Authors: Lynn Tyler
Tags: #Gay Romance, #Werewolves & Shifters, #Lgbt
Michael and Justin have come to an understanding. They’ve admitted their love for each other but Michael still struggles with commitment issues.
As their mating date looms ever closer, Justin worries the man he loves might just run away. Or worse, trap himself in a mating he doesn’t want.
But when it comes down to it, Declan knows exactly what they need.
Sweat trickled down Michael’s temple, his heart raced and his lungs struggled for oxygen. The cool bottle of water sat just out of his reach and he could almost feel the blessed liquid wetting his mouth and running down his throat.
“Easy, man,” Gray said from behind him. “Don’t make me perform CPR on you or anything crazy like that. I’m off the clock.”
Michael grunted but slowed his pace. The treadmill’s display showed that he’d been running all out for five kilometers.
“Nice to know you care so much about me,” he panted.
Gray snorted. “You know I’d do anything for you.”
Wiping the sweat off his forehead, Michael hopped off the treadmill and turned to face his best friend. Gray sat on the weight bench, munching on a cookie.
“Hey,” he protested. “I thought you said Shannon made those for me.”
“Sharing is caring,” Gray replied with a cheeky grin.
They both froze as sniffling sounded from the baby monitor on the ledge. “Didn’t Faith just go down for a nap?”
Gray let out a long sigh when the baby settled. “Yes. She’s been teething, though, and hasn’t been sleeping well. Thanks for letting me set her up in your spare room. Shannon really didn’t want to take her shopping.”
“No worries. How is Honor doing in kindergarten?”
They chatted about Gray’s three nieces while he moved to the weight bench, nudging Gray out of the way. “I still can’t believe you’re sitting there eating cookies,
cookies by the way, while I’m working myself to the bone. How do you stay so fit?”
“Never underestimate how much of a workout it is to wrestle a drunk or high patient back into a gurney in the emergency room. Besides, Dr. Peckerhead seems to think the ER nurses are his personal assistants. He likes to send us on errands. And no one complains because we’re so happy to get away from him.”
Michael grimaced. “He’s a dick.”
Michael felt his best friend’s eyes boring into his back as he reset the weight on the bar. He wasn’t out to kill himself, just give his muscles a nice stretch.
He’d completed exactly twenty reps when Gray asked the question he’d been waiting for, “You ready for the big day?”
“Sure. It’s not like it’s a big deal. Justin and I have been living together for months now. I can’t get much more committed than I already am.”
He kept his eyes closed. Gray had a way of getting into his personal space, of making him look into his eyes and spill the truth.
“It’s not a big deal?” his friend echoed. “I guess. But it’s not every day a guy gets mated.”
Mated. There was that word Michael had hoped Gray wouldn’t say.
Something in him snapped and he dropped the bar onto the supports with a clang.
Gray was at his side in less than a second, cookie abandoned. “Mikey? You okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.” He hauled his tired body upright. “Actually, I’m not fine.”
Nerves knotted his stomach. The pressure behind his eyes threatened to blow up his skull yet, weirdly enough, his head didn’t actually hurt.
A careful hand settled on his shoulder. “Want to talk about it?”
His spine curved until his head hung low and his elbows braced against his knees, keeping him from sliding to the floor. “I’m scared.”
He brought his hands up to cover his face. His eyes were hot, prickling. He remembered his father screaming at him, telling him men didn’t cry, that he’d been given was worthless piece of shit for a son.
He fought the memory. He’d lived in shame over his sexuality, over his father’s disappointment and final betrayal, until Justin had flown in.
The thought of his lover brought a smile to his face. Before Justin, he’d simply gone about living life, closed off from everyone except Gray, who’d refused to let him build a wall between them.
Justin, though…Justin was a breath of fresh air. He’d been enamored with the lawyer for months. Justin knew the fine balance between serious and playful. He could be damn mean when he needed to but was always ready with a smile for him.
Whenever things got too hard in life, he only needed to look for the blond eagle and everything was right again.
And the sex. Oh, holy shit, the sex was unbelievable.
His friend’s voice broke through his thoughts. Her jerked his head up and blinked at Gray. “Sorry?”
Gray smirked at him. “I was going to ask why you’re scared but it looks like you’re over that.” He nodded toward Michael’s crotch.
Well, goddamn. He had a huge boner. Once upon a time, he would have been embarrassed but it was a normal occurrence these days.
“I think scared is the wrong word,” he answered. “I really don’t want to have sex in front of Declan and Quinn. Something about that seems so wrong.”
“You’ve been to plenty of mating ceremonies,” Gray pointed out. “I didn’t see you complaining.”
Michael stood up and stretched. “I know. It seems so impersonal. And I’d rather keep that part of Justin and I private.”
His friend nodded, reaching for another cookie. He broke it in half and handed one side to Michael. “I get it. You’d prefer a completely private moment with Justin instead of having the Alpha witness it. Why don’t you just tell Dec? He’s fond of you. He’ll let you do whatever you want.”
“There’s been too many private matings recently,” he broke off to stare pointedly at his friend. “Mating ceremonies are like the backbone to a good pack.”
Gray goggled at him. “You don’t really believe that shit, do you? Mating ceremonies are an excuse for a party. They’re also Quinn’s excuse to order Chinese food.”
“I guess,” Michael said. “It doesn’t matter, though. It’s a little late to change everything and Justin’s pretty happy with what’s been planned.”
His friend frowned but the baby started squawking, quickly morphing from indignant whines to shrieks of anger. Gray shoved the rest of the cookie in his mouth and pointed at him. “Think about what I said.”
Justin struggled with the giant shopping bag of clothes his secretary had brought in. She’d taken a shine to Gray Mitchell’s little nieces and had marched a whole wardrobe for them into the office, declaring that she only had grandsons and it had been a pleasure to shop for little girls.
He stumbled up the porch steps, kicking the door with the tip of his boot since his hands were otherwise occupied.
The door swung open, revealing a grave Hope.
“Hello,” she whispered.
“Hi, sweetie. Are you supposed to be opening the door?”
A delighted squeal sounded from somewhere in the depths of the house and the little girl’s mouth pulled into a pout. “Uncle Shannon said I could answer it.”
A big fat tear slid down her cheek. He dropped his bags and reached down to stroke it off her face. “What’s the matter?”
“It’s not fair,” she wailed.
Thoroughly confused, he crouched and tried to gather the wiggling little girl into his arms. “What’s not fair?”
“Don’t worry,” a deep voice said from above.
Shannon grinned down at him and scooped Hope up. “She’s a little put out since Quinn found her first. They’re playing hide and seek.”
“Ah,” Justin responded.
“Come on in,” the tiger invited. “What’s all this?”
He explained his secretary’s fondness for the girls as he hauled one of the bags over the threshold.
“Why don’t you go help Quinn find the twins?” Shannon suggested to Hope, setting her on her feet.
The little girl took off, cackling like a mad woman.
“Wow,” Justin said. “She went from
the world is ending
the world is mine
“Yeah. Gray and I are pretty sure she’s going to take over the world one day. He’s already saying he feels sorry for her boyfriends.”
The tiger reached around him and picked up another bag. “I’ll have to bring the girls in to say thanks. Maybe when you get back from your vacation. I never did find out where you guys are going.”
He followed Shannon into the kitchen, dumping the bags in the corner and waving at Quinn, Declan and Gray in the family room. It was comical to see the three grown werewolves trying to corral five small children.
“We decided on a staycation,” he said. “With all the renovations, we haven’t had time to really enjoy the house.”
“And, by enjoy, you mean make full use of that gigantic hot tub, I’m guessing. Thanks for installing that inside, by the way.” He shot Justin a cheeky grin. “I wouldn’t want Gray to be scarred for life if we walked up while you guys were getting it on outside. The sight of his best friend having some sexy time might give him a stroke.”
Jealousy bubbled hotly in his stomach. He did his best to clear the emotion from his mind, but Shannon looked at him with a raised brow. Damn shifter sense of smell.
He shrugged before the tiger could question him. “So I’m a little envious of how easy Gray and Michael get along. No big deal.”
“Gray’s not the only one you’re jealous of,” Quinn said as he came up the stairs with a toddle on his hip.
Taggart laid his head on his father’s shoulder. The little eagle shifter stuck his thumb in his mouth and stared at him solemnly.
Justin tore his gaze from the child and met Quinn’s eyes. “Well, the two of them do have some kind of unspoken bond. It doesn’t bother you at all? I mean, he can even get Michael to relax when I can’t.”
“Eagles don’t have the same pack structure we do. You’ve never been compelled to follow an Alpha. But when Declan tells Michael to relax, he can’t help but obey.” The omega bounced the toddler slightly, coaxing a small smile from the little boy.
Justin let out a frustrated sigh. “I get it. I really do. But you have to admit there’s something deeper to their relationship. And before you tell me how he genuinely thinks of Michael as a brother, I already know. But it’s a piece of Michael I don’t get to see.”
“And since you’ve let him in completely, it bothers you that there’s still a wall around Michael’s heart, even though it’s so small, it’s hardly noticeable.”
“God, you’re scary,” Justin said. “Any time you want to come to shifter negotiations with me, you’re more than welcome.”
The omega wolf preened, clearly deciding to take his comment as a compliment. “Thank you. But you understand there’s nothing romantic between Michael and either Dec or Gray, right?”
Declan mounted the stairs with Isabella hanging onto him like a little monkey. “I’ll pretend I haven’t heard your conversation. Listen, since you’ll be mating into the pack, you need to swear loyalty to me as your Alpha. I’d prefer to do it now. Michael is pretty stressed and I don’t want him to worry about anything else.”
There was the jealously again, thick and burning. “I’ve noticed he’s been stressed. Do you know why? Every time I bring it up, he tells me not to worry about it.”
And then fucks me blind so I don’t remember to be worried.
The Alpha smiled gently. “Mikey loves you very much and he wants to be mated. I’m not sure why he’s so stressed.”
Someone cleared their throat.
“I think you should talk to Michael. Like,
talk to him about what kind of mating he wants. Don’t let him distract you.”
Justin raised an eyebrow because, really, how did Gray know about Michael’s favorite way of distracting him? “Do you realize how hard it is not to get distracted when Michael is determined to change the subject?”
Gray’s eyes widened. “No. Can you please refrain from sharing that little piece of information? There are little ears around. Seriously, man, too much information.”
Instead of sneering at his lover’s best friend, he settled for a polite nod. Gray meant well. He just didn’t like sharing Michael.
Shannon patted his shoulder. “Don’t worry. You’ll feel better after the two of you are mated.”
The tiger smiled. “The jealousy might not go away completely but mating will take the edge off it. Or at least it did for me. You’ll know without a doubt that he’s completely yours.”
His eagle shifted restlessly at the back of his mind at the reminder that Michael could still decide to run. But he’d rather have Michael run than have the man stuck in a mating he didn’t want. “I’ll talk to him.”
Quinn promptly shoved his son at his mate and Justin found himself wrapped in the omega’s warm embrace. “I can feel your fear. He won’t run, I promise. He’s too in love with you.”
He closed his arms loosely around the blond wolf, aware that Quinn still had some problems with being touched unexpectedly. “Thanks, Quinn. I’m not afraid that he’ll run. I’m afraid that he won’t tell me the truth.”
Taggart squawked from Declan’s hip and reached for the omega again, who took him easily. “Just do what Gray says and talk to him.”
He squared his shoulders. He was good at talking. It’s what he did for a living. He just wasn’t good at ignoring his lover’s attempt to change the subject.