It was eerily quiet he stepped out and spread out his senses. Birds were singing, enjoying the sunny spring weather after a harsh winter. Two cows stood in a pasture a good hundred yards from the main house. Who the fuck only had two cows?
Bennett spun when he heard a screen door open and resisted the urge to transition when a large German Shepherd slammed the door open the rest of the way. Growling and snarling, the beast roared toward him, fangs bared.
Without hesitation, Bennett flung out a mental command. Halt!
The beast stopped abruptly, already midway between the house and Bennett. He swung his furry head toward the house where a figure stood shadowed in the doorway and then made a lunge back toward Bennett.
Mentally, Bennett held the large dog in place, grateful his erratic mental ability was steady today. He rarely used his gift. Seriously, who needed to talk to animals? And how long could one guy put up with Snow White references? All of his pack's gifts had been increasingly erratic for the last century, so much so they’d become less and less dependent on them to the point of disuse. That is until the last year, when some of them started finding mates. It seemed as if their powers become stronger and more grounded with each mating. Bennett thought that meant he was screwed.
The German Shepherd whined, sat with huff on his haunches, and turned his head back to the house.
Keeping his hold on the loyal dog, Bennett took in the figure that walked out.
Shiiiiiit. He felt his chest growing tight, his breathing becoming shallower. It wasn’t the shotgun emerging from the doorway, thankfully pointed downward. It was the arm attached to it. Bennett ran his eyes up from where the tanned hand confidently gripped the shotgun barrel, up the delicately muscled arm encased in a red plaid shirt where the rolled up sleeves showed off a slight bulge of bicep. Continuing up the sun-kissed skin of a slender neck, bared due to the clip holding the sun-bleached honey brown hair, letting it cascade back like a waterfall of ripened wheat. Bennett took in the lash-lined hazel eyes and full, raspberry hued lips and felt like he’d been punched in the gut.
Because it wasn’t the stunning beauty cautiously stepping off the porch, suspicion ripe in her bright, intelligent eyes that made Bennett feel like he was suffocating. It wasn’t the glinting, steel weapon in her hand, or the dog trained to attack.
No. The bottom dropped out of Bennett’s world as soon as he caught the scent, drifting toward him on the gentle breeze. The scent of lavender and vanilla, the signature smell of this human female. The scent of his mate.
No. No, no, no, no, no. Son of a dried up, moldy biscuit. This wasn’t good.
Not only was there a towering male standing in her driveway, and her ferocious Cuddles was somehow rendered useless, but this wasn’t just any male. She knew immediately he was a shifter, one used to wielding power and authority, and he was her destined mate.
“Can I help you?” Spencer called, standing at the base of her porch steps. She whistled for Cuddles to come to her side and watched in astonishment as her dog swung his head toward the male who gave an imperceptible nod of his head, warning in his deep, navy blue eyes. The movement would’ve been undetectable to most people, but she wasn’t most people.
But this male didn’t know she wasn’t an ordinary human female and that’s the way it needed to stay. She took another moment to size him up while Cuddles trotted to her side and took up a stance in front of her, facing the stranger.
He was tall. Like, really tall. She was five-three and he had to be at least six-five. His white-blond hair had the I-just-rolled-out-of-bed-this-sexy look but she was sure it was styled. The yuppie clothes confirmed her suspicions with the leather loafers, sleek button-up, and designer jeans. He looked like he was going out clubbing instead of taking a Sunday drive in the country.
Spencer felt the male’s second sweep across her body like a burning brush fire, his look no doubt reflecting her own with equal parts suspicion, dismay, and intrigue. Good, she could use that. She had no room in her life for a shifter mate and if this male felt the same way, the sooner they parted, the better.
Switching on obvious charm that didn’t reach his wary eyes, he smiled and the bottom fell out of her stomach. Holy Smoky Bear, he was devastating. And that smile directed her way made it seem like he was attainable and willing, like he stepped out of a cologne ad just for her.
“Howdy, ma’am. I just stopped by to introduce myself.”
The male started forward, probably to shake hands and as much as the thought of touching him skin-to-skin made her palms sweat in anticipation, she needed to make him stop.
“You can make introductions from there.”
He stopped abruptly, his eyebrows rising in surprise. Again with the devastating smile.
“Yes, ma’am. I’m Bennett Young. Pleasure to meet you, Miss…?”
“Why are you here?”
Again with the eyebrows rising. Maybe he was used to getting what he wanted, especially out of women.
“We’re neighbors, ma’am. Just fixin’ to introduce myself.” Where before she thought she heard a hint of southern drawl, she was sure of it now. And sure that he was forcing it, authentic or not. Maybe that worked with most human women, heck, it probably worked with most species of female, but she wasn’t normal and as much as she wanted to roll in the syllables slipping off his tongue, she couldn’t afford any kind of weakness now.
Wait, did he say neighbors? Aww, nuggets.
“Spencer King,” she grudgingly gave him.
There go those eyebrows again. She shocked him three times now and found she liked the feeling of catching this male off guard.
“You’re…? Miss King, it’s my pleasure.”
Really? Because it didn’t look like it. It looked like she kicked his puppy and told him the Tooth Fairy wasn’t real. He was probably expecting to bypass the difficult woman with the new owner, a guy from the name. And that’s exactly why her parents named her Spencer. Usually, she went by Sarah in public, but Spencer knew Bennett would keep pushing until he talked to the new owner.
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Young. Thanks for stopping by.” Spencer backed up to head back inside without taking her eyes off of him.
He made a move forward, “Please, call me Bennett. How are you liking it here?”
A low rumble began to emanate from Cuddles and was cut off immediately. Brows drawn, she checked over her dog quickly but nothing seemed amiss. Cuddles was giving Bennett a look of consternation. Bennett himself was looking innocently back at Spencer.
“It’s fine,” was all she said.
“My buddies and I live on the bordering property, to the south. We’re in real estate and business. We like the privacy to work.”
Suuure. “So you and a bunch of guys set up a commune to do ‘business’ and sell ‘real estate’?” Oh, sugar. Even as she said it, the meaning dawned on her.
A bunch of male shifters living far from town…If they all resounded with the same intensity and power this male did, she knew exactly what they were. Who they were. Smooth move, Spence. Way to fly low and innocuous. No wonder land records didn’t alert her when she researched this place. They probably bought under a dummy name decades ago.
“No, not like that. We have women, too. I mean, shit…” He blew out a breath of frustration.
“I’d appreciate if you watched your mouth on my property, Mr. Young,” she said primly.
Rising eyebrows and a slow blush almost made her smile. She was beyond a hat trick for shocking him and moved on to embarrassment. Or pissed, she wasn’t sure yet.
“I apologize, ma’am. I was just trying to clarify our living situation so as not to alarm you.”
“No need,” Spencer attempted to brush him off. “Thanks for the info. See ya around.” Attempt number two at getting up her porch to send a clear message to Bennett this conversation was over.
He took another few steps. Cuddles tried to growl again, only to get cut off, thumping his tail in frustration against the ground.
“Miss King, I see you have cows. Are you turning this place into a hobby farm?”
Spencer’s lungs froze. He was asking about her cows. Why did he need to know about her cows? Deciding a modicum of truth was the best policy, and maybe the fastest way to get him the heck gone since he was obviously searching for information, she quickly deliberated what to tell him.
“Yes, Mr. Young, though Bessie and Tulip are more like pets.”
The devastating smile flashed. “Bennett, please.”
“Bennett.” Oh that felt too good rolling off her tongue. Did his navy eyes just sparkle with satisfaction? “I plan to have a hobby farms of sorts, but also grow and sell for retail.”
“Do you hire in help, or do you have a family out here to help?” Subtle. She didn’t miss the calculating look in those mesmerizing eyes.
It didn’t take long for her to decide what to tell him. His heightened senses would know she was the only one out here and she could pretend to have a beau, but she had enough to hide without adding extra facets to her story.
“I’m independent. Perhaps I’ll expand this operation, but as you can see, I’m just in the beginning phases now that it’s spring.”
“I’d love to hear more about your plans. Care to grab some coffee?”
“I don’t drink coffee.”