Avery has been attracted to Ryan for months, but he hasn’t even talked to him yet, even though he suspects they are mates. He wants to, but his ex is in town, and Kent has the bad habit of talking with his fists when he gets angry, which is one of the reasons Avery left Salt Lake City in the first place. He needs to keep Ryan safe, even though Ryan doesn’t even know who he is, not really.
Ryan’s world was turned upside down when he scented his mate and realized she was a woman. It’s taken him weeks to find her, and when he finally manages to talk to her, it’s only to find out Avery is not a woman after all, and that he’s leaving town. He doesn’t care that Avery wears both women’s and men’s clothes. The only thing that matters is that he might lose his mate right after finally finding him.
Ryan convinces Avery to stay and hide at his house. Avery agrees because he doesn’t want to lose his mate. Ryan seemed to accept him as he is, women’s clothes and all, like no one else ever has. But Kent isn’t so easily dissuaded, and he has Avery’s father backing him. Will he manage to tear Avery and Ryan apart?
Avery checked that his dress covered everything it needed to cover. He turned sideways, smiling when there was no bulge to be seen. That would always ruin the outfit when he wore a dress. With one last pat to his hair, he grabbed the small purse he used when he wore stuff without pockets, and left his apartment. Frodo, his dog, wasn’t happy at not being able to go with him, but Avery was only grocery shopping. His fridge was empty because he’d been avoiding leaving the apartment for anything that wasn’t work ever since Kent had started texting him several weeks before.
Avery couldn’t afford for Kent to find him, so it was best if he spent as much time as possible out of sight. Of course, that wasn’t possible when he was working, but the gear usually covered his face well enough that people couldn’t recognize him. And when he had to go into town, well, that was when his love for dresses and skirts came in handy. Kent knew Avery enjoyed wearing them, but as far as Avery knew, he’d never seen him in one, so he thought he was probably safe in them.
And he had to eat eventually, so there wasn’t much he could do. Takeout lost its appeal after a while.
Avery was still nervous when he stepped out of the apartment building. He carefully looked around before stepping onto the sidewalk and rushing toward the grocery store. He wore trainers with the dress, just in case he needed to make a run for it, sunglasses, and he’d styled his long hair so that it covered part of his face.
The September weather was surprisingly warm, still summery, and Avery started to relax as he walked. Not enough to stop thinking about Kent, though.
Kent had texted him, but that didn’t mean he’d found him. Avery had been careful when he’d left Salt Lake City. He’d ditched his cell phone and his credit cards, had changed his name, and paid for everything with cash. He’d gotten a dog so that even if Kent or his father found him, he’d be protected. Not that his father would hurt him, not like Kent did, but still. He wouldn’t think twice about dragging Avery back to Salt Lake City. Avery didn’t know how Kent had gotten his new phone number, but he didn’t want to have to get a new one again, so he hoped Kent hadn’t found out where he was, too. As long as he didn’t answer, he would be fine. He hoped he would, anyway.
No matter how much Avery had relaxed during his walk, he still felt better when he got to the grocery store. He pushed his sunglasses up on his head and grabbed a basket, mentally going over what he needed to buy. The basics—eggs, bread, milk, some vegetables, food for Frodo.
Avery grabbed stuff from the shelves and put it in his basket as he went. He wasn’t paying attention, and he hit a wall—or what felt like a wall—when he turned the corner. Two hands wrapped around his arms and he jerked back, his heart speeding up.
“I’m sorry,” the wall said. His hands left Avery’s arms, and Avery stumbled back.
The man reached out as if to help him, but Avery shook his head.
“No need to be spooked, ma’am. I’m not going to hurt you. I know I'm big, but that doesn’t mean I’m dangerous.”
Someone close to them snorted.
“Shut up, Matt. You’re going to scare her,” the wall snapped.
Avery finally looked up, and up, and up. He cocked his head. He thought he recognized the man he’d hit. “You’re a shifter.”
The wall laughed, the sound booming and loud. “No. One hundred percent human, ma’am. But I do work for the council.”
The man who’d snorted dug his elbow into the wall’s ribs. He had to aim ridiculously high to manage, and it made the wall laugh even harder. “Come on, Xander. Ryan’s waiting for us so we can pick the meat.”
Avery swallowed. “Ryan?”
The second man offered his hand, and Avery shook it automatically. “Yes, ma’am. I’m Matt, and this is Xander. Ryan is a friend of ours, and he’s around here somewhere.” Matt’s eyes narrowed. “Do you know him?”
Avery shook his head. God, how much he wanted to find Ryan and talk to him. But he couldn’t, not with Kent possibly having located him. He couldn’t put Ryan in danger that way.
“I need to go,” he said, stepping back.
Matt frowned, but Xander nodded. He looked oddly like an overgrown puppy. His height wasn’t that intimidating when he was grinning like a fool.
Avery stepped away. He should probably leave the grocery store, since Ryan was there. Avery wanted to see him, but he thought it would be better if he didn’t. He couldn’t be a hundred percent sure, but since he thought he was Ryan’s mate, Ryan would no doubt want to talk to him, and Avery couldn’t let anything happen between them.
He hurried toward the checkout lines, his trainers squeaking on the linoleum, his dress moving around his legs in a whisper. He was torn between running home and staying in the grocery store to try to get a glimpse of Ryan. He supposed he had to count himself lucky that Ryan still had no clue who he was or that he knew Lucas. It would have been much harder to keep the distance between them if he did.