“Flame, if we don’t hurry up, we will end up missing the ceremony,” I shouted from the bottom of the stairs as I reminded my mate, yet again, that we had somewhere to be.
Knowing that my words were probably in vain, I resigned myself to fixing my hair once more in front of the mirror before I poured myself another glass of whisky. At this rate, the bottle was going to be empty very soon.
No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t figure out what was taking her so long, especially now that I was no longer in the room to distract her.
“That’s what I told you after round three before you dragged me back to bed again, Callum,” she protested after a couple of minutes. From how distant her voice sounded, I knew that she had not even made it past the bedroom door yet.
Well, okay....maybe it was true that our lateness was partially my fault but who could possibly blame me for wanting nothing else than to sink myself between the legs of my perfect mate. She was a temptation destined to be mine, my little piece of heaven on earth. Her scent was my drug, her touch- my addiction. Her smile alone was enough to render me powerless, entirely at her mercy.
Yeah, I was fucked- well, literally fucked as well- but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. She was my weakness and my strength, and I couldn’t imagine my life without her bubbly, quirky personality and kind, loving nature.
The door creaked open, and the clicking of heels on the hard wooden floor followed.
My gaze shifted to my watch, relieved to see that there was still a good chance that we were going to make it on time for the cocktail before the ceremony started.
Frankly, I would have preferred to spend that time with Flame but being the Alpha required also networking and socialising; building new alliances, where necessary, and keeping existing allies happy.
Riley, Rafe and Aiden’s ceremony was mainly a private affair, open to friends, family and members of their packs and clan. Still, creating a new tribe, particularly one that was a complete precedent in the shifter world, also required certain political support. There was no better way to ask your allies to prove their backing than by inviting them to attend the ceremony.
Of course, our presence there with Flame was more than just formal support- the three of them were our friends, so we would have been there no matter what- but the event was also an important occasion for us. It was going to be the first occasion to introduce Flame as my Luna and to gain the acceptance from other sleuths, packs, clans and skulks of our unusual bond. Not that I cared about what anyone else thought. However, I knew that my mate did.
Yet, when I looked up, my mind went blank. I was speechless, unable to do anything but stare at the magnificent beauty that made her way down the stairs. My fiery girl was a striking vision in her emerald green dress. The moment I saw it at the boutique, I knew it was made for Flame, but it looked even better on her than I’d imagined. The colour of her dress contrasted her hair perfectly, the front thigh slit exposing her long legs and her mating mark.
Then I saw the pin which rested proudly on her waistline. The jeweller had done a superb job, turning the sleuth’s crest into an elegant brooch that was fitting for my queen, and I really needed to thank Aiden for his recommendation. Trust a dragon to know all the best places for shiny, expensive things.
“You look...wow,” I muttered, my breath caught in my throat. Just the sight of her made my skin tingle, our bond stirring with appreciation. And not just the bond.
I think that maybe it’s best if Flame rides me to the ceremony, Mahon jumped in the middle of my thoughts.
Are you fucking nuts? She is wearing a gown, you moron- she is not going to ride a bear, not even you. We’re going with the Land Rover, and I will give her a day to remember.
You are lucky that I can’t force you to shift, he retorted.
And you are lucky that I can’t mute you.
Are you two going to bicker all day? My mate’s voice sounded in my head, and my eyes widened. She was getting better and better at mind linking with every day passing, and I was both impressed and a little bit scared by her talent.
“So, what do you think?” She smiled when she finally reached me, and twirled elegantly to show off her gown.
“I think that every man at the ceremony will want to rip my throat out for being the luckiest guy alive. Aside from Rafe and Aiden, of course,” I chuckled even though I was actually dead serious- she looked like a goddess, and I was sure that she was going to turn heads. “Be warned though- if you keep twirling like that, I will not be able to think about anything else but round five.”
“You are insufferable, Callum Andrews.” Her giggling was a glorious sound, even if she swatted me for my cheekiness. “But I still love you despite that.”
I was never going to get enough of hearing her say that she loved me. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever. Maybe I was a needy bastard but fuck it, I only had one life and I intended to spend it loving her.
Instinctively, I found myself invading her space, our faces mere inches away from each other. Her laughter was cut short when my breath caressed her lips, her pupils dilating in anticipation of what was to come next. Her delicious natural scent pervaded my lungs. When her teeth grazed the delicate flesh of her lower lip, I knew we were both playing with fire.
“If I kiss you now, I won’t be able to stop,” I whispered, making her draw a sharp breath as my lips brushed against her ear.
Time stood still, neither of us daring to move. Not until she spoke. “Not if you can’t catch me,” she exclaimed, her lips landing on mine before she pulled away, snatched the keys for the car from behind me, grabbed the skirt of her gown and ran out of the door.
How the hell is she even able to bolt like that in heels? I shook my head in disbelief, yet I was grinning like an idiot.
Fuck, I loved that woman!
It was just over a week since the last time that I was at the Windcrest estate, but the atmosphere around the whole place was completely different this time around. The air was buzzing with excitement; laughter and chattering ringing from all directions.
A huge marquee was set up on the green grass next to the mansion, and I could see the white wooden chairs set up for the ceremony right by the lake. The natural and nature-inspired decoration gave the whole place a cosy, intimate, yet down-to-earth and still very elegant vibe. The signs across the different locations were done by the youngsters of the two wolf packs, and guests enjoyed their drinks and appetisers by the multiple enthralling fire pits that were set up by Aiden’s clan, showing just how involved Windcrest, Blackwood and the Fire Dragons had been in helping set everything up. The crests of all three were also displayed on the marquee, and the flags fluttering under the gentle wind.
Everything looked gorgeous- the perfect setting for bringing together friends, families and allies.
“Oh wow, did you see all the bar options?” I pointed out to Callum as we walked down the lawn.
His face brightened like a lightbulb when he realised what I was talking about. “I bet that this was probably because the three of them couldn’t agree on what exactly they wanted to have, but I appreciate all the options.”
All the options? Rafe, Riley and Aiden had us totally spoiled. On one end stood a vintage whisky and cigars bars, with some of the most premium bottles that I had ever seen; while others could enjoy the beer canoe with bottled beers and the self-service draught beer bar that were available on the other end with a wide selection from local ales and lagers to more commercial beers. And right ahead of us was the wine and cocktails bar, where the bar staff were impressing everyone with their flair bartending.
My hand searched for Callum’s while we made our way down to the crowd arm in arm, our fingers intertwining as soon as they found each other. There was no one else that I could imagine having by my side, especially not on this special day. I was definitely nervous about meeting many more shifters, many of whom had no reason to even want to socialise with me, but with my mate by my side, I didn’t care even if no one else wanted to speak with us.
“I think that the whisky bar was Aiden’s idea, the beers is probably Rafe, and wine and cocktails- that has my best friend’s name written all over it,” I guessed, knowing that they had all pitched in with ideas.
“I can definitely see that. I told you those three work well together- just look at the food as well. We are still to try it, but I am pretty sure that the fancy appetisers and crostinis are Aiden’s doing. And the BBQ buffet- that’s a wolf’s work, guaranteed. Those wolf shifters are addicted to meat.”
I laughed listening to him because I could totally see what he meant about both Rafe and Aiden. “Good thing that Riley never went through with that idea of hers to become vegetarian a few years ago.”
“That would have really been a test for their bond,” he chortled. “Ah, look, there’s James there. Let’s start with him.”
My gaze shifted to the small group of people that Callum steered us towards, where a tall, lean guy was just saying goodbye to the men that he was talking to. He looked around like he was searching for someone until he saw us.
“James,” my mate said as they shook hands. “It’s been a while.”
“A couple of weeks, but I take it that you miss me, Callum. Have you finally realised that bears have a thing or two to learn from us?” The smirk on his face told me that these two had some friendly banter going between them, yet I had to fight the urge to jump in and defend the bears. James’ focus then turned to me as he took my hand and brought it to his lips, much to Callum’s dislike. “And who might this beautiful lady be? It’s unusual to see a human present at a shifters event, miss, so I am curious what the bear Alpha has done to have you as his date today.”
There was something rather charming about him, but I couldn’t help feeling that he was also quite sly. On top of that, the more I looked at him, the more I realised that his dark blonde hair appeared to have foxy undertones in the light. If I had to guess, I would have bet that James was a fox shifter and an Alpha too, given that he spoke to another Alpha like they were at the same level.
“Unlike you, I don’t have to resort to any tricks to win over a woman, James,” Callum retorted, wrapping his arm around my waist. On the other hand, I had to do my best not to roll my eyes at the little pissing contest that these two were having. Apparently, shifter men had the same ego issues at times as human men. “Scarlett is my mate, and she also happens to be Riley’s best friend. Flame, meet James Wilson, the Alpha of the Redtails Skulk.”
“Mates, huh? A human and a bear...interesting! Mind you, I already figured it out when you came over, Callum.” The corners of his mouth turned upside into a wide grin. “If having your scent all over her didn’t give it away, the mating mark certainly did the job, but it was fun to push your buttons, old friend.”
Touche, fox Alpha, I thought to myself as I pressed my lips not to smile.
“And my condolences, Scarlett- I don’t know why the Sun Goddess decided to punish you by mating you to a bear, but I guess even a goddess can’t always get things right,” he said and winked at me.
“Don’t worry about me, Alpha Wilson. I seem to have a soft spot for bears and this one in particular.” To make myself perfectly clear, I also slid my arm around Callum, giving him a quick peck on the cheek. “And what about your mate, James?”
Perhaps I shouldn’t have asked that because his smile disappeared as he tensed. “Let’s just say that it’s complicated.”
I was curious what he meant by that but his sudden change of mood made it clear that this was not a conversation he wanted to have, and I certainly didn’t want to burn my bridges.
“Looking for someone, James?” Callum cocked an eyebrow at the fox Alpha, who was once again searching the crowd around us.
“More like trying to avoid someone, but that’s a long story. I think I am going to grab another drink. Enjoy the cocktail, you two, and see you later,” he added before he waved us goodbye and walked away.”
“Was it just me, or was that a bit odd?” I turned to my mate, confused by James’ quick departure.
“It was. But the guy is a fox shifter- you never get the full picture with those. They always have some secret up their sleeves. He did have the right idea though. Let’s grab drinks, and I’ll introduce you to some more people.”
The next hour went by surprisingly quickly, but that was very much due to the sheer number of people we met. Alphas, Betas, Gammas; men and women; shifters of all kinds and from all over the country. My head was spinning from all the names and ranks that I tried to remember but I was happy that no one seemed to have any objections to socialising with a human. A few seemed somewhat less convinced than others. Yet, they kept their reservations to themselves, still indulging in some pleasant small talk.
To be honest, I was a lot more worried about offending someone accidentally instead. My mouth usually had no filter back in London, so I was certainly trying to be more diplomatic- not an easy task when you had no clue what could be considered offensive in this world. But every time I got nervous, my gorgeous man was next to me to help me out, reassuringly squeezing my hand, encouraging me to continue. The fact that no one had declared war on our sleuth up to now was probably a good sign.
Yet, even if I was enjoying myself, I couldn’t deny that I needed a break from all the introductions and, on top of that, I really needed to see that woman of the hour. So when Aiden and Rafe appeared amongst the guests, I excused myself to Callum and made a beeline for Riley’s mates.
“Gentleman, it seems that you have already lost my best friend,” I teased them while they both hugged me. “Do I need to give you the speech that I would kill both of you if you ever hurt her?”
I don’t know if it was the deadly-serious face that accompanied my question or the fact that I was threatening two shifter Alphas, but they both chuckled in response, which only made me narrow my eyes more at them.
“You do realise that you are trying to intimidate a wolf and a dragon, right?” The amusement in Rafe’s tone was pretty clear but he couldn’t scare me even if he tried. Not like I had not been kidnapped and nearly killed a few times already.
“Oh, I do but I can be crafty, trust me. You don’t spend years being Riley’s best friend without picking up a few ideas on how to stealthily eliminate someone,” I smiled innocently at him, causing Aiden to laugh in turn.
“Honestly, I will never question why you and Riley are best friends,” he exclaimed before he pointed at Rafe. “Don’t worry- this idiot here is the only one who might be stupid enough to upset our mate, but both Riley and I know how to keep him in check. And we both love her way too much to ever hurt her, Scarlett, so she is safe with us, I promise you that.”
“Good. Now that’s out of the way, can you tell me where I can find her?”
Rafe enjoyed another sip of his whisky before he took a keycard out of his pocket and handed it over to me. “She didn’t want us to see her before the ceremony. Some strange superstition about it being bad luck. Go up to the penthouse suite- she’ll be there.”
Ten minutes later, I stood in front of the suite’s door, unable to get in. The damn keycard got me through the whole packhouse but not into the one room that I actually needed to get into. I did wonder if this was all Riley’s doing, actually - I wouldn’t put it past her if she had deactivated her mates’ keycards so that they couldn’t surprise her.
After my second knock, the door finally opened but, to my astonishment, it was not my best friend who greeted me.
“Can I help you?”
Aww, where do I start from?
Callum and Scar are always so much fun to write about (although it had been a while since we had Callum’s POV) but it was so good to see familiar faces as well.
James is warming up for his own book (which will come after Bear with Me), and I loved Scar’s moment with Rafe and Aiden as well.
And our Bear with Me couple always melts my heart with their cute little moments.
Who is at the door though, and where is Riley? Tune in next week to find out.
I hope you enjoyed the double POV and the longer (again) chapter.
Don’t forget to comment to let me know what you thought of the chapter.