Mate Bond

By: 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.”

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