An alpha knows his mate. Arizona Collins had been told that often enough, growing up in a village of shifters. He was on the verge of mating with the woman he’d chosen, assuming all went as planned tonight.
Gillian Wallis. The mere act of thinking her name produced a surge of hormones that danced through his body like fireflies on crack. The urge to simply take her had never been so powerful. They’d been dating for four weeks, and Arizona wasn’t certain how much longer he could hold out.
“You ready?” Stone Rockwell, one of his best friends, clapped him on the back, forcing Arizona’s thoughts to the present. “Got everything?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I think so.”
“You sure you don’t want to bring her back here after dinner? I can stay the night with Canyon and Fiera.”
“No.” Arizona glanced toward the home he and Stone had been living in for two months. “The entire night is planned. I don’t want any distractions.”
“How will I be a distraction if I’m in someone’s else’s house?”
“I don’t want her wondering if you might come home unannounced.”
“What if she refuses you? Will you still spend the weekend in the hotel?”
“If I can’t convince her, I’m not really an alpha, am I?” Arizona tossed the last bag into the back seat of his car. Even to a best friend, Arizona didn’t want to admit the possibility that Gillian was not ready to embrace a shape shifter way of life, and might never be.
“Humans have different goals in life,” said Stone, in a tone of voice that suggested he had firsthand knowledge of such a thing.
“How the hell would you know?”
“I know as much about them as you do.”
“Touché.” Arizona slid into the driver’s seat before the urge to punch Stone in the jaw grew any stronger. “But you don’t have to keep reminding me she’s human.”
“I know that. All I’m saying is their way of looking at the world is different. They don’t get our whole mate for life thing.”
Maybe he should run over one of Stone’s feet, instead? That would shut him up. “Are you trying to talk me out of this?”
“No. Of course not. But the obstacles you two will face—”
“You know I don’t give a shit about that. She’s my mate. I will have her.”
“Hey, you don’t have to justify it to me.” Stone held up both hands. “I’m on your side.”
A noise in the woods drew their attention. Arizona’s heart pounded as they both glanced around. It was only a flock of birds. He needed to get over this incessant paranoia about choosing a human woman for a mate. It wasn’t like he’d had an alternative.
One look into Gillian’s blue eyes and his soul had been bound to hers for eternity. He’d always wondered what it would feel like when he met his mate, and now he knew. The idea of not mating with Gillian was akin to voluntarily never eating again. He might as well ask Stone to put an arrow through his heart and be done with it.
“I know you’re on my side, Stone.”
“Not everyone feels the same as we do about choosing humans as mates.”
“I know that, too.”
“But hey.” Stone waved his hand around in a gesture of dismissal. “The hell with what they say. The legends are just that. Legends.”
No, they weren’t, and Arizona knew that Stone didn’t discount the legends anymore than he did, but he loved his friend for trying to say the right thing. “It’s not the legends I’m worried about. You should go and spend the night with Canyon and Fiera anyway. Or even Luke and Leah.”
“Afraid to leave me alone in the house?” Stone grinned.
“Yeah. I don’t want to come back to the fucking mess you always make.”
“If you get your way, you won’t be coming back at all except to move your things out.”
“That’s better. Stay positive. This will happen tonight.”
“Of course it will. Now get the fuck out of here before I call Gillian and tell her the shit you pulled when we were teens. Then she’ll never want you.”
Arizona couldn’t help laughing. “I’ll let you know when I’m on the way back Sunday morning.”
“As long as you tell me you’re bringing your mate with you. That’s all I want to hear.”
Another flock of birds made agitated noises in the woods. Even the animals sensed the growing unrest in the village. Arizona caught Stone watching his face carefully.
“It was an isolated incident.”
There was no reason why Stone would reference what they’d found on their front door last week out of the blue unless it still bothered him, too.
“Painting ‘The legend of the blood moon lynx is alive and well’ is not an isolated incident. Especially not when the words are painted in blood.”
A shadow crossed Stone’s face. “It was probably one of the Medina family trying to stir shit up again.”
“You mean one of them who wasn’t arrested?”
“Yeah. That’s what I mean.” Stone laughed. It was good to hear it, even though that theory had already been explored by the Elders, and declared to have no substance. Although Arizona had wondered how thoroughly they’d investigated it at all.
“Get out of here.” Stone punched Arizona in the upper arm. “Go claim your beautiful human mate.”
“All right. But do me a favor, will you? Check on Canyon and Fiera. He said she’s been sick because of her pregnancy. Go and make sure she’s all right.”
“Will do. Now go. It’s a long drive to Seattle. You’ll be late.”
Up until Canyon and Fiera had mated six weeks earlier, Canyon, Arizona, and Stone had been inseparable. They’d been best friends since before they could walk. But now it was Arizona’s turn to be mated. At least, he prayed it was. Surely Stone wouldn’t be far behind. His mate was out there. Arizona knew it.
As Arizona drove out of the woods and toward civilization, he wondered whether Stone would move back in with his parents once Arizona lived with Gillian, or if the rumors were true that Cash, Fiera’s father, would sell the house to him now. Cash had decided to stay with Canyon’s family.
The house Arizona hoped to live in with Gillian was already built. He and his father, plus two uncles, had been working on it for a couple of years, but hadn’t put the finishing touches inside and out until the day after Arizona met Gillian. Would he bring her back to it Sunday morning? Or would he return to this village alone, and have to explain to everyone why Gillian had refused to become his mate?
There were obviously some that believed the latter was for the best. The legends were never far from everyone’s mind, especially when a cat shifter chose a human for a mate. While Arizona understood the fear and superstition from an intellectual standpoint, he did not understand the reluctance of his own kind to accept a mate as a mate, period.
For all the emphasis placed on their pack law and mating law, when it came right down to it, if certain families opposed a mating, their opinion held more sway with the village than it should. Arizona had often said, including out loud to the Elders, that they couldn’t have it both ways. Either pack law and mating law were followed, or they were not. One shouldn’t be able to choose which particular paragraph or article in the law one decided to follow or ignore.
He turned on the radio to distract his thoughts from the subject. The last thing he wanted to do tonight was allow negative energy to flow through him. He was a man on a mission, and he’d planned every detail of this evening. He wanted it to be perfect for Gillian, and that meant he needed to keep his focus where it belonged. On her. Arizona wanted this night to be one she’d remember, in vivid detail, for the rest of her life.
Gillian Wallis couldn’t remember when she’d been this nervous about a date. Granted, Arizona was no ordinary man, but still. They’d already gone out half a dozen times in the past four weeks. They both had wanted to spend more time together since meeting, but she worked in Seattle and he worked in Port Angeles.
His job afforded him more free time than hers did, and it was clear from the way he spoke about it that his family didn’t expect him to work traditional hours. Not that her work hours were always traditional. Far from it. But she had far less freedom in hers.
The alarm on her cell phone beeped, signaling his expected arrival in fifteen minutes. Where the heck had the afternoon gone? She checked her reflection in the mirror again for approximately the tenth time that half hour. There was nothing else to do.
Cute black dress, matching sandals, plus a fresh pedi and mani. Her bag was packed, though she had no clue where they were staying all weekend. She’d even worn the turquoise and silver jewelry he’d given her last week. She had asked what the occasion was and Arizona said he’d bought it for her simply because the blue matched her eye color.
Such romantic gestures weren’t what Gillian was used to, and she liked it. A lot. The idea that she might finally have sex with Arizona tonight sent her heart fluttering once more. Aside from several hot and heavy kisses, and that time she’d placed his hand on her boob two weeks ago, Gillian had been forced to do herself while she fantasized about what it would be like to make love to him.
Something in him had called to her the second she’d first looked into his dark eyes, and now she had to have him. He was so damn gorgeous, sexy, and charismatic! She’d never met anyone like Arizona, and Gillian wasn’t one to go gaga over a man.
When the buzzer downstairs sounded, she jumped slightly. He was early. Gillian grabbed her bag and pushed the button to let him inside the lobby. She felt foolish standing there, holding onto her bag, so she placed it back on the table to wait.
After he knocked on her apartment door, she forced herself to wait a few seconds before opening it. But when she looked at him, and her gaze swept over his dark hair, pulled back into a neat ponytail, her insides turned to mush.
“Hi.” That was all she could manage.
“Hi yourself.” He stepped inside and closed the door behind him, making no effort to hide the fact he was checking her out. The gesture sent a gush of wetness to her pussy. She should have tucked a spare pair of panties into her purse because she’d need them before dinner was over.
“You look incredible.” The awe in his voice sent shivers down her spine.
“So do you.” He really did. Dress slacks, a button-down shirt, dress loafers, and a sport coat. Damn! She’d never seen him in anything but jeans. Although she loved the look on him, her mind raced with thoughts of what he looked liked under those nice clothes.
“You smell great, too.” Gillian leaned closer to get a good whiff. He didn’t wear cologne, at least none she’d been able to identify by brand. His scent was a combination of woodsy and musky. She couldn’t be certain, but she swore it emanated from his skin.
When Arizona imitated her gesture, leaning close to sniff her neck, Gillian had to bite back a moan. Did this man have a clue how seductive he was, or what he did to her?
“So do you.” As he brushed his lips over her neck, she let out a sigh. There was no way to stop it. “Gillian…”
The timbre of his voice was nothing more than a whisper, but it sent her heart racing and her thoughts flying. A look of pure lust filled his beautiful eyes. They could stay here and order takeout, and she’d be just fine with that. “Are you ready to go? We have dinner reservations.”
“Yes.” Gillian picked up her bag while frustration flooded her senses. He had planned this weekend, telling her it was a surprise, but all she wanted to do was fuck him. “Let’s go.” She was ready for anything. Absolutely anything. All he had to do was ask.