When he moved farther inside, his gaze slid toward the bed. A person was lying there, curled on his side. Judging by the stranger’s large frame, Ernie could tell he was a man. He could also see the guy’s back was covered in blood.
Crap, crap, crap. Not good.
“Hey, mister.” Ernie moved closer to the bed. “Do you need an ambulance?”
Well, duh. With that much blood covering his back, he probably needed a hospital. Ernie pulled his cell phone out, ready to dial when the scent of wolf wafted toward him. Instead of calling for help, Ernie tucked his phone back into his pocket.
If this guy was a shifter, he should be able to heal if he changed into his wolf. So why hadn’t he? Why was he simply lying there, allowing himself to suffer?
Ernie rounded the bed, keeping a safe distance, and saw that the man’s front was bloody, too. He was curled into a ball, but his arms, stomach, and legs had a gazillion cuts.
Then Ernie saw the collar around the guy’s neck. He moved closer and saw symbols etched into the metal. Ernie had no idea what they meant, but his gut told him they were stopping the guy from shifting.
Then another, deeper, more primal smell slammed into him. Ernie gasped as he stared at the guy who should’ve died from so much blood loss.
He was Ernie’s mate!
Ernie rushed to the bed and examined the collar. He had to get it off if he was to save his mate’s life. Ernie yanked at it, but it wouldn’t budge. He couldn’t even see anything that would unlock it.
The collar was a continuous piece, and Ernie hadn’t exactly tucked a pair of bolt cutters in his tight jeans. He looked around, desperate for anything that would cut the collar off, but the room was bare, except for the minimal, withered furnishings.
If Ernie couldn’t get rid of the collar, he had to try to get his mate out of the hotel and to his apartment. This place wasn’t safe. If a vampire came in here and scented the blood, his mate wouldn’t have a chance.
“Hey, can you stand?” Ernie poked at the guy’s shoulder, careful of his wounds. “I really need you to open your eyes, mister.”
He tried lifting his mate, but not only did he weigh too much, he cried out when Ernie grabbed his arm.
“Sorry, sorry, sorry.” Ernie let him go, worried he’d caused further pain. “I don’t know what to do. You’ve gotta help me.”
Ernie could go back to the club and ask someone to help him, but he didn’t want to leave his mate alone and he didn’t know anyone at The Manacle. Ernie did the only thing he could think of. He called his best friend.
“I need your help,” he said when Andy answered.
“Dude, it’s one in the morning. Unless you need me to help you bury a body, I’m going back to sleep.”
“I need you to help me get a half-dead guy to my apartment.” Ernie stiffened when a floorboard creaked. He so needed to get out of here. He felt like he was in a horror movie and an escaped psycho would rush into the room at any second with a chainsaw or a machete.
“What kind of trouble did you get into now?” Ernie heard rustling sheets. Andy was getting up.
“It’s a long story,” he said. “I’ll explain later. Can you just come help me?”
“I know your standards are low, but you should draw the line at dead guys.”
“Half-dead,” Ernie corrected him. “Now get your ass over here and help me.”
“Where are you?”
That was a damn good question. Ernie wasn’t familiar with this part of town. His apartment was located in the inner city, but a few miles from the club. “In an abandoned hotel.”
“Jeez,” Andy said. “You really know how to scrape the bottom of the barrel.”
“Not a seedy hotel,” Ernie argued. “A closed-down one. It’s by that club, The Manacle.”
“Oh, I know where you’re at. That hotel was closed down because of a fire,” Andy said. “That’s what the humans are saying. But from what I heard, there was a large-scale attack there, a bloodbath. Man, there’s bad mojo there, Ernie. You don’t mess with the dead ’cause they’ll mess with you.”
That didn’t help Ernie’s already-frayed nerves. “I don’t need a goddamn history lesson right now.”
“Okay, okay,” Andy said. “I’m on my way, but if I get ganked by some ghost, I’m coming back to haunt you.”
Ernie loved his best friend, but at times, he wanted to throttle him.
“I’m in room 208. Hurry up.”
“Just as long as you’re not in the lobby. That’s where all the killings took place.”
“Just shut up and get here.” Ernie hung up. He didn’t need any more gruesome details. He was already wigged out about being there in the first place.
His mate groaned, then slowly opened his eyes. Good Lord Almighty. He had the sexiest blue eyes Ernie ever seen. “Help. Me.”
Ernie dropped to his knees and brushed the dark hair from his mate’s forehead. “Help is on the way. I’ll get you out of here, then figure a way to get that collar off you.”
Ernie frowned. “I’m here to help and you’re calling me another man’s name?” Then he realized. “Oh, that’s your name.”
The guy was a complete wreck, yet he gave Ernie a soft smile that melted him down to his toes. “Yes.”
“Okay, Rick. My best friend is on his way. We’ll get you to my place. For now, just rest.”
“We have to get out of here.”
Like that wasn’t a given. “As soon as he gets here. You’re too big for me to lift by myself. Unless you can get up.”
“No.” Rick’s voice was barely a whisper, croaky, and he looked like he was struggling to keep his eyes open.
“I didn’t think so.” Ernie looked his mate’s body over, grimacing at how badly the wounds had to hurt. “What happened to you?”
Rick closed his eyes, and Ernie guessed he’d passed out. Damn it. Carrying dead weight would be harder. If Rick were awake, he might be able to help. But there wasn’t a fat chance in hell he could walk on his own.
Too bad Baldy had turned out to be a jerk. He could have helped Ernie. Then again, Ernie wouldn’t be in this shithole if he hadn’t been running from the guy.
Minutes seemed like hours as Ernie waited. He tensed at every noise, and kept scenting the air to make sure no one was sneaking up on them. If Rick said they needed to get out of here, whoever had done this to him might return.
And Ernie wanted to be long gone before that happened.
Rick tilted Ernie’s head and lowered his lips to Ernie’s. Despite how cold it was, Rick’s mouth was warm as his tongue slid across Ernie’s lips. He should have closed his eyes for the kiss, but Ernie couldn’t rip his gaze from his mate’s stunning blue eyes.
And Rick was watching Ernie, too. With a deep growl, Rick lowered Ernie to the ground. He covered Ernie with his body, his cock pressed against Ernie’s stomach. Then he spun, making Ernie straddle him. Ernie’s heart fluttered as he sat atop Rick.
“I don’t want you uncomfortable.”
“Me?” Ernie furrowed his brows. “I’m not the one who got shot in the ass.”
“Ass.” Rick had been right. Ernie loved pointing that out. His counter-correction made Rick smile. He had a gorgeous smile—beautiful white teeth contrasting with his olive skin. The smile also made his blue eyes sparkle. Ernie found it hard to breathe at the sight of Rick. He was so devastatingly handsome.
And so scarred, but not just on the outside. That made Ernie feel protective of his mate.
Rick cupped his jaw. “What’re you thinking about?”
“How cold it is.”
“Then let me fix that.” Rick pulled Ernie down for a toe-curling kiss as he played at Ernie’s hole with his fingertips. They didn’t have any lube, and Ernie had never had sex without it.
Rick broke the kiss long enough to spit on his fingers. He placed them right back at Ernie’s ass and sank one inside him.
“Your spit’s freezing.” Ernie shivered. Then he moaned as Rick added another finger. It wasn’t as pleasurable as it might have been with lube, but Ernie was sure they could make this work.
Rick’s hands were strong, but his fingers were gentle, and he looked at Ernie with adoration as he stretched Ernie’s hole.
Ernie pressed his palms against Rick’s chest, gliding his fingers over his scars. Rick might think them ugly, but to Ernie they represented the fact that he was alive, that he’d survived a nightmare, and that Ernie had found his mate.
They were the most beautiful blemishes, and to prove it, Ernie leaned down and kissed the one running right over his heart. When he looked at Rick, his mate was staring at him in disbelief. Tenderness filled Rick’s eyes. Ernie brought his lips to Rick’s and whispered, “Make love to me.”
Rick tapped Ernie’s hip. He lifted, then settled his hole against the head of Rick’s cock. There was very little spittle at Ernie’s hole. He would feel this come morning. Hell, he would feel the pain during. But it would be worth it as long as he was able to bond with Rick.
Rick coiled his hand around Ernie’s nape, yanking him back down for a blazing kiss that melted Ernie’s brain. It was aggressive, possessive, and one hundred percent dominant. His lips were plush and soft, and his breath was warm against Ernie’s mouth.
Ernie had a feeling the brutal kiss was also a way to distract him from the pain.
He whimpered against Rick’s lips as his mate’s cock entered him. Rick looked at Ernie with such confidence, such self-assuredness that he could make Ernie fly with sultry need and forget everything happening around them.
“You doing okay?” He brushed his knuckles over Ernie’s cheek. Ernie could tell Rick was fighting not to rush this, fighting not to pound into him.
“I have a dick shoved in my ass with no lube.” Ernie had meant to sound teasing, but his words had come out in a bite. He wanted to stop, but he also wanted to be claimed.
In the middle of a goddamn forest with Jack Frost biting at my bits and pieces while Hunters search for us.
It wasn’t a fairy-tale mating, but Ernie wasn’t about to back down. He spat on his hand, then wiped the spit over Rick’s cock when his mate pulled back.
This time, when he drove forward, there was much more give. “Better?” Rick asked.
“Nothing will beat lube, but yeah, better.” Ernie wiggled his ass, scoring his nails into Rick’s already-fucked-up chest as he hissed. He felt bad for digging his nails into Rick, but it helped counter the pain.
“Whatever you need,” Rick said, as if he knew why Ernie was inflicting pain on him. “I can handle it, Foxy.”
“Hands and knees.” That might prove a better position. Before Ernie finished saying those three words, Rick was out of him and flipping him over. Ernie heard him spit again, then Rick entered him with better ease.
His knees and palms dug into the hard ground, making Ernie hurt, but he forced the added pain aside as Rick pistoned into him. His thrusts weren’t slow. Not this time. He moved with purpose, and the pain morphed into mind-blowing pleasure.
Rick stretched him wide, his cock sliding over Ernie’s prostate, making him drool as white-hot fingers of desire lashed through him. Rick’s nails dug into Ernie’s hips, his grip tight as his hips punched forward.
The sex had gone from gentle to primal, and Ernie loved every second of it. Rick blanketed his back with his swole, sexy body, with his wide, broad chest. Ernie felt trapped, and he wouldn’t have it any other way. He liked Rick pinning him down, like he wanted Ernie to submit, and for Rick, Ernie would.
Rick’s lips ghosted over Ernie’s shoulder. He knew what was coming next. The bite that would seal their souls together. Ernie trembled with anticipation, waited as he held his breath.
But Rick didn’t bite him. He simply kissed along Ernie’s shoulder as he shoved his cock deeper into Ernie’s ass.
He wanted to ask what the holdup was, why Rick was torturing him. Then Rick whispered, “You don’t deserve to be shackled to someone like me.”