The Mate That Got Away
Read this free paranormal romance now!
Daphne Winter left home in disgrace ten years ago. And she would have stayed away, if it weren't for car trouble at exactly the wrong time.
But fate brought her back, and her mate is waiting.
Kieran Lowell never forgot Daphne, and he never stopped being faithful. But he is the alpha now, and his mate will not abandon him this time.
Now Daphne must fight for her place in his pack against an old enemy, or lose the man she loves for good.
The bus was making good time through the dark night. Daphne Winter had nearly fallen asleep, her head resting on the cold window. She had no desire to look out into the dark forests that surrounded the country road. As far as she knew, they had passed into Ohio an hour before and there was an entire other state to get through until they made it to Chicago. They were scheduled to get in at just past 3AM and it wasn't yet midnight.
With luck, they might even arrive early. The driver had been making their stops short and had nearly abandoned one of the passengers in Pennsylvania. He gave no reason for his haste, but Daphne didn't care. The sooner they left Ohio, the better.
If she could have afforded a flight she would have taken one, but the bus ticket would allow her to eat during the rest of the week while she searched for work in a new city. She had never wanted to leave DC, but the alpha of one of the local packs was making life hard for her. He promised that she would be his mate at the next full moon one way or another. Just thinking of it sent a cold shiver down her spine.
That wasn't how it was supposed to be. Matings weren't to be forced. They were to be celebrated, one soul crying out for another in a cold, dark universe. Why would anyone take an unwilling mate?
But some men did. They didn't believe that fate would intervene in the process. They didn't understand that mates weren't chosen. Mates lived in your soul, your blood. A wolf could fuck whoever he wanted, but a love nibble didn't truly speak of a bond. Some bonds were invisible, cutting soul deep where no one could see. And if they saw the faint, faded, physical scars, well, those could be explained away.
She would never have let the alpha mate her. Despite his size, the man wasn't a fighter, and in the past ten years Daphne had learned exactly how important it was to be able to defend herself.
This forest road was making her maudlin. She wanted nothing to do with it and turned away, angling it so that she faced the inside of the bus and ignored the dark world outside. It should have been a more crowded trip, but the seat next to her was empty as were several other rows. At this late hour no one spoke, though she did see some illuminated faces from laptops and tablets.
To her werewolf eyes it would have been unnaturally bright, but she also wore sunglasses which made it dark enough to sleep.
She had just gotten nearly comfortable when the bus lurched forward with a sickening metal shriek. She was jostled forward in her seat and bumped her head against the seat in front of her.
The bus pulled to a stop under a lonely lamp post. The driver stood from his seat and opened the door. “I'm going to check that out, folks. We'll be off in no time.”
The damage had to do with an axle or something to that effect. Daphne knew very little about cars, she had spent the last ten years in big cities and had never owned a vehicle. As a teenager she'd learned to drive, but the pack had lived in their own little enclave and she had very rarely needed to use the skill.
The only fortunate thing was that the bus had broken down less than half a mile from a motel and twenty-four hour diner. Daphne's stomach growled on the walk down the dark street and she decided to grab food before settling in for the night.
She was seated in a booth in the back with her back to the door. The waitress took her order and brought a day old newspaper when Daphne asked for it. When she read the name of the paper she nearly threw it to the floor and ran out the door.
GALLER'S CROSSING JOURNAL
The scrawl shouldn't have been so familiar after all these years, but she could remember seeing her name listed in the honor roll of those pages all those years ago. Daphne hadn't realized they were so close to home.
No, not home. A home wouldn't make you leave on the threat of death.
Daphne got herself under control and sipped at her water. It was just one night. The alpha would be reasonable if he discovered her. Greg hadn't been her problem, it had been his daughter, Julianne. And if Julianne still lived here, Daphne would not be the weak child she once was.
It would be fine. It had to be. She would be gone in the morning and no one would ever need to know that she had spent the night in forbidden territory.
The hairs on the back of Daphne's neck stood on end two seconds before the bell over the diner door rang. She hunched in her chair and flipped her hood up over her head. Every instinct within her screamed to turn around and see what had threatened her, but she didn't want to risk being recognized.
She stayed where she was and breathed in deep. A wolf would never forget a scent. If she knew these men, she'd be able to identify them without sight. If she didn't know their scents, she could look without danger.
After a moment she relaxed, her shoulders loosening and a long forgotten sense of comfort, of home suffused her being. Even as she relaxed, she knew she should be on edge. There was only one man who could make her feel this way.
Kieran Lowell, the mate that she had abandoned ten years ago.
But his scent had changed over the years, matured. And now there was something almost spicy, hot and dangerous. The scent of an alpha. It was wrapped around Kieran, inexorably linked with his being.
He slid into the booth across from her and there was no welcome on his face, only censure and confusion. He said nothing, just staring at her for an eternity.
“Hello, Kieran,” she said with remarkable calm considering the circumstances.
Enjoying this free paranormal romance? The Mate that Got Away is featured in The Mate Bundle. Read about sexy shifters and the mates who love them in four steamy stories of wild love.
It was pure chance that his scout scented the interloper. He reported an unknown lupine scent too far into the territory to be an accident. The main highway was miles away, though an old state road did pass by the diner and motel.
As alpha it was Kieran's job to protect his people, and if his territory had been breached, it was his responsibility to ensure that the threat was taken care of. Under normal circumstances he would have instructed enforcers to bring the interloper to him, but given the location of the scent he didn't want to disrupt a traveler who would be one his way before the night was out.
It wasn't a responsibility that he could delegate to his own men. They could not have the authority to make those decisions. And he needed something to keep him going this week. In just two days he would be out of excuses and he knew Julianne would be at his door once more, her list of reasons a mile long as to why he should take her to mate.
He would never do it. He would resign as alpha and live out his life as a wild wolf before letting that viper into his bed. But she was not the reason he was maudlin. In two days it would be ten years since his mate had abandoned him in the night.
He hadn't been an alpha yet, hadn't been strong enough to secure her loyalty. But the betrayal burned with the fire of the sun, even after all of these years.
Pack custom dictated that a mating was dissolved after ten years when the mates in question had no children and had not had sex with each other in that time. It was one of the old laws and divorce had long replaced it as the proper way to sever the tie of mateship. But Kieran and Daphne had never been married.
When they dedicated themselves all those years ago, they had been teenagers. He had meant every word he said to her. It still roiled inside. Daphne Winter was his woman and would remain so until those ten years were up.
In becoming alpha he had needed to put the pack back together after near civil war. It took over a year, but after that time he had sent his best trackers to find her. There were traces, there were always traces. But she never stayed anywhere long enough for them to track her down.
If they found her, he had no idea what he would do. He was at war with himself. On one hand he wanted to chain her to his bed and demand she never leave him again, the other had far darker dreams that ended with her tearfully confessing why she had abandoned him on the night they meant to run away together.
But in two days more he would have no claim.
He tried to clear his mind of thoughts of his prodigal mate as he stepped out of his car and into the parking lot of Herman's Diner. A wintry-rain had hit earlier, dampening all of the scents. Kieran could tell a wolf, a female wolf, was near, but there were none of the tell-tale markers that would identify her scent.
He stepped through the door and was punched in the face with the very object of his rumination. Rage churned within him even as his cock hardened, trained after lonely years and memories to react to her scent alone.
A survey of the diner showed it nearly empty. There was a table in the corner with a family of tired looking travelers and in the other corner of the room a person in a hoodie was slumped down, trying their best to hide from view.
The shapeless form of her gray hoodie couldn't hide her scent. He nodded to the waitress to tell her to stay away and crossed the diner in broad strides, sliding silently into the seat across from her. The fear in her eyes gutted him at the same time his anger roiled. She thought he would harm her? If she did, then their mating truly was lost.
“Hello, Kieran,” she said.
Had he forgotten what she sounded like? Her words wrapped around him, stroking him, straight down to his cock. She was honey, sweet and thick, her hair blonde and long, lips pink and ready to be kissed. He wanted to reach across the table and pull her to him, shelter her from all of the hardships that she must have faced.
They played out across her body. A scar on her cheek that he couldn't remember, bones protruding, suggesting that she hadn't eaten enough in a very long time. He could read her suffering, but even with it all she was still the most beautiful woman that he had ever seen.
Julianne could have never hoped to compare.
He waved a hand, signaling the waitress to bring Daphne's food. He wouldn't aid her starving. If he had to feed her from his own hand he would do so. Actually, that sounded like a good idea.
The silence between them had stretched too long. “Are you just going to stare?” She asked, a scowl dancing on her lips. That was different. His Daphne had been full of sunshine.
“You're trespassing.” That wasn't what he had meant to say. There were a hundred questions he wanted to ask, but that scowl tipped him over the edge. “What are you doing in my territory?”
She stiffened and glanced around to see if anyone else was looking at them. Kieran knew they had as much privacy as was possible in a place like this. As alpha, he could do whatever he wanted to her and no one would stop him. A heady thing, and something he refused to take advantage of.
She bit her lip and then decided to speak. “My bus broke down. I'll be out by morning. I…I didn't realize where we were.”
“So there are others with you?” He vaguely remembered seeing a bus on the side of the road.
“You can't hurt them! They have nothing to do with me being here.” She leaned in, hissing out the words, desperation in her eyes.
What had the last years done to her? But it gave him an in. His mate was in his territory, he wasn't letting her go again.
Enjoying this free paranormal romance? Check out more from Kate Rudolph:
Looking for more shifters? Check out Bear in Mind where shifter Derek meets his match in psychic and former spy Sandra.
She was making demands of an alpha. When exactly had Daphne turned suicidal? But now that she'd said it, she would stand by it. In her experience, alphas were almost always bullies, and if she could take the brunt of the attention and protect the humans, she would.
“I can do whatever I damn well please,” said Kieran, a cruelty in his tone that she didn't remember. Other than that, she remembered him very well. He had aged a little, growing into his muscular frame and face. When he was a boy, she had thought him beautiful, but now he had surpassed handsome and matured into stunning.
He was over six feet tall, his hair dark and cropped short. Though he had no beard, his chin was dusted with dark stubble, hinting at darker, dangerous things. She wanted to taste his lips, they should not have looked supple, but they did. And while that should have taken away some of the power from his face, it only made him interesting.
For the first time in a decade she was glad that she left, glad they were no longer mates. If she had stayed, there would have been no way she would have held his interest. Men like him didn't want girls like her, not forever.
She wanted to shrink back into her chair and hide within her sweater. But she couldn't back down. Backing down from a challenge was even worse than issuing one in the first place.
Daphne set aside thoughts of kissing him and answered his question. “They're human, they have nothing to do with me being here.”
“You're coming back with me,” it wasn't a request.
She wanted to. So bad. But she could still remember that bloodstained night when she was eighteen years old, ready to escape this hellhole and be with him. The wound was gone, but never forgotten.
“I'll be out of your territory as soon as the bus is fixed,” she said. “You won't ever have to see me again.”
He reached across and clamped a hand on her wrist, not hard enough to hurt, just enough to keep her in place. “I don't want you to go.”
“It's been ten years, I'm not your mate anymore, Kieran. And I'm not in this pack. Just let me go.” She could feel tears threaten behind her eyes. She would not cry, not in front of him, not when she had to be strong. Daphne had no pack, but she wasn't meant to be a lone wolf. The isolation she'd put herself through made her sick at times, but she couldn't come back. Not here.
“Nine years, three hundred and sixty three days.”
The number froze her in place. “What?” That couldn't be right. But it didn't matter. Not really. “Are you counting down the days until you can mate with some cute little she-wolf in your new pack?”
Something dark passed through Kieran's eyes and his jaw worked, like he was grinding his teeth. “You are coming with me or I punish the bus driver for bringing you into my territory without permission.”
Daphne felt like she'd been punched. He had to be bluffing, lying. Kieran would not harm an innocent person. At least, he wouldn't have done it ten years ago. But he was an alpha now. He couldn't be in that position without spilling blood.
He watched her carefully and she wished she could read the thoughts in his eyes. Did he mean it? Truly?
And what if Julianne was still there? She'd promised to tear Daphne's throat out if they ever saw one another again. She glanced over at the family across the room. If Kieran wasn't lying, would he limit his punishment to the driver? Or would the passengers suffer a similar fate? There would be a cover-up. There always was.
“Are you truly this monster?” She spat. “They are innocent people.”
Kieran let no expression cross his face. “No one is innocent. Make your choice.”
What had made him like this? He was supposed to escape this fate, not be caught up in the violence and brutality of life as a shapeshifter.
He had to be bluffing. But Daphne couldn't risk being wrong. Not with lives at stake. “Fine, alpha. Lead the way.”
But they didn't leave immediately. The waitress brought Daphne a sandwich and set it down in front of her, nodding at Kieran before she left. Her stomach turned traitor and growled once she smelled the aroma wafting off the warm food. It had been at least a day since she had last eaten a full meal, maybe more.
Part of her wanted to refuse the food, refuse the gesture. But Daphne had long been a pragmatist. If Kieran wanted her to eat, she would eat. If only because she was actually hungry.
She took her time, internally savoring each bite but trying to keep her expression neutral. The more annoyed at her he became, the better as far as she was concerned.
It was more than thirty minutes later that they walked out of the restaurant. She spotted his car immediately. Few people in this part of the state could afford a Mercedes, and his was spotless.
He held open the passenger door for her and Daphne placed her backpack on the floor and climbed in, buckling her seatbelt as he walked around the car.
They drove down familiar roads in silence, not even the crackle of the radio keeping them company. Less than five minutes later, Daphne knew that she had made a mistake. She should have never climbed into an enclosed space with him. Especially not one as small as a car.
He surrounded her, his scent sinking into her skin. It felt like home which made everything worse. She had no home. She took shallow, slow breaths, doing her best not to breathe him in. It wasn't working and concentrating on her breathing only made her concentrate on him more.
How she could still remember the scent of him, the feel wrapped around her, his cock deep inside her, sweat hot against her skin after all these years was no mystery. Every night he lived on in her dreams. She had long ago memorized it, determined that if she couldn't have him in the flesh, she could still keep him close after she fell asleep.
She had never expected to see him again, and smelling him was having an almost pathological effect. Heat invaded her, loosening her muscles and tightening her breasts, the tips hard and sensitive against her threadbare bra.
Her cunt ached, wet and willing to take him in once more. Desperate to take him in, if she were being completely honest.
She didn't want to look at him, it hurt to know he was so close but that she couldn't, shouldn't, touch him. To touch him now only to have to deny herself after this would be torture. She didn't want a taste if she couldn't have him all.
But she looked anyway and saw his hand tighten around the steering wheel, knuckles white.
There was something else in his scent, something familiar that she hadn't realized shouldn't be there.
“You're aroused,” she blurted out, surprise in her voice. He couldn't still want her after all this time.
“No shit,” the words were strangled, “My mate smells like a bitch in heat, what do you expect?”
“Stop calling me your mate.” His words were crude, they shouldn't have made her want him anymore. And yet, she was clearly fucked in the head.
“You are my mate, what else should I call you?” He didn't look at her when he spoke. From the way his hands gripped the wheel she thought he might have been trying to keep himself from pouncing on her.
Her hands dug into the seat cushion as she tried to fight that instinct off in herself. “I don't know, my name?” Ire dripped from her words, “I'm sorry to mess up your perfect little life that you've got going here. I'm sorry I came into your territory without permission. If you just let me go we can pretend that this never happened and the bond between us will dissolve.” It all came out in a rush.
Kieran slammed on the breaks and she jerked forward. He turned the car off and got out, slamming the door behind him. Daphne's eyes followed him as he stomped around and yanked her door open, his chest heaving. He reached across her, breathing deeply against her neck and unbuckled her seatbelt.
With a harsh jerk, he forced her out of the car and made her lean against the back door. He took up all of her space, hands on either side of her head, his body far too close for comfort. Damn if it wasn't hot as hell.
Why wasn't she pissed? She should be pissed.
He tilted her chin up so that she was forced to look into his intense eyes. It was suicide to make eye contact with an alpha, but this one didn't seem to know that. “You think I don't want you?” He asked, truly puzzled. “You think that we should just let this thing between us go away?”
“I can tell you want me,” she admitted. The desire had become a part of his scent now, integrally wound up. “But I'm not just here for a fuck.” She didn't know what she was saying. She wasn't supposed to be here at all. “Just go back to one of your harem. I'm sure they'll be happy to take care of you.”
Enjoying this free paranormal romance? Check out more from Kate Rudolph:
Kieran knew he was looming. He knew he had a threatening presence. But if he had stayed in that car for one more moment, he would have crashed the damn thing from distraction. He had to step back, to try and regain some of the sanity he knew lived somewhere in his head.
But then Daphne said harem.
“You know!” She shook her head, waving her hands on the other side of his arms. “Whatever women you have lining up to warm your bed. You're the fucking alpha. That's your prerogative.”
Was she jealous? Did she think that he had some random woman in his bed every night? “I'm a mated alpha. Wolves mate for life, Daphne.”
The blood drained from her face and Kieran had to keep a tight leash on the hot wave of jealousy that ripped through him. It had been ten years, she hadn't been planning to come back. He would do his damnedest not to hold her lovers against her.
“What do you mean?” She asked shakily.
“It's always been you. Only you.” He wouldn't lie to her about this. “If there…” She surprised him, looping her arms around his neck and pulling him close, kissing him with everything she had.
Kieran responded, his hands on her hips, holding her tight. The kiss was familiar at the same time it was new. The years between them were a gulf they tried to bridge with lips and tongue and teeth. She nipped at his bottom lip, just enough to pinch before licking him gently, and then exploring his mouth.
It was violent and tender, and so damned sexy he was straining against his pants, just about to come from a single kiss. It had been too long, and he was a desperate man, wanting to imprint his taste on her lips. She would never forget him, never leave him again.
He nudged a leg between her thighs, letting her ride him, her pelvis grinding hard against him. She would be wet, he knew, hot and ready for him to take her. It was struggle not to do it right then. But if he took it too far, she would run away. She had already done it once.
Her breast was heavy in his palm, soft and pliant. He played with her nipple, massaging it until she moaned, a quivering mass of woman in his arms. He wanted to rip the shirt right off of her, but stopped himself. Nothing to scare her away.
Instead, he dropped to his knees in front of her, his hands making quick work of the button and zipper on her jeans. She moaned again as he eased her pants down. “Oh, yes,” she gasped out when he kissed her soft mound. “God, Kieran, I've missed you.”
Her words were music and her taste was divine. He licked at her in broad strokes, swirling around her clit and making her squirm. She dug her hands into his hair, keeping him in place and encouraging him. If any other woman had tried to control him like that, he would have murdered her, but he was Daphne's slave.
He toyed with her, his strokes fast and slow, his fingers darting in and out of her wet opening. She flailed against him, hips jerking in involuntary little movements. And all the while she spoke, gasping his name, begging him to go faster, harder, to fuck her with his mouth.
“Right there, right there!” She nearly yelled, “You're freaking amazing.” But there was more that he wanted her to say. So many things. Promises to stay, declarations of love, explanations. Much more than one pussy licking session could give him.
Kieran buried his tongue deep inside her, thrusting in and out all while breathing in the heady scent of her arousal. He could feel her tense, the edge of orgasm nearing. She was so close, one tiny brush against her clit would put her over.
“Kieran, please!” She screamed his name, panting.
He obliged, finishing her off and feeling her come undone around him, the walls of her cunt shuddering. He kissed each of her thighs and made a promise to himself. He was keeping her, even if he had to addict her to his cock to do it.
She sunk down beside him, nearly dissolving into a puddle of pleasure against the side of the road. Kieran wanted to kiss her again, wanted to finish what he had just started and fuck her senseless.
Daphne placed a hand on his chest. “It's my turn,” she said.
He was so horny, so drunk on the taste of her that he didn't grasp what she meant until her fingers were undoing his pants and her warm palm held his cock. He groaned, that was amazing. He had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from spurting into her hand right then.
She stroked him, hard and fast, her face a mix of concentration and delight. “Is this good?” She asked, her words breathy.
“Y–Yes, very good.” Sentences were beyond him. He wanted to watch her hand, but he met her eyes and they locked, their gazes caught. He thought that she would have been shy, bashful of giving him this blatant pleasure, but she was determined.
She watched him for every tiny motion, changing her stroke when he gasped out her name and begged for more. With almost no warning he felt release coming. He tried to get out the words, but he exploded into her hands before he could say anything.
Daphne's smile would have had him coming again if he had anything left to give.
He pulled off his shirt and used it to clean off her hands. They sat in silence for several long moments until the bright lights of another car rambling down the road broke them out of their revelry.
They got back into the car without speaking and drove off towards the pack compound.
Enjoying this free paranormal romance? Check out more from Kate Rudolph:
It's time for something out of this world and men so hot you'll scream. Meet the Detyens, they die at the age of thirty if they don't claim their mates. But these feisty human women are here to save them.
It didn't mean anything. Daphne tried to keep repeating it in her head. They were just letting off steam, like two adults were bound to do from time to time.
Kieran didn't say anything to her as he drove, he didn't reach over and try to hold her hand or anything so juvenile. And that was good. She didn't want to encourage him. Really, what she needed to think about was how to convince him to let her leave and how to escape without meeting Julianne.
She wanted to ask if the other woman was still in the pack, but couldn't think of a way to do it without bringing attention to her predicament. She almost said something, but the words died on her tongue. It had been one of the conditions of the fight, she couldn't tell him – or anyone in the pack – why she had left or where she was going. If she did, it would be a direct challenge to Julianne.
If she found out.
“When did you become alpha?” She finally broke the silence.
“After Greg was killed. Four years ago next month.” He said it dispassionately, but it threw Daphne for a loop.
“How did Greg die?” She asked, “Is his family okay?” It was as close as she could get to asking the question, though she was more concerned for Kieran and the pack at the moment. Healthy alphas didn't just die. And if Kieran hadn't challenged him, it suggested something sinister.
“Poison, from a lone wolf who wanted to play alpha. I killed him shortly after and became alpha instead.” There was a lot he wasn't saying, but Daphne didn't press the issue. If she cared, she would get too involved. He kept speaking. “Margo left, but Julianne is still around.”
They lapsed back into silence, his words killing any nascent hope that Julianne had gone away.
They pulled into town some time later. The whole place was inhabited by shapeshifters. Before World War Two, the town had been home to a mine, but when the soldiers left, they didn't return and the place died off. At least, that was what the county and the state thought. The werewolves had moved in and made it their own, keeping a low profile and staying out of trouble.
And it seemed they had all heard that the alpha was bringing back a guest. There was one main street through the town with old, small, white houses on either side where the majority of the pack lived. The street ended with a great big mansion. The alpha's house. More than a dozen people were milling about, watching them drive though.
There was no place to park at the big house, so Kieran stopped his car more than a hundred feet away. They were quickly joined by other members of the pack. And after only a moment she was recognized.
“It's the Winter girl,” she heard a man say.
“Is that Daphne?” Asked a woman.
“I thought she was dead,” said someone else. Murmurs rose among them, and it was soon impossible to make out any distinct question.
Daphne didn't know what to do with herself. Was she Kieran's prisoner? Did he plan to put her before the pack's judgment? Perhaps he would officially exile her.
He didn't make her wait. He kept her close as he looked around, “I require three elders!” His voice boomed through the town.
So it was to be judgment.
An old man and ancient woman stepped forward. George Patel and Rhonda Jackson, they had both been members of the pack for decades and had been elders even when Daphne was a child. “Someone go wake my damned mate,” Rhonda told the crowd.
A werewolf took off running to one of the houses.
Before Leonard Jackson could be brought forth, a beautiful, tall, graceful woman pushed her way through the throng of people and settled her eyes on Daphne. “Challenge!” She cried. “This is a challenge.”
A gasp went up through the crowd. “You challenge me?” Kieran asked, daggers in each of his words.
Julianne looked at him, surprised. “Of course not, alpha. That wolf,” she pointed at Daphne, her finger a solid spear, “has challenged me.”
Kieran stiffened beside her. He looked down at her, a question in his eyes, and then back to Julianne. “I fail to see how that is possible,” he said, “As she has been with me for the last several hours.” He was giving Julianne a chance to back down. She would never take it.
And Daphne was right about that. Julianne strode forth and pulled her out of Kieran's arms, careful to make no contact with the alpha. Even a brush of her arm could technically be called a challenge. And one she could not win.
“She has challenged me by returning. I demand satisfaction.” A hush fell over the group. Daphne stood tall as she faced Julianne, she could not show weakness.
A part of her wanted to turn back and beg Kieran for help. Given the circumstances, he might have been able to put an end to it. But it was not his fight. For the first time in ten years, she had an opportunity to gain her freedom from the horrible stipulations that Julianne had put in place. Even if Kieran turned right around and exiled her once the challenge was done, she would no longer be living a secret punishment.
If she survived.
“Who will judge?” She asked, “I have no desire to die when I've only just returned.”
Leonard joined the crowd, bringing the gathering up to three elders and the alpha. “This is a challenge?” He asked and received a dozen nods. “The elders will stand in judgment. With the alpha's approval.”
All eyes turned to Kieran. He could stop this whole thing with one word. And from the look in his eyes, he wanted to. But he gave Daphne a long stare before finally nodding his approval. “Until one of you yields, or the elders call it off.” He turned to Julianne, “If one of you kills the other, your life will be subject to my judgment.”
He was trying to protect her. Even if he couldn't stop the fight. A part of her bristled at the thought that he didn't think she could win, but a much bigger part rejoiced. Maybe he hadn't called the elders together for an exile.
But she didn't have time to dwell.
She and Julianne faced one another in a circle of the pack. Neither of them tried to shift, changing fully to their wolf forms would leave them vulnerable for precious seconds, and the beginning of the fight was the most important.
Julianne shifted her weight from foot to food, her hands up in a fighters' stance. She let a little of her wolf bleed into her eyes, the color shifting from blue to yellow.
Daphne would not let it intimidate her. She needed to win, and nothing else was acceptable.
With a burst of speed, Julianne jumped at her, covering the feet between them in less than a second.
She tried to swipe at Daphne, but Daphne reacted on instinct, grabbing her arm and flipping her down where she landed on the ground with a painful thwack. Unthinking, Daphne climbed on top of her, limiting Julianne's movements. She reared back, fists pounding against her.
Adrenaline pumped through her and she couldn't feel any pain in her palms. Blood flowed, her own, Julianne's, she could not tell. Julianne tried to escape, her hips bucking, nails digging in hard to Daphne's legs. But Daphne didn't let up.
She felt her teeth changing, her face growing outward just a little to accommodate a muzzle instead of a mouth. She leaned down, no longer punching, and gently settled Julianne's neck between her jaws.
It was over, and Julianne knew it. But the other woman didn't yield. She waited to see what Daphne would do.
Daphne was frozen as well. She had never killed before. Her skills had been honed out of the desperation of an unprotected woman who lived in a dangerous world. She bit down, just enough so that Julianne would feel the pain, the consequences.
And then she felt hands on her shoulders, pulling her back, off the other she-wolf. No one cheered, no one congratulated her. In fact, two of the bystanders saw to Julianne, checking her wounds, ensuring that Daphne hadn't killed her.
“The victory belongs to Miss Winter,” Rhonda said. “She takes Julianne's place as highest ranking female. The only woman to outrank her is the alpha's mate, should he deign to choose one.”
“Daphne is my mate,” Kieran said. He spoke to the elders, the declaration affirming her status in the pack regardless of the fight.
He hadn't called them there to exile her? Was she relieved? Did she agree? The shock of winning was almost too much and Daphne didn't know what to think.
“Witnessed,” all three of the elders spoke as one. And then they left without further words. Their lack of argument spoke their approval.
Kieran turned to her, ignoring the rest of those gathered around them. “Let's go home.”
Enjoying this free paranormal romance? Check out more from Kate Rudolph:
These warriors will sacrifice everything to protect their people. The soulless feel no rage, no joy, no fear and existence is nothing but an empty journey. And then Raze NaFeen meets his mate and everything changes.
It was a short walk to Kieran's house, and the adrenaline didn't leave her as they moved. She couldn't calm down. Whatever happened next could be even more life changing than her fight. The fight that had made her the highest ranking female member of the pack.
Kieran led her upstairs to his bedroom. She had never seen the alpha's bedroom before. It wasn't ornate, there was a chest of drawers, a closed door which probably led to a closet, and a huge bed covered in a very soft looking comforter.
He made her sit down on the bed and walked into the bathroom. She heard the water run and he came out a few minutes later with a wet washcloth and a small bowl filled with water. Her wounds weren't serious, but they did need to be cleaned. She could already feel them healing and the dirt would work its way out one way or another. It would be much less painful to clean it out.
She held out her hands when he knelt in front of her, he took care of them with the utmost gentleness, washing away the blood. Her face had shifted back to completely human and she could speak, but she didn't know what to say.
“Where did you learn to fight like that?” He asked.
That was an easy question. “I've been bouncing from pack to pack. I had to learn to defend myself.”
His hand paused but he resumed washing without comment. She could see the tension in his hands, his chin. He probably wanted to rant, but was holding himself very carefully.
“When you said there were no others, did you mean that you've never considered taking another mate?” She asked. His confession was playing in the back of her mind. “I understand if there have been other lovers, you're an alpha, that's your prerogative. But if we're going to be mates, I don't…”
He put the bowl and cloth aside and put a finger to her lips. “It's only ever been you, Daphne. No other women, no other mates. I'm yours, and I always will be.” His eyes bore into her, daring her to naysay his declaration. He took a minute, swallowing hard before speaking again. “I can forgive you if you've…”
“No!” She didn't let him finish. “You, always just you. How could you think anything else?” It wasn't meant as an accusation, but it came out forcefully. She clasped her hands behind his neck, her forehead resting against his. “I would dream of you, every night. Every time I touched myself I thought of the times we made love. There was nothing I wanted more than to come back to you, but I was so scared. I didn't think you would take me back, I thought you would hate me.” She rambled, unable to stop herself.
Kieran did it for her, kissing her swiftly before pulling back. “I have always loved you.” He said, “And I want you to be my mate, forever. I know I already told the elders, but if you want to leave, do it now. I can't let you go again, not if you don't leave right now.”
Leaving was the last thing on Daphne's mind. “I'm not going anywhere,” she said, “I've finally come home.”
Time froze between them, but only for a moment. Kieran lunged forward, or she pulled him towards her. She didn't know which was which. But he was over her, hands buried in her hair, and she was laying on the bed, her lips against his, her hips pressed hard against him.
If that moment beside the road was the appetizer, then this was a huge main course. She would gorge herself on it and come back for seconds. Thirds too.
Hell, she was never getting up from this table ever again.
Somehow her shirt came off, ripped to shreds and thrown aside, leaving her breasts bare to his attentions. Kieran was on her like a starved man, licking and sucking. But he took his time, making her savor it, making her pant for more.
Daphne was practically staining the sheets from how wet her cunt was. She needed him inside her, desperately. She pulled at his shirt, bringing it over his head and throwing it aside. Her fingers dug into his back as he tasted her. She left scratch marks, using her nails, not claws. But she had strong hands and was taken by the passion.
Her breasts were heavy, arousal pooling within her. Her nipples were stiff peaks, beads of pleasure and the complete focus of her world. Kieran did things with his tongue she didn't think possible, taking her to a world beyond pleasure. It was mindless, breathless, and completely enthralling.
But he pulled back for a moment and she took her opportunity, rolling him over and climbing on top. “You've tasted me,” she said, capturing his mouth for a quick, wet kiss. She pulled back, “Now it's my turn to taste you.”
He laid back, welcoming her to feast. She followed the same path that he had taken earlier, kissing his chest, unbuckling his pants, and licking down around his thighs. He tasted like a man, her man. It was the only thing that she wanted.
He was hard, ready for her, a drop of pre-cum already gathered at the tip. Daphne licked it away, smiling when he groaned and braced his hands against her shoulders, fingers digging in just enough to make his presence known.
She felt dominated at the same time that she dominated him. There was no hierarchy here, their positions fluid. She would do anything he asked, anything he commanded. And she knew that he would do the same. No questions.
But the only thing she wanted from him at this very moment was his cock. She licked up the length of him, tasting him more for her own pleasure than his. Kieran enjoyed it just as much, breath hissing out when she circled her tongue around the tip.
Yes, this was how it was supposed to be between them. Desperate, aching, hungry. What was the point in doing it any other way?
She took him in slowly, torturing him with her tongue, torturing herself as well. She was damn near soaked with arousal and only getting hotter by the moment. Hell, she would probably come just from tasting him.
Daphne moved her head back and forth, sucking him gently, lapping against his cock. It was so familiar, and yet she had to relearn the entire thing. There had been a time when she knew everything he liked, exactly how to make him come and how to make it last forever.
Now there were new things to discover between them.
She held him in hand tightly, feeling him stiffen even further. “Faster, baby,” he choked out through gritted teeth.
That was new, he'd always liked his blowjobs slow before.
But Daphne could deny him nothing. She picked up the pace, bobbing furiously against him, working her hand and her mouth in a steady rhythm.
He bucked against her, nearly fucking her face with the force of his pleasure. With a sudden cry, he came, spilling into her mouth and breathing heavily.
Daphne pulled away, swallowing and stood to kiss him once more. Werewolves increased stamina meant that he would be ready to go again in no time.
He was still hard, still going. “Are you ready for me?” He asked. “I need to be inside you.”
“God, yes. Fuck me, Kieran.” She was going to go mad if they spent another minute apart.
He reached down between them, his fingers plunging into her slick folds. She felt herself shiver with delicious tension. He swirled around, making sure she was ready, wet enough for him. Like there was any question of that.
Two more fingers joined the first, stretching her a little. It was a tight fit. She wasn't a virgin, but it had been years since she'd had him inside her. And it seemed her vibrator didn't need nearly as much room as Kieran.
She'd forgotten how big his cock was, but all she knew was pleasure. There was no fear of pain here.
He pulled out his fingers and she helped him guide himself to her entrance. “I claim you as my mate,” he said, evoking ancient words among their people. “I bind myself to you from this day forward until we both perish and beyond. My soul and claws are yours and I will forever be your shield.”
It was a rarely made vow. Once she accepted, their souls would be bound together for all eternity. In every life they would search each other out, forever mates.
“I am claimed,” she responded without hesitation.
He slid into her. The fit was tight and just to the edge of uncomfortable.
“Are you alright?” He asked, pausing. He was halfway inside her. “We can take it slow.”
Daphne let out a breath and relaxed. “I'm good.” She looked deep into his eyes and smiled, “Take me.”
He needed no further encouragement. Kieran moved gently, seating himself completely inside her and holding still for a long moment. When he felt her relax even further, completely accommodated to his girth, he started to move.
And it felt glorious.
Daphne couldn't ever remember feeling this good, with every thrust he brought her closer and closer to the edge. Her senses were overwhelmed with the pleasure of it all. This was how it was meant to be between them. How it would always be.
He hit her just right, brushing against that sensitive spot deep inside her. She dug her fingers into his arms and knew he would have bruises. The pleasure almost hurt, it was so powerful, but she only wanted more. She met his thrusts, moving in time to his rhythm.
Knowing she was close, he moved even faster, bringing all her desire to the surface. Daphne could not think except of pleasure, of sex. She was a being of pure lust, devoted to Kieran and this feeling between them.
She felt an orgasm blooming within her, pleasure starting in her stomach and rippling down, all the way through her cunt. She exploded around him, panting and crying from the whole thing.
But Kieran wasn't done. He kept thrusting, taking no mercy. And just as she finished the first, she came again.
Kieran slowed down for the last. “This one's with me,” he whispered in her ear. Daphne could do no more than nod. She was his slave.
He move slow, in and out in a hypnotic dance. His fingers reached between them and played with her clit, playing her like the string on a guitar. “Now,” he said.
He came, as did she, this one even more powerful than the first two combined. Daphne saw white, every thought falling out of her head as she became a creature made only for lust.
When they were done, Kieran pulled her close, holding her in his arms. He kissed her cheek and whispered in her ear. “I'm glad you're back, mate.”
Daphne smiled. “I'm home.”
This free paranormal romance, The Mate that Got Away, is featured in The Mate Bundle. Read about sexy shifters and the mates who love them in four steamy stories of wild love.