reeve said, eyes casting about at the agents surrounding them.

“Stop apologizing.” Nate led the way toward the doors. “You know I like possessive little bastards.”

“Yeah, well, that’s me.” Reeve grabbed Nate’s arm and pulled him away from the exit over to a set of doors off the lobby. “Now get in there.” Reeve damn near tossed Nate into what turned out to be a small conference room.

Nate snickered as he braced his hands on a beige linen-covered table. “Reeve, c’mon. Here?”

When Nate stood straight and looked at Reeve, he discovered the man was completely naked, baring his teeth, and ready to fuck. So, yes, here and now.

Nate only had time to gasp before Reeve tackled him back onto the table. Reeve grabbed Nate’s hair and kissed him. It was a brutal, devouring kiss…and Nate loved it. He gave himself over to Reeve’s demanding mouth, invasive tongue, and firm hands like he always had, like their last kiss hadn’t been so long ago. Nate’s submission came so easily it made him breathless to realize he’d missed this desperately.

Sean had never been so perfectly dominant. Not once. It just hadn’t been in him to be like this. And Nate had thought he’d get used to that, that he’d adapt, that they’d find a way. He’d been wrong. He needed this. Needed Reeve.

“Please,” Nate begged when he could speak, his hands frantically gripping Reeve. “Please.”

Reeve’s answer was to rip Nate’s shirt open from throat to belt in one swift motion. Buttons exploded outward as Nate shuddered and gasped over the wild look on Reeve’s face. Was the cougar just beneath the surface? Could Reeve keep it at bay? Nate moaned as he lay back against the table top, eager for whatever his dangerous man wanted from him.

“Open. Your. Pants.” Reeve’s words were harshly punctuated, like he had trouble forming them. It reaffirmed Nate’s wondering about whether Reeve’s cat was fighting him. And he wasn’t afraid; he was excited.

Nate reached down, undoing his belt and opening his pants while Reeve waited on top of him, watching, his breath ragged. Nate was panting now, too, his breath hitching every time his knuckles grazed the hot, stiff flesh of Reeve’s erection hovering over Nate’s own confined cock. When Nate revealed how his body strained against his underwear, how he leaked with desire, Reeve shoved Nate’s hands away and yanked his clothes down over his hips. The suddenness of the move, the way the cloth scraped at his skin, had Nate grunting and reaching for himself to soothe the fleeting pain.

But Reeve captured Nate’s wrists and fell on him. He pressed their bodies together from cocks to mouths, heavy and devouring. He held Nate’s hands against the table on either side of his head. More insatiable kisses, now with the determined undulation of Reeve’s incredibly strong body against Nate’s.

Again, it was brutal and so perfect. Nate struggled to free his hands and couldn’t. Struggled to thrust his hips and couldn’t. He was held down, held still, and made to do nothing but receive what Reeve gave him. And Reeve gave him an orgasm that lit fire to Nate from the inside out and had him screaming as he came.

The sudden way Reeve released him startled Nate from his hard-fought bliss, but the sight of Reeve jacking himself over Nate, the snarl to his lips and dark glint in his eyes, made Nate relax back and just watch. When Reeve came all over him, it was as beautiful as always, but now there was even more power behind it. He sounded different, throatier, rougher. Like he could roar.

Reeve stared down at Nate now, heaving for breath, and then he slid both hands, fingers splayed, through the mess covering Nate from cock to chest. He was filthy, and Reeve smeared it, rubbed it into Nate’s skin. And then suddenly, with that strange ripple of muscle, bone, and fur, Reeve was the cougar again.

Nate’s breath caught as he went still. Kendrick had worried Reeve could hurt him like this. Emotions high, control gone, and anything could happen. As the big, golden head bent toward him, Nate braced himself.

A rough, sandpaper lick scraped over his left nipple, making Nate gasp and twitch. The cat looked at him, mouth slightly open, breathing rapidly, with a spot of cum on the fur by his black nose. Nate didn’t move.

Suddenly, the cat ducked his head and rubbed himself in the mess covering Nate, wallowing in it. He pressed a grunt from Nate and made a sound like a moan himself. Nate bit his lip to keep from laughing because this was his mate marking him. Reeve wanted everyone to know Nate belonged to him, and the cat in him was taking care of that with feline abandon.

Just as quickly as he’d become a cat, Reeve reverted back to a man. He lifted himself off of Nate on hands and knees, blinking unfocused blue eyes down at him.

Nate grinned. “I didn’t realize werewolfism would also turn you into a cum-slut.”

Reeve closed his eyes and winced. “I have no idea why I did that.”

“Oh, I do.”

Reeve raised his eyebrows in question.

“You claimed your mate.”

With a roll of his eyes, Reeve sat back on Nate’s thighs. Nate sat up and shrugged out of his jacket and shirt. They used the shirt to clean up as much as possible, while Reeve kept right on sitting there on Nate’s lap. But Nate didn’t mind; he didn’t want Reeve to go far either.

Now when Reeve pulled Nate close and hugged him, he was sweet and gentle about it. Nate resisted calling him a kitten as he held him in return. Their kisses were soft, slow.

“Nate,” Reeve whispered, not meeting his gaze. “Was that goodbye or will you stay with me?”

He tsked at him. “I wouldn’t have let that happen if I was going to walk away.”

Reeve shivered. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

They sat like that until Nate’s back started to ache from the unforgiving table, and then Reeve got down, got dressed again. Nate watched, wishing he could just appreciate what he saw, but Reeve didn’t look healthy. Nate went to him.

“You need to eat more or something.” He cupped Reeve’s jaw and traced his cheekbone with his thumb. “You’re too thin. It’s why I thought you were sick.”

“My metabolism demands more now, but I haven’t wanted to eat much.”

“Because you needed your mate.”

Reeve nodded. “Apparently. I honestly didn’t know… Or maybe I just refused to believe them.”

“You were scared.” Nate hugged Reeve into his chest, resting his chin on top of his head.

“I’m sorry.”

“How about we stop apologizing? It’s over.” Nate squeezed him briefly. “It’s all over now.”

A knock came at the door. No doubt Kendrick and his agents were itching to get out of the hotel once and for all.

“We’re decent,” Reeve called out. He smirked at Nate and whispered, “Again.”

Kendrick walked in, a put upon expression on his face. “Let’s not make this a habit, hmm? Time to go.”

Reeve snorted and followed Nate all the way out to the collection of black sedans and SUVs jamming up the drive. Nate stuck his head inside one of the sedans and saw it had a partition.

“Get in,” he said to Reeve. “I’ll ease your worries by blowing you all the way back to the compound.”

As Reeve got in with a laugh, Kendrick groaned and changed direction toward one of the SUVs.

“What?” Nate joked. “If sex calms this kitty, I’ll do my duty for my country.”

Reeve reached out from inside the car to smack Nate’s thigh. “Don’t call me a kitty.”

Grinning, Nate got into the car saying, “Here kitty, kitty, kitty.”

* * *

Six Months Later

Nate stood in the kitchen of their little cabin tucked into the Roosevelt National Forest in Colorado. He dried his hands and stared out the window at the amazing scene of pine trees and endless blue sky. Not so long ago, he’d thought he might go crazy if he didn’t have nature all around him. Nowadays, he didn’t have to come inside unless he wanted to and even then the rustic cabin felt like a part of the forest around it.

He sat down at the counter and opened his laptop. His email showed more confirmations that plans were on pace for the park’s upcoming fundraiser. While he got to work from home more often than not, if he wanted, he was still able to do the same fulfilling work for non-profits and awesome causes.

Reeve, too, had a new job. Still with the Bureau but loaned out to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, he was helping to sniff out—literally—those hunting on park land illegally. Sometimes he was the bait, but most of the time, he was the service’s eyes and ears, leading human officers to the right spot to make arrests with plenty of evidence so charges stuck. The Fish Folk, as Reeve called them, thought his cougar self was very well trained and praised his human partner for how well they were doing with this new program. Reeve’s catch rate was one hundred percent accurate.

Right then, Nate heard a vehicle approaching. “Think of the devil,” he said as a shiver went down his spine. Reeve had been on a night op…and he always came home from those horny. Nate went and stood in the middle of the room and braced his feet apart.

Reeve burst into the room as a man this time, which was only a little disappointing. The cat liked to pounce, but so did the man, and he shot Nate a lecherous grin. “Honey, I’m home.”

More shivers cascaded over Nate. “And how was your mission, dear?”

“A total success,” Reeve said as he opened his pants right there in the doorway. Thankfully, sounds of the vehicle leaving came just before Reeve said, “So get over here on your knees and suck my dick. Darling.”

Nate grinned and took his shirt off as he walked over. Reeve’s hungry blue gaze raked over Nate’s body and followed him down onto his knees. Nate maintained eye contact as he eased Reeve’s underwear down over the bulge of his cock. It sprang free, pointing at him, and he grinned as he stuck out his tongue to give it a lick.

“Suck, Nathaniel.”

“In a minute.”

But of course Reeve grabbed Nate’s head, fisted his hair. “Open your mouth.”

Nate did, eagerly, and Reeve slid himself slowly between Nate’s lips and across his tongue. Now Nate’s eyes fluttered shut as he relaxed his throat and took every inch of Reeve’s cock. The musky male tang of him burst in Nate’s mouth, making him salivate for more. When Nate’s nose just touched ticklish little hairs, Reeve moaned low and deep and suspended Nate right there. Any tension Nate had from the work he’d done today bled right out of him as he hung there, waiting.

When Reeve withdrew, Nate looked up and breathed, but his eyes shut again as Reeve started shallowly thrusting in and out of Nate’s mouth. He sucked on each withdrawal and wiggled his tongue all over with each push in. With one hand massaging Reeve’s ass cheek, Nate reached down and rhythmically pressed the seam of his sweatpants against his aching cock. Would Reeve come like this, fill Nate’s mouth to overflowing, or would he spin Nate around and fuck him right here in the doorway?

But Nate suddenly knew what he wanted and how he was going to get it. With a wicked grin, he pulled away, stood, and sprinted for the bedroom.

He heard a growl behind him as he crawled across the bed, shoved his sweats down over his ass, and reached for the lube. A second later, a hundred and fifty pounds of cranky cat tackled him from behind. He went utterly still when he felt Reeve’s fangs grip the meat of his shoulder.

“Shift back, baby,” Nate whispered, “and you can fuck me. You gotta shift back, though.”

Reeve made a grumbling sort of noise and backed off. It wasn’t that Nate had been afraid, but yikes, the teeth were new. Reeve hadn’t broken skin, of course, and yet the threat had been there. Nate grinned a little at learning there was a limit to how far he could push his horny kitty if he didn’t want scars.

Suddenly, damp sandpaper scraped across Nate’s balls and right over his hole, too. He yelped a bit and looked back to see cougar-Reeve squint at him over the curve of Nate’s ass. He licked him again, and Nate nearly lost it. “You keep doing that, and I’ll come,” he warned.

Reeve shifted back, apparently with the purpose of smacking Nate’s ass. Hard. While he gasped, Reeve said, “You know how close you just came to getting mauled?”

“Fun mauled or messy mauled?”

Reeve rolled his eyes and snatched the lube from Nate’s hand. “I guess since you’re my mate and all that it would be the fun kind, but you’re sort of an idiot for tempting the cat.”

Before Nate could do more than chuckle at him, Reeve slicked his dick, aimed, and pushed into him. Nate arched and eased back onto Reeve’s cock, the two of them working him deeper as fast as Nate’s body would allow. The second Reeve was mostly in, he started thrusting hard. Nate groaned in delight at being taken so roughly and started going down onto his elbows. Reeve grabbed him and with both hands on Nate’s shoulders, he pulled Nate back as he thrust forward, the smack of their skin loud in the room. But not as loud as Nate’s ecstatic wailing.

Perfect. Reeve was perfect for him. “You’re mine,” Nate said. “Fucking mine.”

“Yeah, I am. Come with me, baby. C’mon.”

Nate stroked himself with the same brutal demand as Reeve fucked him. In moments, he was soaring, his voice catching, and then he came in great bursts of burning heat. He wailed and clenched and felt Reeve’s fingers biting into his muscles as he held on tight and came deep inside Nate. Reeve didn’t roar, but his deep bellow was close enough to make Nate grin.

Reeve eased out of Nate, and the cat came back. Nate flopped onto his side and smiled as cougar-Reeve grunted and wiggled around, rubbing himself all over Nate. He paused and licked at the wet spot on the bed, but Nate petting his soft ears brought his attention back to Nate. The big, silly cat licked Nate’s neck and his cheek, making Nate chuckle, before he was suddenly laid on. Which was honestly pretty decadent since Reeve’s fur was so soft and Nate’s naked skin adored the feel of him.

“Big kitty baby,” Nate whispered and hugged Reeve to his chest.

In seconds, Reeve shifted back to his human form and stayed cuddled up to Nate as he sighed. Nate kissed Reeve’s temple, marveling at the many sides to Reeve and loving all of them.

The End

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