Chapter 9 – Their Moment Comes

Jaycee wanted to run. Run as far and as fast as her legs could take her from this place and these people. This man especially.

But she could not. At least not now. Why had she foolishly agreed to leave her old battered second-hand car at her ranch? The excuse of it being a decoy seemed lame when she needed it now to get them far from this place.

She sighed, her shoulders slumped as she stepped from the front porch on to the rocky, hard-packed red earth of the Hill Country. She lifted her face and looked out across the hills from whence its name came. In the sunlight, they would burst like fire with reds and deep burnished oranges. But by moonlight, they seemed dark and steeped in mystery. Jaycee had enough mystery for one night.

Tomorrow. Tomorrow, she would make some calls. Speak with Hector and Lupe. Surely, it was safe for them to go home by now. She would not think about why the run-down wooden frame house and five acres of land seemed so barren now. Why it stretched out like some lonely soulless maw waiting to devour her life?

She wrapped her arms about herself as the cool night air hit her. She refused to believe it was the thought of going back to her life without him that brought a chill to her heart as well as her body.

He stepped forward and wrapped his strong arms over her shoulders. Heat blasted through her. Not merely the additional body heat of another human, but some chemical reaction that only the two of them were capable of combusting.

She knew she should pull away. For her sanity’s sake at the very least. But she never seemed strong enough to resist when Rex was this close. Like magnets drawn together. Or more like that moth who could not resist the light until it flew too close and burned its wings away.

He drew her deeper into his embrace, pressed his lips to her forehead tenderly. “Nʉ Sʉmʉ, why can’t you see? You are my light. I am that moth, completely helpless to resist you. And yes, you have the power to destroy me.”

He drew back with a heavy sigh. The moon must have been playing tricks because she would have sworn his eyes glistened with unshed tears. But he held her hand firmly and tugged gently, “Come. I have something to show you.”

She considered arguing but could not find the energy. What did it matter? She had made up her mind. Tomorrow she would take them far from this place. She would put all of this behind her. Behind them. It was what was best for Angel.

He pushed open the barn door. He did not turn on the bright lights that might disturb the horses as they slept. Instead, he used the torch on his phone to light their way back to the stall with that old battered trunk.

Jaycee wrapped her arms tighter about herself as a sense of foreboding crept up her spine with each step that Rex took away from her and closer to that trunk.

She was not a hunter. While she was not a vegetarian, she sincerely believed that humans had an obligation to care for animals, even the ones that they ultimately ate. She had been disgusted not only by Tybor Marshall’s action towards the horses but his son’s neglect as well.

So, the animal hides and feather headdress in that trunk bothered her, but there was something else as well. She was not sure what, but something more profound that made her uncomfortable around them.

“What are we doing here, Rex? I should get back to the house. Make certain that your grandfather has not upset Angel. Try to settle her for the night.”

He turned with the mottled tan, brown, black, and white pelt in his hands. His voice was flat, hard even when he spoke. “Right now, your doubts and fears are doing our little girl more harm than you realize. That’s why I got you out of there. And why I brought you here?”

Jaycee stood taller, her shoulders squared, her hands on her hips. “MY daughter is none of your concern. Your grandfather may be a nice old man; I don’t deny that. But Angel doesn’t need her head filled with mumbo-jumbo. We don’t…”

“Don’t need anyone, Jaycee?” He stood with the hide in his hands, crossed the room to her. “Everyone needs someone. And I need you. Yes, that little girl is my concern. Just as much as her stubborn, pig-headed, obstinate mother is.”

His tone softened as he shifted the pelt and brought one hand to caress her cheek. She wanted to draw back but instead found herself leaning into the tender caress. “You’re a good mother, Jaycee. I know how much you love Angel.”

“But right now, this minute, and for the past two weeks, you have been standing in the way of the one thing that can help our little girl.”

“That is my fault. Maybe I should have done this sooner. Certainly, it was safe once I brought you here. No more. It is past time I showed you the truth. As much as you may want to deny it.”

He leaned in and once more placed one of those heart-stopping kisses on her forehead. “I love you.”

Jaycee felt the floor give way under her. She gripped the doorway to keep on her feet. Angel was the only person who had ever said those words to her. Why now? Why this man? She could almost dismiss the sexual heat they generated. That was biology, hormones, and neurotransmitters, nothing more. But those words?

She felt bereft when he stepped deeper into the stall. The light was a bit dimmer. The moonlight drifted through the window above. He passed her his phone with the light to illuminate the dark stall. Jaycee watched his every move, uncertain why they were here.

When he began to strip off his clothes, she was more than tempted to run.  Maybe it was curiosity that held her there. Lust was undoubtedly another option. After weeks of fantasizing about what lay beneath his clothes, how could she resist? 

She shook her head as her eyes drifted from his body to the object that now lay at his feet. Jaycee shuddered at the realization it had once been a wild mustang. And from the looks of it, a spectacular one at that.

“Rex, what are you doing? This is ridic…”

Before she could finish the word, he had divested himself of the last of his clothes. Then he reached down and reverently lifted the pelt. He wrapped himself in it. Rex closed his eyes, leaned back his head, and hugged the horse blanket even tighter about his shoulders.

Jaycee dropped to the hay that covered the floor of the barn. Not even the wall could hold her up as she watched. It was as if the animal swallowed the man as it grew, stretched, transformed. Even as she watched, she could not believe it. It was not possible. Men did not become horses by merely putting on a skin.

The horse took a step in her direction. Then another, and another. It moved slowly as if recognizing that she was frightened, so skittish she might turn and run. Not that she thought she could. The best she could manage at the moment was to crawl away, and she was not sure she could even do that.

The pony came and stood beside her. It gently nudged her hand as if begging her to touch it. To feel for herself its solid muscles, the warm pounding of blood coursing through its veins, very much alive.

But even as she felt that life coursing beneath her fingertips, her mind rebelled. How was it possible? How could Rex become a horse? Just by putting the skin of a dead animal around his shoulders? It just was not conceivable.

His horse neighed. Its silky white mane swished as he shook his head. Whoever said that seeing was believing had never met his mate. Of course, he could not fault her completely. His own mind still questioned the how.

This time he stayed where he was, entirely within the dim light. Tomorrow, they would go out to the hills where his horse liked to run free with the others that his grandfather had brought to this sanctuary. He would shift in broad daylight. He would do it again and again. Until her doubts were pushed to the corner of her mind as his own were.

But tonight, they had other business. He cleared his mind and stepped from his other. He felt his form shrink and reshape until he once more stood holding his skin. A man. He looked into her shocked eyes before he turned and took the pelt back to the trunk in which it and others were stored.

His hand brushed softly across it as he blocked her disjointed thoughts from his mind. He sent a prayer of gratitude, ‘Oh, Great Spirit, creator of all we are. I come to you with humble gratitude. I thank you for my life and all that it is. I thank you for the opportunity of life in this form and the knowledge and power that goes with it. May I always be worthy of the great gifts which you have bestowed upon me.’

He closed the lid and opened his mind to hers. The battle still raged. Did she believe her senses? Her eyes? Her ears? Her touch? Even in the face of the impossible?

He hid the secretive smile that formed on his lips. Mixed through all the other was another emotion. Need. Lust. He considered picking his clothes up from the floor and dressing once more. But if things went his way, they would only be quickly discarded?

And if they did not? He had been giving that a great deal of thought too lately. If his mate rejected him, then he would not need his clothes, perhaps never again.

He stood and went to his mate, naked physically and emotionally. He dropped to the hay covered floor next to her and drew her into his embrace. His chin rested on top of her head. He dared to smile that knowing grin.

He could almost feel the shock waves echoing within her skull. He did not attempt to convince her or to ignite the flames in her that could burn away her doubts. He simply held her while she waged her war to come to terms with what she had seen and heard this night.

When the question finally came, it was not the ‘how’ but rather, “So, what now?”

He gently gripped her chin and turned her sublime face to his. “That is your choice, Nʉ Sʉmʉ.”

She shook her head as she tried in vain to understand, “You can do as you plan and leave this place tomorrow. Tear Angel from the peace, safety, and hope she needs to survive. And rip my very heart, soul, and humanity from me.”

He paused and looked deep into her eyes, knowing that as hard as the words were, he must place his trust and life in her hands. “I won’t try to stop you.”

She shook her head as tears gathered in her eyes. “Or? What’s my other choice?”

He smiled softly and brushed his lips across hers like the wind whispering over your skin. “Or stay. You step into the skin you have been given as my mate. And as hard as it is, you decide to trust and believe. In me. In Fate. In the things that your heart knows are truer than your mind can comprehend.”

She inhaled as those tears spilled from the corners of her eyes, “I don’t know if I can, Rex. Maybe this time, your Fate or Great Spirit or god or whatever, got things wrong. Maybe I’m not what you need. What you deserve.”

He laughed, and the sound echoed around them, at odds with the solemnity of the moment. He felt her anger rising once more at his outburst. He leaned down and kissed her nose, “Oh, Nʉ Sʉmʉ, you are exactly what I need. Though you may be right, I might not be worthy of you.”

“It’s not funny, Rex. This is serious. This is my life. Angel’s life. You expect me to put aside everything I have always thought was true, everything I thought I knew, and jump off some irrational, preposterous, harebrained cliff of faith. Believe in things that can’t possibly be real. And you laugh at me?”

He shook his head, “I would never laugh at you, my love. I laughed with Fate. How perfect you are, how well we complement one another. I laughed with joy at your very presence in my arms, Nʉ Sʉmʉ.”

“How can you know that? We’ve barely known one another a month. We haven’t even…” She blushed and looked down at her hands. But her cheeks flamed even redder as she realized what else that move brought into her full view. And the little traitor twitched in salute to its mate, as if to accentuate her words.

“We haven’t made love. I haven’t made you mine?” His face was severe as he lifted hers to him once more. “And I won’t. I won’t make you mine. I won’t take that precious choice from you. Though it goes against everything I have been taught, everything I believe.”

“I won’t even seduce you with kisses until we both can’t think clearly enough to make a truly free choice. I won’t beg or plead or tell you how you hold my life, my Fate, the lives of others in your hands.”

“Maybe its pride. Perhaps it is stubborn stupidity. But I want you to choose me. Because you want me, want the love and life I freely give to you.”

“Not because Fate made us, either of us. The way I see things, Fate put you in my path. Fate drew me to you. But every single day for the past few weeks, I have fallen deeper in love with you.”

“You, Jaycee, the consummate lawyer, the determined and loving mother, even the frightened little girl. Maybe especially that broken child who felt that no one could love her. No one would ever choose her.”

He brushed his lips across hers as he tasted the salty, earthiness of tears, knowing that they were not just Jaycee’s but his too. Mixed together as he hoped and prayed their lives would be. “I, Rex, the man, choose you, Jaycee. I love you. All of you.”

“And that has not a gods’ damned thing to do with mates or Nʉ Sʉmʉ. That is because I have watched you, come to know you, and fallen deeper and deeper in love with your incredible strength, your deepest fears, your patience, your compassion.”

“I want a future with you. With Angel. I want to fall asleep next to you and wake up next to you every day for the rest of our lives. I want to fight your battles, not for you, but with you, side by side. I want to love, and laugh, and live for as long as we have.”

“And yes, I want that little girl to be mine. In every way that counts. Even if DNA or the law says otherwise, Angel is my daughter as much as yours.”

“But none of that matters, if you don’t want to take a risk. Jump off that cliff of faith, as you said. Knowing that this battered, old cowboy will always be there to catch you, for as long as he has breath, and even beyond if he can find a way.”

Rex held his breath. He waited. Was it heartbeats or eternity? Either way, that was how it felt. His eternity. His Fate.

Jaycee drew her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms about them; she leaned her head against them. She could still feel his hand like a branding iron at the small of her back, but as the man said, he did nothing to stop her withdrawal.

But she felt the bereavement anyway. As if she had lost some part of her soul. That made no sense.

None of this did. How could she feel a more profound passion for a man she had known less than a month than the one that had been her business and marriage partner for a decade? Why had the seizures that had plagued her daughter practically her whole life suddenly disappear when they came to this place? And why had that thing targeted them? What was that thing anyway? There were just too many unknowns.

She sighed as she forced her mind back to the things that she did know. From the moment that she had met this man, there was some attraction, some bond, unlike anything she had ever known or imagined, was real. It seemed to even extend to him being able to read her mind. As implausible as that sounded, the evidence was just too overwhelming.

As for this latest, his ability to shapeshift, to change, into a horse, unless they had given her some powerful hallucinogenic then as unbelievable as that sounded, the evidence was clearly there as well. Though, it might take some time for her mind to come to terms with that one.

It was the other that perhaps troubled her more. His declaration of love. Other than the love of a mother and her child, Jaycee’s life had been starkly bereft of that commodity. As a little girl, it was the one thing she craved most, her dream and fantasy, to be part of a family, to be loved for herself. By the time she had reached her teens, she had come to view that need as childish and a weakness. She had lived that way for over two decades now.

Did she have it inside her to change? Dare she release that hurt little girl from the prison she kept her in the back of her mind? As genuine as his words sounded, what if? Could she handle one more rejection? His especially?

She felt the pressure As he leaned his head between her shoulder blades, the heat on her back warmed her body to the point of boiling as he whispered. “That is one thing you need never, ever fear again, Nʉ Sʉmʉ.”

She turned towards him as he lifted his head to face her. One question burned in her mind, though she feared she knew the answer already. “What about Angel?”

“What about her? I told you she is as much mine as yours now.”

“That is not what I meant. As much as my own experiences say otherwise, somehow, I believe, no, I know, you mean that.”

She sighed as she dropped her eyes from his gaze. She reached deep inside of herself to pluck up the courage to ask the question that she already knew in her heart. “How does she fit into all this? Grandfather keeps telling her how special she is. What does he mean, Rex? And why have her seizures virtually stopped since we came here?”

This was the moment he had been waiting for. His mate even recognized the truth for herself. Nonetheless, his heart and mind quaked with fear. Was she honestly open to what he had to say? Could she learn to accept what she did not understand? But they had no other choice.

He drew in a deep breath, closed his eyes, and prayed for wisdom and guidance as he began. “I think you know the answer to that already, Nʉ Sʉmʉ.”

She shook her head, but before she could put her doubts into words, he brought the truth into the light. “Angel is a skinwalker.”

“She can’t be. She’s not Native American. How can she be?”

He took her hand and squeezed it gently as his eyes held her, his voice steady. “We don’t know that, for certain.”

He felt his mate’s pain before she even spoke, “You mean because I never knew my birth parents?”

“But these things can go back generations sometimes. It could just as easily be her father. It was not uncommon for the oppressed peoples such as ours and former slaves to group together for protection, to intermarry even. He might not even know that he carries Native blood. But where she got her gifts matters less than that she has them.”

“What is the connection with her seizures, and why have they stopped?”

Rex sighed heavily, “Everything in this world is a duality. Two-sided. These gifts especially come with darkness. When you are young, before your gifts manifest themselves fully, before you learn to walk in your skin, there is an unease, an agitation.”

“I don’t know how to describe it to you. This sense of not being comfortable in your own mind and body. Perhaps because you know that something is missing?”

“For me, as a little boy, the doctors called it ADHD. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. My parents sent me to one doctor after another. Strong drugs, always higher doses. Until I no longer felt anything. I was like a zombie.” Just telling his mate those things made him feel more exposed, no vulnerable than sitting naked with her ever could.

“No one knows for certain. So much of our heritage has been lost over the years. Not just from wars either. But both my grandfather and his brother were taken from their parents on the reservation. Placed for adoption with white families. Separated from their parents, their heritage, and one another.”

“Grandfather has spent his whole life trying to piece together the rich tapestry of our past. But it is like a jigsaw puzzle with so many, many pieces lost over time.”

“He believes that once these children would have been identified, their gifts recognized, and they would have been trained almost from birth to be at one with their other. That is what he has been trying to do for Angel these past few weeks.”

She nodded her head, “It seems to be working.”

He took her hand, “I want you to understand something, Nʉ Sʉmʉ. No matter what happens between us, even if you reject me, Grandfather will always be there for Angel.”

She laughed nervously, “I didn’t think rejecting you was an option. I thought Fate had decided already?”

Rex smiled weakly as he turned her hand over. He began to nervously trace the lines in her palm as if trying to foresee his future as other cultures believed. “No, we always have the final say. Fate may point us in a direction. It may even push us that way. But I don’t think it ever forces us to do something we don’t want to do. How could it?”

He looked up, “No, Nʉ Sʉmʉ, I am afraid you will very much have to make a choice. A choice to believe in me, Grandfather, and our hooky mumbo jumbo or to walk away.”

Jaycee shook her head. Rex was wrong. She did not have a choice. Not really. Something deep inside her understood that Angel’s life, not just her future but her physical life, depended upon her learning how to control ‘it.’ Her daughter seemed to be doing that here with Grandfather.

‘It.’ Jaycee knew she was copping out. But her mind could not process everything she had learned this night. Not that fast anyway.

She looked at him. This man, who had walked into her life less than a month ago. It did not seem real. How was that possible? It was as if she could not even remember her life before him? Or imagine her life without him?

“So, if it is my choice, Rex, give it to me straight. The full truth. No punches.”

She did not like the way he hesitated. So she began herself, “I can choose to stay here, and we all become some big happy family. You become the father Angel has always wanted. Grandfather trains her to use her gifts. And we all live happily ever after?”

“Mostly. We still have the Chupacabra to deal with first. And life is never that simple or easy. But I believe it can be easier when you aren’t trying to do everything all alone, my solitary mama bear.”

She laughed, and it felt good. She could almost believe his words. The fact that he sat there completely naked, comfortable in his man’s skin as much as the other one did nothing to help her focus on what she knew might be the single most important conversation of her life.

Of Angel’s. Of his. And theirs. If she believed him and Grandfather, it went deeper even than that. Its outcome could change the course of history itself, the face of this planet. She felt that somehow too. No pressure at all.

Still, it was hard for her to imagine what it would be like to share her burdens with another soul. She never really had. “And if I leave, Rex? What happens then? To you? To Angel?”

His silence said more than words. “Tell me, Rex. I need the truth.”

He shook his head, but words came anyway, seemingly against his will. “The Chupacabra, that thing, was once a skinwalker. One who gave into that darkness. Perhaps he never found his mate. Or perhaps he simply chose the power of his gifts over the responsibilities that come with them. I don’t know.”

Her voice quivered, and her hands shook. She felt the cold shiver move up her spine. “Are you saying that without me, you become like that thing?”

“No, I’d never place that burden on you. Grandfather fought back the darkness after my grandmother died. It has been done before.”

“But? But not often? Not easily? What would happen, Rex? What would you do? If I say no?”

He looked away for a moment, his voice was quiet when it came, “I’d probably put on my skin and run with the others.”

“You’d become a horse? Permanently?” She had to know.

“It would be the safest option.”

She got the feeling that there was more he was not telling her. “And Angel? You said that Grandfather would continue to help her. But I can’t imagine that it would be easy. I mean, how could he not resent me if you…”

Rex shook his head in denial, “Grandfather would never blame the child or you.”

Her throat tightened as she remembered the scene in the bedroom earlier, her daughter’s panic. “What happens to my daughter if I decide to leave?”

He turned away from her, but she was determined. “What happens to Angel, Rex?” She demanded the full truth.

“You have to understand, as far as we know, there have only been a handful of girls born with this gift.”

“How incredibly misogynistic of your Great Spirit.”

“No, that is not what I mean. It is not like that. Our legends, our stories, and histories are filled with strong women: human and goddesses. I am not the expert that Grandfather is, and even he knows that much of the truth is lost to us. And that is one of them. We can never know why there were not any women skinwalkers.”

“Wait. You said there had been girls born with the gifts. But now you say that there were no female skinwalkers. How can that be?”

He reached for her hand, but she drew back. “You’re saying that Angel would die. My daughter could die. I mean, she is getting better, right?” She felt panic as her greatest fears were mirrored in his words.

“Those girls did not survive to adulthood.” He held up his hand, “But we don’t know why or how. Like I said, so much is lost.”

His gaze held hers as if pleading with her, “But there is one fragment, a legend of great women warriors who will rise one day. They will unite to save the Great Mother when she needs them most.”

“Grandfather believes that Angel is one of those. He thinks that with help and training, her gifts will manifest the same as any other skinwalker. Actually, he believes her power and gifts are greater.”

“But without his help, without this training, my child will die?”

He nodded slowly, “It is possible. Perhaps even probable. But I think you knew that, didn’t you?”

How many nights had she laid awake just watching her daughter breathing after a bad day? How many times had she woken in a night to make sure that her daughter was still breathing? It was her worst nightmare and greatest fear. But to hear it confirmed from him somehow made it more real than it ever had been.

She felt the tears flood down her cheeks, “You’re wrong. I don’t have a choice. Not really.”

He took her hand and drew her across the floor. He wrapped her in his strong arms, and she felt the heat of his breath as he pressed a tender kiss to the top of her head. “Yes, you do, Nʉ Sʉmʉ. I promise you; Grandfather will be there for you and Angel no matter what.”

But it was more than just her daughter’s life that rested on her choice, and she knew that. His did too. And honestly, that weighed just as heavily on her mind and heart. The thought this strong, brave, and compassionate man would become like that thing she had seen in her barn frightened her almost as much as losing her child. Even the idea of him spending the rest of life running free among the wild horses here on his grandfather’s ranch somehow felt cold and bereft of real hope.

She was the problem. She was the weak link. She was not sure that she was strong enough. After a lifetime of being alone, of believing in nothing and no one, she was not sure she was capable of this kind of trust, of working together, of being a real family, a real couple.

This was not the cold legal and social contract that she had formed with Sean, a practical solution to companionship, a societal expectation for his political career, or even the most efficient means of raising children. Rex was talking about a true partnership, a melding of their lives, and even souls. Could she do that? Could she truly let another person into her life and heart?

What choice did she have? The idea of losing either of them was more frightening than the risk of being hurt, rejected, and once more disappointed to find herself in the corner, on the outside looking in.

She knew she had to try at least. For Angel. For him. And yes, for herself. She had spent her whole life alone, shuffled from one place and one family to the next, never belonging. What he offered was true belonging, real family, true love. If she dared to reach out and grab it. It might be almost four decades late, but Jaycee had the chance to have the family she always dreamed of. To give her Angel that safety, security, and love. How could she not?

She turned her head and looked up into his roughly handsome face. She saw that knowing grin, “Damn it, Rex. That’s not fair. How’s a woman to keep any secrets when you’re in my mind all the time?”

“Did I forget to mention that’s a two-way street, Nʉ Sʉmʉ?”

She tried to reach her mind out to his. Maybe she needed some training from Grandfather like Angel? Perhaps she could not concentrate properly while sitting in his naked lap. The man was hotter without his clothes than even her fantasies.

Rigid muscles, but not the grotesque gym ones of her ex. These came from hard work, manual labor.  Even better, there was just enough of a layer of fat, perhaps a testament to aging, it did not matter though. It was sexy as hell. Right up there with those grey hairs that were liberally streaked among the dirty blond at his temples and around his ears.

She drew her thoughts back from all that as she felt the heat and need rising higher in her own mature body. She most definitely did not have a choice in one thing. This man was an itch she had to scratch.

She concentrated on other things at the moment, though. She most definitely could not read his thoughts. The hard cock that brushed against the rough denim as she sat on his lip was her only clue. “No, I got nothing. You definitely have the advantage, cowboy.”

He chuckled, “Just wait.” His mouth covered hers, and the fires ignited once more. With kisses like that, maybe it did not matter that this man had such an advantage over her.

The taste of her burst on his senses like sunshine on the dewy grass. He savored each moment as the kiss morphed between passion, tenderness, and exploration in turns. He could just kiss this woman all night, though the bulge beneath her jean-clad bottom argued otherwise.

His mate had other ideas as she shifted to the side. Her delicate hand moved between their bodies to stroke up and down the hard ridge. Rex moaned into her mouth and fought back the urge to come at her first caress. So, his mind was elsewhere, and he was caught by surprise when she shoved him onto his back among the bedding of fresh straw.

Jaycee was astride him in seconds. Her hands splayed across his chest as her hips imitated the erotic dance of mates. “Sorry, Cowboy, but it’s easier to pick hay out of your hair than mine.”

“Whatever I can do to oblige, Ma’am.” His hands came up to cup her breasts. His thumbs brushed across the hard nipples through too many layers of clothes.

Jaycee sucked in a deep breath, her eyes closed, her hair hanging down her back, as she too moaned at his caress. Her hips moved faster and harder against his.

“Dammit, Nʉ Sʉmʉ. You’re killing me here,” he pleaded.

She giggled as she looked down into his face, the soft glow of the moon caressing her perfect features. “What can’t you just morph away my clothes or something? All the great shifters in my romances can.” He enjoyed the teasing they shared – to a point.

“No, but I can rip them off you.”

“Don’t you dare. You might have no trouble parading around naked, but my body has a lot more flaws. I have no desire to walk bare butt back into the house tonight.”

His fingers began the laborious task of unbuttoning her shirt. She chuckled as she pulled her shirt from the waistband of her too-tight jeans that had driven him crazy all day. The damned thing only became more infuriating as the seconds ticked by. Her fingers began to unbutton from the bottom up until their hands deftly met in the middle.

Their fingers entwined for a heartbeat, and their eyes met as if in some understanding of the deeper meaning of the action. A partnership of equals. Not a race or competition, but cooperation for the greater good of one another, their family, and the planet.

Jaycee shrugged the shirt from her shoulders as she stood over him. “Don’t go nowhere, cowboy.”

She unsnapped her jeans and pushed those to the ground. She swore softly as she realized that she could not get them off over her sneakers. And that she had only made it more challenging to get those off with her jeans pooled around her ankles.

“Dammit, why isn’t it ever as easy as they make it in my damned romances? They never have problems like this. The clothes magically disappear or are strewn all over without getting stuck like this.”

He loved it, the way they could laugh together at this moment as easily as they loved together. “Give me your foot.”

She carefully lifted her foot as high as she could. Rex tugged the shoe off gently so as not to send her sprawling on that delectable derrière. When he was done, they repeated the process without the need for words. Her feet unencumbered; she managed to kick her jeans off until she stood before him in only her underwear.

“That needs to go too, sweetheart.”

Jaycee blushed and crossed her arms across her bare abdomen. The tiny lines glowed silver in the moonlight. Her self-doubts and insecurities ate at his mind. He leaned up; his lips managed to brush just above the top of her panties.

“A warrior always wears his battle scars with pride, Nʉ Sʉmʉ. You have earned every single one of those as badges of honor for the gift you brought into this world. Never, ever be ashamed to bare your body or your soul to me. Both are perfect. At least in my eyes and heart,” he whispered as he showered that area with tiny kisses.

His fingers slipped under the elastic waistband and tugged them gently down. He looked up into her face as she nodded and lifted her feet to kick them into the hay alongside the jeans.

His hand grasped hers as he drew her into his lap. He battled valiantly once more not to embarrass himself as he felt the hot, wetness of her core brush teasingly along his shaft. They were eye to eye. He felt her insecurities raise their head once more as his fingers struggled to unclasp her bra.

He tugged it gently down her arms and tossed it into the growing pile of her clothes. His hand tenderly cupped her breast as he lowered his mouth, sucking her hard nipple deep. Jaycee moaned, and her hips thrust wildly against him. Her movements caused the head of his cock to slip just inside her welcoming warmth. They both moaned then.

“Fuck,” his mate cussed as she threw her head back when her first orgasm overtook her. The intense contractions of her muscles tried to force him out, but his hips pressed deeper, not wanting to be denied any further.

Her fingers gripped his shoulders, her nails bit into his flesh, but he was too far past giving a damn, even if she broke the skin. He would follow his own advice and wear those battle scars with pride.

He switched his attention to her other breast as their bodies seemed to take control, finding the rhythm unique to them, pushing each higher. Rex feared that as fucks went, this one would be disappointingly short compared with those books of hers.

But since his mate had not seemed to stop coming since the moment his cock slipped into her, he was not too worried about leaving her unsatisfied. Besides, they had all night to practice until they got it right — a whole fucking lifetime.

His cock surged deep into her depths as her orgasm intensified. He felt those nails pierce his skin even as her heart, mind, and soul cleaved his own. He did not bother fighting the tears as they became one. His essence flowed into her.

He drew her tighter against him, releasing her nipple, as he leaned his head into the crook of her neck. His thoughts danced with joy at the completeness he knew for the first time in his whole life.

But it was not to last as his mate shoved him back among the hay. “Damn you, Rex.”

He smiled up at her, knowing his lips were more than a bit smug, ‘I did warn you.’

They both broke into laughter as they quite literally rolled in the hay. That thought was a mistake.

“I thought you promised me that a roll in the hay with you would not be quick.”

He moved to pin his mate beneath him, “I’m not finished yet, Nʉ Sʉmʉ.”

“Oh,” was all Jaycee managed to say before his lips captured hers, and their bodies renewed the Texas two-step that was all their own.

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