Julio Reyes has had a hard life. Orphaned at fourteen, he ran away from a group home to avoid rape but wound up being an independent prostitute in NYC. He has a life plan -- go to school, become a stylist and open his own salon.
Etienne Daurensbourg is 139 years old and fears he’ll never find his Mate until his friend Alexei introduces him to Julio. Julio is Etienne’s Mate, but before he has a chance to court Julio -- who is a human high beta and therefore stubborn and independent -- Julio gets knifed and is forced to let Etienne provide him with a home and help to recover.
Pack problems arise that may force Etienne into the pit. Will Julio be able to love Etienne despite the fact he is a loup garou?
I have a Mate, a Mate. Thank the gods. I thought they’d passed me by. He has beautiful jade green eyes, like a stormy sea, thick honey-blond hair, clear olive-toned skin -- olive-toned skin? He isn’t a Celt. No, they’re all Celts. Wait, I’ll ask, “So Julio, do you happen to be a Celt?” His Mate gaped at him, eyes narrowed. Smooth Etienne, smooth, you’re an idiot.
“If you mean am I Irish, yes, three-quarters. My father was half Irish and half Puerto Rican, that’s where I get my name Julio Manuel Reyes, Jr. It was his name, and my skin tone is from him; but the hair and eyes are my Irish mother’s. Why do you ask?”
Etienne glanced over at Alexei, who smiled smugly as he watched Etienne squirm. “I couldn’t put the name and skin with the hair and eyes. I’m of French extraction, no unusual combination, plain black hair and blue eyes.”
Julio emitted a small sniff. His sniff was such as if to indicate he was stuck crushing a strange bug.
That went over like a lead basketball.
Julio shrugged. “Sometimes I dye my hair pink or blue, depending on my mood. I thought I’d go conservative for tomorrow’s reception because Alexei’s business associates will be there.”
“Do you like doing hair?” Etienne wanted to keep the conversation going.
“Alexei is sending me to a stylist academy and setting me up in a high-end salon.”
“Will your clientele be women or men?” he choked out.
“Both,” Julio answered. “I intend to cater to both men and women like Zachary’s on Fifth Avenue and its sister salon, Allison’s, around the corner. However, I want to find a bigger space and put it all under one roof. That way I can keep an eye on all of my employees. I’ll separate the salon services by sex, but the whole operation will be in one building.”
Etienne emitted a low growl. Donal giggled. Alexei smiled, and his Mate regarded him with narrowed eyes for the second time in the few minutes since they met.
Oh shit, I’ll have to leave my jealousy at home. This Mate doesn’t seem like the type to take kindly to being told what he can do or who he can see. By the gods, he’s a High Beta. This is going to be a hard sell.
“What kind of services do you intend to offer?” Here’s where I could get growly. Get growly! I’m already growly, and he doesn’t like it.
“For the men, haircuts, shaves, massage, depilatory services, manicures, pedicures, scrubs, facials, a sauna, a steam room, mud baths, seaweed wraps, and hydrotherapy. For the ladies, all of the above plus makeup. I’d also like to have an on-site dermatologist to do Botox and Juvederm for both the men and women. Maybe I’ll have a full coffee and tea service that would be free. For smoothies and juice, we’d charge.” He paused, his beautiful eyes growing dreamy “... and someday a swanky café added to the salon for those who lunch.” Julio made air quotes.
Julio had his legs crossed at the knee and swung one leg as if he was nervous.
Maybe I am having an effect on him.
Julio continued, with emphasis, “I still have two years of beauty school and some business management courses to take at City College. I studied and earned a GED by myself with Donal quizzing me on the questions.”
“How did you meet Donal?”
Julio turned to Donal, who silently mouthed, “Tell him the truth.”
“We worked the same corner as prostitutes and became friends. Donal was in the stable. I was a freelancer,” Julio announced with pride.
“Julio helped to keep me alive,” Donal added. “He used to feed me and give me money if I didn’t make enough. If it weren’t for him, I would have given up long before I did.”
Julio gave Donal a sidelong glance. It seemed his Julio wasn’t comfortable with praise.
From the manner in which Julio referred to his independence, he was proud to have never been in a stable, but now Etienne wanted to choke the whole gay population of the city.
“I was scrawny and an addict. I couldn’t have made the money Julio did the last few years,” Donal added. “I was addicted to heroin, always coughing, not very attractive to a john.”
“You weren’t scrawny, you were always beautiful, just so badly treated that it didn’t shine through.” Alexei immediately jumped to his Mate’s defense.
Etienne agreed with Donal. Even though Donal had his charms, there was no way a man could see Julio and not want him. Julio was a stunner.