“Please?” Jordan leaned forward on the sofa and gave her best imitation of what Ellie called “puppy eyes.” A soft squeaking protested Jordan’s wiggling on the leather. She knew her enthusiasm probably rivaled that of a four year old at Christmas, but she was so close to cracking Ellie, she didn’t care.
“No.” Ellie’s voice didn’t sound as sure as it had the first five times Jordan had asked the same question.
“I thought you wanted me to write this book on shifter mating rituals? Don’t you think I need to watch it? I mean, I can’t just write a book on your history, for your family’s records, based solely on what you tell me. I have to see it.” Not really, but she was not telling Ellie that and messing up her chance of watching something so cool.
Ellie frowned. “Well—”
“Come on.” Jordan huddled closer to the edge of her seat, almost falling off in the process, once again rubbing the leather and making it whine. “Look, I swear to you, I will be on my best behavior. I won’t do anything to call attention to myself. I will just observe from the sidelines. Heck, I’ll observe from the distance with binoculars.”
Ellie rolled her gorgeous blue eyes and ran her fingers through her short blonde bob, making the strands glimmer under the light of her sitting room’s lamp. “I don’t remember a single time you have ever been on your best behavior.”
That was true. Jordan’s mouth always got her into some kind of trouble, especially with the other faculty at the school where she taught.
“Okay. I pinky promise.” She lifted her hand, curling all her fingers until only her wiggling pinky stood.
Ellie bit her lip and groaned, still unsure.
“I know shifters are not exactly common knowledge with most of the world. But you have to admit that with more human-shifter interaction, it’s only a matter of time before you guys lose a lot of your history. I promise to write a specific detailed account. Nothing but the history behind this event.” Her heart pounded so hard. She wanted to shake Ellie and order her to agree already.
“Jorda-a-an!” With the way Ellie said her name, in that soft sigh of defeat, Jordan knew she had her. “If I agree to this insanity, you have to swear not to do anything to let anyone know you guys are there! You will get me in so much trouble.”
Jordan struggled and failed to stop the smile from splitting her lips. “I promise! I promise! You know I am dying to see this whole scenting ritual.” She rushed to say. “Now why is it such a big deal to keep this all quiet?”
“Because,” Ellie leaned back on her sofa and stared at the ceiling, “this is an old tradition. Males and females from all over will come together to meet each other, some for the first time. Kelly and Marco are going to see if they are compatible.”
“But they’ve met once, right?”
“Yes, at a family gathering some months back. They didn’t even get a chance to talk. From what Mom said, their eyes did the talking for them. Apparently, it was instant. It’s why we’re having this ceremony. Tradition dictates we have it yearly, and the family is hoping it works out for Kelly and Marco.”
Jordan frowned remembering Ellie’s cousin Kelly and the guy they’d kept referring to as her potential mate. She tucked a long strand of dark hair behind her ear. “I still don’t understand. How can you guys just allow some tradition to tell you who your mate is?”
Shit. Jordan had a hard time with anyone telling her what to do to begin with. It was why she loved being an independent woman.
Ellie’s smile was weak. “We are part of a pack, and my father is Alpha. As such, I need to follow rules like everyone else. You’re lucky you’re human and don’t have to worry about any of this. And we don’t allow the tradition to tell us who our mate is. This is like a first date.”
“In front of a whole bunch of people.”
“Who happen to watch to see if you hit it off?”
“And who’ll know who she has sex with at the end of the night.”
“Correct. Wait. What?”
“Sounds like the perfect date.” She snickered and almost choked on her wine.
“This is why I didn’t want you there. You, Emma, Nicole, and Karla are so going to get caught.”
“We won’t! We won’t. We’ll be super–spy, research ninjas. Quiet, but sexy smart.” She grinned.
“Oh brother,” Ellie groaned.
“Speaking of brothers. Are, um, your brothers going to be there?” What she really wanted to ask was if one particular brother was going to be there. God, she hoped not. The first time she’d seen Aric Wolfe, she’d been a thirteen-year-old with a crush the size of Alaska. One look was all it took, and her poor teenage heart had been in puppy-love for years. And though it’d been a crush for a long time, it had never gone away. In fact, with years, it had grown. She’d tried to date other men and rid herself of the idea that he’d ever look at a non-shifter for more than a friendship, but it was useless. With time, her attraction for him had grown deeper, into something she didn’t want to think too much about or it would make her hyperventilate.
Blue sparkles lit in Ellie’s eyes. “Yes, all my brothers will be there.”
Oh hell. “Then, yeah, I will hide off somewhere and never move a muscle. I promise.”
Ellie’s laughter, filled with unabashed delight, made her smile. “I still don’t understand why you’re so afraid of being around them.”
Yeah well, Jordan knew all about that super smelling-power shifters had. The last thing she wanted was for Aric to know how one glance at his body and those damn sexy muscles got her so turned on she’d likely start a fire. She could probably melt butter on her skin. “I think it’s best to keep my distance. I know your parents weren’t fond of their only daughter hanging with so many humans.”
Ellie shrugged. “It was either send me to regular school, or deal with packs of horny wolves hitting on their baby girl.” She grinned, grabbed her glass of wine, and sipped. “They knew humans don’t have our scenting or go into heat, so they decided to take the chance.”
Jordan drank her own wine, letting the fruity flavor slip and slide over her tongue. “Yeah, but I bet they didn’t think you’d end up bringing home an annoying, fat Latina for your new pet.”
Ellie rolled her eyes. “Who’s the wolf here, you or me?”
Good point. Ellie’s parents had cared for Jordan. A lot more than Jordan herself could ever understand. Even after all those years being so close to them and Ellie, she still couldn’t make any sense of why they done so much when her parents hadn’t cared at all. What was it about them that made them different? And there had to be some resentment in there. They’d practically adopted her.
“Alright. I’ve become like a second daughter since we became friends. That has to be annoying for them. I mean if they wanted more kids, they’d have had more the old fashioned way.”
Jordan found the whole shifter community absolutely fascinating. If it were up to her, she’d be all in their business trying to figure out how the whole animal-human thing worked.
“Why would you say they’d be annoyed by you?” Ellie’s face creased in a frown. “They like you. Heck, they love you more than any of their sons’ previous girlfriends. In fact, they like you more than most family we have. You’ve grown on them.”
Jordan snorted. “Yeah like fungus or a rash.”
“No, not like that. Like an unusual but lovely woman who needs a mate.”
“What?” She spit out the wine she’d had in her mouth. “Who said I needed a mate?”
Ellie laughed, put her glass down on the coffee table, and settled into the sofa with her feet under her. “My mother. She thinks you just need a strong man to help you realize what you are missing out on.”
“And that’s a mate?” Jordan coughed, trying to stop the choking. Her tummy churned with anxiety. She held Barbara Wolfe, Ellie’s mother, in high regard. But Jordan would never think a long-term relationship would fix her. Thinking of any kind of dependence on anyone made her feel slightly sick. She didn’t really trust most people enough for that.
“Yes. She was highly upset when I told her you broke up with your last boyfriend. She thinks you just haven’t been chased by the right one.”
Jordan continued to cough while Ellie giggled. “Mrs. Wolfe thinks I need to be chased?”
Well hell, maybe she was on to something. Chasing sounded fun. Usually Jordan was too prickly for men to make a move, unless they were sure of themselves. But even then, most of them turned out to be full of shit.
Ellie nodded, flipped on her back and stretched, rubbing her bare feet on the leather. “Of course, dad thinks you’re too independent and need a man to rein you in.”
Rein her in? What the hell was she, cattle? Tristan, Ellie’s dad, was so old school. “Yeah, that sounds like your dad.”
Jordan’s gaze jerked to Ellie’s face. The bemused smile on her was one Jordan had often seen when Ellie was up to no good. “Aric was present during these conversations?”
Ellie knew Jordan liked Aric to some degree. It’s not like she could hide it from her. The woman was a wolf. She could smell Jordan getting all kinds of turned on when Aric’s name popped up. But what she never told Ellie was how deep her feelings ran. That was something Jordan had trouble even thinking about.
Ellie’s eyes widened, filled with innocence. “Oh, yes.”
Fuck. Sweat gathered in her palms. Now her nerves were getting the best of her. Her stomach did all kinds of acrobatic flips. She’d have to ask or die wondering. And she was too curious not to know. “And what did he say?”
“It doesn’t matter. We both know you’re not looking for long term anyway. You like your independence.” She shut her eyes and sighed.
Ellie jerked her eyes open with a chuckle. “Fine, if you want to know, Aric thinks you are fine just the way you are.”
“Which means what?” She asked before she could stop herself. She’d always tried to control her interest in Ellie’s older brother, but sometimes Jordan’s hormones just ran away from her.
Aric. With his piercing dark eyes, eyes she swore begged her to strip every time he glanced her way. And that tall slightly tanned hard body filled with boundless muscles. So many muscles.
She cleared her throat. Visuals of running her nails down his six packs and nibbling on his belly button made her reach for her wine again. But it was the strong jaw and “I’ll eat your pussy really good” smile she couldn’t stop thinking about.
Ellie’s smile dimmed. “Aric said, in time, you’d find your mate and for everyone to leave you alone to decide your life yourself.”
Her hope deflated. It was what she’d always told everyone. Somehow, hearing that he’d said the same made her want to run to the liquor store and buy a barrel of wine.
A sharp pain pierced her heart, deeper and deeper until she wanted to cry. Though Jordan would rather dance around naked in public than admit her feelings for Aric, she had secretly continued to hope. Now, that hope was dead.
“That’s true. I can decide my life myself.”
She remembered thinking the same thing the night of her senior prom, until Aric had seen her. Memories flooded her mind. She’d walked down the hall in her sapphire blue dress to find him in the living room with Ellie. He’d given her a look she’d never forget. It was the kind of look she’d always wanted to see from him. And he’d lifted a hand to her face, caressed her cheek, and told her she looked beautiful. She’d almost melted into a blue spot on the floor. Her previous concern at going to the prom dateless with only Ellie as her companion had flown out the window. He’d been the only thing on her mind the rest of that night.
She cleared her throat, unwilling to think about Aric any longer. “So, back to this scenting ceremony, what exactly happens?”
“Well…” Ellie’s pale features turned a dark crimson with embarrassment.
Jordan started to worry about what went on. Would it be some rated R stuff? “Well what?”
“First, they start out as wolves and sniff each other.” She glanced at Jordan and bit her lip. “To see if the animals feel any kind of attraction.”
That made sense. Considering they were going to be mated forever, they needed to know if they were both compatible as humans and wolves, so nothing strange there. She stared at Ellie expectantly.
“They shift into their human bodies and scent each other that way too.”
If Ellie’s face turned any redder, Jordan would need to throw some water on her to bring her temperature down. “Wait, they’re naked after their shift, aren’t they?”
Ellie nodded, glanced down at her glass of wine, and took a gulp. Oh. Yeah that would be little more than Jordan had expected, but nothing she couldn’t handle.
“It’s okay, Ellie, I’m sure it’s not as bad as you’re thinking.”
Ellie cleared her throat and downed the rest of wine.
“Why haven’t your parents pushed you into mating? I mean Kelly is like five years younger than you, so that makes her around twenty-five, right? But you are still unmated. And your parents don’t seem like they’ve lost their values. I mean your whole shifter history is based on pushing the males and females to mate as soon as they reach the right age. Go forth and make some fur balls and all that. Isn’t that what you’ve said before?”
Ellie shrugged. “Mom and dad are the pack leaders and don’t feel I need to be pushed into mating until I’m comfortable. Mom kind of had a hand at getting Kelly and Marco together, so that kept her occupied for a bit. Besides, the males are the ones that need to mate first. They continue our line and need mates as soon as possible.”
Aric would need a mate. Bone-crushing sadness enveloped her. She wanted to go hit something. Maybe shoot something. Dryness took over her throat. “So they’re going to get mates during this ceremony as well?”
Ellie nodded, her lips pursing. “If my mom has her way, yes. She’s invited a bevy of females for Aric, Mason, Nathan, and Jake to choose from.”
Her stomach knotted at the thought of Aric choosing another woman while she watched. Distress twisted massive knots in her stomach. It was definitely best for her to watch from a distance. If she caught some woman sniffing Aric, she might forget her composure and let her well-known temper loose.
“Are you sure you still want to do this?” Ellie’s gaze held a note of sympathy.
She nodded, folded her arms over her chest, and bit her lip. “If I want to write an accurate account about your kind in the book, then yes, I do.”
Where the hell were Karla, Emma and Nicole? This was ladies night. Okay, more like “let’s get drunk, man bash, and eat a lot night” but still. Her friends had never been late for wine and food.
She was about to open her mouth when the doorbell rang. The three consecutive rings indicated at least Emma and Karla had arrived. Emma always rang the bell three times in a row. It was like a nervous tick or something.
Jordan stood to open the door and her legs tried to fold under her. Shit, how many glasses had she had? She slowly made her way to the front door to let her friends inside.
Another round of rings met her at the door.
“I’m here, cool your heels.”
She jerked the door open and found the three missing amigas.
Emma’s gaze roamed her face. “Damn, Jordan, how long have you been drinking?”
She licked her lips, tasting the residual wine on them. “Not long. Why do you ask?”
Karla tickled her side as she sashayed past her. “You’re all red in the face. You only get flushed like that when we talk sex or you’ve had like a ton of wine. We all know that.”
Jordan was probably flushed from all the thoughts of Aric. Damn man made her get all flustered without even being in the vicinity. “Get inside and stop whining or you won’t get any food.”
Emma shoved her aside and made a beeline for the kitchen behind Karla and Nicole. “Thank God. I’m starving.”
Jordan snorted. Her friends would never change. “Yeah, okay. I didn’t cook this time. Sorry.”
Emma turned to her with wide eyes. “You mean you didn’t make the flan or the empanadas?”
She shook her head. Her friends loved the chicken and shrimp filled dough. “Sorry. It was my night off.”
“Since when? You and Ellie are the cooks. Nicole and Karla are the bakers. And I’m the eater.”
Jordan laughed. “We’re all eaters. I don’t see a single skinny person here. Now go. We have take-out in the oven. We’ll eat now that you’re all here.”
She followed the others into the dining room. For as long as she could remember the five of them being friends, Ellie had always been the worrywart in the group. Though the others had met the Wolfe’s back in college, she and Ellie had been friends the longest. It worried Jordan to see Ellie so quiet. Somehow, she knew that the scenting ceremony was not as simple for Ellie as she made it sound. While her family may not be putting pressure on her to mate, it was probably not the case with the others in the pack.
“Alright! Pizza!” Nicole cheered.
“Thank God. I swear I could eat a horse.” Emma rubbed her stomach dramatically.
Jordan lifted a brow. “Um, didn’t you already eat horse when you did that stint in China during your semester abroad?”
“Hell no. I did take a stab at the fried bugs, but I just couldn’t go past a single bite.” She wrinkled her nose.
Nicole grimaced. “Damn woman, I couldn’t even take the one bite. You got bigger balls than me.”
“It has been established that Emma has bigger balls than most men.” Jordan ran her fingers through her hair.
“Will you all get in here already? You know I can hear you, and I’d like to participate in how big Emma’s balls are,” Ellie yelled.
They brought the warm pizza boxes into the living room. Jordan opened a new bottle of wine and maneuvered it with the extra glasses onto the coffee table.
“Alright. Now that we are all here, I need to inform you that Ellie has agreed to let us watch the scenting ceremony.”
Everyone spoke at the same time.
Emma lifted her wineglass. “That’s awesome!”
“Finally,” Nicole said between pizza bites.
Karla laughed. “Leave it to Jordan to wear the poor woman down.”
“Hey, I resent that. I will have you know. I did not wear her down. I may have offered my first born, ninety percent of my paycheck for a year, and a possible front seat to some Broadway show, but that’s it.” Jordan leaned back on her easy chair, the single item in her house she’d bought not caring about how it went with the décor. The fluffy chair was like being snuggled by a giant pair of warm hands. It had an automatic heater and massager. Hell, not that she’d tell her friends, but one of the reasons she’d bought it was because the damn thing started vibrating under her ass at the store. She’d gotten embarrassed and excited at the time. Oh, the possibilities.
“So,” Emma, the other bossy one in the group other than Jordan started, “what’s the plan?”
Jordan laughed, holding the glass of wine by her lips. “It’s going to be a long night.”