“Ready?” Sean nodded, impatient. “I’ve been ready for weeks. Can we do this?” Andrea came to him, and Sean warmed when she ducked under his arm and stood against his side. Liam raised his hands, and the little crowd went quiet. The sun blessing was not as formal as a full-moon blessing, the more sacred of the two. The immediate family arranged themselves in a circle around the couple, and the neighbors formed a ring outside them. Eric was in the family circle, invited as a family friend. Kim stood next to Liam. As the clan-leader’s mate, she had the right to participate in the ceremony and add a blessing of her own. Not all clan mates exercised this right, but Kim liked the idea. Likewise, clan leaders didn’t need to say more than a few words to complete the ceremony, but Liam cleared his throat and launched into a speech. “Friends, my brother, Sean, has at last chosen himself a mate.” The crowd fell silent as Liam’s voice broke the afternoon. “’Tis a romantic tale, one of a man reaching out to help another Shifter and then falling for the lass when he at last met her in the flesh. Sean has taken a mate outside our clan, as is custom, but she’s also outside his species. Andrea has Fae blood, which can provoke some hardness of feelings against her from some Shifters. But let this be known.” Liam’s gaze took in all present. “Andrea Gray is now accepted into our pride and our clan. She is protected not only by Sean, her mate, but by me, the pride leader, clan leader, and leader of the Austin Shiftertown. If anyone wishes to dispute this decision—well, too late, because here I am making it. ’Tis done.” Connor let out a cheer. Liam opened his mouth to continue, but Kim nudged him. “Just finish it.” Liam grinned. “My mate, she’s anxious for the celebration. In that case ...” He rested one hand on Sean’s shoulder and the other on Andrea’s. “By the light of the sun, the Father God, I recognize this mating.” Connor launched himself into the air, screaming at the top of his lungs. He came down and grabbed the nearest person—Glory—and spun her into a hug. “The Father God go with you, Sean,” Liam said, embracing his brother again then Andrea. “And you, sister.” Andrea’s eyes were moist when Liam let her go, and then Kim clasped both Sean’s and Andrea’s hands. “My turn. I’ve never done this before, but here goes. May your mating be blessed and you be forever bonded. And may you be blessed with many cubs.” She smiled. “How was that?” “Perfect.” Andrea pulled Kim into a hug, then it was Sean’s turn to show his sister-in-law some affection. After that, the rest of the crowd surged forward, wanting theirs. It was a Shifter thing. The tactile acknowledgment of a mating, the reassurance that the pride, the clan, and the species would continue. Liam’s acceptance of Andrea, even more than Sean’s, seemed to work magic. The Shifters who might not have come near Andrea before suddenly wanted to hold on to her for a moment or two. Feline, Lupine, Ursine—didn’t matter. She was one of them now, part of the chain of existence stretching far into the past and on into the future. Ronan squeezed the breath out of Andrea and then let her go, laughing out loud. Eric too gave her a hard hug, congratulating her, the man who’d lost his mate happy to see another find one. Andrea’s pack leader, Wade—now her former pack leader—also stepped up to embrace her. Wade was middle-aged, for a Shifter, which meant that he was about the same age as Dylan. He’d let softer living get to him and was forming a paunch, which did not look good on his wolf. “Be well, Andrea,” Wade said. The look in his yellow eyes was one of relief that he wouldn’t have to deal with the problem of half-Fae Andrea anymore. “Thanks.” Andrea supposed that Wade had felt pressure from his clan and his pack about letting her come to Austin. A good pack leader didn’t simply obey his own whims but tried to do what was best for the pack. She could feel sorry for him. Almost. A good pack leader also needed balls. Ellison was a Lupine who obviously hadn’t resented her coming to Austin. His hug lifted her off her feet. “Congratulations, Andy-girl. I got your back anytime. Even if you’ve mated with a f**king Feline.” Andrea dragged in a breath once Ellison let her go. “Thanks, Ellison. You’re a treasure.” “For a Lupine,” Sean said from beside her. “Shifters who chase their own tales. What a travesty.” Ellison put his Stetson back on with one hand. “At least I don’t cough up hairballs .” He grinned and sniffed the air. “Hey, time for some good old-fashioned Texas bar-bee-cue.” Sean drew Andrea a little from the crowd as Ellison ran off. “I love my family and my friends, but damn.” He circled his arms around her neck. “You’re mine, not theirs.” “Give them a break. A mate blessing is a happy time. We need those.” “True.” Sean pressed a kiss to her mouth, then another. “But right now I’m thinking the mating frenzy will overshadow the Texas barbeque.” “I think so too.” “Well, then,” Sean said into her ear, teeth on her lobe. Andrea wished she didn’t like kissing him so much. Sean tasted like sunshine and salt, his mouth splendid against hers. She rubbed fingers under his warm hair and inhaled his scent, a Shifter aroused. Another scent came to her, this one sharp like mint. A cold breeze slapped her, and Sean jerked her away to growl at the white gap that was opening in the trees, a little way from the celebrating Shifters.