Publication Date: May 12, 2016
Series: Moonrising #2
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Other books in the series.
Accepting the Moon (Moonrising Prequel)
Midnight Moonrising (Moonrising #1)
Wednesday, February 4th 2015 5:42 p.m. PST
Las Vegas, Nevada
“Do it again,” I demanded.
I could feel Andromeda trying to give up emotionally, as well as physically, but I pushed her harder. I knew what her body and mind were capable of, and we were nowhere near her breaking point. She was a lot stronger than she thought she was.
Our connection, as we both liked to refer to the bond, seemed to be growing stronger, rather than weaker, like Andromeda had hoped it would. She wanted to find a way to reverse the ritual.
She could feel my every emotion and hear my every thought—unless I blocked the telepathy—but it worked both ways, so she could keep me out of her mind, too. Unfortunately, we couldn’t block the emotions.
I felt each and every happy memory she’d had with Phoenix and each and every sad moment she’d had without him. The only time she wasn’t thinking about him was when we were training. So I planned to make her train. A lot.
This damn rollercoaster of feelings was literally driving me insane. I had never in all my life felt as much as I had in the last week, and I hated it. Me… with one girl… forever… I rolled my eyes at the absurdity that my life had become in only the blink of an eye. But as crazy as that all sounded, and even though I had in no way asked or planned for any of it, I couldn’t bring myself to hate the fact that I was finally ready to settle down.
I blocked Andromeda’s kick, grabbed her shoe and threw her to her back on the workout mat. Grinning down at her furious, pale-green eyes, I offered her my hand.
She huffed as she got to her feet on her own, looking down as she limped away from me. What a terrible actress. Chaos could have done a better job of fooling me.
I shook my head as my hands came up to rest on my hips. “Don’t give me that shit. It might work on your wolf cubs or even your boyfriend, but you can’t fake it with me, Andra. We’re bonded. I know you’re not hurt, so don’t—”
“I’m tired, Ace—”
“You shouldn’t be tired,” I sneered. “You slept the whole flight here. But for the sake of avoiding a pointless argument, humor me. What are you going to do when you’re in battle and you get tired? Are you going to limp away? What if I’m not there to kill the fucker for you next time?”
“I never asked for this!” she screamed as she whirled around to glare at me, her beautiful eyes brightened by the tears shimmering in them.
“I didn’t, either!” I roared back. She flinched as our emotions tangled together. I knew those tears weren’t there because she was sad, because her fury washed over me like I had been doused with boiling water. The rush of it almost hurt. The anger sucked, but I knew anger. I could deal with anger. Anger was my friend. It was the sadness and the heartbreak and the sappy-frilly-frilly I couldn’t fucking deal with. Unfortunately for me, Andra seemed to be full to the brim with all that shit.
With more effort than I really wanted to put forth with the mood I was in, I waded through her rage, then through my madness and forced calm over us.
This bond was new to us both, but getting it through her thick head that it would be easier on us if she would dump her boyfriend was like trying to breathe under water. I might have understood her side of the argument a little better if she had been dating the vampire longer than a month, and never mind the fact that two of those weeks she was locked in a silver cage as a wolf. They hadn’t even had time to get to know each other. I knew her. She knew me. We had direct contact with each other’s thoughts, memories and emotions, yet she wouldn’t even consider the idea of us being together on an intimate level. I didn’t understand it at all.
After a moment, I held out my hand again. “Come here.” I’d be dead and damned before I went to her, not with how she’d been acting since we left Montgomery, Alabama.
She looked down at my hand and set her jaw. I knew she wanted to touch me just as much as I needed her to, but I also knew by her thoughts that she wouldn’t without a little more encouragement.
“I know you promised Phoenix that you would try to be happy with me, here in Sin City. Do I need to make a call to the High Vampire of Montgomery to let him know you aren’t playing fair, Andra? My first attempt at getting him to break things off with you was just that: my first attempt. You may hate me before this is all over and done with between you and your bloodsucker, but, in the end, you will still need me and you won’t have him. I can live with that. Can you?”
Her lip quivered, and I nearly caved. I couldn’t handle the tears, but I could counteract with a little rage, just enough to give her a taste of how I felt. “Ace—”
“You’re mine, Andra. I’m willing to give you some time to let that soak in, but I won’t wait long.” I hardened my voice to a steely edge, even though she could undoubtedly tell I was serious. She had bonded with me, damn it! She was mine. She didn’t belong to some vampire nearly two thousand miles away. And when he got here, he still wouldn’t have her completely. I had to tamp down the utter rage at Andra’s memories of the vampire in bed with her, his skin sliding against hers, his mouth on my mate’s mouth. Fuck. If she wasn’t going to realize it on her own, I’d have to push the issue. “He can’t have you, Andra. I won’t let that happen.” I said the last part slowly, maybe for dramatic effect or maybe it was because, deep in my heart, I knew it to be true—I wouldn’t let him have her. By the fear in her widening eyes, I could tell she was seeing things from my perspective now. It was about damn time.
“I knew you would do this! I knew you would get me here and try to control me—”
“The only thing I’m trying to do is train you, but you won’t stop thinking of him long enough to concentrate on keeping your lovesick ass alive if this were a real situation!”
“Why do I need to learn how to fight so fast? We’ve barely stopped since we got here. And why haven’t you let me in your mind in two days? You shut me out the moment I asked about Justice.”
I huffed. I couldn’t tell her about Justice yet. If this upset her, I could only imagine how enraged she would be when I told her that I nailed a huge target on her head with our bonding. The worst part was that I knew it before I even did it. I didn’t know how to break the news to her without her hating me for it. Hell, I hated me for it. “I’m not ready to talk about it yet.”
“Well, I’m not ready to stop missing Phoenix yet,” she bit back. “I’ve only been away from my home for a little more than half a day, Ace. Cut me a little slack.”
I guess I was damned and dead, because I took a step forward, reached out and took her hand. The relief was immediate. Our rage subsided and our tempers calmed as if we’d never been angry at all. Our fight seemed so petty now. “I’m sorry. I am trying, Andra, and I will talk to you about Justice soon. I promise. I just have to figure out how to go about doing it the right way.”
She nodded as she wrapped her arms around me, and I looked up to the high ceiling, thanking the good Lord above us that He had given me enough sense to apologize. There was no better feeling in the world than when she was in my arms. It felt like heaven. It was new for me—totally unheard of for me—but I was quickly getting used to it. That in itself was mystifying.
“I’ll understand,” she said, and I lowered my head so that I could whisper in her ear.
“About him. Whatever it is, I’ll understand, Ace.”
God, if that were only true! Sighing heavily, I said, “I hope you will.”
“Were you lovers?”
I blinked rapidly at that. What the fuck? “No!” I had to laugh. Of course she would think something like that! “I’ve never been intimate with Justice… or any other guy, for that matter,” I said in disbelief, and then a smile crept across my face. “I like puss—”
Andra quickly clamped a hand over my mouth. “I hate that word. Call it something else.”
I threw my head back and laughed harder than I had in a long time. After I calmed down enough to speak clearly, I said, “What do you call it?”
Her eyes nearly popped out of her head as she blushed, and then those walls swiftly went up, blocking me out of her mind. Damn it! “I’m not telling you what I call my… my…”
She slapped my chest, and I laughed. “Stop! That sounds so gross to me.”
She did a little shudder-wiggle thing, and I couldn’t stop laughing. I’m serious. It was freaking hilarious watching her squirm over a word I’d said in everyday conversation most of my adult life.
“Okay, we won’t talk about what you call yours. What do you think I should call it in general? I have to call it something.”
“Why do you have to call it anything? People don’t go around talking about hoo-has all day long. You could just leave that particular body part out of your vocabulary altogether,” she said matter-of-factly.
My eyebrows rose as I stared at her in fascination. “Hoo-has?”
“Well, hoo-has is plural, meaning more than one. Hoo-ha is singular, meaning only one.”
Shit! Is she really giving me a grammar lesson on pussy slang?
“I know what singular means, Andra. I’m fairly educated.”
“Oh, then there you go. Hoo-ha and hoo-has.”
Frowning, I shook my head. “I don’t like that word. Call it something else.”
She grinned playfully, mimicking my head shake as she turned to walk away, but I grabbed her wrist and pulled her to me, enclosing her in the iron-like frame of my arms. Her skin—coated in a thin sheen of sweat—slid against mine, bringing to mind all sorts of erotic delights, but I only held her tighter. She stiffened, but she was too distracted to keep her walls intact. We were too close and she wasn’t as experienced with blocking as I was. I felt her desire for me the exact moment I smelled it.
Not only did the lion in me wake up, but the bonded male in me did, too. I wanted her. Bad. But it was too soon. She still had that vampire on a leash and I hadn’t told her my secret. My wants could wait for the perfect time. And there would be a perfect time. I was damn sure of that.
I had her right where I wanted her, though. Her walls were down and she was fully aware of how much she wanted me. The bonding did that to us. The attraction we felt for each other was unavoidable when we were this close. It may have been mean of me to use it to my advantage, but I had to know; she could not leave this room without me knowing. I did exactly what I intended to do from the start and no more. I bent until my lips almost touched hers, and then I dove into her mind. She hadn’t even tried to hide it from me. It was right there, for the taking, what she called her Golden Grotto, her Holy Grail or, in her words, hoo-ha.
I smiled as I whispered, “Kitty-cat.”
Desire left her eyes as she pushed against me. I let her go with a light chuckle.
“You’re an ass, Ace,” Andra said as she avoided looking at me. I could feel her embarrassment and guilt. Yes, guilt was there, too. The fucking vampire was cock-blocking me from seventeen-hundred miles away.
There was no need to bring up the fact that she would have willingly let me pet her kitty-cat if I had only kissed her. There was no vampire here for her to run to now. She wouldn’t have stopped me, but she would have regretted it. I didn’t want her to regret being with me. Ever. I had to play my cards right. There was no folding or losing in this game. I would win.
The gym doors opened, and Slade walked in with Kai, Rogan and Chaos. Chaos ran straight to Andra, and she knelt down to ruffle his ears and baby-talk to him. She was spoiling him, and he was eating it up. I frowned, my mood turning a bit sour at admitting to myself that I was envious of my Rhodesian ridgeback.
“Great timing, assholes,” I grumbled.
Slade’s grin was a mile wide as he watched Andra pet my dog, and then his green eyes cut up to mine, his black eyebrows rising in amusement. He thought it was funny as hell that I’d finally met a woman I liked and she wouldn’t put out. His words, not mine. And what made it worse, I hadn’t even told him. My Beta knew me better than I knew myself most of the time. I guess he could tell by the sexually frustrated look on my mug that I hadn’t gotten any—or any worth bragging about—in a while. I was never, ever telling him what Andra called the cockpit. Hoo-ha… What kind of word is that for something so awesome? The fucker would never let me live down how vanilla she was.
Slade nodded to Andra. “Has Ace been a good host? Are you getting settled in okay?”
She smiled shyly as she gave him a curt nod, but her face was still a little pink from the embarrassment I had caused only a few moments earlier, so I closed the distance between us and took her hand. She squeezed my fingers in response, and I winked at Slade.
“I’ve got it taken care of. She’s staying in my room.”
All three men did a double-take. My dog even looked at me funny. It didn’t surprise me. No female of mine had ever been allowed in my room—not that I kept one for more than a night, but that was beside the point. I took care of my women away from the lion’s den. None of the other pride members who lived here were allowed to bring anyone to the house with them for some kinky play, either. It was best for everyone if humans didn’t know shifters existed. Every Tom, Dick and Harry would grab their pitchforks and hunt us. That’s all we needed, a bunch of simple-minded rednecks who didn’t understand a damn thing about us, trying to become slayers. That wouldn’t do anything except get a bunch of humans killed.
Rogan’s whiskey-colored eyes nearly popped out of their sockets. “Huh?”
“Your room?” Kai said as he swept his shaggy blond mop out of his deep blue eyes so he could see me with both of them. “But you—”
“How did I miss that?” Slade said, interrupting Kai. “I thought Olivia had an extra bed in her room that Andra was supposed to sleep in while she stayed here.”
Narrowing my eyes at him, I released Andra’s fingers so I could drape my arm over her shoulder and pull her closer to me. I already knew she had access to everything about my past, since she’d received all my memories the moment we bonded, but I didn’t want these dickweeds making her think she was like those other chicks. “Andra is special, guys. Shut up, will ya?”
The guys just stared at me in disbelief. I wasn’t joking, but they were obviously waiting for me to tell them I was. Did they expect me to be a bachelor forever? Of course they did. Five days ago I would have expected that of myself.
Andra snickered, I was guessing at the nervous feeling I was sending her through our connection. “I got settled in just fine. Thank you, though I haven’t had much time for rest. Ace has had me training since we arrived.”
Slade grinned at her mischievously. “He’s easily bribed. Give him something he wants. He’ll do whatever you want him to do.”
“You can go now,” I said, letting the lack of amusement that I felt seep into the tone of my voice.
Andra laughed softly. “I’ll have to try that. What would he want?”
Kai snorted. “What does every man want from a woman?”
I looked up to the ceiling and huffed in annoyance when her embarrassment crept over my skin. Every damn hair on my arms was standing on end. “Get the hell out of here, guys. We’re about to turn in for the night. The rest of the pride will be here early in the morning to meet Andra.”
“Turning in for the night?” Rogan said, and then looked at the other guys, as if he was missing something important. “We came to tell you it was time to leave for work. None of us are as good as you are, Ace.”
A muffled curse passed through my lips as I ran my free hand down my face. “Uh…” I stammered, and Andra turned to look at me, confusion pouring out of her and into me in waves. She was on the verge of freaking out that I might leave her here alone. I forced a smile as I pried my wide eyes away from the guys to look at her. “It is, uh… tonight is poker night, and kind of a tradition I started a few decades ago. I’m pretty good at it, hence why I named my lion Ace. Most of us don’t really work around here. We gamble. It’s how the bills get paid. And I guess it’s my night to make sure we have a place to live next month.”
She glanced around the huge gym that was only a small fraction of the house. “You gamble and win enough money to pay for this place?”
“Yeah… and then some. Look, I won’t go if you don’t want to go, but I’m better than anyone here. We’ll lose everything pretty quick if I depend on some of these losers to cover the bills. A few of them lose more than I win sometimes.”
“Wait… the chick is coming with us?” Rogan said on a chuckle, and then his expression turned serious. “You’re fuckin’ joking, right?”
I saw red, but managed to shove Andra out of the way before I shifted—the welcome feel of bones stretching and changing, the fur sprouting, the muscles morphing—and pounced on Rogan. My teeth not-so-tenderly brushed the skin above his jugular where his pulse was pounding hard enough I could hear it. Kai and Slade backed away, but I could sense Slade wanted to interfere, and I suppose that was the only thing that stopped me from biting Rogan’s head off.
“Rogan doesn’t know about the bond, Ace!” Slade shouted. “Nobody but me and the crew that went with you knows that you’re a bonded male now! Don’t kill him! Christ! He didn’t know any better!” I didn’t glance up, but I imagined that he was running his fingers through that stark black hair and gripping it hard enough to pull it out by the roots.
“Ace,” Andra’s startled voice said. “Don’t kill him.”
I moved my head back enough to close my mouth, and then just stared down into Rogan’s eyes as a low growl rumbled up my throat.
“I would advise against ever calling her a chick again if you value your life, Rogan,” Slade said on a relieved exhale. “Ace bonded with Andromeda in Alabama. She’s your Alpha now, too.”
There was cold fear in Rogan’s confused eyes. He knew he’d screwed up, but I could tell that he wasn’t sure how he’d managed it. The truth was that none of us knew how strong this bonding thing was—well, aside from me and Andra; we knew exactly how tough this bitch was, but I wasn’t in the mood to give lessons or talk about it unless bloodshed was involved. I’d let Slade explain it to Rogan. Instead of backing away, I stepped forward, placing one of my back paws on Rogan’s groin as I made my way back to Andra.
Howls of agonizing pain issued from behind me as I shifted back to my human form.
Ignoring the scene behind me, I chuckled when Andra held out my shredded gym clothes, her head turned away from my immodesty.
I took the threads and covered myself enough to make her comfortable. “So, how are you at poker?” I said as we walked toward the doors to leave.
She laughed. “I’m better at Blackjack.”
“Let’s go Double Down then, my dear,” I said with a flirtatious grin, and she beamed at me. God, I loved that smile.
“I need to take a shower first,” Andra said.
I grinned playfully. “Good. You can shower with me. There’s a spot on my back I can never quite reach.” She gaped at me, and I nearly busted a gut laughing. “I’m kidding… unless, of course, you want to shower with me. I wouldn’t tell you no. I’m nice like that,” I said with a wink.
Catching me off guard, she shoved me into the corridor wall, and then laughed when I hit my funny bone and let out a loud curse. “You are not showering with me, Ace.”
I scowled as I rubbed my elbow, until I glanced up to see her walking away from me. That high ponytail and the look of her ass in those workout shorts had me forgetting all about the sharp pain shooting from my elbow to my wrist. I bit my lip as I watched her hips sway, and then I ran to catch up with her before she noticed I had started panting.
She might not shower with me tonight, but she would soon. She would soon.