To Mom, who taught me the important things in life, like “That black doesn’t go with that black” and
“Never let your children know you aren’t psychic”.
To Dad, who grins whenever he hears about my work, even though he refuses to read it. For which I am eternally grateful, because that would just be… wrong, on so many levels.
To Memom, who encourages my madness and likes to know what I’m working on next.
To Stephanie, for pointing out some mistakes I’d made with Jerry and his responses, and gave me more insight into what it’s like to be legally blind.
And to my husband, Dusty. Happy tenth anniversary, sweetheart. “Every step I took since the moment I could walk was a step toward finding you.”
— Message in a Bottle
“God, I hate winter. If it wasn’t for the hurricanes I’d move to Florida.”
Adrian knocked on the hotel room door and sighed, rolling his eyes at the sight of his breath in the air.
He hoped the girl (Cheryl? Shelly? No, Sheri!) didn’t keep him waiting too long. Adrian shivered and wished desperately he was back in his own warm home, with a roaring fire and a good book.
He’d been volunteered by Max to pick up the newest Pride member. Tonight was supposed to be her formal introduction, though she’d already been approved by both the Alphas and the Betas. Only Max could get Adrian to stand outside in the cold like this, but that was okay. He planned on exacting his own kind of revenge. He grinned, thinking of all the ways he could encourage Emma’s pre-marital madness.
The Alpha’s mate had gone completely insane, post-it bombing the office with little notes and to-do lists.
She either kept forgetting that he shared desk space with Max or enjoyed tormenting him with wedding cake photos. It was enough to send a confirmed bachelor into sugar shock.
Adrian didn’t want a mate. He smiled to himself. His best friends had both become pussy-whipped, all in the space of weeks. Emma said “Jump!” and the big strong Alpha asked not only how high but which direction. As for Simon, if Becky so much as sighed he panicked. Watching the two strongest members of the Pride buckle under the Breast Brigade made him all the more determined to stay sanely single.
“Just a moment,” a soft voice called from inside. It sounded shy and sweet, and Adrian’s Puma raised its head curiously. He could feel his dick hardening slightly at the sound of her velvety voice.
“What the hell?” he muttered, frowning at the closed door. Shrugging, he tried to dismiss his body’s reaction.
“Who is it?”
That soft voice sent a shaft of pure lust through his veins. He twitched his shoulders and tried to dismiss the low growling sound of his Puma. “Adrian Giordano. I’m the friend Max said would be picking you up tonight.” Why the hell the woman couldn’t drive herself was a mystery, but he’d been so busy he’d forgotten to ask.
He could hear the locks disengage and tensed. His Puma let loose a low growl he’d never heard from it before, and he had to clamp his lips shut to keep it from emerging from his human lips. His eyes flashed, the colors of the setting sun turning from red to gold as he lost the red/green color spectrum. He forced them to change back, closing his eyes just as the door to the room swung open.
“Hi, Dr. Giordano. I’m Sheri Montgomery.”
He opened his eyes to find a snow princess staring back at him. She had the palest, softest-looking blonde hair he’d ever seen. The nearly white locks fell in delicate waves just past her shoulders. Pale, crystal blue eyes surrounded by equally pale lashes glowed in a face that could make the angels weep.
She was small and dainty, the top of her head barely reaching his shoulder. Her breasts were perfect for her slight frame. He had the inexplicable urge to pick her up, toss her over his shoulder and carry her off to his den where no one else would ever see her. Would ever want her.
Adrian’s eyes widened as his Puma snarled in his mind. “Crap.”
She tilted her head to the side and sort of off center. She lowered the hand he hadn’t even realized she’d raised in greeting. “Excuse me? Is everything all right?”
“Uh, no, everything’s fine.” He hoped to God she couldn’t see the erection straining against his trousers.
“Would you like to come in for a moment while I get my coat?”
Adrian gulped as she smiled, sweetly uncertain.
Can I come in for a year? Or two? How about I just come? He did his best to bludgeon the voice of lust to death, but it refused to die. He wanted to throw her down on the ugly green carpet and fuck her until neither one of them could walk for a week. Maybe a month. Try years, his Puma purred. “Sure, thanks.”
It didn’t even occur to him that he was already thinking of her as his.
She opened the door wide, standing aside and waving him in with another shy smile. He stepped in quickly, grateful when she swung the door shut behind him. He took a look around her hotel room, her suitcases, anything to keep from looking at her, because the moment he did he wanted to strip her bare and sink into her. When she turned to grab her coat he nearly groaned at the sight of her perfect, heart-shaped ass.
She swiftly thrust her arms in the sleeves. The coat swirled around her, the off-white color only emphasizing her pale loveliness. Then she moved to the side of the bed. Carnal thoughts raced through his head as she bent to pick up something off the ground, really showcasing her ass. He couldn’t see what she was picking up because a) it was on the other side of the bed, b) the object of his sudden and total lust had just bent over near a bed, and c) that ass . Even hidden by the coat it had the power to make him hard. He tried not to picture her naked, but he wasn’t really trying all that hard. Another moan tried to escape, and the ugly green carpet turned yellowish brown, letting him know his eyes had shifted again.
“There you go,” her soft voice crooned. His cock twitched in response; the stupid thing thought she was talking to him. He was surprised to see what she was talking to, although with all of the visual clues he shouldn’t have been. She stepped out from around the edge of the bed holding the harness of a Seeing Eye dog. She bit her lip nervously. “It’s okay if I bring Jerry, right? I know how some people are about dogs in their cars.”
“Yeah, it’s fine,” he said, staring at the woman in front of him. OCA, probably type one. The white-blonde hair, pale blue eyes, nearly white skin…why hadn’t he put the clues together before? Most people with type one albinism were legally blind and required vision aids; as an optometrist he should have caught the signs, but he’d been so busy trying to ignore his dick (and her ass) that he’d missed the obvious. “Do you have your sunglasses?” Another commonality in albinism was sensitivity to light, but some chose wide-brimmed hats instead of sunglasses since sunglasses could impair what little vision they had.
She smiled again, this one sunny and warm with a tinge of relief. “Yes, they’re on the dresser.” She walked to the dresser, picked up a pair of black sunglasses with dark gray lenses and put them on.
“There. All ready.”
As she walked past him he inhaled as quietly as he could. God, she smells good ; all crisp and clean, like fresh snow, with an overlay of…coconut? Sunscreen, right . With the sun still in the sky she’d need the extra protection for all that pale skin. He cleared his throat and adjusted his pants; if his cock got any harder he’d be able to hammer nails with the damn thing.
He followed her out of the hotel room and waited while she locked her door. Taking a firm grip on Jerry’s lead she held out her free hand. Without thought he tucked it into his elbow, leading her to his car.
“So you share a practice with Max?”
He ignored the sudden surge of jealousy at the affection in her voice. “Yes, Max came home and partnered with me a little over three months ago.”
She smiled, her head tilted to the side again. “Simon and Becky took me to dinner a few days ago. I liked her. She suits him.”
Adrian shuddered. “Yes, I know.”
Sheri grinned up at him. “Why the shudder?”
“Becky’s…well, Simon once told me that he thought of her as ‘noisy, spiky and opinionated.’”
“She seems to have him well in hand.”
Adrian ignored the thread of humor running through her voice and chose to focus on her words. “Yes, she does.”
Her brows rose in surprise as he reached his black Mustang. “You have a problem with that?”
He opened the rear door and Jerry hopped right in. “It’s more a bachelor thing than a Becky thing.” He helped her in and shut her door, then moved to the driver’s side. He climbed in and started the car.
“Becky and Emma are both great women, and Simon and Max love them, but that whole ‘hop because I said so’ just doesn’t appeal.”
“So I gather you aren’t looking for a mate?”
Nope. Already found her. Once again that annoying little voice refused to stay silent. “Not really,” he hedged.
“Good,” she replied firmly. “Neither am I.”
His Puma screamed its protest. Adrian did his best to ignore it, but it wasn’t easy. The world changed color on him in that subtle way that let him know his eyes had changed. Damn. He forced them back to brown as he pulled onto the road and headed towards Max and Emma’s. “Rumor has it Becky and Emma offered you a job?”
She nodded. “Part-time, but right now I’ll take what I can get until I can get a place and get my other business up and running.”
“What do you do?” he asked as he took the turn to Max’s house.
“I’m a technical writer. I write documentation, specializing in voice recognition software for the blind.”
He slowly grinned. “Really?”
“Don’t sound so surprised. Technology has made things so much easier for those of us who have handicaps.”
“I never said it didn’t. I just think it’s awesome.” He paused, wondering if she’d be offended if he asked.
“How bad is your vision?”
She tilted her head down and off to one side again; he knew enough about her condition to know that she was making the best of her limited vision. “I’m twenty/two hundred.”
To see what one person could see from two hundred feet away, she had to be within twenty feet. That was the definition of legally blind. It explained why she didn’t drive. Most states would grant a limited license only if the person’s visual range was twenty/seventy with correction.
He did his best to ignore her stare as he parked in the street. Max’s driveway was full up; they were almost the last ones to arrive. He got out of the car and walked around to her side, letting her out first before he opened the door for Jerry. He stared at the dog, who stared back. “By the way, I’ve been meaning to ask you something.” He took her arm again and began walking.
“Sheri and Jerry?”
“Shaddup.” She grinned, totally relaxed with him. That small sign of trust warmed him down to his toes despite the chill November air. “Dork.”
Thank God for her dark glasses. She’d been told that with most Pumas their eyes flashed gold when upset ( or aroused, her inner kitty purred). Hers flashed red. These poor people would think she was some sort of demon if they saw that. They’d flashed red when she caught Adrian’s scent outside her motel room door. When she’d heard his voice for the first time her claws had damn near extended.
She’d managed to wrestle her Puma into submission, but every time the delicious Dr. Giordano spoke she could feel her inner kitty purring as if he’d petted her.
Oh, pet me, Dr. Adrian!
The mine her Puma had snarled hadn’t helped. Her declaration that she wasn’t looking for a mate sounded fake even to herself.
Although technically speaking, it was true. It seemed she’d found her mate, whether she wanted to or not.
She was going to have to figure out a way to keep him safe from Rudy; somehow she doubted that would be as easy as it sounded.
The front door to Max’s house opened. “Hi, Sheri!”
She braced herself as Simon’s enthusiastic mate embraced her like a long lost friend. “Hi, Becky.” She could see the Beta female’s ultra-curly hair and the paleness of her face. Becky’s features were clear because she was so close, the bright jade green of Becky’s eyes twinkling merrily. “Where’s Emma?”
Sheri was dying to meet the Curana. She’d spoken to her on the phone and Becky had heaped praise upon the woman’s head, but it didn’t change the fact that she had to meet the Curana face to face and get her approval before the other members of the Pride would accept her.
“Right here,” a husky female voice replied. Becky was pulled away and Sheri braced herself again. A small woman moved into her field of vision, and she tilted her head to see her better. She saw long dark hair and dark eyes in a golden-skinned face, but unless she came closer her features would remain a blur.
“Max,” that husky voice drawled.
“Yes?” Max’s familiar voice drawled back.
“Are you sure you never slept with her?”
“Emma.” Max laughed as he moved up behind the small woman. His familiar scent wafted over her.
“Blonde, gorgeous…explain to me how you didn’t sleep with her. Hell, I’m straight and I’d do her.”
“We didn’t want to,” Sheri replied, somewhat startled by her welcome.
She could feel Emma’s attention swirl back to her. Damn, the Curana is strong.
“Being chased by a rabid boyfriend out to force me into a mating meant men weren’t high on my priority list. Or women.” She grinned, relieved when the Curana chuckled. She felt Adrian’s arm stiffen under her hand. “Besides, Max was dating-”
“Emma, why don’t you let them through the door? It’s cold out there,” Max interrupted.
She could almost feel Emma’s amusement as the Curana stepped back. “Sure, Sheri, come on in.” The Curana leaned in and whispered in her ear, “Remind me that we need to talk later, okay?”
“Emma, come on.” Max laughed again. “Do you really want to know who I slept with in college?”
“Not really.” Sheri could hear the grin in Emma’s voice. “I just like making you squirm.”
There was the sound of a soft kiss. “I’ll make you squirm later,” Max purred softly in Emma’s ear. It was obvious he thought no one else would hear him, but her hearing was even more acute than a normal Puma’s.
She could feel her cheeks redden at the banked heat in his voice. Emma’s soft “Oh, boy” sounded too much like how she felt as Adrian slid an arm around her waist and pulled her closer to him. His hand landed possessively on her hip as they walked into the room.
“What was that about a rabid boyfriend?” Adrian asked. His voice sounded strained.
Strained or not, she loved listening to it. It was warm and rich like melted chocolate, running over her skin in a sexy slide that raised goose bumps on her arms. Her eyes flashed red behind their glasses. Darn it .