It was a long, hard slog, but I’m finally back on my feet after chemo, surgery, and radiation. I’m breast cancer free, WOO HOO! I’d like to thank everyone who contacted me and offered supportive woots while my brains were addled from treatment. Whether you contacted me by email, on Facebook or Goodreads, or by leaving comments right here on my website, I can’t begin to tell you how much your kindness and compassion meant to me and continues to mean to me. My readers are the best. Absolutely and completely.
Considering how excruciatingly terrible my 2015 was, I also can’t begin to describe how happy and excited I am to announce a new book!
With a lycan father, a human mother, and the human side of his genetic makeup dominant, Luke left his birth pack to try living among humans, but he felt awkward and uncomfortable isolated from the culture that raised him. He’s still searching for where he fits in.
After losing his family in a vicious attack, Dean rebuilt his pack by accepting loners, rejects, other survivors, and even ferals. He and his ragtag group of strays made a warm and welcoming home.
Luke believes he’s finally found where he belongs. Meddling parents and a neighbor who isn’t as human as he seems won’t sway him. Luke wants Dean to take in one last stray…him.
Content Warning: Shifter knotting/tying, mating heats (yes, plural), and jerky!
A 40,643 word short novel
TGIF, y’all — and happy reading!
Including the attic, the farmhouse towered three floors. Two additions had been haphazardly built onto the main structure in recent years, one stretching to the left and another shorter stub to the right. The white paint on the newer sections didn’t quite match. Still, the place looked ordinary. Big, but nothing special.
That fooled no one, least of all Luke.
Nate pulled his Jeep next to a Chevy truck that was more primer than paint in the scrap of bare ground that passed for a driveway. After shoving the gearshift into park, he retrieved the keys from the ignition.
“Don’t be nervous,” he said.
Easy for him to say. Nate was lycan. Nate had also been a member of this pack—best friends with Dean, the head of their makeshift family—for the last ten years. Luke, a human, hadn’t belonged to a pack in a decade plus another four years.
Luke’s damp palms smoothed wrinkles from his khakis. His heartbeat sprinted and his stomach balled to an anxious knot. Getting today’s introduction right was vital. He’d invested two years studying the pack and Dean from a wary distance. He’d needed to be sure. Not just that the pack was safe for him, but that maybe he’d found the place he could call home.
“I’m not nervous,” Luke said. Nervous? No, he’d sailed passed nervous months ago. He was petrified.
As if Nate could hear his thoughts rather than the slight stutter of his heartbeat signaling Luke’s lie, Nate chuckled, but it wasn’t a mean sound. Neither was the sparkle in his eyes or the brilliance of his smile.
“You’ll do fine. Better than fine. Come on.”
Luke wanted to argue only a lycan could be that confident, but worry froze the air in his lungs. Didn’t lock his leg muscles, though. He climbed from the jeep and followed Nate up the stairs to a wide front porch and the screen door of the house. Gaze down, only daring to peek through his lashes, he shuffled through the door when Nate opened it and waved him inside.
The house’s appearance of normalcy, human normalcy anyway, ended once he gathered the guts to glance around the entry. Oak flooring gleamed, nice if he ignored the scratches in the wood. He shuddered at the lack of furniture and the absence of decorations on white walls marred with thin gouges that hadn’t been puttied over yet. The shiver was partly at the chill of the room—lycans kept their homes cooler because their body temperature ran a little higher—but mostly he shook in longing.
He clenched his shaking hands.
He’d forgotten how much he missed this.
Missing the cold was crazy. He liked his neat apartment, the paintings he’d picked for it at the college art fair last summer, and the few pieces of furniture he’d selected from flea markets to re-purpose or restore. He hated stark white walls with a passion and had bid farewell to his security deposit by painting his rooms in a sunny yellow. He’d set his thermostat for his comfort and no one else’s. He never fretted that shifting whelps might break the desk he’d painstakingly refinished… or him. He didn’t even own a bucket of drywall compound, a staple in any pack house for endless repairs to walls painted white for no-fuss maintenance.
Nate threaded his fingers with Luke’s and squeezed. “It’s all right. You’ll see,” Nate said, his grin wide.
That look, the feeling of belonging and comfort, was what he’d missed and would never get enough of. God knows he’d tried to live without it. He’d wasted years trying to fit in human society. After the disaster of his last relationship, Luke had refocused on himself for a while too. He’d learned to live alone, seeking out his place among neither humans nor lycans. No sharing a house with a dozen or more temperamental lycans, no timing everything by the phase of the moon. He’d made his own decisions. By himself. He’d experimented with going vegetarian, unsuccessfully since Luke hadn’t been able to give up bacon, but he’d experimented. He’d explored. He’d tried.
Living as a human hadn’t been all it was cracked up to be, but trying to make it on the fringes of both worlds had been pure hell. Some might argue the dormant lycan half of his genetics motivated him to be with other lycans. Although Luke would never shift or exhibit any traits common to his lycan father’s heritage, part of Luke was nevertheless lycan, and lycans were social animals who didn’t cope well alone. Others would likely point to his upbringing. Raised inside a pack, Luke hadn’t simply acclimated to lycan culture and its unique rules and mores—he’d been conditioned to it since birth.
Nature or nurture didn’t matter. Luke didn’t care anymore. He’d stopped questioning what he needed and why.
When Nate tugged, Luke submitted to his lead. His knees might have jellied and the rest of him trembled in equal parts fear and anticipation at how readily he’d fallen into the old habit, but he somehow kept pace behind Nate stalking into the pack house’s meeting room. Luke glued his stare to the floor, this room’s hardwood protected by a thick rug in a geometric pattern of overlapping rectangles. He didn’t miss the bared feet and naked legs of the others, though. With the full moon rising tonight, Dean had gathered his pack—the lycan strays he’d adopted to replace the birth family humans had slaughtered a dozen years ago.
The pack Luke had studied wouldn’t kill a human with his pedigree. Might reject him, but Luke didn’t think so. When necessary, Dean worked with humans from town, and if he had reason to hate anyone, Dean would despise them most. He definitely wouldn’t kill Luke when his best friend Nate vouched for Luke. Vince, another lycan who worked in town, liked Luke too, but Nate’s opinion mattered most. Dean respected Nate.
If nothing else, his last relationship had taught Luke the income he earned and his family connections appealed to lycans. Useful enough to prod Dean to tolerate a human on his pack lands rather than run him off? Luke would soon find out.
The collected lycans fell silent one by one as Nate guided Luke to the far end of the room… and as their noses told them what Luke’s nose never would and what they probably thought could not be possible. A human? In the pack house? This close to the full moon? Luke strolled right in, pulse racing, scared out of his mind his plan would work but also terrified it wouldn’t. When Nate finally stopped, Luke stared at Dean’s feet.
Strong feet. Sleek, sexy feet. Neatly trimmed nails tipped slender toes. Tan skin. A light dusting of dark hair grew in thicker as Luke’s glance strayed from feet to ankles and up to calves so dense with taut muscle Luke’s body ached.
Luke nipped those errant thoughts in the bud, before the whole room scented arousal on him. Or embarrassment. Even on the East Coast, where human integration with lycans lagged, humans didn’t need to mate inside a pack to join it. He knew that. Everybody did. He’d welcomed a lycan lover to him once, in desperate hope the affair would lend greater security to his standing with the rest of the pack, but he wouldn’t repeat that mistake.
He’d make brand new ones.
“This is Luke. His human mother mated and bonded with a lycan father out West. They reared him inside his father’s pack. He left home to explore the world after he became an adult,” Nate told Dean. “He wants to ally with us.”
Luke had been specific about his goals: ally. Asking to join outright might push too hard and ask too much. Permission to visit pack lands between full moons and the freedom to get to know the family would be enough. He’d learn to be happy on the edges of Dean’s group until he proved his worth.
“Oh really?” Dean asked, his voice low and sultry. It made Luke shiver in all the ways the leader of a pack should make one of his own shiver, with an unmistakable sense of kinship and attentive interest. Luke’s eyes snapped shut with his relief at feeling that again.
“He handles payroll for several businesses in town, including the construction crew Vince and I work for,” Nate continued, his grip on Luke’s hand steadying him.
“An educated human,” Dean said on a growl. “How… predictable.”
Luke struggled not to fidget, feeling the slow stare Dean swept up and down him like a body search. It wasn’t his fault lycans couldn’t go to public schools with humans and were homeschooled instead. Luke wasn’t to blame for the fact lycan education wildly differed from what students were taught from human books, either. He’d learned pack lore too! His father had included him with his brothers for oral history lessons, and he’d tutored Luke particularly in lycan culture and law. As part human and his human side dominant, Luke couldn’t claim the instincts his brothers and cousins did, and Luke had needed to know. For his own safety.
“His uncle paid for college,” Nate said. “Luke repaid the pack after he left.”
Despite himself, Luke shifted his weight from foot to foot. See? He wanted to say. Humans are capable of honor too. Instead, he pressed his lips shut.
Dean grunted. “Can he speak?”
Trembling, Luke slipped his free hand into a pocket of his khakis for the scrap of paper he’d placed there for this moment. He offered the note on an upraised palm. “My father’s cell number is the first. My lycan father,” he said, gaze yet pasted to the floor. Non-allied humans didn’t meet the stare of a lycan on his home territory without invitation unless the human wanted trouble. “The second number belongs to my uncle, Ty Warren, my family’s patriarch.” Only ignorant humans referred to lycans as alphas, betas, and omegas. “Dad and Uncle Ty will confirm everything I told Nate.” No lycan would baldly accept the word of a human, not on something that could endanger his pack, but they’d listen to fellow lycans. Luke would be thoroughly vetted.
“The Warrens,” Dean said, husky voice considering. “Never heard of them.”
“My family is in Oregon, sir,” Luke said. “On the outskirts of Portland.” Which was the other side of the country, because when Luke had won the freedom to run, he’d run far. His ambition to live as a regular human would’ve been doomed if he’d stayed where he or his pack lineage could be recognized. “The Warrens are a big family, large enough to accept my father bonding with a human.” Small packs forbid contact with humans to remove the risk of producing offspring like Luke. Lycan population numbers were scant, especially in the more urbanized East where human suspicion of and hostility toward their kind lingered. Packs barely hanging on couldn’t afford to divert precious resources and attention to mixed lycan mutts. Groups larger than a single-family unit routinely accepted humans as lovers and allies now, however, including in the contentious Northeast. “My birth pack boasts several breeding pairs. My parents and two other bonded mates have raised children alongside Uncle Ty and Aunt Miriam. The Warrens are highly regarded on the West Coast.”
Such things were significant to lycans, and Dean didn’t disappoint him. When Luke glanced up, Dean’s eyebrow had arched. “Is that right?”
He forced his gaze back down before replying. “Yes.”
“Large packs don’t guarantee safety. More of us isn’t always smart.”
Luke gulped at the reminder of the family Dean had lost. Humans here mostly ignored the pack on its border these days, but a few locals had been willing to talk about times when too many lycans had roamed the hills outside town.
“My mother provides a bridge between the pack and the neighboring human community. Uncle Ty allied with several humans in Portland who act as ambassadors too. Problems are discussed and resolved before townspeople hunt us.”
Dean snorted his contempt. “You don’t know what it is to be hunted.”
Luke’s shoulders bunched. “No, I don’t,” he admitted. “But humans would kill me too.”
The pack leader’s lips thinned to a grim line. “Because you’re part lycan?”
“Because I’ve committed the unpardonable sin of leaving human society to go where I belong: with lycans.” Luke pushed out an anxious breath. “Hunts aren’t inevitable, though. Compromise isn’t easy, but resolutions avoiding bloodshed are attainable.” He glanced up to meet Dean’s unflinching stare. “When packs accept humans among them and those humans speak for the pack when issues arise, peace is much more likely and with peace comes better odds for survival. After years of searching, I haven’t found evidence of hostility against lycans from locals—attacks appear to be a danger of the past in this area—but a human ally would make you and your family safer. I could be useful to you.” As soon as he finished his plea, he jerked his stare down again, to the floor. To Dean’s sexy feet.
No challenging Dean. Luke didn’t have a death wish.
He didn’t stop quivering until Dean blew out a slow breath. “Dinner should be ready. Take him with the others out back. I’ll make some calls after.”
Luke’s heart leapt with hope.
“Thanks, Dean,” Nate said.
“I said I’d call,” Dean said on an ill-tempered snarl. “No promises.”
“He understands.” Nate’s grip on Luke’s hand tightened in silent reassurance.
“Go on.” Dean jerked his chin toward a wide doorway across the room. “The moon will rise soon.”
Relief crashed through Luke as Nate guided him into the pack’s kitchen and then on to a spacious backyard. No deck or patio disrupted the carpet of grass—natural grasses, at that. Careful stewards of their environment, lycans would never abide non-native plants. They kept it mowed closer to the house and patches of bare earth framed logs strategically placed around a fire pit. A sheet of plywood rested on a pair of sawhorses off to one side to provide a table for platters of meat surrounding a partially carved boar.
Smart. Lycans with full bellies didn’t hunt for food during the full moon, only for sport. Luke had noted a comforting excess of human vigilance when the lunar cycle peaked. People stayed in town then and in their homes. Traditionally outnumbered, wise lycans nevertheless seized every precaution and hungry lycans roamed more.
With the pack streaming through the back door, Luke sank to the ground the moment Nate shifted a hand to Luke’s shoulder and pushed down. He made no comment when Nate headed toward the food, nor did Luke let slip a solitary sound as the others went to eat too. Even the whelps, three of whom weren’t tall enough to reach Luke’s waist, ignored him, but his surveillance had already convinced Luke of Dean’s mastery of pack discipline. None of the family would approach Luke without Dean’s approval.
After Dean had served himself and nodded his okay, the rest of the pack piled stainless steel plates with succulent chunks of pork. Luke’s mouth watered at the scent of cooked meat. His stomach grumbled, but he kept his yap shut.
Lycans weren’t humans. Guest or not, Luke would eat if and when Dean said he could and not one second before.
At least his proximity to the central fire warmed the autumn chill a little.
Hands resting on his thighs, heels digging into his butt where he sat, he waited as the lycans took their respective places on logs and stumps dotting the yard. He didn’t watch them eat, instead fixing his gaze on the flickering red and oranges of the fire. He listened, though. Dean thanked Vince and two other lycans for catching the boar as well as two others—men, not the lone adult female in the group—for roasting it. Luke had realized Dean didn’t assign chores by gender roles last year, but extra confirmation never hurt. Two of the three kindergarten-aged whelps squabbled, fluidly shifting into their animal forms to fight it out until a pair of lanky teenagers pried them apart. Dean, rather than the kids’ parents, chastised the kids for disrupting their meal, belatedly adding that undisciplined shifting also risked “the human.”
No one mentioned or discussed sensitive business, unlike other gatherings preceding the full moon, Luke was certain. Lycans came together to resolve problems and decide issues while united for their full moon runs. Luke had chosen tonight to come forward for that reason. With any kind of luck, once Dean had checked Luke’s references, he’d poll his family about the potential alliance. Luke needn’t agonize for days anticipating Dean’s answer. Dean could reveal his decision as soon as the night’s run concluded.
None of the collected lycans spoke to Luke, but they were all aware of him. Luke sensed it in the deliberate circling around his position kneeling in the dirt and the leery glances, darting from him whenever Luke noticed the attention. In human terms, Luke was the elephant in the room. Every lycan, to a man, tried too hard to pretend he wasn’t there. Painfully, at least to Luke.
Luke pretended too.
He schooled his face to an unconcerned mask and forced his body to remain loose, but his heart raced when Dean slipped away, returning to the house. Humans combed references for jobs, leases and mortgages to buy their homes, but they didn’t know the first thing about background checks, not really. Luke had every confidence his father and Uncle Ty would back him up. Luke had left his birth pack, yes, but before he’d ever landed a job to help with pack expenses, he’d performed chores like this pack’s teenagers in rearing younger whelps. He’d also washed laundry, cleaned dishes, and repaired gouged drywall. He hadn’t simply completed chores assigned to him. He’d done any odd job capturing his notice, whatever his family needed. He’d been a contributing member of his pack. Regardless of how often his last lycan lover had beaten him or how severely, Luke had been a contributing member of that pack too.
Human or not, Luke pulled his weight.
His dad and uncle would confirm his diligence, which this close to the full moon might possibly save Luke’s life since lycan patience for treacherous humans thinned most at the height of the moon cycle. Those reports would also go a long way toward persuading Dean to give Luke a chance. That’s all he needed. If they’d let him, Luke would prove he could earn his place.
He was already proving he could fit here. Nate hadn’t shoved him to sit on the ground because he was human. A lycan seeking to join the pack would’ve been treated the same. It was their way, Luke’s way, the lycan way. Luke hadn’t resisted. He’d lowered his gaze to show he meant to issue challenges to no one. He hadn’t spoken until Dean had addressed him, and although his empty stomach rumbled, despite the enticing smell of roast boar, Luke hadn’t shifted from his spot. As patriarch, Dean ate first and the rest of the pack shared the meal only with his permission. Luke, an uninvited stranger, might not eat at all, and he certainly wasn’t free to wander.
He knew the rules. Living among humans the last many years hadn’t erased that.
He had to demonstrate to Dean and the rest of the pack he remembered, show them he could and would honor lycan customs. He understood those laws were for everyone’s benefit and safety, including his.
Luke’s muscles didn’t unbunch until he spied Dean slinking back to the bonfire from the farmhouse. As always since Luke’s youth, he took his cues from his pack leader—Dean ambled around the campfire, his smile relaxed as he chatted with his people. So Luke relaxed. The phone calls must have gone well. If not, Dean would have marched to Luke immediately and removed the threat—Luke—from the family Dean loved. Instead, Dean stopped to exchange a few words with the teenagers tasked with keeping an eye on the younger kids. Moving on, he placed a familiar hand on the shoulder of one of the lycans Luke hadn’t been introduced to yet. Dean squeezed lightly, with affection.
Lycans were tactile creatures, constantly rubbing shoulders, stroking arms and bellies, palming cheeks. Sleeping together in piles. Hugging.
Smothering an optimistic spark he couldn’t afford, Luke suppressed his yearning. None of them had touched him since Nate had released Luke’s hand and none probably would for weeks, perhaps months. Lone humans weren’t supposed to grow starved for touch like a lycan would. It’d been four freaking years since a pack leader had grabbed his nape, though, like Dean did with the woman he laughed with now. Luke’s need for that caress ached to the marrow of his bones.
He shrugged off his hunger for physical affection and stayed where Nate had planted him. Quiet. Obedient. Respectful. Dean would work his way around to Luke eventually. The lycan had a duty to reassure his family, and if the weakening light of the setting sun melted into darkness and the clock ticked closer to the rise of the moon, Luke had to trust Dean. He’d already chosen to trust Dean with his life, or Luke would have never approached Vince and Nate to start with.
He waited as patiently as he could—no fidgeting—and studied his hoped-for pack leader beneath his lashes, reveling in the once-forbidden treat of being near enough to clearly see him. Dean towered a couple inches above everyone. Most lycans were tall and brawny, but as head of the family, Dean seemed especially so, wide through the shoulders, with a broad chest that tapered to a flat stomach and trim hips. Wiry hair sprinkled over acres of taut muscle, black hair to match the thick pelt on Dean’s head. Someone had cut it short, which was a pity. All the men and the lone woman in this pack sported short spiky hair, leaving only the children flaunting the heavy manes notorious of lycans. Luke’s unruly mop of brown hair, which he’d grown to brush the tips of his shoulders since he’d gone into business for himself, fell several inches longer.
Surprisingly, Luke’s fingers still itched to sink into Dean’s hair.
He’d never wondered at the silkiness of a packmate’s hair before. How odd.
The pack might have turned its back on customary hair length, but the rest of Dean screamed pure lycan. He had the proud straight nose and the lantern jaw. A stubborn chin. His brows were heavy, lashes dense, and his forehead high and wide. The eyes caught Luke’s breath, though. They were as dark as soot, but this close to the full moon? Luke shivered at glints of lycan yellow in them.
He’d be magnificent in his animal form, as his wolf.
Though the autumn night chilled Luke, lycan body temperatures were higher and lycans cared little for physical modesty. The pack, Dean included, had stripped prior to the feast. Clothes were a human convention. Thermostats in pack houses were set low to conserve resources and for the comfort of the many rather than the few humans who might require extra warmth. Growing up, sweatshirts and jeans had warded off the cold and subtly set Luke apart as different. He’d developed a shyness with his body that his brothers and cousins never had.
Luke could look at Dean, if he wanted. All of him. The light of the campfire flickered. Shadows danced, but the darkness wasn’t so deep Luke wouldn’t be able to make out the curve of the pack leader’s ass or the length and girth of his cock, permanently erect thanks to a bone in lycan penises that was absent in human dicks. The slight bulge at the base of Dean’s cock was different too—the knot swelling during sex to tie Dean to his lover. These readily discernible variations in human and lycan sex organs served as species identifiers in mixed litters at birth. Lacking a nascent knot and an erection had marked Luke as human since he’d drawn his first breath. While the physical discrepancies between human and lycan were no big deal to lycans otherwise, they endlessly fascinated humans.
It mesmerized Luke. Taunted him.
No one would consider looking at Dean’s dick strange or be offended by it, least of all Dean. The temptation to steal a quick peek ate at Luke. He averted his gaze, though, snapping his eyes shut when Dean crouched to talk to another member of his pack.
Explaining blushes to lycans never worked.
Erections, they understood. Human dicks might operate differently than lycan ones, but lycans were tutored in the mechanics of sex, be their partner human or lycan, male or female, as soon as whelps sexually matured at puberty. After witnessing the misery humans suffered before and after coming out to their parents as gay or bi, Luke had become extremely grateful agonizing over his family’s rejection had never been a problem for him. Impossible to hide the reaction of a human teenage boy’s body to what he liked. Luke’s family had known he was gay before Luke had figured it out for himself. With the survival rates of females low, most lycans—bisexual by nature—chose men as their lovers too. No one had cared that Luke only desired men.
Blushes, on the other hand, confounded them.
The issue wasn’t that lycans couldn’t experience embarrassment. They did. Prey escaped them more often than not, including during the full moon when their affinity with their animal forms ruled strongest. Adults had taken failed hunts in stride in Luke’s family. There were plenty more deer in the woods or so Luke’s dad had said, but neglecting to bring down game had humiliated his brothers, particularly when the younger generation began hunting without adults to guide them. Uncle Ty was right, though. As embarrassed as his brothers and cousins had been to return empty-handed, they’d learned to work together as a group.
His last lycan lover had exploded with rage when his prey got away, not embarrassment, but Luke wouldn’t think of Neil now.
Lycans knew embarrassment. They just didn’t connect that emotion with physical appearance and didn’t understand anyone who did. For lycans, nudity was a natural state and the body given to them a gift, be their form human or wolf. Lycans didn’t scar as readily as humans, but such imperfections were a badge of honor, worn with pride. Whatever had hurt them, they’d survived. Lycan metabolism also burned calories mercilessly fast. Few packed on extra pounds and, unlike humans, they considered fat instead of lean muscle a sign of a prosperous pack. Short, tall, thin, bulky, all were beautiful to lycans.
Luke wished he could share their sentiment. He was a thirty-six year old gay man who already needed bifocals and carried twenty extra pounds around his middle the doctor in town wasn’t happy with despite Luke’s very lycan-like robust health otherwise. Despite the extra weight, his knees were knobby and he was short. Not only by lycan standards, either. At a couple inches over five and a half feet, he was dwarfed by most human men and a lot of women too. Enormous ears stuck out from the sides of his head, his eyes a human blue instead of lycan brown, and a ridiculous dimple dented his chin. He’d also taken after his mother’s fair skin, which hadn’t been helped by Luke working indoors. His chest was broad, but he’d never sprouted more than several stingy brown curls on it. And freckles! They scattered over his chest, shoulders, and biceps, tiny dots unhidden by the body hair he’d failed to grow. Luke sometimes wondered if he connected the damn freckles right, they’d spell out how awkward he felt.
That lycans prized physical diversity as precious and endlessly appealing made Luke’s discomfort worse. He didn’t want the others gawking at him. As much as he craved touch, he didn’t want the pack tracing with their fingertips the freckles lycans weren’t born with or rubbing the subtle pooch of his belly. He didn’t want them admiring his appendix scar, either.
How badly he wanted to examine the length of Dean’s uncut cock and spy the shape of his butt embarrassed Luke too.
Giving the pack leader any indication of how much Dean turned Luke on would humiliate him. Not here. Not now. Dean was lycan, with a lycan’s acute sense of smell. He’d sniff out Luke’s attraction sooner or later. Luke hoped later. Much later. Preferably after the pack leader had accepted his presence in the group. Once Luke mustered more confidence in his place in the pack, he’d better cope with Dean’s rejection—or worse, Dean’s seduction of someone he considered an intriguing novelty, at best.
Luke startled at fingers tunneling through his hair at the crown of his bowed head, swallowing a gasp when those fingers clenched and jerked his gaze up.
“You grew it out. Why?”
Dean’s black eyes didn’t glint with censure, just curiosity. Luke gulped and answered him honestly. “Humans expect short hair in business settings. I cut it for work, but I grew up with long hair next to my brothers and cousins. As soon as I hung my shingle as an independent accountant, I stopped trimming my hair. I didn’t like it short. Never felt natural.” Luke shivered. “Made me feel colder.” And more naked. “Why do you cut yours?” He sucked in an alarmed breath, his eyes going wide. His heartbeat trebled.
Would Dean consider that a challenge?
“Relax.” One corner of Dean’s lush mouth kicked up. “I won’t rip your throat out for asking a reasonable question.” His eyebrows rose, forming a vee. “Doesn’t mean I’ll answer it. I won’t punish you for asking, though.”
Luke’s shoulders drooped with his relief. His eyes slipped shut.
“We adults cut our hair because it makes us seem less strange to humans. More like them. It’s safer.”
“I didn’t know. I—I wasn’t sure.” Luke opened his eyes, the burning in his cheeks telling him a demand to explain blushes would be soon forthcoming. “I’ll cut mine tomorrow.”
“You will not.” The fist in his hair gentled from a controlling grip to a caress. “I like it. Besides, none of the townspeople would ever consider you dangerous.”
Luke couldn’t stifle his wince.
“That isn’t a criticism.” Dean chuckled. “You’re a skittish little thing for a pack-born human.”
“Nervous,” Luke corrected.
“You should be nervous.” Dean released him and stood to his full height. “Undress.