The One Thing Money Can’t Buy
There were very few times in Cari’s life when he could consider himself in a “crisis overload” situation. There was the time he came out to his parents – he’d spent months worrying about that, only to have his parents completely ignore him when he told them. There was the night he got banished from his prickle, the only home he’d ever known. That had been unexpected, and Cari struggled for a week to make sense of his new situation.
Today, he decided, definitely qualified as an overload situation. For some reason, and Cari would worry about what that reason was later, the Fates saw fit to give him his mate and a huge lottery win, all on the same day. He imagined most people, most shifters at least, would be overjoyed to have a mountain’s worth of blessings heaped on his head, but Cari wasn’t like most people. Change was the scary boogey-man who lurked under his bed, catching him out when he least expected it. He’d suspected at times he might have a spot of OCD. Regardless of any mental health diagnosis, or lack of it, Cari had a feeling his life as he knew it was beginning to unravel and he was helpless to do anything about it.
Just work through this one step at a time. Cari knew it was the only way he was going to survive the next few days. His money was in his account. He checked using his phone app as soon as they got into what looked like a big black town car. Making sure his seat belt was secured properly, Cari brought up his list making app. New list. Just doing that made him feel better.
“Do you have any food intolerances I should know about?” Cari asked politely, risking a quick glance at his mate who was focusing on the road like any good driver should.
Okay, maybe he hadn’t been clear enough. “Food intolerances are an important health issue all people should consider when preparing food, or dating a new person.” Cari quoted an article he’d read while waiting in Douglas’s office. “Is there anything you don’t like to eat, won’t eat, or can’t eat? I’ll make notes.” He tapped his screen with his nifty little stylus. He adored his new phone even though it’d taken him almost six months to save up for it.
Quaid sighed, and Cari worried he was pushing his mate too far, too fast for information. Maybe the solid lion shifter was a private person. But just as he was about to say, his question didn’t matter, Quaid said, “There is nothing I won’t or can’t eat, but I don’t like to eat green salads, pecan nuts, and strawberries. I prefer to eat a lot of meat and protein.”
Cari dutifully tapped out that information. Quaid’s dietary requirements would mean an adjustment on his grocery list but, I suppose I can afford it now. Cari put that thought away as fast as it arrived. Focus on the details.
“Do you carry weapons?” He asked. “Because if you do, then I’ll need to….”
“No weapons.” Fair enough. Cari typed in “no need to extend gun safe facilities.”
“Now about your showering habits,” Cari bit his lip. “Not that I don’t adore your scent because you smell amazing, but do you prefer to shower in the morning, after a workout, in the afternoon, before going out, or mostly in the evening?”
Okay, Cari didn’t mistake that look. Quaid thought he was a sandwich short of picnic. “I only have a small hot water cylinder,” he explained patiently. “I prefer to shower between seven thirty five and seven forty five in the morning, so I can be fresh and clean for work. I can adjust my schedule if you’d like….” Cari’s heart beat faster at the very idea. Quaid is my mate, he reminded himself. Compromise is an art form.
“Have you thought, maybe, now you have all that money, that maybe you could buy a house with an infinity hot water system? Are you really going to stay here all your life?”
Looking up from his screen, Cari saw they were parked outside his apartment building. It was an older brick building, built in the seventies when the town expanded and was showing signs of wear. Three stories high, it rarely had a working elevator, and the heating was inclined to go off at times. Cari never thought when he took the lease that he would be living in it forever. It was just temporary, until he got back with his prickle. But now… Cari risked another look at Quaid.
“I don’t know? I hadn’t really thought about it?”
“Can we go inside please?” Quaid had that measured tone that suggested he was holding back strong emotions, although Cari didn’t know why. His questions had been perfectly polite. “Which apartment is yours?”
Cari pointed to the far left corner. “The landlord gave me a ground floor space because I’m short. He said the stairs would be a nuisance to me in my shifted form.” Not that Cari left the apartment in his shifted form. The cat shifter in 2B had two huge manx cats as pets and the snake lady in 3D had four large black dogs who growled at him every time they saw him.
“Of course, it’d be ground floor.” Quaid got out of the car, surveying the parking lot and the other units. It was only then Cari noticed his mate hadn’t been wearing his seat belt. He quickly tapped out a reminder to himself to talk to Quaid about it when he was in a receptive mood. It was very unlikely a shifter was killed in a car accident, but it could happen. Cari wasn’t going to lose his mate now he’d found him. Or been found. Cari was still trying to work out which phrase applied when Quaid gestured for him to get out of the car.
Quaid could smell wolves even though he couldn’t see them and as soon as Cari let him into his apartment, he prowled around checking windows and door locks. The tiny bathroom window had bars on the outside which was a step in the right direction. But the two windows in the small living room and the one in the bedroom would be easy for anyone to break into.
“Would you like a coffee?” Cari asked. He’d abandoned his small satchel and keys on a tiny side table by the front door and was now in the kitchen, looking at Quaid expectantly.
“Black, thank you.” One of Quaid’s gifts was his ability to scent strong emotions and Cari reeked of confusion and anxiety. Hopefully giving him something to do would help. “Do you have a local hardware store nearby? These windows need stronger locks on them and the door could do with a deadbolt.”
“Oh, none of the windows open except the bathroom one,” Cari said brightly. “They’re nailed shut from the outside. I think the previous tenants were a bit paranoid.”
Nailed shut? Quaid had a mental image of fire licking up the walls and a frightened Cari banging fruitlessly on windows that wouldn’t open. He’d be forced to break the glass, but the smoke would overwhelm him in such a small space. Quaid could see it now, Cari’s lifeless form, his arm stretched out as if….
“Are you all right?” Cari was there, beside him, holding up a mug of strong coffee. “You seem to have spaced out a bit for a minute there.”
“How are you still alive?” Grabbing the mug, Quaid set it on the table and then pulled the unresisting Cari into his arms. “Your windows don’t work; your door is an open invitation to any burglar or mugger that walks by. The heating sounds as if it’s about to blow up any minute and your stove looks like it was bought at a fire sale.”
Cari didn’t answer right away but Quaid noticed he snuggled in, his arms resting around his waist and his head fitting perfectly in the center of his chest. Quaid inhaled, slow and deep, fighting his need to rip his mate’s clothes off and take him over the couch. He’s offering comfort, he warned his lion who was keen to claim the hedgehog as theirs. Don’t cheapen the moment.
“I’ve never had anyone worry about my safety before,” Cari said, addressing his right nipple. “The windows might not open, but there is a hole in the skirting behind the refrigerator I can crawl out of in my shifted form if I have to escape. I’m really careful with the stove, although it might look old, but it does work perfectly. The heating has always made that noise and as for the door…” Cari looked down at the floor, the head movement sending warm feelings through Quaid’s chest, “I put a chair under the door handle before I go to bed every night.”
“Oh, babe,” Quaid bent his neck at an impossible angle, so he could rest his chin on his mate’s head. “I’m not doubting your ability to look after yourself. Those are very smart things to do. I’m just not sure why you rented such a derelict place originally.”
“I was lucky to get this.” Cari was still addressing his belly button. I barely had time to grab my papers and bank card when I was banished from the prickle and the wolves wouldn’t let me live in their territory at all. I’ve done my best with what I had.”
Looking around, Quaid could see that was true. The apartment was worn, but there wasn’t a mark on the cream colored walls. The couch was another seventy’s reject, but Cari had covered it with a cheap, bright throw, giving some color to the room. Quaid guessed the place was leased as a furnished apartment because the television was bolted to the wall. The shower curtain in the bathroom was spotless and there wasn’t so much as a stray sock in the neat bedroom. Lack of possessions aside, Cari kept a clean house.
“We should probably make plans,” Quaid said, holding Cari with one arm as he reached for his cup with the other. Even the mug was new, unchipped and had a bright smiley face on it. Shuffling them back towards the couch, he eased down, setting Cari on his lap. “What sorts of things did you dream about before you won the lotto? What have you thought about since you knew you’d won?”
“I used to dream about a lot of things when I was still a prickle member,” Cari admitted. Noticing he didn’t have a beverage of his own, Quaid held out his cup to share, but Cari shook his head. “I think something must’ve broken in my brain when I got banished because I doubt I’ve dreamed since.” A gentle shudder ran through Cari’s body and Quaid wondered if nightmares were classified as dreams in Cari’s head.
“Did you know you’d won all that money the night of the draw?”
Cari nodded, and then when Quaid kept quiet, he said, “I was supposed to go out for drinks with some of the people from work that night. We have a standing Saturday night arrangement, or at least we did.” Cari’s nose wrinkle was adorable. “Do you think they’d still let me go with them, even though I stood them up this weekend. I did text and tell Lucy I couldn’t come, although I didn’t say why.”
“Are these good friends of yours?” More people I’m going to have to protect my mate from, or allies?
“I work in the same office as them. Lucy and Marcus are wolves, Julie and Megan are humans and I think Jo and Ryan are some sort of cat shifters, but what they are exactly doesn’t come up in conversation.”
“And you all go out together every Saturday night?” Quaid asked, thinking hard. Cari working with pack wolves could be an issue. “What do you do when you’re out?” He tried to imagine his sweet mate dressed in anything that wasn’t a bow tie and knitted vest, but he couldn’t. In a club crowd, Cari would stand out as a sexy geek twink. Vulnerable in other words.
“They drink mostly, trying different clubs and bars every time. Do you know one night, they went all the way to Jackson just to try out a new burger?” Jackson was forty minutes’ drive away, not really any distance at all. But if Cari didn’t have his own transport….
“Who did you go with that night?” Quaid didn’t really care about the answer. He was trying to work out the friends’ dynamics and who might be a problem if, no, when news of Cari’s win became known.
“An Uber driver took me.” Cari plucked at the collar of his shirt. “I don’t like going places and relying on others to get me home.”
“Very sensible.” In fact, if Quaid was pushed to say it, he’d reckon his mate was sensible with a capital S. Not a bad thing for a young prey animal to be. “Is it fun, do you think, going out clubbing and drinking with the others? Do they ever come back here and just hang out?” Cari’s apartment hardly looked like a den of iniquity, but Quaid had been fooled before.
“They don’t like this area of town. They mostly hang out in the wolves’ territory when they’re not partying. I’m not set up for entertaining and they have more fun without me there anyway.” Quaid searched for any emotion behind the words, but he got nothing. Cari was just stating a fact.
Something didn’t add up. “Babe,” Quaid tilted Cari’s chin, so they were facing each other. “It doesn’t sound like they’re true friends in any sense of the word, so why do you go out with them?”
For a long moment, Quaid thought that Cari wasn’t going to answer. He stared into his mate’s unusually colored eyes, willing him to say something, anything. Trust me, please. “I’m an omega hedgehog,” Cari whispered. “My shifted form is totally albino. My therapist, Douglas, said that I needed to get out more, socialize, and become a more well-rounded person otherwise no one would want to mate with me. He must have said something to Lucy, because suddenly, she was pestering me to go out with her and her friends. Every time, different wolves, sniffing around me, getting grabby and rude. That’s why I always make sure I have a way home by myself.”
Quaid wanted to shout, You could just say no, but even as he thought it, he knew for Cari, it just wasn’t possible, especially if Lucy had alpha genetics which was sounding likely. He got a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach. “Cari, is there anything special about omega hedgehogs you think I should know? I’ve got to admit, I’ve never met one before. Do you have any special gifts or something different that happens when you’re mated?”
“I wish.” Cari sighed. “I’ve never met anyone like me either. The prickle wasn’t happy when I shifted. A lot of people, family and friends, started whispering that I was a bad omen, not to mention it’s a known fact all male omegas of any species are gay, which the people I grew up with think is a sick phase some people go through. The elders got in touch with other groups around the country, even writing to England to the main hedgehog family there, but they never told me what they found out. It never made any sense to me. Apart from my coloring, I was no different to anyone else in the prickle.”
It wasn’t making a lot of sense to Quaid either, but not for the reasons Cari was thinking. Why would someone like Douglas Fanshaw, who was also cousin to the pack alpha, encourage Cari to go out and “socialize” when there was nothing in it for him? Cari was a prey animal – a prickly one, but not anyone who’d be considered strong in wolf terms. Cari was pretty. Young. Submissive. And a novelty. Fuck! Quaid did not like where his thoughts were going.
“What’s the matter?” Cari’s voice was so hesitant. “Don’t you want me as a mate anymore?”
“Don’t ever think that,” Quaid said quickly, tightening his grip around his mate’s waist. “It’s just… no, you know what? I don’t know enough about the situation to make a judgment call on this right now. I’ve got friends, I’ll get them to do some research and see if we can’t find out why you’re running around like the wolves’ equivalent of cat nip.” Cari’s stomach rumbled, giving Quaid the perfect opportunity to change the subject. “How about we go out and get a meal? You’ve had a long and exhausting day and I don’t feel like cooking. My treat?”
“Or,” Cari said shyly, reaching up and stroking the back of Quaid’s neck, “we could order in pizza and watch a movie together. I’ve got a few things I usually do this time of night, but I can be finished by the time the pizza arrives.”
“I don’t think going to work tomorrow is a good idea,” Quaid warned, remembering Cari’s comment about doing laundry. “Lucy is part of the wolf pack. There’s a good chance she knows about your winnings. Can you email your resignation to the office?”
“I thought winning money was supposed to make things easier, not more complicated,” Cari sighed. “What am I going to do with myself if I don’t work?”
“We’ve got plenty of time to work that out,” Quaid replied. He ran his fingers up Cari’s slender back, until they were combing through his mate’s surprisingly soft hair. “How about you do what you need to do, I’ll order the pizza and make a few enquiries to my friends who can be trusted, and then we’ll meet back here and see where the evening takes us.” If Quaid had any input in where the evening was going, they would be in bed before the pizza box got cold.
Cari proved he was as smart as he was sexy. “If we do what your eyes are suggesting, we’ll have claimed each other by morning.” Cari’s scent intensified, letting Quaid know he wasn’t averse to the idea.
“That’s the idea, my precious mate.” Quaid winked. He couldn’t wait.
Book One of the Balance Series.
Can be read as a standalone.
Botis, demon lord and ruler of sixty legions is having a rough day. Lucifer set him on a quest to find the potion given to Gilgamesh thousands of years before, which should be easy enough. But being told a visit to the Angel Raziel was a necessary part of the mission wasn't so easy to understand. Everyone knew that demons and angels didn't mix, and angels were strictly off limits for his kind. Which was a shame because the moment Botis set eyes on the sexy Raziel his imagination ran into overdrive.
Raziel has a cruisy life. As the Angel of Secrets there aren't many who darken his door with requests for finding strange artifacts any more, but he's content. He has his shop, his taxi and his good friends, Anael and Uriel. Having Lucifer in his cab was the first sign things were about to change, but when Botis walks into his shop, Raziel starts to seriously reconsider his angelic abilities. No demon should be able to tempt him, so why was he affected by Botis's sheer presence?
Soon enough, Raziel and Botis learn their meeting was no accident. With forces at work beyond their control, they have to learn to rely on each other if they are going to beat the odds stacked against them. But how is that possible when Raziel's untouchable, and Botis doesn't have a heart?
Warning: Graphic M/M content.
Amazon.com - https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MDIY79B
Amazon.UK - https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01MDIY79B
Smashwords - https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/672229
Raziel dropped his wrench through the engine, and cursed, almost hitting his head on the hood of his taxi as he stood up. He crouched and peered below the bumper. Too much to hope that it’d fallen where he could reach it. He wiggled half under the vehicle, his hand straining to reach the tool he needed.
“My, my, that is a sexy sight.” No. It couldn’t be. Ever since Anael revealed his connection to the demon the night before, Raziel had refused to discuss or think about anything remotely connected to Botis. It was the weekend; he didn’t need to open his shop or drive anywhere and he had a list of chores he’d decided to tackle after his sensuous dreams starring the demon forced him from his bed before the birds. Now the wretched man was stalking him in his garage!
Scuttling out from under the car, Raziel stood, brushing a hand through his messy hair. “This is my private space,” he said with as much firmness as he could muster. “You’ve no right being here.”
“Oh, I think I do,” Botis said, leaning on the garage doorframe, his teeth in perfect view. In contrast to his leather club look, or the suit he’d worn when he’d visited Raziel’s shop, the white muscle shirt, blue jeans and black boots were a welcome change. His long black leather coat was the only concession Botis’d made to the chilly air. “I’m sure you got the memo. Head Office has decided you and I are the penultimate match. I’ve come to claim what’s mine.”
“Not in this lifetime,” Raziel said, hefting his wrench. He was overwhelmingly conscious of his ripped jeans and t-shirt and he wouldn’t be surprised if he had grease on his face. “Anael mentioned he saw a connection between us, but I’ve put in a call to Gabriel. I’m sure this will all be sorted out soon enough.”
“But you want me,” Botis said, his smile getting wider. He tilted his sunglasses onto the top of his head, which shouldn’t look sexy but it did. As Raziel expected Botis’s eyes were black but their flames were hot, vibrant. “You don’t like it, but you want me something fierce. I’m more than happy to oblige.”
“I’m an angel, built to withstand temptation from the likes of you,” Raziel said, knowing every word Botis said was true. “I was never intended to be a demon’s casual plaything, and nothing you’ve said convinces me you want anything more. Do you deny it?”
Raziel watched as Botis went to open his mouth, probably to spout a set of lies. The sort of lies any demon would tell to achieve their objectives. But the demon never said anything. In fact, it looked as though Botis was trying to speak, but couldn’t.
“You can’t lie to me?” Suddenly the playing field was a lot more level. “You can’t, can you?” Raziel added when it seemed like Botis tried to say something else but his mouth wouldn’t work. “You were going to give me some cock-and-bull story about us being mates; wanting us to be together forever, just so you could get into my pants, but you can’t say the words.”
“No, I can’t, and that means I’ve been changed in a way that’s just not cool,” Botis snarled. “Don’t you get it? This doesn’t just impact me. We’re both more fucked than I thought we’d be. I’ve got to talk to Lucifer, but believe if I have anything to do with it; you won’t be seeing me again. There’s no way I’m giving up my life for a fuck, even with an angel as hot as you.” With one last scorching look from those mesmerizing eyes, and a flare of his leather coat Botis disappeared.
About the Author
Lisa Oliver had been writing non-fiction books for years when visions of half dressed, buff men started invading her dreams. Unable to resist the lure of her stories, Lisa decided to switch to fiction books, and now stories about her men clamor to get out from under her fingertips.
When Lisa is not writing, she is usually reading with a cup of tea always at hand. Her grown children and grandchildren sometimes try and pry her away from the computer and have found that the best way to do it, is to promise her chocolate. Lisa will do anything for chocolate.
Lisa loves to hear from her readers and other writers. You can friend her on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/lisaoliverauthor), catch up on what’s happening at her blog (http://www.supernaturalsmut.com) or email her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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