Having recently ended a bad relationship, Maggie Ryan returns to her hometown in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to discover things aren’t quite the way she remembers. Her childhood friends, Quinn and Lucas Makwa, are all grown up and keeping secrets. The shape-shifters want Maggie for their mate, but she’s not sure she wants to trust another man—let alone two that can shift into black bears at will.
“No matter how tall you get, you’ll never be tall enough for that ride.”
Quinn Makwa ignored his brother and hoped against hope that the woman hadn’t heard the idiot. Quinn focused on the sight of Maggie Ryan pacing toward the back of the room, phone pressed against her ear. Or more precisely, he focused on the shape of her ass. He hadn’t seen her in at least five years, but he’d know that sweetly rounded behind anywhere.
“No. No. No. No.” Maggie dragged a hand through her hair. “Seriously, when are you going to get a clue? I’m done. Stop calling. Stop texting. Just stop.”
She was quiet for a moment then her whole body went rigid.
“You did not.” She titled her head back and appeared to stare at a spot on the ceiling. “You chartered a flight here? On the credit card I just paid off?” She paused briefly as if she were praying for patience. “Well, you might as well charter another flight right back, because you’re wasting your time. And mine.”
Without another word, she disconnected the phone and tossed it on the counter.
“What’s a guy gotta do to get some service around here?” Quinn asked.
Maggie straightened and whirled around, brilliant red curls bouncing around her face, eyes narrowed and looking ready to snarl. Shock replaced the annoyance on her face. Her lips parted in surprise, and her deep blue eyes widened, softening with affection. She held open her arms, and he grabbed her and swung her around, holding her closer and longer than was probably proper when greeting a childhood friend.
Lucas punched him in the arm. “Hey, quit hogging the hot chick. I want a turn, too.”
Maggie kissed Quinn’s cheek before turning to his brother. Lucas pulled her into his arms and planted a kiss on her surprised lips. Clearly reluctant to let her go, he set her on her feet and tenderly brushed a stray curl from her eyes.
The air around them crackled with unspoken questions and long-ignored desire as she looked between the two of them.
A slightly older version of Maggie bustled out of the kitchen, carrying a tray laden with steaming food and breaking the awkward mood that had fallen. Charlotte nodded toward the heaping plates as she slid them onto the counter. “I had a feeling you boys would be in tonight.”
Maggie glanced at her sister. “You know, they might have plans.”
“Our plans are to be wherever you are.” Lucas grinned at her when she rolled her eyes.
“Which,” her sister said, setting three bottles of Coke on the worn Formica, “is why I fixed three plates.” She gestured to Maggie. “Now, sit down and eat. You’ve been on your feet all day.”
Without a backward glance to see if her orders had been followed, Charlotte disappeared through the swinging doors into the kitchen.
Maggie blushed as her stomach rumbled. She slid onto a cracked red vinyl barstool and immediately cut into the steaming meat and vegetable filled pastry. Quinn was betting it had been far too long since she’d had one of her sister’s pasties. He and Lucas took the seats on either side of her in the empty restaurant. For a few moments, it was as if she’d never left the small town they called home. Baraga, nestled deep in the forests of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, was a far cry from where she’d spent the last five years in New York City.
“So what the hell, Mags?” Quinn finally asked. “How come we have to find out you’re back in town from the town drunk? We talk to you often enough—you couldn’t bother to tell us you were coming home?”
Her cheeks colored, and she twisted the silver ring she always wore around her first finger.
“And where’s Jason?” Lucas asked, swallowing a bite of pasty.
Maggie’s lips tightened, and a hard, angry edge replaced the discomfort and embarrassment of a few moments earlier. “Don’t care,” she said, taking a swallow of soda. “He’s not my problem anymore.”
Quinn didn’t miss the way his brother’s eyes brightened at the news. Looking away from Lucas, he laid his hand over Maggie’s. “I’m sorry.”
A tight, strained smile curved her lips. “No worries. It’s for the best, anyway.”
Her phone rang. Picking it up, she checked the caller I.D. and hit ignore. When it rang again, she simply turned it off.
She questioned them about what they’d been up to since they’d last spoken. It was almost as if she was trying to keep them too busy talking about themselves to ask anything about her. They talked about Quinn’s adjunct teaching position at the local university and Lucas’ woodworking business. They filled her in on what was going on with their family, including their cousin Noah, his wife and their new baby daughter.
The bells above the front door jingled, and a chilly autumn breeze swept through the room as the door opened.
“Why aren’t you answering your phone? I can’t believe I had to follow you all the way up here.”
Maggie swiveled on her stool, slowly turning to face the newcomer. “I don’t know why you bothered to waste your time. Go away, Jason.”
Quinn watched the other man as he made his way toward them. Lucas did the same, looking as if he was trying to keep from jumping on the man and beating him senseless.
Jason’s eyes darted from Lucas to Quinn and back again before finally landing on Maggie. “Look, can we talk? Privately?”
She shook her head. “Anything you want to say, you can say right here.”
“I miss you,” Jason murmured. “I want you to come home.”
She slid off her stool and took several steps, stopping in front of him. “No, you don’t. You miss the money I brought in. That’s not the same thing. And this is my home.”
“Maggie, c’mon. You know you don’t belong here any more than I do.”
“Maybe not, but I don’t belong in New York, either. That’s your dream—not mine.”
Jason frowned. “Is this because of Isabelle? You know there’s nothing there. We’re just friends.”
Maggie crossed her arms over her chest. “Good, then you can move in with her while you look for a job to support yourself and go on out auditions. I’m not doing this anymore.”
Quinn’s chest ached at the hurt in her voice. Jason might be too stupid to notice it, but her pain vibrated off her in waves.
Jason shot a glare at him and Lucas before he stepped forward and tried to wrap his arms around Maggie, but she shook him off.
“You should leave,” she said quietly, not looking at him.
Jason tried to lift her chin to gaze into her eyes. “You don’t mean that.”
“Yeah. I do.”
“C’mon Maggie,” he wheedled.
Quinn and Lucas both hopped off their barstools and moved to flank her.
“She said she wants you to go,” Lucas said.
Jason narrowed his eyes at Lucas. “This has nothing to do with you, so stay the fuck out of it.”
“Actually, it does concern him. We’re dating.”
A disbelieving snort escaped Jason. “Right. Like I’d believe that. Everyone knows they only do threesomes. I think we all know you’re way too much of a prude for that.”
Maggie spun to face Quinn, gripped his shirt and pulled him closer. Slipping a hand behind his head, she drew his face to hers. He didn’t miss the plea in her eyes.
Threading his fingers through her hair, he angled her head and kissed her like he’d wanted to since they were in ninth grade. He dragged her against his body. She was stiff for all of about three seconds before she melted against him, all soft and warm in his arms.
Her nipples beaded against his chest, and her lips parted beneath his, inviting him to deepen the kiss. His fingers clenched in her hair while his other hand slipped from the small of her back to settle over the full curve of her ass.
His cock hardened, insistently seeking her heat as he explored her mouth, tasting the sharp, sweet tang of the soda and something else that was entirely Maggie. He knew the minute Lucas touched her. Her lips trembled against his as Lucas stepped close behind her, gently moving her hair and exposing the delicate curve of her neck. Splaying his fingers over Maggie’s stomach, he lowered his mouth to the side of her neck and pressed lingering kisses to her skin.
A barely-audible whimper escaped her as Lucas thrust against her ass, shoving her more firmly against Quinn. Reluctantly, he lifted his lips from hers, and settling his hands at her waist, guided her to face his brother.
Maggie’s eyes fluttered open at the sensation of being turned. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Jason’s mouth hanging open but didn’t give it another thought as Lucas drew closer, filling her vision. His kiss had none of the slow build-up that his brother’s had. He’d always hated Jason, and she figured he wasn’t wasting any time showing the other man who she “belonged” to.
Sliding his hand upward along her waist, he brushed his thumb back and forth, stroking the underside of her breast with the barest caress. His tongue plunged into her mouth, drawing a surprised gasp from her as the steel ball of his tongue piercing stroked across the sensitive skin of her inner lip and her tongue.
It was impossible not to wonder how that smooth bit of metal would feel on other parts of her body. Her nipples tightened almost painfully at the thought of Lucas sucking the sensitized nubs, the piercing rasping against her aroused flesh. A rush of moisture dampened her panties, and she shivered when she imagined both men drawing on her nipples.
But that wasn’t going to happen, she reminded herself. This was just for show. This was just to convince Jason to leave her alone. This was just two friends helping out another friend. This was just a pile of lies she told herself to avert jumping her life-long friends.
Desperate to enjoy the charade for a little bit longer, she tangled her fingers in the thick, black silk of his hair. Longer than Quinn’s close-cropped style, it grazed his shoulders—his perfectly sculpted shoulders that flexed and bunched enticingly under her fingertips. Arousal spread like warmed honey through her body, and she pressed more firmly to Lucas, subtly pushing her ass against Quinn’s groin. Quinn’s hands gripped her hips, and he pulled her closer.
“Magdalena Theresa Ryan!”
They jumped apart at the censure in her sister’s voice. Maggie tried to tamp down her embarrassment as she shot the other woman an apologetic look before turning to face Jason.
“As you can see, I’m involved. I’m sorry you made the trip for nothing, but if you would have listened to me in the first place, we wouldn’t be in the middle of this awkward situation right now.”
“Slut,” Jason spat.
The guys both tensed as if they were going to throttle him, but she stepped away from them. “Better a slut than a doormat—which is all I’ve been to you for the last two years.”
Her sister pointed at Jason. “You will not speak to my sister like that. Maggie’s finally seen the light where you’re concerned. That’s your cue to leave. I don’t ever want to see your face in here again.”
He stood there and stared dumbfounded for a few more seconds before turning and heading for the door. The bells jingled anxiously as Jason left the building, or maybe it was just Maggie’s nerves. Slowly she turned to face the other three people in the room.
“It’s not what it looks like,” she said to Charlotte.
The older woman simply raised her eyebrow and waited.
“I figured the best way to get rid of Jason was to make him think I was involved with someone and… I got a little carried away.”
Her sister nodded as she grabbed the empty plates off the counter. “I’ll say.” She shook her head and grinned. “I wish you could have seen the look on his face.”
Maggie forced out a strained laugh.
“I’m going to finish up in the kitchen,” Charlotte said. “Will you lock up out here before you leave?”
“I can help,” she offered, feeling suddenly out of place and more than a little reluctant to be left alone with the guys. Her plan had worked—but at what cost? Had she just ruined her longest friendships?
Her sister looked between Lucas and Quinn. “I think you’ve already got a pretty big mess to deal with out here. Besides, I’m almost done, and then I’m heading out.” She pushed open the swinging door with her hip. “Don’t wait up,” she tossed over her shoulder. “Brian’s picking me up, and we’re going to Copper Harbor for the weekend.
“Okay. Have fun.” Maggie turned to the guys. Both men watched her with intense, dark eyes. Lucas’ seemed to dance with suppressed laughter while Quinn’s glowed with a force that unsettled her. Awareness coursed through her veins. It seemed every illicit, suggestive, wicked thought she’d ever had about either of them came rushing back at once. She’d known coming home would entail seeing them, but she’d been hoping for more time to get her head on straight after leaving New York and Jason.
Jason had been a mistake from the moment she’d agreed to go out with him. But it had seemed better to try to love someone else than to try to choose between the two guys who’d always held her heart. It was better to keep them both as friends than to try to pick one over the other. Of course, she’d heard the rumors about them preferring to share a single woman between them, but she hadn’t given it any real credence until tonight. Until she’d used them both to convince Jason to leave.