Jeremiah Pace hasn't left his house in thirteen years. He doesn't trust anyone, least of all shifters. School was a nightmare, and despite never interacting with anyone in the village, the bullying continues in his adult life. Someone is putting ads in the paper, encouraging people to drop by his house for one service or other, but Jeremiah never opens his door.
Zeeb Hemming is a lone wolf and the new chief of police. He's only been in Stoneshade for six weeks when he learns about the ads and goes to knock on Jeremiah's door. Not because of what today's ad said, but to get to the bottom of what's going on. Human or not, Jeremiah deserves to live life in peace. The moment Zeeb nears Jeremiah's house, he knows he's his mate. But he can't have a human mate.
Jeremiah pleads with Zeeb not to stir anything up. Yes, the ads are bad, but things can always get worse. Zeeb is furious someone is mistreating his mate and is willing to skin anyone who has any connection to the ads alive. But how is he to convince Jeremiah to trust him when he talks to Zeeb through a gap in the window instead of opening the door to his house?
Jeremiah’s hands shook as he turned the page to the crossword in the newspaper. He did his best not to look at the ads. Normally, there weren’t ads two days in a row. Sometimes it went weeks between them, though lately there had been several each week. Maybe whoever wrote them was bored in the winter months.
He grabbed a pen and focused on the crossword. Nothing calmed his nerves as much as trying to figure out the clues. Where L.A. is, six down, three letters. Jeremiah scrawled in the answer and blew out a breath. His heart found a steady rhythm that didn’t threaten to pound a hole in his ribcage.
Brisk pace, four letters. Jeremiah drummed the pen against the table and yelped when there was a knock on the door. Everything froze, including his breath. It was more of a bang than a knock.
He scanned the ads. The walls of the kitchen closed in as he spotted the ad right in the middle of the lower half of the page. Committed sub looking for Dom. Loves role play. Please, be my carpenter and ring my doorbell. Willow Road 1. I’m waiting for you.
Doorbell. He’d unplugged his doorbell a long time ago. This carpenter knocked, though. Fuck. He slipped off the chair, down on the floor, and hugged his knees to his chest. If they couldn’t see him, they might go away. His door was locked, and he hadn’t removed the dresser from in front of the patio door.
They couldn’t get to him.
“Jeremiah? Are you in there?”
They knew his name? It wasn’t a secret. If anyone would Google Willow Road 1, his name would come up.
“Jeremiah?” The man knocked again. “I’m from the police. I only want a quick word.”
The police? Humans weren’t allowed on the force, which meant the man rapping on his door was a shifter. Jeremiah bit his lip. He didn’t want to be near a shifter ever again.
“Jeremiah?” His voice softened. “Can you please come to the window? You don’t have to open the door.”
Jeremiah stared at the kitchen wall. Come to the window? No one had ever asked him to come to the window, but then again, apart from Wilson delivering the groceries, only those who’d seen the ads ever came.
Slowly, Jeremiah got to his feet. He crept forward, one step at a time. His shoulder brushed against the wall as he walked through the small rectangular room the real estate agent had called the dining room, but Jeremiah had filled with bookshelves. Calling it a library was a bit too pompous in his mind, but he had floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, two easy chairs, and a round coffee table. It was cozy. His favorite room. The windows faced the east side of the garden where there was an old guest house. It was in need of a renovation. Jeremiah hardly dared to go inside in fear of it falling down on him, but the previous owner had turned the bottom floor into a woodshop. On the upper floor, there was a bedroom and a bathroom, though the sink was cracked and he would never dare to use the toilet. With some TLC, it could be lovely. Jeremiah didn’t have the skill, the money, or the energy, though.
His legs turned into jelly when he stepped through the doorway into the hallway. He lingered by the stairs to the upper floor for a few seconds, not wanting to take the final steps to bring him up to the bow window facing the street.
With a deep breath, he slid forward. Below the window was a dark-haired man. He was tall and muscular and despite there being glass between them, it was as if Jeremiah could feel the crackling energy around him. Alpha. He gulped down a breath. Shifters were more or less dominant -- all of them were more dominant than humans, but there were different levels among them. Jeremiah didn’t doubt for a second, he was staring at someone who was more dominant than most.
The man’s head snapped up, and his eyes shifted into a light yellow, stealing Jeremiah’s ability to breathe.
He motioned at the window. “Can you crack it open, so I don’t have to shout?”
Jeremiah stood frozen, trapped in the man’s gaze.
“Can you open the window?” He held up his fingers, showing an inch between his thumb and forefinger. “A little is enough.”
When he blew out a breath, the man smiled. It didn’t look mean, but it was only a disguise when it came to shifters. His hand trembled as he reached for the window handle, cracked it open, and allowed the cold December air to flow in through the small gap.