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1Bound By Nature Excerpt

Hayden could have just gone ahead and shot himself. At least it would have gotten the torture over with. Butterflies kicked around inside his gut, his heart pounded with expectation, and his palms sweated with the worst kind of dread and embarrassment. No fucking way was this prearranged meeting going to end well. It wasn’t even going to happen. The hair along Hayden’s nape kept prickling, giving him a bad feeling about the whole set up.

The council elders had decided that drastic measures were called for in order to stop recent escalating violence between the two rival packs in the area. Lately the aggression and marking had breached boundaries, and just last week two males—one from each of their packs—had wound up dead after a bloody brawl. As a result, the elders demanded a peace settlement. That’s why they’d arranged this meeting between Hayden, second in line of his own pack, and the secondary Alpha from the other clan.

Hayden was hardly involved with pack policies or dealings these days, but as heir apparent, he’d shown up as requested. And Joshua Peterson—curse his unreliable, smug ass—was supposed to be here representing his own pack in the exact same capacity. Hayden cringed inside just thinking about seeing the other wolf.

Josh Peterson was literally the last man alive he wanted to face, not about anything and definitely not about the council’s current proposition. Now, it appeared Josh didn’t even have the balls to show for the sham of a meeting.

Hayden had known the idea sucked from the first moment the council members approached him, suggesting this unique way of brokering peace between the warring clans. “Given your special…situation,” they’d said, “we thought this initiative might have particular appeal to you.”

Because he was gay he was supposed to roll over and play dog? Supposed to be satisfied with taking a rival and near enemy as a lifemate? Hayden couldn’t imagine anything more mortifying than binding himself to a man whom he’d always wanted, but who would never return his own desires and longings. Especially not with as primal and powerful the mating act was between any two wolves, gay or straight. The supernatural bonding linked their souls and bodies together, a process that began during sex and continued to solidify over a period of weeks. Weeks when two literally became knit together as one. Weeks when the sheer power of the connection inhibited the mated pair’s ability to transform from human to werewolf.

Hell, no, he didn’t want to share anything that intimate or emotional with Joshua Peterson, not now, not ever. Hayden had finally gotten over the damned guy, and he wanted to keep it that way—not talk about some jack-off council member’s idea of them mating for peace.

Hayden snorted at the ludicrous nature of the proposition. He was gay, had been sure of it since he was fifteen. Josh, on the other hand, was a strong, brooding alpha male who—although also unmated—probably didn’t have a gay hair in his fur. At least not one he’d willingly own up to.

Great, perfect plan, especially given their past. Hayden buried his face in his hands, shuddering at the memory of that horrible December night five years earlier. He shivered at the images flashing through his mind, hating that a spiral of desire shot straight to his cock. He felt it swell, pressing tightly against the rough denim of his jeans, and he shifted slightly in his seat so he wouldn’t ache so badly.

Yeah, dude, you’re over the guy. Clearly.

He was here for his people, not for Joshua—well, for Josh’s people, too, in a strange sense. They were all werewolves, after all, a secret that bound them together, even as it separated their two packs, which was how the council had managed to gain Hayden’s participation so far. Because of one simple reason: He believed peace was possible between their clans. In theory, at least, the elders’ idea made sense. What better way to bring harmony and unify their packs, than through their younger alpha males bonding to each other? Such same-sex pairings were not entirely unheard of among werewolves, although extremely rare.

So rare, in fact, that Hayden remained single and unmated at almost twenty-seven years old. Joshua Peterson, on the other hand, was a prowler of women, a connoisseur of what lay between their feminine legs. Normally Josh hung in bars just like this one, going on the hunt every weekend. Hayden had sometimes glimpsed him across the way, working his moves, and what he’d observed left absolutely no doubt as to how straight the other wolf truly was.

It was also obvious enough why Josh didn’t have a mate himself—he wasn’t going to lay down with a female and let himself be claimed or mated. So why in hell did the council think Josh would roll over for any male wolf, Alpha or otherwise?

Yeah, this plan was fucked already. And mortifying as hell. Hayden didn’t need his Dartmouth degree to realize what a field day Josh and his pals must be having over this situation. No doubt they’d been guffawing about this meeting ever since it was set up two weeks ago.

Hell, they were probably watching Hayden through the front window even now, observing his nervous binge drinking while patting old Josh on the back. Good work, buddy! He still wants you! Just like he always did, the faggot freak.

Hayden squinted at the large plate glass window at the front of the saloon, but it was too dark to see outside. Now he was becoming paranoid.

Just calm down and get it over with, he coached himself. If Josh didn’t show, he would have fulfilled his duty, end of discussion—and knowing Joshua Peterson like he did, Hayden was sure he’d never turn up tonight. Good ole smirking Josh would leave him feeling like a total ass, and laugh about it for the rest of their natural lives.

Hayden buried his face in both hands again, cursing the elders. This mating was a total wet dream for them…and an utter nightmare for him.

A blast of cool air hit his fevered skin, and Hayden glanced up, squinting blearily. Only then did he realize he’d already gotten a bit drunk, but not so wasted that he knew his eyes weren’t deceiving him. Oh, yeah, he recognized that confident, graceful stride, as well as the police uniform and stocky build of the man wearing it. He gave a half-hearted wave as Josh approached the back booth Hayden had selected for the meeting.

“Hey, man,” Josh said, his voice deeper than it had ever been in the past. His body was bigger and bulkier, too, and they had to adjust the table slightly to accommodate his muscular form. Josh slid into the booth, dumping the contents of his pockets on the table between them—wallet, cop’s badge, car keys.

“Not even a hello for an old friend?” Josh asked with a smile, the look in his eerie-light eyes seemingly sincere. The man pulled off a ski cap, raking fingers through hair that still curled slightly despite how short he now wore it.

“You’re late,” Hayden said sullenly.

Why couldn’t Josh have just saved them both the trouble at this point? Hayden stared into his beer, feeling miserable and deciding that he might definitely be halfway drunk.

Joshua flagged a passing server and ordered a Sprite. Then, he turned back to face Hayden, relaxing into the booth seat. “I’m really sorry, buddy. The boss grabbed me for a last minute ride and couldn’t get out of it. I hated making you wait.”

Hayden met his gaze, tapping his Blackberry. “This never rang.”

“I’m not allowed to make personal calls while on duty, Hayden.” Josh’s eyes narrowed slightly, but he kept smiling. “What, you gonna grill me the whole time or what? I’m here, aren’t I? Same as you.”

“For this totally fucked-up and fucked-over plan.” Hayden shook his head, peeling at the label on his beer bottle.

Josh’s expression darkened. “You never used to sound so jaded.”

“A lot’s happened in my life since….”

“Since we got together last,” Josh finished smoothly for him, his expression open and not unkind.

“Yeah, since my innocent youth.” Hayden laughed bitterly, staring across the bar.

“I’d hate to see you lose your dreams, Hayden,” Josh said gently. “You’re the smartest guy in our crowd, with so much potential and talent. Don’t get cynical.” Josh leaned forward, planting hands openly in front of them. “Promise me that you won’t.”

“Why should you fucking care?” Hayden pinned Josh with a hard gaze. He had no clue about all that Hayden had endured since that night five years earlier. If Hayden had become cynical, it was with damned good reason. “Huh? Why should you give a shit what I do or how I live, Peterson?”

Josh’s vibrant, lovely eyes never so much as blinked. He stared at Hayden for a long, intense moment, then in an extremely quiet voice said, “Simple, Hayden. Because more than you’d probably believe right now, I do care.”

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