Theo realized what caught the shifter’s attention—the numbers inked there. 342.
The werewolf snarled, and he wondered what pissed the shifter off.
“Who are you, and where the fuck did you come from?” demanded the shifter.
“Me? I’m no one,” he whispered. Just a consolation prize that came with the main one.
“Don’t lie to me. I can rip out your throat if I want.”
Those words triggered something inside him, the old self that died during his time in Voss’s prison. “I see you rocking an impressive erection. Are you sure you want to kill me, or do you want to fuck me?”
Shit. No talking back. That had been one of rules in that place, except he was no longer in his cell but the outside world he longed to return to. Except what was this place? Theo had longed for home, the apartment he grew up in, where he fought for the last double fudge brownie their mom made with Tommy while their dad read a newspaper in one corner, ignoring the three of them.
Home was only a memory now and he was out here in the Wilderness, naked, half-starved, and the prey of a gorgeous monster that shouldn’t intrigue him on so many levels. The Wilderness. That was what he and other kids Tommy and he grew up with called the areas outside New City, the territories that didn’t fall under the control of the Humans Matter government.
The werewolf swore, and to his shock, started sniffing the side of his neck before pulling away as if the shifter had an inner struggle going on. It was insane to think the shifter would be interested in a scrawny guy like him. Theo thought he had decent looks, had been referred to by the guys he dated in high school and college as the cute guy next door.
He had no illusions of what he looked like now—a walking skeleton.
“Your name?” the werewolf asked.
“Yours first.” Theo didn’t know why the shifter didn’t kill him on sight, or why he didn’t feel scared around the big, dangerous male. That had been the one emotion he’d been living in for months, ever since he’d been thrown in that cell and told he was only a disposable number.
He laughed, unable to help it. The werewolf narrowed his eyes. “Like, just Joe?”
The werewolf didn’t laugh, didn't get his joke. “Your turn, human.”
“Theo Wilmer, and why do you say ‘human’ like that, like we’re a plague or something?”
Joe flashed him a razor-sharp smile that made him wary. “Humans murdered my parents and my packmates.”
“But I’m not technically human. My mother was a magpie shifter. The genes are dormant in her and in me, my brother only got the gift.” Why was he revealing all this information so easily? Hell, didn’t Theo plan on ending his life today? Why die when life got so suddenly interesting, though?
“And where are they now?”
He looked away from that intense gaze. “Dead. I’m the only one left.”
“I know this mark, seen it before,” Joe said, lifting his wrist. It struck Theo how the werewolf held his hand up carefully, as if the werewolf was being careful, as if Joe thought he was made of glass. That shouldn’t matter, except the small voice inside him spoke up again.
Show him you’re made of sterner stuff, that you won’t break easily.
“Where?” he asked.
“The pack tangled with Discipline Squad members before.”
Of course they did. The Devil Hills community had been on the Squad’s special enemy list, special because unlike smaller groups the Squad had no problem wiping out or taking for experimentation, the Squad had trouble breeching this particular territory.
According to Voss, they even lost plenty of members, even their precious ‘rehabilitated’ Espers. Theo knew this because when Voss did his number on him, Voss liked to talk as if he didn’t exist, like he was a bug Voss could squash anytime.
“You’re a trap sent by Voss,” Joe finally said.
He shivered, not denying it, because Theo wasn’t sure of himself, either. That could be the reason why Voss sent his Squad members to drop him here.
“I want to see Daryl Rush.” The words came out of his mouth before he could stop himself.
Joe snarled, sharpened teeth too close to his neck. His pupils turned completely yellow, and he knew that a shifter’s eye color changed when they got riled up, or intense emotions rode them.
“Like hell I’ll let you near Daryl,” Joe said with a hiss.
“Then kill me,” he said simply. “If I’m that much of a threat, eliminate me.”
Joe recoiled, as if he were struck. “What’s wrong with you? Did they brainwash you to say those words to me?”
He thought about that question a little longer. “The first bit, yes, the dying not so much. I want to die. That’s my own decision.”
“Why are you being honest with me, or is this another ploy?”
“If you don’t trust any words that come out of my mouth, then why ask?”
“Sassy little thing, aren’t you?”
One of the hawks flew down from the trees, and he turned his head, eyes widening as the hawk changed to human. A hawk shifter. He remembered Voss saying it wasn’t just the wolves he had to watch out for.
Shit. Why did he have to be on guard around these shifters or heed the warnings of the man who killed his parents and Tommy, and tortured him for months?
Maybe I’m better off dead after all.
Joe didn’t think they could make it all the way to the bedroom. Hell, his wolf pushed him to take Theo right there on the kitchen counter, but it couldn’t happen this way. Theo deserved better. On the way to the room, he made a grab for Theo. It didn’t help Theo melted against him, rose on tip-toe to steal a kiss on his lips.
Fuck. Theo had dug his claws deep into his skin in such a short span of time, made him reckless, but he didn’t care. They couldn’t keep their hands off each other along the way. Theo hesitated. They now stood at the doorway of his room, with Joe’s hands bunched into the hem of Theo’s shirt.
“I’m not exactly,” Theo began, looking away from his gaze, and he didn’t like that.
Joe tipped Theo’s chin. “What?”
“You saw me last night. My body’s a mess. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I want this as badly as you do, and I’m no longer feeling dizzy or weak like yesterday but—” Theo bit on his bottom lip. “I don’t want to end up disappointing you.”
Joe suspected Theo felt a lot better thanks to his dormant shifter genes. A human didn’t heal this fast, and when he left that morning, he noticed some of Theo’s bruises had faded, looking days old. Theo looked perfect the way he was, Joe only had to show Theo there was no reason to harbor self-doubts.
He pressed a hand to Theo’s chest, heard the erratic heartbeat. Joe smiled. “Do you think I’m disappointed?” Grabbing Theo’s hand, he placed it over his dick. “See that?” Joe continued. “I’m so fucking hard for you I would’ve taken you on the kitchen counter.”
Theo blushed, this time not protesting as Joe peeled off his shirt.
“I don’t know what you see in me.” Theo whispered those words, but Joe’s supernatural hearing caught them. A snarl slipped his lips.
“I see a fucking survivor who never gave up on life.”
“That’s not true. When they left me on the roadside, I wanted to die. I thought you were going to end me, instead you gave me hope.”
“You sound scared,” Joe observed.
“Not of you, but of this happiness that can be easily taken away.” Theo rested his hand on his chest, a privilege Joe would allow to his mate.
The wolf in him didn't like seeing Theo sad. He pulled Theo to him, kissed him again, slowly, taking his time.
Joe pulled back, and Theo didn’t stop Joe from undoing his jeans.
Then Joe made his point clear. “Don’t you get it, baby? I intend to keep you, whether you like it or not.”
“Isn’t that for your pack to decide?” Theo asked, letting out a surprised yelp when Joe gave him a gentle push on the chest. Theo’s ass landed on the edge of his bed, and Joe realized he wanted Theo to be the first thing he saw in the morning and before he went to bed at night.
“I make my own decisions,” Joe said, tugging off his clothes. Theo widened his eyes at the sight of his dick. Joe knew he wasn’t exactly small, so he didn’t intend to rush this, as much as he wanted to bury his dick inside Theo’s tight little ass.
“Lie down,” Joe ordered. Theo did as he asked, groaning when Joe crawled on top of him, leaving a trail of kisses down his lips, neck, a bite on Theo’s left nipple. He gave Theo’s dick a squeeze before getting off him. “Wait here, I’m getting the lube.”
Joe made a quick trip to the bathroom, grabbed the lube under the bathroom sink and a few towels before returning between Theo’s legs. From the angle, he could see Theo’s prick, already at half mast, and Theo’s balls. He placed the towel under Theo, then traced Theo’s tip, flicked the pre-cum gathered there, slathering it down Theo’s length.
“God,” Theo murmured as Joe gave his balls a squeeze. Moving lower still, Joe brushed his fingers past Theo’s crease to find his prize, Theo’s pink and puckered entrance. “Are you going to fuck me or not?”
Joe grinned. “So crass.”
“Who wouldn’t be?”
Joe lifted Theo’s legs over his shoulders, then uncapped the lube, his gaze never leaving his mate’s. Mate, yes, Joe knew soon enough Theo would be his, in every sense of the word. “You ready for this, baby? Because there’s no backing away once we start.”
* * * *
Theo’s heart frantically beat at those words. Joe sounded dead serious, his pupils had bled to pure yellow by now, telling Theo it wasn’t just the man he spoke to, but also Joe’s massive and lethal animal. Gazing up at Joe’s clenched six-pack, to that heaving chest, made him aware of how incredibly exposed he was, his legs apart and balls and aching dick fully revealed to Joe.
“I’m ready,” he answered, because he wanted this since last night. For someone who never thought he’d be capable of lusting after another man again, this attraction scared him a little, but he didn’t want to stop.
Theo wanted to see where this would lead. One week. He had seven days to convince Joe and his pack that he wasn’t the enemy.
Joe applied lube to his fingers, then worked plenty inside his ass.
“Tell me, how many men have you been with, Theo?” Joe asked.
Did the werewolf actually sound jealous?
Joe pushed a slick finger inside his ass, disabling his ability to think for a second. A squeeze to his dick reminded him Joe wanted an answer.
“I’ve only had sex with one guy in college. It was quick and uneventful,” he murmured. Hell, Jerry Smith finished in five minutes, leaving him to finish working his own prick. “Truth be told, sex never appealed to me. After Voss’s torture, I didn’t think I was capable of wanting another man, until you.”
There. He just bared his soul to Joe.
The cocky, gorgeous bastard actually grinned. “Good.”
“After I fuck you senseless, you’ll realize there’s no one else for you but me.”