According to the priests of Arizia, the first shifters were once only beasts, not human at all. They took human form because of lust. They stayed in human form because of love.
Ben flees his home in the middle of the night and heads to the Red Temple, the last place anyone would think to look for him. All he seeks is peace and safety, but he finds something else almost as soon as he arrives. The moment his mate’s scent hits him, he knows he was led to this town for a reason.
Wulf isn’t ready to accept being Ben’s mate, but he can’t ignore his growing interest in the shifter. Unable to stay away, he finds himself warming to the idea, even though he never pictured himself with a man. And a prediction made before he was born spurs him on as he decides to find out if the gods really know what they’re doing when it comes to matehood.
Ben quickened his pace through the meandering crowd on the streets of Gateshead. The man following him probably had no idea Ben sensed him there. But of course, the man had no way of knowing that Ben was a wolf shifter. He thought about turning down an alley, but he’d never been through Gateshead before, so he couldn’t risk heading down one and meeting a dead end.
He’d only sensed the man about a minute ago, so maybe his pursuer would give up. It was broad daylight, and there were tons of people milling around. Criminals weren’t always the brightest, but it seemed like a terrible time to rob or attack someone. He briefly wondered if the man could’ve followed him from elsewhere, but he’d seen the guy looking pretty comfortable leaning by a stall in the market and talking with others. He had to be a local.
They can’t know I’m gone yet. And even if they do, they don’t know which way I went.
He turned down the lane that would lead him toward the Red Temple. Surely his stalker wouldn’t follow him all the way there. He’d give up and find someone else. But the man’s pace actually picked up as they moved away from the crowd, and Ben cursed under his breath. Should he run? Even if the other man was faster, it would at least draw attention and maybe deter the guy from whatever he intended.
“Excuse me!” the man called. “You dropped something!”
Surprised and somewhat relieved, Ben stopped abruptly and began checking his pockets, and the man following him almost ran into him. As he turned, Ben took a deep breath, holding it for a moment and then letting it go with a shudder.
The man smiled and held open his tunic to reveal a bulging pouch tucked into an inner pocket. “You dropped this. I would’ve called out, but it’s pretty heavy.” He palmed the pouch of coins over to Ben after a quick glance around. “I didn’t want all those people back there to see how much money you’re carrying. It must’ve slipped from your bag when you stopped and set it down by the fountain.”
“Thank you,” Ben said, looking down at the pouch. When had he dropped it? How? He hadn’t even taken it out. He took his satchel off his shoulder and saw a hole in the side of it. “Damn. I’ll need to fix that.” He tucked the pouch away and made sure it was secure.
“Just passing through?” the man asked.
Ben looked back up at him. “I was, but … I might stay a while.” He held out his hand, eager to touch his mate for the first time. “I’m Ben.”
“Wulf,” the man said, shaking his hand.
Ben laughed, and Wulf raised an eyebrow at him.
“I’m a wolf shifter.”
“Oh,” Wulf said, eyeing him warily for a second.
Of course he doesn’t know why I laughed. He has no idea he’s my mate. He decided against trying to make up an excuse—it would probably just make things more awkward. “I’m going to get a room at the Red Temple. But I don’t know anyone here.” He cleared his throat before he added, “Would you like to have dinner with me?”
Wulf looked toward the temple. “You here on a pilgrimage?”
Ben wanted an answer to his request, but he knew he was probably being too forward, so he let the other man deflect for a moment. “Sort of. My parents died, and I had a falling out with my brothers. I’m the baby of the family, and I’ve never really been on my own.” But now I’m free. They can’t control me anymore.
“I’m sorry for your loss.”
“Thank you.” He waited, expectant. “Dinner? What do you say?”
Wulf hesitated but then nodded. “I don’t have any plans. We could meet at the tavern. The stew there’s pretty good.”
Not the best place to tell you that we’re mates, but we need to start somewhere. I can’t just blurt it out. “That sounds great. Where is it?”
Wulf stepped back and gestured down the lane. “That second left, a couple of buildings down. Big sign with an engraving of a mug of ale on it. Can’t miss it.” He pulled out a pocket watch. “Six all right?”
“Yes, that’ll be fine. What time is it now?” He leaned over to look at the watch, even though he had his own in his pocket. He really just wanted to get a deeper whiff of his mate’s scent. “Three. All right. Plenty of time.” He looked up into his mate’s big brown eyes, smiling. “See you then.”
Wulf gave him a half-smile. “Yeah, see you then.”
Ben walked away grinning. His mate might think he was a little odd now, but once Ben told him what they were to each other, everything would start to fall into place.