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Authors: Piper Vaughn and Kenzie Cade

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Prickly By Nature

BOOK: Prickly By Nature
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Prickly By Nature

By Piper Vaughn and Kenzie Cade

 

Portland Pack Chronicles: Book Two

 

In the four months since hedgehog shifter Avery Babineaux started investigating the disappearance of a young female werewolf from the Portland Pack, he’s discovered his life’s passion. Now he’s apprenticing under established PI Corbin Reid. Avery hopes his training with Reid will help him finally bring Lacey home, but detective work isn’t without its perils, and the potential dangers strain his relationship with his new mate, Dylan.

Dylan Green would be perfectly content with his mating and his motorcycle shop if it wasn’t for his constant worry about Avery’s safety and the fact that Avery’s never home. Proud as he might be of Avery’s determination to prove his worth and fulfill his promise to Lacey’s father, Dylan can’t stand the thought of Avery being hurt. Yet what right does he have to demand Avery give up his job when it’s clear Avery’s found his true purpose? Still, Dylan wishes he could, and the appearance of a new police detective who sets his sights on Avery only adds to the tension.

Something has to give, but stubbornness runs in both their veins, and it might take a catastrophe for them to find a compromise they can live with.

To our readers. Dylan and Avery would not be who they are without you. Thank you.

Acknowledgments

Kenzie: All of my thanks to Piper for this amazing ride and for laughing with me during my many Inigo Montoya moments. To my Lexi, this book simply would not have been possible without you. As always to Jason—thank you for being you. To Jayden for the moments of reality and sanity you provide. And finally, to my family, who always has my back. You all hold me up and keep me going when I don’t think it’s possible.

 

Piper: Once again, thanks to Kenzie for joining me on this wild adventure with Avery and Dylan. I had a blast bringing our boys to life. To all the beta readers who helped us improve this story, my immense gratitude. Extra snuggles go out to Lexi, Jason, and Jayden for always being ready to read at a moment’s notice. And to all the shifter lovers out there, I hope we did justice to your subgenre. I’m a fellow fan myself, and I’m eager to do more in this world. I hope you enjoy the story!

 

From both: Thanks to Dreamspinner Press, our editor, Desi, and the rest of our editing team. As always, it’s an honor to work with you.

Chapter One

 

 

RUNNING NAKED
through the woods was exactly what Dylan Green needed. Thank the weather gods they’d held back the rain for the past few days. At least the ground was drier. Although wet forest floors didn’t matter to Dylan’s wolf. He was ready to stretch all four legs. It had been too long. Even longer since he’d run with his mate.

“Can you not get this heap to move any faster?” Avery practically vibrated off the seat next to him. Good thing he’d chosen the Firebird over his bike today.

“Hey now. Phoenix is not a heap.” Dylan patted the pristine dash, brushing over the treated wood with love. After glancing at the speedometer, he said, “We’re going the speed limit.” Which, yes, he knew was an anomaly for him, but only when he was on his bike. Phoenix required more finesse.

Before he could say anything else, Avery snorted and cut him off. “Phoenix?”

Unabashed, Dylan kept his focus on the road. “Firebird. Phoenix. Phe and I have been through a lot together. She’s pa—”

“Did you just nickname the car you call Phoenix? And dear God”—Dylan grinned at Avery’s pronunciation of God. It came out more like “Gawd.” He loved how Avery’s accent took over when he was teasing or passionate or angry—“please don’t tell me you’re about to say this mash of metal, oil, and leather is part of your family,
our
family. I do not, nor will I ever, claim a hunk of junk as a child. You can bet your ass I won’t be wiping its behind.”

That, in fact, was exactly what Dylan was going to say, but thinking about it at the moment, he had to admit how ridiculous it sounded out loud. Though he’d never say so to Avery.

Avery continued, “And let me guess, you talk to your baby.” Dylan could practically hear the giggle Avery was working so hard to suppress. “Does Phe talk back?”

The road up to Forest Park was narrow and curvy, so turning to look at Avery would have to wait. However, he did roll his eyes and reach over to pinch Avery’s thigh. “Don’t be ridiculous,” he said. “Cars don’t have verbal skills.” And, yes, he did talk to Phoenix, because until Avery came along, Phe had been the one thing in his life he’d pampered and taken care of that had never let him down. So what if he talked aimlessly to a vehicle? He’d worked hard to build her. That bond was unbreakable.

He thought of Avery, then amended himself.
Almost
unbreakable.

Phoenix was his baby. She had seen him through many tough times, and he had done the same for her, but there was no connection stronger than what linked Dylan and Avery. Sitting only inches away and not touching, Dylan still felt Avery like a second skin. So much so that, as he turned off the road to park near one of the forest trails, he
felt
Avery’s mirth in his bones. Without looking, he knew his mate would have a sparkle in his earthy hazel eyes and a smirk on the lips Dylan craved so much.

He even knew Avery would chuckle before he did, but that had more to do with knowing the man than an actual feeling.

“So what you’re saying is Phoenix doesn’t talk back when you ask how her day went?”

Dylan pulled into an available spot, turned off the engine, and opened his door. “You’re such a pain in the ass,” he replied with a wink and unfolded himself from the front seat.

“Aww”—Avery chased him from the car—“you say the nicest things.”

The brush of Avery’s palm over his ass had the ever-smoldering embers of need inside Dylan blazing to life, completely trumping the lighthearted teasing. How was it possible he wanted Avery more every day?

“You know,” Avery said in a low but conversational tone as they walked to where Lucas, Sawyer, and Kirk were parking their bikes, “I like it when you’re a pain in my ass. What do you say we blow this run and….” He trailed off, quirking his brow at the obvious.

Dylan groaned. Temptation had nothing on Avery Babineaux, and Dylan’s first instinct was to give in to the suggestion, but then he remembered why they were there in the first place.

In the months following Avery’s rescue from the warehouse and Melnyk’s entry into protective custody, Avery stayed true to his word. With help from one of Lucas’s ex-flings, Avery was currently a proud PI’s apprentice. It would still take months—many of them—for Avery to complete the hours of training needed to gain his own license, but he was well on his way. Corbin Reid, Lucas’s ex’s cousin, had taken Avery under his wing and in turn consumed most of his downtime. Dylan had only rare moments with his mate, depending on Avery’s busy work schedule—honeymoon phase or not. Visits to Wolfhound and even nightclubs with Avery were few and far between. Avery spent long hours immersing himself in the world of investigation and soaking up every little thing Reid was willing to teach. And when he wasn’t working, he was searching for Lacey.

By the time they’d broken the first link in the chain of the trafficking ring, Lacey had been missing four months. They had just crossed over into February, which made it six months, and from what they’d heard, the police were no closer to finding Lacey than Avery was. It didn’t help that Wallace, the shifter detective they’d been getting updates from, had gone silent once he transferred into the Human Trafficking Task Force.

While days turned into weeks and weeks into months, Avery hunted the dregs of every single lead he could scrounge up. Dylan watched helplessly as the effects of dead end after dead end weighed heavily on his mate. To say he felt useless was an understatement.

Then Mother Nature smiled down on them, with cloudless skies and sunshine in the middle of the wet season. It gave Dylan and Avery the opportunity for the one thing they both needed. Fun.

Dylan hadn’t enjoyed a run in weeks, and it had been longer since he’d played with Avery in the woods. A run was long overdue, and as great as a long hard fuck sounded right then, Dylan knew Avery’s hedgehog had to be aching for freedom too. Besides, having his mate naked and writhing under him was always a possibility when they got home.

Or in the car before they left the park. Dylan smiled, thankful he’d driven Phoenix, even on such a beautiful day. It was an inspired decision. He could definitely see some hot and dirty backseat action in his future.

Looking down, Dylan’s heart filled at the contented look on Avery’s face. All signs of worry and stress were vanquished for the moment. Dylan wondered, not for the first time, if they would ever have a break, ever have time to enjoy their new mating, or whether it would be a never-ending struggle, with outside forces constantly interfering.

“What?” Avery squinted, perplexed. Knowing Avery felt his concern warmed him.

Damn, Dylan didn’t think he’d ever get enough of his mate.

Avery’s nostrils flared, and Dylan knew he sensed his arousal as much as smelled it. He pulled Avery to him and brushed their lips together. As with most things between him and Avery, the kiss quickly deepened. Avery slipped his hand from Dylan’s hip to his chest and tweaked his nipple. Dylan groaned and pushed his tongue into Avery’s mouth, claiming what was already his. It was a battle of wills Dylan knew all too well as Avery’s perfectly orchestrated dance of want and desire balanced on a thin thread Dylan threatened to tear down each time. All of Avery’s taunting and flirting—it was foreplay, and Dylan could hardly wait for the fireworks. It was always worth the wait with Avery. Always.

“For the love of God, could you two get a room?” Lucas complained as he walked up. “Is it impossible to go five minutes without mauling each other?”

Dylan’s only response was a chuckle into Avery’s mouth as he pushed his fingers through Avery’s hair, holding him in place to prolong the kiss. He didn’t have to look to know Avery flipped off Lucas, mostly because he heard the laughter coming from their other friends.

When he pulled his mouth away, Dylan rested his forehead on Avery’s, breathing heavily. Christ, he loved the dazed, sated look Avery got when he was ready to drop to his knees, his cheeks flushed and his lips swollen. All because of Dylan. Maybe Dylan should kick his own ass for not taking Avery up on his offer.

With another groan, Dylan touched his lips to Avery’s again, then stepped back.

Avery blinked, then shook his head. He turned to Lucas and graced him with a playful smile.
Uh-oh.
“No need to be jealous, Lucas. There’s plenty to go around.”

The sound of that didn’t sit right with Dylan, though he knew his mate would never stray. He narrowed his eyes at Avery, and a warning rumble rolled around his chest.

Avery threw Dylan a real smile, free of goading, and patted his chest. “It’s okay, big guy. You know that’s not happening. Besides”—he looked to Lucas again—“I was talking about Kirk or Sawyer. Surely they’d be willing to take one for the team.”

While the others chortled, Dylan didn’t miss the look that flashed across Lucas’s face, annoyance mixed with hurt and longing, but it was gone just as quickly, making Dylan wonder whether he’d imagined it. Then Lucas grumbled something Dylan didn’t quite catch and stomped into the woods. Dylan would have to make a note to talk to his best friend later. Something was going on with him. This wasn’t the first time Dylan had noticed Lucas’s shift from his usual optimism to this dark, clouded gloom that seemed to follow him.

“Fuck you, Avery” was Kirk’s chuckled response. “And I was just beginning to like you.”

Avery laughed and followed Lucas into the woods. With a sway in his hips, Avery yanked his shirt over his head. “Don’t kid yourself, honey. You’ll always like this.”

Shaking his head, Dylan stomped into the forest as well, Kirk and Sawyer trailing behind.

Letting his wolf out was natural, visceral. Dylan and his wolf were one. Releasing one of them freed them both. It had been too long, far too long, since he’d been able to run, and he felt it claw at him on a daily basis until it was damn near unbearable. Depriving his wolf was not something he wanted to do again.

After removing his clothes, the rush of hair rising through his skin sent a shiver down his spine that curled in his belly. It wasn’t painful or uncomfortable. It lingered on the edge of pleasure and bliss. As his bones molded and reformed into his animal, Dylan dropped from a two-legged stroll onto all four limbs and trotted. The pull of his nose and mouth into a snout tickled, ripping a sneeze right out of him. When he opened his eyes, the world grew sharper and toned down at the same time—blues and murky browns dominating his vision.

He barely had time to blink away the blur before a spiny ball rolled unsteadily past him down the hill where he’d stopped. Avery’s tiny hedgehog body wobbled down the slope, followed by a snow-white, yipping wolf—Lucas. Contrary to what Dylan had once thought, hedgehogs did not roll easily. They needed momentum, and even then it wasn’t the smooth glide of a ball. It was unsteady and off balance. Avery would have one hell of a headache later.

BOOK: Prickly By Nature
8.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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