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Before The Hunt (Sandra & Naythan)

Prequel to the Alpha Hunted series

by J. M. Klaire

When a wolf shifter with commitment issues teams up with a runaway bride to find her a new groom- the claws come out and the fur flies!

Meet Sandra, a runaway bride looking to provide for her widowed mother, and Naythan, a wolf shifter determined never to settle down.

When their paths cross, they agree to help each other out. He’ll help her find a husband and tie the knot if she’ll help him avoid an ex set on roping him into a similar fate.

They seal the deal over the objections of his wolf, who’s already scented her as his and has no interest in seeing her mated to anyone else.

This prequel to the Alpha Hunted series takes place about nine months before Alpha Hunted: Keelyn & Bane. It was written for a winter bundle, but it is now available all by itself as a little sneak peek for Alpha Hunted fans to see how Naythan and Sandra met. It's quite a bit shorter than the other stories in the series, but it's a perfect jumping off point as it also introduces Bane and Mac- two hot, single shifters in this prequel who won't still be single after Alpha Hunted and Alpha Hunted 2.

Recommended Reading order:
Before The Hunt (Prequel)
Alpha Hunted: Keelyn & Bane
Alpha Hunted 2: Bella & Mac
Alpha Hunted 3: Ivy, David & Ryker
Alpha Hunted 4: Enid & The King

An Impawsible Christmas (Sequel)

All can be read as stand-alones, tho the Alpha Hunted series does have an over-arcing, bigger story that carries through the entire series. Get them all on J. M. Klaire’s website

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events and incidents are

either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

Copyright © 2017 by JM Klaire

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical

means, including any information storage, transmission and/or retrieval systems, without

written permission from the author or publisher, except for the use of brief quotations in a

book review.

Published by JKlaire Romance

ISBN-10: 1523602465

ISBN-13: 978-1523602469

Author's Note:

I've been asked when/where this series takes place.

It takes place in a world of my making. If shifters really did exist, cars were never invented, people still paid rents to kings, but the future rolled on to the current date, that's where/when this series takes place. So basically now, only with kings, castles, shifters and no cars, lol. Why? Because I made it up, that's why.


Chapter 1

Sandra Martin tilted her head as she stared at her reflection in the church's warped full-length mirror. Her wedding dress was simple but elegant, clean lines with no lace or beading to adorn it. Her veil was a large square of lace her mother had been saving forever, just for this occasion.

Her gaze bore right through the lace covering her face, to stare into her own eyes in the mirror. Even covered with the soft fabric, her expression was easily read. Determination.

She narrowed her eyes at herself as a slight breeze found its way through the open window, making her veil sway just like the curtains as she took her last few breaths as a single woman.

She wasn't sure if it was the icy wind that made goosebumps break out on her skin, or if it was the realization that she was finally here.

She was finally about to step into a brand new chapter of her life. A better chapter, she knew. A chapter that started with a walk down the aisle toward the rich man her mother had basically sold her to. A prince, from what she had been told. A prince who would take both her and her mother with him after he kissed her as his bride, to provide for them, once this thing was official.

She was excited, although she still wondered why a prince like him was willing to marry her, a poor farmer's daughter, out of the blue.

"Don't look a gift prince in the mouth," her mother had said when Sandra wondered the same thing aloud to her a few minutes ago, before her mother stepped out, leaving Sandra alone.

"I'm almost afraid to speak of it at all, in case I jinx it," Sandra had said back.

Her mother smiled at her, and then asked, "Are you sure you're ok with all this? This was never what I wanted for you. I wanted you to marry for love, like your father and I did. When the offer came last month I honestly didn't expect you to agree. I only showed it to you out of shock, it came so out of the blue. I expected you to laugh and ask if maybe the message got delivered to the wrong house."

"The thought did cross my mind. I still don't know why he picked me. I thought princes married princesses, to unite kingdoms and grow their land, stuff like that. 'Love at first sight, spotting me as he was passing through town on his way back to his lands,' well it just seems so... odd."

"Rich people are odd, sweetie. There's no doubt about that."

"I guess. I am fine with it though mom, truly. I know it comes at a desperate time for us. My brother does what he can, sending most of his pay home to help out, but this wedding will change everything. We can't afford to keep the farm, not with dad gone, not even with Adam's help. This way Adam can live his own life. Find a wife.

It would be harder if you weren't coming with me. But Prince Kendrick says there is plenty of room for you at his father's castle. You'll have a whole wing all to yourself. You won't have to worry about money anymore. This is a good thing, mom. Think of it as an adventure."

"But you hardly know him. You've only seen him twice, for only minutes each time. If your father could see what we were doing..."

"If father was still here to see it, there would be nothing to see. We're only here because he died, mom. Grief doesn't pay the bills. Me marrying this prince does. Arranged marriages are common. We'll either grow to love each other, or we won't. Honestly, I'd be happy with just growing to like each other, if he stands by his word and takes care of us as he says he'll do.

I know you and dad loved each other very much, but you guys are the exception. It's a business arrangement, mom. Nothing more. The money will free us. Best case scenario, we fall in love and build a happy life. Worst case scenario, if we don't get along, we will just avoid each other. I'll move into your wing of the castle if I need to, after I give him a son of course. But either way we will be fed. You won't have to worry about money ever again. This is a good thing, and it comes at the perfect time."

Sandra could hear the few people who were attending the small wedding, the prince's attendants mostly, milling about in the great-room of the church, which her small changing room was just off of.

It was almost time.

Sandra smiled to herself as she thought of her father in the last moments of silence before she was to marry.

Her dad would have done anything to prevent his wife and daughter being where they were now.

She and her brother had grown up poor, as most farmers in the area were, working the king's lands and paying him a yearly fee to live on them. They'd been happy, but given the choice, Sandra preferred to grow up safe.

If her soon-to-be-husband died, as her father did, she would still be all right, unlike her mother. Her dad's death had left them with nothing. As a princess, she and her mother would never want for anything again. In her mind- trading a hard but loving existence for a safe, moneyed, if unloving life- well it was a no-brainer.

If she wanted love, she could always find someone on the side. Lots of people in arranged marriages kept diversions on the side. She'd have to be subtle about it, but she was sure her prince wouldn't be loyal to her, so why should she?

This will save us all, she thought. I can figure out the details later.

The chilled breeze blew again, stirring the curtains over the windows. This time quiet voices blew into the room with the icy air.

"Your father is going to be pissed! Do you hate him so much?"

Sandra quietly stepped closer to the window, keeping herself hidden as she listened.

"He's the one who gambled and whored the kingdom's money away. Now he expects me to save him? He expects me to marry that bitch princess purely so he can start gambling and whoreing her money away as well? There's hardly anything left of his entire estate. I don't know why you're having second thoughts, this whole thing was your idea."

Peeking through the curtains, Sandra recognized the prince she was about to marry, speaking with his cousin.

The cousin spoke then, "I was just kidding! I didn't think you would take me seriously when I said 'you know what would really piss your dad off? If you came home as he ordered, but you were already married, to a title-less peasant.'"

"Why not? It's brilliant. If he is going to call me home like a wandering child, and push the princess's money on me, forcing me to marry just so he can carry on with his ways, it would serve him right."

"Could you have picked a more desperate peasant?"

"Now that was just luck. At least she's pretty enough. If I'm going to tie myself to someone forever just to spite my father, at least she isn't hard to look at. Can't you just picture his face when I introduce her as my wife, and have her mother in tow as well? No princess, no title, no land, no money, and two more mouths to feed."

"I'm not sure if you're brave or stupid. He'll probably disown you, then where will you go?"

"He won't disown me, I'm his only heir."

"You say that like there is anything left to inherit."

It got harder to hear them talking outside the window as their voices were starting to get drowned out by loud singing and laughing. It sounded like a parade was going by in the distance, like a gypsy caravan was passing through town on its way to set up one of their mobile carnivals.

"What the hell is all that racket?"

"Looks like fun, whatever it is. Not that it matters since you've got a wedding to attend. Are you ready?"

"Not really. But I must admit I am looking forward to tonight, after this farce of a wedding is over. I'm quite curious to see if this one is a screamer. I love a good screamer."

As they walked away, headed back around and into the church, Sandra stood rooted to the floor. She'd wondered why a prince would be interested in her, and now she had her answer.

She'd spent so much of the past month imagining how today would go, how she was finally going to be able to give her mother a life that didn't include pretending she was full so that her daughter would have a few more bites to eat, that beyond a nagging suspicion that there had to be more behind this odd, quickly arranged marriage, she hadn't given much thought to why a prince would spot her in town and feel so moved by her mere presence that he had to propose.

It's going to snow soon, she thought as she stared unseeing at the caravan of bright colors and loud people that still streamed by about a quarter mile from where she stood looking out an open church window.

She realized that her mind had disengaged.

If she was standing here calmly, mentally commenting on the weather, instead of freaking out that her admittedly bad plan had gone admittedly bad, she knew she was in trouble.

She could call the whole thing off and go back home with her mother, until they were kicked out of the house they couldn't afford for much longer, and hope for a miracle.

She could go out there and marry this guy, let him drag her and her mother home with him purely to piss off his father, and hope that they could make a life in a foreign land.


Or what?

"I'm quite curious to see if this one is a screamer. I love a good screamer," the words played over and over in her brain as she continued to stare mindlessly at all the commotion weaving through town.

If I choose to go through with this, and he's expecting an easily scared virgin, he's going to be sorely disappointed, she thought.

True, she had yet to marry, but that didn't mean she had yet to entertain herself in a hay loft or two. She had aspirations of a better life, yes. She was honestly willing to marry for money if it would keep her and her mother safe and fed, but that didn't mean she'd saved herself on the off chance that some prince would come through on a white horse and carry her away from all this, even if it had almost happened. Kind of.

She was rational, she was a hard worker, and she was willing to forsake a chance at a love like her parents had to avoid the same fate her mother was now facing, but that didn't mean that she didn't have the need for a warm body and a good literal roll in the hay on occasion. It just meant that she was willing to do whatever it took to keep herself and her family fed.

"I'm quite curious to see if this one is a screamer. I love a good screamer."

She couldn't get his words out of her head.

Something in the still passing spectacle of people, animals and color caught her attention, and she actually looked at the caravan instead of zoning out and thinking while it passed in the distance.

The king's colors flew from what looked to be the middle of the fiasco. Her king, not her fiancé's king, wherever he'd said he was from.

Where was the king going? And why did it seem like he had his whole court with him, and then some?

Oh, right!

The winter festivals were starting. The king's entire court, and most of the castle's other inhabitants, were all headed the next kingdom over for the Christmas festivities this year, since last year they had all come here.

Wow, that is going to be one hell of a party, she thought. Everyone who's anyone for two kingdoms will be there, plus others.

Now that would be the place to find a rich husband.

Her mind started spinning with possibilities.

She couldn't marry this guy, not now that she knew he wasn't going to be able to take care of them like he'd said. And she couldn't just go back home with her mother and wait to be kicked off the farm she'd grown up on.

No, she thought as she watched the tail-end of the caravan move on, headed out of town. No! I promised my mother a better life, and I'm going to make sure we get it!

Sandra looked around, spotted something she could jot a quick note to her mom on, and then tucked the note under her hairbrush laying there on the dressing table. After thinking things through one more time, she shoved the dressing table over until it blocked the door that was supposed to lead her into the church and down the aisle.

She went to the window, yanked her dress up as high as she could, and then looked down, catching sight of her flimsy slippers.

Please, oh please, don't let the snow come until I can get better shoes, this is going to be interesting enough as it is.

With one more deep breath, she threw a hip up on the window sill, swung her legs over, and pushed off. The second her feet touched the hard packed dirt, she ran like hell for the last spot she'd seen the caravan before it had faded out of sight.

Guess you'll never know if I'm a screamer or not now, will you? Asshole.

She giggled as she ran, giddy on her own adrenaline and freedom as she set off to find her own damn rich husband.

Chapter 2

Naythan used the chaos of traveling to duck Candace yet again. Yeah, they'd kept each other's beds warm a few times, but she was starting to get clingy, which meant it was time to shut her down.

It's kind of a shame, too, he thought.

She would've been a fun one to play with as they traveled, especially if the snow did come. She definitely would have kept him warm, anywhere and anytime he'd wanted. But not now that she was starting to drop hints about this becoming more serious.

Nope, the last thing he was interested in was any kind of a relationship. His wolf was meant to roam free, and he planned on keeping it that way.

As second in command of his wolf pack, he had all the fun and none of the major responsibilities of running things. He just had to do what he was told, which was pretty damn easy to do when the pack was run by an Alpha like his.

Bane, his Alpha wolf, ran a tight ship, but he was also fair. Yep, life was pretty sweet. True, Bane was getting a little testy lately. Talk about a guy that needed to get some. But as an Alpha wolf, Naythan really couldn't have asked for better. Especially when the pack's duties included things like keeping the peace during the winter festival.

A month-long party where the only real dangers were people and shifters getting too drunk and rowdy. Fights would be common, but they'd pass as the combatants sobered up, only to have it all start back up as soon as they all started drinking again. So basically just another day.

Naythan's pack was one of the king's many levels of security. Usually they stayed put at the den, running patrols in shifts, but not this month. Nope, this month they left a skeleton crew at the castle and the den, since practically everyone and their brother was here, all headed to the neighboring kingdom for this year's Christmas party.

"Hey, Naythan! You look like you're on the run again. Some woman has you in her sights, I take it?"

Naythan looked around for Mac, Bane's best friend, and one of his as well. He knew the voice well, he just couldn't spot where it had come from in all the activity.

"Up here!"

Naythan looked up, spotting Mac, who instead of walking had caught a ride on one of the many wagons loaded down with supplies.

"Hiya Mac! How are ya?"

"Better than you, it seems. You look like a man bent on escape."

Naythan just grinned at the only bear shifter in their midst. Bane, Naythan, and the rest of the wolf pack were all, well- wolves. But Mac was a big ole bear, literally.

Practically adopted by the pack, Mac teased Naythan, knowing the odds were good that he was ducking a woman, since he was usually either pursuing one, or escaping one he'd already managed to catch.

"Who is it this time?" Mac grinned down at him.


"Ah, I see."

Naythan watched Mac look around for her, acting as a look-out from his higher position.

"I think you're safe, for a minute anyway. I see her fiery red curls way up toward the front."

"Thanks, man. That one is hard to shake."

The men laughed and ribbed each other as the caravan slowly made its way.

A few minutes later Mac stopped what he was saying mid-sentence, something far away catching his eye.

"What is it? Trouble?" Naythan's jovial spirit straightened up some as he noticed the furrowed brow on his friend's face as he stared off in the distance.

"I don't know. Maybe. There's somebody headed hard in our direction. I think it's a woman. She's alone, she looks like she's wearing a wedding dress, and she's running toward us like her ass is on fire."

"So you're saying she's a smart woman?"

"What? How so?" Mac asked, looking down at Naythan, confused, before lifting his gaze back toward the incoming stranger.

"Sounds like a runaway bride to me. Anyone who runs from marriage like her ass is on fire is a smart one, in my opinion."

Mac laughed, and said, "Let me hop down, we can go see what's going on."

"Nah, stay. I'll go check it out. It'll give me a valid reason to avoid Candace. Besides, we may need you and your vantage point up there in case the jilted groom tears down here after her."

Naythan headed off in the direction Mac had given him, on the lookout for the run-away bride. He thought about shifting wolf, to be able to catch her faster, but then he thought better of it. If she was running hell bent for leather already, the sight of a wolf headed toward her probably wouldn't calm her much.

He stepped away from the caravan some, trying to see her over the crowd.

Now where in the hell had she...Oh! There she is.

He caught a flash of bright white, and then it was gone. She'd slid right into the crowd, just as he caught sight of her.

Damn, she was running fast if she got all the way here already. Now where did she...

Naythan started working his way back through the crowd, like a fish swimming upstream, looking for bright white. His eyes darted over and past people and wagons, animals too, but he didn't see her.

He turned back toward Mac, to see if he could spot Mac up high, and then maybe follow whatever direction he was looking, but Mac's wagon had already gone too far ahead to be easily seen.

He turned back to keep looking and ran right into solid flesh.

"Oofff! Hey, look where you're going!"

He heard her words, but she seemed to be falling as she spoke them so he reached out to steady her. He wrapped an arm around her waist and swung, pulling her out of the line of people so she wouldn't get trampled.

"Get your hands off me!"

"I'm sorry, I was just trying to keep you on your feet. Are you ok? Hey! It's you! I was just looking for you."

"Me? Why?" She looked around, like she expected to see whoever was chasing her appear before her.

"We saw you running this way. You looked like you were trying to escape. I was going to make sure everything was ok."

She answered him, but he didn't hear her. His wolf was overpowering her words with his own.

We have found her! Our mate is here, and she is beautiful. She's dressed for a wedding, it's a shame I'll have to kill her groom because she is meant for us and no one else.

Whoa, slow down there! Naythan answered his wolf. We aren't going to kill anyone, especially not to claim her. I don't want a mate, you know this.

You say that, but that was before I scented her. It was easy to go along with your thoughts before, but now we have a mate!

I don't want a mate!

Can't you smell her? His wolf growled back at him. How does she not make you want to lift her skirts and bury yourself in her?

I didn't say I didn't want that. It's the forever part of claiming her I don't want. We can fuck her, if you'd like. But I am not biting her, nor anyone else. Why in the hell would we want to tie ourselves down?

"...I want to marry, really I do. But I intend to marry rich! I won't settle for anything else. I'll even marry gay, if he's also rich. He can do his thing, I can do mine. I've given this a lot of thought, and I won't be left like my mother. I won't!"

"I'm sorry, what was that?" The stranger in the wedding dress was still talking, ranting wildly really, and the last bit had finally gotten past his wolf's ranting to reach his brain.

"Are you rich? Cause you are very handsome. I could give you a son in exchange for taking care of us. I wouldn't even ask you to be faithful, since we aren't in love or anything. Are you looking for a wife?"

"Oh, hell no! Look, are you ok? Did you fall and hit your head on something? Who are you running from?"

"I just told you, weren't you listening?"

She went on again, about a prince, saying he promised to take care of her but was really poor, and something about her mother, and losing a farm before Naythan said to his wolf, This one is nuts. And you said you wanted her forever? You're nuts as well.

Before his wolf could answer, she asked again, "Are you looking for a wife?"

"No, definitely not. But I'm not rich either, I'm nobody, so..."

"Oh. Too bad. I could definitely get behind sharing a bed with you."

His wolf howled his interest again at that, but Naythan just asked, "Is your jilted groom running after you?"

She looked around wildly, "I don't know. I don't think so. He may not even know I'm missing yet, honestly."

Naythan nodded, looking over her head, searching the crowd for any incoming, pissed off grooms. He didn't see any of those, but what he did see gave him an idea.

"How about we help each other out?" He asked the bride before him.

"How so?" She narrowed her eyes up at him, suddenly suspicious.

"I know most everyone here. I know who has money, who is single, and who is secretly gay. I could help you. Introduce you around."

"And what do you want in return?"

"You're trying to tie yourself to someone. I'm trying to escape the very same fate," he said, glancing over her shoulder at the fiery red curls he could see bobbing their way closer with every second. "Help keep Candace away from me, and I'll help you land a rich husband."

"Who is Candace, and how would I..?"

"In or out, sweetheart? I don't really care which way you decide, but I need that decision right now."

He saw her nod her head out of the corner of his eye as he watched Candace draw near.

"I'm in, I guess..."

She didn't even get to finish her sentence before he grabbed her, pulling her hard against him. He tilted her head with one hand as his other fit her curves to him as the crowd spilled on by.

His lips found hers and three things happened all at once- her moaned sigh reached his ears as her lips parted and her tongue started to dance with his, his wolf howled in some kind of glorious if mistaken sense of victory, and Candace saw them together, letting out a howl of her own.

Chapter 3

Sandra could hear a woman yelling in the background. Screaming, really, but as the stranger's mouth moved against hers, everything but him disappeared. Even the chill in the air ceased to exist. His kiss, his arms wrapped around her, and his hard, warm body against hers were all that mattered.

For a few precious seconds all of Sandra's thoughts were on the moment she was in. Instead of always thinking ahead, planning, worrying, she let herself just be.

It was over too soon.

She caught her balance as the stranger let her go, stepping away from her a few feet to deal with the angry, still yelling woman. She watched as the woman slapped the man who'd kissed her, and as he walked back toward where she still stood, still stunned from the kiss, she caught knowing glances from most everyone in the crowd who'd been close enough to see their heated exchange, or hear the slap that punctuated it.

"Let me guess, that was Candace?"

"It was," he said with a slightly embarrassed flush on his cheeks.

Or maybe that was just the slap glowing, she thought.

"She's the fate you're trying to escape? The one trying to tie itself to you?"

"She is."

"I take it from the looks all three of us got that you escape that particular fate often?"

He grinned at her before answering.

"I do."

"Maybe you can help me. You're obviously good at getting women to want to marry you, regardless of your lack of wealth..."

"I have other talents," he interrupted.

She raised her eyebrows, trying not to grin back as she said, "I bet you do. One of which I just got the full brunt of. So, how did I do?"

"At what?"

"How did I do holding up my end of things? Did I help you get rid of Candace?"

"For now at least."

"So now it's my turn. You'll help me land a rich husband, quickly?"

"You sure you wouldn't just rather pick up where we left off?"

Sparks flared deep in Sandra's stomach at his words. She felt her nipples tighten and she squeezed her thighs together as she stood before him, trying to ease the ache that had suddenly grown between them. The heated look he was giving her only drove the words home.

She could tell by his very skillful and passionate kiss that picking up where they had left off would be quite enjoyable.

He wasn't what she needed though. He'd already said that he had no money or station, and basically the only thing she knew about him so far, aside from the fact that he was handsome as hell and an amazing kisser, was that he definitely had no interest in marrying, her or anyone else.

He'd be a perfect love-em-and-leave-em fling to get out of her system before she did find a husband, but despite every naughty thing her body was thinking it wanted to do with this man, her brain ultimately came out on top.

"As tempting as that offer is, you can't give me what I want. Well, honestly, you could probably give me exactly what I want, but you can't give me what I need," she clarified.

She felt her skin heat up again, and she knew she was blushing bright red at both her own words and at the smoldering look he was giving her as he watched her squirm.

No, she needed to find a rich husband here, and quickly, which meant that she needed to stay respectable. No one would marry her, even if it was in name only in some kind of loveless arrangement, if it was known around camp that she lifted her dress for the first man she spoke to when she joined the caravan. It was already bad enough that so many people saw them kiss.

Nope, from here out this needed to be a business arrangement and nothing else. She'd done her part, it was his turn to do his.

* * * * *

An hour or so later, after making it clear that she was serious about finding a rich husband in this crowd, the pair had exchanged names, found Mac, and made formal introductions all around. Sandra now found herself riding instead of walking, and filling both men in on exactly who she was and what she was looking for so they could start introducing her to the right people.

"There are really only two viable options here," Naythan told her as Mac watched them both with an odd look on his face.

"Only two? In a crowd this size?"

She was both surprised and disappointed, but she shook it off. In reality she really only needed one willing partner for it all to work, and beggars can't afford to be choosers, so when Naythan nodded at her question she resigned herself to choosing between two possible husbands.

"Yes, just two, I'm afraid. They're the only ones here with both the means to support you and the ability to marry. Now if you are just looking for money and support, and you'd be willing to be a life-long mistress, that would open the field up a lot wider, right Mac?"

Sandra followed Naythan's gaze to the quiet one riding with them as he raised his eyebrows and shrugged his shoulders in agreement.

"I suppose. I've never really thought about it, but yeah, that sounds about right. This is the castle crowd. Nobility and royalty-types all seem to be a bit weird about mate selection. They marry for different reasons than the rest of us do, so they do tend to keep a female or two that they actually have feelings for on the side. Makes me happy to be a common man, honestly."

The formality of his words caught Sandra's attention.

"That's an odd way to frame it- mate selection. Why do you call it that? Although it is straight forward. Selecting a mate is exactly what I'm trying to do, I guess. How would you select your mate, or have you already?"

"No, I'm single. Mate selection is very different for my kind."

"You speak so formally. How is it different for the common man, as you say, from the castle crowd? Well, for men anyway. I get the difference for women, for sure."

"Well, a common man can choose a mate based on feelings instead of politics. Love instead of money. But for me in particular, there's a third aspect. There is castle crowd, common man, and then me- a shifter. As a shifter I have it a bit easier. Castle crowd or common man, my bear will pick my mate. It's a scent thing that my human side can fight or accept."

"Wait, you're a bear shifter? I've never met a shifter in real life before. I've heard stories, but you can't trust either the good or the bad in stories. The truth is usually more in the middle. So it's easier for you then? You just wait until you smell your mate and it's done? Excuse my ignorance but the mental image I have right now is of two dogs smelling each other's..."

Mac's laugh was sudden, loud and forceful. It was a warm, hearty laugh, and it lit up his eyes as he looked at her and then past her to Naythan.

She followed his gaze and saw that Naythan was grinning widely at her mental image as well.

"So, it's not like that then? Oh good, I'm glad. It may be easier, but that doesn't sound sexy in the slightest."

"True," Mac continued speaking through his laughter. "That doesn't sound sexy at all. Thankfully it isn't like dogs, even for the wolf shifters, but my understanding is that scenting your mate is very powerful."

She watched him speak of everything he'd heard scenting was, but he was no longer looking at her as he spoke. His words were aimed at Naythan, and Sandra thought maybe he was seeking agreement?

"When you scent your mate, it rocks you to your very core, or so I've heard. It changes you."

"It doesn't have to. You said it yourself, your human side can fight or accept."

Naythan's words sounded almost argumentative to Sandra's ears, like he was speaking from experience that he didn't want to address.

Wait, was Naythan also a bear shifter?

"You sound like you know of what you speak. Are you a bear too? Have you scented your mate?"

"No! I mean... I'm a shifter too, yes. I'm a wolf. I thought we were talking about finding you a husband. Do you want to hear about the two who might be willing or should we keep talking about sniffing asses?"

"Sorry. I didn't mean to touch on a sore subject, I'm just fascinated, that's all. Ok, yes, my two best options. Who are they?"

Mac snorted beside her as Naythan started to tell her about the men he said she'd have the best chance of getting to marry her.

"How do you feel about being a twelfth wife in a harem?"


"Seriously. He obviously has no problem marrying, and you say you're looking for stability and money, not love. He's young, his father recently died, leaving him the entire kingdom as the only male heir."

"And the other option? What's his story?"

"You called it before. He's not so secretly gay. Well, here it isn't a secret, but my understanding is that that's why he stays here on our land as much as he does. In his own kingdom that is highly frowned upon. He's only a prince, but his parents have been pushing him to marry."

"I'm sure they'd prefer he marry someone of his own rank though, correct? I have nothing of value."

"Oddly enough they are pushing him to marry for love not politics. He's the youngest son so odds are great that he'd never be king. At this point I think they'd be happy with him for just making a show of marrying so they could put the rumors that he prefers the company of men to rest. No real pressure on the youngest son for anything other than keeping up appearances and staying out of trouble."

"Which of them would balk the least at also taking on my mother?"

"None of them should have a problem with that. Everyone knows that when you take on a wife you are responsible for her family as well. As it should be."

Sandra nodded.

"Twelfth wife in a harem or beard to the youngest son? Those are my only choices?"

"Of course not," Mac spoke up then.

"You know of another?"

"You always have other choices. You could wait for your fated mate. You could slow down a minute and look around. Take stock. Stop running. Give love some time to find you."

"You forget that it's not love I'm looking for. I'm looking for safety. I've seen love in my parents, and what do they have to show for it now? My mother is about to lose everything and I won't let that happen. I don't have time to stop running or to take stock. I barely have time to look around. I'm not a shifter, my fated mate doesn't exist. What does exist is a chance to take care of my family in the only way open to a female with no money and no station. I can marry up. I can trade myself for food and a place to live for me and my mother.

I've decided. I'd rather have the youngest prince please, I think. We can help each other, and right now that's all I have to offer in return. I'm not sure what I have to offer in return for becoming a twelfth wife, but the other guy, it sounds like maybe he needs me as much as I need him. Let's start there."

Chapter 4

Naythan watched Sandra and Allen, the gay prince, from afar. The caravan had stopped for the night and after everyone had set up their tents or raised the tops of the wagons they planned to sleep above ground in, Naythan, Mac and Sandra headed off to catch Allen alone.

Naythan introduced Allen and Sandra to each other, whispering her situation into Allen's ear. His reaction had been positive.

"You'd be willing to do that? You'd marry me knowing my situation, only asking for me to take care of you and your mother financially in return? Have you eaten yet? How about we get to know each other better and discuss this over dinner? Surely some of the dining tents are open by now, I can smell the meat on their grills. If they aren't quite ready for customers I'm sure it won't be long."

Allen had turned to Naythan then, asking Naythan and Mac if they wanted to join them. Naythan started to accept but Mac jumped in, interrupting.

"Thank you, but we'll pass. You two go, get to know each other alone. We'll head that way as well, but we'll eat by ourselves. We have some pack business we need to discuss in private."

"Very well. Where should I take her whenever we finish?"

"To our tents," Naythan said. "We've set up a small tent for her between mine and Mac's."

Allen nodded and offered Sandra his arm, leading her off. The pair were already deep in conversation, their heads tipped toward each other so they could more easily speak as they walked. Naythan and Mac followed behind at a slower pace to give them space but still keep an eye out.

"What pack business do we need to discuss? These caravans are easy, we provide security, bust some heads on occasion, and keep the peace. We left pack business behind yesterday," Naythan asked Mac, confused, as they settled into chairs at a table across the clearing from Sandra and Allen.

Mac didn't waste his time or mince his words when he responded.

"What the hell are you doing? I have yet to scent my mate, but I've seen it happen to others repeatedly. You've scented Sandra, have you not? It's in the tenseness of your body, and it's in the heated need in your eyes. I've seen you go after a piece of tail before, I've seen you clouded with lust, but this is the polar opposite. Not only are you not trying to bed her, you're trying to help your fated mate marry another. What the fuck Naythan? This isn't like you at all."

"I don't want a mate. The last thing I want is to tie myself down to one woman, and besides, you heard her. She isn't looking to be some second-in-command wolf shifter's mate. She's after comfort and safety."

"She's running scared is what she is. She's meant to be yours, and you know damn well you could give her comfort and safety. You could take care of her better than any prince, you have an entire wolf-pack at your disposal. If anything ever happened to you she would always have a place in the pack, she would want for nothing."

"I told you, I don't want a mate."

"Hmmp. What does your wolf have to say about that?"

She smells so good. She smells like snow and sweet hot cocoa. She smells like home. She smells like Christmas and love and forever. I want her, no I need her. I need to kiss her, I need to bury my face between her legs and see if she tastes as fucking amazing as she smells. I need to lick her until she grips my hair in her fists and her thighs squeeze me in pleasure and then I need to taste her some more until she screams out my name and her body bucks with need.

I want to bury my cock in her warmth and rock with her. I want to take her from behind and howl as I fill her. I need to spill myself inside her and sink my teeth into the warm, tender spot on her neck and bite her. I need to mark her as mine for the world to see. I need to see her get round with my cubs and I need to take care of her and protect her and keep her warm and safe forever. And I swear if that prince keeps looking at her like this farce of a wedding is a real possibility with MY MATE I will rip his heart out and feed it to him as I laugh.

"He's not pleased," Naythan answered as he tried his best to ignore the wolf inside him.

"I'm guessing that is an understatement," Mac said with knowing eyes. "Seriously Naythan, why are you really doing this? Why would you not give in to your wolf? Selecting the same mate your wolf scents practically guarantees a happy union. Fighting your wolf's choice and picking another, or worse- not taking a mate at all, is not good for anyone, you or the pack. What is really going on here? If your Alpha knew you scented your mate and denied the call..."

Naythan looked away from Mac and focused on Sandra instead.

She kept glancing back over at them, meeting Naythan's eyes as she spoke to Allen.

He watched as she ordered, the food tent owner's daughter stopping at their table. It almost hurt him to watch her with another, even though he'd only met her a few hours before.

He was the only wolf he knew that dreaded the day his wolf scented a mate. Every other wolf, even Mac, a bear, longed for the day the animal inside them found their other half, but Naythan always hoped it wouldn't happen to him.

He was happy being single. He needed no attachments beyond his pack. He had no real responsibilities and he always told himself that he liked it that way. But if he was really, truly honest with himself, he knew that was a lie.

He turned back to Mac fully intending to keep feeding his Alpha's best friend the same lines he always told himself- that he liked the freedom of chasing tail and having no one to report to or take care of. That he liked having no responsibilities above and beyond the pack.

As he opened his mouth to lie to Mac, his wolf pushed through again.

You owe him the truth. Above that, you owe me the truth. If you are really planning on denying me my mate, OUR mate, at least give a real, honest reason. Say it out loud.

"I'm not good enough to take on a mate."

The way Mac blinked at him, and then narrowed his eyes in thought, told Naythan that was the last thing the bear had expected to hear.

Mac didn't argue or try to convince Naythan otherwise. He turned to their waitress as she approached, ordered for the both of them, and then as she walked away he just quietly asked Naythan, "What makes you say that?"

"I have too much of my father in me. I'm afraid I'll turn out like he did, and that I'll treat my mate the way my father treated my mother. I'd rather die alone than do that to someone. Forgive me Mac, but I'm not hungry anymore. If you need me I'll be in my tent."

* * * * *

Naythan heard Mac greet Allen just outside their tents, and after they said their goodbyes he heard Mac show Sandra to the tent they had pitched for her earlier. He heard Mac leave Sandra to her own devices and excuse himself to take his shift on patrol.

Bane, Naythan's Alpha, had opted to take the first shift. He had been following and keeping an eye on the caravan from a distance all day in his wolf form, and Naythan knew that Mac was headed to relieve Bane and patrol into the night.

Naythan was already bedded down for the night, as he knew it would be his turn to take over for Mac in the morning. Naythan planned on introducing Sandra to Bane in the morning, once his alpha had slept, and right before he headed off to relieve Mac. Since Mac would probably sleep most of the next day, and he himself would be patrolling that same time, Bane would need to know that the pack had basically taken responsibility for Sandra until any betrothals had been made.

Once the night had quieted again, Naythan felt his eyes fighting sleep, listening for any movements Sandra made, but as she was quiet as well, he started to drift off.

That is, until he heard a soft, scratching knock on the flap of his tent.

"Naythan? Are you in there? Are you awake?"

"I am now. Hang on."

Naythan sat up, letting the blankets he'd been burrowed under fall to his hips as he reached for and then lifted the flap to see what Sandra wanted.

She was bent over to be able to see into his tent. She filled the open flap with her head and shoulders, and he found himself looking down the cleavage of the wedding dress she still wore.

Shit, he'd meant to get her a change of clothes, but she was in such a hurry he'd forgotten. He mentally shook himself- how stupid had it been to introduce her to the prince she was trying to land while she was still dressed in a get-up that screamed either 'marry me now, I'm ready,' or 'I already ran away from one possible groom today.'

Naythan wasn't sure which proclamation was worse when they were trying to marry her off to royalty.

His wolf, on the other hand, had no issues with her dress. He was actively trying to get a better view down the front of it as she stood there asking him if he had a few minutes to talk.

"Remind me to get you some clothes in the morning. Do you have any money at all? Never mind, don't answer that. Consider it my treat. Save anything you may have brought with you for later, we can call it a dowry."

"You don't have to be an ass about it. I'm already well aware I don't have anything, dowry or otherwise. No need to rub it in. I don't need your charity, I just needed your introduction, it seems. I'm sure my new fiancé will have no problems buying me more suitable clothes tomorrow. Besides, my understanding was that you didn't have anything either."

"I said I wasn't rich, or the marrying type. I didn't say I was poor. I'm perfectly capable of taking care of any..." he stopped himself, the other thing she'd said catching his attention instead. "Did you say 'my new fiancé?'"

"I did."

"Well, that was fast."

"He liked our idea. He gets to bring a fiancé home after the winter holidays, and I get to take care of my mother. Neither one of us has any real claim on the other, and we both get to do whatever we want as long as everything looks legit when we are on his lands. We've agreed to be subtle, otherwise, in our...umm, diversions."


"Yes. He let it be known that he was dropping me off at my tent and he had no intention of returning to his own. I believe he said there was a 'round and very spoiled ass waiting for him to debase it' and that if I decided I had any debasing of my own to do..."

"And you came here?"

"I know it's forward," she continued. "But you did mention something before about picking up where we left off. I figure that if I'm going to spend the rest of my life fulfilling my own needs, needs that my future husband has no interest in fulfilling, well... the least I could do was offer to...celebrate... our successful joining of me to someone who'll... and now I'm just rambling. I'm not very good at this. Or very forward, usually, it's just that..."

She sighed then, a heavy, resigned, never-mind kind of sigh, and it wasn't until his wolf reacted by grabbing her wrist and tugging her inside that he even realized that he wasn't dreaming her.

She was real, and as he zipped up the tent's flap, with her inside, he thanked his wolf for reacting when he hadn't.

My pleasure, trust me. You'll see. She's destined to be ours, in our arms is exactly where she belongs.

Naythan pulled her a bit more, until she spilled into his lap. As his lips found hers for the second time today, he answered his wolf.

She's ours for tonight, that is all. That's all I dare.

Chapter 5

Sandra was glad when he finally tugged her inside and into their own little world. Tonight had gone way better than she'd expected. She'd found a rich husband, and a man she hoped would be a gifted lover. And a werewolf, to boot. How many women got to cross off 'I slept with a were' before tying themselves up with matrimonial bonds.

Safety, security, and adventurous bucket-list shifter sex, all in one day. All while still wearing the wedding dress she'd started out on a completely different path with just this morning.

It's good to be me.

She let herself melt in his arms, kissing him back as good as she got, fully aware that he was only available for tonight. He had made that abundantly clear in words, and in the efforts he'd gone to in order to chase off the redhead named Candace.

She knew she was being impulsive, and possibly stupid, but she had no idea how her life would unfold with her new fiancé, and she was bound and determined to get some enjoyment out of this day, this man, before she walked away from both in the morning and toward her new life.

Sandra realized she was still thinking. Here she was, in the arms of the man who'd driven all thought from her brain hours before with a single, unexpected kiss, and now she was concentrating on her future instead of enjoying the moment, as usual.

With another gentle pull, Naythan guided her onto his lap. As she looked into his eyes in the seconds before they kissed again, she realized that she'd have to be careful with this one or she'd lose herself in the depths of his gaze and never be able to climb her way back out again.

She closed her eyes, partially in pleasure, and partially to protect herself. She wanted tonight, hell she needed it badly, but she couldn't let her guard slip. The last thing she needed was to let his kisses derail her plans for a better future.

Just tonight, no more.

Sandra let Naythan wrap her in his arms as she sat cradled in his lap, and as her lips met his again, she gave herself up to his touch, letting the rest of the world take care of itself just for a bit.

This kiss took her breath away even more than the first one had. Maybe it was the fact that they were secluded in his dark tent instead of standing on the side of the road, but whatever it was, the effect was potent.

She sighed as his tongue parted her lips and she tilted her head to better fit her mouth to his. She wrapped her arms around his neck and moaned against him when she felt his hands find the hooks on the back of her dress and slowly open them.

His palms were warm on the skin of her back, and when he pressed her to him she pulled her mouth from his, offering her neck to his kisses.

She arched her back as he licked and nipped a trail starting behind her ear, following the curve of her neck until he gently bit her collarbone before kissing the swell of her breasts as he tugged the dress down until it pooled at her waist.

He slid his hand from her back and found the heavy globe of her bare breast, lifting it in his palm and running his thumb across her nipple, sending shivers of pleasure straight into her core. He lowered his mouth to lick the peak of her before pulling on it and sucking gently.

She fisted his hair in her hands, arching herself, pressing her breast more fully against his kiss.

"Oh yes, please..."

She wasn't sure how to end the sentence, so she let it hang there in the air around them.

It had been so long, she almost wanted to yank her skirts up and lower herself onto him right here where they sat, but the way he was teasing her made her crave his slow kiss all over every inch of her first.

She wanted both to push him onto his back and straddle him, to use him for her physical pleasure before letting him use her, but she also wanted him to flip her around and set her on her knees, riding her hard from behind until she couldn't take it anymore.

Her thoughts, paired with the slow sucking on her nipples, were driving her crazy with need. She gripped his hair in her fist harder, yanking some, as wanton words slipped from her lips.

"I need you inside me, now, please."

He answered her by biting her nipple and she moaned again with need.

He flipped her then, rolling her to her back underneath him, but instead of yanking her panties aside, pulling himself free and filling her hard and fast, like she hoped, he raised her skirts until she was lost in a cloud of white silks. He spread her thighs, pinning them each with an elbow as he nipped at the center of her instead.

His heated breath teasing her through her panties made her buck against him. When he started to suck on her over her panties, the thin fabric no real barrier to his wet mouth, she thought she was going to lose it.

He slid the fabric aside then, slipping a finger into the slick proof of her need and rubbing it over her, teasing a circle or two around her clit before sliding back down along her folds and then sliding inside her.

He fingered her, filling her and pulling out, as his mouth teased her clit, licking and sucking until she gripped his bedding in her fists under her hips.

She rocked herself against him, powerless to do anything else. She let go of his sheets with her hand, fisting his hair again instead, guiding him as she rocked.

He picked up his speed, following her lead, and she heard encouraging moans from him between her thighs. The rumbles of his encouragement tickled just right and she felt her thighs try to squeeze closed as her orgasm broke loose, but his elbows held her open. He licked every drop as she came in his mouth, and it wasn't until the first waves started to fade that he undid his own breeches and kneeled between her thighs.

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