Author Charlie Richards

Giving love and imagination free reign


Log Line

Out of the Cage: Sometimes a little mystery is the jumpstart a low battery needs.

Blurb

Jared Templeton spent a good portion of his adult life as an assassin before going straight. Well, sort of straight. He did leave that line of work for a man, after all. Not just any man, though. Jared’s partner, Carson Angeni, is a wolf shifter. A man who can turn into that animal at will. He’s part of a whole pack of men who can do the same. Essentially, Jared traded one life of secrets for a whole different one, and he guards them jealously. When someone tampers with his computer, Jared goes on the hunt, fearing his past has finally caught up with him. Can Jared track down the perpetrator before whoever it is endangers those he cares about?

Dedication

To those who worked so hard to make GRL 2015 a reality. Thanks!

Chapter One

    Jared Templeton growled softly under his breath. He stared at the picture currently displayed as his computer’s backdrop. Goose bumps broke out over his arms as he narrowed his eyes. It was a picture of himself and his Native American partner, Carson Angeni.

Sweeping his gaze over the obviously candid shot, Jared took in the details. He and Carson were sitting on a pair of folding chairs. They were leaning toward each other, forearms on the arms of their chairs. Carson’s head was bowed just a little, allowing the sweep of his long, black hair to cover half his face. Even through the fall of his hair, Carson’s cheeks appeared flushed and his dark eyes were heavy-lidded as he peered at Jared from beneath his lashes.

The heated look on his strong face caused Jared’s cock to perk up.

The Jared in the picture appeared aroused, as well. Except, instead of looking like he wanted to jump Carson’s bones, his smile was fond, even loving. His hazel eyes had a soft expression that Jared wasn’t even aware he could feel. Anyone who stared at the picture would say the two men were deeply in love.

It really was a stunning picture.

Too bad Jared hadn’t been the one to put it on his computer.

Jared’s heart raced with the knowledge that someone might have managed to hack into his computer. That meant someone might know not only where he lived, but if this picture was any indicator, he knew who his partner was. Maybe not Carson’s name, but it’d be easy to figure out. They lived on the outskirts of a small town, and Carson was well known in the area.

Taking a slow deep breath, Jared tried not to jump to the worst possible conclusion. What if someone from his sordid past had caught up with him? He had spent over a decade earning the millions padding his bank account as an assassin.

Keeping his true identity a secret had been essential, not just to keep himself safe, but his parents and sisters safe, too. When he’d returned to Stone Ridge for his eldest sister’s wedding, he’d met Carson and bonded with the wolf shifter. That meant giving up the anonymity living under a pseudonym provided.

Maybe Carson loaded the picture onto my computer as a surprise.

Picking up his phone, he hit one on speed dial.

“Hi, lover,” Carson greeted warmly. “Missing me already?”

Jared couldn’t help but smile upon hearing Carson’s deep voice rumble in his ear. His cock thickened further upon hearing his lover’s low, rumbling purr. Spreading his legs a little, he reached down and adjusted himself in his jeans. “I am always missing you when you’re not by my side, Injun,” Jared responded honestly. “But that’s not why I’m calling.”

Carson hummed deeply for a few seconds. Jared knew what he was doing…buying time so he could get somewhere private. The big shifter was an enforcer for his wolf pack, and was currently camping deep in the mountains with two tracker trainers and over a half dozen shifter trackers-in-training. The young shifters ranged from twenty-seven to thirty-two years of age. While a human wouldn’t consider that young, these people were wolf shifters. They could live for almost five centuries, so these men and women were almost considered pups.

“Talk to me, Jared,” Carson urged. “What’s wrong?”

“I need to know if you put this picture on my computer,” Jared asked him.

“Picture? What picture?” Carson asked, his voice deepened with what Jared figured was concern or confusion. “Which computer?”

Grimacing, Jared thought quickly, trying to decide how much of his concern he wanted to convey to Carson. He knew if his lover thought there was a big problem, he’d want to return home and help him with it. Unfortunately, if he hadn’t posted the picture, this wasn’t something Carson could help with. Plus, this shifter tracker training had been planned for weeks. Jared sure as hell didn’t want to be the one to put a damper on it.

“I found a picture on my computer,” Jared told Carson. “One I don’t recognize.” He rubbed his forehead as he finished, “I’m just trying to confirm where it came from. I didn’t want to spend hours searching for a trail that wasn’t there if you had loaded it.”

“You think someone hacked your computer?”

Jared grimaced. “Maybe,” he hedged. “I’m going to take a look at the picture’s source. I’ll talk to you later.”

As Jared began to pull his phone away from his ear, he heard Carson call his name. Lifting it back, he asked, “Yeah?”

“You will call me if it ends up being an issue.”

The words were issued as an order and Jared knew it. He’d never been very good at following orders, but for his partner he tried. “If I find there to be a big problem, I’ll let you know,” he assured, amending the terms just a little. “For now,” he continued, “just enjoy this time with your fellow shifters.” He smiled, adding something that just five years ago, he never would have considered saying. “Your wolf needs this.”

Carson grunted. “Yeah. I know,” he muttered.

Wolf shifters were pack animals. And while fucking night and day could be fantastic, if Carson didn’t interact with his pack members often, his wolf would grow lonely. In turn, Carson became irritable and withdrawn.

After several years together, Jared had learned to watch for the signs and Carson had begun to display them over the past week.

“I’ll see you in a few days.”

Jared nodded, even though he knew Carson couldn’t see it. Focusing on the screen, he smiled at the picture of him and his lover. It really was a great shot. “Stay safe,” Jared murmured on reflex.

Carson chuckled softly. “You, too.”

Hanging up the phone, Jared set it on the desk. He rubbed a hand over the bridge of his nose as he closed his eyes. Focusing on his breathing, he centered himself. It took a minute or two, but he eventually felt calm enough to focus on hacking instead of the throbbing in his dick.

Jared didn’t know how it’d happened, but since meeting Carson, he’d turned into a nympho. Prior to meeting the wolf shifter, Jared had rarely indulged in sex. He’d been too busy keeping his identity a secret and taking out those that shouldn’t be allowed to live.

Opening his eyes, Jared pushed back memories of his past and focused on the present. He opened up the image and began dissecting it for information.


Growling under his breath, Jared pushed away from his computer. “Nothing,” he snarled. “I can’t find a damn thing.”

Jared rubbed his hands over his face, massaging his tired eyes. Jumping up from his seat, he began to pace, swinging his arms to stretch out his shoulders. After a few strides, he huffed a breath and moved to the middle of the room. He began running through tai chi routines to calm his turbulent mind.

Halfway through the fourth routine, Jared finished snapping out a side blade kick. He brought his leg back in and froze, his knee still bent and leg held at hip level. Frowning, an idea formed.

After finishing the routine, Jared returned to his desk and picked up his cell phone. He hit two on speed dial and waited. After the second ring, he heard the line click, indicating it was open. No one spoke, but Jared could hear the sound of high pitched screaming in the background. Flinching, he realized it was actually squealing. With young kids it was hard to tell sometimes.

“Hold on,” Raul’s voice finally sounded through the line. “Sean, can you take Lily? I need to take this.”

Jared heard additional jostling and squeals, then made out the distinctive sound of a kiss. Smirking, he waited for his longtime friend to focus on the phone call. When Jared had bonded with Carson, Raul had accompanied him to Stone Ridge. The man had stood by his side and helped him adjust to permanent, small town living after years of anonymity and moving every couple of years.

“Sorry, Jared,” Raul told him. “What’s up?”

“I need you here,” Jared told his friend bluntly. “I think I’ve been hacked and I’m going to create a source identification program. I was hoping you’d assist me, then sit with it while I head to Alpha Declan’s house.” He hesitated an instant before adding, “Someone put a picture on my laptop and I recognize the alpha’s back yard. Maybe Declan or Lark will know when the picture might have been taken and by whom.”

After a heartbeat, Raul replied, “I’m on my way.”

Chapter Two

    Once Raul arrived, he and Jared spent thirty minutes putting together a program to take apart the picture. He squeezed his buddy’s shoulder as he rose. “Let me know if anything comes up,” he ordered.

“Will do,” Raul assured. He peered up at him and gave him a tight smile. “We’ll figure this out.”

Jared jerked a nod, then headed upstairs. As he slipped on his jacket and grabbed his keys, he realized Raul had just as much to lose as he did. His best friend had been his right hand man for years while in the business. Now, he too had settled down. Hell, Raul even had an adopted daughter.

A lot to lose.

Vowing that wouldn’t happen, not on his watch, Jared headed to his garage. He slipped into the driver’s seat of his Porsche and brought the vehicle rumbling to life. Revving the high performance engine for a second, he allowed the simple action to calm him. He placed his car in gear, backed out of the garage, and headed onto the road.

Ten minutes later, Jared turned his Porsche down a driveway. He rolled slowly, avoiding ruts and potholes. Once he reached the alpha’s home, he parked off to the side of the porch and slipped from his car. A few strides had him on the porch, and he knocked on the front door.

A few minutes later, Alpha Declan opened the door. The tall African American’s brows shot up. Because Jared was mated to Carson, who was out camping, the alpha probably hadn’t expected to see him.

“Jared,” Declan said by way of greeting. He stepped backward and motioned for him to enter. “What can I do for ye?” he asked, his light Irish lilt betraying his concern.

Stepping into the house, Jared paused in the foyer. “I found a picture on my computer,” he responded. Seeing no reason to beat around the bush, he explained, “I need to know if you know who took it.” As he spoke, he pulled the picture out of the folder he’d placed it in and held it out to the wolf shifter.

Declan took the offered item and stared at it for a few seconds. Lifting his gaze to meet Jared’s own, he gave him a wry smile. “Sweet photo. Ye both look happy.”

“We do,” Jared agreed. “We are happy. That’s not the issue.”

Handing the photo back, Declan asked, “Then what is? I can tell ye who might have taken the picture,” he added, crossing his arms over his chest. “But ye can’t get upset at whoever took the picture, since ye were at a pack gathering.”

Jared shook his head. “I’m not upset,” he assured. “I just need to check their system to find out if they were hacked or who they sent it to.” He hesitated, then added, “I don’t know how it got on my computer, and for safety reasons, I need to know.”

Declan nodded slowly, his stance relaxing. “With yer past, I’m not surprised ye need such precautions.” Glancing at the picture in Jared’s hand, he told him, “Try Caroline, Lisa, or Coby. They all enjoy taking pictures.”

Jared nodded as he turned toward the door. “Thank you.”

“Aye.”

After returning to his vehicle, Jared mentally ran through what he knew of the three people. Caroline Alvaro was a wolf shifter mated to Shane, the beta of the pack. She’d been with these people for decades, maybe longer. The human Lisa had mated with Cliff MacDougal a year or so before Jared had joined the pack. Coby was also a wolf shifter and made his living as a professional photographer.

Jared figured none of them would purposefully put any pack-member in harm’s way. Still, that didn’t mean their computers were secure. Someone could have hacked their systems, stealing not only Jared and Carson’s photo, but others, too.

Resigning himself to a little more legwork, Jared headed to the closest person’s home first. He struck out with both Caroline and Lisa. While both women complimented him on the wonderful picture, they assured him that they hadn’t taken it. Jared headed toward Coby’s home.

Coby lived in Stone Ridge proper, right on Main Street. He kept an apartment with a dark room over top his studio. Jared had met the shifter only in passing, but had never heard any ill spoken of the man.

Parking in the small lot between the studio and a little pub, Jared first checked the studio’s hours. He found it open, but when he went inside, the young woman helping customers told him Coby wouldn’t be in until the next day.

Jared refused to wait. After thanking the woman and leaving, he rounded the building and climbed the narrow stairway to the second floor. He found the door locked, so he pulled a small roll of fabric from the inside of his jacket pocket. Using a couple of lock picks, he easily opened first the deadbolt, then the doorknob’s lock.

When Jared heard the click signaling he’d gained access to the wolf’s home, a rush of satisfaction flooded him.

Been too long since I did that.

Smiling, Jared let himself into Coby’s apartment. He glanced around the foyer, then crept on silent feet out of the area. Finding himself in a living room, he immediately spotted the laptop on the desk and crossed to it.

Jared quickly booted it up. A password screen popped up, making him pause. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out his phone and dialed a number from memory.

“Find out anything?” Raul asked, skipping a greeting.

“Maybe,” Jared replied. “I’m standing in front of a laptop owned by Coby Myers. It’s asking for a password. Can you hack it real quick?”

“Triangulating your phone’s location,” Raul told him. As his friend spoke, Jared heard the sound of him striking keys in the background. He spotted the cursor move just as Raul stated, “I’m in. Give me two shakes to run a password decryption. Oh, that’s an easy one. Gotta love it when people use flowers for a password.”

Jared smirked. “What color?”

“System is yours, Jared,” Raul told him, then answered his question. “Morning Glory.”

“Really? I wouldn’t have guessed that,” Jared admitted. Then, his gaze fell upon a figurine on a bookshelf to the right of the desk. “Although,” he mused, taking in the pale green Flutter Pony with a chartreuse mane and tail which had those same flowers trailing over its back end. “Maybe I could have guessed eventually.”

Chuckling, Raul teased, “Whatever. What are we looking for?”

“Coby is a photographer,” Jared told him. “We’re looking for pictures of pack gatherings on his system,” he explained. “I already confirmed with Caroline and Lisa that they didn’t take it. If I strike out here, I’m going to have to give Declan a call and ask for some more possibilities.”

Raul just hummed as Jared got to work searching files. He knew his friend had kept his ability to see the screen even if he was no longer controlling the system. Scrolling through files, Jared couldn’t help but admire some of the pictures he found. They ranged from stills to action shots to close-ups of flowers and insects to panoramic views. There was even a file full of black and whites.

“Guy has a great eye,” Jared commented.

He heard Raul grunt his agreement just as he spotted a folder titled Pack Gatherings. Inside that was a series of folders labeled by dates. He whistled upon seeing just how many there were.

“Think he’s been doing this since the invention of the camera?”

Snorting at his friend’s dry comment, Jared responded, “At least since it was easy to load pictures onto the computer.” He cleared his throat as he thought about where to start. “Well, there isn’t snow on the ground in the picture, so winter is out.”

“And Carson is wearing that dark green shirt that Lark bought him for Christmas two years ago, so it was after that.”

“Right, let’s get to it then.” Jared opened a possibility and began scrolling through the stills.

In the fourth folder, Jared paused on a picture. He spotted himself and Carson in the background. The time of year appeared correct as well, maybe late summer or early fall. Flipping to the next photo, it was one of himself and Carson laughing quietly together, their eyes alight with mirth. The next photo in the series was the one they were looking for.

“Bingo,” Raul said, his voice coming from the speaker of Jared’s phone where he’d set it on the desk.

Jared hummed in agreement. “Now, we already know his security is for shit. Let’s see if who has hacked him recently.”

Chapter Three

    Forging into the world of code, Jared began digging into the computer’s history. He found the standard viruses caused by surfing the internet and the mostly dormant malware from opening a wrong email. He also noted a few useless programs that slowed down the computer’s operating speed.

Then, Jared noted something odd…a line of code that was out of place. Taking a closer look, he realized that what he’d first dismissed as an unused automatic download script for a program was actually someone’s in into the computer. “What do we have here,” he muttered as he delved deeper into the script.

“Someone got into the system,” Raul commented. “It’s very nicely done, too.”

“It is,” Jared agreed. So good that he’d almost missed it. “Let’s see where it goes.”

Jared carefully back-hacked the system. He followed one line of code, then began on another. Pausing, he realized it was a trap that could cause problems to the system he used, so he backed out and tried again, choosing another route. He had to do that several times before he successfully broke into the originating system.

Except just as Jared felt certain he’d figured it out, he realized he must have tripped a trigger. The code changed. “Shit,” he hissed, typing swiftly, trying to correct the problem.

“Someone’s on the other end blocking you.”

“No shit, Sherlock,” Jared snapped. “This fucker is damn good.”

“You’re getting pulled into a black hole,” Raul warned.

“No, I’m not,” Jared muttered back, typing swiftly to counter the actions of the person on the other end of the line. No way in hell would he get trapped in a code bog. “Let’s give you a distraction.”

Raul snickered. “Did you just e-bomb him?”

Jared grinned as he continued to type swiftly. “Of course,” he responded. “Gotta love the classics.” With a crow of delight—the excessive pop-ups of half-naked men advertising porn doing what Jared needed it to—namely, distracting whoever was on the other end of the line—he slipped past the final firewall and gained access to the system. “Now, let’s see if there’s a camera and we can see who our new friend is.”

Queuing up the camera, Jared watched a picture appear in the upper right corner of his screen. He narrowed his eyes upon seeing the pair of men within the field of view of the screen. The one seated on a large chair he knew on sight. The man sitting on the bigger male’s lap he could only guess at.

“Raven,” Jared snarled. “I should have known.”

The smirking, dark-haired male winked at him. “My protégé is damn good, isn’t he?” he teased. “Liam almost had you.”

I was facing Raven’s student? Shit!

Evidently, something in his expression gave away his surprise…and unease. Raven chuckled roughly. “Yep. I’ve been teaching Liam code for about six months.” His eyes narrowed as he gave Jared a smug smile. “If it’d been me at the controls, you wouldn’t have gotten in.” He nuzzled Liam’s neck as he whispered to the man, “No offense, love.”

Jared fought his urge to grind his teeth. Did Raven think this shit was funny? He knew the man’s moral compass didn’t exactly point north—hell, neither did his own—but he thought they’d had an understanding. The man had once worked for scientists that captured and experimented on shifters in the hopes of creating super soldiers. The fact that they could do it, too, completely sucked.

Raven was proof.

The human had gone through some of their experiments and come out with heightened senses, increased speed, and advanced healing. He’d also had enough shifter DNA to sense a mate-bond with the little artic fox shifter—through several steel doors—who sat grinning at him through the line. He’d recognized the name—Liam—as the male that Raven had used their pack’s help to free.

“Fine. You had fun, hacked into this system, and stole a few snapshots,” Jared growled. “Now, what did you do with them? Who did you sell them to? Did you get hacked by someone else?”

Raven’s eyes narrowed.

Liam glanced toward his mate, his slightly pointed face losing his impish grin. His eyes darkened, showing off more gray than blue. Clearly worried, his expression said that he didn’t know what Jared was talking about.

Hope Raven doesn’t have sex for a week.

Jared focused his glare on Raven. “Give me an answer, Raven,” he demanded. “What happened to the pictures you stole?”

After rolling his eyes, Raven growled out, “I encrypted them, then emailed them to Brice. He missed his friends and wanted news.”

After Brice had mated with one of the lion shifters who lived at the same estate where Raven had ended up—Valarius had been visiting Stone Ridge at the time—the human had moved to the pride’s home in Kansas. The tale of Brice missing his friends wasn’t much of a stretch. That Raven would do it out of the kindness of his heart…that was unexpected.

Still, if that was the only thing Raven had done with the photos, it wouldn’t explain his problem. Unless, did Brice do something with the photo?

“Is Brice around?” Jared asked. “Do you know if he did anything with the photos?”

“Hold on,” Raven grumbled.

After kissing Liam’s cheek, Raven eased out from under him, then stood. He left the view of the camera, then returned with a laptop. Sitting on the arm of the chair, he settled the thin piece of electronics on his knees. He typed for several minutes before his brows shot up to his hairline.

“Huh,” Raven muttered as he lowered his brow. “Looks like Brice’s system was hacked a week ago,” he murmured. “I’ll send you the IP address of the hacker. You’ll have to do the rest yourself.”

Jared growled under his breath. “Fine. Send it.” He rattled off a secure email address. After seeing Raven jerk a nod, he closed down the connection. To Raul, who still waited on speaker, he stated, “I’m on my way home.”

“I’ll get started on that IP address,” Raul responded, then disconnected the call.

Closing down the laptop, Jared heaved a sigh. He rubbed his hands over his face, then reached for a Post-it note. Scribbling a short note—Your system was hacked. See me for a security upgrade. Jared Templeton—he rose from his seat and left the apartment, locking the door behind him.

    “I’m making headway,” Raul told him as soon as Jared strode down the stairs into the basement. “Whoever hacked Brice’s computer has a decent security system, but nothing compared to our skills.” He paused in his work and twirled his chair to face Jared. “The system isn’t on right now, so I can’t ping for an exact location. I can tell you that the owner isn’t in any of our systems. The name isn’t affiliated with any of the shifters we know or the people we’ve, uh, done jobs for.”

“What about land in his name?” Jared asked, crossing to stand beside his friend. “Family’s name?”

Raul nodded and spun back around.

Jared watched the screen quickly change as he listened to Raul’s fingers tap the keys. His own hands almost twitched with his desire to take over the search. Still, he knew Raul would get the job done, swiftly, too. After all, he’d taught the man.

“Hmmm,” Raul toned. “Nothing in his name. His father’s got a place in Florida.” His fingers stopped, then clicked on something. “Wait. Check this out. The guy’s brother owns a cabin with a Colin City zip code.”

“Map it.”

Raul grunted. “Already on it.” The world appeared on the screen, then zoomed in to show North America, then Colorado, and finally a little red pin in the middle of what was obviously a forest.

“Gonna pick out a few weapons,” Jared murmured, eyeing the screen for a second.

Then, he straightened and turned toward the right wall, which was lined with medieval weapons. He reached out and gripped the handle of a throwing axe and rotated the weapon counter-clockwise a quarter of a turn. A soft click reached his ear right before a section of wall to the right moved forward. It rolled behind the one with the axe, revealing a room beyond.

Jared passed through the newly revealed door and swept his gaze over the racks of assault rifles, hand guns, knives, and grenades. Everything he could possibly need to take out a dozen trained military men, let alone one hacker. One way or another, he planned to make the fucker who’d hacked his system pay.

Chapter Four

    Leaving Raul to continue working on the possibility of who else might be involved, Jared tossed his weapons into his friend’s Jeep. He wanted the possibility of four-wheel drive…just in case. He fired up the vehicle, clipped his phone onto the holder in the dash, and headed toward the cabin.

Jared certainly didn’t want his prey to hear him coming. To that end, he parked the Jeep on the side of a logging road. He strapped his miscellaneous weapons to his belt, shoved his Glock into the holster on his thigh, and swung his sniper rifle over his shoulder. Heading into the forest, he began to jog slowly.

Following the directions on his hand-held GPS, Jared swiftly trekked toward his destination. He glanced at the device every few yards, keeping himself on track. Once he was within five hundred feet, he slowed to a stop.

Jared carefully surveyed the area, then headed at an angle up a ridge. Finding a break in the trees, he paused and peered into the shallow valley. He immediately spotted the small structure.

To Jared it appeared to be a standard hunting cabin. Judging from the size, it was probably either a large studio style or a small one bedroom. Between the split-wood-filled lean-to a couple of yards from the structure as well as the brick chimney, Jared guessed the fireplace was the only heat source. He’d be surprised if the place had running water.

Still, a thin wisp of smoke rose from the chimney, telling Jared that someone was either home or had been there recently. Swinging his scoped rifle from his back, he settled on the dirt and removed it from the case. He hugged the weapon to his shoulder and peered through the scope, taking advantage of the magnification to search for movement through the windows.

Nothing.

Rising from his position, Jared began to move around the building. He paused every few yards to check for movement behind the visible windows. They were dirty, but he could still see through them well enough. The trees and brush made it difficult as did the unfamiliar terrain.

Calling on years of dealing with unexpected problems, Jared remained calm and slowed his movements. He planned to kill whoever was inside…after they told him everything about stealing the picture. He wanted to know why, when, who, and if anyone else knew about him. First, he needed to confirm if it was just one person inside or if there were more.

To that end, Jared completed a full rotation. He hadn’t seen any sign of movement indoors, so he figured whoever it was had to be out. Finding a vantage point, he settled in to wait.

    Jared had watched the sun cross the sky until it neared the western horizon. At one point, he’d received a text from Raul to check in. He’d responded that he’d found the place and had it under reconnaissance. After that, there was only the sounds of the forest and his own thoughts to keep him company. Jared wasn’t certain how he’d explain doing this alone to Carson, but he could admit to himself, at least, that he was having a lot of fun.

It’d been too long since he’d done something just for himself.

Finally, Jared heard a new sound. The rumble of an engine drowned out the chitter of forest critters and cheep of birds. He narrowed his eyes as he peered through the trees…waiting. Anticipation thrummed through him, heating his veins.

Jared watched an old Ford pick-up with more rust than brown paint roll into view. The driver’s side window had a piece of duct tape bisecting it vertically, he guessed to seal a crack. Unfortunately, that made it next to impossible to make out the features of the driver.

When the door opened, Jared watched a tall, muscular male exit. His face was turned away and he wore a green ball cap over his short, dark hair. He shoved his hand into the pocket of the bulky gray sweatshirt he wore over the loose-fitting, faded blue jeans. The man pulled out a navy blue duffel bag, then limped slowly toward the front porch. All the while, he seemed to be focused on something in the opposite direction of where Jared sat, so he couldn’t get a good look at the man’s face.

Still, Jared rose from where he crouched and lifted his hands over his head and carefully propped his rifle across two branches. He knew few people looked up when they were searching for things. His weapon would be secure there and wouldn’t hinder him while creeping in close.

Jared eased down the hill. He slinked between the trees, once more watching for movement through the windows. This time, Jared noted there was some. When he finally drew close enough to truly see inside through the dirty window, he watched the big male limp to a small table and sit down. Jared spotted the laptop for just an instant before the man’s body hid it.

Good enough.

Now I just need to get in there and incapacitate the man.

Jared reviewed his mental schematic of the building, created in his mind when circling it earlier. He peeked in the window again, taking in the lay of the cabin. For the most part, it was one large open space with a small table and chairs and a full-sized bed off to one side. A small sofa faced the fireplace. There was indeed a faucet at the kitchen sink, making it appear to have running water. One door marred the seam of the wall on the left side, and from the position, Jared knew it was to the bathroom. The door was also behind the seated male.

I can work with that.

Rounding the building on stealthy feet, Jared paused and studied the bathroom window. It was situated high on the wall but didn’t have the traditional cloudy glass. Perhaps that was because it was an old hunting cabin and the builder didn’t think it was needed. Jared didn’t much care, since it allowed him to peer into the bathroom.

As far as ancient plumbing went, Jared thought it was surprisingly clean. He spotted the edge of a cast-iron, claw-footed tub that had to have been a bitch to get in there. The sink appeared to be a metal bowl embedded on top of a wooden barrel. Faucets were drilled into the wood, once more attesting to the cabin having running water. The toilet was just a standard porcelain john that used to be white, but now looked a little on the yellowish side…not from dirt, but from age.

Jared confirmed the emptiness of the small space, then focused on the window frame and lock. He ran his fingers over the wood, checking to see just how warped it was…from either age or moisture. Surprisingly, it didn’t seem too bad. Even better, the lock was a simple, old-style slide latch.

Pulling out the knife sheathed at his calf, Jared wedged it between the sill and the frame. He created the most narrow of gaps. It was just enough to slide a wire through. With careful, measured movements, he used the curved wire to slide the latch and unlock the window.

Seconds later, Jared had his supplies put away and the window open.

Jared placed his palms on the sill, then heaved himself up and through the window. Twisting his torso, he settled his right ass cheek on the sill, then moved his hands to either side to brace himself. With a crunch of his abs and careful twist of his body, he had his legs inside the small bathroom.

Moving his hands back to the windowsill, Jared eased his feet to the floor. He found his footing, removed his hands, then paused and listened. The sound of typing reached him through the door. Evidently, his hacker was working hard.

Slipping out from between the toilet and the barrel sink, Jared left the window open. He never knew when he’d need to make a hasty exit. The bathroom window worked well enough for his needs. Hell, he was only going up against one human. Even if he was armed, Jared knew he could take him.

Jared pulled his Glock and pressed his back to the wall beside the door. He reached for the doorknob with his free hand and slowly turned it. Easing the door open just a crack, he peered into the main room.

His hacker still sat at the table, hunched over the keyboard.

Slowly pulling the door open wider, Jared slipped through. He stalked silently across the floor. As he holstered his firearm with his right hand, he used his left hand to pull his knife. He held the twelve inch blade close to his leg, the blade seemingly an extension of his arm.

Jared took the last couple of steps to reach the stranger. He swept his right hand around his head, knocking the hat off so he could grip the man’s hair and yanked his head back. At the same time, he brought the blade around and pressed it to the man’s neck.

Staring down at the hacker, shock flooded Jared’s system. The hat clattered to the floor, causing long, dark hair to tumble over Jared’s fingers and down around the man’s shoulders. The man’s dark eyes gleamed as he stared up at Jared.

Carson!

Chapter Five

    “What the fuck are you doing here, Carson?” Jared snapped, yanking his blade away from his lover’s neck. He lifted his left leg and slid his knife back into the sheath, but he didn’t release the wolf shifter’s hair. Keeping his hold on Carson’s locks, he scowled as he took in his man’s expression. Something clicked in his mind. “You set this whole thing up, didn’t you?”

Carson grinned up at Jared, showing off straight, white teeth. His Native American features appeared smug, unrepentant. The sparkle in his eyes confirmed Jared’s accusation without words.

In a swift movement, Carson swept his right hand across the table, knocking the laptop to the floor. He reached up with his left hand and grabbed the shoulder of Jared’s jacket. He rose from his chair, bending at the waist, and pulled on Jared…hard.

Jared lost his balance. His back slammed into the table, knocking the wind out of him, even before he realized he’d flown through the air. He found himself staring up at the ceiling. Noticing how clean it was told him his level of disorientation.

Blinking, Jared sucked in a lungful of air, then a second one before his breathing evened out. He tipped his head back a bit and looked at Carson. His lover winked at him and Jared appreciated the feral gleam in his brown eyes.

Still clutching a few strands of Carson’s hair, Jared grinned up at his man. He became aware of how hard his dick throbbed in his black cargo pants. Maybe it made him fucked in the head, but having his lover toss him around was so fucking sexy.

“Grenades, Jared?” Carson rumbled, glancing toward Jared’s belt. “Really?”

His grin widening, Jared responded. “You know me, Injun. I’m a fucking boy scout.”

Listening to Carson’s scoff, Jared released the hair he’d pulled from his lover’s scalp. He took advantage of his man’s few seconds of distraction, crunched his abs, then bucked his body. He arched his back and leaped to his feet, spinning in a crouch as he moved so he faced the bigger male. Without pausing, he leaped at Carson.

Spreading his arms wide, Jared slammed his shoulder into Carson’s torso. He grabbed his wolf’s upper arms and used his body’s momentum to swing his legs to the right of the man. Listening to Carson grunt and feeling his shifter’s big hands scrabble at his back, Jared took advantage of his lover’s surprise to wrench the man sideways. Jared’s own feet hit the ground just in time to cause Carson to trip over one of them. With his grip still on the man, Jared kept his lover’s fall a controlled one, forcing him to land on his stomach.

Jared followed Carson down, settling his ass on the other man’s lower thighs. With his legs bracketing his lover’s, he shoved Carson’s shirt up with one hand as he grabbed his knife with the other. Pressing the tip to the blade of his spine, he slid the knife under the shifter’s pants. With a quick flick of his wrist and jerk of his arm, he sliced Carson’s jeans from waist to balls.

“Careful with that thing,” Carson growled, glaring over his shoulder at him.

Smiling smugly, Jared slid the flat of the blade along Carson’s ass cheek. He held his lover’s gaze as he flipped open one side of the ruined jeans, then the other. “Don’t worry, Injun,” he crooned. “I’d never harm one of my favorite parts of you.” As he spoke, he grabbed Carson’s hair in a tight hold with his free hand, pulling his lover’s head back, making his body arch. He tossed his knife aside, reached into another pocket, and pulled out a single use tube of lube.

Carson scoffed, peering at him out of the corner of his eye. “Glad to know,” he responded. Then, his voice lowered to a growl as he snarled, “You carry lube on a mission such as this?”

Jared lifted his gaze from where he poured the lube on his lover’s ass. Spotting the feral jealousy of Carson’s wolf peering back at him, he leaned over his mate. He stared into his man’s eyes as he tossed the now empty packet aside and worked open the fly of his own slacks.

“After so many years bonded with you, my Injun,” Jared told him hotly. “It’s habit to always have lube with me.” He winked. “We can’t seem to keep our hands off of each other.” Leaning even closer, he whispered into his man’s ear, “And I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

As Jared spoke, he placed his middle finger on Carson’s hole and pushed. He sank his digit deep into his lover’s channel. After years of practice, he had no trouble finding Carson’s prostate. Rubbing lightly over the gland, he reveled in the way his man grunted and instinctively pushed against him.

“Now,” Jared continued. “Why did you set this up? Hmm?”

Opening his mouth, Jared licked his way around Carson’s earlobe before pulling it into his mouth. He sucked on the flesh lightly as he added a second finger and pressed against his lover’s gland again. Knowing Carson loved it, he nibbled lightly on the lobe in his mouth.

Jared knew exactly how to work his lover up. They’d had years to learn every inch of each other’s bodies. When they’d first gotten together, Jared straddling Carson, holding him down, essentially mounting the larger man, would have triggered his shifter’s wolf to turn the tables and prove he was the alpha of the pair. Fortunately, Jared had come to show his lover the pleasures of submitting to him.

“Tell me, Carson,” Jared demanded when he still received no reply. “Why did you set this up? How many were in on it?”

Carson took a deep breath, his chest expanding and contracting beneath Jared. Then, he turned his head just enough to look him in the eye. “Because you needed it…and everyone. Everyone I needed to set it up,” he told him. “You needed to feel challenged, to focus on something other than pack problems, to remember your past and where you came from.” His grim smile somehow held warmth and love. “You are my mate. I love you and I will give you what you need, just as you give me and my wolf what we need by allowing us to run with our pack.”

Jared’s heart felt as if it skipped a beat in his chest. Swallowing hard, he jerked a nod. They didn’t express their feelings vocally often, and while Carson’s actions never allowed Jared to question his partner’s devotion, hearing that he was loved never ceased to heat his blood. Jared lowered his head and pressed a chaste kiss to Carson’s lips once, twice.

“I do love you, too, Carson,” Jared whispered hotly. His voice lowered to a rumble, “My mate.” As he said those last two words, he began fucking Carson’s channel with his fingers. “I’m going to claim you, Injun. I’m going to fill you up with my seed and bite your neck, just as you do me.”

Carson gave a whole body shudder beneath him. “Fuck, yeah,” he snarled. “Do it. Take what you need.”

Jared didn’t need to be told twice. He pulled his fingers free and jacked his dick, spreading the remaining lube on his erection. His cock jerked in his grip and his balls tingled. Glancing down, Jared pressed the head of his shaft to his lover’s stretched hole.

Pushing firmly, Jared popped his dick’s head past Carson’s guardian muscle. Tight, hot muscles clamped onto him, making him growl. He began rocking his hips, sinking deeper and deeper into his lover’s body with each thrust. Using the hold he had on his lover’s hair, he tilted Carson’s head so their eyes met. He rested some of his weight on his other arm where he’d positioned it under his shifter’s armpit.

“You do fulfil my needs, Carson,” Jared assured him right before he claimed his lover’s mouth. “I will never get enough of you.”

Jared thrust his tongue deep just as his prick bottomed out. For a moment, he stilled his hips, enjoying the ripple of scorching muscles around his dick. Plundering Carson’s mouth, he swept his tongue around his lover’s mouth. He loved his man’s taste, so masculine and wild.

Breaking the kiss, Jared pulled out only to slam back into his man. He rutted swiftly, repeatedly, sinking into his man over and over. Listening to the grunts and hisses of his lover, Jared adjusted his thrusting angle. It only took two slides to urge a roar of pleasure from Carson’s throat.

“God, that’s a fucking sexy sound,” Jared snarled, picking up his pace.

Jared made certain he nailed Carson’s prostate on every thrust. He tucked his face against his man’s neck, opened his mouth, and clamped his teeth around his shifter’s neck. As he promised, he bit.

The mild taste of iron filled Jared’s mouth, telling him he’d broken skin, and Carson howled. He shuddered beneath him. The scent of Carson’s spent seed filled the air as his lover’s channel clamped onto his shaft.

Grunting at the squeeze to his erection, Jared moaned around the flesh in his mouth. His balls drew tight as his orgasm bowled through him. Easing his hold on Carson’s shoulder, Jared pressed his forehead to his lover’s nape and let out a long, low groan. Bliss pinged through his system as he felt his cock twitch and throb with every pulse of his release.

Jared smiled and pressed a kiss to the back of Carson’s neck. “Damn, Injun,” he commented as he released his grip on his lover’s hair. “You sure know how to get to me.” He massaged his man’s scalp, soothing what he knew must have been a near painful hold.

Carson chuckled roughly. “I aim to please, my mate.”

“You do that without even trying, Carson.”

“Good, then maybe we can do this again in the bed,” Carson stated. “Maybe after a meal. I brought food.”

Jared chuckled and eased away from Carson, sliding his softening prick from his man’s channel. He rocked to his feet and smirked down at his lover. His ruined jeans pooled oddly around his butt and hips and his bronze-skinned ass was smeared with lube and seed. Jared felt his cock twitch at the sexy sight.

“Maybe another round, then food later,” Jared growled. He gripped his already half-hard cock and stroked it as he watched Carson rise.

Carson reached his feet and immediately grabbed Jared’s hips. He heaved and tossed him, and Jared found himself once again flying through the air. This time, he landed sprawled on the bed. He watched, grinning, as Carson kicked out of his ruined pants and scooped up Jared’s discarded knife. Stalking toward Jared, Carson’s already rock hard cock tapped his t-shirt covered abs with each step.

“That’ll work,” Carson growled, brandishing the knife. “Right after I remove your clothes.”

As Carson grabbed Jared’s leg and proceeded to slice his clothes from his body, Jared was only too happy to submit to his wolf.

The End