Claimed by Desire (Wild Hunters Book 2)

claimedbydesire

BLURB

Broken by the loss of his mate, wolf shifter Dylan returns to his birthplace in Wales with only one thing on his mind…revenge. But when Aeron enters his life, their intense attraction is too powerful to ignore, and budding attraction soon becomes something deeper. Steamy passion fills the pages of Claimed By Desire, Book 2 of Skye Jones’ hot and sexy romance series, Wild Hunters.

Dylan Roberts returns to the Wales of his birth a changed man after the violent death of his mate. Having turned his back on being a bounty hunter and sworn off love for life, all he wants now is revenge.

When he meets Aeron Lombardo, his new farmhand, Dylan resents the intense attraction that blossoms between them. But Aeron won’t stop pushing and soon things take a hot and sexy turn.

As passions rise, danger rears its ugly head. Now Dylan and Aeron must choose whether to separate or commit to one another totally. Will Dylan take the final step and claim his new mate?

EXCERPT

Aeron cursed under his breath. In the mirror, his hair stuck out in all directions as usual, not wanting to behave even on a day as important as this one. At this rate, the farm owner might stick him in the field to scare the crows.

A horn honked outside. He patted down the thick tuft of hair at the front of his head once more before scowling at himself and turning to leave the cold, poky bathroom.

In the bright fluorescent light of the kitchen his mother looked more tired than usual, her face drawn and pale. The tight brackets around her mouth signaled a day of pain lay ahead. She turned to him and her eyes softened as she smiled.

“I made you a packed lunch, love. Make sure you eat, and here, take your gloves.” She took the wool gloves off the kitchen table and passed them to him. “I don’t want you catching your death out there. I’m still not sure I like you going and working all the way in the middle of nowhere, and for that strange man. No one ever sees him, even though he’s been here over a year now.”

“Mum.” He placed his hands on either side of her face and pulled her in to kiss her forehead. “Rhys has worked for him for most of that time and says he’s as solid as they come. A genuinely nice guy. He’s just had a rough time of it and doesn’t like mixing much.”

Aeron pulled on the wool gloves, glancing at the wall clock.

“I know. I worry for you. Can’t help it. I didn’t want you to have this life. Didn’t want you working on a farm and stuck in this village up in the mountains. I wanted you to be having the time of your life at university, and then in a good job in a city like Cardiff, or even London.” She bent into the fridge and pulled out a large box. “Here. Take your lunch.”

“I’d never leave you, and anyway, I love it here. I love the mountains and the lakes and being able to get to the ocean once in a while. Don’t you go worrying about me! Remember, you’ve to call Mrs. Jones across the road if you need anything at all. She’ll be in all day, and she’ll pop over later.”

“I promise.” Another beep rent the air. “Go on, or Rhys will be taking his offer back.” She dropped a kiss on his cheek before moving out of the way so he could pass to the door.

Cold air hit him as he rushed outside, and he shivered. How would he deal with a whole day of working in the cold spring chill? He’d not done much hard outdoors labor since he was a teenager, but they needed the money, and there weren’t many options in the mountain village where he lived. Not with the mines long closed. This simply must work—he and his mother had few other options.

“Jesus, boyo! You’re not auditioning for a boy band, you know? You’re going to be doing dirty work—on a farm.” Rhys stared at him with raised brows as he clambered into the truck.

He stared back, perplexed. “Yeah. I know. I’m wearing jeans, a jumper, boots and gloves. I don’t know what the problem is.”

“Those jeans look like they come from one of them trendy shops in Manchester or Liverpool, and your jumper won’t be warm enough. The boots are good, but the rest of it is going to get ruined. You’ll be frozen. Have you got a hat?”

“No.” He cursed himself silently for his stupidity.

“You need to sort out some better gear for next week. It’s a good job there’s only two days left before the weekend. Get yourself into Llandudno, to one of them fancy shops the climbing set use and get some warm stuff. Or better yet, get to a proper farm supplier and order some real working clothes.”

Aeron wanted to scream, “With what?” He kept his silence and wondered if he could scrimp enough together to buy what he needed before his first pay packet. As they drove along he stared out of the window at the mountains. They wound slowly up the pass, the scenery becoming more dramatic with each passing mile. After a short while, Rhys pulled off the road onto a gravel track, winding up higher and deeper into the mountains, away from civilization.

The clouds moved quickly overhead, passing dark shadows over the mountainside, letting the sun play hide and seek. Now and again bright light burst through the cloud cover. Whenever it did the terrain transformed, and beauty showed her face before the dark clouds raced back to cover the land in a gloomy, gray cloak again.

“So what’s Mr. Roberts like?” he asked. “Is he easy going or a real stickler?”

“He’s a good man. Leaves me to get on with my work. He’s fair, but I don’t think he’d tolerate shirkers, so don’t go getting ideas you can simply loaf around, thinking about what kind of trendy new clothes you’ll be buying with your wages.”

He sighed and returned to staring out the window again. Rhys might be an ornery old bastard, but underneath his bluff and bluster lurked a kind man. He helped out him and his mum on a regular basis, and as soon as Mr. Roberts had mentioned hiring someone else to help on the farm, Rhys had put Aeron’s name forward, knowing how much they needed the money.

As they neared their destination, the track became rougher, tossing the car around like a boat in a storm. Relief washed over him as they finally came to a halt in front of a low-lying farmhouse. He hoped his churning stomach would settle once his feet were on solid ground.

“You can put your stuff in the barn yonder.” Rhys pointed to the first outbuilding. “There’s a fridge in there if you’ve got any food, and a kettle and the rest. I’m going to fetch the dogs, and I’ll meet you out here in two minutes. Pop these in the fridge for me.” He handed Aeron a clear plastic bag containing two forlorn looking sandwiches, the wilted white bread thin and sagging.

Once he’d put Rhys’s pathetic lunch, and his own much more appetizing offering away, he took a moment to catch his breath and psyche himself up for the day ahead. He walked purposefully outside, head held high. He might not be used to hard physical labor but he refused to let Rhys down.

Three hours later, he wanted to cry. He’d never known such exhaustion before, and they were only partway through the day. They’d fixed fences, rounded up stray sheep, hauled rubbish out of a freezing stream and started to clear one of the outbuildings of old machinery. Rhys had gone to make tea five minutes ago, and Aeron wanted to put a rocket under him. His dry throat craved the soothing, warm beverage.

“Laddie?” Rhys came back into the barn carrying only one steaming mug. Aeron wanted nothing more than to wrap his cold, aching fingers around it and soothe them back to life. Rhys hadn’t been kidding when he’d said his clothes weren’t warm enough.

“You’re an angel.” He reached for the drink. Rhys sidestepped him and placed the mug on a rickety shelf, attached to the wall by probably nothing more than decades of dust and cobwebs.

“That’s mine. Boss man wants to see you. I’ll make you one when you come back. He won’t keep you long, just needs to go over some of the basics with you and fill in some paperwork.”

Aeron cursed Mr. Roberts with many a foul name, in his mind only of course, as he stared at the hot cup of salvation just out of reach. “Do I knock on the door?”

“He’s not in the house; he’s in the stables. Been mucking out the horses.”

“He’s got horses?” He loved horses.

“Yep, three of them. One’s a real classy piece too. Better get going or he’ll be thinking I’ve suggested he hire a tardy one.”

Aeron ruffled Rhys’s hair as he passed by, grinning at the string of curses the man let loose at the action. As he neared the stables, trepidation built, swirling in his belly and tightening his jaw. He needed this job, and it all hinged on the man behind those doors.

When Rhys had first told him there might be work up on the farm, he’d immediately discounted it. He didn’t think it possible to leave his mum for so long, but then their neighbor, Mrs. Jones, had said she’d pop in on Kate two or three times a day. There’d been no choice. Kate might not want him gone all day, and he might not want to leave the cozy pub where he worked four nights a week, but he needed to bring more money in if they wanted to keep the roof over their heads.

What if Mr. Roberts took an instant dislike to him? Or worse, turned out to be a bigot and fired him for being gay?

“And how’s he going to find out about it, idiot?” he muttered under his breath, shaking his head. “If you keep your mouth shut, he won’t ever know.”

It wasn’t as if the owner ever mixed with the locals in the village or nearby town. He kept himself to himself up here on the farm, and Aeron hardly ever went out locally, apart from the occasional night dancing in Llandudno. He mostly spent his evenings at home, surfing the net or watching a movie with his mum. So despite it being known he was gay, he didn’t spend his time having wild flings. As if! There wasn’t anyone within a ten-mile radius he even wanted to kiss.

“You going to stand out there all day or come in here and introduce yourself?” A gruff, deep voice shocked him out of his reverie.

“Sorry.” Aeron pushed open the closed bottom half of the stable building door, which led into a long block of stalls, metal gates in front of each one. Horses leaned long, patrician heads over two of the gates. He couldn’t see a third horse, or Mr. Roberts.

A clattering rang out from the last stall and a low whinny resonated against the walls.

“You’ll do, girl.” The gate swung open, and a man strode out.

He couldn’t see well in the dim light, but the figure moving toward him was big. Taller than Aeron, who at nearly six foot two didn’t have many people equal him in height, but much broader. As he neared, the man stopped and thrust out a large paw in greeting.

“Hi there, Aeron.”

“Mr. Roberts. Nice to meet you, sir.” He shook the hand, nerves threatening to spill over into jittery anxiety.

Mr. Roberts stared at him in the gloom for a long moment, and the air crackled with tension.

He moved from foot to foot, uncomfortable with the intense examination. “Sir? Is anything wrong?”

As if waking from a dream, the large man shook himself.

“Christ, kid,” he snorted. “It’s Dylan. You’ll make me feel more ancient than I already do. Rhys tells me you’ve not done much of this sort of work before.” He moved down the stalls, Aeron trailing him.

“No. I’ve mostly done bar work since I left school. But I’m in good shape, and I’m willing to work hard. Mr. Rob…Dylan. I need this job.” It came out as more of a plea than he wanted, and he bit down on his lip when Roberts turned to study him once more.

“What are you wearing?”

“What?” Surprise rendered him stupid for a moment.

“Your clothes. Come here.” He pushed open the door at the end of the building and pulled him into the light with a hand on his jumper.

Once outside, he couldn’t speak, move or even breathe. Because looking at his clothes with a frown stood the most breathtaking vision he’d ever seen.

Dylan Roberts wore a thick jumper and baggy combat-style pants which looked like they came from an Army and Navy store. Neither garment hid the muscular build beneath. The sleeves of the sweater were rolled up to reveal strong, tanned forearms, smattered with hair and crossed by a pattern of veins. Veins he wanted to map with his fingers.

Throat dry, he lifted his head to look at the man’s face, and wished he hadn’t. Piercing light golden brown eyes met his as a wry smile twisted a beautifully harsh mouth into a smirk. A jagged scar on the man’s face only added to his sex appeal somehow. “Cat got your tongue, kid?”

“Sorry…I…What were you saying?” His face burned, his cold of moments ago forgotten as the heat of mortification rushed through him. He needed to get a grip. It wasn’t just this guy’s looks, but his presence. He threw off charisma like a radiator gave off heat. It fairly crackled in the air around him. Aeron swallowed hard.

“Your clothes. You can’t wear these.” His boss reached over, rubbing his thumb against the denim covering his thigh.

Aeron backed up a step, skin tingling from the simple contact.

“They’re soaked.” Roberts dragged his gaze back up to his face. “Come with me.” He pivoted and strode toward the house.

Aeron followed like a puppy after its master. The guy’s back view provided as much pleasure as the front. Strong thighs gave way to a muscular backside and narrow hips, and fanned out into broad shoulders.

When they entered the kitchen, Dylan motioned for him to sit on one of the chairs around the large oak dining table.

“You’re about my height, right? Couple of inches shorter.”

He nodded, out of his depth with the taciturn giant of a man.

“You’re leaner than me, but I’ve got some pants with a drawstring. You can pull them in tight.” He flicked the switch on the kettle, and as it began to sputter grabbed two large mugs from the cupboard above his head. “Tea or coffee?”

“Tea, please. One sugar, if it’s okay?” The thought of a warm drink at last had him almost purring in pleasure.

Dylan turned and smiled, a genuine one this time, not the smirk he’d thrown out earlier. “Oh, I don’t know about that. Might have to start docking your pay if you’re going to be demanding fancy things like sugar in your tea.”

Aeron laughed and relaxed a little under the friendlier atmosphere.

“I won’t be a minute; gonna go fetch you some proper clothing. Make yourself useful and sort the drinks out. Milk’s in the fridge.” He disappeared into the hallway and up the stairs, his heavy tread loud overhead.

The minutes ticked by, the clock on the wall heralding their passing as Aeron struggled to shake the jittery feeling in his chest.

Dylan had been friendly enough, yet Aeron found it impossible to relax around him. Couldn’t imagine sitting and sharing a beer with him as Rhys sometimes did, or staying for a meal once in a blue moon. The guy plain intimidated him. Well, intimidated him and turned him on at the same time.

He stood to stir the teas, when his boss came back into the room, bundles of clothing in his arms.

“Here. Take these and get changed. There are waterproofs and a thermal vest, too. Most of it should fit well enough. The pants have a drawstring at the waist and around the bottom of the legs, so you can pull ’em in as tight as you need. You can use the downstairs bathroom to change. It’s through there.” Dylan pointed into the hallway. “First door on the left. I’ll finish making the drinks.”

“I didn’t know if you took sugar.” Aeron left the room, clutching the clothes to his chest.

Once in the downstairs toilet with the door firmly closed, he let his head fall back and hit the wall as he tried to get his racing heart under control. He allowed himself the luxury of a moment before he started pulling off his clinging wet jeans. With a shudder, he peeled them away from damp skin so cold it burned.

“There’s some towels in there,” Dylan called out to him. “In the airing cupboard.”

Ten minutes later, he’d dried himself off and changed into the clothing provided for him. He’d pulled his boots back on and folded his own clothes into a neat pile. He carried them with him into the kitchen, nearly dropping them as he stepped through the low doorway.

Dylan stood, pulling his sweater over his head, T-shirt underneath riding up to reveal deep, muscled ridges above his hipbones. Aeron’s mouth dried, his tongue too big all of a sudden for the space. Men like the one in front of him didn’t exist in the real world. They only existed in his fevered imagination.

As the sweater came off, Dylan pulled his T-shirt back down and ran a hand through ruffled brown hair, the movement making his biceps bulge. Christ, the guy was a smorgasbord of hotness. Aeron wanted to lick every inch of his spectacular body. Realizing he stared, he dragged his eyes from the vision in front of him and looked at the floor instead, scuffing his shoe against the stone tiles.

“You look better…warmer,” Dylan rasped. The odd accent, part American, part lilting Welsh, and a touch of something else, made his words melodic. “We need to order you some proper clothes for the job. We can do it online.”

“I can’t afford a lot,” he blurted out. “Least, not at first.”

“You don’t need to afford anything. I’ll buy them.”

“You can’t do that.”

Dylan studied him for a long beat. “Why not? They’re essential tools for the job. Call it your uniform if it makes you feel better. Now, grab your drink. You can top it up with hot, and come sit here. We need to fill in your paperwork.”

Aeron scooted into the seat next to his boss and tried not to notice how much space the man took up. He also tried not to stare at the strong hand gripping the pen, or the wavy brown hair shining in the weak sunlight. He concentrated on avoiding looking at the chiseled jaw and those eerie, stunning eyes. He wouldn’t even let himself glance at the thick column of Dylan’s throat, working as he swallowed down some tea, or he’d be lost. Totally and utterly lost. Unable to function at all.

“I have your name and address already, from Rhys. Can you fill in your date of birth, national insurance details, and your bank details for your pay? Do you have any allergies or medical conditions I need to know about?”

“No, sir.” Sir? Again? He flushed, but forced himself to hold Dylan’s gaze.

Dylan’s warm eyes flashed with something wild and almost feral. The next moment, whatever it was had gone, and he shoved the pen and paper at Aeron almost brusquely. “Well, I’ll leave you to get on with this. Finish your tea, get warmed up, and when you’re ready, go back and find Rhys. Take those clothes home with you tonight. You can keep them for now. If you leave me your measurements, I’ll order you some proper kit later.”

With that, he walked out the room, ducking his head in the low doorway and leaving Aeron all alone in the warm kitchen.

He stared at the paper in front of him, willing himself to write, but his fingers didn’t comply. They gripped the pen as if it offered salvation from the tumultuous emotions roiling around inside him.

Get a grip. He needed this job, wouldn’t risk it over some stupid crush. Being gay around these parts could be enough to get a guy into trouble, but fawning over your boss seemed a sure fire way to up the ante. Dylan was the ultimate in unobtainable, the man who held his future in his hands, as well as a lonely widower, still grieving the loss of a beloved wife, or so the village gossip went. Nothing good would ever come of the lustful feelings zinging around Aeron’s blood, so he’d stomp them down and ignore them until they went away.

It was his only choice.

* * * *

Dylan sat in his warm study, trying hard to ignore the wind howling around the house. He hated windy nights. The noise made it difficult to hear—trespassers for instance, of the undead kind.

Talk about paranoid! This evening seemed worse than usual. He reminded himself that the hefty bolts were in place on the front and back doors, and his state-of-the-art alarm system, more suited to a high-end art gallery than a farm, was activated. Anything larger than a fox straying within a couple of feet of the property would activate the piercing alarms.

Nothing much came near the house, and the only false alarm had been months ago, triggered by a stray ewe. The farm’s isolation, and the copious fences, meant few stumbled across it.

He wasn’t scared of death. No, his fear was not being ready for the bastards when they came. He’d become convinced in recent weeks that the vampires he’d spent a year tracking, the creatures that had killed his mate, were finally going to come for him. The feeling wasn’t logical. He’d not scented or seen them, but it persisted. Some sixth sense, one he’d not utilized before, kept screaming out to him that sooner or later those things were going to find him. When they did, he wanted to be ready to kill every last fucking one of them.

He reached for the tumbler and took a pull on the smooth amber liquid sloshing inside. The burn of fine whisky hit his stomach, relaxing muscles in its wake, and he groaned in appreciation. The laptop in front of him flickered, and he ran a finger over the mouse and clicked the ‘proceed to checkout’ button, entering his card details. He’d ordered a whole raft of clothing for his new hire. Probably more than was sensible when he didn’t know if the younger man would work out.

Shock had seared through him when he’d first seen Aeron standing there in the stables. His tall, lean physique and thick dark hair had reminded him far too much of his mate, Nikos. When they’d walked out into the bright light, he’d realized the young man looked nothing like Nikos. The similarities were few once he’d looked more closely. Of course, he’d noticed how good-looking Aeron was in his own right, but hey, who wouldn’t? So long as he didn’t remind him of Nikos, Dylan could tolerate his presence around the farm.

One thing still bugged him about the new hire, though. He’d easily heard the quiet sentences Aeron had muttered before he entered the barn. Sometimes being a wolf shifter had its advantages. If you keep your mouth shut he won’t ever know. Strong words. The kid didn’t want him knowing something. It might be nothing, or it might be something important.

Gold liquid swirled as he played with the glass in front of him. His gut told him not to worry. Aeron screamed goodness from his pores, and he’d not picked up anything unusual when he’d scented him—nothing to indicate he’d been sent to infiltrate the farm. If he’d been working for any vampires, the kid would have carried their scent. Humans wouldn’t notice it, but a wolf shifter would immediately, no matter how well Aeron tried to hide it. And yet—the guy wanted to hide something.

Oh, he understood the need to keep things hidden; his secrets piled one on top of the other. Still, as Aeron’s employer, he should be aware if hiring the young man might cause problems later down the line. He’d used Aeron’s details to run a thorough background check on him and his mother, Kate. They were both clean. There were financial issues, though. Some debts unpaid. Kate had progressive multiple sclerosis and other health issues, which meant she couldn’t work. Mortgage arrears were piling up. The kid’s father now lived back in Italy with his second family, which explained Aeron’s un-Welsh surname of Lombardo.

Humans! So flighty. They possessed no loyalty. No shifter would abandon one family just so they could set up home with another.

He tapped his index finger on the table. Should he ask Rhys if he knew anything more about the lad? Mind made up, he picked up the phone and dialed out.

“Hello?”

Rhys sounded tired and sleepy.

“Rhys, Dylan here. Hope I didn’t wake you?”

“Nope, just watching CSI. Do you know you can lift DNA from a palm print these days? It amazes me how any crime goes unsolved.”

Dylan chuckled. “Speaking of crimes. I hate to ask. I know he’s a family friend and all, but there’s nothing I should know about Aeron, is there?”

“No. Why do you ask?” Rhys’ voice grew cool, wary.

The community up in the mountains was closed off and tight knit. He didn’t want to upset Rhys, maybe lose a good hand, but he wasn’t about to back down now he’d asked.

“Something he said. He didn’t mean for me to hear, kid was talking to himself and muttered some stuff about me not being able to find out so long as he kept his mouth shut. I don’t know what the heck he referred to.” He sighed at the silence screaming down the line. “Look, if it’s personal I don’t need to know. But if it’s anything that could affect the farm…then I do.”

There was another long beat of quiet, and then Rhys spoke. “He’s gay. Okay? And it’s cost him before. He lost his first job out of school when the restaurant owners found out. He also got beat up pretty badly once. And lots of people around here won’t hire him; it’s how he ended up working at the pub. So I imagine it’s what he referred to. Can’t see how it’d be anything else. He needs this job. Maybe he thought you’d let him go if you found out?”

Dylan didn’t speak for a moment. Something rushed through him, an uncomfortable awareness of the way Aeron had responded to him when they’d met. He’d put the reaction down to intimidation. He intimidated plenty of people. Whether they somehow picked up on his being different, or his size freaked them out, he didn’t know and didn’t care. He’d simply added his new hand to their number. Now he owned a slightly different frame of reference to explain the thumping heart, dilated pupils, and the adrenaline he’d been able to scent as it coursed through heated veins.

Added to Dylan’s awareness of the younger man’s response was discomfort at his own jolt of attraction upon meeting his new employee. It wasn’t anything seismic, but it’d been there—a low-frequency hum in the background of his psyche.

The last thing he wanted to feel was attraction toward anyone.

“Thanks, Rhys.” He moved to end the call. “His sexuality isn’t an issue for me. I’m not a bigot. I needed to make sure there wasn’t anything I should worry about, and you’ve set my mind at rest. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

He hung up, finally satisfied he could trust Aeron after speaking with Rhys and running a very thorough background check. Fuck. The events of the past were making him paranoid. He should have carried out a basic check, but no, he’d delved deep. Guilt simmered in his belly. Another layer of self-loathing to add to the many he wore.

Perhaps he should invite Kate up to the farm when the weather picked up? Let her and Aeron take the horses out for a short ride? He rocked in his chair until it rested on its back legs. He would bet they rarely got out; her illness and their lack of money meaning they’d have few opportunities for any leisure. It wouldn’t cost him a damn thing to let her come to work with the kid one day and take a gentle ride.

The computer screen in front of him pinged, letting him know he’d gotten mail. He clicked into his inbox and saw two new messages, one from Sean, the other from Hawk. Both men worked for the same shadowy government organization that Dylan’s pack had been with. He’d known Sean’s mate, Luke, for a long time, but ever since he’d helped rescue Sean from a rival group of shifters, he’d developed a good friendship with Sean too. He also found himself having regular conversations with their other mate, Kayley. He envied the three of them their happiness.

The email from Hawk was more of a mystery, and it had his heart speeding up. Unlike Sean or Luke, Hawk never got in touch to catch up or chat. He’d only get in touch if it were important. With a shaking hand, he clicked the message open.

Hey there.

I’ve heard something that might be of interest. There’s been a massacre in Pakistan. Got hushed up but the details sound like the vamps you ran into. Bodies torn apart, not merely bled. Parts of the flesh eaten. Twenty men killed, all military. So far no one’s been assigned to it because the Pakistani government are trying to keep outsider involvement down, but if a team gets the heads up it will be ours. If it happens I’ll give you a shout. They might not be your attackers, but it sounds like their MO. If it is, they’re still in the area and it seems the attack on you and your team might have been random, rather than planned.

Hawk.

He sat for a moment, head reeling. For weeks he’d been convinced they were headed his way, but it seemed he’d been wrong. So much for his sixth sense! He should have known it was just more paranoia. Luke was the only shifter amongst them who truly possessed the gift of extra sight. Memories of the attack on his team assaulted him. In that moment he found himself back in the dank cave in Afghanistan; heard the gurgle of dying shifters as they choked on their own blood; smelled death all around him.

He surged to his feet, knocking the chair back as he did so. Panic always accompanied the memories, and right now it threatened to overwhelm him. He paced the length of the study, a strangled cry forcing its way out of his throat as the sight of his dead mate burned behind his eyes.

It’s only adrenaline, he repeated his mantra. Let it wash over you. It will pass. He righted the chair and forced himself to sit and read Sean’s email. Perhaps it contained more news?

Hi Dylan,

Hope you are okay in the wilds of Wales. I’ve been looking it up on the web and the weather looks cold and miserable. It says it rains a lot! You know Luke wants to come and visit you in your watery hellhole, right? I think if you cared for me at all you’d have moved somewhere with some sun. You know how I feel about wet weather.

On a serious note, I think you should consider it might be time for you to have some company. Hey, maybe even a bit of fun!

You saved me, Dylan. Your help was invaluable and while it might not be my place, I can’t sit back and let you waste your life away in some corner of Wales, waiting for gods know what?

You should come visit. We’ve spent some time with Luke’s parents’ pack, and there are many young shifters needing a mate. I know your tastes are similar to mine, you like ’em tall dark and pretty, and there are guys there that will blow your mind.

Just think about it. And if you won’t come to us, I suppose we’ll have to come there, to your water logged, Celtic hideout! We aren’t going to leave you alone much longer. Luke’s determined to visit and you know once he’s got an idea in his head he won’t back down. So one way or another, we’ll be seeing you soon.

Your friend,

Sean.

Dylan snorted at Sean’s email. Finding a mate, or even a companion for a bit of fun, was the last thing on his mind. No way could he imagine sharing his life with anyone after Nikos. If he were being honest, though, he’d have to admit that the self-imposed loneliness he lived with did cut him to the core. Shifters were social, tactile. They needed others around them, needed regular touch, or they suffered as surely as they would if starved of food, water, and light.

He hurt. Each hour of each day, he hurt. He wanted it to stop but was stuck. Unable to contemplate accepting the company and touch he needed to thrive. Unwilling to let go of Nikos and his memory. Maybe if Hawk’s lead came good he’d be able to find the fuckers who’d killed Nikos and end them. Afterwards? Well, he might just end himself.

Christ. He punched the wall with a snarl. He needed to get into the mountains for a few days. Allow the wolf out to run, to hunt. He could ask Rhys to either stay at the farm, or take the dogs back with him at the end of the day, then take off for a couple of days. He’d say it was a business trip and drive up into the mountains, to the deep pass where even tourists didn’t head. Once there, he’d let his wolf out to do what it did best.

Aeron cursed under his breath. In the mirror, his hair stuck out in all directions as usual, not wanting to behave even on a day as important as this one. At this rate, the farm owner might stick him in the field to scare the crows.

A horn honked outside. He patted down the thick tuft of hair at the front of his head once more before scowling at himself and turning to leave the cold, poky bathroom.

In the bright fluorescent light of the kitchen his mother looked more tired than usual, her face drawn and pale. The tight brackets around her mouth signaled a day of pain lay ahead. She turned to him and her eyes softened as she smiled.

“I made you a packed lunch, love. Make sure you eat, and here, take your gloves.” She took the wool gloves off the kitchen table and passed them to him. “I don’t want you catching your death out there. I’m still not sure I like you going and working all the way in the middle of nowhere, and for that strange man. No one ever sees him, even though he’s been here over a year now.”

“Mum.” He placed his hands on either side of her face and pulled her in to kiss her forehead. “Rhys has worked for him for most of that time and says he’s as solid as they come. A genuinely nice guy. He’s just had a rough time of it and doesn’t like mixing much.”

Aeron pulled on the wool gloves, glancing at the wall clock.

“I know. I worry for you. Can’t help it. I didn’t want you to have this life. Didn’t want you working on a farm and stuck in this village up in the mountains. I wanted you to be having the time of your life at university, and then in a good job in a city like Cardiff, or even London.” She bent into the fridge and pulled out a large box. “Here. Take your lunch.”

“I’d never leave you, and anyway, I love it here. I love the mountains and the lakes and being able to get to the ocean once in a while. Don’t you go worrying about me! Remember, you’ve to call Mrs. Jones across the road if you need anything at all. She’ll be in all day, and she’ll pop over later.”

“I promise.” Another beep rent the air. “Go on, or Rhys will be taking his offer back.” She dropped a kiss on his cheek before moving out of the way so he could pass to the door.

Cold air hit him as he rushed outside, and he shivered. How would he deal with a whole day of working in the cold spring chill? He’d not done much hard outdoors labor since he was a teenager, but they needed the money, and there weren’t many options in the mountain village where he lived. Not with the mines long closed. This simply must work—he and his mother had few other options.

“Jesus, boyo! You’re not auditioning for a boy band, you know? You’re going to be doing dirty work—on a farm.” Rhys stared at him with raised brows as he clambered into the truck.

He stared back, perplexed. “Yeah. I know. I’m wearing jeans, a jumper, boots and gloves. I don’t know what the problem is.”

“Those jeans look like they come from one of them trendy shops in Manchester or Liverpool, and your jumper won’t be warm enough. The boots are good, but the rest of it is going to get ruined. You’ll be frozen. Have you got a hat?”

“No.” He cursed himself silently for his stupidity.

“You need to sort out some better gear for next week. It’s a good job there’s only two days left before the weekend. Get yourself into Llandudno, to one of them fancy shops the climbing set use and get some warm stuff. Or better yet, get to a proper farm supplier and order some real working clothes.”

Aeron wanted to scream, “With what?” He kept his silence and wondered if he could scrimp enough together to buy what he needed before his first pay packet. As they drove along he stared out of the window at the mountains. They wound slowly up the pass, the scenery becoming more dramatic with each passing mile. After a short while, Rhys pulled off the road onto a gravel track, winding up higher and deeper into the mountains, away from civilization.

The clouds moved quickly overhead, passing dark shadows over the mountainside, letting the sun play hide and seek. Now and again bright light burst through the cloud cover. Whenever it did the terrain transformed, and beauty showed her face before the dark clouds raced back to cover the land in a gloomy, gray cloak again.

“So what’s Mr. Roberts like?” he asked. “Is he easy going or a real stickler?”

“He’s a good man. Leaves me to get on with my work. He’s fair, but I don’t think he’d tolerate shirkers, so don’t go getting ideas you can simply loaf around, thinking about what kind of trendy new clothes you’ll be buying with your wages.”

He sighed and returned to staring out the window again. Rhys might be an ornery old bastard, but underneath his bluff and bluster lurked a kind man. He helped out him and his mum on a regular basis, and as soon as Mr. Roberts had mentioned hiring someone else to help on the farm, Rhys had put Aeron’s name forward, knowing how much they needed the money.

As they neared their destination, the track became rougher, tossing the car around like a boat in a storm. Relief washed over him as they finally came to a halt in front of a low-lying farmhouse. He hoped his churning stomach would settle once his feet were on solid ground.

“You can put your stuff in the barn yonder.” Rhys pointed to the first outbuilding. “There’s a fridge in there if you’ve got any food, and a kettle and the rest. I’m going to fetch the dogs, and I’ll meet you out here in two minutes. Pop these in the fridge for me.” He handed Aeron a clear plastic bag containing two forlorn looking sandwiches, the wilted white bread thin and sagging.

Once he’d put Rhys’s pathetic lunch, and his own much more appetizing offering away, he took a moment to catch his breath and psyche himself up for the day ahead. He walked purposefully outside, head held high. He might not be used to hard physical labor but he refused to let Rhys down.

Three hours later, he wanted to cry. He’d never known such exhaustion before, and they were only partway through the day. They’d fixed fences, rounded up stray sheep, hauled rubbish out of a freezing stream and started to clear one of the outbuildings of old machinery. Rhys had gone to make tea five minutes ago, and Aeron wanted to put a rocket under him. His dry throat craved the soothing, warm beverage.

“Laddie?” Rhys came back into the barn carrying only one steaming mug. Aeron wanted nothing more than to wrap his cold, aching fingers around it and soothe them back to life. Rhys hadn’t been kidding when he’d said his clothes weren’t warm enough.

“You’re an angel.” He reached for the drink. Rhys sidestepped him and placed the mug on a rickety shelf, attached to the wall by probably nothing more than decades of dust and cobwebs.

“That’s mine. Boss man wants to see you. I’ll make you one when you come back. He won’t keep you long, just needs to go over some of the basics with you and fill in some paperwork.”

Aeron cursed Mr. Roberts with many a foul name, in his mind only of course, as he stared at the hot cup of salvation just out of reach. “Do I knock on the door?”

“He’s not in the house; he’s in the stables. Been mucking out the horses.”

“He’s got horses?” He loved horses.

“Yep, three of them. One’s a real classy piece too. Better get going or he’ll be thinking I’ve suggested he hire a tardy one.”

Aeron ruffled Rhys’s hair as he passed by, grinning at the string of curses the man let loose at the action. As he neared the stables, trepidation built, swirling in his belly and tightening his jaw. He needed this job, and it all hinged on the man behind those doors.

When Rhys had first told him there might be work up on the farm, he’d immediately discounted it. He didn’t think it possible to leave his mum for so long, but then their neighbor, Mrs. Jones, had said she’d pop in on Kate two or three times a day. There’d been no choice. Kate might not want him gone all day, and he might not want to leave the cozy pub where he worked four nights a week, but he needed to bring more money in if they wanted to keep the roof over their heads.

What if Mr. Roberts took an instant dislike to him? Or worse, turned out to be a bigot and fired him for being gay?

“And how’s he going to find out about it, idiot?” he muttered under his breath, shaking his head. “If you keep your mouth shut, he won’t ever know.”

It wasn’t as if the owner ever mixed with the locals in the village or nearby town. He kept himself to himself up here on the farm, and Aeron hardly ever went out locally, apart from the occasional night dancing in Llandudno. He mostly spent his evenings at home, surfing the net or watching a movie with his mum. So despite it being known he was gay, he didn’t spend his time having wild flings. As if! There wasn’t anyone within a ten-mile radius he even wanted to kiss.

“You going to stand out there all day or come in here and introduce yourself?” A gruff, deep voice shocked him out of his reverie.

“Sorry.” Aeron pushed open the closed bottom half of the stable building door, which led into a long block of stalls, metal gates in front of each one. Horses leaned long, patrician heads over two of the gates. He couldn’t see a third horse, or Mr. Roberts.

A clattering rang out from the last stall and a low whinny resonated against the walls.

“You’ll do, girl.” The gate swung open, and a man strode out.

He couldn’t see well in the dim light, but the figure moving toward him was big. Taller than Aeron, who at nearly six foot two didn’t have many people equal him in height, but much broader. As he neared, the man stopped and thrust out a large paw in greeting.

“Hi there, Aeron.”

“Mr. Roberts. Nice to meet you, sir.” He shook the hand, nerves threatening to spill over into jittery anxiety.

Mr. Roberts stared at him in the gloom for a long moment, and the air crackled with tension.

He moved from foot to foot, uncomfortable with the intense examination. “Sir? Is anything wrong?”

As if waking from a dream, the large man shook himself.

“Christ, kid,” he snorted. “It’s Dylan. You’ll make me feel more ancient than I already do. Rhys tells me you’ve not done much of this sort of work before.” He moved down the stalls, Aeron trailing him.

“No. I’ve mostly done bar work since I left school. But I’m in good shape, and I’m willing to work hard. Mr. Rob…Dylan. I need this job.” It came out as more of a plea than he wanted, and he bit down on his lip when Roberts turned to study him once more.

“What are you wearing?”

“What?” Surprise rendered him stupid for a moment.

“Your clothes. Come here.” He pushed open the door at the end of the building and pulled him into the light with a hand on his jumper.

Once outside, he couldn’t speak, move or even breathe. Because looking at his clothes with a frown stood the most breathtaking vision he’d ever seen.

Dylan Roberts wore a thick jumper and baggy combat-style pants which looked like they came from an Army and Navy store. Neither garment hid the muscular build beneath. The sleeves of the sweater were rolled up to reveal strong, tanned forearms, smattered with hair and crossed by a pattern of veins. Veins he wanted to map with his fingers.

Throat dry, he lifted his head to look at the man’s face, and wished he hadn’t. Piercing light golden brown eyes met his as a wry smile twisted a beautifully harsh mouth into a smirk. A jagged scar on the man’s face only added to his sex appeal somehow. “Cat got your tongue, kid?”

“Sorry…I…What were you saying?” His face burned, his cold of moments ago forgotten as the heat of mortification rushed through him. He needed to get a grip. It wasn’t just this guy’s looks, but his presence. He threw off charisma like a radiator gave off heat. It fairly crackled in the air around him. Aeron swallowed hard.

“Your clothes. You can’t wear these.” His boss reached over, rubbing his thumb against the denim covering his thigh.

Aeron backed up a step, skin tingling from the simple contact.

“They’re soaked.” Roberts dragged his gaze back up to his face. “Come with me.” He pivoted and strode toward the house.

Aeron followed like a puppy after its master. The guy’s back view provided as much pleasure as the front. Strong thighs gave way to a muscular backside and narrow hips, and fanned out into broad shoulders.

When they entered the kitchen, Dylan motioned for him to sit on one of the chairs around the large oak dining table.

“You’re about my height, right? Couple of inches shorter.”

He nodded, out of his depth with the taciturn giant of a man.

“You’re leaner than me, but I’ve got some pants with a drawstring. You can pull them in tight.” He flicked the switch on the kettle, and as it began to sputter grabbed two large mugs from the cupboard above his head. “Tea or coffee?”

“Tea, please. One sugar, if it’s okay?” The thought of a warm drink at last had him almost purring in pleasure.

Dylan turned and smiled, a genuine one this time, not the smirk he’d thrown out earlier. “Oh, I don’t know about that. Might have to start docking your pay if you’re going to be demanding fancy things like sugar in your tea.”

Aeron laughed and relaxed a little under the friendlier atmosphere.

“I won’t be a minute; gonna go fetch you some proper clothing. Make yourself useful and sort the drinks out. Milk’s in the fridge.” He disappeared into the hallway and up the stairs, his heavy tread loud overhead.

The minutes ticked by, the clock on the wall heralding their passing as Aeron struggled to shake the jittery feeling in his chest.

Dylan had been friendly enough, yet Aeron found it impossible to relax around him. Couldn’t imagine sitting and sharing a beer with him as Rhys sometimes did, or staying for a meal once in a blue moon. The guy plain intimidated him. Well, intimidated him and turned him on at the same time.

He stood to stir the teas, when his boss came back into the room, bundles of clothing in his arms.

“Here. Take these and get changed. There are waterproofs and a thermal vest, too. Most of it should fit well enough. The pants have a drawstring at the waist and around the bottom of the legs, so you can pull ’em in as tight as you need. You can use the downstairs bathroom to change. It’s through there.” Dylan pointed into the hallway. “First door on the left. I’ll finish making the drinks.”

“I didn’t know if you took sugar.” Aeron left the room, clutching the clothes to his chest.

Once in the downstairs toilet with the door firmly closed, he let his head fall back and hit the wall as he tried to get his racing heart under control. He allowed himself the luxury of a moment before he started pulling off his clinging wet jeans. With a shudder, he peeled them away from damp skin so cold it burned.

“There’s some towels in there,” Dylan called out to him. “In the airing cupboard.”

Ten minutes later, he’d dried himself off and changed into the clothing provided for him. He’d pulled his boots back on and folded his own clothes into a neat pile. He carried them with him into the kitchen, nearly dropping them as he stepped through the low doorway.

Dylan stood, pulling his sweater over his head, T-shirt underneath riding up to reveal deep, muscled ridges above his hipbones. Aeron’s mouth dried, his tongue too big all of a sudden for the space. Men like the one in front of him didn’t exist in the real world. They only existed in his fevered imagination.

As the sweater came off, Dylan pulled his T-shirt back down and ran a hand through ruffled brown hair, the movement making his biceps bulge. Christ, the guy was a smorgasbord of hotness. Aeron wanted to lick every inch of his spectacular body. Realizing he stared, he dragged his eyes from the vision in front of him and looked at the floor instead, scuffing his shoe against the stone tiles.

“You look better…warmer,” Dylan rasped. The odd accent, part American, part lilting Welsh, and a touch of something else, made his words melodic. “We need to order you some proper clothes for the job. We can do it online.”

“I can’t afford a lot,” he blurted out. “Least, not at first.”

“You don’t need to afford anything. I’ll buy them.”

“You can’t do that.”

Dylan studied him for a long beat. “Why not? They’re essential tools for the job. Call it your uniform if it makes you feel better. Now, grab your drink. You can top it up with hot, and come sit here. We need to fill in your paperwork.”

Aeron scooted into the seat next to his boss and tried not to notice how much space the man took up. He also tried not to stare at the strong hand gripping the pen, or the wavy brown hair shining in the weak sunlight. He concentrated on avoiding looking at the chiseled jaw and those eerie, stunning eyes. He wouldn’t even let himself glance at the thick column of Dylan’s throat, working as he swallowed down some tea, or he’d be lost. Totally and utterly lost. Unable to function at all.

“I have your name and address already, from Rhys. Can you fill in your date of birth, national insurance details, and your bank details for your pay? Do you have any allergies or medical conditions I need to know about?”

“No, sir.” Sir? Again? He flushed, but forced himself to hold Dylan’s gaze.

Dylan’s warm eyes flashed with something wild and almost feral. The next moment, whatever it was had gone, and he shoved the pen and paper at Aeron almost brusquely. “Well, I’ll leave you to get on with this. Finish your tea, get warmed up, and when you’re ready, go back and find Rhys. Take those clothes home with you tonight. You can keep them for now. If you leave me your measurements, I’ll order you some proper kit later.”

With that, he walked out the room, ducking his head in the low doorway and leaving Aeron all alone in the warm kitchen.

He stared at the paper in front of him, willing himself to write, but his fingers didn’t comply. They gripped the pen as if it offered salvation from the tumultuous emotions roiling around inside him.

Get a grip. He needed this job, wouldn’t risk it over some stupid crush. Being gay around these parts could be enough to get a guy into trouble, but fawning over your boss seemed a sure fire way to up the ante. Dylan was the ultimate in unobtainable, the man who held his future in his hands, as well as a lonely widower, still grieving the loss of a beloved wife, or so the village gossip went. Nothing good would ever come of the lustful feelings zinging around Aeron’s blood, so he’d stomp them down and ignore them until they went away.

It was his only choice.

* * * *

Dylan sat in his warm study, trying hard to ignore the wind howling around the house. He hated windy nights. The noise made it difficult to hear—trespassers for instance, of the undead kind.

Talk about paranoid! This evening seemed worse than usual. He reminded himself that the hefty bolts were in place on the front and back doors, and his state-of-the-art alarm system, more suited to a high-end art gallery than a farm, was activated. Anything larger than a fox straying within a couple of feet of the property would activate the piercing alarms.

Nothing much came near the house, and the only false alarm had been months ago, triggered by a stray ewe. The farm’s isolation, and the copious fences, meant few stumbled across it.

He wasn’t scared of death. No, his fear was not being ready for the bastards when they came. He’d become convinced in recent weeks that the vampires he’d spent a year tracking, the creatures that had killed his mate, were finally going to come for him. The feeling wasn’t logical. He’d not scented or seen them, but it persisted. Some sixth sense, one he’d not utilized before, kept screaming out to him that sooner or later those things were going to find him. When they did, he wanted to be ready to kill every last fucking one of them.

He reached for the tumbler and took a pull on the smooth amber liquid sloshing inside. The burn of fine whisky hit his stomach, relaxing muscles in its wake, and he groaned in appreciation. The laptop in front of him flickered, and he ran a finger over the mouse and clicked the ‘proceed to checkout’ button, entering his card details. He’d ordered a whole raft of clothing for his new hire. Probably more than was sensible when he didn’t know if the younger man would work out.

Shock had seared through him when he’d first seen Aeron standing there in the stables. His tall, lean physique and thick dark hair had reminded him far too much of his mate, Nikos. When they’d walked out into the bright light, he’d realized the young man looked nothing like Nikos. The similarities were few once he’d looked more closely. Of course, he’d noticed how good-looking Aeron was in his own right, but hey, who wouldn’t? So long as he didn’t remind him of Nikos, Dylan could tolerate his presence around the farm.

One thing still bugged him about the new hire, though. He’d easily heard the quiet sentences Aeron had muttered before he entered the barn. Sometimes being a wolf shifter had its advantages. If you keep your mouth shut he won’t ever know. Strong words. The kid didn’t want him knowing something. It might be nothing, or it might be something important.

Gold liquid swirled as he played with the glass in front of him. His gut told him not to worry. Aeron screamed goodness from his pores, and he’d not picked up anything unusual when he’d scented him—nothing to indicate he’d been sent to infiltrate the farm. If he’d been working for any vampires, the kid would have carried their scent. Humans wouldn’t notice it, but a wolf shifter would immediately, no matter how well Aeron tried to hide it. And yet—the guy wanted to hide something.

Oh, he understood the need to keep things hidden; his secrets piled one on top of the other. Still, as Aeron’s employer, he should be aware if hiring the young man might cause problems later down the line. He’d used Aeron’s details to run a thorough background check on him and his mother, Kate. They were both clean. There were financial issues, though. Some debts unpaid. Kate had progressive multiple sclerosis and other health issues, which meant she couldn’t work. Mortgage arrears were piling up. The kid’s father now lived back in Italy with his second family, which explained Aeron’s un-Welsh surname of Lombardo.

Humans! So flighty. They possessed no loyalty. No shifter would abandon one family just so they could set up home with another.

He tapped his index finger on the table. Should he ask Rhys if he knew anything more about the lad? Mind made up, he picked up the phone and dialed out.

“Hello?”

Rhys sounded tired and sleepy.

“Rhys, Dylan here. Hope I didn’t wake you?”

“Nope, just watching CSI. Do you know you can lift DNA from a palm print these days? It amazes me how any crime goes unsolved.”

Dylan chuckled. “Speaking of crimes. I hate to ask. I know he’s a family friend and all, but there’s nothing I should know about Aeron, is there?”

“No. Why do you ask?” Rhys’ voice grew cool, wary.

The community up in the mountains was closed off and tight knit. He didn’t want to upset Rhys, maybe lose a good hand, but he wasn’t about to back down now he’d asked.

“Something he said. He didn’t mean for me to hear, kid was talking to himself and muttered some stuff about me not being able to find out so long as he kept his mouth shut. I don’t know what the heck he referred to.” He sighed at the silence screaming down the line. “Look, if it’s personal I don’t need to know. But if it’s anything that could affect the farm…then I do.”

There was another long beat of quiet, and then Rhys spoke. “He’s gay. Okay? And it’s cost him before. He lost his first job out of school when the restaurant owners found out. He also got beat up pretty badly once. And lots of people around here won’t hire him; it’s how he ended up working at the pub. So I imagine it’s what he referred to. Can’t see how it’d be anything else. He needs this job. Maybe he thought you’d let him go if you found out?”

Dylan didn’t speak for a moment. Something rushed through him, an uncomfortable awareness of the way Aeron had responded to him when they’d met. He’d put the reaction down to intimidation. He intimidated plenty of people. Whether they somehow picked up on his being different, or his size freaked them out, he didn’t know and didn’t care. He’d simply added his new hand to their number. Now he owned a slightly different frame of reference to explain the thumping heart, dilated pupils, and the adrenaline he’d been able to scent as it coursed through heated veins.

Added to Dylan’s awareness of the younger man’s response was discomfort at his own jolt of attraction upon meeting his new employee. It wasn’t anything seismic, but it’d been there—a low-frequency hum in the background of his psyche.

The last thing he wanted to feel was attraction toward anyone.

“Thanks, Rhys.” He moved to end the call. “His sexuality isn’t an issue for me. I’m not a bigot. I needed to make sure there wasn’t anything I should worry about, and you’ve set my mind at rest. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

He hung up, finally satisfied he could trust Aeron after speaking with Rhys and running a very thorough background check. Fuck. The events of the past were making him paranoid. He should have carried out a basic check, but no, he’d delved deep. Guilt simmered in his belly. Another layer of self-loathing to add to the many he wore.

Perhaps he should invite Kate up to the farm when the weather picked up? Let her and Aeron take the horses out for a short ride? He rocked in his chair until it rested on its back legs. He would bet they rarely got out; her illness and their lack of money meaning they’d have few opportunities for any leisure. It wouldn’t cost him a damn thing to let her come to work with the kid one day and take a gentle ride.

The computer screen in front of him pinged, letting him know he’d gotten mail. He clicked into his inbox and saw two new messages, one from Sean, the other from Hawk. Both men worked for the same shadowy government organization that Dylan’s pack had been with. He’d known Sean’s mate, Luke, for a long time, but ever since he’d helped rescue Sean from a rival group of shifters, he’d developed a good friendship with Sean too. He also found himself having regular conversations with their other mate, Kayley. He envied the three of them their happiness.

The email from Hawk was more of a mystery, and it had his heart speeding up. Unlike Sean or Luke, Hawk never got in touch to catch up or chat. He’d only get in touch if it were important. With a shaking hand, he clicked the message open.

Hey there.

I’ve heard something that might be of interest. There’s been a massacre in Pakistan. Got hushed up but the details sound like the vamps you ran into. Bodies torn apart, not merely bled. Parts of the flesh eaten. Twenty men killed, all military. So far no one’s been assigned to it because the Pakistani government are trying to keep outsider involvement down, but if a team gets the heads up it will be ours. If it happens I’ll give you a shout. They might not be your attackers, but it sounds like their MO. If it is, they’re still in the area and it seems the attack on you and your team might have been random, rather than planned.

Hawk.

He sat for a moment, head reeling. For weeks he’d been convinced they were headed his way, but it seemed he’d been wrong. So much for his sixth sense! He should have known it was just more paranoia. Luke was the only shifter amongst them who truly possessed the gift of extra sight. Memories of the attack on his team assaulted him. In that moment he found himself back in the dank cave in Afghanistan; heard the gurgle of dying shifters as they choked on their own blood; smelled death all around him.

He surged to his feet, knocking the chair back as he did so. Panic always accompanied the memories, and right now it threatened to overwhelm him. He paced the length of the study, a strangled cry forcing its way out of his throat as the sight of his dead mate burned behind his eyes.

It’s only adrenaline, he repeated his mantra. Let it wash over you. It will pass. He righted the chair and forced himself to sit and read Sean’s email. Perhaps it contained more news?

Hi Dylan,

Hope you are okay in the wilds of Wales. I’ve been looking it up on the web and the weather looks cold and miserable. It says it rains a lot! You know Luke wants to come and visit you in your watery hellhole, right? I think if you cared for me at all you’d have moved somewhere with some sun. You know how I feel about wet weather.

On a serious note, I think you should consider it might be time for you to have some company. Hey, maybe even a bit of fun!

You saved me, Dylan. Your help was invaluable and while it might not be my place, I can’t sit back and let you waste your life away in some corner of Wales, waiting for gods know what?

You should come visit. We’ve spent some time with Luke’s parents’ pack, and there are many young shifters needing a mate. I know your tastes are similar to mine, you like ’em tall dark and pretty, and there are guys there that will blow your mind.

Just think about it. And if you won’t come to us, I suppose we’ll have to come there, to your water logged, Celtic hideout! We aren’t going to leave you alone much longer. Luke’s determined to visit and you know once he’s got an idea in his head he won’t back down. So one way or another, we’ll be seeing you soon.

Your friend,

Sean.

Dylan snorted at Sean’s email. Finding a mate, or even a companion for a bit of fun, was the last thing on his mind. No way could he imagine sharing his life with anyone after Nikos. If he were being honest, though, he’d have to admit that the self-imposed loneliness he lived with did cut him to the core. Shifters were social, tactile. They needed others around them, needed regular touch, or they suffered as surely as they would if starved of food, water, and light.

He hurt. Each hour of each day, he hurt. He wanted it to stop but was stuck. Unable to contemplate accepting the company and touch he needed to thrive. Unwilling to let go of Nikos and his memory. Maybe if Hawk’s lead came good he’d be able to find the fuckers who’d killed Nikos and end them. Afterwards? Well, he might just end himself.

Christ. He punched the wall with a snarl. He needed to get into the mountains for a few days. Allow the wolf out to run, to hunt. He could ask Rhys to either stay at the farm, or take the dogs back with him at the end of the day, then take off for a couple of days. He’d say it was a business trip and drive up into the mountains, to the deep pass where even tourists didn’t head. Once there, he’d let his wolf out to do what it did best.

 

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Content Notes: Intense, Anal Play, Anal Intercourse, Spanking, Contemporary, Paranormal, GLBT, M/M, Shifters, Vampires, Wolves