Love was never part of his plan…until it pounced.
With or Without, Book 4
As heir to an old and proud heritage, Aubrey Reynolds works and lives for his family, his employees and his pack. Agreeing to watch after a visiting werewolf is no big deal—until he discovers the newcomer is his mate. His very male mate…which is a very big deal, indeed. Revealing his sexuality was never part of Aubrey’s well-ordered life plan.
Much as he loved caring for his eight younger brothers, Matt Mahihkan knows it’s time to grab the opportunity to attend college in Atlanta. Realizing Aubrey is his mate should have been a delightful experience…except Aubrey treats him more like a dirty little secret than a lover. Yet Matt is a patient man. Aubrey can’t stay in the closet forever. Can he?
In time, they settle into a comfortable, if complicated, routine. Until a rogue werewolf with an axe to grind forces Aubrey to add to the wedge of secrets driving him and Matt apart, leaving Matt exposed to danger…and Aubrey forced to choose between love and duty.
Product WarningsContains color abuse with a really bad sense of fashion, a southern accent from hell, sex on antique furniture, a pouncing playful werewolf, obnoxious siblings, liberal use of a color identifier and impatient sex. No lightning bugs were harmed in the making of this book.
Copyright © 2011 J.L. Langley
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
Kill me now!
Matt laughed at the text message, startling a few of his fellow passengers exiting the plane in front of him. He enjoyed Aubrey’s texts.
After stepping to the side of the jet bridge, allowing other passengers to pass, Matt stood his suitcase up and typed back. Y? He hit send and got moving again. His excitement grew with each step. Not only was he about to start college, he was finally going to meet his new friend in person.
When he’d enrolled in Georgia State, his friend Keaton arranged with his family for Matt to spend full moons with them. On a whim, Matt had texted Keaton’s older brother, Aubrey, to introduce himself and ask about the weather in Georgia. They’d hit it off and communicated by text ever since. Aubrey had even volunteered his spare room to keep Matt from paying for an apartment on campus.
As Matt stepped into the terminal, tugging his suitcase behind him, his phone chimed again.
Regardless of what Keaton said, Aubrey’s sense of humor was great. Uh-oh. The grin slipped off Matt’s face. If Aubrey was still in his board meeting, he wasn’t greeting Matt at the airport. Darn it.
As if Aubrey had read his mind, the phone alerted Matt to another message.
Tara is meeting u @ the a/p. silver cadillac xlr-v. parking garage across from south terminal. gate s5. tall, drop-dead gorgeous brunette.
Tara was, according to Keaton, Aubrey’s fiancée and a former Miss Georgia. Hefting the bag farther up on his shoulder and dragging his suitcase, Matt searched for an exit. The place was busy and appeared to have nothing but gates to the planes. The only outside he saw led to the runways. Weird. Or perhaps it wasn’t. He’d never been out of New Mexico. Maybe all airports were like this.
Matt strolled up to the counter of a gift shop and waited for one of the two ladies working there to look his way. “Excuse me.”
A pretty black girl about Matt’s age smiled at him. “What can I do for you, sugar?”
“This is going to sound like a really silly question, but how in the world do I get out of here?”
She shook her head. “Not silly at all. I assume you mean how do you get to your ride?” Noting Matt’s nod, she pointed toward the left. “Head all the way to the end and take either a right or a left.”
“Thank you.” As he walked off toward his destination, his phone alerted him to a new text message. Matt didn’t recognize the number.
What r u wearing?
Huh? Matt blinked at the phone, sure he’d read it wrong. Wasn’t that how phone sex started? He wasn’t dating anyone.
This is Tara. I had 2 park far so I came in.
“Oh.” Matt responded, white polo, blue jeans, black sneakers.
She answered back with, Hmm, not real helpful. Other stats? I’m in a red Falcons ball cap, black tank & denim shorts. Black hair in a ponytail.
Matt typed, short black hair, 5’9”. Black duffle and black rolling suitcase.
Awesome. I’m just getting 2 baggage claim area. C u in a few. Look 4 me.
A little farther down the concourse, he spotted moving sidewalks and jogged toward them. “Cool.” People walked instead of waiting for the conveyor belt to move them forward, so Matt took a few steps. It was like traveling at supersonic speed, like he was Flash or someone. “Awesome.” Chuckling, he picked up his pace and took a couple of pics of the sidewalk with his phone. He got some video too. The end of the sidewalks came way too soon. Matt put his phone away and continued to make his way to the end of the terminal.
Up ahead, escalators led to the baggage claim. Matt stepped onto the escalator and checked his voice mail. There were no new messages. Since he had the phone out, he looked to see if his movie of the moving sidewalk recorded.
The rubber soles of his shoes squeaked to a halt on the metal grid at the end of the escalator and Matt tumbled forward. He flailed for several seconds and belly-flopped on the ground. He whacked his chin on the floor and his phone flew from his grasp. Ow. His luggage fell next to him, and the bag over his shoulder splatted on his back.
Before he could pick his idiot self up off the floor, the most wonderful scent in the entire universe tickled his nose. The woodsy aroma held a hint of spice and vanilla.
“Oh my God! Are you okay?” a husky female voice asked.
Matt’s c**k began to harden. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeper. A soft flowery smell drifted by as well.
When he opened his eyes, a pair of feet in black flip-flops with little skulls and crossbones on them filled his line of vision.
Oh crap. He sniffed again. The arousing scent grew stronger. His pr**k hardened into a full-blown erection, and that was saying something, as bad as his chin and his pride hurt. Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap. He wanted to roll himself in that heavenly aroma.
Mate, his mind whispered.
No, Matt’s conscience shouted.
His stomach clenched painfully, and he became lightheaded. “This can’t be happening, this can’t be happening, this can’t be—” Matt glanced up and up and up long tanned legs to a pair of ragged, blue-jean cutoffs covering curvy hips and hanging just below a tiny waist. Farther up a black tank top concealed generous breasts. Her hair was black and pulled into a ponytail beneath an Atlanta Falcons ball cap. “Tara?”
“Matt? Is that you?” She squatted, offering him a delicate hand. “Are you okay?”
“Feeling rather stupid at the moment but okay. Thanks.” Matt jumped to his feet, a little dazed, a little sore, a lot embarrassed and confused.
Tara retrieved his phone while he got his luggage and readjusted the duffle on his shoulder. That’s when he got his first look at her face. Aubrey was right, she was drop-dead gorgeous. Her features were as refined as the rest of her, and she wasn’t wearing even a hint of makeup. She wasn’t at all what he’d expected.
A sunny smile lit her face, making her even more beautiful. She epitomized femininity, even if she was every bit as tall as Matt. Up close, there was no doubt the spicy scent belonged to her. Heat suffused his neck and face.
“Out of the way, moron!”
Jolted out of his initial shock by a man barreling past, Matt glanced around and realized he’d stopped right in the middle of the walkway.
“F**k you, a**hole,” Tara called after the man with a Southern accent so charming Matt almost missed the fact that she’d cussed at the guy. Tara sighed. “People are rude. Are you okay, Matt?” She motioned for him to start walking and handed his phone over.
Come on, Matthew, pull it together. Placing one foot in front of the other, concentrating on not freaking out, Matt made his way to the baggage carousel. Swallowing down the lump in his throat, he smiled at her—he couldn’t not because she smiled at him—but over and over he kept thinking this can’t be happening. Yet it was. His eyes didn’t always see the way they should, but his nose worked just fine.
“Matt?” She studied him as the buzzer sounded and the carousel started moving.
“Sorry. I’m kinda dazed. I feel like a complete idiot. I was checking to make sure my phone recorded the moving sidewalk. I wanted to show it to my little brothers. I have eight brothers, and my younger brothers would think that was really cool and—oh my God, I’m babbling.”
She giggled and wrapped her hand around his forearm. “Don’t worry about it. If you’re sure you’re okay, we can forget about the whole thing.” She quieted for a few seconds and let out a low whistle. “I’m gonna smack Keaton right upside the head when I see him though. He didn’t tell me you were so adorable.”
Matt’s cheeks heated more as he watched a few bags move past. “Thank you.” She thought he was adorable?
“Nine boys, huh?”
“Yeah. I’m the oldest.” Matt’s bag appeared out of the opening, and he prepared to grab it as it came by.
She reached for the bag on his shoulder. “Let me help you carry some of this stuff. You look a little shell-shocked.” She dipped under the weight of the bag, and her eyes widened. But she straightened, determined to take it.
“It’s kinda heavy. I can get—”
Arching a brow, she took the rolling case from Matt. “Not a chance, gorgeous. You’re a guest. I’m getting these bags. You get the other.”
Matt retrieved the larger suitcase off the carousel and motioned for Tara to lead the way. It was silly letting her haul two bags when he only carried the one, but she wasn’t the typical delicate flower. He got the impression if he argued, she’d argue back. This woman had been Miss Georgia? “Um, thanks.”
“You’re welcome. How was your flight?”
“It wasn’t bad. I couldn’t figure out how to get out of the darned airport though.”
“Yeah, it’s a little strange. You have to go all the way to the end of the concourse to get to the terminal.” They headed out into the warm Georgia sunshine, and she pushed her ball cap lower over her eyes to block the sun. “Listen, it looks like Bree’s stuck in Macon. How do you feel about going to lunch with me before I take you to get settled into your new place?”
“Bree?” Blinking at the brightness, he tried to still the rapid pounding of his pulse. He wished his stupid bo**r would go away.
“Yeah, that’s what I call Aubrey.”
His wish came true. At the reminder of Aubrey, Matt’s erection dwindled like he’d jumped into a vat of ice water. It was bad enough that he didn’t know what to do about Tara, but how would Aubrey take the news that his fiancée was Matt’s mate?
“I’ll suck you so good you won’t know what hit you.”
Aubrey stumbled, catching the toe of his dress shoe on the thick burgundy carpet. His stomach tightened, and his d**k tried to perk up, but he kept walking. Carson Lopez could likely suck the chrome off a ball hitch if he put his mind to it. The man had a mouth like a dockside whore. To say Aubrey was tempted was an understatement. Not only was Carson slim, brunet and handsome—Aubrey’s type—but Carson was safe and had as much to lose as Aubrey if anyone found out about them.
Aubrey hesitated for a split second. No matter how badly he wanted to, he couldn’t. He had things to do, namely getting one Matthew Mahihkan settled in and ready to go to college next Monday.
They rounded a corner and strolled toward the elevator.
Carson leaned close and whispered again as they stopped in front of the inlaid walnut doors. “Come on, you want a quickie as much as I do. Admit it.”
Glancing at his watch, Aubrey hit the down button. “Ah hell, it’s not a case of admitting it, but I can’t, I’m sorry. I was supposed to be back in Atlanta two hours ago.”
Carson turned to face Aubrey and waggled his eyebrows. “I’ll make it worth your while.” His voice took on a singsong tone that made Aubrey chuckle.
“I have absolutely no doubt ab—”
“Ahem.” Carson scooted backward and his gaze strayed past Aubrey’s left shoulder. The scent of his lust took on a tangy, nervous quality. “CEOs at six o’clock,” he mumbled. Pulling his laptop case in front of his groin, he asked, “Did you rent a box for the Falcons games this season?”
Aubrey smelled the two board members before he heard or saw them. One was human, the other was the only fellow pack member in the company, Orin Boskie. Great. Just what Aubrey needed, a wolf who could smell Carson’s arousal. Oh well, at least he hadn’t let himself get worked up. As far as the other wolf was concerned, Carson was young and human. The wind could blow and get him aroused.
Aubrey caught the words “too young” and “untried” before turning his attention back to Carson. “Nah, last season Tara and I ended up staying at my place to watch the games more often than not. I decided it was a waste of money. Besides, my dad rented a box for company use again.”
“Reynolds. Lopez.” Ralph Katchum drew up beside them.
“Boskie. Katchum.” Carson nodded a hello.
Aubrey tipped his chin in acknowledgment. “Ralph. Orin.” He’d always been taught to call his elders by the more formal address, mister or missus—as were most Southern children—so the personal address made it much harder for the men to be dismissive. And hopefully it kept the fact that he was now head of Reynolds Inc. foremost in their minds.
“Gentlemen.” Sidling up to Katchum, Boskie bobbed his sandy-brown head and lifted the hand that wasn’t holding his briefcase.
Where the hell was the elevator? Aubrey had been cooped up with these two and their reluctance to agree on the new agenda all morning. He shifted his weight, leaning a bit closer to the green marble wall next to the doors. It shouldn’t be taking this long. They may be on the top floor, but it was a private elevator.
As if reading Aubrey’s mind, Katchum pushed the button. The newspaper he’d held under his arm fell to the floor in front of him. “Well, damn.” He began to stoop, but his knees popped and creaked, making him straighten back up.
“Here, let me get that.” Aubrey knelt to retrieve the paper. The big bold headline read, Dennison resigns after sex scandal. Skimming the page, Aubrey stood. James Dennison was a CEO of a rival company.
“Damned sad state of affairs.” Katchum pointed at the paper. “He was a hell of a businessman. A real asset to Glencorp.”
“Yes. Nice man too.” Aubrey had met Dennison a few times at fundraisers. Aubrey frowned and tore his attention away from the print, rolled the paper up and offered it to the older man.
Katchum waved it away. “Keep it. I’ve read it.”
“Thank you.” Aubrey tucked the paper into the open pocket of his laptop bag. “When did this happen with Dennison?”
“Where’ve you been? It’s been going on for the past two days.” Boskie scoffed and rolled his eyes. The reaction was more fitting to a teen than a fifty-year-old man. He must be spending too much time with his granddaughter.
Aubrey clenched his teeth. He’d been busy planning for the board meeting and Matt’s arrival. He hadn’t caught the stocks much less the news in a couple of days.
Boskie continued, oblivious to Aubrey’s reaction. “He got caught in his office with an intern. A male intern.”
Katchum nodded. “They were going to fire him for gross misconduct, but he resigned before anything could come of it. Such a shame after twenty-four years with the company. The board probably would’ve left it be if he’d been having an affair with a woman. Just last month one of the other CEOs was in the news for having an affair with his secretary and he wasn’t even reprimanded.”
“Serves him right if you ask me,” Boskie sneered. “The man is stupid. This is Georgia, not California. That stuff doesn’t fly here.”
The elevator dinged and slid open. Aubrey said a silent thank you. He hated listening to that crap. As the other men filed into the elevator with their backs to him, Aubrey closed his eyes for a moment. It wasn’t fair. If he remembered correctly, Dennison was unmarried. It wasn’t like he’d been committing adultery. That was big business in the South for you though. Aubrey willed his anger to recede and followed the others.
As the doors slid closed, Boskie cleared his throat and pushed the number one on the control panel. He focused his attention past Aubrey to Carson. Boskie was quiet for several seconds. His gaze strayed downward, lingered slightly and ambled back up. “How do you like being assistant manager here at the Macon Buchanan, Lopez?”
What the—? The hair on the back of Aubrey’s neck and arms stood up, making him suppress a shiver. The air was suddenly way too thick to breathe, and Aubrey cleared his throat. It’s coincidence.
“I like it very much.” Carson fidgeted, rustling the fabric of his suit. “The staff here is fantastic, a pleasure to work with.”
Aubrey rolled his shoulders to release the tension in them. Boskie may have his offices here, but he couldn’t possibly know about Carson’s sexual preference. Carson was as careful as Aubrey was.
“It’s always been my favorite of the chain as well.” Boskie brought his briefcase in front of him, holding on to it with both hands.
Shifting his laptop bag to the other shoulder, Aubrey took a deep breath. Inside the closed area, werewolf sense of smell was more of a curse than a gift. Katchum had applied a little too much aftershave this morning and Carson’s nervousness reeked in the small space. There was also a hint of arousal…and it wasn’t coming from Carson. Aubrey swallowed hard, trying to keep the surprise off his face. Good grief, he’d stepped into The Twilight Zone.
Somehow, Carson ended up right behind Aubrey. The heat of his body radiated against Aubrey’s back and a breath of warm air flowed over his neck. Boskie stared at them, but when he noticed Aubrey watching him, he looked away.
Why was Boskie acting strange? Aubrey’s palms grew sweaty, and his throat clogged up. Had he given himself away? He put distance between himself and Carson. This uncertainty wasn’t like him. All that talk about Dennison being forced to resign had him jittery. He tugged at his tie. He had to do something to cover the scent of his unease. “It’s hot in here.”
Katchum nodded. “It is.”
Aubrey glanced at Carson. He wore a blank expression and outwardly no one would know he was uncomfortable.
Stepping forward, Aubrey nearly mashed himself against the control panel. He needed space.
Finally the elevator stopped and the doors opened.
Aubrey couldn’t leave soon enough, but he allowed Katchum and Boskie to exit first. They moved aside for Aubrey and Carson to follow. Before the execs left, both turned and offered their hands to Aubrey to shake.
After Katchum made his escape, Boskie slapped Aubrey on the shoulder and stretched his neck, baring it slightly. The move was nearly imperceptible. No one watching would think anything of it, but Aubrey noticed the sign of respect. As Boskie left, he called over his shoulder, “Tell your old man I said hello and to give me a call. We should plan an outing of golf.”
“Will do.” Aubrey gritted his teeth. The asshole had just cut Carson, pretending like he didn’t even exist.
Carson sidled up to Aubrey again. “Let’s do golf,” he mocked quietly.
God, Aubrey hated golf. “Let’s not. Why do old men think golf is the end-all be-all to business associations?”
Laughing, Carson started them moving. His unease had evaporated entirely. “No clue. What is it you’re dying to get back to Atlanta for? You seem distracted.”
“I have to meet a friend.” Aubrey should ask Carson about what happened back there, but he wasn’t quite sure how to bring it up. Would Aubrey have even noticed Carson’s anxiety if not for his werewolf senses?
“Uh-huh.” Carson’s smile widened.
“Not that kind of friend.” Of all people, Carson should know Aubrey didn’t have those kinds of friends. It was safer that way. All the rest were one-night stands. No names, no ties. Aubrey liked it that way. Carson was an exception, but still he was only an acquaintance. They didn’t hang out or anything.
Aubrey’s phone chimed, indicating a new text. He pulled his reading glasses from his jacket pocket and put them on before taking his phone out.
The text read, OMFG! He’s gorgeous.
“Tara.” Aubrey had no idea what Matt looked like, but odds were good that since he was from Aubrey’s brother-in-law’s former pack Matt was Apache.
“Are you really going to marry her?”
“What?” Aubrey lowered his phone and gave Carson his full attention.
“Every time you mention her you get this huge grin on your face.”
He did? Aubrey shrugged. “Tara and I—”
His phone chirped again. He pulled it up and read it.
I really really like him. He’s a sweetheart. Which Aubrey had already figured out from the texts and Keaton’s glowing praise.
Aubrey rolled his eyes. “I have to go rescue Matt from Tee. She thinks he’s gorgeous.” He stuffed his phone back in his pocket and took his glasses off, doing the same with them.
Carson followed. “Ah. Don’t want someone honing in on your girl, eh?”
No, that wasn’t it at all. Aubrey waved to Carrie at the front desk and headed out the automatic doors. He wasn’t jealous. Was he? He didn’t think he was. What if Tee and Matt dated? It wouldn’t mean they wouldn’t want him around. “No seriously, I need to rescue Matt.”
Carson shrugged. “Oh, so it’s the other way around. Don’t want her honing in.” His voice held a hint of amusement.
Aubrey gawked at him.
Laughing, Carson smacked him on the shoulder. “I’m kidding. Oh man, you should see your face.”
Aubrey groaned. “A**hole.”
Carson laughed harder.
Stopping at the trunk of a black Jetta, Carson fished in his jacket pocket. The trunk of the car opened, and he turned his back to Aubrey to stow his laptop case. He shut the trunk and stepped closer to Aubrey. “Have fun with your friends. Maybe we can get together next time you’re in town.”
“Yeah, sure.” Aubrey waved and headed to his car. Jealous of Tee? Aubrey snorted. That was ridiculous. He didn’t even know Matt. He had an odd affinity with Matt, but they’d only talked through text messages. Aubrey couldn’t pick Matt out of a lineup or recognize his voice. Just because a person clicked with someone didn’t mean they knew them. Technically, he and Matt weren’t even actually friends yet. Not really…
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||Date Added: Wednesday 06 April, 2011
To be honest I was a bit gutted when I finshed With Abandon,... View Full Review
Rating: [3 of 5 Stars!]
I pre-ordered this book and was so excited when it finally b... View Full Review
Rating: [5 of 5 Stars!]
Long awaited new release in JL Langley's shifter series, I h... View Full Review
Rating: [5 of 5 Stars!]
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