Teodoro “Ted” Pedrozo, Marshal’s Second of the Poconos Pack and proud member of the inner circle, stood before his mate’s door and sweated like a twelve-year-old boy about to ask Abby Figliono, the prettiest girl in his seventh grade class, to the dance.
Of course, Abby had said no, after laughing in his face for twenty minutes. He just hoped Charlie was a little friendlier. She had to be. Of course she did.
They were mates.
Ted took a deep breath, straightened his shoulders…
And ran like that twelve-year-old boy he’d once been, hiding around the corner as the door to Charlie’s apartment opened.
He heard her purr. Damn cats. They loved to play with their prey before devouring them. “Here, wolfie wolfie. Good wolfie. Mama’s got a treat for you.”
Ted gulped. He was feeling remarkably like a catnip toy right now. “If you say tuna I swear to God I won’t attempt to knock on your door again tomorrow.”
Her soft, throaty laugh did horrible things to his insides. Okay, maybe not horrible. More like it sent bunny-humping hormones shooting through his system. He’d never wanted to bunny-hump before, but then again he’d never met someone like Charlie before.
He’d never met his mate before.
God, just the thought gave him shivers. Part of him wanted to bounce on his toes with glee, part had bunny-humping on the brain, but most of him was absolutely terrified she’d figure out he was a big old dork and laugh in his face.
His nervousness had nothing to do with how gorgeous his mate was compared to him. He had curly dark hair that tended to go all Jheri curl if he let it grow out. He had plain brown eyes and thick eyebrows. He was…normal looking. Charlie, on the other hand…
Charlie had the prettiest green eyes he’d ever seen, a curvy body to die for, and blonde curly hair that fell to the small of her back. He was pretty sure he’d die of a heart attack the first time he saw her in a bathing suit. And then he’d come back from the dead to rip the eyes out of anyone who dared look at her.
Nope. What scared the crap out of him and sent him running like an idiot was—
To his dying day, Ted would refuse to admit he’d screamed like a twelve-year-old boy whose voice hadn’t broken yet.
Charlie bit her lip. “That was quite the hello.” She leaned against the wall, watching him with the sleepy eyes of the predator she was. There was even a hint of gold in her eyes, showing her cat wasn’t far from the surface. “Are we gonna do this or do I need to call Belle?”
The one female who terrified him more than his mate was his Luna, Belle Lowell. She was Charlie’s boss and the only other cat shifter in the Pack. Everyone knew Belle was insane, but it was the good kind of insane that cut a bitch when said bitch went after her BFF. Which Belle had done, come to think of it.
He still wondered where Gina Maldonado and her posse had wound up. He hoped it was overseas, like in Antarctica. She’d probably enjoy trying to dominate Polar bears.
“Yoo-hoo. Hello, lover boy.” Charlie’s fingernail dragged down his shirt. “You’re not thinking of another girl while I’m right here, are you?”
“No, ma’am,” he replied swiftly. He knew when his gonads were on the line, and he was rather attached to said appendages. “I was thinking about Belle.”
“Belle is another woman.” The blood-red nails turned into claws that quickly.
“Belle isn’t a woman. Belle is a benign hurricane of cupcakes and rainbows and razor-sharp teeth.” Ted stared at Charlie, ignoring the way she started silently laughing. “And rolled-up newspapers.”
For a moment, he just enjoyed the fact that he’d made his mate laugh. Then he realized that there were no other people around, and it was just the two of them.
He could lean over, nip her neck, and be out of there before anyone was the wiser. They’d be mated, and he wouldn’t have to worry about introducing her to his weird side. He’d still have to face—
“Just bite her already.” Chela Mendoza, the Omega of the pack, strode past them with a clipboard in one hand and a frown on her face. “Jeez, the tension could choke a yak.”
She turned the corner, probably heading to the front of the Red Wolf Lodge and the big doors that lead to the outside. She, like Dave and Ben, had a cabin that she shared with her mate, Steven Hoode. He had the feeling they’d be the next couple to use the reception hall the Lodge boasted of. The couple before them had been Ben and Dave. The Pack was still talking about that one weeks later, well into spring.
Warm breath brushed against his ear, followed by purring. “You smell good.”
He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. Mate or no, she was still part of the Triad of Terror. Between Belle, Charlie, and Chela, no man stood a chance. “Like really good barbecue?”
Again, that sexy-as-fuck laughter sounded in his ear. “I was thinking along the lines of mine.” She licked his earlobe, her tongue scratchy like a cat’s. He could imagine what that would feel like on his balls.
Yup. We have liftoff.
“Ooh, someone likes that.” She did it again, the evil wench, driving him crazy with her wicked tongue and wicked words.
“I watch anime!” he blurted out, much to his horror.
“And?” Charlie pulled back, damn it. He’d been enjoying his mini tongue bath. “What’s that got to do with anything?”
“You’d understand if you ever watched Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE!” He scowled. “They really need to make a sequel. I have questions that need answering. And I need to kick a certain Grizzly Bear’s ass for introducing me to it.”
Charlie did that slow blink he’d often seen Belle do when Rick said something particularly weird or stupid. “Okay.” She shrugged. “We can do anime night.” She grinned, and it was toothy. “After we mate, of course.”
Oh boy. “In the hallway?” He closed his eyes in shame. He sounded like a scandalized Jewish mother, and that couldn’t be sexy.
Charlie’s brows rose. “Kinky, but no. I was thinking in my room.” She grabbed hold of his arm and tugged, pulling him away from the wall. “Right now, in fact.”
“Eep?” Ted allowed himself to be tugged along until he was standing in Charlie’s apartment. He glanced around, hoping to focus on something other than the wicked gleam in her eye. “You have nice blankets.” He winced. Jesus, he really was a Jewish mother. Next he’d be asking if she’d had enough to eat and telling her to open some windows because fresh air was good for her, even if it was forty-seven degrees out at night.
“Thanks. You’ll look good naked under them.” Charlie tugged at his T-shirt.
“Maybe we should date first,” Ted offered. “Get to know one another.” And avoid a certain person whose name made him want to run right out into the wild and stay there indefinitely. Or until he returned to Arizona. Either would work.
She glared at him, her grin more menacing than sexy. “We’ve known each other for months, Teodoro.”
He sighed. “You’re, like, a princess, right? And I’m Ted. My mom—”
“Hold it right there.” She held up her hand. She looked supremely pissed off. “That’s what’s been stopping you from mating me? My stupid-ass brother?”
“I’ll be porking the little sister of the King of Beasts, so yeah, that’s been on my mind a little.” Or a lot, hence his ongoing freak-out.
Charlie’s eyebrows rose to her hair. “Porking?”
But his mind was no longer on bunny-humping the gorgeous Lioness. Instead it was stuck on dear-God-her-brother-is-going-to-defenestrate-me. He wasn’t certain what that was, but it sounded painful, like it involved his bowels being on the outside of his body. He held up his hands to ward off any potential removal of his innards. “I like my intestines where they are.”
She tilted her head. “Your… What?”
“It sounded right in my head,” he muttered.
“How about I just bite you and get this over with?” Charlie was smiling again, but instead of menace he saw…affection, maybe? It was hard to tell with cats.
“How about I run and hide like I usually do?” He took a step toward the door, intending to do just that.
“If you don’t mate me right this instant, Teodoro Pedrozo, I will call my brother to come and kick your ass.”
She looked like she meant it.
“Well?” She began tapping her foot, staring at him challengingly. “I’m waiting.” Charlie tilted her neck, but one hand began creeping toward her pocket. He could see the outline of a cell phone through her skinny jeans.
And God, how good she looked in those jeans. He had to bite back the urge to pant like the dog he was. Or rather, Wolf. If he let go he’d be like that wolf in that cartoon from Tex Avery. What was it called again? Oh yeah, Red Hot Riding Hood. He didn’t look good with his tongue hanging out and drool all over him.
“Tick tock, Teddy. Time’s a-wasting.”