Leon Manx stood in the corner of the large front parlor of the Ducre mansion and watched the Halloween partygoers. In front of him, costumed couples danced to the pounding music, dressed in everything from a nun in a mini-skirted habit and black fishnet stockings to a Mexican wrestler including the skeleton lycra mask.
His own costume, a big game hunter, was a last minute decision and a bit ironic, like his sense of humor. He’d enjoyed the joke, but now he was here, Leon might have made a deadly mistake coming to the party.
Perhaps for him and perhaps for whoever thought he or she could fuck with Leon.
He’d received the invite, one half of a Tarot card, three days ago, not in the mail, but in an envelope slipped under the door of his uptown shotgun house. The torn card and a business card with the date, time and address of the party.
Meet your mate had been printed on a small card included in the envelope.
Some would look at it as just an invitation to a Halloween party. Leon took it as a warning, a threat, to his very existence. And he didn’t take threats lightly. He’d never killed before, not even in his line of work, but there was always a first time. And if it came down to exposure or capture, Leon planned on being the last man standing in whatever battle occurred.
He suppressed a shiver as he touched the card nestled in the pocket of his hunter’s jacket. The top half of a woman held a leash leading to the head of a lion.
Never mind that whoever sent the invite knew where he lived, a carefully guarded secret, when he’d googled the card to find out what it meant, it shook him even more, leaving him with more questions than when he’d found the card.
Did someone, somewhere, know who he was? What he was?
The card meant strength. Captured strength.
The thought of being leashed, captured, his freedom gone, raised the hairs on the back of his head, and a slow hiss escaped through his clenched teeth.
He’d kill before he let that happen.
David Reese had no idea what he was doing at this party. Or who had invited him. But he hadn’t anything else to do, it was Halloween, and hitting the gay bars in the French Quarter just didn’t appeal to him. Nothing there but twinks and blowjobs and disappointment.
So he’d thrown together a costume — a lion tamer — and showed up. It was the perfect costume for him: Black pants nearly painted on, a white button-down shirt open to his navel, a bright red sash wrapped around his waist, and tall black boots. David slicked back his red hair and applied a little black eyeliner. To complete the look, he’d coiled his bullwhip around and looped it over his shoulder and wore a holster with a gun that fired caps. He had everything, except for the chair.
He made his way through the crowd to the makeshift bar and got a glass of white wine. He took a sip. Not as bad as he’d thought it would be. Whoever was throwing this bash had spent a decent amount on the food, spirits, and decorations.
The house was a real New Orleans Garden District gem. David admired it as he moved from room to room, checking out the people. He’d slipped into party mode with a smile he hoped wasn’t too fake on his face and his gaze searching for anyone he might know, to give him a clue as to who left the invitation under his office door.
A woman dressed as a flapper slinked up to him. “What are you supposed to be?” Her slight slur gave her away as being on the wrong side of tipsy. When she leaned in close and put her hand on his arm, he could smell the liquor on her breath.
Alcohol wasn’t a turn-off, but for David, her being a woman was enough to soften his dick. “I’m a circus lion tamer.”
She stepped back and looked him up and down. “The circus?” She blinked, not understanding, then her eyebrows went up. “Oh, yeah, right. I get it.” She pointed to his face. “Cute.” She giggled.
Definitely not cute. Not with the parallel set of three white scars running across his cheek. She probably thought it was part of the costume.
David wished, not for the first or third or thousandth time, the scars were fake too
The gay men he met? Most of them turned their heads, diverted their gazes, or gave him pitying looks when they thought he couldn’t see them.
He leaned in. “I’m gay.”
She sobered and shrugged. “Sorry.” Off she went, swaying over to another guy.
David took another sip of the wine. A few friends said with his “professor” vibe he came off boring and standoffish. Add the scars? Unapproachable. Closed off.
Maybe it was true. His self-confidence about his field and his teaching didn’t extend to his personal life. How could it with his face ruined? Other than going to the bars to find someone who didn’t care what he looked like as long as he paid for drinks, he rarely went out. He stopped dating friends of friends who never gave him a second chance. He’d have blown this party off, if not for the Tarot card piquing his interest.
When David was a kid, the lion tamers at the circus mesmerized him, ordering the tigers around the cages and fighting off the lions with nothing but a chair, a whip, and a fake gun. His fascination with big cats fueled his passion to work with them when he grew up.
He’d gone to college, gotten his PhD in zoology, and now, at forty, taught freshman zoology at Tulane University and worked part time at the Audubon Zoo with the big cats.
His dreams had come true. He had all he’d ever wanted, except one thing – a guy who’d hang around longer than a night or two. A man who would look him in the eye, not shy away from his face. Someone who saw past the damage on the outside to the man inside.
David moved back into the ballroom where people were dancing. He stood in the large arched opening between rooms and glanced around. Feeling bold, he decided to ask someone to dance, if a slow song came on and his gaydar didn’t fail him.
Taking another sip, he caught the gaze of a man, tucked against the far wall, near one of the floor to ceiling windows. Large. Wild blond hair, like a mane, haloed his head. Something familiar about him niggled in the back of David’s mind, as if he’d seen or met him before. Maybe this was the guy who’d invited him?
David put his drink down on a nearby tray and made his way around the side of the room, avoiding the dancers in the middle. The man was dressed as a big game hunter. Okay, that was too much of a coincidence. This had to be the guy who sent the Tarot card.
As David approached, the man straightened, and they locked gazes. David’s cock filled, tight and hard in his painted-on pants, and he pulled out the half of the card, ready to show it to the guy.
Maybe this time, maybe this man, wouldn’t care about his face.
Leon’s heart thudded as the man he’d spotted across the room approached. He knew immediately what he was dressed as – a lion tamer. Hell, no, it couldn’t be that fucking easy. Did this guy think this was joke?
Maybe no one told him not to poke a stick at a dangerous animal.
The room was dark, but not so dark Leon couldn’t make out details, like the bulge in the man’s pants, the fake smile, and matching fake scars on his face. What was he trying pull? Was he trying to piss Leon off? Make him look like a fool?
Leon growled low in his throat and controlled his instinct to attack as the man came to a stop in front of him. What the hell? He smelled like a…sniff…a…lion. Leon took a step closer and inhaled deeper, taking in the scent, registering it in his mind. His cock filled and his balls ached.
Up close, Leon saw details: the man’s slicked back hair was red, strawberry blond really, bright blue eyes lined in black, and full pink lips. Leon’s growl deepened, and his body tensed as a primal urge swept through him.
Fight? Flee? Fuck? Oh, fuck.
“Uh, hi.” The guy held out the card. “Did you send me this?”
He didn’t look dangerous, he looked hopeful. Confused. Delicious.
Leon swallowed. “No. I have one too.” He pulled out his card and held it up.
The man put his half next to Leon’s. “Hey, they match!” He chuckled. “Do you know who sent them?”
“No.” Leon stared at the man for a moment, until even he knew it had become awkward.
The man frowned, then put the card back in his pocket. “Oh, okay. My name’s David. David Reese.” He stuck out his hand.
Leon’s gaze shifted from face to hand. He wanted to knock his hand out of the way, push him against the wall, and just inhale. Breathe him in. Lick him.
“Leon Manx.” He shook hands. Warmth, a strong grip, and skin-on-skin contact just heightened the urge. “I don’t know who sent it either.” He let his hand fall away.
“Well, whoever it was, he or she must know us.” David rubbed his cheek, the one with the fake scars, but they didn’t smear off.
“Because, look at us. You’re a big game hunter and I’m a lion tamer? Sort of the same thing, isn’t it? You’d have to know us to guess we’d wear similar costumes.”
“I guess.” Leon couldn’t figure this out. His mind reeled between what he thought and what he felt and what he wanted. David wasn’t a threat. So what was he?
“I think someone is matchmaking.” David shrugged.
“Do you always repeat what people say? Are you trying to buy time? Trying to…” David exhaled. “Look, let’s get this straight right now. I’m gay. I’m single. And yes, the scars are real. They don’t wash off. So if it’s a problem, let’s just say goodbye.” An aching bitterness tinged his words. He waited for Leon to answer, brow furrowed, and hope no longer in his eyes.
David stepped back to turn away, Leon grabbed his wrist. “I’m gay. Single. Don’t care about the scars.” He tightened his grip, unwilling to let this man go, but completely baffled as to why.
David stared at him, mouth open, and head tilted to the side. “Okay.”
They stared at each other for a long moment. Leon could feel David’s heartbeat on the inside of his wrist, pounding fast and hard. He glanced down at the noticeable bulge in David’s pants. Wanted to stroke…
“So Leon, what do you do?” David swallowed.
“I’m in private security.”
“That must be very interesting.”
“It has its moments. You?”
“Nowhere near as exciting. I’m a college professor at Tulane and work part time at the Audubon Zoo.”
Leon pushed David’s hand away as if touching him burned. “The zoo?” Warning bells pealed and Leon stepped back. Hatred of the cages, the iron and steel bars, the cramped quarters, warred with his desire for this delicious stranger.
David frowned. “Yeah. I help out with the big cats. Lions. Tigers. Jaguars and panthers. I’m a zoologist. Is that a problem?”
Leon’s didn’t know what to say; he’d been thrown off kilter by this entire meeting.
So that’s why he smelled so good. He worked with cats. That was good. But he worked at the zoo. That was bad.
“Well, fuck me,” he muttered. This wasn’t what he’d thought would happen tonight.
“If you want, but I prefer to bottom.” David smiled, slow and a bit shy and incredibly sexy. “I can use this whip, you know.”
“Okay, no whip.” David chuckled. “Hey, do you know you’re growling?” He stepped forward and put his hand on Leon’s chest, over his heart. “I can hear it beneath the music, like the bass drum in a band.”
“Yeah. I do that. Habit.” Leon knew what habit he’d like to form, the one where he was fucking David and taking him over and over.
David bit his bottom lip. “Sexy. Do you purr too?”
“Yeah.” Leon put his hand over David’s, trapping it against him. He gazed into David’s eyes and saw a spark of hope rekindled. He liked it. He licked his lips watched as David’s gaze tracked the path of his tongue, and liked the hunger showing in the man’s eyes.
“Turns you on?” Leon leaned in, putting his face near David’s cheek.
“God, yes.” David pressed against him, rubbing their cheeks together. The feel of stubble against stubble got Leon harder.
Leon slid his hands around David’s back and pulled them deeper into the shadows of the room. David moaned as Leon massaged David’s firm ass and pressed his hard cock against David’s. He spun them around and shoved David against the wall, where he’d wanted the man since the first moment he’d seen him.
He stared into David’s eyes, searching for answers to questions he hadn’t even formed yet. They were of the same height, but David was more muscled.
David whispered, “Here?”
“Now.” Leon pressed his lips to David’s and the man opened for him without being asked. Their tongues tangled, fought, and David relented, his body slumping fully against the wall, as Leon rubbed against him. David’s soft moan and total surrender hit Leon hard, like the most potent aphrodisiac.
He wanted nothing more than to kiss David, touch him, mouth his cock, make him feel pleasure over and over.
Leon slipped his leg between David’s thighs, making their contact more compete. He pushed his cock against David’s and got a groan for it. He liked the way it sounded, deep in David’s chest, a bit desperate, a little surprised, and all sexy.
He rutted against the other man, seeking pleasure and something more, trying to connect on a deeper level, something he’d not wanted in a long time. Not since he was younger and foolish. Before he’d learned about deception and betrayal and about keeping his secrets, even from his lovers. Especially from his lovers.
David broke their kiss. “Not here.”
“Your place.” No way would Leon bring this man to his place. He might want to fuck him, but he had to keep his head about letting David get too close. “How far?”
“Fifteen minutes.” David leaned his head back, a silent encouragement for Leon to nip along his throat. Leon obliged, working the tender skin on David’s throat with the rough of his tongue.
“Close enough.” Leon gave him a final nip, pulling a surprised “ow” from David.
“Did you drive?”
“Yes. We’ll take my car.” Leon wanted to be in control of this situation.
“Sure. You can drop me back at my car in the morn—after.” David looked at him. Leon read the vulnerability in his eyes.
“In the morning.” Leon didn’t know why he said it, but knew David needed to hear it, and Leon wanted to make David feel…safe? Wanted? He gave David a smile, the first time he’d truly felt like it all evening.
Leon took David’s hand and dragged him through the room to the front door. They stood to the side as it opened and more people, laughing and in costumes, entered. Almost midnight and the party was in full swing.
He’d come here tonight ready to fight for his life, if needed. Instead, he had a terrifying feeling the words on his invitation might have been true.
David matched Leon step-for-step as they went down the stairs to the walkway, and then down the block to his car. Leon opened the passenger door, David got in, and watched as Leon trotted around to the driver’s side.
The overhead light stayed on while Leon put his key in the ignition.
Leon hadn’t seen David in full light, hadn’t really seen the scars. He turned to Leon and let him take a long look. David could see the color of his eyes, not the brown he’d thought in the dark room, but a curious mix of amber and green.
David bit his lip. “You sure you want to do this?”
“Yes. Nothing’s changed.”
“I just thought, the way you looked at me…” He shrugged.
“I looked at you, because you’re even sexier in the light.”
David couldn’t suppress a smile. “Smooth talker, huh?”
“When I need to be.” The light went off and Leon started the car.
David chuckled. “Right. I’ll bet you don’t have to use that talent often.” He gave what he hoped Leon would think was a sexy leer.
Leon snorted. “I don’t use it at all.”
What was that supposed to mean?
“Wow. Now I really feel special.” David looked out the window.
Leon glanced over at him. “Shit.” He pulled over and threw the car into park. “Look.” He took David’s chin in his hand and turned him to look him in the eye. “What I meant was I usually don’t do this.”
“Pick up guys? I don’t think I believe that.” David jerked his chin away. “Maybe you should take me back to the party.”
“Fuck.” Leon slid his hand around the back of David’s neck and pulled him over, despite David’s resistance. “Look at me.” He put his forehead against David’s. “Man, I don’t get involved. Ever. I don’t go home with anyone. Ever.”
David sighed, brushed his lips over Leon’s mouth. “So you’re saying you’re breaking your rules with me.”
“Something like that.” Leon kissed him, sliding his tongue deep into David’s mouth. They traded kisses and then parted. Leon put the car into gear. “Where to?”
David knew he meant back to the party or to David’s place. “My place.”
David gave him directions as Leon drove.
David opened the door with Leon breathing down his back. The man hadn’t taken his hands off David since they’d gotten out of the car. It turned David on that Leon was turned on by him.
Leon pushed him inside, kicked the door closed, and buried his hands in David’s shirt. He dragged David to him, taking his mouth like a man possessed, eating at him, and licking the inside of David’s mouth with his oddly raspy tongue.
David groaned. At this rate, they might not even make the bedroom. Leon yanked the whip off David’s shoulder and over his head, tossing it away from them with a growl.
Then they humped at each other, desperation oozing out of their pores like too much garlic. David gasped when Leon finally released his mouth.
“Fuck. You taste good.” Leon growled again as he rubbed his face against David’s neck.
David chuckled. “I’m like catnip, huh?”
Leon jerked away. “What? Why did you say that?”
“No reason. Just a cat reference. I make a lot of them. You know, zoologist. Big cat lover.” David shrugged.
“Oh, right.” Leon looked relieved.
Perhaps he’d hit close to home…no, it couldn’t be. That was just nuts.
“Bedroom?” David wiggled his eyebrows.
David led the way down the hall toward the back of the house.
“You got stuff?” Leon followed on his heels.
“Lube? Condoms? Sure. What gay man doesn’t keep a supply for just such an occasion?” Even if David hadn’t used them in months. Okay, six months, but who’s counting? Shit, were they still good?
Leon grunted. David guessed it was his way of laughing. The man was sort of a tight ass. Wonder if he has a tight ass? David laughed.
Leon grabbed him. “Something funny?” There was that growl again. Leon acted almost like an animal, maybe a big cat, sleek and powerful. And his tongue, that soft rasp. David had never felt anything like it, not on a man, anyway.
David turned. Leon looked pissed. “Yeah. You.”
“What?” Leon’s voice lowered, and his eyebrows shot up, telling David not many people joked around with this man.
“You’re kind of a tight ass, you know. I give you some of my best quips and all you do is grunt and growl. Where’s your sense of humor?”
Leon opened his mouth to say something, but closed it with a snap.
David stepped up to him. “Look. I like to joke around. Laugh. Tease. It’s just who I am. Sort of a defense mechanism.”
“Oh. I guess I don’t laugh much.” Leon looked down at his feet.
“You’re really intense. I get that with your line of work. But seriously, dude, you need to lighten up.” And with that David grabbed Leon’s crotch and gave his balls a little squeeze.
Leon’s eyes widened. Then he closed them and moaned. “Okay. Got it. Laugh at your jokes.”
David ran his hand down Leon’s arm. “Good. Now, let’s get naked and get busy.”
David had no idea what made him so bold, but Leon made him feel secure, sexy, and safe enough to be himself.
Leon nodded. “Don’t have to ask me twice.” He unbuttoned his jacket, shrugged out of it and dropped it on the floor. His look dared David to match him.
David undid the holster and it fell to the floor. Unwrapped the sash and dropped it. Then he pulled the shirt over his head and stood bare-chested in front of Leon.
Leon grinned. “Damn, you’re fine. Want to fuck you so bad.”
“Want you bad too.” David turned and jerked his head toward the bedroom. “In my bed.”
David walked down the hall, unbuttoning his pants. Behind him, the sound of Leon’s zipper going down made David’s cock fill in anticipation.
He turned on the light. “Bed sweet bed.” He waved his hand at his queen sized bed. Thank God he’d made it this morning. He wanted to make a good impression on Leon and he had a suspicion Leon would look down on a slob. And what Leon thought of him was important, which was really odd, since they’d met less than two hours ago.
All of this was odd, but he was going with it.
Leon sat and pulled off his boots. David sat in the wing chair across from him and tugged his boots off also. Then he stood and took his pants off.
“You wore a jockstrap?” Leon leered at him.
David looked down. “Yeah. No lines.”
“Fuck that’s hot.” Leon got out of his pants, and naked, stalked over to David. He wrapped a finger under the strap and jerked it down, exposing David’s eager cock.
“That’s even hotter.” Leon looked into David’s face.
“Look who’s talking. You’re…God, you make me hard.” David groaned as Leon pulled down the strap to cup David’s balls.
David climbed on and stretched toward the side table. He opened the drawer and got out the lube and condoms. “I haven’t done this in a while, so be gentle with me.” He batted his eyelashes and waited for Leon’s reaction.
Leon laughed. “Oh, baby, I’m going to treat you so fine.”
David winked. “See, your ass isn’t so tight after all.”
“Not as tight as your ass, I hope.”
David rolled over, got on his knees, and looked over his shoulder. “Find out.” He slapped his butt cheek in an open invitation.
Leon knelt on the bed behind him, ripped open a condom, and rolled it on over his stiff, beautiful dick. David licked his lips, eager for that first press of cockhead to his hole. The touch of heat. The pressure growing until his muscles gave way to the slick slide of cock inside him.
His lover squirted lube onto his fingers and slicked up his cock. He added more to his fingers and painted David’s hole. David moaned and leaned back, ready to be breached. “Forget the foreplay. I’m ready. Fuck me.”
“Easy, baby.” Leon petted David’s ass. “Want to take this slow and easy. You said be gentle, remember?”
Damn the man, did he have to choose now to show David he could joke?
“I lied. Hard and fast. What I meant was –“
Leon grabbed David’s hips and pressed in. David’s backdoor collapsed, and Leon’s cock entered him, cutting off David’s ability to speak.
“Oh, fuck, you’re so tight. So hot.” Leon closed his eyes and threw his head back as his body shuddered. His fingers dug into David’s skin.
“You feel good, Leon. So hard and thick. Fuck me good.” David loved the way Leon stretched him. Leon leaned over him, pressing his chest against David’s back, locking his arms around David’s chest, capturing him.
Leon buried his head against the back of David’s neck, licking him, as he fucked David at his leisure. The sensations drove David wild, the slow in and out, Leon’s breath hot on his neck, his voice whispering soft words in David’s ear.
Leon’s words gave him away, allowed the vague suspicions in David’s head to slide into place and finally make sense.
Leon swallowed in an attempt to keep his feelings for this man, this stranger, deep inside him. Instead, they bubbled to the surface, along with words he thought he’d never say.
“Mine,” he whispered as he fucked David. God, his dick fit inside David perfectly, as if they’d been meant to pleasure each other. “Mine.” As if he’d lost control of his mouth, the words came out like punctuations to his thrusts.
David groaned, taking Leon’s thrusts and asked for more as he pushed back. Leon let go of David’s waist and grabbed his hand. They joined fingers as their bodies locked together, slick and hot.
“Mate.” Leon closed his eyes, unable to stop the flow of words as he hammered into David. “My mate.” He bit David on the back of his neck, hanging on as he rapid fired his dick into his man.
David shuddered beneath him. “Leon. My lion.”
With those words, Leon tasted his mate’s blood and spilled his seed, frozen as he filled the condom.
David gasped, and Leon smelled the heady scent of David’s cum, felt the man shudder through his orgasm as it pulsed around Leon’s buried cock.
Both of them groaned as Leon slid out, and he fell to lie by David’s side. David collapsed onto the bed. Their harsh panting and the smell of sex filled the air.
“You bit me.”
Leon turned his head to look at David. “Fuck. When did you figure it out?”
David ran his hand down Leon’s chest. “I kept thinking something was familiar about you at the party, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. How we were attracted to each other.
Your hair looks like a mane, you know.” He tugged on a strand of Leon’s hair. “You smelled me. Your tongue is like a cat’s, and you growl. A lot.”
“So, I growl, smell you, and have a rough tongue?”
“Yeah.” David laughed. “And the way you just took me–classic big cat mating.”
Leon sighed. “I never meant for you to know my secret.”
“Are you going to kill me?” David rose up on his elbow to look Leon in the eye.
Leon rolled onto his side to face David. “Do you care? If I’m a…”
“Shifter? Is that what you call it? I’ve heard of it, you know. When you work with big cats you hear all sorts of stories. Legends. Fables.”
“Care? Fuck no. It’s sort of cool.” David laughed. “It’s like were made for each other.”
Leon laughed, and then sobered. “Never thought I’d find you.”
“Never thought anyone like you would want me.” David raised his hand to touch his scars.
“Because of those?” Leon shook his head. He cupped David’s cheek in his hand. “How did it happen?”
“Made a mistake. I had just started working at the zoo.”
“What do you do there?”
“Mostly I help with the cats, make sure they’re healthy, not just physically, but mentally. They need stimulation. I work with the keepers to insure they use methods like hiding food, making them hunt for it, that sort of thing.”
“Details.” Leon cocked his head.
David sighed, fell backward, and stared at the ceiling. “I was helping them move one of the jaguars for a medical checkup. Thought the cat was knocked out. It wasn’t. I was too close, it lashed out.” He waved his hand at his face.
“What happened to the jag?”
“Nothing. He was fine, checked out good.” David looked at him and smiled. “I’d never let anyone punish a cat for doing what comes naturally and for my mistake.”
“I get that.”
“So, you trust me with your secret?”
“I have to. You’re my mate, remember?”
“Yeah. Not sure what that means, though.”
“Well, it means you’re mine. I’m yours.”
“So, it’s like we’re married?”
“Sort of. I guess. Never had a mate.”
David rolled back and sat up. “So, uh, do you, uh, love me?”
Leon mirrored his mate. “Can I be honest?”
“Yeah. Please. ‘Cause I got nothing here.”
“I don’t know if I love you. I know I want you. Know now I’ve found you, I can’t let you go. Know if you refused me, it’d be the end of me.”
“Okay. And for the record, back at you.” He chuckled, and Leon joined in.
“What? Were you expecting a declaration of undying love? We just met.” Leon rolled on top of David, pinning him down with his body and his hands on David’s wrists.
“So…” David sobered. “Does this mean we’re doing breakfast?”
“Good. You’re buying. We can start getting to know each other.” David reached up and kissed Leon.
“By the way, you’re going to have to meet my parents. Ask my dad for my hand,” David deadpanned.
“Joking, right?” Leon raised his eyebrows.
“Right. You’re getting better at the teasing thing, dude.”
“I’m a fast learner.” Leon pressed his semi-hard dick into David’s belly.
“Me too. I’ve learned that means my lion wants to go again.” He arched up, pushing back.