Elias took a sip of his beer, watching the humans, jaguar shifters and his own kind—wolves—move across the dance floor, everyone clearly having a good time. Leaning against a big oak tree that was just starting to get back some of its leaves in time for a late spring, he felt more than heard the approach from behind.
“Why aren’t you out there?” Owen asked, his voice quiet as he came to stand next to him.
Elias snorted. “I should be asking you that.”
With a beer of his own, the tall Alpha shrugged. “Gabriela’s dancing with her father and I don’t dance.”
“You’ll be dancing soon.” It was clear Owen would do any damn thing his new mate wanted.
Owen chuckled softly. “You’re probably right. So…you staying?”
Elias understood that he didn’t mean for the night or even the week. Owen wanted to know if he’d be sticking around on a permanent basis. They’d been in the army together years ago, but Owen had gotten out and taken over his pack when his father died. Elias had stayed in another four years until he blew his knee out. Well, shattered it, and it hadn’t healed properly. For a shifter to sustain that kind of damage was rare. But he’d jumped out of a low-flying plane and his chute hadn’t opened up when it was supposed to. If he’d been human, he’d have died from the brutal impact. And because he’d been with a team of humans, he hadn’t been able to shift to his wolf form. If he had been, he’d have likely healed faster—and possibly completely. As it was, there was no room in Special Forces for a guy with a fucked-up leg, and Elias wasn’t going to sit behind a desk. “I like it here.”
“That’s not an answer.”
“Your brother will be pissed if you put me as your second-in-command.” Owen’s brother was young and a hothead. “No he won’t. We’ve already talked and he seemed relieved.” Owen took another sip of his beer, his eyebrows raised. “So?”
Elias pushed out a long breath. He wasn’t cut out to be a lone wolf, and he needed an Alpha. A pack. He might have an alpha temperament, but he needed a leader and a pack to belong to. And Owen was one of the finest men he’d ever known. “Yeah, I’m staying.”
“About time you gave me an answer,” Owen grumbled.
“It’s your wedding present.”
“When will you announce it?”
Owen shrugged. “Monday. I’ll call a meeting and—”
Elias’s entire body went on alert. “Holy shit, who is that?” He felt as if he’d been punched in the chest as he watched a dark-haired beauty squeeze out from the crowd on the dance floor. Pushing a strand of hair out of her face, she headed straight for the bar. Wearing a cream-colored dress that reminded him of something out of the Roaring ’20s, she moved with a fluidity that told him she wasn’t quite human. The color of her dress was beautiful against her darker skin. She was definitely of Indian heritage. He didn’t think she was part of Owen’s pack, and he hadn’t noticed her at the ceremony.
Owen tracked his line of sight and frowned. “Cindy Shahi. She’s a jaguar shifter but not part of Gabriela’s family’s pride.”
“And she lives here?” One more reason to move here permanently. His decision sounded even better now.
“She’s the only local shifter doctor within a hundred-mile radius, and she’s off-limits. We can’t afford to piss her off inadvertently, and if you sleep with her and never call her again, you will definitely piss her off.” There was a subtle warning note in Owen’s voice.
Elias snorted. If this woman let him into her bed, he’d never leave it. “Is she mated or seeing anyone?” The only things that mattered.
“No, but she’s going to shoot you down anyway—”
“I’ll talk to you later.” Elias knew he should show more respect to his new Alpha, but hell, nothing was keeping him away from that woman.
Owen muttered under his breath as Elias strode toward her, but there was no true anger in the Alpha’s voice. Tuning everything else out, Elias kept his stride even until he reached the bar. Smiling softly at the bartender, she picked up her glass of wine and turned.
She froze, her dark eyes blinking in surprise as she noticed him. The desire that flared in those depths was real and so very deep. She sucked in a quick breath as she raked a quick, assessing gaze over him. The jaguar female wasn’t very tall, maybe five foot two, but she was lean, and now that he was up close he could smell her natural amber-and-vanilla scent. It was intoxicating, and the longer she watched him the more intense it grew. Oh yeah, she was attracted to him too and wasn’t trying to hide it.
He wasn’t sure how long they stood there staring at each other, but when the shifter behind the bar cleared his throat and asked what he wanted, Elias just tugged Cindy’s free hand and pulled her away toward one of the free tables. Though he wanted to pull her into his lap, he sat next to her and feigned civility. He couldn’t act like some barbarian throwback around a woman like this. “I’m Elias.”
“I’m Cindy.” Her voice was deeper than he’d expected, and the breathless quality instantly aroused him.
“Owen told me.”
“Oh.” She blinked, her cheeks flushing as she swallowed hard. She seemed nervous, and he realized he needed to come up with something intelligent to say.