We’re up to Chapter Six. Please keep in mind, this is an unedited work. The actual book will be releasing on Thursday, April 14th (my birthday).
I stood and stared at Corey’s ass, swaying gently as he went toward the bedroom. There was no doubt. My mate was a beautiful fucking man. To distract myself—and keep from going into the bedroom and watching him strip—I dressed, then made my calls, and sent out the text. I’d have to add Corey to our list, so he’d know exactly what we said. I didn’t want him thinking I told people what to do.
It amazed me how Dad kept such a handle on things. He juggled our home life, the pack, and his own business though you rarely saw him sweat. So far, I’d been back a few days, and within a couple hours of seeing him again, I was already was in deep shit with my mate.
I wasn’t exactly sure how to explain to Corey what it was like, being a werewolf with a mate, and the imperative to do whatever it took to keep them safe and make them happy. How could he understand the drive within me to ensure his brow never furrowed with sadness, that any anger was something to be shared with me, so I could remove it.
“Is this a formal thing?” he called from the bedroom.
“No, we don’t really do formal often.” Though there was one thing we needed to discuss, and it was vital. “Can I come in?”
I went into the bedroom and found him flipping shirts on hangers, a scowl on his face. I stepped over to him and put a hand on his back.
“What are you doing?”
“Honestly? Stressing. I want to make a good impression on your friends.”
His slumped shoulders showed I need to explain the way the world worked. I took his arm and tugged him close.
“You don’t need to impress anyone. You are the Alpha Mate, and they’re going to love you because I do.” I leaned down and nuzzled his hair. “Plus, you know most of them. They’ve been your neighbors—your friends—for years.”
“Yes, but that was before you came back and told me you were their leader, and I was your mate, and I was responsible for them too.” His body shuddered. “I’m not good with stress.”
“Okay, we both know that’s a lie. You thrive on that shit.”
He tilted his head up, and I could see the watery eyes, the stooped shoulders, and the tremor in his lips. “Not anymore. Not when it’s important. Like you were—are. After your dad took you away, I stressed all the time. I thought I’d done something wrong, and that was why you all moved. Eventually it got to be too much. Every night after dinner, I went out to see if I could find out anything. Now I get why no one gave up any information.”
“Yeah, that’s why.” I pulled him to me, hoping to stave off the trembling. “Listen. You are pack, and tonight everything we do and say will concern you, like it should have from the start.”
“If humans weren’t supposed to be allowed in the town, why were we?”
“As I said before, somehow your family ducked under every obstacle.” I cupped his cheek, loving the feeling of his skin beneath my fingers. “Wanna know what I think?”
“Don’t ask stupid questions.”
“I believe all the way to my core, we were fated to be together. I think the reason you and your family got into town was because it was our destiny to meet and fall in love.”
He snorted. “You have a very high opinion of yourself.”
I stepped back and flexed. “Hey, when you look like this, it’s just being honest.”
He snorted, then went back to the closet and pulled out a stunning gray shirt. “What about this? With like a pair of slacks?”
“Jeans,” I informed him, my voice getting husky. “They show off your ass better.”
He shook his head. “I’m not trying to show off my butt.”
“Oh, but I’m trying to see it.”
That got me a sigh. He unbuckled his belt, then turned away. A quick flick of his wrist, and he yanked the pants and underwear down, leaving his creamy cheeks there in front of me.
“Happy?” he asked, wiggling those plump cheeks.
And fucking hard as a rock!
“So you were explaining to me about mates earlier,” Corey said, pulling up his pants, which was a true shame. Those pillowy globes should be on display in a museum of perfect asses. A light dusting of bronze hair against pale skin was every fantasy I’d ever had rolled into one. And me without a tube of lube in sight.
“None of us really understand it fully. My mom isn’t my dad’s mate, but we had a couple in the pack who were. Dad said he could feel an energy that flowed between them that no one else had, even if they’d been married thirty years. When you and I met, that same energy wrapped around us, enveloping us, connecting us together. He didn’t know what he was seeing, but he accepted you were my mate.”
“Well, that’s one good thing, I guess,” he replied, his voice brittle.
Ouch. Dad was going to have to do some serious groveling if he wanted to get back in Core’s good graces.
“What can my dad do to make it right?”
Oh, this wasn’t how I wanted things to go. “But—”
“He didn’t do anything wrong. He did what needed to be done, in his mind. I’m not a wolf, and I’m not really part of your group, so he had to tread a fine line. I don’t like it, but I do understand. I think I’m more hurt than anything else.”
“I wish it had gone differently. If I had stayed in your bedroom, holding your hand, none of this would have ever happened.”
“Cher said if she could turn back time, if she could find a way, she’d take back all the words that had hurt him, and he’d stay.”
And that’s what pissed me off the most. I wanted to stay with Corey, but that afternoon my wolf overrode common sense.
And I would do whatever I had to in order to make it up to him.
When Jonas walked me to the huge SUV, I did a double take.
“Okay, I know you’re not compensating,” I teased.
He scowled. “Pack politics is such bullshit. The Alpha needs to be protected at all times. You think this is bad, wait until you find out what you’re going to have to deal with.”
I so did not like the sound of that. “Might as well tell me.”
He grinned. “You’re going to have a driver and a bodyguard.” He held up a hand. “And before you say a word, this is nonnegotiable. Your driver, Matt, will take you anywhere you want to go. Kinsey, your bodyguard, will stay nearby unless I’m there, then he’ll remain at a respectable distance.”
“Oh, that is such bullshit!”
He grinned. “Like I said, nonnegotiable. You don’t realize how valuable an Alpha and his mate are, but you’ll learn.”
“I’m starting to think it might have been better if you didn’t come back,” I bit out, then regretted it.
The change in Jonas was instantaneous. His eyes scrunched, and his fists tightened on the steering wheel.
“I’m sorry!” I cried. “I didn’t mean that.”
“I can go again, if you want. You won’t have to see me anymore.”
Not see him? It nearly ended me before. Now that I had him back in my life, there was no way in Hades I was letting him get away.
“Thank you for proving to me I needed to get over my anger with your father.”
His lip quirked up. “Oh?”
“Yeah, oh. You knew I’d never let you walk away, but you put that image in my head, and my reaction was exactly what you were hoping for. Just like your dad, I reacted without thinking it through. And you get extra points for coming up with a name like Kinsey.”
He reached over and patted my leg. “Oh, Kinsey is real, and you’re gonna love him. Matt? I’m not so sure. He’s your driver, but I kind of think at his age he ought not be driving.”
“There is a council of wolves,” he interjected. “Think of us like a corporation. The council is the board of directors, overseeing the company. The members are the customers. The rest of us fall in between those two poles. If enough customers aren’t happy, they’ll contact the board, who will investigate. If they find there is sufficient cause, they will remove the middle manager and replace him or her.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
He shrugged. “It’s a general analogy. Alphas hold more power than that, but we can still be replaced if our pack is unhappy with our leadership. Which brings back something I meant to tell you earlier. When we’re in a pack gathering, you have to call me Alpha.”
“No way! That’s insane!”
“It is what it’s always been. An Alpha has to have the respect of his pack. To that end, they need to maintain order and discipline. And before you open your mouth, I don’t mean in the fun way. No pack member refers to their Alpha as anything other than by his title. Even if we’re not at a pack function, they will always refer to me as Alpha.”
“But Mr. Henderson called you by name. And I’ve heard others do it too.”
“That’s because Dad hasn’t relinquished his role yet. The moment he does, I become Alpha, and the power exchange will have people deferring to me.”
All of this, everything Jonas was saying, went against what I was taught growing up. We were all equal, no one was more important than anyone else. My parents told me the president wasn’t more important than the janitor who cleaned our school. His job might involve more responsibility, but that didn’t put him higher up.
Learning these things now was frustrating. I wish I’d had the guts to talk to Jonas about it when I’d seen Dan Garver change. Maybe if I’d learned Werewolf 101 then I would’t be so freaked out now.
Who was I kidding? I would still be freaked. Things weren’t at all like they had been in the books I’d read. There it was all sexy fun and games, but this wasn’t that. A headache formed behind my right eye, and I reached up and pushed my palm into it.
But hadn’t Jonas warned me? Don’t make eye contact. Don’t run. Did I listen? No, of course not. I’d thought I knew better, but I wasn’t a wolf. Would never be a wolf. How could I understand?
And that circular thinking made my headache flare.
Core flopped back against the seat, his face set in a hard sneer. “Y’all have some fucked up ideas. I never knew it was like this.”
“Do you regret knowing?”
His emotions flitted across his face, but then his features softened. “No, I don’t.”
“There are other things you don’t know yet. Some of them might not be so easy for you to deal with.”
He slid down a bit. “Might as well tell me now. I mean, can’t exactly jump out at fifty-five. I might scuff my shoes.”
He joked, but I could hear the tension in his voice. What I had to tell him would either send him running, or…. No, I knew Corey. He was smart so it would send him running. The thing I had to decide was whether I could abandon the pack for my mate. Which was more important to me?
That’s such a dumbass question. You know it’s Corey.
Of course I knew. The problem? This would follow us no matter where we went. An unaffiliated Alpha would have to deal with a lot worse from most wolf packs. No one would take me in, for fear I’d try and move in to make the pack my own. Corey would be fine, of course. Any Alpha Mate would be revered, and allowed to settle on pack land. Likely they’d be viewed as an elder, with wisdom to share with the younger generations.
“In a pack, there are sometimes challenges. Normally, when the more dominant wolf puts their opponent down, they will submit.”
“But not always,” Corey guessed.
“No. There are some wolves who think they’re strong enough to come back from that, and will fight tooth and claw. In those instances, there might be only one survivor.”
I heard Corey gulp. “You’re saying you’d kill another person?”
“No, I’m saying I’d kill a wolf.”
“You’re the same thing!” he shouted, his chest rising and falling rapidly. “You’re talking about murdering someone.”
I sighed. “Not really. I’m not sure how to explain this so you’ll understand. In moments like that, our beast rules the body. Logic is pushed back, because if this becomes a kill or be killed scenario, overthinking it has the potential to be deadly.”
“I can’t do this,” Corey muttered. “I can’t watch another person die.”
“And I’d love to say you wouldn’t have to, but as my Alpha Mate, you’d be expected to be there. If I lose, you’d have to make the transfer of power to whoever wins.”
He swiveled his head in my direction, his eyes wide and full of anger and disbelief. “Fuck that! So you’re saying I’d have to sit there and watch you kill someone or die yourself? Then what? After I do that, they’ll kill me too?”
“No. Mates are sacrosanct. Once you’ve turned over the power of the pack to the winner, you would be escorted from the packlands. No one will hurt you. I know a few packs who would gladly take you in, so it’ll be something for us to—”
“Shut the fuck up!” he screamed, shocking the hell out of me. “Don’t talk to me like this is all commonplace. Because where I’m from, people aren’t murdered in a fight.”
“It’s rare,” I hastened to tell him. “We haven’t had it happen in, God, twenty years?”
“That makes it so much better,” he snarked.
“My dad always believed there’s a better way. In fact, during two fights I can remember, he stopped, his jaws locked around his opponent’s throat. They struggled, unwilling to submit, but Dad wouldn’t finish it the way everyone expected. He shifted back and demanded they submit or leave the pack. Remember, wolves need each other. To be forced out? That’s a horrible fate. Finding a new pack, especially when they ask why you left your old one, sucks.”
I needed Corey to say something. Even if he was angry. His silence was worse than not knowing. We pulled up in front of the pack house about ninety minutes later. Corey’s eyes went wide.
“Where the hell are we?”
“Welcome to the Tri-County pack house,” I replied as I waved a hand toward the enormous structure. “This is where my dad sequestered me after he took me away.”
Corey’s brow furrowed. “I hate it already.” He blew out a breath. “I don’t think I can do this. The more I learn about this—your—world, the less likely I am to want to take part in it.” He turned and stared out the window. “I’m sorry.”
“No, I’m sorry. I wanted to tell you everything. I wanted to share my life with you. It never dawned on me that it would terrify you. I have a suggestion. How about we go in, mingle a bit, and then I’ll make the announcement.”
“That I’m leaving the pack.”
Corey gasped. “You’re what?”
“We’ll go away, just the two of us. We’ll be a small pack, you and me. I have enough money to buy a piece of land, so we won’t have to worry about that.”
“You—You’d do that? Give up your birthright? Your people?”
“They’re our people. You are pack. And yes, I’d give them up to stay with you. I can live without them, but you? No chance. That’s what a mate is. You’re my heart, I’m your strength. We are two parts of a whole being. Neither of us is truly complete, except for when we’re together.”
His brows knitted together. “Let’s go in. I can’t promise anything, but I have to at least give it a chance.”
And that was all I could ever ask him for.