When her marriage ended, Abby Hart retreated to lick her wounds and rebuild her life. She’s found satisfaction and some success writing, and she’s happy. Mostly. Who wouldn’t welcome a little R&R?
Many of her books revolve around two men modeled after real life werewolf twins Rule and Lawe Sanders. When two of her friends talk her into participating in a local date auction, fantasy and reality begin to mix. Rest and relaxation never felt so good, but is reality more than she bargained for?
Abby tugged on the short hem of the red dress. This was such a stupid idea. She didn’t have a clue how Marilyn and Maggie talked her into it. Wait. Yes, she did. She was a pushover, that’s how. If the money went anywhere other than the werewolf widows and orphans fund, she would have found a way to refuse. But how could she, who’d experienced that loss as an adult, turn away from the kids? Then again, she was getting ready to walk half-naked across a stage and go on a date with the highest bidder. There had to be a better way to raise money.
Charity auction, her ass. More like an excuse to get the single regulars half-naked and on display. All right, so maybe it wasn’t quite that bad. All her important parts were covered. Sort of. The borrowed dress was skintight, designed more for Maggie’s sleeker, medium frame than Abby’s short, curvy one. It barely covered her butt, and she was in serious danger of falling out of the push-up, low-cut bodice. Despite the fact it covered more skin than her bathing suit, the dress felt indecent, self-indulgent. Sexy as hell, and she didn’t do sexy.
“Just to make things more interesting,” the emcee’s voice carried through the thin wall separating the bar’s stage and dressing room, “the ladies in tonight’s auction will be anonymous!”
The crowd roared.
Anonymous? Just freaking great. Oh wait, that was a good thing, wasn’t it? Less embarrassing if something did actually pop out of the dress.
“Oh, fun,” she muttered sarcastically as a waitress walked down the line of women handing out masks. Abby held her hand out for hers and received a red mask with glitter around the eyes and cheeks and red horns sticking up from the top. She guessed it was a devil mask left over from the Mardi Gras party. Didn’t things just keep getting better? She glared at her friends. Marilyn’s laugh turned into a muffled snort and somehow, Maggie maintained a totally innocent expression. Abby didn’t buy it for a minute.
“If it sounds like so much fun, why am I doing this and not you?” she grumbled.
“Because honey, you’re the one living like a nun. And with all these hot, single werewolves around, too.”
Maggie tsked and Abby rolled her eyes. She’d learned one thing married to a werepanther. Shifter sex was overrated. With a stern look, Maggie took the mask, stretched the elastic band around Abby’s head, and slid it in place. Maggie grinned. “Perfect.”
“Shall we get started, gentlemen?” The emcee spoke to the crowd out front. “We have ten ladies tonight who volunteered for our yearly charity drive. Same rules as last year. The winner gets one date. Where you go from there is up to you.”
The crowd laughed, while Abby groaned. Bill needed a new shtick. Most of them had been coming to the Half Moon for years. Hell, Abby had practically grown up here since Marilyn and Maggie’s family owned the place. Every year, at the summer solstice, the bar held this auction for charity, alternating sexes each year. Just her luck this was the women’s year. And Bill the emcee-slash-bartender used the same line every freaking year. It grated on her already shredded nerves, and she took a deep breath, digging her fingernails into her palms.
The auction started. At the end of the line, she settled in for a long wait, turning to talk with her friends. Work had been the week from hell, and other than a few minutes here and there, she hadn’t spoken to either of them in days. They were both gone, no doubt to get front row center seats for her upcoming humiliation.
The women in line in front of her tittered excitedly as the bidding outside went up. Eventually, it ended at two hundred dollars. Abby’s eyebrows rose and butterflies took flight in her stomach. That was much higher than usual. The next woman walked out and the line slithered forward.
She tuned out the bidding, instead concentrating on how to get Marilyn and Maggie back for putting her up to this. The sisters had been her best friends for years. God knew, they had a good enough excuse. They’d been part of the auction before. Abby was the only one of the three who’d never participated in the solstice auction before. Being married had been a great excuse not to. But now, approaching the first anniversary of her divorce, they’d insisted it was her turn.
She hoped Alex and his new wife, Tina, weren’t out there. The woman was so sweet she made Abby’s teeth ache, and she just knew Tina had to be overcompensating for the situation. She wondered if Alex’s philandering werepanther ways had been curtailed by this new wife, who he’d insisted so apologetically was his true mate, or if he was up to his usual antics. She shook the curiosity off. He wasn’t her problem anymore.
Sighing, she turned her attention back to a less rancorous subject. Maggie and Marilyn. They were her friends and they were worried about her. She got that, sure. But to put herself on display? It was so unlike her. They didn’t buy her insistence that she was over The Jerk because she didn’t date much. Why bother when there were only two men who revved her motor? And even if they were interested—which they weren’t—they were off-limits, right? One did not date one’s best friends’ brother. Brothers. Twins. Werewolves, of course.
God, she couldn’t believe her own libido. A familiar awareness coursed through her just thinking about them. Rule and Lawe made her want wicked, dirty sex. Things she’d never wanted with any man, much less two. It seemed so taboo, forbidden, especially considering she’d thought of them as brothers for the first half of her life and pretended for the last half.
There were other considerations, though. Deep fears. Good reasons not to explore the passion she was sure could ignite between the three of them. That kind of thing tended to lead to mate bonds and the last thing she wanted was to be mated to a Panhandle werewolf. Or two. She pushed those worries from her mind. It wasn’t like they’d shown that kind of interest.
She focused on the open doorway leading to the stage. The waitress at the entrance was hissing at her. Time to go on. She wondered how she was supposed to stroll across the stage without literally showing her ass. After walking out, it took her a moment to get her bearings. She’d never seen the bar from this angle.
“A yummy morsel, don’t you think, gentlemen?” Bill asked the crowd. “And I have to say, she’s just as lovely under the mask. Now, where should we start the bidding? Fifty? Do I have any takers?”
She shot him a horrified look. Was he crazy? No one was going to pay fifty dollars to go on a date with her! To her amazement, someone took the offer, then someone else countered. Before she knew it, the total was one hundred and fifty. She assumed that was the limit until she heard one of the dark, honeyed voices that fueled her dreams and fantasies up the bidding again.
Rule’s voice sent shivers down her spine. She longed to hear it in the darkest depths of night against her ear, whispering of the decadent dirty things he was going to do to her, and filled with the tenderness she ached to receive from him. Because as physically alluring as she found him, she wanted more. She wanted the steadiness, the strength of character, the caring and gentleness he’d shown her during the last year as she’d struggled to accept her divorce and the loss of her parents.
But she only wanted a few nights. She wanted to be able to walk away. She tried to ignore a taunting internal voice. Yeah, right. Just a few nights.
After her parents’ deaths a little over a year ago, she’d taken the plunge and filed for divorce. Why she’d ever imagined a werepanther would be the same faithful, loving family man her werewolf father had been escaped her. He was a cat, after all.
The loss of her parents had been horrific, but it had also been a wakeup call. She’d moved out within the week and started the long process of licking her wounds. Alex hadn’t fought for her. No, instead he heaved a sigh of relief and confessed he’d found someone else, someone he insisted was his mate even though, in her experience, werepanthers didn’t believe in soul mates.
That was a week of changes. Marilyn, who’d left for college and only returned for summer visits, moved back to north Florida, and within a few days the twins had come home to help run their family’s bar. They were all together again. Sort of.
The twins switched responsibilities. Every couple of months, one would take over the bar, and the other would leave. She had no idea where they’d disappear to or what they did while they were gone. They’d both been gone for a few weeks in December, returning just in time for Christmas. They’d worked out some kind of part-time arrangement with the hunters, but Marilyn had told her earlier in the evening that Lawe would be back soon, and they were both done. Retiring.
Her sex clenched at the thought of his return, and she tried to ignore the memories that rose. Lawe was something else entirely. Wild. Untamed. They’d grown close a few months ago, and she’d almost felt pursued as if he were hunting her, as if he were going to take that next step and ask her out. Or take her to bed. Then he’d backed off, and Rule had come home to take over. Maybe Lawe had sensed her desires and disapproved. Or just didn’t reciprocate.
And now Rule was bidding on her. Why?
She searched the crowd for him and groaned when she saw him standing at the rear of the bar. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a sound of pleasure, not even the small enjoyment she got scoping Rule out anonymously behind the mask, because standing next to him were Lawe and her ex, Alex.
She ignored Alex and concentrated on the twins. They looked so much alike, most people couldn’t tell them apart. Tall and fit, with matching green eyes and long dark hair, they turned heads. In personality, they were polar opposites. Where Rule was calm and collected, Lawe was a force of nature, always volatile and in motion.
Now, his brows were drawn down in a scowl, and he glared daggers at his brother before turning to gaze at her. The look didn’t soften when aimed in her direction. He recognized her. Did he not approve of his brother’s interest? Like this fiasco wasn’t bad enough, they both had to witness it?
With impatience, she waited for Bill to call an end to the bidding. She wanted to make a quick escape, but before he could, the bid was upped again. The voice that called out one hundred seventy sent shivers up her spine, and not in a good way. Ripping her gaze from the twins, she turned to the corner booth where Gage, the alpha, held court. His lips turned up in the slightest smile and he lifted his beer to her in salute.