Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, all! I wanted to share the first chapter of Plenty of Shift, Book Two with you. It’ll be out in early January, so keep an eye out. (Quinn’s book will be out a little after that, in case you’re chomping at the bit for his story in this Choose-Your-Own-Romance series):
Naomi sat stiff-spined and upright in the Plenty of Shift office, hands clenched tightly in her lap. Her eyes were fixed on Miri’s couch, which was visible through the two-way mirror that separated the living room from the office. Miri’s grizzly shifter mate Malcolm had installed the mirror to conceal clients like her from view so they could observe their prospective dates in secret.
Despite her concealment, Naomi couldn’t help but squirm impatiently as she anticipated the appearance of the first candidate. As she wiped her palms on her jeans, wishing away the nervousness that was forcing her sweat glands into hyperactive mode, she recalled the conversation she’d had with Miri only a few days earlier. The two friends had been discussing the brand new matchmaking service. So brand new, in fact, that Naomi was its first official client.
“Okay, so tell me,” she’d said, her voice betraying her anxiety. “What exactly is going to happen? And by that I mean, ‘How much is this going to hurt?’”
“It’s not going to hurt at all, you wuss,” Miri had replied. “You’re going to sit and watch from behind the safety of the two-way mirror, so don’t worry. You’ll be invisible to any man who comes in. I’ll bring one of the guys in first. Then I’ll sit him down and grill him a little on his interests, where he sees himself in five years, what his favourite sexual position is and if he’s into anything kinky involving grapefruit or rubber chickens. That sort of thing. And then I’ll do the same with candidate number two.”
“Candidate,” Naomi muttered. “What a term for a man who might end up being the father of my children. Or at the very least, he might take me to bed and blow my mind while I blow his. Or blow him.”
“If he’s a very lucky guy, yes.”
“So, I pick between the two stunningly handsome, astonishingly horny men that you present to me, depending on how compatible our kinks are. Or I suppose I could be an adult and consider stuff like our aspirations for the future, if I decide that sort of thing is important.”
“If one of them floats your boat, then you should absolutely pick him. And one or both will float the hell out of it, I promise. Don’t forget: I am the master of the trade, after all. I know the two guys I’ve selected will appeal to you. They’re…special.”
“Special sets off alarm bells. It sounds like you’re telling me they collect headless dolls or eat rocks for breakfast.”
“Not at all. Special means hot, interesting and so desirable that you’ll have trouble keeping your clothing on when you see them. Consider it code for ‘Holy shit, I wish I had laser eyes so I could take that guy’s pants off from across the room.’”
“All right, your definition is good enough enough that I’m willing to proceed with this lunacy. Anyhow, I choose one of your special men, we contact each other and he becomes—what—a date? A mate? A possible short-term relationship? Or maybe just one night of steamy, glorious, unbridled, upside-down sex that I can only hope will involve bungee cords, thigh high boots and scented candles?”
“Assuming it’s you wearing the boots then yes.” Miri had laughed, putting a reassuring hand on her friend’s shoulder. “You’ll be fine, Naomi. I wouldn’t steer you wrong. And if all goes well, he’ll be much more than just fleeting, wild sex. He’ll be wild sex and the odd deep conversation.”
* * *
Naomi had told herself that she was prepared for what was coming. In theory, anyhow. But now she felt like nothing more than a poor excuse for a spy, peering out from the relative safety of the office. A voyeur into her own life.
I must be nuts, she thought as her hands fidgeted with one another, her heart rate accelerating in anticipation. Why on earth had she agreed to this? Why would any sane woman put herself through this sort of agony?
But she knew perfectly well why she’d done it. Over the past several weeks, she and her new tenant had grown to be close confidantes and friends. And she’d encouraged Miri to start up the business, trusting in her reputation as a fantastic matchmaker. Though that didn’t stop her nerves from losing their composure inside her body as her fingernails now began to dig into her thighs, an unpleasant symptom of the tension that was overtaking her. For some stupid reason it now felt as though she was the one being judged, rather than the men. What if she picked one and he rejected her when he saw her? That would, well, suck donkey balls, for lack of more poetic terminology.
Something about the whole endeavour was exciting and unnerving at once. How the hell would she choose between two extremely appealing, allegedly perfect candidates? How could she know which path to take if each led to potential paradise? And how could she know she hadn’t missed out on a massive opportunity by rejecting one?
Couldn’t she have both?
Stop thinking, damn it, she told herself. Stop being such a ferret, scurrying around your own mind. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.
So she did, fighting back her animal side. She pressed her body deep into the back of the chair, inhaled a suck of air and told herself to trust in fate’s plans for her. Hell, she was a writer of fiction, after all—a fact that she’d only revealed to Miri after they’d known each other for some time—and she knew by now that a character always found his or her way through their own story. Whatever path she initially put them on, they made it work, and usually came out even better in the end regardless of her original plans. Though to be fair, sometimes a character’s path resulted in a horrible death at the hands of a psycho killer. But that only occurred in the stories that weren’t meant to have a happy end.
Her story would be different.
As for the men she was about to see for the first time, the worst case scenario was that the guy she chose to date might not be Mr. Perfect. Like maybe he’d have one too many moles, or have a quirk that caused him to yell out “I love cheese!” at inappropriate moments. That wouldn’t be so bad, right?
* * *
And then it happened. The door leading into the interview area finally opened. Naomi felt a renewed jolt of nervousness, despite the fact that she was securely locked in the office. He was about to enter: Candidate One. There was no turning back now; she was trapped, destined to make her choice.
But as soon as the man had stepped into Miri’s bright living room, the sharp response between Naomi’s legs told her that everything would be just fine. Immediately she knew why he’d been selected for her.
She breathed a deep sigh, both of relief and something else. Something far more pleasant.
Candidate Number One, she gasped, is fucking gorgeous.
Despite being a professional wordsmith, Naomi couldn’t find a way to describe him without using profanity for emphasis. He was tall, broad shouldered and tight abdomened, with a serious, and seriously handsome, face. His jeans strained their almost inadequate layer of denim against very muscular thighs. His hair was sandy blond, his eyes a deep shade of blue and full of mischief.
An impossibly perfect torso was covered by a tight grey t-shirt, and Naomi cursed the fact that it remained mostly hidden under a leather motorcycle jacket. It seemed from a distance that he was carved from some sort of perfect blend of marble and man-flesh—rock hard, by the looks of it. But biteable, nonetheless. At least Naomi speculated that he was. It would take much closer inspection to be sure. Maybe her tongue would also need to have a go at him, for the sake of certainty.
And when he flashed the matchmaker a smile, he only became more attractive. The face that had looked overly serious when he’d first walked in softened temporarily into a boyish grin: dimpled, friendly and inviting. A face that a girl could get used to seeing first thing in the morning, after a night spent holding onto her ankles while she took advantage of his other plentiful gifts; those that remained concealed under his clothing.
Naomi realized that her hands were now clenched together in a tight ball of knotted fingers and pulled them apart, laying them on the desk before her as she watched Miri prepare to embark on a series of questions.
Before a word had been uttered, Naomi’s analytical mind had begun to work, and she’d already drawn various conclusions:
He liked to ride motorcycles—obvious from the jacket, the helmet and saddle bags that he’d put down when he’d entered.
He worked out. That was clear from the muscles. And he cared enough about his body to do it regularly. The real question was whether he’d care enough about her body to do her regularly.
Stop. You’re already thinking about straddling him, she reminded herself. Maybe you should get to know the guy first.
According to his responses to Miri, his name was Tyler. He was a member of the Shardik Pride, one of the three major shifter groups in Grayson City. So, he was a lion shifter. That wasn’t surprising. He had all the best attributes of their kind, and then some.
He liked to fight. That wasn’t ideal. But it seemed that it was mostly for recreation; Tyler was a boxer. Hobbies were acceptable, even if they involved the odd black eye. As long as he wasn’t likely to hit her, this could work.
Miri had always voiced a mild distaste for male shifters and their aggressive ways, in spite of the fact that her own mate was a grizzly shifter. But Naomi, on the other hand, had always liked the smell of a bad boy; a man with muscles who wasn’t afraid to use his fists in the right situation. Something in that sort of male set her on fire, and Tyler was certainly starting up an inferno between her legs.
“What do you do for a living?” she heard Miri ask, her voice calm, professional and apparently unfazed by his utter physical perfection.
“I’m a bodyguard. I protect the Pride’s Sovereign, Lucas Sharpe. He hired me after the Kefir Pack started up its bullshi— I mean, its latest goings on. You know how it’s been. They’ve been working on sabotaging the businesses of other shifter clans, like it’s somehow going to give their Alpha, Char, dominance over the city.”
“Yes, so I’ve heard,” said Miri, barely hiding a sneer. Naomi knew that she was biting her tongue, keeping her own feelings about the Wolf Pack’s behaviour to herself. They’d been thuggish anarchists lately, attempting to derail the fragile ecosystem of a city that relied on the three shifter clans getting along. “So you work for the highest shifter on the lions’ food chain.”
“And how did you get into that line of work?”
“I suppose the short answer is that I’m protective by nature; I have been all my life. It’s burnt into me like a brand on my skin.”
“Okay. Well, it sounds like there’s a story there, Tyler.”
“There is,” he replied. His eyes went to the coffee table and for a moment Naomi thought she saw his jaw clench before he continued to speak. “But I’d prefer not to tell it in this place, if you’re okay with that. If you have a woman in mind for me—a shifter—I’d rather she discover my hidden scars for herself. They’re not something I unveil lightly.”
So, thought Naomi, there’s more to this one than meets the eye. Of course, she’d already determined this when she’d spied a hardcover copy of Great Expectations peeking out from his saddle bag. What kind of motorcycle-riding bodyguard read Dickens for fun? But that was just another appealing characteristic among many. A man who liked reading, a woman who liked writing—what could be better?
As she watched, she marvelled at his perfectly laid out gorgeousness, the façade that protected whatever was lurking deep inside him. An outer appearance that apparently hid some kind of deep-rooted secret.
Ironically, it was through the answers that he avoided that he revealed his nature little by little. Time after time, he evaded any question that delved too deep. If Miri asked about his family or his childhood, he quickly changed the subject, asking her about a painting on the wall, or the couch’s upholstery. Clearly, he was a closed book, or at least he wanted to be. That sort of man could prove frustrating and difficult in intimate settings. But also a challenge to a strong woman such as Naomi. To her he was intriguing and, by all appearances, worth any effort that might be involved in getting him to open up.
He was strong, too, and powerful. He spoke with confidence and friendliness, an easy-going nature written all over him in spite of his thinly veiled issues. Naomi didn’t think it was an act; it was more like there were two sides to his personality: the one that wanted to relax and to enjoy life, and the side that couldn’t, for whatever reason. It seemed to her that Tyler wanted quite desperately for the former to win out.
“Are you hoping to get married sometime soon?” Miri asked candidly.
“I have no idea,” Tyler said, laughing. “It’s a bit soon to answer that.”
“So you’re just here to see what happens if I set you up with someone?”
“A fling, then?”
“No. I’m not looking for a fling,” he said. “To be honest, I’m looking for a woman who will make me a better man. If such a woman exists.”
“So tell me—have you ever been in love?”
He leaned forward, running a hand through his messy head of light hair.
“No. But when I do fall, it’s going to be something.”
Once again, Naomi felt something between her legs; a longing for this man she’d never even spoken to.
He’s been hurt, she thought. But he craves love. Somehow, he needs it. He needs to be loved by someone.
In spite of his outward strength, she wanted suddenly to stroke his hair, to soothe him like a small, wounded creature. How could a man exude so much strength and weakness in one package?
He continued to avoid revealing anything that he didn’t want to, though, and as the interview progressed Naomi could see why he might be a great bodyguard. He was so adept at protecting himself that no doubt he’d be very capable of shielding others from harm as well.
When the interview had concluded, Miri stood to see him to the door. He turned to her before leaving.
“Listen, could you tell her—the woman you’re considering for me—that I would look after her well if we did end up compatible,” he said. “I believe in treating women like goddesses, at least the woman I’m meant to be with. If that makes a difference.”
“I’m sure it will make a difference to this one,” said Miri. “She’s very special, and I’m very fond of her.”
“Good. I hope I get to meet her, then.”
“I’ll be in touch, Tyler, and let you know.”
He left, helmet and saddle bags in hand. And as he walked through the doorway Naomi couldn’t help but take one final glance at his ass: a glorious, biteable sample of perfection encased in perfectly-cut denim. She found her hands slipping to her thighs once again, this time not out of tension, but out of desire. Some part of her needed stroking, and now. Maybe it was the ferret inside her, wanting its fur to be caressed. Either way, she wanted his hands to do it.
Naomi knew that she was to wait for the next man, Quinn, to enter. But already she’d made her choice. There was no question that she had to know more about Tyler.
So she watched Quinn with the interest of someone who’s observing the silver medal winner: much to recommend him, but no competition, not really. He was handsome and sexy, of course. And intriguing in his way. But it seemed that he was wealthy, and Naomi had a fear of those with money. They seemed privy to a world that she didn’t want to be part of. Money always seemed to change people, and never for the better.
Then again, if Tyler hadn’t come in first, she might have been enticed. Quinn was a wolf shifter, and they were interesting. Loyal, generally—though the recent Pack behaviour had proven that some were loyal to a fault, the wolves submitting to whatever behaviour their Alpha wanted from them. But as a species they generally were strong, mentally as well as physically. No doubt Quinn would make a good mate for some woman, and Naomi wished her well, whoever she was.
“So?” asked Miri when she’d entered the office, releasing Naomi from her temporary prison after the second candidate had left.
“Tyler,” Naomi said, standing and stretching her arms over her head to let the last of the tension melt away. “Definitely.”
“Well, that was easy. But I’ve got to know—why did you pick him?”
Naomi pondered the question for a moment before replying. “Needless to say, he’s gorgeous. But ultimately it’s because I want to help him. He needs someone. And I think he could help me, too.”
“I don’t know if I can explain it. Just—he’s an injured bird who hasn’t quite figured out how to fly with whatever wounds he has. And it makes him a little angry. But he wants it so badly—he wants to be free of whatever’s keeping him down. Anyone who wants something, who’s determined to have it, usually gets it. And if he’s a good man, he deserves to be happy. Besides, I like the idea of a man who needs me and isn’t afraid to ask for help. To me it’s as masculine a trait as there is.”
“Well, it seems that you’ve got him and yourself all figured out,” smiled Miri. “Then I’ll tell him your choice and have him get in touch with you.”
“Good. But wait until tomorrow, would you? I don’t want to seem overly eager.”
“Will do. But remember—we have that Fundraising Gala tomorrow night at the Hospital.”
“Oh—well, good. It’ll give me an excuse to play Slightly-Hard-To-Get if he should ask me out right away.”
“Don’t be too hard to get though, hon. I think Tyler might like a woman who lets him know what she wants.”
“I’ll be smart. Something tells me I’ll ultimately be very easy to get, at least for this one.”
* * *