The Friend Contract is coming soon!
Hi guys! Coming up this June is my novella entitled The Friend Contract. It's about two best friends who fall in love. Gabe has wanted Naomi for years, and he's at the end of his rope with what to do about it. Hatching up a fake marriage scheme, he hopes spending time with him will set to flame the sparks that have been floating around them for years. Read below for a sneak peek of the first chapter!
Common sense told Gabriel Hamilton that sneaking over the fence of the panther compound would piss them off. But, once he weighed the amount of trouble it would take him to go through their front gate, it pretty much evened out for him. It honestly shouldn’t take that much aggravation just to see his best friend, but he would do anything to see her, including slumming with panthers. It was well known that keeping a bear out of anyplace they wanted to be was near impossible, so really, when he thought about it, him sneaking in was the cats’ fault.
He curled his lips at the scent markers the panthers had all over the place. The acrid smell of cat was on every inch of the property. A proper warning for shifters who had accidentally wandered too far onto their territory. The signs posted everywhere were for the humans. He bypassed it all, his steps light as he sneaked through their security. He growled in irritation as he sidled behind the pool house, keeping close to their fence, inching closer to the back door.
Why Naomi moved damn near across town into the panther’s building when she had a perfectly great condo on the floor below his…okay, wasn’t a mystery. But, still it was aggravating. She’d joined her family’s prowl and was now safely ensconced in the apartment building where the panthers all lived close to the Alpha. Though…how safe was it when he’d easily gotten through their security measures?
He’d need to talk to her about that.
He popped the lock on the rear entrance of the building, cursing when the electronics shocked him. He hissed and shook off the bit of electricity as he worked through the lock. He took his time disabling it, putting the lock back in place once he was done to buy time before they knew he was there. He straightened and snarled in surprise as two females in panther form passed him in the hallway of the first floor. He walked past the lobby, hidden, thankfully by the large planters the cats insisted on having everywhere. It gave the whole space an exotic feeling, especially coupled with all the windows. It was perfect for him to slip past the security.
Now that he was in the building, it occurred to him, that it had taken longer to sneak in. But, riling the panthers was fun, so in the end, it would all be worth it. He ran a hand down the front of his dress shirt to smooth the wrinkles, heading towards the elevator Excitement had his bear on edge. He’d not seen Naomi in a few weeks. Between his work and her traveling, they hadn’t been able to link up. She’d texted him last night that she was back in town and he decided a trip to see her was long overdue. The amount of work on his desk should’ve prevented the outing, but he missed her.
Well, that, and he could no longer keep away from her.
He took the elevator up four floors and cursed when it stopped halfway. It didn’t stop on a floor, no, it just halted, the jolt of the emergency stop shaking him slightly off balance. He sighed.
“Who the fuck are you?” Came a gruff question over the speaker.
“Gabriel Hamilton, here to see Naomi,” he answered, irritated.
“Hamilton, what the actual fuck?”
This voice he recognized. It was that of the Beta panther. Second-in-command of the Ayala Panther Prowl, Derrick Lincoln was usually nicer to him. Gabe cocked his head in surprise at the tone. But then, he remembered…he’d broken in, so of course, the Beta was pissed.
“Sorry, I’m here to see Nay and I’m on a schedule.” That last part was unnecessary, but…again, he did enjoy provoking the cats.
“Use the front door next time,” Was Derrick’s reply a second before the elevator re-started its ascension.
Gabe saluted the camera and flicked a bird at the security guard he knew would be watching the camera as he left. He walked down to Naomi’s door and stopped, inhaling the familiar smells of mint, a hint of pine, and the slight chemical smell from her paints. Underneath it all was a scent, so appealing, and achingly delicious to his bear. That of their mate. He knocked on the door, taking a deep breath to calm his excitement.
She answered the door, a ready smile on her round face, her hair tied up into a scarf, the curls pushed up into a giant puff on top. Fresh-faced, her dark eyes went wide for a second before she glanced back over her shoulder. He looked down and growled at the large t-shirt she wore like a dress. It was his, one of many he’d left at her house over the years. The shirt emphasized their size difference and the caveman part of his brain got intense satisfaction from it.
“Gabe, hey,” She greeted him, going up on her toes and wrapping her arms around his neck.
He kissed her cheek inhaling deep, his longing for her a living breathing weight on his chest. His bear came alive, curiosity at the change in her scent. He grunted his greeting.
“You smell more cat than usual.”
“I think it’s because I’m fully in the prowl now.” She backed away and let him into her apartment, a sheepish expression on her face.
He nodded at her answer but wondered why she looked embarrassed. Until he took in the scene around him. There were ties all over the place, tied to various surfaces from the base of her lamps, to the back of her dining table chairs.
“It’s silly.” She shook her head and walked away.
He blinked, waiting on her to explain. She didn’t. His bear raised its head. Possessiveness—something he always felt around her—flared, his chest rumbled in a growl. She gave him a startled glance but went back to her project.
“Explain, Nay.” He ordered.
Her eyes lowered, and he realized his bear was giving off dominant vibes.
“Sorry.” He pulled back his power. “What are you doing with the ties?”
“Oh, well, I was watching a movie and she was tying her boyfriend’s tie and I realized that I knew nothing about tying ties and if I want to get married, maybe I should know how,” She said in a rush of words.
His brain malfunctioned for a moment so he shook his head. She had a boyfriend? Once serious enough to consider marriage to? Was he too late? Had he missed the chance to make her his? He had been busy at work, he knew that, but surely he’d not missed a boyfriend. He’d stayed in his lane, in the friend zone she’d imposed, content to be with her in any way. He’d been under the impression that she didn’t want anything serious, now she was talking about husbands.
He should’ve learned from the first time. She’d been engaged, pregnant, and trying to mate with a fox shifter Gabe hadn’t trusted from day one. The relationship fell apart when she lost the child and he’d nearly killed the bastard for it. His brother had been the only thing between the male and death. Naomi had stopped talking to him for a couple of weeks behind that, so he was more careful when it came to her boundaries.
Her head was tilted as she stared. He realized he hadn’t spoken.
“You’ve been dating someone long enough to get wedding ideas?”
She blew a raspberry and shook her head. “Of course not, I told you it was silly.”
His phone rang and he growled, seeing the number for his office. He sent it to voice mail, knowing his sister would be pissed he was ignoring calls. He needed to clear up this boyfriend thing.
“So no boyfriend.”
She huffed. “No, you of all people would know.”
“We haven’t seen each other in months, I could’ve missed something.”
“Well, that’s true. But you haven’t. Missed anything, I mean.”
He put his hands on his hips and turned in a circle, trying to understand. “The ties then, Nay? Make it make sense.”
“I was just practicing,” she muttered.
He moved closer to where she was stripping her lamp of a striped tie. “Where did the ties come from? You got one them bums you dated leaving shit behind?”
She sucked her teeth and threw a tie at his chest. “Excuse you, I don’t date bums.”
“The ties, Princess, where did they come from?” He tried to keep the irritation from his voice.
“I got them from Charlie and Savannah if you must know,” she snapped.
“The hell your sister got so many ties for?”
She put a hand to her hip and scowled up at him. “Did you come over here for a reason?”
Her eyes were flashing in irritation, a deeper hint of an animal in their depths. He frowned.
“You’re latent, how are you…” he sniffed again, the strong presence of panther all through her scent.
She pulled back her power, the scent fading. “It’s part of my Zeta powers. Grandpa Harper says it’s because a tribond leads our prowl.” Excitement showed in her eyes. “I have a lot more power than I had before.”
“Is that right?” He stepped closer to her.
Was she finally ready to be his? He hadn’t crossed a line before because she was adamant that she wasn’t able to mate due to her latency. Her scent had definitely changed, the panther stronger and more prevalent. Would she be able to form a mating bond?
His phone rang again breaking into their silence. He sighed.
“Do you need to take that?” She asked over her shoulder as she turned around. She was pulling ties off the chairs.
He growled and nodded and went back into the hallway. He barked at his assistant and answered her questions. He came back in and Nay was out on her patio, a fresh canvas on the beat-up easel she kept at her house. It was much smaller than the one at her studio where she did her bigger pieces. She was humming and scraping paints out on her palate. She looked up when he leaned against the sliding door.
“I like watching you paint.”
She smiled. “You sound busy, did you come over for something specific?”
He shook his head. He’d just needed to see her. It was nothing new to him. It was part of the mating, that need to see her. Early on in their friendship, she’d told him that dating a shifter was out for her, so he’d backed off. He’d even tried telling her that she was his mate, but she’d laughed him off, dismissed his claim. Especially after she lost the baby. It was one of the reasons she’d been mad at him. He’d been wrong to make his move at that time. She’d accused him of telling her she was his mate out of pity.
He sighed and shook off the memory. The woman was stubborn and it seemed nothing he did or said had pushed passed her adamant argument that she couldn’t mate. He thought being her friend would be enough. His father hadn’t had any advice about what to do. Latents were unpredictable. They all had different instincts. Her cousin Savannah had known her mates, but Naomi it seemed, did not. They spent enough time together that she should’ve. Hell, they’d been friends since middle school, something should’ve clicked by now. He kept back, not sure what do to.
But now, something had changed with this new Felix they had in their prowl. Would she be ready for him? She’d always told him she would never be a part of the prowl, and yet here she was, nestled securely in prowl housing, an official part of the hierarchy.
“So I take it, shifters are no longer off the table.”
She gave him a startled look. “I still don’t know if I can mate with a shifter. Grandmother says it varies with latents, but…I guess it’s not off the table anymore.”
Panic flared in his chest, would she overlook him again? He moved closer. “So you’re just going to jump into the dating pool?”
She waved away his question. “You know me better than that.”
“I do,” he murmured, crowding her space. An idea was forming in his head. “You know, I am having an issue that I think you could help me with.”
She gave him a droll look. He smiled and she narrowed her eyes.
“You’re up to something.”
He pulled her into her arms. “I need a favor.”
She set the paints on the small table next to her easel. “You know I’d do anything to help you.”
“I’m supposed to get married soon.”
Her face clouded, her eyebrows lowering, “what?”
His mind was spinning, where the fuck was he going with this? “I…um…yeah, my parents set up a betrothal for me when I was younger and now it’s time to mate. I thought I would be able to talk you into mating me by now, but since I haven’t, my time is up.”
She shook her head. “I don’t know why you keep saying that,” she griped, her face perturbed.
So, still in denial.
“You’re going to bond with someone other than your true mate?” she pulled back to look up into his face, a hint of stunned anger swirling in her eyes.
He shrugged, she still didn’t understand that she was his. He wanted to be frustrated, but panic was the more predominant emotion at the moment.
“That’s where you come in.”
“Okaaay?” she dragged out the word.
“We could marry instead, and then I won’t have to go through with it.”
She stepped out of his arms. “Wait…what?”
He bit his bottom lip, lucky that she couldn’t scent his lies. At least she hadn’t been able to over the years. Did her burgeoning panther change that? He crossed his fingers and hoped not. He tilted his head and worked to tie the strings of his story together.
“Yeah, if I say that I found my mate, then the betrothal is nulled.”
“And it gives you more time to find your true mate?” She turned her back to him, wiping her brush on the palate to mix paint colors. The sharp, irritated flicks of her wrist belied her nonchalant tone.
Was she angry with him, dare he hope…jealous? He clamped his lips shut to keep from telling her that he was looking at his true mate.
“I didn’t know marriage contracts still existed.” She declared at his silence.
“You know how small bear clans are.” He said as an excuse.
She bobbed her head, “hmm, I didn’t think about that.”
“Well? Will you help me?” He pulled her back into his chest and settled his chin on the top of her head.
She was tense in his arms. He leaned over and nuzzled into her neck, dropping small kisses to test the water. Her body relaxed and she arched her neck. A good sign.
“Best friends?” he finished her sentence, spinning her around to see her face.
She nodded. “Won’t your parents wonder what took us so long?”
“You’re latent, everyone knows latents are different.” He studied her mouth, need overtaking his normal restraint.
She pushed out a breath, “ain’t that the truth.”
“Just give it some thought.” He said before giving into temptation and kissing her.
Her gasp of surprise opened her mouth. Her tongue dashed out, tangling with his, her hand clasping onto his arm. He closed his eyes, his heart racing at the first taste of her. His tongue coiled with hers, slow but hungry strokes. He took his time exploring her mouth. If it were to be the only kiss she allowed him, he wanted it to count. His bear moved through his chest, eager to claim what was theirs.
Gentle, he chanted to himself, fighting with everything not to overwhelm Naomi with his urgency. He pulled back, nowhere near satisfied, but he figured he’d pushed his luck far enough. Her eyes were dazed and the sweetest scent wafted from her. One he thought he’d never get to experience. His knees nearly buckled as her arousal scented the air between them.
Fuck, he wanted her. He needed to leave before his bear took over and she recovered enough to poke holes in his story.