Mate Bond – Jennifer Ashley

The Shifter groupie was new. Kenzie had never seen her before, anyway. The woman stood with a knot of friends who’d clumped together for reassurance but turned excited gazes toward the male Shifters roaming the roadhouse tonight. Kenzie watched Bowman size up the woman while he appeared to be merely leaning on the bar talking to his friends. She saw him conclude, as Kenzie had, that the new girl wasn’t a real groupie. No one but Kenzie would have known, given Bowman’s posture, that he’d even noticed the woman. He rested both elbows on the bar as he conversed with Cade on one side of him, Jamie on the other. Even as they laughed and joked, Cade, his second, and Jamie, one of his trackers, kept a little space between themselves and their leader. Bowman dominated the whole damn place without even standing upright. His casual position stretched his jeans over his great ass, outlining narrow hips and strong legs, one knee bent as he rested his motorcycle-booted foot on the lower rail of the bar. His black T-shirt was smoothed over his broad shoulders, outlining every muscle from neck to shoulder blades and all the way down his spine. Kenzie couldn’t take her eyes off him. She absently held an untasted bottle of beer, half listening to two of her female cousins chatter. Bowman turned his head to say something to Cade, giving Kenzie a glimpse of his strong, square jaw and the nose he considered too large for his face but Kenzie thought just right. He was a wolf, after all.

Bowman’s gray eyes flashed at something Cade said, a quick ripple of a smile tipping his mouth. A strong mouth, equally good at snarling orders or kissing. He was going to teach the fake groupie, whoever she was, a lesson, Kenzie deduced from his quick glance in the woman’s direction. Would be fun to watch . and painful too. Bowman pushed himself off the bar, giving a nod to those around him. Cade, a big grizzly Shifter, acknowledged it without moving. Cade and Bowman, in spite of being different species, were so wired to each other that they communicated without words or even gestures. Kenzie’s heart squeezed as she watched Bowman walk in a slow, even pace to the new young woman. The fake ears the girl wore were wolf instead of cat—a signal she was into Lupines—and both she and one of her friends had wolf tails fastened to their backsides.

When the friend saw Bowman coming over, she started excitedly patting the new girl’s arm. Bowman could charm. Didn’t Kenzie know it? Just by walking toward them, he had the cluster of young women smiling, beaming, melting at his feet, before he even spoke. The new young woman imitated her friends, but there was something calculating in her eyes, watchful. She might be a reporter, come to dish the dirt on the Shifter groupie scene, or she could be an informer for the human police. When Bowman gave the new girl a jerk of his chin to follow him, the true groupies dissolved into excited laughter mixed with looks of furious envy. Kenzie knew how they felt. She set down her beer, told her cousin Bianca she was using the ladies’—alone—and walked away. She knew she wasn’t fooling them. The other two Shifter women exchanged knowing looks and let her go.

They knew way too much about Kenzie—everyone in Shiftertown did. Bowman and the groupie had reached the darkest part of the parking lot by the time Kenzie emerged. It was cold; a North Carolina winter at its peak. The roadhouse was ten miles from Shiftertown, halfway between Asheville and the Tennessee border, popular on a Saturday night. Kenzie heard the two before she saw them. Bowman’s voice, imprinted on her heart, came to her from a deep shadow between the generator-run lights. “So you want to be with a Shifter, do you?” He was growling, and it was not really a question. The woman answered nervously, her high-pitched voice grating on Kenzie’s nerves. Kenzie didn’t pay much attention to her actual words—the woman’s tone said she was afraid of Bowman but determined to get her story, whatever that story happened to be. Kenzie edged close enough to be in scent range of Bowman, which meant the woman’s cloying perfume came to her loud and clear.

Why did human women douse themselves like that? Made Kenzie want to sneeze. She knew Bowman would be able scent Kenzie skulking in the darkness, even over the perfume. She also knew Bowman wouldn’t care that she was there. Those thoughts hurt, but Kenzie remained in the shadows, watching. “Shifters are dangerous, sweetheart,” Bowman was saying. He leaned against the back of a dusty SUV and stretched out his long legs, crossing them at the ankles. Bowman’s arms were folded, both shutting himself off and giving the groupie and Kenzie a view of his sculpted muscles. He hadn’t bothered with a coat—Bowman often didn’t. “Better be sure you know what you’re getting into.” He was angry, even if his slow drawl didn’t betray it.

He hated anyone spying on his Shifters, and with good reason. The young woman couldn’t scent his fury as Kenzie did, but some instinct inside her knew to be worried. “I’ve always wanted to do a Lupine.” The pseudo-groupie was trying to sound as though she stalked Shifters to have sex with them all the time, but Kenzie—and Bowman—knew better. Bowman remained silent and motionless for a long moment, while the girl grew more and more nervous. Then Bowman moved—the movement was slow and casual, but all the more devastating for that. He reached down and undid his belt, the clink of it coming to Kenzie. Next, she heard the whisper of his jeans’ zipper. Kenzie froze, riveted in place, as Bowman languidly slid his jeans and underwear halfway down his thighs and leaned back again on the SUV. Kenzie couldn’t breathe.

His half-lifted shirt showed a slice of hard abdomen, and his large Shifter cock stood straight up between his strong, sun-bronzed legs. The brush of dark hair that cradled his shaft was lost in shadow, but Kenzie knew exactly what he looked like. The young woman made a strangled sound that Kenzie wanted to echo. Bowman erect was a beautiful sight. “Come on, sweetheart,” Bowman said impatiently. “I haven’t got all night.” The young woman opened and closed her mouth a couple times and took a few shaky steps backward. “I don’t . I don’t know.” Bowman came off the SUV with a suddenness only a Shifter could manage.

One moment he was reclining, ready, and the next he was nearly on top of the woman, his big hands on her shoulders. “Here’s what I know,” he said in a fierce voice. “You came to look at Shifters, for whatever reason. So here I am. We look human, but we aren’t—not even close.” His jeans were still around his knees, his tight backside bare under the lights of the parking lot. But he didn’t look ridiculous— Bowman never could. He was as decadent and enticing as ever. Kenzie’s mating need, never very far away, flared. The groupie’s words choked in her throat, her nervousness turning to full-blown fear.

“I wanted . I just wanted to talk . ” Bowman shoved her away. “I know what you wanted.” He leaned down and pulled up his jeans, taking his time. “You wanted to come here and get all up in our shit and go tell the world about it. I don’t know if you’re a reporter or a detective or a do-gooder, but I want you out of here, away from my Shifters.” The pseudo-groupie had the presence of mind to point out the obvious. “You don’t own this place. This isn’t Shiftertown.

You can’t tell me to leave.” Her breathless groupie eagerness had gone, replaced by the hard, nasally voice of a woman who liked having her own way. Bowman wasn’t impressed. His hands clamped down on her shoulders again, and a very wolf growl came out of his throat. “I might not own the bar.” His voice went low, as it did when he was truly angry. “But I know the owner, and he doesn’t like people coming here and giving Shifters trouble. Let me give you a tip— I’m way nicer than he is. So get out, or I’ll let him and his bouncers take you off the property in a more forceful way.” “Now you’re threatening me?” Bowman said nothing.

He only looked at the pseudo-groupie, and Kenzie scented the wolf in him getting ready to come out. Bowman was careful, but he was still pretty close to wild, and he didn’t like his authority challenged in any way. He hadn’t said so—the woman wouldn’t understand—but Bowman considered this roadhouse to be part of his territory. Humans might have confined Shifters to Shiftertowns and restricted them from owning places like this bar, but true Shifter territory stretched from one Shiftertown to the next. There was another Shiftertown far to the west of them in the middle of Tennessee, and Bowman considered that his territory ended about fifty miles from that, where the other leader’s territory began. By Shifter thinking, Bowman had a perfect right to sling this woman out. Humans wouldn’t see it that way though. The woman started to reach for something in her purse. Pepper spray? A gun? Bowman caught her hand, his growl rumbling across the empty parking lot, vibrating the ground. Shit.

If Bowman hurt the woman, or even scared her bad enough, the human cops would be all over this place in a heartbeat. Bowman would be dragged away in cuffs spelled to contain Shifters, and probably every Shifter in the roadhouse would be arrested along with him. Only one thing to do. Kenzie hurried out of the shadows, making for the two of them. At the last minute, she slowed and pretended to be out for a nonchalant stroll. She put a sway in her hips as she eased herself up to Bowman and draped her arm around his neck. The heat of him came to her, along with his wild scent. The strength of him quivering under her touch made Kenzie flush with warmth. Bowman’s entire body went rigid. No one touched an alpha when he was at the height of his anger, especially not when he was this close to shifting.

No one but his mate. “Hey, Bowman,” Kenzie said, letting her voice drawl in a sultry way. “You seeing someone else now? I’m going to get jealous.”

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