The Return: Chapter Eight
Parker’s note: I am SO sorry! I had the wrong date in the publish field.
The day started out at a brisk pace, and seemed to pick up steam as the morning progressed. I did my best to help in the kitchen, putting tins of batter into the oven, pulling the buns out, then icing them the way Corey showed me. I had just pulled a tray of muffins out when the kitchen door opened, and Corey came in, his eyes wide.
“There’s a line out the goddamn door,” he whispered harshly.
“Yeah, wolves have really good hearing, so it’s a fair bet most of them heard that.”
“I’m already freaking! You’re not being helpful at all.”
I set the tray down, and went over to where Corey was on the verge of hyperventilating. “What’s really wrong?”
“I can’t screw this up. I just can’t.”
“And you won’t. This is the same group you’ve been serving for the last six years. The same faces, the same stories, the same wolves. Why would you be so freaked out about—is this still about me?”
He peered up at me, his eyes heavy-lidded from lack of sleep. “You told me how important the Alpha was, and now people are going to see you working in a coffeeshop.” He snorted. “That’s hardly groundbreaking stuff, dude.”
I wiped my hands off on the apron I’d been wearing. “Come with me,” I told him.
Without waiting, I marched through the door. He wasn’t wrong. There were people beyond the sidewalk. I stepped up, and everyone looked expectantly at me.
“Okay, we need to get some things straight. Who is here to buy coffee, and who is here to see me working? Show of hands? Coffee drinkers?”
A lot of people acknowledged that’s what they were there for.
“And those who came to see me?”
Another round of affirmations. Then I had a thought.
“And who came to see my mate?”
This time nearly every hand in the place went up, more than a few waving eagerly.
“You’re all freaking him out,” I told them. “He’s just been told he’s my mate, and that he’s got a job to do in the pack. I get you want to meet him again, especially since he’s going to be stepping into his new role.” The door opened behind me, and Corey peered out. “I’ll tell you what. If you were at the pack meeting last night, and you’re not here to buy a coffee, go on home. We will set up a meet and greet for the weekend. If you want coffee, line forms to the left. And if you weren’t able to make it to the pack house last night, I’d like to again introduce my mate, whom you already know. He’s the same Corey you’ve dealt with for years. Now, stop scaring him and get going. Unless you want coffee or pastry.” I grinned. “I’ll have you know, I helped with the baking, and it turned out damned good, if I do say so myself.”
Suddenly the line to the left got way longer than it had been. Everyone wanted pastries and coffee. Corey, to his credit, took a breath and waded in again, taking orders, then helping Deirdre in pulling coffees and wrapping baked goods for people to take with them.
“I have to get back to work. Don’t tell my boss I said this, but he can be a real hardass,” I called out. I kissed Corey on the neck, then went back to the kitchen. Each time I carried a tray to the front, the crowd had dwindled. Now there were only a few sitting at the tables, and Corey was helping Deirdre wipe down the ones that had been vacated. “You doing okay?” I asked, sliding a hand to his shoulder.
“Busiest day ever,” he breathed out.
“Yeah, I should have warned you. The pack will circle, wanting to be near you. For the first few years, my mom had the same thing going on. You’re something unique, and that fascinates them. We’ve never had a male Alpha Mate before, and from what my father taught me about pack history, the first who’s ever been a true mate.”
“You keep throwing all this stuff at me,” Corey complained.
“Hey, I’m giving it to you as I remember it. This is new for me too. I’m sorry.”
His lip curled up, like he was trying to avoid grinning. “Gimme a kiss, and I’ll forgive you.”
I slid a hand around the back of his head and pulled him to me. “Anytime.”
He whimpered when I pressed our lips together. It was a sound of sweet surrender. As I considered once again putting Corey over a table, the door opened, letting in the warm breeze. I looked up as two men I knew entered the coffeeshop. I’d just gotten him to settle a bit, but this was going to change everything. Corey was about to have a fit.
“Hey, thanks for coming,” I called with a wave.
Matt returned my greeting. Kinsey? I couldn’t tell, because he wore mirrored glasses that gave nothing away. He was always wearing those damn glasses. It was disconcerting. I knew I wanted Kinsey for Corey’s bodyguard…. He was the kind of person who would shoot you first, then ask what you wanted.
After Matt took a seat at the counter, I gestured to an open stool. “Wanna sit?” I asked Kinsey.
He shook his head, choosing instead to fold his arms over his chest.
“Corey, let me introduce you. This is Matt Garrison, your driver. Anywhere you need to go, he will take you. And this is Kinsey, your new bodyguard.”
Kinsey grabbed Corey by the arm and pulled him closed, then leaned in and took a deep inhale. I was about to bark at him to back the fuck off my mate, when he stood and nodded.
“I have his scent now.”
“What the hell is going on?” Corey bitched, rushing back to where I stood. He glanced from me to the men. “I thought we were going to talk about this?”
“That was never discussed, and if you recall, I did tell you it was nonnegotiable.”
“Well, why the hell was he sniffing me?”
“He was learning your scent so he’ll always know where you are. Don’t bother trying to give him the slip, because Kinsey will find you, no matter where you’re hiding.”
Matt stuck out a hand, a sloppy grin on his face. I liked Matt. He was generally happy and eager to please, if not a little scattered. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. Do you prefer Alpha Mate or how should we address you?”
Matt nodded enthusiastically. “Right. Thank you, Corey. It’s nice to meet you. I have the car parked in the lot out back. Let me give you my phone number so you can reach me. Anytime, day or night, if you need to go somewhere, call me and I’ll come pick you up.”
“I’ll be calling you,” Kinsey said, his voice giving no hint of emotion.
Matt’s eyes went wide. “Oh. Um…. Okay, then.”
Kinsey turned to face Corey. “I have very simple rules,” he said. “Alpha Mate or not, you will do what I say when I tell you. Don’t argue with me, don’t second guess me, don’t withhold information from me and, whatever you do, don’t piss me off.”
Corey’s gulp was audible. “Do you need my number too?”
“I already know everything about you. I received a complete dossier last night.”
Corey’s brows furrowed so deep, I could probably have planted potatoes there. “Jo—Alpha?”
I shrugged. “Sorry, but them’s the rules, kid. I had as much say in yours as I do in mine. Remember I told you that mates were sacrosanct? This is how the Council shows the importance of a mate. As I said earlier, being a true mate, your value to the pack and to wolves in general is greatly enhanced. That’s why they sent the best.”
Matt’s chest puffed out as he gave a big, bright smile. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I was talking about Kinsey.
Corey turned and pinned Kinsey with a harsh stare. “And what time are you off the clock?”
“My shift runs from 0300 to 1800. Overnight one of my men will stand watch outside your home as to give you and Alpha Brodie time alone.”
When pleading eyes turned my way, I smirked. “Don’t look at me. I can’t do anything about this. Between Kinsey’s guys and the ones who will be on my tail, we’re looking at not having any space unless we’re in the house.”
The house. Shit. I hadn’t told him that either. Oh, he was gonna gut me.
“Speaking of houses….”
He glared at me with narrowed eyes. “No. I am not moving. I like my parent’s place. It’s my home.”
“Would it help if I said I was sorry?”
His lip jutted out. “Another thing I don’t have a choice in?”
“Afraid not. We’ll be living in the pack house. That gives our people easier access to us, while allowing our security detail better control over who enters the place.”
Corey’s cheeks flamed. “No. Not just no, but fuck no. That place is over an hour from town! I am not about to get up at two to get into work by four so I can open for six. I don’t get a lot of sleep as it is, so no way in hell am I losing that extra hour. Plus, I don’t usually leave work until five or six. That means I wouldn’t get back until at least seven, which means it’ll be time for bed already.”
“You can nap in the car,” Matt offered.
Corey didn’t reply, just sneered at me.
“Then you will have to decide which is more important to you,” Kinsey said, his tone clipped and annoyed. “As Alpha Mate, your responsibility is to your pack. You can’t run a business and serve your people as well.”
Corey’s lips drew into a sharp, white line, and I knew Kinsey was a hairs breadth away from having his ass handed to him.
“Don’t help me here, Kinsey,” I beseeched. Corey was already mad. Don’t poke the nest, goddamn it.
“Facts are facts, Alpha. Your mate needs to learn his place and—”
“Get out,” Corey growled through gritted teeth. His snarl would do any wolf proud.
“No,” Kinsey replied, utterly unmoved.
“Get the fuck out of my shop!” Corey roared. It was a good thing everyone but DD had left, because that would have sent them scurrying for the door. “You do not come in here and try to dictate my life. I did fine for all these years, and not one of you sons of bitches cared about me then.”
He spun on me. “And don’t even start about the scholarship and the loan. I’ll pay it all back, because I won’t be beholden to anyone who thinks they can run my life. You said I was your mate, you didn’t tell me that was the same thing as a slave.” He whirled around and jammed a finger in Kinsey’s chest. I winced. No one touched Kinsey. “And you? Who the fuck do you think you are?”
“I’ve been sent by the Council. You have no say in—”
I barely registered the fist that slammed into Kinsey’s face. It didn’t even faze him. “I have every fucking say in my life. You want something from me, you ask. I’m not saying I’ll agree with you, but we can discuss it. I am not a wolf, therefore your Council has no say in my life.”
“Actually,” Matt squeaked, but that was silenced when Corey glared daggers at him.
Kinsey ran a hand over his jaw. “That was a weak and pathetic punch. It’s no wonder you need a bodyguard. Someone has to care for you.”
Now my hackles were up. “I will care for my mate,” I informed him. I grabbed Corey’s wrist before he went after Kinsey again. It was going to happen, I could see it in the burning rage that lit Corey’s eyes. They were dark with anger, and I knew it wouldn’t be long before he tried to hit Kinsey again. “Go back to the Council and tell them thanks, but no thanks. We’ll fend for ourselves.”
For the first time since I’d known him, which admittedly wasn’t very long, barely five years, Kinsey smiled.
“Excellent. The Council will be pleased with my report.”
The one-eighty in the conversation threw me for a loop.
Kinsey took a seat, his arms folded on the granite countertop. He turned and regarded me. “As a human, your mate is more frail than a wolf.” He held up a hand to forestall anything Corey might say. “And I’m not trying to start something with you, I promise. I was told to find out if he had a backbone, or if he would need, in their words, more handholding than a wolf would. I’m proud to say, he’s pretty fierce. I think the group we have now is more than sufficient.” He gave a nod to Corey. “I’m sorry I had to push you like that. It was not my idea, I can tell you.”
“Well fuck them,” Corey snapped.
“And the horse they rode in on,” Kinsey finished. “But you have to understand. You are the first human mate we’ve ever had. We needed to know if extraordinary measures were needed to ensure your safety.”
“Ensure my safety from what?”
“And take off the damn glasses. You’re indoors for fuck sake.”
His lips curled into a sneer, but he removed the glasses. I had to contain a gasp. Across the bridge of his nose, over the lid of his right eye, was a scar, maybe two inches long.
“Pretty, hey?” he asked, grinning. “One pissed off Alpha, one bodyguard, and an Alpha Mate who found out she’d been cheated on is a recipe for disaster.”
“W-What happened?” Corey asked, choking on his words.
“I was her bodyguard. We were supposed to be attending a conference, but at the last minute she decided she’d rather stay home. So we went back to the house, walked in, and there we found her mate boning their maid. She was so pissed, she tried to go after him with a kitchen cleaver. I held her back. The Alpha took that moment to try for a quickie divorce by stabbing her. I punched him, and his claw grazed my face. Hurt like a mother, let me tell you.”
“I’m sorry,” Corey whispered, reaching for Kinsey’s hand.
He looked at their joined hands, then at Corey. His confusion was obvious.
“I thought you were mad at me.”
Corey shook his head, but said nothing.
“You have every right to be. What the Council had me do was pretty shitty. I mean, I get it, and I can’t disagree with their reasoning, but I think a better way could have been found, you know?”
“It’s not that,” Corey insisted, glancing up at Kinsey again. I could see the pain in his expression. It almost seemed as though he was ready to cry. He started to reach out but then drew his hand back.
“It looks ugly, I know. But, hey, it’s okay, honest. The Alpha was stripped of his rank and banished. I heard he died, but who knows? His mate went to a pack in California. Last time we talked, she told me she was happy there. So I chalk it up as a win.”
He squeezed Corey’s hand, then drew back.
“This is why it’s important for you to understand the world we live in. Wolves can be volatile. Even as humans, we’re usually quick to anger. Alphas, not so much. They’ve got a lot more control than most wolves. Usually.” He peered at me. “Let me tell you, Alpha Jonas is one of the most put together Alphas I’ve ever known. I think that comes down to you.”
“Me? Corey asked, eyes wide. “How?”
“Anyone can be a mate. Look at the woman I guarded. Her husband was a cheating piece of crap, but he was her mate. But a true mate? I think that connection goes far beyond just an occasional bang session. I honestly believe that if they’re true mates, they soothe each other’s rough edges. In your case, I think you temper Alpha Jonas’s wolf and he gives you something to fight for.” Kinsey grinned. “Why else would you be stupid enough to put your hands on me?”
Through it all, Matt’s eyes darted back and forth, taking in the scene unfurling in front of him.
“You’re not as scary as you think,” Corey told him.
A low rumble started in Kinsey’s throat. “I’ll have you know, I’ve gutted men twice your size. Even Alphas know enough to stay on my good side.”
“And you’re a good boy, aren’t you?” Corey teased. Then he did something I knew would end in broken bones. He reached up and ruffled Kinsey’s dark hair.
Kinsey glanced around the coffeeshop, then his gaze bored into me. “If you ever tell anyone about this, I will make sure they never find your body.”
I laughed and held up my hands. “No one will hear it from me. Good boy.”
He stood and hovered over me. “I hate you.”
“Aw, c’mon. Good boys don’t hate anyone.”
His lip twitched. “You can both be assholes. I think I’m going to like this assignment.”
Matt sat quietly, his blue eyes flicking back and forth.
“Where are you both staying?” I asked.
“Well, it was supposed to be the pack house, but if Corey is refusing to live there we’ll have to adjust our plans.”
Corey sighed. “I don’t mean to make this much of a fuss, but—”
“You’re right,” I told him. “Your life is here, your business is here. It would be ridiculous to disrupt what you already have in place.”
“Where are you staying, Alpha?” Matt asked.
“With me,” Corey replied before I could say anything. “Not letting him walk away again, lemme tell you.” He sighed. “Listen, we have spare bedrooms. The two of you can stay with us until we can sort something out.”
Matt shook his head. “It’s fine. I can sleep in the car. The backseat is surprisingly comfortable when you’re a wolf.”
“You most certainly will not,” Kinsey snapped. “The man is offering you a place with a bed. You’ll take that.” He shook his head. “Sleeping in the car. That’s ridiculous.”
It was good to see Kinsey had a heart underneath all that gruffness. It made me feel better about having him watching over my mate.