Unraveling Certainty Preview
From the moment I heard his voice reading Shakespeare, I not only knew he was my mate, but that he’d be amazing. No one with a voice like that could be anything but… Especially because I’d been hard since. It was soft, but not feminine really, soothing and so alluring that I turned to mush. And that accent. It wasn’t British, but he’d definitely spent time in England. Highborn influence, not cockney. There seemed to be some Asian undertones. Korean? No, Japanese I bet.
I had replayed the section, hitting the button Garnet had showed me. There was no doubt in my mind. So I yanked off the headphones and bolted out of the room to find him.
Except I found Clayton Arnold balls deep in Garnet and very obviously not stopping because I found my mate. Then I spent a good while pacing while they finished, replaying those too few lines over and over again as my heart raced.
“What’s his name? Where can I find him?” I had blurted when Garnet came into the room.
“Okay, here are the rules. I’ll tell you but you have to wait until tomorrow. We’re being fair about this, remember? I’m going to contact him too and let him know.” I frowned, hating that I didn’t get to tell my own mate. “I know you’re disappointed, Canice, but everyone has admitted at one point or another that they chickened out spilling the beans or didn’t know how to say it. It’s not fair to us, so you found out from the recordings, he gets to as well since he went through the taping.”
“Yeah, that’s reasonable.”
“Good. So here’s his info.” He handed it over and then cleared his throat. “Look, about your mate—”
“I don’t want to know,” I interrupted. “I’m meeting him with a clean slate. Somehow after years of being here I’ve missed him and I’m not going to let anyone else’s opinion guide me. I hope he does the same for me.” I saw Garnet’s frown and realized how harsh that was. I walked over and messed up his hair. “Hey, I know you’re just looking out for me. You’re not judgmental or a jerk. I just need to keep other voices out of my head.”
“Yeah, no, I get it. Good luck.” He slapped on a fake smile, and I read between the lines, knowing he wanted to finish that sentence with you’re going to need it.
Standing here today outside where my mate normally worked at the school, I wondered if I should have asked what Garnet had known. I hadn’t told my brothers yet. Hell, I had asked to keep it a secret that I’d won the first pull of the lottery because I didn’t want all eyes on me and that extra pressure.
But Tierney knew. He was Kellan’s mate so how could he not? Kellan had made the decision for the lottery and had pulled my name. I could feel both of them dying to ask me this morning at breakfast, but luckily they were cool about being adults, giving me space, and didn’t say a word.
Maybe some guidance would have been a good thing though?
No time for it now. I wasn’t going to delay the chance to see my mate anymore. I turned the knob for the clerical offices in the back of the newer school and stepped in. If it had been the administration offices in the old school, I would totally have met him by now, being there way too often to help Kellan with this or that. But this area was more in the bowels of the newer school where lots of paper pushing happened.
Glancing around, I realized it was actually rather depressing. Did they even get sun ever down here besides those tiny windows at the top of the walls? I guess not since this level was mostly underground and perfect in case there was ever an attack or natural disaster.
I found the office that had Graham on it, checking the number to the information card from Garnet. Sure enough, it was his. My heart was racing as I reached out to knock. Then I saw the note.
In the storeroom. Leave order forms in mailbox and I’ll see to them when I get back.
Direct. To the point. Nothing frivolous and no cutesy smile faces. I liked it. Something just like I would write. I hurried to the massive storeroom this school had, thinking that would be a much better place to meet him anyways than showing up at his office. When I got there, I knew fate was on my side that there was only one scent I smelled.
And I followed it to find a very trim frame with a mass of shaggy honey blond hair crouched over a box.
“Torihiki Graham?” I asked, trying not to moan just from thoughts of touching all that soft looking, shiny hair.
“Tor-he-key,” he corrected for me phonetically as he glanced up. I was struck stupid by his hazel eyes. No, yes, hazel. Maybe? Hazelnut, but with like a finish on them because they were bright and shiny and just wow.
“Oh, sorry. Figured I might screw that up but I didn’t really have anyone to ask. I’m—”
“Canice Macfayden. The man who needs to get a hearing test. I know,” he interrupted and his voice was so alluring that I found myself nodding until his words sunk in.
“Wait, a hearing test? What are you talking about?”
He sighed heavily as he stood and I got to see he wasn’t just a trim little thing, but he was short. Like five-three, easy to carry and do all kinds of dirty things to short. Yummy.
“Did you hear me or are you proving my point?”
“What? Sorry, I’m a little overwhelmed by you. You’re gorgeous. I mean, I’ve pictured my mate before, but never could I have thought up someone as breathtaking as you. You’re just—”
“Straight,” he hissed, his eyes glaring with anger. “If you had been listening to me instead of ogling me like a perv, you would have heard me say I’m straight so you need to get your hearing checked.”
My mouth fell open and I felt as if everyone at the estate punched me in the gut all at once. “I don’t know which is more offensive, that I’m a perv for appreciating your looks—maybe all gays are pervs to you actually—or that you’re so dismissive and rude about this when I’m here excited as can be even if I did make a mistake, which I assure you, I’m not.”
He opened his mouth but then closed it, shaking his head. “I was actually making more of a nervous joke before you started checking me out like steak, but now I don’t really care if you think I’m being rude. No, I don’t believe all gays are pervs. I’m not a bigot, thanks. I have gay friends. I’m just not gay, and even if a woman came in here, announcing we’re supposed to be together and then looked at me like they’re figuring out how much longer they have to deal with me talking before they put my mouth to better use, yeah, I’d call them a perv.”
“That wasn’t what I was thinking actually,” I mumbled. “Just noting how much shorter you are than me. Sorry, been thinking of this day for over three hundred years. Got a bit swept up. Can we start again?”
“Are you really not hearing me? You’ve got the wrong guy. I’m not gay. I like women.”
I growled, adjusting my neck and rolling my shoulders as I did to relieve some of the building tension, his voice taking me on a ride that left me breathless, just as my brothers and other mated hounds I knew had described it. I wasn’t sure what I was going to say next because all of the thoughts along that line when out the window when I saw it… His reaction to my growling and flexing. Torihiki’s plump lips parted slightly as his breathing picked up and his heart beat slightly faster.
“Straight, huh?” I pushed, stepping closer. “Never been with a man or a boy your own age when you were younger?”
“No, never,” he about spat. That was true.
“Never wanted to? Never even looked?”
“Of course not. I have dated many girls before coming here and even while here. I just ended things with a girl a few weeks ago. She can attest to how straight I am.”
“You’re adding extras onto your answer so I can’t tell,” I bitched as I cornered him against the shelf. He gasped and pushed at my chest, in an almost cute naive way as if he thought that might almost do something. I grabbed his chin to force eye contact as I snagged the wrist of the hand he swung out to hit me with. “Yes or no. Have you ever wanted a male to touch you or to be touched by one?”
“Never!” he shouted, and I learned something very important in that moment.
My mate was a big, fat, friggin’ liar. His heart skipped beats and his breathing altering at the lie. I could smell the extra sweat and change in his hormones. “Oh, my mistake. I thought maybe there was at least one you wanted naked against your naked body as I want you. To roll around in the sheets with and do all kinds of fun things with.”
“Let me go,” he begged, but it was too late, I felt him get hard in his pants, my hip and leg pressed against his body to keep him from fleeing.
“No.” His eyes went wide at my very simple, very not messing around response. Then he started shaking as I moved my hand under his shirt. “I don’t negotiate with terrorists, kids hopped up on sugar, or liars.” Fine, that was more a rule I used with Ruthie, my brother’s adopted daughter, when we were playing and she was being kid crazy, but it worked here too.
“I’m not a liar!” he bellowed, trying to use his free hand to stop me to no avail. “I’m straight.”
“Then kiss me.”
He froze and stared at me with those big eyes. “Do you not know how straight and gay work? I would have thought being so old you knew this. Gay means kissing men. Straight means you don’t.”
“Right, but if you kiss me and there’s nothing, then it’s just kissing someone you didn’t want to. Who cares? If you kiss me and I’m right, that you aren’t only into women and you lied to me, it’ll be completely apparent when you kiss your mate.”
“Full of yourself, aren’t you?” I saw the pride and defiance in his eyes, hoping he’d ride those all the way to giving me this chance to blow his arguments right out of the water. “Fine! One kiss but then you leave me alone.”
“If you can show me there’s really been a mistake because you’re straight.”
“Of course I am,” he muttered.
I slowly lowered my head to his, taking my sweet time and building the anticipation. It worked because his heart beat even faster and cute panting replaced actual breathing. I moaned the moment my lips touched his, how plump and soft they’d looked not even close to how they really felt. He didn’t move though as I kissed him, totally unyielding…
For about thirty seconds. Then he let out a groan and opened for me as he wrapped his free arm around my neck and pulled me closer. I responded by shoving my hand down the front of his pants, wanting to make sure we both acknowledged I’d made him hard because there was no way he could deny it if I was right there with him touching it.
His hips thrust against my hand even as he moved his arm so he could start smacking my chest. Then he pulled his lips away. “Stop, you bastard. Don’t touch me like this. I’m not gay.”
“Really, you’re still trying for that?” I growled, stroking him faster. “Come for me. I want to lick your cum off my fingers and taste my mate. Your body will tell me the truth.”
He ranted in what I assumed was Japanese as he lamely smacked me a few more times in between kisses, not even bothering to speak his protests anymore.
Yeah, right, like he really wanted to stop. What the hell was in his head that he felt he needed to say these things? Maybe a better mate would have been more patient with him, I mean, it wasn’t like I’d sought him out with the intent of immediately jumping him. What he’d said had been too much to ignore and had irked me into aggressive action way over my normal level.
It seemed there was something about my mate that pushed my buttons… And not necessarily in a good way.
He dug his short nails into my chest, a few of them catching skin where my sweater was cut in a V. “Bastard!” he cried as he came, jerking against me enough things on the shelf actually fell and we made the room sound as if an earthquake was happening.
But I barely noticed, instead paying attention to how gorgeous he was when he let go and enjoyed the pleasure. The tendons stood out in his long, lean neck, his mouth open in a dangerous, thought-provoking way, and all around he made me want to drag him to my room and strip him naked.
Until it was over and he met my gaze with his own tearful one.
“Why are you crying?” I whispered, leaning in to comfort him. “Hey, it’s okay. I know coming to terms with who you are can be scary and—”
My face stung seconds after the loud whap filled the room and I realized he’d slapped me. I pulled my hand out of his pants and stumbled back, shocked he’d done that.
“Stay away from me,” he rasped, looking seconds from coming apart and not because of another orgasm.
“But you came. You enjoyed it so why are you…”
He looked away at what I said, his face blushing so bright I was surprised he didn’t sway on his feet from getting light-headed. “Seriously? You can’t be this stupid. I know it’s not corporate America we work at but I’m still at work and you corner me here for your introduction, jump me like this because you didn’t like my answer, and no matter the answer, it’s my answer to give. So you may think what you want of it, call me what you want, but at least I would never be so disrespectful and do something like this to anyone.”
Damn, he had an understandably valid point. I watched him straighten and smooth out his clothes, trying to act as if nothing happened before he started picking up what we’d knocked over.
“I’m sorry. You’re completely right on this being your job and what I did inappropriate. I stepped over the line. Please know that I had just planned to swing by, introduce myself, and see if you wanted to meet for lunch, maybe dinner. I didn’t want to give the wrong impression by showing up at your room. I never intended for this to happen.” He gave a swift nod that he heard me, but from the set of his jaw and shoulders, I seriously doubted it mattered. “And I didn’t mean any of this to be disrespectful. I wanted to make a point.”
He slowly stood with his arms full of light bulbs, and I was glad they were in packages that protected them from being broken. I think that would have been one of the few things that could have made this all worse… Was if we’d broken a bunch of glass when I jumped him.
“All you proved was that you are the type of person who needs to be right so badly they will destroy anything in their way to achieve that goal, not caring for what or who is harmed in the process.” I opened my mouth to argue, but he shook his head and turned away. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do and you’ve set me behind. It wasn’t a pleasure to meet you, Canice Macfayden. Do not come find me or near me again.”
I stood there, watching him shake as he hurried to finish, probably to get away from me faster. Then I made a decision on what to say. “I won’t agree to or promise that. You’re my mate, Torihiki. I’m sorry I’ve hurt you today, and it’s not justified by the fact that you hurt me. But I will be back and hopefully with more restraint so all I ask is that you please think about how easy it was, good it felt to be in my arms, and know that’s just a taste of what we could have if you let me in and can open up to trying.”
After what I thought was a pretty eloquent speech, I left, ignoring his mutterings in Japanese which I was quite sure were some plot of torture and de-fleshing me.
I wasn’t sure where I was going until I went back to the sound room and then I knew what my subconscious goal was. I sniffed out Garnet, finding him in his room instead of his shop where I would have thought he’d be given he practically lived there. Stepping over boxes in the hallway, trying not to land on others that weren’t even built yet, I went right for him.
“He’s straight? You couldn’t have warned me that he thinks he’s fucking straight?” I bellowed like a complete jerk as if it was Garnet’s fault in any way, shape, or form.
He blinked at me a few times before setting down what had been in his hand and holding it out to me. “Hi, I’m Garnet. You must be Canice’s evil twin.”
“This isn’t funny.”
“No, no it’s not,” he agreed, giving an impressive growl for a human. “Don’t tell me anything about him, Garnet. I don’t care what you know, Garnet, I don’t want my opinion of him tainted. Sound familiar to you? Because I’m pretty sure neither of us were high when we had the conversation yesterday.”
“I love that I never have to defend you because you’re so much better at jumping on anyone’s ass who’s stupid enough to be a jerk to you than I could ever be,” Clayton chuckled as he kept packing.
“I have a gift with sarcasm. We’re good friends. If you need it ever, just rub my belly like a gator,” Garnet teased his mate before going back to frowning at me. “I did what you asked, Canice. I’m sorry. I know he’s…” Garnet tilted his head one way than the other. “What do you mean he thinks he’s straight? I don’t know him all that well, but he’s in my age group and I’ve seen him around and every time he’s got some chick or another on his arm and it ain’t in the BFF kinda way.”
“Yeah, well, straight men don’t blow their load when their male mate jumps them in storerooms to try and prove that they’re lying about being gay no matter what’s coming out of their mouth.”
“But he was willing, right, Canice?” Kellan hissed from behind me. I spun around to find him, Tierney, and a few others standing in the hallway. “Tell me he was willing and you didn’t just sexually assault or molest one of the souls under protection here, your own fucking mate.”
“Um, mostly?” I replied, trying to figure out the best way to explain it given they obviously hadn’t caught the whole thing.
“What did you do, little brother?” Tierney whispered, his eyes filling with pity and fear.
“It wasn’t like that,” I growled, pissed he could ever think I’d done something so wrong. “He was lying.”
“Oh, so because you could smell that he really wanted it that makes it okay to go against what he says? Did he say no?” Kellan must have seen the answer in my expression because he gasped and raced off.
“Wait!” I snarled but Tierney held up his hand.
“We hear a commotion and come running over to find out what’s going on. I never in a million years expected it would lead to—”
“Tierney, would you just shut up!” I snapped, shocking everyone that I would talk to my eldest brother that way when I was always on his side. Apparently the reverse wasn’t true and I’d lost what little patience I’d had. “It’s not what it seems. I didn’t explain anything to your mate so I get why he might jump to that conclusion given how some hounds behave when finding their mates, but you know me. I never would hurt or sexually assault someone!”
“You’re saying it was like how I told Clayton no, not right now your brothers are home and can hear us? But still he did because the idea of us never having sex in our own room because the hounds living there have too good of hearing is ridiculous,” Garnet offered, his tone telling me he was fairly worried about the situation.
“Something like that but at least much closer than Kellan thinking I violated my own mate and we’re going to have to build a jail for me,” I agreed. I shook my head and scrubbed the back of my neck. “Whatever, sorry I came screaming at you, Garnet. This isn’t your fault at all. You’re just trying to help us and I appreciate it.”
“Do you want to talk?” Tierney asked as I passed him to get out of the room.
“Yeah, sure.” He gave a smile and went to put his arm around my shoulder but I wasn’t done. “With someone who’s on my side and knows me well.” I didn’t care that he looked as if I punched him in the gut with that comment. I kept walking. This wasn’t about him right then. His needs or anyone else’s were on the back burner for the foreseeable future.
I walked around for a while, not going to lunch as I had hoped I would be with my mate, and when my time for my guard duty shift came, I looked forward to the chance to run. When it was over, I found one of the last people I wanted to talk to waiting just in the foyer of Rafe’s house. I saw him through the glass panes and seriously debated going around back.
“Don’t even think about it,” Kellan warned, meeting my gaze through the window. “I know you can hear me, Canice.” The door opened and he moved aside for me. “Get your butt in here so we can talk. I’m not freezing my ass off in a Tennessee December for anyone, much less someone I’m angry with.”
I trotted up the stairs into the house and gave a snap in his direction to let him know I wasn’t all that happy with him either.
“I talked with Torihiki,” he informed me, closing the door behind me. I didn’t bother shifting back because I knew it made Kellan uncomfortable to have us naked around him as his brothers-in-law. Plus, I really didn’t trust what my response might be to anything he said right then. “Apparently he has no idea what I was talking about. Says it never happened.” My eyes went wide as he let that one sink in. “My thoughts exactly. He says that you came, introduced yourself, he told you that you made a mistake because he’s straight, and you left.
“Nothing else. Now I don’t need to be able to smell lies to know when someone that bad at it is lying, but that’s his story and he’s sticking to it. So I’m going with whatever happened wasn’t unwanted, simply unwelcome to begin with for whatever reason. He did ask me to relay that you not only leave him alone going forward but you stop talking to people about him and telling wildly outlandish stories with twisted and disgusting acts in them.”
I felt my heart sink into my stomach at the word choice. Fine, I knew Torihiki wasn’t okay with being gay, but he liked what we did even if he abhorred the setting and that he enjoyed it. I could get hiding it or denying our exchange. But to actually call kissing me and my touching him twisted and disgusting was painful in a whole new way.
Kellan sighed as he crouched down in front of me, scratching me behind the ears as if it was the most natural thing. He was awfully used to us in hound form by now though. “Look, I’m sorry, Canice. I know this is rough on you and I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I strongly suggest at least trying to have some decorum here. No means no, so no matter what you smell or read off of him, listen to his words. You might really want to keep your distance, Canice. He was pretty adamant.”
I wanted to roll my eyes. If Tierney had done that, they probably wouldn’t be mated. Besides, there were prisons full of people where no very much meant yes as in they really did do it. Not the same thing as my predicament of course, but part of me wanted to lecture him that he was too young to understand that nothing was ever that black and white.
Then again, I really didn’t have to explain myself to him. I ended up licking his hand instead, ready for this discussion to be over, and trotting back to the door.
“Okay, time to process is good, but don’t stay out there too long. It’s freezing after all and you were already out there for a while for your shift,” he worried as he opened it for me. “And for what it’s worth, Tierney’s all torn up over what happened. He knew you would never hurt someone, Canice. He thought maybe you pulled a Feodor and kinda just didn’t pay attention much.”
I glanced up at him and gave a nod that I heard him before racing off. Fine, that wasn’t as bad as the way it had come off, but Tierney still should have known me better than that.
It seemed all I wanted to process was how well I didn’t listen, because minutes later I was standing outside my mate’s door in cloaked form. Right, I was definitely going to stay away from him. I thought about shifting back and knocking first, but he’d sounded more upset to Kellan about people possibly knowing we were mates or anything might have happened between us than anything.
That was my justification for turning invisible and walking right through the door. Seriously, it had nothing to do with the fact I utterly doubted he’d open the door for me. Really.
I changed right back to visible the moment I was through, my fur all standing on end at once when I heard a yelp. Flipping around, I locked eyes with a freaked-out Torihiki… Who looked good enough to eat. He’d just showered, still drying his hair with a hand towel, but he was already dressed in a pajama set. The bottoms on and tied, loose, hanging off his lean hips, while the top was on but not buttoned up so I had the perfect view of lean chest and flat stomach, perfect hipbones showing.
Now if I only knew what to do and how to get my mate to change his mind about being with a man.