The Pride of Savage Valley, Colorado 2

Taste of Pride
When travel writer Marta Verner’s publisher folds, leaving her
stranded in Savage Valley, Colorado, she takes a job as a waitress
at Savage Hunger, the local diner. As soon as they meet her, diner
co-owners and mountain lion-shifters Sam and Phil Pope know
they’ve found their mate.

However, the curse that gives them their shifting powers prohibits
Sam and Phil from mating her right away. They must convince
their estranged younger brother Mel to mate her, too. Sam finds a
loophole that allows them to mate Marta without Mel—a loophole
that involves selling their diner to corporate giant NormCorp and
jeopardizing the future of the Savage Valley pride.

When Sam and Phil discover that Marta has fallen for Mel, too,
they must reverse their decision to sell the diner and mate her at
once. Will her love be enough to reunite the broken Pope family
before it’s too late?

Genre: Ménage a Trois/Quatre, Paranormal, Shape-shifter
Length: 48,107 words

TASTE OF PRIDE

The Pride of Savage Valley, Colorado 2

Helena Ray

MENAGE EVERLASTING

Siren Publishing, Inc.
www.SirenPublishing.com

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although Marta didn’t quite understand how it worked. “It’s already made a great story for both of us. Colorado. Get used to it. She had met two handsome locals and was engaged to be legally married to one of them. Marta watched the scenery flash by as Chelsea turned onto Treaty Lane from Kwitakusix Cove. Chels. “Maybe this will make a great story someday. TASTE OF PRIDE The Pride of Savage Valley. and you know it.” Chelsea was right about her stay in Savage Valley making a great story. But her best friend glowed day and night now. cross your heart and hope to die?” Marta Verner watched her best friend Chelsea’s bright-red hair bounce as she laughed.” Chelsea said with a laugh. . and that was all that mattered to her. She looked happier and more relaxed than Marta had ever seen her.” Marta took a deep breath and attempted a smile at her friend. which boded well for her own stay here in Savage Valley. “If you say so. where Marta’s tiny new apartment was located.” “Oh. hush. You’re going to be here for a long time. Colorado 2 HELENA RAY Copyright © 2011 Chapter 1 “You swear it’s not too terrible here? Like. The three of them were living in a ménage relationship.

Now. but after this recent letdown. and their positions had switched since then. and Chelsea cheerily hopped from the cab of the truck. Marta watched as they passed a small beauty salon. Chelsea was willing to arrange for Marta to stay in Savage Valley while she figured out exactly how she’d make it home to Memphis. a gas station with a tiny grocery store attached. and she embraced an older woman wearing a black-and-orange uniform. Chelsea turned the truck right onto Main Street.Taste of Pride 9 And as for Marta’s own trip to the Valley. her stomach grumbled. Several townspeople waved to her. Look how well that turned out. Marta’s spirits were certainly downtrodden. Since her mother moved to Florida with her stepfather and Chelsea moved to Colorado. What had started as an idyllic journey quickly turned to a nightmare when Marta’s publisher folded and left her stranded in Colorado. She looked up at the neon sign advertising Savage Hunger. she had been here only about two months ago with Chelsea. Funny. it hadn’t been quite as magical as Chelsea’s. Stupid. . Marta was stranded. Marta was the one reticent in the passenger’s seat. Luckily. She had even broken the lease on her apartment when she started her latest book. and despite her sullen mood. They pulled into the parking lot next to the row of shops. She had originally dragged her friend here to accompany her on an assignment but left quickly to start a dream job writing a book about northwestern Colorado. Chelsea had intimated that she could use her new small-town connections to secure Marta a job. and they headed into the town center. Marta hurried after Chelsea as she burst through the glass doors to the diner. Not that Memphis really was home anymore. Savage Valley’s local diner. nothing was left for her there. and a slightly dilapidated row of local shops—all the trappings of small-town America. hesitating to enter the diner. jobless and homeless. Marta sighed and hauled open her door. Now.

Not likely. You’ll see that.” Chelsea giggled and closed the menu in front of her. you know. “How so? It doesn’t seem that strange to me. “And everyone’s treated like royalty here. accompanied by a nervousness Marta didn’t quite understand. she thought to herself.” Chelsea’s blush deepened at the mention of her fiancés. “You certainly get the royal treatment. Marta hugged the woman back enthusiastically. honey.” Marta observed as they settled into their places at the booth.” the waitress said with a friendly wink. Hell. I think?” “That’s right.10 Helena Ray “Oh.” Her words came out in a rush. this is Marta. sug. Chelsea’s cheeks flushed. “Well. well. I am mate—” Chelsea cleared her throat before continuing. “Well. I’ve just…been…” “No need to explain. she would have done the same thing if she had found two mouthwateringly delectable specimens like Chelsea’s men for herself. . “Savage Valley isn’t like other towns. you know. and Marta knew exactly what she’d been doing for the past few weeks. “She seems to treat you like you own the town. Chelsea. You’ll come to see that. “Now who’s your friend here?” “Oh! Rita. well…” Chelsea suddenly seemed to become very interested in the menu again.” The journalist in Marta begged for release.” Rita said as she gathered Marta into her arms. You two met when I first came to the Valley. how you been? We haven’t seen you around as much since.” The bells on the door jangled beside Marta. It’s. um. “I’m engaged to the mayor and one of the town councilmen. my best friend. honey! One look at Oliver and Roarke tells your whole story. always appreciative of the multitudinous shows of affection in small towns. “How could I forget?” Rita motioned to a round booth beside the glass doors to the diner and retrieved menus for both of them.

” Marta stared at her friend.” he said before turning to Marta. Chelsea.” “Shh!” Chelsea gesticulated wildly in an apparent attempt to silence Marta.Taste of Pride 11 and an older woman walked in holding hands with two men. um. “But seriously. How does the town react to the relationships? I read an article about a town that practices ménageamy in Texas. One of them kissed her on the cheek as another attempted a thwarted grab at her ass. a reaction entirely inconsistent with her twenty-six years. “What in the hell are you talking about?” “Well. but I didn’t think the practice was so widespread. aside from the proliferation of ménages there seems to be in this town. couldn’t speak. “What? You’ve never read any? I would assume that with your newly open attitude toward sex. Never before had she seen so handsome a man. what do you mean by ‘work?’” “I’m not talking about in the bedroom. “Well.” Marta said with a laugh. He didn’t say anything for a moment. you see…” Chelsea began.” “Okay. “Hey. “Well. Marta didn’t hear anything her friend said. and his watery blue eyes locked on to Marta’s. An extremely tall man emerged from the hallway behind the counter at Savage Hunger and made his way to their table. “Let’s just say there are certain…qualities of Savage Valley that make ménage relationships particularly…advantageous.” “How do I put this?” Chelsea’s brow furrowed in concentration. She couldn’t move for a moment.” Chelsea’s voice was only a squeak. “I think I’ve read enough erotica to know how that works out. Chels. and Marta couldn’t help but dissolve into giggles with her best friend. let alone seen one this close . your curiosity might finally get the better of you. maybe a little. How does that work anyway?” Chelsea’s blushes could never stay away for too long.

He squatted next to them so that they made eye contact and continued to hold her hand. It’s so nice to meet you. “You haven’t?” Chelsea looked back and forth between the two of them. “I would have thought you met a few weeks ago.” Sam straightened then lowered his substantial height to the rounded bench beside Marta and scooted closer to her. I don’t believe I’ve met your friend. Were they doing this right now? The feeling of his closeness excited her. well. “Right. He turned his head to the side.” Her words came out in a hurry. then laughed and smiled back at Chelsea.” Oh. Chelsea. “So. and she found herself extending her hand up to him. and she felt her insides heat. this is—” “Marta. releasing her hand. and the warmth of his long fingers stroking her palm had her melting.12 Helena Ray to her and who was apparently on a first-name basis with her best friend. A strand of previously slicked-back blond hair fell across his eyes. and suddenly the Adonis in front of Marta stood again. shit. “Why. For Oliver and Roarke’s girl. Oh. breaking the spell he held over her. I’m Marta. just as sexy as the rest of him. . I’ll definitely give her an interview. He took it. his voice was deep and sultry. the expression lighting up his face. but she kept her distance. Sam. Best not to blow a job interview before it started. studying her. Oliver mentioned that you might have a new waitress for me. “Samuel Pope. and a stunning smile broke across his handsome features. “So glad the two of you seem to be getting along.” He continued smiling at her. His eyes fixed on her even as she sat there mute. “Marta’s in the market for a job.” she continued.” Chelsea said. unable to recall the purpose for her visit to the diner. Any chance you have an opening at Savage Hunger?” His gaze settled on Marta once again.

an angel of a woman showed up in his diner.” “We’ll see what?” Sam stopped and studied her for a moment. . “Right. and the beginning of her writing career. One glance at her résumé told him she was beyond qualified as a candidate. the slight grin on his lips growing into a full-blown smile. college.” “Hmm. Luckily. bringing back her confidence. intelligent woman wanted to work in his small-town diner. He had to force himself to focus on conducting the interview.” she mumbled. His only question was why such a gorgeous. though she was pretty sure she couldn’t be wearing any look besides one of complete fascination and attraction. “Let’s see…You worked at Corky’s in high school—any chance you could fly in some of their pulled pork?” His affection for the signature Memphis barbecue comforted her a little. yes. Chelsea poked her in the ribs and handed her a copy of the document.” **** How on earth did Sam get so lucky? Just when he’d had a terrible morning attempting to figure out the Savage Hunger books. She appeared to have waitressed her way through high school. “We’ll see plenty of things. um. oh. “Do you have a résumé?” “Résumé?” Marta couldn’t think while looking into his eyes. “That depends on whether or not I get the job. we’ll see.Taste of Pride 13 She tried school her features into a businesslike countenance. Sam raised an eyebrow and the corner of his lips kicked up in a smirk as he accepted her résumé. Oh.

“To tell the truth.” She appeared to attempt to pull herself together. “And since Chelsea lives here.” “Well.” Sam nodded. I thought it could work as a place to stay for a while. engrossed by her graceful movements and the quickening pulse beating against her wrist. and she let out a breath that appeared long held.” The hurt expression she wore clenched at his heart. “Someone like me?” “Oh. and the feel of her cool skin against his shook him to his core. needing her to be close to him. Marta. “I only want to know why someone who clearly has a great deal service industry of experience and what looks like a bright future as a writer would want to work as a waitress in a diner in rural Colorado. to hold her.” Sam glanced at her résumé once more.” He extended his hand. “Welcome to Savage Hunger. He felt a tingling underneath his fingernails. I was writing a book and my publisher folded. signaling his inner reaction to Marta’s presence. god. then. to see her. Never had he felt such a strong desire to be with a woman. and Sam continued the interview. Sam watched the gesture attentively. but Sam could detect sadness in her wide green eyes. Sam had never had trouble with women. “By someone like you I mean someone who’s done so much and could go anywhere she wants and…” Since when did he ramble like an idiot? Marta reached up and twirled a lock of her chocolate-brown hair around one manicured finger. but his decision had been made the instant he laid eyes on her. . A deep breath steadied him. Every inch of him burned for her. He wondered if this was what Oliver had spoken of when he first saw Chelsea. but he usually only felt lukewarm toward his conquests. I don’t mean…” Her frown deepened.14 Helena Ray “So why Savage Valley? Don’t get me wrong—you’re very qualified. I’m wondering why someone like you would want to stay here and work. no. and he rushed to explain.

and he got his first full look at her.” He chuckled at her effusive reaction to the job offer and stood. Her legs were long and shapely. She grabbed his hand again and shook it vigorously. She put her other hand in his. just the way he liked his women. He couldn’t help chuckling at her reaction. “Chelsea’s right. take a seat. “do you still want something to eat? We came here for that. Reluctantly. he could get lost in those beautiful green orbs. every inch wanting to touch her skin again.” Chelsea said from where she sat in the round booth reserved for the Cash family.” Marta still stood beside the booth. right?” Sam’s offer was rewarded by a beaming smile that lit up Marta’s eyes. “Right. You have no idea how much this means to me. you don’t have to—” “Nonsense. staring at Sam. Really. and he basked in the glow of her affection. God.Taste of Pride 15 “Really?” The glee in her eyes warmed his heart. Sam withdrew his hand from hers and nodded at Chelsea. where her green eyes sparkled beneath long brown bangs. He felt the stirring of his body’s response to her. and no time like the present.” The brown-haired beauty blushed. or his . “Thank you so much. The sight stopped his breath in his lungs.” “Oh. and her mouth formed an O. In fact. All he knew was he couldn’t let his body. his mind. She followed suit. all of her was rounded and womanly.” His voice was deeper than usual and held an edge of some emotion he couldn’t yet identify. too. to run a finger down the side of her face and trace lower. “Marta. and he had to remind himself to rake his eyes up to her face. And you thought you wanted her before. but Marta held her own in the height department. “Well. He never expected women to equal his six-foot-four stature. On the house. You should definitely stay for lunch. and we’ll get right to you. The swell of her breasts heaved. a smile crossing her lightly freckled face. You need to learn the menu.

I didn’t have time to look at the schedule this morning. Something about needing to take care of some business in Steamboat Springs for Oliver and Roarke. I’m used to you boys being little smart-asses. “Hold your horses a minute. I’d think you’d know better than I would. but today was turning out to be anything but normal. Hotshot. not to mention your chef. Although he appreciated Phil’s favor- doing tendencies.” Sam called before the waitress and de facto Queen Mother of Savage Valley disappeared back onto the floor. He needed to speak with his brother. “Damn it. “Anyway. but he knew the effort was futile. he’s your brother. hold on.” “Sorry. “Do you know when Phil’s gonna be in?” “Sweetie. Any word on when those steak and eggs will be ready?” Rita called as she leaned through the window separating the kitchen from the area behind the counter. Sam turned and made his way toward the kitchen. lady. Dave. He tried to assume the stature of a newly dubbed boss.” Normally.” Sam massaged his temples with his fingers. flipping a flank steak. they could sometimes make for a very tedious fraternal relationship. I don’t think he’s supposed to come in until tomorrow morning. As Marta gracefully glided back into her seat at the booth. Rita. excuse me. or this Marta situation could spiral out of control quickly. and Rita returned the expression with a smirk. “Table five’s bein’ real noisy. “Who orders steak and eggs for lunch.” Dave shouted then returned to muttering at the grill as he abused the unfortunate piece of meat.16 Helena Ray inner lion run. he pushed through the door to the kitchen and looked around. .” Sam quirked an eyebrow. Mr. After rounding the counter. at least not like this.” “Well. just a little stressed right now. Who was working? He only saw Dave leaned over the grill. “Oh.” Sam sighed in exasperation. Sam appreciated Rita’s maternal teasing. anyway?” “Rita.

If she worked at the diner. The methodical work steadied Sam. As they went over Marta’s training schedule. Rita had the menu open in front of her. . As he started to rearrange shifts in order to have someone available to train Marta.” Chelsea and Rita both retreated.” He turned and stepped through the door that led from the kitchen to his office at the back of the diner. the way her mouth opened as if to say something then closed when Rita began another diatribe. he had to restrain himself from scheduling her all day every day. Sam would see her plenty. The sight that greeted him squeezed at his heart. and Marta’s head shot up when he stood across from her. Against his better judgment. her dark hair tumbling down over her shoulders. and it took physical effort for Sam not to gaze at the cleavage revealed by the low neckline of her long-sleeved shirt. Marta had finished her sweet honey burger and was leaned over the table. As much as I appreciate Rita orienting you already. The way she leaned on the table pressed her breasts together. He crossed back to the table. “Take all you need. Sam brushed his knee against Marta’s. and after he finished. admiring the way Marta pushed her hair behind her ears as she read the menu. Marta smiled and said. “I’ve got the schedule for the next week. leaving the two of them together. the tension between them was palpable.Taste of Pride 17 “Thanks. Rita. and the two studied it together. the way a glance to Chelsea seemed to calm her. Was this what Oliver had told him about? The overwhelming sense of need that pushed out all rational thought? He grabbed the clipboard that held the master schedule for the next week. I’m in trouble. he took a few deep breaths and headed back out through the hallway behind the counter. do you mind if I take a few moments of your time to go over the schedule?” Without missing a beat. He closed the door behind him and leaned on it. Sam leaned against the wall and watched for a moment.

and ghosted a hand over Marta’s thigh. all his senses had sharpened to watch her. Unless the Shoshone curse was far more widespread than he believed. what happens then?” This time he was rewarded by her slight stutter and a flushing of her cheeks. “That’s right. turning them a dark pink color. He couldn’t imagine that her inner struggle could equal his. to claim her as his— No.” They said their good-byes. but otherwise showed no sign of any chagrin. Finally. We’ll make sure we have a uniform for you tomorrow. “As you can see. ostensibly to study the schedule. Damn it. Somehow. Yes. and Sam couldn’t help but study her every move. her tight ass wiggling from side to side as she strutted out the door. unless you’re taking over for someone else.” The flush had spread to Marta’s lips. because he couldn’t see resisting Marta for a second longer. he might as well go all the way. He cleared his throat and thankfully found his voice again. she and Chelsea took their leave. “I think that’s all for now. Marta.18 Helena Ray “And so if I work a double. she couldn’t have a beast inside her heart attempting to claw its way to the surface. her every breath. . keeping his hands and his legs to himself. Sam leaned forward. Marta cocked her head to the side as he sat up. I go home at ten?” She didn’t appear to react to his touch. Sam was in big. Something within Sam begged him to take her mouth with his. Sam reined in the puma begging for escape and sat up straight. Figuring that if he was going to hell. considering his circumstances. but Sam swore he felt her foot brush against his calf. He studied Marta’s face for any reaction. “W–Well. you’ll work both full shifts. big trouble.” He decided to see if he had indeed felt something and extended his leg underneath hers and wrapped it forward so their calves touched. but you’ll take an hour break in the afternoon instead.

Sam had a tendency to jump to conclusions. right?” “How can it not be a concern? The way I felt yesterday. He shrugged out of the coat and used it as a rag. but our situation is different. He wiped the sweat from his brow with his forearm. But you do realize that’s not a concern yet.” “I understand that completely.” Phil unbuttoned his chef coat as he emerged from the kitchen. each cell.” Phil shook his head at his brother. then don’t try.” Phil leaned on the counter across from his brother. I know she’s the one for me. I believe you. come on. If all the male siblings in a mountain lion-shifter family don’t mate the same woman—” “Their offspring will die before three years of age. Our situation can’t be the first of its kind in the history of the Valley. “Look.Taste of Pride 19 Chapter 2 “Sam.” “Right. unwilling to cover his face with the flour on his hands. Calm down. “Aren’t you forgetting something?” “What? What could I be forgetting? I called Oliver last night and talked about it. Just. and he confirmed everything we’ve learned since birth. I know. I can’t describe to you how it felt to see her.” Phil closed his eyes and took a deep breath before continuing his vain attempt to talk some sense into his hardheaded brother. man. I sat listening to Roarke’s attempts to describe the situation for hours on end after he met Chelsea. “I’m not sure. every part of me—” “If you can’t describe it. “But how do I know she’s the one for me?” .

And if Phil didn’t feel the same attraction to Marta. “Mel.” “Damn right. but it’s not always that way. We’re fucking screwed.20 Helena Ray Sam stared at him blankly. Phil knew Sam was upset. A mixture of anticipation and fear stirred in Phil’s stomach. Phil flicked his eyes down and saw Sam’s nails extending and curling into claws and the skin around his hands darkening. something neither ever enjoyed particularly. but partially shifting? That usually only accompanied extreme anger unless— “She’s coming.” “It’s true that siblings tend to share attraction to one mate. and we’re bound to our youngest brother.” “You and I both knew this day was coming. they had to cope with Mel.” “Damn it. and Phil couldn’t wait to see her. chances were that she really was their mate. But at the same time. Say it is.” “Fuck!” Sam shot off the stool and ran around the corner toward the hallway that led to his office. “Well. Clearly. too. why couldn’t Mom and the Dads have stopped after they had you?” Phil shrugged his shoulders.” Phil could do nothing but silently nod his head.” Sam roared.” “But say it is. and Phil could see the glint of his lengthening canines. . shit. “Well. Sam. as if never having contemplated that possibility. If Phil felt the same way as Sam. Sam would be the odd one out.” “Don’t talk to me like I’m an idiot. If Sam’s reaction to her was this visceral and immediate. they didn’t. screwed if Phil had the same reaction to Marta. “I know damn well that Mel has to mate her. disaster lurked around every corner.” Sam’s fully extended canines muffled his words. Phil. They were. he needed some cooling down time before seeing Marta again. we did. indeed.

” The unconventionally handsome man with a mop of blond hair sitting at the booth eyed the bowl of creamer Marta set on the table then looked up at her. He felt his pulse racing and his blood boiling as heat rushed to his face. Her dream of becoming a famous essayist was one of the very few things keeping her going. She woke up determined to take on her new life with vigor. her breasts pushed through her partially buttoned denim jacket. He looked through the opening in the front wall of the kitchen.” He spoke with cool apprehension.Taste of Pride 21 Phil mulled it over as he put his coat back on and returned to the kitchen to take the morning’s batch of honey almond muffins out of the oven. . The sight caused Phil’s cock to lengthen. curvy brunette with legs for days stood looking a bit confused in the early morning sun. She had moved into her apartment last night and firmly decided to make the best of this adventure. “I’ll be fine. he was proud of his skills as a baker. The sound of a knock on the glass door to the diner interrupted his reverie. A beautiful. thanks. “Sam! She’s here!” He used his last breath to shout then ducked out of her sight. but his demeanor couldn’t faze Marta this morning. **** “I take my coffee black. The fact that his famous honey almond muffins sold out each morning was a testament to his prowess. Now came the hard part. Shit. but she clung to it for dear life. Even though he hadn’t focused on pastries in culinary school. As she pressed her face closer to the door. Think of it as fodder for your future memoirs. and never before had a sight affected him so fully. pressing uncomfortably against the zipper of his pants.

. I keep forgetting what comes with polenta corncakes and what comes with whole wheat jalapeño rolls. and a slight blush stained his chiseled cheekbones. “I’ve handled drunken rednecks with grabby hands. It takes much more than a snitty attitude to faze me. sir. sensual lips. “he didn’t upset you. you can handle anything that’ll come your way here.” “Phil?” Marta had heard the name batted about. “Philip Pope. I think he does it just to mess with me. Marta had thought Sam was gorgeous. you haven’t even introduced yourself to your new employee. and Rita took off shouting into the kitchen. if you can handle Clayton. “I need to start the batter for—” “Not important!” Marta heard shuffling and the clanging of pots and pans followed by several muttered curses. “Now Marta.” Marta smiled at the woman who presided over the waitstaff at Savage Hunger.” Rita said as she deposited a few dollar bills in the cash register. though. don’t be silly. “That’s the chef. Rita. I want you to meet—” A body followed the elbow Rita held in her death grip. my. did he?” Marta shook her head. Phil looked down. Rita emerged through the swinging door to the kitchen grasping a disembodied elbow. and all sounds faded away.” “Well. Phil does like to change it up all the time.” She picked up the bowl and turned back toward the counter. “My. but she had never expected her luck to double like this. sug. He raised his head. but had never had felt quite comfortable enough to inquire after him until now. you rude little man. masculine planes except for his full. “I’ll still need your help with the menu. I don’t think you need much more of my training.” “You’ll learn soon enough.” “Wait a second.” a soft male voice called from the kitchen. She checked on a few other tables as she made her way down the aisle of booths. right?” “You haven’t met Phil yet?” Marta shook her head.” “Oh.22 Helena Ray “Sorry about that. His face was all flat.

and nodded. “Thanks. If what Chelsea had told Marta last night was . but she couldn’t help her reaction to him.” She pointed up at where the streak was settling into his brown locks. and he ran his hand through his hair again.” “Glad to be here.” he said quietly and then took her hand in his. leaving an identical white stripe on the other side. “You have flour in your hair. backing away and hitting the counter. leaving a white streak in his locks. Marta winked after her comment. lowered his head. “We’re glad to have you on the team.Taste of Pride 23 and blue eyes identical to Sam’s pinned her to the spot. she took a step closer to him. She laughed as she tangled her fingers in his hair and shook out the flour.” Rita said. The friendly gesture felt intimate. and gave him a questioning look. Marta felt a stirring in her upper thighs. and warmth spread from her pussy. “You’ve got a…” Marta gestured to her own hair in an attempt to alert Phil to the streak through his own hair. He smiled.” Boldly. “I’ll leave the two of you for a second. and the sparkle in his eyes told her the feeling was mutual. and Phil smiled wider at her. the corner of his eyes crinkling in a display of his habitual mirth. but he still towered over Marta. raining a dust of flour on Marta. “May I?” He stilled for a second. she kept her hand there. though. “Better?” Marta heard herself giggling and inwardly chastised herself for her schoolgirl behavior. lifted a hand. “Your hair. breaking contact with Phil and stepping away.” His cheeks stained with the same endearing soft blush of before. Gingerly. and Marta worried she had pushed too far. His lips spread into a smile as he ran a flour-covered hand through his slightly curled light brown hair. She coughed. “Excuse me?” He looked at her uncomprehendingly. They made eye contact again. His hair was soft in between her fingers. He wasn’t as tall as Sam. and even once she was sure any sign of flour had disappeared.

With Norman breathing down our necks. and then it’s steak. Marta was about to speak when the door to the kitchen flung open. you know. and an older man clad in an apron came storming out.” . just making coffee at various international offices. “I interned with Condé Nast after college.” Marta said in a rush. shit. She grasped for any threads of professionalism left within her. the whole town would get word of her flirtation with Phil in less than half an hour.” Marta shot him her best smirk. and then it’s eggs. “So.” Marta rested her shoulder against the wall. just wanted to get out of the path of any disgruntled employees. too. “Oh. “Your résumé. easing Marta’s embarrassment a bit. “Be sure of what?” Phil hesitated for a moment. I lived in Europe. and she shouldn’t be initiating any sort of flirtation with him. and—” “Good job today. Dave.” Dave gave Phil a dirty look as he rounded the corner that led to Sam’s office and the emergency exit. we really appreciate it.24 Helena Ray true. and Marta remembered who he was. but only a bit. the usual.” “Completely understandable. He was her boss. eager to get their conversation back on an appropriate track. “Sorry. The small corridor muffled some of the noise of the diner’s midmorning rush. shit. you used to live in Europe. but it was the time of my life. Marta wondered what exactly he had against steak and eggs. but Phil broke into her thoughts by taking her by the shoulder and directing her in the direction Dave had gone. gesticulating wildly with a white towel in his hand. just to be sure. “Steak and eggs! Everyone wants steak and eggs! Everywhere I look it’s steak.” Phil gave a kind smile. remember? I looked it over after Sam hired you. “Yes. Shit.” How did Phil know about her stint in Europe after college? The confusion must have shown on her face because Phil laughed and said. and Phil delighted her by mirroring her action.

We also worked at the Mövenpick Restaurant on Beethovenstrasse. Switzerland. so you worked there. Whatever her professional or personal relationship with Phil. She was about to blow her business relationship and her personal relationship with all her flip-flopping. now she had really done it.” “Me too! I didn’t work that far from Sprüngli. .” “Really? Where did you work?” “On Dreikönigstrasse. “I spent most of my time in Hungary.” “Not at all. After culinary school.” Marta rested her head against the wall and smiled up at Phil. we went on a trip to Europe—I was only there two weeks.Taste of Pride 25 “Where were you?” Phil seemed to respond to Marta’s newly businesslike manner and added. near—” “Bürkliplatz? God. the Czech Republic. “Okay. and—” “Switzerland? Where were you?” “Zurich. and his bright blue eyes sparkled with excitement. and it was always so tempting to go over and indulge. and sometimes we would take our lunch there. there’s the restaurants—” “The hotels—” “The ice cream shops—” “They’re everywhere!” they exclaimed in unison and then dissolved into laughter. Can you tell me what it is with all the Mövenpicks in Zurich?” “I don’t know. “If you don’t mind me asking. I fell in love with that city. I loved it there.” Damn it. of course.” Phil’s expression and stature relaxed. no big deal— but we studied chocolate making at the Confiserie Sprüngli. Knowing she would have some sort of intellectual company for the foreseeable future went a long way toward soothing her. mostly. Marta secretly rejoiced at having found a fellow Switzerland enthusiast in Savage Valley. I mean. “I love Zurich.

slightly embarrassed at the way her hairs stood on end in the wake of his touch.26 Helena Ray “Well.” She let a small smirk play at the corner of her lips. It’d probably be best for you to go back to work now. leaving a trail of frenzied nerve endings where his fingertips brushed over her skin. “No creamer this time. She returned to the man she now knew as Clayton Abbott. He stormed forward. he disappeared back into the diner. “Okay.” Confused by the sudden shift.” “What sort of confrontation?” Phil looked behind him toward the front of the diner then squeezed her shoulder. “Norman’s on his way. and rested a hand on her shoulder. opened his eyes. a . Marta took a breath to steady herself and then returned to the coffeepot awaiting her. but marred by a streak of concern furrowing his brow.” He let go of her shoulder but let his hand slide down her arm. Finally. She tried to turn away. “Don’t mind Sam.” Marta turned to find the speaker of the vulgar words and saw Sam slamming the door to his office. “I have to go away for a few days. Her skin seemed to burn through her uniform where he rested his hand. Maybe next week?” When she looked into his eyes. Marta swallowed the lump growing in her throat. but he still seemed preoccupied. his eyes darting only briefly in her direction as he approached Phil. He’s about to have a very difficult confrontation. but Phil kept his grip on her shoulder.” She mustered a smile in return. “I’ll tell you all about it later. next week.” Phil closed his eyes as Sam strode out onto the main floor of the diner. typical small- town-diner response when a hush fell over the diner.” Marta was in the process of formulating a clever. she thought she saw tenderness. fuck me up the ass. She watched his hand. The softness of his face was still there. “It’s hard to explain. The music. “But an hour and a half to get my coffee. He took a deep breath.

Taste of Pride 27 classic country tune she quite enjoyed. “Really. his muscles tensing like a predator about to attack. “It was a rhetorical question. “Calm down. though. “Ulysses. He straightened his suit jacket and began a slow circle around the front area of the diner. Pope. though. “Hi. “I know. sinister countenance. you know what my answer is. Would you like a table today?” The bald man dressed impeccably in a designer suit and shiny leather oxfords smiled at Rita. showing none of the sudden reticence of the diner’s patrons. Mr. stopped. Rita gingerly stepped toward him. Norman.” “Why. The intimidating presence of the man who had entered Savage Hunger trapped her words in her throat. and she turned around to protest. I could show that financially—” “Anything you want to say to me can be said in front of my patrons. Samuel. turning his otherwise unremarkable features into a twisted. but it faded quickly. What sort of a greeting is that?” “It’s a greeting given by a man who’s goddamned exasperated.” Something flashed over the corporate type’s features.” Sam narrowed his eyes. you didn’t even allow your lovely hostess to seat me. that’s what. revealing his shark teeth once more. The smile did not reach his eyes.” The bald man narrowed his eyes at Sam. Sam pushed past Rita. Mr. taking in the framed pictures and newspaper clippings that adorned . He used his body as a shield in front of the older woman and looked his visitor square in the eye.” Sam quirked one eyebrow. if you we could talk about this somewhere more private. robbed of her usual uppity demeanor. revealing a set of synthetically too- white teeth. “Samuel. and looked more like a primal display of aggression.” “Really?” The man smirked.” he admonished.

that?” . but if you want the real money—the luxury-chalet crowd—you’ll need to do some improvements. you wouldn’t have had your goons damn near kill my best friend’s fiancée in a fire. you’re hardly doing a good job. remained impervious to whatever slight Norman thought he was making. “Oh. Marta looked to the kitchen to see if any orders were up.” “Bullshit. “It’s funny that you claim to be a family business. “This place does have a certain rustic charm. Most would agree that bigamy hardly qualifies as a family value. No way in hell would we abandon these folks. Sam. No matter how much I disagree with the lifestyle your family has chosen to lead. “If you’re here to convince me that you have my best interests in mind. These people are our family. “Huh.” “Oh. and sharp whispers punctured the silence. Norman stopped in front of a faded snapshot showing two men with their arms around a young woman.28 Helena Ray the walls. but the kitchen staff appeared as enthralled with the interaction as everyone else.” Sam’s comment was met with several murmurs of appreciation from the patrons. but I am.” Sam crossed his arms and took a step toward Norman.” The blinding flash of white shone from between his thin lips again. his impressive height dwarfing his nemesis.” Norman’s statement clearly upset the diners.” Norman turned to face Sam. I have a great appreciation for what you’ve done with Savage Hunger. I would never bring my precious Jamie to an establishment such as this. My company only wishes to enhance the results of your work. “If you wished to enhance Savage Valley. Sam. And family takes care of each other.” “We don’t want any different crowd. however. Norman. The size of everyone’s hair indicated it was probably taken in the early 1980s.

“I hope that you will consider my offer on its own merits and not on hearsay regarding my company’s actions.” When the door to the glass door to Savage Hunger shut.” He raised a hand to his chest in what even Marta could tell was feigned offense. Mr. That’s all it takes. Norman. Only a few weeks earlier. the patrons burst into noisy chatter. that. Pope.” “He can whip you up something to go. “But Mr. The horror of the situation sank in. It took a few moments for the entire interaction to register in Marta’s brain. but a few words stuck out.” Sam took another step toward Norman. and the bald gentlemen turned toward the door. by the way—have been transferred to a different branch of NormCorp. “Rest assured that the men who perpetrated that despicable act— not on my command. I was hoping to sample some of Philip’s infamous flank steak with polenta corncakes.” “Please leave my restaurant. This was the man behind NormCorp. Oh. once more straightening his jacket. Pope. “There will come a day when the business that comes through here won’t be enough. something about Norman nearly killing someone in a fire. and NormCorp will be glad to take the diner off your hands. god. the business Chelsea had told her about.” “You didn’t fire the bastards?” “That action is pending the results of their criminal trial. Pope. Mr. an ordinance to prevent .” “And yours?” Sam’s words appeared to sting Norman.Taste of Pride 29 “Yeah.” he said. One call to my secretary. “My trial has little to do with this proposition.” He spit out the word like an arsenic-laced watermelon seed. visibly shaken by Sam’s remark. for he flinched at their utterance.

now she understood the tense resentment that settled on the diner when he entered and why Sam had been so upset about the offer to purchase the diner. two of his cronies set fire to the Woodland Den.30 Helena Ray Norman from developing a part of Savage Valley’s wilderness was gaining support from the town. Okay. Marta shared in the anger. This was personal now. With Chelsea and her handsome bosses the targets of the pretentious suit’s rage. . When it was about to pass. the lodge at the western edge of town. a tragedy that nearly took Chelsea’s life.

However.Taste of Pride 31 Chapter 3 “Seriously?” Marta examined the dollar bills and coins she had dumped onto her bed. She curled into the fetal position and stared at the pink glow cast on her wall by the single floor lamp that lit the space. save for the chair jammed against the makeshift kitchen counter and a tiny writing desk.” She took the bottle down from the cupboard and rummaged through the drawers for a corkscrew. a single bottle of cheap red wine. Leftovers from previous tenants filled the drawers. it had more to do with . Marta abandoned the bottle of wine and flung herself with great flourish onto her bed. She gave one final tug.” she muttered to herself as she worked to pull the cork out. That was the final straw. and the corkscrew dislodged itself from the can opener with a soft click. stood in a lonely cabinet. She counted the scant cash that made up her first two weeks’ tips once again and cursed when she came up with the same paltry figure. a housewarming present to herself. “There you are. “Hard times call for hard measures. the monotony of the job had started to feel confining. she knew that the diner wasn’t what was behind her ennui. She rose from her bed and crossed to her virtually empty kitchen. After initially loving the small-town feel of Savage Hunger. When she was completely honest with herself. After several tugs. the only piece of furniture in her one-room apartment. Everything had gone wrong for Marta that day. the damned thing wouldn’t budge. and the best Marta could find was a flimsy corkscrew attached to a can opener. No.

but there are—” Her words were cut short by what she saw. Sam and Phil had been friendly. She only saw him when he rushed in and out of the diner. it was the three men themselves. slammed her feet into slippers. quite flirtatious. always running out the door with an armful of papers. Two of them were around Marta’s height with dark hair. . They had to be brothers. had transformed into a ghost. but her fiancés kept her busy. and chiseled cheekbones. But that vision of new life coming to fruition seemed highly unlikely. Shouting outside Marta’s apartment interrupted her rumination. and she cursed to herself as she pulled herself out of bed. Chelsea had been an invaluable resource since Marta moved. bright blue eyes. even finding excuses to run away when she offered to reminisce about the wonders of Zurich. and she pulled her pillow over her head to block out the noise. and Marta’s extra shifts at the diner made ladies’ nights impossible. they closed off to her. Perhaps naively. attentive. Sure. Phil had limited his interactions with her to only the necessary barked orders from the kitchen. Sam. if not twins. Marta had imagined a new life for herself in Savage Valley that involved one—or maybe even both—of the Pope brothers. No. visiting her and showing her around. on the other hand. and tossed her hair in a messy ponytail. Her attempt at thwarting the sounds proved unsuccessful. Today was not the day to mess with her. outgoing. though. Three men stood in the empty lot next to her rickety fourplex surrounding what appeared to be some sort of large copper pot with a series of twisting tubes on top of it. “Excuse me. But quick as a railroad switch being pulled. On her first few days at Savage Hunger. and if Marta wasn’t mistaken. She pulled open the door and marched out onto Treaty Lane where it met with Kwitakusix Cove. It wasn’t the oddity of the sight that stopped her in her tracks.32 Helena Ray the owners of the diner than the diner itself.

“How are we supposed to salvage the parts if they keep breaking off?” the other shorter man said as he held out a hand and pulled his probable twin to his feet. and Marta backed toward her door. He was bent over the strange contraption that appeared straight out of a Victorian industrial fantasy. but we should introduce ourselves.” “After all. well. That certainly explained the copper pot. A whisky still. visible even in the pale purple of dusk. “Damn it. providing a striking contrast against ruddy cheeks. and shaggy jet-black hair hung around his face. “I don’t know.” “What’s your name. “Well. pretty lady?” Their leering comments overlapped each other. If she had thought he was impressive before. tight ass. He appeared the classic rebel. it’s only small-town hospitality. with “X X X” written in black marker.Taste of Pride 33 But the most impressive of the trio had to be the tallest. she now thought he could . gorgeous?” “You single. Marta was about to sneak back into her efficiency to see if she could continue to spy on them through the single window in her apartment. cursing to himself as he landed squarely on his ass. One of the shorter men jerked on a thin. She should have known. She laughed a bit to herself when she saw the white label on the bottle.” With a clang of metal. He went stumbling backward. guys. who do we have here?” It was only at the sound of his slurred voice that Marta noticed the brown glass bottle clutched in the other twin’s hand. copper tube that rose in spirals from the larger vessel. wondering what exactly she had gotten herself into. Cut it out. wearing a faded black leather jacket over a tight white T-shirt and dark-wash jeans that hugged what Marta immediately identified as a delectable. but the man who had just plummeted to the ground spotted her. the tallest of the three raised himself to his full height and turned toward Marta.

the Yeats boys.” “Why couldn’t I just go buy some at the Savage Convenience?” “You’d be hard pressed to find such a fine liquor. the taller man held out a hand and stopped his advance. We can’t just give it away. luscious lips. this is some very. “When you say product.” One of the brothers staggered toward them. How much are you guys selling it for?” “Well.” “That’s because you haven’t tried our stumphole. do you mean…moonshine?” She whispered the last word and darted her eyes toward the copper still. Without looking.” Despite the slightly shady circumstances. They’ve been drinking a bit too much of the product. nearly stopped Marta’s heart. Their ice-blue color was unlike anything Marta had seen. very high-quality whisky. She found herself suddenly unable to breathe as he walked toward her. Marta couldn’t help but indulge her curiosity.” Marta shrugged. she decided to play along. “What can I say? It’s my drink. a cross between an apologetic expression and a smirk across his classically attractive features. though.34 Helena Ray blow the socks off any of the perfectly coiffed models she had met in Europe. and he quirked one eyebrow. His smooth skin was peppered with dark stubble that framed full. “Don’t mind Ezra and Cleve. . I like it. His eyes.” “Then what keeps me from going to Steamboat Springs and getting a bottle of Woodford Reserve?” His eyebrow quirked again. gorgeous. “A woman who knows her bourbon. His expression turned fully into a smirk. “Maybe.” “Sweet or sour mash?” “Sour. “Why? Are you interested in purchasing some?” After a moment of hesitation. of course.

“Great marketing term there.” he mocked.” His long fingers stroked along her palm.” He acknowledged each as he spoke. “Allow me to introduce my inebriated companions. since when did she ever want someone so badly? He closed the distance between their bodies so that he stood less than a foot away. too. and she realized she didn’t care if he noticed her body’s visceral reaction to his nearness. His smell overwhelmed her as he took her hand in his. and he continued his pursuit. Mel closed his eyes and sighed deeply before opening them. God. “M–Marta. excuse me for using one of the several traditional names for the coveted beverage. and she had to suppress a shudder.” His full lips curved into a smug smile. Mel looked at her blankly for a moment.” The two brothers stumbled forward at the interjection. then I believe we’ll—” “Wait. “A bit fewer than three thousand people live in this town. “I knew I had found a fellow adventurer. spicy male musk. “Well. Cleve and Ezra Yeats.” He stepped closer to her. . M–Marta. and Marta crinkled her nose in response. Trust me. we notice new faces. “I’m interested.Taste of Pride 35 “Stumphole?” Marta couldn’t keep the incredulity from creeping into her voice. and she could smell an intoxicating woody. “I do so enjoy welcoming newcomers to Savage Valley. Her heartbeat raced. If you’re not interested. I’m Marta.” Her conversational companion mocked offense. She backed onto the small porch in front of her complex.” “Well. “I’m Mel.” “How do you know I’m a newcomer?” she challenged before realizing the answer was plain. and his eyes glinted with unmistakable mischief.” “And new other things.” Marta couldn’t let her sarcastic tone push him away.

“But the lady wants the ’shine now. . Something about the men in Savage Valley completely transformed her behavior around the opposite sex. do you?” he asked. really? You two finished a fifth?” “Hey. a rare occurrence. we’re quite delighted to meet you. Cleve released his grip on her and joined his brother in a near sprint up Treaty Lane toward the mountains. we can always make more.36 Helena Ray “Believe me. allowing his black locks to fall over his forehead and provide a sheer curtain for the brilliance of his eyes beneath. I must admit they’re always this uncouth. She caught on to the conspiratorial gesture. turning back to her. He shook his head.” Marta chuckled at the exasperation in Mel’s voice.” He caught her eye and gave a small nod. his eyes pinned her to where she stood.” Cleve said before stumbling a bit and breaking Marta’s contact with Mel. mischief glowing in his expression. but he turned away before she could confirm her suspicion. indicating only a few drops left in brown bottle. It swished. and for what seemed like an eternity. “Oh yes. A bizarre pang of longing pierced her gut as soon as his hand retracted. “A fifth. “I want some of the schlump…dump…what did you call it again?” “Stumphole!” Cleve and Ezra exclaimed in unison. His gaze found hers. She felt herself blush.” Cleve put an arm around her shoulder and held up his bottle. Unfortunately.” Mel gestured to Marta.” she started. “I apologize for their behavior. “Well. “So were you serious about wanting some white lightning?” Ezra’s question shattered the invisible force holding Marta and Mel. Cleve. “You never forget your first. She would have sworn she saw a faint pink tint to Mel’s cheeks.

at the intersection of Treaty Lane and Creek Road. hell no.” Mel’s eyes glowed even in the darkness of the warehouse. “You said you wanted to.” Ezra sat on a wooden barrel across from the one Marta perched on. They had walked to the northwest corner of Savage Valley. “This is a good batch. Marta registered a faint doughy taste before the effects of the liquor really hit her. “I don’t know how you can tell good rubbing alcohol from bad rubbing alcohol.” She swished the liquid in the bottle again. too.” Mel reminded her with a laugh in his voice. Damn. before she could register what had happened. Mel stood and crossed behind Marta. Only a few clerestory windows near the roof allowed the last embers of dusk’s glow to shine into the warehouse space. . “You can certainly talk the talk…” Oh.Taste of Pride 37 Mel laughed as he watched them run.” she muttered and brought the bottle to her lips. she already had a buzz. and she hadn’t even tasted Mel and the Yeatses’ concoction yet.” **** The fumes from the brown glass bottle she held in her hands burned her nostrils. “Looks like they’re not too worried about salvaging parts from the still. “Here goes nothing. She took a deep swig and. “You’ll never know if you just stare at. She felt his hair brush against her shoulder and then his hot breath on her neck as he spoke softly. No one would accuse Marta of chickening out on anything. “Why don’t you go ditch the bunny slippers and we’ll head on over to stumphole world headquarters. The burning crept down her throat and then her esophagus as the liquid fire branded itself into her insides. and were in the middle of a ramshackle industrial building. and Marta had to shake her head to clear it.” He turned back to Marta. felt a sizzling burn in her mouth.

” Mel lifted one eyebrow. pass the bottle. “The nose on this batch is particularly oaky. little lady. and their knees touched. but she held it over her head.” “Do I?” He leaned in closer to her. Cleve snatched the bottle from her hand and took a swig. and snaked her hand between them. . “Glad to see you could back up your claims. she rested her head on his chest. Emboldened by the alcohol. “What. this time prepared for the scorching trail down her esophagus. almost with a hint of a cigar box. He took a sip and let out a satisfied sigh.” “I told you bourbon’s my drink. “Gentlemen.38 Helena Ray She swayed a bit on her barrel. He stilled for a moment before relaxing and brushing a wayward strand of hair from her face. and she shook her head clear.” he said with a feigned Southern accent. tinted purple by the faint glow of twilight. “Hey. “Woo!” Marta shot the men her best smug smile at their disbelieving looks.” Mel grabbed for the bottle as she finished her drink. Cleve?” “Yes. Marta let out a giggle at his impression. out of his reach. and Mel wrapped his arms around her to hold her in place.” The two brothers burst into laughter as Mel took a seat on the barrel next to Marta. “Hey!” Mel laughed as Marta reached for the bottle. “Don’t you dare! This one’s mine.” Ezra said as he took the bottle from her hand. “Well. “You know what I mean. “This ain’t hardly bourbon. didn’t think a lady could hold her moonshine?” “That’s yet to be seen.” Her sense of victory was short-lived. bobbling a little on her barrel. I think our novice has just imbibed her first sip of the ’shine. “You little minx. Marta looked into his eyes. I mean that…” She snatched the bottle from his lap and took another swig.” He set her upright on the stool.” Ezra handed the bottle to Mel. Wouldn’t you say so. and he took a long drink of what Marta strongly suspected was rocket fuel.

” Mel said as he extended his hand to Marta. tightening her nipples and dampening her pussy. and although Marta had expected . we’re only a year younger than you are. “Going to work drunk? Very bad form. “Come on. the illumination of dusk having completely disappeared. She happily placed her hand in his and hopped off the barrel. and the depths of the orbs drew her forward. hot stuff.” Cleve slurred. Mel led her through the warehouse.” he purred in her ear. their faces only inches apart. “’Snice. humming her appreciation for the gesture. Her eyes met Mel’s. stumbling less than she expected.Taste of Pride 39 Mel hopped to his feet and wrapped a steadying arm around her waist. Marta loved the feeling. and the rumbling in his chest as he laughed echoed in her body. “I’ll walk you home. snapping the tension. The warmth of the moonshine was erasing Marta’s inhibitions quickly. She looked around and saw that the warehouse was nearly pitch black. “Damn it. but they showed no hint of wariness or disapproval. drawing her to his chest. “Mmhmm.” He squeezed around her waist. we can’t argue with that one. “I take it you like the ’shine then. boys. and something at the top of her thighs tightened at his voice and the feel of his stubble on her neck.” She looked up in his eyes.” Ezra snagged the bottle back from Cleve and headed toward the large sliding doors that marked the exit.” She turned to him. “Hey. closer to his warm breath. and she held his hand against her stomach. “Yeah.” Ezra’s voice sliced through another of their moments. Only acceptance and willingness burned in the icy depths.” “But inches shorter. “We gotta get back to the Herald!” Mel shook his head as he clucked in an exaggerated show of disapproval.” “Don’t call us boys.” Mel said as he stood and removed his jacket. thrilled to be free of her judgments of her own action.

and Marta suddenly couldn’t distinguish whether her intoxication came from illegal grain liquor or the tangle of spicy aromas coming from the jacket and warm body beside her. Marta looked up at Mel to ask where they were going. “Here. “It was lovely meeting you. if you need moonshine—” “Or an obit in the Savage Herald—” Ezra interrupted his brother. she contented herself with leaning her head against his shoulder. Instead. pretty lady. They stepped outside. walked behind her. They started on the short walk along Treaty Lane back to her apartment. though. walking backward as they spoke to Marta. no such obstacle fell in their path. and her words caught in her throat. just visible from Marta’s apartment. and a blast of chilly night air hit her skin. sending a delicious tingle down her spine.” Mel said softly from beside her. He rubbed her upper arms as she settled into the garment. he brushed the back of his hand against her knuckles. but he smiled down at her. The twins hurried ahead of them then turned. still warmed from Mel’s body heat. and draped his faded leather jacket over her shoulders. and only the nearly full moon illuminated the night. the Yeatses— whom she had now come to know were twins—hauled open the sliding door. She returned the innocent touch. After somehow reaching the door without incident. “Just give us a call.” Cleve nodded at Mel. As they neared her apartment. his shaggy hair providing a curtain around his face. His scent was embedded in every fiber.” “Seriously. .” With a leering grin. He released her hand. Still only clad in her pajama pants and a T-shirt—the twins had neglected to give her a chance to change—she shivered under its force. and he took her hand in his. “Especially for him. entwining his fingers through hers. the twins took off down a dirt path that deviated from the road and wound behind a seedy-looking motel at the top of the hill on Treaty Lane.40 Helena Ray to trip over barrels and the industrial detritus that littered the floor.

they arrived at her apartment.” she called out when the power of speech returned to her. his hot breath shooting into her mouth. Marta. “You forgot your jacket. “Wait. flattening her against him. Mel.” “Keep it. “Good night. .Taste of Pride 41 All too soon. Her taste never came. Instead. and Marta closed her eyes. He stopped at the edge of the street and turned back to her.” He turned and disappeared into the blackness of the night. “Good night. She closed the door softly and leaned her back against it.” “Won’t you—” “I’ll get it when I see you again. After a moment of silence. “Well. She felt a bulge against her stomach. She couldn’t react as he placed another kiss on the back of her hand and walked away.” He dropped one of her hands as he raised the other to his lips. it is. throwing glances back at her over his shoulder. and he smiled and pressed his hand against the small of her back. eagerly anticipating the taste of his mouth.” he whispered against her knuckles.” he whispered again. “Yes. Marta stood stock-still on the porch of the rundown fourplex. a rebel and the boy next door rolled into one. a high-pitched squeal escaped from her throat. Slowly. he halted just as their lips brushed. She tilted her face up to his. this is me. He closed the space between their faces. Marta took a step forward before he could release her hand. all the while never breaking his scorching stare. the enduring sound of a woman in the throes of a new passion. and the evidence of his reciprocal excitement sent even more sparks flying through her body. He walked her to the door and held both her hands. Marta laughed inwardly at the cross between James Dean and Wally Cleaver standing before him.” she said unnecessarily. Emboldened. she turned and fished her key from the pocket of her pajama pants.

Her eyes drifted closed.42 Helena Ray Dancing to the small desk. the curiosity. She collapsed onto her bed and let the sensations of the night wash over her—the fury. the beginnings of something she wanted to see through. and a fleeting thought passed through her head. the excitement. Appropriately. she clicked the space bar on her laptop to start the music. and his passionate voice perfectly scored her elevated mood. right? . reminding her she had work in the morning. the moonshine. A few sips of the so-called stumphole couldn’t get her that hungover. Michael Bublé crooned from her computer.

He had asked how her day was going. But just as the side of his palm had landed on the swell of her ass. Her thoughts returned to Mel all day long. to his ice-blue eyes and lean. Thank god she had passed out at around nine o’clock last night. he withdrew it and walked away abruptly. “Rough night at Letty’s?” . Only thoughts of Sam and Phil served to drag her down a bit. to his lips feathering against hers. physically depleted. While her physical condition dampened her spirits throughout the day. something real. a rare occurrence. Sam rubbed between her shoulder blades. and Marta could have sworn she felt something there. Otherwise she never would have awoken for her eleven o’clock shift at the diner. She didn’t even know his last name. muscular body. but his memory had spread over every moment of her day. but his hand had wandered downward. Sam had been at the diner all day. not even the worst morning-after blues could have dispelled her good mood. but as Marta had started to walk away. shooting tension to other. more intimate parts of her anatomy. and she had given a soft smile and a shrug in response. Nothing out of the ordinary. They had met in the hall outside his office right before the dinner rush. leaving Marta confused and more than a bit turned on. to his touch. but the hard work had eased her hangover. The relief on her muscles was exquisite. The double shift nearly killed her.Taste of Pride 43 Chapter 4 I really thought a few sips wouldn’t hurt? Marta slumped against one of Savage Hunger’s orange booths.

“I’ll have to take you sometime. Being perpetually single has its perks. no problem.” Sam took a seat across from her.” Even with her thoughts of Mel. I mean. Oh well. The expression illuminated his handsome features. an odd remark from someone who appeared to have studiedly avoided her for days. She had forgotten he was her boss for a moment. and she said a small prayer in hopes that he hadn’t cornered her alone in the diner to fire her. and his eyes crinkled. that’s right. That first day you came in here. Shocked at his recollection. She looked around and saw that the diner was now empty save for the two of them. she couldn’t deny her attraction to Sam. devilishly handsome blond standing over her. “But why do you think I was there?” Sam laughed and ran a hand through his thick blond hair. Chelsea said you were staying at Treaty and Kwitakusix?” “You talked to Chelsea?” “Well. “Yes. shit.” Oh. “I grew up in the service industry. she’s a real hoot. “I’m not here to fire you. I know a hangover when I see one. the owner. You probably haven’t made it out to Catdaddy’s yet. beautiful.44 Helena Ray Sam’s voice broke into her thoughts. “Where?” “Ah. Letty. Her stomach twisted. “It’s not far out of my way. “I’m so sorry.” Sam looked at her as if the answer were obvious. yeah. kicking his long legs over the side of the booth as he leaned his back against the wall.” She blew out a breath of relief. and she looked up to see the imposing. Marta. I know that walk’s a monster if you’re . I didn’t think that it affected my performance today. Marta needed a moment to gather her thoughts. I can take you by. showing little lines that hinted at many such grins through the years. she thought.” He’ll have to take me sometime? That positively sounded like a plan for the future. you’ll have to. but…” The smile that broke over his face silenced her. “I’m here to see if you want a ride home.

” Sam finished. but Marta was quicker and got to the handle first. if you insist. “Well. I’ll accompany you. jokester. He reached to open her door. “I don’t doubt that you could handle yourself just fine. and then we’ll get on our way.” He swung his feet around so that he sat upright at the table and leaned closer to Marta. The flickering neon sign clicked off. Instead.” Sam shook his head at her exaggerated haughty intonation. He wanted her company! Her intuition hadn’t led her astray. animal attacks won’t be a problem. Sam held his hands up and laughed. in that case. unable to verbally turn down his offer. the tension too thick to allow any conversation to pass through it. so…” Marta shrugged.Taste of Pride 45 not feeling so hot. “And what sort of gentleman would I be if I let a lady walk home alone this late at night?” While Marta certainly appreciated the gesture. Marta studied the glowing dashboard as her heart raced. He turned to her. This time. “Come on. beautiful. and Marta nearly . he kept it there as they walked to his white sedan and he unlocked the car. I need to lock up. Sam joined her. exactly as it had earlier. I’ll have you know. the feminist inside her had to protest. They rode in silence. “I can take care of myself. shaking his head.” Marta waited outside the diner as Sam locked up. but what if I’d like your company on my drive home?” Marta’s heart did a small flip at his words. His hand rested on her back again as he guided her toward the parking lot and slid lower. he didn’t withdraw his hand when it landed at the top of her ass. though.” “Right. Sam reached her apartment and pulled his car into the dirt parking lot next to it. All too soon.” “Not a one since 1846. “So you’re coming with me. and a few moments later. Anyway.

looked down.” The headlights flicked off. Sam lunged forward and tangled his hand in Marta’s hair. Their lips crashed together. “We’re not at Savage Hunger. expecting hesitance but not finding it there. For a long moment.” His voice had lost some of the determination it held. and just enough light shown from the dashboard to illuminate the pleading expression in his eyes. “What is it?” He opened his mouth as if to speak and then closed it. She opened her mouth. and Sam dropped his hand to the keys in the ignition. “I’m your boss.” “I’ll behave. . distinguished and intent.46 Helena Ray gasped at how classically handsome he looked in the low light.” “It could affect our professional relationship.” “Let them. only the moon’s glow casting light into the car. they held each other’s stares. “The town gossips would have a field day. Sam unfastened his seatbelt. his long fingers curling around the smooth ring. and shook his head. I shouldn’t…” He looked back at Marta. and the roaring of the engine only heightened the silence that followed his remark. I know I shouldn’t say this.” With a click. “You might start expecting your pick of shifts. “We don’t have to let it. You’re not my boss now. Her heart raced as he pulled her face to his.” She looked into his eyes. “Marta. and Sam licked along Marta’s bottom lip. and Marta followed suit. She concentrated on his one hand that still rested on the steering wheel.” He killed the engine. The shadows playing along the planes of his face made him look like a heroic figure from a Renaissance painting. He gulped.

As he dragged his tongue along her jawline. something against her quickly dampening pussy. and her hips moved forward of their own volition. Sam moved his lips to her neck. and caressing one of her breasts as he reclaimed her mouth. crashing against him. she needed more. needing more friction. sucking and nibbling at the sensitive skin. When he reached the base of her neck. Sam responded to her needs by pushing his hips up. Each bite sent waves of pleasure flowing to her pussy. then traced his nibbles back up the other side of her neck. Her clit throbbed from the sudden intimate contact and begged for some kind of friction. her ass made contact with the steering wheel. and the blaring beep! of the car horn sounded. she shivered and bucked her hips forward. He squeezed her breast harder. this time clutching and kneading at her ass. More. She whimpered into his mouth as his thumb traced over her nipples through the thin fabric of her sweater and bra. more pressure. and her pussy clenched as he groaned his approval. press her pussy more fully against the line of his erection. His other hand went to her back and plunged downward. and straddled his lap. Sam answered her unspoken plea as he used his hand on her ass to pull her forward. He dwelled there. As Marta bucked backward. and she broke their kiss to let out a moan. god. Marta couldn’t help but chuckle against Sam’s lips at the absurdity of the . She clambered over the gearshift. His other hand traveled to her ass and pressed her against his crotch. The feel of his erection against her tortured clit was too much for her to handle. he traced his nibbles over her collarbone then back to the base of her neck. She tried to scoot closer to him. She plunged her tongue into the wet heat of his mouth. never breaking contact with his mouth. rubbing his twill-clad cock against her. allowing his tongue to roam down to her chest. and she could feel the dampness gathering there.Taste of Pride 47 allowing him to bite her lower lip as she grazed her teeth along his top lip.

Clearly. looking into his deep blue eyes glazed over with arousal. Her eyes drifted closed. She smelled what she had yesterday on Mel. Is it on me? Guilt washed over her. Was she really straddling the lap of one man while she still had a scent of another lodged in her senses? She couldn’t comprehend how Mel’s spicy scent. a slight whiff of spicy male musk filled her nostrils and stopped Marta in her tracks. Mel. She stopped once she was a breath away from his kiss and feathered her lips against his. but she couldn’t dispute concrete sensory evidence. but now for a different reason. “Not a bit.” Not entirely false. “Nothing. He turned his head to the side and kissed her palm then nuzzled his face into her hand. Her heart raced. She concentrated on the heaving of his chest as she tried to regain her composure. distinctive as it was. Marta broke the kiss as she threw her head back in hilarity. As she came down from her laughter. “So.” she started as she thrust a hand in his blond locks. and soon his chest heaved with his own laughter. “Still a little hungover.” she lied. “What’s wrong?” Sam’s hand rubbed her back. but before her lips could land on his. he was just as amused as she was. stilling her advance. that’s all. the musical sound warming her very soul. and shook his head. she looked into Sam’s sparkling eyes.48 Helena Ray situation.” “Good.” Marta whispered. “Are you worried about what people will say?” He chuckled. She had gotten .” Marta swallowed the lump at the back of her throat and forced herself to focus on the man in front of her. but the hangover she referred to had little to do with alcohol. and she began moving forward to taste Sam’s full lips again. “Good night. Sam eyed her with skepticism but nodded anyway. and the action only intensified her guilt. Ideas played in her head. had stayed on her through a double shift at the diner.

” The two of them laughed. Funny. Her lips tingled at the soft touch. A rhythmic. beautiful. and pull away.” “I know. Marta reached for the car door and clicked it open. For a moment. she managed to override her arousal. The night only promised a long vigil as Marta tried to unravel one feeling from another and figure out whom. Sam pulled back. high- pitched beep—the signal the keys still dangled from the ignition— was the only sound as Marta dismounted from Sam’s lap and exited the car. wondering what exactly she thought she was doing. No solo dance parties to Michael Bublé tonight. “Good night. exactly. “Good night. “Good night. While the throbbing between her legs addled the sensible part of her brain. her feminine fantasies on Mel. That would have to be enough for her for the time being. indicating he expected nothing. to savor one last taste before she went.” She couldn’t move. She could only stare into his handsome face. waving as he steered down Treaty Lane. Reluctantly. providing a much-needed release for Marta. His expression was earnest and open. She lifted one hand to her mouth and ran one of her own fingers along her bottom lip. No. how her jubilation was so easily tainted. . she was falling for. start the car again. and her worries lessened as she opened her mouth to welcome him. Sam.” Sam said.Taste of Pride 49 what she’d thirsted for since she first laid eyes on Sam. still laughing. She watched him close his car door. With a light nip on her bottom lip. the taste of Sam’s lips saw to that. the tension of the past two days holding her in its grip. “You already said that. she felt paralyzed. No longer could she concentrate all her daydreams.” Sam’s voice was soft as he leaned forward and brushed his lips against hers. She placed one hand on the top of the car door and looked down at Sam.

you were all aflutter about attempting to get Mel on board. to prompting his shift into mountain lion form. you don’t see me getting so worked up over Marta.” “Regardless. but he didn’t care. the telltale sign that his anger was near to the boiling point. “Easy for you to say.” Sam slammed the door to the one-room cabin behind him and stormed in. turned from the computer on his desk in the corner of the cabin.” “Bo doesn’t make the rules. “Hey.50 Helena Ray **** “Fuck the legends.” Phil said as he jumped to his feet and crossed to Sam.” “That’s why I’m ready to fuck the legends. Phil. took a deep breath. “I’ve spent my entire adult . “Last I recall. of course not. You don’t have any problem stopping the shift. The Shoshone tribe—” “Fuck the Shoshone!” Sam’s words were more roar than intelligible language. He closed his eyes. “Being around her is impossible. fuck the treaty.” “Yeah.” His brother. but don’t think I haven’t heard about what you’ve been doing from Rita. Never a particularly talented shifter. Sam had to work harder than the rest of the pride to keep his lion at bay. well. I may not have been at Savage Hunger. and fuck Bo’s rules. I hadn’t spent two entire weeks trying to get a hold of that motherfucker then. Sam. and then blew it out. “That’s quite a change of pace from your opinion last week.” “Yeah.” Phil looked away and made his way back to his desk. I hadn’t spent a whole fucking week dealing with NormCorp bullshit and letting all of the stress just—” Sam stopped suddenly as he felt a sharp tingling beneath his fingernails. You’ve avoided her all week. don’t get too worked up about it.

that’s fine by me. “No one’s ever done it successfully.” His brother’s face went white.” . He won’t answer my phone calls.” Tension hung in the air around the two brothers. Do you think you’re the first one to think of this? The pride always votes it down. “We sell out to Ulysses and his cronies.” Phil ran both of his hands through his hair and moved to the leather couch across from the fireplace. Sam hadn’t considered the possibility that breaking away from Mel could also mean losing his brother and closest companion. They’re desperate enough we can specify that they have to protect our sector in the deed to Savage Hunger. and nothing would stop his pursuit of possession. “But now there’s NormCorp. Do you really think that sharing Marta will work without the Shoshone power binding us together?” Phil’s words stung. Phil turned and finally broke the silence. “If the pride approves it. Savage Valley is too big and too complex for four lion families to protect.Taste of Pride 51 life worrying about what Mel was going to do to our chances at happiness. and frankly. it’s been one hundred fifty years. He swallowed his doubt. too overcome with emotion to speak.” What Sam was about to say sickened him and twisted his gut. and then Bo approves it. you can’t…” Sam nodded slowly. he’s not at the Yeats cabin. letting the memory of the heaven he found in Marta’s mouth block out logic and rationality once more.” Sam sat on the edge of the fireplace. “Look. the worries have become obsessions. “We invoke the infertility clause. “No. that’s always been the case before. He needed her. I’ve thought it all through. but he didn’t see any other way out. we can break the curse.” “Sam. and after meeting Marta.” “Yes. Not with a family splitting like this. across from Phil. his lion self needed her. “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?” Sam only nodded.” “Since Savage Hunger is technically in the neutral zone.

” “We’re not fucking them ov—” “Can you think past your Faustian plan for just a moment?” “Ulysses C. but damn it. “Hey.” “So? What’s the verdict?” .” Phil said as he crossed to his desk and picked up his cell phone. He couldn’t find a way to make this work. Not without his estranged brother.” “It’s not your duty. Have you thought about the future? Have you thought about our legacy in the pride? We’re fucking over our best friends.” Sam only grunted in response. “Well. what are you thinking? Norman is Mephistopheles incarnate.” “Sam. you know. but Phil kept his features stoic as he listened. They miss you. He studied Phil’s face. Phil. don’t talk to Cleve and Ezra about it. “Look.” “Give me my goddamn phone. Mel?” Phil pointed at the phone and gave Sam a smug smile. and I failed. “Hi. but it’s about our mate. “It’s my duty. Your drama’s getting old. “I see. searching for something in his expression that would indicate what Mel was saying. I’ll call Mel. Why not? Because they’re—Okay. think it over.52 Helena Ray “Exactly. okay? No.” Sam’s heart stopped in his chest as Phil quieted. Mel. man.” He knew Phil was right. “I’m calling him. We’ve found her. Bye. Sam just told me to call you about—don’t hang up. Okay. Sam returned an unenthusiastic one-fingered salute. Go see Mom and the Dads. it’s a deal with the devil. Just say you’ll think about.” Phil sat on the bed and nodded as he presumably listened to Mel. Norman isn’t the devil. and that’s that.” Phil said after an infuriatingly long wait.” Sam dropped his face to his hands and muttered. the people who have surrounded us our entire lives.” “Sam. “Okay.

and desire seized Sam’s throat.” Apprehension. He needed out. . Silently. And Marta. The pitch-black night spoke to the beast inside him that tore at his resolve. freeing the leonine imagery and desires to commandeer his mind. he removed all of his clothes. his skin turning to fur as each blast of cold hit it. Without a word. anger. “He met someone.Taste of Pride 53 Phil gently placed the phone on the bed and took a deep breath before speaking. As he grasped to the last human thoughts. All he saw was Marta. he walked to the door and pulled it open. rendering him incapable of continuing the conversation. prompting his transformation. Coherent human thought slipped away. an overpowering sensation took hold of his senses—desire. surrendering the human control over his brain to the basest fight-or-flight urges.” “Shit. unfettered by human inhibition. delighting in the cold night air hitting his face. His canines extended. doubt. and the shift was almost complete.

He closed the door behind. There. chef’s jacket. and tennis shoes.54 Helena Ray Chapter 5 Damn. he felt for neatly folded pile of clothes and released it when he found them. thankful to be out of the wind. Once he fired up the ovens. especially when he was out naked. he knew he wouldn’t need to worry about heat. in the middle of the cavernous room. but he couldn’t help his astonishment. He scampered behind the Dumpster out back at Savage Hunger and prayed that Mel and the Yeatses hadn’t played another one of their tricks and hidden his spare set of clothing. Phil dragged his hand along the cool metal as he circled the standalone unit. The ten-pound bag of frozen strawberries plummeted to the tile floor from Phil’s shoulder as he froze in the middle of the kitchen. The last patches of fur receded into his skin as he hopped into his pants. especially with a little brother fond of stealing spare keys. Holding his breath. He knew his mouth was dangling open in awe. stood a brand-new stainless steel oven range. Phil’s first human thoughts reminded him how frigid the early- morning Colorado air could turn in October. He entered his personal code into the keypad to gain admittance to the back entrance to Savage Hunger—the first improvement he and Sam had installed when they remodeled the diner a year ago. When he and Sam . Reentering the diner after shifting into lion form made such technological advances necessary. Phil flicked on the lights and made his way to the walk-in freezer to grab the ingredients needed for the morning’s breakfast. Blindly practicing his morning ritual. it’s cold.

Taste of Pride 55

had remodeled the diner a year ago, other improvements pushed new
kitchen appliances to the bottom of their list of priorities. Phil had
made do with his father’s equipment but secretly hoped for something
new.
Sam. Phil stood back and shook his head at the unit. Was it a gift
from Sam, an apologetic gesture for his behavior a few nights ago?
Phil wanted to believe it. He desperately wanted to believe that his
brother hadn’t meant what he said. Phil had had to travel into Denver
on pride business the previous day, so their paths hadn’t yet crossed.
He began preparing the honey almond muffins for the morning,
and thoughts plagued him as he worked. The idea of leaving the pride
kept him up all last night, and dreams of persecution by the Shoshone
and the rest of the pride infected his brief moments of sleep. But when
he lay awake, he saw Marta. Her verdant gaze seemed to hover over
him, staring down on his sleeping form from the ceiling of his cabin.
His body had such a visceral reaction to her presence, but he couldn’t
stand being near her knowing that she couldn’t be his, at least not yet.
Phil held more hope for Mel than his brother. Maybe it was the
fact that he was closer in age to the youngest Pope, but Phil hadn’t
ruled out his brother joining in their ménage. Sam had never taken the
time to understand how deeply Mel hurt and how alienated he had
always been.
Their little brother had always been a precocious hunter, and Sam
had never grasped how Mel could be as intelligent as he was himself,
but in an entirely different way, as a hunter instead of a businessman.
It tore at Phil’s heart to withstand the stalemate between the two that
had stretched throughout the past two years. Maybe, just maybe,
Marta would finally break through his brothers’ hubris.
A knock on the glass door to the diner drew Phil’s attention back
to the moment.
“Coming!” he shouted as he took one last look at the new oven
range. A note on the side of the unit drew his attention. “Just a
second.” His heart dropped into his stomach when he picked up the

56 Helena Ray

note that was taped on the side of the appliance. “Fuck.” Its text was
simple.

I so look forward to doing business with you, Philip. –Norman

Emotions fought for dominance in Phil’s chest—anger, shock,
disappointment—but none of them won out. Instead, he just stared at
it, numb. It was a gift meant to persuade Phil to entertain the notion of
selling out to NormCorp, but not even something of this magnitude
would win his affection. More disturbing, it signaled that Sam hadn’t
stopped the transaction, even when Phil objected. Fuck.
The knock sounded again, and Phil dropped the note on the
ground. As he emerged from the kitchen, his heart jumped from
stomach to throat. Marta stood outside with her arms wrapped around
her chest. He hurried to the door and opened it.
“I hope you don’t mind,” she said as she stepped into the diner.
“Not at all.” Phil smiled at her and couldn’t help but step back to
admire her as she took off her jacket. Even if he hadn’t felt the pull to
her, that overwhelming desire that rushes through a mountain lion-
shifter’s body when he first spots his mate, he would have found her
beauty utterly intoxicating. Her soft body was womanly, with curves
that he wanted to run his hands over. Her breasts pulled against the
fabric of her T-shirt, and his mind filled with thoughts of taking them
in his hands, running his fingers over the hardened tips, sucking a
deeply colored nipple into his mouth.
“Sorry, I just couldn’t sleep.” He dragged his gaze up to her face,
his cheeks warming at the realization he had been overtly admiring
her feminine assets, and he found confirmation of what she had said.
Dark circles stained the pale skin under her eyes, and she raised a
hand to stifle a yawn.
“I know what you mean. I haven’t had such a terrible night’s sleep
since my first night in Europe.”

Taste of Pride 57

“Yes!” Marta’s eyes lit up, dispelling some of the sleepiness. “Jet
lag is the absolute worst. People say not to sleep when you get to
Europe—”
“But after spending eight hours on a plane, who could possibly
resist a nap?”
“Certainly not me.” Marta laughed, and color flooded the round
apples of her cheeks. Every cell in Phil screamed for him to run his
hand over her face, to feel the heating of her skin as she laughed.
Realization dawned on Phil. Why couldn’t he? If Sam and Mel
were going to continue their show of stubbornness, he might as well
benefit from it. But Phil hadn’t inherited his fathers’ charm like both
of his brothers had.
“So,” he started, suddenly bashful in the presence of the brunette
beauty, “how do you feel about smoothies?”
Marta looked startled, shaking her head and causing the thick
brown waves of her hair to dance tantalizingly over her shoulders. “I
guess I feel…positively.” She smirked and nodded her head. “Yes,
my feelings toward smoothies would all fall under the category of
positive.” She used a stiff voice, but her growing smile belied her
amusement.
“Indeed, I share these feelings.” Phil followed her lead, joining in
her sarcastic play. “Thusly, I prepare them each morning for my
guests.”
Marta’s eyes brightened with realization. “Are you saying what I
think you’re saying?”
Her sudden enthusiasm endeared her even more to Phil.
“If you think I’m saying that I’d like your help hauling bags of
frozen fruit out of the freezer, then you’re absolutely correct.”
“Are there any smoothies in it for me?”
Phil smiled and turned back to the kitchen, praying that he had
interpreted her flirtation correctly and she would soon follow. After
an excruciatingly long moment, he heard her footsteps behind him.
“Freezer’s that way,” he said and pointed to the corner.

he strode around the island and stood across from Marta.” Phil shrugged then boldly winked. “I’m not helping unless there’s a smoothie in it for me. where he should kiss her ever so gently. Her look was quizzical. Time to man up.58 Helena Ray Marta crossed her arms over her chest.” With purpose that shocked even him.” Marta threw her head back and laughed. exactly. “Well. “What?” Phil started at Marta’s words and realized she must have noticed his open admiration. if that’s all”—he looked up as she spoke. “Starbucks. and she caught his gaze with hers—“I guess I’ll just go grab my uniform and—” Now or never. and he mumbled as he stared at the surface. holding her gaze the whole time. Every inch of her seemed to beg for his touch. do so many Savage Hunger customers order smoothies in the middle of fall?” Marta slammed the last bag of frozen peaches on the island and leaned her elbows on the countertop. The countertop suddenly became quite interesting to him. a wide grin pulled at the corners of his mouth. A wave of brown hair fell across her cheek as she turned her face up to him. They worked in companionable silence for a while. “Come here. just thinking about how much cornmeal I need to…” He trailed off as he saw her stand up and move away from him. uh. I blame all bizarre beverage preferences developed in recent years on Starbucks. “Nothing. Phil walked around the island and mimicked Marta’s action. for his fingers to run over what had to be velvety softness. revealing the creamy skin of her neck to Phil. “Wait. Phil. Marta removing bags of fruit while Phil prepared the ingredients for the breakfast menu.” He took a step toward her. leaning on his elbows across from her.” “We’ll see. The small freckles on her neck called to him like a map of where his mouth should land. When she gave an exaggerated sigh and headed for the freezer. “And why. and he prayed what he was about to do would .

She thrust her hips forward each time he pressed his hard cock against her soft body. sweet taste of her flesh. Defeated. Tilting her chin up to his face. He opened his mouth. he located the island behind her. He smoothed his hands down her back. and Marta matched each of Phil’s advances. Marta explored his mouth with matching enthusiasm. Her hand shot to his waist and curled into a fist around the fabric of his chef’s jacket. maybe he had misinterpreted Marta’s signal. Lust overrode any sense Phil may have had. savoring both the softness of her mouth and the light. Her lips sought his. and he was able to delve further into her hot. pressing her closer to him and relieving some of the pressure on his now painfully hard dick. . He’d been certain she was flirting with him.Taste of Pride 59 dispel any doubt she may have had about his intentions. he stopped and cupped her chin lightly with his thumb and forefinger. They moved in synchronicity. Their lips met in a soft brushing. He took the flesh of her earlobe between his teeth and pulled. Her mouth instantly opened to his. so eager to taste the morsel of his mate’s lips. wet depths. But Marta halted Phil’s retreat. and he began his slow descent toward her lips. His heart stopped beating for a moment. asked for too much? Without Sam or Mel’s talent with the opposite sex. Had he pushed too far. Just before she bit into his neck and chased away rational thought for another lustful moment. Damn it. turning their heads from side to side. When the mounds of her breasts brushed against his chest. He opened his eyes and broke the kiss with Marta for a brief moment. eliciting a moan from Marta. he started to pull away from the soft whisper of a kiss that had so enchanted him. but Marta’s body stilled when Phil wrapped his hand around her upper arm. raking her teeth over his lips and smoothing over the bites with tiny licks. His fingers tangled in her hair to hold her face steady. and Phil couldn’t keep a hold on his lust for another instant. his eyes closed. and swiped his tongue along her bottom lip.

mouth agape as she looked between them.” The sound of Sam’s voice halted Marta’s writhing against Phil. The silence in the kitchen weighed on Phil’s shoulders as he turned slowly to glare at Sam. and he could feel the heat from her pussy flowing out through her jeans and spreading over his stomach. as he rested one shoulder against the doorjamb. and despite his tightly held control over his lion form.” Her voice was only a squeak as she hopped off the island and headed toward the door of the kitchen. “Look. and finally to her ass cheeks. “What the fuck. and Marta instantly darted through the opening he created. He heard a clanging of pans as he set Marta down on the island countertop. A lump formed in his throat when he saw the look of horror on her face. God. “I gotta go to work. She kissed him back with eager passion as his hands ventured further south. then over the swell of her round ass. He roamed his palms over the small of her back. smug. He squeezed her against him then used his grip to lift her up. right where Marta had been seated. you two. we can talk about it. he needed to be inside of her. needed to push his cock all the way into the steaming hot— “Good morning. don’t be upset. When Marta approached the door. Her legs curled around his waist. Anger unlike any he had ever felt boiled under Phil’s skin. just stood stubbornly in front of him.” Sam said with an apologetic tone in his voice. he wanted to shift and rip Sam’s throat out. . at the moment. “Hey. Sam stood there. she didn’t raise her eyes to look at him. Sam?” “What?” Sam shrugged his shoulders as he walked into the kitchen and audaciously hopped onto the island.60 Helena Ray Her open mouth presented Phil the perfect opportunity to claim her mouth again. She turned her head from side to side. and he felt his erection deflate as she pulled away.” He made the mistake of standing upright as he spoke.

that Mel would come around and that Sam hadn’t just blown it for them. raising it closer to the hot- blooded furor of his lion form. “Well?” Finally.” “She’ll have to accept it sooner or later. “Roarke’s told me about it. “Sam. Have you even listened to any of the stories previous generations have told about taking their mates?” “Chelsea accepted it right away. listen to yourself. He started to take one out. “First of all. but they’re friends. but Phil swatted his hand away.” Sam shrugged his shoulders and opened the bag of frozen peaches beside him. We can’t expect her to accept that she’s mated to a family of ménageamous shape-shifters instantly. though. “It doesn’t really matter. Maybe they—” Phil felt his claws burning beneath his fingernails.” Phil glared at his brother. does it?” “Don’t say that. Sam. Are you really saying that Marta will accept all of this? That she’ll welcome a situation that must sound to her like the plot of a bad romance and horror movie crossover merely because her best friend did under very different circumstances?” Sam had taken advantage of Phil’s tirade to sneak a peach and was chewing on the frozen fruit. but a glare from Phil silenced him. We have to expose her to it gradually. and they gave her plenty of time to get used to the idea. “It should have been later. You know how girls talk. and it took all his concentration to keep from shifting. “Mel didn’t say no definitely. she didn’t. she wasn’t ready for that.” He .” “Yeah. something resembling the appropriate gravity required in the situation settled over Sam’s features.” Phil needed to believe they had a chance. “Whether or not we mate her.” Sam opened his mouth to rebut. and you know that.Taste of Pride 61 Phil squeezed his eyes shut and rubbed his temples. We could still make this work. His brother’s flippant attitude toward Marta’s reaction boiled Phil’s blood. no.

even hugging Chelsea. All day long.” “And you have more faith in Ulysses Norman. He placed his hand against the swinging door and turned back to Phil.” Sam winced briefly. preferring his pointed comments about the quality of the coffee to facing what had happened that morning. Phil was there.” **** Now Marta was the one doing the avoiding. Each time she did. Something in the back of her mind screamed at her and reminded her what had just come to pass with his brother. the brush of his fingers beneath her chin as real then as it had been that morning. Marta had come to dread retrieving orders from the kitchen. then shook his head as he hopped off the island and started toward the door. But his lips had choked that voice and sent her into a frenzy. If not handing off the food himself. pain flashing across his features. and she swore he was using her best friend to bait her. This morning had been so easy. He came out to greet some of the guests. if you haven’t already said yes to Norman.62 Helena Ray nodded at the stainless range. The way his hair curled around his face and offset his high cheekbones and aquiline nose never failed to fascinate her. She relived the moment over and over and over again. both Sam and Phil had tried to get her attention. “You have more faith in Mel than I do. he would smile with her from across the kitchen. She replayed the morning in her head as she started on her walk back to her apartment. When his mouth and his hands . When their eyes had locked. “That is. she stayed with the interminably grumpy Clayton Abbott. Their easy banter comforted her. so fun until that one moment. No. that would not happen. Phil was so enchanting. providing some solace in her situation. Instead. Marta had taken leave of her senses. He had gazed at her from across the diner.

Much as she loved her best friend. Suddenly. Marta stuck her chin out as she turned off Treaty Lane and onto Kwitakusix Cove. As she approached her fourplex. like all the rest. and she didn’t see that stopping anytime soon. No. but since arriving in Savage Valley. She couldn’t come between brothers.Taste of Pride 63 and his hips worked in concert. When she was sixteen. She had never really craved sex. her nights had been filled with torrid dreams involving her two ridiculously attractive employers. a figure outlined by the low light above the porch stood outside her apartment. All senses vanished. She would be gone soon. anyway. Ah. Girl talk would certainly help dampen the rising anxiety inside of her. While there. Her work on her high school debate team and her straight-A average earned her a full scholarship to Rhodes College in her hometown of Memphis. She wished that Phil and then Sam hadn’t monopolized Chelsea that day. She was certain her skin would burn through her clothing without it. yes. Marta had achieved everything in her life on her own. This town had done something to her libido. the knot in her stomach tightened. the Pope brothers were too dangerous. Marta climbed toward a dangerous cliff of ecstasy. she had worked tirelessly as a waitress for all her spending money and still managed to graduate summa cum laude with degrees in English and Communications She would make it through this road bump. The third man . she wasn’t the kind to stick around and play wife to one man. She felt the muscles in her pussy clench as she remembered how he had taken what he wanted when he palmed her ass and threw her onto the countertop. she had started working as a delivery driver at a Chinese food restaurant in order to help her single mother pay their rent. Then Sam walked in. let alone two. and she only lived in that moment with Phil. Even as she tried to convince herself that she didn’t need a man’s support. the bite in the chilly night air was welcome. and reality shattered the glass box of lust and fantasy that had held both of them.

“I guess it is. “Why’s that?” “Because…” He trailed off as he closed the distance between himself and Marta. and his hot breath danced over her face.” Mel smirked. He lowered his face to hers. “Oh. It grew stronger with each step toward him. an alarm sounded. and Marta could no longer feel the chill he mentioned. woody scent seemed to envelop her. remember?” How could she forget? It sat over her desk chair in her apartment and reminded her each night of how she would see its owner again. overwhelming need had her cunt pulsing.” She stood right in front of him. not bothering to open the door to her apartment. Marta’s hopes were high for this inevitable encounter. reminding her how it felt to lean against his hard chest. Heat rolled off him in waves. With the way their last interaction ended. the prickling of his black stubble against the sensitive skin of her neck. “Aren’t you going to let me in?” . that old thing? I’m not sure if I threw it away or not. quirking one eyebrow at her. his spicy. “Well. I hope you didn’t.” He took a step closer to her. but her hesitance dropped away at the intoxicating aroma.64 Helena Ray who haunted her dreams stepped into the light. reminding her of the wariness she felt only a few moments ago. “You have my jacket. “It’s cold. The moonshine she imbibed with Mel must have affected her sensory memory somehow because even from her position several feet away. “It’s getting colder. leaning on the wall beside it.” he said as she stepped onto the porch across from him. his perfectly formed features and tall. Somewhere in the back of her mind. and even in the dim glow. and for the second time that day.” He suddenly stood up straight and walked to Marta’s door. and it took all Marta’s control not to run her hands over the muscular chest outlined against his T-shirt. muscular frame sent waves of pleasure coursing through Marta’s body. Her breathing hitched.

” The smirk on his face belied his words. . Every last drop of sexual tension Marta had fought since that morning poured out of her as she responded to his kiss. they were both silent. Marta snaked her hands behind his back to steady herself as she wrapped one leg around his thigh. “Oh. She ran her hands over the smooth muscles of his chest then wrapped her fists around the thin material of his T-shirt over his pecs.” Mel used his grip on Marta’s hair to pull her head back then crushed his lips against hers.Taste of Pride 65 Marta took a deep breath to steady herself. the hard bulge of his cock pushing into her stomach. taking the few steps needed to stand in front of Marta again. and her hips pressed against his legs. settling on the small of her back. she moved backward toward her door. you think that’s how it goes? You just demand entry to a young lady’s apartment and expect she’ll let you come waltzing in?” “I don’t know. and for a long moment. Her clit throbbed as she felt his matching attraction. and he stood up straight. Not breaking the kiss. “What matters”—his other hand tangled in Marta’s hair—“is how much I want to do this.” One of his hands landed on her waist and slowly glided backward around Marta. pushing her back against the door once they reached it and grinding his hips against her. “Will it work?” Marta straightened her back and stuck her chin in the air.” she teased in an over-the-top British accent. Something flashed through his expression. some sort of relief. in desperate need of some sort of friction on her clit.” Mel raised his eyebrows at her. She pulled him closer to her. My family and I don’t really get along. Mel was with her every step of the way. “I don’t even know your last name. then turned to him and folded her arms over her chest. “A young woman must be courted. “It doesn’t matter what my last name is. She couldn’t grab her keys from her pocket fast enough.

They lingered at the hem of her T-shirt. She yelped at the feel of his stubble brushing across her neck as he moved her ponytail out of the way with his face and laved at the back of her neck. trying to get closer to Mel.” He clearly understood her meaning because he loosed his grip on her enough for her to turn and work the lock. But apparently he wasn’t able to restrain himself from touching her. Her hips bucked against his hand. trying to will the intimacy she needed into existence. As if performing choreographed movements. and he lifted it only enough to stroke her sensitive skin there.66 Helena Ray Keys. At least some part of her consciousness was wise enough to remind her not to give herself over to Mel right there on her porch for all of Savage Valley to see. down over her upper arms. . palming them as she tried desperately to unlock the door. Her errand was delayed as she moaned and pressed her chest forward. and the door flew open in front of Marta. his hands shot to her breasts. finally moved his hands over her hips and took her ass in his hands. her lips finding his immediately. allowing Mel more access to her rapidly sensitizing breasts. One of his hands journeyed lower. She stood on tiptoes. she broke the kiss and whispered against Mel’s lips. and an instant later she found her back pressed against the hard wood. following her curves down to the waistband of her jeans. Reluctantly. She heard the deadbolt click open but couldn’t find the coordination to turn the handle when Mel’s hand ghosted over the front of her jeans then closed over her mound. he could manage some sort of coordination. Get the keys. “Let’s get your jacket. His hands began their descent from her shoulders. As she fumbled with her keys. She moaned into his mouth as he finally. his hands moved even lower. She stumbled backward as he navigated the two of them into her apartment. Marta heard the door slam shut. and he pushed back. She quickly turned around and snaked her arms around Mel’s neck to balance herself. pressing his middle finger right over her clit. and tantalizingly slowly over her waist. Luckily.

his face buried in her cleavage.” Mel’s hand closed over Marta’s.” The words were spoken at the same instant Mel plunged back toward Marta. Before she could even move her arms to wiggle out of the garment. and suddenly. but she placed one hand on his waist. She needed to see the chest that his tight T-shirts had hinted at. He threw her onto the bed and pounced after her. God. Mel had already pushed a hand underneath and pinched one very hard. He started to lower himself again to her chest. his hands pulled at her T-shirt. and she took the opportunity to grab the hem of his T-shirt and pull it up. Marta curled her arms and legs around him. pulled the shirt over his head. “Wait. her fingers toyed with the button at the top of his jeans. As he twisted it. the soft skin of her sides blazed when he traced his fingers over them. “You still have a shirt on. he understood and sat up. which hinted at another muscle Marta very much so wanted to explore. very sensitive nipple. She ran her hands over the smooth muscles of his stomach and up to the hard planes of his pecs. Once she had pulled it halfway up his stomach. and his watery blue eyes sparkled with mischief. One hand snaked underneath Marta’s back and had her black bra unsnapped in an instant. and this time. He had her topless with one smooth motion. “This isn’t very fair.Taste of Pride 67 and he broke their kiss and moved his lips down to her chest as he hooked both his arms underneath her thighs. Her neck. her breasts. With a brazen motion Marta hadn’t expected of herself. his hands were everywhere. What most fascinated her most were the hard indents over his hips and pelvis. He climbed on top of her.” she whispered. “Now you wait.” “What’s not?” Marta panted. and tossed it aside. the outline she saw hadn’t done justice to the real thing. rubbing against him as he carried her to her bed. She ghosted her hands over the dark circles of his nipples and was gratified with a hitch in his breath as she did so. she squeaked and opened her mouth in a silent scream of . her stomach.

and she watched his face as he studied her. and the feeling of his hot breath against the damp crotch of her panties only served to propel her need higher and higher. “Not fair. Marta could hardly believe what was happening to her. Marta moaned and pushed her hips upward. For that one moment. as completely vivid and visceral as that very second. starting at her hip. Marta had never thought of herself as particularly attractive. but there was no conviction in her words.” she breathed. his eyes locked on hers. She watched Mel’s eyelashes as his gaze raked up her naked flesh. As the elastic waistband raked over her thighs. Mel’s other hand covered her . Mel dragged it over her panties. she wasn’t going to last long. that finger hooked underneath her panties and dragged them down. Finally. The sound must have signaled to Mel that she could wait no longer because next thing she knew. leaving a trail of scorched flesh in the wake of his tongue and teeth. allowing her to push his head downward. Marta lifted her hips to allow Mel to slip her jeans over her hips then pull them off of her. When it reached the point closest to her soaked folds. God. His hands smoothed up her legs. He soon tossed her bra aside and moved his mouth to her chest. As his mouth closed over one nipple. but she thought she may need to revise that notion in the future. but nothing had ever felt as real. Mel seemed to sense this as he traced his mouth lower. Soon his hands were unfastening her jeans. “Do you really want me to stop?” It took Marta a second to register Mel’s words. closer to what she needed. One finger ran along the cleft between her pelvis and her inner thigh. She merely smiled and tangled her hand in his shaggy black hair. Just writhing against him already had her at the brink of coming. open admiration visible on his face. She could only moan in response and push her pussy closer to him. Marta yelped a little as it traced over her clit. He laughed. time seemed to stand still.68 Helena Ray pleasure.

instead spoken reverently. sharp sensation silenced her. “More. she knew the erotic stretching would force her over the edge. so close to the launching pad for her orgasm. and pulled himself up to lie next to her. His finger penetrated then. Marta pushed against it and was rewarded with a single finger pushing into her folds. “God. and she could feel her underwear being pulled over her foot. Marta heard a loud moan escape from her throat as he hooked his fingers forward inside of her right as he sucked around her clit. Cream pulsed from her cunt and onto Mel’s fingers and mouth as she found the climax she had needed since her arrival in Savage Valley. all she was capable of in her postorgasmic state. sending her close. “Are you objecting?” .Taste of Pride 69 mound. and if he’d only add another finger. and her pussy muscles clenched around the welcome invasion.” Her insult had no venom to it. a cold. pulling all the triggers that sent her rocketing into the stratospheric ecstasy of her release. eliciting a soft moan.” she breathed. Mel withdrew his fingers from her and rubbed once over her sensitive mound. Mel laved at her clit. leaving her completely available for Mel’s taking.” His words were spoken inches from her pussy. He continued his relentless finger-fucking as he teased the stiff bud with his tongue. “So you just get a girl off and take what you came for?” She turned her head just in time to see him shrug and give her a beaming smile that lit up his gorgeous eyes. As she opened her mouth to whimper her plea.” “You can call me Mel. “Did I earn my jacket back?” Marta gave a breathy laugh. “Bastard. more. please. and Marta’s hips involuntarily bucked in rhythm with his finger-fucking. It was quickly followed by a second finger. Her orgasm felt so close.

He placed his hand on her waist and pulled him to her for a soft kiss.” Marta felt warmth rising to her cheeks. “Because I got to see you. He pulled away and ran his fingers delicately over her face. “I’ve never met anyone like you. “I thought the leather-clad rebel died along with Dennis Hopper. The moment ended quickly though. “I’ve never met anyone like you. . period. but I’ve always thought myself more the Kerouac type. Even if he didn’t have the body of a male model. and Mel continued his soft touch. “I appreciate the comparison.” He looked away suddenly and stilled his caress.” His voice was completely sincere and his expression earnest. his dark eyebrows.” She rolled onto her side to face him and ran a hand through his hair.” “Why? Because you got to see me all silly and drunk?” “No. His smile turned from mischievous to sweet. Either she had turned into Heidi Klum in the past few weeks. the sensation marvelously erotic. something dark flashing across his features. hell no. Lucky for Marta. using his thumb to stroke her bottom lip. and his sparkling blue eyes. “You know”—the sarcastic edge to his voice was gone for the first time—“I’m really glad you decided to try the moonshine the other day.70 Helena Ray “Oh. Marta could taste her flavor on his lips. or the men in this town were crazy.” Mel laughed and looked down.” Marta studied him for a moment then cocked her head to the side. “I can see you hitching a ride cross-country.” she confessed. either. he was the whole aesthetic package. and Marta marveled at the stark contrast between his alabaster skin. “I was just clarifying.” she said with a laugh in her voice. he would be indisputably attractive.” His fingers danced along her jawline then tangled into the hair that had come loose from her ponytail. his hair falling over his face.

no.” Marta ran her hand over his face as she spoke. releasing his hand and softly brushing hers against his cock. He tugged at her hand.” “Why wouldn’t I? I want to do everything. “Mine. You’re one of the ones Kerouac talked about. too. She created a ring with her thumb and middle finger and ran it from the head to the base and up again. feeling the muscles of his jaw as they pulled into a smile.” She popped the button on his jeans and unzipped them. but Marta . He groaned as she dragged them downward.” “Really? That’s my favorite book. Marta could feel his heart racing. He gave her a questioning look when their joined hands reached the waistband of his jeans. It’s what made me want to become a writer. “That’s what it is about you. Mel broke her contact as he kicked off his jeans.Taste of Pride 71 “I’ve read On the Road more times than I can count. Marta finished the journey for him. “I’m very glad to hear that. Marta nodded. “Expecting. Marta. Marta wiggled closer to him on the bed and closed the space between their faces.” “Why? Did you have something in mind?” Mel dragged her hand down across her chest.” A wide smile spread across Mel’s face at her remark. “Time to make things fair. bringing it only an inch lower to where the material of his jeans began to tent with his erection. “Were you expecting something?” she whispered with more than a hint of mischief in her voice. You live it to its fullest. outlining it through the fabric of his jeans. granting him the silent permission he sought.” He took her hand in his and held it against his chest. You don’t shy away from life. y—” He couldn’t finish the word when Marta closed her hand around his cockhead. and she saw that he had neglected to wear any sort of undergarment today. He hissed as she continued to run her fingers up and down the flesh. Hoping. experience everything that a mere human can experience.

her pussy dampening with each emphatic thrust. pounding harder and harder into Marta. He lay on his back. . Then he sped up. sat up. she nodded. He opened his eyes again and stayed still for a few seconds. His eyes had drifted closed again. It was long and framed perfectly by the defined muscles of his hips. Slowly.” He started moving then. She bit her lip as she examined it. shocking her and filling her and pushing closer to the brink. and she felt his impossibly hard cock against the slippery folds of her pussy.” The combination of his hovering on the brink of penetration and his frank admission had her completely flustered. She couldn’t speak and responded to him by ghosting her lips over his. and she could feel his wet pre-cum on her stomach and his heavy balls against her pelvis. “Marta. He lifted his head up and looked at her with a gravity she hadn’t expected from him. He captured her lips with his as he pulled his hips back. “And I want to fuck you. He pushed forward a little bit. each stroke a gentle embrace. Mel then resumed control of their encounter and rolled Marta onto her back. thick cock. and he quirked an eyebrow. allowing Marta to adjust to his long. She felt her need climbing. “I want to make love to you.72 Helena Ray quickly resumed her caress. A small smile played at the corner of Mel’s lips. He pulled out completely. and took Marta’s hips in his hands. At that moment. too. He straddled her. and he penetrated her fully. lightly licking his bottom lip as she lowered her head back onto the bed. His tongue plunged into her mouth. wondering if she could take all of his impressive length inside of her. he thrust back into Marta. and a look of sheer ecstasy took hold of his features. closing his eyes and hissing as his head popped into the sheath of her cunt. She took his cockhead in her hand again and stroked along the sensitive ridge. at first slowly.” She looked up at him and stilled her hand’s ministrations. Marta lifted her hips. displaying his perfectly formed cock to her.

” “You liar!” Marta gave his hair a soft pull. “Well. He propped his head up on a crooked elbow and looked down on her. god!” She felt a sharp sting on her side. suddenly bereft. “To be honest. Fortunately. and Mel’s grip on her hips loosened. absorbing every last drop of his hot seed. and his nails dug deeper. the simple touch felt impossibly intimate. where her cunt clenched around all of his substantial length. That was it. that’s not what I was expecting to happen tonight. Her heart pounded as her entire consciousness focused on where she and Mel were joined. “I didn’t expect it. and her spasming pussy must have driven Mel to his breaking point. Mel pulled himself out of Marta. he took one of her hands in his. that little button inside Marta’s pussy that robbed her of her senses in favor of all- encompassing bliss. lazily tracing one hand over her stomach.” he said. “Oh. Mel’s chest crashed onto Marta’s when reality finally pulled them back into its clutches. His fingernails dug into her sides. and Marta realized that she missed his touch. too. Staring at the ceiling. long locks nearly obscuring the smile on his face. and groans escaped from his throat as he continued pounding into her. and the movement caused the angle of his hips to change and brush against her clit.” Mel released her hand and rolled onto his side. and he crinkled his nose in response. sensual embrace. After several long moments in silent. That was all Marta could take. driving his cock into her pussy over and over and faster and faster.Taste of Pride 73 The changed angle meant he hit her G-spot. Marta finally broke the silence. Even after what they had just done. their panting breaths and the choking of the heater turning on the only sounds in the apartment. either. dispelling her anxiety. They lay silent for a moment. . Nearly. He fell forward again. The pace of his fucking escalated. Colors of light burst in front of her eyes. and she sighed. He groaned in ecstasy as her cunt milked his release from him. He fell to her side.

” Any joking left his voice. His spicy male scent overflowed her olfactory senses.” Marta could only bury her face in his chest again and smile. “You hardly know me.” Marta’s heart did a backflip at his words. we didn’t use a condom. If she had thought it robust before. How could you want to see me so badly?” Mel sighed and took Marta in her arms. Something occurred to her. “I came over here because I couldn’t stand not seeing you for another day. I have an IUD. “What’s wrong?” She looked up into his face. and he went rigid. though. “Oh. Are you—” Marta breathed out a sigh of relief. her sight.” He breathed a matching sigh. and that she could nearly feel it against her cheek. Regardless of what was going on with Sam and Phil.74 Helena Ray “I’m not lying. and she swore it spilled into her taste. it was positively potent as her naked form melded against his.” He relaxed again. “Mel?” . I would be—” Marta’s chuckle interrupted his rambling. and I’m clean. which was now creased with concern. I knew I would never forget you. “Like I said. and she tried—quite unsuccessfully—not to show it. From the moment I first saw you. “Not that I wouldn’t—I mean if you did. thank god. “Um.” He froze again. That was all he was worried about? “Don’t worry. pulled her hair out of its ponytail. you’re not like anyone else I’ve ever met. and ran his hand along the thick locks. “You just don’t want anything to come between us right now. his muscles tensed. Marta knew that she had this.” Without warning. “I just found you. I would be devastated if I lost you so soon. giving her the opportunity to snuggle into his hard chest.

okay. back to the two of them. and she giggled in response. “Melvin. I give up!” “Melbourne.” “Have they ever been there?” “No. and she responded in kind. Her eyes sought his gaze. His lips moved deliberately over hers. “Okay.” he said as he shook his head solemnly. and she explored his rough black stubble with her fingertips.” She breathed the word on the end of the kiss. a promise as opposed to a conquest. his mouth had claimed hers. That smug smile had settled across his lips again.” In an attempt to draw his thoughts back to the apartment. Before she could register the action.” He tickled her with the hand resting on her side.Taste of Pride 75 “Yeah. “I think it was an aspirational naming by my parents. trying to put all of the feeling even she couldn’t verbalize into the sensual touch. and his hands smoothed down her back. “but they plan to.” “Nope. Marta thought the kiss more…tender. Her touch seemed to bring him back to the moment.” She lifted her face to his and studied it for a moment. silly. “Is your name short for something?” “Guess.” “Mel…lificent?” “No.” “Like the city in Australia?” He nodded. But this was not a kiss of sexual abandon. “What do you mean?” . baby?” His use of a pet name sent a flurry of butterflies loose in her stomach. Marta wrapped a hand around his chiseled bicep and used her grip to pull herself up to his face. No. “Stay. but his thoughts seemed to race to somewhere far away.

And when he glimpsed her—oh. baby. and her lush. when a new generation took over protecting the land. He knew something monumental had happened in his life. her dark hair. he had awakened in a much. When his ears registered the click of her deadbolt as Marta walked out of her apartment that first day they met. feminine body called to him .76 Helena Ray “Don’t go. “Go to sleep. Every thirty or so years. It was a tale passed from generation to generation of Savage Valley mountain lion-shifters. Her high cheekbones and cute. not yet. little button nose contrasted to give her a striking appearance that would catch any man’s attention. No.” “I wasn’t planning to. their fathers would speak in hushed tones about the overwhelming experience of finding their mates. much better place. when he first glimpsed her—he had known beyond a shadow of a doubt that he had found his mate. Mel blinked his eyes. I’ll be right here.” “Good. Her pink lips. She had certainly captured his.” She snuggled into his chest. Mel had known without even seeing her. The warm figure tangled in the blankets beside him reminded him that he wasn’t at the Yeats cabin. He pushed the bangs back from her forehead and studied her delicate features. “I’ll always be right here. He rolled over and saw the sleeping beauty snuggled beside him. the emotions of the day finally wearing her down completely.” Mel’s words sounded far away as blissful unconsciousness beckoned. She had begun her slow glide into sleep when she thought she heard a breathy whisper come from Mel’s lips. wondering when exactly Cleve and Ezra had sprung for a home improvement as practical as blinds.” **** Sun streamed from slats in between the blinds. every sense lit up.

It took all the strength he could muster to pull away from the heavenly softness of her lips. He only had a few hours to hunt before the tourists would be out at Adam’s Point.” Mel ran a hand through her hair then leaned over and kissed her sleep-swollen lips. Mel still competed with his brothers. I have to go. if he didn’t need the money right now. “Am I going to see you again?” . and locating their mate was the ultimate boon. “But I have a…” How could he explain his clandestine hunting mission to her? He looked to the blinds again and saw the sun intensifying. still with her eyes closed. scaring away the deer and distracting from Mel’s leonine mission of completing his contractual obligation to kill. Damn it.” Her eyes blinked open then. let alone explaining the politics of covenant killing. I want to. As much as he hated to admit it.” She would never know exactly how much he wanted to stay and indulge in the carnal pleasures of last night. He knew.” “Believe me. She stirred next to him and opened her eyes then squeezed them shut again.” she whispered.” “Don’t go. but he would have enough difficulty convincing her to believe he was a shape-shifter. and they would have to learn to live with that. the feelings warring within Mel’s chest forced him to turn them away. “and I can’t break it. even to himself. he would tell Cleve and Ezra they could go fuck themselves. Her arms wound around his neck.” he finally said. He wished he could explain it all now. “I have a…commitment. When Sam and Phil had called claiming they’d found their mate. and he knew he had to claim her. and the forlorn expression on her face twisted his stomach. stay as long as you can. “Please. “Shh. and she opened her mouth to deepen the kiss. “Marta.Taste of Pride 77 in a way no woman had before. He had found their mate.

and most certainly not his brothers would stop him from having her. and Mel suddenly felt the need to relieve his morning erection. and she deserved the protection of the pride. but his mate beckoned him from her den of iniquity. reduced to steam by the chilly morning air. No. He nearly started back to the door when a mark on her otherwise unblemished skin drew his attention. His breaths rose in billowing clouds. that was what she was. He knew that Cleve and Ezra needed him for the unauthorized hunt. Soon. Funny. more alluring occupant. Though he hadn’t formally mated her.78 Helena Ray “How can you even ask that?” He sealed his words with a quick kiss. And not the pride. this feeling of complete satisfaction before. not the curse. Mel held his breath as he found the strength to open the door and exit the small apartment. He reached the door and turned back to her.” Marta’s lips curled into a smile. She deserved all a man could give. I won’t take my jacket. Only an hour or two now. sex had never given him this warm glow. red cuts on her side had scabbed over. Mel leaned against the front wall of the apartment. but Marta deserved that and so much more. His mate. Mel sat up and crawled out of the warm. “I’ll be back. If I do that. He watched as the sun crested over the Mukua Mountains and cast light over the jagged landscape. “You’re not the kind of girl that a man fucks then walks out on. “Good. “Tell you what. After gently closing the door so as not to disturb the soporific angel inside.” Marta only made a sound of contentment and turned over to go back to sleep. alluring bed with its even warmer. .” With a sigh of deep regret. Four parallel long. I’ll be here until the damn curse calls me to the next pride hunt.” Her breathing hitched. but the irritated flesh on either side of the incisions indicated they were freshly made.

he would mate Marta. he’d already marked her. .Taste of Pride 79 The image popped into his head of the scratches cut into Marta’s soft flesh. After all. Yes.

“Sit down. He and his brothers had long since learned that . why in the good Lord’s name is there a suit out there talking about Savage Hunger—and I quote—‘becoming a part of the NormCorp empire?’” Well. she knew plenty about the pride. Sam considered making an exception for Rita. Sam hadn’t planned on telling his employees about the sale until it was final. Although hesitant to discuss the situation with anyone. “Come in!” The door opened. at least not yet. The woman had worked for his family most of her life. and I’ll give your mother a piece of my mind. and since one of her sons had married a Yeats woman. shit. Rita continued looking at him with an accusatory expression.” Sam closed his laptop and gestured to one of the chairs across his desk. and Rita Copely marched into his office.80 Helena Ray Chapter 6 A knock sounded on the door to Sam’s office. He looked up from his laptop. grateful for the interruption of his biweekly payroll duties.” Sam reluctantly recalled that Rita and his mother shared everything as they received their routine manicures and pedicures and engaged in assorted womanly beauty rituals at the Haven. Sam had only spoken with Norman’s receptionist over the phone about setting up an appointment to draw up the papers. Savage Valley’s beauty salon. Sam. I’m going to Haven after my shift. Nothing had been signed. hands on hips. “Samuel Zachariah Pope. “Don’t you give me orders. As it stood.

He didn’t relish having to tell another soul why he was about to jeopardize Savage Valley’s future. all right. yes. Rita?” “There’s that infamous Pope charm.” “That’s wonderful!” Rita clapped her hands together. a legendary family trait. you see.” “The business has done well. but he won’t accept our overtures. sug. there would be hell to pay. I’ve talked to your mother. and her eyes shone with excitement.” Sam blew out a quick breath of air.” “Well. You see. and I know you boys aren’t hurtin’ for cash. “Why don’t you please take a seat. “We found our mate. We’ve reached out to him. by ‘we. He’s claiming that he’s found someone else and that he .” Sam said as he nodded. what do you want to know? I know you’ll just ask around until you find out anyway.Taste of Pride 81 if any of their behavior was reported to their mother. crossed her legs. tell me.” “Sam. “Not Mel. there’s—” “Out with it. “And you bet your ass that you’ll tell me why you’re selling out to that cue-ball-headed Norman. “All right. “When do we get to start planning the wedding?” “Not yet. and leaned over the desk. “Well.’ I mean Phil and me.” Rita winked at him as she took a seat.” “You bet your ass I will. even as adults. delaying confessing everything.” “No. reminded him of his generation’s other Byronic son. not Mel. “Phil’s cooking is becoming nearly as infamous as the singles nature walks at the Woodland. Any mention of the Pope charm.” Rita’s face fell.” he conceded.” Sam closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

” “Oh. Otherwise Phil and I staying unmated will just drain the pride of much-needed strength. “If we can’t get Mel onboard with taking our mate.” “You wouldn’t.” he said solemnly. And you know how he is. He won’t even live in the cabin with us. “We’d have to.” “Oh.82 Helena Ray needs to be with her. Rita. In this generation. Rita pursed her lips.” The last thing Sam needed was another discussion of how his actions had contributed to drive away the youngest Pope. but you still haven’t explained why that wool-clad slimeball outside thinks Ulysses Norman is going to buy up my place of employment. but nodded anyway. it’s only you and the Sullivans. You know that’s not true.” Rita gasped. Growing up. hush.” Rita’s tone became gentle and nurturing.” “I was getting there. “Since we can’t get—” Rita narrowed her eyes at Sam.” He gave her a pointed look and then continued. and it doesn’t help that families with three shifters are so uncommon. He’s a good boy. hon. and you never got along with them. Sam. “Okay. Mel never resonated with the Cash boys. then we’ve talked about invoking the infertility clause in the treaty. a sign she was about to invoke her rights as a woman who damn near raised Sam and his brothers. “But what does that have to do with selling Savage Hunger to NormCorp?” “It would ensure some measure of protection for the land and for the Pope sector of Savage Valley. “Don’t be so hard on him.” “The reason he doesn’t fit in is that he doesn’t want to. he wouldn’t even participate in the hunt. looking as if she held back a nasty comment. Maybe Mel felt a little—” “I don’t want to have this conversation. The four of you were inseparable. And you know that I believe that if the curse didn’t compel him. I truly . You know that. you and Phil had Oliver and Roarke. but he just has a hard time fitting in with the rest of you Popes.

” “It could be.” “But the infertility clause means Marta won’t be able to have children. What if she wants them?” “Maybe that’s just a sacrifice we’ll—” Wait. wondering what exactly had caused her hysterical outburst. and ending our line would be a better decision for us and for the pride. hush now.Taste of Pride 83 believe that selling to NormCorp. I killed our chance.” Sam interrupted. “But Sam.” Sam felt his jaw drop. You and Phil have been falling over yourselves since she waggled her pretty little ass into this joint. it wouldn’t matter. leaving the curse. honey. Any girl’d be salivating to have a nice young man like you.” “Oh. your mother and I have been waiting for you boys to ’fess up for days now. to make you feel uncomfortable in the workplace or showed favor to her in any way.” . sorry. Rita. “Even if Mel. and I were able to magically work out all our differences. you’re an excellent boss. if you would only patch things up with—” “No. Phil. “how did you know it was Marta?” The meddling but endearing older woman grinned from ear to ear. he closed it and spoke. Honestly. “If I did anything. “Sorry. and Sam swore he saw her wipe a tear from the corner of her eye. Sam looked from side to side. you know. you—” Rita threw back her head and howled in laughter. Once able. It’s just so damn clear in the way you and your brother look at her you’re completely wild for her.” Sam could only laugh dryly at Rita’s comment and shake his head. it’s more than obvious. “If only it were that simple. “Sug. And you haven’t shown any sort of professional favor to Marta.” Rita said as she returned from her fit of hooting merriment. had he? “Rita.” he continued slowly. He hadn’t mentioned Marta.

“Shit!” The overly large teeth muffled his voice. “Here’s what you need to do. and so did little Miss Chelsea. I sometimes forget how odd ménageamy appears to outsiders. “I think we pushed her a little too hard.” Clucking. long talk first of all and work things out—” “As if that would happen. The three of you boys need to have a good. “Good. . you just hit upon what’s been plaguing this town for the past hundred and fifty years. Whether or not you want to tell her first about the Pope family’s tradition of all the brothers taking the same woman. With Sam seated. Sam nodded. that’s one way of saying it. and walked around to where Sam sat. do you have any paper?” Perplexed. Your mother accepted it right away. a rare occurrence. “—and then you need to talk to Marta.84 Helena Ray “My attractiveness aside.” The metallic taste of blood danced across his tongue. or about how the three of you are…that you expect her to…” “That she’s walked into a fucking Animorphs book?” “Well. but the look on Rita’s face made him think the better of it. could you give me a moment?” Having witnessed one of Sam’s partial-shifting episodes before— he couldn’t shift fully around her—Rita hopped to her feet and went to the door. and Sam realized that his canines had begun to extend and pierce the skin of his lip. “Rita. growing up amongst the pride. Rita shook her head.” Sam said with a laugh. rose from the desk. but you’re talking about a different woman. I guess.” Rita turned and walked back to the chair then sat emphatically and crossed her legs.” Sam grumbled under his breath. “Now. Honestly. Now take this down.” Sam opened his mouth to object. she almost saw eye to eye with him. “Sug. She placed her hands on his wide shoulders and swiveled his chair so that he faced her.

sug. Rita had marched into his office and reminded him once more that he was the root cause of his family’s woes. But Sam’s pride could never allow him to acknowledge his servitude to his brother. Every single morning since he laid eyes on her. And once he had dragged himself to the office to perform the loathsome duty of payroll. and he knew that he was the one stoking the fires of their inimical relationship. The waxing gibbous moon would shine upon the Mukuas tonight and. especially to the youngest Pope’s face. the cries of exquisite agony as they came together—but not this morning. he had looked around to ensure Phil had made his morning run to the Savage Hunger then stroked himself to completion by imagining Marta waking up beside him. “thank you. Upon waking.” Sam looked up at her and mouthed a completely heartfelt. even the heavens tangled themselves in the conspiracy against Sam. Each morning the hallucination returned— waking with his cock pressed against her luscious ass. the swell of her breasts heaving as she rode him. It appeared as though all his demons were conspiring to turn this day against him. He dropped his head to his hands and ran his fingers through the tangled locks of his hair. He knew the feud with Mel was ridiculous. But think about what I said. You need to let Marta make the decision for herself.” while trying to keep his canines from showing as Rita slipped out of his office. I’ve only got a short spell left on my shift. His actions had ensured his fantasy would never make it through the transformation to reality.Taste of Pride 85 “You take a minute. as it had for his forefathers. his morning erection instantly wilted when he realized that he had ensured that he would never wake with Marta’s warm body curled against his. Finally. transform all the . Don’t go sellin’ off the family business just because you’re afraid things won’t work out. and especially in the short span of time since his first taste of the sweet berries of her lips. His words and his actions when he walked in on her with Phil had so alienated her that Sam worried he could never win her back.

Mel’s rebellious nature had led him away from the family and into a life of vice. Yet another knock interrupted Sam’s thoughts. “Uh. and I’ll have Dave come get them. despite the harsh punishments outlined in the treaty. Luckily. . Sam had used his seniority as a child to coax Mel into covering for him when their fathers would gather the boys for hunting practice. After she retrieved her uniform. his fangs had retracted. ringing voice that penetrated straight to his soul. Never making eye contact. “Rita. Over the years. for stalking their prey and sinking in his teeth. you can just leave your things in the kitchen. Being the oldest. Sam shuddered to think that one of his own family had become a covenant killer—one of the lions who hunted for hire when other lions couldn’t fend for themselves. Now. Mel was the hunter in their family. and his voice was once more clear. Sam noticed a sloppy grin across her face.” His chest contracted at the clear. no such luxury existed. Marta. this one as welcome as the last. he’d become a formidable tracker. Sam’s size made him intimidating in human form. “Come in!” Marta’s usual attentiveness was gone. Instead. the pride alpha. Sam leaned back in his chair as he imagined the agony and humiliation he’d endured for the past two years since Oliver. but clumsy as a lion. He cleared his throat before giving her a quick. hit thirty years of age and their generation had come to dominate the pride. and her mind appeared elsewhere as she walked over to the row of lockers on the south wall of Sam’s office.” Sam called to the door. The only thought more disturbing to Sam was how often he patronized Mel and the Yeatses’—also covs—clandestine operation. but he never developed the talent for killing.86 Helena Ray members of the pride into their lion form for their hunt. it’s not Rita. No. she waved to him casually before exiting his office again.

Another had claimed his beautiful mate. Through the windshield. No other cars surrounded the building. staring straight ahead and white as a ghost. If he shifted . and possessiveness toiled in his chest. however. But as the truism echoing in Sam’s mind reminded him. regret. **** Phil pulled Sam’s car up to the abandoned buildings at the northwest edge of Savage Valley. Phil was certain the entire pride had already assembled. A mixture of anger. Sam had left Phil in charge of the diner while he made his pilgrimage out to the Yeatses’ cabin. The whole family knew of Sam’s patronage of the covenant killers. it was too risky for Sam to shift on his own before the hunt. Phil saw Sam still belted into the car. While Phil’s lion relished the bimonthly hunting ritual. could provide consolation for the hole in Sam’s heart that widened with each passing second. He knew how hard it was for his brother. Most of the shifters preferred the transportation of their paws hitting the earth at a gallop. Nothing. just as they knew of Mel’s only discernible source of income. leaving Sam too dizzy and light headed to return to work right away. Why had he dragged his feet? Why had he let his damned ego get in the way of marching over to the Yeatses’ cabin and demanding Mel meet Marta? At least he hadn’t sold the diner. Earlier. Sam finally exited the car and joined Phil on the short walk to the abandoned stillhouse. Sam always made the day quite difficult for the fully sentient. he consoled himself. human Phil. although given the late hour. He killed the engine and hopped out of the car.Taste of Pride 87 Something occurred to Sam that he had never dared contemplate before. it was the exception that proved any rule. but his brother didn’t follow. Mates were normally loyal to their shifters because the strength of their attraction overwhelmed any urge to look elsewhere. Because of the recent satiation of his appetite.

until the end of the hunt. Opening the door meant seeing Mel. as he always did. You know Ulysses had the gall to come into the Ninth Time last week and try to sell me on signing over the deed to him?” “No offense. he may have stayed in his lion form. the taste of blood from his lion’s earlier feast may have forced him to stay in his lion form.” “I’m with you. I told him he couldn’t have it and that we provided a real service for the town. Sam marched into the dark. but with NormCorp and the IRS breathing down my back. He stood in front of the heavy sliding door. Without the rest of the pride compelling him to shift to perform his duties as tracker. The cruel mistress of payroll strikes again. Phil could see his long. something neither of the older Popes was too thrilled about.88 Helena Ray back into lion form now. Sam took the initiative. and the bastard just laughed in my face.” Phil chimed in.” Jack Abbott. and Phil was thankful to see his brother’s eyes glow with interest in anything but avoiding the hunt. after he had shifted earlier to feast on the mule deer he purchased clandestinely from the Yeats brothers. If he appeared at the pride hunt in lion form. Clay’s brother. I can’t afford to be a penny off. “but what would Ulysses want with a secondhand store?” “Real estate.” “What? NormCorp?” Sam turned to Clay. hesitant to throw it open. unable to become human again. “I only got Jack for it. cavernous space and greeted the rest of the pride. everyone would know he had patronized the covs. Luckily. blond hair obscuring his expression in the dark room. fucking NormCorp. “Yeah.” Clayton Abbott stepped forward out of the group. boys. “Sorry we’re late. Covering his nerves with bravado. and thanks to his shifter eyesight.” . “Plain and simple. answered. man. and the sound of metal creaking echoed against the Mukuas.

the pride alpha. They each owned one half of that business. “I damn near lost my mate to that bastard’s ambition. okay?” Phil was about to respond when Oliver’s voice echoed throughout the room. and Sam had no right trying to sell it without Phil’s consent. The festivities may begin now. silently expressing his disapproval for Sam’s handling of Savage Hunger. “I mean.” Before Sam could respond. “But why do we have to fight it?” All eyes were on Sam..” Phil’s best friend.” Mel stopped before reaching the rest of the men. “Oh. flanked by Cleve and Ezra Yeats. but Phil felt the hairs on the back of his neck prickle as his inner mountain lion clawed at his control. the metal of the door scraped again. but what would it hurt to make a few little concessions?” “Sam Pope. and I’ve heard more than a few tales of him using those connections to financially ruin businesses. It’s you guys again. stepped into the middle of the group of men. wait.Taste of Pride 89 “And then had the gall to come round to the back of the store and sell me on the idea. “11:59 p. Roarke Cash. and in walked Mel. stripping to only boxer shorts as they formed a ring around the alpha. Phil performed . “It’s Mel. isn’t it?” Phil only nodded in response. guys. have you lost your ever-loving mind?” Oliver Cash. “Problem is he’s got connections at the government.m.” Clay shook his head and stared at the ground.” Phil took that opportunity to give Sam a pointed look. “Get through tonight. Never mind about that festivity part. Circle up!” All of the men began removing their clothes.” Maybe it was the fact that the hunt was only minutes away. and we can talk about it in the morning. said quietly beside him. man. wait just a little longer before you shift. we don’t have to give in completely. “Hey. “We’re here.

. The enhanced night vision in human form that many of the pride experienced had always eluded Sam. human thoughts ruling his mind once more. mukua. **** He blinked his eyes open and saw his brothers lying strewn across the barren ground. The colors. and the softly spoken ancient Shoshoni words pierced the chilly fall air. Without light. but tonight. Phil’s mouth dangling open in his stupor. he hungered for the release. Sam shouldn’t have been able to make out every feature—the dirt streaked across Mel’s face. In his experience. Wait. The room grew silent as Oliver closed his eyes. long before dawn. Any minute now. But the nausea never came. It had to be two o’clock in the morning. The cold ground outside his cabin burned Sam’s flesh as he came to. and tastes that dominated his leonine consciousness once more grasped Phil’s brain. running with everyone after he had satiated his appetite earlier in the afternoon left him with a cold. “Deegai-doyadukubichi’. he braced himself for the wave of nausea that hit him after a pride hunt. the curse and muscle memory already starting to take over for higher-level thinking. Only one sensation from his human mind remained. clammy feeling that refused to leave for days.” Phil couldn’t even register the others shifting before fur sprouted from his skin and claws from his fingernail.90 Helena Ray the movements mechanically. diametrically to the sense of relief his pridemates felt. But he couldn’t deny what he saw. Phil had never particularly relished the ritual since the curse compelled him to return to Savage Valley for the bimonthly hunt. smells. and it permeated every aspect of his cognizance. The drive to possess every inch of Marta Verner’s being. Possession. After scrambling into a pair of boxers he had stashed for his transformations.

Sam had led the way. Mel had experienced the exact same thing as Sam and Phil! The blood coursing through his veins heated. It happened at once. another sensation experienced by other lions but never Sam. had they really been that lucky? His brothers both came to. and Sam watched with cautious optimism as the same epiphany played across their faces as they scrambled to clothe themselves. and Sam led them out of their way to Marta’s apartment. touch her. “You found Marta. . begrudging even in shifted form. No. Every inch of their beings ached for her. The pull had been too great to resist. “It was her. Phil.” Phil joined Sam looking down at the youngest.Taste of Pride 91 His insides started roiling—a sure sign the nausea was seconds away—but another sensation took hold of him. He had run with Phil to meet Mel near the Yeatses’ cabin. feeling stronger than he had ever felt after a hunt.” Mel looked up. Holy shit. With the adrenaline came a wave of memory. and Mel all felt the pull to Marta. It wrapped around his heart and squeezed. All three of them needed to be together for their control of the Popes’ sector. not depleted but energized by his shift. Sam. and they had collectively known that they must mate her and soon. He stood. Images from the hunt suddenly flashed into his mind. thrilling him from the inside out. Adrenaline. too. Mel had joined them. and bask in the glow of her beauty. and Sam realized it had been years since his brother looked him straight in the eye. He could sense Phil’s discomfort as they ran and knew that Phil felt his reluctance. and they started toward the Popes’ sector. he wanted to see his mate. and his lion had not registered Marta’s rejection. smell her. all knew she was the Popes’ mate. and he suddenly knew the source of the snake of pure exhilaration that entwined around his chest. All three sensed her presence at the same time. Mel. his duty as eldest.

as nonchalant as ever. tinged not with jealousy.” Mel shrugged. and Mel was the nearest target.” He turned to Mel. “But. golden boy. Mel.” Sam’s voice had become a roar. but as always. “How do you know that I wasn’t thinking about you? And excuse me. “What the fuck?” Mel bellowed back to his brother as he sprung to his feet. and only thoughts of his mate kept him calm. anything to let us know who you’d found?” Visions of his brother with Marta played in his mind.” A tense silence hung between the brothers.” The excitement bled into anger. And now that doesn’t have to—” “The infertility clause? You were going to do that to Marta?” Fury pulled at his chest. but with a deep regret that the three of them had been too wrapped up in his their inner turmoil to see what was right in front of him. you were only thinking about yourself. so—” “So you thought you’d let that douchebag Ulysses Norman buy the diner and then take away Marta’s ability to reproduce?” “It wasn’t the best plan. “You probably don’t know this.” Sam said. “Why didn’t you tell us? Why didn’t you give us a name. Hopefully you’ve learned over the past two years that you aren’t infallible.92 Helena Ray “She’s our mate.” Sam admitted. “When you walked out. a hint. it’s not like you ever furnished me with the name of your mate. but our idiot of a brother was just about to sell Savage Hunger to NormCorp and invoke the infertility clause. we were desperate. “It was the only thing we could do. you left us with no other option. “Why are you two fighting? We just got the best news we could have possibly received. . There would never be any way to continue the line. “We could have avoided this whole mess.” “Not like you’ve given me any—” “Stop it!” Phil pushed his way between his brothers. All you did was call and demand I take the woman you selected. “I told you guys I’d met someone.

“It’s time for her to make a choice.” “We need to go to her. “Not that. and we need to tell her. not right away at least.” Phil said.Taste of Pride 93 “You know what we need to do. . breaking the silence. Mel quirked an eyebrow and smirked.” Sam said.

we just want to talk. let us in. anything to aid her escape. Mel is here. looking for something. Phil. An air vent. The only thing that could make it worse would be— “Marta! Open up!” Sam. open up!” Sleep still tugged at the edges of her consciousness as she blinked her eyes open. Mel was here with Phil. They had found out about her trysts. fuck. Banging into the counter and hissing a few select curses.” Her senses went alert when she realized that she recognized the voice pleading with her. why did the only window leading out of her apartment have a broken lock? Blind in the dark. They . fuck. I need my jacket. Let us in. she scurried around.” Everything inside Marta froze. we need to talk to you. and when it dawned on her what must be happening.” Phil’s always-calming voice rang from the other side of her door. honey. Entirely awake now. she halted her frenzied searching in the kitchen and took a deep breath. Damn it. the ones she had imagined while rubbing herself to orgasm mere hours ago.94 Helena Ray Chapter 7 “Marta! Marta. her conscience sagged under the weight of her guilt. she tried to think of a way out of the situation. Please. “Marta. all stood at her door. maybe? “Marta. come on. too? Her brain raced. Shouldn’t he have been starting the honey almond muffins over at Savage Hunger? “Baby. Her three liaisons. Fuck. too? Fuck. She glanced over at her clock to see it was three o’clock in the morning.

lean. Mel had the exact same figure as Sam and Phil and the same clear. How had she not seen it before? The high cheekbones. Each man held such alluring sex appeal. all three of them with tall.” “Why would it have been more convenient? Because then you all would have known that I—” They hadn’t yet mentioned any knowledge of Marta’s dalliances with each. and all three sported dark circles under their eyes. What she saw at least put a smile on her face. Sam. Despite their shouts for Marta to open the door. now the three men now didn’t make a sound. Marta felt her jaw drop. and Mel’s stubble was thicker than she’d seen it before. how had she not seen that?—as smug grins crossed their faces. Not anger.” Sam drawled. the chiseled jaw. the look in their eyes was entirely unfamiliar. hoping for some clue as to their purpose since they all three appeared to be trying the strong-and-silent tactic. dirt was streaked across their faces. she thought. She knew Sam was well . Much as she hated to admit. she took the few steps to her front door and opened it. luscious lips—Mel shared so many traits with his brothers that Marta felt like an idiot for not seeing it before. Their hair was matted. muscular bodies that— Holy shit. “But we got it in the end. Phil.” she whispered. bright blue eyes that pierced straight through to her soul. and Mel all looked like they’d been rode hard and put up wet. Mustering every ounce of her courage.Taste of Pride 95 didn’t claim to be angry. Sam and Phil’s chins were dotted with stubble. “You’re brothers. But something else burned in their eyes. if she had found out that one of them was out cavorting with not one. the full. the family resemblance shone through. but Marta knew that she would be if the situation were reversed. but two other women. Sam and Mel each quirked an eyebrow—god. “It would have been much more convenient for you to figure that out earlier. Despite the contrast of Sam’s blond locks and Phil’s wavy chestnut hair to Mel’s jet-black tresses. She searched their expressions. No. it was working.

very long story. his arm extended as if reaching to touch Marta. as she now knew all three were. reassuring Marta a bit.” Phil added. a barely visible gesture. He squeezed it. “Are you going to invite us in?” Mel asked. She would be needing coffee for this.96 Helena Ray aware of what went on between her and Phil. . “We all know. “And the kitchen? That’s hot. Just as she closed the lid on her coffeemaker. she leaned into the sensation. but other than that. exactly. not capable of finding the words to even inquire as to what. Mel stood right behind Phil. Without thinking. and neither of his brothers was too far behind. “They know about what went on between the two of us.” The warmth in Phil’s smile helped to ease the tension. “What…How…Do you…” Marta trailed off. She stared at it for a moment then looked into his eyes. Sam’s head appeared to nearly scrape the ceiling with his extreme height. was happening to her. “And I know what happened between you and Sam in his car. “And that’s why we’re here in the middle of the night. entered her small efficiency apartment. “I’m afraid it’s a very. after all. He nodded. baby.” Mel stepped around Phil and offered his hand to Marta.” Mel’s eyebrow shot up. warm stubble scraped across her shoulder. Then a second stubble-covered chin scraped across her cheek. Marta switched on the lights and headed to the kitchen. but Mel held it tightly. Marta found herself completely unable to respond.” Marta attempted to steal her hand back. pleased when an arm wrapped around her waist. Marta jumped and turned around to see Sam and Phil both standing directly behind her. Backing away from the door. she had no proof that anyone had kissed and told. You’re working breakfast. breaking the silence. Even more disturbing.” Dumbstruck by the revelation. she was certain. The Popes. and she hesitantly placed her hand in his.

her body responded to Sam’s nearness.” “We are. “We can talk about that remark later. “We are as far from angry as possible. “You’re not angry? I mean.” Mel landed a playful punch on Phil’s shoulder. He broke the kiss ever so slightly and whispered against Marta’s lips.” He reached for Marta.” His raised eyebrows told Marta it’d be quite a pleasant conversation.” He closed the small space between himself and Marta. I feel terrible. she involuntarily rose to her tiptoes and met his lips in a light but passionate kiss. “We’re happier than we knew we could be. but you falling for Mel is more than we could have ever hoped for. “C’mere. and Mel released her. and his expression nearly imperceptibly darkened. at least not about all three of you. “It’s time to get this show on the road. “Phil and Marta need to get to the diner by six thirty.” Sam called from where he now sat on Marta’s bed.” Mel’s arm snaked around her waist and pulled her close to him. really terrible. about what I did and how I—” The deep rumble of Sam’s laughter interrupted her. “But we need to have a talk. his long legs extended in front of him. It can’t be too hard to fall for me.Taste of Pride 97 “You’re not…” Marta took a deep breath then found the words to speak. “I resent that. and Phil responded with a brotherly shove. and Sam released her with a sigh. “Let’s just say.” Mel took her upturned face as an opportunity to place a peck on her nose. allowing her . and I promise you will think we’re completely nuts in a few minutes. “I know it’ll be a while before you really believe us.” Phil chimed in. As from the first moment she saw him. Sam sat on the edge of the bed.” Mel guided her out of the small kitchen area to the bed. all three of us couldn’t be happier.” “Hey.” Marta then looked up at Mel.” “What? I would never think that. and Mel dropped her hand. As his face lowered to hers and his eyes drifted shut.” Phil paused. “Well.

“In 1846. but two strong arms caught her. “Well. just let the woodsy musk filter through her awareness. “First. but never had anything felt more right to Marta than being caressed by these three men. this time. Given the absolute improbability of everything that had happened in the past fifteen minutes. Even though each had their own distinct style of interacting with her physically. His strong arms encircled her. so some of this may be repetition. She tilted her head back to see it was Mel’s chest she now leaned against. Marta didn’t question its source. the one that had enveloped her when she and Mel made love. Marta nuzzled her nose against the soft tuft of blond chest hair that escaped from the top of Sam’s shirt. and by the time they made it to Colorado. oozed from Sam’s core. nobody’s wagon was in very good shape.98 Helena Ray to tumble onto Sam’s lap. The bed dipped on either side of them.” He seemed to hesitate then. and Mel and Phil each sat on either side of her and her protector. I guess it’s best to start at the beginning. and he wrapped his arms around her knees and pulled her forward so that her legs lay across his lap.” . and everything she knew about relationships told her it was wrong. and Marta followed his gaze to see that something passed between him and both of his brothers. A soft yelp escaped her throat when the sudden motion made her fall backward. a bit of a history lesson. tonight they moved as one. They faced some pretty rough terrain in Wyoming. Marta’s legs faced Phil.” Phil’s voice drew her attention and she looked up from Sam’s chest. She couldn’t explain it.” Phil continued. That same spicy scent. five families were travelling west on what came to be known as the Oregon Trail. passing her from embrace to embrace. “I don’t know how much you found out when you were researching the town for that article you were writing. The way the three men had worked together when they handled her amazed her. cradling her to his chest.

You’ve seen the sign. about No Animal Attacks since 1846. That’s you! And they’re all still in Savage Valley!” “Patience. Verner.” “Wait. “the five families conveniently found five abandoned cabins and settled in. Her arousal abated a bit at her self- admonition. “It’ll all be clear soon. and they began clearing the land to establish a new metropolis. None of us has had any moonshine as of late. Luckily. The five families of the Valley were most certainly of that mindset. let me clarify one thing.” Marta nodded. the Yeatses. I’m sure. so the most compelling reason for sacrificing everything and heading west was the promise of a totally fresh start. doing nothing to calm her growing excitement. they happened upon an abandoned fur-trading post—the building that’s the bank now—” “I knew that!” Marta interjected.” Marta . The pioneers were all about westward expansion and claiming the land and all that crap. those would be the Cashes. the Abbotts.” Sam continued. “At the time. and the Sullivans. They’re all serious about this. The rumbling of Sam’s laugh combined with Mel’s hands rubbing her back lit a small fire in her pussy. “those five families decided to settle down. proud of her small bit of Savage Valley trivia.” Mel spoke this time. taking over for Phil. Keep it together. “Told you she was smart.” Sam said. the Popes. and Marta twisted in Sam’s lap to see his beautiful face that not even streaks of mud could mar. “Anyway. there’s a very bizarre reason for this.” Phil cooed. “Now keep in mind. Before we continue our tale. “Well.” Sam kissed the top of her head before he went on. and he continued. that deep laugh still in his voice. Savage Valley was under siege from all manner of animal attacks. this was the middle of the 1800s. In case you’re wondering.” Phil rubbed her legs as he spoke.” “Only that didn’t happen.Taste of Pride 99 “And so. But only in the slightest. and this is definitely not a stumphole-induced hallucination. This was even back before the gold rush.

“They continued on with their hunting and their chopping. but they all laughed at the man. interrupting Phil. including our great-great-great-great-grandfathers. Mel continued their tale.” Phil continued. “Don’t worry.” Marta turned back to Phil when he spoke. and he felt it his personal duty to make sure the settlers treated the land with as much care and reverence as the Shoshone.100 Helena Ray laughed. they ran across a Native American man named Cameahwait. “He was one of the Bannock Shoshone tribe that still lives in the southwest corner of Savage Valley.” “Okay. “You really think this story needs exaggeration?” When Phil didn’t respond. and the native tribes had more authority then. “It’s always been my favorite. “and they paid the price for it. Cameahwait told the settlers to stop their hunting and to stop clearing the land.” Phil said slowly. White settlers were few and far between. So the settlers thought they’d successfully overruled Cameahwait with their bluster and were going . His tribe had kept watch over the valley and the Mukuas for centuries. across the creek from the Woodland Den. Phil. “When the five families.” “And let’s just say Cameahwait was none too pleased with the settlers.” “Seriously?” Mel’s eyebrow shot up.” “But our ancestors didn’t respect that authority. but Mel’s affect stayed grave. As much as Marta enjoyed a good history lecture. she really hoped the compelling meat of the story was to come. started making real progress on clearing the land and killing the animals.” Sam said.” Marta turned and saw an oddly sincere plea on Mel’s face. We’re getting to the good part now. seeing their dream of a modern city in the west coming to fruition until one day when—” “Let me tell this part. “but I’m stopping you if you start exaggerating.” “Remember. He warned that their spurning would have dire consequences—a warning our ancestors most certainly should have taken seriously. Apparently Mel could sense her agitation. “Colorado Territory wasn’t even organized until 1861.

Taste of Pride 101

about their merry way. Then on one night, when a shadow was just
beginning to creep across the moon, all the men were drawn to the
northwest corner of the town, where that”—Mel’s eyes shifted
between his brothers—“abandoned stillhouse stands now.” Glancing
to Sam and then Phil, she saw that neither of them believed his
assertion of the stillhouse’s obsolescence. “And they found
themselves all standing there at the foot of the Mukuas at midnight,
staring at one another and seriously contemplating if a lake of fire
would open in front of them and they’d be taken up to heaven.
“According to legend, each man experienced a series of truly
bizarre sensations that they assumed at the time were sensory
hallucinations. Their skin began tingling, a sharp ache formed
underneath their fingernails, and their teeth started to crowd their
mouths. They didn’t have much time to contemplate these feelings,
though, because next thing anyone knew, they were all lying naked in
the woods, totally unaware of what had happened to them.”
“Looking a little bit like we do right now,” Sam added.
“Needless to say,” Mel continued, “the citizens of Savage Valley
were freaked the fuck out. It happened again, a little more than two
weeks later, and this time, one of them remembered.”
All three men fell silent, and the tension in the room took Marta’s
breath away. Her conscience kicked in, and the utter absurdity of what
they might be about to say dawned on her.
“Wait just a goddamn minute.” Marta launched herself out of
Sam’s lap and to her feet. “I’ve read Twilight, and I know where this
is going.” She attempted to burn her gaze into each of their innocent-
looking faces. “You want me to believe you’re werewolves, don’t
you?”
The stoic looks they each wore unsettled her. Why weren’t they
bursting into laughter? Oh, no. I found a family of inhumanly
attractive men who actually think they’re not human. As they
continued their silence, she edged backward, suddenly frightened of
the men who completed her.

102 Helena Ray

“Tell me what’s going on, guys.” Finally, her words broke their
trance. Sam turned the full force of his watery blue stare on her,
taking away her ability to move and to breathe.
“Marta, the settlers—our ancestors—they turned into mountain
lions.”
“O–Okay.” Although shaken to the core, her curiosity got the
better of her.
“Okay?” Sam’s eyes widened. “You’re okay with this?”
“We’ll see.” She crossed her arms. “Go on.”
Phil took over for Mel. “What was remembered, you see, is that
they turned into mountain lions and hunted their prey. One of the
men, the Sullivans’ great-great-great-grandfather Brock, recalled
everything that had happened while they were in lion form. They
tracked their prey, killed it, and ate together, and then each family
took off on its own. They went to their homesteads, the area around
each family’s cabin, and ensured nothing would harm their family’s
land. They sabotaged building projects, destroyed saws for cutting
down trees, and hunted any animal that might prey on the humans,
which is exactly the reason not a single animal has attacked since
1846.”
The buzzing of the fluorescent light in the kitchen was the only
sound as Marta took in Phil’s words. Her logical mind couldn’t
believe him. Human beings just didn’t transform into wild animals,
and Marta was certain of that fact. But the niggling reporter inside her
mind that pulled at her thoughts begged her to find out more, never to
close her mind on any possibilities. Facts. It occurred to Marta that
she couldn’t make any judgment yet. She needed evidence to build
her story. Stick to the facts. Her journalism professor’s words rang in
her head. Everything else is filler.
“Show me.”
Phil and Sam glanced at each other, wariness in their gazes.
“Darling,” Phil began, “I wish that we could, but…”

Taste of Pride 103

“It’s not that easy.” Sam reached a hand out, and Marta placed
hers in it tentatively. As he closed his hand around hers, the
tenderness of his touch reminded her that no matter if they were
mentally stable or not, she had developed a rapport with these men, a
real relationship. They deserved at least a chance to prove themselves.
“I really do wish we could, but the lions signed a treaty with the
Shoshone in 1869 outlawing shifting in front of humans. The magic in
the curse changed then, and without getting permission from the
Shoshone shaman, we can’t—”
“You can’t.” Sam and Phil both snapped their heads to stare at
Mel.
“Oh, and you can?” Sam’s voice held some venom, and concerns
formed in Marta’s mind about the stability of the Pope brothers’
relationship. After all, neither Sam nor Phil had mentioned having a
brother, and Mel had clammed when she asked his family name.
“Yes, I can.” Mel glared at his older brother. “Not fully, but
enough to prove my status as a shifter.”
“How in the hell is that possible? And why hadn’t you told us
about this? You know that this could get us in trouble with—”
“Sam.” Phil placed a hand on his older brother’s shoulder. “Can
we save this argument for later? I sincerely doubt Marta will go
running to Bo about this.”
“Who’s Bo?” Marta asked.
“See. Nothing to worry about.”
“I hate to interrupt the brewing existential crisis, but I’d like to
show her already.”
Sam opened his mouth to speak but shook his head and waved a
hand at Mel. “Go on, then.”
“Marta,” Mel called to her in his deep, clear voice. “Come sit with
me.” With a hesitant glance at his brothers, she lowered herself to the
bed again, this time in Mel’s lap. “Remember the other night? When I
spent the night?”
A heated flush crawled up her neck. “Uh-huh.”

and his fingernails grew into long. Mel’s fingers became shorter. red scratches down her side. hoping to find some sort of answer there. and for the first time noticed for long. Mel had left his lion’s mark. and she didn’t see how he could have made the marks.” . “When did those—” “Watch. jerking motions. His whole hand rested in the place between the two center scratches. eliciting a sharp gasp—“right here?” “Uh-huh. obscuring his light skin. curved claws.104 Helena Ray “And do you remember when I held you”—he placed one hand on her waist. She thought to protest—the idea of her breasts exposed to all three Popes was as intimidating as it was tantalizing—but the cool air hardening her nipples to taut buds silenced any complaint.” The shock of Phil’s story had dispelled some of her arousal. The vibrating suddenly ceased. hooked nails matched exactly the spacing of the four red marks on her sides. My lion has burned for you. and a slight. “At least. and the most remarkable thing she had ever witnessed occurred. his fingers began shaking. I’ve burned since the instant I saw you. At first it was only slight. “How did you…” Marta trailed off and looked into Mel’s eyes. Without warning his hand slipped under the hem of her T-shirt and pulled it over her head. The four sharp. stinging pain accompanied the sparks of pleasure. Then. Marta twisted so she could see his hand.” He shrugged. The hair on his fingers grew. but the movements turned into harsh. and Mel flexed his—Marta couldn’t believe what she was thinking—his claws. as Marta studied his callused hands. my human mind didn’t want to. but Mel’s light touch had it racing upward again.” Mel laid his palm on her side. but thicker. “I didn’t mean to. baby. “And”—Mel’s voice was hushed now—“do you remember when I made this mark on you?” His fingers danced lightly along her flesh.

“We’ve all burned for you. That much she knew as fact. No way would she be complete without each one of them. “Back up. he lifted her and cradled her in his arms.” Marta leapt from Mel’s arms.” We? Our? “Hold on.Taste of Pride 105 She looked down again. Each of them had won her over. the curse that forced each of the pioneers to become mountain lion-shifters had another key . Phil stood and held her to his chest because Marta didn’t think her legs could hold out much longer. “You didn’t let me finish the story.” Her tears began falling in earnest. what is it with all this we talk? Aren’t the three of you upset? I mean. I essentially cheated on you!” A tear formed at the corner of her eye as she looked between them. “You see. Displaying impressive strength for his lithe figure. how could she ever have so betrayed each man? “I cheated on all three of you. Phil with his intelligence and openness. The slight bounce of her breasts reminded her she was still topless. Her sobs escalated. “Because we’ve known from the very beginning that you were our mate. finally drawing her attention away from the fantastical transformation she had just witnessed. lion stuff aside. shaking her body and making her breath come in gasps. and Mel with his independence and rebellious attitude.” He sat gently on the bed and spoke to her softly. the emotion of the early morning finally overwhelming her. Now only his human hand—the hand that had driven her to such heights of ecstasy—rested on her side. “Please don’t worry about hurting us.” Sam said. not that she had enough energy really to care at the moment. landing on her feet again in front of the three men. She wanted them. but their revelation caused her stomach to turn. God.” Phil pushed her hair back from her face and trailed a finger across her cheekbone. Luckily. darling. but Mel’s paw was gone. Now. Sam with his dry wit and sparkling smile.

she remembered exactly how much she loved the way Sam’s impressive height made her feel dainty and protected.” “Exactly. all the women that had started on the trail had been lost to dysentery and rattlesnakes. In the midst of all that was happening. at the waning and waxing gibbous lunar phases.” Two strong arms wrapped around Marta’s torso and hauled her out of Phil’s lap. One shifter born every generation. to hunt and protect. can leave between hunts. They would shift twice during each moon. None of the male descendants of the five families could leave Savage Valley. “The Shoshone knew that their curse had the power to split families. at least not until their children took over their duties as protectors. She found herself encased in Sam’s warm embrace. “I can leave. By then.” Marta looked behind her to see Mel and Sam share a .106 Helena Ray component. Cameahwait returned to Savage Valley. “But you must let us finish the story. and after the five families shifted.” Marta shivered at the idea of death by either gastrointestinal failure or envenomed wound.” Phil said as he looked to his brothers. it still does. but how did you go to Zurich?” “Well.” “So you can’t leave?” Her inquisitive nature began to chase away the tears. He informed them that it would be their purpose and the purpose of all their male descendants to keep Savage Valley safe from harm. Hell. quite an unexpected joy. but none of the other members of our pride can. I promise you’ll quite enjoy it. “Wait. The Shoshone revere the mountain lion as a sacred protector of the earth. but the lions needed to patrol the area regularly to ensure the town and the environment stayed safe. I was lucky enough to be this generation’s pilgrim.” Phil smiled down at Marta. called a pilgrim. “Then Cameahwait landed the blow that still stings many of us to this day. “This was a lot of stress to put on five sets of brothers lost in the wilderness.” “So that’s how you got to Europe. actually.

“Wait.” “It’s happened.” Mel added. . cautious one.” Phil wore the same sly grin as Sam. You finding all three of us worthy of your attentions is the best damn thing that could have ever happened to us. indeed. too. “One of Cleve and Ezra’s grandfathers had a child before he found his mate.” Phil said. and Sam released Marta. we’re not upset. “So no. always the shy. His lips wrapped around hers in a deliberate embrace. the wet heat of his mouth causing a very pleasant brand of shivers to wrack her body. “If any shifter entered into a relationship without the other males in his generation of his family. She would have to explore the exact nature of the Pope family’s rupture later. and his tongue followed soon after. She certainly enjoyed where this was heading. “So they’re lions.” Marta’s senses flared to life as soon as she heard the word “share. darling. “And that’s why Chelsea…” It made so much sense now. Phil crept forward. She opened her mouth to allow him access. Her hands found Phil’s soft brown hair right as he pulled her face to his. a slow smile crossing her face.” “The consequences are grave.” Sam continued. She suspected the brothers had been waiting for Marta to reach this realization.” “Yes. had taken on two lovers. drawing Marta’s attention to him. “So he added a very specific caveat to the curse. “Each set of brothers could only take one mate to share between them. you see.” A proverbial lightbulb went off inside Marta’s head. Why her best friend. right?” “Yes. you said the Cashes were one of the founding families. any children resulting from that partnership would die before they reached three years of age.Taste of Pride 107 meaningful gaze.” Sam said from above her.” Phil was right. Chelsea had found the same bliss that was being offered to Marta right at that very moment. He didn’t even live to see his first birthday.

baby?” Sam cooed from behind her as he wrapped an arm around her waist. and finally to Phil—“you know. together? Do I take turns sleeping with each of you?” Her three devastatingly handsome mates simultaneously broke out into hysterical laughter.” “How does this work? All three of us”—she gestured up to Sam. “Oh. no.108 Helena Ray As she began to tumble into the depths of arousal.” Phil said from behind her. then to Mel. “I. “I need a few things cleared up. “All of us love you at once. very difficult for her to concentrate.” Sam turned her in his arms so that she gazed up into his open. Verner.” . making it very. This could possibly affect the rest of your life. “that is most certainly not how it works.” “What is it. uh…” Pull it together. she realized that a few things needed to be cleared up.” Mel said between laughs.” Sam put his hand underneath her chin and tilted her face up to his. Just ask. With one last kiss on Phil’s full. decadent lips. “Anything at all. “The only way to explain it to you is to show you. “Hold on.” “You were right about the together part. she reluctantly pulled away from him. honest face.

she was . riding her curves downward to the soft patch of curls over her mound. He pulled and twisted. igniting furious need within her. reflecting the excitement spreading throughout her body. By then. This time. Mel took one of her feet in his hand. licking and biting at the sensitive flesh. but then shot to where Mel’s hand had been. their eyes locked. and when she peered down at him. the nervous excitement had transformed into a growing arousal consuming her attention entirely. He began rubbing her foot then dragged his massage upward along her calf. and finally to the upper part of her thigh.” The words sounded so intimate. Phil’s lips landed on her neck. She gasped a sharp intake of breath when Mel’s hand pushed upward to the waistband of her panties. her lower thigh. “You’re wet. Now goose bumps scattered over her skin. drawing a whimper from Marta. Never breaking eye contact. then added a second hand to massage her other breast. and he spoke them with a tender affection she hadn’t thought possible. and before she knew it. he flattened his hand over her lower stomach. A bolt of arousal shot straight to her pussy. her knee.Taste of Pride 109 Chapter 8 “Show me wh—” Marta didn’t have time to finish that thought before Sam’s hand traveled from her waist up to her breast and tweaked a nipple. One of his fingers pushed aside her folds and pressed into her cunt. he hooked his thumb under the waistband of her panties and dragged them down at the same time he squeezed her breast and nipple. As she let out a gentle moan. One of Sam’s hands left her breasts. adding to a growing need deep inside Marta.

apparently surprised. His crooked finger drew her closer.” Sam’s hands moved to her waist. “God. but then he pulled his shirt over her head. Raking her gaze even lower. and how glad she . the two symmetrical sides separated by a deep crest of muscle.” He tossed her panties to the side. His chest was smooth. Oh. Sam’s was the most flawlessly formed body Marta had ever glimpsed on either man or woman. Marta was about to protest. “You’re even more beautiful than I thought. flat planes of solid muscle punctuated by two small. and his hands moved reverently over her body. breaking their kiss. While she admired his chest. and he easily lifted her and turned her to face him and straddle his lap. Holy fucking shit. but he quickly joined her in the passion and tangled his hand in her hair. his pectorals wide. Emboldened by his response. This was more than Marta had ever thought she would have. The need to show him how much she appreciated his affection overwhelmed her. she saw his six- pack abdomen. “Let me see. not bothering to see where they landed and instead gazing at her naked pussy. she leaned back and allowed herself to look even lower at the terminus of his torso. He moved backward so that his back rested against the wall. a man as perfectly formed as Sam admiring her body. Marta wiggled her hands between them and began undoing the buttons of his shirt. With a deep breath. he had busied himself with removing his pants. silencing any objection she could ever have made.110 Helena Ray lifting her legs to help Mel slide the white cotton panties from her legs. dark nipples. and she boldly threw an arm around his neck. “Allow me. that’s a beautiful sight.” He reached out to pull her closer against him. and the scrape of the cotton of his shirt on her nipples caused a shiver to run down her spine. pulling his face to hers. Sam stilled for a moment as she kissed him.” Sam said.

She couldn’t help but lick her lips when she saw the slight curve of his throbbing dick.Taste of Pride 111 was. A light dusting of brown hairs covered his hard pectorals and drew her eyes down to his hard abdomen. and she began pumping up and down on his shaft. Without speaking. remembering the delicious sensation of that cock buried inside her. Was he talking about taking her from behind? A secret. and she accepted his unspoken invitation. Once they were chest to chest. Sam placed a light.” Mel said. trapping Marta beneath the delicious warmth of his body. Another set of hands massaged her mid back. and she turned back to his breathtaking countenance. I want you. “God.” Phil whispered. and she leaned in to the warm touch. and her pussy muscles clenched at the thought of his girth stretching her wide open for his pleasure. Damn. Her fingers encircled his wide shaft. The length of his cock matched his six-four stature. a curve that would ensure it could hit just the right spot inside of her. She couldn’t dwell on the sight. she thought to herself. without a shirt. though. Sam rolled to the side. and the sight of Phil’s naked torso took her breath away. about the amazing sensation of fullness that having an ass stuffed full of cock must bring. and she turned her head to the right. dark place inside her mind had always fascinated about that. Those hands began inching lower and lower and lower still until one hand rested on each ass cheek. distracting her in a most welcome way. drawing her into his embrace once more. Even though he appeared tall and lithe. He wrapped his arms around her. All that running around in mountain lion form did wonders for their physique. He had moved so that his cock was hovering just in front of her. fluttering kiss on her throat. he had the perfectly muscled body of a swimmer who spent every waking moment in the gym. he lined his . Every muscle inside of her tightened. because Sam’s hard cock bumped against her rapidly dampening pussy. and she felt the evidence of his arousal pressing against her ass. “Baby. She looked behind her.

She angled her head so that the slippery head of his cock could enter her mouth. whimpering her need. Sam shifted the angle of his hips. focusing her attention on him so that she could last just a little bit longer. stuffed with his delectable cock. She felt the hot jets of deliciously salty cum shoot into the back of her throat and swallowed every drop of the evidence of Phil’s arousal. and Marta couldn’t take it anymore. He moaned. He slowly stroked in and out. At that moment. He pulled out just a bit. She ran her tongue over his slit. Suddenly. Her arousal was only heightened when Phil’s thrusts into her mouth became more urgent. It was all more than Marta could handle. “Fuck. and she reached up and pumped it at the same pace she was using on Mel. She sucked harder on Phil then. She felt full. gathering the salty pre-cum. She then felt something bump against her cheek. putting pressure on her clit and nearly pushing her across that line between excitement and all-out ecstasy. finding his release within her. “I am so glad you walked into my diner. filling her slowly until he was in to the hilt. Her hips shot forward again. and she looked up to see Phil. and she felt herself already racing to the edge of sanity. and she missed the sensation. and sucked as hard as she could on just the head. seeking out the solace of Sam’s dick. pulling him back into her. the excruciating pace driving Marta completely mad. Sam’s pace sped up. and his cock slammed directly into her G-spot. Sam’s strong pelvis collided with hers. He rubbed his cock over her.” He pushed forward. sending a shower of sparks flying over her body. now completely naked. and she knew he was very. She shivered as the tiny pricks of pleasure ran through every limb. I’m—Ooh!” Warm seed shot onto Marta’s arm as Mel pumped into her hand. very close.112 Helena Ray cock up with her pulsating cunt. matching her ministrations. . and Marta’s hips bucked involuntarily.

” “A while?” She didn’t like the idea of thinking about it for another second. .” With one deliberate.” “How much time?” Marta was aware that she sounded a bit like a pouting child. She looked between her three spent…well. but she didn’t care. forceful thrust.” Mel cupped her face with his hand. but after that little demonstration. “I can’t wait to show you. “I think I get it now.” Sam said through gritted teeth. “You need to think about it for a while. and she turned to face him. “We’re asking a lot of you. whatever they were. She wanted to do something and soon. much more. into the beautiful void of release. His strokes became long and slow as he bathed her pussy with his cum and finally collapsed on top of her. “That’s not all of it. “So what are we waiting for? Let’s get down to it!” Sam looked up at her from her chest.” Finally feeling as though her muscles hadn’t turned to spaghetti. Marta. Phil exchanged a look with his brothers. “It’s just a sampling. “Okay.” Marta whispered once she had recovered from her orgasm.” “There’s much. I’m gonna come. She was the kind of woman who knew what she wanted and went out and got it. Marta found the strength to push herself up on her elbows. really weigh your options. “You need some time to think it over. Her spasming pussy must have pushed him. “Come with me. The idea had sounded titillating. baby.Taste of Pride 113 “Fuck. sweetheart. Sam pushed her past the horizon of ecstasy.” The rumbling of Sam’s laugh vibrated through her body before he gently pulled himself out of her. He edged down the bed so he could rest his head on her chest.” Phil said.” Phil ran his hand up and down her arm in a soothing gesture. she thought her life goal might be mating these three crazy men. his thrusts pounding mercilessly into her. too.

After a moment of hesitance. “Okay. It didn’t matter that they thought they could shift into mountain lions. how she wished she could stay there with the three men and show them all of her body. Her pussy flared back to life. A permanent ménage a quatre waited for her just on the other side of her bathroom door. But she’d had so much more than that. If insanity meant being .” At least Sam was on her side.” His hand wandered up to her breasts. nine o’clock. “Okay. There’s time enough for that on your way to the diner.114 Helena Ray “Tomorrow night?” “Tonight. say.” She would push for this one. “If you still want to be our mate by. She scurried around her apartment in search of clothes while her three men dressed leisurely. tonight. and he took a nipple between his fingers and squeezed. “You know I can’t wait to see you there. God. reaching for Phil’s lips. Marta was damn near to hopping on the bandwagon. Chelsea had bought into the illusion. come to Sam and I’s…” He trailed off as he looked across Marta at Mel. it’s six o’clock!” Phil stood and helped Marta to her feet. work called. you two. and at least she and Phil needed to be at the diner in half an hour. and after witnessing Mel’s hand turning into a paw. not to mention reveal all their flesh. But no. While brushing her teeth.” Shit! Why did Sam have to remind her that she needed to go to work in— “Oh my god. and she rolled her head to the side. she thought of how many lonely nights in hotel rooms she had spent rubbing her clit and imagining the ecstasy to be found at the center of a ménage a trois. Phil nodded. They really were hers. weren’t they? And all three of them at once! Marta had envisioned being with more than one man at once so many times.” She waggled her eyebrows at Phil suggestively.” “You know I’ll be there. she realized. “Come to our cabin. Her three men.

we’ll be waiting for you tonight. teeth clean. “Ready. then she was ready to sign up for a lifelong stay at the loony bin. “I bet you are. The three of them crowded through the door.” she said as she emerged.” “Again?” “We’re all ready.” Phil took her hand and gently led her to the door.” . “God knows I am. into the small apartment. then onto the small front porch. “Tonight. “If you really are ready for us. Sam and Phil’s heads nearly grazing the doorframe.” Mel said as he took her in his arms.Taste of Pride 115 in the middle of a sexy. three-sided lion sandwich.” Sam promised.

and finally backward to wiggle underneath her ass and press it to . pulling her backward against his chest. Most of her kisses with Phil had started slow and romantic.” The older woman wagged her finger at Marta.” he breathed. “Tonight is too far away. leaving Phil and Marta in passionate embrace in the all-too-public hallway off of the dining room.116 Helena Ray Chapter 9 “Stop it!” Marta squealed as Phil’s soft lips landed on her cheek and his arms circled her waist. Using more force than Marta was accustomed to seeing from him. As their mouths danced. causing Marta’s breathing to hitch with excitement. His tongue pushed open her lips. she whipped past them. He pressed his palms against her breasts. leading her to the back exit.” Phil released her and took her hand. the tension building with each brush of lips. but not this one. When Rita emerged. “I can’t help it. “Your break’s only fifteen minutes long. teeth. demanding entry that she gladly allowed. Tiny bits of stucco dug into her back as his deliberate lips found hers. and tongue. over the curves of her waist and hips. “Don’t have too much fun. and Marta tried to wrench herself from Phil’s embrace in an attempt to maintain some sort of sense of propriety. preventing her from wiggling away. then lower. he pulled her through the open door. Phil’s hands roamed over her body. She only had a moment to register the blast of chilly autumn air before Phil pushed her against the back wall of building.” The door to the ladies’ room at Savage Hunger opened. “Come on.” With a wink. Phil’s grip tightened.

“I’m happy you like it. only a few rough.” He sounded nearly as out of breath as she was as he squeezed her ass. “Because I can’t wait to—” “Hey. and Phil snapped his head to the right. eliciting a soft moan bemoaning the absence of his hands. I’m just giving you fair warning. accentuating his words. short hairs scratching along her cheekbone. Her breaths became sharp pants as he smoothed a hand over her ass. Her men—plural—wanted to give her what she’d fantasized about.” His hand squeezed again. I want you. and whispered into her ear. “Yes. He leaned his forehead against hers. only the thin layer of her panties separating them. heedless of any eavesdropping.” .” Marta moaned. The tip of his tongue traced along it. His lips left her mouth at the same time that his hands dipped a little lower before heading upward and under her dress.” Phil replied as he turned his attention back to Marta. The outline of his rigid cock against her stomach told her exactly how much he enjoyed their little grope.Taste of Pride 117 him. “If you come with us tonight. causing her to squirm in a mixture of delight and embarrassment. “God. She couldn’t help but think she was the luckiest woman in the world.” Phil withdrew his hands from her dress and caressed her waist again. I—” Her words were cut off by the sensation of Phil sucking her earlobe into his mouth. Marta followed his gaze and saw Clayton Abbott heading toward them. the forbidden sexual act that lit a fire inside her and she’d not yet dared try. and sparks of pleasure flew southward on collision course with her now- convulsing pussy.” He brushed his cheek against hers. “there are other people around.” she said pointedly. “Marta. their lips only inches apart. aren’t you supposed to be working?” A heavy door slammed. yes. “Phil. “Someone’s going to fuck you here. He pressed a kiss against her neck. “We’re taking a break. lovebirds. please. large black trash bag in hand.

” With an apologetic look. Phil. Sam and Phil were staunchly opposed to letting Ulysses Norman take control of their family business.” “I certainly don’t plan on it. Clay disappeared back through the heavy door again. their break had gone so quickly. She doesn’t bring me creamer.” Clay shrugged as he hauled the trash bag into the Dumpster on the opposite side of the back entrance to Savage Hunger. “After you. she wanted another taste of Phil. but if he insists on coming out here again and again. a hint of amusement in his tone. “What did he have to say? Trying to convince you to sell out again?” “Of course.” They were selling? This was certainly news to Marta.” “Sure thing. and with a heavy sigh. But . Phil released Marta and turned toward Clay. “He’s just bluffing.” “You’re right.” With that terse response. I like her.” Phil replied.” “Is that your only qualification for high-quality waitstaff?” Phil asked. but Marta sensed an unusual stiffness in his manner. Damn.” Phil breathed a deep sigh and started toward the door.” Clay then turned to Marta and nodded. “We won’t sell to him.” Clay was now dangerously near them. and I hope you won’t either. I can’t stop him. Something was wrong.” Phil held open the door for Marta.118 Helena Ray “Don’t mind me.” Phil was about to return his lips to hers when Clay interrupted them again. “Thanks for letting me know about Norman coming out here. “Just taking out the trash. Last she heard. Said he’d be out in Savage Valley tomorrow to finalize the paperwork. I’ll give Sam the heads-up. “But that’s not news. “I also thought you might want to know that Ulysses Norman himself called me today. “Hope you keep her around. Was their break time up already? God. “Yup. she reentered. What I wanted to tell you was that he’s pretty sure you’re selling to him.

it would make him late for his meeting with Oliver and Roarke. The little spitfire he knew would never want that. “Only a few hours. God. . still waiting.” About damn time. he had gathered her into a gentle caress. Sam knew he had a call to make. if you’d like. scorching glove instantly had his cock tenting his cotton trousers. Pope?” “Yup. beautiful. The memory of her cunt wrapped around him like a wet. Marta. When Phil let Sam know Clay Abbott had heard Norman himself bragging about fucking owning the diner this time. A static click interrupted the hold music—a highly unwelcome disruption to his memory—and signaled that the moral nemesis of the entire town of Savage Valley had deigned to take his call. what had he been thinking? Selling out to NormCorp would not only have put the pride at risk. but that didn’t matter now. Forever. He cradled the phone against his shoulder and glanced at glowing red display of the digital clock on his desk. If this call lasted too long.” “Please hold for Mr. and we can be together for a very long time. Norman.Taste of Pride 119 before she had too much time to grieve their aborted rendezvous. “Mr.” **** Sam drummed his fingers on the desk as he listened to the tinny saxophone of the hold music.” His breath tickled the hairs next to her ear. Sam had been standing beside the desk listening to the elevator music for over half an hour. Still here. He couldn’t let Ulysses Norman go on one more second thinking he had a snowball’s chance in hell of buying Savage Hunger. not when more important things hung in the balance. reminding him he’d be half-hard every second until he dove into that heavenly abyss again. it would have forced Marta into a fate she didn’t choose. “Only a few hours.

not intending to allow himself to listen to another syllable of the crap Norman peddled. I’m merely extending an offer to you that I believe will be beneficial.” “Oh. I can’t justify it to my brothers. Shit. And you know it. but the fact stands that I have no interest in selling out to you.” Sam’s stomach turned as he remembered the expensive. You’ll have to find another jackass in Savage Valley to swindle. But let me tell you.120 Helena Ray “Samuel.” “Of course you’ve been awaiting my call.” Sam said. I’ve been awaiting your call.” “Bull. It was the top of the line. I can’t justify it to the community. I can’t justify it to myself. but I only own half of Savage Hunger. and there is no way that I can justify selling Savage Hunger. but he knew he would never be comfortable with a physical remnant of his near abandonment of his . we’re on to you now. I am truly sorry if I misled you. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Norman. I’d never—” “Listen. and it’s not mine to give away. Neither you nor your expensive gifts—” “I take it Phil liked the oven. and damn it.” Sam could envision the look of false shock on Norman’s face as he gasped. I damn near fell for your bullshit. “I’ve thought it through. how lovely to hear from you. I know you’ve been talking to Clay Abbott about buying out the Ninth Time. and I know that would give you the leverage NormCorp needs to buy out the entire town. “I mean you no offense. stainless bribe.” “Don’t feed me that crap. no.” Norman was silent for a moment then spoke carefully. but I don’t what bullshit you’re talking about.” “But you said that you could buy your brother out of—” “I’ve said a lot of things.

sacrifice anything for your family?” “Don’t you dare talk to me about family. “Wouldn’t you do anything. his temper stayed reined in. When Ulysses spoke.” Sam expected his anger to rise. letting some tenderness seep into his tone. “I suppose you and your brothers intend to carry on your parents’ tradition of fucking the same woman and daring to call it a family. “Excuse me?” “Yeah. The man may be pure evil. too.” Ulysses spit out the words with enough force that Sam nearly felt the droplets of spittle through the receiver. but Sam recognized the pain that caused him to lash out—the same sort of internal wound that caused Sam to alienate his brother for so long. Thank god he had a chance to make things right once again. and I hear they love it over at the Savage Valley Wildlife Center. I find it despicable that you would retain my gift after leading me on like that. “He loved it. all Sam could hear was heavy breathing. . and he shocked himself with the kindness in his voice.” For a moment.” he continued. and they said it’s just perfect for preparing the special diet for the baby squirrels that have been separated from their mothers. “That wasn’t intended for anyone else. but it never came. Instead.” Sam said. for the tingling underneath his fingernails that preceded an involuntary shift. and frankly.” Sam grinned as he heard Ulysses choke on the other end. Ulysses. “You have a daughter.” “There are more important things than business. Norman. bigamist. I had the Ashleys come get it this morning. his voice was hushed and laced with the hatred he kept concealed during most of Sam’s dealings with the man. And so he had arranged that morning to turn it over to some more worthy owners.Taste of Pride 121 family and his pride.

Mr. Mel.” “You disgust—” Ulysses halted. and with her beautiful face. **** . Today. Yes. fiery woman that had sauntered into his life would be forever his. would transform the rest of his life. he knew. and collapsed into his desk chair. and I have met a wonderful. his meeting with Oliver and Roarke loomed. we could—” Sam hung up the phone. “I’m sorry we disagree on this matter. her vivacious spirit.122 Helena Ray “You’re right. Pope. but he needed a moment to gather his thoughts. He had been too proud over the years to make the overture to his youngest brother that would finally unite him. letting his mind play the pockmarked film of the memory one more time. and she would complete his family. Sam shook his head as he remembered the years of rivalry between himself and Mel. and her alarmingly open mind. and she would both reunite and complete the fraternal trio once and for all. He had found Marta. The voluptuous. He leaned back in his chair. She would mother his children. but thanks for saying it anyway. and Sam could hear his deep breaths. beautiful woman who we hope will spend the rest of her life with us and complete our family. the tremors from that fateful afternoon would have continued shaking the foundation of their family for years to come. of going to Mel and asking for him to kill in his place for the pride hunt.” “I know you don’t mean that. NormCorp will be sorry to lose the opportunity to do business with you. Sam couldn’t cope. cutting off Norman and his mistake once and for all. but apparently the Shoshone gods were looking out for him. When Mel turned him down. Tonight would finally mend the rift between the Pope brothers once and for all. If Marta hadn’t come along.” “Well. Phil.

wooden house. and I’ll get you boys those beers along with some real special…beverages. long lines creasing his tanned forehead. “What can I say? That little Sullivan boy remembers everything from when he’s in his lion form. boys.” With a start. “Come on in.” Once the three brothers were settled on the low couch facing Bo’s fifty-seven-inch TV. As Phil drank. It looked positively cavernous without twelve nervous adolescents eager to start their shifter training. Bo? We got a lot to talk about. “Boys.Taste of Pride 123 Bo was already standing on his porch as Sam’s car bumped over the dirt road and came to a stop in front of the small. For a moment. including what everyone else feels. he had only ever been in here with the entire pride. Bo snapped out of his reverie and opened the door. you know this is a small town. he looked around at the living room. To be honest. and he gave a quick embrace to each of the Pope brothers as they climbed onto his porch. despite Bo’s closeness with Sam. neither did we. What kind of shaman would I be if I didn’t make him report to me after the hunt?” “The kind of shaman that has cold beer for his accursed shifters?” Mel asked as he stepped around Phil. a hint of bitterness still in his voice. I didn’t think I’d live to see the day.” His friendly tone belied the anger in his words. . black hair with only a few scattered strands of silver. Phil could hear the older man’s cursing before he even opened his door. “How about those beers then. “Melbourne Pope with Sam and Phil.” Sam said. Bo didn’t say anything but shook his head and stared at Mel. “You motherfuckers! Don’t think I don’t know what’s going on. Think I wouldn’t know about the three of you being spotted with that new waitress?” “We know that’s not how you found out.” “Yeah. Funny. didn’t he?” Bo shrugged his shoulders and ran a hand through his long.” Phil couldn’t help but laugh at the shaman’s mock indignation. “Bryce told you. he handed each a Dos Equis.

” Mel’s glower looked like a challenge to Bo’s authority and to the ancient ways of the Shoshone curse. show him what you can do.124 Helena Ray Bo took a seat in his La-Z-Boy and studied each of them. “There is.” “Yes. and his older brother began the narrative of their meeting Marta.” Mel said. “So. and without any apparent effort. drawing everyone’s attention. and I’m relatively certain she’s damn ready to mate. indeed. The Shoshone shaman was not a man anyone dared to cross. “Yes. his hand transformed into a mountain lion’s paw. Out with it. a sign he was genuinely concerned.” Bo shook his head again.” he started slowly. “this means that we don’t have to drink that concoction you were talking about earlier. “Okay. and his jaw popped open.” Phil interrupted. and without the potion you made the Cashes down. “And you can do that around anyone?” “Yes.” Phil began.” “That’s not true. “Not just around people like me. Bo stared at the outstretched hand.” Mel extended his hand.” Phil nodded at Sam. Without asking you. He deserves to know what sort of trouble you could get into.” “Without asking me?” Bo’s voice lowered. “is there something you’re not telling me?” “Yes. “Mel. right?” Roarke told him about the muddy elixir he and Oliver’d had to drink to transform in . in visible shock.” Mel said with more than a hint of pride in his voice. “We didn’t need to shift for her to believe us. his stare suddenly suspicious. ’Cause you know I could will you boys to shift if I wanted to. you three. and Phil didn’t dare speak a word. “So you wanna change in front of her so you can ask her to mate you?” All three exchanged nervous looks. We’ve already revealed our secrets. “Boys.

Mel only smiled at them with a shit-eating grin on his face before turning back to Bo. After the sounds of metal and glass clanking and Bo’s muffled cursing. he returned to the living room carrying a tray with three glasses containing watery gray mixture. but the answer must have occurred to him at the same moment it did to Phil.” Mel sat his glass down on the table in front of him with a smug expression his face.” Bo smiled a slightly sadistic smile. it’s the curse actively being applied to each little kitten.” Mel toasted and downed the entire glass in one impressive gulp. Unfortunately. I don’t mean to challenge your authority or anything”— Phil took another deliberate sniff. the fiery sensation did not let up during its trek down his esophagus. but it does change it so you boys have stomachs of iron. actually.” he sang. Now drink up!” “To our mate. and Phil had no desire to repeat Roarke’s experience. “As you know. Phil smelled a variety of things his culinary training told him weren’t suitable for human ingestion.” With agility Phil wouldn’t have expected from a man Bo’s age. “I quite enjoyed it. he sprung from his chair and was in the kitchen behind them in a few steps. far too amused by their having to drink the substance. the shifting thing ain’t genetic. Phil followed suit and tried not to taste the acidic substance as it burned down his throat. Bo. but I really appreciate the fresh bouquet of cedarwood. “A bit heavy on the eucalyptus. You boys get a better one.Taste of Pride 125 front of Chelsea. “Uh. no. he was living with the Yeats twins.” . In addition to his illicit career as a cov. He looked to his right and saw Sam’s pinched face as he set down his glass. all you lions need one to mate. “We don’t need to shift before we’ve mated her. their brother subsisted on a diet of mostly moonshine. As he took the glass from the tray. “How on earth could you even stomach—” Sam started. “Oh. Right. just to be sure—“but isn’t tea tree oil toxic to humans when ingested?” “Not for you boys.

“I guess that’s all you’ll be needing from me.126 Helena Ray “Well. right?” “I called him this morning.” “Clay said he’s already after the Ninth Time. Phil looked over at Sam. This won’t be the last Savage Valley hears of this. they would need to unravel the mess with Norman quickly if they didn’t want to cause some very serious trouble with the pride. I don’t want some war or treaty violation bringing you back. god.” Sam leaned a little bit closer.” Bo said as he rose and collected their empty glasses. “You’re going to take care of Norman. Fuck. “Thank you so much. and the three of them would— “We’re good on the details.” Mel said. “I told him not to go through with the sale.” Oh.” “Eh. blissfully unaware of the mess they were in.” Bo said as he showed them to the door. the treaty. “If I’m going in on this mating with you.” Images immediately danced across Phil’s brain of exactly how the process would go. man. Phil grabbed Sam’s arm and said in a sharp whisper. you two can’t form your little older- brother cabal anymore. would come to their cabin. “No worries about that. You have no idea how happy this is going to make us. “Now you boys don’t be strangers. You don’t need me to explain anything else? Please tell me your fathers filled you in on all the details of the process. I might have some idea.” “Fuck.” Sam hauled himself to his feet and shook Bo’s hand. Marta.” As they said their good-byes and loaded back in the car. his gorgeous Marta. but you know Ulysses.” “What are you two whispering about?” Mel stuck his head through the space between the driver’s and passenger’s seats. who hung his head in shame.” . “We’ll bring Marta over soon.

It’s just…You’re gonna think I’m crazy.” Chelsea must have picked up on the wariness in Marta’s voice. “What’s wrong? Is Sam working you too hard? Because I can have Oliver give him a call and—” “No. it’s become a very big part of my life. and you two will have to settle this sibling rivalry thing on your own.Taste of Pride 127 “You’re right.” . but the silence in the car on the drive back to Savage Hunger said otherwise.” “Uh-oh. Phil had hoped that Mel hadn’t heard.” Chelsea came back on the line.” Sam muttered as he pulled the car back onto the dirt road that led to Treaty Lane. “Go on. “Do you have time to talk?” “Uh…Hold on. Damn it. “Hey!” Chelsea answered breathlessly. Sorry about that. Chels. What’s going on? I feel like I’ve only seen you at Savage Hunger since you moved here. **** Marta dug her cell phone out of her bag as soon as she closed the door to her apartment behind her.” Phil released his hold on Sam’s arm and rested back in his seat. “Okay. “We’re in this together.” Marta had never been more relieved to hear the sound of her best friend’s voice. Sam is a really great boss. Just a second.” “Fat chance.” The line was silent for a moment. girl.” After some commotion and muffled shouts of “Oliver! Not now. If I’ve ever needed girl talk. that’s not it at all. and Marta thought she heard a stifled giggle. Maybe she wouldn’t answer.” “Yeah. it’s now. and Savage Hunger’s a wonderful place to work. “Hey. Only one person could help her out at the moment. Four rings.

You know. this is one very. Remember that string of voice mails I left for you begging for you to call?” Only about two months ago. and I can’t quite sort them out in my head.” “Oh. she shared in this strange fate. “I do. well—” “They told you. I was just as freaked out as you are. but it’s necessary. the wisdom of old friends. Chels? They told me they could change into mountain lions.” “I am so happy. you’re the last person I expected to do such a thing. too. I know. Not only was Chelsea the only person who wouldn’t immediately have her committed for what she was about to say. “I just thought that was about the fact that you were getting into a ménage. but according to Sam. By the time Marta got back in a service area and could hear the messages. you’re not dreaming. “Am I crazy. And with Mel. Chelsea knew about the bizarre revelation. “You have feelings for them. last night. It does have to do with Sam.” Chelsea whispered. her friend’s crisis was over. don’t you?” Ah.128 Helena Ray “It’s…Well…You were right. but it’s the best thing that ever happened to me. “It’s crazy.” “What’s happening? Am I dreaming? I mean. yeah. Phil.” So her men were right. More than I ever thought I could be. Am I hallucinating? They said that you knew. but you seem so happy. Trust me. Chelsea had left several voice mails on Marta’s phone. a hushed excitement in her tone. Marta.” . very twisted dream I’ve been having. maybe even more so. As for the ménage. Marta. It’s just. “It also has to do with Phil.” Marta took a deep breath. and that Roarke and Oliver are—” Chelsea’s laughter interrupted Marta’s frantic questioning. I have so many feelings for all three of them. and Mel. I know it’s a more than a little outside what we were raised with.” “No.

” Chelsea said with a laugh in her voice. The thought of a single day without them…I don’t even want to contemplate the idea. She sank onto her bed—the bed where her three men had caressed her only hours before—and held her knees against her chest. always the voice of reason. No. the shifters. We just…well. I agreed to marry Oliver and Roarke because they’re the loves of my life. but they aren’t animals. but when I met Roarke and Oliver. All of you have free will. “I’m not really falling in. I’m not—” “You didn’t let me finish. everything. You see. the lions. Even though she hadn’t known them for long. She had stumbled into something much.” she finally answered. You remember how nervous and lonely and hurt I was when we came to the Valley in September. “I didn’t agree to marry Oliver and Roarke because I was their mate. “And did I hear you say that you’re falling in love?” .” Chelsea’s words vibrated in Marta’s head. the ménage. it was like we’d always known each other. Everything you’re experiencing is real. it seemed preposterous that any of the Popes would lie to her. and so are you. Chelsea was right. They’re still humans. silly. Her best friend. “The curse was part of what drew me to Roarke and Oliver. Without the call of being their mate. it would have been hard for me to get over my fear and anxiety and meet the two men who were made for me. “Is that why you did it? Because of the curse?” Chelsea was quiet for a moment. I just fit with them. much better. believed all of it. I know it sounds silly. The shifters can mate just fine without being in a committed relationship.” “So I’m just under some Shoshone spell?” Marta’s breathing hitched. well. “Yes and no. “Yes. mates are sort of…hardwired for each other. Marta hadn’t stumbled into a bizarre dream universe. the curse is drawing you to them and them to you.Taste of Pride 129 A cold chill came over Marta at Chelsea’s words. doing nothing to calm the uneasiness in Marta’s stomach.

Drop the phone and run over there. right?” She had turned the question over and over in her head so many times that day that the words were losing their meaning. Go over there and show those Pope brothers that you mean it. “They said I could come over anytime toni—” “I’m serious. “Nothing to lose. you live here. I have a chance at a new life here. “Yeah. “I want to be with them. I know that. well. Marta. right?” “And everything to gain. and my publisher went under. I bet you’ve seen everyone. I’m not mated yet. You’re going to love it. and you’re part of the pride. You’re planning to stay in Savage Valley. and I think it might be a great one.” She let out a long breath as she selected a powder-blue dress. . too. You’re in love. The L-word had always frightened her.” Chelsea sounded ecstatic. “Okay. and I can’t wait until you really get to know Oliver and Roarke. you’ve made me an even happier woman.” Silence. “Oh. “Oh. Marta. I swear. what with working at the diner and all. “Wait. “Um. You’re gonna love all the Popes so much. And what’s tying me to Memphis? My mom’s in Florida now.” She suddenly went quiet. maybe?” Unusual shyness crept into her voice. and that’s all that matters. Everyone’s so great. “Drop the phone.” Marta slowly climbed from her bed and went to her closet. “Marta Verner! You’re in love! I always knew it would happen. but not now.” Chelsea let out a high-pitched squeal.” Marta could only chuckle at her friend’s enthusiasm.” Chelsea tone lost any hint of giddiness.130 Helena Ray Marta felt herself blush at Chelsea’s words. I’m so happy! We’re really going to be family now.

That had always been Mel’s strong suit. right? Worth putting all the shit behind us and working together? A wide expanse of dusty. anxiety creasing his normally still features. and fitting a modern family of six into the cramped space had required a great deal of ingenuity over the years. their first night since they moved into the cabin when theirs became the ruling generation. The cabin had only been built for two. It had also been the day Sam first came to Mel not as a brother. and Mel would sulk in the . And that had been the day Mel turned away his brother’s business. barren land stood between Mel and the Pope family cabin. That night. with their mom and dads’ help. and the last time Mel set foot in his family home. but at the time. Sam would take the lead. the space had seemed cavernous. Sure. it had felt like a cathartic rebellion.Taste of Pride 131 Chapter 10 Marta’s worth it. Mel thought. Or maybe only once. they had cleared out all the fabric dividing walls and lofted beds that had previously divided the nineteenth-century abode into several small spaces. Always the levelheaded brother in a family of fiery tempers. He knew now how stupid that was. Sam was actually a pretty good tracker. Phil paced by. Time after time. That night. though. finding the perfect prey for the feast. Phil had only worn that expression a handful of times through the years. He watched the flames from the fire burning inside casting waves of orange light onto the earth from the one window on the east wall of the cabin as he gathered the courage to enter. but he had no taste for the kill. Two years ago. All his life. Mel had picked up Sam’s slack when the brothers hunted. but as a client.

becoming the first of the Pope family to finish college. While Mel spent most of his school career skipping class with Cleve and Ezra.” .132 Helena Ray shadows until the moment of attack. Mel had no interest in business or in the diner. sending him flying through the air. After Sam and Phil bought their fathers out of the diner. He loved the split second when his muscles would snap. meet all the people he would never find in rural Colorado. No. The deer would never expect it when he landed on their back and took their necks in his strong jaw. “You’ve been selling to all the lion-shifters for years. The tension was too thick to allow speech. Don’t think that we don’t know about you and your motley crew of covs. had always been the golden boy of the family. none of them uttered a word to break the silence. Sam would take the credit. his leonine conscience delighted in savoring the meal he had made. Although it repulsed his human mind. But when they all came to and their fathers showered their praises. Sam. Watching Phil perform his duties as the generation’s pilgrim only intensified his distaste for his two brothers and the conflict that came to a head when Mel denied Sam’s business and Phil took his older brother’s side. For a long time. the split between the brothers deepened. eerily silent after the ever-present chaos that Mel had known all his twenty-five years. he longed for the day he could travel and could see all the places he wanted to see. **** Two years earlier… The three of them stood in the center of the cabin. Sam had been the perfect student. “Why didn’t you just take the money?” Sam asked. with his blond hair and intimidating stature.

Sam’s hurt expression made his stomach twist in guilt and remorse. I know you had plenty to sell.” He stepped between the two of them and held out both of his hands. How does what you do compare to that?” “I think you’re forgetting that I’m the one who keeps you out of trouble. Mel. Phil.” Mel stared at his brother. Sam. tried to step in and resolve their conflict. If I hadn’t convinced Oliver to turn the other—” “It doesn’t compare.” “We have.” “So what if I did?” Mel felt the anger mounting inside of him as he curled his hands into fists. okay.” “You talk like you’ve actually refused a paying customer before.” Mel said. you’re just as much of an outlaw as I am. You’ve been a real help in allowing me to do my duties to our family and to the—” “Not buying it. I’ve kept lions from dying. calm down. “Okay. “I think everyone’s said some stuff . “I’ve been covering for you all my life while you go off and make Mom and the Dads proud. “So what if your little diner business is sanctioned by government and pride law so everyone thinks you’re some fucking upstanding citizen? After what you did today. silently challenging him.” Mel crossed his arms. weak lion that depends on stronger lions to take care of your responsibilities.Taste of Pride 133 “It’s not like we have to answer to the Better Business Bureau. I’ve been out there hunting day in and day out my entire life. “We have the right to refuse service to whomever we please. One fingernail extended into a claw involuntarily. “When we’ve run out of product.” “I saw the deer. and the sharp sting on his palm snapped his tenuous rein on his fury. Not one bit. ignoring Sam’s comment. and Sam continued glaring wordlessly at him. “And I am so grateful for that. Don’t go around pretending you’re anything else but a pathetic.” Sam suddenly turned penitent.” Mel regretted the words as soon as they left his mouth. of course.

134 Helena Ray

that they don’t mean tonight. We’re probably just a little wound up
about the first hunt tonight.”
“I know Sam is.”
“Fuck you, little brother. I don’t need you. Cleve and Ezra think
that my money’s just as green as anyone else’s.”
The shift was dangerously close. Mel’s skin tingled all over, and
all of his fingernails had extended into claws.
“You don’t need me. Really?”
“No, I don’t.”
Phil had stepped back, allowing the oldest and youngest Popes to
square off.
“Let me get this straight. You and Phil don’t need me.”
“No, for all we care, you can go to hell or wherever it is you hang
around with Cleve and Ezra,” Sam said without so much as a glance
to Phil.
“You don’t need me for anything? There is absolutely nothing,
nothing that applies specifically to what we are that you need me
for?”
“God, Mel. No, I don’t need a goddamn thing from you.”
“Well, then, I think college boy needs a refresher course on the
treaty.”
“Sam,” Phil said softly, “think about it.”
“If you’re so insistent on my ineffectuality, then I’ll just leave.”
“Fine. Leave.”
Mel walked to his unmade bed, picked up his still-packed
suitcase, and made his way to the door. Just before he opened it, he
turned back to where his two brothers still stood in the middle of the
room.
“Good luck with your mating, then. Enjoy the dead kittens.”
“Wait—”
Mel shut the door on Sam, Phil, and his childhood.

****

Taste of Pride 135

He hadn’t entered the cabin since. Every footstep on the hard
ground seemed to echo around him, the vibrations from the sound
signaling a new chapter in Mel’s life. Yes, there was technically still
some doubt as to whether or not Marta would present herself for the
mating ceremony, but Mel didn’t worry about that. Her adventurous
spirit was what drew him to her and, if he was completely honest with
himself, made him fall in love with her. Mating three shape-shifters
presented the ultimate adventure, and his mate would never turn that
down.
Finally he reached the door. It opened before him, revealing Sam
as tense as Mel had ever seen. The waves of anxiety rolled off of him,
and even in human form, Mel could sense how much this moment
meant to his brother. Hell, to all of them.
“We need to talk.”
Sam nodded as he stepped away from the door, allowing Mel
access to what he knew would soon be his home again. Two beds had
been pushed together along the back wall, creating a large surface for
what was to come. Seeing the mating bed laid out before him, Mel felt
a rare worm of doubt wrap around his intestines. This was it. This was
a decision that affected the rest of his life, his children’s lives, his
grandchildren’s lives. Decision? Who the hell do you think you’re
kidding?
From the moment he laid eyes on Marta, it hadn’t been a decision.
It was his destiny.
“How does it feel to be home?”
Phil’s question drew Mel back to the present.
“Odd,” he answered. “It feels like standing in the middle of a
dream.” He glanced around the room. “Everything is familiar, but it’s
not like I remember it.”
Sam still hadn’t spoken. His desk chair squeaked painfully as he
turned from his desk in the far corner of the room. Mel looked into his
brother’s eyes—really looked—for the first time in years, and the

136 Helena Ray

feeling it created surprised him completely. He felt the same type of
completeness he had felt when he first saw Marta, but without the
bodily reaction. God, why hadn’t he realized it before? There was a
reason behind the treaty, a reason why the Shoshone insisted that all
brothers mate the same woman. His brothers were a part of him, too,
and no matter what happened in the past, they’d always be there for
each other.
After this epiphany, there was only one thing left for Mel to do.
“I’m sorry, Sam.”
For what seemed like minutes, Sam said nothing, only cocked his
head and stared at Mel. Phil, normally eager to dispel tension in
situations such as this, stayed quiet.
Finally, Sam stood and walked to where Mel still stood near the
cabin’s entrance, never breaking eye contact. When he reached Mel,
he nodded gravely and extended his hand. A wave of relief crested
over Mel like he’d never known. Without even a conscious effort by
Mel, his hand found Sam’s and shook it vigorously.
“Thank you, man,” Mel said, shocked at his own vulnerability. “I
never should have said those things, and I definitely made a mistake
when I walked out of here.”
“I’m the one who should be apologizing. It was wrong of me to
say that I didn’t need you.”
“Because we all need each other,” Phil broke in. “We’re family,
and in a few minutes, we’re about to have our own family.”
“And what makes you so sure she’ll be here?” Sam asked,
releasing Mel’s hand.
“Let’s just say, I may have persuaded her a bit this morning.”
“Why, Phil, I didn’t know you had it in you.” Mel elbowed his
brother in the ribs, sparring as if he were a kid again.
“You two aren’t the only two Pope men of this generation, thank
you very much.” Phil smiled smugly, and quickly sharing a glance,
Sam and Mel burst out laughing.

” “What do you think.” Sam said between gasps of laughter. and Phil countered his attack with an equally friendly shove.” The three of them halted midskirmish. Sam?” Mel quirked an eyebrow at his brother. Her dress hugged her curves. not a scrawny child. “Were Phil’s budding culinary proclivities enough to balance the fact that he had to sew an apron?” “Nope. the three of them riled in the same sort of tumbleweed of play fighting that they’d indulged in as young shifters—Mel refused to think of himself as ever having been a kitten. . that’s a good one. His brothers followed suit. beautiful as ever in a powder-blue dress and her denim jacket. “I wasn’t that gangly. “This coming from the gangly teenager who took home ec instead of shop. Mel looked to the source of the words and heard the door creak open. He forewent kissing her right away and instead buried his face in her neck. He released his mate and gazed into her surprised countenance. and I never came home smelling like a sweaty piece of timber. who responded with the same gesture. brown waves. He jumped to his feet and took a few long strides to where she stood just outside the door.” Phil protested as they scuffled. cascading over her shoulders in thick. He couldn’t wait to glimpse her pretty mouth opened in shock again and again and again. “And at least I filled out. but Mel was the first to wrap his arms around their mate. In the midst of the long-overdue roughhousing. Her hair was down.Taste of Pride 137 “Oh.” Sam punched Phil in the arm playfully.” “Hey. accentuating that she was most certainly a woman.” “That you did. It revealed Marta. Mel had missed his soon-to-be mate’s arrival. I got to cook in home ec. Soon.

Starting tonight. but Mel could sense it with every iota of his being. about whether or not Marta would stay with them. She would be in his bed every night and every morning for a very.138 Helena Ray They still hadn’t talked about the future. . very long time.

and two hands landed on her ass and began kneading. Another body closed behind hers. smoothing them over the hard. molding her body to Sam’s. His teeth grazed her lower lip.” Marta didn’t have a chance to respond before Sam lowered his face to hers and caught her lips with his. Now. Phil could look like the friendliest. rippling muscles there. Shit. The sensation sent spirals of electric shocks soaring straight to her pussy that was now convulsing with desire. was there any way he could be as turned on as she was? She tore her mouth away for a breath of air. she faced Phil. Mel sneaked a hand between her and Sam. He kissed and licked and nibbled down to her collarbone before changing his mouth’s trajectory to kiss toward the back of her neck. and Sam’s lips immediately went to her neck. She let her hands drift to his lower back. sweetheart. His tongue demanded entry right away. needing the pressure against her swelling clit and hardening nipples. prying into her mouth and stroking against her tongue. it could only have been Mel’s hands that swept aside her hair to allow Sam to lave at the back of her neck. Funny.Taste of Pride 139 Chapter 11 “Hey. The lithe frame and soft touch told her it could only be Phil. He stepped forward. pressing her closer to Sam. She flattened her body against his. sweetest . and something very hard and very large pressed into her stomach. and her pussy flared to life. the expression accentuating his high cheekbones and setting his bright blue eyes ablaze. and she found herself being turned around. He smiled at her. With Sam’s hands on her waist and Phil’s on her ass.

The four of them crossed the one-room cabin. Sam gently placed her into Mel’s arms. Phil. “You can’t even imagine how excited we are. . her libido kicked into overdrive. Marta hardly recognized the low moan that escaped her throat as hers. With these three. his long fingers combing through her hair. Eliciting a bereft whimper. but Sam once more scooped her into his arms. He parted them. sending yet another lightning streak of heat flying through her body. and once they arrived near the far wall. His wet. Maybe her body just needed Sam. His lips brushed against hers in a soft. hot mouth nipped at her earlobe. she thought without hesitation. so wrapped up was she in the maelstrom of sensations that had flooded her body since walking into the cabin. “We’re so glad you’re here. and he planted soft kisses along the side of her neck as his hands encircled her waist. That was what Chelsea said. Mel’s open arms waited for her.” He punctuated his words with a small thrust of his hips that pushed his cock against her ass. and the deliberate swipe of his tongue against her lip made her wonder what that tongue could do to other parts of her. Was she that close to coming already? Yes.140 Helena Ray man in the world at the same time his gaze burned with predatory desire. and Mel. It didn’t matter that she hadn’t desired sex that much before. wasn’t it? That mates were hardwired for each other? She rested her head against Mel’s shoulder. Phil walked beside Sam. The memory of his long. She tried to look around and get her bearings. Sam stepped back. honey. positioning Marta perfectly for Mel’s kiss. large dick planted inside her caused a contraction deep in her cunt. Just enough suction drew her lower lip into his.” Just then. gentle kiss. other parts that were currently dripping wet. and Mel took his place caressing her waist. allowing her lips to caress his at the same time. Phil lifted his head and broke the kiss. thwarting her attempt at orientation.

plain and simple. right?” Marta almost responded automatically with a nod but stopped herself. “We won’t be carrying you. The peeling wooden walls and wood casement windows with distorted glass marked it as an old cabin.” What Marta saw in Phil’s eyes could only be described as hunger. and her cunt. her nipples. “Yes.” “You need to save your strength. Sam lowered his long form to the bed—or rather. She exchanged a laugh with Phil.” he said.” she replied honestly. “Enough small talk. brothers?” Phil reached across her body. This decision. with hardwood floors and track lighting on the wooden ceiling.” Phil continued as he took her from Mel’s arms and finally placed her on the bed. we do. She took advantage of the opportunity to look around. this major life choice. she noticed.Taste of Pride 141 “Aren’t you getting a little tired?” Marta asked. “You’re sure about this. took her hipbone in his hand.” Sam replied. “You’re precious to us. demanded at least one . “Then let’s get down to it. The tension in the cabin escalated. trust me. and that idea squeezed at her heart. “You should see the kitchen. anyway.” Phil said as he flanked Marta. and used it to roll her to face him. but it had been updated to modern standards.” The edge in Mel’s voice brought a fresh wave of liquid from deep within her pussy. now a tight string that could snap at any moment. The Pope brothers would devour her tonight.” Sam reached over Marta and rolled her back to him as Phil molded his body against her back. but no one spoke.” “It’s amazing. “Do you like it? Phil and I did it as practice for remodeling Savage Hunger. two beds pushed together—and stretched out beside her.” “Oh. and you deserve to be treated like a princess. “You don’t have to carry me all night. She looked up to Mel and saw his blue gaze scorching with desire. didn’t we. “I believe we had a purpose for tonight. wanting to break the heated tension that had settled in the room.

and since he was the pilgrim of the pride’s ruling generation.” That wicked smile tore across Sam’s face. She had meant it sincerely when she told Chelsea he was a great boss. wry eldest. she could live wherever she wanted and work as she pleased. This was home.” “What’s the—Ooh…” Marta’s words were cut off when Phil’s hand slid over her waist then up. . and surer of herself than ever before. nothing waited for her there. and Marta’s hips began moving of their own accord. That wasn’t home.” “You heard her. strengthening Marta’s resolve. he could accompany her on adventures around the globe. No. As a writer. What good were her adventures without someone to share them with? She wanted to share with the Pope brothers. what was waiting for her in Memphis? Her mother had remarried and moved away. Never had she seen someone so artfully manage a group of people while maintaining the highest of standards. And Phil. the brooding. and she would gladly give it to him.142 Helena Ray more moment of contemplation.” Mel said from where he still stood at the foot of the bed. yes. After all. the sarcastic rebel. Her men were home. “Then let’s get to the main event. And then there was Mel. sensitive and smart.” she said as she stroked Sam’s cheek with her thumb. each one of them. Looking back on her life since she arrived in Savage Valley. more confident. Marta realized that she had been more alive. He began massaging it. would stay loyal always. and the idea of leaving it saddened Marta more than she had ever expected. “I want this…and you. and now Chelsea lived here. would expect her best. caressing one of her breasts from beneath. Savage Hunger had come to feel like home. Sam. who would always be there to challenge her and make certain she was never bored. “I’ve never been more certain. and we’ve already wasted far too much time. but the thrill of the chase died as soon as she put pen to paper. Chasing stories was fun. “She’s ready.

“You’re beautiful. just before ghosting his lips over her in a breath of a kiss.” “That is so fucking sexy.Taste of Pride 143 Luckily. She complied without debate. “Roll over. “So fucking beautiful.” Mel said. every valley and leaving a trail of scorched flesh in their wake. . Phil’s cock was also long. already entirely naked. His blue gaze burned. lowering his nude figure to the makeshift bed.” His hands traced up and down her figure. “her whole body flushes when we compliment her. every dip. A droplet of pre-cum gathered on the head. Phil took a sharp intake of breath as he examined her. As she held up her arms to allow him to slip off the garment.” he whispered. When she lay in front of him clad only in a lacy bra-and-panty set. Sam’s warm hands landed on her stomach and rolled her to face Phil. While she had been entranced by the expertly chiseled appearance of Sam’s naked body.” “Look. following every curve. As her lips were about to ghost over the flared head. two hands grabbed her hips and dragged her away from Sam’s exceptional cock. and Marta leaned down. longer than anything Marta had thought of taking inside herself.” Phil said. Phil’s hands left her breasts to trace downward. with a wide head and thick veins curling around the shaft. and Marta turned to see Sam.” Sam said from behind her. She turned to look backward and saw yet another long. “I just want to see you again. rock-hard prick for her taking. capturing Marta’s entire being for just an instant before her focus traveled downward to his long cock that twitched under her gaze. Her bra popped open. opening him for his taking. Sam was there to push a leg between hers. Phil had moved between her legs. giving her something to rub against and create the friction she so desperately needed. and now he massaged her calves as he spreader her wider. all the way to the hem of her dress. pulling the hem upward. desperate to taste the salty morsel in her mouth.

pinching and pulling them into hard buds. After what seemed like hours. when Phil had hinted at their plans to take her from behind. “I think she’s enjoying herself. “God. “Let’s make sure she has a very good time. although Phil’s fingers tracing over her thighs did nothing to stop her building excitement. you’re wet already. he moved his finger in and out. in and out. “I need more. with one fluid movement. and Marta felt the hard length of his cock bumping against her ass. Phil’s fingers finally swiped over the fabric separating her pussy from her lovers.” she stammered. You’re all three so incredi—” A sharp gasp cut off her words as. and Marta let out an involuntary yelp. The sensation brought up memories of that afternoon.” “Yeah?” Mel’s stubble scraped against her cheek. “Tell us more. and she moaned at the hot sensations that flew straight to where Phil was torturing her pussy. Phil removed her lacy hipster underwear and sank a digit into the weeping abyss of her cunt. Tell us about how excited you get when we’re around. “Everything inside me just lights on fire.” “Like this?” Phil added a second finger and continued his stroking. “Of course I am.144 Helena Ray Mel wrapped his arms around her torso and dragged her back against him.” “I–I don’t even know.” Phil said reverently as he traced his index finger up and down along the length of her slit. Marta couldn’t find the words to respond when Mel lifted his hands to her breasts and began teasing both her nipples at once. Ever so slowly.” Mel squeezed harder. “The three of you get me wetter than I’ve ever been before. this time harder but still as maddeningly slowly. and he quickly lowered his head to take . The mere memory of that promise heightened her arousal.” Sam’s hand on her right breast replaced Mel’s. He rubbed there. “More.” she whispered. killing her with the excruciating slow pace.” Marta answered in a breathy voice.

and Phil pulled himself up to lie on top of her with his head on her stomach. “it hasn’t even begun. and she began her slide back down to her normal plane of existence. Phil finally quickened his pace at the same time his tongue joined his finger’s ministrations. musky one—filled her senses again. The wet heat of his mouth on her already drenched pussy had her coasting at the penultimate plateau of pleasure. and Marta’s hips pushed forward. nestled between all three of them. spiraling her need higher and higher. His fingers left her convulsing pussy. He nibbled. Phil gently withdrew his fingers from her pussy. driving Phil’s fingers even deeper inside of her to graze against her G-spot. darting into her. “I’m so close. Sam and Mel lay on either side of her.” “Oh. but the three brothers held her to the bed. The idea of fighting them drifted through her head. and his tongue focused on her clit. Mel pinched one nipple and Sam sucked the other between his teeth. The tiniest bit more would have her there. dangerously close to her apex. bringing warmth and comfort and a little bit of arousal already brewing. .” “What?” She tried to sit up. thrusting into Phil’s mouth and Sam and Mel’s hands. and Mel and Sam helped her to lie horizontally across the big bed. that strange scent— the spicy.” she moaned as she felt her clit stiffening. and his tongue took over their fucking. A ragged scream of pleasure tore from throat as she rode out her orgasm.” As if taking her words as a challenge. He laved at her sensitive clit. Here. “Oh. Phil’s fingers returned. running his fingers through her tousled hair. god. sweetheart. Finally. but as they moved closer to her. “I think I like the mating ritual. Marta was a goner.Taste of Pride 145 the stiff berry into his mouth. At the same time.” Sam said. her convulsions subsided. that notion faded into the background.

146 Helena Ray

“It’s begun.” Phil shot a pointed look at his brother. “Just not
officially.”
“You see,” Mel said, his hot breath against her neck, “in order for
the mating ritual to occur, our mate must be in a totally relaxed and
happy state.”
“Then I’d say we’re good to go.” Marta snuggled against Mel, and
he held her tighter to his chest. On the opposite side of her, Sam sat
up and offered a hand to Marta. She looked over at Mel, who nodded,
then took Sam’s hand and allowed him to pull her up to a sitting
position.
Once again, this watery blue stare held her immobile, and the rest
of the world seemed to fade away around them as Sam filled each
sense. His Adonis body was all she saw, his breathing all she heard,
his near warmth all she felt, the salty taste of his cum all she
anticipated, and that smell—god, that intoxicating aroma—was the
only olfactory sense that ever mattered.
Both of Sam’s hands landed on her upper arms, and his fingers
dug into her soft skin.
“Marta Antonie Verner, my—”
“How did you know my middle name?”
In the vacuum of sensation, Sam’s deep laugh sounded even
louder, and she felt the rumbling in her awakening pussy.
“You work for me, remember?”
“Oh, that.”
His expression softened, any of the smugness or sarcasm she’d
ever seen there gone and replaced by only a burning affection that
rolled off of him in waves.
“Marta Antonie Verner, my beautiful mate.” Everything around
them faded to a blur. Only Sam’s face was in focus. “I have chosen
you as my mate. As such, I will protect you with my entire being, lion
and human both. And together, we shall protect the earth on which we
live and the beings with which we share it. Do you accept my
mating?”

Taste of Pride 147

As he spoke the words, Marta felt a sharp sensation on her upper
arms. His nails felt as though they had sharpened into claws and were
digging into her flesh. But there was no pain present at all, only a
warm, pulsing sensation that fed into the heightened sense of
awareness and well-being that had eclipsed everything else in her
world besides Sam.
“Yes. I accept your mating.”
She didn’t form the words, but they seemed to fly from her mouth
as soon as she made her decision. Slowly, a smile began to form on
Sam’s lips, pulling just at the corners first then bursting across his
face. His long, blond eyelashes lowered over his eyes, and he leaned
forward.
When their lips met, the heightened awareness that had pushed
everything but Sam’s face away extended to the sensation of his lips
on hers. She felt as each of his facial muscles pulled to suck her lower
lip into his mouth and drag his tongue across its surface. He broke the
kiss, and in a moment spent suspended in his gaze, everything within
her—physical, emotional, and intellectual—underwent a
transformation. One by one, her intimacy issues she masked with
bravado fell away. The wave of well-being washed through her
consciousness, diluting her perfectionism and anxiety about her body
until they no longer pulled at her.
Sam looked away, and the world snapped back into focus. The
vortex that had consumed Marta and Sam dissolved, leaving her
breathless from its sudden departure.
“Honey,” Phil said softly, and his long fingers encircled her upper
arms. He pulled her to face him and held her other upper arm in his
grip.
Marta let out a small whimper as the same stinging sensation
zinged through her upper arms. Again, she anticipated a spark of pain,
and again, only warmth, comfort, and excitement emanated from the
place.

148 Helena Ray

“Marta Antonie Verner,” Phil began, and Marta looked up into his
eyes. Just like with Sam, all of his features sharpened to the point
where she could see every individual hair and every individual pore
and every smooth plane of pliant flesh on his full lips. The rest of the
world was a blur, not at all relevant to the utopia she found in the
crisp blue of Phil’s eyes, and no sound could compare to the ringing
consonance of his voice.
“I have chosen you as my mate. As such, I will protect you with
my entire being, lion and human both. And together, we shall protect
the earth on which we live and the beings with which we share it. Do
you accept my mating?”
“Yes. I accept your mating.”
Again, the words spoke themselves, only needing the slightest
conscious assent from Marta. She swore she could hear the blood
rushing through Phil’s veins as it spilled into the tiny capillaries that
cast a red glow along his elegant cheekbones. The muscles in his face
twitched as his lips curled into a smile of confident happiness, the
most beautiful expression Marta had ever had the pleasure of
witnessing.
Phil leaned his forehead against hers, and the hairs hanging
around each of their faces tangled together, joining them physically as
they had just done spiritually. His nose nuzzled against hers as he kept
her captive within his gaze. Without warning, he tilted his chin
upward, pressing those full, magnificent lips against Marta’s. Little
pinpricks of sensation gathered on her lips as Phil’s feathered lightly
over them. He lifted his face, and this time Marta was prepared for the
instant their capsule of bliss dissolved into the world around them.
What she wasn’t prepared for was the forceful grip on her upper
arm that pulled her against Mel’s chest. She felt the exact instant
when his fingernails extended into their clawed form and punctured
her skin. By now, the stinging had morphed into pulsing warmth that
threatened to consume every inch of her being. Mel crushed her body

As their lips collided in a simultaneous embrace of teeth and tongue. and she looked up to see Sam sitting by her head. taken her from the inside and out.” . lion and human both.” she whispered with a laugh in her voice. still utterly naked. Never had anything consumed Marta as entirely.” Mel did not hesitate one moment before closing the infinitesimal gap between their faces. “I’m doing way better than okay. She didn’t realize how incomplete and how dull she felt before she arrived in Savage Valley and before she met each one of the Pope brothers. and Mel. Marta fell back onto the bed. Do you accept my mating?” “Yes. when her mate’s mouth withdrew from hers. overwhelmed by the sheer power of what had happened this evening. And together. I will protect you with my entire being. Even though it still sounded to her like a farfetched fairy tale. Phil. “Are you doing okay. Each swipe of Mel’s tongue became a burst of light. As she lay staring at the ceiling. sweetheart?” Marta gulped in a breath of air to calm her racing heart and nodded. “I have chosen you as my mate. every moan she heard dragged from her own chest a physical tightening inside of her. “Marta Antonie Verner. their faces only inches apart as the same sharpened sensory cocoon enveloped them both. she had never believed in anything as fully as she believed in the utter fatefulness of her mating Sam.” He lingered on each word. As such.Taste of Pride 149 against his. This time. “of course I accept your mating. Marta’s awareness burst into a tangle of synesthetic nirvana. his voice as reverent as if reciting a creed affirming his faith in his mate. a syrup of happiness that permeated every atom. we shall protect the earth on which we live and the beings with which we share it. A hand raked through her hair. the warmth from the bloodless wounds in her upper arms seeped through her veins.

but Sam took himself in his hand and moved just far enough away to avoid Marta’s pursuing. pulling her head backward so that the wide head of his cock hovered only inches from her mouth. She had no time to grieve the loss of his cock so close to her lips.” He spoke no more words as his chest hovered nearer to her. Sam disappeared. As she tried to tilt her head even further back to take the erotic delight between her lips. The languid ministrations drove Marta dangerously close to the edge. Sam’s grip tightened on her hair. Sam released his erection and brought his hand up to cup Marta’s cheek.” Mel said from beside her. steadying her for his plundering kiss. Her cunt lit on fire upon seeing the bead of pre-cum that had gathered on the tip. Her pussy muscles clenched in anticipation.” All the awareness that had spread through her senses narrowed to only a few square inches of flesh and nerves.” That wicked smirk accompanied his one raised eyebrow. His gaze bored into hers. Sam. The wet heat of his mouth consumed her so much . Using his grip on his erection. “I hope you have enough stamina for all of us. desperate to contract around the cock teasing her. Sam dragged his cockhead up and down over her weeping slit. because his massive prick bumped against her soaked pussy. and its intensity only caused her arousal to heighten. “What we’re about to do is all part of the ritual. She chased his cock with her hips. though.” “I think the question is. His large frame hovered over her as he took his weight on one arm. especially when Sam used one finger to separate her folds then pressed his cock against the frenzied bundle of nerves that was her clit. his smooth skin brushing over her taut nipples.150 Helena Ray “Good to hear it”—he leaned down and ghosted his lips over hers—“because this mating is far from over. “Indeed we do. moving down the bed. She opened her mouth to allow his tongue access to explore her depths. do all of you have the stamina for me?” “We’ve got a keeper.

Taste of Pride 151 that the feel of his wide head pressing at her entrance caused her to shudder in shock. With one final stroke. she was gone. There. . he worked his cock into her. His breath hitched at her teasing touch. Her pussy muscles contracted around Sam. filling her cunt with his throbbing erection. She reached her hand up to wrap around the shaft and hold it steady. As soon as he tweaked her nipples. the free fall into carnal satisfaction only seconds away. Her reaction did nothing to slow Sam’s bodily attack. She flicked her eyes up to meet his. bobbing in front of her was Phil’s long cock. rhythmic strokes. and he moved his hips forward to push the head past her lips. he was buried to the hilt. a rivulet of pre-cum already leaking from the tip. and Marta knew he was close to his breaking point. In and out and over and over. and her focus was torn away. and with short. She tried to hold on. he sank his cock into her eagerly awaiting pussy. and she had to release Phil’s cock as she let out an unintelligible moan of pleasure. hopeful that her attempts at giving a blow job would not be thwarted this time around. While capturing Marta within his stare. His long. when Mel appeared beside Phil and reached for her breasts. tried to savor a few more moments of having both Sam and Phil’s cocks fill her. he slowly pulled all of his substantial length out of her and then slammed back in. He stayed there for just an instant and broke their kiss. tearing an impassioned moan from Marta. hard cock hit just at the right place. Sam’s breathing turned shallow. The fire she saw burning in his eyes was all the permission she needed to roll her head a bit more to the side and lick the salty fluid from Phil’s cock. She had no time to focus on his welcome charge into her dampening pussy because another hand tangled in her hair and turned her head to the side. too. She was teetering on the edge now. and Marta moaned around Phil’s dick as tiny electric shocks burst from within her. but Sam changed the angle of his thrusts.

Finally. and her head fell backward. He leaned forward and placed one soft kiss on her mons. over her abdomen. the love bite only added to her pleasure. Phil shot over the edge. and excruciatingly slowly over her sensitive throat. mischief written plain as day across his features. He released her lips and groaned as he began a steady rocking in and out and in and out of her sensitive cunt. extending her orgasm to lengths she’d never thought she would reach. his lips ghosted over her neck and his teeth scraped against her skin. Marta did nothing to stop him. “Mel. and before she could register his presence. his hot . Someone tugged her hair. and he placed another kiss just over her belly button. His blistering kiss worked in concert with Phil’s furious thrusts into her pussy to push her closer and closer to the edge. She shifted the angle of her hips and impaled herself on the thick length of his cock. both of them landed back on solid ground. through the valley between her breasts. Phil’s hands landed on her hips. His trail of soft kisses continued upward. But no. Sam kissed her gently and withdrew. leaving her pussy feeling painfully empty. higher and higher. Mel’s face hovered above hers. Her arousal began climbing again. shouting out his mate’s name as he pumped warm jets of fluid into her awaiting cunt. He placed a final kiss on her lips. and she couldn’t believe that she was already coasting upward to the summit of her excitement. In the last few thrusts of his release. panting from their shared journey. move!” Phil’s lips shot to Marta’s neck on the opposite side from where Sam’s had scraped against her skin just as Mel broke his kiss and sat up. With one final thrust. glancing up as if asking permission. Sam joined in her ecstasy. and Marta felt his cock press against her pussy. The sharp penetration of his teeth into her skin felt as if it should have drawn blood and a stinging pain. But her men wouldn’t allow her bereft state to continue much longer. and he used his grip to drag her toward him. his lips had landed on hers.152 Helena Ray While Marta still rode out the exquisite convulsions of her orgasm.

At the same time. Mel had to take her next. Mel nudged his knee between her legs. If the mating ritual continued this way. Marta’s eyes opened. For a moment. no.” she whimpered as he pulled his cock from her. His cockhead brushed against her damp opening and grazed over her clit. “I haven’t taken you from behind before.” With one hard stroke. and she knew it was Mel who now molded her back against his front.Taste of Pride 153 seed pouring into her with such force that she could feel it against the tightening walls of her pussy. pressing her bare chest against his. One strong arm locked around her chest as he leaned forward and held his weight up with the other. He rolled backward so that she lay on top of him. right? Sam gave her no time to contemplate where the evening might take her. “I’m not hurting you. he impaled Marta on his cock. spreading her open for his taking. then placed her gently on her own knees. keeping her just on the edge of orgasm but not giving her quite enough to push her into the heavenly void she knew she could find. the same sharp sensation of her skin being broken filled Marta with an excitement so intense it had her quivering at the brink of release. using his grip on her chest to steady her as he pounded into her with relentless . Just then. am I?” The vibrations from his deep chuckle flowed into the hard buds of her nipples and straight to her pussy. and she noticed that all three brothers were completely still. another set of hands landed on her hips and pulled her off of Sam. Sam scooped her into his arms. prompting a small squeal to escape from Marta’s throat.” he whispered as he rose to his knees. keeping Marta against his chest. So close. “We need you. Stubble scratched across her neck. Mel stilled completely. she was so very close to the orgasm that she knew would satisfy every part of her. Mel broke the silence. though she hadn’t realized they were squeezed shut. “Phil. his cock bumping against her ass. As soon as Phil rolled off of Marta.

The odds are against all three of you wearing the same cologne. they only intensified her excitement and allowed her to ride her orgasm just a little bit longer as Mel’s fangs dug into her neck at the moment of his own release. As she flew. She moaned as he continued his thrusts. darling?” “That smell. he releases the mating musk. a sweaty.” . “No. No. What she had just been through was damn pleasurable. punctuating his proclamation of intimacy. Mel pulled himself out of Marta. Every time I’m around the three of you. it’s not cologne. it’s all I can think about. forcing Marta down as well. coasting through midair on her third orgasm of the night. And like before. “What. but she needed a moment to catch her breath. panting mess. “What is that?” she finally asked. “It’s something much. the strong.” His erection pushed against her ass. the two of them lay there. propelled into the heights of female arousal. beautiful. like we did. thankful for a moment to catch her breath. it wasn’t pure oxygen that filtered through her lungs. when a mountain lion-shifter finds his mate. spicy smell of her mates’ bodies once more enveloped her in its haze. For a moment. On only his third thrust. “The mating’s almost done. his head collided with Marta’s G-spot and finally—finally—gave her the release she sought.” Phil said as he pulled Marta into his arms. much more intimate than that. and Marta rested her head on his chest. turning her head up to face Phil. With a sigh. The only one who can truly smell the musk is his mate. He lay on his back.154 Helena Ray thrusts. she felt the almost familiar sensation of teeth grazing over her neck.” Sam’s long.” he whispered into her ear. so I doubt it’s that. allowing her to roll onto her back and stare up at the ceiling once again. “You see. He collapsed forward on the bed. muscular form shaped against her back. But as she inhaled.

and I was angry. and all the world dropped away. and Phil. too.” Sam and Phil each pulled away a little as Mel slowly began to creep up her body until he lay above her. I was alone. I’m not fucking this up.” Mel said from the foot of the bed as he massaged her feet. and his fingers splayed out on her stomach. that overpowering musk. Marta. even though it may have been unprofessional. I love you. “I think I knew the moment I met each of you. This was the defining moment of their relationship. gazing down as he had that first night they were together. “You see. I could smell how aroused you were and feel your heartbeat racing. leaving only her. proving you were made for us. Sam. and Marta knew her answer. He lowered his head and brushed his lips against hers. sending a chill racing down her spine.” She looked up at Phil and then down at Mel. Mel. given the context. I knew.” Her breath stopped in her lungs. I was lost. and it sure as hell wouldn’t hold her back right then. But since meeting you”—he smiled and shook his head—“all of that is gone. I know what I want. “Before I met you. . and yes. It had never held her back before. I didn’t know what I was doing with my life. I knew. Fuck conventionality. and I know who matters the most to me. “You responded to the musk. “My behavior may have been a little…inappropriate. the feel of his knee brushing against hers and his fingers ghosting over her thigh. Marta. but I think I knew.” “So what does it do for me? Anything?” “Remember when we met?” Sam’s hand wrapped around her waist. From the very first moment. “I didn’t understand what the feeling meant at the time.Taste of Pride 155 “Which is how we knew you were the one.” His hand journeyed lower and brushed across the soft curls surrounding her pussy.” The memories of that day crept back into Marta’s mind—the way her heart had sped up when she saw Sam.

Mel’s not the only one.” She smiled. to my family. Mel had said he found someone. “Didn’t I hear something about you and Mel having a little secret tryst?” Marta felt the blush rising to her cheeks.” Phil said from above her. When we first met. and to myself. whose ass was it that hit the steering wheel a little hard?” “It ruined the mood!” She giggled. “Marta.” “I love you. Marta. even if you did keep me from getting laid for a while. too. and it was stupid of me not to trust the curse and trust that it was the same beautiful. I was the one keeping us apart. I know that I love you. I will never be so selfish again. it was like a weight had lifted off my shoulders. . He combed his fingers through her hair. Even though it’s been such a short time. and I can’t imagine loving anyone else the way that I love you. I can’t imagine living without that feeling. I could relax and be myself. delighted by the knowledge that she had never spoken truer words.156 Helena Ray “I love you. “I’ve been an ass to you. You’re too precious to me.” “Um.” He leaned forward and kissed her nose. intelligent woman. She scooted toward him so that she could lay her head on his lap while his back rested against the wall.” Sam said. that feeling grows. we totally would have done it in the car that night. a tear pricking at the corner of her eye from his confession. and Sam joined in her laughter. Each and every instant I spend with you.” she whispered. helping her relax through the tension of the moment. too. Suddenly. “I love you. “I guess that leaves me. Moments like these were what made her certain she was making the right choice. too.” “And I love you. “Hey.” Sam’s eyebrow shot up. “You make me comfortable. reaching for her as Mel climbed off of her. and there’s no way in hell I’m losing you. But I promise.

and Phil had reached a hand between her legs and rubbed against her mound. The wave of excitement and arousal that rolled over her caused her pussy to convulse.” Phil continued.” “But I can travel with you. wanting to draw him deeper. push harder.” “Let us show you how much. “How can you even ask that? Of course I’ll stay. She locked gazes with each of them before shaking her head and saying. I can join you on those adventures. Phil trailed his fingers slowly backward over the sensitive patch of flesh separating her pussy and the forbidden hole behind. “All of you. and he obliged.” Mel took her hand and pulled her to a sitting position. The idea of all of their long. He moved his hips so that the head of his long. and he brushed against her clit. A single long finger separated her folds. impressive cock rubbed along her stomach. I love you. “as long as we’re only gone for two weeks. hard cocks filling her completely full— “Ooh. yes. Her hips beckoned for him to give her more. he swirled . “Will you stay in Savage Valley? I know you have your career. and she clenched around him.Taste of Pride 157 “So what’s the verdict?” She turned back to Sam. forcing her to lie on the bed again. we have to all be inside you. Ever so gently.” “But haven’t you already—” “At once.” “And once our children become the ruling generation.” The tear broke from the corner of her eye and ran down her cheek. but his fingers eased out of her. “For the mating to be complete.” Sam had climbed off of her. churning out fresh cream. He sank two fingers into her sopping wet cunt.” Sam said with a growl in his voice as he crawled over her. and we won’t hold you here if you don’t want to stay.” Marta couldn’t help but gasp.

“all of you. She licked at the tip. “Tell us how it feels. Just as she sucked his cockhead into her mouth. She opened her legs wider.” “That’s how it’s supposed to feel.” Sam took her other breast in his hand and tweaked one of her nipples as Phil continued to massage at her hole.” Sam said as he pushed his thumb through her labia and rubbed in tiny circles around her clit. twitching under her gaze. Sam’s hand brushed against her pussy. “I want you. the action drawing Phil’s fingers deeper inside. savoring the taste of his pre-cum combined with her own erotic juices. a good thing since she didn’t know how much more long. drawing a groan from him and causing his thrusts to speed up.” Mel said. She gasped as he pushed two fingers into her ass. stretching her for the sexual attack she knew was coming. and as soon as she threw a leg over his hip. She moaned around Mel’s throbbing prick. Phil’s fingers gently withdrew from her asshole. Sam and Mel both rushed to comfort her. His cock was fully erect. brushing his thumb over one of her nipples. “Just breathe. his cock replaced it. baby. and Marta took him in her hand. When she whimpered. his touch sent a burst of sensation straight to her clit. guiding him to her lips. Their ministrations distracted her until one of Phil’s fingers pressed against the tight ring of muscle guarding her asshole. hard dick her body could take.” Phil whispered as his finger finally pushed into her.158 Helena Ray her own feminine juices around the tight hole. Mel’s hand cupped her chin and tilted it upward. but in a totally new way. still glistening with her juices.” “You have us. As he sank his cock into the tightness of her cunt. Both Mel and Sam stilled their thrusts. The erotic stretching felt more exciting than she ever could have imagined. He pushed himself onto his knees. “It–It feels good. Sam’s hand left her pussy. and she saw that he had moved so that he sat at the head of the bed.” she whispered against the tip of Mel’s cock. and unexpectedly. and she felt something .

Mel and Sam on the sides near her collarbone and Phil at the base of her neck. sweetheart. Mel poured his seed down her throat. leaving her neck and the bites there totally exposed.” Phil said as he pushed the head of his cock against her entrance. they bit down at the exact same moment. She swallowed him in time with each blistering pulse of carnal ecstasy that wracked her body. Sam and Phil quickly established a back-and- forth rhythm. “Remember to breathe. Phil had sunk into her completely. As if guided by something greater than all of them. more distinct than any she’d experienced. All her senses were filled with her men. But very soon. Every sensation felt clearer. sending his cockhead to the back of Marta’s throat. all her long hair had been swept above her head. every pant. . He quickly withdrew from her mouth and shifted so that he lay just above her. Then. A sting of pain raced through her as he continued forward. stretching the tight ring of muscles to their limit. Beads of sweat accumulated on her forehead. Phil’s fingers returned. With a shout. Before she could register what had happened. one withdrawing as the other thrust in. every moan of sheer bliss. relishing in the taste and feel of his steaming hot. and Mel pressed his hips forward. and that pain instantly transformed to a warm pleasure that flowed through her veins and turned her into a writhing creature of pure want. in one brief moment. Sam and Phil’s thrusting increased in speed and force. and all three men had their mouths on her neck. and she knew that all three of them would soon give in to the release that threatened to engulf them. salty fluid. and she gratefully sucked down every drop. They both moved. because they all restarted their thrusts. Her men must have felt her tension float away. Lube. and she wondered if this really was she something she wanted. and her orgasm loomed just around the corner of every thrust. their musk encapsulating her in its force. massaging the gel into her hole.Taste of Pride 159 wet and cold drip on her asshole. his cock lined up with her back entrance.

or any hesitance at all. “I’ll always love you. and pretty soon we should start discussing children.” “I can think of one way. and she felt Sam and Phil both joining her in the void of total satisfaction.” “And how would you feel about working at Savage Hunger on a long-term basis? While you’re not writing. “And I love you. that is.” Mate. Hopefully. you’ll move in with us. any prejudice from society. “I love you.” Mel used his grip on her hair to tilt his face toward his for a kiss.” “So that’s it. “I can live with that. mate. “God knows they could use a real writer over there.” A grin pulled at Marta’s lips.” “You could also copyedit some of Cleve and Ezra’s work at the Savage Herald.” Phil answered. It sounded so improbable.” Sam’s expression was questioning. “I love you guys so much.” “You know that I love you.” Marta laughed. “but there’s a lot to the relationship between mates. thoroughly amused by her mates’ eager planning for her stay in Savage Valley.” Mel’s mouth found hers. yes. after what seemed like minutes.” Mel chimed in. “More than I knew I could love anyone. that’s the ritual.” Sam said as he brushed a kiss against her lips. “That’s everything? We’re mated?” “Well.160 Helena Ray The feel of their fangs penetrating her skin joined in the tangle of sensations that finally overwhelmed her completely. “If it means I get to be around you three all the time. She allowed her orgasm to sweep her away. This sense of belonging outweighed any doubts she may have had. . then count me in. Finally. an adorable look on his chiseled features. but so right. While still buried inside her ass. and the night did pass very. Phil laid a soft kiss over where his teeth had torn her skin. huh?” Marta glanced between the confused looks on her men’s faces. they all floated back to the earth. very quickly after that. I’m sure we’ll find at least a few ways to pass the time.

COM/HELENA-RAY .Taste of Pride 161 THE END BOOKSTRAND.

and many a talking dog. Growing up as an only child.com. she spent many happy afternoons dreaming up companions. Also by Helena Ray Ménage Everlasting: The Pride of Savage Valley. they can find her on Twitter under the name HelenaRayWriter or e-mail her at HelenaRayAuthor@gmail. Currently. his two cats. She has traveled all over the United Kingdom and has lived in London and northern England. and she couldn’t stop herself from following in her parents’ footsteps.com/helena-ray . Over the years. Helena lives in Texas with her very handsome boyfriend.bookstrand. Born the daughter of a newspaperman and a lawyer. and raucous nights in Dublin. her love affair with the written word turned torrid. Should any of her readers care to contact her. Helena has given words a vital role in her life. These included her evil twin in Mexico. She loves to travel. and her also quite handsome dog. and her most recent adventures have included several trips to Paris. please visit www. Colorado 1: Mountain Pride For all other titles. leisurely weekends on Lake Constance in Germany. puppets that would pop up out of the ground. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Helena Ray has always maintained that the world inside her head is much more exciting than the real world. She hopes that readers have as much fun occupying her imaginary worlds as she has creating them.

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