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Mate Bond

By:Jennifer Ashley

Mate Bond
Jennifer Ashley

       
CHAPTER ONE




The Shifter groupie was new.

Kenzie had never seen her before, anyway. The woman stood with a knot of  friends who'd clumped together for reassurance but turned excited gazes  toward the male Shifters roaming the roadhouse tonight.

Kenzie watched Bowman size up the woman while he appeared to be merely  leaning on the bar talking to his friends. She saw him conclude, as  Kenzie had, that the new girl wasn't a real groupie.

No one but Kenzie would have known, given Bowman's posture, that he'd  even noticed the woman. He rested both elbows on the bar as he conversed  with Cade on one side of him, Jamie on the other. Even as they laughed  and joked, Cade, his second, and Jamie, one of his trackers, kept a  little space between themselves and their leader. Bowman dominated the  whole damn place without even standing upright.

His casual position stretched his jeans over his great ass, outlining  narrow hips and strong legs, one knee bent as he rested his  motorcycle-booted foot on the lower rail of the bar. His black T-shirt  was smoothed over his broad shoulders, outlining every muscle from neck  to shoulder blades and all the way down his spine.

Kenzie couldn't take her eyes off him. She absently held an untasted  bottle of beer, half listening to two of her female cousins chatter.  Bowman turned his head to say something to Cade, giving Kenzie a glimpse  of his strong, square jaw and the nose he considered too large for his  face but Kenzie thought just right. He was a wolf, after all.

Bowman's gray eyes flashed at something Cade said, a quick ripple of a  smile tipping his mouth. A strong mouth, equally good at snarling orders  or kissing.

He was going to teach the fake groupie, whoever she was, a lesson,  Kenzie deduced from his quick glance in the woman's direction. Would be  fun to watch . . . and painful too.

Bowman pushed himself off the bar, giving a nod to those around him.  Cade, a big grizzly Shifter, acknowledged it without moving. Cade and  Bowman, in spite of being different species, were so wired to each other  that they communicated without words or even gestures.

Kenzie's heart squeezed as she watched Bowman walk in a slow, even pace  to the new young woman. The fake ears the girl wore were wolf instead of  cat-a signal she was into Lupines-and both she and one of her friends  had wolf tails fastened to their backsides. When the friend saw Bowman  coming over, she started excitedly patting the new girl's arm.

Bowman could charm. Didn't Kenzie know it? Just by walking toward them,  he had the cluster of young women smiling, beaming, melting at his feet,  before he even spoke.

The new young woman imitated her friends, but there was something  calculating in her eyes, watchful. She might be a reporter, come to dish  the dirt on the Shifter groupie scene, or she could be an informer for  the human police.

When Bowman gave the new girl a jerk of his chin to follow him, the true  groupies dissolved into excited laughter mixed with looks of furious  envy.

Kenzie knew how they felt. She set down her beer, told her cousin Bianca she was using the ladies'-alone-and walked away.

She knew she wasn't fooling them. The other two Shifter women exchanged  knowing looks and let her go. They knew way too much about  Kenzie-everyone in Shiftertown did.

Bowman and the groupie had reached the darkest part of the parking lot  by the time Kenzie emerged. It was cold; a North Carolina winter at its  peak. The roadhouse was ten miles from Shiftertown, halfway between  Asheville and the Tennessee border, popular on a Saturday night.

Kenzie heard the two before she saw them. Bowman's voice, imprinted on  her heart, came to her from a deep shadow between the generator-run  lights. "So you want to be with a Shifter, do you?" He was growling, and  it was not really a question.

The woman answered nervously, her high-pitched voice grating on Kenzie's  nerves. Kenzie didn't pay much attention to her actual words-the  woman's tone said she was afraid of Bowman but determined to get her  story, whatever that story happened to be.

Kenzie edged close enough to be in scent range of Bowman, which meant  the woman's cloying perfume came to her loud and clear. Why did human  women douse themselves like that? Made Kenzie want to sneeze.

She knew Bowman would be able scent Kenzie skulking in the darkness,  even over the perfume. She also knew Bowman wouldn't care that she was  there. Those thoughts hurt, but Kenzie remained in the shadows,  watching.

"Shifters are dangerous, sweetheart," Bowman was saying. He leaned  against the back of a dusty SUV and stretched out his long legs,  crossing them at the ankles. Bowman's arms were folded, both shutting  himself off and giving the groupie and Kenzie a view of his sculpted  muscles. He hadn't bothered with a coat-Bowman often didn't. "Better be  sure you know what you're getting into."                       
       
           



       

He was angry, even if his slow drawl didn't betray it. He hated anyone  spying on his Shifters, and with good reason. The young woman couldn't  scent his fury as Kenzie did, but some instinct inside her knew to be  worried.

"I've always wanted to do a Lupine." The pseudo-groupie was trying to  sound as though she stalked Shifters to have sex with them all the time,  but Kenzie-and Bowman-knew better.

Bowman remained silent and motionless for a long moment, while the girl  grew more and more nervous. Then Bowman moved-the movement was slow and  casual, but all the more devastating for that.

He reached down and undid his belt, the clink of it coming to Kenzie. Next, she heard the whisper of his jeans' zipper.

Kenzie froze, riveted in place, as Bowman languidly slid his jeans and  underwear halfway down his thighs and leaned back again on the SUV.

Kenzie couldn't breathe. His half-lifted shirt showed a slice of hard  abdomen, and his large Shifter cock stood straight up between his  strong, sun-bronzed legs. The brush of dark hair that cradled his shaft  was lost in shadow, but Kenzie knew exactly what he looked like.

The young woman made a strangled sound that Kenzie wanted to echo. Bowman erect was a beautiful sight.

"Come on, sweetheart," Bowman said impatiently. "I haven't got all night."

The young woman opened and closed her mouth a couple times and took a few shaky steps backward. "I don't . . . I don't know."

Bowman came off the SUV with a suddenness only a Shifter could manage.  One moment he was reclining, ready, and the next he was nearly on top of  the woman, his big hands on her shoulders.

"Here's what I know," he said in a fierce voice. "You came to look at  Shifters, for whatever reason. So here I am. We look human, but we  aren't-not even close." His jeans were still around his knees, his tight  backside bare under the lights of the parking lot. But he didn't look  ridiculous-Bowman never could. He was as decadent and enticing as ever.  Kenzie's mating need, never very far away, flared.

The groupie's words choked in her throat, her nervousness turning to  full-blown fear. "I wanted . . . I just wanted to talk . . ."

Bowman shoved her away. "I know what you wanted." He leaned down and  pulled up his jeans, taking his time. "You wanted to come here and get  all up in our shit and go tell the world about it. I don't know if  you're a reporter or a detective or a do-gooder, but I want you out of  here, away from my Shifters."

The pseudo-groupie had the presence of mind to point out the obvious.  "You don't own this place. This isn't Shiftertown. You can't tell me to  leave."

Her breathless groupie eagerness had gone, replaced by the hard, nasally  voice of a woman who liked having her own way. Bowman wasn't impressed.  His hands clamped down on her shoulders again, and a very wolf growl  came out of his throat.

"I might not own the bar." His voice went low, as it did when he was  truly angry. "But I know the owner, and he doesn't like people coming  here and giving Shifters trouble. Let me give you a tip-I'm way nicer  than he is. So get out, or I'll let him and his bouncers take you off  the property in a more forceful way."

"Now you're threatening me?"

Bowman said nothing. He only looked at the pseudo-groupie, and Kenzie  scented the wolf in him getting ready to come out. Bowman was careful,  but he was still pretty close to wild, and he didn't like his authority  challenged in any way.

He hadn't said so-the woman wouldn't understand-but Bowman considered  this roadhouse to be part of his territory. Humans might have confined  Shifters to Shiftertowns and restricted them from owning places like  this bar, but true Shifter territory stretched from one Shiftertown to  the next. There was another Shiftertown far to the west of them in the  middle of Tennessee, and Bowman considered that his territory ended  about fifty miles from that, where the other leader's territory began.

By Shifter thinking, Bowman had a perfect right to sling this woman out. Humans wouldn't see it that way though.

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