The mating rite (big, beautiful werewolf) (werewolves of montana)

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THE MATING RITE

A BBW Romance

(Big, Beautiful Werewolf)

Book 4 in the Werewolves of Montana series

Bonnie Vanak

Prologue

Northern Idaho, ten years ago

The hunter knew his prey was near. He scented her delicious fragrance of freesia and crisp snow—clean, fresh and pure.

Untouched and unmated. Her scent went straight to his loins, tugging at his cock and causing it to partly slide from his sheath in preparation for mating. He growled and pressed his nose close to the pine needles littering the damp ground.

Thick evergreen trees blocked her from eyesight. But this forest was his territory and he could find her. Wind rustled through the overhead limbs, carrying a thread of her scent. Close, but not close enough.

He was Lupine, a powerful wolf shapeshifter who could find a flea on a camel. Stalking his prey, he padded silently through the forest. As he entered a small clearing, he saw the target.

The female timber wolf stood her ground. Sleek gray fur rose on her body as she growled a warning, her ears laid back. Facing him, she was clearly unafraid. The mating instinct surged, but the man inside the wolf grimly pushed it down. This chase held a different purpose. He bared his fangs at the female.

Then her thick tail wagged. Giving a joyous yip, she dropped to her front paws, her bottom sticking up in the air.

Clearly she was saying, “Play with me!”

Still snarling, he stalked forward, but she gave another happy yip and bounded off, playful as a pup.

The male shook his head in wolfish frustration. He caught her near the trunk of a sturdy pine tree. When he gently put his jaws around her throat, she wriggled free.

Good.

Then she rolled over, showed her belly and looked at him coyly.

Not so good.

Darius Bryant shape-shifted back into his human form and clothed himself by magick. The female wolf did the same.

As soon as she did, he moved lightning quick and pinned her down. She wriggled against him, trying to escape. Each movement brought excruciating friction against his groin. He bit back a moan. “Stop squirming, Sam.” He narrowed his gaze. “Didn’t I warn you to never, ever show concern for an enemy Lupine?”

Samantha Evers’ violet eyes widened. “But you’re not the enemy. You’re Darius.”

He released her, leaned against a tree and folded his arms. “Sam, when we’re out here, training, I am the enemy. How else can I teach you to protect and defend yourself? You don’t show your belly to a strange Lupine.”

Her carnation pink mouth formed a pout, making her look adorable and oh-so-kissable as she sat on the ground. Hair the color of corn silk blew in the breeze. “I know how to protect myself in wolf form. I’m tired of training. I want to play.”

Darius squatted beside her and lifted her rounded chin to meet his fierce gaze, marveling at the exquisite smoothness of her creamy skin, the innocence stamped on her expression. “And what if I weren’t Darius? What if I wanted to rip you to shreds?”

She sighed. “I’ll learn. I have time.”

But not much, he thought. Although only sixteen, Samantha had already caught the interest of a few pack males. Lupines were sexual creatures and in this pack, sexuality could turn ferocious. Samantha was sweet and innocent and rarely exhibited aggression in wolf form. Hell, she refused to hunt. He’d covered for her by snagging an extra rabbit when the pack ran with the full moon. She even refused to eat the kill, so he’d take it to the kitchen and sear it so it maintained its freshness.

All Lupines needed fresh meat once a month to shape-shift.

He couldn’t protect her every moment. So this week, he’d carved out a time when he could train her in secret.

For now, the lesser males feared him too much to make a grab for Sam. Darius had fought hard for his reputation. Having a brutal sire made it necessary.

Thanks, Dad.

But as harsh as his life in the Bryant pack had been, he was determined to see Sam and her family live in relative ease. In their clan of more than three hundred Lupines wrestling for position, that meant staying low, enjoying enough food to keep them fed and warm in winter, and avoiding the wandering eye of their alpha.

Sam gave a happy sigh and began to sing, the purity and sweet melody of each note filling him with awed wonder. She never ceased to surprise him, this beautiful young Lupine. He was eight years older, but owed her a debt he could never repay. She was the only one he could whisper his hopes and dreams to, the only one he trusted. And she adored him.

One day when you’re older, I’m going to mate you.

The sudden thought, arising from nowhere, startled him. The more he examined the idea, the more it appealed to him. Darius curved his mouth into a soft smile. She stopped singing.

“Now what are you thinking about?” Sam demanded.

Stretching out full length on the ground, he picked up a pine needle and tickled her nose with it. “You.”

She gave him an exasperated look. “Darius, you’re such an enigma. No wonder all the females fall at your feet.”

He sat up and spread his arms out in a dramatic gesture. “Ah, but only one I wish to truly fall, my lady, for you have captured my heart and refuse to surrender your prize.”

Sam rolled her eyes. “I knew we shouldn’t have studied Shakespearean sonnets. Come on, we’re wasting daylight, and you have to be back soon.”

They walked through the forest until the trees grew thicker and taller. Sam stood on tiptoes, reached into the hollowed trunk of a dead evergreen and fished out a book covered in plastic. She removed the wrapping and handed him the volume.

His back against the tree, Darius sat with Sam curled up at his feet. The late August air held a chill that hinted of autumn. Near the tree trunk grew a clump of fairy slippers. The delicate magenta orchids were Sam’s favorite.

She fingered the stalks and their withered, dead blossoms. “I hate it when they die. When they’re flowering, they look like tiny Sprites, ready to take wing.”

“They only bloom until July. They’ll be back in spring.” His heart gave a little flip. He hated seeing her sad.

“I know. Nature’s promise.” She pointed to the book.

His ears reddened. Clearing his throat, he flipped to the bookmarked chapter. Sam sat beside him with a gentle, encouraging smile.

“Shall I com…compare thee to a s-s-summer’s day? Th-th-ou are more lovely and more t-tem…”

Frustration pierced him. He stared at the letters, his forefinger pressed against the page.

“Temperate.”

“Temperate,” he repeated. Wrinkling his brow, he continued.

When he’d finished, she gave a beaming smile and clapped. “Excellent! You only stumbled over three words. Much, much better.”

Warming under her praise, he grinned back at her.

Before Sam’s arrival, he couldn’t leave the pack grounds because he had no driver’s license. He’d failed the exam time and again because he couldn’t read the manual. Maxim had laughed and called him stupid.

Sam’s voice echoed in his mind.You are not stupid. You have a reading disability.

She’d caught him in the forest, tearing up a book and screaming his rage. Only her gentle concern had stopped him. And he’d confessed. From that day forward, she’d tutored him in secret until he learned to read.

Darius had even returned to school and gotten his GED. Now he was attending the local college part-time, studying business.

Sam never criticized him, mocked him or feared him like others. She accepted him for who he was.

Reading finally accorded him the freedom he’d longed for all his twenty-four years. He could strike out on his own. But he couldn’t go without Sam. And her sickly mother refused to leave the pack.

When he’d finished the lesson, Darius wrapped the book and tucked it back into the tree. He stretched out his long legs and patted his thighs. “Rest here a little. You’ve been working too hard.”

“I have to earn my keep in the pack, since I’m such a lousy hunter.” But she lay down, her head pillowed on his strong thighs. Darius stroked her hair, enjoying the feel of her silky strands beneath his fingertips.

“Lousy hunter? You never hunt. All you do when we shift is chase dragonflies and fireflies,” he said, teasing. “You can’t flush out a rabbit to save your life.”

Sam looked vulnerable for a moment. “I hate hunting rabbits. When I shift back to Skin form, I feel so guilty.”

“Then let me do it for you, sweetheart. Don’t give it another thought.”

Closing her eyes, Sam started to sing. The haunting melody echoed through the forest, each note soothing him into peaceful contentment. All the day’s tension from an earlier fight with his father melted away. Sam’s voice could heal the most fractious Lupine.

When she’d finished singing, Sam opened her eyes. “It’s so pretty here. I could live forever in this forest.”

Darius studied her, totally enchanted. “Youarelovelier than a summer’s day.”

A delicate pink flushed her cheeks.

“You are,” he said softly. “The way the sunlight streaks your hair, touches your mouth when you smile, it’s like a field of wildflowers beneath the morning sky.” He drew a deep breath into his lungs, inhaling her fragrance. “You even smell like summer.”

Sitting up, she faced him. Their gazes caught and met. Sam leaned close. “I love you, Darius,” she whispered.

His heart did a crazy flip. Sam was the only one he’d ever wanted, the only one who claimed his heart. She remained innocent and untouched. He cupped her cheek, marveling at the softness of her skin. “I love you too, sweetheart.”

“Let’s mate each other.” Her voice became low and sultry.

Whoa, temptation major.Darius smoothed back the blonde locks curtaining her face. One day, when he made her his, he’d see her lying in bed, her long hair spread out on his pillow. Sam would become his mate, to touch and claim and pleasure.

“Yes. But not now. You’re way too young. “

“When?” She pouted.

He gave a tender smile. “In a few years. I’ll wait for you to grow up.”

“You’ll forget all about me.”

Distress filled her gaze. Sam rubbed her forehead with the heel of one hand, something she always did when lost in thought. Knowing his reputation among women, he guessed what those thoughts were.

“Never.” He sat up and tugged off the gold ring from his left pinkie. It had belonged to his mother, the Celtic knot declaring their heritage. His most prized possession, he’d never removed it until now.

“Give me your hand.” When she did, he slid the ring onto her finger. It was a nearly perfect fit. “This is a ring of promise that we’ll be together. I’m not good at romantic words, Sam. But you have my heart, always. This ring symbolizes my feelings for you until the time when we can officially mate.”

Her gaze widened. “Oh, Darius! It’s beautiful.”

“Not as lovely as you.” His voice turned thick and deep. Darius longed to kiss her soft, pink mouth but feared if he did, he’d be unable to stop. And he would not violate her young, tender trust.

Instead, he brushed a soft kiss against her knuckles.

For a moment, she stared at him, longing in her eyes. Then as if the intensity proved too much, Sam looked down. Her violet eyes widened, and she squatted by the clump of orchids in the moist, rich soil.

“Look,” she whispered. “They didn’t all die.”

One tiny bud formed on an orchid’s single stalk. Darius frowned. “I could have sworn the blooms were all gone. They never blossom this late in summer.”

“Maybe we have a magick of our own that makes them grow. This is a magickal place.”

Utterly smitten, he gazed at her dreamy look. “It’s the magick you create, Sam. You could make a rose grow in an ice storm.”

She looked so sweet and kissable again. He resisted the urge to lean close and obey his wolf’s nagging impulse to touch his mouth to hers. Darius fisted his trembling hands.

Sam seemed to notice his sudden tension, for she playfully swatted him. “C’mon, Romeo. I have to go. Marcia’s feeling better and wants to go into town with a girlfriend, and I promised I’d give Mom her medication.”

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