Raul sat on the wall in the center of the Redwood Shifters camp and studied the new threesome in the pack. Greg and Patrick had always been cute together and now they had a third.
Greg, the Beta male of the group, was big and tough in both his human and dog forms. His human mate, Patrick, was a delicate young man with slender arms and pale brown hair. He was a nice guy, and his mechanical know-how when it came to running their only community vehicle was invaluable, but still, he wondered how Greg didn’t break his lover when they were getting hot and sweaty.
And now Greg had another mate—as did Patrick, of course.
Right now, the new addition, Carlos, was munching into a steak as he sat between his two life partners. Raul’s first instinct had been to chase him away. Carlos had come from the Rocky Mountain Shifters, sworn enemies of the Redwood Shifters. Not so long ago they’d kidnapped Aleco’s woman, Julie. Stealing away the female human who belonged to their Alpha had been a foolish move and Titan, their leader, had almost paid with his life when Aleco had gotten hold of him.
Luckily Julie was back safe and well. Right now she was pouring her two males iced water from a jug and appeared to have a glass of homemade wine for herself.
Raul was growing used to Carlos’ presence now. Hell, if he could accept Davey’s lion shifter into the group, what was the issue with a guy from another pack? Especially when that pack had beaten up the poor guy and left him for dead behind a trash bin.
But still, Raul couldn’t shake the irritable feeling that had been bugging him for days. It made his neck itch and gave him a bitter taste in his mouth. He couldn’t get rid of the ache in his chest or the frown line permanently etched between his eyes.
“Hey,” Flo said, rubbing at that very line with the tip of her finger. “What’s bugging you?”
He sighed and caught her wrist, brought her fingertip to her mouth and kissed it. “Nothing.”
“It is something.” She sat next to him, her small body flush with his.
He inhaled her scent. It was sweet and flowery, so different from Malec’s.
Oh, how he missed Malec.
“Didn’t you enjoy your dinner?” Flo asked.
Raul captured her hand in his and set it on his lap. “It was fine.” The sun was dipping to the west and shadows slid over the grass leading from the forest. Several small birds hopped about, catching a few crumbs Pedro had scattered. For a moment Raul wished he were one of them—such a simple life, being a sparrow. Just one body, no shifting, no worrying about mates and territory.
“Would you like something else to eat?” Flo asked.
“No.” He turned to her.
His woman was so pretty. They’d been together for as long as he could remember. And if she’d been beautiful when they’d met in her late teens, now, as she’d hit her thirties, she’d became even more so. It was as if her inner wisdom and knowledge glowed from her eyes. Her good, kind heart made her skin glow and her hair shine, and damn, she was sexy. Her curves were the stuff of his fantasies and her rouged, pouted lips filled his dreams.
A swelling sensation in his chest reminded him much he loved her. She was his life, his world, the woman he wanted to grow old with.
So why do I feel so damn empty?
“I miss him, as well you know.” Flo frowned. “It’s been two months.”
Her soft-spoken words were like an electric shock to Raul. Of course, that was why he was so freakin’ empty. Malec’s absence was taking its toll on him mentally and emotionally.
Of course he’d been missing him, had known that was the case. But clearly the two-month mark was as much as he could take without his second mate. No wonder seeing Greg, Patrick and Carlos together was tugging at his heartstrings.
“I know you do,” he said and squeezed her fingers. “It’s been too long.”
Raul pulled in a deep breath. “So what are we going to do about it?”
“I don’t know.” With her free hand she reached for a mug of herbal tea and took a sip. The fruity smell floated into the air around her. “His last letter was two weeks ago. He was happy, working hard, healthy.”
“But he made no indication of when he’d be home. Home here with us, his mates. This is where he belongs.”
She swiveled the toe of her boot in the dust on the ground.
“It was only supposed to be for a few weeks,” Raul said. He paused as an awful thought hit him. “Maybe he doesn’t want to come home.”
Flo snapped up her head to look at him. “Don’t say that.”
“But what if it’s true?”
Her eyes misted and she turned away.
“Hey, hey.” He wrapped his arm around her, hating himself for upsetting her. But they had to face the facts. Their third had left them. “Don’t cry.”
She shook her head and sniffed.
“Come on.” He glanced around at the pack. No one was taking any notice of them. “Let’s go to our cabin, sweet pea.”
She nodded and stood, still holding her tea.
Keeping her close, Raul led her to their cabin. Something inside him was raw and vulnerable. It was disconcerting to be with Flo and have that sensation. She was everything to him. And for the first five years together that had been enough.
Until, that was, he’d met Malec in the local town. He’d thought him a skinny, lost dog at the time, bought him a can of food and checked for a collar—there hadn’t been one. Malec had scarfed the food then trotted off, bushy tale in the air and acting as if he’d known where he was going.
So Raul had followed him, intent on telling the owner to feed him more and buy him an ID collar.
But what he’d seen had changed everything. Behind a restaurant, in the shadows of a storage shed, Malec had shifted from dog to human. It had taken all of three seconds for him to realize Raul had seen him change, then the color had drained from his tan face.
Raul had stared at the handsome man before him. His clear skin kissed by the sun, his hair as black and shiny as a slick of oil, and his lips soft and almost feminine. He’d also been naked, and even a straight man would have paused to admire his honed and toned torso, long, strong legs and biceps that were the perfect roundness to indicate strength but not be pumped up.
After several seconds of staring at each other, Malec had dived for a stash of clothes hidden behind a yellow crate. He’d dragged on denims, a grubby white T-shirt and a pair of sneakers then set off at a run.
The thought of never seeing him again had torn a hole through Raul’s core and he’d acted immediately. He’d leaped forward, shifting mid-air, and taken off after the man he’d fed.
Within seconds he’d caught him up, just as they’d reached an isolated patch of land between the shops and the forest. In an instant, by grabbing his denims in his jaw, Raul had wrestled Malec to the ground and stood above him.
Panting, he’d stared into Malec’s chocolate-colored eyes and in that instant he’d known they were mates. It was too strong an instinct to ignore. Too powerful to push aside.
Sure, he’d had a human female in his life and bed, and he wouldn’t be without her, but the gay feelings that had always been buried had burst to the surface the way a volcano erupts.
Without hesitation, he’d shifted into his human form, still pinning Malec. Though he hadn’t needed to—Malec had been submissive and still as he stared up at Raul. In later conversations Raul had learned Malec had been having the same lightning bolt of realization. That they were indeed mates and fighting it was futile. Love happened that fast for shifters.
Raul opened the cabin door and ushered Flo inside. She liked to show strength and calmness around the pack, being that she’d taken on the role of first aider and was known for being good in a crisis. Raul knew it would embarrass her to be seen upset.
But hell, she had every right to be upset. Malec had been the third in their lives for seven years and Raul knew damn well Flo loved him as much as he did.
He settled Flo in the deep chair she liked by the fire and went to the cabinet. “Would you like a brandy?” he asked, reaching for their one bottle of alcohol.
“No.” She shook her head.
“I think it would do you good.” He unscrewed the top then plucked for a small crystal glass from the shelf.
“No, Raul. I don’t want one.” Her voice was firm.
He frowned and put the glass back then replaced the lid on the brandy. When he turned to her he noticed a tear had escaped and was rolling down her cheek.
“Oh, sweet pea,” he said, rushing to kneel before her. He clasped her hands in his. “Don’t cry. We’ll fix this. We’ll go and see him. There’s bound to be a perfectly reasonable explanation for his extended absence. It’s not that he doesn’t love us anymore, I know it. I can feel it in my heart.”
She nodded and wiped the tear on her shoulder. It left a damp patch on her pale blue T-shirt. “I’ve never doubted his love for us,” she said. “Not from that first moment you brought him home and announced you’d mated. We’ve been solid and strong since then.”
Raul nodded. Flo’s ability to let Malec into her heart and their lives had bowled him over. She’d never been a jealous person, from what he knew, but it had still been a big ask.
“He loves you as much as he loves me,” Raul said.
“I know.” She untangled their hands and stroked his cheek. “It’s just…”
“What?” A coil of fear wound in his heart. He’d worried, quietly in the dark of the night, over the years, that she might feel left out as the human female in their ménage. Of course, she wasn’t—they adored her, worshipped her. Three-way love worked for them. “What aren’t you telling me?”
She glanced away.
“Flo.” He reached for her cheek and turned her to face him. “You’re frightening me.”
“I don’t mean to.” Her eyes flashed with uncertainty.
Raul’s heart squeezed. Something was going on and it was more than Malec not being home. “But you are. Scaring me that is. It physically hurts me to see you upset.” He banged his fist on his chest.
“Oh, Raul.” She drew her eyebrows together. “The trouble is I wanted to tell you both, at the same time.”
“Tell us what?”
She swallowed, pulled in a deep breath and appeared to gather some kind of inner courage or strength. “I’m pregnant.”
“You’re what?” Her words bounced around in his head. For years he’d been desperate to hear her say them, but they’d long since given up hope of having a child. Believed it not to be their destiny. “Say it again.”
“I’m pregnant. We’re going to have a baby.”
His focus blurred for a moment, his heart rocketing along. Then he leaned forward and kissed her, a firm press of lips that helped him keep his emotions under control.
“Are you happy?” she asked.
He cupped her face. “Happier than I could ever have believed possible.” He looked down at her belly. “Really? In there…our child.”
“I mean…” Questions spun in his brain. “How far along…when?”
“About nine weeks, I think, maybe a little more, so yes, it could be yours or Malec’s.”
“That doesn’t matter, it’s our baby, all three of ours.” He paused. “Wow, a new shifter in the pack. Hasn’t happened for a while.”
She smiled, a little shakily. “Will Malec be happy?”
“Of course, how could he not be?” Raul stood, set his hands on his hips and pressed his lips together. This new information changed things. He’d have to get their situation under control. “We’ll go, now, and see him. He’s only a few hours away by bus.”
Flo nodded, her brunette curls bobbing. “Yes.”
“Whatever is going on that’s distracting him so much, needs addressing. He’s got duties here now.”
“I don’t want him to be here out of duty.” She worried on her bottom lip.
“He won’t be. He’ll be here out of love. But he needs to know the facts.” His plan was falling into place. Malec was on the coast, in a small town. He’d gone to earn money, work for a while, so they had a nest egg to dip into when Flo needed to go and buy the things she liked and needed. Shifters could survive on very little, so the cash was mainly for her. But his trip had gone on too long. He must have saved enough cash by now. “He loves you. I love you.”
“And I love you, too, Raul. I always have and always will.” She pulled in a deep breath, her top pressing against the mounds of her breasts. He could make out her nipples. They were hard and their outline visible through the material.
God, she was beautiful. A familiar tugging sensation pulled at his belly and his cock tingled. His woman was carrying their child. Everything about her was so amazing. How had he gotten so lucky?
“We don’t have to go just yet, do we?” she said, hooking her fingers into the waistband of his denims and tugging him a little nearer. “Not right this minute.”
He shook his head. Having her hands near his cock made it heat and harden. As did having her face level with his groin.
“Good,” she said, popping the button on his pants. “That means we have time to celebrate.”