Chapter Two: Tone It Up
“So, doll. What do you do for a living?” Paxton asked as they sat back at the booth together.
“I’m a veterinarian.”
Both men spit their beer out onto the table.
“Sorry,” Park said as he pulled napkins from the dispenser and handed some to his brother.
Laila watched them clean their mess up off the table. Her lips twitched as she held back her laughter.
Paxton looked up at her and grinned. “Let it out doll no use holding it in.”
And she did. She burst into laughter as she held onto her side. “Sorry,” she said with a gasp of air.
The brothers smiled at her.
“No need, doll,” Paxton said with a grin.
“Yeah,” Park said, still smiling, “you just surprised us, that’s all. So, I guess you like animals, huh?”
“I love them,” she said with a beautiful smile that had both men twitching in their seats. “People don’t understand how I can go out into the woods alone just so I can get a picture of a wild animal in its natural habitat.”
“Sounds brave to me,” Park said with an interested smile.
Laila smiled at him. “That’s what my dad used to say.”
“Smart man,” Paxton said with a smile that reached his eyes, making them even bluer.
“Yeah,” she whispered.
“Laila?” Park asked when he noticed the look in her eyes. She looked so alone.
“It’s okay,” she said with a forced smile.
“What’s wrong, doll?” Paxton asked as he reached for her hand.
Laila sucked in a shocked breath when a sensation she has never felt before flowed through her body.
Paxton froze for a moment and stared at their hands. He then moved their hands over to Park. Park looked at his brother, who looked down at his and Laila’s hands then back up at him. Park nodded then took her hand from his.
Laila sucked in another shocked breath when the same sensation flowed through her body. Only this one was less tense more tender.
Park stared at her hand in his. “Laila,” he whispered, looking up at her.
The tense look in his eyes made her nervous, and she pulled her hand from his.
“What was that?” She asked as she looked between them questions in her eyes.
“What was what?” Park asked, shoving his hands into his lap as Paxton cleared his throat.
“You know what,” she whispered to them.
“Laila!” Riley said excitedly as she shoved Laila further down the bench and hugged her. “Who are these two hunks?”
Paxton and Park smirked at being called hunks.
“Park, Paxton. This is my best friend, Riley. Riley, this is Park and Paxton,” Laila said as she suggested across the table to the two, “hunks.”
“Pleasure,” Park and Paxton said at the same time as they nodded at Riley.
“The Bearington brothers,” the bulky Hulk said as he pushed the twins over so he could sit across from Riley.
“Mark,” Paxton said, glaring at the large man.
Mark grinned at him. “What’s up, Pax?”
“Still searching, I see,” Mark said, wagging his eyebrows up and down.
“Searching for what?” Laila asked, totally confused by the conversation.
“For someone who will accept them both, of course,” Mark said with a wide grin.
“Mark!” Park shouted with a loud growl that didn’t sound human as he stood up from the bench.
Laila stared at Park. He was the quiet one the less aggressive one, but the power that vibrated from his body contradicted what she had thought about him.
Mark’s face paled as he looked away from Laila. “Sorry,” he mumbled.
Paxton pulled Park back onto the bench and whispered into his ear. Park looked at Laila and instantly calmed.
Laila wondered what Paxton had said to Park to calm him. It apparently had something to do with her.
“Let’s dance,” Park said as he stood and climbed up onto the table.
Laila giggled when he pulled her up onto the table with him. He then moved to the end of the table and jumped down. When he turned and held his arms up to her, she knew she was a goner. She let him help her off the table and stared into his eyes as he set her on her feet. With that same smile, he took her hand and led her to the dance floor.
Paxton glared at Mark once Park and Laila were gone. “What the fuck, man?”
“Sorry,” Mark said without looking at Paxton.
“Hey!” Riley shrieked angrily. “Why do you have to take their crap?!”
“Because they are the leaders of the bears,” Mark whispered. “Their Chiefs.”
Riley’s eyes widened.
“She knows about us?” Paxton asked, looking from Mark to Riley then back again.
“Yeah,” Mark said with a grin, “show him your ring, love.”
Riley smiled as she held up her left ring finger.
Paxton smiled, “congrats, man.”
“Thanks,” Mark said as he reached across the table and took Riley’s hand in his.
“So, what’s going on with you, your brother, and my best friend?” Riley asked as she looked at Paxton.
“We saw her a couple of weeks ago and smelled the flowers,” Paxton said, totally confusing Riley.
“You’re joking,” Mark said, looking at Paxton.
Paxton shook his head.
“That’s amazing,” Mark said with a huge grin.
“What do flowers have to do with anything?” Riley asked, still lost in their conversation.
Mark moved to the other side of the table to sit next to her. “All human females smell like flowers—some stronger than others. And if the soul is tainted, they smell like weeds. And not all smell the same.”
She smiled at him. “What do I smell like?”
“Lilacs,” Paxton said.
She looked at Paxton then at Mark. “Is that why you sniffed me when we first met?”
Mark and Paxton laughed.
“Yes,” Mark said with a nod, “but to me, you smell so sweet I smelt you from across the room.”
“Why do I smell sweet to you?”
“Because you are my mate,” he said with a playful growl as he nipped at her neck.
She giggled as she tried to hide her neck from him. “What does Laila smell like?”
“A field of wildflowers,” Paxton said with a sweet smile.
Riley smiled, “that makes sense for her.”
“It does,” Paxton said with a nod. He looked at Mark and scowled. “We’ve already had to protect her. Somehow Stephaun discovered she’s one of the women we suspect to be our mate. She was in the wild taking pictures when he attacked her.”
“Oh no,” Riley cried out as she covered her mouth with her hand.
“I got there before he could touch her,” Paxton assured her. “But until we know for sure that she’s the one or not, she is in danger. And if she is our mate, she will be in even more danger, from even more shifters.”
Mark nodded, “not everyone wants you two to find your mate.”
“No fucking shit,” Paxton grumbled. “Do you know how many wolves and bobcats have offered themselves to me?”
Mark chuckled, “you can’t fool me. You enjoy the attention.”
Paxton chuckled, “maybe a little.”
Mark guffawed then snorted.
“I’m so lost,” Riley said with a pout.
Mark kissed her pouting lips.
“We’ve been searching for our mate for over a hundred and twenty years,” Paxton informed her.
Riley looked at him. “You mean mates,” she said, emphasizing the S at the end.
Mark laughed as Paxton shook his head.
“No mate, singular. Someone who will choose to be with us both.”
Riley sucked in a deep breath, everything finally clicking into place. “And you think Laila is that one?”
Paxton nodded. “She smells strongly of flowers, and we felt the tone of mating when we touched her hand earlier.”
“She’s got to be the one,” Mark said with a nod.
“Tone of mating?” Riley asked, confused once again.
Mark looked into her eyes and squeezed her hand. “Do you remember that feeling you got when we first touched...?”
“Oh yeah,” she said with a grin, her voice vibrating with arousal.
He chuckled, and her eyes widened.
“That’s the tone of mating?”
Both men nodded.
“Wow,” she whispered, then looked at Paxton. “And you both felt it with her?”
Paxton nodded, “yeah, we felt it tonight for the first time. I think that’s because she’s attracted to us too.”
“That’s not how it works,” Mark said, pointing at Paxton.
“I know. What I mean is, the first time we touched her, she was unconscious.”
“What?!” Riley squealed.
Paxton chuckled, “the wolf attack, remember.”
She nodded but continued to scowl at him.
“Is she faint of heart?” Mark asked.
Paxton laughed, “no, not at all. She stood there and watched even took pictures.”
Mark sucked in a breath.
“Don’t worry, I erased the ones of the fight. But she was very brave, she just stood there...”
“Then what made her pass out?” Riley asked.
Paxton looked straight into her eyes. “My bear licked her.”
“What?!” Riley squealed as Mark burst into laughter.
Paxton sighed, “after Stephaun ran away, I walked up to her. She just stood there, still snapping pictures. I sniffed her, and she smelled sooooooo good.” He paused, and his cheeks reddened. “I couldn’t help it. I liked her smell.”
Mark was still laughing, and Riley was shaking her head.
Paxton shrugged, “Park carried her while I deleted the pictures of the fight and me and Park. We left her the single shots of the wolf, so she knows what he looks like in case he comes after her again. And we also left one picture each of our bears.”
Mark finally stopped laughing and wiped his eyes to clear them of their tears of merriment.
“I don’t find this at all funny,” Riley said as she growled at Mark.
Mark pulled her against him and kissed her. “Riley, don’t you realize what all of this means?”
“Yeah,” she said grumpily, “your friends are perverted bears.”
Paxton and Mark laughed.
“This means you won’t have to hide anything from your best friend anymore,” Mark said with a smile.
Her eyes widened. “What? How?”
Mark squeezed her tight. “If Laila is their mate, she will learn everything you know.”
She squealed with excitement. “Does it also mean she won’t grow old and die on me?”
Mark chuckled, “it sure does.”
She glared at Paxton. “What are you waiting for? Go claim your mate! I want to keep my best friend!”
Paxton smiled at her. “It’s much more complicated for us.”
“How?” Riley asked. “She smells right. She adores both of you. What more could you want?”
Paxton sighed, “mine and Park’s mate has to pass a test, then we will know she is our foreseen mate.”
“What test?” Riley asked as she folded her arms over her chest. “I didn’t have to go through any test.”
“Because I’m not the Chief’s sons,” Mark said.
Riley looked at him. “So?”
“So...” Mark took a deep breath. “When a shifter comes of age, they are sent to the Shaman. Or the man comes to them, and he tells the shifter what to look for in their mate. I was told that she would smell like the ripest strawberries. So, to Paxton, Park, and any other shifter, you smell like lilacs. But to me, you smell like the sweetest, most delicious strawberries with a hint of lilac. It’s very intoxicating,” he said then kissed her.
She smiled against his lips, “you smell like sugar cookies to me.”
He grinned, “that just proves that you are my mate. Our mates smell us as something sweet, like chocolate...”
“Or sugar cookies,” she said with a smirk.
He chuckled, “right.”
“So why don’t they ask Laila what they smell like to her?”
“Because the Shaman gave them not only what to look for in their mate but also a premonition.”
“What’s the premonition?”
He whispered it into her ear, and her eyes grew wide as she looked across the table at Paxton.