“Your mom is still alive?”
Beau nodded. “You’ll meet both of them soon. Marc just got home from the Gulf. Our business took a contract with one of the oil rig companies. He’s been overseeing their electrical operations for the last month, but he got home last week.”
“Okay.” Alexa nodded slowly. “That takes care of the Louisiana panther hierarchy, I guess. What about the others? Who do you answer to? Anyone?”
Beau nodded. “I report to the Alpha of US Territories. That position is elected and held by a bear shifter that lives in North Dakota.”
“Wait, your boss isn’t a panther, too?”
“No, she’s not.” Beau denied with a patient smile.
“Wow, a girl? Cool,” Alexa breathed.
“I’m glad you think so. You see, all the different shifter communities with the exception of the wolves have signed a treaty. We work together to stay off the government’s radar and keep the knowledge of our existence a closely guarded secret. Even the mangy wolves know that nothing good could come from letting the shifter secret go mainstream. So, the different breeds came together to form a kind of government within our own communities. Each state has an alpha for each breed, and those alphas elect the head of the US territories every decade.”
“With the exception of the wolf, right?”
Beau nodded. “Wolves like violence and lack control. They would not cooperate. They are, essentially, shifter outlaws.”
“Wow,” Alexa replied, enthralled by the story he was telling. “How many breeds are there?”
“Panther, Wildcat, Tiger, Eagle, Bear, Mustang, Jaguar, Coyote, Fox, Elk, Cheetah, and Jackal.”
“Holy shit,” Alexa whispered. “It’s a whole world going on right under our noses.”
“We are mostly just like you, Lexie. We love. We hope. We feel joy and pain. We get sick. We die. We also just happen to have a dual nature that requires us to let our animals run and flourish occasionally – usually during full moons. It’s when our beast is closest to the surface.”
“I see,” she murmured.
“At any rate, nobody really knows how the panther shift came about. Legend says that when Louisiana was settled, one of the early colonists went out into the wood to gather firewood and was attacked by a panther. Instead of dying from his injuries, he healed, and during the next full moon, he shifted into a panther.”
“Do you believe that?” Alexa asked, eyeing Beau curiously.
He shrugged. “I honestly don’t think too much about it, Lexie. I was born a shifter. Both my parents were shifters. This is all I’ve ever known. And since I am a man that deals in reality, I don’t waste my time wondering about things that no longer matter. I AM a shifter. My children will be shifters.”
“But if I’m your mate, and I’m human, how do you know that our kids will be shifter, too? They could take after me.”
“The panther genes are dominant, chère. Any offspring we produce will be shifter as well,” he assured her firmly.
“Oh,” she replied weakly, a little overwhelmed by all the information coming at her. “Okay,” she conceded. “If I stay with you and let this happen, will my babies be born as…cubs? How will I keep that a secret?” God, her baby would be a target from the moment it took its first breath!
“No, sweet. The babies will be born human. Their panthers do not rise until adolescence – usually around their seventeenth or eighteenth birthday,” he clarified.
Alexa felt a flood of relief at that, but was quickly horrified by another thought. “What about multiples? I’m not gonna have a litter of seven or something, am I?”
Beau didn’t bother suppressing his laughter. “Multiples are no more common in the shifter community than in the human one. My brother and I were the first multiples born to the panther community in fifty years. I think it’s safe to say that it is rare. No litters for you, bébé.”
“Oh, thank God,” she breathed, pressing a hand to her heart. “I don’t mind the thought of children, but I’d prefer my vagina didn’t become a manufacturing line.”
Beau’s eyes crinkled at the corner as he grinned. “I can safely say I’m grateful for that, too.”
“So, is this alpha thing like being royalty? I won’t be expected to bow to you or anything, would I?” she asked warily.
“Absolutely not! Nobody bows to me. I’m more like a governor. I keep things running smoothly for the panthers that live in Louisiana. When there’s a problem or a panther decides to disobey the rules, I set the punishments. Consider me the disciplinary board.”
“How do you punish disobedience?” she asked inquisitively, growing more interested in their culture by the second.
“It depends on the offense. It can be anything from a verbal or written reprimand to shunning a panther from the pack. It just depends on the crime. I try to always be fair in my rulings, but I must always weigh that against the needs and safety of our entire pack. Keeping our world a secret is paramount, Lexie. First and always, you must guard our secret.”
Nodding, Lexie understood. If the government ever got wind of their existence, their kind would be in constant danger. “I get it, Beau. I truly do. I’ll keep my mouth shut about what you’ve told me no matter what I decide about us.”
Pursing his lips, Beau shook his head. “I don’t know why you’re fighting this. No pair has ever resisted the mating pull, Lexie. It’s simply not done.”
“Well, I’m a big believer in free choice and freer will, Beau. This has to be my decision or I’ll never truly be happy.”
“I’ll make you happy, mate,” he returned sharply, his golden eyes glowing with intent. “Just give me the chance. If I’m not mistaken, you enjoyed my attentions very much right here in this bed not long ago,” he pointed out smoothly, lifting a hand to trace his index finger down her cheek to her neck. “You loved everything I did to you. I know because you soaked my fingers with your pleasure.”
Turning beet red, Alexa’s mouth dropped at his bold description.
“What?” he drawled innocently. “Is it not true?”
“You are one cocky son of a panther, aren’t you?” she finally managed to hiss, swatting her hand against his rock hard chest. “You can’t talk like that!”
“Why not? It’s true,” he declared firmly, his broad shoulders shrugging up and down. “And confidence and cockiness are two very different things, chère. I’ll have to do a better job at demonstrating the difference,” he chided as he began to roll toward her.
Alexa’s hand flew up to land against his chest again, effectively stilling his forward momentum. “Easy there, kitty cat! I need to think and I can’t have your paws muddling my mind again.”
“Then think, sugar. Nobody’s gonna stop you,” he invited with a slow smirk. “In the meantime, why don’t you let me offer you a little more food for thought,” he bargained, leaning toward her to steal a kiss from her lips.
Sighing as she felt his teeth lightly nip her lower lip, she shook her head. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to indulge him – and herself! She did. She really did. In the few too short minutes she’d spent in his arms she’d had the best orgasm of her life. And that had been without him using his dick. She couldn’t imagine what it would be like for her when he finally brought his enormous tool into play with her. For now, however, she had to get her head on straight. She needed time.
Yeah, that was the answer.
Moaning as his tongue dueled with hers, she knew she had to act fast. Otherwise, she was going to be naked and begging him to fuck her within the next ten seconds. “Mmm,” she hummed as she tore her lips from his. “Not this time, buddy. You gotta go,” she ordered, patting his marble-like chest and trying not to enjoy the feel of the warm flesh leaping against her touch. “I need time, Beau.”
Lifting his head, his unhappy eyes met hers. “How much time?” he asked grouchily.
“I dunno. Just some time. How ‘bout a week?” she tested him.
bsp; His derisive snort would have answered that question, but it was his, “You’re insane!” that really got the point across.
“Fine! Forty-eight hours then?” she tried again.
“Too long, sugar. Your body will be in physical pain if it goes that long without my touch. The mating pull doesn’t just tug, chère. It yanks at you.”
“Well, I need to think and I can’t do that with you here,” she complained. “Seriously, the hormones flying around inside me are driving me nuts, Beau.”
“Sweet, that’s only going to get worse until you give into what is happening here and embrace the mate bond between us.”
“I’m going to embrace your neck with a rope if you don’t help me out and give me some time to think,” she warned gravely, her eyes narrowing on his way-too-handsome-for-her-comfort-level face.
Beau chuckled, dropping another quick kiss to her pouty lips. “Vicious! That’s not the turnoff you think it is, bébé,” he warned against her cheek.
Huffing in irritation, she drew back to stare into the deep, golden eyes of the man that claimed to be her mate. “You know I need this, right?” she asked softly.
His face became serious as he watched her face. “Yes. And you know that I’m telling the truth, too, don’t you? Our bond won’t be denied for long without actual physical pain, chère. I won’t tolerate watching you suffer so I advise you to think as quickly as humanly possible,” he charged, the double meaning behind his words not escaping her.
“Okay. Tomorrow. Give me until tomorrow?” she pleaded prettily, smoothing her hands up his chest and around his neck.
“Alright,” he conceded. “As long as you’ll agree to come by my family’s place and meet everyone. They’re anxious to know the woman that’s had me twisted in knots for months,” he informed her with just the right amount of boyish reluctance.
“They know about me?” she squeaked, unable to believe that she was important enough to him that he’d shared about her to his family.
“Of course,” he returned immediately, cupping her jaw tenderly. “My mother is quite eager to get to know her new daughter. Fate never blessed her with a girl child so she thinks that you were sent from Providence as much for her as for me. Honest to God, I think she plans on spoiling you more than I will.”
Lexie couldn’t help beaming at that information. She’d always wondered what it might be like to have a good mother. A woman who would love her unconditionally and never make her feel like she was less than anyone else. Maybe she was finally going to find out.
“Okay, then,” she said softly. “I’ll meet your family if you’ll give me tonight and most of tomorrow to think about things.”
“You promise to call me if you start feeling any of the negative effects from not consummating the mate bond?” he volleyed, his dark eyes obviously concerned for her well-being.
“I would if I had your number,” she offered truthfully.
Beau frowned. “Give me your phone,” he demanded.
Rolling her eyes, Alexa turned to where she had her cell charging on her nightstand. “You know, you could just ask rather than order me around,” she remarked, offering him a sweet smile. “Otherwise, you might find yourself not getting your way very often,” she added, tossing the phone toward him and grinning widely when it connected with his groin.
Drawing a breath through his teeth, Beau grunted. “I guess I deserved that. As alpha, I’ve grown accustomed to demanding rather than asking. I’ll make sure I curb that with you,” he continued as his fingers flew over her phone.
“Good idea,” she replied with a small laugh as he carefully handed the phone back to her.
“All of my numbers are in it now as well as Marc’s and my mother’s. If you need anything, you call. There is nothing more important to me than you, Lexie. I will always come if you need me. Otherwise, I’ll pick you up tomorrow afternoon. Say around 3:00?”
“I don’t get off until 2:30. How about you make come by at 4:00? That will give me time to get pretty.”
“You’re always beautiful, sugar, but if you want the extra time, I’ll give it to you,” he offered generously as he stood from the bed, the towel around his waist riding low on his hips. “Until then, dream of me, ma petit chère.”
Watching as he walked to the still open French doors, she bit her lip as he dropped the navy blue towel to the floor. “What are you doing?” she asked quickly as he looked back at her over his shoulder. “How are you getting home?”
“My panther and I ran here, chère. We’ll run back,” he replied with a wink.
“But…you live so far out of town,” she worried.
“We’ll cut through the woods, bébé. It isn’t that far, and we both agree, my panther and I, that we need to run off some of this sexual frustration or neither of us will be able to rest. Though, I can’t deny that I’m hoping tomorrow night will have a very different ending,” he shared with a glint of mischief in his eyes.
“We’ll see, kitty cat,” she giggled.
“Lock these doors behind me, chère,” he ordered her gently. “It was entirely too easy for me to get in to you here tonight. If anything happened to you, you don’t want to see what my panther would do to those that injured a hair on your head.”
“I’ll lock them,” she immediately told him. Holding her breath as she watched him crouch and shift, his beautiful panther appearing a second later, Alexa thought it was the most awesome animal she’d ever seen. Sleek and elegant, the beast padded outside, bolting off her balcony with one fluid leap.
Biting her lip as the massive animal disappeared into the woods that bordered her apartment building, she got off the bed and closed the doors, flipping the dead bolt quickly and leaning heavily against the paneled glass.
Yes, she really did have a lot to think about. But for now, she needed sleep.
Running through her apartment door the next afternoon, Alexa barely took the time to toe off her comfy sneakers before she ran toward the bathroom. She was late – late on a day she did not want to be running behind.
She needed to be at her brightest and her best.
Especially if she was going to meet her alleged mate’s family.
Flipping on the shower, she quickly tugged her plastic shower cap over her head. There was no time to wash her thick hair. It would take too long to dry. She’d have to just hope that her brush and blow dryer could work a minor miracle in the thirty minutes she had before Beau was scheduled to pick her up.
Nabbing her toothbrush, she squirted paste over it and turned to jump into the shower. She could do this. Multi-tasking was her middle name, she thought as she stood under the shower’s spray and brushed her teeth. She could allocate herself a full five minutes in the bath if she brushed her teeth and shaved her pits while here.
And with quick efficiency, she did exactly that.
She brushed, washed and cleansed in record time.
Toweling off four minutes later, she looked into the foggy mirror and grinned at her distorted reflection. Even through the misted glass, she could see her flushed cheeks and bright eyes. She looked excited. Which was little wonder since she was excited. Hell, excited was too mild a word.
She was thrilled.
Mostly because over the course of the several hours she’d been apart from Beau, she realized something. Something big. Something freaking HUGE!
And that was that she finally had a purpose.
Her whole life she’d pondered over why she was here. With unloving parents, a host of crappy ex-boyfriends, a cruddy job and a general lack of direction, it seemed like an excellent question to her. She’d speculated that perhaps her life was one giant test and that if she passed, maybe God would reward her with something better.
And in the last couple of hours, she’d convinced herself that she was right.
She’d decided that Beaumont LaForte and his family were her something better. Very much so. Heck, she hadn’t even met
his family yet, and still, she was certain that they would be a far sight better than the family her parents had provided for her. She’d spent her childhood being belittled and criticized. Having a family that genuinely wanted her… a mate that wanted just her? Yes, that was definitely a reward that had been well worth waiting for.
So, she was going to embrace this whole mated-to-the-alpha situation with both arms and her whole heart. From what she could see and all she’d heard, Beau was a good man, and based on her experience with him, they were more than compatible – especially in bed. Life with him would be different, even difficult at times, but she wanted it. Or, more accurately, she wanted him.
And tonight, after she’d met his family and spent some more time with him, she’d let him know it.
Reaching for her mascara, she gave herself a two minute mini-makeover, spiking her eyelashes with mascara, dusting her face with pressed powder, and glossing her lips with a pretty pink color that enhanced her already plump lips. Surveying herself in the mirror, she gave herself a little nod. She wasn’t model-gorgeous, but she’d definitely be able to hold her own tonight. Sweeping her blush brush against her cheekbones, she blew herself a little kiss before turning and heading toward her tiny walk-in closet.
Critically eyeing her wardrobe choices, she decided her tight skinny jeans that made her ass look like a dream come true and her new green paisley peasant blouse would be her outfit for the evening. Shoving her feet into a pair of sleek heels a minute later, she was already on her way to the living room when her doorbell rang.
Opening the door, she greeted her new mate with a wide smile and sparkling eyes. “Well, hello stranger,” she said as she looked Beau over appreciatively as he stepped over the threshold to her apartment. Dressed in a faded pair of well fitted Levis and a grey Henley shoved up to his elbows, he looked good enough to eat, and she wanted to take a great big bite out of him, pronto!
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