“Your mate is the one you spend the rest of your life with,” he said, drawing her even closer, so that she straddled him. He brushed her lips with his before continuing. “You know – your other half. The bond between mates is the strongest bond on earth.”
She trembled as he kissed her, long and hard, slipping his tongue past her teeth and deep into her mouth, as if he were claiming her. She despaired, even as she enjoyed it. What had she gotten herself into? She had to go back to Nashville when this was all over. Of course she did. What would Jack say? Hating herself for it, she broke the seal of their kiss, leaning back and trying not to notice how hard he’d grown. “I’m not so sure we’re officially mates, Jack.”
His lips tickled the hollow of her throat, tempting her to tilt her head back and let him kiss a trail all the way down to her chest. “There’s no ‘official’ about it, really. It’s not like getting married. You just know, and then…that’s it.”
Just ‘knowing’ didn’t seem quite concrete enough to base a promise of lifelong togetherness on. Was she missing something – was she just not wolfy enough to understand, or was what Jack was saying a little crazy? “What I mean is that I have a life four hours away in Nashville.” She tried to gentle her tone, but was afraid that it still came out sounding harsh. “You don’t really expect me to abandon it to stay here in the mountains as your mate, do you?”
He stiffened against her, his embrace becoming rigid. His lips still touched her neck, though he’d stopped kissing her. Several moments passed before he spoke. “Yes.” There was a stubborn note in his voice that reminded her of when she’d first met him, on his cabin’s front porch.
She sighed. “I can’t do that. Surely you can understand.”
He leaned back, meeting her eyes. “I understand that you’re my other half.”
She squirmed uncomfortably in his lap, attempting to ignore the hardness of his erection. Even as she tried to make him understand that she couldn’t be his mate, it was far too easy to remember riding him, and the temptation to sink down onto his cock and do it again was as real as the hold he had on her. “Jack, I really like you. To be honest, I’ve never felt half this crazy about anyone else, but—”
“When you came to my cabin, I figured you were just another ditzy tourist from the city,” he interrupted. “But I was wrong. You’re my mate, and I’m yours – how can you think that I could ever let you go?”
This was all escalating way too fast. Jack was digging his heels into the ground like a stubborn mule, and she worried she’d give in, slump against his chest and tell him she was his forever. It sounded crazy, even to her, but the temptation was there, beneath the reasons why she couldn’t do so. When she thought of saying goodbye to the Smoky Mountains and Jack, her heart nearly wrenched in half. She had to keep those thoughts in the back of her mind in order to keep arguing. “Maybe we can work something out.”
“Being mates is like being an alpha – either you are, or you’re not and you’re alone. There is no in between.”
He clapped a hand over her mouth and she stiffened, indignant anger beginning to replace her frustration.
“Shhh,” he said softly, his lips brushing her ear. “I heard somethin’.”
She held as still as a statue, ears straining for some hint of a sound. Then it came – the subtle snap of a twig beneath someone’s foot. Underbrush crunched, causing her heart rate to spike. They’d been found.
Jack held her tight as the sound of hushed, careful footsteps grew louder and then faded as their hiding place was passed by. When she finally couldn’t hear them anymore, she breathed a sigh of relief.
Jack removed his hand from her mouth, smoothing a stray lock of hair out of her eyes. “We’ll track him,” he said. “But we’ve gotta wait a little while – let him get a head start. I can’t risk anyone like him discovering this place. We should be able to follow his scent trail easily.”
Mandy nodded, her emotions numb as she tried to wrap her mind around the concept of a hunt and an eventual killing. “What if he’s laid traps in the forest?” A phantom pain swept through her hand at the memory of the steel trap, gone as soon as she’d felt it. “There could be – I don’t know – explosives or something.” The guy was clearly a maniac and had used teargas – would it be farfetched to believe he’d planted other nefarious weapons amongst the pines and poplars?
“You don’t have to worry about that. If he blew us up, he wouldn’t have his trophies. No, he’ll want to shoot us, nice and clean. When a shifter dies, his corpse is human, unless he’s killed one very specific way.”
“Shot with a silver bullet. If a hunter can manage that, he’ll have a wolf carcass to mount. If he doesn’t, he’ll have a human body to either hide or explain to the police.”
Mandy shuddered at the thought of being killed and preserved like a trophy animal. “That’s barbaric. What kind of sick freak—”
“Trust me, shifter hunters are more animal than their prey.” He tapped the side of his head with a finger. “Crazy with hate, if you ask me.”
Mandy sighed, her breath streaming over Jack’s chest. “All of this is crazy, you know.”
“I reckon it is.” He pressed his lips against hers, hot and soft.
She leaned into the kiss, aware again of the renewed hardness in Jack’s lap. He rocked his hips beneath her, causing the tip of his cock to grind against the seam of her sex. She gasped, her nails biting into his shoulders as she clung to him. They were already pressed as tightly together as two people could be, but she tried to get closer anyway. If they were going to risk their lives hunting down a psychotic killer, she wasn’t going to deny Jack or herself this. Slowly, she reached below with her newly healed hand, wrapping her fingers around his shaft.
“No,” he said, stopping his rocking. “Not this time.”
“What?” She was still clutching his cock when he lifted her out of his lap, setting her aside on the floor of packed earth.
“You got your way last time,” he said, “but I’m not hurt anymore.” His wicked grin was illuminated by the moonlight that spilled through the den’s entrance.
Her hand slipped from his groin and before she could respond, he lowered his head into her lap. When he’d lifted her off of him she’d landed halfway sprawled in surprise. He pressed his mouth between her thighs as he gripped her hips, raising them.