It hurt Myka, and it didn’t. Spike’s kiss, his touch, opened her, shattering the barrier she’d thrust up between them—the one she thrust up between herself and everyone. Myka couldn’t afford to be vulnerable ever again.
Spike’s mouth was hot, his lips strong. The pressure made her open her mouth to his, welcoming the firm strokes of his tongue. He tasted her, and she tasted him back, her hands moving to his shoulders, gripping. His muscles were hard under her fingertips—pressing didn’t make a dent.
The kiss was like sudden sunshine after a winter storm. The ice shards inside her couldn’t withstand it. Spike held Myka hard, as though he feared she’d pull away, while his mouth pinned her and didn’t let go.
Spike slid his hand down her back, kneading warmth there. Cradling her, holding on. He pulled her tighter as the wild kiss went on, her body the length of his, the hard planes of his chest pressing every inch of her breasts.
Myka’s thoughts shut down, tactile senses taking over. There was only warmth, the plying of his mouth, his hands holding her, his body against hers.
For Spike’s part, everything feral in him roared to the surface. Myka’s scent, the feel of her body, her taste, the soft sound she made in her throat—awakened the beast. He wanted her, he needed her soft flesh against his in the night.
Her mouth was small and lush, lips forming to his. She dug at his shoulders with hard fingers, wanting to pull him into her, and Spike was happy to go. He slid his hand to her buttocks, scooping her up, need tearing at him like a crazed thing.
He tasted the pain in her and wanted to make it all better. He’d sweep her up and shut out the world, sink into the goodness of her. The curve of her buttocks under his hand beckoned his tongue, her hair warmed his fingers, and she smelled like honey and sugar. If he licked her all over, would she taste as sweet?
The floor creaked upstairs again. Myka jumped in his arms, hands sliding from his shoulders to his chest, trying to push him away.
Spike jerked her closer, hand firming on her ass. Who cared if his grandmother came down and caught them? She was Shifter; she’d understand. She knew what loneliness was.
Lonely. So lonely. Stay with me.
Myka gasped, and Spike broke the kiss.
She was breathing hard, her pupils spreading but her body shaking. His instincts screamed at him to take Myka upstairs, lock her into his room with him, and not let her go until they’d made a couple more cubs to go with Jordan. Nature wanted him to do this, and Spike’s mind wasn’t fighting nature too much. But there was more at stake right now.
Spike had the hardest time asking for anything, let alone pleading for it. Warrior Shifters didn’t plead. They killed, they gloated over their enemy’s body, they sated themselves on the first woman they saw after that, then they got up the next morning and did it all over again.
Spike caressed Myka’s hand between both of his and met her eyes over it. “I need you to help me.” He dredged up the word inside him. “Please.”
Myka hesitated. She’d say no, she’d walk out, get into her pickup and drive away, leaving him watching after her, bereft. Warrior Shifters were never bereft . . . which was a big, fat lie.
Myka let out her breath. It whooshed over his fingertips, sending a tingle through his veins that went straight to his cock.
“All right,” she said. “I’ll stay. Jordan needs looking after. For a little while.”
Spike kissed her mouth again, tongue gliding over her parted lips.
A little while was fine. Gave him plenty of time.
* * *
Ella came hurrying down the stairs as Myka held on to Spike’s hand and wondered what she’d gotten herself into.
“Liam’s coming,” Ella said. “I saw him from the window. Spike, what did you do?”
Ella’s brow furrowed, her eyes flicking to Shifter. Spike tensed again, the ease Myka had felt in him when she’d promised to stay a while vanishing. He strode to the door and opened it.
“Who’s Liam?” Myka repeated.
“The Shiftertown leader,” Ella said. “He’d never come here, to our territory, uninvited, if there wasn’t a problem.”
Myka went to Spike’s side at the open door. He moved to put himself in front of her, guarding her, she realized. She peered around his large body, expecting a monster to come running up the steps, snarling and ready to kill.
What she saw was a tall man in jeans and T-shirt strolling up the sidewalk, his long body as graceful in movement as Spike’s. Sunshine gleamed on his black hair, the sunglasses he wore against the bright afternoon, and the black and silver Collar around his neck.
He stopped at the base of porch steps, took off the sunglasses, and looked up at Spike with very blue eyes.
“Spike, lad, can I talk to you?”
The man asked, but his body language told Myka he expected Spike to agree. Spike’s body language said that he wanted to do anything but. Her work with horses had taught her that animals didn’t need words to speak volumes, and Myka saw forcefully that these two men were more animal than human.
Spike made a conceding gesture, and Liam came up the steps, in no hurry. He stopped in the middle of the porch, then his gaze moved around Spike to Myka and stayed there.
The man looking out of the very blue eyes had seen many things and suffered hardships, the scars of them evident in the weight of his stare.
“Who’s this?” he asked, an Irish lilt to his voice.
“Her name’s Myka,” Spike said. “She’s under my protection.”
Liam’s gaze shot to Spike again, leaving Myka alone. “Oh, aye?”
Liam looked back at Myka and drew a sharp breath through his nostrils, then he frowned. “Not mate-claimed.”
“Not yet,” Spike said.
Spike stepped out onto the porch. He folded his arms and stood in front of Liam, effectively blocking Liam’s way into the house, not that Liam made any indication he wanted to enter. But Spike was positioned so that if Liam tried to go for Myka or Ella, he’d have to first get past Spike.
“And your cub?” Liam asked. “He’s all right?”
“Good for the lad. A little peace and quiet for you too, eh?” Liam smiled, a warm, charming smile that told Myka he could really turn it on when he wanted to. “We can do his naming this Sunday. Sound fine to you?”
“What do you want, Liam?” Spike asked.
Liam’s smile dimmed, but only a little. “I always wondered what would happen if you became a dad, had a family. Now I know. You’re standing there wantin’ to tell me to go to hell.” He chuckled. “My most loyal of trackers has found his teeth.”
Spike didn’t relax. He and Liam were about the same size, Spike’s bare muscles glistening with sweat, Liam’s mostly hidden by his shirt. If they’d been alley cats, they’d be circling each other, sizing each other up, deciding whether to make the first move, or whether it would be too dangerous to follow through.
Myka didn’t want to wait. She pushed her way past Spike and marched onto the porch, evading Spike who tried to grab her.
“What did you come over for?” she asked Liam. “Seems like it’s a big deal that you did, instead of calling first.”
The only move Liam made was to bend his head to look down at Myka. Behind Spike, Ella made a soft sound of fear, but Liam did nothing more threatening than stare. The power of his gaze, however, made Myka want to take a step back.
She made herself not move. Horses played this power game, and Myka always made sure she won. She had to, or she couldn’t do her job.
Spike, on the other hand, snarled, a low rumbling noise that held dire warning. He skimmed around Myka in one swift movement, his hand coming up to Liam’s throat.
But when Spike would have closed on the other man’s neck, Liam wasn’t there.
Liam now stood four feet away from Spike down the porch, just out of arm’s reach. Myka didn’t remember seeing Liam move, but she felt the breeze of his passing touch her face.
“Easy, lad,” Liam said, no fear in his voice. “I won’t touch her. I respect the pride.” He gave Myka another look, this one a little softer. “Besides, I know how headstrong human women can be. Trust me.” The smile came back, and he tipped Myka a wink.
“You haven’t answered his question,” Myka said. He could keep his wink, no matter how charming he was.
Liam focused on Spike again. “I came to find out why you didn’t report right away to me. Now I know. But you need to tell me what happened with Gavan.”
“Ellison was there.”
“Ellison didn’t hear all what you said. He said Gavan moved close to you and got chatty at the last, but the ambient noise from the bar was enough to confound even Shifter hearing. Makes me think Gavan chose that spot on purpose because of that. What did he say to you?”
Spike didn’t unclench, but he glanced behind him to Ella, still hovering worriedly in the foyer. “I’ll be inside in a minute,” he said.
Ella nodded and withdrew. Myka looked up at Spike. “Are you waiting for me to go too? Is this man talk?”
“It’s Shifter talk,” Liam said. “Shifter business.”
“Oh, yeah?” No way Myka could stop these two men tearing each other apart if they started something, but she didn’t feel easy leaving Spike alone with this guy. Whatever Spike had done, or not done, Liam was annoyed about it—dangerously annoyed.
Liam kept his gaze on Spike. “Myka, why don’t you wake up the cub and take him along to meet my mate? She’s human too. I think she’ll like you. Ella will show you the way.”
He spoke casually, but Myka knew it wasn’t a suggestion. She did not want to go, but it was clear that they’d stand like statues until she went.
Myka made a show of nodding and turning away, but not before sending Liam a look that warned that if he tried to hurt Spike, she’d . . .
Well, she didn’t know what she could do. She’d seen the way Spike had fought that bear-man at the Shifter fights, and knew Spike could take care of himself. And Myka could always call the police on Liam’s ass if he tried anything.
Even that didn’t make her feel better, but she went inside to find Ella and wake up Jordan.
* * *
“Dad wanted to come over here and talk to you himself,” Liam said to Spike once they were alone. “I talked him out of it. I’ll take your thanks for that any time.”
“What did that shithead Ellison say to you?” They were still on the porch. Hierarchy dictated that Spike should invite Liam inside, showing him trust, and politeness dictated that he should get the man a beer. But Spike remained stubbornly in place, not wanting Liam in his house.
“The shithead Ellison didn’t tell me more than I’ve already said,” Liam answered. “But you wouldn’t tell him everything about Gavan, and you hightailed it home instead of talking to me. He’s worried.”
“He’s worried I betrayed you. I didn’t. I wanted to get home to my cub.”
“I understand that.” Liam had a cub too now, a cute little half-Shifter girl. “But I sent you to gather intel, and you didn’t give me any intel.”
“Nothing to say. Gavan is a crazy Feline—you know him. He thinks Shifters are losing the instincts that make us strong, that we shouldn’t suppress the ones that tell us to kill.” Stupid. Gavan didn’t get that strength and fighting were two different things.
“You mean like at the fight club,” Liam said with canny perception. “Shifters fight, but then suppress the instinct to take the fight to its natural conclusion.”
“Something like that.”
“You think anyone else at the fight club agrees with him?”
Spike shrugged. “No one’s mentioned it.”
“Aye, but you win all your fights, don’t you? The Shifters you beat aren’t going to be telling you they’re in favor of letting it go to the death, are they? No, Gavan must just be talking shite. I’m guessing he’s in favor of not suppressing instinct and letting others kill off the weak so he can move up in dominance.”
“He ever go to the fight club? Apart from last night?”
“Not that I’ve seen,” Spike said.
Liam never went to the fights himself, because the fight clubs weren’t sanctioned by Shiftertown leaders. Technically the matches violated both Shifter and human laws.
But Shiftertown leaders understood that their Shifters needed to blow off steam, and so looked the other way. Fight club fights also had two very strict rules. First—no killing. Second—the results of fights didn’t change anything in dominance in day-to-day life. What happened at the fight club stayed at the fight club.
Spike knew, however, that the fights did change things, even if the changes weren’t acknowledged. Hard to forget that the dominant clan member telling you what to do today had lain flattened at your feet in the ring the night before. True dominance battles didn’t happen among Shifters very often, but when the next one occurred, Spike suspected there’d be many, many adjustments.
“All right, lad,” Liam said, his shoulders going down a fraction, which meant he believed Spike and had decided to trust him. “Keep an eye on Gavan for me, eh? If he wants to meet again, don’t say no. Get what you can out of him. If more Shifters at the fight club start thinking he’s right, you tell me that too.”
Spike gave him a nod. He decided not to mention that Gavan already had asked to set up a second meeting. Spike would assess the Feline one more time, without Liam breathing down his neck, and then decide what to do.
“Congratulations on your cub,” Liam said, business over. He stepped forward, ready to pull Spike into an embrace.
Spike didn’t want it. He’d withdrawn in a huge way since he’d turned around in the hospital room last night to see Jordan waiting for him. Right now Spike didn’t want to touch anyone except Jordan, his grandmother . . . and Myka.
Not mate-claimed, Liam had said, and Spike’s answer had come out instantly. Not yet.
Which meant that something in Spike wanted it to happen, sensed it would happen, was impatient for it to happen.
Not yet. But soon.
However, Spike denying his leader a congratulatory hug would scream to Liam that Spike was challenging him. Spike didn’t have time right now for the big hairy deal that would bring down on him.
Spike let his body go slack as Liam wrapped his arms around him and pulled him close. Spike put his hands on Liam’s back, returning the embrace, but not as soothed as he usually was by his leader’s body heat.
Male Shifters hugged each other in a different way than they hugged females. Males didn’t hold back their strength from other males—the embrace contained a warning as much as acceptance.
Spike let his hands harden on Liam’s back, and Liam responded by pulling Spike even closer. Spike’s body read every muscle in Liam, and he knew Liam was reading him back.
Liam nuzzled Spike’s cheek, tilted Spike’s head forward and kissed the top of it, then released him.
“Come on,” Liam said. “Take me to meet your little one.”
* * *
Kim Fraser, Liam’s mate, greeted Myka with enthusiasm, gave her a big hug, and introduced her around.
“Don’t mind the touchy-feely,” Kim said. “You’ll get used to it. It’s a Shifter thing. Took me a while to learn, but I’m liking it now.”
Kim lifted her dark-haired baby from her outdoor playpen, and little Katriona regarded Myka and Jordan with great interest. Jordan, held by Ella, reached out and touched Katriona’s silky hair, and Katriona cooed and kicked her feet.
“A mate-claim in the making, are you thinking?” A man who resembled Liam, complete with dark hair and blue eyes, came to them. “A few decades from now . . . look out.”
He was Sean, Liam’s brother, and he had his mate with him, a slender Shifter called Andrea, who was very pregnant. About to drop, Sean said proudly, his Irish baritone as pronounced as his brother’s. Sean patted Jordan on the head, grinning when Jordan growled and took a swing at him.
Myka also met Connor, Liam and Sean’s nephew. Connor was twenty-one but still considered a cub. It was Connor who suggested Myka stay for lunch, and he started getting the grill ready so Sean could make his famous cheeseburgers with saut?ed mushrooms and onions.
Apparently, cooking out was a common thing for Shifters, as well as inviting any friends who happened to be passing. Myka had to take a step back from the huge Ronan, who arrived with a teenaged Shifter girl and a little boy with white hair. His adopted kids, Ronan said. Ronan was a Kodiak bear, but the girl with variegated hair—Cherie—was a grizzly, the boy Olaf a polar bear cub.
Myka watched Ronan’s family as she sat down with Kim, Myka still wary of men who fostered kids. But Cherie started a spirited gossip session with Connor, and Olaf helped Sean prep the grill. Olaf was a little quieter than the others, but he grinned with Sean, relaxed and happy.
By the time Liam and Spike arrived together—walking side-by-side, Myka noted, neither letting the other get in front—the burgers were nearing completion.
A growl from Jordan made Myka look around. Jordan stood in the middle of the backyard, which was part of an unfenced green space that ran behind all the houses. Facing him was a tiny polar bear, and Jordan was snarling like crazy as he flung off the last of his clothes, already shifting and ready to attack.