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Trouble always finds Shaun Jacobs…
So, really, the sizzling hot alpha male shouldn’t have been surprised when a move to a new town and a fresh start doesn’t go according to plan – especially when Shaun’s wolf lays claim to the beauty he unexpectedly finds on his property.
Passion soars, but Cassie comes with her own brand of trouble in the form of an ex who can’t take no for an answer.
To make matters worse, there’s a hunter on Shaun’s tail. One who will stop at nothing to take down the Midnight pack once and for all.
The stakes are high but Shaun won’t be going down without a fight.
The Lodge, five miles outside of town, was a four-bedroomed house sitting on the edge of a privately-owned forest. Her parents had bought it when they first got married, twenty–six years ago, and had raised both Cassie and her sister within its welcoming walls. Even after leaving home to move into town, it remained the place she ran to when she was troubled or upset. Her sister called it her ‘safe space’. And, after walking into her apartment to find Sam, her boyfriend of two years, bare–ass naked between Rebekah’s legs, her only thought had been to run.
So that’s what she did.
Legs aching and eyes burning with unshed tears, she slowed her pace as the drive leading to The Lodge came into view. And, of course, that was when she remembered.
The Lodge no longer belonged to her family. Her mom had sold it a few months earlier, just after her dad died, and bought herself a new condo in the ‘nicer’ part of town. She had told Cassie and her sister that she could no longer bear to live there without her husband.
Too many memories and a silent house was far too upsetting, she had claimed. Especially since Cassie and her sister no longer lived there.
With the remaining money, she had treated herself to a six–month luxury cruise, waved to her two daughters and not looked back.
Cassie sniffed and mentally shrugged away memories of the many arguments she had had with her mother over the sale of their family home and finished the walk up the drive to the front door. Now she was thinking about it, she remembered her mother saying she had sold it to someone from out of town, who had also bought the forestland behind and surrounding the house. She reached out to turn the handle, only to find it was locked and whispered a curse beneath her breath.
Of course it was locked! Why wouldn’t it be?
The house was empty. All the keys had been sent to the new owner. Cassie heaved a sigh and turned to begin the long walk back into town, then stopped. Not every key had been returned. There was one only she and her father had known about. That should still be right where her father had left it.
Cassie made her way over to the small rockery to the left of the decked porch—she remembered the weekend she had spent with her father building it when she was eight, carefully selecting each rock and giving long and considered thought to the placement to each one. She crouched down and traced her fingers over the stones, counted up four rows, then tipped up the purple-coloured stone on the fifth level to display a rust-coloured key nestled against the tufts of grass and dirt.
Our little secret, Cassie-bear, her dad had whispered to her and hugged her close.
Cassie scooped up the key, hurried back to the door and slipped the key into the lock. A wave of grief washed over her as she pushed the door open and entered. Everything in the hallway was as it had been the last time she’d been home. The day after her dad’s funeral—she shied away from that memory and let her eyes close, breathing heavily around the lump in her throat.
Then she heard it …
The shower was running …
Rational thought fled, and instinct took over. Cassie charged up the stairs to her parents’ bedroom, not even considering what hearing the shower really meant.
For one wild moment, as the shower cut off, she imagined her father walking out of the en suite bathroom. She wanted the last four months to have simply been a terrible nightmare and, with that sole thought in her head, she flew through the open door. With her heart hammering painfully in her chest, her eyes sought out the one person she was desperate to see again, and her jaw dropped.
Coming out of the en suite was a man—but that was where the similarity to her father ended. Tattoos covered both his arms down to his knuckles and over the right side of his torso—swirling lines and patterns, glorious shades of red, gold and black His skin was golden and toned beneath the colours, making them stand out boldly, and the artist in Cassie rose to the surface. She took a step forward, unthinking, and stretched out a hand to touch the bold lines, to commit them to memory so she could draw them at her leisure later.
A guttural curse snapped Cassie out of her daze seconds before her palm made contact. She felt her wrist caught in a vice-like grip and the breath left her body as she was slammed up against the wall behind her. Her eyes jerked up to meet emerald-green ones blazing with anger.
“How the fuck did you get in here?” he snarled.
The venom in his voice froze the response on her lips, and she dropped her gaze instinctively, her eyes locking onto the closeness of the tattoos across his shoulders where he pinned her in place with his own body. Her attention was caught, once again, by the patterns as they twisted from his shoulder down across his chest and ribs. From there they snaked over his right hip. He Shifted, and she felt something hard press against her thigh … and it was then she realised he was completely naked.
A choked gasp escaped her, and she squeezed her eyes shut, shrinking back against the wall to try and put some space between her body and the part of him that suggested anger wasn’t the only emotion he was feeling at her intrusion.
“Oh my God, oh my God,” she babbled. “I’m so sorry!” She tugged at the wrist he held, then squeaked in surprise when he released it, but only long enough to grasp her hips and flip her around to face the wall. She felt his body press up against hers, briefly, his obvious erection nestling between the cheeks of her bottom and the breath caught in her throat.
“Stay there.” His warm breath tickled her ear and then the heat of his body was gone.
“I’m sorry,” she croaked out. “I … I didn’t know anyone was here.” Unwilling to turn her head to see what he was doing, she listened to the creak of floorboards as he moved around, trying to figure out where he was.
“Please be getting dressed. Please don’t be getting ready to kill me,” she whispered to herself.
“What are you muttering about over there?” His voice had lost the hard, angry edge, leaving it rich and husky—reminding her of good whiskey and chocolate.
“N—nothing.” Cassie swallowed.
There was a clink of metal and she tensed, waiting to be handcuffed or worse.
“Sure about that?” His slow drawl sounded amused.
Another floorboard creaked, and Cassie was sure she could feel him standing close behind him, feel the heat from his body, and she couldn’t stop a shiver.
“You can turn around now.”
Cassie hesitated, then turned slowly to find him standing in the centre of the room, a good three feet away. His arms were folded across his chest and his head was tilted to one side, watching her. He had pulled on a pair of black jeans which hung low on his hips, and his chest and feet were still bare. A thick chain belt hung in the jean loops—the noise she must have heard, and Cassie couldn’t hold back a sigh of relief.
His eyebrow cocked up at the sound, but he said nothing.
“My parents used to own this house,” she offered into the charged silence. “I didn’t think anyone would be here.”
One side of his mouth kicked up into a smile that screamed ‘of course they did’, and Cassie frowned.
“It’s the truth!” she blurted defensively.
He shrugged. “I didn’t hear a car. How did you get here?”
Cassie laughed nervously, a sound which quickly turned into a sob and she swallowed it down, taking a breath before replying.
“I ran … mostly.”
“You ran?” he repeated, his eyebrow hiking again. “From the town?”
Cassie nodded and tried not to squirm as his eyes slowly travelled over her. His gaze was sharp, intense, taking in everything from the blonde hair pulled back in a messy ponytail, the cream blouse and beige slacks she wore for work and paused, eyes narrowing, on the flat shoes that were not designed for walking in the woods. His eyes changed direction and slid back up her legs.
Cassie shifted uncomfortably, almost feeling the path his eyes took, her skin reacting to the imagined caress, heating under his gaze. Her breath was coming in short shaky breaths by the time he finished his slow perusal.
“You have no bag, no coat. You’re not wearing running shoes. I feel like there’s a story here, but damned if I can figure it out,” he said softly, almost like he was talking to himself. “You look thirsty after your … run.” He drew the word out, almost savouring it. “Would you like something to drink?”
“I … yes, thank you,” she replied.
He unfolded his arms and waved a hand toward the door. “After you.”
Cassie peeled herself away from the wall, took a step forward and then stopped.
“Could you … I mean … if you wouldn’t mind, that is, would you put a t–shirt on?”
Shaun studied the woman perched on the stool beside the breakfast bar from where he leaned against the refrigerator. He could still smell the scent of her in his nostrils, feel her curves, all soft lushness where he was hard muscle, from when he’d trapped her against the wall in his bedroom. He ran his tongue across his teeth and wondered whether she would taste as good as she smelled.
She looked how he imagined a librarian would dress. Blouse buttoned to her throat, beige pants, and flat no–nonsense pumps. All she needed was a pair of horn-rimmed glasses propped on the end of her nose—cute, turned-up at the tip—and a stern expression and his school-days librarian fantasy would be complete … well, it would if she sank to her knees, anyway. He felt himself growing hard at the thought, stopped the smile threatening to spread across his face, and forced himself not to react.
What he didn’t see when he looked at her? A Hunter or another Shifter.
He thought back over what she had said up in his bedroom. Her claim that her parents used to own The Lodge was plausible—and wasn’t that a stupid name for the house anyway? He hadn’t handled the sale personally. His Pack and his Alpha had people to do things like that for them. But that still didn’t mean she hadn’t purposely been sent to find him. Especially if her parents had history with Shifters or Hunters and had discovered who had bought the house from them. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time he’d come out of the shower and found a woman in his room, or even his bed, in a bid to distract him from a Hunter’s true intentions.
Yeah, let’s not think about that, Shaun, he told himself.
He forced his attention back to the present, to the woman sitting in his kitchen, and the scent of her invading his senses. He couldn’t sense any hint of lies or deceit. And the way she was dressed? That whole librarian vibe she was rocking. That made Shaun think her story held far more truth to it than lie.
“Why were you running through my forest?” He broke the silence and watched as her eyes jerked up to meet his. Shaun directed his attention toward her feet, and her eyes followed his down. “I’m gonna guess it wasn’t a preplanned hike.”
She shook her head but didn’t answer his question. Instead, she twisted the lid from the bottle of water he’d given her and took a sip. Shaun pushed himself away from the refrigerator and crossed the room. Her eyes were glued to him, as he prowled closer. When he reached her, he pulled out another stool and sat down beside her. She remained silent.
Shaun stretched an arm out along the breakfast bar, and her gaze immediately dropped to look at the patterns snaking around his forearm. She had done the same thing upstairs, he noted to himself. Was she trying to read his Pack markings, find out which one he was born to? He could track down to the second when she’d stopping looking at his markings and started noticing he was naked. A grin threatened to spill over at the thought and he stifled it ruthlessly. His fingers beat a steady rhythm against the counter-top.
“I locked the door before I took a shower. How did you get in? Our lawyer requested all the keys.”
“My dad kept a key hidden under a false stone on the rockery outside.” There was a distracted note to her voice, and Shaun was sure she was focused on his arm.
“You like my mar—tattoos?” Yeah, that’s right, Shaun. Call them markings—that’d be a bright move!
A blush spread across her cheeks and he inhaled silently, examining her scent. She was embarrassed.
“I’m sorry,” she apologised immediately.
She had apologised upstairs as well, he thought. He was used to lower-ranking wolves using apologies to appease a higher-ranking Pack member. He wondered if she realised she was subconsciously submitting to his more dominant rank. It was a reaction that intrigued him. Most humans were unaware of the balance of power, unless there were signs of obvious aggression. The subtleties of hierarchy were mostly lost on them. And yet her downward gaze, body slightly turned away, and the hand hugging her own stomach spoke of an instinctive reaction to his rank.
“I’ve never seen anything like them before,” she was saying. “The design is beautiful, and so unique.”
She didn’t know the half of it.
He looked down at his arm. A year ago, they had been from elbow to shoulder. After his breakdown, he’d added tattoos, masking his Pack markings, making them more difficult to recognise. And now the pattern started below his knuckles and weaved all around his arm, covered his shoulder and travelled down over the right side of his chest and back. They looked like they had no particular pattern but seemed designed in such a way to keep the eye moving, following the ebb and flow of the design. Something he’d done purposely, to distract attention from the true markings hidden within the design. Markings which were unique to each Pack and Pack member—not that he could tell her that. He flipped his arm over so she could see it covered all the skin and saw the fingers of her hand twitch.
Does she want to touch me? He wondered.
He cocked his head and studied her. He didn’t sense any kind of desire or seduction coming from her, but there was a definite hint of fascination. Her attention appeared to be completely welded to his arm. Either the girl had a tattoo fetish or … or what? Shaun couldn’t think of anything else it could be.
“Are they the same on both arms?” she asked, and her curiosity drove her to twist around and face him, so she could look at where his other arm rested against his thigh.
He obliged her interest and lifted his arm. “Not exactly. Same principle, though.”
As conversations go, he thought, this one is ranking up there as one of the strangest. And he’d had some odd ones in his time.
She reached out a finger and traced it across the pattern on his forearm. Shaun hissed, an unexpected spark of electricity shooting up his arm. Cassie pulled her hand away sharply.
“I’m … sorry, that was rude of me.”
And there was that apology again, he thought. The scent of her embarrassment swirled stronger and he forced himself to smile, while his wolf growled inside his head, curious about the female in front of him.
“It’s okay. Static shock,” he shrugged. “Are you ready to go back to town?”
If he hadn’t been watching for her reaction, he would have missed her flinch at his question. But even had he missed that, there was no way he could miss the way her scent turned anxious.
That’s a no.
Shaun dropped his hand back into his lap and raised his eyes to meet hers. “Come on, Goldilocks, spill. Why are you out wandering in my forest?”
He saw her lips move slightly at his reference to the fairy tale and she tipped her head back to look him full in the face. The wolf inside his head growled louder—demanding submission. Ignoring it, he focused on her eyes—they were blue, he noted, like the cornflowers he’d spotted at the back of the property, where the lawn met the forest’s edge.
“I can walk back,” she told him, ignoring both his questions.
Shaun frowned. “Yeah, not okay with that. I’ve got enough shit to be doing without risking a murder charge when they find your body in the morning.” He rose to his feet as he spoke. “Let’s go. I have to grab some supplies anyway. I’ll drop you off on my way.”
His car, a Grand Cherokee, was parked at the far side of The Lodge, out of view from the front of the property, and it looked like it had received a paint job from the same place as Cassie’s reluctant host. Instead of a single plain colour, it sported similar patterns and colours to the ones covering his arms—making it stand out. Bold, brash, and every bit as eye-catching as the man who owned it.
He stopped by the passenger door and pulled it open, then stepped back and waited for Cassie to climb in.
“There’s no need.” She tried once more to convince him to let her walk back to town.
“Don’t bother,” he grinned, slammed the door on her protests and strode to the driver’s side. “Why don’t you want to go back?” he asked as he settled into his seat and fired the engine. “You might as well tell me. I’ll find out eventually, anyway.”
“Who’s going to tell you?” Cassie couldn’t help but snap. “You’re a stranger here.”
He cocked an eyebrow at her tone and smirked. “Yeah, but it’s a small town, and everyone knows they’re the worst for spreading gossip.” The cocky grin fell away as he concentrated on turning the huge SUV around. “It’s always better if the rumours people hear are the ones you can control,” he added, absently.
Cassie thought she detected an odd note to his voice, almost like he was speaking from experience and, for a second, she was tempted to ask him. Manners drilled into her from a young age kicked in, however, before she spoke, and the moment passed. He didn’t speak either, and they spent the next few minutes in silence as he manoeuvred the beast of a car down the narrow wanna–be road.
A movement caught Cassie’s attention and her gaze dropped to where his hands rested on the steering wheel, fingers tapping to a tune only he could hear, and she felt her lips curl up into a smile. She remembered how her father used to do something similar when a song was stuck in his head.
“What song is it?”
“Huh?” His eyes cut to hers briefly, before returning to the road.
“What song has your fingers dancing?”
His brows pulled together into a confused frown, and he glanced down, then grinned. “Ahhh right. You wouldn’t know it.”
“Why?” she demanded. “Because I’m a small-town girl?”
“No, because you’re …” His eyes crinkled at the corners, sparkling with laughter as he raised a hand from the steering wheel to wave it vaguely in her direction. “Well, you look like a librarian, Goldilocks.”
“And librarians don’t like music? Is that what you’re implying?” she questioned.
Shaun barked a laugh. “No, sweetheart, but librarians probably listen to Mozart, Beethoven, and shit like that.”
“Wow! You’re stereotyping.”
“You so are! Also, I’m not a librarian.”
“No, you’re a home intruder.” He smirked at her. “You probably listen to mood music.”
“Mood music? I don’t even know what that is!” she laughed.
“You know … the music you put on to get you in the mood for whatever nefarious plan you’re thinking about.” He dragged a hand through his hair, pushing it away from his face.
“I haven’t made any plans, nefarious or otherwise,” Cassie replied.
“Ah-hah!” He waggled a finger at her. “So you admit it! You do listen to mood music.”
“No?” He threw her a thoughtful glance. “Don’t tell me you’re one of those girls who screams after boy bands?” He pressed the palm of his hand against his chest. “I don’t think my heart could take that kind of blow.”
Cassie laughed again, feeling her mood lighten with his teasing.
“You got it!” she declared.
“You also dance around the kitchen, don’t you?” he accused. “Pretending the broom is a microphone.”
“You betcha!” She lifted her head and belted out the chorus from one of the current pop songs, purposely hitting the wrong notes.
He didn’t even try to hide his wince. “I should have gone with my gut and called the police,” he muttered.
“Crimes against music.”
Cassie sang louder, then spluttered into laughter when he physically cringed away at a screeched high note. She could see him watching her out of the corner of his eye, which made her giggle harder, the song forgotten. When her giggles finally subsided, he spoke again.
“The song is called My Drug of Choice.”
Cassie considered the title, trying to place it within her memory, but couldn’t … and she knew he knew it.
“Well?” he challenged.
“Sure! It’s by that band … you know …” she bluffed.
He snorted. “You have no idea.”
“You don’t know that!”
His lips twitched. “I kinda do.” He flicked the turn signal and Cassie realised they were within the town limits. “Where do you want dropping?”
“I’ll get out wherever you park. I can walk from there.” The tension had returned to her voice.
Shaun nodded, and silence returned to the car. He drove down Main Street and, a short time later, pulled up outside the only grocery store in town.
As bad luck would have it, Sam was coming out of the bank opposite as the car rolled to a stop. Cassie groaned, and her companion’s eyes flicked from her to Sam and back again.
“He the guy who sent you running to my house?” He picked up on the situation immediately, and Cassie knew it wasn’t even worth trying to make up a lie.
“Yeah,” she replied softly. “He’s my ex as of,” she looked at the clock on the dashboard, “four hours ago.”
“What did he do?”
“My roommate.” The words burned like acid as they fell from her mouth.
“You catch him?” He didn’t miss a beat, and Cassie nodded.
“I walked in on them earlier today. I finished work earlier than usual and was supposed to meet him for dinner. I went home to shower and change. They were at it on the kitchen table when I walked through the door.”
Shaun turned his head to watch Sam cross the road. “What are you going to do about it?”
Cassie shrugged, struggling to keep her voice from wobbling, and turned her face away so he didn’t see the tears welling up in her eyes.
“I don’t know. I just had to get away, so I ran to The Lodge. I didn’t even think about the fact my mom had sold it.”
Shaun unclipped his belt and twisted in his seat to face her. “Well, Goldilocks, you have two choices. You either let him get away with it, or you burn the fucker to the ground.”
“You don’t think it’s my room-mate’s fault . . . or mine?” Even as the words left her lips, Cassie realised a part of her wondered if something she had done had driven Sam to turn to someone other than her.
Shaun shook his head. “What did he do? Slip and land with his dick buried inside her? It takes two to screw up, sweetheart. If she came on to him and he didn’t want her, you wouldn’t have found him balls-deep, would you?”
Cassie felt her cheeks burn at his crudeness. “Maybe it was something I did . . . or didn’t do.”
He didn’t reply straight away, and she glanced over at him to find him staring at her with narrowed eyes. “You don’t really believe that, do you?” he questioned.
“I . . . maybe?”
“Well, that tells me everything I need to know about him.” His tone made it clear that wasn’t a good thing. “So, what are you going to do about it?”
His question made Cassie pause as she reached for her own seatbelt. “What do you mean?”
“Like I said earlier, you want to be in control of any rumours being whispered about you. Do you want him to have control of it or you?”
“Sam comes from an influential family,” she whispered. “People will believe whatever they say.”
“Change the script.”
Cassie stared at him. “It’s not that simple.”
“The most important things rarely are.”
“I don’t know how,” she whispered.
Shaun didn’t respond immediately. He could have given her a hundred ways to change how her story played out, but he knew at least fifty of them would be illegal, and forty–nine would probably result in her hitting him. Instead he smiled and turned to watch Sam cross the street and head toward the car. He figured they had less than two minutes before the other man reached them.
“Break it down one step at a time,” he suggested finally. “Are you going to stay at your own place with your cheating room-mate, or do you have somewhere else to go?”
“I can stay at my sister’s,” Cassie replied. She was also watching Sam’s rapid approach. “I need to go up to my apartment and pack some clothes first, though.”
“How far from here do you live?”
“It’s right there.” She pointed to a row of windows above the grocery store. “I live above the shop.”
Shaun nodded as he mentally considered different options. His instinct, born out of Pack structure and how he was raised, was to protect anyone weaker than him and, without putting too fine a point on it, all humans—male and female—were weaker. The fact that she amused him and reacted to his wolf’s dominance in a way that interested him may have also had something to do with his decision when he spoke.
“I’ll come up with you while you pack and take you to your sister’s.” He allowed a small amount of wolf dominance into his voice to ensure her agreement. “What do you want to do about him?” He nodded toward Sam, who had almost reached the rear of the car.
“I’m going to ignore him.”
The determination in her voice made Shaun chuckle as he opened the door and hopped out. In a few quick strides, he reappeared beside the passenger door, and had it open before she finished untangling herself from her own belt. Without a word, he reached across and pushed the button to unclip it, and then held out his hand, offering to help her out. She looked at him, a clear question in her eyes, and he smiled.
“It’s all about changing the narrative, remember?”
Her look changed to match the earlier determination in her voice, and she grasped his hand and exited the car.
“Cassie!” Sam called from behind them, and Shaun masked a triumphant smile.
He knew her name now.
Cassie ignored Sam and continued on a steady path toward the door to the left of the grocery store’s entrance. Shaun positioned himself between Cassie and Sam, angling his stance so that when she paused to unlock the door, Sam couldn’t reach her. They slipped inside, and Shaun kicked the door shut behind him.
He hoped it hit Sam in the face.
Shaun followed Cassie up a flight of stairs, then waited while she unlocked a second door and they entered the apartment.
“Make yourself at home,” she told him, and waved a hand toward a couch that had seen better days.
Shaun looked at it warily. The bright yellow throw covering it couldn’t hide its age and he was sure if he sat on it, it would break under his weight. He opted, instead, to follow Cassie and leaned against the door-frame of what, he assumed, was her bedroom.
His lips twitched up into a smile at the explosion of colour that greeted him, and he almost reached for his sunglasses to protect his eyes. It looked like someone had grabbed the brightest paint they could find and hurled it at the walls. There were yellows, greens, reds and blues everywhere. On the wall above her bed hung a painting of a wolf standing in a clearing, making him smile. His eyes shifted to Cassie, who stood in front of a bright orange dresser. The outfit she was wearing didn’t match the insanity of her bedroom.
“Were you high when you decorated?” he asked, and she jumped.
“I thought you were in the living room!” she said, spinning around with one hand pressed to her chest.
Shaun’s smile became a grin. “You were in my bedroom. Only fair that I get to see yours.”
“I did apologise for that.”
“You did,” he agreed. “Twice, I believe. In between begging me not to murder you.”
“You heard that?”
“Was hard not to.”
The front door opened behind Shaun, and he shifted position slightly, so he could see who entered. It was another woman, this one a brunette—probably Cassie’s room-mate, he thought. From the look he caught on Cassie’s face before she blanked her expression, she had spotted her too.
“And then there was the way you were eating me up with your eyes,” he raised his voice to make sure the newcomer heard him.
“I was looking at your tattoos.”
“Baby, my tattoos don’t go down that low.” Shaun winked at her as her eyes slid over his shoulder to where he knew her room-mate was standing and listening to them. “Goldilocks, if a man could get pregnant from being stared at, I’d be having triplets from the eye-fucking you were giving me.”
“I only saw your tattoos because you came out of the shower naked, not even a towel around your waist,” she chided him, and Shaun grinned.
“You’re very welcome.”
“Oh my God! Get out of here!” Laughing, Cassie grabbed a scatter-cushion off her bed and threw it at him.
Shaun caught it, chuckling. “Fine. I’ll wait out here.” He tossed the cushion back onto her bed and backed out of the room, closed the door behind him and then turned to face her room-mate.
“Hi.” Shaun kept his voice casual as he walked past the woman standing in the centre of the room, her lips down-turned and her eyes narrowed. He could feel the waves of hostility rolling off her. Ignoring the bitter scent of anger, he headed over to the danger-couch and eased down onto it gingerly.
“I know you.”
“I get that a lot,” he replied. Gonna be like that, is it?
She turned to the coffee table, rummaged around amongst the magazines, and pulled out a local newspaper. Flicking through it, she folded the pages over and threw it onto his lap.
“Like I said, I know you.”
Shaun looked down at the picture of himself as he was exiting his SUV outside The Lodge. The newspaper article headlined with MYSTERIOUS NEW OWNER MOVE INTO MARGARET DUNCAN’S FORMER HOME.
“Small towns,” he muttered beneath his breath. “What’s your point?” He asked Cassie’s room-mate.
“You do know how small towns work, don’t you? You’ll have been seen walking in here with Cassie. By tomorrow night, it’ll be all over town that you’re her latest lover and the reason she and Sam broke up.”
“I repeat—what’s your point?”
The brunette shrugged. “Well, it won’t do her reputation any favours, will it?”
“How will your reputation fare if it got out I was here because I was helping out a friend whose room-mate had fucked her boyfriend while she was at work?” He tapped the newspaper with one long finger. “Small towns don’t generally like that kind of behaviour. So, who’ll look like the bad guy here? You or me, for being there when Cassie needed a friend?”
They were trading glares in silence when Cassie returned to the room. She glanced at Shaun, then her roommate, then back to Shaun.
“I’m ready to leave,” she said into the silence.
“Cassie.” Her roommate moved to block her path. “We need to talk.”
“There’s nothing you can say to me that will fix what you’ve done,” Cassie replied. Her eyes caught Shaun’s, a hint of desperation in her eyes. Her scent confirmed how upset she was. “Are you coming?”
“Not yet,” he responded lightly, rising to his feet. “But the day’s not over yet.”
The room-mate glared at him, but Cassie gave a soft laugh, the darkness in her eyes receding, and shook her head at him. He winked at her, his eyes taking in her appearance.
She had changed her clothes, he saw, and no longer reminded him of a librarian. Now she looked like a girl who wouldn’t be out of place in his Pack. Skin-tight jeans, and a t-shirt that moulded itself to her curves.
Oh boy, he thought, those curves are a wet dream just waiting to happen.
He was suddenly really glad she’d broken into his house.
“What did she say to you?” Cassie asked him as they walked down the stairs.
Shaun glanced back over his shoulder and shrugged. “The usual ‘I know who you are’ speech.”
Cassie frowned. “And does she?”
“Know who I am? Sure … I mean, it’s not hard to figure out, is it? I’m probably the only new face in town.” He dropped the suitcase he’d insisted on carrying to the floor and waited for Cassie to unlock the door. “Let me go out first and make sure your ex isn’t waiting for you.”
“What if he is?”
Shaun’s smile was a quick baring of teeth. “Oh Goldilocks, I really do hope he is.”
He was mildly disappointed to find the street empty when he opened the door. They walked to his car and Shaun threw the suitcase into the back before he opened the passenger door and waited for Cassie to climb in.
Once he had settled into the driver’s seat, he glanced over at Cassie. “Where are we going?”
Cassie reeled off the directions to her sister’s house and Shaun pulled away from the kerb. She watched him covertly as he drove. None of the men in her life, apart from her dad, would have taken her unexpected appearance in their lives as easily as he had. From the moment she’d first laid eyes on him in his bedroom, she had sensed an underlying air of amusement around him, like he found her entertaining. There was a brief moment where she felt that she should be insulted by that, but she admitted to herself she liked how he was dealing with it.
He didn’t attempt to fill the silence, and strangely that didn’t bother her. The quiet between them felt comfortable and Cassie didn’t feel the need to make small talk like she would when she travelled with Sam anywhere.
Shaun was looking straight ahead, concentrating on the road, and Cassie let herself admire him, safe in the knowledge he couldn’t see her looking. He had one hand curved loosely around the wheel, the other arm propped on the door, elbow resting in the gap where the window would be if it was closed.
Her eyes fell to the tattoos covering his arms and hands, disappearing beneath the sleeves of his t-shirt. The memory of how they covered the rest of his torso flashed into her mind’s eye.
She wanted to paint him.
It had been so long since she’d last picked up a paintbrush. While Sam had never said anything outright, Cassie knew he hadn’t liked that side of her, and she had tried to tone it down. She had taken a job at the local bank and packed away her art supplies.
Finally joined the adult world, Sam had told his friends.
“This the place?” Shaun’s voice broke through her reverie and she blinked.
He parked the car and climbed out. Cassie undid her seatbelt and reached for the door, then paused to watch as Shaun strolled around the vehicle.
When he opened the door, she smiled up at him and he cocked an eyebrow in query. She shook her head and took his offered hand, letting him help her out of the car.
“What are you smiling about?” he asked once she was standing beside him.
“It’s nothing. I’ve just not had anyone keep opening doors for me the way you do.”
He gave an easy laugh. “My mom would come back and kill me if I didn’t.” A shrug followed his words, and he reached into the backseat to haul out her suitcase. “Don’t get me wrong. I can be a total asshole when the mood takes me.” His grin flashed on again. “And I have been, many many times.”
Without thinking about it, Cassie placed a hand on his arm and leaned up to press a kiss to his stubbled cheek.
“Well, you’ve had every reason to be an asshole to me, but you haven’t.” She felt his forearm flex beneath her fingers, and a buzz of electricity ran through her fingertips.
“Aww Goldilocks,” he drawled. “You’re gonna make me blush.
Cassie pulled back and punched his shoulder, then yelped at the impact. Eyes dancing, he captured her hand between both of his and raised it to his lips.
“Let me kiss that better for you.” His lips brushed over each of her knuckles, his eyes never leaving hers.
The buzz turned into a spark at the touch of his lips, and she tugged her hand free, a blush rising over her cheeks.
“I need to make sure Gemma is home,” she blurted, and ran up the path.
Soft laughter followed her.
The door opened before Cassie reached it and she saw her sister framed in the doorway. The moment Cassie saw her, she felt tears sting her eyes and her throat closed up. She realised that the hours she’d spent with the man leaning against his car had kept her thoughts about why she had run to The Lodge at bay, but as soon as she saw Gemma, it all came rushing back.
Gemma took one look at Cassie’s face and rushed forward, her arms opening wide.
“What did that rat bastard do now?” she hissed. “And who the hell is he?” Her tone changed to one of awe.
Cassie heard a deep chuckle behind her and knew he had caught up to them.
Gemma looked at Shaun with a mixture of suspicion and appreciation—a reaction he was used to. So used to, in fact, that it generated an automatic response. Something his brother mockingly referred to as ‘Alpha Male Mode’.
He flashed a smile, designed to win her over and reached for her hand. He could feel Cassie frowning at him as he raised her sister’s hand to his lips and pressed a kiss to it.
“Gemma,” she spoke, a tone to her voice that made both Shaun and Gemma look at her. “This is—”
“Shaun,” he supplied, squeezing Gemma’s hand and let it drop. “Cassie dropped by The Lodge earlier, so I gave her a lift back.”
Both women stared at him, making him feel like a slab of prime steak waiting to be cooked and eaten. His eyes swung from one to the other, grin firmly in place.
“And now she’s arrived, it’s time I got on with my day.” He turned to head back to his car.
Shaun paused and hiked an eyebrow.
“Thank you … again.”
“That’s okay, Goldilocks,” Shaun reached out and tugged a lock of her hair. “You’re more than welcome to break into my bedroom any time you like.”
Gemma’s sharp intake of breath caused Shaun’s grin to widen as he strode back to his car.
“So,” Gemma began as Shaun’s car disappeared down the road, “what happened first? You met Shaun and split up with Sam … or split up with Sam and then met Shaun. Because, damn, he’s a step up in the right direction.”
Cassie smiled, then sighed. “Can we go inside?” She looked around and found her suitcase behind her. Grabbing the handle, she dragged it up the path and followed her sister indoors.
“I take it you want to stay here for a bit?” Gemma asked, glancing at the suitcase.
“If it’s okay?”
“You know it is.” Gemma moved around the kitchen, pulling out mugs and filling the kettle. “So, what happened? Sam turned up here a few hours ago demanding to be let in. He was convinced you were here and wouldn’t leave until I’d let him check upstairs to make sure you weren’t hiding in a cupboard or something.”
“He came here? God, he’s got some nerve!” Cassie snapped.
“He said you walked out, that there was a misunderstanding and you wouldn’t let him explain.”
Cassie’s laugh was bitter. “That’s how he’s explaining it? Oh my God!” She raked a hand through her hair and shook her head. “He was having sex with Rebekah on the table in our kitchen. I walked in on them. There was no misunderstanding!”
Gemma’s jaw dropped. “What the hell?” She wrapped her arms around Cassie and pulled her into a hug. “I told you he was no good!”
Cassie rested her head on her sister’s shoulder. “I know you did, and I should have listened.”
“What are you going to do now? You know you can move in here. There’s no need for you to go back there.”
“Thank you,” Cassie whispered. “I know I need to deal with them both at some point, but not yet … not right now.”
Other than the old guy behind the counter asking him fifty questions about his life, Shaun’s shopping trip to the grocery store was uneventful. He kept half an eye out in case he saw Cassie’s ex and amused himself with the thought of cornering the man on the off-chance he did see him. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on one’s perspective, Shaun saw no one and drove back to The Lodge less than an hour later.
His cell rang while he was unpacking his groceries and Shaun spent an hour entertaining Deacon with the events of the day.
“The place is living up to its small-town reputation, then?” Deacon asked.
“Well, I made the local newspaper. One of their reporters snapped a pic of me moving in,” Shaun said, as he made himself a coffee. “They’ve left me alone, though, so it hasn’t been too bad.” He took a sip of his coffee and wandered into the living room to sit on the couch and propped his feet on the table. “Are you driving up soon? This place is unreal. It’s going to make the perfect sanctuary.”
“Mac wants to head down in a couple of weeks. He’s waiting for Isabella to come back from Italy.”
“I’m hoping the renovations will be signed off tomorrow as complete. The main house has four bedrooms, but the three barns that were half-collapsed have been fixed up and we have, I think, a total of sixteen bedrooms,” Shaun chuckled. “And there’s acres of forest, Deke, all private. No more worrying about being seen.”
There was a long pause, and then. “Shaun, are you—”
“Don’t start that again.” Shaun spoke over his brother, then stopped when he heard another voice talking quietly. “Is that Mac?”
“Yeah, hang on.” There was a muffled conversation, and then a different voice sounded down the line.
“Are you well?”
“I am,” Shaun replied. “Are you mated yet?”
“Negotiations are proving to be difficult. Isabella is resistant to a few of the requirements of combining our Packs.”
“With that kind of romancing, I can’t understand why,” Shaun chuckled.
“It’s a political move, Shaun, not a love match.”
“She’s still a woman, Mac,” he took another swallow of coffee. “Try being a little less robotic in your approach. Embrace your inner wolf.”
“We’re not animals, Shaun.”
Shaun’s laugh was bitter. “We both know that’s bullshit.”