“Anyone can catch your eye, but it takes someone special to catch your heart.” ~Author Unknown.
Jerret took a sip of his soda before he set it down. His fingers slid idly over the condensation on the glass as he stared around the restaurant at all of the happy couples. He was seated at a small table in the back, which was obviously not a prime date location, which was fine because he wasn’t on one. Even if it was Valentine’s Day.
Especially because it was Valentine’s Day.
Instead of being holed up in his apartment where he’d spent the sappiest holiday of the year last year, he was at the closest restaurant to his apartment, Carl’s Cafe. He actually liked the food here; the burgers were great, and they had bottomless fries and soda. Benny always nagged him, saying he was going to get fat eating there but he did enough swimming and working out that, so far, he didn’t carry a spare inch over his sculpted six pack.
Not that it mattered; he didn’t have anyone to impress anyway.
Jerret sighed. He knew he was acting like a whiny queen, but he really didn’t want to be out watching all the loving couples exchanging gifts and kisses. They were all fooling themselves anyway; the whole institution of forever love was a crock. He’d realized that when his last lover up and left him two years ago to the day. Of course, that was also when Jerret had called him and found out from the twink he was screwing that his so called partner was a cheating asshole.
All because his ex couldn’t handle the fact that Jerret was close to his best friend. He had been convinced that the only way two men could be that close was if they were screwing each other. Right.
So he was fine with one night stands. He didn’t need any relationships. Of course, once his kind found their mates they were trapped. Biology paired two Carthera up and then they were stuck with each other. Love didn’t have squat to do with it. Jerret didn’t want to have anything to do with mating either; it brought nothing but trouble.
Jerret looked up, hoping his food would be there soon. Since he’d been forced to come out, he figured he might as well treat himself and order the deluxe burger and a double serving of fries. He’d been waiting for a good twenty minutes, but then again, every table in the place was full; the cooks were probably swamped.
He was staring toward the front of the cafe when a large man came in, ducking down to fit through the door. Jerret’s eyes widened; the man was immense. There was no way there were two guys in town that big. He had to be the same one Jerret had watched from his living room window early that morning.
The medium length hair just brushing the man’s shoulders was the same too. That had been what had caught Jerret’s eyes at first, the way the rare February sun glinted on his hair and made it shine like liquid gold. Then it had been the impressive width of his shoulders under his black coat that made Jerret itch to grab hold and nibble on them as he rode the man. His walk had been confident as he moved down the sidewalk; like he had somewhere to be and he’d get there no matter what. He could only imagine what the man’s body would look like in bed, moving over him.
Jerret had watched until he turned the corner and was lost to sight.
Now that same man was moving toward him with the same confident strut. He couldn’t ogle the muscular ass moving under the jeans that fit him just right, but every step pressed strong thighs against the thin material. Jerret licked his lips subconsciously as his stare finished traveling up the tall body until he met the stranger’s eyes.
He stiffened, then jerked his eyes away to stare at the dessert menu on the little table display.
“Ahem.” A female cleared her throat right next to him.
Jerret looked up reluctantly. “Yes?” Please don’t let her ask what he thinks she is going to ask. He completely ignored the man standing beside the hostess he hadn’t even seen approaching.
“I’m sorry to bother you, but all the other tables are full. I was wondering if you would mind sharing yours with Mr. Calix?”
Jerret could feel heat prickling his face. Share his table with the same guy who had just caught him ogling? He didn’t risk glancing up; he expected a glare or worse, because now that they were standing next to him, Jerret could tell he was no man.
Jerret pushed his chair back from the table and moved to stand. He would just give the male his table.
“It’s alright.” The deep rumbling voice sounded as if it came straight from the wide chest. “No harm to you is intended, I promise. I would appreciate sharing your table, but you don’t have to leave.”
The hostess frowned as she glanced between them. Jerret hesitated to agree or leave, but someone at his table would be good in case Brad waltzed by on his way to the party he was going to. It would almost make his lie of a blind date true.
There was something strange about the scent filling his nostrils that urged him to stay as well.
“I’m just here for dinner.”
Most Tigers would have been offended that Jerret hadn’t taken them at their word when they promised no harm would come to him, but the strange male’s voice wasn’t angry. In the clans a male’s honor was rigorously defended, any slight called out and dealt with; often by violence.
Jerret was glad they were in public; the male would hardly attack here, but he had to make a decision and do it immediately. Even if the larger male hadn’t taken offense before, he might if Jerret waited much longer to extend an invitation for him to sit down.
Clearing his throat, Jerret spoke, still not quite sure of his decision, “Please sit down.”
He wanted to be ready just in case, so he didn’t push his chair closer to the table as the large male sat down. “Please have the cooks hold my food until Mister. . .Calix was it?” He glanced at the male from the corner of his eye, seeing him nod. “Until Mr. Calix’s order has been taken and prepared. I’d hate to be rude and eat in front of a hungry man.”
The truth was that he’d hate to have his head taken off for eating before the larger Carthera. A male might let a female with cubs share his food or perhaps even eat first, but he knew better than to risk it.
“Not a problem. Molly will be with you in a moment and can take your order.” She set the menu in her hands down on the table in front of the large male.
Jerret’s hands were clenched together under the table as the hostess walked away. He could really use a drink of his soda to wet his bone dry mouth, but he didn’t dare reach for it.
“You don’t have to act like that,” Mr. Calix told him. “I’m not feral or going to hurt you or anything.”
He just gave a jerky nod. Sure he wouldn’t.
There was a loud sigh. “You’re a clan Tiger, aren’t you?”
“No,” Jerret paused and the continued in a bitter voice, “not anymore.”
“But you were? That’s why you’re so afraid of me? Think all the rumors are true, do you?” The male’s voice was rising in anger already, and his hands were clenching into fists. So much for Jerret not having anything to fear from him.
Jerret’s leg muscles tensed at the disdain and anger in the man’s voice. His hands were folded together so hard to hide the trembling it made his fingers ache. He didn’t say anything.
He wanted an answer. Jerret took in a shuddering breath. Why this restaurant? Why tonight?
Matras, he hated Valentine’s Day!
Calix was staring at the smaller Tiger sitting across the table from him. He hated clan Tigers; always so smug and superior. Always waiting for him to do something to prove that he was a dangerous liability, an anomaly that couldn’t control his animal instincts. An abomination that should have been put down at birth.
A liger couldn’t be as good as a tiger; oh no, of course he couldn’t.
If he wasn’t hungry and already been told the wait was at least fifty minutes at the steak restaurant down the street, he’d never have sat down with the male. He didn’t want to go out with anyone, knowing the day often created false expectations of a relationship in people. The last thing he wanted was to be tied down. He preferred casual hook ups; less expectations to fail.
Stupid human holiday.
“I don’t know what you want me to say,” the small man said in a nearly inaudible voice. It cracked on the last word and Calix watched as his throat worked frantically. “I’m sorry.”
Calix crossed his arms over his chest. The Tiger had yet to even look at him in the eyes, not since they’d gotten close enough to each other to scent. His eyes tracked Calix’s hands instead. He’d thought it was due to the disdain he’d met with before from his mother’s clan the one time he had tried to enter their territory.
He’d not even bothered with his father’s clan after the first male he’d approached had taken a swing at him, hurling slurs.
Just for being born different.
He had assumed that this male would be the same, but as he studied him, Calix realized he saw something different. Not disgust, not anger, not disdain. His nose wrinkled, and he took a deep breath.
Plus something more.
He stared at the man’s face; the wide cheekbones, flat nose and full lips were very attractive. His coloring was different; a tawny color that was almost a copper. He could see how tense the tiger was; respectable muscles bunched in his arms as his hands must have flexed where they were hidden under the table. In his anger, he’d missed the way the cat stared down at the table or off to one side.
He wasn’t trying to snub him; he was displaying non-dominance signals.
He really was afraid of him.
Calix was surprised. He blinked and his arms fell to his sides. The sudden movement made the male flinch. In all the times he’d come across other cats, none had reacted like this one was. He didn’t like it; for some reason it bothered him more than the scorn of all the others.
“Will you please look at me?” he asked quietly.
It seemed to take forever before the male’s eyes rose and finally met his own. Calix tried to give him his most non-threatening smile.
“I think I may have given you a bit of a scare,” he said. “I don’t know what I can say or do to reassure you that you don’t have anything to fear from me. I won’t harm you.”
The male nodded hesitantly but his act of agreement was clearly false.
“My name is Calix. I just moved here to start my own gym down the street. I didn’t think there was a Tiger clan in this territory. Velaku never mentioned it when I petitioned him to move here.”
The male’s pink tongue came out and swiped at his lips. “There isn’t one.” His voice broke again and he tried to clear his throat. Calix could see his glance shift to his soda again.
“Why don’t you take a drink?”
He shrugged, but moving slowly, the male’s hand slid across the table and picked up his glass. Ice clinked against the sides as he took a small drink. His adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed and Calix stared.
His chin tucked a bit after he finished drinking, covering up his vulnerable neck. Clearly it would take more time before he would trust Calix. The liger looked at the menu, filled with burgers and mixed salads, sandwiches and soups.
“Can you tell me what’s good here? I’m guessing since the hostess called you by name you’ve eaten here plenty of times before.”
“I like the burgers. They’re all pretty good.”
“What did you order?”
“I, uh. . .I ordered the Deluxe.”
Calix’s eyes scanned down the menu and he read the description. “You know, that sounds good. I think I’ll try that. Thanks. . .?”
“Oh,” the male flushed, “sorry. My name’s Jerret.”
“Thanks Jerret,” Calix said. The casual conversation seemed to reassure the Tiger a little, but the tense line of his shoulders didn’t relax much.
He nodded, not speaking. Keeping his glass close to him, his fingers swiped at the sides. Calix looked away from him, putting the menu on the edge of the table as he looked around for their waitress.
“Is it always busy like this here, or is it just the holiday?” he asked as they waited.
“It’s always packed on the weekends. Today is because of Valentine’s Day.” Jerret’s lip curled just a little. Calix was encouraged; that was the most the smaller man had spoken to him since he sat down.
“Not a fan?” Calix chuckled.
Jerret shook his head. “No.” His voice was curt as he bit off the word. Calix could sense a story behind his answer, but he wanted to relax the man. Judging by the increased tension in his shoulders, that was not the topic to pursue.
Just then a woman came over, a pad and pencil in her hands. “Hi, I’m Molly. What can I get you tonight?” she asked him.
“A deluxe burger please, no onions, with fries. Can I get lemonade to drink please?”
“Sure thing hun.” She quickly wrote down his order. “I’ll be right back.”
“Thank you.” Calix’s mother had raised him to be polite. He could tell the staff was a bit harried due to the full dining room. He wouldn’t add to that stress by failing to use his manners, even if he was hungry enough to eat a zebra.
“You want a refill on that soda, Jerret?”
Calix’s brow rose. The hostess had called Jerret, Mr. Voaztas, but the waitress used his first name. The name he’d shared with Calix.
The use of a nickname indicated the two knew each other pretty well. Calix’s eyes narrowed as he wondered just how well they knew each other. The waitress was in a black skirt with a tight red t-shirt decorated with the diner’s logo across the chest. She had a decent body, not young but not old, so she was probably in her thirties. Did they date? Were they lovers?
He had to suppress a growl that threatened to escape him. His arms came back up and crossed over his chest.
“I’ll put a rush on this order too; we’ll get you guys eating in no time.”
The smile on the tiger’s face forced Calix to feel conflicting emotions. Lust at the way the man’s cheeks dimpled, anger that the smile was aimed at someone other than him, and shock at both feelings all swirled in him.
He looked away before he did something stupid like yank the smaller man into his arms and tow him out of the diner to have his way with him.
“Shit,” he muttered under his breath, huffing in annoyance. That was the last thing that would reassure the guy he wasn’t an insane feral.
Okay, so his huff wasn’t as quiet as he thought. Jerret was back to eyeing him carefully from the side of his eyes again. Maybe he should just ask him outright why he was so spooked.
He placed both of his hands flat on the table, that way the Tiger could see them and know where they were. He’d observed the man watching them. He took a deep breath and then just went for it.
“Why are you so afraid of me?”
Shock was the first emotion he saw, easy to recognize when the Jerret’s mouth dropped open. His head sank down a bit.
“What else should I be? You are an alpha, aren’t you? A ranking Tiger? What else are you but something to be feared?”
The bitterness in his voice spoke of experience.
Calix’s mouth twisted into a grimace. Matras be damned Tigers!
Jerret’s eyes flashed up, anger in their depths. “Don’t try to lie. I can sense it. I may not be an alpha but I’ve known them. You have the power of one; don’t think you can hide it.”
“I may be an alpha, but I have no clan. I am also not a Tiger,” Calix said calmly.
The noise Jerret made was eloquent in its disbelief.
Calix’s hands clenched and the Tiger’s eyes went straight to them. It was hard, but he straightened his fingers back to lay flat on the table. Something inside made him want to make this male trust him, needed him to feel easy with him.
He sighed. “I moved here because I was told this territory had no Tiger clan. Velaku didn’t tell me about yours. I’ve never lived in a Tiger clan because I am not a Tiger. I’m a Liger.”
A frown creased Jerret’s brow. “A Liger?”
“I’m a mix breed. Cross between a Tiger and a Lion. It’s rare but happens. My parent’s clans rejected them when they had me and refused to sacrifice me to Matras as an abomination. Tigers look down on me, and the only clan of Lions I’ve gone near. . .well, let’s just say they were worse than having no clan at all. After my parent’s home became too crowded once I was grown, I move around a bit.
“What I managed to learn of my kind isn’t much. Ligers are big and tend to carry traits of both clans. I’ve only seen two others of my kind though.”
Jerret was staring at him now. “I thought Ligers were a myth!”
Snorting, Calix shook his head. “No myth. I’m sure you heard all sorts of stories about us growing up though. My mother never stopped trying to reach out to her family, and the letters they sent back that I found. . .” He grimaced. “Well it was no wonder at the way the clan I came across in New York treated me.”
“Tiger clans are full of bigots and close minded people. Especially the ruling families.”
Again with the bitter tone and expression. Calix’s head tilted. “You said you aren’t part of a clan, but you talk like you have been.”
“I grew up in one. My brother mated into the ruling family… but not for long. We left our clan.” The last sentence was spoken curtly; a clear sign the subject wasn’t open for questioning.
“There are no Tiger clans in this territory. I thought you were scouting a move and when you mentioned petitioning Velaku. . .I just assumed. I’m sorry for my reaction to you.” Jerret met his eyes briefly.
Calix waved the apology away. “Obviously you have a reason to fear other Tigers.” Now that some of the fear that Jerret had been feeling had eased from his body he decided to ask his question again. “Why were you so afraid of me though?”
Jerret sighed, but he didn’t avoid the question by asking his one of his own like he had earlier. “Tiger clans are very focused on tradition, structure, and hierarchy. There are stories going back to the beginning of Carthera history about the Tiger clans; they consider themselves as near to royalty for our kind as is possible. An alpha expects instant obedience and obvious deference from everyone but another alpha. Lower ranks have to honor higher ranks, and the rules in Tiger clans are to be obeyed. No deviation from the strict way things have been done for hundreds of years is tolerated. Alphas treat everyone, even their mates, like shit.”
“So when you saw me you didn’t follow some of the rules? Like what? What did you think would happen?” Calix was fascinated even as he was repulsed.
“I should have given you my table instantly, not stayed to share it.” His fingers tapped on the side of his glass. “An alpha would never eat with someone of my ranking, but once you sat down even taking a drink before you without permission would mean instant discipline.
“Ranking males eat first; sharing only with their mates or young. Lower ranked males eat later. A Tiger wouldn’t have sworn not to hurt me, but if I had hesitated to believe him like I did with you, he would have claimed my actions as an affront to his honor. If he was stronger than me, he would punish me.”
Calix knew his face had to show his anger and his voice was deeper as he had to fight for control. He didn’t like the sound of that at all, nor the pain in Jerret’s voice.
“Did that happen to you?”
Jerret looked away, but nodded once.
Calix growled in his throat. “How?”
“Matras! There is no end to their barbarism! This is not the dark ages; men can’t just go around beating other men because they’re stronger! It shouldn’t be allowed.”
“Shouldn’t,” Jerret shrugged, “but it is. A mate is the only one that might speak up against something like that and I don’t have one or want one. Outside the clan, no one wants to interfere in inter-clan squabbles usually. No one but Velaku and his father. Keserem allowed all sorts of strays into his territory. When my brother left the clan, I went with him. Benny was friends with Davis Retic, unlikely as that was, and he suggested we come here and work for him.”
“You work for the Snake?” Calix was shocked. The male had a deadly reputation, and rumor said he was an assassin. Calix eyed the smaller man, wondering if there was more to this Tiger than there appeared to be.
“He owns a club here. We’re bouncers.”
“Oh,” Calix was relieved the Tiger wasn’t doing something more dangerous. “That’s probably a good job for you.” Even if it was working for the Snake.
Calix decided to change the subject.
“You definitely look like you could kick butt and take names if you needed to. Where do you work out? Do you have a trainer?”
Jerret smiled. “That’s right; you just opened a gym. Trying to drum up business?”
Calix returned his smile, happy the mood between them had lightened. He shrugged. “Nah. I have a pretty healthy business already. I offer a lot of good equipment, trainers, and classes for a minimum fee. I’ve never had any trouble filling my membership quotas. It was just a question. I enjoy working out; that’s why I got a double degree in business and physical therapy.”
He knew his passion was spilling into his voice; his friends always teased him about it when he talked about what he did and why.
“I like to take a client looking for some help and design a program just for them, one they can enjoy and get results with. There’s nothing like helping someone really reach their goals physically.”
Jerret’s eyes hadn’t glazed over yet, so Calix guessed he hadn’t bored him too much by going on and on about it.
“Anyway, so that’s why I opened a gym.”
“And here I thought you just wanted to get me below you on the bench press.”
That odd scent he sensed from the man made Calix want to agree to that. He leaned forward, about to respond when they were interrupted by their waitress.
“Hey guys,” Molly said as she stopped at their table. “Two Deluxe burgers and fries. One without onions.” She slid Calix plate in front of him.
The smell of the medium rare meat rose to tease Calix senses. The burger on his plate was huge too. He glanced at Jerret. The tiger was practically salivating as he at the food on his plate . At least he wasn’t looking at the waitress. Though if Jerret’s flirting with him was any indication. . .
“Here’s your ketchup Jerret. I slid it into the fridge as soon as you came in so it’s good and cold.” She handed him a red bottle, their fingers touching.
Her cheeks pinked a bit, but Jerret seemed oblivious. “Thanks Moll. Appreciate it.”
Calix raised an eyebrow. That was interesting.
He wasn’t going to pursue that angle right then though. His burger was practically calling to him, demanding he take a bite immediately.
Juice dripped down his chin with his first bite. His eyes went half-shut at the burst of flavor; the pepper and mesquite seasoning blended perfectly with the ground sirloin. He chewed fast so he could take another bite.
“Good?” Jerret asked.
Calix opened his eyes fully; it took a moment to focus on something beyond his food. He swallowed, and put his food down reluctantly. “The best I think I’ve ever had.” He wiped the back of one hand across his chin and then licked the juices off.
Jerret watched his every move like a hawk.
Deciding to play with him a bit, Calix licked his lips, searching for any stray juice. He pointed at Jerret’s burger sitting forgotten on his plate with his chin as he picked up his burger again. “You going to eat that?”
He bit into his burger again; making sure it was as slow bite. He moaned his appreciation, truly enjoying it as well as making sure he teased the smaller man. He raised an eyebrow as he chewed and swallowed.
“This is just too good to not eat. Something wrong?”
A flush crept up Jerret’s neck. “Nothing,” he muttered as he picked up his burger and took a bite. Calix’s nostrils flared and he caught what he was looking for; there was that bite to Jerret’s scent that indicated he was aroused.
It looked like Calix might be able to salvage their meeting after all.
“So, why are you here eating all alone tonight?”
Jerret shrugged. “No date, and my best friend threatened to make me dress up in a horrendous cupid costume complete with diaper and fake bow and arrows to match his if I stayed home and did nothing again this year.”
“So… you went out for a burger so he’d leave you alone?”
Jerret’s head ducked. “Well, no. He keeps wanting to hook me up, says it is past time for me to get past my jerk of an ex. I don’t want a new relationship, I’m happy with my life as it is.” He shrugged and smirked. “So I lied.”
“What did you tell him?”
“That I had a blind date. I thought sitting back here it would be unlikely that he would see me without a date if he decided to check up on me. Or if he did, he’d figure we went back to his place or something.”
His place. That definitely clinched it. The Tiger was gay. He could only guess how something like that would be taken by a clan as hidebound as the one Jerret described.
Good thing neither of them had a clan to worry about disapproving of them.
“Hmm… Well I’m here now. We weren’t set up but we could be on a blind date. We had enough awkward silences at the beginning to qualify, don’t you think?”
Jerret grinned at him while rolling his eyes, and Calix was floored. Jerret was a handsome male, but when he smiled like that it was as if all the stress and worry in him disappeared and Calix could see inside him. Beneath the surface lurked a happy soul that lit the male up when it was set free.
He yearned to do it again.
And he definitely wanted to take the tiger back to his place.
“So how about it? Can I make an honest man out of you?”
Jerret stared at the Liger, floored that he was serious. He was a huge muscled stud, totally gorgeous with a ruff of hair that Jerret would love to bury his hands in.
And he’d just asked him to go home with him.
He looked down at his full plate of food; he’d only taken a few bites out of his burger. He chewed on his lip, he actually was hungry. He’d skipped lunch, and now that he wasn’t afraid the large male was going to go ballistic on him, he really wanted to finish his meal.
“I’d hate to ruin the enjoyment of your first deluxe burger at Carl’s.”
Movement across the table had him looking back up. The male knew that he wasn’t looking for a relationship, he was hot, and sexy, and right then he was looking at him like Jerret was a juicy burger he wanted to devour instead of the one on his plate.
Calix looked down at his plate and then back up. Jerret’s stomach chose that moment to growl. The Liger’s voice was almost a purr when he spoke, “Well I certainly don’t want you to go hungry. You’re going to need all of your energy when we get back to my place.”
Jerret felt a surge of lust. An evening of hot and sweaty athletic sex would be perfect to keep the memories at bay. Even better, with another Carthera he wouldn’t have to hide the baser urges his animal side craved for hard couplings.
“I can eat fast,” Jerret picked up his burger, “very fast.” He took a big bite and chewed, wasting no time.
The Liger chuckled, picking up his own burger which was more than half gone.
After that, conversation slowed to nothing. There was a tense air of anticipation between them, ratcheting higher with every minute that passed. Jerret enjoyed the food, but he didn’t waste time savoring it; opting to eat quickly in order to get to the carnal dessert he’d been offered.
They both pushed away empty plates at the same time. Calix stared at him the entire time they waited for Molly to bring over the checks for their meals.
Calix reached for the one placed near Jerret before he could grab it. “My treat,” he said.
Jerret protested, “This wasn’t a date; you don’t have to pay for my meal. I’m sort of a sure thing at this point, you know.”
Calix leaned in, his voice deep. “Oh I know.”
Jerret’s eyes locked onto the way his tongue moistened his lips, visions of how it would feel slicking his sensitive skin flashing in his mind. “But I want to do this. You’ll let me.”
Jerret nodded, in a bit of a daze as he fought down the moan and shudder from mental images he was getting involving that tongue. His balls had begun to actually ache.
It had been too long since a hand other than his own had caressed his cock. Even longer since he’d let someone top him, pressing him down hard into the bed and taking him roughly.
They both stood up after Calix signed the credit slip. Molly had winked at Jerret, but the hostess had an unhappy frown on her face when they walked out of the cafe. Calix was walking so close to Jerret that his body heat was like a furnace at his back. When they got to the doors, the large Liger reached past Jerret to pull the door open.
The move brought his groin into contact with Jerret’s ass. The large rigid erection pressed between the cheeks and the sensation sent a pulse through Jerret’s body making his cock jerk. It was already straining at the limits of his jeans and somewhat painful. Jerret decided he didn’t care as he moaned and pressed back, rubbing his ass back and forth.
Then Calix’s lips came down on the bare skin where his neck and shoulder met. His teeth didn’t touch Jerret’s neck but his soft lips did in a small nip that had results neither of them expected.
“Holy fuck!” Jerret jerked forward and rushed out of the cafe.
He spun around to see the Liger just a step behind him, one arm reaching for him.
“Stop! Don’t touch me again!” Jerret backed away.
“Did you feel that?” Calix asked. His voice was uncertain, his expression confused.
Jerret could feel himself shaking. He sure as hell had felt that. The moment Calix’s lips touched his skin he’d known. He held up his hands keep Calix from moving closer, still moving back.
“I don’t think this is a good idea anymore,” he said in a rush, taking another step back from the Liger. Jerret kept his eyes on the wide chest, refusing to meet Calix’s eyes and let the male see he knew exactly what had happened. “I’m sorry.”
Looking over his shoulder, Jerret saw an alley he could use to cut over to the next street. A busy downtown street, it would be packed on Valentine’s Day. He could lose himself in the swirl and scent of the crowd, and the liger would never find him.
He had to escape. This was just supposed to be a one night stand.
The Liger was not his fate; he didn’t want a mate.
He wouldn’t risk his heart. Not again.
Calix watched in shock as the tiger’s eyes rolled wildly just before he took off running.
Calix ran after him, but he was fast. Larger than other cat Carthera, Calix’s size had scared many, but he’d never tried to chase them down. Much less by running through an alley packed with junk that fell all around him.
By the time he got to the end, cursing as he stumbled over a box full of rotting lettuce, the tiger was gone.
His mate was gone.
“Fuck!” He roared his frustration, turning and slamming his hand into the brick wall of the store building that was next to the restaurant. He shook his hand as his knuckles stung, ignoring the shocked looks of the humans who stared at the cracks he’d left in the brick. He stalked off, heading up the street in the direction his mate had gone.
He’d keep looking. Calix had to find him; they had to talk.
“I don’t know where he lives Mom. The hostess sat me at his table because he was the only person there eating alone. I don’t even know his last name.”
Calix paced his apartment over the gym. He’d walked around the neighborhood aimlessly for hours before he headed home, and instantly called his parents for advice.
“Well, what do you know about him, Son?” his dad asked.
“He’s a Tiger, he has an older brother, and they both work for the Snake.”
“Davis Retic, THE Snake?” His mom’s voice was shocked.
“What kind of man is this, Calix? You barely touched, I mean” his dad sounded troubled, “are you sure he’s your mate?”
Calix slumped into his favorite chair, running his hand through his shoulder length hair. “Yeah, I’m sure, Dad. It was just like you always told me. There was something pulling me toward him when I met him, and when we touched it was instant recognition.
“He’s my mate.”
He heard twin sighs through the speaker of the phone.
“He’s a bouncer, he said. Jerret isn’t in the same line of ‘work’ that the Snake is in.”
“As far as you know.”
His head slumped back against the cool leather. “I won’t know anything more about him if I can’t talk to him. What am I supposed to do? I can’t just show up at his work; from his behavior at dinner, it would only freak him out. I don’t want my mate to be afraid of me.”
Calix’s mom spoke, “You’re going to have to learn more about him. Woo him; court him until he comes to you. It’s what your father did when I was reluctant to mate him.”
“This isn’t quite the same thing, Mom. It’s not a clan rivalry issue, I know that much.”
“It doesn’t matter what the issue is,” his dad’s voice was confident, “because you have a link between you as mates. Now that you have found each other you’ll begin to crave that bond; crave your mate’s presence and touch. It would take a male stronger than I think your Tiger is to resist it.”
Calix closed his eyes, seeing in his mind the resolved look in Jerret’s eyes when he’d said he didn’t want a mate.
“I hope you’re right,” he whispered.
“Try finding out more about him; start with where he works. If the bar is only a few blocks away and he was eating dinner on Valentine’s Day instead of hiding in his apartment it’s likely that he lives close by. Everyone likes thoughtful gifts. Show that you want to get to know him, that he’s important to you.”
“Either that or he’s going to call Velaku to tell him I’m a stalker and get me thrown out of his territory.”
His dad chuckled a little. “I’ve met Natham. I’ll give the Falcon’s mate a call if it comes to that.”
Oh Matras, that’s the last thing Calix would want to have happen. His dad calling the local head of the clans and telling him all about his mate’s rejection.
“I can handle it, Dad. There’s no need for you to do that.”
There was whispering across the line and Calix heard his mother sigh, the sound completely exasperated. It was a sound Calix had heard a lot as he grew up.
“Oh,” the lion cleared his throat after the whispering stopped, “I’ll, uh, let you handle the situation, Son.”
Calix smiled. Obviously his mother, a master at navigating personal matters and delicate situations, had informed his dad exactly how embarrassed he’d be if he did anything of the sort. It made Calix think about where she learned that; wondering if her clan had always been as elitist as Jerret had made them sound. He knew how nasty they were after she mated his father.
“Thanks Dad, Mom. I appreciate the advice. I’ll give you a call in a few days.”
“Okay dear. You just let us know when you get your mate to agree to the bond, we’ll be on the next flight out.”
“The very next one,” his dad promised. “I hope you know how happy we are for you. Your mother and I know how long you have been waiting for a mate.”
Calix sighed. “I just hope you’re both right.”
“You’ll see. We’ll see you soon, son. Love you.”
“Love you,” Calix answered before he hung up the phone.
His apartment was dark; the curtains still open on the windows that overlooked the city skyline. Calix got up and went to stand in front of the cold glass, the lights all seeming to multiply, thousands into millions. His hands spread across it, flattening as he leaned forward, his breath frosting his view as he stared out.
“Where are you hiding?” he whispered.
It happened again. The hair on the back of Jerret’s neck prickled, and he began craning his head around, looking around him. Heading from his apartment to work was usually a time for him to get a coffee and a cinnamon bun and enjoy deep breaths of the chill winter air filled with the spices in his drink and food.
His nose wrinkled as he tried to smell past them when he couldn’t see anyone. He didn’t slow down, just kept going until he found it walking past the recessed doorway of the New Age bookstore across the street from Dav’s club. It was his scent.
Turns out his would-be mate was a crazy person. He’d known someone was watching and following him for the last few days. He’d never been able to spot him but today it had been stronger. He’d known who it was, but tried to pass it off, hoping he was wrong.
Of course he couldn’t just be wrong.
He dropped his bun in the garbage can outside the book and candle shop but kept a hold of his coffee. He’d not been sleeping so well the last few nights, but he’d be damned if he gave up his caffeine to soothe his now nervously churning stomach.
He took a sip, glaring around him as he moved on and started walking toward the club again. Caffeine was just about the only thing keeping him going. He’d met his mate and walked away.
Jerret almost couldn’t believe it himself but Benny’s reaction when he told him about the Valentine’s Day date had irritated him. He wasn’t his brother, and Calix wasn’t a snooty Tiger clan leader’s son. But memories of that time when Benny found his mate just reminded him of what he knew.
Mates made a male vulnerable.
He walked around to the alley behind Dav’s club; the back door was unlocked so that staff could come in. He didn’t really need to be there for another hour but he’d been sitting at home and felt restless. At least this way he could see if Brad needed any help.
The bartender was human but he was so easygoing that he didn’t even blink an eye working for the Snake. Davis really didn’t deserve the reputation he had though; the male was deadly but he had more control than anyone Jerret had ever met. Except for when he felt like someone threatened his mate; then the man was pure death.
Brad had been the first friend Jerret had made after they moved. They hung out; played poker with a bunch of Brad’s friends and Jerret had introduced Brad to the wonderful world of hockey.
“Hey man.” Jerret walked into the club and headed over to the bar. Brad had his back to the room, stacking some liquor bottles in the racks against the wall. He turned around when Jerret called out to him.
“Hey! What are you doing in so early? Didn’t you close last night?”
Jerret shrugged. “Yeah, but I woke up early and got all my shit taken care of. Figured I’d see if you needed some help stacking the liquor cases. Delivery was today, right?”
“Yeah, got some stuff in the back you can take downstairs if you don’t mind.” Brad wiped his arm across his forehead.
“Sure, I can do it way faster than you with your scrawny human body.”
Brad’s eyes went wide and he slapped the shiny black bar. “Shit, that reminds me.”
Rolling his eyes, Jerret smirked at him. “Reminds you of what? Your inferiority?” He laughed when Brad flipped him off.
“No man, there was this guy that came by a few minutes ago. He said to give you something.” He was reaching around his back.
“Who was it?”
“I dunno man, but you just missed him. He didn’t leave his name, but he was huge with this super gold hair. He said to make sure you got this.” Brad held out a flat white envelope.
Jerret stared at it as his eyes narrowed, but he didn’t move to take it.
“Dude? You gonna take it or what?” Brad waved it in front of him.
Maybe it wasn’t him; maybe it was just a coincidence. He snorted as he reluctantly took the envelope from his friend. Yeah right.
The second he lifted the envelope he caught Calix’s scent clinging to it. Musky like a Tiger but with a scent of something different, a sharp scent that had to come from the Lion side of him. All of it combined with a scent that was pure male that had Jerret’s dick hardening uncomfortably in his tight jeans.
He cursed, stepped up to the bar, and reached down to rearrange things below his belt. The rough touch along with the smell made his dick twitch. He took a deep breath through his mouth.
“You just going to stare at it or are you going to open it? I want to see what it is.” Brad’s voice pulled Jerret out of the fog of desire he was lost in.
“Oh, yeah.” He slid his finger under the flap, and tore it open; his eyes widened when he saw the scraps of paper inside.
Brad craned his head over the bar and peeked at his hand.
“Tickets to the hockey playoff game? Those have been sold out for weeks, man! Who did you bend over for to get those? Ooh, was it that blind date you had on Valentine’s Day?”
Jerret snarled at him. “No! I told you, I didn’t have a blind date that night; I just lied so you wouldn’t make me dress up in a stupid cupid costume like you had on. Those feather wings were pink!”
“Uh huh, then who sent the tickets?”
“How am I supposed to know? There’s no name on the envelope.” He ignored Brad’s smirk as he turned and walked over to the front door, shoving it open. He scanned up and down the street, but he didn’t see the Liger hiding anywhere. He stalked across the bar and down the hall, shoving open the back door.
He snarled. No one was out there either.
He looked at the tickets clenched in his fist. How did Calix know?
Calix watched his mate as he stood at the front door of the club checking ID as he kept an eye on the line of patrons waiting to get in. His jeans were tight, cupping his ass and wrapping around his thick thighs while leaving absolutely nothing up to the imagination. Calix could almost swear he could see the outline of his dick bulging to the left as Jerret stood with his legs spread and his arms crossed over his chest.
He moaned. He’d been rock hard whenever he got close enough to watch his mate. He’d had dreams every night, fantasizing about pinning him up against the alley wall by the club and ripping off his clothes before taking him fast and hard against the dark brick. His teeth ached, and even more than fucking his mate, he wanted to bond with him.
The wait was driving him crazy, but he had a plan now. He just had to follow it.
The white paper he had seen sticking out of Jerret’s back pocket was step one. Step two was coming the next day.
He just had to tear himself away from his surveillance of the hot bouncer he hoped to make his mate very soon.
Calix knew he shouldn’t be watching his mate through the windows of his apartment, but he couldn’t help it. The shades were always up, and he had a habit of wandering around shirtless. It was even more torture than seeing him so sexy in his jeans and black t-shirt that hugged every curve of every muscle that he wore to work under his scuffed up and battered leather jacket.
His mate was eating a sandwich and watching his TV when his head suddenly turned. Calix held his breath when he left his sight to answer the door. There was a large package in his hands when he came back, setting it on the coffee table in front of him. His hand reached for it and he frowned, pulling it back.
Calix could almost hear the argument going on in his head as he reached for the box again; his hands moved super slow as he pulled off the cover. His mouth dropped open when he pushed aside the paper and pulled out the leather trench coat inside.
It was black, and the leather was buttery soft. Inside it was lined with a super soft shearling that would keep him warm when he stood outside in the cold winter weather. As soon as Calix had found it at the store, he’d just had to buy it for the Tiger. It would look so good on him with his unusual skin and hair color.
Jerret stood up and pulled it on, obviously unable to resist the gift. Calix moaned when he turned to look at the mirror, showing exactly how good the black leather looked on his mate.
It was fucking incredible.
The coat hung off his wide shoulders, and just a strip of his bare chest showed underneath. His hands slid down the sides, feeling the supple leather. His eyes closed, and his hands clenched on the sides. But he didn’t take it off.
Even better, he wore it to work that night. Black pants, black t-shirt, and then the black trench coat, which completed the look. Matras, he was hot!
It gave Calix hope and a hard on that threatened to bust his zipper. He decided to move up his plans a few days. He hated going to bed that night alone but he was excited for the plan he’d decided on for the next morning.
That night was no different than every other night since he met his mate; his dreams were full of Jerret’s body and his scent. He could remember little bits of the dream; the muscular Tiger had been grinding against him while his own hands gripped that muscular ass and pulled him closer until he couldn’t take it anymore. He’d been wild, biting his mate on the shoulder to keep him in place as he began thrusting. Calix woke up with a sticky mess in his underwear, his heart still racing from the image of his sexy muscular mate bent over the back of his couch with his ass in the air.
“God, this is ridiculous.” Calix rolled out of bed, slapping the alarm clock on his way to the shower. He quickly washed up, and got dressed. He had a couple of early clients for training sessions, and then he was going to catch Jerret at his favorite coffee place.
The tiger was positively addicted to his caffeine and went every morning and then again on his way to work. This morning he was going to get a bit of a surprise.
Calix was waiting at a table just to the left of the ordering counter when Jerret came in to the coffee shop.
In front of him was a black coffee and blueberry muffin. In front of the chair across the table waiting for Jerret was a Mexican mocha and a cinnamon bun. The same order the Tiger made every day.
His mate froze; their eyes locked together. Calix could hardly breathe as he waited to see what Jerret would do. When he didn’t turn around and walk out Calix took a breath, suppressing the shudder his mate’s scent sent rippling up his spine.
“Will you have some coffee with me? I ordered your favorite.”
Jerret snarled a little. “And how would you know what that is?”
Calix blushed. “It’s a little bit stalker-ish, I know, but you took off on me. I had to find you, and when I did. . .I didn’t want you to just run away again.”
“So you tried to bribe me?” Calix watched how Jerret’s hands stroked the leather of his coat.
“Not bribes; they’re gifts.” Calix picked at his muffin. “Will you sit down? Please?”
There was a tense moment as he waited to see what his mate would do. Warmth surged through Calix when the Tiger slowly sat down. He waited for Jerret to drink his coffee, but the Tiger just watched him. He sighed as he remembered their last meal together.
He picked up his cup and took a drink, hoping that would reassure the Tiger that he could enjoy his morning coffee. Or maybe he didn’t know as much about his mate as he thought he did? Maybe he didn’t feel like having his usual today. Calix’s teeth worried at his bottom lip until Jerret picked up his coffee and took a sip; a look of pleasure curved his full lips up at the corners ever so slightly.
“Good? I had them make it extra hot since I got here early. I didn’t want your coffee to be cold. That’s a cinnamon bun; I can ask them to warm it up for you if you like.” Calix crumbled more of his muffin, looking down at it and then back up. “Or I could get you something else? You always had the bun, but if you feel like having something else I can get it for you. Just let me know–”
Jerret lifted a hand up. “Whoa, slow down.”
Calix knew his face had to be turning red, a wave of heat rolled up his chest and face as he blushed. “Sorry, I tend to get a little talkative when I’m nervous.”
Jerret tilted his head. “Why so nervous?”
Really? “Well, the last time we sat across a table from each other you agreed to go back to my place and then when we realized what we are, you bolted. I just… I don’t want you to take off on me again.”
Jerret sighed. “I suppose I owe you some sort of explanation about that.”
Calix shrugged. “I don’t want to push you. It’s enough to have coffee here with you, for now.”
“Thanks,” Jerret took another drink and then set his cup on the table, cradling it in his hands, “but I think it might help you understand why I ran and why I’ve always said I don’t want a mate..”
Calix sat back in his chair and waited. He watched the smaller man as he fidgeted before finally looking up.
“My brother’s mate was the son of an alpha. He belonged to a very large Tiger clan that our clan was merging with. It was during the convocation to confirm Yuril’s father as the new alpha that they met for the first time. They kept their relationship a secret, but Benny wanted to bond with Yuril. Yuril’s mother and my parents performed the ceremony.
“My parents just thought of prestige of one of their sons being mated to the son of an alpha. They felt the power gained would offset any stigma to having their son mated to a male. After all. . .we don’t choose our mates right?”
The bitter look on Jerret’s face hurt something inside Calix. He looked down.
“Oh Matras! I didn’t mean you and me, Calix,” Jerret’s spoke quickly, “really, I didn’t. That was just what my parents thought, their feelings, not mine.”
Calix nodded, it had still hurt to hear. “I understand.”
“Yuril and Benny were so happy during the bond ceremony. They went away for two weeks, but then they came back. Yuril didn’t want to, but Benny wanted to come to my college graduation. He didn’t go past high school, but he was so proud that I did.
“He didn’t understand what the new alpha was really like. When Sheshtun found out that Yuril had mated my brother; that he was gay. . . He did things, horrible things to both my brother and Yuril. Benny survived, but Yuril,” Jerret’s eyes were anguished and his voice dropped to a whisper, “might have been better off if he hadn’t. His mind broke, and now he’s like a child. Benny can’t be with his mate because the sight of another Tiger sends Yuril into hysterics even now.”
Shocked, Calix couldn’t stop the sound of horror that burst out of him.
“My parents did nothing. The other Tigers in the clan did nothing. So we left and took Yuril with us. Velaku found a very good family that took him in; they’re Falcon Carthera so that the sight of cats won’t bother the poor man.”
“I can see why you’d be afraid to mate anyone; it would scare me too if someone I loved went through something like that. But my family isn’t like that. We don’t belong to a clan and my parents are good people; they love each other and me. I’ve already told them all about you, and they’re so happy for me. It was hilarious, Mom was giving me dating advice and my dad. . . well, he means well, even if he has no clue.” Calix’s voice was wry, the memory of the call fresh in his mind.
“Can’t you give me a chance? A chance to show you that you don’t have to fear anything like that happening with my family? I’ve wanted my mate for so long; my whole life of watching my parents overcome their differences based on the strength of their bond has shown me that it can overcome anything.
“Please?” Calix slid his hand across the table, his fingers open, and waited. His stomach hurt and he couldn’t breathe, but he held out all the hope he had inside him out in that hand.
Calix felt as if his heart jumped when Jerret’s fingers slid into his own. He couldn’t help but grin as his mate agreed to give him a chance.
“I’m going to make you so happy,” he said softly, “you’ll never want to be apart.”
Calix’s confident tone and the feel of their hands together sent a signal to Jerret’s dick to sit up and take notice. He couldn’t help but blush, the double meaning clear.
Calix laughed as Jerret ducked his head to hide the pink of his cheeks.
“Well, I didn’t mean it that way,” Calix said his voice dropping to a whisper, “but I wouldn’t mind making you happy that way either.” His thumb caressed Jerret’s palm.
He was happy they were sitting and the table could hide the evidence of what Calix’s words and touch did to him. The humans couldn’t smell him, but when Calix’s nostrils flared Jerret knew he could scent his arousal. Jerret took a shallow breath, but he could still smell the way the Liger’s scent had gotten stronger and muskier. He’d been dreaming each night about sex with the Liger. In the shower, against the wall, on the kitchen table, tied to the head board of his bed…He’d jerked off more than he had since he was a teenager but it was like something in him craved Calix.
“I uh. . .I have work today,” he managed to say.
Regret passed across Calix’s face as he nodded. “I do too. Besides, as much as I want to take you back to my place right now, I think we should take a bit if time to get to know each other.”
Jerret was disappointed too, but he knew Calix was right. He pulled his hand back, knowing that if they kept touching his dick wouldn’t go down. He picked up his cinnamon bun and took a bite, enjoying the burst of spice across his tongue even if it was cold.
“Okay, so getting to know each other. I already know you like spicy food. Tell me more.” Calix voice was amused, but Jerret didn’t care if the Liger could see how much enjoyment he got from his favorite treat. He was no longer worried that the male would be upset if he ate, even though the larger cat didn’t actually eat any of his food, just picked at it and crumbled it into small pieces.
“I do. I’m not much of a drinker, though I work at the club. Or maybe that is because I work at the club?” he shrugged as he considered that, ” I see a lot of drunks acting like idiots. Anyway, I started working at the club a while back. Then I took some classes on computers and internet advertising at the local community college. I manage the website for the club and a few other businesses part time.”
“So, you have your own business,” Calix said, “that’s good. I wondered what degree you graduated with.”
“Oh,” Jerret shrugged, “it was just a business degree. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do but I like people and I wanted to have something that would come in handy in a number of fields.”
Calix smiled at him. “That’s smart.”
A warm feeling made Jerret smile back. He liked that his mate hadn’t judged him as stupid because his job title was ‘club bouncer’ like a lot of men might have. He told Calix as much.
The Liger didn’t say anything for a minute as Jerret waited for him to speak so he finished the last bit of his bun and washed it down with a big drink of his rapidly cooling coffee. He was about to ask what was wrong when Calix’s eyes rose up to meet his.
“I’ve been judged my whole life; mostly before I was given a chance. Humans are afraid of me because of my size. My father’s clan were completely psychotic, and my mother’s clan looked down on us in what I now know is the usual Tiger arrogance. I’ve been different my whole life, and all I’ve ever wanted was someone who would be willing to give me a chance to show them I’m not scary, or an abomination, or anything but me.”
Jerret sucked in a breath at the feeling packed into that last word.
“I’m willing,” he said. He smiled shyly at his mate.
Calix’s smile erased the look of pain in his eyes, making them twinkle in happiness. “I’m glad. I’ll always give you a chance to show me who you are too. I’m not going to judge you, or do anything that will risk losing you. I’m too damn grateful to you for not pushing me away.”
Jerret ducked his head when the doors opened and a small crowd came in from one of the local businesses. He glanced at his watch.
“Oh, wow. I’m late,” he said. “Benny is going to check on Yuril, and it’s hard on him. We have to be careful, but he needs to know that his mate is happy even if it’s not the type of happiness they had together. He needs me.” He stood up and threw his garbage in the trash by the counter.
Calix stood up immediately. “I understand; he’s your brother. Never apologize for spending time with him, okay? We can talk later.” He reached into his wallet and pulled out one of his business cards. “Here, so you can get in touch with me anytime you need to. My cell phone number is on the back.”
Jerret took it, sliding it into his pants pocket. He licked his lips and watched Calix’s eyes track the movement. “Do you… ahem,” he cleared his throat, “do you want a kiss goodbye?” Heat stroked him as he offered, wanting to taste the male and see if his flavor was as rich and enticing as his scent.
A rumble came from the Liger’s chest and he moved around the table, pulling Jerret into his arms before his mouth came down and claimed his for their first kiss. The embrace was tight, and Jerret could feel a huge ridge dig into his stomach and knew it had to be Calix’s hard dick.
The studly liger was sporting a raging erection. . .for him. He held him almost painfully tight yet his lips didn’t hurt, didn’t grind down on Jerret’s as he pressed his tongue inside as they got their first taste of each other. Their tongues dueled in the hot warm recesses of Jerret’s mouth before Calix retreated, nibbling on Jerret’s now swollen lips.
He needed more, and Jerret’s hands came up to his mate’s wide shoulders and held on tight. He thrust his tongue forward and delved into the larger male’s mouth, pointed tip rubbing and tracing the sharp teeth.
Calix had to be the first one to pull away; Jerret was too lost in the sensations. The link he already had to the male, their potential bond as mates, had its own role in creating heat in their embrace. It made it hard to think when he craved the Liger that much.
“You have to go,” Calix said breathlessly, “and we’re in public.”
Jerret’s hips stilled. He didn’t open his eyes, resting his forehead on Calix’s chest instead until he could step back without humiliating himself.
“Sorry,” he said under his breath.
Calix’s hand came up and brushed over his short hair. “Don’t be. I treasure the way you responded to me. I already dream of you, but that kiss will not allow me a moment’s rest until I have more from you. Can we go on a date?”
Jerret stepped back, his tight jeans hiding the worst evidence of his arousal from the rest of the people in the coffee shop. “You got me two tickets to the playoffs this weekend. We can go to that together if you want; I’ve always wanted to go.”
“I thought you might want to take your friend, the human male.” Calix’s grimace was amusing.
“Brad? I could, I guess,” Jerret didn’t like the look on Calix’s face as he teased him so he dropped the act, “but I’d rather go with you.”
He studied the Liger for a moment.
“We’re just friends, by the way. I’ve never had feelings for Brad, and he doesn’t have any for me.”
Calix just nodded. Jerret sighed to himself; looks like the problem his ex had with his close friendship with Brad was going to be a problem for Calix too. He just hoped their relationship wouldn’t end in a jealous misunderstanding like his last one had. He’d hate to be stuck with a mate he couldn’t be with.
Jerret couldn’t resist, reaching up on his tiptoes and pulling the big male’s head down for a kiss. “I’ll call you tonight.”
Calix’s arms squeezed him tight for a moment. “Okay.”
The game was fun, for both of them. They met at the arena, Jerret obviously needed to feel like he had an escape route. Calix was willing to give it to him. His mom had cautioned him to be even more patient now that his mate was giving him a chance. She was right; it was not the time to think with his little head, though he wanted to forget that his mom had talked about his dick, even obliquely.
They had some snacks during the game; both of them stuck to soda instead of the beer that flowed liberally through the arena. It was a violent game, even for hockey. The aggression in the air made it harder for Calix to hold on to his own need to dominate his mate and complete their bond, but he managed.
They decided to wait in their seats for most of the spectators to head to the exits before they tried to leave. Jerret turned to face him, and Calix drank in his mate’s appearance, the spiked up ginger locks, sparkling eyes, and lips that were parted in a big grin.
“Thanks Calix, this was a ton of fun!”
Calix waved away the thanks, still caught up in the high of the local team winning. He’d been on his feet with everyone else yelling there at the end. “I’ve seen hockey on TV before, but I’ve never gone to a live game. This was great; I can’t believe how exciting it all was.”
That was all drowned under a surge of arousal that curled his toes when Jerret leaned over and claimed his mouth. It was almost impossible to remember why he shouldn’t rip off his mate’s clothes and take him right there next to the ice, but Calix barely held onto his control. His tongue battled with Jerret’s as one of his hands slid up the tiger’s back to grasp his neck. He leaned forward, using his bigger size to take control and kiss his mate senseless.
“Hey guys, wanna take that to a new venue?”
The human interrupting them was a complete shock. Calix looked around, still lost in the haze of touching and tasting his mate. He shook his head; the testosterone in the arena must have affected them. It was a good thing the cleaning crew guy wasn’t a homophobe or anything.
Then again, neither of them were small men to be easily intimidated if the guy had been a gay basher. Even so, he should remember that it wasn’t appropriate in human society to maul your mate; especially if you’re both men.
“Sure man, sorry.”
Jerret was snickering as they climbed up the steps to the exit.
“Shut up!” Calix laughed. “You kissed me!”
“Uh huh,” Jerret said.
They parted once they left the stadium, Calix just managed to keep their goodbye kiss light. His mate had made an amazing turnaround and the way he initiated the kiss had Calix hopeful that they were going to bond sooner than he thought. He wondered if Jerret could feel the pull he already felt for his mate. Partly driven by a biological need, Carthera just didn’t give up the one mate they were destined for.
He just had to be patient a little longer.
Calix was just walking into his apartment over the gym when is cell phone rang. He glanced at the caller id.
“Hey,” Calix said, “did you forget something?”
“No. But I have something I think you forgot,” Jerret purred over the phone.
Calix dropped his coat as he moved to the bedroom, intrigued by the new tone in his mate’s voice. “Oh yeah? What’s that?”
“Well, I have this thing in my pants that is feeling a tad neglected.”
Calix’s dick instantly perked up as he realized that his mate was calling him for phone sex. He flopped back on the bed and reached down with hand, freeing it from the prison of his jeans.
“Is that right? I’m thinking maybe we could help each other out.” He stroked a hand up the full length of his erection from base to tip and then moaned as he squeezed the head.
“You want to help me out with this?” he purred.
Heavy breathing through the phone turned Calix on even more, knowing his mate had his hand on his own dick, stroking it.
“Do you want to stroke it, suck it?”
“Yeah. Wanna swallow you down.”
The mental picture of Jerret’s full lips wrapped around him, sucking him down to the base before pulling up to tongue his weeping slit had Calix stroking harder and faster.
“Oh yeah, babe, that would feel so good. What do you want me to do to you? Want me to stroke your cock while you’re taking mine in your throat? Or do you want to climb on top of me and let me suck you at the same time?”
“Unh,” Jerret grunted, “fuck. You’d do that? Suck my dick?”
Calix’s hand focused on his head, squeezing and tugging as his hips pumped his dick into his hand. He was so close.
“Oh yeah. I can’t wait to get to touch you. I want to have you shoot all over my tongue so I can taste you, and then kiss you so you can share it with me.”
“Oh… oh gods,” Jerret moaned and his breath hitched.
His mate was cumming at the idea of sucking his seed out of Calix’s mouth. The sound and the picture in his head were enough to push Calix over the edge as he stroked himself roughly.
“Jerret!” he cried out his mate’s name.
His back arched and he almost lost the phone, lost in the feeling and waves of pleasure as he shot all over his shirt. He was panting when he finally relaxed, then laughed.
“What?” Jerret’s voice was rough.
“I didn’t even take off my shirt; I’m a real mess now.”
Jerret laughed, still breathing hard. “So it wasn’t too weird then? Having phone sex?”
“Hell no, it was hot. I never expected you to be so…” He couldn’t think of a word to describe it.
It was Calix turn to laugh. He sat up, wiping his messy hand on a clean spot of his shirt as he toed off his shoes. “Sort of. I guess I just expected you to be more hesitant to open up to me.”
“Well, I’m not ready to actually do what you mentioned, but I can’t deny that you’re my mate. Or that I already feel a strong pull toward you.”
Calix got up, pushing his pants down. “I won’t rush you,” he promised.
He knew just how hard it was going to be to keep that promise but it would be worth it.
He was right. The next few weeks they got together whenever their schedules allowed. They had a few lunch dates, and Jerret took Calix to his favorite sports bar for dinner and the regional championship hockey game. They ate wings and drank soda with the date ending up in a make out session against Calix’s car. Calix got to feel that round ass that called to him and suck on the soft skin of his mate’s neck. He had the strongest urge to bite down but he didn’t; he wouldn’t bond his mate without the mating ceremony.
He’d save that for their first night together. There were two major obstacles they had to overcome first. Between kissing and gropes, they’d talked. A lot. Childhoods, family, their work and goals. . . Calix knew that they were a good match.
They were both wounded, but they could heal each other.
First they had to pass the family test. He had been up first for dinner with Jerret and Benny. His mate’s brother had given him a lot of tough questions, really acted the older brother even though Jerret was in his mid twenties. Calix had met the Benny’s eyes and answered truthfully to everything the wary Tiger wanted to know. Yes, he was gay. Yes, his parents knew. No, they didn’t care. Yes, they wanted to meet Jerret. They also wanted him to invite Benny along so they could meet Jerret’s family.
That was what he was setting up for as he anxiously worked on the prep work for their meal. He’d called his mom and dad after he’d gotten home from meeting Jerret’s brother; his grudging acceptance of him would have to change once he met Calix’s parents. No one could resist his mom. No one.
“Hey Mom.” Calix leaned down and kissed his mom’s upturned cheek and then shook his dad’s hand when they arrived a little early.
“You’ve really done a nice job in here,” Barael said, “I was dreading coming in and smelling sweaty locker room but you can’t tell at all there is a gym downstairs. And the floors are lovely.” She walked over to the window seat and looked out at the city lights.
The hardwood had been hiding under some ugly carpet, so Calix had pulled it up and then polished the existing wood back to a warm shine. He wasn’t a fussy man, but he had some rugs scattered here and there and his furniture was a soft brown microfiber. A few paintings on the walls brought in some color and that was it for decorating.
But the room was large and open, the kitchen separated from the living room by a bar. He’d put some bread and dipping sauces out while dinner finished. He’d asked his mom for her recipe for grilled steak with béarnaise butter for the main course. His stove had a grill space and he loved using it; nothing was better than bbq, and it was a bit too cold to do it outside on the balcony.
Now they were just waiting for Jerret and Benny to show up.
“So Calix, things are going well with your mate?” his dad asked.
Calix smiled, a surge of warmth going through him as he thought of Jerret. “Yeah, Dad. Really well, actually. I am hoping to get him to agree to bond with me after tonight.”
His mother joined them in the kitchen. “Is it that important he meets us first?”
“Well I do want you to meet him before we do the ceremony but it’s more than that. See,” his voice was very solemn, “Benny, his brother, had something very bad happen to him and his mate after they bonded. His mate got hurt really bad by their alpha, who happened to be his mate’s dad too. The male almost killed them both for being gay and bonding. When Jerret thought I was a clan Tiger he was terrified. After he told me about Benny I understood why.
“The clans are horrible, Mom. I don’t know how you grew up in one and turned out as wonderful as you are.”
Calix turned away, focusing on making a dressing for the salad. He saw the look his parents exchanged out of the corner of his eye.
His dad was the one who spoke, which surprised Calix a little. “It wasn’t easy. Your mother and I faced a lot of problems ourselves before you came along. But when it comes to your mate. . . well, you know how it is now when you meet. You can’t really resist them, not for long anyway. Our bond is worth the challenges we had to overcome.”
His mom wrapped an arm around his waist and leaned against his arm and chimed in, “Besides, otherwise we wouldn’t have you and now your mate to love.”
Calix wiped his hands off and then leaned down to give his mom another hug. It was sappy, but he knew he was lucky that his parents were so accepting. He couldn’t wait for them to meet Jerret either.
The doorbell rang just as he was putting the steaks on the oiled grill. “Keep an eye on these for me, will you Dad?” Calix snagged a towel from the counter.
“Sure.” Taeric got up from the bar and moved to stand in front of the grill, picking up the tongs. “Rare, right?”
Calix heard the doorbell again, and he headed for the door, wiping off his hands on the towel and throwing it over his shoulder. He opened up the door and smiled down at his mate who was standing nervously in front of Benny.
Both were dressed up in slacks and button down shirts. Calix greeted Benny and then pulled Jerret into his arms for a consuming kiss. He was lost in the scent and feel of his mate; a craving for him that grew larger every day consumed Calix.
He needed to bond this male and mark him as his.
He heard a sound behind them. Breaking the kiss, he put Jerret down. He smiled sheepishly at his mom who was standing next to Benny.
“Sorry,” he said. Benny snorted.
She laughed and shook her head. “Typical Calix.”
“Mom, I’d like to introduce you to my mate, Jerret, and his brother, Benny. This is my mom, Barael.”
She smiled at the two Tigers who both began to bow. “Oh, none of that.” She turned and hugged Benny first and then reached for Jerret to give him the same warm welcome.
“It’s nice to meet you both finally. Calix has told us all about you Jerret, but he didn’t do you justice. You are so handsome!”
“Mom!” Calix was so embarrassed.
Jerret laughed and bumped their hips together, his cheeks a little pink. “Thank you, ma’am.”
“Now, now. You’re family, no need to call me ma’am. Barael or Mom, if you like.” She turned to Benny. “You too, young man.”
There were tears in Benny and Jerret’s eyes. They nodded silently, but the anxiety in them both was gone. His mom had worked her magic again.
“Dad’s manning the grill in the kitchen. Come on, let me introduce you.”
Even with his mom’s warm welcome some of the tension crept back into the room, but Calix kept his arm around Jerret’s shoulders as he steered him over to the kitchen and introduced them.
Taeric waved the tongs, focusing on turning the meat for a minute before turning around. “Sorry about that, can’t burn those steaks!”
He leaned over and shook Jerret and Benny’s hands firmly. “It’s nice to meet you both. Benny, right?”
“Thanks for coming. We know how eager our son is to bond to your brother. You being willing to come and meet us when you were so traumatized by your own mating shows how much love you have for your brother. Since you left your clan, I hope that you will come to think of us as your family too; Calix has told us how close you two are.”
Pain crossed Benny’s face when Taeric mentioned his mate and Calix almost groaned out loud. His dad had no tact at all.
“Thank you,” Benny said with a sigh. “I can see where your son got his directness from.” He looked around at everyone in the room and Calix held his breath, knowing that so much depended on what Benny would say.
“I won’t lie and say that I wasn’t scared when my brother told me he met his mate, and I didn’t want him to have anything to do with Calix. Especially when I found out that he was partly a Tiger. But we’re Carthera, not humans, and our mate is a blessing no matter whom or what they are. I just want Jerret to be happy.”
Jerret left Calix’s side and hugged his brother. “Thanks bro,” he said softly.
After that they all relaxed and conversation flowed easily as they got to know each other better. The steaks were perfect, but Calix had a hard time eating. He was watching Jerret’s every move, his hunger for his mate almost consuming him.
“Calix!” His mom’s voice was sharp in the silence of the dining room.
“Huh? What?” Calix dragged his heated stare from Jerret’s laughing face to look at his mom. “Did I miss something?”
“Just me asking when you thought we should do the blessing so that you and your mate can bond. If you don’t soon I think you might spontaneously combust or something.” She grinned wryly. “Does anyone think tonight is too soon?”
“Tonight?” Calix’s mind reeled. He could have his mate, their bond completed, tonight? “Hell yes!”
Everyone burst out laughing, including Jerret and Calix, though Jerret’s cheeks were bright red.
When it came down to the ceremony, it was simple. There were no elaborate clan formalities, no priest, no do this or do that strictures that bound the couple for days before they could bond and mate with each other.
Calix and Jerret were shirtless and stood facing each other, their hands laced together with their family around them. Taeric and Barael held hands behind Calix and Benny stood behind Jerret.
“In my life I have felt nothing more right than the bond I have with my mate,” Taeric said quietly. “I always hoped you would find the same with a partner you could love as well as bond with. With Jerret we can see you have found that love. This mating goes forward with our blessing.”
Calix smiled but didn’t look away from his mate’s eyes. “I do love you, more than I could ever say with mere words. So I will just have to show you. I promise that I will never stop making sure you know how much I cherish you, my mate.”
“I only hope that you both share your bond honestly with each other. No one knows how much time we have on this earth; treasure every day you have together. This mating goes forward with my blessing.” Benny’s voice was quiet, but he smiled at them as he gave his blessing.
Jerret’s smile was smaller; he felt a little sad at his brother’s words but he nodded. “You were not what I expected to have in my life but I can’t think of a more perfect man I’d want as a mate. I promise to always love you for who you are because that is who I fell in love with.”
The chant began slowly and quietly. The sound became louder as the magic that bound two Carthera together as mates began to echo off the high ceilings in the room. Twin gasps filled the room as Jerret and Calix both fell to their knees at the same time. Taeric slid one claw carefully across both their wrists, and the blood flowed down their joined hands as they pressed the shallow cuts together.
They swayed together, their hands locked even as the bond fell over them and their bodies began to shift and change. Dark orangish stripes began to spread across Jerret’s back. The black edges stood out against his skin. Calix’s stripes were so pale they almost faded into his skin, his tiger blood diluted by the lion in him as well.
His mouth opened and he looked at his mate, their eyes glowing as their changes slowed and then stopped. Large fangs were exposed as he stared hungrily at him.
“Jerret!” Calix roared.
Jerret’s eyes showed the same lust burning in him that he could feel swamping Calix as their bond urged them closer.
They didn’t even notice when their family slipped away, locking the door behind them.
Calix yanked hard on Jerret’s arm, pulling him into his chest. Their heated skin met, and they both groaned.
“Bedroom,” Calix panted.
Jerret shuddered as his large mate picked him up and carried him out of the living room. He’d never imagined that the bond would be this strong and they weren’t even done yet. There was just one last thing.
His pants and Calix’s were ripped away in their haste; their new claws made them clumsy as they got used to the way they popped out when they flexed their hands against each other. They barely made it onto the bed before Calix was straddling Jerret and rubbing his body against him.
“Gonna mark you, make you smell like me so everyone knows you’re mine,” Calix said, groaning as their weeping erections rubbed together.
“Please,” Jerret gasped; his back arching. He was no flinching virgin and he wanted his mate. Besides, he didn’t want to suck his mate’s cock and risk accidentally biting him with his new fangs. No, when he bit into him he wanted to mark that wide chest, right above the firm nipple.
“Gonna get something to slick me up.” Calix reached under the pillow and pulled out a tube of lube.
They were lost in the urgency, Jerret’s hand reaching between them to press their cocks together and squeeze. Calix groaned, and his hips thrust forward.
“Oh, wait.” He pulled back and slicked himself up, shuddering as his hand stroked up and down. Jerret watched him touch his rock hard dick and whimpered.
“Hurry.” He wanted his mate inside him.
Calix squeezed a bit more of the lube onto his hand and reached under Jerret’s balls. “Don’t want to hurt you.” He pressed one finger inside and Jerret squirmed. It felt good, but it wasn’t enough.
“Do it. Don’t care, it’ll feel so good,” he said panting. “Please. I need you in me.” He pulled his legs back.
Calix’s eyes closed as Jerret begged. It was too much for him, and he leaned forward as he pushed Jerret’s legs back even farther. He didn’t pause as he pressed his dick forward, thrusting through Jerret’s tight ring of muscles to bury inside him.
Jerret shouted as the burn mixed with the pleasure when Calix’s wide head slipped in and then nudged his prostrate as he thrust forward. His mate’s groan and shudder made him open his eyes.
“Fuck, yeah!” His eyes gleamed in the darkness as he stared at the ecstasy on his mate’s face. Calix froze, their bodies pressed tight together. “Move. Please,” Jerret whimpered.
His head kicked back when Calix did just that, pulling out incredibly slow before he snapped his hips forward again, one long hard thrust after another.
Jerret was lost in the incredible sensations that passed through their bond as their need grew together. He could barely breathe as he was lost in his mate. He could feel the hunger Calix had as he eyed his neck. His mate wanted to claim him; phone sex, make out sessions, and the power of their need was overwhelming.
This first time was going to be fast, but Jerret didn’t care. They had forever together to take it slow.
His balls drew up, and he tilted his head to the side. “Do it Calix. Claim me!”