© 2023 by Jordan Summers

AIDAN'S MATE CHAPTERS 1-3

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

The wolves stood in the clearing, their bodies quivering with a mixture of tension and excitement. The cool summer breeze wafted through the branches of the thick copse of trees, rustling the leaves.

Aidan Fortier stepped away from the group toward the center of the grass-covered clearing, his dark head held high. His gaze drifted over the assembled members of the pack. His pack.The wolves showed the proper respect by lowering their heads and dropping their gazes.

All but one.

René Dubois lost his wolf form and rose to his feet. Naked, he walked into the clearing until he stood a few yards from Aidan.

A big man and powerful wolf, René had more brawn than sense, which would be proven for the last time tonight. He’d openly disagreed with Aidan’s decision to back his cousin, Damon’s choice for a mate. René had considered the endorsement a betrayal of sorts, a sign that perhaps Aidan wasn’t up to the task of running the pack.

René wasn’t the only wolf who’d taken Aidan’s decision as a sign of weakness. There’d been others who had voiced concerns, as was their right, but René was the only wolf that had come forward to present Aidan with a formal challenge for his position.

The brawny wolf wanted to be Alpha. Convinced his size would get him the coveted position. Tonight would determine who would rule the west coast Moonlight Kin pack.

Aidan had no intention of losing his Alpha position. He’d fought hard to get it and planned to keep it. The last few months aside, Aidan had done a good job of running the pack, both financially and politically.

But tonight wasn’t about his money acumen or his diplomatic abilities. It wasn’t even about the pack being in a better position now than they’d ever been. Tonight was about proving who was the strongest, fiercest, and most brutal male standing in this clearing. And the only way to do that was to fight to the death.

Aidan didn’t relish the idea of killing René. He was a good man, a good wolf, and a productive pack member, but he’d never been the brightest bulb.

René was easily led, easily persuaded. Initially, Aidan wondered if that was why René had challenged him in the first place. Had he been goaded to act?

His gaze strayed to Robert LaBeouf. Aidan had absolutely no proof, other than a gut feeling, that his personal assistant was involved. Unfortunately, he couldn’t present ‘feelings’ to the Lycanian Elders. They wanted evidence, especially when a charge carried a death sentence. Until Aidan found proof, he’d keep LaBeouf close.

Ultimately, the machinations behind the challenge didn’t matter. Whatever or whoever was behind René stepping forward would mean nothing in the end. The challenge was issued and accepted. It could not be halted now.

Perhaps it was good that René had challenged him. The pack needed a reminder that despite his controversial decisions, he was still their leader and the most powerful wolf in the territory.

“A challenge for the position of Alpha has been issued by René Dubois and accepted by me,” Aidan said. “As with all Alpha challenges, it will be a fight to the death. Does anyone have anything to add? To contest?”

Murmurs swept through the pack, but no one stepped forward.

“Very well then. Let’s get this over with.” Aidan shucked his clothes, dropping them carelessly onto the ground. Once he was naked, he turned to face René.

René slammed his meaty fists against his bare chest, then threw his head back and howled. Several of the wolves joined in until a chorus rang out.

Aidan waited, feeling no need to participate, since it was all for show. His wolf rose to the surface. Claws sprouted from his fingertips, replacing his blunted nails. Dull human teeth quickly became sharp incisors. His jaw stretched and grew until he sported a snout. It wasn’t a complete change. That would come later once first blood was drawn.

René stopped howling and looked at him, his green eyes glowing in the darkness. Aidan nodded, then took a step back, so the big man could prepare for battle. René’s body went through a partial shift, then he circled Aidan.

Aidan’s claws clacked together in anticipation of René’s attack. Despite being Alpha, it wasn’t his place to strike first during a formal challenge. Had René chosen to go the informal route, then all bets would’ve been off.

The burly Were snorted as he stepped left, then right. At nearly six foot four, Aidan wasn’t as big as René, but he made up for the difference with his speed and cunning. René growled and lunged at Aidan, his claws spread wide for the strike.

Aidan dodged and quickly whipped around to rake René’s back. The Were hissed and jerked to the side, before Aidan could take off another strip from his hide. With first blood drawn, they both shifted the rest of the way.

René’s body was still reshaping when Aidan launched himself onto the Were’s back. He dug his claws into René’s side and sank his teeth into his shoulder.

The Were twisted, getting a claw into Aidan’s flank. He jerked his powerful arm and sent the Alpha flying through the air. Aidan crashed into the trunk of a tree, then quickly scrambled to his feet. René was strong. Incredibly strong. He shook his head to clear it and warily watched the Were, attempting to gauge his next move.

René quickly finished shifting, then charged him. Three hundred and some odd pounds of werewolf steamed toward Aidan.

He jumped to the side, but wasn’t quick enough. René caught his shoulder and sent him sailing through low hanging branches. This time when Aidan looked up, there were two Renés standing in the clearing.

He blinked several times. The images wavered, then morphed into one. Aidan couldn’t take another hit like that. The fur on his neck rose and he bared his teeth. 

Aidan sat back on his haunches and launched himself at René. His claws caught the Were in the neck, taking them both down to the ground.

They rolled, snarling and growling, each trying to get the upper hand. Jaws snapped, as they tore out chunks of flesh. Aidan raked René with his claws, shredding fur and strips of skin.

Blood filled Aidan’s mouth, fueling his instinct to go in for the kill. He ignored the pain searing his side, where René latched onto him. It was a desperate move, an attempt to get him to loosen his hold. Aidan refused to release him and bit down even harder.

René’s gasps turned to strangled gurgles, as Aidan’s jaws closed around his throat. The claws digging into Aidan’s sides lost some of their intensity. Aidan shook his head and heard a distinctive snap. The Were’s heavy mass slumped over him.

Aidan growled some more, then struggled to push René off him. The Were’s lifeless body fell to the side. Sweat and blood covered Aidan from head to toe. As he rose, his body shifted into human form. He swayed, but somehow kept his feet beneath him.

“It is done,” he gasped, his lungs bellowing. He glanced down at René. “If anyone else thinks that they can run the pack better than me, then say so now. Let it be known that I welcome all challenges, all discourse, but will not tolerate disloyalty.”

Aidan walked over to where he’d left his clothes and dressed quickly. His head throbbed and the trees swayed before his eyes, but anyone looking at him would think that he was fine.

He made his way back to the house, wanting nothing more than to take a hot shower and crawl into bed. Aidan could still taste René’s blood on his lips and feel it matting his hair.

What a waste.

The others would burn the Were’s body and dispose of all his belongings. Tomorrow, he and the rest of the Moonlight Kin pack would celebrate René’s life and mourn his death in the traditional Lycan way. The day after that, preparations would begin for the upcoming moon run.

CHAPTER TWO

 

Two Days Later…

The bed creaked as Aidan turned to nuzzle the plump breast beside his face. He inhaled deeply, taking in the deliciously ripe aroma of feminine heat.

Aidan’s canines grew as he sucked the rosy nipple into his mouth and nipped at the sensitive nerve-endings, his tongue soothing the sting.

The dusky tip beaded eagerly in response, stabbing the roof of his mouth. A sensual moan came from the female beside him.

His ears perked. Aidan loved that sound. To him there was no greater sound on the planet, except perhaps a woman’s cry of release, when he took her over the edge.

He swirled his tongue around her again, then leaned back to view his handiwork. The woman undulated, revealing more of her nakedness.

Beautiful, as only a female werewolf could be, she ran her sharp claws over her taught abdomen, then licked her lips and smiled.

Aidan grinned back, then threaded his hands into her long, red hair, successfully tangling his fingers. He used the silky strands to pull her closer, then captured her mouth in a blistering kiss. Their tongues tangled as they fed each other’s passions.

Her ample body flooded in preparation for their joining. The woman’s grip tightened around his neck. She moaned and her back bowed, crushing her breasts into his chest. Aidan’s body tensed as his shaft hardened.

Was this it? Was she the one? He waited a beat, but felt nothing...beyond the usual physical pleasure.

Disappointed, he slowly released her lips.

Face flushed and panting for air, it took the woman a moment to recover her composure. She nudged his shoulder with her head, encouraging him to return. Her yellow-green eyes searched his longingly, even as her brow furrowed. 

Aidan knew what she wanted. It was the same thing allthe single females of the Moonlight Kin pack wanted when they came to his bed, but he couldn’t force himself to take a bondmate. No amount of lust or sexual gymnastics would make it happen. Werewolf nature didn’t work that way; though there were times he’d like it to be otherwise.

He stared at the gorgeous Were, her eyes still clouded with desire. Aidan couldn’t deny the attraction sparking between them, but there’d be no love lost when they parted ways.

Her beauty and attentiveness didn’t change the fact that this was nothing more than a chance at the lottery to her, a way to better her position in the pack. When she left his bed, there were fifteen others—literally—waiting to take her place.

Each more determined than the last to try her luck at becoming Alpha female of the west coast pack before the end of the moon run.

Unfortunately for this woman, sex held little interest to him now that his wolf had determined that she wasn’t a match. His withdrawal made that obvious, but that wouldn’t stop her from trying to forgea bond. They all tried.

Send her away, his wolf snarled.

The next female Were on the list currently waited down the hall in a small parlor for her chance to ‘test’ the Alpha. Aidan opened his mouth to tell this woman to leave, but stopped short when he spotted the determination in her lovely eyes.

“You are not my bondmate.” The fact left no room for misunderstandings.

“I know,” she said.

“If we do this, it means nothing.” Take the opportunity to back out gracefully.

She shrugged. “I understand. I’d still like to…”

Did she understand?

Really?

Or was she simply hoping he was mistaken? As if such a thing were possible.

Aidan scrubbed a hand over his face. “As you wish.” He’d fuck her like he did all the others, then send her back to the east wing, where she’d stay until the moon run next weekend.

Before he had a chance to act, the female Were hooked her foot around his leg to drag him closer.

Aidan growled, holding the urge to rut in check in order to remind her who was Alpha.

The woman immediately lowered her gaze and moved a small distance away. He would not allow any Werewoman to make demands upon him, especially one who wasn’t his mate. It could lead to misunderstandings within the pack and unnecessary power struggles.

Aidan didn’t play favorites. His wolves knew it, but that never stopped them from trying to change his mind.

To prove his point, Aidan rose out of the bed, leaving the woman tangled in the sheets. Naked, he strode across the room toward the French doors that led out to his balcony.

Not even a willing female in heat could hold his wolf’s interest for long, once she’d been ruled out as a mate.

Aidan was beginning to believe nothing but his bondmate would satisfy his growing appetite and ease his restlessness. Years of searching and countless bedmates only added to his discontent.

Sex shouldn’t be one long fucking audition, he thought.

A flash of gold caught his eye, stalling his hand on the door latch. His gaze wandered unerringly to the framed photo of the dark-haired child seated on his father’s lap.

Two sets of amber eyes stared back at him, confirming that the wolf had bred true. Aidan’s fingers hovered over the shiny frame. He drew his hand back, as if it had been singed.

Damon looked so damn happy holding his son. The toothy grin aimed at the camera would shame a Labrador.

Stupid pup, Aidan thought, then shook his head.

If he hadn’t gone to the east coast to save his cousin’s ass, Aidan was convinced that he wouldn’t be suffering from this incessant longing for a mate now.

He’d succeeded in saving his cousin’s life, but the act came at a steep cost. Damon had ended up bondmated to a female Hunter—a very humanHunter.

A fate worse than death in Aidan’s mind. It was one thing to fuck one or accidentally eat one, but you didn’t bondwith humans and you certainly didn’t convert them.

Technically, there were no Lycan laws against mating with a human, though Aidan had searched high and low to find one, convinced they should exist.

The best he and the other Lycanian Elders had come up with was an obscure reference in an ancient text that mentioned two instances of wolves successfully bonding with humans. Two, out of the thousands of years of Lycan history. Even Vegas wouldn’t take those odds.

Aidan glanced at the woman in his bed, taking care to conceal his ambivalence. He’d spend a few useless hours with a Werewoman any day, if it meant avoiding Damon’s fate.

Saddled to a human. He bristled. Never!

Damon’s recklessness coupled with the added pressure from his fellow Elders cemented Aidan’s resolve to remain true to the pack, true to his bloodline. Someone had to now that Damon had failed.

His gaze settled on the photograph once more. Why did he have to look so damn happy?

Something twinged inside of Aidan. Something he refused to acknowledge or name. Until he found his bondmate, there would be no smiling heirs for him.

Aidan growled and shoved the French doors open. They banged against the outside wall of the house, the glass panes rattling, as he stepped out onto the balcony, allowing the darkness to embrace him.

He inhaled to calm his racing heartbeat. The scent of pine trees surrounded him, their needles rustling in the mild summer breeze. The sharp tang mingled with the delicate aroma of the roses growing in his garden.

In the distance, he scented deer as they made their way through the woods, their silent hooves falling on the soft blanket of ferns below the green canopy.

Their careful efforts weren’t enough to slip past the predator in him. Nothing came onto his property without him knowing about it, especially not prey.

Insects buzzed and frogs croaked in chorus, creating a symphony of night sounds. Their steady hum a soothing balm to his werewolf soul.

Aidan tilted his head toward the night sky and his blood pulsed, pulling him forward. The moon’s gentle tug would turn into a riptide strong enough to yank his feet out from under him by the end of the week.

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, his body shuddering with the urge to shift. Aidan threw his head back and let out a mournful howl, strangely diminished by his human form. Creatures scurried. Aidan’s eyes opened and he scanned the tree-line. Instincts demanding that he give chase.

He turned away from the lure of the night and returned to the warmth of his bed. No sense putting things off any longer, when there were others waiting.

“Last chance,” he said. Please go.

“I want to stay.” Her thick lashes concealed her emotions, but not the strength of her voice.

Aidan nodded. Without preamble, he dipped his fingers between her lush thighs, seeking her core. He stoked her, fueling her desire as he gathered the moisture needed to mount her. As soon as he had enough, Aidan climbed between her legs and thrust hard, entering her with one stroke.

He rode her relentlessly until she came, leaving her gasping and shuddering beneath him, then pulled out spilling his seed onto the sheets. Aidan rolled onto his side, his chest heaving.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“So am I.” She rose quickly and pulled on her robe, then opened the door to leave.

Aidan’s voice stopped her. “Send in the next woman.”

Her mouth tightened and her shoulders tensed, but she managed to give him a clipped nod.

Tonight, like every night, he would sleep alone. That would remain the case until he located his bondmate or another Alpha managed to oust him from his position. Since the latter wasn’t likely to happen anytime soon—thanks to René’s recent challenge—Aidan would have to continue his search.

He closed his eyes and tried to imagine what it would be like, what she would be like. A soft knock on his bedroom door interrupted his thoughts.

“Enter,” he said, reminding himself once again that this was his duty.

CHAPTER THREE

 

Aidan held the phone to his ear, listening to the other Lycanian Elders. They’d been droning on about his duties to his pack for an hour with no sign of the conference call coming to an end.

He lifted his cup of coffee and took a sip. Aidan grimaced. Cold. It had been hot, when his personal assistant brought it to him first thing this morning. Aidan put the cup back on his desk.

Robert LaBeouf knocked once and entered the library, which doubled as Aidan’s office. His P.A.’s normally stony face sported a light blush and he wore a queer expression. Aidan held up one finger.

Robert nodded and kept his position by the door.

“I am well aware of my duties as Alpha,” Aidan spoke into the receiver. “I do not need to be reminded again and again and again.” He pinched the bridge of his nose to stave off a headache. “Yes, the women are here.” Aidan took a deep breath to calm his temper. “No, I do not want to discuss my progress. If anything of import occurs, you all will be the first to know. Now I have to go.” He disconnected the call before they could respond.

Robert stepped deeper into the room. 

“What is it?” Aidan asked, grateful for any excuse to get off the phone.

“Sorry to bother you, Alpha,” he said. “But we have a bit of a situation at the front gate.” 

Aidan tensed. “What kind of situation?” And why hadn’t his wolves handled it already?

“We have a visitor.” His normally monotone voice rose, belying his true emotions.

They never had visitors, unless the Lycanian Elders called a meeting or there was a moon run. Since he’d just got off the phone with the Elders and most of his pack was already here for the run, then that meant the visitor was a stranger.

“Hunter?” he asked.

His personal assistant shook his head. “Don’t think so.”

“Send them away.” Aidan didn’t have time to entertain any more guests. His house was already overflowing.

Robert’s gaze darted back to the door. “I tried, Alpha, but she sat down in front of the gate and has refused to leave.”

Aidan blinked in surprise. “She?” A sliver of premonition coursed through his veins, as he leaned against the edge of his desk. Aidan was careful not to disturb the neatly stacked papers he’d intended to read this morning, before the Lycanian Elders phoned and interrupted him.

“Yes, a human female, Sir.” Robert nodded.

Human?Disappointment welled in Aidan’s chest, though he didn’t know why. It wasn’t like he needed another female in his life right now. He gone through three Weres last night and still had thirteen to get through. “Send one of the wolves out,” he said. “That should change her mind.”

The crimson color in Robert’s cheeks reached cartoonish levels. It took two tries for him to clear his throat. “That didn’t work either,” he said. “Byron came running back to the house with his tail tucked between his legs. He said that when the gate opened, he growled at her and she growled right back.”

Aidan’s brows rose. Either the woman was really brave, really stupid, or she was... “Are you sure that she’s human?”

His assistant’s gaze met his for a moment, then skittered away. “Once Byron came back, I went out to see for myself. There’s no mistaking that odor.”

Robert’s disgust for humans was well known within the pack. He never bothered to hide his feelings about them, griping to anyone who’d listen. He thought they were all vermin that needed to be exterminated. Fortunately for humans, most Weresweren’t so intolerant.

Aidan scratched his chin. “Did she say what she wanted?”

“She mentioned that her car broke down and that she needs to use a phone, but who doesn’t have a cell phone these days?”

“Not many people,” Aidan said. “It’s possible that she has one, but it isn’t charged.”

“I suppose so. She certainly looks like someone who’s been walking awhile. She’s sweaty, but she doesn’t smell right.” Robert’s nose wrinkled.

Aidan leaned forward. “What do you mean?”

“My senses tell me that there’s more to her than meets the eye. I can’t explain it, but I’m not convinced that her story isn’t an elaborate trick to gain entrance to the residence. Humans can be so deceptive.”

So could wolves,Aidan thought, eyeing the man.

The woman’s arrival could be a ruse. It wasn’t out of the realms of possibility. His success in business dealings had garnered an unusual amount of attention—unwanted attention, considering the secrets Aidan kept. Reporters phoned constantly. Everyone wanted an exclusive from the famous software recluse.

If the woman was a reporter, she’d regret this bold move. No one came to his house uninvited. By the time Aidan finished with her, she’d be so frightened that she’d leave the area.

Of course, if she were as she said—a stranded motorist, he couldn’t exactly leave her out there to wander around unsupervised. Aidan could not afford for her, or anyone else, to be traipsing around the estate this close to the full moon.

“Show her in.” Aidan already regretted his decision, but at least he’d know if she were lying.

Robert’s gaze shot to his face and his eyes widened. “Alpha?”

“You heard me.”

“But she seems dangerous,” Robert said.

Aidan pressed his lips together to keep from laughing. “I’m sure that a pack of werewolves can handle one human female. Don’t you?”

“Yes, sir. Of course, but it can’t hurt to keep an eye on her.” Robert left, pulling the door closed behind him.

Aidan shook his head. He had no doubt Robert would keep watch, waiting for the unsuspecting human to cross the line, so he could invoke Lycan law.

Robert would use any excuse to kill one of them. Luckily, he needed permission to do so and Aidan wasn’t likely to grant it.

He glanced at the phone on his desk. He should’ve called the authorities to have the woman removed for trespassing. That was the prudent thing to do, but Aidan couldn’t shake his curiosity.

What type of woman growled at a wolf?

The same type who was foolish enough to come here on their own.

Aidan stepped in front of the antique mirror on the wall to inspect his appearance. His unfashionably long black hair fell past his shoulders in desperate need of a cut. He checked his teeth to make sure there wasn’t raw meat stuck in them.

The move stretched and twisted the jagged white scar that ran across his chin, cutting into his otherwise polished appearance. He ran his finger over the thin line, admiring the memento he’d gotten the night he became Alpha.

Sharp amber eyes stared back from the mirror. In a few more days, they’d begin to glow and the façade he presented to the human world would disappear. His beast would rise and Aidan would be more instinct than man.

He smiled in anticipation of the full moon and the freedom it brought him. A knock sounded on the door as he turned away from the mirror. “Enter.”

Robert poked his head in. “I’ve put her in the parlor.”

Aidan gave him a curt nod, then walked out of the library across the marbled entry hall to the closed door on the opposite side. Aidan raised his hand to knock, stopping short in surprise, unsure why he found the need to do so in his own home.

He frowned and turned the knob. This was his house. He damn well didn’t need to announce himself. Aidan entered the parlor, his footsteps silent on the hardwood floor.

The woman’s back was to him, her slender frame partially obscured by the cascade of strawberry blond ringlets flowing over her narrow shoulders and down her back. A worn camouflage bag lay at her feet.

Aidan’s gaze locked onto her heart-shaped bottom as it swayed to some internal beat. Her long legs were bare where her brown walking shorts left off. Strong thighs, made for grasping a man’s waist, flexed with each side-to-side motion.

A wisp of bare abdomen peeked out beneath a short white cotton shirt. Aidan couldn’t see her breasts or her face, but it didn’t matter. She already had his undivided attention.

He inhaled to get a read on her before she had a chance to open her mouth and lie. The scent of lilacs in the spring slammed into him.

Aidan scanned the parlor to ensure that Robert hadn’t placed a bouquet in the room. He hadn’t. Shewas the source of the delicious aroma. 

She bent over to get a better look at the photos in the curio cabinet. The move caused the material of her shorts to pull tight and cup her bottom. Aidan’s mouth watered and a rumble came from his chest.

The woman gasped and spun around, knocking the lamp off the end table in the process. She fumbled to catch the base, but missed.

Aidan rushed forward, using his preternatural speed, and caught the lamp before it shattered on the ground. When he looked up, their eyes met and the breath froze in his lungs.

The woman had the face of a road-weary angel, who’d taken flight one too many times. Wide ice-green eyes, the color of pale peridot, watched him in shocked silence. A strong chin supported full lips that dipped and swelled, all but begging to be kissed.

Those same luscious lips parted, breaking into a lopsided grin. That silly smile drew attention to the freckles dotting her high cheekbones and pert little nose. That same nose crinkled, as he continued his undisguised perusal.

“I’m Jenna.” She scrubbed her hand on the side of her shorts, then held it out for him to shake.

“Aidan.” For a second or two, he simply stared at her, unable to move, then ever so gently he clasped his big hand around her smaller one.

The jolt hit like a shock from a wet plug.

Aidan’s jaw clenched, as part of his body inconveniently stirred to life. He forced himself to release her, then pulled his shirt down to hide his perplexing condition. Aidan opened and closed his hand to dispel the remaining tingles.

A single curl dropped onto her forehead. Jenna tucked the stray behind her ear, exposing an angry purple slash that bisected part of her eyebrow. Although he could see no blood, the wound smelled fresh.

“Did you have an accident?” he asked. “My assistant was under the impression that your car broke down.”

“It did,” she said. Truth. Lie.No wonder his wolves were having such a difficult time reading her.

“The wound on your eyebrow says differently.” His voice chilled the air around them.

Jenna’s hand flew up to cover the area. Her smile faded. Her clear bright eyes dimmed, overshadowed by wariness.

Aidan sniffed, scenting her again.

Underneath the sweet aroma of lilacs a faint odor of a man’s cheap cologne lingered on her clothes. His thoughts took a dark turn. Was he the one who’d struck her?

A growl came from his throat. Aidan coughed twice to cover up the unbidden noise. The urge to shake her until she told him everything about this man besieged him. He clenched his fists at his sides to keep from acting on the impulse.

She’s human. A stranger. And most definitely not his responsibility.

Aidan fought to regain control of his turbulent emotions. His mind flashed to the hearing he’d attended on Damon’s behalf. His cousin had professed his love for the human woman, his bondmate. He’d said there was no denying the wolf once it made up its mind.

A buzzing noise sounded in Aidan’s head, before being drowned out by his own heart beat thundering in his chest.

Well it wasn’t going to happen to him, damn it. He was a Lycanian Elder. He had responsibilities. He didn’t think with his dick.

Aidan ignored the strange feelings of possession that had momentarily overwhelmed him. It was just the pull of the full moon and his instinctual need to protect everything in his territory. It had to be.

The fact the woman was human was coincidental.

Jenna had sensed his presence a moment before he’d cleared his throat. She’d turned too quickly and lost her balance, knocking an expensive looking lamp off the end table.

He’d moved with incredible speed, catching the fixture before it hit the floor.

When Jenna had looked up, an unusual pair of amber eyes had immediately captured her. The warm honey hue had heated and cooled as the man assessed her. His eye color was made all the more striking due to the contrast to his ebony hair. Jenna normally didn’t like guys with long hair, but for some reason the style suited him.

She’d actually felt her heart skip a beat. Jenna thought that kind of thing only happened in fiction, not real life. Of course, men that looked like him didn’t exist in real life either. Yet here he was, standing in front of her.

Never in all her years had she ever seen a man so devastatingly handsome. Nothing, not even the scar on his chin, could detract from his perfectly chiseled features. It was the one blemish that stood between him and the definition of pretty.

Her heart tripped again. Once could be dismissed as coincidence, but twice pointed to attraction.

Jenna had given up on being attracted to any man after her ex-boyfriend, Ethan Manning’s betrayal three months ago, so to find herself drawn to this man, this stranger was disconcerting.

Muscles rippled beneath his form-fitting shirt, as he lifted the lamp and gently set it back onto the table. Power oozed from his pores. Not the kind of power that Ethan flaunted, but a more subtle strength that he wielded like it was his birthright. At no point did he look away.

The room shrank around them, cocooning them in a fragile bubble that one wrong word would pop.

As he straightened to his full height, Jenna had to crane her neck to maintain eye contact. She’d murmured her name or at least she hoped that she had. He’d responded in kind.

Aidan…

It was the kind of name that swirled on your tongue and bore repeating. She swayed toward him, sucked in by the odd gravitational pull happening between them. The second Jenna noticed that she’d moved closer, her face flamed and she stepped back.

What was wrong with her? Had she learned nothing in the last few months?

Jenna swallowed hard. “Sorry about the lamp.”

He remained silent.

She fidgeted. “Thank you for letting me in to use your phone.”

Amusement lit his amber eyes. “You didn’t give me much choice.” He watched her closely.

Oops! She hadn’t, had she?

Jenna had already apologized. What else was there to say or do? “Sooner I use your phone, the sooner I’ll be out of your hair.”

Aidan pointed to the phone on the desk. “What about your car?” he asked.

Jenna tensed. No way could she afford a tow truck. It would cost a fortune to get the Bug to Breakbend. If she had her garage handy, this wouldn’t be a problem. But thanks to her conniving ex, she didn’t.

Ethan had taken the only thing of value she’d ever owned, the only place she’d ever called home, and the only family she’d ever known. And for what? So he could build a stupid luxury condominium complex? Like the world needed another one of those.

Jenna gritted her teeth. “I’ll get the car when I can.”

Her scent soured at the mention of her vehicle. Aidan watched her dig into her pocket and pull out a crumpled piece of paper with a number scribbled on it. Jenna picked up the phone and punched in the number. She tapped her fingers against the desk as she waited for someone to answer.

He heard a woman come on the line.

“May I please speak with Paul Welling?” Jenna asked.

Sirens went off in his head. Aidan instantly recognized the name of the Gazette editor. Had Robert been right about her all along?

“Hi, Mr. Welling. It’s Jenna Dane.”

“Jenna, where have you been?” he asked. “I expected you here hours ago.”

“I ran into car trouble.”

“Where are you?” he sounded dubious.

“I’m not sure.” Jenna looked at Aidan and mouthed ‘Where am I’?

Aidan blinked. She didn’t know? How could she not know? “The Fortier estate,” he said casually, waiting for some sign of recognition to cross her face. None came. Jenna stared blankly at him. She had no idea who he was. Aidan’s tension eased a notch.

“I’m outside of town,” she said.

“If you’re not here in the next two hours, don’t bother coming,” Paul said.

Jenna turned her back to Aidan and whispered into the phone, though she needn’t have bothered. Aidan had been listening to both sides of the conversation and didn’t feel an ounce of guilt about eavesdropping.

“Please, Mr. Welling. I need this job.” Her desperation was palpable.

For some reason, Aidan found himself responding to it, to her.

He slipped out of the room and summoned Robert. “Take Nic and go find her car.”

“What do you want us to do with it once we find it?” he asked.

“Bring it to me. Something is off about her and I want to know what it is. In the meantime, have the Range Rover brought around to the front of the house. She needs transportation.”

Robert gaped. “You’re going to give the Rover to a human?”

His hackles rose. “Yes, do you have a problem with that?”

Robert’s gaze dropped. “No, sir.”

“Good.” Aidan strolled back into the room in time to see Jenna wipe moisture from her face. The tears clinging to her eyelashes were the only evidence that remained to prove she’d been crying.

She gave him a strained smile. “Thanks for the use of the phone.”

“Anytime,” Aidan heard himself say.

Jenna hoisted her bag onto her shoulder and walked to the door. Her hand hesitated on the knob. “I know it’s rude of me to ask, but you wouldn’t happen to have any tools I can borrow, would you?”

“Tools?” What in the world did she need with tools?

“Yeah, socket wrenches, pliers, things like that? I’ll give them back. I promise.”

Intrigued by the request, Aidan asked, “What do you need them for?”

“I thought maybe I could fix Stan,” she said. 

“Stan?” Who was Stan? And why was he just hearing about him?Unexpected anger flared inside of Aidan.

Jenna laughed, oblivious to his mood change. “Stan is my car.”

Aidan’s brow quirked. “You have a name for your car?”

She shrugged. “Don’t you? I thought all guys did.”

His eyes scrolled over the front of her T-shirt, taking in the soft slope of her full breasts. Aidan watched her nipples harden and tore his gaze away. “You are most definitely not a man,” he said in a garbled voice. 

Jenna crossed her arms over her chest. “I know, but it doesn’t stop me from naming cars—or fixing them.”

“You’re a mechanic?” He’d assumed she was a reporter.

“I used to be.” She bit her lip and looked away.

His gaze was drawn to her mouth like a lodestone. Oh, the things he could do with those lips. The part of his body he refused to acknowledge, twitched behind his zipper.

Aidan shook his head to clear it. What was wrong with him? He shouldn’t be thinking about her mouth or how her body responded to him. She was human. He shouldn’t be thinking about her at all.

Jenna stared at him. “Do you have the tools or not?”

Robert knocked on the door and stepped into the room. He scowled at Jenna, then handed the keys to Aidan and left.

“You only have two hours to reach town. There’s no time to fix your vehicle.”

“How did you know about—?”

“Take these.” He handed her the keys to the Range Rover, effectively cutting off a question he could not answer. “My menwill retrieve your car.”

Jenna reached for the keys automatically. “You don’t have to do that.” 

“I insist.” Aidan dropped them into her hand. “I’ll have your car repaired.”

“No!” she snapped. “I mean it’s not necessary. You’ve done too much already. I can fix it myself.”

Was she in trouble or was she worried about getting caught in a lie?

Aidan opened his mouth to tell her that he’d do as he damn well pleased, but stopped when he glimpsed the panic in her eyes. “There’s a garage on the estate. I’m sure you’ll find everything you need there,” he said instead.

“But…”

He held up his hand. “No arguments. Your car will be there tomorrow.” What was he doing? Aidan had obviously lost his mind. Her and her stupid lilac scent was making him crazy. “I’ll show you to the front door.

Aidan practically shoved her out of the room and down the hall. He needed to get Jenna away from his home and out of his head.

Jenna trotted to keep up, but said nothing more. She climbed into the Rover, then turned to thank him again.

Aidan didn’t give her the chance. He spun on his heel, and like prey evading a predator, bolted for the front door.

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