QSFer E.J. Russell has a new MM paranormal book out, book one of the Supernatural Selection series: Single White Incubus.
Does a bear shift in the woods?
Well, partially. That was what got grizzly shifter Ted Farnsworth into trouble. He wasn’t trying to break the Secrecy Pact. He just wants people to see the real him. So he signs up with the mate-matching service Supernatural Selection — which guarantees marriage to a perfect partner. Not only will Ted never be lonely again, but once his new beaver shifter husband arrives, they’ll build Ted’s dream wilderness retreat together. Win-win.
Quentin Bertrand-Harrington, scion of an incubus dynasty, has abstained from sex since nearly killing his last lover. When his family declares it’s time for him to marry, Quentin decides the only way not to murder his partner is to pick someone who’s already dead. Supernatural Selection finds him the ideal vampire, and Quentin signs the marriage agreement sight unseen.
But a mix-up at Supernatural Selection contracts Quentin with Ted. What’s Ted supposed to do with an art historian who knows more about salad forks than screwdrivers? And how can Quentin resist Ted’s mouthwatering life force? Yet as they work together to untangle their inconvenient union, they begin to wonder if their unexpected match might be perfect after all.
“Ted? Did you hear the question?”
Ted Farnsworth blinked, shifting his gaze from his therapist’s neck to his movie-star handsome face. “I’m sorry, Dr. Kendrick. What was it again?”
Dr. Kendrick was used to Ted getting distracted, since it happened at every visit at least once. Okay, twice. Three times, tops. But he never frowned with censure the way the head of the bear shifter council always did. Or snort with annoyance like Ted’s brother. Or even sigh with impatience like some of his friends. Nope. Dr. Kendrick just calmly repeated himself.
“Why didn’t you come to see me as soon as you got the council’s letter of reprimand?”
“Oh. The letter.” Ted squirmed, the urge to shift prickling along his spine and over his scalp. He gripped his knees, squeezing tight. Shifting here would be bad. Dr. Kendrick’s nice office furniture isn’t rated for grizzlies. “I couldn’t come to town until now. My truck’s in the shop.”
Dr. Kendrick’s eyebrows drew together. “But I installed the emergency communication app on your phone for a reason. You could have called me for transport through Faerie. There’s a threshold in my backyard and another practically on top of your cabin.”
Ted shrugged sheepishly and picked up his cup of Dr. Kendrick’s excellent office coffee. “I know. But I didn’t want to bother you.”
“Arranging an appointment, especially when it’s council-ordered and you could be censured for ignoring it, is a perfectly legitimate use.” He crossed his legs and settled his hands on the arms of his wingback chair. “I want you to promise me that— Is something wrong?” He tugged on the knot of his tie. “You keep staring at my neck.”
“No! Nothing. Nope.” But I’m pretty sure that’s a hickey peeking over your collar, and it’s really distracting. “I guess I’m just not used to the new look.”
“Ah. Is this better?” Between one blink and the next, Dr. Kendrick morphed from young-Hugh-Jackman gorgeous to the comforting face Ted was used to from before Dr. Kendrick had broken his curse: outsized skull, overhanging brow ridges, broad, misshapen nose, the whole nine.
Fae glamourie. It was a thing. Although Dr. Kendrick was the only fae Ted knew who would use it to look uglier instead of more beautiful, just to make somebody else feel better.
“Yeah, thanks.” But that hickey is still winking at me. Ted forced himself to concentrate on Dr. Kendrick’s deep-set eyes.
“If your truck is in the shop, how did you get from the coast to Portland today?”
“Oh, I hitched a ride with Matt.”
“Matt?” Dr. Kendrick frowned, and with his old face, that was PDS—pretty damn scary. “Matt Steinitz? The tabloid photographer?” The shock in his tone was a good indication of how bad an idea he thought this was. Dr. Kendrick’s voice was never anything but well-modulated and soothing.
“After the council’s last warning, I thought you’d broken off contact with him.”
“It’s not what you think.” Mostly, anyway. “He lives in Dewton now, down the mountain from my place.” Although he wouldn’t have moved there if it weren’t for Ted’s stupid shifter tricks. “We’re . . . we’re friends.”
“But, Ted . . .” Dr. Kendrick did sigh this time, running his hands through his hair. “Your association with him is exactly why Bruno Killingsworth escalated the most recent incident from a bear shifter matter to one for the combined supe council.” He pointed to the tabloid newspaper lying on the coffee table between them, Matt’s picture of Ted in his partially shifted form on the front page above the fold, with the headline screaming Bigfoot Sighted in Coast Range! “Aside from the fact that you’re endangering the Secrecy Pact, Sasquatch is seriously annoyed at the continued impersonations. They want to file suit against you for identity theft.”
“I’m sorry.” Ted bit his lip and set his half-empty cup on the table, wishing he hadn’t drunk it quite so fast, because his stomach was definitely complaining. Should he confess to Dr. Kendrick that he’d staged another “incident” just two days ago—and that he’d phoned Matt from his motel with an anonymous tip this morning before this appointment?
“The council sent that reprimand because their forbearance is exhausted. They’re threatening to tag you, Ted.”
Ted’s heart plummeted to his shoes. “T-t-tag me? But—” He squeezed his hands tighter, his fingers digging into his knees. If they tagged him, he’d have no privacy at all. He wouldn’t be able to take a piss without the news being fed to the Supernatural Monitoring Agency. And the sphinxes who ran the SMA were really fussy—they never slept and they had zero sense of humor. They were worse than Santa.
“And tagging is only one step from form-locking. Two from—” Dr. Kendrick cleared his throat, his gaze sliding away from Ted’s face. “Two from termination.”
“Termination? You mean . . .” Ted drew his finger across his throat, and Dr. Kendrick nodded.
Nope. Not confessing. Matt might not do anything with the latest photo. And Ted could bail on this morning’s tip, not show up this time, even though he hated to disappoint Matt. He was a good guy—and he got so excited about cryptid sightings.
Besides, they were sort of payment for the ride to town and back—not to mention a goodbye present.
Because even if the council hadn’t come down on Ted’s ass like a ton of manure, after today, he was swearing off Sasquatch impersonations for good.
“You don’t have to worry about me anymore, Doctor, and neither does the council. I’ve got something to show you.” Ted hefted his backpack off the floor. But the strap—frayed by too many trips up and down the mountain in his bear’s teeth—snapped, knocking his cup over and sending a wave of lukewarm coffee over the table, soaking the newspaper and dripping onto Dr. Kendrick’s shoes.
“Shoot!” Ted leaped up, glancing around wildly for something to mop up the spill, but only succeeding in knocking the table with his shins.
Dr. Kendrick waved him back down. “Sit, sit. Please don’t worry about it.” He got up and walked over to open the door. “David? We’ve had a bit of a spill. Could you help, please.”
“Of course,” David, Dr. Kendrick’s assistant and husband, said from the lobby. “Be there in a jiffy.”
Dr. Kendrick waited at the open door until David appeared, carrying a roll of paper towels and a spritz bottle of some kind of cleanser. David paused, glancing from Dr. Kendrick to Ted. He placed a hand on Dr. Kendrick’s neck, leaning in to whisper to him. For an instant, Dr. Kendrick’s beast glamourieflickered off, and his cheeks flushed dark pink.
When David took his hand away, he flashed a brilliant grin at Ted—and that distracting pink spot over Dr. Kendrick’s collar was gone. But Ted knew what he’d seen. It was a hickey, and David zapped it. Dr. Kendrick’s husband was an achubydd, a magical healer. Guess that comes in handy when things get a little exciting in the bedroom.
Ted toyed with the broken strap as David mopped up the spill and Dr. Kendrick resumed his seat. Guess I need a new pack. He carried it in his human or bear form, when he schlepped between his cabin and the cave above Dewton where he kept an extra set of clothes. He hadn’t mentioned that to Dr. Kendrick either. When his truck was on the fritz—or sometimes just because he felt like it—he’d shift into bear form to get down the mountain faster, then hike the rest of the way to town after he changed in the cave.
Dr. Kendrick and the supe council probably wouldn’t approve of that, and the bear council definitely wouldn’t approve. Of course, none of them understood why Ted wanted to go to town in the first place. But by now he’d gotten that message loud and clear—he wasn’t exactly your average bear.
After David left with the wastebasket full of soggy newspaper and soiled paper towels, Dr. Kendrick smiled at Ted. “Now, you were saying?”
“Oh. Right.” Ted pawed through his pack and pulled out two folders, one plain manila and one glossy white. “You know the Walton clan property next to mine?”
“Walton? The marten shifters? Didn’t they move up to Canada last year?”
“Yep. They’ve had the place on the market since then.” Ted grinned, flipping open the manila folder, and tapped the grainy photo on the real estate listing inside. “Last month, I bought it.”
Dr. Kendrick’s eyebrows quirked, but he leaned over to study the picture. “This structure doesn’t look very sound. Or complete, for that matter.”
“Oh, it’s not. It’s pretty much a shell, actually, but I’m gonna fit it out as a wilderness retreat center.”
Dr. Kendrick frowned. “Ted, I don’t like to discourage you, but you’ve had difficulties with follow-through in the past. Do you have a solid plan for the business?”
“Um . . .” Ted dog-eared the corner of the listing, then smoothed it flat again. “Not exactly. But I don’t have to.” He nudged the other folder, the shiny one, toward the doctor. “I’m married.”
Dr. Kendrick blinked, and his face flickered back to beautiful for a second. “Married? Congratulations. I didn’t realize . . .” He leaned back in his chair, his beast persona firmly in place. “Who’s the lucky supe?”
Ted opened the folder and teased out the picture of his new husband. My husband! His heart threatened to prance right out of his chest. “This is him. His name’s Rusty Johnson.”
Dr. Kendrick glanced up sharply. “Rusty Johnson from the Dawson beaver clan in Eugene?”
“You know him too?”
“Of course. All shifters with inactive shifting genes are required to submit to regular quarterly counseling sessions, although Rusty is the most well-adjusted Inactive it’s been my pleasure to treat. But, Ted . . .” Dr. Kendrick laced his fingers together, his expression serious—although it was tough for his beast face to look unserious. “The last time I spoke with Rusty, which admittedly was almost three months ago, he was still expecting to mate with Fletcher Dawson, the clan heir. Your courtship must have been quite sudden. When did you two meet?”
“We . . . ah . . . haven’t actually met. Yet.”
“But you said you were married.”
“We are. All signed and sealed. Here.” Ted took a three-color brochure out of the pocket of the folder. “You know how in our last session, you suggested I look for other ways to meet friends? I took your advice.” He handed the brochure to Dr. Kendrick.
Dr. Kendrick opened it, smoothing it across his knees. “Supernatural Selection?” He glanced up, clearly troubled. “When I suggested you look for other means to meet people, I didn’t mean you should buy your friends.”
“Not a friend. A mate. A husband. I thought you’d understand. You’re happier now that you’re married, right?”
“Yes, of course, but wouldn’t you prefer to meet potential partners in a more . . . organic way?”
“But see, that’s the great thing. The agency is run by a witch’s collective. They know shit. Spells, and . . . and clairvoyance and psychic stuff.”
“You think they could know you better than you know yourself? Enough to match you with a compatible partner?”
“They promise a perfect match.”
“But, Ted . . .” Dr. Kendrick set the brochure on the table. “They’re constrained by their own clientele. They can only connect you with other supes who are on their roster. What if your perfect mate isn’t registered? Don’t you think interacting with the larger shifter community would be a better bet for you?”
Larger shifter community. That was a laugh, although Ted doubted Dr. Kendrick meant it as a joke. There weren’t many shifters larger than a grizzly.
“This is best. It’ll be great, Dr. Kendrick, you’ll see.” He tucked the brochure into the folder and stuffed everything back in his pack. “My perfect match. My lifelong companion. I’ll be happy and stay out of trouble from now on.”
E.J. Russell—grace, mother of three, recovering actor—writes romance in a rainbow of flavors. Count on high snark, low angst, and happy endings.
Reality? Eh, not so much.
E.J.’s paranormal romance, The Druid Next Door, is a 2018 RITA® Finalist. She lives in rural Oregon with her Curmudgeonly Husband, enjoys visits from her wonderful adult children, and indulges in good books, red wine, and the occasional hyperbole.
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