Excerpt for Banded Brothers, Volume 1 by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

To Have A Human - Copyright 2012 by Amber Kell

To Catch A Croc- Copyright 2013 by Amber Kell


Smashwords edition

Second Edition 2017


Cover design: Meredith Russell

Editor: Jason Bradley

Proofers: Laurie Peterson, Rhonda Walker, Sam Nelson, Celest Fitzpatrick, Lisa Guertin, Paula Atwell


ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: This literary work may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including electronic or photographic reproduction, in whole or in part, without express written permission. This book cannot be copied in any format, sold, or otherwise transferred from your computer to another through upload to a file sharing peer to peer program, for free or for a fee. Such action is illegal and in violation of Copyright Law.


To Have A Human



Sometimes it’s the family you choose that loves you the most.


Carey Gale always knew about shifters. It was difficult not to when his best friends could turn into some of the deadliest beasts. To support his band, Carey gets a daytime job at a shifter-owned business, but he doesn’t expect to fall hopelessly in lust with Broden Lyall, the company’s alpha.

Broden has to battle his against his society’s low opinion of humans to remain as leader. But when hunters come after Carey’s friends, Broden learns that not all humans are alike, and he finds he will do anything to have the one slim, blond human who’d shown him that.



To Catch A Croc



Protect those you love, annihilate everyone else.


For as long as he could remember Denton Stills has followed his friend Carey around. When Carey gets a mate Denton starts to consider maybe it is time for him to find his forever man. However the only one sniffing around is an obnoxious puma who seems to think Denton is as good as his. When saltwater crocodile shifters try to move into Denton’s territory he takes a page from Carey’s father “protect those you love, annihilate everyone else. Will Denton be able to hold back a shifter invasion with his friends or will he have to ask for help from the one man who makes him thinks happily ever after might be possible?


Banded Brother



To Have A Human (Book 1)

To Catch A Croc (Book 2)

To Enchant an Eagle (Book 3)

To Bite a Bear (Book 4)

To Kiss A Killer (Book 5)

CONTENTS



To Have a Human

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven


To Catch A Croc

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Epilogue


Talan’s Treasure (Sample)

About the Author


Dedication



With much love to my shifter fans

Chapter One



Carey Gale finished his guitar riff with a quick flick of his fingers, sending the crowd screaming. He loved feeding off the energy of a live audience.

The acoustics in Club Feathers were better than most of the small bars they’d played in, and the owner gave them free drinks.

“Thank you, everyone, for coming out tonight. We’re Banded Brothers, and we look forward to seeing you again in two weeks.”

Carey bowed to the crowd and waved a hand to indicate his bandmates. In his peripheral vision, his friends were bowing.

Thunderous applause filled the bar and a chant of “Next week, next week” went through the crowd. Carey waved again, then went to the side of the stage to kneel by his guitar case and place his instrument inside.

“I think they liked your new song.” His bandmate Eaton Franks crouched beside him, his bare chest soaked with sweat. Eaton’s golden brown hair gleamed under the lights, the same color as his feathers when he was in his eagle form.

Carey nodded. “Yeah, but I think I was playing different tracks from Denton.”

“That’s because you’re a show-off,” Denton teased.

Carey looked up to see Denton’s eyes shift to reptilian for a second, and he froze, wondering what his friend sensed. “You smell something?” Ducking his head, Carey cast a quick glance around the club, hoping to spot any danger before it found them.

“Mostly cat shifters,” Denton said in a low tone. “I thought I scented a wolf for a bit, but it’s faint.”

Even in his human shape, Denton’s crocodile nature gave him a better sense of smell than either Eaton or Carey possessed.

“I didn’t see any wolves.” Carey always kept an eye out for wolves since they tended to be unstable.

“I don’t want to alarm you guys, but there’s at least three cat shifters here, and a wolf just left,” Harris Bender said. He crouched down beside them, cradling his bass guitar like a baby.

Bear shifters had a sense of smell seven times that of the average bloodhound, and Carey had never known Harris to be wrong. He and Denton had always been the first level of alert for their group.

Carey nodded. “Denton already said.”

His friends were leery of other shifters since none of them was affiliated with an official shifter family. The four of them had formed an unofficial pack with Carey as the leader, despite his human status.

“If no wolves are going to attack, I need a drink!” Carey declared. He snapped his instrument case closed and left it behind for Denton to put in the van. Carey and Eaton set things up; Denton and Harris were in charge of tearing them down.

As he headed for the bar, Carey spotted Eaton flirting with a fan. Eaton was always the personable one with the audience.

Carey had the knack of recognizing shifters even when they were in human form. It came from a childhood of hanging around with nonhuman friends. Shifters always moved a little too smoothly, a little more gracefully than everyone else.

The crowd slowed Carey’s progress toward that desired drink. He pushed through, nodding and smiling to fans as they came to congratulate him on his performance. For Carey, the best part of playing to a live audience was meeting people afterward and getting feedback.

Finally free of the bulk of people, he slid onto the closest barstool.

“I hear they have a great selection of imported beer,” a deep voice said behind him.

Carey turned to see six foot–plus of lush shifter goodness. The man’s dark eyes scanned Carey as if he were a favorite treat and the stranger wanted a bite. His midnight hair, cut short, yet long enough for a good grip, sent several hot scenarios rushing through Carey’s brain.

Work was over—time to play.

Carey let his gaze slide all over the delicious man. Cat shifter would be his guess. “Can I buy you a drink?” He nodded toward the bartender.

“I’d rather just take you home and fuck your brains out.” The man didn’t even blink while he uttered the outrageous pronouncement.

“Hmm, a direct kind of guy,” Carey said. “I like that. But I never go home with anyone if I haven’t tasted the goods first, not to mention I don’t even know your name,” he added pointedly.

The guy’s laughter looked good on him. Big, tall, and intense, he probably didn’t laugh half as much as he should.

“Forgive me, I got sidetracked by your half-naked body. I’m Broden Lyall.”

“Carey Gale. And I object to the half-naked thing. My shirt is still on.” Unbuttoned all the way to expose his body, but still on. Eaton was the exhibitionist in the band.

“Barely.” Broden slid one long finger down Carey’s six-pack abs. “I hope you don’t think I was objecting.” His trail ended at the top of Carey’s jeans, where he hooked a finger through the front belt loop and yanked Carey closer until their groins touched.

An embarrassing whimper left Carey’s throat. Broden smelled like something wild and delicious, and Carey could feel his heat through his thin shirt.

“I’m a bit sweaty,” Carey protested weakly as he locked his knees to keep from tumbling into an inelegant heap at Broden’s feet.

“I like sweaty,” Broden growled. “It makes me want to lick you all over.”

Carey’s cock hardened. He had never been so turned on by someone so quickly before. He didn’t generally pick men up at bars, but Broden was going to be an exception.

Broden’s nose twitched before he pinned Carey with a predatory expression. “I see you like that idea too.”

Carey groaned as Broden pressed his crotch against him.

“Do you know what I am?” Broden whispered in his ear.

“I’m guessing a feline shifter of some kind,” Carey replied, rubbing his cheek against Broden, marking him like a cat. He couldn’t hold back a laugh when Broden jerked back.

“And you’re not scared?” Broden searched Carey’s face as if trying to catch him in a lie.

“Nope. Kiss me,” Carey demanded.

Broden captured Carey’s lips without hesitation—tasting, licking, conquering Carey’s mouth. Heat flashed through him as if a flamethrower had scorched his insides. It took all his resolve not to climb the man like a tree and hump against him in front of the entire bar.

When they broke apart, panting replaced words for a minute.

“How’s that for a sample?” Broden asked.

His wet lips distracted Carey, who yearned for another kiss. “Um… it’ll do,” he managed to say once he realized Broden was waiting for an answer. Carey licked his lips to belie his words. Damn, the man tasted good!

“Go tell your friends you’re leaving.”

Broden turned Carey and shoved him toward his bandmates, who were all watching him with great interest. Carey didn’t live like a monk, but he rarely went home with strangers—his father had taught him better than that. This time, though, he couldn’t resist the urge to follow Broden like a lost puppy looking for a new home.

Carey made eye contact with Harris, who raised his eyebrows at him. A shrug and a bashful grin conveyed all that he needed to. Carey made the motion that he’d call later, and Harris nodded.

Carey turned back around to find Broden watching him with amusement.

“All done?” Broden asked.

Carey nodded. “If I don’t call my friend Harris in a few hours, he’ll get worried.”

Harris wouldn’t really, but it was never a good idea to tell a stranger that no one would notice if you vanished for a few days. It wasn’t that his friend didn’t care; Harris just knew Carey could take care of himself.

Even without weapons, Carey had lethal skills. His father had made sure that Carey could handle any situation with or without a gun to back him up. Or, as his father liked to say, “A pretty boy like you needs to know how to take a big man down, because everyone is going to want into your pants.”

His father might not be the most diplomatic person, but he’d taught his son everything he knew and had saved Carey’s ass more than once.

Broden placed a hand on Carey’s back to guide him through the crowd, but he didn’t try to speak until they left the noisy club behind. “Your band is really good. I especially liked that last song.”

“Thanks!” Carey smiled. “We’re getting better. We’ll never hit it big, but we enjoy playing in the clubs. There’s cheap liquor and a friendly audience.”

“Why don’t you think you’ll ever go big?”

Carey shrugged. “I’m not saying that we’d be topping the charts otherwise, but we’re not really committed to our musical careers. I like computers, Harris is a painter, Eaton is getting his degree in quantum physics or something, and Denton is into landscape design. Music is our passion, but it isn’t our life. In order to make it big, you need it to be both.”

They walked along the quiet street, away from the club. Only a few cars passed, indicating the lateness of the night. The cool air made Carey shiver. He’d left his jacket on the stage when he’d stripped it off during their performance.

“Here.” Broden settled his own large jacket across Carey’s smaller shoulders, engulfing him in the shifter’s residual body heat. “I always forget how cold humans can get.”

A snide comment danced on the tip of Carey’s tongue, but the chance of a hot night with Broden had him keeping the words inside. Maybe Broden didn’t mean to sound prejudiced, so no reason to jump to conclusions.

“It is cold out,” Carey agreed, snuggling into Broden’s jacket.

“What do you do with computers? Programming?”

“Something like that.” More like deprogramming.

That was a world of discussion Carey didn’t want to have with a stranger. His hacking skills weren’t something he told other people about. He used them for the benefit of organizations, to check out firewalls and verify security, but most people heard the word hacking and immediately thought Carey was into espionage or willing to break into bank accounts and funnel money. Neither was a discussion he intended to get into with his fuck of the night, no matter how nice the guy seemed. The less information he shared, the fewer the things that could go wrong. “Let’s not talk about me. Let’s discuss where we’re going so that you can fuck me.”

They’d been walking for a while and had passed most of the vehicles parked on the street.

“I live right over there.”

Broden pointed to a tall modern building across the street. Carey had watched them construct the luxury condos a few years ago. They appeared to be well-built, if a bit soulless.

“Nice.” Looked like he was getting lucky in style.

They crossed the street, and Broden used his access card to open the main door.

Carey approved of the security. He could crack the code himself in a few seconds, but it would keep most people out. As they crossed the lobby, he automatically checked for exits. Carey kept his hands to himself in the elevator as Broden pushed the 10 button. You never knew what people might do with elevator video recordings. Carey never put himself in a questionable position where he’d have to access and erase security footage for something so minor.

Once the elevator stopped, Broden led him down a hallway with doors spaced a good distance apart, so the units must be quite large. Stopping halfway down the corridor, Broden then unlocked the door and pushed it open. He motioned Carey forward. “Here we are!”

Broden’s apartment surprised Carey. The place had an unused feel to it, as if Broden never stayed there. High-grade leather furniture, polished wooden floors, and pieces of art glass filled the condo. Carey wanted to take the gorgeous shifter to his house and show him what a real home looked like. The Victorian mansion his grandmother had left him held all the character and warmth that Broden’s beautiful but empty living space lacked.

“I don’t spend a lot of time at home,” Broden said, as if reading Carey’s mind.

Carey shrugged it off. It wasn’t like they were picking out china patterns. If the man wanted to live in a sterile, personality-free abode, Carey wouldn’t point out the flaw. For their purposes, they only needed a nice bed and some lube. Luckily shifters didn’t spread disease, so a condom was optional.

Deciding actions were better than words, Carey stripped off his shirt.

“Not much of a talker?” Broden asked, his gaze followed Carey’s motions.

“No, I’m more of a doer. What about you? Want to do me?” Carey stepped closer until they were almost chest-to-chest.

“Oh definitely, honey,” Broden purred.

Bingo—he had the big kitty’s attention. “Don’t be shy. Let me see what you’ve got.” It was possibly the worst line Carey had ever used, but when Broden removed his shirt and exposed miles of sexy muscles, he had to admit it worked. Carey’s erection hardened against the fly of his extremely tight jeans until he worried about his circulation.

Broden’s nose twitched and a wide smile crossed his handsome face. “Oh honey, I want you too.”

Carey let out an unmanly yelp as Broden picked him up then slung him over his left shoulder like a sack of flour. “Hey!” he protested.

Broden slapped his ass. “Hush.”

Hush?” Carey wished he’d brought his knife—Broden’s broad back would make an excellent target. He didn’t have long to anticipate the shifter’s death, though, because Broden rushed down the hall and dropped him onto a large bed with a big fluffy mattress.

Broden’s eyes glinted with satisfaction. “Hmm, just as I suspected.”

“What?”

“You look amazing in my bed.”

Before Carey had the chance to share the smartass comment hovering on his lips, Broden had yanked off Carey’s shoes and tossed them over his shoulder.

“Not a neatnik, I see.”

“Not when I’ve got better things to do than lining up your sneakers.”

Broden took off his own shoes before removing the rest of his clothes without fanfare. Carey would’ve commented on the lack of romance if a surge of lust hadn’t choked him.

“I must’ve been a really good boy in another life,” Carey said, his gaze focused on Broden’s erection.

“Come take your reward, then,” Broden coaxed.

“Mm-hmm.” Carey made gimme motions with his hands, his mouth already watering at the thought of tasting the liquid beading on the tip of the large mushroom-shaped cock head. He’d never considered himself a size queen before, but he might have to revisit that notion. After Broden, he might be ruined forever.

Broden stalked toward to the bed. Traces of the animal inside rose to the surface as his eyes glowed with a feline light and his steps became predatory. When he got close enough, Carey went to his knees and crawled to the edge of the bed. Without waiting for permission, he wrapped a hand around Broden’s thick cock. Peeking up through his long lashes, Carey swallowed him down to the root.

“Oh Jesus!” Broden exclaimed. “I’ve never had anyone take all of me before. Yes, suck me!” Despite his rough tone, Broden placed a gentle hand on the back of Carey’s head and slid careful fingers through his hair.

Carey increased his suction until Broden tightened his grip to hold him still. “Stop. I want to come inside you.”

Carey made a noise of protest before he pulled off. “But I want to taste you,” he complained.

Broden groaned. “As much as I’d like to have you swallow me down, I want to fuck you even more.”

With quick, efficient motions, Broden divested Carey of the rest of his clothing. It took a little effort to peel off his pants, but Broden applied himself to the job. When he’d finished, he paused to admire his handiwork. “Nice. You’re pretty all over, aren’t you?”

“I’m glad you think so.” Carey got his fair amount of attention, but since his three best friends were drop-dead gorgeous, he’d never really thought much about his own looks. From the expression on Broden’s face, the man didn’t find any faults.

“There’s lube in my nightstand.” Broden pointed at the small cabinet next to his bed.

“I’m on it.” Carey leaned over to reach the drawer and yanked it open. He gave a shout of success. “Found it!”

Broden snatched the bottle from Carey’s hand.

“Hey!”

“Your ass is mine tonight,” Broden insisted. “Roll over, beauty.”

Carey snorted. “I think I preferred honey.”

“And I think I prefer you on your knees and offering me your ass,” Broden countered.

Carey made a big production of sighing before he rolled over.

Broden slapped Carey’s butt. The sound echoed in the bedroom.

“Hey!” Carey objected.

“Sorry, I can’t resist smacking something that fine.” Broden grinned.

“Less smacking, more fucking.”

“Patience, sweet.” Broden rubbed the red spot he’d caused.

Carey almost said something sarcastic, but the happy sound of the lube top popping open stilled his words. He didn’t want to discourage Broden—he had the uneasy feeling that the man had enough control to withhold sex just to teach him a lesson.

“Easy.” Broden circled Carey’s hole until Carey pushed back against the finger taunting him.

“In me, now!” Carey insisted.

Broden didn’t answer. Instead he slid one finger completely inside and crooked it until Carey bucked beneath the attention.

“More!” A second finger joined the first, then quickly a third, and Carey moaned, “I need your cock.”

“I’ll give you what you need, don’t you worry.”

Carey relaxed as Broden’s erection pressed against his hole. “Now.”

Broden sighed as he slid inside. “You feel so good. Better than anyone, ever.”

“Flatterer.” Carey groaned.

Laughter puffed air against Carey’s skin as Broden rubbed his face against Carey’s bare shoulder. “Are you scenting me?”

“Damn straight. When you leave here, you’re going to reek of me for days.” Broden gave a growl of satisfaction. He pumped in and out of Carey as if his life depended on Carey coming without a touch.

“Keep that up and I’m not going to last,” Carey protested.

“Good. Come!” Broden bit Carey’s shoulder, sending him over the edge.

“Oh crap!” Carey cursed as cum spurted from his cock. Broden groaned, and Carey felt wetness flood his channel.

Finally, with a sigh, Broden pulled out and fell onto the mattress beside Carey. “I knew you’d be a sweet fuck.”

“Glad I could prove you right,” Carey gasped. His heart hammered in his chest as he came down from his orgasm. His shoulder hurt from Broden’s bite, but his body ached deliciously.

“Give me some time and we’ll do it all over again,” Broden said.

Two hours later, Carey felt only a little guilty for sneaking out while Broden still slept the sleep of the well fucked.


Chapter Two



Broden looked up from his paperwork to find his second-in-command, Isaac Graham, standing in the doorway. “You vanished last night with that pretty singer,” Isaac teased.

“Yes, I did. He was tasty too.” Broden grinned. His inner jaguar swished its tail in agreement. He suppressed his annoyance over waking up alone. He shouldn’t have expected a flirty singer to hang around until morning. At least he knew where he could find the man in a few weeks—if he didn’t hunt him down sooner.

“Was he as sweet as he looked?” Isaac asked.

“I marked him as mine,” Broden confessed.

“You marked him? Seriously? But… but he’s human!”

As a puma shifter, Isaac rarely showed concern over anything. People who bugged him tended to decide they had other places to be.

“I know.” Yet Broden couldn’t help who his jaguar picked. The beast had never chosen anyone before, and he couldn’t believe his animal half had chosen wrong. Memories of the taste and feel of Carey had haunted him all day, and he couldn’t wait to claim his future mate again soon.

“You can’t bond with a human,” Isaac objected.

Broden growled. “I can choose whoever I want, and I want this man.”

Isaac sighed. “You better hope he’s tougher than he looks.”

“Are you telling me you don’t think I can protect my mate?” Broden stared at his beta in amazement. A low growl rolled up his throat and he could feel his canines beginning to lengthen.

“No. Of course not,” Isaac took two slow steps backward. “I just want you to be careful.”

“Is there anything else you need from me, or are you just goofing off?” Broden snarled.

“We need to hire a new computer hacker. Tony quit. He said our expectations were too high.”

“Damn it.” Broden slumped against his desk. It was difficult to find good computer people. They tended to be more willing to hop onto the next, better-paying job than stick around, especially hackers. “Who’s taking over his position?”

“That’s the other problem. We don’t have anyone. Tony was our best security guy. The others aren’t anywhere close to him in skill.”

“We’ll have to hire outside.” Broden drummed his fingers on his desk. To have someone else just step into Tony’s job could be difficult. They’d have to get security clearance for any new employees, and that took time. “Do you know of anyone with top security clearance who might be interested?”

If anyone could find a replacement, it was Isaac. He was a connector—the type of person who always knew someone who knew someone who could do a job. Which also made him an excellent beta.

“I’ll call around and get back to you. I just wanted you to know about the situation,” Isaac reassured him before leaving.

Broden sighed, resisting the urge to pull his hair out by the roots. He needed a cut. His hair grew so quickly he should have his barber on speed dial. Idly he wondered if Carey would like it longer. Broden frowned as he considered his pride’s reaction to a human alpha mate. They’d better fall in line with his choice or there would be serious repercussions. Broden had no intention of dropping Carey. They might have only had one night together, but his jaguar had decided on keeping this human and wouldn’t be denied.

Annoyed that his brain kept circling back to Carey, Broden returned his attention to his paperwork. He had to focus and break down their current contracts to see how many people they needed to fill the future jobs they had lined up. With the increased sophistication of global hackers and thieves, they never ran out of work. Spotted Cat Security specialized in breaking into companies and exposing their security breaches.

They snuck through security systems both physically and electronically, with Tony being their main hacker. However, with Tony’s abandonment, their electronic surveillance would stall until they found a new employee with mad hacker skills—a difficult position to fill. However, if Isaac could find a replacement, that person could train people to assist on the easier jobs. Unfortunately, hackers and security clearance didn’t always go well together.

Broden plowed through his paperwork, trying to allocate resources. He got lost in his calculations and looked up in surprise when Isaac rushed back into the office.

“I called around and heard some rumors about a guy who can hack into anything. Apparently security is his specialty. My contact is checking to make sure it’s all right to give me his number. He sounds like the perfect guy if we can get him on board,” Isaac said.

Broden nodded. “Great.” He tried not to panic as he contemplated letting someone else into their system. Alphas didn’t panic, at least not where anyone else could see them.

“He’s human,” Isaac warned.

“Humans can be useful, just not as bodyguards or with break-ins. They’re just too weak to match a shifter if there’s a confrontation. However, that doesn’t mean they can’t be helpful with computers,” Broden admitted.

Isaac gave Broden an odd look. “Aren’t you worried about your boy? He’s human. You think he’s weak?”

Broden shrugged. “Maybe, but I can take care of him.”

He would do everything necessary to keep his mate safe. Humans were fragile and needed special care, but Broden figured he could protect one beautiful human.


* * * *


Carey crouched behind the low stone wall, his gun raised. Leaves rustled in the light breeze, covering the sound of anything approaching. They were out there; he just had to be patient. His father had taught him that when dealing with the enemy, patience was more than a virtue. Sometimes it saved your life.

A slight noise had Carey lunging to the right. Claws scraped along the wall where he’d been hiding moments before. A screech pierced the air. Spinning around, Carey shot the bird, laughing when a blue blot of paint splattered across one large wing.

“Gotcha,” he said in a low voice.

A growl made him leap forward. Snap!

“Oooh, vicious,” Carey taunted as adrenaline pumped through his system. He hadn’t realized he’d gotten so close to the water.

The ten-foot freshwater crocodile growled again before crawling back into the underbrush. Light brown in color, it blended smoothly with the tall grass and all but disappeared in the shadowy water.

“You’re a cheater, Denton,” Carey called out.

Brush crackled and snapped behind him. “Crap.” Carey ran.

He might be able to roll out of the way of a croc, but the grizzly tramping through the underbrush could accidentally crush him. Grinning, he tucked his gun in his waistband holster before jumping, then pulled himself up onto a low-hanging branch. He climbed to the top, spun around, pulled out his weapon, then shot a paint pellet at the bear’s wide shoulders. Then he flipped off his perch and nailed the croc on the nose as it slid out of the greenery.

“The human wins again!” Carey shouted, dancing in a little circle like a football player who’d just made a touchdown.

The croc transformed into a black-haired, green-eyed man who stood six two in his bare feet. “I hate it when you shoot me in the nose,” Denton Stills complained, brushing at the blue paint coating his face.

“I just like to hit the biggest target,” Carey teased.

Denton scowled. “Funny.”

“I know.” Carey bowed to his friend.

“At least you can see your paint,” Harris Bender complained, pawing at his back. At six three and built, Harris resembled his bear form in size if not in hairiness.

“I can’t believe you’re pouting.” Carey laughed. A pouty face looked odd on the big, muscular man.

The eagle swooped down and landed before Carey. In a showy flash of gold, the bird changed into a five-foot-ten man with brilliant golden brown hair and eyes. Blue paint covered his entire arm and dripped down the side. He gave the mess a rueful look. “Good shot, Care!”

Carey grinned at his friend. Eaton Franks never held a grudge. He’d been Carey’s friend since second grade when an arm cramp had caused the adolescent eagle to fall from the sky straight into Carey’s sandbox.

“You haven’t lost your touch,” Denton reluctantly agreed.

As his friends pulled on their clothing, Carey relished his win. They might be shifters with enhanced abilities, but Carey had been training to shoot people since the age of five, when his father had given him a set of laser guns and tracked him through the forest.

Raised by a single father who lived and breathed Special Forces, Carey knew before he was ten how to sneak up and disarm an assassin. However, in a fit of rebellion, Carey had gone into computers instead of joining a military group, but that didn’t stop him from wanting to keep his skills up to date.

Once they were all dressed, they piled into Denton’s jeep and headed back to the cabin. The property belonged to Carey’s father, but since he never stuck around for long, Carey and his friends could use it whenever they wanted.

Despite the fun Carey had with his friends, as soon as the adrenaline faded, he began to miss Broden. The stupid jaguar shifter had gotten into his head somehow and didn’t seem willing to leave it anytime soon. How Carey had gotten so infatuated with the man in one night he didn’t know, but he had to admit the glow from their one time together hadn’t faded in the thirty-six hours and ten minutes since they’d parted.

Not that he was counting.

His phone rang, pulling him from his happy glow of winning. He ignored his friends’ good-natured grumbles as he answered the call.

A few minutes later, he hung up. “I’ve got an interview!” he said gleefully, waving his phone.

“Good. We need a new keyboard,” Harris said.

Carey nodded. All their extra money went to the band and to pay taxes on the house his grandmother had left him, where they all lived. “I’ll see what I can do.”

“Don’t steal it,” Harris warned.

“Or liberate it,” Denton said.

“Or anything like that,” Eaton added.

“I wouldn’t dream of it.” Carey grinned at his friends. “You’re all very suspicious.”

Denton smirked. “Uh-huh.”

“I was never convicted,” Carey reminded them.

Eaton laughed. “That’s because they lost the evidence.”

Carey shook his head. “Pesky computer files… shame how they disappear.”

The friends all exchanged looks and burst out laughing. Harris wiped his eyes. “Morons shouldn’t have left you alone with a computer.”

“Idiots thought a twelve-year-old couldn’t do anything,” Denton sneered.

Carey laughed. His friends were the best. Bantering among themselves, the quartet returned to the cabin to wash up.

Thinking back over his phone conversation with Isaac, Carey knew this was the sort of job that could lead to a much better revenue stream than his current one. He’d love to just do a job and not have to worry about drumming up clients all the time. Sometimes it was more effort to find customers than to do the work for them.

Carey picked up his guitar and strummed it absently while he considered his options. He’d have to nail the interview. Researching the company would be his first step; preparation was the key.


When he reached Spotted Cat Security, Carey didn’t know what to expect, but the silvery metallic office building that looked like something out of a spaceship wouldn’t have been on his list. Their website hadn’t done the headquarters justice. The building covered a good corner of a downtown block. If he took the job, at least he wouldn’t have a long commute from his house on Queen Anne. His grandmother had left him the mansion at the top of the hill, along with a nice plot of land, but the taxes were a bitch. Even with his friends pitching in, they barely covered the property tax bill.

Wow.”

As he entered the building, Carey automatically mapped out all the available exits. He imprinted the quickest way to leave before he even made it to the elevator. Following the instructions emailed to him, he pushed the button to the third-floor offices. According to the panel, there were fifteen floors in all. He had to wonder what all those people did.

The doors opened, revealing a beautiful reception area with a large gold-wood desk and an adorable shifter girl sitting behind it. A curved wall of office doors made a frosted glass ring along one corridor. Peeking around the other side of the reception area, he could make out a maze of desks without cubicle walls. So far, so good. He hated when he went places and saw a sea of cubicles.

Carey flashed the receptionist his best smile.

“Can I help you?” the girl asked, her eyes brightening at the sight of him.

“I have an appointment with Isaac Graham.”

The receptionist tapped a few strokes on her keyboard before asking, “Carey Gale?”

“Yep, that’s me.”

“If you’ll have a seat, I’ll tell Mr. Graham you’re here.”

“Sure thing.” He sat down on the cushy chair she indicated and pulled out his smartphone to entertain himself while he waited.

Within a few minutes, he’d lazily hacked through their firewalls and examined their inventory. They had a good stash of weapons and a long client list, and Carey wondered what percentage of workers were shifters versus humans. The company was owned by shifters, but because of their sensitive work, names and pictures of employees were not shown on their website.

“Mr. Gale?”

Carey looked up into a pair of friendly gray eyes set in a narrow face. “Yes, that’s me.”

“I’m Isaac Graham.”

Carey stood and shook the offered hand. “Nice to meet you, sir.”

He noticed the shifter moderated his grip so that he didn’t hurt Carey when they shook hands. Some shifters were overly cautious when dealing with humans. Carey hid his smile. Mr. Graham would probably be surprised by Carey’s strength—not that he planned to show his abilities too early.

“Call me Isaac, please.”

Carey nodded. “Please call me Carey, then.”

“Now that the niceties are out of the way, let me introduce you to our A-boss.”

“You can say Alpha. I won’t be offended.” Carey knew the rigid social structure of shifter organizations freaked out some humans. He certainly wasn’t one of them. How could he be when he was essentially the Alpha of his own small group?

Isaac’s smile widened. “Excellent. I heard you’ve worked with shifters before.”

“I haven’t really worked with shifters, but I live with three of them.” Carey didn’t give details. Isaac didn’t need to know the ins and outs of his personal life, and a lifetime of caution kept him from giving details. His father had drilled into his head not to share more than minimum details with anyone.

“Good, good.” Isaac nodded. “I just wanted to check. Some humans are uncomfortable working with my kind.”

“Some humans are idiots,” Carey said.

“True. That’s very true,” Isaac agreed. “Sadly, I can’t say there aren’t some nutty shifters out there also. I mean, you have the wolves….”

Carey nodded. “That’s one group anyone can point to and fairly assess they’re all bonkers.”

“Agreed.”

Isaac escorted Carey down a white-painted hall decorated with generic office artwork. Carey wondered where a person had to go to buy the same crappy stuff that went on cheap hotel walls and office suites, but then, Harris had painted most of the pictures in their house. Not everyone was lucky enough to have a resident artist.

When they reached the last door, Isaac knocked twice, then waited.

“Enter,” a deep voice called from inside.

Carey’s stomach did a nervous flip. The voice sounded awfully familiar….

When Isaac opened the door and waved him inside, Carey’s suspicions were confirmed. “You!” he exclaimed. Paranoia struck as he examined his hookup from the night before. Had their meeting been coincidental? Or had Broden hunted him, and horny, stupid Carey had fallen for the act?

“You left me!” Broden stood up from behind his desk and marched over to Carey.

“It was a one-night thing,” Carey said, defending himself. Broden’s anger was oddly reassuring. Maybe it hadn’t been a setup, after all. Maybe the gorgeous shifter had actually liked him…. “And my shoulder still fucking hurts.”

Rubbing the sore spot, he glared at Broden. He wouldn’t let him get away with not taking responsibility for the painful bite—the damn thing stung whenever Carey moved his right side, or took a shower, or even breathed wrong.

Broden’s smug expression wasn’t reassuring. “Let me see.”

Carey resisted the urge to hit him. That would probably be the wrong move if he truly wanted a job here.

Before Carey could respond, Broden ripped open Carey’s dress shirt, sending buttons flying everywhere.

“Shit! I liked that shirt,” Carey complained. It had been his favorite—polished cotton in a nice blue.

Eaton was going to throw a fit. He’d bought the top for Carey a few Christmases ago, telling him he needed at least one dress shirt to be civilized. Of course, Eaton had expected Carey to wear a tie with it too, but he’d rebelled at that final step in his corporate assimilation.

Apparently Broden didn’t get the “how to be a civilized person” memo. Maybe it was lost in his inbox, along with the “don’t molest potential employees” note from human resources.

Broden brushed a finger across Carey’s wound. “Beautiful.”

Carey whimpered as a jolt of desire slammed through him. Why he was so completely enthralled with this man, he didn’t know, but the slightest brush of skin between Broden and him sent sparks of need zapping up and down his spine.

“I had a different word for it. Besides, it sort of destroys my dating potential.” He struggled to sound sarcastic when he was actually turned on.

“It proves you’re mine, and you have no dating potential,” Broden snarled. The tips of his canines appeared between his lips. “You’re done seeing other men—and women too, if you swing both ways.”

Carey had opened his mouth to tell the bossy shifter just what he thought of the man’s opinion, when Isaac intervened.

“I take it I should interview him then?” Isaac asked.

Carey and Broden turned to face him, neither speaking as they stared back at Isaac.

“For the job? You know, ask questions that don’t involve naked couch time?” Isaac’s raised eyebrows showed he thought he was hysterical.

“I’ll interview Carey on my own,” Broden said in a rough voice. He put a hand on Carey’s shoulder, his thumb sliding across a patch of bare skin and sending a shiver through Carey’s body.

Unable to resist, Carey jabbed Broden in the side with his index finger, pleased when he got a grunt. The shifter was way too sure of himself, thinking he could manipulate Carey into doing what he wanted.

Dating, maybe, but mating wasn’t on Carey’s to-do list. Not in this decade. He didn’t need a mate to weigh him down and tell him what to do.

Isaac’s cynical gaze swept Carey’s exposed chest. “I don’t think that would be such a good idea. I mean you can sleep with him all you want, but a job interview should be professional. I don’t want you hiring someone with your little brain and regretting it later. No offense, Carey.”

“None taken.” Carey shrugged. At least one of them was looking out for the company. His respect for Isaac grew at the man’s insistence on someone responsible doing the hiring. Obviously Broden wasn’t giving the interview the right kind of attention. Carey would love a repeat of their first encounter, but he could use a job more. He also didn’t plan to get it because he was sleeping with the boss.

Carey’s phone beeped. He pulled it out of his pocket. “I think you need to beef up your firewall. I’ve been all over your system and there wasn’t much stopping me.”

Whoever had been their computer specialist before hadn’t done a very good job. Their security program was sophisticated, but anyone with an ounce of knowledge could find all its back doors.

The astonishment on their faces made him smile. They really had no idea about the technological capabilities of a modified smart phone. These obviously weren’t the computer crew. Carey wondered who else they had on staff.

“You’re hired,” Isaac said.

“We will of course run a background check on you first,” Broden replied. His smile told Carey that it was probably more for personal reasons than because he needed it for the job, but that was all right.

“I’d be surprised if you didn’t. You’ll find I have both shifter and human security clearances,” Carey assured him.

If there was one thing his father had taught him even better than firearms, it was how to design his own background check. Carey’s file showed whatever he wanted it to. However, the one these people would see was the one he’d set up with security clearance and a limited background filler, enough to look like he had a valid history, and with just enough facts to satisfy his curious kitty.

“Good,” Broden approved. “Now that that is out of the way, Isaac, you can leave us and go check Carey’s clearance.”

“Don’t you want to explain the job to me? I might not want it,” Carey warned. He might think Broden was the hottest shifter on the planet, but he wouldn’t ruin his life over a big cock, no matter how well the owner knew how to use it. He’d only agreed to interview because he wanted a steady paycheck for the group.

There were other options. More tiring options that involved drumming up business and a few that involved shady people with even shadier bank accounts, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t do things if needed. He took care of his people. They might be an odd little family, but they were his.

Broden wrapped an arm around Carey’s shoulders. “I’ll tell you all about it.”

“It doesn’t include having to have sex with the alpha,” Isaac piped up. “That’s completely optional.”

“Don’t you have references to check?” Broden growled.

“Yes, sir,” Isaac gave a snappy salute before vanishing out the door, laughter drifted after him.

Carey tried to put his shirt back together, but had to give it up as a lost cause.

“I’ll buy you a new one,” Broden promised. “Sit.”

Broden motioned toward a leather couch positioned at the side of the room away from the desk. The piece of furniture looked comfortable and well-loved as if it had provided haven for more than one impromptu nap and possible overnight sleepover.

“Is this like a casting couch interview?” Carey asked, waggling his eyebrows at Broden. “Should I strip to see if I’m qualified for the job?”

Broden grinned. “The job isn’t contingent on giving me sexual favors. However, don’t let that stop you from sleeping with the boss. Although I’m in charge of the company, I won’t be your direct supervisor, Isaac will. He’s in charge of day-to-day operations.”

“Good.” Carey hadn’t stopped kicking himself for not getting Broden’s number before. He’d had an attack of nerves in the middle of the night and had snuck away. Afterward, he’d regretted it. Broden deserved better. Unfortunately, unless he returned to Broden’s apartment and truly became a stalker, there wasn’t a way to go back and apologize.

“I was going to go back to the club to find you,” Broden said, breaking into Carey’s thoughts.

“You were?” Carey’s heart pattered faster—he really was wanted. Despite the evidence of the bite mark, he’d worried that Broden might regret his one-night stand with a human. Carey had more than one encounter where the friendly shifter lover from the night before refused to acknowledge him the next day. Harris generally hunted those men down and beat the crap out of them, but it had happened before.

Broden nodded. “You said you’d be there in two weeks. I was going to make sure I was, too. I’d like to date you on a regular basis and see where it might go. What do you think?”

“I didn’t think shifters dated. I thought you mated or not.” Carey couldn’t get a handle on Broden. The man had marked Carey as if he belonged to him, but then didn’t push to seal the deal. As none of his friends were mated yet, Carey didn’t know if this behavior was normal. Maybe the cat shifter was a bit unhinged. Or maybe he was looking for a way to convey his regrets about picking the wrong guy. Despite the satisfied expression in his eyes when he saw his mark, maybe Broden didn’t want a long term relationship. Carey could appreciate that. He needed to get his friends settled first and make sure their lives were on the right track before he could accept any man permanently in his life.

“I’m not like most shifters. I’m a jaguar, and the Alpha of my pride. I need to make sure any man in my life can handle being my mate. If you were a shifter, it would be easier because our animals would bond with the other. Since you’re a human, allowances must be made.”

Carey didn’t like how Broden acted as if being human was a barrier that had to be overcome.

He’d known enough shifters with humans-are-inferior attitudes that he didn’t have to accept it from a lover.

“I can already tell you that if you think you need to make allowances for me, then we aren’t compatible.” Carey let his disgust show on his face.

He wasn’t anyone’s second choice. With one last disappointed look at Broden and with his heart breaking, Carey stood to leave.

Two steps later, Broden grabbed him and spun him back around.

“Don’t go, babe. I didn’t mean for it to sound like that. I just want to get to know you better before I make any permanent decisions. I told Isaac you were mine and that I was going to keep you, human or not, but I do have to make sure you’ll settle well with the pride. Is it too much to ask for some time?” Broden’s pleading look twisted Carey into knots.

“I like you, too, but I’m not a consolation prize. If you can’t accept me as a human, we’re done. I won’t spend my life being looked down on by anyone.” Carey was at a loss. He really liked Broden and even though he didn’t want to be anyone’s mate right now, he couldn’t make himself let the man go completely. He had a feeling that if he quit seeing Broden, he would regret it for the rest of his life.

“Like I said, I want to date you. Take you out somewhere, not my apartment or a bar, and get to know each other.” Broden leaned closer and sniffed at Carey’s neck.

Carey laughed. Broden’s breath tickled. “If you want, I can strip down and you can smell me all over,” Carey offered. He winced after he spoke. Eaton always told him he didn’t need to say everything he thought. Harris claimed Carey had a defective brain-to-mouth filter. Carey suspected a person had to have one to start out with in order to break it. His daddy wasn’t the only reason Carey had needed to learn to hold his own in a fight.

Broden’s lips quirked at the edges. “I’ll restrain myself.”

Despite his words, Broden shoved Carey’s shirt off Carey’s right shoulder to access the bite mark. Broden lapped at the wound he’d left, healing the open sore. “Sorry I didn’t heal this for you. I got carried away, and you left before I remembered.”

“It hurts like a bitch. I almost asked Eaton to fix it, but that would have been too weird,” Carey explained. He’d never been romantically attached to any of his roommates—they were like brothers to him.

A low growl vibrated Broden’s body against him. “I don’t know who Eaton is, but he better keep his mouth to himself.”

The he-man act had never appealed to him. Why did Broden’s possessive tone make Carey shiver with desire? Maybe there really was some sort of cosmic-mate-matching service and they were the latest pair. Only time would tell if this would work out.

Carey raised an eyebrow at him. “I didn’t agree to be exclusive.”

“Trust me when I say I don’t share. Until we decide what’s between us, I’ll need you to see only me. I’m a jaguar,” Broden said as if that settled the matter.

“I didn’t think jaguars mated for life,” Carey said.

“Jaguar cats don’t. Jaguar shifters are like all other shifters—once we find the one we want, we keep them.” Broden’s smile told Carey the man already had plans for keeping Carey.

“I’m not dating anyone else at the moment. I’ll agree to be exclusive for now,” Carey caved. He didn’t want to fight, not when his entire goal was to get back into Broden’s bed.

“Thank you. Let me know if you change your mind,” Broden said. “So I can hunt down your new lover and convince him of the error of his ways.”

“I’ll be sure to do that,” Carey said dryly.


Chapter Three



Broden knew the second Carey exited the elevator and walked onto the third floor. The scent of honey and lemon always followed the man. An odd smell to make him hard and needy, but the results didn’t lie. Since Carey had begun working there a few days ago, Broden had never missed the opportunity to watch the man enter or leave a room. No one looked as good from all angles as Carey.

Not to mention the man did great work. Three banks now had permanent contracts with them after Carey easily hacked into their accounts to show them the error of their ways.

A hot lover who was also good for business—what more could he ask for?

He struggled against the urge to purr. After taking a slow calming breath, Broden turned and tried to focus on his spreadsheet.

“Did you say something, boss?” Isaac asked.

The smirk on his face told Broden his Beta needed his ass kicked…again. Ever since Carey had started on the job and showed all the errors their last computer guy had left behind, Isaac had been beside himself with smugness.

Not only did Isaac pat himself on the back for bringing Carey on board, but for finding Broden’s mate. Isaac said that he got the credit because Broden let Carey slip through his fingers.

Smug bastard.

“No, I didn’t say anything.” Broden let a little growl underlie his words to show his ire.

Isaac tilted his head submissively, even though the twinkle in his eyes didn’t dim. “You should see the workers pop out of the woodwork when he walks through the office, men and women.”

A canine pricked Broden’s lower lip. He sucked in a breath, appalled at the action. Only Carey affected him enough to lose control and actually fang out.

Isaac gave a strangled laugh.

“Oh, shut up. I can’t help it if he drives me insane. Have you seen my guy? He’s hot!”

“He is,” Isaac agreed. “You think he’s the one?”

Broden nodded. “He’s jumpy, though. He’s agreed to be exclusive, but not to commit.”

“Is it the rock star thing?” Isaac asked.

Broden shook his head. “No, I think it’s because I made a comment about him being human. He’s kind of sensitive about it.”

Isaac tilted his head to examine Broden. “Maybe you’re just insensitive. You’ve never had to actually consider someone’s feelings before. Everyone has always catered to you, especially in the pride. I think you need to step up your game. Do you know he remembered Julie’s birthday and he hasn’t even been here a week?”

Broden shrugged. “You know I don’t remember stuff like that.” He’d never been good with anniversaries and holidays—they always interrupted the flow of the regular day. Annoying.

“She’s been your assistant for ten years,” Isaac said, exasperated.

“So?” Broden wondered where his beta was going with his weird comment. It’s not like Broden didn’t know how long she’d been his assistant.

Isaac rolled his eyes. “My point is, he’d make a good Alpha Mate. He already knows how to get on everyone’s good side, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s easy on the eyes.”

They both watched the friendly blond exchange smiles with the receptionist. Carey brought out the best in everyone. Not to mention his shirt outlined a nice set of muscles. Broden longed to strip him naked and examine every bump with his fingers and tongue. Sometimes at night he had dreams about doing that exact thing.

He smiled as he visualized the mating mark still there beneath Carey’s shirt. Broden made sure to freshen it each time they made love. Eventually, it would become permanent.

“I worry he’s not strong enough because he’s human.” As much as Broden wanted to keep Carey forever, he worried the pretty man wouldn’t be able to cope with being a shifter’s mate much less an Alpha’s. Although a mixture of feline breeds formed their small pride, they didn’t have any humans in their group. He ignored the unhappy snarl of his inner jaguar.

“I think Carey would kick your ass if he heard you questioning his strength. I think he’s plenty strong for a human, and if he somehow gets into an altercation with a shifter, he’s got you, our pride, and that band of his behind him,” Isaac persisted.

Isaac had come to some of Carey’s concerts and was an avid fan. Broden suspected it was a particular crocodile shifter that really had his attention, but he didn’t point that out. Not yet.

Broden shook his head. “As much as I want to keep him, it would kill me if I hurt him.” That’s what it came down to. He didn’t want to harm the younger man. Humans were fragile. His father had drummed that into him years ago when he’d gone to a public human-shifter school.

Unfortunately, his parents weren’t around anymore to ask for advice. His mother had died in a plane crash and his dad died soon after from a broken heart. For shifters, it wasn’t just a figure of speech. When they lost their mate, their heart literally couldn’t take the pain.

“So that’s it. Despite claiming him as yours, you’re going to let him get away?” Isaac’s tone expressed both disgust and disbelief. “I never thought I’d see the day my Alpha was afraid of something.”

“I can rip out your throat before you make it to the door,” Broden said mildly.

Isaac cleared his throat. “It’s your decision, Alpha.”

Broden nodded. “Remember that.”

After discussing a few more items of business, Isaac rushed off to carry out Broden’s orders. He left the door open when he exited, leaving Broden with a clear view of Carey talking to a new worker. Broden had contracted the man for protection support, but his inner jaguar didn’t like how close he stood to Carey. No one but Broden should be near enough to mingle his scent with the clever human.

The new guy, Dan or Dean or something, watched Carey with a glow of attraction that made Broden’s animal half want to take the man down like a wounded deer and rip out his throat.

The Carey issue ate away at him. He needed to have the gorgeous man under him, preferably naked and wrapped around his cock. Memories of the last time they got together haunted him day and night. He had to have Carey, he just hoped it wasn’t a selfish move that would injure his pride in the end.

A loud purr rolled up his throat as he contemplated all the things he could do with the human. He imagined Carey’s robin’s-egg blue eyes darkening with lust as he licked all that beautifully tanned skin. Broden wiggled in his chair, parting his legs to make room for the erection as he contemplated the tan that extended all over Carey’s hot body.

Taking a deep breath, Broden ruthlessly forced his mind to focus on the contract before him. His erection would have to wait.

Linda came into the office, closing the door behind her and cutting off his view of Carey. Her natural reddish-brown hair, twisted in a complicated knot, looked like it took hours, but Broden had seen her put it up out of the way and pin it in place with a pencil and still have the same elegance. She had the natural grace of an old movie screen actress with the attitude of a drill sergeant.

“You look nice today,” Broden commented.

Linda looked up from her notepad and frowned at him.

“What? Can’t I compliment you?” Broden asked innocently.

“The last time you complimented me it was to cushion the blow that you’d set the coffee pot on fire,” Linda reminded him.

“That was what? Five years ago?” Broden asked.


Purchase this book or download sample versions for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-37 show above.)