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Penelope Levinson, owner of the Sunshine Cafe, in HARMONY, Washington and wolf-dog shape-shifting firefighter cousins Kent & Tucker O’Mara and John & Jack Stephens have known all their lives they were destined to be together. So why won’t the mating ceremony work? They’ve been trying since she turned twenty-five, and failure after failure is driving them apart. Mating has become a chore, not a pleasure, and they are getting tired of people asking them when they are going to settle down, mate, and start a family.
They decide to give up on the ceremony if one last try doesn’t work, but what does that mean for their relationship? Without the ceremony, Penelope faces exhaustion trying to handle the demands of the four brothers.
And then there’s Oliver McKay, the new doctor in town and a human. Why does Penelope suddenly find herself attracted to him? Does this mean it’s time to give up on love with her wolves and move on?
On the first night of the first full moon after her twenty-fifth birthday, they all went out to the glade together. With Kent being the oldest, they’d just all assumed that he was the Alpha, but when they did the ceremony, they’d felt nothing. The sex was hot, but they just instinctively knew that they weren’t Mated. Indeed, if they needed any additional evidence, the mating bites on Penelope’s shoulder hurt. Normally, they would have healed at an accelerated rate because the men’s saliva mixing in her bloodstream but even with their semen mixing inside her, the unbreakable bond didn’t happen.
The sex, of course, had been fantastic. But not Mating-fantastic.
They just shrugged it off and didn’t even try again that cycle. Then they next monthly full moon cycle arrived and they tried again, figuring that this time it was a sure thing, but when it didn’t work, they tried again the next month. And again. And again. They’d tried for a full year, in every possible combination on all three nights each full moon. Penelope’s shoulder where the mating bites needed to be ached with the memory. The bites had taken time to heal, and with three sets of bites, one for every night of the ceremony, by the end, she was really hurting and the healing was slow, the teeth marks leaving small scars.
The men had been horrified when they got a look at her shoulder one day a few months into their mating trials as they took to calling them. Normally things happened in the dark, and Penelope made sure that they never saw her shoulder in the daylight. She was ashamed of the marks because they signified her failure as a woman, a Mate.
She put on a positive front of her men though, and the rest of the town. Not everyone in Harmony was a shifter, but there were plenty of them and they all wanted to know when the five of them would make it official and start popping out pups… It was getting harder and harder to smile and joke and deflect the questions, especially since she owned a café and many of these people were her customers.
After six months of trying, they’d even made the trip to New Harmony to talk to the pack elders. They’d even talked to Lena’s father, who was a vet who specialized in wolf-shifters, to make sure there was nothing physically wrong. They’d talked to Rory McAllister, the elderly Alpha of the Harmony Pack, but he’d never heard of such a thing. The Mating had always worked. They’d tried everything they could think off to make it work. Rory had been able to give them the names of a few shifting experts who might be able to help. Lena’s father had only been able to admonish them for taking so long to ask for help, but even he couldn’t do anything but prescribe some ointment to use on the bites on Penelope’s shoulder after yet another failure.
And something alarming was happening. With every failed attempt at Mating, there was a growing distance between them all, the feeling of failure permeating their every encounter. After the first few months, sex had become a duty more than a pleasure, something they did each month with the attempt to Mate, and each time it didn’t work, it drove them further apart.
Last night had been the first anniversary of the first failed mating, and they all knew without talking about it that it likely wasn’t going to work this time either and that if it didn’t, they weren’t going to try again. They all had talked and talked and talked, and a month ago, after the last failure, they’d decided to try just the one last time. For three nights, they’d do everything they could and if the mating didn’t take, then that would be it. They would still love each other and spend time together and have sex frequently, but they wouldn’t try to Mate again.
Maybe, eventually, they’d even move on and Mate with someone else, they’d said, but Penelope knew in her heart of hearts that she was meant to be with them, and if they found another Mate, then she’d live out her life alone.
And last night was the final night of the full moon. They’d gone back to the glade to try to make it special, but even before they’d started, Penelope had known that it wasn’t going to work, and looking at her men’s faces, she’d known that they knew it, too, and were only going along with it to humor her.
When they’d bitten her shoulder, she’d flinched from the pain. But she’d only cried when they’d all finished and she’d lain there with them knowing they’d failed again. It was only 10:00 p.m., but none of them had the heart to try again, and for once, even her Mates weren’t aroused. She’d never seen them naked and not hard for her. It showed her the depth of their despair that they were as limp as she felt.
In that moment, she resolved not to put them through another Mating Ceremony until she figured out what the problem was. They weren’t going to suffer through another failure again.
She felt Kent and Tucker get up. They never used an alarm. Both had one of those inner clocks that seemed infallible.
“Wake up sleepy head. Want us to get you come coffee?” She felt Tucker brush her hair back and kiss her cheek lightly.
“Yes please. I’ll be down in a minute.”
Kent walked over to her and paused. ‘You okay?”
“Yes, now shoo. I have another ten minutes before I have to get up, and I intend to enjoy every last second of it!” She waited until Kent kissed her cheek and both men headed downstairs before she let the tears start flowing.
“Fuck the ceremony,” Penelope decreed as she sobbed quietly. “Fuck shifter lore and mating ceremonies. I love them. They love me. It will be enough.” Her voice dropped lower. “It has to be,” she almost whispered. “At least until I can find the answer.”