Author Charlie Richards

Giving love and imagination free reign


The Photographer's Find

A tale set in Stone Ridge

    Coby Myers leaned against the counter. The film he needed was hanging on the wall behind it, but he didn’t mind waiting. It gave him time to study the young human showing his camera to Paul, the attendant behind the counter.

The blond human smelled absolutely delicious.

He also smelled upset.

As a wolf shifter, Coby’s sense of smell was far more acute than a human’s. He could tell when someone was lying, when they were happy, or even aroused. A shifter also recognized their fated mate by scent, and this human was Coby’s.

Coby did his best to ignore his hard cock and focused on the cute blond. He had an instinctual need to please his mate, the one person who was the other half of his soul. He eavesdropped on his conversation, wanting to figure out how to do just that.

“Are you sure you can’t fix it today?” the young man asked. “I can pay extra.”

“I’m really sorry, sir,” Paul answered. As a regular customer of the store, Coby knew the attendant’s apologetic look was sincere. “Unfortunately, it’s not about money. Our repair technician is already booked today. The earliest we could have this lens fixed would be Wednesday.”

“Damn.” The blond stared miserably at the camera on the counter. “I’d really hoped to be able to use it on the fourth.”

Sweeping his gaze over the damaged camera, Coby recognized it as an older Nikon. It appeared to have a cracked lens. Coby wondered why the human didn’t just replace the aging camera.

Coby watched the blond run his fingertips over the camera almost lovingly and realized it must have sentimental value. It would cost more to fix than to…wait. Leaning closer, he spotted a damaged seal, making the lens crooked and appear to be cracked.

“Excuse me,” Coby murmured, drawing both the human and Paul’s attention. “I couldn’t help but overhear.” Meeting his mate’s blue eyes, Coby hoped he could discover a way to ease the wariness in them. “I think I can help. I fix most of my own cameras, and this one has a damaged casing. I’m sure I have one that would fit at home…if you don’t mind taking a drive.” He shrugged as he offered a depreciative smile. “I don’t really have plans today. I could get it done.”

“Why, uh, why would you do that for me?”

Coby appreciated the young man’s bluntness, so he decided to express a little of his own. Leaning closer, he lowered his voice as he rumbled, “Because I think you’re damn sexy, and I want to learn more about you.” He offered his hand. “I’m Coby Myers.”

As if on autopilot, the human took Coby’s hand. His wide eyes had darkened to a storm cloud blue. His scent of shock mixed with his arousal perfumed the air.

Yum!

“I’m Richard Steele. Uh, Rick.”

Coby rubbed his thumb over the back of Rick’s hand, teasing what he knew was sensitive skin. “Very nice to meet you, Rick.” He grinned at his mate, knowing his eyes heated. “So, what do you say? Are you willing to take a leap of faith on a complete stranger who is very straightforward about what he wants?”

Rick’s tongue swept over his bottom lip, betraying his nerves. He glanced toward the store attendant, then at his camera, then down at their still-clasped hands. His Adam’s apple bobbed as he obviously struggled to make up his mind.

“Coby’s in here a lot,” Paul supplied, obviously trying to be helpful. “Buys a lot of film and I’ve seen some of his pictures. He’s a damn good photographer. Owns his own business.” He grinned widely as he added, “Plus, he’s hot. If I were gay, I’d totally do him.”

Coby barked out a laugh as he winked at Paul. “Sorry, man.” Holding up where he clasped Rick’s hand. “I’m taken.”

Rick’s face turned an appealing shade of pink. “Sure,” he finally responded. “I suppose. Uh, where do you live?”

“Stone Ridge. I came to Colin City for a specific type of film,” Coby explained, seeing Rick’s surprised expression. Coby pointed at what he wanted. “Two rolls, Paul.”

Paul grabbed what Coby wanted, placing it on the counter.

“And some film for Rick’s camera,” Coby instructed, squeezing his mate’s hand once before finally releasing him. “I’m sure you’ll end up needing it after all.”

Rick appeared a little shell-shocked when Coby just took over, paying for both films while refusing the human’s money. “You can get the next film,” Coby told him as he pocketed his change. “Do you have a car? Will you follow me?”

Tucking his camera back into the case, Rick replied, “Y-Yeah, I have a car. I’ll, uh, follow you.”

“Excellent.” Coby picked up the plastic bag containing his goods and rested his other hand on Rick’s lower back. He rubbed his thumb over Rick’s spine soothingly as he guided him toward the door. He called over his shoulder, “See you next time, Paul.”

Paul laughed. “Have a great fourth of July, guys!”

Coby grinned happily as he guided his mate outside. He spotted an older, green hatchback he didn’t recognize and pointed toward it. “Yours?”

“Yeah.”

Once they reached the vehicle, Coby slid his hand up Rick’s back to his nape. He noted the human’s flushed face and scented his uncertainty. Leaning down the couple inch difference between his own six foot height and Rick’s five foot ten, he pecked a kiss to his cheek.

“Nothing happens that you don’t want,” Coby promised. He followed that up by giving Rick a heated look, sweeping his gaze over his lean form appreciatively. “But that doesn’t mean I won’t try to change your mind.”

Coby backed away and headed to his own vehicle. “Just follow me.”


Chapter Two


Just follow me.

“God, why am I following this guy?”

Rick had no idea what had come over him. He’d never done anything so fool-hardy in his life. Hell, he’d never even had to come out. His family had just assumed. The first time his mother had pointed out a cute boy, Rick had just about fallen over in shock.

He’d listened to the horror stories about date rape at clubs, so never left his drink unattended. He’d received the talk about STDs, so always used a condom. He even told more than one friend where he was going and with whom when going on a date.

So why the hell am I following this absolute stranger? Especially when my family is out of town at a family reunion I couldn’t afford to go to and most of my friends are on a cruise…which I also couldn’t afford. I must be nuts!

Still, Rick didn’t turn around. There was just something about the handsome, dark-haired Coby that had him breaking every one of his rules. Plus, it’d be nice to get laid. It’d been way too long since he had a dick in his ass. Being careful definitely put a damper on his sex life, even if it did keep him safe.

Coby had been very upfront about wanting him, too.

Hadn’t he?

Or is he just taking me to a secluded location to beat the shit out of me?

Wait, he kissed me, though.

Grimacing, Rick shut down his thoughts, turned up the radio, and just drove. That, at least, helped him ignore his throbbing dick. Rick found Coby so very sexy, with his tousled, shoulder-length brown hair. The man had thickly muscled forearms with a coating of dark-brown hair he wanted to pet. When Coby had rubbed his calloused thumb over the back of Rick’s hand, goose bumps had erupted, making his arm’s hair stand on end and his dick twitch.

Rick couldn’t ever remember responding that way.

And that’s why I’m following him.

Walking away and never knowing, always thinking what if, wasn’t worth playing the safe game. Not in this. For once, Rick needed to know more than he needed to play it safe.


To Rick’s surprise—and relief—Coby did exactly as he’d promised. He drove into the town of Stone Ridge. He parked in a small area behind a storefront, which happened to be a gallery. Rick stopped his little hatchback next to the man’s older pick-up.

Rick eased out of his car, glancing around the area. There were trees and grass beyond the small stretch of asphalt. He could see houses in the distance.

“Rick?”

Turning to face Coby, Rick took in the way the large man’s t-shirt stretched over his upper arms. Coby had crossed his arms, accentuating the muscle, and Rick nearly swallowed his tongue. He so wanted to rub his hands over them.

Well, why not?

Rick crossed to Coby. He lifted his hands, hesitated just an instant, then rested them on the bigger man’s forearms. Rubbing his palms over his skin, Rick peered at him through his lashes.

“You invited me here for sex, right?”

Coby’s full lips curved into a wide smile. “Oh, yeah,” he rumbled, uncrossing his arms and reaching for him. Unlike Rick, he didn’t hesitate as he slipped his arms around him. Taking that last step to close the distance between them, Coby rubbed his palms over Rick’s back and pressed their chests together. “I do indeed have every intention of seducing you.” Offering a heated smile, he asked, “Do you want me to fix your camera before or after that happens?”

Going for broke, Rick admitted, “It’s been a while, and I’m hard as a rock.” He thrust his hips, searching for pressure on his cock. Feeling Coby’s answering hardness, he gasped. The dick behind the bigger man’s fly was…huge! “God, does this make me easy?”

“We’ll be easy together,” Coby growled, his brown eyes darkening with lust. “Grab your camera,” he ordered. Lowering one hand, he brought it around Rick’s body and cupped his groin, squeezing his shaft. “Then come in the house with me, so I can suck this hard cock I feel.”

Rick moaned. His body bucked instinctually, searching for more friction. Coby gave it to him, massaging him through his jeans. Shuddering, Rick twisted his fingers in his soon-to-be lover’s t-shirt, struggling to gain control of himself.

Coby wasn’t making it easy.

When Rick’s balls rolled in his sac, he hissed. Panting hard, he pressed his forehead against Coby’s thick pectoral. “Stop,” he whined. “Oh, my god. You need to stop.”

“Only for an instant,” Coby whispered into his ear huskily. “I’m going to take you inside my home, lay you on the nearest flat surface, and suck this beauty.”

Rick whined softly, shivering in Coby’s grip. “Yes, please.”

Nothing had ever sounded so fantastic.

Coby growled softly as he eased away from him. Rick groaned, his cock throbbing at the cease in stimulus. To Rick’s shock, the bigger man bent forward, wrapped his arms around him, and heaved him over his shoulder. Rick’s breath left him in a whoosh.

“We’ll get the camera later,” Coby growled.

Gaping, Rick watched the ground, then the stairs, streak under him. He didn’t know what amazed him more—that Coby had no trouble carrying him up the stairs, or that his cock leaked with each bounce against the man’s shoulder.

Shouldn’t I go soft at the treatment?

Instead, his blood zinged through his system.

Coby reached the top, shoved open his door, and carried him inside the building. Hearing a slam, Rick paid little attention to it, as next he found himself sprawled on a table. Coby stared down at him, a feral smile on his lips and lust darkening his eyes nearly to black. The man quickly opened Rick’s fly, releasing his prick.

Rick barely had time to gasp upon feeling the cool air caress his throbbing length. Seconds later, he expelled that same air in a deep moan when Coby swallowed his shaft nearly to the root. Roaring, Rick bucked against Coby’s hold as exquisite, wet heat and pressure surrounded his shaft.

His balls rolled as his orgasm threatened.

“C-Coby!”


Chapter Three


Coby moaned at the feel and taste of Rick’s shaft on his tongue. He hummed his pleasure, swallowing his mate’s pre-cum. Cupping his human’s balls, he rolled them gently, urging more of Rick’s heady cries from him.

Never could Coby have imagined a response like this. He reveled in it, lapping and teasing the sensitive skin of Rick’s cock and balls. Tickling the wrinkled skin beneath the cap, rubbing the pulsing vein running the length, and swiping his tongue over his swollen head, Coby edged his human ever closer to orgasm.

When Coby teased his fingertips behind Rick’s balls, his mate howled and shuddered. Coby found himself with a mouthful of creamy seed. Gulping down his mate’s fluid, he eased halfway off Rick’s shaft and readied for the next mouthful. Coby rolled the slightly bitter goodness around his tongue, enjoying his lover’s taste.

Coby moaned around his mouthful, his own cock twitching and throbbing. He moved the hand on Rick’s balls, so he could press his palm’s heel to the base of his shaft, but it was too late. Coby’s testicles rolled and tightened, and he did something he hadn’t done in over a century.

Grunting, Coby flooded the crotch of his jeans.

Sliding his hand under Rick’s t-shirt, Coby petted his human’s flat stomach and slender chest as he floated on heady waves of bliss. He just managed to remember to swallow when Rick filled his mouth with a couple more bursts of cum. When his lover stopped shooting, he eased his mouth from his dick, then wiped his mouth and chin with the back of his hand.

Humming, Coby licked his lips in pleasure. He peered up Rick’s body, knowing he should have taken things a little slower, but to have his mate come onto him like that…just damn. He’d lost any hope of control.

Continuing to rub Rick’s torso with one hand, Coby moved his other hand to his hip and gently massaged his flesh. Smugness flooded him upon seeing his human’s blissed out expression. Rick’s chest heaved, and his cheeks were a pleasing shade of pink.

“Gods, you are stunning,” Coby murmured roughly. His own cock actually twitched behind his fly, urging him to move the party to the bedroom for another round. “So beautiful in your passion.”

Damn. I didn’t soften a bit.

Except, Rick finally met his gaze with a shuttered expression. The scent of embarrassment filled the air, easing Coby’s need. Clearing his throat, Rick levered onto his elbows. He glanced around the room, his cheeks a deep pink.

“Uh, can’t believe I did that,” Rick mumbled. He finally met Coby’s gaze as he admitted, “I don’t normally do, uh, this.” He lifted one hand and waved it between them. “I’m normally a really careful guy. I should have worn a condom when you sucked me.”

Coby grinned widely. Immense pleasure filled him that the pull to mate affected his human so much. His words did bring up the reminder that he’d need to tell his lover that he was a paranormal, a wolf shifter.

One thing at a time.

“If it makes you feel any less embarrassed,” Coby began, willing to admit his own over-eagerness. “Sucking you, tasting you, watching you writhe in pleasure—” He paused as he gave his lover a heated look. “Got me off, too.”

Gaping, Rick’s eyes widened in obvious amazement.

“Y-You got off on sucking me?”

Grinning upon hearing his lover’s shock, Coby nodded unabashedly. “Oh, yes, Rick,” he crooned. “You taste damn delicious.”

Clearing his throat, Rick admitted, “Never had anyone swallow me before. Always played everything so safe.”

Coby realized damn quickly that Rick was way out of his comfort zone. As he slowly straightened, he massaged his fingertips through his lover’s groin hair. “I don’t have anything I could give you,” Coby assured softly. Realizing it could be something more, he asked, “Is there something I need to know about you?”

Rick’s eyes grew wide. “Oh, no! I don’t have anything!”

“Good,” Coby responded. Deciding to change the subject, he moved his grip to Rick’s waist. Gently, he eased him off the table. “Now that we’ve taken the edge off,” Coby commented, keeping his gaze focused on the task of hiding his sexy mate’s groin—too bad. “Go grab your camera. I’ll clean up. Then we can learn more about each other while I fix it.”

After doing up Rick’s jeans, Coby slid his hands up his sides, wrapping one around his waist to pull him close. With the other, he cupped his jaw. Lowering his head, Coby pressed a slow kiss to Rick’s lips, then put just enough distance between them to whisper, “We’ll talk. Get to know each other. Then, later, we’ll get to know each other even better.”


Chapter Four


Rick watched in awe as Coby carefully removed several pieces of his camera’s casing and lens. No man should look sexy wearing a pair of magnifying glasses, but the big man definitely pulled it off. It was also impressive how Coby worked and chatted at that same time… actually seeming to pay attention to Rick’s answers.

“I’m twenty-three and just started taking a photography class. I work at a grocery store to pay the bills and put every bit of savings I can toward more classes,” Rick explained from where he sat watching him work. “What about you? Do you earn a living as a photographer? How long have you been taking pictures?”

Coby paused in his work, glanced over at him, then began carefully reconstructing the lens with the new casing. “I own the gallery downstairs, so I guess that, technically, photography is my hobby,” he revealed slowly, then added, “But I make a lot off my pictures, too. I have a great instinct for sniffing out reclusive animals,” he told him, smirking. “And I’ve been taking pictures for—” He paused as he set the fixed camera down on the desk near Rick’s arm and the magnifying glasses nearby. “A long time,” he claimed, turning to face Rick. “You ready to give this a go?”

Rick picked up the camera, inspecting it. He held it up to his eye, peering through the lens. Seeing the crystal clear image of Coby’s smiling face, he couldn’t resist and snapped a picture.

“Wow,” Rick whispered, impressed. “How’d you do that?”

Shrugging, Coby told him, “I’ve been at this a long time. After dropping a couple cameras, I discovered I hated waiting on another’s timeframe to have them fixed. Plus, some of those older cameras take better pictures, in my opinion.” He leaned against the desk and grinned. “So, I learned to fix my own. Now I’m glad I did, because it brought you here.”

Fighting a blush, the heat in his cheeks telling him he failed, Rick smiled shyly at the older man. “Uh, thanks,” he mumbled. “I’m, uh, not really all that much.”

Coby chuckled softly, turning his chair to face him. Leaning forward, he grabbed Rick’s knees firmly. He used the hold to spread Rick’s thighs as he rolled their chairs together, until Rick’s legs bracketed his own. When Coby skimmed his hands up the top of his thighs, goose bumps erupted on his skin.

“I knew you were special the moment I saw you, Rick,” Coby claimed, his tone soft and sounding so damn sincere that Rick truly wished he could believe him. Coby moved one hand to his nape and urged him close. “And I’ll take plenty of time proving it to you.”

Coby pressed his lips against Rick’s own. He rubbed gently at first, the touch soft. Then Rick felt the older man nip at his bottom lip, sending a hint of pain through him. When he gasped, Coby swept his tongue into his mouth, taking advantage.

Rick grabbed Coby’s upper arms, hanging on as his new lover swept his tongue around his mouth. Following the gentle urgings of the bigger man’s fingers, Rick tilted his head. His blood ignited as Coby deepened the kiss, lapping at his tongue. His lover moved his hands to Rick’s waist, then heaved him onto his lap, all without breaking the kiss.

They didn’t make it to trying out the camera that evening, but Rick couldn’t say he minded one bit.

Hiking through the forest with Coby, even after two hours, Rick couldn’t believe how comfortable he felt with the man. His lover seemed to know every rock and tree, every bird and animal track. He pointed out unique spider webs to photograph and showed him techniques to capture the best lighting.

Rick wished he could spend every day like this with him. Unfortunately, the only reason he’d agreed to stay the night was because he had the day off due to the fourth of July. When they finally made it back to the parking area, Rick was covered in sweat and panted softly.

“Oh, god. Thanks,” Rick said, taking the bottle of water Coby handed to him. After downing half the liquid, he heaved a sigh. He wiped a hand over his sweaty forehead and grinned happily. “Wow. Thank you so much for taking me out here. Hot day or not, this has been fantastic. Such a beautiful area. I can see why you like living way out here.”

Coby’s lips curved in a half-smile. “Yeah?”

Nodding eagerly, Rick took another swig of water.

“This is definitely the place to be,” Coby confirmed, then straightened from where he leaned against his truck. “And I’ve worked up an appetite. Are you up for a barbeque?”

While his stomach rumbled at the idea, Rick hesitated. “A barbeque? Where?”

“My buddy’s place. His name is Declan McIntire. He and his husband, Lark, are putting on a fourth of July party.” Coby checked his watch. “And it’s probably in full swing.” When Rick continued to hesitate, Coby grinned and nudged his shoulder. “Come on, lover,” he cajoled. “There’ll be hamburgers, hot dogs, brats, with all the fixin’s.” He hummed, licking his lips. “My buddy, Cliff’s wife, her name is Lisa, she makes a mean banana cream custard dish, and Lark always makes the best apple pie.”

When Rick’s stomach rumbled again, he peered at Coby through his lashes. “You, uh, you want to introduce me to your friends?”

Coby grinned widely, pulling him into his arms. “Oh, yeah,” he confirmed, pecking a kiss to his lips. “Not only that, I look forward to showing you off, sexy Rick.” Reaching over, Coby opened the passenger door. “We’ll curl up on a blanket and watch the fireworks going off in the valley. You game?”

Still feeling shy—and a little overwhelmed—Rick nodded. “Okay.” That earned him another kiss from Coby—which he loved and wondered what he could do to earn more of them. After screwing the cap back onto his water bottle, he climbed into the vehicle.


Chapter Five


Coby knew his plan could backfire. Taking his newly found, completely unaware mate to a shifter barbeque could completely freak out his young lover. Still, he had permission from his alpha, Alpha Declan. He’d talked to him the prior evening after Rick had fallen asleep. He knew his pack mates would have his back.

Although, he knew he should give Rick some warning.

After pulling into Declan’s driveway, Coby slowed his truck to a crawl. Making his way along the gravel track, he reached over and took Rick’s hand. Squeezing lightly, he glanced at his mate, giving him a smile.

“I should warn you,” Coby began slowly. “You will see things here that may surprise you. May shock you.” Seeing the tree-lined driveway open up to the vast clearing before Alpha Declan’s large, lodge-style home, he swept his gaze over the dozen or so vehicles. Once he parked, he brought Rick’s hand to his mouth, pressing a kiss to the inside of his wrist. Coby held Rick’s gaze as he told him, “Always remember. You are not in any danger here amongst my friends. They are my family and will be happy I have found you.”

As soon as the words were out of Coby’s mouth, Rick’s brows furrowed. His shoulders tightened as his lips pinched together. “Uh, now I’m worried.” Rick mumbled the admission as his cheeks pinked. “Do you all engage in wild sex orgies at these barbeques or something?”

Barking a laugh, Coby immediately shook his head. He unbuckled both their seatbelts, then tugged Rick across the bench seat. Wrapping him in a tight hug, he captured his mouth and thrust in his tongue.

Coby had always enjoyed the intimacy of kissing, but something about kissing Rick just took it to a whole other level. It had his body primed in seconds. His libido urged him to restart his truck and take his mate home as swiftly as possible, so he could claim him properly. While Coby eagerly looked forward to more than the rubbing off that they’d done the evening before, he instead forced himself to ease the kiss to an end.

Grinning down at his once more pliant human, Coby shook his head. “No sex orgies,” he promised. “The only one I plan to have sex with for the rest of my life is you.”

“Wow.” Rick panted softly, his cheeks glowing. “That, uh, sounds serious. We just met.”

Continuing to grin, Coby pushed his door open. Keeping a hold on Rick, he slipped out and urged him to follow. Once his human stood on the ground beside him, he closed the door and pressed his lover back against the side of his truck’s bed.

Coby cradled Rick’s jaw in his palm and pressed another kiss to his human’s lips. Smiling down at him, he whispered, “There’s this belief amongst my family and friends. A belief about meeting our soul mate. We recognize them nearly immediately,” he continued, staring deeply into Rick’s wide blue eyes. “Then we do our best to woo and win that person, wanting only to please him and care for him.”

“Wow,” Rick whispered, staring at him in shock. “Are you talking about love at first sight?”

Knowing there was more, so much more, Coby shrugged. “Not so much love.” Keeping one arm around his mate, he urged Rick to walk, heading around the lodge. Coby’s sensitive shifter hearing easily made out the sounds of laughing adults, shouting parents, squealing children, and yipping wolf pups.

Ready or not…

“You see,” Coby rumbled, holding Rick close. “We don’t love right away, but we know it will be easy to fall in love with our soul mate, because we are made for each other.”

“I-I’ve never heard of anyone believing anything like that,” Rick slowly replied, sounding uncertain as he met his gaze. “Do a lot of people believe like that?”

Rounding the final corner of the lodge, Coby took in the dozens of men, women, and children milling about the massive clearing behind Declan’s home.

“Surprisingly,” Coby replied, waving a hand to indicate the masses. “More than you think.”

“Hey, Coby!” a deep, lightly Irish-accented voice called. “Ye made it!”

Turning, Coby watched his friend and fellow shifter Cliff MacDougal bound off the deck and stride toward them. A wide grin creased his tanned features, and his dark eyes gleamed with interest. He openly swept his gaze over Rick before returning to focus to Coby.

“This is my good friend, Cliff MacDougal,” Coby told Rick. As Cliff stopped and joined them, he added, “He’s a park ranger. When he stumbles across good photo spots, he makes a note and lets me know.”

“I heard ye may be bringing a new friend.” Cliff held out his hand to Rick. “Welcome.” After shaking Rick’s hand, Cliff pointed toward the deck. “The blonde waving and calling my name is my wife, Lisa.” He winked as he started away again. “Guess ye’re right on time. It’s time to eat. Come on.”

Appreciating Cliff’s friendly welcome, Coby urged Rick to follow him. Just as Rick took the first step, he peered to the right and froze. His jaw sagged open and his eyes widened. Shock rolled off his scent.

Coby followed his gaze, not surprised to see a naked teenager—maybe fourteen—yanking on a pair of sweats. Nearby, two more shifter pups tussled together in wolf form. Several more wolf pups darted in and out of the woods, playing a game of chase.

Wrapping his arms around Rick from behind, Coby whispered, “I told you that you’d see things that you’ve never seen before.”

Rick glanced at him, then at the wolf pups, then back at him. “Did that boy—? No!” he immediately answered himself. “That can’t be.”

“He did,” Coby countered. “And it is.” Deciding to go for blunt, he told his mate, “Many of the people here, men and women, share their spirit with an animal. Mostly wolves, but some other animals, too.”

Rick gaped at him for several long seconds that felt like an eternity. “Why are you—” He paused, his brows furrowing. “Why are you telling me this?”

Tracing the fingertips of his right forefinger over Rick’s jaw, Coby smiled at his mate, pouring every bit of sincerity as he could into the look. “Because you are my mate, Richard Steele,” he rumbled softly. “I told you when my people meet the other half of our soul, we know. Well, you’re it for me.”

Scoffing softly, Rick shook his head. From his scent, Coby knew it wasn’t in rejection, but in disbelief…maybe even a little wonder. “You really believe that.”

It wasn’t a question, but Coby nodded anyway. “I do.”

“How do you expect me to respond?”

Coby pressed a soft kiss to Rick’s parted lips. “I’m hoping that you will consider the last twenty-four hours. You’ll remember my actions, trying to please you in both pleasure and fixing your camera.” He paused, searching for the right words. Finally, he continued, “I hope you enjoyed chatting with me, having me hold you, just as much as I enjoyed those things.” Not certain if he was getting through to his mate, he added, “Will you give me a chance to explain everything?”

After another long moment, to Coby’s eternal relief, Rick nodded. A shy smile curved his lips as he peered at him through his lashes. “Considering all those things, more than a chance, I’d say.” Pressing a kiss to Coby’s lips, he whispered, “I’ll take that leap of faith with you.”

To Coby, nothing had ever sounded so good.