Cornelius Roister is a flirt, has been since coming out. He lives loud, proud, and for the moment. What only his best friend, Gustav Gus Hermance, knows is that it’s a defense mechanism, an act, used to keep people from getting too close. People that are close can hurt you, and he’s had enough pain to last him a lifetime.
When Cornelius visits Gus at his new home, he is ecstatic to discover his mate in Einan, a gargoyle enforcer. Until him and large-and-in-charge Einan have their first personality clash…and then their second. They just can’t seem to carry on a conversation without disagreeing or arguing. Is Cornelius’s mating doomed before it even gets started? Or can Cornelius and Einan find some common ground?
“Hey, can I get some of that?”
The soft melodic tenor murmured so close to his left, coupled with the thick waft of Cornelius’s scent, caused Einan’s hand to freeze. It wasn’t until the beer overflowed his cup, the cold liquid spilling over his fingers, that he regained his senses.
“Shit,” he muttered, putting the pitcher down and reaching toward the paper napkin dispenser.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you,” Cornelius mumbled, sounding almost shy and completely at odds with the vibrant storyteller from a few minutes before. “Please, let me help.”
Einan really didn’t like the shifter’s suddenly timid attitude, especially since it was directed toward him. Although his first instinct was to brush the man’s hand aside and take control, he relinquished his hold on his cup, sat back, and watched Cornelius clean up the mess Einan had made.
His mate’s quick efficient movements had the spilled beer cleared up, his cup dried and back in front of him in no time. Einan smiled and nodded. “Thank you, Cornelius,” he stated. The shifter’s slight shiver at the use of his name didn’t escape his notice, and he’d have to remember that for later.
Picking up the pitcher of beer, Einan held it up. “Sorry for the delay. May I refill your cup?”
Cornelius beamed at him and nodded, holding out his cup. Einan took it, refilled it, and set it down in front of his mate. He returned to the pitcher in the middle of the table. Instead of returning to his food or speaking—knowing he’d probably say something asinine like you’re my mate, I’m keeping you—Einan waited for Cornelius to speak first.
He didn’t have too long to wait. Evidently, Cornelius didn’t seem capable of remaining quiet for long if his story-telling abilities were anything to go by. “I scented you when you came in,” Cornelius murmured, his brows drawn together, creasing them. “I looked up and I know you saw me, too.” He traced the rim of his cup with one long finger. Watching the idle movements, Einan wondered how that finger would feel rubbing around and around the rim of his cock head. The mental image had a predictable reaction on his cock—namely, making it thicken from half-mast to hard and begging in seconds.
The dulcet tones of his mate drew Einan’s attention, and he realized Cornelius had probably been talking all the time his mind had wandered.
“You didn’t come over. Why didn’t you come over?”
With most of his blood pooled in his groin, Einan said the first thing that came to mind. “You seemed a bit busy and had plenty of other company.” And, shit, if he didn’t sound like the biggest asshole in the world!
* * * *
Cornelius blanched, his mind a blank.
His mate had recognized him as such, but hadn’t bothered coming over because he’d been talking to other people? Then, he’d sat down and eaten as if this wasn’t the most life-altering moment of their lives?
Was the gargoyle playing some kind of game?
As a natural flirt, he was used to being pursued, so when Cornelius had realized his mate wasn’t coming to him, he’d screwed up his courage and approached, only to startle the man and spill the beer. Not the finest first impression.
“Look,” the gargoyle said, redrawing his attention. “Realizing you are my mate and seeing you flirting with over half a dozen single males isn’t really how I ever imagined finding my mate.” His mate lifted one dark gray, clawed hand and gently cupped his cheek.
Cornelius couldn’t help nuzzling into it, relishing these first tentative touches between him and the gargoyle Fate seemed to think would be his own.
“My name is Einan. I’m the head enforcer for my clutch. It’s not appropriate for my mate to be flirting with every single male in the room.” The male smiled, and even with rows of sharp teeth, somehow looked absolutely stunning. “I’ll teach you proper etiquette.”
Oh, my mate’s an enforcer! That means he’s strong and can keep me safe. Cornelius reached for the arm that touched him and traced the thick ropes of muscles under dark leathery gray hide. Cornelius knew he had a bad habit of ending up in trouble.
That’s why Gus had always tried so hard to protect him like his own big brother should have. After pulling him out of a scrape with a fellow rhino shifter, his friend had asked him why he always went looking for trouble. Cornelius had brushed some loose strands of hair from the wrong pretty girl—purely a platonic gesture—but her boyfriend still hadn’t appreciated it. The rhino had threatened Cornelius, who’d reacted by looking the shifter up and down and stating she wasn’t his type—okay, so maybe he shouldn’t have added the bit about the other rhino being right up his alley and given the guy a sultry look. Anyway, Gus had saved him, and Cornelius had responded that he didn’t mean to look for trouble. Trouble always just seemed to find him.
Having a mate capable of protecting him would definitely be a plus. Then, the rest of Einan’s words registered in his lust-addled brain. Proper etiquette? Teach him? What the fuck?
Cornelius snatched his hand back and jerked away from Einan. He glared at the bigger man and leaped to his feet. “Teach me proper etiquette?” he snarled, keeping his voice low enough that only those in the immediate area heard. He had some class, after all. See him being all proper? “I’m sixty-seven years old,” he continued, low and cold. “I don’t need you or anyone else to teach me proper etiquette. Don’t you worry. I know it.”
As Einan slowly rose from the bench seat to face him, Cornelius found himself looking up, and up. He was no light-weight at six feet tall, but Einan towered over him a good eight inches. The man clenched his square jaw, a tick thrumming along the pulse point. His gray eyes seemed to darken, turning stormy.
Cornelius scented the subtle shift of his mate’s scent…frustration and anger. His rhino whuffled nervously in his mind. He completely agreed. He didn’t know anything about the massive gargoyle enforcer. If his mate used his fists, he’d be down and defenseless in one hit. Retreat was definitely the better part of valor.