Once they had decided to take the plunge, Marcus and Liam O'Faoláin knew what they had to do. The Mating Balls were the place where they could find the woman who would complete them. Too bad they didn't know there were going to have to hunt for her.
The Mating Ball was the final thing that she had to do while she was in the US. Katerina didn't expect that she would actually find her mate there. Instead, she found two.
The Mating Ball was frustrating. Actually, Liam thought the whole search for your destined Mate thing dressed up as a ball was the biggest time waster since Tetris. Just not as much fun. He winced at the sharp note the musicians hit and tried not to growl. Even the music annoyed him.
Stepping around the couple swaying together on the edge of the dance floor, he smiled at the sight. As much as he wasn’t enjoying himself here, it looked as if someone was getting something out of the event. Taking a closer look at the couple, he saw the Were was one of his Clan and his smile grew. Marcus was going to be happy that at least one good thing was coming out of tonight and another bonding for the Clan was a very good thing.
The Were in question looked up at him and Liam nodded. The happy grin the other man wore stretched out even further. His clansman ignored the whispers around them, as he maneuvered his partner closer to the edge of the dance floor so they could meet.
“Maristela Porras, may I introduce you to Liam O’Faoláin, the Mate of my Clan leader, Marcus O’Faoláin. Liam, this is my Lady, Maristela.” Korey Whelan, one of his Mate’s many cousins waved back and forth between Liam and the young lady he had been wrapped around.
Liam smiled and gave her a half bow. He knew better than to touch her. Taking in a deep breath through his nose, he tried to pick her scent out from the mess moving through the ballroom. There was the usual miasma of people and then he caught a hint of mint and green grass. Liam took note of the scents and filed them away for later comparison. He was well aware that the chances of getting a good scent trace off anyone in the current crush would be difficult. Since he wasn’t going to touch Maristela, there was no way to get anything better. He also wasn’t going to push to try and improve on what he already had.
“A pleasure to meet you, Ms. Porras. Welcome to the Clan.” He let his smile stretch a bit wider and watched her blush. She was a very pretty young lady. “Korey, I left Marcus at the punch bowl. He is probably in dire need of a distraction. Why don’t you go introduce your Lady to him?”
Smiling happily, the new couple moved off, and Liam stared at them for a moment before he dropped his own smile. Sighing in frustration, the blond Were wiped a hand over his mouth, and then started moving around the room again. At least someone in their Clan was getting something useful out of the event. He let himself slip into the automatic meet-and-greet he had perfected at his parents’ business dinners and made certain to smile and shake hands with anyone who greeted him.
Circling the room again, Liam caught the scent they had noticed at the last Ball. Bergamot and vanilla—rich, fertile and female—the scent had been taunting them for the last three months. He took several deep breaths and tried to zero in on the scent but it was too diffused, too old. Whoever she was, she wasn’t at the Ball now. Growling, he felt himself start to shift and closed his eyes. He was in public, he was the Mate to the Alpha of Clan O’Faoláin, and there was no way in the world he could lose his shit here.
It was familiarity more than anything else that let him relax back against his Mate when he felt arms go around him. Leaning into the embrace of his Alpha, Liam went limp. Fuck perception, he needed reassurance. “She’s not here.”
“I know,” Marcus rumbled into his ear before nuzzling it. “It is nice though that Korey found someone. Makes this particular farce worth it. Now I want to go. We aren’t getting anywhere.”
“Agreed.” Liam sighed before he straightened up and moved out of his Mate’s arms. Straightening his jacket with a few careful tugs, he looked around. Most of the people surrounding them weren’t paying them any mind and he carefully noted the ones who were. Clan badges were required of all attendees, but most of the people looking at him had on a second badge identifying them as employees of the Ball committee. “This is getting frustrating.”
“It is. But not here,” the Alpha cautioned, before grabbing his Mate’s hand. They were silent as they made their way through the crowd, only pausing in the receiving room to get their jackets. Early winter in Chicago was nothing to sneeze at when it came to the weather.
“Alpha O’Faoláin, leaving so soon?”
Liam stiffened and bit his lip, determined to hold onto his control. The Dowager Stuart was there to see them off. He had disliked her for most of his marriage to Marcus and now, after attending her version of the famed Mating Balls for the last few months, he could honestly say that he really loathed her. What made it worse was that the scent of the female they were interested faintly clung to her. When Marcus looked at him, Liam shook his head. He wasn’t up to dealing with her.
“We are, Madame. This night, as with the others we have been here for, has been a disappointment. While others of my Clan are finding Mates, we are coming up dry. It is making us think hard on what we are to do,” his Mate informed her.
The blond Were kept an eye on the Dowager in the hall mirrors and tried not to grind his teeth. She looked smug. Taking a deep breath in through his nose, he concluded that she even smelled smug. And satisfied. Whatever she was up to, they were playing right into her hands. Liam pulled his cell out and fired off a text to their driver. Andrew was standing by to pick them up and he didn’t want to wait any longer.
The buzz of the confirmation came back quickly and he touched Marcus on the lower back, carefully drawing his attention away from his opponent. “Andrew is here, love.”
“Indeed,” Marcus took his hand and turned towards the door. “Until the next time, Dowager.”
“Until the next time, gentle beings,” she called back at them. Her voice was too smooth, too even, and Liam twitched. The warning squeeze of his Mate’s hand was his only lifeline to sanity.
“We aren’t going to have an argument with the Dowager in public,” Marcus murmured in his lover’s ear as they settled into the car.
“Or in the car,” Liam agreed with a nod. No matter how nonexistent true privacy was due to a Were’s acute hearing, he didn’t want to let everything out while Andrew was there to see the fight firsthand. Or more likely, the make-up sex.
Marcus was concerned over their continued failure to find their Mate. He was happy for Korey, but what about him and Liam? These trial Mating Balls had started as a way for them to find the person to complete their triad. That the person in question was a fertile human female was an unexpected bonus.
Now if only they could find her. The various ways they were being blocked grated on his nerves. Having the Dowager greet them and then watch them leave was highly suspicious. Whoever their Lady was, she was always there when they got to the Ball, she just never stayed around long enough to be found.
Marcus growled again and pulled Liam closer against him, trying to find some comfort from the other Were. Unfortunately, Liam was growling just as much as he was. The air around them was starting to stink of aggression, frustration, and lust. If Andrew didn’t get them home soon, he wasn’t going to apologize for what happened to the back of the limo.
“Sirs, we’re home. Do you want me to open the door?” their chauffeur asked.
“If you don’t want a door-sized dent in the side, yes,” Liam growled.
When the car stopped, Marcus smiled at how quickly Andrew hopped out of the driver’s seat to open the door to the back. He made sure to hold onto Liam just a bit longer to give their man a better chance of reaching the handle before his lover ripped it off. Andrew adored his cars and denting one was just not done.
Liam shrugged his shoulders and Marcus let him go, following behind him into the house. Thankfully, this Ball had been near to a home they owned so they could have the screaming match he wanted, followed by some hot sex, both in private. The Alpha shrugged out of his own jacket and threw it at the jacket tree.
“Marcus. Liam. How was your evening?” his mother called.
The Alpha looked sharply in the direction of the sitting room and found most of the Elder Counsel of the Clan sitting there. Shocked into stillness, he stared at them. “What are you doing here?” he demanded, his nerves already on edge.
“Waiting to see how your night went, dear,” she exclaimed. His father nodded along with her and Marcus stared. His parents were in their late sixties and looked as if they were much younger. He was grateful they were both in good health. The blessings of werewolf genes, combined with their Fae ancestry, led to his family looking their best for most of their long lives.
“Our night sucked, Colleen,” Liam said. “Can we not talk about it?”
Marcus ran a hand down his Mate’s back, and tried to project calm. He didn’t want to have an argument with his parents and, by extension, the Elders.
“But… Liam! You agreed to go to the Mating Balls so you could find someone. Haven’t you been looking? Boys, I know you didn’t want to go this route, but can’t you try?” Her tone was vaguely scolding and something inside Marcus snapped.
“We have been looking, Mother. Moreover, we know that our Lady is attending the events, but she keeps disappearing or, more likely, she is being removed. Since we know she is human by her scent, we can only conclude that someone is hiding her. It is frustrating the hell out of me,” he bit out. “So please, don’t tell us to take this seriously. We are.”
“Really, Marc, you don’t need to get short with your mother,” his father cut in.
Marcus stared at his parents and growled. Neither of them had been Clan Alpha before him, the previous Alpha had been his father’s Great Uncle, but even though they were his parents, he wasn’t going to let them treat him like he was six, and could still run his life as they saw fit.
Liam beat him to it. “Colleen, Paul, butt out. This is our Mate hunt and we are the ones being led around like fools by some asshole. The only reason we’ve gone back to those events is on the off chance of finding her and to give the Clan their monies’ worth for everyone else. So jump off.”
“Don’t talk to them that way,” the oldest member of his council exclaimed.
“Really, Marc? I know he’s your Mate, but...” And now his father was adding his two cents.
His mother’s higher voice played counterpoint, trying to browbeat his Mate into better manners. “Liam O’Faoláin, that was incredibly rude.”
The babble of offended voices rose up and Marcus growled at them. Liam was right there with him and starting to answer back, when a very distinctive voice from the back of the room cut them all off. “Would the lot of you shut up?”
Marcus felt his bad mood snap and he sighed. He had really been enjoying that anger.
“Oh, hush, grandson. You’ll get it back later,” the voice said from within a wingback chair. The being that climbed out of the cushy depths was beautiful in ways that had to be seen to be believed. Long black hair, deep blue eyes, and classically beautiful features were accented by graceful, upswept ears and Marcus was reminded forcibly of the elves in his favorite movies. Unlike them, his ancestor was very, very real. And very, very present.
“Grandfather. I didn’t know you were coming. We would have sent Andrew to pick you up,” Marcus greeted the being who had helped found the O’Faoláin line.
“I came with your parents, Marcus. No worries,” the Fae soothed. Turning to his grandson’s Mate, Cynbel Caderyn Ap Brenhinol smiled at the dumbfounded expression on the blond Were’s face. ‘‘I take it they forgot to mention that I’m still around?”
“Oh, yeah,” Liam agreed, expression wry. Marcus winced. He was going to be hearing about that fact far sooner than he wanted to. “So, I take it you are where they get the Fae part of their ancestry?”
“Yes, indeed. Just wanted to see everyone and apparently dropped right into the drama,” Marc’s grandfather said wryly. “I’ve seen pictures, but you look better in person. How many years have you two been married?”
“Almost four years now, sir. It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Liam said. “Do I bow or what?”
Cynbel laughed. “No, lad. A hug is fine. Call me Grandfather.”
Liam leaned forward and gave the older man a hug. Marcus was well acquainted with his Grandfather’s embraces. They were full body cuddles that left one feeling very good. He watched as his Mate sighed and melted into the Fae’s arms. When Liam was finally let go, most of the anger he had been projecting was gone.
“You should be registered as a controlled substance, sir,” Liam muttered softly as he was released.
Marcus smiled along with everyone else as Grandfather threw back his head and laughed. “Oh, lad, you are a keeper. Okay, take Marc upstairs and deal with that mood you two walked in with. I’ll deal with this lot,” he directed, with a tilt of his head at the Elders.
“Deal,” Liam agreed.
Marcus let himself be dragged off and waved at the room over his shoulder. Once they got upstairs, he was outside his grandfather’s range, and the anger and frustration he had been feeling came back. From the smell pouring off Liam, so had his.
Their bedroom was about as private a space as there could be in a house full of people with really good hearing, but they were used to it. By mutual decision, they stripped out of their clothes and set them aside. Marcus cared less about his finery than his Mate and just shredded the whole outfit in one push by shifting from human to his halfway form. The look he got from his Mate was less than pleased, but he shrugged. Like he cared about clothes?
“You know, I have no idea why I even bother to try to get you nice clothes. More often than not, you shred them to take them off. They have buttons. And zippers. And those novel things called holes so you can get your overstuffed head out of them. After all, you got it into them!” Liam growled, carefully hanging his own tux on a hanger.
Smirking, Marcus walked up behind his Mate and let his claws come out. Setting them onto the fabric of Liam’s jacket, he glanced at his partner, who growled in his face. “Do it and I will fuck you up.”
“You say the sweetest things, a ghrá,” Marcus responded. His voice was silky and full of the anger his grandfather had pushed off earlier. One nail pressed into the weave of Liam’s jacket and he laughed when his Mate gripped his wrist. “Whatcha gonna do?”
Liam wrenched him around and away from the clothes. “Fuck you stupid,” his Mate said firmly, before covering his mouth with his own, then not so carefully took off his clothes, dropping them to the floor. The kiss went on long enough that the Alpha started seeing stars from the sensation.
Marcus laughed into the lips covering his and dived into the feeling. When his Mate pushed him back, he went with the movement, letting the other Were direct them.
The bed against his knees was expected and he let himself fall back, breaking the kiss. Looking up at his Mate, Marcus grinned at the sight before him. Liam was no longer calm, collected, or even rational, it seemed, since his wolf gleamed in his eyes. The fingers that had been around his wrist were now holding his waist and he could feel the claws. Shivering lightly at the sensation, Marcus grinned up at Liam. “Really? Think you can manage that?”
“Oh, yeah,” his Mate told him, voice full of confidence. Leaning over, he licked a stripe up Marcus’s chest from right above his belly button to his collarbone and bit. Hard. The Alpha jerked, the instinctive need to fight rising to the fore before he let his head fall back. This was his Mate, his husband, and if there was ever anyone to whom he was going to surrender in bed, it was Liam. Relaxing into the sensation, he felt the itch under his skin fade away.
Liam’s teeth gripped firmly and Marcus reveled in the sting. The firm hand wrapped around his cock stroked once and then let go. Liam released the flesh at his collarbone and moved up his neck. “It is the biggest rush to know that you, my Alpha, are willing to submit to me in this. You are my lover, here in our bed, and I am going to fuck you until you scream.”
Liam bit the sliver of flesh under Marcus’s ear and the Alpha wrapped his legs around his waist. The blond Were thrust once, obviously enjoying the feel of his cock gliding alongside his Mate’s. Marcus watched as his lover took a deep breath and then sank into the firm kiss.