Mate Bond(8)

By: Jennifer Ashley

I’ll try to help you, Kenzie conveyed back. I have to touch you. It might hurt.

You think? Bowman growled.

Kenzie licked his face again. She let her tongue move behind his ears, her mate’s pain coming to her through the tiny link they shared. They had nothing like the magical, all-consuming mate bond other pairs developed, but at least they had something, even if it was only the understanding between two alphas.

Fifteen years ago, when Kenzie and Bowman had mated to keep the Shifters in the North Carolina Shiftertown under control and the humans from closing the place down, Kenzie had hoped the two of them would form the mate bond. It didn’t always happen right away—a couple could be together for a year and more before the true bond came. Sometimes it happened only after the first cub. Kenzie had been hopeful once Ryan had been born. She knew Bowman had been hopeful too, but still the mate bond hadn’t formed.

Hadn’t formed yet, Kenzie hastily amended in her head.

The way Shifter rules worked, though, if Bowman met a female—Shifter, human, or otherwise—with whom he did form the mate bond, Kenzie would be expected to step aside and let him go. Her clan leader, her uncle Cristian in this case, would officially dissolve Kenzie and Bowman’s mating, and that would be that. Shiftertown would rejoice that a Shifter had found his true mate, and Kenzie would be expected to congratulate him.

Likewise Bowman would have to step aside for Kenzie if she found the bond with someone else, though historically it had been rare that a male let his mate go to pursue a mate bond. The whole situation was rare, Kenzie knew, but that didn’t comfort her much.

Knowing she could lose Bowman anytime to anyone out there made Kenzie jealous and protective, which couldn’t make Bowman very happy. She drove him crazy, and he didn’t hesitate to tell her so.

Not that Kenzie stuck her tail between her legs and cowered under his admonishments. Kenzie’s and Bowman’s furious fights could make their neighbors run into the woods—literally—until the two of them calmed down again.

Now Kenzie smoothed Bowman’s fur with her tongue, gradually sliding her wolf’s body on top of his. Cade crouched behind Bowman, with a cleaner towel this time, sopping up blood.

Kenzie was dimly aware of others coming into the back, both human and Shifter. The man who owned the place, who liked Shifters and didn’t mind them filling up his bar, arrived first. A few Shifters who were high enough in the hierarchy to see their leader injured followed, along with a human groupie or two who’d slipped by the bouncer.

One groupie pushed her way past the Shifters. Like the pseudo-groupie Bowman had banished, this woman had decided to douse herself with perfume. Kenzie’s nose wrinkled at the obnoxious smell.

“Can I help?” the groupie asked. “I’m a doctor. A vet, I mean.”

Cade rumbled something in answer. Kenzie didn’t take her attention from soothing and licking Bowman, and her impression of the woman came only through scent. Under the perfume—they should know better than to wear it around Shifters—Kenzie smelled a hint of antiseptic, antibacterial scrub, and competence. How she could smell competence, she didn’t question—her wolf sensed things she never would in human form.

When the woman touched Bowman, he growled, and Kenzie did too. Cade put his hand on Bowman’s side. “Easy.”

Kenzie added an encouraging rumble to Cade’s. She did not like the woman putting her hands on her mate—not only in a jealous way, but in a primal fear that animals had for danger—but she convinced herself the vet could help.

“The bone needs to be set, and quickly,” the woman said. “If we can get him to my clinic . . .”

“Are you kidding?” Cade asked. “You didn’t see what was out there?”

“Yes, what is that?” the vet asked him. “Escaped animal from a zoo? Bear from the mountains?”

“Your guess is as good as mine. Escaped from a horror movie, maybe.”

Kenzie scented the vet’s fear, but the woman tried to bury it to do her job. “I can splint it, at least, but it will need serious medical attention. Can you find me a . . . ?”

She started reeling off things she wanted, giving orders to the humans and Shifters standing around. A woman used to being in charge. So why had she decided to be a groupie tonight? Did she like animals so much she wanted to be around people who turned into them?

Bowman was ignoring the vet, or trying to. He’d closed his eyes, grunting a little as Kenzie managed to lie down fully on top of him. She carefully didn’t touch his hindquarters, but she nuzzled his cheek, continuing to lick his face. A she-wolf protecting her mate.