Pryderi has known Nate was his mate for weeks—way too long not to tell him. But Pryderi grew up with rejection, and he isn’t sure he has the courage to possibly face it again, especially coming from the man he’s been falling in love with from afar and who represents his future. He’s not going to gain anything by watching Nate from afar, though.
Nate’s world gets upended over just a few days. First Pryderi, the cute Nix he’s noticed more than he likes to admit, tells him they’re mates, then the brother he thought was dead for the past ten years suddenly comes back with the Beasts after him. Nate isn’t sure how to deal with any of them, but Calvin has always been the center of his world, and that hasn’t changed.
Pryderi has a hard time getting through to Nate, who’s terrified of losing him like he thought he’d lost his brother. The fact that Pryderi is working undercover in Nate’s bar to try to find the last members of the Beasts still in town is making things both worse and better—and more than a little complicated.
“Ready?” Justin asked. Pryderi could only see his head peeking around his bedroom door.
Pryderi turned back to the bathroom mirror. “Almost,” he answered. He supposed he might as well go. There wasn’t much else he could do about the way he looked. He’d tried tying his hair back, but then his pointed ears looked huge.
Justin appeared in the bathroom, startling Pryderi. “What are you doing?” His gaze went from Pryderi to the mirror. “I see.”
Pryderi huffed. “What do you see?”
“That Hunter was right. Wait a second.”
He was gone before Pryderi could say anything. Pryderi’s stomach churned, because he suspected he knew what Justin had gone to grab. Justin was always trying to get him to try makeup, and while Pryderi was intrigued, it wasn’t like he could wear it while they were working. They weren’t working tonight, though, and Justin’s eyes were lined with black. He looked good like that, even though he was a big man. No one would ever think about saying anything to him about his makeup, but Pryderi was short and scrawny, like Nix usually were. The fact that he had long hair probably didn’t help, but no matter how many times he thought about cutting it, he couldn’t bring himself to do it.
Justin came back and dumped a small bag on the counter in Pryderi’s bathroom. “Sit down.”
“I'm not sure about this.”
“I know you’re not, and I promise I won’t do anything that makes you uncomfortable. You can take everything off once I’m done if you want. I won’t be offended.”
Pryderi eyed the bag. “Why would you do it, then?”
“Because it’s obvious to me that you want to impress someone, which confirms what Hunter has told me. There’s someone in Gillham, right?”
Pryderi could only nod. He hadn’t told anyone that he’d met his mate, or rather, that he’d seen his mate from afar and that he hadn’t yet had the guts to talk to him. Instead, he was going to Gillham every chance he got, and he watched his mate like a creep. He’d be lucky if Nate ever wanted to talk to him if he did notice him.
Justin’s smile was gentle. “I’m not going to ask you who it is or why you haven’t talked to them yet. I mean, I’m dying to know, but I’m not Hunter. I won’t push. It’s obvious that you’re hesitant, though, and if it’s your looks you’re worried about, which by the way I think is ridiculous because you’re gorgeous, I can help. Trust me?”
“Of course I trust you.” Pryderi trusted every single member of his team with his life. What was a little makeup next to that?
Pryderi sat on the closed toilet and closed his eyes. He had no idea what Justin was going to do, but if it was anything like what he’d done on his own face, Pryderi was probably going to be okay with it. If he was honest with himself, he was kind of excited to see the result.
The reason he hadn’t yet talked to Nate had nothing to do with the way he looked, but maybe this would help. Maybe this would make him feel like he was worthy and like Nate wouldn’t take one look at him and laugh his ass off at the thought of spending the rest of his life with him. It was only a little makeup, so it wouldn’t work miracles, but Pryderi would be happy even if it only made him feel better about himself, maybe more sure of himself.
It was weird to let Justin do this, but Pryderi stayed as still as he could, because he didn’t want to end up with eyeliner or whatever in his eyeball.
“Done, and I’d do you, if I wanted you that way. You look even prettier than usual, and I didn’t think that was possible.”
Pryderi felt his cheeks heat, but he opened his eyes and got up to look at himself. He blinked. It was still him, yet it wasn’t. His long blond hair hung around his face the way he’d left it when he’d untied it, but now his eyes were underlined with eyeliner. When he looked closer, he realized it wasn’t black like Justin’s, but a soft brown. He had no idea how, but it made his eyes look bigger and greener, and if he wasn’t mistaken, there was also some glitter on his eyelids.
“What do you think?” Justin asked. “Do you want me to take it off?”
“No.” Pryderi hesitated. “How do you deal with the people who think you shouldn’t wear makeup, though?”
Justin frowned and held out a brown pencil. “I don’t listen to them. Here. This was new when I used it, so no worries, and you can keep it.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yep. And if anyone says anything, you can kick their asses. But I know the bar we’re going to, and I know the owner won’t allow that kind of behavior, so I don’t think you need to be worried.”
Pryderi looked at the pencil in his hand. “I have no idea how to use this.”
“I’ll teach you, if you want. Ready to go now?”
Pryderi doubted he would ever be as ready as he was now. Every time he went to Nate’s bar, he changed his mind about ten times and ended up going anyway because he wanted to see Nate, even if it was only to yearn for him from afar.
They headed toward the shimmering room. Pryderi felt jittery, and he wasn’t sure if it was because of where they were going or because of the makeup. It didn’t make him feel that different, but he did think he was a tiny bit more confident. He didn’t know why, and he didn’t care. He just hoped it would last longer than the time it took him and Justin to get to Gillham.
Justin smiled at Pryderi and squeezed his shoulder, and off they went. Pryderi had done this so many times that he barely had to think about the area in the bar’s parking lot he used to shimmer. He wasn’t supposed to—there was a designated spot in Gillham to do that, since most of the cities and towns didn’t want Nix shimmering all over—but it was closer to the bar, and that meant he’d get to see Nate sooner. It wasn’t like Nate had ever noticed he did it, anyway.
Justin grinned. “God, I want a beer. I feel like it’s been ages since I last had one.”
“Well, we were on a mission for close to two weeks, so it probably has been ages.”
“Coming here was a good idea.” Justin pushed open the bar door.
It was a weekday, so there weren’t a lot of people in the bar. It still smelled of beer and food, and it was a smell Pryderi had started to find comforting. He wasn’t sure when that had happened, but he associated it with Nate, and there was little as comforting as his mate.
His mate, who was behind the bar working. Nate was chatting with a man who was sipping on a beer on the other side of the bar as he scrubbed the counter clean with a rag. He laughed, and Pryderi’s insides twisted.
“Ah. I see,” Justin murmured. He hooked his arm around Pryderi’s and shouted. “Hey, Nate.”
Nate looked up. Pryderi couldn’t be sure from where he was, but he thought he saw Nate’s eyes widen when he saw them. “Justin. I wasn’t expecting you. You haven’t been around lately,” Nate called back.
Justin dragged Pryderi toward a table. “We were out on a mission. But we’re here now, so if we could have two beers?”
Pryderi didn’t like beer. He thought it tasted terrible, and since he didn’t want to offend Nate, he never ordered it. He wasn’t about to bring attention to himself while Nate was looking his way, though.
“Two beers?” Nate asked, frowning. “Pryderi doesn’t drink beer.”
Pryderi blinked. How did Nate know that?
Justin grinned. “Doesn’t he? All right, he’ll have a glass of whatever he usually drinks, then. We’re going to sit here.” He pushed Pryderi onto the bench in one of the booths that lined the wall. “Want me to come up to the bar to grab our glasses?”
“Nah. Sit and relax. You said you just came back. You deserve to take a breather. I’ll be right there.”
Justin slid into the booth next to Pryderi, closer to him than Pryderi was used to. He leaned toward him. “So that’s who you’re interested in?” he asked, his voice barely louder than a whisper.
Pryderi flushed. “Maybe?”
Justin grinned. “Oh, this is going to be fun.”