Demitri Vinetti knows his parents believe his claim that he’s gay is an act of rebellion. But when Demitri scents Kiernan Wabinaw at the diner where he works and the human keeps coming back again and again, he’s certain he’s found his mate, a male mate, proving Fate’s on his side. Getting advice from friends, Demitri digs deep for courage and asks Kiernan on a date.
Kiernan is shocked and flattered that such a handsome young man would take an interest in him, especially since his forty-fifth birthday is just around the corner. He’s been fantasizing about Demitri since first spotting him at the diner a couple of weeks ago, and he’s happy to take him up on his offer.
When Kiernan learns that Demitri’s parents beat him for going on a date with him, he discovers protective instincts he’s never known before. But the fact that Demitri’s less than half his age and his parents are abusive is only the first of many shockers. Will Kiernan be able to accept that shifters exist? Or will he chalk Demitri up as too much trouble and run the other way?
“So, what do you do for fun?” Kiernan asked once their food had arrived and Peter disappeared again.
Demitri paused where he was cutting his steak, looked up and answered, “Hiking. I love hiking. There’s nothing better than getting out in the mountains and exploring.”
“Are you familiar with this area?” Kiernan used a fork to pull off a large chunk of meat from the fall-off-the-bone ribs and stuck it in his mouth.
For just a second, Demitri wished his tongue was that fork and being licked and sucked like it was the greatest treat. Mentally shaking himself, he nodded. “Yeah.”
Over the last couple of years, running had been his way of getting away from his parents. Once, while in wolf form, a pair of environmentalists had caught him, but the pack had rescued him before they could take him out of the forest. He wasn’t certain what deal the pack beta, Shane, had made with them—probably for information—but eventually they’d been let go.
Demitri tried not to think about the pass he’d made at fellow wolf shifter, Manon Lemelle, an enforcer in the pack. He’d had a crush on him for months after the Cajun had rescued him. Manon had kindly turned him down. It had been for the best.
“I want to be a park ranger,” he blurted, then blushed. He’d only told a few people about his desire.
“Really? Do you know much about what they do?” Kiernan scooped up some mashed potatoes, then rested his forearm on the table and said, “I know there are a number of national forests around here. Are they hiring?”
Demitri nodded. “I don’t have the necessary degree right now, though. My friend, Nick, is a park ranger, and he’s helping me pick classes.” He grinned, excitement flooding him as he remembered talking to the pack tracker about it. “He says maybe I could get hired on as an intern this summer. He helped me fill out an application for that and said he’d put in a good word for me.”
He flushed and returned his gaze to his plate. Cutting into his meat again, he quickly took a bite. He hadn’t told too many about his desires, yet, and he sure didn’t want his parents to find out. They were encouraging him to look for a school in Denver. He didn’t know why.
“Most young people want to get away from small town living,” Kiernan commented. “I take it you plan on sticking around then?”
“Oh, yes,” he replied. “I’m not going anywhere.”
Kiernan nodded and smiled at him.
Demitri smiled back. It suddenly occurred to him that the man was probably trying to confirm his earlier statement, which was that he wanted something permanent. He understood the human’s hesitation. There was quite a difference in age and experience between them.
Trying to think of something to fill the silence, he nibbled his bottom lip for a second. He caught Kiernan staring and smiled. “Why’d you move here?” He felt the heat of a blush work its way up his neck at the forward question.
“Work,” Kiernan replied. Demitri watched his date’s gaze rove over his face and down his shirt covered chest, which only made him flush even more. Heat lit Kiernan’s pale blue eyes, turning them almost silver. “I wanted out of the city, and one of the local construction companies had an opening for a foreman.”
Demitri nodded, struggling to focus on Kiernan’s words and ignore the clear appreciation in his eyes. “Right, because Gus left.” He hadn’t known the rhino shifter well, but he knew Gus had mated with a gargoyle. They’d moved south to join a gargoyle clutch.
“You know about that?”
Shrugging, Demitri pointed out, “Small town. Everyone knows just about everything.”
“Ah, still getting used to that.”
Demitri nearly jolted in his seat when a sock-clad foot rubbed against his calf.
Kiernan smirked warmly, obviously knowing he’d surprised him. “So, I guess that means you’re okay with being paired with an older man?” he crooned.
Demitri licked his lips as his body flushed hot. “A sexy silver fox like you?” he murmured, taking a stab at being coy. “What’s not to like?”
Suddenly, the foot was gone, as was the mirth in Kiernan’s beautiful silver-blue eyes. Demitri wondered if it was something he’d said. “In the spirit of sharing, that would be my ex-wife,” Kiernan revealed. “I figure you should know that I’ve been married, have a daughter, and I’m pretty damn set in my ways.”