North American Wolves
It’s been less than a year since Lane Perkins left his controlling ex and the big city behind for a new job and a new life in small town Watson Hollow, NY. When he meets enigmatic widower Jared Atherton, Lane can’t deny he feels a pull, but there’s no way he’s getting involved with another man so soon.
Jared has enough on his plate as a single father and Alpha of the smallest pack in North America. He’s not interested in a relationship, especially not with the aggravating human teacher who knows nothing of his world.
Fate has other plans however, and when a threat to Lane’s life leads him within the walls of Jared’s estate, they’ll be forced to face their attraction once and for all. But will it be enough to save them both from the wrath of a bitter rival?
- 1 To Be Read list
Publisher: MLR Press
Heat Level: 5
Romantic Content: 5
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Bisexual, Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: 26-35
Protagonist 2 Age: 26-35
Tropes: Adopted Child, Alpha Character, Bad Breakup, Families/Raising Kids, Fated Mates / Soul Mates, Passing as Straight, Rescue
Word Count: 80000
Languages Available: English
Series Type: Continuous / Same Characters
Prologue: A Hunter's Moon
The night was biting cold and clear, the air spicy sweet with the scent of early snow, pine needles, and long-dead leaves. The hunter lifted his head, eyes scouring the brown and black shadows cast by the silver light of the full moon where it filtered through the trees.
His prey was near.
A wide swath of disturbed snow near the base of an alder drew his attention. One of the branches bore a smear of dark maroon blood. She'd floundered there.
He licked his chops, saliva filling his mouth as he recalled the salty, creamy flavor of her flesh. He padded forward, the brittle crunch of frosted leaves loud in the hushed forest. Though the snow in the clear spaces were almost belly high, the canopy above and the windless night made for almost clean patches beneath the evergreen trees.READ MORE
It was the first deep snow of the year, and though it had stopped falling hours ago, the temperature continued dropping until the fresh fall was crusted with a thin layer of ice.
Both slowed her, but his prey was surprisingly adept at evasion.
Not that it mattered. Between the weather and her wound, she stood no chance. And he could be patient.
The soft, mournful sound of her weeping drifted back to him. It whetted his appetite, much as it did when he'd first encountered her, trembling, bruised, and smelling of old fear.
She was small and skinny, but there was ripe meat on her delicate bones. He'd felt it pop and shred under his teeth already, filling his mouth with coppery sweetness. He would soon be rewarded with that delicacy again, once he caught her.
He hurried now, not bothering to stop and inspect the spatter of droplets dotting the spiked green leaves of a holly bush, almost as round and glistening as its berries. Up ahead, he glimpsed the edge of the forest, her faltering tracks leading out into the moon-drenched clearing beyond.
He knew he was skirting dangerous territory, the haunt of a beast far worse than himself, but his hunger and single-minded purpose drove him onward. His hot breath made white clouds in the clear air as he began to run, his quarry nearly in sight.
When he broke the tree line, the bright moonlight glinting off the white snow momentarily blinded him. A moment later, he picked out the sight of her tattered pink dress, the only spot of color in the monochromatic landscape. Her pale limbs and hair were bleached colorless by the silver light of the full moon.
The hunter's mouth cramped with pleasure at the proximity of such a tasty morsel, saliva dripping from the corners of his lips. He was so intent on his prey, he failed to notice the shadow racing across the smooth, white field toward him.
Its growl froze him in his tracks, one foot lifted to take another step nearer the prone girl. At the sight of the huge, looming black shape, the fire in his blood turned to wintery fear.
Still, he moved closer, unable to relinquish her. To fail.
One massive obsidian paw flashed, the claws shredding his cheek and leaving his lips a tattered red ruin. He fell back with a whimper.
The beast stood over her, iron eyes and ivory teeth glinting, its wide-legged stance both a claim and a warning. Its fur, black as the deepest shadows of the forest, stood out around its massive shoulders and down its long back, making it seem impossibly big. Four times the size of the girl. Twice the size of him. The muscles of his legs turned to water. Hot, anxious urine pattered uncontrollably to the snow between his feet, filling the air with sharp, acrid steam.
He lowered his eyes and dropped to his belly, tail tucked, snow caking his own damp dun fur. He crawled closer, tongue lolling, oily and obsequious and hating every second of his debasement.
The beast's low, ripping growl echoed through the still night, locking his muscles. He stilled, unable to stifle a small whimper, torn between the nearness of his prey and the danger between him and her. His paws twitched, digging into the snow. The monster lowered its head, his death in its glittering gaze if he continued forward.
Trembling as badly as the girl had when he'd stalked her, the hunter slunk back into the trees, watching from the sides of his eyes as the beast guarded his--its--prey. The lack of pursuit was small consolation.
Once the welcoming shadows of the forest engulfed him, hid him from the monster's gaze, he turned and ran. His legs ate at the distance, heart thundering in his chest as he sped back to his own territory. His failure hung on him like the stench of his own piss. He was no longer a hunter. His blood lust receded with each mile closer to home, leaving behind only his human thoughts.
He was meant to bring her back to face her punishment. His Alpha would not be pleased.
Instead of partaking in a rare treat, he would be receiving discipline for losing her to the interloper. Hate burned in his throat and his heart thudded heavily in his chest. His ruined face felt both numb and on fire, sending bursts of crackling pain down his spine. Even so, he counted himself lucky. Not many faced the beast and lived.
The beating he had coming would hurt worse than his ripped cheek, but at least he would still be breathing. And one day, he'd get his revenge.
Reaching the edge of their lands, he lifted his head and howled.
Chapter One: Tidings
Lane Perkins loved the holidays. All of them, even the random and mostly forgotten ones like Arbor Day and Grandparents' Day. For him, the official holiday season from October through December was the very best time of the year. Better than summer. Practically on the stroke of midnight, October 1st, he began decorating for Halloween.
November 1st, the Halloween decorations came down and jack-o-lanterns gave way to horns of plenty, turkeys, and calico corn.
But of all the holidays, big and small, Christmas was his absolute favorite.
Growing up the adopted child of an older couple, his parents strove to make every holiday a fantastic, Norman Rockwell-esque event. Not only were there decorations and music throughout the month of December, but both his mother and father would bake and spend days wrapping the presents they had taken months to choose. They gave the kind of gifts you had no idea how much you wanted until you pulled the paper open to reveal them.
As an adult--though even now at twenty-eight, he alternated from moment to moment between feeling too ancient to live and too young to be trusted with so much responsibility-- he had carried that tradition on. Even when he was living with Kurt and the preparations had been tasteful white twinkle lights, expensive wine, and fancy hors d'oeuvres rather than the light-up Santas, caroling, and hot chocolate drunk through candy cane straws that he actually preferred.
Now that he was on his own again, Lane was planning on making this Christmas his best yet.
He shook off the combination of sharp, piercing anger and bruised, melancholic hurt that always accompanied thoughts of Kurt and lifted his insulated cup of hot chocolate. Lane's lips tipped upward as he sipped his warm, sweet drink. The rich scent of cinnamon and chocolate wafted up around him.
His new colleagues at Lawrence F. Talbot Elementary thought he was crazy for coming to the mecca of consumerism just weeks before Christmas--they'd told him so, Meryl especially--but he loved the madness and the melee.
Plus, the Queenstown Mall really did it up for the holiday.
Built after the real heyday of American malls, Queenstown Central Mall was an enormous, beige, windowless box. The only nominal point of interest in its architecture was that it resembled a squat X when viewed from above. Inside, though, the developers had somehow managed to capture the quaint charm of old city streets lined with shops. There weren't many big-name stores left in the building, but the ones that were there went full out for Christmas.
Garlands of real, fragrant pine decorated the walls and signs, interspersed with vibrant red velvet bows. Glittering silver and crystalline snowflakes dangled from the high ceiling above, swaying in the recycled air and catching the light. The tall, retro gaslight lamp posts that dotted the halls had been dusted with fake snow that almost looked real.
Though the ground outside was already crusted with actual snow, the air in the corridor where Lane currently lounged on an ornate bench was actually quite warm. Due in no small part to the absolute crush of people doing their holiday shopping. Lane suspected that, like him, some of them were there more for the ambience than the deals.
There was a massive tree covered in shiny ornaments and blinking lights, and Santa's village blanketed with more faux snow in the center of the building, complete with a train for the children to ride and a convincingly white-bearded and jelly-bellied jolly old elf for them to whisper their wishes to, and the festive music piped in over the speakers was the real stuff, not just the Muzak versions. Some stores were even offering free hot apple cider or cookies.
There were plenty of frazzled families; harried moms and hurried dads looking for that one more thing the kids just had to have. But there were also the ones like the young blonde woman gazing at the display case in a jewelry shop, chewing her lower lip, her cheeks pink. She wore a skirt and a casual silk blouse that looked like it cost money, and she wore it well. She could be the poster girl for Homecoming Queen Makes Good.
Lane figured she was daydreaming of her boyfriend--some former football player type--proposing, until she glanced down at her phone and scurried out of the store just in time to intercept a tender kiss from a severe looking woman in a flattering grey suit.
"Serves you right for being judgey," Lane murmured, tapping his knee.
He fiddled with the maroon scarf looped around his throat. It was really too warm inside for it, but he refused to sacrifice the look--charcoal slacks, his favorite, thick, moss green sweater, Hugo Boss Oxfords, and the scarf, of course--just because his neck was a bit sweaty.
A slight breeze tickled his damp throat as the AC kicked up a notch. Lane sighed and watched the tide of people flow around him. Blondie and her girlfriend were long gone, but he saw plenty of other couples. A redhead of Amazonian stature slipped her arm through her equally tall, fit boyfriend's and pulled him close to speak against his ear, her generous mouth curved into a grin.
Lane slid his gaze away from the intimate moment, rubbing his palm against the twinge in his chest.
His fingers shook the tiniest bit as he ran them through his own honey blond locks, mussing the artfully arranged waves. For a moment, the last year--finding Kurt with that sculpted underwear model bouncing on his dick, the realization of just how bad things had gotten, the struggle to find a place to live, a job, even the brief stint crashing back home in his childhood room--settled around his shoulders like a millstone. He squeezed his eyes shut and forced out several long, slow, even breaths.
"You smell good. Like my mom."
The observation, delivered in a soft, childish voice, had Lane's eyes popping back open. He blinked in surprise at the sight of the sturdy little cherub standing at his knee. He couldn't be more than four or five, with a head full of dark, silky curls, skin the shade of a new fawn, and startlingly vivid blue eyes. Lane had always liked kids, it was why he'd gone into teaching, but there was something in this boy's expression that tugged especially hard at his heartstrings. He wanted to gather the kid close and protect him. The urge was so strong his fingers twitched. Lane leaned back and curled his hands tightly around his travel mug.
"Thank you. And where is she?"
Lane glanced around, expecting to see a frantic mother searching the crowd. But no one seemed to be looking for the small boy yet. Surely his absence would be noticed soon, though. Lane smiled at him and leaned forward an inch, trying to remember where the mall's security office was located.
His new companion scooted a little closer, his big eyes wide and trained intently on Lane's face. His mouth pursed.
"She's gone to Heaven."
Lane's heart twisted itself into a pretzel at the quiet admission. It had only been a few years since he'd lost his own father. He reacted without thinking, reaching out to touch gentle fingers to the boy's cheek, but caught himself and patted his shoulder instead.
"I am so sorry, punkin. You must miss her very much."
To his surprise, the child leaned into him, a warm, solid weight against his leg. The boy nodded. "But Papa says I may see her again when I am four hundred."
Four little fingers rose from a chubby hand, the tiny thumb tucked against his palm. Lane couldn't help but smile at the emphasis put on the last words, obviously one he'd heard often repeated. No doubt by his Papa.
The boy also had a faint British accent that made the words sound almost formal and about a million times more adorable.
"And does your Papa also say that you shouldn't talk to strangers?"
He nodded. "But you're not a stranger."
"I'm not?" Lane studied the boy's face, trying to place him. He did feel as if he knew the child, though he couldn't think from where. One of his student's younger siblings, perhaps? That might explain it.
Another scan of the throng still didn't turn up any concerned looking parents. Lane pulled out his phone and began searching for the number for mall security. His new friend scrambled up on the bench beside him, grinning.
He sat up on his knees to be eye level with Lane and sniffed. "My name is Conall Neelam Atherton. What's yours?"
"Lane Ignatius Perkins," he answered automatically, taking the small, warm hand that extended in his direction and shaking it briefly. "But haven't we met?"
His brow creased as he once again tried to pinpoint the origin of the instinctual recognition. His gut said he knew this kid well, but he still couldn't place his face. Or his name.
Conall dropped his hand and tugged at the end of Lane's scarf.
"I like your scarf, Mr. Lane."
Lane felt the smile tug his lips up. His students referred to him as â€˜Mr. Lane' as well. Conall must be someone's brother. But who?
"Thank you, Conall." He eyed Conall's jeans, sneakers and his own fuzzy, dark blue sweater. "Your sweater is very nice too. Do you know where your Papa is?"
Conall nodded and shrugged, the unhelpful gesture setting his mahogany ringlets bobbing.
"He was looking at boring, stinky paints for Luther." He wrinkled his little nose.
Lane laughed and tried to recall if there was an art store nearby. He thought he'd passed one in between a coffee shop and a women's clothing store, but it wasn't as if there was a shortage of either in the mall. He placed a gentle, non-restrictive hand on Conall's waist, steadying him so he didn't teeter off the bench.
"Hmm. Well, what do you say we go look for him? I bet he's getting worried about you."
"Nuh uh." Conall petted Lane's scarf. "He'll be able to track me. Reva says he's got the best nose."
"The best... nose?" The words made no sense, but Lane's scalp prickled.
Conall leaned in close, glancing around as he whispered.
"Better than all the other Wolves." He bared small, white teeth and gave a soft grrrrr that sounded just like an angry puppy. "I'm a born Wolf, though Reva says that don't make me no better than anyone. But Papa says that isn't right. It's â€˜doesn't make me any better', because the other way is a double... a double..."
Conall wound the end of Lane's scarf around his hand as he searched for the word. It took Lane a minute to catch up, his brain still pondering the â€˜wolves' part. Not that he actually believed it. He'd been around enough kids to know a tall tale when he heard one. Even the kids in his class told stories.
Still, he hadn't heard that particular one before. Conall had probably gotten it from whoever Reva was. Once he realized what the little boy was trying to say, he smiled.
"A double negative?"
Conall nodded, relief sparkling in his sapphire eyes. "Yes."
"Okay." Lane drew the word out, trying to remember how they'd come to be talking about werewolves. Ahh, right. Conall's contention that his father wouldn't be worried because he'd be able to "track" him. With his werewolf sense of smell.
It took some effort not to break into giggles, but Lane managed.
For a moment, he wondered what a crowded place like the mall would be like for a creature with a heightened sense of smell. Probably horrible, given all the people and manufactured goods and restaurants crammed into the building. He wrinkled his nose in sympathy for the fictitious beasts and shook his head, turning his attention back to his small charge.
"I still think maybe we should see if we can find your dad." An idea tickled Lane's brain and he offered Conall a broad grin. "How about we see if we can track him?"
Conall's eyes went as wide as an anime character's and a sweet smile stretched his mouth.
"Like a game?"
"Exactly like a game."
Lane scooted toward the edge of the bench in preparation of standing, recalling suddenly that the security office was only a few stores down. Cool relief mixed with more than a healthy dash of disappointment in his gut at the thought of turning over the little boy to them.
"In fact," he said, trying to keep his smile from slipping. "I have some friends I think would like to play, too. Let's go see them and ask."
Conall nodded and scrambled down off the seat. Lane reached out instinctively to brace him, so he didn't fall.
"Papa is going to be so surprised! I can't wait for him to meet you, Mr. Lane. I bet he likes the way you smell, too. It's really nice!"
Lane laughed again, but the sound dried up abruptly as a deep voice tight with worry, exasperation, and relief cut through the babble of the crowd. The British accent, similar to, but more pronounced than the little boy's, left little question as to who it belonged to.
Not only did the laugh dry up, so did Lane's mouth and throat, because holy hell, Conall's Papa was volcanically hot. So hot Lane nearly swallowed his tongue along with a gasp.
Tall, with broad shoulders, narrow hips, and long legs, the man pushing through the surrounding throng was built like a Greek statue. Or a Greek god, more accurately. But it was more than that.
He was dressed in a pair of dark jeans and an expensive looking cranberry colored sweater that complemented the obsidian black of his hair and brown skin. A thick, well-trimmed beard, as dark as the hair on his head, covered his square jaw and framed full, dusky rose lips.
His onyx eyes were deep set beneath heavy ebony brows, surrounded by long, abundant, sooty lashes.
As Lane stared up at him, stunned, the nostrils of his slightly-too-long nose flared. As if he actually could smell Lane.
Midnight eyes glittered, evoking an intense, immediate, visceral reaction. Lane froze, muscles trembling. His gut cramped, his heart fluttered like a panicked butterfly in the cage of his ribs, and his brain went blank save for a single thought.
He's going to eat me all up.
Lane felt both terrified and aroused, heat creeping up his throat to scald his cheeks. Electric adrenaline filled his veins. The noise of the mall around them felt strangely muted beneath the sound of his own heartbeat in his ears, and yet he felt as if he could pick out each individual sound.
Footsteps, the rasp of cloth against skin, every passerby's respective breaths.
For a brief moment, Lane considered ducking around this gorgeous newcomer, and bolting. That strange impulse was followed without delay by another--the urge to press himself against the man and rub against him like a cat. Scent mark him. Maybe purr a bit.
He clamped down on both absurd notions hard and forced himself to slowly unfold from the bench instead. The other man was tall, taller even than he'd appeared as he approached. Lane was a pretty serviceable 5 foot 11, and this stunning creature topped him by probably five inches. Still, he kept his eyes locked on that unreadable onyx gaze, even though his lizard brain was screaming for him to drop his eyes and cower.
But Lane didn't cower for anyone anymore, so he smiled and opened his mouth to introduce himself.
Before he could get a word out, however, Conall saved him the trouble.
"Papa! This is Mr. Lane Ig-nay-shus Perkins," he said, sounding out Lane's cumbersome middle name carefully. "We were just going to play a game to find you."
Conall's lower lip pooched out a little, clearly put out that they weren't going to get the chance to "track" his dad. Mr. Atherton's--it had taken this long for Lane to remember Conall had said his last name, consumed as he was with trying to not notice how insanely attractive the man was--eyes narrowed.
Lane swallowed, his dry throat clicking, wondering if he was about to get a fist in the face. He hurriedly dipped his head in the direction of the security office. "Mall security is just down there. I figured they would help us reunite you two."
His eyes flicked briefly in the direction Lane had indicated before returning to his face. The scrutiny was intense. On one hand, Lane understood. He was a strange man near the guy's kid. On the other, it didn't feel like that kind of thing.
What it did feel like, he wasn't sure. Nothing he'd ever felt before.
"Thank you," Atherton said after a moment, his accented voice slightly husky. "I appreciate you looking after my son."
"You're welcome, but it's no problem. I'm used to it. And he's a very sweet boy."
"Mr. Lane is a teacher, Papa. Can he come to the spaghetti place with us?"
Lane twitched in surprise and glanced down at the small boy who reached up to take his hand. Papa Atherton, too, slid his gaze to his son and then back up to Lane's.
"You're a teacher?"
"Uh. Yeah. At Lawrence F. Talbot Elementary in Watson Hollow." He dipped his chin to meet the smiling, upturned face of the child at his side. "How did you know that?"
Lane's certainty that Conall was a student's little brother had evaporated. He would have known if any of the school dads looked like Mr. Atherton. But the school had to be the connection somehow.
Conall lifted one shoulder in a shrug, like that was unimportant. "Do you like spaghetti? It's my favorite."
Lane raised bewildered eyes to Conall's father. The other man was looking down at his son with such tender fondness, one corner of his mouth curled up the tiniest bit that it sliced right through Lane. He must have squeezed Conall's hand, because the boy squeezed his back.
And then Atherton Sr. returned his attention to Lane, that softness still lingering around his mouth and eyes.
"He's seen you there, most likely. Conall attends LFT."
Lane blinked, momentarily forgetting what they were talking about, lost in that night sky gaze. Then the man's words registered.
"Oh! Of course. Kindergarten?"
He glanced down at Conall, lips twisting, because honestly it had never occurred to him that the boy was a younger student at LFT. Though he was sturdily built, he was small, and despite his speech he seemed too young to be in school just yet.
"He just started," Conall's father said, as if reading Lane's mind. Or maybe just his expression.
"Mrs. S is my teacher. She's nice." Conall scuffed the toe of his sneaker against the floor, setting the lights to blinking. Lane nodded, familiar with the plump, older woman's effervescence.
"Yes, she is."
"Do you like spaghetti?" Conall asked, returning to what he felt was clearly the more important discussion. He shifted his attention to his father without waiting for Lane's answer--which would have been a resounding yes anyway, because Lane loved carbs in general and pasta in particular.
"Papa, can Mr. Lane come to the spaghetti place with us?"
Lane patted Conall's shoulder, drawing those bright blue eyes, before Mr. Atherton was forced to make an awkward invitation.
"Thank you, but, uh, I still have some shopping to do, Conall."
"Perhaps some other time," Mr. Atherton said, though whether it was a genuine sentiment, or he was just being polite, Lane couldn't tell. He'd never seen someone as difficult to read as Conall's father.
Mr. Atherton extended his left hand--big, square-palmed, long fingers tipped with short, clean, nails, soft looking dark hair curling at the wrist--to his son. Conall took it but his lower lip jutted forward.
There was no trembling yet, but Lane could sense it was a possibility.
He lowered himself into a crouch until he was nearly eye-level with the boy. He smiled and brushed his other hand over Conall's soft curls. They were, he noted, much lighter than his father's smooth ebony locks. Where Mr. Atherton's hair was the deep, gleaming black that reminded Lane of a panther he'd seen at the zoo once, Conall's hair was a richer, chocolate brown shade with glints of red and blond highlights.
Lane wondered what color hair Conall's mother had. His heart squeezed.
"Hey, listen," he said, resting his elbows on his knees. "I am very glad we met tonight, Conall Neelam Atherton. And thank you for inviting me to dinner. Next time you see me at school, make sure you say hello, okay? Otherwise, I will be really sad."
Conall's eyes widened, and he nodded.
"I will!" He threw short little arms around Lane's neck, squeezing. "I promise."
Lane swallowed around the sudden tightness in his throat and hugged the boy back quickly. His gaze rose inexorably to meet Atherton's inky dark eyes. His full lips were pressed together, and Lane could see a muscle in his cheek jumping, his jaw bulging a bit beneath the beard as he gritted his teeth.
He didn't think the other man was angry, despite the glimmer of strong emotion rippling through those midnight irises.
No, the emotion tightening all the intriguing muscle of Mr. Atherton's body looked very like pain. He resisted the sudden desire to reach out and take one of those big, capable-looking hands in his and offer comfort. He released Conall, stood and took a step away from both Athertons.
Mr. Atherton drew Conall to his side, ran his fingers gently through the child's messy curls.
"Thank you again, Mr. Perkins," he said, his eyes on Lane as he cradled Conall's head against his thigh. "Really."
Lane flicked his fingers. "Lane, please. And it was my pleasure."
In more than one respect, he thought, looking at the handsome man in front of him. His head tilted slightly, as if contemplating the veracity of Lane's statement. He studied Lane's face, and then long lashes swept down as his gaze dropped to slide over Lane's body.
The look was as heated and silky as a caress, though Lane didn't think Mr. Atherton meant it that way. He was just too gorgeous for his own good. Or Lane's, rather. He bit his lower lip to contain the moan that welled in his chest, but couldn't hold back the shiver that twisted his spine. Blood pulsed in his veins, pooling hot and heavy in his groin.
Again, Atherton's nostrils flared. His broad shoulders tightened.
"Call me Jared."
He barked the words, rough, almost an order. Lane licked his lips, that warring sensation of fear and arousal returning. As hot as a commanding Jared Atherton was, Lane had a bad history with dominant men. The reminder of Kurt made his heart kick against his breastbone. He grimaced at the sharp pain.
"Please," Jared continued, obviously making an effort to soften his tone. "Lane."
The sound of his name on Jared's lips was a hot spike to the gut. He shoved his hands into the pockets of his slacks, hoping to pull the fabric far enough away from his body to hide his reaction to the other man.
"It was nice to meet you..." Lane had to pause, take a deep breath to draw air into his suddenly tight lungs. "Jared."
Jared smiled, eyes glittering like jet beads.
They stared at each other for a moment before Conall yanked on his father's hand.
"I'm hungry, Papa."
Jared chuckled, the sound a soft rasp that dragged over Lane's skin like silk velvet.
"Okay. But before we go get spaghetti, I need to go back and get my bags from the store where I left them to come find you."
Conall slumped against his father's side, heaving a long, tortured sigh. "Fiiiiiiine."
Lane's lips twitched at the boy's dramatic response. He and Jared shared a look of fond exasperation that filled him with a bubbly sort of warmth. It only lasted a second though, before Jared's attention once again returned to his son.
"Say goodbye to Mr. Lane. And tell him thank you for waiting with you."
"Bye, Mr. Lane! Have fun shopping." He said it like he couldn't imagine how that would be possible, but knew it was what he was supposed to say. When his father gave his shoulder a squeeze, he sighed. "Thank you for waiting with me."
Lane's lips twitched, but he managed not to laugh.
"You're welcome, Conall. I'll see you at school."
Jared nodded at him but didn't say anything else as he drew the boy back into the crowd.
Lane watched them go. Conall clung to his father's hand, but twisted around to smile and wave his entire arm at Lane. Lane waved back, though he kept it slightly more subdued.
"Doesn't Mr. Lane smell really nice, Papa?"
The words drifted back to him, bringing a grin to Lane's lips. He strained his ears to hear Jared's response. The low rumble of his voice almost blended into the dull roar of the crowd, but Lane couldn't make out the words.
A twist of disappointment corkscrewed through him as he followed the pair's progress until they disappeared into the holiday throng, Conall bouncing on his toes, shoes lighting up, and Jared's big, toned body moving with a powerful, graceful stride that once again reminded Lane of the animals in the zoo.
If Jared Atherton was a werewolf, Lane thought absently as he tugged his scarf tighter around the pulse hammering in his throat, I'd let him bite me in a second.COLLAPSE