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Reluctant Mate

The Shifters of Hell's Creek

Painted Hearts Publishing

Heat Rating: SCORCHING
Word Count: 59,159
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Levi was one of the most popular men on campus at his little college located in the north Georgia hills. In the three years since his small group of friends left the little mill village called Hell’s Creek to venture out into the ‘real’ world, he’s watched as each of them has grown more carefree and happy. They played football and Frisbee, went to their classes and partied hard on the weekends. And none of the other students ever guessed that a small group of shifters has invaded their human world. Life would have been sweet if not for one thing—the one boy on campus that Levi wants to impress hates his guts. Openly, intensely, and with great malice.

Christian has his reasons for not accepting Levi’s endless invitations, and they all have to do with a terminal illness he’s had since he was a child. When Christian goes camping one weekend with a friend, he’s hoping he can forget his troubles for a while and relax. It’s working fine, until a huge wolf and a black panther come roaring out of the forest and straight at him. Christian faints and when he wakes up, finds that Levi has taken him to his home in Hell’s Creek. The strange inhabitants of the town all believe they can turn into animals. And people are telling him over and over again that he can’t leave, because he’s seen too much. Worst of all, the more time he spends with the gorgeous Levi, the healthier he’s beginning to feel and the more he’s beginning to fall for him. Is there really something in the water like everyone tells him? Or is he just going as crazy as they all are?

Will the secret that Hell’s Creek has been hiding finally be revealed? Christian has to find a way out of town before it’s too late, and before he falls hopelessly and irrevocably in love.

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Excerpt

Levi

I was sprawled out beneath the shade of one of many weeping willow trees that grew abundantly on my college campus. My buddy Alex was about twenty yards away, embroiled in heated game of Frisbee with two of our other friends, Aiden and Jayden. Smiling, I realized they weren’t nearly as coordinated at playing catch in their human forms and they were when they were when shifted into their canines. The Frisbee was on the ground much more than in their hands. That was all fine and dandy, though, because they were clearly having fun. In the three years since my small group of friends had left the compound to dip our toes into the ‘real’ world by enrolling and being accepted to college, I’d watched as they’d each of them had grown more carefree and happy. Alex, who’d been stifled and abused by his father, Jason Todd, his entire life was still a bit reserved, but the rest of us blended in quite nicely—or at least I liked to think so.
I glanced around the beautifully manicured campus lawn at the other college students milling about, each one laughing with their friends, playing their own games of Frisbee or having their head crammed in a book, studying away for a test. They innocently went to class, had intense and passionate discussions over issues of the day or maybe just N.W.A over Migos and then partied hard on the weekends. They did all this without ever knowing that a small group of shifters had invaded their human world.
At first, I’d been terrified that as soon as they looked at us, we’d stand out…look different…smell different…act different. We did, but it seemed that nobody really noticed or cared enough to comment on it. That was good with us--blending in had been one of our main objectives.
It did seem, however, that we possessed some sort of thrall which enticed the entire human population of the school. We dated a lot, fucking anyone we desired and leaving them more than satisfied when we were finished, but careful never to get too involved. We were all looking for our true mates, and while it was fun to fool around, we had to save our hearts for that someone special. It had taken us exactly one week to confirm there were no other shifters studying at this campus, so we wouldn’t find our true mates here, that was for certain.
Not to brag or anything, but whatever the fuck it was in our DNA that made us shifters had also turned us into superior athletes, out of this world lovers, and excellent students. And I really wasn’t bragging. Everything just seemed to be easier for us, like we were somehow enhanced. Our classes, regardless of how difficult the material, were less than challenging. Oh, and our thrall didn’t just include the student population; we did damned well with the faculty, too. You know…allegedly.
But since it was totally the luck of the draw, we really weren’t all that conceited over it. That thing that made us special also came with a few other little parting gifts—like excruciating pain when every bone in our body had to break and reform when we changed into our canine forms. We were used to it—but that didn’t make it a whole lot easier.
We’d enjoyed all the attention and swooning we got from the other students the first three years, but lately, especially the last three weeks, had left me feeling…edgy. That was the only way I could describe it. I had an itch I couldn’t scratch. My temper, which, let’s face it, wasn’t the best in the world due to the fact that I was an alpha wolf, had gotten worse. I found myself snarling and growling at my friends when there was absolutely no reason for a snarl or growl. As for my libido…my cock was hard constantly and no matter who I fucked or how often I fucked, nothing helped. My wolf begged for release—he was itching to get free and howl at the moon. It was almost to the point that I’d considered breaking our most important rule of never shifting unless we were far in the mountains, away from all human contact.
I was so out of sorts that I’d even called my brother, Marcus, and tried to let him talk me off the ledge, so to speak. Marcus was the alpha wolf of our pack back home in Hell’s Creek, a little mill town, tucked away in the Georgia mountains—pretty much hidden away from the remainder of civilization. And we had to keep it that way, because our town had a secret. Many years ago, when the mill was first built, the unscrupulous owners experimented with various chemicals that enhanced their paper mill products, but also leaked into the village’s water supply and turned all its residents into mutated freaks.
Not so much on the outside, so our grandparents could realize they’d been contaminated. No, these mutations were in their DNA, so that when their children were born, they had an extra little gift. They could transform into animals, both canine and feline, or as we said in Hell’s Creek, we were all either some kind of dog or some kind of cat.
I can’t even imagine our grandparents’ horror the first time it happened, but it wasn’t long until they realized that all their children had this mutation, even the ones who had already been born and had just drunk the water all those developmental years. The mill owner, old man Todd, told them their children would be taken away from them and used in government experiments. I don’t know if that was true—I’d like to think it wasn’t. But it scared our ancestors so badly, that after that, they were trapped in the little out of the way mill village in the North Georgia mountains. And they made sure that all the roads leading into it were blocked off and forgotten.
Three years ago, the criminal duplicity of old man Todd and his son finally came out and we took the town for ourselves, including the mill. The leader of the dogs—my brother Marcus—and the cats—a lion shifter named Leo—took over and ran the town and the mill. And since that time, a lot of changes had taken place.
Marcus was also busy tending to his new mate, Chloe, who still seemed to dislike Marcus on more days than she liked him. That girl, my beloved sister--in--law was a handful. That was, of course, exactly the kind of woman my brother needed to keep him in line, I guess. I liked her okay. Hell, I’d probably think she was hot if I were into the fairer sex.
I wasn’t.
Anyway, what was supposed to be a quick phone call with my brother to alleviate my ‘itch’ turned into him insisting on a visit this weekend to see for himself what was up with me. He’s more like my dad in a way, since he’s the one who raised me. It wasn’t like I didn’t want to see my brother; I missed him and home terribly, but I was troubled that Marcus felt like he needed to do a welfare check just because I was suddenly feeling restless. He’d asked some odd questions that had me squirming in my seat, but didn’t allude to what answers were correct or incorrect.
He was wasting his time--whatever was troubling me would pass. It wasn’t like I was going to do something stupid and shift in front of a campus filled with human students. I didn’t think so anyway. Like my brother, I was an alpha wolf--control was my middle name.
So I was practicing some of that phenomenal control and just chilling out under the willow tree, when a strange scent, like oranges and musk mingled together just perfectly, tickled the tip of my nose. Within seconds, I was sporting another raging hard-on. This was getting fucking ridiculous. Maybe Marcus was right and I needed some family time to calm my twitchy nerves.
Alex raced over and plopped down next to me, exhausted but still clearly bounding with excess energy, and said, “Dude! You need to calm yourself down. The smell of your arousal nearly caused me to pop a boner and, unlike you, I don’t enjoy walking around campus with my cock trying to burst out of my jeans. What’s your problem, Levi? This has been happening a lot lately.”
Aiden and Jayden joined us and they looked much more sedated than Alex, but they were both sporting smirks as they blatantly eyed my straining erection. Aiden was a coyote dingo mix and Jayden was a red fox. On campus, we also had Sebastian, Hunter, and Caleb. They were from the feline territory, so they didn’t hang around with us very much. The treaty that was formed between the canines and felines after the death of Alex’s father would be considered weak, but from what Marcus told me, it grew stronger every day. On campus, we exchanged pleasantries with Leo and Julian’s felines when we saw them but didn’t go out of our way to spend any unnecessary time with any of them. I had no doubt that both Marcus and Leo would be disappointed in our attitudes, but, hell, it wasn’t like we could just forgive and forget all the hate that had been drilled into our heads since birth. We were trying, but I had a feeling Marcus would be telling me we weren’t trying hard enough.
It would take time--maybe lots of time where Sebastian was concerned. He was the adopted son of Mathias and a large black panther when he shifted. If I wasn’t mistaken, he was about as full of himself as I was, which was probably why we didn’t get along all that great. Hunter was a Jaguar and Caleb was a Cheetah. They were both really friendly and popular on campus. Needless to say, they all three kicked ass in track.
“Earth to Levi,” Jayden said, waving his hand in front of my face. “You were like a million miles away. What’s up with you?”
Aiden snorted out a laugh and answered, “I know what’s up with him. He’s got a wolf crush on the new kid that hangs out with the artsy clique.” He leaned over and nudged Alex with his shoulder. “You know him, don’t you, Alex? You hang over there every now and then. The one with those bright blue eyes, dirty blond hair, and bubble ass. The one with the badass tattoos all over him.”
I heard a growl rip from my throat before I could even consider stopping it. Aiden’s eyes nearly popped out of his head when I made the threatening sound. “Back your wolf down, dude. I was just messin’ with you. I thought for sure you would have already nailed his ass enough that you’d be tired of him by now.” When Alex giggled, Aiden’s eyes grew even wider. “Seriously? He’s still holding out on you? That’s got to be a first! Has anybody ever told you no before?”
I felt my temper simmer to the surface. It wasn’t that I was mad at Aiden for running his smart mouth--that was something I was accustomed to. No, something else had pissed me off and I couldn’t figure out what it was. Hell, maybe it was the new kid. Maybe Aiden was on to something. Nobody had ever turned me down before and this kid, Christian Angel, had done it around eight times already. Well, nine if you count the time I slapped him on the ass and he responded by smacking me across the face. No words were actually exchanged that time, so I’m not sure it needed to be considered a shutdown. Maybe he just didn’t like it rough?
Christian Angel—what a dumbass name. It made me think that his family must be totally religious or something like that, but when you looked at my nemesis, you didn’t see anything Christian-y or Angelic. Nope, between his piercings, tattoos, love of alcohol and drugs, one might place him on the opposite end of the Christian goodie-goodie scale.
“Not only has Christian shut him down on the sex thing, but I’m pretty sure the guy hates him. Hates. Him. As in, has absolutely nothing nice to say about our boy here,” Alex chimed in as he started rolling around a ball that had tumbled out of his backpack.
How in the hell nobody recognized him as a fun-loving golden retriever was beyond me. Between his big brown eyes, absolute loyalty, and non-stop playfulness, it was, in my humble opinion, impossible not to see the cute canine in him. I guess the difference was I came from a world where shifters were a common part of life and the people on this campus had absolutely no idea such things existed.
“I don’t think he hates me,” I argued. “Why would he hate me? I haven’t done anything that would constitute the hatred level.” Had I?
Alex shrugged and began tossing the ball in the air and catching it in his mouth. I reached over and yanked it out of the air and glared at him. “Seriously, Alex? You can’t do that shit out in the open!”
Immediately, I felt like a piece of shit. His brown eyes looked at me liked I’d just locked him in his doghouse for a week. “Sorry,” I mumbled in shame. “Just be careful, kid. Marcus told us not to do anything to make ourselves stand out.”
Another snort came from Aiden. “Like walking around with a hard dick for three weeks straight,” he mocked. “Trust me, that’s made you stand out—you and your jeans.”
“Hardy-har-har,” I answered before turning my attention back to Alex. “Back to Christian; why do you think he hates me?” I was never going to get to plow his gorgeous ass if he hated me. Surely Alex was mistaken.
“He told me,” Alex answered in the most nonchalant voice in the world.
My heart, which absolutely never gets involved with any of my relationships, did some kind of weird somersault in my chest when Alex said those words. “He did not,” I argued, more hurt than angry. Sure, my flirting had been a bit aggressive at times, but it wasn’t like I’d touched him inappropriately.
Other than that smack on the ass. Was that inappropriate? In my world, it was called foreplay.
“He did,” Alex countered. “Clearly he doesn’t know that we’re friends or he wouldn’t have spoken so openly about you in front of me.” A frown creased Alex’s brow. “Well, he was really drunk at the time, so maybe he doesn’t hate you. Exactly.” He frowned again and added, “No, he hates you. Dmitri confirmed it during our chat.”
Jayden, who’d been quiet during our exchange, finally spoke up and said, “Who in the hell is this Christian guy? Why don’t I know anything about him?” He winked in my direction. “Maybe if he isn’t interested in our wolf, maybe he’d like to give a cute fox a chance.” He waggled his eyebrows. “I am foxy!”
Blinding rage washed over me. The next thing I knew I found myself being tackled to the ground by Aiden and Alex. Snarling, I hissed, “What the fuck are you idiots doing? I wasn’t going to rip his throat out.”
“Oh? I can’t catch a ball in my mouth in public but your canine teeth can pop out? Not cool, Levi.”
I ran my tongue across my lips and felt the sharp jab of my canine teeth. Fuck! I hadn’t had a mishap like that since puberty. What. The. Fuck. Embarrassed, I said, “Get the fuck off of me. I’m fine now.”
“I was seriously just kidding, Levi. I wouldn’t make a move on a guy you want. You know that, right?” Jayden asked.
I did know it. These guys were my best friends and had been since we’d been old enough to know what friends were. I apologized again for the second time in under ten minutes. Why was I being such an ass?
Alex jabbed his finger in the direction of a group of picnic tables about a hundred yards away from us and said, “There’s the man of the hour now, Jayden. Christian Angel—the one and only to ever tell Levi’s cock no.”
My head whipped around and my eyes narrowed as they locked in on the hottie that had been haunting my dreams lately. Sure as shit, there he sat…or rather lay lazily on the top of one of the tables. Even at a hundred yards away, I could see the perfection of every inch of his body. He had one leg bent at the knee and the other stretched out straight. Both arms were tossed over his head which, thank the fuck, caused his t-shirt to ride several inches above his belt. This gave me a yummy view of his flat stomach. It didn’t take much imagination on my part to see my tongue teasing the exposed pale flesh. Everything was looking like it walked right out of one of my wet dreams until I noticed the lit cigarette dangling from his fingertips.
Irritation caused another growl to rumble in my throat. The insolent boy did absolutely nothing to take care of himself. He smoked too much. He drank too much. I was pretty sure he used recreational drugs on a regular basis. When I made him mine, all that shit was going to stop.
Without thinking, I jumped up and started walking in that direction, the aroma of oranges and musk getting stronger with each step. Ah, so that was his delicious scent that had been tormenting me. I’d only made it about ten steps before Aiden grabbed my arm and gave me a tug backward.
“Hey, Levi, isn’t Marcus supposed to be here in like,” he glanced down at his watch, “ten minutes? Wasn’t he coming over for a visit this weekend?” He glanced nervously back to Jayden and Alex. “I don’t think we want to make our alpha mad first thing.” He gave my arm another tug. “Come on. You can sniff after your new I-don’t-put-out-boyfriend after your brother leaves.”
Aiden was right, but it didn’t stop the anger from rolling around in the pit of my stomach. Christian needed to be taught a lesson…needed to understand that taking care of his body was important, and I was just the person to do the job. On the other hand, there would be plenty of time to bring Christian to task, but my brother would only be here for two days. With one last look in Christian’s direction, I nodded my agreement to Aiden and started to turn away. At the last moment, Christian sat up, took a puff on his cigarette and looked in my direction. I saw him squint…frown…and flip me off.
A huge grin spread across my face. Yes, making Christian Angel submit to me was going to be fun, fun, fun. I was suddenly excited about the challenge. I took one last sniff, licked my lips, and then cupped my cock and gave him a nod before turning away from him. From ninety yards away, I saw a blush cover his face.

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