Sometimes love at first sight needs a second glance.
It’s love at first sight when Lucia rescues a charming wolf shifter from certain death. She’s sure he feels the same way and will tell her so—just as soon as he wakes up from his coma. To remain by his side at the emergency room, she pretends she’s his mate. But her resolve is tested when she gets a glimpse of her fake-mate’s brother.
For months, Jackson has sensed that his fated mate was near. When he enters his unconscious brother’s hospital room, he instantly pounces on the beautiful, curvaceous woman he finds there, ready to mark her as his. Until he learns his brother got there first. Jackson’s skepticism about their mating grows the more he gets to know Lucia. She has nothing in common with his wayward brother, but she checks everyone of Jackson’s boxes.
As Jackson and Lucia fight their attraction, the rest of the family embraces Lucia as one of their own. But what will happen when his brother, her fake-mate, wakes up?
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“The Meet Cute”
The ride across town was a blur. On the streets, Jackson defied the sped limit, sirens blaring.
Once he reached the hospital, he tore through the doors, startling the woman behind the desk. “PPU,” he flashed his badge. “Pierce Alcede’s room.”
The woman scrambled and gave him the room number.
As Jackson stalked down the hall, he caught another whiff of that tantalizing scent. It nearly knocked him off his course, but his mind deftly shifted to his brother.
Inside the room his brother lay limp on the hospital bed. Pierce had grown smaller since the last time Jackson had seen him. Or perhaps it was because he lay prone and helpless in a bed. The sharp angles of his cheeks appeared gaunt. He needed a shave. The fuzz on his chin and cheeks were overgrowing as it tended to do with wolves in general, but the Alcede men in particular. It also looked as though it had been a while since Pierce had had his haircut. Pierce never groomed as much as Jackson, because unlike Jackson, Pierce rarely had to make himself presentable doing a job he didn’t find fulfilling. No, Pierce got to traipse around the world and get into fights with humans over protecting a witch.
Before Jackson’s irritation at his brother could take hold of him, Pierce pulled in a struggling breath and then settled once more. Jackson sighed and released his anger at his wounded baby brother.
He took a deep breath and the tantalizing scent from the train station reached his nose and diverted his attention. The scent was a light layer on his brother’s skin, beneath the antiseptic and other chemical smells the doctors used on him. What the hell was that?
It appeared to grow closer and denser in his nose as though it were enveloping him in a balloon; expanding wider, a wave growing larger. The door to the hospital room opened, and the wave crashed into him.
Standing just inside the door was the most beautiful woman Jackson had ever seen. She had a mane of thick hair. Her skin was a cross between raw honey and an almond, perhaps honeyed almonds because that’s exactly what she smelled like.
She had her back to him and he caught the shapely hourglass figure that could only belong to a wolf woman. Fairies were tall, thin waifs. Witches, what few he’d encountered in person, were strong and muscular. Human women ran the gamut, but none had the curves of a wolf.
And then she turned.
Her face was perfection. Heart-shaped with a full set of lips that parted as she saw him standing there. Her dark eyes widened. She opened her mouth and said something, but the scent of her fogged Jackson’s brain and the single word didn’t translate.
Jackson’s canines watered. His claws pierced the tips of his fingers. The pain distracted him, and his wolf slipped its leash. He was on her before he could stop himself.
She gasped in surprise as he pinned her to the door. His body flush with hers, but not quite touching. Only a half an inch between his chest and hers. His legs boxed her in below. His arms caged her in. They were nose to nose. The taste of her breath on his tongue was nearly enough to make him raise up the thin dress she wore.
But he couldn’t do that. He didn’t even know her name.
“Tell me your name.” It wasn’t his voice. It came from within. It was the wolf’s deep growl.
The woman—no, not the woman—his woman. His woman flinched. She gasped in a breath, taking away a tendril of the scent. The loss felt like an ocean going down a drain.
From within, Jackson grabbed at his wolf. But the beast swatted his attempt away. It was in full control. The honey-brown tint of her skin was slowly changing to shades of silver.
“Please,” the word came out a grumbled plea. It was the best the wolf could do being this close to the woman he knew was his mate. Jackson’s upper lip grazed her nose as he said the word. She shivered in the cage of his arms. It took all of Jackson’s inner strength to hold the wolf back that half of an inch between his body and hers. “I want to know what to call you, besides mine.”
She tilted her head up at him. Her dark eyes widened even more. “Yours?”
Jackson’s lips curled up in a possessive smile. He knew he must look possessed. But she didn’t run. She didn’t flinch. She stared at him, caught in this trap.
She was a wolf. She knew she could reject him. She also knew it wouldn’t mean he wouldn’t let her go so easily. He would pursue her until she gave in or she accepted another’s suite. Even then, his feelings would never likely die. That was the way of male wolves.
But she didn’t run. She kept perfectly still.
Of course she knew if she ran, he would chase. He would track her and when he finally caught her, he would pin her down and lick, nip, and stroke her into submission.
By the Goddess, he wanted her to run. Jackson’s hand slipped to the door handle, prepared to turn it to give her a head start.
And then she spoke. “My name is Lucia.”
Over this man’s broad shoulder she spied Pierce lying prone on the bed. In an instant, the man she’d planned to spend the rest of her life with was blocked from her view, and all she saw was the beast of a man who held her captive in his churning gaze.
His eyes bored into hers. There wasn’t a thought of fear in the layers of brown and bronze and gold. There was only hunger. With every flick and twitch of his irises Lucia felt herself being devoured.
He held her there. She was free to move, but her body was entirely immobilized, captivated by his gaze.
A wave a panic hit Lucia. Was she under a spell? Could this be a warlock weaving his magic into her brain to leave her a spineless, whimpering damsel in distress? Would he put a gold ring on her finger and rob her of her will and her shoes to become barefoot and pregnant for the rest of her days?
A low growl escaped the man. Not a growl, more like a purr. There wasn’t any menace in the sound. It wasn’t the dominant sound a predator made when it spotted easy prey. The sound that emanated from the chest of this large man with soul-brown eyes reminded Lucia of evening prayers. The sound was reverent, humble, grateful.
Any ounce of fear, any thought of flight, fled Lucia’s very being.
The cauldron of his eyes traced each of her brows, every lash on her left then her right eyelid. They burned a path down her nose, hanging on the tip. When the corner of his mouth hitched up in a grin, she pressed her thighs together, certain her undergarments were about to slip off her hips.
“Tell me your name,” he said in a voice that was barely human. “Please? I want to know what to call you, besides mine.”
“Yours?” she asked.
Lucia’s heart pounded in her ears, drowning out any sense. This man—no, this wolf had called her his. He was claiming her. A wave of pleasure rolled down her shoulders and settled low in her abdomen when he’d called her ‘mine.’ She wanted him to say that word again, and then again.
It had been so long since she’d felt like she belonged. For the past ten years since her mother’s passing, she’d felt like a burden to Mother Sage. She’d felt like an outsider in her coven. She’d felt so alone since her mother had returned to the Goddess. But this wolf wanted her name.
The myths and lore about there being power in names held a fair amount of truth. When you called out someone’s name, you captured their attention. When someone affixed their name to a piece of paper it transferred power. When a woman took a man’s name, it consolidated power. There was an awesome amount of power in names.
She gave him hers.
“Lucia,” he grumbled.
The sound rumbled through her body, heated her in secret places. She couldn’t see past him and she no longer needed to.
She should run. She should scream. But those were two of the last things she wanted to do. Her body sighed against the door as though it realized it had finally arrived where it was always supposed to be.
She looked at his lips. He looked at hers. He came in closer. Lucia swallowed, bracing for impact.
The impact came from behind her. There was a bump against the door from the other side.
He growled. This time it was low and menacing. He pulled her away from the door and placed her behind him. The door swung open to a crowd of people on the other side.
“Where is he?” A frazzled woman cried. “Where’s my baby boy?”
The wolf before her frowned. “Ma?”
“Jackson,” the woman rushed into the wolf’s chest. His arms came around her reflexively.
Lucia saw Clara on the other side of the threshold. Her new friend’s eyebrows were raised at Lucia who stood very close for comfort behind the wolf. Clara’s eyes dipped down pointedly and then returned to hers. Lucia looked down to see she still had a hand on the wolf’s, Jackson’s, forearm.
Lucia couldn’t understand why her new friend would raise an eyebrow at such an innocent stance. It wasn’t in any way scandalous for her to place a hand on her mate.
“Pierce,” wailed Jackson’s mother.
She flew out of Jackson’s arms and to the bed behind Lucia where Pierce laid, a silent witness to Lucia’s infidelity only a moment ago. Lucia removed her hand from Jackson, placing it behind her back. Lucia trained her eyes on the floor instead of meeting Clara’s again.
“He’s just out of surgery,” Clara said as she came in the room.
Clara was followed by another woman, a girl really. She had the same thick mane of hair as the two men and the older woman. Lucia had to assume that this was Pierce’s baby sister, Kayla. Kayla came to the other side of the bed and smoothed the sheet over her brother’s chest.
That meant that the man who’s arms Lucia had been in was Pierce’s older brother; the one he hero worshiped.
Jackson still stood beside her. Their bodies weren’t touching, but Lucia felt the heat from his chest. He must have sensed her looking at him because those churning brown eyes found hers. His jaw had been tense as he watched his mother and sister with his brother. But as they looked at her some of the tension seeped out. He didn’t smile at her, but his face softened.
Lucia had the urge to reach out to him, to comfort him. But she didn’t get the chance. A man in a white coat entered the room, and all eyes turned to him.
“What happened?” asked Mrs. Alcede as she took one of Pierce’s limp hands in her own.
“He’s stable for now,” said the doctor. “But he’s in a coma.”
“My poor baby.” Mrs. Alcede kissed Pierce’s forehead. “How could this happen?”
The doctor held a stack of papers affixed to a wooden board in his hands. He spoke to it rather than Pierce’s mother. “We’re not exactly sure. We only know that he was attacked. You’ll have to ask his mate for the rest of the story.”
The entire family froze. Every one’s head cocked to the side like a dot punctuating a question mark. Clara’s lips pressed together in a grimace. Her eyebrows rose in a gesture that said I told you so.
“His what?” said Mrs. Alcede.
The doctor motioned to Lucia. “She was with him. What I understand from the paramedics is that she saved his life.”
All eyes went to Lucia. Including Jackson’s. The churning stopped, and the brown solidified into near black.
“I didn’t know he was mated,” said Kayla.
“I didn’t know he was dating,” said Mrs. Alcede.
“He was dating a girl,” said Kayla. “Charlotte, I think her name was.”
Lucia looked away from Jackson’s accusing eyes back to Pierce. An irrational wave of jealousy swept through her. Pierce had never mentioned that he was dating anyone. Not in the whole four hours they’d known each other.
“She’s prettier than Charlotte,” said Kayla.
“When did you meet Charlotte?” Mrs. Alcede rounded on her daughter in indignation. “He didn’t even introduce his own mother to his girlfriend.”
“Well, she’s not his girlfriend anymore. She—” Kayla turned to Lucia. “—what is your name?”
It wasn’t that Lucia forgot her name. Her brain and mouth were at war because she knew she should clear up the fallacy that she was Pierce’s mate. She still wanted to be Pierce’s mate. Didn’t she?
She glanced at the larger version of Pierce. Jackson’s eyes hadn’t left her. His face was a mix of shock, disbelief, and anger.
It was he who opened his mouth. “Her name is Lucia.”
The way he said her name sent more shivers down her spine.
“Oh that’s a lovely name,” said Mrs. Alcede.
“It sounds so romantic,” said Kayla. “Way better than Charlotte.”
“Yes, I agree. Charlotte is a wimpy name, but Lucia sounds strong.” Pierce’s mother came over to Lucia. She stared directly into her eyes, gazing adoringly at her and smiling with admiration. “Oh the beautiful and strong grandcubs you’ll make. You’ll give me grandcubs won’t you, Lucia?”
And then Mrs. Alcede engulfed Lucia in an embrace. The woman was soft and warm. She smelled edible. She reminded Lucia of her own mother. Lucia’s mother hadn’t been the best at affection. She’d tried, but witches had been trained from birth to keep their emotions in check. Of their own accord Lucia’s arms went around this woman.
Suddenly she felt weary. She’d been lonely for years. In the span of a day she’d been assaulted, fallen in love, had nearly been decapitated by a train, rescued the man she wanted to marry, then was seduced by his brother. It was exhausting. Lucia didn’t fault herself for collapsing into the woman’s warm embrace.
Pierce’s mom pulled her away and beamed. She held Lucia’s hands in her own and squeezed them tight. Lucia smiled just as bright. But then Mrs. Alcede turned away from her. Lucia gripped her hands even tighter, refusing to let go.
Instead of letting go, her new mom squeezed her hand back and led her across the room. “First, we need to get him to wake up.”
Lucia blinked, running the words over in her head. Him? She turned and looked down at Pierce lying unaware on the bed.
Pierce. Right. He had to wake up.
He would wake up, Lucia thought as she bit her lip. And when he did, he’d tell them them the truth and Lucia wouldn’t be getting any more hugs from his mother.
A deep growl came from behind Lucia. It rumbled through her like a tidal wave. It was not a purr. It sounded like an animal wounded and in pain. It tore at Lucia’s heart.
By the time she turned around, Jackson was gone.