Jaycee wore some loose, gauzy white thing that whipped about her legs as Angel led her towards the edge of the canyon. Rex beamed at his girls. This day was perfect. Well, almost. Ryan was already so deeply undercover that he could not be there. Considering how quickly they had managed to arrange the damned thing, that was impressive, even for the federal government.
But his other cousin, Jack, was more than happy to fill in as best man. He had worried about how Grandfather would feel about seeing the only grandchild of his dead brother. But he should have known better. The moment the young man stepped from his truck, Grandfather had wrapped his arms about him as if it were just another summer, and his brother Joe had sent the young man to run loose on the ranch with Rex and Ryan.
They had kept the wedding small — just the two of them, Angel, Grandfather, Jack, Hector, and Lupe. Jaycee had not minded. Grandfather would perform the ceremony, a mix of the legal one and various Native American traditions.
And if anyone had thought it strange that they chose this place to say their vows, they said nothing. It had been Jaycee’s idea, claiming that it was only appropriate as the place where one life ended, and another began for them.
Angel glowed with health as she came to stand beside him. There had been no more seizures since that day. Even though it had been less than a month, she was already badgering Jaycee to discontinue the medications. Grandfather and even Lupe supported her entreaties. He had not weighed in on the issue, but maybe he should. He understood Jaycee’s worries, but perhaps it was time to let go of those as she had so many others.
Those thoughts were cut short by the smile that radiated from his bride’s face as she closed those last few feet between them. The final cords of the sweet feminine voices raised in harmony echoed in the canyon, “Cowboy, take me away. Fly this girl as high as you can into the wild blue. Set me free, oh, I pray. Closer to heaven above and closer to you…closer to you.”
Jack leaned over and whispered, “Damn, man, any woman that chooses the Chicks is a keeper in my book.”
Rex chuckled at his cousin, but when he turned back, every other thought flew like birds before the storm.
She was beautiful. She always was, from that first day in the courthouse. But never more than at this moment. To say she took his breath away would be an understatement. She took it away and gave it back again. She always would. “Nʉ Sʉmʉ.”
Jaycee smiled up at his words as she reached out and captured his hand in hers.
Grandfather’s voice was steady as he began.
“Now you will feel no rain, for each of you will be shelter for the other. Now you will feel no cold, for each of you will be warmth to the other. Now there will be no loneliness, for each of you will be companion to the other. Now you are two persons, but there is only one life before you.”
When Grandfather had first shared this blessing with them, Jaycee had thought no words could more accurately capture her feelings than those. They so wholly reflected her new understanding of Feminism 101 and relationships.
“May beauty surround you both in the journey ahead and through all the years. May happiness be your companion, and your days together be good and long upon the earth. Treat yourselves and each other with respect, and remind yourselves often of what brought you together.”
Jaycee turned and smiled up at Rex, remembering that first day in the courtroom. She would never have imagined then that she would be standing here with this man. Or had she? From that first moment, something deep inside of her had recognized him as her mate.
“Give the highest priority to the tenderness, gentleness, and kindness that your connection deserves. When frustration, difficulties, and fear assail your relationship, as they threaten all relationships at one time or another, remember to focus on what is right between you, not only the part which seems wrong.”
These past weeks had certainly put those admonishments to the test. She did her best, but it was Rex for whom those things had come so easily. She squeezed his hand, though that was not fair. As she came to be more comfortable inside his mind, she had learned that what might appear natural from the outside often came at a very high price.
“In this way, you can ride out the storms when clouds hide the face of the sun in your lives – remembering that even if you lose sight of it for a moment, the sun is still there. And if each of you takes responsibility for the quality of your life together, it will be marked by abundance and delight.”
Aww, there it was again. That equality. Equality of responsibility as well as privilege. That was the difference. That was the foundation stone of a good relationship. Caring for the other person’s feelings and needs as much as your own. And while their mental link made that a bit easier, it still required a choice. Each and every day, usually several times a day. She did not always get it right, but she was trying. And learning and growing every day. Thankfully, she had a patient partner.
“Rex, my son,” Grandfather intoned.
His eyes shone done at her with the heat of passion as they had that first day, but it was matched or perhaps surpassed by the compassion that had captured her heart. Empathy not just for her, or even Angel, but kindness that extended to others in their lives like the Ramirezes. Why had it taken her so long to see that? But what did it matter? She had a lifetime to make it up to him.
Rex’s voice was incredibly strong as he began. “Fair is the white star of twilight, and the sky clearer at the day’s end, but she is fairer, and she is dearer. She, my heart’s friend.”
His smile never wavered, nor his gaze never left hers as he squeezed her hand and heart, “Fair is the white star of twilight, and the moon roving to the sky’s end, but she is fairer, better worth loving.”
He leaned in and gently brushed a kissed upon her smiling lips as he finished, “She, my heart’s friend.”
Jaycee’s eyes filled with tears as Rex’s cousin Jack handed him something. Rex lifted her hand to his lips. He pressed a sacred kiss first to her knuckles and then into the center of her palm before he slipped the most unique and utterly perfect wedding band onto the second finger of her left hand.
“Though my people needed no rings to bind one soul to another. Nonetheless, it would be my eternal honor if you would wear this symbol of my undying love, respect, and pledge to you this day.”
He slipped the solid wooden band over her knuckle. She tried to examine the intricate carvings in its polished surface, but the tears kept getting in the way. “The great oak offered forth this piece of herself that I might bestow upon you my pledge of strength and protection. Each moment I spent carving it was a prayer and blessing for a long and loving life with you, Nʉ Sʉmʉ.”
She watched as his throat constricted, just as his fingers tightened around hers. “Do you accept my pledge to you and all that is yours?”
She could not even strangle words out as those tears raced faster down her cheeks. All she could manage was to boob her head rapidly. But it seemed completely natural and perfect that Angel answered on their behalf, “Yes, we do,” as she wrapped her arms about both of their legs and held tight.
As Jaycee did her best to brush the tears from her eyes, she worried that she would not remember the words that she had spent the past week memorizing. Her voice was certainly not as sharp or sure as his or Grandfather’s, but somehow or the other, she managed to squeeze the words past that log in her throat.
“Rex Ranger, you are my husband.” That word never held a more profound or wholly inadequate meaning than at that moment.
“My feet shall run because of you. My feet shall dance because of you. My heart shall beat because of you. My eyes see because of you.” How this man had opened her eyes to so much in such a short time. She looked forward to all that the rest of their lives would reveal.
“My mind thinks because of you.” Yes, it was not merely her eyes that his love had opened. But her mind and heart as well.
“And I shall love because of you.” She barely managed to squeeze those last words out as his strong arms lifted their daughter and drew them all into a tight circle.
Jack, Hector, and Guadalupe surrounded them, laying their hands on their shoulders as Grandfather extended his hands to their heads.
“Great one in heaven above, please protect the ones we love. We honor all you created as these your children pledge their hearts and lives together.” There were tears in the old man’s eyes, too. Or Jaycee thought there were, she could not be sure, given how blurred her vision was.
“We honor mother-earth – and ask that this marriage be abundant and grow stronger through the seasons,” Grandfather reached into the ceremonial apron that adorned his waist and sprinkled dirt over their heads.
Then Jack passed each of them a candle. “We honor fire – and ask that their union be warm and glowing with love in our hearts,” the old man pulled a flint from the pocket and lit Jaycee’s candle.
“It is woman who is the fire at the center of her home, my daughter. It is her right, privilege, and duty to share that as she alone sees fit.”
Jaycee nodded her head though shock prevented words. She knew that this was not part of the ritual, but an individual blessing of this man to her. The significance of that was not lost on her as she turned and lit Rex’s candle. Then together, they lit the candles of the others.
Grandfather spread his arms wide and lifted them to the sky. “We honor wind – and ask, they sail through life safe and calm as in the mother’s arms.”
Raymond Greywolf spun in a circle as with many of the traditional dances. But the wind that blew was far more robust than any the motions of his body might warrant. For a moment, their candles flickered, but they held, roaring to life with the oxygen breathed into them by this blessing.
Then the old man reached out to Angel, taking from her the double spouted Native American wedding vase. The sentiment might have been traditional, but the execution was anything but. Jaycee knew that their daughter had spent days working with Grandfather to craft the slightly lopsided vessel. Each design and mark etched by young and old hands working together to bless this day and them.
Grandfather lifted it to the heavens, “We honor water – to clean and soothe this relationship – that it may never thirst for love.”
He held the vase over their heads, which were bent close to one another. Then Grandfather poured the water that she had collected that morning from the stream that ran through the ranch over them both. Some of it trickled down to be captured in Angel’s curls as she giggled with delight.
“With all the forces of the universe you created, we pray for harmony and true happiness as Jaycee and Rex forever grow young together. Amen.”
Raymond winked at her and added, “A-woman as well.”
Their friends erupted into laughter as Jack slapped Rex on the shoulder then drew him into one of those guy hugs. Lupe, with tears running down her weathered cheeks, wrapped Jaycee in a maternal one as Hector and Grandfather looked on.
But something had captured Angel’s attention as she danced towards the edge of the cliff. Jaycee opened her mouth to scream out a warning, but Rex shook his head and pulled away from Jack.
“Let me, Nʉ Sʉmʉ.”
It was still incredibly hard for her. Even with Sean, Jaycee had never really had to share the responsibility for her child. She knew that this was far more than merely some need to impress her or even share her burdens. Rex genuinely loved Angel and saw her as much as his child as hers. She was admittedly still struggling with the depths of that.
But she knew that the words and promises they had just shared extended to Angel as well. So, she had better start to learn. No time like the present as she nodded her head then turned to speak with his cousin.
Rex’s heart fluttered as Angel turned her dark head and beamed up at him. Those smiles were almost as precious to him as her mother’s. Though in a decidedly different manner. He reached his hand out towards his daughter.
“Your mother is worried that you’re too close to the edge, sweetie.”
“Mommy worries too much.”
Rex threw back his head as the laughter rolled out of his gut. Angel looked up at him sheepishly as he knelt in front of her. “I don’t think we should tell her that. Not quite yet.”
Angel’s brow knit together as she pondered his words. Then she nodded slowly, “But soon.”
Rex considered exploring what she meant further, but Angel remained distracted, staring out over the edge of the cliff. Had Jaycee been wrong? Was it too soon to bring the child back to this place?
“No. It was right. It was good for Daddy to be here.”
He frowned. Was that because the child could so easily slip into his mind? Grandfather was right; they should never underestimate her powers. They would have to be more careful about erecting barriers.
Or was it her words themselves that bothered him? The idea of that man having any part in this day did not sit well with him. He knew that he could never erase Sean Riley from their lives or memories. He had only to look at his child’s darker skin and tight curls to be reminded that their bond was not biological. Not that it bothered him – usually.
But at this moment, he was not sure what to say or think, especially to the man’s only child.
“Daddy brought the pretty lady and three little boys with him.” Her eyes remained straight ahead, seeing things that Rex could not. “He seems happier now. I’m glad.”
She turned back to smile at him once more, “Mommy needs another baby. Then she will stop worrying about me so much.”
Rex shook his head and laughed again. “What makes you say that, Angel?”
“The pretty lady said so.” Then as if that settled the matter, she ran off to where Grandfather stood, chatting with his cousin Jack.
Rex was left to come to terms with the turmoil that continued to rage in his mind and heart. His hands tightened into fists at his side. It angered him that he had never even gotten a punch in on the man.
After all the pain and hurt that Sean Riley had inflicted, both physical and mental torture, on his mate, he had never been able to defend her honor. The man had robbed him of even that satisfaction. He wanted to roar, rage at Fate itself. To have denied him the pleasure of bringing justice to that thing.
His shoulders slumped. Angel was right. Sean Riley had not always been that thing, the Chupacabra. Once upon a time, before Jaycee, before Angel, he had been a man. From the background that Ryan had shared with him, an honorable one, as concerned with righting the wrongs of the injustices and enslavement of his people as Grandfather was.
He had been a brother, too. Though Rex knew of no other skinwalkers beside Grandfather, he knew they were out there. Somewhere. He believed that. And once upon a time, Sean Riley had been such a comrade.
Then he has lost the most precious thing of all to any skinwalker – his mate. On this day, above all others, Rex could empathize with the man. The skinwalker that Riley had once been. He shook his head, would he ever find peace with it?
Angel had almost instantly grasped the situation, releasing the pain of losing the man who had sired her, yet never been the father she had needed. From the little that he had witnessed of their relationship that day, Rex believed the child’s pain was far more profound than that.
Riley had not seen her gifts, only that she was not the son he had wanted. But more than that, Rex knew that until Grandfather came into her life, Angel feared that she would become like the man – a monster.
One talk with Grandfather and that was it. All the pain of a lifetime gone. Simply by the knowledge that Riley’s choices were his own and that she did not need to repeat them or pay for her father’s sins. Hell, the child could even find joy in imagining a happy afterlife for the bast…
He felt the soft hands on his arm and smelled her sweet scent even as she spoke. “Grandfather is right, you know. If Angel says that Sean and Astrid were here today, maybe they were.”
“Doesn’t that bother you?” The words of anger were out of his mouth before he could stop them.
Jaycee gently turned him to face her, “No, honestly, it does not. Maybe it should. But it does not.”
She turned her head and stared out over the cliffs for a long moment as she wrapped her arms about his waist and drew him to her side.
“I never knew the man I married until it was too late.” She shook her head, and he could see tears glisten in her eyes. “I had stars in my eyes for the man he had once been. I was in awe of the legend, the man and attorney he was before.”
She turned back to face him, “The man that had died with Astrid. I am not excusing anything that creature did or became. He hurt far more than just me. And we may never know all the damage that he did.”
“But one thing I have learned is that forgiveness is not about him. It’s about me. About us. And the future. Our future. A future I want to share with you and Angel.”
Her fingers tenderly caressed his cheek, “It is not our place to judge Sean’s soul. If there is a heaven or a hell, then that job belongs to a bigger judge than me. If instead we are reincarnated, then maybe he’ll have the chance to atone for what he did in the next life. And if there is nothing after this…well, it seems silly to allow him to continue to control our lives. Even a little.”
Rex leaned his forehead against hers, “I wish I could be as wise as my wife and daughter.” His throat choked, “But it hurts, sweetheart. Knowing that I failed you. That when you needed me the most, I wasn’t even there. That I never got the chance to right those wrongs for you.”
She shook her head as she took his face between her palms and placed the tenderest of kisses on his lips, “Don’t you get it, cowboy. Sometimes a woman has to fight her own battles.”
“I’m glad that you did not fight Sean. Have you ever considered what it could have done to Angel if you had killed her father? How could she have trusted you after that?”
He had not thought of it that way. But of course, she was right. For all that he had done and not done, the man was still Angel’s biological father.
“No, Rex, what happened here that day was the best thing. Love won out over revenge. And that is always the best outcome of all.”
He wrapped his arms around her and lifted her. He kissed her sweet lips until the passion flared between them, erasing all thoughts of the man from both their minds. “I don’t know about the best outcome of all. I can think of a few better ones.”
She winked at him, “Yes, well, since it was Grandfather that sealed the ties of holy matrimony, I was thinking about other bonds. Ties. And rope, cowboy.”
“What did you have in mind, Nʉ Sʉmʉ?”
The image his mate and wife sent scrambled the neurons in his brain, caused his cheeks to flare a bright red and his cock to harden in his jeans. “Yes, ma’am,” was the best he could manage.
She wrapped her tiny fist about the neck of his shirt and drew him back to her lips, “That’s the right answer, cowboy. Just as soon as we get rid of these people that we love.”
They both chuckled and walked hand and hand back to their family and friends, but Rex’s mind was somewhere else. The ideas that she had planted in his mind danced down his spine and settled in his groin.
Jack Greywolf stood on the porch, staring up at the dark Texas sky. This far from the city or even town, the black depths twinkled with a million stars. Billions. Even more were not visible to the naked eye. His dark eyes scanned the inky blanket, looking for the brightest.
He knew exactly what to wish for. The same thing he had had been hoping for months. Years, perhaps his whole life? How could finding one good woman be so damned hard?
His cousin had managed the gargantuan task. Of course, Rex was lucky; he had a secret weapon – his skinwalker senses drew him to the one woman meant just for him. His true mate.
Jack was not destined to be so blessed. He had to do it the old-fashioned way – dating. And that had not been working out for him in a long time. He could not remember the last time he had gone out with a woman that he would consider more than a one-night stand. Had he ever?
At least not since that cheerleader in high school, but he had never thought seriously about marrying her either. What was her name? Oh, and his ‘babysitter.’ But Laura Reynolds had quit, throwing his grandfather’s money back at the old man. And all because he copped a feel of her sweet tits. What was a horny thirteen-year-old kid to do in small-town Texas, anyway?
He chuckled, and the sound tinkled across the crisp Hill Country night. Somewhere out there, his cousin was enjoying the pleasures of his new wife’s ‘good lovin.’ Jack was happy for Rex. And pea-green with envy.
He had been looking for a woman like Jaycee for at least the past couple of years. But he had gotten serious about it with his grandfather’s passing. Leave it to Injun Joe to stipulate in his will that his only grandson and heir had to marry within a year of his death or loss his inheritance.
It did not help that he had wasted almost a month of that time finishing out his last enlistment in the Army. He had not even known the old man was dead until he got back from his final mission with the Green Berets. Being informed by a chaplain that the man who had raised him from the time he was eight was dead and buried for weeks had not set well.
He was still trying to make peace with the decade long estrangement with the man he had idolized. Unfortunately, there were no do-overs in life. He had learned that on his first mission as a Green Beret when he was one of only a handful who made it back.
Jack ran his hands through his hair. It was longer than it had been a couple of months ago, but nowhere near as long as it had been before he joined the Army straight out of high school. At this length, it even had a bit of curl. Something it had not, when it was regulation short or when it had hung halfway down his back as his Native American forefathers once wore theirs. He still had not decided if he would grow it back that long.
There were so many things he had not decided. And how long to grow his hair with the least of them. He was so angry with his grandfather that he continued to toy with the idea of turning the casino over to the Nation and the employees.
Jack was not even sure that a casino was what his people needed. Not anymore. Not that he blamed his grandfather, but the legacy of casinos and titles like Injun Joe did not sit well with Jack. He had seen too much of this world and its legacy of greed, hubris, and domination of one man over another. He had not unwittingly furthered those things once. He did not want to do so again.
Not that he might have much choice. If he did not find a woman to marry in the next nine and a half months, then the choice would not be his to make. Maybe that was right, too.
Of course, if all he wanted were to fulfill the conditions of his grandfather’s will, that would be easy enough. Between his good looks and inheritance, he’d have them lining up for the privilege. But Jack was old-fashioned. In loads of ways. The least of which being that he damned well intended to do this marriage thing only once.
He sighed and shook his head as he searched the horizon. If only things were as simple for him as it had been for his cousin.
The deep laughter that rumbled from behind him made Jack turn. In the dim light cast from a single lamp in the living room, his great-uncle reminded him so much of his grandfather that Jack’s vision blurred with tears he had sworn never to shed. “What’s so funny, old man?”
“Ryan felt the same way.”
Jack’s shoulders slumped at the mention of the other man. It had been years since he had seen Rex’s other cousin. The three young men had spent summers here with Grandfather. Though Raymond Greywolf was his own grandfather’s only brother, the term was honorary. Hell, much of the Nation called the old coot ‘Grandfather.’
“How is he, anyway?” Jack knew that the man had been part of the investigation into the suicide of Jaycee’s ex-husband. Hell, if Ryan was not off on some top-secret undercover thing, he had no doubt that it would have been him to whom Rex turned for the role of ‘best man.’
“As restless and unsettled as you, my son.”
Jack shook his head and chuckled. “As cryptic as ever.”
“Like medicine, some times, the truth needs a bit of sweetening.”
“Truth? Is there even such a thing?” Jack had once been idealistic enough to believe there was. If the man, who had raised him, had not managed to live up to the ideals that he had preached, well, that did not mean there weren’t any.
But Jack had spent over a decade traveling the world, he had quickly learned that it was not ‘freedom’ he was defending, but some rich bastards’ greed to take from others. He probably should have left the Army after his first enlistment. Then he would have been there for his grandfather at the end.
The problem was Jack had no idea what he wanted to be when he grew up. At thirty-three, he still didn’t even know who he was or where his home was. Jack was a drifter. Maybe that was why the Green Berets had worked so well for him. No mission was more than a few months and most decidedly less. In and out.
Maybe those first few years of his life had left more lasting scars than he realized? Or perhaps he was as much a drifter and rebel as the woman who had given birth to him? Or maybe growing up Native American and the abandoned bastard grandson of an activist who preached one thing and lived another had done a head number on him? But truth? Jack doubted that he would ever know such a thing, even if it did exist.
“Some times, truth is hidden.”
So were lies. Jack had seen enough of what living a life of hidden lies did to a soul.
The hand that gripped his shoulder was surprisingly strong, given its gnarled, arthritic fingers. “I know that Joe deeply regretted the estrangement with you.”
“Did you know?”
“Know what, son?”
Even Jack was not sure the answer to that question. Did Grandfather know how perilously close to death his brother was? Yes, the coroner listed his grandfather’s cause of death as a heart attack. That part had been sudden and unexpected. But the man had been in decline for months.
Two months to be exact. Two months – since that woman had died of breast cancer. That was the other unspoken question. Did Raymond Greywolf know the lies and double life that his brother had been living for almost four decades?
“Yes, I knew.”
Jack shook his head, his throat too tight to form words. Though they were not always necessary with this man. And as before, Grandfather was just as ambiguous with his answer.
They stood wrapped in companionable silence for moments that seemed like hours, an eternity that flashed in the blink of an eye. A lifetime of memories, dreams, and regrets passed through Jack’s mind until those unshed tears threatened to choke him. Maybe coming here was a mistake. This place, these people held so many recollections.
But he could not let Rex down. And truth, if there was such a thing, was that he had needed to face this man. The only other living person that his grandfather called family. “Why?”
Why had his grandfather not reached out to him? Not tried to scale the wall that he had built after that day? The moment he had first seen his hero for the flawed the man he was.
Raymond Greywolf sighed as those fingers dug deeper into his shoulders. “Because, like most of us, my brother thought he had more time.”
The old man gently tugged Jack so that they stood face-to-face, “Oh, Joe knew that the circle was closing. He felt that.”
A sad smile creased his great-uncle’s weathered face, “He called me that night.”
Jack’s muscles tightened, his hands clenched at this side. Anger and jealousy burst in his heart. That his grandfather would reach out to this man, his brother, but not to him. Even if he had been on a mission, his grandfather could have left a message. It would have been something, at least.
“You weighed on his mind that night. All Joe could see was the mistakes he had made. Especially with you, son.”
Jack fought hard to keep those tears from falling. It was not some macho ego that held them back. But what right did he have to cry? He had been as much to blame for all the lost time as his grandfather. Maybe more.
“Like I said, some times, the truth is hidden. And some times, the truth is right in front of us. We are just too blind to see it.”
Jack shook his head. Now he would never know the truth. Whatever that was. Even if there was such a thing.
“Don’t be like your grandfather, my son. Don’t think that you have time to find what you are seeking. When it finds you, grab hold and never let go. That was Joe’s biggest regret. That he had not done that. He did not want that for you, Jack.”
Without another word, the old man turned and walked back into the house, leaving Jack alone with a million unanswered questions and thoughts that were scattered to the four corners of the Earth as he had been for over a decade.
“The truth? The truth is that it is too late. I’ll never know or understand any of it.”
And if he could not make sense of the love that brought the greatest man he had ever known to his knees, made him betray principles that he held dear, and even weakened his stout heart to the point that it broke, then how could Jack ever find something he both craved with all his being and feared as his greatest enemy?
Rex triple-checked the guide wires on the tent, cursing himself for a fool once more. He should have booked them into one of those fancy spa things that had sprung up in the area over the past decade. It was their honeymoon. A woman like Jaycee deserved so much more than musty old sleeping bags and too thin air mattresses.
“You forget, cowboy, this was my choice.” The warmth of her arms embraced his waist. Her body heat radiated deep into his parched soul. His wife leaned her head against his back as she squeezed tightly, humming sweetly off-key.
“I wanna sleep on the hard ground in the comfort of your arms on a pillow of bluebonnets in a blanket made of stars.”
He chuckled as he drew her about, wrapping her tightly in his arms as he pressed a tender kiss to the top of her head. “Okay, I give up. You win, counselor.”
Jaycee beamed up at him, “I think we both win.”
Her fingers threaded through his hair and drew his head down until their lips touched. The Texas sky erupted into a kaleidoscope of hyperspace accelerating towards the center of the universe. The heat they generated hotter than Rigel, the blue giant that twinkled in Orion, the hunter.
And this hunter was home at last. Home in this woman’s loving arms. Dwelling in the place that had always been his comfort and refuge. Home with the man who had always been there for him. The whole fucking universe was perfect as far as he was concerned.
He felt her stiffen in his arms, “I’m sorry. That was thoughtless of me.”
“No, Rex. You’re right. For you, the universe is perfect. Angel, too, I think.” She leaned her head against his chest. He could not see her face, but he felt her tears to the depths of his being. “I’ll get there, too.”
They held one another as the music of nature sang its melody. The wild horses were neighing and galloping across the hills beneath them. A coyote called to its mate or perhaps the moon. A distant owl screeched the eternal quest, “Who…who?”
He understood all too well how his mate felt. He had spent most of his life uncertain. Uncertain of what to believe. Uncertain even what or who he was. And the biggest uncertainty of all – what his future held.
Until the day that this woman had walked into a Houston courtroom and turned his world upside down, then righted it again. She gave him purpose. She made him whole. But he understood for his very human mate – things did not work that simply.
“So, where do we begin?”
She shook her head and sighed heavily, “I have already filed the paperwork with the Department of Family and Protective Services requesting my file be unsealed.”
“How long will that take?” He knew how important this was to his mate. How much Jaycee needed answers to her past before they could begin to build their future.
“No. There you are wrong, cowboy.”
Her fingers tenderly caressed his cheek, and his blood simmered like a fresh stew on the back burner. Done, cooked, but the flavor enhancing with each bubble that popped, each moment on the slow heat.
“I may want or even need answers to my past, but that won’t change the facts of my future.”
Her fingers boldly traced a line down the front of his shirt until her hand came to rest over the taut zipper of his jeans. “And this future? What does it hold, Mrs. Ranger?”
“Love. Laughter. A few tears. And most definitely more than a few thrills.”
Her fingers became bolder as they worked to loosen first his belt buckle then the button. Neither of them had the patience to wait, so Rex dispensed with the zipper himself as he maneuvered them towards the open tent flap.
His new wife had other ideas as she drew back from his embrace. “I forgot something. You go on inside and finish getting undressed. I won’t be but a moment.”
Rex was not going to argue, even if his patience was fast approaching its limits. He nodded as he kicked off his boots, his jeans tangled with them. He stripped his shirt over his head and pushed his shorts down to join the growing pile.
“Socks, too. I am not making love with a man who wears his socks to bed.” Her voice tinkled along his spine as he lifted first one foot and then the other to dispose of those too.
Jaycee turned back to stare at his now fully naked body as if inspecting it. The nod and smile that she gave indicted that perhaps she was. “Now, wait for me inside. I won’t be long.”
Rex nodded his head, “Yes, Ma’am.”
Jaycee watched her husband’s naked backside disappear inside the tent. And oh, what a lovely bum it was. So much had changed in little more than two months. She had gone from a lifetime of being alone, except for Angel, of course, to being a part of an extended family.
And this place, it felt like home. For the first time in her life, she felt like she belonged somewhere, to someone. And that did not even come close to the miraculous changes in her daughter.
So, why are you trying to destroy it all? Are you in some kinky self-destruct mode? It was the question that she had been wrestling with for weeks. Was she testing the lengths of Rex’s love for her?
She slapped the coil of rope in the palm of her hand. She did not think so. But all those hours of reliving her times in the clubs with Sean had awakened some beast inside of her. Even she was not sure what it was or its depths.
She had no interest in pain. She was neither a sadist nor a masochist. And humiliation was a definite hard limit. She had lived a lifetime under the strain of that not so suitable weapon. But one thing, one image, keep coming back to haunt her dreams, even the waking ones. Rope. The beauty of it, yes. But just the idea of physically binding Rex to her as they were emotionally and spiritually.
But given all that had happened, was she opening a Pandora’s box that was better left firmly shut? Did she even have a choice?
‘This is torture, woman,’ his deep voice touched her mind as much as the fresh night air caressed her body.
And there was that, too. The need to dominate. To control, tease, and command her husband. Not because she was physically stronger, or more intelligent, or powerful, but because he surrendered some part of himself willing to her.
She knew it was selfish. Foolish perhaps. With happiness within her grasp for the first time in her life, why was she playing these silly games? Why was she risking everything?
Because she feared it was who she was. As much a part of her as Rex’s other skin was of him. But could he understand that? Would he be willing to play these games? The problem was she was not satisfied that games would be enough for her.
She heard the baneful moan from the tent. It fed something inside of her — that darkness that needed control.
She had to find out.
The rope firmly clasped in her hands, she slipped inside the flaps. “You need to learn patience.”
Rex, in all his naked glory, sat up and reached for her. “Not so quick, cowboy.” She slipped the rope around one wrist.
Rex’s eyes widened as he looked up at her. He held her gaze for a long moment. The silence stretched into forever. With an almost imperceptible nod, the tension in his broad shoulders eased, “So, what do you have in mind, sweetheart?”
She felt the stress relax a bit in her own body, “Nothing too dangerous. No whips or chains, or anything really kinky.” She blushed as she forced the words from her mouth, “But tonight, I want…no, I need…to be the one in control.”
She pushed him back among the sleeping bags. She moved within the confines of the tent until she sat astride his hips. She was still fully clothed, and she knew that the rough material of her jeans abraided his most sensitive areas. She circled her hips and drew another pitiful moan from his lips.
Rex threw back his head and closed his eyes. His whimpers were those of a wounded animal as he lifted his hips and sought that which she denied him. She smiled down at him, “Open your eyes, Rex. Look at me.”
His almost instant obedience fed her monster. She felt power course through her as she never had. Not even her most significant win in court came close to the satisfaction she felt in that moment.
Her hands captured his wrists and drew them above his head. She held him in place. Though she knew that his superior strength could overcome her at any moment, that was the point. For Rex to willfully surrender that control to her. Just for a bit. If even this once. It was something that Jaycee feared she needed as much as water, food, oxygen, or this man.
Her lips captured his. Her tongue invaded his mouth, conquering, subduing. Overpowering and mastering her powerful mate, this man whose beast always resided just beneath the surface, waiting to come out.
The kiss stretched out for long minutes. Sometimes demanding, sometimes teasing, sometimes so powerful that it stole her breath. But still, she prolonged it. Only her lips and hips made contact with his body.
The powerful body that writhed beneath hers, seeking relief that she controlled, that she denied him. Denied them both. But not just yet.
Jaycee broke the kiss but used her lips and tongue instead to torture her husband more as she trailed kisses, nips, and licks down his strong jaw. She drew his earlobe between her teeth, bit it, and tugged forcefully on it until Rex was moaning. Then she simply blew softly as she whispered, “We’re just getting started.”
His voice was almost not recognizable as human when he growled. “That’s what worries me, darlin’.”
Still, Rex made no move to break the bonds that held his wrists, though she was confident he could. Jaycee continued her game as her mouth and lips returned to blazing a trail down the side of his neck.
His pulse that pounded like his ancestor’s war drums called to her. She licked it, sucked it until she was sure there would be a hickey. She could not even resist biting into his flesh, though she did not break the skin. She even wondered what his blood would taste like. Perhaps she had read one too many vampire novels?
“I’ve another bodily fluid you can taste instead, sweetheart,” he chuckled.
She had been so caught up in her games that she had forgotten to erect mental walls between them. It had just become so natural, shockingly so, to have him running around in her mind. Or to run in his.
She ground her hips against his bare cock, “Only if you’re a very good boy.”
His smile was incredibly sexy as his voice whispered in her mind, ‘Oh, sugar, I’m always good.’
“We shall see,” she replied aloud as she returned to the slow burn of kisses, licks, and nips across his broad shoulders and chest.
She paused at the darkened circles of his nipples. She toyed with them for several moments, first one, then the other, as if they had all night. And they did. They had a lifetime of them. Jaycee was enjoying her little game of chicken with her beast.
Rex’s hips were arching and grinding against her jeans now. Trying to achieve the release, she prohibited him. She shifted her weight, coming to rest beside him.
“Awww, darlin’, what did you do that for?” he whimpered.
Her hand cupped his balls, and she tugged, none too gently. “Because someone is getting too excited.”
She pulled back so that their bodies did not touch anywhere. That was not an easy task, given how small the tent was. Her eyes held his, dared him to look away, as her fingers worked the buttons of his shirt that she wore.
She took far longer than was necessary. It took her minutes as she treasured each flair of his expressive eyes, each deep breath, each time that he bit his lower lip. However, he did not attempt to escape her bonds.
She smiled as the final button came loose, and she slipped the soft chambray material down her too sensitive skin, “Good boy.” She rewarded him with another of those heated kisses, making sure to keep distance between the rest of their bodies.
With a sassy smile, she trailed her hands across the flesh that her mouth had tortured. She watched his eyes, saw them flare as her fingers pinched his nipples. His hips lifted off the air mattress. Another tortured moan escaped his lips. But he did not pull on the ropes. Not even a little.
Her fingers continued lower, wrapping in the soft fuzz that surrounded his navel. Toying with his happy-trail, but always avoiding the most sensitive areas.
Jaycee paused their games again. She shifted and wiggled as she unfastened her jeans. Perhaps she should have planned this part a bit better. It was almost impossible to wriggle out of their tight confines in such limited space. And certainly not in a manner that approached sexy. This time the delay was practical rather than planned torture.
It took her far longer than she had thought it would, but Rex’s bright eyes followed her every move adoringly. Until she finally succeeded, tossing her jeans to the side so that she wore only her matching bra and panties.
“Now. Where were we?” She teased with a smile as her hands began a slow trail up the outside of his thighs. She touched him everywhere, a gradual path of fingertips and short nails that raked his skin. Everywhere, of course, except the one place that he wanted most.
Yet, he lay unmoving. His eyes followed her every movement. His breathing grew faster and more shallow with every caress. When Jaycee’s fingers caressed the insides of his thighs, Rex almost whimpered. But his hands remained still above his head. Her fingers repeated the movement on the other side.
She wanted to continue this game. To stretch it out all night long. But it was getting to her as much as it was him — the waiting. The teasing was increasing her own arousal every bit as much as Rex’s. His surrender especially was driving her to the brink.
She reached behind her and unclasped her bra, allowing it to slowly slid down her arms to her fingertips before tossing it away as she had the shirt and jeans. She bit her lower lip. She wanted his touch, needed it. But not enough to end these games.
Instead, she used her fingers to pull and twist her nipples. His eyes bulged at that as he growled deep in his throat. She reconsidered her plan. Her own need was riding her now. Could she go through with it? When her desire was as great as his, perhaps even more?
But she had another idea, a way to have her cake and eat it too. Most definitely eat it. She sat astride his hips once more, pinning him beneath her. Her fingers plucked faster and harder at her nipples as she watched his beloved face. She gloried in the need and desire that she saw. She got high, knowing that she had brought this man to that point. But it was still not enough.
She brushed her panties to the side. Her hips moved in slow, deliberate circles. She felt her cunt juices dripping onto his cock as her movements quickened, spreading them, coating it. Still, she teased, never allowing his cock to breach her folds. Rex writhed and moaned; it all fed her dark soul. Until she could not deny herself a moment more, sinking deep onto his hard length. Her orgasm was quick and powerful.
But she stopped midstride, quickly shifting to the side. Her whole body cursed her, denied its full release just as she had denied him.
Her hands cupped his sac, felt it draw up tight. She squeezed and pulled at his balls as her mouth swallowed the head of his cock. Rex lifted his hips, trying to plunge his length deeper down her throat. Instead, she let him slip from her lips.
She refocused on licking her cream from him, leaving nothing unexplored from the enraged purple head of his cock, slowly down the backside to the base, then back up. Only to reverse the action, savoring the flavors on the other side.
When she once more faced his hairy balls, she was not deterred. Her senses inflamed; this night had loosed something inside of her. Something wild and free. And Jaycee liked it. She liked it a lot.
Her mouth swallowed one of his testicles while her hand lifted and weighed the other. She sucked and licked. Then she switched. The wildness in her grew, her fingers found a tender bundle of nerves just beneath his balls, pressing against them.
Rex arched off the mattress so violently that it would have dislodged her, but she held tightly as his cries echoed into the darkness.
There was no doubt what she wanted. She shifted her body once more to cover his. Nothing was teasing about it this time as she sank fully down his length. Engulfing it and taking them both where they wanted to go.
She was once more that cowgirl rounding that final barrel and racing for the finish line. She reached it first. Her body soared to heights she had never imagined. But she was not alone as she felt Rex trembling beneath her. She felt each hot burst as he filled her with his love and new life.
Jaycee had never felt so complete. So whole. So loved. Like she truly belonged. Her fingers fumbled with the ropes until she finally managed to release one of his wrists.
Tears slipped from her eyes as she collapsed onto his broad chest. Those strong arms wrapped about her. Rex just held her in the dark silence for an eternity.
“Thank you, Rex.”
He brushed her hair to the side and shifted them so that he looked down into her eyes. “What for?”
She chuckled and felt his still hard cock slip deeper inside of her. “For putting up with my little games. For letting me explore another side of me.”
Rex shook his head and lifted her hand from where it rested over his heart to his lips. “Don’t you realize yet, Nʉ Sʉmʉ? It’s not a game. Not to me.”
He pressed a tender kiss to the back of her knuckles, then turned her hand and pressed another in her palm. “With or without the ropes, you hold my very life right here. In the palm of your hands. You have ever since you walked into that courtroom. And you will until the day we breathe our last breath. Probably even beyond that.”
Jaycee’s throat constricted as tears raced down her cheeks. Sometimes dreams did come true. Even ones that you were too afraid to have. And no matter the nightmares of her past, or the roller coaster of life that was the future, she knew that it would be a ride worth taking. Because this was the one man that she wanted by her side.
“Nʉ Sʉmʉ. You know you’re My One, too.”
Those were the only words necessary as she laid her head back on his chest. And for the moment, just enjoyed the peace and security that was their love.
This is far from the end, folks. Ryan, Jack, and the whole town of Sebida, Texas have their stories to tell. Including a shady sheriff, corporate corruption, racism, human trafficking, and a drug cartel. There’s just no other name for it than…