I pushed the jacket back from his shoulders and untucked his shirt while he struggled with my buttons. I shrugged out of the shirt and tossed his belt over my shoulder, slipping my hand under his waistband. Nick lifted me and carried me to the bedroom, to his bed.

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“Are you sure?” he asked, cupping his hand around my jaw as he settled his weight over me. I quirked my eyebrows, peering down at the grip I had on his manly bits. He laughed. “OK, then.”

I didn’t have time to be nervous. I didn’t know how this would feel, but it couldn’t be bad. Werewolves had very healthy attitudes toward sex. Hell, sex was one of the primary winter activities in the valley. Which was why we had so many babies every spring.

Babies.

I arched off of him long enough to dangle off the bed and grab for his nightstand. Nick nibbled along the curve of my spine, biting at my hip as I rooted around for the long string of condoms I found there. I turned back to him, giving him a speculative look. He smiled sheepishly. “I had high hopes.”

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I laughed and helped him ease out of his pants. He guided my hands as we slipped on the condom. I expected him to, well, get right to it. But he pushed me back onto the mattress, kissing down my bottom, hitting all of the places I loved best, the valley between my breasts, the hollow of my belly button. His fingers were already deep inside me, stretching and teasing me, while his thumb worked little circles around my clit. His lips closed around my nipple, flicking and teasing it with his tongue.

He rolled onto his back, pulling me with him. “This might hurt a little,” he said, smiling up at me, concern reflecting back at me in those blue eyes. “It might be better if you were running things.”

He helped me position him near my entrance, and I sank down over him, hissing as I stretched. It was more pressure than pain, a strange alien sensation that disturbed more than it hurt. I stayed still for a second, waiting for my body to adjust around him. I tried not to overthink, but damn, it was a lot of stuff to process. The stretching and pulling sensations deep inside. The way his hands wrapped around my waist. Nick looking up at me, his expression so happy, so adoring, that I couldn’t help but smile at him. I moved just a little bit and gasped at the friction it produced.

“Slow,” he whispered, kissing my neck. “Go slow.”

My first couple of movements were awkward as I searched for the right angle. He lifted my hips and thrust up gently, helping me find a rhythm. His hand slid up my neck, rubbing his thumb along my jaw. I leaned into his touch, and he pulled me down to kiss him. He nibbled along the line of my chin, my throat. He pressed his teeth against my collarbone and nipped a little harder.

I rose on my knees and slid down just a little harder, huffing out a little moan. I rose a little higher and did it again. I paused to absorb the strange, hot lightning sensation that shot through my stomach. That was nice. I pushed up with my feet, riding so high that Nick almost slipped out of me. He groaned in protest until I slammed my hips down on his.

“You’re a natural.” He sighed, sitting up and wrapping his arms around me as I rode him. He slid his hand between us and stroked my clit.

I giggled again until I felt my inner muscles tighten, clenching around him. I shrieked at the first pulse, clutching at his shoulders. Nick lay back, pulling me down and rolling over. He hitched my legs over his hips, pulling me up so my ass rested on his thighs. He gave one good, hard thrust, spreading me wide for him, and I yelled out. He was thrusting upward, hitting some wonderful place that made me want to squeeze my thighs together and lock him there. I tensed again, and the wave was longer, better. A rush of heat seemed to radiate up through my chest, making the blood roar in my ears. The pulses were coming quicker, more intense. Everything seemed to seize up at once, and I was screaming his name.

I must have yelled some other, dirtier stuff, because Nick answered with a yell of his own and was coming with me. He laid his head against my heart, panting against my skin and listening to its beat. I threaded my fingers through his hair and pulled him closer.

I tried to find some tiny bit of regret inside myself but couldn’t. I’d done it. I’d chosen Nick. There was no going back now. I stroked my fingers along his cheek. “This might hurt a little,” I whispered.

He blinked dreamily at me. “Hmm?”

I closed my eyes and prayed that I was making the right choice. I sank my teeth into his shoulder as gently as possible, just breaking the skin. He yelped but gritted his teeth and took it like a man. I licked the wound and nuzzled his jaw.

“You couldn’t have warned me?” he asked, frowning down at the thin trail of blood dripping down his chest.

“Sorry. You would have tensed up. It would have hurt more,” I told him, handing him a tissue. “But we’re mated now. There’s no escape for you.”

“Not looking for one,” he said, dabbing at the wound. “You OK?”

I nodded. Physically, I was great. Relaxed and dandy. But I was a little worried. While I’d refused any detailed descriptions during Mama’s birds-andthe-beasts talk, the one thing I did ask was how she was sure she and Dad were mated. She said she “just knew,” and when I gave her an irritated look, she added that she felt complete, whole, happy with her choice. But frankly, I’d felt that way for a while, so how could I tell if there was a difference?

“Is something supposed to happen?” he asked.

I propped myself up on my elbow. “I don’t know.”

“Maybe you should bite me again?”

I gently touched my fingertips to the edge of the wound on his neck, which was raw and red. “I think I got you pretty good the first time.”

“Don’t worry, we’ll figure it out,” he said, kissing me. “Personally, I am willing to do that over and over until we come to some conclusion.”

“There’s that confidence again.”

He climbed out of bed, muttering about finding his drawers, and I noticed the faint white scar on his butt.

“Oh, no,” I moaned.

Nick was back on the bed in a flash. “What? Are you hurt?”

“I claimed my mate with a bite to the ass!” I cried, pressing my face to the pillow.

“I’m sorry, what?”

“Your ass. I bit it, months ago!” I moaned as he pried my hands and the pillow off my face and made me look at him. “And ever since then, I’ve felt this weird protectiveness . . . and possessiveness toward you. And I’ve been calmer, with the exception of the whole possible werewolf intruder thing. I’ve been happy, content. I’ve been mated.”

“But, but, but—”

“Exactly!” I exclaimed, gesturing at his matrimonially marked ass.

“But if that were true, if all it took was a bite, werewolves would find themselves accidentally mated to random people all the time.”

“It’s not about the bite, it’s about the intention,” I said. “The werewolf magic sort of does the rest.” I thought back to the day I bit him. I’d been angry because he thought I was Mo. I wanted to show him that I was the woman, the animal, he was looking for. And I was staking my claim, marking my territory. Permanently. My stupid instincts made my decision for me. I could have spared myself all that angst over Clay versus Nick. “Oh, this is bad . . .”

“Why is it so bad?” he asked. “It just means we arrived at our destination a little early. I think it’s kind of cool.”

“We can never tell Samson, do you understand? If he knows I accidentally claimed your glutes, I will never live it down.”

“Maggie, it will be OK. This is a good thing. You chose me. And I love you for it.”

“I’m serious. We can’t tell Samson or Cooper or Mo. Or my mom.”

His tone was exasperated as he kissed my forehead. “Maggie.”

“Shutting up.”

He nuzzled my throat and traced the curves of my collarbone with his fingertips. “So, I love you.”

“Uh . . . thanks?”

“Do you have anything you might want to express to me in return?”

“You are . . . awesome?” I suggested. He leveled me with eyes that contained no amusement whatsoever. “I’m sorry! I’ve never said it before. OK, if feeling like your heart’s been ripped through your chest, jammed back, and scrambled around means you’re in love, it’s possible that one day I could be in love with you. “

He quirked his lips. “Well, that was . . . descriptive, while still remaining vague.”

“I will say that I don’t want to be without you. The idea of you leaving makes me want to throw up. When you’re not around, I feel empty and nauseated.”

“Aha!” he crowed. “So you admit it! I have a profound effect on your stomach . . . Speaking of which, I’ve been thinking.”

“That was a terrible segue.”

He ignored me pointedly. “I was thinking, what if you went and found some werewolf who didn’t gross you out entirely and you mated with him? You could have as many babies with him as you wanted. As long you came home to me every day, I think I could live with that.”

I kissed him long and hard. “Just the fact that you’re willing even to consider that means I couldn’t possibly go through with it. First of all, it wouldn’t exactly be fair to the random werewolf I picked. He wouldn’t be able to have babies with the female of his choice.”

“You could pick a gay werewolf who wouldn’t want a female—”

“You came up with this scenario pretty quickly,” I muttered.

“I’m a creative thinker.”

“Oh, my God,” I groaned, burying my face in my hands. I laughed and shook my head. “OK, second, it wouldn’t work anyway, because I chose you, I marked you. Remember? No substitutions, no take-backs. My body won’t accept, uh, contributions from anyone else. You’re my mate, for better, for worse. Human or werewolf. You’re mine, and I’m yours.”

“Good,” he said, wrapping his arms around me. “ ’Cause I’m going to ask you to marry me, sometime soon. I know this is sort of a good moment, what with the successful deflowering and biting and all. But I didn’t want to do it when you were expecting it. And I didn’t know whether you wanted an engagement ring or not. I didn’t see any of the women in the pack wearing them.”

I smiled and was amazed at how easily I accepted the idea after a lifetime of sneering at happy married couples Then again, engagement is sort of a bump in the road, compared with lifelong bonding through a bite on the ass.

“Rings slip off too easily when we change,” I told him. “Most of us have our bands tattooed on our fingers. But if that’s too much for you, some of the women accept necklaces as a sign of betrothal. The chain has to be sturdy and long enough to wrap around our necks in either form.”

He grinned. “Is that what you want?”

“I’m not much on needles.” I wiggled my eyebrows. “I like stones with some color to them. Don’t get me a door-knocker-sized diamond. Just a little stone.”

“What color?”

I grinned up at him, pushing the blond strands of hair out of his eyes. “Blue. I’m awfully partial to blue.”

12

Some Orphans Have All the Luck

I WOKE UP, THANKFUL TO be in my human form.

I was in Nick’s bed, snuggled up on his blankets. I could smell him all over me, as if I’d been rolling around on him all night. I smiled, stretching across the bed and its cozy, nestlike arrangement of pillows. I don’t think I’d ever been more comfortable.

I sat up, propping myself on my elbows, listening for sounds of him moving around the house. Through the bedroom door, I felt a weird tension coming from the living room. I threw on one of his T-shirts and padded toward the sound of his voice.

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