Authors: Tianna Xander
Tags: #Paranormal, #Erotic Romance, #Shapeshifter, #Ménage
“Well…now that they’ve heard you say you have no money, each of them will order you something. You don’t want them to waste their money, do you?”
“I don’t understand. Why would they order me something? They don’t even know me.”
“It doesn’t matter, hon. You’re a woman. A lone woman never pays for anything in this town.”
“That’s just weird. Why don’t they pay for anything?”
“Well,” she said, pulling her pad and pen from her pocket. “I think it all stems back to when the founders first settled here. They didn’t have many women and any woman that happened into town that weren’t already taken, were…courted. The men bought everything for them.”
Stacia’s stomach clenched when she thought of Noah and his total lack of worry about her financial situation. What if they lured outsiders here and held them until they’d brainwashed them to stay?
“They don’t…” She paused to lick her lips, almost afraid to ask the question. “They don’t hold them captive, do they?”
The woman laughed. “I don’t believe you just asked me that. Of course no one holds people captive here.” She sobered after a moment. “Well…not anymore, at any rate.”
“Oh, God.” Stacia stood with the intention to run from the establishment and leave this town on foot, if that’s what it took to get away from these crazy people. “I have to go.”
She’d almost reached the door when the door opened and Ronan walked into the restaurant, Noah behind him.
Ronan’s gaze burned a trail over her body. If she didn’t know better, she would have thought she stood before him naked. She looked down, just to make sure. Nope. Her clothes covered her exactly how they should.
“Stop looking at me like that.” She frowned. “You’ll give me a complex.”
“I have no idea what you mean.” He stared at her, his expression intense. “How am I looking at you?”
He knew what that look did to her. She could tell by the way his lips quirked up at the corners. “Like you’ve just entered a diner and spotted lunch.”
“Well,” he said, raising his brow. “We
just walk into a diner.”
“Okay. Bad example,” she said waving her hand in a dismissive gesture. But you know what I mean.”
He gestured to the booth she’d just vacated. “Shall we sit and talk? We’ll buy you lunch and explain to you what’s going on. You’ve misunderstood.”
Noah opened his mouth to say something, but pressed his lips together and kept his mouth shut, instead.
Crossing her arms, she scowled at them. “I don’t think so. There’s no way you can convince me that you were on your death bed yesterday and today you’re up and walking around without so much as a scratch.”
“Stacia, I wasn’t pretending. I
was attacked by that bear. How can you deny seeing it? You saw my injuries. They were real. I heal fast because—”
“Oh, don’t give me that crap, Ronan.”
“It’s not crap, dear.” Sarah interjected from behind her. “I don’t mean to butt in, but you need to listen to these two. What they’re about to tell you could change your life—most likely for the better.”
Stacia spun around and faced the older woman with a scowl. “What do you know about it?
didn’t see the incredible act these two put on along with their friends, yesterday. Unless…” she thinned her lips. “You’re in on their elaborate scam to make me think he was dying from his so-called injuries.”
“You really should have a seat, sweetheart. Let them explain.”
She stared at the woman. What the hell. Why not? It wasn’t as though she had to believe them. Maybe if they thought she
, it would make her escape easier—and there was no doubt that she must escape.
It was as though this town was some sort of black hole, swallowing up the women unfortunate enough to find themselves here.
The waitress gestured to a seat. Stacia stared at her for a moment. She couldn’t understand how the woman could stick up for these men the way she did. Had they brainwashed her?
“Just go back to the table and sit down. I’ll bring you all something to eat. In the meantime, they can explain just how things are here in Paradise.
Sarah led her back to the table she’d vacated before the men arrived. “Sit down and I’ll be back with a cup of coffee to start you out.”
“I don’t have any money,” Stacia reminded her.
“I’m buying,” both Ronan and Noah said at the same time and then glanced at each other with a shrug.
With a sigh, Stacia sat down. “What the hell. Why not?” She repeated the phrase as much for her benefit as theirs. Hearing the words out loud helped her put things in perspective. Even the men hadn’t said she had to believe them. They asked her to listen. That was all.
Giving a one shoulder shrug, she added, “Okay. Whatever.”
Stacia didn’t intend to believe a word these people said, and a meal in her empty stomach would give her the strength she’d need to get away from this crazy town.
They might not want to harm her, but the men in this backward town could stand to learn a
about women’s rights.
“Okay, I’ll bite.” She rested her forearms on the table and laced her fingers together. “Why do you heal so quickly?” She stared at Ronan, expecting to see him struggle for a plausible answer.
“We’re shape shifters.” He shrugged. “Almost everyone in town is, as a matter of fact.”
“Bullshit.” Stacia clapped her hand to her mouth. She did her best not to curse out loud. That she’d regressed to swearing was just another reason for her to get out of here as fast as she could.
“I’d think the same, if I were you,” he said with a chuckle. “But it doesn’t make it any less true.”
.” Now she knew that they probably weren’t liars, after all. Each of them most likely believed everything they said. They were insane. All of them!
Sarah returned with their coffee and a dish holding several flavors of creamer. “Have you thought about what you might like to eat, or shall I just get you all a bunch of today’s specials?”
“Stacia glanced up at the sign advertising the day’s meals. “I’ll take a special, please.” She usually loved meatloaf.
“We’ll have the same,” Ronan said. He glanced at Noah. “Unless you’d rather have something else…”
Noah shook his head. “Nope. I love Sarah’s meatloaf.”
The woman left again and the men took the opportunity to attempt to convince her again.
“The founders of Paradise moved here to avoid persecution. We’re not positive, but we think they made their way west during the witch hunts.” Ronan took a sip of his coffee, made a face and added a teaspoon of sugar. “The alpha family is still going through the town records they found several years ago. They’d been stored in a hidden archive below Alpha House for Gods only knows how long.”
“They’re finding things they never knew existed. Other towns with other shifters are scattered all over North America. There are even a few in South America and Europe,” Noah added.
“You guys are serious.” Stacia stared at them. “I don’t believe that you guys really believe what you’re saying.”
“Hey, Sarah,” Noah called as he leaned back in his chair. “Can we use your office for a bit?”
“Sure!” she called from the kitchen. “While you’re busy in there, I’ll just see to my other guests.”
Stacia glanced at the two men that Sarah had said would buy her meal if she didn’t have money. She’d forgotten about them. “Aren’t you afraid someone will hear you talking this crazy stuff and have you both committed?”
“Why would they?” Ronan glanced at them and waved. “They’re shifters, too.”
Almost afraid to look, Stacia glanced their way. The two men smiled and waved. “Oh, God. Is the entire town crazy?”
Both Ronan and Noah stood and gestured toward the back of the restaurant. Let’s go to the office and we’ll show you.”
Laughing almost hysterically, Stacia shook her head. “I’m not going anywhere with you crazy people. If everyone in town is a shifter, then what’s to hide?”
Not everyone in town is a shifter, but everyone who
in town knows about shifters. However, Paradise has a few businesses that draw outsiders to the area.” Noah shrugged. “But if you want us to show you right here, that’s fine by me.”
Before she could blink, Noah disappeared and in his place sat a huge black jaguar. It looked just like the one that attacked, the bear, only it was a bit smaller.
She glanced over where Ronan once stood and in his place was another impossibly huge black jaguar, wearing Ronan’s clothes.
“Oh. My. God.” She alternated her gaze between them. “You were telling me the truth. All this time you were telling me the truth and I didn’t believe you.”
Sarah carried their dinner out on a large round tray. “Hey! Do that in the office or outside. I serve food in here.”
Another blink and the two men stood before her, smiling. She scowled. “I have no idea what you have to smile about.” She glared at Ronan. “You could have rabies now, for all we know.”
“I doubt it. We don’t get diseases and we don’t carry them.” Ronan leaned forward and lowered his voice. Otherwise Noah would have used a condom when he made love to you last night.”
Stacia’s face burned. Heck her entire body felt as hot as the sun. “He
you about that?” Turning, she glared at Noah. “Didn’t your daddy ever teach you not to kiss and tell?”
Noah pushed his plate away and leaned back in his chair. “I’ve never had better cooking than Sarah’s.” He rubbed his stomach. It burned. The heat returned with a vengeance. He needed his mate again, but he would have to wait. Tonight was Ronan’s night.
He’d taken her the night before. Smiling, he remembered fucking her in every way imaginable. It was a miracle she wasn’t walking funny.
“You’ve led a sheltered life if restaurant food is some of the best you’ve ever had.” Stacia shook her head. “Wait until you’ve had my spaghetti.”
Both he and Ronan leaned forward. “You cook?” they asked at the same time.
“Of course I can cook. I love to cook.”
“A woman after my own heart,” Noah said with a smile.
“So…” Noah said as he stood. “Can we continue this conversation at the lodge, or better yet, our house?”
“I’m not sure I should go home with you two.” Stacia shook her head. “After all, I still think your entire town is off its rocker. Why should I trust you?”
“Because,” Noah replied. “You’re going to find this difficult to believe, but we both care for you. We know it’s only been a little over a day, but our beasts know their mate when they smell her.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You’re our mate, Stacia.”
“Whose mate?” she glanced at Noah. I don’t even know you and you’re saying that your cat side is saying that I’m supposed to be its mate?” She shook her head and held up her hand. “Whoa, there, mister. I’m nobody’s mate. I’m a human being.”
“Yes, you are.” He stared at her for a minute before glancing toward Ronan.
I’m botching this up. Do you want to take over?
Hell, I’ll probably do a worse job than you are.
Ronan shook his head.
A cool breeze blew across the back of Noah’s neck and he turned.
“Hello, guys.” Gemma waved from the door. Her mates, Merrick and Matt, stood on either side of her. “Do you mind if we join you?”
Noah could have kissed the woman if it wouldn’t have gotten him into a passel of trouble with her mates. “Not at all. Have a seat.” He gestured to the chairs at the table next to them.
Gemma pulled up a chair next to Stacia. “Hi! I hope you had a good night’s sleep last night.” She smiled.
Stacia turned as red as the checks on the placemats. “I, uh, yes. Yes, as a matter of fact, I slept like a baby.”
“Good.” She turned to her men. “They were sure you didn’t sleep a wink.” She turned her attention back to Stacia. “But I was sure you were. No human woman can stand up to shifter lovemaking for very long.”
“How would you know?” Stacia stared at her for a moment, her eyes narrowed.
human until a few years ago.” Gemma smiled. “I can imagine what you’re thinking. My sisters and I thought this was a crazy place when we first came here, too. But we got used to it.” She shrugged. “I imagine it was easier for us because we were still kids and the idea of living in a town filled with magic was something we had only dreamed about.”
“Magic?” Stacia gave Noah and Ronan equal glances. “Not only can you shift shape, but you have some sort of magic, too?” She shook her head, put her elbows on the table and rested her head in her hands. “Of course you have magic. How else could you shift your shape from human to animal and back again fully clothed without some sort of magic?”
Noah watched Stacia, hoping she could come to terms with all of this. He needed her. Ronan needed her. They didn’t want to ask their friends to put them down. Yet, that was what they must do if she refused their suit.
He glanced at Ronan, noticing the fine lines around his friend’s mouth and Noah realized that he was the lucky one. He’d made love to Stacia last night while Ronan healed.
Ronan, on the other hand, had no such comfort. Noah knew beyond a doubt that his wild night with their mate last night had bought him a few days of sanity. His best friend wouldn’t be so lucky.
Noah watched Stacia as she lifted her gaze to meet his. Gods, how he wanted her. Every breath he took filled him with her scent. When he looked at her, his body clenched and his cock grew harder. It took every ounce of willpower he possessed to keep himself from shaking with the need to take her again and again.
“I want to believe you.” She reached up, pushed her beautiful sable hair from her face and licked her lips. “I really do.” She sat back in her chair. “All my life I wanted to belong to someone—belong
someone. I’ve been alone most of my life.”
Stacia met his gaze before she turned her attention back to Ronan. “How can I convince myself this is true? What do I tell myself to make myself believe I can have it all?” Laughing, she closed her eyes and shook her head. “I want to believe you two so much I ache with it.”